New Arrivals
Author-Sue Kelley
Titles

A Hollow Within
Part One
by Sue Kelley

Summary: A misunderstanding causes Blair to move out of the loft--into a house where rather strange things keep happening.

Disclaimer: The characters and concepts associated with The Sentinel are owned by Pet Fly and various other people and corporations, none of which have anything to do with the authors of this story. The authors are making no money off this story and no harm is intended. All other characters and the story itself are property of the authors. This story occurs early in Season 3. There are some mild ironies in the story, given the development of Seasons 3 and 4, but they were completely unintentional.

Notes: A slightly different version of this story was first printed in Sentry Post 3 (available from GraphicsOne Press, Linda Hutcheson, editor). That version was betaread by Wendy Myers, Dawn Cunningham, and Judy Schulz. Many thanks, ladies!

The original idea for this story came from Linda Hutcheson. Although the story developed differently than either one of us expected, she still has my sincere thanks. And who knows, maybe someday I'll actually write the story she suggested!

A Hollow Within won a Cascade award in 1999 for Best Short Story in a Fanzine. The zine Sentry Post 3 also won for Best Fanzine.

PROLOGUE

~~So this is how it ends.~~

Blair Sandburg stared out at the sheets of rain drenching the freeway. The windshield wipers fought a losing battle with the elements. Horns honked and brake lights flashed as cars inched forward toward the airport off-ramp. Blair shivered.

"Cold, Chief?" the driver of the pickup truck asked, leaning forward to crank up the heater.

Blair didn't answer. He knew, and he was willing to bet Jim also knew, his shivering had less to do with the temperature outside the truck than it had to do with the words just spoken inside.

Casual words. Simple words. Words that had just rocked Blair Sandburg's world to its foundations.

Jim Ellison let out his breath in a long sigh, drumming his fingers as if he could make all the cars between him and his goal, the airport, disappear. 'Disappear the way he'd just ordered his partner to,' Blair thought, then shook his head. That wasn't fair. All Jim wanted him to do was--

"Sandburg, will you please talk to me?" the police detective implored.

Blair shrugged one shoulder, his eyes still stubbornly glued to the scene outside the truck. "Nothing to say, man. It's your place. Your name on the mortgage. You want me gone, I am, like, *so* gone, man!"

"Damn it, Sandburg!" Jim pounded his hand against the steering wheel. "That is not what I want!"

"Well, forgive me, Jim, I'm a little confused here. Did you or did you not just ask me to move out of your home?"

Jim Ellison took a deep breath, then another, then still another. Part of Blair, the part that was Guide to Ellison's Sentinel, approved. The other part: the part formed in a childhood that was, at best, unconventional, at worst, rootless; just wanted to wake up from the nightmare that the day had suddenly become.

"Chief, this has nothing to do with you," Jim said finally, his voice calm. "It has everything to do with me. Hell, you know how I've been lately! Jumping all over you, moody, irritable-- you've been a saint to put up with me. Not even *Carolyn* would have been as patient as you have been. But it's not right. If something doesn't give soon I'm afraid you'll end up hating me."

Blair shook his head. "I don't--" he started.

"Not now, but how long can you put up with me reaming you out for ten minutes because there's one water spot on the faucet?"

Blair winced at the reminder of the blistering argument of the day before. Actually there hadn't been much of an argument to it: Jim had yelled and Blair had merely stood there, stunned with his partner's ire.

"I need some space," Jim announced.

"Okay." Blair nodded. "That's cool. But tell me something, Jim, how long has this need for space been manifesting itself?" 'How long have you wanted to get rid of me and just never said?'

Jim drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "I don't know," he answered slowly. "Things have just been, you know, difficult lately. Ever since Inchaca died--"

"That was months ago, Jim!"

"I know. I just haven't been able to... Hell, Sandburg, I'm no good at this talking crap, you know that. All of a sudden, things just got so hard to handle. I had to spend more and more energy just keeping my temper. After that business with Landry, Simon suggested I go talk to Dr. Ayer. She helped, Chief, she pointed out that you and I are together 95% of the time. Except when you're at school... we live together, we work together, we hang out together. I don't have any... place where I can just... I don't have any space."

That word again.

"You talked to the department shrink about me?" Blair managed to ask evenly.

Jim sighed in relief as the sluggish traffic started to move and he could finally exit the freeway. "No," he corrected, "I talked to her about *me*. Us. She said some people aren't cut out for intimate relationships--"

"*Excuse me?*" Blair broke in.

"She means emotionally intimate," Jim hastened to explain, flushing a little.

"Well, I figured that, but--"

Jim held up his hand. "Let me finish, okay? Sandburg, I have to have you in my life as my Guide. I can't do this Sentinel thing without you; you know that. I want to have you in my life as my friend. I don't say this enough, Hell, I've probably never said it at all, but you are my best friend and I can't, *I won't*, lose that. So the only thing left is the roommate part. Please, say you understand."

'I don't.' Blair sighed in turn. 'Hey, it had to happen sooner or later. The man is a loner. He let me move in for one week... that was over two years ago.

'But I am his Guide. He can't take that away; it doesn't even sound like he wants to. And the friendship, that's still there, too. So if he needs some privacy, some *space*, is that so much to ask?'

Fairness demanded a "no" answer. Blair straightened up in his seat, forcing a smile on his face. "Hey, Jim, it's cool. No problem."

He saw the relief cross Ellison's face at his words. The detective said warningly, "Now, I don't want you to get the idea of running out and finding some rat hole to move into while I'm gone. We can go apartment hunting together-- I've seen the kind of place *you'd* pick to live in and I have a slightly higher standard. Like, heat, running water, and locks on the doors. Someplace close... maybe in the University Heights area, or those condos over on Summerhill."

Blair's carefully forged smile vanished with a sinking feeling in his stomach. "I'm not really a condo type... and those places are a little out of my budget."

They had reached the parking lot. Jim rolled down the window to pluck a ticket from the machine and the black-and-white arm flew upwards. "I can--"

"No!" Blair snapped. "Don't even go there. I'll find something in my price range."

Jim slowed the truck to make a wide turn into a parking space. "*We'll* find you something," he reiterated, reaching behind him for his bag. "It'll work out, Chief, you'll see."

"That sounds like my line." Blair forced another grin as he slid underneath the steering wheel. "Have a good trip, man."

"See you in a week." Jim Ellison smiled, a real smile that lit up his blue eyes. "Take care of yourself, Sandburg, remember your Blessed Protector won't be around to do it."

"You got it, man. Try not to get fried in all that hot Texas sunshine."

"You try not to drown," Jim returned lightly. He shouldered his bag and started to lope toward the terminal.

Blair watched until the tall figure vanished inside the building. He let his carefully contrived smile vanish as he leaned his head back against the seat.

'What the hell do I do now?'

After several long minutes of furious thought, he reached over and pulled his cell phone out of his backpack. He punched in the number of the Anthropology Department at Rainier University and waited. A woman's voice picked up on the second ring and he identified himself, then asked to speak to the department head.

"Hey, Dr. Martinez. I just wanted to ask you, I heard you were trying to find someone to house-sit for several months?" He listened to the response, then took a deep breath. "Yes, I do know somebody who is interested. Me."

~~One week later...~~

Jim Ellison glared impatiently at the portly businessman in front of him, who was taking his own sweet time pulling a suitcase out of the overhead compartment. His facial expression had no impact on the man, who sat the bag on his just-vacated seat while he pulled on an overcoat, then hefted the bag and slowly walked down the aisle, stopping to exchange pleasantries with two fight attendants and the pilot of the plane.

The trip back to Cascade had done a lot to mitigate the good feelings Jim had acquired during the week away. Whichever police department secretary that made his travel arrangements had either made a terrible mistake or had some personal grudge against Ellison. On the trip to Dallas, Jim had flown from Cascade to San Francisco to Dallas. The return trip, however, was scheduled on a cut-rate economy airline that crammed additional people on the plane and had landed in four other cities before finally making it to Cascade. The plane had over-heated one degree in Phoenix, necessitating the removal of 1500 pounds of fuel, which of course had to be replaced upon landing in San Francisco. Then, in Las Vegas, a ten-year-old boy traveling in care of the flight attendant somehow managed to get off the plane and departure was held up for over twenty minutes while Security found him. The flight over two hours late to Cascade.

The Sentinel felt the tension leave his shoulders slightly as his hearing focused on one particular heartbeat in the waiting area. Oddly enough, he had never mentioned to Blair that he could pick out the sound of his heartbeat anywhere. He probably *should* tell the kid someday; it might be important to his research.

Blair was leaning against the wall directly across from the gate. Jim was surprised to see his Guide had not come alone; Simon Banks, the captain of Major Crimes, and his son Darryl were there too. Blair moved forward to him. "Hey, Jim, how was it?" he asked easily.

"The trip back was awful. The seminar wasn't bad; better than I expected, really. Learned some things, met some people. Have you been waiting all this time?"

Blair's eyes shifted to watch a pretty young woman dodge around them in order to fling herself into the arms of a guy built along the general lines of a tyrannosaurus Rex. "Nah. I've traveled on Cattle Car Airlines before; I called before I left to find out how overdue the plane would be. Simon and Darryl came along so we could all go out to dinner together." He cast a mock-serious look at the tall captain. "Bet he'll want to hear all about the new cop-things you learned in Dallas."

"Cop things, Sandburg?" Simon questioned mockingly. "How about it, Jim? Are you up for Eddy's Steak House?"

"Sure." With effort, Jim stifled a sigh. 'No time to talk now,' he thought. He really wanted to talk with his partner, apologize for the way he'd left things between them. He didn't really want Blair to move out; he just hadn't been able to think of any other solution. And Dr. Ayer's concerns about Sandburg hadn't helped the situation any. 'Tonight, after we get home, we can really talk about it, he decided. Really talk, not just me dictating orders to the troops.' Satisfied with his line of thought, he grinned at the younger man as they joined the crowd in Baggage Claim. Blair grinned back, albeit a bit nervously. 'Don't worry, Chief, we'll come up with something.'

*** ***

Eddy's was crowded but Simon had had the forethought to make reservations. The cheerful Lebanese waiter brought a platter of raw vegetables to start, with humus and tabuli in separate dishes. They ordered, then still another waiter appeared with a basket of hot rolls, a wire-gilt basket of pats of butter, and a cabbage roll for each of them. Darryl stared at the cabbage leaf stuffed with delicately seasoned ground meat and rice with something like horror, so the other three split his between them.

Blair talked mostly with Darryl, about some school project he'd been helping the teen with; while Jim told Simon about the week in Dallas.

Then, large, juicy steaks arrived for all of them--even Blair--whose known disdain for red meat flew out the window when it came to Eddy's steaks. The steaks were accompanied by baked potatoes and more fresh vegetables. Jim avoided Blair's eye as he loaded his potato with butter, sour cream and cheese. He had just taken a second bite of succulent steak when suddenly Darryl turned to him, excitement painted all over his face, and commented, "So you going to help Blair move, Jim? Boy, wait until you see his new place! It's awesome!"

Dead silence. Jim almost choked on the bite of steak. He looked around the table: Simon looked as astounded as Jim felt; Darryl grinned happily, completely innocent of the shock he'd just handed the Sentinel. Blair was staring at his plate, his cheeks turning red.

Darryl looked at Blair, then back at Jim, belatedly realizing that something was wrong. "Umm," he said uncertainly, "did I say something wrong? Blair? Dad?"

"Shit," Blair muttered quietly into his plate.

*** ***

"I can't *believe* you did something so completely--" Words failed Jim Ellison and he broke off to stare out the window of the pickup, his jaw clenching.

'Uh-oh, there he goes with the jaw again. This is not good.' "I was going to tell you," Blair defended himself.

"When? When were you going to tell me, Sandburg? When you carried out your suitcase?"

"Well, actually, I've already moved my stuff," Blair admitted in a small voice. Then he rallied. "What is the big deal here, man? You asked me to move. I moved! I *am* sorry that Darryl spilled the beans before I could tell you, but what *exactly* is your problem?"

"My *problem* is that we decided we'd pick your new place together! I've seen your idea of adequate living quarters, Sandburg--"

"Excuse me? *We* didn't decide anything... *you* decided. Which is fine, but I am an adult, you know. I am capable of picking out a place to live."

"Really? Since when? I saw the last place you picked out, Sandburg, remember? The place that *didn't* have heat and *did* have rats the size of cocker spaniels. The place that blew up after a gangland shooting in the crackhouse next door!"

"That could have happened anywhere. Anyway, this place isn't like that. It has heat."

"Does it have locks on the doors? For that matter, does it have *doors?*" Jim inquired acidly.

Blair actually laughed. "Yes, it does. Jim, really, it's okay. You'll like it. It's on the beach, well, *above* the beach, even. You can come surf."

They were at a red light. Jim took his eyes off the road to stare at his partner. "On the beach? Where is this place, exactly?"

"About eighteen miles north on the Coast Highway. Man, it's great. See, this friend of one of the profs at Rainier has just inherited the house from like his uncle or his second cousin or something. They're in England for at least the next nine months. They're not sure if they want to sell it or keep it, so they asked Dr. Martinez if he could find someone just to live in it and take care of it, I mean, the house is like loaded with furniture and art and stuff.... and I don't have to pay the rent, just utilities."

The light turned green, but instead of making the right turn to head for the loft, Jim went straight. Beside him, Blair frowned. "Jim, where are we going?"

"Out to see this new place of yours," Jim answered grimly.

"*Tonight?*"

Jim glared at him. "You have some problem with me seeing it tonight?"

"Well, yeah! Among other things, I need my car! And it's parked at ho-- it's parked at your place," Blair corrected himself hastily.

Jim clenched his jaw again. "Fine," he ground out. "I'll take you to get your car, then I'll follow you out there."

"Jim--"

"Sandburg, this is *not* up for debate. I am going to see your new place. Tonight!"

*** ***

Blair sighed as he slowed to make the turn from the highway onto the narrow, twisting road that led up to the house. The lights from Jim's pickup truck were still stubbornly right behind him, as they had been since leaving the city lights of Cascade. Blair braked the Volvo and steered all the way to the right to avoid the giant pothole gaping in the road. He'd hit it the first time he'd driven up here--in Jim's truck that time--and spent the next several seconds wondering if the engine was going to fall out.

He approached the dip where rainwater rushed across the road, glad it wasn't raining tonight. Then the last turn, and his lights picked out the house and the paved parking area at the back. The security lights flared on around the house and he parked the Volvo in a pool of acid light, making sure he set the emergency brake.

Jim was scowling as he got out of the truck. Blair ignored him as he climbed the steep steps to the deck surrounding the house. He inserted the key in the back door, then stood aside to let Jim precede him in.

Jim glanced around the small service porch area, then, obeying Blair's gesture, stepped into the kitchen. Blair followed, leaning against the wall and trying to see it again through the Sentinel's eyes.

An old-fashioned, high-domed refrigerator. Lots of cupboards, originally painted white, now time- and dirt-darkened to ecru. The linoleum slightly buckled around the sink. The huge stainless steel stove, with its six burners and two ovens, took up the majority of one wall. The tiny microwave Blair had salvaged from his destroyed warehouse sat on the counter next to a black, rotary-dial telephone and two cardboard boxes filled with Blair's kitchen gear.

"Can I see the rest of it?" Jim asked, breaking the oppressive silence between them.

"Sure." Blair backtracked to the service porch, opened a door on the opposite wall. "This is where I'm going to sleep."

It was a good-sized room, probably originally intended for a cook or housekeeper. Windows on two walls would let in a lot of sun during the day but were covered with heavy, musty-smelling drapes now. Blair's suitcase, duffel and backpack rested on the bare mattress; more cardboard boxes were scattered around the room. Blair dropped into one of the two mismatched chairs in front of the gray stone fireplace. His old black and white portable TV sat on a massive oak chest at the foot of the bed. His eyes tracked Jim as the other man opened first one, then the other, doors on either side of the fireplace, finding first a roomy closet; behind the second an out-of-style, but fully adequate bathroom.

Jim raised one eyebrow. "The servant's quarters?" he asked mildly.

"That was *my* choice," Blair said, a little more sharply than he'd meant to. "The rest of the house is like way too fancy for me. I haven't even looked in all the rooms upstairs yet. Oh, but you've got to see this! Follow me!" Blair darted out of the room. A small passageway past the kitchen opened into an impressive, if chilly, entrance hall, with the floors the same gray stone as the fireplace, and the walls richly paneled in some dark wood. Blair hoped Jim would overlook the cobwebs stretched across two corners. He opened the double doors into the living room and fumbled on the wall for the light switch. Jim stepped into the room and blinked. Cathedral ceiling, one whole wall heavy leaden glass. "That looks over the ocean," Blair explained, waving at the windows. "It's really beautiful at sunset." He spun around in the center of the room. "Jim, *look* at this stuff! Do you have any idea how valuable some of this is? Those are jade and ivory figurines in those cabinets. Over here, this lamp, and that one... Ming vases. That horse statue there, that's Tang dynasty!"

Jim looked around, taking in the Persian carpets, the velvet and brocade upholstery of the chairs and twin love seats. His nose twitched. "Dusty," he commented.

"Yeah, I know. The guy that owned the house, the one that just died, he'd been in a nursing home for long time, a couple of years at least."

"The house has been vacant?" Jim asked sharply.

"Well, yeah, I guess."

"Not a good idea, if this stuff is as valuable as you say. Is the whole house like this?" Jim was walking around the room, turning his head from side to side as if he were searching for something.

"The rooms on this floor, yeah. I don't really know what all's upstairs, all the furniture is covered with dustsheets and I really haven't looked. There's an attic, but I haven't gone up there." Blair was speaking to a retreating back. Jim exited the room and made for the graceful staircase. Blair tagged along as Jim opened the door and stuck his head into every room on the second floor. "Six bedrooms," the Sentinel commented eventually. "Not counting the room downstairs and the master suite." He stopped by a closed door at the very end of the hall. "This another bedroom?" He twisted the doorknob.

"No, that's the stairs up to the attic. What's wrong?" Blair asked, noticing Jim rattling the knob.

"Door's locked."

"Locked?" Blair's eyes widened. "How did that happen? It wasn't locked the day Dr. Martinez showed me the house, I remember he opened it." Blair sighed. It had been a long day and a stress-filled week and he was tired. "There's a whole bunch of keys downstairs in the study desk," he commented. "I'm sure the key is there."

"Let's go get them," Jim said briskly, striding to the staircase.

Blair stared at his retreating back again before running to catch up with him in the downstairs hallway. "Jim, what do you want to look in the attic for? Jeez, man, it's almost midnight. Don't you have to be at the station tomorrow?"

Jim ignored him. "Where's the study?" he asked, stepping back toward the kitchen wing. "Back here?"

Blair combed his fingers through his shoulder length curls in exasperation. He felt grimy and fatigued from moving boxes and cleaning both the loft and this house today; he really wanted a hot shower and then to collapse into bed. But apparently Jim wasn't going to leave until he'd seen every room. The Sentinel was in what Blair like to call his "classic BP -- Blessed Protector mode". 'Either that or he's just convinced there has to be something wrong with the house if I like it,' Blair thought, irritated. He raised his voice. "No, Jim, wrong way. The study is here." He opened the door opposite the living room, flipping on the light switch. Instead of an overhead light, a spotlight came on, highlighting the picture hanging on the north wall. Blair had vaguely noticed the portrait earlier in the day, but now he was struck by it. A woman, early thirties maybe, with red hair in an elaborate weave around a diamond tiara. A scoop-necked black gown provided an appropriate background for a gold statuette she held clasped in her hands.

He heard a gasp and turned to see Jim in the doorway, staring over his head at the picture. The color drained from the detective's face. "Shit," he breathed. Then his eyes flared to life and "Oh, my God. That's Rita Mallory. This must have been *her* house." He transferred his gaze to his Guide. "Sandburg, pack your things... I don't think you should stay here."

Blair frowned. "What are you talking about?" He transferred his gaze to the portrait, noticing again how the woman seemed to be looking directly at them. "Jim, I'm not leaving here," he explained calmly, sitting down in one of the huge leather armchairs. "I've agreed to take care of this house for at least six months, and take care of it I will."

"Sandburg, I don't think it's a good idea for you to live here. It's too remote, too isolated." Jim was arguing with Blair, but he kept looking at the portrait.

Blair sighed. "It's not that remote. Jeez, Jim, I spent six months in Somalia once. *That* was remote. So who is... or was, Rita Mallory?" He frowned; the name was vaguely familiar, like maybe he should know it, but he couldn't determine why.

"She was a movie star, a big one, in the fifties and early sixties. Won two Academy Awards. This must have been her house. I knew it was out this way somewhere, but I didn't know for sure where."

"Okay," Blair said slowly, still not seeing what the problem was. "I mean, cool, I guess, but--"

"She was murdered," Jim broke in. "Nineteen sixty... six, I think, no, sixty-seven. Her whole family...there were a couple of kids, and her boyfriend. He was some kind of fringe mobster, it was suspected that the deaths may have had something to do with that, but no one was ever arrested."

Blair's heart was pounding uncomfortably fast. "And this happened... where?"

Jim's eyes met his. "Right here, Chief. In this house."

"Oh." Blair swallowed hard. "How?"

Jim's eyes flickered. "I don't think you really want to know," he said shortly.

"Oh," Blair repeated. After a long, uncomfortable silence, he went on, trying to force a note of cheer into his voice, "Well, it was thirty years ago."

Jim didn't look convinced. "Look, Chief, I just don't think this is such a good idea. Why don't you come back--"

"Damn, Jim, what do you want out of me?" Blair exploded. "You ask me to move out, because you 'need your space'. Okay, I moved. Now you don't like where I've moved and you want me to move back? Can we, like, get on the same page here?"

"I didn't ask you to move to the first available hovel you could find!" Jim fired back.

Blair rolled his eyes. "It's hardly a hovel." He made a production out of looking at his watch. "Wow, look at the time. I have a nine o'clock class tomorrow." He raised innocent blue eyes to look at Jim. "I'll come by the station after classes are over."

Jim looked as if he wanted to argue, but then he shrugged, glanced at his own watch, took one last look at the portrait, and followed Blair from the study. "Are you sure you'll be all right here alone?" he asked, when he was standing by the back door.

"I'll be fine." Blair reached around the bigger man to open the door.

Jim stepped out into the cold, damp air. "Make sure to lock all the doors and--"

"Jim, I'll be fine," Blair interrupted. "Go on. Be careful driving home. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."

*** ***

Jim Ellison sat bolt upright in bed, every nerve ending screaming, adrenaline pounding into every cell as the Sentinel instinctively prepared to protect, to defend.

The loft lay dark, quiet, and peaceful around him.

After several frozen seconds, Jim's mind belatedly caught up with his body and he dropped back onto the pillows with a sigh. A quick peek at the bedside clock revealed that it was 4:10 a.m. Jim groaned. It had been almost two when he had finally fallen into bed and this was his third awakening tonight.

He remembered Sally, the housekeeper his father had hired to keep an eye on Jim and his brother Steven after their mother had left. Sally had always made hot milk with cinnamon when somebody couldn't sleep. Sandburg, no doubt, would prescribe one of those crazy teas he was always drinking. Chamomile or verbena or peppermint or something like that.

With a sudden determination, Jim swung his legs over the side of the bed and got up. There was no milk in the loft, he knew, but with any luck Sandburg had left some teas in the kitchen.

He intentionally did not turn on a light as he made his way through the living room. He could see without it of course, but he didn't want to see. It had been shocking enough to walk in the living room earlier and see how cold and empty it was. Odd, really, the only things actually gone were some books on the shelf, the tribal masks Blair had hung on one wall, a few knick knacks.

There was still a box of assorted herb teas in the cupboard over the stove. Jim opened three cupboards before he realized the teakettle was gone with Sandburg. He took a deep breath and pulled out a small saucepan. He filled it with water and placed it on the stove.

Behind him, the closed French doors to Blair's-- to the spare room-- mocked him silently. He thought about the day his Guide had come home from school to find the doors replacing the curtain that had been there before. An unspoken confirmation of what Jim already knew: that this was Blair's home, too.

'Until you opened your mouth at the wrong time, without thinking what you were saying,' Jim told himself savagely.

That wasn't true, though. He had known what he was saying, meant every word of it in that instant of saying it.

He glanced over at the living room, to the couch where Incacha had died. It seemed like his life had been in a downward spiral ever since. So many things had happened, so quickly, one after another with no time to rest or regroup. Blair had urged him to take some time off after his undercover assignment in the prison was over; Jim had refused. He'd continued to do his job, never noticing his temper was getting shorter and more explosive and more often than not, Blair was on the receiving end of it. Then a murder case had resulted in Jim having to see his father and learn that the elder Ellison had known about Jim's enhanced senses all along,

Blair had hung in there for all of it. Dr. Ayer had questioned Jim about that, about why Blair was almost foolishly loyal. At the time, Jim had chalked it up to Blair being his Guide, and since he couldn't reveal *that* to the shrink, he'd turned the question aside. But now, in the dark stillness of his kitchen, with the loft seeming too large and much too quiet without the sounds of Blair's heartbeat and breathing coming from behind the closed French doors, Jim considered it again.

It hit him suddenly, out of the darkness -- Sandburg *wanted* to leave! He'd had enough, enough of the danger, enough of being on the receiving end of Jim's temper, enough of being a magnet for every nutcase that wandered through Cascade. Why else would he have moved out so quickly, without even talking to Jim about it? *He wanted to leave.*

Panic clenched Jim's stomach; cold sweat broke out all over his body. How could --how would-- he cope without his Guide?

'No!' Jim told himself fiercely. 'No, that's not it. Yes, maybe he wanted--needed-- to get out of here, away from living with me and working with me, but he won't abandon his Sentinel. I know he won't. He needs me for his Ph.D.'

But hadn't Blair admitted he already had enough material for ten dissertations?

'It doesn't make any difference. He'll hang in there with me. I just have to-- go easier on him, stop dumping everything on him. Let him know I value him. It will be okay, with him living in his own place he won't have to put up with my temper, and I--I can have quiet, and be alone; maybe that's what I need. Maybe Dr. Ayer is right-- Blair isn't cut out to be a policeman, he doesn't *want* to be a policeman. Everything that's happened, all the shit that has happened to him, he's put up with because of me. Because he knows a Sentinel needs His Guide.'

He startled back to awareness at the crackling hiss as water boiled over on the stove. For fully a minute he stared in the darkness as blue flames blazed orange. Then, with a little shake, he moved to turn the fire off.

He made the tea but didn't drink it. Long after it had grown cold, he was still sitting at the kitchen table.

*** ***

Blair grinned cheerfully as the last student left the room. What a great class! Every once in awhile, a teacher -- or a graduate assistant, as the case might be-- was blessed with a class full of students who made it a joy to walk in to teach them. Blair seemed to have a lot of them. He hoped he wasn't going to use up all the good karma before he even got out of school!

He glanced at his watch. Almost ten-fifteen; Jim would be at the station, catching up on all the reports that had no doubt multiplied on his desk while he was out of town. Maybe Blair should call--

'No. He said he needs space.'

His face somber now, Blair hastily shoved the last of his papers in his backpack and left the classroom. He had an appointment with a student at eleven; he'd fill in the time by going to the library and seeing if that book he'd requested had come in yet.

His mind drifted to the night before. He'd slept well after Jim had left; with no dreams about movie stars murdered in their beds. This morning before he'd left he'd gone back into the study and looked at the portrait of Rita Mallory by the light of day. 'She really was beautiful,' he thought. 'Her eyes almost seem to follow you around the room.'

The student working the request desk in the library shook her head when Blair asked if the book he wanted--an English translation of some Peruvian texts; he had high hopes of finding Sentinel references in it--had come in yet. Disappointed, Blair turned to leave, then his eyes fell on one of the information terminals. Impulsively, he sat down and typed "Rita Mallory" in at the prompt.

References started appearing on the screen. Magazine articles, newspaper articles, a biography and three books written about her murder, a reference in "Hollywood Babylon, Volume III." Several of the periodical references were asterisked, indicating they were available on microfiche. Blair made notes of several, then, with a quick glance at his watch, he headed for the stacks. There wasn't enough time to go up to the third floor microfiche machines, but with any luck at least one of the books would be available.

*** ***

Jim sat down at his desk and groaned at the sight of all the folders in his "IN" box. A stack of pink "while-you-were-out" message forms were neatly held down by his stapler. He quickly glanced through the pile of mail and determined that none of it was urgent, then picked up the pink message slips. He read the top one twice, feeling the frown crease his forehead. Raising his head, he looked around, but Major Crimes was oddly empty this morning. Simon was in his office and Jim smelled fresh coffee; he rose and briskly walked over to the half-open door.

"Simon?"

"Hey, Jim, come in. My cousin just gave me some new Colombian Roast. You look like you could use a cup."

Jim came farther into the office and sank into a chair. "Yeah, well, I didn't get much sleep. Jet lag, I guess."

"Sure it wasn't just that you were missing your roommate?"

Jim didn't bother to dignify that with an answer. He held out the pink slip of paper. "What's this mean?"

Simon glanced at it, his face showing nothing, but Jim could hear his heart rate increase. "Says you have an appointment with Craig Stephens at ten-thirty." He glanced at his watch. "He should be here any time."

"Craig Stephens, that guy who was on the cover of "Time" last month? The one who owns Medcomp?"

"It wasn't just "Time." "People," "Newsweek," "USA Today." "Fortune 500" lists him as one of the "Young Millionaires to Watch."

"Watch what?"

"Turn into billionaires, I guess," Simon answered dryly. "But I guess this guy really is a certified genius, graduated from medical school at age twenty-two, then went back and got Ph.D. in something to do with computers. People who know say some of his software will eventually eliminate the need for animal or human experimentation for new drugs and procedures. He's being talked about for a Nobel Prize."

"So why is he coming to see me? What's he even doing in Cascade? I thought he lived down in Seacouver."

"He does. And he's coming to see you because his wife has been missing for five days. Last time anybody saw her was Thursday morning; she was staying at the Cascade Hyatt Regency."

"Kidnapping?" Jim asked alertly.

Simon shook his head. "I don't think so. No ransom demands, no signs of foul play. She's just listed as a Missing Person."

Jim frowned. "Then why Major Crimes?" he asked. "Why not Missing Persons?"

"Because, Dr. Stephens wants the 'best man' available on the case. The Governor told the Mayor who told the Chief, who told me... that that means *you.*" Simon glanced out the door. "Speak of the devil, there's the good doctor himself."

Jim turned as Simon waved the newcomer in. Craig Stephens was thirty-six, he remembered from the "Time" article. About Jim's height and build, he looked like he worked out regularly. The guy was almost movie star handsome, but, as Jim acknowledged Simon's introduction and moved forward to shake his hand, he registered the tell-tale signs of extreme nervousness.

"I do appreciate your time, Detective," Stephens said. He had a very soft voice and Jim noticed that he looked everywhere but at him.

Simon handed Jim a manila file folder. "I hadn't had a chance to put this on your desk yet. It's the file on Mrs. Stephens. Dr. Stephens, why don't you sit down here? Care for coffee?"

Jim hastily leafed through the file as Simon poured out another cup of coffee and topped off his own and Jim's cups. According to her photo, Melissa Stephens was a strikingly beautiful woman, with shoulder-length dark brown hair and large blue eyes. She was thirty-five, he read, five-foot-seven, 104 pounds. Frowning, Jim glanced back at the photo. She didn't look underweight in it. He glanced up at Stephens. "Your wife has lost a lot of weight recently?"

Stephens actually flushed. "Yes, I'm afraid she has. Too much. She... hasn't been well."

"She's ill?" Simon asked in a surprised tone.

"Yes... well, she's been... under some stress over the last several months."

"Stress," Jim repeated.

"Stress," Stephens confirmed.

Jim picked up the file again and leafed through it. A note on the bottom of a page caught his eye. 'Oldest daughter, age seventeen, killed in November.' "Would this 'stress' include the death of your daughter?"

"That... was the beginning of the stress," Stephens conceded. "Melissa-- my wife-- was inconsolable when Rebeckeh... when the accident... they were very close."

'Does this guy ever complete a sentence?' "If you don't mind telling us, how did your daughter die?"

For the first time, Stephens looked directly at Jim, albeit very briefly. A spasm of anger quickly crossed his handsome face and was instantly gone. "She was killed in a car accident," he said flatly. After a long pause, he went on, "She was dating a young man. She wanted to stop seeing him for awhile. Date other boys. She told him and he... he took it badly. The police said the car was going ninety miles an hour when he lost control. Rebeckeh was killed instantly."

"I'm sorry," Jim said, meaning it, but knowing the words were no comfort. He waited, then went on, "Why was your wife in Cascade, Dr. Stephens?"

"She was looking for someone." Stephens sighed, lifted one hand to rub his eyes. "Detective, Melissa's parents both died soon after Rebeckeh did. Melissa was devastated. While she was going through their papers, Melissa discovered that she had been adopted as a baby. The people she had grown up calling "Mom" and "Dad" weren't really her natural parents at all. Learning this... unsettled her. She became obsessed with finding out who her 'real' parents were. I advised against it but she didn't listen to me. She discovered she had been born in Cascade."

"Oh. So she was looking for... who? Her natural mother? Did she know the name?"

Stephens shook his head. "I don't know. Melissa knew I disapproved of her quest and she didn't discuss it with me. I was in Washington DC when she left."

Jim sensed a familiar heartbeat and looked up to see Blair enter the bullpen. His partner stopped at his desk and looked around quizzically. Jim heard someone say, "He's in Simon's office." Blair nodded and seated himself at the desk, pulled a thick green book from his backpack and started to read. Jim smiled unconsciously, the dread that had been bothering him all morning vanishing now. With a sigh, he turned back to Stephens. Reviewing his notes, he frowned. Something didn't add up.

*** ***

Blair saw Jim closeted in Simon's office with the captain and another man. Deciding he wasn't needed in there, the young man plunked himself down behind Jim's desk and pulled "Hollywood Babylon" out of his backpack. He'd been surprised to find it in the University library. Before he could open it, his eyes fell on a file on Jim's desk. By now, he knew the police department filing system as well as he knew his name. Red file meant murder case. And the bright yellow sticker on the front marked it as "Unsolved." Curious, Blair opened the file and scanned the first page for the victim's name.

Victims, in this case. Rita Mallory, age 34. Nico Rossini, age 42. Pamela Rossini, age 16. Trevor Winfeld, age 5.

Blair shivered. He turned the page to the initial officer's report.

The date on the report was May 29, 1967. Police had been summoned to the home of movie actress Rita Mallory by her housekeeper, who reported finding the body of Miss Mallory's boyfriend, Nico Rossini, in the front entranceway. Rossini, listed in the report as being an "independent businessman", had been shot twice in the heart at close range. In addition, he had various injuries "consistent with falling down the stairs". Upstairs were three more bodies: Rossini's daughter and Mallory's son were both found in their beds. The girl had been smothered, apparently with her own pillow. The little boy had been stabbed once in the throat. Down the hall, sprawled on the carpet in front of the fireplace--Blair remembered that room, the fireplace was glossy pink marble -- was the body of Rita Mallory herself. "Multiple stab wounds in chest, neck, abdomen, and pelvis." Blair flipped the page and found himself looking at a black and white picture. It took his stunned brain a few minutes to realize that he was seeing the body of Rita Mallory. He slammed the file shut, feeling nausea tear at his throat.

"Chief?"

Startled, Blair looked up to see Jim standing over him. The detective's eyes fell to the closed folder on the desk and a look of understanding crossed his features. "You opened it?"

Blair nodded.

"Sorry, Sandburg, I hadn't had a chance to see it yet. Someone must have brought it up after I went into Simon's office. Is it bad?"

"It's not too pleasant," Blair admitted. He touched the yellow sticker on the outside of the folder. "They never caught anyone?"

"Don't think so. I'll have to read it, I have only the vaguest memories of it, but I do remember one of my instructors talking about the case when I was in the Academy. Cascade doesn't have too many unsolved murder cases, especially not one that remains unsolved for thirty years. Rita Mallory was in the process of getting divorced from some big yahoo in Hollywood and she'd taken up with a guy with Mob ties. The opinion at the time was that it was a Mob hit, or maybe that the husband had hired it done, but nothing could ever be proved."

Blair stood up so that Jim could sit in his own chair and picked up the clipped sheets of paper the detective had dropped on the desk. He looked at the photo. "Who's this?"

"Melissa Stephens," sighed Jim, sinking down into his chair. "As in Mrs. Dr. Craig Stephens."

Blair arched his eyebrows. "That guy on "20/20" last week? Man, he's supposed to be a given for the Nobel Prize next year. What's the deal with his wife?"

"She's missing."

"Kidnapped?" Blair's eyes widened.

Jim shook his head tiredly. "Don't think so. It looks to me as if she just decided to lose herself. I don't know, though, something doesn't add up." He rubbed his eyes, then massaged his temples.

"What is with you?" Blair asked sharply. "Man, you look awful. Didn't you get any sleep at all last night?"

"What makes you say that?" Jim snapped. He caught himself. "Sorry, Chief, didn't mean to jump on you." He glanced at his watch. "Hey, did you have lunch yet? What say I buy?"

Blair stared at him, then his face slowly relaxed into a hesitant grin. "Okay, sure. Hey, did you see the paper this morning? The re-release of "Grease" opens tonight. Want to go?"

"Grease?" Jim repeated. "The movie, you mean? I've seen it on TV."

"I have too, but it's different on the big screen. Come on, big guy," Blair coaxed. Jim laughed and agreed.

When they were in Jim's truck, headed to a nearby deli, Blair asked quietly, "So, why didn't you sleep last night?"

Jim hesitated, caught off guard and groping for an answer. "Uh, I don't know. Jet lag, maybe. Nothing to worry about."

Blair didn't look convinced but he let the subject go.

*** ***

Blair fumbled with his keys, finally getting the right one inserted in the lock. He'd noticed before that the back door lock stuck; tonight it took him three tries before the door finally opened on the pitch-black kitchen. Blair silently cursed his forgetfulness. He'd meant to leave the kitchen light on but apparently he'd forgotten. The light switch was across the room on the wall opposite the door. Arms outstretched in front of him, Blair cautiously felt his way across the kitchen, stumbling once over a chair before his searching hand encountered the switch. With a sigh of relief, he flipped it on and cheerful light flooded the room.

Blair glanced at the blue-and-white delft clock, ticking merrily away above the sink. Almost one in the morning. It had been past seven when Jim had finally been satisfied with the inroads they'd made on all the backed-up work piled on his desk. Since they'd missed the early movie, Jim insisted on buying dinner at Blair's favorite Italian restaurant. Then he'd wanted ice cream after the late movie was over.

It had been a good evening; like so many they'd spent together. Blair was actually surprised when instead of going to the loft, Jim had driven him back to the station so Blair could pick up his car. For most of the evening he'd actually forgotten that he'd moved out. The Volvo hadn't wanted to start, and Jim had asked if Blair wanted to spend the night at the loft. Before Blair could answer the engine had turned over. Blair didn't know whether to be glad or sorry.

He put the teapot on to boil and rummaged in the cupboard next to the stove. Funny. He must have left the chamomile tea at the loft. Deciding he wasn't in the mood for tea anyway, Blair turned off the burner and then the kitchen lights, heading into his bedroom.

The thud his backpack made as it hit the floor reminded him that "Hollywood Babylon" was still inside. After brushing his teeth and changing into a T-shirt and boxers for sleeping, he propped up both pillows against the headboard and climbed in bed to read.

He'd just skimmed the book earlier, trying to overcome his revulsion at the gossipy, sensationalistic way it was written. Now he turned straight to chapter twelve, "The Charmed Life and Grisly Death of Rita Mallory." Within minutes he was thoroughly engrossed in the story of the girl born in Cascade as Mary Margaret O'Malley. Mary Margaret, nicknamed "Rita" by her Irish-immigrant father, was the third of five children. At age nineteen she had left Cascade, and hitchhiked to Hollywood to follow her dream of being an actress. Unlike hundreds of other girls with the same dream, Rita not only had the talent, she had the brains to keep herself out of trouble while she waited for her big break. She got a job as a typist in a lawyer's office. The lawyer did a lot of work for MGM studios, so before long the stunningly beautiful receptionist was reading -- and obtaining-- bit parts. Over the next five years, Mary Margaret, now re-christened Rita Mallory, worked for the lawyer and obtained increasingly larger parts. Then, she was cast as the lead in "Satin Bedspread". The film went on to become the highest grossing film that year and earned Rita her first Academy Award nomination.

As beautiful as she was on film, the unknown author gushed, there was something about Rita that the camera could never capture, an allure that made men her devoted slaves. She carried on discreet affairs with many of her leading men, although the love affair never outlasted the filming of the movie.

Rita attracted the interest of wealthy and influential producer Roger Winfield, older than she, and married. Winfield cast Rita in three films, always encouraging her to become his mistress. Possibly believing that he would be much more helpful as a husband than as a lover, Rita refused, instead embarking on an affair with a young, unknown actor she'd met while filming "Enchanted Summer", in the role that eventually earned her the Oscar. It was widely rumored that Rita had become pregnant by her young lover, infuriating Winfield. Almost overnight, the young actor found himself blacklisted, unable to get a job washing windows at a movie studio, much less acting in a movie. Winfield divorced his wife and married his star. The marriage resulted in a son, Trevor, but was a disaster otherwise, marked by loud and public brawls. By 1966, Rita had left her husband and returned to her hometown with her small son. She bought a mansion with an ocean view, made another film, "Cold Start," and became involved with Rico Rossini, a good looking cad with a teenaged daughter, no visible means of support, and widely rumored underworld ties....

A gigantic yawn almost split Blair's jaw. He glanced at the clock and was startled to see that he'd been reading for over an hour. Reluctantly giving in to his body's need for rest, he slid a scrap of paper into the book to mark his place and reached out to switch off the bedside light.

*** ***

'Somebody up there *really* hates me.'

Jim Ellison flopped over yet again, pounding his pillow into a shape closely approximating a football. It didn't help.

Nothing seemed to be helping.

Jim Ellison, for the second night in a row, couldn't sleep.

At least last night he'd dozed occasionally, even if it was only to waken suddenly. Tonight his eyelids stubbornly refused to close at all.

Finally, he sat up with a sigh, reaching over to twist on the bed side lamp. He didn't need the light to see but it was comforting nonetheless. The loft seemed so empty. So noisy... the hum of the refrigerator, the moan of the air purifier downstairs; the rumbling as the water heater reheated; the ticking of the clock in the kitchen; the roar of traffic on the---

Jim's eyes jerked open. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead as he realized how close he'd come to zoning . What was the deal with his hearing, anyway? He couldn't seem to turn the dial down, it was like he was straining to hear something that wasn't there to hear. What?

'Sandburg.' The realization hit Jim hard. Sandburg wasn't there, no tapping of his laptop keys, no whisper of turning pages. No rhythmic heartbeat or steady breathing to assure the Sentinel the Guide was close by--

Jim caught himself again. Determinedly, he shoved back the covers and padded downstairs. Run water in a saucepan, put the pan on the stove. A teabag in a mug. The mug he pulled down from the cupboard was a dark blue one Blair had given Jim the first Christmas they knew each other. Jim stared at the mug, then replaced it on the shelf. Turning the burner off the stove, he reached into the refrigerator for a beer.

He settled himself on the couch, grabbed the remote control and aimlessly clicked away, finally settling on an infomercial for a food dehydrator. Turning the volume so low that it was all but nonexistent, even to his Sentinel hearing, he pulled the basket with magazines over. Sandburg had cleaned the place up before he left; Jim could still smell the cleaning solution when he came in, and he'd piled all the magazines in the basket. Jim leafed through them until he found what he was looking for, the Newsweek with Dr. Craig Stephens on the cover. Sipping his beer, he thumbed through the pages until he reached the article. He didn't read it as much as study the photos: Craig Stephens and wife (holding hands, Jim noted) "Eating lunch on the run in London." Stephens speaking before the North American Association of Rehabilitation Engineers, his wife sitting behind him. Background photos: a teen-aged Stephens winning the California State High School Science Fair, accepting the first prize "with his girlfriend by his side"--obviously a younger Melissa Stephens. Stephens in a graduation robe, proudly holding two diplomas in his right hand while his left was around his obviously-pregnant, blissfully beaming wife. A studio portrait of the whole family, the teen-age daughter the image of her mother in the earlier photos; the two boys dressed up for the occasion in dark blue suits. The youngest one had one sprig of red hair standing straight up.

The last picture took up a full page, a full-color representation of Stephens testifying before the House Subcommittee on Medical Research. Seated in the first row of the observation gallery was his wife, wearing a navy-blue suit. The caption overleaf read "Stephens often refers to the relationship between medical researchers and funding source as 'A marriage of unequals'. He contrasts that to his own marriage to wife Melissa, which he likens to 'Body' and 'Soul'. "A body without a soul has a hollow within."

Picture perfect family. Picture perfect life. But something had caused that woman to walk away from her husband and surviving children. Where were the boys, anyway? Jim made a mental note to ask Stephens in the morning. Maybe they had heard from their mother.

His eyes kept going back to the family picture. There was something about it... something... shaking his head in disgust, Jim let the magazine fall closed. He tilted up his bottle to get the last sip of beer.

"A hollow within. Interesting phrase." What did it mean, really? Empty? Lost? Stephens had looked both empty and lost at the station today.

Jim slowly climbed the stairs to his bed. He doubted he'd sleep any better now than he did before. A hollow within.

Funny. Kind of described this apartment without Sandburg.

*** ***

Blair bolted awake, panic rushing through him.

'What was that noise?'

He strained to listen over the thundering of his heart.

Velvet blackness wrapped around him. There was no light in the room. Blair frowned. As his limbs woke again from their frozen panic, he turned his head to look at the digital alarm clock by the bed, but the comforting green glow was absent. Blair reached for the bedside lamp, clicked it on. Nothing.

'Power failure?'

The noise again. Blair stiffened, then relaxed and even laughed a little at his own foolishness as he heard the wind whistling around the corner of the house. Dr. Martinez had warned him the electricity was liable to go out in bad weather, wind or rain.

The thumping noise had probably just been a loose shutter or storm window.

Well, he was wide-awake now. He might as well get up and check. He'd bought a heavy-duty flashlight just for occasions like this.

He felt a draft in the hallway and followed it to the open door of the study. Playing the flashlight along the room, he smiled in relief as one of the heavy oak shutters moved in the breeze. "No wonder!" Blair exclaimed aloud, walking over to close it. A pane of glass had been knocked completely out. Blair hadn't noticed before because the shutters had always been fastened. He took a quick look out the window; sure enough, fragments of glass glittered in the beam of his flashlight.

Blair pushed the shutters together and fastened the brass clamp that held them that way. "I'll replace the glass this Saturday," he said, out loud again, finding his own voice oddly comforting in the vast silence of this house. 'Maybe Jim will come over and spend the day.' He shook his head. 'Jim needs space. I've got to give him that. If he feels too pressured he could cut me off entirely. I can't let that happen--Jim may be doing better with his senses but a Sentinel has to have a Guide.' His mind shuddered away from the picture that it had seen too often lately, Jim, the first day that had met, zoned, completely unaware in the path of the garbage truck. It could have just as easily been in the path of a bullet.

As he turned away from the window, the flashlight played on a open door at the bottom of the wall of bookshelves door. Surprised, Blair knelt on the floor and looked into a deep cupboard. There were a number of large, leather-bound books stacked in there. Blair pulled one out and leafed through it, holding the flashlight so he could see. Pictures, newspaper clippings, programs, publicity stills. Blair panned the flashlight so he could see the faded writing on the first page. 1959-1960. Below it was a magazine advertisement, in full color, for the film "Enchanted Summer". An artist's representation of a woman, obviously Rita Mallory, staring into an impossibly-blue ocean while a young man walked down the beach away from her. Down at the bottom, in bold black print, the credits: Starring Rita Mallory, directed by Roger Winfield, Co-Starring Brian Rush, Debra Davies, Colin LaMonte. Blair recognized the name of Debra : she'd played the family matriarch in a western he'd watched a few times as a kid-- and a lot more as an adult-- especially since moving in with Jim. The reruns were shown on one of the local channels.

Curious, Blair leafed through the book. Rita Mallory, if that was who had put this scrapbook together, kept everything: newspaper clippings if her name was even listed as "Also attending the party were"; publicity stills in black and white and color; formal portraits and candid snapshots. Blair idly glanced at a cutting from "Variety" announcing that "A Spokesman for Screen Siren Rita Mallory has announced that she has withdrawn from filming "Emerald Isle" due to ill health. Miss Mallory is suffering from mononucleosis and will be recuperating for the next few months at an unknown location. Director Roger Winfield announced that Miss Mallory will be replaced in the role of Claire by Debra Davies, who co-starred with Miss Mallory in the film "Enchanted Summer" last year."

Blair yawned and rubbed at his eyes. Deciding that if he was going to be worth anything through the day he'd better get some sleep, he replaced the scrapbook, then closed the cupboard before going back to his room.

Sleep came quickly.

When he woke again, the bedside light was on and sunshine streamed through the chinks in the shutters. The clock was flashing "12:00" and Blair reached for his watch, bolting out of bed when he saw the time. "Shit!" he exclaimed, grabbing a clean shirt, underwear and jeans and leaping into the bathroom. He showered fast, dressed, and pulled his still-wet hair back with a rubber band. Shoving feet into running shoes, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and detoured by the refrigerator for a carton of yogurt to eat while driving.

There wasn't any.

'I know I bought some the other day.'

Blair pulled out the milk carton and looked behind it. Nothing. And it wasn't like the refrigerator was so full that the contents weren't obvious at first glance.

He shrugged and leaned down to get an orange out of the produce drawer. There was one there and he frowned again. 'Weren't there two yesterday? Maybe not... maybe that was the day before.' Still, he was uneasy as he started to peel the fruit. Then he caught sight of the clock above the sink and all thoughts of yogurt and oranges disappeared as he slammed the door shut and raced for his car, making sure to leave the kitchen light on this time.

*** ***

Continued in Part Two...