Blair shuffled out of Hargrove Hall, his backpack hanging precariously from one shoulder. Covering his mouth with his hand, he stifled a yawn. The grad student by day, drug dealer by night thing was wearing on him. Since Cyndi's murder two days ago, he'd been afraid to go to sleep, afraid he'd have more visions.
It was nearly six pm as he crossed the darkened parking lot to his car. Thank god he didn't have to head over to Cristo's warehouse tonight. Unlocking the door, he climbed into his Volvo, stuck the key in the ignition, turned it, and nothing happened. He stared at the dashboard for several seconds, then leaned his head on the steering wheel. Mike had warned him the starter was going. Why, oh why hadn't he listened?
"Shit." This was great, just great. It couldn't get much worse.
Blair looked up at the windshield. Fat drops of rain were beginning to come down. "It can't get any worse, Sandburg," he snarled to himself sarcastically. "Yeah, right." Getting out of the car, he popped the hood and began wiggling wires. One of them had to go to the starter, right?
His attention was so concentrated on the motor that he didn't realize someone had walked up until a warm alto voice said, "Hey."
Startled, Blair straightened up and bumped his head on the underside of the hood. "Oh, damn it, ow!" He turned toward the speaker, rubbing his head. Friendly blue eyes twinkling in merriment met his. At least she had the good grace not to laugh out loud at his predicament.
"Dee..." he breathed. Even though she'd left him two months ago, the sight of his ex-lover still made his pulse race and his body ache for her every time he saw her. He took a moment to just admire her, taking in the long chocolate hair spilling over her shoulders, the brilliant blue sweater that matched her eyes, and the painted on black jeans. The ever-present long black trenchcoat and an umbrella she held thoughtfully over both of them completed the ensemble.
The last time he'd seen her had been a couple weeks ago. They both worked in Hargrove Hall, but in different departments, he in anthropology, and she in history. They often passed in the hallway, but rarely said more than "Hi" to each other. It was simply too painful. "What are you doing here?" he stammered, suddenly nervous.
She smiled at him tenderly. "I was getting ready to go home, and I saw you were having car trouble. I'd offer to take a look at it for you, but you know me and cars." She shrugged in apology. "I can offer you a ride home, though."
Blair shook his head. "No, thanks, Dee. I'll be fine, really."
Cocking an eyebrow at him, she replied, "Jim on his way, eh?" When he hesitated a bit too long in his reply, she slammed the hood shut and took gentle hold of his arm. "Get your backpack, Lobo. I'll take you wherever you need to go."
Grabbing his pack out of the car, he followed the Immortal to her Cherokee, which was parked a couple of spaces down from his Volvo. Climbing into the passenger seat, he fastened his seatbelt, then sat with his bag on his lap, his arms wrapped around it as if it could protect him from the questions he was sure would come.
Dee started the Jeep, and pulled out of the parking lot. "To the loft?" she asked.
Blair swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat at the mention of the apartment he'd shared with Jim. He hadn't seen his home in over six weeks. Finally he managed to choke out, "No. I don't live with Jim anymore. I have a place of my own." Blair stared out the windshield, wondering what he would tell her if she asked why.
There was silence for a few seconds, then she said, "I need the address, Lobo. Otherwise we'll be driving around all night."
"1025 Forest Avenue," he managed, and she took a left at the next light.
Once again there was a short period of quiet inside the car, then Dee asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Biting his lip, Blair shook his head. "No. It's best if I don't." He felt her intense gaze on him, and he silently prayed for her to let it go, because if she pushed, he just might crack, and the last thing he needed was an enraged Champion tearing up Cascade's drug trade.
"Okay." She changed the subject. "Have you had dinner? No, of course you haven't. Do you have plans for dinner? Because if you don't, I know this great Indian place right off Forest. My treat."
This was just too surreal. He was living a double life as a criminal, separated from his Sentinel, his friend had been brutally murdered, and she was talking about eating out. Pressing his forehead against the cold window, Blair breathed through the nausea churning in his stomach. "You feeling okay?" Dee asked him, the back of her hand brushing against his cheek.
Her touch was almost too much. He couldn't deal with this, with her caring, not with all the ugly shit going on in his life. "I'm fine," he finally choked out. "Please, just take me home." Instead, Blair felt the Cherokee slowing as Dee parked it at the curb, leaving the engine running. He sensed her lean toward him, her fingers grasping his shoulder. He could feel her warmth even through the heavy jacket he wore, and then his spiritual bond with her flared to life. The rush of love and concern was overwhelming. Blair leaned back against the seat, breathing through his mouth, trying to maintain some kind of control over his emotions, to keep from losing it completely.
Several long intense minutes passed, neither of them saying a word, the only sound Blair's heavy breathing. Dee was holding his hand now, and he squeezed her fingers in a death grip. Finally, the storm inside Blair calmed, and he was able to speak. "Dee, please, I know you want to help me, but this is something I have to do on my own. Please don't ask me any questions. Just take me home." He felt strong enough to spare a look at her.
Her expression was one of caring, mingled with worry. "All right, I won't ask you for any specifics. But I want you to know if you need help, if you need someone to talk to, you can come to me." At Blair's nod, she put the car in gear and pulled back out into traffic. "Now, when was the last time you had anything to eat?" At Blair's shrug, she said, "That's what I thought. I'm going to run past the grocery and pick up some supplies, then I'm going to cook dinner for you. And I'm not taking no for an answer."
She flashed him a quick grin, and Blair felt one crossing his face in return. She seemed more than willing to forget she had been the one to walk out on him, and he had to admit he'd missed her presence in his life. Maybe, just for tonight, he could forget the life he was living, and lose himself in the one that might have been.
Diandra stood in the hallway of Blair's apartment building, clutching two bags of groceries as he unlocked the door. The neighborhood was not the best, but the building seemed safe enough, if a bit run down. Once again, she wondered what could have happened to cause Blair to leave his Sentinel's side. She couldn't help but notice the dark circles and tired lines around his pain-filled blue eyes. He'd lost weight, too, and his whole posture indicated a deep and unrelenting weariness. Dee knew she'd promised not to pry, but she wasn't leaving here tonight without some answers.
Not for the first time, she regretted her decision to end their relationship. At the time, Diandra had thought she was doing the right thing. Her re-emerging Champion senses, and the fact she was unbonded, that she had no Companion, had been driving Ellison nuts. She had seen leaving as the only solution, the only way to keep her presence in Cascade from tearing Sentinel and Guide apart. Now it seemed as if her sacrifice had been for naught. If Jim and Blair were no longer partners, did that leave the door open for her to return? Goddess, that was the weeks of being without Blair talking. She could never do that to Jim, could never steal his guide away from him, not if she wanted to be able to look herself in the mirror each morning.
Blair finally got the door open, and Dee followed him inside, her quick gaze taking the apartment in. It was small; the front door opened into the living room and the kitchen was on the right. A short hallway led from the living room to what she assumed was the bedroom. Heading for the kitchen, she set her packages down on the counter, and began to pull out the ingredients for pasta. Blair took her coat from her, and she watched him hang it on the coat rack just inside the front door, noting the fighting staff leaning against the wall. "You keeping up with your martial arts?" she asked.
Blair walked back into the kitchen and began getting out pots and cooking utensils. "Yeah, living in this neighborhood kind of keeps me on my toes." Filling a large pot with water, he set it on the stove to boil.
Dee began to combine ingredients in a smaller pan for the sauce. "So how long have you been living here?"
"About six weeks."
"You like it?" Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him biting his lip. She turned to face him, leaning against the counter. "Lobo, please, I can see, I can feel you hurting. Talk to me. Tell me why Jim isn't here. Why he would let you leave your home?" As she said the words, she remembered Blair telling her about Alex Barnes and how Jim had kicked him out then. "Jim didn't force you to leave, did he? Tell me this has nothing to do with my relationship with you."
Blair shook his head. "No, Dee, this has nothing to do with that. Jim knows where I am. I still see him, I'm still his guide, but that's kind of taken a back seat for the moment."
Stunned, Dee asked, "A back seat to what? What could be more important than your partnership?"
Folding his arms over his chest, Blair stared at the worn linoleum. "I'm undercover on a case," he finally mumbled.
"What? Why? Lobo, you're not a cop, and I mean that in the best way possible. This isn't your responsibility. This is Jim's job, and he should be the one doing it, or at the very least, he should be backing you up, not halfway across town."
Blair's head came up and Dee could see the agony in his eyes. "I know, but this is the way it has to be. Look, Dee, just drop it, okay? I can't talk about it. Not with you, not with anyone."
She crossed the small space between them, resting her hands on his shoulders. "Blair, I understand that, I really do, but I can see that whatever you're doing is killing you. You look like Hades, you haven't been eating, haven't been sleeping--"
"I'm afraid to go to sleep," Blair blurted out, then looked surprised at his words.
She pulled him into a hug then, feeling him shaking against her. "Why, Lobo, why are you afraid to go to sleep?" she whispered.
His hesitant words were muffled by her shoulder, "I'm afraid I'll see things I don't want to see. I'm afraid I'll see more people die."
Oh, goddess! What kind of hell was Blair going through?
Blair leaned into Diandra's embrace, soaking up her strength, her love. There was no doubt in his mind, in his heart, that she still loved him, that she would do anything to take away the pain he was going through. Vaguely he noted her turning off the stove and pulling him into the living room, sitting down with him on the sofa. She didn't ask him to explain. She didn't say a word, just held him, accepting him and his secrets.
Finally, he pulled away, straightening in his seat, and wiping at his eyes. When had he started crying? Blair looked up at her, seeing a million questions in her eyes, ones he knew she would never ask. "Dee, I..." How in the hell did he begin to explain? "I had a friend, a good friend from Rainier. She got into some trouble, fell in with the wrong people, but she thought she knew what she was doing. She had everything figured out. Two nights ago, she was...tortured and murdered...and I...I saw it, I felt it, in my mind."
Dee's eyes widened, but she didn't say anything, just clasped his hand between both of hers. He looked down at their entwined fingers, then finally explained further. "I was meditating, using this as a focus." He pulled the crystal Cyndi had given him from inside his shirt. "Cyndi, my friend, she gave it to me, told me it would help me. Give me clarity, she said."
Dee loosened her grip on his hand long enough to run her fingers over the gem's sharp planes. "She was right. It's a scrying crystal. Your friend, was she into this kind of thing? Crystals and so forth?"
Blair nodded. "Crystals, tarot, rune stones. I think she'd dabbled in every alternative religion and new age line of thinking there is."
She turned to face him, propping her arm on the back of the sofa. "Can you tell me what you saw?"
He bit his lip, then said, "It was black, but there was a line of light outlining a door. I had my hand on the knob, but I didn't want to open it. I could hear screams. Finally I opened the door. The room was covered in blood, and a body was in the middle of the room. It was Cyndi. Then I came out of the trance, and went to her apartment. I found her just like in my vision." He closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory. "So now I'm afraid to meditate, afraid to sleep even. I'm afraid I'll see someone else die." Opening his eyes, Blair looked at the Immortal. "Can you help me?"
Dee's fingers stroked over his cheek. "I don't think what you saw can be called a vision, at least not the kind of vision you're used to. Cyndi was in trouble; she would be calling on her deities to help her, sending out a psychic distress call so to speak. You were meditating, and thus 'open' to her call. Plus, you were using the crystal, which only amplified the effect, kind of like a tuner on a stereo."
Running a hand through his hair in frustration, he said, "You know I don't like this mystical stuff. So what does this mean, in terms I can understand?"
She smiled at him. "It means you don't have to worry about going to sleep. The only dreams you'll be having are what your own mind conjures up. Are you okay with that?"
"Yeah, I'm okay with that."
"Good, because I'm getting hungry, and dinner isn't going to cook itself." Getting to her feet, Dee went back to the kitchen and went to work.
Blair sat on the sofa a few minutes longer, just watching her. God, he'd missed this, missed her. For six long weeks, he'd lived in this apartment, hating it, hating being away from the loft, from his home. But her simple presence had changed that; for the first time, this shoebox felt like a home, and he felt safe here, warm and loved. He scrubbed at his eyes with his hand. The moment she left was going to hurt like hell.
Sighing, he walked out to the kitchen to join her.
Dee sat on the couch next to Blair once again. Dinner had been eaten, leftovers put away in the fridge, and dishes done. She'd made chamomile tea for the two of them, and they'd retired to the living room to drink it. Just one more step in her plan to ensure that tonight, at least, Blair would be well fed, and would get a healthy amount of sleep.
They'd talked quietly for nearly an hour. Dee had managed to keep her curiosity about what he was doing undercover in check, and the subject had stayed mostly on doings at the university. Which, as it turned out, was a blessing in disguise. Her description of the last history department staff meeting had put Blair right to sleep. Now she just watched him, waiting for him to get deeply enough asleep that she could rouse him, walk him down the hall to the bedroom, and get him in bed without too much protest.
Her elbow rested on the back of the cushion, and she leaned her head on her arm, blatantly staring, memorizing every angle, every curve of his beautiful face. She blinked, and was not surprised to feel a tear roll down her cheek. She still loved him. Goddess, she loved him. Time spent apart had done nothing to diminish her feelings for him, nor, she suspected, his for her. As Blair would have put it, "This sucked."
Enough of this feeling sorry for herself. Dee shook Blair gently. "Come on, sleepyhead, time to go to bed."
"Um..." he mumbled, but didn't fight when she took his hand and pulled him up from the couch. She guided him to the bedroom, where he managed to get undressed and under the covers with a minimum of stumbling. She'd just tucked the covers around him when he said, "Dee?"
"Right here, baby."
Rolling onto his back, Blair swiped ineffectively at the hair spilling into his eyes. "Hmm...I had a...dream."
Dee perched on the edge of the bed. "You did? What was it about?"
Sleepy blue eyes peered up at her, and she knew he wasn't fully awake. "I dreamed you came back...and you still loved me..." The anguish in his voice was unmistakable.
She bent over him, stroking his hair lightly. "Wasn't a dream, Lobo. I'm right here, and I do love you..."
His hand caught hers, and he rolled onto his side, clutching it against his chest. "S'nice...love you, too." A mighty yawn split his face, and his eyes drooped shut again.
Dee sat with him until she was sure he was deeply asleep, trying, and failing, to hold back her tears. Nothing had changed, not a damn thing. She had hoped he would be able to move on, as would she. But that didn't appear to be happening. This was a mistake. She should have just dropped him off in front of his building and headed back to Seacouver. It would have saved both of them a lot of heartache. She wiped her eyes with her free hand, then gently disentangled her left one from his grasp.
Getting to her feet, she headed back to the living room, and was just slipping into her coat, when Blair's faint mumbles reached her, along with the sound of bedsprings creaking. Nightmare. She paused in front of the door, her hands clenched, her nails digging into her palms. She should just go; staying was only going to make things worse, make the pain they would feel come morning more intense. His mutterings coalesced into a sharp cry of fear, hurt or anger. She really couldn't tell which, nor could she explain how she was suddenly at his side again, when she had been determined to leave.
She watched him tossing on the mattress for a few seconds, then shed her duster and shoes and crawled onto the bed next to him. She wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him close. His jerky movements stilled; his vocal ramblings ceased. Dee felt a small smile cross her face. Yeah, she still had it.
Spooning up behind the anthropologist, she closed her eyes, inhaling his warm Blair scent, letting the sound and feel of his heartbeat lull her to sleep.
The rumble of thunder woke Blair. He lay still in the bed, his eyes adjusting to the darkness, taking in the familiar, yet unfamiliar room. Once again he had to remind himself of where he was, and who he was supposed to be. Something was off, though, not right. The pillowcase was scratchy against his cheek, and--the damn pillow was moving! A bolt of lightning illuminated the room just as he raised up on his elbow in a panic.
Diandra lay asleep on her back beside him on the bed, still dressed in her sweater and jeans. Blair had been sleeping with his head on her shoulder. He lay back down, noticing the symbolism in her being on top of the blanket, and him underneath it. She was willing to stay with him, but only as a friend, not as a lover.
What else had he expected, really? He rested his head on his arm, watching her sleep. They'd never really had a chance. He'd known her what, five months total? Three of those had been spent becoming friends, slowly working toward the night their feelings for each other had spilled over into love. And three weeks later, their romance had been over. She had chosen to leave, rather than come between himself and Jim. He understood her choice; it was one he would have made if the situation had been reversed, but it still hurt. Not so much for what they had had, but for what might have been.
So many things he'd wanted to share with her. Like snuggling in the back of a theater, or eating popcorn together while watching some old movie on TV. Listening to her version of the events surrounding the latest exhibit at the history museum. Holding hands in the rain, walking on the beach. Kissing just because. He'd been looking forward to spending a fortune on roses on Valentine's Day and fighting the crowd at the most romantic restaurant in town. Blair had even been thinking of what to get her for Christmas, and making plans as far ahead as her birthday. Now he would never give her a present for any occasion.
He let out a long sigh. Instead he had this, a life that was a lie. Had it started being a lie when he agreed to become a drug dealer? Or had it started before then, when he let her walk out without putting up more than a token fight? In so many ways, in so many areas, Blair's life was no longer under his control, and hadn't been for a while. And there was no guarantee he would ever get that control back. The longer he was under, the longer this lie went on, the harder it became to remember what was real. He still had trouble believing Cyndi was dead. Everything was so mixed up, so screwed, and there was no end in sight.
He ran his fingertips lightly over Dee's cheek, reassuring himself that she, at least, was real. He moved closer, wrapping an arm around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder, her dark hair silky against his skin. He remembered her words when they had parted two months ago, "Never forget you are loved." Blair closed his eyes, losing himself in the memory of their love.
When he awoke in the morning, all that remained of her presence was a warm spot next to him and a Tupperware container of leftover manicotti in the refrigerator.
Megan Connor followed Blair Sandburg into the warehouse. Once inside, they split up, Blair going to check out the day's inventory while she headed to the office. When Sandy had first proposed the situation to her, she had assumed she would be partnered with him, the way he had been partnered with Cyndi. But once Cristo had set eyes on her, he hadn't wanted to let her out of his sight, and now she worked closely with him. She likened her position to that of a personal assistant: she kept track of Cristo's appointments, screened his phone calls, and oversaw the legitimate side of his business. She hadn't complained too much at the change in plans; being in the office all day gave her access to Cristo's files and, she hoped, to the date and time of the drug shipment.
Two weeks had passed since Blair had brought her on board, and as of yet, she'd found out nothing. Or at least nothing relating to the shipment. She had discovered that Sandy hadn't been kidding when he'd told her Cristo trusted him. The guy treated him like a brother. They always had their heads together, discussing business or the latest progress in the hunt for Cyndi's murderer.
It scared her. She wasn't sure she knew him anymore. He had changed from the man she had first met a little over a year ago. They had all changed, but it seemed to her he had lost some of his sparkle, his life. Maybe she was reading too much into it. His friend had been brutally murdered, and he hadn't been able to prevent it. A shiver went through her. She could only imagine what he had felt, was feeling, but she knew if she had been in his place, she would have lost some of her spirit, too.
Or maybe he was just doing his job. She looked out the window onto the main floor of the warehouse, watching as Blair and Rico checked over the supply of drugs they had on hand. If they didn't get that shipment soon, the street dealers would be up in arms. She watched as Blair's hands moved along with his mouth, punctuating whatever it was he was telling the foreman. When he finished the story, Rico was doubled over with laughter. Sandy had sure improved his acting from the last time they'd been undercover together, posing as an Australian socialite and her artist lover, Andrew.
The sound of her phone ringing interrupted her reminiscing. Putting the receiver to her ear, she said cheerfully, "Cristo Imports."
The accented voice on the other end of the line said, "You're new."
"I just started. I'm Meg. Can I help you?"
"Si, si, forgive my manners, Senorita Meg. Is my brother, Jesus, there? Tell him it's Juan."
Juan was the head of the supply end of the Cristo drug empire. Maybe he was calling about the shipment! "I'm sorry, Mr. Cristo is out of the office at the moment. Can I take a message?"
"Tell him the delivery is tonight, 11 PM, at the warehouse. And please apologize to him for the delay. We had a little problem with customs on our end."
"I'll give him the message, sir." Megan hung up the phone and tapped her pencil on the desk. Eleven tonight, that was just six hours from now. She had to get in touch with Simon and the DEA, get things moving. They were going to be cutting it close on getting a warrant. Damn it, and she didn't dare call from the office in case it was a false alarm. A phone call to the police would blow their covers. Pushing back from her desk, she headed into the warehouse in search of Blair.
She found him packing cocaine into a backpack. "Sandy, tonight's the night. Cristo's brother just called to confirm the delivery here at 11. I need to get hold of Cristo and let him know."
"Man, we have to get word to Simon, too." He glanced at his watch. "I hope that gives them enough time. Look, I'll notify Cristo, and you take care of letting Simon know."
Megan shifted uncomfortably on her high heels. "I need a reason to go off site."
"Leave that to me." Grinning, Blair headed over to Rico and Manuel. "Anyone for a latte? Rico, you look like you could use a double espresso. Meg's gonna make a Starbucks run."
DEA agents Manning and Collier sat on the couch in Simon Banks' office, waiting for him to show up for their weekly meeting. "I'm telling you, we should have pulled the plug on this guy. One little tip from us, and Sandburg would be another notch in Cristo's gun, and we'd be the ones on the inside. We wouldn't need him."
Collier was about to reply when the private phone line on Simon's desk rang. The two men looked at each other as it continued to ring, then Manning walked over to the desk and picked it up. "Captain Banks' office."
"I need to speak to the captain. This is Megan Connor." Her voice was hushed, and other people could be heard talking in the background.
"Ah, Inspector Connor, this is Agent Manning. Captain Banks is out of the office at the moment. I would be more than happy to take a message for him."
"Okay, you fellows need to know about this too. The shipment is coming in tonight, to the warehouse by the docks, at 11 PM."
"Got it. I'll be sure to tell him as soon as he comes back. Thanks so much, Inspector." The dark-haired man hung up the phone and turned to his partner, a dangerous grin crossing his face. "It's tonight. Let's go get ready."
The two men exited the office, not bothering to leave a note.
Jim was coming back into the bullpen when he passed the two DEA agents leaving. "What's your hurry?" he asked. "The captain back from his meeting so soon?"
"Uh, no," Collier stammered. "Something came up, and we can't wait for him any longer." The agents headed down the hall toward the elevator.
The sentinel stood in the middle of the corridor, frowning. The blonde agent's heart had been racing; he'd been afraid or excited. Something was up with those two. He had been suspicious of them from the start, and his misgivings had only increased with Cyndi's murder. As far as he was concerned, they fit the qualifications for suspects. Ducking into the bullpen, Jim grabbed his jacket and headed after them.
He followed them to a house in the suburbs, about an hour from the station, and parked down the block. Tuning in with his hearing, he was stunned by what he overheard. Collier and Manning were planning a raid on Cristo's warehouse.
Collier's voice carried clearly over the sound of automatic weapons being readied. "Just so we're in agreement on this, we hit them as soon as the truck pulls into the warehouse, and hit them hard. No survivors."
"No survivors," Manning agreed. "I'm gonna take great pleasure in putting a bullet in that son of a bitch myself. If it hadn't been for his involvement, we wouldn't have had to do that stupid song and dance with the PD."
"No way, Sandburg's mine."
"I'll toss you for the honor."
There was the sound of change jangling. Ellison clenched his hands around the steering wheel, trying to control his anger.
"Ha! It's tails, you lose. What time is it?"
After a brief pause, Collier said, "Relax, we have a little under three hours. Plenty of time to get to the warehouse."
At the agent's words, Jim was on the cell phone to Simon, letting him know the deal was going down tonight. At his superior's bellow, he held the phone away from his ear.
"What! You mean all of this was a setup?"
A black SUV backed out of the driveway of the agents' house. Jim turned the ignition and put the truck into drive. "From what I overheard, yes. They used us, they used Sandburg to find out when the drop was gonna be. It's tonight, about three hours from now, at the warehouse." He crossed his fingers hoping it was the Cristo Imports building. "How soon can you get a team there, Simon?"
"We're on our way. I'll send the team ahead, then meet them there with the warrant. It's going to be cutting it close. Jim? What are you doing?"
"Right now I'm following Collier and Manning. I'm gonna try and take them out of the picture before they get a chance to implement their plan."
He could hear the tension in his captain's voice. "And if you can't?"
"Then I have to try and warn Sandburg."
Simon Banks hustled down the hallway of the courthouse moving with a surprising grace for a man of his size. He clutched an envelope in one hand and a cell phone was pressed to his ear with the other. "So you're on your way, Joel? You're in charge of the team until I get there." He glanced at his watch. "Let's hope these guys are running late. Yes, I have the warrant. Fortunately Judge Ratliff was still at the courthouse. I had to drag her away from her dinner, but it's signed. Keep everyone back and out of sight. You don't want to be spotted when the shipment shows up. You are not to approach the building until I get there, unless you have probable cause to believe our people are in danger. We don't want to blow this and have Cristo walk away."
He jabbed at the down button for the elevator. "Keep an eye out for Manning and Collier, too. If you see them, detain them. I don't care what kind of a story you have to make up. Two of my people are in there and I don't need them trying to carry out their sick little plan and getting them killed."
He stepped onto the elevator as the doors slid open. "Jim's on his way to the warehouse now. He's going to try and stop the DEA before they reach there." The elevator opened on the garage level. "I'm headed for my car. ETA forty-five minutes. Keep me informed." He snapped his phone closed and got into his car, flipping on the flashing lights as he peeled out of the parking space.
Rolling to a stop a few warehouses away from Cristo's, Ellison cut the engine and dimmed the lights. He smacked the palm of his hand against the steering wheel. "Damn it!" He'd been tailing the rogue Feds toward the warehouse when he'd gotten caught on the wrong side of a red light. Once he had the green, there was no trace of them. Their SUV had vanished.
Instead of wasting time trying to find them, he had gone ahead to the warehouse district. Climbing out of the Ford and closing the door gently, he walked toward the building, keeping to the shadows. Stretching out his hearing, he could pick out the sound of voices, his partner's among them.
"Is this all of it?" Blair asked.
A slightly accented male voice, Cristo, Jim assumed, answered him. "That's all of it. Ten million American dollars for my brother." Now the DEA's plan was beginning to make sense. Under the guise of a raid, they would simply kill everyone who could implicate them and make off with the money and the drugs. The voices faded, the speakers moving deeper into the huge structure.
He had to make a decision. He could wait around out here, and hope to stop Manning and Collier when they arrived, or he could get closer to the building and try to warn Sandburg. It was a big warehouse with more than one entrance, and he was only one man. He opted for plan B. Climbing over the chain link fence that separated the grounds from the harbor, he crept toward a door with a window in it, hoping to see inside, still searching for the sound of his guide's voice. His attention occupied, he never heard the footsteps behind him, or sensed the other presence, until the cold muzzle of a gun was pressed to the back of his neck.
Blair sat on top of a table in the warehouse, legs swinging, trying to calm his jittery nerves. Despite the fact he trusted Simon with his life, there were still a million things that could go wrong, and he couldn't stop himself from cataloging every one of them. The sound of footsteps made him raise his head as Rico shoved a tall, familiar figure into the light. Well, *this* one hadn't been on his list.
Ellison's hands were clasped behind his head, and he took another step forward as Rico poked the gun in his back. The sentinel's blue eyes darted around the area, flickering over the four people standing there before landing on Blair.
The guide eased down from the table, knowing that something was very, very wrong for Jim to have gotten himself captured. His face a blank mask, he shifted his gaze from Ellison to Cristo, waiting for the drug dealer's next move.
The sharp crack of Jesus' cane on the cement floor shattered the silence. "Who do we have here, Rico?"
The Ecuadorian tossed Jim's badge to his boss. "Unfinished business, I'd say. I found him outside when I was opening the gate. This is Ellison, the guy Sandburg used to ride with at the PD."
Cristo inspected the ID, then turned his attention to Blair. "Is this true?"
Swallowing uneasily, Blair tried to keep his voice even. "Yeah, that's Ellison. I haven't seen him in months. What are you doing here, Jim?"
Ellison's expression was one of disgust. "I'm investigating Cyndi Blake's murder. I should have known it would lead right to you. I don't know how I put up with you all those years, you worthless hippie trash!"
Blair felt a frown creasing his forehead. What was Jim up to? He's gotta have a reason, just go with it Sandburg. Crossing the small space between them, he stared up at the taller man, his eyes glittering with anger. "You think I killed Cyndi?"
"Yeah, it was your knife. I always knew you were one twisted son of a bitch. Just a matter of time before a bastard like you reverted to his roots." Ellison grinned at him smugly.
In that moment, the younger man realized what Jim wanted. He punched him in the jaw, and Jim staggered, his hands coming down from behind his head to catch himself on the table. He straightened slowly, his hands at his sides, his fingers moving. "Rico," Blair snapped, "you got his cuffs?" He handed them over without a word and Blair placed them on Ellison's wrists, using the movement to hide the words Jim was spelling with his fingers in the basic alphabet of ASL they'd learned for another case. TRAP. DEA BAD. KILL ALL. Oh, shit. Carefully hiding his panicked expression, Blair barely fastened the cuffs, hoping that when the time came, Jim could get out of them.
Stepping back, he turned toward Cristo. "I don't like this, Jesus. This is just too convenient, Jim showing up here tonight. Do me a favor and contact the truck by radio."
Picking up a hand-held CB from the table, Cristo tried to get through to the driver, as Manuel went to the office and came back with two AK-47s and some handguns. The thug handed one of the rifles to Rico and a handgun apiece to Blair and Megan.
Cristo focused his attention back on them. "I can't raise the truck, so let's be prepared." He glanced at Jim. "Lock him in the office." Manuel shoved Ellison in that direction, and returned a few seconds later with the job done.
Time passed very slowly as everyone checked their weapons. Blair hoped Jim had been able to get free and was working on getting out of the office. Three short honks of a truck horn startled them all. Cristo took charge. "Everyone, hide and get ready! Rico, raise the door!" Everyone ducked behind shelving or boxes as Rico hit the automatic door opener, then slipped into the shadows.
Once the door was open, the small panel truck carrying the shipment rolled into the warehouse and stopped. There was a moment's hesitation, then the doors opened, and two men dressed in black body armor and wearing ski masks climbed out, bringing their guns to ready positions. Blair didn't know who fired first, but suddenly the vast warehouse was echoing with automatic weapons fire, and the air was filled with the sharp smell of cordite. Without warning, the room was plunged into darkness.
That had to be Jim's doing. Blair held his fire, not wanting to hit Jim or Megan by mistake. There was a burst of gunfire to the right of him, and the sickly smell of gasoline wafted his way. His feet were moving away from the truck before his mind fully registered the danger. He heard another shot, and the world exploded in a huge fireball before everything went black.
When he could force his eyes open again, a tall figure was standing over him, backlit by the flames of the burning truck, his features in shadow. "Jim?"
"Jim?" The voice mocked him. "Jimmy boy can't help you now, you little punk. You may have screwed our plans all to hell, but I'm going to get great satisfaction in putting a bullet through your head if it's the last thing I do. Too bad you don't have your knife handy; I'd love to make the same impression on you I did on Cyndi."
"You killed Cyndi?"
Another explosion lit up the room, and Manning's twisted leer was clearly visible. "I enjoyed it, too. Too bad I can't take that kind of quality time with you."
Blair scrambled back until he was up against a row of shelving, his hands scrabbling for a weapon, any weapon, and closing on air. Right now would be a good time for you to make with the Blessed Protector thing, Jim. He closed his eyes as the DEA agent raised his gun.
It had taken Ellison longer than he'd planned to get out of the handcuffs. He'd just kicked open the door to his makeshift prison when he heard the first shots. As he moved rapidly toward the main floor of the warehouse, the circuit box on the wall caught his eye. Finally, something was going his way.
Turning out the lights, he used his heightened vision to assess the situation. One of the DEA agents was on the driver's side of the truck, searching frantically for a target in the darkness. Creeping up behind him, Jim wrapped an arm around his neck, applying pressure. Collier panicked, his finger squeezing in reflex on the trigger, sending what was left of his clip into the truck.
The explosion sent both of them flying, a mushrooming cloud of searing heat and flame rolling over them. Ellison lost his grip on Collier as he was blown backwards. Slamming painfully into the concrete floor, the sentinel fought to hang on to consciousness, his vision and hearing gone, overloaded by the intense combination of light and sound. Losing the battle, he sank into darkness.
A hand on his shoulder brought him around. Everything hurt, including breathing. Smoke and fumes burned his lungs and he could feel the sting of a thousand little shrapnel cuts. His name was being called from a great distance away. Cautiously he turned up his hearing.
"Jim, can you hear me? The explosion probably spiked your senses. Turn everything down until you have control again."
That wasn't his guide's voice. Blinking to clear the grit from his eyes, he looked up into the concerned face of Megan Connor. "You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, you?" He got to his feet with her help, staggering a little as he tried to stay upright.
"I think so. Collier's dead. He took the full brunt of the explosion. Where in the hell's the SWAT team?"
Jim concentrated. "They're on the way. The fire's keeping them back for the moment. Can you get out and lead them in another entrance?"
She nodded, then took a look around. "Where's Sandy?"
"I don't know. Go on, get out of here, I'll take care of Sandburg." Tentatively he extended his hearing again, filtering out the noise of the raging fire, searching for any sign of his partner. He heard his name being called then Manning's voice. He ran toward the sounds, knowing they were on the other side of the burning truck, knowing there was no way he would reach them in time. The bark of a single gunshot split the air.
He cautiously opened one eye. He wasn't dead. How could the DEA agent have missed? Manning lay at his feet, blood pooling around his shattered skull. Blair looked up to see Cristo standing over him, a gun held loosely in his left hand as he reached down with his right. He grasped the proffered hand and was hauled to his feet.
"Follow me, Blair, we'll go out the back." Cristo stuck the automatic in the waistband of his pants.
"Cascade PD! Freeze!" Ellison yelled from behind the drug dealer.
Cristo raised his hands over his head slowly. His eyes widened slightly as Blair stepped forward and removed his gun. He moved to the side quickly, expecting the younger man to fire on the detective. When he turned the weapon on him instead, his face fell. "Blair, my brother, what's the meaning of this?"
Blair was torn. Cristo had trusted him, believed in him when he had every reason not to; they had shared a common bond in Cyndi. Now he was trusting Blair to get him out of this. Blair shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Jesus." He gestured with the gun, and they followed Ellison out of the burning building.
Blair leaned against the fender of Simon's car, a blanket around his shoulders, his eyes on the ground. It was over, finished, done with. He could go home. Raising his head, he took in the still-burning warehouse before him, the hodge-podge of squad cars and fire trucks. He heard Simon, Megan and Jim a few feet away discussing what had gone down.
"I still can't believe Manning and Collier set this whole thing up just to steal from Cristo," Simon said.
Jim shrugged. "People have done worse things out of greed, sir."
"And it all went wrong for them. They killed Cyndi Blake and the driver of the drug-delivery truck for nothing. Even if Manning and Collier had lived, they destroyed what they were after in the first place."
"Do you think the loss of evidence will keep the DA from making a case against Cristo?" Megan asked.
"I don't know," Simon replied. "We have both your testimony and Blair's. That might be enough to put him behind bars."
"You need me anymore tonight, Captain?" Jim asked.
Simon shook his head. "No, you take Sandburg and head on home." He gave the sentinel a small smile. "I'll bet you'll be glad to have him underfoot again."
"You can say that again, just don't let him hear you. Come on, Connor, we'll give you a lift."
As the trio headed toward where Jim had parked the truck, Jesus Cristo was being led toward a squad car. He stopped short at their approach. "Blair."
Sandburg turned toward the other man, unsure of what to say. He was sorry? He wasn't, not really, and yet, there had been a sort of a twisted kinship between them. He finally settled on a tired "What is it, Jesus?"
The man shook his long hair back out of his face. "I spent a lot of time trying to figure you out, Blair, trying to discover which disciple you most resembled. I couldn't make up my mind, but now I know. Judas." He spat the name out. As the uniformed cop pushed him toward the police car, Cristo called back over his shoulder, "You do remember what happened to Judas, don't you?"
Blair shivered. Yeah, he remembered. A brief vision of himself hanging from a tree washed over him.
"Forget about him, Chief. You're finally going home." He felt Jim's arm go around his shoulders, his friend's embrace chasing way the sudden chill, filling him with the warmth of their bond.
He smiled up at his sentinel. "Yeah, Jim, let's go home."