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Love and Guns
 Love and Guns
By Gina Jones

  Beta Read by: Melinda and Carol Cappe
Written for PetFly by: Bruce Kalish
Rated PG-13

~~~~~~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~~~~~~

Enjoying being chauffeured around Cascade by his partner, James Ellison sat back and felt the warm spring breeze float across his skin. The slight tickling sensation, coupled with the sun on his face relaxed him and he smiled. Their morning had gone smoothly, with little activity at the department. He and his friend were enjoying the lull by taking time off for a nice lunch out. Jim rubbed his hands together in anticipation and asked, "Hey, Sandburg? Why don’t we grab some pizza?"

Blair, dressed in his all-season flannel, glanced sideways as he maneuvered a turn in heavy traffic. The younger man shook his head. "The pie of death? No way, man."

*So, no pepperoni. Got it.* Frowning, Jim shifted so that he was facing his partner and considered another option. "All right. How about Mexican?"

Blair grimaced in response. With a touch of annoyance, he retorted, "Why don't you just shoot the lard straight into your veins? Come on, Man."

*What is with this kid? Susan Powter? Stop the insanity!!!* Jim returned the scowl and asked, "Sandburg? Have you noticed a sudden drop-off in the amount of people that will eat with you?" His stomach growled and his frustration grew.

Blair just smiled and brought his attention back to the road ahead of them. Glaring at the road construction blocking traffic, he complained, "I can't believe this! Why do they always pick the busiest time of day to work on the streets?" Coming to a stop and glaring at the construction crews before him, he continued, "I'm going to e-mail the Public Works Commissioner this afternoon. Just tell him to use night work only, run by insomniac road crews. That's the only solution, right?" He looked over at Jim but did not await an answer. Looking forward again, he slammed on his brakes to avoid striking a car that had stopped mere inches from his car’s front bumper. Thumping his palm against the steering wheel, he yelled, "I can't believe this! It’s the middle of the day!"

Jim was getting used to his partner’s tirades and simply ignored him, choosing instead to observe the activity surrounding them. He knew that before long his companion’s attention would turn back to food and they could finally decide on a restaurant. Noticing that the so-called construction workers were pulling out items obviously not road crew ‘standard-issue’, his sight further focused on the automatic weapons being placed upon workers shoulders and aimed in their direction.

"Oh, shit!" Jim yelled as he grabbed Blair and forced him down in his seat. He leaned over the younger man and attempted to protect him with his own body. Seconds later, a small missile screamed over their heads and impacted with an armored truck at the side of the road.

Ducking further inside the car as the explosion rocked them, the men waited for the shaking to stop and then peered carefully out the window. Jim quickly checked his partner for injuries and was relieved not to find any. *He’s okay,* Jim thought, his pulse returning to normal. He then forcefully shoved Blair from the Corvair, and behind the vehicle.

Jim reached into his jacket and retrieved is cell-phone. Tossing it at the shaken anthropologist, he shouted, "Get some backup here, and then get your ass off the street!"

Blair caught the cell-phone and held it to his chest as he continued to kneel behind the vehicle. His eyes never wavering from Jim’s he muttered, "It may not be in that order, man," and then took off, crouched low, for a nearby building.

Jim spared a second to make sure that his partner had reached safety before rising from behind the shield of the car and aiming his gun at the thugs. "Police! Drop your weapon!" he yelled as he tried to find his mark.

Watching as the pseudo-construction worker raised his machine gun and aimed toward him, Jim failed to get a shot off before having to run for cover himself. Bullets flew at him as he hastily retreated from behind Blair’s car and ran behind a blue Cadillac. He waited until there was a pause in the gunfire and peered slowly over the hood. *The asshole’s reloading,* he thought as he took the opportunity to reload his own weapon.

Just then a patrol vehicle, sirens blaring, approached from behind the gunman and two uniformed officers exited the vehicle. Shielding themselves with their open car doors, they aimed at the man as he concluded reloading. He fired at them, the bullets striking the front of the vehicle and then the driver’s side door. The officer huddled behind it was struck and fell to the ground, writhing as he held his bloody shoulder.

Jim watched as the officer’s partner jumped back into the cruiser and called for an ambulance. He turned then and moved around the car, his weapon ready. He grimaced as other gunmen advanced upon the downed man, firing rapidly. Ducking behind a road crew vehicle, Jim searched for the man who had shot the officer.

The day had been so nice just minutes before. Jim could hardly believe the turn of events as he peeked around the corner of the truck. Using his heightened sense of sight to spy the man’s reflection in a hubcap, he smiled as he finally had the upper hand. Ducking back behind the vehicle, he waited for the man to advance toward him and then fired. The single shot struck the gunman in the shoulder, and he went down.

*One down,* he thought as he advanced toward the other gunmen. *Now for the others.* He stealthily moved around the front of the truck but was surprised when the passenger door flew open, striking him in the chest. A man, hidden until then, jumped out of the vehicle and caught Jim across the jaw. Then, grabbing Jim’s right arm, he forced the detective to drop his weapon. The thug wrapped his left arm around Jim’s neck and began to choke him.

Blair watched from the corner of a nearby building as his friend began to lose the battle, then glanced at the uniformed officers being fired upon by the other thieves. "Come on, Sandburg. Think!" he whispered as he watched the scene unfold before him. Coming up with a plan, Blair moved, his body tight against the building’s wall. He approached his goal and used his elbow to break the glass of an enclosed fire hose, mounted onto the outer wall. Pulling the hose from its bracket, Blair took a deep breath before advancing toward the armed gunmen.

He braced himself for the force of the expelling water and opened the nozzle, aiming at the men who were firing upon the other officers. Drawing a bead on first one, then the other, Blair grinned as he watched the two men fall to the ground, losing their weapons as the water struck them. He kept the flow of water on the two men until reinforcements had arrived and subdued the criminals.

Blair closed the nozzle and dropped the fire hose, turning quickly to run to Jim’s aid. What he saw made him relax as he watched Jim place the second silver cuff onto the unconscious man’s wrist. He jogged over to where Jim was walking and then spied his war-ravaged car. He ran his hands over the multitude of bullet-holes in his beloved Corvair and then looked up at Jim, who was also inspecting the damage.

"My car! My car!" he cried, looking back at the Corvair.

Jim looked up from the car and felt relief course through his body as he realized that his friend had not been injured. Then, looking over at the soaking wet gunmen, he grinned. "Nice hose job, Chief," he commented, shaking his head in disbelief.

Blair mimicked Jim’s actions and then sighed. "You think my insurance agent's going to call this an act of God?" he asked, looking back toward his car.

~~~~~~~~

When Simon arrived at the grizzly scene, he found Blair seated atop the hood of a police cruiser, his head in his hands. Shaking his head grimly, he walked toward Jim, who was looking over the weaponry that had been confiscated from the thieves. "This was all for a bank robbery? Come on. Look at all this stuff. They've got machine guns assault rifles, rocket launchers…"

Jim interrupted, "Yeah, MP-5, assault pistol, right here." He pointed to another weapon; "This is Army Special Forces issue. And check this out." He picked up an unfired round and showed it to Simon.

Simon whistled as he fingered the cartridge, studying it. "Armor-piercing bullets." He placed the bullet back with the others and worriedly gazed at the whole collection.

Rubbing his jaw, Jim contemplated. "You know, Simon, you put this kind of weaponry in the hands of a paramilitary or terrorist group, and they could take down an airliner."

Simon tensed as he followed his detective’s train of thought. "Or level a city block. Keep me informed, Detective," he said before slapping Jim’s shoulder and retreating toward his own vehicle. He turned back around, a few steps from Jim and nodded toward Blair, "Check on Sandburg, over there. I think he may have had too much excitement for the day or something."

Jim glanced over to where Blair sat and sighed. The anthropologist had gotten more than he bargained for in this partnership, and today was no exception. Sticking his hands into his pockets, he walked toward the slouched figure, intent on giving the young man a pep talk. He prepared his soliloquy and then spoke. "Hey, Chief. There's no reason to be ashamed if you're feeling a little queasy, all right? Shock is your body's way of protecting itself…"

Blair looked indignant. "Shock? Shock! Hey, Jim, I am way beyond shock, man. I am like, energized!" He stood to reinforce his point.

*He’s not scared, he’s not running. He’s energized?* Jim was lost. "Say what, Chief?"

"It was the wildest thing, Jim. There I was, all alone. Me against those bank robbers. And the next thing I knew, I just got into action. It was so wild." Blair knew he was babbling, but the adrenaline rush was so exciting, and he was just going with the flow.

Jim watched the darting eyes of his partner and focused his hearing until he could hear the rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing coming from within Blair. Realizing that the rush of energy that Blair was experiencing would be waning soon, he put his arm around the younger man and guided him back toward the Corvair. "Maybe we should get you home," he soothingly said.

Blair, caught in the haze of the adrenaline rush, didn’t seem to hear Jim. He simply rambled onward as they walked. "Now I know what it's like to be you. I mean, not the enhanced senses part, but that reptilian brain, that primal man, survival of the fittest!" In his excitement, his hands flew forward and struck Jim solidly in the chest.

Shaking his head, Jim grasped the wayward arms and then added, "I'll drive, Conan. Give me your keys. Come on." He shuddered inwardly as Blair continued his litany, reinforcing his points with child-like gun noises and finger pistols. *Good Lord, I’ve created a monster,* Jim thought to himself as he started the car’s engine and pulled away from the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.

~~~~~~~~

Jim managed to get almost home before the energizer Blair ran out of juice. Pulling into an empty parking space, he turned off the engine and faced his roommate. Blair, who had been bouncing along merrily for most of the ride, sat silently, staring out the passenger window. "Chief? You okay?" Jim asked, not able to hide his smile. He opened his door and exited the car, coming around to the passenger side and opening it for his partner.

Blair slid out of the Corvair and looked at Jim. He smiled nervously. "I, uh, got a bit crazy back there, didn’t I?"

"For you, Darwin? No." Jim couldn’t help but grin in amusement.

Blair returned the smile as they walked toward the apartment building. "I meant what I said, though, Jim. I really liked being able to help out."

Jim held the door open for both of them and patted the younger man on the back as they went inside the building. "Just don’t get too used to it, okay? You’re just an observer, remember?"

"Yeah, Jim, I’ve got it," Blair responded as he pressed the elevator button. His eyes slightly dimmer than before, he thought, *But a bit more action might be nice…*

~~~~~~~~

The following morning was spent in a rush of gathering what information Major Crimes could about the assailants and their motives. File in hand, Jim knocked on Captain Banks’ office door before entering, a possible lead on his mind. He stood before his superior’s desk and delivered the news. "Simon, the getaway driver we collared made a deal. He claims they bought the guns from a guy named Armando."

Intrigued, Simon asked, "Where did the deal go down?"

"An old meat packing plant on Mackenzie," Jim answered, leafing through the file’s contents.

Grateful to have a lead at last, Simon rolled back in his chair and regarded his detective, carefully. "Great. I'll notify SWAT. We can roll in 15 minutes." He began to stand to accompany Jim to the plant but froze as the detective interrupted, coming around to sit atop Simon’s desk.

"Well, uh..." Jim stammered slightly. A simple case would be nice every now and then.

Simon glared. He knew it was too good to be true. "What?" he asked, his voice low and wary.

Jim pulled out a Forensics photograph and handed it to Simon. Wearily rubbing his neck, he answered, "A couple of transients already found our suspect for us." He pointed at the picture. "Shot twice in the head."

Simon studied the photograph but couldn’t ID the corpse. "Who is he?"

Glancing back at the papers in his hand Jim said, "Armando Escalosa. Forensics went through the place. No weapons -- just this." He handed Simon an evidence bag.

Leaning forward, Simon studied the bullet that was inside the plastic. "It’s a nine-millimeter. Military issue?"

"Right, Sir," Jim agreed.

Returning the bullet to Jim, Simon leaned back in his chair and asked, "What about the late Armando? Any leads?"

Jim scowled, shaking his head. "Well, he works for a guy named Hector Carasco. He's a Chilean expatriate who lives on an estate outside of town. Carasco checks out clean," Jim sighed, "but he's got a federal file." He stared at the captain for a moment before adding, "And it's sealed."

Simon contemplated the information he had been given and then nodded, realizing that they would need to pay a visit to Mr. Carasco, and soon. "Let’s go," he said, standing and retrieving his jacket. "Let’s see what he has to say for himself."

~~~~~~~~

Simon and Jim gazed at the sprawling landscape and veritable mansion before them. The estate looked as if it would be better placed in southern California instead of Washington State; with fountains and statuary adorning the grounds. Whistling in appreciation, Simon commented, "Looks like the import business is doing pretty good."

Jim watched as the scenery passed by and chewed on his lower lip. Stone-faced and still staring out the passenger window, the sentinel only grunted softly for a moment and then muttered, "Depends on what you’re importing."

The two men pulled into the circle drive and exited Simon’s vehicle. Glancing around the area, they moved to the main house and were greeted by the housekeeper. Simon showed his badge and identified himself and Jim to the older woman. Hesitantly, the matron led the two men toward the large greenhouse. She opened the door and waved them inside.

"Close the door. You're letting in the cold air," a voice from an unseen person growled.

Jim and Simon glanced at each other. Accompanied by the housekeeper, they came upon a man, seemingly in his fifties, tending to his flowers.

The man looked up from his ministrations and explained, "The slightest chill can ruin my orchids. Can I help you?"

Again Simon pulled out his identification and showed it to the older man. "I'm Captain Banks. This is Detective Ellison. Cascade PD " He replaced the badge into his coat pocket and waited for Carasco to respond.

Carasco visibly stiffened. "The police? Is something wrong?" he asked, looking at first Simon and then Jim.

Jim pulled a notebook from his shirt pocket and spoke, "We're here to talk to you about your caretaker. A Mr. Armando Escalosa."

Relaxing somewhat, Carasco’s face took on a slightly disappointed expression. "I fired Armando last month for stealing. Some of my daughter's jewelry was missing," he explained. "If you find him, I'd like them back."

Jim didn’t believe the man’s concern was for his daughter’s jewelry. He seemed like a person only worried about his own agenda. Shaking his head, Jim responded, "That's gonna be a little difficult, sir, as Mr. Escalosa is dead." He turned away from Carasco and began to look around the greenhouse.

Carasco’s voice dropped lower. "I see. How unfortunate." He watched interested as Jim began to smell his prized orchids, and was about to comment when Simon interrupted. He turned his attention to the black man and responded when asked about Escalosa’s relatives. "None I'm aware of. Sorry," Carasco responded, shaking his head again. He looked up at the sound of Jim’s voice.

Jim had moved from smelling the orchids and was now rolling a small bit of soil between his fingertips. "Did you file a report? For the missing jewelry?" he asked Carasco, then sniffed the warmed soil. He had already checked and knew there was no report on file.

Smiling apologetically, Carasco answered, "Oh, no. It wasn't worth much. The value was mostly sentimental." He watched intrigued as Jim continued to test the soil with his sense of smell.

"How about your daughter, sir?" Simon asked, "Is she here? Can we speak with her?"

"Maya's in classes at the university. But I'm certain she couldn't tell you anything else."

Simon nodded and began to return his own notebook to his coat pocket.

Jim continued to roll the small amount of potting soil between his fingers and even tasted a small bit to satisfy his suspicions. The bitter tang of metal and oil was difficult for his sense of taste to miss and he smiled, knowing he had just unearthed a clue. Having heard the end of the conversation between Simon and Mr. Carasco, Jim advanced toward the two men and then offered, "Nice orchids. Must be difficult to find soil with proper amounts of potassium nitrates and sulfates, huh?" He ignored the raised eyebrows of his captain and stared at Carasco, waiting for an answer.

Confused at the drastic change of topic, and surprised at the detective’s knowledge of exotic plant cultivation, Carasco stumbled slightly before responding. "Not really. There was a lot of volcanic activity in this area."

Jim nodded, going in for the kill. The corners of his mouth moving upward in almost a predatory smirk. "I guess you could always mix in a little gunpowder." He waited for Carasco’s response and inwardly smiled when he heard the man’s heart rate increase.

Carasco laughed loudly at that idea. "I've never heard of that before."

Simon watched the exchange and the condescending shake of the head that was Jim’s response. Deciding he needed to act quickly before Jim overstepped his bounds, he laughed as well. "If there's anything else you can think of that might be of any help to us, please give me a call." He handed Carasco his business card and shook the man’s hand.

Carasco, still slightly unnerved by the strange comments from the detective, smiled and nodded. "Of course. Blanca will show you out." He nodded to the housekeeper who had kept her distance, and her tongue, throughout the whole exchange.

"Thank you very much, sir," he said while retreating to where Jim and Blanca were standing. Once beside his detective, they quickly left the greenhouse and headed toward the car. As soon as the two were far enough from the house, Simon pulled on Jim’s arm, and forced his friend to face him. "Mind telling me what that was all about, Detective?"

Jim sighed and placed his hands inside his pants pockets. Shoulders slumping, he admitted to Simon what he had been doing. "There’s something there, Simon. I could smell the gunpowder. Hell, I could taste it, it was so strong." He glanced at Simon and added, "Carasco’s doing more than just cultivating orchids in that greenhouse. We just have to find out what."

"And how do you propose that, Detective?" Simon asked, settling inside the car and starting the engine.

Jim thought for a moment before muttering, "Did he say his daughter is a student at Rainier?"

Simon turned toward Jim and pulled out a cigar. Placing it in his mouth, he prepared to light it when he saw the glare from the man beside him. Sighing, he placed his lighter back in his pocket and contented himself with the taste and feel of the unlit cigar. "Maya," he said, his lips curling around the rolled tobacco. "Her name is Maya. What’s your idea?"

Jim mulled over his thoughts before proceeding. Blair had said he liked the bits of police work he had already done since becoming an observer. Surely he wouldn’t mind helping out some more. After all, he was already at Rainier, with easy access to the students. "Sandburg," Jim said, conveying his idea to Simon with the single word.

Simon doubted Jim’s idea. "You sure he’d go for it?"

Jim nodded. "It’s worth a shot. I’ll talk to him this afternoon."

~~~~~~~~

Jim paced before a bench in the quad area of Rainier University. He had been waiting for Blair to arrive, and the student was late. Jim ran over the idea again and again in his mind. He was hopeful that Blair would go for it but concerned that he might get hurt as well. He frowned slightly but relaxed when he saw his roommate jogging toward him, a smile on his face.

"Hey, Jim, what's up? We've got to make this quick. My research group meets in 15 minutes." He stood beside his partner, backpack slung over one shoulder.

Jim sat on the arm of the bench and leaned toward Blair. He scrubbed at his face with his hands for a moment before beginning. "I need your help on a case." He then waited for Blair’s reaction.

Blair’s eyes lit up and his smiled got wider. "Oh, cool! Ever since that armored car thing I have been so pumped, so flying on adrenaline..." His hands gestured wildly in excitement.

"Hold up there, Darwin," Jim interrupted. "There's a guy named Hector Carasco, who we suspect supplied the weapons for that heist. If I'm right, Carasco's the biggest illegal arms dealer in the northwest."

Blair considered this and then asked, "So you need some major-league backup, right?"

Jim rubbed his neck, grimacing. He knew that Blair would be let down with his ‘assignment’. "Well, actually, his daughter is a student here. We need you to check her out."

As expected Blair’s excitement dimmed as he almost whined, "His daughter?"

Jim noted the disappointment, but was uneasy getting Blair any more involved than this. "Yeah, I figured maybe you could get to know her a little bit, chat her up, find out things about her old man... discreetly. She's got a class in the library in a few minutes. You could start now." He couldn’t help but feel somewhat sorry for his now subdued partner.

Blair almost begged. "Jim, you've got to get me into action here. You can't waste my amps interviewing some clueless little exchange student."

Jim looked away for a moment and then smiled slightly. "I wouldn't say 'clueless' applies here, Chief," he said, nodding at the passing female. She had dark features, a chiseled nose, and full lips. Her hair, long and dark, bounced as she walked toward the library.

Blair’s eyes gleamed as he drank in the sight before him. "Is that her?" he asked Jim.

Jim noted his partner’s change of heart and laughed, softly. He decided to mess with Blair just a bit more. "Yeah. Anyway, I can get somebody else on it."

Blair looked dumbstruck. He knew he had fallen right into Jim’s trap, but conceded freely, in hopes to meet the beautiful lady who had just passed by him. "No, no, no, Jim, Jim. It's okay. I got this one. Got your back. Can't let my partner down, can I?" He smiled, almost leering, at the prospect ahead of him. He turned and began to jog toward the library.

Jim shook his head and wondered if he had done the right thing. He suddenly feared that Blair would get too involved and end up hurt. Quickly, he called toward Blair and asked him to return to the bench.

"What?" Blair asked, sitting down beside the detective. "I thought you wanted me to watch Maya."

"Sandburg…Chief," Jim stumbled through the many thoughts that were running through his head. He didn’t want to treat Blair like a child, but he felt that he should prepare him, none the less. Even Jim had to admit that Maya Carasco was a beautiful young woman. Beautiful enough that many men would tumble head-over-heels for her. "Just, be careful. Remember this is a job, okay? Don’t get in too deep."

Blair considered his partner’s advice solemnly. Gazing at Jim, he smiled, "I’ve got it, Jim. You can count on me." With those words, he stood and walked, a bit more slowly, toward the large building.

~~~~~~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~~~~~~

The tension in Simon’s office was thick as Jim sat on the edge of a table and watched Simon pace. "Three punks armed with a grenade launcher tried to take out a passenger train they thought was carrying a payroll." Simon tossed photographs on the table next to Jim and continued pacing. "Three dead and 13 injured."

Jim picked up the photos and glanced at the images. "Well, the whole deal just gets more twisted, Simon. The weapons used in that armored car job -- they had their serial numbers removed, but forensics managed to pull one. The FBI reports that the gun was made in North Carolina for the army, but the army has no record of it ever being shipped to them."

Tired of pacing, Simon leaned on the edge of his own desk and faced Jim. He crossed his arms, delaying his news for just a second more. "All right, Jim, look, I know you're not going to like this, but the Chief just called. A.T.F. is sending down an agent to work with us."

"Oh, no, sir. No!" Jim stood and took over the pacing that Simon had started earlier. He tried to explain to his captain. "The last thing I need is some glory-minded Fed screwing up my case here."

Simon nodded in sympathetic understanding but helplessly shrugged his shoulders. "It's a done deal. Sorry," he said as he walked around his desk and sat down in his own chair. "You’ll just have to make the best of it. Maybe it won’t be all that bad."

"Not with my luck, Simon," Jim announced as he retreated from the Captain’s office. He sat at his desk and rubbed his forehead with his index finger and thumb. His dealings with the Feds had always turned rotten, and Jim knew, without a doubt, that this case would be no exception. Shaking his head at the turn of events, he wondered about pulling Blair from the assignment. Quickly determining that Blair’s minor involvement would not be directly affected by the A.T.F.’s arrival, he acquiesced, and pulled a file from his inbox, settling down to work.

~~~~~~~~

It was hours later and there had still been no appearance of the mysterious A.T.F. agent. His stomach growling, Jim walked into the break room in search of something decadent, and hopefully chocolate, to satisfy his sweet tooth. After all, he had never gotten his pizza or Mexican lunch the day before. He advanced to the vending machine and placed his coins into the slot. Pushing the button, he watched as the candy bar fell out of its alcove.

Jim knelt to reach into the basin and retrieve his prize and was surprised to find the receptacle empty. He reached in further to access the wayward Baby Ruth when the break room door opened and a woman walked in. From his crouched position, he looked up at the raven-haired woman and asked, "Can I help you?"

The woman smirked, "You're the one who looks like he needs help."

Jim resumed his quest for his snack and finally withdrew his arm, triumphant. I'm just trying to get my...my lunch." He glanced at his mutilated chocolate bar and shrugged, "Maybe we could share it?" He took a bite of the candy and gestured for her to do the same.

"I don't eat junk food," the woman said, slightly condescending.

*Lady, you and Sandburg should meet. You’re perfectly suited for one another,* Jim thought to himself. Jim continued to chew his bite of candy and grinned. "Well, you should try it. It kind of grows on you."

Nonplussed, the woman asked a question. "Can you tell me where I can find Detective Ellison? I'm Agent Drennan, A.T.F."

Jim’s grin faded and was replaced by a wary, cold stare. *No ma’am. On second thought you aren’t going near Sandburg.* He swallowed hard. "You're a Fed."

Drennan smiled, used to the negative feedback from working for the federal government. "Don't worry; it's not contagious."

Jim decided a hasty retreat might be his best option so he played a little game. "Ellison...Ellison," he said aloud. "I haven't seen him in quite some time." He glanced at the door and attempted to reach it. "Pardon me," he said, trying to get out of the break room. Jim grimaced at his captain’s horrible sense of timing as Simon chose that exact moment to appear at the doorway.

Simon looked in at the two people and smiled, "Jim, good." He turned to Drennan and added, "I see you found Detective Ellison."

"I see I did," Drennan smirked, crossing her arms and gazing at the detective who looked decidedly uncomfortable.

~~~~~~~~

Maya Carasco walked up to the door marked ‘Artifact Storage’ and hesitated. She was angry that Dr. Kingsford has so easily offered her services to this…man…this… She had to look at her note again to remember his name. *Ah yes, Sandburg.* She stuffed the note inside her bag and opened the door.

Blair heard the door open and saw Maya standing there. He hadn’t had any opportunity to talk to her at the library but had arranged for her to be his teacher’s aide for a while. His hands full of papers, he walked toward her. "Uh, come in," he said, shifting the papers so that he could extend his hand to her.

Shaking his hand, Maya looked around the cluttered office. She realized she was working with either an extremely messy person, or a dedicated anthropologist. She hoped for the latter. "Hi. I'm Maya Carasco."

"Hi, how are you doing? I'm Blair Sandburg. I wasn't expecting you till later. A pleasure to meet you."

She smiled, tightly, her anger at being reassigned without her knowledge still eating at her. Sighing, she asked, "So, I guess I work for you now?"

Blair noted Maya’s hostility and was curious. "I'm sorry. Is there a problem?" He walked over to his desk and picked up yet another stack of paperwork. He worried about blowing this assignment before it ever got off the ground.

Glancing around the room again, she avoided his eyes. "No, I'm just not used to being traded from one professor to another like a used car." She let her finger lazily trace the curves of a Peruvian vase on a nearby shelf.

Blair was surprised, but understood her anger. "Oh, no. No, you're not being traded. Borrowed, maybe, but not traded. I'm sorry. I didn't think that you'd object. It's just that I needed someone good and Dr. Kingsford said you were his best assistant." He studied her face from a distance and reconsidered his actions. "But, hey, you know, if you don't want to work for me...I understand."

Maya heard the respect and honesty in the man’s voice and relented, somewhat. She smiled, more relaxed, and responded, "No, I just like to be asked, that's all." She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her left ear.

Blair knelt beside his desk with the armload of papers. He looked up at her and smiled. "Okay," he commented, "Then I'm asking. Would you please be my..." He stopped as the papers he so precariously held slid from his grasp. "My research assistant?"

Maya laughed at the mess Blair had just created and knelt down to help him pick things up. "All right. Okay." She liked the man before her and thought she might just enjoy the job, after all.

Blair soaked in the student’s laugh and returned it. "Yeah?" he asked.

Her eyes focusing on Blair’s she felt suddenly shy. "Yeah," she mumbled, blushing. She picked up another group of papers and tried to shuffle them into a nice stack.

"Good," Blair continued, also grasping fallen papers. "As you can see I'm kind of sloppy, and anything you can do to help me with these files would be great."

Maya smiled again, looking around the artifact-ridden office and asked, "You ever considered filing cabinets?"

Chagrined at the fact that, to him, filing cabinets were used to hide things in emergencies, and not for paperwork, Blair shook his head and laughed. "Filing cabinet? Whoa! All right, what a concept. Look at that -- you're already irreplaceable." He took the handful of pages that Maya had collected and sat them atop his desk. He watched as Maya stood again, and gazed at the collection of rose-stone carvings that sat on one shelf.

"Are these Chilean?" she asked, still studying the carvings.

Blair glanced at the objects she was looking at and responded. "Yes, they are from the…"

"Quinchamali area," she interjected.

Blair got excited. He never expected Maya to be so informed about the small Chilean area that ceased to exist over two hundred years ago. "Exactly!" he said, happily. "You’ve heard of them?"

Maya ran her finger over the nose of one extravagant carving and smiled. "I’m Chilean," she laughed.

"Yes," Blair responded, knowing that he must have sounded stupid. "But those people died a long time ago."

Maya shrugged. "I started studying the different groups of indigenous people of Chile when I was a small girl. My interest in Anthropology came from those studies." She stopped her perusal of the carvings and turned back toward Blair. "Where do you want me to begin?" she asked, eyeing the piles of paperwork still adorning the top of the desk.

~~~~~~~~

Jim sulked as he strode through the busy Major Crimes bullpen. He grimaced as he looked behind him and saw Agent Drennan following closely behind him.

"I'll need all of your files and interrogation tapes. Also, names and addresses of any contacts or informants you may have used on this case," Drennan informed Jim as they neared his desk.

Jim raised his hand to object. "Let me tell you something, Drennan. My informant file is confidential." He sat down at his desk, clearly not wanting to discuss the issue further.

Drennan, was not to be put off. She threw the file folder she had been holding onto Jim’s desk and leaned forward. "I'll remind you this is now a federal investigation. Any bull, and I'll make a call to my boss, who'll call your chief, who will then call your boss." Her voice took on an edgy, condescending tone.

Jim had had enough, but knew he had no choice. Staring straight ahead, he laughed humorlessly. "Oh, yeah. This is going to be a lot of fun." He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a file. Handing it to Drennan he commented, "Happy reading," and then turned back to his work.

Drennan looked down at the file he had given her, and paused. Her tone changing from grating to curious, she asked, "Hector Carasco is one of your suspects?"

Jim looked up, surprised. "Yeah. Why? Do you know him?"

Without meeting his gaze, Drennan replied, "I know his name."

His interest piqued, Jim pushed onward. "Well, then, maybe you can tell why he has a sealed Federal file?"

The condescending Drennan returned and responded snidely, "If I did, it wouldn't be sealed, would it?" She flashed a cold smile at the detective and offered no more information.

Jim stood then, his blood beginning to boil. "Listen, lady! We’re supposed to be working together here. We’re on the same side. Tell me what you know, and I’ll let you keep working with me."

Drennan did not back down, instead she moved closer to the angry detective. "It works both ways, Detective. But just remember, I’m the Federal aspect of this investigation, and what I say, goes. Got that?"

Jim’s fist clenched almost as tightly as his jaw, but he was not about to give up without a fight. "You’re a real charmer, Agent Drennan," he spat. His voice was low and ominous.

"I don’t get paid to charm anyone, Ellison. And don’t you forget that," she responded, grasping her files tightly and walking away.

~~~~~~~~

Over the past few hours, Blair and Maya had managed to make a significant dent in the preponderance of clutter in Blair’s small office. His desk mainly clear and filing cabinets being put to use as they were designed, the office looked neater and roomier.

Maya was perched atop the corner of Blair’s desk and was reading a journal from one of Blair’s expeditions. She was surprised to learn the amount of travel that Blair had managed to accrue over his years as an anthropologist. "So you spent three months living among the Kombai Tree people of Irian Jaya?"

Blair, still shuffling some items from one corner of the room to another, looked up as he passed by her. "Oh, yeah... It was really, really wild. You see, I was the first westerner they had ever seen." He smiled at the memory. "They thought I was a laleo -- an evil spirit disguised as a white man."

Interested, Maya asked, "Well, how did you change their minds?"

Happy to be able to share his story with someone who seemed truly interested, Blair moved closer to where Maya sat and began. "See, there they were. They had these bows with these barbed arrows pointed at me." His hands became more animated as he continued. "And, uh...well, I freaked out. I panicked. And I turned and tripped and fell flat on my face in the mud." He paused, gauging her reaction to his clumsiness.

Maya softly laughed. She watched as Blair came over to sit next to her, atop the desk. "You didn’t?" she giggled, no recrimination in her voice.

When Blair saw her smile, he went on. "That’s what they did. They started to laugh. They figured if I was that uncoordinated, I couldn't be much of a threat, you know?" He laughed, himself, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "Yeah... but their houses -- They're hundreds of feet up in the sky at the top of these jungle trees so they can see the mountains and the birds and keep the sorcerers away. It was living in the sky."

Maya, drawn into the story as Blair wove it, sighed loudly. "Wow. That sounds really beautiful." She stared at the man before her, entranced.

Blair gazed at her, entranced as well. Jim’s voice screamed inside Blair’s head, warning him to be careful, but his heart was not listening. He felt himself falling for the woman beside him. His voice was husky as he responded. "It was transcendent. Transcendent."

~~~~~~~~

Jim, having new information to share, knocked on Captain Banks’ office door and let himself in. Walking toward Simon’s desk, he failed to note he had not closed the door behind him. "Excuse me, sir, I just talked with a friend of mine at the Treasury Department. Check this out. Carasco's real name is Julio Escobon. Apparently he's a gunrunner to the Contras for the CIA"

Simon blinked, taking in the information. "You're kidding me, right?"

Smiling at his new information, Jim responded. "I kid you not, sir. The other thing I found out was Carasco..." He paused as he saw Simon look toward the still open door. Turning his head, he grimaced as he saw Agent Drennan leaning against the doorjamb, listening intently.

Her arms crossed, and her body tense, Drennan spoke. "Your friend just broke Federal law, Detective. I'll need her name."

Jim stared at a point just to the left of the agent and offered up his contact. "Doe. Jane Doe." He smiled innocently at Drennan and added, "At least that's the name she gave me."

Drennan glared at Jim and then at Simon when the older man attempted to stifle a guffaw. "Fine," she huffed, "I'll have my office check the phone records for Major Crimes to the Treasury Department."

All humor left Simon at that comment and he spoke up. "Drennan, do you take some perverse pleasure out of pissing people off?" He would have continued further but was interrupted by a knock on the open door.

"Excuse me, Captain?" All eyes turned toward the doorway and Detective Brown who stood just outside. He held up a slip of paper and signaled to Jim. "Ellison, one of your snitches called -- Sal?"

Jim advanced toward Brown, attempting to shut the man up. He waved his hand, gesturing that he would talk to Brown privately, then rubbed his forehead, miserably. Couldn’t he catch just one break?

Henri, oblivious to Jim’s attempts, prattled onward. "He says he's got some info on your case. Wants you to meet him at the usual place in an hour." Brown finally noticed the woman in Simon’s office and smiled. "Hi," he charmingly said.

~~~~~~~~

Still upset that he had a tagalong, Jim stalked down the embankment near the shipping docks as he approached his snitch. Sal had been a good contact; albeit a little flaky at times, but Jim could always count on him when he needed to. He hoped that this time Sal would have just the information he needed to nail Carasco and his gunrunning operation. Jim waved as he and Agent Drennan neared the short skinny man.

Sal, his whole body twitching, offered no greeting. Instead he simply began spewing out his information. "All right, all right, here's the word, man. There's a big supply of guns coming into Cascade this week by boat...Uh, fishing trawler."

Interested, Jim asked, "Which trawler?"

"I don't know," Sal responded, looking down at the ground before gazing back at the two before him. "Okay, okay, I know the name of the buyer. His name is Fujinaka, Fukiro, no, it's not... something like that."

Jim realized that today was not one of Sal’s better days. The information he had offered was sketchy at best. Without definite names or locations, they were nowhere nearer to getting Carasco. Thinking quickly, he asked his snitch, "Did you hear the name Carasco mentioned?"

Sal thought for a moment. Then, shaking his head, answered, "Uh... uh-u no."

Jim sighed, knowing he wouldn’t be getting much more from Sal at that time. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his wallet. Retrieving two bills from the bi-fold, he held them out to Sal. "All right, Sal, give me a call if you find out anything else, okay? Find out what you can." He pulled the bills from Sal’s fingers to emphasize his point. "But listen to me: be cool. Don't draw attention to yourself. You got that?"

Sal gazed, enthralled, at the money being held just inches from his grasp. "I got it…I got it!" he spoke, anxious to receive the money for his information.

Jim handed over the bills and watched as Sal almost ran from their location. He gazed over at Drennan, for the first time since their meeting with Sal and was surprised to find her glaring at him. "What?" he asked.

"That's it?" she asked, annoyed.

Jim was fairly annoyed, himself. "You got a problem, Drennan?" he asked, placing his wallet back inside his pocket.

Drennan didn’t wait to explain, only took off after Sal’s retreating form. She called him, "Hey, Sal!" getting his attention. When she reached his side, she whispered to him and handed him a few more bills. She stood as the man reacted, laughing happily as he rushed away.

Jim, from yards away, had turned up his hearing and listened to their conversation. He was fuming when the agent returned to his location, smiling predatorily. "What was that all about?" he asked as she approached.

Smirking, Drennan informed Jim of her actions. "I told him to find out the name of the ship. I gave five hundred as a down payment."

Jim had not been able to determine the amount of money that she had offered his snitch but reeled as he realized she had probably just ruined Sal for any future work. "What, are you stupid? You gave Sal five hundred? The most I've laid out for him is fifty. A guy like Sal's going to self-destruct over that kind of money."

Drennan would have nothing of it. In her mind she was completely justified for paying him such a large amount. "He'll feel appreciated, detective, and work his ass off to get what I want." She looked at the man before him and grinned. "It’ll get results, which is more than you’ve been able to get out of him."

Jim ignored her snide comment and then asked, "And the next time I want information and only have fifty dollars?"

Drennan smiled again, and turned on her heel, walking back to the parking lot. She tossed her parting comment over her shoulder as she left, "I guess you'll be four fifty short, Detective."

Jim stood and watched Drennan leave. He shook his head wondering what in the hell had turned her into such a heartless wench. He’d worked with a lot of people over the years, some good, some bad, but he’d never run along someone quite as self-centered, and egotistical as Agent Drennan. "Bitch," he muttered under his breath as he followed her back to the car.

~~~~~~~~

Maya and Blair were laughing as the door to Maya’s father’s home opened. Entering, Blair sobered as he looked around the hallway. He lowered his voice, not willing to disturb anyone that might be in the house. "Are you sure this is okay? I don't want to intrude."

Maya removed her jacket and laughed again. "Don't be silly. I want you to meet my father."

Relaxing at Maya’s soothing laughter, Blair gazes into the dining room and gasps. Walking toward a framed painting on the near wall, he gasped, "Oh, wow... a Benitez! When I was in Brazil, I saw some of his works at an exhibition at the National Museum." He lowered his voice, reverently, as he gazed at the fine brush strokes on the abstract artwork. "He claims he collects plants from the rain forest to make his colors." Blair jumped slightly when a voice boomed from behind him.

"And that's why no one has ever been able to match his vibrancy." Hector Carasco stood at the foot of the stairs, watching Maya and this unknown man. He warily advanced, then kissed his daughter. "Not many Americans know Benitez."

Blair looked back at the painting. "Oh, it's unfortunate. His work is brilliant." He turned back toward where Maya and her father were hugging.

Maya released her embrace and introduced the two men. "Father, this is Blair Sandburg." She waved her hand toward where Blair stood. "He's a grad student I'm working for at the University." She smiled as Blair extended his hand toward the elder Carasco.

Shaking the offered hand, Carasco added, "Welcome, Mr. Sandburg."

"How you doing?" Blair asked, smiling at the man before him. He wondered how a friend of the arts, a seemingly open and loving man could be the criminal that Jim had proposed. He just couldn’t see it.

Carasco moved toward the painting that Blair had so recently admired. "Tell me what other South American artists do you appreciate?" he asked, conversationally.

Blair shook the thoughts from his mind and turned toward Mr. Carasco. Familiar with many artists, he scrambled for a few of his favorites. "Oh, uh... Ceballos, Ramos, Marin." His eyes darted from Carasco to his daughter, who was smiling brightly. He returned her smile and was about to ask a question of Mr. Carasco when another man joined them.

"Señor Carasco, we seem to have a small insect problem in the greenhouse," the tall, dark man said, in a formal manner.

Carasco eyed the man, and then nodded. "Thank you, Vargas," he said as he walked toward the doorway. "Why don't you show our guest the rest of the house? Please excuse me. I'll only be a few minutes," he added to Maya as he left the house.

Blair eyed the retreating form and wondered just what insect problems the greenhouse could have that would warrant such a hasty reaction from Mr. Carasco. Pushing the thoughts aside, he took Maya’s offered hand and entered the living room.

~~~~~~~~

Carasco and Vargas entered the large greenhouse. Passing potted palms and his prized orchids, Carasco’s jaw was set tightly as he spied the ‘problem’ that had been reported to him. "So, this is my insect problem?" He stared at Sal’s bloodied form before him. He watched as the man struggled to release from the ropes that bound him to the chair he sat in. He sneered as the man quivered in fear.

Vargas explained, "He was at the docks asking questions about guns." He glared at the man sitting nearby.

Snorting, Carasco leaned closer to the form who writhed pitifully within his bonds. "You're shaking my friend. Are you afraid?" He paused, eliciting a moan from the small man as their eyes met. "You should be," he concluded. Turning quickly from Sal to Vargas, he barked his instructions. "Make sure he tells you all he knows, then remove him from my house." Again, he paused, offering one last glance at the tortured man. "Then kill him."

~~~~~~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, Jim mulled over the evidence they had collected so far as he lumbered down the crowded police department hallway. He acknowledged two women talking and handed off a folder to a typing pool secretary. Turning, he nearly ran into his Captain as the older man exited a nearby office.

"Jim, our problems just got bigger. Vice heard a rumor that we have a power struggle brewing between the local mob and the Japanese Mafia." Simon matched Jim’s pace as they walked down the hallway, side by side.

"The Yakuza."

Simon nodded, "Yeah, the mob warned the Yakuza kingpin, Furukawa, to back off or there would be a
damn war."

Jim stopped abruptly and looked at Simon, his eyes showing surprise. He stopped Simon’s advance with a hand upon the captain’s arm. "Wait a second. The shipment of guns that my informant said was coming in -- the buyer's name sounded Japanese." He thought for just a moment before adding, "It's got to be Furukawa."

Simon snorted, realizing the gravity of the situation. "If the Yakuza try knocking off the mob with military armaments, Cascade's going to look like Beirut." He stiffened at the implications and shook his head at Jim.

The ringing of Jim’s cell phone interrupted their conversation, and Jim apologized as Simon just waved his hand and retreated into Major Crimes. "Excuse me, sir," Jim said as he lifted the phone to his ear. "Detective Ellison." Jim paused as he listened to the caller’s voice. His jaw slackened as the voice on the line relayed information that Jim hated to hear. "No," Jim sighed sorrowfully.

~~~~~~~~

Jim stood at the bottom of the hill as Forensics and Morgue personnel prepared his informant’s body. The body had been mutilated and then dumped like garbage near the harbor. Jim shook his head in grief as he noted the painful and slow death that Sal must have endured.

Speaking into his cell-phone Jim only half-listened to the speaker on the other end before barking his instructions. "All right, all right. Have him call me back as soon as you can." Where the Hell was Sandburg? He wasn’t at the loft, in his office, or teaching a class. Jim needed to talk to him, to warn him that the case had taken a more deadly turn. He was just disconnecting the call when Agent Drennan approached.

Drennan looked over to where the personnel were finally covering Sal’s body with a tarp. Crossing her arms around herself, she asked, "How did he die?"

Jim, his eyes cold, glared at the agent. "He was hacked to death...by a machete." He hoped that the harshness of his words had some impact, even if minute, on the woman before him.

The words struck Drennan, and she grimaced. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice remorseful.

Jim turned and watched the preparations. He blamed Drennan for what had happened to Sal. He knew that the dead man had only been doing what she had motivated him to do. Without turning to face Drennan, he commented, "I guess your money made him a little careless. Wrong people, wrong questions."

Drennan, her own eyes locked onto the activity before them, responded in awe. "I was just trying to motivate him." She shook her head in disbelief that the murder had occurred.

The woman had gone too far. This was Jim’s investigation, and he’d be damned if he lost such control yet again. "You got your wish, Lady," Jim said, his voice full of hatred. "You motivated him right into a body bag. You happy?"

Drennan stiffened and turned cold herself. She looked at the detective and retorted, "And if those guns hit the streets? How many more people in your city are going to die?" Softening her voice only slightly, she continued, "Look...I'm sorry about Sal, but we need information."

Jim had heard enough and turned to face Drennan. He flung his arm up in disgust before confronting her. "Right, right! The trouble is, Drennan, I don't see any information. All I see is a corpse." With that, he turned and walked away from the Federal agent. Things were getting out of hand. Jim needed to talk to Blair, and the quicker the better.

~~~~~~~~

Jim had driven to the University in hopes of locating Sandburg. Finding Blair’s office door locked, he sighed in frustration. Where was his roommate? Even in the short time that the two men had been friends, Jim had come to identify his partner’s penchant for trouble, and it worried him. Shaking off the feeling, Jim jogged down the steps of Hargrove Hall and entered the commons area of the campus.

He neared the waterfront before he heard Blair’s laughter and turned to scan the students for his partner. Focusing his sight, he saw both Blair and Maya standing on the walkway. He leaned his leg against a breaker and watched the two co-eds talking. He refused to use his sentinel abilities to eavesdrop on their conversation, but their body language was easily enough read from that distance.

Jim watched as Maya and Blair kissed. He cursed himself as they continued their explorations and shook his head. He told Blair not to get too involved. He told Blair to be careful. He told…he told Blair to get close to her and that’s exactly what he had done. Jim mentally kicked himself as he realized he probably had no one else to blame but himself. Damning himself even further, Jim turned up his hearing, in hopes of an opportunity to make a well-timed entrance.

Maya smiled at Blair and reluctantly admitted she needed to get to class. She laughed softly at the disappointment on Blair’s face and patted his cheek affectionately.

"Will I see you tonight?" Blair asked her, his voice low and husky.

Maya nodded and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Yes. Your office at 7:00." It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.

"Seven, huh?" Blair confirmed, his eyes sparkling with anticipation.

Moving closer, Maya wrapped her arms around Blair’s neck and whispered the meeting time again before kissing him. Their kiss deepened, and it was the sound of someone calling Blair’s name that broke them apart.

"Sandburg," Jim called, getting tired of the public display of affection he had been witnessing. He moved so that he stood mere feet from the couple and waited for them to separate.

Blair turned and saw his partner approaching. He wondered just how long the Sentinel had been watching the two of them, and blushed, slightly. "Hi. Uh... Jim... Maya, this is a friend Jim. Jim, this is Maya." He waved his hand back and forth between the two.

Maya gazed at the man Blair had identified as a friend. Noting that he was older than Blair was, she considered this before speaking. "Hi. Are you a grad student too?" She didn’t believe he was, but non-traditional students abounded on the Rainier campus.

*Think, think, think.* Blair had to come up with a believable story, and quickly. Finally obtaining one, he spoke, "Uh... no, actually, Jim is a researcher and I'm helping him out with a project on human behavior."

Maya didn’t think that Jim resembled a researcher, more of an athletic personality than a cerebral type of man, but nodded, intrigued. "Oh, that sounds interesting," she managed to say before noting the time and retreating. She looked at Blair, apologetically, and said, "I’ve got to go to class. Nice to meet you, Jim." She backed away a step before pausing and placing her hand upon Blair’s arm. "See you later," she said, smiling before walking away.

"See you later," Blair confirmed, smiling himself. He still felt her lips upon his and drank in the sensation. Turning to face Jim, the feeling faded quickly as he noted the cold eyes that met his. "It's not what you think," he defended, but knew he was lying. "Okay, okay, it is what you think, but I did find out about her father. The guy loves his daughter. He collects art and he grows orchids." Blair was pleased with himself for finding information on Hector Carasco, as well as pleased that what he had found out was so innocent.

Jim frowned. "He also has people killed."

Where had Blair’s world turned upside down? Maya’s father a killer? He staggered under the information and then questioned its validity, "What? That's crazy. Come on." He shook his head in disbelief.

Jim nodded and explained, "This morning, one of my informants turned up dead. We found some soil samples on his clothes. Same type of soil that Carasco uses to grow his orchids."

Blair still didn’t believe him. "So... what does that mean? You can get that stuff anywhere, right?"

Placing his hand upon Blair’s shoulder, Jim continued. "If Carasco is involved, it's possible that Maya's involved too," he spoke, as gently as possible.

Blair shook off the friendly contact with a shudder and backed away. He was more angry now, than confused. How dare Jim think that Maya could be a part of this? "No, no, no, that is impossible, man." He turned to walk away.

Jim placed a firm grip on the retreating man and turned Blair to face him, yet again. His voice softer, Jim tried to convey his concerns to his roommate. "Sandburg, I just don't want to see you put in danger." He saw the anger in his partner’s eyes, and felt the shudders coursing through his body.

Blair, body tense with emotion, just balked. "You don’t know her, Jim! You know nothing about Maya! You don’t know how I…" he stopped abruptly, not willing to admit his feelings for the woman. Glaring at Jim, he let out a long sigh, his arms dropping heavily at his sides. "Jim, just leave it alone, okay?" he begged before walking quickly toward a nearby building.

"Chief," Jim whispered at the retreating figure, knowing that Blair could not hear him. "I’m sorry."

~~~~~~~~

Blair had spent the rest of his afternoon mulling over what Jim had told him. He knew that he was being unreasonable. He had only met Maya a few days ago. He knew that Jim wouldn’t lie to him about Carasco and Maya’s possible involvement in the mess, but it still hurt. And Blair was hurting. He’d gone too far and had let himself get attached to the woman. He felt the pull of his heart in her direction, and he wanted to believe in her. He wanted her to be the innocent person that he saw when he was around her. He wanted to be able to fall for her…to fall in love with her. For now, though, he couldn’t. For now, there were too many unknowns. For now, he would simply enjoy being with her, getting to know her even more.

He reached the door to his office and heard rustling sounds coming from inside. Noting the time on his watch, he realized it was just before seven…the time of his date with Maya. He smiled as he turned the knob and entered the office. Looking around, Blair was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in his workspace. He noted the muted lighting, the delicious fragrances, and the soft music that floated through the room.

Turning to the center of the room, he saw Maya, seated, lighting the last of three candles placed in the center of a short table, laden with food. He smiled and asked, "Maya, what's this?"

Blowing out the lit match, Maya faced him. "It's dinner," she explained. "I made it at home and I warmed it up in your microwave." She looked at the table one last time. Satisfied that everything was ready, she motioned for Blair to take off his jacket and join her.

Blair did as asked and sat adjacent to Maya. He swallowed hard at the obvious thought and planning she had done in preparation for the evening. He knew the atmosphere and ambiance lent itself toward seduction and wondered if Maya had intended for that to occur. Gazing back at the woman beside him, he stated, "This is incredible. But, why?" A portion of Blair hoped it meant she felt as he did, but another portion screamed Jim’s words of warning.

Maya blushed and lowered her head. "Because tonight is very special," she whispered and began filling the plates.

Blair enjoyed his dinner with Maya. The food was deliciously prepared, and ample servings of both the food and wine sated him. Their conversations moved from the more juvenile to deep soul-wrenching topics. Blair had found himself falling, yet again, for the woman, whose eyes sparkled when she spoke. Finally, their plates emptied, they had sat back in companionable silence, each content to gaze at the other.

Blair was the first to break the silence. "Wow, that was amazing," he stated, happily rubbing his stomach.

Maya smiled at the obvious man-like gesture, and slid back from the table. She reached behind her and brought out a plate. "It's not over yet. We still have dessert," she said, making room on the table for the sweet concoction.

Blair’s eyes widened at the prospect of even more food. He was happily full, but loathed to disappoint his date for the evening. "Maya," he warned good-naturedly.

Maya moved closer and lowered her voice to just more than a whisper. "This is a very special pastry," she explained as she moved the dessert so that it sat directly between the two of them. "It's called calle mil hojas."

The dessert must have taken hours to prepare. It was obviously homemade and decadent. Blair was again struck with the amount of work that Maya had put into the evening and lowly murmured, "Wow, look at this." He started to take a piece of the sweet from the plate but was surprised to find his hand batted away by Maya.

"Hey," she scolded with a smile. "You can't feed yourself. The tradition is that I have to feed you." Again, she blushed, but maintained eye contact.

Blair felt his heart constrict, and he found it hard to breathe as he heard the subliminal implications of Maya’s words. At that moment, there was no doubt as to Maya’s motives, and Blair was unable to stop his reaction. "I've never heard of that tradition," he said, as he leaned closer to her.

Maya giggled as she pulled a piece of the confection from the plate. Her hair falling to shield her face, she nervously muttered, "Well, that's because I just made it up."

Blair enjoyed the child-like quality in Maya’s voice and responded simply, "Okay," and placed the wayward strands behind her right ear.

Looking up, Maya relaxed when he did not judge her or laugh at her embarrassment. She moved the bit of pastry to Blair’s mouth and waited for him to take it.

Blair closed his eyes and let the pastry slide into his mouth to dissolve upon his tongue. The sweetness of the dessert melded with the desire he felt for Maya and he happily sighed. He opened his eyes and found Maya to be mere inches away.

"Now you have to feed me," she whispered.

Blair swallowed at the erotic turn the evening had taken. "Okay." He nervously, took a piece of pastry from the plate and held it out to Maya. He gasped when her lips closed around his finger and thumb as she took the bite of food and gulped air into oxygen-starved lungs until she sat back and smiled.

Maya watched Blair’s reaction then spoke, her voice heady. "You know, the first time my mother ever cooked for my father, she made this pastry. It's a very special pastry. Like you're very special."

*Okay, time to slow down, here. Get a grip, Sandburg. Talk about her family. Back away.* "Um, you never talk about your mother," Blair stated, pulling away while trying to get his emotions back in check.

Maya frowned, her shoulders slumping. "She died," she explained, picking at the dessert as she spoke. "I was very young. It was a riding accident."

Blair wanted nothing more than to put his arms around Maya at that point, but refrained. "I'm sorry," he apologized.

Shaking her head in dismissal, Maya added, "I don't remember her very well. But my father says I look a lot like her." She pulled off another bit of the pastry and ate it.

Taking the opportunity to find out more about Hector Carasco, Blair asked, "What did your father do in Chile?" He hoped that he would glean more information to exonerate the loving father he had met at the estate.

Disinterested in the topic, Maya shrugged. "The same as he does here -- he imports and exports things."

Blair sat up, his tone changing from informal to that of a police observer. He hoped that Maya didn’t notice. "What kinds of things?" he asked.

"Tools, machines, stuff like that." Maya obviously wanted to get back to the romantic portion of the evening and was getting impatient.

Ignoring the signals Maya was giving, Blair asked another question. "But, why did he leave Chile?"

Frustrated, Maya responded with a question of her own. She was clearly disappointed with the turn the night had taken. "Why are you asking so many questions?" she asked, accusingly.

Blair back-pedaled quickly. Shaking his head he responded, "I'm curious -- about you, about your family. I want to know everything about you." He knew the last part of his comment could be taken too seriously, and he didn’t really care.

"Why?" Maya asked, all venom removed from her voice once again as she was pleased with Blair’s curiosity.

Blair swallowed before answering. He knew that he was in over his head. He knew Jim would go ballistic when he found out. But, he knew that what he was feeling was real. "Because I think I'm falling in love with you," he said, his gaze meeting hers and locking.

Maya smiled, and laughed softly. Leaning closer to Blair, she whispered, "And I think I'm falling in love with you."

Blair watched as Maya wrapped her arms around his neck and let her lips descend upon his. His heart and mind warred with one another as his arms moved to tighten the embrace. His heart was winning, and he felt as if he might just give up the battle when Maya interrupted his thoughts.

"Blair...I've... I've never... I mean, you'd be the first and..." she stuttered, and blushed again.

Blair heard the words but took a moment to comprehend them. He couldn’t do this to her. He couldn’t take her when their relationship was based on a lie. God, how Blair wanted to tell her the whole story. But he was unwilling to put Jim’s life in danger. And he knew that he might do just that, should he tell Maya the truth. Pulling away from Maya he simply stared at her, unsure how to go on.

Maya saw the confusion, the hurt in Blair’s eyes and knew she had said the wrong thing. "What? What's wrong?" She sat back, upset.

Blair, too, slid back so that there was distance between them. Rubbing his face with his hands, he tried to explain, "Um...nothing. I just don't think that this is the right night for this."

Maya’s eyes filled with tears, but she didn’t allow them to fall. "Why?" she asked again.

Blair nearly relented when he heard Maya’s voice containing such misery and pain. Knowing that he would fold if he were to remain near her at that moment, he stood quickly and grabbed his jacket. "Uh...I'm sorry," he apologized, trying to convey the truth in those words. "I've got to go," he added as he opened the door and left the office.

~~~~~~~~

Jim rubbed his neck as he walked down the hall toward Major Crimes. He had been up, late, waiting for Blair to come home. When he finally straggled in at around two, Blair had simply said goodnight, and then headed to his room. Jim knew his friend was confused and angry and they needed to talk things out. But when Jim had awakened that morning, Blair was already gone.

Instead of heading to the university to confront Blair, Jim had simply gone into work early, attempting to get a jump on the case. He had been rewarded. Now, as he strode toward the office, he hoped that he could manage to pull-off what he had planned without the aid of a certain Federal agent. He saw Simon as he entered the office and headed for him.

"Nine commercial trawlers come in to port this week. Tonight the Esmerelda docks." He looked at the captain as they both walked toward Simon’s office and added, "She's of Chilean registry, and I wanna go to check her out."

Simon asked, "Well, what does Drennan think?"

They had reached the office and Jim closed to door firmly, so prying eyes and ears could not overhear their conversation. "She doesn't know -- and I'm not telling her."

Simon shook his head. "Jim, now you know what our orders were -- full cooperation."

Jim forced his point with a wave of his hand. "I understand, sir. But I don't want her to screw this up. When I find out something, then I'll bring her in."

Simon nodded, understanding the detective’s lack of trust. "All right," he acquiesced. "But if you're going alone, make sure you have a back-up unit on standby."

Smiling slightly, Jim nodded. "Understood. Thank you, sir." He left the office, checking for any sign of Agent Drennan, and took a seat at his desk. He had a few phone calls to make and then he needed to talk to Blair.

~~~~~~~~

It was pitch black to all but those with sentinel eyesight as Jim hunkered down behind some crates on the dock. He paused, remembering he still had yet to speak to Blair about Maya. He had tried calling the anthropologist three times during the afternoon, but he was never in his office. Then, Jim had waited for Blair to appear at the loft, but had finally left for the stakeout, frustrated that his roommate had not come home.

Jim looked around the area. Spying some gunnysacks marked that they contained coffee beans, he advanced toward them to take a closer look. He dialed up his sense of smell to check the bag's contents and caught the scent of something peculiar, but not at all what he was expecting. He looked disgusted for a moment before calling, "Come on out, Drennan."

From behind another stack of crates, Agent Drennan emerged, looking somewhat chagrined. "How did you know I was out here?" she curiously asked.

Jim shook his head, grumbling. "You wear too damn much perfume. Now, what the hell are you doing here?" He kneeled beside a particular bag and began cutting it open.

Drennan knelt beside him, not caring that he was annoyed. "Same as you. I checked the port authority docking schedule and figured that Esmerelda was the most likely subject for our gunrunners. Did you find anything?"

Looking at the just opened bag of beans, he glared at the woman. "I just started looking."

Drennan watched as Ellison continued his handiwork by carving into the bag even further. She noted the markings on the bag as she spoke. "We'll look together. Coffee?"

Jim smiled at what he had found on his treasuring hunt. "Yeah," he snorted, pulling a plastic-covered gun out from the beans. "With a prize in every bag." He was about to say more when he heard voices nearby. Ducking lower behind the cargo he warned, "Somebody's coming."

Drennan unable to discern the voices, questioned him. "I didn't hear anything." In her efforts to prove Jim wrong, she stood to take a closer look.

"Dammit, Drennan!" Jim shouted as gunfire began to rain over their heads. He yanked her forcefully behind the cover of the boxes and bags. Glaring at the careless agent, he pulled his cell-phone from his jacket pocket and started dialing. "I’ll call for back-up," he explained as he dialed.

Drennan was impatient, and voiced her concerns to the detective. "We won't make a collar if we wait. We gotta take them now." She pulled her weapon and began to rise.

Pulling her down beside him once again, Jim explained, "There's at least fifteen of them. We wait for back-up."

A small-fry detective was not going to stand in the agent’s way and Drennan stood, her gun drawn and announced, "Everybody freeze! You're surrounded By A.T.F. agents! So throw you weapons down..."

A second time, Jim pulled Drennan behind cover and bullets flew toward them. As the agent landed on top of Jim, he glared yet again at the agent, a feral smile upon his face. "I guess they called your bluff."

Nonplussed, Drennan ignored Jim’s cutting remark and decided to try another plan. Standing, she said, "I'll try looping around the back." She didn’t wait for acknowledgement as she moved around the corner of the crates.

"Drennan!" Jim shouted, getting her attention at last. "They’d cut you to pieces. Just stay put, I’ve got an idea." He focused his sight on a building behind the shooters and took aim. Firing his weapon only once, the bullet found its mark, as barrels of fuel exploded, ripping the entire area apart. Debris rained upon the fallen drug runners as they moaned in pain.

~~~~~~~~

Less than a half-hour later, as Hector Carasco was working in his study, he was surprised to see the door to his room being flung open. He watched as a grimy, disheveled Vargas stormed into the room.

"We lost the shipment," the large guard advised, his face grim.

Carasco stood and pounded his desk in frustration. "Mierda!"

~~~~~~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~~~~~~

Voices were buzzing in the bullpen the morning following the stakeout. Everyone was thrilled with the haul Jim and Agent Drennan had uncovered. Jim, having already spent a couple of hours inventorying the shipment, was pouring himself a cup of coffee as Simon glanced over the paperwork.

"You should have seen it," he said, putting the coffeepot back on the burner. "Rockets, grenade launchers, machine guns. We even recovered a forty-millimeter anti-aircraft cannon."

Simon shook his head as they both walked toward Jim’s desk. "Well, just make sure Forensics gets a look at it before the Feds come in and grab all of it, know what I mean?" He placed the folder on top of others that were scattered atop the desk.

"Yeah," Jim agreed, taking a sip of his coffee before digging back into the paperwork. He was just preparing to sit when Agent Drennan stormed into the room.

A force to be reckoned with, she strode toward Simon, sparing a cursory glare at Jim. She motioned for Simon to move away from Jim so that they could have a more private conversation then stated, "Captain, I strongly suggest you review Ellison's conduct and procedure on the scene."

Of course Jim had heard the accusation. Rounding the corner of his desk, he was amazed at the agent’s attitude. He had, he knew, kept her from getting killed more than once the night before. "Are you out of your mind, Drennan? I practically saved your damn life and you've got the nerve-"

Drennan interrupted. "You allowed key suspects to escape." She crossed her arms and faced Jim. "I'm filing charges against you for interfering with an arrest by a Federal officer."

Jim broke. He advanced toward the woman, unsure if he could refrain from striking her. "You know, Drennan, it's all of a sudden becoming crystal clear why you work alone," he sneered, not at all sorry for the harsh words.

Drennan and Jim stared each other down for a few moments while Simon just shook his head. Finally, as if sensing that any further conflict would get her nowhere, Drennan turned and stalked out of the office.

Jim’s eyes followed her as she left the room. His jaw clenching, he continued to watch her until she was out of sight and then sat behind his desk, attempting to concentrate of his work and shake the hatred that filled his body at the moment.

Simon walked over to Jim’s desk and stood before the detective. "Jim," Simon’s tone was soft, but professional. "Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but you may want to cut the woman a little slack."

Jim couldn’t believe Simon would take that bitch’s side. Couldn’t he see the way she was trying to undermine every step that Jim took? Shaking his head, Jim asked, "And why is that, sir?"

"I looked up Drennan's record. She's a good cop."

She might have been a good cop, but Jim also knew she was a liability. She was reckless and stubborn. She took chances that a good cop wouldn’t , and would probably end up getting herself, or her partner killed some day. He voiced his concerns to Simon. "She's also got a chip on her shoulder the size of a two-by-four and has been smacking me with it ever since she got here."

Simon sat on the corner of Jim’s desk and locked glances with the detective. "Jim. Drennan lost her partner last year. A shoot-out. Died right in front of her. Even though Drennan was cleared of all responsibility, her boss tells me that she still holds herself responsible."

His anger fading, Jim contemplated his captain’s words and began to feel somewhat guilty for his attitude toward the agent. He needed to apologize, but it would be difficult. Jim began to formulate a plan when Detective Brown interrupted his thoughts.

"Hey, Jim," Henri announced, "You're on TV, man." He pointed toward the small TV that sat on his desk. He smiled as Simon and Jim moved closer to the set and watched the screen.

Simon said over his shoulder as the approached the television, "It must be that interview from the yesterday."

Jim hadn’t wanted to give that interview the night before, and it was painfully obvious as he tried to skirt past the reporter while she questioned him. As Jim watched the news reporter fire question after question at him, a slight niggling began in the back of his head. As the scene was replayed in living color before his eyes, the worry began to grow until the thought came clearly into his mind. "Maya," he whispered to himself as he realized that, in all likelihood, his cover with her had just been blown.

~~~~~~~~

Maya was just putting a few things away in her room when she heard a familiar voice come from the television speaker. Looking up, she was surprised to find Blair’s friend Jim speaking to a reporter. As she listened she was confused to see he was not a researcher after all. She turned up the volume on the television to learn more.

"…between Cascade Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms covered an attempt to bring firearms into the city. A firefight broke out. Nine people were arrested. Two people were killed."

The reporter droned on, asking, "Any comments on reports that the Northwest has been inundated with high-tech military weapons which may come from a single source?"

Maya watched the conversation between the reporter and Detective James Ellison, with morbid fascination. Her earlier confusion had melted into anger, and she let a single tear slip down her face as she continued to watch the exchange.

"All I can tell you is that this seizure is part of an ongoing investigation, which we intend to pursue with every resource," Jim continued, resigned to the fact that the interview was continuing.

The reporter continued to fire questions at the detective, but Maya had heard enough. She turned the television off as more tears began to flow down her cheeks. She was upset, and hurt. Blair had lied to her, and she didn’t know if she would ever be able to forgive him for that.

~~~~~~~~

The younger Carasco wasn’t the only resident of the home who had been watching the television interview. His temper rose as Hector Carasco turned the TV off. He only had a moment to compose himself before his office doors swung open to announce the arrival of Vargas and his guests.

Walking around his desk, Carasco offered his open hand to the Asian man before him. "Welcome, Mr. Furukawa." His smile faded as the handshake was not returned.

"We have a contract for the delivery of certain equipment," the man venomously spat. "Obviously, that delivery won't be made."

Carasco attempted to cover his nervousness. "The situation is under control," he said, trying to smooth things over with his customer. "Soon as we can arrange another shipment, you'll get your guns. Two weeks at the most." He sat down and glanced at Vargas who was standing beside him.

"Two days. Or I want my money back."

"It's already been spent to purchase the guns that were seized on the docks." Carasco responded, gripping a thin cigarillo between his teeth.

Furukawa leaned against the desk, his anger clearly showing. "If a man takes my money, then breaks the contract. There's only one other way to settle accounts, Señor...Carasco." The name was spat, hatred obvious to anyone listening.

Carasco considered his options and relented. He sighed and then said, "The guns will be delivered by midnight tomorrow." He then watched as Furukawa and his entourage left the room, followed by Vargas. His slim cigar broke into pieces.

~~~~~~~~

Blair sat in his office and thought about the previous evening. He both had and hadn’t overreacted. He was so confused. Maya could be the real thing…the one. And he left her, hurt and angry. He knew it was the honorable thing to do, but honor be damned. He had wanted to be with her. Blair sighed, resigned that he needed to apologize to her. He was surprised when his office door swung open and there stood the woman of his thoughts. He smiled widely and welcomed her. "Maya, hi," he said, genuinely happy to see her. He looked closer and noted the lines of pain, the stiffness of her body, and his smile crumbled.

Maya slammed the door shut and strode toward Blair. "You lied to me, Blair. I saw your friend Jim on TV today. He's a policeman."

*Oh, God, no. Please, please, no!* Blair stood and waved his hand, trying to explain. "We need to talk."

Maya shook her head, anger pouring off of her. "All your questions about my past, about my family... What are you, a policeman too?" she accused.

Blair couldn’t think fast enough. He tried, but ended up stuttering, "No. No, not exactly." *Oh God, what do I do?*

Maya’s eyes were cold as she stared at Blair. "Then what? What exactly are you?" She crossed her arms, waiting for an explanation.

Lowering his voice, he returned the stare, hoping to prove to Maya that he was telling the truth. "I'm not a cop. But sometimes, I do help Jim out in a scientific way."

Her tone recriminating, Maya asked, "Oh. So, what was I -- an experiment?"

Blair’s eyes reflected the hurt he saw in Maya’s and his body slumped. "No. No. I was asked to get close to you in order to find out about your father."

"And what did you tell them?"

Blair grasped Maya’s crossed arms and held them tightly within his grip. "I told them that he was a great guy who liked to work in his garden." He forced her to look at him and continued, "Maya, everything that happened between you and me, everything that we shared, that we said, that we felt, that was real. We can work this out."

Maya shook free from Blair’s grip and stepped back, shaking her head. "We shared nothing. Nothing!" Tears ran down her face as she backed away even further. "No. No. No, we can't. No. It’s over," she sobbed. Turning, she ran from the room.

Shocked, Blair started to run after her, yelling, "Come on, Maya. Please." At the doorway he saw the empty hall and stopped in defeat. He leaned against the doorjamb in misery. His world had just been turned upside-down and he didn’t know how to right it. He waited for a few moments, hoping that Maya would return but then retreated back into his office and dug back into grading papers.

It was about a half-hour later when the phone on his desk rang. Blair quickly picked it up, hoping that Maya had had a change of heart. "Maya?" he asked, breathless with anticipation. The low voice on the other end of the line both disappointed and infuriated him.

"It's Ellison."

Blair ran his left hand through his hair and released a breath before responding. "Hey, Jim. Look, I really don't feel like talking to you right now," he said, attempting to control his anger.

Jim could guess what was wrong. "You told Maya?" he asked.

*No you idiot, you did!* Blair wanted to scream at his roommate, but controlled himself. "No. She found out."

"I'm sorry, Chief. But I'm right about her father. The way we figure it, he's been running guns through South American rebels for the CIA and skimming off the top so he can turn around and sell them back in the States. We're inches away from making our case here, Chief."

Blair didn’t care. It was none of his concern. All that mattered right now was fixing things with Maya. "Yeah, that's great," his tone was clipped. "That's great, man, but it doesn't help me out any. I'm falling in love with her, Jim. I got to go." He heard Jim’s voice calling his name as he placed the receiver back into the cradle but didn’t care. He needed to talk to Maya. Blair stood and grabbed his jacket. He hoped Maya would be home and she would speak to him when he got there.

~~~~~~~~

"Blair!" Jim yelled into the phone even though he heard the click of disconnection. He slowly lowered the receiver into the base and thought about the situation. Damn the reporter. Damn the noon news. Damn…him. Jim felt guilty for getting Blair involved, for hurting him. But there was no going back…only moving forward to control the damage. He needed to talk to Blair…and soon.

Jim stood and walked over to Simon’s office, hoping that the captain had come up with more information on the case. He wanted to wrap things up quickly so maybe he and Blair could move on with their lives. He knocked on the partially open door and was waved inside. As he entered, he asked, "Have your contacts managed to learn anything?"

Simon shook his head as he sat behind his desk. "Not a thing." He saw the disappointment and worry on his detective’s face. "But we’ll get Carasco. Sooner or later." When Jim only nodded in response, Simon sat forward, staring at the man. "Something else come up?" he asked.

Jim shrugged, but relaxed enough to sit down in a nearby chair. "I think I messed up, Simon. I never should have involved Blair in this." He ran his hand over his hair, in frustration.

Simon was confused. "All you had him do was watch the daughter. What’s wrong with that? Besides, he wanted to do more police work, isn’t that what you said?"

"Yeah," Jim agreed, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "But you know Sandburg…"

"It’ll all work out, Jim, I’m sure," Simon placated the detective.

Jim just stared at the floor for a moment, before nodding and standing to leave. "Thanks, Simon. Guess I should get back to work."

"You do that, Detective," Simon smiled, as he watched the man leave. "We’ll nail the son of a bitch, you wait and see."

~~~~~~~~

Hector Carasco had had a trying morning. He was attempting to gain access to guns he did not have, and was struggling to locate them in time for his meeting with Furukawa. The worries weighed heavy on him as he walked into his living room. He sighed as he found his daughter seated on the couch, crying. He walked quickly to her and sat down beside Maya. "Corazon... Que pasa? Blanca told me you never got to bed last night. What's the matter?"

Maya lifted her head, her eyes red-rimmed and tired. "It's Blair. He's been spying on us. He's working with the police." She begged forgiveness from her father. "I didn't know."

Carasco reached a hand to his daughter’s face and caressed it, soothingly. "Of course you didn't."

"Is it true what they say about you?" she asked with hope in her eyes.

"No," he soothed. "It's lies. Lies created by those who disapprove of what I did for our country." He reached for her, embracing her tightly. "Shh, shh," he whispered as he held her. He saw Vargas approaching and stiffened. *Not now, please.*

Vargas came closer and announced, "There's a phone call for you, Señor Carasco. The export company... from Japan."

Carasco released his daughter and smiled apologetically at her before responding to Vargas. "I'll take it in the greenhouse."

"Si, Señor," he nodded as Carasco stood and walked out of the room. Vargas glared at Maya as she stood, as well. "In the future, you should be more careful about the friends you choose, and what you say to them. You see, my job is to protect your father and to handle anyone and anything that threatens him and that includes your friend." He saw her shocked expression and added, "And if necessary, you."

Maya’s expression turned cold. "How dare you threaten me, Vargas?" she spat vehemently. "I can have your job," she announced as he the man turned and walked away from her.

~~~~~~~~

Blair exited his battered Corvair and jogged up the steps to the front door of the Carasco home. He knocked, hoping to find Maya willing to speak to him. He was disappointed when Blanca answered the door. "Hi. I need to see Maya."

Cold eyes stared back at him, Blanca’s face unexpressive. "She doesn't want to see you," she firmly stated before closing the door in his face.

Blair just stood there, shocked and upset. "Damn it," he muttered as he considered his options. He needed to speak with Maya, and he needed to do it now, before things got any worse. Deciding to attempt another entrance, he walked around the house looking for a second doorway. He stopped as he rounded the rear of the home and heard voices coming from inside the greenhouse.

He recognized one voice as Señor Carasco. Walking slowly up to the side of the greenhouse, he peered into a partially opened door and overheard the conversation between Carasco and his hired thug, Vargas.

"It was Furukawa!" Carasco growled as he hung up the telephone he had been speaking into. "He wanted to be reassured the guns would be delivered by tonight."

Vargas leaned against a table as he spoke to his employer. "The men you wanted are ready."

Carasco’s tension diminished slightly at the news. "Good. The police will be watching the waterfront. So have them meet at the warehouse. Que esperas!" He waved his hand in dismissal at Vargas.

"Señor," Vargas acknowledged as he walked away.

Blair contemplated the information he had just overheard and realized he had a lot of apologizing to do…to both Maya and Jim. Jim had been right and Carasco was gunrunning. He had to get a message to Jim as soon as possible. Turning, he decided to retreat back to his car and make a phone call. He never saw Maya gazing out the upstairs window at him. He didn’t see her expression as Vargas lashed out and struck him. He never felt the impact with the hard earth as his body fell.

~~~~~~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~~~~~~

Maya paced inside her bedroom. She didn’t know what to do. Her father, a criminal? It was not possible. And, yet, she had seen Vargas knock out Blair and carry him into the greenhouse. She had to get help, but first she had to make sure. Leaving her bedroom, Maya started down the stairs when the front door opened. She sank down, hiding just out of sight, and watched as Vargas and her father argued.

"Señor Carasco," Vargas called as the older man neared. "We have…"

Carasco interrupted, "Vargas, I have the information. The army weapons convoy leaves Fort Brickman at 3:00."

"But, Sir. We got a problem."

Impatient, Carasco asked, "What is it, Vargas? We have to hurry if we're going to meet the men at the warehouse first." He waited only a scant second before turning and walking toward the back of the home.

Vargas stuttered, and waved his arm. "But Señor Carasco, we have a situation we must deal with first."

Carasco turned, glaring at his worker. "What is it, Vargas?"

Gaining the attention he needed, Vargas explained. "Maya’s friend, Sandburg. He’s in the greenhouse. He overheard your conversation with Furukawa and myself."

"Take me to him," Carasco bellowed, his body tense and angry. "We’ll take care of this little problem and be done with it." He followed Vargas out the door and toward the greenhouse.

Stunned, Maya sat at the top of the stairs. She needed to get help. Blair was in danger. Reaching a decision, she ran down the stairs and entered her father’s office. Stepping behind the oak desk, she picked up the phone and began to dial.

~~~~~~~~

*Oh god not again. Not again.* Blair reached consciousness slowly, feeling the ropes that bound his hands and feet as well as the cloth gag in his mouth. He jerked as he awoke, flashing back to his time in Lash’s lair. At least this time he could move somewhat. His head ached, but not from a drug. He could feel where Vargas’s fist had connected with his cheek.

He opened his eyes and found himself inside the greenhouse. He frantically looked around the room for anything to cut the ropes with. Spying a large machete, he was just trying to stand when he heard the door open and saw Vargas and Carasco approaching. He bit back a cry as he saw Señor Carasco pick up the coveted machete and come nearer.

Placing the tip of the blade against Blair’s throat, Carasco sneered, "You used my daughter to get close to me. Well, you're close to me now." He smiled as he felt Blair’s involuntary shudder through in the metal of the blade against his skin.

Vargas watched amused at his employer’s playing. He had seen many men succumb to the older man’s torture, and he always had enjoyed it. This time, however, he needed to stop his boss before things went too far. "Señor Carasco, wait." He watched as the man withdrew the blade from Blair’s jugular and looked up at him. "I understand your anger. But with the police closing in on us and our operation tonight, we may need a hostage."

Carasco nodded in approval. "All right. You stay here. Watch over Maya. Protect her. If the police come, whatever you do, don't kill him." He turned back to face Blair and sneered. "I reserve that pleasure for myself." Sparing one last glance at the young man, he left the greenhouse with more important business to attend to.

"Si, señor," Vargas said, taking the machete that had been abandoned by Carasco and wielding it carelessly at Blair. "Don’t worry," he said, smiling. "When you die, rest assured that the precious Maya will not be far behind." He laughed as Blair’s eyes widened and he began struggling harder to escape from his bonds.

~~~~~~~~

It had been a few hours since Jim had seen Drennan, so he began to look for her. He knew that, no matter how much she had grated on him, he needed to make some peace. Opening the break room door, he was pleased to find her seated at the table, sipping a cup of coffee. Jim walked in and reached for the coffeepot, pouring himself a cup of the strong brew. Sitting down across from Drennan, he took a large gulp of the hot substance and winced only slightly at the temperature. He was surprised when Drennan was the first to speak.

Her shoulders slumped, Drennan set down her coffee mug and looked up. "It's already been a long day so if you want to talk, let's do it."

Jim nodded. "Okay." He thought for a moment. "When I was a rookie, fresh out of the Academy, maybe six months, there was another rookie. His name was Delgado. He was a good friend of mine. One Friday, we were going across the street to grab a bite to eat. When, out in front of the station there was this fender bender." He stood and refilled both of their cups. "These two guys jumped out of their car, ready to tear into each other. So Delgado and I, we go over there to try and cool things down. What we didn't know was that one of the guys was an escaped felon. So when Delgado goes over to talk to this guy, he pulls out a gun and he shoots him."

Jim walked over to the windows and stared outside. "So I pull out mine, and we exchange fire. He misses. I don't. But that doesn't help Delgado...because he's dead. I spent the next few months so pissed off at the world -- angry, confrontational. I did some stupid, seriously stupid things because I kept thinking it was my fault." He turned, then, locking eyes with Drennan. "But I was wrong, you see. Because there was nothing I could do."

Drennan looked away before she spoke, her voice tremulous. "He was my partner. You're supposed to protect your partner."

Jim pulled out the chair next to Drennan’s and sat down. He leaned closer, offering support. "You do your best and if it all falls apart, then hopefully, you can find some forgiveness. Then you move on 'cause that's all you can do." He made sure the point struck home with Drennan.

They both jumped when Jim’s cell-phone rang. Looking at Drennan and smiling, Jim answered the call. "Ellison." He stood as he heard the panicked voice on the other end.

"It's Maya Carasco. I don't know what to do. My father swore to me that he hadn't done anything wrong."

Jim reached for his jacket and motioned for Drennan to follow him as he responded, "All right, Maya, slow down. What's going on?"

"My father's involved in something. It's something to do with guns. I heard him talking. There's a convoy coming in from Fort Brickman."

Jim stormed into the Major Crimes bullpen. Drennan jogged just steps behind him. "Yeah, yeah, that's an army base north of here. What else did he say?" He walked quickly toward Simon’s closed office door.

"He's supposed to be meeting some men at our old warehouse. It's on Stanford and 12th. But, Detective, Blair is here. Vargas took him to the greenhouse. He's unconscious. I don't know what to do."

*Oh, God,* Jim silently prayed. "All right, listen to me, Maya. Go into your room and lock the door and do not come out until I get there. I'm on my way." He disconnected the call and looked at Drennan as they both entered Simon’s office.

~~~~~~~~

Ignoring Jim’s instructions, Maya left the house. She crossed over the meticulously cared-for lawn and slid inside the greenhouse. Looking for anyone who might have been lurking, she walked quickly toward where Blair was seated. He was unconscious yet again, and she lovingly caressed his bruised cheek before kneeling to release the ropes around his ankles. "Oh, Blair," she crooned as she worked the knots loose.

Maya felt Blair as he began to struggle and looked up at him. She saw his blue eyes beginning to open and then widen drastically as he focused on something behind her. She turned and was shocked to find Vargas standing before her.

"I warned you, Maya," was all Vargas said as his right fist dove toward her, knocking her out. The man looked toward Blair and smiled.

Blair yelled through the cloth in his mouth and struggled again with the ropes. His mind was still foggy, however, and his attempts slowed and then stopped as blackness again filled his vision.

~~~~~~~~

Simon listened as Jim conveyed his conversation with Maya to he and Drennan. "I'll notify the Army. Where's Carasco now?"

Jim, anxious to get moving, looked out the door. "He’s meeting his men at a warehouse at 12th and Stanford."

Simon nodded, "All right, we'll handle that. I'll send backup out to Carasco's house."

Jim exited the office and strode toward the elevators. He spoke over his shoulder, "But nobody moves without my word," he instructed. "We spook Vargas, we get Sandburg killed. All right?" He pushed the button for the elevator. When the doors didn’t immediately open, he punched the wall itself.

~~~~~~~~

Blair had regained consciousness and was now seated beside Maya. He glanced at her, her right cheek already bruised and bloody. How he wanted to hold her, to protect her, to let her know how he truly felt. But it was impossible now as he glanced up at Vargas. Carasco’s enforcer paced before them, machete in his hand.

Vargas clucked, his voice full of false sympathy. "What a tragedy. Your boyfriend escapes. I hear your screams and I find him standing over your body with a machete. I kill him, but it will be too late." He gazed at Maya and was pleased to see her shiver.

"My father will know you're lying," Maya stated.

He leaned in closer, until his breath caressed her cheek. "Your father will believe whatever I tell him," he whispered. "He believed me when I told him that your mother was killed in a fall from a horse." Smiling, he added, "You are too smart for your own good…just like your mother was."

Maya’s eyes widened then tears coursed down her cheeks as she realized the implications of the thug’s words. She looked up at him and cursed, "You bastard." Her body shook then as sobs overtook her.

Blair, his heart full of contempt for the man that stood before them, could do nothing to soothe her wounded soul. He knew that he had to bide his time then take whatever chances were given to him to get them out of this mess.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Drennan arrived just outside the Carasco complex and worked their way to the main driveway. Finding Blair’s vehicle, Jim moved toward it. He ducked behind the driver’s side door and waited for Drennan to catch up. When she did, he looked at her and pulled his weapon. "Maya said they took Blair to the greenhouse. I'm going to go check it out. Cover me."

"You sure you trust me?" Drennan asked, no malice in her voice.

Jim paused for a moment, allowing a slight smile to appear. "Absolutely," he said and nodded to her before moving around the rear of the car.

Drennan pulled her own weapon and scanned the area. She saw the main door to the house open and brought up her weapon. Blanca appeared, brandishing an automatic weapon. "Jim! Look out!" Drennan yelled a warning even as she began firing at the housekeeper. Taking return fire, she ducked behind Blair’s car as she was hit by one of the bullets.

Jim, hearing Drennan’s warning, dove onto the asphalt and returned fire of his own. He smiled a bit in satisfaction as the matronly woman wielding the machine gun fell backward against the door. His bullet had found its mark. Pausing to make sure that Blanca would not be recovering, he turned to look at the ATF agent and found her also lying on the pavement.

Rushing to the fallen agent, Jim knelt beside her and called her name, "Drennan?" Frowning, he saw the patch of blood on her left shoulder and began to apply pressure to the wound.

Drennan anticipated the move and shoved him away with her good arm. "Go ahead! I’m okay. Go ahead," she said as she pressed a cloth against the bloody area. She cocked her head toward the greenhouse and repeated, "I’m okay."

Hearing noises inside the glass structure, Jim nodded. Quickly reloading his weapon, he turned and advanced toward the greenhouse.

~~~~~~~~

Vargas was just about to end the life of Maya Carasco, his arm raised high, brandishing the machete. He paused when the gunfire from outside assaulted his ears and he turned to look in its direction.

Blair took the opportunity he was granted and jumped to his feet. His body slammed into Vargas’, and they both fell to the floor. His hands still tied behind his back, Blair was definitely at a disadvantage and he struggled to breathe with the weight of the Vargas’ heavy body holding him to the ground. He could do nothing other than cringe as he watched the man’s machete coming toward him.

Vargas slammed his arm down at Blair, using the hand that was wrapped around the knife to render him unconscious one more time. Wanting so badly to inflict more damage to the anthropologist, Vargas hesitated, remembering his orders from the elder Carasco. He turned instead to Maya who was staring at Blair’s unconscious body. Tightly gripping the machete, he advanced toward her.

Shaken by the fact that Blair had risked his life to save hers, Maya stood motionless for a moment before she realized that Vargas no longer felt any sense of duty to her. As he came closer, Maya began to run to the nearest exit. She cried out in fear when she found the door to be locked. Panicked, she looked for any sort of weapon that could be used again the large man lumbering toward her.

Spying a large potted plant, she hefted the object and flung it toward Vargas. To her disgust, he sidestepped the terra cotta and proceeded forward. She flung another at the man and it struck his leg, making him stagger. Maya took the opportunity and ran to the far end of the hothouse.

Looking behind her, Maya grimaced as she realized her attempts to slow Vargas had accomplished very little. He was mere feet from her now, swinging the deadly blade back and forth in front of him. Plants and debris fell from nearby tables, and she cried out in fear. She rounded a corner and was hidden behind tall plant-life. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath and was terrified to find large arms locked around her small body. She screamed as the grip tightened around her, and she was flung to the floor.

Listening from the outer wall of the greenhouse, Jim knew he had to help her. Using his hearing, he was able to pinpoint the exact location of Vargas and backed away from the building. Running as quickly as possible, he forced his body against the glass wall and heard it shatter around him as he dove through it. He reached for Vargas’ arm and forced the man to drop the weapon just moments before it connected with Maya’s body.

Bereft of the glimmering blade, Vargas reached for the gun inside his jacket. He had barely managed to pull the Sig Sauer from its holster when Jim descended upon him again. This time, both men fell through the glass to land on the grassy lawn outside. They rolled, each trying to overpower the other, until two silencer-infused shots were fired. Both men lay unmoving for many seconds.

Finally, Jim slid from his position atop Vargas and held his bleeding shoulder. Wincing, he glanced at Vargas and saw the cold eyes of a dead man. He stood, shaking a bit from the exertion and his injury, and made his way back inside the greenhouse.

When Jim entered the structure he could hear Maya’s soft sobbing. Following the sound, he was unnerved to find the woman caressing his unconscious friend’s cheek. Rushing to kneel beside Blair, he began loosening the younger man’s bonds. He removed the bloodstained gag and was pleased to hear Blair beginning to wake up. "It’s okay, Chief. It’s all over. Take it easy," he chanted, taking Blair’s pulse and awaiting the opening of his eyelids.

Blair moaned as he awakened, the pain in his skull pounding. *Just how many times can a person be hit on the head within a twenty-four hour period?* He attempted to open his eyes but the brightness of the day assaulted him. He decided living in the dark wasn’t such a bad idea. A gentle shaking prodded him to try again, and this time his eyes almost focused on the concerned face of his friend. "Jim?" he muttered, his brain still foggy.

"It’s me. You’re gonna be all right," Jim said, smiling in relief. He knew that he needed to get Blair, as well as himself and Drennan, to a hospital, but he was happy to see that at least his partner had recognized him. He watched as Blair looked away from him and turned to Maya.

No words were spoken between the young man and woman, but Jim could feel the tension between the two of them. He wondered if Blair and Maya would be able to work their problems out, or if it was a lost cause. He hoped, for Blair’s sake, that it wasn’t. Glancing back at the man who shared his apartment, he was concerned to see that his eyes weren’t yet focusing clearly. "Uh, Chief?" he asked, "You doing okay there?"

It took a moment for Blair to respond and Jim’s concern heightened. "Just how many times were you hit?" he asked, not really expecting an answer.

Wiping the tears from her face, Maya sat back, putting distance between herself and Blair. "He was unconscious at least two times," she advised as her expression grew colder.

Jim frowned, considering the information. He was even more worried when Blair muttered that it had been more like three or four times. "That’s it, Sandburg," he stated, sliding an arm under Blair’s torso and his other under Blair’s legs. Lifting the smaller man so that Blair’s head rested atop his shoulder, Jim carried him out of the building and to his truck. He fastened the seatbelt around Blair and began to move away.

"Jim?" Blair called. It was the first thing the man had said since leaving the greenhouse.

"You okay?" Jim asked, checking Blair’s pupil dilation again.

"Where’s Maya?" Blair asked, looking around as best he could.

Jim looked as well. He saw Drennan being assisted by a uniformed officer and a paramedic. Not seeing the young woman, he shrugged. "She must have gone back inside the house. She has a lot to think over," he added.

Blair merely closed his eyes and nodded.

"We’ll get you taken care of, soon enough, Chief. You just rest, and we’ll be at the hospital before you know it." Jim patted Blair’s shoulder before moving back and closing the door. As he walked around to the driver’s side of the pickup he couldn’t help but wonder just how Blair would recover from the blows he’d received, both physical and emotional. The thoughts continued as he pulled out of the Carasco property and drove toward the nearest hospital.

~~~~~~~~

The meeting location was a dark and dusty warehouse in one of the seedier sides of Cascade. Carasco looked at the men who had gathered around him as he displayed the map of the area in which the guns could be stolen from the army. He pointed to a specific area on the map and instructed the men. "Where the road bends south, there's a bluff above, plenty of cover below. Move quickly, and you'll take them without any trouble." He looked up when the ringleader of the thieves spoke up.

"Show me the money."

Carasco shook his head, knowing all too well that these type of men only cared about their end result; their payment. Opening up the briefcase he had brought with him, he fingered the bills that were bound together and placed inside. He stared at the leader and stated the rest would be given to him upon delivery of the goods. "After nightfall," he instructed then waited for any questions. "Well... anything else?" he asked when he received none. He didn’t see the tall black man approaching from the open bay doors.

Walking up behind Carasco, Simon Banks answered. "No, that should be just enough rope to hang yourself, Julio." He smiled when he was able to call Carasco by his true given name.

Carasco backed away and ordered for his hired guns to shoot the police captain.

Simon did not back down, but instead came closer, his height towering over the older man. He calmly pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket and placed it in his mouth. "Shoot me, Officer Miller, you and the rest of your team will be back walking a beat." He watched as Carasco’s eyes widened in understanding. "Cuff him," he told the undercover officer who was had been portraying the ringleader.

"My pleasure, Captain," Miller said as he roughly placed the cuffs around Carasco’s wrists.

Simon stood and watched, puffing on his cigar and enjoying the moment. Today, the good guys had won.

~~~~~~~~

Jim fussed with the dinner preparations even as he silently cursed the sling cradling his right arm. He managed to stir the sauce he was creating, and then laughed as he realized that his dinner guest was having the same difficulty. He cringed when he heard Drennan attempting to pull a sauté pan from the cabinet. Wincing as metal clanged against metal, he quickly went to her aid.

"All right, all right. Admit it," he told her, pointing to Drennan’s own unusable arm. "A one-armed woman is of no use in the kitchen. Here. Pour a little bit of the plum wine in the chow mein. Can you handle that?" He smiled as she took the bottle with her good hand.

Drennan laughed, too. "Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. You remember?"

They shared a smile before a knock at the door interrupted them. Jim walked over to the door while adjusting the strap on his sling. He raised his senses before opening the door, smelling familiar perfume. Sighing, he opened the door and looked into the eyes of the person standing on the other side. "Maya," he said as a greeting.

Timidly, Maya responded. "Hi," she said, softly. "Is Blair here?" She had called the hospital and found he had been discharged, spending only one night in the hospital for observation.

Jim was torn. He had tried earlier in the day to get Blair to talk about what had happened, but the younger man had been closed-off. Not wanting to elaborate on his feelings for the woman who was now visiting nor wanting to approach the subject of the anger he had been feeling toward his roommate, Blair had simply feigned exhaustion and spent the rest of the day in his bedroom. Jim didn’t know if Maya’s visit was such a good idea, and he wavered, pausing in his response. He looked back at Maya and saw that she was hurting as well. Deciding that the two did indeed need to talk, he waved Maya inside and walked her back to where the closed curtain signaled the entrance to Blair’s room.

Maya slipped the curtain aside and stepped into the room. She saw Blair lying on the bed, and her eyes began to water. She gazed at the bandage near his temple and the cut near his lower lip. He seemed to be sleeping, but she couldn’t be sure.

Blair stirred, expecting to see Jim standing in the doorway. When he saw who it was, he quickly sat up and turned to face her. "Maya," he whispered in surprise.

Walking a few steps into the room, Maya responded and explained, "I came to say good-bye." She hated to see the hurt reflected in Blair’s eyes, but in the same instance felt he deserved it.

"Where are you going?" Blair asked.

Maya sat next to Blair on the small bed. "I'm going home...to Chile. With my father in prison, I just don't feel I belong here anymore, you know?"

Blair leaned closer to her, his face mere inches from hers. "Look, I don't want you to go." He leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled away.

Standing, Maya put up her hands in warning.

"I love you," Blair whispered from the bed, his voice cracking.

Maya stepped back and shook her head. "I love you, too. But I also hate you. I just need time. I need to find out who I am and what I feel." Her eyes begged for forgiveness.

Blair tried to swallow the lump that was lodged in his throat. Somewhat unsteadily he stood and nodded solemnly. "I'll be here." He held out his arms and hoped to be able to embrace Maya one last time. Happy when Maya relented and allowed the hug, Blair hated to release her, but knew he had no choice. He sat back down as the woman left his room and waited until he heard the loft door closing before allowing a tear to slide down his face. He sat and tried to control his breathing, hoping no one saw his display, and wanting nothing but to be left alone for the rest of the evening.

Jim listened to his partner’s ragged breathing from the kitchen and warred with himself as to whether or not to interrupt. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, Jim approached, a bowl of Chinese food in his hands. He leaned against the doorjamb and watched Blair, head in hands, trying to calm down. He laughed softly, trying to break the mood, and asked, "Have you been talking to Drennan?" He waited until Blair looked up before continuing. "I'm trying to have a little Chinese food here and she's telling me that MSG is an hallucinogen. I think she needs some talking to. Would you straighten her out?" He played with the bowl and chopsticks he was holding and then offered, "Want some noodles?"

Blair was touched by his roommate’s attempt to raise his spirits, but silently admitted he wasn’t ready to respond. He needed to mourn the loss of part of his life, no matter how short a time it had been there. "Not right now, okay, Jim?" he said, his voice thick with emotion.

Jim frowned and paused before responding. Knowing he and his friend hadn’t known each other all that long, he felt that Blair probably knew what was best for himself. "All right," he shrugged. "You know where I am," he whispered as he returned to the kitchen.

Blair lay back down and stared at the ceiling. His body shuddered as a single sob rose from his chest and tears slid down his cheeks. He did know where Jim was, and that knowledge comforted him. It would only take time.

On the other side of the wall Jim listened to the sounds of his grieving roommate. He shook his head as he wondered how two such different people had become friends in such a short time. He questioned it, but did not argue with it. It was what it was. Jim turned, watching as Drennan cursed and fumbled with her set of chopsticks. Smiling, Jim pushed himself away from the wall and joined her at the table.

~ The End ~

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 23 November 2005 )
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