Redhawke.org
Black or White
Black or White
by Chrys

Beta Read by Danae and Raven Moonwind
Written for PetFly by: Peter Lance
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

~~~~~~~~Prologue~~~~~~~~

Hector Vasquez sighed heavily as he settled into the driver's seat, glancing at the stack of folders beside him briefly before starting his car. He shook his head sadly as he pulled out onto the quiet, wet road in front of his house.

His suspicions had been confirmed, and his first duty once he got to the office would be to report the matter. Turning smoothly, he grimaced as he began the long ascent. The shortest route took him over the mountain, and he was anxious to get this over with. Damn, he'd liked the man.

Reaching the summit, he steered the car toward the first of the descending curves. Touching the brakes lightly to slow the car, he felt the pedal drop to the floor. His eyes wide, he fought to keep the vehicle on the road, knowing there was no hope. Going over the cliff, he thought bitterly that he shouldn't have told anyone of his suspicions. It was too late now.

The car hurtled over the mountainside; tumbling and rolling before it came to a resting place. He hung limply in the seat belt, dimly feeling the cold rain as it poured through the shattered windshield and mixed with his blood.

By the time the car was found, his body was cold, soaked through, washed clean. And so were the papers he had died for.


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

Darkness covered his passage as he approached the white clapboard church, the arched windows revealing flickering light from within. As he moved around the building, he didn't bother to walk quietly. No one inside would hear the echoing of his footsteps on the boards. Faintly, he could hear the song the choir inside sung, the rich sound of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" almost lost in the thunder that sounded above. *Lost*, he thought, and smiled.

*Just like they should be.*

Moving swiftly, he reached his goal, rapidly attaching the detonator to the wires he'd placed earlier. He'd been interrupted in his task, unable to set the bomb properly, but this would work nicely. The black preacher's voice rose above the storm, and he grinned as he heard the man tell the singers not to worry. They didn't need to, really. He'd wait until they had left. Mostly.

Returning to the front of the building, he moved over to the reverend's car, tossing the message inside, then walked to the front of the vehicle and pulled out a can of spray paint. With almost delicate movements, he placed the letters on the hood, smiling to himself as the "AWC" took shape.

Looking up sharply as light shone through a suddenly opened door, he faded back into the shadows, his departure hidden by the choir members' voices. As they left, he waited, seated in his car, for the right moment. Watching as the reverend left the building, he smiled again, pushing a button. Grinning to himself, he watched as the church exploded, heat and light propelling arched windows across the grassy lawn into the attached cemetery. The reverend lay sprawled on the ground as the bomber drove away quietly, his tracks hidden by the storm.

~~~~~~~~

Moving through the police garage, Jim laughed and shook his head, sending a sly glance over at his partner. "Who am I, Chuck Woolery? I'm not covering for you this time."

Blair grimaced. "Jim, it was a simple mistake. Just this once. I misplaced my date book."

Snorting, Jim shook his head again. "Who in their right mind books two different women at the same bar at the same time?"

"I know, but just help me out here."

Blair stopped walking and Jim turned to face him, wondering what the grad student was going to try now. Blair looked up at him, a faint hint of desperation in his eyes.

"Jessie -- you're going to love her. She's tall; she's got long, red hair. Jim, she's got legs -- they're up to here." Blair held his hand up to his neck. "To top it all off, she's got a 158 IQ. The girl is brilliant."

Jim let a bit of his exasperation with the topic through. "So what?"

Blair's hands gestured wildly. "So what? So you can have a conversation."

"I know your type. She's got a Ph.D. in...Asian studies and-and-and a minor in some-some bizarre Malaysian death ritual."

Blair shrugged. "So, what's wrong with that?"

"What do I look like? Your couples' hot line here, huh? Besides -- when that Jessie finds out what you're up to, she's probably going to want to make you her case study in some weird, ceremonial, body-piercing ritual."

Moving his hand in an imitation of Blair's favorite gesture, he stopped and patted Blair's cheek, then turned and walked away, leaving Blair standing there. Behind him, he could hear the anthropologist's surprised question, half buried under his choked laughter.

"That's a bad thing? Come on."

Ignoring the other man, Jim made a strategic retreat. Maybe there would be something new to get the kid's mind off his dating problems. After reaching the bullpen, Jim would regret that wish.

~~~~~~~~

Picking their way through scattered debris and flapping yellow tape, Jim and Blair headed toward the knot of people closest to the exploded church. Coming up behind an unfamiliar man with a Bomb Squad hat on, Blair whistled and shook his head sadly.

"There's practically nothing left."

The Bomb Squad member looked up at them. "Not when they use plastique. We got frags here the size of puffed wheat. Smells like C-4."

Bending over, Jim picked up a small piece of wood. Rubbing his fingers along it, he frowned. "Oil-based residue. It's some kind of petroleum jelly."

The other man frowned as well, looking at the debris more closely. "Damn, you're right. They use pet gel as a plasticizer in Semtex. Tends to bleed."

Joel and Simon walked up to the group, listening as the man spoke. Jim nodded to them as Blair spoke, his voice confused.

"Semtex? What..?"

Joel nodded in reply to Jim, then answered Blair. "Yeah, the Czech form of C-4. Half the terrorist packages in Europe use that kind of stuff."

Jim's alarm bells went off. "What's an exotic explosive like that doing in Cascade?"

The still unidentified man shrugged. "You tell me, Detective, uh..?"

"Ellison," Jim said, his voice cold.

Simon spoke up. "Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, this is Dirk Larson. Dirk is up here to run field ops now that Taggart is..." He trailed off, wincing as Joel finished his sentence.

"...riding a desk?"

The big man's voice was bitter, and Jim bit back a surge of sympathy. Joel wouldn't appreciate it.

Simon sighed, almost silently, then went on, his tone obviously forced. "We're lucky to get Dirk. He's on loan from the Marine bomb unit down at Camp Pendleton. Jim, here, was an army ranger."

Jim nodded at the Marine. "Nice to meet you."

Larson shrugged. "I'm just here until the Captain gets his sea legs back."

Joel turned away, the bitterness turning to anger as he muttered to himself. "Yeah. Right."

Jim exchanged a brief glance with Blair, then shrugged minutely. There wasn't anything they could do to help Joel, at least not right now. Turning his mind to the job, he blinked as a possibility occurred to him. "Any chance this is related to that wave of arson?"

Simon gestured to a vehicle on the edge of the debris field. As they walked over to it, the captain shook his head. "Maybe. Most of that was in the south. Over fifty black churches in the past two years."

Blair frowned. "Those were fires, though, right?"

Joel shrugged. "Maybe. But up here, they like explosives."

Reaching the car, Simon gestured to it as he called a tall black man over. Multiple bruises and gashes covered the man's face, and from the way he moved, Jim was sure he was hurt other places as well. *He would be,* Jim thought, as the name rang a bell. *He was nearby when the bomb went off.*

"Reverend Diggs! This is your car, right?"

Simon pointed to the hood. The preacher nodded sadly.

"I'm afraid so. A.W.C. What's it mean?"

Simon shook his head. Jim walked around the car, stopping as his attention was caught by a piece of paper lying on the front seat. Looking over at Simon, he lifted his voice, "Simon, you've got to check this out." Switching his glance to Diggs, he asked politely, "Could we get in here, sir?"

Both men came to Jim's side as the Reverend shook his head apologetically.

"I'm sorry, no. I lost the keys last night when the bomb went off."

Nodding, Jim called to the uniformed officers. "Could we get an opener over here?"

Soon they had the car door open. Simon bent down, pulling the paper out carefully. He grimaced as he read it to himself, then aloud.

"'We serve notice to all the mud races. White men built this nation, and we will purge it of its multi-racial taint. One down, eight to go.'" Looking up, he met Jim's eyes. "Signed, 'the Aryan Warriors Command.'"

Blair sighed. "A.W.C."

Jim nodded grimly, pretty sure he knew the answer even as he asked, "What's this 'one down, eight to go'?"

Reverend Diggs looked sick. "Until last night there were nine African-American churches in Cascade. Now, there are eight."

~~~~~~~~

Standing at the window in Simon's office, Blair looked down at the street below. An attractive black woman was in the center of a crowd of protestors, her angry voice amplified by the bullhorn she held to her lips. Listening, Blair watched as the protestors responded to her words with anger of their own.

"The church is the power base of the black community and that's exactly why these racists have targeted them. Now, these so-called Aryan Warriors surfaced two years ago in Mississippi and they're nothing more than bigots and homegrown terrorists. Now Captain Banks of the Cascade Police Department must take immediate action. Other churches need protection..."

Turning his attention away from the protest, he walked toward Simon's desk. Jim was perched on the corner, while Simon sat in his chair, looking tired. Blair shook his head slowly.

"Oh, man, does that woman know how to work the media."

Simon smiled briefly. "Well, with Candace, it's always personal."

Blair frowned. "What do you mean?"

The sentinel shrugged. "She used to work with us."

Staring at Jim for a minute, Blair looked at Simon for confirmation. The captain nodded. Blair let his breath out slowly.

"That woman used to be a cop?"

Jim nodded, his voice slightly sad. "Yeah, Juvenile division. About a year ago she just quit, didn't say why. Went to work for this new African Alliance."

Simon stood up, pacing slightly. "Been crossing the country ever since, shaking her fist."

All three men looked up in surprise as the door opened. Joel stood in the doorway, his face serious.

"Simon...we got a problem."

Exchanging glances, the three men followed the other cop out of Major Crimes and down the hallway. Entering Computer Support, they stopped by the door as a man seated at a computer screen looked up at Joel and handed him a printed email. Joel grimaced.

"Thanks." Taking a quick look at it, he handed the sheet to Simon. "E-mail from the internet. More bull from the Aryan Command."

Simon's lips tightened as he scanned the email and then gave it to Blair. Holding the paper so that Jim could read it over his shoulder, Blair felt vaguely ill as he read the message of hatred and bigotry. Shaking his head, he looked up as Joel spoke again.

"We were using an encryption program to recover some lost files. Found this e-mail had been downloaded."

Jim's calm voice sounded, and Blair wondered if anyone else could hear the disgust the sentinel felt.

"And?"

Joel looked down. "We found it in Larson's box. He denied knowing anything about it. But no question -- he pulled it off the web."

"I don't believe this." Simon's voice gentled as he turned to face his old friend. "Look, Joel, I know the past couple of months have been tough on you. But if these wackos are blowing up churches and Dirk is involved in this, I need a man out in the field I can trust."

Blair could see the muscles in Joel's throat move as the big man swallowed and shook his head. His voice was sad as he answered.

"I'm, uh, sorry, Simon. I just can't."

Simon sighed. "Joel..."

Joel turned and walked out without saying another word. Simon's shoulders slumped visibly as he looked at Jim. "Talk to him," he said quietly.

~~~~~~~~

Blair following after him, Jim left the computer room, wondering just what Simon expected him to say to Joel. His captain knew as well as Jim did that this wasn't going to go away. His steps slowed as he considered the problem, and Blair drew abreast of him in the hallway.

"He's lost his nerve, hasn't he?"

Instant defensiveness of a brother cop leaping to the fore, Jim shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Blair stopped, pulling at Jim's arm. Jim turned reluctantly, meeting his guide's concerned eyes. "Come on, Jim, I'm not blind. It's because of the Brackett bomb, right? I mean, not that I'd blame him. From what you guys tell me, he barely made it out with his life."

Sighing, Jim rubbed his face. "Yeah," he admitted softly, turning to walk down the hall. "Yeah."

After a few steps, Jim spoke again. "Taggart's had a bit of a hard time since that bomb. It really shook him up and he's had a hard time adjusting."

"Did he see the department shrink?"

Jim nodded. "He went to the mandatory three sessions, but he didn't want to admit he needed counseling."

Blair's voice was thoughtful. "Maybe I should talk to him."

Jim looked over at him as they reached the door to Major Crimes. "I don't think so."

"Why not? Come on. I've been in and out of therapy since I got out of my pampers. Anxiety and panic attacks are a normal state of being for me."

Walking into the bullpen, they headed over to Jim's desk. Blair paused for a moment, studying Joel, then walked slowly over to stand in front of the other man. "Joel, I know it's hard, but..."

Joel glared at him. "You don't know anything, Sandburg. Stay out of this."

Rising, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. Jim swore inwardly and reached for his own coat, tossing Blair his. He had wanted Blair to leave it alone, but as usual, his guide did what he thought best.

Following Joel, they rode down in the elevator, Joel's face tight. As they neared the bottom floor, Blair spoke again.

"I know how you feel, man."

The elevator doors opened as Joel glared at him again. "You do not know how I feel!"

He walked down the hall away from them. Unhappily, Jim opened his own mouth as they followed.

"Joel, will you listen to him for a second, huh? Joel..."

Blair caught up with Joel, touching his arm lightly. "Joel, fear is not about lack of ability."

Looking back at Jim, Blair gestured him to stay put, then he shepherded Joel further down the hallway, his voice low and intense. Jim could hear him with ease, but it was obvious that Joel thought they were speaking privately. Leaning against the wall with a bland expression, Jim listened, curious about Blair's plans. His guide spoke quietly, forcing Joel to listen closely.

"Every shrink I've been to has talked to me about the blind spot."

"And what is that?"

Joel's reply was sarcastic, but there was a hint of curiosity, too. Jim nodded to himself. Maybe Blair could help, after all.

Blair answered quickly. "It's a condition common to creative types such as yourself. It happened to this anthropological student that I knew. He was out doing research in Nepal and an avalanche hit. So he goes out with the rescue team and they come across this rope bridge -- 2,000-foot drop, Joel. He starts making his way across and all of a sudden he locks up. The sherpa guide comes up behind him and grabs him by the arm and says 'This is not about you.' You hear what I'm saying? It's not about you."

"And then what happened?"

Blair shrugged. "Then he made his way across. You see what I'm saying, Joel, is it's mind over matter."

Joel's voice was thoughtful. "You, uh, still know this guy?"

Blair chuckled. "Yeah. It was me."

Joel laughed, and Jim smiled at the lightness of the sound. "Really?"

Blair grinned up at him, starting to walk down the hall again. "Yeah. Come on. Let me tell you about Katmandu."

The two men walked further down the hall from Jim. Pushing himself upright, Jim began to follow them, stopping as he heard Simon behind him. Turning, he watched his captain come off the elevator, his expression grim.

"There you are. I've been looking all over for you." Simon stopped in front of the sentinel, scowling. "Larson didn't show up for roll call. I called down to Pendleton and checked out his marine unit. They were stationed in Lebanon. Defused dozens of bombs made with Semtex."

Jim shrugged. "Simon, a lot of guys on the bomb squad could have worked with Semtex."

"How many of them were born and raised in Mississippi?"

Jim felt his jaw slacken momentarily. He sighed. "Where the resistance started."

Simon's nod was brief. "Now, here's the kicker. I had I.A. pull his bank account. Dirk made a deposit of $10,000 in cash the other day."

"That's a lot of overtime."

"Enough for us to get a search warrant." Simon sighed. "We'll check out his houseboat, Pier 17."

~~~~~~~~

Dirk Larson bit his lip, then typed in the final command. Closing his eyes briefly as the swastika appeared on his computer screen, he opened them again as the private chat room opened. Water lapped gently at the sides of the houseboat, but, intent on the computer, he didn't even register the familiar sound. Picking up the microphone, he spoke.

"This is Blaster, awaiting word."

The words scrolled across the screen, and the reply came almost immediately. The computer generated voice grated on the Marine's ears.

"Number two goes tonight. Counting down to the big one."

Larson smiled grimly. "Good." He hesitated a moment. "When do I get to meet you and the Aryan Brothers?"

"We'll meet in Valhalla, under the iron cross."

"I don't understand." Larson's reply was puzzled, and he frowned at the answer given.

"You're not supposed to. Just download these numbers, and do as you're told."

A rapid string of number and letter combinations scrolled across the screen. Hitting print, Larson waited for the sheet to be done. Pulling it off the printer, he began to study it, then looked up sharply as a knock came on the door. Folding it, he readied his gun, then walked over to the houseboat entrance.

~~~~~~~~

Jim knocked on the door, hoping Larson had a reasonable explanation for what sure looked bad. The Marine had seemed to be a good guy, honestly upset at the devastated church, and Jim hated to think he'd been taken that badly. He frowned as he heard a metallic click. Maybe he'd been wrong to tell Simon to let him try this on his own. He shrugged. The SWAT team was right there, if needed.

Larson's voice was strained. "Who is it?"

"Jim Ellison."

The door cracked open and Larson's face appeared. Jim smiled, trying to seem reassuring, knowing his next words would be anything but. "We need you to come down and talk to I.A."

Larson shook his head. "I can't, Jim. You'll just have to trust me. There's more to this than you know."

"All the more reason for us to deal with this now."

The Marine sighed unhappily. "Okay, but we do it here. All right. Just a sec."

He closed the door, then Jim cursed as he saw the lights go out inside the boat and heard running footsteps. Lifting his leg, he kicked in the door, catching sight of a dim figure as Larson exited the boat. Running after him, Jim stopped abruptly as the board Larson had just used as a bridge was pulled away from his feet. Peering over the water, he saw Larson bend over briefly, tucking a piece of paper inside his boot. The other man looked back, then ran around a corner. Ducking to get to the other side of the houseboat, Jim swore to himself as Larson climbed into a small motorboat and zoomed away. Lifting his gun, he lowered it again as the boat disappeared.

Larson had gotten away.


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

Pulling up to the shattered church, Jim frowned as he saw the group of people standing in front of the still-smoldering wreckage. The protestors were on the right side of the police line, unfortunately, so they couldn't be dispersed. But Candace would have made sure of that.

The ex-cop's voice rang out through her bullhorn as he and Blair got out of the vehicle, the bitter anger evident.

"Day two... And another church destroyed. If I was you, I'd want to ask Captain Banks and the Cascade Police Department why they have not yet brought in the feds. Now, the men behind this -- if you can even call them men... "

Walking around the crowd, they ducked beneath the tape. Jim nodded to Simon.

"I thought we had the place staked out."

The captain nodded. "We did have it staked out. Squad received a report of an explosion on the next block. They went over to check it out. The guy got in here and set the bomb. When they got back, the whole place blew."

Blair had wandered away briefly, returning with a few pieces of debris. "Check some of this out," he said, handing it to Jim.

The sentinel nodded confirmation. "Semtex again. Maybe we should check out Dirk's old marine unit."

"Yeah, maybe you should since we don't have Dirk."

Jim winced at the anger in his boss's words.

"Simon, I did the best I could."

"I want these bastards out of my city," Simon growled, then winced as Candace's voice broke the air. She was walking toward them, calling out his name. "Here she comes," he said in resignation.

Jim, wanting to make up for losing Larson the night before, spoke up. "Let me talk to her, okay? We used to work pretty close together."

Simon shrugged. "All right." Turning, he began to walk toward the center of the marked off area, picking his way carefully between chunks of destroyed church.

"What's wrong, Banks? You can't face me?"

Candace's voice was loud in Jim's ears, and he reached out to keep her from following the captain.

"Why should he? It just looks like you're doing a whole lot of grandstanding here, Candace."

The black woman shook her head. "No, I'm trying to get to the truth."

Jim nodded slowly. "Do you want to talk or is this about some sound bite for the six o'clock news?"

She studied his face for a moment, then nodded back. "Let's talk."

Smiling briefly, he led her away from the bombed church. They walked for a moment, then he turned to look at her.

"You say we're not handling this right. What would you like us to do?"

Her reply was immediate. "Stop treating it like it's a local crime."

Jim sighed. "We're not treating it like it's a local crime. Eldon Russell from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is flying in from D.C. tonight."

She looked surprised. "Why didn't you say so?"

They stopped walking, and Jim looked at her seriously. "Well, Captain Banks was going to make an announcement, all right? But the media's been a little preoccupied." He gestured at the propped up cardboard coffins they were standing by, the names of the bombed churches prominent. "...shooting coffins."

Candace stiffened. "Well, we do what we have to to get their attention. Looks like it's working. The feds are coming."

Jim shook his head. "We would have called them in anyway whether you were here or not. Come on, Candy, when are you going to get real?"

"About what?"

"You were a cop. We were on patrol together for a year. I mean, now you're acting like some kind of..."

"Agitator?" Her voice was challenging.

"Yeah."

She sighed. "You remember I grew up in Alabama, right?"

Jim nodded.

"There was this old man there -- Reverend Green." Candace smiled fondly, although her voice was sad. "Reverend Green gave me my first book of hymns when I was six, taught me how to read when my mama died. That old man set me straight. I was on the force for two years when this clipping came."

Reaching into her wallet, she pulled out a much folded piece of newspaper, offering it to Jim. Jim read the headline, then looked back at her face.

"Reverend Green was in the church working late one night when...somebody threw a bunch of beer bottles full of gasoline inside. He was burned so bad, they could barely ID his body."

Reaching out, Jim touched her elbow gently. "Candy, I'm sorry. I didn't know." Handing the clipping back, he watched as she refolded it, placing it carefully back in her wallet. She looked up at him, her eyes warm briefly before turning hard again.

"Yeah. Well, after that, I just quit. Joined the Alliance. Now I go from state to state just tracking the fires." She shook her head. "Never thought I'd be back here."

"Why not work from the inside? I mean, you were a good cop."

She laughed briefly. "So are you. Look, two more churches are destroyed. Sometimes a gun and a shield are just not enough, you know?"

Jim looked at her for a long moment, then nodded minutely. He knew the feeling.

~~~~~~~~

Jim followed Henri Brown into the bullpen, stifling a smile as he saw Blair seated at his desk. Henri grinned over at him, then swaggered over to look down at Blair.

"Hey, Hairboy, I hear you're having a problem with some girlies."

Blair looked up. "Yeah."

Brown shrugged. "Hey, I'm your man, I could help you out."

A cautious hope showed in Blair's eyes. "Really?"

Henri laughed. "But they might forget about you."

He turned and walked away toward his own desk. Blair turned his gaze on Jim. Jim almost felt bad at the disappointment he saw there. But really, the kid was overextending himself. Blair's voice was clear as he spoke.

"Thanks a lot. Thanks, Jim."

Jim let his amusement show, carefully keeping the concern hidden as he leaned against the desk. "You know, there was this guy on the old Sullivan Show. He did this act with plates and sticks. He'd try and keep three or four of these plates spinning on these sticks, then add another plate, then add another stick. The idea was not to break a plate, right, but eventually one plate always hit the stage. You see where I'm going with this?"

Blair nodded, comprehension and a hint of amusement at Jim's story visible on his face. "Yeah, I got you," he sighed, just as the phone rang. Leaning a bit further, Jim picked the receiver up.

"Hello. Detective Ellison."

A familiar voice, distorted by fear, came over the line. "Jim. Thank god I got you."

"Candy, what's wrong?"

Blair looked up at the question, his eyes concerned. Jim shrugged at him, waiting for Candace to answer. The woman's words came rapidly.

"I came back to the office to do some work. The phone rang and the voice at the other end said that if I hung up this thing would go off." Jim could hear her swallow. "I was afraid to use my cell phone to call. I thought it might go off, but I had to."

Jim could feel his jaw muscle tense. Keeping his voice as reassuring as possible, he spoke again. "Hold on a second." Looking toward Simon's office, he called out to the two men he could see through the open door. "Joel, Simon, pick up the phone." Returning his attention to Candace, he lowered his voice again.

"What thing are you talking about?"

She swallowed again. "He told me to open the top drawer of my desk. He said if I put the receiver down, the bomb would go off. Man, I'm scared."

Joel's warm tones came on the line. "Miss Blake, this is Captain Taggart of the bomb squad. Is there a timer?"

"Yes," Candace answered. "And it's at 5:32."

Simon took over. "Joel, roll on this now. Jim, you got this covered?"

As Jim, Joel, and Blair raced for the door, they could hear Simon talking soothingly to the frightened woman.

"Candace, listen to me. The bomb squad is on their way. Your office is still at 13th and Third? That's less than six blocks away. Just stay calm."

Simon's voice faded away, even from Jim's hearing, as the three men pulled out of the police garage, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Pulling to a halt in front of the Alliance office, Jim got out of the truck, waiting impatiently while a canine unit checked the door for explosives. Once cleared to enter, Jim growled an order.

"All right, let's move out."

"Right behind you, Joel," Blair spoke up.

Jim shook his head. "Blair, you gotta stay here."

The anthropologist's face was determined. "Look, Jim, I can help him out here."

"That place blows, you're going to end up in another zip code." Jim sighed, reading the refusal on Blair's face. "Let's go."

Joel looked over at Blair. "I got it."

Blair blinked and nodded, moving to stand by the Expedition. Glancing at Joel with gratitude, Jim led the way inside. Candace stood stiffly behind her desk, the phone receiver held up near her head. The cell phone she'd used to call the station was on the desk, the connection shut down. Jim was relieved. The signal could very well have set the bomb off. Not that Candace had had any choice, he reflected.

Putting that issue aside, he looked at Candace. Her eyes were wide with fear and her hand trembled. He smiled at her.

"I just want you to relax now. We're going to get you out of here."

Candace took a deep breath, then nodded. "Okay. Where's your bomb tech?"

"He's standing right beside you."

Candace turned her head to look at Joel, then looked back at Jim. Her words echoed in the quiet room.

"He's more scared than I am."


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

"He's more scared than I am."

Joel flinched as the whispered words cut through him. *Candace Blake is right,* he reflected bitterly. *I am more scared than she is. Probably because I know only too well what these things can do.*

Jim's voice was strong and sure. Joel envied him that sureness. "Joel, this is not about you. Okay? Now, you must cross that bridge." Jim looked back at Candace. "I'm going to take the receiver from your hand, then I want you to step aside, okay?"

"Jim, are you sure?"

Jim nodded. "I'm positive. We got the best bomb tech in the business right here." He nodded toward Joel, and for a moment the big man could almost believe the words. He had been good. Before Brackett. The momentary confidence left as he thought about Brackett's bomb.

Jim was still speaking. "Easy does it." He slipped the phone receiver out of Candace's hand. "Now, you just settle down. All right? Okay, you can go outside now."

The woman shook her head. "No. Uh-uh."

"No?"

"You said it yourself. I was a cop, right? I'm not going to let them do this to me."

Joel had to admire the woman's bravery. *If only I still had mine.* Jim looked over at him, apparently deciding not to waste time trying to make her leave.

"Now, we got one minute, 30 seconds left. Where we going?"

Joel shook his head helplessly. "I don't know. I can't..."

Jim frowned. "If I put this down..."

"No." Joel drew upon years of knowledge. "It may have a mercury switch inside. If you lower it, man, it'll blow."

Carefully, Jim propped the phone on a filing cabinet, then bent down to look more closely at the bomb. Joel stood by, cursing himself. *I should be the one doing this,* he thought bitterly. Jim stood up, and peered out the window, then looked at Joel.

"He's going to blow it anyway. We've got to disarm it. We'll go through the same procedure we did with Brackett's bomb."

Joel frowned. "With Brackett's bomb, I..."

Jim interrupted. "That's right. What did you do with Brackett's bomb? You had that maneuver -- that maneuver that saved your life."

Joel's eyes widened as he realized what Jim was saying just as Jim pushed Candace toward the door. All three tumbled onto the street, ducking behind the Expedition just as the front of the building exploded out after them.

"I'm going after him!" Jim shouted, racing down the street and ducking around a corner. Joel could hear shots and squealing tires, then Jim returned more slowly, shaking his head in frustration.

"He got away."

Joel sighed. "Yeah."

Blair stood silently by his side, and Joel could feel the support the young man was giving him. He just wished it wasn't needed.

~~~~~~~~

Jim walked into Major Crimes the next morning, relieved to not be going to another bombed church. Blair trailed close on his heels. Joel looked up at them as they entered the bullpen.

"Hey, fellas," the black man said. "Russell's flight got socked in at Dulles last night. He won't be in until about 5:00."

About to comment on the usefulness of Federal agents, Jim kept his mouth closed as he saw Simon walking toward them. His interest rose when he saw that the captain was carrying a folder. Maybe they'd gotten a lead. He grimaced. Or maybe it was yet another case.

As Simon reached them, he hefted the folders. "Forensics found this hidden on Dirk's boat. A police file and a probation report."

The sentinel nodded. "Anything to tie him to those bombings?"

"Well, yeah. I think..."

Simon cut off as Candace walked in, turning his attention to the woman. Jim looked over at her, too. She looked good - back to normal after yesterday's scare.

Simon smiled at her. "Hello, Candace. Glad you made it out okay."

"Yeah." Candace looked uncertain. "Look, I, uh...about yesterday...I never got a chance to say thank you." She looked over at Jim, Joel and Blair. "All of you." Her voice regained its usual sharpness, and Jim sighed inwardly. "Now, I was also hoping to get a chance to speak to the agent from ATF."

Joel shrugged. "He won't be in until later."

Candace looked at Simon. "Maybe you can bring me up to speed. Got any leads?"

The captain laughed shortly. "You know I can't do that. I can't take the chance of this showing up on the evening news."

Candace's chin rose, and she glared at Simon. "What do you want me to do? Apologize?"

"No." Simon's voice rose to meet hers. "I want you to understand that's my name you're throwing around out there."

Candace nodded once. "Fine. I will deal with the agent myself."

Turning, she walked away, exiting the bullpen quickly. Simon sighed, looking at Jim.

"I thought you said you were going to..."

Jim blew out a short breath. "...talk to her? I did. I didn't say I'd convince her."

Simon glared at him. "Deal with this."

Jim's hand rose up automatically to hold the folder smacked into his chest as he watched his captain walk away. *That didn't go well.* His gaze was pulled back to Blair as his guide chuckled.

"Hey, Jim...you know, there was this guy on the Sullivan Show --" Blair laughed again. "-- he did this thing with plates and sticks..."

Jim smiled reluctantly and held up a hand to cut Blair off. "Don't you have some exams to grade or something?"

Walking away, he could almost feel the amusement shared by Joel and Blair.

~~~~~~~~

Sitting at the table in Simon's office. Blair studied the report in front of him, the pictures of the bombed churches still turning his stomach. How could anyone willfully destroy a place of worship? Oh, he knew it happened. It had happened throughout history. But still... He shrugged to himself, looking up as Joel spoke.

"So, when is Jim coming back?"

Simon took a sip of coffee. "He's checking out that probation report with Justice."

Joel nodded, then asked where the police file found on Larson's boat was.

"Right here," Simon said, handing it to the other cop. "Take a look."

After studying it for a moment, Joel looked up, his face puzzled. "Wait a minute, man. This is an accident report."

"Yeah. Hector Vasquez, an auditor for the city. Died when his car went off a mountain road."

Blair was as puzzled as Joel. *What does that have to do with bombing churches?* About to ask, he tabled the question as Jim walked into the office. The sentinel was carrying several sheets of paper.

Simon looked up at him. "What have you got?"

"Check this out." Jim walked over to the table, handing out the papers he was carrying. Blair shivered as he met the hate-filled eyes staring up at him from the picture. Jim continued talking as he sat down.

"This chimp's name is Axel Soles. He's from Mississippi. A dozen juvie raps then he graduated to home invasion. One indictment for attempted murder that was reduced to aggravated assault. He spent three years in Huntsville where he hooked up with the Aryan Brotherhood. He's been in and out of the slammer ever since. Associated with a number of hate groups. So...and guess what?"

Blair looked up from the picture, still seeing the bald, tattooed man. "I don't know," he said dryly. "What? He's going to co-host Geraldo next week?"

Joel's laugh was cut off by Jim's next words.

"He's Dirk's brother."

"What?" The big man looked sick.

Jim nodded. "Actually, his half-brother. They had the same mother."

Joel's voice was hard. "So, where's this guy now?"

Jim sighed. "Paroled six months ago. Violated in the first week. His parole officer hasn't heard from him since."

~~~~~~~~

Dirk Larson waited by the side of the road, his gun ready, as the light-colored van approached. Casually he noted the bullet holes before fixing his attention on the man driving it. His baby brother. He sighed to himself, then pushed away the unwanted emotion as the van drew to a halt.

Climbing inside the van, he kept his gun pointed at Axel - Soles, he corrected himself. Axel had been the little boy who followed him around and wanted to be just like his big brother. This was someone else.


"All right," he growled. "Drive."

The short trip went by in silence, and soon the van was pulling into a parking spot in front of a warehouse. Larson spared a quick glance at the brick rubble lying in piles, noting the sign that read 'All City Demolition.' Returning his attention to Soles, he motioned for him to get out of the van. Standing in front of the warehouse, he motioned toward it.

"Let's go, let's go."

Soles walked into the building, Larson right behind him. The Marine's last, faint hope died as he saw the table covered with the raw materials for bomb production. Spinning his brother around, he pushed him hard.

"You know, I risk my ass to get you a job right out of jail and this is how you repay me?!"

Soles laughed at him. "Chill out! This is about making history."

Larson shook his head in disbelief. "What? By blowing churches? By killing innocent people?"

Soles' voice was cold. "Nobody's died. Not with one of mine."

"Damn you!" Larson spat at him. "I'm already looking at an I.A.D. suspension for not reporting your parole violation."

"So how come you didn't?" Soles asked curiously.

"I had to see how far you were into this."

The younger man laughed again. "Check your bank account."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

Soles grinned at him. "If anybody asks me, you're a co-conspirator."

Larson wrapped his fingers in Soles' shirt, pulling the man close to him. "You planted that money."

"Had to -- for insurance." He pulled away from Larson. Sick, Larson let him go. His brother grinned at him again. "But, hell...you're in this deeper than that already. By chasing Reichman, you left a trail all over the internet. That's why the cops want your head."

Larson frowned. "What? 'Blaster?' I used your name to find this Reichman character. He's the one fronting the Semtex. Who is he?!"

Suddenly he felt the cold muzzle of a gun in his back. A horribly familiar voice purred in his ear.

"Step back."

He obeyed, feeling a hand sneak around, taking his gun. Turning around, he closed his eyes briefly at the sight. The muscular man grinned at him

"Randy? You're Reichman?"

"Afraid so, good buddy. But it's not what you think. Now, you back off and we'll talk about this."

Larson swallowed, then shook his head. "I need you to hand me that gun."

The ex-marine sighed. "Dirk, there's an explanation for this."

Larson gave a short laugh. "Yeah? Then you explain why you gave this mental defective enough Semtex to take out half of downtown."

"Look..."

Suddenly too sick of the betrayal to care, Larson moved forward. Randy's eyes widened, then narrowed.

"Look, I said, back off!"

Shaking his head, Larson moved closer, making a move to grab the gun. *Too slow,* he thought, as pain ripped through him, followed by darkness.

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


Jim sat behind his desk, comfortably aware of Blair's presence next to him. Joel was at his own desk, on Blair's other side. Simon paced in front of the two desks, lost in thought. Suddenly he stopped and looked over at the three seated men.

"Go ahead, gentlemen."

Joel spoke up, handing a piece of debris to Simon. "This is from the second church. It's a circuit board from a timer that was fused with a piece of glass."

"It came from a standard industrial detonator. Like they use on commercial blast sites," Jim added.

Simon tilted his head. "You check the demo companies?"

Jim nodded. "Every last one of them. They all use C-4 and every kilo's been accounted for, sir."

Simon opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again as Henri appeared at his side.

"Fax just came in from the Pentagon," Henri said, then left again.

Simon read over the fax, then looked over at the three men. "Better check those demo companies again. Larson had four guys working with him in his bomb unit in Lebanon. All of them used Semtex. This one lives in Cascade." He handed the fax to Jim.

"Randy Eccles," Jim read slowly. "-- ex-marine. Lance corporal. He runs a company called All City Demolition."

Looking up at Simon, he nodded. The captain nodded back, then disappeared into his own office as Jim and Blair headed out of the bullpen.

~~~~~~~~

The demolition yard was easy to find, and they pulled up in the Expedition just a few minutes after leaving the police station. Getting out of the truck, Blair whistled and shook his head, nodding at the men knocking old mortar off of used bricks.

"Ooh, now there's a good job for you if you were in hell," he said. Jim smiled at the joke, then cleared his expression as a burly, bearded man came over to them.

"Don't knock it," he advised Blair. "Used brick. One of these will sell for ten times the price of a new brick. Half the patios in Cascade came from buildings that we wrecked."

"And the city pays you to wreck them?" Jim asked. The man nodded. "That's quite some business. You're Mr. Eccles? I'm Detective Ellison. My partner, Blair Sandburg." He flashed his badge.

Blair smiled. "How you doing?"

Eccles flicked a glance at him, then returned his attention to Jim. "What do you want from me?"

"Axel Soles." Jim showed Eccles the picture from the parole file.

Eccles looked at it, then shook his head. "Never seen him before."

"You sure?" Blair asked. "He's Dirk Larson's brother."

Eccles met Jim's eyes. "I've seen Dirk around town. Haven't mixed much since the corps. The kid I don't know."

Something about this man set off Jim's alarms, but he couldn't lay his finger on it. *Maybe it's just the way he's ignoring Blair.* Pushing it aside, he nodded. "If you hear from Larson, let me know, would you?"

"Sure thing," Eccles said, then walked away, heading to a group of workers. Jim watched him go, then turned his attention to the nearest pile of bricks. There was a teasing odor in the air, and he thought he knew what it was. Walking over, he picked up a brick and sniffed at it, confirming his suspicion.

Blair studied him. "What's up? You thinking about re-doing your patio?" he smiled.

"Petroleum residue."

Blair frowned. "Semtex? So what? Even if it is, All City did the cleanup at the second church."

Jim caught a glimpse of something hidden within the brick pile. Looking closer, he recognized it. Reaching in as Blair asked what he was doing, he snagged the small metal piece.

"It's a key of some sort." Pulling it out, he looked at it, then looked at Blair. "It's to a Ford."

"Reverend Diggs'?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe they did the cleanup at the first church as well."

Somehow Jim didn't think the explanation was that simple.

~~~~~~~~

Once he had the chance to do a little digging, he was sure of it. Taking his suspicions to Simon, he tacked the reports on a board, then looked over at the captain.

"In the last two years Eccles' company has had the demolition contracts on 90% of the city-owned buildings, including the old town hall."

Simon pursed his lips. "What's so unusual about that? All City is one of the biggest demo companies in Cascade."

Jim nodded slowly. "According to the contracts, he underbids everybody by 30%."

"How does he profit?"

Jim shrugged. "Nobody knows."

Leaning back in his chair, Simon studied the board, noting all the buildings. "What's all this have to do with the black churches?"

Before Jim could answer, Joel opened the door. "Simon, they just called from Pier 16. It's Dirk Larson."

Exchanging grim looks, Jim and Simon followed Joel out of the office, collecting Blair in the bullpen. They didn't bother to run lights and sirens on their way to the pier. Time wasn't a factor.

~~~~~~~~

They stood in the abandoned warehouse on the pier, watching as Larson's body was lifted and placed on an old table. The coroner's men were about to bag the body for transport, but moved off a little bit when Joel asked for a few minutes. Jim studied the corpse clinically.

"One shot, close range."

Simon held up a bagged gun. "Forensics found this when they rolled the body."

Jim glanced at it. "It's a nine."

Simon nodded agreement. "M-nine, standard issue for the Marine Corps."

"Eccles?" Blair asked.

"He'd be my first choice." Jim looked back at Larson. "Did Forensics search the body?"

Simon sighed. "Yeah, but they didn't find anything. Whoever it was apparently emptied all his pockets before they dumped him."

"Is that right?" Moving forward, Jim slipped his fingers into Larson's boot, pulling out a folded piece of paper. "Before Larson split in the boat, he stuffed something into his boot." Carefully, he unfolded it.

Joel growled his disappointment. "That thing is waterlogged. You're not gonna be able to see anything on that."

Simon cut in quickly. "Joel, take a look at this, will you?"

He shook the gun in the air, then led Joel outside to better lighting. Jim grinned briefly in appreciation of his captain's strategy, then frowned as he looked at the illegible paper. *Maybe Joel's right.*

Blair moved closer to him, glancing at the paper, then looking at Jim. "Use your fingers."

Jim nodded, running his fingertips lightly over the sodden paper. "It's a series of, uh, letters and numbers. B-6...H-2... F-1..." He looked up at Blair. "Maybe coordinates?"

"Like on a map?"

"Yeah, maybe."

~~~~~~~~

*That woman is annoying,* Axel Soles thought as he listened to Candace Blake's voice on the radio. *But maybe she'll be useful.*

His fingers moved skillfully on the wire connections as Candace spoke.

"I have contacted the Treasury Department and ATF Agent Eldon Russell has agreed to brief us as soon as he gets in, which should be within the next hour."

He grinned as he made another connection. "Good. Maybe we'll give Agent Russell something to come for."

Eccles walked in, and Soles sighed. He was sick of dealing with the man. Eccles had no sense of commitment.

"Are you out of your freakin' skull?" Eccles demanded. "I told you to lose all this stuff."

Soles leaned back, looking at the other man. "Wait a minute. You wanted a cover, right? Blow the church and the incinerator, you said, and all you'd have to do is push the rubble away."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, but nobody was supposed to die. Now there's Dirk and the auditor, and you're fixing to commit some kind of a mass murder? You're a psychopath."

Soles smiled slowly. "No, I'm a soldier in a war of national liberation."

Eccles shook his head. "All that means nothing to me. This was a simple plan to make some money. And you've turned it into some kind of skinhead vendetta. I'm telling you now...that it's finished." He pulled a gun, aiming it at Soles. "Now, come on, let's go."

Soles shrugged, rising slowly, then moved with blurred speed to knock Eccles backward, striking the gun from the man's hand. Grabbing it quickly, he shot Eccles twice. Shoving the gun into his pants, he studied the body, then shrugged. Just another thing to dispose of.

~~~~~~~~

Jim stood in the briefing room, looking at the city map for a minute, then turned to the other men. Indicating the map, he pointed to the pins stuck in various places.

"Each of these pins corresponds to a map coordinate from the printout we pulled off of Dirk. At every location, there was an arson fire and the building was to be torn down by All City. The scam works like this. Eccles bids 20 grand to demolish the building that was formerly owned by the Board of Education. His competitors bid between 30 and 35 grand. The day the building is supposed to come down, a fire mysteriously burns it to the ground. Eccles pays five grand to push away the rubble. Pockets 15K -- he even sells the used brick."

Blair frowned in disbelief. "How come nobody else caught on to this?"

Jim sighed. "The city auditor at the time was a guy named Hector Vasquez."

Joel nodded in comprehension. "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah -- the guy who went over Mount Cascade in his car."

"Right. According to his secretary, he was investigating Eccles at the time. His brakes failed."

Simon frowned. "I still don't get the tie-in with the churches."

Jim just knew his jaw was jumping as he thought about the scheme. "Eccles used the first two bombings as a cover for something much bigger -- a demo that couldn't be taken down with just fire."

Simon picked up his phone. "Rhonda, get me the city controller."

Jim shook his head. "The problem is, sir, the last coordinate on that printout from Dirk -- it's illegible."

Simon nodded at him, then spoke into the phone again. "Yeah, this is Captain Banks, Cascade P.D. I need a list of all the buildings contracted for tear-down by All City Demo. Yeah, that's right. And I need it yesterday."

~~~~~~~~

Standing inside the Alliance office, Soles grinned to himself as he replaced the phone. *Funny how easy it is to hack into the PD's phone system,* he thought. *Makes life easier, that's for sure. The ATF guy had no idea he wasn't talking to the cops.*

Settling into a corner of the small office, he waited for his... guests... to arrive.

It wasn't long before a black car pulled up in front of the office. There were two men in the car, but that didn't change anything. Soles waited, knowing the agents would come to him.

Both men got out of the car, walking directly to the office door. As they came inside, one spoke.

"Captain Banks?"

Soles smiled as he began to move. "Right here, boys." Once the agents were on the floor, he smiled at his weapon before slipping it into his pocket. He did love a good taser.

Pulling out his phone, he dialed another number. Leaving a message for the beeper, he waited for the return call. Candace Blake's voice grated on his ears, but he kept the annoyance from his voice.

"Miss Blake, Agent Russell from ATF."

"Thank god you're here," she said, and he grimaced.

"I'll pick you up outside Cascade P.D. in five minutes."

She agreed, and the pickup was easy. She didn't seem afraid until later. Just like he'd planned.

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

Candace tried to pull against the ropes holding her to the straight-back chair, hoping to find some slack. Giving up, she glanced down at the man squatting in front of her, his hands busy with a bunch of wires. *ATF agent,* she thought bitterly. *I was so stupid!*

Finishing the connections, the bomber looked up at her, his gaunt face frightening as he grinned sunnily. Fascinated and horrified, she stared back at him.

"Now, it's rigged to blow if you move," he informed her. "Start saying your prayers."

Her voice shaky, she shook her head slightly. "I don't understand how anyone can hate as much as you do."

Sitting back on his heels, he glared at her, the smile gone. "Oh, come on! Take your blinders off! You and I have both given up on our government. You use a bullhorn," the smile returned, "and I use a detonator."

"But why go after the churches?"

Oddly, she found she really wanted to understand. He stood up, looking down at her, not answering for a moment. When he did speak, his voice was full of contempt.

"What right do you have worshiping a white man on a cross?"

"I suppose Jesus of Nazareth has blonde hair and blue eyes, right?"

He tore a piece of duct tape from a roll and placed it over her mouth, gagging her. His eyes glowing feverishly, he smiled again.

"You'll know when you see him."

Suddenly the sound of sirens came, and he looked up, swearing to himself. She pushed down the sudden leap of hope. There was still a bomb under the chair. Closing her eyes as he left the room, she fought to stay calm.

~~~~~~~~

"Randy Eccles," Simon said, staring at the body lying in the large dumpster. He hadn't even been covered with trash, just left there to be found. Looking up, he met Jim's eyes before glancing over at Joel and Blair. "He thought he could use Axel Soles. Looks like Axel used him."

Jim nodded. "Russell and another ATF agent are missing. We sent out an APB."

"What I'm wondering is why is the controller's office taking so long?" Joel put in.

Simon shrugged helplessly. "Evidently Vasquez pulled all the demolition files. They had to go into microfilm for backup." His cell phone rang, and he pulled it out. "This could be them now."

"Yeah. Banks," he barked into the phone, aware that his tone was harsh with frustration, but not caring enough to moderate it. That changed as he listened. "What? You're sure?" He smiled. "All right, thanks." Hanging up, he looked at his detectives. "Guys, last month All City won one of the biggest contracts in state history: the demolition of the old incinerator on River Street. Million-dollar job."

"The incinerator." Joel looked at Simon in dismay. "That's right behind Mount Zion A.M.E. church."

"Wait a minute," Blair said. "Wasn't there something on the news about a big gospel meeting going on there?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, tonight."

Simon felt himself blanch as he remembered the news story. "In another two hours that place will be full of people."

~~~~~~~~

Swinging out of his truck, Jim looked in satisfaction at the number of police officers around the church. If Soles was there, he'd never get away. If he wasn't, at least the meeting could go on safely. Snagging his vest before he closed the truck door, he pulled it on as he rounded the front of the vehicle, heading to Simon's side.

The captain nodded a greeting, then spoke into his headset. "All right, everybody, listen up. I want everything kept tight and locked up out here. Keep any people that show up back, out of the way."

The sentinel handed his sunglasses to Blair. "Sandburg, hold those and stay here." Ignoring his guide's frustrated sigh, he turned his attention to Simon. Finished with his instructions, the captain squared his shoulders, looking at Jim, then at Joel.

"Let's go, Taggart," he said, his voice gentle. Joel bit his lip, then moved to join them, his face expressionless as they moved around the church. Jim could sense the man's fear, but the only thing he could do about it was to ignore it.

As they rounded the side of the church, they spotted a marked car. Its driver was slumped over the wheel. Reaching the car, Jim opened the door, relieved to feel a pulse as he settled the cop back against the seat.

"Is he alive?"

Jim looked over at Joel. "Yeah. He's still alive," he answered. Turning back to the car, he leaned in, pulling a weapon out. "Stun gun." He looked at Simon. "I'm going inside, sir."

Simon nodded. "Get on a headset."

Jim complied as he and Joel walked into the church. Simon did a radio check as he walked back to the group at the front. Jim smiled as he realized that Blair was hooked in, too, then turned his full attention on the task at hand.

As they walked down the aisle toward the nave, Jim's nose wrinkled as he picked up an all too familiar scent. Looking around, he tried to isolate the source. There was so much of it, it was hard to pinpoint, but it was definitely coming from the front of the church. Reaching the nave, he knelt down, looking under the podium and altar.

"Jim?" Joel asked. "What's going on?"

"Good god," Jim said as he spotted a huge pile of Semtex hidden under the central altar. "Joel."

The other man joined him, his heart racing as he spotted the explosive. "Oh, god. Semtex. It's got to be 15 kilos or more. Ready to blow. How did you know?"

Jim shrugged. "Just a lucky guess. You think you can get to the blasting cap?"

Joel shook his head. "No. He, uh, rigged it right to the trembler switches."

"There's a wire running." Opening up his hearing, Jim listened for the timer that had to be there somewhere. Regular beeps came, and he could hear a panicked appeal for help, muffled under a gag of some kind.

Standing, he headed for the sound. "Joel. Let's go."

Moving fast, he led the way to a small room, hesitating for just a second as he recognized the woman bound to the chair. Then he crossed the room rapidly, carefully peeling the tape from Candace's face. She looked up at him, her eyes terrified.

"Oh, god, Jim. He said if I move, it'll go off."

He flashed a reassuring smile at her, then looked down as Joel slowly lifted the top off of the bomb. Simon's voice came through the headset impatiently.

"Talk to me, Taggart. What do we have in there?"

Joel sighed. "I've never seen anything like this before."

"Use your training," Blair's confident voice came. "We can get through this, man."

Jim smiled at Candace again. "You're going to be all right. All right? You're in good hands." She nodded back, her eyes still full of fear, and he looked away from them. "You can do this, Joel," he said firmly.

Spinning on his heel, Jim walked back into the main chamber, looking up just as a shadowed figure ran across the balcony. Smiling in satisfaction, he murmured into his headset. "He's up in the choir balcony."

The sentinel ran down the aisle. His prey was in sight.

~~~~~~~~

Sweat ran down Joel's face as he studied the bomb in front of him. "Oh, man," he whispered. "It's got parallel circuits and multiple relays."

Blair's calm voice came over the radio. "Just take one of them at a time."

Joel breathed deeply, tracing the circuits with his eyes, trying to ignore the harsh breathing of the panicked woman tied to the bomb. Nodding to himself, he reached out, delicately cutting a wire. Breathing a sigh of relief as the timer stopped, he began to relax, then moaned as it started up again.

"Joel?" Blair's voice was even. Simon's was demanding

"What happened?"

Joel swallowed hard. "It stopped, but then it started again. It's just like Brackett's bomb." He swallowed again as his personal nightmare flashed before his eyes. Then his jaw firmed. More than his life depended on this. And he was sworn to serve and protect. Focusing on the bomb in front of him, not the nightmare, he studied it carefully.

"Oh," he breathed. "I see what it's going to do. It's just like the storefront. There's two wires connected to the antenna. He's going to blow it from the outside."

Even over the radio, he could see Blair's puzzled shrug. "Well, can't you just cut the wire?"

Joel shook his head, then answered. "One might be connected to the detonator. If I cut the wrong one, it's going to blow."

~~~~~~~~

Reaching the rear of the church, Jim ran up the stairs to the balcony, looking around warily for Soles. There was no sign of the terrorist, and Jim's eyes narrowed as he thought. Then he smiled slowly as he spotted the entrance to a small room with a built in ladder. Beginning the climb, he spoke into the headset.

"He's headed up into the bell tower."

Reaching a landing, he turned to survey the room, then looked up the ladder to the next level. Just then, Soles charged out of a hidden corner, pushing him backwards. He stumbled, almost falling down the narrow chute. Soles pushed past him, rushing down the ladder.

Catching his breath, Jim followed him, not taking the time to retrieve his Jags cap. Simon's alarmed voice rang in his ear and he smiled grimly as he heard the captain announce that he was coming in. Reaching the main balcony, Jim followed Soles, stopping just as Simon came in from the other stairway. Soles was cornered.

"Freeze," Simon demanded. Soles turned to head back the way he'd come, stopping in mid-step as he saw Jim. The sentinel shook his head sadly.

"Where do you think you're going, you poor, sick slob?"

Soles glared at him, then backed up to the low balcony railing, pulling out a detonator. Holding it in the air, his finger poised over the button, he smiled at them. Jim suppressed a shiver at the insane hatred in that smile.

"Listen, boys," the bomber drawled. "I'm going to give you a choice. Back off, or we all go."

Jim tucked his head to speak into the headset. "Joel. How are we doing down there?"

~~~~~~~~

Joel stared at the two wires, his head jerking as Jim's question came through the radio. "Two wires," he said quietly in reply. "There's a white one and...there's a black one."

Simon spoke next. "Make a decision quick," the captain said. "He's got his finger on the detonator."

Joel nodded to himself, looking at the bomb. There was no giveaway, nothing to indicate which wire would save them and which would kill them. Nothing to tell him what to do. *Black? Or white?*

Suddenly his eyes widened and he smiled to himself. "Oh, yeah. I see it."

Reaching out, he snipped the wire that held the power, the only possible wire to do so, given the bomber's mindset. And as he cut the white wire, the timer stopped.

"Yeah!" he exulted. "It's going to be all right. Take him down. Take him down now!"

Standing up, he began to untie Candace. *Yes, indeed,* he thought, as he got the woman free. *It's going to be all right.*

~~~~~~~~

Joel's exultant hiss came over the radio, and Jim looked over at Simon. The captain looked back, then, as one, they turned to Soles, aiming their guns.

"You're done," Jim said coldly.

Soles shrugged. "I guess we all go."

Hitting the detonator, he stared at it in disbelief as nothing happened. Jim sighed and holstered his gun.

"Don't make it hard on yourself, boy."

As he moved forward, reaching for his handcuffs, Soles moved away. Not looking behind him, he looked surprised as he tripped over a large stack of books, falling backward. Reaching out, he tried to catch himself, but failed, falling to the floor below. Closing his eyes briefly, Jim moved forward, joined by Simon as they looked down. Soles' body lay sprawled in a large puddle of colored light.

Looking up, Jim nodded to himself as he saw the stained glass window that cast its light on the bomber. Nudging Simon, he pointed to it. Simon sighed sadly. The black Jesus smiled, the sunlight pouring through the glass.

~~~~~~~~

Standing outside the church, Jim looked up as a uniformed officer walked up to him, holding his Jags cap. "I'll take that," he said, happily putting it back on.

Candace, standing next to him, cleared her throat as she looked at the man on her other side. "Simon...sorry for doubting you. Thanks."

Smiling, Simon shook his head. "Well, don't thank me. That's the man you should be thanking there." The three people looked over toward Jim's truck. Joel stood there, holding out a newly steady hand to show Blair.

Walking over, Simon nodded. "Taggart."

Joel grinned at him. "Yeah?"

Candace smiled up at the bomb expert. "Thanks a lot."

Joel smiled. "You're very welcome."

He looked like he was going to add something, but a voice came over the radio.

"Captain Taggart."

"Yeah?"

"We found some more Semtex on the roof."

Joel nodded. "All right, we're coming right up." Turning to Blair, he smiled at him. "Why don't you come on and give me a hand on the roof, man?"

Blair shook his head and backed away slightly. "No. I'm sorry. I can't do that, man. I got this thing about heights."

Joel frowned at him. "Wait a minute. What about that bridge in Nepal you were talking about?"

Blair's eyes were wide, and Jim stifled a laugh. "Uh, well, that was an embellishment on the truth."

"You mean a lie, right?" The sentinel nodded. "A lie."

Blair shook his head, his hair moving wildly in the light breeze. "Oh, no. Lies -- they hurt, man. This... embellishments -- they help."

Jim tilted his head. "Like the embellishments in your love life?"

"No, no." Blair shook his head again. "I would call those more like romantic obfuscations."

Joel headed off to the roof, his chuckles trailing off as he got further away. Simon opened his mouth, shut it again, then laughed.

Candace studied Blair, then shook her head. "Okay."

Simon finally stopped laughing. "I'd call it B.S."

"Actually, no," Blair said earnestly. "Technically, B.S. is a form of male bonding. It's a ritual, actually."

Jim nodded. "What happened to this thing called the truth?"

Blair grinned at him. "Oh, yeah, that. That's, uh... totally overrated. Yeah."

He turned and walked around the truck, heading toward the passenger door. Jim stared after him for a long moment, then swung his own door open. Climbing into the vehicle, he exchanged an amused look with Simon, then finally let his own laugh out.

"Obfuscation."

Tasting the word, he laughed again. Only Sandburg.


~ The End ~

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