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Blind Man's Bluff
Blind Man's Bluff
by: Lyn Townsend

Beta Read by: Cheri Allen and Carol Cappe
Written for PetFly by: Daniel Levine
Rated: PG
internal thought in * *

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


Detective Jim Ellison leaned toward the bed as he felt the minute pressure on his hand. "Sandburg? You with me, Chief?"

His sightless eyes searched the face he could not see, then his big hand fumbled clumsily toward Blair’s peaceful body. He stiffened as his fingers brushed the hard plastic tube protruding from Blair’s mouth. Finally they came to rest against the stubbled cheek and then he relaxed back into his previous position – one hand clutching Blair’s on the silent man’s chest, Jim’s long frame stretched out on the hard plastic chair next to the bed. The sentinel extended his senses to hear Blair’s heart past the mechanical hiss of the ventilator and the annoying beep of the cardiac monitor, his partner’s heartbeat grounding him as he struggled to obey Blair’s instructions and remake the connection.

Jim’s eyes drooped closed and his mind drifted back to the day in Holden Park. A fresh, sun-drenched day that gave no hint of the tragedies about to unfold.

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

Jim Ellison accepted his hot dog from the vendor and continued with his diatribe. "She loves Thai food. We like the same books. I mean, she even listens to R&B. I just want to meet this woman, okay?"

Blair Sandburg shook his head and accepted his hot dog. "I just don’t think it’s going to be a good idea." He pulled a thin black rod from his pocket and pressed one end, aiming the red laser light at a shaggy mongrel that stood next to them patiently awaiting a morsel. The two men walked over to a deserted picnic table and sat down. Blair continued to fiddle with his new toy. "Check this out. Isn’t it cool?" He didn’t wait for Jim’s answer. "It’s a laser pointer. It’s great for my lectures."

Jim shook his head impatiently. "Look, why don’t we stick to the subject here?" Finally noticing their guest, the detective pulled a portion of his hotdog apart and offered it to the drooling animal. "Whose dog is this?" Watching Blair continue to fiddle with the pointer, he went on. "I just want to keep it casual with her. You know, go out for a cup of coffee, a drink, something like that."

Blair finally looked up at him. "Jim, what if you two don’t hit it off? She’s a friend of mine." He tapped the detective on the chest. "You’re a friend of mine. Your feelings get hurt, then I’m caught in the middle."

"We already like each other," Jim persisted.

"On the phone," Blair countered.

"Yeah, so?"

Blair sighed and went into lecture mode. "We’re male animals, right, Jim? Attraction is partly intellectual, but the virtual components are a major aspect to it. Without the physical thing, we don’t have the whole package."

Jim spoke thoughtfully. "What are you saying? Margaret’s not attractive?"

"I’m saying that…" Blair appeared to consider his words carefully, "…that she has an inner beauty."

Jim chewed his hotdog and digested the information. "I like her voice," he said finally. "I’d still like to meet her."

The detective looked down as his cell phone rang and fished in his pocket for it. "Ellison. We’re down in Holden Park, Simon." He listened a moment to the voice on the other end. "Responding."

Flipping the phone shut, he stood up and tossed his remaining hot dog to the mongrel, who snapped it up eagerly. Blair stood as well and followed him. "What’s going on?" he asked.

"Cascade Reservoir," Jim answered, hurrying toward the truck. "There’s a jumper on the dam."

~~~~~~~~

The girl could be no more than eighteen, Jim decided as he and Blair exited the truck and jogged toward the uniformed cop standing guard.

"She’s over there," the cop said, pointing at the girl, who leaned now over the chasm of the dam, one hand holding the rail, her only link between this world and the next. "She keeps talking about a castle in the sky and a golden bridge."

"Must be whacked out on something," Blair replied, eyeing the girl and her precarious position nervously.

The cop nodded. "Looks that way. Every time I get close, she leans a little farther over the edge. Fire department rescue unit’s on its way."

Jim shook his head and began to walk toward the girl. "Nah, that’ll be too late." The detective stood and watched the girl a moment. She was pretty and closer up, he could see she was nearer to high school age than college. Long, blonde hair framed a heart-shaped, sweet face. She gave no indication of being startled by his presence. Jim was bothered by that fact. If she were a jumper, she’d be screaming at him to stay away. He started when she spoke.

"Isn’t it beautiful?"

"Yeah. Yeah. It’s beautiful."

The girl leaned back against the railing and looked at Jim. "At first I didn’t believe it," she said.

"Didn’t believe what?"

"The castle here, the bridges of gold and the people here. They shine."

Jim risked a step forward. "What’s your name?"

There was a moment’s silence before she spoke, "Lisa."

"Lisa, I can’t see the castle from here," Jim began. "But maybe if you come down, you could tell me about it."

Lisa stared at him, then her eyes slid back to the water and whatever she could see beyond it and Jim grew nervous. "Lisa?"

"Come with me," she invited, falling forward even as she spoke.

"Lisa!" Jim moved at almost the exact same time as the girl, one hand reaching out and snagging her jacket, a hiss of tension escaping his lips as Lisa was pulled to an abrupt halt in his grasp. "All right. I’ve got you."

Lisa looked up at him, her eyes full of infinite patience as a mother with a recalcitrant child. "But I want to go to the bridge," she said.

Jim began to pull her up in panic as realization hit him. He screamed out his denial as Lisa unzipped her jacket and gravity pulled her body downward. She dropped to the water rapidly, her eyes focusing on him one last time, her face a beatific expression of bliss.

~~~~~~~~~

Four hours later, Jim and Blair sat in Simon's office and looked over the information they'd managed to gather on the girl at Cascade Reservoir. "Her name was Lisa Hughes. Sixteen years old. High school honors student," Simon said, turning from the rain-drenched window to walk over to his desk. "She played cello in the school orchestra. Tox report came back positive, but no exact match with any known drug or combination thereof."

"It could be Golden," Blair mused almost to himself.

The police captain fixed him with a stare. "Dare I ask how you know that?"

Blair shrugged. "The university. There’s been rumors about a new designer drug."

Jim spoke up from the opposite side of the table. "Vice reports this stuff appeared in the area about three weeks ago, sir. One of the side-effects that people experience is this luminescent golden quality to their vision. And Lisa Hughes was talking about this golden bridge."

"It’s an hallucinogen?" Simon asked.

"Yeah." Jim nodded. "Golden makes angel dust look like light beer. It affects each user differently. Three days ago, an employee at Walkerville Steel decided to take a plunge into a vat of molten iron. He was stoned on the stuff."

Simon sighed and shook his head. "All right. What’s the game plan here, Jim?"

"I’m going to check with my source, sir. The… specialist in the field." He grinned and stood up, gesturing for Blair to follow him.

~~~~~~~~

Blair tapped his fingers impatiently on the table and looked around the diner they were seated in. "So, how come I’ve never heard of this guy, Sneaks?"

Jim shrugged as he sipped his coffee. "Never came up before."

"So, what is he?" Blair pressed. "Like a professional snitch?"

Jim smiled a little. "One of the best."

Blair nodded in understanding. "Very undercover. Very invisible. So that’s why they call him Sneaks, right?"

"Well, not exactly," Jim answered. "Sneaks is actually short for…" He was cut off by the approach of a disheveled man dressed in a long coat that had seen better days. A black knit cap was crammed onto his head and a long scarf wound around his throat. He slid quickly into the seat next to Jim and grinned widely at the detective.

"Hey, excellent timing," the man said. Eyeing Blair suspiciously, he indicated the police observer with a dirty thumb. "So, who’s this?"

"This is my associate, Blair Sandburg," Jim answered, his smile widening at Blair’s discomfort. Blair threw the man a wave and waited but Sneaks had already lost interest in him and turned back to Jim. "So," he began, elbowing the detective in the arm, "what you got on?"

Jim was obviously enjoying himself. He shook his head at the man’s strange request. "Nope, sorry, just some hiking boots."

"A couple of stompers," Sneaks replied, looking disappointed. He slammed his fist down suddenly on the tabletop, causing Blair to jump. "No sale!" Sneaks turned back to study Blair. "What do you got on your feet?"

Blair leaned forward slightly and peered quizzically at the snitch. "Excuse me?"

Sneaks leaned sideways and looked under the table, then looked at Blair with new appreciation. "Oooh. Nike Severes."

Blair looked down and wiggled one foot, finally catching on. "Oh, yeah. Okay."

Jim had decided that it was time to cut to the chase. "We’re here about Golden," he said.

"Ooh, hey. The yellow powder. That’s a hot ticket and it’s going to get hotter." Sneaks’ attention shifted back to Blair. "How’s that molded on mid-sole? I guess it’s, ah, pretty soft, huh?"

"Why is it going to get hotter?" Jim pushed.

Sneaks spared the detective a glance. "It’s scarce. And it’s pricey, too," he replied. "I tell you. They get their act together, they build that pipeline, and the trickle is going to be a flood."

"Who’s they?" Jim asked.

But Sneaks was back to Blair. "You’re what. Eight or an eight and a half?"

Blair shrugged. "Eight and a half."

Jim interrupted the conversation. "Okay. All right, Sneaks, look, if I don’t get a little solid information here, nobody’s going to walk away with anything."

"How’s that defense mesh tongue working for you?" Sneaks asked.

"Tongue is great," Blair answered.

"Word is, you go for the gold, you go to Slicks'," Sneaks said.

Jim nodded. "The amateur drag strip."

"Plus," Sneaks added, "whoever is cooking that stuff is looking to make a major connection overseas."

"You got a name for me?"

"Cyrus," Sneaks answered. "Who else?" He rapped the table once more. "So! Do I earn my pay or what?"

"Yeah, yeah. All right. Settle down," Jim replied. "This is a family establishment here." He pulled out his wallet but before he could extract the cash, Sneaks pulled several bills out for himself. Jim shook his head. "Go ahead. Help yourself." Sneaks did.

The snitch let his gaze wander from Jim to Blair. "Hey," he said. "No bonus?"

~~~~~~~~

Blair stood and watched as Sneaks exited the diner ahead of them, a pair of ratty sneakers swinging from one shoulder and Blair’s prized Nike Severes on his feet. "Sneaks," he said in disgust. "Short for Sneakers." He punched Jim on the arm as they walked to the truck. "Why didn’t you tell me?"

"You’ll be reimbursed from the snitch fund."

"Well, I hope they cover socks too, because these are my favorite Argyles."

~~~~~~~~

Blair pulled another pair of sneakers from his closet and walked out to the living room. He looked at the decidedly worn shoes glumly before bending to put them on. "So," he asked Jim, who sat at the table cleaning his sidearm. "Cyrus is a myth?"

Jim nodded. "Two years ago, the DEA and Interpol created an international drug distributor with an appetite for big money deals. Cyrus is an Athens mail drop, a Swiss bank account and a dozen-man support group. The scam has already netted dozens of busts."

"And they don’t mind if you use him?"

"Well, they did until I brought the DEA in on the deal," Jim replied. He turned to face his partner. "The fact that they’re trying to contact Cyrus is an indication that the Golden is still localized." The detective stood and holstered his weapon, then headed for the door. Blair followed him and accepted his jacket from the other man. "With any luck," Jim continued, "we can stop it here."

"Great."

~~~~~~~~

Blair hunched his shoulders further into the warmth of his jacket and cast an appreciative eye over the cars revving their engines on the drag strip ahead of them. "The blue one," he challenged as both cars sped off down the track.

Jim shook his head. "Nope. Purple one," he answered in an authoritative tone.

Blair frowned as the voice from the PA announced the purple car to be the winner and Jim smiled. "Looks can be deceiving, huh?" He cocked his head slightly trying to filter through the myriad of conversations taking place about him, feeling Blair’s hand come to press gently against his back, grounding him.

<Double or nothing on the next race, okay?>

<You’re lying.>

<You’re on.>

<Yeah, my Chevy could have blown his doors off.>

<How much do they want?>

<A quarter of a key. Half the Golden now. The rest in, uh, two days. The money upfront.>

Jim focused on the last snatch of conversation and dialed up his sight to focus on a small huddle of men gathered around a car on the opposite side of the strip.

"You get anything?" Blair asked, breaking his concentration.

Jim shrugged non-commitally. "Come on." He led the way around the edge of the track, keeping his eyes on the three men ahead. He stopped as a muscled arm reached out and halted his progress.

"You want something?"

"I thought maybe we could take a look," Jim replied, indicating the car.

The muscle man looked them over carefully. "I’ve never seen you around here before."

"Yeah, that’s right. First time," Blair put in, bouncing nervously on his toes.

The big man shook his head. "Another night," he said as he began to walk away.

"Nah, that wouldn’t be good for us," Jim answered. "Our business won’t wait."

The muscle man folded his arms across his impressive chest and stood his ground. "We don’t have any business."

"Oh no?" Jim countered. He looked over as another man raised his head from his scrutiny of the car engine. "Ten minutes of your time, huh?" the detective suggested. "You can call off the pit bull."

"I don’t know him," Muscle man insisted.

"Then tell him to leave," the other man said. He went back to his perusal of the engine and when neither Jim nor Blair moved, "call security."

Jim shook his head. "That’s a big mistake."

The man at the car straightened and eyed the detective balefully. "Why’s that?"

"Because you’re looking for Cyrus."

The man smiled scornfully. "You’re Cyrus?"

"Nah. It doesn’t work that way," Jim countered. "See, I’m Cyrus’ point man for the area. You need negotiating, you go through me."

A much smaller man approached Jim and Blair, his manner nervous and twitchy. "Why should we trust you?" he asked belligerently, his narrow eyes flicking quickly between the two.

"You put out the word. You need connections." Jim spread his arms wide. "I’m here." When none of the men spoke, he shrugged once more and turned to Blair. "Three blind mice. Your loss. Very good." He snagged Blair’s arm and turned him back toward the racetrack, stopping when one of the men spoke.

"Wait."

Jim and Blair turned back to the men. "Let’s just say I might happen to know what you’re talking about," the lead man said. "What could Cyrus do for us?"

"Distribution," Jim answered casually. "Turn a mom and pop organization like you got here into General Motors, if you’ve got the product." The detective pulled a business card from his breast pocket and held it out. "Give me a call before Cyrus changes his mind."

Jim nodded at Blair again and the two men turned to walk away. Something dropped at Jim’s feet and he looked down at the tiny plastic bag lying on the ground.

"You dropped something."

Jim bent and picked up the bag, eyeing the contents curiously. He tapped at the plastic a few times, knocking the yellow powder from the sides of the bag.

"We got the product," the little man said.

~~~~~~~~

Jim continued to flick at the powder in the bag as they walked back to the truck. Blair stilled his actions with a hand on his arm. "Watch it, Jim. You’re getting that stuff all over your hands," he cautioned.

Jim let his gaze wander over the crowd and stopped as his eyes encountered a middle-aged man standing on the periphery of the track watching them closely. He nudged Blair. "Hey. You see that guy over there?"

Blair squinted into the night, obviously having trouble seeing anything. "Who?"

Jim raised his hand and pointed at the man who turned and began to walk quickly away. "That guy right there." Jim took a couple of steps toward the figure. "He’s been watching us. Middle-aged, medium build, medium everything." His fingertips tingled and he rubbed them together trying to dust the yellow residue from his skin. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to bring the man once more into focus.

Blair shook his head. "Where?" he asked.

"He’s right…" Jim pointed again to where he’d seen the man. An engine close behind startled him, and Jim turned, one hand going up to shield his eyes from the headlights that glared in his face and blasted sharp pain through his skull. He stopped dead in his tracks. "Whoa."

Blair looked up at him and touched his shoulder. "You okay?"

Jim tried to focus but golden light obstructed his view. He blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to dispel it. "Man, that’s weird."

Blair’s voice came again from beside him as he turned his head from side to side. "Jim, what’s wrong?"

The lights were so bright now they were making his head pound and his eyes felt as though they’d been sandblasted. Jim dropped to his knees, suddenly dizzy. Neither man noticed the small packet of golden powder as it dropped from Jim's fingers and fell to the ground. Blair’s voice was panicked now as he grabbed hold of Jim’s arm, trying to support the detective’s weight. "Jim! Jim, what’s wrong? Are you okay?"

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

Jim flinched as cold water cascaded down his shirt. A rough paper towel blotted hesitantly over the soaked material.

"Sorry. Sorry," Blair said. "I need to wash your eyes out for as long as possible but it’s really hard to do here. The sink is the size of a thimble, man." He laughed, but his voice sounded brittle.

Jim fumbled around until he found Blair’s hands and stilled his nervous ministrations. "It’s okay, Chief. It’s better already."

Blair’s voice took on a hopeful tone. "You can see?"

Jim could feel a slight draught of breeze indicating that the anthropologist was waving a hand in front of his face. "No, nothing, but they’re not hurting like before. They really feel a lot better." He fought an urge to scratch at his eyes.

"I think we should go to the hospital, Jim."

"Yeah, I guess you’re right." Jim felt a hand under his elbow, assisting him to his feet and with slow, shambling steps, one arm held protectively out in front of him, he allowed Blair to lead him from the racetrack restroom to the truck.

~~~~~~~~

Blair watched as the doctor bent and shone a penlight into Jim’s eyes. "What do you see, Detective?" the doctor asked.

"Not much," Jim replied. "A lot of golden light, shapeless forms, a lot of nothing."

Blair tried not to panic at the words. The doctor straightened and began to put away his instruments. "I can find no obvious neurological or traumatic injury to your eyes," he said.

"Then why am I blind?"

"In the conventional sense, you’re not," Doctor Lee explained. "You see light, not darkness."

Jim’s brow furrowed in confusion. "Well, isn’t that what happens with everybody? Who sees in the dark?" he asked. "It’s the same thing."

"Your pupils react normally to visible light. The problem may be neuropsychotic in nature."

Blair stiffened. "Like hysterical blindness?"

The doctor shrugged. "Of a kind I am unfamiliar with."

"Then it’s possible I’m going to get my vision back, right?"

"Yes, it’s possible," Doctor Lee agreed. "But without extensive tests and time, I really don’t know. We need to get you admitted to the hospital, and I’d like to call in some consulting physicians."

"I..um…It’s not gonna work for me, Doc," Jim said, looking flustered. "I just don’t have the time. I appreciate your time." He turned his head to one side and reached out a hand. "Blair?"

Blair hurried around to his partner’s side and helped Jim from the chair. "It’s all right, buddy," he said as he guided Jim to the door. "Come on." Looking back over his shoulder he nodded to the elderly man. "Thanks, Doc."

~~~~~~~~

"Ellison. Sandburg. Can I have a word with you two?" Simon’s voice bellowed from within his office.

"On our way, sir." Jim stood up from the desk and fumbled on the desk for his sunglasses. Blair sighed and pressed them into the detective’s hand. "Thanks," Jim said, moving slowly around the edge of the desk.

"Are you sure this is going to work, Jim?"

"It’ll be fine, Sandburg. We can pull it off."

"Mmm," Blair sounded doubtful but was shaken from his concern by another loud summons from the captain’s office. "Today would be good, gentlemen."

Jim picked up his coffee cup and walked slowly across the bullpen. He entered Simon’s office and headed straight to where he was reasonably certain the desk was. Right on target. The detective tried to rub surreptitiously at his leg where he’d rammed into the edge of the table. His searching hand found the back of a chair and he sat down gratefully. He heard the door shut behind him and knew that Blair had followed him in, though he was unsure exactly where he was.

"Too bright in here for you?" Simon asked and it took Jim a moment to realize that he was referring to the sunglasses.

"Oh. Sorry, sir." Jim reached up and pulled the shades from his face, placing them in his lap.

Simon got straight to the business at hand. "Any progress?"

"We met with three men at Slicks' who are involved in the sale of Golden. One of them appears to be hired muscle. The other two, we’re not sure about them yet."

Simon nodded and leaned back in his chair. "Did the thing with Cyrus work?"

"Like a charm, yeah."

"Did you get a sample?"

Jim leaned forward in his seat. "I did, sir, but I, uh, lost it."

"Lost it?"

"In a crowd." Blair came to Jim’s rescue.

Simon frowned. "Well, did you follow them? Find out who they were?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Was it his imagination or was it getting hot in here? "No, sir, that wasn’t possible. Not without compromising my cover. I gave them my cell phone number, so I’m sure they’re going to call me. I want to hold off on making any arrests until we’re sure we’re dealing with the principal players here." *That part wasn’t a lie,* Jim thought. If they were going to close the pipeline down, they needed the men controlling the flow.

"Yeah, well, that makes sense," Simon agreed. Jim could hear the captain moving around but was unsure what he was up to. Blair’s voice clued him in.

"Coffee? No, thanks. I’m fine here, Simon."

"Yeah, no, thank you, Simon. You know me and that flavored stuff." He sniffed deeply. "What is that? Hazelnut?"

"You feeling okay, Jim?" the captain asked.

"Fine, sir," Jim reassured Simon. "Maybe we should get on it?"

"Yeah," Blair said, somewhat weakly, Jim thought.

The detective stood up and put his sunglasses back on. "Hand me that file there, Sandburg," Jim heard Simon say.

"Okay."

Jim could hear movement and shuffling and wished even harder to get out of the room. "Just that cigar’s getting to me," he offered lamely. He heard Blair’s quiet groan and suspected that, for once, Simon wasn’t smoking one. The whole situation was getting out of hand. Time to make good an escape. He turned and headed toward the exit and collided with someone. "Sorry," Jim said.

"I got it, Jim. I got it."

Jim nodded and opened the office door. He felt it slam hard into something unyielding.

"Ow!" Blair groaned.

Jim turned back toward his partner and fumbled until his hand connected with Blair’s head. He rubbed apologetically at the lump he could feel growing under his touch. "Sorry, Chief."

"All right." Simon’s angry tone stopped him in his tracks. "One of you tell me what the hell is going on here."

"Uh, it started when we got tossed this sample of Golden at Slicks'," Blair began. Jim felt around until he found a chair, then sat down, letting Blair recount the story.

~~~~~~~~

Simon Banks stood and paced the confines of his office. Finally, he stopped and faced his detective. "Look, I want you in the hospital, Jim. The whole case will just get reassigned."

Jim straightened in his seat and shook his head. "Sir, I had to work pretty hard to get them to accept me as Cyrus’ contact. We bait and switch now, and the game is over."

Simon set his jaw. "We’ll take our chances. If they make us, we’ll bust them."

"Charge them with what?" Jim spread his hands. "Simon, just let me handle this, okay?"

Simon wasn’t convinced. "It’s too dangerous," he replied stubbornly.

"Hang on, Simon," Blair interrupted from his perch on the edge of the desk. "We did fool you." He smiled apologetically at the captain’s glare. "For a little while. And with Jim’s sensory powers and a little practice and some help from me, I think we can do it."

"Do what?" Simon retorted. "Pretend Jim can see?"

"My sight will return eventually, sir."

The captain looked at the detective for a long moment. "Jim, what if it doesn’t?"

"Look, there’s one thing I can see over and over again," Jim said quietly. "It’s the face of that girl going down the edge of that dam." He took a shuddering breath and stood up. "Now they’ve done this to my eyes. I don’t want to stop this case right now, sir. I’m sorry."

"Jim, it’s over," Simon said. "One fumble and I lose you. It’s not worth it."

Jim shook his head, his exasperation showing clearly on his face. "Look, Simon, I want…need to catch these bastards. We've got two people dead in terrible circumstances…"

The captain shook his head, then realized that Jim couldn’t see the action. "Jim, you are off active duty until you get better. Is that clear?"

"Sir, I may not get better!" Jim shouted. "I'm sorry," he continued, his voice quieter. He lifted one hand and rubbed at his right eye. "I can't walk away from this. I couldn't have before I lost my sight and I certainly can't now. Simon, we, Blair and I, can pull this off."

Simon watched Blair hop from his perch and cross to Jim’s side, an unconscious gesture of support. "Hey! How about if we, um, have a trial run out in the bullpen?"

Jim’s demeanor brightened noticeably. "Yeah."

"He can’t get hurt out there," Blair continued, his tone bordering on wheedling.

"That’s a great idea."

Simon crossed his arms and watched as Blair opened the door. Finally, he sighed and caved in. "No sunglasses," he said to Jim, removing them from the detective’s face. Simon turned his attention to Blair. "And no help from you." Blair’s smile faded a little.

Jim took a deep breath and nodded. "All right."

"Go ahead," Simon said. The captain watched with amusement tinged with concern as his best detective headed toward the doorway and slammed into the frame. Shifting his feet slightly, Jim cleared the door and headed out into the bullpen. Simon stepped up and joined Blair in the doorway. He could feel the younger man’s tension rolling off him.

~~~~~~~~

Simon watched as Henri Brown entered the bullpen, a steaming cup of liquid in his hands. Jim paused. "Hey, Brown, you keep hitting that cocoa, you’re going to stretch the waistband of those fine corduroy slacks you’re wearing."

Henri Brown frowned at his fellow detective while Blair turned to Simon, a delighted smile on his face. "It’s the sugarless kind, okay?" Henri said.

Jim shrugged and walked toward his desk. "It’s your figure."

The two in the office doorway saw a young, blonde woman push the refreshment trolley through the doorway. Jim’s head lifted slightly and Simon could have sworn he was sniffing the air.

"Oh boy, doesn’t this smell good?" Jim announced, confirming the captain’s thoughts. "I’d like the poppy seed, please. You can put it on the desk right behind you." Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, then pulled a bill from within and held it out to the startled young woman.

"Gee, thanks," she said, her smile widening.

Blair’s eyes bulged. "I think that was a twenty," he muttered to Simon.

"Can’t I be generous?" Jim retorted, having easily heard Blair's comment. Stepping back, he rammed into the refreshment cart. "I’m sorry."

Simon shook his head. "He’s gonna go broke."

"Yeah," Blair agreed, then his smile was replaced by a frown as another young woman walked into the bullpen and waved at him.

"Blair?"

"Margaret?"

Simon watched the anthropologist hurry over to greet the woman and retreated to his office. Jim had certainly passed the test.

"Hey," Margaret greeted Blair.

"How are you doing?" Blair gathered Margaret into a hug, then stepped back and smiled nervously.

Margaret smiled and twisted her hands. "Good. So you know, I had an appointment in the neighborhood and I…" She sighed. "That’s a lie. I, um, I came here to meet Jim." She looked up and smiled widely as Jim joined them. "And I guess that’s you." She held out her hand, then dropped it back to her side as Jim merely smiled at her.

"Jim, have you washed your hands since you came back from the morgue?" Blair prompted, hoping the big guy would get the hint.

"Of course, I have," Jim answered. He extended his hand and fumbled a little before taking Margaret’s hand and shaking it. "Nice to see you," Jim said.

Blair rolled his eyes.

"You know, it’s funny," Margaret said. "You’re…you’re so like I pictured."

"You know," Jim answered. "When I imagined your voice, I pictured you to look just like you do."

"Well, good, I’m glad I did this."

*I’m not,* Blair thought.

"I am, too," Jim replied.

"So, you want to give me a call and we’ll make some plans?" Margaret asked.

"Yeah, I’d like that. I’d like that." Jim smiled widely. "Let’s do it soon."

"Okay." Margaret nodded. She managed to drag her attention back to Blair momentarily. "And thanks for trying to keep us apart," she giggled. "It worked beautifully. Bye." With a wave at the two of them, she walked back to the elevator.

Jim waved back. "Bye, bye. Well, so far, so good."

Simon walked up to join them. "Yeah, right. All right, I want you to set up the next meet. We’ll just take this one step at a time."

"Okay," Jim answered, staring at Blair.

"Wear the glasses," the captain went on, pressing them back into Jim’s hand.

"Okay."

~~~~~~~~

Blair listened to the sounds emanating from the boom box, then leaned forward on the armchair, his hands framing the air. "There! You hear that?"

Jim shook his head. "It’s giving me a headache."

"No. No. The echoes, not the sounds. That’s how bats navigate." The anthropologist ignored Jim’s disgruntled moan as he slipped into lecture mode. "Sound waves bounce off solid objects. You can approximate the size, the shape, the distance of an object by the echo."

Jim snorted in derision. "If you’re a flying rodent."

Blair sighed and leaned forward to press the stop button on the tape machine. "The blind do it too, by tapping their canes."

Jim shook his head quickly. "No. No canes. It’s a dead give-away."

"I agree," Blair answered as he settled back on the couch. "But even if you can’t see it, smell it or taste it, you can still know it’s there."

"I thought we were going to work on some simple visual clues here."

"We’re going to do that too, but first, listen to the way the sound reverberates in a room." Blair waved his hands trying to sketch his meaning in the air, forgetting in his eagerness that Jim could not see. "The ambience." He flopped down onto the couch beside the detective. "If you concentrate on a given sound environment, you can make a mental map of your surroundings."

Jim nodded slowly. "All right," he said finally. "I’ll deal with that, but at the risk of sounding a pessimist, what happens if my vision doesn’t come back?"

Blair had thought of nothing else all day. Now, he took a deep breath and spoke, "Jim, you had a power surge, and your lines weren’t built to take that much current. They’re in shock, but they will recover. Especially if you help the process."

"How? How can I help the process?" Blair could see the fine lines of tension etched in Jim's face, his jaw set tight with strain.

"By trying to see." Blair pushed on quickly. "Remake the connection by an act of will."

The ringing of Jim’s cell phone broke the long silence between the two men. When Jim looked around in confusion, Blair picked up the phone and handed it to his partner.

"Yeah?"

Blair sat forward, trying to imagine the other side of the conversation, wondering who was calling. The thickset muscle man, the little nervous geek or the headman, cold and calculating.

"Well, that’s an awful lot of good faith. All right. Fine." Jim hung up the phone and stood. He walked slowly over toward the balcony door. Blair pulled his feet back quickly and reached out a steadying hand as the detective stumbled over them. He waited for Jim to speak.

"They want a hundred thousand dollars in good faith. We get a sample kilo of the Golden. They’ll call and tell us when and where. If the deal goes smoothly, they’ll negotiate from there." The sentinel stood silently at the window, standing guard over a city he could no longer see.

~~~~~~~~

Blair pulled the Expedition to a halt on the grass verge of the secluded dirt road. Looking around, he could see nothing. No people, no traffic, just a lot of bushes concealing God knew what. He turned to his partner who sat silently, staring ahead. "I don’t like this, Jim. Can you see anything?"

Jim shook his head. "Just a whole bunch of nothing."

"This isn’t going to work." Blair felt a shiver snake down his spine.

"All right, Chief, in this black bag here, get me out that little black case." Jim motioned to the bag he held on his lap.

Jim felt each item as it was handed to him, passing several items back to Blair. "There’s a pair of binoculars and a radio transmitter for you. There’s also a pair of gloves for me, get them out too. You’re going to be able to communicate with me via this two-way earpiece. You’re going to be able to hear most of what I hear, and I want you to watch where I go with the binoculars, see where I’m going, tell me who’s coming, that sort of thing."

Blair watched apprehensively as the detective put on a matching earpiece, then sunglasses and gloves. "You know, it’s not too late to call in some back-up."

"Yes, it is," Jim answered mildly. "Let’s do a radio check."

"Check." Blair suppressed a grin as Jim flinched a little.

"Just turn it down a little, would you?" The detective exited the vehicle and began to walk hesitantly away. "Just guide me on this?" he asked, sounding a little impatient.

"Watch out for the…bush." Blair allowed his voice to trail away. He grimaced as Jim caught his balance and turned back toward him with a frown on his face. "Sorry. But that was pretty good. You knew exactly where to look to give me that famous Ellison scowl."

Jim raised a hand in understanding and continued to walk slowly ahead. "Sandburg, which way?"

"A little to the right," Blair answered. "The other right!"

Blair picked up the binoculars and focused them on the detective, wincing now and then as Jim faltered or tripped over unseen obstacles. Training the binoculars on the bridge just ahead of Jim, Blair took a careful look, then spoke, "The van’s right there." He scanned around the immediate area. "I don’t see anybody."

"Check the plates."

Blair did as he was asked. "They’re from out of state," he replied.

He saw Jim stop and cock his head slightly. "I hear somebody," the detective said.

"Okay, Jim. There’s two of them. They came out from behind the pillars. One’s on your right. The bigger one’s on your left." Blair rushed his words as the two men approached his partner. "He’s got a gun in his belt, and I’ll keep watching. It’s the guys from Slicks', not the muscle, the other ones." He knew his voice was shaking but was powerless to stop it. He forced himself to sit absolutely still and listen to the conversation between Jim and the other men.

"What’s in the case?"

Jim held the briefcase up. "What you asked for. Where’s the product?"

"Front seat."

Jim nodded. Blair took a deep breath. "Okay, Jim, the van is a little to your right and the window’s open." Blair watched, not daring to breathe as Jim turned to the van and took a couple of steps toward it. "You keep going ahead. Okay, you’re right there." Blair watched as Jim bumped into the van door. "Now reach in." He watched Jim pull out a steel cylinder, then fumble a little before unscrewing the cap and pulling out a plastic bag. Blair nodded in satisfaction. "Yep. Yeah. The drugs are there."

"Okay, what’s step two?" The bigger man looked up from where he crouched over the open briefcase.

"Cyrus wants a hundred kilos a month to start distribution."

"No problem. It’s twenty-five thousand a ki."

"With that kind of quantity I’d say fifteen," Jim bartered.

"Say twenty."

Jim nodded. "Deal."

Blair watched with unease as he saw the bigger man wave to someone over Jim’s shoulder. Turning slightly in his seat, he swiveled his binoculars to see the other man from Slicks’ approaching and his heart sunk. "Jim? The muscle just got here."

The observer saw the third man lift a device in his hand as he stood behind Jim. "Hold it," the henchman ordered. Jim obeyed the command, then waited as the device was waved over his body. He flinched as a high pitched beeping sound suddenly emanated from the machine.

"He’s wired!"

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

Blair’s heart stopped as he saw all three men pull their weapons and train them on his partner. In a blur of motion, Jim threw up the cylinder, knocking the third man’s arm aside and pulling his weapon from his hand. Twisting the man’s arm high around his back, he forced him to the ground and placed his own gun at the back of his head.

"Drop it!"

The command came from the boss and Blair saw him level his weapon once more at Jim. As quietly as he could, Blair got out of the truck.

"I said drop it! Drop it."

Jim shook his head and dug the barrel of the gun a little harder into the other man’s head. "You drop it or I’ll shoot him."

"And I’ll shoot you."

"You think Cyrus is going to let you live?" Jim challenged. "You can’t hide from him."

The man on the ground twisted his head to one side. "You tried to rip us off," he ground out.

With trembling hands, Blair pulled his laser pointer from the cab of the truck and propped it on top of the binoculars. Taking a shaky breath, he looked through the sights and triggered the light. "Jim, tell the man with the gun to look on his chest."

"Look on your chest," Jim parroted.

"What is it?" the man on the ground asked.

The boss had paled a little. "Laser sight."

The muscle man struggled in Jim’s grasp. "Waste him!"

"My man will take you out before you can blink," Jim said warningly. "Cyrus only hires the best."

"Come on, put it down," Blair muttered. He sighed in relief as he saw the gun lowered. "All right, it’s down."

Blair watched as Jim got to his feet and ordered the other man to get up, then turned to the boss. "Yeah, I’m wired," he said. "Do you think I’d come in here one on three without any backup? Now, why don’t we just try and stick to business, okay? I’ll wait for your call." He turned back toward the truck and strode off.

Blair smiled, then started as he saw the henchman reach for his gun. Quickly, he trained the laser pointer on the man’s chest. "Wait!" Blair warned. "Look out, man."

"Chaz!"

Blair watched as Chaz slowly pulled his hand away from his weapon. "I got him," the anthropologist sighed. "You’re okay."

He waited for Jim to reach him and then guided him around to the passenger side of the truck before climbing in and starting the engine. His hand shook a little as he turned the key in the ignition and he looked up as Jim’s hand closed around his own.

"You all right, Chief? Your heart’s going a mile a minute."

Blair felt wrung out. His clothes were soaked with sweat and his stomach churned with nausea. He nodded. "I’m okay."

"Neat trick," Jim said as he leaned back in his seat. "I’m assuming you used the laser pointer?"

"Told you it would come in handy." Blair grinned, feeling absurdly pleased with himself and backed the truck onto the road.

~~~~~~~~

Blair began to clear the remnants of their meal from the table, shaking his head as he watched Jim study the salt and pepper shakers. "Maybe you’re trying too hard."

"Maybe I’m not trying hard enough." Jim sighed and put the shakers back on the table. He sat back and ran a hand through his hair. *He looks exhausted,* Blair thought. *Come to think of it, I feel about as good as Jim looks.* Blair looked up as a knock sounded at the front door.

"Are you expecting someone, Chief?"

Blair walked quickly over to the front door. "No, I’m not. Who is it?" He turned back to Jim. "It’s Margaret," he hissed. Margaret echoed his announcement from the other side of the door. "Yeah, um…hang on a sec. I gotta put a shirt on."

Jim stood and walked over to the couch. "Open the door, Sandburg."

"But Jim…"

"Let her in."

Blair turned and opened the door, smiling wanly at the pretty brunette who stood in the corridor with a bottle of wine in her hand.

She smiled brightly. "Hi, Blair. So, you know, Jim didn’t call, so I just thought I’d, you know…" She leaned sideways so that she could see around Blair and frowned when she saw Jim sitting on the couch, his head back and his eyes closed. "Oh, is Jim okay?"

"What?" Blair looked behind him. "Oh, he’s okay. He’s just really tired. Matter of fact, so am I. It’s been a long day, you know what I mean?"

"I’m sorry," Margaret replied, looking suddenly hesitant. "I should have called first. I, um…I should go."

"Blair? You should have woken me. Have we got company?"

"It’s Margaret, Jim. I just explained to her what a rough day we’ve had and she’s going to come back another time." Blair beamed at Margaret but the smile faltered when Jim spoke up again.

"No, don’t be silly. Amazing what a little power nap can do for you. You should try it sometime, Chief." Jim stood and smiled in the approximate direction of the front door. "Margaret. It’s lovely to see you again. Come on in."

Blair stifled a groan and stood aside as Margaret entered the apartment, then shut the door behind her. She stood a little awkwardly, clutching the bottle tightly and smiled at Jim.

"Hi."

"Hi, how are you?"

"I’m fine. Look, if this is a bad time, I can leave."

"No, not at all. Please, have a seat. Why don’t I get us a drink."

Blair did groan when Margaret indicated the bottle she’d just deposited on the coffee table. "I brought some wine."

"Oh, okay," Jim smiled. "Good choice. I’ll get some glasses. Blair, can I see you for just a minute?"

Blair rolled his eyes and excused himself.

"Get some glasses," Jim whispered.

Sighing in defeat, Blair opened the cupboard and pulled two wineglasses from within. "Here," he said, pushing them into Jim’s hands.

"Why don’t I treat you to a movie? Huh? Can you get out of here for a little while?"

"I was just going to crash early, man."

"Please? Here." Blair gaped as Jim pulled a bill from his wallet and thrust it at him. "A buck!" He stilled Jim’s hand as the detective opened his wallet again. "No, never mind. What if she finds out about you?"

Jim shrugged. "I’ll keep things simple."

"Simple for you, maybe."

Jim laid his hands on Blair’s shoulders. "Blair, if I’m going to be blind, I might as well start getting used to it, and I might as well start with Margaret."

"Trust me, Jim. She’s not your type. I mean, you don’t even know what she looks like."

"I don’t care. I mean, how many times do I have to tell you? I just want to spend some time with her – alone. Okay?"

Blair studied his partner for a moment. What the heck, he decided, he could sleep in the cinema. He’d slept in worse places. "Okay. All right. Give me your hand." He placed the wineglasses in Jim’s hand. "The Godfather movies are playing at the Rialto." Walking to the front door, Blair pulled his jacket from the hook.

"Why don’t you see if you can stay for parts 2 and 3," Jim suggested, looking hopeful.

"Part 3? The one without Robert Duvall? Are you kidding?" Shaking his head in apparent disgust at his partner’s lack of movie sensibilities, Blair turned to Margaret. "Margaret? I’m going to go meet some friends at the movies. I’ll see you later, okay?"

Margaret smiled brightly. "Okay. Have a good time."

"Yeah." Blair opened the door, wincing when the edge connected with Jim, who was just a step behind him. "Sorry," he whispered. Shutting the door, he grinned at Jim’s words.

"Great guy."

~~~~~~~~

"Mmmm. I detect glazed buttermilk," Jim said, sniffing the aromatic air of the donut shop deeply.

"Yep." Blair went to the counter to collect Jim’s prize, smiling a little as Jim continued to talk, unaware that his partner had left the table.

"It starts right at the tip and works its way back," Jim espoused. "It’s an explosion. Just an explosion."

"All right. All right. Here’s your donut." Despite all the complaints Jim made about Blair’s tests, offer him a sugar-laced heart attack on a plate and he was suddenly all cooperation. Carefully, he grabbed Jim’s waving hand and placed it on the donut. "Now," Blair continued, settling in. "Let’s get back to Margaret. The other night, you just talked, she got tired and she went home."

Jim nodded. "And she still doesn’t know I’m blind," he mumbled around a mouthful.

Blair regarded the detective doubtfully. "You didn’t hit on her at all?"

"No, I didn’t hit on her." Jim looked affronted at the very idea. "All I did was whistle."

"Whistle?"

"Yeah." Jim demonstrated, spraying tiny pieces of donut into the air. "Whistle." He fumbled in his pocket as his cell phone rang. "Like a bat."

"Like a bat."

Pulling out his phone, Jim wiped his hands quickly on a napkin and pushed the donut to Blair. "You gotta try some of that. Yeah?" he spoke into the phone.

Blair picked up a chunk of donut and sniffed it, then making a face, dropped it back to the plate and turned his attention to Jim’s phone call. The detective spoke briefly to the caller and hung up.

"Let’s go," Jim said, standing up. "We’ve got a meet."

~~~~~~~~

Jim could smell the rain in the air as he climbed out of his truck at the abandoned amusement park. Blair was with Simon somewhere behind him and Jim hoped that the younger man would keep his head down and not give the police captain any grief. He cocked his head as he heard the sound of an approaching car. "Something’s coming," Jim warned the others. He could hear Simon’s voice through the earpiece.

"All right. This is it, people. Let’s look sharp." And then, obviously to Sandburg. "Will you get down?"

Jim shook his head in fond exasperation. He heard the van stop nearby and reached in through the open window of the truck and pulled out a briefcase.

"You first."

Jim was fairly sure that was the muscle speaking and he snicked the locks on the case and opened the lid. "One point nine mil."

"One hundred kilos." That was the boss.

He heard Simon’s voice in his ear. "Are the goods there, Jim?"

"Open the cases," Jim demanded.

"Chaz’s voice came again. "It’s in there, man. Why don’t you check it?"

Jim shook his head. "I don’t want to touch the stuff. I just want to look at it."

"Go ahead, Chaz. Open the cases."

Jim felt a faint breath of breeze and could smell tobacco and sweat. He knew that one of the men had moved closer to him. What he couldn’t see was the gun Chaz pointed at his head.

Chaz shook his head. "Nah, man. Something ain’t right."

Jim tensed as he heard Blair’s whisper. "Captain, what are they doing? What’s going on?" He readied himself as he heard Simon’s reply.

"It’s a setup gone bad."

A gunshot caused him to flinch and Jim dived toward his truck. He could hear the drug sellers shouting amid sounds of running feet and an engine firing up. Chaz urged the other men to hurry up and get in the van. The detective tossed the briefcase into the truck and pulled his gun as he heard the van accelerate away. Ducking down to give himself some cover by the truck, Jim contacted his partner. "Sandburg? I’ve got sniper fire. They’re behind me and to my right."

Simon’s voice came through instead. "We’re on our way, damn it. You just hold your position."

Jim listened carefully and as he heard the sound of the gun cocking again, he ran awkwardly toward it. He tripped and stumbled once but steadied himself and went on. "Sandburg, help me out here. Do you see the shooter?"

Finally, Blair answered him. "Uh, yeah, Jim. Jim! I got him. He’s about twenty yards to your…to your left."

Jim took off in that direction, a little surer now. He ran up a small flight of steps and aimed his gun at the blurred shimmering golden figure in front of him. "Freeze!"

He was ready when the person took off again and threw himself at him, sending them both tumbling heavily to the ground. Jim grabbed the man by the lapel of his coat and dragged him to his feet, then slammed him back against the railing. "Who the hell are you?"

"Arthur Hughes." Tears began to stream down the man’s cheeks and he sobbed. "You killed my daughter with your dope. You killed Lisa."

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

Simon Banks stared at the distraught man seated at the interrogation room table opposite Jim Ellison. "These are very serious charges, Mr. Hughes. You almost shot a detective on an undercover assignment."

Hughes shook his head. "I didn’t know. I’m sorry, I didn’t know."

Jim leaned forward and placed his clasped hands on the table. "Do you realize that we would have had the men responsible for the death of your daughter apprehended by now if you hadn’t interrupted, sir? Are you aware of that?"

"I realize that," Hughes spoke softly, his face downcast.

"Any information you can give Detective Ellison and myself would only help your case," Simon added.

Hughes looked up at the words and stared at Jim. "You’re Ellison?"

"That’s right."

"Then you’re the one who tried to save Lisa at the dam."

"Yeah."

"You spoke to her last. Thank you," Hughes whispered.

~~~~~~~~

Jim stood at the window in Simon’s office and stared out unseeingly at the evening skyline. "Well, after his daughter’s death, Hughes talked to several of her friends. Apparently, some of them have tried this Golden. He asked them where they got the stuff from, and that led him to Slicks'. He saw me there with the dealers, put me together with them, figured I was a corrupt cop and made me a target."

"If I had lost my son like that," Simon sighed, "I don’t know what I’d do. I’ll ask the DA to go easy on him."

"So, did he give you anything that you can use?" Blair asked from his perch on the edge of Simon’s desk.

Simon looked over at the anthropologist. "Well, the kid who scored the drugs for Lisa apparently bought them from that guy, Chaz."

Jim turned to look at the others. "Yeah, the kid couldn’t tell us what kind of car he drove, or a license plate or anything, but he did notice this parking sticker on the bumper. It was faded, but it had a double helix on it, he said."

Blair looked curious and thoughtful. "Double helix? DNA molecule?"

Jim nodded. "Right, and above this double helix was this word. It was maybe a company name, or something. He said it began with the letter ‘B.’"

~~~~~~~~

Inside the Bio-Helix laboratory, Paul Jacobs slapped a photo of Jim Ellison down on the table in front of his chemist, Andrew Kaminski. "We nearly turned over one hundred ki’s of the last Golden we had to Cascade PD."

Kaminski glared at him. "You didn’t see it coming?" he asked. "This thing has gotten out of control. I am a PhD, a biochemist, for God’s sake. I am not a drug lord."

"If I’d left it to you," Jacobs shot back. "We’d still be slaving away making someone else rich."

"Oh yeah," Kaminski scoffed. "We’re a great big success story."

"We caught some bad breaks. To get back on top, we need capital, and for that we need Golden. Chaz!" Jacobs waited until Chaz walked to the table. "How long will it take to move all one hundred ki’s on the streets?"

"The usual price?" the henchman asked.

Jacobs shrugged. "Half off."

"Less than a week, man," Chaz replied. "We got hungry mouths to feed."

Jacobs nodded. "Do it." He sighed as Kaminski fluttered his hands.

"We can’t stay here," the chemist complained nervously. "They’re onto us!"

Jacobs rounded on him, his eyes flashing angrily. "Look! I handle the business, you handle production. Get the equipment packed up."

Kaminski wouldn’t be mollified. "What about the cops?"

Jacobs held up a large bag half-filled with a golden powder. "It’s time they sampled the merchandise for themselves," he grinned.

~~~~~~~~

Blair scanned the sheet he held in his hand. "They got the analysis on that Golden and it turns out that most of the chemicals are controlled substances. You need a special permit to buy them, store them or use them in any way. And the rest are just rare."

Jim nodded. "Well, good. Good. It makes them easier to trace. I’d better go ask Simon to have a squad run down local shipments. I need to get a list of permit holders." He pushed back from his desk and stood up, accepting the folder that Blair put into his hands.

Blair watched as Jim walked briskly over to Simon’s office with barely a falter. The detective was getting better at moving around the bullpen now, after memorizing the number of steps across the room, and the location of various desks. Blair hoped it would soon no longer be necessary. While he was still almost completed blinded, Jim had told him that he was beginning to have flashes where he could just make out shapes within the golden haze.

The anthropologist yawned then looked up and checked the wall clock. He groaned inwardly. He was already exhausted and the day was only half over. He looked up as a teenager walked hesitantly into the bullpen, loaded down with several pizza boxes.

"Major Crimes?"

"You’re there," Blair replied.

The boy raised the boxes slightly. "Where do you want them?"

"Oh, over here." Blair quickly cleared a space on the desk. "How much?"

"All paid for," the boy said as he deposited the boxes on Jim’s desk.

"All right. All right. Great," Blair beamed. He pulled the small square of paper that protruded from the top box and read it, a smile spreading over his face as he did so. "To the hard-working officers of Major Crimes. Continued success. Chief of Police Warren." He showed it to the young delivery boy. "See that? That’s good."

The boy nodded impatiently and stared at him until Blair realized what he was waiting for. Quickly, he dug into his pocket and managed to extricate a rumpled dollar bill. He’d forgotten he still had it. Jim had given it to him a few nights previously as a bribe to leave him and Margaret alone.

The teen stared at the money with ill-disguised scorn. "You guys got it rough," he snorted.

Blair chuckled as he watched him leave. He opened the top box and looked at the pizza inside. His favorite, a veggie special. Then he hesitated. The pizzas had been given to the personnel of Major Crimes, of which he wasn’t exactly a member. With the amount of work he’d expended on the past few cases though, he was pretty damn close, Blair decided. With a shrug, he picked up a slice and took a bite.

~~~~~~~~

Fifteen minutes later, Jim and Simon exited the captain’s office. Jim’s nose picked up the aroma immediately. "What’s on my desk?"

Simon looked over and noticed the stacked boxes. "Pizza, why?"

Jim shook his head, worry beginning to churn his gut. "No, I know that, but something else. It’s uh…" He stopped at the edge of his desk and took a deep, considering sniff.

"Ooh, let me see," Simon said, misinterpreting Jim’s comment and moving to lift the lid of the topmost box.

"No! No! No!" Simon halted his action when Jim’s hand knocked his own away from the pizza. "Don’t touch it," the detective ordered brusquely. "It’s got that Golden stuff on it. I can sense it."

Simon’s mouth dropped open in surprise, but he recovered quickly and picked up Jim’s desk phone, punching in an extension. "This is Captain Banks, Major Crimes. I need a Hazmat disposal team up here, stat."

Jim closed the desk drawer he’d bumped into and waited for Simon to speak. Carefully, the police captain lifted the pizza box lid with a pen. "Jim, there’s a piece missing. Someone ate this."

"Oh God," Jim whispered. "Where’s Sandburg?" Dread took hold of him and he fumbled to open his desk drawer, both hands scrabbling frantically through the contents.

"What? What is it?"

"My backup .38 is missing," Jim said. "I keep my service revolver right here."

Both men looked up as Henri Brown ran into the bullpen. He hooked a hand over his shoulder toward the door. "Captain, we have a serious problem in the garage."

All three men took off at a run to the elevator. Jim rested his hand on Simon’s shoulder. Someone guiding him meant he could move faster. He urged the elevator to move more quickly as they descended to the basement parking garage.

~~~~~~~~

Simon’s heart missed a beat at the scene that greeted them as they hurried into the garage. Numerous police officers were crouched behind cars, guns drawn. Blair stood on the hood of a police car with Jim’s gun clutched tightly in a shaky fist as he tracked God knew what in his drugged mind. Simon looked over at the uniformed officer standing just inside the entrance. "Carpenter, what the hell is going on here?"

"He keeps yelling about demons," Carpenter answered. "He dusted or what?"

"He’s been dosed with Golden," Simon replied. A sudden shouted warning had them all diving for cover behind the nearest car as Blair fired the gun toward them, the bullet ricocheting off the door. Jim’s fingers were digging painfully into Simon’s shoulder.

"Simon, what the hell is going on?"

The captain sighed. "He’s got your gun, Jim. He’s on a car about twenty yards away. One o’clock." Simon watched Jim’s blind eyes track the directions. Their attention was drawn back to Sandburg as he shouted at his hallucinations, his voice tight with fear.

"You stay away from me! You keep back!" The gun fired again, causing police officers to scramble further into cover, the bullet this time finding a more serious target as it nicked a gasoline hose sending fuel spraying into the air.

Carpenter turned a worried face to Simon. "If he fires again, this whole garage could go."

"Let me talk to him."

Simon stared at Jim in shock. "Are you crazy? He won’t even recognize you, Jim."

"I’ve got to try," the detective replied. He stood quickly and walked around to the other side of the car before anyone could make a move to stop him.

"Hold your fire. Everyone, hold your fire," Simon ordered. The captain watched as Jim slowly made his way toward the young man on the car, clapping his hands as he went. Silently, unaware that he was holding his breath, the captain watched the drama unfold before him, ready to act should the need arise, and praying fervently that it wouldn’t.

"Blair? It’s Jim. What’s going on, buddy?" Jim’s voice was casual; a study of relaxed curiosity, though Simon could see the tension in Jim’s stance.

Blair shook his head, a faint smile appearing on his lips, before his bravado broke and his face crumpled into a mask of fear once more. "There’s no need for applause, man. I got it all covered."

"What’s going on?"

"You don’t see them? They’re coming through the walls and floor, man."

"Who are?" Jim continued moving closer as he spoke.

"The Golden fire people," Blair replied. He gestured around him with the gun. "You don’t see them, man?" he asked again. Simon saw tears start to form in Blair’s eyes and his voice trembled as he described the visions that were haunting him. "They’re made out of fire and they’re burnt. You think they’re ashes, but they’re alive, man." Then his voice strengthened and became harsh as he fired off another round. "And we gotta send them back!"

Jim spoke firmly over the frantic shouting of the officers diving for cover behind their cars. "Blair! Easy, buddy. Easy, buddy. Blair, listen to me." Blair dragged his eyes away from his imagined tormentors to look at Jim.

"Your gun isn’t going to work with the fire people." Blair shook his head vehemently, but as he opened his mouth to speak, Jim continued. "They’re not going to be afraid of your fire. It’s only going to make them stronger." Simon could see the doubt forming on Blair’s pale face even as he shook his head. "You’ve got to use the bat echo trick," Jim said.

Blair’s face scrunched up in confusion. "What trick?"

"You know," Jim replied. "The one you taught me. You close your eyes and you clap your hands." He demonstrated.

"No man, that is not going to work here." Blair’s voice was desperate now, becoming thin with fear.

Jim’s voice grew even more forceful and commanding. "Blair. Come on. Try it. You can save the world here. Come on." The detective was standing directly below Blair now, one hand reaching out close enough to touch but waiting for Blair to make the connection. Simon felt a cold sweat break out on his face as Blair aimed the gun directly at the blinded detective.

Blair’s voice was soft now. "I just don’t think that that’s going to work here, Jim."

"Come on, give me the gun." Jim held up his hand but Blair was not ready to capitulate yet.

"I just don’t think that that’s going to work here." Simon closed his eyes in dismay as he saw Blair’s fingers tighten and he heard the unmistakable sound of Jim’s gun being cocked.

"Trust me." Simon forced his eyes open to see Jim’s hand lightly brush Blair’s and then Blair was pushing the gun into the detective’s hand. "That’s right," Jim said approvingly. "You gotta clap your hands. You gotta clap your hands."

Blair complied reluctantly as Simon called for the rest of the men to stand down and rushed toward the pair. "You did it. You did it. You did it." Jim and Simon both stretched out a helping hand as Blair stepped off the car. The anthropologist turned sorrowful, barely focused eyes toward his partner.

"I’m sorry," he breathed.

"That’s okay," Jim assured him, and then he was leaning in to take Blair’s weight as the younger man’s legs buckled and he collapsed with a tiny grunt to the ground.

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

Jim cradled Blair’s lax body against his chest. He rested his chin on the sweat-damp head and whispered soft reassurances to his partner. "Hang in there. It’s all right."

A small part of his mind was vaguely aware of Simon’s panicked shouts for a medic, but Jim tuned him out as best he could, intent only on ensuring that Blair felt safe now. He focused his hearing on Blair’s slow, weak heartbeat, willing it continue each time he heard it stutter.

Suddenly, Blair’s body arched up against him and a low keening began in his throat. Looking down, Jim cursed the slow return of his eyesight as it hovered just out of reach of comprehension. He ran his hands over Blair’s body, feeling the tension of knotted muscles.

"Blair? Simon? What’s happening?"

"Oh Jesus! Lay him down flat, Jim. He’s having a seizure."

Blair’s body began to tremble, a subtle shiver at first, that became a violent shuddering, threatening to tear ligaments and snap bones. Together, Jim and Simon got the convulsing body flat on the ground and Simon tried to shield the young man from further injury with his hands.

"Where the hell is that medic?" Simon yelled over his shoulder.

"On their way. ETA, two minutes," came a disembodied voice from the depths of the garage.

Jim became aware of a rhythmic thumping sound and shifted his hands down to cup Blair’s head preventing the young man’s skull from impacting the concrete with each forceful spasm. He felt something dribble into his hands and reacted automatically.

"Simon, get him on his side. He’s vomiting."

Simon acted swiftly, turning the still convulsing body so that Blair lay facing Jim’s knees. Jim moved around to kneel at Blair’s head, gently stroking the sweaty brow and whispering soft assurances over the awful sound of Blair’s choking breaths.

"Easy, Chief. You’re okay. I’m here."

Jim heard the rushing steps of several pairs of feet and moved his hands back, allowing the paramedics full access to his guide. He managed to keep the fingers of one hand fisted gently in the matted curls, continuing to maintain contact. He was terrified that if he let go, then so would Blair. That somehow, he could keep him physically attached to life simply by the grounding of his hands.

He could feel Blair’s body still shuddering in the throes of the seizure even as his stomach contracted to expel the poison already coursing through his veins. He arched up once more in a move that Jim was sure would snap his spine, hovering there in a rictus of agony for what seemed hours but was probably only seconds. Then abruptly, terribly, everything stopped. Time seemed to stand still and then organized chaos erupted around Jim and the ailing man.

"He’s not breathing!"

"Shit! He’s aspirated. Let’s get him on his back. Get the suction going and get ready to intubate. Do you still have a pulse?"

"Just."

"Okay. Power up the paddles just in case. Sir? Sir? You’re going to have to move away now."

"No!!" Jim exploded in rage and frantically fumbled about until he found Blair’s cold, lax hand. "I can’t let him go. He’ll die."

"He’ll die if you don’t let go! We can’t help him if you’re in the way."

Several hands were on Jim’s now, uncurling the fingers from their grasp and pulling him up to his feet. "Simon?" Jim looked around, feeling lost and out of touch. A large warm hand squeezed his neck then moved around to encircle his shoulders.

"You have to let them work on him, Jim. They’re taking him to the ambulance now. We’ll meet them at the hospital."

Jim stilled for a moment, tracking the weakly beating heart, then nodded and allowed Simon to lead him to his car.

~~~~~~~~

Jim walked twelve steps and reached his hand out to brush against the wall of the ER waiting room. Then he turned and paced back twelve more, stopping to lean his hand, splayed wide against the door of the trauma room. He had been waiting now for three hours and knew that he was teetering on the edge of a zone-out as he kept his senses on constant alert. His hearing was extended into the trauma room where a group of doctors worked frantically to stabilize Blair’s condition. He continued to push his sight to its limits, attempting to remake the connection as Blair had suggested.

Jim knew that Blair had suffered two more seizures in the ambulance and another as they transferred him from the gurney to the examination table. He had stopped breathing once more after the third convulsion and was now hooked up to a ventilator as his lungs struggled to find the strength and rhythm needed to sustain life. His heart continued to beat, weakly, erratically, defiantly against the drugs that continued to be filtered through his body, throwing every system into chaos.

"Detective?" Jim started at the voice and began his measured track back toward the trauma room, squinting to see the vaguely human shape that stood just outside the door. "How is he?" he asked without preamble.

The doctor gestured toward the waiting room. "Let’s go sit down for a minute."

Jim nodded and followed the doctor, feeling vaguely embarrassed as his legs knocked against the chair directly in his path, causing him to overbalance.

"Are you all right, Detective Ellison?" the doctor asked, peering at him with concern as he pushed the chair back with his foot and slipped a supporting hand under Jim’s elbow.

"I’m fine," Jim assured him, sinking into the seat with a sigh. "How’s Blair?"

The doctor sat opposite him and leaned forward to rest his long delicate fingers on the file in his lap. "Blair is in an extremely critical condition right now, Detective. The amount of Golden that he ingested was as close to a fatal dose as I’ve seen in the past couple of months since this crap has been on the streets. As you know, he’s had several seizures which we are now controlling with IV doses of Diazepam – Valium."

Jim nodded and the doctor continued.

"He’s had two respiratory arrests and he was intubated at the scene. While his conscious state is almost nil at this time anyway, we’ve put him into a medically induced coma to allow his body to rest while the drug works its way through his system." His nose wrinkled distastefully at the words. "This way, we can give him the intensive support that he needs at this time. He runs an extremely high risk of pneumonia too, due to the aspiration of vomit. We’re treating him aggressively with mega doses of broad-spectrum antibiotics. I am hopeful that he will recover from this." He paused, giving the man in front of him a measuring look.

Jim sat forward, every nerve tingling and instantly on alert. "What? What aren’t you telling me, Doctor?"

"I have every hope that Blair will recover from this," the doctor reiterated. "You know that he aspirated during the first seizure?"

"That’s when he stopped breathing the first time."

"He inhaled vomit into his lungs because his swallowing reflex was compromised by the convulsion. I can’t give you any guarantees on how fully he’ll recover from this."

"What do you mean?" Jim began, then his mouth went suddenly dry and his voice cracked as he spoke, "Brain damage?" he whispered hoarsely.

The doctor nodded. "We can’t be sure until he begins to wake up of course, but there is a possibility that he may have been without oxygen for too long during the first arrest."

"He was intubated pretty quickly," Jim said.

"And that’s a point in his favor," the doctor assured him. "However, we have no idea if the drug itself may cause brain damage, especially in the massive dosage that your partner received." The doctor sighed and scrubbed a hand through his thinning hair. "I am extremely hopeful of a full recovery, Detective but I can give you no guarantees at this time. I’m sorry, I wish I could give you more than that. He’s a fighter though. I suspect if anyone can survive this, Blair can."

"Can I see him? Stay with him?"

The doctor stood and thought a moment, then nodded. "We’re moving him to ICU now. I am convinced that these patients remain somewhat aware. Sit with him and talk to him. It may be the connection he needs to keep fighting."

~~~~~~~~

Jim paused for a moment at the entrance to Blair’s room and took several deep breaths, then slowly pushed open the door. He walked unsteadily to his partner’s bedside and looked down at the still form in the bed. His eyesight was not fully on line, still catching him off guard with glaring flashes of golden light, but if he concentrated he was beginning to have periods of clarity. He sank down heavily into the chair provided by a sympathetic ICU nurse. The in-depth discussion he’d had with Blair’s doctor had not prepared him for the younger man’s appearance.

Blair lay flat on his back, the hard tubing of the ventilator was taped to his mouth to prevent it being pulled out and a multitude of monitors sounded a chorus of discordant noise. Jim reached a hand up to brush away the sweat beading on the young man’s brow and then allowed his hand to stray lower and rest splayed over Blair’s heart, feeling the steady rise and fall of his chest as the ventilator pushed air in and out of unresponsive lungs. He extended his hearing further, finally relaxing as his ears picked up the slow but steady beat of his partner’s heart.

"You hang in there, Chief," he whispered. "Concentrate on getting better and let me handle everything." Sighing tiredly, he relaxed back into his chair, his hands smoothing out the rolled-up magazine he’d unconsciously brought with him from the waiting room.

~~~~~~~~

Twenty four hours later:

He was so focused on Blair’s heartbeat that he didn’t hear his captain’s approach until the other man spoke.

"Jim?" Jim looked up toward Simon’s voice, tracking him as the captain walked to Blair’s bedside. "How’s he doing?"

Jim steeled his voice to stay clinical. "He’s fading in and out, sir. Doctor says it’s going to take some time for the drug to work its way through his system. They've been weaning him off the sedation for the past couple of hours."

"I got the reports back on those chemicals contained in Golden. They’re pretty rare," Simon said. "And there’s no record of any significant shipments of those chemicals to any company here in Cascade."

"What about controlled substances?" Jim asked.

"The same."

"They’re legal transactions, Simon. What about theft?"

Simon sighed, and Jim could hear the weariness in his voice. "I checked into that, too. There’s nothing." Jim felt the bed dip as Simon moved to sit down next to Blair’s unmoving form. "How about you, man?" the captain asked. "You don’t look so good."

Jim scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the scratchiness of whiskers against his palms. "Oh, I’m okay." He heard his voice tremble with a combination of fatigue and tension. "I was hoping maybe he’d come to, you know?" Jim’s hand reached out absently to brush Blair’s. "This Golden crap. This is insidious stuff. I mean, there must have been ten to twenty times the amount that would kill a person on that pizza."

"They were sending a message," Simon replied. "Don’t screw with us or we’ll hit you where it hurts."

"I’ve got a feeling these creeps haven’t left town," Jim said. "They’ve got a hundred kilos of unfinished business."

"I just want to know how they found out who you were so fast."

"Well, obviously, sir, they have some kind of access, don’t they? Now, we’re talking controlled substances here. Come on, what about…what about government contracts."

Any reply that Simon was about to make was cut off as Jim’s attention was drawn to the figure in the bed. Leaning forward, Jim clutched Blair’s weakly clenching hand. "Get the doctor, would you, sir?" Jim asked without taking his eyes from Blair’s face. "I think he’s coming around."

Jim heard Simon stand up and head quickly to the door. He squinted past the haze clouding his vision and was rewarded with a blurry half-image of Blair’s face and two drowsy, red-rimmed eyes that drifted open, then widened in fright as Blair fought against the ventilator regulating his breathing. "Shh, easy, it’s okay." Jim spoke calmly, trying to soothe the frightened young man. He turned down his hearing as alarms began to sound loudly.

The detective stood back as running feet announced the arrival of the medical team and he allowed himself to be led out to the waiting room by Simon. Back to pacing the small area, Jim extended his hearing into Blair’s room, finally relaxing as the doctor pronounced the danger past and removed the ventilator. He was back at the door to the room, slipping inside as the doctor opened it.

"How’s he doing?" Jim whispered to the doctor.

"I think he’s going to be just fine, Detective," the doctor replied, smiling. "He’ll be with us for several days yet, I’m afraid. There is still the possibility of aspiration pneumonia, though he’s breathing well now and his chest sounds clear. We’ve replaced the ventilator with an oxygen mask and we still have him hooked up to the cardiac monitor and an IV There may be flashbacks for some time, but he seems to be reasonably coherent and oriented."

At Jim’s worried frown, he squeezed the detective’s arm. "I don’t believe he’s suffered any brain damage, Detective Ellison. We’ll have to run some tests to be completely sure but I think he’ll be fine, given time. He may drift a little. The drug is not completely out of his system and he’s still recovering from the effects of the anti-seizure medication he was given. Now, if you want to check on him briefly, you may, then I’d like you to let him rest. Come back in the morning. I’m sure he’ll be vastly improved by then and very happy to see you." The doctor pushed on when he saw Jim was about to protest. "He needs his rest, Detective, and if I may be so bold, so do you. You’ll do him no good if you yourself collapse and exhausting him now with your presence will only compromise his recovery." He patted Jim’s shoulder as the detective nodded.

"I’ll just look in on him." Jim walked quickly over to Blair’s bedside and squinted through the golden haze still clouding his sight, pleased to be able to discern Blair’s eyes opening briefly. "Hey there, Chief," he said softly. "Glad to have you back with us."

Blair smiled faintly even as his eyes closed again and Jim had to turn up his hearing to hear the words that puffed from behind the oxygen mask. "Ashes, Jim. Don’t let them burn you."

Jim squeezed Blair’s cold hand before tucking it beneath the blanket. "You rest. It’s all over. They’re gone, Blair. You beat them."

Walking out of the room, he waited for the captain to join him. "Can we run by the loft, please, sir. I want to freshen up and then we’ll get to work on nailing these bastards."

~~~~~~~~

Simon guided Jim to a chair in his office, then picked up the printout from his desk. "All the companies that use these chemicals are mostly involved in biological research," the captain said.

"Those are public records, sir," Jim replied. "There’s another category – companies working under government contract. Many of them are not on public record and some of them are classified."

Simon shook his head. "How are we going to check up on them without getting caught up in all the bureaucracy?"

Jim sat forward in his seat. "Is there a company logo?"

Simon smiled. Finally they might catch a break. He picked up his phone and dialed a number. A few minutes later and he had his answer. "You’re sure that’s Bio-Helix?" he asked. "Great. Thanks." He hung up the phone and turned back to Jim. "About two years ago, Bio-Helix Incorporated was heavily involved in biological weapons research. Then they lost all their government contracts. Some kind of phony billing scandal. The company went belly-up. The two owners were Paul Jacobs and Andrew Kaminski, and they’re a match for the drawings we’ve got."

"I bet the government never got around to revoking their security clearances, which is how they got access to the police files."

Simon picked up the phone as it rang. "Banks. I want a five-mile perimeter around the structure. No-one in or out." He hung up the phone and moved to Jim’s side. "The assault team will be in position by the time we arrive. Let’s roll."

~~~~~~~~

Jacobs loaded the last of the lab equipment into the back of the van, then walked Chaz around to the driver’s side. "I’ll meet you in a half an hour at Interstate Five." Chaz nodded as he started the van, then drove out of the gates.

Jim squinted through the windshield at the action ahead of them as a van came accelerating through the double gates of the Bio-Helix laboratory and swerved to avoid the black and whites converging on it. The driver over-compensated and the van went up on two wheels, tilting, then finally, rolling as the driver lost control. Jim winced and turned down his hearing as the police bullets found their target and the van erupted into flames.

Simon pulled his car to a halt directly in front of the lab entrance, and climbed out quickly as Jacobs made it inside the building, slamming the door shut before anyone could challenge him. He relaxed a little as he saw Kaminski turn toward them, then hold his hands up in defeat. The captain stilled Jim’s movement as the detective reached for the door handle. "Look, Jim, I have an army of cops here. I need you to sit this one out, okay?"

Jim hesitated for a moment, his hand still curled around the handle, and then he sighed and nodded. "Whatever you say, sir."

Simon nodded in relief.

~~~~~~~~

Jim sat tensely in the passenger seat, urging his eyesight to clear as it maddeningly swam in and out of focus. Desperately, he tried another tack and dialed up his hearing to zoom in on the laboratory, then attempted to piggyback his sight onto his hearing.

"Come on," he urged, slamming his fist against the dashboard in frustration. He froze as his enhanced hearing picked up the sound of a revving car engine within the building. He could hear Simon issuing orders for police to rush the building and quickly shifted himself into the driver's seat of the car. He flinched as a sharp explosion signaled the entrance door to the laboratory being blown and then he heard the unmistakable sound of a car rushing toward him. There was a crash of splintering wood and screeching metal and then he saw a large, vague shape burst through the building just in front of him and speed away.

Fumbling for the key in the ignition, Jim started the car and pressed his foot to the accelerator, pursuing the escaping car. By extending his hearing, he could track the car in front of him, vaguely registering Simon’s surprised, angry shout as he took off in a shower of gravel. The detective hung onto the steering wheel, as he slammed through several obstacles in his path, pleased to see that although he was still hampered by a distinct golden tinge, his sight was clearing rapidly. He aimed the captain’s car directly into the path of that of the fleeing man’s and braced himself for the impact. He sat for a brief moment, slightly stunned, then shook his head to dispel the last of his blurred vision and clambered out of the damaged car, hurrying after Jacobs as he saw him disappear into a nearby building.

Jim made his way slowly inside, pausing as he spotted a shadow on the wall and identified it as Jacobs, now crouching to reload his weapon. Looking around quickly, Jim stepped the other way and came up behind the unsuspecting man. "You remember blind man’s bluff?" Jim asked, pressing the muzzle of his gun to Jacobs’ head. "You’re it."

~~~~~Epilogue~~~~~

Jim straightened up from where he’d been dozing off in the uncomfortable plastic chair and leaned forward as a soft sigh from the man in the bed beside him indicated Blair was waking up. He smiled as drowsy blue eyes opened and blinked slowly several times before sliding over to focus on his face. "And about time, too. I thought you were going to sleep all day."

"Sorry," Blair answered, shifting back and scooting up against the pillows. "I can’t seem to get enough sleep."

"You’re probably making up for all those nights you stay up grading and studying."

"Yeah. How are your eyes doing?"

"Almost clear," Jim answered. "Just have this, you know, residual kinda fringe…"

"Glow," both men said together.

"It’s kinda nice, actually," Jim added.

Blair nodded his agreement, then was silent for a long moment, but Jim waited, knowing by the way the anthropologist fiddled with the edge of the blanket that he had something more on his mind. "Um, Jim?"

Jim leaned back in his seat and clasped his hands behind his head. "Yeah?"

"Could you tell Simon and the others that I’m sorry? For what I did."

"It wasn’t your fault, Sandburg. Nobody blames you."

"Could you tell them anyway?"

"Sure."

"No apologies necessary, Sandburg." Jim looked up at the voice and smiled to see Simon standing in the doorway. The smile faded as the captain stepped into the room and turned to him. "That’s a whole different ball game where you’re concerned, Detective."

"Sir, I…"

"Sir, nothing. What the hell did you think you were doing taking off in my car like that?"

"I got the guy, sir."

"Who do you suppose is going to pay for the damage to my car. No, scratch that. Can you imagine the look on the brass’s face when they read that my car got totaled because a blind detective was driving it."

"Look, Simon," Blair spoke up. "We’re already keeping this sentinel thing from them. Couldn’t we just keep that little piece of information to ourselves as well."

Simon frowned, then sighed and nodded. "Next time I tell you to stay in the damn car, Detective, you follow orders." Then he turned his attention back to Blair. "There’s a young lady waiting at the front desk. I told her I’d come see if you were up to having visitors."

"Oh, that’d be Margaret, and she’s here to see Jim, not me."

Jim stood up quickly looking suddenly nervous. "What do you mean she’s here to see me?"

Blair settled himself more comfortably in the bed. "Well, you know what? I just realized it’s crazy for me to try to keep you guys apart. So, I’m going to give you both my blessing. Tell her to come on in, would you, Captain?"

"Wait. Wait. Wait."

Simon stopped at the door and eyed his panicking detective quizzically.

"What’s the matter?" Blair asked. "Are you afraid her inner beauty isn’t going to be enough for you?"

"No! Come on, man. I lied to her. I mean I deceived her." He gave Blair a pleading look.

Blair shrugged, but the corners of his mouth were beginning to twitch. "So, make it up to her."

"Well, tell me honestly. How unattractive is she? No. No. Forget it. Forget it. I don’t care. No. Should I?"

Blair shook his head at the specter of the pacing detective and motioned Simon out of the room. "No. You shouldn’t. Are you ready?"

"No, it’s…"

But Blair was already smiling over Jim’s shoulder. "Hey, Margaret."

The pretty brunette stepped into the room and walked quickly over to kiss Blair’s cheek. "Hi, Blair." She turned her large, smiling brown eyes on Jim. "Hi, Jim."

Jim seemed speechless for a moment, then a wide grin graced his features. "Hi. How are you doing?"

 

The End

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