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Light My Fire
Light My Fire
By: Lyn Townsend

Beta Read by Gemini
Written for PetFly by David Thoreau
Rated PG

~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~
Security guard Mike Collins made his way slowly through the darkened interior of Gershwin’s Furniture Warehouse. Pausing occasionally to swing his flashlight around in a wide arc as he had been taught, he tried to keep his mind on his mundane job. When he’d first taken the position, he’d been as excited as a little kid. He’d always wanted to be a cop and now he’d be doing the real thing, almost. Three months in and he was bored silly. His flashlight beam played over a child’s bed and he sighed remembering how he’d promised his son, Billy, one just like it, designed like a racing car. Just as soon as I get my business diploma from night school, he’d told him. It all cost money and to that end, the security job was a godsend.

A sound from behind caught his wandering attention and he spun on his heel, lifting his flashlight so it shone on the area he’d just walked through. The beam caught the reflection of glass and then Mike saw the red liquid within. Curious but cautious he walked toward it with slow, measured steps. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye but a blow smashed into his skull before he had time to react. His unconscious body thumped heavily to the concrete floor.

His assailant stepped over his unmoving form and made his way quickly out of the dark warehouse. Behind him, there was a muffled whump of sound, then a bright flare as the fuel in one of the several jars placed around the warehouse interior ignited. Within seconds, the warehouse was ablaze and burning furiously.

~~~~~~~~

Jim Ellison muttered a quiet curse to himself as his partner, Blair Sandburg, squinted shortsightedly out the front windshield of the truck into the gathering darkness.

"Look, Sandburg, I've been working all day and all night. I'm tired, and I'm hungry. At 3:00 a.m., I just want to stop at the first place that's open."

Blair swiveled in his seat to look at the detective. "Jim, trust me, it'll be worth it. Tony's 24-Hour Grill's got some of the best food you will ever taste."

"If we ever get there," Jim complained.

"It's right around here somewhere," Blair said, looking searchingly now through the passenger window.

Jim sighed again. "You've been saying that for 20 minutes."

Blair shrugged, not looking the least bit apologetic. Something tickled at the edge of Jim's senses, a faint odor that caused his nostrils to twitch. Quickly, he rolled down his window. "Do you smell that?"

Blair looked at him, somewhat distracted by his continuing search. "What?"

"Smoke."

Blair grinned triumphantly. "Ah, that's Tony's Grill. I told you it was on this street!"

Jim shook his head, his features creasing into a worried frown. "No, no, no. Whatever's burning, it's cooking a lot more than food."

Blair yelped in surprise and grabbed hold of the dash with an iron grip as Jim turned the steering wheel sharply, then stamped his foot onto the accelerator, sending the vehicle careening in a gyrating path in the opposite direction.

Jim pulled the truck to a halt outside a large warehouse that was already engulfed in flames. He dialed up his hearing as both men climbed from the vehicle, his eyes having already noted the security car parked at one side of the building. The unmistakable thump of a heartbeat came to him, accompanied by a low groan of pain. He thrust his cell phone into Blair's hands. "There's somebody inside that warehouse."

Standing as close as he was to his partner with his hearing still on maximum, Jim couldn't mistake the sudden increase in Blair's heart rate. The detective turned to look at him and in the orange glare of the fire, Blair looked suddenly pale.

The anthropologist licked his lips. "Shouldn't we wait for the fire department?"

Jim headed in the direction of the burning warehouse at a trot. "There's no time," he threw over his shoulder. "Call for help."

Blair seemed to hesitate a moment, then nodded. Satisfied his partner would do as he asked, Jim ran toward the warehouse entrance. He could hear Blair faintly over the roar of the flames.

"We got a fire at Gershwin's Furniture warehouse. Third and Mission. There may be somebody trapped inside."

Jim tried to open the door but after struggling for several long seconds to no avail, he moved to a side window. Covering his arm with an old cloth he found lying on the ground, he smashed the window and after clearing away as much of the shattered glass as he could, he climbed over the sill. Instantly, he dialed down his sense of smell and taste as acrid fumes found their way to his mouth and nasal passages causing them to sting and burn. His eyes were already beginning to water but he resolutely ignored it and made his way further inside the vast warehouse. He flinched automatically as his enhanced hearing picked up the rumbling of an explosion. Standing still for a moment, trying to get his bearings, he heard a low moan of pain and the sound of someone moving.

Ahead he saw the crumpled body of a man in uniform. Jim ran to the man's side and hoisted the limp form over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. There would be time for resuscitative and first aid measures outside. He could already hear the guard wheezing softly as Jim got to his feet and headed back toward the warehouse exit.

A loud explosion directly behind him startled the detective and he glanced around quickly, scrunching his eyes shut at the bright white flame that flared against his eyeballs. Staggering toward the locked door, Jim fumbled with it briefly before kicking it open and stumbling into the chill night air.

Blair was at the door, his face still pale, and his eyes wide and too bright. The grad student ran forward and helped to lower the still-groggy security guard from Jim's shoulders. Jim and Blair supported the almost unconscious man between them as they ran toward the truck.

"Run!" Jim ordered, unsure if further explosions might go off at any moment. They made it to the truck and lowered their burden down beside them as the ground shook and something inside the warehouse burst into flame.

Jim lowered his head to his shaking forearms and coughed, trying to expel the noxious fumes from his lungs and throat.

Blair looked up from where he knelt beside the guard, two fingers pressed against the man's carotid artery. "You okay?"

Jim could only nod mutely, his throat still on fire.

~~~~~~~~

In the gray dawn of a dismal day, Jim and Blair stood next to a Cascade Fire Department truck and surveyed the smoking wreckage of the furniture warehouse. The detective signed his name at the bottom of the incident report he had been handed by a young firefighter, then gave it back nodding his thanks. He looked up as a fireman with captain's stripes adorning the sleeves of his turnout coat approached them.

"Lucky thing for that guard when you came along. One of my guys tells me you're a cop."

Jim nodded his head and held out a hand. "Yeah. Jim Ellison, Major Crimes. This is Blair Sandburg."

Blair waved a greeting. "How you doing?"

"Dan Matson." The captain shook their hands, then pulled off his helmet and ruffled his sweat-damp blond hair.

Blair looked over at the smoking remains, watching the fire fighters who picked their way through the skeleton of the warehouse, searching the debris for clues. "Well, it didn't seem like your hoses did much good."

"Yeah, that was one hot fire," Matson agreed. "We could barely contain it."

"I've seen a lot of fires before, but this one was pure white," Jim put in thoughtfully.

"Did you say 'white'?"

All three men's attention was pulled away from the mopping up operations at the voice. A petite young woman with tangled dark hair cascading over her shoulders walked quickly over to them. She was dressed in the yellow pants of the fire brigade, topped with a grubby tee shirt. Her pretty, ash-smudged face looked quizzically up at Jim.

Jim nodded. "That's right."

The woman looked thoughtful. "What about the center of the fire? What color was it?"

Jim shook his head in puzzlement. "Kind of...blue."

The woman sighed and cursed softly under her breath. "Oh, I knew it. He's back."

Matson leaned into her. "Kinda jumping the gun, Deb?"

Debra fixed Matson with an impatient glare. "Oh, I already know how it'll go down," she grumbled. "No pour pattern, no trace of any common accelerant." She held up a small object. "And look at this. It's a piece of the concrete floor. That fire became so hot it melted it into glass." Her attention drifted back to Jim. "Tell me something, hero? How'd you just happen to be in the vicinity?"

Jim shrugged, not prepared to offer up too much information until he was sure what the woman was after. If there had been a crime committed, it was his investigation. "We were driving around, looking for a place to eat."

"Is that your truck over there?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. That's right."

Debra studied him carefully. "Any objection if I have a look inside?"

"He's a cop, Deb," Matson interrupted hurriedly.

Jim held up a hand. "That's all right. Knock yourself out."

Debra gave a half-smile. "Thank you." She walked off toward Jim's vehicle.

Blair looked at Matson, a puzzled frown on his face. "What was that about?"

Jim supplied the information. "Debra Reeves. She's an arson investigator."

Blair stared at Jim, looking a little surprised at his partner's words. "You know her?"

Jim nodded. "I've seen her working out at the gym a couple times. She's cute in a pit bull sort of way."

"Oh, she has the tendency to rub people the wrong way," Matson snorted. "But she's very good at her job," he added.

"What's she want with the truck?" Blair asked.

"When you're an arson investigator, everybody is a suspect," Matson replied.

Jim straightened from where he'd been leaning against the fire truck. "All right, let's go, Chief."

~~~~~~~~

Blair looked at his partner carefully as they walked into the Major Crimes bullpen the following morning. Jim was still tending to unconsciously rub his chest and Blair couldn't help but be concerned that the noxious fumes from the night before at the fire had caused some damage to the sentinel's sensitive airways. Finally he spoke up. "Your lungs still hurt from last night?"

Jim sighed and nodded and sent a hand up to rub at his eyes. "My lungs, my eyes, and nose. I had a similar experience in the military when they were testing napalm."

"You think there's chemicals in that building?" Blair asked, remembering the comments that the fire investigator had brought up regarding the lack of accelerants.

"I'm just saying the way my senses feel that it's possible," Jim answered. Both men looked toward the inner office as their captain pushed open his door and called to Jim.

"Can I see you a minute, please?"

Jim nodded and then stood back to allow Blair to lead the way, shutting the door behind them. Blair recognized Debra Reeves from the warehouse earlier that morning and watched as Jim fixed her with a steely glare as she stood and faced them.

Simon broke the uneasy silence. "I think you two know Inspector Reeves."

Jim didn't acknowledge his captain's introduction, focusing his displeasure on the fire investigator instead. "You here to arrest me, Inspector?"

Debra shook her head and smiled slightly. "Just doing my job, Detective."

Simon sat down at his desk and drew everyone's attention to him with a commanding tap on the table. "I'm putting you in charge of the criminal investigation for last night's fire, Jim. Looks like we're dealing with a serial arsonist here. If we're right, we've already had two fatalities. Plus the guard from last night is still in critical condition."

"This is the fifth super-hot fire in the northwest in the last two years," Debra added.

"What's the connection?" Jim asked.

Debra looked up from the report in her hand. "Most fires burn around 1,500 Fahrenheit. Whoever's doing these fires is using something a lot hotter -- it's reaching close to 5,000 degrees. The only explanation is an HTA."

Blair cocked his head in puzzlement. "What's an 'HTA'?"

"High temperature accelerant," Jim informed the young man.

"Inspector Reeves thinks we're dealing with a highly skilled professional with a lot of technical knowledge," Simon added.

Blair's eyes opened wide. "What, like an arsonist for hire?"

Debra nodded in agreement. "All the fires were industrial warehouses with big-time insurance payoffs, right? On the other hand, I don't think this is just about money. This guy loves to make things burn. He's getting more daring. These fires are getting closer together."

"You said each warehouse had a big payoff. How much was last night's?" Jim asked the investigator.

"Gershwin Furniture stands to make two million in insurance."

"I'd say that's a good place to start," Jim said. He stood and motioned for Blair to follow him before nodding to Simon. "Sir."

"Jim..."

Jim stopped at the captain's summons. "Captain? Is there something else?"

Simon looked a little discomfited. "You'll be working with Inspector Reeves on this case."

"Sir?"

Simon shrugged weakly. "Mayor's idea."

Jim glared at Blair as the anthropologist stifled a chuckle. His laughter quickly disappearing, Blair led the way out of the office. Debra stood and looked at Jim.
"Shall we?" she suggested.

Jim didn't smile. "Yeah," the detective agreed.

~~~~~~~~

Lou Gershwin ushered Jim, Blair and Debra Reeves through the vast and crowded interior of his furniture warehouse store. "Please, come in. I'm always happy to help out the authorities in any way I can," he said with a kindly smile.

"I feel like we're old friends, Mr. Gershwin," Blair told the old man with a somewhat awestruck expression on his face.

Gershwin's smile grew impossibly wider. "A 'Couch King Movie' fan."

"Yeah. Ever since I was able to stay up past my bedtime."

Gershwin laughed and turned his attention to Jim as he stopped them at the service counter. "And you, Detective, you look familiar to me." He thought a moment then raised a triumphant finger. "The police athletic league fund-raiser two years ago. We shared a table. You were with your wife, a very attractive brunette. A police, um...a police technician, as I recall," he finished with satisfaction.

Jim was impressed. "That's quite a memory you have."

Gershwin shrugged it off. "I have a photographic memory. How is your wife?"

Jim felt a little embarrassed and Blair's grin got bigger. "Well, now that she's divorced me and moved to San Francisco, just fine," the detective finally said.

"Oh, wow. I've been married four times. My view is, I'm going to keep doing it until I get it right," the old man laughed.

Debra took a step forward, her face stern. "Excuse me. I'd like to ask a few questions. Mr. Gershwin, is it true that your company lost over half a million dollars last quarter?"

"Well, just a temporary slump. The furniture business is cyclical. Our sales have been up significantly in the last three months," he explained.

"I see," Debra paused a moment then went on. "Is that why you increased your fire insurance twice in the last year?"

"I increased my insurance because -- as you should be aware -- we had a large fire just three blocks from here."

Debra nodded. "Right. That was eight months ago. You increased your insurance the first time ten months ago."

Gershwin was beginning to look annoyed. "So what?" he asked, raising a defiant chin.

Jim interrupted before Reeves could put the old man totally offside and ruin any chance at all of cooperation. "Debra..." he began.

Debra simply glared at him and pushed on. "Mr. Gershwin, are you aware that arson for profit is a serious offense?"

"Are you accusing me of a crime?" Gershwin blustered, his cheerful face now set into a grim mask.

"There is a security guard at County General in critical condition. If he dies, you will be involved in a murder investigation. So if I were you, I'd come clean as soon as possible while you can still cut a deal," the woman said.

Gershwin gaped at them. "This is unbelievable," he said. "You... you come into my store..."

Jim stepped forward, one hand raised to warn the investigator off. "Maybe we ought to just settle down," he said in a placating manner, giving Debra a warning look.

Gershwin pointed at the exit. "I think you ought to just get the hell out of my store."

Jim sighed. Reeves had achieved the exact opposite of what he'd been after. Gershwin was going to clam up tight and they'd be back where they started. "Mr. Gershwin..."

"Now!" Gershwin ordered imperiously.

"Very good, sir." Jim ushered Debra out in front of him.

Debra nodded at Gershwin. "Good day."

Blair smiled weakly as he trailed after Jim and Debra. "I'm still a huge fan," he whispered.

Jim caught hold of Debra once they were outside the door before she could stalk off. "Call me oversensitive, but don't you think it's bit premature to slap him with a felony accusation?" he demanded.

Debra shook off his hand. "I was trying to get information, not become his best friend," she replied frostily.

"The idea here is to get people to trust you," Blair said.

The investigator stared at him for a moment as though she'd forgotten who he was. "Well, I find it works better to keep them off-balance."

"The only thing that's off-balance here is your approach," Jim put in.

Debra nodded slowly. "I misjudged him, okay?"

Jim took the apology at face value and backed off a little. "Well, at least we agree on one thing." He looked up as an older man approached them and called to Reeves.

"Deb!"

Debra looked around and her stern expression melted immediately. "Dad! What are you doing here?"

Reeves shrugged. "I'm looking for a new sofa. It's time we got rid of that old monstrosity in the living room." He favored Jim and Blair with a smile. "Pardon my daughter's manners. Mitch Reeves," he said, holding out his hand.

Jim shook it. "Jim Ellison, Cascade P.D."

Blair smiled at the man and took his proffered hand. "How you doing? Blair Sandburg."

"You must be here about that warehouse fire. Was it arson?" he asked.

"Dad, you know we can't talk about an ongoing investigation," Debra cautioned him.

Reeves shook his head and laid a gentle hand on Debra's shoulder. "My own daughter, we were in the same department, yet she won't tell me a thing. Now how else am I supposed to get my thrills?"

"How long were you a fireman?" Blair asked.

"Twenty-one years," Mitch replied with some pride. "Then I got bit. But I could tell you some stories."

"Dad, we're a little busy right now," Debra said apologetically.

Reeves held up his hands and grinned. "Okay, okay. No stories. Well, I'm off to buy a couch." He turned to Jim and Blair. "Nice to meet you guys. See you around."

"Happy shopping," Jim answered.

Debra kissed her father's cheek. "See you later."

"Well, it seems your dad's got some manners," Jim commented dryly and grinned when Debra pulled a face.

"I'm going to check in at the office. I'll hook up with you guys later," she said.

"Sure. Okay. Let's get back to work, Chief."

Blair looked at Jim inquisitively. "Next stop?"

Jim patted his shoulder as they walked to the truck. "Next stop, Forensics."

~~~~~~~~

Jim led the way into the forensics lab and greeted the attractive dark-haired technician who stood on the opposite side of the laboratory table. "Hey, Sam."

"Jim!" Samantha looked up and returned Jim's smile with a welcoming one of her own.

Jim turned to Blair, nudging him forward when it seemed his partner wanted to stay close to his side. "This is Blair Sandburg. He's a consultant to the department."

Sam's smile faded abruptly as she stared at Blair and nodded. "Yes, we've met."

"Sam and I know each other socially," Blair explained at Jim's curious look. The anthropologist sidled around so that he stood next to Jim and waved Samantha a hello.

Sam looked down and concentrated on her work as she spoke. "Yeah, at least we did until Blair stood me up at a sushi restaurant."

"I got the dates mixed up," Blair protested.

Sam looked up quickly and squared her jaw, her dark eyes glinting. "That's what happens when you overbook," she said flatly.

"It was a mistake," Blair said. He sighed as though he realized that he was fighting a losing battle. "I told you I was sorry."

"Not sorry enough," Sam retorted.

Jim winced at the venom that oozed from the words. "Ouch." He changed the subject quickly, noticing Blair's acute unease with the situation. "Sam, any idea what this mystery accelerant is that we're looking for?"

"Well, if pumping water on the blaze made it worse, it sounds like we're looking for an oxidizer which is a chemical that creates its own oxygen," the technician explained, giving Blair another frosty look before turning her attention back to Jim. She picked up a beaker and poured a green liquid from a glass bottle into it.

"Is that possible?" Jim asked.

Sam smiled at both men and held the beaker out to Blair. "Let's do a little experiment. Blair? Would you please put that in the sink?" She smiled sweetly at him.

Blair took the jar rather gingerly then after giving Jim a minute puzzled shrug, nodded. He carried the beaker around to the far end of the counter and placed it in the sink. Jim watched curiously, wondering what Samantha had in mind. The next few seconds gave him the answer.

The technician's attention was focused firmly on Blair. "Okay. Now put some water from the tap on it."

Blair nodded and turned on the faucet. The effect was instantaneous and frightening as the liquid in the beaker appeared to ignite and a flash of flame spewed up into Blair's face. Blair reeled backward and his hands went up as though to shield himself. Jim felt his stomach lurch in shock. Samantha smirked, as Blair's complexion suddenly became ashen. The anthropologist stared at Samantha but instead of anger, Jim saw fear and hurt in his pale features.

"Are you trying to kill me? You did that on purpose." Blair leaned forward suddenly, bracing his hands on the counter, his head hanging down, as he appeared to fight to catch his breath.

Sam shrugged. "Oh, it was just a harmless chemical reaction -- kind of like your feelings for me."

Jim glared at her then moved around to his partner. "You okay, Chief?"

It took a moment but Blair finally nodded and pointed to the door. "How about you handle this on your own, Jim? I'll, uh, I'll meet you outside."

Jim nodded and patted Blair's shoulder, not surprised to feel a slight tremble still present. It had shaken him up and he hadn't even been on the receiving end. He watched Blair leave the lab without a backward glance at Samantha. Concerned by how pale Blair had looked, Jim dialed up his hearing and listened to the other man's pounding heartbeat. Samantha's little game of revenge had seriously spooked the anthropologist. He continued to monitor Blair as he listened to the grad student pace and mutter to himself in the corridor outside.

"Jim?"

The detective pulled himself back to the situation at hand with some difficulty and turned to stare at Samantha, forgetting for a moment why he was there. "Oh, right. So, what you're saying is that the more water the firemen put on the fire the hotter it got?"

Sam nodded. "Exactly. Instead of putting it out, it was feeding it. But the problem is coming up with something that burns at the temperature you're talking about. 5,000 degrees is one intense fire."

"You know, while it was burning, I smelled something that reminded me of napalm. It wasn't the same, but it was similar," Jim said thoughtfully.

"Huh. Just give me a couple days to do some research."

Jim looked at the door, anxious to check on Sandburg. "Is there anything else you got while we're at it?"

"Well, unfortunately there wasn't much left of the warehouse to examine, but we found this right outside on the pavement." Sam picked up a small evidence bag and handed it to him. "It seems to be some kind of wax material."

Jim took the small lump out of the bag and examined it curiously. He held it up to the light, then brought it to his nose and sniffed it.

"It could have been blown out by one of the explosions. We're still doing some tests to determine what it is," Sam said.

Jim smiled. "This is Mr. Zog's Sex Wax."

Samantha gaped. "Sex Wax?"

Jim colored slightly in embarrassment even as he spoke. "It's what surfers use to coat their boards for traction in the water. This is coconut-scented."

Sam grinned at him. "Thanks. You just saved me a couple days' worth of work."

Jim nodded and headed for the door. "Anything I can do to help. Call me when you've confirmed that, would you? Nice work." He pushed the door open and saw immediately that he would not need to look far for his partner. Blair stood directly opposite the lab, though he did not appear to notice Jim. His attention in fact seemed to be focused on the wall. "Let's go, Chief."

Blair didn't respond and Jim walked over and laid a hand on the other man's shoulder. He was startled when the anthropologist jumped and sucked in a gasp of air. The detective leaned forward to check out Blair's face. "Hey, you okay there, Chief? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Blair's features were still drawn and pale and sweat beaded his brow. Vacant blue eyes looked up at Jim and for a moment, the detective thought he saw a frightened, haunted expression pass over Blair's face. Then the anthropologist blinked and it was gone. He smiled slowly at Jim. "Sorry, man, just thinking."

Jim slapped him on the shoulder. "Let's get out of here, huh?"

Blair nodded and pushed himself off the wall. "Yeah, I'm coming."

"So, what's the deal with you and Samantha?" Jim asked, trying to sound casual.
Blair looked quickly at him. "I didn't stand her up, man. I swear. I just got the dates confused."

"Well, you must have pissed her off pretty badly, Sandburg. She wanted to blow your face off."

"Yeah, I know." Blair was quiet for a moment, then he shrugged philosophically. "At least she's got it out of her system. Pity the next guy who screws up a date with her."

Jim grinned. "So you're not going to ask her out again?"

Blair shuddered theatrically. "No way. Not unless I can get some life insurance first."

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

Captain Banks hung up his phone after speaking to the forensics technician and waved Jim and Blair into his office. "You were right about that wax, Jim. That was forensics. Mr. Zog's Sex Wax." Simon shook his head, amazed at what the sentinel's senses were capable of detecting.

"We've been cross-checking local surf shops, local surfers, hangers-on, wannabes with known arsonists and so far, we've come up empty-handed," Jim replied.

"I had no idea there were so many surfers in Cascade," Blair added.

Simon pushed his chair back from the desk and looked at the detective. "Have you shared this surfing angle with Reeves?"

Jim looked up at the ceiling as though for inspiration, then rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Um...well, to tell you the truth, I don't think our investigative styles are very compatible." He looked Blair who merely shrugged and grinned.

Simon frowned then picked up the folder from the desk in front of him. "Jim, I want that forensics report in her hand by the end of the day." He held it out to the detective. "Why don't you deliver it to her personally?"

~~~~~~~~

Blair had begged off accompanying Jim to see Debra Reeves, claiming he had studying to catch up on at Rainier. The anthropologist had still seemed too pale and quiet over Samantha's admittedly nasty little trick in the forensic lab but repeated interrogation from Jim had only gotten an impatient glare and Blair's assurances that he was fine. Jim didn't believe him for a minute but he dropped his partner off at the university anyway.

Jim found Debra Reeves' house easily enough and pulled up to the curb. He took the forensics report from the passenger seat of the truck and, climbing out, made his way to the front door of the neat two-story house. He thumbed the doorbell and waited as he heard footsteps from inside approach. He smiled in surprise when Mitch Reeves opened the door. "Mitch!"

"Detective Ellison, how are you?" Mitch smiled.

"Fine, thank you, sir," Jim answered. He held up the report. "I stopped by Debra's office, but she wasn't there. They gave me this address."

Reeves waved a hand toward the interior of the house. "You're at the right place. Debbie moved in to help me out after my accident. She just went to the store. Come on in," he invited.

Jim stepped inside and saw Dan Matson standing in the entryway. Quickly, he stuffed the forensics report into his back pocket, before greeting the firefighter. "How are you?"

Matson nodded back. "Not too bad."

Reeves introduced the two. "Detective Ellison. My old captain, Dan Matson." He limped past both men into the next room.

"Yeah, we met at the fire," Matson said. "Jim's the guy who pulled that security guard out."

"Nice to see you again," Jim replied.

Matson smiled. "I understand you're working with Deb on this case. You ready to kill her yet?"

Reeves' voice came from the other room. "I heard that. That's my daughter you're talking about."

Matson just shrugged. "Well, I bounced her on my knee, Mitch. I know how she is -- just like her old man. I've been wanting to kill him for years."

Reeves grinned as he walked back to join them. "Dan and I go way back," he said to Jim as he thrust a can of beer into the detective's hand. "Even before the department."

Matson nodded and slapped the older man on the back. "We're like family."

"Except Dan's a politician," Mitch added, his smile growing wider. Jim laughed along with them.

Matson looked at his watch and held up a hand in farewell. "Speaking of which, I've got to meet the Chief at the yacht club." He shrugged easily. "Some charity deal."

Mitch patted Matson's shoulder. "Better run along like a good fireman," he joked.

"Would you blow it out your ear?" Matson rolled his eyes then turned to Jim. "Good to see you, Ellison."

"Nice to see you, too."

Reeves turned his attention back to Jim as the front door closed behind Dan Matson. "So tell me about the investigation," he began.

Jim thought a moment, understanding Reeves' curiosity given the older man's previous occupation, but not wanting to give too much away. "Um, well...we're making progress. You know how investigations go. I don't need to bore you with the details. You've got better things to do. I've got to get back to the station. Take care of some business."

"Debra will be here any minute," Mitch said, holding up a hand as though to stall the detective.

"Oh, just tell her I stopped by," Jim replied. He held up the beer can, then, when Reeves made no attempt to take it from him, decided to just take it with him and pour it out in the garden. "I appreciate the beer." He looked toward the front door as he heard it open and Debra walked in, a grocery sack in each arm.

"Here she is now," Reeves said. "Hey, babe, we got company," Reeves greeted his daughter. He indicated Jim.

"Hi," Jim said.

"Hi." She didn't seem to be too unhappy to see him. "What are you doing here?" she asked, though she appeared to only be mildly curious.

"Actually, I was, uh... just leaving," Jim explained, moving closer to the door, the forensics report in his back pocket totally forgotten in his discomfort. He had an awful feeling that Reeves was trying to push him and Debra together.

"He's staying for dinner," Reeves cut in, confirming Jim's thoughts.

Debra shrugged and handed the speechless detective a bag of groceries. "Fine by me," she said. "Here you go. The kitchen's through here. How are you?" She patted her father on the back affectionately then followed the two men to the rear of the house.

~~~~~~~~

Jim smiled at Debra, then took a sip of wine as he listened with interest to Mitch Reeves' fire fighting tales. It was obvious that the old man had loved his job.

Reeves looked at the other two, ensuring he had their undivided attention, then continued, "So the whole room's full of smoke as I go in. And there's this old woman sitting in the corner all dressed up. And she says, 'Is that you, Frank?' I said, 'No, ma'am. It's the fire department. Your building's on fire.' There's this pause. Then she says 'Just my luck. First date in seven years and some jerk starts a fire.'" They all laughed then Mitch picked up his glass and examined it. He looked at Debra. "We need another bottle of wine."

Debra pushed her chair back from the table. "I think I'll make coffee, Dad."

Jim nodded his agreement, the red wine leaving him feeling pleasantly mellow and warm. "That sounds great," he told Debra. He watched her walk through to the kitchen then stood as Mitch pushed himself up out of his chair and motioned at Jim to follow him.

"I want to show you something in the backyard," the older man explained. He led Jim out through the back door and into a garage that had been set up as a workroom. A couple of workbenches sat in the center of the large space and numerous tools hung in racks on the walls. Mitch switched on a light, then limped inside. "These days, this is where I spend most of my time," he said.

"Doing what?" Jim asked.

Reeves stared into the distance for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was soft and sad. "Two years ago I was in a burning building when it collapsed. I got trapped and almost got fried. Lost most of the skin on my back." He turned and picked up a yellow fireman's jacket. "This is what I was wearing at the time. Your basic fireman's turnout coat only keeps you cool for a couple of minutes. Then it only works up to about 2,000 degrees." Putting down the jacket, he next lifted a similar looking coat from a hook and held it out to Jim. "Try it on," he said.

Jim took the coat and shrugged it on, hefting his shoulders, testing the weight. "It's pretty light," he offered.

Reeves nodded. "It's made of Kevlar with titanium stitching. I designed it and had a company in Colorado make it. Hold out your arm. It's all right," he assured Jim when the detective hesitated. "Go ahead."

Jim watched nervously as Reeves picked up a blowtorch from the workbench and lit it up, then stepped forward and began to play it over Jim's outstretched arm. The detective could only feel a minor heating of the sleeve despite his enhanced sense of touch, and the fabric of the jacket showed no scorching at all.

"It's lighter and handles higher temps than the department's standards," Mitch continued. "Trouble is it only works up to about 3,500 degrees. My goal was 5,000." He switched off the torch and looked at Jim. "I went to the department for funding, but they said no. Said I wasn't an accredited research facility. The only research I ever did was in the belly of the beast. Two years of skin grafts, but I don't know about fire." He snorted derisively.

"You don't seem like the type that would give up too easily," Jim said.

Reeves glanced quickly at him and Jim could see the appreciation in the old man's eyes. "Hell, no. I got a couple of new full-body suits coming in on Friday. They're the ones. I know it." He looked back down at the blowtorch and suddenly ignited it again. He stepped back a little but never took his gaze from the blue flame that spewed from the nozzle of the torch. "Look at it," he said, bringing it up toward his own face and then rotating it, studying it closely. "Look how it lives. How it watches you. See, most people don't understand. Fire's a living thing. I know why arsonists burn things. They want to control all that power. But you can't control fire. It controls you."

Jim's rapt attention was drawn away by a sound at the garage door. "I thought I'd find you guys in here," Debra said, smiling. "Coffee's ready."

~~~~~~~~

Jim smiled at Debra as she escorted him out of the house. She really was very pretty when she was off-duty and relaxed, he thought to himself. "Thank you for a very lovely dinner."

Debra smiled back at him as they walked down the steps toward Jim's truck. "Oh, you're welcome. I hope my dad didn't trap you into staying. He thinks I don't have a social life," she replied.

"But he means well," they both said in unison and laughed.

Jim nodded in understanding. "I have a partner who thinks he needs to organize my social calendar for me," Jim admitted. "It seems like you can take care of yourself," he added, his eyes twinkling.

Debra grinned back, catching the jibe. "I like to think so."

Fishing in his pockets for his truck keys, Jim's fingers brushed the folder in his back pocket and he stopped, remembering the reason for his visit. "The real reason I came by," he began. He looked away, feeling guilty now that they had gotten off to such a bad start and his eyes, dialed up to compensate for the darkness, and, if he was being honest, to fully capture Debra's attractive features, caught sight of a surfboard leaning up against the carport wall. "Is that an Island Rhino?"

Debra nodded, sounding surprised at the change of topic. "Yeah."

Jim walked over to the carport and ran his hand down the smooth surface of the board. "I haven't seen one of these in quite a while," he said.

"Yeah, my dad got to know the designer, Chance Taylor, back in the early '60s," Debra replied. "You know, the Beach Boys, Janis, the Doors... Of course, he can't go out much anymore," she added sadly.

Jim nodded and gave the board a closer examination. "Huh, it's not a bad stick."

Debra looked surprised. "You surf?"

"Once a surfer, always a surfer, you know," Jim answered and then shrugged. "The only board I still have left from the old quivers is a ten-foot Stepdeck Noserider that I got at Rocky's down in Surf City C-A. "

"Well, maybe we can go down to Cascade Beach sometime," Debra suggested.

Jim's attention had already wandered off the discussion as he caught sight of a jar of Mr. Zog's Sex Wax lying on a bench next to the surfboard. He dragged himself back, trying not to attract Debra's attention to his discovery. "Yeah, that'd be nice. That'd be nice," he replied. He straightened and walked out of the carport toward his truck.

"You were about to tell me why you came over," Debra reminded him as she walked alongside.

"Oh, yeah, right." Jim stopped and pulled the report from his pocket. He handed it to her and pulled out his keys. "This is the department's forensics report on that warehouse."

"Great. Thanks for bringing it over," Debra replied.

"All right. Good night."

Debra waved and turned back toward the house. Jim sat in his truck for a moment and watched as Debra climbed the steps and disappeared into the house, his thoughts focused firmly on his discovery in the carport.

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

Sam, the Cascade PD forensics technician, looked at Jim and smiled, ignoring Sandburg. "Well, I think I know what your arsonist has been using to make his fires burn so hot." She indicated the metal tray half full of liquid and topped with a wick on the table behind her. "I made the delay out of surf wax. Burns brighter than most candles and twice as fast."

Jim felt Blair flinch as the sample on the table ignited without warning and flared brightly for a few seconds. Taking a moment to quickly check the anthropologist's vitals, the sentinel was reassured when Blair nodded at him.

"You get anything, Jim?" Blair's voice shook a little but was firm and strong.

Jim took a delicate sniff of the air and nodded. "Well, that's what I smelled at the warehouse."

"It's magnesium," Sam explained. "I added it to control the burn. Napalm uses aluminum salt. But you're the first person I've ever met who can smell it in its inert state." She stared at Jim for a long moment as though waiting for an explanation.

Jim was relieved when Blair cut in for him. "Yeah, he's a real sensitive guy," he replied.

Sam's eyes narrowed as she looked at Blair. "Unlike his friends."

Blair shook his head and sighed, looking defeated and Jim tried to get the conversation back on course before an all-out war was declared. "Go on, Sam."

Sam continued to glare venomously at Blair for a moment longer, then spoke, "5,200 degrees. And that's just using a two-ounce solution."

Jim pointed to the still smoldering beaker on the laboratory counter. "So what is this stuff?"

"I synthesized it," she said, her tone proud. "But, basically, it's rocket fuel."

Jim knew his mouth was hanging open but he was surprised. "The arsonist is using rocket fuel?"

Sam nodded as she began to clean up her equipment. "Or something close to it."

"How would somebody get their hands on rocket fuel?" His gaze swung between Sam and Blair as he looked at both for ideas.

Blair opened his mouth to speak but Sam quickly cut in. "Well, you could make it, like I did, but you'd need to be a pretty accomplished chemist with a fairly sophisticated lab at your disposal," she smirked unabashedly, "or...you could buy it. But there's only one company in Cascade that manufactures it and you'd need government clearance to get it."

Jim nodded slowly. "Okay, thanks. Gives us a direction anyway." He led the way out the door, noticing that Blair didn't stop when Sam called out a goodbye. The detective spoke casually as the two men waited for the elevator to arrive. "You feeling okay, Sandburg?"

"I'm fine," Blair answered just a little too quickly.

Jim waited until they boarded the elevator and he'd punched the button for Major Crimes' floor before he spoke again, relieved that the car was otherwise vacant. "Are you sure something's not bothering you? Besides your lovers' tiff with Sam, I mean."

Blair rolled his eyes. "It's not a tiff, lovers' or otherwise, Jim. The girl is seriously unbalanced." He fell silent, studying the emergency pamphlet on the wall.

"And?" Jim prompted.

Blair sighed and looked at him. "And nothing. I'm fine. That little trick she played yesterday just brought back some bad memories of the experience with Golden, that's all."

"A flashback?"

"No, just a memory, Jim." He grinned and slapped the older man on the back as the elevator bell pinged and the doors opened. "I don't think I'll ever look at a fire in quite the same way again."

Jim reached out and grasped Blair's arm as he walked off, pulling him over toward the wall. "Are you sure you want to be working on this case with me, Chief? If it's making it tough, I can cut you some slack here. Let you ride a desk, make all the phone calls. I can handle this one without you, Blair, if it's too much."

"Jim, I'm fine."

Jim hesitated a moment, then nodded. "All right, but if it gets too much, you just say the word."

"Okay," Blair agreed. "What do we do now?"

Jim resumed the walk toward the bullpen. "I'm going to give Dan Matson a call. I want to get some background on Mitch Reeves." Blair's eyebrows went up but he merely nodded and increased his pace to keep up with Jim.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair escorted Dan Matson down the corridor toward Major Crimes. "Over the phone you said Mitch was having a beef with the department over his injury?"

Matson nodded. "Yeah, after the accident, he was really p.o.'ed they put him on the disabled list because he didn't want to take full disability. He thought he was coming back."

Jim steered Matson over to his desk and indicated a chair. "Sit down."

Matson did so. "Thanks." He paused for a moment and waited until Jim and Blair were both seated before he went on. "Physically, even today, I'd take Mitch Reeves over half the guys I have at the station."

Blair leaned forward and rested his folded arms on the table. "But the department wouldn't reinstate him?" he asked.

Matson shook his head, then explained further, "After they wouldn't fund his fire suit research, Mitch had some beers with a reporter and said some things he shouldn't have said."

"He admitted he wasn't too good of a politician," Jim added.

Matson nodded in agreement. "He was never big with authority. One time, he told off the Fire Chief at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Almost lost his job."

"Mitch was at Vandenberg?" Jim asked, the information suddenly sending up red flags.

"Mm-hmm." Matson appeared lost in thought.

Blair looked quickly at Jim, then dove in with his own question. "Did he have anything to do with the rocket launches?"

"Yeah, he was a civilian fire fighter at the launch pad," Matson answered. He looked a little puzzled by the question but didn't elaborate further. Jim nodded and stood, reaching out to shake Matson's hand. "Thanks, Mr. Matson. You've been a big help."

Matson stood slowly. "That's all?"

Jim nodded again. "For now."

~~~~~~~~

Jim walked up the steps of Mitch Reeves' house and rang the doorbell. He waited for a few minutes and when it was obvious that no one was going to open the door, he stepped to one side and peered in through the window. The house appeared to be empty, so he walked back down the steps and made his way around to the workshop out the back. "Mitch? Mitch?"

There was no reply to his call. Jim entered the workshop and began a quick search of the area. A closet door at the back of the workshop opened at his touch and Jim's brow creased in dismay as a brief read of the labels on the two canisters stored there confirmed that both tanks were filled with rocket fuel. His senses picked up the sound of someone approaching and he froze.

"Careful," Mitch Reeves said equably. "That stuff will melt the hairs in your nose."

Jim turned slowly to look at the ex-fire fighter. "Or send a man to the moon," he added.

Reeves shrugged. "I use it to test my fire suits."

"Since when can you buy rocket fuel over the counter?" Jim asked.

"I'm an ex-fireman. I've got my sources." Mitch's head came up, his features defiant and challenging. "Why? Are you going to bust me?"

Jim shook his head and walked over to face the older man. "No. Should I?"

Reeves took a step closer. "I hear you've been asking questions about me. You know people have been destroyed by suspicion without proof." His eyes looked haunted.

"Mitch, I'm not in the business of destroying innocent people's lives," Jim replied quietly.

"Then we're on the same wavelength," Reeves said, placing a hand on Jim's shoulder.

"But I have a job to do," Jim went on. "Even if it involves people I like."

Reeves dropped his hand and shook his head sadly. "You and Debra -- so sure of yourselves. I used to feel that way. Then I got older -- saw all the mistakes I'd made and saw the world wasn't really what I thought it was. But I realized it isn't about being sure. It's about doing the right thing." He stared at Jim a moment, then walked back into the house.

Jim watched him go, then turned back to look once more at the garage and Mitch Reeves' life's work. On his way back to the truck, his gaze was drawn once more to the carport that housed the surfboard and the jar of Dr. Zog's wax.

~~~~~~~~

"Jim, you've got to admit the evidence is pretty thick," Blair said as the two men made their way into Major Crimes that afternoon.

Jim could do nothing but agree. "Yeah, maybe it's thick, but we don't have enough to arrest him," he pointed out.

Simon Banks interrupted the rest of their conversation as he hurried out of his office, shrugging on his coat, a sheaf of papers in his hand. "Jim, look. I just talked to the ATF. The Feds have traced a wire transfer of 100 grand that Bert Gershwin made to an offshore bank three weeks before the warehouse fire. Got to run."

"Good, good, good, good," Jim said to his captain's disappearing back. He ushered Blair along with him. "It's time to pay another visit to Gershwin."

Jim had organized a surveillance team to watch Gershwin's furniture store. At eight o'clock that night, he and Blair drove out to take over the stakeout. Pulling into a parking space next to Henri Brown's sedan, Jim got out and made his way over to Henri. "Hey. How you guys doing?" he asked, leaning into the window of the surveillance car.

Brown cracked a wide grin. "All right, man."

Jim took a look at the store on the far side of the parking area. The building was closed up for the night, though one car still sat out front. "Gershwin still inside?" he asked.

Brown nodded as he craned his neck slightly to look out the window. "Looks like he's working late. That's his caddy parked out front."

They watched as a van drove into the car park and headed toward the front of the store. "Hey, who's this? It's kind of late for customers, isn't it?" Blair said, coming up to stand at Jim's shoulder.

Jim had already dialed up his sight as the van approached and identified the driver, his stomach sinking at the knowledge. "Looks like Mitch Reeves behind the wheel," he told the others. He squinted and turned away slightly as the van's headlights shone directly into his face as the driver pulled into a parking space directly in front of the store, facing them. The small balding man who hurried from the shop and climbed into the waiting van was unmistakable.

"And that looks like Gershwin," Blair said. Jim nodded a confirmation.

Jim turned quickly to Blair. "You stay here. I'm going to get closer," he said, knowing Blair would understand that he wanted to use his senses to monitor the conversation. Blair shook his head.

"Then you'll need me, man." The look on Blair's face told Jim the anthropologist would not be put off, so Jim nodded and motioned Blair to follow him. They were able to get within a few parking rows of the van and crouched down behind a parked car. Jim's brow creased with concentration as he tried to listen into the conversation in the van. A hand came to rest in the small of his back as he focused his hearing. He cursed softly as a semi passing by temporarily deafened him. Blair's hand pressed more firmly into his back, grounding him, his guide's calm instructions filtering through the background noise.

"Come on, Jim. You know what to do. Filter out the extraneous noises. Discard what you don't need." It was enough and Jim nodded his thanks as Mitch Reeves' voice came through clearly.

"Listen to me," Reeves was saying. "It's very simple. You're going to prison for a long time."

Gershwin's voice answered, sounding tight with strain. "You want more money?"

"It's not what I want," Reeves replied.

"What do you want from me?" Gershwin was beginning to sound panicked. Jim's hearing suddenly detected a beeping sound that was obviously audible to the men in the car as well.

"What's that sound?" Jim heard Mitch ask.

Gershwin's query was lost in the fiery explosion that suddenly spewed from beneath the van, raining debris and flames over the parking lot. Jim pushed Blair roughly to the ground, ignoring the anthropologist's surprised grunt and covered him with his own body.

An hour later, Jim signed off on his report and handed it back to the investigator at the scene. He walked back to his truck and found Blair sitting sideways in the passenger seat, still looking shaken by the violent events of the night. "You ready to go home, Chief?"

Blair nodded mutely and shifted himself sideways, tucking his legs into the cab and slamming the door shut. Both men were silent on the way home. As Jim pulled into a parking space in front of the apartment building, Blair finally spoke.

"I never want to see anything like that again," the anthropologist said softly.

Jim turned off the ignition and looked at his partner. "You sure you're okay?"

Blair nodded slowly. "I just don't know if I…"

"Do you want out of this one?"

Blair glanced up at him quickly, then stared out through the front windshield. "No. It's just…He just seemed like a nice guy, you know?"

Jim's mind flashed onto the memory of Debra Reeves as she sobbed on Dan Matson's shoulder at the crime scene. "Yeah. Yeah, he was."

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

The following morning brought forensics reports from the scene that confirmed the fires and the van explosion were linked. Simon handed the report to Jim as he and Blair followed the captain into the bullpen. "Preliminary reports point to a rocket fuel-like substance as the cause of the explosion. Some of it leaked onto the pavement when the van pulled out of the parking lot. The department is going to proceed along the lines that Mitch Reeves is our arsonist."

Jim tensed in anger. "You're closing the case?"

Simon stopped and turned to face the detective, ticking the points off on his fingers. "Jim, you're the one who found rocket fuel in his home. You heard Gershwin offering him more money."

Jim shook his head in denial. "What I heard was Gershwin offering him a bribe. Mitch wasn't going to take it."

"He knew we were onto him," Simon pressed.

Blair held up a hand to put forward his own point. "Simon, something had to ignite that fuel."

Simon stared at the anthropologist, unconvinced. "Well, according to forensics, the type of fuel found in Reeves' van is extremely unstable. The tiniest spark could have set it off."

"Or the tiniest detonator," Jim added. "Just before the explosion, I heard some beeping sound going off somewhere, sir."

"And if there was a detonator, the explosion would have destroyed it," Blair said.

Simon frowned at Jim. "Why wasn't any of this in your report?" he asked sternly. "What you're saying is that Mitch did this on purpose. What? To kill himself?"

"I'm just putting it all together now. You're right, I've should have mentioned the beeping but how does that look in my report when I was on the other side of the parking lot?"

Simon sighed and nodded, conceding the point. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose thoughtfully but his head came up sharply at Jim's next comment.

"I think he was murdered by the real arsonist," Jim answered.

"Who is...?" the captain asked.

Jim shook his head. "I-I-I don't know yet."

Simon stared at the detective a moment longer then nodded and pushed the forensics report into his hand. "All right, Jim. I'll hold off on closing the case -- for now. But you get me some evidence fast to support your theory."

"Yes, sir. Thank you." Jim slapped Blair on the back. "Come on, Chief. I want to talk to Debra Reeves again."

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair watched solemnly from the shore at Cascade Beach as a group of Mitch Reeves' surfing buddies sat astride their surfboards in the calm shallows and tossed leis into the water.

"This is a ceremony that surfers have when one of their own dies," Jim said quietly.

Blair nodded. "Right. In the Fiji Islands they have a similar ceremony when a chief dies."

Jim pushed his hands into his pockets as he watched Debra throw the final lei into the water, then turn abruptly and paddle toward the beach. "I don't think Mitch ever wanted to be a chief. I think he just wanted to fight fires."

They waited until Debra had spoken privately to those who had come to the ceremony. Jim approached her as she threw her gear into her car and climbed in. Debra saw him coming and fixed him with an icy glare before gunning the engine and driving off without a backward glance. Jim called to her as she passed him but her gaze remained firmly fixed ahead.

Dan Matson watched her leave. "Give her some time," he said to Jim. "She's still pretty angry about her father being a suspect."

"She has every right to be," Jim replied as he watched her car turn onto the highway. "Her father's dead." He turned back as Matson picked up the surfboard leaning against his car and proceeded to load it inside. "Isn't that Mitch's board?" he asked, stepping closer.

Matson finished pushing the board into the car, then turned to face Jim. "Uh, no, it's mine. We bought identical boards a couple of years ago. He didn't get to use his very much." He shook his head. "Man, he and I used to have good times together."

Jim let Matson's words wash over him. There was a familiar scent here and he dialed up his sense of smell to try to define it. Blair watched him closely, picking up on the familiar tilt of the sentinel's head and the look of fierce concentration on his face. Matson rambled on, unaware. "Trestles, Rincon... You know I have to tell you. I've known Mitch Reeves 25 years. It's hard for me to believe he set those fires." He shook his head again and walked around to climb into his car.

"Yeah," Jim said thoughtfully. "It's hard for us all." He watched Matson drive off, his expression grave.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pulled the truck up to the curb outside the Reeves' house. He could see Debra sitting on the porch steps, her head down, her features hidden by a curtain of dark hair. Getting out of the truck, he walked slowly up to her, waiting until she noticed his approach and looked up before he spoke. "Uh, excuse me. Debra, I'm sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to talk to you. It's pretty important."

Debra nodded and wiped the moisture from her cheeks with the palms of her hands. "I'm glad you came," she said. "I have something you should probably see." She held up a large folder stuffed full of loose sheets of paper. "I found those in my father's desk. You were right about him," she said, her voice sounding bitter. "There are newspaper clippings, personal ads from the classifieds. They date back two years. The first message is always the same -- 'Light my fire.' A few days later, an answer appears. 'Call Prometheus,' followed by a number. I checked the dates. All the ads appeared just before each of the HTA fires." She stared off into the distance. When she spoke again, her voice trembled. "You know, after my mom died... and then the accident... I knew he was twisted up inside. Guess I just didn't know how much."

Jim lowered himself to the step beside her. "This material does not mean that your dad was guilty. There might be another explanation here. I think Mitch was running his own investigation. I think he was on to who the real Prometheus was."

Debra stared at him, her face turning pale. "Oh, my god. Why wouldn't he tell me that?"

Jim shook his head. "Your dad is not the type of man to go around ruining somebody's life and career without the proper proof," he said. He stood up and held out his hand. "I need to take a look in the carport again."

Debra nodded and accepted his hand. They walked into the carport and Jim immediately found the surf wax where it had been left on the shelf. He picked up the jar and sniffed at it experimentally.

Debra watched him, confusion evident on her face. "What are you doing?" she asked.

Jim looked at her. "Prometheus uses a delay fuse made from surf wax. It's his signature."

Debra nodded slowly. "Okay, how does that help prove my dad's innocent?"

Jim held up the jar of wax. "Your dad used a strawberry-scented surf wax. Prometheus uses coconut. This is strawberry."

Debra stared at the detective open-mouthed. "You know who it is, don't you? Jim, come on," she begged when he refused to answer her. "You have to tell me. This guy killed my father, okay?"

Jim shook his head and pocketed the wax. "First, I want to be absolutely sure about this before I do anything. Your dad would want it the same way." He waited until Debra nodded in agreement before leaving.

~~~~~~~~

On the way back to the precinct, Jim quickly filled Simon in on his suspicions and picked Blair up from the university. Together, they ran some checks of their own before meeting with the captain. Blair and Jim followed Simon through the bullpen and into his office.

"Dan Matson is at the top of a short list for fire chief when old man Tolliver retires," Simon informed them.

Jim nodded. "I know, sir. Matson also uses Mr. Zog's coconut-scented surf wax on his board. Surfers are very particular about the kind of wax they use."

Simon wasn't ready to capitulate yet. He sat down at his desk and steepled his fingers. "You can't arrest the city's next fire chief for murder based on the type of wax he uses."

Jim held up a hand before continuing on. "Sandburg and I did some checking. It seems as though Matson had some financial problems. It stemmed from a balloon mortgage payment that he couldn't meet. It turns out a couple of days before they were going to foreclose on his house he miraculously comes up with the dough." The detective smiled grimly.

"Which was exactly two weeks after the first HTA fire," Blair added.

"Right. Matson was also a civilian fire fighter at Vandenberg," Jim continued. "So was Mitch Reeves. He knew about rocket fuel and he damn well knew about fire." He paused, waiting for Simon's judgment.

Simon nodded slowly. "All right, but what about the conversation you heard between Mitch and Gershwin? What were they doing even meeting in the first place?" He let his gaze wander to take in both men.

Jim sat down and leaned forward. "I think Mitch was pressuring Gershwin to testify against Prometheus. What I heard was Gershwin offering Mitch a bribe and Mitch didn't go for it."

Blair leaned forward, unconsciously mimicking his partner's stance. "So we figure Matson found out about the deal and decided it was a perfect opportunity to get rid of Gershwin and make Mitch the fall guy."

"So he murdered his friend of 25 years?" The captain shook his head sadly.

Jim shrugged and sat back as the final puzzle pieces fell into place. "It's either that, or go down for the crime, sir. Mitch was closing in and Matson knew it."

"Okay, look, even if I buy your theory, there is no way that we have enough evidence to go to the DA with this," Simon said.

"If you'd allow me," Jim began slowly. "I have an idea that I'd like to play out."

Simon's eyes narrowed and his brow creased in a frown. "How dangerous an idea?" he asked.

Jim smiled grimly. "Well, sir, let's just say if I'm wrong, the department won't have to worry about those retirement benefits it's going to owe me." He waited, watching Simon carefully as the captain processed the idea but it was Blair who spoke up.

"Wait a minute. Quick question, or actually, two." The anthropologist drew in a deep breath. "One, what's this idea, and two, how involved in it am I?"

Jim smiled as he stood up and motioned for Blair to follow him. "Well, you're my partner, right?"

Blair grinned. "Yeah."

Jim patted his shoulder. "Say no more." He nodded at Simon before ushering his speechless partner out the door. "Thank you, sir."

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

Blair walked into Simon's office as Jim laid the newspaper down on the desk. "We got our response. It's in this morning's paper." The detective tapped the circled ad with one finger. "I already checked out the phone number. It's a cell phone registered to a phony address. So there's no way they can trace it."

Blair sat down and shook his head in puzzlement. "I can't believe he answered the ad. Why take the chance? I mean, everybody thinks he's dead. Why not just lay low?"

"Arrogance?" Simon suggested. "He figures no one can catch him."

Jim lowered himself into the chair next to Blair. "Or maybe he's hooked on what he's doing and he can't stop."

Simon nodded to Blair. "Okay. Let's do this."

Blair took a deep breath, blew it out then wiped his suddenly sweaty hands on the legs of his pants. Reaching out, he dialed in the cell phone number from that day's classified ad. The voice that answered the phone was obviously altered by a voice changer.

"This is Prometheus."

Jim nodded at Blair when the young man paused for a moment. "Hi," the anthropologist finally got out. "I'm the one who placed the ad. I have a job for you."

"What's the address?" the voice asked.

"387 Ninth Street," Blair replied, giving the pre-arranged address.

"Deposit $50,000 in Grand Cayman bank account number 557-3309 by 5:00. After the deposit is confirmed, the job will be done. When the job is finished, deposit another $50,000 within 24 hours."

Blair nodded. "All right."

"And remember," the voice finished ominously. "If you don't make the payment, like the building, you burn."

Blair swallowed convulsively and hung up the phone. He lowered his head onto his folded forearms and blew out a slow breath. He felt a large warm hand come to rest on his back.

"You okay, Sandburg?"

He straightened in his seat, surprised to see Simon's dark face hovering above him, creased with concern. He smiled weakly and nodded. "I'm fine, just fine."

~~~~~~~~

"The ATF will have the money credited to the Prometheus account by 5:00," Simon said as they left his office. "How are we doing on that Ninth Street warehouse?"

"Well, when Prometheus checks it out, he'll find that the owners filed for bankruptcy last month, sir," Jim replied as they hurried along the corridor. "We've got our surveillance team already set up. Everything else is in place there just like we talked about. Sandburg and I are taking the night shift."

"Where's Matson now?" Blair asked.

"At home. We've got a team there as well."

"What about Debra?" Blair asked as he trailed the other two to the elevator. "Are we going to bring her in on this?"

Jim shook his head, then reached out and pressed the elevator button. "No. If she thinks Matson killed her father, who knows what she'll do."

"I agree," Simon said as the elevator doors opened and they stepped inside. "Let's keep her out of it for her own protection."

~~~~~~~~

Jim cut the engine and reached for the radio hand-piece after he pulled into the curb just up from the Ninth Street warehouse they'd set up for the operation to lure Prometheus in. "Okay, thrill seekers," he said, grinning at Blair's delighted smile. "It's time for you to call it a night. We'll see you in the morning." He raised a hand in farewell as the other car left.

An hour later, Blair was getting restless. "Man, it's been three days," the anthropologist said, tossing down his notebook in disgust. "He's just playing with us."

Jim was more confident, having seen this kind of action more often than his impetuous partner. "He'll make his move," he assured Blair. Picking up the radio handset once more, he keyed into Brown and Rafe who were doing their shift watching Matson's house. "Hey, Brown, how are you and Rafe doing over there? Any action?"

Brown's voice came back, sounding bored. "It's Matson's day off. He just got back from the golf course about 3:00. The TV's on in the front room and it looks like he's watching the game. Which is something we should be doing."

Jim grinned at Blair and raised his eyebrows. "Copy that." He racked the handset and watched curiously as Blair twisted around and pulled his backpack from the backseat, then undid the buckles and lifted the flap before rummaging around inside. "Got some snacks?" Jim asked hopefully.

"No, no, not quite," Blair replied. Finally his hand emerged with a pair of gloves and a scarf.

Jim tried to school his features into seriousness. "I thought you were Mr. Outdoors," he said, watching Blair theatrically wind the scarf around his throat and then blow on his hands for good measure. "All that time spent out in the wilderness."

"Yeah." Blair flashed him an impatient look. "Most of it was in the jungle. The jungle's hot, remember?" He shook his head. "The thing I don't understand - you're Mr. Heightened Senses; how come the cold isn't bothering you?"

Jim snorted. "It's not that cold."

Blair's eyes bulged. "Are you kidding me? If Matson doesn't get here pretty soon, I'm going to start a fire myself." He reached once more into his backpack then pulled a misshapen furry hat from within and jammed it onto his head, securing the dangling straps under his chin. Jim gaped, snorted and laughed out loud.

Blair glared at him, obviously affronted. "What? You've never seen one of these before?"

Jim shook his head and wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes. It was a vintage Sandburg moment, he decided.

Blair sobered suddenly and tucked his hands beneath his thighs, rocking slightly in his seat. His eyes stared out of the front window of the truck. "You know, a lot of primitive tribes, they believe that fire is a living spirit. The Indians consider it a sacred provider of warmth and protection. And to the Polynesians, it's a god. I remember once I was in the Fijian islands. I saw this fire dance." He looked at Jim and smiled blissfully. "Jim, there was this dancer there. Oh, she had the best body."
Jim studied his partner for a moment. "You know, it's becoming crystal clear to me why you were drawn to anthropology in the first place. One-track mind."

Blair shook his head sadly, but was unable to keep the smile from curling his mouth. "Don't cheapen it, man."

Jim's attention strayed from his partner's conversation as his enhanced hearing picked up the sound of movement from within the warehouse. Reaching out, he rolled down the side window.

Blair shivered instantly and protested, "Hey, Jim, come on, it's freezing."

"Whoa, whoa, just be quiet," Jim said. He held a restraining finger to his lips. "There's somebody inside that warehouse." Picking up the radio, he summoned Henri Brown. "Brown, is your boy still at home plate?"

Brown's voice came back. "His car's in the driveway. And the TV's still on in the living room."

Jim looked at Blair as he hung up the radio. "I want you to stay here. I'm going to go in and check things out, all right?" Jim could hear Blair's heart rate pick up.

"Mm-hmm."

The detective pulled a radio earpiece out and put it in his ear, then opened his door. He stopped and turned back when Blair called his name.

Blair rested his gloved hand on Jim's arm. "Just be careful, okay?"

Jim nodded an assurance and walked slowly toward the warehouse. The door was unlocked and Jim crept inside, keeping to the side as much as possible. He dialed up his sight in order to see his way through the vast interior, his ears already focused on picking up any sound.

"Somebody's here, all right," Jim whispered to Blair through the radio. "Call Brown and Rafe. Have them call Matson's home number."

~~~~~~~~

Outside Dan Matson's home, Rafe cursed as the answering machine picked up. "I don't think he's there," he told his partner.

Brown nodded curtly. "Let's move." Rafe put the car into gear and floored the accelerator.

~~~~~~~~

Jim made his way slowly around the corner of the warehouse, his weapon cocked and aimed. Seeing the shadowy figure ahead of him, his finger tightened on the trigger as he took aim, then he stopped in shock as he recognized Debra Reeves. "What the hell are you doing here?" he whispered angrily.

Debra stepped closer, unmindful of Jim's sidearm. "I know you're after Dan Matson, okay?" she hissed. "I followed him. I saw your men out front, so I waited around the corner. He hopped over the back fence and left in a van. I lost him, but I'm pretty sure he's in here."

Jim started as his ear-piece emitted a crackle of static, then Blair's voice came forth. "Jim, you there?"

Jim turned his head slightly so that his mouth was positioned near the radio mike clipped to his shirt. "Yeah. Go."

"Looks like Matson slipped the surveillance team somehow," Blair informed him.

Jim nodded tiredly. "How fitting." A scent wafted past him and he sniffed the air. "Surf wax."

He motioned for Debra to keep behind him, then made his way further into the darkened recesses of the warehouse. In the distance, his heightened eyesight picked out a bottle of red liquid sitting on the floor at the far end of the corridor topped by a long white wick. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Jim detected movement -- too late. Debra's frightened scream coincided with a blinding, crushing pain that impacted his temple and almost immediately paralyzed his entire body. Jim went down like a ton of bricks, his weapon dropping from his numbed fingers. From his position on the floor, he could see a skewed view of Debra as she fired randomly into the darkness ahead before moving closer to him. His head pounded and he raised a leaden hand to wipe away the blood that trickled into his eyes.

Debra screamed again as Matson emerged from the shadows, the piece of wood in his hand descending brutally onto her hand and sending her gun skittering into a darkened corner of the warehouse. As Matson ran past him, Jim's own weapon in one hand, the detective managed to sweep one leg under the arsonist and trip him up. In the time it took Matson to regain his balance, Jim was able to stagger to his feet and close in on the other man.

The fight was evenly matched for some time with Jim's superior strength compromised somewhat by the blow to his head. The detective finally managed to land a stunning blow to Matson's chin. The fire fighter hit the concrete floor hard but rolled away, crawling back toward one of the firebombs. Jim saw the wax wick drop from the mouth of the jar and fall to the ground. Jim turned, searching out Debra in the darkness, the blow to his head taking away much of his control over his senses. "Debra, Debra, come on!" he called to the still-stunned woman. "We've got to get out of here!"

Jim gathered the woman to his side and ran as the wick rolled along the floor and the bottle exploded with a fiery belch. Behind them, Jim could hear Matson's screams as the flames overtook him and enveloped him in a burning hell.

~~~~~~~~

Blair looked up in fright as several warehouse windows exploded outward in a blaze of flame and black smoke. His heart pounding in his chest, Blair thumbed the radio button, trying desperately to raise his partner. "Jim, can you hear me?" After several seconds of no response, Blair keyed the mike again and called into Henri. "Hey, Brown, you there? I think we got some trouble here." When there was no answer, Blair clambered out of the truck and tried again. "Brown, call the fire department! We need trucks here now!"

Blair looked up as an unearthly scream echoed above the sound of the flames and falling timber. He watched in mute horror as yellow flames spewed from the shattered windows. Unbidden, a haunted voice welled up from his throat. "You think they're ashes but they alive."

~~~~~~~~

Once Jim began to recover from the blow to his head, he dialed up his sight once more and got his bearings. Jim hurried Debra toward the warehouse exit, both choking now on the noxious fumes emitted by the accelerant-fed fire. He recognized the stairwell that lay at the center of the building and steered Debra beneath it. Reaching down, he pulled two fire suits from behind the stairs. "Here," he said, pushing one into Debra's hands.

"Those are my dad's," Debra shouted over the roar of the fire.

"I thought they might come in handy," Jim told her. He turned his attention to helping her climb into the awkward, bulky suit, then hurriedly dressed himself in the other. Grasping her arm tightly, he led the way toward the warehouse entrance.

Blair backed up toward the truck door as two figures emerged from the flames and lumbered toward him. His eyes flickered from the figures to the golden flames that still leapt from the ruined building, the inhuman scream still replaying itself over and over in his head. As the back of his legs hit the edge of the cab, he fell back slightly and his flailing hand hit the glove compartment latch. The lid fell open and Blair scrabbled frantically for what he knew was hidden within.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Debra staggered forward toward the truck and Jim knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. Even through the slightly misted visor of the fire suit helmet, the detective could see that Blair's face was white and dripping with perspiration, his eyes wide, the pupils unfocused. As he stepped closer to the truck and reached out a steadying hand to his partner, Blair lurched backward out of reach of his seeking hand. Then he straightened and Jim pulled up abruptly, dragging Debra back with him as Blair regained his balance and aimed Jim's backup weapon directly at them.

"Oh, God!" Jim heard Debra's frightened voice and gently pushed her to one side out of range of the gun. "Blair? What's going on?" He struggled to keep his voice calm despite the terrifying sight of an incoherent Sandburg once more brandishing his loaded weapon. A memory touched him and he dialed up his hearing to listen to the distracted mumbling that fell from Blair's lips.

"Ashes. They're alive. They're going to burn me. Don't want to burn."

"Blair?" Jim tried to keep his voice quiet and calm as he stepped toward his frightened partner. Blair gave out a frightened sob and tried to back away, a soft keening beginning in his throat as he was brought up short by the cab of the truck. "Easy, buddy. It's me. It's Jim."

"What's wrong with him?"

Jim answered Debra's question without taking his attention from Blair. "Flashback. He was overdosed on a drug a few weeks back. The doctor said this might happen."

"What the hell is he doing investigating a fire?"

"Not now!" Jim hissed.

Debra fell silent for a second, then spoke up again. "What can I do?" she asked, taking a step forward. She stopped in her tracks as Blair gasped and turned the gun toward her.

"Just stay back," Jim ordered. "I talked him down the last time. He just needs to feel safe first." Slowly, aware of Blair's finger tightening convulsively on the trigger, Jim reached up and pulled the helmet from his head. Then he reached out a hand and stepped slowly toward the other man. "See?" he said. "Just me, Chief. No fire people."

"They're gone?" The gun began to droop in Blair's grasp.

Jim took the weapon from Blair's lax hand and wrapped the shivering young man in a comforting hug. "All gone, buddy. All gone."

~~~~~~~~

After grudgingly allowing a paramedic to check the still oozing gash on his head and promising to go to the hospital if there were any complications, Jim sat stoically while his head was cleaned and bandaged. Then he escorted Debra to a police cruiser and spoke to her briefly before saying goodbye and walking back to his truck.

Blair sat in the passenger seat, huddled into a blanket, his features still deathly pale, his eyes downcast. Jim opened the driver's side door and climbed in. When there was no reaction from his partner, he laid a hand on the young man's still trembling arm. Blair jumped at the touch, then slumped back down and gave him a weak smile.

"Sorry, man," he whispered. "I guess I'm still a little shaky."

Jim nodded in understanding and started the truck. "You hungry?" he asked. "We could stop at a drive through. Get a burger."

Blair shook his head, then looked up. "I'm not hungry but if you want something, that's okay."

Jim shrugged. "I can wait until we get home." It was Blair's turn to nod mutely. Jim started the truck and drove onto the street. "It's not your fault, Blair," he finally said.

"What?" Blair stared at him, then snorted derisively. "Are you kidding? While you guys are maybe burning alive in there, I'm going nuts outside. I pulled a gun on you -- again."

"If those assholes hadn't poisoned you with that crap in the first place, you wouldn't have been having a flashback. And that shit Samantha pulled on you brought it all back, didn't it?" Jim said.

Blair nodded miserably. "I kept pushing it away. I thought I was beating it. Until tonight, when you walked out of there in those suits and the flames were behind you." He shivered violently and Jim reached out and tucked the blanket more securely about his shoulders.

The anthropologist was silent for a long time. As Jim pulled the truck into a parking space in front of the apartment building, he finally looked at Jim, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. "What if it happens again?" he whispered.

"Then we fight it again, just like we did tonight," Jim replied. "Though I think we could use some back up here."

"Back up?" Blair sounded confused.

"Debra mentioned a trauma counselor who works with the fire department. Helps fire fighters out after they've been in bad situations."

"Jim, I don't know…"

Jim shrugged as he pulled the keys from the ignition. "Debra says she's good…and pretty." He grinned at his partner who finally smiled back.

"She?" Sandburg appeared to think it over, for at least a split second. "I've been in therapy half my life," he quipped, climbing from the truck. "I guess a couple of sessions wouldn't hurt."

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Debra walked along the shores of Cascade Beach. "How's your partner doing?" Debra asked finally.

Jim smiled at her. "Better. The counselor you mentioned thinks he can handle it on his own now. She says the danger period has passed but she's taught him to use some kind of hypnotic suggestion if it ever becomes a problem again." He rolled his eyes. "They have a date on Saturday, now they're no longer counselor and patient. Blair wants to know if we want to double with them."

Debra smiled and Jim realized again how pretty she was. "I'm game if you are," she said.

Jim bowed and took her hand. "It's a date then."

They walked for sometime in amicable silence before Debra spoke again. "There's this place in New Zealand," she said. "McCaffrey's Beach. It's supposed to have great waves."

Jim looked at her and nodded. "I've heard of it."

"Dad always talked about going there," Debra said wistfully. "Even after his accident he said he didn't care if he couldn't surf it, he just wanted to see it."

Jim steered her toward a log placed in front of a small campfire. "I doubt he would have wanted to have seen this today. It's like a lake out there."

"No kidding," Debra laughed. "Sure picked a lousy day to go out, didn't we?"

Jim smiled at her and took her hand again. "You always got to call for the surf report," he said, holding up a finger. "Rule number one."

Debra looked up at the gray cloudy sky and shook the drizzle from her curls. "Somewhere he is definitely looking down on us and laughing big time right now."

Jim laughed back and handed her a stick topped with a fat marshmallow.

The End

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