Redhawke.org
Smart Alec
Smart Alec
by CougarPryde


Beta Read by Mary Shukes Browne and Carla
Written for PetFly by: John Vorhaus
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

~~~~~ ACT I ~~~~~
"Almost done here. Just have to fix the pipes and then it's home, James! If only I could find the damn things," Fred Turlock, maintenance workman for Rainier University, muttered to himself as he climbed down a ladder to a room below ground. It was supposed to house the pipes he’d been called to fix. Fred scanned the room he was currently in with his flashlight, using long, slow sweeps. He directed the bright beam over a counter, then at a glass case sitting on it. He almost passed right over it before its contents registered on Fred’s brain.

"What the hell," he exclaimed, taking a step closer to the case full of spiders. "What is this? No one said anything about spi --" Turlock was cut short suddenly when someone grabbed him from behind and slammed him against the counter.

"Hey," Fred cried. "What are you doing? I'm just fixing the pipes!" He struggled to get free, but his attacker had a rather strong grip. "Look, man... I didn't see nothing, okay? I didn't see nothing! Let me go, I won’t say a word!"

His attacker had other ideas, though. With a vicious jerk, Fred was pulled away from the counter and forcibly marched over to the glass case. Though the terrified Turlock did his best to prevent it, his captor flipped open the lid of the case, and with a great effort forced Fred’s head over the yawning opening.

~~~~~~~~

As he exited the elevator, Jim shook his head. Blair had been talking, non stop of course, the entire way up to the seventh floor. At first Jim thought the kid had been talking about a women, some co-ed at the university. That was, until the anthropologist whipped out a photo and Jim realized his friend was waxing poetic about an inanimate object.

"Chief, I appreciate your enthusiasm for her shapes and curves, but I have to honestly say that I'd reserve those words for something slightly more..." He handed the photograph back to Sandburg. "...human. I mean it looks like something my Aunt Jean had on her counter for Pete's sake." Jim made his way towards the bullpen, but Blair wasn't about to give up so easily on his passion.

"Jim, man, we're talking about a 12th century Mayan urn from the city of Chichen Itza. This is a very significant piece."

Rolling his eyes, Ellison stalked towards his desk. "Uh huh, Chief, whatever you say."

"Jiiiiim," Blair moaned in frustration. "The Mayan people were the first people of the New World to keep written historical records. The member of the royal retinue it was made for, was otherwise known as 'the king's watcher.'"

"The king's bodyguard?" Jim asked, a hint of genuine interest lacing his voice.

Blair shrugged. "Maybe...Or it could be an ancient Mayan sentinel. I'm gonna try pulling clues off the urn itself. The Yucatan Institute has been nice enough to lend it to me for six weeks. It's supposed to arrive today sometime," Blair said as he headed for their shared desk.

Jim smiled at his friend. "Well, I’m sure the two of you will be very happy together."

"Yeah," Blair sighed, once again paying more attention to the picture of the urn than to his partner. He was about to start in again about the incredible properties of the ancient piece when Simon Banks exited his office and made his way over to the partners.

"Ellison!" he commanded. "There’s been an accident over at the university. I want you to handle it."

Blair, who had only been listening with half an ear, managed to snap out of his haze just then. "Hey," he said with a self-promoting smile, "I’ll bet you figure that since I work on the campus, I'll be able to give Jim the inside track, right?"

Simon smirked at Sandburg’s audacity. "No. Jim’s name was next on the roster. Now, the head of campus security will be waiting there for you at the scene. And I’m sure, with his inside track and all, that Sandburg’ll be able to point him out to you."

Blair pretended insult when Jim laughed at the captain’s remark, and even made a motion to return the affectionate smack on the arm the other man gave. However, at Banks’ scowl, Blair decided on the side of self-preservation, following Jim out of the bullpen to the elevators.

~~~~~~~~

Jim ushered Blair past the yellow police tape, thanking the uniformed officer who held it up for them. Blair rolled his eyes when Jim reminded him that he didn’t have to look at body they’d been informed was found.

"Jim," Blair said, "I’m a grown man. I think I can handle a body... at least occasionally."

Jim shook his head. "All right then, Sandburg, let’s go find Serena."

They found her moments later, crouching in the grass beside the body of what appeared to be a workman. She had on latex gloves, a lab coat, and a very serious expression. She looked up when Jim and Blair approached, offering them a brief smile.

Jim knelt down beside the forensics chief. Blair was a bit leery of getting that close to the body, so instead stood behind Jim and looked over his shoulder.

"Hey, Serena, how are you doing?" Jim asked, sweeping his eyes over the body.

"Better than this guy," the medical examiner replied. "But honestly, Jim, I’ve never seen anything like this before. It looks like spider bites. The welts have puncture wounds in the middle of them, and the DB’s lymph nodes are swollen."

"So what did he do?" Blair asked as he watched Jim nod. "Stick his head into a nest or something?"

"Mind keeping your voices down please? Nothing travels faster than rumours on a college campus." The voice belonged to an attractive Asian-featured woman wearing a dark blue jacket and uniform bearing the insignia of campus security.

Blair and Serena both looked over with interest, but it was Jim’s eyes that held a look of recognition.

"Suzanne Tamaki," Jim supplied, standing and stepping away from the body to offer the woman his hand.

"Jim Ellison," she responded, shaking the proffered hand. "How have you been?"

Jim smiled briefly. "Fine, thanks. It’s nice to see you, and congratulations on the chief of security spot. This is Serena Baxter, with the medical examiner's office, and Blair Sandburg, my colleague."

"Hargrove Hall, room 221," she said, nodding at him.

"Yeah," Blair said with a smile. "How’d you know where my office was?"

"I make it a point to know where everyone’s office is."

"Must be a holdover from the old days," Jim supplied. "Suzanne and I met on a counterfeiting case three years ago. She was a detective with the Tacoma PD at the time," he added, seeing the confusion on Blair and Serena’s faces.

"Another life, another time," Suzanne said, shifting to get a closer look at the body. "That is... was Fred Turlock. He worked maintenance for buildings and grounds. By the looks of it, he may have been drinking." The campus officer motioned to the flask that Serena held.

"So, what, you think he passed out and fell into a spider’s nest?" Blair asked.

"Could be," Serena said in agreement, "but I haven’t found any sign of a nest anywhere in the immediate area."

Jim frowned as something teased at the edge of his mind. He dialed up his sense of sight and swept his eyes over Turlock’s body again. Finally, he found what was bugging him; small clumps of torn-up grass were stuck in the treads of Turlock’s boots. It took a few more seconds for the implications to dawn on him.

"Hey, guys, what if he wasn’t killed here?" he asked them. "Serena, can you hand me your tweezers please?"

"You find something?" she asked eagerly, handing them over to Jim.

Jim reached down and pulled out a clump of crushed grass from a boot, holding it up for all to see. "This grass that’s lodged in his boot might indicate he was dragged here after he died. Would you check his wrists for me, Serena?"

"Already did," she replied. "He’s got abrasions on both of them."

"Then that’s how the body got here," Jim stated with surety.

Suzanne shook her head skeptically. "Let’s not jump to conclusions here, guys. This is one of the safest campuses in the Northwest. Besides, a maintenance man running into a spider's nest is a far cry from murder."

"No doubt, Suzanne, but even if there isn’t foul play here, it's likely that something dangerous is still running around the campus," Jim said, convinced that something was wrong.

"Then it looks to me like nothing a good exterminator couldn’t take care of," Suzanne replied.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, let's hope so. Why don’t you go ahead and call pest control then, and we’ll continue with the investigation here." Jim held up a hand when he saw that Tamaki was going to protest. "I’ll keep you informed, Suzanne, I promise."

She smiled gratefully. "I’ll check in later then, Jim. It’s good to see you again."

Jim stood and shook her hand again before she left. "Good to see you, too. Take care." Suzanne inclined her head in respect to the others before walking off to take care of her end of the investigation.

Blair waited until she was out of ear shot before turning to Jim. "Tacoma PD detective, to campus security. What’s the story there, man?"

"I dunno, Chief," Jim said with a shrug. "Some cops just can’t take the stress."

~~~~~~~~

Blair walked purposely through the front doors of the Museum of Anthropology, scanning the decorated lobby for the man he was seeking. As his eyes fell upon what looked to be a publicity photo shoot of some sort off to one corner of the large room, Hal Buckner came around a corner and into view. Blair smiled widely; Buckner was exactly the man he was looking for.

"Professor Buckner," Blair called, making his way over to the man. "Can I talk to you for a moment, please?"

Buckner smiled in greeting and sketched a small wave. "Blair, hello. Give me a moment." He turned away and spoke for a moment with a man setting up a photographer’s umbrella, then turned back to Blair. "What can I do for you, young man?"

"I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re really busy with this shoot and all. It’s just that central shipping told me they sent you my crate from the Yucatan by mistake."

Buckner’s face formed into a mask of confusion. "Umm," he murmured, trying to remember if he had indeed gotten said crate by mistake.

"It contained a Mayan urn," Blair supplied helpfully, "12th century from Chichen Itza."

Hal frowned in concentration, then shook his bushy head. "No, I’m sorry. I haven’t seen it, Blair."

The TA tossed up his hands in frustration. "This is crazy! They were so sure!"

The professor gave the younger man a pat on the back. "I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but I’ll keep an eye out for it, Blair, and let you know as soon as I see it."

Blair sighed. "Okay then, thanks anyway." He turned to walk away but stopped when Buckner spoke his name.

"Blair?"

"Yeah, Professor. What is it?"

"While you’re here... Have you ever heard of... well, do you know who Alec Summers is?"

Blair nodded. "Uh yeah, he’s that kid genius from Canada. Came here on a big scholarship. He’s a physics major, right?"

"Yeah. And architecture and neuro-linguistics and... anthropology."

"Kid must love to study," Blair said, rolling his eyes in disbelief.

Buckner shook his head. "Think again. He hates to study. Nothing holds his interest. He misses classes. He doesn’t turn in assignments. He’s very much in danger of flunking out right now."

Blair snorted. "You have got to be kidding me! With his IQ?"

"Well, he is in desperate need of a faculty advisor," Hal said, looking at Blair.

The younger man nodded in obvious agreement. "I’ll say." He was about to say something when a thought occurred to him.

"Oh no, no, not me, Hal. Come on, man. No, don’t do this to me," Blair pleaded, his eyes wide and desperate. "I cannot take this kid on."

Hal laughed. "Blair, relax. I just want you to have a meeting with him."

"Listen, Hal, I’m sure he’s a nice kid, but I don’t think it would be a good idea."

"I think it would be exactly the opposite," Buckner said. "You’d be the perfect advisor. You see, this kid is a brat. He’s headstrong and stubborn, utterly convinced he is the only soul on earth who has a clue. In short, exactly like, uh..."

Blair smirked. "Like me, you mean? When I first got here and you were my faculty advisor?"

"Exactly."

Blair couldn’t help but smile, thinking of that first day when he met Professor Buckner. Blair had been late, nearly an hour, but happily gave a glib excuse to appease the irritated professor.

~*~*~*~*

A young Blair Sandburg, sixteen and pretty heavy on himself, strolled into Hal Buckner's office. His long, curly hair was in a ponytail at the back of his neck, although several unruly strands framed his face. Washed out and worn jeans were topped by a red, long sleeved shirt and an open black zipper sweater. A patched corduroy jacket topped off the youngster's ensemble.

"You’re late," Buckner said simply.

Blair was quick to smile. "Sorry, man, you know how traffic can be. I got here as soon as I could. Hope I didn’t wreck your lunch plans." Blair glanced around, found an appealing chair, and flopped down into it.

"It's 1pm, Mister Sandburg, lunch is long over. This meeting is going to be over soon too if you can’t show me that you are going to be serious about your college career, and this meeting," Hal said. He eyed the slouched posture and crass expression of the youngster before him with some distaste.

"Man, you have got to let it go," Blair said, unbowed by Buckner’s irritation. "Hold all that anger in and it’ll fry you. Learn to relax, Professor."

It was all the older man could do not to throw the young upstart out right then and there. "All I am holding back from, at the present time, is telling you to get lost. Now, if you can manage an adult conversation, why don’t you tell me why you’re interested in Anthropology?"

"The study of people, man. I wanna study my fellow human beings in all their glory, especially from different points of view. Nothing seems more natural, right, Professor?" Blair asked, tucking his left foot underneath him before sliding down farther in the big chair.

Buckner couldn’t help but smile. "I think that may just be the first mature, intelligent thing you’ve said yet." He extended his hand to the other man. "Welcome to the Anthropology department, Blair."

~*~*~*~*

"So I guess what goes around, comes around?" Blair asked sheepishly.

"Nah. I’d prefer to think of it as repaying a debt," Buckner replied, a gleam in his eye.

Blair was going to refuse, but the fact was he really did owe his former advisor. "All right. I’ll talk to him, Hal, I’ll talk to him." Blair felt right about the decision for only a moment before he shuddered theatrically and said, "Can’t I just default on a loan or something?"

~~~~~~~~

Jim held open the door for Suzanne as they exited the building where her office was housed. Jim was secretly pleased that he was right about Turlock having been murdered, but was at the same time troubled by it. This would mean rough times for Suzanne Tamaki. The end, at least for the time being, of her pristinely peaceful campus. It would mean, too, that she had to deal with things as a campus security officer that she’d been hoping to leave behind when she left the Tacoma PD.

"Well," Jim started. "The toxicology tests were positive for Atraxotoxin, which is a spider venom specifically from a species called the Funnel Web spider. A single bite could kill a man, and Turlock had 30 on him."

Suzanne frowned sadly, her shoulders sagging. "Much as I hate to face it, Jim, it sounds like you were right. We’re more than likely looking at foul play here."

Jim gave her a reassuring pat on the back. "Don’t worry too much, Tamaki, we’re gonna find whoever did this." He gave the distressed younger woman his best smile, waiting until she returned at least a weak attempt before moving back to the business at hand. "Now, the kicker about these spiders is this particular species is only found within a 160-kilometre radius of Sydney, Australia." His undeniable smirk confirmed Suzanne’s suspicions that the other man was happy that his theory had been confirmed.

Suzanne paused, allowing a small gaggle of students to pass by, before she returned to walking beside Jim. "Well, I talked to the Dean of Science, and he told me there are no insect or arachnid studies underway on campus at this time. But now that we’ve identified the species, we’ll be able to start investigating the possibility they were brought in secretly."

Jim nodded as he stepping off the sidewalk and out into the parking lot, heading toward where his Expedition was parked. "Maybe it was brought over on some plant from Australia by accident."

"Could be," she said, digging around in the inner pocket of her coat as they stopped by Jim’s large blue truck. "By the way, here is Fred Turlock’s work log as you requested."

Jim accepted the proffered sheets with interest. "Thanks. ‘Monday, broken lock, science building. Replace circuit breaker, student union. Stuck air vent, theatre arts building.’"

"That’s all pretty standard stuff," Suzanne said. "Nothing that sounds like it could have gotten Turlock in his current condition."

Jim smiled briefly, then continued reading. "‘Tuesday, irrigation repairs, ‘X’ Farm facility.’ What’s the ‘X’ Farm facility?" he asked Suzanne.

"It’s an experimental farm," she supplied. "It’s an off-campus research facility the university runs. Couple of miles north of the city. They do agricultural research mostly."

"What about insects?"

Suzanne shrugged. "I don’t know."

Jim took another quick look over the papers before handing them back. "Well, thanks very much, Suzanne. It’s all very thorough."

She shrugged it off, but did smile to let Jim know she appreciated the compliment. "Well, listen, I have to get going. I have a meeting at the dean’s office in a few minutes. Why don’t we meet here in an hour or so, and we’ll take a drive out there."

"All right then," Jim said, "see you in an hour."

~~~~~~~~

Shortly after Jim and Suzanne parted ways, and on the other side of the Rainier campus, Blair and Molly stood pressed together in his office, kissing passionately. Leaning up against the desk, Molly kept her arms wrapped thoroughly around Blair, as were his arms wrapped around her.

"Mmmmm," Molly murmured, moving her lips over Blair’s cheeks. "I wonder why I love kissing you so much?"

Unbeknownst to the love struck couple, a young man on roller blades stood at the door to Blair’s office. He’d witnessed the entire exchange and was almost eager to see more. However, he couldn’t resist supplying a smart ass answer to Molly’s question.

"Ah, that would be enzymes. You know, every time you swap spit chemicals in your mouth they tell you if you’re compatible. That’s why it’s so gross to kiss your sister. Your enzymes can’t hang." He looked Blair up and down smugly. "Are you Sandburg?"

Blair and Molly separated quickly, both fighting to keep their embarrassment tamped down. Blair quickly ran a hand through his hair before he spoke, giving him time to gather some composure.

"Uh, yeah, I am. Hi," Blair said, extending his hand to Alec and letting it drop again when the teenager ignored the civil offering. "You must be Alec Summers then. Thanks for stopping by." Behind him, Molly used the temporary reprieve from Alec’s attention to smooth her hair and clothes, which helped to calm her racing heart.

"Uh huh, whatever," Alec said, turning to Molly. "Hello there. Any time you’d like to explore our salivary compatibility. . ."

"Aren’t you a little young?" she asked in amusement.

"Well, chronologically, maybe. From a genetic point of view, however, you’re much better off pairing your zygotes with a genius like me than, well, you know," he finished, eyeing Blair skeptically.

Molly couldn’t help but roll her eyes. "Yeah, and where did you learn to talk to girls? On the playground?"

"Well, actually," Alec said, advancing farther into the room. He was about to say more, when he was cut off by Jim’s entrance into the room.

"Hello, folks," he said casually, breezing past Alec to the small coffee station Blair had set up on the far wall of his office.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said, grateful for his friends timing. "How you doing? You remember Molly, don’t you?"

"Sure I do," he said, turning from his task long enough to tip his head at the smiling young woman.

"And this is Alec Summers," he said, gesturing to the young man. "Alec, this is Detective Jim Ellison."

Alec was not impressed. "I guess the keystone campus cops needed the big boys to help them with that stiff they found in the quad."

Jim finished fixing up his cup of coffee before responding to the cocky comments from Sandburg’s young guest. "And just what do you know about that?"

"I know I saw you there yesterday, working the scene. Rumour around campus has it," he said with mild disbelief, "that killer bees got him."

"An interesting hypothesis," Jim said, taking a sip from his coffee cup. From the corner of his eye, he could see Blair shaking his head slightly, while Molly just frowned.

Alec snorted in disgust. "Yeah, and if I had half the brains of these schmoes, I might even buy it. Killer bees are a media myth, but poisonous spiders aren’t. You know, I studied arachnids on a research grant when I was 12. If you fill me in, I’d help you solve the case."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Maybe another time, junior."

Alec, offended, skated closer to Jim. "I’m not just some kid, dog breath. I bet my IQ’s bigger than yours and his put together."

"No doubt," Jim said, smirking. He could hear Blair fighting back laughter.

"Fine then," Alec said indignantly. "If you don’t want my help, Sherlock, it’s your loss." Angrily, he pushed off towards the door.

"Hey, wait a minute," Blair called. "What about our meeting?"

"The meeting’s adjourned," Alec called over his shoulder, skating out of the office and down the hall.

Blair shook his head in disbelief, breaking into laughter when he caught Jim’s eye.

"What a charmer," Molly commented sarcastically, joining in the laughter.

~~~~~~~~

Bob Carlin, however nervous he was, took pride in showing Ellison and the campus woman his facility. He showed them the office area first, hoping that perhaps it would distract them from what was obviously their goal. He’d blanched when he heard the Cascade PD sent Ellison to look over X Farm, having heard something of the man's reputation, but decided he’s just have to get through it.

"I appreciate you showing us around the facility, Mr. Carlin. Especially on such short notice," Jim said, paying close attention to Carlin to gauge his reaction.

Carlin smiled, his heart rate staying relatively normal. "Well, I’m always glad to get a chance to show off my company’s facility. To be honest with you, however, I'm really not sure how I can help with your investigation." There was a small hitch in his heart rate, Jim noted, when he said it.

"We’ve been going over the victim’s movements before his death," Suzanne replied. "And they led us here. According to his work log, Turlock was out here on Tuesday evening?"

"That’s right," Carlin confirmed. "To fix an irrigation pipe in the greenhouse, which he took care of, then left."

"You said your company’s facility," Jim interjected. "I thought this facility was owned by the university?"

Carlin nodded. "Yes, it is, but Milpa Technologies foots the bill for research. It’s our way of investing in education."

"What sort of business are you in then?" Jim asked curiously.

"We do genetic engineering for agribusinesses – crop hybrids, yield enhancers – things like that," he explained.

"What about insect research?" Suzanne asked.

Carlin shrugged. "Well, we do have a small entomology lab. It’s over in the greenhouse."

"Would you mind if we have a look?" Jim questioned.

"Not if bugs don’t bug you," Carlin said, grimacing at his own joke. Jim’s mouth flickered into a brief smile as he monitored Carlin’s heartbeat, but Tamaki’s face remained impassive.

Moments later the three arrived at the large greenhouse and made their way to the entomology lab. Carlin introduced Jim and Suzanne to the two young students in the lab, who stood respectfully when they entered.

"These are my graduate assistants, Jaron Howell and Kate Freeman," Carlin said, pointing to each student in turn. "They’re working on viruses designed to kill crop parasites. This is Detective Ellison and Chief of Security Tamaki."

Suzanne glanced around, taking in the details of the lab. "What are those?" she asked, pointing to a container that held small, pale worm-like things.

"They’re barley weevil larva," Jaron explained, lifting the small container to give her a better look.

"Are they dangerous?" Jim leaned in to take a closer look.

"Lethal," Jaron replied with a chuckle. "If you’re a crop of barley."

"Which is why we only work with sterile insects," Kate said. "That way, if they escape, they can’t reproduce and contaminate the local environment."

"What about poisonous insects?" Suzanne questioned. "Do you work with any here?"

"Absolutely not," Carlin denied. "We have no need to work with them."

Jim tuned into the other man’s heartbeat again, not surprised to hear it beating quite rapidly. Apparently, he not only had a need for poisonous insects at his facility, but had a need to lie, too.

"Well, I think we’ve taken enough of your time," Suzanne said, unaware of Carlin’s lie. "Thanks again for your help, Mr. Carlin."

Carlin nodded. "Let me show you out then."


~~~~~ ACT II ~~~~~

The day dawned bright and clear, which was exactly the excuse many Rainier students needed to push their instructors policies on tardiness. Two students walked among the throng, though one looked more like the other's kid brother than a university student.

Blair bit his lip as he and Alec walked down the street, trying hard to think of how to broach the delicate and embarrassing subject from the other day.

"Listen Alec," Blair began. "About the other day."

"Not to mention that babe you were smoochin’," Alec smirked mischievously.

Blair snorted. "Hey, it’s not like you were exactly the perfect picture of social grace yourself."

"Look," Alec said, affronted. "The only reason I agreed to see you is because you said you’d give me a driving lesson."

"And the only reason I agreed to give you one, is because Professor Buckner really wants this to work," Blair replied. "I owe him, from when he advised me. But I’m here too, because I’ve been where you are."

Alec rolled his eyes and continued walking down the street, looking for Blair’s car. He was so deep in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice Blair stop. "This is it?" he squawked in disbelief, staring at the old car. Even if it was a convertible, he thought, it was still a piece of junk.

Blair, not in the mood to have anyone berate his beloved classic, gave him a dirty look. "Just get in," he instructed.

Alec scowled, but did as he was told, hopping over the closed door and dropping down into the seat. He stretched up to check his hair in the rear-view mirror, running his hand through it to make sure it sat correctly.

On the other side of the car, Blair admonished Alec to be gentle with the classic. He was annoyed, if not surprised, when Alec again ignored his words.

"How about the key?" Alec demanded, sticking his hand out to the older man.

"Ah, no. First, a few fundamentals."

Alec shook his head with amusement. "Oh please, save your breath. I wrote a computer driving simulation when I was ten."

A feeling of impending doom closed over Blair as he pulled a magnetic key holder from beneath the dash and dumped a single key into the teen’s outstretched hand. Now, he was committed to the driving lesson whether he liked it or not.

"Just keep in mind, my friend," Blair said firmly. "Crash this thing, and you do not get to press 'reset.' And you had better not forget this, you crash my car, and I’ll reset you."

~~~~~~~~

The Major Crimes bullpen was quiet. Most of the other detectives were out following leads on the various cases they were working. Simon Banks looked out the window of his office and watched as Jim Ellison ran a hand through his hair. Ellison was on the phone following up on a lead, and Simon decided to go out and join the frustrated detective.

Jim sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Okay, Sandy, thanks anyway for trying." Ellison hung up the phone and acknowledged his captain with a brief nod.

"Jim," he said. "It’s been over 36 hours since Turlock’s body was found. We still don’t know if we’re dealing with a natural infestation of some kind, a fugitive from an experiment, or murder. Have you come up with anything new yet?"

Jim shook his head. "Not exactly. According to the medical examiner, Turlock’s body had bruises on the neck and back, which would indicate someone was probably holding him down while the spiders bit him. That means there’s a good chance someone else was involved."

The captain shook his head woefully. "Great, all we need now is a suspect and a motive. Then we’d be home free."

Jim nodded in agreement. "I know how you feel, sir. Tamaki is doing her best to track down sources for spiders at the university. I’m working to check what sources I can. We’ll come up with something soon."

"I hope so, Jim," Simon said earnestly. "There are over 20,000 kids at that university, and the university president is all over me about it. He wants answers that I can’t give him. Hell, Ellison, I can’t even give him a spider." The frustration was obvious in the tall man’s voice, and Jim couldn’t blame him for stalking back to his office and slamming the door.

~~~~~~~~

Over in Buckner’s office, Blair was having trouble dealing with his own difficulties, pacing back and forth in front of the professor's desk, tense and ready to explode. He wanted to shout out his frustration and anger, but he didn’t think Professor Buckner would appreciate it very much.

"Hal," he said, turning to address the older man. "This is NOT going to work. This kid, he’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. He goes out of his way to make people mad."

"Well, Blair, he’s in a tough spot." Buckner chuckled. "Intellectually, he is light years ahead of 99% of his college peers, and emotionally he’s still in the ninth grade."

"Then why stick him with me?" he whined.

"Because," the professor said, "YOU were taking college courses when you were 16. If anyone out there can relate to the Summers kid, I’m sure it’ll be you."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Yeah, maybe, but, Hal, this kid is a social menace. I took him for a driving lesson, make that I TRIED taking him for a lesson. It ended up being more like a roller coaster!"

Taking a deep breath, Blair continued, waving his hands in front of him as if to illustrate the points he was trying to make. "He practically ran over a whole sidewalk of people. And he knocked over tables at a café. Thank goodness there wasn’t anyone sitting there. I mean really, it was frightening."

"Try meeting him on his own terms then," Hal suggested. "Maybe he doesn’t need a mentor right now. Maybe he just needs a friend." The professor could see a retort forming on Blair’s face, but the grad student was prevented from continuing the conversation when the phone rang.

"Buckner," he said into the receiver, and listened for only a few moments. "Uh yeah... Just a minute, please, I have someone here." He turned to speak to Blair, but the younger man waved him off.

"Uh, right. Don’t worry, I’ll catch you later. His own terms, okay. Thanks, Hal," Blair muttered, turning quickly and scurrying out of the office.

~~~~~~~~

Hal waited a few moments, just to make sure Blair was out of hearing range, before he spoke into the phone again.

"It’s about time you called, that shipment has been here for days . . .Well, you’re not the only one that has to be careful," he growled upon hearing what the man on the other end had to say. "I want it out of here. Look, this is the last time. After tonight, I want you to leave me the hell alone."

Heart racing and breathing heavy, Hal slammed the phone down, cutting off the caller. He shuddered momentarily, wondering what he’d gotten himself into.

~~~~~~~~

Away from the university, miles out of town, Bob Carlin hung up the phone. His face was flushed with anger, his heart pounding, but he knew what had to be done. Picking up the receiver again, Carlin punched in a phone number he knew well.

"Yeah, this is Carlin. I want you to get that vase, now. And while you’re at it, I want you to have a little talk with Professor Buckner. A good, long talk." He listened for a moment. "Good, that’s perfect. I’m glad we understand each other."

~~~~~~~~

The next day, Jim still did not have any new leads in the case. However, he knew there was a report waiting from the entomology guy he’d been talking to the other day.

Spying Rafe who appeared to have nothing better to do than wander off to the break room, Jim intercepted his fellow detective.

"Rafe," Jim called. "Could you do me a favour and track down a report for me from Sandy Kahn, over at Cascade Tech? He’s the local bug expert over there, and I have a feeling he’s going to be the one to crack something in this case."

"Sure, Jim, not a problem," Rafe replied. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see someone heading for them. "Looks like you’ve got company," he said to Jim, motioning with his head to Suzanne Tamaki’s approach.

Jim nodded his thanks as Rafe walked off, then went over to meet up with Suzanne.

"Bob Carlin just called me about our little visit yesterday," she told Jim as they met just outside the doors to the bullpen.

"And what about it?" Jim asked.

"Milpa Technologies spends over a million dollars a year on research at our campus. They spend another half a million in endowments. If Carlin withdraws his support, there are people who will lose their jobs, and students who won't be able to afford to attend."

Jim wasn’t impressed with the connotation of Carlin’s words. "So that should stop me from pursuing a legitimate lead?" he asked defensively.

Suzanne shook her head. "No, no, of course not. It's just that politically, it’s a sensitive situation. I just thought you needed to be aware of that."

"All right, I get it. I’m aware that this is politically sensitive. It’s just that I’m positive something’s going on at that ‘X’ Farm and I intend to investigate it."

"Then let me work with you on this, okay?" Suzanne asked, stepping closer to Jim, her eyes pleading silently with him for understanding.

Jim sighed after a few moments, finally relenting to her request. As unconventional as it was, she knew more about the university and its inhabitants and goings on than he did. "All right then, Tamaki, I guess I could use your help. It is your turf after all."

"You bet it is, Ellison," she said with a smile. "Besides, I have an inside track."

"You and Sandburg both," Jim said with a snort.

~~~~~~~~

When Blair walked into his office, he found Alec Summers sitting at HIS desk, working away on HIS computer. "Hey, Alec, man, what are you doing?" Blair asked incredulously.

"Um... I just came to hang out," Alec said tentatively, tapping in a few more things on the keyboard before he hit save, then turned to look at Blair.

Blair shook his head. "No. I mean, what are you doing to my computer?"

"I was just making some corrections to your notes on the semantic value of the Mayan emblem glyphs."

"I’m sorry... but you’re doing what?" Blair blurted, shaking with anger now.

As per usual, Alec ignored the angered anthropologist's question. "Oh, um, by the way," Alec said, pointing to the picture of Blair’s urn. "Your Mayan urn is fake. I’d say it’s a Mexican counterfeit from the 1930's."

Closing his eyes and counting to ten, Blair took several deep breaths. *I will NOT kill this kid, I will NOT kill this kid, I will NOT kill this kid,* he thought over and over. Opening his eyes, Blair was reasonably sure he would keep to the intent of his mantra.

"Look, Alec, why don’t you take some of your energy and apply it to what you came to college to do," he said evenly, still repeating the mantra in his head.

Furiously the teen stood, shoving the desk chair back as he did so. "Oh, yeah, I forgot," he snapped sarcastically. "I’m supposed to be a good little boy and do all my assignments. Collect my degrees. The truth is, I already know more than you could learn in three lifetimes."

The observer shook his head sadly. "Academically, probably yes. But listen, man, you have got a lot to learn about life."

"I don’t need this crap. I’m gonna tell Buckner I want a different advisor," Alec said hotly, storming from the office and slamming the door behind him.

Blair stood stock still for a moment, letting his heart slow down. He’d never liked confrontation, especially not this kind. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about Alec’s attitude, even if he wanted to. Which, admittedly, he really didn’t want to.

With a sigh, the beleaguered man snatched up the picture of the urn. He glanced at it, then at the changes Alec made on the screen of his computer, then back to the picture again.

"How on earth could I have missed that?" Blair muttered ruefully, tossing the picture back onto his desk and flopping down into his desk chair. Might as well see what the kid had written. Besides, it couldn’t hurt, at least not any more than his ego already did.

~~~~~~~~

Letter of request for change of advisor firmly in hand, Alec skated quickly down the hallway to Buckner’s office. He was about to wedge the envelope under the door when he noticed that it stood the slightest bit ajar. Curiously, he pushed it open with one hand.

"Professor Buckner?" the teen called out, looking around as he skated in. Glancing idly at the professor's desk, Alec noticed a crate sitting on it. Skating over to the desk, he saw that it was open and contained Blair’s urn. Tossing his envelope onto Buckner’s desk, Alec lifted it out and took a closer look.

"What a bunch of chumps," he muttered, shaking his head.

~~~~~~~~

Down the hall, headed in the direction of Hal Buckner’s office, a man carried a large glass case full of scorpions.

~~~~~~~~

In Buckner’s office, Alec could hear footsteps coming in the direction of the office. Fearing it was the professor and that he’d get it for playing with something that wasn’t his, the teen fumbled to put it back into the crate. However, in his haste, Alec bumped the bottom of the artifact against the crate and it dropped from his hands, shattering into pieces as it hit the floor. A long silver tube emerged from the ruins, rolling away with the force of the impact and stopping at Alec’s feet.

Hurriedly, Alec grabbed up the cylinder and stuffed it in his pocket, then turned for the door just as a man carrying a large glass case came through it. He seemed just as surprised to see Alec as the kid was to see him.

"Who are you?" the stranger asked, looking at Alec and then at the shattered urn.

Alec edged around the man, inching closer to the door. "Uh, what a mess, huh? Somebody should really clean that up."

"What are you doing here?" the man scowled, advancing on the teen.

"Um,I, um," Alec hedged, still moving. With a sudden burst of speed and adrenaline, he rushed forward past the menacing stranger and out of the office.

"Come here, kid," the stranger shouted. He set down the glass case as quickly as he could and ran after him. He followed when the kid swerved around a corner, and continued pursuing him all the way out of the building.

~~~~~~~~

Later that evening, Jim and Blair were on the way home in Jim’s Expedition. Blair was stewing silently in the passengers seat, while Jim drove. The older man was trying to figure out what was bothering his friend, but nothing that came to mind seemed the sort of thing to get Blair this down. Finally, Jim couldn’t stand it any longer.

"Come on, Chief, spill it. What are you stewing over, huh? Spit it out."

"Is it that obvious?"

Jim smiled responsively. "Yeah, Chief, like a neon sign."

Blair rolled his eyes. "It’s this kid, Alec Summers. First he breaks into my computer and fixes a mistake, well, that I made, and then he tells me my Mayan urn is a fake!"

"How would he know that?" Jim asked, suppressing a laugh.

"Jim," Blair exclaimed. "This isn’t funny!"

"Come on, Chief, he’s just trying to get your goat," Jim said playfully.

"Yeah, well, he got a bunch of them."

Before either man could continue the conversation, the police radio burst into life, spewing forth a description of a crime in progress.

"‘All units in the vicinity of University and West. Reckless driver reported heading west on University Drive, possibly underage. Subject’s vehicle is a green ‘62 Corvair, plate number 743 SFU.’"

Blair was upright and alert as soon as he heard the word ‘Corvair’ come over the airwaves. "Jim, man, that’s my car."

"Yeah, I know," Jim replied tersely. He reached forward and flipped down his visor lights, hitting the small on/off switch on the top of the visor that controlled both the lights and sirens.

"Hang onto your hat, Chief," Jim said, making a hard left after checking to make sure the way was clear.

~~~~~~~~

As they pulled up to the scene where the Corvair was reported to have crashed, Blair was dismayed to see so many emergency vehicles clustered around. The flashing and strobing lights added an air of surrealism to the whole thing. As soon as the irate observer saw the condition of his poor classic, he went ballistic. Blair practically hurtled himself out of the Expedition, rushing over to where Alec sat.

"All right, Chief, take it easy now," Jim said, trying to calm the furious anthropologist as he rushed to keep up. "Come on, settle down."

Blair ignored Jim as he flew up into Alec’s face, practically shouting. "What the hell did you do to my car?" he raged.

"Hey, why don’t you go after that maniac?" Alec responded, surging up to a standing position, up in Blair’s face as much as the older man was in his.

"What maniac?" Jim interrupted, trying to put himself between Blair and the kid.

"The guy who was chasing me," Alec cried, as if the answer should have been obvious.

"WHAT guy?" Jim asked again. "Alec, it would help if you gave us more details."

Beside them, Blair was pacing short and clipped steps, muttering what sounded like dire comments under his breath. Alec looked at him beseechingly, trying with all his might to convince the outraged teacher that he was telling the truth.

"He was after me, I swear. I was in Buckner’s office, and I found your phony Mayan urn. There was this cylinder in it," Alec said, searching frantically in his jacket pocket for it. He checked all of his pockets twice, but came up empty. "Well, I had it, I swear! It must have fallen out in the chase."

"Oh, yeah, right," Blair said, sneering.

"The urn was there," Alec said indignantly. "Just ask Buckner."

"Oh, I’m gonna ask Buckner alright," Blair uttered vehemently. "You can COUNT on that. But until then, Ellison is putting you under arrest for auto theft." Turning on his heel, Blair stalked off blindly, seeking a few moments alone in order to calm down.

~~~~~ ACT III ~~~~~

Despite Blair’s personal policy of 'letting things go,' he was still furious at Alec the next day. As Jim and Blair made their way to Professor Buckner’s office, the elder of the pair bore the burden of listening to the younger lament about his angers.

"Oh, now, come on, Chief. You're ignoring the facts. A witness reports seeing a second car," Jim countered.

Blair made a low noise of irritation in the back of his throat. "Jim, witnesses get things wrong all the time."

"Chief, why are you letting this kid get to you like this?"

"Because he stole my car," Blair exclaimed heatedly. "And why didn’t you arrest him?" Blair asked, rounding on Jim when they stopped in front of Buckner’s door.

Jim rolled his eyes. "That’s not what this is about."

"Jim, that’s exactly what this is about."

Jim was just about to reply when he noticed Blair’s attention was caught by something else. "What is it, Chief?"

"The door’s open," he muttered, pulling it further open and entering the office. Jim was right behind him, looking around the large room with mild curiosity.

"Professor?" Blair called out as he looked around, advancing further and further into the office. "Professor Buckner? Hello?"

"Does he usually leave his door wide open?" Jim questioned, scanning the office.

"No, no he doesn’t. That’s the weird thing." Blair scowled, looking around again, as if it would materialize the professor, or his missing urn for that matter, from thin air. "And see, there’s no urn, no NOTHING. I told you Alec made the whole thing up."

Jim was only listening with half an ear. Something by the leg of a table on the other end of the room caught his attention. He’d found what looked to be a piece of Blair’s fabled urn, recognizing part of the pattern from the photo Blair had shown him. Brushing past his friend, Jim went over and retrieved the piece.

"This what I think it is?" Jim asked, handing the small shard to his friend.

Blair studied the piece for only a second before proclaiming, "it’s a piece of my Mayan urn! How’d it get broken?" A sense of something almost like sorrow filled him at the thought of the destruction of the antique, even if it WAS a fake.

"So the kid was telling the truth," Jim affirmed.

"But I just asked Buckner about this the other day," Blair said, confusion clouding his voice. "Why on earth would he lie to me about it?"

Just then Jim’s cell phone rang. "Ellison," he stated simply. "Yeah, Simon. When? All right then, we’re on our way." Jim flipped the phone closed and returned it quickly to his belt. "I’m sorry, Blair, but we’ve got a problem with the professor."

Ushering the younger man out of the office, the detective filled his friend in on the situation as they headed quickly toward the parking lot.

~~~~~~~~

Moments after the phone call from Simon, Jim and Blair arrived in the parking garage. As the two approached the yellow tape, Jim flashed his badge at an uniformed officer, gaining them admittance to the heart of the crime scene. Both men made their way over to Suzanne Tamaki, who’d obviously been there for some time before them.

"It has the earmarks of a suicide," Suzanne said to them, referring to the stiffened corpse of Professor Hal Buckner in the front seat of his car. "There’s a hose running in from the tailpipe, windows closed, engine running. There was no sign of a struggle and a note was found on the passenger seat. Apparently," she said sadly, "he was the victim of a major depression."

"No way," Blair objected. "I don’t believe that. Hal was six months away from retirement. He even put a down payment on a house in the mountains." He cast another look at his former faculty advisor before walking away back toward the cordon line.

Jim tipped his head in agreement toward Suzanne. "I’d have to agree with him. I don’t think it was a suicide. I mean, notice the way he’s sitting. Carbon monoxide would have made him more relaxed and would have put him to sleep. His body wouldn’t be so contorted."

"Possibly," Suzanne said reluctantly.

Ellison moved closer to the car, making an example of the way Buckner’s corpse looked by gesturing with his hands. "His jaw is clenched. His fists are knotted up. And what do we have here?" he said suddenly, his eyes zooming in on a puncture wound at the base of the professor’s head. "It’s a mark at the hair line."

"But I don’t see anything," Suzanne replied, moving closer in an attempt to get a better look at what Jim was claiming he saw.

"It’s a, uh, needle mark," he explained quickly. "I’d bet an autopsy would reveal this guy’s been injected with some sort of paralyzing agent."

Tamaki sighed in resignation. "I thought when I took this job I’d get away from crimes like this. Do you think it could be related to what happened to Turlock?"

"Could be, but all I know is that you’ve got two deaths in four days on your peaceful campus here," he stated grimly. He nodded his head toward Suzanne before walking away. "Hey, Chief, let’s go," he called to his friend, heading off toward the truck.

~~~~~~~~

Kneeling at the second set of steps, down which he’d fallen last night while being chased, Alec rifled around in the bushes at the edge of the walkway. Carefully poking through and pulling aside the branches of the greenery, the teenager searched for signs of the cylinder he’d found in the remains of the Mayan urn.

At last he found it, resting at the bottom of a particularity ample bush. Alec quickly pulled it free, then intently examined the outside of the object, looking for a way to get it open. He twisted the end of what he was sure was the inner tube, then pulled it free.

Finally, with a sense of satisfaction, Alec saw what the item contained: several fat insect larvae.

"Oh yuuuuck!," the young man exclaimed, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the sight.

~~~~~~~~

Later in the afternoon, Jim and Blair stood in Simon’s office listening to his end of a phone conversation with Serena Baxter.

"Uh-huh," Simon uttered in response to something Serena said. "Yes, I got it. Thanks very much." The captain hung up the phone, then shifted his gaze to the two men standing before him. "Serena says the guy was killed with a paralytic-type poison called 'Mercy Quick,' which evidently is used by veterinarians to put down sick animals."

"I told you it wasn’t a suicide," Blair said firmly, satisfied, if only in a small way, that he’d been proven correct.

"But I still think they’re covering up something at that experimental farm," Jim added. "They do research on insects there. Turlock also did maintenance work out there from time to time."

"Jim, none of the insects are poisonous on the farm," Simon said, skeptical about Jim’s theory.

"Well, that’s what they tell you," he replied smartly.

"You know, if Buckner was killed because of this Mayan urn, I’ll bet they’re after Alec and whatever this cylinder is," Blair offered up, interrupting the train of conversation between the two other men.

"Who’s Alec?" Simon questioned.

"He’s this teenage brat genius at the college that I’ve been advising," Blair explained readily.

"Why don’t you go and see if you can track him down then," Jim offered, both for the fact it was pertinent to the case, and to give his antsy partner something to do.

"Uh, right, okay," Blair muttered distractedly, leaving the office.

"Jim, help me out here for a minute," Simon asked once the door was closed, his face weary. "So far, we have two murders that are likely connected, poisonous spiders, a Mayan urn, a mysterious cylinder, and a teenage ‘brat’ genius. I mean, this whole thing is really starting to bug me."

Jim looked at his captain with a bemused expression. "You didn’t just say that, did you, sir?"

"Ellison!" Simon said with a scowl. The captain tried to keep a stern face, but he just couldn’t hold it, and so moments later rolled his eyes in amusement.

~~~~~~~~

Had Blair decided to go to the university to look for the sought-after young Alec, he would have found the teen once again invading Blair’s office. As it was, at least Alec wasn’t snooping around in any of Blair’s things again.

As he entered the office, Alec skated immediately over to Blair’s cluttered desk. He leaned over to peer at a list of university phone numbers and nodded with satisfaction when he found the one he was looking for. Reaching for Blair’s phone, Alec dialed the number.

"Shipping and receiving? Yeah. Listen, uh, I'm a work study student from the anthropology department. The other day, there was a crate from Yucatan that was supposed to be delivered to Blair Sandburg in 211. But instead, it was delivered to Professor Buckner in 314. Oh, really? He asked you to. Oh, no, everything's fine. I'm supposed to send a thank you note to the sender, only, stupid me, I forgot their address." The smile on Alec’s face was like that of a cat in the cream, as he heard what was coming from the other end of the line.


~~~~~ ACT IV ~~~~~

"How hard can it be to find a 14-year-old boy at a university?" Bob Carlin snarled at the other man in the room, frustrated and angry. "And what the hell are you smirking at?" he growled, referring to the look on the other man’s face.

The phone rang then, and Carlin snatched it up quickly.

"What? Yeah. Yeah, this is Bob Carlin. How did you get this number? All right, I’ll meet you. Yeah, I know where that is. 4:00," he said, then hung up, a satisfied smile on his face. "Well, looks like we’re not going to have to go out and find that boy. He just found us."

~~~~~~~~

*From genius, to extortionist,* Alec Summers mused to himself, scanning the area around the flag pole as he waited for Carlin to show up. It was nearly four, and there was no sign of the man to whom the cylinder belonged.

Moments later a man approached the flag pole, his face intent as he walked straight to Alec.

Carlin looked him up and down, expression skeptical. "So, I’m curious, Alec is it? How did you track me down?"

"It wasn’t that hard," Alec replied smugly. "Once I found out that the urn came from the Yucatan Science Institute, I hacked on to their server and downloaded the shipping records, phone lists, and email. You and Buckner have been using the university’s artifact shipments from Mexico to smuggle exotic insects. The question is, why?"

"Oh, that’s my business," Carlin said with a sense of wonder at the kid’s brashness. "Now, where’s the cylinder?"

"It’s in a safe place," Alec said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Then how much do you want?" Carlin prompted.

"How much are you willing to pay?" Alec retorted.

Carlin glanced around before answering, somewhat agitated. "You know, this is a little too public for this kind of negotiation. Why don’t we go someplace more private?"

Alec shook his head. "I like public, it makes me feel safe."

"Well, kid, it looks like you got it all figured out," the older man said, flickering his gaze momentarily over Alec’s shoulder as Carlin’s associate moved up behind the boy.

"Looks like," the teen said, looking behind him as he sensed movement. "Look, you guys try anything rough on me, and people will see."

"You’re right," Carlin said, leaning in closer to the boy. "But you know what else? We don’t care." Suddenly, Carlin lunged forward, grabbing Alec by the shoulders, while the other man quickly stuck a needle into the teen’s arm, depressing the plunger in one fell swoop. Almost instantly, Alec went limp in their arms, fast fading to unconsciousness.

"Let’s get him out of here," Carlin ordered. He and his co-worker each took one of Alec’s arms over their shoulders and walked him away in the direction of the parking lot.

~~~~~~~~

"He’s okay, everyone," Carlin said loudly, struggling to maneuver Alec into the back seat. "Right here in the car. He’ll be okay."

"Whoa, hey, what’s the matter?" Blair asked with concern, panting slightly from the run over to the Jeep.

"He passed out in front of the student union. We’re taking him to the clinic," Carlin explained to Blair, still trying to stuff Alec in the back seat.

Alec struggled to sit up at the sound of Blair’s voice and managed at least to speak a little. "Sandburg, help me," he pleaded weakly.

"Hey, are you okay?" he asked the kid, glancing quickly at Carlin. He had a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Carlin could tell the situation was quickly heading south, so he pulled out his gun and stuck it into sharply into Blair’s side. "Why don’t you just come with us?"

~~~~~~~~

Suzanne walked quickly toward Jim, who was sitting at his desk, avoiding the other desks in the relative darkness of the bullpen. "Hey, Jim," she called out to him.

"Hey, Suzanne, what’s going on?" Jim asked, looking up from the monitor of his computer.

"I took a drive out to the 'X' Farm like you asked," she said, stopping in front of Jim. "No sign of Carlin. In fact, the whole place looked pretty deserted."

"Excuse me," Jim said when his phone rang.

"Ellison," he said into the phone. "Yeah, Molly... No, I haven’t seen him. Why?... Do you know what they looked like and what kind of car they were driving?... Uh, all right. Just sit tight. Don’t worry, we’re going to find him. Thanks, Molly." He hung up quickly, looking up at Suzanne grimly. "That was Sandburg’s girlfriend. She said she was about to yell to get Sandburg’s attention, when he took off toward a couple of guys loading Alec Summers into a car. She said Blair got into the car with them and they all took off."

"What kind of car?" she asked curiously.

"Jeep Cherokee, green. Do you know anybody at the university that drives one of those?"

"Bob Carlin," she replied, realization dawning on her face.

"Then let’s go," Jim said, standing up quickly and grabbing his jacket and keys. Moments later, the two were headed out of the bullpen and down to the garage.

~~~~~~~~

Back at the 'X' Farm, which wasn’t quite as abandoned as everyone thought, Carlin and his partner had tied Alec and Blair to a set of office chairs, down below in an underground room. While the other man stood off to the side, Carlin was questioning the pair.

"Where’s the cylinder?" he demanded, glaring fiercely at Alec.

"Like I’m going to tell you, you steroid-induced mutant," the teen scoffed.

Inwardly, Blair cringed, wondering how it was possible for a genius to be so stupid. "Hey, Alec. Let’s not provoke these guys, all right."

"Relax," Alec scoffed. "They’re not gonna hurt us. And if they do, they’ll never see their precious cylinder again."

Carlin and his partner didn’t give any warning when they rushed over and grabbed Alec, forcing him over to the table near by. The silent partner pulled the lid off of a case full of spiders of all sizes. Alec struggled valiantly while all Blair could do was look on, but still the two men managed to force his head down toward the open container.

"Don’t count on it," Carlin snarled in response to Alec’s last comment.

"C-come on, man," Alec struggled, trying desperately to jerk his head away from the spiders. "This isn’t funny! I’ve got a thing about spiders!"

"You’re arachnophobic?" Blair asked the teen incredulously.

"Well," Alec said, not sure what to say.

"You know," Carlin said, "I’m sure you’re smart enough to know how deadly these guys are." He put a hand on the back of Alec’s head and forced his face down to the counter, while the other man lifted out a spider from the case, setting it on the counter so it could crawl towards Alec’s face.

"I’m going to start counting. I get to five, and you’re gonna find out your fears are totally justified. One..."

"Please," Alec begged, eyes wide with fear, sweat starting to form on his forehead.

"Come on," Blair implored. "Let him go."

"I’ll deal with you later," Carlin said, glancing over his shoulder at Blair. "Two..."

"Please," Alec cried again, almost hyperventilating as the spider came closer and closer.

"Three..."

"Four..."

"All right, all right," Alec blurted out finally, unable to stand the thought of the tarantula climbing all over his face. He breathed a huge sigh of relief when Carlin finally hauled him upwards, eyeing the large spider that was now where his face had just been.

"I hid it in Blair’s office. Hargrove Hall, room 211. It’s taped to the underside of his desk."

Carlin ordered his partner to go and retrieve the cylinder while he kept a firm grip on Alec.

"You’d better be telling the truth," he said threateningly to the teen, shoving him back down into his chair.

~~~~~~~~

"We don’t have a warrant or probable cause," Suzanne said to Jim, flicking her eyes back and forth between Jim and the road they were taking to the 'X' Farm.

"Do you want to turn around and call it a night?" Jim asked, glancing at her.

She only hesitated for a moment before answering a firm, "No."

"Then here." Jim pulled a gun out from the back of his belt and handed it to her. "Take my backup piece."

"That’s not my style anymore, Jim," Suzanne said, putting a hand up in protest.

"If they’ve got hostages, it might be your only choice," he stated, setting the gun down to rest on the seat between them. "I know Captain Hollander in Tacoma, and he told me what happened. Domestic dispute. How he threatened to kill her if you didn’t put down your gun."

She sighed, looking out the window at the passing scenery to gather her thoughts before she spoke. "I thought if I did what he said... he’d let her go. Instead, he picked up my gun and he shot her, and then he shot himself."

"They wanted you to stay on the force."

"I couldn’t afford to make that kind of mistake again," she replied. "Then this job came up... at a university campus... I think, 'What could possibly happen?' Then Turlock dies, and you show up, and then Buckner. And all of a sudden, my safe little college world starts to fall down around my ears."

"The only way to deal with your past is to face it," Jim said encouragingly. "Come on, Suzanne, take it."

Suzanne looked at him for a moment, then down at the gun again. She hesitated again, but finally reached down and picked up the gun.

~~~~~~~~

"It was right where he said it would be," Carlin’s partner said as he came back into the underground room a short time later.

"Call Jaron and Kate," Carlin said. "Tell them to go back to work. We got the breeders now."

"I still don’t get it," Alec interrupted. "You’ve got a lab full of insects here. Why smuggle more in? Unless, all the insects here are sterile and the ones in the cylinder. . ."

"Alec, why don’t we just drop this, okay?" Blair urged, a frantic edge to his voice.

"You’re developing some kind of super breed, aren’t you," Alec said with satisfaction, ignoring Blair in his quest to solve the puzzle. "An insect that kills crops and that nobody can stop? What’s the value?"

"Alec," Blair hissed, desperate to get the kid to shut his mouth.

"I’ve got it," he exclaimed, oblivious to Blair’s pleading. "You’re also developing a virus to kill it. So you unleash the bug, then sell the virus. The farmers will have to pay whatever you want, because you’re the only one with the solution."

"Smart kid," Carlin said, impressed.

"I try," Alec said smugly.

"Well, then think about this, genius," Carlin spoke into Alec’s face. "If I had any doubts about killing you before, they’re gone now."

~~~~~~~~

Soon after, Jim and Suzanne finally arrived at the 'X' Farm. Jim parked near the main building he and Suzanne had toured the other day. He left enough room to get away quickly, just in case Carlin decided to run.

"There’s his Jeep," Jim said as Suzanne got out of the truck, Jim’s back-up gun firmly in her hand. "Why don’t you check the perimeter?" Suzanne nodded quickly and disappeared around the end of the main building.

Jim stepped closer to the aluminum siding of the main building, carefully extending his hearing inside the structure. He picked up several heartbeats, one of which he was sure belonged to Blair. There was something strange about them, an odd muffled quality that he couldn’t identify. Jim was just about to extend his hearing even more, to be able to better hear what Blair was saying when he felt a presence behind him.

Before he could move, someone stuck a gun in Jim’s neck.

"Put it down," the stranger ordered, shoving the muzzle of his gun a little harder into Jim’s neck.

Reluctantly, Jim lowered the gun, letting it drop when his hand reached waist level. Just as it clattered to the ground, Suzanne seemed to show up out of nowhere, her flashlight shining at the two.

"You put it down! NOW!" she commanded, using her flashlight arm to steady her gun hand.

The stranger, who was in fact Carlin’s co-worker, cocked the hammer of his revolver. "I don’t think so. Drop it or he dies! I said drop the gun," he repeated when Suzanne hesitated momentarily.

Slowly, Suzanne began to lower the weapon, making it look as if she intended to place it down on the ground. Then suddenly, before she could think twice and change her mind, the security chief brought her gun back up in a rush and pulled the trigger, hitting Jim’s captor squarely in the chest. He dropped like a stone.

"Nice shot," Jim said gratefully.

~~~~~~~~

"That has got to be the police," Blair said from inside the underground room when he heard a gunshot. "The best thing you can do right now is just put your gun down and give yourself up."

Carlin shook his head. "I don’t think so. The best thing I can do right now is get the hell out of here. Here, I’ll make sure my friends keep an eye on you," Carlin added, setting the spider case down on the floor a short distance from Blair. Carlin didn’t look back after he flipped the lid open, just headed straight for the ladder and climbed up and out of sight.

"You’ve GOT to get me out of this," Alec said frantically, watching as the spiders began to crawl from the case toward the pair.

"Ah, geeeez," Blair murmured, staring in disgust and worry at the encroaching creatures.

"Those are funnel web spiders," Alec said weakly. "They’re really bad news, man."

"All right now, just calm down," Blair instructed, although his voice did not seem to be obeying his will. "You have got to relax. Don’t look at them," he reprimanded Alec when the teen locked his eyes onto a large spider coming nearer and nearer. "Just breathe, all right. You don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you." At least he hoped that they wouldn’t.

"Oh yeah?" Alec said, trying to sound smug but rather failing, as a spider made its way to Blair’s foot and began climbing upwards.

"Aahhh." Blair shuddered, trying desperately to stay calm.


~~~~~ ACT V ~~~~~

"Should I call for an ambulance?" Suzanne asked Jim quietly, watching as he checked the carotid artery of the man she’d shot, looking for a pulse.

"No," Jim replied a moment later. "He won’t be needing it."

"I just wanted to stop him," Suzanne said almost to herself, a note of regret creeping into her voice.

"You did what any good cop would have done," Jim told her as he stood. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, fine," she said sedately, brushing off the knees of her pants from where she’d been kneeling on the ground.

"Good. Use the radio in my truck and call for backup and the coroner," he said moving off toward the door to the lab building. "I’m going to go inside, Sandburg and the kid are in there somewhere."

~~~~~~~~

Down in the basement, the spiders were crawling unavoidably closer with each passing second. Some of the bolder specimens were already preparing to conquer the two towering bodies sitting before them, much like the spider that had passed scant millimeters in front of Alec’s foot.

"Bllaaiiirrrr," Alec almost wailed, desperate to shy away from the spiders, but too terrified at the same time that they would bite him because of the movement.

"Oh," Blair muttered, watching the creature pass by the teen’s foot. "All right, man, just stay... Just don’t freak out, okay?"

Alec sat stock still in terror, breathing rapidly, as a particularly large and hairy tarantula crawled onto Alec’s foot and up his leg. "Don’t let him get me, man. Don’t let him get me."

"How the HELL did you do that arachnid study with this phobia?" Blair exclaimed, mind racing, trying desperately to find them a way out of this. He flickered his gaze back and forth, looking at everything that might be within reach of them.

"My shrink said it would help," Alec explained as Blair searched the room with his eyes. "But it didn’t."

"Right. Okay. Try not to move," Blair muttered, gazing down at the spiders crawling slowly up his legs. "Keep breathing. Don’t look."

~~~~~~~~

Jim entered the laboratory cautiously, sticking close to the wall with his gun held ready in front of him. Seeing the set of double doors that led to the entomology lab, Jim slowed and prepared to extend his hearing. He hadn’t yet done so when Bob Carlin came bursting around a corner.

Startled, the fleeing man pulled out a gun from the waistband of his pants, firing off a few shots at Jim. Ducking and returning fire at the same time, Jim tried to get closer to Carlin, but the other man turned and fled through a pair of double doors.

The sentinel stood still for a moment, reaching out with his hearing for Carlin before moving forward. He had to lunge backward, though, when the doors banged open and Carlin came crashing through, brandishing a fire ax. Jim caught Carlin’s arms on the downswing, struggling to hold onto it long enough to push the man backwards into the wall. When the impact knocked the deadly edged weapon from his opponent’s hands, Jim firmed his grip and hauled the man in the other direction, slamming him into a counter.

He became aware of Suzanne’s presence a few seconds later, seeing her from the corner of his eye as he worked quickly to cuff Carlin. He ignored her for the moment, and turned his attention fully onto Carlin.

"Where are they?" he questioned angrily, a fist full of Carlin’s coat collar clenched in his fist.

"Find ‘em yourself," Carlin retorted flippantly.

Jim shook his head in frustration, then turned to Suzanne. "All right, keep him covered. If he tries anything, shoot him."

~~~~~~~~

Jim delved farther into the lab building, keeping his hearing open, and continuously sweeping the room with his heightened sight. He could hear Alec and Blair, but it was like they were just out of reach. There but not there, and he just couldn’t figure out where they were. The sentinel forced his hearing out again, recapturing the wisp of conversation he’d lost.

<They’re not that close to your face,> Jim heard Blair say to Alec. <They’re on your jacket, but just calm down.>

<They’re way too close for comfort, man,> the teen replied nervously.

<Just calm down,> Blair reiterated. <They won’t hurt you, if you stay calm.>

Jim started moving again, having stopped to get a better bead on the conversation between the two captives. From the corner of his eye, a rustling plant on a work table caught Jim’s attention. Jim zeroed in on it with his sentinel sight as he hastened over to it.

~~~~~~~~

Down in the basement room, the spiders were now freely crawling all over Blair and Alec, much to the fright of one, and the terror of the other.

"Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god," Alec chanted, entranced by the sight of all the different spiders.

"Alec, just calm down," Blair murmured soothingly, trying not to speak loudly lest he spook the spiders. "Stay perfectly still and they won’t bite you." The observer looked around again quickly, seeking perhaps some helpful solution to their problem he had missed, then decided to risk a glance behind him. It was then that he saw the emergency showerheads up on the wall and the standing chest-level push buttons that activated them.

"Blair, I think I’m going to be sick," Alec moaned, looking quite green around the proverbial gills.

"That would NOT be good right now. I have an idea. All right?" he said firmly to Alec, trying to divert the teen’s attention away from the creatures on his chest. "Now stay calm."

~~~~~~~~

Moving the plant aside, Jim saw that the surface the plant sat on was actually an entrance to a hidden basement room. As he shifted it aside, Jim was finally able to pinpoint the heartbeats of the two university students. Both heartbeats were much faster than what was normal, and both voices from below were quite strained.

~~~~~~~~

"All right, okay, straight back, just like I told you," Blair told Alec.

"Just tell me when to go," Alec said, nervous but desperate enough to give anything a try.

"There’s one on your foot," Blair told him. "Don’t move your feet yet. Get off his feet," he urged the tarantula’s creeping over the teen’s feet. He felt a light pressure on his own chest, and looked down to see two rather menacing looking arachnids traversing him. "Hi. Hi."

"NOW?" Alec questioned frantically.

"No, no, no! Not yet, man," Blair practically shouted, knowing that if Alec moved now, the spiders on the kid’s feet would be jostled and would more than likely bite.

~~~~~~~~

Jim made his way down the ladder, dropping down the last few rungs to the concrete floor. He swept the hallway quickly, searching for something that would lead him to Blair and the kid. The large plate-glass window to his left caught Jim’s attention, and he stepped closer to investigate, which was when he found what he was looking for. There didn’t seem to be any obvious way in for someone without a key.

~~~~~~~~

"Go?"

"Uh, not quite. Almost. All right, now," Blair commanded.

"I can’t move," Alec said in a small voice.

"Go now, damn it," Blair exclaimed, exasperated.

Alec took a deep breath to gather his courage, then used his feet to shove off backwards. Just as he hit the shower button with the back of his head, Jim shattered the glass with a fire extinguisher. Icy cold water cascaded down on both of them as Jim gingerly made his way through the broken glass and into the room.

"There they go. It’s working! It’s working," Blair crowed, relief surging through him as the spiders began slide off of them. "You did it, man! Phew!"

"I’m drowning here," Alec said, half real complaint, half jest. Either way, he was just happy to have gotten rid of the damn spiders.

"Is anyone hurt down here?" Jim asked, ducking under the arc of the spray and shutting it off. He came up behind Blair and untied his hands.

"No, we’re all right. We’re all right. We’re okay," Blair repeated, too happy to be wet and chattering and not be covered by spiders to care that he wasn’t speaking too clearly.

"Yeah," Alec confirmed, "just get me out of here Officer, I mean, Detective."

Jim gave them a small smile as he untied Alec’s hands, too, watching for a moment as the two shook out their wrists and tried to get the feeling back into them.

"It was a good game, boys," Jim said with a smirk. "Why don’t you hit the showers?"

Blair groaned loudly, whereas all Alec had in him was a weak roll of his eyes.

"That’s funny, Jim, real funny," the drenched observer said sarcastically, although he couldn’t help but smile as he said it.

~~~~~~~~

A few afternoons later, after they had enough time to recover and regroup, Alec and Blair were out together on one of the university’s many sidewalks. While Blair wasn’t entirely amused at his current situation, Alec was having a great time trying to teach the wobbly anthropologist how to roller blade. He found the older man’s seeming lack of balance to be rather funny.

"All right, just relax, man," he encouraged his advisor. "Can’t believe you’ve never done this before."

"Call it a gap in my education," Blair muttered, eyes on his feet as he struggled to remain upright.

"You’ll do fine," he said softly, pausing for a moment before speaking again. "Oh, ah, by the way I haven’t told you yet, but, well, after this term, I’m going home."

Even if Blair wasn’t all that surprised, he was still pretty curious about the teen’s reasons. "What are you doing that for?"

Alec shrugged. "Well, you know, I did the math and I figured you get to be a kid exactly once, and you better not squander your shot. But I won’t forget you, man. I mean, astoundingly enough, I, I learned a lot from you."

Blair smirked, though secretly he was very touched. "You know, I think that was almost a compliment," he exclaimed, trying to high-five Alec but losing his balance instead.

The teen reached out quickly and grabbed onto the other mans arm, helping to keep him from falling to the ground. "Whatever, man," Alec said with relative disinterest, although his face betrayed him by blooming into a big smile.

Blair rolled his eyes, but smiled, too. "All right already. I’ve got it, man!" he exclaimed happily, getting ready to show Alec what he could do already. "Okay, here we go, watch this."

Pushing off a little for speed, Blair swung himself around in a clumsy turn, losing balance half way through and putting his hands down onto the ground to keep upright.

"Now, the hands aren’t supposed to touch the ground," Alec said with a laugh, helping Blair upright again.

~~~~~~~~

"That’s great news, thanks Simon," Jim said into the phone as he parked the Expedition. He flipped the phone shut, then turned off the truck.

"The two grad students who worked for Carlin, Freeman and Howell, have both agreed to turn state’s evidence," he said to Suzanne, who sat beside him in the truck. "Simon said Freeman had no trouble with the idea, especially after Carlin threatened to kill her by holding her hand in a box of scorpions. And a field agent for the EPA said the mess at the farm is now finally under control."

Suzanne exited the truck and joined Jim on the other end. "That’s great, Jim, really," Suzanne said sincerely, smiling at her friend. "And, well, thanks for the lift back to campus, but I really need to get back to work."

Jim returned the smile as they made their way over to Alec and Blair. "Are you sure I can’t persuade you to jump ship, come work for the Cascade PD?"

Suzanne laughed shyly. "No, but thanks anyhow. Besides," she said, "this place needs cops, too."

"Well, they got one of the best, even if she still refuses to carry a gun," he told her.

"I’ll see you later then, Jim," Suzanne said with a twinkle in her eye, tactfully ignoring his compliment. "Take care, ok?"

"I will, and you, too," Jim replied, eyeing Blair’s wobbles from the corner of his eye, fighting to suppress a grin.

"See ya!" Suzanne said happily to the small group, waving as she walked away.

"All right," Jim said enthusiastically to his friends. "What do you say we grab some lunch, huh?"

"Great idea," Alec said, perking up. "I’ll drive."

"Over my dead body," Jim said dead-pan.

"Believe me," Blair muttered with a smile, "the way he drives, it will be."


THE END

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