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Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty
by Gemini

Beta read by Cheri Allen and Danae
Written for PetFly by Gail Morgan Hickman
Rated PG
internal thoughts in * *
memories in / /

~~~~~Prologue [8 years ago]~~~~~

A girl, her dark hair spread out on her pillow, lay sleeping in her room, silently guarded by stuffed animal sentries. Then a hand touched her shoulder and a well-known voice spoke.

"Stacey? Stacey, honey, wake up."

She opened her eyes. "Hmm? What?"

"Stacey, you have to get dressed."

She blinked sleepily. "Mom, why?" The girl hugged her stuffed dog closer.

"Look, I don't have time to explain. Just hurry." Her mother gently took the stuffed dog from the girl's grasp and stood up.

Stacey slipped from her bed and started pulling on her clothes.

A few minutes later, Stacey walked quietly down the stairs. There were a couple boxes in the entryway, and some suitcases next to the front door. When she reached the first floor, she looked around the corner into the living room and saw her father near the fireplace. He was throwing some papers into the fire. He turned and looked at her for a moment, then returned to his task. Stacey's mom came by and put a few more suitcases down by the front door.

Stacey asked, "Mommy, what's going on?"

"We have to go on a trip. Tonight."

"Where are we going?"

Her mom looked at her for a moment. "We don't know yet," she said gently.

Once everything had been packed and taken out to the car, they locked the house and hurried to the car. Stacey got into the back seat, and her parents finished packing the suitcases into the trunk. The car rocked slightly as Stacey's dad closed the trunk.

He said to his wife, "We better stay off the main highway. We'll take the back roads."

She nodded to him, worry creasing her brow. As he moved towards the driver's side, she walked towards the passenger side, where Stacey sat. Careful to put a reassuring expression on her face, she leaned down and handed the stuffed dog in to her daughter. "Don't want to forget Bowser."

Stacey smiled back at her mom, who then took her place in the car. Stacey hugged her stuffed animal tightly to her chest and rested her head on it as the car pulled away from their home.

Behind them, a large truck started up and followed their car at a distance.

~~~~~~~~

Rain was slashing down as the family drove down the dark, deserted road. The truck was still behind them, its bright lights on. Stacey's father was having difficulty seeing because of the reflections from the headlights of the truck. Her mother was looking back at the truck, fear evident in her face.

Stacey jerked upright, eyes wide, when she felt something bump the car, hard. Whirling around, she saw the truck that had been following them, right behind the car. It pulled forward and hit the car again. "Mommy! What's happening?"

Her mom shouted, "Brian, what's he doing?"

The truck bumped them again and again.

"He's going to kill us," Brian said grimly.

The car lost the battle against the larger truck, falling through a guardrail and off the road.

"Hold on!" yelled Brian.

Stacey screamed.

After what seemed like forever, the car stopped moving. Stacey found herself lying against the inside door of the car, looking up the hill toward the truck, which was parked on the road above them. She saw a man outlined in the headlights of the truck for a moment, then the throbbing in her head overwhelmed her, bringing a welcome darkness and relief from pain.


~~~~~ Act I [Present] ~~~~~~


A young woman, her dark hair spread out on her pillow, lay sleeping in a hospital room. Sensors taped to her forehead were attached to leads that were, in turn, hooked to monitors that stood as silent sentries as she slept. But when she moved her head in her sleep, the leads disturbed her, bringing her to panicked consciousness.

Sitting up suddenly, she reached up and tore the sensors from her head, flinging them away from her and trying frantically to untangle the leads that twisted around her arms and hands. The monitors started beeping and flashing, frightening her even more. Completely panicked now, she pushed a tray away from the bed, causing it to crash loudly to the floor, its contents scattering. She fell off the bed, landing on her hands and knees next to the tray. Catching her reflection in the silver tray, she picked the tray up and stared, then shook her head. Her eyes showed her confusion and disbelief as she looked at her image in the makeshift mirror.

~~~~~~~~

Out at the nurses' station in the hall, the night nurse was talking on the telephone. When she heard the clattering from Stacey's room she spun to look in that direction and said into the phone, "Oh, God. It's Stacey Newman. She's pulled out her monitors again. Let me call you back." Hanging up the receiver, she hurried to check on her charge.

~~~~~~~~

Tossing the tray aside, Stacey pushed herself to her feet. She looked around wildly, then rushed behind the door to hide.

The nurse slowly moved into the room. Seeing no sign of her patient, she called out, "Stacey? Oh, my God." She started to walk over to the empty bed. Behind her, Stacey shoved the door at the nurse, knocking her down, then skittered out of the room and down the hall.

The nurse called, "Stacey!" but the young woman did not respond.

~~~~~~~~

Stacey ignored the nurse's call as she hurried away. She ducked into a stairwell and headed down the stairs, clutching tightly to the railing with both hands; her descent was somewhat awkward, even with her careful handhold on the railing. When she reached the ground floor, she stopped for a moment, glanced around nervously, and then pressed the wide bar that opened the door. Taking a deep breath, she stepped outside.

It was cold and damp out. Distant sounds of traffic were somewhat muted. Lights from street lamps glinted off puddles on the sidewalks and streets around the huge hospital. She shivered, pulling the thin robe around her. She wandered along the sidewalk next to the hospital, looking at the many lights and parked vehicles with a dazed expression. She idly tugged at her ID bracelet while she walked. As she wandered past the main entrance to the hospital, the ID bracelet finally broke loose. With a sigh of relief, she let it fall from her fingers. Not watching where it fell, she kept walking, away from the lights of the hospital, and into the relative darkness of the surrounding city.

~~~~~~~~~

Dr. Kevon Tarloff ran down the hospital hallway, swearing softly under his breath. He came to a stop by the south elevators where a security guard was waiting for him. At the guard's questioning look, he said, "She wasn't in intensive care or physical therapy. Now, I want you to go down and check the basement to see if she's hiding down there."

As the guard left, the night nurse from Stacey's floor approached him. "Dr. Tarloff!"

He turned to her, brows furrowed in concern. "You have any luck?"

She held up a broken ID bracelet. "I found this outside the main entrance."

The doctor grimaced. "Stacey's ID bracelet. Go tell Security that she's outside the hospital. Go, go, go!"

~~~~~~~~

Blair Sandburg steered his Volvo down the city street, singing along to Angie Ferris' song, 'Coming Back to Me Now.' Without warning, a blur of white ran in front of his car and he slammed on his brakes. The Volvo screeched to a stop. Blair sat for a moment, stunned. "Whoa!" He scrambled to get out of the car.

Walking carefully over to the alley where the blur had disappeared, he saw a young woman huddled next to the wall of the building, knees drawn up to her chest. "Hey," he said softly. "Hey, you okay? You scared me there. You need some help?"

The woman--she seemed more like a girl, almost, though she looked old enough to be a woman--looked up at him with an expression that was both fearful and hopeful.

Blair squatted next to her. "Um, my name's Blair. What's your name?"

She blinked at him, but did not speak.

He took in the hospital gown and robe and slippers. "Do you know which hospital you were in? I could take you back there."

She just looked at him, the fear in her eyes increasing. If anything, she seemed to huddle into herself more.

"Hey, it's okay." He made calming motions with his hands, smiling at her gently. "Okay, I tell you what, why don't you come with me, and I'll help you get home, okay?" He stood slowly and held out his hand.

With a shuddering intake of breath, the young woman took Blair's hand and rose to her feet.

"Hey, you look cold. Here, put this on." He took off his coat and slipped it around her shoulders. She smiled shyly at him.

They walked over to his car. He helped her into the passenger seat and showed her how to buckle her seatbelt. Clutching the coat around her shoulders, she looked up at him as he closed the door. He smiled at her, then walked around to the driver's side of the car.

~~~~~~~~

"Sure, Steven, sounds great. Next Tuesday, noon, at McAbee's. See you then." Hanging up the phone, Jim Ellison moved over to the balcony doors and stood for a few minutes, looking out over his city. It was still awkward talking with his brother, but they were both trying, and he was glad for the chance to renew their relationship. Meeting for lunch was another step on the path to reestablishing the connection their dad had worked so hard to sever.

He finally turned back toward the table where his sandwich awaited him. Seating himself, he turned the Jack Kerouac book over, found his place, and picked up the sandwich. Jim was just about to take a bite when the door opened. Sighing, and wondering if fate didn't want him to eat this meal, he set it down again. So much for my quiet night alone.

Blair entered, at a much slower rate than usual.

*That's odd. Sandburg moving at only half light speed?* Jim thought. "Sandburg, I thought you were going to the movies."

"Yeah, uh, I was, but something happened." He turned toward someone standing in the hallway, reaching out a hand. "Come on in. It's okay."

Curious, Jim watched as a tall, slim young woman hesitantly entered the loft. She was dressed in a hospital gown and robe with Blair's coat over her shoulders and only socks on her feet. Her posture radiated diffidence, and she held her head to one side, her eyes looking away from Jim.

*What the hell?* Jim stared at her for a minute, dumbfounded. *Where did he find her? God, Sandburg is too kindhearted for his own good; the kid brings home strays.* "Who's this? Your date for the evening?" Even as he said it, Jim winced. *Damn, that sounded nasty.*

Blair gave him a disbelieving look. "Jim--!"

"Sorry," Jim mumbled. "I didn't mean…" He cleared his throat. "Who is she?"

Watching the girl, who was wandering around the loft, looking at the various objects on the shelves, Blair said, "I almost hit her with my car. She jumped right out in front of me. She's not talking, she doesn't have any ID, and… she looks terrified."

Tilting his head, Jim cast a professional eye at their unexpected guest. "Judging from the gown, I'd say she's an escapee from the psych ward at Engelman General. I'll make a few calls. See what we can find out here." He headed toward the telephone in the kitchen.

Blair watched the young woman wander around as Jim called Engelman General. "Yeah, this is Detective Jim Ellison from Cascade Police Department. I was wondering if any of your patients are missing."

While Jim talked, the girl's attention was drawn to a handmade doll on a shelf. She picked it up and began gently stroking its hair.

Jim looked at her with a practiced eye, then continued speaking into the phone. "A Caucasian female, about five foot, five inches, between, uh, one-ten, one-twenty. Uh, brown hair… Well, she's got that green gown on…."

Listening as Jim continued his telephone conversation, Blair decided to see if he could start a conversation with their guest. "You like that? That was made by a tribe in the Pacific Northwest called the Haida Nation." She startled slightly when Blair spoke from just behind her, but did not respond.

Blair heard Jim's voice from the kitchen as he ended his telephone call. "Yeah. All accounted for. All right, thanks." Jim hung up the phone and moved toward them. "She's not from Engelman."

Blair squeezed the girl's shoulder reassuringly. "There's a ton of other hospitals in Cascade, Jim."

Jim turned away and walked back toward the table. "I think we should just take her down to the station and let them sort it out down there."

Moving toward Jim, arms moving through the air to emphasize his words, Blair said, "No, no! That's why I brought her here, man. The station'll terrify her. There's too much going on."

Jim swung around and looked at Blair, his head tipped and one eyebrow raised. "You got a better idea? Come on."

The young woman continued hugging and rocking the Haida doll.

The telephone rang and Jim answered it. "Yeah, it's Ellison…. Uh-huh…. All right. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Where are you guys again? … All right." He hung up and turned toward Blair.

Leaning back against one of the kitchen chairs, Blair looked at Jim when he was off the phone. "What's up?"

"That was Brown. He's on a stakeout. Dolinski was supposed to relieve him. Only Dolinski just called in with the flu." Jim moved over toward the kitchen as he spoke. He put on a holster, brought a gun out from a drawer, checked it and put it in the holster.

"You got to take over for him?" Blair asked

"Yeah." Jim snagged his black leather jacket off one of the hooks behind the door and slid it on. He picked up his ID from the drawer, and slipped it into one of the pockets of his jacket.

Blair asked, "Well, uh, why don't we just let her stay here tonight until we figure out what to do with her?"

Their guest had moved over toward the couch and lay down while they were talking.

"Chief, we don't know anything about this girl. She could be a doper, have outstanding warrants. She might need medication."

"Come on, Jim. What are you talk--" Blair peeked over the couch and looked at her as she lay on the couch. She was curled up, her eyes were closed, and she had the doll wrapped up in her arms. "Jim, come on, take a look. How dangerous could she be?" His voice was softer.

"Sandburg, I just don't think it's a good idea…"

"Well, what should I do?"

Jim sighed. "All right. Call Missing Persons. You ask for Bellows. Any problems, call me on my cell phone."

"All right," Blair said.

"And Sandburg? Why don't you lock up the cutlery?"

Blair laughed a little. Jim had just reached the door when Blair asked, "Hey, Jim, you don't want your sandwich any more, do you?"

In a few long strides, Jim retrieved his sandwich and returned to the door.

"I'll see you in the morning." He left.

Blair returned to the couch. He carefully draped a blanket over the young woman. "Goodnight," he whispered.

Then he moved into the kitchen, dialed the phone and, a few moments later, said, "Missing Persons, please…"

~~~~~~~~

The sun was shining into the loft, gently lighting Blair, who slept curled on the yellow chair, and the young woman, who still lay on the couch. The silence was broken by a knocking on the door.

Hurrying to the door, Blair called out, "Who is it?" He glanced at his sleeping guest as he walked past her.

A man's voice responded, "We're from Somerset Rehabilitation Hospital. We got a call from the police. You found one of our patients."

Reaching the door, Blair said, "Uh, yeah, yeah. Hang on." He opened the door and two men came in. "Hey, how you doing? Good morning. Come on in. Blair," he said, indicating himself.

One of the men responded absently to Blair's introduction. "Peter."

"She's right over here," Blair said, indicating the couch.

The girl, who was now awake, got off the couch and edged away from the two men who were closing in on her. She tried to dodge them, but there were two of them, and it took them only moments to capture her. She twisted and tugged, but could not get away. Within a couple minutes, they were leading her through the door, down the hall, and into the elevator. Blair followed, frowning.

By the time they reached the street, the situation had gone from bad to worse. The two men were trying to force the girl across the sidewalk into the hospital's van, and she was fighting with all she had, arms and legs flailing every which way.

Hoping to calm her, Blair said, "There's nothing to be afraid of. Hey, hey." Then, objecting to the men's rough handling, he shouted at them, "Hey, hey! Take it easy!"

Peter said sternly to the girl, "You're just going to take a ride to the hospital. Come on, Stacey."

Blair said indignantly, "Don't be so rough with her!"

Peter had by now forced Stacey into the van. The other man climbed in with her and Peter shut the door. Irritated, Peter turned to Blair. "This is our job, okay? Just let us do it."

"I understand it's your job, but come on." He moved to look in the van's side windows, where a frantic and frightened Stacey was looking pleadingly at him, her hands splayed against the glass. The man inside the van with her was trying to pull her away from the window. "Hey!" Blair yelled, "You don't have to be so rough with her!"

Pulling out a gun and aiming it at Blair, Peter said, "I told you to back off."

Blair raised his hands and backed away carefully. "All right, all right. Take it easy. Just calm down."

Holding the weapon on Blair, Peter moved around the van, got in the driver's seat, and drove away.

Blair hit the back of the van as it left, then stood, looking helpless and frustrated, as it disappeared. He heard a vehicle coming from his left. Turning, he saw Jim approaching in his Expedition. He waved at him excitedly. "Hey, Jim! Come here!"

The truck pulled up next to him. "What's up?" Jim asked.

"Hey, man! There were two guys, they told me they were from the hospital." He clambered into the passenger seat of the Expedition. "They pointed a gun and they took her! Let's go!"

Turning on the siren and police lights installed in the truck, Jim took off after the van, in the direction Blair indicated.

It was only a few moments before Blair lost their trail, however. "Where'd they go? They couldn't have got too far. Maybe they went up Franklin here or they're heading for the freeway, you know?" He looked worried.

Glancing at his guide, the sentinel flashed a half-grin.

Blair noticed it and shrugged, his expression a bit sheepish. "Yeah, okay, so do your stuff!" He laid one hand on Jim's arm.

Jim's expression became serious. "Be quiet." He had stopped the truck near an intersection. He listened for a few moments. Then his expression turned grim. Flipping on a signal, he turned the large vehicle and swung onto the cross street.

"What did you hear, Jim?"

"The girl was crying, and one of the goons threatened to hit her," he ground out.

Blair pressed his lips together and stared out the windshield as they tore down the street, siren blaring and lights flashing, in pursuit of the kidnappers and their victim.

~~~~~~~~

Stacey crouched, frightened, in the back of the van. The vehicle turned a couple corners, fast, causing her and the man next to her to slide back and forth in the narrow space. She slipped to the floor, and then tried to scramble back to her feet.

She had just gotten to her feet and managed to turn toward the double doors at the rear of the van when the vehicle stopped suddenly. Stacey shoved the man next to her away and grabbed the door handles. Twisting them, she opened the doors and scrambled awkwardly out of the van and onto the street. She started running away as fast as she could.

The man she had pushed down worked his way out of the van and hurried after her, grabbing hold of her. "Hey! Come back here!" He called back over his shoulder, to the man in the van, "She's getting away!"

The man who was still in the van, yelled, "Bring her back! Hurry up, man! Come on! Let's get out of here!" He hurried out of the van to help.

Stacey continued struggling with all her strength. A siren could be heard in the distance, slowly growing louder. The kidnappers both stiffened, listening.

Stacey tried to jerk away from their hold.

The man who had been driving shouted, "Come on! Let's go! Come on! Cops are coming!"

Suddenly, Stacey found herself alone in the middle of the street. The two men dashed to the van and jumped in, one of them shouting, "Go, go, go!" Then they tore off down the street, one rear door still hanging open as the van disappeared.

Stacey stood there, her robe hanging open, crying a little.

Jim and Blair saw Stacey standing alone in the middle of the street when the Expedition pulled up a minute later. They spilled out of the doors and rushed over to Stacey.

Jim asked, "Are you all right?"

Stacey looked up at Jim and sighed. She fainted into his arms.

"Okay," Blair said, a bit nonplussed.

"Oh, good lord," Jim said, as he caught her. After a moment, he lifted her carefully. "Open the back," he said to Blair.

"I'll get the door," Blair agreed as he hurried over to the truck ahead of Jim.


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


Dr. Tarloff shined a penlight into each of Stacey's eyes. She was sitting on the one of the couches in the loft. Blair sat on the other couch, watching. Simon and Jim were standing near them, and several other police personnel were milling around. They had taken care of most of the initial processing associated with the attempted kidnapping of the young woman Blair had helped, now identified as Stacey Newman.

Dr. Tarloff ran a gentle finger down Stacey's cheek and spoke softly. "Thank you, Stacey." The doctor stood up and moved over to talk to Simon and Jim. "Well, other than a few scrapes and bruises, I'd say she's fine -- given her condition."

"What is her condition?" Jim asked, looking at the young woman huddled on the couch. Dr. Tarloff gestured that they should move away from Stacey. Blair scooted closer to Stacey as the others talked.

"When she was twelve years old, Stacey was in a car wreck with her parents," the doctor began. "They were killed. She's spent the last eight years in a coma." He looked at her sympathetically.

"Eight years?!" Simon said, astonishment evident in his voice.

Tarloff nodded. "She started waking up about ten months ago, so we began an aggressive program of physical therapy to help overcome the effects of all those years of physical immobility. It's been a long, rough road, and she still has some problems with both gross and fine motor coordination, but we're confident that, with continued therapy, she should regain near-normal functioning." He smiled as he glanced over at her, then looked back at the two police officers.

"She showed signs of definite cognitive awareness beginning about three months ago. We were just amazed and, well, delighted. It is very unusual for someone who has been in a coma for so long to come out of it, you know." He paused a moment, then continued. "She didn't regain full awareness until about a month ago. She still has some difficulties, which I'm sure you can understand. Severe nightmares and such. So although she's doing fairly well physically, psychologically it's another story. She won't talk, she has bad dreams, and she gets frightened easily. Physically she's a young woman. Emotionally, Stacey's a twelve-year-old girl."

As Blair listened to Tarloff's comments he picked up the Haida doll and gave it to Stacey, smiling gently. She returned the smile, hugging the doll to her chest and curling around it.

Briskly, Tarloff continued. "I'd like to get her back to the hospital as soon as possible."

Simon said, "No, that's out of the question, Doctor. We still don't know who those two men were. Until we do, I want her under 24-hour protection."

"I'll arrange for a safe house," Jim said.

"Actually, it's probably best if she stays here," Simon countered, looking at his detective. "The less exposure, the better. How about it, Doctor?"

Jim looked at Simon, one eyebrow cocked.

After thinking about it for a minute, Tarloff seemed to reluctantly agree. "Yeah. Yeah, I suppose a few days will be all right." He appeared more enthusiastic as he added, "I'll arrange for a physical therapist to work with her here."

"Great," Simon said. "Then it's all settled. I'll set it up."

"Right," Jim said, only a trace of reluctance evident in his tone.

Blair grinned. Stacey looked up at him and smiled shyly.

~~~~~~~~

Carrying a sheaf of papers, Jim walked down the hallway toward Major Crimes with Simon. "These are the police reports on that wreck that killed the girl's parents, Brian and Audrey Newman. There's evidence they were run off the road by another vehicle."

"You're wondering if there's any connection between that and the two guys who grabbed Stacey? Well, maybe they're afraid she can identify them."

"Yeah, that's possible," Jim said as they entered the bullpen.

The donut cart was just inside the doorway. Simon pushed back his jacket and reached for his wallet, no doubt intending to buy his favorite pineapple danish.

"Sir, your cholesterol problem," Jim admonished.

Simon made a face, but left his wallet in his pocket and proceeded toward his office, danish-less.

"Anyway, uh," Jim continued, "I got the address of the place where Newman used to work as a mechanic. He only worked there for a couple of months. His boss said he was the best mechanic he ever had. Whenever he would put his hands on an engine, it was like magic." Jim demonstrated, holding his hand out over an imaginary engine.

As they entered the office, Simon snorted. "The only magic my mechanic performs is when he reaches into the bottom of my wallet." He moved behind his desk, took off his jacket, and hung it over the back of his chair.

Jim leaned against the conference table. "Yeah, I hear that," he said with a slight chuckle. "Well, the boss told me that, when, uh, Newman died, he cleared out his locker and he found this notebook."

Simon walked over to Jim and took the notebook, flipping through a few pages. They were covered with formulas, diagrams, and copious notes. "Looks like rocket science."

"This make sense to you? Not to me, sir," Jim said.

"Good. I thought it was just me," Simon said with a half smile.

Taking the notebook back, Jim said, "No. Obviously Newman was into a lot more than just being an auto mechanic."

The phone on Simon's desk rang and the captain reached over to answer it. "Banks… No, he's here. Go ahead, patch it through." He held the receiver out to Jim. "It's for you."

Taking the receiver, Jim said, "Ellison… Uh-huh… You sure...? All right. Thanks." He hung up the phone and turned to his boss. "I asked the FBI to run the names and social security numbers of Stacey's parents through their computer."

"Yeah?"

"Brian and Audrey Newman were killed in a plane crash in Florida twelve years before their car wreck."

"What?!"

"Obviously, they borrowed the identities of somebody who's dead." His forehead furrowed as he thought.

Simon asked, "If they're not the Newmans, who are they?"

Jim countered, "And who the hell is Stacey?"

~~~~~~~~

Jim had called Blair and asked him to get Stacey ready to go for a drive. Since she didn't have any clothes of her own, Blair had found some of his clothes that were close enough in size to fit her. Jeans, a shirt, hiking boots, a jacket. She had seemed delighted to put on 'real clothes,' and dressed quickly. By the time Jim arrived to pick them up, they were ready to go.

"Where we going, Jim?" Blair asked as they settled into the Expedition.

"I thought we'd stop by her old house," Jim said as he pulled away from the loft. "Thought maybe it would jog her memory."

Blair glanced at Stacey, who was sitting in the seat behind Jim. She was staring out the window at the city as it went by.

"Maybe. I just hope she can handle it when it comes back. Maybe there's a good reason she's forgotten things," Blair said so softly that only a sentinel could hear it.

Jim glanced quickly at him, but didn't respond.

Twenty minutes later, the Expedition pulled up in front of the house Stacey had lived in eight years earlier. The three of them climbed out and examined it. The house was well cared for, with neatly trimmed landscaping; a "For Sale" sign was stuck in the front yard.

"This is her old house, huh?" Blair asked softly.

"Yeah," Jim said. "Like I said, I thought coming here might help her remember. Luckily, it's for sale and empty right now, so we can go in and look around, no problem. I got the keys from the realtors before I picked you up."

"Right."

They walked up the sidewalk, climbed the red-painted stairs to the front porch, and Jim unlocked the door. They went inside and stood in the entryway, looking around. Except for a couple chairs, a ladder, and some painting equipment, the rooms they could see were empty. The smell of paint was strong. Blair could see Jim's nose wrinkle slightly in response to the strong fumes.

"Dial it down, Jim," Blair murmured under his breath.

The sentinel glanced at him and nodded his thanks as he complied. Then he turned his attention to their purpose for visiting the house. "Do you know where we are, Stacey?" Jim asked gently.

She didn't respond, but walked farther into the house, moving toward the stairs.

Jim said softly to Blair, "She seems lost."

"She is, man." Blair shook his head. "She went to sleep as a child; she woke up as an adult. She missed critical years of her life. All sorts of cultural indoctrination, rites of passage. I can't imagine what she's going through, you know?"

Stacey started climbing the stairs. The two men quietly followed her. She entered a bedroom and wandered to the window. Jim and Blair stopped by the door, observing her as she looked outside.

"This must have been her room," Jim said.

"Yeah."

Stacey's posture changed from wistful to interested as they watched, and then she turned and hurried from the bedroom. Jim and Blair exchanged a glance, then followed her.

While Jim locked up the house, Blair stayed with Stacey as she shyly walked toward two young girls who were playing with Barbies and assorted Barbie accessories in a nearby yard.

The two girls could be heard playing as they approached.

"Okay. See ya," said one.

"Hey, you lost a shoe," said the other.

"I'm going shopping for a new outfit. I saw a beautiful dress at the store that I know Boyfriend will love," said the first.

Jim joined Blair and they watched as Stacey silently sank to her knees near the girls, picked up a doll and brush, and gently began brushing the doll's hair. The two girls stared at her for a minute, then started whispering to each other.

Finally, the first girl said to Stacey, "You're too old to play with Barbies." Turning to her friend, she said, "Don't you think she's a little old to do this?"

The other said, "Yeah, she's weird."

"She's really weird."

As this conversation was taking place, Jim scanned the neighborhood. He noticed a man in a parked car who was watching them through binoculars. He said to Blair, "Stay with her," then moved carefully off between two houses to circle around behind the man.

Meanwhile, the first girl who had spoken was now standing in front of Stacey, one hand held out demandingly. "Can I have my doll, please? We have to go."

With a sad expression on her face, Stacey gave the girl the doll and brush and stood up. The two girls picked up the rest of their things and left. As Stacey moved to join Blair, the musical sounds of an ice cream vendor could be heard coming down the street. Stacey looked at the little truck and started walking toward it when it stopped in front of the house next to them.

~~~~~~~~

Jim was moving stealthily around behind the car where he had seen the man watching Stacey. He was almost close enough to nab him when the man opened the car door and started moving toward Stacey and Blair. Glancing in their direction, Jim saw the ice cream truck and surmised that the truck had obscured the man's view.

*No problem, I'll just get close to him on foot,* Jim thought. He moved around the corner of the fence that had been hiding him from the man's view and started heading toward his objective. A nearby dog started barking, drawing the man's attention. *Damn!* As the man turned and saw him, Jim pulled his badge and yelled, "Hey! Cascade PD!" Unfortunately, the man chose to run, so Jim pursued him. "Hey! You don't want to do this! Hey! Hey!"

*Okay, let's turn this into an obstacle course,* Jim thought as the man jumped over the bed of a truck parked on a side street. Fondly remembering his years in the military, the former Army Ranger leapt easily over the truck bed.

The truck's owner was apparently getting tired of people using his truck as a hurdle. "Hey! What are you doing!" he yelled.

Jim continued chasing the man until his prey stopped in the middle of a street and pulled out a gun, aiming it at the detective. Jim pulled out his gun. Then a horn honked and the perp looked to his left to see a very large truck grill just before it hit him. Jim winced as he saw the truck strike the man.

The driver of the truck swung out, saying, "I didn't see him."

Jim moved forward, gun still at the ready. "It's okay. I'm from the police department."

The driver looked down at the man sprawled on the street. "Is he okay?"

Jim checked for a pulse. He just sighed. The perp was dead.

~~~~~~~~

Several children and a woman were crowded around the ice cream truck near Blair and Stacey.

The woman asked the driver, "Do you have enough change?"

"Here you go," he replied.

"Me first, me first!" cried one little girl.

Stacey, standing next to Blair with an excited smile on her face, asked, "Can I have some ice cream?"

Blair stared at her, a warm smile lighting up his face after a moment.

Turning to look at Blair with wide eyes, Stacey added, "Please?"

As he dug in his pocket for some money, Blair said, "Oh, yeah, of course." He found a rumpled dollar bill and handed it to her. "Here." He watched with a delighted smile as she hurried over to the ice cream truck. Blair blinked a few times and shook his head in amazement. Stacey had spoken!


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


The sirens of the police cars and the ambulance drew the attention of the children and Stacey alike. Blair cautiously allowed Stacey to head toward the area where the vehicles were clustered, figuring that Jim was probably at the center of whatever was happening. As soon as Jim caught sight of them, he signaled for Blair to stay where he was, then finished what he was doing and made his way over to them. Stacey was looking around curiously as she happily finished her ice cream treat.

"Hey, Jim, what's happening?" Blair kept his voice quiet so Stacey wouldn't hear them.

"I saw a guy watching Stacey, tried to catch him, he ran. Right in front of that truck, as it turns out." Jim nodded his head at the truck whose driver was talking to one of the uniformed officers now on the scene. "Driver had no chance of stopping. Guy was killed instantly."

"Oh, man. Do you know who he was?"

"No. We'll have to run his prints. Anyway, I'm gonna have to go to the station, take care of the paperwork on this. You gonna be okay alone with Stacey, Chief, or do you want to come with me?"

"No, I really don't think she should go to the station. We'll be fine. I'll take her back to the loft. We'll have lunch." Blair looked over at Stacey, who was licking the last of the ice cream off the wooden stick. "Oh, hey! I forgot! Jim, she talked!"

"What?"

"Stacey, she talked! She asked me if she could have some ice cream. Just plain as day, as if she had been talking all along. I about fell over."

"Really? That's great, Chief." Jim gave Stacey a measured look.

After a moment, Blair said, "What is it, Jim?"

"Hm? Oh, I was just wondering if we should take her to see Dr. Tarloff, now that she's talking again. See if he can help her more."

Blair thought for a minute. Stacey turned and caught his eye. A happy smile lit her face. "Thank you for the ice cream, Blair."

"You're welcome, Stacey." He returned her smile. When she had returned her attention to one of the police cars, which was now driving away, he answered Jim. "I think you're right, Jim. I'll call Tarloff when we get to the loft, set something up for later today."

"Great, Chief. Thanks. Come on, I'll drop the two of you off at the loft on my way to the station."

~~~~~~~~

Jim stretched, trying to work out the stiffness in his shoulders and neck. Paperwork. Whoever invented it should be shot. Why is it that the paperwork always takes ten times as long to complete as the work it documents? Shaking his head, he stood and grabbed his jacket.

He stopped by Simon's office before he left. "I'm out of here, sir."

"What? Oh, all right, Jim. Everything going okay with the girl?" Simon looked tired.

"Yeah. By the way, she started talking this afternoon. Asked Sandburg for an ice cream cone."

Simon chuckled. "He does have a way with the ladies."

"That he does, sir. We're going to take her to see Tarloff, see if he can help her any, now that she's talking." Jim leaned against the doorjamb.

"Sounds like a good idea. Maybe she can shed some light on all of this."

"That's what we're hoping." Jim straightened. "If you don't need me, Simon, I'll be off."

"Okay, Jim, see you later. Keep me informed."

"Will do, sir." Jim headed out of the bullpen. He had one more stop to make before returning to the loft.

~~~~~~~~~

*Okay, this shouldn't be too hard. I can do this. I was an Army Ranger, for God's sake. I did covert ops. I survived for eighteen months in the jungle in Peru. I'm a detective in Major Crimes. I can do this.* Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door and walked in.

A little bell tinkled softly as Jim opened the door. Sunlight streamed in the store window, bringing a soft yellow glow to the dress shop. The building was older, with wooden floors worn to a golden shine from generations of women who had shopped there. A delicate hint of hundreds of perfumes and colognes that had been absorbed into the very walls of the shop was just barely noticeable, even to a sentinel.

Dozens of dresses were displayed about the shop. Some were made of cloth with flowers, some of cloth with stripes. Some were made of solid colors. Some dresses had lace or other decorations, and others were simple and plain. Some dresses had buttons, some had zippers, and some needed no closures at all. Some were straight and skinny, others flared and billowed. They came in a bewildering array of sizes, and in many lengths.

Okay, so maybe this was a bad idea. Jim was about ready to bolt when a smiling woman appeared from the rear of the store.

"Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to Emily's Dress Shop. Can I be of assistance?"

"Oh, yes. Please." He was almost embarrassed at the obvious sound of relief in his voice. "I'm looking for a dress for a girl, um, well, a young woman, actually, well, she's about 20, I guess, and I don't know, well…"

The woman smiled. "Okay, I'm sure we can find something that she will like. Do you know what size she wears?"

"Size?" Jim stared blankly at the woman. "Uh, size, um, sorry, I don't know--"

"That's okay," the woman laughed softly.

Jim decided he liked the sound of her laugh. It was musical and made him feel better.

"By the way, my name is Judith," she said, holding out her hand.

"I'm Jim," he replied, shaking her hand. He was feeling calmer already.

"Okay, Jim," Judith said. "How tall is your friend?"

Thinking back to when he had described her to the nurse at the psych ward of Engelman General Hospital the first night he had met her, he said, "She's about five feet, five inches tall, weighs about one ten, one twenty. Oh, and she's got brown hair, if that helps with picking out colors or something."

"Okay, great. And you said she's 20? Is she outgoing? Or more quiet?"

"Yeah, she's 20. And she's quiet. Almost kind of shy," Jim said, thinking of all the things Stacey had to catch up on, all the things she had missed in the last eight years.

"Good, thanks. That gives us a place to start." With a kind smile, Judith led him to a rack of dresses and started showing him some dresses she thought he would like. They were pretty and had flowers on them. Jim thought they looked just about perfect.

~~~~~~~~

An hour and a half later Jim, Blair, and Stacey were at the hospital. Jim was talking quietly into his cell phone and Blair was watching from across the room as Dr. Tarloff talked with Stacey.

"Do you remember the car accident?" the doctor asked.

"Um, not really. It's all… so confused."

"What about your mother, your father?" Tarloff continued, gently.

Stacey struggled to answer. "Well, I remember… Mom had brown hair."

"Mm-hmm."

"And Dad… I can't remember." Her voice became plaintive as she asked, "Why can't I remember them?"

Tarloff tried to comfort her. "It's okay."

Blair looked up as Jim finished his phone conversation.

"Okay, Simon. I'll call you in a while." Jim focused on Blair. "That guy's name was Lee Devlin. He's got a rap sheet as long as my arm: assault, attempted murder, armed robbery."

"Do we know who he was working for?" Blair asked.

"No, Simon's checking on that." Jim glanced up as Tarloff came across the room toward them.

"Well, after her coma, it's not surprising that she'd suffer from partial amnesia, but at least she's talking to us," Tarloff said.

"So this is one of those 'wait and see' situations?" Blair asked.

After looking at the two men for a moment, Tarloff agreed. "I'm afraid so."

They gathered Stacey and left the room, with Tarloff escorting them. Jim moved to walk next to the doctor, and Blair accompanied Stacey, following behind the two men.

Jim asked Tarloff, "All these years Stacey's been here, who's been picking up her tab? The state?"

"Hardly," Tarloff said dryly.

"Then who?"

"The Chadway Foundation. It's a private organization that does scientific research."

Jim asked, "Why would a private foundation pay her hospital bills?"

"It's extremely rare for a patient to survive a coma for so long," Tarloff explained. "Stacey's been written up in the medical journals." They had arrived at the elevators, and Tarloff said, "Look, I have some rounds to run, so if you have any more questions, just give me a call."

"Thanks very much for your time, Doctor," Jim said as Tarloff nodded and left.

Jim, Blair, and Stacey were getting on the elevator when a short woman with straight, blonde hair tied tightly in a ponytail at the back of her head appeared behind Stacey and Blair. "Stacey? Stacey Newman?" she asked.

Blair grabbed Stacey and pulled her away from the woman and toward the elevator doors.

Undeterred, the woman continued, "I'm Kerri Sullivan from the 'Cascade Sun.' Can I speak to you for just a moment?"

Jim spoke up. "That won't be possible. Miss Newman's in protective custody."

"And you are?" asked the woman.

"Detective Ellison," Jim replied evenly.

"Come on, Detective," badgered the woman. "She just woke up from an eight-year coma."

Thankfully, the elevator arrived and the three entered the car. The annoying woman tried to follow them in, insisting, "It's like a real Sleeping Beauty story. I just want to know a few things. It's not gonna take very long."

Jim insisted, "I'm sorry. This elevator's full." He prevented her from entering.

The elevator doors closed in her face. They could hear her voice as she protested, "You have no right--"

~~~~~~~~

That evening they were relaxing after dinner when Jim brought out the boxes he had carried in from the truck. He gave them to Stacey.

"Here, Stacey, this is something I thought you might like."

"For me?" Her eyes glowed with delight.

She knelt down and opened the top box. Pulling out a long, flowered sundress, she exclaimed, "Oh! It's beautiful! How did you know I would like it?" She held it up to herself and went over to where Jim was standing.

"Uh, a lucky guess," Jim said awkwardly, a crooked smile on his face.

Blair grinned from his perch on the couch. "Jim Ellison in a dress shop. I would have loved to have seen that. Oh, to be a fly on the wall."

"Oh, come on, I was married once, you know? I mean…"

Whatever Jim was going to say was cut off as Stacey put her arms around Jim's neck and hugged him. After a moment she released him and stepped back. "Thank you."

Jim smiled. "You're welcome." He tried not to squirm. He was uncomfortably aware that Blair was watching everything from where he was sitting.

"I'm going to go try these on," Stacey said excitedly as she picked up the dress boxes and headed into Blair's room.

"Great," Jim said.

After she left, Blair raised his eyebrows and said, "Uh-oh."

"All right, Chief. You got anything to say, just come out with it."

"I don't have anything to say. I think she said it all."

The phone rang; Blair answered it. "Hello? Yeah. Hey, Simon. How you doing? Hang on a second." He handed the telephone to Jim.

Taking the receiver, Jim heard Simon say, "Jim, it's Simon. The morgue finally dug out those fingerprints on Stacey's parents. The FBI has positively ID'd them as Jack and Nora Strassman of Tacoma. They were researchers in the Physics department at Pacific Tech University and nine years ago, for no apparent reason, they vanished."

"All right," Jim said. "We'll check it out."

After he hung up, Blair asked, "What's up?"

Jim briefly explained. "So tomorrow we'll take a quick trip to Pacific Tech and see what we can turn up."

"Cool," Blair said. "Maybe something will ring a bell for Stacey, too."

Just then, Stacey came out of Blair's room, wearing the sundress. She walked shyly at first.

"Oh, Stacey! You look beautiful!" Blair said, with a smile.

"Yes, very grown up," Jim agreed.

Her eyes sparkling, Stacey smiled at their praise, then went off to try on the next dress, with a skip in her step.

~~~~~~~~~

The sun was shining brightly as Jim parked the Expedition at Pacific Tech University. He, Blair, and Stacey climbed out of the truck. Watching his young charge, he asked, "Anything look familiar?"

Diffidently, Stacey said, "I don't know. Maybe."

"I'm meeting with a guy named Martin Van Zandt. He used to work with your mother and father." Jim turned to Blair. "Why don't you and Stacey have a walk around the campus? See if anything jogs her memory. I'll meet you in front of the library in an hour."

"All right." Blair watched as Jim headed off toward the Physics department. "Well, Stacey, what do you say? Shall we?"

She smiled and they started strolling across the sunlit campus.

~~~~~~~~

"An eight-year coma. And she finally came out of it. That's amazing." Martin Van Zandt led Jim across a large lab facility in the physics building as they talked. "I'm sad to hear about Jack and Nora. I was always puzzled by their disappearance."

"Can you think of any reason why someone would have wanted to kill them?" Jim asked. He extended his hearing and focused his sight to monitor the man's physiological reactions as he continued his questioning.

Sounding mystified, Van Zandt replied, "As far as I know, they didn't have an enemy in the world."

"According to the morgue, they had at least one," Jim replied dryly. "What type of work were the Strassmans doing?"

The physicist stopped walking and pulled a packet of small, white mints out of his pocket. He flipped open the top and shook a couple mints into his palm. "Mint?" he asked politely.

"No, thank you," Jim said.

Keeping one mint out and tucking the container back in his pocket, Van Zandt answered Jim's question. "It's difficult to put in lay terms. Basically, they had a grant to research the generation of light energy from sound. It's called sonar luminescence." He popped the mint into his mouth.

"Is that what this notebook is about?" Jim pulled the notebook he had earlier showed Simon from his back pocket and handed it to Van Zandt, who eagerly took it.

After flipping quickly through the notebook, the physicist looked obviously disappointed. "No," he said. "This is just some equations for an internal combustion engine."

"What were you hoping to find?" Jim asked.

"Oh, nothing, really," Van Zandt responded nonchalantly. "I was just excited to see some work by an old colleague. Look, I have a faculty meeting. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you more." He handed the notebook back to Jim and extended his hand.

"Well, I appreciate your time." Jim shook Van Zandt's hand.

"Okay." The physicist turned and started to leave.

"Uh, Professor?" Jim asked.

Van Zandt looked back at him.

"Can you tell me who funded the Strassmans' grant?"

"Well, I'd have to check, but I think it was the Chadway Foundation." He turned, pushed through the door and was gone.

Jim stood looking after him for a moment. Van Zandt's heart rate and respiration had both been elevated and he had been sweating more when he had been looking at the notebook. Jim suspected the man had been hoping for more than equations for an internal combustion engine in that notebook. He definitely should be watched.

~~~~~~~~

Stacey walked up to a large stone statue of a bird. "I remember this. And I remember my … mom. She was sitting right there. And she was wearing a white sweater!" Her voice became more animated as she spoke. Stacey turned to Blair with a big smile.

He grinned back at her. "Well, good, good. Yeah!"

Jim jogged up the nearby stairs to join them. When Stacey saw him she almost danced over to him in her delight. "Jim!"

"Hey."

"I remembered I was here!"

"Oh, that's good news," Jim said. "That's terrific."

Blair asked, "How'd your meeting with Van Zandt go?"

Stacey gazed happily at Jim as he answered Blair. "I got the feeling he's hiding something. I got a strange suspicion that the same foundation that's paying Stacey's hospital bills also funded her parents' research." He pulled out his phone, turning away slightly, and dialed. "Hi, Rhonda, it's Ellison. I need the number for the Chadway Foundation, please, … No phone number? That's odd. Okay, well, what about an address then?" Once she had given him the address, he asked her to let Simon know they were heading to check out the foundation and thanked her. Stuffing the phone back in his jacket, he gestured in the direction the truck was parked. "Okay, Chief, Stacey, let's go."

~~~~~~~~

After stopping at Wonderburger for lunch, to Blair's disgust and Stacey's delight, they drove to the address Rhonda had given Jim for the Chadway Foundation. Instead of a commercial building, it was a warehouse surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire. A "No Trespassing" sign was hung across the locked gate in front of the only obvious entrance.

Jim parked the truck, and he and Blair got out and walked up to the gate. Stacey remained in the vehicle.

"So this is the Chadway Foundation," Jim said.

"What kind of foundation operates out of a warehouse, man?" Blair asked. "It doesn’t even look like they use it any more."

"Well, if they don't use it, why would they need a security system and a high-tech surveillance camera?" Jim asked, indicating the camera mounted over the warehouse door and the electronic keypad under the camera.

"Good question."

Jim stepped back a moment, then reached out and began to climb the fence.

Blair squawked, "Hey! Hey, where are you going?"

"I was going to see if anybody's home." Jim carefully climbed over the barbed wire at the top and lowered himself to the ground inside the fenced-in area. Striding to the warehouse door, he pulled out his wallet and removed a credit card. He slid it through the card scanner and punched a series of numbers into the keypad at random. "That ought to get their attention," he muttered with satisfaction.

Lights and audible alarms began going off.

"Jackpot," Jim said, looking around expectantly.

From down the street, a black van appeared, screeching to a stop near the Expedition. Several armed men poured out, headed for Blair and Stacey.

"Let's go!" one man shouted. "Put your hands where we can see them! I got him, I got him!"

Jim moved toward the fence to climb back over, but the warehouse door opened behind him. Another man with a gun came out and pulled him away from the fence.

"Oh, easy," Jim said.

Out by the street, Blair was reassuring the man who was holding a gun on him, "Relax, big guy. I'm unarmed. Relax." Men were pulling Stacey out of the Expedition. Blair shouted, "Take it easy on her!"

Jim explained to the man who was frisking him, "I'm a detective with the Cascade Police Department."

Sullivan, the woman who had harassed Stacey at the hospital, came out of the warehouse. "We know who you are, Detective. What are you doing here?"

Jim stared at her over his shoulder as the goon continued to search him. "Well, I could ask you the same question. And while you're at it, why don't you tell me who you really are?" The man had finished frisking him and let Jim turn around so he could face the irritating woman.

Smugly, she replied, "Military intelligence. And you just broke into a high-security government facility, Detective. A very serious offense. So unless I get some fast answers, you're going to jail."


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


Harsh overhead lights shone down on them as Jim, Blair, and Stacey sat in chairs in the middle of the warehouse. Sullivan stood in front of them, and the armed men who had forced them inside stood at various locations, a few near the seated prisoners, others in the shadows near the walls.

"Come on, Sullivan," Jim said, exasperated. "It's getting a little old. We've been going over this for a couple of hours now. None of us know anything."

The annoying voice came back at them. "You know about Jack and Nora Strassman, about Pacific Tech, the Chadway Foundation."

"But we can't make any sense of it," Blair threw in.

Walking up until she was standing right in front of Stacey, the small, obnoxious woman tilted her head and said in a condescending voice, "Do you want to go to prison, Stacey?"

Frightened, Stacey replied, "No." Her voice was low and shook just a little.

"Then tell me what your parents told you."

"I can't remember anything. I've tried, but I can't."

Jim tried to pull Sullivan's attention away from the girl. "Hey, Sullivan, we might be able to help you out if you tell us what's going on here. Yeah. This is a voluntary Q&A and I've had enough. You have no right to hold us here." Making his actions match his words, he stood up.

One of the nearer goons moved over to Jim's right when he stood up.

Sullivan's strident voice rang out. "Sit down. I said, sit down!"

In response to her order, the goon put out an arm to push Jim back down into the chair. Jim smoothly grabbed the man's arm and twisted it behind the man's back, relieving him of his gun at the same time. By the time he was finished, Jim had the gun pointed at the goon's head. The other men were starting to move in on him.

Sullivan spoke up. "Everyone hold your fire."

At the same time, an outside door swung open and Captain Banks, Detective Rafe, and several other Cascade PD officers swarmed into the warehouse, weapons at the ready.

"Cascade Police!" Simon shouted. "Any of these people make a threatening move, shoot them! I'm Captain Simon Banks. These are my people."

Sullivan turned to him. "This is federal property," she said defiantly.

"I don't see any signs here," Simon said mildly. "Did you, Jim?"

Jim pushed away the man he had been holding. "No, sir."

Simon faced down the woman, who was glaring at him. Her glare was having no impact on him whatsoever. "Unless I see a federal warrant in two seconds, these people are coming with me." He paused, glaring back at her. "That's what I thought." He nodded, pleased. "Let's go."

Jim moved to Stacey and helped her up. "You all right?" He turned to Blair and said, "Come on."

Simon was still addressing Sullivan. "I don't know who you people are or what you're up to, but I'm going to find out."

Jim, Stacey, and Blair headed to the door, followed by Simon. Rafe and the other officers watched their backs and followed them out.

As they were leaving, Jim said to Simon, "Nice to see you, sir. How did you find us?"

"I heard you were going to the Chadway Foundation."

"You were bluffing back there, Captain?" Jim asked curiously.

"You know me," Simon said with a smirk. "I love to play poker."

~~~~~~~~

Jim waited patiently around the corner of the physics building on the Pacific Tech University campus. He could hear Van Zandt approaching. He had a few questions to ask the dear professor.

Van Zandt rounded the corner and pulled up suddenly, startled by Jim's presence. "Hello, Detective. What brings you back to Pacific Tech?"

"A lot of questions, Professor. And I think you have the answers."

"Well, come inside."

Jim monitored the other man's heart rate as he followed him into the building. *Yup, I do indeed think you have some of the answers I need,* he thought grimly.

Once they were settled in Van Zandt's laboratory, the professor explained, "Jack and Nora Strassman weren't just two of the best scientists I've ever known. They were also the most moral. Their passion was to develop a cheap, pollution-free energy source. They were on the verge of breakthrough. They needed money, so I got them some."

"From the Chadway Foundation," Jim said flatly.

"Yes."

"Which is a front for the military," Jim continued.

"Well, they use it to channel funds when they want to keep a low profile," Van Zandt said, somewhat defensively. He fumbled his packet of mints from his pocket and opened it as he continued. "The military wanted to use their research for weapons applications. I, uh, didn't tell that to the Strassmans." He popped a mint into his mouth and returned the package to his pocket.

"And when they found out?" Jim asked.

"They were peace activists, Detective. They refused to continue and the military threatened to take their project away." There was almost a whine in Van Zandt's voice.

"Was Kerri Sullivan involved?"

"You've met her?" The professor sounded calmer with the change of topic.

"Yeah."

"Then you know how difficult she can be. Somehow she got the notion that the Strassmans wanted to sell their ideas to a foreign government. She confronted them. They disappeared, along with their work."

"So, for the last eight years Sullivan's been waiting for Stacey to wake up, hoping she'd lead them to the research," Jim said.

"Yeah."

"Could anyone else have known about the Strassmans' work?" Jim asked.

"Well, picture an energy source so powerful that it could make nuclear arms obsolete. I think any government on earth would want that."

"But the Strassmans could just have destroyed their files."

"No," Van Zandt said. "It was the discovery of a lifetime. Knowing Jack and Nora, they probably hid it somewhere, hoping to retrieve it when the time was right."

~~~~~~~~

When Jim, Stacey, and Blair returned to the loft, some large cardboard boxes were sitting just inside the door.

"Hey, what's all this?" Blair asked.

"While Stacey was in the hospital, her parents' things were put in storage," Jim said as he helped Stacey off with her outer sweater. "I asked Rafe and Brown to bring a couple things over here. I thought it might help her memory. Why don't you help her with one of the boxes, Chief?" He moved to the hooks behind the door and hung up his jacket.

"Yeah," Blair said. He helped Stacey move one of the stacked boxes onto the floor. "There."

Excited, Stacey sat on the floor in front of the box. Blair sat next to her, and Jim came over and perched on a low footstool on her other side. After glancing at Jim, Stacey opened the box. Lying on top was a brown, fuzzy stuffed animal. She laughed. "It's Bowser!"

Blair laughed, too, and smiled warmly at her. He spotted a photo album and pulled it out. "What's this? We've got some pictures here?" He opened the album. "Yeah."

The three of them started looking at the pictures. There were several of Stacey as a baby, some with her mother, some with her father, and some of her alone.

"What a cute baby," Blair commented.

"Is that your Mom?" Jim asked. "She's pretty. You look a lot like her."

Stacey didn't say anything, but blushed a little at his compliment.

Blair turned another page, revealing an older Stacey with her mom. "Hey, look, there she is at the university with the white sweater you were talking about. Is that it?"

Stacey looked at the picture, and then suddenly she could remember: that day, /her mom, wearing that sweater. It was a sunny day; she and her mom were talking, laughing. Her mom had an apple she was eating…. /

Then the memory disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Stacey shook her head and looked at the photo album again.

Jim pointed to another picture, one of Stacey with her dad, and said, "There's your Dad, huh?"

Another memory flashed in Stacey's mind. This time it was her mom and dad both. /It was later that day. The three of them were in a picnic area at the university. They were playing around; her dad had been tickling her and spinning her around in dizzying circles. She had been giggling and laughing. Her mom had been sitting back, watching them and laughing as they had played. It had been so much fun--/

Suddenly, her eyes spilling over with tears, Stacey shoved the album away and jumped up. Holding tightly to Bowser, she ran into Blair's room.

Blair and Jim rose to their feet and watched her go.

"Oh, man," Blair said. The pain she was suffering as she was suddenly forced to come to terms with her parents' death was reflected in his sympathetic features.

Jim, too, could feel Stacey's distress. But he felt uncomfortable with the idea of helping her deal with her grief. Figuring Blair would be better able to comfort her, he said, "Why don't you go talk to her?"

Blair looked at him for a moment, then said, "Jim, I think right about now, you're the one she's closest to."

"Me?" Jim was truly surprised. Why would Stacey feel close to him?

"Yeah. Last night, when she went to sleep, I, uh, I found this on the floor." Blair reached over to a stack of books on the table next to the door and opened one, pulling out a pink, heart-shaped valentine. Opening the hand-made card, Blair showed Jim where Stacey had neatly printed, "Stacey loves Jim."

Jim took the card. "This is some kind of schoolgirl crush. Come on. I mean, emotionally, she's a kid, remember?" His eyes were pleading when he looked back up at Blair.

Gently, Blair said, "When you're twelve years old, your feelings, they may be immature, but they're still real."

Jim looked at the heart-shaped card again, then across the room, toward Blair's room where Stacey lay, sobbing.

~~~~~~~~

Jim tapped lightly on the French doors that led to Blair's room and opened one door, poking his head in. He could see Stacey curled up on the bed, hugging her stuffed animal tightly.

"Stacey? Can I come in?" She didn't respond, and he took her silence to be permission. Moving quietly, he stepped into the room and closed the door. "I know this is all very difficult for you, Stacey."

"Sometimes I wish I was still asleep. I have all these feelings… I get mixed up," Stacey said softly.

"You've been through a lot. It's going to get better. Things will change."

She looked up at him. "But maybe I don't want things to change. Maybe if things change too much, you won't be around anymore."

Jim sat down on the other end of the bed, leaning slightly against the wall. Smiling, he said, "I'm not going anywhere. We'll always be able to be friends and that's not going to change."

"What if I want you to be more than just my friend?" She looked at him with a look that was half-pleading, half-desperation.

"Stacey…. So much has happened to you. I think your emotions are a little confused right now." Jim was starting to feel like things were getting out of control. How could he explain without hurting her feelings?

"You think I'm just a child? Some little girl?" she accused.

"No, no, not at all." *Yes, yes, I do, but not in the way you're thinking. Oh, Stacey…* "I just think you have some time to make up and you just need to be a little bit more patient with yourself."

"I don't want to be patient. It's too hard and it takes too long," she said.

Hoping again to get control of the situation, Jim tried another angle. "You know, these feelings that you have for me right now… They aren't what they seem to be."

"You don't know what I think or how I feel," Stacey said petulantly.

*Okay, you have a point.* "No, I know. I wouldn't--"

"Just go away. Just leave me alone."

"Stacey--"

"Just go!"

"All right." Jim stood and left the room, closing the doors behind himself.

Blair was in the kitchen when Jim came out. Jim joined him, saying, "Man, that was a great idea." He opened a cupboard door.

"No good?" Blair asked. "Well, maybe we should just leave her alone for a little while, huh?"

Jim cocked his head, listening.

"What is it, Jim?"

"I thought I heard a sound -- Do you feel that?"

"Feel what?"

"Cold air?" Jim strode over to Blair's bedroom, flung open the doors, and saw that the fire escape door was open. Stacey was gone.

"Oh, great," Blair said.

~~~~~~~~

Dr. Tarloff was walking toward his car when Stacey Newman appeared from around another vehicle. She looked a bit lost, standing there holding a stuffed animal and looking at him as if she didn't have a friend in the world.

"Dr. Tarloff?" she asked diffidently.

"Stacey?"

"I didn't know where else to go," she said.

"Well, you came to the right place," he reassured her.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair were in Simon's office.

"Rafe and Brown were right outside the loft. How could she get past them?" Simon asked.

"She went down the fire escape and out through the back alley, sir," Jim said. "We already searched her old house, went to her old school--every place from her past we could think of."

Frowning, Simon said, "She has to be someplace."

From his perch on the conference table, Blair looked up at the other two men. "Well, you know, guys, it doesn't have to be a place from her past. What if it's a place from her present?"

"The only new place she knows is the loft," Jim said.

"And the hospital," Blair pointed out.

Simon and Jim exchanged a look.

~~~~~~~~

Tarloff was talking on his cell phone. He had Stacey safely ensconced in the front seat of his car. "Yeah, yeah, she's here. This is getting out of control now. … Yeah, all right." After shutting the phone off and putting it in his jacket, he moved toward Stacey.

"Who were you talking to?" the girl asked.

"That was a friend who is going to help us out. He'll be here in a minute."

Stacey shivered. "I'm cold."

"I've got a jacket in the trunk." Tarloff stood and moved toward the back of the car. After opening the trunk, he pulled out a piece of cloth. Then he opened a medical bag. Inside was a bottle labeled "Ether." After soaking the cloth with ether, he grabbed a jacket.

Tarloff walked up next to Stacey and handed her the jacket. As she took it, he said, "Stacey…" She looked up toward him and he put the ether-soaked cloth over her nose and mouth. He looked around the parking lot, hoping no one was watching. Stacey put her hands over his, struggling against him. But he was stronger than she was, and soon the ether overcame her. She passed out, sinking into the seat.

~~~~~~~~

A short time later, the Expedition pulled into the hospital parking lot. Jim and Blair got out and started walking toward the hospital. Jim stopped, inhaling deeply.

"What's going on?" Blair asked.

"I smell gunpowder." They walked through the parking lot, Jim leading. "It's coming from over here somewhere."

They approached a car with a body in it. As they got near it, they realized the man was dead.

"Jim, that's Tarloff."

"Oh, man."


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

It only took a few minutes for Forensics, the morgue crew, Simon, and all the other units needed to deal with the murder scene to show up. Brown, who had been with Simon when the call came in, had come along.

"We came looking for Stacey Newman trying to find Dr. Tarloff and… looks like we found him," Blair said to Brown. They were standing off to the side, talking quietly.

Jim and Simon were standing a few feet away, trying to figure out what was going on.

"I'm still confused," Simon said. "How does Tarloff fit into this?"

"He must have been working for them," Jim said.

"Well, that would explain how they knew Stacey was at your loft that night," Simon agreed.

Jim frowned. "What I'm concerned about, Simon, is just who the hell are 'they'?"

A short, obnoxious woman marched up to Jim and Simon. "I can't believe you guys lost her!" Sullivan shouted. "When Stacey Newman is found, I am putting her in protective custody." She poked a finger at Jim.

"You put that away, all right?" Jim said, pointing at her finger.

"Look, Sullivan, whoever has Stacey will probably kill her once they find out what they want. Instead of being a pain in the ass, why don't you help us out?"

"A pain in the ass," she said snidely. "Fine. How?" She glared at them.

"For starters," Simon said, trying to be reasonable with the woman, "you must have some idea as to who took her."

"The truth is, I don't."

Amazed, Simon said, "And you call us incompetent?"

In an attempt to 'promote interagency cooperation' -- as they were so often urged to do -- Jim said, "Let's lay out what we have, huh? When the Strassmans were at Pacific Tech, how did you find out that they intended to sell their research to someone else?"

"We had confidential information," Sullivan said, leaning back, arms folded across her chest.

"And who would that be?" Jim asked, trying to sound reasonable.

"Shall I define 'confidential'?" Sullivan replied dryly.

Simon chuckled. "Sullivan, this is what I'm talking about."

Sighing, Jim glanced across the parking lot, trying to keep his temper under control. Unbidden, his enhanced vision zoomed across the distance, focusing in on a small, out-of-place speck of white lying on the parking lot near Tarloff's car. It was a mint. He straightened. "Excuse me." He walked over to the parking spot and picked up the mint.

Simon and Sullivan followed him.

"It's a breath mint," Jim said. "It was Van Zandt, wasn't it?" he asked Sullivan.

"What are you talking about?" Sullivan asked.

"The Strassmans weren't going to sell out. It was Van Zandt. He set them up to cover himself and you fell for it."

"That's impossible," she protested.

Jim dropped the mint in her hand, then he and Simon walked away.

~~~~~~~~

Stacey Newman slowly woke up, feeling dizzy. She was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace in the house she had lived in as a child. A man she didn't know stood in front of her, holding Bowser.

"Hello, Stacey," he said, holding out the stuffed animal.

Taking Bowser, she asked, "What happened?"

"It's all right. You're safe." The man smiled.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"I'm Martin Van Zandt. I was a very good friend of your parents at the university. Don't you remember me?" He raised his eyebrows slightly.

Stacey said, "I don't remember a lot of things."

"You will," he told her. He pulled over a box and sat on it, facing her.

"Why did you bring me here?" she asked, looking around the room.

"Because I want to help. The government thinks that your parents were traitors." Van Zandt's voice was soft and even.

"But they weren't," Stacey protested.

"I know," he reassured her. "But to prove it, you need to remember where they hid their research," he continued in the same smooth, soft voice.

"I've tried, but I can't," she said, desperation plain in her tone.

"This time you will," Van Zandt said. He pulled out a needle. Stacey felt afraid. "It's a drug to help your memory. You're going to have to trust me, Stacey. You're doing this for your parents because you love them."

She watched him as he injected the drug into her arm.

~~~~~~~~

"All right, why are we going back to the house?" Blair asked as Jim drove the Expedition back toward Stacey's childhood home.

"If Van Zandt wants those research papers, he's probably going to want to jog Stacey's memory so he can get them back. Which means he'll probably do what we did."

"Yeah, but we know that the feds went through there years ago. The papers aren't there."

"Chief, you got a better idea, I'm all ears."

Blair gave his partner a half-grin, half-grimace at the pun.

~~~~~~~~

"Just relax," Van Zandt's voice came through to Stacey. "Breathe slowly. Let it take you into the past. Remember the night that you left this house."

Flashes of that night appeared in Stacey's mind. She remembered being with her parents… she remembered the night they had left…

"I remember my mom came into my room and told me to get dressed."

/Stacey, honey. Wake up. Stacey./

"My dad was downstairs. There were suitcases by the door."

/Mommy, what's going on?/

/We have to go on a trip./

"We got in the car. My mom handed me Bowser."

/You don't want to forget Bowser./

"We drove away. That's all I remember."

Van Zandt said, "There has to be more. Now, Stacey, think." His voice sounded harsh; Stacey winced. He took a breath, then spoke again, in a more soothing voice. "All right. All right. Try again. It's very important."

She focused again. More memory flashbacks streaked through her mind. She could see her dad, kneeling by the fireplace, holding her stuffed animal.

"My dad--he's by the fireplace. He had Bowser. Couldn't see what he was doing."

"All this time it was in a damned toy!" Van Zandt growled. He grabbed Bowser from Stacey and ripped the toy open a little, enough to pull out a cartridge of microfilm. He held it with a look of triumph on his face.

"Now we can give it to the government people," Stacey said.

"Yes," Van Zandt said absently. He threw Bowser back at Stacey.

Clutching Bowser, Stacey had more flashbacks. She remembered the truck hitting her family's car… the car going over the hill… the car stopping…. She remembered looking up the hill. A man had been standing there, looking down at them. The man looked just like the man in front of her.

"It was you. I saw you." Her voice was rising in panic and anger. She looked up at Van Zandt. "You killed my parents!"

"Stacey, you don't understand," the man said. "I was trying to help them. I saw the potential in their work. When they needed money for their project, I was the one that got it for them. They were such idealists." Contempt dripped from his voice. "When they found out the money came from the military, they got angry. That's when I told them of my idea to sell it to another government."

"But how could you do that?" Stacey asked.

"You're just like your parents," Van Zandt stated, with disgust. "I told them, if you want to have peace, make sure that everybody has it and in the process, we become rich. What's wrong with that? They were so self-righteous, just like you."

Stacey lurched from the chair and tried to run from the house. She reached the entryway, but a man standing guard there caught her.

Van Zandt held up the microfilm canister, showing it to the man. "I got it."

"What about her?" the guard asked.

"What do you think?" Van Zandt answered. He stood in front of Stacey, his attention focused fully on the canister in his hand.

~~~~~~~~

Jim was standing outside the former Newman house, just out of sight behind the bushes that flanked the front stairs. When Van Zandt came out of the house, Jim stepped forward, his weapon aimed squarely at the professor. "Cascade PD. Hold it right there."

"What's this about, Detective?" Van Zandt asked innocently as he walked down the stairs and onto the walk.

"Where's Stacey?" Jim asked.

"She's right here," came an unfamiliar voice at the top of the stairs.

Jim swung his gun to the left to cover the man who had come out of the house. The man held a gun to Stacey and was using her as a shield as he slowly descended the stairs.

"Put down that gun," the man holding Stacey said, "or I'll kill her. I'll do it! You want her to die?"

"Don't let him hurt me," Stacey said. Then she hit the man with her elbow and ran away from him.

Using the opportunity, Jim shot the perp, who fell backward.

Blair, who had been staying behind Jim, hurried over to Stacey. "Are you all right? You okay?" he asked her.

Jim ran over to check the man he had shot. He kicked away the man's weapon to be sure he was no longer a threat.

Momentarily forgotten in the excitement, Van Zandt had climbed into his SUV. Jim looked up when he heard the vehicle's door slam shut. Van Zandt started the engine and took off down the street. Jim ran toward the street, hoping to shoot out a tire to stop him. Jim reached the street and was taking aim when a man started crossing the street about a block away, spoiling his aim. He could not risk hurting an innocent bystander.

Frustrated, Jim let his arms drop until his weapon was pointing toward the street. He heard a motorcycle coming up behind him, and he spun around, pulling out the wallet containing his police badge as he turned. Waving his shield and gun, Jim stopped the man driving the motorcycle. "Cascade PD. Police emergency. I need your bike, buddy." The young man got off the bike; Jim got on, and took off.

The biker watched as the detective tore off on his motorcycle. "Hey, man, what are you doing? Where you going?" He stood forlornly in the middle of the street as Jim disappeared.

Blair, who was still beside Stacey, said, "Come on." They moved to the Expedition to call for an ambulance and backup, and to follow Jim.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pushed the bike to catch up to Van Zandt, who had several blocks' lead on him. He finally saw him and made his way closer, until he was able to pull up next to him.

"Pull over!" Jim yelled. "Pull it over, damn it!"

Van Zandt looked over, seeming surprised that Jim had found him. He sped up, dodging around trucks and other vehicles, trying to lose his persistent tail. They were in a commercial trucking area that had a lot of semi's and other large trucks in it. Jim found himself drenched when Van Zandt drove through mud- and water-filled puddles, spraying him.

*Come on, Chief, get me some backup here, buddy. There's no way I'm gonna be able to stop this guy by myself on a cycle.* Jim grimly followed Van Zandt as they swerved through yet another parking area. A semi was coming toward them. Van Zandt veered toward the right, and Jim leaned left. After Jim passed the truck, he realized that Van Zandt had lost control of the SUV. There were some gas pumps ahead of the professor when he swerved around the semi. When he slammed on the brakes, Van Zandt went into a spin and lost control, smashing into the pumps. Jim watched in horror as first the truck, then the pumps, exploded. There was no way Van Zandt could have survived.

~~~~~~~~

Three days later, Jim was at the station finishing up the last of the paperwork on the Van Zandt case. Blair and Stacey were at the loft.

Stacey sat down next to Blair, who was working on his laptop. "What are you doing?" she asked.

Blair looked at her over the top of his glasses and smiled. "Hi. I was just looking at some possible schools for you."

"Schools?" She wrinkled her nose.

He laughed at her expression. "Yeah, schools. What, did you think that, just because you're twenty years old, you'd get out of going to school?"

"Well…" She looked slyly at him, trying to hide a grin.

"We've talked about this before, kiddo. You have a lot of catching up to do. You missed most of middle school, all of high school, and a couple years of college or tech school." Blair turned and looked at her, searching her face to be sure she understood the importance of catching up on all the things she had missed during the eight years she had been unconscious. "Not to mention sleeping through eight years of the world going by."

"I know." She looked very serious for a minute. Then a mischievous sparkle appeared in her eyes again. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it, does it?"

Blair laughed. "Well, I have leads on some great schools that I think you will like. Here, let me show you." He turned the laptop so she could see the screen. "There's this terrific school in Portland that will design an individualized program just for you…"

~~~~~~~~

When Jim got home an hour later, they were still on the Internet, but now Blair was showing Stacey how to cruise the net.

"… And you can find information on just about anything you can imagine, just by following the links and using the search functions."

"Wow." Stacey looked at Blair, wonder apparent in her eyes.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said. "Need any help?"

Jim set down the two bags of groceries he was carrying. "No, I'm fine. You go on with what you're doing. I got the fixings for spaghetti. I'll change and make dinner."

"You sure?"

"Oh, I love spaghetti," Stacey said, looking over at Jim.

"Great!" he said, smiling at her.

She turned back to Blair, bouncing a little with excitement, and the two of them dove again into the wonders of the Internet.

Jim shook his head in amusement as he hung up his jacket, secured his weapon--he locked it in a drawer since they had a guest in the loft--and headed upstairs to change into jeans and a sweater.

~~~~~~~~

Blair and Stacey set the table as Jim pulled the garlic bread out of the oven. They all sat down and started dishing up their food.

"So Blair tells me you're narrowing down the schools you might go to, Stacey," Jim said.

"Yes," she said shyly. "There are two that seem the best, one in Portland and one in Seattle."

"Well, I'm sure you'll pick the one you like the best."

Stacey nodded. She had stopped eating and was staring at her fork.

"What is it, Stacey?" Blair asked.

She looked up at him, a hint of fear in her eyes. "What if I'm not smart enough? What if I don't learn fast enough?"

Blair and Jim traded a quick glance. Then, smiling, Blair looked at Stacey. Thinking of her Ph.D. physicist parents, who had developed an energy source using skills and abilities way beyond those of anyone else on the planet, he said, "Stacey, I know for a fact that you are going to do just fine. And remember, this program is going to be designed especially for you. So it will go just exactly as fast as you go. No faster, no slower. You'll be just fine."

Stacey smiled tentatively. She glanced over at Jim, who nodded, and her smile widened.

~~~~~~~~

Stacey was happily exploring a site that extolled the delights of Barbies while Jim and Blair washed the dishes and cleaned up from dinner.

"She really should do well, you know," Blair said.

"I'm sure she will. Both of her parents were brilliant, and look how well she's doing, and she's only been awake a few weeks."

"And the trust fund the Strassmans had set up for their daughter will cover the costs of her education and living expenses until she can support herself," Blair said. He laughed softly. "I bet they had no idea how much she was going to need that trust fund when they set it up."

"I bet you're right, Chief." Jim smiled at his partner.

Blair turned to put away the plates he had just dried. After shutting the cupboard door, he moved to stand next to Jim again. "It's really too bad that the research notes were destroyed with Van Zandt. The world so desperately needs a non-polluting, low-cost source of energy."

"Yeah, buddy, it sure does." Jim turned his attention back to the rest of the dishes.


~~~~~ Epilogue… [Nine days later] ~~~~~


Jim trotted down the stairs from his bedroom. He could hear Blair and Stacey talking softly in Blair's room as they packed the last of her things.

Simon was talking on his cell phone. "Are you kidding me, Dave? That's great. All right, thanks, man." He shut off the phone and tucked it in his pocket. Turning to Jim, he said, "Friend of mine at the federal building says Sullivan's bosses were so pissed at her actions that she's been relieved of duty and scheduled for a review. By the time they're through, the only assignment she'll pull is mopping the director's office."

Remembering the abrasive woman, Jim grinned. "Oh, life can be so cruel."

"Oh, yes it can, can't it?" Simon said, grinning back. He sobered. "It is too bad about the Strassmans' research being destroyed in that explosion. A clean source of energy would have been nice."

"Amen to that," Jim said.

Stacey came out of Blair's bedroom. Blair followed her, carrying two suitcases. "All right, guys. We're all ready to go to the airport." He put the suitcases down by the door.

Jim walked over to Stacey and smiled gently at her. "Well, don't you look great. So grown up."

She ducked her head, blushing.

Picking up on their need for a few minutes alone, Simon said, "Hey, Blair, you know, there's, uh, some construction over on Fifth. You might want to check out this…"

"Oh, right. Yep, mm-hmm." Blair walked over to where Simon was standing, and the two of them turned away and moved toward the balcony doors.

After they had left, Jim said, "Blair tells me that this school you're going to in Portland has a great program. They're going to help you catch up."

"I hope so," Stacey said. "Well, you know, I look in the mirror and I see this grown-up person. Inside, I still feel small." She looked down at her hands. "Actually, I'm a little scared." She peeked up at his face to see his reaction to her admission.

"I feel that way a lot myself." He chuckled softly. "But if you ever feel that way, feel free to call anytime, okay?"

Stacey smiled. "Thank you. Mm-hmm. For everything. You helped me get back my life." She reached up her arms to hug him. Jim hugged her back.

Blair came back across the room, clearing his throat. "Uh, guys, we really got to go."

"Take care of yourself," Jim said.

"Okay," Stacey said.

"See you soon." To Blair, Jim said, "Drive safe."

"Yes. We'll see you later."

"Talk to you."

"See you, Simon," Blair said.

Stacey and Blair left and Jim shut the door behind them. Simon moved over to Jim. "Ever wish you could just sleep through those bad periods of your life, wake up, and it's all over?"

"Me? No. Never."

Simon chuckled. He grabbed his and Jim's jackets off the hooks and tossed Jim's to him. "Come on, buddy, I'll buy you a cup of coffee."

"Better make it a double. If I fall asleep now, uh… I don't know when I'll wake up."

Simon laughed. Jim opened the door and they moved into the hall.

"I don't think I'd make a very good sleeping beauty," Jim said as he closed the door.


~~~~~ The End ~~~~~

 

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