Redhawke.org
Inside Man
Inside Man
by EJ Katz

Beta Read by Lady Shelley and Yvonne Zicke
Written for PetFly by: Harv Zimmel
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

~~~~~ Prologue ~~~~~

Darkness shrouded the area in a tight black impenetrable barrier, the sound of water lapping against the side of the dock was loud in the darkness. The only light on the docks was supplied by a small light on a warehouse nearly a quarter mile away and from the full moon overhead. Neither of which supplied enough light to make the area feel any safer. And everyone one knew this part of the warehouse district wasn't safe to begin with.

Suddenly a flash of light cut through the dark only to vanish in the next second as a black sedan appeared and the driver turned the lights off. It was driven to the end of the wharf of the completely deserted area. It coasted silently to a stop as close to the edge as possible, then the door of the car opened and a bundle was pushed out into the water.

There was no sound except the rumble of the idling engine, and then the splash as the bundle hit the water. A small roundish face appeared briefly out the door; a face with a pair of dark brown eyes, filled with evil and wickedness. They blinked and the face pulled back, disappearing from sight.. The door closed once more and the car moved back the way it had come, vanishing once more into the darkness.


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


The docks were packed. Activity bustled all around, even as a light rain drizzled down. Two individuals made their way slowly through the crowds. The two were an incongruous pair. An older man, in his late fifties, early sixties and the other, a young boy probably no more that twelve or thirteen. Both appeared to be happy to spend time in each other company and the family resemblance was strong.

They were talking and laughing a little. The boy listened raptly while his grandfather spoke.

"My grandfather was a fisherman, in the old country, not here. He had big hands and a loud voice," the voice spoke with fond remembrance. The man looked out towards the water. He called out to a man on a fishing trawler, "You had a good day, huh, Frankie?"

"Uh-huh," the fisherman called back, waving briefly before turning back to his nets.

"God loves a fisherman," the older man returned. The kid grinned up at him.

"He sure does," Frankie the fisherman replied.

"You see what I did? I called him by his first name. That's very important because it builds loyalty. You never know when you're going to need somebody's help," the man explained to his young companion. They continued to walk, oblivious to the many pairs of eyes focused intently on them from not to far away.

~~~~~~~~

"The boy's name is Edward Lazar. The old man is Dominick Lazar. The kid's his only grandchild, the heir apparent. Since the boy's father, Vincent, untimely demise, Dominick's pretty much taken over raising the boy. There's a big bone of contention with the boy's mother." Blair only half listened as Special Agent Frank Mulroney spoke. Instead, his eyes were focused along with his attention on the monitor before him in the non-descript beige van. His fellow voyeur, also ignoring Mulroney was his partner Detective Ellison.

"Looks like a pretty neat relationship," Blair responded. He could feel Jim's eyes watching him and hoped the twinge of jealousy wasn't too obvious.

Mulroney also looked at him. "Yeah, well, don't be fooled by the sentimentality. Dominick can be sweet and gentle with people he cares about. But you get in his way; he'll kill you, then go out for an ice cream cone."

Blair turned back to the screen. He could feel Jim's eyes burning a hole in the back of his head and he wished he could take back what he said. It wasn't that he cared that he didn't have a father but sometimes when he saw scenes like this he couldn't help wishing he'd had something like that growing up. He was pretty sure Jim would bring this up and the questions would start again.

~~~~~~~~

Dominick and Edward approached the beige Caddy parked near the front entrance. Beside the car stood Lazar's right hand man, Terry Neff. Big and muscular, the guy was a perfect body guard as long as he wasn't required to do much thinking. He tended to react first with limited, if any, thinking later. But as dumb as he was, he was loyal and Lazar appreciated that quality. Neff stood waiting. A small nod indicated to Lazar that he was needed. Dominick nodded once sharply that he saw Neff before turning once more to his grandson.

"Hey, you hungry? You want something to eat?" He smiled fondly at the boy.

"Sure." The youngster smiled back up at his grandfather. There was a fondness in his eyes that Dominick cherished. For all his outward reputation, his family knew he was a softie for them. He tolerated nothing less than perfection, but he showed them his love.

"Mr. Lazar," Terry said as he tossed his head towards the arriving car. "She's here."

The old man turned to watch a silver grey Mercedes park just outside the gate. A tall woman got out and began heading in their direction. "Yeah, I see her." He turned to Edward. "Listen, I got some business to take care of. Stay with Terry, he'll get you something to eat." He cuffed the boy gently on the side of the head and received a smile in response.

~~~~~~~~

"Whoa! Who is that?" Blair asked, practically bouncing in his seat.

A situation that was quickly getting on Ellison's nerve's he cast a sharp glance at the younger man but said nothing about it. Instead, he answered the question.

"That's Michelle Lazar, Edward's mother, the late Vincent's widow."

They continued to watch outside as Dominick got into the Caddy while talking to the dumb looking guard. Jim figured that the man with short brown hair and big bulky body would be Lazar's personal guard. So he was rather surprised when the man stayed behind as Lazar was driven off with another man, still unseen behind the wheel.

~~~~~~~~

"You stay a couple more hours, buy Edward anything he wants, and don't let him eat too much of that crap," Dominick told Neff, gesturing towards his grandson.

Terry nodded his understanding. "I'll look after him, Mr. Lazar."

For a moment, Terry stood contentedly beside his boss to watch as Edward looked over the edge of the dock. Then Lazar sat back in the car and Terry closed the door. Neff waited until the car had gone before turning back to look for Edward, noting that the boy's mother was searching for him also.

~~~~~~~~

Blair watched as Mulroney reached over to grab the radio off the table. "Unit Two. Subject is on the move," Mulroney told the device.

A voice replied, "Copy that, Unit One."

"I need some way to get closer to Lazar," Jim growled, his eyes piercing as he watched the car drive away. Blair merely glanced at him. Knowing Jim as he did, the man would explain further at some other time.

"They're probably heading back to the compound. What do you say we call it a day? I mean, unless you can think of something else." Mulroney said, ignoring Jim's comment.

Jim shook his head. "Nothing I can think of. Maybe we'll get lucky tomorrow. Thanks, Frank."

"Yeah. You bet. Let's wrap it up."

Jim grabbed an umbrella and opened it as he and Blair left the surveillance van, heading towards Blair's car.

"He seems like a nice guy. Not your normal fed. You know, not that usual superiority trip," Blair said, making conversation. There was something specific he needed to ask but wasn't sure how to broach it without getting his block knocked off, verbally of course.

"Well, we both want the same thing, to take down the Lazar crime family." The answer was vague but it gave Blair the opening he needed.

"Hey, Jim, correct me if I'm wrong here, but you seem kind of intense about this one. Is there something else pushing you?"

To his immense relief Jim merely gave a small wry smile. "You're pretty savvy, Kemo Sabe. Someday ask me about Jimmy Finetti, all right?

"Hey, Jim... Who's Jimmy Finetti?"

"I said someday, not today. I'm going to take a walk." There was that touch of exasperation Blair was expecting.

"All right." He knew when to push it and when to back off. For now, he would back away, but this would not be the end of it. Not by a long shot. He watched as Jim walked off into the rain.

~~~~~~~~

Edward Lazar wandered by himself near the edge of the dock. His young mind was tumbling over everything his grandfather had told him. But added to that was the whole thing with losing his father. For some reason he expected his grandfather to be more upset about it and yeah it might have been a while ago but damn it, he missed his father.

He didn't understand the whole thing with his family. He knew that they weren't like other families, considering he wasn't allowed to go to school like the other kids. He wasn't allowed to play like other kids. But that was okay because he and Grandfather played together and that was kinda nice. He wasn't watching where he was going, just wandering, thinking and wishing.

He turned and headed back towards where he had left Terry.

~~~~~~~~

"Terry, where's Edward?" Michelle Lazar rushed up and grabbed Terry's arm. Her coat was open and she wasn't carrying an umbrella to ward off the drizzle. Her face was pinched with worry as she scanned the wharf for her son.

He shook her loose and replied. "I don't know." He was looking up and down the dock, trying to find the bright red of Edward's jacket against the sea of people surrounding them. Not seeing anything resembling their quarry, the two began searching frantically for the young boy.

~~~~~~~~

Jim walked up to a food vendor, closing the umbrella as he perused the wares. "A cup of coffee, please," he requested. He moved over a barbeque grill and asked, "What have you got to munch on over here?" He only half listened as the vendor pointed out the burgers and beef smokies sizzling on the grill.

Jim's hearing picked up a strange sound, like the echo of metallic creaking. With his sight, he glanced across docks, his hearing drawing his sight up to see a cable on a crane holding up a heavy pallet, which was beginning to tear and rip. Another sound drew his focus underneath the pallet, to where young Edward Lazar was walking. The boy was unaware of what was happening above him.

Jim ran through crowd, pushing people aside. He began yelling, "Hey! Hey!"

He watched in horror as the cable finally ripped apart and the pallet started to fall. Jim boosted his speed as other people in the crowd became aware of the danger. "Look out!" he heard someone shout as he dove toward the boy now paralyzed with fear.

Jim reached Edward, grabbing him around the waist and in the same movement, removed them both from danger as the pallet crashed to the dock.

He checked over Edward, running gentle hands over his torso, checking for injuries. The boy stood numbly allowing the comforting hands their search. Jim could still feel the tremors in his own body as the adrenaline began to fade.

"Are you all right?" he asked, concern in his voice. As much as he wanted to end the Lazar family rule, he didn't want to see and innocent child like Edward Lazar get hurt in the process.

"Yeah, I think so," Edward replied, his voice a little shaky.

Jim looked up as Michelle and the muscle man joined them.

"Edward! Oh!" Michelle wrapped her son in a tight embrace, which the shaken boy returned enthusiastically. She looked up at the man who Jim thought was Lazar's bodyguard. Jim wondered how the man got his job as he had a confused look on his face and seemed unsure of what to do next. "This never should have happened."

"I just turned around for a couple seconds. He just disappeared." Jim watched the man's confusion melt into anger. He could even feel the heat of it as he watched the three interacting.

Michelle released Edward and looked up at Jim. "I don't know how to thank you. If you hadn't been... Edward, don't you have something to say?" She glanced down at her son.

"Thanks," Edward told Jim, the tremors nearly gone from his voice now.

"You're welcome," Jim told him before looking back at Michelle. "I think he's just a little shaken up. We're probably both a little shaken up. He'll be all right."

"Are you hurt?" Michelle asked Edward.

"No, I'm fine, Mom. Just wasn't watching, is all." Edward appeared contrite but that could have just been residual shock.

"Go back to the car with Terry. I'll be along in a moment," Michelle told him, pushing him slightly toward the bodyguard.

"Come on, kid. You've been in enough trouble today." Jim watched as together they left, heading for the parking lot and most likely home to tell Dominick Lazar what had occurred.

When they were gone, Michelle turned back to Jim. "I hope this doesn't sound presumptuous, but I'd really like to reward you in some way. I don't even know your name. I'm Michelle Lazar."

"Uh... I'm Jim. Anybody would have done the same thing." Jim stumbled over what to say. The opportunity of a lifetime was sitting at Jim's feet. His mind was turning over the possibilities as he tried to figure out a way to run with it and make everything work out in his favour. *This is the perfect set up to get into the Lazar family workings.*

"You just saved my son's life. I can't just thank you and walk away. At least let me feed you. I know a great restaurant." Michelle argued.

Jim agreed silently, *No, trust me the last thing I want to do is walk away.* "Uh, that's really not necessary," he told her.

"It's not far from here," she continued to entreat. Inside Jim was pleased. Maybe this would work for the best after all.

"Well, okay. Thank you." Jim capitulated. "Let's go let your friend know he can take your son home. I can drop you off later. If, of course that's okay with you?"

~~~~~~~~

The restaurant was quiet and tasteful, and the food, contemporary European, was excellent. Jim and Michelle made small talk discussing the weather, the latest set back for the Jags, during most of the meal. Conversation was winding to a halt again as they waited for dessert.

"So, I guess..." he began.

"So, do you do this...?" she asked at the same time.

They laughed softly as they spoke together. A moment of silence followed as they collected themselves.

"I was going to ask if you perform heroic acts on a daily basis," Michelle asked, her voice soft and inviting.

"I usually take Sundays off," Jim joked uncomfortably, then quickly changed the subject, "How old is Edward?"

"He's 12 -- going on 30." Michelle smiled fondly. It was a sad sort of smile but it still transformed her face.

"He seems like a regular kid." Jim nodded and returned the smile.

"I hope so. I'm afraid he keeps a lot of things locked inside. It's not easy being who he is." She paused and picked up her water glass.

Jim watched as she took a sip from the glass. After a moment, she seemed to make a decision. "We're part of a very well-known family," she told him. "Edward's father was Vincent... "

"Lazar. Dominick Lazar's the boy's grandfather. You were right, it's a pretty well-known family." A commotion near the door caught Jim's attention, but he kept his eyes on Michelle. He heard the manager greet Lazar at the door, and was content to wait for him to approach. Jim's mind was working a hundred and one different scenarios to make this work out to his advantage, to help him get close to the Lazar family and hopefully bring Jimmy Fenetti's killer to justice.

Dominick approached their table. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I owe you a debt of gratitude. I'm Dominick Lazar."

"Jim, uh, Curtis." His mind worked to remember the name of the ex-con profile the department had on file. He'd used it on other occasions and could easily pass examination. If he remembered correctly, Curtis was officially on parole also.

For a moment the man stared at him, something in his eyes made Jim pause in his planning. This man didn't get where he was by being easily fooled. "Well, I see the two of you have become fast friends." This was directed at Michelle

"I was simply thanking Mr. Curtis." Michelle smiled at Jim who was still silently regarding Dominick Lazar

"I'm sure you were." He turned to Jim. "So what can I do for you? It seems like dinner in a fancy restaurant is not enough."

Jim considered the question as if somewhat reluctant to ask but wanting to appear a touch desperate. "I could use a job."

"Doing what?" Lazar asked. Michelle was gaping at him in surprise

Jim kept his eyes on the mob father. "At this point, anything with some future."

"You know who I am?"

"Yes, sir."

There was a moment of silence while Dominick pondered this thought. "Well, you have me at a disadvantage. So how do I find out more about you?"

Jim thought fast. He couldn't exactly send references for the type of work he needed to have done but names would work. "I did some work for Cyrus. He'll vouch for me. I can have him call you. He's kinda tough to get a hold of unless you know someone who works for him."

"Yeah, I know of Cyrus. Doesn't get his own hands dirty. You have him call me. If I like what I hear, then we'll continue this conversation. Enjoy your dinner. Michelle, don't stay too long. Remember, you have a son to take care of." Jim watched as the man left then turned back to Michelle. He was not surprised to see the red-hot anger burning in her eyes. However, she seemed to recover quickly as she met his gaze.

"Well, you're just full of surprises." She paused as if needing to rein in her original words. "Look, I don't know what kind of problems you have, but getting involved with this family is not the answer."

"Michelle, I'm an ex-convict. Jobs don't come too easy to my type."

"Working for the Lazar's is not easy either." Bitterness laced her words and Jim grabbed the opportunity, maybe she could be an ally on the inside.

"Why do I get the feeling that you're not very content with life in the family?"

"You know that old saying -- be careful what you wish for…" She let the words trail off as the waiter approached with their desserts.

~~~~~~~~

Later that evening

"Look, you want to sling bull, do it with the guys in the break room, not me. Now, how could you make a decision like this without consulting me first?" Simon was furious. This situation was so far out of hand it would be impossible to change anything now. It was the first good chance of getting someone inside the Lazar organization and he knew it but he would be damned before he liked it.

"Because it fell into my lap, and there wasn't time. How long have we been after the Lazar family? Six, seven years? I'm telling you, Simon, it's reaching critical mass here." Jim argued, though not strongly. He stood before Simon's desk ignoring the glare from his partner and the strangely non-committal look from Mulroney, both of whom sat at the board table.

"You don't know that for sure," Simon muttered weakly. He was more than aware of just how right Ellison was without having to hear it.

"I believe in my information."

"So do we," Mulroney interjected. "Just follow this for a second. Since Vincent's death, there's been a power vacuum. The Asians, the Latinos, the Lazars, they're all taking shots at each other. Now Dominick isn't going to live forever. Some say he's starting to show his age. His only other kid is Erika. And being a woman, there's no way they'll let her take over."

"So what's your point, Mulroney?" Simon asked.

"My point is, somehow the don is trying to consolidate his power. He wants to preserve his family fortune for Edward, and he wants payback for killing his son. Now, if that happens, it's going to be a real bloodbath. We need somebody on the inside."

"Now how you gonna make that work? Once Jim's in there, he's going to be completely cut off," Blair said, speaking for the first time since Jim had returned from the docks, breaking the news of his sudden desire to go undercover in the Lazar family's fortress.

"I didn't say there wasn't going to be any risk. If I'd saved the kid, I'd be the one volunteering," Mulroney told the young observer.

"Are you sure this isn't about something else?" Simon asked, changing the subject suddenly.

"Like what?" Jim's eyes hardened as they turned on his captain.

"Like Jimmy Finetti?"

Jim stared at Simon for a moment as if trying to determine if he really wanted to know the answer to that, or if he was trying to get Jim to back down on the Lazar situation. "This is about the Lazars and nothing else."

Simon frowned uncertainly as Jim turned to Mulroney. "Now, Frank, I'll need a record, Curtis' preferably. GTA, burglary perhaps, a dishonourable discharge. Whatever you come up with has got to be good or else I'm done before I even start, you got me? Plus, someone will need to contact Dominick as Cyrus and give me a reference." With that he reached out and motioned for Sandburg to follow him. "Let's go, Chief."

~~~~~~~~

Blair followed Jim out of Simon's office, he could tell Jim's mind was made up and arguing about the undercover assignment would be pointless. Instead, he decided to find out why Jim was determined to break the Lazar family. He watched as Jim unloaded his pockets of everything associated with Jim Ellison and put the various bits of ID and personal items in one of his desk drawers. After watching for a few seconds he asked, "All right, this is the second time I've heard the name Jimmy Finetti. Who is this guy?"

"Okay, Jimmy Finetti was a friend of mine who was a cop. Hell, he was a damn legend around here. He could infiltrate anything. He went after the Lazar's with an obsession. He worked his way deep into the organization and one day he just disappeared. That was about four years ago."

"Well, you know, I've always wanted to do a study on a family like the Lazar's. You know, the way they interact with each other, with society, their arcane codes of conduct -- things like that."

Jim looked at him like he's lost his head. Blair felt the exasperation beginning to build already, he could already hear the arguments that were about to follow his next statement. "Jim, you need me in there to watch your back."

"I appreciate the offer, Chief, just not this time." Jim cuffed him lightly on the side of the head. For once Blair didn't try to avoid the blow he stood there staring after the departing back of his friend and sentinel for a long while until Jim was no longer in sight, then he turned and headed back to Simon's office.

~~~~~~~~

The blue and white pickup seemed highly out of place as it pulled into the manicured grounds of the Lazar estate. A pair of brown eyes watched as the driver braked, then cut the engine. The watcher saw Terry Neff approaching the truck as the driver got out. Words were faint but they floated up to the watcher before the figure moved away from the window.

~~~~~~~~

"Mrs. Lazar told you I'd be coming, right?" Jim said as he set the brake and opened the door. The man wore a surly look like he already had made the decision to dislike Jim without even attempting to get to know him. Jim could live with that. After all, he was here to do a job, not make nice with the hired help.

"Yeah. There's a place above the garage for you," the man told him, pointing towards the building which Ellison assumed was the garage. He finished climbing out of the truck and turned to get his bag from the back of the pickup. Rough hands grabbed him and forced him into the side of the vehicle. Those same hands began a cursory and half-assed job of searching him.

"Whoa, whoa, easy. I guess you couldn't hear me. I said I was a guest."

"Everybody gets searched. I don't care if you're the pope." The man pressed him harder into the truck, and Jim could feel the metal of the tire well digging painfully into his hip.

"All right, you made your brownie points for the day. Why don't you take your hands off me." Cold fury began to build, but the guard was too ignorant to recognize the deadly tone.

"When I'm done." The smug reply was the last straw. With an almost comical ease, Jim switched places with the thug. The fluid movements were pure covert ops. A slight replacing of the feet, a shift in his hips and a twist of his body, and the thug was face first into the truck.

"I don't like people handling me. So maybe you'll just want to tell Michelle Lazar that I'm here and we'll both go on with our day. Huh? All right?" The cold tone was still there only now there was a deadly quality to it.

"Okay, that's enough." A beautiful woman appeared from around the back of the truck. Her eyes were cold, her face set in a displeased look that had the thug ducking his head even as he glared at Ellison who had stepped back, releasing him.

"Terry, my father wants to see you. It's okay. I think we're safe out here. Thank you." With those words, the woman dismissed the thug. Jim realized with belated recognition that this must be Lazar's youngest, Erika. Nothing more was said until Terry was gone.

"Sorry about that. I'm Jim Curtis. I..."

"Saved my nephew's life. Thank you. We're all very grateful to you. I'm Erika, Dominick's daughter. My father's very impressed with your resume. He wants you to be Edward's personal bodyguard." Still there was no warmth in her tone, which instantly set Jim's instincts on high alert. This woman was as dangerous, if not more so, as the old man. She would bear closer watching.

"I'll try not to disappoint your father."

"Do more than try. Edward is the most precious thing in my father's life." A touch of contempt seemed to enter the toneless words, and the dark eyes flashed with something that was gone before Jim could identify it. He shivered slightly before retrieving his bags and following the woman to the garage where he would make his home for the next little while.

~~~~~~~~

"Simon, you have to get me in there." Blair demanded the moment the door closed behind him.

"Sandburg, don't you ever knock?" Irritation was obviously the name of the game today but Blair was too determined to allow Simon's blustering put him off.

"Simon, listen to me. You know I'm right; he can't be in there by himself. Not with his senses, and certainly not on this assignment. You know that."

"Are you trying to tell me my job?" Banks rose to his full height, glaring down on the smaller man. The glare didn't faze Blair at all, or even slow him down.

"Simon, I don't need to tell you your job, you know it but you also know mine. What if something goes wrong? What if his senses go out and there isn't anyone there to pull him out of a zone?"

"Sandburg, Jim has been undercover before."

"Not like this, and not since his senses came back online." Blair paused, and he could see Simon was thinking seriously about his concerns. He knew Simon was just as worried about Jim taking this undercover assignment as he was. Blair hadn't even had time to set up anything with Jim to handle contact or a plan in case Jim's cover was blown. Simon had had even less time to prepare.

Even if nothing did go wrong, there was no way Dominick Lazar would allow Jim off the property without a damn good reason, but maybe, just maybe…

"Okay, Sandburg, let me make a few calls," Banks said. Blair didn't see Simon's eyes rolling at the little bounce and grin that came as a result of his reply.

~~~~~~~~

The truck stop was empty of people, except for the two men in black who crept silently toward the middle of the lot. Both men wore black masks so none of their face showed other than the slightly curved eyes marking them as Asian. One man was slightly taller and he took the lead while the other, thinner and shorter by only an inch or two followed, making sure then were not caught.

They moved quickly but surely between the stored semi-trailers, stopping every so often to double check the serial numbers on the trailers to the number on the small white piece of paper in the taller man's hand. Finally, they stopped in front of a black trailer. While his friend kept guard, the taller of the two pulled out a key, unlocked the trailer and they two crept inside. The door opened spreading light from the nearby street lamp like a sunrise over the inside of the container. As the two began looking over the various boxes and crates, the smaller man pointed out a long, rectangular box against the back wall.

Again the taller man took the lead while the other kept watch. He pulled a crowbar out from behind the container, and began forcing the lid off the case; the lid popped off without difficulty. Together they opened the case and began pulling out automatic weapons. As the guns came out and were laid to one side, the shorter man spotted the expected envelope. He opened it and pulled out an 8x11 photo and they both studied the picture intently. Matching grins lit two almost identical mouths as one pulled out a lighter and lit the picture. Pleasure glowed in the eyes as they watched the faces in the photo burn.

As soon as the glowing light died from the burnt paper, then two men left as quietly as they had come.


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


It was a beautiful day and Jim was glad to be outside. He'd been undercover for only a day, but the atmosphere inside the great house was stifling. Suspicions, accusations, and general distrust were rampant among the members of the family, and for anyone on the outside it was hard to deal with as Jim was discovering. He had already decided that he would make a few changes by getting his charge out of the house and over to the nearby park. They'd had to go to the library that morning for Edward's homework assignment, but on their return Jim had made a short detour.

The two, man and youth, wandered through the park towards a field where a group of boys were playing football, two of Lazar's guards had followed them at a discreet distance. A glance at the young face by his side showed Jim a touch of envy and longing.

"That's a nice run. Good wheels," Jim called to a youth who had just made a touchdown. He turned to Edward and watched as resignation and maybe even disappointment replaced the longing. "Pretty good, huh?"

"Sports are for jerks." Okay that wasn't the response he was expecting.

"Not where I'm from. Where'd you get an idea like that anyway?" Ellison had spent a good deal of his time with the boy in the last twenty-four hours, hoping he could draw the youngster out of his shell.

Edward shrugged. "My dad. He said it's a waste of time to do something unless you know you're going to win."

"I guess that's one way to look at it. My dad used to say the same thing, 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' I always thought the whole idea was to just get out and have some fun, get some exercise."

Jim led Edward over to sit at a picnic table where they continued to watch. "Some of the best times I had growing up were playing sports with my friends."

Jim looked up as a football was lobbed in their direction. He grabbed it and held it out to the youngster who ran to retrieve it. "Here you go."

"Thanks." The boy turned to Edward, "Hey, you want to play? We need another guy."

Edward shook his head. "Uh-uh."

The boy shrugged back and returned to the game.

"I know how you feel, Edward. I got scared a lot when I was a kid. Some big boys out there," Jim remarked, hoping a different approach might work. *I have definitely been hanging around Sandburg too much,* he thought to himself with a tiny grin.

Jim regarded Edward as the young man continued to watch the boys' game. He knew the remark about bigger kids and being afraid had stung the boy; he also could see Edward trying very hard not to show how much the comments had hurt.

"I'm not afraid of those guys," Edward finally said.

Jim nodded sagely. "That's okay. I understand."

"I said I'm not afraid."

"Okay. Whatever."

Edward glared at Ellison for a moment then turned to the game. "Hey!" he called out before running to join the gang. Minutes later, he was deeply engrossed in the game and thoroughly enjoying himself. Jim smiled happily to himself.

Jim heard the approaching footsteps and smelled the subtle scent of Michelle's perfume as she joined him. He rose to greet her, ever the professional as he continued to watch her son out of the corner of his eye.

"Hi. I heard you came here for a little male bonding. Where is Edward?" She leaned into his space and she looked up at him rather than actively looking for the boy she had come to see.

"He's doing a little bonding of his own," he told her as he pointed Edward out in the middle of the football field, covered by a mound of other young boys as he had just been tackled. The youngster was smiling happily, completely unharmed.

"You call that protection?" Michelle seethed as she started for the field with every intention of retrieving her son.

Jim grabbed for her arm, preventing her from embarrassing her son. "No, wait. Wait a minute. I'd like to think I can offer him a little more than protection. He's having a good time out there."

Michelle shook him off and turned to round into him. "I'll decide what my son needs."

Jim managed to capture her arm again. "Michelle, I'm trying to help him. He's going to be all right."

They both turned in time to watch as a larger boy on the opposing team tackled Edward once more. He went down, but got up immediately to go after the boy.

Jim saw what was about to happen. Edward was preparing to attack from behind, his fist already raised in retaliation. Jim let loose a piercing whistle, and when Edward turned to face him, Jim motioned him over to where he and Michelle were sitting.

"Eddie! Come here!" Jim called. He watched as Edward's head dropped to his chest, but the boy returned as ordered. "What was that?"

"You saw." Petulance was in every word and in the stance of the youth.

"I saw you take a good hit and you were about give a cheap shot. All that would have done is show them you couldn't take it. Come on. You're better than that." Jim smiled at Edward.

Edward nodded, and raced back to rejoin the game.

The two adults watched as the boys huddled up to discuss their next play. One boy called a series of numbers then passed ball to the boy behind him. He in turn, tossed the ball to Edward who caught it easily and began to run. He crossed the imaginary end zone with a huge smile knowing he had just scored a touchdown.

"Edward! Yeah! Edward! Yes! Yes! Okay!" Michelle called out extremely happy with her son. She turned and wrapped her arms around Jim, who merely smiled and began to extricate himself.

Jim caught the look Edward sent him, and he began to get the feeling that this was not the first time his mother had turned to other men. Jim didn't want to get involved with this woman. She was beautiful, yes, but he had a job to do and he couldn't do it with romantic entanglements. Plus, how could he gain the trust of the boy if he had a relationship with his mother. It was obvious, even after such a short acquaintance Edward loved and still missed his father deeply.

Jim watched sadly as Edward returned to the game a little less enthusiastically.

~~~~~~~~

Dominick sat on the bed, watching his daughter as she prepared the needle. He hated this, this need for medication. He felt like he was losing the one thing he'd always been able to depend upon, his control. Erika was the only one who knew, not even Vincent had known. Of course, the illness had only gotten bad after the explosion which had taken his son, but he'd still kept quiet until it had been necessary to bring Erika in on the secret. After all, she was the one who picked up his prescription and gave him the injections. *Such a good daughter, she knows her place in the family,* he thought to himself.

"We're running low on your medication, I'll have Dr. Barlow phone in another prescription." Erika's voice brought Dominick back from his musings.

"You make sure you pick it up yourself. I don't want anybody else finding out about this. Things are too important right now," Dominick reminded her.

"Don't worry, Daddy. Nobody is going to know. I wish you would let me help." She finished the injection and stepped back. Her face was open with fondness for her father yet he knew she hoped that this argument might go her way for once.

"This is not for you," Dominick said sternly. He didn't look at his daughter while he finished fixing his shirt.

"It's my family, too." The coldness was back, it always came back when they had this argument. He still didn't look at Erika. He was tired of this argument; they had had it several times since Vincent died. He didn't know what he would have to do to make her see that women were not made to run organizations, his organization.

"What are you going to do, run around with a gun in your hand?" Dominick's gaze rose to his daughter's face where he saw the hardened look but chose to ignore it, just like he always did.

"I did once." Erika pouted.

"That couldn't be helped. I got some calls to make. Go make sure everybody's here for dinner. I'll be there in a minute. Princess, if you really want to help me, find yourself a husband and make me another grandson." He was already turning to reach for the phone and missed the momentary hatred that buzzed across Erika's lovely face.

Without another word, she left the room in search of Michelle and the brat. He was back now; she'd heard the excited voices almost half an hour earlier. Oh well, soon he wouldn't be a problem anymore. A vindictive smile curled her lips, but it stopped there, the coldness never left her eyes.

~~~~~~~~

Jim paused by the door as he heard Dominick, it sounded like he was on the phone. "Hey, it's me. I talked to Dixon and Madsen. They were suspicious, but we knew that. They took some convincing, but they'll come. I'll personally guarantee their safety. Uh-huh. Yeah, Vargas has already confirmed."

Jim wanted to listen longer, but footsteps coming closer forced him to continue his way into the dining room. Erika finished setting the table, she put the last bowl down as Jim entered the room.

"Sorry I'm late."

"You just made it. We're waiting for my father." She pointed to a spot next to Edward. "Have a seat."

Erika took the seat next to Michelle just as Dominick entered the room.

"You must have a pretty good appetite after all that exercise today, huh?" Jim asked Edward.

Edward smiled at his guard. "Yeah, starved actually."

Dominick took the seat at the head of the table. "Everybody's here. Good." He nodded for Erika to begin serving herself and pass the bowls around. Then he turned to Edward. "Well, I heard you played football today. How did you do?"

"Okay, I guess." The once enthusiastic voice was now subdued, almost as if the grandson feared pleasing the old man. Jim winced slightly and decided to make the young man out to be the hero he was.

"Okay? He scored the winning touchdown," Ellison told Lazar as if proud of the boy. He felt two pairs of eyes watching him. One with aroused interest and the other with barely restrained anger. He ignored both while addressing Lazar.

Dominick grinned at his grandson. "He did? That's good. That's very good."

"We expect nothing less. He is a Lazar." Erika smiled at Edward who seemed to cringe back but forced himself to smile.

"But he should be playing more. I'd like to enroll him in a school where he could be with kids his own age," Michelle interjected without looking up. Jim could hear the hope in her voice, but it was not to last long. Dominick spoke, once more shooting down his daughter-in-law's hope for Edward's normal life.

"My daughter-in-law has good intentions, but her view of life is naive." He turned to Jim, picking up the bottle of imported water in the carafe. "Here, try some of this. It's from a little village south of Sorrento. Everybody talks about the Italian wine. Me, I love the water. It reminds me who I am."

Jim smiled and took a sip of the water. "Not bad."

"Dominick has a way of romanticizing everything -- like the life we live," Michelle said to Jim, bitterness creeping into her tone.

"That's enough, Michelle. We talked about it and I told you it was impossible." The reprimand was sharp and brooked no arguments.

"Why? We keep losing tutors because they're terrified to be here. Edward needs to live a life outside of these walls."

"I have arranged for a new tutor to come tomorrow. No arguments. I don't mind him playing with the other boys at the park, but only if Mr. Curtis is with him. He's with his family. Family is everything. Do I need to remind you that the safety of all of us is dependent on the security that we provide?"

"Like it was for Vincent?" Michelle's voice was scathing, hurtful. Jim caught Edward's flinching motion but said nothing. He rested his hands on the table trying to be nonchalant about the whole thing.

"That was an accident."

"A car bomb is not an accident."

Dominick slammed his hand down on the table. Everyone jumped. "Enough! This conversation does not take place at my table."

"Michelle, some things should be left alone," Erika interjected trying to play the peacekeeper.

"You stay out of this. He is still my son." She rose to her feet, anger showing in every tense line of her body. "I've lost my appetite. Come on, Edward. We'll eat later."

Dominick picked up his fork and knife and resumed eating. Without looking up her, he responded, "No. He stays."

"Edward, come with me, please," Michelle repeated.

Edward hung his head and mumbled a reply, "I'm going to stay with Grandpa."

Michelle stared at her son for a moment. She turned and retreated from the tension-filled dining room.

"Come on, let's eat this. It looks delicious. You scored a touchdown, eh?" Dominick chuckled as eating began once more.

~~~~~~~~

After dinner, everyone split up to go their own ways and Jim decided to seek out Michelle. His hope was to convince her to help him, maybe even testify against the Lazar's, but first he'd have to win her trust. *A hard thing to do for someone who has lived this life for so long,* he thought to himself.

He found her on the lower deck, staring resolutely out over the garden her face a mixture of sadness and resignation.

"Hey."

Michelle turned, slightly startled. "Oh, hi."

"You okay?"

"I'm losing him. Every day, a little bit more. Maybe Erika's right. Maybe I'm pushing too hard." The sad despair in her voice touched something deep inside Jim, a place he'd locked up long ago, a place that reminded him of his own mother.

"You're not pushing," Jim told her. "What does Edward know about all this? I mean, what does he think his grandfather does?"

"I told you. He keeps a lot of things locked inside. I wish he would talk to me." Michelle stared at him for a long moment before turning back to look over the garden cast in the lengthening shadows of twilight. She watched as the lights came on in a lower room and Dominick and Edward entered.

"He certainly knows how his father died. I think he's figured out quite a lot."

"He's just a kid. He should have a normal kid's life not this farce that Dominick thinks is so wonderful and perfect. He's trapped here behind these walls, just like me." The last was a whisper with all the pain and heartache in them Michelle felt. Jim listened as Michelle told him how her love for Vincent had burned brightly at the start.

"By the time I realized who he truly was, I was pregnant with Edward. Then Vincent brought me to meet his family. We were never free after that. Prison guards in the form of bodyguards were my constant companion and then Edward's. Rarely are we allowed to go anywhere and then only in the company of one of the many guards from the estate. First, at Vincent's insistence and then Dominick's, especially after Vincent's death."

"He needs time to sort things out. You just want what's best for him," Jim said softly, bringing Michelle's attention back into focus on the present.

"I don't know what else to do."

Jim watched her profile for a moment trying to judge whether it was time. *Take a chance,* his little voice told him. "There's... there's a way out."

Before he had a chance to explain further, a slight noise and motion on the far end of the garden caught his attention. He pushed his sight forward and caught a glimpse of something moving through the bushes. He took off. "Stay here and get down," he called back. He could see Dominick and Edward sitting behind the computer in a room, curtains open and lights blazing, making an easy target.

Jim raced across the grounds, towards the sound and movement he'd seen. As he drew closer, two men stood in the shadows. Both men held weapons, aimed for the two defenseless people in the study.

Suddenly and without warning, his sight faded and blurred, cramping took his stomach, not hard but persistent. Shaking his head, he continued forward, calling for Dominick's attention. He pulled his gun, tripped but rolled fluidly back to his feet, his eyes still watering and blurry.

Vaguely he could see one of the men turn his direction. He threw himself behind the stone wall just as bullets ripped through where he'd been standing.

~~~~~~~~

"Okay. What game are we going to play tonight?" Dominick asked his grandson as they entered his study. It was their habit to spend some quality time together, and one of their favourite pastimes was to play one of the many computer games loaded on the fancy machine in the middle of Dominick's desk.

Edward thought briefly then replied. "Uh, Formula One Monster."

Dominick grinned. That was without a doubt Edwards favourite. "All right, but I get the red car this time. Last time you had the red car, you won every game. I figure it's that car."

Edward laughed. They sat down in front of a computer, each picking up a paddle.

"Dominick, get down!" Jim's voice called out.

Responding to the command without thought, Dominick grabbed hold of Edward, pulling him with him under the massive desk. Gunfire rattled around them, completely destroying the office, including the computer, but the desk did its job and kept them well protected.

~~~~~~~~

A dark figure stood on the upper balcony watching the unfolding events. A clear look of displeasure and hatred blossoming across what might have been beautiful features if not for the cold, brown eyes. Erika shook her head; her plans were not going properly.

As she watched, Jim Curtis rounded on the two men who were quickly reloading.

"All right. Drop your weapons!" Damn that man, he should be out for the count. She'd slipped him enough to knock out an elephant.

The gunmen continued to fire at Curtis. Silently Erika prayed that one bullet, just one, would find its target, but even drugged, Curtis's reflexes were damn good. She watched Jim dive for cover behind a low stone wall. As she watched, he managed to get the drop on the two men. Seeing her failure becoming public Erika knew she couldn't allow it. Pulling the gun her father didn't know she had, she fired at the two men.

She watched silently as the gunmen fell. Curtis looked up and caught her eye. She met Curtis's gaze, holding it for a long moment. A lust filled her, but with a coldness that she was well known for, she pushed it away. He was the enemy, he would die of that there was no doubt, just like Vincent. And just like Jimmy.


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


Jim looked up as two shots rang out. Deadly shots that hit both men dead center, killing them instantly. Whirling, he saw Erika Lazar on the upper deck. She held a gun rigidly pointed at the downed men. Her eyes were cold, dead, but they held Jim's own for a long time before she abruptly turned away.

"Damn, I wanted to talk to these two. Find out who ordered this hit," he muttered to himself as he felt for a pulse which he knew he wouldn't find. Disgusted with the turn of events, Jim made his way through the debris and into the study. "Is everybody all right?"

"Yeah," Dominick snarled. Anger radiated from his body as he stared out into the gloom of the night. Before he was able to say anything, Michelle barged in and grabbed hold of her son. Mother and son clung to one another, seeking and sharing comfort. "Edward!"

"He's all right." Dominick glanced at her sharply but let her be as she continued to hug Edward.

"He is not all right! He won't be until we leave here!" Michelle wept, barely containing her own fear of what nearly happened. "When the hell will you realize he needs to be away from here, not stuck in the middle of some damn family feud?"

Jim broke in, "Get him upstairs and put him under some blankets. He's probably in shock and he needs to warm up."

"Come on, honey." Michelle nodded at Jim before turning her son away and leading him from the room. Jim followed them with his hearing, but it was starting to cut out also. He shook his head once more in a vain attempt to clear the ringing in his ears.

"You were outside. What happened?" Dominick turned to ask.

"They came over the south wall and somehow penetrated security. They knew exactly where you'd be, sir," Jim replied.

"They're both dead. They were Asian," Erika told them as she entered the room.

"Who killed them?" Dominick demanded to know.

It was Erika who replied, "I did."

"You?"

"I didn't have a choice. He hesitated," Erika spat at Jim. Jim allowed himself a tiny mental flinch at the vehemence in her voice.

"What were you waiting for?" Jim faced the older man, prepared to defend his desire to question them.

"I thought you wanted them alive, sir. I thought you might want to know who had hired them. Like I said, they knew exactly where you would be tonight. I thought it was too much of a coincidence to chance it. It was my mistake. It won't happen again."

Erika sent Jim a scathing look which was missed by her father as he turned his attention to the rest of the room. In a placating voice she spoke once more to her father, ignoring Jim for the moment. "Daddy, the police are going to be here. We really need to talk with our lawyers."

"I'll take care of it. Don't you worry. This assault on my home will be dealt with!" With one last furious look at the devastation, Dominick left the room.

Jim stood still watching Erika. As soon as her father was gone, the temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees. The mild pain in his stomach seemed to have gone in the wake of all the adrenaline, plus his senses were back and he could control them once more. However, questions were beginning to flow fast and furious through his mind. Who were those men, who hired them and did Erika know more than she was letting on? Did she really hate her father enough to attract his wrath if she was involved in whatever was going on?

All damn good questions and hopefully ones he could learn the answers to, if only he could get away for a few hours. *Maybe some sort of excuse to see my parole agent or something like that.*

With that thought, Jim left Erika behind still staring after his retreating form.

~~~~~~~~

Without thought, Jim found himself outside Edward's room. It was on the opposite side of the house from his room, but he wanted to make sure the boy was okay. He knocked gently on the door which was opened a moment later by a calmer but still upset Michelle. "How is he?"

"He's going to be all right. He's sleeping." She glanced back into the room briefly before stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind her. "You said there was a way out."

"Yeah. For both you and your son."

"Who are you?" She stepped closer, her voice soft, sultry.

"All you need to know is that you can trust me."

Michelle took another step forward. "But if they find out... "

Jim couldn't move, her voice and her very presence was intoxicating, bewitching. Her perfume tantalized his senses making it difficult to focus. He forced himself to concentrate on the topic. "They won't. I can make this happen."

She leaned forward and up, gripping his shoulders to pull herself into his space and kissed him, hard. For a brief moment, Jim wanted to let go and take what she offered, but his ears picked up the small voice from inside the bedroom.

"I'd better go," Jim said as he managed to push her away. "Edward needs you."

Michelle gazed up at him as even her hearing could pick up Edward's plaintive plea for her. She gave Jim one last smile. and returned to her son.

~~~~~~~~

Once he was back in his room, Jim pulled the cell phone Brown had snuck him while interviewing him about the attack. He'd managed to conceal it from Terry who hovered like some angry vulture waiting for Jim to slip up and reveal something he shouldn't have. Rafe had distracted the bodyguard just long enough for Jim to take the phone and hide it from sight.

Dialing from memory, he called Simon's office.

"Banks."

"It's me."

"Jim, thank god, we were getting worried. We got a call about the attack. Brown and Rafe are leading the investigation. I take it they got the phone to you?"

"I saw them, yeah. I need a meet. I'll arrange to see my parole officer tomorrow. Can you make sure you're there?"

"Count on it. Listen, Jim, we always assumed the Asian gangs took out Vincent. This could have been a pre-emptive strike: get Dominick before he gets them."

"I think there's more to it than that. I heard a phone conversation Dominick was having with somebody regarding protection for Dixon and Madsen," Jim replied.

"From Seattle?" Simon asked the names were well known to him.

Jim grinned at his boss' reply. "You know two other mob guys with the same name?"

"Why would Dominick be offering them protection unless he's setting a trap?"

"Or a peace treaty."

"No, no. The blood feud's too deep for that. Look, Jim, this is getting real hairy. You could have gotten yourself killed tonight."

"Yeah, I understand that. I think Erika Lazar has her grubby little hands in this so deep not even her father would be willing to help her out if he learned of it. There is some bad vibes between the two and I think she resents her father's control. She's fighting it. Can you check into that for me. I also heard something about Vargas having confirmed. Check that out too if you can," Jim asked as he began to undo his shirt and prepare for bed.

"Consider it done. Jim, there's something else you should know," Simon paused. Before he could continue, Jim heard a knock on the door.

"You'll have to tell me later, Simon. There's someone here." Jim hung up without formalities. He hid the phone quickly. He moved to the door, pulled it open, and stepped back in surprise. Michelle stood there, a flowery gown covered her, barely.

"Don't say anything. Just be with me."

"Michelle... "

"Shh... Jim, it's okay. I don't expect you to promise me anything. I'm a big girl. I know what I'm doing."

"No. I can't do this. Lazar would kill both of us. Think of Edward, he needs you and doesn't need this." Jim backed away as Michelle pushed forward. Her hand caressed the expanse of bare chest that showed through the shirt Jim had been trying to remove earlier. Her hands pushed it off his shoulder.

"God, you're gorgeous," Michelle whispered huskily.

"Michelle, I'm sorry. I can't." Gently but firmly, Jim disengaged her hands. He kissed her knuckles but pushed her towards the door. "Go back to bed, Michelle. We'll talk in the morning."

With an angry flounce, Michelle hurried back that way she'd come. For a moment Jim wondered whether he'd just made an even bigger mistake.


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


"'Mr. Lazar?" Jim asked hesitantly. The don was overseeing the repair men who were beginning to fix the study. Jim was amazed that money could work this quickly. There were six workers, taking measurements, writing on blueprints and setting up equipment.

"Curtis," came the blunt reply.

"I need to leave for a bit." Lazar flashed Jim a sharp look. "My parole officer. Gotta check in or they take me back."

For a moment there was no response. Then, "I was hoping you would be here when the new tutor arrived. I hoped you would check him over. No, it is okay, go. I don't want to lose a good man." He paused. "Thank you for last night, I am sorry about Erika. You were right I would have preferred them alive."

Jim nodded. "Too many unanswered questions, sir. I understand. I won't be too long."

Lazar only nodded and went back to his own work. Jim headed out for his meet with Simon.

~~~~~~~~

Blair pulled the car into the driveway of the large house, whistling in appreciation. He pulled the sedan onto the side, out of the way of other vehicles that might come and go.

"Sir?" A guard approached him as he stepped out of the car.

"Yeah, hi. Blair Sandburg, I am here to tutor, ahh…" his words were cut off as the man turned him into the sedan and began to search him.

"Clean." The guard muttered into the handheld.

"Let him in, Lazar is expecting him," the voice returned.

"Go ahead."

Blair grabbed his case off the back seat and hurried in the direction indicated. He was met by a beautiful woman with short dark hair and expressive, if somewhat angry, brown eyes.

"You must be Blair Sandburg. I'm Erika Lazar, welcome.

"Yeah, thanks," Blair mumbled. He'd been expecting the cold welcome, told to expect it but it didn't make it easier when actually faced with it. The mistrust was like a slap in the face. "So, I guess I'm here to tutor Edward Lazar. Do I get to meet him?"

"In time, yes. My father wishes to speak with you first. Please, this way." Blair followed her to a room off the main foyer. It looked like a war zone.

"Daddy, Mr. Sandburg is here." A tall, distinguished man turned to face them, and Blair found himself face to face with the man he'd only seen once through the surveillance cameras at the pier.

"Mr. Sandburg. I am glad the university was able to spare you from your duties."

"Thank you, sir. I hope I am able to help. I understand it is your grandson I am to teach."

"Yes. Have you done this much."

"I have tutored before, yes. Not on this scale but well, teaching fellows can't be too picky when it come to getting good employment. This is much better than most of my other assignments. You have a very lovely house." Blair was babbling and he knew it. But he was nervous and hoping to put on a good face. However, telling the head of the West Coast family that you can't be too picky about jobs isn't the best way to do it. "Sorry, sir, just nervous."

"No need to be nervous. I have a room for you. You'll be sharing it with Edward's guard. He will be with you for every session with my grandson."

"A guard?"

"Yes, no need to worry it's just a precaution." Lazar motioned for the door. "Come, I will show you to your room. Mr. Curtis will return shortly."

Blair was led up a curving staircase to the second floor and finally up another staircase ending at a landing where one door stood. It was closed but unlocked.

"Again, Mr. Sandburg, thank you for coming and I trust you will enjoy your stay." Lazar left, his daughter, who had tagged along followed but not before sending him a sultry glance mingled with an antagonism that wasn't quite hidden.

"Well, that was interesting." Blair mumbled as he opened the door. *Of course not nearly as interesting as Jim will be when he sees his new room mate.*

~~~~~~~~

"They're making it harder to leave the compound. I hope you found something, I am not sure I can get out again until all of this is done," Jim told his boss as he took a seat in the small office they had commandeered.

"You tell me," Mulroney said as he handed Jim a photo of Erika with two men.

"These are the shooters from the other night," Jim said, astonished by the find.

"I was going through surveillance shots we took a few weeks ago. They didn't mean anything to us then." Mulroney handed Jim another, taken from a slightly different angle.

"Erika, Erika, Erika... Guess she wasn't satisfied with traditional roles of women in mob families."

"She hired these two guys to do the hit?" Simon threw in.

"Yeah, Erika wants power. She's not going to get it unless she takes it, I guess. She couldn't take the chance of these two guys getting captured."

Simon shook his head in disbelief. "Man, oh, man. So she puts a contract out on her own father. That's cold."

Mulroney grinned wickedly. "Yeah, well, who said blood is thicker than water?"

"What did you find out about Vargas?" Jim asked, changing the subject.

"Vargas, Antonio. Head of a South American drug cartel. DEA has had their eye on him for a while. Rumors floating around the department had him in bed with some pretty big names here in the States. Word is he's hoping to make a deal in the Pacific Northwest. With Lazar himself," Mulroney informed them.

"So this thing with Dixon and Mason could be some major drug deal?" Jim asked.

"Could be. And somehow Lazar is in the middle of the whole thing. Problem is, the deal was originally brokered by Vincent. With his death, Dominick is going to have difficulties keeping thing together. Especially when word gets out about his problems with his daughter."

"Well, let's hope Jim can wrap this up before that happens," Simon told Mulroney. He turned to Jim. "Is there anything else I should know?"

"Maybe. I think someone is trying to poison me."

"What do mean?" Mulroney asked, shock evident in his voice.

"When the attack happened, I experienced dizziness, stomach cramps, a headache, and some other things," Jim said with a pointed look toward Simon. "All of it came on very sudden, and now it's gone."

Simon groaned and Jim was pretty sure what Simon's next words would be.

"Well, look, things have gotten too dangerous. I'm pulling you out."

Yep, that's what he was afraid of. *Talk fast, Ellison. Jimmy deserves justice, and you made a promise to Michelle.*

"Simon, I said I can handle this. I just wanted you to know that there's more going than we had first thought," Jim told him, adamant in his refusal to give the case up that easily.

"Jim..." Simon began.

Mulroney jumped in, "No! We all agreed we'd yank you if conditions changed. And they have changed."

"I can't walk. Not now." Jim stood and headed for the door.

Simon followed him. "Jim! Wait a minute. What the hell is going on? Why are you being so damned stubborn?"

"There are other people involved," Jim told him, unsure how to explain. And face it, he didn't want to have to explain the need to fend off lust-crazed mobster widows.

"What people? What are you talking about? Hey, something else is going on here."

"Nothing like that, Simon. It's gotten a little complicated, sir," Jim tried to explain.

"Why, Jim?" he paused. "Is this about Jimmy Finetti? Jim that is over, move on."

"Damn it, Simon it's not just that."

"Then what, Jim?" Something in Jim's face must have tipped Simon off for a look came over the dark face, disapproval and maybe, just maybe something else. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the lovely widow, would it?"

Jim kept silent, hoping to discourage the conversation. It didn't work. The disapproval deepened and he knew Simon was angry.

"Hell, Jim. Please tell me you didn't sleep with her. You know better…"

"It's not like that, Simon. Come on, you know me better than that. It's just that she wants out and I think Edward deserves more. I can't just walk away from them."

Simon snorted. "You always were too soft. Well, I hope they're worth it."

Jim returned to his truck.

Just inside the office, Simon remembered what he had meant to tell Jim. "Shit!"

~~~~~~~~

Blair sat beside Edward at the table in the youth's room. Books were spilled across the table but at the moment they were concentrating on History. They were discussing the depression and prohibition. A touchy subject considering the fact that they were under a mobster's roof. Blair grinned to himself at the thought.

"Mr. Sandburg…?"

"Blair. Please call me Blair."

"This is what my father was, isn't it?" Blair stared at Edward, startled by the sudden insight. "I mean I know there are things that go on here that aren't legal and I think my Dad was in on it somehow."

Blair paused, uncertain how to cope with this. "Actually, I guess the police might think so, but it's hard to be so cut and dry when it is your own family involved. Why do you ask?"

"Just stuff I saw and heard I guess."

"Do you agree with what they do?"

Edward shrugged before picking up his text again. "I don't want to talk about it any more."

"Okay." They continued the study until Erika called them for lunch.

Lunch was a simple and quick affair. Dominick was not there and neither was Jim. Blair was a little disconcerted about that since he'd assumed Jim would be back by now, after all it had been several hours.

After lunch, Edward disappeared into his room to play some video games so Blair decided to explore the grounds. He couldn't get the brief but interesting conversation out of his mind. Edward was a good kid, troubled and concerned about things no kid should have to deal with. Blair wondered how things would go for him once this whole mess was sorted out.

Making his way out to the side drive, he ran into Erika.

~~~~~~~~

Erika watched from the upper window, the one from her own room, as the new tutor exited from the side door and made his way across the drive. Something about him set her on edge. Not that he'd done anything in particular. He was cute, smart and seemed funny. She'd heard Edward laughing earlier.

Maybe that was it. He was now in tight with the little brat. All she needed. God, how many people would get in her way before she finally won? It was her right, why couldn't her father see that.

Anger built inside, threatening to consume her. Even as it did, a thought began to form. Maybe she could play him, gather information, find out exactly who and what he really was and then, once she had enough she could take it to her father and earn her place. If not… well, then he would have to die too.

A grin formed. Erika made her move. She headed for the garden, and Mr. Blair Sandburg.

~~~~~~~~

"Mr. Sandburg," a voice all but purred at him from behind. Blair turned and came face to face with Erika Lazar. He swallowed as his throat suddenly went dry.

"Please, it is just Blair." He moved to stand next to her. She was watching the gardeners as they cleaned up the hedge trimmings.

"So what do you think of our little home, Blair." She turned and placed a well-manicured hand on his arm. Warmth flowed from the touch, and he grinned sappily.

"It is very nice, though I wouldn't call it little," he laughed.

"I guess your right." Erika gripped his arm and pulled him towards a swing set. "So have you been teaching long?"

"A while now, I guess. I like it. I'm actually a grad student working on my dissertation but I just love teaching and I love anthropology. Did you know that your family is like a micro culture all…"

His words came to an abrupt end as Erika sealed his mouth with hers. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he had no choice but to wrap his own around her waist to keep from falling over.

When she lifted her head again he blinked, confusion warred with uncertainty.

"Sorry, but I like you," Erika whispered in his ear. "Tell me about yourself. Where do you come from, your parents, that sort of thing."

They sat together on the swings while Blair told her of his many and varied adventures on different expeditions. She asked many probing questions, which he skillfully evaded. He was his usual charming self, eager to please and yet he missed most of the impatient signals Erika gave off. As soon as he began to turn the Q&A in her direction, she skillfully turned it back on him. He lost track of everything he was suppose to find out when her questions were punctuated by spine-tingling, brain-numbing kisses.

It wasn't until a voice called for her that their conversation ended.

"Maybe later, Blair." One last lingering kiss and she was gone. Blair shook his head once more to clear the fuzziness, then began to make his way back to the drive.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pulled onto the side drive, past the front of the house where all sort of activity was happening. He stopped the truck and climbed out, grabbing the shopping bags from the back, his 'explanation' of why he was so late from his appointment. He turned around only to come face to face with Terry.

"Where you been?"

"I, uh, I had some personal things to take care of."

"Well, nobody leaves the compound. Dominick's orders."

Jim's senses start to fuzz again. "Mr. Lazar knew. He never said anything to me about it." He moved to pass Terry.

"That's it, Mr. Hotshot," his hand caught Jim's shoulder and spun him around. Off balance from the bags in his hands, he wasn't quite fast enough to avoid the first blow which knocked him back into the side of the truck. This allowed Terry to get a second hit in, to his stomach. The bags fell to the ground as Jim fought to recover his breath. "You want a piece of me?"

A familiar sound grew louder as a figure raced up from the back garden. It was Blair.

"Hey, no, no!" Blair cried as he launched himself at the guard.

Terry caught him and roughly shoved Blair aside. "You want a piece of me? Come on!" he screamed at Jim.

Jim attacked. His fists caught the angry man on the chin and with one forceful punch, full in the face, Terry collapsed in a heap.

Blair rose from the ground where Terry had shoved him. "Hey, you okay?"

Jim glanced around sharply to see if anyone was nearby. Finding no one within range, he turned back to his partner. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Simon sent me in. Don't worry, its legit, through Rainer. I'm tutoring Edward."

"Christ, Chief, have you any idea what is going on here? This is too dangerous, you have to leave."

"Jim, I'm capable of doing this you know, and if you make one mention of the fact that I am not a cop, I will rip your arm off and beat you with it." Blair spun on his heels and headed for the garage, anger causing mild tremors to race through his stiffly held body. He was sick and tired of always being reminded of what he wasn't and having everyone forget what he really was, a teacher!

Jim sighed but decided to ignore it for now. Right now, he wanted to find out what all the activity was in the front. He picked up his bags and made his way over to where Erika was directing a group of caterers.

Jim smiled and asked, "What's going on here? What's all this?"

Erika rounded into him. "You were gone a long time. My father's not happy about that." She turned to the man beside her. "He stays in his room. No exceptions unless my father says so. Get him out of here."

Jim noticed the thug took great pleasure in manhandling him back around to the garage, up the stairs, and through the door to his room. Once there, he dropped his bags on the bed and glanced over at the window overlooking the driveway.

Blair turned from the window when Jim walked in. He turned back to watch the activity below and said, "They're either getting ready for a war outside, or we're going to have ourselves one hell of a block party." Jim made his way over to where Blair stood and for a moment there was silence between them.

"Hey, check this out." Jim pointed. "See that guy right down there? That's Vargas from Ecuador. The guy back there stepping out of the car… his name is Tom Dixon and the other man there is Paul Mason. They're from Seattle. There's a lot of heavy hitters here."

The man who'd brought Jim back to the garage looked up and saw the two men. "Get away from the window," he called up.

They backed away from window, matching grins adorning their faces.

"Nothing like being caught peeking to make you feel like a kid again, huh, Jim?" Blair teased. "It's like a crime lord convention down there."

"Is that what's going on here? Some sort of pact?" Jim asked, more to himself than Blair. He glanced around trying to figure out something. "I got to find a way out of here."

"There's too much security out there. You're crazy."

"I got to see what's going on." Sentinel sight zoomed in on a loose board, light filtering up through it from the garage below. "Chief, come here. Give me a hand."

Together they pried the floorboard up and tossed it away. It took a little work, but within moments the hole was large enough for Jim to get through. Like his spirit animal, he dropped lightly to the floor. Seconds later, he was gone.

Blair returned to the window, standing just out of sight yet still able to see the front drive.

Dominick was standing on the front steps, motioning his guests inside.

~~~~~~~~

Jim wound his way silently through the bushes surrounding the house until he was close enough to the dining room where Dominick had set up for this meeting. He extended his hearing to pick up the conversation inside.

Dominick was speaking, "Gentlemen. A few years ago, my son Vincent put into motion a plan that many of us here thought would never work. A plan to consolidate our businesses and run our drug trade from the Pacific Northwest. One man has worked harder and made more sacrifices than anyone here. If it weren't for him, we'd still be arguing. Or shooting."

The entire gathering laughed loudly. Jim couldn't see much, relying heavily on his hearing, but he could make out Erika, sitting in a high backed chair, her arms crossed over her chest, an angry, almost petulant look on her face. The hatred for her father was practically a living entity.

Dominick's voice caught his attention and Jim refocused on the man's words, even as he moved slightly in order to see the man. "But I never lost faith on that plan or in that man...my son. Vincent."

Jim watched in shock as from behind Dominick another figure entered the room.

Vincent Lazar was alive and well!


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


As Jim watched, Vincent hugged his father then turned to greet Erika.

"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you. It was better this way," Vincent told her as he tried to take her into a hug also. She pushed him away, refusing to even look at him.

Jim backed away and making a quick decision, he went looking for Edward and his mother.

~~~~~~~~

Michelle sat facing her son on his bed. "Honey, what's wrong? Talk to me." She pushed the hair out of his eyes but he didn't speak.

A knock sounded on the patio doors and Jim entered.

"I need to know if you still want out. I told you I could help you. That means we have to leave right now, though."

Michelle stared at him shocked. "After the other night you want me to go with you. Are you crazy?" Michelle stood and began pacing in anger.

Jim grabbed for her arm to stop her incessant pacing. "Michelle, you husband is alive."

"What?" Shock showed on her face.

Jim shook his head. "I guess when the assassination attempt failed he faked his death. He and Dominick used that as part of a plan to throw off the feds and consolidate some business interests."

Michelle seemed unsure. "I..."

Jim debated with himself for a moment. He would be taking an awful risk, but things were moving too fast now and this was a last ditch effort to regain control. He needed to get Edward and his mother out of harm's way. Then he needed to get back to Blair and get him out also. Making a decision, he spoke again. "Michelle, I'm a cop. Either you can stay with the Lazar's or you can leave and walk away from this forever. It's up to you."

Michelle made her mind up almost as quickly. "I want to leave."

Next, Jim faced Edward. This was the hardest part. The boy clearly loved his father but Jim hoped he had gained enough of the boy's trust to allow the help Jim offered. "Edward, trust is sometimes the most difficult thing you have to give but if you put your faith in me, I promise I won't let you down. Now, come with us."

Edward shook his head, not so much in negation but rather confusion. Before he had a chance to reply to Jim's request, the door opened and his father entered, followed closely by Erika and two henchmen.

Without thought, Edward ran to his father and clutched at him, tears tracking their way down his face. "Dad!" He twisted slightly to point at Jim. "He's a cop. He wants Mom to go with him. She said she would."

Jim glanced at Michelle who was staring, her head moving to look back and forth between Jim and her husband. "I thought you were dead." Jim could almost smell the scent of fear flowing off her in waves.

Vincent gently pushed his son as Erika. "Take him out of here."

"Edward, let's go for a walk." Erika was gentle as she pulled Edward from the room but Jim caught the look this time. The look of hate and envy mingled together in something that he knew would not bode well for the boy. Right now he couldn't do anything about it, he had to stay alive long enough to get Blair at least out of this alive.

"You were going to leave with him? A cop?" The distain was ugly.

Michelle cowered back. "I was trying to save my son's life."

"You just gave up that right." Vincent swung and hit her hard across her face with the back of his hand. She fell back on the bed with a sharp cry of pain. Her hand went up automatically to ward off another blow.

Jim moved forward to help her, but the two thugs grabbed him. Vincent arched into Jim's space. One hand wrapped itself in Jim's short hair and yanked. He stifled a cry of pain as his neck was wrenched, but his eyes never left Vincent's, growing icier as each second passed.

"You! Are you a wreaker of families or just this one?" Vincent asked, his voice almost calm, which belied the enraged light in his eyes.

No answer was forthcoming, of course. Jim remained silent, only his eyes speaking of the cold and deadly anger that built within his powerful body, though trapped for the time being. Jim forced the anger back until it was time to unleash it, when it mattered most.

He saw the gangster's son tense suddenly, but wasn't prepared when Vincent struck out with his fist, catching him on the side of the face. The blow was hard enough to rock Jim's head back. Black floated before his eyes for a moment before his vision cleared. Vincent laughed an insane laugh and struck again, in the stomach. The blow was far harder than Jim would have guessed considering Vincent was several pounds lighter and a few inches shorter. Jim would have doubled over from the blow if the two men weren't holding him in place.

"Get him out of here," Vincent snarled at his men.

As the two thugs pulled Jim from the room he heard Vincent say to Michelle, "First, we're going to deal with him and then you."

The two men holding Jim shoved him into the small room over the garage.

"Go on!" one said. They departed, leaving the door ajar.

Blair stood up from the couch where he'd been sitting. "Hey, man. You all right?" he asked, his hand gently probing the newly forming bruise on the side of Jim's face. Jim pulled out of reach.

"Yeah, I'll live."

Dominick entered with Erika, a gun in his hands. "I wouldn't count on it."

~~~~~~~~

Edward waited just long enough for his aunt to leave before slipping out the patio doors to find his father. He needed some answers; he needed to know why his father had gone for so long and let him believe he was dead. He needed to know why his father did what he did and why.

He may be only twelve, but he was old enough to know right and wrong. And something about his whole family was just wrong.

Edward found his father out by the pool house. He was dragging Michelle by the arm.

"All you had to do was wait and be patient. You made a big mistake, sweetheart," he heard his father say.

Edward moved back around the corner of the house and watched as Michelle struggled to free herself from the grip Vincent had on her arm. Edward wasn't sure how to feel as he watched his father push his mother into the pool house and lock the door. As Vincent turned away from the door, Edward moved out of his hiding place and walked up to his father.

Vincent reached out a hand and ruffled Edward's hair. "You've grown. I'm sorry I missed that, Son. It's going to be different now, okay? It's just going to be me and you."

"What about Mom?" Edward asked, nodding his head towards the pool house.

"Your Mom and I got some things we need to work out. She may be going away for a while, kind of a...vacation."

Edward held back. "Why, Dad? Why did you let us think you were dead?" Tears glistened in the young boy's eyes but bravely he held them back.

"Edward now is not the time or the place for this. After we clean up this mess we will talk."

"No! Now!" Edward pushed.

Vincent reached out and grabbed his son, his hand clamping painfully on his chin. "Listen to me, this life isn't for everyone, Edward. Okay? Someone decided what we do is wrong and they tried to kill me. It was easier to find out who by pretending they succeeded. Now, someday you'll understand that. For now, we have things to do. We can discuss this more later. Come on."

Vincent pulled his son with him as he moved back to the garage to deal with another part of the mess.

~~~~~~~~

"What's your real name?" Dominick asked, his arm never wavered, the gun held tightly in his hand never losing its aim.

"Jim Ellison." There was no reason to hide it now. The game was up. All that was left was to hope the cavalry came.

"Is he a cop, too?"

"No. He's just what he said, a grad student at the university."

"But you knew him before here, didn't you?" Erika said, moving closer to Blair. Her eyes were lit with an insane light. Blair tried to shift back, but the goon behind him blocked the way.

"He's a friend, but I didn't ask him to come and help me out."

"Well, that's unfortunate for him that he did come." Dominick motioned to the thug to take Blair out of the room.

"No." Blair struggled but the other man had little difficulty in following the don's order.

Jim fought against the two men holding him. "You think you can get away with killing a cop?"

Dominick indicated to the men to release Jim. "Experience tells me I can kill anybody I want to."

Erika grinned as if remembering something fondly. "They can't prove anything if you're never found."

"Just like Jimmy Finetti."

"That's right. Just like Jimmy Finetti. And just like your friend Sandburg. That one I will enjoy."

Jim faced Erika. "So it was you. Wh-what gave him away?"

Erika shrugged, looking smug. "He fell in love...told me things he shouldn't have."

The door opened and Vincent and Edward entered.

"Edward doesn't need to be here for this." Dominick shook his head. "Send him out. Let Erika take him."

"This is what we're about, Dad. It's time he learned." Vincent ignored his sister as he focused his attention on Jim.

"He's still just a boy," Dominick continued to argue.

Vincent frowned at his father. "No. He's my son."

Dominick acquiesced and handed the gun to Vincent. Then he motioned for Erika to leave. Jim stopped her with his next words.

"Hey, tell me something, Erika. What did you pay those Asian guys to try and kill your father?"

Vincent's head shot around to glare first at Jim, then his sister. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Oh, you didn't know this was an inside job?" He crossed his arms and took on the perfect picture of comfort. "How else would they know what room at what time your father and son were playing video games together? Come on, Dominick, I told you it was too coincidental. They knew where and when to strike. Didn't the fact that Erika here killed them tell you anything? Like that she shot them to prevent them from fingering her as the one who hired them. Poor Erika. It must be tough being the smartest one yet relegated to doing dishes and meals just because you're a woman."

"What is this, a joke?" Erika demanded, but the threat fell flat as fear reflected on her face.

"It's not a joke. We've got pictures of you with them and you look great in profile. In fact, that assassination attempt two years ago that supposedly took out Vincent here, I'll bet that was your doing too."

"You did this?" Dominick asked his only daughter, his face red with his rage.

Erika backed towards the door. "No. He's lying." She shook her head, one hand coming up to ward off a blow, which never came.

Jim leaned forward. "No, I'm not. And you know it."

"Why did you meet with them, then? Whoever paid them, I can trace the money. I can find out where it came from," Dominick paused. "Damn it, answer me!"

Erika used her anger at her situation to turn Jim's accusation back on her father. "You couldn't even tell me about Vincent? I took care of you. I kept your secrets." She faced Vincent. "He's dying...and I was afraid he'd give up everything we had worked for."

"But... to kill me?" Dominick was stunned and it showed. His eyes grew sad and the laugh lines around his eyes and mouth vanished under a sudden great weight.

"Not you," Erika tried to refute the claim but it was half-hearted. She was beaten, and she knew it.

Dominick met her eyes in horror. "Edward?"

"As long as Edward was alive, you'd keep nursing this dream that one day he would take over. It was for the family." Erika could no longer meet her father's gaze.

Vincent had yet to say anything so no one was prepared when he stalked up to his sister, grabbed her hair in a tight fist and fired his gun, shooting her point blank in the stomach. She fell heavily to the ground. Dominick raced to her side, crying out.

"No!"

Jim rushed Vincent, knocking the gun away. It skittered across the floor and landed near Edward. The boy picked up the weapon and pointed it at Jim.

"Get away from him," Edward told him, his voice wavering along with his indecision. Jim just watched Edward.

Vincent screamed at his son, "Shoot him! Shoot him!"

Dominick still sat on the floor rocking his daughter's body. Her eyes were lifeless now, the anger, hate and pain gone forever. "No, Vincent. No. Stop now. It's enough. Stop, please!" The once proud mob boss pleaded with Vincent, too much was lost. He was more than ready to retire, provided he wouldn't lose more of his family. Too much heartbreak, too much pain and mistrust had arisen. It had to end.

Vincent ignored his father and continued to goad his son, "Shoot him."

Dominick whimpered one last time, "Please!"

"Shoot him. Edward, listen to me. Do it now. Pull the trigger. Shoot him!"

"You don't want to do this, Edward. You don't want to hurt anybody." It was Blair's voice now. The grad student had returned but Jim had no time to reason why. He kept his eye on the confused boy with the gun. "Remember our conversation. You know this is wrong, Edward. Make the right choice."

Dominick continued to sob in the background. His crying added a surreal touch to the entire picture.

"Listen to me. Do it now. Pull the trigger. Shoot him!"

"Come on, son." Jim moved now, walking towards Edward slowly, his hand out. "Give me the gun."

"Edward! Shoot him!"

Edward made his decision and let the gun drop into Jim's outstretched hand. Vincent shoved Edward into Blair as he ran past them out the door. Blair grabbed hold of Edward, preventing him from falling.

"What happened?" Jim asked.

"Never mind that, just go get him. I'll be okay here." Blair took the gun Jim gave him. Even as uncomfortable as he was with the weapon, he refused to show it as he pointed the gun towards the distraught man still holding Erika's body tightly. Dominick was oblivious to anything except his daughter's body in his arms.

"Stay with 'em!" Jim shouted as he took off out the door.

Jim caught sight of Vincent as he raced past Terry. "Take him!" Vincent ordered nodding over his shoulder.

Terry stood prepared to fire. His hatred for the man who'd taken his privileged position coming to the forefront and controlling him even now. Before he had a chance, a shot echoed out and the bullet caught Terry in the chest. Jim looked across yard. From under the cover of the foliage he saw an officer in SWAT gear appear. Behind him Simon's car pulled up and both his boss and Mulroney got out. Simon held a bullhorn which he used to get the attention of those inside the house. With a nod of thanks, Jim continued chasing Vincent.

~~~~~~~~

Just outside the pool house, Jim caught up with Vincent. The mobster had his arm wrapped around Michelle and was using her as a body shield, a knife held to her throat.

As Jim moved closer, Vincent squeezed her tighter, the knife nicking her throat just enough to draw a tiny droplet of blood. "Don't do anything stupid. I got nothing to lose."

Jim heard several men behind him and knew instinctively it was members of the SWAT team.

"All right, nobody move. Everybody hold your fire." He kept his eyes on Vincent and Michelle as he gave the order. "I can't help you, Michelle. It's up to you."

Even with the fear he could easily see dulling her usually bright eyes, Michelle moved, throwing an elbow back to nail Vincent in the face. The knife dropped from her throat and Jim took advantage of the distraction, he knocked Vincent into the pool. The two men struggled, water churning into white foam around them. Visibility was very limited even with sentinel-enhanced sight. Kicking out at the heavy weight holding him down, Jim fought to get to the surface to take another breath. Vincent was struggling also.

For a brief moment, their heads erupted from the surface of the water, drops flying everywhere. Two mouths gasped as much air as they could. Vincent attacked Jim this time, trying to catch him off guard. Knife raised and prepared to strike, the two men went under the surface once more. Jim caught the wrist holding the knife, squeezing tightly, hoping to get the mobster to drop it.

A foot caught him in the hip, close to the groin. He almost sucked in water at the pain. He kicked back, but Vincent got free. The water soaked leather jacket Jim wore pulled him down, reducing his reflexes even more. A powerful kick pushed him out of reach of a knife swing. He struggled out of the jacket as Vincent rose to the surface. Jim followed, the jacket sinking behind him.

Just as Vincent's head broke the surface, Jim's hand enclosed on his ankle. Vincent gasped one breath before being pulled back under. The motion allowed Jim to gain oxygen himself.

Suddenly a sharp pain cut across Jim's chest. Red water frothed around him as Vincent made another move, the knife slicing into the cotton tee-shirt and drawing blood again. The excruciating pain of the chlorine in his wounds almost caused him to lose what little breath he'd managed to take.

Jim pushed the attack rather than drawing back from it. His arm drew back and a fist flew at the mobster. The broiling water blocked his sight until the massive blow caught Vincent on the chin and the two were back under water. Jim continued to press his advantage. He managed to knock the knife out of Vincent's grip and it dropped to the bottom of the pool. Jim held the mobster in place easily now as oxygen starvation began to weaken him. The struggles finally ceased to the point Jim was able to draw them both to the surface and the edge of the pool.

Hands reached down and pulled Vincent from his grasp, Jim let him go and concentrated on getting his own breathing under control. Pain washed through him, the two cuts making themselves known in full as the adrenaline wore off. He pulled his shirt to one side to see the damage. Two long cuts raked across his pecs. One was deeper and would require stitches but neither was life-threatening.

He reached to drag himself out of the water when a hand appeared before his face.

"Need a hand?" a smooth voice asked. He smiled.

"It figures that when I need you most, you're always there." He reached up, grabbed Blair's outstretched hand and climbed from the pool.

"You okay?" Blair asked pointing towards the blood stained shirt.

"I'll need a few stitches but otherwise, I'll live."

"You've said that twice today. Let's not tempt fate," Blair teased. "Come on, EMT's are this way."

He started to lead Jim towards the paramedics when he realized Jim had stopped to watch Michelle standing with her son. The boy seemed even more quiet and withdrawn than usual and it was obvious that Michelle was trying to comfort him.

Jim headed that way.

"You all right?" he asked both of them. They nodded.

"Thank you for everything. I was trying to explain to him what's going to happen. I'm afraid I'm not doing a very good job," Michelle said with a small smile.

"Well, some things just take some time getting used to. It's all going to work out, Edward. You'll be all right. Just take care of your Mom." Jim reached out to shake the young man's hand, but Edward ignored it and walked off.

"So you... you're moving?"

"Yes, Witness Protection. Look Jim, I'm sorry about the other night. I understand why you did what you did."

Jim didn't pretend not to understand her meaning. "I am sorry, Michelle."

"No, no apologies, you owe none. Just… just thanks okay. I gotta go. Find Edward, you know."

"Yeah." Jim leaned forward and gave Michelle a quick kiss on the cheek then watched her walk away.

"You bastard," Vincent's voice cut in. He was struggling with the officer who held him. As the others looked on, Vincent managed to get loose and grab the officer's gun. In that instant every police officer in the area had their weapons trained on the mobster. Jim dove for cover as Vincent fired, and every each officer's weapon discharged. When the smoke cleared, Vincent lay on the ground, never to breathe again.

Blair stared at the carnage as he made his way to where Jim was picking himself up off the ground, his shirt showing the bleeding had started up again. In solemn silence Blair finished leading the detective to the EMT's.

"So Jim," he said as the EMT's were finishing up their cleaning of Jim's injuries. He waited for Jim to look up at him. "You sure know how to pick 'em, don't you."

"Hey, Chief, nothing happened," Jim mock whined. Blair merely grinned back.

"Nothing but bad girls and bad guy's wives for Jim Ellison. I see a pattern happening here. Maybe I'll do a paper on this, 'James Ellison's Dating Habits.'" He danced out of the way of Jim's hand that was aimed for his head.

"Mr. Ellison, please hold still," the paramedic complained. "I'm almost done and then you can kill him, okay?"

Both Jim and Blair stared at the man as a wide grin filled the blonde man's features.

"Yeah, Sandburg. Payback's a bitch," Jim's growl was met by ripples of pure joyful laughter.


~ The End ~

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