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Breaking Ground
Breaking Ground
by CarolROI

Beta Read by BethB
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Harold Apter
Story by: Steven Kriozere and Harold Apter & Laurence Frank
Rated PG


~~~~~ Act 1 ~~~~~~

It's a typical fall day in Cascade, gray, gloomy and raining. I'm glad to be inside the warmth of the loft, sitting in companionable silence on the sofas with Jim. He's watching television with the sound turned down, waiting for the Jags game to come on. I'm on the other couch with a textbook and highlighter. All told, a rather boring afternoon for both of us.

Glancing up at the TV, I see the blonde reporter from the local channel standing out in the rain at what looks like a construction site. I don't give it much attention, until a worried looking woman in her mid-forties with dark curly hair appears on camera. "Hey, turn this up."

Jim doesn't move. "Why?"

"Why? Because I can't hear it." I shake my head, silently laughing. "There's some definite drawbacks to living with you."

Pointing the remote at the screen, Jim turns up the volume in time for me to hear the reporter say to the other woman, "It looks like we have a very grave situation here."

I indicate the interview subject. "That's Emily Watson. She's an archaeology professor."

Jim raises an eyebrow. "She doesn't seem like your type."

Shooting him an irritated look, I say, "Shhh…"

The reporter sticks her microphone in Dr. Watson's face. "We understand your graduate assistant, Martin Gillman, is missing and may have been buried alive when the tunnel collapsed."

Emily looks like she's on the verge of tears. "We're praying that's not the case, but yes, I'm afraid it doesn't look good."

"Is there anything else that you can tell us about this incident?"

Dr. Watson shakes her head. "No, I'm sorry. Right now, I know about as much as you do." She brushes past the camera and walks away.

I'm stunned. "Oh, my god."

Jim turns his attention to me. "You know this Gillman, too?"

Shrugging, I answer, "I've heard the name a couple of times." Doesn't matter if I know him or not. The university Social Sciences department is a close-knit group, and we still haven't recovered from Hal Buckner's murder. Another death will deeply affect everyone, students and staff.

A chill runs down my spine as the reporter finishes up. "We know very little about this incident at this time, but we will keep you up to date with any further developments. Until then, this is Helen Mersky reporting."

The camera zooms back to show a wide-angle view of the site. Both Jim and I stare at the familiar redheaded figure among the rescue workers at the scene. She's drawing a cell phone out of her pocket and punching in a number.

"If it isn't Nancy Drew herself," Jim quips just as the phone rings next to his elbow. He looks at me, then the TV, then back at me. "Nah."

I laugh. "Oh, that'd be strange."

Cautiously, Jim picks up the phone.

~~~~~~~~

Leaning against the front of my van, I watch the firemen work at the dig site as a steady drizzle makes everything a cold, slippery mess. A shout goes up. They've found him. Pushing myself off the bumper, I pick up my case and head to the edge of the pit. "What have you got?" I ask the fire chief.

"He's dead," he answers.

I nod. "I suspected as much. Tell them to move the body as little as possible. Is it stable enough to send someone from my team down yet?"

He speaks into his radio, then hands me a hard hat. "They've got it shored up. Go on down, Ms. Welles."

Knowing I won't be able to do much in the small space once I'm there, I grab only my digital camera and climb down the ladder. I take a few photos of the body where it was found, then wait until it's been moved to a more open area to do a thorough exam. When I brush the dirt off Gillman's face, I can see what looks like bruising along his jaw. His lips and skin have the bluish tint found in asphyxiation victims, which is consistent for someone buried under debris. Just to be sure, though, I take a quick look in his nose and mouth. The absence of dirt is startling. Anyone trapped under that much earth would naturally breathe some in--unless he was already dead.

I look up at the rescue team. "Leave him, and the rest of the area, guys. I'm going to have to get a team down here." Gillman's body is covered with a plastic sheet while I climb up to the top of the pit and gesture for the rest of my team to get to work.

Pulling out my cell phone, I dial Ellison and Sandburg's number. Normally I would just request whoever's on duty from dispatch, but Gillman was from Rainier, and I have a feeling Sandburg's connection to the university will come in handy.

The line rings several times before it's answered. "Ellison."

"Hey, Jim, this is Cassie Welles. I'm down here at the Cascade waterfront--"

"Yeah, I know. I can see you on TV right now."

"You can?" I look up to see the TV camera pointed my way. Turning my back to it, I say, "Then you know a man named Martin Gillman was missing in a tunnel cave-in. His body's just been found, and based on the evidence, I think he was murdered."

"So why are you calling me?"

"Look, Ellison, if you don't want this case, I can call someone else…"

"No, no, we'll be right there." There's a click as he hangs up the phone.

Someone calls my name and, grabbing my kit, I head back down into the pit.

~~~~~~~~

I glance over at Jim as he hangs up the phone. "So? Was that her?"

Getting to his feet, Jim nods. "They just found Martin Gillman. She thinks he was murdered." His eye roll lets me know his opinion of that. "Get your coat, Chief."

Putting my books away in my room, I shrug into my jacket and follow Jim out the door.

Twenty minutes later, he's parking the Ford next to the fire trucks and other emergency vehicles surrounding the Rainier University dig site at the waterfront. He gets out of the truck, continuing the griping he's been doing ever since Cassie called. "…I don't know why I'm doing this anyway. It's my day off and I'm missing the Jags game. The guy was crawling around underground and the tunnel fell in on him, case closed."

I follow him through the gate in the chain link fence surrounding the area. A sign hanging on it reads Cantor Construction. "Come on, Jim, you wouldn't be here if you didn't think Cassie was on to something. She's a pro; she wouldn't have called you if she didn't think there was foul play involved. In fact, I think it's the fact that she's a professional you can't stand." That earns me a glare. "I mean, you're the walking crime lab, but she's the one with the training to put all the details together. Why don't you just try to work with her, instead of complaining?"

"I don't want to work *with* her, Chief. She's abrasive, pig-headed, loud--"

I can't help taking a poke at him. "Like someone you know?"

He shoots me a look. "Carolyn was never that bad."

"I'm not talking about Carolyn." Grinning, I wiggle my eyebrows at him.

He makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a growl, and stops by the coroner's van where the attendants are lifting a stretcher with a body bag on it. "Hold on a second." He unzips the bag and takes a look inside.

I turn away from the sight, glancing around the area for Cassie. I don't find her, but I do spy Emily Watson a few feet away, talking to a blond man in a dark raincoat. He's shaking his head, saying, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."

Touching Jim on the arm, I point toward the pair. "Hey, there's Emily over there."

He motions for the guys from the coroner's office to continue what they were doing, and follows me toward Emily and the man. As we approach, we catch the tail end of their conversation. She seems to be pleading with him about the dig. "Mark, this project represents over a year of my life."

Mark doesn't seem swayed. "And it got Gillman killed."

"Martin got himself killed." Whoa, that's kind of harsh, coming from Emily. He was her assistant!

The man shakes his head. "The bottom line is you're three months behind schedule. I need to put my building up."

"I need more time," she begs.

"Well, I changed the locks. You're finished as of this morning." He walks away without a backward glance, even when she calls after him.

She's standing there, looking both angry and defeated, as I say, "Hey, Emily."

For a moment, she doesn't recognize me, then she asks, "Blair? What are you doing here?"

I give her a sympathetic smile. "I saw the news report on television. I thought I'd come down." I turn toward Jim, including him in the conversation. "This is my friend Jim Ellison--he's with the police department."

"How do you do?" she says, then ignores him. To me, she adds, "It was really great of you to come down here, but…we're going to have to talk later, okay?"

She walks away before I can get "Sure" out of my mouth. Something weird is going on. Emily's one of the sharpest people I know, and she seems distracted to the point of rudeness. "Who do you think that guy was she was talking to?"

Before Jim can say anything, I feel a light touch on my shoulder, and a familiar voice speaks up from behind me. "It's Mark Cantor; he owns the land."

I turn around to see Cassie smiling at me, and I find myself smiling back. "Hi."

Jim's all business. "So you think Gillman was murdered?"

"Yes."

"Based on what?"

"For one thing, the fact there was no dirt in his mouth or nose, yet he appears to have died of asphyxia. Come on, I'll show you where he was found." She heads toward the large pit.

I look at Jim. He shrugs and follows her. As I climb down the ladder into the hole, I say, "I've been dying to look at this place for months now. Visitation was strictly limited. Emily invited me once, but I couldn't come because I was working on a case."

Jim's not impressed by the site. "What's the big deal? I mean, it doesn't look like much."

I know it's a big muddy hole in the ground, but still, this is the kind of thing that turns me on about anthropology and archaeology--discovering the past. "Maybe not to you, and maybe not on the surface, but most of the work here consists of brushing away dirt millimeter by millimeter. It's actually a really fascinating process."

Cassie seems to share my enthusiasm. "When they were digging the foundations for the new building, they discovered Cascade's old waterfront."

Jim looks bored. "Hmm. Yeah, so?"

I shake my head. "So, it has historical value. Think of the things we can learn about our past, about the people who lived in Cascade a century ago."

Still not impressed, Jim squats by a smaller hole in the ground. "Yeah. This must be where they found Gillman, huh?"

Cassie kneels next to him, pointing out the area where the body was discovered. "Yeah. It was a brand new excavation. At first it looks as though Gillman was crawling in the dark and his movements made the side walls collapse on his head."

Shrugging, Jim gets to his feet. "Sounds reasonable."

"Well, yeah, except for the fact that I spoke to Professor Watson and the site closes at sundown. What was Gillman doing crawling around in the middle of the night? Add that to the fact that the autopsy will most likely show he was dead when the tunnel collapsed."

I can tell Jim doesn't want to hear it. His mind is on the Jags game he's missing. He says, "It doesn't rule out accidental death. I mean, if it was murder, where's your motive?"

"I have an idea on that. Follow me." Cassie heads up the ladder and out of the hole. Jim rolls his eyes at me, but climbs after her.

~~~~~~~~

I wait for Jim and Blair to reach the top of the pit, then I lead them through the gate and out of the dig site onto the street. Gillman's car is parked a block away from the area. I point out the shattered driver's side window. "This is Gillman's car. Killer broke in and was looking pretty hard for something."

Blair leans in, looking at the disarray, contents of a backpack dumped on the seat, glove box open and empty. "You know, she might be right, Jim."

"I don't know about that. Doesn't have to be an isolated incident. There's two other cars down the street that have been broken into and vandalized." He starts to walk off.

The next car is two blocks away. How in the hell can he tell from here that it was trashed? I break into a trot to catch up with the two men. Jim's standing next to the car in question. It, too, has a broken window, and the contents strewn all over the interior.

"This is one. The other one is down there." He points toward a second car, parked in a warehouse lot.

I refuse to believe this is a coincidence. "Yeah, well, maybe the killer didn't know which car Gillman was driving."

Ellison doesn't look convinced. "Right." His cell phone rings and he answers it.

I head toward the other car, Blair on my heels. Catching up to me, he says, "You know, I think you're right."

Pausing, I raise an eyebrow at him. "You do?"

He nods enthusiastically. "Yep."

I sigh. I can't tell if he's sincere, or if he's trying to make time with me. "Look, Blair, it's okay if you don't think I'm right. Ellison's a good cop, but it's exhausting having to fight every time just to be heard."

"I know what you mean, Cassie. I have the same problem with him, sometimes. Probably because I'm not really a detective, either." He gives me a smile.

Amazing how he can make me feel better when he does that. "Eh, well, I like a challenge. But if you tell him I said that, I will kill you."

He holds his hands up in mock surrender. "Okay, all right, back off." He laughs. "A forensics chief committing murder. You know, that might be the perfect crime." He switches subjects. "Listen, why don't you and I go out to lunch?"

Okay, so he *is* flirting. I stare at him for a moment, unsure how to respond, ignoring the part of my brain that suddenly wants to know what his lips taste like. "Blair…look, that kind of thing can get really awkward, and well, I'm having enough trouble adjusting to the Cascade PD as it is."

He looks horrified at the thought his offer has made me uncomfortable. "No, no. This wouldn't be a date. This would be--call it whatever you want--an appointment."

His smile warms me from the inside out. Damn, I told Carolyn this wouldn't happen to me, that I wouldn't fall under his spell like apparently every other woman at the PD, if the females in forensics are any indication. "Okay, right. Look, I already have an appointment, but I could take a rain check."

Blair smiles again, and the sun comes out from behind the clouds. Even Mother Nature is on his side. "Okay," he answers, and I make a hasty retreat to my van, before I make myself look like more of a fool than I already have.

~~~~~~~~

Jim decides to head into the station to report to Simon, and I ask him to drop me off at the University. I'm hoping to catch Emily there. If not, I plan to do some digging into the research being done at the site. If Gillman was murdered, I'm betting the reason had something to do with the dig, though what it could be, I have no idea at the moment.

Walking down the corridor of Hargrove Hall, I see the door to Emily's office is slightly open. Tapping on it lightly, I enter. "Hey, Emily."

She looks up at me, her face lined with worry, her eyes red-rimmed and glistening with unshed tears. "Blair. Oh, my god. I am so sorry. I got so wrapped up in everything this morning, I completely--"

"I understand. I was just on my way to my office. I wanted to see how you were doing," I say.

She scrubs at her face with her hands. "I've had better days."

"Yeah, I can imagine." Coming into the room a little further, I lean against her worktable. "Especially since we just lost Hal. I'm sorry about Martin. Were you and he close?"

"Thanks. I'm sorry about him too. Though the truth is, he and I weren't exactly friends." She pushes some papers around on her desk, her expression uncomfortable.

"What? I thought he was heading the dig for you."

Her eyes glitter angrily as she glances up at me. "Not by my choice. Mark Cantor insisted on it."

Alarm bells begin to go off in my head. Since when do contractors have any say with university politics? "Mark Cantor. What does he have to do with departmental assignments?"

Again, Emily looks ill at ease, like she's hiding something. "He owns the site. Besides, he has enormous clout with the city council. He's the biggest developer in town. They never would have backed the dig without his full cooperation."

"Well, why was Gillman so important to him?"

Shrugging, she answers, "I don't know. Ricky Carson was my assistant up until two months ago. Martin Gillman was on one of his dig teams. Then I get a call from Cantor insisting that Gillman be put in charge. When I said no, he threatened to shut us down. Now he's going to use Martin's death as an excuse to bulldoze the dig."

"I'm sorry. That really sucks."

"Yeah," she replies bitterly. "Not as much as what happened to poor Martin."

I leave then, turning our conversation over in my mind. Why would Cantor be interested in Gillman? I can't imagine they ran in the same social circles. So what leverage did Gillman have to make Cantor upset the status quo on his behalf? Blackmail? Or something else?

~~~~~~~~

Walking into Major Crime, I stride over to Ellison's desk and toss down the preliminary autopsy report on Martin Gillman. Jim looks up at me, his expression pained. "What was that you said about Gillman's death being an accident?"

Frowning, he opens the file and runs his finger down the page. "'Cause of death: asphyxia, related to water in the lungs.' He drowned?"

"Yep. Notice no trace of dirt in his mouth, nose or lungs, just water. Gillman's body was moved to the tunnel, then it was collapsed on him."

Jim can't deny the obvious. "That's probably a pretty good hunch."

I point to another line on the report. "Mm-hmm. Keep reading. They found cement in his lungs. I bet you five bucks it's the same kind of stuff used at that construction site."

"Don't jump to conclusions. I'm not saying your theory is wrong. We just have to prove it."

I nod. "Great. Let me grab my kit and my coat and I can be ready to go in five minutes."

"Uh, when I said 'we', I meant me and Sandburg."

His eyes shift from my face to a point behind me, and I turn around to see Blair walking in. Giving me a big smile, he says, "Hi."

I know Blair's not the one with a problem with me, but my temper flares, and he's closest. "Good luck. Excuse me," I snap at Blair, bumping him with my shoulder as I leave the bullpen.

I can hear him asking Jim, "What'd I do?" as I head down the hallway, his voice genuinely confused.

Getting on the elevator, I stab at the button for my floor, then swear. "Fuck." Blair didn't deserve that from me. Running a hand through my hair, I realize I'm still shaking with anger. I really should go apologize, but not now, not when I'm likely to say something I'll regret even more. I'll catch Blair sometime without tall, dark and surly, and say I'm sorry, maybe even take him up on that lunch offer.

I feel better as I get off the elevator. It's late; I'm tired and cranky. I'm going to go home, take a nice long bath, and go to bed. If Ellison wants to tromp around that wet, muddy construction site tonight, he's more than welcome to it.

~~~~~~~~

Stuffing my hands into my pockets, I shiver, watching my breath rise as white plumes in the air, feeling the drizzle soaking into my coat. Jim insisted on coming back to the dig site tonight, something about not wanting Cassie to get the jump on us. I tried to gently remind him that it's not a competition, but he's a sentinel with selective hearing.

Cantor pulls up in a big black SUV and comes to meet us at the fence. As he's unlocking the gate, Jim says, "Appreciate you coming out on such short notice, Mr. Cantor."

"Well, a man was killed on my property, Detective. I'd like this solved as quickly as possible, you know, before the press turns it into a circus." He pushes the gate open and the three of us walk through.

"We understand you got Gillman promoted," Jim continues, asking Cantor about the information I got from Emily.

Surprise flickers briefly on the man's face, then he replies, "I knew him socially."

"How well?"

"Well enough to know he was a fine young man with a promising future. To lose him like this is just a damn shame. I'd appreciate it if you'd only let your officers have access. I'd hate to have this happen again."

As he's turning to go, I ask, "What's going to happen to the dig?"

"Professor Watson will have a chance to remove anything of importance she's already uncovered, but I'm afraid that's where it stops." He stalks off, effectively ending our questioning.

Shaking my head angrily, I follow Jim toward the pit. "Well, that's great." I'm more convinced than ever that something was going on between Cantor and Gillman. If he was so supportive of Martin and his work, then why is he so eager to shut down the dig? What is it he's hiding?

Jim climbs the ladder into the pit, and I follow, pulling a flashlight out of my pocket and turning it on once we're down. I shine it on the ground and on the walls, unsure what I'm looking for. Jim squats next to a puddle and I point the light in that direction.

"Cement," he says, running his finger through what looks like some silver grit.

"How'd that get down here?"

Jim looks up at the sky before he replies. "Well, it rained pretty good a couple of nights back. Lot of construction debris up top. Probably some loose cement mixed with water, ran down the edge here, gathered into a pretty good-size puddle." He stares harder at the ground, and I get the feeling he's got his sentinel mojo working. "The killer dragged the body from over here to over there." He points toward where Gillman was found.

"How do you know that?"

"Turn the light off."

I do so, and can barely see Jim, let alone anything else.

"There's cement…on the killer's shoes. They made a print. Something weird about them, though. Some kind of metal tap on the heel." He walks across the pit and points at the ground. "You don't see that?"

I sigh. "No."

"I see some phosphorus in the cement."

Like glow in the dark footprints? "Oh, well, maybe the moonlight's working on your senses. Sort of like a black light effect, you know? That's wild." I take a few steps in his direction, straining to see what he's looking at.

The ground moves underneath my feet, and I hear a cracking noise. "Oh, shit!" goes through my mind as I look up to see Jim barreling toward me. He hits me right at the hips, knocking me flat on my back and a good six feet away. Air explodes out of my chest as a loud crash deafens me. Black spots dance in front of my eyes for several long seconds, until my shocked lungs kick back into gear and I inhale, choking on a rising cloud of dust.

"Jim?" I call, sitting up slowly. Somehow I managed to hold onto the flashlight, and I turn it on, pointing it toward where I last saw him. Where I had been standing is now a gaping hole in the ground. There's no sign of Jim.


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


Crawling on my belly to the edge of the new hole, I peer down into the blackness. The beam from my flashlight illuminates Jim. He's sprawled on his back, his eyes closed. "Oh, my god, Jim, you all right?" There's no answer. "Shit." Digging my cell phone out of my pocket, I'm dialing PD dispatch even as I drag the ladder over to the opening and lower it down.

When my call is answered, I tell the dispatcher "officer down" and request an ambulance and the Cascade Rescue Squad to the dig site. Then I climb slowly toward Jim, careful not to disturb the already unstable surroundings. Reaching the bottom of the ladder, I test the floor before I cross cautiously to Jim. Kneeling beside him, I check first at his neck for a pulse, finding it strong, if a bit rapid, then visually examine him for injuries.

By that time, he's groaning and beginning to come around. "Don't move, man," I tell him, placing my hand lightly on his chest for emphasis.

Jim blinks at me, squinting in the glare of the flashlight, then says, "What in the hell happened?"

"You fell through the floor. I called for an ambulance already." Jim attempts to sit up, then slumps back, one hand held to his head. "Come on, Jim, I just told you not to move. Can't you listen to me just once?" I ask, trying to make a joke even though I'm so scared I think I'm going to pass out.

"Ow. I think I'll wait for my ride."

Now I'm really worried. Jim actually doing as I ask and not shrugging off the pain? He's gotta be really hurting. "Where does it hurt?" Like I'll actually be able to do something about it if he tells me.

"Head's pounding. Probably have a concussion. And my back is killing me. Can we talk about something else?" He rests his forearm over his eyes to block out the light.

Taking the hint, I point the flashlight in another direction, and find myself seeing the room we're in for the first time. I chatter just to keep myself calm. "Wow. That dig team must have thought there was a room down here, but just never found it." I play the light over the area, illuminating boxes and barrels and broken furniture. Jutting at an angle out of one of the brick walls is a set of doors, like the kind covering a coal chute or a storm cellar. "What is that?"

Jim lowers his arm enough to see what I'm pointing at. "Looks like some kind of cast-iron doors. I can see a plaque attached to it."

Curiosity sinks its claws into me. "Would you be okay if I take a closer look?" I ask.

"Sure. Give us something to talk about until the ambulance gets here." Jim sounds better, more aware.

Getting to my feet, I pick my way across the debris-covered floor to the doors. "These are really thick, man. You'd need a battering ram to get through them." Transferring the light to my left hand, I brush the dirt away from the plaque. Carved letters, or more accurately, runes, stand out in relief. "I don't recognize the language." Pawing through my coat pocket produces a piece of paper. "I'm going to take a rubbing of it." Setting the light down, I press the paper against the raised letters then rub dirt over it to transfer the imprint to the paper.

I hear sirens wailing in the distance as I finish. Folding the paper, I return to Jim's side. "You going to be okay if I go up top and flag them down?"

"Go, Sandburg."

With a last glance at my friend, I climb up the ladder and head toward the fire truck coming to a stop outside the fence.

~~~~~~~~

Rushing into the emergency room at Cascade General Hospital, I scan the waiting area anxiously. I spy Blair slumped in a chair in the corner of the room. He looks like hell. His clothes and hair are drenched, his face is pale, his gaze slightly unfocused. He doesn't even notice as I come to a stop in front of him.

"Hey, Blair, what happened? I was heading home when I heard the officer down call over the radio."

He looks up at me then, his blue eyes worried. "Jim fell through the floor at the dig site. We just got here a little bit ago. They don't know how bad he's hurt." His gaze darts away then, toward the double doors leading to what I assume is the treatment area.

Taking the seat next to him, I reach over and touch his hand. It's ice-cold, and I can feel tiny tremors racing under his skin. "What about you? Are you hurt? You sure someone shouldn't be taking a look at you, too? You seem a little shocky to me, and you're soaked to the skin."

Blair shakes his head, then winces. "No, I'm okay. Just banged up a little. Jim pushed me out of the way before he fell."

"I'm going to go see if I can get you a blanket or some towels or something."

For a moment it looks like he's going to protest, then he says, "Thanks, Cassie."

Five minutes later I'm back with a towel, as well as coffee. After wicking the worst of the water out of his hair with the towel, he accepts the steaming paper cup from me, wrapping his fingers around it and slowly bringing it to his lips. As the hot caffeine hits his system, Blair begins to look more like himself--color returns to his cheeks, and I notice his hand doesn't shake when he rests the cup on his knee.

He's telling me about the room they found, and the mysterious writing on a door within, when a physician approaches. Blair gets to his feet and asks, "How's Jim?"

"Mr. Ellison is going to be spending the night with us. He's got a concussion, and though there was no serious trauma to his neck and spinal cord, the muscles in his back are sprained. We're moving him up to his room right now. You can go on up and see him for a few minutes."

"Thanks," Blair replies, then turns to me. "You coming?"

I hadn't planned on it, but…"Sure. Lead the way."

~~~~~~~~

Once we're upstairs, Cassie chooses to wait in the hallway, while I go in to see Jim. He's lying on the bed, his eyes closed, a furrow creasing his brow. A puff of air escapes his lips as he shifts restlessly, trying to find a more comfortable position. His head turns toward me, alerting me that he's become aware of my presence. His eyelids open cautiously, and I can see his dilated pupils, wide and black with pain.

"How are you doing, Jim?" I ask in an almost-whisper.

"Back hurts like a son of a bitch," he replies.

Crossing the room to stand beside the bed, I lay my hand on his arm. "I'll bet it does, since you can't have the good drugs because of the concussion. Think you can turn it down?"

A grimace flickers across his features. "I've been trying, but the pounding in my skull is making it hard to concentrate."

I ponder that for a moment. "Okay, let's try this. Imagine the pounding is like the bass on a stereo. Picture a knob for it, and slowly turn it down."

Closing his eyes, Jim is silent for almost thirty seconds, then he looks up at me. "That's better."

"Now try adjusting the pain level." He's quiet a second time, and I'm once again amazed at the amount of control he's attained over the two years I've known him. Martial arts masters spend lifetimes training to reach the level of mind over body he's accomplished. Hmm, you know, that would make a good chapter in my dissertation.

"That's better," he says. "Thanks, Chief."

"Anytime. You need me to stick around, not that they'll let me stay in your room, but…"

"No, it's okay. I don't need a bedside vigil, and you need to change out of those clothes. You reek, Sandburg, and you're dripping on the floor." He gives me a teasing grin.

If he's feeling good enough now to pick on me, I know he's going to be fine. "Okay, I'm going to head home and change, then try and figure out what those symbols we found mean. Cassie's going to give me a hand."

Jim looks like his headache has returned with a vengeance. "Cassie?"

"Yeah, she heard about our accident over the radio and came by to see how you were. She's not the cold-hearted bitch you make her out to be, man. And she took some courses in cryptography in college."

He looks a little surprised at my somewhat vehement defense of our forensics chief, but then he nods slightly. "Point taken. Maybe I have been a little hard on her."

After a few seconds of slightly awkward silence, I say, "Okay, then. I'm going, and I'll stop by and see you in the morning. Maybe they'll let you out by then."

Jim tells me goodbye, and I head out in the hallway to find Cassie talking with Simon. The captain gives me a stern look. "What in the hell happened, Sandburg? Jim fell through a hole? That sounds more like your style."

Suddenly, I'm very aware I wasn't hurt. "He pushed me out of the way, Simon. I was the one standing on the area that gave way. I should be the one in there, not Jim."

I seem to be making everyone uncomfortable tonight. Simon looks taken aback, and stammers, "I didn't know, Blair. I didn't mean that the way it sounded, like I wanted you to be injured."

I shake my head. "Forget it, sir. I know what you meant." I hitch my shoulder in the direction of Jim's room. "He's still awake if you want to talk to him. Cassie and I are going back to the loft to work on translating an inscription I found in the hidden room."

Simon looks back and forth between us for a moment, then says, "Right. Let me know what you come up with, and if it has anything to with Gillman's murder."

"Shall we go?" Cassie asks as Captain Banks walks off.

Nodding, I follow her out of the building.

~~~~~~~~

It's nearly three a.m. when Blair pulls his glasses off and tosses them onto the kitchen table. Rubbing his eyes, he says, "Five hours! We've been working on this for *five hours* and have gotten exactly nowhere. It's all just a mishmash. Some looks Greek, some looks Egyptian. I'm pretty sure there's even some Hebrew thrown in there for good measure. It's all mixed up."

I can't help but smile as I enter the living area from the kitchen, two glasses in my hands. "That's why they call it secret writing. In the old days, codes and secret writing were used to keep things confidential. People weren't any more trusting then than they are today."

He sighs, propping his elbow on the table and leaning his head against his hand. "I know, but now that I've started, I can't quit until I figure it out."

"You sound like me; I usually can't put a puzzle down either, but it's late, and we're both tired, and I know you've got to be hurting." He starts to protest, but I shake my head. "A break is in order, if not actual sleep." I deliberately walk away from the source of our frustration and sit down on one of the sofas. In a few moments, he follows, dropping onto the cushion next to me.

I hand him a glass. "What's this?" Blair asks, holding up the glass of burgundy liquid to the light.

"I confess. I snooped when I went to get more coffee, and I found a bottle of brandy in the cupboard. Hopefully it'll help you relax. I know you're worried about Jim, but you need to get some rest. That plaque's kept its secret for a hundred years. One more day isn't going to do any harm." I watch as he takes a sip, his eyes closing as he swallows. Setting the glass on the coffee table, he massages his temples with his forefingers.

"Think we can let that rubbing go until the morning? I have some friends I can call who are really into codes. Maybe they can help us out."

"Yeah, I guess so." He sounds disappointed, but resigned to the fact that we're getting nowhere. Blair leans forward to pick up his glass again, and his knee brushes mine. A charge of static shocks us both, and I feel a tendril of heat uncurl inside my belly.

He looks at me, wide-eyed, then grins. "Guess that means there is some electricity between us, after all."

Laughing, I shake my head, then turn slightly on the sofa so I'm facing him. "When you asked me out to lunch, were you just making time, or were you serious?"

He blinks those blue eyes at me, then says slowly, "I think I'm just trying to get back on the horse."

It takes me a moment, but then I get it. "Oh, coming off a bad breakup. I can relate to that."

Blair smiles at me again, but this time it's bittersweet. "Last girl I asked out took me hostage, and I spent
24 hours being tossed back and forth between her and her partners and a drug dealer she'd stolen half a million dollars worth of heroin from. I figure you being a member of the force makes it pretty unlikely a date with you will end up that way."

A shiver runs down my spine, and I unconsciously rub my shoulder, even though the scar's faded so much I can't even feel it now. "You never know what can happen," I say softly. "The world is a strange and dangerous place sometimes."

Sensing there's something behind my words, Blair regards me seriously, his gaze curious, but sympathetic. I find myself starting to lean in, drawn by the intimacy of the moment and the mutual spark of desire. He meets me halfway, and our kiss is both tentative and tender, and all too brief.

When we part, Blair can't meet my eyes. "I'm sorry," he stammers. "I told myself I was going to take it slow the next time I was interested in someone and I'm rushing, and I always screw things up when I rush. I want…hell, I don't know what I want anymore…I just…" He lifts his hands in an aborted gesture, then lets them fall back to his lap. "I'm sorry."

"I'm just as guilty as you are. Don't beat yourself up over it." I get to my feet, needing to leave before I start something I know neither of us is ready for. "We're both tired. I'm going to go home and get some sleep. I suggest you try and do the same." He follows me to the door, watching as I put on my coat, his eyes full of regret. I know he thinks he's ruined what might have been. I pause in the doorway, my fingers tracing lightly over his upper arm. "And Blair…slow is good. Slow is very good."

The memory of his smile keeps me warm the whole way home.

~~~~~~~~

I spend a restless night tossing and turning. Every time I start to fall asleep, I'm back at the dig site, feeling the ground shift under my feet. I look around for Jim, but he's nowhere to be found. "Jim?" I call plaintively. Without warning, the ground drops out from under me. I'm falling endlessly, screaming in terror. When I hit the ground, I jerk awake, my heart racing, my skin wet with sweat.

After going through the cycle for the third time, I decide enough is enough and drag myself out of bed. Stumbling into the bathroom, I stand under the shower, letting the hot water beat against my aching back and shoulders.

Cassie was right; I am hurting all over. Silly me, I expect being hit by a 200-lb sentinel in full protection mode isn't going to leave a mark. I check myself over in the mirror when the hot water runs out. There's a purple bruise over my right hip where Jim's shoulder hit me, and my back is a rainbow of colors. Downing a couple of aspirin, I get dressed and head over to the hospital.

Jim's sitting up in bed when I get there, pushing what's left of his breakfast around on his plate. "Hey, Chief," he says, frowning as I lower myself gingerly into the chair next to the bed. "What's the matter with you?"

Wincing as I try to find a comfortable position, I answer, "Just the aftereffect of being hit by the Ellison bullet train. Not that I don't appreciate what you did." I give him a smile. "So when are they going to spring you?"

He looks down at his plate. "They're not. The doc wants to keep me another night for observation."

Worry swiftly knots my stomach. "Why? Is it anything serious?"

"No, no, just a little residual dizziness, that's all. Well, that and my back is spasming so badly I can hardly move."

I don't know what to say. It's a scary feeling, seeing Jim this vulnerable. I mean, I'm the one always getting kidnapped or beat up. Jim's not supposed to get hurt. He's the hero.

"…Sandburg? Did you hear what I said?"

"Huh? No, sorry, man."

"I asked if you found anything out about that writing?"

"Oh, that. Well, Cassie and I did a bunch of research on the net last night, and I think we've almost got this mystery writing thing figured out."

"At least we think we know who may have written it," Cassie says from the doorway.

"Really? You know who put the plaque there?"

I nod. "In 1893, a fire wiped out the Cascade waterfront."

Cassie comes to stand beside me. "And instead of clearing the remains of the old buildings, they just built right on top of them."

"Where the dig is now is right on top of where an old Masonic lodge was."

"Masons?" Jim asks.

I shift in the chair again. "Yeah. The modern ones do public service and stuff like that, but they grew out of a secret society dating back hundreds of years ago."

"Sacred rites, ceremonial costumes…" Cassie adds.

"Their own fraternal alphabet," Jim finishes.

"That's right. And the writing that we found may belong to a sect of Illuminati."

Jim's confused again. "Illuminati?"

"Yeah. They were subversives. Their main purpose was to infiltrate Masonic lodges and to use the memberships and the resources to affect governments and sway the balance of world power and stuff like that," I answer.

Jim smiles. "Huh. That's pretty ambitious for a group of guys in furry hats with antlers."

I make the mistake of laughing. "Oh, ow. Well, come on, Jim, we're not talking about Fred Flintstone and the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo here. I mean, these guys were serious."

"Yeah," Cassie agrees with me. "Some of the most famous men in history were Free Masons. There's like 16 presidents and what, 53 of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence."

"That's quite interesting, but I doubt any of our founding fathers had anything to do with Martin Gillman's death," Jim replies.

An idea strikes me. I don't know why I didn't think of it last night. Maybe because I had other things on my mind? "Maybe the killer was looking for something Gillman uncovered at the lodge."

Jim doesn't look impressed, but Cassie says, "I called a friend of mine in DC this morning. He's emailing me an up-to-date cryptography program. If we can crack the mason's code, unravel the writing, we might be able to find whatever the killer was looking for."

Unconvinced, Jim says, "Have your people finished with Gillman's car?"

"It should be done by tomorrow, but all they've come up with are a couple of partial prints that are probably Gillman's. Whatever the killer's looking for, it isn't there."

"How do you know that?" he asks. "What if the killer was looking for something small or something that was disguised as something else, like a radio knob or a piece of carpet that had a little secret writing on the bottom?"

She sighs. "Okay, I get your point. I'll tell em to take another look at it. If it'll make you happy, *I'll* even look at it."

"Yes, it would make me happy, especially since it looks like I'm going to be stuck here at least until tomorrow."

Cassie looks like she's going to say something, but her pager goes off. "Can I use your phone?"

"Help yourself," Jim says.

When she hangs up a few minutes later, Cassie turns to me, her hand dropping to rest on my shoulder. "That was Captain Banks. I'm sorry, Blair. Emily Watson is dead."


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


The ride to Rainier is silent. I can't believe Emily's dead. Questions keep running through my mind. How? Why? Was she murdered too? Was she connected to Martin's death? Was that why she was killed?

God. I can't believe another person in the department is gone.

I hit a pothole, and a hiss emanates from the passenger seat. Glancing over at Jim, I scowl. He shouldn't be here, but the moment Cassie broke the news about Emily, he insisted on signing himself out of the hospital AMA. He can barely walk, and right now his face is gray with pain. I know every bump in the road has to be radiating up his spine, increasing the throbbing in his head.

"I should just take you home," I say. "We don't know she was murdered. She could have had a heart attack or something."

Jim gives me a pained look. "And who's going to handle the investigation if she was murdered? You and Cassie?"

Ouch, that hurts. I find words spilling out of my mouth before I fully comprehend what I'm saying. "Why, you think we couldn't?"

Jim's cheek muscle twitches, then he says very slowly, as if I'm a child, "Sandburg. You. Are. Not. A. Cop."

"So?" I persist. "Simon's there. What's he, chopped liver?" I pull into a handicap parking space in front of Hargrove. Getting out of the Volvo, I walk around to the passenger side and open the door, then reach in and grab Jim under the arm, slowly pulling him to his feet. He leans against the roof of the car to steady himself for a moment, then pushes off and heads inside the building. Muttering curses under my breath, I shut the car door and follow him.

~~~~~~~~

One of my team is covering Dr. Watson's body with a sheet when I enter the room, crime scene kit in hand. "Thanks, Sharon," I tell her. "Let me take a look first, and then I'll let you process the room." Nodding, she steps out in the hallway as I squat by the body and pull the sheet away from her face. A large, bloody bruise is visible over her right temple.

"Oh, god." Looking over my shoulder, I can see Blair standing in the doorway, his face pale, horror plain in the blue depths of his eyes.

Simon steps in front of him, blocking his view. "You all right, Sandburg?"

Blair moves around Simon, his eyes on me, on Emily. "Yeah, I'm fine. I can't…I can't just leave. She's a friend of mine." He leans against the wall, wrapping his arms around his stomach.

Jim appears behind his partner. "Nobody's asking you to do that, Chief."

"Should you be out of the hospital, Ellison? No, I don't think I want to know the answer." Captain Banks glares at Jim for a moment, then asks Blair, "Did you know she was diabetic?"

He shakes his head, his eyes never leaving Emily's body. "Uh…no."

Banks waves a hand toward her desk, indicating the syringe and vial of insulin resting there. "Looks like she was giving herself an injection. Probably had an insulin reaction."

"Isn't that kind of unusual?" Jim asks.

I get to my feet. "No, not if a person accidentally takes too much insulin, or hasn't had enough to eat. Diabetics usually keep a stash of sugar around, just in case." I open the mini-fridge sitting on a counter a few feet away from the desk. It's filled with orange juice and candy bars. "See? That way, they can reverse the action quickly if they need to." I move to stand behind the desk. "Okay, so Watson, at her desk, realizes she's having a reaction. She stands up, probably feeling pretty dizzy. She trips, falls, hits her head. That's why she never made it."

Blair makes a small, choked sound and looks away. Shit. I don't mean to make it harder on him.

Banks says, "We'll have to wait for the ME's preliminary report. But if you're right, what we're looking at here is probably just an accidental death."

Jim objects. "Accidental, sir? I mean, first Gillman, now Dr. Watson. That doesn't sound like a coincidence to me." He gives me a look, like I'm responsible for the poor woman being dead.

"I outlined a possible scenario, Jim. I didn't say it was set in concrete." My tone is sharper than it should be, and I can see Blair wince out of the corner of my eye.

He moves between us, his voice strained as he says, "There's somebody dead here. Can't you two quit taking shots at each other long enough to respect that?" Jim touches him on the shoulder, but Blair sidles out from under his hand. "I'm going go down the hall to my office."

"Blair, I'm sorry," I apologize as he starts to leave, but he ignores me. Damn it. Hurting him is the last thing I want, but I can't go chasing after him now.

As Jim's examining Watson's body, I look at the scene again. If she fell, what did she hit her head on? The desk would have been on her left, but the bruise is on the right side of her face. Pulling out a magnifying glass, I check both the desk and the counter. There are no traces of skin or blood in either place.

Getting my attention, Jim points at the injury to Emily's head. "This kind of trauma could have been made by any sort of blunt instrument."

I nod tersely. "And I don't see any evidence she hit her head on the desk, or the counter."

He points to a needle mark on her thigh. "I'll bet the killer hit her over the head with something, then injected her with insulin in the same spot she injected herself."

"So the autopsy will show there was twice as much insulin in her bloodstream than normal." I suppress a shudder. "What kind of person uses a life-saving drug as a murder weapon?"

Jim simply shakes his head, then says to Banks, "Captain, I'd like to take a look outside. Would you mind accompanying me?"

The two men leave the room, Jim obviously in pain. I call Sharon and Harold back in and give them instructions on processing the room. Then I go looking for Blair.

I find him in an office a few doors down, sitting behind his desk, his elbow propped on its surface, his chin resting on his fist. His eyes are dark and troubled. Entering the room, I cross to stand next to his desk. "I'm really sorry about that back there. I shouldn't let what Jim thinks affect me. You were right, picking a fight with him was being disrespectful to Dr. Watson, and I apologize."

"Apology accepted," he says, then sighs, running both hands through his hair. "What in the hell is going on, Cassie?" Blair waves his hand to indicate the room. "This used to be my safe place, you know? Everything was nice and normal here. No kidnappings, no murders, no drug dealers or rapists. I could come here and escape the ugliness I see working with Jim. Now it's here, too. Is it me? Did I bring the ugliness to Rainier? Or was it here all along, and I just didn't see it until now?"

I can only shake my head. I don't have any answers for him, only a promise. I squeeze his shoulder tightly. "I swear I'll do everything I can to help find her killer, Blair. I promise." He gives me a half smile, but I can see in his eyes my oath is not enough. Once lost, innocence is gone forever.

~~~~~~~~

Later that afternoon, I walk into Cassie's office at the PD. Seated at her computer, she looks up as I enter. "Hey, Blair. Did you get Jim settled in at your place?"

"Yeah, but he's not happy about it, even though his back is killing him. He gave me a list of stuff to go over with you." Taking off my coat and hanging it on the coat rack, I drop into the chair beside her desk and pull a piece of paper out of my pocket. I wasn't kidding about the list. "Any results back on the hypodermic needle Jim and Simon found in the sewer outside Hargrove Hall?"

She nods. "It contained insulin. No fingerprints."

"Any strange prints from Emily's office?"

"No, just hers and some students."

"Find anything in Gillman's car?"

"My techs didn't the first time through, but I haven't had a chance to go over it myself yet." She gets to her feet. "Wanna come down to the forensics garage and give me a hand?"

"Sure." I follow her down the hall to the elevator. We're the only ones aboard, and the silence is awkward. I think we're both uncomfortable about what happened at the university today, and our foolish kiss last night.

She's leaning against the wall, her hands in her pockets, her eyes on the floor. Seeming to come to a decision, she looks up at me. "Are we okay?"

"Um, yeah, I guess so. I'm not mad at you or anything." Geez, Sandburg, that was reassuring. I sigh. "Sorry, I'm not explaining myself very well. I like you, Cassie, I really do. And I want to get to know you better."

She smiles at me. "Okay, just checking. Because I'm still interested." The elevator bings and the doors open.

Once we're inside the garage, Cassie leads me over to Gillman's car and hands me a screwdriver. "If there's something here, we'll find it."

Two hours later, we've completely stripped the car. The seats have been removed and searched. The carpet's been pulled up. The door panels and dashboard have been taken off. The trunk has been thoroughly searched as well as the undercarriage. I've got my hand in the empty glove box, feeling around the lining. It's lumpy.

Pulling out my Swiss Army knife, I cut a slit in the cloth and peel it back. Underneath it is something wrapped in plastic. "Cassie!" I yell. "I've got something."

She comes around to my side of the car, and takes a look. "You think this is what Gillman was killed for?"

"I don't know, but let's find out." Removing the packet with my gloved hand, I set it on the hood and cautiously unwrap it. A computer disk is resting on top of a cloth bundle. Moving the disk to the side, I unwrap the fabric. "Holy shit," I breathe as the object is revealed. It's a thick, odd-shaped piece of what looks like solid gold. Mysterious runes similar to the ones Jim and I found on the door at the dig site cover its surface.

"This explains a lot," Cassie says. "And raises a bunch more questions."

~~~~~~~~

I set the package down on the coffee table and unwrap it. Jim's eyes widen as he's appropriately impressed. "All my tests indicate it was smelted over a hundred years ago."

Wincing, Jim picks it up and runs his fingers over the surface. He's lying propped up on the couch in the loft, several pillows behind his back. Finally, he says, "Yeah, but what is it?"

I sit down in the yellow leather armchair across from him. "It's the thing that got two people killed."

He's turning it over in his hands, still staring at it. "Maybe…maybe."

Pushing my hair out of my face, I say with a touch of frustration, "Oh, come on, Jim! Gillman had this so well hidden a whole team of forensics guys couldn't find it. And weren't you the one who was insisting Gillman's and Watson's murders are linked? I'm telling you, that's the connection. Blair was practically salivating when he laid eyes on it. It's an archaeologist's dream, a mysterious relic ALA Indiana Jones."

Blair enters from the kitchen, leaning over the back of my chair to hand me a cup of coffee. "Black, just the way you like it." He perches on the arm and continues, "Emily would have killed to get her hands on that--not that I'm saying she did. What about the computer disk? Did it give any background on this thing?"

I shake my head. "It's encrypted. The only computer that can read it is the one that wrote it."

"When I gave Gillman's place a cursory search before we knew he was murdered, I saw a computer. I hadn't had a chance to go back through his apartment before…my accident." Jim's fingers curl around the relic in frustration.

"Why Emily?" Blair asks. "You know? I mean, if this is what they were after, and they knew that Gillman had it, why go after Emily?"

Shrugging, I answer, "Maybe they thought she had it when they couldn't find it in Gillman's car."

Holding up the gold piece, Jim says, "Check out this irregular side. Doesn't it seem like it's a piece of a puzzle to you?"

"Hmm…"

Blair bounces up from his seat at my elbow to take the relic from Jim. "Yeah. So, if there're other pieces…"

Jim finishes his thought. "Maybe the killer thought she had one."

"Okay, so it's a puzzle. Historically, it might be priceless, but I can't see the killer being interested in it for it's historical value. As gold, it's only worth a couple thousand dollars."

"Not much to kill for," Jim says.

Tracing the odd shaped side of the gold, Blair enthuses, "But when you put it all together, it's got to be worth a lot more. And--what does it make when you put it together?"

~~~~~~~~

I fix dinner for Jim, then make sure he's taken his muscle relaxers and pain pills, and that the TV remote is within easy reach. "You need anything else, man?"

"I think I'm all set, Chief. You heading to the university?"

I shake my head as I put on my coat. "I thought I'd go by the station. Cassie's trying the cryptography program her friend sent on the codes. I thought I'd bring her dinner."

He raises an eyebrow at me. "Sounds like a date to me."

I give him a grin. "Maybe."

After I pick up Chinese, I head to the station. Cassie's sitting at her computer, talking to herself, when I enter her office. "Hey."

Her whole face lights up when she sees me, and I get a thrill, knowing I'm the one who made her smile. "Hey!" she says back.

Pulling over a chair from another desk, I drop into it, setting the bag of Chinese down on her desk. "How are you doing on the Mason's code?"

"This program my friend sent me is very cool. It's based on the alphabetical system, so whatever you feed into it automatically translates. Should be done pretty soon." One eyebrow goes up as I start to take cartons out of my sack. "What's all that?"

"Well, this is our rain check. And the beauty of it is, we're here at work. It's not a date; it's not even an appointment."

She leans her head on her hand, just looking at me, her gaze soft. Then she sighs and says, "Blair…"

"Oh, come on, I'm serious. And you know you're interested. You know you want this." I hand her a container and a pair of chopsticks. "This is just two friends having a casual working dinner. That's all. Slow is good, right?"

Giving me that smile again, she opens the box. "Well, I am kind of hungry."

"Good. Here's the fried rice…"

"Ooh…look at this. Sweet and sour shrimp!" She holds one up with the chopsticks, then directs it toward me.

Okay…feeding each other…I can do this. Plucking it from her grasp with my teeth, I chew, then say, "I will never steer you wrong when it comes to food."

I'm feeding her moo-shu pork when I glance up to see Simon standing in the doorway.

"Sandburg? Where's Ellison?"

"Where he should be--at home, under the influence of prescription drugs. Why?"

"All right. I guess searching Gillman's apartment again can wait until I can put Henri or Rafe on it tomorrow."

"Okay," I answer and go back to eating.

"Ooh, here try some of this," Cassie says, handing me a spring roll.

I pass her the Kung pow chicken. "Try some of this. It's really good."

She makes a pleased little noise and her tongue flicks out to get an errant bit of sauce at the corner of her mouth. Looking up at me, she reaches out and brushes her thumb across my chin. "Sweet and sour sauce," she says gravely, then licks her finger.

I swallow hard, my jeans suddenly feeling uncomfortably tight. Dinner might not have been such a good idea if I'm going to stay committed to keeping things slow.

A cough sounds from the doorway. Simon is standing there, glaring at me. "Can I see you a minute--privately?"

"Yeah, sure." Putting down my carton of rice, I join him in the hallway. "Did you want some?"

Letting out an exasperated sigh, he says, "No, I don't want some. Look, if there's anything going on here besides fried shrimp, keep it off the premises."

I flush. "Right."

Simon points to the ceiling. "Video."

My face grows even hotter. "Right." He leaves, and I return to Cassie's desk.

She hands me a container, then jumps in her seat. "Hey! The program's broken the code."

I scoot my chair closer to the computer screen. "Did you put in our message yet?"

She nods. "It's coming through now. Let's try the symbols from that little piece you found at the dig site, off the door." She taps the computer keys.

I read the message aloud. "Beware! There is no escaping--"

Her voice joins mine. "--the maze of the sacred chamber."

"It's not uncommon for Masonic lodges to have secret rooms. Maybe this one's underground."

"Protected by a maze. Let's try the symbols off that gold piece we found in Gillman's car." She enters the code.

"18 paces…right…20…" comes up on the screen. Obviously important parts of it are missing, probably on the other piece of gold.

"Looks like part of a direction to a secret room," I state.

Leaning back in her chair, Cassie taps a chopstick against her cheek. "Yeah, but what were they hiding down there?"

I shrug. "Whatever it is, it's enough to kill two people over."

Cassie looks thoughtful. "I'll bet Gillman knew what it was." She picks up the evidence bag holding the computer disk I found. "That's why he encrypted the disk, to keep what he knew secret. Come on, let's go." Grabbing her laptop, she gets to her feet.

"What do you mean, 'Let's go'? Where?"

"Gillman's. I want to check out that computer."

"Um, wait a minute, Cassie. I know I'm probably risking bodily harm here, but--" I start to protest.

"I am not a detective."

I cringe under her gaze. I know I sound like Jim right about now. "Well, yeah. That's right."

"But I am a duly authorized agent of the Cascade PD empowered to collect evidence base on a specific crime. I'm also a member of the team investigating Gillman's murder. Are you coming or not?"

I don't budge from my seat.

Putting one hand on her hip, she tilts her head to look at me. "What? You think I'm just going to rush off without telling anyone where we're going? I'm going to stop by Captain Banks' office and let him know we're headed to Gillman's to check out the computer. I'll ask for a detective to go with us, since Jim's injured. If I can't get one, I'll request someone from patrol."

When it comes to her work, Cassie has always shown herself to be a professional. I don't know why I thought this time would be any different. Letting out a sigh of relief, I stand up and grab my coat.

~~~~~~~~~

The apartment complex manager leads us to Gillman's apartment. He starts to insert the key in the lock, but the door swings open at his touch. The two patrol officers with us are instantly suspicious, and draw their weapons, as do I. "Stay back," I hiss at Blair and the manager.

The patrol officers enter the apartment, while I remain stationed outside, to provide backup firepower if they need it. Blair has his cell phone out, finger poised over the keypad, ready to dial if things go badly. Fortunately, whoever's been through the place has come and gone. Once the officers announce the all clear, Blair and I enter.

"Crap," I say, staring at the mess. The place has been thoroughly searched. "Guess this means I'll need to get a team over here. But first let's make sure the computer's still here."

Blair follows me into a bedroom that appears to have been turned into an office. On a desk at one side of the room is a computer. "Great!" he says, walking over to the desk and sitting down. Turning on the power, he waits for it to boot up.

Pulling out my cell phone, I call dispatch and ask them to send some of my people over. "No, no hurry." I tell them. "Whenever they're done with their current call." I close the phone just as the rookie member of the patrol team enters the room.

"Chief Welles, we just got a call about an attempted robbery a few blocks from here. We're the closest unit to the location. I hate to leave you here, but…" His voice trails off and he shifts nervously from foot to foot.

"That's okay, Malinowski. Whoever did this--" I wave my hand at the mess "--is long gone. We should be fine."

"All right ma'am. We'll radio for someone to come take our place."

"Thanks again," I say, and the uniform leaves. Coming up behind Blair, I lean over his shoulder. "What have we got?"

He points at the screen, grinning. "I managed to get the file open. We were right, it is about the gold, just not the piece we found."

"Gold?"

"Uh-huh. According to Gillman's research, the fire wiped out more than just the waterfront. When the fire took the lodge, it took the entire leadership; they were all killed and among them were two men thought to be Illuminati. Now, there was a memoir written in 1903 by this elderly mason. He reports that there is a huge vault filled with their collective assets in gold bars hidden beneath the foundations of the building. The Illuminati were keepers of two golden keys that have instructions leading to that vault. But the bad news is nobody believed this guy."

"How come?" I ask, as I open up my laptop and turn on the code program. Maybe using Gillman's information we can fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.

"He was institutionalized at the time, dying of dementia. Cut to, a hundred years later, Gillman digs up one of these gold keys. Now he's much more interested in being rich and famous than being a nice guy, so he cuts Emily out of the loop, goes directly to Cantor."

"Who in exchange for a large cut, makes sure Gillman is made Watson's assistant. That way he can do all the snooping he wants and no one will question him. Which most likely makes Cantor our murderer."

The sound of something falling in the other room makes us both jump. "It's probably nothing, but I'll go check it out." Pulling my Sig, I edge out the door. A tour of the second bedroom, the living area, and the bath turns up nothing. Entering the kitchen, I find the back door ajar. Opening it all the way, I stick my head outside. Nothing. It probably didn't latch when the uniforms opened it before, and the wind blew it against the wall. "False alarm, Blair," I call out as I start to leave the kitchen.

Something hits me on the back of the head, and pain explodes behind my eyes. My knees buckle and I pitch forward to land with my cheek pressed against the cold linoleum. The last thing I see before my eyelids slam shut is a pair of black boots walking away from me, silver taps winking.

~~~~~~~~

I nod to myself at Cassie's reassurance the place is safe. I've got the laptop up and running, and am trying to figure out the missing parts of the message. A shadow falls over the computer screen.

"Hey, Cassie," I start to say but am cut off in mid-sentence by the gun pressed to the back of my neck.

"Stand up real slow," a male voice commands.

I get to my feet, raising both hands in the air. The intruder pushes me away from the desk. When I turn around, he has Cassie's laptop in his hand. I was expecting it to be Cantor, but it's some guy I've never seen before, with red hair, a goatee and orange colored glasses. Dressed all in leather, he looks like a refugee from a boy band. "What did you do to Cassie?" I ask.

"The police chick? She's taking a nap on the kitchen floor. If you cooperate with me, she'll get to wake up. Now move." He waves the gun in the direction of the doorway. Taking the hint, I leave the room.

We pass the kitchen doorway, and I see Cassie's body sprawled on the floor. Please be okay. God, please let her be okay. But as I'm shoved toward the front door, I realize I can't tell whether or not she's breathing.


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


Ohhhhh, God….If I'm not dead, please, kill me now. It feels like someone is hitting my head repeatedly with a hammer. I consciously force my eyes open. What the hell? Where am I? I can see…table legs…and the grill at the bottom of a refrigerator. Kitchen…not my kitchen…whose kitchen? My eyes start to close again, and I command them to stay open. Gillman! This is Gillman's apartment. Something happened…a noise, the back door…someone hit me from behind…Blair!

Grabbing hold of a table leg, I drag myself to my feet with one hand, the other clutching my gun. I brace myself against the tabletop, the room spinning around me. When it slows down a bit, I stagger out of the kitchen and to the computer room. I lean against the doorjamb, blinking to try and clear my vision. Blair's gone. Whoever brained me must have forced Blair to go with him. But why?

I walk over to the computer. Gillman's notes are still on the screen. The sense that I'm missing something teases me, but I can't catch hold of it long enough to tell what it is. Fumbling my cell phone out of my pocket, I hit redial.

"Ellison."

Huh? I could swear the last number I called was dispatch. "Jim, this is Cassie. I'm…I'm at Gillman's apartment. Someone surprised us here, knocked me out. I think they took Blair. I meant to call dispatch…but I must have pushed the wrong button. Can you--"

"I'll be right there. Don't move."

There's a click, and the line goes dead. Sliding down the wall to sit on the floor, I stare at my cell phone. Don't move, he says. Well, no problem there. A few minutes of not moving, and the throbbing in my skull eases enough for me to push 9-1-1 and send. Jim may be supercop, but right now he's not in much better shape than I am. We're gonna need some help.

~~~~~~~~

My kidnapper stops his SUV outside the fence surrounding the dig site. A long black limo is waiting for us. The gun muzzle is removed from my ribs. "Come on. Move. Get out of the car."

Carrying the laptop, I do as I'm told, hoping backup arrives at Gillman's in time to help Cassie. Again, I send up a silent prayer to the powers that be to look out for her. As an afterthought, I add one for myself.

He opens the door of the limo for me, gesturing with the gun. "After you."

When I get inside, I find Mark Cantor waiting for us. Cantor looks at his henchman. "He's a cop."

"Well, I'm not actually a cop," I say, hoping that things will go easier on me if I clarify that point. "I'm only a--"

The gun pokes me in the side again. "Hey. Shut up." He turns to Cantor. "So?"

Cantor looks uneasy, like things are suddenly out of his control, and he doesn't know how to get it back. "We can't kill a cop."

His hired gun laughs. "Maybe you can't. Me--I got no problem with the concept."

"Well, I have a big problem with it. First of all, I'm not a cop. Second, I can't help you if I'm dead." That's it, Sandburg, stall for time. "And you do want my help, right? My guess is you have the other half of the key." I pat the laptop. "I help you, you let me live." For a little while longer at least.

I can see Cantor's uncertain, but he finally reaches in his coat pocket and withdraws the gold relic. I start up the laptop, and he hands the key to me.

"Can you decipher it?"

I turn it over, studying the inscription. "I don't know."

The Backstreet Boy wannabe glares at me. "Quit stalling. You already got half in there."

I stare back. "This will take time unless you have a scanner. Otherwise, I've got to program in each letter separately."

Pointing his gun at me, he says, "Then get to it."

I shove the weapon away. "You know what, man? Just back off. If you kill me now, you're never going to find what you're looking for." He shuts up, and I get to work, hoping I can buy enough time for help to arrive.

~~~~~~~~

By the time Ellison shows up, the paramedics are already here. I'm still sitting on the floor, an ice pack held to the back of my head, repeatedly telling the medic I'm not going to the hospital. I can't, not until I know Blair's safe.

Jim cuts right to the chase, even though he looks as bad as I feel. "What happened? Do you know who did this?"

I start to nod, then remember that's going to hurt--bad. "I didn't see anything…wait…I saw his shoes--black boots with a metal tap on the heels."

"I found footprints like that at the dig site."

"And Blair and I found out that Cantor's in this up to his neck." At that bit of info, Jim turns to leave. "Hey! Wait!" I clamber to my feet, brushing off the restraining hand of the paramedic. I follow him out of the apartment to his truck. "Where are you going?"

Walking around to the driver's side of the vehicle, he glares at me over the hood. "I'm going to get Sandburg out of this mess."

"Not without me you aren't. It's my fault he's missing in the first place. I'm the one who told the uniforms they could leave." I get into the truck and shut the door.

Jim does the same and, starting the engine, pulls away from the curb with a squeal of tires. After we've rode a few blocks in icy silence, Jim asks, "So how is Cantor involved in this?"

"You were right, the gold relic was part of a puzzle, a key to the Illuminati's hoard of gold bars. Gillman found the key and let Cantor in on the secret. Only they didn't have both pieces."

"That doesn't make any sense. Once he knew about the gold, why didn't Cantor just start digging?"

"That would have attracted too much attention. He had to keep it quiet."

"But why?"

I glance over at Jim. His brow is lined with pain, his teeth silently clenched. "Greed. Rumor is Cantor's broke. He claims all of his money is tied up offshore some place, but banks all over the city are threatening to pull in his loans. Some people even say he had to go to the mob to stay afloat."

Jim slides through a turn. "If that's true, he could funnel the gold through them and end up with millions in tax-free cash. It all seems to link up."

I forget and nod, then put a hand to my head to try and stop the pounding. "Gillman suspected Watson had found the other gold key, but was keeping it under wraps so she could decipher the writing. Gillman didn't tell Cantor, but…"

"He might have figured it out himself and sent the killer to get it."

"Just like he sent the killer to Gillman's tonight." I fall silent, my mind on Blair. If he ends up hurt or dead, I'll never forgive myself.

~~~~~~~~

Down in the lowest level of the dig site, Cantor and I pull the doors to the Mason's hidden maze open. The punk holds the flashlight and his gun on us. I get the feeling that Cantor has just as little control over the situation as I do.

"All right, you first," the gunman says to me.

Cantor tries to assert himself. "Why don't you just kill him now and get it over with?"

He replies, "Cause I want to make sure he programmed this right." He opens the computer. "Go. Get moving."

We go through the doorway and down a flight of stairs that creaks and sways at our descent. When we reach the bottom, the punk consults the laptop and says, "That way. Let's go."

~~~~~~~~

Jim parks his truck next to a black SUV outside the open gate of the dig site. "How did you know they were here?" I ask.

"A hunch." He exits the truck.

I follow. "A hunch? You're staking Blair's life on a hunch?"

"You got any better ideas?"

I shut up and follow Ellison down the ladder into the pit.

Once we're in the hidden room, I can see by the light shining down from above that the iron doors to the secret chamber are standing open. I flip open my cell phone.

"What are you doing?" Jim asks.

"Calling for backup." I tell dispatch where we are and the situation, then put my phone away and draw my weapon. "Okay, I'm ready. You got a flashlight?"

Jim shakes his head. "It would be dangerous to use one. They could see our light and harm Sandburg."

"So we're going to wander around in there blind? It's a maze, Jim. We could get lost in there forever," I argue.

He looks uncomfortable, and not just from the pain he has to be in. Finally, he says, "Trust me on this, Welles, I can find him."

I start to protest, but the look on his face stops me. "All right. Let's go." Reaching out, I wrap the fingers of my left hand in Ellison's jacket. "Lead the way."

Passing through the doorway, we're plunged into darkness.

~~~~~~~~~

We've been wandering through the darkness for what feels like forever, the only illumination coming from the flashlight Cantor holds and the computer screen. Boy band reject checks the screen, then says, "It says six more paces and it should be up on your right."

I peer into the gloom. "I don't see anything."

"Look harder."

Taking a couple steps forward, I look again. "Well, maybe you're reading the map wrong."

There's an ominous click as he releases the safety on his automatic. "Yeah? And maybe you screwed with the program. You make this thing work, or I'll shoot you in the spine, okay? Got it?" He shoves the laptop at me.

"All right, okay." I check the translation again. "Oh…you're right. Look, I read it wrong there. Uh…17 paces, yeah." The computer beeps.

"What's that?" Cantor asks.

"It's the battery," his henchman answers. "It's running low on juice."

"You know what? If this thing goes dead, there's no other way out of here. We'll never find our way out. We'd better go upstairs," I urge.

"Shut up. You don't get a vote. Now move your ass." He points in the direction we need to go.

Cantor again tries to assert some authority. "He's right. Let's just recharge the battery and come back down."

The punk shifts the gun from me to Cantor. "You too--move. Move!"

The computer continues to beep as we go on.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pauses for what seems like the tenth time, but this time I'm ready for it, and don't run into him. I still can't see a thing, but I can hear an electronic beep echoing in the maze. "You hear that?" I ask.

"Yeah. Sounds like the battery's going on your computer. It's coming from this direction." He takes a step in the indicated direction, but stumbles, going to his knees. It's all I can do to keep from landing on top of him.

"What is it? What's the matter?" I hiss, aware that sound carries down here.

"My back…took a wrong step…pain's shooting into my legs." His voice is strained, and through my hold on his coat, I can feel him shaking.

Dropping to one knee beside him, I advise, "Give it a minute, and then I'll help you stand."

I listen to his heavy breathing for a few seconds, then he says, "Okay, let's do it."

I tuck my weapon back in my holster and put his arm over my shoulders. "On three. One…two…three." I lift and he pushes up to his feet, leaning heavily on me. Uh-oh. The sudden change in position renews the pounding in my head. Now it's my turn to breathe through the pain, the two of us balanced like playing cards, leaning against each other. Finally, I say, "Okay, right. Don't want to do that again. Let's find him and get out of here."

"This way," Jim tells me, and we stagger on, supporting each other.

~~~~~~~~

"…Seventeen. It should be up here around the corner." Only it's not. Fallen beams and rocks bar our way. "It's all blocked off."

Cantor's gunman moves from the back of our little procession to the front. "Oh, man, you got to be kidding!" He kicks at the floor in disgust, raising a cloud of dust.

"Great. Now what?" Cantor says.

The punk looks from the pile of debris to Cantor and me. "You know what, I guess you're going to have to dig."

"I don't think that's such a--" I start to protest.

He aims his weapon right between my eyes. "Shut up and dig. You, too, old man. Get your hands dirty."

Cantor grabs one end of a board and I take hold of the other. As we pull it free, the whole area creaks and moans, raining dirt on us. "This is crazy! This whole place could fall on our heads, and I'm not doing it anymore!" I yell.

"Then you got no reason to live." He raises the gun again. The sound of a shot rings through the maze, and the weapon flies out of his hand. I scramble to pick it up, then turn around to see Jim standing there, one arm over Cassie's shoulders, leaning heavily against her. But his aim on my nemesis never wavers.

"You all right, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine."

Cantor decides to try and negotiate a deal. "I can explain--"

"Quiet!" Jim snaps, and he tilts his head to listen, just as the whole structure trembles.

"We have to get out of here," Cassie says, her eyes wide.

"Oh, I knew it. I knew it. This place is like a house of cards. You take away a couple of these bricks, the whole thing falls down." I take a step toward Jim.

"All right, everybody out! Come one!" Jim urges.

We start to run toward what I hope is the exit. I come up on Jim's right and follow Cassie's example by taking his arm and putting it over my shoulders. We're making good progress when Cantor's henchman changes his mind and runs back the way we came.

"What are you doing?" Jim shouts. "Don't be stupid! The whole place is going to go!" He tries to go after him, but Cassie and I refuse to let him go.

"Forget him, Ellison! Don't let him be the death of us, too!" she yells over the sound of crashing timbers.

We dash back through the maze, following Jim's directions, dodging falling bricks and earth. Cantor reaches the stairs first and darts up them. Cassie's next, practically dragging Jim behind her, while I bring up the rear, making sure he doesn't fall.

They're both safely up top when I feel the stairs shudder, then the world drops out from under me. I'm falling just like in my dream, and I close my eyes, bracing for impact. My arm is nearly wrenched from its socket as a strong grip fastens on my wrist, abruptly halting my fall. I look up to see Jim's face over the edge of the hole. His left hand grabs hold of my arm as well, but there's no way he can pull me up, not with his injuries. I can see in his eyes just holding my dead weight is agony. "Let go, man!"

Cassie's face appears beside Jim's, her hand extending toward me. "Grab on!" Shoving my fear down, I stretch my left hand toward her. Her fingers lock around my wrist. "Okay, Jim, on three. One…two…three!" In tandem, they crawl backwards, dragging me up over the edge of the hole.

Finally safe on the surface, I lie in the mud on my stomach, just breathing, until I feel a vibration rumble through the ground beneath me. "Guys? Guys?" I leap to my feet. "We need to get out of here!"

Cassie's already scrambling up and heading for the exit. Helping Jim rise, I half carry him to the side of the pit, then follow him up the ladder. As we reach the top, there's a loud roar and a rush of displaced air as the entire site collapses in on itself.

When the dust clears, we're still standing on the outskirts of the site, surrounded by squad cars. Rafe is snapping handcuffs on Cantor, who apparently scurried up the ladder and right into custody. "You okay, Chief?" Jim asks me.

I push my filthy, tangled hair out of my face. "Yeah, I think so. You, man?"

"I'll live." Spotting Simon in the crowd, Jim limps off in that direction.

I look around for Cassie. She's leaning against one of the police cruisers, her face ashen. Going over to her, I touch her lightly on the arm. "You okay?" I ask softly.

She gazes up at me, and for a moment it seems like she's going to pull a Jim, and go all stoic on me. Imagine my surprise then, when she wraps her arms around me in a tight hug. "I'm so glad you're okay," she whispers. "If anything happened to you…I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

I don't know what to say, so I just hold her until an ambulance arrives to transport all of us to the hospital.

~~~~~~~~~

"Here you go, Cassie," Blair says as he enters the living area of the loft from the kitchen.

Taking the cup of coffee from him, I tell him, "Thanks."

He joins me on the couch, setting his cup on the coffee table. I rest mine on my knee. Now that I'm here, everything I want to say has vanished from my memory. There's a long awkward silence, until we say at the same time "Blair--"

"Cassie--"

We laugh, but to me it feels forced. I start again. "Blair, I just came over to apologize for what happened yesterday. It was my fault. I shouldn't have let the uniforms leave. Because of my mistake, you were nearly killed."

He shakes his head. "There's nothing to apologize for. I thought the same thing you did, that whoever tossed Gillman's apartment was long gone. I would have made the same decision."

"Yeah, but--"

Reaching over, Blair grips my hand tightly. "No. Look, we both had a good scare yesterday. You think I wasn't terrified you were dead when that idiot forced me to go with him?"

That stops my pity party in its tracks. "You were? But…" I'm at a loss for words.

"But what? You think I wouldn't care?"

I shake my head, blinking back tears. "I don't know. I just…you're the only real friend I've made here, and the thought of losing that…" I shrug helplessly.

He smiles, then leans in slowly to kiss me. It's soft and tender and twice as long as our first hesitant attempt. When we part, he cups my chin in his hand. "Please believe me when I say I don't blame you at all, Cassie. Bad people do bad stuff, and nothing we do is ever going to change that. If you hadn't been there, hadn't been able to tell Jim what happened, I'd be buried under tons of rubble right now." He strokes my cheek with his thumb, then kisses me again.

The sound of a key being fitted to a lock startles us, and we dive for opposite ends of the sofa as Jim and Simon enter.

"Hey, Jim," Blair says, "I called the hospital when I got done with class this morning, but they said you'd already signed yourself out."

"Simon picked me up," Jim says, hanging his coat on a hook. He limps into the living area, leaning on a hospital-issue cane. "Cassie, how's the head?"

"Sore," I reply with a grin.

Simon enters the conversation. "Well, I have some good news for you, Sandburg. With Cantor in jail, his construction business is in shambles. The city council is suspending all work on the site until it's been certified safe. Once that's done, Rainier will most likely be allowed to complete their dig." He looks at me. "Also confirmed your reasons for Cantor's working for the mob. Very good work, Welles--asset to the department."

"Thank you, sir."

"But I have two words of advice." He looks at Blair, then back at me. "Don't fraternize."

I can feel my face grow hot, and Blair's staring at the floor, his expression hidden behind a curtain of hair.

Simon turns to Jim. "All right, Jim, I'm heading back to the station. I don't want to see either you or Cassie back at work until your doctors okay it."

He leaves, and I get to my feet. "I should be going, too, guys. I'm really supposed to be resting." Blair walks me to the door and gives me a hug as I whisper "Thank you," in his ear. Then I head for home, with a great deal to think about.

~~~~~~~~

When I turn around from seeing Cassie out, Jim's sitting on the couch, just looking at me. "What?" I ask.

"What was that all about, 'Don't fraternize'?"

I swiftly change the subject. "So what did the doctor say when he let you leave the hospital?"

Jim gives me an irritated look, but doesn't push the issue of Cassie and me. "Rest, rest, and more rest. If I'm a good boy, I can go back to work in a week or so. So I expect to be waited on hand and foot, Sandburg, seeing as you're the only person who came through this case without serious bodily harm."

"Fine, fine, I'll be your servant." I walk over and sit down on the couch next to him. "I just want to tell you, I think you were amazing yesterday, man. I wouldn't have believed it unless I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. You and Cassie--working together! You make a great team. I should tell Simon you need to work together more often." I give him a cheeky grin and bounce up just as Jim aims a swat at my head.

"Sandburg!"


The End

 

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