Redhawke.org
Mirror Image
Mirror Image
By CarolROI

Beta Read by BethB
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: David H. Balkan
Story by: Rich Tabach
Rated PG-13
internal thought in * *

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

Juggling groceries and my dry cleaning, I'm fishing for my keys in my purse when the phone starts to ring inside my apartment. "I'm coming!" I yell, and promptly drop the groceries and the keys. When I finally have everything picked up, I enter to a flashing red light on my message machine.

Setting everything down on the kitchen table, I push play. Carolyn Plummer's voice comes through the speaker. <Hey, Bulldozer, just calling to check up on you. Guess they have you working the graveyard shift, huh?">

Yawning, I smile as I hang up my coat. "Actually, Caro," I say to the machine, "I was attending a lecture on birth and death rituals in aboriginal cultures with Blair." It was one of those 'it isn't a date' dates we'd been on lately. I'm all for Blair's wanting to take things slow, (some of the disasters he's told me about would have turned me off dating for life), but it's been a month now, and frankly, I would enjoy a little more speed. And a bit more than kissing. Hell, a lot more than kissing.

Carolyn's voice continues, <I would have saved this call for the weekend, but I just got some news I thought you should know. > There's an ominous pause, then she says, <It's Warren Chapel. They transferred him to Conover three months ago. He's in Cascade, Cassie. I thought you needed to know. I'll call you on Sunday, okay?> There's a beep, and the message ends.

I stand there, staring at the machine, my blood turning to ice water.

~~~~~~~~

*Heart pounding, breath roaring in my ears…hide, I have to hide…he's coming for me…nowhere to hide…nowhere to run…he's coming, he's coming! Eyes cold as death, staring into mine…pain…oh, God, pain! I scream…*

And wake myself up. I lie there, staring at the ceiling, nightgown soaked with sweat. Jesus, Cassie, it was just a dream. It wasn't real. He can't hurt you, he can't hurt you, he can't hurt you, I chant silently to myself. He's locked up in a maximum-security mental hospital. You're safe; you're perfectly safe.

But try as I might, I can't go back to sleep.

~~~~~~~~

After my rough night, my first call of the day is to a homicide on the docks. I give the scene a cursory going over, knowing Dan Wolf from the ME's office is on his way. When he arrives, I leave the body to him, and walk Jim and Blair, who caught the case on the department end, through the scene.

"We'll try to get some prints, but I'm not very optimistic," I'm saying, as we walk toward where the victim was found.

"Got an ID on him?" Jim asks, which is a far cry from our first meeting, when he yelled at me for looking for ID before the detective arrived. It's nice to know things are slowly changing for the better around here.

"It's Ben O'Doyle, the union guy," I answer, coming to a halt behind where Dan is examining the body.

"Whoever did it knew what he was doing--a couple punches to take him out of action, then a bullet in the heart," Dan says, looking up at us briefly.

Jim squats next to the ME. "Any ideas on the gun?"

Wolf nods. "Judging from the exit wound, it could be a .357 or a .45. Whoever did this didn't need the gun." He points to the DB's neck. "Look at the bruising on the throat. My guess is the windpipe is crushed. He would have asphyxiated."

A chill runs through me, and I have to look away. "Maybe the killer was putting the victim out of his misery," I say, more to myself than the others.

Jim stands up, shrugging. "Well, whatever the reason, there's no loss of motives. O'Doyle was accused of whacking a union rival. You guys do the math."

Blair speaks up for the first time, his eyes on me instead of the body. "Yeah. I remember that case. He got off."

*Footsteps echoing in a darkened hallway. They're coming closer and there's no place to hide. Flash of light on metal, the muffled sound of a shot…my own voice screaming…*

A touch on my arm pulls me out of the memory. I glance to the side to see Blair looking at me, concern on his face. "People don't always agree with verdicts," I say. I shudder, fear wrapping itself around me. I have to know, I have to. "Uh…I've got to go. I've got some work to do."

It takes all my self-control to walk away slowly instead of breaking into a panicked run. I can feel Blair's confused gaze on my back all the way to my van.

~~~~~~~~

A few phone calls and a short drive later, I'm sitting in Conover's parking lot, trying to force my fear down enough to go in. *Deep breaths, girl. Deep, calming breaths. I am calm. I can do this. I am calm. I am in control of my fear. My fear does not control me.* Chanting my mental mantra, I go inside.

After I'm through the security check, I'm met by the head of the institution, a man named Burke. He's seems rather mild-mannered for the work he does, but perhaps a bland personality is what's needed in a place like this. "Thank you so much for seeing me on short notice, Dr. Burke. I realize you're probably quite busy."

He starts down a long hallway, and I follow, a uniformed guard trailing silently behind us. "Well, when I get a call from the local police department saying it's urgent, I tend to make time." He switches subjects to the reason I'm here. I'd given him a little background on our case over the phone. "Now, we keep him segregated except when he's in group therapy, but that's a couple times a week. Otherwise, he's pretty much by himself."

"What about visitors?" I ask.

Burke shakes his head. "No visitors. He doesn't have phone privileges either, and all of his mail is screened."

We come to a stop at a gated doorway, and the guard with us knocks on the wall and calls out, "You got company, Warren. Try to act like a gentleman."

A shudder runs through me, and I take a deep breath, trying to steel myself for coming face to face with a man I haven't seen in nearly two years. *I am in control. I am in control.*

The gate opens and we go through into another hallway. There's a single cell at the end, a thick, glass wall separating the occupant from the outside world. I fight back another wave of panic.

"Harris will be watching you on a closed-circuit monitor," Burke tells me.

I'm supposed to find that reassuring how? If he can't get out, then why is the camera necessary?

"If you need anything, just call," Harris, the guard, says.

"Thank you," I respond.

Burke wishes me good luck, then leaves with the guard.

Swallowing hard, I walk over in front of the glass. Chapel looks up at me. He's not a big man, but the force of his personality, his suffocating evil, fills the room. He reminds me of a huge river rat, with his hair slicked back in a ponytail and his crooked teeth the rodent's sharp incisors.

"How's life in the Bay area, Cassie?" he asks slyly. "Still hanging out in the clubs off the square?"

That delivers a blow to my carefully created façade. It's the first time he's ever admitted that our previous meeting wasn't a chance encounter, that he'd been stalking me. Straightening my shoulders, I cover, saying, "Gave up the club life. Too many late nights and early mornings."

He blinks at me slowly, then says almost gleefully, "Life is full of little ironies, isn't it? You're here in Cascade. So am I."

How in the hell does he know I live in Cascade now? Again, I push down the fear as he goes for the jugular.

"How's the shoulder? Still bother you on rainy days?" He takes a step toward the glass, and I can't help it, I take one back.

Mentally shaking myself, I try to take control of the situation. "Someone is killing again. They're using your signature."

The corners of his mouth turn up in an approximation of a smile. "Who was killed?"

"He was a union boss tried for murder."

"And the courts let him off. Tch, tch. Was he killed with a .45 -caliber bullet?"

"Yes."

He looks thoughtful, and I can't tell if it's because he's genuinely surprised by my news, or if he's just trying to convince me he is. "What about the gun? Was it chrome-plated?" His eyes glitter eagerly, and I realize he's getting off on what I'm telling him, whether he had a hand in it or not.

"I don't know. I don't have it yet."

"Pity." He sighs. "Well, it certainly sounds like me." He moves closer to the speaker set in the glass, lowering his voice. "How do you think I'm doing it?"

I won't boost his ego by letting him think I suspect it's him. "I told you it was someone else, someone who knows about you."

Chapel shrugs, an infinitesimal lifting of his shoulders. "Possible, but not likely. This kind of a thing can't be duplicated. It's too intimate--like DNA--one of a kind." The last is said with a bit of a leer, and he knows I can't miss the sexual connotations.

I can, however, choose to ignore them. "So how are you doing it, Warren, huh? Are you sneaking out in the middle of the night?"

It's his turn to ignore my questions. "The man who was killed, his name was O'Doyle, wasn't it?"

"You could have read that in the newspaper."

Chapel leans closer to the glass separating us. "He likes expensive shoes--tasseled loafers. They're made for him in Milan. The shoemaker's name is sewn in the instep." He gives me a moment to digest that, then continues. "Did I read that, too? Hmm? Well, you better check and see. In the meantime…worry about tonight, say, 9:00." Turning his back on me, he walks over to his cot and sits down, signaling he's through with our conversation.

I manage to hold myself together long enough to get out of the building, but by the time I reach my van I'm a basket case. The sudden release of pent-up adrenaline is giving me the shakes. Putting a hand on the hood to steady myself, a wave of nausea sweeps over me and I'm retching onto the pavement. *Damn him, damn him.* I swore I wasn't going to let him psyche me out, and he's done it again. All I can think about is running as far and as fast as I can away from him, away from Cascade.

Blinking back tears, I get in my van and leave Conover with a squeal of tires.

~~~~~~~~

Sitting beside Jim at his desk, ignoring the usual noise of the bullpen, I try and concentrate on the textbook I'm reading but my mind keeps wandering back to this morning, and Cassie's strange behavior at the crime scene. She looked…tired, I realize, and I immediately feel a pang of guilt for having kept her out late last night.

But tired doesn't explain her reaction to the dead guy. She seemed really rattled by him. I go over the memory again. No, it wasn't the body that upset her. When Dan started talking about how the guy was killed, that was when she started to get distracted. Like she was remembering something, but what could it be? Another case?

"Well, when she gets back would you have her return my call as soon as possible?" Jim's voice interrupts my musing. "I need that ballistics report." He hangs up the phone and looks at me, as if I'm to blame for Cassie being unavailable at the exact second he wants her for something. "She said she had some personal business to attend to. Nobody knows where she is."

Personal business? In my experience with women that can mean anything from a shoe sale to a gynecologist's appointment. I look up to see Cassie entering the bullpen, a determined, but frightened look on her face. Getting to my feet, I say, "Cassie?"

Ignoring me, she stops in front of Jim. "I think I know who killed Ben O'Doyle."

"What? Welles, we just got this case this morning, hell, the ballistics haven't even been finished--"

"He was shot with a .45," she snaps, then glances around the room. "Is Captain Banks here? I only want to have to say this once."

"I think he went to the break room," I supply helpfully.

"I'll go get him," Jim states, giving me a look as he leaves that clearly says, 'find out what's going on'.

Cassie's hands are shoved in her jacket pockets, and her gaze keeps darting around the room, as if she's looking for something. When I step in closer and lay my hand on her arm, I can feel her shaking. "Cassie…my god…what's the matter? What's wrong?"

For a moment she looks like she's going to confide in me, her hand covering mine where it rests on her arm, her fingers squeezing tightly. "I'm…" she starts to say, then Jim returns with Simon and she moves away.

"You have some information for us, Welles?" Captain Banks says. She nods, and follows him into his office, Jim trailing after them.

I stand there for a moment, turning Cassie's odd behavior over in my mind. She's scared, I realize, but of what?

"You coming, Chief?" Jim sticks his head out Simon's door.

"Yeah," I answer, crossing the room. The first chance I get Cassie alone, I'm going to find out what's got her so spooked.

~~~~~~~

Sandburg enters Simon's office and closes the door behind him. He perches on the edge of the conference table, his gaze never leaving Welles.

She's leaning against the credenza, staring out the window at the rain, her arms folded across her chest. Outwardly, she seems calm, if somewhat distracted, but I can hear her heart pounding.

Simon settles into his desk chair. "All right, Welles. Let's hear what you've got."

Cassie doesn't answer right away. Taking a deep breath, she states, "His name is Warren Chapel. He killed three people in San Francisco." She hesitates before continuing, her tongue darting out to wet her lips nervously. "I…uh, I worked the case. The newspapers called him 'the avenging angel' because all of his victims were men who had committed well-publicized crimes and had walked on a technicality. Chapel would first inflict physical punishment and then put them out of their misery with a single gunshot to the heart--a .45 from a chrome-plated automatic. I just found out that he's been transferred to Conover as of three months ago because of overcrowding. He knows things he shouldn't. He knew O'Doyle's name. I didn't tell him who the vic was."

Simon removes his cigar from his mouth. "He could have found that out, Cassie. He could have read it in the papers, saw it on TV."

She shakes her head vehemently. "No. He told me that O'Doyle liked Italian loafers and that the shoemaker was from Milan and that the shoemaker's name was stitched in the instep of the shoe. I went to evidence. It's just as he said it would be. He warned me that something is going to happen tonight; he even told me the time--9 p.m."

The captain's still not convinced. "Yeah, he could have found that out, too. Come on, Cassie. He is playing with you. Conover is a maximum-security institution. There is no way he could get out or even contact someone."

Blair moves from the table to stand by Cassie, his hand coming to rest on her shoulder. The tension seems to flow out of her then, and she leans into his touch. Blair speaks up for the first time. "Simon, what if he's not playing? What if he somehow is involved?"

For once I find myself siding with Welles. I speak up in her defense. "Captain, I don't think we can leave this to chance. From what Cassie's said, all of Chapel's victims were high profile. I think if we spend some time going over trials where the accused walked, then we can make a list of likely victims.

"I already did that before I came to talk to you," Cassie says. Reaching in her pocket, she pulls out a copy of a newspaper article. She hands it to me.

One glance at the man in the photo and I know she's made a good choice. I give the clipping to Simon.

"Joseph Bellini?"

I nod. "Yeah. This prince, as you can see, was accused of white slavery and murder, but he walked on a technicality, something about evidence obtained in an illegal search."

The captain looks at the three of us, considering his options. Finally, he says, "All right, tell you what: why don't you put a surveillance team on him? But you wrap it up at midnight. I still think we're chasing our tails here."

"We might be, Captain, but thank you." I turn toward Cassie, who's gone back to staring out at the rain. "Thank you very much, Welles."

She tears her attention away from the window to meet my gaze. "You're welcome."

Blair gives her hand a squeeze and says in a low voice, "We'll talk later." At her nod, he exits the office.

I give her one last look before I do the same. Despite Sandburg's best efforts, she's still tense. There's something she's not telling us, but I don't have the time to pry it out of her now.

~~~~~~~~

Parking my van around the corner from Bellini's house, I glance at my watch. Eight p.m. Well, this'll be one of the longest hours of my life.

Sighing, I turn up the volume on the police radio. I can't believe I'm doing this. I'm already *way* too personally involved, but I have to know. Has my worst nightmare come true? Is Chapel killing again? And if so, how long until he comes after me?

My hand goes to my shoulder involuntarily. They say the body doesn't remember pain. Whoever they are, they lie.

I pull out a pair of binoculars, and study the house. All's quiet. Too quiet, maybe. I wish Blair were here. I could do with some conversation to keep myself from freaking out. That, and I'm beginning to feel like I owe him the truth.

He knows there's something going on with me, but so far he hasn't pushed. Just let me know that he's here for me if I need him. But I can't help seeing the worry in his eyes when he looks at me. He cares…and it's been so long since I've felt that from someone I don't know how to deal with it. But I'm going to have to, and maybe even admit to myself that his feelings are returned.

~~~~~~~~

Blair's fidgeting. I can tell there's something he wants to say, but to his credit, he's managing to keep it in longer than the norm for him. After a patrol car cruises by for the tenth time tonight, he finally cracks. "I hate stakeouts."

I chuckle. "You're not having a good time? Come on. Just relax. Think of it as a meditation."

He shakes his head, laughing with me. "How can I think of it as a meditation when my stomach's all in knots? I think of it as anticipation. Is something going to happen? Is something not going to happen?"

I shrug. "I think of it like baseball, Chief. When the pitcher releases the ball, you don't know if it'll be a strike or a home run, or something in between. You just have to be prepared to go in any direction."

He seems to consider my sports analogy for a moment, then says, "You know, if Chapel does show up, he's better than Houdini. Simon's right--you don't walk out of Conover."

Now he's piqued my interest. "How do you know that?"

He gives me a teasing look. "Well, I've got some history there."

Oh, this is way too easy to pass up, and I don't. "I'm sure you do." I laugh at my own joke.

"Well, it's not what you think," he replies with a grin.

Before I can ask what he means by that, my cell phone rings. "Ellison."

<Yeah, Jim. It's Simon. I just had a visit from Bellini's lawyer. We've been served with a cease and desist order signed by Judge Weaver. Surveillance is over. He feels our protection is an infringement upon his client's privacy. Evidently, his client has a problem with the police. Bottom line is if we don't leave, we're in violation of a court order.>

Damn it. I glance at my watch. "Captain, it's almost 9:00. Can you buy us some time somehow?"

Simon takes his frustration out on me. <I've used up all my chips. Now pull the damned plug!> There's a loud click as he hangs up.

I'm reaching for the radio when Blair asks, "What's going on?"

"Simon pulled the plug--court order." I click the microphone on. "This is Detective Ellison. The stakeout has been officially terminated. All units are requested to disperse. Thank you. Good night."

~~~~~~~~

I put down the binoculars at Ellison's announcement. No, damn it, no! I consider my options. I'm not here officially. I could just go up to Bellini's front door and tell him what's going on, tell him he's in danger.

I take another look at the house through the binoculars. Something's moving along the garage wall. It could just be the wind in the bushes--or it could be Chapel. A long shudder rolls through me. I don't want to do this. I don't want to face him again.

But someone else's life is in danger, and the cops are leaving. Picking up my Sig Sauer from the passenger seat, I chamber a round, then slide it into the holster clipped to my belt.

A patrol car turns the corner and cruises toward me. I duck down in my seat until I hear them pass. Taking a deep breath, I get out of the car, and start toward Bellini's house.

~~~~~~~~

Jim starts the truck, but he doesn't look happy about it. "I've got a bad feeling about this," I tell him.

He shrugs. "Yeah, well, tell your rabbi." He pulls the truck away from the curb.

He's just as reluctant to leave as I am, though, because he circles the block slowly. A familiar blue Toyota van is parked on the street behind the house. "Hey, what's she doing here?" I ask.

Jim parks the truck behind Cassie's van and reaches for the door handle. "Stay here, Chief. I'll handle this."

"Jim," I start to protest, but he's already out of the truck before I can finish. "Take it easy on her!" I call, knowing he can still hear me.

~~~~~~~~

As I start up the driveway to the house, all the lights go out. Shit! I break into a run, pulling my weapon, but I have no idea what I think I'm going to do if I find Chapel. *Worry about that if it happens, Cassie. You get caught up in it now, you'll get killed.*

Reaching the house, I creep along the side of the garage until I come to a door. Broken glass crunches underfoot, and I can see the window in the door is broken. Fear twists my stomach, but I push the door open and enter, gun drawn.

It's pitch black inside, and I fumble along the wall until I reach another doorway. Steeling myself for whatever lies ahead, I turn the knob.

~~~~~~~~

When I reach the driver's side window of Welles' van, I look inside. It's empty. *Damn it, Cassie. What in the hell are you up to?* Automatically I extend my hearing toward Bellini's house; it's the only place she'd have a reason to go.

I don't hear Cassie, but someone yells, followed by the sounds of a struggle. Racing toward the house, I draw my gun. By the time I reach the front door, the fighting has stopped. There's a moment of utter silence, then the muffled noise of a gunshot.

Kicking open the door, I run inside, but it's too late. Bellini is lying on the floor of what looks like a study. There's no sign of anyone else. Damn it!

I'm leaning over him, checking for a pulse, when Blair appears in the doorway. "Jim, what…oh god…."

A few seconds later, Cassie runs up behind him. One look at the body, and she's hiding her face in Blair's shoulder. He puts an arm around her as the grandfather clock chimes nine times.


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


I can't believe I'm doing this again. All I want to do is run as far and as fast away from here, away from Cascade as I can. Instead, I wait patiently for Harris to open the door and let me through to see Chapel.

Warren looks please to see me. "Back so soon, Cassie? You'll spoil me."

I'm not in the mood to play his games today. I get straight to the point. "There was another killing last night. You still going to tell me you did it?"

Chapel looks thoughtful. "Well, let's see. By now you've checked on O'Doyle's loafers. Didn't you just love the tassels? So…you tell me." He comes to stand a few inches away from me.

This time I hold my ground. "Will there be more?"

A knife-like smile crawls across his face. "Oh, yes, Cassie. There will be."

"Who?" I demand.

He wags a finger at me. "That would be too easy. The fun's all in the game, Cassie, in you trying to figure out what's going to happen next. Let's just say it will be those who have managed to elude justice. So, I have my work cut out for me, don't I?"

Damn it, he's getting off on this, and I'm getting nowhere. Wonder what would happen if I choose not to play? "You know what I think? I think you enjoy this too much. I think you'll tell me because you'll miss these little conversations of ours. When you're ready to talk, have someone come and get me." Turning my back on him, I start to leave.

"Oh by the way, Cassie," he calls after me, "I still hold you responsible for my incarceration. Someday we'll have to reconcile that, hmm?"

I manage to make it back through the gate before the memory hits me. *Glint of steel, flash of light, then pain and terror. Cold, dead eyes staring down at me as the gun is lifted again….*

I find myself leaning against the wall of the corridor, breathing like I've just run ten miles. *Get a grip, Cassie. Ignore him and do the job.* Throwing off the images with a shudder, I square my shoulders and go to meet Jim and Blair.

By the time I reach the monitor room, I've managed to pull myself back together somewhat. Shaking my arms to try and release any lingering tension, I paste a smile on my face and go through the door. "Sorry, you guys. I thought I'd get him to say more."

Blair immediately jumps up from his seat and moves to stand at my side in silent support.

"Are you all right?" Jim asks.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Why?"

"He threatened you."

The protective note in Jim's voice surprises me. I shrug off Chapel's words. "Oh…that's just his way of playing. You know, he thinks it'll keep me off balance."

Jim's brow furrows, then he turns to Dr. Burke. "Any chance he's getting off the grounds somehow?"

Burke shakes his head. "No. It's impossible. Security's way too tight. Even if he did get out, why would he come back?"

Blair speaks up. "What about on the outside? He could be pulling strings from in here."

Again Burke denies any possibility his security might be faulty. "No, no. I don't know how he'd be doing it."

"Well, he's doing something, that's for sure," Jim says, his folded arms betraying his frustration. "And he's going to continue to do it until we stop him. I need to get somebody close to him."

There's a moment of silence, then Blair says, "I could do it."

~~~~~~~~

Cassie hauls me bodily into the empty break room at the station and closes the door. "You cannot do this, Blair," she says vehemently.

"Cassie, look, I can do this. I'm the only one who can do this. You know that."

Shaking her head, she paces away from me. "No. It's too dangerous."

I follow her. "I'll be perfectly safe. You heard the arrangements we made with Dr. Burke. I'll be fine."

"No…" she says again, her voice breaking.

Putting a hand on her shoulder, I turn her around to face me. What I see in her eyes shocks me. She's terrified, and damn near tears.

"Cassie?"

"Please, Blair, don't do this. You don't know Chapel. He'll hurt you…and if he thinks you're connected in any way to me, he'll kill you."

"Jesus," I breathe. "No wonder you've been so upset lately. Why in the hell is he so obsessed with you?"

"Because he blames me for his arrest. I was working the case and got too close. He tried to kill me, and damn near succeeded. If the detectives hunting him hadn't showed up then, I'd be dead." She blinks and a tear slides down her cheek.

When I put my arms around her, she leans into me, hugging me tightly. "Please, Blair, please, don't do this. Find another way."

"There is no other way, you know that. If we want to stop Chapel, we have to catch him in the act."

Her hold on me increases, and her cheek presses against mine. "Blair…oh, god…I don't want to lose you," she whispers in my ear. She pulls back to look at me. "I haven't cared this much for anyone in…not since…not since before Chapel shot me. I'm just now starting to get back to who I was, to enjoying the world again. I don't want to lose the best thing that's happened me in a long time."

*Me…she's talking about me…I'm her 'best thing.'* Despite the tension of the moment, I feel ten feet tall. Brushing away the wetness on her cheek, I kiss her softly. "It'll be okay, Cassie. I promise. I can do this."

She nods slowly, knowing Chapel has to be stopped, but not liking it one bit.

~~~~~~~~

"No way. Absolutely not, Jim," Simon snaps after I've outlined our plan to him.

"Come on, Simon," Blair complains, "why do you always say that? Why is that always your first reaction?"

"Three reasons, Sandburg: One, you're not a cop. Two, you're not a cop. Three, you're not a cop."

Sandburg gives me his soulful look. "Jim, come on, help me out here, man. Talk to him--one cop to another cop."

I sigh. I don't like the idea any more than the captain does, but I've been around and around the problem and I just don't see any other way. Even I have to admit that there's no way in hell I could pass myself off as a Conover patient. "Simon, I've given it a lot of consideration. I just think you should hear him out, please."

Simon leans back in his chair, resting his elbows on the arms and steepling his fingers. "All right, Sandburg, you got one shot. You better make it convincing."

Blair stands up a little taller. "Okay. When I was an undergraduate, I did a paper on the social structure in institutions to see if the same sort of pecking orders that exist in our society find their way into the microcosmic societies in prisons and mental institutions. Anyway, I spent a semester working nights at Conover. I know the facility. I'm familiar with the case studies and the therapeutic practices."

"So what are you saying, you want to go in as a staff worker?"

Blair shakes his head. "No, as a patient. It's the only way I'm gonna get close to Chapel. He won't let his guard down unless he thinks I'm mentally ill."

The captain rolls his eyes. "You being mentally ill is the only part of this that's believable."

I put in another plug. "Now, I'm not crazy about it, but the kid has proved himself to be pretty damn resourceful. I think it's worth a shot."

Simon shakes his head. "Jim, there has got to be another cop somewhere in this damn city with enough experience to pull this off."

"It can't be a cop," Cassie speaks up from her position by the window. I don't know what she and Sandburg talked about before they came in here, but she looks rougher than she did after playing Chapel's games back at Conover. "Chapel will know; it's instinctive. He will smell a cop, and he will kill him."

Blair looks over at her and something unspoken passes between them. "I'll be fine, all right? My door's going to be unlocked. I'm gonna have access to the whole place. There are video surveillance cameras all over. I'm gonna be fine. I can do it."

Somehow I get the feeling he's trying to convince himself, as well as us. Reluctantly, Simon gives his approval.

~~~~~~~~

I'm working late in the lab, trying to get my mind off Blair, and the stupid, stupid plan we agreed to. I should have supported Simon earlier, for Blair's own safety. There's a creak behind me and I startle, whirling around and scrabbling at the table for anything I can use as a weapon. When I realize it's only the sound of the door opening as Jim enters, I chuckle weakly. "Scare a girl, why don't you?"

He gives me a searching look, then says, "Sorry…but I wanted to talk to you about something." He leans against one of the counters and crosses his legs at the ankles, folding his arms across his chest. Whatever it is, I can already see he's not going to be receptive to my side of the story. "I put a call in to the San Francisco police department to do some background checking on our friend Chapel, and I found out he tried to kill you. I'm wondering why you didn't tell me."

Reaching behind me, I grip the edge of the table for support. "Because it wasn't relevant."

"I need to know these things. Sandburg is risking his life here," he says forcefully.

A shudder of dread runs through me. "Don't you think I know that? I told Blair Chapel tried to kill me, tried to tell him why he shouldn't do this, but he convinced me there was no other way, the same way he won over you and Captain Banks. I care about Blair. You think I want him in there with that psycho?"

"Cassie, Cassie, please, calm down, I'm not blaming you. I just need to know what happened between you and Chapel in San Francisco. "

"God…" I scrub my hands over my face, then push my hair back. "I had gone back to one of the old crime scenes, to see if there was something I missed. I was walking down the hallway, and this guy came out of a door. For some reason I just felt I knew him, that I'd seen him before. He stared right back at me, like he knew me, too, knew I was with the cops."

*Our eyes meet for just a moment, but that's enough for each of us to know the other for what we are…and I know he is evil. A flash of metal catches my eye, and I dive to the side. Pain explodes in my shoulder and I scream….*

"Cassie? You okay?"

Jim's in my face, looking down at me, his expression concerned. Great, now he's probably thinking I'm the one that needs the stay in the loony bin. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I saw the reflection off of his gun, and I moved. He got me in the shoulder."

"Why didn't he finish the job?"

I can't hold his gaze. "He was going to. But someone had tipped the cops working the case that he was there. They caught him standing over me and he ran. When he finally ran out of ammo, he surrendered."

"Is there more?"

How in the hell can he know I'm holding something back? Sighing, I answer, "Yeah. I think he was stalking me. I didn't then, but he said something to me on my first visit to Conover that made me think he was. Who knows? But in his own psychotic way, Chapel blamed me for getting him arrested. If he was following me, it was his own damn fault. Anyway, after I got out of the hospital, I decided to take a leave of absence, get my head together. I finally went back to work but there were too many memories, and when I got a chance to leave San Francisco, start over someplace new, I took it. I thought I'd finally gotten him out of my head. Ironic, isn't it, that I move to get away from him, and end up right where he is." I shiver. "Maybe it's a good idea if I stay out of this from here on. Somebody else might get hurt." I send a silent plea out for it not to be Blair. I don't know if I could handle him getting hurt again because of me.

Jim nods slowly, then rests his hand for a moment on my shoulder as he starts to leave. "You want to know what I think?"

I raise an eyebrow at him.

"We're pretty damn lucky to have you."

"Thanks," I call after him, but even rare praise from him can't completely erase my self-doubt.

~~~~~~~~

I stand outside the therapy room, psyching myself up. *I can do this. I can do this.* But fear flutters in my stomach despite my self-encouragement. Cassie's terror has rubbed off on me. Doesn't help any that it seems like she's been avoiding me ever since I came up with this hare-brained idea. It's almost like she expects me to get into trouble and she's pushing me away to protect herself. Detach with love… like my mom says. Can't say I haven't done it a time or two myself. Hurts, though. I could have used some moral support from her, but I understand, or so I tell myself.

The guard opens the door, and I'm on. Dr. Burke looks up at my entrance. "We have a new member of our group here today. Everybody, this is Blair Sandburg. Why don't you have a seat there, Blair, next to Warren?"

Okay, this was not what I meant when I talked about getting close to Chapel. But it's the nearest vacant seat. I walk over to stand beside it, eyeing it suspiciously. "Is it clean? The chair. I have to know if it's clean because, uh…sometimes, uh…staphylococcus bacteria lives in upholstery and I have to know if it's clean or not."

Burke looks a little startled, but plays along. "I-I think the chair's okay. No one's ever gotten infected."

I give him, and the chair, my best dubious look. "Okay." Reaching into the pocket of the hospital issue scrubs I'm wearing, I pull out a handkerchief and carefully unfold it. "I'm going to put this down just in case." I place it on the seat. "It's nothing personal, of course." I sit down, taking care not to touch the chair's arms.

Burke waits until I'm settled, then he picks up where he left off. "Great. Okay, we were just discussing anger. Perhaps you'd like to contribute?"

I'm a little startled by the request, but ad-lib. "Mm-hmm. Okay." I laugh nervously. "Um, well, anger has nothing to do with it. Yeah, um…mad has nothing to do with it. Nothing." I settle back in the chair, figuring that's cryptic enough.

One of the other inmates, a large black man a few seats down from me, leans in my direction, staring. "Mad has nothing to do with what?"

It takes me a moment, but I realize he's talking to me. I say the first thing that pops into my head. "Getting what I'm entitled to."

"Perhaps you could explain," Burke says.

Great. Now what? "Um, you see, uh..to enjoy the good life, to, uh, enjoy the material wealth that was promised me."

The doctor looks as confused as I feel. "Who promised you, Blair?"

"Uh…well, that'd be my higher power, you see." Great, now I'm turning myself into a schizophrenic. "Yeah. You see, I have a covenant with her and she tells me what I can take, when I can take it, and from whom I can take it."

For some reason, that seems to upset the patient who spoke before. "Oh..yeah," he sneers in a disbelieving voice. "That's right. Your higher power. He's got a higher power!"

"Reggie," Burke begins, but Reggie cuts him off.

Leaping to his feet, he yells, "That only talks to him!"

"Reggie, calm down…"

Reggie takes a step toward me, continuing to yell. "Doesn't talk to anybody else! Like he's something special. Like he got some personal membership to the higher power club!"

Burke stands up and comes between Reggie and me. "Reggie! Enough."

All the fight seems to go out of the patient then. "I was just…I was just making a point. I was…just making a point." Meekly, he returns to his seat.

He might be calm, but I'm not. My heart is racing, and it's all I can do to keep an impassive expression on my face. I can see Chapel looking at me out of the corner of my eye.

Burke's getting Reggie settled, saying, "We appreciate your insight. Why don't we let someone else comment?" He retakes his seat. "Warren. What do you think about all this?"

Chapel says quietly, "I don't know. If the man says he has a higher power that tells him things to do…I guess it's true." Slowly he turns his head toward me, his cold, flat gaze going right through me. "Why would he lie?"

Swallowing nervously, I look away, running my fingers over my lips, trying to hide my fear. Why did I let myself talk everyone into this?


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


While Sandburg's visiting the funny farm, the paperwork goes on. I follow Simon into the bullpen, updating him on the latest in the paper chase. "There were 17 staff members at Conover when Chapel first arrived. Fourteen are still there; the other three have moved on."

"It will take a while to go through them, Jim," he grumbles. He wants this case over with as much as I do.

I shrug. "However long it takes, we've got to go through the process. If Chapel isn't leaving the hospital, which is highly unlikely, then he's got a relationship with somebody on the outside, right?"

Simon pauses in the doorway to his office. "You could use some help on this one. Why don't you work with Cassie? She ought to know what kind of person Chapel would try and use."

That's the last thing I need. Cassie's made it clear to me that she doesn't want to get any further involved. I understand where she's coming from, but I could tell Blair was hurt when she didn't show up to at least wish him good luck the night before he entered Conover. "Uh, sir, back in San Francisco, Chapel almost killed her. She thought she'd put that nightmare behind her, and now Chapel's in her face again. I think that's pushed her pretty close to the edge. I don't think we should push her any closer."

Simon looks at me like there's a horn growing out of the middle of my forehead. It isn't very often I do the touchy-feely type stuff, that's more Sandburg's area. "When did you become her mother?" he asks. "Let her decide." Entering his office, he shuts the door in my face.

Great. Just how I wanted to spend my day, begging for Welles' help to do background checks. Like she doesn't have other, important case-related things to do with her time. Gritting my teeth, I head for forensics.

~~~~~~~~

*Pulling my van to a stop, I jump out and go running toward the crime scene. A paramedic is closing a body bag, but he stops when I approach. "Who is it?" I ask. He doesn't say a word, just unzips the bag. Blair's sightless eyes stare up at me. His lips are blue, his skin almost white, save for the livid bruising on his neck. His shirt is blood-soaked from the killing shot fired at point blank range. I take a step back, my hand automatically going to my throat.

"No, no, oh god…Blair…."

"See what happens, Cassie, when you send your little friends to do your dirty work?" The paramedic turns around, and I'm staring at Chapel. A twisted smile crosses his face, and he raises his chrome-plated automatic.

"No, no, noooo!"*

I jerk awake to the insistent beeping of my pager. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Grabbing the damn thing off the nightstand, I fling it across my bedroom. I flop back down on the mattress, pulling the covers over my head. Shivering, I lie there, trying to convince myself it's all a dream, that Blair's perfectly safe, that Chapel won't kill him.

But it's no use. The nightmare was too real, and much too possible. I feel the sting of tears against my closed eyelids, and I give in to them, letting them spill down my cheeks as I sob silently into my pillow. The phone begins to ring, and I ignore it. Whoever it is, I can't deal with them right now.

After five rings, the machine picks up, and I hear Jim Ellison's voice say, "We've got another body, Welles, 1234 Fifth Street. Meet you there." There's a click, then the beep signaling the message end.

Throwing the covers off, I get out of bed, wiping at my eyes. *Pull it together, Cassie. You don't have time for a meltdown right now. And maybe I can convince Jim to pull Blair out of Conover.*

~~~~~~~~

When I get out of my van at the crime scene, it's like being inside my dream. For several long moments, I'm tempted to run back to my apartment, crawl back in bed, and try to wake up in the real world. But pushing aside my panic, I make my way through the police line. The sense of déjà vu comes over me again when I find Jim watching an attendant from the coroner's office zip up a body bag. *It's not Blair, it's not Blair,* I keep telling myself.

Jim gives me an odd look, like he can hear my heart pounding in my chest. Attempting a smile, I say, "Same as the other guys, right?" He nods, and my control shatters. "You've got to pull Blair out of Conover!" I urge, a note of hysteria creeping into my voice.

He looks startled. "Why? What do you mean?"

I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep from flying apart. "Something…something is going to happen, okay? Please, please get him out of there. Please, just trust me."

"Take it easy, Cassie. I trust you. I promise I'll go get him as soon as I'm done here." He gestures broadly, indicating the crime scene. "How about giving me a hand? I could use your help on this."

A wave of nausea rolls through my stomach. "No…no…I can't…"

"Why not?"

I clench my teeth, swallowing the acid taste of bile. "You don't know what it's like, Ellison, having your blackest nightmare coming true. Every sound, every shadow is him. He's right there, breathing down my neck every second." *I'm barely hanging on by my fingernails, can't you see that?*

Jim lays his hand gently on my arm. "I know how hard this is for you, Cassie. But if you start running now, you'll be running forever. You have to stand up to him, make the decision that you're not going to allow him to do this to you."

I shake my head. "I can't--I can't. Just get Blair out of Conover!" Turning my back on him, I practically run toward my van.

~~~~~~~~

The lights finally dim in the hallway outside my room, and I know Conover has settled down for the night. I remain stretched out on my bed for another hour or so, letting the inmates get to sleep, and the guards perform the first round of bed checks. When I feel I've waited long enough, or more truthfully, at the point I run out of excuses to keep me in my room, I move to the door and peer out through the small round window.

The hallway's clear and, opening the door a crack, I listen for several moments, wishing, not for the first time, for Jim's hearing. Nothing strikes me as out of the ordinary, and I slip into the corridor, closing the door silently behind me. Okay, I'm out. Now what?

If I was Warren Chapel, and I could get out of my cell, but not out of the hospital, where would I go? Somewhere I could contact my outside accomplice. Perhaps one of the doctors' offices, where I could use a computer to send email? Sounds good to me.

I'm heading in that direction when I hear voices, one of them Chapel's. I follow the sound until the shutting of a door cuts off the words. Trotting around the corner, I find I'm at the stairwell door. Opening it slowly, I catch the faint voices again, then the noise of another door closing, far below. Great, it sounds like Chapel went to the basement. Why would he go there? Nothing's down there but the laundry. Resigning myself to seeing this thing through, I start cautiously downward.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I crack the stairwell door open and listen. I can hear Chapel's voice, but not the person he's talking to. He's saying, "So did he beg for mercy at the end?"

The image that flashes in my mind's eye is enough to make my stomach churn. I want to go back to my safe little cell, but I have to find out who Chapel's talking to, who's helping him. Pushing the door open a few more inches, I ease around the jamb, and take cover behind a large rolling laundry cart. From there, I creep across the room to the safety of a rack full of towels. In that position, I can see Chapel through a chain-link fence that separates the laundry area from the storage part of the basement.

He's standing next to an open utility panel on the wall. When he turns slightly toward me, I can see he's holding a phone receiver to his ear. Wires lead from it to the panel. So that's how he's doing it. Just as I'm about to split and contact Jim about what I've found out, Chapel says, "I've had a visitor, someone from my past. She's working with the police. Right now they're just guessing, but pretty soon they'll put us together. It may be time to move on."

Shit! He's talking about Cassie. Keeping low, I leave the laundry room, breaking into a run when I reach the hallway. I know there's a phone down here somewhere. Rounding a corner, I see it. Skidding to a stop, I pick it up and punch "0". "Operator, I'd like to make a collect call. It's an emergency."

A hand slams down on the phone, disconnecting the call. Jumping, I spin around to find Chapel looming over me.

"You think you're so clever, don't you?" he hisses in my face. "A little obsessive-compulsive behavior, throw in the ravings of schizophrenic and we're all supposed to buy into your little charade. Who sent you!"

"No-nobody sent me," I stammer.

"Then who were you calling?"

*Think fast, Sandburg.* I look at the phone and get an idea. "My higher power. That's how we communicate. She lets me call collect."

Chapel's hand darts out, his fingers closing around my throat. He applies pressure, lifting me in the air. "You're my little friend Cassie's idea, aren't you? Tell me!"

Spots are beginning to swirl in my vision. I've got to escape. I bring my knee up into his crotch as hard as I can. When he doubles over, I hit Chapel in the head with the telephone receiver. His grip on me releases, and I make a break for it.

Sprinting down the corridor, I hit the door to the stairwell at full speed. I take the stairs two at a time, not daring to slow long enough to look back. I can hear Chapel stomping up the stairs behind me. Where the hell is all the security in this place? A guard, a doctor, somebody to help me!

Leaving the stairwell on the main floor, I make a mad dash down the hallway there. Still no one in sight. Someone has to have seen me on the security cameras. Why isn't anyone trying to stop me, or Chapel, for that matter?

"Eeyah!" Skidding around a corner, I run full force into Jim. Grabbing onto his arms, I haul him up against the wall with me. "Oh, J-Jim! Oh, my god, he's over here!"

"Who? What?"

I peer around the corner toward the stairwell. There's no one there, and I'm hit with the sinking feeling that maybe I am delusional, that I dreamed that whole terrorizing Blair thing up. "Where'd he go?"

Jim takes the lead and walks into the other hallway. I follow him toward the stairway as he asks, "What's going on, Chief?"

I'm still hanging on his jacket, shaking with adrenaline. "Chapel. I'm not imagining this. He was just trying to kill me. Go look!"

Disentangling himself from my clutch, Jim walks toward the door. "All right, all right, I believe you. Take it easy." He opens the door.

"Be careful," I warn.

"I don't see or hear anything." He goes a little further down the hallway, then returns to where I'm standing, shaking his head.

Shuddering, I say, "Oh, man, maybe I am going crazy." Suddenly realizing it's well past visiting hours, I stare at Jim. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"We had another murder. The consensus was that you're in over your head."

"Well, I'll tell you what, I am down with that majority." I latch onto his jacket again. "Oh, god, get me out of here."

Guiding me toward the exit, Jim says, "All right, settle down."

I remember I haven't told Jim what I found out. "Oh! I know how he's doing it. He's using a special phone and he's tapping into the phone lines. I overheard part of the conversation. I don't know who he was talking to, but whoever it was sounded like they were getting ready to get out of town."

Jim looks over at me, his expression serious. "Which means if we don't unravel this soon, we may not get another chance. Come on." He breaks into a jog, and I trot after him out of the hospital.

~~~~~~~~

With another glance at my watch and a yawn, I continue pacing back and forth in front of the door to Jim and Blair's apartment. I know I should be home in bed, and I tried that, honest I did, but I couldn't make my mind shut off, couldn't stop imagining every terrible thing that could befall Blair inside Conover. Finally I got dressed and drove over here to discover no one's home. I don't know whether to be worried about that or not.

The sound of the elevator grinding to a halt at the end of the hallway reaches my ears. The door opens and Blair walks out first, wearing a jacket over his scrubs, his face turned back toward Jim. Despite my intention to remain calm, cool and collected, my relief overwhelms me, and I call out his name. "Blair! You're okay!"

His gaze turns toward me, his eyes widening in surprise. "Cassie? It's one a.m. What are you doing here?"

I go to meet him, tears stinging my eyes, too overcome for words.

"Cassie?" he asks again. "What's the matter?"

Instead of speaking, I throw my arms around his neck and just hang on. I feel his bewilderment, then he slides his arms around me as well and hugs back. "I'm fine, Cassie. I'm just fine."

Pulling back a bit to look at him, I say, "I was so scared, god, so scared. I--I dreamt Chapel killed you. It seemed so real, and I had to know for sure. That's why…that's why I came over. I had to know if you were okay…"

Jim's voice gently interrupts the moment. "Why don't we take this inside?"

For the first time, I notice the door to the loft is standing open. I untangle myself from Blair, keeping hold of his hand. I follow Jim through the door, gripping Blair's fingers tightly. He leans over to me and says softly, "Let go."

"What?"

"Let go so I can take my coat off."

Oh, right. I release my hold on Blair's hand, and he removes his jacket, hanging it up on the coat hook next to the door. As he turns back toward me, I can see the purple finger marks on his throat. The world drops out from under me, and I'm plunged into my nightmare again, Blair's lifeless eyes staring up at me accusingly, his skin a chilling white, save for the dark bruises on his neck.

*My fault…this is my fault…*the room spins around me, then everything goes black.

~~~~~~~~

"Cassie? Cassie? Oh my god!" Even though I'm standing right next to her, I'm too slow to catch her before she hits the floor. Dropping to my knees beside her, I'm hunting for a pulse as Jim rushes to help.

"God, Jim, what happened to her? What's the matter with her?" I ask frantically.

He checks her over quickly, then looks up at me. "She fainted; I'd say from exhaustion. She looks like she hasn't slept in days."

For the first time, I notice the dark circles under her eyes. "Jesus, Cassie…what should we do?"

"Let's get her into your room and in bed." Jim shakes his head as he helps me pick her up. "I should have seen this coming. She was damn near hysterical when I saw her at the crime scene earlier, demanded that I get you out of Conover."

Maneuvering through the French doors, we settle her carefully on my futon. "Well, she knew what she was talking about. If you hadn't shown up when you did…." I suppress a shudder. "Is she going to be okay?"

"She should be waking up any moment," Jim reassures, just as Cassie sighs and stirs. I sit down on the mattress next to her.

Blue eyes blink slowly open and she looks up at me, confusion on her face. "What happened?"

"You fainted," I answer with a smile. "Think you can sit up and we can get your coat off?" She doesn't answer, just leans up enough so that together we can remove it.

Jim heads for the door. "I'll leave you two kids alone. Yell if you need anything."

"We will," I answer. Once he's gone, I turn my attention to Cassie. She's leaning back against the pillows, biting her lip, her gaze locked on my neck. "What?"

Raising up a bit, she touches my throat gingerly. "Did Chapel do this to you? He hurt you, didn't he?"

Swallowing hard, I look to the side, unable to meet her eyes. "Yes." I'm not about to tell her I really thought I was going to die there for a moment, when my vision started to go all funky. "But I'm fine. Jim scared him off." I glance back to see tears running down her face.

She wipes at them hastily, apologizing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't mean to freak out on you. I…it's just been really, really hard. I thought it was bad when it was just my problem, when I was the only person Chapel was messing with personally. But now you're on his list too, and…I…I'm so tired of being scared. I can't eat, I can't sleep, and when I do sleep I dream, and that's worse." Shaking her head, she scrubs at her face with her hands. "It's late and you're probably exhausted. I should go home."

She makes a move to get up, but I stop her. "Cassie, you just passed out because you're so tired. You're not in any shape to drive home." I pat the futon. "You can sleep here, and I'll just be right through those doors on the sofa. Okay?"

She deliberates for a moment, then nods. Taking off her shoes, she lies down, and I cover her with a blanket. I start to leave, when she grabs my hand. "Stay with me, just until I fall asleep. Please?"

She scoots over, and I lie down next to her. Cassie wraps her arm around my waist, and leans her cheek against my shoulder. Kissing her forehead, I gently stroke her hair. She closes her eyes, and after a few minutes, I feel her relax. I decide I'll stay a little while longer, make sure she's really asleep, then I'll get up and go to the other room. While I'm waiting, I figure closing my eyes for a bit can't hurt. Within moments, I'm out.


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


The guard opens the gate, and I walk down the hallway to Chapel's glassed-in cell. It's early, barely six am, and the son of a bitch is lying on his cot, looking like he hasn't a care in the world. Well, I'm here to rattle his cage and put him on notice. "Hello, Warren."

He turns his head slightly toward me, but doesn't get up. "Do we know each other?"

"How'd you manage to get out of your cell last night? My guess is that it's somebody who works here."

I hear his heart rate speed up slightly, but when he answers me, his voice is calm. "You must be mistaken. I only go out of my cell for therapy sessions."

"Someone saw you, Warren."

Another spike in the heart rate, and his tone hints of restrained anger. "Who? That little weasel, Sandburg?"

I play dumb. "Who? Name doesn't ring a bell. You're killing people in my city, and I'm going to stop it."

As I walk away, I can hear him say, "Nice talking to you."

~~~~~~~~

When I get home, Blair's sitting on the sofa, going through what I recognize as the personnel files from Conover. From his room, I can hear the sounds of Cassie stirring. "She still here?" I ask, even though I know the answer.

Blair looks up at me with a smile as I head to the coffeepot in the kitchen. "Yeah, I woke up a while ago, but figured I'd let her sleep. She needs it."

I pour two cups of coffee and bring one to Blair, handing it to him over the back of the couch. I study the file he's reading over his shoulder. "You know, Chief, you're going above and beyond the call on this one. I mean, somebody else could be doing this work here."

He takes a sip of his drink, then shakes his head. "No. Uh-uh. I want this one. This guy, he tried to kill me, man." His gaze wanders to the still-closed French doors. "And he's got Cassie thinking she's losing her mind. It's all just fun and games to him, you know? I'm going to find out who he's calling."

I take a seat on the sofa arm. "Well, how's it going?"

Sighing, he says, "It's going pretty slow. I mean, these things are really detailed. Take this guy, Jed Harris. 'Draft pick, NFL third round. Injured his leg in a car accident. Ruined his career.' Even with all this extensive information here, I'm still looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack."

"Make that two needles: the one Chapel was talking to, and the one who let him out of his cell."

The door to Blair's room opens and Cassie appears in the doorway, yawning. "God, Blair, why'd you let me sleep in? I should have been at work hours ago. Captain Banks is going to be pissed." She notices me. "Hey, Jim."

Setting the files down, Blair gets up from his seat and walks over to her. "It's okay. I called Simon this morning, told him you were going to be helping Jim and me all day." He slips his arms around her waist and leans in for a kiss. When they part, he asks, "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Better. No more nightmares." She slips her hand behind his neck, and returns his intimate greeting.

I can see where this is going, and busy myself with reading over one of the files. A few minutes later, Blair sits down next to me again. I look up to see Cassie's disappeared, and I hear water running in the bathroom. After a bit, she reappears and heads toward us. I vacate the seat next to Sandburg and start for the kitchen. "Coffee?" I ask as I pass her.

"Yes, please, that would be great. Black." She sits down beside Blair and picks up one of the files. "These the personnel files?"

"Yep, a whole mess of 'em," he responds. "They're all checking out, though."

"I have two teams doing interviews," I say from the kitchen, "--friends, relatives…nothing out of the ordinary yet." I return to the living area and hand Cassie a mug. "Here you go."

"Thanks." She takes a sip, puts down the folder she was looking at and picks up another. "You guys, I think I know her. Her name wasn't Alex Walsh either."

I lean over the back of the couch to study the photo of a woman with her hair pulled back in a military-type bun. "Who is she?"

Cassie sets the file down and cradles the coffee mug in both hands, closing her eyes. "Okay, Chapel's first victim was a guy by the name of Luther Van Owen. He was a petty thief. He'd robbed and killed this gas station owner, and he walked on a technicality. The gas station owner had a sister. She'd just gotten out of the army. God, what was her name?" Frustration is apparent on her face.

"It'll come to you. Keep going," I urge.

She sighs. "Okay, okay, when Chapel was arrested and was put on trial, she was there every single day. She was absolutely fixed on this guy. God, *what* was her name?" Blair pats her knee, and her eyes fly open. "Janine! Janine Carpenter! That's it!"

Grabbing the file from her, I head toward the door.

"Jim, where are you going?" Blair asks.

"Down to the station. This is the first real break we've gotten in this case. Thanks, Cassie." She smiles at me, and Blair gives her a hug as I head out the door.

~~~~~~~~

After a couple hours on the phone, I've found out more than I want to know about our suspect. Catching up with Simon in the hallway, I fill him in. "Janine Carpenter was discharged from the army because of a psychological imbalance."

Simon shakes his head. I know what he's thinking--Cascade seems to be a magnet for all the nutballs in the world. "What was her specialty?"

"Communications. The army taught her how to shoot a gun, fight with her hands, and tap into phone lines."

The captain rolls his eyes. "'Be all that you can be.' All right, let's bring her in."

"Very good, sir." I head off to organize a strike team. Given her background, Carpenter can only be considered armed and dangerous.

~~~~~~~~

I pull the truck to a stop outside Carpenter's house. Other squad cars and the S.W.A.T van surround the building. I glance over at Blair as I adjust my headset radio, then make sure my vest is securely fastened. "This should be by the numbers, but just in case, keep your head down."

He looks a little alarmed, but says, "Thanks for the tip," as I get out of the truck. I check in with Simon, then direct the team to take their places.

When I'm sure everyone's ready, I key on my mike. "All right, let's move out. Go! Go!" Drawing my weapon, I lead the raid on the house, heading up the driveway while the rest of the squad approaches the house from all sides.

Without warning, all our best-laid plans go to hell. One of the heavily armored S.W.A.T. members steps onto the lawn, triggering an explosion. It sets off a chain reaction, and suddenly dirt and shrapnel and men are flying everywhere. There's nothing I can do but yell helplessly for them to get down, to get back.

In the midst of this is the roar of an engine as a lime green Volvo bursts through the closed garage door of Carpenter's house. It's coming straight at me and I dive out of the way, taking another officer with me. Rolling up to one knee, I squeeze off a couple shots to no avail. The car speeds away parallel to the line of cop cars. The muzzle of a gun protrudes from the driver's side window, and automatic weapons fire strafes the cruisers.

I take aim again, this time using my sight to draw a bead on the back of the car. I'm aiming for the rear tire, but the driver swerves and my bullet hits the gas tank. The explosion sends the Volvo into a roll. It comes to land on its roof.

I can hear Simon yelling about officers down as I trot toward the vehicle. For a moment, I entertain the notion that someone might still be alive. Then the second blast blows it apart.

~~~~~~~~

It's much, much later when I convene with Simon in his office. In the midst of directing the clean-up and transport of our injured to the hospital, he told me he received a phone call from Dr. Burke just as we started the raid, saying Chapel had escaped from Conover. With any luck, it was Chapel in the car with Carpenter.

I'm filling Simon in on what we found at the scene. "She had the whole perimeter mined. It's a miracle we didn't lose more men."

Banks nods, his expression grim. The loss of one man is one too many. "Amen to that. What about the bodies inside the car?"

"Wolf is trying to get some dental records on them. The heat and velocity of the explosion will make a conclusive ID nearly impossible."

"Yep. His report said he sent metal fragments over to Cassie's lab for analysis. There is one thing he is sure about, though: there was a man and a woman inside that car."

"We're going under the assumption that Chapel made it to the house before we did."

Leaning back in his chair, Simon pulls out a cigar. "Well, this whole thing probably has Cassie breathing a lot easier."

I shake my head. "I doubt she'll feel safe until she knows for sure. Chapel really did a number on her. She and Sandburg are at the loft now. I'm going to pick them up for a little late-night chow. You want to join us?"

He waves at the pile of paperwork on his desk. "Oh, no. I've got to wade through this. I'll take a rain check, though."

"You got it. Check with you later." I start to leave, but something he said nags at me. "Sir, did you say that Wolf sent metal fragments over to Cassie's lab?"

He gives me a puzzled look. "Yeah, why?"

"There's something I want to check out. I'll talk to you later." Exiting the office, I head downstairs to forensics.

Once inside the lab, I go looking for the evidence from Carpenter's house. Finding it lying out on one of the workbenches, I go through the plastic bags, looking for anything that seems like it doesn't belong. Finding the one containing the metal fragments, I open the bag and remove them. Rolling them around in my hands, I explore the texture. It's smooth and fine, not what I'd expect from an auto part. Bringing a piece to my nose, I sniff. Doesn't smell like steel. Smells like…Sandburg's glasses? His frames are made of titanium, which resists corrosion from skin oils and sweat.

Reaching for the phone, I dial Conover.

<Dr. Burke.>

"Dr. Burke, this is Jim Ellison."

<I was just heading out the door.>

I turn the shard of metal over in my fingers. "I need to know something. Did Warren Chapel have any major surgery where a bone would've been replaced by a titanium rod?"

<No.>

"You sure about that?"

<I'm positive. He had a complete physical examination when he got here. There were no surgical scars.>

I flash back to Blair reading aloud from the personnel files that morning. "There was a guard named Harris who was in a car accident. What about him?"

There's a pause, then he says, <Actually, as I remember, he had a hip replacement. It's interesting you should ask about him.>

"Why is that?"

<Well he never showed up for the night shift. Nobody seems to know where he is.>

If alarms weren't going off in my head before, they are now. "Thanks," I say, and slam the phone down. Chapel's alive and on the loose. And the first person he's going to go after is Cassie.

~~~~~~~~

Leaning against the counter in the loft's kitchen, I admire the view. Blair cleans up well. His back is to me as he adds coffee into the top of the coffee maker. "Cassie, you going to want some of this?"

I shake my head. "No, I don't think I want any more coffee. I'd like to be able to sleep tonight for the first time since this whole thing started."

Turning around, he comes over to me, resting his hands on my waist. "You sure sleeping is what you really want to do tonight?" He raises one eyebrow at me suggestively and I laugh.

God, it feels so good to laugh, good enough that I catch his face between my hands and kiss him. Blair kisses back, and for several moments the nightmare of the past few days is forgotten.

The lights go out.

I break away from him, panic seizing me. "Blair…"

"Just relax. It's probably just a fuse." As soon as the words are out of his mouth, the lights come back on. "See that?"

"Who reset the breaker? Blair, you've got to cut the power to disarm the security system."

Giving me a worried look, he grabs my hand and starts pulling me toward the hallway. "Get in the back, quick."

But before we can reach the door to the fire escape in his room, a figure dressed in black and wearing a ski mask steps through the French doors, the gun in his hand pointed at us. Reaching up, he pulls off the mask.

"Hello, Cassie," Chapel hisses.

~~~~~~~~

Speeding toward the loft, I'm arguing with dispatch over the radio. "The operator said the phone was out of order."

<We're waiting for the utility company.>

Damn it, I don't have time for this. Chapel's with Blair and Cassie right now! "I don't have time to wait. Now get me some backup! I'm almost there."

<All right. All units to 852 Prospect…>

I press the accelerator to the floor.

~~~~~~~~

Chapel forces me to tie Blair to one of the kitchen chairs, then he does the same to me. He tightens the ropes binding my wrists, then rests his gun on my shoulder as he presses his lips close to my ear. "You're getting to be a real nuisance, Cassie. You killed someone I cared about. She was an extension of me…and you tore her away."

"Your friend killed herself," Blair snaps.

Chapel turns his attention to Blair, moving to stand in front of him. "I don't think I was talking to you!" Without warning, he raises his arm and backhands Blair across the face. His head rocks back from the blow, but he doesn't make a sound. "I was right about you, wasn't I? You are Cassie's little friend."

Blair's tongue flicks out to taste his split lip. "Yeah, well, you remember my friend, don't you? He's coming here."

Grabbing a fistful of Blair's hair, Warren yanks his head back. Sticking the gun in his waistband, he wraps his fingers around Blair's throat. "That's what I'm counting on." He tightens his grip, and Blair begins to struggle.

"Warren, stop it!" I yell.

"Sorry, Cassie, I'm going to have some fun. I haven't had fun in a very long time."

Blair's choking and gasping, rocking the chair, all to no avail. When his eyes start to roll back in his head, Chapel finally releases him. Blair bends forward, his chest heaving.

"Warren, please, leave him alone. He's not part of this, not part of you and me."

He pulls Blair up by the hair again and punches him in the stomach. What little air was in Blair's lungs rushes out with a wheeze. "Oh, no. He's a part of this all right." He puts his foot on the bottom rung of the chair to keep it from moving, then strikes Blair in the face. He groans.

I'm straining at my bonds, tears running down my face. "Stop it! Stop it! Leave him alone. Please, please, Warren…"

He hits Blair again. Blood begins to run from his nose. "That's it, Cassie, beg. If you beg prettily enough, I might stop."

"Please, Warren, please," I cry. "I'll do whatever you want, just stop hurting him."

That seems to interest him, and he lets go of Blair, who moans and gags, spitting out blood.

Chapel walks over to me, taking my chin in his hand. "Tell me more, Cassie. What do you have to offer?"

Swallowing hard, I manage to whisper, "Why don't the two of us just take off, huh? Just me and you. You don't need Sandburg. What's the point in killing him? It's me you want."

Chuckling evilly, Chapel shakes his head. "That would be too simple. This is the best part of the game." Letting go of me, he goes back to Blair. "I'm going to work on your friends--" Grasping Blair's left hand, he takes hold of his little finger and yanks it back. The snap is loud as a gunshot, and Blair shrieks. "--and let you live with the memories, knowing that one day I'll visit you again." Chapel pulls his gun and begins to stalk through the loft. "So where's our hero?"

"Oh god, oh god. Blair…" I lean toward him. "Blair…" With an effort, he lifts his head to look at me. One eye is nearly swollen shut, and blood is still flowing from his nose and his lip. He blinks, and a tear slips down his cheek.

"So'kay, Casssie, so'kay," he whispers in an attempt to comfort me. It only makes me cry harder.

~~~~~~~~

Pulling up to the loft in the truck, I turn off the ignition and start to get out when I hear the sound of a fist meeting flesh, and Cassie's near hysterical pleading.

<Stop it! Stop it! Leave him alone! Please, please Warren…>

Cold rage flows through my veins. Starting the truck up again, I move it to underneath the fire escape. Jumping into the bed, I grab hold of the bottom rung of the ladder and pull myself up. Bypassing the exit into Sandburg's room, I continue up to my bedroom window. Raising it, I scramble over the sill.

Drawing my gun, I'm creeping across my bedroom when Blair screams. My icy calm turns to red-hot fury and without a second thought, I leap over the railing with a roar to land on top of Chapel. My weapon is lost in the impact but it doesn't matter. We struggle, Chapel managing to get off a few wild shots, before I pound his head into the floor.

"Jim! Jim! JIM! Stop! He's out! Stop! You have to help Blair!"

Cassie's words finally get through to me, and I let Chapel's limp body drop. Getting to my feet, I hurry to Blair's side. He's slumped in the chair, unconscious, his breathing ragged. Quickly I free him, easing him carefully onto the floor, using the sleeve of my shirt to clear the blood from his mouth and nose. "God, Chief, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."

A sob from Cassie makes me look up into her haunted eyes. "Is he…he's okay, right? He's going to be okay?"

Backup in the form of Simon and the S.W.A.T team picks that moment to break down the front door. "Medic!" I yell, "I need a medic over here!" Then I'm forced to vacate my spot next to Sandburg, to watch helplessly as the paramedics prepare him for transport to the hospital while Cassie sobs quietly in the background.

~~~~~~~~

Standing outside the door of Blair's hospital room, peering around the door jam, I gather up my courage and knock quietly. Even though he's lying on top of the covers, dressed and ready to check out, his eyes are closed, and if he's truly asleep, I don't want to wake him. His eyes open at the sound and he gestures for me to come in, then pats the space on the bed beside him.

I cross the small room slowly, not sure I'm welcome, but needing to see him one last time. He looks worse now than he did bleeding and choking on the loft's floor. The whole left side of his face is a mottled black and purple, his left eye only partially open. A splint is taped in place on his left pinky, and a black and blue mark from an I.V. needle mars the back of his hand. There are invisible injuries as well, two broken ribs, apparent only when he shifts against the pillows, then winces.

"Hey," I say softly.

He gives me a brilliant smile and pats the bed again.

"No, I shouldn't. I can't stay, and besides, I'll probably hurt you."

"Please?" he asks, his voice a hoarse whisper.

I sit down, my heart breaking. I don't want to do this, but better now, before he starts to really care. I'm far enough over that line for both of us.

His uninjured hand grasps mine, squeezing gently. It's a struggle to hold back the tears. "I can't stay long," I state.

Blair gives me a puzzled look, then says, "But I want you to stay. I've hardly seen you the past two days. Simon got you working overtime? After what we went through he should at least give you some time off."

I shake my head. "No, no, not working. I just needed to do some thinking."

He catches a glimpse of my reason for being here then, but chooses not to ask the question I know is on his lips. Instead he says, "Jim told me this morning that Chapel's being sent to another facility out of state. Bet you're glad the whole thing is finally over."

I look down at his hand in mine, running my thumb over his knuckles. "I'm sorry, Blair, but it's never going to be over. Chapel escaped once. There's no guarantee it won't happen again."

When I meet his eyes again, Blair seems to be studying me, staring into my soul. "You're leaving, aren't you? That's what you came to tell me, that's why you can't stay," he says, his voice roughened further with emotion.

I can only nod in reply.

He lets go of my hand to touch my cheek. "Cassie, this isn't the answer. If you start running now, you'll be running forever. Believe me, I know."

*I'll keep running the rest of my life, if it'll keep you safe.* But I don't voice those words aloud. Instead, I answer, "For me it is. You would have never been hurt if you didn't know me. Chapel knows what that did to me, knows how to hurt me through you."

"So what? You think if you're not here that he won't come after me? That's assuming he gets the chance to escape again. I don't buy it, Cassie."

Rising from the bed, I pace the floor. "If I'm not here, he doesn't have an audience, and that's what he wants most of all. He gets off on watching me watch you suffer. Don't you think I've thought long and hard about this? I have to leave, to disappear."

"Spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder?"

"Yes! If that's what it takes!" I wipe at the tears starting to fall.

Blair gazes at me sadly. "Then he wins."

"It's not about winning or losing, Blair. It's about me doing what I have to to keep myself, to keep the people I care about safe."

He's silent for a moment, then says so quietly I have to approach the bed to hear him, "Isn't there anything I can say to change your mind, to make you want to stay?"

"No," I reply firmly, but of course I'm lying. There's one thing he could say that would make me reconsider, but both of us know he's not ready for that yet, and I'm not going to ask him to lie to me. "I've made up my mind, Blair."

He considers that, then says, "Okay, I can respect that." Blair holds out his hand to me. "Can I at least give you a goodbye kiss?"

Nodding, I sit on the bed again. Putting his arms around me, he gives me a careful hug. I squeeze back gently, then kiss him tenderly on the lips. It's too short, and too soft, but I've already hurt him enough. "Goodbye, Blair." I leave the room and don't look back.

~~~~~~~~

Cassie's been gone maybe five minutes when Jim arrives to take me home. "Hey, Chief, you ready to go?"

I swing my legs over the edge of the bed. "Yeah, man, way more than ready."

Jim grabs me by my good elbow and gives me a lift up. "I saw Cassie's van in the parking lot, had a U-Haul attached to it. She moving?"

I laugh bitterly. "Yeah, right out of my life."

His eyes narrow, and if I didn't know Cassie was on her way out of town, I'd fear for her safety. "She dump you, Chief?"

The lump in my throat grows big enough that it takes a couple extra seconds to force the words past it. "No, not really," I reply sadly. "She's leaving out of guilt, mostly. She blames herself for what Chapel did to me. She has you beat in the guilt trip department, hands down." I smile up at him, trying to convince both of us that it's not a big deal.

Jim simply grunts noncommittally and grabs my small duffel bag.

But later, when we've ridden halfway home in silence, he asks, "Do you think there's anything I could have said to her to convince her to stay? You know guilt tripee to guilt tripee?"

I chuckle a tiny bit--anything more than that hurts. "No, man. Cassie had her mind made up. I maybe could have convinced her though, if I'd told her I love her."

Coming to a stop at a light, Jim glances over at me. "Do you?"

I shrug. "I don't know. I thought what I felt for her could turn into that, but I wasn't there yet. So I didn't tell her. Didn't want to say it, and have it turn out to be a lie, you know? She's been through enough, we both have. Better to quit now, before a breakup would be really painful."

"Hmm," is Jim's answer to that.

I have a feeling he knows I'm lying about the not being painful part.

~~~~~~~~

Sandburg's already in bed and long asleep when I make my round of the loft, checking to make sure the doors and windows are locked. I pause in the open doorway to his room and just watch him sleep for a moment. He's restless; he never wants to take enough pain pills to do more than take the edge off. The comforter slips halfway off the bed onto the floor, and I walk over, picking it up and tucking it around him again.

Cassie's not the only one with something to feel guilty about. I screwed up, big time. I did the one thing a cop should never do--I made an assumption with no basis in fact. The man in the car with Carpenter could have been anyone, yet I assumed it was Chapel, and that Blair and Cassie were safe from someone who had tried once before to kill them both. My mistake nearly cost them their lives.

Hell, it cost Blair someone he cared about. So what if he didn't love her? Didn't mean he didn't need her as a friend.

And I know what it's like to need a friend.

Pausing in the doorway as I leave, I whisper, "I'm sorry, Chief. I'll do better next time."


The end

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