Redhawke.org
Love Kills
Love Kills
by Gemini

Beta read by Lady Shelley and Dotty
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by Lydia Look
Story by J. Rae Fox
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

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


Jim Ellison held open the door of the Golden Pavilion so his friend, roommate, and unofficial partner, Blair Sandburg, could exit onto the sunlit sidewalk. Following him out, Jim let the door shut and took up a comfortable position walking at his side. They opened their fortune cookies and pulled out the slips of paper.

"Huh," Blair said. "'You will love and be loved by many.'" He looked at Jim with a smirk. "Well, mine's right. What's yours say?" He took a bite of the cookie.

Jim read his silently. *"Your charm and intelligence contribute to your success." Yeah, like Sandburg wouldn't tease me about that all day.* Keeping a straight face, Jim answered Blair. "'Your partner puts the "dim" in "dim sum."'"

Laughing, Blair said, "Did you think of that all on your own?"

Jim just grinned. He tucked the cookie and the paper with the fortune into one of his jacket pockets.

Blair launched into one of his many stories. "I had this friend. Every time he had to make a major decision in his life, he'd go to the same Chinese restaurant and get a fortune cookie. So one day, he gets offered this big job in New York and he goes to the restaurant and the place is closed. You'll never guess what he did."

While his partner was talking, Jim was scanning the stores, cars, and people around them. As always, the streets of Cascade's Chinatown were bustling. Jim glanced down at Blair as they walked; without warning, his shoulder bumped into someone. Turning immediately, he said, "Sorry. Oh, my God." He did a double take as he took in the features of the woman. "Lila!" He helped return the strap of her handbag to her shoulder from where it had slipped off.

The woman looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry," she said in a flat voice, shaking her head slightly. "I think you've got me confused with someone else." Her voice had a slight accent. She moved away from him, towards the street. "Excuse me." Turning towards the oncoming traffic, she waved down a cab. "Taxi! Taxi!"

Jim stared after her. *I know that's Lila, and I know she recognized me. Why is she pretending not to know me?* He felt confused and… betrayed? He was broken from his thoughts by Blair's voice.

"You know her?" Blair was staring after her.

"I thought I did," Jim said. He could hear the confusion in his own voice.

The woman got into the taxi. Jim focused his sentinel vision in on the cab's license plate, fixing the plate number in his memory. As the cab pull away, two blue and yellow squad cars approached, sirens screaming. Jim and Blair watched as they maneuvered around the corner right in front of them.

"What's going on?" Blair asked.

"I don't know," Jim answered. "Let's find out."

They jogged down the street toward the knot of cars, people, and flashing lights. Jim took in the myriad details with the speed and skill of long experience: a limo with a man's body in the back seat, slumped over, blood dribbling from a puncture wound under the left ear; a uniform standing nearby keeping the crowd away; dozens of people rubbernecking, hoping to see something they could share over dinner; the usual heavy traffic winding its way slowly through the crowded streets, parting reluctantly for the emergency vehicles that were descending on the scene.

With Blair close behind him, Jim approached the uniformed cop and identified himself, then moved to examine the body. The dead man had a clean-shaven head and was dressed in the garb of a Buddhist monk. Jim knelt next to the open door and, after putting on a pair of latex gloves, he double-checked for a pulse, even though his hearing had already told him the man was dead; he had to make it look good to those watching. Jim was inspecting the unusual, triangular puncture wound in the corpse's neck when he heard his partner swallow hard. He glanced over his shoulder. "You okay, Chief?"

"Yeah," Blair said, purposely scanning the crowd rather than examining the man with the hole in his neck. "I'm fine. How you doing? Senses okay?" The last words were spoken so softly that no one else could hear them.

"I'm good. If you want to wait by one of the squad cars, that's fine, Chief." Jim was back to inspecting the wound. He sniffed carefully. There was a faint odor that reminded him of the curare the Chopec in Peru had sometimes used on their arrowheads when hunting.

"No, I'm okay. I just won't look, if that's all right."

Jim glanced at him and smiled. "No problem."

Another uniform emerged from the crowd and started talking to the cop who had been standing guard over the scene when Jim and Blair had first arrived. Jim stood and moved over to the newcomer, glancing at his nametag. "I'm Detective Ellison, Major Crime. What's up, Morelli?"

"Two Buddhist monks were spotted fleeing the scene. I chased them, but lost them due to the denseness of the crowd. I last saw them heading west on Mitchell."

"Did you call it in?"

"Yes, sir. Dispatch has a couple squads looking for them."

"Okay, good. Can you identify them?"

The man took a deep breath and considered the question for a moment. "I don't know. I only saw them from the back, and at a distance. I'll do my best, though."

"Okay. I'll talk to you more later." Jim nodded at him.

"Yes, sir." Morelli seemed relieved to be released. Jim tried not to smile as the man joined his partner in keeping the now-dwindling crowd back. *It's okay, Morelli. I don't bite. No matter what you've heard.*

Behind him, Blair announced, "Hey, Jim, Simon's here."

The detective turned around as the captain stepped out of his car and approached them. "Break it down for me, Jim."

Jim followed Simon as he moved toward the limo. "Asian male, forties, no ID, sir."

Blair piped up. "He was a Buddhist monk"

Jim continued. "If you look below the left ear, there's a triangular puncture wound. I don't think that's what killed him, though."

Leaning close to the car and squatting down, Simon peered at the body. "Take a look at his color. Looks like he was asphyxiated." Simon tilted his head, examining the dead man carefully. "I don't see any bruises around the neck, though." He stood and looked at Jim.

"It's my guess that there was some sort of poison on the instrument that killed him," Jim said, "something that would cause a temporary muscular paralysis to constrict breathing. I detected a faint odor of curare from the wound. Also, there were two monks spotted fleeing from the scene."

Puzzled, Blair said, "This doesn't make sense to me. I mean, the whole core of the Buddhist belief system is nonviolence."

"Then why did they run?" Simon asked.

Blair shrugged. "I don't know."

~~~~~~~~

An hour later, they were back in the bullpen. The usual bustle and noise eddied around Blair as he sat in the chair next to Jim's desk. His partner was on the phone. Blair's attention was suddenly grabbed when Jim said, "That's right. She was picked up this afternoon by one of your taxis, license plate 0-7-8-F-G-E."

*Whoa, Jim, is something serious going on here, man?* He tilted his head and unabashedly continued to listen in.

"Uh, about 1 pm, in front of the Rice King Dim Sum House. Yeah. I'll hold." Jim covered the mouthpiece of the phone and looked at his partner. "What do you need, Chief?" The message couldn't have been clearer: This is none of your business.

Blair just grinned at him. "Nothing. I'm not saying anything."

"You don't need to say anything." Jim glowered at him.

"I'm good," Blair said, smiling.

Sighing, Jim said, "Her name is Lila Hobson. I met her when I was in Bali seven years ago, right after they pulled me out of Peru. I was on R&R. We stayed at the same hotel, got involved, end of story."

"How involved?" Blair asked with a grin. "*Not* end of story."

"We had one week together. One morning she just left. I tried to track her down, but I couldn't." Jim abruptly turned his attention back to the phone. "Yeah? Yeah, I know the Summit. Thanks." He hung up. "Got to go." He stood.

"You need some moral support?" Blair asked.

Jim shot him a smug look as he grabbed his jacket, then turned and left the bullpen.

Blair raised his eyebrows. "I guess that's a no." He took a sip of coffee.

~~~~~~~

The Summit Hotel was located in downtown Cascade. Jim found a parking spot a block away and walked to the hotel. There were a lot of people in and around the lavish building. He absently noted the signs advertising a convention, which explained some of the activity.

Entering the building, Jim scanned the lobby, hoping to see Lila. There was no sign of her anywhere, so he headed toward the line at the registration desk, slipping his badge out of his pocket. Trying to assuage his conscience, he thought, *It's not exactly a legitimate use of my police powers, but sometimes a man's got to do what a man's got to do….*

Just then he caught a scent he remembered from earlier that day: Lila's scent. He felt hope rising. Maybe this time he could make things work with her. Looking in the direction from which it came, he saw Lila's reflection in a mirror that adorned one of the walls of the elaborately decorated lobby. She was just disappearing around a corner. Slipping from his place in line, he followed her.

He turned the corner and hurried down the corridor. Lila had just reached the corridor where the elevators were located. She stopped and pushed the "Up" button.

Jim spoke. "Lila?"

She turned around and looked at him. After a long moment, she smiled and said, "Hello, Jim." There was no surprise in her manner or voice.

Relaxing slightly, Jim smiled. "Can I buy you a drink?"

"Sure." Lila smiled back and moved toward him.

They made their way toward the nearby hotel lounge. Jim held her chair for her. Lila smiled up at him as she sat down. A server came up and took their orders, then moved away toward the bar. Jim slipped out of his jacket and settled in the chair opposite Lila. He dropped a twenty for the drinks on the low table that squatted between them.

Jim sat back and allowed himself to drink in the sight of the beautiful woman across the table from him. She had the pale skin and long, dark red hair he remembered so well, and her wide-set eyes, which gave her an exotic air, still held promises and secrets that made him want to gather her in his arms, to hold and protect her forever. When she smiled, his heart beat faster and his body remembered the time they had spent together those many years before.

His attention must have made Lila self-conscious. After a couple minutes, she lowered her eyes to her hands, which were holding her bag in her lap. She glanced back up at him, and Jim came out of his dreamlike state, shaking himself slightly.

"I'm sorry. It's just been so long. And you're so beautiful." He smiled and was rewarded with a tinge of color that rose in her cheeks.

"Yes, it has been a long time, Jim."

"So, why did you act like you didn't know me?"

Stiffening slightly, Lila answered, "Well, I just wasn't prepared to see you. So, how've you been?"

The server returned with their drinks. She set them down on napkins, took the twenty, and drifted away.

"Good."

"You still in the military?"

"No. I'm a cop… here… in Cascade." Jim took a sip of his drink and set it down.

"Well, it seems to fit you well." Lila leaned forward, picking up her glass of wine and resting her elbow on her crossed knees.

"Yeah, most of the time." He watched as she took a drink of wine. "How about you? You still living in Amsterdam?"

"Yes. I sell textiles for a design firm. I'm here on business." Then she looked at him, regret written on her face. "Jim, I'm sorry I disappeared like that in Bali...without saying good-bye."

He looked at her sadly. "Yeah, I always thought it was something I did."

"Huh-uh." She shook her head. "It wasn't you."

*It wasn’t me. Maybe we *can* get back together, make it work.* The hope that had begun to grow earlier expanded, making Jim feel lighter and happier than he had in a long time. The good feeling was cut short, however, when a bright flash of light suddenly flared off Lila's face, burning into Jim's eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away, pain showing on his face.

"You okay?" Jim could hear the concern in Lila's voice.

Trying to sound in control, he replied, "Yeah. How long you here for?" He tried to will away the sensory spike. *Damn! What the hell caused that?!*

"'Til Friday." Her voice was hesitant.

*Probably not convinced that I'm all right. And for good reason,* Jim thought. "Maybe I could show you around a little bit... take you to some of the sights that tourists don't get to see." He sat back, blinking, as the sensory spike eased up. *Finally.*

"Well, actually, Jim, there is another reason I'm in Cascade. I'm here to meet my fiancé. He's down in San Francisco on business and he'll be up here the day after tomorrow." Lila's weak smile was almost apologetic.

*Fiancé? No….* Jim felt his heart fall to his feet. But he forced himself to smile and said, "Congratulations. When's the big day?"

"Well, I haven't actually set a date yet. We were thinking maybe the end of summer."

Another flash of light burst in Jim's eyes, followed by a sudden explosion of the sounds around him. Squinting, he rubbed his temple. He heard something being poured from one container into another, ice cubes rattling, a glass falling and liquid being spilled, all magnified a thousand times. The flare from a match being struck burst in his eyes like a miniature sun. He struggled desperately to control the painful spikes of light and sound.

Lila leaned toward him. "Jim? What's wrong? Are you ok?"

"Yeah. Yeah, um, sometimes I get migraines." *Or sensory spikes. Why now?*

"Is there anything I can do?" Lila asked.

"No. No. It'll be all right. I'm sorry. I'll see you later." He stood up, grabbed his jacket and made his way out of the lounge without looking back.

~~~~~~~~

Blair listened to Jim carefully as they walked into the bullpen. Jim had called him half an hour before, when his meeting with Lila had come to an abrupt and unsettling end. Blair was not used to hearing his sentinel sound so unnerved.

"It's like my senses went into overdrive. It lasted for about five minutes," Jim said, confusion and frustration in his voice.

"And then everything went back to normal?" Blair looked at Jim with concern.

"Yeah, pretty much." They had reached Jim's desk. Jim sat down and leaned over toward Henri, who was seated at his own desk. "Brown, you got the number of your florist?"

Henri looked over at Jim. He had an expression of sympathy on his face. "Oh, I'm sorry, man. Did somebody die?"

With a look of irritation, Jim said, "No, nobody died."

Laughing, Henri asked Blair, "Well, you mean he has a date?"

Blair smiled perfunctorily. He was more concerned about Jim's senses and safety than what the woman might think about Jim leaving suddenly.

"It's an apology thing," Jim said. Looking at Blair with a slight shrug, he said under his breath, "The way I stumbled out of that place, the girl must've thought I was nuts."

After scribbling the number on a piece of paper, Henri handed it to Jim. "Here you go."

"Thanks very much. You've been very kind," Jim said with only a trace of sarcasm.

The other detective turned back to his work with a wave of his hand and a grin.

Blair asked Jim in a quiet voice, "You sure that's all that happened?"

His eyes focused off in the distance, Jim asked, "You ever have one of those times where, with a woman, you know, if things had turned out differently she could've been the one?"

"Not really, but it sounds special," Blair said. He kept his tone light and mercilessly shoved thoughts of Maya, for whom he had indeed had special feelings, to the recesses of his mind and heart. They didn't hurt as much there.

"Why did I even bother asking you?" Jim asked with exasperation. He reached for the telephone and dialed the florist's number.

Blair openly listened as Jim placed an order for flowers to be delivered to Lila at her hotel. He grinned and waggled his eyebrows when he heard Jim request orchids. Jim saw Blair listening and made a face as he dictated the message for the card. "'Sorry I left so suddenly. Can we have dinner? Jim. 555-4167.'" After giving his credit card number and its expiration date, Jim hung up the phone.

Blair could sense a lecture coming on not listening in on private conversations--from his sentinel, of all people, who listened in on him all the time!--when Simon appeared at Jim's desk. *Saved by the captain,* he thought with an inward grin. "Ellison, a couple of patrol guys spotted those monks we're looking for down in Chinatown," Simon said. "They took off before we got a chance to question them. Why don't you two head down there, see if you can track this guy down?"

"Very good, sir," Jim said.

Blair stood and followed his partner out of the bullpen.

~~~~~~~~

Blair stared at the streets of Chinatown as they slid past the windows of the truck. While they had been searching for the monks, he had been searching for an answer to Jim's sensory spikes. He glanced at his partner as Jim finished his update to Dispatch.

"We just cruised Chelsea all the way to 98th. No sign of our suspect. We're going to be heading west on Mitchell. Over."

Blair said, "You know, that sensory spike...something had to cause it, right? Maybe it was something in the food. Maybe something in the air."

Jim glanced at him. "Well, it *could* be an allergic reaction. I've had them before."

"I hope for your sake that it is only a one-time thing. For me, I'd like to study it. I wouldn't mind it happening again."

"All for the sake of science," Jim said lightly, but with a touch of sarcasm. He suddenly slowed and then stopped the truck and looked past Blair. "Whoa, what do we have here? There he is."

Turning, Blair could see they had stopped next to Chiang Kai-Shek Park. One of the monks they had been searching for was slumped over on a park bench, apparently unconscious or dead.

Blair followed Jim as he got out of the truck. They hurried along the sidewalk and up several steps, and then over to the park bench where the monk sat, his head tipped to the left. Blair saw blood had run down from a wound under the monk's right ear. He moved behind the bench, and Jim moved to the front.

Jim slipped a latex glove over his right hand and checked the monk's pulse while he looked at the wound. "Same triangular puncture mark as the other ones. Yeah, this guy's gone. What is this?" Jim pulled something out of the man's right hand. He held it up and Blair could see it was a key. "1714."

"Locker number?" Blair suggested.

"Or a hotel room," Jim countered. He pulled a second glove on his left hand.

Blair noticed what appeared to be a beaded necklace lying on the ground near the monk's feet. "What's that?" He pointed toward the object.

Leaning down, Jim picked it up. He held it so Blair could see it, too.

Touching the necklace, Blair realized what it meant. "It's sandalwood beads." He looked at the dead man. "This guy's a Tibetan lama."

He watched as Jim took note of a black bead on the necklace. Jim touched it and rubbed his fingers together, asking, "What is this?" He sniffed at whatever was on his fingers then pulled his head back, as if alarmed. "Chief, you know what this is?"

Blair noticed that the lines of concentration on Jim's face were smoothing out. Jim started to sway. "Jim, are you all right?" Blair's voice rose in concern. He reached toward Jim, but wasn't close enough to catch him.

"Yeah, that's, um... " Jim fell against the bench and then slumped to the ground. He lay, unconscious, on the sidewalk.

Blair quickly moved around the end of the park bench and knelt next to him. "Jim.... Oh, my God. Jim... Jim!" He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. He laid the hand that wasn't holding the phone on Jim's arm to reassure both his partner and himself. As soon as the operator answered, he said, "Hello. I need an ambulance and backup at the northwest end of Chiang Kai-Shek Park, please. There’s an officer down. … Yes. I think he was exposed to some kind of substance. There’s also a DB here, so we’ll need someone to take care of the scene. … Uh-huh. Blair Sandburg. I’m an observer with Major Crimes." He looked down at Jim. "Oh, man, Jim, be okay!" he murmured, moving his hand until it lay gently along the side of Jim's face. As soon as the operator confirmed that an ambulance and squad cars had been dispatched, Blair shut off his phone and set it down.

Slipping out of his brown leather jacket, Blair folded it and carefully placed it under Jim's head. He checked to be sure Jim was breathing all right. Yes--evenly, but too slow. *It must be some kind of drug with a depressant effect,* he thought. *Where is that ambulance!* Blair raised his head and looked around quickly, then turned his attention back to Jim. His fingers sought out Jim's carotid artery. A slow but steady pulse reassured him.

"Come on, Jim, hang in there. I don't know what's on that bead, but you'll be okay. Just hang on," he pleaded. "The ambulance is on its way."

He again looked up, hoping to hear or see the rescue vehicle. *I should call Simon,* Blair thought. He grabbed his cell phone and hit the speed dial for the captain.

"Banks," came the familiar voice, moments later.

"Simon? It's Blair."

"Sandburg? Did you find the monks?"

"One of them. He's dead." He winced at the tenseness in his voice. "Then Jim smelled something on a bead from the guy's necklace and passed out--" The words all rushed out in one breath.

"What! Slow down, Sandburg. Is Jim okay?" Blair heard Simon's concern and pictured the tall captain rising to his feet behind his desk, frowning in response to his detective's--and friend's--unconscious state.

"I don't know." Blair knew he was starting to choke up. He heard the sound of approaching sirens. "Gotta go, Simon, the ambulance is coming."

"Sandburg! Where are you?" Simon demanded.

"Chiang Kai-Shek Park, northwest end. Hurry, Simon." Blair shut off his phone.

A squad car pulled up a moment later, followed by an ambulance. Two uniforms hurried up, taking in the scene in an instant. Blair quickly explained the situation. Then the EMTs ran up with their equipment and Blair was busy explaining to them what had happened. The uniforms set about securing the scene while Blair and the EMTs saw to Jim.


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


A dull throbbing in his head welcomed Jim back to consciousness. He heard a rhythmic beeping--*heart monitor,* he thought--and realized he must be in the hospital. He carefully opened his eyes. He saw Blair sitting next his bed, reading a book, his glasses making him look scholarly.

Jim groaned. "Oh, man…." He reached up with his left hand and rubbed his temple. He looked around the room at the various monitors and equipment.

"Hey.… Welcome back to the land of the living," Blair greeted him, taking off his glasses and sliding closer to him.

"What the hell happened?" Jim asked. He reached up with his right hand as well, massaging both temples in an attempt to reduce the throbbing.

"Well, you collapsed… from opium poisoning," Blair said, his voice and manner serious. "That stuff we found in the prayer beads turned out to be raw opium paste."

"It feels like my head was place-kicked," Jim said, wincing.

Blair stood and moved near Jim's head. "Put your arms down."

Dropping his hands back to his sides, Jim relaxed as Blair took over the massage of his temples. "Oh, that feels better, Chief." He closed his eyes and sighed with relief.

"My guess is that the sensory spikes you've been having put your senses into a heightened state, so sniffing that stuff was like… mainlining." Blair continued, his voice soft but still serious.

Jim opened his eyes when the hospital room door opened. Simon came in carrying a green file folder. "Hey, Jim, glad to see you're awake. How you feeling?" He shut the door.

"Terrible. Other than that, okay," Jim said with a half-smile.

"Hey, Simon," Blair said, turning enough to nod at the captain. He returned to his task. "I was just catching Jim up on the opium stuff."

Jim asked, "What was a Buddhist monk doing with opium paste?"

Opening the file folder, Simon replied, "We've gotten some info from the Hong Kong police on the two dead guys--the one in the car and the guy you found in the park. Both worked for an Asian drug cartel--the Shang Syndicate. The Buddhist bit was just to cover the smuggling routine."

Jim glanced up at Blair, remembering what he had said earlier. "Opium paste? And that gets processed into heroin. That's just what the city needs is another pipeline," he said grimly.

"I don't know too much about heroin, but there couldn't have been that much opium in those beads," Blair said contemplatively. He smoothed the flat of his hand across Jim's forehead a few times. "Better?" he asked his partner.

"Yeah, thanks, Chief."

Blair sat back down in his chair, one hand still resting on Jim's arm.

Responding to Blair's unspoken question about the opium, Simon said, "I'm assuming it was just a sample, which means they're here in Cascade to find another distributor."

"We've got to find that other monk," Jim said. "Where are my clothes?" He started to sit up, but fell back against the pillow when the room suddenly swirled and dipped around him.

Blair reached forward to keep him from getting up. "Jim! Stay still."

Simon said sternly, "The doctor wants you off your feet for twenty-four hours. I'm ordering you to go home. Rafe and Brown are checking out that key. If they find anything, we'll give you a call."

~~~~~~~~

It was nearly eight o'clock that night by the time Jim had been released and Blair had brought him home. Jim tried not to let his fatigue show as they walked off the elevator and down the hall toward the loft. *The last thing I need is Sandburg hovering over me all night,* he thought.

As if reading his mind, Blair said, "Hope you don't mind if I cut out on you tonight. I told Rebecca that I'd take her to the Fellini retrospective over at the university."

Trying not to let his relief show, Jim replied, "No, not at all. No, you guys have fun."

They stopped at the door. Jim saw a long florist's box lying next to it. He picked up the box, knowing what it meant. He tried not to let his disappointment show.

"What's that?" Blair asked.

"These are the flowers I sent Lila." Jim looked at them for a long moment then handed the box to Blair. He turned to unlock the door.

"Well, hey, uh... what do you say Rebecca and I, we just rent a movie," Blair said in a cheerful voice. "We come back over here, we hang out, maybe cook some popcorn…."

"You guys go have fun. Why don't you give the flowers to Rebecca?" Jim tried to sound nonchalant. What he wanted most was for Sandburg to leave, so he could be alone with the pain in his head and the ache in his heart. He went into the loft and shut the door, leaving Blair standing in the hallway holding the box of orchids.

~~~~~~~~

Twenty minutes later, Blair pulled up to Rebecca's apartment building and parked. After checking to make sure the card for Lila wasn't in the box of flowers, he exited the car. Holding the box of orchids, he walked with a light step up to the security locked door and pushed the button for apartment number 10. When the buzzer sounded, he slipped inside and climbed the stairs to her door.

"Hi, Blair." She was waiting for him, the door open. "Come on in."

"Hey, Rebecca. Wow, you look fabulous." Blair ran an admiring eye over her. Her short blue dress and strappy sandals complemented her tall, slim figure. She had a winning smile, and her shoulder-length, swingy light brown hair and her sparkling eyes reflected her enthusiastic, fun-loving personality.

"Thanks. I knew there was a reason I wanted to go out with you," she said teasingly, giving him a quick kiss.

He returned the kiss, and handed her the flowers. "Here, these are for you."

"Wow. Orchids? Oh my God, Blair." She opened the box and looked at them in amazement. "They're stunning. How did you…? Thanks. No one's ever given me orchids before." She gave him a big smile then said, "I'd better put these in the fridge so they stay fresh while we're gone."

"Okay." Blair grinned at her as she hurried into the small efficiency kitchen and found room for the flowers.

She kept one flower out. "Ready to go?"

"Yup. We've got about thirty minutes." Blair smiled at her. Then he leaned forward and brushed the back of his hand along her cheek. "The flower is almost as pretty as you." He kissed her, gently. "But not quite."

Rebecca blushed. She laughed and shook her head. "I can't believe I'm actually blushing."

Blair grinned. "Just makes you prettier." Dodging a playful swat, he said, "Shall we go?"

"Let's." Rebecca smiled happily as she locked up the apartment, holding the single orchid.

~~~~~~~~

Blair had obligingly taken the hint and left. Jim wandered into the loft, ending up at the balcony doors, where he stood for a long time, staring out over the city. Finally, fatigue and thirst drove him to action.

After hanging up his jacket and getting a bottle of water out of the fridge--no beer for a while, thanks; beer and opium don't mix well--he went over and settled on the couch. Fumbling for the remote, he turned the television on.

Sit-com.

~flip~

Real-life cop show. He watched for a few minutes, but all the yelling gave him a headache.

~flip~

History of blenders.

~flip~

Infomercial.

~flip~

B movie.

~flip~

He continued flipping through all 80 channels. Nothing caught his interest. Sighing, he turned the television off.

Jim stood and wandered over to the balcony doors again, this time opening them and stepping outside. It was a little chilly without a jacket, but his city called to him. He stood there for close to an hour, watching and listening to Cascade. He thought about Lila, and Bali, and what might have been. A part of him ached for that "might have been."

Finally, he went back inside and prepared for bed. Exhaustion had caught up with him and he hoped he would be able to rest.

~~~~~~~~

Jim felt himself rousing from a deep sleep. There was knocking on the door. It was repeated a moment later. He opened his eyes, pushed back the covers, and sat up. It only took him a moment to slip on his robe as he moved smoothly down the stairs.

It was a surprise, and yet it was not, when the opened door revealed Lila.

"May I come in?" she asked, gesturing slightly.

"Yeah. Sure, come on in."

She moved in and Jim closed the door behind her.

"The orchids you sent me were beautiful," Lila said as she moved across the room.

"Is that why you sent them back?" Jim asked sardonically.

"No. Why did you come to see me at my hotel?" She was standing near the balcony doors, looking out over the city.

Jim walked over to join her. "Why did you come here tonight?" he countered.

She huffed out a tiny breath and shook her head. "I shouldn't be here. I just.…" She turned and walked to the door. She opened it, then looked back at Jim.

"No. No, you're just going to keep running, huh? Just like in Bali," Jim asked, his voice heavy with sarcasm.

Lila closed the door and leaned back against it. Longing and confusion were in her eyes as she looked at him. "What do you want from me? Hmm? What do you want? I'm engaged, okay? I'm engaged."

"You're here." Jim paused for a moment, then tried to explain what he was feeling. "What went on between us before -- maybe I'm idealizing, I don't know, but I can't get it out of my head." He felt incredibly vulnerable at that moment. He didn't normally tell people things like this. But this seemed important. *Lila* was important.

"That was a long time ago, Jim." Lila's voice was low. The longing that had been in her eyes was now in her voice. "The truth is, we... we barely know each other."

"So?" Jim knew that same longing was in his voice, his eyes, in every movement of his body.

"So what if you don't like what you find?" Lila asked as she walked slowly toward the center of the room.

Jim moved over to stand behind her. After a long moment, he said, "I'll take that chance." He reached up and gently slipped her coat off her shoulders. She did not resist.

After Jim laid her jacket aside, Lila walked over to look out the balcony windows again. "My parents died when I was ten. They had no money. Nothing. So I lived on the streets."

Jim stood behind her, listening quietly.

"I stole clothes... food... anything to stay alive," she continued. "As I got older, I... I did some things -- things I'm not proud of."

"Lila..." Jim gently turned her to face him. "I don't care who or what you *were.* I'm interested in who you *are.*" His hand stroked her hair gently. He leaned forward to kiss her. Another sensory spike of light flashed off her face. Jim squinted and backed away.

"Jim?" Lila asked.

"Sorry. My head," he said. He reached up to massage his temple.

"Come, sit down." Lila led him to the couch.

A few minutes later, Jim was sitting on the couch and Lila was in front of him. She had started water for tea. He had his eyes closed.

Tentatively, Lila reached up and started rubbing his temples. "May I?"

"Mm, feels good." Jim sighed as the headache started to loosen just a little.

After a while a whistle began building in the teakettle. Lila stood and hurried to catch it before it got too loud. She set the tea to steep, bringing it over to the coffee table. Folding herself neatly beside Jim, she continued her massage.

When the tea was ready, she offered it to Jim, who had a sip. Deciding it tasted good, he had another.

"How are you feeling?" she asked. "Any better?"

"Hmm.… Maybe a little," he murmured.

"Maybe you should see a doctor." Concern was obvious in Lila's face and voice.

"No. No, I've seen a doctor. It's just... job stress."

"Well, maybe you just... need to relax a little more." Lila's voice became sexier as she said the last.

"Hmm.…" Jim looked at her, thinking of what he would like to do to relax right now. As if reading his mind, she leaned forward and their lips met. After a brief, tender kiss, he pulled back. "What about your engagement?" he asked reluctantly.

She kissed him again. Then, releasing him for a moment, she whispered, "What about it?" She placed her lips against his. Accepting the invitation, he kissed her deeply. His arm slipped around her and she sighed, relaxing into his embrace. Things progressed in pleasing ways and, by mutual consent, Jim eventually led her up the stairs to his bed.

~~~~~~~~

The warmth of the body he held in his arms brought Jim to consciousness. He woke and smiled at Lila, stroking her arm gently with one hand. She stirred, murmuring softly. Then her eyes drifted to the clock on the nightstand.

"Oh, my God," she said. "I'd better go." She slipped out of bed and began getting dressed.

A couple minutes later, Lila was heading down the stairs, dressed and ready to go. Jim followed her down, carrying his pants. He crossed the room after her, hopping as he tried to walk and put on his pants at the same time. He noted absently that most of the symptoms of his opium "hangover" seemed to be gone.

"Let me drive you. The truck's right downstairs."

"No, that's okay. Thanks, Jim. I'll just take a cab," she said distractedly over her shoulder as she headed toward the door.

"You'll do nothing of the kind," Jim said. "I'll get the truck warmed up and--"

Just then, the door to the loft opened and Blair came in. He raised his eyebrows as he took in the scene: Lila shrugging on her coat, and a half-dressed Jim hurrying after her.

"Hey, Chief," Jim said, not losing a beat.

"Hey. Morning." Blair responded.

Jim finally finished buttoning his pants. "Uh, Blair Sandburg, this is Lila Hobson."

"Hi." Lila barely nodded at Blair as she finished putting on her coat.

"Hi," Blair said, with an amused expression on his face.

"Uh, Jim, I really have to go," Lila said.

"Oh. All right. Here." He handed her a twenty. "I could call you a, uh... a jet or something." He looked at her, wanting to help somehow.

"No," she insisted. She kissed him briefly.

"Let me get that." Blair opened the door for her. "Nice meeting you."

Lila left and Blair closed the door, then he turned to Jim, chuckling softly. "So I guess the orchids worked."

"For you?" Jim shot back. He slipped into his robe.

"Oh, yeah. How you doing?"

Jim walked to the refrigerator and opened it, pulling out a pitcher of water. "Ah, I'm all right. I had one of those sensory spikes again last night. My head's still kind of funny." After setting the water on the counter, Jim rubbed his forehead, wondering if the lingering traces of the headache showed on his face.

Blair's expression turned to one of concern. "Really?" He followed Jim into the kitchen. "You know, that makes me wonder. Both times you've had these sensory episodes, you've been with Lila. What are the possibilities of you being in love?"

Pausing in the process of pouring himself a glass of water, Jim gave him a look that could freeze fire. "You come up with that all by yourself, did you?"

"No," Blair retorted. "I'm serious here. What's the old adage -- when you're in love, the sky seems bluer? Maybe in your case, that's the truth."

"Let me off the couch, Dr. Ruth," Jim said sarcastically, "and help me find some aspirin." He finished pouring his water and set the pitcher down on the counter.

"All right," Blair said congenially as he pulled the aspirin bottle out of a drawer. "So, uh, Jim... Last night... after you had the sensory episode, were your senses still heightened when you were, uh... you know?" Jim gave him a dirty look. "No. I'm serious," he said enthusiastically. "Give me some details and be specific. It's for my book."

"You want photos?" Jim teased dryly. He walked past Blair toward the living room, carrying the aspirin and glass of water.

With mock incredulity on his face and exaggerated hope in his voice, Blair asked, "You took pictures?"

Jim huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes at the younger man, who grinned back at him.

~~~~~~~~

Later that morning, Jim hauled the suitcases H and Rafe had brought him into Simon's office. They had followed up on the key he had found in the hand of the dead monk in the park while he had been in the hospital. These two suitcases were the result of their efforts. He had thanked them for their help after they had briefed him. They had returned to their own cases.

Now, he, Simon, and Blair were going to see if there was anything useful for the case in the monk's luggage. Hands sheathed with latex gloves, Jim opened one suitcase lying on the table in Simon's office. Simon opened the other, as Blair looked on.

"The key we found in that monk's hand came from the Hotel Devonshire. H and Rafe tossed the room pretty good, but all they found were these two suitcases," Jim said.

"I guess that would be the 'monk-key.' Right?" Simon punned.

There was a moment's silence. Then, "Yeah." Jim made a face.

"Ho, ho," Simon said, with one eyebrow raised. "What's this?" He held up a wrapped condom he had pulled out of the suitcase. "Didn't someone tell these guys that monks are supposed to be celibate?"

"Maybe they're looking for a religious experience," Jim said with a slight smirk. Looking back in the suitcase he was searching, he picked up a CD case labeled "Useless Information." He turned it over. There was a picture of a bespectacled "melon head" on the back. "What is this?"

"Oh, that's a computer trivia game," Blair said. "I've played it. It's actually pretty cool."

Jim said, "The hotel manager said the victims didn't speak English. And I don't see a laptop computer here."

"Then what are they doing with that?" Simon asked.

"That's a good question. It says it's from Melonhead Software, Cascade, Washington."

"Yeah, Melonhead Software. It was started by a guy named Boz Tate." Blair gestured with one hand. "He's one of those 20-something-year-old computer geniuses, started in his basement, but now he's actually got an industrial building down on the Marina."

Simon looked at Blair. "You know this guy?"

"I just heard of him, you know."

Jim caught Simon's eye. "I think it might be a good idea for us to have a chat with Mr. Tate."

"You're reading my mind," Simon replied.

~~~~~~~~

A couple hours later, Jim ushered Boz Tate, a tall, slim, dark-haired man with wire glasses, into the bullpen and indicated he should take a seat next to Jim's desk. Blair perched on a nearby desk.

Simon had apparently seen them come in; he walked over and introduced himself. "Thanks for coming down to talk to us, Mr. Tate," Simon said.

"Please. I'm happy to cooperate, although I'm not exactly sure... what you want to ask me," Tate said.

Simon nodded and headed back to his office.

*He seems somewhat nervous,* Jim thought. *The question is, is he simply a bit nervous talking to the police, as many people are, or does he have a good reason for being nervous?* Deciding to provide more stimuli for nervousness and see what happened, Jim presented pictures of the two dead monks to Tate. "Have you ever seen these two men before?" Tate's heart rate increased noticeably.

"No. Why?" He was trying to keep a calm exterior, but failing rather miserably.

"They were both murdered within the last 24 hours."

"Really? Well, they're total strangers to me." His heart continued to pound faster than it had initially.

*Hmm. Strangers, huh?* Jim thought. *Okay, let's increase the pressure another couple notches.* "Their passports identify them as being from Hong Kong. According to the State Department, you've been to Hong Kong four times in the last year." Jim kept his voice calm, his expression neutral. He watched Tate closely and continued to monitor the man's heart rate and respiration.

"I've also been to Tokyo and Singapore. I go there to recruit talent. There's a shortage of qualified American programmers." The man's respiration and perspiration had both also increased. He looked back and forth between Jim and Blair. With a weak smile, he said, "Look, I'm really sorry, but I have to get back to work. We're releasing more 'Useless Information' next week." He made quotation marks with his fingers in the air as he spoke. "So you can well imagine, we're racing to meet the deadlines. Good luck with your investigation." He bolted to his feet and held out his hand to Jim, who shook it.

"Take care," Blair said mildly.

"Hey. Later," Tate said. Then he almost ran to the door of the bullpen and disappeared into the hallway.

Blair watched him leave, and then moved to the chair Tate had just vacated. He asked, "He seem a little nervous to you?"

Glancing over his shoulder in the direction Tate had gone, Jim replied, "Either he just got finished running a marathon or he's lying through his teeth. His heart was about to kick a hole in his chest."

"Do you think that was because he was talking to a cop?" Blair asked.

"That doesn't explain that odor," Jim said, a slight furrow between his eyebrows.

Looking slightly surprised, Blair turned to look at his sentinel. "What odor?"

"Chemical odor," Jim said grimly. "The kind they use in processing opium."

~~~~~~~~

Jim hurried up the main stairs inside the Summit hotel. He had made his excuses to Blair and was hoping to take Lila to lunch. He smiled as he saw her coming down the stairwell.

"Jim." She looked startled to see him.

"Hi," he said. "I was just in the neighborhood. I thought we could have some lunch."

Lila looked around, somewhat nervously, Jim thought. "Oh, well, this really isn't a good time, Jim. I'll have to call you later, okay?"

She turned and hurried off in the direction from which she had come. *What is going on? Why is she acting like this?* Curious, Jim followed her. He sensed someone behind him, following him, but before he could turn to see who it was, he rounded a corner and saw Lila at the top of another set of stairs.

"Well... Lila..." he stammered awkwardly.

Turning, Lila said, "Jim..."

Just then, another visual sensory spike overwhelmed Jim. He winced, trying to get control over the sudden pain.

Lila said, "Oh, Jim, I just can't..." Then she stopped. Jim heard her hesitantly say, "Are you all right?"

As Jim was struggling with the sensory spike, the person who had been following him came around the corner and attacked him. The man hit him from behind, using doubled fists to punch at the junction where Jim's right shoulder and neck met. The strike stunned the cluster of nerves there, causing a temporary paralysis of his mind and body. The man backed away, clutching at Jim's jacket. Jim struggled to pull away. The attacker got in several good blows. Jim tried to fight back, getting in a couple punches, but was at a disadvantage because of the sensory spike and the initial, stunning blow to his neck. Finally, the man swung a foot around in a savage kick, getting him in the head. Jim went down, slumping on the steps. He could sense the man preparing to strike again. He lay, helpless, against the oncoming attack.

Then Jim heard Lila hurrying down the stairs while speaking sharply in Chinese. She and the attacker exchanged a few words in Chinese, then both left.

Jim lay bleeding on the stairs of the hotel, gasping for breath and trying to gain control over the pain and his anger.


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


At one o'clock, Blair was eyeing the red spot on Jim's face with undisguised curiosity as he stood with his partner in Simon's office. Jim had refused to tell him what had happened, but Blair was pretty sure it had something to do with Lila. Jim was talking, so Blair focused his attention on what he was saying.

"They were killed with a weapon with a triangular blade, dipped in a toxin similar to curare," Jim explained, waving the folder Blair had retrieved from Forensics during lunch.

"But it's from a plant in Southeast Asia," Blair added, "which would suggest our killer is from the same geographical area as our victims."

Simon asked, "Where does that leave us with Boz Tate? Washington isn't the Far East."

"We've got him under surveillance, Captain. But I've checked with some of my snitches, and it looks as though Monk Number Three has gone to ground." Jim was acting like his usual, confident cop-persona.

"We got to find him before the killer does," Simon stated, frowning.

"We're going to do our best, sir," Jim said.

Tilting his head as he examined the red mark on the left side of his detective's face, Simon asked, "Jim? What happened to your face?"

*Yeah, Jim, I'd like to know that, too,* Blair thought.

"Just a little misunderstanding, Simon. I'll catch you later. Let's go, Chief." He turned and left Simon's office.

*Misunderstanding.* Blair snorted silently as he stood to follow his partner out of the office.

Simon spoke up. "Sandburg, hang on a second. Shut the door."

Blair paused, glancing after Jim. He really didn't want to be left alone with Simon. Who knew what kinds of things the man might ask him? Sometimes it was hard, trying to know how much he could tell Simon without risking hurting Jim. But he didn't really have much choice about talking to Simon right now, did he? He shut the door and turned toward the captain.

Frowning slightly, Simon asked, "What's going on with Jim?"

Blair looked out through the windows of Simon's office toward Jim, then back toward Simon, thinking furiously. *What can I say? What can I say?* "Uh... nothing." Blair said. *Oh, great obfuscating there, Sandburg.*

"Blair, you're an awful liar," Simon said shaking his head slightly and chuckling softly.

"Um, well, there is something going on with his senses." *Maybe honesty is the best policy here.* "I mean, all of sudden, they're just going haywire and he's seeing this new woman and I think they're somehow connected." *Minimal honesty, anyway.*

"Connected how?" Simon asked. "You think it's maybe like with that woman; what was her name? Laura? With the pheromones?" The captain's eyes narrowed slightly.

"I don't know yet, sir." *Well, that's the truth.*

Simon studied him for a long moment. "All right, keep me informed."

*Whew.* "All right, I will." He left the office, trying not to look too eager to escape.

~~~~~~~~

Jim glanced up as Blair walked out of Simon's office. Before he could grill his friend on what Simon had wanted, his phone rang. He reached out and snagged the receiver. "Ellison."

"Jim, it's Lila. Can we meet and talk? Please."

"Where?" Jim asked.

"There's a Chinese garden by the Art Museum." Lila said. "Meet me there in half an hour."

"All right." Jim hung up the phone. Turning to Blair, he said, "Chief, do me a favor?" He handed Blair a hangar on which hung the jacket he had been wearing when he had been attacked at the Summit Hotel; the jacket was covered with a plastic bag. "Run this over to Forensics. See what prints they can pull off the lapel." *Two birds with one stone,* Jim thought grimly. *I can get the search started on who attacked me at the hotel, and keep Sandburg from tagging along at the same time.*

Blair looked at the object in the bag. "Isn't this your jacket?" he asked, confusion on his face and in his voice.

"And put a rush on it." Jim left the bullpen without another word.

~~~~~~~~

The elegance of the Chinese garden served as a backdrop for Lila where she stood, waiting. The pond encircling the red gazebo reflected the white walls and red railing of the building on the other side of the water and the yellows and light greens of the various trees and bushes surrounding it. The beauty of the setting made Jim wish he had other reasons for meeting Lila here.

When he joined her, he asked quietly, "Would you mind telling me what's going on here?"

She looked at the mark on his face, reaching out to touch it gently. "Oh, my God, Jim. I'm so sorry."

He pulled away from her touch and looked past her. He didn't want her sympathy; he wanted honesty. "Just talk to me." He returned his gaze to her when she began talking.

"My fiancé is very wealthy." Lila turned away from Jim and moved to look out over the large pond. "You see, the fear of kidnapping is very real to us." She glanced over her shoulder at Jim. "That man who attacked you, Lo, is his bodyguard. He thought you were assaulting me." Turning, she walked toward Jim again, her body language pleading for him to understand. "He was just trying to protect me."

"I just wanted to talk to you," Jim said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I should throw him in jail for assaulting a cop." He was amazed that Lila seemed to think it was justifiable for this bodyguard to attack people for no reason.

"He didn't know you were a policeman, Jim," Lila tried to explain.

"So he just goes around and whacks people who come close to you, huh?" Jim could hear the amazement in his voice. He backed away a step. "This is nuts. I must be out of my head. I don't know what I think about sometimes. You've got a fiancé and--"

Lila put her fingers on his lips.

He moved her hand away. "Maybe we should just leave it the way it was," Jim said bitterly. "Take care of yourself." He turned and left her standing alone.

~~~~~~~~

Jim returned in time for the interrogation of the third monk. Having forced his mind squarely back on the case, he remembered to get the Melonhead CD from Evidence so he could bring it with him. He intended to confront the prisoner with it. He swung by the bullpen to grab Blair, who was waiting impatiently for him.

By the time Jim and Blair entered the observation room Simon was already there. They watched through the one-way glass as the third monk, younger than the two who had been killed, but similarly dressed in Buddhist robes, sat in the interrogation room. Officer Chou stood next to him, speaking with him in Chinese.

After glancing over his shoulder and acknowledging their presence, Simon said dryly, "Now, this is what I call fine police work. An hour ago, Monk Number Three walks in off the street, turns himself in."

"Just like that," Jim said, looking thoughtfully at the man in question. "Why?"

Simon looked at the detective, one eyebrow raised. "What? Are you kidding me? He's scared, afraid he's going to end up like his buddies, wants us to keep him alive."

"What's his deal?" Blair asked.

"Well, he and the man we found in the park were brothers. The first victim was their partner. Now, he," Simon nodded at the monk sitting in the interrogation room, "didn't see who the killer was, but he's certain that they were sent by the Shang Syndicate."

"Why are they killing their own people?" Jim asked.

Simon snorted. "Well, these yo-yos decided they were going to go into business for themselves. They set up a private deal with one of the syndicate's distributors here in Cascade but, of course -- surprise, surprise -- the syndicate found out about it and sent in a hit man to take them all out."

"Hmm," Jim responded thoughtfully, absently tapping the Melonhead CD, encased in a plastic evidence bag, against his palm.

"Shall we?" Simon asked, gesturing toward the door.

"Hmm," Jim repeated.

~~~~~~~~

They walked into the interrogation room.

The monk looked up at the interlopers with raw fear in his eyes.

Jim held out his hands in a placating motion. "Tell him we're not here to hurt him," he said to Officer Chou.

The translator spoke quickly.

The monk relaxed a little, but remained vigilant, his eyes darting back and forth between the three newcomers.

"I'm Detective Ellison. I'm trying to find the people who want to kill you."

Chou translated as Jim spoke. As he listened, the monk studied Jim's face.

Jim set the CD on the table and pointed to Tate's picture, which was printed on the back of the case, next to the "melon head." Turning to Officer Chou, Jim said, "Ask him if this is his distributor."

Chou repeated the question in Chinese.

The monk became excited, nodding, smiling eagerly, and replying in what was obviously a positive manner.

Jim straightened, picked up the CD and turned to Simon, who had a satisfied look on his face. Simon said, "I'll call Judge Perlman for a search warrant."

"Thanks, Chou," Jim said to the officer as they left.

~~~~~~~~

Four weary hours later, Jim could see Simon was on the phone in his office. Not wanting to disturb him if it was a personal or private call, Jim turned up his hearing for a moment, just long enough to determine whether or not to wait before interrupting.

"Believe me, Commissioner, we're doing everything we can.," Jim heard Simon say. "Our search of Melonhead Software turned up a chemical lab that's used to process heroin."

*Hmm, doesn't sound too private or urgent. In fact, I bet Simon would appreciate being interrupted.* Jim grinned and raised his hand to knock.

"No, sir," Simon continued. "No. Tate was not there. He must have gotten wind of our bust and took off. We believe he's trying to leave the country." Jim knocked on the door. He could hear Simon say, "Hang on a second, sir…. Yeah, come on."

Jim stuck his head in. Simon was looking at him from behind his desk, his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, a questioning look on his face.

"Excuse me, Captain. I got word from a forger who owes me a favor. Tate is picking up a fake ID and passport tonight in an alley behind the Red Dragon Club in Chinatown. I'm on my way there, sir."

Simon nodded. "Great."

Jim ducked back out the door and closed it behind him. As he moved across the bullpen, he heard Simon's voice as he continued his conversation. "Good news, Commissioner. Tate should be in custody within a few hours."

Jim just hoped he could fulfill Simon's prediction.

~~~~~~~~

It was dark in the alley at this time of the evening. Garbage spilled out of dumpsters and trashcans, and graffiti littered the walls. Light from the few streetlights that still worked glinted off puddles that lay, stagnant, amid rotted cardboard and potholes. Rustles in the darkness suggested the presence of others, either two- or four-legged, in the area.

Jim hunched down, leaning back against the trashcan he was using as his backrest. Speaking into the walkie-talkie he held, he said, "This is Ellison. All units are to remain in position until I notify you."

Blair, who was sitting next to him, shifted uncomfortably. "These clothes are *nasty,*" he said, plucking at the offending garments irritably. "Where'd they come from anyway?" He and Jim were both dressed as bums as cover for their surveillance duty. Tate was due to pick up his fake identification in this alley, and they were there to catch him.

"You don't want to know," Jim said, enjoying Blair's discomfort.

Scratching and wiggling, Blair said, "Ooh. Oh, man. I think there's something moving in here."

"It'll help you get into character," Jim said mildly.

"I'll tell you something -- my character dresses better," Blair retorted.

A newer-model sedan turned into the alley.

"Hold on," Jim said. He focused his sentinel vision in on the driver and verified that it was Tate. Speaking into the walkie-talkie, he announced quietly, "Our man is here."

Tate got out of his car and walked around toward the front of the vehicle.

"All units, be prepared to move in," Jim said into the microphone, from their position several yards away from Tate.

Another car came down the alley from the opposite direction.

Jim said to Blair, "Stay put."

The second car drove past them and parked next to Tate.

Jim spoke into the walkie-talkie again. "Our delivery boy is here with the documents." Scanning the scene with his sentinel vision, Jim looked up onto the fire escape above Tate and saw a slim figure wearing black motorcycle leathers. He got a visual sensory flash off something the figure was holding. He winced and lowered his head, gasping.

Responding instantly to Jim's distress, Blair said, "What's wrong?"

"My head," Jim replied. He rubbed at his temples.

As Jim was struggling to get control, he saw Tate get his new ID and passport, then saw the second car leave. The black-clothed figure descended the fire escape ladder and went over to Tate.

"Tate, look out!" Jim cried, trying to warn the man.

But his warning was too late. The figure stabbed Tate in the neck and ran away, in the opposite direction from Jim and Blair, disappearing out of the mouth of the alley. Staggering to his feet, Jim headed toward Tate. The man was sliding down the front of the car toward the ground, gasping and holding his neck, as he slowly suffocated as a result of the poison on the blade.

Jim shouted into the walkie-talkie. "All units move into position! Assailant is heading south on Fourth, armed and dangerous." Letting off the button on the radio, Jim said to Blair, who was still further down the alley, "Sandburg, call an ambulance!" Then Jim took off after the assailant.

As he ran, he could hear Blair hurrying down the alley, talking on his cell phone as he moved. "Hello? Yeah. I need an ambulance on Fourth and Main, in the alley…."


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


The next day Blair approached Jim at his desk in the Major Crimes bullpen, carrying a large bottle of aspirin. He held it out helpfully. He could tell Jim was still suffering as a result of the previous night's sensory spike.

"Whoa," Jim said, wincing. "Easy. Don't shake it. It sounds like a freight train."

Henri Brown walked up, a cheerful smile on his face. "Hey, Jim. How you feeling, man?"

"I'd feel better if you were a little quieter," Jim groused.

Henri sat down straddling the chair next to Jim's desk, holding a file. He had a big grin on his face. "So, how'd that flower thing go?"

"Like a charm. What d'you got?" Jim asked grumpily.

"I've got some great news for you." Henri grinned.

Jim held out his hand and Henri slapped it. Blair was trying not to smile.

"Sam just sent some stuff up from Forensics," Henri said.

"All right," Jim said wearily. He held out his hand again and, once again, Henri slapped it. Smiling, Blair looked away.

Cheerfully, Henri said, "Are you ready for this? They got fingerprints off your leather jacket."

Jim held out his hand again and Brown slapped it yet again. Blair bit his lip, trying not to laugh. Jim grabbed the file away from Henri. "Would you just give me the damn thing, man?"

Unruffled, Henri said, "Some cat whose name is Lo Minh."

"Lo Minh?" Jim echoed. He read the information from the file. "This guy's wanted by the Hong Kong police. Several charges, including murder, assault with a deadly weapon, drug smuggling." Jim hesitated for a moment. "Affiliated with the Shang Syndicate."

"Who is this guy?" Blair asked. He felt a sudden sense of dread. There was something about the way Jim had said that….

"I don't know," Jim said. "Let's go find out." He closed the folder and stood up.

~~~~~~~~

An hour later, Jim and Blair were back from their trip to the Summit Hotel. Jim, keeping tight rein on his emotions, was filling Simon in as they walked into the break room. "He was staying at the same hotel as Lila, under the name Tyler Chin. The desk clerk saw him and Lila Hobson together several times."

"It certainly fits the profile of our killer," Simon said. "What I want to know is how she fits into all this. What is she, just some high-priced mistress?"

Jim sighed. *Don't lose it, Ellison. He doesn't know.* Jim saw Blair look up at Simon and rub his eyes. Simon finally picked up on what was going on and winced.

Trying to ignore the undercurrent, Jim continued. "Whatever the connection, sir, they're definitely together."

"Sorry, Jim," Simon apologized. "But we've got to find these guys before they leave the country. I'll notify immigration."

"Uh, but their job's not done yet, sir," Blair said. "The third monk is still alive."

"Oh, the kid's got a point, Captain. The Shang Syndicate probably has to kill this guy to set an example for the other members."

"Well, it's gonna be pretty hard to kill this monk inside our city lock-up," Simon said.

"So, let's make it easier," Jim said.

"What?!" Simon looked at Jim askance. "Are you nuts, Jim? That's the last thing I need, to have our last remaining monk killed because of some harebrained scheme to draw out the killer." He glared at the detective.

Jim looked at him coolly, feigning indignity. "'Harebrained'? I rather thought it was a good idea." He looked at Blair, who nodded agreement.

Simon rolled his eyes, muttering about the paperwork that would result if the guy got killed and how the last thing he needed was the commissioner on his back again.

Blair snorted and Jim grinned as the three of them headed back to Simon's office to make plans.

~~~~~~~~

A couple hours later everything had been arranged. The 'transfer' had been set up, the local media had been informed of the event, surveillance had been set up, and all the major players were in place. Now, if the assassin would cooperate.

Chou, the police officer serving as the interpreter, was driving. Blair sat next to him in the passenger seat. The monk was behind Chou, and Jim sat behind Blair. As Chou drove along the streets of Cascade, Jim carefully scanned the sides of the road, maintaining contact with Simon via walkie-talkie.

Simon, who was in his office, reported, "All the local TV stations are carrying our story about moving the suspect to lock-up. If our hit man is paying attention, he'll know about it. What route are you taking?"

"West on Chelsea, then heading south on Waverly, right through the heart of Chinatown, sir."

"All right, everybody stay alert," Simon ordered.

The monk, who was looking increasingly nervous, said something in Chinese.

Chou translated. "He says Chinatown's too dangerous. This is where his friend was killed."

"Tell him he's safe with us," Jim said.

Chou translated Jim's answer to the monk.

They pulled to a stop in the middle of a block because a truck was blocking the street.

Jim spoke into his walkie-talkie to update Simon. "Seems as though we've hit a roadblock, Captain. This could be a set-up." Then he said to the people in the car with him, "Uh, you guys just stay put, keep your eyes open, and stay calm. I'm going to go and check it out."

He got out of the car and cautiously walked the forty feet to the large truck that was parked sideways so it effectively blocked the entire street. He carefully looked into the truck's cab. There was no sign of anyone in or around the vehicle.

Jim had finished his inspection of the truck when he heard a commotion back in the car. He looked over at the vehicle and saw the monk hit Chou with his cuffed hands then get out of the car.

Blair shouted, "Hey, what are you doing? Where you going? Get back here." Then, louder, "Jim!"

The monk took off, running down sidewalks and knocking people aside. Jim chased after him. A block from the car, a motorcycle appeared. The rider was dressed totally in black, with a black helmet and opaque visor.

Jim winced as he suddenly saw a brilliant flash off the lights of the bike. He continued to run after the monk as the fleeing man ran toward the bike. Someone set off a string of firecrackers, which startled the monk into turning around. He saw Jim.

The cyclist slid to a stop and got off the bike, raising the triangular knife toward the monk. Jim, seeing the threat to the man he was protecting, grabbed the monk and whirled him away, standing in the biker's way. The biker paused. Jim got more visual sensory flashes, this time off the biker's helmet.

The biker got back on the bike and sped away.

Jim stood there, watching.

~~~~~~~~

After returning the monk to lockup, and taking care of the requisite paperwork, they retreated to the loft to try to figure out what was going on. It was only a couple hours later, but felt longer.

"If it was Lo, why didn't he kill you?" Simon asked Jim.

Jim shook his head slightly. "I don't know, Simon. It doesn't make sense to me."

Blair came out of his room, talking on his cell phone. "Thanks, Sheila. Thanks for all your help." He shut the phone off and said, "Hey, guys. I had a friend at the university do some research on daggers. And it turns out that a triangular-shaped dagger that's dipped in poison is a favorite weapon of the Chinese Triad. They use it for assassinations. She faxed me over a picture." He showed the picture to the two men.

Jim looked at the picture and winced as yet another sensory spike struck him. "Oh. Sorry, guys." He tried to catch his breath. "Phew. Mm." He sat down unsteadily at the table.

Simon hurried to his side. "Jim, what's wrong?"

Blair moved around the table, coming up on Jim's other side. He knelt next to his partner, laying a comforting hand on Jim's arm.

"Uh... my, my head. Uh..." Jim shook his head, trying to regain his equilibrium.

Glancing at the picture in his other hand, then back at Jim, Blair suggested, "Why don't you take a look at this picture again?" He shifted so he could hold the picture in front of his partner.

Jim looked at it for a moment then pushed it away, discomfort obvious on his features.

"This picture's causing the spike," Blair said confidently. "Jim, have you ever seen a dagger like this before?"

Jim said, "No, no. I don't know. Uh..." He struggled to get the pain in his head under control.

"This could be the key," Blair said. "I want you to take a look at this again and then free-associate, all right? Just, just... see where it takes you." He patted Jim's arm.

"How could a picture cause anything?" Jim asked.

"Come on, we've done this before," Blair said, his voice falling into a lower timbre and becoming more soothing. "Just relax and do your breathing. Good. Okay, now look at it. See where it takes you."

With a combination of irritation and apprehension, Jim looked at the picture and then took a deep breath. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He was somewhat surprised when he started to have a memory flash.

~^~^~^~^~^~^~
Flashback

It was seven years ago in Bali. Jim and Lila were in a hotel room, resting together on their bed. After a few lazy kisses, they sat up.

"Mm," Lila murmured. "We better get ready for dinner." She nuzzled against him again. "Mm."

"Do you think?" Jim asked, caressing her gently.

"Yes," she responded. She turned and handed a necklace to Jim. "Would you tie this for me, please?"

"Mm-hm," he responded. He leaned down and kissed her neck. Then he started fastening the necklace.

End Flashback
~^~^~^~^~^~^~

Jim was suddenly aware of the loft and of Simon and Blair again. Simon was sitting down next to him at the dining table.

"Anything?" asked Blair.

"Yeah," Jim said, a touch of amazement in his voice. "Lila and me, in Bali."

"What were you doing?"

"We were in the hotel room... right before dinner."

"All right, well, take a look at this again, all right?" Blair said, holding the picture up, "'cause it's obviously triggering something."

Jim looked at the picture again. Sure enough, more memories flooded his mind.

~^~^~^~^~^~^~
Flashback

Jim was fastening the necklace around Lila's slender neck. He fumbled with the tiny clasp.

Laughing lightly, Lila said, "Jim! You take too long." She rose from the bed, holding the ends of the necklace herself.

"It's a two-man operation," he said in his own defense. He stood up. He couldn't help the smile that seemed to be on his face most of the time. Lila was something special.

"Uh-huh," Lila said as she went into the bathroom, fastening the piece of jewelry herself.

"Anything else I can do?" Jim asked.

"Would you get me my lipstick, please?" Lila asked from the bathroom. "It's on the nightstand."

"I can do that," Jim said with a touch of amusement. He walked over to the nightstand to get the lipstick from her purse. He paused when he saw a dagger with a round, carved white handle and a short, thick, triangular metal blade inside. He pulled it out and examined it with the critical eye of an army Ranger--*Former army Ranger*, he corrected himself sternly.

Lila came out of the bathroom while he was examining it. "It's for self-defense. To protect me from men like you," she said teasingly. She took the dagger from him and put it back in her purse.

*Stop it, Ellison. That's all behind you now. Enjoy yourself. Jim held up the lipstick.*

"Thank you," Lila said, taking it from him.

He smiled at her.

End Flashback
~^~^~^~^~^~^~

"But how could I forget that?" Jim asked, looking at Blair and Simon in confusion.

"It was seven years ago," Blair said gently, leaning across the table. "It was right after you got out of Peru. You were probably still suffering from post-combat stress syndrome."

"I don't understand this bit about the dagger," Simon said, looking at Blair. "I thought *she* was causing his sensory spikes. What does the dagger have to do with it?"

Jim answered him. "It's probably my senses warning me, Simon."

"Right. Like an alarm," Blair said. "She and the dagger have always been connected, so when he looks at the dagger, it would set off the same spike."

The phone rang and Jim went to answer it. "Ellison."

Lila's voice came across the line. "Jim?"

He hesitated a moment, then said, "Lila." He gestured at Simon to start a trace on the call.

"The police were at my hotel looking for me," Lila said, an accusing tone in her voice.

"We know all about you and the Shang Syndicate. The best you can do is to turn yourself in." He tried to keep his best "neutral" voice on. It was difficult.

Jim could hear Simon's voice as he spoke softly into his cell phone. "This is Captain Banks. I need a trace put on Detective Ellison's home phone."

"Jim, you don't understand," Lila said.

"Then explain it to me and then turn yourself in," he said flatly.

"If I do, they'll kill me, Jim." She was pleading now.

"We're gonna protect you." *We'll try. God knows we'll try.*

"They can reach anyone anywhere."

"I'm gonna be with you. Nothing's gonna happen to you. You'll be safe." *I hope.*

There was silence on the line for a moment, and then Lila spoke. "All right. But I'll only turn myself in to you. Meet me at the McNeil Athletic Field at 3:00. Jim... please come alone." The line went dead.

Simon said into his phone, "Thanks." He shut off the phone. "She was on some sort of tricked-out cell phone. They couldn't get an exact fix."

Not surprised, Jim nodded. "She wants to meet me at the McNeil Athletic Field at 3:00. Alone."

"Absolutely not, cowboy," Simon said firmly. "We'll send somebody else."

"If we send the posse, she's going to smell a rat."

"What about these spikes?" Simon asked, concern obvious on his face. "You'll be completely helpless."

"Not necessarily," said Blair thoughtfully.

"What?" Simon said, looking at him.

Turning to Jim, Blair said, "We're talking about your senses here. They're to protect you and the tribe, all right? And you can dial them back. And I can help you." He gazed at his sentinel.

~~~~~~~~

"Jim?" Simon called on the walkie-talkie. He, Brown, and Chou, along with a number of uniforms, were already in place, watching the athletic field.

Jim answered Simon as Blair pulled the truck up next to the field. "Simon. All right, when she shows up, I need five minutes before you move in."

"You got it," the captain responded.

"You all right?" Blair asked quietly.

Jim glanced at him. "Yeah." He wasn't, of course, but it's not like he could admit it. Not here, not now. He climbed out of the truck.

After Jim had walked a few feet away from the truck, Blair said into his walkie-talkie, "Radio check. Radio--"

Wincing, Jim said, "Turn it down!"

"I'm sorry," Blair said. He twisted the volume control knob down. Then he set down the walkie-talkie and drove the truck away, leaving Jim alone.

Feeling very alone, and dreading what was coming, Jim walked along the sidewalk next to the field. After a few long minutes, he saw a motorbike heading his way. The biker slowed to a stop and turned off the machine. She got off and removed the black helmet, setting it on the bike. Finally, Lila stood before him.

Over the headset, Jim heard Simon say, "All right, she's here. Five minutes, everyone."

*Stay professional,* Jim reminded himself as Lila walked toward him. He tried his best to squash his feelings, to achieve the flat, emotional deadness where he could do what was necessary. Instead, he felt a queasy dread. He didn't want to do this. He realized that, despite everything, he still loved her. He forced himself to speak. "You wanted to talk."

"Please don't hate me," she said. Her eyes pleaded with him.

"You're a murderer," his voice said. His heart was crying out in pain. He struggled not to let his emotions show.

"I told you, you might not like the truth," Lila said sadly.

With a touch of bitterness, Jim asked, "Did I ever hear any of the truth?"

Eyes down, Lila replied, "Most of it." She turned away. "I grew up in Hong Kong. My father was a British expatriate, but his investments failed and when he died, there was nothing left."

"How tragic." Jim forced himself to sound hard, uncaring.

"I was ten years old, Jim!" Lila cried, turning toward him. "Living on the streets. Do you have *any* idea what that's like? The Syndicate took me in. They fed me. They protected me."

Jim felt as if his heart was twisting within his chest. With an iron will, he tamped down his feelings. *Stay professional, damn it! Focus on your job. Focus on… on what she *does*.* "They also taught you how to kill," he said softly.

"They were the only family I had." Lila's voice was almost a whisper. In her eyes were anguish and a begging for… understanding? Forgiveness?

Jim knew she thought he had rejected her explanation. He wanted to give her absolution, to take her into his arms, to take her away and forget all that and start over and the hell with everything else. But he couldn't. He was a cop, and this was his job. Sometimes--not often, but sometimes--he hated his job.

Changing the focus of the conversation, Jim asked, "Who is this man 'Lo'?"

"He's my overseer," Lila said, turning away again. Her voice was flat, emotionless. "Last month in Tokyo, I missed a target, so this time, the Syndicate sent Lo to keep an eye on me. See, I thought I missed because I was tired, but it was more than that. But then when I saw you again, I realized what I wanted."

As Lila was speaking, Jim started having a sensory spike.

"I want to get out, Jim. I want to start over," she pleaded, her voice cracking with emotion. She looked back at him.

Jim lifted his hands to his head, wincing in pain.

Lila moved closer. "Jim, what's wrong?"

Jim heard Blair's voice over the walkie-talkie. "Oh, he's in trouble." Then, "Oh, she's got a knife!"

*A knife?* Jim thought dully, through the pain of the sensory spike? *No, Lila, no.* He struggled to gain control over his unruly senses.

"Come on, Jim, dial it back." It was Blair's voice, coming over the walkie-talkie. "You can control this."

Jim focused on the familiar voice, the familiar commands.

"Dial it back," Blair urged.

Obeying the voice of his guide, Jim wrenched the appropriate dials down. Control returned, and Jim saw Lila holding the triangular knife. He looked at her sadly. "So, you want to kill me now, huh?"

She shook her head. "I can't," she choked out. She tossed the knife into the street.

The part of him that was in love with her was singing at her refusal to hurt him. But the cop part of him demanded that he arrest her. *At least she's safe,* he rationalized. He pulled out his cuffs and fastened one to her wrist. "You're under arrest," he said levelly. "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney."

"I lied to you about who I am, Jim... not about how I feel," Lila said earnestly, gazing at him intently.

Jim swallowed down the lump of feelings that threatened to choke him. He was about to continue giving Lila the Miranda warning when he heard the bolt of a rifle being pulled back. He looked up in the direction of the sound and saw Lo aiming a rifle at them.

Pulling Lila behind the cover of a pillar, he shouted, "Look out!"

A bullet zinged past them, kicking up splinters of concrete where they had been standing, moments before.

Over the radio network, Jim could hear Simon issuing orders. "We have sniper fire! Somebody give me a location!"

There were more gunshots.

"There! Sniper's at the top level of the parking ramp!" came Simon's voice.

Jim leaned out around the tree, trying to radio, but Lo fired again.

"I can't get off a shot," Jim said.

Lila moved around in front of Jim. She gazed at him, and then kissed him. After looking at him in the eyes for another moment, she ran out into the street.

Jim shouted, "Lila!"

A shot rang out from Lo's rifle; Lila crumpled in the street. A moment later, Jim fired at Lo, hitting him. Lo tumbled from the building, falling several stories to the ground below.

Jim vaguely heard Simon yell, "Sniper's down! All units move in now!"

Jim ran over to Lila, who lay motionless, facedown in the street. He knelt next to her. Gently he turned her over. He lifted her head and shoulders, cradling her to his chest. "Hang in there. You'll be all right," he said desperately.

Lila looked at him; then her head fell to the side, her eyes staring at the sky. She was dead.

"Lila..." Jim said hollowly.

He rested his head on hers as police cars pulled in around him. He was barely aware of Simon and Blair approaching after they got out of Simon's car.


~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~


The last of the vehicles pulled out of the cemetery, leaving the two of them alone next to the gravesite. Blair watched his friend silently as Jim stood, unmoving, staring at the casket.

"She wanted to get out," Jim said at last, his voice hollow.

"Yeah," Blair said softly.

"Damn it, Chief, why did she have to die?"

Blair could hear the tears in Jim's voice and his heart ached for his friend. Tears welled up in his own eyes. What should he say? *Because she was an assassin who disobeyed her masters? Because she sacrificed herself to save you? Because life sucks?* "I don't know, Jim." There was no other answer he could give.

There was only the sound of the wind in the trees. Then Jim said, so softly that Blair could barely hear him, "I loved her, Chief. I loved her."

Blair moved to Jim's side and put a hand on his shoulder. When Jim's shoulders started to shake, Blair moved around and grasped his friend in a firm hug. Jim stiffened for a moment then he put his arms around Blair and allowed himself to grieve for his lost love. Blair felt tears slide down his own face as he shared his friend's pain.

Long minutes later, Jim straightened, sniffling. He pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose. He carefully avoided eye contact with Blair as he stuffed the used cloth in a pocket of his trench coat. "Well, I suppose we should get back to the loft."

"Yeah," Blair agreed, wiping the wetness from his face with his own handkerchief. He straightened his jacket and turned toward the truck. "I'll wait for you in the truck."

"Thanks."

Blair walked slowly toward the truck as Jim said his final good-byes. He stared off into the trees as he waited, giving Jim privacy. When Jim opened the door and climbed into the truck, Blair glanced at him. He looked tired and wrung out. *Not surprising.*

Jim didn't look at him as he started the vehicle. "Thanks, buddy."

"No problem, man." Blair set a comforting hand on Jim's shoulder as Jim pulled the truck out of the cemetery and drove out into their city.


~ The End ~

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Next week's episode: Crossroads by Lyn Townsend




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