Redhawke.org
Crossroads
Crossroads
By: Lyn Townsend

Beta read by Sherrylou and Dotty
Written for PetFly by Rick Husky
Rating: PG
internal thought in * *
~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~

Seated in Captain Simon Bank's office, Blair tried to concentrate on the computer set up on the desk in front of him and not on the overbearing presence that loomed over his shoulder, squinting at the screen.

"Great. Conventional memory I have plenty of," Simon grumbled through a wreath of cigar smoke. "What do they mean by conventional memory?"

Blair scooted his chair back slightly and gazed up at the ceiling as he tried to couch his explanation in layman's terms. "Sir, think of it as your computer's living room. It's where you keep the things that you'll use every day. Now upper memory is like the attic where you keep information you use but not continuously as opposed to expanded memory, which is..."

"Blair?"

Sandburg brought his gaze to bear on the captain. "Yeah?"

"Just make it work."

"Okay."

"If I don't get my tax files out of this computer by midnight tonight, I'll be standing in line at the post office like all those other poor schmoes who are trying to avoid paying late fees." Simon pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

*Like me,* Blair thought but wisely chose not to mention. "Right. Sir, this is a memory manager." He held up a floppy disc. "It'll only take two minutes to set up and you'll be just cherry."

Simon grunted noncommittally and waved Blair back to the computer.

"Lounging around in the adult chat room, boys?"

Both men looked over their shoulders at hearing Jim's comment. The detective stood in the doorway of Simon's office, a slight smile on his face. Blair thought he looked tired.

"Ah... Blair's cleaning out my living room," Simon explained, indicating the computer. "What do you need?"

"Well, Captain, if it's not a problem, I was wondering if I could take a week off."

Blair stopped typing instantly and turned to stare at Jim, his Guide alarm bells ringing. "What's wrong?"

Simon however was waving Jim away distractedly. "No, no, no problem. Go ahead." As Jim turned to leave though, Simon's brain seemed to catch up with his ears and he straightened and called Jim back. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Jim...a week?"

"Yes, sir."

Blair turned fully in his chair now, seeing the lines of tension that creased Jim's forehead, the shadowed eyes that spoke of little sleep. He stood and moved over to stand in front of his partner. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Jim's stance became unconsciously belligerent. "Why does something have to be wrong?"

"Well, I personally can't remember a time you asked for a day off, much less a week," Simon put in.

"That's just it, Captain. I haven't had any time off. I'm a little burnt. I need time to smell the flowers, the fresh air...cool out a little bit."

"Easy, easy, you're preaching to the choir, Reverend," Simon chuckled. "Take as much time as you need."

"Thank you." Jim turned to go again but Blair stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Are you sure everything's all right? I mean your senses…"

"Not everything is about my senses, Sandburg," Jim flared. He placed his hand on Blair's shoulder as the grad student turned away. "Sorry. Like I said, I'm burnt out. I just need a change of pace."

"Lila?" Blair asked softly.

Jim sighed. "That too."

"You got a spot in mind?" Simon asked, walking over to his desk and picking up his cigar.

"Yeah... a little place that I go to in the summer. It's up by the Canadian border, you know? Sweet little spot tucked away in the middle of nowhere. Trout are just waiting to be bugged," Jim chuckled.

"Dig it, dig it, yeah," Blair cut in, getting excited, remembering the last fishing trip the three had taken together. It had been great fun… until they'd chanced upon the poachers. Maybe they'd have better luck this time. "I'll get to try out my new tackle and didn't you make a new fly with big orange eyes and hair on the legs?" he asked, turning his attention to Simon.

Jim rolled his eyes. "It sounds like some of your dates, Chief."

"No, no, no." Simon held up a spindly contraption with bulging orange eyes. "This here...this baby will have those fish lining up for the pan like a magnet."

"Sir, this is not a group activity."

Blair's eyes swiveled from the fly dangling in Simon's hand back to Jim. "What are you talking about? You want to be alone?"

"That's the plan, yeah."

Simon crossed his arms over his chest and became serious. "All right. What's going on?"

"Come on, why don't we take this in the interrogation room?"

Blair held up a defensive hand. "Hey, hey, no reason to get all snippy..." Jim was even more short-tempered today than usual. Perhaps he really did need some time out. He looked over his shoulder as the computer belched and beeped. Momentarily distracted from his concern about Jim, he sat back down and studied the PC. "Uh-oh."

Simon strode quickly back and leaned over his shoulder, studying the flashing screen in consternation. "Uh-oh? What's uh-oh?"

Blair slid back into the chair and tried a few prompts, to no avail. "Uh, it's crashing, sir. I don't suppose that you have a boot disk, do you?"

"Sandburg, I'm going to boot your disk from here to Seattle. Get up!" Simon ordered, manhandling Blair from his seat and lowering himself into it.

Blair watched the screen for a moment, the sinking sensation in his stomach making him feel distinctly nauseous. He picked up the phone and punched in a number.

"Uh, I'll be back Wednesday." Jim waved and walked away.

"Jim, wait up," Blair called.

"No, no, no, hang on, Jim. I'll be right with you," Simon added, his attention firmly fixed on his PC.

Blair gave up on Jim, figuring he'd talk to him later. Maybe all he really did need was a couple of days off. God only knew he could do with a few too. He turned to Simon, one hand over the receiver as he waited for his call to be answered. "Sir, just relax. Don't worry about it. I'm calling the technical support line."

Blair watched as Simon's mouth opened and closed a few times, not unlike the fish Jim was off to catch. "Sandburg? It says it's deleting files. Why is it deleting files?" The captain began hammering frantically at the keys. "Where did you get this program?"

Blair groaned inwardly. He'd really hoped he wouldn't have to divulge this piece of information. He wondered if he was too late to catch up with Jim. "I got it off the Internet."

Simon swiveled his chair around to glare at him, and Blair could feel his skin almost blister under the captain's fiery gaze. "The 'net? Why didn't you just call Virus 'R' Us?"

~~~~~~~~

Jim steered the truck into the Clayton Falls gas station with a sigh of relief. He was more tired than he realized, the stresses of the last few days finally making themselves known as the adrenaline wore off and he finally had a chance to just sit…and think.

He sighed. He'd been trying not to do too much of that, keeping himself busy at work. He had even agreed to tests on his senses, something that puzzled, yet pleased Sandburg. Anything to avoid having to replay Lila's death in his mind. Now perhaps, here alone, he could grieve for Lila and what might have been away from prying eyes.

Sandburg meant well, Jim knew but some things were just too private to share. Not everyone was designed to share their innermost thoughts. He had to give his partner credit where it was due though. The night after Jim had held a dying Lila in his arms, Blair had simply let Jim know that he was there, should he want to talk, and left it at that. Problem was, that just made Jim feel guilty, wondering if he was wrong to want to keep this most personal loss to himself.

Jim sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He was exhausted, stressed and hungry for the pleasure of standing hip-deep in an icy river, casting for trout and thinking…or not.

Feeling more relaxed already, Jim pulled up in front of the gas pump. Climbing out of the cab, he stretched the kinks from his back, then reached for the hose and began to fill the tank. He nodded a greeting to the attendant that approached. "Hey there. How you doing?"

"I'm doing good," the man said with a smile. "Name's Sam. I'm the owner."

"What's going on up here?" Jim asked, looking around curiously. "Last time I was in these parts, I remember a lot more activity in town. Where is everybody?"

"Oh, a couple of years back, some bureaucrat decided this part of the forest ought to be ecologically protected. Good for the trees, bad for the town."

"Well, I guess they've got to strike a balance somewhere, huh?"

Sam shrugged. "Yeah."

"Used to be a mill up here, right?" Jim replaced the hose in its holder and pulled his wallet and a bottle of water from the cab.

"Oh, yes, sir. Sure was." Sam nodded enthusiastically. "I used to be a double-shift man myself. Yep. Now we got the station, we got the diner, got the old inn, and we got a few cabins back in the woods me and a few others who ought to know better keep trying to hang onto." He shook his head. "Yeah. Hard to shake off old roots, I guess. Now this town is just a crossroads to nowhere."

Jim nodded and took a welcome drink of his water, then extracted his credit card and held it out.

"You won't be needing that." Sam pointed at the bottle. "We've got natural spring water right out of the tap."

"Just an old habit." He'd been drinking bottled water whenever he went camping, a throwback to his Army days when you could never be sure you were drinking fresh water.

"Bring your own fish, too?"

Jim chuckled, enjoying the welcome, laid-back camaraderie. They chatted for a few moments longer, then Jim retrieved his card and drove out, heading toward the Clayton Falls Inn. Pulling into the deserted parking lot and making his way into the dimly lit lobby, he could see the front desk was deserted. Reaching out, he tapped on the old-fashioned bell.

"Be with you in just a minute," a voice echoed from the back.

Jim heard a toilet flush and then a heavyset man with receding ginger hair stepped out. He smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Been waiting long?"

"No, no, I just stepped inside," Jim assured him. He looked around the sparse interior. "Place sure hasn't changed much."

"Been here before?"

"A long time ago, yeah."

"I just bought the place a couple of months back," the owner said. He stuck out a meaty hand and Jim shook it. "Wilton Fisker."

"Jim Ellison."

Fisker waved a hand at the lobby. "It's a little run-down now, but I'm trying to preserve the best of what's been. I hope there'll be enough warm-weather business to pay for groceries."

"Yeah, let's hope so. I just need a room for the night. I'll be heading out in the morning."

The other man shook his head. "I'm sorry, son. I've got her stripped down to the bone. Uh, the beds are broken down and the rooms are a mess. There's a Value Lodge in Greenville."

"No, that's back where I came from."

Fisker hesitated a moment. "Well, look, if you don't mind the dust, you can sleep on one of those couches tonight." He indicated a couple of lumpy, brocade-covered sofas in the adjoining room.

"No, I don't mind at all, sir. In fact, I can pay you."

The man held up a hand. "Just come back when I reopen, and bring friends."

"Be happy to do that. What about the store? Is it open for some supplies?"

"Well, the hippie that runs it sleeps in back. Just bang loud enough in the morning and he'll open up."

"Very good. Thanks."

Walking outside, Jim paused a moment to get his bearings, then headed for the small group of buildings just up the road. He stopped in his tracks as the single light in the café was switched off and someone hurried out the door, locking it behind them. "Ah, great," Jim sighed. "There goes dinner."

Shrugging philosophically, he turned back to his truck and pulled his overnight bag from the back of the truck. Pulling a piece of jerky from the front pocket, he munched on it as he made his way back into the hotel.

~~~~~~~~~

Blair watched from the safety of the office doorway as the computer technician switched on Simon's computer and then packed up his briefcase. "You're all set, Captain. Next time you have a problem, call us first."

"That's my motto from now on. Thanks, Charlie." Simon turned his attention to the screen as Charlie left, shaking an admonishing finger at Blair as he passed.

Blair chanced a step into the office and cleared his throat. "Is everything okay now?"

Simon didn't spare him a glance, merely holding up one hand. "Just stay over there. You're a walking computer virus."

Blair felt like a naughty school child sent up to the principal's office. "Hey, Simon, I'm really sorry about that. I didn't..."

Simon straightened and waved him in. "Aw, forget it. You know, Blair, we have another problem."

"What's that?"

"Our friend, Jim. Do you really buy this time alone bit? I think he's trying to snake us."

"What do you mean, snake us?"

Simon walked to his desk and picked up the fly he'd fashioned so carefully. "This whole fishing spot of his… I think he wants to keep it a secret. I bet it's a place where the trout are practically leaping into the net."

"What, do you think he's holding out on us?"

"I know he's holding out on us." Simon hitched his hip onto the edge of his desk. "Now, I say we take an expedition up there, bust into his one-man operation, and claim our fair share of the haul."

Blair nodded thoughtfully. He was worried about Jim and this would give him a perfect excuse to check up, make sure that he really was just burnt out, but a disquieting thought still niggled at his conscience. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm down with that. Yeah, good... But, uh...but what if he does want to be alone? I mean, he did look tired and all that stuff with Lila…I tried to get him to talk about it, you know, but he kept saying it was off-limits." Blair frowned. Jim had never been one for talking about what was bothering him.

"If he doesn't want to talk about his problems, don't push him, Sandburg. That's just not Jim's way, and if he really wants to be alone," Simon shrugged, "we'll fish the other side of the lake."

"Okay." Blair walked to the door. "I'll go pack. You want me to drive?"

"Are you kidding?" Simon snorted as he picked up his phone. "I want to get there before the week's out. I'll pick you up in an hour."

Blair had a sudden thought. "How are we going to find him?"

"I'm a cop, Sandburg. Leave it to me."

~~~~~~~~

Old habits died hard. Never one to sleep in a strange place without having his senses on semi-alert, Jim was dozing on the lumpy couch when the rattle of the doorknob disturbed his restless slumber. Opening one eye, he was startled to see Blair's face appear in the grimy window, with Simon's peeking over his shoulder.

Groaning and muttering dark imprecations, Jim climbed off the couch and staggered to the door, rubbing a hand through his sleep-mussed hair. Unlocking the front door, Jim stepped back and allowed his friends to enter.

Blair smiled at him, somewhat nervously, Jim thought, and said, "Morning."

Simon patted Jim's back, looking not the least bit discomfited. "How you doing, Sunshine?"

Blair looked around the room slowly. "What's the matter, you too cheap to afford a room?"

Jim felt his anger begin a slow simmer. He planted his hands on his hips and glared at his unexpected guests. "What the hell are you guys doing here? How did you even find me?"

"Yes, it's nice to see you, too," Blair answered, a tinge of offense creeping into his voice.

"What do you mean how did we find you? I tracked you down like I would any escapee...credit cards, gas receipts, restaurant… just followed the paper trail." Simon looked proud of himself.

"What for?"

Simon shook his head sadly. "Did you really think we were going to let you empty a lake of trout all by yourself?"

Blair nodded in agreement. "Yeah, we wanted to surprise you." Then he looked uncertainly at Jim. "You're not mad, are you?"

*Of course I'm mad! See? This is my mad face.* Jim took a slow, deep breath, just like Sandburg had taught him. "Let me put this another way without offending you. You know there was a time when I lived alone. I worked on my own for years."

Sudden awareness lit Blair's face. "So, what are you saying? You want me to move out?" He held up both hands, nodding vigorously, though Jim could see the frown deepening on his forehead. "I've got no problem with that. Actually there's a room's opening up right below us unless that's too close to you, too, and I'll be infringing on..."

Jim groaned inwardly. Only Sandburg could do guilt this well. "Don't pull the Felix Unger trip on me, okay, Chief? You've made this sentinel thing work and I appreciate that. I wouldn't change a minute of it, but you're always there in my face, observing."

Simon pulled off his hat and whacked Blair soundly on the arm with it. "I told you to stop treating him like a lab rat," he growled, scowling at Blair, but Jim pulled on his arm, turning Simon around to look at him.

"Simon, Simon, this is no different from being your full-time pit bull."

Blair gave Simon an 'I told you so' glare and hit him back. Jim scrubbed a hand over his face. It was turning into a Three Stooges routine and the sun was just barely up.

"Pardon?"

Jim opened his eyes at the captain's affronted tone. "Every time some bad-ass blows into Cascade, I get the assignment."

"Jim, I thought you wanted those assignments."

"It's not about that." He tried a different approach. "It's just seven days a week, 365 days a year gets a little bit much. I need a break."

Simon shrugged and pushed Blair toward the door. "Great."

Blair went but not without a concerned backward glance at his partner. That look did it every time. Jim grabbed both men by their arms. "Come on, now, listen..." but Simon was backing away, shaking his head, hands up in a classic fending off pose.

"No, no, no, wait, wait..." Simon refused to budge.

"Look, get your tails out from between your legs, huh?" Jim cajoled. "I love you. I don't want you to go away mad. Let's go have a bite to eat and we'll talk about it and then you can hit the road, okay?"

Simon sighed and nodded, jamming his hat back on his head. "Yeah, whatever."

Jim picked up his overnight bag and headed for the bathroom. He could do this, a little breakfast, a little chat. An hour tops and he'd be on his own again. "There's a little place down the road. I'm just going to change."

Blair looked flabbergasted. "What are you talking about? The place that says, 'country cooking'?" He looked at Simon. "What are we going to have? Possum on a stick?" He chuckled but the sound died quickly as Simon glared at him.

"What's the matter with that? My mother made possum."

"I got no problem with that; I could eat."

Jim groaned again and went to get changed. A week alone was beginning to look more and more attractive.

~~~~~~~~

Blair and Simon made their way into the little diner and found a vacant booth while they waited for Jim to meet them. The attractive waitress behind the counter gave them a warm smile and a friendly greeting.

"Good morning, boys. Have a seat."

"Thanks." Simon ushered Blair into a seat, then sat opposite him. Jim arrived and settled himself beside his partner as the waitress carried over some glasses.

"Good morning." Jim smiled at her. He was aware of Blair's interested scrutiny of the young woman.

"Morning." She leaned over and placed the water glasses on the table, then smiled back before launching into her spiel. "Okay, so, we have fresh eggs, griddle cakes, oatmeal, ham steak, killer waffles, and the best coffee in the state, but if you ask me for a cappuccino, I will kill you." Her smile took the sting out of her words.

Jim nodded. "Well, I guess we'll start with the coffee, then."

"You got it."

As she walked back to the counter, Jim recognized the attendant from the gas station. Sitting at the counter, head supported on his hands, Sam looked the picture of misery. "Jackie?"

"Mm-hmm?" The waitress stopped and looked at Sam.

"You got any aspirin? I'm not on top of it this morning."

Jackie patted Sam's arm sympathetically. "Yeah, sure, Sam. I'll check."

Back at the table, Simon glared impatiently at Blair's obviously smitten gaze. "Could you be a little more obvious?"

Blair gave the captain a guileless look. "What?"

Jim snorted and dug his partner in the ribs. "He's just observing the indigenous customs before he launches into his own mating cha-cha. You know..." Jim swayed from side to side in the limited space of the booth, pleased when Blair and Simon both laughed, and felt some of the tension dissipate.

Simon frowned again as Blair picked up his glass and drained it, then crunched loudly on the ice. Blair seemed to annoy Simon without even trying. Jim wondered how they'd made it all the way here without Banks killing the observer.

"What are you doing?" Simon asked now.

Blair shrugged. "I'm hungry."

Jackie placed a plate in front of another customer, then made her way over to Jim, Blair and Simon with a pot of coffee. Jim frowned as the young woman poured coffee into Simon's cup and then abruptly set the pot on the table. She wavered slightly on her feet and her face suddenly drained of color.

"What is it?" He reached out a hand toward her but she appeared to stumble as she took a step back, the tray in her hands clattering to the floor with a resounding crash. All three men jumped to their feet and moved toward her as she gave a soft "oh" of surprise and slid to the floor.

Jim crouched beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Her face was shiny with perspiration and he could feel the heat from a fever on her skin. "Are you all right? What's going on?"

Jackie moaned and doubled up. "My stomach. It hurts."

Jim reached for the young woman's wrist; her pulse was racing as she clutched at her belly. Behind him, he heard Simon gruffly order someone to get a doctor then a man replied. "I'll get Doc Conway."

Jim patted Jackie's shoulder, attempting to reassure her. "What happened to your stomach?"

Jackie shook her head fretfully. "I don't know. It just..."

"Are you all right? Easy, easy." Jim looked up at Simon's words and saw him hurrying over to the slowly collapsing form of Sam from the gas station. The captain gently eased the ailing man to the floor then pressed a hand to his forehead. "Jim, it looks like this guy has the same symptoms."

Jim looked around the room. "Where is this doctor?" As he spoke, a dark-haired woman carrying a bag entered the diner and immediately crouched down at Jackie's side.

"Right here." She gave Jim a quick glance, then turned her attention to her patient. "All right, Jackie, tell me what's wrong."

Jackie moaned again. "I don't know. It just came on sudden."

The doctor lifted the young woman's arm and pressed her fingers to the pulse point with one hand while feeling Jackie's forehead with the other. "You have abdominal pain?"

"It feels like I'm burning up."

"Doctor, this guy has the exact same symptoms," Simon said, as he supported a groaning Sam.

As the doctor pulled a stethoscope from her bag, Wilton Fisker, the innkeeper, stepped into the diner, a worried expression on his face as he took in the two sick people on the floor. "Linda, Andrea Peterson collapsed in her kitchen. She looks as bad as these two. What the hell's going on?"

"It's beyond me. These people need a doctor."

Jim gaped at her. "Aren't you a doctor?"

"I'm a veterinarian."

"Where's the nearest hospital?" Jim asked.

"Gifford County, an hour away."

Simon pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "I'll give them a call."

The vet was already shaking her head. "You're out of cell range here." Jim saw Blair head to the payphone on the wall and lift the receiver. His heart sank as he saw him jiggle the phone a few times and then turn back to them with a frustrated look on his face.

"This phone's dead. I'm not even getting a dial tone." He slammed the receiver back on its cradle in disgust.

"I tried the phone at Andrea's place," Fisker reported. "Hers is dead, too."

"What the hell's going on here?" Jim decided to take charge. He indicated toward Simon and Blair. "We're with the Cascade police department. We're gonna make sure these two get to the hospital. Would you tend to the others?"

The vet nodded her agreement as Jim turned back to Jackie and slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Can you stand, miss?" Helping the ill woman to her feet, Jim waited a moment as she clung to him, her eyes closed, then she nodded and tottered toward the door with Jim and Blair supporting her. Simon followed, half-carrying Sam.

Jim got Jackie and Sam settled on the back seat of Simon's car, then directed Blair to sit beside them. He climbed into the passenger seat and popped open the glove compartment. Finding the road map he needed, he studied it as Simon started the car and steered out onto the road leading out of Clayton Falls. "It looks like you hit the interstate on the other side of the lake, and then you look for a junction east after five, six miles."

Simon cast a quick glance at the map and nodded, then turned his attention back to the road. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes, wrenching the steering wheel around as a fleet of Army trucks bore down on them.

Jim anchored his fingers on the dash as the car slid sideways then came to a neck-wrenching halt. Glancing quickly at the back seat, he reassured himself that Blair and the others were all right before climbing out of the car and striding toward the trucks, aware that Blair had exited the car as well and was hurrying to catch up.

Several uniformed men had clambered out of the first truck at the officer's orders, and the officer now turned to Jim and Blair and held out an outstretched hand. "Stop right there. Where are you coming from?"

"Clayton Falls," Jim replied. He stopped a few feet away from the uniformed men. "What's going on here?"

"You have to turn around and go back," the Colonel said firmly.

Blair stepped up beside Jim, then pointed back to Simon's vehicle. "Sir, we've got sick people in the car. We've got to get them to the hospital."

Jim nodded and took a step forward, one hand going to his pocket. "Yeah, uh..." He froze as a soldier standing beside the colonel raised his gun and cocked it.

"I said that's far enough," the colonel ground out.

"Take it easy, cowboy. Just getting some ID. I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade PD." He found his badge and held it up. The colonel didn't appear impressed.

"I'm Colonel Garner, United States Army. We've been order to contain an outbreak of a highly contagious disease."

"What sort of outbreak?" Jim asked.

"We have a bug on our hands that could burn right through this area and spread like wildfire. This is a hot zone, gentlemen. Total quarantine… and that means you are all under military control."

"Oh, God," Blair whispered and Jim suddenly had the awful feeling that the two people in the car were a lot sicker than anyone had realized. It also occurred to him that he, Simon and Blair had been exposed to the disease.

He looked back as Simon called to him. "Jim? What the hell's going on?"

"I'll explain on the way back to town, Simon." Turning to Blair, Jim patted the grad student's shoulder. "Come on, Chief. Let's get moving."

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

Jim, Blair and Simon were followed back to Clayton Falls by the Army convoy. Meeting up with Linda Conway, the veterinarian, Jim quickly filled her in on what they had learned then watched as armed and masked soldiers helped Jackie and Sam from Simon's car and placed them on stretchers. Linda stepped forward, brushing a lock of damp hair back from Jackie's pale face.

"Where are you taking them?"

"We've got a temporary isolation tent set up down the road," one of the medics replied. "They'll be well taken care of."

The four stood together, watching as the Army personnel moved in and set up shop. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Simon studied the display and shook his head. "The cellular is totally useless. With the landlines down, we're totally cut off from the outside."

"I don't like this," Blair said, frowning. "It's obvious the Army took out the phones. What are they trying to cover up?"

"Good question," Jim replied.

"I can't just stand around and watch. I'm going to go see if they need help." Linda turned and headed in the direction of the isolation tent.

Jim watched Garner directing his soldiers with setting up a Command Post a few yards away. "All right. Why don't we go talk to the colonel?" They walked over to the other man, waiting a moment as he finished up his orders.

"Give me a secure perimeter on Clayton Falls. Then, clamp down the interstate at the county line. I want every civilian in the hot zone accounted for by 1100."

"Yes, sir." Giving a smart salute, the soldier left.

Garner glanced at the three men distractedly. "You people should stay with the others. You'll be examined as soon as we have medical facilities set up."

"Why the communications blackout, Colonel?" Simon asked, stepping forward.

"Lockdown orders from DC. Until we have things under control, we don't want the media to get a hold of it and panic the entire state."

"Colonel, Captain Banks, Mr. Sandburg, and myself, we've all dealt with civil emergencies before, even a biotoxin threat." Jim figured it wouldn't hurt to offer their assistance.

"In Cascade. I remember the incident." Garner nodded thoughtfully. "So, what exactly are you gentlemen doing in Clayton Falls?"

Blair shrugged. "It was supposed to be a fishing trip."

"That's pretty bad timing," Garner replied. "Look, you may be cops, but my people are trained for this. Let us do our job."

Surprised, the three watched him stride off. Simon looked at Jim and rolled his eyes. "Do you believe this?"

Taking off, his long stride quickly caught him up to the colonel. "Hey, Colonel. Hey! Excuse me." He reached out and grasped hold of Garner's arm, waiting until the soldier stopped and turned to look at him. "We understand about the quarantine. What we would like explained is how this outbreak happened in the first place."

"A specimen monkey broke loose from an Army research lab," Garner replied, looking rather reluctant at sharing the information. "It was infected with a mutant strain of Filovirus similar to Ebola."

Blair gaped and looked suddenly pale. "Ebola? I knew it. This is some secret government plan gone to hell, right?"

"Sandburg..." Simon glared at the grad student, then seeing the genuine concern in Blair's eyes, placed a hand on his shoulder. Blair heeded Simon's warning and shut up, but he frowned and shook his head in obvious impatience.

"It was an accident," Garner explained. "The animal has been caught and destroyed, but several of the lab workers were exposed and it spread from there."

"Is it airborne?" Jim asked.

Garner nodded. "It's the nature of hot agents to travel through the air, yes."

Simon lifted his hand from Blair's shoulder. "Has the CDC been contacted yet?" he asked.

"They've sent their own doctor. His name is Dr. Stone." He pointed toward the medical tent. "You can speak with him if you like."

Simon set his mouth in a firm line. "Damn straight, I like." Motioning to Jim and Blair, he led the way to the temporary hospital.

The doctor stood in front of a medical truck, directing the unloading of medical equipment. He looked up at their approach and nodded a brusque greeting, apparently having already been told of their presence.

"What about a vaccine, Dr. Stone?" Simon asked. "Anything."

"With most cases like this, there is no vaccine."

Blair stepped forward then, his face thoughtful. "Well, to create an antiserum you have to identify the carrier or the host. And you guys caught the infected monkey, right?"

Stone nodded. "Our lab in Atlanta is analyzing what they found, but finding an antiserum to knock this thing down will take time. In the meantime, we'll give the victims here an inoculation, which will alleviate their symptoms."

Jim asked the question they'd all wanted to hear the answer for. "What's the worst-case scenario?"

Stone picked up a box of medical supplies and carried it toward the tent. Pausing at the flap, he turned to face them. "If the virus is replicating and spreading, it could kill everything in its path."

~~~~~~~~

Linda and Simon watched from their seat on the back fender of one of the trucks as another stretcher was carried past them. "I feel so helpless," the vet said miserably.

Simon patted her hand sympathetically. "I know what you mean. I got to admit, though, Doctor. You've got me curious. I mean, with the way people have been moving out of this town, it seems like there wouldn't be too much call for a vet these days."

Linda shrugged. "Yeah, well, we went from a one-horse town to a couple of dogs and a goat." She smiled at Simon's snort of amusement. "Yeah, I've had offers to move my practice up to Cascade, but I grew up here, Captain. These people are the only family I have left. If someone breaks a bone or needs a couple of stitches, I can do that, at least. It's better than not having a doctor at all."

Simon stood suddenly and Linda followed suit. "Look at this." Simon gestured around them angrily at the masked soldiers going about their duty. "You would think they'd at least give us gas masks or something."

"I wouldn't think that would matter now. We've already been exposed," Linda reminded him. She watched as Jim and Blair approached. Blair looked worried, and the redness of his cheeks accentuated the pallor of his skin.

"Hey, guys," Simon greeted them. "You have any luck locating a phone?"

Jim shook his head, his face stern. "I can't get a straight answer about anything. Now who would be the law around here?"

"When the mill was operating, there was a security detail, but now there's only state patrol and they don't even come near here unless they're called," Linda told him.

"Couldn't if we wanted to, huh?"

Linda leaned forward, taking a closer look at the young man at Ellison's side. He stood hunched a little, his eyes looking a little unfocused as though his thoughts were elsewhere. She touched his shoulder. "Are you all right? You look a little flushed."

She wasn't surprised to see Ellison turn a laser-like stare on his friend. She could tell these two were close. Blair brushed her hand away gently as his attention snapped back.

"Who, me? I'm fine. I'm just pissed off. I mean, you know how this whole thing started? Some secret government research program with infected lab animals and this Colonel Garner guy admitted to it."

"This is getting out of control," Simon said after a moment. "I'm just gonna demand they give us an outside line."

"What about a radio?" They turned as one at Fisker's voice. He smiled apologetically. "I couldn't help overhearing. You boys are cops… don't you carry short-wave units with you?"

Simon shook his head. "They were confiscated when we met up with the military as we were trying to get those people to hospital."

Fisker looked thoughtful. "Could be they missed one. I was cleaning out some boxes when I took over the inn. I seem to remember an old short-wave unit stored there somewhere."

The information seemed to rejuvenate Blair. "Let's go check it out."

"I'll stay here with the doctor and keep an eye on things," Simon said and then fixed Blair with an icy glare as the grad student waggled his eyebrows comically at him.

Jim sighed and pushed Blair ahead of him. "Lead the way," he said to Fisker.

~~~~~~~~

The inn's storage area was hot, dusty and cluttered, not unlike his office at the university, Blair thought. Taking a look around, he stepped over to one corner and began sifting through the items on the shelf.

They'd filled Fisker in on the information they'd gotten from Garner and Stone, and he shook his head now as he lifted a couple of small boxes off an upper shelf. "Infected monkey, huh? Damn. How's that for payback? Human race started with an ape, then ends with one."

"Well, I wouldn't go setting my doomsday clock yet," Blair said, wiping the sweat from his brow with a sleeve. "Anyway, we're not really descendants of apes. We're from a common simian ancestor."

Jim turned from his perusal of the contents of a packing crate. "Hey, Sandburg...you might want to go easy on the seminar."

Blair gave Fisker an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. I'm an anthropologist. I'm just attached to the police department."

Fisker waved the apology away cheerfully. "Well... army, killer virus, dead phones, out-of-town cops. You know I started to think you all were part of whatever the hell's going on, but you're okay. Hell of a day to go for trout, huh?" Lifting another small box, he grunted with approval. "Here she is." Picking up the ancient machine carefully, he set it down on top of a crate.

Blair lifted the loose top and peered inside. "Uh, this was definitely before transistors." He shook his head, hope turning to disappointment and burning his gut. "Aw, look at that: all the tubes are gone."

Fisker patted his shoulder, then picked up the useless radio and stored it back on the shelf. Blair turned away as his stomach suddenly rolled over and all the blood seemed to drain from his head. He felt bile surge up his throat as he went hot then cold and the sweat on his face turned to ice. A hand on his shoulder startled him and he looked up into Jim's worried face.

"You okay?"

Blair nodded, regretting the action instantly, as the floor seemed to rise up to meet him. "Yeah, I'm fine, um...I've just got..." He shook his head again, trying to gather together his wandering thoughts. "I've got to get out of here."

He managed a shaky step toward the door before the first stomach cramp hit full-force, doubling him up. He tasted vomit. Jim's voice seemed to echo from far-off, but there was no mistaking the worry in the detective's tone

"What's wrong?"

Blair was able to unclench one arm from around his convulsing stomach and anchor desperate fingers in the sleeve of Jim's coat. "Oh, God, I've just got to get some air."

He felt a strong arm go about his waist and he leaned into the support gratefully as his vision grayed out and his knees buckled. He flinched as icy outdoor wind bit at his hot cheeks and then he was pulling impatiently away from Jim's grasp, dropping to his knees in the mud, as his stomach attempted to turn itself inside out.

Jim's voice shouted above him, but he could spare no energy to decipher the words as the sickness gripped him mercilessly. Weakened from the attack, he slumped forward bonelessly as the vomiting subsided and would have fallen face-first into the mess if not for a strong hand bunching in the back of his jacket and pulling him to the side. A large hand cupped his head and lowered him gently to the ground and Blair whimpered, curling into a tight ball as cramps shredded through his insides. He felt hands touching him, heard voices speaking to him but could focus only on the unrelenting pain.

~~~~~~~~

Jim crouched at Blair's side, one hand attempting to massage away his partner's obvious pain, Blair's skin hot beneath his touch. He looked up worriedly as Simon and Linda ran up, the vet immediately reaching to check Blair's pulse. Jim turned shocked eyes to Simon. "The virus. He's got the virus."

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

Jim walked beside the stretcher carrying a barely conscious Sandburg into the medical tent while a shocked Simon and Linda followed behind. Jim squeezed Blair's hand reassuringly as his eyes opened sleepily and he looked about in confusion. The grad student's face was sheet-white, with beads of sweat dotting his forehead and upper lip, giving his complexion a waxy appearance.

*Like death warmed over,* Jim thought. *No! Not going there.* He forced a smile to his face and patted Blair's shoulder as he moved restlessly on the stretcher, his face twisted in pain. "Come on. Just relax, buddy. They're going to take good care of you."

Blair lifted a shaky hand in a gesture of understanding, then sank back down and closed his eyes. Jim stopped at the entrance to the tent, sentinel sight following his ill partner until he disappeared beyond the shadows in the tent. He looked at the soldier on sentry duty. "What happens now?"

"Isolation," Crockett replied.

Jim shifted from one foot to the other restlessly. His eyes took in the man's name. "I'd like to see the doctor from the CDC, Lieutenant Crockett."

The soldier shook his head. "He's busy. My orders are to protect him from interruption."

"This isn't an interruption," Jim ground out, anger and worry sharpening his tone. "This is about the condition of my friend." He turned as Colonel Garner walked over and demanded to know the problem. "The problem is that this has become personal to me," Jim replied, pointing inside the medical tent, "and I'd like to know what's going on."

"I strongly suggest you back off and let us do our work before a lot of people die." Garner walked away, then paused and looked back at Jim. "Including your friend."

Jim dialed up his sight once more in an effort to track Blair and check on his condition. Peripherally, he was vaguely aware of another soldier taking over sentry duty in front of the tent. His eyes picked up Doctor Stone inside handing a patient some kind of medication in a small cup. Realizing there was nothing more he could for Sandburg at the moment, and knowing he would not be allowed inside to check on his partner, Jim walked back to Simon and Linda.

"Would you mind keeping an eye on Sandburg for us?" he asked the vet. He waved his hands about helplessly. "Just whatever you can do."

"Yeah, sure." Linda shrugged and Jim knew she felt as useless as he did. "As much as I can do."

The two men watched her walk back to the isolation tent and begin speaking with the soldier there. Simon tapped Jim's arm. "Come on. Let's go."

They made their way onto the main street, watching as more patients were carried past them while other townsfolk lined up outside a medical tent for tests. The whole town seemed silent, in shock.

"Think the kid's going to be all right?" Simon asked finally.

Jim stopped walking but continued to stare ahead. "I hope so. No one here has died yet. Now, I'm holding on to that for now, but something's bothering me about this virus." He turned to look at Simon. "I mean, most of the town is flat on its back. Why aren't we?"

"Could have something to do with our immune systems. Fisker and Dr. Conway aren't affected either. Only thing that's bugging me right now is if Sandburg's going to be okay." He shook his head sadly and Jim smiled, knowing Simon had a soft spot for Sandburg, though he rarely admitted it. "Other than that, I feel fine."

"Yeah, me, too. But if this virus is airborne, we're already exposed."

They continued on down the street in silence for some time, each lost in their own thoughts. In the distance, a soldier was watching the incoming road and Jim thought something looked out of place, then realized what it was. Reaching out, he grasped Simon's arm and steered him over to the side of a building.

Peering around the corner, Jim gestured at the man just ahead. "That guy doesn't have a mask on. He looks all right."

They watched as Crockett, the soldier they'd seen at the isolation tent, walked up to the man without a mask. Dialing up his hearing, Jim listened in on the conversation.

<You wanted to see me?> Crockett asked.

The other soldier scowled at him. <Garner wants you at the motorcade. Get your ass over there.>

<This better be the word to go. I didn't sign up to baby-sit this town,> Crockett grumbled. He glanced around the area, and Jim and Simon ducked back out of sight. < Do you think maybe you should put your mask on?>

The soldier shrugged but pulled his mask from its pack and strapped it on. Jim motioned to Simon and the two men sidled further along the edge of building.

Simon tapped Jim on the shoulder. "What's going on?" he whispered.

"A private just gave orders to our favorite lieutenant. It's not the Army I know." Jim looked over his shoulder at Simon. "Crockett also referred to the word 'go.' Like they're waiting on something."

Simon stared at him. "What the hell's going on here, Jim? Are these guys for real or what?"

"Got me, Captain."

"All right. Let's take a look around." As he moved off, Jim caught his arm and stopped him.

"It's probably better if we're not joined at the hip."

Simon nodded. "Right. Be careful."

Jim waited a few minutes to allow Simon to walk off in one direction, then made his way toward a group of soldiers gathered by one of the trucks. Clearly visible in the rear of the vehicle were several large metal canisters. Stopping behind a pile of drums, Jim extended his hearing once more and listened in on the men's conversation.

<Should we dump more in? >

<Did you get the main line again? >

<This morning, yeah.>

<Good. After the shipment arrives, we're out of here. >

He was so focused on the conversation in front of him that he didn't hear the men approach from behind. He heard faint words and had to drag his hearing back to concentrate on them when he recognized Garner's voice barking at him.

"I thought I'd discouraged you from walking around." There was a pause and Jim shook himself mentally from an almost zone-out. It was times like this he needed Sandburg at his side to talk him through the extension of his senses. "Ellison, I am talking to you."

Jim blinked a couple of times to get his bearings and turned slowly to face Garner. Crockett stood at the colonel's side, a menacing expression on his narrow face.

"Just trying to clear my head," Jim began. His eyes flickered toward the isolation tent and the next thing he said was completely truthful. "I was thinking about my friend in the tent."

Garner ignored his concern. "I'm ordering anyone still standing confined to their homes. You can stay at the inn."

Jim didn't grace either man with his acceptance. Shoving his hands into the voluminous pockets of his jacket, he strode away, not bothering to look back.

~~~~~~~~

Crockett glared after the detective with a grim look. "We should do something about him...something permanent."

Garner shook his head. "We're almost done here. It doesn't help the plan if we're cop killers. In the meantime, we'll keep him on ice."

~~~~~~~~

Blair rolled over on the narrow cot and tried not to moan as someone shook his shoulder, awakening the pounding in his head. The vomiting had stopped an hour or so ago, and the cramps in his stomach had lessened though an occasional spasm still curled him into a ball of misery. His head felt stuffed with cotton and he doubted his legs would support him if he tried to stand.

Looking around the tent, he could see no one he recognized and hoped that meant that Jim and Simon had not yet succumbed to the virus. A small plastic cup was thrust under his nose and he almost gagged at the pungent smell. "What's that?" he asked, swallowing convulsively to dispel his nausea.

"Just a light sedative to keep you calm."

Blair accepted the cup and looked at the stretcher opposite him, its occupant sleeping deeply and snoring softly. "How are the other people? Did you find an antidote yet?"

The blue-suited figure patted his shoulder. "Relax. You're being given the best of care."

A voice Blair thought sounded familiar came from the front of the tent. "Doctor, can I see you for a moment?"

The doctor tapped the cup in Blair's hand. "Drink that down. It'll ease your cramps."

Waiting until the doctor walked away, Blair took another tentative sniff at the contents. Feeling whatever was left in his stomach threatening to reappear, he hurriedly dumped the medicine back into the bottle. Slumping back onto his pillow, he concentrated on taking several slow, deep breaths. He moaned as a familiar pain in his gut heralded the futility of his actions and he rolled to his side, reaching for the emesis bowl.

~~~~~~~~

Jim met up again with Simon and Linda in the main street, outside the vet's clinic. He wasted no time in getting to the concern uppermost in his mind. "Any word on Sandburg?"

Linda shook her head and looked toward the isolation tent. "Still inside. They won't give me specific information."

On the way back from his encounter with Garner and Crockett, Jim had pondered the events they were now embroiled in. Casting his mind back to when Simon and Blair first arrived, he tried to find a common thread that would explain why only Blair had been struck down with the virus, despite all of them staying in close proximity…until now. His gaze wandered to the medical tent.

He sighed and forced his attention back to the matter at hand. He would be no help to Sandburg if he couldn't figure it out. "Simon, did you have any of the local water since you've been here?"

"City boy like me?" Simon lifted a bottle of water. "I've been drinking bottled water and so has Sandburg."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, me, too."

"My place has its own well, but the rest of the town works off the main line supply. Why?" Linda asked.

Jim fobbed off her question for the moment, his mind still attempting to work through the facts at hand. "Meet me at your office in ten minutes." Turning away, Jim crossed the road and headed up the main street.

~~~~~~~~

Blair cracked open gummy eyelids and looked up at the ceiling, momentarily confused about his whereabouts. An echo of pain cramped his stomach and his memory returned.

The isolation tent. He'd been sick. He rolled carefully onto his back and took stock of himself. Aside from a pounding headache and a mild queasiness, he felt better than he had a few hours before. He felt sticky with sweat beneath the blankets and his bulky jacket, and a careful sniff told him he was in dire need of a shower.

Faint voices from the tent's anteroom a short distance away caught his attention and, recognizing Doctor Stone's voice, slightly raised, the tone angry, he eased himself into a sitting position. The room swam for a moment and he closed his eyes briefly, puffing air in and out of his mouth.

"There's a lot of flack falling on me," he heard Stone say.

"I'm aware of that. You're not alone on this."

Blair thought that was Garner's voice. Swinging his legs over the side of the portable bed, Blair hunched forward and hung his head, wondering whether getting up had been such a good idea. He heard Stone speak again.

"If there are any problems with this operation, I need to know now. This thing better go off exactly the way we planned. There's absolutely no margin for error here. I'm talking about human or mechanical."

His curiosity piqued, Blair swallowed down his nausea and stood up. He shivered in the chill air of the tent and tottered toward the anteroom.

"I've got to know right now if this thing is going to go as planned. Are we absolutely clear on this, gentlemen? I mean, absolutely clear?" Stone asked.

"ETA of the train is right on schedule."

Blair nodded to himself. Definitely Garner.

"Good. We've got a short window after recovery kicks in for these people."

"Once we're out of here, I don't want anything to lead back to us," Garner continued. "No ID's of any kind. Have them double-check and triple-check. When we're gone, I want us to be invisible."

Blair raised a hand to his head and closed his eyes again as dizziness assailed him and he simultaneously sweated and shivered. Walking slowly, feeling almost as sick as he had before, he stumbled back to his bed and lay down with a sigh. Another voice echoed as he drifted into an exhausted and fevered sleep.

"I'll take care of it. There's no way anyone will be able to identify us."

~~~~~~~~

Jim could hear Simon and Linda chatting quietly as he opened Linda's office door and stepped inside. He held out a bottle of water to the vet and she accepted it, eyeing him quizzically.

"I got this from the tap in the diner," the detective explained. "I was wondering if you could run a basic screen on it."

"Sure, but how could a virus that's airborne be in the water system?" She reached over and flicked the switch on her computer.

"I overheard these jackasses in camouflage talking. They put it in there."

Simon surged to his feet. "What?"

"Whoever these clowns are, they're not the US Army. I don't know what they're up to, but they're strong enough to immobilize a whole town." Jim clenched his jaws, his anger mounting at the thought of the agony Blair and the townsfolk had suffered at the hands of these men.

"Well, let's take a look." Linda poured a small amount of the water into a test tube then slotted it into a centrifuge.

"What else were you able to find out?" Simon asked as they watched with interest.

"I overheard somebody talking about a shipment they were waiting on."

Simon's frowned, the concern on his face clearly evident as he realized the gravity of Jim's information. "Shipment? Is that what this is about? They inoculate the town with some virus, so nobody knows anything?"

"Yeah. People in the containment tent aren't getting any better because they're doped up with something. And with the martial law that they've imposed, everybody walking is going to be contained." Jim took a deep breath as he thought of a sick Sandburg at the mercy of men with no conscience. He forced his attention back to Linda. "Now how long is this going to be?"

"Not long."

All three turned in surprise as Crockett and two other soldiers strode into the office. "Anyone not under treatment goes to the inn," Crockett ordered. He held out his hand. "We also need the keys to your vehicles and your weapons if you're carrying them."

Simon snorted and turned away while Jim stood his ground and shook his head. "I don't think so."

Simon looked around at the unmistakable sound of a weapon being cocked and found the barrel of a gun aimed unwaveringly at him.

"Don't make this any harder, guys," Crockett advised. "Hand over your weapons, now."

Simon sighed, then nodded to Jim, and both men unzipped their jackets and dug beneath them for their service revolvers. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see Linda studying the computer screen intently. He shifted slightly to one side, hoping to divert any attention away from her.

Simon appeared to have the same idea as he blustered at Crockett. "I don't believe this. We're law enforcement officers."

Crockett, however, was unmoved. "In this situation, it doesn't matter. The military's in charge. You'll get everything back after the quarantine's lifted."

Jim held his breath as Crockett's attention finally shifted to Linda, and he stepped over to her, one hand held out, palm up. With a sigh of relief, Jim heard the soft snick as she switched the monitor off.

Crockett didn't even look at it. "You, too. Keys."

"I have a place in the back," Linda said. "Why would I be dragged out of my own home?"

"I'm just following orders, Doc." His features hardened and the soldier standing behind him straightened his stance. "You want to do this the hard way?"

Linda shook her head silently and, picking her keys up from the desk, dropped them into Crockett's waiting hand.

The lieutenant waved them ahead of him out the door. "Let's go. And just a reminder...under the rules of martial law, any violations and it's within my authority to shoot to kill."

*Not if I get you first,* Jim thought as they filed out and made their way down the stairs. *If anything happens to Sandburg, you can forget martial law.*

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

Jim, Simon and Linda were escorted back to the inn under armed guard. Garner obviously wasn't taking chances that any of them might wander off again. Several local townsfolk, including the innkeeper, Wilton Fisker, were already seated in the small lounge area. The three found a quiet corner and settled in to discuss their options.

"This isn't my field," Linda began in a low voice, "but I found a viral form in the water that shouldn't be there."

"Do you have any idea what it is?" Jim asked as he kept a close eye on the soldiers stationed at the door.

"It looks like a mild toxin."

Jim nodded, feeling his anger and disgust mount again. "Something that mimics a rampant virus."

"Maybe."

Simon shook his head, his expression mirroring Jim's. "Not enough to kill. Just enough to immobilize and scare the hell out of everybody?"

"Yeah. There wasn't anything that could be considered lethal."

"So Blair and the others are gonna be all right," Jim added. His relief was tempered with anger at what could have been. His eyes narrowed and a nerve spasmed in his jaw. "Apart from being as sick as a dog and being tricked into believing they were going to die." He paused for a moment as a puzzling thought occurred to him. "Yeah, that's the weird thing, Simon. Why Blair? Why not us?"

Simon looked thoughtful. "It had to be something that he..." He broke off and snapped his fingers. "Ice! He was chewing on ice at breakfast."

"Right, right, right. All right...but the big question is why go through all this trouble? We're out in the middle of nowhere. Why would you want to immobilize a town? There's got to be something real big at stake here, right?"

Simon shrugged and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. Must be something."

Hearing vehicles pull up outside, Jim wandered as casually as he could to the window and looked outside. Several uniformed men were loading weapons and ammunition into the trucks.

"Can you see what's going on out there?" Simon asked, coming to stand beside him.

Jim shook his head. "I don't know."

He turned and walked back to Linda, his thoughts returning to his partner, wondering if he was recovering. If the toxin was as mild as Linda said, surely Blair must be showing improvement by now. Suddenly remembering the medicine he'd seen Doctor Stone administering to the patients in the tent, he leaned forward and spoke close to Simon's ear. "We've got to get Blair out of that tent."

"How do we do that and get past the guards?" Simon hissed back. He straightened as Jim nudged him and Fisker approached.

"Is everything all right?" the rotund innkeeper asked, his round face creased into a frown.

Jim nodded, his gaze roaming the room as he replied. He decided to take Fisker into his confidence. The man had helped them try to find a working radio before Blair got sick and being the owner of the inn, chances were that he'd know of a back way out. "Yeah, just looking for a way out of here...other than the front door."

"Maybe it would be best just to sit it out," Fisker suggested. He hooked a thumb toward the window. "That is the US Army out there."

"We're not so sure," Simon answered. "We could use a little help."

"I think you should trust them, Wilton," Linda added.

Fisker regarded Jim and Simon for a brief moment as though he was weighing up their intentions. Leaning in conspiratorially, he said in a low voice, "I'm not too crazy about this lockdown routine myself. Back corridor off the lobby, there's a stairwell in a closet. Goes down to a wine cellar. The cellar has a door that leads to the outside."

Jim nodded. "Let's do it." He placed a hand on Linda's arm as she made to follow. "I think you'd better stay here. If we all go it will draw attention to us."

Linda opened her mouth as though to protest, then snapped it shut and nodded. She grasped Simon's hand and waited until he turned back to her. "Well, what do I tell them if they discover you're missing?"

Simon cracked a small grin. "Tell them we got a better rate somewhere else."

Fisker led Jim and Simon down a narrow corridor toward the back of the inn. None of the soldiers stationed at the front door challenged them. It appeared they considered them no threat as long as they stayed inside. The closet had a false back, which opened onto a set of stairs leading down to the wine cellar.

"Storm door's this way."

"We can find it from here," Jim said. He moved ahead to take the lead but Fisker shook his head.

"No, I'm going with you boys. This is my town. If something's up, I want to know."

Jim nodded. "Okay. Fair enough. Let's go before someone decides to check up on us."

Making their way quickly outside, they kept to the side of the building. Ahead of them a group of soldiers were climbing into the back of one of the trucks. Once they were aboard, one of the men smacked the side, signaling the driver.

"All right. We're ready to roll. Let's go, let's go."

"They're getting ready to meet their shipment," Simon whispered.

Fisker looked puzzled. "What shipment?"

"Let's go find out."

They hadn't had a chance to fill Fisker in on the small amount of information they'd discovered, but Jim's attention was focused on getting to Blair first. He led them over to the isolation tent and they edged along the side. Taking a quick look around the corner, Jim was surprised to see no guard standing sentry at the entrance. Just inside the tent, he spotted a HAZMAT suit and boots. He turned back to Simon and Fisker. "I'm going in."

Simon pointed back over his shoulder. "We'll be in back."

Stepping into the tent, Jim dressed quickly in the HAZMAT suit and made his way past several beds of sleeping people. Jim was relieved to see Blair's curly head poking out from the covers of a stretcher near the back. The anthropologist was asleep, his face still pale.

Bending over the bed, Jim extended his hearing and concentrated for a moment on Blair's heart. It was regular and slow and Jim felt some of his tension dissipate. A hand on Blair's forehead told him his partner still had a fever, though it did not appear to be as high as when he'd first collapsed. Finding what he thought was a shoulder beneath the blankets, Jim shook it gently. He leaned closer as Blair jumped, his eyes opening wide in fright. "Hey, it's me. You all right?"

Blair's eyes seemed a little unfocused and he blinked slowly a few times. Suddenly, he pushed himself upright and grasped Jim's hand. "Jim, they're doing something. They're trying to keep us down or something." His voice sounded scratchy, probably from the forceful vomiting, Jim thought.

Jim placed a supporting arm around Blair's back and helped him to stand. "We're going to get you out of here. Come on."

They waited a moment as Blair wavered on his feet. His eyes closed again and he swallowed convulsively. Jim kept one arm securely around his waist and led him toward the entrance. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Blair nodded carefully. His color had certainly faded since he'd stood up. "I'm fine," he whispered. "Just a little shaky still."

Jim's concern for his partner was interrupted by the arrival of a soldier. He glanced briefly at the two men, then stiffened as he recognized Jim through the clear facemask.

"Hey, what are you doing?"

Attempting to keep a tight grip on Blair, Jim stomped on the pressurized air release as the soldier's gun came up to bear on him, then he followed through with a hard punch to the startled man's jaw. The soldier collapsed without a sound. Jim turned to Blair.

"Can you make it out on your own?"

"Yeah."

A quick glance at Blair's white face didn't reassure him, but he pushed the anthropologist through the doorway and bent to lift the unconscious soldier. He laid the man down on Blair's bed, covering him fully with the blanket, then followed Blair back to where Simon and Fisker were waiting, stripping off the HAZMAT suit as he went. He smiled as he saw Simon's face light up as Blair walked slowly toward him.

"Blair, are you all right? How are you feeling?" The captain raised a hand and pressed it to Blair's forehead. Jim thought it was testament to Blair's condition that he withstood the quick examination with just a rolling of his eyes.

"I'm feeling a lot better," Blair assured him. "The sweating's gone, stomach pain's gone, too, but my head still feels like mush." He looked around a little dazedly. "What's going on?"

"The whole thing's some kind of setup," Jim explained. "They neutralized the town so they could get some kind of shipment."

Blair crossed his arms over his chest and shivered. "I heard Garner talking about the ETA of a train and it being a small window of opportunity afterward before the people started to feel better."

"Train wouldn't be coming here," Fisker replied. "Branch line hasn't been used for years ever since the mill closed."

"Branch line," Simon mused. His brow furrowed as he digested the information. "The train would have to slow down at the branch line." He nodded excitedly. "That's where they're meeting the train. Whereabouts is it?"

"Straight north, through the woods." Fisker pointed the way. "I can show you."

Jim patted his shoulder. "We've put you through enough already. We'll take it."

"But I..."

Jim shook his head firmly. There was no way he wanted to risk endangering a civilian's life. "Go back to the inn. We've got it covered. We appreciate all your help."

Fisker glared at him and Jim saw a spark of anger in the innkeeper's eyes, but it faded quickly and he nodded.

"All right. You boys be careful."

Jim watched him go then turned to Blair. "You feel up to this, Chief? Maybe you should go back with Fisker." He studied his partner closely. Blair was still too pale and his flushed cheeks indicated he still had a fever. If Garner's timing was correct, the toxin wasn't expected to begin to wear off for several more hours.

"I'm coming with you," Blair answered. "I'm okay."

Jim hesitated then nodded. "All right, but you get into trouble, you let me know. Got it?"

"I got it."

~~~~~~~~

Carl Edwards was a happy man. The federal agent had been given a cushy assignment riding the rails and he was relieving his partner, Mike of his loose change in a friendly game of poker to while away the time. He smiled at the disgusted look on his buddy's face as he pushed Carl's latest winnings toward him. A loud bang above him froze Carl in the process of picking up the loose change. "You hear that?"

Mike shrugged but as Carl stood up to investigate, something was tossed into the car, shrouding it immediately in thick, choking gas. Carl didn't even feel himself hit the floor.

~~~~~~~~

Jim stopped abruptly as the three men jogged through the woods, causing Blair to run into his back. His head tipped slightly to one side and Blair knew the sentinel had detected something they couldn't.

"I hear the train," Jim said, confirming Blair's thoughts. "It's over here."

They took off again, following Jim's lead. Blair winced at a sudden stitch and pressed a hand to his side. Slowing a little to catch his breath, he allowed Simon to pass him, nodding reassurance at the captain's concerned look. Ahead, Jim was on a mission. Even Simon was having trouble keeping up with him as he powered his way along the path, shoving errant branches aside with a push of his shoulder. In the distance, Blair heard the sound of an explosion and Jim turned back toward them.

"They're hitting the train," the detective said. "Come on."

Turning, he put on a burst of speed and disappeared into the trees. Blair dragged in a ragged breath and forced his cramping legs to move faster. He was relieved to see Jim and Simon stopped just ahead of him, looking down an incline. Slowing his pace gratefully, he trotted up to stand beside Jim and followed the detective's gaze.

Below, a train sat idling on the tracks, smoke billowed from the windows. An Army truck was backed up to one of the carriages, and as the three men watched, two soldiers hauled out a large crate and loaded it into the back of the truck. The atmosphere was one of organized rush as uniformed men hurried to load the shipment. Garner's voice floated up to them.

"Keep it coming. That's the way, boys. We don't have much time."

"What the hell are they unloading?" Simon asked Jim, squinting at the crates that were rapidly disappearing into the rear of the truck.

Jim frowned. "US Treasury money."

Simon gaped with sudden realization. "That's what they've been up to this whole time. This thing is a damn money train."

Jim turned to look behind them and Blair heard the unmistakable, unwelcome sound of a weapon being cocked. Blair realized Jim had probably been so focused on hearing what was going on down at the train, he hadn't even heard Fisker and his men approach. He copied Jim's actions as the detective raised his hands in the air.

Wilton Fisker smiled, satisfaction evident on his round face. "That's right. Money. Best kind, too. Old money. $274 million being transferred to a federal facility to be incinerated. That's the kind of waste I couldn't tolerate." He stepped forward and pushed Blair toward one of the two soldiers accompanying him. "Sorry, boys. Like that train you've come to the end of the line."

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

Jim slowed his pace as a small sub-vocal groan rumbled from the throat of the man trudging wearily beside him. Snatching a quick glance across, the detective was startled by the ashen pallor of Blair's skin. "Sandburg?"

"Gonna be…" Blair suddenly wheeled to the right without finishing the sentence, and Jim went with him, sliding a supporting arm around the anthropologist's waist as he bent double and began to retch.

"You! Get back!"

Jim looked over his shoulder as he heard the unmistakable sound of a weapon being cocked. "He's sick," he ground out as Blair dropped to his knees in the mud. "He's throwing up because of that crap you put in the water."

"Move away from him." Wilton Fisker stepped closer to them, adding the threat of his own handgun to the order. Jim saw Fisker's finger tighten on the trigger as he hesitated. "I'll put him out of his misery if you don't do what I asked." Fisker's weapon swung to aim at Blair's oblivious head as the anthropologist vomited watery bile.

"Jim."

The detective looked up into his captain's serious dark eyes. No words were spoken nor were any necessary. Jim squeezed Blair's shuddering shoulder, then stood and stepped back. While guards kept their weapons trained on Simon and Jim, Fisker leaned over Blair. He patted the miserable man's back in an almost fatherly gesture. "I'm sorry you're feeling so bad, son. If there had been any other way to do this, we would have."

"Yeah, right."

Blair stayed where he was for a moment longer and then surged suddenly to his feet, seemingly heedless of the three gun barrels that swung to cover his movements. Abruptly, he shook Fisker's hand from his shoulder and strode back to Jim and Simon, his back straight and his head up, though Jim could see his pain in the set of his jaw and in the arm that hugged his stomach.

Falling into step alongside Blair, Jim allowed his senses to expand and gauge his partner's condition. Heart-rate high, as was his breathing, temperature still a little elevated but not dangerously so, skin pale and damp with sweat, this last a good sign, indicating at least that Blair was not dehydrated. "You all right, Sandburg?"

Blair turned a tired face toward him and nodded. "Yeah," he lied blatantly.

Jim accepted the obvious evasion of the truth for now. "We're almost there."

~~~~~~~~

Blair slumped into a bench seat inside the diner and surreptitiously massaged his aching stomach muscles. He really did feel somewhat better now that he'd emptied his stomach. He was pretty sure there was nothing left for him to bring up and he was grateful for that at least.

He still felt somewhat shaky and definitely unwell, though he thought that was more from the rush through the woods than a resurgence of the illness that had him in its grip before. As his wandering gaze caught Jim's intense one, he wished he could convince the sentinel of the same thing.

Standing in front of him, Wilton Fisker ran a hand over the surface of the table. "Nice craftsmanship," he said admiringly. He straightened and turned to look at Jim. "You know, at one time I might have actually been happy retiring here."

Jim's eyes narrowed and Blair saw the familiar clench of Jim's jaw that indicated the detective was on the fast track to losing his temper. "Was that before you decided to knock over a Treasury train and assault a couple of federal agents?"

Simon leaned forward in his seat. "Look, Fisker, how did you know the money was on that train?"

"It was my job to know. I used to work for the Treasury Department." The innkeeper smiled smugly, then walked over to the room-sized freezer and opened the door. "Still had access to the computer codes. Found out a shipment of old currency was being sent to Denver to be burned."

"Is that when you decided to sell out your country?" Simon asked grimly.

Fisker chuckled as he poked his head into the interior of the cold room and looked around. "Beats a government pension. As a matter of fact, all of my partners here are ex-government men. Hell, I had to turn recruits away. Clayton Falls was the weak spot on the train route. Cell phone gray zone."

"And it's only six miles from the Canadian border," Blair added softly.

"Right." Fisker turned around and walked back to stand in front of Blair. "A complicated plan, maybe...but some of us, Mr. Sandburg are just a few steps ahead of that common ancestor."

"Let's get on with it, Fisker," Garner urged from the doorway.

"No one was supposed to get hurt, but you people found out more than we wanted you to know," Fisker continued. He looked genuinely remorseful for a moment, but Blair ignored the look of sympathy as an echo of cramp twisted his gut, causing fresh sweat to bead his upper lip.

"Now, Mr. Garner here doesn't want any bloodshed. Mr. Crockett, on the other hand, doesn't share that consideration. I'm going to split the difference." Fisker strode back quickly to the freezer and opened the door. "Put them in the freezer."

Linda stood and grasped Blair's arm, helping him to his feet. "And you think that won't kill us?" she asked as she and Blair walked over.

Fisker shrugged, his earlier sympathetic look replaced by one of cool determination. "Maybe. But someone might find you after we've gone. If not, well, can't say I didn't give you a chance, anyway."

Seeing no way out of the situation, Blair followed Linda to the freezer and stepped inside. He turned back and watched Crockett move over to Jim and Simon, poking Jim with his gun.

"Let's go."

The two detectives stood and walked over to the freezer, Jim's darting eyes indicating he was searching for a chance of escape. Blair saw his shoulders slump imperceptibly as the detective realized the futility of that idea then Jim and Simon joined them inside the icy room. The four watched silently as the door closed and the whirring sound of the fan started up. Blair shivered and hunched further into his jacket. Crossing to the corner, he lowered himself to the floor and pulled his knees up to his chest. He really, really hated the cold.

Simon was studying their prison carefully. "There's no opening anywhere except for the air vent."

"Great," Linda grumbled.

Jim was not ready to give in. "Well, at least we have air...for now." He strode over to the door and pressed his face to the small glass window, angling his head to get a better view. "They wedged this door with some kind of tool." Walking back to the other side of the freezer, he studied the fan carefully. "We've got to jam this somehow."

Simon could only manage a puzzled "Huh?" and Blair's brain still felt too mushy to fully comprehend what Jim was up to.

Jim held out a hand. "Let me have your coat."

Simon frowned at the detective and pulled his coat more closely about him. "Why don't we use your coat?"

"'Cause you're the captain. You can afford a new coat," Jim reasoned. "Come on, let me have your coat."

Simon finally nodded and pointed to the fan cover. "Get that off."

Jim set to work as Simon unbuttoned his coat, but Linda stepped forward and placed a hand on Jim's arm.

"You're going to cut off all the air," she said fretfully.

Jim patted her hand and turned back to his task. "Just relax. We need what's inside. There's a magnet. Ready?" he asked Simon as the captain held his coat up.

"Go ahead." Simon quickly shoved his coat into the fan motor, smiling as it choked on the thick material and sputtered to a stop.

Jim scrutinized the freezer walls. "Let me find the wires that turn it off."

"Got it?"

"Ah, yeah." Locating the correct wires, Jim pulled them free. "You know where I'm going with this?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah. I did okay in my science class. Magnet, right?" He grinned. "After you're finished I've got some wiring in my house you can do."

Blair watched in silence from his hunched position on the floor as Jim pulled the magnet free from the fan housing and carried it over to the freezer door. Placing it against the door, he began to move it upward and Blair had a sudden flash of clarity. Jim was using the magnet to pull up whatever had been jammed into the door lock on the other side.

"Come on," Jim cajoled. Pausing for a moment, the detective took a slow, deep breath then set the magnet against the door again. This time they were rewarded with the sound of something clattering to the floor outside.

Feeling a surge of adrenaline flood through him, rejuvenating his meager energy Blair pushed himself up from the floor and walked slowly to Jim's side as the detective carefully opened the freezer door.

Blair followed Jim over to the wall next to the window and waited while Jim concentrated on the voices outside. After a moment, Jim began to relay the conversation to Blair in a whisper.

~~~~~~~~

Fisker watched from the sidelines as Garner supervised the team loading the trucks in front of the diner.

"What about all this gear?" Garner asked, waving a hand at the piles of pseudo medical and military equipment and tents still strewn about.

"Leave it. What use is it to us now?" Fisker turned to Stone. "The plane arrives in 20 minutes. Convoy the rest of the trucks to the airstrip. Then radio back with an all clear. We'll meet you with the payload."

Stone nodded his agreement then lifted a walkie-talkie to his mouth and spoke into it. "Okay, let's roll."

~~~~~~~~

Jim led the way out of the rear exit of the diner then turned onto the main street, ensuring he kept to the cover of the buildings. Reaching the end of the street, he poked his head carefully around the corner.

"That's the last truck. The rest of them are gone," Simon whispered from beside him.

"It's full of money." Jim's nose wrinkled at the pungent odor of ink. "I can smell it." He motioned for the others to follow him, pressing a finger to his lips to indicate they should be silent; his eyes automatically seeking Blair and frowning at the young man's obvious pallor. He was still fighting the effects of the toxin and the run through the woods had probably set his recovery back too.

Extending his hearing as they approached the sole truck, Jim heard someone speaking and recognized the voice as the fake doctor, Stone's.

"Convoy's clear. Deliver the package."

Fisker's voice echoed from the cabin of the truck. "We're on the way."

Jim turned back to Linda and bent to talk close to her ear. "Is that the only road out of here?"

"Yeah."

"Simon, we've got to do something here."

Simon nodded, looking thoughtful. "I'll check around, see if they left any communication gear, try to reach backup…" He paused when Jim shook his head.

"Why don't you leave that up to Sandburg and Linda." He gave the captain a meaningful look as he inclined his head toward Blair. Simon followed his gaze and frowned. Reaching out, he placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "How are you holding up, Sandburg?"

"What?" Dazed, weary eyes met the captain's, and Blair swallowed, wincing at the action. "I'm okay."

It wasn't even a good obfuscation, Jim decided. Blair looked out on his feet. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his badge and gave it to Blair. "If you can find a working phone, radio, whatever, tell them to send back up and give them my badge number. All right?"

"Right."

"All right." He turned to Linda. "You should stay here. There's a lot of people who could use your help, including those federal agents."

Linda nodded and placed a hand on Blair's arm. "We'll be fine," she assured him.

Jim gave Blair a final once over then turned to his captain. "Come on, Simon, you're with me."

"What are we going to do?"

Jim smiled but it held no warmth. "We're going to head them off at the crossroads."

~~~~~~~~

Arriving back at the now deserted train, Jim climbed up into the engine, then reached back a hand to help Simon inside. He made his way quickly over to the train controls, studying them intently. "We've got to get this puppy down the line. Create a roadblock."

Simon stared at him. "Jim, what are you going to do? Have you ever driven a train before?"

Jim nodded. "Sure. Yeah. I had a Lionel set when I was ten."

Simon clapped a hand to his head. "Oh, God."

Jim released the brake and pulled out what he was pretty certain was what passed for the gas lever. Couldn't be any harder than driving a car, surely. "Hang on." He smiled as the engine gave a lurch, sending Simon to the floor, and began to roll down the track, gradually picking up speed.

As the train came level with an Army truck, Jim glanced out the driver's window and saw Stone behind the wheel, Wilton Fisker in the passenger seat beside him. The sentinel opened up his hearing in time to hear Stone's surprised voice.

<What the hell is he doing?>

<Trying to block us at the crossroads,> Fisker replied.

Jim watched him bring a rifle up to aim at them and he pushed Simon to the floor, ducking his own head as gunshots peppered the side of the engine. Jim pushed the train to its limit, a grim smile lighting his features as they pulled ahead of the truck.

"Watch out!" Jim ducked to the side as a man appeared at the rear opening of the truck and opened fire. Simon went back to his knees beside him, trying desperately to keep his head below the level of the front window and still keep an eye on the action. Jim cursed as the truck gained ground and crept ahead of them. Simon's tight grip on his arm stole his concentration and he gave the captain a quick look.

"Jim, we're coming up to a crossing. You've got to slow this thing down."

Jim shook his head vehemently. "Not yet. Hang on. They're going to try to make it across the tracks. I'm going to brake."

Pressing his foot down hard on the brake, Jim closed his eyes briefly as he saw Fisker's truck cross the train tracks right under their noses. The impact threw him and Simon to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs, and Jim battled to turn down his hearing as the deafening sound of an explosion battered at his eardrums.

Staggering back to the door of the train, Jim looked out onto a scene of fiery devastation. The truck had been dragged to the side of the tracks by the force of the oncoming train, then burst into flames. As Jim watched, a second smaller explosion lifted the truck's wheels from the ground momentarily and then slammed them back to the earth. Jim sighed. There was no way anyone could have survived the crash.

~~~~~~~~
Linda looked at Blair with puzzlement as he came out of the diner clutching Simon's cell phone. "I thought Fisker said this was a gray zone for cell phones."

Blair nodded and then wished he hadn't as the world around him did a slow roll, reawakening his nausea. He really was feeling much better than he had earlier, but it was slow going and he was sure the adrenaline of the past few hours had stirred up his already sensitive stomach. "I'm going to climb up that hill there and try it from the top."

"Are you sure you want to do that?" Linda asked as she hurried to follow him. "You still don't look too well. The other patients are only beginning to recover now and they haven't been running around the countryside like you have."

"It's the only chance we have," Blair replied as he stopped at the base of the hill and looked up. It was only a small hillock really, why the heck did it tower over him like Everest? "The only other thing would be to drive to the nearest town, but we risk running into Garner and the rest of the gang."

Linda nodded. "All right. Be careful."

Blair smiled, wishing he felt as confident as he looked and slowly made his way up the roughly hewn path worn into the hillside. Fifteen minutes later, he made his way back feeling sweaty and lightheaded but grinning madly. He held the phone above his head. "Success! Backup's on the way. Should be no more than a couple of hours."

Linda grasped his arm as his legs suddenly buckled beneath him and he sank toward the ground. "I think you should come back and lay down in the isolation tent until Jim and Simon get back," she said, looking closely at his face.

Blair struggled back to his feet and shook his head. "I'm okay. Just all caught up with me, that's all. Besides, I won't be able to relax until Jim and Simon come back." His anxious eyes scanned the woods.

"At least come and sit in the diner until they get here." Linda placed a small hand under his arm and Blair leaned into the support gratefully. Truth be known, he was exhausted.

Silently he allowed her to lead him into the café and push him onto one of the bench seats at the back. He nodded gratefully as she handed him a bottle of chilled water. Unscrewing the cap, he swallowed carefully, sighing as the coolness of the liquid soothed his sore throat. Feeling his weariness overwhelm him, Blair laid his head down on his folded arms and closed his eyes. He wished Jim would hurry back. He wanted to go home.

~~~~~~~~
"Where's Sandburg?" Jim increased his pace as he and Simon walked back into Clayton Falls and saw Linda exiting the isolation tent alone.

Linda smiled, easing a little of Jim's concern. "He's resting in the diner. I wanted him to lie down until you got back but he refused. Once he sat down, I guess it all caught up with him." She walked alongside Jim as she explained, "I peeked in a few minutes ago and checked him out. His temperature is down and he hasn't vomited since we've been back. I think he just did too much before he was fully recovered. A couple of days' rest and I'm pretty sure he'll be fine."

Jim smiled and squeezed her hand. "Thanks for looking out for him."

"It was a mutual thing." The vet turned to Simon as Jim pushed open the door to the diner. "Would you mind giving me a hand to organize refreshments for everyone? I don't think the diner staff are up to cooking food for the masses just yet."

Simon graced her with a broad smile. "Glad to help."

~~~~~~~~
Linda smiled as Blair wandered out of the diner, looking rumpled and knuckling the sleep from his eyes. Jim Ellison followed closely behind. His partner already looked much better after his sleep, Jim thought, the relief evident on Blair's face when he had opened his eyes to see Jim crouching at his side.

"Well, the toxin is wearing off and people are up and around wondering what the hell's going on. Although that's your typical day here," Linda chuckled.

"State Patrol captured Fisker's men at the airstrip," Simon reported. He turned to look at Jim, and a glare replaced his smile though the detective was sure it was just for show. "Although the Treasury Department doesn't agree with your methods, Jim, they do thank you for destroying their old bills."

"So it's back to Cascade?" Linda's face showed her disappointment, and Jim had to agree with her. He had hoped to get to know the pretty vet a little better.

Jim gave her a smile, then looked at the others. "Well, actually, I thought we could all do some fishing tomorrow."

Blair frowned and raised one hand to cover his eyes as he groaned softly.

"I'm in. I'll spring for breakfast," Linda offered brightly.

"Great," Jim replied. He turned back to Simon as the captain snorted and shook his head vehemently, backing away.

"No, thank you. I think I prefer the mayhem of the city." He smiled at Linda. "Nice meeting you."

Blair spoke up then, "Uh... I think I'm down with the mayhem." He waved to Linda and turned to follow Simon but stopped when Jim grabbed his arm.

"Give me a minute to pack my gear and you can ride back with me, Sandburg."

"No, it's fine." Blair looked at Linda. "Would you excuse us for just a minute, please?"

The vet nodded. "Of course. I want to go check on Jackie. See how she's doing. It was very nice meeting you, Blair."

Blair smiled back, a wide, sunny grin that lit up his blue eyes. "You, too. Maybe we'll do the fishing thing another time."

"I'll look forward to it."

Jim waited until Linda walked back inside the diner before speaking. "I don't mind, Sandburg. In fact, as sick as you were, I'd kinda like to keep tabs on you for a couple of days. Make sure you don't have a relapse or something."

Blair shook his head. "I'm not going to have a relapse. I feel fine…well, almost back to normal. You, on the other hand, look awful," he said, poking a finger into Jim's chest. "Stay, a couple of days at least."

Jim was already shaking his head. "I don't need…"

Blair grasped his hand. "Take the time to smell the flowers, the fresh air, catch some fish…mourn Lila." He smiled gently. "I'll catch a ride with Simon and we'll see you in a couple of days, all right?"

Jim stared at his partner for a long time, hoping Blair could read the gratitude on his face without him actually having to say the words. He wasn't disappointed.

"You're welcome," Blair said, sketching a salute. Turning to the road, he trotted after Simon, already chattering to the captain about the historical significance of the area.

Jim laughed outright as Simon's voice floated to him. "If you even think you're going to throw up, Sandburg, let me know. My days of riding with car-sick children are long gone."

It would be amazing if the two made it back to Cascade without killing each other.

~~~FIN ~~~

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