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Neighborhood Watch
Neighborhood Watch
By: Carla and Jewelle Sprite

Beta read by Gemini
Written by: Harold Apter
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

Note: We know nothing of the internal working of the U.S. Marshal's Office or of the judical system regarding prisoner release. Any mistakes are unintentional and not meant to insult either group, but they did sound good in the story. This is fiction after all.

Words in < > are heard using sentinel hearing. Words in // // are heard using a parabolic microphone.


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


The traffic had stopped yet again. Impatient, Jim glared out the windshield of his old Ford, but couldn't see around the delivery truck in front of him. With a quick glance in his driver's side mirror, he extended his hearing slightly, then winced at the sudden high-pitched squeal that came from several teenagers on the school bus stopped in front of the delivery truck. *Great, just what we need, a school bus to hold up traffic.* Jim looked over at his passenger who hadn’t even noticed that they had stopped.

"So how is your mom, Chief? She still running around India with that swampi or swami, whatever it is? "

"Holy man, Jim. He's a holy man." With amused exasperation, Blair looked up from the letter he was reading and noticed that they were no longer moving. "Why have we stopped?"

"There's a school bus in front of the van." Jim glanced at the outside mirror again and frowned.

"Oh, yeah, it's that time, isn't it? Anyway, the guy's a holy man. Baba Tenaka is one of the greats. Listen to this. 'Baba has been instructing me in the art of yogic flying. Yesterday, I actually levitated. It was only for an instant, but I did...' And she underlined 'did' '…feel my body leave the ground.'"

"She get frequent flier miles for that?" Jim smirked, then sighed as the traffic started moving again. Taking the next left turn, Jim hoped to avoid the rest of the afternoon bus route.

"It's about spiritual enlightenment, Jim. Being a sentinel, I would hope you'd be more open to that."

"I'll tell you what enlightenment is. It's when they can fly to Paris without a plane."

Blair smirked back at Jim then noticed the sentinel was spending a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror. "What do you keep looking in the mirrors for?"

"Somebody's been following us ever since we left the station."

"Which car? You think maybe he's just going in the same direction?"

"It's the white sedan, three cars back. Let's find out which direction he's going." Jim grinned and quickly made an unsignaled right-hand turn.

Blair glanced in the rearview mirror. He'd learned a few things riding with Jim all this time. He knew enough not to turn around and look. "He's still back there."

"Let's see what he wants. Hang on." Spying a large open door on a nearby warehouse, Jim turned into the warehouse entrance and continued on to the other side. The question of being followed was answered as the car Jim had been keeping track of followed the same path as the blue and white truck. The truck rounded another corner and picked up speed trying to outdistance the car. Jim put his foot to the floor, losing sight of the car for a few critical moments in which he pulled the truck into another empty warehouse entrance. Jim and Blair watched as the car raced past their hiding place. Jim pulled out of the warehouse and the hunter became the hunted. They followed the car as it rounded a corner that turned out to be a dead end. Jim stopped several yards behind the car, glanced a warning at Blair and got out of the truck, his gun pointed at the driver of the car.

"Get out of the car! Get your hands where I can see them," he ordered.

The driver of the car sat with his hands in sight on the steering wheel. At Jim's shouted command, he slowly opened the door, raising both hands in the air as he stood.

Jim looked closely at the dark haired, rather nondescript man. "Carson? Roger Carson?"

"Jim, this was not the way I'd planned this, but I need your help." said Carson as Blair, noticing the recognition on Jim's face, joined the detective.

"Why all the cloak and dagger? Why didn't you just call me?" Jim asked.

"I couldn't take that risk, Jim, and I didn't know who else to trust," Carson replied staring at Blair, suspiciously.

"Roger Carson, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. Chief, this is U.S. Marshal Roger Carson. Now what's the problem, Roger?"

"One of our deputies is dirty. Somebody in witness protection program may have been compromised."

Jim frowned, "You have any evidence to back that up?"

"Yeah, in my car. Just a sec." Carson headed back to his car.

"You trust this guy, Jim?" Blair hissed.

"Yeah, Chief, a while back when we were in covert ops together, he helped me out of a scrape. I could've bought the farm that night." Jim's voice slowed as he became lost in the memory of a brash, young Lt. Ellison. It was supposed to be a simple in and out info gathering operation, but it nearly ended for Jim when the undetected sentry pushed the barrel of a gun in Jim's back. Only Carson's "uhuh, I wouldn't if I were you." and a sudden snapping sound, obviously the sentry's neck, kept it from being Jim's last night.

"What? Do you mean, he saved your life?"

"Yeah." Jim was pulled abruptly from his memories as he heard Carson open the trunk of his car. Almost involuntarily, Jim zoomed in on the space just underneath the trunk of Carson's car. A blinking red light was like a beacon to him.

"Roger!" Jim yelled and grabbed his partner, instantly recognizing what the light meant.

Carson just had time to look toward Jim before the bomb under the trunk exploded in a huge ball of flame and debris. Jim pulled Blair onto the hood of the truck, covering his guide with his own body. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Carson flying through the air. Risking a major headache, Jim listened for a heartbeat. He heard Blair's beating in a fast rhythm, but nothing from Carson.

Jim was on the brink of a zone when Blair started to squirm out from under his protector. "Jim, you okay?"

"Yeah, Chief, you?"

"I'm fine. Ohh man, Carson!!" Blair started toward where the Marshall lay, but Jim held him back.

"No, Chief, It's too late; he never had a chance."

~~~~~~~~

Several hours later Jim and Blair watched as several men, wearing black jackets with FBI printed on them, swarmed around the burned out shell of Marshal Carson's car. Earlier they had watched while the coroner's assistants had placed Carson's body in a black bag.

Jim smelled a very familiar scent drift in on the breeze and looked up to see Captain Simon Banks and the new Australian exchange officer, Inspector Megan Connor, maneuver through the group of onlookers to join them.

"What the hell happened here, Jim?" Simon asked in amazement, those two couldn't even go have a late lunch without something happening

"I …ran into an old friend of mine, Captain. His name was Roger Carson. He worked for the US Marshal's office." Jim started to explain.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook. What's this all about?" Simon interrupted him, irritably.

"I don't know, sir. Carson said he had some information about a coworker he suspected of being dirty, and that they were somehow involved with the Witness Protection Program."

"Carson said he had the evidence in his car, he had just opened the trunk when..." Blair put in.

"What kind of evidence?" Simon looked at the burned out car and could anticipate his detective's answer.

"He never got that far."

Megan noticed Blair shudder slightly at Jim's words. "You're okay, Sandy?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Blair felt Jim set a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Six feet closer, you know, uh, you never know."

"Well, I'm glad you're both okay."

"Thanks." Jim nodded.

Megan looked over at Simon. "Do you mind if I take a look around, Captain?"

"Yeah, Connor, go ahead. Just, uh, stay out of the way of the suits."

"No worries," drifted back to the three men as Connor headed toward the taped off area

"Your new partner, huh?" Jim smirked

Simon glared. "Somebody's got to show her the ropes since I couldn't trust you."

"Have fun, Captain."

"Were you able to find out anything before the feds arrived?"

Jim shook his head. "The bomb was underneath the car. Our guys responded, but the FBI just waltzed in and took over."

"Can they do that?" asked Blair.

"A deputy Marshal was just murdered, Sandburg. That makes it a federal case."

"That sucks."

While Jim, Blair and Simon watched the feds and discussed the case, Megan had been stopped by the agent who was keeping the onlookers back. Even showing her Cascade badge did not get her access to the inside of the taped off area. Looking around the outside the taped area, she was just about to give up and return to where the others were when she spotted a shiny object on the ground. Pulling out an evidence bag, she picked up the object she had found.

~~~~~~~~

"Captain, we've been down this road before. Carson said someone in his office was dirty, right? Now we know with the feds running the case, it's like the chicken coop being guarded by the fox." Jim was not in the best mood. The FBI had not so politely told the Cascade PD that their services were not needed. Simon had told Jim and Blair to return to Major Crimes in order to file their report.

Simon sighed. "They can't all be dirty, Jim. The real problem is whatever evidence Carson had disappeared with his car."

"And whatever might have been left, the FBI's got," put in Blair as he, Jim, Simon, and Megan headed towards Simon's office.

"Maybe not," Megan smirked and held up the object she had picked up at the crime scene.

"What are those?" Simon glared, and stopped near Jim's desk.

"Keys, I found them at the scene. You said I could look around." Megan smugly displayed the evidence bag that contained two keys on a partially melted key chain. The chain had a metal tag attached that had been warped by the heat of the explosion.

"I didn't say you could take anything!" the captain yelled

"They were outside the taped-off area. In my book, that's anyone's game." Megan defended herself.

Simon looked over at Blair. "What kind of book is she writing?" Blair shrugged.

Jim held out a hand towards Megan. "May I?" Megan dropped the bag into Jim's hand. "Thank you." Jim opened the bag and sniffed. "There's definitely evidence of C-4 here, Captain."

Blair gasped slightly at Jim's blatant use of his senses in the presence of an outsider. He tried to unobtrusively wave Jim down.

Megan looked astonished at the surety in Jim's voice. "How does he do that?"

"Uh...demolitions expert in the Army, " Blair said quickly.

"There is also some sort of tag here, sir. Maybe I can lift an address." Jim continued, ignoring the byplay between Megan and Blair.

"And do what?" asked Simon.

"I don't know, Captain. Just give me some time to check it out."

"I don't have any time. Even if it was found outside the official area, it was found at the scene of a murder. We have to give it back to the feds, you know that, Jim"

"Simon, come on, we're only talking about a couple of hours. There's somebody's life at stake," said Blair.

"And we should get those keys straight to the lab, before they go to the federal authorities," Megan added.

"We?" Jim chuckled.

"I found the keys." Megan bristled. "That makes me part of this case, right?"

"Connor, you've already violated the rules of conduct at a crime scene. Now, I have my own methods.." Jim began.

"Look, I know by your standards my methods are somewhat unorthodox..."

"...I'm sure you're very good at what you do..."

"....but if you gave me half a chance to prove myself..."

"...and I appreciate your enthusiasm... "

"...and stop..."

Blair watched the conversation, his head bouncing back and forth as if he were watching a tennis match.

Simon rubbed his forehead, trying to stop a headache the two bickering detectives were aggervating, then glared at Blair's big grin. "Detectives. Could we continue this in my office? Thank you." He glared at Jim and Megan as they filed into his office. "Care to join us?" he asked Blair, holding opened the office door.

Blair held up his hands and backed away. "No. I'll hear about it later."

Simon shook his head and entered his office separating his squabbling detectives. "All right, look, Jim, I don't like this withholding evidence from the feds."

"Captain, Carson was a friend of mine and I respected his integrity. He wouldn't be wasting his time on this. It's got to be important. Now, I've got to believe what he told me."

"All right, here's what we'll do. Jim, you find the lock that fits those keys and we'll take it from there." He looked at Megan. "In the meantime, Connor, I pulled some case files for you to look at to bring you up to speed at what's going on around here." Simon handed Megan a stack of files. "Jim can handle the legwork from here."

"But..."

"In the meantime, I want you two to clean up your act. Let's not have any more public displays in the bullpen. Am I clear?" He scowled at both detectives.

"Yes, sir." Megan nodded.

"Yes, sir," said Jim.

"Now get out of here and get to work," the captain commanded as the detectives left.

~~~~~~~~

Jim had taken the keys down to forensics, but they had been unable to tell him anything other than the keys were the type commonly used in residential settings. The metal tag had been cleaned and there had been something engraved on it, but the heat had distorted it too badly to read. Disgruntled, Jim returned to the Major Crimess bullpen.

"Well, that was a waste of time." He tossed the evidence bag on his desk. "All they could tell me was that the keys are used in houses."

Blair picked up the bag and examined the keys more closely. "What about the tag, could they read anything off it?"

"No, they said it was too badly damaged."

"I bet you could read the engraving, just like you did with the note pad at Angie's."

"This is not a piece of paper, Sandburg, it's metal."

"There is no difference. This might even be easier because it is metal. The impressions should be easier to read because the surface was actually penetrated not just indented. Go on, try it, what have you got to lose?" Blair pulled the keys from the bag and laid them in the palm of his hand. "Now take a deep breath, relax, and concentrate." Blair reached down and carefully put the tag in Jim's hand. "Ok, now feel along the top. You can feel where the metal has been scratched. Concentrate on those that feel the same. Random scratches will all feel different, because they were made by different things. The engravings will have all been made by the same instrument."

Jim gently ran his finger over the metal tag and smiled. "Yeah, I can only feel 3-2-5-0 down...d-o-w-n, I mean. There might be an 'i' D-o-w-n-i... ."

"Yes," Blair whispered, then asked, "Maybe Downing?"

"Yeah, Downing. That might be it."

"All right." Blair smiled proudly at his sentinel.

"Let's give that a try. Check the street locator program, see how many Downing's there are. You do realize there may be more than one in a city the size of Cascade."

Blair sat down at the computer. "I know, but at least it's a start…. Downing."

Blair's computer work revealed that there were two locations designated 3250 Downing. One was an avenue in the middle of the historic district.

"I know that area, man, there is nothing but shops and businesses there," Blair commented. The other address appeared more promising as it was in a residential area of the city.

"Great work, Chief. Now, it's late, how about we head out and get something to eat. I'm starved."

"What did you have in mind? I know this great little Italian place near the university."

"I was thinking, Wonderburger and a little unofficial, drive by stakeout of our address." Jim picked up the phone to tell the captain what they had discovered and what they planned to do.

Simon's only reply was, "Keep me informed, and stay out of trouble."

Jim was just hanging up the phone, when Megan approached his desk.

"Detective?"

"Yes, Connor?"

"I just wanted to apologize. I'm new here, and I should be more circumspect and not force my way into your investigation."

"Your apology is accepted. Thank you."

"Don't you think we should at least try to work together?"

"Uh, Connor, I'm sure we might get the chance in the future but, uh, right now the captain has given us instructions and it seems like you have quite a lot of work to do."

"You might at least tell me how you do that thing you do."

Jim looked at Megan suspiciously. "What thing is that?"

"Deciphering burnt letters with your fingertips, identifying C-4 residue without the benefit of chemical analysis. What are you? Some kind of psychic?"

Jim glanced at Blair, somewhat panicked. This was normally his area of expertise. Blair just shrugged and gestured at Jim to continue.

"Cat's out of the bag, Chief." Jim stood up to lean conspiratorially towards Megan. "Just do me a favor. Try not to broadcast it, okay?" he said and looked at Sandburg. "Meet me at the truck, Chief." He said and headed toward the hall.

"He really is psychic?" Megan looked at Blair.

"Yeah." Blair decided to go along with the story Jim started.

"Why didn't he just tell me? I've worked with psychics back at home on cases before. Sometimes we've found them to be quite useful but I've never met a cop who had the gift," Megan said sounding hurt that she had not been taken into their confidence.

"Well, you know how it is. If everyone knew, they might think he was a …freak or something. Please keep this under wraps. He doesn't want to be considered a freak, right? I gotta go." Blair left Megan standing at Jim's desk. He didn't want to be rude, but he almost couldn't contain his laughter.


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


"I still can't believe Megan thinks you're a psychic. I mean she's not been here that long. The other guys have been around you longer…I wonder if they also think you're a psychic and just don't say anything."

After leaving the station, Blair had managed to convince Jim the Italian restaurant was a better choice, and it had the added advantage of being on the way to the Downing Street address he had found.

"I hope they don't think that, it's bad enough with just Connor believing it," Jim replied as he pulled the truck to a stop in front of a two-story single-family house in one of the newer, nicer residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of Cascade. Downing Street turned out to be a cul-de-sac that contained about six houses. It had clouded over while they had eaten and so even though it was early evening, it was still as dark as night. "Well, you know, the beauty of it is, it's her idea."

"I know. It's beautiful. It's perfect. She'll be more inclined to believe it since it was her conclusion. But, we still got to be careful. We can't use the psychic thing to explain away everything you do, so we got to stay on our toes, you know."

Jim nodded as they got out of the truck. Blair came around to Jim's side noticing the sentinel had his head tilted in a characteristic listening pose.

"What is it?" Blair laid a hand on Jim's arm.

"Something electronic. I think it's coming from upstairs." Jim led the way to the front path.

"Hey, isn't this illegal, you know, breaking and entering?" asked Blair, a bit nervously.

"No, we got the key." Jim used the key Megan had found to unlock the front door.

Both men looked around the ground floor of the house. The living room, dining room and kitchen were ready for a family to move in, complete with nice, but inexpensive furniture and appliances, but most of the furniture was shrouded in dust covers. The thin layer of dust on the exposed furniture reinforced the idea that the rooms had not been occupied for several months.

After they finished checking the ground floor, Jim started up the stairs, motioning Blair to stay low and behind him. He didn't pull his gun as he could detect no heartbeats other than their own. The upper floor contained three bedrooms, a bathroom, and an extra room that was apparently meant to be a den or office. This room looked out on the front lawn and had a good view of the other houses in the cul-de-sac. It was also the only room to show any signs of occupancy. The moon filtering through the window and the glow from a static filled television monitor showed the outline of several items in the room.

Blair stopped near a makeshift desk. "Watch out, man, I'm gonna turn on a light," he warned his partner, snapping on the small desk lamp. The light revealed a room with a zoom-lens camera mounted on a tripod, a video camera also mounted on a tripod, a parabolic microphone hooked to a pair of headphones and a tape recorder, and a comfortable looking armchair. Leaning against the back wall was a yard sign for a popular local real estate agency.

"Man. Looks like this guy was cooped up here for a while." Blair looked around in amazement.

"Check this out." Jim drew Blair's attention to a column of pictures attached to the wall. "Carson knew a witness had been exposed and that the witness had been relocated to this neighborhood."

"He just didn't know who or which house," Blair interjected, examining the pictures, "so he just decided to stake out the whole cul-de-sac."

"Yeah... and waits for the killer to show up."

Blair switched off the television monitor. "Is this what was making the noise?"

"I think it was…." Jim trailed off, tilting his head, listening to a sound from downstairs. "Someone's trying the doors, they're trying to get in. Come on."

Blair switched off the desk lamp and felt for Jim's jacket. The detective escorted his partner down the stairs and out the back kitchen door. Once outside Jim pulled his gun and, with Blair in tow, they crept along the side of the house stopping at the corner.

"Wait here," Jim admonished.

"No problem."

Jim moved around the corner of the house and saw a figure in black trying to open a downstairs window.

"Move away from the window," Jim ordered, his gun in plain view of the figure. The figure turned, and Jim lowered his arms in exasperation.

"Connor, what the hell are you doing here?"

Megan took a step towards Jim, when he suddenly pushed her against the side of the house. Almost at the same instant, gunshots hit the wall just above them.

"Chief, stay back! Shots fired!" Jim yelled, but Blair joined him anyway.

"I'm not staying over there. Megan, what are you doing here?"

"What the hell am I going to do with you two?" Jim nodded toward a house across the street. "The shots came from that window over there. Megan, I want you to cover the front of the house." Jim indicated to the front entryway. He glared at Sandburg. "You stay behind me."

"You got it."

Jim and Blair moved quietly to the house the shots came had come from. Jim led the way down the side of the house headed to the back when suddenly several bright lights snapped on and a loud siren went off. Blair gripped Jim's arm as the sentinel winced sharply and tried to turn away from the light. Blair looked around, trying to protect his partner, and watched helplessly as a rifle-toting man stepped out in front of the floodlight.

"Freeze or I'll drop you where you stand."

Jim moved slightly in front of the observer and, with one hand raised, slowly reached for his badge and showed it to the gunman.

"You can buy a badge at any pawnshop. Oh, yeah, I guess your little hippie friend here is your partner, right?"

"One of them," came the sarcastic reply as Megan came up behind the gunman.

"Whoa." The startled man raised his gun in the air, suddenly very nervous looking.

"Get down on your knees, Rambo." Jim confiscated the rifle.

"Careful," whined the Rambo wannbe. "I've got a bad back."

~~~~~~~~

Several hours later, the nervous gunman was sitting with Blair at Jim's desk in the Major Crimes bullpen watching with undisguised interest as Jim and Connor 'discussed' their 'partnership.'

"Connor, how can I put this to you gently? Um, we are not partners now nor do I foresee us being partners."

"It was a figure of speech."

"Maybe we should get a book of translations, huh?" Jim smirked and grinned as Megan walked off.

The gunman looked at the observer. "What's with these two? They haven't stopped for an hour."

"If I were you," Blair snapped,he was not happy with the man who had held the gun on them, "I'd be more concerned about raising bail than what they're up to, all right?" Blair looked up as Jim and Simon approached the desk. "Jim, I'm going to go get some coffee."

Simon stood imposingly over the man who had taken shots at his detectives. "So, you're our vigilante," he commented, sounding like someone who had found something particularly slimy on the bottom of his shoe.

"His name is Bud Flint," Jim supplied, enjoying the sight of Simon doing his intimidating routine.

"What the hell do you think you were doing, Mr. Flint?" Simon snapped.

"The neighborhood's been plagued by burglaries. We even had a home invasion and you guys haven't done anything about it. It's like a war zone. When I saw someone sneaking around, I decided to take action."

"By taking a potshot at a cop through your window?!" Simon shouted.

"I thought she was a burglar," Bud defended himself.

"Let's let this 'concerned citizen' see what it's like to be booked, shall we?" Simon smiled evilly and headed towards Inspector Connor's desk.

"Connor. Help me out here. Do I not express myself clearly?"

"Captain?"

"I remember telling you to stay out of this investigation."

"I remember you telling me to work on some case files, which I did. Has there been some misunderstanding?"

Simon couldn't help but laugh. He recognized that he had been skillfully outmaneuvered. "No, not at all. As long as you remember that you're here as a guest and your credentials can be pulled at any time."

"I understand, sir." Megan did not have to work hard to keep the smirk off her face; she understood the subtle warning in the captain's words.

"Make sure that you do." Simon returned to his office satisfied that his message had been understood and acknowledged.

~~~~~~~~

The night had not been a total loss. Bud had found out the hard way what playing Rambo could cost. Blair had worked his computer magic but hadn't been able to uncover anymore information on the residents of Downing Street. After Bud had been booked, Jim and Blair returned to Simon's office.

"Damn it Jim, I don't like withholding evidence from the feds. I wouldn't want them doing it to me," said Simon.

"But, sir, if we do talk to the FBI, aren't they going to be filling in the Marshals?" questioned Blair.

"Not necessarily," Jim informed him. "I think we can safely rule out Bud Flint as a potential exposed witness. I mean, the feds would be all over us by now, right?"

"Yeah, you're right." Simon looked at the file on his desk. "All right, so the Downing development is brand new. Any family that moved in there would have had to have been there in the last three months."

Blair began sorting through the pictures that he and Jim had found in the den at Downing Street. "Right. That leaves four families, sir." He picked up each family picture as he named them. Carson had been able to get a picture of each family together and then had written the family name on each one. "We have the Colemans, the Tanners, the Warners, and the Johnsons." Most of the pictures were of a husband and wife. The last picture that caught and held Blair's attention was of a young mother and her daughter.

"For the time being, let's assume no one knew about Carson and his surveillance." Simon picked up the conversation again. "Jim, You have any luck with the real estate company that has the house?"

"Yeah, luckily the agent was still in her office. She remembered it without even looking it up. He had it rented on a month-by-month basis."

"Mmmm, so, that leaves us about two weeks. I got an idea." Simon walked over to his office door and bellowed, "Connor! My office."

Megan looked up from her desk, startled, but straightened her shoulders and headed over to the captain's office.

Simon ignored Jim's muttered sarcastic, "Oh, this ought to be good."

"You still want in on this case, Connor?"

"Yes, sir."

"You've got it. Here's how we'll do this. Jim, you and Megan will move into that house on Downing Street. Get to know your new neighbors. See if you can ID the witness -- maybe prevent a hit. Your cover will be you're a couple."

"A couple of what, Captain." asked Jim, shooting a nervous glance at his partner.

Simon's smile was evil. "Newlyweds."

"You have a problem with intimacy, Detective?" Megan asked with a sarcastic grin.

"I'm familiar with the concept, just selective."

"See what I mean? The way you two go at it, nobody will doubt it. Besides, it'll give you a chance to work out your differences. By the time you come back, I want everything peaches and cream," Simon ordered.

"Simon...I don't think…."

Simon continued as though Jim had not spoken, "Sandburg, you're in, too."

"Uh? What do you think I should be, their son?"

"You expect me to think of everything? Come up with a cover."

"You could be my nephew, Chief."

"I think I'm a little old for that," Blair said wryly and started to pace. Hands waving, he started to work out a plausible explanation out loud. "How about if... I'm your cousin. I'm staying with you while attending Rainier because it's cheaper. And to make it more believable, you and Megan have been married at least 3 years. No newly married couple would allow relatives to live with them. Trust me on that."

Jim punched Blair's shoulder. " How about you be Megan's husband, and I'll be the Rainier student?"

Megan and Simon ignored the byplay going on beside them. "What about our friend Flint, Captain? He knows we're cops."

"I'll talk to the DA, work everything out. If Flint behaves himself, we'll get the charges dropped. Besides, if he thinks we're going in there to protect the neighborhood, you should have no trouble with him at all. It's too late tonight to 'move in' but I expect you there early tomorrow. Now get out of here." Simon dismissed the detectives and the observer with a wave of his hand.

~~~~~~~~

The next day, Jim and Blair picked Megan up at her apartment and all three drove out to the Downing Street address. Jim had suggested Megan bring her own car, but Blair pointed out if they were to look like a family, then they had to act like a family. Stopping in front of the house, all three began to unload their bags when Jim groaned.

"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair came around to the driver's side.

Jim nodded at Bud Flint and a man Blair recognized as Tom Coleman. "Maybe we should have kept him locked up."

"Hey, Jimbo." Bud waved, then turned to Coleman. "Here's the new kids on the block: my buddy, Jim...his lovely wife, Megan, and Jim's cousin, Blair."

"Tom Coleman. Hello."

Jim shook the offered hand. "Hi, Tom, nice to meet you."

"Perfect timing, Jimbo, I got some of the guys coming over. Going to throw some dogs on the grill, maybe break open some beers." Bud all but swaggered.

Jim gritted his teeth and tried to avoid the invitation. "Well, uh, it sounds like a nice invitation, but we've got unpacking to do. Maybe we could take a rain check."

"Oh, hell, you got lots of time for that," Bud tried to persuade Jim. "Look, all the guys are coming over. It's kind of a stag. I hope you don't mind." Bud smiled at Megan.

"Not a bit. Have fun, guys." Megan moved over to Jim and kissed him on the cheek. She smiled inwardly as she felt Jim's teeth grind together. "I'm going inside to do some woman things."

Blair watched Megan head into the house, looked at Jim's barely restrained glare, looked back at Megan, then gave Jim a little wave, a shrug, and a sentinel soft, "He's all yours, man," and followed Megan. Just as Blair left, a beeper sounded.

Tom looked down at his belt. "Oh. That's the wife. I'd better go see what's up. Nice to meet you, Jim."

"His wife has him on beeper?" Jim watched incredulously.

Bud snorted. "She crooks her finger, and he does a jig. It's pathetic. Anyway, I'll get everyone together to get to know you and help you fit in."

Jim smiled thinly. "I'll tell you, Bud, with the surveillance, we really got our hands full, you know. We got to keep a low profile here. Who's that?" He pointed at the two people who came out of another house nearby. Both people were dressed in loud, flamboyant clothes, guaranteed to attract attention.

"Oh, uh, Susan and Phil Tanner. Every neighborhood should have one of those, huh? Rumor is they're, uh, swingers."

"Swingers?"

"I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that bedroom, huh?" Bud dug an elbow in Jim's side.

Jim grunted and took a step away from Bud. "I bet you would."

Later that day, Jim, Megan and Blair were in the upstairs den checking the equipment Carson had left, as well as setting up some of their own. Blair was looking out the window, several cameras at the ready beside him. Megan worked on setting up a surveillance camera and monitor. Jim was looking out over the neighboring houses in the cul-de-sac.

"So, my darling husband, just so we keep our stories straight, how long have we been married?" Megan asked with an air of deliberate disinterest.

Jim recognized the tone, and walked over to Megan with the same deliberate nonchalance. "Long enough for me to get the seven-year itch, dear."

"I was a child bride. When I kissed you before, you didn't seem to like it much. We don't want the neighbors to think our marriage is in trouble."

"No, it was...it was good for me. Uh... I heard the symphony play. The earth moved for me." Jim glared at Blair's nearly inaudible snort.

"Uh, Jimbo, it's a job."

"Connor, how far are we willing to take this job here? Are we going to, uh, share a bed?"

"Whatever it takes... honey."

"We won't even be sharing a room."

"What will people think?" Megan pretended to be shocked.

"People won't be peeking in on us."

"Why not? We'll be peeking in on them."

"Good point," Jim conceded.

"Hey, Jim, come here," Blair called, gesturing out the window. "Check this out."

Looking out, both men watched as Bud, Tom, and another man gathered in Bud's open garage -- with their guns.

"Looks like the neighborhood watch is coming to work," Blair commented, and then laid an unobtrusive hand on Jim's arm as the sentinel dialed up his hearing.

<Hey, you guys, check this out.>

<Tom, look at this, a .38 special. Very nice.>

Dialing back his hearing, Jim looked down at his partner. "I guess we're going to be attending old Bud Flint's little stag party after all. Come on, Chief."

As Jim and Blair crossed the street, they saw Bud cock the shotgun he was holding and aim it into the air, which would have been more effective if he had not been aiming at his garage door. A van pulled into the driveway of the house next to Bud's as the pseudo-neighborhood watch group played with their 'toys.' A young woman glared at the gun-toting group, turned to the young girl in the back of the van, then turned her attention on to Jim and Blair.

"Hey! Tell your friends if they start waving their guns around again, I'm calling the cops."

Blair held out his hands. "Uh, we're not with them."

"We just moved in across the way. I'm Jim Ellison. This is my cousin, Blair Sandburg. We were kind of getting acquainted with the folks."

"Katie... Johnson," the woman introduced herself. "I'm sorry. It's just...they come here and they start playing with their guns. I'm afraid to let my daughter go outside."

"I'll, uh, try and talk to them," Jim offered.

"Yeah, Jim, you know how I feel about guns," Blair called as Jim headed over to Bud's house.

"Thanks. You're his cousin?"

"Uh...yeah. I'm a student at Rainier, living with my cousin is a lot cheaper than student housing or an apartment."

"Mom," the young girl stuck her head out of the van, "Can I get out now?"

"I'll be right there, Rachel."

"Hi, Rachel. That's a very pretty name. How you doing? I'm Blair."

"I'm really sorry I lost my temper. Do you want to come in for an iced tea or a soda or something?" Katie asked.

"Yeah. That'd be great. You need help with the groceries?"

"Thanks. Rachel, can you grab that bag?"

As Jim came up the drive of Bud's house, he watched as Bud tried to show Tom how to load and cock the shotgun.

"Well, if it isn't the wild bunch. Bud, can I talk to you for a second? I just want to ask you something about the house." Jim moved Bud down the drive to give them a bit of privacy.

"What's up? Hey, uh, when can I get my rifle back?" Bud asked.

Jim ignored the question and asked one of his own. "What's with the firearms?"

"It's a neighborhood protection squad I'm putting together."

"I like the idea, but, Bud, do me a favor. Put away the guns, get some flashlights, and register with the neighborhood watch, okay?"

"Come on, you think a home-invasion robber is frightened by a couple of flashlights?"

"This is not the way to go about it. You're terrifying your neighbors."

"You should be happy for the extra backup."

Jim shook his head at the attitude and lack of intelligence. "All right, here's the bottom line. You or any of these other bozos go goose-stepping around the neighborhood with loaded guns, I'm gonna have to haul in the lot of you. Is that understood?"

"There's no law against carrying on our own property," Bud answered indignantly.

"No. But there are several regarding the illegal discharge of firearms and interference with a police investigation. Both of which you have violated. Now, one word to the DA and you're going to go away for good this time. Do I paint a good picture?"

"Do I look stupid?" Bud snapped at the detective’s retreating form.

Jim didn't even look back.

~~~~~~~~

The guard at the outer gate of Emery Grove Penitentiary waved the non-descript car through the gate and shook his head. Who were they kidding? The car screamed government. The US Marshal ID the passenger produced confirmed the guard's thoughts.

"Walter Beckman, US Marshal. I'm here to see Lonnie Stevens."

The interior guard opened the door, after examining the contains of the folder the marshal carried, and allowed him into a large room that already had several inmates sitting at tables. Since Emery Grove Penitentiary was considered a medium security facility, inmates were allowed face to face contact with visitors.

"He's in there." The guard pointed at a nearly bald man sitting several feet away.

Beckman nodded his thanks to the guard and joined Stevens at the table. "Stevens, I want you to call off the hit."

"No way. Forget about calling it off," The inmate growled.

Beckman leaned forward over the table. "The killing's over. You hear me?"

Stevens heard the fear Beckman tried to hide and knew he had the US Marshal by the short hairs. "Yeah, I hear you, Beckman. You shouldn't even be here. You could blow everything."

"It's blown already. I was at Downing earlier. Look at this." The Marshal opened the folder, inside were pictures of Jim, Blair, and Megan in front of the house Carson had used. "The Cascade police already know about Carson's surveillance. It's just a matter of time before they figure out -- like he did -- who the witness is and that I'm the one who sold them out."

"I'll have my people at the scene keep an eye on them." Stevens replied evenly.

"Your people...!" Beckman nearly shouted, then remembered where he was and lowered his voice. "Your people have been in place for months. Why did you keep them so long?"

"I've already given up eight years. A few weeks means nothing to me. Anyway, as you know, this situation presents us with a special problem."

Beckman shook his head and closed the folder. "I don't understand you. Your time here is almost done. In a few days you could walk out of here and never look back."

"Never look back?"

"Right, never look back."

"I had everything, Beckman real power, money. Somebody wanted to make a big trade, float a few junk bonds, arrange a merger -- they came to me first because I was the best and everybody knew it. But then one day the person I trusted most in this world decided to betray me because...because it was the right thing to do. Imagine that. Some ridiculous law was more important than I was. Eight years. Now's the time for payback. So don't lose your cool."

"You still have several more weeks before your release. The cops can't afford that much time on a possibility. They'll be gone before you get out and most likely none the wiser." said Beckman, souding as if he was looking for a way to give himself extra time.

"I'll be out of here long before the 'official' day. Just be ready when I call you."


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


Morning on Downing Street was like any morning in any suburb in the nation. Lights came on as the sun began to rise. People in various states of dress stumbled out and picked up the daily paper to read while drinking their morning coffee. Inside the stakeout house, Jim and Blair were in the kitchen, following just a slightly modified version of their normal morning routine. Jim was sitting the table, dressed in his robe, reading the paper and drinking coffee. Blair was standing at a counter, also dressed in his robe, leaning his head on a blender full of green stuff. Megan stood behind him watching him pour the thick green stuff into a cup. She, too, was dressed in a robe and slippers.

"Mmmm, I love breakfast. Favorite meal of the day. What is that, Sandy?"

"It's an algae shake. I have one every morning." Blair held up the cup for her inspection.

Megan took a quick sniff, made a face and backed away. "How do you get used to the smell?" She opened the refrigerator, looking at the relatively bare shelves.

"You don't," Jim put in from behind his paper.

"Ahhh, Steak. Much better for breakfast."

"Ah! Bad choice. That would be mine." Jim looked up from his paper and grinned.

"Okay, how about…." Megan put the steak back, and pulled out a pineapple.

Blair sat at the table beside Jim. "Don't even think about it. That's my lunch."

"We're one big happy family here. Can't we just share?" Megan asked innocently, shutting the fridge door and stepping towards the table.

"Well," drawled Blair, obviously dropping into lecture mode and just as obviously teasing, "In the family unit structure -- you being the mom -- why don't you go do some shopping?"

"We'll need Cousin Jim's gold card," replied Megan smoothly, joining in on Blair's game.

Jim, in full character, noisily folded the paper and played along. "You've already exhausted your allowance?"

"Mm-hmm. On floor wax and nine-millimeter shells," Megan deadpanned.

At that moment, a knock on the sliding glass door startled all three occupants of the house. Blair glanced at Jim, wondering why he had not heard anyone approach. Phil and Susan Tanner stood outside. Phil was carrying a big fruit basket and Susan was waving .

Megan opened the door. "Hi."

Jim stood. " Morning. you're Phil and Susan Tanner, right? Bud pointed you out the other day."

"That's right. Can we come in for a sec?" answered Susan.

"Please."

Phil held up the basket. "Just wanted to drop this off. Our way of saying 'Welcome to the neighborhood.'"

"Very kind. Thank you," answered Jim

"You must be Jim. Bud said that was your name."

"That's me. Uh, this is my...wife, Megan."

"Hi." Megan nodded.

Jim pointed at Blair. "and my cousin, Blair."

Susan walked over to Blair. "He's adorable," she purred, causing Blair to turn an intense shade of red. "I'd like to have one of you at our house."

"Yeah. We rent him out on weekends," Jim teased.

"Oh... Better than a video, huh, Phil?"

"Uh-huh...Yeah," Phil answered then laughed at Blair's nervous chuckle.

"Well, we should go." Susan wrapped her arm around her husband's waist as he turned toward the door. "We just wanted to drop this off and hope to see all of you again soon. Bye."

"Thanks for stopping by." Jim shut the glass door.

"I feel violated." Blair shuddered.

"Thank God for neighbors. I'd starve to death with just the two of you to depend on." Megan dug into the fruit basket.

"Man, do you believe those two?" Blair shuddered again.

"Well, Bud Flint did say they were swingers."

"Jim, my mom was active in the 'swinger' era and never ran into anyone like that."

"Hmm... maybe we can all go out dancing one night," Megan speculated, then stared at the look Jim and Blair gave her. "Or maybe not."

Jim, Blair and Megan spent the day taking turns watching the activity of the Downing cul-de-sac from the window of the upstairs den. It seemed to Blair Megan and Jim spent as little time as possible together, calling him in to 'relieve' one or the other of them. If this continued, they would not work out their differences as Simon had ordered.

Jim joined Blair. Looking out the window, Jim said, "It's 3:00."

"Yeah. He left the same time yesterday. I guess he's on the night shift," Blair replied and picked up a folder from the desk.

"He did that same sort of work in L.A., right?"

"Yeah. According to this, his company offered him a lot of coin to stay but he moved his family up here for the better life, you know. I don't think he's our witness." Blair looked up for the folder, and watched as Katie washed her van in her driveway, "Hmm, You know, I think I should go over there and...give her a hand, you know. See if I can find out some more stuff about her."

Jim shook his head in fond exasperation, "Like the moth to the light. Why don't we flip to see who helps her out?"

"'Cause you're a married man, remember?" Blair grinned.

"You're on a stakeout, remember?"

"So? I mean, uh...come on. Give me this one. She makes me feel good." He frowned at Jim's skeptical expression. "Not like that, but I..I understand some of what she's facing…you know?" He headed out the door, Jim admonishment of "Just be careful." sounding behind him.

~~~~~~~~

Much later Megan was taking a turn at the parabolic microphone which was aimed at the Coleman house Megan could hear the Coleman's talking.

//Tom, where are you going?//

//Over to Bud's. He's got a new gun he wants to show me.//

//I've had it with those stupid friends of yours. Go ahead. I won't be here when you get back.//

*You go girl,* Megan thought, *That Bud is a real jerk.*

//Honey, you don't mean that. Honey? Marilyn!//

Megan turned from the eavesdropped conversion to see Jim enter the room with a tray of food and set it on the desk.

"All right. Come and get it."

"I thought I was cooking."

"Well, the idea of you whipping up one of those, uh, vegemite stews wasn't all that appealing to me."

"I have no problem with a guy wearing the apron." Megan looked at Jim, wondering how he would take her next question. "Station gossip says you were married...for real. What was it like?"

Jim thought for a few moments, realizing the question was a serious attempt from someone who had never been married. "Well, it was great, you know, for the most part. We just kind of...we just kind of drifted apart."

Megan shook her head. "I don't think I'll ever get married. I couldn't bear it if things went bad."

Jim couldn't let that attitude go unanswered, not and respect the good times he had enjoyed with his ex-wife. "Well, you're always going to have problems come up, that's just being human, but I wouldn't trade the good times." Jim moved to the window and started listening in on some of the conversations. He was concentrating and did not hear Megan's questions over the other voices.

He heard a voice he recognized as Bud Flint's, a woman's voice obviously telling a child to get ready for bed, and a man yell for someone in the house to answer the ringing phone. Suddenly he zeroed in on a conversation between two men.

<Where are Cole and Westlake?>

<They're on their way.>

Just as suddenly, he heard Megan loudly call his name. "Jim? JIM! Are you OK?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Were you, were you saying something?"

Megan looked out the window then back at Jim. "You're getting some kind of psychic bead on the witness, right?"

Jim inwardly sighed, but went along with the charade. "You know, Connor, you catch on very quick."

"I told Sandburg that I'd worked with psychics on cases at home, but actually, I've been to readings for myself."

"You don't think my, uh...ability is so strange, then?"

"Not at all."

"Oh, good.

Megan smiled a bit sadly. "I get it from my dad. He's an absolute fanatic about that stuff. Dragged me off to have my cards read twice a year. More after my mom died."

"I'm sorry to hear about your mom."

"That was years ago, but thanks."

"Maybe we could hook Sandburg's mom up with your dad, you know. They can, uh...get metaphysical over some, uh...ginseng tea or..."

Megan returned to the window to continue the watch. Looking out she could see into the window at Katie Johnson's house and saw Sandburg talking to Katie and her daughter. "Did you know Sandburg was next door?"

"Yeah. I told him he could go there."

"Do you think that was a good idea? What if she's the witness?"

"So we've got somebody up close and personal. What?" he questioned her frown.

"He's not a cop. What about having someone who carries a gun?"

"Connor, we can see and hear everything that is going on in this whole area. What's the big deal?"

"Look, it's bad enough we have this Bud Flint tosser who knows who we really are, but if one of us slips up, even innocently, suddenly the whole neighborhood could be onto us."

"He'll be careful. He's not stupid, you know." Jim bristled.

"I'm not saying he is, Jim, but he's not been trained for this." Megan tried to placate the angry detective.

"All right, I'll talk to him, tonight. Just let's eat, okay? And do me a favor -- don't nag. We're just pretending to be married."

~~~~~~~~

Blair sat on the couch in Katie's living room. He had been over here most of the day and he could not remember a time he had felt this good about himself and the vow he had made after the Iris fiasco. Katie and Rachel were in the girl's room, Katie trying to get her daughter ready for bed. Blair stood up as he heard Katie return from down the hall.

"She has a terrible crush on you." Katie smiled. "I had to promise you'd come back tomorrow just to get her to go to sleep."

"We don't want you to be a liar. So, I'll guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow."

Katie looked at Blair hesitantly. "I...don't want to impose."

"Are you kidding me? You know, I can't remember the last time I had such a good time," Blair spoke truthfully.

"You don't have to flatter me."

"Actually, yes, I do. You see, uh, my mother raised me by herself. And when I see you with Rachel.... It sort of reminds me of how my mother and I were and, uh, I really admire the way you do it, you know. The way you do it all alone."

"She's worth it," Katie replied softly, sitting on the sofa.

"Yeah." Blair sat as well, "You know...I'd really like to do this again and not just, uh, to keep you from being a liar."

"Somehow, I'm not sure I'm the kind of woman you usually hang out with."

"What do you mean? Because you have a kid? Yeah, that's true." Blair was being honest with Katie and with himself, "But I'm willing to try new things -- you know, have new experiences."

"It's been a long time since I've even thought about dating anyone."

"It's okay. We'll go slow. We don't even have to call it dating."

~~~~~~~~

The next morning on Downing Street, Jim, Blair and Megan continued their vigil at the den window. Blair watched as Rachel drew on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. The parabolic microphone picked up Katie's voice calling her daughter to lunch.

"Come on, Chief. You'll see her sometime again...just after we finish the job."

"Maybe...unless she's the witness and then they change her identity and ship her out of town somewhere."

"In that case, maybe it's for the best," Megan said sympathetically.

"I mean, I know I just met her and my history with women is, well...is what it is, but, uh, I feel like I could really like this one, you know? One thing I do know is when you date a woman with a kid, you're not number one anymore. You're second and that's okay with me, you know? That doesn't bother me."

Jim's cell phone interrupted the quiet, "Ellison."

"Jim, it's Simon. The rules of the game have just changed. A marshal by the name of Walter Beckman has been found murdered."

"Walter Beckman?

"I just spoke to his boss in DC. Evidently they suspected a leak, too. Got wind of it a few months back. They sent deputies to check it out but came up empty so they figured they were wrong. Beckman was always on their short list though. Beckman turning up dead just set off all their internal alarms."

"So, now what?"

"They want you out of there, of course."

"We'll be leaving the witness wide open."

"According to the Deputy Director in DC, they're moving to a safe house."

"How do we know they're not dirty, as well?"

"Unfortunately, we don't. Look, we've run with this as far as we can, Jim."

"Did they at least tell you who the witness is?"

"Of course not. It's still classified."

Hearing Jim's part of the conversation, Blair missed the ringing of the phone in Katie's house, but he turned his attention back when he heard her say. "Yes, marshal. What? But I thought he had several more weeks yet before he was released. He what? But she doesn't even know him. I understand. How did he find us? What do we do? Yes, marshal, I understand. We'll be ready. Thank you." Katie and her daughter were the witnesses.

"Jim..."

Jim still had his attention on his conversation with Simon and ignored Blair.

"Jim..."

"I want you three to pull out of there as gracefully as possible," Simon ordered. "Try not to bring too much attention to yourselves, all right?"

"All right." Jim disconnected his call and turned his attention to his partner. "What's up, Chief?"

Blair said bleakly, "It's her. The witness is Katie."

Jim laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I got some more bad news, buddy. We've been evicted. The feds want us out as in ASAP."

"But…Jim."

"I'm sorry, Blair, there's nothing we can do, the feds are taking over." Jim steered his partner toward the door. "We have to pack."


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


Since they had not brought that much stuff with them, packing up took very little time. Jim watched as Blair continually glanced over at Katie's house.

"She's going to be all right, Chief." Anything else he might have said was interrupted by the arrival of Bud Flint.

"What the hell are you doing, man?" he asked angrily.

"Well, the department feels we've, uh, fulfilled our requirements, uh, during our time here, and, uh, we're out of here."

"Are you kidding? Don't you people read your own reports? House on Cedar Creek Road last night got hit with a home invasion. I mean, that's just a couple of miles from here."

"Look, Flint, the reality is, we don't have enough people to be in every neighborhood 24 hours a day. It's just an impossibility."

"Oh, so, you're just going to leave us hanging?"

"You need us anytime, you know the drill. You call 911."

"Yeah, oh, I'm going to do that. That's just great. Thanks a lot."

Megan had finished securing her bag, when she noticed Phil and Susan coming up to the trio. "Come on, let's get going before they start asking questions, too."

Phil surprised them all by calling out, "Detective..." and showing them a US Marshal's badge and ID.

"US Marshal's office." Susan showed her badge as well, "We just want you to know we got the situation under control."

"That's good to know, thank you," Jim replied. "Uh… can I ask, when did you know about us."

"Almost from the first day," Phil answered. "Thanks for the help, but we can take it from here."

As Phil and Susan headed back to their house, Jim looked at Megan. "Do you still have that fruit basket they brought over?"

"It's in the house, why?"

"Go get it, would you, Chief? Put it in a large plastic bag, and try to handle it as little as possible."

Blair turned to follow the detective's instructions, and Megan asked, "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Something about this whole thing does not ring true. I want to know who exactly we are dealing with."

Returning to the station, Jim and Blair took the fruit basket down the Serena. Jim wanted to know if there were any fingerprints aside from his, Megan's or Blair's and if so, Jim wanted to know to whom they belonged. Then both men headed up to Major Crimes to bring the captain up to date and get an update themselves.

Just as they reached Jim's desk the phone rang. Blair, being closer and hoping it was Katie, answered it. Jim continued on to Simon's office.

The door was open and Simon waved Jim in as he continued to talk on the phone. "What kind of dog-and-pony show are you people running anyway? Have that field supervisor get in touch with me as soon as possible. Thank you." He hung up the phone none too gently. "The guy I talked to this morning, he's out on some survey somewhere."

"Captain, you were told that Washington pulled out of this case months ago. Well our neighborhood 'swingers' showed us Marshal's badges this morning and said they knew about us almost from the first day. They said that they would take care of the situation."

"That's strange, The feds don't normally keep anybody under guard once they're relocated."

Blair and Megan entered Simon's office. Blair was bouncing and looked both scared and worried. "Jim, your hunch paid off. There were fingerprints on that basket."

Megan handed Simon the file she was carrying. "Only their name's not Tanner. It's Polk, and they're wanted for murder in two states, both paid hits."

"I just called Katie's house, Jim. And the phone is dead or something like that. I can't help but be a little nervous here."

"Sandburg, you stay calm. Everything's gonna be fine. Jim, you and Connor get to the house. I'll jump on the Marshal's office. Maybe now they'll listen to me."

~~~~~~~~

While Simon tried to get some answers from the Marshal's, Katie was trying to get her daughter to understand why her life was to be uprooted yet again. Phil and Susan had shown Katie their badges and explained that they had been assigned to protect her and her daughter, now that her ex-husband, Lonnie Stevens, had nearly completed his jail time. They were to take the Johnson's to a safe house until new identities and a new home could be prepared. But Rachel was not being cooperative.

"But, Mom, I don't want to move again."

"I'm sorry, baby, but we have to."

"And why can we only take one suitcase? What about my new computer and all my dolls?"

"We'll have to leave them behind for now." Katie tried to be calm and reasonable, knowing her daughter didn't understand the urgency.

"No, I'm not going!" Rachel ended the argument in typical kid fashion.

Katie looked at the two Marshals who were waiting impatiently. She did not like these two. All the other Marshals had understood and been patient with her and her daughter once Rachel became old enough to express her opinion. Katie followed her daughter, calling back over her shoulder, "She'll be okay."

Susan looked at Phil and said, "I'll move them along."

Just then Phil's cell phone rang. "Yeah? Where are you?"

In a black car, not many miles from the Downing Street address, Lonnie Stevens replied, "We're getting close. I'll be there in a couple of minutes."

"You know those cops that were watching us, they've cleared out."

"Well, that's convenient, isn't it?"

"Look, why don't you just let us do her now, get it over with?"

"You will do nothing in front of my daughter. You will do nothing to upset her or hurt her. Do you understand me?" ordered Lonnie, vehemently. "When Rachel and I are out of the country, that is when you can… dispose of my ex-wife." Lonnie snapped the cell phone shut and looked down at a picture of Rachel Johnson. "Just a little longer, dear, Daddy's coming," he said softly.

~~~~~~~~

Banks had spoken to the Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshal's Service again, this time telling him they knew who the witness was and informing him of the two assassins posing as U.S. Marshals. The Deputy Director told Simon Katie Johnson was really Katie Stevens, ex-wife and the prosecution's star witness against Lonnie Stevens. Several years eariler, Stevens had been involved in a stock market deal that, if it had occurred, would have made a few people very rich, but hurt thousands. His wife decided she could not allow that to happen and went to the authorities. Lonnie and several others were tried and convicted. The case against Lonnie rested on Katie's testimony. When the guilty verdict was read, Lonnie threatened his wife, and she and her infant daughter were placed in the witness protection program. Simon was also told that although Stevens' sentence was not up for several more weeks, his lawyer had somehow convinced a judge that his client needed to be freed immediately. Lonnie's exemplary behavior while in prision, and his ex-wife's tragic car accident were the reasons for the highly unusual early release. The judge was convinced that Stevens' daughter was begging for her father.

Blair knew that to be a lie as Katie had told him Rachel had no idea who her father was. She had told her daughter that he had died when Rachel was little. Blair had insisted he go along with Jim and Connor as they returned to Downing Street and Simon had waved them out of the office. Because the local Marshal's office was severely understaffed due to the internal investigations into both Carson's and Beckman's deaths, the Deputy Director asked for the Cascade PD's help with the situation. Simon would bring back-up with him.

"Come on, Jim, can't you drive faster?"

"Not on these side streets, Chief. It's too dangerous."

"Where's the backup?"

"Sandy, the captain's set up roadblocks. But we don't want to provoke a hostage situation if the Tanners are with Katie."

"I know. I know. I'm just…."

"Just try and relax, Chief. We're gonna be there any minute."

~~~~~~~~

While Jim, Blair, and Megan made their way back to Downing Street, Bud was still stewing at the departure of the cops he considered his own. And since they had skipped out, he figured he was no longer obligated to keep to the agreement he had signed with the DA's office.

"Ed, Tom, I called you here today because my buddy, Jimbo, and his family are cops."

"What?!"

"Cops?"

"After all the stuff going on here, they were sent to watch the neighborhood. But they bailed. So it's come down to us to look after things around here. Now, it's going to take a little more time so we may have to miss some work. Are you with me?"

"I'm in."

"Tom?"

"Oh, I'm in. I'll just have to okay it with the wife."

"Aw, Tom. Did you even bring your gun?"

"Oh, I got the gun." Tom patted at the pocket of his coat.

"Look here, guys." Bud reached into a storage chest and brought out a cloth-covered object. "An AK-47. A buddy of mine smuggled it out of China piece by piece." Bud gingerly unwrapped the gun and held it out for his friends to admire.

Ed reached forward, taking the gun from Bud's hand. "Whoa. Let me see that."

"Take it easy," Bud warned, "The trigger is very sensitive."

Bud and Tom watched as Ed began aiming the gun around. Suddenly Ed jerked and the AK-47 went off. Shots and shattering glass created a deafening sound. Tom and Bud fell to the floor of the garage, trying to stay out of the way of the wildly firing gun.

As the gunfire stopped, Bud got to his feet, and yanked the gun away from Ed. "What the hell is that about, Warner?"

"It's not my fault."

"Oh, yeah, the gun just went off on its own? Let's go. Most of the shots went towards the Johnsons' house.You've got some explaining to do. And you'd better hope no one was hurt."

"Me? You're the one with the loaded AK, pal!"

"You just stay away from all my weapons."

All three men left Bud's garage, still carrying their guns, and started over to Katie's house. They stumbled to a halt when they spotted a man standing in Katie's driveway holding a machine gun. The neighbors and the gun-toting man all saw each other at the same time. Bud, Tom and Ed had the presence of mind to duck behind Bud's car as the man with the machine gun started shooting.

"Who is that?" Bud yelled over the din.

"Who cares?" was the common reply.

Inside Katie's house, things had calmed a little, but Rachel was still upset and defiant about leaving…again. Katie was trying to be understanding, but it was difficult.

"Mommy, I don't want to go." Rachel had resorted to whining.

Katie bit her lip and looked up at Phil and Susan. "This all feels so sudden. What if your people are wrong? I will have disrupted my daughter's life again for nothing."

Susan had lost most of her jovial, carefree manner and snapped, "This isn't the time to question our judgment. We're doing this for your protection."

Phil had been watching out the window and saw Stevens' black car arrive. He grabbed Katie by the arm, pulled his gun from his jacket and started dragging her to the front door "Okay, let's go now."

"What are you doing?! You leave her alone!" Katie yelled as Susan pulled Rachel from the couch. Just as they get to the door, it opened and Stevens walked in.

"Hi, honey," he sneered. "I'm home."

At that moment, gunshots sounded and everyone fells to the ground, ducking under furniture as the shots struck the windows, walls, and shelves. Outside, the driver of Stevens' car, grabbed a machine gun off the seat beside him and got out of the car, searching for the source of the shots.

Inside the house, Stevens glared at his hired assassins. "I thought you said the cops had left."

Phil looked out the shattered front window. "Cops wouldn't just open fire. What about your driver?"

"Charlie is completely trustworthy." At that moment, more shots came from outside, "Go outside and see what's going on," Stevens ordered then turned to Rachel, who was clinging to her mother, looking around with wide terrified eyes.

"Rachel...are you all right?" he asked, "Come on, honey, we're leaving." Stevens grabbed Rachel by the arm and using a gun, motioned Katie toward the inner garage door. "Let's go. Let's go!"

"You're insane, Lonnie."

"Shut up and get in the van," Stevens' demanded, opening the van door. "Where are the keys?"

Rachel, still caught in Stevens grip, asked "Who is he, Mommy?"

"You didn't tell her about me? I'm your father." Stevens took the keys Katie produced from her pocket.

"My daddy's dead," Rachel answered.

"No, Rachel. I'm your father."

"How can you do this to her?" Katie glanced at the gun still aimed at her.

"She'll be fine. Get in the van."

Outside, Susan and Phil joined Charlie as Tom popped up from behind Bud's car and fired at the three professional gunmen. None of the gunmen noticed the blue and white pickup that entered the end of the cul-de-sac

"What the hell are they doing?" Jim exclaimed as the exchange of gunfire continueed. "Hold on!" he warned his passengers and pulled the truck to a stop sideways in front of Katie's driveway. Bullets began hitting the side of the truck, forcing the trio to bail out on the driver's side. Jim and Megan returned fire, aiming for the professional gunmen.

Charlie suddenly fell, clutching his arm. Rather than stick around, Susan and Phil started running away from the scene. Megan checked to be sure the gunman was incapacitated and started after the 'Tanners.' Jim checked to see that Blair was hidden behind the truck, then made his way over to Bud, Ed, and Tom.

"What are you morons doing?"

"They started it," Bud began, but was interrupted by the sound of rending metal and breaking wood.

Katie's minivan, with Stevens at the wheel, crashed through the closed garage door. It couldn't go very far, however, as Stevens' own car and Jim's truck blocked most of the driveway exit. Stevens tried to scrape past his car, but the minivan's fender caught the fender of the black car. The opposing forces turned the minivan onto a path that caused it to run into several garbage cans. The trash exploded out of the cans and most of it ended up on the windshield of the minivan. Stevens', his line of sight obscured by the trash, ran into a fire hydrant. The hydrant broke off at ground level, sending a high pressure stream of water into the air. The van continued to roll a few more feet, out of the path of the water. Getting out of the van, Sevens opened the side door, and grabbed Rachel, trying to pull her out away from her mother.

"Rachel, come on!" Stevens yelled.

Screaming and fighting, Rachel clawed at the man who was grabbing her, "No! No! Mommy!"

Jim had followed the van's progress with his gun. Zooming in, he saw Katie and Rachel huddled in the back seat. When the car hit the hydrant, he saw Katie's head hit the side window. She was too stunned to stop Stevens from pulling Rachel out of the van.

Just as Stevens got Rachel out of the van, Jim and Blair came up behind him, Jim's gun pointed at Stevens' head.

"Put the girl down," Jim ordered.

Stevens let go of Rachel, who immediately ran over to Blair. "I'm not going to hurt her. She's my daughter, man. She's my daughter. It's okay."

"Get down. Put your face on the ground. Do it. Do it! All the way down. Put your hands behind your back." As Stevens complied with the command and Jim got out his cuffs, Blair, murmuring quietly to Rachel, led her over to the van to check on Katie.

"Katie, you okay?"

"Oh, my head..." Katie put one hand to her head and the other arm around her daughter as she watched Jim escort Stevens away from them.


~~~~~~~~

A short while later, the normally quiet cul-de-sac was filled with police cars, two ambulances and a fire truck. One of the ambulances was used to transport the gunman, Charlie. The fire truck was needed to take care of the broken fire hydrant. In two different police cars sat Susan and Phil. Megan had chased them into one of the police roadblocks. Katie and Rachel sat on the bumper of the other ambulance, trying to comfort each other.

Katie kissed her daughter and held her closer. "It's all right, Rachel. Everything's going to be all right now."

"I was so scared."

"I know, baby, but you don't have to be scared anymore," Katie answered and smiled as Blair crouched on the ground in front of them

"You guys okay?"

"We're going to be all right."

"You okay, Rachel?"

"Yeah."

"Good."

"So, after all this you think you'd still want to go out with me?" Katie asked.

"Uh, well...sure, if I can track you down."

"They'll put Lonnie away forever now. We're done with running."

"Good. I guess I'll be seeing you soon."

"Okay."

Blair stood up as the paramedic came up behind them from inside ambulance and helped Katie and Rachel inside,

"We're gonna go ahead now."

"Bye, Rachel." Blair leaned forward as Rachel leaned out, gave him a big hug and kissed him on the cheek him. "Take good care of your mom for me, okay?"

On the other side of the street from Katie and Rachel, Bud, Tom, and Ed were seated on the ground in front of Bud's car. All three were handcuffed.

Jim stood in front of the would-be gunfighters, telling them exactly what they did wrong.

"But, we didn't have time to call 911," Bud tried to defend himself and his actions.

"Bud, that's three numbers. You always have time to call 911. What you did was a stupid thing and it endangered the lives of a lot of innocent people." Jim turned and gestured to several uniformed officers to come over and take custody of the three neighbors.

"Aw, Jimbo..."

"Bud, don't ever call me Jimbo again...not even if we see each other on the street."

"Jim? Jimmy?"

Jim watched as Blair said goodbye to Katie and Rachel, hoping that his friend would get a chance to see both of them again. As the ambulance pulled away, Blair joined Jim and they walked over to where Simon and Megan had been directing and watching the cleanup.

"I think we're about wrapped up here, Captain." Jim then turned to Megan. "Why don't you go finish packing up the house, dear?"

Simon closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.

"Me?" Megan choked.

"Yeah."

"Captain Banks, I'd like to officially request a divorce."

"But, sir..." Jim started, but stopped at the look Simon was giving him, turned and followed Megan into Katie's house.

"Whew...man...I am so glad this particular stakeout is over," Blair said.

"Sandburg, is it my imagination or are those two still not getting along?"

"Tell me about it. I did the best I could, sir."

"Sandburg, I put you here to keep an eye on them."

"No. Wrong. You put me here so they wouldn't kill each other. I'm an anthropologist, not a therapist." Blair paced after Simon has he headed for his car.

"Yeah, well, maybe you should consider supplementing your degree. Go to night school. Do something!"


~ The End ~

 

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Next week's episode: Night Shift by Lyn Townsend




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