By: Heuradys, Sentinel Huntress, Helen, Panda and Chrys
Written for PetFly by: Bill Froehlich
Rated PG -13
internal thought in * *
~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~
Soft light filled the loft, and dust danced through the air, sparkling in the cold autumn sun around the sole inhabitant of the room.
Listening to some esoteric music over his headphones, Blair was sitting at the table, typing away on his laptop, papers and notes arranged in an organized chaos around him. The printer was ready to print the last chapter of his dissertation – just as soon as he finished it."Humanity has long dug into its past in the hope that it will shed light on its future. Perhaps what this reveals is that it is the best of ourselves that will survive and lead us through the next millennium. Watching our every step will be our tribal protectors — the sentinels — and their insight will further illuminate the spiritual connection of all things. The End."Looking at the screen with a satisfied feeling, jabbing the printer icon with a particularly triumphant mouse-click, Blair didn’t hear the door being unlocked, didn’t hear someone entering, sneaking up to him from behind. The feeling of arms wrapping around his neck made Blair jump in his chair; for a fleeting moment he feared for his life, then he relaxed with a sigh, recognizing the perfume and the soft voice.
Naomi Sandburg greeted him with a cheerful, laughing, "Sweetheart!" She released him as he stood up and removed the headphones, returning her smile a bit forcedly.
"Mom…" he half-growled in reproach.
"Hi, honey." She smiled, unperturbed, looking fondly at her son, before they hugged.
"Hi, Mom. What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I’m visiting my favorite son." Naomi looked smug; a bit stern, a bit teasing.
Blair played along as he asked, "Your… *favorite* son?"
"Mm-hmm," came the reply after a brief hesitation, as if she had to think about the question.
"I’m your only son, right?" He gestured to his chest, raising his eyebrows at her.
"Mom, you should have told me that you were coming." Blair took the last page from the printer, placing it on top of the others he cradled in his left arm. "I would have made some tongue," he chided, opening a beige lock-box on the table and slipping the pages inside.
"I e-mailed you, sweetheart. There’s two messages on your machine." Naomi explained, a bit taken aback, watching Blair.
"When?" he asked, confused, while closing and locking the papers into the fireproof box.
"Last night," she said as if it would explain everything.
"Oh, last night!" Blair exclaimed. "I had the phone turned off. I was finishing up my paper," he admitted, turning his full attention to Naomi.
"Your thesis? Is this your thesis? Is it finished?" Excited and pleased, a proud look sparkling in her eyes, she moved towards Blair, pointing at the box.
"Yes, it’s done, but it’s just a first draft and it needs a lot of work. A *lot* of work." He tried to quell her excitement.
"Honey, you’ve always been your own worst critic," Naomi chided. "I’m sure it’s wonderful. Why don’t you let me read it? I’ll give you some feedback." She nearly bounced in eager expectation.
Waving his hands to underline his words, Blair tried to dissuade her. "No, no, no, no. It’s just not good enough yet. And I want you to be really proud, all right? Just let it be, okay?" He moved away from the box, checking the clock. "Now, I’m sorry I can’t visit right now. I’ve got to go meet Jim." He moved around her, fetching his jacket, looking apologetically at her as he leaned in to kiss her cheek and collect a kiss in return.
"Okay. Uh, is it going to be dangerous?" Naomi looked concerned and worried as she followed his retreat to the door.
"Uh, no, Mom. You know better than that. I’m just an observer," Blair reassured her, before he closed the door behind himself.
Naomi managed to contain her curiosity and desire to help Blair for more than five minutes before she booted the computer Blair had shut down before he left. She knew better than to try and pick the box’s lock. Blair would miss the printed manuscript far too quickly, and it would be far too obvious. No, she needed a copy of that file from his computer. His password shouldn’t be too hard for her to guess…
Within ten minutes, she had hacked her way into Blair’s computer and found the file.
Picking up the phone, she dialed the number of an old friend. Of all the people she could think of to improve Blair’s opinion of his thesis, to give the most constructive criticism, Sid was the one. He answered on the second ring, and after the obligatory yet heartfelt exchange of greetings, she asked for her favor. "Just a proofreading," she insisted, "and some feedback. Let him know he’s not as bad as he thinks he is. He never is, you know."
"Of course," Sid answered. "His thesis, you say? Shouldn’t take more than a few hours."
"Sid, listen, are you sure you have time to do this?"
"For you, there’s always time. Have you read it yet?"
"Uh-uh. No, I haven’t because I promised Blair that I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you could just give him some advice, then that would make the next draft better."
"Just e-mail me the file. I’ll get to it tonight," Sid agreed.
"It’s on its way, Sid." She pressed ‘Enter’ feeling the pride of a mother who’s helping her child and a deep satisfaction at skirting her promise to Blair to do it.
"Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Sorry." Blair pushed his way through the large crowd at the Dock Workers Local to join Jim and Megan where they stood near a podium.
"Nice of you to join us," Jim said, sounding stressed, eyes roaming over the people gathered around them.
"Hey, sorry I’m late. What’s going on?" Blair burrowed deeper into his jacket, eager to escape the cold air.
"Well, Simon farmed us out to run some security for a union boss named Jack Bartley, a real prince," Jim informed him.
"He needs another phone line to handle all the death threats. He’s trying to unite the longshoremen, which is making him extremely unpopular with the shipping companies," Megan explained.
A short, well-dressed man, accompanied by a few others, approached them, eyes locked on Megan. "Hey. Wow, got any more babes on this detail?"
"Mr. Bartley, we’re here . . .," Jim began.
"Who’s the hippie?" Bartley ignored Jim’s annoyed expression as he turned his attention briefly towards Blair.
Blair laughed, not finding the comment funny, but being polite. "Blair Sandburg," Blair introduced himself, holding out his hand.
Bartley shook it abruptly. "Nice." He dropped Blair’s hand and addressed one of his associates. "Hey, keep him out of my television coverage, huh?" He glanced back to Blair. "Unless you want to shave your legs."
Blair gave another brief laugh, finding this comment even less funny than the first one.
Before he could reply, though, Jim asked patiently, "Could we do this?"
"Yeah," Bartley replied.
They headed to the speaker’s platform, getting into position. The crowd chanted Bartley’s name as he climbed the steps of the platform, Megan accompanying him. Jim stayed at the bottom, scanning the crowd, his eyes drawn to a distant balcony.
Klaus Zeller watched the scene unfolding through the scope of his rifle. Killing this union rabble-rouser… It should be an easy job, he thought, swift and without complication. Yet, Ellison… such a perfectly framed target right now. That man was trouble. Zeller briefly played with the temptation of shooting him, of scanning the crowd for his partner and carrying out the promise he’d made before, but he pushed those wishes aside for now. He had a job to do.
Ellison was looking straight at him, as if he could actually see him from that distance. *Wie zum Teufel kann der mich sehen?!* He raised his eye from the scope for a moment, startled, then he looked back, searching for Bartley instead. It was impossible. Ellison couldn’t see him. The sudden movement of the crowd made him suspicious, and as the shouting began, he instinctively turned his attention back to Ellison, cursing that he hadn’t shot the man a moment ago when he had the chance. Ellison now had a rifle as powerful as his own and was aiming straight at him. Zeller ducked just in time, as the bullet smashed through his scope. *How the devil did he see me?*
Abandoning the damaged scope, Zeller left. He would have to finish his job another time.
Megan reacted at once, taking Bartley by his arm, ordering him to keep his head down and hustling him off the platform. Jim met them at the stairs to the podium and grabbed Bartley’s arm, more dragging than leading the union organizer to a waiting black van, covering him with his body for the short distance. Jim pushed Bartley into the van, keeping an eye on his surroundings as he barely waited for the man to vanish inside before slamming the door closed
Slamming his hand against the side-window, Jim shouted at the driver, "Let’s go! Move out! Move out!" Turning around and searching the spot in the distance where he’d seen Zeller just seconds earlier, he didn’t relax as the van finally sped away. Sensing more than seeing Blair and Megan nearby, he pointed out the way for them.
"Let’s go!" He moved ahead, knowing that his colleague and partner would follow him without question.
Not much later, the team gathered in Simon’s office, their boss pacing impatiently, obviously in a foul mood.
Henri Brown stood beside Jim, a cup of coffee in his hand as they listened to the captain’s words.
"We’re dealing with our old friend Klaus Zeller, a.k.a. ‘The Iceman.’ And until he’s apprehended, there will be no days off and no one sleeps," Simon explained, stating the facts.
Megan sat in a chair left of Simon, holding the only evidence aside from Jim’s word in her hands. "When we got to the sniper’s position, all we found was the shattered scope."
Simon acknowledged her words before he continued. "Take a look at these." He handed several files over to Megan, who passed them around the table to the other four. Brown, Jim, Blair and Joel each accepted their copies without comment.
"It’s all the information we have on the death threats to Jack Bartley. See if we can use it to track whoever hired this hit man. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Zeller was apprehended by Detective Ellison…" Simon glared at Blair, who had cleared his throat loudly, then added, "…along with some help from our favorite observer, Blair Sandburg, for several murders and the attempted murder of a university student. Now he was rotting – very nicely – in a German prison outside of Munich until he managed to pay off a judge. Further word of caution, Zeller is also wanted for the murders of several Interpol agents and a Scotland Yard investigator. He has a nasty habit of targeting his pursuers, Jim."
A knock on the door interrupted Simon. Glaring at the door, he ordered "Come in!"
Rafe opened the door just wide enough to pinpoint Blair and deliver his message. "Blair, you’ve got an urgent phone call. Line two."
Blair felt uncomfortable with all eyes on him as he stood up. "I’m sorry," he murmured, waving an apologetic hand to Simon, not looking at the angry man as he made a hasty retreat through the door. As he closed the door behind himself and Rafe, he repeated his apology
"Who is it?" he asked Rafe. Part of him was hoping it was Zeller, that this would be a repeat of the message the German assassin had left on his and Jim’s home machine after their last run-in, and that the call could be traced.
"Some guy named Sid Graham," Rafe replied, stepping over to another detective’s desk, looking at her computer screen intently.
Puzzled and wondering who that might be, Blair headed over to Jim’s desk to pick up the phone.
Meanwhile, Simon continued his instructions. "Three-man teams will guard Bartley — rotate every eight hours. From now on, his schedule is cleared through this office only." Chewing on his unlit cigar, he dismissed his team.
"Hello. This is Blair Sandburg," Blair said, shoving a hand into his pocket as he waited for the mysterious caller to reveal his identity.
"Sid Graham calling from New York. Could you use $100,000?"
The voice wasn’t oily or unctuous, not at all what Blair would have expected of someone making this offer. But still – he wasn’t interested. And he was sure to get in trouble for receiving personal calls at the station – again.
"Uh… whatever you’re selling, Sid, thanks a lot, I don’t want any," Blair replied, just wanting to get rid of this Sid, leaning towards the phone, ready to hang up.
"Blair, wait!" There was an urgency to Sid’s voice that made Blair listen despite himself. "I’m a friend of your mother’s. A very good friend. I think I’m going to be yours."
"Oh, yeah? Why is that?" Blair tensed, straightening up again. If this man was a friend of his mother’s, maybe he should listen to what he had to say. But Blair somehow was afraid of whatever Sid had to tell him.
"Because you’ve written a best-seller," Sid stated in a matter of fact voice.
"What are you talking about?" Now Blair was confused and unsure what to expect of this so-called friend.
"I’m with Berkshire Publishers. Senior editor. I’m telling you, ‘The Sentinel’ is going to be the next ‘Celestine Prophecy.’ We are prepared to offer you $100,000 in advance right now."
Blair froze. Cold fear clenched his heart as he tried to understand what Sid just had said. Rubbing his hand over his face, he figured it out. She wouldn’t have…
"What did she do?" he asked finally, afraid of the answer.
"She e-mailed me your thesis."
"She e-mailed you?"
"Asked me to give you some advice on how to fix any problems with the first draft," Sid explained, seeming a bit annoyed at the lack of enthusiasm from Blair’s side.
"Look, mister– It’s Mr. Graham, right?" Blair became agitated, only barely gathering just what kind of mess his mother had created. "You cannot show that to anybody. It was not meant to be read. Naomi acted without my permission!" His thoughts stumbled over each other, making concentrating hard as he tried to convince Sid to leave it alone.
"I’d like to know more about this police detective, Ellison. We’ll want him to be part of the publicity," Sid continued, ignoring what Blair had said.
"No!" Blair shook his head, waving his free hand around. "He’s *not* going to be part of anything. I’m not going to be part of anything, either. You cannot publish it. And if you want to keep your friendship with my mother, I suggest you destroy the copy that you have and forget that it ever existed. This is the end of the conversation. That’s all I have to say about it!" Blair spoke hastily, not giving Sid the opportunity to interrupt him, to convince him that he was wrong about refusing the offer. "Thank you and good-bye." Blair slammed down the receiver, staring unseeing at Jim’s desk.
Sid frowned at the hang up. That hadn’t gone well. Who would have thought Blair could refuse his offer? Holding the receiver a moment longer in his hand, deep in thoughts, he put it down, a new plan forming in his mind. He wasn’t done with Blair Sandburg yet.
The publisher leaned back in his chair, putting away the most interesting and fascinating reading material he had received in a long time. Now, he only had to convince the young man that he was the best man to publish his work. *And what could be a better bait for a starving student than money?*
He dismissed the refusal as some anxiety attack caused by the offer and sudden success. He would get through to Blair Sandburg. After all, he had Naomi on his side. And he knew the woman too well to underestimate her.
After exchanging a few more words and suggestions in Simon’s office, Jim and Megan left the room just in time to witness the end of Blair’s call. Exchanging confused looks, they approached him.
"You all right, Sandy?" Megan asked.
Blair looked up hearing her question. "Uh, yeah, it’s just my mom." He forced a reassuring smile, attempting to distract their worries.
"How is Naomi?" Jim asked with a smile, tilting his head slightly to the side, looking straight at Blair, wondering what had made him suddenly so nervous. And why he wouldn’t tell them the truth. Maybe later when they were alone at home.
"She’s doing just fine… "Blair nodded grimly, the smile promising nothing good, "until I get a hold of her."
How could Ellison have seen him at that distance? No one could do that without some visual aid. Maybe he should do a check up on that man sometime later. Who knew, he had been military for some years after all. Dismissing these thoughts and turning back to business, Zeller entered a small, familiar hobby shop. He would be damned if this little mishap would throw him.
"Hello, Roger," Zeller greeted, approaching the busy man, leaning over his model railway.
"Oh, hello!" Roger straightened up and looked with a smile at Zeller, who stopped in front of him and his railway.
Zeller looked back towards the entrance, making sure no one had followed him into the shop before he spoke in a hushed voice, leaning closer. "I have a special order for you."
"Ah, yes. Very good," Roger sounded barely excited about that, his concentration on his railway again.
"Any contact?" Zeller asked, watching Roger with some dismay, not too happy about being ignored like that.
"They fear exposure if you try again and wish to terminate the agreement," Roger said, his voice matter of fact.
"Next time will be different."
"They don’t want a next time." Roger straightened up again, focusing on Zeller, his eyes serious.
"I always complete a contract," Zeller said angrily, then showed Roger a set of plans, all cold business again. "Can you build this?"
"I believe so, yes. Over what range?" Roger asked, looking up briefly from studying the plans, obviously searching for ways to deal with this challenge.
"Three hundred feet. Very silent."
"Of course. I suggest a longer lens to cover," the shop owner said, hands illustrating the words.
"Yes, and it must pass all metal detectors and x-rays."
"A resin-base plastic ought to do the job. However, then this would only be able to chamber one round at a time," Roger explained, his tone nervous as he waited for Zeller’s reaction.
"I need only one," came the very self-confident reply.
"Very good." Roger smiled broadly.
Jim followed Blair closely as the two men entered the loft, his mind worrying at the puzzle of why the younger man had been upset since the phone call he’d gotten earlier. He’d been a good enough actor to fool Megan, but the sentinel knew better.
They both tossed their keys into the basket by the door, and Jim sniffed at the air cautiously, trying to isolate the components of the exotic aroma that filled the loft. Blair’s mother smiled at them from the living room, her attention half on the phone pressed to her ear.
“Really, Sid? That’s great news!” she said, holding the phone out to Blair. “Oh, honey, quick, it’s Sid.”
Jim heard Blair’s heart rate speed and watched as his guide approached her slowly, taking the phone as if it was going to bite him. The grad student retreated further into the living room, his body language making it clear that he was not happy with this call. Deciding to give him his privacy, Jim turned to Naomi, wondering if this ‘Sid’ was the new man in her life.
“He’d better be good to you, Naomi. Who is this Sid?” Jim smiled, unable to escape the natural force headed toward him.
“Oh, just an old boyfriend from New York,” she dismissed good naturedly, giving Jim a tight hug. “Hi, Jim. How are you?” She smiled at him, keeping a hand on his arm a moment longer. “Oh, you’ve been working out. Give me another hug!” Jim couldn’t help himself, he rolled his eyes, searching for Blair, who looked worried and angry at the same time as he talked in a hushed voice with Sid.
“Hmm,” Jim mused to himself as he wondered what was going on, his thoughts interrupted by another squeeze of Naomi’s arms.
“Did you know that my son is brilliant?” She finally released him with an proud look on her face, smiling impishly, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Well, he does work pretty hard at keeping that from me, Naomi,” Jim replied with a mocking playfulness, earning himself a slap on his arm from the amused woman, making him chuckle. *Naomi is just in a damn good mood today,* he thought as she turned to the stove, where steam rose from a large pot.
“I’m making you guys some wild bohemian stew,” she announced, smiling brilliantly at Jim as she stirred the pot’s contents.
Blair finished the phone conversation that moment and slowly joined the two in the kitchen, leaning against the edge of the stove as he stared at his mother.
“Uh, this wouldn’t be the stuff that made my nose itch for a week, would it?” Jim asked as he carefully moved closer.
“Oh, no. That was my tofu mince pie.” Naomi waved her hands dismissing that thought. ”Here, try it.” She held the spoon up for Jim to taste. Jim dutifully leaned closer, taking a sniff, then moving away at the strong, spicy smell.
“Uh, hey, mom, we’ve got to talk, all right?” Blair interjected his face serious.
“Oh, isn’t it wonderful, honey?” she beamed, placing the spoon back into the pot.
“I’d use another word. You didn’t tell Jim, did you?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, no, no, no. I’m going to let you tell Jim,” she said quickly, her voice reassuring. Jim frowned. Blair didn’t seem to be reassured.
“Tell me what?” he asked. Naomi looked back and forth at the two of them, her smile steady.
“Nothing. Just a misunderstanding,” Blair made a face, obviously not happy.
“A misunderstanding with your mother? I refuse to believe that,” Jim chuckled.
“Did everything work out all right with Sid?” Naomi’s smile disappeared as she asked the question, and Jim felt alarm bells ringing. Something was very wrong here.
“Um, well, uh…,” Blair stammered, then turned to Jim. “Do me a favor, Jim. I got to talk to my mom confidentially.”
“All right, I’ll be in the living room,” Jim agreed, motioning with his hand in said direction.
“Jim. Confidentially,” Blair emphasized, playing with his ear, his hand motion unsubtle. Jim definitely didn’t like this situation.
“Oh. I see. All right.” Jim tried to hide his hurt and confusion, managing to smile at them before leaving to fetch his headphones.
Blair watched him go with a blank face.
Blair stared at Naomi as they stood in his bedroom. “I can’t do this. I already told Sid no,” Blair told his mother, agitated and worried, his hands moving frantically as he tried to make her understand.
“But, darling, he’s raising your advance to a quarter of a million dollars!” Naomi pointed out.
“Mom, I don’t think you understand how serious this is. My thesis is an ongoing process. I can’t believe you sent it to him!” Blair’s patience was melting away like snow in the heat of a dessert, the last part said through clenched teeth.
“Because you sounded so worried, like it wasn’t any good and Sid would give you a boost, maybe give you some advice so your second draft would be better,” she justified her actions, apparently now beginning to worry.
“This is a perfect example of how you don’t listen to me,” Blair’s shoulders slumped as he gave up. This was, after all, his mother. Why had he been surprised?!
“I’m listening with my heart, Blair. I’m sorry. That’s what mothers do. I mean, I’d never want to hurt you, Blair. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Did you read it?” But he knew the answer to that question.
“No…you told me not to read it. I didn’t read it,” she assured him.
“Well, maybe if you had you would have realised that there is stuff in there that can get me in a lot of serious trouble!” He became angry again. Sometimes he just could…
“What kind of trouble?”
She was obviously puzzled and Blair took a deep breath, glancing through the window to make sure Jim was still on the couch before he continued. “I can’t tell you that. It’s between me and Jim.”
“Well, why would it bother Jim?” She looked through the window, too, for a moment. “I think Jim would be so happy that your work was being published.”
Blair had to smile at his mother’s determination. “No, I can pretty much guarantee that he wouldn’t.” His smile was rueful and he shook his head slightly, pushing his anger away again. “Now, you have to promise me that you won’t do anything anymore on this,” he said, his hands emphasizing his words.
She took a deep breath, not looking at Blair as she began. “Well, but suppose that I…”
“Noooooo…” Blair cut her off calmly, ending the discussion. Now he had to make sure that she wouldn’t say anything to Jim. And make Sid understand that he couldn’t publish anything.
His mother looked sadly at him, then smiled. “I hear you, honey.” She hugged him, then left the bedroom, sauntering past Jim, who took it as a signal that the conversation was done. Removing his headphones, he glanced over at his guide.
Sensing Jim’s eyes on him, Blair looked up, forcing a smile.
*What a mess!*
Blair dismissed his nagging suspicions as his mother waved good-bye when they left the apartment the next day. It was over. He hoped so, at least, as he jogged down the stairs beside Jim.
Halfway down, Jim’s phone rang.
“All right, Simon, we’re just leaving the apartment now. I’ll meet you over at Bartley’s,” Jim said, paying no real attention to his surroundings as they headed to the truck, passing a young woman sorting through some clothes in front of a store. Blair walked beside him, looking tense for some reason. With an “Mm-hmm,” to something Simon said, Jim hung up, pocketing his phone.
“Man, that guy keeps sharking on Megan the way he is, she’s going to ratify his contract in a whole new way,” Blair voiced his concern with a smug grin. Jim grinned back, hands in his jacket, listening. “You know what’s funny about him leading the dockworkers?” Blair asked.
“No. Why don’t you hum a few bars?” Jim replied, moving past Blair to the other side of his truck.
“He’s more like a short-shoreman!” Blair joked, opening the passenger side door
Jim repeated the line chuckling, not seeing the group that had been standing behind them starting to run up as they were getting into the truck.
They started talking all at once, each trying to drown out the others. One voice rang out clearly, "That taller one — that’s got to be the sentinel!"
Blair froze with the truck door open, turning his attention towards the commotion at those words and feeling cold with shock. It was far from over! He hurried to get inside the truck.
“Let’s get the cameras over here!” A woman walked in front of the truck, taking pictures rapidly.
Slamming the truck door closed, Jim turned to Blair with a puzzled frown. "Did I just hear…" he asked, unsure if he had heard right. His frown increased at the lack of reaction from his partner.
Blair avoided looking at Jim, feeling the blood drain from his face.
Reporters converged on both sides of the truck, sticking microphones and cameras through the windows on both sides. On Blair’s side a male reporter spoke up. “Ellison, can you tell us why you decided to reveal your abilities at this time, sir?”
“My abilities?!” Jim could barely keep his voice from rising, looking from left to right and back, trying to get a grip on what was going on.
More microphones were pushed in his face, and another asked, giving Blair’s death blow. “How will the publication of Mr. Sandburg’s manuscript affect your work with the police department?”
Blair paled even more. He swallowed. Damn his mother. Damn his own stupidity. He should have told Jim, not just believed that it would go away. He was such a fool!
“Chief, tell me you didn’t.” Jim suddenly understood fully what these reporters were talking about. The accusation and betrayal underlying his demand pierced Blair’s heart.
“No, no. I didn’t do anything.” Blair hoped he could salvage the situation, but the look on Jim’s face told him otherwise, and turning to the reporters Blair raised his voice, “Look, there must be some mistake here. I don’t know where you got your information from…”
A female reporter at Jim’s side interrupted him and eagerly explained. “Your publisher sent us excerpts from the manuscript.”
“My what?!” Blair’s voice cracked. “I don’t have a publisher!”
“Let’s hear it from the sentinel himself,” another female reporter on Blair’s side demanded, ignoring him, her attention focused on their victim.
Jim finally lost his last bit of patience. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, get that out of here,“ he demanded, pushing back the microphone on his side and rolling up his window, mirrored by Blair who did the same on his side, “and back off before someone loses a toe!”
He started the motor, ignoring the people around them. A tiny part hoped he would hurt one of them.
“Jim, I can explain!” Blair began.
“Chief, do not say anything right now,” Jim coldly cut him off, and drove away looking straight on the street ahead of them.
Blair shrank in his seat, hugging himself. He was so dead…~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~The drive to Bartley’s office was one of tense, frozen silence, and Blair kept waiting for the explosion, but it never came. Jim wouldn’t even look at him. Jim parked the truck and got out without a word, still ignoring him, and they began walking to the building. Blair glanced over at him, not willing to wait any longer. "Why aren’t you saying anything?"
Jim’s voice wasn’t particularly angry, more tired and cynical as he put his hands into his pockets. "There’s nothing to say, Chief. It’s all been said. It’s out. It’s over. There’s no going back. I just thought we had an agreement that I was going to read your thesis first." He still didn’t look at Blair, speaking to the air, the ocean beside the dock, the seagulls.
"We did. Look, I didn’t do this."
Jim might as well have rolled his eyes for all the blandness of his "Right." He went on, "You didn’t write the book and you didn’t put my name all over it."
"Well, of course I did, but I was planning on changing your name – and probably even mine – to protect you." Blair looked at Jim’s impassive profile, hoping the taller man would make eye contact, was willing to read his sincerity. "I just haven’t figured out a way to do that without compromising the documentation."
Jim didn’t say anything for a long beat, just kept walking. "So this Sid is throwing a lot of money in your face, right?"
"Yeah," Blair said warily.
"All right, just to generate publicity for the sake of generating publicity," Jim turned toward the building, still walking at the same pace, "without even having a deal because he wants to, what? Toss it in your face like a dangling carrot?"
Blair stopped in his tracks, putting up his hand to stop Jim. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute… Stop." He planted himself in front of Jim, finally getting the eye contact he’d been waiting for for a moment before Jim, shaking his head a little, looked away. "What are you trying to say? I was part of this from the start? How long have we known each other? You think that’s what I’m about?"
Jim looked at him again. "Why didn’t you say anything about this last night? It just looks like a guilty conscience to me."
"I thought it was *over!* I told him no *twice!* Naomi was just doing what she thought was right. She didn’t know what it was about."
Jim’s voice and attitude lost their steadiness and he asked snidely, "How the hell did your mother get her hands on this? It was lying around like coffee-table reading?"
"N-no. Look, don’t you try to run some interrogation on me," Blair said, his own anger spilling over in righteous indignation. Jim brushed past him. "You’re not going to find some weak spot in me, all right? Look," he said to Jim’s back, "I’m not a perp; I’m your friend!"
Jim turned back, raising his left hand. "Chief, you’ve got a great opportunity here." He patted Blair on the shoulder, continuing in a tone that could have been taken as encouraging if you didn’t notice the undertone of bitterness. "It’s a once in a lifetime play. Go for the brass ring. Good luck, huh?" He gave Blair a double thumbs-up as he backed away, clenching his fists for a second afterward, then turned away.
As Jim walked on, Blair trailed after him slowly. "This is so fucked," he muttered under his breath, not caring if Jim heard, pretty sure Jim was feeling the same way.
Jim did his best to ignore Blair’s presence, focusing on the job at hand, and Blair stayed out of the way, looking out the window while he, Simon, and Megan spoke with Bartley. Simon handed Bartley a photo with the blunt statement, "This is a picture of the man who’s been contracted to kill you."
Bartley glanced at it. "So, what are you going to do about it?"
Jim answered, "Well, at this point, the best thing to do is keep you locked up until we find him."
Bartley shook his head, standing. "The ratification vote is two days away. I’ve got to hammer this thing out with each of the locals, or it’s not going to fly. I’ve got worker’s families who are depending on this benefit package. The shippers want to keep the cash box locked up, but I’m not going to let my brothers down."
Jim exchanged a glance with Simon, who was clearly as low on options as he was himself.
Megan spoke up. "Well, Captain, we could draw Zeller out somehow."
Bartley looked thoughtful for a moment. "She’s right. Babe with brains." He shot her an approving look; she rolled her eyes, dismissing him. "So, you’re going to need some bait, right? I’m up for it." Slapping his chest in a macho display, he asserted, "Nobody intimidates me."
Simon replied, obviously amused by the much shorter man’s display, "It’s not our policy to endanger the people we’re trying to protect."
"I’m not letting these guys run me. I make *them* dance."
"Captain, it’s risky, but we have some control over the area," Jim said.
"You guys throw the party; I’ll be there," Bartley said with a huff. He grabbed his suit coat off the back of his chair and abruptly left the room, passing Blair who’d moved to stand by the door when his cell phone rang a moment before.
Megan looked after him for a moment before looking at Jim and her captain. "The man’s a yobbo, but he might just unite these dockworkers."
"But what?" Jim asked.
Simon answered him. "That’s what Gunderson Shipping is worried about. If Bartley’s policies get set, they lose big time. Now, Gunderson’s been under investigation by the FBI for extortion and strike-breaking. I wouldn’t put it past them to try to whack this guy. So, let’s throw Bartley his party."
Blair’s cell phone beeped loudly as he hung it up. A soft but heartfelt ‘damn it’ punctuated Simon’s sentence.
Simon ignored him, continuing, "See if Zeller shows up. This time, let’s try not to lose him through the net."
Jim took the criticism as his due, grimacing a little with a nod.
"Uh, I think there’s something you guys should know," Blair joined the conversation, looking mostly at the floor. "I tried to put a stop to it, but, uh, the noon news is going to run a story about Jim and me." In the long pause that followed, he searched each of their faces; Simon and Megan just looked confused, but Jim…
Jim shook his head, feeling the snowball Naomi had started had turned into an avalanche. "That’s just…" He couldn’t find any more words. Without even a glance at Blair – or a dismissal from his captain – he left.
"What is this all about?" Simon asked exasperatedly, eyeing Blair suspiciously.
Blair kept looking at the floor, spreading his hands wide in a gesture of both negation and acceptance.
Zeller carefully inspected his new gun, listening with half an ear to the noon news, his gloved hands testing every part. Roger stood by the television, a box in his hands.
"In the jungles of Peru, his senses were heightened from prolonged isolation and the fight for survival. Now, Detective James Ellison is a sentinel in the fight against crime — seeing before others see, sensing what others can’t. According to a Rainier University anthropologist, it would seem Cascade has its own super cop whose powers make him a guardian for us all."
Roger shook his head, walking away from the set and approaching Zeller. "Do you believe that story?"
"Oh, yes. I do." Zeller dismissed Roger’s interest in the news by the simple expedient of praising him. "Masterpiece of work."
Roger smiled, visibly pleased.
"Bullets?" Zeller asked all business.
Roger opened the box, displaying one bullet to Zeller. "I took the liberty of using a new titanium alloy, and, of course, with the Teflon coating – you’ll be pleased – the penetration is quite remarkable." He slipped it back in with its deadly siblings, handing the box to Zeller with a smarmy smile.
Zeller looked at the bullets, snapping the box closed in his leather-gloved hand. Making a sound of satisfied approval, he returned Roger’s smile.
With a stomach that felt full of broken glass, Blair faced the head of his department and the university’s chancellor. His history with the woman wasn’t the best, and today, well, the way his luck was going, a summons from her meant nothing good. "I know that this, uh, situation about my thesis has got to be really embarrassing for the university -"
She cut him off, standing up from her desk with a pleased smile. "That’s why we asked you here, but we couldn’t be more proud of your accomplishments."
As Blair blinked in surprise, his department head interjected the same sentiment Jim had, his voice not nearly as accusatory as Jim’s had been. "We only wish you had given us a chance to read it first."
"Please send them in," the chancellor said into her intercom, still smiling at Blair.
Blair turned toward the doors, still in shock, which increased as they opened to reveal his mother arguing with a man and a camera crew.
"Mom? Wh-what’s going on?"
Naomi’s voice was full of tension. "Uh… Blair, this is Sid Graham. He flew all the way from New York. I wanted him to meet with you alone first, but he . . ."
Sid shook Blair’s unresisting hand and cut Naomi off. "Blair, I’m determined to publish your book. I can now offer one million dollars from Berkshire Publishing, and I’ve already had inquiries from several studios for the movie rights."
Blair swallowed hard. "A movie. That’s, uh, that’s incredible," he said flatly.
"There’s more," Sid continued smugly, "but I agreed to let the TV crew handle that."
A grinning reporter with a microphone almost elbowed Naomi aside to get to him. "We’ve been informed," he said, "that thanks to the efforts of your mother, Naomi, the Whatnell Association is considering your research for its annual award."
Sid started applauding; Naomi beamed. Blair felt like a deer in a truck’s headlights as everything and nothing he wanted was handed to him in front of a running camera. "The Whatnell Award. That’s… That’s unbelievable. Excuse me." He jerked his head to one side. "Mom…"
As the reporter fumbled for words in their wake, Blair drew her aside, the glass in his stomach now a solid mass of hurt and anger. "Mom, this is ‘doing nothing’?" he hissed.
"I – I did this before you told me not to do anything and, then, all I did was… I talked to Lars when he called."
"What the – Lars? Who’s Lars?"
"Lars… Lars! He’s Mrs. Whatnell’s masseur. I just asked him to slip your thesis…"
"Mom, stop, please. Please, I can’t hear any more. Stop."
"Would you say you’re overwhelmed?" the reporter asked, swooping vulture-like into their conversation.
Blair gestured to the camera. "Is this live?"
"No, we’re recording for the eleven o’clock tonight."
"I have nothing to say." He pushed between the cameraman and the reporter, making a beeline for the door. He didn’t look back, too angry to acknowledge Naomi chasing him, apologizing.
"Hey, Jim, my wife’s having dinner with the ladies across town. I wonder if you could put your ear out and tell me what they’re saying about me," was Brown’s eager, yet serious, greeting when Jim walked into the bullpen early that evening.
It caught him off-guard; he gaped like a hooked fish for several long seconds. He’d thought, he’d hoped, that his colleagues would simply leave him alone, that they’d *know* the news stories weren’t true. But he should have expected they’d be incapable of letting it go without teasing him about it.
"Yeah," Jim replied, "She says your car’s too small for her garage."
He pushed past Brown, who seemed a bit disappointed that he wasn’t laughing, shaking his head and continuing to his desk, only to be intercepted by Rafe, who was grinning like the loon he was. "Hey! Hey, Jim… Jim, uh, when are you gonna start wearing, uh, tights and a cape?"
Jim sighed tiredly. "I don’t know. You got some I can borrow, Peter Pan?"
Rafe let him pass, still laughing.
"Come on, Jim, why don’t you have a sense of humor about this whole thing?" Joel inquired with a grin, walking up to Jim’s desk and watching him take off his coat.
"Joel… Let’s just let it go. Give it a rest."
Jim’s very sober mood sobered Joel. "Why are you keeping it from us? Why not just tell us what’s going on?"
A good question, Jim realized, with several very good answers, none of which he was willing to explore. "I-I-I got some work to do, okay? Could you excuse me? Sorry."
Joel walked away, but all hope Jim had of actually *doing* any of his work departed with the last person Jim wanted to see walking into the bullpen. He’d avoided Blair’s phone calls all afternoon, watched both the noon and five P.M. news with a justifiable sense of dread.
However, there was no way he could ignore Brown’s loud greeting, "Hey, Sandburg, who’s playing you on the Sentinel TV show? I know: Pauly Shore. No, Adam Sandler."
Jim clenched his jaw, watching the vultures gather.
"Listen, I hear Denzel is playing me," Joel said, straightening his tie.
"Look, look, look there isn’t going to be a TV show, all right?" Blair addressed his avid audience.
"Just the Whatnell Prize," Rafe declared in a satisfied tone. He brought his hands together and led the entire group in a bowing chant of ‘We’re not worthy,’ that would have likely continued for hours had the subject of their worship not bolted or Simon not emerged from his office.
"All right, everyone, listen up," Simon announced, slipping into his suit-coat. "The official line is this is *not* true. There is absolutely no proof." He glared at each of them. "Why do I see people standing and not working?"
His fingers steepled in front of his face, Jim watched everyone get busy. When Simon approached him, he said quietly, "Is that the official line, Captain?"
Simon leaned down, resting his hands on the edge of Jim’s desk, waiting until Rafe moved out of earshot to reply. "Are you kidding me? I have no idea what the official line is. I’ve been ducking calls from the brass all day."
"I know how you feel," Jim said. He’d been ducking more than Sandburg’s calls; his answering machine and voicemail were full, his cell phone was getting a serious workout.
"All right, so, how are we going to play this? Do we deny it?"
Jim met his eyes. "How can we, sir? There’s documented evidence; it’s all written down."
Simon shook his head. "I knew this day was going to come. If Command thinks I’ve been lying to them about my best detective, they’re gonna have us both in Nebraska, pounding a beat."
Jim got to his feet. "No! No, Captain. You’ve stuck your neck out far too many times for me, and I really appreciate it. Now, I don’t want you involved in this. This is on me; this is my problem."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"I’m going to do the only thing I know how to do, Captain; I’m going to do my job. I’m gonna start by putting Zeller in a cage."
Blair still couldn’t believe it; Jim had left him behind. Jim’s "good luck, huh?" really *had* been a dismissal. All his attempts to talk to him, to work through what was happening, had either failed or been ignored, as if, somehow, Jim thought putting distance between them would make it all just go away. He wished it would, too, wished he could hit rewind.
He tore himself from his musings about fear-based responses, of trust issues and instinctual reactions as Megan parked her car, shaking his head.
She looked at him closely. "You okay, Sandy?"
He returned a wry look. "Not even close." They got out of the car and started walking to the building where Jim was waiting with Bartley. He continued, encouraged by her supportive presence. "This will never end. He thinks I’ve deceived him, and, now, this crazy Sid Graham’s got the offer up to three million dollars. I mean, that’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of, but it’s also my worst nightmare. I don’t… I just don’t know what to do."
Frank and blunt as ever, but not lacking sympathy, she said, "It’s an extraordinary accomplishment," she waited until he met her eyes to continue, "But I hate to see what it’s doing to you and Jim. Look, Sandy, if you know you’re doing what’s right, then you can move on with a clear conscience. So can Jim."
*Oh, that’s helpful…* "Yeah."
Bartley’s party was shaping up to be quite the shindig, Jim thought idly as he put on his radio earpiece. Simon’s voice sounded beside him, and then with a split-second delay through the radio, as he ordered all positions to report.
Bartley, sitting on the office couch and flipping through the newspaper with bored indifference, addressed him. "You need that thing?"
"Can’t pull radio waves out of thin air, Mr. Bartley."
"Can you really do all that stuff? The hearing, seeing, smelling thing? Must be a trip."
Trying to keep his expression bland and business-like, Jim replied, "Why ask me? Ask Sandburg, he’s the expert." He moved past Bartley, cutting their conversation short, to look out the windows. Simon joined him there, and they observed the controlled chaos below. "There’s more press than there was before. The hyenas are probably ready for somebody to try to kill him so they can get a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo."
"Nobody’s spotted Zeller yet." Simon sighed, lowering his binoculars.
"Bartley’s speech starts in five minutes, Captain. He’ll show."
"Well, you better get down there."
"On my way." Jim nodded. "Mr. Bartley, it’s time for you to get into position."
Jim brushed between Blair and Megan with a brusquely polite, "Pardon me."
When Blair didn’t immediately follow Jim, Simon looked irritated. "What are you doing? Go with him, Sandburg."
"He doesn’t want me with him." That should have been obvious to anyone with eyes and ears; no hyperactive senses required.
"I need you with him. Help him focus. Now, go." Arguing wouldn’t do any good; one look at Simon’s face told him that. Resigned, Blair nodded.
"Babe stays here though, right?" Bartley interjected, smirking at Megan.
"I might just shoot him myself," she confided in an exasperated undertone as Blair turned to follow Simon’s instructions.
"All set here," Simon’s voice said calmly in his ear. Jim stood by the building’s doors, Blair beside him, and scanned the crowd impassively.
"All right, now you know he’s not going to make it easy on you, so, uh… you should probably start by trying to isolate sounds."
Any other case, any other time before this whole disaster, he would have just listened and followed Blair’s suggestion without comment, but no more. He didn’t know why Blair hadn’t taken the money and run, but, right now, he didn’t care. He had a job to do. "I know what to do, Chief, all right? I know the drill. You don’t have to quote me chapter and verse. Why don’t you save that for your interviews?"
Tuning out the man he’d thought was his best friend, he did just what Blair had suggested. The mechanical sounds of cameras, both video and still, were easy to concentrate on until Simon started talking to him at the same time one of the leaders of the Dockworker’s Local notified the crowd that Bartley would be out as soon as he finished up a phone call with the Attorney General. He pulled out his earpiece distractedly.
Then, suddenly, he picked up a sound he knew very well: a bullet being loaded and chambered.
Listening very carefully now, trying to pinpoint the individual who’d made that noise without letting them realize he was, he moved further into the crowd. And, in seconds, reporters mobbed him.
A barrage of lights flashing, loud voices declaring, "Hey! Hey, it’s the Sentinel!" He backed away, hand raised to futilely shield his face, senses opened widely but very precisely suddenly assaulted with too much too quickly.
Then Sandburg was there, a human shield between him and the reporters, shoving cameras down and loudly insisting they leave him alone.
And the gun he’d heard fired, the bullet flying straight through the window, the chair, and Bartley’s head.
The man at the podium bellowed into the microphone, "Jack’s been shot! Get a paramedic in here!"
And standing beside him, scanning the distant buildings and the nearer crowd, Jim’s heart sank. He’d lost Zeller again… and one thought was crystal in its clarity: it was Sandburg’s fault.~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~At least Megan was enjoying herself, Blair thought, overhearing the conversation from Bartley’s office, where a dummy lay on the floor by Bartley’s chair. The saccharine-sweet tone of her voice as she told Bartley – still very much alive – to get into the body bag the Coroner provided almost pulled a smile to his lips as he watched Jim track the bullet’s deadly trajectory.
Jim hadn’t said a single word to him since the press had overwhelmed him. Of course, he couldn’t think of anything to say that he hadn’t before, so he’d remained silent, too. Part of it, he admitted to himself, was anger. How could Jim still believe that he’d *do* something like that to him deliberately? Then, of course, there was Zeller. He was angry with himself for being afraid – hell, Bartley still wasn’t afraid – of the German assassin.
Jim brushed past him with a small plastic bag in his hand. Blair followed, an unwanted satellite, to hear Jim report to Simon. "The bullet went through the dummy, this wall, and lodged in a filing cabinet across the other room. It’s got a Teflon coating. Not even a vest would stop it."
"Better get that to Ballistics, a.s.a.p.." Simon frowned.
Blair swallowed hard. Zeller’s voice echoed through his brain, "Next time you won’t be wearing a vest." And now, it seemed, a vest wouldn’t matter… He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. It was too late, anyway.
Connor, in her role as mobile buffer state, wasn’t pleased. "These Gunderson files are going to take days to go through."
Jim just watched the uniforms stack the boxes on the curb, ready for transport. Neither he nor Blair replied.
"Although things might move more quickly if you two would speak to each other."
"There’s nothing to say, Conner."
He should have guessed she wouldn’t drop it. "Sandy didn’t do this on purpose."
"Oh, no?" He pinned Conner with his glare for a beat before addressing Blair. "Hey, Chief, let me ask you something: How did you intend to protect my identity and still keep your research valid?"
"I don’t know."
"You don’t know. That’s a good answer, Chief. You couldn’t have. You knew that, and went ahead and wrote it down anyway."
Blair retorted angrily, "If I was going to help you understand your abilities, I had to track your development in a scientific manner, and you know that, man!"
Logical, rational, and he’d heard it all before. He waved his hand in dismissal, focusing across the street. Something… there. A nervous jewelry store clerk filled a bag with the store’s wares, an armed man watching her closely.
"What is it?" Blair asked.
"Conner, we’ve got a 211 in progress…" He took off running, Megan following closely.
They took up positions on opposite sides of the doorway, moving in stereo to train their weapons on him as he emerged. "Cascade Police!" Jim declared. "Freeze."
"Then don’t move," Megan suggested. She pinned the guy to the wall, starting to frisk him. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you …"
Unexpectedly, the thief started smiling. "Hey…"
Jim’s stomach did a quick back-flip.
"You’re that Sentinel guy!" Ignoring the fact he had two armed detectives in his face, he reached inside his tweed jacket.
"Gun!" Megan snapped, grabbing his wrist.
"Whoa! Whoa! Easy. It’s just a pen." He held the Sharpie by the cap, showing them carefully. "It’s a pen." Megan released his wrist and reached for her cuffs. "I just wanted you to sign my tattoo." The thief slid his left sleeve up. "I want all the guys in the joint to know who took me down: The Sentinel." He didn’t stop grinning as Megan slapped the cuffs on. "All right! The Sentinel!"
He shouldn’t have been at home; he should have been going through reams of Gunderson files. But he’d retreated to his home. It was obvious to Blair that Jim wanted to be alone; he paced in front of the windows, calling to mind a caged big cat. Blair watched helplessly, sick to death of being punished for something he hadn’t actually done, but he wasn’t going to let Jim be alone with his mother.
Naomi walked over to Jim. "It didn’t surprise me to learn, Jim, that you had this… gift. I’ve always sensed a special energy about you." She handed him a mug of tea.
"Very kind, Naomi. Thank you."
"I’m just… terribly sorry at how all of this has…" She glanced at Blair. "…Turned out, especially when I see what’s happened to the two of you."
"Naomi, I know you were just trying to help Blair … "
"You two, listen to me. You cannot let this tear apart your friendship."
*Why are you even telling me that, Mom? I’ve been trying…* Blair closed his eyes for a moment.
"Thank you," Jim said quietly, almost in a stage whisper. "Things happen, Naomi, you know? People change; you just got to go with it. This whole sentinel thing has just gotten too out of hand. I can’t take this attention. That’s not me. I just want to go back to the way things were."
"You can’t just turn it off," Blair protested, not heatedly. He knew it; Jim would have to accept it.
"Sure, I can," Jim said confidently. "There’s got to be some way for me to let them go dormant; some meditation you can give me – or I can find somewhere – to tune out and turn all this off. I’m just *done* with it."
"That’s not who you are."
"Well, you tell me who I am, then, ’cause I have no idea." Jim finally addressed him directly, acknowledged that he was in the room. "At one point, I had a reputation of being a pretty decent cop. Now, people look at me and they – they perceive me as some… goofball comic-book character!" He walked over to the door, snatching his jacket off the hook beside it. "People are calling my father and brother, asking them what it’s like to live with a freak. Now, how would you like that, huh? If I ever want to go back to being a good cop and live a simple life, it ain’t going to happen this way." He paused, his hand on the doorknob. "Your research is done, Chief. Why don’t you just let it go?"
*Let it go… I would, Jim, but I can’t… I can’t let *you* go…*
"Thanks for the tea," Jim said to Naomi, then the door closed behind him with a solid thump.
"Oh, sir, no. There was never any intention of keeping this from you. I was merely …" Simon paused, wincing. "That’s right. A full report on your desk tomorrow morning. I’d just like to say that …" A dial tone. Wonderful. "Goodbye." He hung up, looking at the source of his headache with a forced smile. "That was our boss. Thinks I kept the sentinel thing a secret."
"Well, Captain, in actuality, you did."
Simon’s smile vanished. "You’re not helping."
"What are we going to do, Jim? By tomorrow morning, I have to have a full report on his desk, and I don’t know what I’m going to report. You know what this means? Every single case that you’ve worked on is going to be brought up for review. That means the Board of Inquiry. I.A.’s going to get involved. It’s…" He sighed tiredly, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.
"Captain, before we hear back from the review board, or the brass tells us to go pack our bags, I’d like to go back to things the way they were before Sandburg, when I worked alone."
Simon wasn’t entirely surprised. "You talk to Blair about this?"
"It’s not his call, Captain. This is my decision. His ride is over. I want to go back to being a cop, just a regular cop. And with this sentinel thing hanging over us, it’s always right there and I… I’m tired of it. I just want out."
"Well, maybe that’s for the best." He stood up, picking up an enlarged photo from his desk and drawing Jim to join him at the conference table. "I got this picture back from the rally. Take a look. You were *that* close until your paparazzi got in the way." He stabbed at the photo with his forefinger.
He turned to look into the bullpen as Jim bent to inspect the photo more closely. *Sandburg should be appearing any – There he is -* The moment he spotted Blair outside the door, something punched him hard beside the spine, snatching his breath, and burst out his abdomen.
Time slowed. Horrified, he watched Megan’s shoulder blossom red, and Sandburg raised his hand to his hair as the edge of the doorframe exploded in sawdust. *Shot… She’s been… I’ve been…* As Megan toppled over the corner of Rafe’s desk, the pain hit him, his knees giving out.
"Captain!" Simon felt pressure on his back as Jim covered his wound with his hand. "Medic! Medic!" Jim yelled before addressing him, as he lay gasping like a landed fish. "Just keep breathing. Come on. Relax. Simon… come on, squeeze my hand. Come on…"~~~~~ ACT IV ~~~~~Jim felt rooted to the spot, unable to move as doctors and nurses fought to save a man who had risked so much for him. A friend who had accepted what he was and let him stay on the force; had covered for him with the top brass. The man who could lose his life as well as the job he loved. And Megan, who would have thought she could have fit in so well when she arrived wearing that stupid pink…thing? She was so pale now.
He nodded to Joel as he came up to them with worry and concern etched on his face. "Hey, guys. How are they?"
"Doctor says they’re in serious condition." The bitterness of his failure soured Jim’s voice.
"Yeah, they got to go into surgery soon." Blair’s voice was tight with strain.
Joel nodded slowly, his whole body seeming to sag. "I thought you should know that the bullet is a titanium alloy with a Teflon coating, like the one that hit the dummy."
Jim closed his eyes for a second at the confirmation of his fears. "I figured."
Joel lifted his head and straightened his shoulders with a visible effort. "Listen, I’m going to give blood and I got the next shift with Bartley. Never should have happened like this." Shaking his head slightly, he turned and left.
Jim let the guilt wash through him. "I should have been expecting this. I’m so off my game, Chief, with all this media crap." He should never have let it get to him. "That bullet was meant for me."
Blair hesitated for a moment. "Uh…it could have been for me."
For a moment Jim was silent, misinterpreting the words to mean that Blair blamed himself for the whole fiasco and Jim was more than prepared to go along with that.
Then the full import of what Blair said hit him and he grabbed him by the shoulder. "What the hell is that supposed to mean, Sandburg? Why would Zeller shoot at you?" Blair tried to pull back, but Jim wouldn’t let him, tightening his grip until Blair winced. He felt everything spiraling out of control, and it terrified him. In that moment he hated Blair almost as much as he hated himself.
The young man’s face was pale. "You remember after you showed me my vest in the trophy case, the one that stopped Zeller’s bullets? Remember I went to check the messages?"
Jim could feel every muscle in his face rigid as he battled to contain his anger and impatience. He nodded.
"There was a message from Zeller, saying next time I wouldn’t be wearing a vest."
Jim couldn’t think of one thing to say. He released Blair’s shoulder, pushing him away so hard that he had to take a step back to regain his balance.
Blair babbled on, "I wiped it, I didn’t want you to worry. I thought you would be so busy trying to protect me you wouldn’t be able to function, and you make such a difference. I wasn’t so important – after all you could always find another guide – but you… I didn’t ever want to be the reason you stopped being who you truly are, who you have become."
"And now Simon’s hurt, and Megan and you could have been killed…I didn’t know, I didn’t know. I never wanted any of you to be hurt because of me." Blair’s head sank down, his arms wrapped around his chest.
"You didn’t want me to worry?" Jim asked incredulously.
Blair looked down at his shoes, his voice almost a whisper. "Don’t…don’t block out your senses. This is when you need them most and I can help you."
"After all this you say you can help me?" Acid sarcasm drenched every word.
Blair made no attempt to defend himself, but he lifted his head and almost defiantly repeated the words, "Yes, I can help you."
His face was always an open book, grief was there, a courageous determination to do what was right, but there was something more. "I’ll leave as soon as this is over. I know how you feel." There was a catch in his voice. "I’ll sort everything out somehow, before I leave."
Jim found himself thinking for one ridiculous moment that Blair didn’t have the right to assume all the guilt: it was his. The realization of just how stupid that thought was gave him a jolting shock. In that moment all his anger vanished, and he felt like he was awakening from some kind of madness.
"It’s not your fault."
The words left his mouth without thought, and to his astonishment Jim realized that he truly meant them, in every way. Over the last three years this man had shown his loyalty and friendship time and time again. He had never put his own safety before Jim’s, never failed to come through when the need was there. Truth was, now his initial blaze of fury had died, he knew in his heart that Blair could not betray him, and for a man who had learnt never to trust, it was a stomach lurching realization.
He stepped forward and rested his hands gently on Blair’s shoulders. His face softened as he looked into the woebegone face.
"It’s not your fault, Blair." He spoke emphatically. "None of it."
Blue eyes met his, the faintest glimmer of hope shining in their depths. Jim searched for a way to say what he meant.
"The best chance I’ve got of getting Zeller is if we work on it together."
Blair simply nodded.
"Let’s get to it."
They turned and left the hospital, side by side.
Roger Haber looked at Zeller as he stood staring out of the window. He seemed to fill the shop, and yet Haber knew that he was just as capable of blending so totally with his surroundings that he seemed to disappear.
"The police have subpoenaed all the files at Gunderson Shipping. They must be getting close."
Zeller turned to face him, his eyes cold, grey holes in his face. "Are they after you?"
A chill ran down Roger’s spine and he spoke hastily, "Oh, no, but I do have more bad news. A source of mine at the D.A.’s office says Jack Bartley is still alive. Your bullet hit a dummy. The whole thing was a setup. They’ve got him in a safe house."
Zeller betrayed no emotion as he spoke, "He won’t come out until after the ratification vote or I’m caught."
Haber moved away from the man as he spoke, his discomfort growing. "Gunderson doesn’t know yet. They think you succeeded." He never saw the blow coming.
"And I will," murmured Zeller.
Jim pulled up outside the hobby shop, tucking the truck in behind Joel’s car. Blair scooted over to make room for Joel as he got out and came to join them.
"Hey, Jim, Blair."
"Joel." Jim nodded in response. "What’s going on?"
"Roger Haber. He owns that hobby shop."
Jim glanced over at the hobby shop, a nearby streetlight spilled out a circle of light that covered the doorway. At least they could all see clearly.
"Got a tip that Zeller’s meeting him here around 3:00," Joel continued.
Blair glanced at the dash clock. "It’s nearly 3:00 now. Where’d you get the tip?"
Joel shrugged. "Anonymous. But the word is that Haber’s got a sideline business building made-to-order weapons." He glanced at Jim over Blair’s head. "I hadn’t heard anything about it before, you?"
Jim shook his head. "Hmm. Maybe that tip was meant to draw us out just like we did with Zeller. Quiet! There’s our boy now," he hissed, leaning back in the seat.
The three of them watched as Zeller moved into the pool of light outside the shop and in through the door.
Joel leant forward, trying to peer through the shop windows. "So what do you think? Do we take him down or call for backup?"
Jim pulled his gun. "If he wants to play, let the games begin. Sandburg, behind me at all times and keep your head down." Blair gulped and nodded.
They got out of the truck, and started toward the shop. Before they had taken three steps an explosion ripped the place apart and fierce orange flames engulfed the building from wall to wall.
Blair sat on the balcony and looked out at the view that had been part of his life for the last four years. He’d left Jim and Joel at the site of the explosion once he was sure Jim was all right. It was over.
His thesis lay in his lap; it felt so much heavier than the sheets of paper should have made it. He ran his hand over the cover; every word inside had been carefully chosen, weighed and considered. Now it was all coming to an end, no more academia, no more Jim. There was an emptiness inside him, but for the moment he was mostly numb. He knew it wouldn’t last, unfortunately.
He heard movement, and Naomi moved up beside him. "Will you ever forgive me for making such a mess of things?"
He didn’t blame her. "That’s okay, Mom. We’re all going to be fine." And they would be eventually, sometime, somewhere.
"Do you still love me even with all this?" He heard the doubt and uncertainty in her voice saw it in the way she stood. He put down his thesis, and stood up, pulling her into a warm hug. "Oh, Mom. Come on. Don’t be silly."
He knew she simply hadn’t thought her actions through, but he had thought his through. It was the only way.
"Of course I love you. Always. I mean, we were all doing what we thought was right. Right?"
He even managed a respectable smile. "Nothing happens in this universe randomly. It’s all for a reason. That’s part of what I was writing about. I always wondered if my work would ever amount to anything. If it’s taught me one thing, it’s taught me that Jim is right. I got it all. I got it all right here. The brass ring. And now I know what to do. So why don’t you go call Sid?
Naomi dropped her head, "Okay, sweetie."
Jim followed Joel into the bullpen, the solid body a comforting presence. He watched Joel’s head nod greetings here and there, heard him deal quietly and confidently with various queries, saw how his presence calmed and comforted the others. He wondered if Joel was aware of how well he was doing.
Still, Jim wished Blair was there, but he’d left as soon as they had finished checking out the wreckage of the hobby shop. Apparently he had some errand to run that wouldn’t wait. The kid was never going to change, always needing to be somewhere.
As they reached the edge of the bullpen he brought his mind back to the case in hand. "Arson boys said the explosion was deliberately rigged. Set off by some gunpowder stored in the back."
Joel turned, nodding. "The body’s burned beyond recognition. Could be a day or two before we get a positive I.D. You don’t walk away from an explosion like that. It’s got to be Zeller. You know Roger Haber’s missing, too?"
Jim felt a twinge of uneasiness. "You think Haber took Zeller out to cut his links to Gunderson? Took the dough from the hit and he’s on permanent vacation somewhere?" Something felt wrong.
Before Joel could answer, Rafe poked his head into the bullpen. "Hey, guys. Sandburg’s on TV. He’s giving some kind of press conference."
Seconds later all thoughts of Zeller were pushed from his mind as he listened in stunned silence to Sandburg’s statement.
Blair’s hands shook slightly as he felt for the piece of paper on which he’d carefully written his statement. Not that he really needed it, every word was burnt into his brain. Words that in a few short minutes would change the course of his life forever. He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be an anthropologist, didn’t want to teach, didn’t want to learn.
It would be worth it, though.
He sat back in the hard wooden chair, resting his hands on his knees and breathing deeply. Naomi had offered to wait with him, but he needed to do this alone.
He grinned a little shakily, remembering his first meeting with Jim. Not the best start in the world, but from that moment with the garbage truck he had known that Jim needed to learn what it was to be a sentinel, whether he wanted to or not. Blair knew he’d done the best he could; Jim should be okay on his own now. He felt his throat closing up for a moment. Damn!
Taking several deep breaths he tried to calm down. Nothing lasted for ever.
He stood up and paced back and forth across the room. Maybe exercise was what he needed to try to dissipate all the nervous energy. This was what you did for a friend. It was in his power to make it possible for Jim to spend the rest of his life doing the thing he did best in the world. There was no doubt in Blair’s mind that this was the right thing to do, no matter what the cost. It wasn’t as if he was going to have to die or anything.
The clock hung on the back wall between two tall windows that were still graceful and imposing despite the layers of grime time had deposited on them. Blair watched the hands as they moved with inexorable sureness through each and every minute, missing none, each gone forever and never to return. There was no turning back. Time this was finished.
As he walked into the briefing room he knew Naomi was there, knew the room was full of reporters, but he focused on the podium and strode firmly towards it, defying his shaking legs to betray him. He placed the damp, sweat-stained piece of creative writing on the smooth wooden surface, holding it there with his hands as if it might take flight without his permission. For one moment he wondered if Jim would be watching, but it really didn’t matter any more.
"Hi. Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um… In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act. My thesis ‘The Sentinel’ is a fraud."
His audience didn’t seem surprised. It was easier to understand a fraud than to accept the wonder of a sentinel. This was going to work. Jim would have his life back.
"While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison…actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it’s a good piece of fiction. I apologize for this deception. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I’ve caused those that are close to me. Thank you."
He walked away from everything.
The chancellor was waiting for him, just out of sight of the press.
"Mr. Sandburg, the board will want a word with you on this in an hour."
Jim felt like his brain was locked in an inescapable loop. Blair had lied. Blair, whose integrity, as far as his research was concerned, went beyond perfection; Blair had told the world that he was a fraud.
He stood alone in a silent room. Rafe had switched off the set as soon as Blair had left the podium. His eyes met Jim’s momentarily, then he had gestured to the others with a nod and they had all left. What could he say? He could only defend Blair by revealing the very truth Blair had sacrificed his academic life for.
As Jim headed out of the room with Joel, he spotted Bartley coming into Major Crimes with a larger, older man in tow.
"What’s this all about?" Jim asked.
"He refuses to stay in the safe house," Brown replied, glancing at Bartley.
Bartley spoke up, "I heard you blew up my assassin."
"That’s not confirmed yet," Ellison argued his mind drifting. He wondered what was happening with Blair, after he’d given such a blunt statement, and wished he could go be with his guide.
"It’s enough confirmation for me," Bartley argued. "I’m not gonna sit on this story. I was dead. Now I’m alive and the people got to know before the vote."
"We called a press conference and a rally for 8:00," the larger man at Bartley’s side announced.
"No, no, I’m sorry. We can’t let you do that," Joel protested.
"We don’t need your permission," the white-haired, older man said gruffly. "We’ve already got it from the commissioner and the mayor."
"I out-Hoffa’d Hoffa. Who wouldn’t vote for that?" Bartley said with a grin.~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~Blair sank into one of the black vinyl armchairs that filled the hospital waiting area. He’d known it was coming, but still the experience of standing in front of the board while the chancellor advised him exactly why they would not be requiring his services any more had been, if anything, worse than he imagined. He had not been asked for any sort of explanation, not given any opportunity to speak. His past integrity had stood for nothing. Somehow, deep inside, he had hoped that they would be sorry to see him go, that they would somehow convey to him that they appreciated his contribution to the Department of Anthropology. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Their faces had been as cold as the words the chancellor spoke. He shivered. A solid lump seemed to extend from his stomach to his throat.
He pushed himself up out of the seat. Time to hunt out Doctor Banton, he needed to know how the others were doing.
"That’s great news, Doctor Banton. Thanks."
Blair’s relief at the good news washed through him, and he grinned as he saw Jim approaching.
"Hey. The doc said the surgeries went well and the bullets missed any major organs on both of them, but…uh… he said they can leave in about a week or two."
Jim closed his eyes for a minute and murmured, "Thank God."
"So, umm, anything more on the explosion?" Blair asked softly.
"Nothing solid. Joel thinks Haber set Zeller up and ran with the money. I’m not so sure, though. On top of that we still got Bartley to contend with. I don’t know which one’s worse," Jim replied, pausing for a moment as he thought. "I saw your press conference."
"Oh, yeah, you saw it?" Blair fidgeted nervously, then laughed a little, shrugging it off. "It’s just a book."
Jim answered softly, "It was your life."
"Yeah, it was," Blair replied, looking at the floor for a few seconds. "You know, you were right. I mean, uh, I don’t know what I was expecting to do with it, and, uh… I mean, where do I get off following you around for three years pretending I was a cop, right?" Blair rambled, fighting to gather his thoughts in the weary chaos of his mind.
"This self-deprecation doesn’t suit you, you know," Jim said, offering a small smile to his friend. "You might have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I’ve ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You’ve been a great friend and you’ve pulled me through some pretty weird stuff." The older man paused, surprised at the words he’d just spoken. When he saw the glimmer of hope and surprise in Sandburg’s eyes, though, he knew it was the right thing to say.
Taking a deep breath, Jim broke their locked gazes. "Are you ready to get busy?"
Later, at Major Crimes, Bartley paced in Simon’s office, talking loudly on the phone.
"Al, give me that latest memo from the East Bay Local. Come on," Bartley ordered the man on the other end of the line.
"You want to tell me when I can get the captain’s office back?" Joel asked impatiently, glaring in at the union organizer from the bullpen.
"He said he just wanted to use the phone," Jim shrugged.
"I’d say, just about the time his rally starts," Blair said smugly.
"No spotlights, you moron. I want klieg lights and some fireworks. How about some of that old red, white and blue?" Bartley raised his voice again, almost shouting, "Yeah? Yeah? So we do it without a permit. Over the bay! Who cares?!"
"Now, is it just the acoustics in that room or does everybody behind that desk automatically get loud?" Blair asked, pointing his thumb and gesturing, wincing a little in sympathy for the man Bartley was speaking to.
Jim picked up a nearby phone as it rang, not noticing the police impersonator who skulked by the window, covering his face with a sheaf of papers.
"Ellison," he answered, listening. "You sure about that? … All right, thanks." He hung up and turned to Blair, who was watching him with curiosity.
"That was the coroner’s office," Jim explained. "They got a positive I.D. on the body at the hobby shop. It was Roger Haber the owner."
Blair looked surprised for a moment, then sighed. "I tell you what I volunteer not to be the one to tell Bartley his rally’s off," he said, raising his hand and looking into the office where Bartley was getting himself a cup of coffee from Simon’s coffee maker.
"That’ll be me," Jim replied, heading for the office.
"Go get ’em," Blair chuckled.
Ellison entered the office, immediately beginning to speak. "Mr. Bartley, we have confirmation that Klaus Zeller…"
Jim stopped, noticing a reflection in Bartley’s glass mug. Zeller was entering the bullpen and raising two machine guns.
"Get down! Get down!" he shouted, jumping over the desk and tackling Bartley to the floor just as the first volley of bullets hit. Glass shattered and everybody ducked behind a desk, trying to take cover from the deadly barrage.
"Everybody get out! Come on, come on, lay down!" Joel shouted, scurrying in a half-crouched position across the bullpen.
"All right, take cover," Jim instructed Bartley. "Back there! Stay low! Come on! Stay low!"
Joel looked up over the edge of a desk he’d hidden behind. "Jim? Jim? Anybody seen…? Blair, you seen Jim?" he asked frantically, fearing the worst.
Klaus Zeller ducked into the hallway outside the bullpen to reload his machine guns.
"Anybody seen him?" Joel asked again. "Where is he? Anybody hurt? Jim?"
Blair began to stand, looking for his friend, when he spotted Zeller re-entering the bullpen with weapons drawn. He shouted a warning to Joel, and tackled the larger man to the floor as another volley of bullets flew overhead.
"I want Bartley! I want Bartley! I want Bartley…" Zeller raved, shouting like a lunatic while firing aimlessly through the entire bullpen, shattering windows and punching holes in desks and filing cabinets. "I want Bartley! I want Bartley!"
When Zeller paused in his firing, Jim stood from behind a still intact window into Simon’s office and fired at the hit man, landing three square shots into the Kevlar vest Zeller was wearing. The man went down, and Jim listened with his enhanced hearing, the sounds of a rapid heartbeat and a gun being re-loaded reaching his ears.
Jim ducked as Zeller once again stood to fire at him. The sentinel ran down the hallway, dodging the bullets fired at him and shooting in Zeller’s direction with no time to aim. Finally, Zeller ran low on ammo. Ducking into the hallway, he hurried towards the stairwell.
Chasing Zeller up to the roof, Jim hid behind a metal grill as more shots flew in his direction, crouching on the cement. Zeller hurried to the edge of the roof and started to tie a rope around his waist.
"You missed Bartley again!" Jim called out, trying to stall the hit man.
"You’re lying!" Zeller shouted back.
"Might be time for you to consider another career!"
Zeller shot at the grill, and the bullet ricocheted, hitting Jim just above the knee. Just as Zeller disappeared over the edge, Blair came through the stairwell door and hurried over to Jim.
"Jim! Jim, you all right?" he asked, crouching down to see where the sentinel was hurt.
"Eh… I’m all right," Jim answered, holding his wounded leg. "Zeller went over the edge."
"Yeah, no kidding," Blair joked.
"No, I mean he went over… Hey, give me a hand," Jim said, reaching up and fighting to stand.
They limped over to the side of the roof and held onto the rope, looking down to see Zeller climbing down the side of the building towards the ground.
"What are we going to do — pull him up or knock him off?" Blair asked, only half joking.
Zeller pulled out his gun and aimed at them, firing once.
"Look out!" Blair shouted, pulling Jim back away from the edge.
The bullet hit the rope holding Zeller and the rope snapped. The hit man fell to the ground, screaming, and landed on top of a car far below with a sickening crunch. Blair and Jim looked down to the dead man, both breathing sighs of relief.
Days later, in Major Crimes, Blair stood in Simon’s office, alone. He picked up a picture frame and looked at it, then set it back down, silently gazing around the room. Joel spotted the younger man and came in the office.
"Hey, Blair, what you up to, man?" Joel asked.
"I’m taking a last look around," Blair answered quietly.
"Last look? You going somewhere?"
"Well, yeah. I cleaned out my desk over at Rainier. I thought I’d do the same thing here," Sandburg said, then turned to Joel, holding his arms out at his sides. "I’m a fraud, man. I don’t think Simon’s going to want me hanging around."
"Sandburg, that is not your office!" Simon’s voice boomed from the entrance to the bullpen. The rest of the gang had just entered. Rafe was pushing Simon’s wheelchair, and Brown, Naomi, Megan, and Jim followed. Jim used a cane for his injured leg, but he wore a barely restrained grin as well.
"Hey, Simon, they let you out?" Blair asked, walking slowly from the office.
"Nah, they threw him out," Ellison said, joking.
"They didn’t throw me out," Simon snapped, then softened. "They said I was too cantankerous."
"You? Noooo…" Jim laughed, pinching Simon’s cheek.
"Mom, what are you doing here?" Blair asked, shocked as he noticed his mother. He hugged Naomi, who was beaming with happiness.
"I’d never miss this occasion, darling," she answered.
"Yeah, know what’s great — everybody’s safe and out and happy," Blair said, forcing a smile.
"That’s not exactly why we asked your mom here," Simon replied solemnly. "I understand you gave up your job at the university and I saw you over there in my office. So we decided to do something to keep you under control."
"You’re, uh, you’re finished in this department, Chief…" Jim said a hint of reluctance in his voice.
"Yeah well, I-I sort of…well, I figured that," Blair stammered, looking down.
"…as an observer," Jim spoke again, pulling out a black wallet and tossing it to his friend.
Blair caught the billfold and opened it to reveal a gold badge. "This is, uh… what is this? This is a detective badge. What’s going on? I don’t deserve this," he said, shaking his head and looking questioningly at Jim.
Simon took the badge from Blair’s unresisting hands. "No, you don’t," he said gruffly, but then broke into a small smile. "At least not until you go to the Police Academy and complete firearms training. And if you do, Detective Ellison is looking for a permanent, official partner."
Ellison moved to Blair’s side, and the younger man stammered, "Uh… yeah? So, uh…does this mean a pay check?"
"Can you say ‘back rent’? Come on, what do you say?" Jim teased.
"Say something, Sandy," Megan broke in.
"I’m still not cutting my hair!" Blair replied after a moment, holding up his hands.
"Ho-ho-ho…" Jim laughed.
"I’m not going to do it!"
"That’s what you think," Ellison said, grinning. Latching the handle of his cane around Blair’s neck, he hauled the smaller man into his arms. Putting him in a headlock, Jim ruffled Blair’s long curls affectionately. "They’re going to love you at the Academy. Captain, I’m going to make a little Blairskin rug for you here…"
"You’re not going to scalp me! Forget it!" Blair shouted, his voice muffled.
"We got to go down to the woods…" Simon laughed.
Laughter erupted around the bullpen.~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~The evening was mild, and Cascade had shed its canopy of rain late in the afternoon and as the sun set the still wet buildings had a shimmering golden sheen.
Jim leaned forward against the rail of the balcony. In his whole life nobody had cared enough about him to put his needs before their own, not even in the Army. Until now. Blair had made no fuss, just did what he could to give Jim back his life. Blair had denied his truth for their friendship.
Simon understood that too. That’s why they had come up with the idea of the badge. Jim didn’t expect Blair to actually become a police officer. Not that he put anything past the man; he certainly had never been predictable. It was just as likely that he would. Truth was it was the only way he could try to show Blair how important he was in his life, and that he understood the huge sacrifice he had made.
Jim cleared his throat, but before he could speak he heard a chuckle from beside him. He turned his head slowly and regarded the smaller man in confusion.
"It’s okay, man! You said it all earlier, I’m good."
"You know you don’t have to join up, don’t you?"
"We can sort out the chancellor and the University."
Blair turned round and leaned his back on the rail, his head tilted to one side as he regarded Jim with a smile on his face.
"I’m not worrying about making any sort of decision yet. As long as we’re good, I’m good."
"And if you’re good, I’m good."
Blair laughed out loud as he turned to face the city again.
They watched their city, together.
The EndPlease remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]We hope you’ve enjoyed our version of The Sentinel. Thank you for reading!