He leaned down
to stare one more time at the keys dangling from the ignition, and saw a reflection
in the driver's window that struck a sudden, frightening cord in his gut. Before
he had a chance to turn, a hand came around his face, covering his mouth with
a cloth, while another hand pulled his left arm around his back. Blair tried to
struggle, and inadvertently inhaled as he did so, feeling the effects of the chloroform
immediately. He closed off his throat, trying to prevent more of the drug from
entering his lungs, but it was too late. The parking lot was spinning, and the
hand stayed over his mouth as he began to fall. When he hit the ground, Lee Brackett's
face came into view, standing over him, still pressing the chloroform-filled cloth
over his nose and mouth as he lost consciousness completely.
Blair heard a soft moaning in the distance and wondered who it was. He tried to open his eyes, but the lids were too heavy. He heard the moaning again and tried to bring his hand up to rub the sleep from his eyes, only his hand wouldn't come up. It was already up. Blair tried to move his right hand and a sudden, stabbing pain shot through his arm, reaching all the way to his back, and bringing his eyes open in a rush of agony. He wasn't lying down at all, but standing, with both hands tied above his head to a low pipe. His feet were touching the floor, but not enough to take the pressure off his burning wrists, wrapped tightly in heavy rope. He heard the voice moan again and realized it was his own. His eyes fought for focus as he willed the pain in his arms to subside. How long had he been here? And where was here? Slowly the room came into focus and he glanced around, trying not to move too much as he did so. There was a gag in his mouth, and his neck was stiff and pulled against his aching shoulders when he turned his head. The room he was in was filled with yellow pipes lining the low ceiling; water dripped from several joints and steam poured out from others. He thought he heard movement behind him and turned suddenly, crying out with the pain that shot down both arms as he did so.
"I was beginning to worry about you."
Blair opened eyes that had been tightly closed against the agony in wrists and arms. Lee Brackett had stepped around from behind and now stood, smiling at him, with a video camera in his hand. Oh God, not this again.
"I was afraid you'd spoil the whole game by sleeping through it." Brackett unfolded a tripod and began to set the camera up in front of Blair, several feet away. "I was disappointed, back there on the mountain, when Jim tried to end the game too soon. I wasn't finished with the two of you."
Blair was breathing heavily through his nose, biting down hard into the gag against the pain in his arms and the fear in his gut. Lee Brackett. He was supposed to be dead. But then, prior to that game he played on the mountain, he was supposed to be in prison. Lee Brackett was supposed to be a lot of things, and Blair was beginning to think he'd never be any of them. Once again he had chosen Blair first, and gagged him to prevent any questions. The last time this happened, he had kept him bound and gagged in the loft for three hours, constantly claiming he had all the answers, but not giving Blair anything but riddles. That time he was waiting for Jim. What was he doing this time?
Brackett checked his watch, then looked up at Blair. "Well, we still have some time. I'm sure Ellison has missed you by now, but we'll give him some more time to stew about it."
God, stew about what? What the hell is your game this time? Blair could only watch as Brackett continued to set up the camera, stringing cables out of his view, then coming back with more. His arms hurt with each breath, and his hands were numb. Twice Brackett came close enough for Blair to have kicked him, but he couldn't take any more weight onto his arms without sending rivers of agony down into his back.
"There, that should take care of things." Brackett stepped back from the camera and admired his work.
Blair tried to shout, but the gag was too tight, and his throat was dry as sandpaper.
"Where are my manners?" Brackett walked over and jerked the gag from Blair's mouth.
"Damn you!" was all Blair could spit out. His throat was burning, and the movement had caused him to pull back, away from Brackett, which sent a searing pain down both arms. He had to grit his teeth against the agony and wait for it to subside.
"You're too late," Brackett said, reaching around behind Blair to retrieve a canteen. "Here, can't have you expiring before I'm ready."
Blair tried to fight for fear it wasn't water, but Brackett pulled his hair back, tipping his head up, and forced the tip of the canteen into his mouth. Blair had to swallow twice in order to keep from choking. There was no taste as the dampness slid down his parched throat, not like the bitterness of the drug Lash had forced into him once. The canteen was removed and Brackett let go of his hair, stepping back.
"Now, you just relax. We need to send a little message to your partner, then it's show time."
Blair tried not to cough as the last of the water trickled down his throat. His hands had gone from numb to burning with the movement, and he thought he could feel blood running down both arms. Brackett pulled a cell phone from his pocket and began to dial numbers. He held the phone up, listened for a moment, then dialed more numbers and hung up.
"There. Now I give
him twenty minutes to get home." He set the phone down and moved over to
stand behind the camera, adjusting knobs. "We'll know when it's time."
"Simon, if you wanted to smoke, we could have brought your car." Jim pushed the lighter Simon was bringing closer to the end of his cigar away for the fourth time that night.
"Dammit Jim, how'm I supposed to get through an entire night, sitting in this truck with you, and not smoke?" Simon disgustedly extinguished the lighter and shoved it back into his pocket. "When I get my hands on that partner of yours, I'm gonna whip his little ass."
Jim laughed, shaking his head, and took another look out the window to the house across the street. "You'll have to wait in line, Simon." There was still no sign of life in the darkened house, and he looked back at the Captain who sat in the passenger seat, glaring back at him. "I don't know what happened, but if he skipped out just to avoid an all-nighter, he's got me to answer to." Jim heard a car approaching and he watched as it drove past the house and continued on down the street.
"If this Delaney guy wasn't so damn vital to this case, I wouldn't have come out here myself."
Jim just nodded and continued to scan the street. Vince Delaney promised to be the key witness in a case that had taken the better part of a month to put together against a Russian crime boss and his newly imported protection racket that was squeezing money out of every diamond merchant in the city. But Delaney had gone underground the instant his boss was arrested, and unless they could produce him at the extradition hearing, Nicholai Kostov would be a free man.
"It can't be much longer, Simon. He's gone three days now, and this guy is the only dealer he's ever used."
"Yeah, unless he has himself a nice little stash somewhere. He could hide out for as long as the cocaine lasts, which could be longer than we do at this rate."
Jim was forming his reply when the cell phone rang.
"If that's Sandburg, let me have it." Simon said, watching Jim pull the phone from his pocket. "I've got a few words for that little twerp."
Jim laughed as he flipped the receiver open. "Ellison." There was no response. Jim was about to speak again when he heard the tone. He looked at the phone and a message began to scroll across the display. He read it out loud as the words passed by. "The game has begun. You have fifteen minutes to get home and make your move."
"What the hell does that mean?" Simon asked, watching Jim.
"Damn." Jim tossed the phone down and started the truck.
"Jim, what are you doing? We can't leave."
"Simon, it's Brackett. He must have Blair." Jim pulled away from the curb as quickly as he could.
"I'll call the station, get someone else out here to watch for Delaney."
"I can't wait, Simon." Jim continued to drive, taking the turns as quickly as he could without tipping the truck. They were twenty minutes from the loft, but the message gave him fifteen to get there. Fifteen minutes until what? At this speed, he could just make it, but that would leave no time to examine the apartment before going inside. It could be rigged to blow when he opened the door. Or after entering. Was Blair inside, or had he been taken somewhere? What was Brackett's game this time?
"Jim, take it easy!" Simon had to grab the dash to keep from flying across the seat. "It'll take time for backup to get there."
"There is no time, Simon." They were on the street in front of the loft now and Jim floored it, trying to cover the last two miles as quickly as he could. "Stay here Simon, there's no telling what's up there." Jim jumped out of the truck even as it was still coming to a stop, but Simon was right behind him, drawing his gun.
"Let's go." Simon motioned for Jim to proceed and they both hurried up the stairs, guns drawn, then stopped just outside the door.
Jim held up a hand, listening for movement inside. There was nothing, so he reached out carefully for the knob, leaning away from the opening as Simon moved away on the opposite side. He turned the knob slowly, both listening and feeling for any sign of a trigger mechanism as he pushed the door open. There was none. He gave the door a final shove and pulled his arm back, waiting for the door to open completely. Nothing happened. Simon motioned with his head and Jim spun around, facing the doorway, and scanned the room with his gun ready. Finding nothing, he motioned to Simon and continued into the loft, scanning with all available senses for any sign of an intruder. There was a faint smell of chili peppers in the living room, but no sign of life inside.
"If he was here, he's gone." Simon said, putting his gun away. "What's the time?"
Jim kept his gun drawn, but glanced at his watch. "Eighteen minutes." He continued his examination of the loft while Simon looked around the living room. There was no sign of Brackett or Blair.
"I thought Brackett was dead." Simon said, walking back over towards the kitchen. "Hanson from the CIA assured me there was no way he could have..." Simon was interrupted by the television at the far end of the living room.
Jim spun around, watching the screen turn itself on, then froze in place as Brackett's face could be seen there.
"What the hell?" Simon looked from the television, to Jim, then back.
"Good evening, Jim. Long time no see." Brackett smiled at them from the television and Jim could see steam in the background, framing his face. His jaw began to clench as he realized what was most likely about to happen, and why Blair hadn't met him at the Precinct that night like he was suppose to. "Glad you could make it. And I think Mr. Sandburg is glad too." Brackett stepped back and moved to the left so Jim and Simon could see Blair. Jim's jaw spasmed quickly, seeing his partner, tied to a pipe and gagged. He was in obvious pain, but Jim couldn't see any injuries, yet. "You ended the game last time before I was ready," Brackett was saying. "And, I had some business in town this week, so I thought - what better time to finish playing?" He reached a hand off camera and came back with a syringe and vial. "Now, it's real simple this time. And I give you pretty good odds." Brackett held up the vial. "Now that the cold war is over, there's a surplus of these little gems, free for the taking." He tipped the vial over and plunged the needle into it, sucking out the liquid. "Fun little stuff. It was used for interrogation, mostly. Not lethal, unless you give someone a little too much." He finished filling the syringe and held it up, tapping out the bubbles. "Breaks down those communication barriers some prisoners of war tended to have." He moved closer to Blair, who was eyeing him.
Jim's heart was racing as he stood there, helpless to stop what was about to happen. The room was dark, and he was no longer aware of Simon standing next to him. He remembered the ship, and Blair with Daryl and Sara, being filmed for the Detectives to watch helplessly from the station. This time it was only Blair. And the madman was one they had dealt with before. A madman who had nothing to lose, and no moral code whatsoever. He tried to scan the area behind Blair, to pick out anything that would tell him where they were, but all he could see were yellow pipes.
"Doesn't kill, just causes some pain." Brackett moved closer to Blair, and pulled his head back by the hair, forcing his neck out from between his arms. "One hell of a lot of pain. But, if you get here in time..." Jim could see Blair struggling, but he couldn't move, and the needle plunged into his neck. He froze. Jim froze, watching the plunger send the liquid into the vein in his partner's neck, then pull back out, leaving a trickle of blood that flowed down Blair's throat. "You should be able to get him to a hospital, before he slips into a coma." Brackett tossed the syringe and glanced at his watch. "Now, this tape was made twenty minutes ago. I'd say you have another fifteen to find your partner here. Your move."
Suddenly the television shut off, and Jim was left standing there, helplessly, with Simon.
"Where's that backup?" Simon shouted, looking for the phone.
"There's no time, Simon. We have to find him." Jim was looking around, trying to find something or someone that could tell him where Blair was. He hurried over to the television, scanning the back. "It was rigged with a timer, but there's no tape." He had found the wires leading from the back of the set and out through the cable extension in the wall, but there was no tape or machine there. "It must have been remote."
"Remote? From where? How could he have set this all up?" Simon was leaning over the set now, looking at the wires Jim had found.
"I don't know." Jim stood, still looking around. There was something he was trying to find, but what, he didn't know. Something he had seen, on the tape, that he had seen before there in the loft.
"That place, it looked like a boiler room or something." Simon was saying. "He could be anywhere."
"Not anywhere, Simon." Jim suddenly found what he was looking for, pointing to the pipes that ran up the wall of the living room. "Here."
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