by Kristine Williams
Don't tempt me. "It means we stick with you until this threat is over. The FBI has a team working on the kidnappers, so we just need to keep you safe until they get this solved...or the kidnappers move on."
"We?" Raymond asked, glancing around the office at the artifacts and stacks of papers and notebooks there.
"My partner." Jim glanced at the clock. Blair shouldn't be much longer. Maybe having someone else to play off of, this Raymond person wouldn't seem so irritating to Jim? I doubt it.
"Okay, so what the heck are we doing here?"
Before he could reply, Blair came into the office. "Hey, Jim." Blair smiled at him, then noticed Raymond sitting at his desk. Both eyebrows came up.
"Raymond Whatcom, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg." Jim clenched his jaw again, waiting for Raymond's reply. He knew it wouldn't be good.
Raymond laughed shortly at Blair, who was smiling at him congenially. "Him? Your partner, the man who is supposed to be working with you to protect me, is a grad student?!"
He stood, and Jim could tell he wanted to see if he had inches on Blair, but they were the same height. Blair's eyebrows went up again, and his face changed instantly, subtly reflecting his dislike. Jim watched the two of them quickly and silently size each other up. Raymond's reaction to Blair had been predictable, even in the short time Jim had known him. But Blair's reaction, as subtle and quietly expressed as it was, amused Jim.
"Teaching Fellow, actually." Blair replied, forcing a smile as he met Raymond's gaze.
Jim found himself fascinated by the posturing going on in front of him. The two men were very nearly the same age, the exact same height, but Blair had more muscle, giving him a slightly more powerful look. What Raymond seemed to lack in build, he more than made up for in attitude. Blair's demeanor was always friendly and warm when meeting someone, but Raymond was all spikes. His attempt to gain an edge physically failed, so he immediately changed gears and aimed for social superiority.
"A student of the abstract, protecting a student of the exact?" Raymond drawled.
Blair's face suddenly took on the smile Jim had come to recognize as his war paint. "More like a teacher of humanity protecting a student of theory."
How about a Sentinel and his Guide, protecting an asshole who deserves a good beating? "Let's try a Police Detective and his associate, protecting the son of a very wealthy man, who just happens to be the potential target for kidnapping and murder." Jim interrupted their little dance and looked at his watch. "Do you live nearby?" He looked back at Raymond, who visibly forced his eyes from Blair's to meet Jim's gaze.
"I have an apartment on Fifth. Uptown." The last remark was added with a flourish.
Jim glanced quickly at Blair, noting a look on his partner's face that intrigued him. "Are you finished here for the day, then?" There was a gleam in Blair's eyes, and Jim could hear a very small increase in his heartrate. Blair's pupils were dilated ever so slightly, and his breathing was a fraction quicker. He's on the hunt!
"I was on my way home when you stopped me, Detective." Raymond retrieved his books from Blair's desk, and settled them on one arm. "I suppose I have to take you with me wherever I go?"
"We're going to go to your place and check it out. One of us will be with you at all times, and you'll go nowhere that we aren't with you. That includes class." Thank God it's Friday. "Our other available officers are protecting the rest of the profiled cases, so you're stuck with Blair and me until this is over." Jim ignored the look his partner threw him from behind Raymond's back. They were all moving towards the door, and Jim opened it, and his senses, and led them into the hall. The trip to the parking lot was uneventful, and Raymond's car, a bright red BMW, was parked only three spaces down from Jim's truck.
"Okay, Sandburg, you ride with Mr. Whatcom." He patted Blair on the back, propelling him slightly towards the car, then turned to Raymond. "You drive straight to your apartment. I'll be right behind you."
"Yes, sir, officer, sir," Raymond replied with a flourish of his hand touching his forehead. "Anything you say." With that, he opened the driver's side door and fell into the leather seat, flipping a switch that unlocked the other door.
Jim looked up at Blair, and nearly laughed out loud at the look of disgust his partner was displaying. That look didn't change when he glanced at Jim. He shook his head and walked to the truck, keeping one eye on the people walking in and out among the other cars, and one ear trained on his partner. As he started the truck, Raymond's car pulled out.
"It could be worse, you know," he heard Blair say.
"Sure. It could have been two grad students, and a cop," was Raymond's reply.
backed the truck out and started to follow the BMW as it turned left out of the
parking lot and headed uptown. He wasn't sure what he felt more: humor at his
partner's reaction to this brash, rich brat; or disgust and dread at the thought
of spending God knew how long babysitting this jerk. Eight miles later, he decided
on dread and disgust.
Jim pulled in to the visitor spot next to Raymond's private parking space. He locked the truck, and gazed around the area, using eyes, ears, and a Detective's natural suspicion to rule out any ambush. Raymond and Blair were approaching and he glanced up at the pricey apartments they were standing in front of.
"I'm on the tenth." Raymond produced a key card, then stepped over to the security gate that opened up into the plush apartment grounds. He slid the card into the box, then punched several numbers on a key pad. "As you can see, Detective, I'm very safe here at home." The gate opened, and Raymond stepped inside, leading the way to the front door. "So, if you and your friend want to see me home, then pick me up in the morning, that's fine by me." He produced yet another key and repeated the actions at the door. When they stepped inside, Raymond walked up to a row of mail boxes.
Jim and Blair waited in the middle of the empty lobby. "Did you two have fun sparring on the drive over?" Jim asked, glancing at Blair.
"You know, Jim, it's hard to have a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent."
Jim grinned, and would have laughed out loud if Raymond hadn't just returned.
"Shall we?" He led the way to the elevator and pressed the UP button.
The door opened immediately and they stepped in. Jim stood close to Blair, aware of his partner's all too fresh experience with elevators. Jim couldn't blame him for being slightly nervous each time they rode more than five floors up. He had taken one of those drops, on top of the car Blair was in, and would never forget the experience. But then, he'd been able to get off after one drop. Blair had been trapped inside. Held prisoner in a small box that kept dropping violently, with no way of knowing if it would stop at five floors, or continue down to the basement, with him a helpless occupant. Blair's heartrate was just beginning to pick up speed when they stopped at the tenth floor.
Raymond was first off the car, and Jim was proud to see Blair follow at a leisurely pace. The hallway was empty, but Jim kept himself open to every sound, smell, and sight as they walked to the last door on the right. There were only eight doors on that floor that Jim could see, each generously spaced, indicating the size found inside. As Raymond opened the door to #1006, Jim focused his senses into the apartment, finding it empty and quiet. A small part of him had hoped Raymond would be the next target, giving Jim the opportunity to be more on the offensive than the defensive. But then, that would put an innocent man in jeopardy.
"I trust the two of you will stay out of my way during all of this?" Raymond tossed his keys to a counter as they passed the kitchen.
Jim ignored the remark and scanned the living room. Plush carpeting, equally plush leather couch bordered by matching leather chairs. An entertainment center that wouldn't even fit through the loft door, and three large windows facing out over the Cascade skyline. At least they didn't have to worry about snipers, since the kidnappers needed to kidnap, prior to murder, in order to make the profit.
"Okay, you stay here tonight. You go nowhere without one or both of us with you."
"Oh, no way, man." Raymond held up both hands and shook his head. "I've got a social life, even if you don't. There's no way I'm staying in on a Friday night."
Blair turned away from the painting he had been examining. "You know, I don't get you, man. Do you want to be kidnapped?"
"Be a hell of a lot more fun than sitting here on a Friday night with the two of you." Raymond picked up a cordless phone and looked at Jim. "Listen, I've got some personal calls to make. I'll be down the hall, if that's all right with you?" Without even pausing for a reply, he turned and began dialing the phone as he walked down the short hallway, then into what Jim presumed was a bedroom.
"Hey, Jim, whaddaya say we show him Agent Mills' tape, huh?" Blair pointed after Raymonds retreating form, raising his eyebrows as he glanced at Jim. "Maybe scare the little punk a bit?"
He had to admit, it was tempting. Jim reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the cell phone. "Just keep an ear open, I'm gonna call Simon." Blair shook his head in disgust, then walked to a chair and sat down, facing the hallway Raymond had walked down. Jim turned away, so his partner wouldn't see the grin forming on his face as he dialed Simon's number.
"Captain, it's Ellison. We're at Whatcom's apartment."
"Good, you found him then?"
"Yes, sir. Any word from Agent Mills?"
"Not much. They've got agents on each of the suspected targets, and a team working on the identity of the kidnappers, but nothing yet."
Great. "I guess we're in it for the long-haul, then." Jim turned to glance at Blair and his partner rolled his eyes, mumbling something. "Listen, we're at 386 Fifth Avenue, Apartment 1006."
"Got it. I suppose the two of them are driving you nuts, huh?"
"Not exactly the two of them," Jim replied. "I'll check back with you in a few hours."
"Okay, sounds good, Jim."
He canceled the call and returned the phone to his pocket. Blair was sitting in one of the leather chairs, idly playing with something in one hand as he gazed around the apartment. Jim crossed the room and joined him, sitting on the opposite chair.
"What a waste, man." Blair shook his head, looking at Jim. "Look at this place. The rent alone must be over twelve hundred a month. That painting over there is a good quarter mil."
Jim glanced at the painting in question. "Some people have it rough, Chief." Blair had never seemed upset about money, and even now looked more disgusted than anything. Every time money was brought up, during a bank robbery or heist of some kind that involved figures too high to even fathom, the only thing his partner thought of was how much research that kind of money would buy. Never mind a new car, new house, new life in some hot, sandy country. Just research.
"This jerk gets born lucky, then picks a field where grants are numerous and plentiful, and just keeps swimming in it." Blair made a face, then looked at the other side of the apartment. "It just seems so out of balance."
"Balance? You're not getting Socialist on me, are you, Sandburg?"
"No, man, I just meant..."
Jim heard something and held up a hand, stopping Blair mid-sentence. "Hold on." He focused down the hall just in time to hear the door shut. "Dammit!" Jim shot out of the chair, Blair right behind him. They both ran down the hall and into the door on the left where Raymond had gone. It wasn't a bedroom, as Jim had assumed, but a sitting room, with a fire escape. Jim ran to the door and yanked it open, bursting out to the landing just in time to see Raymond entering the apartment directly below them.
"He's downstairs." Jim turned and pushed past Blair, who quickly followed. They were out the door in seconds, and Jim ignored the elevator, running instead to the stairs at the opposite end of the corridor. Halfway to the ninth floor, Jim heard Raymond thanking someone, and the unmistakable sound of an elevator door opening. "He's going down." They continued down, Jim taking the steps three at a time, with Blair close behind. He knew before he even reached the lobby that Raymond's car was speeding into traffic. The stairwell door opened up into the lobby, just left of the elevators. Jim caught a fleeting glimpse of the red BMW as it turned right, heading toward the bay. Dammit. He glanced at Blair as he pulled the cell phone out of his pocket.
Blair was winded, and shaking his head in frustration. "What is his problem?"
Jim shook his head, dialing Simon's number. "I don't know, Chief." He held the phone to his ear, but was greeted by a busy signal. "Come on, we have to find him." Jim led the way out of the lobby and back to the truck. Blair seemed to be using the time to catch his breath, but when they climbed in, he held up a hand.
"I think I know where he is, Jim." He produced a matchbook, the same matchbook he had been idly playing with upstairs, and handed it to Jim.
"The Twisted Pearl?" Jim read the name on the front of the matches.
"Yeah, it's a club, down on Pier 17," Blair supplied, pushing the hair away that had fallen in his face. "Big hangout for his type." He glanced at Jim, considering. "Not your type, though."
Jim made a face and started the truck. "We aren't going there to blend in, Sandburg." He pulled into traffic, and headed for the waterfront.
It was early evening, and the sun was just beginning to dip towards the horizon when they pulled up next to the nightclub. Jim parked the truck and glanced out through the windshield at the front of the building. A neon sign flashed the name of the club in bright, fluorescent purple, and the sounds emanating spoke of a live band. Jim had been hoping to just go in there, find Raymond, and get him out. But by the size of the crowds milling in and out of the club's front doors, he realized it wouldn't be that easy.
"Okay, Chief. Stay close and keep an eye out. I don't like this. It's the perfect place to grab someone and have a hundred witnesses who see nothing."
"Right." Blair followed Jim as he climbed out of the truck and walked toward the club.
The music volume grew with each step closer, and he was forced to dampen his sense of hearing in order to approach. As they stepped through the doors, he had to increase the damping even more. The club was lit with the same purple, neon glow as the sign outside, and it was packed.
"Stay close!" Jim had to shout over the din of the live band at the far end of the large open room. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the music, but the occupants of the club apparently found it worth screaming and bouncing over. The press of bodies was overwhelming at first, but as they made their way further into the club they were able to find some breathing room. The masses were concentrated nearer the band, and Jim found the array of lights and colors dizzying.
"I can't concentrate on anything in here!" He had to nearly shout above the din, even now that they were on the opposite side of the club as the music. "There's too much coming in all at once!"
Blair leaned closer. "Just push all of it out, filter out the sounds, and concentrate only on your vision!"
Jim shook his head, squinting against the mix of colors, all blending together with the neon purple lights. "I can't, there's too many!"
"Yes you can, Jim. You can separate all of the colors, identify each one, and filter it out. Look only for the one you want!"
Jim nodded, doubtfully, but tried it anyway. He had seen Raymond still wearing those obnoxious yellow pants and bright red shirt, so if he was here, in the club, he shouldn't be too hard to spot. Jim took a deep breath, glancing at Blair, who was nodding his support. He had to tone his sense of hearing down almost completely, but then he could concentrate on his sight. Slowly, one by one, he picked out a color, and forced it away, moved it out of his mind, and tried to 'tell' his eyes what color to look for. Gradually, one by one, the colors faded, and he was left with a room of dull grey, red and yellow. Before he could stop long enough to realize it was working, he spotted Raymond at the far end of the club, standing near the mens room.
"There!" He touched Blair's chest, then started to push his way through the crowds towards the bathrooms. As they approached, Raymond looked up and spotted Jim. Raymond swore, then shook his head. "What the hell do you think this is, a game?!" Jim reached him, and Blair was right behind.
"I've got more important things to do than sit around my apartment waiting for nothing to happen."
"This is what you call more important?" Jim asked, waving a hand to include the club. "I've got better things to do than babysit some punk who thinks being kidnapped would be some grand adventure, but this is what I'm stuck doing." He reached out and took Raymond by the arm. "Now come on, it's not safe in here." Several young men coming out of the bathroom pushed past them, and Jim had to move out of the way, as did Blair, pressing up against Raymond.
"Fine, but I have to use the bathroom first." Raymond shrugged out of Jim's grasp, then pushed Blair aside. "And I don't need any help."
Jim made a face, then turned to Blair. "Go with him."
This time it was Blair's turn to make a face, but he said nothing. Two more young men pushed by them going in, and Blair waited, then followed Raymond. "Thanks, Jim," he said as he passed.
Jim's vision had returned to
normal intensity, and he raised his hearing, focusing into the mens room. When
he heard the commotion, then suddenly recognized the smell, he turned and dashed
inside. He kicked the door open, gun in hand, and was immediately greeted by a
blow to the back of the head. Jim's last conscious memory was the sight of Blair,
lying helpless on the floor, and the strong, unmistakable odor of the chloroform
that soaked the cloth now being pressed over his face.
Jim stirred, and tried to roll over. He was getting cold, but didn't know why. And his head was pounding. With great effort he managed to get to his side and force his eyes open. What greeted him was a cement floor, cold and hard, and the sounds of someone else moaning. He looked to his right, and found Raymond lying next to him, also beginning to wake up. Jim brought one hand up to his throbbing head, and brought himself to a sitting position. Someone else moaned, and Jim turned, seeing for the first time the cage he was in. What the hell? There was another cage, next to his, where he located the other voice.
"What's going on here?" Raymond sat up, holding his head.
Jim ignored him and stood, trying to peer through the bars at Blair. He was still unconscious, but stirring. "Sandburg? Blair, come on." Jim urged his partner to wake up. He glanced around the room they were in. It seemed to be a warehouse of sorts, with several cages of the same variety he, Raymond, and Blair were in, strewn about the large, open room. Somewhere in the distance, Jim heard a ship's horn. Well, they were still at the waterfront. If these were the kidnappers, and they had gotten Raymond after all, why had he and Blair been brought? And where were the men? Jim's question was answered much too quickly as a door opened at the far end of the warehouse. He glanced at Blair, who was only now beginning to move, then at Raymond, who was on his feet and looking around.
"Sandburg, wake up." He saw Blair raise his head, then ease himself to a sitting position.
"What the hell?" Blair looked up, then slowly stood, supporting himself with the cage bars. "Jim? What's going on?"
"I think we're about to find out, Chief." Jim was watching the two men approach. They were slightly built, one very small compared to the other, and each wore black pants, black sweatshirts, and a black ski mask. One man, the smaller of the two, was carrying a video camera. Jim's jaw clenched as he realized for the first time what had happened. Not only had he just failed to keep Raymond from being kidnapped, but he had also gotten himself, and Blair, taken as well. But why? He quickly scanned the area, trying to find something he could use to get them out of this. The cages seemed solid, and the second man produced a gun...Jim's gun.
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