by Kristine Williams
"You, over here." The man with the gun waved it at Blair. "Come over here. NOW!"
Blair took a few steps forward, glancing at Jim as he did so. "Hey, man, I don't know what this is about, but.."
"Shut up!" The other one, with the camera, reached out and pushed Blair into the side of the cage. "Hands behind your back, Whatcom."
"What?" Oh God. "Wait a minute..."
"What's going on here?!" Jim demanded, pressing closer to the front of his own cage.
"Shut up!" Blair's head was pressed into the bars, and his hands grabbed and pulled violently behind his back. A pair of handcuffs were slapped over both wrists, then he was spun back around to face his captor. "Over there." The man pointed outside the cage.
"There's been a big mistake here, man."
"Move it!" The one with the gun reached out and grabbed Blair's shirt, pulling him from the cage so that the other man could lock the door again.
"You've made a mistake!" Jim shouted. Oh God, they thought Blair was Raymond...but how? And what could he do? Jim's mind raced with potential outcomes. If they thought Blair was Raymond, then they were about to---but, if he convinced them he wasn't, what would happen then to Blair? Or Raymond? Did Jim have the right to save Blair and send Raymond in his place? Dammit, he couldn't just stand there and...
Blair was pulled a few yards away, then slammed against another cage. Both hands were forced through the bars, and a rope pulled up from below to wrap around the handcuffs, forcing his hands down and his back into the bars. Blair opened his mouth to protest, and a gag was shoved inside, then tied tightly behind his head.
"Hey! What the hell's going on here?" Jim shouted, pressing up against the door of his cage.
"Relax, cop. You've got nothing to worry about." The larger of the two men spoke, turning from his position in front of Blair to look back at Jim. "It's Whatcom here who should start praying."
"His name isn't Whatcom!" Jim replied, desperate now to save Blair no matter what the consequences. He knew what was about to happen.
The smaller man produced a wallet from his sweatshirt pocket, then held it out to the other man.
"Says so right here. Found this wallet on him. Yours, says Cascade PD. And that one, he didn't have any." The larger man pointed to Raymond.
Jim spun his head around, and glared at Raymond.
"My name is Sandburg, Blair Sandburg." Raymond announced.
Jim's blood ran cold...ice-cold. He didn't have to force the hatred and disgust that he could feel showing on his face. He could see it reflected in the fear mirrored back from Raymond's eyes. You son of a bitch.
"He's lying!" Jim was through playing games. He couldn't send Raymond to the slaughter, but he couldn't stand by and let Blair take a beating that wasn't his. If he could get them to open the cage, come inside and check, he could take them. Or die trying.
"Nice try, cop."
The two turned back to Blair, who was desperately glancing from Jim to the men in front of him.
"Dammit, listen to me! It won't work! Whatcom won't pay anything for someone who isn't even his son!" God, they had to listen to something! He had to get his hands on one of them..just one.
Blair was breathing hard through his nose, his eyes searching for Jim's.
Both men ignored Jim. The one with the gun pocketed the weapon, then reached into his shirt and brought out a set of brass knuckles. He pulled his ski mask down farther, then stepped up to Blair.
"NO!" Jim shouted, but they ignored him.
Jim's shout was punctuated by a blow to Blair's gut that doubled him over, and would have sent him to the ground had he not been held up against the bars. Jim's heart stopped. His breath froze in his lungs. The intensity of his stare was matched only by the burning ice in his gut as he watched the man with the brass knuckles hit his partner over and over. Jim gripped the bars of the cage with all of his might, willing his grip on the metal to hold him back. Forcing the rage he was feeling to remain where it was, and not turn to seek release against Raymond, as the younger man stood, cowering like a child, in the far corner.
With the third strike, Jim heard Blair's rib break, and a stabbing pain shot through his own gut. A pain of helplessness like he had never before felt. The fourth blow was to Blair's face, connecting just above the right eye, and his partner lost consciousness immediately. Jim's head began to spin, and he couldn't pull his hands from the metal bars. The warehouse was fading into the background, and only the two men, carrying Blair back to the cage, remained in focus. Something inside of him forced air back into his lungs, and he exhaled through his nose. His jaw was too tightly clenched to allow even air out. He moved closer to the cage wall as they opened the door, depositing Blair's unconscious form back on the floor. By some providence, his head hit a pile of old gunny sacks, forming a crude pillow.
The two men backed out of the cage and locked the door, then stepped towards the door of Jim's cage. Jim moved forward, ready to strangle the first one to come close enough with just one hand. The larger of the two produced the gun, and cocked the hammer.
"You two just relax. If you're lucky, and Whatcom here gets ransomed, we might see fit to let you go as well."
Jim stood his ground in front of the cage door, flexing his jaw as he considered his options. Blair was alive. Hurt, but alive. He was alive, as was Raymond. He needed time. "Doesn't work that way," Jim said, applying his best look of pure, intense hate. "The FBI is gonna find you, then they're gonna arrest you. Then, I'm gonna get you in a holding cell." Jim moved closer, pressing up against the bars. "Then, you get an up close and personal with the forensics department."
Jim had the momentary satisfaction of seeing
fear flash across the smaller man's eyes, just before he turned and hurried out
of the warehouse.
The elevator shaft was pitch black, and he was falling alone, racing towards the hard, cold ground. When he hit, pain shot through his right side, and he cried out, trying to roll away. Why hadn't the fall killed him? Why was he still alive? Alive to feel the pain that was shooting through his right side, increasing with each breath. His face hurt, and his right eye felt as though it had been crushed. He was able to bring both arms around to hug himself against the pain, but he couldn't quite focus through the blackness that still danced in front of his face. Someone somewhere was speaking, calling his name, but somehow he knew it wasn't him they were talking to. Blair swallowed, trying find some rhythm that would allow him to breathe, and not send the knifing pain through his side as he did so.
"Blair...come on, buddy. Blair, can you hear me?"
This wasn't the same voice he had heard moments ago. This voice was talking to him. It was a voice that Blair knew he needed to answer. A few more breaths, and the blackness subsided, if not the pain. Blair saw metal bars, and a cement floor. He took another breath, and the pain that ensued caused him to gasp.
"Easy, buddy. Easy."
"I'm here, just take it easy."
Blair raised his head, slowly, and saw Jim beside him but on the opposite side of the bars. He remembered then. Remembered what had just happened, and where he was. And Raymond. Blair tried to turn, to locate him, but as he raised himself up, pain shot through his side and he cried out.
"Easy, Blair, lie still." Jim's voice was insistent. "Just lie still, buddy."
Blair fell back down, turning slightly onto his back to ease the pressure on his injured side. Jim's cage was several feet away from where he lay. Where was Raymond? Jim...where...what..." He couldn't speak, couldn't even take a decent breath without the pain shooting through his side. There was something rough and hard under his head, keeping him slightly raised up.
"No, easy, Blair. Don't talk, buddy. Just lie still." Jim's hand reached through the bars, and Blair instinctively reached out for it. Jim was able to catch his shirt, and gently pulled Blair's left arm closer, then worked his way down the sleeve to find his hand. "Just take it easy."
"What the hell do they want?! You gotta get me out of here, Detective. You gotta get me out of here!" Raymond was cowering in the far corner of the cage Jim was in. The shaking of his voice was obvious.
Blair closed his eyes momentarily, swallowing against the pain that was welling up from his side, threatening to make him sick. Jim's fingers began to rub his thumb, methodically massaging the base of his thumb and hand. He opened his eyes again and turned to face Jim.
"It hurts, Jim." His voice was a whisper, the words forced out in one breath.
"I know, I know." Jim's voice remained calm, light. "Just concentrate, Blair. Try to find the dial and turn it down."
The dial? "What?" Blair stopped to breathe again, trying to shake his head. "Jim, that wo...won't work for me."
"Why not?" Jim kept his voice low, calming, still stroking Blair's hand in the same, repetitive motion. "It worked for me, didn't it?"
Blair swallowed again and shook his head, slowly. "I'm n...not...a Sentinel, Jim." God his side hurt! A sudden, stabbing pain caused him to cry out, and he tried to hug himself with both arms, but Jim refused to let go of his left hand.
"Easy! Easy. Come on, Chief, it will work." Jim was insistent now, but his voice remained calm. "Listen, these senses of mine are no different than anyone else's. Just a little more intense, that's all. Right?"
Blair nodded, afraid to inhale too much. The pain in his right side wasn't subsiding at all. Shouldn't it start to ease up soon? He wasn't moving. Why was he still in such pain?
"Okay, then the dial should work for you, too." Jim continued to massage Blair's thumb. "Come on, give it a try."
Blair nodded again, numbly realizing Jim's touch was mesmerizing him. He knew the dial wouldn't work, not for him. He wasn't a Sentinel. He was just a Guide, and not a very good one, at that. But, having a focal point sometimes worked. "Just...keep talking..." Breathe "Okay, Jim?" If he could concentrate on the fingers rubbing his hand, and Jim's calm voice, maybe he could get through this.
"Okay, Chief." Jim shifted to a more comfortable position on the floor, but never once took his hand off Blair's, or stopped the rhythmic massaging of his thumb. "Raymond switched ID with you, back at the club." Jim's voice remained quiet, but he flashed a look at the younger man keeping his distance in the same cell.
Blair closed his eyes, concentrating on his partner's voice and the motion across the back of his hand.
"It was a game," Raymond whimpered. "I do it all the time, just to see if I can."
Jim's breathing increased momentarily, but his voice remained steady. "Don't worry, partner. Agent Mills and his people will get us out of this."
"And if...they don't?" Blair opened his eyes, searching out Jim's.
"Then I will."
He nodded, holding Jim's gaze. God, those eyes were ice. Jim had an amazing capacity for anger, but somehow it remained in check. Blair never wanted to see that anger come unglued. Even if it was never directed at him, the force behind it was frightening. "How long...do we have?" He knew another beating would come, if the ransom wasn't paid. Even if it was, which it wouldn't be, another beating would come. Maybe they could convince the men they had the wrong guy? No, Jim couldn't do that. Besides, he'd tried once already. Maybe he'd pass out quickly, and it would end in blackness. Just like the blackness that was creeping in on him, the pain--Oh God, it hurt! "Jim!"
"Easy!" The grip on Blair's hand tightened.
"I can't...breathe." It hurt too much. Too much to inhale. The pain was shooting through his side and into his chest, making each inhalation agony. His heart was beginning to race, and a panicked blackness clouded his mind.
"Yes, yes you can." Jim's voice lowered soothingly, and the hand that held Blair's gripped more tightly. "Listen, if you can tell me you can't breathe, then you're breathing, right?"
Damn his logic, it hurt! Blair nodded, but the fear stayed, and the blackness was bursting in spots before him. Jim's voice remained level, steady, something to hold onto.
"Blair, listen to my voice. Block out everything else." Jim began to massage Blair's hand again, slowly, rhythmically. "Block out the pain, the room, everything. Just concentrate on my voice."
Blair swallowed, closing his eyes against the black spots exploding there. Jim's voice was steady, never faltering...so calm. The even, constant massaging of his hand was mesmerizing. Blair focused on that. Focused on Jim's touch, his voice. He always took care of things. Even the elevator...Jim wasn't in there with him, but he had saved them anyway. Jim's presence had given Blair the courage he had needed in order to think clearly, and get that bomb out. Jim had saved him from David Lash when Blair knew it was over. And Lee Brackett. And countless other times. He'd do it again. Jim was here. He'd think of something. It was Blair's job to help him. He was feeling floaty now, completely enthralled by the touch on his hand...the voice he was barely listening to.
"...some kind of connection," Jim was saying. "Like how I know you're in the building when you're not even on my floor yet. Or how I found you on that seaplane, when you ran back to Puffin Island."
Jim paused, and Blair tried to think about what he was saying, but he felt like he had missed too much to recognize the topic of discussion. Jim was keeping his voice low, but whether it was to keep him calm, or keep Raymond from understanding what he was talking about, Blair didn't know. His breathing had found a quiet rhythm that seemed to take most of the agony out of inhaling. But he knew, if he tried to speak, or move, he'd lose what little comfort he had gained.
Jim seemed to understand that and continued, still rubbing the back of Blair's hand. "I'm not saying I believe in a sixth sense or anything here, Chief. But this might be worth checking out sometime." He paused again, then his hand moved back up Blair's sleeve, gripping his forearm. "Blair, do you have your knife with you?"
At first, he didn't realize there had been a question. Blair only knew the hypnotic stroking of his hand was gone. "Um...yeah." He always did. He licked dry lips and tried to gain just enough air to finish a sentence. "My pocket." There. That came out, didn't it?
"Okay, can you get it for me, Chief? Nice and easy, don't rush."
Blair nodded, then slowly pulled his arm away from his side, and slid his hand into his pants pocket. Equally slowly, he removed the knife, then transferred it to his other hand. Then, after pausing long enough to wince at the pain that ensued from the movement, he passed the small knife over to Jim
"What are you doing?" Raymond demanded.
"Got it." Jim's fingers curled around the knife. "Just lie still, partner." His hand touched Blair's again, and paused before pulling the knife through the bars and into his own cage.
Blair swallowed, then turned his head to see what Jim was doing.
"I can't reach the lock, it's in the middle of a metal plate." Jim was at the door to his cage, peering around the solid portion that held the lock. "But, if I can get these hinges off, we might be able to pry the thing open."
Blair watched as Jim moved to the bottom hinge, and began to work the blade under the hinge pin. Raymond was hovering somewhere several feet away, keeping his distance from Jim, but still insisting he be kept informed. The angle his partner was working at made it too difficult for Blair to watch, so he gazed instead at the ceiling. The touch was gone, and he no longer had a focus. "Jim, keep talking." His partner's voice had brought him through a drug-induced delirium, it could get him through this, as well.
"We'll get out of here, Chief. And when we do, I'll have Raymond here arrested for theft."
"What? I told you, it was a game. His wallet's somewhere back at the club." Raymond's voice took on a higher pitched whine as he backed farther away from Jim. "Besides, I'm the one who was just kidnapped here!"
Blair new immediately if Raymond didn't, that that was the wrong thing to say. Jim stopped what he was doing and stood, taking several steps in Raymond's direction. Blair turned his head to watch, fearful of what his partner was about to do.
"You listen, and you listen good. If you hadn't run off to begin with, none of us would be here!" Blair caught a glimpse of Jim's eyes, the blue flashed like lightning. "Now, we've got two men who have killed each and every victim, whether the ransom was paid or not. And, they've got a cop and an extra hostage this time. I can only assume they intend to kill all three of us, but why they haven't yet is beyond me. Now, you get over there, stay out of my way, and shut up! And maybe, just maybe, I'll get you out of here as well."
Watching Jim Ellison on a rampage was oddly comforting, even though Blair knew Jim would never put Raymond in jeopardy, or leave him here. Raymond didn't know that, and he had the satisfaction of watching the young physics student's face go white as he backed up into the far corner of the cage.
Jim returned to the hinge, and a moment later, Blair heard one pin hit the floor with a metal twang.
He moved up to the middle one. "What will your father's reaction be, when he gets the tape?"
Blair closed his eyes, waiting for Raymond to reply. He seemed to take his time, then finally cleared his throat.
"He won't pay." Raymond cleared his throat again. "He and I aren't exactly close, and he just settled a lawsuit for me recently. He'll never pay."
One more hinge hit the cement, and Jim moved to the top one. Blair looked up then, finding it easier to see Jim as he stood, reaching up for the final hinge. God, Naomi! What would his mother think now, about how safe her son was hanging around with this Detective? This was one exploit, among many, that he wouldn't relay to her any time soon. Jim had just gotten the pin halfway up when he stopped and turned towards the doors at the opposite end of the warehouse.
"Someone's coming." He flipped the knife closed and shoved it into his shirt pocket, glancing back at Blair, then Raymond. "Stay back."
Blair's heart began to pick up speed. Oh God, they were coming back already! Hadn't it only been a few minutes? Oh God, they were going to beat him again! The pain was too much already, he'd never make it!
"Easy, Blair, hang on." Jim's voice was a whisper, directed at him from the other cell. "Just stay put."
Did he have a choice? "Jim...?"
The two men approached, dressed the same as before, all in black with the ski masks on. One held the video camera, one the gun. Jim's gun. They had to pass by Jim's cage in order to reach Blair's, and he realized then what Jim was planning. His partner stood in the center of his cage, directly behind the door, poised and ready, like a cat steeling itself to deliver the killing ambush. Blair readied himself as best he could. Jim was waiting for the exact moment, and the two of them were getting closer.
The same instant they were each level with the door to Jim's cage, the cat sprang. Blair watched as Jim launched himself at the door, both feet rising to slam into the metal bars with enough force to knock them off their hinges. Only it wasn't enough. The door held.
"Shit!" The man with the gun leapt backwards, raising the weapon and aiming quickly as Jim's feet slammed into the door. The second man dropped the camera and jumped three feet into the air. As soon as they realized the door hadn't fallen, they quickly regained their composure and instruments.
"Nice try, cop." The smaller man's voice was shaking, as were his hands, as he retrieved the camera from the ground.
Oh God! Blair's heart began to race again as they unlocked the door to his cage. God, it hadn't worked! They were coming back in!
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