It was dark. Almost too dark to see clearly, so Jim had to focus tightly on the pale light coming from the doorway. Was he too late? There was no more talking, no more sounds. He burst through the door, gun drawn, and scanned the candle-filled room quickly. There were ducks, and water was everywhere. Blair was dead, he knew. He was too late. What would Naomi say? Movement--off to the left. Lash? He could still take Lash. He jumped over the stairs, landing hard on top of the man he had once known as Dr. Anthony Bates. Together they fell through the floor, and down. They kept falling, but Jim refused to let go. He couldn't let go. Finally they both landed hard on a rock covered ground. Jim lost his grip and rolled to the right, still clutching his gun. It was lighter now, and he glanced around, seeing trees and dirt where the warehouse had been. He looked up, looked for Lash, but he was gone. Standing in front of him now was Lee Brackett. And Blair. Thank God, he was still alive! Brackett was holding a gun to Blair's head, so Jim raised his and took aim. Brackett just smiled, and Jim could see the gun was cocked. He focused tightly on the trigger, watching it squeeze slowly. He had no choice, he had to try. Jim fired, watching the bullet as if in slow motion. But it didn't hit Brackett in the right shoulder, as he intended. Jim shouted as the bullet struck Blair in the chest, ripping through his heart.
Oh God, oh God! He killed him. Not Brackett, not Lash, but Blair. He killed him! "What about Sandburg? Are you going to be responsible for his life, too?" God, what was he going to do?! He wasn't there for Jack, and now...Now he'd killed Blair. "We haven't got much time, Sandburg's life is at stake." What was he going to do? How could he live with this?
"Jim, wake up!"
There was a hand on his arm, shaking him. Naomi? Jim's eyes shot open and he reached for the gun under his pillow before he knew who was there.
"Jim, it's me!" Blair suddenly ducked, holding up both hands.
Jim blinked, trying to clear his head of the nightmare. "Sandburg, what the hell?"
"You were having a nightmare, man. You scared the crap out of me." Blair stood and backed away a couple of steps. "Jim, you wanna put that down?"
Jim looked at the gun in his hands and back to Blair. Coming fully alert and ready on waking was habit, and he would never have fired without knowing at who or what. "Sorry." He put the safety back on and placed the gun on the night stand. "What time is it?" At the same time he asked, he glanced at the clock.
"Nearly 6:00. You okay?" Blair was standing now next to the railing, pushing his hair away from his face.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Jim shoved the rest of the blankets away and stood up. "Just a bad dream, that's all. I'm gonna hit the shower." He walked past Blair and down the stairs, grateful that his partner didn't have his hearing, and couldn't detect his racing heart. He hadn't had a nightmare like that since...since he couldn't remember. Blair was still at the top of the stairs, holding the railing and looking down at him.
"Yeah, well, don't use all the hot water," Blair called down as Jim walked towards the bathroom.
Jim stepped into the bathroom and shut the door. After a long look in the mirror, he ran a hand over his short-cropped hair and shook his head. It had been so real, he could swear he heard the gun go off. God, where had that come from? A little taste of the nightmares he'd heard Blair have now and then? Jim brushed his teeth, trying to spit out the last of the visions. It wasn't often he got the shower first, so with plenty of hot water to begin with, he stood under the spray for several minutes before grabbing the soap. Brackett's trial would be coming up in a few months, maybe that was it. Simon had mentioned that the other day, and it must have been fresh in his mind last night. He started to lather up, listening to the sounds of his housemate in the kitchen. Neither he nor Simon had mentioned Brackett's trial to Blair yet. He'd have to be there, of course. But two months was a long time. He'd rather wait, save his partner the stress. After soaping up completely, he scrubbed some shampoo through his hair, then stood under the spray, letting the soap rinse off slowly as the heat eased his tensed muscles. By the time he stepped out of the shower, the visions had faded to a less emotional level. He concentrated on toweling off, a process that had gained time since his Sentinel senses had kicked in. Now that he could increase his tactile sense, he tended to feel the dampness that a simple once-over with the towel didn't get. After he was satisfied, he wrapped the towel around his waist, picked up a pair of Blair's socks from the floor, tossed them into the hamper, and noticed the smell of eggs coming from the kitchen.
"All yours." Jim walked past the kitchen and nodded to Blair, grabbing a piece of toast as he passed by the table.
"Any hot water left?"
Jim just laughed lightly in response and walked upstairs. Blair finished the eggs before going into the bathroom, and the smell made Jim hurry to get dressed. The adrenaline rush from a nightmare was just like after a shoot-out, and he was starving. He found a clean pair of shorts, pants and long-sleeved shirt, then picked up a pair of socks and carried them downstairs. Blair had set a plate with eggs and what was left of the toast on the table, and Jim saw his empty plate already in the sink. He must have eaten while Jim was showering.
Jim laughed again at Blair's exclamation in the shower. He really hadn't meant to use all the hot water, but the heat and spray had felt good against the tension in his neck and back. Besides, he had ended many showers with cold water since his housemate moved in. It was only fair. Blair came out of the bathroom and shot Jim a dirty look as he crossed to his room, but said nothing. Jim shivered inside at the sight of his partner's wet hair hanging down his back. That was one thing he'd never understood, how Blair could wear his hair that long, and just let it dry naturally. He didn't mind the length, but it did make him look more like a vice cop at the station. Which was exactly where they needed to be soon.
"You coming?" Jim rinsed out his plate in the sink and finished his coffee.
"I'm coming." Blair came out of his room, pulling a sweater over his still-damp hair.
Jim found his shoes, then tossed Blair his coat. "Simon wants us in his office at 7:00, let's go."
Blair pulled on the coat while he stepped out into the hall, waiting for Jim to lock the door. "What's this about, anyway?"
"I don't know, Chief. Let's go find out." Jim led the way down to the truck and they drove to the station while the sun came up.
"What was that all about, this morning? I've never seen you have a nightmare before."
Jim glanced at Blair, noting the lost puppy eyes again. "Nothing. Just a bad dream, no big deal." The nightmare had nearly faded completely to the back of Jim's mind and he was happy to leave it there. "Don't try playing shrink with me, okay?"
"Okay." Blair raised a hand in defense but said nothing more until they reached the Station. Jim parked the truck and they both hurried for the elevator as it deposited two uniformed officers. "Look, Jim, all I'm saying is maybe I can help? I mean, dreams happen for a reason, man. Usually they're just randomly firing neurons, but when they affect you like that, there could be something more to it."
Jim pressed the seventh floor button and sighed. "There's nothing more to it that last night's cold pizza couldn't explain. Let it go, Chief."
"All right, fine." Blair shook his head and gave up.
Jim clenched his jaw against the renewed sight of Blair, falling as Jim's bullet struck his heart, until the vision passed. Once on their floor, Jim led the way straight to Captain Banks' office and knocked.
He opened the door and stepped inside, taking note of the other man standing with Simon next to the conference table at the far side of the office.
"Jim, this is Detective Bryce, from the Airport Division." Simon introduced the short, blond man standing with him. "This is Detective James Ellison, and that's Blair Sandburg."
Jim shook Detective Bryce's hand, nodding towards Blair who stepped forward.
"Good to meet you Detective, Mr. Sandburg." Bryce shook each man's hand then glanced at Simon. "I realize Captain Banks hasn't had a chance to discuss this with you yet, but I brought over everything we've got on the case so far."
"Take a seat, gentlemen." Simon motioned for them all to sit, then waved his hand over the files and photos strewn about the table. "Detective Bryce needs our help with a robbery case over at the airport hotels." He picked up a file and passed it over to Jim.
"We've got ourselves a real pair," Bryce explained, handing some photos to Blair. "Jennifer Stralin, and Diana Meese. They work the higher class hotels, one of them as lookout, the other, a safe cracker."
Jim glanced at the case file, then took a look at the photos Blair was handing him. The two women there were quite beautiful, one in her early thirties, the other younger, with bleached blonde hair. A note at the bottom of the photograph identified the older one as Jennifer Stralin, and Jim examined her with a trained eye. Tall, about Jim's height, he guessed. Short brown hair, perfect complexion and long legs well defined in skin-tight jeans. Diana Meese was shorter, with blonde hair cropped short in front, and trailing to her shoulders in the back. She was wilder looking, with red lipstick, and a black leather dress with a neckline that nearly met at the hem.
"They've got a pretty good system going. We've been able to bust them now and again, but never had enough to keep them. High-tech electronic surveillance, top of the line safe-cracking equipment, and a boss we have yet to identify."
"They need to borrow you two to go undercover on this one." Simon interjected, glancing at Jim. "It's pretty tame, considering, as neither one works with a weapon."
"They know me, and every cop in our department. So we asked Captain Banks if we could borrow a pair they haven't seen yet. I think I have a plan that would get you hooked up with them. If you're willing."
"Providing you can learn to crack a safe," Simon said, glancing at Blair for just a moment before looking back to Jim.
"What kind of safe?" Blair asked.
"Simple tumbler type mostly, electronic sensors. The victims are all wealthy tourists or businessmen in town for just a day or two, and these hotels offer in-room safes for their guests who prefer not to trust a hotel lock up." He reached for the photos Jim was pushing back his way and glanced at the women again. "These two are pretty wild, and very social. I figure, if we can show them a pair of thieves who can do the same jobs, and threaten their territory, they'll want to team up. Down in Portland they've seen these two before, last year. Apparently they're working their way along all the major airports. Down there, these two were working with another pair, only those two didn't head north with them, and they were caught a few weeks later."
"What about this boss you're looking to get?" Jim asked.
"Well, they have to sell the loot somewhere. And in all the cases, even in Portland, no one's found the stolen items anywhere. No pawn shop, no estate sales, nothing. They must have a way of selling that is so far removed from where they are, they can't get caught."
"Out of the country, maybe?" Jim asked, glancing once more at the women in the photo. "You want us to try and get close, then bring the boss in?"
"That, or just wait them out. This guy, or whoever it is, must receive the goods somehow. We're talking millions, here. In Portland, they've credited these two for a little over 4 million in lost goods, including some diamonds a merchant had brought in for sale at an auction."
Simon stood and walked to the coffee pot, glancing back at Jim. "What do you think, Jim? Can you learn safe-cracking well enough to fool these two?"
"I don't see why not, Captain. With all the gear available to the crooks these days, we should be able to get our hands on some of it."
Bryce laughed, nodding. "No kidding," he said. "Actually, I've got an ex-con who's pretty good at it. He's offered to teach you everything you'll need to know. And we've got the equipment you'll need, and your partner, for the lookout."
"Simon, could I have a word with you for just a moment?" Jim avoided Blair's look as he stood and walked to Simon.
"Hey, no problem." Detective Bryce stood and tossed the photos back down to the table. "My cousin works your front desk. I wouldn't mind a few minutes of family catch-up." He smiled and left the office, closing the door behind him.
"What's up, Jim?" Simon was pouring coffee, and stopped to smell the milk.
"I'm not sure Sandburg should be in on this one."
"What? Jim, come on, I can help you here." Blair stood and walked to Jim and Simon.
"It's your call, Jim," Simon said, looking at Blair for just a moment. "I wouldn't have okayed it if I thought it was too risky, but I did think he might help you with the safes. At least help you figure out how to get in."
Jim turned to Blair, "Last time you didn't want anything to do with undercover work. You said the idea of being alone with that lunatic wasn't your idea of helping."
"Jim, that was different. They had guns, and he enjoyed waving it around. I went anyway, didn't I?"
"You know, I don't understand you sometimes. One minute you want to help, the next minute you don't, and now you do again." Jim was going to say that Blair had only gone along after Naomi said he couldn't, but that wouldn't be fair. And this wasn't fair, either. Simon was right, it was probably perfectly safe. Just a little undercover work, playing at being a thief. No guns, no drug deals. He did want Blair there, and he'd need help with the safes. Sentinel help. It was just a nightmare, nothing more.
"Jim, don't you trust me?"
That question, spoken so softly and combined with those eyes was more than he needed. "I trust you, Chief." Jim opened the door to Simon's office. "Just give me a minute, here, okay?"
Blair just looked at him, then at Simon.
Jim had to put a hand on Blair's arm and push him through the door. "Do me a favor, and see what you can find out on the computer about these safes, okay?"
Blair reluctantly left the office and walked to Jim's desk.
"Jim, what's this all about? If you don't want Sandburg along, I'll have to scramble to find someone available." Simon sat behind his desk and set the coffee cup down.
Jim took a deep breath and walked to the desk. "I don't know, Simon. You're right, this case is probably perfectly safe. It's just...I had this nightmare last night, and it really bothered me. Which is strange, 'cause I hardly ever have them. But this one, it was so real. And Sandburg was in it."
"I can only imagine."
Jim shook his head, "No, Simon, I don't think you can." He paced the office for a few steps. "Brackett was there, and I shot him. Only this time it wasn't Brackett who got hit, it was Blair. And I killed him."
Simon was quiet for a moment, considering his words. "Listen, Jim, I'm sure it's just fresh in your mind because we were discussing the trial yesterday. Don't give a dream more credit than it deserves, especially a nightmare." Simon tried to hold Jim's gaze as he paced again. "You are the best damn Detective I have, and the best sharp-shooter in the Department. You took out Brackett and didn't hit Blair. You could do that in your sleep, for God's sake. Don't start doubting yourself now."
Jim sighed, nodding. "Thanks, Simon. You're right, it was just a dream. It just, really startled me, that's all."
"Of course it did. You get close to a partner and you start to worry about letting him down. That's natural."
Jim glanced out the window towards his desk where
he could see Blair working at the computer, and occasionally glancing at them.
It felt good to hear Simon refer to Blair as his partner. And the Captain was
right, again. He never would have taken that shot at Brackett unless he knew he
wasn't going to miss. And he never missed. Why would he suddenly have doubts?
It was Brackett. The man had terrorized Blair, and angered Jim almost to the point
of losing control. And now he was making Jim doubt himself. No, he had to take
control away from that man. He was in jail now, and soon in prison for the rest
of his life. It was time to get on with their lives. It was time to move on and
get working on this new case. And, it was time to explain to his partner that
the momentary reluctance in Simon's office wasn't distrust.
Blair sat at Jim's desk and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his chest. Was Jim in there, explaining to Simon why he didn't trust him to go undercover? What had he done? Well, what have I done lately? Did Jim really not trust him anymore? Ok, so maybe he hadn't wanted to go undercover to bust the car jackers, but that guy really had scared him. Sure, he'd only changed his mind because Naomi tried to talk him out of it. And of course, Jim had taken care of everything, as always. He really didn't have to worry, Jim was in control all the time, even when Blair screwed things up. But, if Simon okayed this, then it really must be safe. So why didn't Jim want him along? Was he changing his mind, in there with the Captain, or talking him into another partner?
Blair tried to shake it off and concentrate on his search of the web. Several weeks ago, while helping Jim research another case, Blair had stumbled upon a nice little black market, underground source of interesting and useful information. There, he was able to access the diagrams of any safe built since the last century. There were several models now in wide use by hotels, businesses, and in-home users. Most of them had the outward appearance of the typical personal safe, with the large center dial holding a combination of up to 12 separate digits. But these days, it wasn't as simple as turning the tumbler and listening for the teeth to fall into place. Today's high-tech safes came with equally high-tech safe cracking equipment. Electronic listening devices that would detect even the most well insulated tumbler. Blair was convinced, even before his examination of the diagrams, that Jim's Sentinel hearing, as well as touch, would be no match for any safe.
He heard Simon's door open and Jim came out, walking over to him at the desk. Blair pushed his chair away from the computer and looked at his partner, raising his eyebrows questioningly.
"Come on, partner. We've got work to do."
Blair shut off the computer and hurried to catch up. Jim was holding the elevator door open as he stepped in. He waited until the doors were shut, and he knew they were alone. "Did you say we?"
"That's right, Chief." Jim turned to face him in the elevator. "Listen, I'm sorry about that. Simon's right, this case is perfectly safe and I could use you."
"This is about that nightmare, isn't it? Jim, whatever it was, it was just a bad dream."
"I know, I know. It was just so real. Brackett was there, and you...I think it might be time for you to start carrying a gun, that's all."
"That's your answer right there, Jim," Blair said, relieved now that Jim was confiding in him. "It's not you, it's Brackett. I mean, God, the man gave me nightmares for weeks." He shook his head at the memory, then patted Jim on the arm as the elevator doors opened. "Like you said, just let it go." Jim nodded and they both walked back to the truck. "And as for me and guns, man, I still don't think that's such a good idea."
"I just think with you working undercover with me so much now, that it would be a good idea to get you better equipped, that's all."
Blair was shaking his head as they climbed into the truck, but he could tell from the tone of Jim's voice that he was serious. They'd had this discussion once before, but at the time, he was insistent on being just an observer. Now, if it really meant Jim would feel more comfortable about having him along...It wasn't about him anymore, it was about Jim. "Look, if it would make you feel better, maybe I can see giving it a try. But frankly, I think you'd have more to worry about if I was armed." Jim smiled a little and started the truck. "By the way, where are we going?"
"Bryce has a meeting set up for us with a safe man, an ex-con he knows who's offered to show us the ropes."
"Great." Blair felt better now that they were back on track. "Listen, from what I could find, I think our best bet here will be to go with your sense of touch. Those electronic devices they use to crack the newer models use an ultra-sensitive vibration detection. You just turn up the ol' touchy feely, and I think it'll work."
"Good." Jim drove out of the garage and headed towards the highway that would take them the 30 miles to the airport. "Listen, Chief, it really wasn't about me not trusting you." He glanced at Blair. "Because I do trust you, okay?"
Blair nodded, "Okay. Hey, man, like I said, Brackett ruined my nerves for weeks."
"Now, believing you is another story. We're going to have to have a talk soon about these embellishments and obfuscations of yours."
Blair rolled his eyes but said nothing. He thought he was pretty good at it, and even Jim never found out about most of them, unless he confessed. Besides, lying had helped him get out of that helicopter, and several other situations. And it had helped Captain Taggert when he needed it most. Of course, it also got him into the occasional jam with a date, but that could often be fixed. It was the truth that got him into more trouble. Telling Christine the truth had ruined their relationship. Even after Jim's advice about honesty and commitment.
Traffic in that direction in the mornings was pretty light, so they arrived at their destination within 20 minutes. Jim pulled up beside a small, run-down garage two miles from the end of the airport's main runway. As they got out of the truck, a 747 took off above them. Blair had to hold his ears as the jet thundered by, creating a deafening roar that vibrated through his bones. He looked at Jim who was squinting a little, but hadn't covered his ears. The building they were supposed to find this ex-con in was so small and old, Blair wondered why it hadn't shaken apart with the constant pounding of noise. After the jet passed by, Jim motioned for Blair to follow him into the garage. As he knocked on the door, Blair glanced back towards the runway.
"Jim, you're going to have to block that out and concentrate on just your one sense."
"I know. Maybe there's something to this equipment of his after all." Jim turned back to the door as it opened. A short, older man stood there, looking up, and Jim showed him his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. We were sent by Detective Bryce."
Blair watched the man examine Jim's badge, then both of their faces, before nodding and turning around to walk back inside. Jim motioned for Blair to follow and he entered the building. Inside the front door, was another door. In fact, another building. Blair followed Jim as he stepped into the garage, and then through the second, much thicker door, and into a deceptively large room filled with steel safes of many shapes and sizes and all manner of electronic equipment. When Blair pulled the heavy door shut behind him, the soundproofing of the room made his ears suddenly feel like popping. It was like being inside a gigantic padded room, and the bubble of quiet after such thundering of jets outside was eerie.
"So, you need to become a safe cracker overnight?" Blair watched as the man moved around to stand behind a small desk that held a safe about the size of Jim's computer monitor. "Well, I owe Bryce a favor, so I'm your man. The name's McCoy. Duggan 'Fingers' McCoy. Maybe ya heard of me?"
Blair tried not to laugh at the man as he was shaking Jim's hand. He was small, and maybe in his sixties, with wild white hair and a permanent squint to his eyes. The epitome of a 1930's small time hood straight out of an old black and white movie. Blair just nodded to him from his position beside Jim after the two of them shook hands.
"I don't think so, Mr. McCoy. But then, I've only been a Detective in Cascade for the past five years."
McCoy grumbled. "That figures. I've been in the slammer for the better part of 25 years." He waved a hand in the air and sat down, pointing to the safe on his desk. "Still, managed to keep my hands in, as it where. And it's Fingers to you two."
Blair couldn't help a slight chuckle then and tried to look away. Jim raised one eyebrow and glanced at him before turning back to Fingers. "What can you teach me in eight hours?"
"Ha! Eight hours I can maybe teach you which end of the safe is the door." Fingers shook his head in disgust. "You kids today, it's always rush rush rush. Never a thought to the fine arts. Never a thought to tradition, honor." He was still shaking his head as he produced a small black box from one of the desk drawers and handed it to Jim.
Blair stood next to him and examined the box his partner was holding. It wasn't any bigger than a tv remote control, with a small LED display at the top, no buttons, and three lead wires coming out the bottom, each with small magnets at the ends.
"That right there just might be your salvation, Detective." Fingers said, pointing to the box. "That right there is what you kids would call easy money. Takes most of the guess work right out of it. Technology today, no respect for art." He shook his head again.
Blair glanced at Jim, smiling, and noticed his partner's raised eyebrow.
"So, these are the safes they use in the hotels?" Jim asked, pointing to the small one on the desk.
"That'd be them all right." Fingers ran his hands lovingly over the steel top. "Simple, yet efficient. Twelve digit electronic tumbler." He grasped the round dial on the front of the door and gave it a spin. "Can be changed by coding in a new combination, and sending the information right through this little spot here." He pointed to a small black square next to the handle. "Uses computer chips, like every other damn thing these days." He shut the door to the safe and spun the dial again. "There, now it's locked, and only the computer knows the combination." He reached out and took the black box from Jim, placing each magnet at points to the left, right, and directly above the dial. Once done, he turned the box itself around, and Blair noticed the magnetic strip at the back, which he used to secure the box to a point just up and to the left of the dial. "Now, you put these here, and the unit right there. It's an ultra sensitive motion detector, that will focus on three areas only, with high intensity magnetics." He paused and looked up at Jim. "You don't wear a pacemaker, do you?" Jim just shook his head. "Didn't think so. You look like the healthy type to me. Damn muscle men these days. Probably eat tofu or some such crap huh?" Before Jim could reply, or Blair could try and cover his reaction, Fingers continued. "Now, the box will do most of the work, but it's very sensitive. If you are too heavy handed, or not paying attention, you'll be spending time in jail with all the other guys who thought eight hours was enough. Oh, that's right, you're the cops." He waved a hand in the air, dismissing that thought. "Well, go ahead. And remember, if you don't pay attention to the display, and keep turning after a number has been located, it's all over."