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Jim turned and looked sharply at Jenkins. "What?" He'd never expected trouble from Mike, why would he start now?
"I just saw him leaving with some girl. Pretty one, too." Mike stopped at the water cooler and filled his cup. "I thought you two were working on that sniper?"
Dammit! "We are." Jim turned to head back downstairs, then froze. "Mike, what did this lady look like?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. Pretty. Long brown hair, really put together well. Like athletic. She and Sandburg left in her car."
Jim and Simon had spent the past 10 minutes grilling Janet Blake. Every minute they spent was one less minute he was out finding Blair, and he knew it.
"Blake, if you have any idea where she would take Sandburg, you'd better spill it, now!" Simon's shout was punctuated by a finger stabbing the air.
Jim was pacing behind her as she sat, facing the Captain. "You're in it deep enough as it is. If Sandburg dies, you'll go to prison as an accomplice. You know what they do to cops in there."
Karen shook her head and looked at Jim. Her eyes weren't hard and cold as he would have expected, but pleading and moist with tears. "I honestly don't--wait!" She glanced at Simon, then back to Jim. "Steve and Karen had looked at a new place. A warehouse being renovated. They hadn't put money down yet, so I forgot about it." She looked back at Simon. "I swear, Captain, if she's there I had no idea."
"Where?" Jim leaned in, pressing both hands on the back of the chair she sat in.
"I don't know. Somewhere near the waterfront, but I'm not
sure. I've never been there."
"I admit, I wanted to kill you the other day." Steve was pacing the floor in front of Blair, holding a sniper's rifle in both hands and stroking it as she spoke.
"Why didn't you?" Blair tried to pull his hands free each time she turned for another go-round of the room, but the wires were too twisted.
Steve shrugged, glancing out the window again. "Good question." She turned back and walked toward Blair. "I'm not sure."
"Maybe because you don't really want to do this?" How was Jim going to find him here? As far as he knew, they didn't know about this place, or any place, that Steve might have been hiding out. Unless Blake was in on it? Was this a setup from the start, with Janet's partner getting ready to bring Jim right where Steve wanted him?
"No, I do. I've given this some thought." She stood in front of Blair now, looking down at him. "See, if I killed you, Ellison would have hurt for a time. But he'd still have all those cops at the Department to support him." The tip of her rifle came around and pressed into Blair's chest. "But if I kill him, that leaves you alone. Like I am."
"So why are we here?" Blair's arms were going numb and his butt was sore, sitting on that crate. Steve kept pacing to the window that was open, letting a breeze from the bay into the room.
"Listen, I understand what you're going through. But killing Jim isn't going to help. Believe me."
"You're one to talk." Steve turned back to Blair, then walked toward him, anger flashing in her eyes. "This is all your fault, you know. He saved you, instead of Janet. He put your life in front of hers." Steve leaned in, just inches from him, and Blair flinched back as her shout reverberated in his ears. "You're not even a cop!"
He met her eyes. "You're right. I'm not a cop, but Janet was. Would she approve of this?" Steve shook her head and backed away a few feet. "What would she say if she knew you were doing this?"
Blair got no reply. She returned to the window and looked out, completely ignoring his arguments.
Dammit! There had to be a way out
of this! He tried to work on the wires again while she was looking out the
window. He'd been at it for nearly an hour now, and thought maybe they were beginning
to work around a bit. Why she thought Jim would find them there, Blair didn't
know. But obviously she did. She was going to kill him. She might as well kill
Jim divided the men he had into three groups, taking two with him to the Fifth Street Condominiums. They stood on the opposite side of the street, scanning the old brick warehouse that was under renovation. He scanned the upper floors, focusing his Sentinel hearing while the officer next to him used a scope to see inside each window.
"All right. You two take the back." Jim glanced up suddenly, hearing something familiar above them.
"...enough of your lies!"
Jim turned to the officers. "Get into that warehouse and start the search. I'm going up here." He pointed to the top of the building they were next to.
"Are you sure you want to go up there alone?"
Jim nodded and the officers crossed the street, entering the warehouse from the front of the building.
He holstered his gun and stepped into the office complex,
taking an elevator to the top floor. There was a sign warning him the top floor
wasn't yet complete as he stepped out of the car. No voices greeted his ears,
but there were two distinct heartbeats some distance away. One of them familiar,
Blair kept trying to untwist the wire, biting down on the gag Steve had shoved in his mouth as the bindings threatened to cut into the flesh of his wrists. She was leaning out of the window now, taking aim at something across the street. God, Jim must be there! He had to stop her, but how? Desperately he pulled against the wires. If he could just get over there, ruin her shot, she'd miss and Jim would find her. Blair might be dead before he made it to where they were, but Jim would be alive, and Steve would be caught.
He saw the scope rise to her eye. Steve braced herself against
the windowsill. Blair tried to shout around the heavy gag, but it was no use.
He pulled hard against the wires, ignoring the sharp pain in both wrists. Dammit,
this can't be happening! His mind was having a hard enough time dealing with
Jim saving him over someone else. Blair knew he'd never be able to deal with Jim
dying because of it. Never.
"Freeze!" Jim aimed at Steve's back, sparing a quick glance at Blair, who sat tied and gagged on the opposite side of the room. He seemed unharmed. "Drop it."
Steve stiffened in her pose, rifle still aiming out the window to the warehouse across the street.
Slowly, Steve pulled herself in from the window, lowering the weapon.
"Drop the rifle, slowly." Jim stepped closer, gun still aimed.
One arm came up in the air, and the other slowly held the rifle out the window. After a moment's pause, she let the weapon drop to the narrow balcony several floors down.
Jim glanced again at Blair. "You okay?" The sudden flash of his partner's eyes and the single, skipped beat of his heart registered seconds too late. Jim turned to find Steve facing him, pistol in hand.
"Your turn," she said, aiming for his chest. They stood facing each other, guns drawn in a stalemate. "I'm quick, Ellison. Very quick."
Jim saw the look in her eyes, the steadiness of her hands. Steve Perry was army trained, and a skilled markswoman. Which of them was faster, could be a crap shoot. But if Jim lost, so did Blair. The officers next door would never get here in time. Hell, they could be in the hall right now, and they'd be too late. His Sentinel senses weren't going to help them now. And his marksmanship abilities were matched in Steve. Jim focused on the barrel of her gun, trying to judge if his aim would prove that good more than once. What he saw there gave him one last opportunity.
"Okay, you win." Jim lowered his gun, holding one hand out, palm outward. "It's me you want. Let him go." He took a few steps closer, hands raised. "You're right. I let Janet die in order to save my partner."
"Why? Why him over her?" Steve's voice was agitated. She could go at any moment.
"He's my partner." Jim shrugged slightly. "And my friend. You can understand that, can't you? What would you have done? What did the army teach you?"
"They taught me to take care of my own."
"He is my own."
"Then he'll feel this as badly as I do." Steve's finger squeezed the trigger.
The gun exploded in a ball of fire in her hands. Jim lunged forward at the same time she fell back, catching her arm just as she plummeted out the open window. Her momentum carried them both out and down.
Jim's left hand found the ledge and grabbed hold out of instinct. The sudden jolt wrenched Steve's arm from his hand and she continued to fall, hitting the balcony 8 floors down where her rifle had landed. He spared her one last glance before swinging his right hand up to clutch the skinny rim of cement that was keeping him from meeting a similar fate. His fingers burned with the effort of supporting his weight as he scanned the wall for a foothold. The office building was brick, and Jim soon found a place for both feet.
He looked up to locate the windowsill and Blair's face suddenly appeared, looking down in fear.
"Jim! Oh, God, you're alive!"
All he could manage was a nod. Blair's hand came out, grabbing Jim's shirt. He used that leverage to pull himself up far enough to reach the windowsill with his right hand. Blair moved aside and reached farther down, pulling him up by the belt. Jim was sweating with the effort when his left hand found the window and both knees reached the ledge of cement.
He all but fell through the window. Blair helped him to his feet, then wrapped both arms around him. "God, Jim, I thought you were dead!"
Jim put an arm around his partner and tried to catch his breath. "I'm fine, Chief." He let Blair hold on for a few seconds while he rested a hand on his friend's back, trying to calm them both. "It's over, buddy."
Blair shook his head, then pulled back. "No, Jim, it's not over." He was looking up at Jim, both hands still clutching his shirt. "I'm sorry, man. You nearly died, and it would have been my fault, and I never should have said what I did, and--"
"Whoa, whoa, Chief, slow down." Jim held up a hand, then gripped Blair's shoulder with it. "Just take it easy, it's over."
"No, Jim. I'm sorry." He still held Jim's shirt and shook his head, looking down for a moment. "I was blaming you for how I felt, and it was wrong. You were there all the time, man, and I was pushing you away."
Jim glanced down at the hands clutching his shirt so desperately. Blair's wrists were bruised and raw, but the injuries weren't enough to interfere with his grasp.
"I've been a jackass these last two days, and you didn't deserve it."
"You've been a jackass before, Sandburg, and it never got in the way." Jim smiled when Blair's eyes met his. He patted his friend on the back then reached up to remove both hands from his shirt so the wrists could be inspected.
Blair hissed against the pain but allowed Jim to examine the injuries. "I mean it, Jim. I'm sorry. When I told you how much I liked having a Blessed Protector, I meant it."
Jim turned his hands over, then released them, satisfied the redness wasn't deep. "I know you did, Chief."
"No, I don't think you do, Jim." Blair shook his head. "'Cause as much as I like it, it scares me."
"Scares you?" Jim's eyebrows furrowed as he looked down at his partner.
"Yeah." Blair looked up, meeting Jim's gaze. "There's a serious drawback to liking something this much, Jim. Eventually, you'll lose it." Blair looked away then, fidgeting with his wrists for a second before looking back. "You were going to let her kill you. And if that gun hadn't blown up, she would have." He shook his head. "You were so willing to die for me. To just let her kill you like that. I--I just don't know if I can live up to that, man."
Jim smiled, laughing shortly as he gazed out over Blair's head for a moment. "You already do, Chief." When he looked back down at his partner, he could see a range of emotions travel through his eyes. Bewilderment, relief, and finally something that looked like gratitude.
Blair shook his head. "Not even close, Jim. You had no way of knowing her gun would jam, did you?"
"I saw something in the barrel. Probably something got jammed up there when she put it in her belt."
"But you had no way of knowing it would interfere, Jim."
"No, I didn't."
Blair's face drained of color, and his voice lost all volume. "God, Jim."
He reached an arm around and pulled Blair close, feeling
arms once again wrap around his back as his partner held on tightly. "Yeah."
It was bottom of the ninth, all bases loaded. Jim squinted against the sun and wiped sweat from his forehead as the batter approached. Blair had been pitching an excellent game, but he'd had to take it easy with both wrists still bruised and sore. This last play would determine the game. If he could just hold on for one more out, they'd have it wrapped up.
Svenson from the 87th was up. A huge Swede from Narcotics. If he connected with the ball, it was an almost guaranteed home run. Jim put his glove back on and pulled his catcher's mask back down, looking at Blair. His partner seemed to be holding up well. Sweat was beading on his forehead, but his long hair was pulled back, out of his face. He had sunglasses on, but Jim had no trouble seeing through the dark lenses to blue eyes that were sparkling with mischief. The kid had an arm, that was for sure. And if he was playing them all by letting the bases fill up, Jim would finally have to concede his partner was a better pitcher.
But it wasn't over yet.
Jim caught the fast ball easily and lobbed it back to Blair. Members of the 87th began their taunting and Jim smiled. He'd seen how their attempts to distract his friend only added to his abilities.
Curve ball, and a damn fine one. Jim tossed it back, then gave Blair the signal to repeat the curve. He could see Svenson's tendency to lean forward.
Blair shook his head and Jim repeated the motion. This isn't the time to argue, buddy. He finally nodded, then with one glance at third base, he let the ball fly.
Svenson cursed, kicking the dirt, then turned and shook Jim's hand, smiling. "Good game, Ellison."
"Better luck next time, Sven." Jim was beaming and he knew it. When the 87th heard he wasn't pitching that game, they had started making victory plans before the first inning was over.
The stands were emptying quickly and Jim kept an ear open. He hadn't heard anything but compliments all day, and now was no exception.
"Hey, buddy, good game." He clapped Blair on the shoulder when he approached.
"Yeah, you too, Jim. You give orders just like a Detective."
"That's funny." He pulled off both knee pads and slapped the dust from his jeans. "Come to think of it, you still owe me lunch."
Blair laughed, shaking his head. "Jim, I think you have me confused with one of those other 5 or 6 observers you keep around the loft."
"Oh, right." He slapped Blair on the back and they started walking to the truck. "Well, which one is it who forgot the beer last time they went shopping, missed the hamper two days in a row, and used the last clean towel this morning?"
"Right. Lunch." Blair tossed his glove into the back seat.
Jim laughed and got
into the truck. "Relax, Chief. You get points off for a good game."
He started the engine and Blair belted up. "I'll buy the beer."
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