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by Kristine Williams

Part 11

"Hey, Jim."

"Who was that just leaving?" Jim shut the door and secured the locks.

"Oh, that was Molly. She brought the papers and stayed for lunch." He pulled off his glasses and set them down. "What happened to Agent Mills?"

Jim hung his coat up and walked into the kitchen. "He never saw who did it." He reached into the fridge and retrieved the deli meats he had put in there just yesterday. They hadn't been touched, so what Blair and Molly had eaten, he didn't know. "Looks like there was a remote charge in the tire, forensics is still working on the car." He found the bread and started to make a sandwich. It was 3:00 PM, so this would either be a late lunch, or early dinner.

"Did you find anything?"

Jim's mind flashed immediately back to the blackness of the tire...the feeling of being drawn into the dark by an unseen force. "No, nothing." He blinked the memory away and busied himself with making his lunch.

"I don't get it, Jim. Why leave Mills alive? They brought you along from the club, which meant they were most likely going to kill all three of us, right?"

"Right. The only reason I can think of is they thought I had seen something." He finished putting the sandwich together and returned what was left to the refrigerator. "He might have been ready to finish Mills off when he got interrupted, or just nervous about being out in the open like that." Jim picked up his sandwich and the glass of milk he'd just poured and walked out to the living room. Blair's paperwork was spread all over the table, so Jim sat on the couch with his lunch on the coffee table.

"What about those DOT cameras on the overpasses?"

"Already tried that, Chief. He timed it right in between two of them." He took a large bite out of his sandwich.

"So we've got nothing?"

Jim had his mouth full, so he just nodded. After he swallowed, he looked at Blair. "That's about it. Unless we can find someone who saw our third man, or we get lucky with forensics. But chances are, whoever he is, he's out of the country by now." He reached for his milk and saw Blair turn around in the chair to face him more. As he did, he winced, clenching his jaw tightly, but said nothing. Jim once again felt a flash of guilt, seeing his friend still in such pain. When it passed, Blair looked up.

"You know, I've been thinking about that third man. I think ..."

Blair's thought was interrupted by the phone. It was still on the table, next to his computer, so Blair picked it up. "Hello? Oh, sure Captain, he's right here."

Jim stood and crossed the room, taking the phone from Blair's outstretched hand. "Ellison."

"Jim, forensics came up empty. No fingerprints, no sign of whatever blew out that tire, other than some powdery residue the lab is testing. So far, the canvassers have come up empty. No one saw or heard anything."

"Looks like our third man may as well have been a ghost." Jim caught Blair's gesture and pulled the phone away from his mouth, raising his eyebrows.

"I think we can find him, Jim."

"Hold on a second, sir, Sandburg has an idea." Jim brought the phone down and looked at Blair. "What are you thinking, Chief?"

"Jim, when you came into that bathroom, your senses were on full alert. Whether you realize it or not, your eyes saw everything in there before you were hit."

"So, what good will that do us? I was hit from behind."

Blair nodded, his normal level of enthusiasm building up. "I know, but you were facing the mirror when you came in. We just have to make you remember, Jim."

Jim brought the phone back up. "Simon, Sandburg's had one of his ideas."

"That can't be good," Simon teased.

Jim laughed a little, but knew better than to relay that little tidbit. "He thinks maybe I did see who hit me, and just don't remember it."

"So, what good will that do?"

"I think I know what he's planning. It's worked before, Captain. If he's right, we just might have a face to go by, if not a name."

"Hang on, Jim."

He heard the phone click onto hold and moved the mouthpiece away. "You really think this will work, Chief?"

"I do, Jim."

"Jim, Agent Mills is here. I've told him you have a plan, and he wants to be there when you try...whatever it is you're going to try."

"Sure thing, Captain."

"He'll be over in an hour. Keep me informed."

"Yes, sir." Jim hung up the phone and set it back on the table. "Mills is coming over, wants to be here when we do this. Maybe it will work for him, too. He was facing the car, might have seen something reflected in the paint."

Blair made a face, then ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure that will work, Jim. If he's here and you can't concentrate?"

"Well, we can give it a shot before he..." Jim was interrupted by the phone. He let Blair pick it up, then sighed in relief at his own foresight.

"Professor Kinyon, hello." Blair looked up at Jim and rolled his eyes. "Yes, thank you."

Jim laughed and returned to the couch to finish his lunch. From the sounds of it, Blair was going to be a while. He removed his gun and cuffs and set them on the coffee table so he could sit back and be more comfortable. The sun was streaming in, hitting him as he sat there. His sandwich finished, Jim leaned back on the couch, listening to Blair's half of the conversation. It took mere minutes for the combination of sun, lunch, and stress to put him to sleep.

The press of bodies was overwhelming, and Jim was glad he had taken off his jacket. He didn't remember taking it off, but he was clad only in jeans, a shirt, and shoes, with his gun in a shoulder holster. Why he was wearing it that way, he didn't know, but with the noise and confusion increasing with each hour, he was glad he had them. The music was getting louder, and the crowd wouldn't move or even acknowledge his presence as he searched for Blair. Jim was certain he had to be nearby. Blair was always nearby. Something close growled, like an animal, and Jim's entire body was on alert. He reached for his gun, pulling it slowly out of its holster and holding it ready as he scanned the darkness around him. He couldn't focus through the blue haze of the club, and the strobe lights above sent lightning flashes of blue all around him, making it harder to see through the people. His hearing refused to pinpoint the animal that he now realized was stalking him. Why wouldn't these people move? He tried to shout at them, but he couldn't get the words out over the deafening roar of the band. His hearing refused to block out the noise, and his head was spinning with the blue lights.

"Sandburg!" Jim shouted. Nothing. There was movement behind him, and Jim spun around, gun raised. He expected an animal. The animal that was stalking him. What he saw startled him for an instant, and he lowered the gun instinctively.

"You sent him away."

It was him. The man Jim had seen in the jungle, when Blair told him to follow the panther. The same man who had been the panther. "You?" Jim lowered the gun all the way. "Where is he?"

"It was not your decision to make," the man replied.

Jim looked around the club at the people pressing in around him. None of them seemed to know he was there. They didn't even look at the native man standing there, spear in hand, talking to him. Jim's gaze returned to where his Spirit Guide had been, and found no one.

"Sandburg!" What the hell was going on? Jim turned around, searching the crowd. Something black moved just out of his vision, and he chased after it, pressing through the throng of club goers who still ignored him. The blue flashing lights were bathing everything in their glow, making even Jim's skin glow blue. When he neared the edge of the room, he found the man again, standing against the mens room door.

"Where is he?"

"You sent him away."

"You mean Sandburg?" How did he know? "I sent him away for his own good. It's not safe. He's not safe." Surely he understood that? Someone had to understand that.

The man shook his head slowly, then turned to leave.

"Wait! You can't leave. My senses--I--I'm losing control." Jim felt desperate, alone. He couldn't move, couldn't follow after the man who was still walking away. "You told me I had to commit, well I did!" Damn him! What more did he want? "What do you want from me?!"

At that, the man stopped, but did not turn. "What do you want from yourself?"

Jim paused, breathing heavily in the sweltering humidity of too many humans in a small room. "You said it would require my soul, now you've taken it away."

The man turned slowly, looking at Jim for a long moment before speaking. "I took nothing."

Jim listened, trying to understand what he wasn't saying, but there was a buzzing in his head, and it was growing louder, making it hard to concentrate. "I never wanted them in the first place, but I understand now, they're a part of me. I took that step, I made that decision to stay with them. I can't make that decision for Blair as well."

"No, you cannot." With that, the man turned again, and walked into the mens room.

"Wait!" Jim shouted, reaching out. He couldn't move, couldn't follow the man as he disappeared into the darkness. He was alone. And the confusion was all around him, pressing in. The club and the crowd began to grow up before his eyes as if to drown him into insignificance with their size. He watched in horror as the people and building suddenly and inexorably grew around him. The heat became unbearable, and it was getting harder and harder to breath. Jim couldn't move, couldn't run, and the pounding of the band was growing in volume as it grew in size. He swallowed, trying to push down the feeling of panic that threatened from deep within. The blue lights filled his vision.

"It's about friendship."

The voice caused Jim's head to spin around, and he locked eyes with the panther as it stood behind him. His first instinct was to let out a sigh of relief. His Spirit Guide hadn't left, just turned back into the panther. But, even as Jim exhaled his relief, he noticed, with a chill that shot down his spine, the eyes. What had once been, and should still be, green cat's eyes, were now blue. His heart stopped, and the eyes drew him in. He couldn't move, couldn't take his eyes off the blue cat's eyes staring back at him, hypnotizing him. He felt the club fall away in a blurred rush, and felt himself being drawn into the blue. His heart began to race, and he saw the tension building in the muscles of the big cat's legs. Oh God, he's going to strike! He could sense the cat preparing to leap, but his eyes wouldn't move, nor would his legs. Sweat was building on his upper lip, and he heard the cat growl deep within its chest. Before he could react, it leapt, striking Jim full in the chest. His arms locked around the beast, and the force of the impact pushed Jim backwards. Claws began to dig at his chest, tearing at his heart, and teeth came for his neck. Jim fought to remain on his feet, sensing the mirror right behind him, but the claws were searching for something, trying desperately to tear his heart right out of his chest. The teeth were so close to his eyes he couldn't move. He fell, praying the impact of them hitting the floor would break the cat's hold. Just as Jim lost his balance, he felt the glass of the mirror slam into his back, shattering as he and the panther fell into, and then through it.

Blair hung up the phone and rubbed his sweating ear. He was grateful for Professor Kinyon's help while he was away, and he knew if he thought about it rationally, spending nearly 40 minutes on the phone doing nothing but listening was a small price to pay. But he'd wanted to get Jim to try and remember what he saw before Agent Mills arrived. He'd known bringing up the subject this morning had been a bad idea, Jim wasn't ready yet. Blair should have waited, watched for a better time to approach Jim and get him to listen to reason and change his mind, but he'd jumped the gun, and nearly blown it altogether. And now, Jim was asleep on the couch.

"Hey, Jim." Blair set the phone down. "Jim." Nothing. He started to ease himself out of the chair for the third time since first sitting down that morning. It was slow going, and he had to stop when he got to his feet and a stab of pain shot through his right side. He'd avoided the pills all day; being alone and sitting quietly made that easier. But now the throbbing all through his chest was reminding him of how foolish that had been. When the pain subsided, he walked to the couch, reaching Jim just as he startled awake.

"You okay, man?"

Jim looked up suddenly, then glanced around the living room. "Yeah. Just dreaming."

Blair was about to ask what dream had him so shaken up when they heard a knock on the door.

"Must be Mills." Jim got up and crossed the room to opened the door.

Blair nodded as Agent Mills came inside. He'd wanted to get Jim to remember what his eyes had seen before Mills came by, just in case he couldn't get his partner to relax enough with an audience.

"Blair, how are you doing?" Mills came in, draping his coat over the back of the chair.

"Better, thank you." Blair leaned against the arm of the couch. He knew if he sat down, it would be too hard to get back up again.

"Captain Banks tells me you have an idea on how to help Ellison remember?" Agent Mills glanced from Blair to Jim, then back again.

Blair nodded, looking up at Jim. "Yeah, we've done this before. He saw something, he just didn't take a conscious note of it, with everything else he was seeing at the time."

"Like hypnosis?"

"Something like that." Jim crossed the room and sat down on the couch, looking up at Blair. "Well, let's see if this is going to work."

Blair turned to face him. "Okay, Jim. You know the drill. Just close your eyes, relax, push out everything else." He moved closer but couldn't sit on the coffee table or the couch. His ribs were aching with every breath, and it was a struggle to keep his voice even. Jim's eyes were closed, his head leaning back against the cushions. Agent Mills was behind Blair, sitting in the chair, being very quiet. "How do you feel?"

Jim nodded. "Fine."

"Okay, I want you to go back to the Twisted Pearl. Back to just before you came into the bathroom. Are you there?"

Jim nodded again but said nothing.

"Now, you came through the doors. What do you see?"

Jim's eyebrows knitted together. "The door just flew open. I see two men, standing with their backs to me."

"Okay, Jim, I want you to freeze that image. Just freeze it and step back, look at it as if it were a picture. Take yourself out of the frame, and look at it." He paused, praying this was working. Jim was quiet, his eyebrows showing the effort. "What do you see?"

"I see the bathroom. Two men are standing over you. Raymond is there on the floor too."

"Okay, Jim, now look around the room. What else do you see?"

"The bathroom. There's no one else...wait, I can see the mirror. It's right in front of me."

Yes! Blair kept his excitement to himself, remembering not to use his arms too much. "Okay, look in the mirror. Tell me what you see there." Blair watched Jim's face as he sat there, eyes closed. He could see the eyes moving under closed lids, as if searching for something.

"I do see someone."

Blair opened his mouth to ask Jim to describe the man he saw, but a sudden, cold pressure against the back of his neck stopped him. He heard the gun cocking just as Jim opened his eyes.

"Very good. You should have considered a job with the FBI, Blair." Agent Mills stepped around beside Blair, then moved his gun from the side of Blair's neck and aimed it at Jim.

"Why'd you do it?" Jim asked, tensing on the couch.

"Oldest reason in the book, Ellison. Money."

Blair stood there, looking from Mills to Jim. His partner was still on the couch, with a gun trained on his head. Agent Mills had one hand on Blair's right arm.

"You set it all up, and paid Edwards and Patterson to carry out the dirty work?"

"That's right. I needed two men dumb enough to just do what they were told. I had to be in charge of the cases, so they didn't get caught. Took some doing, and picking Mr. Keller was a mistake. I should have done more research." He turned slightly and looked at Blair for one instant, then returned his gaze to Jim. "Blair, I'm truly sorry you were beaten in Raymond's place. That was never my intent. I was sure I could count on that Whatcom idiot to try and give you the slip, and when he went into the Twisted Pearl, I saw my chance. You two weren't supposed to be there, but you were. Getting the three of you out of that club was priority when we ended up with more than I bargained for. I made the mistake of assuming my partner's could figure out who was who, and hurried back to the Station, leaving the three of you with them."

"Why'd you take us?" Jim asked.

"I was afraid you'd seen me. And I was right." He raised the gun higher. "So, as you can see, once I finish off the two of you, and catch that plane, I'll be home free before anyone knows what happened."

Blair looked at Jim, desperate for him to do something, to stop this. He couldn't believe this man he'd come to feel sorry for, and respect, could have been responsible for it all. "You had them kill that girl." He had to try and stall, so Jim could find a chance to stop him.

"Yes, I did." Mills glanced at Blair, but quickly returned his gaze to Jim. "I never actually participated, mind you, but it was my idea, yes. And I would have had them kill the three of you, as well. But beating you beforehand, was never my intent."

"Why? How could you let them beat a 16 year old girl to death?"

"It was easy, Blair, when kept in perspective. I had to make the crimes very violent, and dangerous, in order to insure the proper amount of fear and respect. That way, I could almost guarantee payment each time. You see, it was me the family members listened to, when I advised them on the best course of action."

"The best course of action always being to pay the ransom, and try to tail the delivery," Jim finished for him.

"That's right. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a plane to catch."

Blair reached out, desperate to knock the gun away before---It went off! He heard Jim's cry of pain almost the instant the gun exploded. God, he was too late! A hand shoved Blair hard and he fell, twisting as he did so. He hit the coffee table and it tumbled over, spilling its contents. A blinding pain shot through his side as he hit the floor, and his hand struck something cold and hard.


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