Nature's Conspiracies: II

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Really, mainly mine at this point.

Author's notes: Ok, sorry, sorry, this took a little longer than expected because it went through the beta from hell. Lots of thanks, here — thanks to Hope for patience, thanks to Sihiya (who knows far too much about listening devices) thanks to Miriam for always being utterly unable to suspend belief, thanks to Em for being mistress of the correct word. Miriam says that I write two kinds of stories: comedies and "grunting and running for shelter" stories. This is a grunting and running for shelter story. Enjoy. Part III coming soon.


Blair pulled the passenger-side door of the truck shut and locked it. "He knows," Blair said, turning to look at Jim. "Ziegler knows."

Jim gripped the wheel tightly and stared out the windshield. "You're sure?"

Blair nodded grimly. "Yeah. I mean, I actually don't think he knows — but he certainly suspects. He suspects damn near everything."

Jim glanced across the cab at Blair, a flicker of fear in his eyes. "What do you think he wants?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know. Proof, I guess. Everything he's got is circumstantial."

"What has he got?" Jim asked, turning to face him.

"He's got my diss, for one," Blair said tightly.

Jim nearly jumped out of his seat. "Not the — "

"No, no!" Blair leaned across the truck, grabbed Jim's arm: Jim looked like he was about to have a heart attack. "Not the real one. The fake one!" Jim sighed and nodded rapidly, looking relieved. "But even that's too much," Blair whispered, guilt clogging his throat. "Way too much. I should never have — "

"Blair, stop," Jim interrupted quietly. "Remember — Brackett figured it out from an article you published before you even met me. Don't torture yourself over this." Jim took a deep breath and slumped back in his seat, letting his head loll against the headrest. "So he knows you're interested in Sentinels. Big fucking news. What else does he know?"

"He knows we've got a goddamned hundred percent closure rate. He knows that you sought treatment for apparent sensory disorders. He knows that you met me the same week. He knows about your time in Peru — "

"Wait, wait, hang on." Jim frowned and raised his hand. "Back up. He knows I sought treatment?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah."

"What did he say — exactly?"

Blair struggled to recollect Ziegler's exact words. "He told me that you sought treatment at County General the same week you met me. He was implying that it was a pretty huge fucking coincidence, considering that I specialize in — "

"He actually said County General?"

"Yeah. 'County General.' Why is that — " Blair stopped short as the implications finally hit him. "Oh, shit."

"He's got my medical records." Jim's face was oddly blank.

"Jim! For god's sake! Those are supposed to be confidential!"

"Apparently not," Jim said; he appeared to be thinking hard.

"We should fucking sue the bastard! Violation of civil rights! Except — " Blair stopped. "Except that would just draw more attention to us and — "

Jim shook his head. "No — actually it's probably a good thing."

"It's good?"

"Yeah. He's not that smart: he's showing his hand. He's given us an important piece of information — he's not playing by the rules. If that's the way it's gonna be, better to know it now." Jim chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Okay, so he's got my file from County — what else could he have?"

Blair thought about it. "The Peru reports."

Jim nodded glumly. "Probably. Yeah. Brackett had 'em."

Blair took a deep breath. "Okay, so what's that, really? Just confirmation — you've had sensory problems before."

"Yeah," Jim said.

"Still circumstantial," Blair mused. "It's all still circumstantial. Fact: you've had sensory problems. Fact: I'm an expert on Sentinels."

Jim sighed. "Conclusion: I'm a Sentinel."

"Supposition, you're a Sentinel," Blair corrected.

"Two plus two equals four, Chief." Jim rubbed at his face.

"Not in base two," Blair objected. "In base two, two plus two equals — um — well — one hundred."

Jim stared at him like he'd grown a second head. "What?"

"I'm telling you that two plus two doesn't always equal four! It depends on your fucking frame of reference!"

Jim raised his eyebrow. "Next you're gonna tell me that one plus one equals three."

"In math, no," Blair said, crossing his arms. "In sex — often."

"Jesus Christ," Jim muttered.

Blair grabbed his arm. "Jim, look — -all I'm trying to say is that we've given him an alternate explanation. Yeah, he's right — it was my work that brought us together. But not because you're a Sentinel, because you're a police officer. A member of a tribe. Sentinels also belong to tribes. We're trying a little goddamned misdirection here: we need him to make the links through tribes, not Sentinels."

"Except Ziegler ain't buying. Ziegler knows I'm a Sentinel."

"Ziegler knows, but he can't prove it," Blair argued passionately. "And we're not gonna let him prove it."

"But it's the obvious conclusion," Jim said softly. "And it's also the truth."

"Fuck the truth!" Blair retorted, and suddenly Jim was laughing helplessly. "I'm serious, man — fuck the truth! Who cares about the truth? Nobody. Take it from me, Jim — nobody wants to believe this shit! Hell, you didn't want to believe it! Simon sure didn't want to believe it! Megan thinks she wants to believe it, but she doesn't, really." He grinned triumphantly and sat back in his seat.

Jim grinned back at him. "Yeah, you've got a point there, Chief. Human nature is with us. Nobody's ever wanted to believe it. Only you." Jim reached across the truck and took his hand, squeezed it affectionately. "Only an obsessive anthropologist would — "

Blair felt the smile fall off his face.

Jim looked at him nervously. "What?"

Blair swallowed. "Uh — Ziegler majored in anthropology."

"Oh, terrific," Jim muttered, letting his head fall against the steering wheel. "Fuck me hard."  

5:21 P.M. 852 PROSPECT, # 307

"I just can't believe what a shitty day this has been." Blair shucked his coat halfway through the door. "I didn't really believe that a day could be this shitty with nobody being killed or anything."

Jim nodded and headed for the fridge. "I need a beer. You want a beer?"

"I want a lobotomy." Blair sat down hard on the sofa.

"Be careful what you wish for, Chief." Jim popped the tops off two beers and crossed the room to bring one to Blair.

"Yeah, I guess I shouldn't make that joke anymore." Blair sighed and regarded the amber bottle in his hand. "You know, this is hardly gonna make for sharp thinking."

"I don't think I can handle any sharp thinking right now," Jim replied tiredly. "I think I'd like to just drink myself into a fucking stupor, if it's all the same to you."

"Sounds like a plan." Blair raised his bottle to clink it against Jim's.

"So tomorrow, we think. Tonight, we should just — "

Suddenly Jim stopped speaking and cocked his head, expression growing alert and intense. Blair frowned and opened his mouth to ask what was wrong.

" — celebrate your promotion," Jim finished. He stared at Blair and then began to slowly rotate his finger in the air.

Blair blinked.

Keep talking.

Blair launched into speech. "Hey that's a great idea," he began, looking around nervously. "My promotion definitely needs to be celebrated."

Jim nodded his approval and moved stealthily across the living room.

"Hell, I'm happy just not to have to deal with that 'Special Officer' title anymore. Just that's worth a celebration."

Jim was silently unscrewing the shade from the reading lamp; he pulled it off and set it down gently on the seat of the chair.

Blair frowned at his partner. "Though of course, I sort of dug the initials — S.O.S. That was my rookie year in a nutshell. We can celebrate that too — the end of my rookie year."

He flinched as Jim carefully separated a small, back cylinder from the fixture, then examined it closely. Jim glanced over at him and they exchanged frowns. Jim squinted at the device for a few more seconds before replacing it and reattaching the lampshade.

He shook his head at Blair and drew another circle in the air.

Keep talking. God, right.

"So whattya say — you wanna stay in, go out? Dinner, movie, strip joint?" Blair added — and Jim suddenly glared at him and violently shook his head no.

No overt heterosexualizing. Okey-dokey.

"How about we go bowling?" Blair asked, feeling that this was a manly enough activity. "I hear there's a new complex down on Smith Street — supposedly they have a whole restaurant and bar there too. All your favorite foods, which I'll actually let you eat because you'll be picking up the tab and all."

Blair winced — damn, that wasn't very good. He shouldn't have revealed that he policed what Jim ate. That just about canceled out the bowling.

Jim was closely investigating the stereo system on the side table. Man, this was so not good!

Blair took a deep breath and kept talking.

"I think it's primarily a steak joint," he said, "but it's also got all the crap you love — buffalo wings with blue cheese, great greasy burgers with onion rings, cheese fries — all that shit that's gonna give you a heart attack in about five years. We can chow down and then hit the lanes."

Jim disappeared into the office and Blair let himself slump back onto the sofa. God almighty, they were in such fucking trouble here. And what was weird was — he felt calm. The world was ending and he felt totally fucking calm.

He reached for the gun in his shoulder holster, closed his palm around the black textured grip. And suddenly knew with perfect clarity that he could kill Paul Ziegler — that he would kill Paul Ziegler if Ziegler so much as laid a finger on —

Jim came out of the office and silently headed up the stairs to the loft.

"I bet you suck at bowling," Blair said, checking the magazine of his gun and reholstering it firmly. "I'll bet I can kick your ass."

Jim padded softly down the stairs and collapsed on the sofa next to Blair. Blair frantically mimed, "What the fuck?" and got a tense look and four raised fingers in return.

Blair stared at Jim's fingers until they were blurring in front of his face.




Blair blinked and then looked past the fingers to Jim's face. Hell, Jim looked as calm as he felt. Was this the way the world ended? In this odd, eerie peace?

"I don't know if I'm up for bowling tonight, Chief," Jim said, casually, and then he was leaning forward and Blair was closing the gap between them and they were kissing — softly, silently.

And Blair found himself trying to remember the feel of Jim's mouth on his, the feel of the thick cableknit sweater under his fingertips, the feel of the beautiful, hard muscle underneath.

Blair felt his cock twitch hopefully in his pants and berated himself — this wasn't the time, and god help them both, this was no longer the place.

Jim pulled his mouth away and said, "Besides, I've got a better idea." He jerked his head toward the door.

"Yeah, okay," Blair answered, nodding. "Let's go."

Jim got up and Blair followed him toward the door — and then stopped and shook his head. Jim looked at him inquiringly and Blair pointed toward the office. Jim nodded and followed him in.

"Hang on — I think I need an extra sweater," Blair said for the benefit of the microphones. He silently pulled his keys out of his pocket, inserted one into the desk drawer, opened it.

Jim nodded approvingly as Blair pulled out two more guns and three boxes of extra clips. Blair was about to push the drawer shut when Jim tapped his shoulder and quietly put his foot up onto the desk chair.

Ankle holsters. Good idea.

Blair found the two ankle holsters and handed one to Jim. Quietly, they strapped them onto their legs. Blair straightened up and put the extra ammunition into his knapsack. Took his tape recorder, some blank cassettes, paper, pens, envelopes, stamps.

"You ready now?" Jim asked, cocking his head at Blair.

"Yeah," Blair replied. "Ready," and they crossed the living room, grabbed their coats, and were out the door.  


The sun had set and the wind was rising — Jesus, it was cold. Blair shivered and pulled his coat more tightly around himself as he followed Jim back to the truck.

Jim started the engine and immediately turned on the heat.

"Holy shit, Jim," Blair said, breaking the silence, finally. "Holy shit. What the hell are we going to do?"

"Calm down, Chief," Jim said, but the muscle in his jaw was twitching as he flicked his lights on and put the truck into gear.

"It's Ziegler, right?" Blair asked, running a nervous hand through his hair. "I mean, it's gotta be Ziegler. Or Ziegler's people. Whoever they are."

"It'd better be Ziegler," Jim muttered darkly as he pulled the truck away from the curb. "I can't handle the idea that we've got two interested parties."

"Jim, what are we going to do?" Blair cried. "We're fucked — we're totally fucked!"

"We're gonna figure this out," Jim said firmly, but he didn't look so sure. "We're gonna calm the fuck down and figure this out."

"Oh my god, it's a test, isn't it?" Blair felt like there were lightbulbs exploding in his brain. "I mean, it's gotta be a test. There's no way you could have found those damn things if you were a normal person!"

Jim looked offended. "Hey!..."

"It's a goddamned trap! He's trying to prove you're a Sentinel!"

"Look, I did covert ops, remember?" Jim argued. "I'm a fucking police detective. I can spot a couple of bugs."

"You found four bugs in four minutes," Blair retorted. "How the hell did you do that?"

Jim coughed. "Well, uh...they uh...they hum," he admitted.

Blair rolled his eyes. "They hum," he mimicked. "Yeah, to you and dogs — they hum! God almighty..."

"Look, that doesn't matter," Jim said forcefully; his knuckles were white where he gripped the wheel. "Ziegler doesn't know I've found them, does he?"

"No," Blair sighed. "No. Thank god."

"So we gotta get rid of them in a way that doesn't give me away."

"Right," Blair said, nodding. "Right. How?" he asked.

"How the fuck should I know?" Jim snapped.

"Well, you did covert ops, didn't you? You're a fucking police detective!"

"So are you," Jim shot back. "Plus, you're the Guide, there, Brainiac — so start thinking!"

"Talk about breaking the rules," Blair muttered. "They've no right to do that — no fucking right to break into our house and — "

"Yeah, and now they know about us."

Blair turned to stare. "What?"

"I'm sure Ziegler's getting the report right now." The muscle in Jim's jaw was twitching again. "Whoever planted those things got an eyeful, Chief. I don't think that 'guest bed' fooled anyone. Not with your clothes in my closet..."

Blair slumped back against the seat. "Oh my god."

"The loft doesn't withstand close scrutiny," Jim muttered. "Anybody who really looks is gonna know that we're sleeping together."

"Well, whose fault is that, Mr. I-Don't-Want-To-Live-A-Lie?!" Blair yelled. "Myself, I love living lies! I can live with lying!"

Jim flushed angrily. "I didn't hear you complaining!"

"You must have had your hearing dialed down!"

"Blair," Jim said tightly, "this isn't helpful."

"I know," Blair murmured, looking away. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just that we're so fucked. I mean, god — if Ziegler talks to my colleagues at work... "

"If he's reviewed all our paperwork..." Jim stared out the front window.

"...if he talks to Deanna...."

"...if he looks at the Juno case..."

"God, Chicago."

"Carolyn," Jim muttered.

"Oh my god, Jim," Blair said, and suddenly his chest was tight. "I can't breathe. I really don't think I can breathe, here."

Jim reached across the truck and clutched Blair's hand tightly, reassuringly. "Now, come on, Chief. Don't flake out on me, here. I need you, okay?"

"Okay," Blair said, nodding, struggling to take a breath. "Right. Okay."

"We just have to sit down and think about this rationally. One thing at a time. Not get ahead of ourselves — oh, fuck."

"What?" Blair yelped, looking around wildly.

Jim was squinting into the rearview mirror. "We've got a tail."

"Tell me you're kidding," Blair pleaded. "God, please tell me you're kidding."

"Should I lose them?" Jim asked, tightening his fingers on the wheel. "I can lose them. "

Blair frantically searched the side view mirror, trying to get a glimpse of their pursuers. "I don't see them! What do they look like?"

"Should I lose them?" Jim repeated. "Does it look suspicious if I try to lose them? Blair, goddammit!" Jim yelled. "I'm asking you a question!"

"I don't know!" Blair yelled back, throwing his hands in the air. "If you lose them then they'll know that we saw them! Do we want them to know that we saw them?"

Jim slammed on the brakes at the next red light, and swiveled in his seat to stare Blair down. "All right, look. We've got to make a decision, here. We need some sort of a plan."

"I don't have a plan, okay?" Blair yelled. "You wanna know my plan? — my plan is breathing! That's about as far as I've managed to get with my plan! I can't work under these conditions!"

Jim thought about that for a moment and then nodded. "Okay," he said, putting his foot back onto the accelerator as the light turned green. "Okay. Fair enough."

"I mean, excuse me for living ," Blair exploded, "but I can't orchestrate a counterintelligence campaign against the FBI at an intersection in five fucking minutes!!"

To his utter annoyance, Jim grinned at him. "You can't?"

"No!" Blair said petulantly, already starting to feel stupid. "I can't."

"I think I'm disappointed," Jim said, grin growing wider. "I thought you could do anything."

"Sorry to burst your bubble," Blair said, fighting the urge to grin back at him.

"You were my hero."

"Fuck off," Blair said, biting his lip.

"Okay, look," Jim said, "here's the plan."

"Lay it on me, man," Blair said desperately.

"The plan is to get us somewhere safe where we can make a plan."

"I like the plan," Blair said instantly. "Good plan, there."

"We'll go to the cabin," Jim said. "Cool off, think it through, figure it out."

"Yeah, but — " Blair glanced nervously over his shoulder. "I mean, what about the rest of the parade?"

"We'll lose them."

"But won't that just make them more suspicious? I mean, what if they call out the National Guard?"

"We'll lose them without letting them know that we've lost them," Jim said.

Blair stared at him. "And how exactly are we gonna do that?"

"Don't worry about it," Jim said. "It's under control."

"Jim, man," Blair said sincerely, "you're still my hero."

"I know," Jim said, flashing him a quick grin. "Now. First thing." He pulled the truck into the left lane and signaled to make a turn. "We've gotta go back to the station and get that damn golf bag."  


Blair shifted from foot to foot in a pool of light on the otherwise dark landing of William Ellison's house. Jim's finger was on the doorbell.

"Are they still with us?" Blair whispered, trying to look casual.

"Yeah," Jim whispered back. "Black Lincoln, end of the — " The huge white door opened. "Merry Christmas, Dad!"

"Jimmy," William Ellison said, warmly; he was wearing a festive red cardigan over his shirt. "Blair. Come in, come in — " He stepped back to let them into the foyer. "Merry Christmas to you!"

"Ta-da!" Jim said, swinging the golf bag off his shoulder and putting it down by the door.

"Hey!" William Ellison said, sounding pleased. "That's great." And then he lowered his voice and hissed, "Should I shut the door now?"

"Yeah," Jim murmured back. "Yeah, I think they've got the idea."

Ellison Sr. nodded and pushed the front door shot and locked it; when he turned around he was wearing a much less festive expression. "Jesus, Jimmy — what the hell is going on?"

Jim sighed. "Dammed if I know, Dad."

"Wait — hang on." Blair fumbled in his backpack and came up with his mini tape recorder. He flipped it on and then said, "Today, Thursday December 23rd, James Ellison and Blair Sandburg had a meeting at City Hall with Mayor John Barrie, Police Commissioner Michael Warren, and an FBI agent called Paul Ziegler. When we returned to our home at 852 Prospect Street, Apartment 307, we discovered that the house was bugged. Upon leaving the apartment, we were followed by — " He looked at Jim.

"Two men in a 1998 black Lincoln Towncar," Jim supplied. "License plate number AR8-431."

Blair nodded. "We believe that these men are working for Agent Ziegler. We don't know what they want." He switched off the tape recorder and sighed. "Except we do, really," he said to Ellison Sr. quietly. "At least we think we do."

William Ellison swallowed hard. "They want Jim?"

"Yeah," Blair murmured with regret.

"Dad, I'm sorry," Jim said, shaking his head sorrowfully. "I never wanted to involve you in any of this."

"Don't be stupid," Ellison Sr. snorted. "I'm already involved. I've always been involved. I was in the Jimmy protection business when this one here," he jerked his head at Blair, "was just a glint in his mother's eye."

Blair popped the tape out of his recorder and put it and the two cream-colored letters into a manila envelope. He sealed it and dated it and handed it to William Ellison.

"I'll put it into the safe," William said, nodding with satisfaction. "It'll go to the lawyer tomorrow."

Jim was working the truck key off his ring. "You moved the car?"

Ellison Sr. nodded at him. "Yes. I did everything just the way you said."

"Okay, good, good," Jim said. He handed the truck key to his father, who scooped a set of keys out of a crystal bowl and handed them to him. "You sure you can handle this?" he added.

"What's to handle?" William Ellison snorted. "I play some Christmas music. I keep the TV on. I put on the light in your old room when I go upstairs. Piece of cake."

"Right. Exactly," Jim said, nodding. "You've got it."

"I won't ask where you're going," Ellison Sr. said with a sigh. "I guess it's better that I don't know, huh?"

"Absolutely," Jim said seriously. "Much better. Dad, if anybody asks you — "

" — you just came by to borrow my car. I know, I've got it," his father said.

"They're watching the house," Jim warned. "They might tap the phone."

"They'll be very bored, then," William Ellison replied.

"Ask the Creightons over," Jim suggested. "The Lintons. Get some people in the house."

William Ellison nodded. "Okay," he said, running a nervous hand over his gray hair. "I'll invite them over for bridge."

"We should be back in a day or two," Jim said. "Just as soon as we figure out what to do."

"For god's sake — be careful," William Ellison said, and then suddenly he was tightly hugging his elder son. Jim seemed surprised by the sudden display of emotion, but after a moment he raised his arms and hugged his father tightly to his chest.

"You know me, Dad," Jim murmured. "I'm always careful."

"You won't let them hurt him, will you?" Ellison Sr. said, still clutching his son. With a start Blair realized that the question was addressed to him.

"No," Blair answered immediately, trying to put every ounce of his conviction into his voice. "Of course I won't. You know I won't."

"I believe you." William Ellison reluctantly released Jim, hands gently patting his son's back, shoulders, biceps, as if to assure himself that Jim was all in one piece. And then finally he stepped back. "You two had better get going."

Jim nodded slowly. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Thanks, Dad."

William Ellison turned and led the way to the kitchen, then stopped and opened the door to the basement. The wooden steps led downward. "You'll keep me posted?" Ellison Sr. whispered.

"Yes," Jim said. "Of course. Try not to worry." Jim stared at his father for a moment and then bent his head and kissed his father's cheek quickly before descending the stairs.

Blair was left to see William Ellison's eyes go glassy, to watch him snort and swipe roughly at this face. "It's okay," Blair murmured. "I'm gonna take care of him."

Ellison Sr. nodded jerkily and looked away.

"Go crank up the music," Blair said, pausing at the top of the stairs. "Give us some covering noise."

"Okay," William Ellison said. "Right," and then he closed and locked the door behind them, shutting out the last of the light.

Blair took the steps carefully, one hand keeping contact with the concrete wall. "Jim!" he whispered, unable to see in the blackness. "Where are you?"

He jumped as a hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed his arm. "Holy shit!" he hissed. "Don't fucking do that!"

"It's just me," Jim's voice said, and Blair struggled to focus, struggled to make out his lover's features. Jim tugged him across the room, toward something he could see — he could just make out the square of window, set high into the wall. Jim moved him until he was standing right underneath it. "Out this way," Jim murmured in his ear. "When you get out, just lie down flat by the side of the house and wait for me."

"Okay," Blair whispered. "Right," and suddenly he was flying upwards, Jim was giving him a leg up, and he was scrambling through the small window on his belly. Pulling himself up onto the damp grass. Crawling a few feet and lying still in the cold night air.

He turned his head and tried to gauge where he was — he could just make out the house looming above him. Side of the house. No lights. And there was no moon to speak of — lucky, that was lucky.

He heard the soft sound of Jim's jeans scraping the windowsill, then felt Jim creeping up beside him. "Can't see," Blair mouthed, Sentinel soft, and Jim must have heard because suddenly Jim's hand was tight and warm in his, and Jim was tugging him into a crouch, tugging him forward along the side of the house, into the dark backyard.

Blair had to force himself not to raise his hand and start flailing in the darkness. He tried to breathe deeply and just focus on Jim's hand in his, on his lifeline. Jim knew what he was doing, Jim knew where he was going — hell, Jim could see. And at some point they must have gotten past the manicured part of the backyard, because suddenly there were trees, and dead branches were crackling under his feet, and there were woods back here, somewhere — he remembered that — there were woods.

And each second seemed like a minute, and each minute seemed like an hour as Blair hurtled through the icy darkness, pulled by a disembodied hand. The ground was shifting under his feet, the ground was rough, broken, there were hills and rocks and logs to trip over, and he was sure he was going to fall, just sure of it —

Except Jim would never let him. Jim would never let him fall.

Blair wondered if these were the same woods where Jim had seen Bud killed, the same woods where Aaron Foster had tried to kill Jim's father. And suddenly he had the irrational fear that he was going to trip over a body, over a dead body —

But Jim was pulling him to the right — Jim, he could see Jim! — and suddenly he noticed that there was light shining through the trees. Bright white light: the moon, Blair thought. There was a moon after all.

Except it wasn't the moon, it was a streetlight, and —

Jim pulled him out of the woods and onto the sidewalk and then they were running down the street toward the lone car parked there: William Ellison's black Mercedes.

And in the still night air Blair could hear the jingle of the keys in Jim's hand, and then Jim had the door open and pressed a button and the passenger side clicked open and then they were in, and the car smelled of leather, and thank god, thank god, there were tinted fucking windows.

Blair pulled his seatbelt across his shoulder and heard the engine softly purring into life and then they were moving, they were moving, and Jesus, was Jim nuts? Was he tempting fate? Because he was turning back the way they had come, he was cruising past his own house, past the 1998 black Lincoln Towncar, license plate number AR8-431.

And the tinted fucking windows seemed to work pretty damn well, because the two guys in the Lincoln Towncar didn't spare them a glance as they rolled on by. The guys were young, conservatively dressed, and seemed to have laid in a supply of coffee and newspapers — they weren't going anywhere for a while.

Merry Christmas, assholes, Blair thought with satisfaction.

And Jim drove them through the dark suburban streets, and then turned the car onto the expressway, and they were careening softly through the night on the Mercedes' excellent suspension system.

Through the night, toward their small house in the woods — which right now seemed to Blair the only safe place in the whole entire world.