Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians.

By Sealie.

The telephone was ringing on the other side of the door--it didn't take a sentinel to hear the incessant noise. Struggling with the door, Jim finally managed to push it open with his hip. Twisting, he dumped the brown paper bags, filled with groceries, beside the kitchen sink. He managed to upset the peaches from the top of one of the bags; logically positioned so they wouldn't bruise. The largest and juiciest peach wobbled and then fell. He heard it fall and bounce with a soft, juicy splat. He bent to pick up the fruit and promptly kicked the peach under the kitchen table. He couldn't see where the peach had rolled. The answering machine finally picked up.

"This is Jim Ellison... "

"And Blair!" The kid's voice interrupted his carefully recorded message. Sandburg's voice hadn't been on the tape the other day.

"Neither of us can come to the phone," his own dry tones continued, "at the moment. So leave a message; we're busy."

Suddenly the tape began to play the tinny theme tune of the 'A Team'. Then Sandburg's laugh cackled over the music.

Shaking his head at his roommate's idiocy, Jim stood upright. Why hadn't the caller used his cell phone? He crossed to the phone, stuck beside the music system. The phone beeped and the caller spoke.

"That wasn't Blair." The voice was unfamiliar, male and sounded British.

"555 - do all the numbers in America start with 555?" a female voice, with a similar accent, asked.

Jim hurried across the floor and stood on the mushy peach. Grimacing, he reached down to take off his shoe.

"I heard Blairís voice. Give me the phone, man!" Another voice, American, maybe East Coast, joined in the conversation.

"But it's an answer machine; it won't help. I mean we don't even know where we are," the male voice said indignantly, evidently refusing to give up the phone.

"Oh dear, I think we're in trouble," the female said calmly.

Jim forgot about the peach slime and reached for the phone.

"Hello? Hello?" Jim tried in vain.

Jim dropped the phone back on the cradle. Judging from the sounds of traffic in the background, he guessed that they had been calling from a pay phone at the side of the road. The threesome obviously knew Blair, but until they called again there wasn't a lot that he could do. Jim rubbed his chin as he mentally reviewed the conversation. The woman had not sounded particularly concerned when she had announced that they were in trouble. Maybe they had simply ran out of money for the phone?

Jim hovered a moment and then went to the kitchen to get a damp cloth for the sticky patch on the newly polished wooden floor. This was proving to be a hell of a day. Cascade was caught in an uncharacteristically humid heat wave, no doubt caused by the El Nino. The Sentinel had almost suffered heat prostration in the office -- cooped up in a sweltering Major Crimes bullpen, without air conditioning, had been an unsubtle form of torture. Blair had been busy in at the University. Jim suspected that the kid just couldn't face another day in a hot, stinky precinct. The bowels of the anthropology building, where Blair's office lurked, was cool.

With an efficient swipe he cleaned the floor and then rinsed off the cloth under a stream of tepid tap water. He lost himself for a moment in the play of light and texture of the water -- then he couldn't resist it for a second longer.

Jim divested himself of his sweaty clothes as he made his way into the tiny bathroom. Stripped, he tossed the ball of clothes into the hamper. Already happier, he turned the thermostat down to its coolest level and with a heartfelt sigh stepped into the shower. Jim decided that standing under the spray was simply the best thing to happen all day. Nice, soft, cool water pummelled his scalp and trickled down the back of his neck trailing between his shoulder blades. This was heaven. Stealing Blair's aloe vera bodywash was a sin all in itself but the moisturising lather was pure, unadulterated bliss. The ring of the phone interrupted his pleasant reverie. Reluctantly, Jim debated his options, but it could be Blair's lost friends.

Grabbing a small towel and wrapping it around his hips, he padded barefoot, trailing water, to the phone. The answering machine clicked in again; he had forgotten to switch it off.

"He's still not in. How are we going to find his place?" the male, English voice spoke.

They didn't sound as if they were in trouble.

Jim fumbled with the buttons so he could interrupt the machine without losing the caller.

"It's beeping!" the voice declared, outraged.

"How much money did you put in?"

"One of those silver coins...."

The pay phone ran out of money.

"Damn!" Jim swore into the mouthpiece. His towel was starting to slip. He was starting to sweat. The cooling effect of the shower was running away.

"Hi, Jim," Blair said brightly.

Jim jerked around, clutching the towel to his groin.

Blair stood at the loft's doorway looking cool and collected. He pushed his mountain bike over the threshold. Not being a member of the Cascade police force and only a *mere* teaching fellow, he could go to the University in an old, practically threadbare t-shirt and obscenely short shorts. Incidentally cool, obscenely short shorts.

'The lucky...' Jim stopped himself from thinking the word. Sandburg had dispensed with his sneakers and was wearing those new modern hiking sandals with open toes, and no socks. His hair was wind tossed and pushed back from his face.

"You've been cycling without your helmet," Jim snapped, as he secured the towel across his hips with firm, sharp tug.

"Yeah, I know... naughty." Blair grinned unrepentantly. "But the feel of the wind on your face is wonderful."

He picked up the bike so it wouldn't scuff the wood floor and leaned back to shut the door.

"I didnít hear your key!" Jim accused, suddenly realising that he had missed the snick of the key in the lock.

Blair set the bike back onto the floor. "The door was open," he explained, perplexed. "You didn't lock it."

"The phone rang; I forgot," Jim grunted.

"You all right?" Blair's brow furrowed, concerned. He gestured, vaguely, at Jim's state of undress and then pointed at the evaporating trail of water from the bathroom.

"The phone rang," Jim explained again.

"Why didn't you let the machine get it? That's what it's for."

"ĎCos I thought it was your friends. They're lost somewhere in Cascade."

"Who?" Blair asked, his face intrigued and interested.

"I don't know."

"BLAIR!" a female voice shrieked gleefully.

Jim clapped his hands over his ears as a young woman bounced through the doorway and flung herself into Blair's outstretched arms. The bike fell to the floor scuffing the woodwork. A molecule's width behind the woman, two men appeared. A group hug ensued at the doorway with jabbering, incomprehensible greetings. Jim waited, hands on hips, for a lull in the chaos.

"Ahem," Jim interrupted. "You wanna close the door, Chief? The neighbours are getting interested."

"Oh yeah!" Blair said enthusiastically, obviously well on his way to a personal best of overly excited exuberance. He slammed the door shut and engulfed his guests in another group hug.

"Why didn't you guys tell me you were coming? This is so great!"

"We weren't sure where you were. Michael finally got through to Naomi -- but her directions were crap. We had a phone number and this strict sounding..."

"You mean Jim?" Blair interjected.

The hug ended and four heads turned simultaneously to look at the Sentinel. It was only then that Jim realised that he was in the presence of, and he counted just to make sure, four Sandburgs. All three had Blair's wild dishevelled curls, albeit the young woman had spent a little more time than the two men getting them under control. Four sets of luminous blue eyes in blocky, distinctive faces smiled up at him. Apparently God didn't create Sandburgs over five foot eight.

"Jim, these are my cousins. Well, some of them. This is Peri, short for Peregrine, and Rachel." He pointed. "I didn't know you guys were visiting. When did you fly over?"

Jim remembered the English, or was it Scottish accent?

"Oh sorry," Blair was saying. "This is Michael. Everyone this is Jim...."

"Pleased to meet you." Michael, the American, grinned widely. He was a shorter, stockier version of Blair.

"Indeed." Rachel smiled appreciatively and Jim remembered that he was only wearing a towel.

Jim slowly began to back towards the bathroom. "So how are you guys related?" he hedged, trying to distract that predatory gleam he could see in her eye. He succeeded; family relationships were obviously a favourite topic.

"Lessí see." Peri flicked on his fingers, counting "Blair's Great-Grandma and mine and Rach's Grandma are the same - Grandma Sandburg."

"How?" Jim hissed. Doing the math in his head and coming up short, unless both Naomi and Blairís grandmother had their children very young.

"Their Grandfather was, how shall we put it, premature. They had twelve kids over twenty five years," Blair answered, irrepressibly.

"But we're pretty sure that our Granda was really Uncle Billy and not Granda Frank," Rachel put in.

"Mine and Rach's dad was Grandma Sandburg's cousin Jeremy. So it gets a bit complicated," Peri continued.

"Incestuous," Blair muttered under his breath, laughing.

Jim coughed and almost lost his towel.

Michael joined in, missing the undercurrent to the conversation. "My Great-grandmother was their Grandma's," he pointed at the cousins, "older sister. She met Grandfather during the First World War when she nursed Grandfather back to health after he'd been gassed in France, during the Battle of the Somme."

"It was very romantic," Rachel interjected. "They were both volunteers."

"They went back to America and had lots of kids," Peri added.

"My Grandmother, as a nurse, went to England during the Battle of Britain and met Granda who was a pilot in the RAF," Michael continued. "He was your Granda Frankís second cousin and they were introduced by Aunt Mel? Theyíd left Germany in 1932. And the rest they say is history."

Jim had reached the corridor leading to the bathroom. "So the family's spread out on either 'side of the pond'?"

"Well, Uncle Aaron and his family are on a kibbutz in Israel." One of them said; Jim had lost track.

"Great place," Blair piped up.

"He survived Auschwitz as a kid. Erm... your Aunt's down in Texas, isn't she, Blair?"

"Yeah, Fort Worth."

"Isn't Cousin Helen doing a Post Doc in Paris?"

"Uhm, she's visiting Uncle George and Aunt Helene..."

Jim's head was spinning; he had always thought that Blair's only relation was Naomi. Apparently he had relatives climbing out of the woodwork.

"Good job that everyone is on e-mail, isn't it, Jim?" Blair was saying.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, the phone bill would be astronomical."

Jim was trying to think of a retort, given that since Blair had moved in his phone bill had quadrupled. His potential repartee was blindsided.

"Hey, have you guys eaten?" Blair asked, in general. "I know this great place 'round the corner."

There was a noisy chorus of "Food? Great!"

"Hurry up, Jim," Blair ordered.

Jim finally made it to the bathroom and closed the door. His head was spinning. Exhausted, he dropped his head against the woodwork with a thud. Evidently, he was going to dinner with four dizzy Sandburgs. One was enough; how was he going to cope with four?

~*~

Jim plastered himself against the wall as Hurricane Sandburg exploded into action taking over the restaurant with their characteristic energy. The restaurateurís eyes widened, alarmed, as the four cousins descended on the cluttered table at the back of the restaurant.

After far more discussion than the subject had warranted, they had decided on a meal in a local Chinese restaurant. The entire dining room had, of course, been full when they had entered. Jim had recommended ĎWonderburgerí as an alternative, but the owner, Mrs. Chin, had recognised the party. Both detective and observer were great favourites of the ageing woman, since the day when they had showed amazingly good (or bad) timing when they had walked in on a hold-up at the restaurant. While the lady had lamented sadly that she couldnít sit her favourite patrons, serendipitously a businessman, occupying a table for two, had escaped from the restaurant. He had flung down a couple of twenties then darted out the main door, breathing heavily. Jim, ever the detective, had watched him carefully, thinking he looked suspicious. But no, the man had been simply overawed by the Sandburgs. The foursome had cast a considering glance at the tiny table, evidently juggling placements. A young couple, had noticed their plight, and had volunteered to move from a booth at the back of the restaurant to the window seat. That had left moving food, cleaning tables...

Like a well-oiled machine, the Sandburgs took over. While Blair conducted the couple over to their seats, carrying pancakes in one hand and ho-sin sauce in the other, Rachel set the table. Peri snagged a cloth off the stunned Mrs. Chin and Michael was scrounging spare chairs.

"Do you think that they would like a job?" Mrs. Chin whispered to Jim.

Then it was ready. All the patrons had amused grins on their faces, entertained by the floor show. Blair bounded into the far corner of the booth and Rachel followed, practically on his lap. Michael, a wry grin on his face, took the seat opposite Blair. Peri glanced once at the tall detective, consideringly. Jim kept his expression neutral as the young man then slumped next to his cousin. The Sentinel got the chair, at the end of the table, with plenty of leg room.

"The dim sum is absolutely, unbelievably wonderful. But it is too late for dim sum," Blair was saying. "But the Kung-Po Chicken has just the right amount of spices. I recommend the Lemon Chicken if youíve got sensitive taste buds."

"What about the Chilli Beef?"

"The Black Bean sauce smells nice." Michaelís nostrils flared.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim noticed Mrs. Chin, hovering, waiting for an order. He crooked his finger, beckoning her over. "Can we get four... no five beers and a bowl of crab rangoons while they decide?"

Rachel was debating with Michael over the Roast Duck in Orange as Blair stole a menu from Peregrine. Her face creased, trying not to laugh, Mrs. Chin escaped. Mrs. Chinís daughter, Emily, appeared with the beers. Blair shot a beaming smile at the petite beauty before he was distracted by a question about the differences between Mandarin and Cantonese cuisine.

The beers were half way finished and only flakes of crab left when Jim decided that it was time to cut the discussion short. He plucked a menu from Rachelís grasp and turned it over. "Why donít we get the five person banquet--then you can all try a little of everything?" He pointed with one carefully cut nail to the set meals for groups. A variety of dishes were supplied.

The suggestion was an instant hit.

Mrs. Chin was obviously waiting in the wings as she scurried over immediately. Their choice seemed to please her enormously.

"Chop sticks or knives and forks?" she asked.

Before the academic in the group could expand on the relative merits of making the meal a complete cultural experience, Jim interrupted. "Bowls with chopsticks but bring a couple of knives and forks so when I get sick of chasing food around the bowl I can still eat."

The astute Mrs. Chin knew them so well that Chicken Noodle soup with beaten eggs arrived within seconds. Jim guessed that she had started the soup as soon as they began to deliberate.

The Sandburgsí jabbering had gone on unabated. If a power company could tap into their collective energy, depletion of forest fuels would be a thing of the past.

"So when was the last time you guys got together?" Jim asked in a non-existent lull in the conversation. He guessed it was a while ago, based on the noise.

"Chatroom last week, wasnít it?" Blair grinned.

"Face to face?" Peregrine asked perplexed.

Jim nodded. "Yeah."

"You passed through on your way to a field survey, didnít you, Blair? About nine years ago?" Rachel asked.

Blair nodded enthusiastically. "Two weeks before I went to Nepal. We all went camping in the Lake District. Thatís on the West Coast of England, Jim. The locals called us the quintuplets."

"Five?"

"Yeah, Michaelís little brother Andrew came."

"Five?" Jim sort of whined.

"Yeah, five. The old guy in charge of the campsite went nutsoid when Cousin Robert joined us."

"Six?"

There was a decidedly evil gleam in Blairís eyes, as if he knew exactly what was going through the detectiveís mind.

"How many cousins do you have?"

"Depends what you mean by cousins," Peri said precisely. "If you mean parentsí siblingsí children, not that many, but if you want to know the familyÖ"

"Letís just say that there are a lot of us," Michael smiled toothily.

"We had a family reunion years agoÖ" Rachel began.

"Oh yeah, that was when I fell out of Mrs. Danbushís tree."

Jim was actually feeling left out, unbelievable but true. They were like some kind of colony organism, interconnected. They had a history going back their entire lives. They could finish each otherís sentences.

"So what is it that youíre doing with a policeman?" Rachel interrupted suddenly.

Blessed silence reigned as Peri, Rachel and Michael stared penetratingly at detective and observer.

"I never bought this closed society crock-of-shit youíve told us about," Michael said candidly.

"Itís totally not you," Rachel said sagely.

Only Jim could see the minute tremor run through Blairís frame before the student smiled all teeth and gums.

"You know how is itÖ You start something and you find yourself going down a path you didnít expect. Sometimes fieldwork doesnít go quite like you plannedÖ"

Jim wondered if he imagined the slight dig.

"What about yourÖ warrior-guardÖ. No, that wasnít the term." Peregrine worried after the word like a dog with a bone. "You were fascinated byÖ. FeckÖ what was it?"

"Sentinels," Michael supplied, his smoky blue eyes level.

Rachel clicked her fingers. "I remember them. We used to play sentinels when we were little. Remember?"

Light gleamed in the Sandburgsí eyes as Blair blushed to the roots of his hair.

"Really," Jim drawled. "Is this like the story Naomi told me about you and the toilet?"

"Mothers!" Blair exhaled. "I think it is their goal in life to embarrass the Hell out of you."

"Sentinels was great fun. Donít you remember, Blair?" Rachel was lost in her memories. "We each had a special magic power. I had the eyes of a hawk. Peri, what was yours again?

"Uhm, I was given: ears of a bat." Peri smiled a tad embarrassed. "Michael--you were touchyfeely man."

"I was very advanced for my age," he said drolly.

Rachel reached across the table and mock slapped her cousin. "Andrew was really into smelling things for some weird reason. And, Blair, what was yours?"

Impressively, Blairís blush deepened.

Jim lowered his voice and intoned, "Yes, Blair, what magic power was bequeathed to you?"

Blair hummed reluctantly, then muttered. "The super shaman gave me a magic voice."

His eyes flickered, catching the Sentinelís gaze and for a fragment of time, communion sang between them. Then it was over and they were simply a family reminiscing.

"Who was the super shaman?" Jim asked, to cover the ephemeral feeling of loss as Blair deliberately focused on his cousins.

"Blair made him up. He was the only one who could see him." Peri pondered for a moment. "Although sometimes Great Uncle Joseph would pretend to be the shaman and tell us stories."

"I donít remember that." Rachel ran her fingers through her curls.

"You were only a baby," Peri said superciliously.

"Iím the same age as you, you twonk."

The next course arrived, disarming a potential brother-sister battle of biblical proportions. They dove into the food, momentarily quiet. Blair was happily occupied piling on the roast duck and plum sauce on thin pancakes. He politely thanked Mrs. Chin in Cantonese. A little smile graced her face as she left them to continue preparing their meal. The grad student was as happy as a pig in the mud, stuffing his face with his favourite of favourites.

Jim decided to attempt to take control of the conversation. A mistake. "So what was happening earlier when you called? Why were you in trouble?" Jim queried.

"You wouldnít believe itÖ" Rachel pointed at Peri, her finger jabbed accusingly.

"*Did* you know?" Peri said cryptically.

"What happened?" Blair attempted to nip the sibling scuffle in the bud.

"We got turned around," Rachel began. "We guessed from the road signs that we were heading back out of Cascade. So Peri parked on the side of the road, as there was a phone on the other side of the carriageway. So we ran across the central reservationÖ"

Jim the police officer winced. "The central reservation?"

"Meridian," Michael translated.

"SoÖ" Rachel sniffed. "We got to the phone, but this ChiPs Police officerÖ"

"Californian Highway Patrol. Television series. Cop on a motorcycle," Blair explained.

"It was unreal," Peri scoffed. "He had mirrored sunglasses and a handlebar moustache. I felt like I was watching JonÖ and what was his name? Ponch?"

"Sounds like Bohannon." Jim drummed his fingers on the tabletop. His expression was schooled as if he was in an interrogation.

Peri was not cowed. "Jim. Detective Ellison. I bet he dresses like Blair-the-seventies-reject in his spare time."

"Hey!!!" Blair mocked scowled and aimed a swat at his impeccably dressed cousin.

"So," Rachel continued, ignoring the by-play. "He said that we were jaywalking. I asked him what jaywalking was. I knew, of course, but I decided to play stupid."

"Sheís very good at that." Blair grinned wolfishly. He yelped as she elbowed him in the ribs.

"What were you doing during this?" Jim asked the somewhat subdued Michael (at least when compared to his cousins).

"Keeping quiet." Michael rolled his eyes. "I thought the cop would give us a ticket for simply stopping on the other side of the road when it wasnít an emergency. I just played the innocent tourist."

"Where did you stop?" Jim asked, suspicious.

Peri paused mid-bite of his pancake. "The motor way heading south of Cascade."

"It wasnít a motor way, it was a dual carriageway," Rachel said precisely. "We only had to climb over one barrier to get to the other side."

Jim started laughing; he couldnít help himself. They were a walking disaster. They should come with a governmental health warning. He wiped at the tears welling in his eyes. Blair was no help whatsoever, he was simply gasping for air as he slowly and inevitably slipped under the table, as gales of laughter washed over him.

"What did Bohannon do?" Jim finally managed to gasp out.

"We were talking about his girlfriend, Juliet, when he spotted this big car at a junction and he drove off in pursuit."

"Bohannon has a girlfriend? He never mentioned her." Jim grinned evilly.

"Well, heís going to propose next week after a romantic dinner for two," Rachel whispered, sighing deeply.

"How do you do that?" Jim jabbed his fork at his Guide.

Blair blinked, confused by the change in subjects. "Do what, Jim?"

"Get people to talk? Are you trained from birth?"

Peregrine suddenly blurted a laugh, almost spraying beer over the table. Michaelís eyes crinkled with laughter as he batted his cousinís back.

"Whatís so funny?" Jim demanded.

Blair coughed in his napkin several times before he was composed enough to speak. "And so the Secret Of The Sandburgs--although not all of our relations are called Sandburg--fírinstance Michaelís surname is actually Caffrey..."

"Get to the point, Sandburg," Jim said icily.

"Talking, man. Itís not deliberate but...well... Peregrineís a doctor, his field is the study of dyslexia. Rachelís a reporter, following human interests. And are you allowed to tell us what youíre doing, Mica?"

Jim looked in interest at the quietest member of the party.

"Navy. Petty Officer in communications." Michael smiled with all the luminosity that Blair could display. The response was a short, sharp answer, which really didnít say much.

Jim cast a considering glance at the short man. On closer study he was deceptively muscular under his baggy t-shirt. Michaelís reflective blue eyes captured his own and a message passed. Ask me no questions and Iíll tell you no lies. Jim nodded once.

"See, man," Blair was on a roll. "We always seems to do something that revolves around communicating. If you think about it, Anthropologyís important in human communication."

Michael hid a smile behind a shrimp cracker. Whatever the navy manís job was, talking about it was forbidden.

"This is a family joke, isnít it, Sandburg." Jim grinned.

"Kinda." Blair grinned back. "Itís just that there arenít a lot of accountants in the family tree."

Jimís cell phone beeped. He inhaled deeply, distancing himself from the current conversation and then answered the phone. "Ellison. Oh, hi, Simon."

While he was occupied, Blair stole his pancake.

//Jim, the D.A. needs to talk to you about the Lorelle Case. Heís here now, in my office. Get your ass down here//

They could all hear the loud, bass voice of the Captain of Major Crime.

"Sir." Jim ducked his head down to try, futilely, to get some privacy. "Iím off duty. Iíve had a beerÖ" Since rediscovering his sentinel abilities he had found that the effects of alcohol were somewhat amplified.

//What about Sandburg?//

"I can drive," Rachel piped up. "I gave Peri my beer."

"Yeah, we can take the station wagon. See what your workís like, Blair," Michael said helpfully.

"Itís not Disney World," Jim hissed.

"Still it would be nice." Rachel smiled, guilelessly.

//Jim, five minutes//

The phone clicked off loudly.

"Mrs. Chin?" Blair wiggled out of the booth, climbing across Rachel and jumping over Jimís lap. The lady poked her head out of the kitchen door.

"Yes?"

"Can you put the rest of the meal on hold? Weíll be back in about an hour. Jimís gotta go back to work. Weíre all going to go with him."

Peri and Michael were parcelling up the remnants of the duck and Rachel was making little pancakes that she wrapped in napkins for the trip down town. Jim looked at his humming phone. They were doing it again. They were ganging up on him. It wasnít fair. How could one little sentinel cope with four Sandburgs? There were some limits to his abilities.

~*~

Jim ducked into Simonís office leaving Blair to introduce his cousins to Rafe and Henri.

"About time you got here."

Jim sagged in the seat opposite his captain and made grasping motions for a cup of coffee, even if it was flavoured.

"Whereís the D.A.?"

"He just stepped out for a moment. He needed to make a private phone call."

Simon took sympathy on his detective and reached for his gently perking hot coffee. There were no cups beside the percolator so, muttering about how good he was, he excavated a clean cup from his filing cabinet. Standing, he couldnít help but see the scene in the bullpen.

"JIMÖ"

"Yeah, I know," Jim said without turning his head. "Scary, isnít it."

"My God, what happened? Naomi didnít have a litter?"

"Nah, I think it is an alien plot to take over the world with cloned Sandburgs."

"Weíre doomed."

Jim snorted. "Seriously, though, what did the D.A. want?"

"He caught a mistake on your deposition. You got the date wrong. You have to initial the correct date and then he can inform defence of the error. He wants all the Tís crossed and the Iís dotted. This is the closest that weíve got to Lorelle--we donít want him to escape."

Groaning, Jim put his head in his hands. "Sandburg."

"Donít blame, Sandburg. Youíre not supposed to have a secretary."

"Secretary? I donít think heíd like that name."

"Heíd probably tell you that once upon a time all secretaries were male and not to be so sexist."

Jim blinked as Simon raised one eyebrow in mild chastisement.

Suddenly, the noise from the bullpen washed over them. The clones were clustered around a uniformed officer--gibbering. Henri stood behind them, trying futilely to cut through the hubbub.

"What on earth?" Simon exhaled before venturing into his squad room.

Dodging between the tables and chairs, he made his way to their side. The frantic talking continued unabated even when the large captain loomed over them. Henri joined in the fray, making whatever had upset the Sandburgs even more incomprehensible. The uniformed patrol officer had his notebook out and was trying to take notes.

"Blair? Sandburg?" Simon tried.

Jim inched his way into the horde and caught Blair by the scruff of the neck. Deftly, he extracted his Guide from the melee.

"Whatís happening?"

"Jim, man!" Blair exhorted. "Youíll never guess what?"

"No, what?" Jim asked patiently, well used to coping with his Guideís ways.

"That officer that helped the guys--heís gone missing."

"What?"

~*~

They took over an interrogation room. The small room seemed unable to contain the Sandburgsí energy. Michael sat quietly beside a wooden table, while Rachel and Peri paced. Blair moved between his cousins, alternatively trying to calm them and adding to the emotions in the room.

Simon rested the palm of his hand on the special one-way window that allowed him to see into the room.

"What the Hellís happening?" Jim asked, as he watched the distraught Sandburgs.

"Patrol reports that Kurt Bohannon did not log in at the end of his shift. His last dialogue with dispatch was about meeting Sandburgís cousins. Officer Pitt, from patrol, came up to see if Blair was here."

"They mentioned over dinner that they had met Bohannon--heíd left them to chase after some car."

"What kind?"

"Donít know." The detective did not wait for any orders. Ducking out of the observation room it was only a few short steps down the corridor to the door that led to the interrogation room.

Incredibly, the cousins quietened as he entered. "Sit," he directed.

Peri took command of the only other chair; both Blair and Rachel settled on the tabletop, cross-legged.

"Right, as you know Bohannon has gone missing. Can you describe the car that Bohannon chased after?"

"It was black," Rachel said, trying to be helpful.

"It was on of those long stretch thingies," Peri added.

"Limousine?" Blair inserted.

They nodded.

"Michael?" Jim addressed the quiet member of the party.

"It looked like a reject from a ĎGodfatherí movie."

"The licence plate?" Jim asked.

They actually hung their heads in shame.

"Sorry, we werenít looking," they said in chorus.

"No, thatís okay." Jim took in their dejected faces. Blair puppy dog eyes, multiplied by three, were almost more than he could bear.

"Anything else?" he asked with the utmost patience. "Could you see into the vehicle?"

Furrowed brows met the question.

"I could see two people in the back, a man and a woman," Michael said slowly.

"Yeah, yeah," Rachel continued with a shred of eagerness. "She had a hat on... a black one with a heavy veil."

"And the man?"

"White hair. Snowy white," Peri said clinically.

"So he was Caucasian?" Jim prodded.

"I only saw the back of his head. I guess so."

Jim sighed inwardly. It was not a lot to go on; but it was better than nothing.

"Iíve got an idea," Blair said softly.

Hopeful blue eyes latched onto the observer. It was kind of heart-warming, Jim told himself. The cousins didnít even know the officer yet they were almost beside themselves trying to help. Then again he didnít expect anything less from his Guideís relatives.

"Hypnosis, Jim," Blair said succinctly. Michael straightened from his slumped position and Rachel perked up. "You saw the limo--so you saw the licence plate." Blair addressed them all.

Communication abruptly went non-verbal as messages flew back and forth between the cousins as they considered the idea.

"Okay," Michael answered for all of them.

Blair looked around the interrogation room, taking in the harsh lines and clinical decor.

"It wonít work, man. We have to go somewhere relaxing." He paused, nibbling his bottom lip as he considered their options. "The loft, man," he said decisively.

Three sets of heads nodded in agreement.

~*~

The Chinese set meal--keeping warm in the oven--was something of a welcome distraction. Blair had deemed it an alternative form of incense. Jim, leaning against a kitchen counter, watched the preparations. The sofas had been pushed up against the wall and coffee table moved to the side of the room beside the bookcase. Cushions, from Blairís bed, had been strewn across the floor. Peregrine and Rachel had already settled into meditative trances focusing on a single lit candle. Blair was carefully coaching the naval officer into a state of relaxation.

"Come on, Blair. You know that Iím no good at this. Even Naomi gave up on me."

"If I can get Jim to meditate." He flashed a grin at the Sentinel. "I can get you to meditate."

The stocky cousin sighed deeply but closed his eyes and mimicked a relaxed posture. Blair tiptoed around the room before settling on the floor in front of Rachel.

"Listen to my voice. Picture yourself floating in a warm rainbow coloured lake." His voice wove its magic, drawing them into a quiet place.

Jim found himself following the cadence of his Guideís voice.

"... youíre standing on the side of the road."

The seriousness of Blairís voice woke Jim from his light trance.

"Rachel, youíre talking to Bohannon. What are you doing, Peri?"

"Just looking at the traffic."

"Mica?"

"Seeing if there is any change in the telephone booth." Even under hypnosis Michael sounded sheepish.

"Listen to my voice.... Bohannon sees the limousine. What do you see?"

"Itís big and black. I bet it guzzles a lot of fuel," Peri muttered.

"Can you see the licence plate?"

"Bohannon is in the way," Michael moaned.

Silence. Then the lightest of breathing echoed around the loft.

"RCW 197," Rachel said suddenly.

Jim found himself standing upright, ears pricked forwards. "Are you sure, Rachel?"

"Yeah, as soon as Bohannon got his big bum out of the way, I could see it clearly." Rachel shrugged.

"Itís something, isnít it?" Blair mouthed at the detective.

Jim nodded; he was already reaching for his cell phone. As he passed on the information to Simon, he listened to Blair coaching his cousins.

"Iím going to count to three and then imagine youíre slowly swimming to the surface of the rainbow lake. When you break the surface... awake. One... two... three."

Michael resurfaced first, Peri blinked and shook himself a moment later. Rachel stayed a little longer, and in her ease Jim could see the peace that Blairís mother had brought to their home when she meditated during her visit. Then Rachel woke and stretched.

The cousinsí quiet filled the loft. They all moved around without a word, more relaxed and introspective than Jim had seen them since their avalanche like descent into his life. Blair moved with them, settling into his favourite position on the sofa and curling up into a ball.

Reflecting their quietude, Jim began to draw the warm meal from the oven. Silently, Rachel helped him set the table. Unasked, Blair began to select utensils and bowls. Michael and Peri joined them. Without a word the food was placed and positions set. Then Blair broke the silence using the remote to trigger the C.D. and the loft was filled with soothing acoustic music.

Rachel sat and smacked Michaelís hand as he grabbed for a spring roll. "Ask and Iíll pass them."

"Pleeeeeeeease, Rachel, can you pass me a delectable spring roll."

"Since you asked me soooo politely." Glaring at her cousin, she passed over a roll, held delicately between two fingers.

"So what did Simon say?" Blair asked as he made up his own plate of delicacies. Four sets of thundercloud-blue eyes waited impatiently for the detective to bring them up to speed.

"Heíll run it through the D.M.V. and get back to us. But itís not really a Major Crime case."

"Yeah, right." Blair rolled his expressive eyes heavenward.

Jim shrugged. A fellow police officer had gone missing. It was everyoneís case.

Rachel was sucking worriedly on her full bottom lip. The detective could practically read her mind; her anxiety about the missing police officer was palpable. Absently, Peri reached over and patted his sisterís shoulder. Her concern was mirrored in his face.

"Donít worry." Blairís tone brooked no argument. "Jim will find him."

His Guideís faith warmed him to the depth of his soul.

The rhythm of their silence took an upswing, with Blairís words, taking Jimís mood with them. He didnít think that he could cope with four morose Sandburgs. Peregrine nodded as if answering an internal debate and then reached for the lemon chicken with the air of one entering battle.

"So," Jim began, trying to change the subject, "where are you guys staying tonight?"

And those four pairs of expressive, now bright blue eyes locked on the detective. Rachel broke eye contact to dart a questioning look at Blair and then stared straight at Jim, her expression plainly confused. A snigger escaped from a certain anthropology grad student. Suspicious little laugh lines scurried across Blairís pathetic attempt to maintain a poker face. Jim knew that, despite his covert-ops training in being strong, true, brave and courageous, he looked like a transfixed bunny rabbit.

Blair strove for control. "Funny you should ask that..."

~*~

Someone flushed the toilet. Growling deep in his throat, Jim tracked the passage of the only female member of the household from bathroom back to Blairís bedroom. Obviously she had forgotten the Ďno-flushing ruleí. The dual snoring of Peri and Michael, each sprawled--deeply asleep--on the two couches in the living area, echoed throughout the loft. Closer breathing ruffled the hairs on his arm. Exasperated (and with a slight hint of fondness) he pushed back the mound of hypoallergenic, 20 tog, hollow fibre quilt to reveal a content little Guide snuggled up into a tight, little ball. Face turned towards the Sentinel, peacefully asleep, he looked as innocent as pure snow. The detective knew that there was a manipulative, conniving bastard under that head of curly hair. ĎItís no different to sleeping in the tent, Jim.í Blair had argued, when the allocation of beds had became the topic of the conversation. ĎIn fact, big guy, itís further apart.í Detective James Ellisonís acid suggestion that they pitch the tent on the roof had been ignored.

Jim rolled onto his back and looked across at the skylight. Rain pattered soothingly on the sloped roof, drawing him to rest and sleep. Blair, at his side, muttered under his breath. The Sentinel could make the words out clearly although why Blair was reciting a recipe for vegetable broth escaped him. The grad student muttered again, something about leaving out the bay leaves because Jim didnít like bay leaves. Bad bay leaves.

"Go to sleep, Blair." Jim whispered. "Deep sleep."

"Okay, Jim," the sleeping student murmured, snuggling further into the quilt.

He never obeyed him like that when he was awake.

~*~

Morning surprised him since he expected to be awoken at the crack of dawn by one of the cousins fumbling around rather than simply waking up of his own accord. The shaft of light shining in his eyes spoke of another hot day despite the relief of rain during the depths of the night. At his side, Blair had opted for a more sprawled mode of sleeping instead of a curled ball. One of Blairís hands lay across the Sentinelís chest, the other arm was half on-half off the mattress and a foot had escaped the confines of the quilt. His head was tipped back on the pillow and he was dead to the world. Carefully picking up the hand, Jim gently moved out from underneath and, with the grace of a sleepy hippo, slid off the bed. Blair slept on, undisturbed. Ellison ignored the temptation to tickle the foot poking so enticingly from under the quilt. Quietly he picked up his running shoes and running clothes. A run before the heat of the day dragged him down sounded like a good idea.

~*~

A jog around the park, a quick sprint along the pier and quick ten minute play with Mrs. Del Vecchioís overly enthusiastic Irish red setter--who taxed his owner to the limits with his exuberance--Jim couldnít help the broad grin sprawling across his face. He grabbed some donuts from the bakery on the corner before jogging up to and letting himself into the loft.

Peri was wandering aimlessly around the kitchen, peering in cupboards.

"What are you looking for?" Jim said easily.

Peri jerked, surprised by the Sentinelís silent approach.

"How the Hell did you do that?"

"Running shoes," Jim said obliquely. "What are you looking for?"

"Tea. I know that healthy-boy will have some proper tea lying around here."

"Proper tea?" Jim crossed to Periís side and reached over the smaller Sandburg to retrieve Blairís cache of teas. A variety of herbal, Chinese and caffeinated teas tumbled out of the badly stacked cupboard. With a chortle, Peri pounced on the pack of English Breakfast Tea.

"I like a proper cup of tea in the morning. I donít mind a mug of milky, sugary coffee, but I have to coat my tummy with toast first. Rachel needs coffee or sheís a complete bear. I didnít mean to search through your stuff, sir, but Iím gagging for some tea. I hoped you wouldnít mind?" Peri turned beseeching eyes up at the detective.

"Nah." Jim was feeling magnanimous. He decided to use the Ďspecialí coffee in the percolator, since they did have guests. "Iíll grab a shower."

"Rachís in there. Donít hold your breath."

Jim glared in the direction of the bathroom. On reflection he could hear someone puttering within the small room. It was stereotypical, but for some reason women generally did take longer than men-folk in the bathroom. He picked at the sweaty t-shirt clinging to his body.

"Whereís Sandburg... I mean Blair?"

"Asleep." Peri pointed up into the loft.

Cocking his head to the side, Jim listened. He focused on soft rhythmic breathing and lub-dub of a sleeping heart. Indeed, his Guide was fast asleep. He glanced at the timetable taped to the fridge; the kid had a lecture in an hour and a half. It was time to get up, especially since there was a line for the shower.

He grabbed the beanie babytm that, for some obscure Sandburgian reason, lived in the empty cookie jar on the kitchen table and lobbed Nanook the Husky up and onto his friendís head.

"Whasat? Umph?" Sleepy sounds reached them. "WhoaÖ." Blair fought with the quilt for a moment, turned onto his stomach and then peered over the rails surrounding the head of the bed.

"What did you do that for?" he asked plaintively. "Iíll report you to the N.S.P.C.A."

Jim shrugged, grinned expansively and then headed over to the fridge, dismissing his drowsy Guide. Bare feet sounded on the wooden floor above his head as Blair fumbled out of bed and then carefully picked his way down the staircase. It was sufficiently warm to dispense with a bathrobe, so he was just wearing his t-shirt and shorts. Mock growling, the student elbowed the Sentinel away from the fridge and blinked short-sightedly at what was available.

"No weird green shakes. Weíve got guests; you donít want to stink them out."

"Does that mean that youíre going to make pancakes?" Blair retaliated.

Mentally, Jim evaluated their stores; they had sufficient ingredients. The trick was to make the grad student do the cooking.

"Iíve put the coffee on."

"Since when does *just* putting the coffee on mean that youíve done your part?"

"Since I put the good coffee on," Jim said defensively.

"I mean, if youíd done the coffee and then agree to do the dishes afterwards--that might constitute a fair deal."

"You guys are worse than my parents." Peri laughed. "Could you be anymore married?"

Jim harrumphed but reached for the flour and eggs.

~*~

Michael washed the dishes and Blair put the plates and utensils away. The pancakes had been a treat, although Peri dispensed with the maple syrup and only used butter. Everyone had had their morning shower, and the Sandburgs were raring to explore Cascade.

"So what are your plans for the day?" Jim asked innocently.

They were dressed for a day of playing tourist and taking advantage of the summer sun. Rachel was flirting so subtly with him, that Jim wasnít even sure if she was aware of it. Maybe he was being naive? She was dressed in a long, sleeveless, purple print dress with some kind of faint, geometric pattern. The colours drew his eye, plus the cut over the swell....

"Jim?" Blair interrupted his train of thought. The grad student had left his careful dish stacking and was hovering over him.

"Where were you?" Rachel asked. Michael paused in picking up Blair's discarded dishtowel from the floor and watched them intently.

"Uh?" Jim said intelligently.

By the concerned expression on Blairís face, the grad student had probably thought that he was zoning, despite the fact that his zone episodes were, now, few and far between. Was it a zone? He caught himself looking at the dress again, and deliberately looked away.

"I was just thinking.... What are you doing today?" The change of subject was graceless. Blairís brow was furrowed as he first looked at the Sentinel and then his cousin. His expression was one of astute calculation. Suddenly, the kid moved around the Sentinel and sat between them, masking the disturbing dress.

"Weíre going to watch Blairís lecture and then Blairís going to take us to the exhibition of Native American art at Rainier," Peri said, completely oblivious to any undercurrents.

"You will, though, ring us if you hear anything about Bohannon?" Rachel asked plaintively, peering around Blair.

"Of course."

"Okay, then, weíre off," Blair rubbed his hands together in anticipation. The Sandburgs moved--each had a backpack that they grabbed en route to the door. With customary Sandburg enthusiasm, the door was flung open, and, jabbering at each other, they exited the loft.

"Bye, Jim."

"See you, detective."

"Donít forget to ring us if you hear anything."

"Hey, Jim." Blair paused at the doorway. "You be careful, okay." Before Jim could respond, Blair had slipped out. Jim tracked his light footsteps, separating them from the heavy footsteps of the more bulky Michael and Rachelís soft sandals. Peri had a similar tread to Blair, but Jim knew his Guide.

"Phew."

The loft echoed, empty now. Jim sat a moment, almost stunned by the sudden quiet, then he headed out to work.

~*~

Major Crime was bedlam, as per normal. Henri looked up from his computer, for some unknown reason he grinned widely, and then returned to his monitor. Jim quickly scanned the office, but could see nothing untoward. Simon was already at his desk, grimacing down the phone. Somehow Simon knew that his detective was looking at him. The captain cocked his finger at Jim, directing him into the office. Jim dumped his baseball cap on his desk and then let himself into the lionís den.

Simon continued to scowl down the phone, but he was polite as he said goodbye. Jim guessed that he was talking to the police chief or the mayor.

"Anything about Bohannon?" Jim asked, getting straight to the point.

Growling, Simon leaned back in his chair. "He hasnít been found. But the licence that you gave us turned up something interesting. Apparently, the licence plate is a discontinued plate. Seems that it belonged to a Riviera out of Chicago. To add insult to injury it once belonged to a detective with the Chicago P.D.. It was written off in an explosion, where an officer was killed."

"Someoneís laughing at us?"

"Someone with a sick sense of humour."

"And out of Chicago," Jim mused. He settled himself in the chair opposite Simon.

"What are you thinking?" Simon reached for, but didnít light, one of his cigars.

"What links does Bohannon have with Chicago?"

"None that his commander is aware of. His fiancée canít think of anything either."

"So Bohannon saw a suspect in a limo with a false licence plate. He chased them, without informing dispatch. He then disappeared."

"What are you thinking."

"I donít understand why Bohannon didnít call dispatch. He had plenty of time."

Simon scowled. He removed his glasses and began to clean them with a handkerchief. His body language was screaming, ĎI donít like thisí. Simon was a good captain and a good person. He couldnít ignore the line of thought that Jim was setting out before him.

"You think that Bohannon went with them voluntarily. You think that heís a bad..."

"No," Jim interrupted before he could say the words. "I donít think Bohannon is a Ďbad copí. I just think that weíre missing something. Did you speak to his fiancée?"

"Not personally. Bohannonís commander spoke to her; she didnít know anything." Simon chewed angrily on the end of his cigar. "Weíre just spitting in the wind. We wonít know until we find him," he finished harshly.

"Whoís got the case?" Jim asked evenly.

"The uniforms want this one, but I want you to *look* into it." The emphasis meant that Simon wanted the Sentinel on board. "Whereís the kid?"

"Looking after his cousins. Theyíve went to some museum."

"Okay, take Rafe with you."

That was a dismissal.

~*~

Rafe sat ramrod straight in the passenger seat of the Expedition truck. His smartly cut suit clashed with the decor of the practical vehicle. Since Rafe was a newbie detective, Jim knew that the younger man would be feeling uncomfortable at being temporarily assigned to the prima donna of Major Crime. Jim laughed hollowly; he also knew his reputation was one of being a grade one hardass. There was a perverse pleasure to be gained in scaring baby detectives and police officers, not to mention the occasional police observer.

"So where are we going," Rafe paused a moment, "Jim?"

Jim allowed a predatory like pause before answering. "I thought, Detective Rafe, that we would check out the garages that sell and service limousines."

"Do you think that that is a good idea?" Rafe asked, innocently.

"Have you a better idea?"

Even Blair Sandburg wasnít as naive as this little baby detective. Jim took a moment to analyse his temporary baby-sitter, as what Simon Banks intended was that concentrating on looking after the latest member of Major Crime would prevent his premier detective zoning in the absence of said detectiveís Guide. Rafe had that eagerness that rookies possessed; several years on the beat hadnít driven out his natural exuberance. It was a good sign. Rafe probably went home at night and slept the whole night through, without nightmares. Jim didnít know whether to envy him or give him a diaper.

"No," Rafe admitted honestly.

Jim laughed.

~*~

They had checked out several of the limousine suppliers in the Cascade area without garnering any leads. They then moved on to speak to the car mechanics in the neighbourhood. The manager of the Bronze Auto Repairs was an out and out slime. Prosecuted for various crimes against minors he had escaped justice due to technicalities far too often. Jim leaned across the desk and breathed heavily on the nasty piece of slime.

"So you donít recognise the licence plate?"

The grungy, sweating man swallowed noisily. "You havenít given me the licence plate. The other police guys at least gave me the licence plate. They didnít loom like you either."

Jim stepped back. Someone was working on his turf? How dare they! "Who?" he demanded.

"Officer Sandy something and his associates?" Slime whispered. "They all looked alike."

Jimís eyes bugged. He inhaled deliberately, tasting the scents in the air, finding one he knew very well. "Sandy? DO you mean Sandburg?"

"Umh.... " Slime said intelligently.

"Three guys about yay high?" Rafe held his hand about level with the slimeís neck if he had been standing.

"Yeah, and a pretty gal with a purple dress." Slime latched onto Rafe like a drowning man, his expression said Ďsave me from this madmaní.

Jim planted his hands on the desk and splayed his fingers on the mock-mahogany tabletop. "What. Did. You. Tell. Them?"

Slime exhaled nervously, his breath stinking. "I told them that it belongs to Cook and that if they were sensible they would go home to their mommies."

"Cook?" Jim echoed? "Cook Lorelle? The Numberís racketeer?"

Slime whined. "I didnít mean to tell them. They finagled it out of me. The girl just kinda hovered over me and it slipped out and the other guy with the big blue eyes made me talk more. I donít know how but it slipped out. Oh God, Cookie will kill me."

Jim growled. "I will kill him."

Slime blanched the colour of newly fallen snow thinking that the detective was referring to him. Jim dismissed the guy; he was beneath contempt. Rafe scurried after him as he strode out of the creepís office. They marched through the parking lot to the older detectiveís truck. The young detective kept quiet as Jim punched angrily at his cell phone.

"Pick up, Sandburg!" The cell phone beeped incessantly but no one answered. "Iím going to get him one of those baby tracking things and stick it up his ass!"

"Blairís investigating the case?" Rafe asked tentatively.

"Yes," the older detective snarled.

"I thought that Cookie Lorelle was in deep shit with the D.A.? Isnít he under surveillance? How come Bohannonís chasing after Lorelle on the freeway?"

Jim stared into the middle distance, his thoughts running wild. The fact that Lorelle was under investigation only meant that the wily old goat would be looking for avenues and ways of getting out of trouble. Cookie Lorelle had been under investigation for months, but the untraceable limousine hadnít been seen during any surveillance details directed by Major Crime. Vice now had the dubious honour of keeping an eye on the mobster. The fact that the admittedly intelligent man had been driving a car with a fake licence plate meant that he had been up to something. A something that was both clever and dangerous. No doubt it was linked to the present investigation and the hoped for prosecution that D.A. was pursuing. Lorelle must have lost the team watching him. Bohannon must have recognised Lorelle in the limo and had followed him. The next question was: who was the woman? Assuming that it was a woman under the heavy veil.

Angrily, Jim dialled Sandburgís number again, and once again the irritating little snot didnít pick up. Blair had been with him during the detectiveís scheduled surveillance of Cookieís offices. He had also been involved during the sting operation when Cookieís agent had been caught red-handed receiving stolen goods. Blair knew who Cookie was and how dangerous the guy could be. If the Sandburgs had got this far in their illicit investigation, why hadnít Blair called his Blessed Protector with this important piece of information?

Probably because the Sandburgs were missing now, like Officer Bohannon. Cookie Lorelle had his Guide.

The sounds of his own teeth grating woke Jim from his angry reflections. Rafe was standing beside him, so quietly that he had to be holding his breath. With great deliberation, Jim composed himself. Now was not the time to run off half-cocked. He had to think this through--carefully. Where would Sandburg have gone after finding that Cookie was involved? It had happened very quickly since he had not called the precinct.

Ellison listened with all of his innate ability, on the pure off chance that his Guide was within earshot. A voice was speaking very quietly down a phone.

"Jim?" Rafe began.

Ellison held up an imperious hand, silencing his temporary partner.

//More cops have been here.// It was Slime speaking. //Theyíve left, but theyíll be back.// There was a pause while the person on the other end of the phone spoke, the Sentinel couldnít make out the words. //I canna just pack up and leave. You have to help me. You have to....//

The dial tone rang in the Sentinelís ears as the person to whom Slime was speaking hung up the phone.

Ellison stomped back into Slimeís office, catching him emptying his money safe. "Going somewhere?"

Slime squeaked and made a futile attempt to escape. Ellison caught him by the scruff of his neck and helped him into a wall, face first. Jim bent his head down and whispered in his prisonerís ear. "My partner came to see you and now heís missing. Care to apprise me of his whereabouts?"

A long shudder moved the rolls of fat under the creepís sweaty shirt. Ellison gagged in disgust, but kept his grip firmly on the damp neck.

"My partner. Where is he?"

"Er, Detective Ellison," Rafe inserted quietly, "if you kill him he wonít be able to tell you where Sandburg is."

"You hear that, creep? My associate thinks that Iím going to kill you." The Sentinelís voice was as cold as the winds flowing across the Arctic. "Iím not going to kill you--Iím going to maim you."

"I didnít do anything! Honest, I didnít do anything!" Slime squealed. "Your partner ran into Cookieís lieutenant, Gabriel, when he was leaving with the others. The kids saw the limo. They started talking. I donít know what happened. Gabriel pulled out his gun and they all got into the limo. They drove off. Thatís all I know."

The manís heartbeat was running at a staccato uneven rhythm that promised heart attacks and strokes in the near future. Jim couldnít tell if he was lying or not from his heartbeat, since the man was too scared for him to accurately spot the surge in beats that heralded a lie. But the scent of fear was so strong in his nostrils that he doubted the Slime was capable of lying.

"Why did Gabriel come here?"

"They needed some work done on the limo and another licence plate."

"What kind of work?"

"I donít know. Some kind of bodywork. I guessed that theyíd been in some kind of accident... or shoot out."

Jim released Slime and he slumped to the ground. Without giving the man a backward glance, Jim once again abused his cell phone. Simonís dulcet tones answered him.

"We need an A.P.B. on Sandburg and his cousins. Theyíve been taken by Cookie Lorelleís lieutenant, Gabriel!" The venom in Ellisonís voice was deadly. "I need a unit at Bronze Auto Repairs on fourth and nine New Benton to take Philip Hadden into custody."

By the time Ellison had finished telling *his* captain what to do, Rafe had secured Philip ĎSlimeí Hadden. The younger man was somewhat calmer than the premier detective of Major Crime was. He looked up at the older detective, his expression a tad concerned. James Ellisonís face was pale, except for two points of colour high on his cheekbones.

"Phone." Ellison pointed towards the old fashioned phone on the dirty desk, directing younger detectiveís attention. "Subpoena the phone records," he ordered. There was no re-dial facility on such an ancient device.

"Do you know where Gabriel has taken Sandburg?" Rafe asked the cowering man, ignoring Ellison for the moment.

"No, no, no. Honest. It was just bad timing," Slime burbled. The man remained huddled on the floor. As if moving would make him more vulnerable to the Sentinel growling in the corner of the room. The scent of fear was strong in the air

"Youíve done work for Cookie before," Rafe persisted. "How did he pay?"

"Cash... Itís... er... tax free."

Jim stood, arms akimbo, considering his options. Slime, for all his faults, was a good mechanic. Cash in hand and no questions asked was Slimeís claim to fame and one of the reasons why criminals used his facilities. Jim suspected that Slime was telling the truth when he said he didnít know Cookieís whereabouts. The fact that Slime had little or no inclination to use the latest technology, be it cell phone or computer, made tracing his transactions problematical. Jim strode out of the office leaving his baby-sitter behind. His Guide was somewhere out there and he was going to find him.

"Jim, where are you going?" Rafeís voice sounded loudly in his ears. Ellison ignored him.

The Sentinel locked himself in his truck and then pulled away from the curb, leaving Rafe standing, ineffectually, on the sidewalk.

Jim drove mechanically; his thoughts elsewhere. In his mindís eye, he could see his Guide and his Guideís cousins. Hands sketching his lecture, Blair would have cajoled his students and cousins to a new level of understanding about some obscure facet of Anthropology. Then they would have, like a tornado, whirled though the Museum of Anthropology, taking in the sights and sounds until they had absorbed all the knowledge offered. The kids would have then have felt the first stirring of boredom. Sandburgs were dangerous when bored; that was probably why Naomi had taught her son to read at such an early age. When Jim had been two years old he had been playing with bricks, not deconstructing Dr Seuss. ĎWhat shall we do now?í Jim could almost hear the light lilt to Rachelís speech. The young woman would have eagerly went along with Blairís plans without any thought to the consequences. Peregrine would have probably been more circumspective, but eventually, after harping on about their plans for a little while, he would have acquiesced. And Michael would have trailed in their wake while keeping an eye on his more impetuous cousins. How they had found Slime, Jim could only guess. He suspected that someone at the University would have known of someone who knew of someone who dealt with servicing limousines and under the counter transactions. Innocent as lambs they had followed their investigation to Bronze Auto Repair and then walked into the clutches of Cookie Lorelle. When Jim got his hands on them, he was going to kill them.

The truck tore through Cascade, lights flashing, to the roadside where dispatch had lost contact with Kurt Bohannon. Tracking the policemanís possible route might lead him to his Guide. Jim pulled over to the side of the road, exactly where the Sandburgs had stopped not twenty-four hours previously. There was, of course, no sign of their vehicleÖ

Jimís thoughts blindsided him. How had the Sandburgs got to Slimeís garage? Their station wagon had not been in the parking lot. They must have driven to the garage. Travelling by bus would have been pointless, given that Peri had rented an enormous car so they could explore the west coast of America in comfort.

As the detective paced along the roadside he chastised himself. He really wasnít thinking very clearly. From the moment that he had realised that Blair and his cousins were in Cookieís clutches, he had been running around half cocked. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he deliberately lowered his heart rate. The traffic careened past him impinging on his sentinel senses. Instinct had brought him to the place where Kurt Bohannon had gone missing, even though his Guide had disappeared some thirteen miles north of the police officerís last contact with dispatch. Jim knew that he was a creature of instinct. It was not a fact that he liked to dwell on, it cut too close to Sandburgís crack that he was a behavioural throwback to a pre-civilised form of man. Instinct--so in some obscure way his Sentinel abilities--had brought him to this place. Why?

He stood on the side of the road watching the cars and trucks. The summer sun beat down on his unprotected head. The harsh shimmer of heat over the tarmac made his eyes water. Somewhere nearby there was a clue, waiting to be found. As Jim had discussed with his captain, the fact that the motorcycle police officer had lost contact was unsettling. Mechanical problems could be discounted as Bohannon would have had a radio both on his motorcycle and his person--both breaking simultaneously was unlikely. So Bohannon had either deliberately not contacted dispatch or the signal had been blocked.

What could have blocked the signal? Waiting for a lull in the traffic, Jim raced across to the other side of the road to the phone. To the north he could see the junction from where Lorelleís limo would have emerged. Keeping to the withered grass at the side of the road, Jim jogged up to the junction. Dodging traffic and expletives, he crossed that junction. The road beyond rose steeply. Jogging a bit further, Jim stopped at the top of what was essentially a bridge, from which he had the perfect vantage point to see the south side of Cascade. The bypass on which he now stood was artificially raised on pillars of concrete spanning another road beneath. Just ahead, another junction left the main road, turning sharply and dropping steeply to join the road below. A rangerís eye judged the terrain. The road beyond dipped downward, swooping into the grimy docklands that fuelled Cascadeís craving for drugs and weapons. The road dug into the earth, probably following the track of a long dead river. A concrete embankment encased the sides of the long dead river. Old warehouses stood on what, once upon a time, would have been marshland. The land on either side of the river had been reclaimed with drainage and foundations of rubble. There was no way in hell that a radio signal could have escaped manís endeavours against Mother Nature. Grinning, Jim raced back to his truck.

~*~

It was simplicity itself; Ellison dug out his radio that lived with the dust bunnies in the toolkit. Making a mental note to clean out the toolkit, he switched the radio on and set it on the dashboard. Setting his cell phone next to the radio, he checked them both for signal strength. On top of the bypass, above the old river road, both devices worked without any problems. He then followed the path of the river. He immediately lost the signal to dispatch. The predator was on the hunt.

~*~

Twists and turns and backtracking and losing and finding the radio signal eventually led him into the heartland of the docks of Cascade. Radio contact had been problematical throughout the route. Pure, bad luck was responsible for Bohannonís disappearance. The police officer had more than likely followed Lorelle to this area and been taken. That the limousine had been booked in for repairs indicated that there had been some kind of altercation, probably shooting. Finally Jim picked up his cellphone to report to Simon, but even that device refused to reach out of the warren of the docklands.

Tooling slowly along abandoned streets baking in the summer sun, Jim allowed his hearing to analyse the area. Noise, from the skitter of rats to the clanging of heavy machinery, washed over him. Using the disciplines that Sandburgís tests had taught him, Jim carefully dismissed that which was not important.

"... it doesnít look....good, Blair..."

It was Peregrine speaking.

The Sentinel automatically honed in on the young manís voice; totally forgetting the fact that he was driving. He promptly drove into a wall.

"Fuck!" Jim swore, as he brushed his forehead. He felt wetness on his fingers. He had banged his head against the side window, tearing the flesh at his hairline above the temple. The cut did not feel serious but it stung. Taking a deep breath, Jim took stock. The hiss of steam escaping from a crumpled radiator told him that the truck was fried. Sandburg was going to harp on and on about this little accidentÖ assuming that the Sentinel told the Guide what had happened.

"Piss," he said succinctly.

There was nothing he could do. Muttering under his breath, he clambered out of the vehicle. Now he couldnít retrace his path and acquire police back-up; anything could happen to the Sandburgs in the time it would take to find a working phone box. Brutally honest, the detective admitted to himself that it was unlikely that he would have taken the time to call Simon even if he hadnít crashed his truck. Rescuing his Guide, and his Guideís cousins, was his top priority.

Jim listened again, trying to find the voice.

".... Michael, you done yet?"

"Two more seconds. I just have to circumvent the locking mechanism. Can you use your penknife to lift those wires, Blair?"

"Yeah, sure."

Blair Sandburgís voice washed over him. It was calm and, notably pain free. His own head was throbbing.

"How do you know which wires to cut?" Blair continued.

Concentrating and casting his head from side to side, Jim attempted to hone in on his Guideís whereabouts. Ahead of him, a warehouse--with many levels of dull, smoky windows--beckoned. Blair was somewhere within the complex. Unerringly, Jim loped forwards.

"Not too hard," the navel officer said absently. "Itís no more different than repairing a broken transmitter on the ship. We just have to convince the door that weíve inserted a card key. Voila!" he crowed.

Jim heard a lock click open. Wherever they were, the Sandburgs were out of their cell. With any luck they would hunt for the nearest exit and escape.

"So are we going to see if we can find Bohannon?" Rachel said clearly.

"Uhuh," Blair answered.

Jim strangled a moan. He should have known; it was far too logical for them to simply leave, to find a phone and call for assistance. No, they had to risk getting into even more trouble.

Jim skirted the edge of the building. As near as he could guess, he was directly adjacent the dockside. The Pacific Ocean was on the other side of the building. The flank of the warehouse offered no doorways. Grimacing, he stood on his tiptoes and peered through a grimy window. The room beyond was vacant. Quietly, the detective jimmied the old frame and opened the window. As sleek as any hunting jaguar, he slipped into the room. The voices were above him. Concentrating, Jim sought to go beyond the loud whispers of associated Sandburgs and find any threat to the cousins. Something was moving in the west wing, but not making sufficient noise for the Sentinel to accurately identify the source. The Sandburgs were wandering aimlessly in the mausoleum. Turning down his sense of smell, Jim catfooted through the dusty rooms and corridors. Finding a rickety staircase, he carefully picked his way up to the next storey.

It, too, was deserted. The walls were covered in pealing paper and mouldy mildew. Leftover filing cabinets and equipment were covered in dust. But the floors were either swept clean or hidden under a layer of dust. Jim looked back at his footsteps glowing in the thick dust on the staircase. There was little that he could do about the obvious trail, unless he could find a dustpan and brush. The trick would be to keep to the rooms that had been dusted. Someone came here regularly. This was a facade of dull, unused rooms, to deceive the casual observer. In addition, Jim could hear the thrum of maintained power cables behind the walls. But regardless of the attention to detail, the mind behind this set-up could not make dust fall where he wanted. There were essentially paths through the warehouse. All he had to do was stick to the floors that were dust free and he would find the rooms most often used by the inhabitants. Jim guessed that this was one of Lorelleís hideouts. The Sentinel focused on the progress of his Guide.

"This is just so horrible," Rachel said, disgusted. "I bet there a loads of spiders scurrying around. Blair, do spiders bite here?"

"Nah, nah," Blair whispered back, lying through his back teeth.

Jim accurately identified their position as two storeys above him and two hundred paces ahead, walking towards the unknown source of noise. Picking up speed, he followed the trail of no dust, eventually coming to a reinforced staircase. He was definitely on the right track. Taking the steps three at the time, he scrambled up the stairs, his hearing at its maximum level to determine if there was any threat to his Guide.

"...another key-card room. You want to open it, Michael?" Peri asked.

They were at the room with the presence. It could be anything from Gabriel with an uzi to Bohannon. Jim started to run.

"I wish they had left my cell phone. Jim must be going nuts," Blair said to no one in particular.

"Thatís assuming that heís missed you," Michael pointed out.

"Oh, Jim knows," Blair said simply. "And heíll be pissed."

Jim was so tuned into his Guideís heart rate and breathing that he could hear the infinitesimal shrug as Blairís threadbare t-shirt moved with his shoulders.

"Will he smack you?" Peri asked, gleefully.

"Oh, donít be such a child," Blair retorted.

"You got that door open, yet?" Rachel demanded.

"Hey, it took me an hour last time. What do you expect - miracles?" Michael snapped.

"You know what youíre doing now."

ĎOne more flight of stairs,í Jim told himself. He was almost upon them. He burst out of the double doors onto a cleanly swept corridor. At the far end, Blair turned around as if shot.

"Jim!" he said. "Told you!" He batted Peregrineís shoulder.

"I ought to smack you," Jim said, forgetting to censor his words. He strode down the corridor and stopped before the foursome. "What were you thinking? Why didnít you leave as soon as you got out of the room?"

"Weíre looking for Bohannon; surely you didnít forget your colleague?" Rachel asked, emotions flaring high.

"What happened to your head?" Blair reached up, stopping just short of touching the wound.

Jim knocked his hand away.

"Doorís open." Michael pushed the door inwards.

"Shit," Jim swore and pulled out his weapon, pointing it into a dark room.

His eyes automatically compensated for the lack of light. The room was filled with sealed crates. Huddled in the corner, Bohannon held himself tightly. Jim could smell the coppery odour of blood. The police officer was the only person in the room. Moving on instinct, Jim holstered his weapon and ran to his fellow officerís side. Blood pooled beneath Bohannonís leg. The manís face was a waxy grey.

Blair craned his head around the door. "Is it clear, Jim?"

"Yes."

As one, the Sandburgs barrelled through the door.

"Oh, no. Poor thing," Rachel cooed. She searched through her backpack, unearthing lipstick, a can of pop, a notebook and a ball of string, before finding a balled up t-shirt.

Medic training at the fore, Jim grabbed the t-shirt and pressed it against the seeping wound. Michael unwound the belt from his khaki shorts and offered it to the detective. Deftly, Jim wrapped the leg and then lowered the police officer to lie on his back. Kurt Bohannon was deeply in shock and his temperature was soaring.

Light suddenly washed over them as Blair flung open double doors on the far wall. There was an audible gasp and then Blair stepped away from the doorway. Jim could see a pulley on a beam, projecting from the lintel above the doors. Obviously the warehouse was directly on the edge of the docks; the pulley was used to bring items directly from a ship below.

"No way down here, man," Blair reported, as he peered, uneasily, over the edge.

"Weíre five storeys up. We may have sufficient elevation to use the cell phone." Jim stood, leaving Bohannon in Rachel and Michaelís capable hands.

Blair nodded. A little pale, he stepped back from the drop. Jim took his place, leaning out as far as possible to clear the building. The phone beeped cheerfully and the signal reached out.

"Yes," Jim exulted. "Simon, itís Ellison. I need back-up and an ambulance at the docks by theÖ" He leaned out further. "Itís the grey building about two hundred yards south of a big ship..."

"Focus on it, Jim."

Jim shot a dark glance at his partner and his unnecessary advice. His head was throbbing and it was turning out to be a long day. His fuse was very short at the best of times. At this precise moment in time, it was on fire.

"Itís call the ĎScottish Queení. Weíre on the fifth floor on the water front side."

Blair shrugged expressively, raised his hands, and stepped backwards, a tentative smile on his face.

"Watch out!" Michael hollered.

The detective had barely turned when he saw Gabriel silhouetted in the doorway. The man had his gun ready. Blair squeaked once and then dove at Peregrine, knocking his cousin out of the line of fire. Jim twisted on the precipice bringing his gun out. Gabriel sighted his magnum .45. The detective shot from the hip, catching Lorelleís lieutenant in the centre of his chest. The other manís gun went off. The shot went high, ricocheting off the pulley overhead with a squeal and sparks. Jim ducked instinctively, wincing as the grating sound echoed in his ears. It reverberated in his head. The pain in his head spiked and suddenly he was falling.

"Jim!" Blairís panic filled yell added to the pain.

Wind rushed past him, and peculiarly distanced, Jim looked up to see Blair poised on the edge of the building looking down. The kidís expression was horrified.

This was really turning out to be an absolutely shitty day.

Cold, grey water engulfed him.

~*~

There was no up nor down. His head was ringing, confusing him. The water tasted disgusting, laced with heavy metals and other things that he didnít want to dwell on. His senses were screaming at him, a cadence of distortion that robbed him of all balance. A rush of bubbles passed, disorientating him further. ĎCould you throw up underwater?í Jim wondered insanely. Something gripped him around his stomach and he found out. He folded in on himself. Water moved around him and he was lost. Air, wonderful air, greeted him. Long hair trailed across his face and a hard chest supported the back of his head.

"Iíve got you, Jim. Iíve got you, Jim."

His Guideís hand came up around his chin, tipping his head back. The touch grounded him.

"Your... cousins..." Jim coughed, hacking up grime.

"Itís okay," Blair soothed. "You dropped your gun. Michael picked it up, heís guarding the doorway."

Vainly, Jim tried to kick his legs in rhythm, to help his Guide. He couldnít find the pattern. He could only relax against his friend and try not to hinder their painful progress.

He was turned and his wrists grabbed. Bereft of support, he sunk beneath the surface. Then Blair was pulling him up, reaching to plant his crossed hands on the pier. He clamped down on Jim's hands with his own hand. Jim hung suspended, partly supported by the slimy water. Coughing and spluttering, Blair tried to get onto the pier. As he struggled, he never let go of Jimís secured hands. With an almighty effort, Blair hauled himself onto the dockside. He lay there, unable to find the energy to sit upright, let alone drag the Sentinel from the water. But he never let go.

Coughing, Blair rolled onto his stomach and then, somehow, managed to get to his knees. Jim was barely aware of the grip on his hands shifting to enclose his wrists. Suddenly he was dunked as Blair attempted to use the buoyancy of the water to help drag the Sentinel out of the sucking water. Through tearing, slimy eyes he could see Blair, teeth gritted with effort, striving to lift his dead weight onto the pier. Another set of hands joined Blairís and he was pulled upwards.

Simon, it had to be Simon Banks. Jim opened his eyes and was greeted by his commanding officerís concerned eyes. At his back, he could feel Blair rubbing his shoulder. He bypassed any greetings and settled for coughing out the little water he had inhaled.

"Simon, get me some fresh water," Blair ordered. "His senses must be going off the map. Weíve got to sluice this crappy stuff off of him."

"Okay." Simonís heavy footsteps stomped away.

"Did...you," Jim tried. "Did you... swallow... any water?"

"No, man, I kept my mouth shut. Which is more than I can say for you." Blair pulled his shirtsleeve over his hand and ineffectually tried to wipe the gook from Jimís chin. "God, I hope youíre up to date on your tetanus."

Simon skidded to a halt before them and offered Blair a couple of bottles of mineral water. "This is all I had."

"Here. Close your eyes, Jim, while I wash off your face."

Jim obeyed as Blair suited actions to words. The relief was immeasurable, especially when he rinsed his mouth out. His clothes were grating against his skin, but not enough for him to shrug them off in public. He pawed haphazardly at his wet shirt, feeling completely and utterly miserable. Finally he sat upright. Blair was crouched next to him, hands fluttering as he examined the cut on the Sentinelís head. "Weíve gotta get some disinfectant on this, God knows what bugs have got in it."

"Iím okay, Chief." Jim snatched the bottle of water from his friend and took a large mouthful.

Sandburg looked like a drowned rat, his hair was hanging in ebony ringlets around his face and water was dripping off the end of his nose. Jim could feel his friendís concern as a palpable force.

"What, what?" Blair demanded.

"What?" Jim countered.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Blair mimicked an intent stare.

Jim shifted his gaze to look up at the fifth storey doorway and then the sluggishly moving water below. His attention returned to his Guide, who was still watching him, his expressive face creased with concern.

"Jim?" Blair cocked his head to the side.

"Thanks, Chief. I mean that. Thank you, Blair."

The kidís luminous smile brightened a bad day.

~*~

Jim was curled up on the sofa. A vague stomach ache wore on him. The Guide had insisted that he report to the Cascade Emergency Room for a full examination. Jim had been less than impressed when his captain supported Blairís reasoning that the water was beyond nasty and it was better safe than sorry. The fact that the chest x-ray and the respiratory exam had been clear meant that he had not been corralled by the hospital for observation. In the E.R., the cut on his head had been cleaned, slathered with antibacterial cream and then dressed. As an active police officer, he was up to date with the majority of inoculations available to so he didnít have to endure any additional injections.

All in all, he was pretty lucky. But he was relegated to the couch and told not to move by his tyrannical Guide. The kid certainly took his responsibilities seriously. There was a pile of pamphlets littered about the table with such diverse topics as treatments for skin eczema to symptoms for Weilís Disease. Blair had been briefed thoroughly by the E.R. doctor about possible complications as a result of falling in an open sewer. Jim was facing something that he both loved and loathed in equal measure--pampering.

The grad student was singing, badly, in the shower, stripping the gook from his body. Bleach tickled the Sentinelís nose. His summer weight slacks and white t-shirt were soaking in the bathroom sink along with Blairís favourite pair of shorts and long sleeved t-shirt. Jim doubted that they would ever be clean. Rachel and Peregrine were in conference over the fridge, creating some sort of culinary masterpiece.

"Blair insisted that you drink this." Michael pushed a glass of orange juice in his face.

Jim sniffed the juice before accepting the glass. Freshly squeezed juice with added vitamin C and Echinacea purpurea greeted his nose.

"He put some Echinacea in it, but you know that, donít you?" Michael said cagily.

Jim excelled in a poker face; he put it to good use. "Yeah, the kidís fond of his herbs and things. Last time I had the Ďflu he even tried bongo drums."

Michael snorted, but didnít press the issue. Jim sat stock still as the naval officer slipped in between his cousins, snagging a raw carrot. The oldest of the Sandburg cousins was fishing, and Jim was not going to bite. Jim wasnít surprised. From what he had garnered from Blair, over many an evening session smoothed by a beer and a video, the Sentinel Myth had played a large role in the studentís life for many years. It stood to reason that Blairís favourite cousins and playmates could put two and two together.

Blair sauntered out of the shower, towel wrapped around his waist. "Rach, Iím just popping into my room to get some clean clothes."

The young woman smiled. "Donít worry, I moved the feminine items of uncertain nature."

"I know what they do; I just don't like to dwell on them," Blair shot back.

Rachel stuck her tongue out. "The nipple ring is passé."

Blair gave her Ďthe fingerí as he ducked into his room.

Jim shuffled down on the couch, rolling on his side so he could watch the muted television. Lorelleís arrest for aiding and abetting a kidnapping, and shooting and wounding an officer of the law, was the first order of interest in the local news. Kurt Bohannon was in Cascade General Hospital, in a serious condition, but the prognosis was good. The woman in Lorelleís limousine had been identified as the mobsterís sister Estelle. Lorelle, close to being indicted for various crimes, had been gathering his resources for a dash across the border to a new life. He was taking his sister with him. Bohannon, as one of the uniforms recruited by Vice on occasion to assist with their work, had simply recognised the mobster. Knowing that Lorelle should have been under surveillance, the motor cycle officer had followed the criminal and he had walked straight into an ambush.

The television news segued into the advertisement segment and the swirl of bright colours and jingles threatened to overpower a weary sentinel. Half-heartedly, Jim surfed through the channels until he found an old episode of ĎBonanzaí. Snuggling down, Jim happily lost himself in the adventures of the Cartwright family.

He wasnít entirely sure when he nodded off, but one moment he was watching Lorne Green, and the next, the black and white series ĎRawhideí was playing. Without moving, Jim took stock of his surroundings. He couldnít hear Peri or Rachel within the loft. Some kind of meat was roasting in the oven, permeating the room with a delicious aroma. Low murmuring from the balcony attracted his attention. Opening one eye, Jim focused on Michael and Blair taking advantage of the cool evening sun. The latter was leaning against the railing as he nursed a bottle of beer. Michael sat, back ramrod straight, on the sun-chair tucked in the corner.

"All this," Michael waved his hand, encompassing the loft, "isnít your normal mode of existence. Living with a cop is pretty unusual. You should actively avoid them, especially after the time when the cops arrested Naomi and stuck you in a foster home."

Blair heaved a deep sigh. Evidently, the conversation had been going on for some time. All Jim could see was his profile. There was a sort of breakable quality in his posture that bespoke of melancholy. Galvanised, Jim sat up and watched.

"Itís convenient, Mica." Blairís long curls bobbed as he shrugged.

"And this was, like, an average day for you?"

The grad student snorted. "Pretty much."

"I can see why Naomi bent momís ear for the whole two weeks she visited. And didnít Naomi get involved in some sort of a car jacking thing?"

"I guess it must be genetic," Blair retorted.

"Must be," he drawled. "Seems pretty dangerous... And you Ďcoverí Detective Ellisonís back?"

"Works both ways, man."

"You jumped five storeys into an open sewer, so I guess you proved that."

Blair blanched a nice white colour and took a fortifying gulp of beer. "I didnít think; I just jumped."

"Is he normally so klutzy? I mean, first he crashes his truck and then he falls off a building."

Blair snorted. "Now you mention it, he is a bit of a klutz. He drops his gun *all* the time. Why all the questions, Mica?"

"Iím just curious. It just seems like a pretty dangerous field study... It must be really important to you."

"I want my Ph.D.."

"Must be safer ways of doing it." Michael reached down to the cooler separating them and pulled out a bottle of beer. He traced idle patterns in the condensation, evidently deep in thought.

Blair watched him as a mongoose watches a snake. The grad student was trying to project a cool, calm demeanour--unfortunately he was vibrating with tension. Jim held his breath as the silence stretched between them. The mongoose was debating whether or not to strike - blitzkrieg the opponent so they forget what started the conversation in the first place. Only it was obviously the first time Blair had tried to blindside his cousin, or he knew that the naval officer was as adept as spotting an obfuscation as himself.

"I guess Iím talking about Great Uncle Josephís sentinels," Michael said into the silence. "You know that story that you gobbled up and then made us play all summer?"

"Fairy stories?" Blair responded, deliberately obtuse. He had bypassed tension and settled for apathy - he didnít wear it well.

"Blair," Michaelís voice reverberated with the essence of military command. "Believe you me, Iíve absorbed a lot about sentinels over the years. Both from the family stories and listening to you enthuse about your favourite research topic. Is James Ellison a sentinel?"

"Youíre expecting me to confirm that I am living with a behavioural throwback to a pre-civilised form of man? Do you want the guys in white coats to take me away in a padded van? Next, man, youíll be asking me to tell you that big, bad, buff Jim Ellison is a psychic. Why do you think Jimís a sentinel?" Blair finished, unfortunately a bit plaintively.

"In the corridor, before we found Bohannon, he said ĎI ought to smack youí. He heard you and Peri talking from miles away. Heís got hyperactive hearing, hasnít he?"

"Why are we discussing this subject?" Blair turned away to gaze out at the Cascade horizon.

"Because if this is your average kind of day, Iíd be a lot happier knowing that youíve got some kind of advantage," Michael said candidly.

Blair twisted to stare at his cousin. "Oh."

"Although to be frank, it doesnít look like an advantage. One ricochet of a bullet and heís down for the count."

"Thatís why he need a partner who understands. Most of the time heís pretty amazing. For instance, we donít need a directional mike to do surveillance. Banging his head didnít help. And he still managed to take out Gabriel." Blair pointed out.

"Okay." A thousand and one things were left unsaid. Jim could see the same essence of concern in Michael Caffrey that he recognised in himself, concern for his younger, academic cousin who was playing with the big boys.

Belatedly, Blair realised that they were being watched, normally he was much more astute. Those sea blue eyes gathered Jim in, weighed him and then smiled. Blair pushed open the balcony window.

"Feeling better, big guy?"

Jim rolled to his feet and then crossed to balcony. He snagged a beer and quelled Blairís automatic objection with a glare. "Guess I needed a nap. Where are Peri and Rachel?"

"They were feeling evil and decided to head out and find the ingredients for a classic English Sunday dinner. Roast beef with applesauce, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables boiled until there are absolutely no vitamins left and something incredibly sweet for dessert is planned for the evening meal."

Jim thought that it sounded rather nice. "Wonít that take hours to cook?"

"The roast is in the oven. I hate Peri; heís gone out looking for brussel sprouts."

Blairís loathing of brussel sprouts was well known.

"Donít worry, Chief, Iíll eat your share, you can have my applesauce."

"Wow, true love," Michael sniggered.

"Har de har har," Blair growled. "Iíll leave you military boys alone. I have to glaze the beef with honey or something."

The Sentinel took Blairís place on the balcony, revelling in the peaceful view. The only sound from Michael was a tap of his fingernails against the glass of his bottle. Jim waited until Blair was engrossed in his culinary duties.

"So, say what you want to say, Caffrey."

"What were you in the Army?"

Jim went along with the apparent change of subject. "Captain. Rangers. Now I am a detective."

"With ears of a bat."

"Yup," Jim said lackadaisically.

"Why Blair? Whyís he your partner? Heís a pacifist -- heís the most pacifistic person Iíve ever met. Heís one of those Ďinnocentsí who should be protected."

The words cut Ellison to the quick. "Youíre right," he said candidly. Images of Blair in Lashís lair and, most recently, overdosed on Golden--hooked up to a respirator, cold, shocky and deathly ill-- assailed him.

"Youíre a soldier, a detective. Youíve sworn oaths. Youíre not a civilian." Michael continued muttering, swamping Ellisonís quiet words. Talking was most definitely a Sandburg characteristic.

"He understands the sentinel stuff, I..." Jim gritted his teeth. "I need his help. What happened today was unusual but things happen and he usually... nah... always figures it out."

That stopped Michael dead, for a heart beat. "Why havenít you trained him in weapons, self defence? I know you havenít; he physically recoils when you wave a gun in his direction."

Jim actually laughed. "I canít even make him cut his hair."

"This is got to be the weirdest partnership ever: a peace loving anthropologist and a hardass, ex-army ranger sissy."

Jim grinned and then the insult processed. "Look, marine-boy."

"What?" Michael stood up, five foot six inches of contained energy. "What? What are you going to do about it?" A thread of anger wove through his words.

"Iím going to tell you what I told Naomi," Jim said evenly, reading between the lines. "Iím going to protect Blair with the best of my ability. Anyone who tries anything will have to go through me first."

"And Iíll tell you both what I told Naomi," Blair interrupted them. "Iím a big boy; I make my own decisions." Blair stood in the doorway, hands on hips, scowling. Without waiting for an acknowledgement to his statement, he turned on his heel and returned, purposely, to the kitchen.

"I guess thatís it," Michael said.

"Conversation terminated, sport."

The front door to the loft banged open. Peri and Rachel tumbled into the apartment, laden down with bags of groceries.

"We picked up some other stuff, Ďcos we didnít want to eat Detective Ellison out of house and home."

"We decided on Baked Alaska for pudding. We even found some monkeyís blood."

"How appetising," Jim said dryly.

Rachel chortled and held up a squeezy bottle of raspberry syrup.

"Youíll never guess who we bumped into in the delicatessen," Peri said leadingly.

"J. Edgar. Hoover?" Jim offered as he pawed through the shopping bags. They had certainly been generous. The smoked salmon looked particularly edible. He turned over the tube of raspberry syrup in his hands and twisted off the cap for a quick sniff. This was the real thing; no artificial additives and preservatives. In fact, the whole Sandburg visit had turned into something of a gourmet feast. At least boiled tongue hadnít appeared on the menu.

"Who?" Peri looked blank.

"Worky ticket!" Rachel smacked her brother across the back of the head. "No, Jim, we met the district attorney over the cheese counter. And youíll never guess what?"

"No, what?" Jim asked patiently. Blair was hiding a grin behind the palm of his hand. Jim was partially convinced that the cousins were teasing him on purpose.

"He thinks that Mr. Lorelle will drag the whole case through the courts so weíll probably have to testify." Rachel beamed.

"Cool." Blair enthused. "That means you guys will get to visit again."

"Yes!" Rachel executed a little jig that Peri and Blair joined in. "All expenses paid, too!"

There was a pathetic little whine coming from somewhere. Abruptly, Jim realised that he was responsible. How much trouble could they get into if they were involved in a court case? His hand clenched in reaction and a stream of raspberry syrup arched through the air. Jim watched its crystal clarity gleaming in the evening light, like a rainbowÖ before it splattered across the gleeful threesome.

They stopped dead, and looked up at him with shocked eyes.

"Oooops," Jim said insincerely.

The bright red clashed nicely with their golden brown curls. Michael, a half step to the side, was unscathed and valiantly biting his bottom lip. He gave up and started laughing.

Blair was staring at his Sentinel, his face shocked. A gob of syrup oozed from his curls and dripped on his nose. He looked at Jim, his expression turned calculating. The Sentinel could practically see little devil horns growing under that tousled head of hair. An evil grin crossed the studentís face.

"Food fight!" Blair dove for the honey pot.

"NO!" Jim bellowed and ducked.

finis