Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- OWW crossovers

Dash of Conspiracy, Enemies on All Sides
Part Four
A Sentinel/One West Waikiki crossover
by Becky
March 2000

Blair was still expounding about Jasmine when they parked the truck across the street from a modest one-story home in the middle of a suburban Cascade street. Jim exited the truck and stood for a moment, looking at the house, getting a feel for it. White with blue trim, small front lawn, a red tricycle laying abandoned on the sidewalk leading up to the door, a rubber chew toy he supposed belonged to the family pet on the steps in front of the door.

"Jim?" Blair had stopped halfway up the walk, just then noticing the detective wasn't with him. "You coming?"

He nodded silently in response, then walked around the truck to join Blair on the walkway. They stopped at the front door, and Blair reached over to ring the doorbell. Jim looked back around them at the neighborhood, sharp eyes taking in the other houses and sharp ears doing a random search of conversation. Nothing stuck out, however. From inside the house, he heard footsteps approaching the door. At the same time, Blair spoke up again.

"Oh, there's something I forgot to mention."

Jim glanced at him. "Which is?"

The front door opened before Blair could answer, and a woman's low voice echoed in the entranceway.

"Blair!"

Jim blinked, watching in some astonishment as a tall, dark-haired woman -- as tall as him, maybe even taller -- grabbed Blair in a huge hug. He could almost swear he heard Blair's ribs crack with the pressure. Blair returned the hug with equal fervor, his voice squeezing out her name in response. A few moments later, she pulled back and placed both hands on her hips to stare at him.

"How long has it been since you stopped by here? You promised last time it wasn't gonna be no three months between visits!" Her green eyes flashed with mirth and teasing anger.

Blair shifted on his feet once, then raised both hands in conciliation. "I'm sorry, Jasmine. I've just been a little...busy."

She snorted. "Busy. Blair, you're always busy." She folded her arms across her chest and glanced at Jim a moment, then returned her gaze to Blair. "So...what brings you out my way? I get the feeling this isn't a pleasure call, at least not with the 'business' vibes I'm picking up from your friend here."

An apologetic smile on his face, Blair shook his head. "Yeah, sorry, Jasmine. It is business. This is Detective Jim Ellison."

Jasmine nodded knowingly. "Ah, your police friend and...partner, correct?" She grinned at his surprised nod. "I do read the newspaper, Blair. Especially since your name keeps appearing in various articles. Come on in, you two. Josh isn't home from work yet and Melinda is taking her afternoon nap." She turned and headed back inside, leaving them to follow.

Clapping a hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim leaned over and whispered, "Let me guess. You forgot to mention that she's really tall, right?"

The younger man flashed him a grin, then entered the house. Shaking his head, Jim suppressed his own grin and followed him inside, quietly closing the door after him.

**************

Sometime later, after telling Jasmine what they could and getting a promise to have the three shops that sold her shirts to have customer lists ready by the next day, Jim and Blair said their goodbyes. Exiting the house, they squinted as their eyes adjusted to the bright afternoon sun. Jim glanced at his watch as they walked down the walkway towards the street. "Simon's gonna want a report on this before he heads out to rejoin Daryl. And I think we can just make it."

Blair jogged a few steps to catch up with Jim as he stepped off the sidewalk and headed across the street to the truck. "After that, I need to get to the University Library to pick up that research for my class tomorrow. I'd get you to drop me off on the way back, but my backpack is at your desk."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot about that." Jim glanced at him as they stopped at the truck's side. "You gonna need a lift?"

"Uh, yeah, probably." He grinned as he paused at the front of the truck. "You know anybody who'd be willing to drop a poor, carless, starving student at Rainier?"

Jim rolled his eyes as he unlocked the driver's door and opened it. "Is that a hint, Darwin?"

Blair laughed. "Well, it is your turn to cook tonight."

He pulled himself inside the truck and started rolling down the window. "Yeah, yeah, I--"

"Mr. Blaaaiiirrr!" A child's voice echoed over to them and both looked back at the Weelan house to see a little girl, maybe 4 years old, a mop of dark blonde curls on her head, running down the sidewalk. Behind her, Jasmine stood in the doorway, watching and smiling.

Blair made an abrupt U-turn and jogged back to the house. "Melinda!" They met at the edge of the sidewalk where it met the street and Blair swept the little girl into his arms. "Hey there." He spun her around, taking a few steps away from the sidewalk.

She hugged him around the neck, her little voice chiding as she spoke. "You didn't say hello."

"You were sleeping and I didn't want to wake you."

Melinda pulled back and pouted at him. "I missed you."

He leaned forward and rubbed noses with her. "I missed you too, munchkin. I can't stay right now since I'm working. I'm helping a friend." Blair turned and pointed to the truck. "See? That's Jim."

"Mr. Jim," she insisted as she waved.

Jim, still in the truck, waved back then tapped at his watch when Blair met his eyes.

Nodding at Jim, Blair returned his attention to Melinda and chuckled. "Okay. Mr. Jim."

"I like his truck. It's pretty. Does it feel good?"

Blair laughed again and started walking towards the truck so she could get a better look at it. "Here, you can touch it and tell me. But we have to hurry. I have to go right now, but I'll come back in a few days and play, okay?"

"Promise?"

"Promise."

"Okay." She grinned and hugged him around the neck once more.

Jim glanced at his watch again, calculating how long it would take to get back to the station. He opened his mouth to call for Blair when something caught his attention. Frowning, he opened his hearing, following the sound to further down the stretch of road. Just then, a dark windowed black compact car careened around the corner at the end of the block, tires and brakes screeching.

Blair's head shot up and he stopped in the middle of the road, spotting the revving car immediately a few houses down from Jasmine's. Jim watched the car as its tires spun a moment, gripping the pavement, then roared towards them.

Towards Blair.

"Chief! Move it!" Jim leapt out of the truck and raced towards Blair, competing with the rapidly approaching car. Jasmine remained frozen in the doorway, then tore away from the door frame and ran down the short steps. Jim waved her back. "No! Get back inside." He grabbed Blair's arm and hauled him towards him, spinning him away just as the car sped past in a cloud of dust and exhaust. Absently, he heard Blair mutter an "ow" when he stumbled and his shoulder thumped against the truck frame. Most of Jim's attention remained on the car, watching as it spun, leaving rubber trails on the asphalt, then faced them again, its engine revving menacingly.

Jim pulled his gun and kept himself between the car and Blair and Melinda. Cocking the gun, he aimed it at the car, practically daring it to make another pass at them. The faceless driver revved the engine a few more times, then reversed the car, tires squealing as it whipped around to face forward and sped off, taking out a mailbox as it disappeared around the opposite corner of the block. Jim watched a moment, stretching out his hearing to track it until it joined up with more traffic and disappeared. Slowly he relaxed and lowered his gun, then found himself shoved aside as Jasmine pushed past him to get to Blair and Melinda.

Blair gave the very scared little girl to her equally scared mother, then stepped aside, giving them some privacy. Jim returned the gun to his back holster and rested a hand on Blair's shoulder, thumb touching the side of his neck. "You okay, Chief?"

"Uh, yeah, yeah. I'm fine." He swallowed and leaned against the truck, tearing his eyes away from Jasmine to look up at Jim. "Thanks."

Jim squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Anytime." He glanced behind him, glaring at the skid marks on the road. "Car came out of nowhere. No plates, no markings. Damn. Probably stolen."

"Think maybe someone feels we're getting a little close on this case?" Blair stepped closer to Jim, looking at the skid marks as well.

"Maybe, Chief. Maybe."

**************

After waiting at the Weelan house long enough for Jasmine's husband to come home and for Rafe and Brown to join them at the scene, Jim and Blair headed back to the station. Jim hoped the other two men would able to find something from the skid marks and the demolished mailbox, enough to give them a starting point for finding the car -- and the driver. As they waited for the elevator to arrive in the precinct garage, Jim glanced again at Blair. Outwardly, his partner seemed to be okay. At least as long as he ignored the small frown lines on his forehead and the way he occasionally gnawed on his lower lip as he pondered some great mystery.

His cellphone rang, disrupting his thoughts. He pulled it out and answered. "Ellison."

Simon's voice came over the line. "Jim. Conner told me about the near-miss when I got out of the meeting. Are you two all right?"

"Yeah. We're fine. Rafe and Brown are at the scene checking things out."

"Good. Where are you now?"

The elevator doors opened and disgorged a handful of officers. Jim and Blair entered and Blair pushed the "Floor Six" button. Jim answered Simon's question as the doors slid closed. "Just getting into the building elevator, Simon."

"Great. Get yourself into my office as soon as you arrive. Malinson and Shaw are here and want to have a chat with you about the case."

Jim closed his eyes a moment in annoyance that the feds had decided to get involved. He'd butted heads with Malinson several times in the past, never with any good results. Withholding any excess commentary, he replied simply, "Yes, sir." Snapping the phone shut, he tucked it back into his pocket, then glanced over at Blair. "Feds are here and Simon wants to see me post-haste. Think you can find another ride to the University?"

Blair nodded absently. "Yeah. Sure."

Jim returned his gaze forward as he asked quietly, "Something bugging you, Chief?"

"Hmm?" Blair shook himself to attention. "Bugging me? Oh, no, not really. Well, maybe. Something... something is trying to get my attention, but I don't know what it is yet." He paused, then waved a hand in the air dismissively. "It'll come to me eventually."

"Just as long as it's not some moldy forgotten test trying to reassert itself."

Blair chuckled and slapped Jim on the back. "You never know. We still haven't done that inner ear/balancing test I thought up in Hawaii after you and Mack had your little surfing contest..."

Jim sighed and stared at the ceiling. "Great. I had to mention the word 'test'."

The younger man laughed again and shifted to lean against the elevator wall, glancing at the lights on the button panel which showed them passing the fourth floor. "So...which feds are we stuck with this time?"

"Malinson and Shaw."

Blair made a face. "Oh, man. Shaw's okay for a fed, but Malinson... she hates my guts. She's got those eyes that just..." He shuddered dramatically.

The elevator dinged its arrival and the doors opened onto the busy Major Crimes floor. Jim's lips twitched into a smile as he strode out of the car. "That's because the last time they were here, you solved their case for them in an hour -- just by reading the file. Made her look bad."

"Hey, it's not my fault they missed that thing about the marking." He hurriedly followed Jim out of the elevator, walking towards the main doors of the bullpen. "It was my anthropology side speaking."

"You have sides? I thought you were 100% undiluted anthropologist, born and bred to pull seemingly insignificant details out of thin air."

Blair smacked Jim on the arm and they both laughed.

"Blair. Jim."

They stopped and glanced down the hallway to see Cassie walking towards them, a manila folder in one hand. She waggled it in the air as she came up next to them. "I finished the analysis on that drug sample. It's still a little preliminary, but I thought you'd want to see it as soon as possible." She gave the folder to Jim, then clasped her hands in front of her.

"Thanks. What did you find?" Jim opened the folder and scanned the top page. Blair leaned in, reading with him, then looked at Cassie as she started talking again.

"Basically, it's a mixture of drugs and different from what we found from the two confiscations but similar enough that it's gotta be from the same source. It's almost like they're field testing different variants to find just the right kind to produce." Moving around a bit to stand next to Jim, she pointed at the front page. "The white powder is a bit more potent and still non-identifiable. However, this time," she lifted the first page and ran her finger halfway down the second page, "we were able to ID the added substance."

Jim's lips tightened thinly and he slapped the folder shut. "Damn. I was afraid of that."

Alarmed at Jim's response, Blair looked up at him. "What?"

When Jim continued to glare accusingly at the manila folder, Cassie answered Blair's query in a soft voice. "There was Golden mixed in with the drug."

Blair stared at Cassie and blinked, his mouth dropping open. After a moment, he closed his mouth, blinked again, then returned his gaze to Jim. In a quiet, flat voice, he said, "You knew."

"I...suspected."

"And you didn't think to tell me?" Blair's voice rose just a hair. Cassie backed up a step, but continued to watch with wide eyes.

Jim winced and finally met his partner's eyes. "I meant to. But I didn't want to say anything until I knew for sure." He paused and half-shrugged. "Do I need that rewind button again?"

Blair breathed out in a rush, shaking his head with a soft chuckle. "I'm gonna buy you one and plaster it to your forehead! Right next to the button that says 'Talk to your partner'!"

Lifting his hand, Jim tapped two fingers on Blair's forehead. "Only if I get to put a 'Stay in the truck' button right here." He turned to Cassie and handed her the file. "Good work, Welles. Let me know when you get the full analysis finished."

Cassie inclined her head in acknowledgment, then headed back to her lab. Before Jim and Blair could start moving towards the bullpen again, another voice rang out.

"Jim."

They turned to see Megan and Assistant ME Jake Morgan coming down the other hallway. Megan called out, "Morgan finished the autopsy on Pratt's body."

Blair laughed nervously. "And since that is not something I want to revisit, I think I'll just go collect my stuff and hunt up a kind soul to give me a ride." He slapped Jim on the shoulder, then pointed a finger at him. "We talk tonight, right?"

Jim batted Blair's finger away and nodded. "Yes, Chief, we talk. Go on. I think I saw Joel in the bullpen. See if he can give you a lift. Give me a call in a couple of hours and I'll pick you up. Anything to give me an excuse to get away from the feds."

Chuckling, Blair gave Jim a thumbs-up, then turned and jogged into the bullpen. A few seconds later, Megan stepped up to Jim's side. She traded in the bodysuit for a pantsuit, though in deference to the necessity to get back to the station so soon, she'd simply pulled her hair into a quick ponytail. Morgan, a medium tall blonde man dressed in a lab coat over casual pants and a denim shirt, followed a few steps behind her. Megan's eyes followed Blair a moment as he called out to Joel across the busy bullpen, then returned to Jim. "The two of you okay?"

Nodding, Jim smiled. "Yeah, we're fine, Conner. What have you got? Give me the short version. Simon wants me in his office to give the feds taking up his space someone else to talk at."

Megan chuckled in understanding and turned towards Morgan who held out a thin file to Jim. He waited until Jim opened it, then folded his arms over his chest and began talking. "Your friend Holli was correct; it was the hanging that killed Pratt."

Jim flipped through the pages. "What about the pinprick? Any drugs in his system?"

"Jury's still out on that one. We took some blood samples and are in the process of analyzing them. There's definitely something about this DB that isn't standard..."

"Like what?" Jim looked up from the report.

Morgan shook his head ruefully. "I'm not sure. I'm not a chemist. I'll probably have to send it out unless Welles can figure it out. We're still short-staffed with both Dan and O'Rourke out."

Megan frowned. "Terri's gone as well?"

Morgan clarified. "Her maternity leave started yesterday. Not that she's really been in a lot considering how difficult her pregnancy's been. In any case, it's just me and two other assistants down there. And you guys are keeping us way too busy."

Simon's loud voice wafted into the hallway. "Sandburg! Where's Ellison?"

Jim handed the file back to Morgan. "I think I'd better get to Simon before he gets to my partner. Keep me informed on the results, Jake. And thanks for coming in on your day off." He hurried away, striding into the bullpen and passing Blair and Joel on their way out.

Megan touched Morgan's arm. "Thanks. And give Terri our regards, will you?"

Morgan nodded and touched two fingers to his forehead in a salute. "Will do."

**************

The captain waited until Jim entered his office before closing the door again, murmuring a quiet "About time" just for Jim's ears.

Jim threw a quick look at the two feds, then gave Simon his attention. "Sorry, Captain. First Welles caught me with her preliminary report on the drug and then Morgan and Conner showed up with the report on Pratt."

Simon leaned against the front of his desk. "Anything concrete?"

"Golden was definitely in the sample and Pratt definitely died by hanging. The rest is still up in the air."

Nodding, Simon gestured towards the man and woman standing near the windows. "I believe you know Agents Malinson and Shaw, Detective."

Jim inclined his head briefly towards them, folding his arms in a mirror stance of the woman. Kate Malinson might have been a very striking woman with her long thick dark hair, perfect skin, dark eyes, and tall stature, but since Jim had never seen her crack a smile or a joke, he sometimes wondered if she was even human. Her attitude, in his opinion, stunk. He understood that being a woman, a very good-looking woman, in the FBI was a tough job, but it still didn't mean she had to become an automaton.

Nathan Shaw, on the other hand, tended to be a bit more pleasant to deal with, and a lot more conciliatory to the 'locals'. Quiet, intelligent, hair turning just a bit gray, sharp eyes, and even a tiny sense of humor -- Blair had been right that he was okay for a fed. Jim had always thought Shaw could give Rafe a run for his money in the perfect hair and suit department. He'd even found them once trading names of shops they visited with a much-amused Brown looking on. Maybe it was because he was the senior agent or because he felt he had to balance out his partner's heavy-handedness, but either way, Jim was glad he didn't have to talk to just Malinson. Maybe he'd feel less like he'd just took on a brick wall and lost.

Malinson glared back, then looked past him into the bullpen. "Where's your...partner?"

Jim answered shortly. "Busy. What do you want?"

Shaw cleared his throat and stepped forward. "We're not here to take over your case, Detective."

"Good. I wasn't planning to let you take it."

"Jim..." Simon spoke up in a soft warning.

Malinson stepped past Shaw, moving closer to Jim. "And just how did you think you'd stop us, Ellison?"

Jim flashed her a very unpleasant smile. "I'm sure you've seen my file, Malinson. You know what I did before I became a cop. You figure it out."

Dark eyes flashing in anger, Malinson's jaw tightened and her lips firmed even further. Shaw grasped her shoulder and pulled her back a little, interrupting their confrontation. Jim ignored Simon's disapproving look and focused on the agents instead.

Shaw cleared his throat again and started over. "As I was saying, we're not here to take over your case. However, because of the possibility of these drugs crossing borders and the widespread deaths attributed to them, it was decided that the Bureau needed a presence in this investigation. Think of us as consultants, if you will."

Jim stared fixedly at them for a long moment, then nodded once grudgingly. "All right. Don't get in my way -- or my partner's way -- and there won't be any problems."

Shaw held up both hands. "We're not here to get in anyone's way, Detective."

"Good."

Simon's phone rang behind him and the captain leaned back to pluck the receiver from its base. "Banks." He paused a moment, then looked at his watch. "Oh, thanks, Rhonda. I'll head out now." He hung up the phone and stood, shoving away from the desk. "I have to pick my son up from baseball practice, so I'll leave you two in the capable hands of Detective Ellison. Feel free to use my office." He slapped Jim on the shoulder, then moved past him to open the door.

"Say hi to Daryl for me. And tell him I'm sorry we interrupted your day off," he said as Simon walked by.

"He understands, but I'll tell him anyway." Simon paused and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Play nice, Jim."

Sighing, Jim shooed Simon away. "Yeah, yeah." He turned to Rhonda sitting at her desk just outside the door. "Rhonda, if you see Conner, could you send her in? I'm in a sharing kind of mood."

Rhonda chuckled and hid a smile behind her hand. "If she turns up, I'll give her the message."

"Thanks." Jim stepped back inside the office, closed the door, and turned to the feds. Taking a breath, he then walked to the table where the many and various files for the case lay scattered across the surface. Gesturing to the chairs on the other side, he said, "Take a seat. This could take a while." He pulled out a chair of his own and sat down.

Malinson and Shaw sat down as suggested, each pulling out a small pad of paper and pen from inside their coat pockets. Shaw placed his carefully on the table, then leaned back in his chair, folding his hands in front of him. Malinson uncapped her pen and immediately began writing at the top of the paper. Jim frowned, but then dismissed her actions. He opened the first file, flipping past the picture of the victim as he started his recitation.

"We found the first victim at the far end of Barcroft Park in Old Cascade..."

**************

Holli took the three messages from the hotel clerk with a smile, then turned away and headed for the elevator to take her to the third floor. She punched the 'up' button, then tiredly rotated her head a little to relax stiff neck muscles. The afternoon conference meeting, while very informative, had been long and almost too informative. Feeling rather parched and scratchy-eyed, she was glad it was over for the day. Which meant she could order room service and maybe soak in a hot tub full of bubbles.

Grinning at the thought, a bit more energy found its way into her step as she entered the elevator and pushed '3'. As the car rose, she rifled through the messages quickly. One for Mack from someone named Eddie with a Waikiki number. The second one was also for Mack from a Lupita -- with a local Cascade number. Holli rolled her eyes. In Cascade for a day and a half and already the man had been attracting the female element. The third message was for her and had 'urgent' scrawled on it, along with Nui's number.

The elevator doors opened and she strode through them, heading for her room halfway down the hall, intent on calling Nui and figuring out what her assistant needed. She paused at Mack's door and knocked on it a few times.

"Mack? You in there?" She knocked again. "Mack?"

No answer.

Holli sighed to herself and shook her head, muttering under her breath as she stepped over to the door of her room. "You'd better not get into any trouble out here, Mack." She paused as she searched for her card key in her purse, remembering who she was talking about. "Who am I kidding? The man thrives on trouble."

Finally digging out the card key, she slid it through the lock and opened the door, stepping inside and letting the door swing closed behind her with a gentle snick. She remained leaning against the door for a moment, eyes closed, enjoying the solitude, then forced herself away, shrugging out of her jacket and laying it over the end of the bed.

"Room service. Nui. Then a bubble bath."

After gathering a glass of water and toeing off her shoes, Holli settled at the head of the bed, phone in hand. First she called down to room service and ordered a light supper, figuring it'd be ready about the time she was done with the call back to Hawaii. Then she dialed up the ME's office at Waikiki PD. Nui answered in the midst of the second ring.

"Medical Examiner's office. Nui speaking."

"Hey, Nui, it's me."

"Holli. Hi. How's the conference?"

Holli chuckled. "Long, a little dry, but going very well, I think. I got your message. What's up?"

"I'm so sorry for bugging you, but something came up on the Li Hoa case. Captain Herzog didn't want to wait until you got back to fill in the details, so...I called."

"No problem. Tell me what you need..." She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the wall, listening as Nui talked, answering her questions, and helping her get the bugs worked out on the report.

After they finished, Nui said, "Thanks, Doc. So, other than the conference, how was your day?"

"My day? Interesting to say the least." She sipped at her water. "Met up with an old girlfriend of Mack's, went to the beach, got some sun, talked with Blair a little, heard a few interesting tales, got semi-involved in a murder investigation, you know, same old, same old."

Nui's soft laughter came across the line. "Yup. Sounds pretty normal to me."

**************

"Thanks for coming by. Come again!"

The shopkeeper's voice echoed slightly as he escorted the customer to the front door of his store. Mack heard the door swing shut, then footsteps approached him where he stood examining a few surfboards.

"Sir?" The man came around the corner and walked up to him. "I'm afraid we're closing."

Mack pulled a board towards him and looked at it closer, running a hand down its surface. "Nice. Real smooth. Excellent quality." He set the board back in position and turned to face the owner of the small Boards 'N Stuff shop. "A good stick. Too bad I can't afford to take it back with me."

The other man, a little shorter and younger than Mack, raised an eyebrow, a perplexed look on his face. "Back with you?"

"I'm visiting from Waikiki." He grinned and patted the board. "This would be killer on the waves."

The man returned his grin. "You're a good judge of sticks, Mr..."

"Wolfe. Mack Wolfe." They shook hands.

"Ron Mercier. Call me Ron."

"And call me Mack. Good to meet you, Ron. Now I believe you said something about closing time."

Ron gestured towards the door and they walked slowly in that direction. "So tell me, Mack, what're you doing up in the northwest? I'm sure you didn't come all this way to look at surfboards."

Mack chuckled as they neared the front door. "No, I didn't. Actually, I've been hitting all the surf shops in Cascade looking for some old friends of mine that I knew in Waikiki. Thought maybe they might be hanging around at one of them." He sighed and shook his head. "No luck, however."

They stopped at the front door and Ron leaned against the frame. "Who're these friends of yours? I know most of the surfing crowd. Maybe I've seen them around."

Mack smiled. "You think so?" He dug a hand into the back pocket of his chinos and pulled out two folded pictures. He flattened out the creases before giving them to Ron. "These were taken a few years ago at a party just before they left. The first guy's Ross Eagen, the second's Chester Potts."

Ron took the pictures and looked at each man. Both were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and wore wide grins; they were obviously having a great time. Eagen was a tall, reedy man with black hair and a jagged scar on his chin; Potts was shorter, a little rounder, with straw-colored hair. While Eagen stood alone, Potts had one arm around the shoulders of a young pre-teen girl, clutching her to his side. Ron frowned at the pictures, then tapped at the one of Eagen. "He looks vaguely familiar. I think I saw him hanging around a few weeks back. I remember that scar. This other guy, I'm not so sure. Maybe, maybe not."

"Do you remember where? Another surf shop maybe?" Mack tried to keep his voice at a reasonable level of curiosity. "I'd really love just to pop up and surprise them. They did it to me last time so I owe them."

Laughing, Ron shoved open the front door of the store with one shoulder and pointed down the street. "I think I remember seeing the first guy, Eagen, at the burger joint on the corner a day or so ago." He moved to one side as Mack exited the shop to see where he was pointing. "I'd stopped by there for lunch on my way to work. I bumped into him -- quite literally -- which is why I remember." Pausing a moment to think, he snorted in bemusement. "He didn't see me walk outside and we crashed into each other. Nearly dropped my food on the sidewalk. Too busy yacking away on his cellphone to pay attention to anything."

Mack pulled a licorice twist from his pocket and started to chew on it. "You don't say. Hmm..." He stared a moment longer at the burger place down the street, then shook himself and turned back to Ron. Reclaiming the pictures, Mack shoved them into his pocket and continued, "Thanks a lot, Ron. You've been a big help." They shook hands and Mack added one final request. "If you see either of them around, could you let me know? I'm at the Waterfront Hilton."

"You got it."

"Thanks, bro." Flashing a wide grin, Mack waggled a hand at him, then shoved both hands into his pockets and strolled down the sidewalk. He stopped next to the rental car and leaned against it for several moments prior to getting in. His eyes glued themselves on the fast food place on the corner.

"Eagen, my man, just what are you up to this time? Hmm?"

**************

Dusk settled heavily on Cascade's poorer half, leaving the streets dangerous as wiser folks locked themselves in for the evening. The door of an old tenement building creaked open and shut, followed shortly by the groans of the rickety stairwell. At the second floor landing, a set of lone footsteps paused, then echoed in the hallway as a figure crept along the passageway. At the other end of the long dark expanse of doors, an ancient cuckoo clock croaked out, "Six o'clock and all is well."

The shadowed figure paused, then walked slowly down the hallway, sidestepping trash, junk, and the occasional sleeping person. At a doorway, the figure stopped, raised a black-gloved hand, and rapped twice on the door, paused, then knocked again. Chains rattled on the other side in preparation for the door opening. A wiry, thirty-something man with greasy black hair dressed in black jeans and a ratty off-white stained tank top yanked the door wide, gesturing inside with the beer can clenched in one hand. "Welcome to my abode."

"You missed, Eagan." The figure took half a step into the room, standing just beyond the doorjamb, the dim light not touching him.

Eagan stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and carelessly chugged down the last few swallows from the can. He dragged the back of his other hand across his chin, wiping away the excess drops. "So what? Don't worry. I'll get him next time. Easy target." Turning away, he ambled back into the room towards a collection of beer cans on a card table. "You want something?"

A gloved hand withdrew a gun from inside the long coat. The silencer gleamed dully as he pointed it towards Eagan. "No. And, by the way, you don't get a second chance."

"What--?" Eagan turned, then stumbled as two shots hit him in the chest. He fell against the table, then crumpled into an unmoving heap on the floor.

The gun vanished and a small cellphone took its place. A moment of dialing, then the man spoke quietly. "Eagan's been dealt with. Should I take out Sandburg personally?" He turned away from the body, idly surveying the tiny one-room apartment. The light from the lone lamp hit him for a second, illuminating the gold, oddly-shaped earring in one ear.

He stiffened as the person on the other end of the line snapped back an answer. "You're going to take care of Sandburg? Are you sure that's wise--?"

A few sharp words cut him off and he nodded in the darkness. "Very well." Snapping the phone shut, he took one last look around, then exited the room, softly closing the door behind him.

**************

"Dreams are a product of our imagination." Pages rustled briefly, echoing just slightly in a corner study area of the University Library. "Dreams develop as a result of outer stimuli and experiences." More pages rustled and a few thumps sounded as books were shoved to one side. "We dream because we live." A pause. "Or is it we live because we dream."

Another loud thump echoed as Blair slammed the book shut and added it to the untidy pile of books on one edge of the desk. A loud "Shh!" drifted his way and he waved a hand in the air, not bothering to look where the voice had come from. Yanking off his glasses, he dropped them on the desk, then covered his face with both hands. He released a quiet frustrated growl between clenched teeth, wishing he dared practice that ancient warrior's yell he heard about the other day.

Sighing heavily, he relaxed, letting his hands fall into his lap as he leaned back in the chair. "Not something to do in a library." He paused and glanced around at the other students studying in various cubicles. A moment later, he wondered if a good scream by all the students at once wouldn't release some of that "been studying too long" tension. Chuckling, he added to himself, "Maybe later. In the loft. Wouldn't Jim like that?"

Restraining the louder laugh that wanted to erupt, Blair forced his attention back to the matter at hand -- dreams. More specifically, Jim's dreams. He had come into the Library with the intent of gathering information for the next day's lecture. But once he'd started reading, he'd found himself studying so he'd have some solid information to begin with when he and Jim talked later on. And they would talk. Jim had promised.

And speaking of Jim...

Blair dug his watch face from his pocket and squinted at it -- half past six o'clock. "Oh, man. Sorry, buddy." He hauled his backpack into his lap and pulled out his cellphone. Tapping at the speed-dial for Jim's cellphone number, he sat back, waiting for it to ring. It rang once and was immediately answered.

"Ellison." The standard greeting was clipped and nowhere near friendly. Blair winced.

"Uh, hey, Jim. It's me. Is that offer of a ride still available? Or am I too late?"

"Sandburg...I was beginning to wonder. You ready to go?"

Blair chuckled softly. "Is that a bit of desperation I hear in your voice? You wouldn't still be talking with our favorite people, would you?"

"Shaw had to leave at 5:30 to pick up his wife at the airport, but Malinson's still here."

"Ooh. Sorry, man. Tell her it's quitting time and to go home." He heard someone talking to Jim and paused a moment, trying to recognize the voice. Female. The word 'Sandy.' "Oh, Jim, you didn't subject Megan to that woman, did you? Oh, man, that's harsh!"

A vague rumble of a suppressed laugh and a soft choking cough came across the line, then Jim said, "I'll fill you in on that later. Let me, uh, clear up a few things here and then I'll swing by and get you. Okay?"

"Okay. I'll be waiting in the lobby. And, Jim? Make sure you spray some air freshener in Simon's office -- I assume that's where you are -- to get rid of that 'fed' smell."

Another bit-off laugh and Jim managed a civil, "See you in a bit, Chief."

Blair hung up and put the cell away, then stared morosely at the stack of books. "Now...to make some sense of this mess..."

Fifteen minutes later, after having checked out the few books he wanted to study a little more intently, Blair plopped down into one of the large lobby chairs at the front of the Library. He stretched his legs out and left his backpack resting next to the base of the chair. Tilting his head back, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, slowly relaxing the muscles that had tensed up during the past couple hours of studying and reading. He rubbed his fingers over his sore eyes and pondered having his eyesight checked again to make sure his glasses were still the correct prescription. It had been a few years since--

Something hit his leg and he jerked his hand away from his eyes in surprise. Blinking a few times brought a young woman just a few years younger than him into focus. Short, shoulder-length dark curly hair, a little on the pudgy side, a backpack on her shoulders, a large book in one arm, and a long white red-tipped cane in the other. She pulled the cane back a bit as she spoke in an apologetic tone. "Oh, excuse me. I didn't hear anyone there."

Blair straightened and stood up, smiling. "Amalia! Hey!" He gently touched her shoulder.

A smile lit up Amalia's face and she turned towards his voice. "Blair! Fancy meeting you here."

He chuckled. "Well, why not? It's where we first, uh, bumped into each other."

She returned the laugh, then said, "So what're you doing here? You don't hang around the Library during the day much anymore. You're usually off fighting the bad guys with Jim." Her wide smile crinkled the skin at the edges of her closed eyes.

"Yeah, those bad guys keep us pretty busy." He shook his head, forcing away the images of Pratt's body that suddenly appeared in his head. "Actually I'm taking that dream lecture series, the one your mom is coordinating. I was getting some books to check out to do some advance reading for tomorrow. And now I'm waiting for Jim to swing by and pick me up on his way home."

"No car?"

Blair sighed melodramatically. "No car. Down and out again. Jim keeps threatening to haul me to a car place to get my 'classic' replaced."

Amalia laughed softly. "Considering that half the students know you're coming from the noise your car makes and the big exhaust cloud I hear you leave as a trail, maybe you ought to let him."

"Thank you, Amalia." Jim's voice rumbled with amusement and Blair turned to see the detective coming up next to them. "Maybe you can talk some sense into him where I can't."

Blair grinned, then shook his head. "My car is a classic, man. I am not giving it up. And if you hadn't tried to make it into a pursuit vehicle last year, it wouldn't have all these problems now."

Jim pursed his lips and nodded sagely. "Oh, I see. It's all my fault now, is it?" He turned to Amalia and sighed. "You see what I have to put up with?"

Amalia chuckled quietly. "Poor Jim. You know, you two never fail to make me smile." Shifting the book a little, she continued, "Now then, I should let you guys go do your thing, and I need to catch up on some studying of my own." She patted the book for emphasis.

Blair squeezed her shoulder. "It was good to talk to you, Amalia."

Jim touched her other shoulder and leaned in to brush a kiss across her cheek. "A pleasure as always, Miss Zavala."

Amalia blushed a little and ducked her head before starting to move forward, her cane tapping softly against furniture and the carpeted floor. Blair glanced in the direction she was heading and caught her arm. "Watch out for the third sofa on the left. Stanley and Sidney are doing their twin snorers routine again."

She flashed him another smile. "Thanks."

Blair watched her walk towards one of the study tables where another friend awaited her. He suppressed a laugh as she deliberately kicked the side of the sofa in passing, startling both slumbering students into abrupt wakefulness. She only smiled sweetly and continued on her way. Turning back to Jim, his mood lightened again, Blair gathered up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder.

"So...what's for dinner? I'm starved!"

"And why doesn't that surprise me..."

************************

Continued in Part Five...