Virtually Yours - dolly llama

Within minutes of getting online, the alarm sounded on Blair's computer, alerting him to an attempt by some would-be hacker to try to gain access into his system. Effortlessly, he clicked on the icon for the firewall and brought up the log, identifying the attacker and type of attack. Noting quickly it was an 'RPC port probe,' which was of no consequence since he was running Windows, Blair nevertheless, from habit, plugged in the associated IP number to the trace software. It only took moments for the mystery intruder's location to be pinpointed...the United Kingdom.

"Don't you kids have anything better to do?" he muttered to himself as he closed the window and began to download his email. "Apparently not..." The alarm sounded once again. And once again Blair traced the attacker, all the while knowing his firewall prevented anyone from gaining actual access to his machine. This time the trace indicated the signal originated in San Diego.

The alarm sounded for a third time before all the email had successfully downloaded onto Blair's computer. "That's it! I'm not jumping through your hoops tonight." Blair forcibly switched off the volume control on the speaker above his monitor. One hand began to massage his aching temple, while the other maneuvered the mouse into position to click on his favorite newsgroup - alt.anthropology.

Rather than waiting for the new posts to filter in, Blair headed to the kitchen to fix some tea, hoping to relieve his headache. A short while later he was blowing on the steaming liquid as he reclaimed his seat in front of the monitor.

"Oh man, you are so missing the point I was trying to make here," he screamed at the screen as he read one of the newsgroup posts. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he angrily typed out his response.

A half hour later, Blair's mood hadn't improved as he continued to read and summarily respond to posts on the newsgroup by the same individual who seemed to enjoy engaging him in this duel over semantics.

"You Asshole! I said the prevailing opinions of ... Jeez, why do I bother?" Blair removed his glasses and set them on the table and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Lifting his cup, he found it empty and went to get more tea.

Returning, he replaced his glasses and switched screens, preferring to check his email instead of further engaging in an apparent never-ending battle on the newsgroup.

A message from Naomi caught his eye and he became engrossed in it, never noticing the persistent flashing icon of his computer's firewall alarm.

Blair re-read the message he'd just written to his mother, catching her up on his new position as a programmer with a local communications company in Cascade.

...the people seem nice, Naomi, and I think I'm gonna like it there. It's not what I'd really like to be doing, but it's the second best thing I know how to do.
Love
Blair

Satisfied, he clicked on the send button and watched as the message uploaded. It was then that the blinking orange icon caught his attention. "No way, man. Not tonight," he said, realizing it was the firewall alert.

Given his deteriorating mood, Blair quickly dispatched with the remainder of his email messages and decided to forego returning to the anthropology newsgroup. Instead he chose to mindlessly surf the Internet, losing track of time as he did. The constant flashing light at some point turned from orange to red but Blair never noticed it. Likewise, he missed the notice of the incoming IM message and subsequent email messages that arrived.

Dark curls went flying as Blair shook the cobwebs from his head. Positioning the cursor to click off the computer he noticed all the flashing icons. Swiftly he brought up the IM message and realized it was actually a short series of messages from the same person - - 'SusieQ', a friend from work.

Hey, Kiddo - We really need to talk
Blair, are you there? This is important
Blair??? Where are you?????

She'd gotten offline at 10:12 p.m. Blair glanced over at his computer's clock; it read 11:05. "Damn!"

He quickly shut down his computer, picked up the phone and dialed her number, praying she was still awake.

"Suse? I didn't wake you, did I?"

"Blair?" the voice on the other end became instantly alert.

"Yeah, it's me. What's so important?"

"I thought you should know I've gotten a few phone calls tonight from friends of mine who've seen your posts over on the hacking newsgroups. Not very subtle, guy."

"Wha??? What newsgroups, Suse. I don't have anything to do with any hacking newsgroups...," he sputtered.

"Well, somebody using your email address is posting on all of them."

"It's gotta be some kind of prank. Let me check it out. I'll talk to you tomorrow at the office and let you know what I've found out." At this point, he didn't know what else he could tell her.

"Okay, sounds like a plan. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Suse, I appreciate the heads up," Blair said wearily.

"No prob. I wish I could do more," she offered sincerely before hanging up.

Blair quickly reconnected online. With a minimum of effort he soon was beginning to understand the severity of his problems. Over the course of the last week some one had apparently posted a series of messages using Blair's own email address to various newsgroups devoted to computer hacking. The messages themselves offered advice on activities that ranged from borderline legal to downright against the law. Furthermore, some even went so far as to hint at potential passwords for some of Cascade more prominent businesses. There were six messages posted tonight to three different newsgroups...and all while Blair himself was actually online.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" Blair intoned louder and louder. "This is so not cool."

Slowly he rose from his chair and walked towards the kitchen to get some tea. It was gonna be a long night.

* * * * *

The first thing that caught his eye as he walked through the door way was the man intently studying the computer monitor sitting on his desk, a frown punctuating his otherwise calm exterior.

"Something up, Jim?"

"Oh hey, Rafe," he called out without looking away from the screen. "I'm just checking out the newsgroups and it seems they've gotten pretty active lately."

"Tell me about it. I've gotten three calls this afternoon about attempted hacking activities. It's like all the area business have unexpectedly become fair game."

Abruptly the phone rang and Rafe quickly picked it up. "Cascade Police, High Tech Crimes, Detective Rafe...."

Jim took the opportunity to leave the room to get a cup of coffee. When he returned, Rafe was just hanging the phone up.

"Another one," he sighed. "Apparently some wannabe hacker is posting all over the Internet providing helpful hints on Hacking 101, complete with legitimate passwords into several tech companies."

"Great, just what we need," Jim said shaking his head sadly.

After more than an hour of reading the wide variety of posts on the multitude of newsgroups devoted to the topic of hacking and hackers, Detective Ellison still couldn't believe what his eyes were showing him.

"Is this guy a rank amateur, or what? I mean who uses his real email address to do something like this? It's too easy."

"Maybe this guy isn't the one actually doing it," Rafe suggested.

Jim looked over at his partner. "You got something?"

"No," he sighed. "But this does look like the work of a rank amateur; leaving a trail like this. Maybe somebody..."

Just then a young officer walked into the room and handed a piece of paper to Detective Ellison.

"What's that, Jim?"

"Dunno yet. Something I requested earlier..." Jim quickly scanned the paper. "Dammit!" He jumped up from his chair.

"What?" Rafe trailed rapidly behind his partner.

Jim was already on the move, headed straight towards his Captain's office. He barely waited for permission to enter before walking in.

"Simon, I need a favor. I tried to check priors on our would be hacker here and it looks like there's something, however, it's sealed in California. Any chance you can do some digging around and see what's going on here?" He put the paper on the desk as he spoke.

"You realize what this probably means don't you, Jim? Probably a juvey offense. I don't know if I have any pull in..." peering down at the sheet "Palo Alto anyway. I'll see what I can do in the morning though."

"Thank you, Sir."

Rafe approached his Captain's desk and extended his hand. "May I, Sir?"

Simon handed the report to the other detective. Opening the leather case, he pulled his last cigar out and gently caressed it.

"Anything else?"

"I think we've got enough to go on right now, Simon, that we should get warrants to search this kid's home and confiscate his computer."

"How soon will you need it?" Simon said, quietly lighting the cigar. He'd been anticipating the request.

Jim glanced over at his partner. "The sooner the better but tomorrow is fine. Rafe?"

"Um, sure, Jim."

"That shouldn't be a problem. I assume you'll be wanting a warrant for his old office and computer at the University as well, right?"

"What?" they said simultaneously.

Simon pointed at the report still in Rafe's hands. "Since your hacker was a teacher at Rainier prior to going to work at Communication Systems, there might be something there."

"It says here he quit a couple of months ago. You really think that's necessary. He probably cleared everything out." Rafe kept his eyes on the paper in his hand, not daring to look at the other men.

"Simon's right. Probably wouldn't hurt to check it out."

"Looks like you've got your work cut out for you. Well, I'm going to call it a night. I'll see both you in the morning." Realizing they'd been dismissed, the detectives turned to leave. "Uh, Rafe?"

He turned and faced his Captain. "Yes, Sir?"

Simon held his hand out. Rafe walked back over and placed the sheet of paper on the man's desk. "Sorry, Sir." He quickly made his exit.

Jim followed him and went back to his own computer. He began scrolling through the new messages in the targeted newsgroups, but found nothing new from their academic hacker and was strangely disappointed.. He re-read all the previous posts trying to familiarize himself with this person in preparation for the confrontation tomorrow.

"Damn!" Rafe muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" Jim looked over at his partner.

"Nothing, Jim."

He studied the man for a minute. Reluctant to press him further, Jim stood up and grabbed his jacket. "Aren't you about ready to call it a day?"

"Yeah, I'll be outta here shortly. See you in the morning, Jim," he called as he went back the paperwork spread out in front of him.

"Later."

While Jim was waiting for elevator, he heard Rafe on the telephone. "I'll tell you tonight. Yeah, tomorrow. I don't..." The doors closed.

* * * * *

'Why would somebody want to do this to me? Who would want to do this...' His thoughts trailed off as the tea pot began to whistle. As he poured the water into his mug some names began to surface in his mind. 'But they're in...' Blair rushed over to the computer, spilling tea from the mug as he went.

It took Blair exactly ten minutes to discover that his nightmare was probably just beginning. On the computer screen was an excerpt from the local Palo Alto, CA paper, dated over two months ago.

Wyatt Clark was released from the Palo Alto federal prison today after having served the full fifteen years of his sentence as part of a conspiracy to commit criminal computer crimes against various communication businesses throughout the community. As was previously reported, Tim Preston and Paul Martin were released, after serving their sentences earlier this week.
Mr. Clark, along with his associates, Mr. Preston and Mr. Martin, was finally brought to justice after a year long effort by the Palo Alto Police Department who were investigating these activities. It is believed there was a fourth member of this conspiracy, however, no charges were filed against him because of his cooperating testimony. Because the suspected fourth member was a minor at the time of the arrests, his name was never revealed to the press.

Blair's hand was shaking violently as he lifted his cup to his lips. It was all he could do to hold it with two hands in order to take a sip before setting the mug back down.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" This was quickly becoming Blair's mantra.

He went back to the newsgroup messages, printed them all out and lay them out before him.

"All right Wyatt, what's your game here? It's pretty obvious you're trying to set me up, man. But you've got something else in mind too, I just know it..."

Hours later, Blair was still studying the printed messages when the alarm clock began it's incessant buzzing. Shaking his head, he walking into the bedroom and turned it off. Grabbing a change of clothes, Blair headed slowly for what he hoped would be a revitalizing shower.

* * * * *

The call came in at 9:00 a.m. sharp, and as luck would have it, Jim received the call.

"No sir, we've been waiting on further information in our investigation before taking action. Yes, sir, I understand, sir. But we... Yes, sir. We'll be there as soon as possible. Yes, sir, I've got the address."

Jim was reaching for his sports coat as Rafe walked back in the room. "We've got to get down to Communication Systems. Mr. Patterson just called. He wants to file formal charges against this guy."

"I thought we were gonna wait to get the..," Rafe protested.

"We were, but this guy insists we get down there now, so we go"

"Fine." Rafe put on his jacket, straightened his tie and followed Jim out the door.

The officer lay the report on Ellison's desk, face up, the photograph of the young man with the long brunette curls, paper clipped to it.

* * * * *

Blair had a bad feeling when the call came to his desk requesting his presence for a meeting with the President of the Company. It didn't improve as he approached the secretary's desk and she refused to make eye contact with him.

"I must say, I'm rather surprised you actually showed your face around here today!" the man said loudly as soon as Blair entered the room.

'I guess he heard,' Blair sighed heavily as he debated momentarily playing dumb. "Sir, I had nothing to do with any of this."

"What kind of fool do you take me for, young man? Those messages are from your email..."

"Mr. Patterson, sir," Blair quickly interrupted. "Yes, they appear to be from my email address. However, I can assure you, I didn't write any of them. I don't subscribe to any of those newsgroups. I just found out about all of this myself last night. I..."

Patterson just glared at him. "Some of our confidential passwords were compromised in those messages. Passwords that you are quite familiar with. If it wasn't you, as you claim, do you have any idea who it was?"

"I'm not sure, Mr. Patterson. I have some suspicions, but I don't know for sure."

"You have some nerve trying to pass the blame for this on others. You've been caught in a lie, Mr. Sandburg, why don't you just admit your guilt without further compounding the damages."

The formality of switching to his last name began to unnerve him. "I..I...don't know what you're talking about, sir."

"Don't you?" Patterson walked behind his desk before continuing. "Those particular passwords were only known to you, me and my son. Now I know that I didn't post them on the Internet and I most certainly resent any implication you might be making that my son might have done it. Therefore, that leaves only you, Mr. Sandburg."

"Mr. Patterson, I..."

"I also took the liberty of speaking to one of your former colleagues over at Rainier, Mr. Sandburg. You lied on your application. You didn't quit. You were fired! I can only surmise that it had something to do with your illicit computer hacking activities over there as well..."

"That's not true! I..."

"Enough, Mr. Sandburg. Your employment with Communication Systems is terminated, effective immediately."

"Mr. Patterson, if you would please give me a chance to explain."

"There is nothing you can say that I care to hear, Mr. Sandburg. Although you probably should consider carefully what you tell the police when they contact you." Seeing the look of surprise on Blair's face, Patterson continued. "You didn't think we'd simply sweep this under the carpet did you, Sandburg? You've compromised the security of this company and, at the very least, cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars with your actions. Now get out of here before I have to have you forcibly removed."

Realizing he was temporarily beaten, Blair quickly cleaned out his desk and headed toward the door. As he walked by Susie's desk, she didn't look up, but placed a piece of paper in his hand. He didn't break his stride as he walked out of the office. He pressed the button, summoning the elevator.

The elevator doors opened to reveal two men inside. The shorter of the pair glanced quickly at the young man blocking their progress, but just as rapidly looked away. Blair's eyes lit on the other man but he lowered them as he stood aside to let them pass. He found himself staring at the taller of the two men as they walked briskly down the hall toward his former office. The man turned his head momentarily and caught Blair's eye before turning back around.

'Come on, Man. This is not the time for sightseeing,' he mentally chastised himself as he quickly entered the waiting elevator before the doors had a chance to close. 'Jeez, what's wrong with you? They're cops, Man...' He continued berating himself during his rapid descent.

* * * * *

By the time the detectives left the offices of Communication Systems, two things were certain. They had a very confused picture of the man who had supposedly been posting messages to the hacker groups and Jim had a raging headache.

Until the discovery of the messages attributable to Blair Sandburg, he'd been a dedicated employee who worked very hard and was very good at what he did. He made friends easily and in fact, was well liked by his colleagues, most of whom were having a difficult time believing that he did such a thing.

Since the detectives arrived without a search warrant they informed the President that they would be back to take custody of the computer used by Mr. Sandburg, however, Mr. Patterson had insisted that they take it with them.

Arriving back at the office they discovered that information had started to trickle in.

"I knew it"

"Jim?"

Jim pointed at the photograph attached to the file on his desk, "that's the guy I saw at the elevator when we were getting off. That was Sandburg."

"We're gonna get the guy," Rafe stated simply, barely noticing the picture.

Jim glanced over at his partner, puzzled at his recent behavior.

"I think I'm gonna head over to the University and see what I can come up with. In the meantime, see if you can dig up those search warrants and then meet me over there."

"Okay, I'll probably see you shortly then," he called after Jim's retreating back.

* * * * *

"Headache still bothering you, Jim?" Rafe asked when he approached the detective on the steps of the University's Library.

"Yeah, it's been one of those days, I'm afraid.. Did you get the warrants?"

"Right here," he responded, patting his breast pocket.

"Good, let's get this over with."

They walked over to the building where Blair's office use to be and they met the Dean of the School of Anthropology. After showing her the search warrant, she scowled and escorted the men to a nearby office. Opening the door she motioned for them to enter.

"Detective Ellison, Detective Rafe, this is William Fairchild. He's a teacher in the Anthropology Department. Mr. Fairchild, would you please show these detectives Mr. Sandburg's old office and where his old computer is located? They have a warrant to confiscate it along with any pertinent materials."

"Yes, Dean Simmons," he responded automatically. Rising from his chair, he moved toward the door. "It's this way."

Jim was somewhat surprised that Fairchild didn't seem to have been caught off guard by the Dean's request, but he rationalized that perhaps the Dean had arranged with him in advance to lead them around. He was more startled, however, to discover that his partner seemed to be unnerved by the presence of the teacher.

When they reached the office, they found it to be almost completely empty save for the computer and an unopened box of computer disks. With the assistance of Mr. Fairchild, the three of them carried the computer and all its components out of the building and loaded it into Rafe's car.

"There are still a number of people on the list we need to interview." Pulling the list from his pocket, he indicated two names for Rafe to visit. "I'll speak with Professor Taylor and Dean Simmons."

"Right. I'll meet you back here in say an hour?"

Jim raced to catch up with Fairchild, unaware he was being watched by his partner. The two men were chatting as they entered the building. Rafe groaned softly as he walked off towards another part of the building.

An hour later, they met back at their cars.

"Did you learn anything interesting about this guy?"

'Yes, but I don't think it affects this case,' Jim thought. "Not sure yet; let's see what we find on the computer," he stated flatly. "Well, let's head over to Sandburg's apartment and get this over with. No point putting it off any longer."

"Okay." Rafe looked puzzled.

* * * * *

When Susie opened her door she found Blair standing there, looking somewhat shell shocked. Pulling him inside, she quickly glanced to her right and then left before closing the door and bolting it shut.

"Nobody followed me; I'm sure of it," Blair assured her as he put down his backpack and laptop.

"What are you? A secret agent all of a sudden?" she giggled, in spite of her trepidations.

"Not likely. I think the cops are looking for me though so I didn't want to take any chances getting you messed up in this."

"They came in the office right after you left asking a lot of questions about you and the kinds of stuff you were working on," Susie volunteered, as she moved into the kitchen. "Hungry?"

"Starved, actually." Blair followed her to the kitchen. "Two guys, right. One tall buff looking ex-military type and the other a little shorter, right outta GQ?"

"You got it," she said as she pulled everything she needed out of the refrigerator and placed it on the counter. "Here, you want to make the salad?"

* * * * *

"So, Kiddo, any ideas how you're gonna be able to convince people and specifically the cops you didn't do this?" Susie looked over at Blair as she put away the last of the dishes he'd washed.

"Believe it or not, that's the easiest part. I think this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and that something's going down and I'm trying to figure out what." He moved back over to the dining room table and opened up his computer.

"So how did this person post this stuff as you?"

Blair pulled a stack of papers out of his backpack and handed them to her. "Here's all the messages that have been posted on the hackers newsgroups so far."

"And you've never been over to these newsgroups?" She read each message carefully and studied the headers, looking for clues.

"Nope. Never even had any desire to check them out," he responded as he plugged the computer in and got online.

"What IP address did you have last night?" she asked as she read one of the previous night's messages?

"Huh? Um...hold on let me get connected here." Logging in, he immediately went into the anthropology newsgroup and pulled up one of his messages from the previous evening. "Here it is 168.191.230.150."

"That's the same IP number listed in this message posted to alt.hackers.malicious last night. What time did you post your message?"

"At 7:37 p.m. Why?"

"Just checking something. That doesn't match. This one was posted at 10:18 p.m."

He quickly looked over all his posts of the night. "Nope, none at 10:18."

"Well, it's not possible for there to be two at the same time from the same IP address from two different places, right?"

"Not technically...except..." Blair clicked on the icon for his firewall log. When it came up he looked it over quickly. "Shit!"

"What?"

"I've been getting hit by a lot of wannabe hackers lately so I've been turning the sound down so I wouldn't get disturbed. The alarm was apparently going ballistic last night and I missed it."

"What are you talking about, Blair?" Susie moved her chair closer to his to get a better look at his monitor.

"See these entries 'DNS spoof successful'? Somebody's been spoofing my IP numbers when I'm online." He continued to scan down the log entries. "Apparently, this has been happening quite a bit. Dammit!"

"There's your proof. You didn't do it," she smiled broadly.

"Yes and no. Problem is, they're good. They've covered their tracks so well, it's gonna be difficult to find out where they really are. Without another suspect, I'm still left holding the bag. I know these guys are planning something. I just can't figure out what."

"Isn't it enough that you've been set up to take the fall? What a minute, guys? Blair, do you know who this is who's doing this?"

"I'm not positive, but I'm fairly certain, I know who it is. If I'm right, then the reason I'm being set up is payback for something I did to them a long time ago."

Wordlessly, Susie got up and went to the refrigerator. When she returned, she was carrying two beers. "You looked like you could use one of these," she said as she handed the bottle over.

"Thanks," he grinned over at her as he unscrewed the cap and took a long swallow.

"You know, maybe you should consider talking to the cops about this. Maybe if you tell them all this stuff they just might listen and might help catch the real guys."

"Yeah, and pigs'll fly," Blair snickered as he returned his attention to manipulating the various search engines he brought up on the screen.

Three hours later Susie was rudely awakened from where she had fallen asleep on the couch as Blair yelled. "Gotcha, you Bastards!"

"Wha?...What's the matter?"

"Huh? Oh, sorry Suse. I found them. I knew if I kept trying I'd find them sooner or later. One of them screwed up. Here, look."

She moved back over to the screen to see what had markedly improved his dark mood so dramatically. What she found was an address, phone number and email address for a Paul Martin. "So?" she questioned.

"This is one of the guys," he explained. I checked around in deja.com archives and found that this guy posted in one of the hacker newsgroups over a month ago."

"How can you be so sure it's him?" She still wasn't convinced.

"I did a little checking. This listing is not quite six weeks old. The timing would be about right for the earliest they could have arrived in Cascade.

"Blair?"

"Hmmm" He continued to stare at the information listed on the monitor.

"Just what are you planning on doing with this information?"

"Huh? Doing? Um...I don't know yet."

"I'm serious. About what I said before. Talk to the cops. Those two guys that came to the office today? They weren't half bad. They could probably..."

"Suse, of course they seemed nice to you. You aren't a suspect here."

"Blair, listen to me, please. I don't know why these guys are so pissed at you and feel they have to pay you back for whatever it is you did to them. Hell, I don't even want to know. But I have a really bad feeling that things are only gonna get worse before they get better. Talk to the cops. Let them go after these guys."

"You have a lot more faith in them than I do."

"What if you told them anonymously?"

"But..."

"Think about it, Blair." With that Susie got up and left the room. She returned moments later with a pillow and blankets for him and then retreated into her bedroom.

* * * * *

Blair sat in his Corvair and stared at the cell phone in his hand. He'd parked his car across the street from the police station and sat there for the last half hour trying to get up the courage to make the phone call.

He knew the drill. He'd rehearsed it over and over in his mind for hours this morning. 'Quick call. Give names, address information about prior arrest. Limit call to...Damn how long? Shit! I can't remember! Okay, okay. Take it easy, Sandburg. Talk fast. Keep it under a minute. They can't trace a call under a minute, can they? God, why can't I remember?'

* * * * *

"You wanted to see me, Simon?"

"Come in, Jim. Coffee?"

"Sure." Jim accepted the cup and sat down facing his Captain.

"I want you to know I had to call in a lot of favors to get this information for you." He held up the paper and Jim immediately reached for it. Just before his fingers touched it Simon jerked his arm back. "For all intents and purposes, the information in this document is confidential and is still officially sealed by the Court."

"I understand, Simon. Now may I see it?"

Jim sat at his desk reading and digesting the information contained in the court document. He read the testimony of a sixteen year old Blair Sandburg, who, because of certain unique computer talents, happened to stumble across a group of computer hackers in the process of breaking into top secret military computers. What was unclear from the evidence, however, was whether Sandburg himself was ever a part of this conspiracy group. 'So did you turn State's evidence willingly or were you coerced?' Skimming through the material once again, Ellison realized there was very little information on the three men who did the actual hacking. 'Wrong place at the wrong time again, eh, Sandburg,' he thought as he stood and walked towards Simon's office.

Knocking twice on the door jamb, he looked in. "Simon?"

"What is it?"

"You didn't by chance get any information from the Court and the local PD on these men...um..." Ellison glanced down at the papers in his hand trying to find their names.

"See if this helps, Jim."

Ellison looked back up at his Captain and found him holding a folder. Just then the phone rang and Simon tossed the folder on the desk.

"Excuse me... Banks here. Hold on a minute." Quickly he held his finger to his lips as he depressed the speakerphone button. "Okay, go ahead. What were you saying."

Jim winced slightly from the tingle in his ears. Rubbing them gently, he moved forward, honing in on the source of his discomfort.

"I...I s.s.said. You're looking for the w.w.wrong person as the hacker. It's really three people. Wyatt Clark, Paul Martin and Tim Preston. Paul Martin's address is 256 Scott Court. They just...Damn!!...."

"They just what? Hello...hello? He's gone. So what do you make of that, Jim? Jim?"

Jim was standing next to the large window, staring down at Corvair parked across the street. Simon moved next to his friend and nudged his shoulder. "Jim? What is it?"

"Huh? Oh nothing, Simon. Listen, I'm gonna play a hunch here and check something out. I'll check in with you later." He moved away from the window and headed quickly towards the door.

"Jim, what's going on? Do you want me to have Rafe check out that address for Martin?"

"No!" he said a little more emphatically than he intended. "Not yet, sir. Let me check out a couple of things first. I'll stay in touch."

* * * * *

Turning onto the street running through the warehouse district, Ellison slowed his approached as he neared Sandburg's apartment. There were no vehicles anywhere in the vicinity and a cursory glance towards the windows confirmed the detective's suspicions that the young man wasn't home. Spying an inconspicuous parking spot, Jim maneuvered the Expedition into it. Knocking on the door, more as a formality than anything else, since he didn't expect anyone to be home, Jim let his hand come to rest on the door knob. 'Good, no heat. I beat you here, Sandburg,' he mused as he turned and headed the short distance to his vehicle.

Content for the moment to wait for Sandburg's inevitable return home, Jim reached over and grabbed the file folders resting on the passenger seat. Opening the first one, he pulled out the photograph, studying it as he committed the man's features to memory's. "How'dya get mixed up in this, Sandburg?" Jim asked the picture, then paused, almost expecting an answer. With a sigh, he placed the photo on the seat beside him and shuffled through the papers inside the folders. "This just doesn't make sense," he said shaking his head slowly, as he re-read the report. He glanced back over at the picture. "What was in it for you, huh, kid? Money? Notoriety?" Ellison looked back over in the direction of the apartment and chuckled. "Guess it wasn't the money."

Gathering up the loose pieces of paper, he placed them back in the appropriate folders. Opening the last folder, Jim retrieved the photo and inserted it. Absentmindedly, his finger began to trace a pattern down the side of the angular jaw line. "If you were mi...." 'Jeez, Ellison, don't even go there.' He forcibly closed the file folder, purposely placing it between several others, before tossing all of them in the back seat. Closing his eyes tightly, Jim leaned his head back against the headrest. Running his fingers through his hair, he was torn between mentally chastising himself for his lack of judgment or analyzing to death why this particular hippie geek evoked such stirrings, long ago buried..

He was spared from making any such decision when moments later he heard the sound of a car engine growing louder as it approached. His eyes snapped open and Jim slid down further into the seat, even knowing his vehicle was well hidden from view. He allowed a small smile to pass his lips when the Corvair drove past his hiding place and pulled up in front of the apartment entrance.

Ellison waited just long enough for the solitary figure to gain entrance to the apartment before he exited the Expedition. Removing his shield from his jeans pocket as he quietly crossed the road, Jim mentally prepared himself for the confrontation he faced on the other side of the steel door. Reaching his destination, the detective knocked on the door. Abruptly, it sprang open and Jim stood frozen, staring wide-eyed at the man before him.

"Suse, I wasn't...." Blair backed away and moved to shut the door.

The sudden movement broke Jim's trance. Straightening his arm, he braced it against the heavy door, refusing to allow it to shut him out. After positioning the side of his body against the steel mass, Jim shoved hard, knocking the younger man off-balance. In doing so, the detective finally gained entrance.

"Blair Sandburg? I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade Police. I have a warrant to..."

"Oh man, this is so not cool." Blair ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it away from his face. Frantically, he began pacing around the room.

"Sandburg..."

"Am I under arrest, Detective?" Blair stopped his agitated movements long enough to momentarily make direct eye contact with the taller man.

"No, I'm..." Ellison had to spin around because he found himself talking to the kid's back again. Something caught his attention and Jim paused, attempting to focus on its source. "What's that smell?"

"I don't smell anything," Blair stated emphatically after quickly sniffing the air around him.

Jim tried again to focus but lost his concentration as the blur in denim and flannel whizzed by him again. Striding purposely over to him, Jim grasped Blair's shoulders and forced him to cease all motion. "Listen to me, kid..."

Abruptly, Blair twisted his body and Jim was left holding air. "I'm not a kid," he spat out defensively.

His eyes, locked on the firm body encased in the tight jeans moving away from him, only served to confirm that statement. 'You're telling me, Sandburg' "Um, I apologize, Sandburg."

Jim felt a warm flush creep over his face and he turned away abruptly, not wanting to give Blair a reason for speculation. With his back towards the younger man, Jim began to scan the room, hoping to locate the object of his search. "As I was saying, Sandburg, I have a warrant to search the premises. Specifically, I'm looking for your computer, all hardware, software, computer disks, CDs." Feeling his control returning, Jim turned to face him. "I think you know the drill."

Blair dared to look at him, a split second later his meaning became all too clear. "Damn!" He lurched forward as the realization of his predicament became all too clear. 'Breathe, Sandburg,' Blair ordered himself. 'So what if this guy knows about your past? It's not worth a major panic attack. Breathe, Dammit!'

Noticing the slight wobble in the gait, Jim became concerned. "Are you all right, Sandburg?"

"Yeah, I guess," he responded quietly. Blair moved over towards a large room fan resting against the far wall. .

"There it is again. Don't you smell it?" Jim lifted his face slightly as he moved his head back and forth.

Through his peripheral vision he saw the younger man bending to retrieve the power cord. The creases in his brow multiplied as he struggled to solve the equation. Blair plugged the cord in and turned the fan on. The wave of dizziness washed over him again, driving him to his knees in front of the cool air.

Ellison took in the scene before him. All at once, the pieces began to fit together. "Oh Shit!" He ran towards the hunched over figure, dragging him to his feet.

"What the hel..." Sandburg recoiled in terror as the larger man's finger's dug into his sides.

"Sandburg, we've got to get out of here. Now!" Jim continued to drag the man across the room, his efforts hampered by Blair's struggles.

Reaching the front door, Jim managed to turn the knob and pull it open while still maintaining some control over his squirming hostage. He'd just barely gotten Blair through the doorway when the violent explosion rocked the foundation of the entire building. Both men were thrown backwards into the road.

* * * * *

"Owwwwwww," Blair moaned as he tried to turn over on his side. Opening his eyes cautiously, he discovered part of the reason for his discomfort. He was effectively trapped beneath the much larger body of the detective, who had shown up at his apartment just before it exploded. "Detective Ellison?" he called out as he tried to wiggle out from underneath the man. 'Great! Just Great, Sandburg! And here you thought he was so buff. Turns out he's all dead weight!' he chuckled softly. Bringing both hands up to the man's shoulders, Blair tried to shake him, without success. Desperate now to get out of the road, he shook the man as hard as he could. "ELLISON!!"

"Wha? Where am... Sandburg?" Jim opened his eyes and discovered amusement in the blue eyes that stared back at him. Quickly assessing the situation, Jim pushed himself off of the younger man. "Sorry, I..."

"No big deal, Man," Blair shot back as he sat up and looked around. "Oh, Shit! Everything I had was in there!"

Jim looked over at the still burning apartment and silently sympathized with him. "Listen, we've got to get out of here now."

"What are you talking about. Didn't you hear me? Everything I..."

"I heard you just fine, Sandburg. You need to listen to me. We have to get out of here. The Fire Department is on their way now. We don't want to be here when they arrive."

"I don't understand." 'Did you hit your head or something, Big Guy?' He was seriously starting to worry.

"I'll explain it all later. For now, let's just say this wasn't an accident, okay? I need to get you out of here."

"And where are we going? To jail?" Blair started to move further and further away from the man.

"No! I'll think of something. Come on, we'll take my truck and leave your car here." Jim grabbed Blair's arm and started to lead him towards the Expedition.

"No!," Blair yelled as he twisted away. "I'm not leaving my car."

"We don't have time for this, Chief. Leave the car here. Let whoever did this think they got you. Maybe it'll keep them off your back so we can find them." Putting his hand on Blair's shoulder's he firmly nudged him in the direction of the truck.

"Does this mean you think I'm innocent?" Blair looked over at him.

"I don't know what it means yet, Chief. Just get in and we'll try to figure some of this out."

* * * * *

Blair just looked around as Jim closed the door behind them. "Nice place."

"I think so. Wanna beer?" he offered as he walked over to the refrigerator.

"Sure." He wandered over to the large sliding door to the balcony and stared out at the view, unsure of what was expected of him. Turning back around he faced his unexpected host. "So when do I get to meet Mrs. Ellison?"

"There is no Mrs. Ellison, Chief," he said nonchalantly. "Here" Jim pushed the cold bottle into his hand and walked over to the couch and sat down. Picking the cordless phone up off the coffee table he started to punch in numbers but abruptly stopped and disconnected the call. After a moment, he repeated his action...with the same result.

Blair walked around the couch from the other side and sat on the opposite end of the couch and watched the same scene play out repeatedly. "Um, did you forget the number?"

"No, I didn't forget it. I'm just not sure what I'm gonna say."

"Oh..."

"Yeah, 'Oh'. Bringing you over here probably wasn't one of the smarter things I've ever done, Chief. I mean there's leaving the scene of a crime, interfering with an official police investigation..."

"How about protecting a witness?" Blair offered helpfully.

"Is that what you are? A witness? I've gotta tell ya, Chief, a couple hours ago I could've sworn you were the primary suspect in a series of felony computer crimes."

Taking a sip from his beer, Blair began to play with the paper label on the bottle. Finally, he was able to look back over at the man on the other end of couch. "I didn't do any of it. I don't even subscribe to those newsgroups. I know who did it though."

"Yeah, I know. Wyatt Clark, Paul Martin and um...."

"Tim Preston." Blair supplied the missing name.

"That's the one. Those were the names you gave us when you called the station this morning."

"I wanted to make sure...hey, wait a minute. How do you know it was me that called?"

"I saw you sitting in your car across the street from the station while you were talking to my Captain."

"Dumb move on my part to park across the street, huh? Figures your Captain's office would be on the lower floor."

'Tenth floor, actually, Chief, but you don't need to know that' Jim just smiled at the young man as he look a sip from his bottle.

"So now what, Ellison? Are you gonna check these guys out, or what?"

"First of all, I need to figure out what I'm gonna do about you? At the time, it seemed like a pretty good idea to get our asses outta there."

"And now?"

"Now, I'm not so sure," he sighed, before finishing off his beer. "You don't know my Captain."

Retrieving the empty bottles from the table, Ellison went into the kitchen, returning with two fresh bottles. Setting them on the table, he picked up the discarded phone and started dialing.

* * * * *

"Jim, what the hell were you thinking bringing that kid here?" Simon bellowed

"Um, excuse me, sir..." Blair stopped himself when he noticed Jim's hand go up in warning.

"Simon, he's not a kid. And I had to make a judgment call based on the information I had at the time."

"What information?" Simon asked suspiciously.

"Sir, that explosion was no accident. Just before it blew, I detected faint traces of certain chemicals. I believe it was deliberately set inside the wall and it was triggered when Sandburg here plugged in his fan. The electrical current provided the spark to detonate the chemical reaction."

"So why bring the ki...uh, Sandburg, here?"

"Whoever went to the trouble of placing those chemicals obviously wanted to kill him. Let's let them think they succeeded."

"And just how is this related to the rash of computer crimes?"

"That's what I haven't figured out yet, Simon. But it's gotta be connected somehow. If Sandburg's right and it's these three guys he claims it is, they were trying awfully hard to set him up. Now they wanted him dead? With him not around to take the fall, they'd have to be operating without a net."

"So you believe Sandburg when he claims he didn't post those messages?"

"Excuse me, guys, but I'm right here. Sir, I can prove I didn't post those messages. The evidence is on my computer..."

Simon looked down at the young man and smiled sympathetically. "That might have been true, Mr. Sandburg, but I'm afraid that your computer was destroyed in the explosion. The clean up crew found the remains of your laptop in your apartment.."

"Shit! Dammit! All that work for nothing..." Blair stood up and began to pace the room at an uncontrolled rate.

"Sandburg, will you give it a rest. We'll figure out some other way to prove it wasn't you."

"You don't understand, Ellison. I had years of work and research on that computer. That stuff was irreplaceable."

Jim couldn't come up with anything to say to console him or make things right, so he wisely chose to stay silent. Looking over at Simon, he noticed that his Captain was started to rise from his seat. Simon headed toward the front door and Jim followed him over.

"So how are you gonna play this, Jim?"

"I'm gonna keep Sandburg here, Simon. Beyond that I haven't figured anything out. I think that Rafe and I should pay a call on these guys tomorrow though and see what we come up with"

"Fine. Then I'll expect you bright and early in the morning." Simon was smiling as he pulled a fresh cigar from his pocket.

"Bright and early...yes, sir," Jim smiled back wanly.

"Um, excuse me, uh Captain, sir," Blair said sheepishly.

"Sandburg?"

"Could you please make sure that nothing happens to my car? We left it at my apartment."

"Jim? Why..."

"I thought it would add to the illusion that Sandburg had died in the apartment, sir," he shrugged.

"Very well. I'll alert the boys in the impound lot to keep an eye on it." Simon turned toward the door and grabbed the knob.

"It's a '62 Corvair convertible, Sir," Blair added hastily. "It's a classic, you know."

Simon didn't bother turning around, merely waving his hand, acknowledging the statement as he left.

Jim shut the door behind his Captain and turn to face his unexpected houseguest. "Classic, huh? More like a classic death trap," he chuckled.

"That is so unfair, Man. The Corvair was a ..."

"Give it up, Chief. You can't win this argument." Jim openly laughed as he returned to his seat on the couch and finished off his previously forgotten beer.

"What'dya mean I can't win the argument. I can quote you statistics and..." Blair said indignantly as he moved closer to his debate opponent, preparing to do battle.

"I'm sure you can. However, my place...my rules. Comprende?"

Blair threw his arms up in defeat. "Fine, Man. Whatever."

Glancing over, Jim had to stifle a laugh. Blair was pouting. "How 'bout a pizza, Junior?" he asked, hoping to gain some composure.

"Hey, Man, what is it with you and these nicknames? I mean you've been throwing 'em out all day long."

"You got a problem with it, Sandburg?" he said defensively.

"I guess not. Well, except for the 'junior' and 'kid' ones that is."

"Good. Now that it's settled. Can you please answer the question?"

"What question? Oh, the pizza... Yeah, that's cool."

* * * * *

Blair peered over the detective's shoulder as he typed a series of commands on his computer. "Looking for anything in particular?"

"Possibly," he responded as he changed screens effortlessly. "Have a seat, Chief. I have a feeling we've got a long night ahead of us here."

"So, you gonna let me in on what you're doing here?"

Turning the laptop around slightly so Blair could see the screen, Jim pointed at the newly downloaded newsgroup messages. "First, I wanted to see if 'you' were still posting on any of the hacker newsgroup."

"Hey, Man, I told you I don't..."

"Don't get your panties in a bunch, Chief. I'm talking about whoever is pretending to be you."

"Oh. Sorry." He looked over the screen again, trying to see if he could find anything useful. "What's this?" Blair swivelled the laptop more toward him to get a better view.

"Sandburg!" Jim grabbed the computer and positioned it directly in front of him. "Do you mind? I'm trying to work here."

"This would be much easier if we both had computers."

"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock. However, you seem to be forgetting one minor detail. Your computer blew up."

"Um, yes, well...I suppose that, technically, that's true..."

Jim's head snapped up and he looked over at Blair suspiciously. "Technically true? Am I missing something here, Chief?"

"Well..." Blair began to squirm slight on the couch.

"Sandburg!"

"All right! All right! The laptop that was at the apartment was my old one. I mostly used it for my research when I worked at the University."

"And the other computer? Come on, Chief. Don't make me rough you up here." 'On second thought, Chief...Shut up, Ellison'.

"Bring it on, Tough Guy!" Blair smiled tentatively. 'Dream on, Sandburg...and there's a Tooth Fairy, too.' He quickly stood up and went in search of more beer. Handing one to Jim, Blair began to nervously pace the room.

"Problem, Sandburg?"

'No, just trying to remember what Miss Manners said was the acceptable waiting period before jumping the bones of a total stranger.' "I, um..."

"Trying to decide if you can trust me?"

'And that was the other thing...' "Well, can I? I mean, I know I'm innocent here." Blair sat back down, his knee accidentally brushing against Jim's. "I can prove it by what is and isn't on that hard drive."

"Not necessarily, Chief," he said quietly, glancing over at him. The intensity Jim saw in those wide eyes momentarily caught him off guard.

"But.."

"Sandburg, I know what you're gonna say. Look, just because I looked at your hard drive and didn't find those messages there...." A heavy sigh punctuated Jim's hesitation to continue. "...doesn't mean they weren't there."

"There are programs you can run. ENCase! Isn't that the one the police use to check to see what's deleted and restore it? You can run it and it'll show it wasn't..."

"Chief, you know as well as I do there are software programs that will wipe all evidence of deletions right off a hard drive."

"I know, but I haven't deleted anything. I never wrote those damn messages. I didn't hack into any computers and break any passwords."

Slapping his knee hard, Blair slid towards the end of the couch, breaking the fragile contact with Jim's knee. The moment of separation didn't go unnoticed by either of them and two sets of questioning azure eyes locked for a few fleeting seconds.

"And you expect me to trust you?"

"We'll find a way to prove it, Sandburg. I'll have Simon obtain a court order tomorrow to get copies of your ISP's logs. That might show where this other person's messages originated from."

"And what if they originated from inside the same ISP?"

"Then we'll try something else." Jim saw Blair's shoulders begin to sag and knew he was growing increasingly discouraged. Reaching over, he patted the young man's thigh a couple of times, forcing himself to remove his hand completely. "So, you never did tell me where this other computer of yours is."

He snickered. "I guess I didn't, did I?" Something in the detective's relaxed demeanor put Blair at ease, and he made his decision. "It's over at a friend's house, along with some of my stuff. Let me make a call and then we can go over there and pick it up," he said as he reached for the phone. Abruptly his hand was grabbed before he could lift the phone from the table.

"Hold on there, Chief. That's probably not a good idea right now. It'd be better if you stayed out of sight for awhile until we assess the fallout from your 'death'," he advised.

"Let me call her then. Susie would probably be willing to bring it over here for me."

"Can you trust her. Nobody can know you aren't dead."

"Yeah, I've known her for a few years now. She was the one who got me the job at Comm Sys.."

"All right, make the call."

"Uh, Jim?"

"What?" Jim followed Blair's eyes with own as they led toward the coffee table. "Sorry." He immediately released his grip from Blair's hand.

* * * * *

"Suse!" Blair exclaimed as he jumped off the couch and rushed towards the front door.

Jim barely got the door shut before the young woman he'd just admitted to the loft, brushed past him in her excitement to reach the other man.

"Blair! Oh Man, I heard on the news tonight you were killed. What happened?" She stepped back from his enthusiastic hug to wipe tears from her eyes.

"I don't really know. But listen, Suse, you have got to promise me you won't tell anybody that I'm here. Everybody has to think I am dead."

"But why?"

"I can't really explain that. Police investigations and all of that. You understand."

Just then the phone rang. Jim maneuvered around the two friends to reach for it. "Hello. Hi, Simon. No, not at..." He headed upstairs, still engaged in his conversation.

Both of them watched him as he ascended the staircase. When he finally disappeared from view, Blair felt a nudge to his ribcage.

"So, that's the buff cop, huh?" She smiled broadly.

"Suse!" Blair hissed as he smacked her arm.

"Ow! Hey, no fair. Besides, I agree with you. He's gorgeous!"

"Will you knock it off," Blair pleaded, his eyes drawn upward toward the object of their conversation.

"Why? It's not like he can hear us or anything," she snickered.

"Maybe not, but until this whole investigation is finished he's offered to let me stay here."

"Oh, you lucky dog."

"Jeez, woman, will you give it a rest, already. The guy's straight. I don't wanna give him a reason to throw me out on the street." He looked back upstairs nervously.

"So are you really all right?" Wanting to relieve some of his discomfort she decided to change the subject.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, I really appreciate you bringing my stuff over here. I'll have to figure out a way to get more clothes at some point, but I'll manage."

"If I can help out, you call me, okay?" she insisted.

"Thanks, Simon. Yes, I appreciate you calling." Jim walked slowly down the stairs. "I understand, sir. No, I don't think so," he said, with a glance over at Blair. "What was that you said, sir?" The dial tone continued to drone on in his ear. "Fine. See you in the morning." He punched the button to disconnect as Blair reached the door with his friend.

"Call me if you need anything else, Blair."

"I will. And thanks, Suse." He hugged her again and opened the door to let her out. Turning around, he looked for the detective. "So what did your boss want?"

"He called to give me the preliminary news on the explosion at your place."

"And?"

"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?"

Shrugging he sat down on the couch. "I don't care."

"The good news is that it was definitely rigged to explode when you plugged something into that outlet."

"So it wasn't an accident?"

"Nope."

"And the bad news?"

"It might not be related to the computer crimes. Sandburg, did you know that on the back side of that warehouse there was a major drug operation going on?"

"What? Hell no, I didn't know about that."

"Well, the chemicals apparently were inserted into the wall from the lab. This could have been done to cover up evidence of the lab; you might not even have been a target."

Blair collapsed on the couch. "Great. Just great. So now what do we do?

"We? We aren't doing anything. I'm going to continue investigating the computer crimes, same as I was doing this morning, and the day before." Jim opened the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water out, opened it and took a long drink.

"Come on, Man, I can help you." Blair left his seat to walk over in front of the bigger man. "We'd make a great team. And I know these guys better than you do," he said excitedly.

"You're also working with the assumption these are the guys that set you up," Jim pointed out.

"Who else would want to set me up? I'd be kidding myself if I didn't think that these guys haven't been planning some sort of revenge against me for the last fifteen years." Blair walked over by the front door where Susie had dropped his backpack and laptop, retrieved both and returned to the couch. Unzipping the computer from it's case, he turned it on.

"What are you talking about, Chief?"

Blair watched him as he retook his seat on the far end of the couch. "Time to lay the cards on the table, Ellison. You showed up at Comm Sys yesterday as I was on my way out. Last night I did some checking your background. You're good at what you do. By now I figure you've got quite a bit of background me. So can we cut out the bullshit here?"

Jim got up, fished keys from his jacket and headed for the door. "Be right back," he said as he walked out.

By the time he returned, Blair was intently studying the monitor and scribbling notes on his legal pad. He looked up momentarily as Jim walked through the door and noted the folders in the man's hand. Jim tossed them down on the coffee table before hanging up his jacket.

"Okay Chief, you want to compare notes here? " Blair's hand immediately slid over to the folders, but Jim caught his arm before he could open the first one. "Hold on, Sandburg. We're gonna have some ground rules here." Blair rolled his eyes. Jim continued, "I'll let you know what I've come up with and you'll tell me what you've got. If I find out that you're holding any back from me, I swear, I will throw you in jail so fast your head will spin. Got it?"

"I'm telling you, Man, I didn't do any of this." He looked over and saw the determined note in the detective's eye and backed down. "I've got it," he acquiesced.

"Good." He slid the folders closer to Blair. He watched as the young man digested the information contained in each one. As he opened the one containing the sealed information about his own testimony he spoke up. "So tell me, why was a sixteen year old involved with these guys in the first place?"

"I wasn't 'involved' with them, despite what they tried to claim. I, um, was just kinda messing around and happened to discover some password back then. It was also perfectly harmless. I wasn't doing anything with it, I swear. Just something to do. Sort of a game I played just to see if I could do it." He looked over at Jim, trying to gauge the man's reaction to his statement.

"What kinda places are we talking about here?"

"Telephone companies. It was actually pretty easy back then because nobody was thinking about the possibility of anybody trying to break in. The passwords were fairly easy to guess with only a few tries. Anyway, there was a bulletin board operated in the Palo Alto area where I lived that I would frequent. I started reading messages on it from some guys bragging about their hacks where they'd broken into these same phone companies I had. Only they were getting in there and messing around with people's phone records."

"What'dya mean 'messing around'?"

"They'd said they were disconnecting some people's service, fooling with accounts to make it look like bills had been paid when they weren't; that kinda thing. They gave out the passwords to these companies so other people who read this board could do it too. Since I knew these passwords, I knew they had been into the computers."

"Did you do anything about this information yourself, Chief?"

"I told you, all I ever did was get in and get out. I never did anything. When I found out what they were doing I made some anonymous calls to the companies to alert them to what was going on. Apparently, though, they already knew something was going on by that time and they traced my calls. I ended up getting busted for my efforts. Since I was a minor, the cops offered me a deal of turning State's evidence against the guys who did it. Unfortunately, they didn't protect me very well and these three guys, who they later caught, found out who I was."

"From what I gather from your testimony in this case and the police reports, Sandburg, without your cooperation, they never would have cracked this case in the first place," Jim smirked.

"You've got that right. I've never met a bigger Mickey Mouse police force in my life," he laughed. "The kicker was, right after the trial, I ended up conducting security seminars for the police department and the phone companies before I went off to college."

"Where you studied computer science, right?"

"Nope, Anthropology. Computers were a hobby."

"Why Anthro..."

"It was always a love of mine. Besides, I had a bad feeling these guys were gonna one day come after me when they got out so I figured I'd make it harder for them to find me if I wasn't connected to computers."

"Um, excuse me for pointing out the obvious, Genius, but you were working with computers when they found you," Jim said as he rose, heading towards the kitchen once again.

"Yeah, I blew it there," he snickered in agreement. An icy chill raced up Blair's spine as he sensed where this was leading.

"Wanna another beer?"

"Huh...wha?"

"I said, do you want another beer?"

"Um, yeah, that'll work."

Jim handed him a bottle as he sat back down. "So why did you leave Rainier?"

"Hey, Man, we've been talking non-stop about me. How about we talk about you for awhile?" Blair suggested hopefully, trying to change the subject.

"Uh uh. My house, my rules. Remember?" Jim just smiled.

"Uh, let's just say I was put in a no-win situation, Man. I had to leave," Blair said quietly.

"Or?"

"Or get fired, I suppose"

"What'dya mean you suppose, Sandburg?" Jim watched the young man as he began to peel away the paper from the glass bottle.

Blair took a long swig from his beer before finally placing the bottle on the table. Taking a deep breath, he looked back over at Jim and continued reluctantly. "I told you I did some checking on you last night. You have a high collar rate, Man, so you've got to be pretty good at what you do."

"You're stalling, Sandburg."

"Yeah, 'cos the way I figure it, the only reason you're asking me this is because you've already been over there asking questions and you're testing me to see if my answer matches what you've heard."

"I'm a detective, Sandburg. I look for the truth."

"The truth, Detective, is that one of the Professors over there was hitting on me. I turned him down and he was pissed off about it. He threatened to ruin me professionally if I didn't give in to him. He had enough clout with the University that I thought he could probably pull it off, so I quit, rather than fight him," he said simply.

"Did this guy have anything on you?"

"No."

"Are you sure about that?"

Blair stared at him hard. "Okay, the fact that you're asking tells me there's something I don't know."

"Yeah, I did go over there and ask questions. I did meet this Professor Taylor." Jim grabbed the appropriate folder off the coffee table and looked over his notes. "Ah, here it is. He said he discovered you've been having affairs with some of your male students. He confronted you about it and gave you a choice of either resigning or being fired. You chose to resign."

"That is so bogus, Man. I would never get involved with my students," he said indignantly as he jumped from the couch and began pacing the room.

"Easy, Chief. I know you didn't do it."

Blair spun around. "You do?"

"Yeah. I spoke with a William Fairchild"

"You met Bill?"

"My partner and I were at the University yesterday doing some digging around. We had a warrant to get your old computer. The Dean had this guy, Fairchild, show us around your office. Afterwards I had a talk with him. He told me you two used to live together. He also mentioned that Taylor had basically blackmailed you into resigning."

"Well, it wasn't..."

"Blackmail is illegal, Sandburg. And if you were worried about the University going after you for being gay, there are anti-discrimination..."

"I know, but at the time I was trying to protect Bill. I didn't want Taylor finding out about him and going after him and threatening him, too," he sighed.

"Fairchild told me all about that. That's why you two split up?"

"No, we..." Blair paused, uncertain about betraying confidences. "Nah, it just wasn't meant to be," he said quietly. "Bill got involved with somebody and I found my own place."

"So your lover, whom you're protecting, throws you out for some other piece of ass?"

"You are so wrong, Man!" Blair shot back. "So quick to judge." He stood up angrily and moved to pack up his computer.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Away from here. Maybe Susie'll let me crash at her place for awhile."

"Sandburg, sit down!" he ordered, pointing at the couch.

Blair did, looking quickly at the man at the other end of the couch. "Hey listen, Man, I promise I'll behave, honest. You don't have to worry about me trying to jump your bones or anything like that."

"That's too bad, Chief. And here I was kinda hoping to have something to look forward to when this is all over," Jim stated simply before taking a sip of his beer.

Blair cocked his head slightly, studying Jim's face intently. "Are you serious, Man?" He began to slide closer toward the detective.

"Chief, at the moment, I'm trying to stay focused on saving your ass. So slide it right on back down there where it was and tell me what you've come up with," he ordered with a laugh.

Quickly realizing it was a playful rebuke, Blair positioned himself in front of his laptop and began to pull up his files. "Okay, I suppose you've found all the newsgroups that these posts appeared in, right?" He glanced over at Jim while he spoke. Seeing the quick nod, he looked back over at his screen. "Well, I found a reference to Paul Martin and his screen name of 'dark lord'. Now 'dark lord' posted to these same newsgroups at the same time as I supposedly did. If you look at the writing styles you'll see some similarities."

Jim scooted closer to Blair so he could look at his screen. "Such as?"

"For example. Every time he asks a question there a space between the last letter and the question mark. Or here, there's a space between the letter and an exclamation point. It's the same thing for the posts by both personalities."

"Okay, that could be significant, Chief. Anything show up in the headers between the two?"

"Nothing that I can see just yet. They apparently spoofed my IP address exactly. My guess is that they waited every time until they found me online and posting to the one newsgroup I do participate on, and got my IP address each time."

"Any guesses how they got the passwords from these companies?"

"Probably the same way they did last time. Through trial and error. They found employees who had easy passwords and just guessed them. You'd be amazed at how many people screw up by using the passwords that come with the computers and don't bother to change them. Or else they use simple passwords such as family members or something like that."

"Trust me, Chief, I know all about it," he snickered.

"Oh yeah," Blair laughed along with him. "Sorry about that. For a minute there I forgot what you do."

"All right, Sandburg, enough for tonight. I have a meeting with Simon first thing in the morning. I'm going to also have him get the Court to issue a search warrant so we can search the logs from your ISP. I want to make sure they don't erase them before we have a chance to check them out and see where these bogus messages are really coming from."

"Can I come with you?" he asked hopefully.

"No way.!" Jim said a bit more forcefully then he meant too. He quickly softened his tone and explained. "You're supposed to be dead, remember? There's still a chance that explosion ties in with this somehow, so don't take any chances." He found himself unconsciously stroking the younger man's cheek. It took every bit of his will power to pull his hand away. "There's a futon in that spare room over there you can use. I'll see you in the morning," he said as he slowly headed toward the stairs. Blair sighed as he watched him ascend to the top and disappear from view.

* * * * *

Several hours later Jim was awakened by an unfamiliar noise. Grabbing his gun from under his pillow, he crept downstairs. Halfway into the room he identified the sound. Quietly, he approached and peered into the spare room. There he found Blair perched on the bed in his boxers and t-shirt typing away at his computer.

"Is sleep such a novel concept to you, Sandburg?"

"Wha? Jeez, you startled me, Man." Blair's hands pulled back from the keyboard.

"Sorry, I heard a noise and came down to check it out."

"What noise? I didn't hear anything."

"Your ke..." Jim stopped himself. "Probably just a noise outside on the street. Since we're both up, how about some coffee? Then you can tell me what you've found so interesting on there." He indicated to the monitor on Blair's laptop.

"Sounds good to me," Blair laughed. "I could use a good caffeine fix right about now."

A short while later, Jim returned with two mugs of coffee and handed one to Blair. Pulling up a chair, he sat next to the bed staring at the screen.

"So, what'dya got here, Chief?"

"I think I found Wyatt. At least, I found an alias that I'm pretty sure is him."

"How do you know?"

"It's the one he used before...'Wyatt Earp'. He's posting on the various hacker newsgroups now claiming to have used my advice. Of course he says I got caught at it so he's warning others not to try it any more."

"Wait a minute. He's saying you got caught? Where?" Jim moved closer.

"Hang on a sec." Blair brought up the screen with the message he had previously saved. "Right there. Says I was caught hacking into several businesses, including Comm Sys and got fired."

Jim scooted closer in his excitement, almost spilling some of his coffee on his leg. "Did you run a trace on his IP?"

"Elementary, my Dear Watson," Blair grinned. "Except he's using a proxy, as I expected, so it doesn't help at the moment. It traces to somewhere in Germany. He's been switching proxies about every two to three posts."

"Anything recent?"

"Um, I dunno. I'll check." Blair downloaded the new messages quickly. "Here's one. Hello! He's announcing my obit."

"Let me see that, Sandburg." Jim yanked the laptop away from Blair and began to read.

Feeling the need to stretch, Blair got up from the bed and padded into the kitchen in search of more coffee. Pouring fresh cups for both himself and Jim, he returned to the small room. Setting a cup down on a nearby bookcase, Blair sat back on the bed.

"I think we've got him, Chief," he said as he handed the computer back.

"How?"

"For starters, he's identifying you as the computer hacker in your obit. For another he's giving out information in that obit that's not public knowledge. He's hacked into police records to pull that information."

Blair set his mug on the floor and read the message on the screen again. "So you're saying this'll clear me?"

"There's a good chance," he confirmed.

Overcome with relief, Blair threw his hands behind the other man's head, drawing him nearer. When he felt no resistance, he raised his mouth and kissed Jim's soft lips. When they opened beneath his, he almost pulled back but Jim slid his own hand into the younger man's curls and kept him in place until Blair relaxed and accepted his tongue.

The kiss lasted several minutes. When they finally drew apart, both men were breathing hard.

Blair raised his eyes to find Jim watching him. "I'm sorry," he began.

"Shhhhh" Jim said softly as he began to trace the fullness of Blair's lips. Soon he was unable to deny the hunger as he crushed the young man to him, claiming his mouth.

Blair gave in to the sweet sensations of Jim's thrusting tongue, abandoning all hope of rational thought. Jim had just shifted his position on the bed when his foot hit the coffee cup on the floor, spilling the lukewarm liquid over the hardwood floor.

"Shit!" they exclaimed in unison, nearly colliding in their haste to find something suitable to clean up the mess.

Jim reached the kitchen first and grabbed the paper towels. Returning, he began wiping up the spill while Blair got more coffee. He looked up when the young man returned to the room, noticing immediately Blair's lips were still swollen from his kisses. As soon as Blair sat down, he caught Jim studying him. He had an overwhelming craving to taste more of him. Leaning down he reached for Jim.

"Blair, don't," he cautioned, his voice raw with emotion.

His fingers slowly curled into a fist as he retracted his arm. "Why?" he asked simply.

Immediately, Jim reached out to caress his face but Blair pulled away. "I really think it would be better we waited until..."

"Better for who? Look Man, I don't need you to feel pity for the little geek kid," he spat out.

As Jim stood up, he pulled Blair off the bed to face him. Smoothing away the errant curls from the smaller man's cheek, he waited until their eyes made full contact. "I can assure you, Chief, that what I'm feeling has nothing to do with pity."

Puzzled, Blair stared at him for a moment before understanding set in. Lowering his eyes, he found his answer. The erection tenting Jim's boxers was threatening to break free of it's cotton confines at any moment. With a grin that would have made the Cheshire cat proud, Blair quickly looked up into the detective's eyes.

"And as for 'little geek kid'? I don't think 'little' is the operative word here, Chief," he said, motioning with his chin toward Blair's similarly ill-fitting boxers.

"Jeez, Man," he said, sitting back down on the bed, "you sure know how to make it hard on a guy." He bent over to pick up his coffee mug.

"Sandburg, I'm gonna overlook that bad pun because I like you." He grabbed his own mug but frowned at the cold liquid he found inside. Smiling, Jim couldn't resist petting the thick curls as he made his way toward the kitchen. Pouring the last of the steaming fluid into his cup, he glanced back at the room. "Hey, Chief, are you gonna want any more coffee?"

Striding in quickly, Blair came to an abrupt halt when he discovered the empty pot. "Well, I would have some, if there was any left."

"I was going to make more if you wanted it. There's no point in going back to sleep now since I'd have to be getting up in an hour anyway."

"Sure, coffee'd be fine. Listen, Jim, about what just happened?"

"Don't worry about it, Chief. Let's just play it by ear, huh?" Jim patted Blair on the shoulder before moving away to make another pot of coffee.

Jim found Blair once again laboring over his computer. Sitting down on the futon next to him he spied the screen. Setting the pair of cups on the floor, he moved closer so he could try to make out the words.

"What are you writing?"

"I'm posting on the newsgroup trying to see if I can get any leads on what these guys are up to," he responded without stopping his typing.

"Sandburg, you're supposed to be dead!"

"I'm not doing this as me, Jim." He shot the bigger man an exasperated look. "Give me some credit here, will ya? I've got plenty of anonymous accounts to hide behind and I'm using multiple proxies to hide behind. They won't be able to trace it back to me." He grinned broadly as he resumed his message.

Jim sipped his coffee, hoping to hide the nearly unperceivable frown that crossed his face with Blair's words.

He slipped out of the room undetected, deciding to grab a quick shower and get to the station early.

When Jim poked his head in the doorway again, Blair spun around. "I'm heading down to the station, Sandburg. Promise me you'll stay here and wait for me to get back here."

Laughing, Blair held up his left hand, but quickly dropped it and raised his right one. "I promise, Man. Honest."

"Good." Jim backed away.

"Hey, Jim," he called as he headed after the detective. Catching up to him by the front door. "Here, Man." Blair handed him a computer disk. "It's a copy of all the messages I found on the newsgroups that I think are by Wyatt and Paul. I also copied the traces of the IP numbers they were using."

"Thanks, Sandburg. If you come up with anything else, you can give me a call at the station." He pulled one of his business cards out and handed it over. "I'll see you later. And lock this door behind me."

"Yes, Sir!" He saluted as he closed the door behind the retreating detective.

* * * * *

"So, Jim, you believe this kid's story?" Simon pulled a fresh cigar from his leather case, enjoying it's aroma.

"So far, Sir, everything's he's told me checks out. And the writing styles of the messages written by Paul Martin under the alias of the 'Dark Lord' and the messages supposedly written by Sandburg are very similar." He pointed to copies of each that he'd placed on his Captain's desk.

"Have you checked out the address Sandburg gave us on this Paul Martin?"

As if on cue, Rafe knocked at Simon's doorway. "Captain?"

"Come on in, Rafe." Simon lit his cigar as he watched the younger detective hand several papers to Jim. "So, gentlemen, what do we have on this Paul Martin?"

"Not much, I'm afraid. The address we got was bogus. I've been running a search on all three names through the public records for the last couple of months. There's absolutely no evidence that any of the three are in Cascade." Rafe responded looking over at Jim who was reading over the materials he'd been furnished.

"Jim?" Simon prompted.

"Sir?" Jim looked up. "This is the print out of the report that Rafe filed in the computer last night. It gave the preliminary status of the investigation on Sandburg. I told him to include certain information in the file."

"Such as?"

Jim put the printout in front of his Captain. "The report lists that Sandburg is a possible suspect in the commission of felony computer hacking against a number of businesses here in Cascade. It lists those businesses. We left off two names of businesses that were hit. The report also states that Mr. Sandburg's apartment was destroyed yesterday in a chemical explosion and that he was killed."

"And your point is?"

Jim pulled another piece of paper from one his file folders and put it in front of Simon. "This is a message Sandburg found on one of the newsgroups that Wyatt Clark apparently wrote last night or early this morning. He was posting Sandburg's obituary."

"Jim, the media was covering the explosion and the kid's death," Rafe pointed out while Simon was occupied reading the message.

"True, but the other information was only contained in the PD report that you typed."

"What?" Rafe immediately bent down to look over Simon's shoulder.

Jim continued his narrative. "However, Sir, there is some information in that message that is not in the report. You'll notice that the message contains the names of all the businesses that were affected by Sandburg's supposedly releasing passwords."

Simon and Rafe both looked over at the copy of Rafe's doctored report to verify that he indeed left off those businesses.

"Sir, I think there's every indication here that the Department's computers have been compromised and..."

"Hold on a minute. You said yourself, you found the kid working on a computer this morning..."

"Yeah, his computer," Jim interrupted.

"I thought his computer was destroyed in the explosion." Rafe interjected.

"That was apparently another computer of his," Jim explained. "This was one he had at a friend's house."

"Are you sure it was his computer and not yours, which has access to our database?" Simon questioned?

"No, sir" Jim admitted reluctantly. "What's your point, Simon?"

"My point is, while you were sleeping Sandburg could've written these messages and now is trying to convince you of his innocence. He also could've hacked into the station's computers to get the information about the status of the investigation. As for the two companies that were left out of the report, he's seen the messages posted under his name giving the passwords for those companies so he already knew the names of the businesses. That doesn't mean much, Jim."

"Simon, a court order can get us the ISP logs showing who was assigned those IP numbers at that particular time."

"Jim, some of those IP numbers trace back to the web based ISPs or the free ones," Rafe pointed out.

"I know they do, but we've gotta start somewhere," he sighed.

"Problem is some of these don't even bother keeping logs because they're big on promoting anonymity."

Simon's phone rang halting further discussion.

"Banks here. Yeah, Joel. So you're sure about that? Is he willing to testify to that? I see. Okay, thanks." Hanging up, he addressed his men. "That was Captain Taggert from Major Crimes. Last night they arrested Pete Field in connection with the explosion at Sandburg's apartment." Simon took a breath and addressed Jim in particular. Joel's team was correct in their original assessment, the chemicals were planted in the walls from the drug lab, or former drug lab. Mr. Field was part of a gang who worked in that lab until recently. Apparently, they received an anonymous tip that Blair Sandburg has posted information on the Internet about their drug lab. After the lab was moved out of the warehouse, his apartment was targeted."

"Simon, he didn't even know there was a drug lab behind him," Jim pointed out.

"So he claims." Simon calmly pulled another cigar from his case and prepared to light it.

"Give me a chance to find these three guys, Simon."

"You realize you're asking a lot of me? Everything points to this kid having done this. Not to mention he could be further implicating himself if he's gained access to our computers," the Captain pointed out.

"Captain, I can't explain it but I feel strongly that Sandburg is telling the truth. I just need some time to prove it. If he's right, then these guys are planning something more than just setting him up and I need to find out what that is."

"All right, Jim. I'll give you twenty-four hours. That's the best I can do. If you can't either prove the kid's innocence or else produce the guilty party in that time, I'm gonna have the kid brought in and charged."

"But, Simon..."

"I'm sorry, Jim. My hands are tied. I've been sitting on the charges that were filed by these companies as it is, letting them assume Sandburg was killed in that explosion."

"All right, I'll check in with you and let you know what I come up with." Jim began to gather his files and papers from Simon's desk.

"Captain, I think I'll help Jim on this," Rafe volunteered.

"Rafe, you don't have to," Jim turned and faced him.

"I want to."

"Thanks," he said softly.

* * * * *

After several hours of hitting dead ends both detectives were thoroughly frustrated. Rafe had been checking the listings for all newcomers into Cascade within the last two months with the any combination of the names of the three men and having no success. Jim had been combing through the various newsgroups and archives searching the various known aliases for relevant posts that they could attribute to any of the three. Other than what Sandburg had already discovered, he wasn't finding anything new.

Jim was about ready to give up for the morning and head out for lunch when he decided to look over the information on the disk Sandburg had given him one more time. Bringing it up on his screen his noticed a file he hadn't looked at before. Opening it up, he found a note from Blair.

Jim,
It occurs to me that if Wyatt has gotten into the station computers, he's got access to everything. The phones are probably tapped as well. Don't use your office email or your office phone line. Use your cell phone. I've set up a hotmail account for you to use for email. He won't know about it and since it's web based and not stored on your hard drive, he can't access it. It's 2X4@hotmail.com. The password's studly (not very original, I know. Change it immediately to something hard to guess). I'm assuming that guy you showed up with at Comm Sys is your partner. I've set up an account for him as well. I'll leave it up to you whether or not you want to give him this information. The account is MrGQ@hotmail.com. The password is armani. Again, it needs to be changed. If you need to reach me write to burton@hotmail.com.
B

The remainder of the note contained additional aliases and email addresses that Blair had either remembered the men had used previously or else he had uncovered in the last couple of days. Jim printed off two copies of everything on the disk, putting a copy in two separate file folders..

Logging off the computer, Jim made his decision. He pulled the disk out of the machine and grabbed the papers and files off his desk. Turning toward Rafe's desk, he called over. "How about lunch? My treat."

"You're on."

* * * * *

Jim waited until Rafe was finished his lunch before bringing up the case. "Okay, I have to know, why are you helping me on this one?"

Rafe looked at his friend and laughed softly. "Take it easy, Ellison. I'm on your side. I don't think he did it either."

"You don't?"

"Oh, the kid's got the talent to do it all right. Only he wouldn't have been so obvious as to use his real name and account. Furthermore, with his academic credentials, he'd be a fool to throw all that away committing a felony like this."

"Okay, beyond the obvious, what aren't you telling me?"

"Jim?"

"You know something else. I saw a look on your face when we were in Simon's office earlier. So are you gonna tell me?"

"When we were comparing the newsgroup message announcing Sandburg's obit against that report, there was something that wasn't in the report."

"What?"

"The message made mention that Sandburg was being charged with felony crimes or about to be charged. Something like that. I hadn't put anything like that in the report. I never mentioned that the various companies had filed charges."

"Why didn't you say something at the time to Simon?" Jim looked curiously at his partner.

"Simon started on his rant explaining away every possibility. I figured if I brought it up, he'd probably just claim that Sandburg put that in as an educated guess so it didn't mean anything. Jim, You and I know, however, that he was going to be charged based on all the reports filed."

"So how did this person find out about that? There was no record anywhere in any computer?"

Rafe sighed, "I have no idea."

"That makes two of us. And Simon has only given me twenty-four hours to either clear Sandburg or else find who did it."

"You've got it bad for the kid, don't you, Jim?"

He debated denying his friend's statement but decided it wasn't worth arguing the point. "Is it that obvious?" he grinned weakly.

"Only to somebody who knows you. Does the kid know?"

"Yeah. But nothing's going on until this mess plays out."

"I have a feeling it's gonna be easier for us to clear Sandburg, so why don't we concentrate on that part. Then we can focus our energy on going after the actual guilty party or parties."

Jim pulled a folder off the empty chair beside him and put it on the table in front of his partner. Rafe slowly flipped through the papers it contained. When he got to Blair's note which mentioned the hotmail accounts he snickered. "I feel like we're playing secret agents or something here."

"He says that these guys are up to something bigger than just setting him up. I suspect he's right. I mean, why bother hacking into all those companies. One company would have been enough to land Sandburg in jail on felony charges. And why those particular companies? I suspect there's a pattern in there as well?"

"I'll head back to the office, Jim, and see what I can come up with. I'll get in touch with you later this afternoon."

"Remember, cell phone or that hotmail account only. Oh, and if you use the computer, don't store anything on the hard drive. Put things on diskettes only and carry them with you."

"Got it. Hey, Man, thanks for lunch."

"No problem. Catch you later."

* * * * *

Jim wasn't sure what he expected when he walked in the door to the loft but he certainly didn't expect the silence that greeted him. Placing the bag of groceries down on the counter, he extended his hearing until he located Blair, fast asleep, on the futon in the other room.

Reassured, he quietly put away the groceries. Sitting down on the couch, he turned on his computer and found a disk sitting beside it. When Jim brought it up on his screen, he found another note from Blair.

Hey Big Guy,
I guess if you're reading this you've gotten home. I've had quite a bit of luck with figuring out what's going on here. Don't ask me how. You really don't wanna know.
For starters. My friends, posting as me, were turning in the drug dealers who lived on the other side of me. The dealers kinda took it personally and wanted to teach me a lesson...of the permanent kind. Can't say that I blame them.
I also have reason to believe that whatever is going to happen is going to happen within the next two days. I found several references to that.
If I'm asleep when you get home, just wake me so I can show you this stuff.
B

Jim listened for a moment, and hearing the deep even breathing of the young man, opted to let him continue sleeping.

* * * * *

Jim was cooking dinner as Blair wandered out of the spare room.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were gonna wake up or not, Chief."

"Oh man, you should have woken me up. Now I'm gonna be up all night again."

"We're probably gonna be up anyway so I figured I'd let you rest now."

"That smells great, Man. Any chance I could grab a quick shower before dinner?"

"Go ahead. This is gonna take awhile longer."

Despite his promises to himself, and Blair, that he was going to behave and not do anything until all of this was over, Jim found himself listening in the entire time the younger man was in the shower. 'Need any help in there, Chief? Ellison, you are so bad. You are just making this harder on yourself.'

By the time Blair finished and turned the doorknob to leave the bathroom, Jim had to sprint to make it upstairs so that he wouldn't be seen in his current state of arousal. It took him several minutes to calm down enough before he was able to come back down the stairs.

After dinner Blair started to explain in detail some of what he'd discovered to Jim while they washed the dishes.

"I'm still trying to figure out how this ties together, Man. I just know it does. And there's something else that bothers me. When I met with my former boss, right before he fired me, he said something about me implicating his son. Well, since I never involved his son, I have no idea what he's talking about. I also didn't find any messages about that either. But I think it's important."

"Did you find out anything about the other companies?"

"Not that much but I'm still digging. It takes time."

"Sandburg, we don't have time."

"What'dya mean?"

Jim took a deep breath. "Simon's given me twenty-four hours to either prove you innocent of the charges or else to find the guilty party or parties." He looked down at his watch. It was about 7:15. "I've got a little less than fifteen hours left."

"Oh Shit! Wait a minute. I thought you said that the fact that Wyatt posted my obit that contain the stuff from the stations files would show that I didn't do it."

"Unfortunately, Simon said that you had the opportunity to do it by getting online with my computer this morning while I was sleeping."

"Jim, I didn't use your computer." Blair grabbed a couple of beers out of the refrigerator, handed one to Jim and moved over to the couch.

Jim stood at the end of the couch, debating which end to sit at. "I know that, Sandburg. It's circumstantial at best and Simon knows it. But it could convince a jury if it came down to that." Making his decision, he sat next to Blair. "We've got to find something solid to prove your innocence."

"And just how am I gonna do that?"

"I'm still working on that."

"Did you find Martin's house?"

"That address is bogus. We can't find any of them in Cascade."

"Of course not. That would be way too easy," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Jim, however, didn't miss the catch in his voice nor the fear that radiated from his body. "We're gonna catch 'em, Sandburg. They'll screw up somewhere and we'll nail 'em."

"In case you haven't figured it out, Ellison, these guys are good. And there's three of them."

"There's three of us, Chief. You're forgetting my partner, Rafe. Besides, these guys have been locked away for fifteen years. They're gonna be rusty. That gives us the advantage, wouldn't you say?"

"Ordinarily, yes. However, with that deadline your Captain has hanging over my head..."

Jim reached over and stroked Blair's hair, wrapping it around his fingers. Softly he caressed the young man's cheek with his thumb. Blair closed his eyes at the intimate contact.

As the gentle stroking on his cheek continued, he opened his eyes and gazed over at the man sitting next to him. Blair grasped the hand caressing his face and brought it to his lips. He brushed kisses over Jim's palm, wanting to taste him, yet never allowing his eyes to break contact with him. Then he reached over and gently drew the older man to him and kissed him tentatively.

Blair lifted his head up slightly and looked at Jim questioningly. From somewhere in the blue depths he found the unspoken answer to his unasked question. He lowered his head to feast from Jim's lips.

Like a caged animal, unexpectedly released, Jim's passion flared and his kisses became increasingly urgent. His fingers carded through the flowing curls, pulling Blair closer. As he fought for some control, Blair began to softly suck on his lower lip, drawing a moan from deep in his throat. He managed to release himself from the grip.

"Isn't this where we got in trouble last night?" he sighed.

Blair laughed softly. "And your point is?"

"I thought we were gonna wait until this mess was resolved."

"Do you have to be the voice of reason?"

Just then Jim's cell phone rang.

Jim shrugged his shoulders and laughed "It's fate," he said, as he walked over to retrieve the phone from his jacket. "Ellison. Hi. Yeah, I'm sorry I didn't..."

Blair sat up straight and took a sip of his beer. He watched Jim, trying to decipher the meaning from the one-sided conversation.

Finally, he hung up the phone and returned to the couch. He looked over at Blair. "Rafe's coming over. He may have found something useful".

Blair's eyebrows rose as he pondered the possibilities. Unsure of what to say, he merely responded with "Oh."

* * * * *

Blair was puzzled when Jim went over to the front door and pulled it open. Standing in the hallway was his partner. He quickly motioned for him to enter.

"Detective Brian Rafe, this is Blair Sandburg. Blair Sandburg, Detective Rafe." Jim introduced the men.

Blair walked over to shake Rafe's hand awkwardly, before returning to his place on the couch. Jim noticed what seemed to be a lack of interest between the two men but shrugged it off as Blair resumed his position on the couch.

"So have you come up with anything new, Rafe?"

"Possibly." He pulled a piece of paper from his inside pocket and handed it to Jim. "I found that of all the companies that had been posted on the newsgroup, so far, three of them had the passwords linked to the sons of either the President or CEO of the companies."

"That's not necessarily too surprising." Blair offered his opinion. "Depending on the age of these kids, it's most likely that they either had easily identifiable passwords or failed to changed the original passwords that came with the computers when they were installed.."

"Any chance of tracking the remaining companies to the hacked passwords?" Jim asked.

"I've been working on it. The companies so far have been unwilling to volunteer that information."

"We can force them with subpoenas, but we can't get those until tomorrow. That's too late," he sighed. "Did you have any luck with the ISP logs?"

"There's nothing that shows anything coming in from the outside. Sorry, Blair," Rafe looked over at the young man, "it appears to be from your ISP."

Jim caught the subtle familiarity between the two men and frowned. Blair hadn't even looked up from his computer screen.

"I should have expected that," he sighed. "These guys are good. They weren't gonna make it easy to be caught."

Jim went in to the kitchen and began to make coffee, preparing for a long night. "Alright, Sandburg, if you were gonna do this and pretend to be somebody else, how would you do it?"

"Oh, Man, there are a lot of ways to do it. Most of them of pretty time consuming and fairly tricky to pull off without getting caught." Blair pondered the question for awhile. "Hang on a minute. Probably the easiest way would be to hack the router."

"That can't be done."

"Where have you been, Rafe?" Blair laughed. "It wouldn't take any real effort at all."

There is was again. Jim looked from one man to the other. They definitely knew each other. But how?

"What are you suggesting here, Chief; that this was an inside job?" Jim questioned.

"Nah, all they need to do is to attach a small box to the router with a simple cable. If they managed to get one of their guys inside the Quantum Internet Services building under any kind of pretext, they could get near the machine and attach it. Then it would lie there passive until they knew I was online. It could be operated by remote control."

"How do you happen to know about this stuff, Sandburg?"

"It's real easy to find out about any of this stuff, Jim. And just because I know how to do something, doesn't mean I want to."

"Jim," Rafe interrupted. "we can send some people down to the Quantum offices and have them search for this box. If they find it, we can have it dusted for prints," he pointed out. Rafe immediately felt the tension forming between the two men and suspected the reason behind it.

The older detective looked over quickly. "Do it," he ordered. He returned his attention to the coffee he was brewing.

Rafe made the call. He glanced down at his watch and frowned before disconnecting the call. Quickly he made another call. Hanging up, he went over to assist his partner.

"The Quantum office is closed and there's no way to reach anybody tonight so we're gonna have to wait until the morning to get in there," he informed them. He grabbed a couple of the mugs from the counter. "Let me help you, Jim."

Jim let him take one but grabbed the other two. "I've got it," he said as he walked over toward the couch. He placed one cup on the coffee table near Blair.

"Okay...what gives?" Blair asked, puzzled.

Jim sat down at the opposite end of the couch; Rafe on the other couch. They looked at each other momentarily. Finally, Jim looked back at Blair. "I don't know, Chief? Maybe you should tell me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sure seems like you and my partner here know each other."

Blair nervously looked over at Rafe. Jim watched as Rafe nodded his head in answer to Blair's silent question. Blair looked back toward Jim.

"No, you're not wrong, Jim. Rafe..."

Just then Jim's cell phone rang. He stood up to pick it up. "Ellison. Yeah, Simon. We have reason to..." As he continued talking to his Captain, he saw in the reflection of the glass door to the balcony, Blair talking to his partner in hushed tones. A smile began to creep across his face. Erasing it quickly as he loudly ended the conversation, Jim spun around and returned to his seat on the couch.

"What did Simon want?" Rafe asked.

"He wanted an update and I told him the plan to send people over to search Quantum for that box in the morning. He said he'll let us know if anything comes of it. All right, Sandburg, you were saying..."

A knock on the door provided yet another distraction.

"Now what?" Jim got up to open the door.

Bill Fairchild stood in the doorway. For a moment, Jim debated slamming the door in his face. From his vantage point on the couch, Blair could see Jim tense up. He muttered under his breath, "Man, it's not what you think." before biting his lip in frustration. Jim slowly turned and glanced back at Blair, who looked on in disbelief at Ellison's strange behavior. The detective motioned for the man to enter.

Blair quickly jumped from the couch and approached his friend. "Hey, Man, what are you doing here?"

Fairchild glanced nervously over at Rafe. "Um, Detective Rafe called and asked if I would come over here. He said you and Detective Ellison needed to talk to me."

Sandburg laughed as he glanced over at Rafe. "You never told him, did you?"

"Told me what," Jim asked perplexed.

"Jim, you remember when you were asking me all those questions about Bill and me?"

"Yeah? And why are you changing the subject, Sandburg?"

"I'll get back to that. And you wanted to know about us living together?"

"Yeah. And you said you quit to protect him and then he got another lover and..."

"No, that's not what I said...Bill and I were never lovers. You just assumed that."

"But you said you lived together."

"Yeah, we were roommates."

"So, you aren't gay?"

Blair sighed heavily. "It's a bit late to be asking that question, don't you think? Yes, I'm gay. No, Bill and I weren't lovers. With me so far, Big Guy?"

Jim smiled. "Yeah. So you wanted to protect Bill, because he was gay, from being harassed by this Professor?"

"That was part of it," Blair responded as he got up to refill his cup.

"And the other part," Jim turned toward the kitchen and prompted.

"To protect his lover," he finished.

"So now can we get back to the original question, Chief? How do you know Rafe?"

Blair groaned, just before tossing a spoon at Jim.

"What did I do?" he asked. "Oh..." He finally glanced over at the other couch and noticed Bill and Rafe quietly holding hands, smiling at him.

"You could've told me, Rafe"

"Told you what, about Bill or about Blair?"

"Both."

"There was no reason to tell you about Bill and if I told you about Blair, you would have pulled me off the case and you know it," he reasoned.

"Speaking of which," he looked at his watch "we've only got a few hours left before Simon's deadline to prove Sandburg's innocence. We need to get back to trying to solve this, just in case the boys turn up empty handed at Quantum.

Bill stood up. "I've got some stuff in my car for Blair. Rafe, can you give me a hand?"

Jim walked over to the kitchen counter and put his arms around Blair. "Sorry for the misunderstanding about those two."

He bent down to kiss him, intending to be gentle. Blair, however, had other ideas. His tongue sent shivers of desire racing through the bigger man. It took every ounce of energy for Jim to push him away just before their guests returned.

When the knock came, Blair was back at his laptop while Jim opened the door.

"We've got a surprise for you, Blair. With everything that's been going wrong for you I thought, maybe, you could use something to cheer you up," Bill explained as he entered.

"What are you talking about, Man?"

Rafe looked over at Jim. "I need to explain something to you. You're going to witness an event here. I can assure you that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the ongoing investigation."

Blair was on the edge of his seat. "What's going on? Bill?"

"You know that Rafe and Detective Ellison..."

"Jim," he insisted.

"Okay. Rafe and Jim showed up yesterday and confiscated your old computer from the University, right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Did you happen to make a copy of what was on the hard drive of that computer before you left?"

"Yeah, except I copied it to the hard drive of the laptop that was at my apartment," he finished dejectedly.

Rafe fished a jewel case out of his pocket and held it up.

Blair's eyes lit up. "You didn't. But how. Oh man, aren't you gonna get in trouble for messing with evidence or something?"

"Nope," Bill grinned at his friend and then looked at the other detective. "I burned a copy of that hard drive after you left Rainier. I figured you might want it some day."

Rafe quickly sought out Jim's eyes. "I went over that hard drive with a fine tooth comb, Jim, there's no evidence of any suspicious activity or covering up deleted files. The only thing on that drive is Sandburg's research, lesson plans and exams."

"Oh, Man, this is great. It'll at least be a start for me to rebuild my files that I lost. I really appreciate this guys. You have no idea."

"So how much do you appreciate it, Sandburg?"

"What?"

"Come on, Sandburg. Do you appreciate me enough to say, buy me a new laptop to replace the one you borrowed and never returned?" Bill asked innocently?

"You're crazy man," Blair shook his head at his friend.

Rafe motioned over to Jim to just play along with whatever was going on.

"I'm serious here, Blair."

"So am I. I returned your damn computer, Man, as soon as I got mine back from the shop. Don't you remember?"

"Oh yeah. I guess you must be right." Bill stood up and mysteriously produced a laptop computer. He changed seats so he could sit on the couch next to Blair and put it on his lap. Opening it, he turned it on. Searching the directories, he finally found what he was looking for.

"Yep, you were right, Blair, this is my computer. Here's my thesis. Man, I thought I'd never find this damn thing." He began to page down a few times skimming through it. "Yeah, I think it's all here. Good, good. I'll be able get back to work on it." He looked over at Rafe. "You have no idea how hard I've worked on this. Hell, you know how devastated I've been that I haven't been able to find it."

"What's your paper on?" Rafe inquired.

"It's all about the effects of Society on a Modern Day Sentinel."

"What?" Blair sputtered, spitting out some of his beer. "Let me see that." He grabbed the computer away from his friend. He pulled up page after page. "Ohmigod,Ohimigod,Ohmigod," he chanted repeatedly.

"Sandburg! We get the point already." Jim had to raise his voice to be heard over Blair's incessant rambling.

"Sorry. I thought this was lost forever. All that work."

"Now maybe you'll actually go for your doctorate, Blair."

"Oh sure, like that's gonna happen. I can't go back to Rainier, Bill, and you know it. Taylor's seen to that. And with this crap hanging over my head."

* * * * *

Jim felt himself drifting in and out of a dreamlike state. The sensations he was experiencing were both sensual and erotic at the same time. There it was again. Concentrating as hard as he could he almost identify the stimuli. A tongue. Yes. That was it. A tongue circling first one nipple and then the other. Awareness slowly began to creep into his brain. He felt each hair strand as it was pulled across his torso... "What the.. Sandburg, what are you...umphhhffffff"

Blair quickly silenced any protests with his insatiable mouth. Opening his eyes, he found himself pinned beneath the wiry young man.

In one smooth move, Jim flipped them so their positions were reversed and he now held Blair captive. Looking down, he grinned. "Interesting wake up call you've got there, Chief."

"I tried calling your name a few times but you didn't answer, so I thought I'd give this a shot. I've got something I think you should see, Big Guy"

"Let me guess, you've been up all night again on the computer?"

"Well, not all night," he said sheepishly. "I woke up, couldn't get back to sleep and started checking some stuff out."

Jim grabbed his robe and headed downstairs. "Okay, let me get some coffee and then show me what you've got."

He poured himself a cup from the pot already made and padded over to the couch to see what had so intrigued the young engineer.

There on the coffee table he found spread out various email messages.

"Chief?"

"These are the messages that were posted, supposedly by me. They've been bugging me and I couldn't figure out why."

"Because we couldn't figure out how they duplicated your IP address."

"No, Man. It's not just that. I mean, it's the whole message thing. If these guys are gonna give out the passwords; that's one thing. But why the message?"

"I don't know, Chief?"

"Like I said, it's been bugging me. So I've been studying them. And I've figured it out. It's a code."

"A code?"

"Yeah. See, the whole password thing is bogus. By the time this hit the newsgroup, I imagine the original passwords were changed."

"But from the reports that were filed by the various companies that were hit, the passwords had to have been legitimate because they discovered funds were being siphoned off from multiple accounts."

"Precisely, and no doubt they'll find money is continuing to disappear. You see, part of the code translates into another set of active passwords. It's a derivative of the now disabled passwords. But you have to know the code to decipher it." Blair pointed out a sheet of paper he'd printed out that contained the translated code.

"Rafe said that some of the original passwords belonged to the sons of the Presidents or CEOs of these companies. Chances are these new passwords belong to them as well."

"More than likely. The rest of this coded message talks about the plan and specific instructions, but doesn't give a date. It's likely that since they think I'm dead they're using another name to pass the coded messages, I just haven't found it yet," Blair explained.

"Best guess is that it's gotta be soon because these companies aren't gonna sit back and allow their coffers to be drained," Jim pointed out. "Is Wyatt behind this?"

"Nah. He just set up the means for this group to communicate. And of course, you can bet he's being paid very well for his services."

* * * * *

He heard the key in the lock as he walked out of the bathroom. Assuming that Jim must have forgotten something, Blair was surprised when a tall brunette woman entered the loft.

She looked at his quizzically. "Excuse me. Who the hell are you and what you doing in my home?"

"Your home. Um, I'm a friend of Detective Ellison's."

"Well, I'm his wife."

'Wife! Damn you, Ellison!' "Um... Mrs. Ellison. My name is Blair Sandburg. I've been working with..."

"Sandburg? I thought you were dead." She look puzzled.

"The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated, I assure you," he laughed. "I'm helping Detective Ellison catch the real criminals."

"Mr. Sandburg, is it? Well, Mr. Sandburg, I'm sure my husband has matters under control so your services are no longer required."

"But..."

"I'm afraid I really must insist, Mr. Sandburg." She pulled her police credentials from her purse and flashed them in front of his face.

With a loud sigh, he began to gather up his meager belongings. 'All of this was just a game to you, wasn't it, Ellison? Have a little fun at the geek's expense while the wife's away?' Blair quietly shut the door behind him as he left the loft. "You really screwed up this time, Sandburg," he said aloud as he exited onto the street. "Whatever possessed you to think you could trust a cop?" He continued berating himself as he walked away from the building,

In desperation, he made a quick call from a nearby pay phone. "Suse? Yeah, it's me. Listen, can you meet me in the Park in about fifteen minutes? It's a long story. Okay. Thanks." He hung up the phone and hurried to meet her.

* * * * *

Blair collapsed on the first bench he came to. He lowered his head in to his hands, fresh tears burned his eyes. 'How could you lie to me, Jim? He didn't lie to you, Sandburg. Yes, he did. A lie of omission is still a lie,' he reasoned. "Great, Sandburg! Just great!" Blair wiped the moisture away from his cheeks. "Now you're arguing with yourself!"

He didn't see her approach nor was he even aware of her presence until she sat down beside him on the park bench.

"Blair, you look terrible. What happened?"

"Turns out Detective Ellison has a wife. She threw me out of the apartment."

"Oh, sweetie. I'm so sorry." Susie hugged him tightly.

"Yeah, me, too. He sure had me fooled. Anyway, I've got a really big favor to ask. Can I stay at your place for awhile? I'd call Bill, but since Rafe is Ellison's partner I just don't wanna deal with it."

"Sure, I understand. No problem. Um, I don't have a spare key on me right now though."

"That's okay. I really need to go get me some new clothes. So how about I meet you back there when you get off work?

"That works."

"Oh, one more thing. Can you keep these laptops with you. I don't wanna be dragging them around with me while I'm shopping."

* * * * *

At 6:15 that night Detective Ellison received a call at the station. "Detective Ellison? This is Susie Rush, Blair's friend. Have you heard from him?"

"I assume, Ms. Rush, that he's still at my apartment."

"Uh, no, sir. He was supposed to meet me at my apartment when I got home from work at 4:00 today. He hasn't shown up and I'm worried about him."

"What? I told him not to leave the apartment..."

"Apparently, Detective Ellison, your wife ordered him to leave the apartment," she said.

"Dammit" she heard him exclaim under his breath.

"He had nowhere else to go and he was very upset. He came to meet me at lunch time. Blair said he was gonna go shopping for some clothes and then meet me at my apartment."

"I appreciate you calling me, Ms. Rush. As soon as I locate him, I'll see to it that he contacts you."

"Thanks."

Jim closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Rafe looked over at him with concern. "Problems, Jim?"

"Yeah, Carolyn threw Sandburg out of the loft. He was supposed to go and stay with a friend of his but his friend just called to say he never showed up and she's worried."

Rafe immediately got on the phone to see if Bill had heard anything. Hanging up, he glanced over at Jim and shook his head.

Jim was on the verge of leaving to go home to confront Carolyn when she walked into the station.

"How dare you?"

"It's good to see you too, Jim," she shot back at him.

"You had no right to throw Sandburg out of the loft."

"It's my home, too."

"Not any more, it isn't. I owned it before we were married and I got to keep it as part of the settlement. Our divorce was final as of a week ago. You know that, Carolyn."

"I don't have to listen to this from you," she screamed.

"I can have you brought up on B&E charges for that stunt," he spat out angrily, shooting her a venomous look.

"Jim, you'd better take a look at this," Rafe interrupted him frantically.

Jim walked over to Rafe's desk and peered over his shoulder at the computer monitor. There on the screen was an email message sent to the hotmail account Blair had set up.

"This was sent to both of us this morning," Rafe said.

Hey Guys
I found a post on the newsgroup that has some more code in it. Looks like whatever is going down, is going down tomorrow. Does the name Sunrise Patriots mean anything to you? How about Kincaid?
The computer network inside the police department network has been compromised. It's possible that the router there has been hacked into as well, but I can't be sure. Look for one of the boxes.
B

"Damn!" Jim glanced over and realized that Carolyn had left. Straightening up, he marched into Simon's office without even knocking first.

* * * * *

Three hours later Jim and Rafe met back in Simon's office to brief him on their progress. So far they had located the boxes used to hack into the routers at Sandburg's ISP and the Police Department network. The sons of either the Presidents or CEOs of all but two of the companies that had been attacked had been arrested. The APBs had been issued on the two that had fled. So far, however, the three hackers had still eluded detection and Kincaid was nowhere to be found. Nor, for that matter, was the missing grad student/engineer.

"Jim, what are the chances that there will be more coded messages?" Simon sounded hopeful. He pulled a cigar out of his case and neatly trimmed the end.

"Doubtful, Sir. By now Kincaid must be aware that his financial resources have tapped out. The passwords have been blocked as well."

"Well, he's not getting out of the city. The governor has called out the National Guard to help block all roadways out of the city. The airport, train station, bus station, ferry, everything is covered. Kincaid will be returned to prison."

* * * * *

By the time Jim finally returned to the loft, he was dead on his feet. He had no appetite and dragged himself upstairs to bed. Sleep, however, was elusive. He spent what seemed like hours tossing and turning in bed before finally drifting off into a troubled sleep. When a particularly vivid nightmare woke him, much earlier than the alarm, Jim decided to forego any further attempts at sleep and got up. He was back at the office by 5:00 a.m.

By 10:00, the office was alive with activity. Jim and Rafe had entered Simon's office. As usual, Simon was enjoying his first cigar of the day. He was prepared today, he brought more than his usual number into the office.

Simon's phone began to ring, startling the men.

"Excuse me. Simon Banks here. Yeah, Joel. What? All right. We'll be right down. Keep him on the line." He quickly hung up the phone and turned towards his two detectives. "Joel's got Kincaid on the line downstairs. He's asking for you, Jim."

Jim didn't wait to hear anything else, he broke out of his Captain's office at a dead run. Not waiting for the elevator, he took the stairs. Simon and Rafe struggled to keep up with him.

Once the three entered Joel Taggert's office, the Major Crimes' Captain signaled that all was in readiness for the call. He pressed the button for the speakerphone.

"What'dya want, Kincaid?" Ellison said, in an attempt to feign disinterest.

"Ah, Detective Ellison, good to hear your voice. Although I'd much prefer it if I could hear it when I was much farther away from your lovely city," the disembodied voice stated.

"I'm afraid that's not going to happen, Kincaid.."

"Oh, but it will, Detective. Let's just say I've got my 'Get out of Jail Free' card with me," he chuckled.

"What are you talking about?"

"Come now, Detective Ellison, you don't think I'd go to all the trouble of planning something without having some sort of contingency plan in mind, do you?"

Jim had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What sort of contingency plan are we talking about here?"

"Hostages, Ellison. One of my newer patriots, Mr. Patterson, was thoughtful enough to provide me some of the personnel from Communication Systems. Oh, and did I mention that his father, Emmett Patterson, the President of the Company is also here?"

"So help me, Kincaid, if you harm any of those people..."

"You're not in any position to make any demands, Detective Ellison. I, however, can and will make demands of you and the Cascade Police Department.

"What do you want, Kincaid?"

"I want two 14 foot trucks, fueled and ready to go. I expect guaranteed clear passage out of town. I'll call back with the coordinates of where to leave them."

* * * * *

The blindfold was yanked from her head as she was roughly shoved in to the small room. She barely managed to maintain her balance. Turning around slowly, she recognized a few familiar faces. There were two men, however, she didn't know. Nor did she really want to get to know them better; not as long as they were holding guns. In her haste to put some distance between herself and the men, she failed to notice the person huddled against the wall until she'd backed into him.

"Owwwwww," she cried out, landing awkwardly on her ankle. She struggled to fight back the tears that sprang to her eyes. Glancing over, she instantly recognized the person she'd tripped over. "Mr. Patterson?"

Rough hands jerked her to her feet. "Get away from him, girl, unless you want to end up like him."

Hobbling away, she moved toward a couple of her female co-workers. "What happened to him?" she asked them.

"For God sake, Susie, keep your voice down," one girl implored her.

The other spoke softly into her ear. "Apparently, he was brought here last night. I've heard his son did this to him."

"You're kidding? Bobby? But why?"

"Suse?"

She felt the light touch on her arm and spun around. "Blair? Oh My God, Blair! Are you all right?" At that point, her weakened ankle gave out on her and she crumpled to the floor.

He helped her up and together they moved toward the closest wall. Carefully, he lowered her before slumping beside her.

Holding his finger to his lips, he indicated that they needed to be quiet. "I guess I'm okay," he said barely above a whisper.

Susie looked closely at her friend. "You don't look all right. What happened to your eye?" She raised her hand towards his face but he shrank back from her touch.

"Lucky punch," he responded dryly.

She looked around the room once again before returning her attention to her friend. "So where are we?"

"I don't have a clue. I got jumped on my way to the store to pick up some clothes. I must have been knocked unconscious. When I came to, I was blindfolded and tied up."

"So who are these guys and what do they want with us?"

"I don't know about the guys out there," he indicated with a nod of his head. "The two standing over there are Tim Preston and Paul Martin. A couple of the real hackers I told you about. I'm guessing that this place belongs to them since they seem to know it pretty well."

She looked at him curiously. "What do you mean, Blair?"

"Whenever anybody is looking for something, these guys, or Wyatt always tells them where it is."

"Wyatt's the third guy?" she guessed.

"Yeah. This," he gingerly brushed the hair away from his face as he lifted his head slightly, giving her a better view, "was a present from him. Compared to those two, Wyatt's a real piece of work."

Susie barely contained a loud gasp as she observed the purplish bruise that had formed on his cheekbone, just beneath his swollen eye. "How long have you been here, Blair?"

"What time is it now? It must have been just after 3:00 yesterday when they grabbed me." Blair Indicated with a nod towards the figure slumped against the opposite wall. "Mr. Patterson was brought in some time last night."

She looked down at her watch. "It's around 10 a.m. I got nailed in the elevator on the way to the office. The guy grabbed me before I knew what was happening and blindfolded me. I think there were a couple others who got thrown in here when I was."

"Did you hear anything when they were bringing you in?"

"I don't know. Wait a minute. Somebody was talking on the phone. I think the guy was talking to the police. I heard him say 'detective something or other.'.

"Detective Ellison?" Blair asked hopefully. "Think Susie, this is important. Did he say Detective Ellison?"

"I'm not sure, but that could be it. That's the guy who's apartment you were staying at, right?"

"Yeah, that's him. Listen, I might have an..."

Blair unexpectedly went silent. Susie looked up, trying to find the cause. She didn't have far to look. One of the hackers had been moving around the room and was now close to where they sat. She began to scoot slowly away from her friend.

The man's movement ceased as he stood in front of her. Glancing down, he saw her rubbing her sore ankle. He reached out and grabbed her arm, hauling her to her feet. "Try walking it off," he commanded. Susie dared not look back as she began moving.

She approached a group of her co-workers and slowed her pace and used them to obstruct the man's view of her. She hoped Blair had been watching her.

Susie wasn't disappointed when she heard his soft voice behind her. "Get near that door. Repeat this message, but you have to whisper it so they can't hear you. Tell Ellison to be looking for a real geek's vice."

She looked over her shoulder at him questioningly. "What?"

"I'll explain it later. It's a clue, but we can't be specific in case they hear you."

"Blair, you're nuts. Like Ellison's really gonna be able to hear me." She shook her head.

"Trust me. If I'm right, there's a chance he might." Blair noticed that one of the two men was again moving in their direction. With a gentle shove, he pushed his friend towards the door. "Move away, now!"

Cautiously, she limped toward the closed door. Spotting two of her office mates standing close by, she moved next to them, her back to the door.

Abruptly, the door opened and a hand grabbed her shoulder, dragging her backwards. She was quickly blindfolded again and led away.

She felt the phone receiver as it was pressed harshly against her face.

* * * * *

"Before I agree to anything, let me speak to one of the hostages," Ellison demanded. He heard the sound of the phone being passed off.

"Hhhhello?" It was a feminine voice.

"This is Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police..."

"Detective Ellison, this is Susie Rush."

"Susie, are you all right?"

"I guess so. Mr. Patterson isn't doing so well, I'm afraid, " she reported.

"What's wrong with him?"

"He was beaten by his son when we were first taken," she said as calmly as she could under the circumstances.

"Now you just hang in there, Susie. We're gonna do everything we can to get you all out just as fast as we can."

"I know you will. Um...Detective Ellison?"

"Yeah, Susie?"

"They've got Blair, too." The phone was grabbed away from her.

"What?"

"That's right, Ellison, we've got the hippie geek. He cost me quite a lot of money with his interference. I've got three associates here who owe him something as well."

Leaning over the table, Jim pounded his fist into the unforgiving surface for emphasis. "Kincaid, any hostage trade is for all hostages, including Sandburg." 'I swear, Kincaid, you harm one hair on the kid's head, and so help me... Wha??'

In the background, Jim thought he could detect a faint female voice. He tried to focus in on it. "Blair said you should look for a real geek's vice. Look for a real geek's vice. Look for a real geek's vice." Over and over she whispered the words. He could hear the voice growing more and more distant. Then he heard a door slam.

"Why, Detective, I'm touched by your concern for the young man. I'll get back to you on that point.

"Kincaid, you listen to..."

The phone call was abruptly terminated with Jim left staring at the speaker.

* * * * *

Susie was still whispering when the man behind her roughly pulled the blindfold off. "What's that you're saying, girl?"

She looked down at the ground trying to think quickly. "I was just praying that I get out of this alive," she answered quietly, hoping he didn't notice how violently her knees had begun to shake.

"You're gonna need more than prayers," he laughed as he pushed her forward before slamming the door closed.

Leaning against the wall, Susie closed her eyes tightly.

"What happened?"

She turned toward the familiar voice. "You were right. It was your friend the detective they were talking to. They had me talk to him for a minute," she reported.

"Did you give him the message?" Blair asked urgently.

"Well, I was whispering as I was brought back here," she said flippantly. "I mean really, Blair, there's no way Ellison could hear me. There was this goon right behind me and I was talking so softly, even he didn't hear me."

"We'll keep our fingers crossed."

She looked at her friend and just shook her head. "What did that message mean, anyway?"

Blair snickered as he nodded towards the two hackers still in the room. "These guys have their toys outside the house. I've been hearing them talking about them all night."

She stared at him blankly. "Toys?"

"Sports cars," he grinned. "I'm hoping Ellison can trace the registration or something to find a location."

"Why couldn't you have just told me to tell him to check for sports cars?"

"If anybody heard you, they might have figured that out."

"Well, I sure hope your friend figures out that cryptic clue. Assuming he even heard me," she sighed.

Blair noticed that Preston was drawing closer to where they stood. Wisely, he chose to move away from his friend.

* * * * *

He stood up and turned to face the other occupants of the office. "That had to be Susie who was whispering that message."

"What message, Jim?" Simon looked bewildered. "I didn't hear anything."

"She said that Sandburg told her to tell me to look for a real geek's vice." He looked over at Rafe, who sat with a blank look on his face.

"Get real, Jim." Rafe looked up in mock offense. "Do I look like a geek to you?"

"They say that computer geeks like to eat junk food all the time," Joel volunteered. The others just stared at him. "What? I was just thinking that maybe their location is somewhere near a distributor of typical junk food. Or a donut shop."

"All right. While you three ponder the whereabouts of Twinkies and Ho-Hos, I'm going to see what I can do to meet these demands of Kincaid's so we'll be ready to move when he calls back," Simon informed them.

* * * * *

Jim and Rafe were pouring through the Cascade yellow pages trying to locate every distributor, every vending machine supplier, every donut shop, anything that remotely resembled junk food. So far, however, they were turning up blanks. There were no empty buildings, nor recently rented out spaces anywhere nearby any of these establishments.

Reluctantly, they found themselves back at square one. While they were trying to solve the clue that Sandburg had left them, Rafe's cell phone rang.

"Rafe here. Hey, Bill. Yeah, they've taken Blair. We're doing what we can but we don't know where to start. Blair left us a clue but we don't know what it means. Something about a real geek's vice. What? You're sure? Ah, babe, you may have just saved Blair's life. Yeah, I'll talk to you later." He quickly hung up and when he looked over at Jim's desk he found a pair of steel blue eyes already focused on him.

"Well?"

"Bill says Blair told him a long time ago that he would never be a real geek because a true geek's vice is they have to have a sports car."

"Rafe, you start calling around to all the sports car dealerships in town to see if any of these three purchased a car in the last two months? I'm gonna have records check some tags for me."

Thirty minutes later, they were no closer than when they started. Rafe had called every dealership in town that sold sports cars, or any car that by any stretch of the imagination could be considered a sports car. Jim had run checks on the vanity license plates of Wyatt Earp and Dark Lord and turned up nothing.

He had just about run out of ideas when Jim decided to play a hunch. He went back and looked over the email message Sandburg had sent to Rafe and him that morning. Attached to it was the newsgroup post of one of the trio of hackers. When Jim applied the ROT13 code breaker to the message, he discovered the alias the man was using - - 'Cracker'. Quickly he called in the name to records to check on the possible registration of such plates.

They hit pay dirt. The plates were issued on a 2001 Blue BMW Z3 . The car was registered to a Timothy Presston who bought the car in Olympia and paid cash for it.

'Gotcha, Preston.' Jim chuckled to himself. 'Thought you covered your tracks by going out of town and paying cash for it, huh? Nice touch misspelling your name too,' he smirked. 'But you got lazy. Didn't wanna have to drive all the way back to Olympia for the tags, so you registered it to an actual address in Cascade.' Jim was visibly smiling now. He turned around abruptly when he felt the hand on his shoulder.

"Jim?" Rafe appeared bewildered.

"I've got an address," he quickly explained. "Sandburg's clue paid off." The smile began to deteriorate and Ellison's partner readily guessed the reason.

"He's gonna be all right, Jim."

"I sure hope so, Rafe. I sure hope so..."

* * * * *

"Wyatt, come in. Have a seat." Kincaid motioned to an empty chair at the dining room table.

Wyatt looked at him suspiciously, but sat down. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yeah. I just thought you should know that we're gonna be moving out tonight. We're gonna take the hostages with us."

"You're gonna leave Sandburg, right? That was the deal..."

"Sandburg's all yours just like I promised. However, I think the time has come that you and your men should take him to the basement and wait for our signal. I'll let you know when we're pulling out."

"Fine, fine..."

"And Wyatt, you do realize that Mr. Sandburg will have to be killed? Kincaid watched the man's face carefully.

"What? You never said anything about having to kill anybody, Kincaid."

"He's too dangerous to be allowed to live. It could jeopardize our organization. Now, if you don't think that you and your friends have the stomach for such things, we can just take care of him now," Kincaid offered.

"No, no," he sighed. "I'll take care of it. That little shit owes me, so I should have the honors."

"See that you do. Trust me, Wyatt, you don't want to cross me," Kincaid assured the man.

Realizing he'd been dismissed, Wyatt stood up and approached the small room where the hostages were being held.

Within a few minutes, Blair was dragged from the room and forced into the basement by Wyatt. His two partners followed closely behind.

* * * * *

Within a couple of hours Detective Ellison found himself right back in the thick of things, as if he'd never left Major Crimes. He, along with Rafe and Simon, had joined forces with Joel and the detectives of Major Crimes. Together with the Cascade Police Department Swat Team, they were assembled at an elementary school located within two blocks of the location of Kincaid and his men.

"Captain Taggert, the report we got from Comm Sys was that twelve of their personnel were taken. That includes the President, but not his son, who is to be considered a hostile," Rafe announced to the head of Major Crimes, as well as the others assembled in the school's cafeteria.

Jim looked up from his computer screen. "There's thirteen altogether, Sir," he amended.

"What?" Joel's head snapped upright.

"Sandburg, Sir. He's the thirteenth hostage."

"Right, right..." Taggert's voice trailed off as he resumed scanning the blueprints of the house in question before directing his attention back to the group convened at the kitchen table. "Do we have any reliable information as to how many men Kincaid might have in there?"

Henry Brown stood up and pointed to the blueprint and survey. "He's got five patrolling the perimeter. This is a fairly small house, Captain. With twelve hostages already inside, that's not gonna leave a lot of room for Kincaid's men. This is a guess, but I'd say between five and ten men inside."

Simon glanced at his watch. It was almost 6:00. He looked over at Jim. "Think he'll move tonight or wait 'till tomorrow?"

"I think he's going to move tonight. I also think he's got fewer men than we originally calculated and he needs the cover of darkness to hide that fact," Jim predicted.

"It also takes out some of our shooters," Joel countered.

"He's counting on that fact," Ellison said. "But something just doesn't add up here."

"Jim?" Simon walked around the table until he was standing directly behind the detective, peering over his shoulder at the computer screen.

"Simon, this is a residential street. It doesn't make sense for Kincaid to have two large trucks pulling up here to load up the hostages and all his men."

"There aren't enough vehicles around that house now to transport all the hostages," Joel reasoned.

"Which means that either Kincaid has no intention of transporting the hostages because he's planning on killing them here or he's somehow gonna get more vehicles here before he moves." Jim rifled through the stack of newly developed photographs on the table. Selecting one, he slid it across the table toward Captain Taggert. "That was taken less than an hour ago, Sir. It clearly shows only four automobiles."

Joel looked at the men stationed at various points throughout the room. "Suggestions, anyone?"

"Sir, I propose we engage Kincaid at the house before he has a chance to move anywhere," the head of the Swat Team advised. "If Detective Ellison is right, and Kincaid's numbers are at their lowest at the current time, it would be prudent to strike while the odds are in our favor."

"You do that and Kincaid's gonna use every one of those hostages as human shields. I can almost guarantee that." Jim angrily pushed his chair back so hard when he jumped up, it crashed to the floor.

"Gentlemen, I suggest we table this discussion until we hear back from Kincaid. In the meantime, I'd like everyone to compile a list of possible scenarios to consider and corresponding solutions," Joel recommended.

Jim stormed out of the room and headed down the corridor.

"Jim, wait!" his partner implored.

He halted his long strides and spun around, shoulders sagging.

"I know you're worried about him," Rafe said quietly. "Hell, I am, too. We'll think of..."

"Ellison!" Simon's voice echoed off the narrow hallway as he caught up to his detectives. "You have got to keep that temper of yours in check. You're not gonna do anyone any good if they send you home."

Jim looked over at his Captain, fully cognizant of the truth behind the harsh words. "I know, Sir. I hate feeling so out of control."

"Then I'd suggest you get back in control. Joel's a good man. He'll listen to you if you give him a reason."

"Simon, I..." Words began to fail him. "He's gotta be remembering the last time we dealt with Kincaid."

"Maybe. Let's just wait and see what happens when the call comes in."

* * * * *

They didn't have long to wait. Within the hour, the call came in on Taggert's line which had been set to transfer to their location.

"Captain Taggert. Yes, Kincaid, I've been waiting for your call. Everything is set up for you. Hold on, I'll get him." Joel put the man on hold. Looks like it's a go for tonight. He nodded in Jim's direction. "He wants to talk to you, Jim." He engaged the speakerphone.

"I'm here, Kincaid. What do you want?" Jim asked impatiently.

"I'm making sure my trucks will be ready to roll, Ellison."

"They'll be ready. Where and When?"

"I'll have the coordinates and time faxed over within the hour. The drivers will drop off the trucks, then get out and walk. Do I make myself clear? If I so much as see another person around there other than these two drivers, the hostages all die."

"And once you and your men board the trucks, you'll leave the hostages behind?"

"Sorry, Ellison, it doesn't work that way. If all goes well, I'll drop the hostages off once we have safely left the state."

"And we're supposed to just trust you, Kincaid?"

"I don't see as you have much choice, Ellison. None of your fancy tricks like last time we met. All that got you was a trip to the hospital. How long were you in there?" he goaded the detective.

"That's not important. You were brought down, Kincaid." Jim took a deep breath, struggling to maintain his eroding confidence.

"At what cost? I seem to recall there were quite a few officers who were seriously injured that day; ended a number of careers, too. You try something stupid like that again, Ellison, and there will be innocent civilians who will be sacrificed this time."

"The trucks will be there, Kincaid," Jim said quietly, not wanting to be reminded of his dismal failure the last time he'd locked horns with this dangerous man.

"I'm glad that you see things my way."

"What about Sandburg? Will he be among the hostages?"

"No, I don't believe he will be. My associates seem to feel that he needs to answer for previous crimes. You'll have to negotiate with them directly concerning Mr. Sandburg."

"But..."

Once again the phone line was abruptly disconnected.

Jim walked quietly toward the front door.

"Where are you going?"

He turned around to face his Captain. "I'll be back shortly, Simon. There's something I need to take care of first." He exited the building quickly before anyone could think to stop him.

* * * * *

Kincaid had one of his men summon Wyatt Clark from the basement. He was talking to one of his men when the hacker walked into the room. Swiftly dismissing his soldier, he turned to face Clark.

"Wyatt, we're going to be pulling out in the next couple of hours. When we do, our business dealings will be concluded."

"I understand, Mr. Kincaid. We will be moving on ourselves in the morning," Clark hastened to assure him.

"After you wrapped up that last of it, that is..."

"Sir?"

"Sandburg," Kincaid reminded him. Grabbing the gun lying on the table, he slid it over toward Clark. "You can finish him off with this."

Wyatt gingerly held the gun, unaccustomed to it's weight. "You really think this is necessary?"

"That is an order, Clark! Mr. Sandburg is a loose end that has to be taken care of." Kincaid stared at the man through cold, emotionless eyes.

The hacker took a deep breath. "I understand." He turned around and began walking slowly out of the room.

"See that you do." Kincaid spoke to the man's retreating back. Looking over toward the far entrance to the room, he motioned with his head for one of his soldiers to step closer.

Once Wyatt was out of sight, Kincaid motioned with his hand for silence. He waited. He finally heard the sound he was searching for - - a door opening and closing. He began speaking with the man next to him.

"John, you heard we're pulling out soon."

"Yes, Sir."

"I'm not sure that I can trust Mr. Clark to complete his assigned task. I've always felt that he and his men have divided loyalties. Nothing can stand in the way of advancing this organization. Therefore, John, I'd like for you to stay behind after we leave and take care of things for me here."

"I understand, Sir. I'm to eliminate Sandburg?"

"I want you to take care of all four of them, John. No witnesses, no loose ends."

"Yes, Sir," the soldier responded automatically.

A sound was heard from the next room, followed by a door opening. A lone figure stood at the entrance of the room. "I'll show you divided loyalties, Kincaid." Wyatt Clark aimed the borrowed gun carefully and pulled the trigger. The only response was a feeble click.

Kincaid merely shook his head, drew his own weapon and fired. Wyatt crumpled to the ground, shock frozen on his face.

The gunshot drew several men into the room simultaneously. Kincaid motioned to the body on the floor. "Clean that mess up," he ordered as he walked over to where John remained standing. "This changes nothing. You are still to carry out my orders after we've left."

The man nodded mutely.

* * * * *

Kincaid apparently did make one change however - - his timetable was moving more rapidly than expected. The fax came through only a half hour later. According to the instructions, they had approximately one hour to leave the two trucks at the drop off point.

Joel Taggert made the necessary phone call to position the trucks. Jim walked back into the house, just as Joel was hanging up the phone. He acknowledged the detective's presence with a nod before turning his attention on the opened map on the table.

"Trucks are on their way," he said tersely, pointing to a spot on the map. "They should be there in approximately twenty minutes."

Simon studied the location momentarily. "My guess is they're gonna head towards the border." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his detective move towards him. "What'dya think, Jim?"

"That seems most likely, Sir," Jim agreed. Lifting his head slightly, he addressed Taggert, who was standing opposite them at the table. "Sir, as I pointed out before, they don't have the necessary number of vehicles to move the hostages to this remote location. It stands to reason that either Kincaid is bringing in more vehicles to move these people or else he's planning to kill them here."

"Jim, you don't think Kincaid would..."

"Simon, Kincaid's capable of almost anything. We all know that. However, I tend to believe he wants those hostages alive, at least for the time being. He needs them to insure safe passage out of the state. I think we should let them load the hostages on the trucks and then strike before they have a chance to move out."

"And risk the lives of all those hostages? Kincaid's already said if he sees any sign of us, he's gonna kill them all. This is basically an open field. It'll be virtually impossible to hide as many men as we're gonna need. No, no...this is an unacceptable risk."

"But, Captain..."

"I'm sorry, Jim. I've noted your recommendation. However, I'm just not willing to sacrifice that many lives. I think it's wiser to hit him at a strategic point en route."

Jim practically had to bite his tongue to hold his temper in check. He left the room before he could say something he'd regret.

* * * * *

Paul slowly tried turning the doorknob but it didn't budge. "I can't believe they locked us in here," he ranted as he descended the staircase to the basement.

"They don't want you finding out what's going on, Man. Don't you get it?"

"Shut up, Sandburg. I don't believe you."

"Paul, will you just face facts, Man. I heard them. You heard the damn shot. We all did. Those guys up there were talking about Kincaid blowing Wyatt away."

"Tim, you didn't hear nothing," Martin angrily responded.

"Get a grip, Man. We're probably next." Tim anxiously paced about the room.

"Yeah, and just what are we supposed to do about it?" Paul stood in front of his frantic friend, halting his further movement. "They've got guns. We don't."

"There's another way."

Two pairs of eyes locked on the bowed head, seated on the worn couch.

"Okay, genius, what's your idea?"

Blair immediately stood up and walked toward the bookcase on the far wall. "Is there a way to get online without them detecting us?" He stood pointing at the laptop computer lying between several large books.

Tim began to look around the room. "The guy we're renting from said something about a separate phone line down here. I think this was his office. I don't even know if that thing works."

"Here it is," Blair said a moment later, after pulling the bookcase away from the wall a couple of inches.

"So what is your great plan, hero?" Paul said, crossing the room towards the two men.

"If I can get online, I can try to get a message to Detective Ellison. He'll..."

"No cops, Sandburg. That's just as bad as..."

"Paul, we don't have much of a choice here. Kincaid's gonna have us killed. They've already killed Wyatt."

"You don't know that, Tim."

"You heard the shot, Man. You figure it out. I say we let the kid contact this guy and then we take our chances. Maybe we can cut a deal. Right, kid?"

"Huh, um sure, I'll talk to Ellison and see if he can do something." Blair glanced over at Martin, waiting for a sign that he could proceed. A reluctant nod was his response.

Luck was with him when the computer powered up with no problem. However, he soon was beginning to curse that same luck when he encountered difficulties with logging on through an internet provider.

"Dammit, I can't get it to recognize my ISP," Blair groaned.

"Is AOL installed on there?" Tim asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"Here, let me." Moments later they heard the familiar whine of the modem connecting to the service. "It's a junk account I keep," Tim explained when he saw the questioning faces on the two men.

As soon as they were in, Blair resumed control and quickly typed a message to the detective.

"What are the chances Ellison's even online?" Tim asked quietly, afraid to get his waning hopes up.

"I don't know," Blair had to admit reluctantly. "Hold on a second. Let me check something." His hands flew across the keyboard as he quickly brought up the instant message option. Within moments he was able to send a message through. His response was almost instantaneous.

Blair, where are you?
No time, Man. Find Jim and Rafe. Matter of Life and Death. They need to read hotmail!!!
Understood!

"What's all that about?" Paul asked, after reading the brief exchange.

"This guy's a friend of mine. He'll know how to reach the detectives," Blair assured them. 'Please, Jim, get this message. I really could use some help here, Man,' he thought frantically.

* * * * *

"Jim, you're not giving me much choice here. I can order you to go home," Simon tried to rationally point out.

"Captain...Simon," he begged, "you've gotta know I'm right about this. It's the..."

Just then Rafe's cell phone rang loudly, momentarily breaking the tension surrounding the men.

The younger detective moved apart from the group. "Rafe here. Bill, I...What? Yeah, he's here." Holding the phone away from his mouth, he yelled at Ellison. "Jim, Bill says Blair's trying to contact us. Check the hotmail account...." Jim broke into a dead run toward the cafeteria, Simon and Rafe on his heels.

"Can he still talk to Blair?" Jim shouted over his shoulder.

"Bill, are you still in contact with Blair? Good. Tell him we're gonna get online. You might have to keep talking to him for us. Okay, hang on, let's see what we've got."

Jim rapidly logged into the hotmail account and found the new message. Rafe and Simon, having caught up to him, read over his shoulder.

Guys
Think Kincaid's killed Wyatt. Heard a shot fired and Wyatt never returned. Tim heard guys talking. We're locked in basement. Me, Tim and Paul. Think they're planning on killing us. A little help would be nice.
B

"Rafe, let me talk to Bill." He was immediately handed the phone. "Ask Sandburg how many guys Kincaid has in the house." Jim heard the sounds of the keystrokes as they were typed out.

"He doesn't know for sure. He's been blindfolded around those guys. He's heard maybe four or five different voices but thinks there's more."

Jim began scribbling notes on an empty notepad he grabbed from the middle of the table. "Okay, ask him if the other hostages are split up or are they in the same room."

After a moment's delay Bill responded. "They were in the same room but Blair's been separated from them for awhile."

"Are there any windows in the basement? If so, have them check to see if anybody is walking around out there. And Bill...tell him to be careful if they're opening windows."

"I will. Hang on a minute."

Jim began to drum his fingers on the table top, his anxiety growing with each passing moment of silence.

"Jim, he says there's one window that leads to the backyard. They cracked it open and didn't hear or see anything."

"Good," he sighed softly. Ellison glanced quickly at his watch. Time was growing short.

Joel hung up his phone and noticed the three men huddled around the computer screen. He walked over to them.

"Simon, what's going on?" he looked puzzled.

"Jim's got a link with Sandburg. Kincaid's apparently killed Clark already and Sandburg thinks he, Martin and Preston are next."

"Let me talk to..."

"No," Jim said firmly. "I want to be in charge in getting Sandburg out of there."

"Jim, you know I..."

"Joel," Simon put his arm around his fellow Captain's shoulders, gently leading him away. "Let Jim handle this part of it. We both know he can handle it. You worry about getting the rest of the hostages freed."

Joel turned back and watched the detective as he alternated between his phone conversation and rapidly scribbling notes on his pad. He simply nodded his acquiescence at Simon.

"Simon!" Jim shouted at his Captain. "Sandburg says they've hacked into the other phone line in the house. Kincaid's just gotten the word the trucks arrived at their destination. He's called for vans to pick up the hostages."

Joel walked quickly toward the group of men at the far end of the room and began barking out orders.

"Jim, Blair wants to know if they should crawl out the window and wait for you?" Bill asked

"No, tell him they should stay put. Leave the window open just a crack," Ellison ordered.

The response was to be expected. "He's not real crazy about that idea."

"Tell him I won't..." Jim's voice faltered slightly. He felt the stares from his Captain and his partner. He closed his eyes when Rafe's hand lightly squeezed his shoulder.

"He understands, Jim," Bill said softly.

"Thanks. Tell him I'm gonna stay on this phone until I get there. He shouldn't break the connection unless he absolutely has to." Jim handed the phone back to Rafe as he took Simon aside. "Captain, I'm going in there to get them out. I can catch up with you afterwards."

"I'm staying with you, Jim," Simon said firmly.

"Count me in," Rafe added, momentarily interrupting his phone conversation.

* * * * *

Two large passenger vans pulled up outside the small house. Several men walked up to the front door and were quickly admitted.

Jim waited for the man patrolling the backyard to move around to the side of the house before he quietly scaled the short, chain link fence. Moving rapidly towards the light shining through the solitary basement window, he lifted the phone to his face. "Bill, tell Blair, I'm outside and I'm coming in." He stood in the shadows, awaiting the response.

"He says to hurry."

"Got it." Disconnecting the call, he stuffed the phone in his pants pocket and he knelt by the window. Carefully, he pushed it open and slid inside. He was in the process of pulling it closed when he felt two arms snake around his waist. Closing his eyes briefly, he patted one of the trembling hands. "It's okay, Chief."

Blair released his grip on Jim as the larger man spun around to study the room. He pointed at the two men standing near the computer screen. "Jim, that's Paul Martin and Tim Preston. They helped me and they want..."

"Later, Chief. Right now we need to deal with Kincaid's men. They're moving the hostages outside right now."

"How do you know that," Tim looked perplexed.

"He probably saw them going outside before he came in here," Blair explained away easily.

Jim glanced down at Blair, his eyebrows raised as he silently questioned the young man's behavior. Lifting his finger to his lips for silence, he moved closer toward the stairs.

All at once he reacted. Motioning at the three of them to move closer, he whispered to them. "You guys stand over there," he pointed to a remote part of the room, away from the line of sight of the stairs.

Rapidly they moved to where the detective had indicated. The sound of the heavy front door slamming could be heard over their pounding heartbeats. Blair watched as Ellison positioned himself beside the staircase. He could clearly make out the words as Jim mouthed them. "Trust me."

After what seemed like a lifetime the door to the basement opened. A man's voice called out to them. "Okay, guys, everybody's cleared out. You can come out of there now."

Jim shook his head and motioned for silence.

"Preston, Martin?" the man beckoned them again. Again, he was greeted with silence.

"Shit!" he exclaimed as he made his way down the stairs.

Halfway down, he felt a hand grasp his ankle but it was too late to prevent his forward motion. He fell forward, landing hard on his face, the gun in his hand falling harmlessly to the floor below.

Paul leapt from behind the couch and moved to retrieve the weapon. Jim stepped out in front of him, his weapon drawn. "Don't even think about it," he said simply. Paul retreated.

* * * * *

Tim Preston and Paul Martin were placed into a waiting police cruiser when the men returned to the deserted school building. Blair approached Jim as the vehicle drove off.

"I'm going with you."

"It's too dangerous, Chief, I can't allow..."

"Kincaid's got one of my friends, Jim. I'm going with you." Quietly Blair walked over to the parked Expedition.

Ellison sighed as he relented. He caught up to Simon as he was about to get into his car and nodded to Rafe, who sat in the passenger seat. "We need to keep in touch by cell phone only, Captain. We don't know if Kincaid's still tapped into the Department phones and radios."

"I'll contact you as soon as Joel lets me know Kincaid's reached the rendevous point," he said as he slid in to the driver's seat and started the engine.

Jim ran back to his vehicle and climbed in. With a quick glance at his passenger, he turned over the ignition.

* * * * *

After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, while maneuvering through the familiar streets of Cascade, Jim glanced over at the shivering young man. Reaching out, he gently covered Sandburg's hand with his own. Blair snatched his hand away, as if he'd been burned, trying to scoot closer toward the door.

"Are you okay, Chief?" Concerns etched across his chiseled features.

"Yeah, I'm all right. I guess it's all just starting to hit me now. How close we came to..." His voice trailing off as he stared out the window, unwilling to make eye contact.

Jim watched him for a moment as he slowly curled his fingers into a fist, removing his hand altogether from the passenger seat. He had a hunch something else was bothering Blair.

"Listen, Chief, I'm sorry Carolyn threw you out of the loft. She had no right to..."

"She had every right, Man. She's your wife, for God's sake."

"'Was', Sandburg. Past tense."

"What are you talking about?" Blair's head turned sharply to his left as he studied the man sitting next to him.

"She's my ex-wife, Chief. We're divorced. She had no business even being at the loft, let alone doing what she did to you."

His entire body visibly relaxed. Blair moved away from the door he'd been crowding so tightly. "I'm sorry, I just..."

"You thought I'd lied to you," Jim finished softly.

"No, I...well, yeah, I guess I..."

"You should have called me and told me what happened."

"She just hit me with it, like out of the blue. I thought we were getting pretty close and then she lays that on me. It was a total knee jerk reaction," he tried to explain.

"Carolyn always did manage to bring out that response in people," Jim sympathized with the young man. "Speaking of getting close, Chief. I've gotta ask you...what made you have your friend whisper that clue? How did you..."

"You did hear it? I knew it! This is great..."

"Whoa, slow down there, Chief. You're losing me here." Ellison had the eerie feeling he was crossing over into the Twilight Zone.

"I've been observing you while we've been together. Some of the stuff you pick up on is like so totally off the charts."

"Huh?"

"Stuff I've been studying, Man. It's all about..."

The phone's shrill ring cut off the conversation.

Jim reached down, retrieving the phone. "Ellison. Yeah, Simon." He glanced over at Blair. "Which way are they headed?" Jim glanced over at the clock on his dash. "Simon, that road leads toward Tacoma. If we take Rt. 612, we can make up some time. Okay, call if you hear anything further." Punching the button, he ended the conversation.

"So what's up?"

"They've got two trucks, Chief. It looks like they're headed into Tacoma. It's probably a safe bet Kincaid wants to head North across the border into Canada."

"Why do I get the impression there's something you're not telling me here?"

Jim looked over briefly, not daring to allow his eyes to fully lock with those of his inquisitive passenger. "Captain Taggert and his men are following at a safe distance. I have a hunch that Kincaid's gonna have those trucks split up at some point. He's got no intention of taking those people into Canada, Chief."

"He's gonna release them first, right?"

Jim sighed deeply. "That's not his standard operating procedure, Sandburg. He doesn't like to leave any witnesses. Look what he almost did to..."

"Don't remind me, Man." A cold child swept over Blair's body, causing him to shiver. "You've gotta do something, Jim. Susie's on that truck," he begged.

"I'm working on that, Chief."

* * * * *

They were approximately a mile outside the city limits when the next call came through. "Ellison. Then we're ahead of Joel and the others. We'll need to push it so we don't lose him in town. Simon, make your next right. Yeah, this is the road they were headed in on. Okay, you call Joel." Disconnecting the call, he tossed it on the console.

They continued the trip in relative silence until Ellison abruptly jammed his foot hard on the accelerator pedal. Pulling out into the passing lane he cruised past his Captain's vehicle and sped on ahead.

"What the hell?"

"I see the trucks, Chief"

Blair looked up the highway at the taillights in the distance. "How can you tell it's them?"

"Before the trucks were delivered to the drop off point, I went over there and put holes in the taillight covers. It's an old trick I learned from a PI friend of mine years ago," he smiled.

"And you can see the light shining through the holes from here?"

As soon as he had gained about seven or eight car lengths on Bank's car, he began to decelerate. As expected, his phone began to ring.

Jim tried to ignore the call.

"You gonna answer that or what?"

"You answer it. Tell Simon I thought I saw them up there."

"Thanks a lot, Man." He leaned over snatching the phone. "Hello, Detective Ellison's phone. Yes, Sir. He's a little busy right now, Captain. He thinks he saw the trucks up ahead, Sir. Yes, Sir. I'll tell him, Sir." He hung up the phone and looked over at Jim. "He says you're crazy."

Blair's eyes widened once they reached the first traffic light. There in front of them was a large truck with a small hole in the right tail light. "We've gotta talk about this."

"Later, Chief." He handed the phone to Blair, as he checked his rear view mirror. "Call Simon. Tell him the trucks are in front of me."

Blair quickly dialed the number Jim gave him. "Captain Banks. The trucks are in front of us. Yes, Sir."

"Shit!"

"What?"

"They've pulled into separate lanes. They're gonna split up."

Blair quickly glanced from one truck to the other. "Can you tell which truck has the heavier load?"

"What? I can't..."

"Look at 'em. Does one look heavier than the other?"

Jim's vision shifted between the two vehicles. "The one of the left."

"Follow that one."

He quickly moved over into the correct lane and signaled for a turn. Jim grabbed the phone from Blair's hand. "Simon, take a left at this light and follow me. The trucks are splitting up. I think the hostages are in this truck. Call Joel. Have him and the Swat Team follow the other truck straight on North Union Street. If my hunch is correct, Kincaid and most of his men are on that one."

* * * * *

Jim occasionally changed lanes and speed so as to not alert the truck driver of his constant shadow. He was beginning to wonder where this trail was going to lead when he spotted a row of warehouses up ahead with a sign indicating the road ended. Snapping on his turn signal, he quickly turned onto the last street with Simon following close behind. A parallel street ran behind the warehouses and Jim maneuvered the Expedition rapidly down the road.

Jumping out of the vehicle he turned toward Blair. "Stay here, Chief." Drawing his gun from his holster, he ran between the buildings to catch up with Simon and Rafe.

The three men stood silently at the edge of the building, just out of sight of the occupants of the truck's cab. Jim peered cautiously around the corner before moving back to his Captain's side.

"There's three men inside the cab, Sir. Kincaid's one of them."

"Damn. Is this the truck with his men?"

"No, I can hea...No, the hostages are here. I'm sure of it, Captain."

Simon just stared at his detective. "I sure hope you're right about this."

Sneaking around the back of the truck, they waited to ambush the men when they left the cab. The task was made easier when only two men rounded the side of the truck. Kincaid chose to wait in the passenger seat. Jim and Simon rapidly dispatched the men with their fists, sending them into unconscious oblivion, while Rafe applied the handcuffs.

Simon prepared to raise the louvered door of the truck. He looked at Rafe standing at the back of the truck, gun raised. "Ready?" he whispered. A nod was his response. He glanced over his shoulder at Jim, who stood at the side of the truck, ready to charge the front of the truck, should Kincaid be alerted and try to drive away. "Ready, Jim?"

"Yeah."

He pushed the door up, raising his own weapon as he did so. He took a deep breath and held it.

A cursory inspection of the interior cabin assured the relative safe condition of all twelve hostages. As they were unloaded from their temporary prison, Jim crept closer to the cab.

The driver's side door was yanked opened, a gun poked in his face. "Out of the truck, Kincaid," Ellison ordered.

"This isn't over, Ellison," he said, as he fingered his own gun, lying on the seat, out of view.

The opposite door of the cab opened, Simon Banks pointed his own weapon at the fugitive's chest. "Yes, it is." Reaching in, he grasped the firearm and removed it.

* * * * *

With his hand on Kincaid's head, Ellison pushed the man inside the police cruiser and shut the door. The other men already loaded, the vehicles sped off amidst blazing lights and sirens.

Simon pocketed his cell phone as he approached his detectives. "That was Joel. The remainder of Kincaid's men were apprehended by the State police about eight miles outside of town. He's gonna be heading back to Cascade as soon as they finish up. Listen, why don't you two take the next couple of days off, you've earned it," Simon offered generously to his detectives.

Rafe leaned against the passenger side of Simon's car. "Thanks, Captain."

"What about the reports, Sir?" Jim questioned cautiously.

"Jim..." His partner punched him in the shoulder.

Simon only laughed. "I'll call you if there's anything that requires your immediate attention," he said, as he slid in the driver's seat.

He watched as the car drove off before turning his attention to the large tour bus currently being boarded by the former hostages. Jim readily located Sandburg, standing off to the side, hugging his friend Susie.

* * * * *

"I'll stop by tomorrow to pick up my stuff, Suse."

"I'll take that to mean you don't need to crash at my place tonight," she snickered.

Blair turned slightly and watched Jim approach his vehicle. "Nah, I think I'll be okay," he grinned.

"Guess you guys got things straightened out, huh?"

"We're working on it."

"He seems like a good guy, Blair, but if he does anything to hurt you, I'll kick his butt for you."

"Thanks, Suse," he chucked, pulling her into another hug. Then kissing her quickly, Blair walked to the open door of the bus.

"I'll call you tomorrow."

"You'd better," she laughed. "And I want details." Spinning around, she climbed the stairs

"Don't hold your breath on that," he called after he disappearing figure.

He waited until she was seated, waved, and then began to jog towards the man standing alongside the SUV.

"We could've given her a ride home, Chief."

"I tried to tell her that but she wanted to ride the bus." Blair walked around to the passenger side and climbed in.

* * * * *

"So, Jim, besides your incredible eyesight and hearing, what other heightened senses do you have?"

Jim almost choked on the coffee they'd just picked up. "What?"

"Come on, Man. I've been around you for a few days now. I can't believe I didn't catch on sooner. You saw those small holes in the tail lights of the trucks from quite a distance. And you admitted you heard Susie whispering that clue I told her to give you."

"Now hold on there, Einstein. Just because I can see and hear a little better than average..."

"A little better than average! That was like so off the charts. It was unbelievable! What about the other senses? Smell? Taste? Touch?"

Jim sighed heavily. "You don't give up, do you? What's the big deal anyway?"

"You remember when Bill and Rafe came over to your place and they were talking about my research?"

"Yeah, so?"

"For years, I've been studying people with heightened senses. I've never been lucky enough though to find someone with all five heightened senses. A real sentinel."

"A sentinel?"

"A watchman. He'd watch over the tribe with his senses."

"All my senses do, Chief, is frustrate me and give me headaches."

"That's because you don't know how to control them properly, Jim."

"And I suppose you do?"

"No, not exactly."

"I don't recall 'not exactly' being a term often associated with scientific endeavors, Chief," Jim was quietly laughing to himself.

"Jim, I know more about sentinels and people with heightened senses than anybody else you know, right?"

"That's not saying a lot."

"Give me a chance, Man. I think I can come up with tests that'll help you control your senses."

"Tests, huh?"

"Just simple stuff, honest."

"I'll take it under advisement, Chief," Jim smiled as he glanced over at Blair. He saw the mild disappointment on the young man's face. "So, Sandburg, you admit you're 'not exactly' sure how to control these sense I may or may not have..."

"But you do have them. You said so," Blair pointed out quickly.

"No, I've only admitted, and reluctantly I might add, to two, slightly better than average senses - - sight and hearing. You're the one who's making all the assumptions here about there being any others."

"Jim, are you denying you have the other three?"

"Sandburg, who's interrogating the witness here, me or you?"

"Ellison, you are so full of it. Just answer the question."

He was openly goading him now. "Which question was that, Chief?"

"The other three heightened senses?"

"You can't even ask good questions. Is there anything you're good at?"

Blair began to get flustered until he noticed the smirk on Jim's face. He fought to maintain a straight face as he responded. "As a matter of fact, Jim, there are a number of things I'm extremely versatile at."

"Oh really. Such as?"

"I've been told that I've got exceptionally talented *Hands*." Blair began to sensuously stroke his thigh with his hand for emphasis. From the corner of his eye, he caught the slight motion of Jim squirming in his seat. "I've also been complimented on my quick *Tongue*." He slowly licked his full lips, then repeated the process. "But, you're probably right, there's nothing I'm just good at." He closed his eyes as he faced the window desperately trying not to laugh.

"Sandburg, are you trying to kill me here?" he growled.

He turned back around. Jim's hand's were gripping the steering wheel tightly. The squirming had become more pronounced. When Blair allowed his eyes to wander along Jim's legs, he quickly discovered the source of his discomfort. "I suppose you're gonna say that's all my fault."

"You see anybody else riding in this vehicle with us?"

* * * * *

"Want one?" Jim held up a bottle of beer.

"Maybe later. Right now, I'm ready to kill for a shower."

"Save me some hot water, will'ya, Sandburg?" Jim spoke to his retreating back.

Blair paused at the door and turned towards the kitchen. "If I'm not out in ten minutes you can send in a search and rescue team," he laughed before shutting the door behind him.

He tried to hurry himself along as he rubbed the soapy washcloth across his skin. Blair leaned heavily against the tiled wall as he allowed the warm water to bounce off of him. Straightening back up, he searched for the bar of soap used moments earlier.

"Looking for this?" Jim had pulled the shower curtain aside and held the missing soap.

"Yeah," Blair snickered, holding out his hand.

He retracted his arm. "I thought somebody here called for a search and rescue team."

"You volunteering?"

"It'll probably be the only way I'll get any hot water, Chief," he laughed. Pulling the curtain back further, he stepped in behind Blair.

"Hmmmmm," Blair purred as Jim scrubbed his shoulders and back, slowly working his way down to the twin mounds. He carefully slid the washcloth between the cheeks of his ass. Reluctantly, he moved on to cover the backs of each leg.

"Turn around," he ordered, as he stood up.

Obediently, Blair pivoted. Jim's sharp intact of breath forced Blair to freeze. Gentle fingers caressed the darkening bruise on his collarbone. "It's not too bad," Blair hastened to assure him.

Touched by Jim's concern, Blair glanced up, allowing the shower spray to hit his face. Gritting his teeth, Blair hissed.

Jim's hand flew off Blair's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Chief, I..."

Blair quickly lowered his head and stepped back, away from the painful spray. "No, Jim, you didn't do anything. The water just stings."

"I don't understand, you didn't..." Jim watched as the water continued to strike Blair's chest with no visible reaction. Realization hit him as he lifted Blair's chin. It was the first time he'd seen the full extent of the bruising on Blair's face. "Chief, I..."

"It doesn't matter. Besides, it's better than it was. Before you got there tonight it was almost swollen shut."

"Kincaid?" Jim guessed.

"Nah. Wyatt."

Jim leaned down and placed a feather soft kiss on the discolored eyelid and another on the battered cheekbone. He wasn't quite so gentle when he reached Blair's pouty mouth and began to suck on his lower lip.

He forced himself to break contact so that he could continue the task he originally set out to accomplish. Retrieving the washcloth from the tiled floor, Jim resumed where he'd left off.

Although he caught himself on several occasions playing with the silky hairs on Blair's chest and stomach, he was making progress. Until he moved lower.

Blair moaned as the soapy washcloth enveloped his cock and began a gentle rhythmic motion. Jim allowed the other hand to wander freely while kneading the soft testicles.. His knees rapidly assumed the consistency of rubber and Blair was forced to lean against the wall, water splashing over him.

Squeezing his eyes shut momentarily, Blair tried to rein in his ragged breathing. It was a futile effort. He hit sensory overload when Jim's tongue swirled around the head of his cock, just before beginning it's descent down the thick length. Blair opened his eyes just as Jim sucked him into his mouth. As overpowering as the desire was to shut his eyes again to enjoy the sensation, the sheer eroticism of watching the entire length of his shaft thrusting in and out of Jim's hot, wet mouth was completely overwhelming. His mouth fell open with only gibberish and occasional whimpers escaping.

Blair clutched at Jim's shoulders frantically, not so much for balance but as an anchor, preventing him from driving his hips uncontrollably into Jim's mouth. He felt himself hurtling over the edge and he tried pushing Jim away. In response, however, Jim clutched Blair's ass tightly pulling himself closer. He roughly began kneading each firm cheek, while, at the same time, varying the intensity of the suction.

Uncontrolled spasms increased in magnitude until finally, with a hoarse scream, Blair exploded. Jim hungrily gulped down the warm, salty stream that filled his mouth.

After opening his eyes slowly, Blair reached out toward Jim with shaky arms. Together they managed to stand upright.

Glancing around, Blair spied the fallen washcloth and stooped to pick it up, along with the bar of soap.

"My turn," he smiled as he began to scrub Jim's chest.

Blair's hand started to move lower when abruptly, Jim grabbed it, refusing to release it "Don't."

"I was just gonna..."

"Chief, any lower and I'll go off," he groaned.

Nodding, Blair handed Jim the soap and washcloth. Stepping aside, Blair grabbed the bottle of shampoo and began to wash his hair while Jim quickly washed up. While rinsing the soap from his hair, Blair noted Jim's progress. Changing places, Jim started to wash his own hair.

Silently, Blair dropped to his knees. In one swift move, he threw his arms around Jim's hips, effectively trapping him, and simultaneously enclosing Jim's still rampant erection within his mouth.

His hands dropped to Blair's shoulders and squeezed. "No, don't. I'm gonna..."

Blair moved his mouth away briefly. "That's the idea, Big Guy," he grinned.

Before Jim was able to form a coherent sentence, Blair had sucked his cock back into the deep recesses of his warm mouth.

Giving in to the inevitable, Jim moved his hands; burying them instead in the wet curls as Blair tongue began it's own form of torture, alternating with the powerful sucks.

Drawing the full length completely inside his wet mouth once more, Blair began to squeeze Jim's tight ass. Unexpectedly, his hand moved. He was now teasing the tight puckered entrance, gently probing with the tip of his finger.

That proved to be Jim's undoing. Bright lights flashed around him as he disintegrated into a million pieces.

When he was again able to open his eyes, he watched in fascination as Blair licked his groin clean.

Smiling weakly, he offered his hand to help Blair up. They quickly rinsed off in the now tepid water before jumping out of the shower.

* * * * *

Blair stood in the kitchen, sipping from the bottle of beer they were sharing, watching Jim perform his nightly ritual known as 'locking up'. When Jim returned to his side, Blair handed him the bottle before heading in the direction of the spare room. He never made it that far.

Reaching out, Jim grabbed his arm and spun Blair around. Cupping Blair's face in his hands, Jim leaned down and kissed him softly.

"Come on." He took Blair's hand and led him upstairs to bed.

* * * * *

It wasn't the sun filtering through the bedroom windows that finally woke Jim, but rather the ticklish sensation spreading across the bridge of his nose. Cautiously, he opened his eyes, only to discover his face awash with silky curls. Smiling, he nuzzled closer.

Yawning softly, Blair rolled over, and like a heat-seeking missile, he burrowed deeper under the blankets, nestling against the broad expanse of Jim's chest. As he wrapped his arm around his companion's waist, Blair unconsciously hugged him tighter. The slight movement brought their burgeoning erections in direct contact with each other. Sandburg's eyes snapped open. Immediately, he relaxed his arm and began to scoot backwards.

"Going somewhere, Chief?"

Raising his head, Blair looked at Jim sheepishly. "Um, no," he said, tentatively.

"Good," he said, reaching down to caress Blair's cheek. Leaning over, he brushed his lips lightly over the spot where, moments before, his thumb had been. Soon Jim's mouth was leaving a trail of kisses across Blair's forehead, eyelids and nose as he slowly worked his way toward his immediate goal, those full, inviting lips.

Blair was moaning faintly as Jim grazed his mouth with soft, gentle kisses. But wanting and needing more, Blair began hungrily sucking on Jim's lower lip, just before plunging his tongue into the sweet abyss.

Jim struggled not to lose himself in the overwhelming sensations that threatened to overtake him as the two of them fought for control. Finally, Jim pulled back. "Easy, Chief."

"What's wrong?" Blair was clearly puzzled.

"Nothing's wrong," he said, accenting his meaning with a series of tender kisses to the sides of Blair's mouth. "Just let me..." His voice trailed off as he continued his slow, sensual seduction of the young man's body.

Blair closed his eyes as Jim began to nibble Blair's sensitive ear before moving his erotic assault to his exposed neck. The noises emanating from deep within Blair's throat intensified with each new erogenous zone Jim discovered through his efforts to catalog and memorize this sensuous creature beneath him.

When the tip of Jim's tongue teased Blair's nipple, it was all he could do to keep himself from being bucked off the writhing body.

"Oh, God...please...," Blair begged, as Jim slowly circled the hardening nub before he latched on and began to suckle. Feeling Blair tense underneath him from the onslaught of sensations, Jim only smiled to himself, before devoting equal time to the neglected side.

Reluctant to completely desert the sensitive peaks, Jim hovered momentarily and lightly blew a puff of air over each. Blair hissed as he ground his teeth in frustration and arched his back.

Pleased with his efforts, Jim finally moved his exploration lower, twirling his tongue around the silky hairs on Blair abdomen. Raising his head for the moment, he watched in fascination as Blair's head tossed relentlessly across the pillow, while Jim playfully tweaked the still responsive nipples.

"Are you...trying...to kill me?" Blair struggled for each breath.

Jim stilled his hands completely. "I'm sorry, Chief," he said, as he shifted his weight slightly. "I thought you were enjoying yourself. I guess I'll just..."

"Don't stop!" he begged frantically, his ragged breathing accentuating his request. "Please...don't..."

"I won't," he promised, lowering his head for another kiss.

Blair sighed heavily. He opened his mouth to greet Jim's questing tongue and began to suck on it greedily. Hoping to distract his tormentor, Blair continued to increase the intensity of the kiss, as he made his move. Snaking his hand between their bodies, he arrived at his goal and began to stroke Jim's rigid cock. Unexpectedly, his hand was batted away.

"Jim...," he pleaded. "I...need you."

"Ssshhh," he soothed. "We'll get there eventually, babe. I want our first time to be nice and...slow," he emphasized.

"I...can do slow," Blair said hesitantly.

Ellison chuckled as he gazed down at the hyper kinetic sprite, glistening with perspiration, beneath him.

Lightly trailing his fingertips down the furry abdomen, Jim slowly slid his palm around Blair's still thickening erection. His sensitive flesh throbbed at the contact and Blair gasped. Lowering his head, Jim began to lave the entire length.

"Oh, man...I can't ...hold out much...longer," Blair wailed.

"Easy, babe." Jim released his prize, but continued to gently rub one of Sandburg's thighs as he leaned over to the nearby night stand. Opening the drawer, he quickly retrieved what he was searching for.

Straightening up, he positioned himself between Blair's splayed thighs. Glancing down, Jim was struck by the beautiful sight that greeted him. He lowered his head once more and drew Blair's cock into his mouth.

Sandburg's hips bucked off the mattress, driving Jim backwards. "Jim, please," he begged pitifully.

"Ssshhh." Regaining his balance, Jim gently raised his lover's legs and wrapped them around his waist. Squeezing some of the gel on his fingers, he slowly pressed a single digit at the dusky pink entrance. He felt the muscles relaxing around his finger as it was absorbed into Blair's tight, hot body.

"Now, Jim!" he demanded. "I need you now!" Blair raised and lowered his hips, trying to increase the stimulation from Jim's thrusts.

"Just a little longer, babe." He added a second finger, scissoring them back and forth to stretch the constricted passage. As he felt around, he quickly found the rounded protrusion and began applying pressure to it. The reaction was instantaneous.

"Oh, God!" Blair jerked as he screamed. "Please...now..."

Slowly removing his fingers, Jim added more gel to them. This time he returned with three fingers, continuing to methodically stretch the muscles, in addition to alternating strokes against Blair's prostate.

Panting in desperation, Blair clutched at his swollen cock, frantically seeking relief. Firmly, Jim removed Blair's hand.

Tears welled up in Blair's eyes from frustration as he silently pleaded for release. When Jim removed his fingers, Blair bemoaned their loss.

Jim applied a generous amount of the gel to his own distended erection, before carefully positioning himself. Taking several deep breaths, in an effort to calm his own racing heart, Jim finally pressed forward, using slow, measured thrusts, allowing Blair a chance to adjust to his size.

When, at last, his balls were resting against Blair's rounded ass, Jim released his breath and waited for a sign from his lover. "Are you okay?" he questioned nervously, fighting his body's impulsive insistence to thrust.

"Give me a minute here," he panted.

An eternity later, he finally received his response when Blair moved his legs slightly and began to wiggle his butt. Jim reached out, enclosing Sandburg's somewhat deflated erection in his hand, and began pumping it in a steady rhythm that mirrored his own thrusts into that welcoming hot channel.

"Jimmmmm.....soooo good..." Blair cried out from a pleasure-induced haze caused by the twin stimulation of his lover's hand firmly stroking his swollen cock and the continuous pounding his oversensitive prostate was receiving every time Jim plunged his own engorged shaft deeper inside.

With the next thrust, Blair completely lost whatever control he had and tumbled over the abyss screaming Jim's name in a never-ending mantra. Feeling the powerful inner muscles contracting around him propelled Jim into one of the most powerful climaxes of his entire life as he collapsed bonelessly on top of the young man

* * * * *

When he awoke again, Jim immediately realized he was alone in the huge bed. Grabbing his robe from a nearby chair, he pulled it on as he made his way downstairs. He was so intent on reaching the kitchen and the fresh coffee he smelled, he almost collided with Blair, who was rapidly approaching from the opposite direction, having just completed his shower.

"Oh, hey, man, guess you're in need of a caffeine fix, too?"

"You got it, Chief." Jim reached for the coffee mugs when, abruptly, his hands stopped in midair as he gazed wide-eyed at the young man standing next to him.

"I hope you don't mind, but I borrowed some of your clothes until I can wash mine. All my other stuff's over at Susie's place."

Ellison was forced to stifle a laugh. The sight of Sandburg in the turquoise shirt which was obviously several sizes too large and the oversized sweat pants was overwhelming.

"No problem, Chief," he snickered. Jim had to turn away, his eyes beginning to water from suppressed merriment. "Hey!" He winced when Blair's fist connected with his upper arm.

"That's it, Big Guy, laugh it up," Blair said indignantly. "It's not my fault I'm such a runt."

"You're not a runt, Sandburg," he chuckled. "Just a little short."

"That's vertically challenged, thank you very much." Blair squared his shoulders and drew himself up to his full height, before turning away from Ellison. "Besides, we wouldn't even be having this conversation if all my stuff hadn't been destroyed when my place blew up." He poured coffee into two mugs, sliding one cup closer to Jim.

With a heavy sigh, he reached over and drew Blair into a tight embrace. "I'm sorry, Chief," he said as he nuzzled the damp curls.

"S'kay, Big Guy," he responded softly. Raising his head, Blair kissed Jim's exposed throat eagerly.

Momentarily giving in to the exquisite sensations which Blair's lush mouth was inflicting upon his neck, Jim threw his head back further. However, the smell of the freshly poured coffee tempted him sorely, and he soon allowed rational thought to take control.

"Chief, as much as I'd dearly like to indulge in this lovefest, I'm afraid that if you don't let me have some of that coffee, I'm gonna have to kill you," he laughed.

"I hear ya," he snickered. Blair released his grip on Jim and quickly grabbed one of the cups.


EPILOGUE

When Jim entered his Captain's office on Monday morning, he had Sandburg in tow. If Simon was surprised by this development, he hid it well as he pour himself a cup of coffee and offered some to the two men in his office.

"I take it you're well rested after a few days off and ready to get back to work, Jim?"

"Yes, Sir. But I need to talk to you about work. Actually, we have a proposition for you."

"We?"

"Sandburg and I, Sir. Simon, you know the story about the trouble I got into with Major Crimes because there were times I couldn't seem to focus. That's why I ended up here in High Tech Crimes."

"That and the fact that you are knowledgeable in computers, Jim," Simon quickly reminded him.

"Yes, Sir. However, as you are also aware, Sandburg was working on his doctoral degree in anthropology at the University before he left to pursue a career in computer engineering. His area of study dealt with individuals with heightened senses."

"Whoa, you just lost me here, Jim."

"Allow me, Captain," Blair volunteered. "I believe Detective Ellison is a Sentinel. Someone who possesses all five senses heightened. His lack of focus was due to the fact that he couldn't control these senses. With my help, he can be taught to control them. This will also make him an even greater asset to the police department. As a Sentinel it's his mission, if you will, to protect the tribe. In this case, the city of Cascade. We've been talking it over and we think that with his knowledge of computers, he is performing a valuable service to the city in this capacity, he also could be working equally as well back in Major Crimes.

"You see, Simon, what we're proposing is that Sandburg work with me, as my partner, to guide me with my senses and that we split our time between High Tech Crimes and Major Crimes."

"But Sandburg isn't a cop."

"I know, Sir. We were thinking something along the lines of an observer. He's going to be applying to be reinstated as a graduate student at the University."

"Not to mention the fact that I do know my stuff with computers, Captain," Blair grinned happily.

Simon pulled a cigar out of his leather pouch. "Let me give this some thought, gentlemen. I'll have to run this by the Chief and see if I can sell him on the idea. We'd also have to discuss this with Joel and see what he thinks about it. In the meantime, Jim, I've already briefed Rafe on your newest case. You might talk to him to bring you up to speed."

"Yes, Sir."

Both men turned to leave the office.

"Oh, Sandburg, could you stay here for a minute?"

"Sure." He waved Jim off and walked back to the Captain's desk.

Simon stood up and pointed to his computer. "I assume you know all about computer viruses and how to fix the damage?"

Blair sat down in Simon's chair. "Does this mean I have the job, Sir?"

He laughed easily at the young man. "Possibly. I had anticipated your request before you and Jim even came in this morning."

"How?"

"Sandburg, I was a detective long before I was ever a Captain," he grinned. "Now fix my computer, dammit!"

The End.

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Acknowledgements: Thanks have to go to several people who helped me along the way on this story. To Cheri, for your encouragement, suggestions, and comments, etc. in order to put this all together. To Mary for your most excellent assistance with beta reading this 'monster'. To Patt, for your wonderful pictures that helped bring this story to life and for your subtle nagging to keep me on track, as well as your highly appreciated 'ego boosting' when I needed it the most. To Rushlight, for your patience and assistance with helping me format this sucker right. Hopefully, you won't mind too much it I continue to pick your brain until I learn more of the nuances of html. To Blue Tattoo, for your generosity in loaning me your wonderful picture. And finally, to my husband, the computer geek extra ordinaire, for your technical assistance with my story. If it wasn't for the adventurous life we lead, I never would have had the need to learn all about computer hackers.