Note: I started this story months and months ago. The first part was a snap. Then I bogged down with writer's block around April, and the second half refused to come together. I toyed with a half dozen different endings, thinking perhaps I was trying to combine "two" stories, but finally just resigned myself to finishing the second half as it was originally plotted. You'll see where the two halves merge, but I didn't think it was fair to post the first half knowing there would be a lengthy delay in delivering the second half (especially since I've promised never, ever to post in parts again unless the story is already complete...)

"Damnit, Sandburg, look at what she said up there! She swore she wasn't going to post in parts!"

"I know, Jim, but her new little site was looking so forlorn, and she's postponed this story for so long as it is -- besides, I'm the one who ends up on a limb at the end of this part."

"So what? We both end up as wanted fugitives! Damnit, it's not fair. She promised...."

"Quit giving the plot away, big guy. Just shut up and read."

"I still say she's an evil, lying bitch."

Note: You don't have to read the first two stories in the series, but it would probably help.... And the second half is finished now (I just like the way the boys talk about me as if I'm not even here!) Thanks to Robyn for some medical ideas -- I've tried to remain suitably vague to avoid outlandish mistakes. Thanks also to Harlan for "things that go boom in the night".

Splinters
(a sequel to Blind Sided)
-- by Mackie/

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." -- E.M Forster


Part One

Jim Ellison crashed through the double doors of the Major Crimes bullpen and crossed the space to his Captain's office in a half dozen angry strides. The other detectives barely had time to register his arrival and be warned by his thunderous expression before he had slammed through the door into Simon's office with barely a pause to turn the handle. If he broke the door glass again, he certainly didn't appear to give a damn.

Simon was on his feet, ready for him. "Damn it, Jim, the doctor told you not to drive for at least another forty-eight hours!"

"You call me to say Sandburg's been arrested for murder and expect me to stay in bed?" Jim shot back angrily. Only then did he notice the woman seated in the visitor's chair. Shouting hysterically at your captain was no way to behave at any time, but never in front of outsiders, so Jim took a deep breath and tried to quell the runaway thumping of his heart, which was counterpointed by a similar throbbing inside his skull. His concussion was telling him he was doing too much too soon, but Jim didn't care. Hearing about Blair's arrest had sent his temper skyrocketing. Calmer now, he nodded to the woman. "Ms. Burns."

"Detective Ellison," the assistant DA returned coolly.

Jim turned back to Simon. "Tell me what happened."

Simon sighed. "Sandburg made the 9-1-1 call himself from Arlen Stemple's office at Rainier. When police and campus security arrived, they found Stemple dead from a single gunshot wound to the chest, and Sandburg covered in the man's blood. Preliminary data suggests his fingerprints are on the murder weapon, which was found beside the body."

"That's it?" Jim was furious. "What did Blair say?"

"He said he didn't do it, naturally," Burns said, her tone hardening. "But that's all he would say."

Jim couldn't believe it. "That's the flimsiest -- "

"Jim," Simon went on, "when Sandburg was questioned by the first detective on the scene, he was vague and uncooperative. Under the circumstances, it was standard procedure to bring him in for further questioning. That's when he resisted arrest and tried to escape. He slugged one of the uniformed officers."

"He hit a cop?" Jim repeated in disbelief. None of it made any sense.

"There's more," Simon continued wearily. "The preliminary investigation found witnesses who saw Sandburg and Stemple arguing vehemently on several occasions over the past two days. If you'd think like a cop instead of a friend for a minute, you'd realize we didn't have any choice."

"Yeah...maybe," Jim agreed reluctantly. "But after you questioned him -- "

"He wouldn't answer questions, either at the scene or here in interrogation," Burns reiterated. "Based solely on the circumstantial evidence we've gathered, we have to charge him. We've established means, motive and opportunity. If Mr. Sandburg was anyone other than a member of this unit, you'd realize he didn't give us any other option."

"Can I see him?" Jim asked. "He'll talk to me."

Simon looked as if he'd bitten into a sour pickle. "Sorry, Jim. Since murder is investigated by Major Crimes, and Sandburg is technically part of my unit, the DA's office is assigning a special investigator."

"Then forget I'm a cop," Jim shot back angrily. "He has a right to visitors."

"After we've officially charged him and booked him into custody," Burns agreed. She tried to be reasonable. "Detective Ellison, any latitude we show him now will only work against him later. It will be seen as favoritism and could taint the public's perception of the truth when and if we finally learn it. His own silence isn't helping matters, because I could interpret it as an indication of guilt. I could believe he won't talk until he's fabricated a plausible story to tell us."

"But you don't believe it," Jim concluded in relief.

"The evidence tells me one thing, my gut tells me something else," she admitted. She stood and picked up her briefcase from beside the chair. "Look, we won't leave you out of the loop. Whatever our investigation uncovers will come directly to you."

"Thanks." When she had gone, Jim slumped into the chair she had vacated.

"You OK, Jim?" Simon asked, noticing how pale his friend looked in the unforgiving glare of the overheads.

Jim rubbed a hand over his face, felt the rough scratch of beard stubble. "If there's such a thing as the week from hell, this has to be it," he commented quietly. Only eight days ago, Blair had been kidnapped, psychologically tormented by a madman, and finally rescued by Jim, only to turn around a few days later and save Jim's life after he'd driven his pickup off a bridge into a raging river. Jim had spent the next day in the hospital, recovering from a concussion, but Blair had gone to the University to take care of something he'd had to do but hadn't bothered to explain. He'd called or popped in about five hundred times to be certain Jim was OK, apologizing each time that he couldn't stay because he had things to do at school. He'd looked tired and tense, but Jim had been woozy from his injuries and the pain killers the doctor had prescribed, so he hadn't asked for details of Blair's day.

The next morning, Blair had arrived bright and early to bring Jim clean clothes and help him check out of the hospital; the routine was becoming all too familiar to both of them. Blair had gotten him home and back to bed, fussing nervously with the bed covers and pillows until Jim had thrown him out of the room. After that, Jim had vague recollections of Blair's comings and goings throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon, more business at the U, back home again to check on Jim, back to the U. He must have kept the taxi and bus drivers amused with all his scurrying back and forth. Jim had slept through most of it and hadn't bothered to ask what the hell was so important at the University that Blair had to spend all his cash on transportation.

Maybe he should have. Maybe then he wouldn't be sitting in Simon's office in the middle of the night trying to find out why his partner had been arrested for murder.

"Yeah," Simon agreed, "and you know the investigation will dig up everything that happened this week. It will point toward Sandburg's state of mind, the stress that contributed to his killing Stemple."

"Allegedly," Jim amended softly.

"Quit with the legal semantics," Simon snapped back angrily. "You and I both know he probably didn't do it, but even you have to admit there's a fragment of doubt."

"Not for me," Jim insisted. "Who is Stemple anyway?"

"He's one of Sandburg's academic advisors on the dissertation committee."

"Shit," Jim muttered succinctly. Briefly, he recalled a conversation in Blair's stranded car as they'd waited for search and rescue to find them after Jim's accident. Blair had mentioned something about his dissertation being a dead issue. Prophetic in the literal sense, in light of events. "Simon, I have to see him."

Simon thought about it. "They're taking him over to the jail now for processing. Maybe we can catch up with him there."

"The jail," Jim echoed resignedly. "Can't we keep him here in holding?"

Simon's expression softened. "Jim, it's a capital crime."

Jim closed his eyes against a momentary flush of weakness. Unlike some states, Washington didn't have a long list of crimes eligible for the death penalty. There was only one: aggravated pre-meditated murder. The condemned could choose between lethal injection or hanging...not much of a choice, really.

He couldn't let his thoughts travel down that road. He opened his eyes and saw Simon shrugging into his overcoat. "Are you coming with me?"

"You're not supposed to drive, remember?" Simon scowled. "How did you get here anyway?"

"I took a cab," Jim admitted mildly. "I don't own any transportation, remember?" And Sandburg's Volvo was in the shop with a busted axle, so they were effectively wheel-less.

As they passed through the bullpen, Jim noticed Brown watching him uncomfortably, and he shot back a glare that promised fireworks in the very near future. Knowing it was a friend and colleague who had decided to arrest Sandburg made it feel all the more like a betrayal...

Part Two

Sandburg was escorted into the booking area of the downtown jail by two uniformed officers.

His hands were handcuffed behind him, and his unzipped parka sagged part way off his shoulders, giving him a totally bedraggled look. Beneath the coat, he wore a heavily bloodstained sweater and tee. He was horribly pale, his facial muscles tense, his eyes downcast. He didn't even see Jim.

Jim showed his badge to the uniforms, who unfortunately were strangers to him. "Can you give us a minute, please?" he asked mildly.

The officers exchanged looks, finally nodded, and moved off a few feet where they would watch without eavesdropping.

"Chief?"

Blair looked up. His normally lively blue eyes were dull with shock and fatigue. "Jim," he returned quietly.

Jim touched the sleeve of the parka, guiding him toward the long wooden bench against the wall opposite the booking cage. Blair went without a murmur and sat down obediently, his eyes once again aimed at the floor by his feet.

When it was clear he didn't plan to say anything, Jim took up the slack. "Blair, tell me what happened."

"I didn't kill him." Blair's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Now tell me something I didn't already know."

"I don't know anything else." Blair finally looked up, his eyes haunted. "I found him. He was still alive. I tried to stop the bleeding. I called 9-1-1. He died." He began to fidget nervously on the bench.

"There's got to be more to it," Jim insisted. "You were seen arguing with Stemple only a few hours before his death." Blair just looked back down at the floor and continued to fidget. Anger hardened Jim's voice. "I can't help if you won't talk to me."

Blair nodded slowly, spoke so softly Jim had to tune in his Sentinel hearing just to pick up the words. "Anything I tell you will only point to my guilt. I didn't kill him. I don't know who did."

Jim scowled bleakly. "OK, Chief. That might work for me, but the DA's gonna need answers, and what you don't tell her, she'll find out on her own." Blair only nodded numbly that he understood. "Do you have a lawyer?"

"Simon called Vanessa Marshall."

Jim almost gagged. Marshall was one of those liberal all-criminals-are-really-victims-themselves types of attorney, a person Jim couldn't be around longer than five minutes before getting into an argument. She might be good if her client was guilty, because she could bullshit a premeditated murder charge down to involuntary manslaughter, but if the client was innocent, she wouldn't go the extra mile to prove it. She was definitely a lawyer of the "let's-make-a-deal" variety. "Really bad choice, Sandburg. I can't believe Simon suggested her."

"He didn't," Blair answered calmly. "I asked him to call her."

Jim didn't know if he could take any more shocks to his mental equilibrium. "What the hell for?"

Blair looked on the verge of a smile. "Because if you can't prove I didn't do it, I'll need someone who can wheedle down the charges. That's what you call her, isn't it? -- The Wheedler?"

Jim shook his head in amazement. "Maybe you're still thinking after all, Sandburg," he admitted grudgingly.

Blair looked at him closely for the first time. "Jim, you look terrible." His anxiety for his own plight vanished in his concern for his friend. "You shouldn't have gotten out of bed. It's too soon."

"I'm OK," Jim tried to assure him. "Just a headache." A 9.9 on the Richter Scale...

"Any double vision, dizziness, sharp pains?" Blair persisted.

"No, a little, and no." Jim was irritated at his partner's apparent lack of comprehension about the seriousness of his situation. "It's just the normal aftereffects of a concussion, OK? I'd know if there were complications."

"Good. Have someone stay with you tonight. You shouldn't be trying to do things on your own. I'm sorry I couldn't be around much the past couple of days - "

"Sandburg, you kept the taxis and buses in business with the amount of back and forth you've done so you could check up on me. You said you had business at the U that couldn't be avoided. I understand that. What I don't understand is how that business ended with you getting booked for murder. Help me out here, Chief, please!"

Blair's gaze dropped again. "The two things aren't related. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Yeah," Jim grumbled testily. "Science has finally come up with a name for it - the Sandburg Syndrome."

Blair almost laughed, turned it into a cough when it wanted to become something else. "Yeah, life's been a real kick in the pants lately."

"Damn it, Blair -- "

"What's going to happen to me?" Blair asked suddenly. "I mean here, tonight."

Jim tried to make it all sound routine, impersonal. "They'll take you up to that cage there and have you empty your pockets. Then you'll have your fingerprints and picture taken. After that, you'll get a shower and a clean set of jail denims before being taken to a cell. Your clothing will be kept as evidence."

"I don't suppose there's any chance of bail."

"With a murder charge, that will be up to a judge. Your lawyer will probably bring it up at your arraignment tomorrow morning."

"So I'll have to spend the night here no matter what."

Jim sighed. "Sorry, Blair, but yeah."

"Will they search me?"

"Why, you got something -- " Ah, shit. Of course. Unwelcome hands combing through his hair, checking all his body cavities for weapons and contraband. Jim felt a tightening in his chest. Blair would go ballistic, just like he'd freaked when the cops had put handcuffs on him. It was all too reminiscent of his ordeal with his kidnapper. "Oh, man -- " he breathed.

Blair began to rock a little on the bench. "Jim, after -- everything -- that will be just too...fucking...much." Desperation made his voice hoarse.

"OK, OK, just calm down," Jim urged quietly, although his own thoughts and emotions were roaring in a thousand directions at once. He looked around the room and didn't see anyone he recognized. He just couldn't seem to get a break tonight. He suddenly smelled blood, fresh blood that wasn't from Blair's stained clothing. "Sandburg, cut it out."

"What?" Blair mumbled.

"You've rubbed your wrists raw in the handcuffs. Just settle down."

"I didn't know I was doing it," was the reply, but Blair stopped the incessant chafing against the restraints. "I'm sorry."

"It's OK." Jim stood up. "Stay here. Do not move from this bench." When Blair gave no indication he'd heard or understood, he said more firmly, "Sandburg, stay with me on this."

Blair nodded, never raising his head.

Jim went over to the booking cage. The Sergeant didn't look particularly friendly. Maybe he'd failed the detective's exam one too many times. Still, Jim kept his voice friendly, calm. "That man over there, Blair Sandburg. He's my partner."

"Yeah?"

"He's a little shaken up by all this. I'd like to go through booking with him."

The Sergeant's lips twitched in an approximation of a smile. "Sorry. Can't allow it. You shouldn't even be talking to him now."

Jim took a breath, swallowed his anger. "Then I'd like to have a doctor see him, right now."

Again, a negative head shake. "He looks OK to me. If he needs a doctor, he can see one after he's in a cell."

"Look -- " you moronic monosyllabic asshole... " -- he barely survived a hostage situation that happened just a week ago. Things got a little tense. If I'm with him, there won't be any problems."

"He won't be a problem even without you holding his hand," the Sergeant replied confidently. "He slugged a cop, you know -- broke two of his teeth."

"They put handcuffs on him," Jim explained patiently, trying to stay reasonable, feeling his control gradually slipping away. "He had a flashback -- cuffs were what the kidnapper used." He glanced at his best friend, saw Blair hadn't stirred or lifted his head. "If he has another flashback, I don't want him getting hurt."

The Sergeant shrugged. "We do what we have to in order to control the prisoners. If he behaves himself, nothing will happen to him."

If he's obedient, Jim thought unwillingly, remembering the quiet, menacing voice of the kidnapper giving Blair instructions. OK. Abruptly, he leaned close to the chain link barrier of the cage, bending slightly until he and the Sergeant were eye to eye. "My name is James Ellison. I'm a detective with Major Crimes. You might want to write down my badge number."

The Sergeant was a bit disconcerted by this invasion of his personal space, although he couldn't have put a cause to the sudden discomfort he was feeling. The previously sturdy chain link of the cage suddenly seemed as insubstantial as gossamer. "Why would I want to do that?"

Jim's voice was deceptively mild. "Because I just beat a psychotic killer to death with my bare hands and survived one helluva wreck in the Cascade River at high flood. I'm damn near legendary. Who knows what I'm liable to do next?" The message in his eyes was clear -- mess with Sandburg, you mess with me.

But he simply stepped back and smiled. "So you see, any slack you can give me right now would be really appreciated. You know, one cop to another."

The Sergeant had a chance to save face and took it, not really comprehending what had just happened. "OK, yeah, I guess I can allow it. He ready to start processing?"

"In a minute." Jim tried not to limp as he hurried back to the bench. After all, a tough guy like him shouldn't let the little matter of a six-inch gash in his calf and seventeen stitches interfere with mobility. He grimaced wryly. What a crock. "OK, Chief, I'll be with you every step of the way." He could tell Blair had started twisting his wrists in the handcuffs again. He'd need bandages soon.

Blair looked up, his forlorn expression hopeful for the first time. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Don't think about what happened before. Just stay with the present, stay focused on what's happening now. It won't be pleasant, but no one's going to hurt you. They're only following a procedure all prisoners go through. Will you just hang tough for me, Chief?"

Blair thought about the request, nodded. "I'm glad you'll be there," he said quietly. "Just don't -- watch, OK?"

"I won't," Jim promised. "But I'll be close by."

"Thanks. I'm sorry I'm being such a flake. Things -- things just aren't going real well right now."

"No kidding," Jim said, trying to keep it light. "Whole empires have fallen for less than what's happened to us this week."

Blair's sudden smile, tired but genuine, was worth all the pain ricocheting around in Jim's head.

The booking Sergeant beckoned to them.

"Here we go, Chief. Just remember what I said."

"Hang tough."

"Hang tough," Jim agreed, standing alongside his partner.

Simon met Jim at the exit. "They've put him in a cell with two small-time offenders. I checked 'em out. Nothing will happen to him in there."

Jim swayed suddenly, and Simon held out a steadying hand. "Jim - "

"Simon, I'm either gonna throw up or faint," he mumbled.

"Which is it?" Simon asked in concern.

With Simon's help, Jim sat down on the curb by the parking lot, heedless of the rain pounding down on both of them while he struggled to stave off the dizziness that assailed him. A few deep breaths helped settle the nausea. but did not dispel the jackhammer juddering against the inside of his skull. "God, Simon," he said when the worst had passed. "He's been kidnapped by a sexual pervert, damn near drowned and frozen to death, and now charged with murder and strip searched at the jail. What's going to happen to him next?"

"Whatever happens to him next won't happen here," Simon promised. "I had a word with the Sergeant. I gather you did, too."

Jim stood up a little shakily. "Just recounting my recent exploits, Captain," he assured with a slight smile.

"Yeah, I never could stop you from bragging about how tough you are," Simon grumbled in jest.

"Just one knuckle-dragger exchanging pleasantries with another knuckle-dragger," came the humble reply.

"Sure you were," Simon said blandly. "Let's get you home and back to bed. That crack on the head needs more time to heal, and I've got a feeling you won't be staying in bed tomorrow."

As they walked slowly through the rain to Simon's car, Jim commented, "He's protecting someone, Simon. I don't know who or why, but he's protecting someone."

Still speaking mildly, Simon offered, "There's only one person I can think of who Sandburg would risk the death penalty for."

Jim thought about it. "How the hell did I ever make detective?" he said at last.

"Must be the same way I did, after I thought you'd driven yourself in tonight when I knew damn well you didn't have any wheels," the Captain answered, opening the passenger door on his Chrysler. "Sheer dumb luck."

Part Three

When Jim got up the next morning, he felt a little better. The headache was still there, so he took some aspirin, indulged in a long, hot shower, and went downstairs to make coffee. Simon was asleep on the sofa, his overcoat thrown over him like a blanket.

He stirred when Jim came down the stairs. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Jim returned calmly, heading for the kitchen to start the coffee maker. "I thought we said good night last night."

"We did. I decided to camp out in your living room instead. You got a problem with that?"

Jim felt an unaccustomed rush of emotion at his friend's thoughtfulness and concern. "No, of course not," he replied. "Thanks."

"No problem. The kid asked me to look out for you. Least I could do under the circumstances." Simon accepted a cup of coffee and sipped it gratefully. "Costa Rican?"

"One of Sandburg's caffeines of choice when he's not drinking one of his designer sludges," Jim explained.

"I'm getting better at identifying the different blends," Simon went on conversationally. "Everything used to taste the same to me. Guess I'm acquiring a discerning palate." He looked a little worried. "You didn't realize I'd spent the night? Are your senses still out of whack?"

"No, I think I knew." Jim tried to explain. "When I'm asleep, there are several times when I come up to a level of awareness where I do a kind of sensory sweep of the loft. If everything's all right, I don't wake up altogether. Most of the time, I'm not even aware it's happening."

"A human security system," Simon approved.

"Simon, would you mind dropping me off at a rental place so I can get a car?"

"Are you up to driving?"

"I'm fine - a little headache still, that's all."

"No dizziness or blurry vision?"

"You're starting to sound like Sandburg," Jim grumbled.

"Well?"

"No, no dizziness or blurry vision."

Simon shrugged. "OK, then. Just let me grab some clean clothes for Sandburg. His arraignment is this morning at ten o'clock. I don't want him appearing in front of the judge in jail denims."

"Thanks, Simon. I hadn't thought of that."

"Will you be there?"

"I'll be there." Jim buttered some toast, then scraped it off before it could melt and opted for a little jam instead. He still felt a little too queasy to face butter. He offered some toast to Simon, who just shook his head. "Do you think he'll get bail?"

Simon didn't look optimistic. "I don't know. Considering the charge and his apparent rootless lifestyle, a judge would have to be crazy not to think he'd be a flight risk."

"He wouldn't bolt."

"I know that and you know that," Simon answered. "Convincing the court is a different matter altogether. Besides, even if bail is granted, it's bound to be high. I know he can't afford it - can you?"

Jim sighed. "I don't know. There's the loft, a couple of bank accounts, a mutual fund - " He used two fingers to massage the bridge of his nose. " - a piggy bank somewhere in Sandburg's room. Hell, Simon, I don't know. It all depends on how high the judge wants to set it."

"We'll worry about it later," Simon said. "Look, I have to go home and change before I go into the office. You about ready to go?"

"Yeah. Just let me grab those clothes for Sandburg."

Part Four

The car agency had a Dodge Durango sport utility, so he decided to consider the rental expense an extensive test drive. His headache had settled to a dull roar, making itself known only when he exerted himself - like when he was tying his shoelaces or doing just about anything else requiring movement. His leg ached when he walked, and the stitches felt tight and alien in his skin. Still, if he told himself enough times he was feeling better, maybe his body would finally start to believe it.

Relieved to be mobile again, he drove to Hargrove Hall at Rainier University and met with the head of the anthropology department, a short, wrinkled little gnome of a man whose starched collar and perfectly creased trousers made him look as if he'd dressed up in one of his daddy's suits. He had a supercilious attitude to match his sartorial aspirations, but Jim greeted him civilly, oozed sufficient appreciation for the man's generosity in taking the time to see him, and mentally steeled himself to be nice throughout the meeting.

"Thank you, Doctor Sinclair," Jim said for what he thought must have been the twelfth time as he was ushered into the man's large, comfortably appointed office and shown to a chair.

"I don't know what I can tell you, Detective Ellison," Sinclair said politely, although his tone hinted otherwise. He was not a man to admit he didn't have anything to offer. "I've already made a complete statement to Lieutenant Rice of the DA's office."

"Yes, sir, but his report will come to us through channels, and I'd really like to jump start the investigation," Jim explained.

"Yes, of course." Sinclair nodded wisely. "What happened to Blair may be a tragedy, but it's still one of his own making, you realize."

"No, sir, perhaps you could explain," Jim replied humbly.

"His dissertation, of course." Sinclair looked as if he'd stated the obvious. "You're his friend, aren't you? Didn't he tell you what happened?"

"I've been getting over a bad case of the flu," Jim lied easily. "He probably didn't want to bother me."

"Oh, of course," Sinclair smiled solicitously. "You know the subject of his dissertation?"

Jim nodded, constructing his answer carefully. "Something about ancient tribal watchmen?"

"Yes, the myth of the sentinel. Blair had a mandatory progress evaluation the day before yesterday." Sinclair frowned in disapproval. "He was poorly prepared for it, unfortunately." As if Jim had disagreed with him, he went on, "Oh, he had organized his research meticulously, and he had data stretching from ancient times to modern day, but in the final analysis, it was all just so much smoke and mirrors. His data were anecdotal at best, complete fabrication at worst."

"He wasn't making any of it up," Jim said with conviction. "He believes in what he's doing."

"Yes, but to pick such an obscure subject matter - " Sinclair actually looked pained for a moment. "Some of us on the committee felt the depth of Blair's research was sufficient to recommend his paper to the full examination board - at the appropriate time, of course. Even negative results are still results, and sometimes the path one takes is ultimately more enlightening than what one finds at its end, but others on the committee disagreed and demanded Blair produce proof that a sentinel exists or ever could have existed. Blair was unable to provide that data."

"Doctor Stemple was one of the detractors?" Jim guessed, dreading the answer.

"Most vehemently so," Sinclair agreed. "Not that he should have died because of it, of course, but his verbal attack on Blair was really quite cruel and unrelenting. I thought Mr. Sandburg remained admirably cool and persuasive during what I can only describe as an inquisition, but clearly my analysis was wrong, of course, in light of what he did - "

If Sinclair said 'of course' one more time, Jim thought he'd have to strangle the man. "What do you know he's done?"

"Oh, dear, I've upset you, of course," Sinclair said without a trace of apology in his tone. "I'd forgotten you are also his friend and not just another police officer." He went on, blissfully unaware of Jim's rising temper. "Also, Mr. Sandburg failed to show up three days ago for a class he's been teaching. He was seen on campus, but he left without so much as a courtesy call to request a substitute to assume his duties."

He was busy with the little matter of saving my life, Jim thought savagely.

"Of course, it's not the first time he'd failed in his obligations to this department and this university, but I'm sure you're aware of his fascination with playing detective, of course."

Jim blinked. The man had managed to insert 'of course' at the beginning and end of the same sentence. It was distracting and annoying. He wondered if Sinclair actually taught any courses and what his students must think of him. "Sandburg doesn't play at police work, Doctor Sinclair," he replied coolly. But that was off the subject, and Jim wanted to avoid an argument. "So I take it he's not teaching here anymore, either."

"We thought it best to remove some of his responsibilities so he could focus on his education. Of course, his skills are appreciated and will be missed, but there are other students just as needy of the financial assistance who can adequately fill his position." Sinclair's gaze was faintly accusatory. "Mr. Sandburg used to be a thoroughly reliable and dedicated young man. I believe his lapse started very soon after meeting you, Detective." His tone indicated he thought Blair's responsibilities in other areas -- the police department, for example -- should be curtailed as well.

Jim felt as if he'd been swatted on the knuckles with a ruler by an irate teacher, and he heard his teeth creak as he clenched his jaws involuntarily. "Thank you for your time, Doctor Sinclair." He stood up. "I have a few other interviews to conduct, so I'd better get to them." I'd better get out of here before I wring your scrawny neck...

Sinclair couldn't resist one more jibe. "It's happened to other students, of course."

"What has?" Jim asked tightly.

"Cracking under the pressure. Mr. Sandburg is highly intelligent and even more highly emotional. His IQ is somewhere between being merely gifted and true genius. He's been taking college courses since he was sixteen, of course. To see all that education and hard work come to naught - well, the stress must have become unbearable."

Jim just shook his head wearily. The headache was back with a vengeance. "You said this meeting took place day before yesterday?"

"That's correct."

"So what did Sandburg and Stemple argue about yesterday?"

"I have no idea," Sinclair admitted grudgingly. "We informed Blair yesterday morning that we were terminating his fellowship, but he seemed to accept it all quite calmly. Doctor Stemple wasn't even there for that meeting. If they argued later in the day, I'm afraid only Mr. Sandburg can provide you with the details."

Jim couldn't let it drop, not just yet. "OK, you said Stemple was verbally abusive. Was he that way with everyone?"

"Oh, yes, he could be quite vitriolic when he chose to be."

"Can you think of anyone else he recently attacked? Anyone who might have a motive to want him dead?"

Sinclair smiled benignly. "Beyond Mr. Sandburg, of course - no."

Part Five

Jim grabbed a large coffee from the student cafeteria, but the noise level was too intense for his sensitive head right then, so he retreated to Blair's office. He had the keys, since Blair had insisted Jim take all his personal effects before booking. He closed the door and settled in the chair at the desk, feeling very out of place in the space Blair generally occupied. The halls outside were quiet, classes still in session, all other sounds muted by distance.

He sipped his coffee and tried to unmuddle his fragmented thoughts. Blair had mentioned the changes happening in his life, but he hadn't gone into details. Jim had been too self-absorbed with his own injuries to pursue the details, thinking Sandburg would share if anything were urgent. Or maybe he had done so, and Jim had simply forgotten. Funny thing about concussion: it could create selective memory loss. Jim had only a vague recollection of the wreck that had nearly killed him. Of the immediate event, he drew a total blank, but he had visions of the icy water closing over him, the dream-like shattering of the windshield as he broke it out in a desperate effort to escape being trapped and drowned inside the truck, the enormous weight of his waterlogged parka as he struggled in the raging, freezing water.

And yet, he had vivid memories of Blair's presence, his touch and reassurance when Jim's injuries had left him blind and deaf, helpless and alone in the wilderness. Blair had been the strong one then, saving Jim's life when the odds had turned against them both. If Blair had gone into details about his problems at the U, Jim felt certain he would have remembered them.

Now Jim realized why Blair hadn't wanted to talk to him at the jail. He'd been afraid of how Jim would react when he learned Blair's dissertation, his education, and his fellowship had all vanished within the span of twenty-four hours. Afraid Jim would feel responsible somehow; or worse, how he might see it as conclusive evidence of Blair's guilt.

Except Jim knew Blair was incapable of murder, premeditated or otherwise. Accidentally killing in self-defense, maybe, but never murder, no matter how strong the provocation, no matter how intense his stress, or anger, or fear. No, Sandburg could not kill intentionally.

He finished his coffee and glanced at his watch; still plenty of time before the arraignment. He wondered if the judge would grant bail, considering the severity of the charge and Blair's apparent lack of ties to the community now that he was unemployed. It was something he would have to face later. Right now, he wanted to visit Stemple's office.

He found it without difficulty, checked the hallway, and used a credit card to pop the lock on the door. Slipping under the crime scene tape without breaking it, he locked the door behind him. Using his sensitive vision instead of turning on the lights, he stood still for a long minute in the dim interior, absorbing all the details of the neat, meticulous office. It was so unlike Sandburg's clutter as to be laughable. Still, it made a search less difficult. He knew the DA's investigator and a forensics team had already searched the room from top to bottom. He could see fingerprint powder, the chalk outlines where the body and other evidence had been found, the enormous pool of congealing blood on the carpet, the little things left out of place in an otherwise organized office where the searchers had not put items back exactly as they'd been found. He'd have to see the crime scene photos to know if the drawers had been found part way open or simply left that way after the search was finished. But the preliminary report, the only one Jim had seen so far, gave no indication that the office looked as if it had been searched prior to the arrival of the police. No, someone had simply walked in and shot Stemple, then left again before Blair's untimely appearance on the scene.

Jim walked to the desk and sat down in the chair, swiveling it slightly to see what he could reach or see comfortably with minimum effort. Sometimes, this could tell him what was important enough for someone to have within easy grasp. There were empty places for appointment book and desk calendar, both confiscated by the police; an empty file draw, contents similarly confiscated; pen, blank memo pad (he ran his fingers lightly over the blank top sheet - a jumble of impressions, the deepest and therefore most recent reading 'Gage wired at 3 p.m.'). Jim looked around. There were no gauges of any kind in the office, and Stemple didn't seem like the kind to misspell a word anyway, so Gage was probably a name. Someone named Gage had wired something at 3 p.m. An electrical fix - or a money transfer? Stemple's shooting had occurred around 8 p.m. If the memo had been written on the day of his death.... Jim filed the information away for examination later.

The report had also mentioned Stemple was six feet and average build, so Jim continued so see what else Stemple easily could have gotten his hands on from his chair. There was a large sandstone sphere nested in a clear acrylic stand. It was a lovely rock. Jim thought it was called picture stone. The colors and striations suggested several ranges of desert hills marching toward a horizon topped by orange clouds at sunset. It was sitting just to the left of the blotter, right by the telephone. Jim thought a decoration like that should have been placed either at one corner or the front edge of the desktop. What was it doing dangerously within elbow-bashing distance...unless the forensics people had left it there accidentally. He really had to get his hands on the crime scene photos. Jim picked it up, expecting it to be heavier than it was. It felt warm and rough in his hands, not cool and smooth like a heavy quartz sphere he had hefted once in a gift shop. He looked at it closely, saw the straight and almost invisible line bisecting its center, and twisted the two halves apart. A shallow square had been carved crudely from the interior of the stone. Nestled in the space was a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Jim took it out, reassembled the sphere, and put it back on its stand. What forensics didn't know....

The disk didn't have a label. Handling it carefully by its edges, Jim stuck it inside a business-size envelope before putting it in his pocket for later. Right now, he had a bail hearing to attend.

Part Six

Arraignments were mundane affairs, so the courtroom was pretty much deserted except for Simon and Jim, a few serious court groupies, and a couple of reporters hoping to get a jump on the story of the police consultant who'd killed a college professor.

Blair looked tired but remarkably calm after his night in jail. As he entered the courtroom in the clean clothes Simon had brought him, he managed a fairly confident smile for his friends before facing the judge. Jim sighed with relief. The kid looked OK, and the judge was Helen Friske, an acquaintance with a reputation for fairness. Maybe he was finally going to get a break.

The charge was read, a plea of not guilty officially entered into record, and then Vanessa Marshall, Blair's attorney, brought up the matter of bail.

The prosecutor, Debra Burns, found the idea laughable. "Your Honor, Mr. Sandburg has no job, no money, and no family ties to the community. His past is a tour book of travels to remote and isolated places to study various primitive cultures. He is no stranger to living rough and could disappear easily into the underground."

Marshall was quick to take up the challenge. "Your Honor, Mr. Sandburg has been a valued consultant to the Cascade Police Department for almost three years. He has been a teacher, a researcher, and yes, an explorer in dangerous, sometimes life-threatening places around the world. His past is filled with laudable examples of his commitment, courage, integrity, and honesty to his job and the people for whom he is responsible." She shot a glance at Burns. "Furthermore, Your Honor, the evidence presented by the People against Mr. Sandburg at this time clearly points more toward his innocence than his guilt."

"How do you figure that, Ms. Marshall?" the Judge asked mildly.

"His bloody fingerprints were found on the weapon's barrel, not on the trigger, evidence supporting Mr. Sandburg's assertion that he moved the weapon to better see the extent of Doctor Stemple's injury. His bloody clothing also supports this conclusion. And rather than fleeing the scene, he calmly called 9-1-1 to request an ambulance. These are not the actions of a guilty man, certainly not a man the prosecution claims went to Doctor Stemple's office for the express purpose of killing him."

The Judge nodded slightly. "Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair had been focusing somewhere on the wall behind her. Now he jerked a bit in surprise. "Yes, Your Honor?" He sounded calm, but Jim could pick up evidence of his tension - he knew Blair never really had settled down at all this past week, so much had happened to him.

"You look a little worse for wear," the Judge commented.

Blair smiled sheepishly. "It's been an unusual few days," he admitted.

"You took a dunk in the flood waters of Cascade River, I hear," she continued.

"Yes, Your Honor, I did." Blair sounded faintly surprised she was mentioning it.

"You saved the life of a police officer when search and rescue had given up for the night."

"He's my friend," Blair answered simply, as if that explained everything. To him, it probably did.

"You don't sound like the sort of man who cuts and runs when the going gets tough," the Judge went on, and Jim finally felt a surge of hope. She made her decision. "Bail is set at five hundred thousand dollars, and the defendant will surrender his passport." Then, she set a date for the preliminary hearing, confirmed it met with the approval of both attorneys, and rapped her gavel.

It was over.

Blair just shrugged and turned to look at Jim, a wry smile on his face. Go figure, his expression said. It might as well have been a million.

Jim just grinned. "Be back for you in an hour, Chief," he promised, not even seeing the shocked surprise that overtook Blair's face. Simon just gave him a little wave and a sympathetic smile before following after his detective.

Part Seven

Freed on bail, Blair was as giddy as a grade schooler on the last day of class. He took one look at the Durango and his eyes lit up. "Wow, Jim, this is so cool!" He bounced around the sport utility, checking it out from top to undercarriage.

"Don't get excited, Chief, it's only a rental," Jim told him.

"How's your head?" Blair continued without pause. "You probably shouldn't be driving yet, right? Want me to do it?"

"My head is fine," Jim retorted. "Besides, I left your license at home. Get in."

Blair scowled accusingly. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

Jim just smiled benignly and climbed behind the wheel.

Once in the passenger seat, Blair started running his hands all over the sport utility's interior. He probed inside the glove box, fiddled with the stereo, pushed the adjustable shoulder belt lever up and down, and examined all the little nooks and crannies so popular on modern cars.

"Hey, there's a place for a garage door opener."

"We don't have a garage door," Jim reminded him.

"No, but if we did, there'd be a place for the opener."

"Just good foresight," Jim agreed mildly. "Hungry?"

"Starved."

"Didn't they feed you breakfast?"

Blair grinned and chuckled. "The stuff they tried to give me looked disgusting, so I told 'em I was kosher. I think they thought I was going to file a lawsuit for religious persecution or something."

Jim just shook his head; sometimes, he didn't have a clue what was going to pop out of Sandburg's mouth next. "What do you feel like?"

"Let's not eat out, OK? Can we just go home?"

"Sure thing," Jim agreed, grateful he didn't have to face a noisy, crowded restaurant. The little guy with the jackhammer inside his head was gone, but there was still enough left of the headache to remind him not to tempt his reappearance.

Back at the loft, Jim suffered through a bowl of soup from the bottomless vat of the stuff he'd made during a recent bout of nervous energy. Blair had seconds and appeared to enjoy it.

"I'm gonna dump the rest of this down the sink," Jim threatened finally.

"I like it," Blair objected. "Just freeze the rest. You might feel like more in a month or so."

Jim retrieved the computer diskette from his jacket pocket and held it up by its edges. "Can you figure out what's on this?"

"Sure. Where did you get it?"

"Stemple's office."

Blair looked at the diskette with suspicion. "You're not supposed to have it, are you?"

Jim shrugged. "If it turns out to be something, I'll find a way to sneak it into evidence."

"Ah, Jim," Blair groaned, "you're taking a helluva risk."

"A risk is dangling from a helicopter or jumping off a cliff. This is just a good tongue-lashing from Simon," Jim retorted coolly. "Tell me what's on it."

"OK, let me get my laptop." After retrieving his computer from his room, Blair sat down again.

He held out his hand, but Jim just shook his head and slipped the disk into the drive slot by himself. "Fingerprints."

Blair looked worried again about the trouble Jim could get into because of the disk, then stared at the computer screen. "It's password protected."

"Can you get in?"

"Sure. It's just gonna take a little while." He looked up at Jim hovering over his shoulder. "Go do something."

"The little clock at the bottom of the screen says there's only thirty seconds left," Jim pointed out.

"That's computer time," Blair explained. "It has nothing to do with time as we know it."

"Then why do they put it there?"

"To drive people like you crazy."

Jim scowled. "Bill Gates has a lot to answer for."

"Not the least of which is Windows 95," Blair agreed absently. "Go freeze soup or something."

Behind Blair's back, Jim smiled as he went to the kitchen to make freezer space. Give Blair a puzzle and he was like a terrier with a bone. Nothing - not madmen, nature, or murder could keep him down for long. He watched his partner fiddle around with his various software programs, and when Blair finally declared victory, Jim hastened back to his side. "What is it?"

"A list of all the research projects and doctoral studies going on at Rainier," Blair said, scrolling through the list. "Some with asterisks beside them and a bunch of numbers."

"Is your dissertation listed?" Jim asked.

Blair found it, nodded. "Wow, two asterisks," he said mildly. "Don't know if I should feel honored or what."

"And more numbers. Did you receive any grants or other monetary awards corresponding to these figures?"

Blair actually laughed. "No way."

Jim studied the list. "There's a lot more here than anthropology programs," he commented. "Looks like some high-tech, cutting-edge stuff is going on at your university."

"Yeah, Rainier is noted for its programs in bio-engineering and artificial intelligence."

"So maybe Stemple was keeping tabs on the progress of some of the research." He didn't miss Blair's sudden stillness, the increased heart rate. "Maybe someone was paying him to spy on university projects," he continued softly. "What do you think?"

Blair shrugged. "Little ole' me, two asterisks on a list of some of the most high-tech research fields in the world?" His tone was quiet, tense with bitterness and guilt.

Jim sighed. "It's time you told me."

Blair nodded. His eyes misted a bit, and his gaze became distant. "I wanted to," he whispered, "but I felt so damned ashamed."

Jim sat down at the table and waited patiently. Finally, Blair took a breath and poured out the story. "Stemple's been spying on my research. I didn't find out until after the committee had dumped my dissertation - " he looked at Jim, who nodded that he already knew about the disastrous evaluation meeting. "Anyway, after he'd flayed me raw in the meeting, he came up later to apologize, or so he said. He really wanted to push me into giving him my research, said he wanted to be my advisor and consultant, said the whole sentinel thing was fascinating." Blair sat back, ran both hands roughly through his hair and closed his eyes. "He knew about you, Jim."

"How did he know?"

"He'd been dogging my footsteps - he knew about the day we met at the hospital, when I pretended to be a doctor so I could get in to see you. He hacked into my computer at school to read my early notes, before I realized how sensitive my research was becoming and started being more careful about what I wrote down and where I kept it. He said he figured out you were the real thing when I moved in with you."

Jim tried to quell the sinking feeling in his gut. "Did he say who he worked for?"

"No. I figure he must be a government stooge, keeping an eye on things for Uncle Sam." Blair sounded bitter. "Guess we'll know when the CIA tries to recruit you."

"Except he didn't have proof, and you wouldn't give it to him," Jim continued almost to himself. "He needed you to prove I was a sentinel in order to sell your research."

Blair nodded, looking absolutely bereft. "I'm sorry, Jim."

"You don't have to apologize - "

"Yes, I do." His voice took on a bitter, self-loathing edge. "The whole academic thing is bullshit! It's fine if you're studying something ancient, something dead and gone. You have less chance of hurting people that way. But I had to hunt down a modern-day sentinel. I had to invade your life and turn it upside down, and I did it all without realizing what the consequences could be to you."

"You saved my life," Jim said simply. "You helped me deal with my enhanced senses when I thought I was going insane. You help me stay in control of them every single day. I'd be dead by now without you, and you know it."

Blair wasn't in the mood for reassurance. "Anyway, now you see why it doesn't matter if I make a statement or not. The circumstantial evidence will probably convict me; the truth will certainly convict me by giving me a clear-cut motive, and it would ruin your life in the process. It wasn't a difficult choice."

"Except you're innocent," Jim added.

"Well, besides that," Blair admitted. "Although I thought even you might believe - "

"Not for a second."

They were silent for a long time, Jim trying to work out a solution to their predicament, Blair just making invisible circles on the table top with nervous fingers.

Finally, Jim shook his head. "Spying for the government doesn't make any sense. And even if he was - they wouldn't kill him." After a moment, he amended, "Not over something like this, anyway."

"You have to turn this disk over to the DA," Blair said. "You know you have to."

"Yeah, but not just yet." He slipped the diskette back into the envelope. "I know my prints may be on it, but with luck, so will Stemple's. We have to be able to prove it's his. I'll have Simon get a copy of the man's financial records, too. Maybe we'll see bank deposits to match the figures. You don't need the disk anymore, do you?"

"No. I can save everything on the hard drive."

"OK. There's something I'm still not clear on," Jim went on, niggling at the details. "Did Stemple tell you he'd been spying on you?"

"Not in so many words, not at first," Blair admitted. "While we were arguing, he just let something slip about the nurse at the hospital who tipped me off about you. After that, he couldn't gloat enough about how smart he'd been in following my work. Damn, I am such an idiot." He stood up and began to pace the floor. "Now I know why they call it the 'academic world' - it's because it doesn't have a thing to do with the real world, with real life. It's all self-indulgent crap. So what if some scientist learns enough to create a virus that will destroy all life on earth - so what? He's not responsible - he just did the research. How it's used is someone else's choice, someone else's problem."

"Slow down, Sandburg," Jim urged with a barely restrained chuckle. "You're going off the deep end here. You're starting to sound like me."

Blair stopped his pacing, took a breath, and raised his eyebrows. "You don't have to get nasty, you know," he shot back with a grin. "I'm gonna take a shower. That shampoo they use at the jail smells like Lysol. You want to know anything else?"

"Actually, Chief, the crack about the shampoo was more than I needed to know," Jim replied calmly, not bothering to explain that Blair was practically reeking with the smells of institutional chemicals. "One thing, though. Why were you meeting Stemple so late in his office?"

Blair fidgeted a bit, reluctantly realized there was no point in holding back anything. "When we argued in the afternoon, Stemple got really nasty and threatened to 'expose' us as lovers. A rumor like that wouldn't do any damage to me, but it could ruin your career. Stemple said he'd give me time to think it over, and asked me to meet him in his office at eight." He sighed, grimaced. "There. Now you know everything."

"If I knew everything, I'd know why Stemple was murdered and who killed him," Jim grumbled. "You shouldn't have tried to deal with him by yourself, you know."

"I know," Blair answered quietly. "I didn't want to leave you out of it, but I thought I could bs him enough to make him drop it. I really thought it would be OK until I saw him lying there in all that blood - " He faltered at the memory, then shook his head.

"Go take your shower, Blair," Jim told him. "I think I'll take a nap and see if I can't dream up any brilliant insights into this mess."

"Do you still have a headache?"

"Practically better. At least the brain seems to be functioning on all cylinders again. I'm sorry I was so out of it when you were in the middle of this university thing."

Blair shrugged. "Couldn't be helped." He paused uncomfortably. "Sorry you had to bail me out." Again. Only this time, the "bail" was literal. "You had to put up the loft, didn't you?"

"And everything else I own in this world," Jim admitted. "Don't worry about it. As long as you don't skip town, everything will be OK."

"I won't - "

"I know that, Sandburg! It was a joke."

" - except there's this great little island in Micronesia I've been dreaming about lately - "

Why wasn't there ever anything around to throw just when you needed it?

Part Eight

Jim wasn't officially back on duty, so he expected to be read the riot act by Simon, but the Captain was in a meeting downtown. Jim sat down at his desk and began fishing in the bottom drawer for the forms he would need to request Arlen Stemple's financial records.

"Jim?"

He looked up, saw Brown standing there with a cup of coffee extended as a peace offering.

"Mind if I sit down?"

"Sit," Jim agreed, accepting the cup.

The other detective took the visitor's chair and fidgeted for a moment. "Look, Jim, about what happened -"

"Not your fault," Jim interrupted, his anger with his colleague fading but not yet completely gone, which gave his voice an edge.

"No, it was my fault," Brown insisted. "I know I had to bring him in, much as I didn't want to. I'm talking about the other thing."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, that was pretty rough on him."

Brown sighed in aggravation. "I was on the phone to Simon. I didn't even see the officers go to put the cuffs on him, or I would have stopped them. By the time I realized what was happening, he'd already flipped out and slugged McCaughey."

"It's OK," Jim said, glad the explanation had been simple inattentiveness and not callousness.

"Anyway, by the time I got him calmed down, he'd just sort of tuned out, you know?" Henri was clearly troubled by the memory. "Like a rabbit caught in headlights. I really hated to see it, to know I was responsible."

Jim nodded his understanding. "He's OK now. I just wish you'd called me."

"The kid asked me not to. And frankly, I was too chicken to do it. Anyway, I'm sorry it happened."

"Don't worry about it." Jim finally found the forms he needed and handed them to the other detective. "Want to help?"

"Of course. Anything to help clear the kid."

"Stemple's financial records," Jim explained. "You're the detective of record. You should be able to get them."

"What am I looking for?"

"Hidden accounts, suspicious overspending, you know the stuff."

"You think he was taking payoffs?"

"Yes."

"Who from?"

"That I don't know," Jim confessed, "but I'm hoping to connect a bunch of deposits with...some other figures I found."

"Uh-huh," Brown said doubtfully. "And just where did you find these other figures?"

Jim handed him the floppy disk, still in its envelope. "You found this on Stemple's desktop hidden inside a sandstone sphere that has a hollow center."

"Damn, I'm good," Henri said appreciatively. "What did I do with it?"

"You showed it to me, and I gave it to Blair to look at on his laptop."

"Ouch - not very good police work there," Brown grumbled.

"My prints may be on the disk. I'm hoping Stemple's are too."

"OK, so Simon congratulates me for finding the disk and then reams me a new one for showing it to you." Brown thought about it. "I can live with that."

"Thanks. I wasn't sure how I was going to get it into evidence."

Brown tucked the diskette into his pocket and stood up. "Guess I'd better get over to Stemple's office so I can show off my brilliance and find this little gem." He paused. "Tell Sandburg I'm sorry, OK?"

"I don't think you need to apologize, but you can tell him yourself when you see him."

"I'll do that. Thanks for letting me help." Brown looked much happier as he left the bullpen.

Having accomplished what he had set out to do, Jim stood up to leave. He figured he might as well go over to the DA's office and make a nuisance of himself until they told him something.

Simon stormed into the bullpen then, his expression furious. Bobbing in his wake like a storm-tossed buoy was Sean Doyle, a fingerprint tech. Simon didn't appear surprised to see Jim. "My office," he growled, not pausing.

Jim followed them in and waited calmly, his mind carefully empty of useless speculation, while Simon removed his overcoat and neck scarf and hung both on his coat rack before sitting down at his desk. He didn't ask either of the others to sit. "Bail's been revoked," he said angrily.

"Damn," Jim breathed, fighting back a surge of despair. New and damaging evidence must have been found. "What happened?"

"Sandburg's prints were found on the murder weapon's magazine and two of the remaining bullets."

Jim shook his head, refusing to believe the implications. "That's not possible."

"Actually, it is," Sean Doyle hastened to explain. "I tried showing the DA how it could have been done -- hell, give me thirty seconds with the weapon, and I could have your fingerprints on the gun that killed JFK."

Jim was having difficulty keeping up with the unexpected turn of events. "Then why -- ?"

"Motive, Jim," Simon interrupted patiently. "For Doyle's theory to work, we have to find a motive why anyone would want to frame Sandburg for murder."

Except I just handed Brown evidence that will add weight to Blair's guilt, Jim thought bitterly. "Look, Captain, something turned up while you were out. It looks like Stemple was taking payoffs for spying on some of the high-tech research at Rainier." Awkwardly, he added, "I'm not sure now Sandburg's name ended up on the list, but it did. We need to find who was making the payoffs."

Simon's expression was sympathetic. "We'll work on it. Unfortunately, until we break the fingerprint evidence, we've got to bring him in."

Jim closed his eyes against the image from the night before of Blair in handcuffs; he'd looked so damned lost. "Captain, let me bring him in."

"Jim -- "

"Please."

There was a heavy plea in Jim's tone Simon had never heard before, and it tore at his conscience. "OK. Bring him back here. We'll keep him in an interrogation room until we're forced to take him down to the jail."

Jim sighed in relief. "Thanks, Captain." To Sean, he added, "Thanks, Doyle. You're gonna make a great witness for the defense."

The fingerprint tech shrugged. "Except the prosecution will have their own expert witness to refute every word I say."

Reasonable doubt. Right now, it was the only hope Jim could grab onto. But the trial would be months away, months Blair would have to spend in jail, months where the rest of his life went down the toilet. Jim knew he didn't have enough net worth to afford whatever new bail the judge would be forced to set; it was bound to be more than he could cover. He'd have to make certain it never went that far; he had to clear his friend now.

Simon seemed to read his thoughts. "One step at a time," he advised cautiously. "Right now, you have to bring him in."

"Yes, sir. I dropped Blair off at the U in a couple of hours ago. I was supposed to pick him up later."

"OK, get going. You want some company?" Jim just shook his head. "By the way, Jim, how did you find out about this new evidence you mentioned?"

"I just came in to talk to Brown," Jim answered awkwardly. Not a lie...not exactly.

"Everything all right with you two?"

"Yeah, we worked it out."

"Good. So you weren't working on the case?"

Jim tried to look innocent, only managed to look defensive. "I am now."

Simon nodded. "That's what I figured. You'll need to be signed off by the doctor before you can return to duty. I'll work on that while you go pick up the kid."

Jim nodded. This was going to be the hardest arrest he'd ever made.

Part Nine

Who am I kidding? Blair thought unhappily as he walked down the hall to his office. I'm gonna miss this place. He would miss the classes he taught, the stimulation of debate over anthropological minutiae, the friends he had made here, the resources available to him - god, he would simply dry up if he could no longer be a part of this world. But there was no turning back now; all the bridges had been burned, first with the dissertation committee, then the loss of his fellowship, and finally with the murder of Arlen Stemple. Unless he could be cleared of the charges with absolute certainty, he would never be allowed back on the teaching staff.

Furthermore, without the dissertation, there would be no doctorate, and without the doctorate, his teaching would consist of introductory or make-up courses. How long could he endure that monotony? And as for research grants...forget it.

Besides, how many paths could he follow? Being Jim's Guide wasn't a nine-to-five sort of job; he knew his teaching schedule had to be flexible in order to work around Jim's erratic hours. But he had to earn his way, too. Damn, why did things have to get so confusing?

He was just unlocking his office door when someone called his name. He barely had time to turn to greet the person before he was enclosed in a hug that practically crushed the breath from his body. "Mrs. Simon," he gasped, trying to return the hug around her size 26 midriff.

She was actually crying. "We're going to miss you around here, Blair Sandburg," she said, finally releasing her grip. "You just make sure you get everything sorted out and get your cute little butt back here, OK?"

He was touched by her concern. "I'll miss you, too, Mrs. Simon," he said quietly. "I just need to sort out some stuff, but I'll do my best to come back."

"I know you will, honey," she answered, gamely drying her tears. She handed him a file folder. "Here's the inventory you asked for. I broke it all down for you. You need some help sorting through your things?"

Blair glanced at the sheets of paper - a listing of all the books and artifacts in his possession and where he'd borrowed them from. It would make sorting things into boxes that much simpler, and he could label them for easy return. There were a lot of things, he realized, feeling a nostalgic surge of emotion. Some of them he hadn't laid eyes on in months. Too many irons in the fire...too many interests he'd tried to pursue...everything about to be boxed and shipped out, pieces of his life put in order before being torn from him forever.

Stop it.

"Thanks, but I'd rather do it myself - kind of a trip down memory lane, you know?" he replied with a wan smile.

"OK, sweetie, but if you need help, you just holler. I put a bunch of empty boxes in your office, and some fresh marking pens."

"Thank you."

Blair opened the door and went into his office. As promised, Mrs. Simon had assembled boxes, sealing tape, labels and heavy felt-tipped markers. For over thirty years, she had kept the anthropology department running smoothly. Now, she simply patted his back in sympathy and softly closed the door as she left.

Taking a deep breath, Blair set to work. He lined up the boxes, opened the inventory list, and began assembling the items he needed to return to various university libraries and departments. Some of the stuff had to be shipped to museums and other universities around the world. He was frankly amazed at the amount of material he'd ferreted away in the nooks and crannies of his cases and file cabinets. No wonder Jim always complained about the clutter in the loft; Blair was a regular pack rat when it came to collecting knowledge. Old texts were almost sacred to him; artifacts were held in even higher reverence. Both touched him in ways he found difficult to explain even to himself; they gave him a glimpse into the past, and therefore an inkling of the future. Parting with them now was as painful as saying goodbye to old and dear friends. His personal books and possessions, few as they were, he put aside in a separate box. It was all so much harder than he'd anticipated.

"You need any help with those boxes?" an unfamiliar voice asked from the doorway.

Blair glanced up from his cross-legged position on the floor and saw a man in his mid-forties wearing a suit of impeccable and expensive cut.

"Sorry," the man apologized. "I knocked, and I could hear you in here - hope you don't mind me barging in."

"Uh, no," Blair answered, climbing awkwardly to his feet, surprised to find most of his lower body had gone numb during his lengthy stay on the floor as he'd sorted through his stuff. "Can I help you?"

"You're Blair Sandburg, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Blair said, suspicious. "If you're a reporter - "

The man laughed. "God, I hope I don't look like a reporter!"

"Well, no, you don't."

The man handed over a business card. "I represent Samuel Cort, of Cort Industries. Perhaps you've heard of him?"

There was no sarcasm in the question, which surprised Blair in light of the fact that Samuel Cort was one of the richest men in America, if not the world, and owned much of downtown Seattle, Tacoma and Cascade. His name appeared all over Rainier University for one endowment or another. "Of course." He glanced down at the business card. "What can I do for you, Mr. Gage?"

Second Half