As the early morning sun reflected through the trees, Detective Jim Ellison contemplated the beauty of the forest as he drove his pickup through the pass in the Cascade National Forest. There had been no traffic and he was making good time. He'd broken camp early to head home to Cascade to his friends, especially his partner and guide. He'd gone to enjoy some special time alone, thinking he needed it. But,' Jim thought, Here I am, going home early. Who would have thought it, Jim Ellison, one-time independent loner, lonely. Hell, I even wore my old set of fatigues to blend in the woods so no one would bother me and discovered that all the camping and fishing is nothing if there's no one to share it with. Yeah, alone was highly overrated. Maybe it's me that's changed. Hmmm, wonder what Sandburg was doing tonight?' "What the....???"
His reverie was brought to an abrupt end as a white tail deer darted in front of the pickup. Jim swerved to avoid the deer, the wheel catching on the shoulder of the road, causing the truck to tipover and sending it sliding down a thickly wooded embankment. Then all was quiet again.
The key turned in the door of the loft as Blair Sandburg entered the room, tossing his backpack down. "Hey, Jim..."
Blair sighed and the smile faded as he was greeted by silence, remembering that Jim had gone camping. He missed Jim, but he knew Jim needed some time alone. It had been hard for such a solitary man to give up so much privacy to take on a partner who seemed to have enough energy for four people. But Jim had been great. . . Now I'll just make sure everything here is clean and straightened when he gets home. Maybe I can work it where Jim can have more time for himself.'
Blair walked into the kitchen and got out a cup of yogurt and an apple. No use cooking for one. Oh well, Jim's due back day after tomorrow, maybe we can go...no, probably not after the peace and quiet. It'll be hard for Jim to go back to noisy, babbling Sandburg.' So happy anticipation warred with bleak insecurity as he sat down on the couch, pulling out a textbook from his backpack, leaving the yogurt and apple untouched on the coffee table.
The next morning, after a restless night, Blair stopped by the station, just to see the guys and be close to Jim's interests. He might be able to help them with their paperwork. The guys, upon seeing Blair, erupted into smiles and choruses of "Where've you been. . .Stack of folders. . .How's classes. . .my computer. . ." greeted him. It was nice to know he was missed.
He could see Simon, uh, Captain Banks on the phone. Blair chuckled. Simon had called every night to check on him since Jim had gone "camping". They'd even gone to lunch together. He misses Jim too.'
Frowning, Simon hurried over to where he had spied Blair. "I've been trying to reach you. I don't know how you knew to get here, but I'm glad you did."
Blair looked up at Simon with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Something's wrong. . .Jim.' Fear was evident in his eyes.
Before Blair could put down his backpack, Simon grabbed him by the arm, pulling him out the door. "We're going to grab some things and head up to the mountains where Jim was. I got a call early this morning. A ranger found a truck overturned in a ravine, but no sign of anyone. Jim's wallet, with his driver's license and police credentials, was on the driver's side.
Blair's heart began to speed up, beating so loud he was sure anyone could hear it even without heightened senses. As he was being pulled along by Simon, all he could think was Jim, please be all right. . .please, please, please. . . .'
Blair was vaguely aware of running into the loft, putting some things in his camping backpack, locking the loft door, then getting back in the car with Simon. Simon was driving somewhere and talking to him. The young man tuned in to some bits and pieces, but mainly thought about Jim. His eyes wanted to water, but he held back and prayed hard. Jim would be all right. He had to be. . .please.
Jim was aware of the cold ground under him. He vaguely remembered smelling gas, undoing his seatbelt and leaving a vehicle, staggering, falling, crawling, then nothing. Now he raised his head and looked around the wilderness. His head hurt. Gingerly he felt the sore areas and found a good size lump in the back of his head and another one on his forehead that had bled down the side of his face. He sat there, trying to get his bearings. He remembered the accident, but he just couldn't remember where he was going or who he was. Oh, great! Now what?' He put his head in his hands, then looked up, blinking several times.
Slowly, he stood up, taking a few careful steps. Okay, so far so good.' Then Jim caught a familiar scent. A campfire. There should be help there.' Jim slowly followed a small half-concealed trail til it opened into what looked like a smaller camouflaged bivouac area. He noticed three or four men in uniforms similar were over by one of the tents talking. Staggering a little Jim walked up to the one who seemed to be in charge, saluted and passed out.
The Major shouted at the Sergeant. "What the hell??? I thought you set the sentries up! What is this?"
"I was doing that now, sir. There shouldn't have been anyone after us yet, sir," the sergeant reported. "Should I kill him?"
"No, not yet. Let's find out a little more about him first. We can always kill him later. Besides," the major looked at Jim thoughtfully. "He may be one of us. He has a good salute. . .military bearing and we can always use more men with the right values. We'll see." He turned back to his minion. "Go on and get him cleaned up. I'll talk to him when he comes around again. Post a guard though, just in case."
"Yes, sir." The sergeant saluted and set about his task.
Blair and Simon pulled up to the ranger station and noticed a large contingent of FBI and Highway Patrol people there. Simon showed his badge to the closest patrol officer and headed into the ranger station with Blair in tow.
"Hello." Simon extended his hand to one of the park rangers. "I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade PD. I got a call early this morning about finding a truck in a ravine that belongs to one of my men."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Banks. I'm Ranger Bob Hoffman. We started to get up a unit to go out searching, but the FBI arrived right after I called you and put our rescue on hold. Otherwise, there's not much I can tell you other than what I told you this morning. You probably need to talk to the agent in charge. C'mon, I'll introduce you."
Standing around a large map of the Cascade National Forest were several state troopers and people in FBI jackets. The ranger went over and talked to the tall, attractive black woman. She fixed her gaze on Simon and then came over, extending her hand. "Hello, I'm Special Agent Keeshia Rhodes, the field agent in charge. You're Captain Banks?"
Simon put on his best no-nonsense look. "Yes, of the Cascade PD. Listen, I don't know what else is going on here, but one of my detectives, James Ellison, is missing in those woods and I'd like to know why we can't search for him."
Agent Rhodes looked at Simon. "Captain, I'm sorry about your man, but we have a situation..."
"This is Blair Sandburg," Simon hastily introduced the young anthropologist. "Detective Ellison's partner and close friend."
Blair had kept right at Simon's elbow, monitoring all that was going on, trying to keep his nerves under control. Blair nodded and reached out to take her hand.
"Mr. Sandburg. . ." she acknowledged. "As I was saying, we have a situation here. We've tracked a group of extreme right-wing survivalists to this area. They've hit at least two banks to finance their hate crimes. They've killed a bank guard and a teller, they've been linked to abortion clinic bombings as well as stalking and threatening those who oppose them. We have a chance to catch them now if we can get a fix on them and move quickly. I'm really sorry, but we can't allow a rescue team in there now. Anyone who went in there now who's not in on our operation would be in danger from that group or getting caught in the crossfire. We just can't risk it." Seeing their distress, she put her hands on their shoulders. "Maybe we'll come across him as we're looking for our suspects. We'll do what we can. You're welcome to join us, if you'd like, Captain. I'll extend this interdepartmental courtesy. Also, you would recognize your man."
Simon looked at Blair and saw the anxiety in his eyes before turning back to Agent Rhodes. He knew from past experiences she was right. He could only hope that Jim could hang on wherever he was and if this operation was done quickly and efficiently. And if. . . .if. . .if. .
Simon rubbed his hand across his forehead, then looked at her. "I'd like that, thank you." He felt a tug at his sleeve. "What?"
"Simon," Blair whispered, "We can't let Jim stay out there while everyone runs around. He could be injured or even a prisoner. We've gotta go now!"
"Blair. . ." Simon put both hands on his shoulders. "We can't go running around out there. Those militants see cops and he's dead if they have him. If they haven't got him, he'll hang on til we get there." Simon tried to ease his friend's worries. . .there just wasn't any other choice now. "You stay here where it's safe."
Blair's eyes widened, then he tightened his lips and shook his head. He wasn't going to stay on the sidelines while his friend was out there somewhere.
"Where it's safe," Simon reiterated. "It's where Jim would want you."
Before Blair could respond, Agent Rhodes walked back over to Simon. "It's nearly dark now. We'll get everything together and go out at first light."
"I'll be ready," Simon replied. "Thanks again. C'mon Sandburg, let's go find a place to bed down." Blair started to say something, but Simon held up his hand. "Sorry, Blair, that's the way it has to be." Simon led the way out to find a place in one of the tents being set up. He didn't see the determined look on the young man's face or he would have handcuffed the anthropologist to an immovable object.
Way it has to be. . . I don't think so.' Blair stubbornly thought as he followed behind Simon. Hang on, Jim. I'm coming."
Before he lay down on the cot, Blair hastily wrote a note to Simon. Then hestretched out and pretended to sleep until he heard the captain start to snore. It had been so hard to lay still when every fiber of his being wanted to run into the forest to look for Jim. He didn't think Simon would ever go to sleep, but the snores were coming regular now. Blair quietly got up and moved to his backpack. Let's see now, first aid kit, put the pocket knife in my pocket. . .still have school notebooks, pencils, school I.D. . .leave behind observer I.D.' Then he checked the large backpack. Trail mix, bottled water, area map another change of clothes, sweats for Jim. . .Okay, now almost ready.' Quietly, the young man eased to the front of the tent, put on his hiking boots, an extra flannel shirt and a waterproof jacket. With the small book bag in the front and toting the large backpack, Blair peeked through the tent flap. Seeing no one looking his way, he stepped out, put the large backpack on and using the cover of darkness, entered the woods undiscovered.
Jim woke up to see a man in camouflage fatigues standing beside his cot. Somehow Jim thought it should be someone younger, not with those major's bars. But he reacted to old habits. "Sir. . ." He tried to sit up.
"What's your name, soldier??" the major barked.
"Sir, Ellison, sir!" Jim answered without even thinking. Then he blinked, rubbing his hand across his sore head. Well, that's something now, if I can just get a hold on the rest of my life.'
"Well, Ellison, I'm Major Stiles. Can you tell me what happened to you?"
"I'm sorry, sir. Events seem to be a bit fuzzy. I remember crawling away from an overturned truck." Jim frowned, then shrugged. "I don't suppose you're missing a man?"
"No, but we do have those who come and join us, our cause. . ." The major was impressed by Jim's bearing and his clean cut looks. Yes, this was someone who could fit in my command if he had the correct mind set and ideas. Ideas on how society should be.' "We're here on a special survival training mission. You're welcome to join us." The major smiled at Jim, but his eyes were calculating.
Jim looked at him. Something didn't feel right. If he could just get his jumbled thoughts in order . . Some instinct told him he should just play along for a while. "Thank you, sir. I'd appreciate that."
Major Stiles turned to a soldier standing behind him. "Sgt. Bowin, take Ellison here on a tour around the camp and give him some light work." As Jim stood up and headed out the tent, the major waylaid the sergeant. "Keep an eye on him, too," he whispered. "He could be an asset or he could be dead."
"Yes, sir," the soldier smiled knowingly at his commanding officer, then followed Jim out the door.
As the sergeant showed him around, Jim couldn't shake the feeling that he didn't belong here. Not only that, but this was someplace he needed to get away from. Then he heard a whirling sound. He looked up, his eyes searching the sky. There it was -- a chopper. "Whose chopper?"
The other man looked up and saw nothing. "What are you talking about?"
Jim was sure he had seen a chopper, but it had now left his vision and the sergeant was looking at him like he was crazy. Careful, Ellison.' Jim rubbed his head. "Must be the hit on the head. Sorry."
As they continued on, he looked briefly over his shoulder to where the chopper had been. Chief would've been able to. . . .chief? What chief?. . . .where are you. . .crazy jumbled memories. C'mon, get together.' Shaking his head, Jim walked on.
It was daybreak and the various law enforcement people were getting ready to go. Simon was sitting on his cot, reading Blair's note again. Oh, Blair, I really do understand why you felt you had to go. But I still don't feel good about it. You better be careful, cause if anything happens to you, Jim will just die. . . . No! I'm going to find both of you alive and well and Sandburg, after I give you and Jim a big hug, I'm going to shake your big eyes out for worrying me like this!'
The dark man's head came up as he heard his name being called. He put the note in his pocket, checked his weapon and zipped his FBI raid jacket over his kevlar vest. "Okay, guys, I'm coming." Then softer, to himself, added, Hear that, Jim and Blair? I'm coming.'
In the dark, Blair had planned to parallel the road back to Jim's truck and then set up from there. So much for plans. He had been walking for quite a while now. He should have come across the road and Jim's truck by now. "Oh fine, Sandburg," Blair mumbled to himself. "Your unique sense of direction is at work again. Okay, let's see. . .we need to get our bearings." He glanced around. "OK, a climbable tree or accessible lookout point. . ." He sighed. "Oh, well, I seem to be going up an incline anyway, maybe when I get to the top I can find my direction." Blair continued up, past a clearing, continuing on to another densely wooded area and still going up.
Finally he came to an area that leveled out for a short distance. He looked down when he had just been, then looked around him. It was after noon and Blair checked the direction of the sun to see which direction he was facing, deciding he also needed a short rest. Taking off his large pack off, Blair took out his trail mix, then, while nibbling, he took out his map, took a stick and started making lines in the dirt. "Okay, let's see. . .here's the road, Jim's truck here, the ranger's station,
our tent here. . .kinda. . .woods. . .let's see. . . .I went this way, then turned here and then. . . .oops. . . .aha! Okay, if I go back to here and start angling that direction, I should intercept where Jim might've been heading when. . . ." The click of a safety being taken off of a firearm stopped Blair in midmumble.
"Freeze right there!" the voice commanded.
No problem.' Blair thought, his hand held stick frozen in midair.
"Very slowly now. . ." the voice went on. "Lift your hands, stand up and turn around."
"OK, OK, don't shoot." Slowly Blair complied. He found the body that owned the voice stood a good six feet tall, muscular, dressed in camouflaged fatigues. Thinking fast, Blair put on his most innocent smile. "Oh, man, did I trespass on some military land?? I strayed away from the rest of the group and got lost. I could really use some help. . ." Blair looked helplessly up at the guard. "Ummm. . .sir?"
"Shut up!" the soldier snapped. He didn't look very sympathetic.
Blair tightly closed his lips, his hands still held up, and waited, holding his breath.
The soldier glanced around quickly, clicking on a communication device. He spoke quietly to someone, then clicked off. He stepped back and motioned Blair to go in the front of him. "Keepyour hands up and walk straight ahead."
Where?' Blair exhaled. He nodded to the soldier, gave a little helpless smile and proceeded on, his mind working frantically. Oh great! All the FBI hunting these guys and yours truly finds them. I'm so lucky. . .NOT! Okay, now get ready to obfuscate BIG time and hope Simon and the FBI come quickly or pray for a miracle named Jim Ellison.'
Jim was on the outer edge of the camp with the sergeant and a Captain Prescott. In fact, Jim noted to himself, he always seemed to have someone with him. Also, this whole concealed area and its eight to ten occupants seemed to set off alarm bells in his head. If he could just. . . A sound came to his ears. It sounded like a heartbeat! He put his hands up to his ears. With these other people around, why did he pick up one heartbeat, and a voice. . . that seem so familiar. . . The closeness startled him into an exclamation. "What the hell. . .??"
The captain jumped and looked at him. "What did you say?"
Jim turned to look at the captain, but seeing past his shoulder to stare at two people coming into camp. The sentry had his rifle trained on some young hippie-looking civilian. Jim followed the captain as he started walking toward them, the sergeant still following Jim.
The sentry stopped Blair right in front of the major, who looked the young man up and down. "You know what kind of trouble you're in?"
"Yeah, I'm lost. I've probably trespassed on government land. . .I *swear* I didn't know it was here. . .the professor in charge of the expedition didn't say anything about a military reservation on Indian ruins. . .and my class paper. . .oh man, this is such a foul up. . ." All the time Blair rambled on as fast as he could, trying to look like a lost student. And since he had been that quite often, he could fall back on past experiences.
The major, however, was not a man for rambling. He grabbed up the anthropologist by his coat and gave him a quick slap across the face. "Let's start again. I talk. You answer."
Blair closed his mouth as his hand flew up to his cheek.
"Name," the major barked.
"Blair. . .Blair Sandburg."
"Reason for being here," the major continued.
"I'm with a study group looking for Indian artifacts. I got separated. The professor will probably have the rangers and some of those FBI that were at the rangers' station looking for me soon. If you could just help me find my group. . ." Blair noticed the major tightening his lips, so he shut up and waited, holding his breath, saying a quick prayer and trying to calm his racing heart. Maybe now, with the FBI so close, keeping him alive would be a good idea.
While the major and the captain conferred, the sergeant went through Blair's backpacks. "Nothing here but notebooks and camping gear," the sergeant noted. "Here's a student I.D. -- Blair Sandburg, anthropology student with Rainier University."
More conferring. Blair cautiously glanced around, noting the camouflaged tents, men and their weapons. Damn, what a mess.' Another glance and his eyes widened. Jim. . .but he's looking at me like he doesn't recognize me.' Then noting the bad bruising and butterfly bandaid on Jim's head, relief at finding Jim alive hit with the cold realization. We're in big trouble and Jim probably doesn't even know he is, much less who *I* am. . .' His thoughts were interrupted as the major's attention returned to him.
The major stared at Blair. They had figured the student didn't pose a threat they couldn't handle, but they were more interested in the new information -- the FBI was closer than they thought. An innocent student might make a good hostage if the FBI got too close. . .when they got away, they could kill him later. The decision made, the major had the sentry take his prisoner in one on of the tents and secure him.
"Captain." The major looked up to the rapidly fading daylight. "We'll need to be on our way a little faster than planned. Set out another sentry, then have the rest prepare to break camp quickly. We'll leave at first light."
"Yes, sir." The captain sent the sergeant to carry out the orders, then he approached Ellison. He found him staring after the hippie student. "Yeah," he elbowed Jim. "That's one of the things we need to get cleaned out of our society. You with us?" Prescott looked intently at Jim.
What have you done, Chief?' thought Ellison, then turned to look blankly at the captain. "What?"
"Are you with us?" the captain repeated, hand on his sidearm.
"Yes, sir," Jim replied with a tight smile and the captain visibly relaxed.
While the captain went off to the side to check with the sergeant, Jim mulled over several very recent events. One, why did he want to rip the major's arms off when he slapped that kid and, second, why did he call him Chief'? Like he knew him. It's all tied in with that kid,' he thought. I've got to talk to him.'
Simon had hastened to join the other law enforcement agents as they left the camp. They planned to use various park access roads to get in as far as possible, using all terrain vehicles, then proceeding on foot. There were also two med techs, and a chopper with special surveillance equipment. Now situated in on e of the vehicles with Agent Rhodes, Simon was impressed by her competence, efficience and her concern for his men. Simon was listening to her confer with the other vehicles and the chopper. He was trying real hard to focus on the operation, but it was just hard not to let his worry for Jim and Blair creep in. The dark captain shook his head. They're all right. . .they're all right. . .they'd better be all right. . . Hang on, guys. I'm coming with the cavalry."
"Captain Banks?? Captain?" The feminine voice intruded on his thoughts.
Simon turned to see Agent Rhodes looking at him with concern in her eyes. "Ahh, yes?"
"The chopper has located their camp area. We have a fix on them now. We should be close enough to move on them by morning. Then we can get that Search and Rescue Unit out to look for your men." She smiled. "I think I can pull interdepartmental cooperation and use the chopper too."
Banks gave her a smile of appreciation. Hang on, guys.'
It was dark, the sentries had been posted, supper was over and it seemed to Jim that things were almost ready to make a quick move out. No one seemed to be paying attention to him and he was being drawn to the tent with the familiar heartbeat. Slowly he eased his way over to the tent, glanced around, then quickly stepped in.
At the sound of someone entering, Blair glanced up quickly, an expression of fear quickly replaced by a big grin. "Jim! Boy, am I glad to see you," he whispered, relief evident in his voice.
Jim looked at this young man with the flowing locks, big expressive eyes that caused his heart to jump. "Do I know you?"
"Come on, Jim, man. It's me, Blair. Y'know, Sandburg, Chief, your partner, friend, guide, sometimes major irritant. . ." Blair continued to talk quietly, his eyebrows up, a hopeful expression on his face. "C'mon, Jim. . .Your truck was found turned over. God, Jim! I was afraid you might have been. . ." His voice caught, not able to continue that thought. "Listen, you're Jim Ellison, detective, y'know cop'. Also you're a sentinel. . ." Seeing Jim's puzzled look, Blair quickly explained. "You see and hear what others can't, super smelling ability, . . ." He paused to see how the older man was reacting.
Jim closed his eyes, the voice was so familiar. He remembered the chopper, hearing the heartbeat, the smell of cigars, a room of guys. . .no, not just guys. . .cops. . .his home, the loft. . . no, their home. . .Chief. . .Blair. As Jim started to respond to Blair, he was startled by someone else entering the tent.
The sentry who had brought Blair in earlier appeared, carrying what might've passed for supper for the prisoner. Noticing Jim, he asked, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Not sure how Jim might respond, Blair quickly jumped in. "Supper? Great! I've been trying to get someone's attention and then this guy stepped in and told me to shut up. . .I mean, really."
At that, the guard's attention, focused on Blair as he threw down the food and, with a nasty laugh, pulled out the largest knife the anthropologist had ever seen. Shit.' He closed his eyes as the soldier started toward him.
Jim had to act fast. When he saw Blair threatened, everything had snapped into place, but he needed to proceed cautiously to keep them both alive. He couldn't reveal that his memory had returned, so instead he faced the soldier. "I can handle this little hippie punk." Then he turned to Blair. Sorry, Chief, I'm gonna owe you BIG time for this.' He grabbed him by the back of his hair, yanking back on it firmly, yet still as gently as possible, he gave Blair a slap across his face. Even at that, he did his best not to use his full strength. "Watch what you say from now on. Respect your betters!" he growled.
Blair felt the pressure of the yank on his hair, but it didn't hurt badly. The slap stung and Blair's eyes flew open and locked on Jim. Maybe he didn't get through to Jim. If he didn't, Blair was dead.
Jim tried to avoid Blair's eyes to avoid seeing the hurt or confusion he knew would be there. He hoped Blair would understand when they got out. He'd be back, but right now he had to get this guy away from Blair, so he grabbed the guard by the arm, slapping him on the back and laughing, "C'mon, he's not going anywhere."
"Yeah," the soldier laughed leading the way out. "We'll have our fun later."
The sentry didn't see the black look Jim gave to his back. Not while there's breath in my body,' he thought, the plans for escape already taking form.
Blair could hear their laughter fading as they went further away. He let out a sigh, then tried to loosen the ropes around his wrists, but to no avail. He mulled over his predicament. Well, Jim's alive. . .' he wiggled his jaw. . . .but no memory. I'm alive but tied up at the moment, Simon's out there, but doesn't know where we are. Okay, typical Sandburg SNAFU.' Blair lost track of time while dwelling on some way to reach Jim when he heard someone approaching. Quickly he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. He heard someone come closer and felt himself tense up, then he felt a hand touch his shoulder at the same time a cold blade touched his hands. The ropes parted and fell off. Slowly Blair opened his eyes to see Jim's face just as he covered Blair's mouth with his hand.
Jim motioned for Blair to follow him quietly, then he slit the back of the tent and they silently disappeared into the woods, traveling as fast as they could in the dark with Jim in the lead and Blair hanging on to the back of Jim's jacket. When Jim was comfortable with their lead, he slowed down so they could take a short rest. He grabbed Blair's arm. "Whoa, Chief. We can stop and take a breather and maybe you can tell me who those men are and how you got out here." He smiled at his partner and ruffled his hair.
Blair gave Jim a warm smile, took a couple of deep breaths and started to tell Jim about theaccident, the rogue survivalist, the FBI and about Simon being here too. He paused at one point; he could tell Jim wasn't very happy about the anthropologist running off on his own by Jim's jaw clenching. Oh well,' he thought. It was worth it to find Jim alive. . even if Jim and Simon want to throttle me later on. . .throttle. . .' "Uh, Jim?"
Meanwhile, Jim had opened up his hearing to keep track of the survivalists. It was getting light enough be tracked now and Jim had no doubt they would be coming when they found the guard he had rendered unconscious and both of them missing. Using his sight, he searched for a path through the forest.
Suddenly his hearing picked up the sound of men moving through the woods behind them. Concentrating his sight he could now see them. Time to move.
Jim looked at Blair, who was continuing his train of thought while rubbing his jaw.
"When did your memory come back?" Blair glanced at him.
"Uh. . .not now, Chief. We've gotta move fast. Now!" The ex-Army Ranger grabbed Blair by his jacket and started off running with the young man close behind.
The first rays of daylight found the FBI agents ready to start moving out, heading for the target relayed back by the chopper. They would have to cross a clearing with just some rock formations and scrub bushes to offer cover before they could get back into the cover of the forest on the other side.
An agent had his binoculars trained on that forest area, looking for any signs of movement. Simon and Agent Rhodes were looking toward the clearing, each preoccupied with their own thoughts.
"What the. . ." exhaled the agent on lookout.
Simon and Rhodes replied simultaneously. "What??"
"Looks like some guy and a girl running through the forest. He's in fatigues, but she's in. . ."
A guy and a girl? Long hair. . .could it be. . . .' Simon thought as he reached over and grabbed the binoculars before the agent could finish his sentence. "Yes!" Simon knew those figures and their loping gaits. His men, the detective and his shadow. "That's no girl. That's Sandburg and he's with Detective Ellison! Knowing them, I can guess who they're running from."
Agent Rhodes squinted toward the forests. "I don't see how we can get to them before their pursuers. We couldcover them and catch the survivalists off guard if they could lead them here, but they wouldn't head for a clearing unless they knew help was here. . .and there's no way of them knowing that." She frowned as she quickly started to play off different scenarios.
Simon looked at her. "Get ready to intercept them. Jim and Blair will cross that clearing. Trust me in this." Then he walked off a little apart from everyone.
Rhodes looked at the captain, then back to where his men were. Okay, I'll give it a try.' He was so sure. She set off to place her men.
Simon, meanwhile, looked out to where he knew his friends were, said a little prayer before speaking in a firm, but not loud, voice. "Jim! Jim, please hear me. You've got to cross that clearing. We're ready here. You can see us. C'mon, Jim. Be careful." The dark captain closed his eyes briefly, hoping Jim heard him, then went to take up his position.
One minute they were running through the trees, the next, Jim stopped so quickly Blair slid right into his back, trying to stop.
"What. . ." gasped Blair, catching his breath while hanging onto Jim's jacket.
The Sentinel paused and held up his hand, looking intently around til he found what he seemed to be searching for. He smiled down at Blair. "It's Simon with the cavalry. We just need to cross that clearing. They're right over there." He pointed to the area they needed to head toward. "Okay?"
Even Blair could now hear the approaching survivalists. The clearing looked awfully big and empty. He looked up at his partner. He'd trust the older man with everything he had, even his life. "Yeah, okay."
Jim looked at the smaller man. That solo camp out had been empty. He had missed Blair. . .that trusting look. He put his hand on Blair's shoulder then taking his other hand, he touched his partner gently on the reddened cheek. "I'm sorry. There was no other way." He removed his hands. "Now, when I say go', you run as fast as you can to that group of rocks and shrubs. I'll be right behind you."
The sounds of their pursuers were very close.
Blair had no time to say anything. . .only run!
The major had been livid upon finding the guard unconscious, his hostage gone. It was obvious that the man he had taken in had made a fool of him. Vengeance became priority. They would hunt them down and kill them if it was the last thing they did. They would be a warning to anyone who would try to cross them.
They had been tracking Jim and Blair since first light and now they were so close. The dense woods offered too much cover and an accurate shot while running would be next to impossible. The major halted his men. "Okay, let's. . . wait a minute." He trailed off. He couldn't believe his luck. "They're heading for that clearing." Sitting ducks.' "All right, we should be able to take them alive. I really want to make this up close and personal."
"Yes, sir!" The captain relayed the order. "Fire to take them down only."
"Go!" yelled the major and they charged out of the woods, firing as they ran.
The soldiers were so intent on their prey that they didn't notice the return fire until they were out in the open. Soldiers began to drop. A chopper appeared overhead, its PA system blaring for them to surrender, ‘til only the major was left running and firing towards a pile of rocks.
Simon had seen Jim and Blair break through the woods and start across the clearing. Then the soldiers came out of the woods, yelling and charging. What?' thought the captain. Steady. . . hurry, guys, hurry.'
The soldiers started firing at the two fleeing men and the order rang out. "Return fire!"
Simon knew with a sinking feeling that Jim and Blair couldn't reach the woods on his side in time. A little hope surged when he noticed, however, they were heading for the one area that could offer them some cover. Yes,' he thought. Jim's already got Blair down. Now stay down, boys, and leave the rest of the work to us.'
The firefight didn't last very long. The wounded and outnumbered soldiers gave up as the chopper hovered overhead. Except for the leader. He wasn't stopping and he was heading straight for Jim and Blair. He was almost on them when Simon and the agents opened fire to protect the two men.
The major seemed impervious to the bullets, then he stopped and pitched forward. Simon paused and breathed a sigh of relief. His men, his friends, were safe.
The major had seen where Jim and Blair had taken refuge. He was a man possessed now, only one thought controlled him. These men had caused his downfall and they would pay. "No prisoners!" he yelled, running and firing his automatic. "You're dead men!" He got closer to the rocks. "Only a few more steps now to get past these rocks and you're mine." Those were his last words as he went down in a hail of bullets.
Jim head the weapons begin to fire at them. He was right behind Blair, covering his back when he felt a stinging sensation near his shoulder. Nothing the distance to the rocks, he took a leap, pushing Blair down behind their shelter and staying on top of him.
Bullets ricocheted off the rocks, raining bits of rock and dust down on them. Jim could hear the major yelling, coming closer. He held Blair down, still covering him. Then the shooting stopped. The Sentinel stretched his hearing. There was no heartbeat from in front of them. It was over. Jim let out a sigh of relief.
Feeling Blair wiggling beneath him, Jim moved over and helped him up, looking at the dirt smudges on the young man's face, bits of brush, grass and grit dangling from his tangled curls, and smiled fondly. "You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah, fine." Blair looked at Jim and noticed him reach up and touch his shoulder. Blood. "But you're not!" Panic crept into his voice as he grabbed Jim's arm. "Simon, Jim's hurt, man! We need a medic over here!"
Jim just shook his head, trying to calm his friend. "It's not bad. . .just a near miss. . ."
"Let the medic be the judge of that." Simon seemed to pop from nowhere with a medic in tow. Putting his large hands on both men's shoulders, he commented with a smile, "You two never cease to amaze me. How you two can separately find so much trouble and wind up coming out of it together. Amazing."
As the medic worked on his shoulder, Jim looked fondly at Blair, then back at his captain. "Yeah, we're quite a team."
Blair smiled up at Jim, but his main attention was on the medic. "How is he, really?"
The medic smiled at Blair. "Not bad. . .there. All done." He set the finishing touches on the bandage. "Just check with your doctor when you get home."
Blair smiled his thanks as he hovered protectively near his partner.
Jim nodded absently, observing a tall, attractive African-American female FBI agent coming over to them.
"So, Captain Banks. These are your missing men?"
"Heh, heh." Simon chuckled. "Yes, this is Detective Ellison. . .and you remember the incorrigible Blair Sandburg."
Blair nodded, his eyes downcast, but sparkling. He did what he had to do for Jim and he would do it again if he had to.
"I'm glad to meet you, Detective and see you again, Mr. Sandburg. Well, this operation has been satisfactorily wrapped up." Turning to Banks, she said, "Captain, would you like to accompany me back to my vehicle? We can compare notes."
"Yes, I would like that. I'll be right with you after a few words to my men." Simon smiled at her as she headed toward the vehicles.
"Now that you're safe and this is over, I'm going to see if the single' Ms. Keeshia Rhodes will have dinner with me."
Blair looked up at the dark captain, puzzled. "How do you know she's single?"
Simon's eyebrows went up, as he smiled benignly at the anthropologist. "That's why I'm captain of Major Crimes. See you both at the ranger station." A quick pat on both his men's shoulders and Simon turned, following after Agent Rhodes.
Jim and Blair raised their eyebrows and watched Simon walk off, then looked at each other and smiled.
Jim stopped smiling and looked at Blair pensively. "About that slap, Chief. I owe you an explanation. . ."
Blair interrupted thoughtfully. "Jim, since when do you send me running in front? You were running behind me to protect me with your body, weren't you?"
"And you risked your life to find me, didn't you?" Jim looked Blair straight in the eye and smiled. He tousled the young man's curls with his good arm, then placed it around his friend's shoulders as they walked to the waiting vehicles. "Hey, Chief?" He smiled as Blair looked up at him. "What kind of plans do you have for this weekend? I thought we might go to. . ."
Blair listened to the older man with a huge smile on his face, happy and secure in Jim and their friendship.