It’s a Job, Jim

By Annie

EMAIL: Annie

"So, Mr. Sandburg, tell me why you want to work as a Census collector." The interviewer sat back in her chair and smiled across at Blair.

She seems nice, Blair thought. She had a kind face and smiling brown eyes behind her glasses.

"Well," he began. "I’m an Anthropology graduate. Until recently I was studying for my PhD in Anthropological Studies." He swallowed down the tiny lump of bitterness that still crept up into his throat from time to time when he thought about that lost aspect of his life. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I think the Census is important. It gives a snapshot, if you will, of our community and what it needs. Plus, I’m used to observing people. I think I’d be good at this."

"You realize you don’t have to actually analyze the forms, just deliver them and collect them after Census night?" the woman asked.

The nametag around her neck said her name was Angie, and Blair turned on all his charm. "I know that, Angie, but I still think that my experience could be useful. I mean, I know there are some people who don’t want to fill out the form, though I don’t understand why. I mean, they’d probably be the first to complain if we didn’t have enough hospitals and public transport and…." He stopped and flashed an apologetic grin. "Sorry, I tend to get carried away when I really believe in something."

"There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about your work, Blair," Angie replied. She gave him a gentle smile, and Blair suddenly thought that she probably knew exactly who he was and why he wanted this job so desperately.

She flipped open a large map and turned it so it was facing him. "How well do you know Cascade, Blair?"

"I started at Rainier when I was 16, and I’ve been here ever since. And my work with the PD took me all over the city, so I know it like the back of my hand," he replied, hope rising slowly within him.

"Can you show me on the map where you live?" she asked.

He took a moment to peruse it, searching out a couple of landmarks, then pointed unerringly to Prospect Avenue. "Right about there," he said with a triumphant smile.

"Wow, that’s pretty good," Angie replied. "I’ve never been much good with maps myself." She leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial tone, "I think that’s why they made me an Area Supervisor instead. Probably thought if they let me go collecting, they’d have to send out search parties and tracking dogs to find me at the end of each day."

Blair laughed aloud. "Well, my friend, Jim, thinks my navigating skills are pretty lousy too, but that’s only when we’re outside the city. I keep telling him anthropologists observe. When I’m outside my own environment, I just get so caught up in watching all the new stuff around me, I sometimes forget where I am and what I’m there for."

Angie stood up and held out her hand. "I think you’ll be perfect for my team, Blair. Welcome aboard."

He stood up and shook her hand. "That’s it? I really got the job. Wow, that’s just great, Angie. Thank you so much."

"I’m glad to have you with us, Blair. I’ll be holding a training session in a few days. We’re on a pretty tight timeframe. I’ll let you know the details of where and when as soon as I know them."

Blair grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and practically bounced out of the office. He smiled all the way back to the loft. He was gainfully employed again at last. No more having to put off paying the rent or helping with the utilities. Jim was going to be thrilled.

n n n

"What do you mean you got a job, Chief?" Jim asked, frowning across the dinner table at Blair. "You’ve already got one. You’re a cop, remember?"

Blair shook his head as he swallowed down a mouthful of meatloaf. "Not for another few weeks, I’m not," he replied. He put his fork down. "I don’t even start at the Academy for another six weeks. I know I’ll be doing an abbreviated course because of all the hours I’ve put in at the PD with you, but still, I won’t actually be a salaried cop for another ten weeks or so. I need to do something with my time, man."

"You already do plenty with your time. You help me at the station. That’s not going to stop while you’re waiting for the next intake to the Academy," Jim said.

"I know, and this won’t stop me doing that. Think about it, Jim. Before I was fired…." Blair hesitated at the stricken look in his partner’s eyes. "Before I finished at the University," he amended, "I was teaching and studying and still finding time to help you at the PD. This is a job I can fit in around that even more easily than I did with my studies, and it’s got a sorta anthropological ideology to it." He gave Jim an earnest look, willing him to understand. "I need to be doing something worthwhile that allows me to pay my way, man. You can understand that, can’t you?"

Jim sighed, then finally nodded. "Yeah, I guess I can, Chief. So, finish this terrific dinner I made for you, and then you can tell me all about your new job."

Blair snorted a laugh as he scooped up a forkful of creamy mashed potatoes. "That you made?" he said sceptically around a mouthful. He swallowed it down and closed his eyes in appreciation. "Jim, I can recognize Sally’s cooking anywhere. Your dad dropped this over, didn’t he?"

Jim had the grace to redden slightly. "Yeah, okay, but Sally sent over the recipe, and the next meatloaf you eat will be made by yours truly."

"Remind me to buy Rolaids that night," Blair muttered in what he hoped was a sub-Sentinel murmur.

"I heard that."

n n n

Blair looked at the first page of his record book, then checked the address on the building in front of him. Yep, right address, and it was an apartment building. He smiled as he pushed the button to be let in. This was going to be easy. All he’d have to do was give as many forms as the amount of apartments in the building to the super and be on his way. The superintendent would hand them out and collect them for him to pick up later.

"Who is it?" came a growled response from the speaker.

"Census," Blair said cheerfully. "I just need to find out how many apartments there are and give some forms to the superintendent."

"Super quit last week," the voice replied. "I’ll let you in, but you’ll have to take the forms around yourself."

"Okay." Blair sighed as the door lock clicked. He pushed the door open and walked into the foyer. It was empty. Looking around he saw there were only three apartments on this floor, and he made the rounds of all of them. Finding nobody home, he slipped the forms under the doors and noted them in his book, then headed for the elevator.

It was old and clunky, smaller and darker inside than the one in his and Jim’s building. Nervously, he punched the button for the next floor. At least all he’d have to do was ride the elevator up, deliver the forms, then ride it back down. He was pretty much over what had happened in the Wilkerson Tower elevator, but he still felt a little wary every time he had to ride an unfamiliar one.

The elevator started its upward crawl, and Blair unconsciously gripped the handrail tightly. He watched the number for the lobby darken, and held his breath as he waited for the second floor symbol to light up. It seemed to be taking forever. There was a sudden bump, then the lights went out, and Blair knew the elevator had stopped.

"Shit!" He reached out and pressed the door-open button. Nothing. He stabbed at the floor number, then the up button over and over, cursing constantly as panic rose within him. "Damn it!"

Feeling around with his hands, he located the emergency phone and lifted the receiver to his ear. Silence greeted him. "Hello," he said anyway. It was dead. He slammed it back in place and sank to the floor, propping himself against the back wall, hoping against hope that one of the tenants would come to use the elevator and see it was out of order and call for help. In the meantime, all he could do was stay calm and wait.

He opened his backpack and hunted around inside for his cell phone. Finding it, he pulled it out and looked up at the emergency phone. Sighing with relief, he punched in the number displayed on the phone and waited as it rang.

A man answered finally, and he gave the address. Hearing it would be a half-hour before they could get an engineer out, he settled back against the wall of the car and opened his backpack again. Might as well get comfortable, he thought, pulling out the box of rice crackers and the bottle of juice he’d stashed in there before leaving the loft. He munched on handfuls, then washed them down with the juice, trying to ignore the fact that the elevator seemed to be getting smaller and darker as he sat there.

Finally, giving into his nervousness, he stood up and began to pace around his small prison, praying to whatever gods and goddesses his memory could dredge up that rescue would come before he completely freaked out.

It seemed an eternity later that the small door in the ceiling was yanked open and a smiling face appeared. "Guess you’d like to get out of here," the engineer said, putting a ladder through and then giving Blair a supportive hand to climb up it and out onto the roof of the car. "I couldn’t get it moving again, so you’ll have to step up onto the next floor. It’s only a couple of inches," he said cheerfully.

Blair thanked the man heartily and stepped up onto the floor above through doors that were propped open by two heavy-duty pieces of steel.

In the hallway, he bent forward and rested his hands on his knees, willing his breathing to calm down. What he really wanted was to turn tail and head back down the stairs to his car, but instead, he hauled his collector’s bag onto his shoulder and walked on shaky legs to the first door.

"Hi," he said in as cheerful a tone as he could muster to the dark-skinned man who answered his knock. "I’m Blair Sandburg. I’m a Census officer, and I’m here to deliver your forms."

The man looked him up and down, then grunted. "Why the hell don’t you go to school and get an education so you can get yourself a real job," he snapped, slamming the door in Blair’s face.

Blair sighed, wrote the relevant details on the form and placed them under the doormat, then headed for the next apartment.

n n n

Jim was already home by the time Blair reached the loft, footsore and weary.

"Hey," his partner called, grabbing a beer from the fridge and handing it to him the moment he shed his bag and coat, "how did the first day go?"

Blair took the beer gratefully, then sank down on the couch, toeing off his shoes and wiggling his feet gratefully. "I have a new appreciation for waitresses," he replied.

"As in you’ve found a new waitress you like or…." Jim raised his eyebrows.

"As in, they’re on their feet all day, and now I know how they feel. My feet are killing me. I can’t remember how many stairs I climbed today, but believe me, if there’s a Guinness Book of Records score for stairs, I’ve got it beat, man."

Jim turned down the heat on the stove and walked over to sit next to him. "I thought you said today was the easy one," he remarked, sipping his own beer and looking Blair over. "You said it was all apartment buildings, so it was just a matter of handing the forms to a super."

"How the hell do you do that?" Blair asked.

"What?" Jim gave him a patently false innocent look.

"Know something must have happened even though I’m pretty sure I didn’t give you any clues that something did happen… which it did, by the way."

Jim shrugged. "Sentinel precognition?" he suggested. "So, what did happen?"

"Elevator broke down in the first building I went to," Blair replied morosely, chugging the rest of his beer and getting up to grab a second.

"Oh. Bummer. So, you obviously got out okay…."

"Yeah, eventually. It felt like the longest 30 minutes of my life," Blair said, sitting back down.

"Understandable after what happened at Wilkerson Towers," Jim said, bumping shoulders with him sympathetically. "You okay? Apart from having sore feet, that is."

"Yeah, I’m fine," Blair said. He sniffed appreciatively. "Something smells good."

"I figured we’d celebrate your new job," Jim replied, getting up to head into the kitchen again.

"Oh, man, you made marinara, didn’t you?" Blair stood up and followed, lifting the lid of the pan on the stove.

"Yeah, well… I figured you deserve it," Jim replied. "You get the dishes though."

"For marinara? No problem. I’m going to go grab a shower before we eat. I can smell myself." He wrinkled his nose. "I’m surprised you can bear to be in the same room as me."

"I dialled down," Jim said apologetically. "I figured you’d be on your feet most of the day, getting hot and sweaty." He laughed at Blair’s outraged look. "Go. Before it gets overcooked."

n n n

Blair found himself settling into a routine over the next few days. Every morning he delivered forms for a couple of hours, then, after lunch, he either met up with Jim at the station or grabbed a bite to eat on his own and took in a movie or went to the library.

He found that he enjoyed meeting and talking to the diverse people he encountered on his rounds. He stopped to chat with the elderly shut-ins, who were grateful for someone to listen to their life stories, helped a few people who were illiterate, or who spoke little English to fill out their forms, and generally felt like he was doing something he wanted to do, something useful.

Each night, over dinner, he regaled Jim with stories about the people he’d met, being careful to keep to the absolute letter of the non-disclosure clause in his contract but managing to instil each story with enough humour to make Jim laugh out loud.

"So, I go up to the door, and I knock on it, and I wait," he began on his third night, over hearty helpings of chicken stir-fry and rice.

Jim nodded, kept eating and waited for him to continue.

"And I waited… and waited. I was going to just leave the form under the mat but… well, for one thing, there wasn’t one, and, secondly, I could hear music, so I was pretty sure someone was home. Anyway, after I’d knocked so hard I swear I’d bruised my hand, the door finally opens, and there’s this guy standing there."

Blair stopped to finish his dinner, then put the fork down and grinned at his partner. "That was great, man. Thanks."

"The guy, Chief?" Jim prodded.

"Oh, right. Yeah, so he’s like totally wasted, you know? He could barely stand up, and his eyes looked like a roadmap. I did my little spiel and handed over the forms, then I asked him when was the best time to come back and collect them. And he says…. Oh man, Jim, it was all I could do to keep a straight face…."

"Chief?" Jim prompted.

"Right, right, he says, ‘You mean, I have to answer the questions?’ ‘Well, yeah,’ I said, ‘that’s kinda the whole point.’ So, he opens the forms up, and he squints at them for like ages, then he hands them back and says, ‘Sorry, dude, but I hate tests. I never get the right answers.’ Blair leaned back in his chair and laughed, Jim chuckling along with him.

"I guess he might have been a little surprised to find out his Census guy was a cop, hey?" Jim observed, standing and clearing the dishes away.

"Not yet, Jim." Blair followed him out to the kitchen. "I’ve got a few weeks still to go before I have to start actually arresting anyone."

Jim turned from the sink, giving him a long look. "You still sure you want to do that?" he asked.

Blair nodded firmly. "I’m sure. This is just something to fill the time."

"I know. Just making sure you hadn’t changed your mind about the Academy."

"Nope," Blair replied, picking up a towel to start drying the dishes. "I just thought I might as well enjoy having a nice, safe job for a few weeks until I become a cop and start getting shot at."

n n n

It was amazing how much blood the human body held, Blair thought woozily as he planted a hand as firmly as he could over the bleeding punctures in his thigh. Jim was gonna tear him a new one for this little caper, and right now Blair was feeling too dizzy and was in too much pain to give a damn. In fact, he’d welcome seeing Jim storming through the gate of the yard he was trapped in, roaring and ranting about how useless Blair was…. Unless Blair could reach his cell phone, unlikely as that was to happen.

It hadn’t looked like one of his more difficult calls. He’d already been sworn at and threatened by people who felt the Census was an invasion of their privacy, but he’d managed to talk most of them around. Those who hadn’t agreed to fill out the forms had at least calmed down when he’d shown an interest in why they didn’t want to. Mostly, they were the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the illiterate, who felt that the government wouldn’t change things to better their situations no matter what they wrote, or asked Blair to write for them. The ones who’d still refused had simply shaken their heads when he’d tried to explain how the Census could help them, how it could show the government what their needs were—where more medical care and schools and public transport were needed.

He’d become complacent, he decided now as he watched the snarling guard dog take up a position across the yard from him, baring its teeth every time he moved.

"It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt anyone," he murmured softly, trying to keep his voice pitched low, his movements to a minimum, even as his body screamed at him to take flight through the open gate.

It had seemed such an easy drop. The gate unlocked, Angie Ferris music seeping from the interior of the house. He’d opened the gate, his head bopping in time to the familiar music, but before he’d taken two steps along the path leading to the front door, the dog had appeared, growling a warning.

He’d tried to step backwards, retracing his steps, and he’d had his hand on the gate and was turning to leave when the animal attacked, sinking its teeth into his upper thigh and dragging him to the ground.

He’d managed to strike the animal on the nose several times, and finally it had retreated, leaving him curled into a ball on the ground. Once he’d regained some semblance of control over the pain and fear, he’d crawled into the corner of the yard and tried to staunch the bleeding with his hands.

Hearing the door of the house open, he looked up, relief flooding almost palpably through him as a man came into the yard. "Thank God," he murmured. "Hey, mister, I’m just here to drop off your Census forms. Can you call off your dog and get an ambulance for me?"

The man called the dog to his side and sent it inside, locking the door behind it as Blair breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks," he said. "Have you got a first aid kit? I could probably use a bandage or something." He lifted his bloodied hands from his leg and held them up.

The man grinned at him. "Well, what do we have here?" he asked coldly, lifting his hand and showing Blair the machete he held. "Looks like a little fly just walked into my spider’s web."

Blair swallowed down the bile that rose into his throat and let his head drop back against the fence at his back. "Ah crap," he muttered feelingly.

n n n

"Hey, Jim, what’s going on with Sandburg?"

Jim looked up from his paperwork as Simon Banks walked across the pen to perch on the edge of his desk. "As in?" he asked.

"I’ve got some woman on the phone in my office, says she’s Blair’s employer, wants to talk to you. I thought he was going to the Academy."

"He is." Jim stood up and headed for the captain’s office, Banks at his heels. "He took a temporary job as a Census collector to get some cash flow going until the intake starts."

He picked up the handset of the phone on Banks’ desk. "This is Detective Ellison. Who’s this?"

He listened for a few minutes, then started barking out questions, rifling through the top desk drawer as he spoke and coming up with a pen and a notepad. "What’s the address?" He scribbled on the paper. "Did you get the man’s name? All right, that’s okay. We’ll take care of it. No, you shouldn’t go over there. This is police business now." He listened a moment longer. "I’m sure Blair will be fine, Ms. Collins. I’ll get him to call you as soon as possible."

He hung up the phone and turned to look at Banks, his face pale. "Ms. Collins is Blair’s area supervisor. She just got a phone call from some guy who refused to identify himself… only gave his address. He said he had Blair; he read off Blair’s ID card number from his Census badge. He told her Blair was injured, in danger of bleeding to death without medical treatment, and that the only way he’d consider letting him go was if his demands were met."

"Shit!" Banks ran a hand over his face. "What are his demands?"

"He wouldn’t tell her. Said he knew she’d call the cops, and he’d give them his demands when they got to his house. He told her we have 20 minutes to get there or he’ll cut Blair’s throat open with a machete."

"What?" Banks moved forward, reaching for the phone. "I’m calling SWAT."

"You do that, sir, tell them I’ll meet them there." Jim ran from the office, feeling his heart thumping madly as he headed for the elevator down to the garage.

"I’ll be right behind you," Banks yelled at his retreating back.

n n n

"What do you want?" Blair asked, his hands clamped once more over his bleeding leg.

His captor fixed him with a steady look. "The government’s been screwing me for years," he said, casually. "They want to keep me down, stop me getting what I want. I finally decided there was only one way to make them give in. I give them something they want, and they’ll reciprocate."

"Holding someone hostage isn’t the way to do it," Blair said, desperately trying to find any loophole in the man’s arguments. "Even if they give in to your demands, it’ll only be a matter of time before the cops track you down. Money’s no good to you in prison, man."

"They won’t track me down," the man replied confidently. "I’ve been doing research. I know places I can go that don’t have extradition treaties with the US. That bank robber guy from England, he got away with it for years."

Blair shook his head. "They won’t deal. The cops don’t make deals with terrorists—"

"I’m not a terrorist!" the man screamed, leaping to his feet to stalk over to Blair, the machete held threateningly at Blair’s throat. "People who fly planes into towers full of people or blow up buildings filled with little kids, they’re terrorists. I just want what I should have been given years ago!" He took a deep breath and went back to sitting on the ground across from Blair.

"You think if you only kill one person, that makes you better than them?" Blair asked. "Look, what’s your name? I’m Blair, Blair Sandburg…."

"I know who you are," the man said. "I told you I’ve been doing research. I read about you on the Internet and in the papers, how you lied about that cop being some kind of superhuman. That’s why, when I saw you heading up the street today, I decided it was time to make my move. Fate played right into my hands. I know you’re still working with the cops. The cops may not make deals with people like me, but I’m betting that partner of yours will do anything to get you back in one piece."

Blair shook his head. "After I lied about him? I don’t think so."

"You didn’t lie though, did you? I told you, I research stuff. I read your earlier papers on sentinels, and all about what happened to your partner after he was pulled out of Peru."

Blair stared at him, momentarily speechless. "You going to tell me your name?" he said finally.

The man shrugged. "Why not? Won’t change anything. Andrew Harris. People call me Drew."

"Drew, okay." Blair looked across at his captor. "Don’t suppose I could get you to give me a bandage or something." He indicated the blood that now stained his jeans down to the knee. "Not going to be much good to you as a dead hostage." He felt chilled, now, and light-headed from shock and blood loss.

"Okay, but I’ll do it." Drew gave him a mirthless grin. "Don’t want you getting your hands on the scissors."

He stood up and moved to the door of the house, fixing Blair with a glare over his shoulder. "You stay put. The dog can chase you down before you make it out the gate."

Blair nodded. "I don’t think I’m in any condition to go anywhere, man."

He waited till Drew was inside the door, then looked at the gate, calculating whether he could make it before the man came back out. Grunting with pain, he got himself up on his feet, grabbing the fence one-handed as his head swam with dizziness. He pushed himself off, then staggered forward, gritting his teeth against the agony shredding through his leg. One step, two, three…. The gate was almost within reach. He put out a hand, stretching for the catch and found himself looking into Jim’s surprised face.

"Chief! You okay? Where is he?"

Blair stumbled forward and felt Jim catch hold of his shoulders as he fell. "In the house."

A sudden noise at his back made Blair turn, and he froze with horror as the guard dog launched itself through the open door of the house and raced towards him, fangs bared.

"Shit!" Blair heard Jim mutter as he was pushed to one side. There was a sudden concussive bang, and, by the time Blair had regained his wits, the dog was dead at his feet, blood trickling from a neat hole in its head.

As if from a vast distance, Blair saw Drew Harris burst out of the open doorway, machete raised in his hand.

"Freeze, Cascade PD!" Jim shouted.

Harris slid to a stop, the machete dropping to the ground. He looked down at the dog, tears beginning to trail down his cheeks. Walking forward, despite the gun Jim kept levelled at his head, he dropped to his knees next to the dog’s body, gathering it into his arms. "You killed her. You killed Sadie," he murmured.

Jim stood up, holstering his weapon and walked over to him, pulling his hands behind his back and cuffing them. "Yeah, just like you were going to kill my partner," he said coldly as he hauled the prisoner to his feet, turning him over to one of the SWAT men.

Blair looked up as Jim reached him.

"How you doing, Chief?" Jim asked, kneeling in front of him.

Blair shook his head. "I don’t know. I’m cold, and my leg hurts."

"Yeah, I know."

A paramedic appeared and nudged Jim aside as he readied Blair for transport to the hospital.

Blair winced as a pressure bandage was wrapped around his thigh, and an IV cannula was inserted into the back of his hand. Then Jim helped to lift him onto the gurney that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.

"Cascade General?" Jim asked as Blair was wheeled towards the ambulance.

The paramedic gave a nod.

"I’ll be right behind you," Jim said, patting Blair’s shoulder.

"Okay," Blair managed to say as the gurney was lifted into the back of the ambulance, the motion jostling his leg and bringing the pain to instant, agonizing life. He bit down on his lip to stop the groan that wanted to escape.

Jim climbed up and crouched next to him. "I’m sorry. I’d come with you, but I need to talk to Simon and follow through on the shooting."

"I understand," Blair said, waving him off. "Go. I’m in good hands. I’ll see you soon."

n n n

Blair gritted his teeth as the bandage was unwound from his leg. He still felt chilled to the bone even though a nurse had wrapped a warmed blanket around his shoulders after he’d been taken into the ER cubicle.

"Sorry," he murmured apologetically to the doctor as a particularly violent shiver shook through him. "I can’t seem to get warm."

"It’s okay. You’re in shock. You lost a fair amount of blood too," the doctor replied, patting his shoulder encouragingly. "These bite marks are pretty deep, and there might be some underlying tissue damage. For now, I’m going to clean them and put in some sutures. We’ll start you on a course of antibiotics and keep an IV in to replace the fluid you’ve lost. Okay?"

"I guess that means I need to stay here overnight," Blair observed unhappily. "Sorry. Nothing personal, doc. I’m just not a big fan of hospitals."

"Me neither," the doctor replied with a grin. "Yeah, overnight at least, maybe a couple of days. Dog bites can get infected pretty easily. I’d prefer to make sure the antibiotic is working before sending you home."

"It’s just that I’m due to start at the Police Academy in a few weeks. This isn’t going to stop me doing that, is it?" Blair dropped his head back to the pillow as the doctor picked up a syringe. He really didn’t need to see anymore.

"It shouldn’t do—"

"But if it does, we’ll deal with it," said a voice from the doorway.

Blair turned his head and smiled as Jim walked over to perch on the edge of his bed. "Thanks for coming."

"Anytime," Jim said. He curled a hand around Blair’s tightly clenched fingers. "How about you do some of that meditation stuff you’re always pushing on me?"

Blair closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his breathing. He felt the pinch of the first local, and then his leg went pleasantly numb, and he found himself drifting off to sleep, Jim’s hand still wrapped firmly around his own.

n n n

He wasn’t surprised when he woke again to find Jim sitting alongside his bed, watching television on the set mounted above. Looking around, Blair realized he’d been moved into a normal ward while he’d been asleep. There was another bed in the room, but it was unoccupied.

Jim turned and smiled. "Hey, sleepyhead." He picked up the remote and flicked the power button to turn the set off. "How you feeling?"

Blair stretched his leg experimentally. It hurt, but not as much as he’d expected it to. He was also warm again, and that almost made up for the tenderness of his thigh. "Not too bad. Thanks for coming, Jim. You have no idea how glad I was to see you there…."

"Yes, I do. As glad as I was to see you. You took a big risk though, making a run for it with that leg."

"I know, but I had to try. I figured I was as good as dead anyway. Even if you guys had given him everything he wanted, I got the feeling he would have killed me anyway. He wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. Shit!" Blair shot Jim an anguished look. "He said he knew the press conference I gave was a lie. He’s read my earlier papers and some articles about when you got out of Peru. He knows you’re a sentinel."

Jim shrugged. "He’s also in Conover. He can tell that story to the docs there. I doubt they’d believe anything he’s got to say right now, and if they do, there’s doctor-patient privilege, so they’re not going to tell anyone."

"Yeah, I guess." Blair lifted himself up to rest on his elbows, and Jim stood up, adjusting the pillows and cranking the bed up so he could sit up. "Can I still start at the Academy on time?"

"Barring any complications with your leg, the doc thinks so. You’re still that keen to go, huh?"

Blair sighed. "Oh, man, I thought this was going to be a nice, easy, safe job, you know. Believe me, Jim, I can’t wait to get back to working at the PD. At least I expected to kidnapped, drugged, shot and beaten up there."

Jim laughed, then flicked the television back on. "You’re a world-class trouble magnet, Sandburg, no matter where you are."

"But I’m your trouble magnet, right?" Blair asked, grinning back.

"Oh yeah. Nobody else would have you," Jim retorted.

"Hey, that’s not true. This one old lady I met, Mrs. Ecklie, she wanted me. I could tell."

"That’s the Mrs. Ecklie you told me about who hasn’t been out of her house in 30 years because she thinks the entire population of Earth was replaced by aliens and she’s the only real human left?" Jim asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Not the best judge of character, Chief."

"Well, her and me, but I’m telling you, she wanted me."

"She wouldn’t remember what to do with you if she had you," Jim muttered. He reached out a hand and slapped it over Blair’s mouth before his partner could reply. Smiling, he lifted his hand and ruffled Blair’s hair. "Glad you made it, partner."

The End