"No!" Blair kicked and bucked, but his captors held him firm as they carried him toward the cellar stairs of the old shed.
"Sorry, kid. In you go."
They swung him once, then let go, and he felt himself falling. He tried to bring his hands up to break his fall, but they were tied in front of him, virtually useless. He tumbled down the stairs. Something in his wrist snapped, and pain shot to his elbow. He landed hard at the bottom and cried out just as the door above slammed downward, bathing him in darkness.
"Please, don't do this!" Blair gritted his teeth against the pain in his wrist and stumbled to his feet. "This won't work. Jim will testify, anyway, and you're just gonna make things worse for yourselves!" He crawled up the stairs, his arms held close to his ribs, and used his elbow to pound at the flip-top door laid into the floor above. Tears stung his eyes as the jarring sent agony throbbing in his wrist. "Let me out!"
The wood floor above him shook with the thud of retreating footsteps. A door creaked open, spilling a hint of light through the slats in the two by fours, then slammed closed, sending the cold, damp cellar into blackness.
Jim's jaw twitched as he stared at the picture of his partner, his hands bound together in front of him with a black cord. Blair was laying on gray carpet, but the shot was too close for Jim to get an idea of the background. Sandburg's eyes were closed, and his mouth hung open. Jim couldn't see any sign of a head injury, so his best guess was the kidnappers had used ether or chloroform to knock Blair out.
"Prints are probably gonna tell us nothing." He'd found the photo in a white envelope stuck beneath his truck's wipers, and the only prints likely to be on either the envelope or the photo were his own. Jim tossed the photo on Simon's desk and rubbed his hands over his face. Shifting in the hard seat, he shook his head. "I have a pretty good idea who's responsible, and I know what he wants. Problem is, Sandburg'll be dead no matter what."
Jim's cell phone rang, and he snatched it out of his jacket pocket. "Ellison."
"When you testify next week, all you have to do is make sure that whatever you say clears Mr. Jason Woods of any involvement in the incident, and we'll be happy to give Mr. Sandburg a ride home."
"Let me speak--"
The connection ended, and Jim slammed his fist on the arm of the chair, then flipped the phone closed and shoved it back into his pocket.
"Was that them?" Simon asked.
Jim nodded tiredly, slouching in the chair. "They want me to lie on the stand."
"Figures." Simon sighed heavily. "Damn. You and Sandburg are the two main witnesses. That leaves Officer Sanders, and he wasn't as close as you two. The D.A. isn't gonna be happy."
"Even if I testify the way they want, Sandburg's dead. They won't let him go."
"I know, Jim, but why'd they go after just the kid? They could've taken you both out, and..."
"My guess is they're hoping I do as they say. It's easier to snag one man than three, and even if they managed to kill all three of us, there's still the surveillance tape and circumstantial evidence. But if I get on that stand and make something up to clear Woods, then that'll cast reasonable doubt on his involvement. He'll get off. If he kills us, he might still go down."
"Bu the tape..."
"Isn't enough by itself. You saw it Simon. Woods stayed in the back of the car the whole time. All that tape got were a few glimpses of him. If I get up there and say it was someone else in the car, Woods walks."
"Damn." Simon took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "He gave us the slip when the deal went down, and now he's going after one of our own. What are we gonna do, Jim? Any ideas?"
Jim straightened in the chair. "We find Sandburg before the trial."
Blair jerked awake.
*Thump. Thump. Thump.*
Rays of light cascaded through the slits in the floorboards above, and Blair blinked a few times to clear the blurriness from his vision.
*Thump. Thump. Thump.*
He turned his head toward the noise and saw an ice cube toppling down the stairs. His gaze traveled upward to the small hole in the door above. It was barely bigger than a silver dollar. Another ice cube poked through the opening and dropped to the stairs, tumbling downward before landing at the bottom and joining the half a dozen others.
"Better make 'em last, kid." A voice warned from above, then chuckled.
"Wait!" Blair struggled to his feet. Pain flared in his arm, and he stifled a cry. The room spun, and he dropped back to his tailbone and leaned against the wall. "Wait," he pleaded again, his voice barely a whisper, and closed his eyes when he heard the man's footsteps moving away.
He waited a few seconds for the dizziness to fade, then opened his eyes. He crawled forward to the base of the stairs and scooped up one of the ice cubes, now dirtied from the dusty floor, and wiped it on his jean pants, wincing at the renewed throbbing in his wrist. When he'd gotten as much of the dirt off as he could, he popped it into his mouth and sucked on it, closing his eyes as the cool wetness eased his parched mouth and slid down his throat.
"Okay, Carty." Jim leaned forward, placing his clasped hands on the table in the interrogation room. "This is the deal. You tell us where you think Woods might be keeping Sandburg, and if we find him there alive, the D.A. will offer you a reduced charge."
"No way." Carty leaned back in the chair, shaking his head. He was a scrawny man with thin, graying hair and frog-like eyes. "He'll kill me, man."
Jim cocked his head. "Anything happens to Sandburg, and I promise you I'll make sure they put you in C block in Seattle Pen. You know who's in C-Block, dontcha? Your old buddy, Evans. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
Carty swallowed. "C'mon, man. You can't do that. My lawyer..."
"Total immunity. How's that? And if you help us, Woods'll be put away so long that he won't be a problem for you."
"He's got people, man."
"And I'll make sure his communications are severely restricted."
"You know you guys can't catch everything!"
"Then I'll make sure we fix you up with a new name in a new town."
Carty shook his head. "No way, man. No way."
God, he was so thirsty. His stomach growled, shooting stabs of pain through him. When had he eaten last?
He lay on the floor, curled in a ball, his hands still bound in front of him. He'd tried to get free, but the cord held firm, and any substantial movement of his arms sent his wrist into agony.
How many days had it been? five or six, he thought, if he remembered counting the cycle of light through the floorboards.
He heard a creak above, and lifted his head, blinking. The light filtering through the boards was dim, indicating either early morning or twilight. He wasn't sure.
He moved, and something hard dug into his ribs. He tried to sit up, and realized he was laying on the stairs, inches away from the door.
An ice cube fell through the hole and bounced off his cheek. He watched it tumble over the side and heard its soft thump on the floor below.
He was too tired to try to climb down to get it. He lay his head on the step and closed his eyes, barely feeling the second ice cube on his face as he fell into oblivion.
"Got it!" Jim threw Simon's door open. "Nobody would talk... except Johnson. He's facing the most time, and he took the deal."
Simon shot out of his chair. "Thank God. What do you have?"
"A list of five locations where Woods is likely to have Sandburg."
"We'll send teams to each of them, now." Simon waved for the list, and Jim snatched it out of his shirt pocket and slapped it into Simon's palm.
"I'm going to number three on that list, sir. It's the most isolated, and Johnson says he's pretty sure that Woods thinks it's location is still a secret. Johnson's not even supposed to know about it."
Simon nodded his permission, then barked orders into the phone.
The firefight ended quickly. Jim and the SWAT team had taken Woods' and his men completely by surprise. Keeping his gun at ready, Jim moved past the commotion of numerous arrests and tilted his head listening.
"You got anything, Jim?" Simon whispered behind him.
He heard a heartbeat, slow and faint. "Yeah." Bolting into a run, he headed for the shack behind the house. "Simon, get medics here!" he shouted over his shoulder, barely catching a glimpse of Simon, then yanked the doors to the shed open.
"I'm on it, Jim," the captain replied.
Jim stepped into the dim shed, his eyes searching for his partner. Listening, he located the sound. It was coming from somewhere below him. His eyes found the outline of a door set in the floor, and a small hook jutted upward.
Jim glanced over his shoulder to see Simon behind him again.
"The EMT's will be here any minute," the captain said.
With a nod, Jim turned his attention back to the door. He grabbed the hook and lifted. The wood panel rose, and he tossed it backward. It clattered to the other side, and he winced from the assault on his eardrums.
Jim blinked. It took his eyes only a moment to adjust to the blackness below, and he saw the figure laying still near the top of the stairs.
The figure didn't move.
"God, Sandburg." Jim hurried down the three steps to his partner.
Simon followed, and between the two of them, they gently lifted Blair's limp form and carried him to the floor above.
"Chief? C'mon buddy." Carefully, Jim sat next to his partner and slid his arms beneath the young man's shoulders. Blair's face was pale and his cheeks sunken. His lips were badly chapped, and dark circles hung beneath his eyes. Jim scanned the young man from head to toe, and he noticed the red, swollen wrist.
"Here you go, Detective."
Jim looked up to see a young member of the SWAT team holding out an open bottle of water.
"Thanks." Jim took the water. "Where are those EMT's?"
"They're ETA is two minutes."
"Watch for them," Simon ordered, "and direct them in here when they arrive."
"Yes, sir." The officer spun and hurried out of the shed.
"Hey, Chief." Jim gentle cradled Blair's head in the crook of his elbow and tilted the bottle to the young man's lips. "Take a sip for me?"
He let a dribble of the liquid spill into the crack between Blair's lips, then pulled back. He didn't want to risk choking his partner.
Blair groaned and turned his head slightly toward Jim's chest.
"That's it." Jim tried again, letting a little bit more of the cool liquid slide into Blair's mouth.
Blair groaned again, this time raising his head toward the bottle. His eyelids fluttered open, and his bound arms twitched upward.
"Hey there." Jim smiled into Blair's dazed blue eyes and pulled the bottle back. "You with me, Chief?"
Blair licked his lips and nodded. Tears swelled in his eyes and spilled down down his cheeks. "More," he croaked. "Please."
A pang twisted hard in Jim's chest. "Coming right up," he choked out, forcing a tiny smile as he lifted the bottle and once again let some of the water fill Blair's mouth.
Blair closed his eyes and swallowed, lifting his head further and drinking until the bottle was half empty. Then his head dropped back, landing again in the crook of Jim's elbow, and his eyes closed. "More," he whispered.
"In a bit." Jim handed the bottle to Simon. Blair was obviously on his way out. He heard the clatter of footsteps and gently eased Blair to the floor. "Help's here now, Chief." He stroked a hand over Blair's head as the EMT's crouched next to them.
"What do we have here?" one of the paramedics asked.
Jim looked up at the woman in the blue overalls, reading her name tag -- 'Suzane Holsted.'
Jim leaned back, giving them room. "He's been missing for six days. I'm guessing dehydration, malnutrition, exposure. He might have been drugged. His wrist is broken, and you'll need to be careful getting that cord off."
She nodded. "Got it."
"Jim?" Blair's soft voice interrupted.
Jim moved forward to lean over Blair. "Yeah, Chief?"
Sandburg's eyelids opened slowly, and he blinked. "Over?"
"Yeah, Chief." Jim cupped Blair's cheek. "It's over."
Blair shook his head, his eyes drifting closed again. "Trial?"
"No. It's tomorrow. Wood's is going down."
A soft sigh escaped Blair. "Good," he whispered, then his head fell to the left and he went totally limp.
"Woa! Easy, Chief." Jim chuckled as he watched Blair use his good hand to scarf down the tray of hospital food. "It's not going anywhere."
Blair mumbled through his mouthful. "N'ver tasted so g'd, man."
"I'll bet." Jim leaned forward in the tiny vinyl chair. "Don't make yourself sick, though." He gently batted the back of Blair's head, barely making contact. "It won't be as good the second time around."
Blair swallowed and nodded as he shoveled another spoonful into his mouth. "Mmmm-hmmm."
The door opened, and Jim looked up to see Simon and Joel walk in.
"Hey!" Joel hurried forward. "It's good to see you awake, Blair."
Blair dropped the spoon to the sparkling clean tray and looked up, offering a smile. "Thanks, man." He leaned back against his pillow and sighed, draping his good arm over his stomach. His other arm rested at his side, encased in a large, white cast.
"How are you feeling, Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged. "Much better. Tired. A little weak." He raised his broken arm and smiled. "You guys gonna sign my cast?"
Joel leaned forward, eyeing the scribbles already marring the white surface of the cast. "Looks like you've already had some takers." He blinked, then looked up. "Phone numbers?"
Jim chuckled as Blair grinned and lifted his good hand behind his head.
"Hey, it's not my fault I'm irresistable to the opposite sex." Blair shrugged. "It's just a gift."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Spare me, please."
Jim shook his head and scooted his chair closer to the mattress. "Your extracurricular activities are gonna have to wait a while, Chief. Doctor ordered rest, food, and lots of fluid for the next week."
Blair gave a tired, loopy grin as his eyelids drooped. "Hey, what better way to fill that prescription than with some TLC from my own, private nurse?"
Jim shook his head, smiling. He watched as Blair's eyelids closed and his smile faded, then he carefully moved the swing tray away and lifted the covers to Blair's chin.
"How's he really doing, Jim?" Simon whispered.
Jim leaned back in his chair and sighed, his own smile vanishing. "His wrist was fractured, and he almost died of dehydration. He was also severely undernourished and suffering from mild hypothermia." He tilted his head back, fatigue dragging at him. "Doc says he'll be fine, though. He just needs to take it easy for a little while."
"Well, he'll have all the time he needs," Simon promised.
"We came to tell you the jury delivered its verdict." Joel leaned against the edge of the mattress. "Guilty. It took them less than an hour to deliberate."
Jim gave a tired smile, his eyes drifting to Blair. "That's good news." He gave into a yawn and slouched in the chair. "Very good news." His eyelids seemed way too heavy, and the room slid into darkness.
It was over, and he and Sandburg could both rest easy. Finally. He felt something warm and soft drape over him just before surrendering to sleep.