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Cover by Ankaree

Art by Lisa, Ankaree and Annie

ACT ONE

"Sandburg! Ellison! I need you to roll ASAP." Simon clamped his cigar between his teeth and stood, hands on hips, in the center of the bullpen.

Jim stopped a few feet away from his boss as he walked across the room, nodding crisply. "Yes, sir!" He then gave Simon a jaunty salute, along with a cocky grin.

"Smart ass," Simon muttered intently eyeing Jim. "Sandburg, here's the call."

Blair took the proffered paper from his boss's fingers. "Sure, Simon. Come on, Jim. We have a job to do."

Jim raised an eyebrow, a chuckle escaping his lips. "Oh, really? Then lead on, my liege."

Blair laughed, but he gave Jim almost the same look that Simon had just a minute ago. "What is up with you today?"

Jim ruffled Blair's hair on the way to the elevator, earning him a swat on the arm. "Nothing. Why?"

"You're awfully chipper. You're cracking jokes and being generally... cheerful."

Giving Blair an exasperated look, Jim crossed his arms after punching the elevator's 'down' button. "So let me get this straight..." he said, putting a finger alongside his mouth while he feigned deep concentration. "You're always grousing at me for being too anal, too uptight, too straight-laced, too rigid-"

"Redundant, man."

"-too persnickety," Jim continued, not missing a beat, "so when I'm all happy and carefree, you look upon those actions with suspicion?"

Blair's eyes narrowed before he moved closer to his partner. "Breathe on me."

"What?" Jim said, jerking back an inch or two.

"Breathe on me. I want to see if you've been drinking. Or maybe it's something you ate," he added, his voice taking on a suspicious tone while his eyes narrowed. Sniffing loudly in Jim's direction, he asked, "How do you feel? Did you eat something that's somehow made you -- spacey? Maybe I need to take your temperature," he added, reaching out to touch Jim's forehead.

Jim laughed and after latching strong fingers onto Blair's hand as it came toward him, forestalling his partner's exam, he directed Blair into the open elevator. "Oh, I'm definitely high, Chief, and it's not from food or drink." Jim hit the garage level button, leaning over Blair's shoulder to do so. He paused with his chest lightly pressing against Blair's back. "It's from you. Last night was... Let's just say that was the most impressive thing I've ever done, or seen, in my entire life. Including on film, I might add."

Blair smiled widely, but it quickly faded. He waved the piece of paper he still held near Jim's face. "Thanks, but we have a dead person to think about, Jim."

Jim nodded, resting his chin on Blair's shoulder briefly. "Yes, I know, but you're alive and I'm alive, and because of that fact, we will find who dared kill a member of our tribe. Okay?" Turning and giving Jim a grateful look, Blair nodded. "And don't forget," Jim continued, "it's almost Christmas, and we have that and a wedding to think about. I know, and you know that there are bad people out there killing and raping and stealing, but it's up to us to make sure Simon and Amy have a good start to their new lives together. It's important that we protect our -- souls, for lack of a better word, and that we take care of each other."

Blair's eyebrows hit his hairline. "You are definitely feeling good today, Ellison," he said with a laugh. "You're right. I know you're right. But... sometimes, it's just hard..."

"Chief," Jim said softly, "it's always hard when somebody's killed. That's why we do the best we can, to help right the wrongs. That sounds -- egotistical, but it's what we're best at, you and me. Together, we make a difference."

As the doors opened at the garage level, Blair hesitated for a moment, glancing into Jim's eyes. "How do you do that?" he asked before following Jim to the truck.

"What?" Jim asked, unlocking the driver's door, and climbing in. He reached over to unlocked Blair's door.

Blair climbed in also, and said, "Know just what to say."

"I'm good. What can I say?"

Laughing, Blair shook his head. "Love you, man."

"Me, too, partner. Me too."

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"What do we have, Dan?" Jim asked, gaze raking over the sheet-covered body. Near the victim's head, a wide circle of blood colored the white sheet in crimson. Blair stood next to Jim, also looking down. Jim heard him swallow and huff out a breath. He gave Blair a quick smile of reassurance and was pleased to see his partner return his encouragement with a grateful nod.

"Jim. Blair," Dan acknowledged. "This is my new assistant, Derek Morelli. He just transferred in from The Big Apple. Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison, detectives with Major Crime."

"Nice to meet you, Derek," Blair said, holding out his hand.

Jim followed suit, giving the man a quick once-over. Another young one, he realized, suddenly feeling his age. Morelli was about thirty, tall, good-looking, and in great shape, he noted. Under his lab coat, Derek wore an expensive-looking suit, a silk tie, and sported imported Italian loafers, not to mention manicured nails. Jim thought it was a bit much for a forensics assistant, but who was he to question a guy's appearance. He spent enough time at the gym, so he knew what it was to want to look good to the outside world. With a curt nod, Jim shook Derek's hand. "Welcome to Cascade."

"Thanks," Derek responded. "Glad to be here."

"Go ahead, Dan," Jim encouraged after introductions were concluded.

"Hispanic male, age 22. Roberto Martinez. Single gunshot to the temple. Looks like a 9 mil."

"Gang related?" Blair asked.

Derek shrugged, adding, "Too soon to tell. We'll run the bullet through ballistics, of course."

When Jim hunkered down to pull back the sheet covering the body, Dan said, "I'm thinking car-jacking. Look here." Jim rose, and he and Blair followed Dan. "There are clear tire tracks in the dirt alongside the body, then they hit the pavement right here." The men hunkered down to look at the black rubber marks. "You can see that when the driver left the shoulder, he peeled rubber on the pavement, taking off." Dan walked along for several more yards before he pointed to another evidence marker. "This is where he shifted from first to second. It was a manual transmission; he left rubber here, which means he was really pounding the gearshift."

"Good catch, Dan. We'll keep that in mind. Do we know what kind of car the victim owned?" Blair asked.

Derek answered, "We're running him through the database right now. Dan said to put a CC on the request, so it will go directly to your email box, Detective Ellison. The rest we'll let you know after we do the postmortem and get the workup finished."

"Good work. Thanks," Jim said with a nod. "We'll catch up with you both at the lab. Come on, Chief."

"Nice meeting you, Derek," Blair added before following his partner.

Jim walked the perimeter of the scene, glancing around while he studied the surroundings.

"Anything?" Blair asked, standing off to one side with his hands in pockets.

"Not much. It's been raining quite a bit, so anything of value is long gone. We'll have more luck with the bullet, or when patrol finds the guy's car."

"If they find it."

Raising his head, Jim nodded, giving his partner a quick smile. "Right. Are you okay?"

Blair shrugged. "Yeah. It's nothing."

"What's nothing? You're suddenly all -- twitchy." Jim intently eyed Blair, scanning him lightly.

Again, Blair shrugged. "Just a feeling... You know."

With a sigh, Jim asked again, "What's wrong?"

Blair's eyes widened, and he held out his hands. "Really, Jim, I don't know. I felt a sudden chill and now it's gone."

"It's gone."

"Right. It's gone. Kind of like those feelings you had from Laura. You remember how it was an elusive thing. You noticed something, but then it was gone. And I do feel fine."

"You let me know if you feel it again, okay?" At Blair's nod, Jim added, "Let's go and run our victim through the database for a background check before we connect back up with Dan."

"And Derek."

"Yeah, and Morelli."

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Blair laughed. "You have a thing about last names, don't you?"

Jim shrugged as he climbed into his truck. "It's a military thing."

"I know. I was just commenting. Besides, there are times when you say Sandburg just so, that makes me very -- let's say, interested."

Laughing, Jim started the engine and pulled away.

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"Oh, man. Wow!"

Blair's exclamation, along with the breath he sucked in, brought Jim's head up sharply. "What?"

"Take a look. I ran the make and model of our victim's ride that the DMV provided to get the fair market value for the report."

Jim slid his chair over to stare at Blair's computer screen. "Yeah. Wow."

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"That's almost sinful."

"Almost?" Jim asked, giving a wry chuckle.

"Yeah, man," Blair quipped. "I'd kill to have a ride like that."

Jim shook his head, tapping Blair's arm with his clenched hand. "Somebody did, Chief," he reminded his partner.

"Oh, yeah. Right. Bad choice of words. Sorry. Do people really own vehicles like this?" he asked, his eyes still glued to the computer screen. "It is impressive, though. Do you know what the retail value of that Mercedes SL65 is?"

"A hundred and thirty grand?"

Blair scrolled down the page and highlighted the figure noted on the bottom of the screen. "Close, man. Very close. About one-fifty, give or take."

"Well, damn."

"Yeah, I know," Blair said with a sigh as he scanned the pictures once again. "It's a beautiful vehicle."

"It sure is," Jim responded. He slid back to his own desk just as his email notifier pinged. "Shit," he muttered softly after a quick glance at the contents of the message.

"Now what?"

"Our victim, Martinez? He's the son of Enrique Martinez."

Blair paused for a moment, sucking in his lower lip, before he asked, "The current owner of the Jags?"

"Right. So it's possible that this was a simple carjacking after all. I doubt the son of Enrique Martinez needs to deal drugs or run with mobsters to be able to afford a car like that. Then again, you never know. What do you say we go and have a talk with Mr. Martinez?"

"Jim, man, you will remember to be polite. After all, his son is a victim."

Jim saw the concerned look on Blair's face. He smiled reassuringly at his partner. "I know, Sandburg. Thanks. You're always better at this emotional stuff than I am. I tend to -- avoid it if I can."

Blair returned his partner's smile with one of his own. "You're selling yourself short. I remember how Joel said you were with Jennifer Olsen when Dennis Chung was killed. And I've seen you work with my own eyes. You have this presence that is very reassuring."

Shrugging, Jim said, "I didn't do much. Just tried to be supportive."

"You did fine, Jim."

"Thanks, Chief. Let's do this."

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Blair took the lead after Jim introduced himself and his partner to the bereaved father. They silently followed Martinez across the foyer of his large house and into the study where he waved them into the chairs in front of his desk. After Martinez sat down behind his desk, a place where Jim knew the man felt more in control, he nodded to Blair.

"Mr. Martinez, we're very sorry for your loss. Are you up for a few questions?"

Martinez nodded curtly, his head held stiffly. "Anything to find the monsters who killed my son."

"Good," Blair said sympathetically. "It will help the more information we have, and the sooner the better." He glanced at Jim, who gave him another encouraging nod. "When was the last time you saw your son?"

"Yesterday afternoon. We had lunch together to celebrate."

"Celebrate?"

"Yes, he graduated from Rainier with a degree in business last year and I promised him a new..." Martinez dropped his head, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. "Sorry," he murmured

"It's okay, sir," Blair said reassuringly. "Just tell us in your own time."

With a huff of breath, Martinez raised his head, looking from one man to the other as he spoke. "I promised Bobby that new car if he worked in the office for one year in a very junior position. I wanted him to know the business from the ground up. It's important..." With a sigh, Martinez paused to examine his fingernails. "He finished his year last week, and I had given him the keys to the Mercedes..." Again, Martinez paused to gather himself in, but after a moment, he continued. "Then yesterday... I'd been busy last week with an IRS audit and couldn't get away from the office until yesterday. We had a celebratory lunch at the club, and then Bobby went to pick up his girlfriend. They were going out on a date."

"So he never made it to -- his friend's house?"

"Gracelyn Anderson. That's my- was my son's girlfriend. No, he never made it. She called the house about an hour after he was supposed to show... Bobby was a stickler for punctuality. He even let me have it a couple of times when I was late for board meetings." Martinez smiled softly with remembrance before he shook his head and returned his focus to the detectives. "I'm sorry."

Jim finally spoke. "From what we can tell, he's never been in trouble."

Martinez shook his head. "He's a good kid. He came home drunk once, but he was so sick the next day, that was the extent of his foray into alcohol. And he disliked drugs after his mother... She was in rehab a couple of times before she kicked the prescriptions. He saw what it did to a family." Martinez leaned forward, grief and anger etched on his face. "He was a good boy, looking forward to maybe marrying this gal and having a family... Now..." Martinez's control fell, and he covered his face with his hands.

Blair rose, as did Jim. "Thank you, Mr. Martinez. We'll let you know if we have any further questions, and we'll see ourselves out," Blair said.

Martinez waved a hand toward the door. "If you don't mind..."

Jim answered firmly, "We'll find who did this to your son." As they left the room, Jim heard the man's soft whisper of thanks.

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"I think he's on the up and up," Blair said on the ride back to the station.

"Yeah, me too. I think the kid was a target because of the black market value of that vehicle, and not because of anything he did." Jim chewed his cheek. "It sucks."

Blair laughed. "I'm rubbing off on you."

At Blair's light laughter and comment, Jim realized what he'd said. He let out a small bark of laughter. "You can rub off on me anytime, Chief." The cell phone in Jim's coat pocket started to vibrate, so he took one hand of the steering wheel to fish it out.

Blair held out his hand. "Give that to me," he ordered. "No talking on cell phones while driving. New departmental safety policy." Jim gave Blair a quick exasperated glance before he handed it over. "We'll get you a hand's free connection from Radio Shack later." Hitting the 'on' button, he answered, "Ellison and Sandburg."

"This is your main man!" came the loud voice.

Blair grimaced as held the phone away from his ear before he moved it closer to ask, "Sneaks?"

Jim let out a snort, which earned him a narrow-eyed glare from his partner. Guess he still hadn't forgiven Jim for losing those Nikes a few years ago. When Jim glanced down at Blair's shoes, Blair gave him the finger. Laughing, Jim knew that Blair had never worn his favorite footwear to work since that day, and today, he wore his old, ratty Converse tennis shoes.

"You want a doughnut?"

Blair wrinkled his nose, making Jim grin. "Putz," he whispered, his hand momentarily covering the speaker. "Yeah, Sneaks. Thirty minutes? Same place?"

"Yeah. Same bat time, same bat channel! It's a date!"

Blair disconnected and slipped Jim's phone back into his pocket. "That was Sneaks."

Laughing, Jim turned the corner down Elmora and headed toward their usual meeting place. "He must have info. That was quick. Word must be already out about a new chop shop or somebody setting up a midnight auto supply outlet."

"He must want new sneakers," Blair said with a smirk. "I'm glad I'm wearing my tennies today. You're going to have to cough up an extra twenty."

Jim snickered at first, then he grimaced when he realized that he would have to fork over the extra cash for their snitch's info. "So much for this partnership," he muttered.

"All is fair in love and snitches. Oh, by the way, Jim, we have to run over to Rise 'n Shine in the next few days to help Megan with the final choices. We need to find an hour when we're all free and can meet up. Before Friday, or we'll be serving Hostess cupcakes at the reception."

"Tell me again why we're doing this, and why Simon and Amy aren't?"

Blair sighed dramatically. "You know exactly why, Jim. After Simon and Amy said they were going to elope, you, Megan and I decided that giving them a small, informal wedding would be our gift to them. They agreed. Besides, Simon has absolutely no idea how to plan a wedding -- you remember what happened when he took over the annual PD picnic that year?" Blair shivered theatrically before he continued. "And Amy's new position as head nurse of Intensive Care is extremely hectic. Megan said Amy told her she really wanted a wedding since this is her first trip down the aisle, but she admitted that she plain didn't have the time to plan one. Not with her parents being dead, and no other family members to pitch in. So we volunteered. Besides, she wants to enjoy her special day-"

"Sandburg, we are so under-qualified in this department, it's not even funny."

"Jim, they're friends. Special friends. And Megan has been researching wedding stuff for months now, ever since Rafe popped the question. This leaves Amy enjoying her wedding day, instead of dreading it, or worrying about every detail. This way, it will be special for both of them. You know we agreed that we'd do the final selections with Megan after she's narrowed down the choices on the caterer and the baker. I think it's been going very well, and I have to say, I've enjoyed myself."

"And we're not busy? That's what wedding planners are for."

"It's not that, Jim. Of course, we're busy, it's just that I wanted to help."

"The operative word being "I", Chief. There's no us in "I"."

With a snicker, Blair added, "There is in this relationship."

Jim cast him a mildly exasperated glance. It was mostly for show, but he had a reputation to keep up, he told himself. "Nothing extra fancy, right?"

"No, nothing extra fancy. Just a gathering of friends. I don't know why you're grousing now. We've already scheduled the location, the minister, the caterer and the DJ. There's not much else, but picking out a cake, tasting the hors d'oeuvres, and getting our good suits pressed."

"No tuxes, right? You promised!"

"Nope, this is casual. Nice suits for the guys and Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes for the ladies. It will be great!" When Jim started to chuckle, Blair smacked his arm. "Ellison, you are such an asshole. You love pulling my chain, don't you?"

All Jim could do was laugh as they pulled up in front of The Sugar Rush. His nostrils flared. "It smells like heaven!"

"Oh, God," Blair muttered. "Think about your waistline. Not to mention your arteries!"

Jim glanced over at Blair and waggled his eyebrows. "I'm thinking about my stomach right now, Chief."

Blair followed his partner with a sad shake of his head. They found an empty table in the busy cafe and ordered coffee. Jim added a half a dozen crullers to his order after the waiter mentioned they were the freshest items currently available.

"I love crullers," Jim mused. "They remind me of Sunday mornings when I was a kid."

Blair smiled. "That's special, Jim. Did your dad let you have doughnuts after church?"

"Nope. He always said doughnuts were a waste of money. Mom would take us when he was away on business. After she left... Well, that's exactly why I used to take Stevie down to the doughnut shop every Sunday on our way home from Sunday School. I used my own allowance, and Stevie never told on us. He was little then, before..." Jim sighed before he said fondly, "God, but I loved those chocolate glazed ones when I was a kid."

Before Blair could respond, Sneaks blew into the cafe and after shouting a loud "hello", he slid into a chair next to Jim.

"Fellas, fellas," he said quickly. "What's up? The sky, the moon, the stars. I have something for you. Yes, I do. Something..." He looked expectantly at Jim.

"Sneaks," Jim acknowledged, but paused when the waiter returned with the coffee and the plate of fresh doughnuts. "Thank you," Jim said to the waiter. He sipped his coffee first before biting into a doughnut. "Oh, God..." he mumbled around a mouthful of sugar pastry. "These are fabulous. Have one, Chief." He slid the plate toward Blair, who gingerly took one of the warm pastries.

With Jim watching expectantly, Blair bit into the doughnut and chewed slowly. Instead of the usual grimace of distaste, Jim grinned when Blair smiled, his eyes lighting up.

"Hey! These are good!" Blair said in a surprised voice.

"No shit, Sherlock," Jim muttered, happily eating his second. After licking his fingers, he slid the plate toward Sneaks. "Doughnut?"

"Thanks. Thanks," Sneaks said, taking a cake. "Good stuff." He downed his doughnut in two bites before he licked his fingers.

"So...?" Jim asked.

Leaning closer, Sneaks theatrically whispered, "Word is that there's a new gig in town. Special order cars for special folks in Egypt, or Iran or one of those hot, sandy places with all the oil. They have orders for a dozen."

"Oh? Any names with this operation?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, yeah." Sneaks nodded happily. "Name of-" he glanced around to be sure no one was listening, "-Abdulah Farrarah."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "That's it? Nothing else??"

"Nope, that's it. You know I'll let you know if anything else comes to these amazing ears. So... so," Sneaks said excitedly in a hushed voice, "how much? Huh? How much is that worth?"

Opening his wallet, Jim passed the man two twenty-dollar bills. "Thanks for your help."

"Yeah, sure." Sneaks rose. "Any time. Anything for you. Thanks." He glanced around before bending down to look under the table. "No bonus?" he asked, almost pouting. "Nothing new and exciting for your old pal?"

Jim chuckled, shaking his head. "Sorry. Maybe next time."

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Sneaks frowned. "Yeah, right. We'll see. Inflation. My prices will rise." His eyes darted back and forth before he reached out and snatched the last doughnut. Then he practically bounced from the place, munching as he went.

Jim sighed. "I never thought anybody on the planet had more energy than you, Sandburg, but I was wrong."

Blair laughed. "Thanks for the comparison, Ellison. So was the lead worth the cash? Anybody you'd heard of before?"

"No. Didn't mean a thing, so it's hard to tell. We'll check it out."

ACT TWO