By Sherrylou and LindaS
Beta Read by CJ
Written for PetFly by
Teleplay by: Rick Husky and Laurence Frank
Story by: Rick Husky

 Rated PG-13, Language, Violence
internal thought in italics


Act I


The large, beefy hand connected hard to his jaw, and then brilliant stars exploded wildly before his eyes. Falling back onto the ground, Matt heard the chanting and cheers increase. Damn vultures! he thought as he sat up, spitting out the foul-tasting mixture of blood and saliva.

Wearily, he pushed himself up from the floor and struggled to his feet, staggering on two legs that felt as weak as a newborn colt's. Blood from the oozing cut above his right eye trickled down the side of his face and merged with a similar flow from a deep gash on his cheek. Swiping his shirtsleeve across the side of his face and smearing the congealing blood, he blinked away the stinging tears and tried to focus on what was happening. But he was so damn tired and he hurt -- oh, god, he hurt! -- and he just didn't know if he could continue.

Oh, Kelly. I'm so sorry for...for everything. Forgive me. I love you, baby. He choked back a sob; his throat knotted with overwhelming emotions as he thought of his beautiful wife and son. Take care of Matty. Don't let him forget me.

His mind railed at this unfair turn of events his life had taken, and his heart ached for what he knew would never come to be. Three more months and he would have been home -- home with his wife and son. And all this would have been in the past.

Weaving unsteadily, Matt only narrowly avoided a roundhouse kick to the mid-section and then took advantage of his attacker's off-balance position. Renewed hope flared momentarily as he managed to kick out one of his attacker's legs, knocking the larger man down. Maybe, just maybe...

But within the next few moments, he found himself back on the ground in a very vulnerable position. Get up! Get up, damn it! Matt pleaded with himself. The frenzied cries echoing around them only increased his panic as a looming shadow blocked out the harsh glare of the lights above. Before he could make a move, a large booted foot crossed in front of his face and then he felt it press down slowly onto his throat. Eyes wide with panic, Matt's hands flailed at the threatening appendage, grasping and clawing to no avail. Air! God, he needed air!

The foot applied a greater pressure, painfully squeezing his windpipe. Gulping like a landed fish, his breaths came in shallow gasps, making an awful wheezing, rattling sound. Shouts that earlier had been ear-splitting were now fading as a buzzing in his ear became louder. Matt's vision misted over; his struggle lessened. Quivering legs stilled, and fingers jerked involuntary as his body entered its final death throes.


Sunday Afternoon:

"All right!" Jim shouted enthusiastically at the TV. Contented, he leaned back against the couch, stretching his arms across its back. The wonderful smell of soup simmering on the stove filled the loft, accompanied with soft sounds of his roommate puttering around in the kitchen.

With three minutes left in the first half and the Seahawks in the lead by six, Jim paused from his afternoon viewing of TV football to glance over at Blair. Busy chopping up vegetables, Blair didn't seem too bothered by his recent injury, managing to maneuver the crispy greens on the cutting board even though his left wrist was firmly encased in a white fiberglass cast. Jim studied his friend, watching the awkward movements with the injured joint. As if knowing he was being watched, Blair looked up from his chore and smiled.

"So, tell me again, Chief, why you were skating without wrist guards?"

Blair set the knife down and held up the injured wrist. "Man, I wasn't grinding or attempting a three-sixty. That is so beyond me. I was just trying to go from point 'a' to point 'b,'" he said, explaining the incident. "I know...you don't have to tell me. I should have known better and worn the wrist guards." Picking up the knife and resuming his chopping, Blair shook his head. "I don't know how Alec made it look so easy."

Jim chuckled, remembering the sixteen-year-old genius that had tried to teach Blair the basics of in-line skating last year. "You're lucky that's the only thing you broke." A roar from the television set interrupted the conversation and brought Jim to his feet. "Oh, no, no, no, not another fumble. Come on, my six-year-old niece can do better than that."

"It's only a game."

Jim remained focused on the replay and snorted at Blair's remark. "It's the modern-day equivalent of the gladiatorial battle. I mean, you're the anthropologist."

"With, uh, painkillers, time-outs, and product endorsements," Blair quickly snapped back.

A rapping on the door cut off the cultural comparison.

"Could you get that?" Jim asked, pointing toward the door. Hunched near the television set, he clapped his hands together as play resumed. "All right, here we go."

Even though the football game held his attention, the fringe of his hearing picked up the creaking sound of the door opening and Blair's welcoming, "Hi," along with a responding softer, "Hi."

Recognizing the familiar voice, Jim straightened up and turned to face his old friend. He hadn't seen Kelly for several months, but she was still as pretty as their days from high school. Shoulder-length brown hair framed her petite face and emphasized her expressive green eyes -- eyes that were now revealing a painful sadness. Dressed in dark slacks that flattered her slender figure, the woman stepped hesitantly into the loft. Offering a wide smile, he crossed the room and engulfed her in a warm hug. "Hey, Kelly...what brings you here?"

Her body remained stiff, trembling slightly. Releasing Kelly and holding her at arms-length, Jim searched her face, uneasy at her silence. "What's going on?"

Kelly's eyes filled with tears, and she swallowed convulsively several times before managing to choke out, "Matt's...Matt's dead."

Quickly Jim pulled Kelly back into his arms, wrapping his arms tight around her, as he struggled to make sense of her statement. "What?"

Tears now came unbidden, and her voice quivered in wake of her crumbling composure. "I'm s-sorry. I didn't know who else to come to."

No. It couldn't be true. Matt. Dead? Jim's mind fought to accept those two words. They were incompatible, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Full of life, a charmer with an easy smile, always looking for a way to make some fast money, those were the words that described Matt -- but not dead.

He tightened his arms around Kelley for a moment before stepping out of the hug and then gently guided her over to the sofa. As they sat down, his eyes met Kelly's mournful ones, reading the sad truth. "What happened?"

"I...I had a phone call. A prison official said that Matt was shot trying to escape."

"I just saw Matt like a month and a half ago. He had three months left to go. Why would he try to escape?"

She bit her bottom lip, failing to contain a shuddering gasp, then answered shakily, "I d-don't know."

Whispering, "Oh, my god," Jim closed his eyes briefly. With his mind still reeling from the news, he tried to organize his whirling thoughts into a plan of action. "Um... All right... Let me go get changed."

"Okay."

Patting her lightly on the knee, he rose from the couch and made his way up the steps to his room. Grateful for Blair's presence, he listened to the soft voices below as his roommate spoke comfortingly to Kelly. Those consoling words soothed him too, helping him face the fact that Matt was really gone. There. He admitted it himself. There was no getting around it. Matt. Was. Dead.

Crossing over to the closet, Jim pulled out a clean shirt and walked back to his bed. Oh, Matty. Still stunned by the news, he dropped heavily onto the bed. Setting the garment aside, he began to unbutton his shirt. His fingers felt thick and clumsy, and a crushing heaviness filled his heart.


Six Weeks Earlier:

"Hey, Jimbo. Good to see ya again."

Jim sat down, peering through the reinforced glass that separated him from his friend. Matt's bright smile did little to chase away the oppressiveness he felt within the room. As often as he'd been inside prisons, it was a feeling he knew that he'd never get used to. The walls were too close, too confining; and an overwhelming coldness wrapped around him, penetrating deep within his soul. He shook off the unwanted feeling and smiled back at Matt. "You keeping your nose clean?

Matt rubbed his nose, then chuckled. "It's a whole another world in here, but, yeah, I'm staying out of trouble. Only got a little over four months left -- then freedom! I can hardly wait. I'm turning over a new leaf, Jim. I mean it. Kelly's dad is fixing me up with a job once I get out of here."

"That's good to hear. You know, if there's anything I can do..."

"Nah, you've done enough, more than enough," Matt effused, then the wide smile was replaced with a sobering look. "I...I want to thank you for keeping an eye on Kelly and Matty. She told me how you've been there for her. If she didn't have her family and you...well...I just want you to know that I'm grateful."

Warmed inside by Matt's declaration, Jim's smile widened, lighting his eyes, and he replied softly, "Hey, that's what good buddies are for."

They continued their talk for a while, making idle conversation until visiting time was over. Rising to leave, Jim took one last look at his friend and wondered where all the years had gone. If he squinted real carefully, he could still see that carefree, freckled-face kid grinning back at him. He raised his hand in a farewell salute. "You take care now. We'll go out and celebrate when you're sprung."

Matt's grin became even wider, and he winked at his good friend. "You got yourself a date!"


Present:

That was the last time he'd seen Matt alive. Regret flooded through him at the thought of the unclaimed celebratory dinner.

"Jim?" Blair's concerned voice called from below, dissipating the recent memory. "You okay up there?"

"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine." Slipping on the clean shirt, he quickly buttoned it. "I'll be right down."

After tucking in his shirttail, he then grabbed his wallet, shoved it in his back pocket and headed down the stairs. Jim steeled his feelings, tamping them down, ready to offer Kelly his support. He'd be there for her and help with any necessary arrangements. And more importantly, he'd find out what happened to Matt.


Monday, Coroner's Office:

Walking down the hallway, Blair asked again, "Okay, let me get this straight. One of your best friends from high school was in prison for harvesting weed?"

"Not one of the smartest guys you'd ever want to meet. I mean, Matt did a really stupid thing. The guy had a gambling problem so he tried to work his way out of it by selling pot. Not too bright, huh?"

"Nope," Blair quietly agreed.

Reaching their destination, Jim paused by the door and noted the six letters that stared back at him. 'Morgue.' Unfeeling. Impersonal. Beyond the door, a stark reality waited for him on a cold, aluminum table. His fingers lightly touched the door. Once he entered that room, words would become a solid, actual truth.

"You ready?" Blair asked softly, nodding his head toward the door.

"Yeah. Sorry." Straightening his shoulders, Jim slipped from his persona of friend to that of detective and opened the door.

"Dan," Jim greeted the Native American as he entered the room. Blair followed, a few steps behind. "What you got?"

Setting aside a chart, Dan Wolf donned a pair of latex gloves and moved over to the autopsy table. The medical examiner reached for the sheet and perfunctorily began the initial commentary. "Thirty-six year-old male, Caucasian."

The detective's breath hitched as Dan pulled back the covering, revealing the body of his childhood friend.

Wolf stopped his observations, and compassion filled his dark brown eyes. "I'm sorry, Jim. I heard he was a friend of yours."

"Yeah...uh...it's...it's okay. Please continue."

It was not the bullet wound in the back that held Jim's attention as the ME rolled the body, showing the point of entry, but the myriad of vivid bruises and contusions that covered the lower back, chest, upper arms and face. His eyes traveled to the throat where the bruises took on the shape of an odd pattern.

"What's this?"

"Ah. I knew you'd catch this." Wolf's gloved finger pointed toward the herringbone-like pattern decorating the neck.

Jim studied the strange bruising. "It...it looks like part of a shoe print"

"You got it. If I had to guess right now, probably a size 13 work boot."

"So, was the bullet wound the cause of death?"

"Huh?" Dan Wolf looked up from the body. "No. He was already dead when that happened. Most likely the crushed larynx, asphyxiation." The ME picked up a lifeless hand from the autopsy table and ran his finger across the nail beds. "Note the blue discoloration around the fingertips."

"But his wife was told that he was shot trying to escape," Blair cut in.

"There's no way this man could've been shot trying to escape seeing as he was already dead when the bullet entered his body. The neatness of the entry wound and lack of bleeding clearly indicates this. You got to have a beating heart to pump blood."

"So what are we looking at?" the detective asked, edgily.

"Preliminary findings -- manner of death -- homicide. I'll know more after I complete the autopsy."

Jim's fists clenched, his nails digging painfully into the palms of his hands as he heard Dan's conclusion. Anger? Shock? He was unsure what he was feeling, but was it really a surprise? He'd felt something was wrong the moment Kelly told him about the phone call from the prison. Dan Wolf's findings only confirmed it. A light touch to his arm reminded him that Sandburg was still by his side.

"Jim?"

He turned toward his partner. Sandburg's eyes revealed so much. Jim could easily see the concern and support offered and read the unspoken question: are you okay? He gave a little nod and then turned back toward Dan. "Send a copy of the report to my desk."

The ME glanced up from the corpse, answering, "You got it, Jim," then continued on with his examination of the body.


Wednesday Morning, St. Aloysius Cemetery:

With Blair by his side, Jim followed the solemn procession through the dew-laden grass of St. Aloysius Cemetery to what would now be Matt's final resting place. A green and white striped tent covered the small sitting area for the immediate family, and the bronze casket rested in front of the chairs, a harsh reminder of their purpose here.

The priest droned on and on about life, death and the hereafter, but Jim tuned him out, preferring to say his 'good-by' in his own way -- his own time -- until the celebrant's booming voice said, "Live a little. No, I say live more! Live in eternity with our Lord and Savior..."

Live a little. Wasn't that what Matt used to say to him? Yeah, that was Matt's motto all throughout their senior year, but Jim could never be as adventuresome as Matt, living life on the edge. No. There were responsibilities, Stevie looked toward him for guidance, and then there was his father...


Cascade Senior High School, Boy's Locker Room - Fall 1979:

Standing up to snap his jeans, Jim was hit in the face with a wet towel. "Hey!" he grumbled, tossing the towel back in the direction of his wet-haired friend.

"What's eating you? We won the game, didn't we?" chuckled the boy as he shot and scored with the towel into the laundry cart.

"You were supposed to roll to the left," Jim replied, pulling on a long-sleeved plaid shirt.

"Oh, as if it would've mattered. You were still able to get the pass off and into the end zone for the winning touchdown."

"Yeah, I did," Jim muttered But barely. I had to scramble to throw the ball before being creamed by the two largest defensive players on the opposing high school team. He paused in buttoning his shirt in order to rub his hand across his bruised ribs. "Your goof could have cost us the game."

"Come on, Jimbo, lighten up. We won. Remember what your Dad says...winning isn't everything...it's the only thing! Let's go celebrate." The boy pulled a dingy white tee shirt over his head and brushed back the long, dark bangs out of his eyes. "I'm picking up Kelly and a keg and heading over to the park."

Jim studied his friend carefully. Matty had been his best friend since first grade, and he wasn't sure why. Maybe because his friend had such a zest for life. The freckled-face boy was always the practical joker, the class clown. He was either getting into a tight spot or was in the process of getting out of one. His father was always telling him that Matt was nothing but a troublemaker, a loser, and a longhaired freak. Maybe that was why he liked him. Matt was so different from himself.

"Matt, the park closes at sundown," Jim cautioned.

"That's the point...there won't be any grown-ups around." Matt laughed as he waggled his eyebrows. "The whole gang is going. There'll be plenty of girls."

Jim paused, giving it some thought. Would it be worth the risk? Indecisive for only a moment, he shook his head. "Sorry."

Matt then gave him a lecherous grin. "Susie Jenkins is going to be there."

Jim's eyes lit up. He really liked that perky, redheaded cheerleader, maybe too much. He just couldn't seem to work up the nerve to ask her out...and then there was his father. Jim knew that his father wouldn't approve of this type of 'party.' Furthermore, Dad had told him to come home right after the game in a tone that clearly indicated immense displeasure and ramifications if not obeyed. Jim knew what the punishment would be and he didn't want to lose the opportunity to drive the '65 Cobra to the homecoming dance. His father had promised him that he might let him drive the car if he stayed out of trouble and kept up his grades.

"I don't think so...not tonight."

"Jimmy boy, you need to loosen up. You know you don't always have to please your father. Live a little."

"Hey, I do live a little -- just not to your extent."

Chuckling, Matt threw his jacket over his shoulder and slammed his locker door shut. "Well, if you change your mind, we'll be over at the pavilion behind Manleo Field."

Jim sat on the bench alone wondering if he could change his mind. He wished he could, in fact he was even envious of Matt's carefree attitude. What wouldn't he give to be able to cut loose? Would it be worth it to incur his father's wrath? He stood up and removed his jacket from the locker. Maybe he would head over to Manleo Field -- he sighed and slipped on the jacket -- and then again maybe not.


Present:

Jim squinted in the bright sunlight. No, he never went to Manleo Field that night. He had been tempted...so much so that he even drove by it. But he never stopped. Just as well. The police had raided the keg party. Matt was one of the unfortunate few to be picked up. It earned him a weeklong suspension from school. And among his classmates, it only added to his reputation and popularity. Of course...where were his classmates now? He didn't see one among the few mourners standing and sitting along the graveside...just his wife, Kelly, his ten-year-old son, Matt, Jr., Kelly's dad, and a few distant relatives probably from Kelly's side of the family.

Jim rocked back on his heels and stared at the distraught wife dressed in black. Was it only a few days ago that Kelly had appeared at his doorway bearing the news of Matt's death? Refusing to believe the circumstances of her husband's death, she sought him out for help. But that was Kelly, faithful to her husband to the end.

Kelly always stood beside Matt. They'd eloped right after graduation from high school. Kelly went to work for Sears and Matt with the local garage. Unfortunately, Matt was unable to settle down. He still liked to party and wager a bit more than he could afford on the ponies. He still believed that winning wasn't everything...it was the only thing. He kept waiting for the big score. Even after Matt, Jr. was born, he continued to play. And when he got into trouble with the bookies, he figured he could grow a little grass and make enough in sales to pay off his debts. He never figured on getting caught...he never figured on getting killed.

"Hey, Jim." Blair nudged his partner. "You hanging in there?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Jim replied flatly. "You know, Matt may not have been one of the good guys, but he wasn't a bad one...he was just stupid. Stupid for thinking that selling pot would solve all his problems, but not stupid enough to try to escape from prison. Not with only three months left to go on his sentence."

Blair remained silent, letting his grieving friend vent his feelings.

"I saw him just a month and a half ago," Jim spat out. "Escaping was the farthest thing on his mind. And you saw the autopsy report. The bullet wasn't the cause of death. He was murdered, and I want to know why."

As the graveside service ended, Jim stepped up to Kelly. Wiping a stray tear from the woman's face, he continued to cup her cheek in his hand. "I'm so sorry, Kelly."

"I know, Jim." The woman gave him a sorrowful smile. "Promise me you'll find out what really happened to Matt."

"I promise." Jim brushed his lips lightly across her cheek, sealing the vow. "I promise, no matter what it takes."

Turning, he headed toward where he parked his truck, leaving his partner to pay his condolences to the family. "No matter what it takes," he whispered softly to himself. That's what he had said and he intended to keep his pledge.


Wednesday Afternoon, Major Crime:

As Jim rapped lightly on the captain's door, he was already formulating in his mind what had to be done. Now he would have to sell his boss on the idea. Entering with Blair in tow, Jim was so intent on his musing that he failed at first to notice the woman sitting across from Simon's desk.

"Excuse me, sir." Jim paused wondering if he interrupted something or if he had the wrong time for the meeting. Before he could backpedal, the captain moved over ushering both men further into the room.

"I've invited someone to sit in," Simon stated quickly, intending to squelch any disagreement the detective may have with his 'guest.' "Maggie Chandler, this is Detective Jim Ellison."

Jim glanced at the well-dressed, African-American woman before responding grudgingly, "Nice to meet you."

Leaning back against the wall as Simon proceeded to introduce his partner as a consultant to the department, Jim ignored the look that the captain sent him, which clearly meant to play nice. She was an unknown quantity and until he knew what she was here for, he would play it any way he wanted.

"Maggie was an Assistant DA." Simon directed his voice toward Jim. "Now she's with the State Board of Corrections."

The woman smiled at the men before asking, "Tell me what you know?"

Jim moved across the room, dropping the file in his hand onto the table. Was she here for the truth or for a cover-up? Deciding to be blunt, he faced her. "I have reason to believe an inmate was murdered at the Starkville facility and the authorities there are trying to cover it up."

"Matthew Temple?" Chandler offered the name without pause.

Simon raised an eyebrow, and his eyes met Jim's in a silent acknowledgement before responding, "You're familiar with the case?"

The women nodded her head in agreement. "It struck me odd that a model prisoner whose sentence had already been reduced would attempt an escape three months before parole."

"The doctor's report says he was shot in the act. We recovered the body and performed our own autopsy. The ME confirmed the bullet wound, but determined a different cause of death." The detective's voice clearly displayed the disdain he had for the prison doctor's report.

"Are you positive?" Chandler questioned, ignoring the man's tone.

"The prisoner had ruptured kidneys and a fractured jaw and ribs...basically, though, he died from asphyxiation, a crushed larynx."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that he was shot in the back after he was beaten and then asphyxiated." Jim folded his arms across his chest and stared hard at the woman. There, now let's see her try to cover that up.

The woman glanced down at her hand, sighing. "I'm afraid this may just be the tip of the iceberg. There's been a high incidence of serious injuries and fatalities to the inmates at Starkville."

"You have evidence to back that up?" the captain questioned.

"Dr. Spencer at the prison contacted me. He was going to give me some files. He died on his way to our meeting, in a car accident."

"That's a hell of a coincidence, huh?" Blair snorted.

"After that, we sent someone undercover. A detective with the state police went in as a guard. He was stabbed by a prisoner before he could find anything."

There was a lull in the conversation. Jim had remained quiet, absorbing the information provided by Chandler. She seemed to be on their side and with her help, perhaps he could convince the captain what he wanted...no, needed to do.

"I want to go inside, sir." Jim's statement was not a request.

"Out of the question," Simon sputtered. "Didn't you hear what Ms. Chandler just said? They already sent someone under as a guard and he was stabbed."

"Not as a guard, sir." Jim locked his eyes with Simon's. "As a prisoner."

"It's too dangerous-- " the captain started.

Before he could continue, Chandler spoke up, "Simon, we could transfer out anyone who might recognize Detective Ellison...any previous arrests..."

"That's not it!" Simon glared at the women. "What if the authorities are involved? They'll find out who he is..."

"They won't," she reassured the captain. "We'll keep what we're doing in this room. No one else will know."

Simon crossed over to his detective. "You really want this?"

Jim studied his friend's face. It was a mixture of anger and concern. Simon, if only you knew how much I want this. Jim could read in Simon's eyes that the decision was now his. Not breaking eye contact, Jim only nodded his response.

"All right." The captain begrudgingly gave his blessing to the demand.


What the hell was Jim thinking? That thought kept churning through Blair's mind as he sat alone at Jim's desk. He glanced over toward the captain's office knowing that the detective and the captain were busy planning the details of transferring Jim into Starkville prison, a meeting he wasn't privileged to attend.

Tossing a pencil aside, he shuffled the papers on the desk, giving only a pretense of reading them. No way could Jim go undercover. Didn't he realize how dangerous it could be? Look what'd happened when he went undercover as a bodyguard for the Lazar family. A drugged bottle of water had sent his senses on the fritz.

Seeing Jim leave the captain's office, Blair jumped up and followed the detective through the bullpen, narrowly evading Brown's desk as he reached out to grasp the taut shoulder. "Are you nuts or what?" he hissed.

Jim turned and offered a flat, "Or what."

Blair stared at Jim incredulously.

Spreading his arms wide in a placating manner, Jim explained, "Look, Chief, something has to be done--"

"Oh, and you're the one to do it?" Frustrated, Blair ran a hand through his hair, then an idea struck him. "I could go in as your backup."

"Oh, forget it, Chief. You don't want to go near that place."

"Yeah, I know I don't want to go near it..."

Jim began walking again and Blair hurried to keep up. "Besides, Simon already has my backup -- some new recruit from Detroit. He's clean. Nobody in the jail's going to know him. He's gonna be teaching a creative writing course that I'll take as part of my cover."

Blair shook his head; Jim just wasn't getting the big picture here. "I don't like it, man. I mean, what if something happens to your senses? He's not gonna know what to do."

Stopping, Jim turned around, facing Blair, and said very seriously, "I'm gonna have to take my chances. Now if you go anywhere near that place, I'm gonna have to use your head as a football."

Sighing deeply, Blair watched as Jim continued down the hallway. He knew the empty threat was Jim's way of looking out for his best interest, but still it hurt not to be included -- to be there as backup. So much could go wrong. His concern turned toward frustration.

Clenching his good hand, he pounded it into his thigh, exasperated at his partner. Damn stubborn sentinel! Jim was too close to the case, it was too personal -- the murder of Danny Choi was a perfect example of what could go wrong. Sure, for the most part, Jim had good control of his senses, but anything could set them off. Starkville was a long way from Cascade. Who'd be there when the noise became unbearable, the lights too bright, the food unpalatable? What about the clothes, the smells? And, god forbid, a zone-out. Who'd be there then? Who?


Sunday Night, One Week Later:

Jim stared at the reflection in the bathroom mirror. His steel blue eyes had already taken on the hardness that was so familiar from his covert-ops days. He had been trained well on how to immerse himself into a character, especially one as unfeeling as Jim Curtis or perhaps as unfeeling as Jim Ellison before Blair. "Damn," he swore softly as the name itself caused a chink in his fašade. His eyes faltered briefly before regaining their coolness. The slip only strengthened his resolve to keep his friend out of the loop.

Grabbing his toothbrush, he smeared a bit of toothpaste on it before fervently attacking his teeth. Blair didn't understand...how could he? The unpleasant dinner conversation played back in his memory. Perhaps he had been a bit too hard on the kid, perhaps...but...


Earlier:

"What part of 'NO' don't you understand, Sandburg?" Jim said tersely as he stabbed repeatedly at his steak. "No is no." Jim continued sawing at his meat. This was to be his last dinner before prison and instead of enjoying a relaxing meal, it was churning in his stomach.

Blair picked up his plate, which still contained most of his dinner, and sulked into the kitchen. "All I'm asking is to be nearby somehow."

"This isn't a game we're playing at, Chief. Don't you understand, I can't afford contact with you." Jim emphasized the last part. Blair had to understand that Jim couldn't let his friendship interfere with his cover. Jim Curtis couldn't be a nice person.

"I never thought of it as a game," Blair responded, sitting back down at the table. "I was only thinking about you...what if something should happen with your senses and..."

"Don't throw my senses up in my face again," Jim responded loudly as he dropped his silverware. The clatter the utensils made on the plate only underlined his point. "I already told you that I'd take my chances, so drop the subject." Jim pushed hard back from the table causing his chair to scrape noisily against the wooden floor. Without another word, the detective stomped off to his room, effectively putting an end to any further discussion on the matter.


Present:

Yeah, he would take his chances. Spitting out the toothpaste along with the memory, Jim rinsed out his mouth before placing the brush back in its holder. He had only come down from his room to get ready for bed after he was sure that Blair had retired for the night. Wiping down the sink, he placed the damp towel into the hamper and then quickly headed back up the stairs. Staying downstairs only increased the likelihood of another encounter with Blair.

Sitting on the edge of his mattress, Jim carefully removed his watch and laid it on the night table. He wouldn't need it tomorrow. Stretching his tall frame across the bed, Jim stared up at the ceiling. The light from the nightstand made an interesting pattern. He knew he should turn the light off, he knew he should get some sleep -- tonight being his last night in his own bed for who knew how long. Tomorrow he'd be processed as he entered Starkville as Jim Curtis.

However, the discussion, the almost argument, all right the argument, had left unsettled feelings between him and Blair. He could hear his friend below tossing and turning. Sleep wasn't coming to Blair easy either. Blair was right in all that he'd said. Any number of things could go wrong, especially with his senses. He would just have to keep them turned down most of the time, use them sparingly and hope that the control Blair had taught him so far would be enough. He couldn't admit to his fear that something could go wrong with his senses. Curtis could show no fear whatsoever. The inmates would eat him alive if they sensed any weakness. Nor could anything personal be taken into the mission, including his friendship with Blair. That was the number one thing he learned from his covert days.

Jim closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of the sheets and the softness of the mattress. He had to put his friends out of his mind...especially Blair. He was no longer Jim Ellison but Jim Curtis. He had to assume his persona totally in order to make his cover work. Curtis was a hard, solitary man, sent up for twenty-five years to life for robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder. Not a very nice man. If Blair was his contact, he didn't know if he could keep up the ruse. Couldn't Blair see that? There was no separating the inner shell from the outer shell.

Reaching across the bed to switch off the light, Jim rolled over as he gave his pillow a punch or two. Tonight he'd go to sleep as Jim Ellison; tomorrow he'd wake up as Jim Curtis.

Act II