MISGUIDED

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@gmail.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Paramount, Petfly and others, except me. This fanfic has been written for my own and others’ enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: September Themefic for Techgrrl, who wanted case stories.

RATING: PG - 13

WARNINGS: Language, Violence.

SPOILERS: Iceman.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: RAPDS (Randomly Amplified Polymorhic DNA) is a genuine procedure. This fic is based on a true story. I have no idea if RAPDS works on Larch trees or not. It does on Palo Verde trees but I couldn’t find any information regarding whether Palo Verde trees grow in Washington. It’s a work of fiction, allow me a little artistic license. (g)

Blair Sandburg rolled his eyes as Jim Ellison rapped sharply on the bathroom door and called out loud enough to wake the dead. "Get a move on, Sandburg. If you’re not out of there in five minutes, you can walk to the precinct."

"Yes, Jim," Blair answered obediently, then poked his tongue out at the direction of the voice, full of bravado from behind a closed door.

"That’s really childish, Chief," Jim’s voice said and Blair started guiltily. "Sally used to say if you made faces and the wind changed, you’d stay that way." The door opened and Jim poked his head into the steamy interior. "Then again, how would we know the difference?" He ducked and laughed as a soapy washcloth headed out of the shower alcove aimed for his head.

"Very funny, Jim." Blair’s face appeared from around the shower curtain, his hair a mass of lather that dribbled down his cheek. "How did you know?"

"What?"

"That I was making faces at you?" Blair answered, his eyes bright with curiosity and the prospect of a lab session or two.

Jim shot him down in flames. "Cop’s instinct," he said. "Three minutes."

Blair stuck a finger up at the closed door and went back to his ablutions. The phone was ringing as he exited the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. "Damn," he said feelingly. "That’s got to be work."

Jim shrugged and walked over to pick up the receiver. Blair waited and rubbed a second towel through his wet curls, his unease growing as he watched the frown developing on Jim’s face.

Jim finally hung up the phone and headed for the kitchen. "Go get dressed, Chief. I’ll make coffee."

"Jim? What is it?"

"Woman’s body found dumped on the outskirts of town. Dirt-bike rider found her. Simon wants us both on it."

"Okay," Blair said. He felt a lump of disquiet settle in his gut. "What else?"

Jim shrugged as he made the coffee. "Simon thought the woman looked familiar but they haven't ID'd her yet." He looked back and smiled reassuringly at Blair’s nervous nod. "Get a move on. I told Simon we’d be there in twenty minutes."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim pulled his vehicle to a park behind Simon’s car and alighted from the cab. He waited for Blair to join him before striding purposefully toward an area further off the road. This part of Cascade was set away from the city limits; a stray piece of scrubland used most often by dirt bike riders to practice their jumps and skids without disturbing the peace of residents. The rough track was deserted today, save for one motorbike parked on the track, the rider standing beside it, giving a statement to a uniformed officer.

Jim and Blair headed toward the small group of people standing within the familiar yellow police tape. The detective saw Blair slow imperceptibly as the two men came closer and the unmoving body slumped on the ground came into view. The woman lay facedown in the dirt, her face turned to one side but her features covered by long brown hair. She was naked from the waist down, though her top was rucked up under her armpits.

Jim stepped under the tape and held it up for Blair, nodding to Simon as the captain became aware of their presence. "What do we have, Captain?" Jim asked as he approached the small group. He crouched down beside Serena and watched as she painstakingly examined the woman’s body, taking care not to disturb any evidence.

"Young woman, Caucasian, maybe 25 years old, looks like she was strangled with her own pantyhose," Simon replied. He looked over at Blair who stood further back. "Sandburg? You all right?"

Blair nodded. "Sure, Captain. You know, me and bodies just don’t mix."

"Yeah, I know. Serena, are you finished?"

Serena looked up and nodded. "Yes, Captain. Anything else can wait until we get her to the morgue. There’s no doubt as to the cause of death. No other injuries save for some broken fingernails. Probably from trying to pull the ligature from her neck."

"Oh man," Blair muttered.

Jim looked up sharply at the comment. "You going to be all right, Chief?" He watched as Blair licked at dry lips, then nodded.

"Yeah, Jim. I’ll be fine. What do you need?"

Jim motioned for Blair to come closer and kneel beside him. "Thanks, Serena," Jim said to the Asian woman. "Mind if I have a look before you take her in?"

"Go ahead," Serena invited. "Once we move the body, we’ll excavate around the death site. See what else we can come up with."

Jim turned to Blair. "I’m looking for anything that is alien to her or the immediate area. Anything that might have come from the killer, his clothes, his car, his body, anything."

Blair took a deep breath and leaned in closer, his nose wrinkling in distaste at the faint smell of death that emanated from the body. "I hope you’ve got your nose dialed down, man," he whispered to the sentinel.

"Got it covered, Chief."

Blair looked up at Simon. "Jim said you thought she was familiar?"

Simon nodded. "Yeah, just a feeling. We didn’t find any ID or personal effects on the body. The uniformed guys are searching the area."

Blair looked back at the girl. "Poor thing," he said.

Jim swept the dead woman’s hair back from where it covered her face and both men froze. The detective reached quickly for Blair’s arm as he heard his partner’s sharp intake of breath. Blair surged up from the ground, one hand coming up to cover his mouth.

"Oh God," Blair breathed.

"Oh Christ, Blair," Jim said simultaneously.

Blair spun quickly on his heel and rushed away. He stopped for a moment as the police tape impeded his progress, then tearing it from his arms, he pushed it up over his head and rushed headlong for the bushes.

Jim straightened from his position beside the body and followed the path his partner had taken. "It’s Amber Larkin, captain," he said as he swept past an astonished Simon. "Don’t let anyone touch anything until I get back."

"Amber Larkin?" Simon questioned.

Jim stopped briefly outside the marked off area. "From the Zeller case."

Simon closed his eyes briefly. "Oh, Christ," he said fervently.

Jim followed the sounds of Blair’s racing heart and soon came upon the younger man, leaning heavily against a tree. "Blair? Are you okay?"

Blair held up a shaking hand and nodded. "I’m okay," he croaked. "Stay there though. I threw up. I don’t want you to step in it."

Jim smiled gently. "I’ve got good eyesight, remember. No chance of that."

Blair turned to him then. His face was chalky white and dotted with perspiration. "Amber?" he asked. "What would she be doing out here, Jim. She’s supposed to be in California, in medical school."

Jim shook his head and stepped closer to his partner. "I don’t know, Chief." He wrapped an arm around Blair’s shoulders and pulled him close, feeling the shudders coursing through the other man’s body. "We’ll find out." Blair nodded, then pulled away and walked slowly back toward the group still gathered around the young woman.

Halfway there, Jim stopped, and angled his head back the way they had come. Blair walked a couple more steps before he realized Jim was no longer with him. Trotting back to join the detective, Blair placed a hand on Jim’s forearm and regarded him for a moment. "Jim?" he asked. "What is it?"

Jim shook his head. "Can’t you hear that? Something’s beeping." He turned and strode back the way they had come. "It’s over here."

Simon followed the two men. "What is it?"

Blair answered the captain with a shake of his head and concentrated on following Jim’s long strides toward the trees. By the time, Blair and Simon caught up, Jim had found the source of the noise. He squatted next to the base of a tree and pulled a pen and a plastic bag from his pocket. Looking over his shoulder at the others approaching, he pointed to a small black object on the ground, which was emitting an occasional beeping sound. "Somebody lost their pager," he said grimly.

0~0~0~0~0

It took only a short time to discover that the pager belonged to one Steven Burke, a 35 year old truck driver from Cascade. As Jim and Blair set out to find the man and bring him in for questioning, Jim looked over at the anthropologist. "Are you sure you’re okay?" he asked.

Blair turned away from the window and nodded. "I’m okay," he replied. "I just don’t understand any of this."

"When did you last see Amber?" Jim asked.

"Around six months ago. She’d decided to move to California and get her medical degree at UCLA. She’d received a scholarship from Rainier but she told me she had family there and wanted to go home." He shrugged and smiled. "We went out a few times but it was never serious." He paused for a moment as though reliving the memories in his mind.

"All right, go on."

Blair shrugged his shoulders and turned back to face the front of the truck. "That’s it. As far as I knew, she’d gone back to California and I haven’t heard from her since."

"Maybe she went back to her old job."

Blair stared at him. "Why? She had no reason to. She was doing well in school. She said she had enough money…" His voice trailed off and Jim turned to watch him.

"What?"

"It might be nothing," Blair said flatly.

"And it might be something," Jim insisted. "The girl’s dead, Sandburg, and if you want to find her killer, I need to know everything you know."

Blair nodded. "I know. Sorry. The last time I saw her, she said she still had some outstanding debts from when she was a working girl. I told her that the scholarship should cover some of that but she said she couldn’t see the scholarship committee agreeing to pay for thousand dollar dresses and the like. She was a little depressed, talking about whether she'd made the right choice going back to school. That’s when she decided to go back to California. She was hoping that if she went home, her parents would be prepared to help her out financially, once they saw she was off the streets."

Jim nodded thoughtfully as he steered the vehicle to a halt outside a modest house framed by a neat garden. "It’s something else to look into, Chief. Let’s go see what Mr. Burke has to say for himself."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair looked in puzzlement from Jim to Simon. "I don’t understand," he said. "Burke said he was with her. Christ, Jim, he admitted to having sex with her."

"And that just made our job harder, Chief," Jim answered as he sank into his chair. "Sit down, Sandburg. You look worn out."

"I’m fine," Blair answered automatically but he seated himself all the same.

"Okay. Burke says Amber approached him at the traffic lights and asked him if he wanted to have sex. He agreed and they drove off, heading out in the same general direction where her body was found. He parked the truck in a lay-by and they had sex. On the drive back to the city, they argued about the cost. He slowed down at an intersection and Amber grabbed his wallet and pager and ran off. He parked the truck and chased her. He says he was able to get his wallet back but she wouldn’t let go of the pager. She was screaming abuse at him…"

"Amber wouldn’t have done that," Blair interrupted. He blushed at the look his partner shot him. "Sorry."

"She was screaming abuse at him," Jim continued. "He was worried about attracting a crowd, so he gave up on the pager and left her on the highway leading into Cascade."

"Which leaves us where?" Blair asked.

"Absolutely up shit creek," Simon put in. "Burke knows that finding the pager near Amber’s body puts him in contact with her before she died. He also knows that DNA analysis of the body fluids is only going to prove what he said and nothing more. So, he admits to knowing who she is and having consensual sex with her, that explains the presence of his semen. He says that she took the pager, which is why it was found near her body. He says he left her on the side of the highway alive and well. Amber has past convictions as a prostitute, so there is no reason to doubt his story. Just because he had sex with her doesn’t mean he killed her. He’s intimating that she was picked up by someone else, either as a hitch-hiker or for sex and they murdered her."

"Except it’s not true," Blair said stubbornly. "I have a feeling about this, Jim. He’s hiding something."

Jim nodded and stood up. "I agree, Chief. Come on, Burke’s car has been impounded downstairs. Let’s see what we can find."

The two men left the bullpen and headed down to the underground parking area. Blair was silent on the trip down in the elevator. Just before the doors opened, Jim reached out and squeezed Blair’s shoulder. "We’ll find out who did this, Chief."

Blair sighed and nodded. "I know we will. It’s just such an awful thing to have happened. I still can’t believe she went back to the job, man. She was so desperate to study medicine."

"Things happen, Sandburg," Jim replied. "Maybe she thought she had no other choices. When we finish here, why don’t we head downtown, grab some dinner, then go talk to a few of Amber’s girlfriends."

Blair nodded again. "Sure. That’s a good idea."

The two men moved to one side of the elevator as they exited, making room for a large, impatient detective. Blair was behind Jim as they stepped out and felt himself slammed sideways, his head impacting painfully with the edge of the elevator door. His vision blacked out briefly and he felt his knees buckle beneath him. Then, a huge hand was under his armpit, lifting him to his feet and bashing him back against the wall of the elevator. "Sorry, ma’am." The voice echoed waveringly in his ears and he squinted up at the blurry image hovering over him. "Whoops, it’s you, Sandburg. Thought it was a girl under all that hair."

A chorus of laughter assaulted his eardrums and then the behemoth was pushed aside and Jim stood in his place. "You all right, Chief?"

One large hand tilted up his chin to examine his eyes even as Blair nodded and he winced again as Jim’s searching fingers found a rapidly swelling lump behind his left ear. "I’m okay," he muttered, sweeping his tongue over a small split in his lip, where he’d bitten down as he fell.

Jim regarded him a moment longer, then nodded and spun around to face Blair’s attacker. "Riley. I should have known," Jim growled. He advanced on the other detective but stopped as Blair laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"Geez, Ellison, I said I was sorry," Riley snorted but Blair noticed he backed up all the same.

"Leave it, Jim, please," Blair said. He levered himself away from the wall of the elevator, closing his eyes briefly as dizziness threatened. "I’m fine," he insisted. "No harm done."

"You sure, Chief?" Jim’s words were directed at Blair but his eyes never left Riley’s face.

"I’m sure. Let’s get back to work." Blair stepped out of the elevator and waited for Jim to join him, rubbing gingerly at the lump on his head.

"Jerk," Jim muttered as he strode toward Burke’s car.

"Yeah," Blair agreed as he hurried to keep up with his partner.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim straightened from his examination of the underside of Burke’s truck and kneaded the muscles in the small of his back.

Blair watched him soberly from the other side of the vehicle. "Did you get anything?"

Jim shook his head. "Not really." He brushed his fingers over a wide scrape in the right rear side. "Looks like he might have backed into something recently, but there’s no way of telling what." He strode around the rest of the truck. "The interior looks pretty clean. I wonder if he cleaned it out to get rid of any evidence. Wait a minute, what’s this?"

The detective walked around to the other side of the truck and leaned over into the tray at the back. He pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and reached out to gingerly pick up a handful of small needles he could see caught up in one corner. Blair walked around to join him as he placed the leaves in the bag and then held them up, examining them curiously.

"You got something, Jim?"

"I’m not sure," Jim answered. "It’s probably nothing but we’ve got to collect anything in the truck for evidence." He rubbed at the bridge of his nose and then stared at Blair for a moment. "There was something I read about in a magazine but I just can’t put it all together." He shrugged and placed the bag in his pocket. "We’ve still got the magazine at home, I’ll see if I can find the article. It’ll come to me. Okay, I’m starved. How about I buy us dinner and we’ll go talk to a few ladies of the night."

Blair shook his head. "Actually, Jim, if you don’t mind, I’m going to head straight home and get some sleep."

Jim was instantly concerned. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I’m fine," Blair answered, though Jim could see the fatigue and pain that framed his eyes with tight lines. "I’ve got a bit of a headache," the anthropologist admitted. "I still think you should go and talk to those girls though."

"Okay," Jim agreed. "You go home, take something for your headache. I’ll go see what I can find out. If you start feeling worse, you call me."

Blair hesitated, then held up his hands in surrender at Jim’s stern gaze. "Yeah, yeah, all right."

Jim smiled. "Get some rest. I want to go back to the murder site early tomorrow and take another look around."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair stretched and tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn as he clambered out of the car and followed Jim back to the site of Amber’s murder. He felt the familiar bile at the back of his throat and swallowed it down resolutely, ignoring the worried look from his partner. "I’m okay," he said. "So, Amber wasn’t back on the street?"

Jim shook his head. "Kelly and Marissa were adamant about that. They knew she was back in town though. They had coffee with her the day she died but she wouldn’t tell them why she’d come back to Cascade."

Jim lifted the police tape, waiting for Blair to go under before following him. Blair placed his hand on Jim’s back and waited silently as Jim dialed up his sight, sweeping the whole area at first, just getting an initial visual feel. It was testament to their bond as sentinel and guide that Blair rarely needed to use his voice these days to either guide or ground Jim. His touch and smell were usually enough. If Jim slipped into a zone-out, Blair used his voice then to lead the sentinel back to him.

Jim shook his head and sighed. "Nothing," he said.

"That’s all right," Blair assured him. "Do you want to try something else. Smell, maybe?"

Jim shook his head. "No, all I can smell are the trees…Wait a minute. What’s that?"

Blair looked in the direction that Jim was pointing. "What’s what?"

"That!"

"Have you forgotten that most of us are not blessed with sentinel sight, Jim?" Blair asked.

Jim took two steps away from the police tape and reached out a hand, patting the trunk of a nearby Larch tree.

"Oh, that," Blair replied, stepping forward and squinting at the bark. He looked apologetically at Jim. "I haven’t got my glasses on."

"Looks like something smacked into this tree," Jim said, running sensitive fingers down the large scrape in the side of the trunk.

"Didn’t you say Burke’s truck had a scrape in the rear fender?"

Jim straightened up and smiled. "That’s it."

Blair shrugged helplessly. "I don’t see how we prove it was Burke…unless there’s paint left on the tree that we can tie to him?"

Jim began to walk back to the car. "Even then, it could be anyone with that kind of a truck. We need to go back to the loft. I want to find that magazine."

0~0~0~0~0

Blair handed Jim his coffee and sank down next to him on the couch. The detective barely acknowledged his presence, his attention firmly held by the forensics magazine in front of him. Blair knew better than to interrupt so he waited patiently, one hand holding his steaming cup of coffee, the other tapping his knee.

Finally Jim slammed the magazine onto the coffee table and looked at his partner, a triumphant grin on his face. "That’s it," he announced.

"It is?" Blair asked. "What is?"

"RAPDS."

"Rafting?" Blair asked slowly. "You’re talking vacations in the middle of a murder investigation?"

Jim shook his head impatiently and placed the magazine on Blair’s lap. "RAPDS is Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA Testing. It can be used to test the DNA from plants. It’s been proven that most plants have individual DNA just like humans. Not types of plants but individual plants."

Blair’s eyes widened in understanding. "So, if we can get DNA from the tree and test it, we can prove if the needles in Burke’s truck came from that same tree. The scrape on the fender! You think he got it backing out of the area after he dumped Amber’s body."

Jim nodded, grinning. "If we can prove the needles are from that same tree, we prove that Burke was there at the murder site. He didn’t leave Amber alive on the interstate." He reached out his hand and slapped Blair’s in an exuberant high-five. "We can place him at the scene, Chief."

Blair grinned widely. "Did anyone ever tell you that you’re brilliant?"

"I thought you were the brilliant one," Jim countered.

"Nah," Blair answered, standing up and walking over to grab their jackets. "I’m the good-looking one."

0~0~0~0~0

"Let me say, Detective, it’s not often I get a visit from the police department in my field of work," Professor David Perry said.

"I have to admit, Professor," Jim answered. "I’m not usually one for laboratories and the like."

"You can say that again," Blair muttered.

"What was that?" Jim asked, a faint smile curling his lips.

Blair shook his head and held his hands up in denial. "Just talking to myself, man." Blair knew the sentinel had heard him and he knew he’d pay for the comment later. "So, what do you have for us?"

The professor stood and walked over to a bench that held several test tubes in stands and other assorted laboratory paraphernalia. "The RAPDS test hasn’t been around that long," he began as he shuffled a sheaf of papers. "It was only recently allowed as evidence in a case in Arizona. I did a blind study of the needles that were given to me and compared them with needles from other Larch trees from this area and out of state. I was able to match the DNA of your Larch needles, not only to the trees found in the area where the young woman was murdered, but also to a specific tree. Let me see," he riffled through the papers in his hand, "Ah, yes, tree B."

Blair punched a fist in the air. "Yes!"

The professor smiled. "I take it we have a winner?"

Jim held out his hand. "Thank you, Professor Perry. It’s been an honor."

The older man smiled, his green eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses. "The pleasure was all mine, detective. Blair, don’t you be such a stranger in future."

Blair shook the professor’s hand. "I’ll call in soon. Tell Mary I said hi."

The two men left the university and headed back to the station. Jim waited until they were seated in Simon’s office before revealing the results of the tests.

Simon rubbed his chin and observed the detective. "How do you want to play this, Jim?"

"This is my collar, Simon. It’s been a tough case for us, especially Blair, and I think it will do us both good to see closure on this one."

"All right," Simon agreed, nodding. "But you take back-up. I don’t want anything going wrong. And Sandburg, stay out of the way. You are not…"

"A cop. I know, Simon," Blair finished for him.

"Yes, well, your memory has been known to fail you at times."

Blair grimaced but said nothing more. Jim was pleased at his partner’s self-restraint. Too much running off at the mouth and Simon would have Blair grounded.

"Take Riley and Samuels with you," Simon continued.

"Can’t you get someone else?" Jim asked over Blair’s loud groan.

"Everyone else is otherwise occupied," Simon replied. His eyes narrowed. "Is there a problem? Something I should know about?"

"No." Blair spoke up before Jim could open his mouth. "It’s fine." He stood up, bouncing slightly on his feet. "Come on, Jim. Let’s go and get this bastard."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim observed the outwardly normal house from his position at the curb. The detective was grateful that the house appeared quiet, as did the entire street. Burke had not shown any tendency toward violence when they had interviewed him a few days before, but at that point in time, the murderer had thought he was home free. Jim looked at his partner and nodded. "All right, Chief. Let’s do it." He raised a warning finger. "You stay behind me unless I tell you otherwise. You got that?"

Blair raised a hand in a mock salute. "Got it." Jim glared at him warningly and Blair capitulated. "Sorry. Yes, got it."

Jim nodded and pushed open his door. He waited until Blair joined him on the pavement before he lifted his radio to his mouth. "Riley, we’re moving in now. Close in on my command. Do you copy?" Jim waited a moment as only static issued from his radio. "Riley? Do you copy?"

Riley’s voice finally came back. The big detective was breathing heavily. "Yeah, I copy, Ellison. Geez, don’t bust a gut."

"On my order," Jim reiterated.

"10-4."

Jim motioned for Blair to fall in behind him and carefully made his way to the front door of the house. The detective rapped sharply on the door, at the same time he pulled his police identification from his pocket. No one answered the knock, so Jim extended his hearing into the house, grounding himself on Blair’s warm hand that rested against his back. After a moment's concentration, he shook his head. "Riley, come up and cover the front door. There’s no one home. I’m going to search the rest of the yard." He looked up as Riley lumbered up to the door.

"I just spoke to the neighbor," the big detective said, panting heavily. "She says they had a big fight last night and the wife and kid left around 2 o’clock this morning in a taxi."

Jim nodded absently, his ears still actively searching for a heartbeat. There! "Got him," he announced. He looked at Blair and Riley. "Riley, stay here. Watch the front door in case he gets past me. Sandburg, you stay out of the way."

"Jim…"

Jim interrupted the objection before Blair could continue. "Stay here unless I call for you." He eyed Riley then. "You’re in charge here, all right?"

Riley nodded. "Just get on with it, would you? I’ve got a hot date tonight."

"Yeah, right," Blair muttered. Jim glared at him for a moment before he strode off around the corner of the house.

John Riley sighed loudly and leaned his heavy bulk against the porch wall. He eyed the silent police observer with barely disguised distaste. "So, Sandburg, you guys really just share an apartment?"

0~0~0~0~0

Jim rounded the corner of the house, his hearing fixed on the shed located directly behind it. One heartbeat only. He pulled his weapon from its shoulder holster and cradled it in both hands, then made his way cautiously toward the structure. He was so focused on the sound that he didn’t hear the footsteps behind him nor the snick of the safety until the muzzle of Burke’s gun was pushed hard into his temple.

The detective froze instantly, raising both hands up and out from his sides. "Drop the gun." Burke’s breath was hot against Jim’s ear and he ground the barrel hard into the detective’s head to emphasize his point. Jim let his weapon drop from his fingers. He stiffened as he saw Blair’s face peek momentarily around the side of the house, then retreat quickly.

‘That’s it, Chief. Go. Get help.’ Jim begged for Blair to read his mind and when his partner’s head did not reappear, he breathed a silent sigh of relief.

"Let’s go." Burke wrapped an arm around Jim’s throat tightly and dragged him toward the back door of the house. Jim staggered over a small shrub and went to his knees before Burke’s stranglehold dragged him back to his feet. Suddenly, the murderer stopped dead in his tracks and aimed his gun toward the side of the house. Jim groaned silently as he saw Blair duck back around the corner just as Burke let loose a bullet that chipped the brick edging.

"Sandburg! Get back. Stay out of the way. You hear me?"

Blair’s disembodied voice floated toward him. "I hear you. Burke? Come on, man. Give it up. You’re surrounded."

Jim felt Burke shake his head. "You don’t understand. It was all her fault," he whimpered. "She needed money. We were seeing each other before she went to California. She said she had debts and she asked me to lend her ten thousand dollars. I told her I didn’t have it. She threatened to go to my wife." His voice dropped in volume. "She had photos."

Jim pushed a hand up against the stranglehold on his throat as Burke dragged him once more toward the house. "Burke?" Jim grated out from a throat squeezed tight. "Come on, give it up. You’re surrounded, you won’t get away and holding me hostage won’t help."

Burke jerked his arm back viciously against Jim’s throat at his words and the detective choked and stumbled as black spots encroached on his vision. His eyes widened in shock as a large black shadow materialized from around the corner of the house, a slender, restraining hand attached to its forearm.

"Hold it right there, Burke," Riley’s voice echoed loudly against the bricks and Jim shuddered as he felt the muzzle of Burke’s weapon shift from his temple to point directly at the detective challenging him. Jim arched himself back, throwing Burke off balance at the same time as he heard the gun discharge. He heard a loud grunt and a muttered curse from the man in front of him. Then he had Burke’s arm twisted back up over his shoulder and the gun dropped from the murderer’s numb fingers. Jim scooped up the weapon and trained it on the cowering man. He fished in his back pocket for his handcuffs and risked a quick glance over his shoulder at the men behind him. "Everything all right?"

His heart froze as Riley cursed again and he spun, pushing his gun and cuffs into the shaky hands of Detective Samuels, who chose that moment to rush up. Jim moved swiftly to the side of his prone partner, his heart pounding painfully. He shoved Riley roughly away from Blair’s side, where he crouched, pressing a large handkerchief to the wound in Blair’s chest.

"Oh Christ," Riley muttered. "You stupid little shit. What did you do that for?"

Jim glared at the other detective then pushed his cell phone at him. "Call for an ambulance. Tell them there’s an officer down and ask them to hurry." Riley stared at him. "Now!" Jim yelled.

Riley swallowed convulsively, then nodded and dialed the phone, relaying the information to the operator. Jim was oblivious to the activity around him as he knelt next to Blair’s still form and lifted the young man until his upper body rested against his thighs. "Blair? You with me here?"

A soft sigh billowed from Blair’s lips, then his eyes fluttered open. His back arched up against the pain and he grunted as he bit down on his lips. "All right, buddy. I’ve got you," Jim soothed. "Ambulance is on its way. I need to put some pressure on the wounds. It’s going to hurt a bit."

Blair nodded, then clenched his eyes shut as Jim pressed the handkerchief against the entrance wound. " Jim? Hurts. Stop, please."

Jim nodded his sympathy. "I know, Chief. I know it hurts. I need to put some pressure on your back as well, to stop the bleeding there. You think you can let me do that?"

Blair nodded weakly. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "You’re angry with me, aren’t you?"

Jim shook his head and brushed Blair’s sweat-damp hair from his face. "We’ll talk later. You just concentrate on breathing for me." The detective watched his partner nod slightly, then Blair’s eyes drifted closed.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim pushed open the door to the hospital room and smiled as Blair shifted in the bed, then his drowsy blue eyes fluttered open.

"Hey!" Blair croaked.

"Hey yourself," Jim replied as he made his way to his partner’s bedside and pulled up a chair. "How are you feeling?"

Blair seemed to consider the question for a moment. "Stiff," he answered finally, then winced. "Sore."

"Getting shot will do that," Jim said. "Here, let me raise you up a little and I’ll get you a glass of water." He pressed the button to raise the bed as he continued to speak. "Do you remember what happened?"

Blair’s brows knit together in concentration. "Oh, right. Burke. Did we get him? Are you okay?"

Jim nodded as he poured water from a jug into a small tumbler. "Yes and yes. As for you, the bullet entered your chest between two ribs. It tore up your lung a little on its way out, which is why you have a chest tube." Jim stroked a finger gently along Blair’s chest as he spoke, feeling the heavy thickness of gauze beneath his fingertips, then held the glass to Blair’s lips. After a few sips, the young man nodded and pushed the drink away before sinking back onto his pillows.

"Thanks. Is Riley all right?"

"He was after I got through bawling him out."

"It was my fault," Blair said. "You told me to wait out front."

"I also told Riley that he was in charge. He should have stopped you."

Blair shrugged, then winced in pain. "He didn’t seem too worried when I left." Blair looked at Jim and smiled. "I don’t think he likes me."

"Really?" Jim said sarcastically. "You noticed? Why is that, do you suppose?"

Blair appeared to give the question serious thought. "I thought at first it was the usual bull about me not being a cop and all but I have a feeling he’s scared of me." Jim raised an eyebrow but didn’t interrupt, curious to see where this trip into the Sandburg zone would end up. "I think that he’s scared that I’m going to jump his bones." Jim snorted with laughter at the thought. "When can I get out of here?" Blair asked.

"Doctor said it’ll be a couple of days at least."

"Oh, come on, Jim. I’ve got a heap of schoolwork already backed up," Blair whined. "Talk to the doctor again. I can take it easy at home and you’re a medic, you know what to do."

"I’m afraid my expertise doesn’t run to chest tubes, Chief, so you’re stuck here until that comes out at least." He tapped a finger against his chin for a moment, obviously deep in thought.

"Jim?"

"I was just thinking that maybe I could use bribery to get you to do what you’re told."

"What?"

Jim shrugged. "You promise to do what I tell you in future, I’ll see if I can convince the doctor to cut you loose from here early, provided he thinks you’re well enough. You don’t want to do that, I’ll see if he can add a few days to your stay." Jim leaned forward conspiratorially. "I don’t think you’re gonna like the charge nurse on this ward, Sandburg." He held up both hands to sketch a large figure in the air and screwed up his nose. "Not your type at all."

Blair’s eyes widened. "You wouldn’t?" He shook his head. "You couldn’t." He sighed deeply at Jim’s nod. "All right. I promise. If you tell me to wait, I’ll wait."

Jim grinned and picked up the TV remote before getting comfortable in his chair. "I think we’re making progress already," he said. "Want me to see if there’s a Jags game on?"

FIN

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