Deputy District Attorney Beverly Sanchez looked up from her paperwork as the private door swung open. The tall, very handsome man who walked in as if he owned the place, smiled at her, folded his lanky frame into the chair opposite her desk, slid down, crossed his unsocked ankles, hooked his hands behind his head and waited.
"You're early, Thomas."
"Nope, it's two o'clock, on the dot. You lost track of the time ~ *again*."
She gave a quick glance at her rolex and grinned. "Damn, you're right."
His smile broadened, and he waited. She reached over, plucked up a file folder and handed it off to him. He took it, opened it and began to read. When he was done, he let it drop back onto the desk, slid back down and again, waited.
"I need you to find this young man, serve him, and bring him back to Cascade. His testimony will be key to the Kincaid trial."
"Let me get this straight. Kincaid breaks out of jail, holds an entire stadium hostage, on National television, you have two dead bodies, thousands of witnesses, *and* several famous basketball players as additional witnesses, and yet you need this, Blair Sandburg?"
Beverly studied the man sitting across from her, took in the casual attire, jeans, polo shirt, loafers, *no* socks, took in the handsome features, the slight graying of the temples, and the hazel eyes, studying *her*. Thomas Sullivan Magnum, the best investigator she'd ever worked with, and she was damn glad he'd decided to re-locate from Hawaii to Washington, but sometimes he could be deliberately obtuse. Like now.
"Thomas, you read the papers, right? You know as well as I do, that Kincaid could walk. He has three of the most successful and powerful attorneys in the United States. And Preston Crawford isn't alive to defend himself, or to give us the truth. But Blair Sandburg is. And can. I need him. *We* need him."
"I'm still in the dark here. Enlighten me."
"I have it on good authority that his legal team will be working on more than their insanity defense. A little bird has been twirping that they are also working on a conspiracy theory, starring none other than Blair Sandburg and Preston Crawford. If their plan works, Kincaid walks in less than two years."
"And if this Sandburg *is* a part of some conspiracy?"
"Thomas, I *know* Blair. He's a good man, and was as much a victim as the others. He was a hostage, nothing more. I need you to go to San Francisco, find him and bring him back. And we don't have a great deal of time. Thanks to some heavy lobbying by the stalwart defenders of the oppressed, the trial has been moved up to the end of September."
"Why San Francisco?"
"Blair left Cascade three weeks after the stadium incident. Detective James Ellison, who'd been his room mate, gave me the one letter he'd received, with Blair's current address. There have been no further communications, so that address is your starting point."
"He left just *after* the stadium takeover? And that doesn't sound suspicious?"
"I don't ~ know what happened, and no one over at Major Crimes, where Sandburg acted as a consultant, is talking. Maybe they don't know."
She opened her middle drawer, pulled an American Airline envelope and handed it to him.
"You're flight leaves in two hours. Pack light."
Magnum folded the ticket and slipped it into his back pocket then stood and gave her a mock salute, followed by, "Aye, aye, Captain."
She grinned and waved him out with an affectionate, "Shoo" and as the door closed behind him, she turned her head to look out on her city.
Why *had* Blair left Cascade? She desperately hoped that bringing Sandburg back, was the right thing to do. So much depended on him.
"No, thanks, I'm fine. What's up, Simon?"
"Sit, Jim, sit."
Ellison looked at his boss, saw the wary expression, the fatigue, and sat. This was going to be bad. But then, hadn't everything been bad since Sandburg had left?
"Spit it out, Simon."
"Just talked with Beverly Sanchez. She's sending an investigator to San Francisco, to locate Blair."
Jim's heart actually skipped a beat. But outwardly, his expression didn't change.
"Thought you'd like to know. The case, the Kincaid trial, seems to be getting a bit ~ complicated."
"An insanity plea is always complicated. They don't have a prayer."
"Beverly seems to feel that they do, they could have, a prayer. More than a prayer. It seems, there is a theory floating around, a theory that puts Blair right in the middle of the whole thing."
Jim gave a tight smile at that and asked, "Blair? In on a conspiracy? With Kincaid? Who thought that one up?"
"Jim, I don't have the facts, Beverly doesn't have the facts. But Blair was alone with Kincaid, after he and Daryl were separated."
Jim stood then, and some of the anger of those past days, reared up now. Anger at Simon, anger at himself.
"You think that just because Sandburg took Daryl with him, risked his life, that he could have been involved, in *any* way, with Kincaid? Because if you do, you're not the man I thought I knew."
"That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying he was alone, and therefore could have heard things, saw things, that Beverly can use. I know I was angry with Blair, hell, it's been four months and I'm *still* angry, but no, I don't for a minute believe that he was involved in any ridiculous conspiracy."
Jim seemed to calm down, but his body language said, "tense".
"Anything else, Captain?"
Simon looked at his friend, and felt an overwhelming sorrow, but he just shook his head and watched Jim walk out.
God, what had gone so terribly wrong? Yes, he'd been angry. Violently angry that Blair had risked *his* son, and Jim had seemed to understand, but then, after three weeks of being shut out of Major Crimes, while he, Simon Banks, tried to calm down, to forgive, Blair had left the loft, had left Cascade. And in four months, Jim had received one letter. A letter saying he'd settled in San Francisco, that everything was fine, and thanking Jim for three great years. That was it. And now, a trio of friendships, gone.
Simon looked down at the work on his desk, his eyes seeing nothing. Had he been so wrong? In his anger? An anger that had left the lives of two men in shreds. And his own, a mere shadow of what it once had been. Joan had taken Daryl to Portland, Oregon, where her family lived, and Simon would be lucky to see him twice a year now. The only bright spot in this whole trial business was that Daryl would be coming back, to testify.
He rubbed his suddenly exhausted eyes, grabbed up a cigar and chomped down. He'd have to face Sandburg. And soon.
And Jim hadn't been a Sentinel for four months.
Because he'd lost his guide.
The end of the day, and a drive home that Jim didn't remember. He'd obviously made it safely, but whether he'd made it legally? He didn't have a clue.
The meeting with Simon had shook him. Someone was going to San Francisco for Blair.
And it wasn't him. It should have been, but it wasn't. He should have gone after him. Four months ago he should have gone after him, but Simon's anger, his own ineffectual behavior in the face of that anger, all combined to render him useless. Directionless. Numb.
He'd been an asshole. He'd let Bank's anger destroy Blair, but he'd been so sure it would die down, and he'd been so afraid that Simon would pull Blair's pass that he'd gone along with the Major Crimes exile that had been imposed on Sandburg. Big mistake.
And now, no Blair. Empty extra bedroom, empty refrigerator, empty bathroom, empty ~ heart.
He cringed at the last words Simon had said to Blair, so much like his own, after discovering the truth about Alex.
"I don't want to see your face in this building, Sandburg, what you did destroyed any trust I'd placed in you. I suggest you leave before I decide to pull your observer status."
He closed his eyes, saw Blair's face, literally stricken, jaw quivering with supressed emotion, hands shaking, body trembling. And the shock. Complete, utter shock. And that shock inflamed Simon as he let out with more stinging words, more and yet more, until finally, Blair moved out, head down, through the department doors, looking neither right nor left, to the elevator, then down and out. He never set foot inside the Cascade Police Department again.
Three weeks later, he'd told Jim it was over, that he knew he would never be accepted in Major Crimes again, that it was time he moved on, that to stay would only hurt Jim. They'd talked, with Jim trying to convince him that Simon's anger would end, and he'd thought he'd succeeded, until he'd come home on Sunday, from the gym, and found Blair gone, a note taped to the fridge, telling him it was for the best, that they'd been moving in this direction since Alex, and that he'd let him know when he settled, that he'd hoped they could still be friends.
Somehow. And that if Jim needed any help, Blair would be there.
One week later, a letter from San Francisco. And nothing since.
Jim let it happen. He'd let it all just *happen*. The story of his life. Events moving around him, and if he couldn't control them? He just let them happen. For the best. For - the - best.
No more Sentinel of the Great City.
But now, maybe Blair would be coming back, and maybe Jim could stop "just letting things happen", tell Blair how he felt, try to start over with his friend, the friend he'd come to realize, too late, that he loved dearly. The friend he couldn't live without. Couldn't function without.
Maybe, now, Blair would come home.
The noise, the smoke, the music, were all getting on Sandburg's nerves tonight. He should be used to it, but for some reason, it was working it's way under his skin, inside his brain, like a sharp knife, twisting, turning, ripping him up, leaving him breathless in the pain.
"One scotch and soda, one martini, and one Long Island Ice Tea."
The voice belonged to Terry Weber, one of the waiters. Blair's hands automatically moved to bottles, glasses, ice, mixing, and then placing the requested drinks on the tray in front of him.
"Hey, Blair, you okay?"
He looked up and into concerned brown eyes, nodded, smiled and turned to a customer, who was yelling over the din, "TWO MAI TAI'S", Terry shrugged and moved out with his order.
Two more hours, just two more hours before end of shift. So why did he feel this strange, overwhelming need to run? Run far, and run deep? Like something was coming, something he didn't want, something ~ horrible? And yet....at the same time, a strange, excitement?
His mother would say it was the energy around him, negative energy, that he was feeling and that until he came to terms with it? Things would never feel right again. How true. He definitely had tons of negative energy, but he had come to terms with *it*. Come to terms with the *event*. Sort of. Okay, he could no longer interact with anyone, outside of a work environment, and so what if he walked, always walked, now with head down, not meeting *any* gaze, not *looking* at people. So what if he barely spoke to anyone? So what if he'd suddenly developed a slight stutter. He had come to terms with *it*.
And so what if he wasn't anyone he knew? He existed, he worked, he functioned. Hell, you couldn't ask for more than that. Well, maybe, a dog? He could use a dog. Maybe tomorrow, his day off, he'd go to the pound, get a dog. Something warm, sweet, friendly, just for him, loving him. Yeah, a dog. Do away with the negative energy, get a dog.
He felt instantly better. He had a plan now. Something to do for his day off. And the pet shop, buy stuff, like food, a bed, toys, flea collar. Maybe he should right this stuff down? Before he forgot? He forgot a lot of things lately, yeah, he'd right it down.
His own dog. A pet. Had he ever had one? He thought, as he mixed another set of drinks, as he smiled, nodded at a customer, no, he was sure not. No pet. Too many moves. Naomi's allergies. Wait, hadn't there been a hamster?
Or was that a rat? A rabbit? He shook his head, didn't matter, he'd soon have a dog.
Felt good making a decision.
How much longer til end of shift? Oh, yeah, two hours. He could make it, he always did. And tomorrow, a dog. Maybe a retriever? Or a Lab? Nah, too big for his little apartment. Okay, a terrier of some kind. He'd heard those Jack Russel Terriers were great pets. Or maybe, just a mutt, like him. A mutt would need him. People didn't like mutts, they never adopted mutts. Okay, another decision made. He'd get a mutt.
Two more hours.
Magnum looked at the piece of paper in his hand to confirm the address.
He glanced up at the several flights of stairs and remembered just what it was about San Francisco he'd never liked - the eternal stairs. He sighed and started climbing. He was fifty-four, in good shape, but he just knew that by the time he reached the top, he'd be fifty-six, at least. A guy could get a nose bleed climbing this high, and just how many flights was this, anyway?
Huffing and puffing, he did finally reach the top and checking the mailboxes he located number 3C and immediately sighed again, because of course, 3A was the ground floor, 3B was the second floor and 3C was the third floor - and no elevator. Steeling himself, he started up the new steps, wondering what the age of sixty would feel like, as he'd be there very soon. But finally, a blue door.
3C - Danny Pritchard
No Blair Sandburg listed on the door. Magnum knocked and after a few seconds the door was cracked open and one green eye peered out at him.
"I'm looking for Blair Sandburg? He does live here, right?"
The eyes, which a moment ago had looked merely tired, and slightly interested, now closed off, as if the man had pulled down a set of blinds.
"Used to - moved." The man started to shut the door.
"My name is Thomas Magnum, I work with the Cascade District Attorney's Office and it's urgent I reach Mr. Sandburg." In the old days, he'd have obfuscated, tried the old, "I owe him money" gambit, but he was older, wiser and really didn't have the time for games. He pulled out his wallet and flashed his ID, and added, "Mr. Sandburg is needed to testify in a very important case, so I really need to locate him. Can you help?"
The door opened wider.
"Testify? Blair?" Pritchard asked, incredulously.
Magnum could see the battle waging across the freckled face, so he kept his eyes on Pritchard, showing only sincerity. Finally, "Just a minute, I'll get you his new address", and with those words, the door was shut.
Just as the investigator had begun to believe that he'd been royally flim-flamed, the door opened again and Pritchard stuck out a piece of paper.
"It's not far from here, just a couple of blocks and today is his day off. He'll be there, he doesn't ~ go out much."
Magnum took the paper, thanked the young man, and turned to go, but Pritchard's voice stopped him.
"You better be telling the truth, man, cause Blair has *real* friends here and if you're lying or you hurt him? San Francisco will be the last city you ever see." The words were spoken quietly, but with great intensity and Magnum didn't doubt them for a minute. He nodded and walked away, wondering at the kind of man who could instill that kind of loyalty and protectiveness.
Blair stood in the middle of his tiny apartment, hands on hips, trying to look stern as he gazed down at the small, brown, furry mop that sat staring adoringly up at him.
"You.....ate my s-shoe. You *ate* my shoe."
The furball cocked it's head at the sweet tone, then promptly stood, squatted and did his duty on the rug. Blair's eyes widened at this newest assault on his home, then melted as the small animal finished, looked up, beamed, then trotted clumsily over and plopped down on Blair's bare foot.
Remembering the words of the handler at the pound, telling him to be firm, to keep his tone neutral, he stooped, picked up the bundle and holding it away from his face, trying not to laugh at the pink tongue trying so hard to *clean* his face, he immediately showed him the "wet spot" on the rug, said a firm, "No", then walked over to the back door, and pushed the mutt gently through the newly installed doggie door and out onto the small patch of grass that had come with this particular apartment.
He watched through the window as the dog sat there, clearly confused, and Blair held his breath and was rewarded as the pup turned, padded over to the grass and squatted again
"YES-S!", he exclaimed and quickly joined the puppy, cooing and praising him, then scooped him up into waiting arms and allowed the tongue to bathe him, kissing the soft fur in response.
"Good poochie, very good doggie," he continued the lavish praise as he moved them both back indoors and sat down on the couch, tickling and petting, the puppy now delirious with joy, paws batting at his fingers, tongue still trying to reach his face.
"I really must-t name you, uh?" And he looked at the dog, at it's short, brown fur, strong, long puppy body, and the name came to him...."Joey. How's that? Joey Sandburg?" The brown head tilted, listening, then the tail thumped madly and Blair's pet became Joey Sandburg.
The two played a brief tug-of-war with Blair's shirt cuff, and just as the pup's eyes lit on Blair's earrings, the doorbell rang.
Keeping Joey tucked under his arm, he opened the door to a tall, handsome man in his early fifties.
"My name is Thomas Magnum and I work with Beverly Sanchez", Magnum didn't believe he'd need to say more, and judging by the young man's expression at Beverly's name, he was right. The door swung all the way open, as Blair pushed the screen door out to allow Magnum to enter.