Notes: This is an AU,
however only in the sense that Jim and Blair *meet* under vastly different
circumstances. But they end up in the same place. This takes place several weeks
before The Switchman, hence, Jim is driving the same Jeep he had in that
My thanks to Greenwoman, who did her usual stellar job of betaing and also to Virginia and Frost, who did the beautiful illos. And thanks to Virginia for hosting this online novel and doing all the formatting and designing!
In addition, my thanks go out to everyone on TSLurkers, especially to Dolimir and Autumn who came up with the gifts that Blair purchased for Jim, and the wonderful idea for the book. You guys are what this fandom is all about - sharing, kindness, honesty and--friendship. Thank you.
The man stepped out of his hotel room and hitched his bag higher up on his shoulder. He bent down and picked up the free USA Today, rolled it up, stuck it under his arm and started down the hall. At the elevator he waited patiently while a small boy, belonging to the family of four standing not so patiently in front of the door, punched the up and down buttons relentlessly. Fortunately the elevator had a mind of its own and the down light came on. Seconds later, a bright, cheery ping signaled the arrival of the elevator.
The tall, rangy, brown-haired, blue-eyed man let the family precede him, then he got on, punched the *L* and they were on their way down.
At the lobby, the family hustled their way out, the father picking up the rambunctious button -punching boy. As the four moved away, the tall man moved to the counter to check out. The clerk took his key card, murmured the usual platitudes about hoping he'd enjoyed his stay, then presented him with his receipt. Pocketing it, he moved away and headed for the exit to the underground garage.
Turning at the sound of his name, the man spotted a tall redhead rushing toward him. He stopped and smiled as he waited for the redhead.
"Man, I'm glad I caught you. Mardoni forgot to give this to you the other night."
Jim took the offered package, turned it in his fingers, then glanced up, a frown marring his handsome features.
"What is it, Buck?"
"Damned if I know. He just said give it to your boss. He also said to thank him for loaning you out. Maybe it's a thank you gift?"
Looking skeptical, Jim said, "Oh, sure." Then he held it up to his ear and grinned. "Well, it ain't ticking so it must be safe."
The man called Buck slapped Jim on the back and chuckled. "Come on, you know Mardoni worships your boss. You take care and hopefully we'll see each other again. Have a good flight."
"Thanks Buck. Watch your back."
The two men shook, then Jim took his leave after stuffing the small package in the pocket of his bag. Once in the garage he headed for the rental, a Ford Taurus. After stowing his luggage in the backseat he slid in behind the wheel, started up and carefully backed out. He made a left onto the street and headed for the airport.
Traffic on the expressway was light and he made surprisingly good time. At this rate, he'd have better than two hours before his flight would be called. Time to make a call to Rainier. Ahead of him and one lane to his right, an SUV bounced merrily along, completely unaware of both loose and missing lug nuts. As the SUV hit 70mph, the last of the lug nuts spun away and the tire flew off. At the same moment, the Volkswagen in front of the Taurus moved over one lane to the left, leaving the Taurus vulnerable to the flying missile that the tire had become.
Jim spotted the black object far too late. It smashed into the driver's side of the windshield. There was an explosion of safety glass, incredible pain--and Jim knew nothing else.
Carl Levy stared at the fax in his hand. This was fucking unbelievable. Talk about breaks. Rushing out of the communications room, he went first to his office, rifled through his files, spotted the one he needed, grabbed it, then nearly ran to the Director's office.
"Janet, I need to see him. *Now*."
The woman frowned, then picked up the phone. "Sir, Agent Levy is here and says he must--"
"Tell him it's about Morrison."
"He says it's about Morrison." She nodded and put down the phone. "Go on in, Carl."
FBI Agent Carl Levy moved into Director Phillips' office, a huge smile on his face.
"Well, you look pretty happy, Carl. Some magical informant pop up that will help us put Morrison behind bars for the rest of the century?"
"Better sir, better. His number one man was just killed in a freak accident in Illinois. My counterpart in the Chicago office was on it right away and has put the kibosh on any information leaking out. We have the opportunity of a lifetime."
Director Robert Phillips, twenty-nine years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, frowned as he regarded one his best agents. "How does the death of James O'Keefe deliver the opportunity of a lifetime to us, Carl?"
Opening the manila folder in his hand, Carl took out an eight by ten glossy and set it down in front of his boss. "This is how, sir."
Phillips stared at the picture before him. His frown deepened.
"That is a photograph of Detective James Joseph Ellison. Major Crime detective out of Cascade. He made quite a stir in law enforcement a couple of weeks ago when he shut down the Sunrise Patriots."
"Yes, I remember. Kincaid got away though."
"Thanks to some bumbling by our own field office in Cascade, sir."
"Always the blunt one, Levy?"
Carl shrugged. "The truth is the truth, sir. And with Morrison opening up his operation in Cascade, well, you have to admit, we truly have a golden opportunity here."
"Are you suggesting we put Detective Ellison in Morrison's operation as Jim O'Keefe?"
"Yes, sir, that's *exactly* what I'm suggesting. Here's the man's file and he's perfect. Ex-Army Ranger, Covert Operations, and a record with Major Crime that more than speaks for itself. We can get him ready, sir, I'm certain of it."
"And how do we buy the necessary time?"
"Well, nature has already supplied us with some of it. A storm just moved in and all flights out of O'Hare are grounded. The estimates stand at forty-eight hours, maybe more. If we move now--"
"Go. You're in charge, Carl. Make it happen."
Carl Levy smiled.
"Simon, there are two FBI agents here to see you."
Captain Simon Banks glanced up from his paperwork in surprise. Two FBI agents and no phone call?
"All right, Rhonda, show them in."
The tall blonde nodded, then stepped aside, allowing two men to enter Simon's office. Before she could say a word, the taller of the two stepped forward, hand extended. "Captain Banks, Carl Levy and this is Agent Sheffield from the local office."
Simon stood and as he shook with both men, he said, "And to what do I owe this visit?"
Shooting a glance at Rhonda, who still stood by the door, Levy said, "If we could have some priv--"
"Rhonda, thank you. Hold my calls."
The moment the door shut, Carl Levy started right in.
"Captain Banks, I'm from the Seattle office and one of my cases involves the Morrison Family."
One eyebrow arched as Simon whistled. "Morrison, eh? We've been getting a few rumors around town about the man."
"The rumors are true. He's moving his operation into Cascade. And we have been given the ace of spades, sir. The method to bring him down. But we need your help."
"Morrison's number one man was killed earlier today in Chicago. A traffic accident. His name was James O'Keefe."
Simon frowned. The name was completely unfamiliar and he prided himself on his ability to stay current with any possible threats to his city. Levy, seeing the frown and correctly interpreting it, said, "Don't worry about not knowing who O'Keefe was. He was a master of keeping to the shadows and until a several weeks ago, was in South America. Morrison pulled him out to put him in charge of Cascade. And this is where you come in."
Levy set his briefcase on the edge of Simon's desk, popped it open and removed two pictures which he promptly laid in front of Banks. Pointing at the one on the right, he said, "O'Keefe." Then he pointed at the one on the left and said, "Ellison."
Simon sucked in a breath. The resemblance was astonishing.
"Yes, sir," Carl Levy said with a grin.
Jim Ellison stood on the sidewalk rubbing his ungloved hands together, trying to get warm. Beside him, Henri Brown moved from foot to foot, his impatience obvious.
"The men's room is just inside, Brown."
In front of them, two cars sat nicely wrapped around each other, smoke drifting up, colored by the whirling red and white lights of squad cars that now surrounded the collision site. Glass crunched under foot as firemen worked to pry the bodies out and crime scene investigators walked about snapping pictures from all angles.
"Banks is gonna have our asses, Ellison."
"Why? We stopped them, didn't we? And isn't your car intact?" At Brown's nod, Jim went on. "Yeah, and so is mine. We managed to keep the city safe while ensuring that the only people those guys took out--were each other. I'd say a job well done."
Brown couldn't argue with the logic. He'd leave that to their captain.
A chirp from Ellison's pocket alerted both men to the fact that maybe their boss had already been informed of the high speed chase that had resulted in the crash they were staring at now. Jim took out the cell phone, flipped it open and said tersely, "Ellison."
<<I need you back here, pronto. Wrap it up, Detective.>>
"Already have, sir. Mendoza, Rawlings, and Hernandez won't be giving us any more problems."
A sigh on the other end told Jim that Simon had figured out that he wasn't gonna want hear about the hows and whys.
<<Get back here, now.>>
"On my way, sir."
Smiling, pocketed the phone. "Looks like I'm leaving this in your capable hands, Brown. See you back at the station."
As Jim drove back to the station, he tried to ignore the signs of Christmas that already adorned the streets and buildings, even though it wasn't even December. God, he hated the holidays. At least Major Crime had so far managed to escape. No one had set up so much as a reindeer--yet.
He pulled into the garage, then his parking space. As he climbed out of his Jeep, he tossed the keys into the air, then caught them neatly. It had been a good day. A day when the bad guys had lost. And even though he'd had to work with Brown, well, still, not bad at all.
Whistling, he stepped into the elevator and as the door closed with its characteristic chime, he winced. His senses again. Damn. Just when he believed he hand a handle on them--they spiked. Fuck. If only he could make them disappear--
"There are a few things you need to know about Ellison. He's a loner, rarely works with a partner and is barely controllable. He's a good man, one of the best detectives I've ever worked with, but he likes to do things his way."
"Captain Banks, he's going to be deeply undercover. The person you just described is the person we need."
Giving Levy a skeptical look, Simon simply said, "Huh-uh."
A knock on the door forestalled any response. A second later, Jim stuck his head in and said, "Sir, you wanted me?"
Simon stood and motioned the man inside. "Jim, this is Agent Levy from the Seattle office of the FBI and this is Agent Sheffield from our local office."
Jim stepped in, and immediately scowled, his customary expression when dealing with the Feds. Simon motioned Jim to sit but he shook his head and stepped to the edge of his boss's desk, where he folded his arms across his chest and waited.
Simon coughed a bit, then said, "It seems these gentlemen have a possible way of bringing down Morrison. It also appears that those rumors about the man moving into Cascade are true, Jim."
"So what you're saying is that I go in as O'Keefe?"
Levy nodded. "Basically, that's it. You know what we need to bring the man down. You're our ace in the hole, Detective. And O'Keefe has absolutely *no* relatives. Up until about three months ago, he was in Bolivia running the drug pipeline into the States. He has no friends here, no one that can trip you up. Only five people here even know the man. Morrison himself, Morrison's lawyer, Able Donovan, Morrison's bodyguard, Tony Cohan, his chauffer, Joe Wiley, and Morrison's second in command, Jeff Leahy. We have time to bring you up to speed, Captain Banks has agreed, Detective. All we need is you."
Jim fingered the picture of his look-alike. The only real difference between the two was the hair. O'Keefe wore it short, in a military brush cut. Jim had worn his hair the same way in the Army. According to the paperwork, O'Keefe had no scars to speak of, nothing that would tip anyone off. And he *was* a dead ringer for Ellison. And the opportunity
to bring down Morrison? Oh, yeah.
"You got me, gentlemen."
For two days the storm raged and for two days, O'Hare was shut down. For two days, Jim Ellison was penned up in a motel room near the Cascade Airport with Levy, Sheffield and at Simon's insistence, Simon himself. If this was going to happen, if Jim Ellison was going under cover, it would be with Major Crime in charge.
The Feds were so eager for this to happen that they readily agreed. And of course, thanks to the fiasco with Garett Kincaid and the Sunrise Patriots, they were in a position to owe Major Crime.
Now Jim was learning everything there was to know about James O'Keefe. And it wasn't much.
O'Keefe was close in age to Jim and had been born in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Melinda O'Malley and Sean O'Keefe, a small numbers runner. O'Keefe went to Lakewood High School, graduated top of his class, then went on to UCLA where he mastered in economics and minored in chemistry. Like Jim, he'd served time with the military, in his case; the Navy.
It was while in the Navy that he received word that his parents were dead; victims of a fire that swept through their home. Arson was suspected, but never proved. In 1985, O'Keefe left the Navy and ended up in South America. It was common knowledge that it was in Bolivia that he'd met up with Tommy Morrison.
In '85, Morrison was second to Brian Fitzsimmons, the leader of a weakening Irish crime family. It was Morrison's idea to move the family's drug business into the Pacific Northwest and the idea proved to be a boon to the family's coffers. When Fitzsimmons was killed in an ambush supposedly organized by the Corona family, Morrison took over. And a bloodbath followed. Seattle took months to recover.
O'Keefe, for the most part, remained in South America and the Morrison drug operation ran smoother than many believed possible. And now, they were getting ready to move into Cascade.
Jim learned and memorized.
When O'Hare Airport was reopened, Jim Ellison was ready. He now wore his hair in same brush cut, had an entire new wardrobe and with some clever FBI intervention, a man by the name of James O'Keefe supposedly boarded flight 238 out of O'Hare for Cascade on Tuesday, at 10:30 in the morning.
"When is he due
"Six thirty, Tommy."
"You'll have a car waiting for him?"
"Call Rainier. Let's have his *fun* here and waiting for him. He's been gone awhile and he deserves it."
Jeff Leahy, a short, thick, black Irishman, nodded. "Will do."
Tommy Morrison grinned and downed his glass of single malt liquor. "You know, O'Keefe would be a perfect Irishman otherwise. You know that, don'cha Jeffy?"
"Nearly perfect otherwise. Although, his toy is something special, you gotta admit."
"Do I have to start worrying about you now, Jeff?"
"I think I'll go make that call."
Blair Sandburg hurried across campus, but not so fast that he couldn't enjoy the fall air, the changing colors of the trees, or the decorations that had begun to spring up around the university. Ahead of him, adorning the brick walls of Hargrove Hall, were two huge green wreaths and bordering the double doors, a garland of greenery. Yep, the holidays were here.
He breathed in deeply and smiled. He'd had three whole weeks of peace. Three weeks of being able to pretend his life was normal. Three weeks of uninterrupted school, studying and--nights. He prayed they'd continue.
Blair charged up the steps, burst through the doors, turned left and headed to his office. Or should he say, the store room that served as his office? As he walked down the hall, students passed him, some nodding, some mumbling a quick, "Howdy, professor" or "Hey, there, teach!" and some just smiling.
Blair wasn't a professor--yet, but he was a teaching fellow and his students loved teasing him by calling him *Professor*. Although he was well aware that they called him the little professor behind his back. It was said with affection and it didn't bother him. He *was* short. At five foot seven and one hundred and forty-five pounds, well, hey, he was happy with who he was--most of the time.
As he approached his door, he grinned. His makeshift nameplate welcomed him. A piece of cardboard that proclaimed in his broad scrawl: Blair Sandburg.
He let himself in just as his phone started to ring. Throwing down his books, he reached, snagged the receiver and said, "Sandburg."
<<A car will pick you up tonight at five thirty. Be ready.>>
A few words, a voice he hated and Blair's happy mood was gone. A click told him the man on the other end had hung up. Slowly Blair put the phone down. He noted absently that his hand was shaking.
"We've hit a snag, Captain Banks."
Simon turned to stare at Levy. They were minutes away from opening the gate on the operation and those were not the words Banks wanted to hear. Jim was dressed and ready and in less than ten he'd be leaving for the airport. Simon glanced away from Levy to Jim, who rolled his eyes.
Levy moved toward Simon, his hand holding out a sheet of paper just taken from the fax machine. Simon stared at it as if it were a snake.
"Something was found in O'Keefe's wallet. Something we can't explain."
Jim stepped to Simon's side and peered down at the paper. His icy blue eyes widened. He and Simon were looking at a picture of a young man. An incredibly beautiful young man.
"Where in the wallet--"
"In the rear slot, Captain Banks. Tucked in tight. Nothing on the back, no name, nothing to give us a clue. We don't know who he is. This could be a problem."
For a reason he'd never be able to explain, Jim couldn't stop looking at the photo. The face was young, the eyes light. Jim would guess blue, maybe slightly darker than his own. The young man smiled up at Jim, capturing him completely. Long hair curled wildly, its length just below the young man's square jaw. Thick full lips grinned, and in one ear, two hoops beckoned.
"What do we do, Levy?" Simon asked, clearly worried.
"We're doing what we can to find out who he is, but so far, we've got zip. And as you can see, there's nothing in that picture to tell us where it was taken. Just trees."
"I noticed. I'm betting they're green trees too. The world is full of them." Simon glanced down at the photo again and said, "Could it be a fluke? A nothing? Insignificant?"
"Doubtful, Captain. O'Keefe wasn't into insignificant."
"Maybe a target?"
"That's possible, but O'Keefe wasn't an
Simon glanced to his right. "Jim? It's up to you now. Do we pull the plug?"
Eyes still fixed on the picture, Jim shook his head. "No."
Jim waited. His *flight* was due to land in minutes and when it did, he would join the crowd streaming down to the baggage claim area. O'Keefe's luggage had been removed from the wrecked car and checked in by an agent who, from a distance, looked enough like O'Keefe to pass. That same agent had boarded the flight and upon arrival in Cascade, would turn left as the deplaning crowd turned right. Said agent would then board another flight back to Chicago and Jim Ellison would become Jim O'Keefe.
All of O'Keefe's personal effects were in the luggage and Jim would take a few minutes before meeting the limo to pull out the wallet--and check a certain picture that had been returned to its spot in the wallet. A picture that continued to haunt him.
Blair ran down the hall of the warehouse, knowing what being late could cost him. He skidded to a stop in front of the freight elevator, stepped inside, pulled down the barrier and punched the button. Two minutes later, he rolled the barrier back up and stepped out, then walked to the side door and unlatched it.
The car was waiting for him. Without thought, he automatically slowed down. A man got out of the driver's side and opened the back door of the limo. It was empty. Blair sighed in relief. His bag was taken from him as he got in. The driver slid in behind the wheel, the divider was raised and Blair was alone.
He rested his head back against the soft leather and closed his eyes. It never ceased to amaze him, all the things he could get himself into. Blair felt the usual knot of fear and anxiety in the pit of his stomach and started meditating. At times like these, he hated himself. It never occurred to him that he should hate someone else.
Jim stepped onto the escalator with the rest of the passengers from the O'Hare flight. So far, all had gone according to plan. At the bottom, he turned right with everyone else, then walked the few steps to the American Airlines carousel. He had a description of the bag and as the various pieces of luggage tumbled out the chute, he was grateful for his enhanced vision. He spotted the tag immediately. As the black bag came within reach, he snagged it and slipped the strap over his shoulder, then headed for the
He moved to an empty stall, stepped in and locked it. Then he unzipped a side compartment and pulled out the wallet. Before putting it in his pocket, he searched--and found--the picture. It was in color.
Blue eyes. He'd been right. Incredible blue eyes. His vision picked up at least fifty different shades of red, black and brown in the curly hair. And it was only a photograph. One dimensional. Flat. And yet, the young man staring up at him was anything but flat or one dimensional. Slowly Jim replaced the photo, stuck the wallet in his rear pocket and headed out to a waiting limo and his temporary new life.
Blair was surprised when they didn't take the Price Street off-ramp--which meant that he wasn't being delivered to Jim's apartment. And that meant--Morrison's.
He reached forward and opened the bar. A decanter of amber liquid sat in its cubbyhole, two glasses on either side. He poured himself a stiff one and downed it in one gulp. Then he poured another one.
Twenty minutes later the limo turned left, drove up a short driveway and stopped at a large electronic gate--which opened almost immediately. The car drove through, then up and around a circular driveway to stop in front of a wide porch.
Tommy Morrison's home was a two-story Georgian mansion on three acres of pricey land on the outskirts of Cascade. Blair hated the house. Even now, staring up at it, his stomach threatened to revolt. It had been here that he'd innocently come to visit his mother and her newest boyfriend and it had been here where he'd first been introduced to Jim O'Keefe.
A face from a dream. A handsome, chiseled face with pale blue eyes. The dream that had been a part of Blair's life from his first anthropological expedition to South America, Peru to be exact.
He'd been working in the Chopec Valley and the dream came on his first night. He'd been running in the jungle, his skin tingling with the warm tropical air. He wore no clothes, his hair wild and free. And along side him ran a coal black jaguar. Eventually they came to a stop and ahead of them--a temple. The jaguar shifted shape and slowly became a man. A man whose face now haunted Blair's waking life. But back then, the beauty of the man had taken Blair's breath away. Eyes so sky blue that he'd believed he could see the earth below in them and a smile so special, so warm and loving that Blair had immediately moved into open arms.
The man in his dreams never left him from that first night and Blair held the hope in his heart that the dream was a harbinger of his future.
Little did he know.
When the *face* had been introduced to him, well, Jim O'Keefe had turned out to be Blair's worse nightmare. The face was there, but so far there'd been no loving and warm smile. Only pain and humiliation.
Blair squared his shoulders and followed the chauffer inside.
"Hey, toy, good to see you again. You know where to go. Best get yourself ready, he'll be here in about two hours."
At that moment, Blair Sandburg would have liked nothing better than to smash his fist through Jeff Leahy's face. But that would simply have bought him more trouble than he already had. Ignoring the man, Blair moved up the stairs, walked down the hall to the first bedroom and walked inside, shutting the door behind him.
He wasn't surprised to find his duffel on the bed--open. Wiley had undoubtedly searched it thoroughly.
Slowly Blair sank down on the edge of the king size bed and dropped his head in his hands.
It was strange. The entire drive to Morrison's home had not been spent planning or rehearsing. Jim had spent the entire ride wondering about the face. The photo. Who the hell was he? And if he showed up, what would Jim do? And why would a man like O'Keefe have such a picture in his wallet?
But Jim thought he knew the answer to that. Because--*he* would have that man's picture in *his* wallet. In fact, he intended to keep the picture when this assignment was over.
Jim snapped his fingers. That was the answer. Apparently Jim O'Keefe and Jim Ellison had more in common than their faces.
Jim followed Wiley into the house, grateful now for all the floor plans and pictures he'd been forced to devour. He felt as if he knew the house inside out. He watched Wiley head upstairs and knew that he would drop his luggage off in the first bedroom; the room where O'Keefe stayed whenever he remained overnight.
"Jimmy, you're looking good."
Jim turned to find himself facing--Tommy Morrison. The man was walking toward him, a smile gracing his handsome Irish features.
Morrison was tall, almost as tall as Simon Banks. He had a thatch of hair the color of burnished copper and green eyes that were now twinkling at Jim. The sprinkling of freckles across the pug nose had fooled many a man into believing Morrison to be harmless. Most men found out the hard way just how harmless he wasn't.
Jim allowed himself to taken into a bear hug, then the two broke apart.
"It's good to see you, to have you back, Jimmy."
to be back, Tommy."
"The windy city too much for you, Jimmy?" Morrison said with a grin.
One of the few things that *was* known about O'Keefe was his hatred of the cold. Jim gave a mock shiver and said, "I could have used more sunshine."
"Aw, poor boy. At least now you're back in good old Cascade. Much warmer, eh?" Morrison joked.
"Oh, yeah. Much," Jim said sarcastically.
"At least no wind chill in the double minus numbers, Jimmy boy."
The new voice came from behind Jim and he turned. Jeff Leahy was walking toward him, his expression one of superiority. As he got closer, he said, one eyebrow arched, "Your toy is upstairs--ready and waiting, Jimmy, me boyo."
Jim didn't have a clue to what Leahy might be talking about, but fortunately, Morrison interrupted.
"Jeff, make yourself scarce. Jimmy and I have things to discuss."
The command was friendly, but a command nevertheless. Jeff shrugged and walked out of the living room. When he disappeared, Morrison took Jim's arm and led him to one of the couches that flanked the large and lit fireplace. Sitting him down, he said, "I believe you have something for me, Jimmy boy?"
Eternally grateful to the curious Feds who'd found a small package in O'Keefe's luggage and had opened it, then deciphered that it was a gift for Morrison, Jim reached into his jacket pocket and took the item from where he'd put it while still in the men's room of the airport. He held it out to his *boss*.
Morrison took it and to Jim's disappointment, dropped it into the pocket of the cream colored cable knit sweater he wore. The Feds might have correctly deduced the package to be a gift, but its significance was unknown and apparently--for awhile longer--would remain so.
"I'm very glad to have you back, Jimmy. Now why don't you go upstairs and--rest."
Jim didn't miss the emphasis on the word *rest* and again found himself wondering. But then Morrison went on.
"I have a special dinner menu planned for your return and we'll be sitting down at nine. That should give you enough time. Go. Enjoy. We'll talk later."
As close as Morrison and O'Keefe were purported to be, Jim understood that he'd just been dismissed. He rose, smiled, was taken back into another bear hug, then when released, he headed up to--his--room.
He was half-way up the stairs when he stopped dead.
In his room.
Someone was--in his room.
Jim walked the rest of the way up cautiously as he tried to concentrate on the heartbeat--
And--fear. As Jim drew closer he could actually smell it--pungent and acrid--and that surprised the hell out of him. He knew that no one could be in his room that didn't belong. Morrison's house was guarded better than Fort Knox. So--
Jim turned the door handle, pushed open the door and came face-to-face with--the picture. The same square jaw, the electric blue eyes, the curly hair framing the beautiful face--
Blair stood on the balcony waiting. He'd spotted the arrival of the limo and had watched as Jim climbed out and walked indoors. It wouldn't be long now. He closed his eyes and prayed to the gods that had, up to now, ignored him. But even as he prayed, he knew that freedom could only be purchased with a death. And the only death he'd accept would be his own.
He heard the door open and knowing his place in this house, he turned and stepped back inside. The moment Jim walked in, Blair started for the bed, fingers already working at the buttons of his shirt--
Jim watched in amazement as the young man walked to the bed, fingers busy with buttons.
What the hell?
Moments later the man was naked and pulling back the bedspread. When the bed was ready, he walked over to Jim and started undoing his belt buckle.
Jim was paralyzed. This was not what--
No, that was a lie. All the clues had been there and Jim had been right. He and O'Keefe *did* have more in common that their first names and faces. But he couldn't let this happen--and yet--if he didn't, he could very well give himself away. This was obviously expected and the norm.
As the young man stood close, fingers working at his zipper, Jim could smell everything about him. He inhaled deeply and even the fear couldn't keep out the inherent scent of the man.
This was not a man who was doing what he--wanted--to be doing. Or was fear a part of the game? The man moved with assurance, but there'd been no sign of pleasure or welcome in the depths of those blue eyes. What the fuck was going on?
The answer became evident as the slender man dropped down, bringing Jim's slacks and boxers with him. Shit, he was going to--
Jim had to stop him. But how? How could he without tipping his hand? Without giving the game away?
His dick was not of the same opinion that anything had to stop. It was eagerly bouncing free and Jim felt himself flush red. Fortunately the young man, now on his knees in front of him, was too busy to notice.
Breathing so loud it filled his ears, Jim felt himself drowning in sensations. He tried to focus elsewhere, *anywhere*, but when those lips closed around the head of his dick and he felt the man's thumbs rubbing gently on his the soft skin of his inner thigh--he was lost.
Blair realized almost immediately that something was wrong. Where one moment Jim was responding--electrically so--now nothing.
Blair let the suddenly unresponsive cock slip from his mouth and glanced up. Shocked by what he saw, he immediately rose.
Jim was staring vacantly ahead, mouth slightly open. His breathing seemed normal, but when Blair waved a hand in front of his face--nothing happened. Not even a blink.
Jesus. What the hell?
Blair stepped back and thought. Epilepsy? No, he'd have known. Jim took no medications on a regular basis.
This was ridiculous.
Blair moved back and without thinking, took Jim's hand and placed it over his heart. Blair held the hand to his chest and waited.
Slowly, color started to return to Jim's face; he blinked, closed his mouth, then opened it and said, "What the hell?"
Blair let go of Jim's hand and waited. Blue eyes blinked in confusion and Blair frowned. The face--so different at the moment. Almost vulnerable and--and--soft. Then Jim looked at him and the eyes went to ice. This was more like it. This was the Jim O'Keefe he knew.
"I don't know, Jim. You seemed to just--faze out. Has this ever happened before?"
Jim closed his eyes. The voice. Like--honey. Thick, warm, rich, dark honey. He shook his head but knew it was a lie. This *had* happened--several times. But fortunately some loud noise always brought him out of it. And so far, he'd always been alone.
Footsteps approached out in the hall and Jim quickly brought up a finger and rested it against the man's lips, then cocked his head to listen. Somehow, the young man knew to keep quiet.
The steps stopped in front of the door and Jim recognized the aftershave belonging to Leahy.
Blair watched the intent manner in which Jim seemed to be--listening? He turned his head toward the door and cocked his own head. But he heard nothing. Blair looked back at Jim and waited.
Leahy moved away from the door and continued down the hall. Jim waited until the footsteps faded, then returned his attention to the young man.
"You know he's a pervert. He likes to listen. Gets off on it. But how did you know--"
"I heard his footsteps. Couldn't you smell his aftershave? He must load it on with shovels."
Blair couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. The fact that Jim and Leahy weren't friends was no secret, but Jim had never talked about the man like that before. "Yeah, well. So I take it he's gone now?"
"His own room."
"Well, then, shall I go back to where we left off?"
The question was not asked erotically, it was simply asked. Jim checked his watch. It was a little after eight. Dinner was at nine.
"No. Tommy has dinner planned for nine. I'm grungy and could use a shower. I figure we have enough time to get ready and that's it."
Blair hid his shock at Jim's answer. A break for him, but definitely unusual. Maybe--his prayers had finally been answered? Maybe O'Keefe was finally tiring of him?
"All right. What do you want to wear?"
Jim stared down at the man, flummoxed by the question. The man was already moving toward the closet.
"You pick it out. I'm going into the bathroom."
It was apparently the right thing to say as the kid nodded and started rifling through the clothes. Jim stepped into the bathroom and shut the door, then leaned against it and closed his eyes. This was not going well.
After a moment, he pushed himself away and started the water. He really did need a shower, if for no other reason than to give himself time to collect his thoughts.
Blair laid out the dinner jacket, the shirt and slacks, then the picked up the boxers and carried them into the bathroom. Jim was already in the shower so he set the clean underwear down on the closed toilet seat, opened the stall door and stepped in. He didn't look at Jim, just picked up the soap and washcloth and started to bathe the man.
For Jim, it took all his will power and strength *not* to jump several feet into the air when the door opened and the kid stepped in and started to wash him. What the hell was he supposed to do *now*?
Competent hands moved over his body, soothing, working out the tenseness as the soft cloth worked over his skin. He was going crazy. He had to stop this and yet he couldn't. Dared not.
Jim couldn't have refused that voice even if he tried. He bent at his waist and the young man began to wash his hair. Fingers and thumbs massaging his scalp, his temple, behind his ears--
Jim did as instructed and the nozzle was removed as the man began the process of rinsing Jim off, from head to toe.
"Bend down again."
He did and this time a conditioner was added to his hair and rubbed in--luxuriously rubbed in. Then the kid took the washcloth again and adding a bit more soap, began to wash Jim's genitals. Softly, gently, knowingly. This was so wrong--and so fucking right.
No one's hands had ever felt this good. No one. When the kid was done, he rinsed Jim off again, then began to wash himself. When he was soaped up, he handed the shampoo to Jim and like a lamb being led to the slaughter, Jim took it. He squeezed some out onto
his palm and without so much as a blink, began to do what he'd wanted from the moment the kid stepped into the shower: he shampooed the younger man's hair.
Blair turned at one point so that his back was to Jim and almost on auto pilot, Jim brought the pliant body into his own and continued to massage the thick curly hair. The silky strands teased him and played hide and seek with his fingers, sometimes wrapping themselves around him and he relished the feel and texture of the hair.
Gradually, his hands, almost of their own volition, moved down to the man's chest and Jim began to shampoo the curling hair that spread out across the surprisingly broad expanse of skin. Eventually, he moved lower still, to the arrow of hair that led to the younger man's groin. Then his fingers were in curling pubic hair and his sudsy hand was stroking the cock that sprang to life under his ministrations.
Blair's eyes popped open as he realized what was happening. He was--responding. Without thought, without his usual fantasy. The man behind him was gentle and sensual and it had never been like this. By now, Jim would have taken him roughly, with pain and force, biting and thrusting so hard that Blair would be certain the man's dick would force its way through Blair's stomach. But this--this was--different.
Warm water sluiced over him and his body was turned and suddenly Jim's lips were over his and a warm tongue was pushing its way inside his mouth and Blair knew that this *was* his fantasy. Jim *was* pounding into him, but with his tongue and Blair's fantasy had become so good, so real, that it was all he knew--
The kiss went on and fingers delved into his crevice, teasing, and he found himself moaning into Jim's mouth, his own hands now exploring, running up the back of Jim's neck, pulling the head down, intensifying the kiss.
Steam swirled around them, the scent of soft pine and mild sage enveloping the two men as the water continued down--
Jim needed more. He wound his arm around the slick waist and hitched the man up. He was grateful when one leg wrapped around him and lifted higher until the other leg joined the first. He maneuvered them so that the younger man's back was now against the rear of the stall and their cocks were in perfect alignment to bounce and rub and Jim began to thrust--hard, even as he attacked the beautiful mouth.
Soon, his tongue was matching the rhythm of their bodies and he could feel it coming, for both of them. He moved faster, harder, and the man took his tongue, sucked relentlessly and moaned. The sound of that moan traveled from one mouth to the other, down through Jim's body to end up at his dick and he came hard.
As his body shuddered, he dropped his head down and latched onto the man's shoulder and he bit. The response was immediate as Jim felt the hot come hitting his chest and the man's head dropped back, a low moan ripped from his throat.
Slowly, they sank down with Jim turning them so that he now had his back to the wall, the man between his legs. He dropped his head on top of the wet mass of curls and closed his eyes.
"Who are you?"
The question forced his eyes to snap back open just in time for the question to be repeated.
"Who *are* you?"
"That's a strange thing to say. Who do you think I am?"
Neither man had moved and Jim hoped his response was enough. He was wrong.
"I know you're not Jim O'Keefe. O'Keefe doesn't kiss--ever. And he never makes love--he fucks. Ruthlessly. Now who the hell are you?"
The words shocked Jim to his very core. So much said in everything that hadn't been said. But this was no time to give in because he'd just had the best sex of his life.
"So I've learned a few things. Chicago was very educational. And if you want me to go back to plain old every day fucking, well, I'd be happy to oblige."
The wet, slick body turned in his arms and he found himself being observed by laser smart eyes. And there was nothing he could do about it.
"You're a cop. Jesus, you're a cop."
Busted by an unknown. A nobody. The one uncontrollable factor in the whole deal.
The man stood, turned off the now tepid water, then moved as far away as the large stall would allow.
"You don't have to worry about me. I won't tell."
The words were spoken softly and simply and Jim glanced up.
"There's nothing to tell."
"Right. Nothing to tell. My name is Blair Sandburg, by the way. You never use my first name though, you hate it. You always call me Sandburg. Just that. Nothing else."
Jim's jaw dropped open.
Blair opened the stall door and grabbed two big towels. He tossed one to Jim, who caught it, then wrapped the other around his waist. "I'm an anthropologist and a graduate student working on my doctorate. I attend Rainier. You might call me O'Keefe's beck and call man. I heard that once--in a movie. Thought it was pretty funny actually. Beck and call--whatever.
"You have his luggage so he must be what? In jail?"
Jim was an excellent judge of character and while he didn't usually base his judgments on sex, well, there was always a first time.
"No, he's dead."
Slowly Blair Sandburg sank down to the floor of the shower. "Dead? As in--*dead*?"
"As in killed in a traffic accident. A tire smashed into the windshield, killing him instantly. There was nothing left of his face."
Blair rested his forehead on his hand. "Well, I'll be damned. I'm--this is--he's dead."
"I think we've established that."
Blair looked over at him, studied his face again. "Are you for real, or is that the product of plastic surgery?"
"He died two days ago. Hardly time--"
"So your face is yours?"
"Not any more."
"Right, not any more."
They were both shivering, so
Jim took the lead. He stood, wrapped the towel around his middle, then held out
a hand. Blair stared at it a moment, then took it and Jim hoisted him up. They
got out, took more towels and quickly dried themselves off. As Jim slipped into
his boxers, the ones left on the toilet seat by Blair, Sandburg moved into the
bedroom and began to dress.
Jim listened to the movements in the other room as he brushed his teeth with another man's toothbrush and shaved with another man's razor. And as he shaved, he thought of the sex in the shower with another man's--beck and call--man.
A prostitute. The man of Jim's dreams was a prostitute. Okay, a highly educated prostitute. A hooker who also happened to be an anthropologist, but a hooker just the same.
Jim ran a warm cloth over his face, then searched for the aftershave. He found it and immediately discarded it. It would send his sensitive skin into overdrive. He walked out into the bedroom to find his *roomie* dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. A blue on blue flannel shirt that deepened the color of his eyes. He was running a pick through his hair and Jim found himself unable to stop watching or to say anything. Finally Blair himself broke the spell by turning and walking past him to return to the bathroom.
Jim shook himself and noticed the clothes laid out on the bed. He gave a fleeting thought to the idea that maybe Sandburg would dress him too.
Blair stood before the mirror staring at his reflection but picturing the face of his dreams. Not O'Keefe, but the man in the other room?
Suddenly feeling those hands on his body again, remembering the kisses--Blair closed his eyes. Oh, yeah. He was the one.
Only--it was too late.
Blair opened his eyes and pulled his hair dryer out from under the sink. He attached the diffuser and lost himself in the sound and motions of drying his hair.
Jim checked his watch. Eight forty-five. And the bathroom door was still closed. The dryer had been shut off several minutes earlier but still no Sandburg. Jim smiled wryly. He'd already begun to call the young man, 'Sandburg'. O'Keefe all the way.
Jim walked over to the French doors, opened the right one and stepped out into the cold night air. The grounds were decorated, lit up and looked festive. It was hard to reconcile the house, the grounds and the neighborhood with a major crime family. A crime family that decorated for Christmas.
Geesh, what was the world coming to anyway?
"Pretty terrific, isn't it?"
Jim glanced down, surprised to find Sandburg by his side. He'd never heard him coming. Not good.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Hey, even *I* appreciate the place. And you'd better get downstairs. *You're* never late."
Jim was about to turn away when something caught his eye--
"Do you see that, Sandburg?"
"What? See what?"
Blair moved to the railing and peered out but could see nothing.
Jim focused and by the far gate he spotted two men, one of whom was Leahy.
"Jim, I'm serious, you--"
Jim leaned over the railing and once again, Blair watched him cock his head as if listening to something only he could hear--
Only he could hear.
Blair held his breath.
Jim listened, shocked at what he was hearing--
<<You're taking a big risk, Jeff.>>
<<Like I don't know that? But it's worth it. I should be running this operation, *not* O'Keefe.>>
<<You're playing with fire. I'm not sure-->>
Leahy's voice took on a decidedly sharp edge. <<You're already in this thing, Wiley. Don't even think about backing out now.>>
At that moment, a horn blaring out on the street sent pain shooting through Jim's brain and he grabbed his head with both hands as he tried not to yell out in frustration. But then there hands on his arms and he was being moved while a soft voice in his ear told him it was okay. Warm breath caressed his cheek as he was seated on a chair. He felt the hand on his forehead and fingers rubbed small circles on his temples--
The pain receded and all he could hear was Sandburg's voice.
"It's okay, concentrate on just this sound, nothing else. That's it, just one sound, one sound only."
Jim closed his eyes and leaned into the magical hands and the sweet voice. After what seemed to be a wonderful eternity, Jim opened his eyes and looked up into Sandburg's concerned gaze. As he searched that face, he could see every laugh line around Blair's eyes, the long lashes, the creased brow, even the small scar just below Sandburg's lower lip. As he it all in, he decided that he didn't care if the man was a prostitute or not. It was that simple. And considering that nothing in Jim Ellison's life had ever been simple, this was truly astonishing.
"Thanks," he said quietly.
"You're welcome. What were you listening to?"
"Leahy and Wiley. Seems they're working against Morrison."
Blair frowned at that. "That almost makes sense. Leahy hates you, or should I say,
O'Keefe. He's been a very angry man since your return from South America. I got the distinct impression that he felt *he* should have been given Cascade."
Jim's hand shot out and he wrapped his fingers tightly around Sandburg's arm. "How much do you know? How involved are you exactly?"
Blair paled as the fingers dug in, and suddenly there wasn't such a big difference between O'Keefe and this man.
"I'm not. But I *am* an anthropologist and my job is to observe. I do it pretty damn well."
The smell of fear hit Jim again and suddenly Blair's skin seemed to be on fire. Jim quickly removed his hand and stood.
"Look, if O'Keefe can buy you then what should make me think Morrison can't? Or anyone else who waves a few dollars under your nose?"
Sandburg stepped back and the grin that spread across his face made Jim want to vomit. It was not a pleasant smile.
"Well, I'll tell you what, man. If someone offers me anything, I'll come to you first so you can counter. How's that for a deal?"
The honey-coated voice was gone and in its place was ice with coldly controlled anger floating underneath. Jim felt as though he'd just made a serious tactical error but was in the dark as to what it had been. And it was nine o'clock.
"Look, we're due downstairs-now. We can talk about this later. Let's go."
"*You're* expected downstairs. Not me. I'm never included in *family* meals. They'll send up a tray. Go. Get out of here."
So far the day had delivered one shock after another, but Sandburg's words about not being invited downstairs seemed to be the highlight of shocks. Although Jim shouldn't have been surprised. Hookers weren't usually invited to *family* meals, were they?
"I see. Well, then. I guess I'd better get down there."
Blair simply crossed his arms over his chest and Jim, feeling like a naughty child, left.