Part Two

 

 

"You're late. You must have really enjoyed your--*reunion*, Jimmy." 

Jim smiled at Leahy as he followed him into the dining room. Morrison was already seated as were seven others. But of the eight people in the room, Jim could only identify five from his two days of coaching. To Morrison's left sat Abel Donovan, the lawyer. To his right but two chairs down, sat Teddy Skeever, one of Morrison's most trusted soldiers.  Behind Morrison stood the bodyguard, Cohen. Leahy took his seat next to Donovan. Seated next to Skeever was Joey O'Malley, another trusted soldier and skilled businessman. As Jim took his place at Morrison's right, he prayed that he wasn't *supposed* to know the other men. 

As soon as Jim sat, Morrison stood and raised his glass. The others followed suit but before Jim could reach for his, Morrison said, "To Jimmy O'Keefe, whose trip to Chicago will ensure our success here in Cascade." 

As everyone drank and nodded at him, Jim let his hand drop away from his glass to land on his napkin. He smiled as he dropped it on his lap. When Morrison retook his seat, Jim sensed that he was supposed to say something so playing it safe, he raised *his* glass and said, "It's good to be back, but the real success in the upcoming days lie with you, Tommy." He saluted, everyone doing the same, then he drank the champagne in one swallow. The men around the table applauded heartily, but Jim took note of Leahy's less than enthusiastic clapping. 

The door from the kitchen opened and two men entered, both bearing trays. Jim's nose told him that they were about to indulge in O'Keefe's favorite meal: Lamb Follain. 

Jim had no idea if he'd like it, but the ingredients were pretty sure fire. A leg of lamb was coated with Follain Irish Whiskey Marmalade. Jim was fairly certain that he'd be able to handle this dish. 

As the meal was served, talk remained general, and Jim started feeling more at ease. Cutting into his piece of lamb, he wondered if indeed a tray had been delivered upstairs. That thought immediately ruined his appetite. Something was wrong with this entire scenario. He just wished he could figure out what. 

"What do you say, Jimmy?" 

Jim was shaken from his thoughts of Blair by Morrison's voice and he blinked, then turned to his boss. "Sorry, I didn't catch that, Tommy."

Leahy snorted into his drink and said, "I think Jimmy's--*mind*--is elsewhere." 

Jim ignored the man and that was obviously the right thing to do. Morrison slapped him on the back and said, "What do you think about our plan?" 

Uh-oh. What plan? 

Donovan leaned over and said, "I think you're crazy, Tommy. It'll never work." 

"Of course it will, Abie. It's a zoning problem and," Morrison winked at Jim, "I have an in, if you know what I mean." 

The *plan* suddenly made sense. And it had nothing to do with drugs or O'Keefe's trip to Chicago. 

"Tommy, I think you gotta go for it. Becoming the Robin Hood of Cascade can only help us. And saving that park--well, we couldn't buy the publicity." Jim sat back, supremely pleased with himself. Knowledge was a good thing. 

"Actually, Jimmy boy, we *could* buy it," Leahy added snidely. Jim could see why O'Keefe disliked the man. 

"No," Able Donovan interrupted. "We couldn't.  Saving that park puts Tommy in the public eye and in a good way. It's just the beginning." 

From that point on, the dinner proceeded without a hitch. Leahy continued to try to bait him, but Jim either blocked the lobs or someone else stepped in as goalie. By meal's end, score was Jim - five, Leahy - zip.  But now the hard part. Stalling Morrison.  Keeping the conversation from moving into territory that would leave Jim vulnerable. 

As everyone moved into the living room, one of the butlers followed with a cart that held brandy and the appropriate glasses. Jim took the opportunity to watch the men closely. At least he now knew who his fellow diners were and he was kicking himself for not recognizing them.  Councilman John Nesbitt from the twenty-third district and Councilman Paul Gaylan from the fifteenth. Both men apparently in Morrison's pocket. My, the the things an undercover cop could learn. 

The butler, after ensuring that each man had a snifter, began to pass around a cigar box and when it got to Jim, he had to suppress his surprise. The cigars were not only Cuban, but top of the line. 

The men lit up and for a few minutes, the room was silent as they enjoyed their brandy and cigars. All Jim could think was how very civilized. He was sitting with men who would kill him instantly and they were enjoying the finest French brandy and Cuban cigars. 

Crime families just weren't what they used to be. 

Wiley entered the room and whispered something to the bodyguard who immediately whispered into Morrison's ear. The man stood.

"Gentlemen, something has come up and I find that I must excuse myself. Please, continue to enjoy the brandy and when you're ready, Councilman Nesbitt and Councilman Gaylan, Cummings will show you to your rooms.  Tomorrow will be a very productive day. Good-night." 

Morrison left, obviously headed for his office and Jim wondered what could have come up that *didn't* require his services. But at least this gave him his opportunity to take his leave. Amid a few rude winks from Leahy, he managed to escape. 

He didn't know what to expect when he got to his room but it certainly *wasn't* what he found.  Blair was in bed, pillows stacked up behind him, blankets pulled to his waist, a book on his lap and completing the appearance of normality, the kid was wearing glasses.

The picture he presented was so contrary that it literally took Jim's breath away. Sandburg's face, his demeanor, all said *youth* and Jim figured he couldn't be more than twenty-five. In addition, there was, amazingly enough, an air of innocence about the man. But there was also that chest hair, the sexy Adams apple, the strong chin and the capable hands. He was slender of build, short, but strong and graceful. Blair Sandburg was a study in contradictions. 

Jim liked the contradictions. All of them. 

As he wondered what to do about the sleeping arrangements, Blair took off his glasses and held up the book. 

"I thought you might be interested in this. It's a monograph written by Sir Richard Burton and it's about--Sentinels." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


A book? Sandburg wanted him to look at a book while the kid sat there wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and his glasses? And God damn it, could he look any sexier? 

Taking a stab at controlling himself, Jim asked tersely, "A book? It's after midnight and you want me to read a book? And what's a sentinel?" 

"Yes, a book and *you're* a sentinel, unless I'm badly mistaken, and you should know, I'm never wrong." 

"Oh, really?" Jim didn't skimp on the sarcasm. 

The kid shrugged. "Yeah. On things important. And in case you're interested, a sentinel is someone with all five senses heightened to an incredible degree. That would describe you quite well." 

The room tilted and by sheer force of will, Jim hung on. The kid knew.  He *knew*. 

Jim needed to sit down. Anywhere. He started for the bed but immediately thought better of it and veered left for the chair. He dropped down and concentrated on his breathing. 

Five heightened senses. 

Blair threw off the covers, got out of bed and padded to Jim's side.  Holding out the book, he said, "Burton ran across these guardians in his travels. He called them sentinels because, thanks to their enhanced senses, they could protect their tribe. You know, track game, warn of encroachers, that kind of thing." 

Jim lifted his head and found himself staring at a picture of some native. He looked--noble. Strong. 

"I've been studying people with enhanced senses for years, it's the subject of my doctoral thesis. But I've never found anyone who had all five . One or two, but not all five." 

"Well, aren't you the lucky one. And what makes you think I'm this," he waved his hand at the book, "sentinel thing anyway?" 

"I told you, Jim--and what *is* your first name anyway? Or is that classified?" 

"Anyone ever tell you that your brain is a minefield?" 

Blair actually shuffled a bit as he answered. "Well--yeah. Once or twice." 

Looking back at the picture, Jim said, "Believe it or not, my name *is* Jim. Makes it easy, eh?" 

"Can't slip up that way, that's for sure." 

Jim glanced up at the young man and for the first time he was able to really glimpse Sandburg's *youth* and suddenly he needed to know-- 

"How old are you anyway?" 

"What does that have to--" 

"Hey, humor me. How old?" 

"Not that it matters, but I was twenty-six last May." 

Jim nodded, feeling not one whit better. Twenty-six. He *was* a kid. A smart kid, but still-- 

"As I was saying, I observe and as I told you earlier, I'm good at it. You heard Leahy coming up the stairs, you could smell his aftershave and you spotted him across the grounds, in the dark, and I *know* you were listening to his conversation. And earlier, when I started to--you know--you zoned. That's four senses. Hearing, sight, touch and smell.  I'm betting you've got a highly developed sense of taste too." 

"You had something with lobster in it for lunch. Maybe a soup or something. And fruit. Pears and apples. And you drink a weird coffee." 

Blair squatted down in front of Jim, his eyes suddenly soft and understanding. "I had lobster bisque. A friend brought it from home. The coffee was hazelnut and cinnamon. Not my usual. She brought that too. You were right on about the fruit." Blair put his hand over Jim's and added softly, "You *are* a sentinel." 

Jim tore his gaze from Blair's. "Yeah, so what? And you said--before--something about a zone?" 

"It's kind of an occupational hazard of sentinels. You can focus so hard on one sense that you lose yourself in it and consequently -- zone out. It can be very dangerous, which is why, among other reasons, a sentinel always had a partner--someone to watch his back, to--"

"Bring him out if he zoned?" 

"Yes. But even when not zoning, a sentinel is vulnerable while concentrating. Hence, partners." 

"I see." 

"*Have* you zoned before, Jim?" 

"Yeah," Jim grudgingly admitted, "I have. But always alone and to the best of my recollection, a loud noise would snap me out of it." 

"Can't always count on loud noises, can you? Be pretty gruesome if one day that loud noise turned out to be a gun, and the bullet found you." 

"Like I haven't thought about that? Most of the time my senses are all over the map, zipping in and out, and about as reliable as a watch you buy off the street for a buck." 

"But since you've been here? I mean, everything seems to be working fine. Other than--" 

"My little zone?" 

Flushing scarlet, Blair nodded. 

Jim glanced back at the book and as he stared at the *sentinel*, he realized that Blair was right. Almost since his arrival, his senses had been working great. He'd felt better too. Everything was sharper, clearer and for the first time, it was as if the weirdness of his senses actually--belonged. As if he *should* have them. 

His senses hadn't been part of his game plan in going undercover; they were, as he'd already explained to Sandburg, too unreliable. But now--maybe they were just the edge he'd need to succeed. 

"Can you help me control them?" 

"Yes. I think so." 

"You think? In case you missed it, you already did. When that horn interrupted my ability to listen to Leahy the pain was incredible until you started talking."

"Sensory overload. Another example of how a sentinel is vulnerable when concentrating." 

"How do I keep it from happening again?" 

Blair stood, replaced the book in his backpack, then walked over to the bed and sat down. Jim, as interested as he was in the whole sentinel thing, was still extremely aware of Sandburg, of the way the soft boxers clung to his ass, of the stocky legs that he could immediately picture wrapped around his waist-- 

"There are a couple of methods, actually. One, you learn to separate out the sounds you hear. That way, you aren't concentrating *all* of your sense of hearing on one thing. But that will take time and practice. For now you need someone with you, speaking softly, helping to keep you from the dangers of a solid focus." 

"Gee, Sandburg, why don't I go downstairs right now and ask, oh, say, Morrison?" 

"Well, you certainly could, but then that might defeat your purpose in being here, don't you think?" 

"Duh, Darwin." 

"So I guess that means you're stuck with--me. And thanks, I'd love to be your back-up." 

Jim looked at the man and all he could do was shake his head. The guy was crazy, just plain crazy. Doesn't every undercover cop have a hooker playing back-up? Sure. Newest law enforcement technique. 

"You keep telling me how smart you are--so why do you keep saying such stupid things, huh?" 

"I can help you, Jim. I think--I might be the only one who can. So let me." 

Jim rubbed his eyes. Did he really have a choice? Slightly bleary-eyed, he glanced over at Sandburg and asked, "Do you know why O'Keefe went to Chicago?" 

"The exact why, no. But I do know that Morrison kind of loaned him out. To Vito Mardoni." 

At that, Jim shot up. "Mardoni? Are you sure?" 

"Yes. And it makes sense in a way. If Morrison is going to be successful in moving into Cascade, he either has to work with Nick Tupertino or wipe him out. I think he's decided to work with him." 

Jim started pacing, his mind putting it all together at last. The two councilmen, their districts controlled by Nick Tupertino, Mardoni, Tupertino's father-in-law--oh, yeah, it was all coming together. Suddenly he remembered the gift. He turned back to Sandburg and regarded him a moment before asking, "You're an anthropologist, right? You study
old things, cultural things, right?" 

"Well put, Jim." Sandburg was pretty good in the sarcasm department himself. 

Waving it off, Jim asked, "Look, I delivered a package, apparently from Mardoni. The Feds opened it, but couldn't figure out its significance other than being, maybe, a thank you gift--" 

"What was it?" 

"It was a small hand-carved box. Sicilian, antique. And it was empty."

Blair frowned, then asked, "Empty?" 

"Yep." 

"I'd say--Mardoni was welcoming Morrison into the family. I remember in some research that I helped one of my professors with a couple of years ago--" 

"Let me guess--he was working on the Mafia?" 

Blair chuckled and it was the first totally free and uninhibited moment that Jim had so far witnessed from the young man. He liked it. 

"Yeah, but his area of expertise was on some of the lesser known traditions. Those started outside the five families. And what's interesting is that I distinctly remember that *some* families bring in outsiders, or those *not* tied to the Italian heritage by blood or marriage, by giving them what they called an *Omerta* box." 

"Omerta, that's the Mafia code of silence. How does that tie into some box?" 

"By accepting the box, the receiver was accepting--" 

"The code of silence." 

"Exactly. But, you said the box was empty." 

"Totally." 

"That adds another dimension. See, whatever was inside the box usually told the receiver their position in the family." 

Jim stopped his pacing in front of Blair. "Okay, so by having nothing in the box, Mardoni was telling Morrison that he *has* no position?" 

"I don't think so, Jim. I think Mardoni was telling him that he owes Morrison by showing him that he can have *any* position." 

"Okay, let me get this straight. Mardoni has accepted Morrison into his family *and* he owes him. Is that what you're saying?" 

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying." 

"Damn, I should have tried to listen in when Morrison excused himself after dinner. I just didn't trust myself." 

"Well, it doesn't take much to figure that the call was probably from Tupertino. As sotto capo, he'll be obligated to meet with Morrison now.  And it isn't much of a stretch to figure that Morrison will show him the box and claim his favor from Tupertino." 

Now everything really did make sense. Jim walked over to the windows and stared out over the expanse of lawn. He spotted one of the guards leading a Doberman and he watched absently as his mind continued to put it all together. 

Blair wisely kept silent and waited. 

After several minutes, Jim finally spoke. "This isn't good. If Morrison is successful and he merges with Tupertino--all hell is gonna break loose in Cascade." 

"Tupertino isn't going to go against his father-in-law." 

"No, he isn't. So how do we stop this? How do I bring Morrison out into the open and shut him down before the merger?" 

"You need to find out what was said tonight. What arrangements were made. I have no doubt that Morrison will tell you--eventually, but do you have the time to wait?" 

"That's an easy one. No. The Feds might have believed this to be a deep undercover operation, but I knew better. With only two days to prepare,  with no inside help or information, no way. I have to open this up in the next few days or risk discovery."

Blair stood. "Then you need to go downstairs now, get into his office and see what you can find." 

"Easier said than done, Sandburg." 

"For some, sure. But you're a sentinel. Time to put it to good use. Give me a few." With that, he turned, walked to the closet, took out a shirt and then from a drawer, a pair of jeans. He started to get dressed. 

"Um, Sandburg?" 

"You don't think you're going alone, do you? Back-up, remember? You can't go down there and risk a zone." 

Damn, the kid was right. 

"The only problem, as I see it, will be Cohen. He makes rounds throughout the night. No set schedule. But you should be able to hear him. And while I'm getting dressed, make yourself useful. Is everyone in bed? Do we need to wait a while longer?" 

"How the hell--" 

Blair stopped buttoning and gave Jim a look that clearly said, "are you crazy?". 

"Right," Jim said sheepishly. He immediately started to focus-- 

"Best I can tell, everyone is down for the count. Except--" he tilted his head and closed his eyes--"other end of the house, a radio." 

"That's Cohen. His room is next to Morrison's, which is at the opposite end of the house. Only two bedrooms at that end. Leahy's room is two doors down. You sure he's asleep?" 

"Heartbeat says yes. Slow and even like his breathing. But once I step out in the hall, I can check for lights." 

Blair sat down and pulled on a pair of thick socks, then glanced down at Jim's feet, then back up, his eyebrow arched. 

"What?" Jim asked, exasperated. 

"It's always amazed me in movies when the good guy goes sneaking around in the middle of the night--wearing his shoes. Socks are better. Muffles sounds, you know?" 

"Let me guess, you were a junior Dick Tracy wanna be?" 

"Common sense, man. Just common sense." 

Jim snorted--then toed off his shoes. Smiling, Blair stood. "After you, Oh, Great Sentinel." 

Jim rolled his eyes heavenward, then shut off the lights. "Grab my shirt and hang on, Sandburg. In case it's missed your notice, it's gonna be dark out there." 

A hand grabbed onto his belt as Sandburg said, "Hell, it's damn dark in here. Go forth and conquer." 

Shaking his head, Jim listened a moment, then slowly opened the door and stepped out into the hall, Sandburg right behind him. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 


Once out in the hall, Jim paused long enough to assure himself that there were no lights on in any of the bedrooms. Satisfied, he started toward the stairs, Sandburg attached to him like a leech. Jim decided he liked leeches. This one was warm and smelled terrific. And Jim felt--oddly--protective. 

Oddly--fiercely--protective. 

At the bottom of the stairs he felt a tug, followed by a soft whisper that was barely there. "To your right, down the hall. Double doors on the left." 

Jim turned right and continued to the double doors. He tried the knob and wasn't surprised to find the door locked. He reached into his back pocket, took out his key chain, fumbled a bit, found the small pick and inserted it into the lock. Seconds later--they were in. 

As he moved toward the desk, the whisper came again. "He keeps a memo book next to the phone. And he doodles." 

Jim paused mid-step and grinned. He didn't know why the grin, but damn.  Once at the desk he started to turn on the light when a hand on his arm stopped him. 

"Um, Jim?" 

Right. No light. He was a sentinel. 

The memo book was indeed next to the phone. He picked it up, rifled through it and half-way in found that a page had been torn out. Swell. 

"What's wrong?" 

"How did you--" 

"You tensed up." 

"You sure *I'm* the sentinel?" 

"Yuk, yuk." 

"A page is missing." 

"Feel the paper after the missing page. If he wrote anything, there should be indentations that you could pick up." 

Jim was fast becoming a believer. He could easily see the depressions left by the heaviness of Morrison's hand. Running a finger over them, he closed his eyes and concentrated-- 

"Let your fingers send the letters to your brain, then put them all together." 

Jim nodded in the dark, forgetting that Sandburg couldn't see him. Slowly it started coming together. 

"Tupertino meet. The Winston, Thursday, 5:00." 

"That's good, isn't it, Jim? Gives you time?" 

"Ssh, someone's coming." 

Jim moved quickly to the door. Someone was coming downstairs. 

"Cohen is big," Blair whispered. 

Jim nodded and noted that the footfalls *were* heavy. So was the breathing. Combined with the strong odor of onions and--sausages--yeah, Cohen. 

"He's turned into the living room," Jim whispered. 

"He'll unlock all doors. He's the only one with keys besides Morrison. The only one Morrison trusts completely." 

"What," Jim whispered back, "He doesn't trust *me* completely?" 

"You sure you're first name isn't Jay? As in Leno?" 

Jim would have rolled his eyes again but the action would have been useless, Sandburg couldn't see him. Jim went back to listening.  "Fuck, he's coming back. Got any ideas?" 

"The kitchen is just down the hall, is there time?" 

"Yeah, just." 

"Let's go." 

Not sure what the kid had in mind, Jim nevertheless found himself trusting. He opened the door, waited a second, then moved, Sandburg still attached at the belt. A few quick steps and they were passing through the kitchen swing door. 

"Okay, now what?" 

For his answer, Blair turned on the light and headed for the refrigerator. By the time Cohen walked in, he had the makings of a lamb sandwich and had already started stacking. 

"Dijon?" 

Leaning back against the counter, Jim said lazily, "Yeah. Heap it on." 

Cohen walked in and blinked. "Whaddya doin?" 

Blair looked up and smiled. "What can I say? He's hungry. Still." 

Somehow Sandburg managed to look and sound very sexually charged when he said the word *still*. So much so, that Jim felt it--in his groin. Cohen didn't get it. 

Blair put the sandwich on a plate, added a nice helping of the curried rice that had gone with the lamb earlier, then pulled out a beer. He lifted it all, then smiled again. 

"Night, buddy. See you in the morning." 

He walked out, Jim following. Cohen continued to blink. 

As they walked to the stairs, Blair whispered back, "You *did* relock the door, right?" 

"Ye-ss," Jim hissed back. 

"Good." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Back in their room, Blair sat down cross-legged on the bed and started eating the sandwich. Mouth full, he said, "Youm, cam hab the beer." 

Stunned, Jim sat down in the chair and stared. As the sandwich was devoured and the rice shoveled into Sandburg's mouth by the heaping forkful, Jim shook his head in wonder. Then it struck him. 

"They didn't send up a tray, did they?" 

Blair swallowed and said, "Nope. Leahy probably didn't tell them and of course, you wouldn't know to double check. Not that *you* would have anyway." 

"*You* meaning *him*?" 

"Yep." Then Sandburg looked at the beer and said, "Don't you want it?" 

"No, no, all yours." 

"Cool." 

Sandburg proceeded to guzzle as if he hadn't had anything to drink in days. Five minutes later, the plate was clean and the bottle empty. 

"Feel better now?" 

"Yeah, much. I haven't eaten since--" 

"I know, since lunch. Lobster bisque." 

Blair grinned hugely. "Yeah." He unscrambled his legs, got up and put the plate on the table, then started removing his clothes. 

"Sandburg, I'm *not* O'Keefe." 

Blair's fingers froze on the button. "Shit." He turned and said, "I don't wear anything to bed here. Don't *have* anything. Well, I mean, you know, my boxers--" his voice trailed off as his eyes lowered. 

Jim stood, uncertain of what to do. Finally inspiration struck. "Look, I'll camp out on the floor. Just go into the bathroom and take a pair of my--of *his* sweats with you." 

Blair shook his head. "Won't work, man. Cohen opens every door during his rounds. *Every* door. And you might as well know--Leahy likes to, well, you know, at night, he'll look in. Like I said, he's a real pervert." 

Fuck. That meant-- 

"Yeah, Jim. We have to share the bed. Don't worry, you'll survive. And I don't have cooties." 

Several emotions flirted with Jim Ellison at that moment, among them disgust and anger directed at Leahy. And his own chagrin at the idea of sharing the bed with the kid. The thought of feeling Sandburg's heat, or hoping that incredible hair would brush against his skin--then Sandburg's words hit him again and he arched one eyebrow. 

"Um, *cooties*? Do all anthropologists going for their doctorates use such technical jargon? 

Blair grinned and said, "It's Mayan. Ancient language. Only a handful of us know what it means." 

"Huh-uh. And what *does* it mean?" 

"Now, Jim, if I told you that, I'd have to kill you." 

"Go get undressed." 

Still smiling, Blair turned and went into the bathroom. While he was gone, Jim got out of his clothes and quickly climbed into bed. He figured it would be easier this way--on Sandburg. At the last minute, he turned off the light. A few minutes later, the bathroom door opened.  Blair stopped in the doorway, his body backlit. 

"It's okay, just--climb in. Is this the side you usually sleep on?" 

Sandburg gave a small cough and nodded. Then he quickly climbed in and pulled the covers up. 

For a few minutes, there was no sound other than their breathing. But Jim was very uncomfortable and at the moment, his discomfort had nothing to do with the closeness of Sandburg. His unease was so intense that he finally had to say something. 

"Look. I--need--to switch places." 

"Huh?" 

"Oh, God. This is gonna sound--stupid, but I need--I need to sleepbythedoor." 

For a moment there was no response. Then, "I understand." 

Blair got out of bed, let Jim move over, then walked around and got back in. 

"Thanks." 

"No problem." 

Jim stayed on his back and after a few minutes, he put his hands behind his head. He had a lot of thinking to do. Blair rolled over onto his side--facing away from Jim--and hiked the covers up to his neck. 

Just when Jim thought the kid must be asleep, he said, "You know, if you could screw up Tupertino's operation in the next few days, you could stall Morrison, force him into doing something stupid." 

"Damn, you *are* Dick Tracy." 

"What, you don't think that's an idea?" 

Jim turned his head to look at the lump that was Sandburg's back. "Actually--it could work. If Major Crime concentrated on Tupertino, put everything into it for a few days, used every snitch and source we have--yeah, we could force Morrison's hand. Get him scrambling. Of course, I just have to get word to my boss." 

"I could--do that." 

"Sandburg--" 

"Do you think you could--not--call me that? And it would be easy for me.  You send me off on an errand tomorrow. You often got--um--*he* often got the keys to one of Morrison's cars and sent me out running down something or other. I could contact your boss." 

Jim turned his attention back to the ceiling as he processed what he'd just heard. 

Sandburg--*no*, starting here and now, Jim thought, no more *Sandburg*.  Okay, *Blair*, was often sent off to run errands. He bathed O'Keefe, fed him, laid out his clothes--just what kind of fucking relationship had existed, for God's sake? Hell, whatever it was, it sure wasn't like any hooking job he'd ever heard of before. Which brought Jim right back to the suggestion.

"Look, it's too dangerous and you're not a cop, Sand--Chief. I can't risk--" 

"Jim, it's no risk. It's common. A done deal. No one will even blink." Blair turned over to face Jim and propped his head on his hand. "Look, O'Keefe has been gone for three weeks. He loves the Islands Salt Water Taffy. You know, that place on the pier? Send me for some taffy. He'd do that." 

"And if you're followed?" 

"I'm never followed, Jim. Never. No one pays the slightest attention to me, or hadn't you noticed? I'm wallpaper, man, wallpaper. Let me do it." 

Jim considered the idea, turned it around in his mind and could find no real fault with the plan. Nodding, he said, "All right. We'll do it your way. Islands opens at eight on Saturdays. You can be gone and back before anyone thinks too much about it. I'll give you Simon's home number." 

"Maybe--you'd better give me something that will convince him, you know? He's not gonna know me from Adam." 

"You don't look or sound anything like Adam." 

"Uh?" 

"Never mind. Inside joke. Okay, tell him you're calling for *Slick*.  It's an old nickname from when I first started working in Major Crime." Jim could see Blair's smile in the dark and he grinned in return, knowing exactly what was coming. 

"Slick, huh? Yeah, that fits. I like it." 

Suddenly the intimacy of the moment hit Jim like a ton of bricks. He felt incredibly comfortable, safe and--it was a good moment. He couldn't remember feeling anything like this in his short-lived marriage to Carolyn Plummer, the proof being the fact that he didn't mind in the slightest that Blair would probably call him Slick at some point. And *nobody* had used that name since--Jack.

"Yeah, well, Simon will get it and that's all that's important. Give him everything, Chief." 

"Okay. I should be back by ten at the latest. Stay out of everyone's way til I get back. Pretend to be sick or something. Or I can tell them you're ill when I go downstairs. That'll work because O'Keefe was known for his weird wants." 

"That's not why I'm here, Chief. I need--" 

"Listen, while you were all wining and dining downstairs, Cohen grabbed Leahy's golf clubs and then came in and took your--O'keefe's bag too.  That says that all that's happening tomorrow is business entertaining. Morrison doesn't like early tee-offs so I can easily cover for you. And you know, you can accomplish a great deal without ever
leaving this room, Jim." 

Ellison mulled it all over and he finally had to admit that maybe the kid had a good point. And they were only talking two hours--tops. 

"Okay, okay, you've convinced me. I'll leave tomorrow morning in your hands." 

"Good." Blair turned back around and after punching the pillow a bit, finally settled back down. "By the way, remember, if you're going to listen in tomorrow morning, concentrate on more than one sense." 

"How?" 

"Um, try working it with your sense of touch. Use one of the fur throw pillows, hold it and you know, pet it while you listen." 

"Let me get this straight, you want me to *pet* a pillow while I eavesdrop?" 

"Um--yeah." 

Jim could *hear* Blair's grin., God damn him. Jim smiled in the dark. 

"Go to sleep, kid." 

"Good-night--Jim-boy." 

"Twerp." 

Blair's deep chuckle rumbled through the bed. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Creaking floorboards woke Jim for the second time since he and Sandburg had finally fallen to sleep. The first time had been, as promised, Cohen, who'd opened the door, checked, then quietly closed it again before moving on. But this time the footsteps were slower, more cautious--and Jim felt the hair on his arms rise. 

He turned his head towards the clock on the nightstand and noted that it was after four. The footsteps stopped just outside. 

Slowly the door opened and with eyes closed to mere slits, Jim immediately recognized--Jeff Leahy. 

The God damned, mother fucking prick. 

Sandburg was right--he *was* a pervert. Why the hell would he *want* to look in on O'Keefe and his *toy*? At that moment the moon broke through the clouds and at the same time Jim heard a sharply inhaled breath coming from Leahy. The gasp was followed by the sharp tang of arousal. 

Fuck. 

It took all of Jim's will power to remain in place and unmoving. Two minutes later the door was closed as slowly as it had been opened. Jim let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, then turned over, afraid that Sandburg had wakened. 

But he needn't have worried. Blair Sandburg was sound asleep and now Jim knew exactly *why* Leahy had gasped. 

The moon's glow had captured Sandburg, who lay on his back, covers casually gathered at his waist. His furred chest offered an alternating vision of dark and light thanks to the softly curling hair breaking up the expanse of silvery pale skin. His face was turned toward the door and Jim almost found himself gasping at the dark lashes against more silvery pale skin. His hair was fanned out on the white pillow and at that moment, Jim wished fervently that he had the ability to draw. 

Blair Sandburg was a youthful, masculine, beautiful study in black and white and Jim knew that however the case ended, he'd carry this sight with him to his grave. 

Jim rolled onto his side and continued to--look. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair felt good. He was in that world of early morning haziness of being half-awake and half-asleep. He was warm, cocooned within the blankets and soft warm breath caressed his neck. 

Blair's eyes popped open. Warm breath? On his neck? 

He started to move and realized that he couldn't, that the cocoon was *not* blankets, but rather--arms. He glanced down to find Jim's arms wrapped around him. They were spooned together, Blair's back to Jim's chest and for just a moment, Blair pretended. It was wrong, it was useless, but he did it anyway. 

He closed his eyes, smiled and commenced with his pretending-- 

They were in love and--he'd found his *face*. The man to whom it belonged was everything and more.

Because it *was* his dream, their love-making was passionate and caring.  No pain, no humiliation, no degradation, no torture for the pure joy of seeing another man's face twisted in agony and shame. No power games.

Blair floated in his never-never land until he felt salty moisture tracking its way down his cheeks. 

Careful not to disturb the man in whose arms he was nestled, Blair swiped at the wetness. 

Just a few more minutes. He'd stay like this for a few more minutes, then--he'd move to his side of the bed. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim was only half aware of his surroundings as he winced at the early morning light filtering in through the front windows. What he *was* aware of was the man in his arms. 

Early morning muskiness tantalized his nose and he burrowed deeper, his chin grazing a sensitive neck. He gave a small moan and moved on autopilot. His lips slipped over the skin in small kisses and he was rewarded when the body moved back against him. His dick, which had been at half-mast, quickly went to full alert. 

The allure of a warm chest and the thrumming just under the skin that signaled the heartbeat drew his hand like a puppet. He smoothed over the flesh, fingers playing with the mass of chest hair. 

Once more, the body thumped back, a little harder this time and Jim responded with a moan and small nips at the sweet juncture between shoulder and neck. Who needed alarm clocks? Not him. 

Slowly Jim came fully awake and he almost froze. Then Blair turned in his arms and he found himself staring at sleepy blue eyes. 

"It's all right, Jim," Blair whispered as he slowly reached down between them. He rested his hand against the bulge in Jim's shorts, then began to massage gently even as he moved in closer, eyes fixed on Jim's mouth. 

Their lips were about to meet when Jim said a terse, "No." 

The effect was immediate. Blair shut down, rolled over and got out of bed. A moment later the bathroom door was shutting behind him. 

Jim closed his eyes and silently cursed himself. He didn't completely understand what had just happened but once again he felt that he'd made a huge tactical error. But damn it, a cop doesn't get involved while undercover and he sure as hell doesn't get tangled sexually with a hooker, male or female, no matter how strong the temptation. 

Jim crawled out of bed and slipped into the robe that so many hours ago, Blair had placed on the back of the chair by the window. As he belted it, he wondered how he could face the kid when he finally came out of the bathroom. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


'What an asshole, Sandburg,' Blair thought as he turned on the shower. For just a moment, he'd really believed that Jim had wanted him. That it was more than simply waking up in bed with a warm body within easy reach and forgetting where that body had been. How stupid could he be? 

Climbing into the shower, Blair stood for several minutes under the hard, hot spray, hands braced on the tiled wall of the stall. He had a job to do today and that was all that mattered. 

That and helping Jim in his role and thus keeping the man--alive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim heard the dryer shut off and not much later the bathroom door opened, allowing a patch of warm air to filter out, quickly followed by Sandburg. 

"It's all yours, man. I'll get dressed and head downstairs with the heartbreaking news that you're a bit under the weather and that you want me to run an errand." 

Jim watched, stunned, as Sandburg moved to the closet and took down a shirt, then turned back to him, clearly surprised that Jim hadn't budged.

"Go. Shower. I won't be back up since it's almost eight now and I don't want to be out any later than necessary. And don't forget the pillow if you find the opportunity to listen in on anything."

Jim stared at the kid, then at the pillow, then shrugged in defeat.  Silently he walked into the bathroom and shut the door. 

Minutes later, just as he was just about to climb into the shower, he heard Sandburg leave. 

Fuck, fuck and double fuck. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen, knowing that Cohen would be there stuffing his face. He wasn't disappointed. The big man was at the butcher block table, as usual, eating his breakfast. 

"Hey, man, Jim wants me to go into town. He's a bit under the weather and is his usual petulant self." Blair smiled as if sharing a secret, knowing damn well it would go right over Cohen's head. "Naturally he just *has* to have his salt water taffy. Can you give me a set of keys?" 

Cohen nodded toward the keyboard by the back door and as Blair started toward the pegboard, he said, "Matter which set?" 

"Take the Beemer." 

"Got it. And can you let Morrison know? I don't think Jim is gonna be up to any golf this morning." 

"Tommy'll be upset." 

"Well, who knows, maybe Jim will improve. What time are they due to tee off again?" 

"Noon." 

"Okay then, just let Jim lie low for the morning and we'll see how he feels after his taffy fix." 

Blair grinned again and Cohen nodded slowly. "Thanks, man. Be back in a couple. Need me to pick up anything while I'm out?" 

"No. Just get back here so *I* don't have to deal with O'Keefe's pissy mood when you go missing too long." 

"Sure, no problem. Like I said, a couple of hours--tops. Catch ya on the back side, man." 

Blair left via the back door and headed for the massive building that housed all of Morrison's cars. As he approached the door, a voice halted him mid-step.

"Hey, toy, you're up early." 

Gritting his teeth and putting on a smile, Blair turned to face Leahy. 

"Errand for Jim. He's in serious taffy withdrawal. And he's under the weather to boot." 

Leahy's eyes narrowed. "Under the weather? We tee off at noon and Morrison *needs* Jimmy there." 

"Yeah, so I've been informed. He might be just fine by noon. Not up to me, man." 

Leahy stepped in close, invading Blair's space, his breath wafting over Blair's face. "Did you ever think--that you could do better than O'Keefe?" 

Eyes widening in mock surprise, Blair said with a sly grin, "Better than the Great O'Keefe? I don't think so, Leahy." 

"Well, I'm telling you--you can. Someone stronger, with more pull, someone who could do more for you." 

"Gee, I didn't think Morrison swung that way, Leahy. Learn something new every day." 

Anger suffused Leahy's face as his dark blue eyes went almost black. "You'd better watch yourself, *Toy*. I can be your friend or I can be your enemy. Your choice." 

Blair wondered where Leahy got his lines and gave a fleeting thought to mentioning the triteness of them. But he also had to acknowledge the chill that raced up and down his back at Leahy's words. This was *not* what he needed. 

Putting on a worried expression that wasn't all that fake, Blair said, "Look, right now, I've got all I can handle with O'Keefe. Give me a break. You want to work something out on the side, fine, we can talk--later. You don't mind risking Jim's ire, cool, but right now, the guy is in serious need of his--taffy. I'm outta here." 

Leahy backed off, but his next words were cryptic. "I don't think I'll have to worry about Jimmy's ire for much longer, Sandburg, and then--I'll come knocking." 

Blair waved absently and moved past the man, praying that he wouldn't follow him into the dark garage. His prayer, for once, was answered. 

As he disappeared inside, he was totally unaware of the man on the balcony who'd heard every word. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Scowling, Jim turned away and walked back into the room, almost slamming the door closed as his anger leaked out. Whether the anger was directed at Leahy or Sandburg -- well, that remained a mystery. 

Inside, he started pacing, working off the sudden surge of frustrated energy. When that didn't work, he removed the robe, then dropped down and started to do push-ups. He'd lost count when someone knocked on his door. 

Standing quickly and slipping back into the robe while trying to regain his breath, he moved to the door and opened it to Tommy Morrison. 

"Hey, Jimmy. Got the word you're not feeling well. Thought I'd check on you. See if you needed anything?" 

"No, no," Jim assured, his breath barely controlled. 

"You look like hell, Jimmy. I'm worried." 

With a start, Jim realized that he was probably flushed and sweaty from his spontaneous work-out. Wonders never cease. 

"No, actually, I'm feeling better than I did this morning. Probably picked up something on the flight." 

"Is--Blair--taking good care of you?" 

Puzzled at the pause and the soft way in which Morrison said Sandburg's name, Jim could only nod. 

"Good, good. And don't worry about the game. The important meeting is later this afternoon. Let's hope you're up to it. I'll check in with you before we leave for the club."

"Thanks, Tommy." 

"Get back into bed. I'm going to send Corky up with some juice and a great antibiotic I've got. Okay?" 

"Sounds like a plan." 

Morrison patted Jim on the arm, then left. 

Sighing in relief, Jim sat down on the edge of the bed, grateful that he'd decided to put on only his jeans. He was just considering another shower when voices in the hall captured his attention. 

//No, he's out of the game. He looks like he might be coming down with the flu.// 

//Can we afford it if he misses the game?// 

//It's social and we can keep all discussions away from business until later, when we meet back here for dinner. Our councilmen have legitimate concerns and Jimmy is the best one to allay their fears right now. But we're talking Jimmy O'Keefe here and he isn't going to let anything stop this. He'll make it for the dinner meeting, Abie. Don't worry.// 

//Look, Tommy, you're putting a great deal of faith in Jimmy. Are we sure he's the man to control this?// 

//Abie, he's the *only* man. He can work with Tupertino's people, they know what he did in Chicago. And you know how our guys feel.// 

The voices were fading and Jim swore under his breath--then remembered.  He focused, then Blair's voice telling him about the pillow interrupted.  He shook his head, got up, grabbed the damn thing and moved to the door.  With fingers absently rubbing the soft fake fur, he listened-- 

//Abie, have a little faith.// 

//Faith I have, Tommy. In abundance. But we're walking on eggshells here. This whole thing could blow up in our faces on the turn of a dime.// 

//Tupertino is in the bag. We're on our way, my friend. It won't be long before the entire state is ours.// 

//Right now, I'd settle for Cascade while remaining strong in Seattle.// 

A door slammed shut and while it was jarring, Jim was almost prepared for it. He winced a bit, moved to the French door and stepped outside.  He watched Morrison light up a cigar , then he and Donovan walked the grounds in the front of the house. 

//Just remember, Tommy, you *have* to keep to the background. Rumors are on the street and you can bet your granny's potato farm in County Cork that both the cops and the Feds have their periscopes up.// 

//I know, Abie, I know. I'm here to save a park, remember? I'm the kind, caring benefactor.// 

Donovan chuckled, but more words were lost as a lawn mower was revved up. Jim was able to handle the sound, filter it out, and once again concentrate on the voices--

//--and Leahy?// 

//Leahy will do what's best for the family, Abie. And yes, I'm fully aware of his ultimate goals, but to be frank, he just doesn't stop to think. He's dangerous in that regard and I've got my eye on him.//

//Well, at least he's the devil you know, which is more than I can say for Tupertino.// 

//Ray will do as his father-in-law instructs. He'll honor the favor.// 

//Even though he knows damn well it means giving up control?// 

//I'm not saying he won't try something, I'm just saying--we're ready.// 

Their voices were finally drowned out completely as the lawn mower stopped, apparently right next to them, and it was too painful for Jim to continue to try to focus, pillow or not. But he'd already learned a great deal and Sandburg's idea of wreaking havoc on Tupertino was sounding better by the minute. 

He just hoped the kid would be able to connect with Simon. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair walked the pier, enjoying his freedom. The air was cold and brisk and he breathed in deeply, then coughed slightly. Smiling, he continued on his way, enjoying the decorations. The fact that the pier was still relatively uncrowded even though Christmas was only a little over a week away, thrilled him even more. How many shopping days left? Eight? Yeah, Eight shopping days left til Christmas. 

Thanks to the demands made by O'Keefe, Blair had few remaining friends and he'd been able to shop for them and his mother in these last peaceful weeks. As a result, he was able to ignore the lure of the shops.

There was a pay phone a few stores down from Islands and while he'd passed several, this was the only *enclosed* booth. He ducked inside, shut the door, then plugged in his two quarters and dialed the number he'd memorized. While the phone rang, he prayed that Simon Banks was home. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Simon dropped the morning paper onto the coffee table, ambled into the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, added the sugar and cream, then headed back to the living room.  Half-way to the paper and his brief foray into current events, the phone rang. 

"Banks." 

//Um, Captain Simon Banks?// 

"Yes. Who is this?" 

//Who I am is unimportant. I'm calling for Slick.// Simon frowned. Slick? He didn't know any-- 

Wait. Jim. Jack Pendergast had called him Slick and was the only one allowed. Fuck. 

"You're calling for Ellison?" 

//Ellison? Um, he's--Jim. And he said you--oh, you mean Ellison is his last name?// 

Simon closed his eyes and counted to ten. No way would Jim screw this up-- 

"Yes. Detective Jim Ellison. Is he all right?" 

//He's fine, sir. Please listen. I don't have much time. There's about to be a merger between Morrison and Tupertino. They meet next Thursday.  The idea is that between now and then, you crack down on Tupertino's operation--force Morrison's hand.// 

Simon considered what he'd just been told and had to admit, the idea made sense. Good sense. 

"All right, we'll get on it. If we're successful, Jim should begin to feel the fall-out real quick." 

//Okay, good. I'll tell him.// 

"Listen, who are you?" 

//Like I said, I'm unimportant. He also said to keep the crush on Tupertino confined to Major Crime and he said you'd know what he meant. I've got to go now.// 

Before Simon could do or say anything else, there was a click and he knew the man had hung up. Damn. He put the receiver down and stood silent and thinking. 

Jim wouldn't trust just anyone to deliver a message so Simon had to trust the messenger as well. It also meant that Jim had a voice, which was one less worry for Simon. And the Major Crime remark? Pure Jim Ellison, because Simon knew exactly what Jim had been referring to and he intended to follow through.

Banks glanced longingly at his morning paper--then turned away. He had work to do. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It had only been six hours since the strange phone call from an unknown young man and yet the ball was rolling. Simon sat back in his chair and surveyed his office. Other than the fact that his conference table was littered with Styrofoam containers--leftovers from lunch--no one could have guessed what had gone on in the last hours, let alone the intensity of the discussions and plans.

Getting his people together had taken a few phone calls since most of his chosen detectives had been off duty. He'd called in only five, but he trusted all of them with his life, hence Jim's. He'd then made a cryptic call to Agent Levy, asking him to come in, and explaining the need with a small white lie. He trusted Levy, but that was as far as his
trust of the Feds went, thanks to the whole Garett Kincaid fiasco. 

Once Levy had shown up, Simon had spent over thirty minutes with the man, giving him Jim's idea, and receiving Levy's full support in the process. Simon had been mildly surprised by that, but then Levy had dropped a nugget that had really gotten the ball rolling: Tupertino was taking possession of a large quantity of cocaine on Monday.

Now, six hours later, Simon was satisfied. This was going to work. His people: Henri Brown, Ralph Peterson, Carla Hatch, Mike Cole and Sasha Washington, had all been enthusiastic; in spite of being called in on a Saturday. Every single one of them had immediately hit the streets, their intent to get the word out to snitches, Jim's included. 

Monday was now a done deal. They had the location and Simon, with his people, would be there, ready to shut the exchange down cold. It would be the first volley in a war that had to end before Thursday. 

Tupertino was about to experience a touch of Hell as delivered by Major Crime.

Simon opened his drawer and took out one of his prized cigars. He'd earned it today. As he stared at it, he took a moment to pray for his inside man--and the unnamed kid on the phone. He also admitted to himself that he was curious. The voice had been young but strong, deep, but with no hint of fear. 

Was there a God for undercover cops? And their helpers? Simon prayed it was so. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair hung up, then remained in the booth a few moments, fingers drumming nervously on the small counter below the phone. 

Ellison. 

Jim's last name was Ellison. 

Blair liked it. It fit. Jim Ellison. James Ellison. 

Somehow having Jim's last name gave Blair an extra piece of Jim himself.  And that felt good and safe and--warm. Jim was real now. He had a first *and* last name and a boss.

Blair finally opened the door to the booth and started to walk back to the BMW when he remembered the excuse for his being there to begin with. He ran back and quickly purchased a pound of the stuff. Blair didn't know if Jim--Ellison--liked taffy, but if he did, Blair would just bet he'd be more the root beer flavored kind of guy. And chocolate, of course. Blair chose for *this* Jim. 

On the way back, his step lightened and he actually smiled. There was none of the usual dread or fear, just this--need--to get back to Jim. A good need. 

As he drove through the marina district, he reached over and turned on the radio, then punched a few buttons trying to find his station. When he hit 104.5, he stopped. 

Christmas music. He sighed and left the station alone. 

Bright wintry blue sky, Saturday shoppers on the streets mingling with tourists, gaily decorated windows and Brenda Lee singing Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. So at odds with Blair Sandburg's life and what was happening in a house in the Malvern Estate section of Cascade. And yet, Blair drank it all in and even started singing along with Brenda. 

His mom, a Jewish flower child who now embraced bits of just about every religion out there, loved this song.

Brenda finished singing and was quickly replaced by Perry Como singing Home for the Holidays. As Blair listened, he could remember being ten years old and watching his mother trimming the tree--right after setting up the Menorah. He could see her dancing and waving her hands the same way Como had in a rerun of some old special they'd both watched. Blair wondered if he'd see her this Christmas. If he'd be--able--to see her. 

He checked his watch and immediately pressed down on the accelerator. 

Jim was waiting for him. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It was already after ten and still no Sandburg. 

As Jim paced in front of the French doors it suddenly struck him-- 

There was no reason for Sandburg to come back. 

Jim stopped dead, his heart thudding so hard he could feel it in his ears. 

Jim almost panicked. He turned to his right, then his left, then back to the right. 

He was a God damn fool. And--he couldn't--didn't think he could--without--him. 

Don't be an ass, he scolded mentally. Could anyone blame Sandburg if he skipped out now? He didn't have to stay, O'Keefe was dead, for Christ's sake. There was nothing keeping him here except danger and the imminent threat of death if discovered. Oh, yeah, that was worth coming back. 

Jim had to sit. He made his way to the bed and sank down. God, he was breathing as hard as if he'd just finished a two mile run. Which was ridiculous. So what if Sandburg didn't come back? Jim would be no worse off than when he'd arrived. He'd never expected to find a sympathetic insider anyway. So if Sandburg never showed his face again, Jim would simply go with the original plan. No big deal. Yeah, no big deal. He was a cop. This was what he did. 

He didn't need Sandburg. 

Feeling better, Jim stood walked nonchalantly back to the door, opened it and stepped out onto the balcony. He gripped the railing and breathed in deeply. No problem.

Then he spotted the BMW.

He zeroed in on Sandburg and his entire body relaxed. He could see Sandburg's lips moving so he decided to listen in and received the shock of his life. The kid was singing. 

Sandburg was singing fucking Christmas songs. 

And--he had a good voice. 

As the car made the turn toward the back of the house and the garages, Jim grinned. 

"....while Eskimos play--" 

Yep, the kid had a good voice. 

And he was--back. 

Suddenly feeling calm and relaxed, Jim walked inside, sat down, picked up the book by Sir Richard Burton and started to read. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim glanced up from the monograph as Blair almost ran into the bedroom. 

"Hey, you're late." 

"Yeah," Blair said breathlessly, "I almost forgot the stupid taffy and had to run back, then I hit holiday traffic, only two more weekends for holiday shopping, you know, but the important thing is that I connected with Captain Banks and it's a go. And do *you* like taffy?" 

Jim blinked a couple of times as his mind worked to keep up with everything Sandburg had just said. And when did the kid breathe? 

"Do you? Like taffy? Cause I got root beer and chocolate flavored. Figured you'd like those. O'Keefe didn't." 

The grin that suffused Blair's face floored Jim. The guy looked almost--happy--that he'd bought taffy that O'Keefe would have hated. 

"I like taffy well enough." 

"Oh, good. Here." 

Blair held out the bag and almost grudgingly, Jim took it, sniffed, smiled, then reached in and pulled out one of the root beers. He unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, Blair shook his head. 

"Man, you are something else. And you should be getting ready. I suspect Morrison will want to leave in about twenty minutes." 

As if his words had been a signal, someone knocked and a slightly embarrassed Jim glanced up at Blair and shrugged sheepishly, then mouthed, "I didn't hear a thing." 

Blair smirked, gave a smug look at the taffy, then walked over to the door and opened it. 

"Morrison wants to know if Jim is feeling better. Is he going to make the game?" 

"Sure, Cohen, sure. He's getting ready now, man. What time does he need to be downstairs?" 

"In twenty." 

"No problemo." 

"I'll tell the boss." 

Blair shut the door, turned around and put his hands on hips as glared at Jim. 

Holding up his hands in surrender, Jim said, "Okay, okay, I'm getting up, I'm getting ready." 

"Good. The argyle pull-over sweater vest is his lucky golf sweater. He usually wears it with a yellow oxford shirt. I'll pull everything out while you change out of those jeans." 

"Blair?" 

Sandburg had been about to open the closet door when Jim said his first
name. His hand froze on the handle. Slowly he turned.  "Um--what?" 

"I can get my own clothes. Relax."

"I--okay." 

Blair moved to the bed and sat down. Jim smiled in satisfaction as he opened the drawer of the large oak dresser. 

"Second drawer." 

"Right." He opened the *second* drawer and pulled out the only item that matched Blair's description of the lucky sweater. Then he moved to the closet, opened it, rifled through the hangers until he found a yellow oxford shirt. He took it down and laid it on the bed next to the sweater. 

"The tan Dockers." 

"What about socks, Mr. Blackwell? Or can I choose those myself?" 

Smiling, Blair said, "Well, he wears--wore--the argyle socks that match the sweater." 

"Naturally." 

Jim took out the Dockers, then arching an eyebrow at Blair, he gestured at the dresser. 

"The top right hand drawer." 

Jim opened said drawer and pulled out the appropriate socks. He took off the jeans as easily as if he'd been alone, then slipped into the Dockers. 

"He always wore an undershirt. They're in the top left hand drawer." 

Rolling his eyes, Jim grabbed a sleeveless undershirt, took off the robe, dropped it on the chair and pulled on the undershirt, then the oxford. He buttoned it up and tucked it in. Blair tossed him the sweater and he pulled it over his head, and after adjusting it, sat down and put on the socks. 

"His golf shoes are on the floor of the closet, right side." 

Jim nodded, walked over, picked them up and nodded at the sight of them. Good choice.  Calloway's brown and white saddle golf shoes. 

"To the club?" 

"The matching pair on the other side." 

Jim got those and put them on. "What, no shoe bag?" 

"In the golf bag, but Cohen took it--" 

"I know, you told me. So I carry these." 

"Yep." 

Jim stood in front of Sandburg and hitching his shoulders up, said, "Well? How do I look?" 

"Good. Perfect. And can I ask you something?" 

"Shoot." 

Blair grinned. "You *do* play, right?" 

Chuckling, Jim nodded. "Since junior high school." 

"Well, don't beat the councilmen. You can slaughter Morrison, but *not* the bigwigs." 

"Got it. I can out drive the crooked politicos but have to let them putt all the way to the bank." 

"'Fraid so." 

"Well then, I'm off. Any last minute tips?" 

"Yeah. Let Morrison take the lead. You know O'Keefe's history in South America, right?" At Jim's nod, Blair went on. "Then just be prepared, either while on the course or later, to sell O'Keefe's organizational skills." 

"Got it. And I assume you're not invited, right?" 

Blair made a gesture of shooting a gun as he said, "Bulls-eye." 

"So while I'm gone?" 

"I sit up here and read. Like always." 

"Who'll be around?" 

"No one. Wiley will drive you all, Cohen will follow. Leahy will probably be teamed with Donovan and you, leaving Morrison teamed with the councilmen. Leahy is good, Donovan likes to play in the sand." 

"Shit, the CIA'd love you." 

"Feeling *isn't* mutual. Get downstairs." 

Jim saluted and with some unease, left. As he walked downstairs he wondered once again about the relationship between O'Keefe and Sandburg.  And how much the kid had earned. 

For what he appeared to do for O'Keefe, the kid should be millionaire. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Once the bedroom door closed behind Jim, Blair got up and hurried out to the balcony. He waited patiently and was finally rewarded. Jim came out with Morrison, who was slapping him on the back. 

God, Blair wished he could be with him. What if he zoned out on the back nine or something? He watched the limo pull up in front of the men and a few minutes later watched as it pulled out onto the street. 

He was alone, other than the cook and butler.  But what a different kind of alone. This solitude was easy. He really could relax. Even during the three weeks of relative peace he'd known while O'Keefe had been in Chicago, he'd always known that O'Keefe would
return, that his down time was limited. But now with the knowledge that the man was dead, that he, Blair Sandburg, was truly free, well, he found that he couldn't grasp it. 

Blair gave himself a quick mental shake. Enough Freudian psycho babble. He had several hours before their return which meant that basically--he had the house to himself. 

With Morrison gone, both Edwards and Shep would go to their rooms over the garages and Blair could investigate with little to no risk. 

Maybe he *was* Dick Tracy. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair walked slowly downstairs, cautious in spite of the fact that he knew he was alone. In his hand--Jim's key ring. The idea had come to him when Jim had tossed his jeans on the chair, but had never gone back to retrieve the keys. Blair figured that if Jim could get Morrison's office open, then so could he.

Stopping in front of the double doors, Blair took the ring and held up the small oddly shaped item that he knew had to be the pick. He inserted it, wiggled and jiggled it, and finally succeeded in tripping the lock.  Stepping inside, he quickly closed the door and headed to the desk.

The memo book was no longer next to the phone; it now sat in the middle of the desk. Blair sat down and picked it up. He opened it and grinned, thanks to the lengthy note that had to have been written that morning by Morrison. Blair started reading.

::Send Dumphy to Stirrups, check out the betting action. Password:  Seabiscuit. Get Connelly to check out The Royal Flush Club. He needs to see the dealer at the Diamond table and the password is King Room. Also the Bicycle Club, password with the cashier is *According to Hoyle's wife*. ::

Blair frowned. Stirrups? Hell, he'd actually been there a couple of times. It was a bar about a mile from Rainier and pretty popular among the teaching associates. So Morrison was saying what, that the place was a front for off-track betting?

Blair drummed his fingers on the desktop, his mind whirling. Finally he picked up the phone and punched in a telephone number. It rang on the other end and he hoped--

//Hello?//

"Cuz? It's me, Blair. Got a favor to ask."

//Hey, man, long time, no see. Whatcha need?//

"There's a bar on Elm called Stirrups. Know it?"

//Hell, yeah.//

"Is that one of your spots?"

//Sure is, why?//

Blair closed his eyes and sent up a prayer of thanks. Then he turned his attention back to his cousin. "Listen, stay away from it for a few days, okay?"

//Blair?//

"Just do it, Robert, okay?"

//Okay, will do. Not that it matters, I have other avenues--//

"Like actually betting *at* the tracks? You *could* try that."

//Ha-ha, Blair, very funny. But now that you mention it--//

"One more thing--"

//Anything, Blair, you know that. Shoot.//

"Is there illegal gambling going on at the Bicycle Club and the Royal Flush?"

//Well, you know, I've only heard rumors, of course, but--yeah. And we're talking heavy. Very heavy.//

"You don't--"

//Can't afford it, Cuz. Trust me.//

"Okay, thanks. Catch you later. And take care."

//I always do, Blair. And is there anything I should know?//

"Just stay clean and away from Stirrups."

//Got it. Talk atcha later.//

Blair disconnected and immediately dialed another number.

//Cascade Police Department. If this is an emergency, please dial 911--//

Blair listened to the automated voice and since he didn't know the extension for Major Crime, he had to wait until the whole spiel had been given before he was turned over to an operator. //Cascade Police Department, how may I direct your call?//

"Captain Simon Banks, please."

//Just one moment.//

Another two rings, then a female picked up.

//Captain Simon Banks' office//

"May I speak with him, please? Tell him it's a friend of Slick's. He'll want to speak with me."

//Just one moment, sir.//

Blair waited nervously, certain that every sound he was hearing heralded discovery.

//This is Banks.//

"Sir, we talked earlier this morning?"

//Yes, I remember--well. Is everything all right? Is Jim all right?//

"He's fine, sir. I just have--more information for you. A bar near Rainier called Stirrups. It's a front for off-track betting. And The Bicycle Club has illegal gambling, as does the Royal Flush. In the King Room. All being checked out by Morrison's people this week. I'd have to assume that they're part of Tupertino's operation. If you have a pen handy, I can give you the necessary passwords, etc."

//I'm ready, go ahead.//

Blair quickly repeated everything from Morrison's memo.

//Okay, got it all. This is perfect, kid. And don't you think it's time you gave me your name?//

Blair bit down on his lower lip, then sighed heavily. "It's Blair. Blair Sandburg."

//Thank you, Sandburg. It's nice having a name to go with the voice and tell Jim we'll move on this immediately. You should be hearing the fireworks soon.//

"Yes, sir."

//Take--care, you understand?//

"I--yes, and I'll take care of Jim. Don't worry."

//For some reason--I'm not. Thank you.//

"Good-bye."

//Good-bye--Blair.//

Blair replaced the receiver and leaned back in the chair, all of his energy suddenly gone. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, then exhaled slowly. When he felt his pulse slowing, he opened his eyes and looked at the book again. After making sure there was nothing else of importance, he closed it. He scanned the desk and finding nothing to write home about, he decided to try to the drawers. No shock to find them all locked.

As he started to push himself away from the desk, his hand slipped and the blotter shifted just enough to disclose a picture. Blair's mouth dropped open. The picture was of his own mother.

Blair slid it out and stared at it.

Tommy Morrison still had a picture of Blair's mother, Naomi. It had been weeks since she'd left Morrison to move on as she always did. And yet--the crime czar still had her picture.

A door slammed shut and Blair jumped nearly three feet out of the chair.  He quickly replaced the picture--in the exact same spot, then stood and moved away. He opened the door a crack and listened intently -- The kitchen. It had been the kitchen door.  Shep. Probably getting things ready for dinner.

Blair stepped out into the hall and after making sure it was locked, he closed the door and hurried down the hall and back upstairs. Once back in the bedroom, he collapsed on the bed and decided that a career as a spy was not on his future agenda. He'd just aged at least ten years.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Simon walked out into the bullpen and over to Cole, who had just hung up the phone.

"Mike, I need you to run a name for me. Blair Sandburg. Get me everything you can on him. Got it?"

"Yes, sir. Is this tied into--"

"Could be, could be. Just get me something pronto."

"You got it, Simon."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim sat down on the bench in the locker room and took off his golf shoes. Morrison was at his locker and stripping down for a shower. When he noticed Jim changing into his street shoes, he raised an eyebrow and asked, "What, no shower?"

Jim grinned in a manner that he hoped conveyed ulterior motives and said, "I'm thinking--when we get back to the house."

"You are a horny bastard, aren't you?"

"Apparently."

Morrison grinned, then after wrapping a towel around his middle, he gave Jim a hearty slap on the back. "You did good today, Jimmy boy. I think you calmed their fears and unless I'm sadly mistaken, they even appear excited."

"No kidding. They stand to turn a nice profit from some of your ventures, Tommy. Yeah,
they're excited all right."

"Yeah, but thanks to you, they now realize just how secure their positions really are. I knew you were the right one for this city, Jimmy."

Jim gave him a Cheshire grin and bent down to tie his laces. Morrison went into the showers and Jim was left alone. Leahy and Donovan had already come and gone and were currently wining the councilmen in the club bar until he and Morrison were ready. It was already dark outside and in fact, the last two holes had been played in the glow of a spectacular sunset. A sunset that had made it easy for Leahy to cheat on eighteen.

Jim had spotted the move, thanks to already knowing *exactly* where Leahy's drive had landed, namely out of bounds. With everyone else concentrating on finding their balls in the waning light, Leahy had simply walked over to his, picked it up, stepped back out onto the fairway and then let it drop unobtrusively from his hand to land in a very nice spot for his second shot to the green. But of course, Jim had seen it all. And Leahy's action had forced Jim to screw up his shot onto the green in order to ensure that the councilmen, with Morrison as their partner, won.

If Jim weren't predisposed to dislike Leahy based on the man's chosen profession, and if he didn't *already* dislike the man thanks to his voyeurism, well, Jim would certainly have had cause to do so after today's golf game. The man had no sense of honor and Jim recognized that the real danger in this whole operation was Leahy. He was the wild card.

Jim slipped his golf shoes into the shoe bag, then hung it from the loop on the edge of his golf bag. He knew Wiley would come in later to gather everything and store it all in the limo while the rest of them relaxed in the bar. Not that Jim would experience any ease. He was worried about Sandburg and had been surprised to find that he actually missed the anthropologist. But just thinking about him throughout the day had kept
his senses in line.

Which was kind of--weird.

At that moment, Jim realized that he had a golden opportunity to contact Simon. He knew where everyone was located and there wouldn't be a safer moment. He left the locker room and made his way to the restaurant which was located at the opposite end of the clubhouse from the bar. When he walked in, he spotted the sign that directed people to the restrooms and phones. He weaved his way through the room and after pulling out two quarters, he plunked the coins into the slots and dialed Simon's cell phone.

//Banks.//

"Simon, it's me."

//Jim? You okay?//

"Couldn't be better. We're at the country club. Are you working on--"

//Jim, we've got it all in the works thanks to the additional information from Sandburg the second time he called--//

"Sandburg? You talked to him *again*?"

//Yes. Around two. We're moving in on the Bicycle Club and the Royal Flush tonight. And on Monday, we're busting up a drug exchange. I think you're gonna get everything you need, Jim."

Jim found himself speechless. Sandburg had called Simon a second time? What the hell had the kid done? And could he kill him?

//Jim? Listen, do you know *who* this Sandburg kid is?//

That got Jim's attention. "What do you mean?"

//I had Cole run the stats on him and he's got quite a reputation at Rainier. Got his Masters at the obscene age of twenty-one, already has a reputation as one of the brightest in his field--Jim, what the hell is this guy doing with Morrison?//

"Look, I don't have time to go into it now. I've got to get back before I raise any questions. I'll try to get in touch on Monday, one way or another. In the meantime, start checking the private holdings on the councilmen. I think you'll find some interesting information. Gotta go."

Jim didn't let Simon respond, he simply hung up. Moving quickly to the counter, he caught the eye of a waitress and remembering a remark made earlier in the day about O'Keefe's love of french fries, he ordered some. When she'd bagged them, he paid and headed to the bar, his excuse for being absent in his hand, hot and smelling pretty damn good.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair heard the crunch of gravel and stepped quickly out onto the balcony. The limo had just pulled up in front of the house and Blair sighed in relief. They were back. *Jim* was back.

Fifteen minutes later Jim was walking in, his jaw granite hard.

"You called Simon again. Why and how?"

"Well, hello to you too. And how? Well, you see, they have this new device called a t-e-l-e-p-h-o-n-e. Works good too."

"Don't get cute, Sandburg. What did you do while we were gone?"

Blair got up, walked over to the jeans that now sat on the dresser, and took out the keys. He tossed them over to Jim, who caught them easily.

"You left them so I used the pick and got into Morrison's office again. Found some additional info and simply passed it onto Banks. End of story."

"You had no right to take such a risk, Chief. You could have blown the whole operation. Gotten yourself killed."

"I was alone in the house, Jim. There was no risk. The butler and cook were in their own rooms above the garage. There was *no* risk."

Somewhat mollified by that fact, Jim let his temper calm. He took several deep breaths as he tore off the sweater and started unbuttoning the oxford shirt.

"Um, Jim? Don't you want to know--"

"I know. I talked with him. How do you think--"

"Oh, yeah. Of course. Stupid me."

"Not stupid, Chief. But don't do anything like that again, all right?"

"Sure. No probl--"

"I know. No problemo. Look, I'm gonna shower and change for dinner. It seems the wives have been invited tonight and someone named Lorena is joining Morrison as his date for the evening. Cocktails in an hour."

"Okay. And Jim? I'm--sorry."

Ellison stopped half-way to the bathroom and turned back to look at his partner in crime. "That's okay. I just don't want to see you--hurt."

Then he walked into the bathroom, leaving a stunned Sandburg behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The evening was tedious as Jim found himself forced to entertain several women. Leahy's date was a tall, buxom redhead who glided about leaving a trail of very expensive French perfume in her wake. The councilmen's wives were elegant, both much younger than their husbands, and both schooled in the art of looking bored but beautiful.

Donovan's wife was a small brunette whose eyes betrayed her. She acted as hostess and while her words and actions were perfect, her eyes held glints of both fear and a dislike for her job. Morrison's date was a model and she seemed to feel that her sole purpose for attending was to sit and look regal. She did it rather well.

As the only man without a woman on his arm, all the ladies, other than Mrs. Donovan, took it upon themselves to lavish him with attention. Since O'Keefe was known as a flirt and had charm to spare, Jim turned it on and the ladies lapped it up. But throughout the entire evening, Jim found himself wishing that Blair was beside him. And this time, Jim made sure that food was taken up to the young man.

After what seemed an eternity, the evening finally ended, as did the stay of the two councilmen, Leahy and Donovan. As Jim and Morrison stood on the porch watching all the cars drive out, Morrison said, "I know you were planning on going home tonight as well, but would you mind staying? I need to go over some items with you and tonight, well, to be honest," he glanced back at the young model standing in the foyer and grinned as he went on. "To be honest, well--"

Jim held up a hand and smiling devilishly, said, "I get it, boss. We'll talk tomorrow. I'm going upstairs now which leaves you two--alone."

"Thanks, Tommy. I'll have Shep put together something easy for breakfast since it will be just you and me. Let's make it--oh, hell, whenever."

"Got it."

Jim started to go inside, but Morrison stopped him. "Jim? Why don't you bring -- Blair -- down with you tomorrow morning?"

Jim hid his surprise and just nodded. Then he went in and upstairs. To Blair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim knew before he opened the door that Sandburg was sound asleep so he entered quietly and carefully. The lamp by the bed was on and the kid was on his back, still dressed, an open book on his chest, glasses perched on the end of his nose. Jim's breath
caught in his throat. No one had ever looked better.

Walking softly to Blair's side, Jim gently removed the glasses, folded them, then placed them on the nightstand. He did the same with the book, but not before reading the title, *Bibliography on the Tragedy of the Commons* by someone named Charlotte Hess. Okay, sounded--interesting. And most definitely not the reading material of the typical hooker, but then, Jim was learning that Blair Sandburg was anything *but* typical.

As he tenderly lifted the totally out of it man, it hit him: he suddenly couldn't care less that Blair Sandburg had been Jim O'Keefe's beck and call man. It simply didn't matter. As he carefully removed the red Henley, Jim understood that he *was* involved with Sandburg and that he wanted that involvement to go deeper, that he wanted o be involved in *every* way. Their pasts, even their present, mattered not one bit to him. It was tomorrow, next week, next month--and next year that mattered. And Jim had every intention of spending all them and more with the man he was currently undressing.

Jim unzipped the kid's jeans and slipped them off, making sure he didn't wake Sandburg. Although he doubted that even an earthquake could do that at this point. When Blair was in nothing but his boxers, Jim managed to get him under the covers with the only movement of the younger man being to curl up on his side and hug the pillow. Smiling, Jim turned off the light and by the soft glow of the winter moon, he undressed, then climbed into bed. Feeling comfortable and at ease, he slipped into sleep, content to feel Sandburg's warmth a few inches away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Sunday fell apart for Morrison. For Jim, it was everything he could have hoped for following all that he and Sandburg had accomplished on Saturday.

The day had started out well with Jim waking up to find a lump attached to his back. Somehow, in the early morning hours, Blair had turned over, spread out and now occupied the entire bed with Jim holding down a slender edge. But the nice part had been that Blair's head was butted up against Jim's back. The kid had somehow molded himself to Jim and the older man didn't mind one bit. But remembering the morning before, Jim wisely got up, got his shower out of the way, shaved and by the time he came out of the bathroom, Blair was finally stirring.

With a towel slung around his neck, barefoot and wearing only his jeans, Jim rubbed at his hair and smiled down at the groaning man still in bed.

"Come on, sleepy head, rise and shine."

"go 'way, mom."

One eyebrow rose. "Mom? Do I look like a mother to you, Chief?"

Blair stretched, then rubbed at his eyes. He sat up, looked about him dazedly, then reached for his glasses. Jim had to put them in his hand. As Blair slipped them on, he blinked up at Jim and smiled. "Hey, man. How did last night go? Any problems? And thanks for the dinner. That was--cool."

Shaking his head fondly, Jim finished drying his hair as he said, "Everything went fine. Smooth as silk. The wives were boring, the dates were boring, everyone is gone and Morrison expects us *both* downstairs for breakfast."

That lit a fire under the kid, all right. At Jim's words, Blair's mouth dropped open, then he snapped it shut and jumped out of bed.

"What? Tell me you didn't say yes. Just tell me that?"

Sensing the changing pace of Blair's heartbeat and noting the sudden beads of moisture that dotted his upper lip, Jim frowned as he asked, "Why shouldn't I say yes? What's going on, Sandburg?"

He hadn't meant to sound so short, but judging by Blair's reaction, he had been. Blair backed off instantly. Waving a hand, he said, "Nothing, nothing, Jim. Sorry. I'm going to take that shower now."

Jim reached out and carefully took Blair's arm and in a softer tone, said, "Wait. Just tell me why it's a problem that I said yes."

Eyes downcast, Blair mumbled, "O"Keefe wouldn't have. He would have made up some excuse. He didn't want to risk--um, he just wouldn't have."

Jim's frown deepened. Risk? Risk what? But before he could ask, someone knocked on their door. As he moved to answer, Jim motioned for Blair to go. He knew by the aftershave that it was Cohen and as he opened the door, Blair shut himself up in the bathroom.

"We gotta problem. Morrison wants you downstairs *now*."

"Tell him I'm on my way."

Cohen nodded, turned and almost ran down the hall. As Jim closed the door, he smiled. He could guess the problem. He quickly pulled on a gray sweater, stepped into a pair of loafers, then knocked on the door before opening and stepping inside.

"Sandburg?"

The shower was on and thanks to the steam, not even Jim could see more than the vaguest outline of Blair's form. At his voice, Blair cracked open the stall door and poked his head out, hair dripping over his face.  

"Yeah?"

"I think Morrison's just received some bad news, thanks to Major Crime. I was just ordered downstairs. I'm on my way. I'll have breakfast sent up to you, all right?"

Blair nodded and was about to close the door when he realized that Jim was still standing there, shifting from foot to foot, eyes down and clearly--embarrassed.

"Jim?"

"Look, about earlier? I was just reacting to--your--reaction, you know? You seemed so panicked and, well, I just--"

"It's okay, Jim. Honest. You'd better get downstairs."

"Right. Okay, then." Jim turned and grabbed the knob, but before turning it, he said, "Maybe you should go home today? You deserve some peace."

"Morrison wouldn't believe it, Jim. Even during the week, the normal procedure would be for Wiley to drive me to school, then pick me up when I was finished. And I pretty much had to--I pretty much got my teaching classes covered. If I go home now--well, it wouldn't look right. The tougher the situation, the more--relaxing--O'Keefe required."

"Oh. Okay then."

Jim watched Blair pop his head back in and shut the door. Jim headed downstairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"This is not good, Jim. Both clubs were hit last night *and* were shut down along with Stirrups. Tupertino is doing some fancy footwork right now, but the bottom line is--last night took a big chunk out of his operation. We're now in the unenviable position of providing damage control."

"Unenviable? Seems to me that this little mess of Tupertino's increases the favor factor, boss. But of course, there's no reason to assume that we need to step in now. I'm thinking a wait and see policy might be more prudent at this point."

"It might. Certainly would decrease the chances of exposing ourselves too early, Jimmy."

"Exactly. Why don't we just sit back and see what happens? If things go farther south, then we take advantage."

Morrison pushed himself away from the table, rose and went to stand by the large bay window that fronted the dining room. With his back to Jim, he said quietly, "You're the spine that holds me together, Jimmy boy. I'm glad you're back here with me. We'll wait."

Satisfied, Jim nodded. "You calling the others in today?"

"No. But this does change a few things." Morrison turned around and with a grin, said, "I think I need to call Lorena back here. Or maybe meet her in town. Will you call Donovan, give him the plan?"

"Sure thing, boss. On my way."

Jim got up and headed for the phone in the study, thankful again for all the names and numbers he'd been forced to memorize.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Morrison watched his man head out, then he glanced into the hall and toward the stairs. He made his decision.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Blair was munching on a piece of bacon when someone knocked. Frowning, he walked to the door and was surprised to find Tommy on the other side.


"Blair. May I come in?"

"Of course, Tommy." He stepped aside, allowing Morrison in.

"I see Shep sent up breakfast for you?"

"Oh, um, yeah."

Morrison walked over to the small table by the window and glanced down at the plate, at the half-eaten omelet, the fruit and the two remaining pieces of bacon. "I'm glad." Still eyeing the food, Morrison said easily, "How's Naomi?"

"She's fine. In New Orleans right now."

"Ah. Great town to be in over the holidays. Ever been there?"

"Yes, when I was about--fifteen, I think. Mardi Gras."

Smiling, Tommy turned to face Blair. "Even better. Nothing like New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Any chance she'll be visiting you soon?"

"I--I'm not sure, Tommy. She's showing no indications of it."

"Not even for Christmas or Chanukah?"

"We haven't spent--a lot of holidays together, not since I was sixteen. Once I settled in at Rainier, well, she really let the wanderlust take over, you know?"

Morrison's face clouded over for a moment as he said, "Yes, I do know."

And just like that--it hit Blair. Tommy Morrison was still in love with his mother. Which explained a great deal.

"I'm sorry, Tommy."

Plastering a fake smile on his face, Morrison said, "Oh, yeah, don't worry about it. Give her my love if you talk with her, all right?"

"I will."

"Thanks. And--take care."

"My mantra, man."

Tommy grinned and headed out. At the last minute he turned back to Blair and placed both hands on the younger man's shoulders. "I'm fond of you, Blair. Is everything all right? Are you really happy with Jimmy?"

"Of course. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

Morrison shook his head. "Sometimes, well, it seems you two are just--I just don't see it."

"You mean you don't see your number one man as gay?"

"Damn, you caught me."

They both smiled but Blair's discomfort was increasing. This was too close to the man. Too close to a man he was helping Jim destroy.

"Jimmy's a good man, but I have to be honest here. You make him vulnerable and I worry. You also haven't always seemed completely happy. Those first couple of weeks, when you're mother was here, you were -- very different. Always moving, talking, joking, full of energy, anxious to see everything, be a part of everything -- but that's not how -- I'm not making any sense, am I?"

Thank God Blair was good at obfuscation. "Not really."

Morrison dropped his hands from Blair's shoulders and opened the door. "Just ignore me, Blair."

With that, he walked out and closed the door behind him.

Blair's appetite gone, he sank down on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim started upstairs, his calls completed. Halfway up, he met Morrison coming down.

"Jimmy, join me for a few minutes."

Jim couldn't very well refuse. He nodded and followed Morrison into his office. He took a seat in front of the large desk and watched as Morrison opened up his office bar and poured them each a generous shot of Jameson's. As the man walked back to his desk he handed off Jim's drink. When he sat down, he held up his glass.

"To us, Jimmy. To us and the world."

Jim smiled encouragingly and lifted his glass, letting it just touch Morrison's. "To us, Tommy."

They both drank, then Morrison said, "I'm thinking I shouldn't keep you."

"That's all right."

"I think I'm entering one of the famous Black Irish moods. I should feel on top of the world, yet--all I can think about is--"

When Morrison's voice trailed off, Jim prompted him. "Is?"

"A woman, Jimmy, my boy. A woman. Something you wouldn't understand."

"Why not?"

Morrison looked at him over the rim of his glass and then slowly put it down. "Good question. Why not indeed. Although, to be frank, I never pictured you as a man to give his heart. Truth to tell, never knew you even *had* a heart. It's what made you so good."

"And now?" Jim challenged.

"And now--nothing. You're still the best."

Jim held up his glass and giving Morrison a little salute, he said, "And don't you forget it, boss."

Laughing, Morrison waved Jim up as he said, "Get upstairs. Why don't you and the kid get out of the house today? The surf is good, go, take advantage. This wait and see shit is good for at least one thing; peace and quiet."

"You talked me into it, boss. We're on our way."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Well, that was different, Jim thought as he walked upstairs. And surfing? Was there no end to the things he and O'Keefe had in common? As he opened the door to the bedroom, he said in a falsely cheerful voice, "Pack up for the beach, Chief. We're going surfing."

Blair glanced up from the spot on the floor that he'd been *investigating* since Morrison's departure to say, "Huh?"

"We're on hold. I persuaded Morrison to take a wait and see tack with Tupertino. Both clubs and Stirrups were shut down last night. Morrison suggested we go surfing."

Blair groaned. "Don't tell me you surf too?"

"As a matter of fact--I do. And the weather is perfect today."

"Aw, Jim, it's freezing outside."

"So bundle up. I assume *I* have wetsuits and boards here?"

"Oh, yeah. Most everything of O'Keefe's is here. He has an apartment in town, in the Wilkerson Tower, but since returning from South America, he's spent most of his time out here."

"Well then, buddy, bundle up. We're off to the beach."

Blair huffed a bit, then said cheekily, "My, but it's tough being a cop, ain't it?"

"It has its perks, Sandburg, it definitely has it's perks."

Part Three