Jim was working at his desk, trying to catch up on the endless paperwork that was a necessary evil of his job.
"Ellison!" Jim could easily hear his boss's voice through his closed door. Normally, Simon yelled for his people, but this bellow sounded different. It sounded urgent. He got up quickly and headed for Simon's office.
Simon was on the phone and waved him in. "Kincaid's escaped," he said. "They don't know which way he's headed. They've already alerted the RCMP, but I'm calling Campus Security to check on the SGI. Hello?" he said into the phone. "I need to speak to Suzanne Tomaki. … Suzanne, this is Simon Banks from Cascade PD. I've just received word that Garrett Kincaid has escaped from the Bellingham Work Release Facility. One of his henchmen also escaped. His name is Brent McBride. … No, they don't know which direction. If he's smart, he'll try for Canada, but he might be stupid enough to go back to the SGI. … Yes, I'll wait."
"Simon, when the hell did this happen?"
"They think sometime yesterday. Bellingham has therapy programs that they thought might rehabilitate Kincaid. McBride was with him, posing as his guide. They were--" He went back to the phone. "Everything's okay at the Institute? … Yeah, I'd suggest going to high alert until they're caught. We can send a couple of cruisers over to help you patrol if you need it--"
"Simon! Blair's at Rainier today." Jim pulled out his phone and hit the speed dial. "No answer," he said anxiously.
"Suzanne? Can you send someone to check on Blair Sandburg? He should be at his office in Hargrove. Kincaid might be interested in him after what happened during the siege. … He what?" Simon blew out an explosive breath. "I'll let you get to it, then. Please call me once the dust settles. … Thanks." He looked at Jim, disbelief on his face. "Your partner just called Tomaki. He's got Kincaid in his office, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey."
"What--" Just then Jim's phone rang. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Blair."
Jim let out a sigh. "I know it's you, Chief. I just have one question. What the hell is going on?"
45 minutes earlier:
"How'd you get out?" Blair asked, his arms raised in deference to the gun McBride was pointing at him.
Kincaid smirked. "I guess they don't get many sentinels in prison. They didn't know what hit 'em."
Blair stared at him. "You killed the prison guards?" he asked in horror.
"Nah, just a little tap on the head. They'll wake up with a headache and some regrets. But they'll wake up."
"But why come here? As a sentinel, you've got the ability to outmaneuver your trackers. Why not take your freedom and get as far away from here as possible?"
"I still need a guide, Guide. I believe you offered me your services."
"You still want me after what I did at the compound? Are you insane?"
"Don't you ever say that to me," he snarled, shoving Blair back in his chair. Kincaid slowed his breathing and involuntarily looked down at his arm, which still showed the knife scar. "I figure after I give you a little… tutoring on what I expect out of you, you'll snap to easy enough."
"Forget it, I'm bonded."
"Then break it!" Kincaid hissed. "Unless you want me to break it for you. A quick bullet straight to Ellison's heart and voila, problem solved."
Blair jumped up from his chair. "No! Don't touch him! I'll go with you willingly. Just leave him alone."
"You must think I'm an idiot. Haven't you ever heard the saying 'Fool me once'? Well, shame on me if I believe you a second time. Besides, I owe Ellison for breaking up my happy family. I'm sure he'll be along in a little while, checking on you. Perhaps before we go we'll set up a little surprise for ol' Ellison."
Blair pulled on his hair in frustration, trying to figure out how to get through, although the crazed look in Kincaid's eyes didn't give him much hope. He blew out a gust of air. "If you don't think you can trust me, why the hell do you want me? You've got a perfect guide already. He's clever; I'm sure he helped you escape. He's willing and loyal."
"What are you talking about? I got out of prison on my own."
Blair looked at him doubtfully. "Really? You mean McBride didn't help you at all?"
Kincaid shrugged dismissively. "Maybe. But you've got stronger guide scores; I need the best."
"But he'd follow you anywhere. Can't you see how much he cares for you? And, once you've bonded, both of you will be more effective."
"Bonded? What the hell are you talking about?"
"This can't be a surprise. Look at him; he loves you."
Kincaid whirled to face McBride. "Is this true?" At McBride's silence, he demanded, "Answer me, soldier!"
McBride flushed and nodded. "It's true. I would be honored to be your guide. I would love to bond with--"
Kincaid hauled off and punched McBride in the stomach and, while he was bent over, delivered an upper-cut to the chin. McBride dropped to his knees, his gun clattering to the floor. "Don't you ever say that to me! I'm no homo! I can't believe I let you touch me!" He used his booted foot to push McBride all the way down, then pulled back his foot and kicked him. "I swear I'll kill you if you say that again!"
Blair took advantage of Kincaid's distraction. He picked up a marble pen set, a gift from Eli on completion of his master's degree. He smacked Kincaid on the back of the head, then hit him once more, making sure he was unconscious. He kicked McBride's gun away, sending it skittering under his desk. Then he pulled Kincaid's gun from its holster and pointed it at McBride. "Get up," he commanded.
McBride got up slowly, favoring the side where he'd been kicked.
"Anything broken?" Blair asked. McBride shook his head. "Okay, then," he said, pointing to the large hunting knife strapped to McBride's side, "pull that thing out slowly and put it on the floor." McBride complied, bending down gingerly. He got up and raised his hands without being asked.
Blair looked at him and couldn't help showing the pity he felt. "I'm sorry I spilled the beans. I so rarely run into homophobic sentinels--they have a tendency toward bisexuality, which makes it easier to bond with a guide of either sex." He looked down at Kincaid. "Look, I have to call the cops. You fucked up by following him, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt. Why don't you just… disappear. Take a little time to reflect on your life and try to find a sentinel worthy of your love."
McBride stared at him in disbelief. "Why are you doing this?"
Blair shrugged. "I expect you wouldn't be in jail if you hadn't been in love with the wrong man. That doesn't mean that you're blameless; you knew what he was doing was wrong. But… I sense you won't do well in prison. So, take this chance and try to stay on the straight and narrow, okay?" McBride nodded. "Oh, and if you ever tell anyone, I'll deny it. Get it?" McBride nodded again.
"Okay, then. While I was finding some rope, you somehow slipped away, yeah, that's it." Blair cocked his head toward the door; McBride hesitated and then opened it and fled. Blair went behind his desk and picked up McBride's gun, making sure that the safety was on, and pocketed it with Kincaid's. He walked down the hallway to a maintenance closet, searching through jugs of floor cleaners and packages of paper towels, finally spying a roll of duct tape. He bound Kincaid's arms and legs, taking grim satisfaction in making it extra tight. Next, he called Campus Security and Jim.
"Ellison!" Simon Banks yelled from his desk.
Jim sauntered over to his boss's office, wearing a big grin. "You bellowed, Simon?"
"Shit, there's no getting a rise out of you since you've bonded. What the hell is this?" he asked holding up a paper. "Haven't you taught your guide any better?"
Jim frowned a little. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Simon drawled. "He knocks Kincaid out--quick thinking, good job. He disarms McBride and then, when he opens his door to call for help, McBride pushes him out of the way and runs. He's still on the run. McBride could have disarmed him and shot Blair." Simon shook his head. "Careless. You need to talk to him about procedures. It might save his life." He looked over his glasses at Jim, and Jim could see the worry.
"Yes, sir," Jim said sincerely. "I'll get right on it." He gave Simon a salute and left the office. He looked at the clock, more out of habit than a need to know the time. His internal clock was rarely wrong, and it was telling him it was time to check out. He locked up his desk and took the stairs down to the parking garage. Once he unlocked the truck, he dialed Blair's number.
"Jim Ellison's guide, can I help you?"
"Smartass," Jim laughed. "You don't belong to me or anyone."
"Well, you can always hope. What's up?"
"I'm heading out and I'm starved. What do you want to do for dinner?"
"Got it covered. Eggplant parm and a tossed salad. Peach cobbler for dessert."
"Gorgeous and talented. I'm a blessed man. See you soon."
"Drive carefully. And for god's sake, if you see someone jaywalking, just let it go, man."
Jim laughed again and hung up. He shook his head, realizing that he'd been laughing a lot lately. It felt good.
They were sipping coffee laced generously with cognac out on the veranda. "That was great, Chief. It's been a perfect evening." He looked out at the ocean, enjoying the smells and sounds that soothed his senses. "I'm glad we decided to keep this place."
Blair smiled as he looked out at the ocean. He didn't need to see Jim's face to know he was relaxed. He heard it in his voice; he could feel it as he sat next to him. His mother used to tell him people radiated auras. Blair never believed it until he met Jim. "Yeah. I know it's a pain schlepping clothes back and forth, but it's so peaceful here. Like having a vacation from the tensions of the city."
Jim nodded. "I like the idea of staying at the loft during the week and coming here for the weekends. Gives me a chance to surf." He steeled himself and Blair immediately looked at him, feeling Jim's tension through their bond. "Simon called me into his office today. He's unhappy with your statement."
"Didn't I write it up correctly?"
"It's not the method, it's the content. He believes McBride got the drop on you. He's afraid it could have gone badly." He took another sip of coffee. "He wants me to go over procedures, maybe teach you some self-defense tactics."
"That'd be great! Not that I'm planning on being kidnapped by thugs or anything, but it would really help if that happens." He sobered. "I'm sorry I misled Simon. I just… he would have died in prison. And for what? For hopelessly loving a sentinel who turned out to be a shit. And speaking of that POS…"
"The Fibbies took custody of Kincaid. They're transferring him to a special facility that has a sentinel wing."
"The FBI? How did it become their jurisdiction?"
Jim shrugged. "I don't know whether State asked for help because there are no facilities for criminal sentinels, or the Feds thought there might be a problem in our penal system, but he's gone. I heard he's in North Dakota."
"Well, at least if he escapes there, we'll have enough lead time to be prepared."
Jim rolled his eyes. "If the Feds can't keep him, there's no hope for it. If it makes you feel any better, McBride probably wouldn't have ended up in prison, at least if he'd stayed put. The other Guardians are being adjudicated. Mostly weapons and civil disobedience charges based on the GSI siege. Short jail times for anyone with a previously clean record. McBride's problem is that he has the jail break added on."
Blair nodded. "The onus is on him then to keep his head down and his nose clean."
Jim laughed. "You're picking up the cop lingo pretty fast." He stretched and gave an overly large yawn. "What say we pack it up for the night?" he asked, giving Blair a sideways glance.
Blair shook his head. "You know, subtle signals don't become you. Do you mean you want to hit the sheets and boff like bunnies?" Jim gave him his best shit-eating grin. "Well, just say so, man." He stood and pulled Jim up from his seat. "Let's get this show on the road."