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Past Trials

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Past Trials by Alyjude

 

"Ken, you need to check this out."

Ken Putzier walked over to Jenny Lawes' side. As he peered over her shoulder, his eyes widened.

Jenny nodded. "Yep, I have a match."

"Well, I'll be damned." Putzier scratched his head. "I've got to admit that I thought this whole idea of using the newer technology on old unsolved cases was screwy. I think I was just proven wrong."

"You want to give the news to the DA?"

"Can't wait."

*****

Ken straightened his tie, then opened the door into the DA's offices. Margo glanced up and waved him through. He wasn't surprised. This was a big one. He walked down the hall and into Assistant District Attorney Caulfield's office.

"Ken."

"Paul."

Putzier sat down in front of the large mahogany desk and set a folder on the polished surface.

"That it?"

"Yep. Looks like you just might be the first one to close an ancient case under the new directive."

"Twenty-five years unsolved, Kenny. Twenty-five years."

Ken nodded and watched as Paul Caulfield opened the file. A few minutes later, the ADA said, "Matches on the car and the bag?"

"Absolutely."

"But no matches from the apartment?"

"Unfortunately, no."

"So I can't go after this guy as the shooter."

"That sums it up. Especially with the fingerprint on the car being on the left side passenger door."

"Right." Caulfield rubbed his chin. "This isn't going to be easy. I'll need to track down the woman and the investigating officers. Not to mention the rest of the evidence. Damn." Caulfield looked up. "Good work, Kenny."

"Not my work.  Jenny's. She's the one you'll be calling."

"Will there be a problem with that?"

"None. She's one of my best and I confirmed her hits."

"Good enough."

*****

Naomi Sandburg let herself into Pablo's apartment and tossed her keys onto the marble-topped table by the door. She slipped out of her cape and hung it up.

As she walked into the spacious living room, she kicked off her heels, pulled the mail out of her purse and flipped through each piece, one by one. Her hand froze when she came to a long buff envelope from a District Attorney's office in Boston. Slowly she slid her finger under the flap and pulled out the letter.

Several minutes later, white-faced, she called her son.

*****

"She's beautiful."

Blair nodded and couldn't resist tapping the window. The baby never blinked.

"She can't see you or hear that tapping, Sandburg."

"I know. Just seemed the thing to do."

Jim shook his head fondly as he glanced down at his partner. "At least you didn't say 'goochie-goochie-goo'."

A smile tugging at his lips, Blair tapped the window again and said, "Goochie-goochie-goo, little Lucy."

Jim bopped him on the back of the head, then tugged at Blair's coat. "Come on, Nanny Sandburg. Let's say our hellos to the proud mama."

They turned away from the nursery and headed to room 416. Jim carried a large vase of flowers and Blair had a bag from Mothers Unlimited dangling from his fingers.

The door was open and as they entered, Rhonda turned and smiled. "Did you see her?"

"Of course. She's beautiful, and fortunately looks just like you and not the reprobate you married," Jim said as he set the flowers down.

"I won't tell Rafe you said that," Rhonda said, grinning. "Those for me?" she asked, indicating the flowers.

"No, Jim's just lugging them around. He felt more comfortable coming to a hospital with something in his hands. This, however," Blair said, as he placed the bag on the table tray in front of the new mother, "is most definitely for you."

"Oh goody, pressies!"

"And not for the baby. She's probably got enough to take her through college. This is all yours," Blair said as he helped her dig in.

Rhonda took out the robe, a lovely, light, satiny robe, and her eyes widened. "Oh, Blair, this is beautiful. Just what I needed to feel feminine again."

Jim's eyebrow rose. "I would have thought that giving birth was one of the most feminine things a woman could do.  But hey, what do I know?"

Running her hand over the silkiness of the material, Rhonda said, "Yeah? Well, you try putting your legs up in a harness while doctors and nurses look up your--yes, well, anyway, I may feel motherly, but this," she stroked the robe again, "will make me feel sexy."

"Rafe'll appreciate it... in a few weeks," Blair said with a knowing smile.

"Ha! That man isn't coming near me for at least six months!"

"What man?" asked the man under discussion. Jim and Blair turned to see Rafe walking in carrying two styrofoam cups.

"Yes, well," Jim said, hiding his grin, "I think that's our cue, Chief."

"I think you're right, Jim. Rafe, congratulations, you have one beautiful daughter."

Grinning from ear to ear, Rafe nodded happily. "I do, don't I?" He handed one of the coffees to his wife, who took it gratefully. "Thanks for coming by, you guys. And what's that?" He pointed to the robe with the hand that held the coffee.

"A robe, silly. From Jim and Blair. Feel." She held it up and he ran his finger over it.

"Oooh. Nice. Thanks, Blair, that was thoughtful."

"Blair? Blair? What about me, Rafe?"

"Yeah, right. Like anyone thinks for a minute that you picked that out?"

Blair frowned. "Wait. So you think macho man over there couldn't, but I could?"

Jim tugged on a chunk of long curly hair and said, "If the long hair fits, Chief."

"Oh, man, that is so judgmental!  Just because I have long hair--"

"And earrings," Rafe offered.

"And you're in touch with your feminine side," Rhonda added with a smile.

"And it's the kind of thing you do, Chief," Jim threw in with a gentle punch to Blair's shoulder.

"I'll have you all know, Cassie picked it out."

"Liar. Come on, we have bad guys to catch and with Rafe on leave, we're stuck catching his as well."

"Ha-ha, Ellison. Very funny," Rafe said as the two men moved toward the door.

"What can I say?" Jim shrugged. "At least with you on leave, those bad guys will be--"

Blair grabbed Jim's arm. "Come on, big mouth. Let's amscray. Rhonda, let us know when we can come by the house and bug you and Rafe, not to mention drool over little Lucy, okay?"

"You got it, Blair. I'll save a diaper for you and Jim."

"Don't do us any favors, Rhonda," Jim managed to say as Blair pushed him toward the door. Blair pulled him the rest of the way out and into the hall, Rhonda's and Rafe's laughter following them.

They made their way out of the hospital and as Blair climbed into the truck, Jim said, "It was kind of nice being in a hospital for something other than you."

"Or you."

"Yeah."

Jim backed up, turned the wheel and, after checking his mirrors, headed out of the parking lot. When they hit Medical Center Drive, he said, "She really is beautiful, Chief."

"Yeah, she is." Blair turned a bit in his seat and said, "Hey, did you and Carolyn ever--"

"Never. She told me from the beginning that she didn't want children."

"And that was okay with you? Or did you think you'd be able to change her mind later?"

"How did you know?"

"We're talking you, Jim. And besides, most men would have done the same."

"Would you? Would you have assumed your wife would change her mind?"

"No. I don't want children, so my problem would probably be the opposite. It would be some woman who thought she could change mine."

The truck coasted to a stop for a red light, and Jim glanced over at his partner. "You don't want children? Ever?"

"Nope. How 'bout you now?"

"Now? Hell, now I'm glad I never tried to change Caro's mind. Imagine bringing a child into the world and maybe the poor thing turns out to be a sentinel? No way do I want to wish that on a baby."

The light went green and they were moving again. Blair stared out the window, a victim of the same strange coldness he'd felt several weeks ago when Jim had lost his senses. In an effort to move back to normalcy, he said, "Well, Lucy's a dream, anyway."

"Yeah, that she is. But the best thing about her is--"

"She's theirs," Jim and Blair said together.

*****

The rest of the afternoon was actually spent catching criminals--on foot. Jim was the backup for Henri Brown and Kyle Henderson during a buy that went bad. Evidently their seller had a nose for cops, because ten minutes into the buy his eyes narrowed and he pulled a gun.

Outside the pool hall, Jim turned to Sandburg. "He just pulled a gun. Call it in, Chief."

As Blair grabbed his cell, Jim was already out and running, gun in hand. Shifty Miller and his two goons burst through the back door and Jim immediately dove for cover as a hail of bullets smacked into the wall next to him. The three men took off and, thanks to Jim's position, were forced to run in the direction away from their car. As Jim started after them, Brown and Henderson ran out.

"THE ALLEY, BROWN!"

Henri nodded at Jim, and as he and Henderson took one end, Jim took the other. They met in the middle, arms out wide, surprise on their faces.

"Where the hell did they go?" Jim asked as he pivoted, eyes searching the fire escapes above them.

"They didn't get past us, Ellison. What, they just disappeared?" Before Jim could answer, the sound of the truck horn alerted him to his partner.

"FUCK! LET'S GO!"

*****

Blair spotted Miller and two others as they ran out of the liquor store that sat next to the pool hall. He immediately ducked down and just as Miller drew abreast, Blair opened the passenger door. It caught Miller full-face and knocked him back about two feet, and--coincidently--right into his men. At the same time, Blair hit the horn, then jumped out and grabbed Miller's gun, which had skidded a few feet from the man.

By the time Jim, Brown and Henderson came around the corner, Blair was hopping from one foot to the other as he waved the gun between Miller and his two men.

*****

The sight that greeted Jim as he careened around the corner nearly gave him apoplexy. He skidded to a halt, then held up his hand to stop Brown and Henderson. While the other two cops trained their weapons on Shifty, Dumb and Dumber, Jim moved slowly toward his partner. "Okay, Chief, let me take that," he said softly as he carefully reached out for the waving gun.

"Yeah, yeah, man, here, it's all yours--"

Still bouncing, Blair let the gun dangle from his finger and as Jim took it and stuck it in his waistband, Blair moved to the wall.

Jim shook his head, and with his gun trained on Miller, he took out his cuffs. After securing the drug dealer, he joined Brown and Henderson in Mirandizing the trio. As he rattled off the well-known words, he started planning the many ways to kill Sandburg.

*****

"Uh, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

Blair bit his lower lip. "You're being... you're taking it rather... calmly. Is this a good sign or the eye of the hurricane?"

"Sandburg, consider yourself in the eye. I suggest you batten down the hatches, 'cause when we get home, you're dead meat."

"Riiight."

*****

Blair took his time filling out the report ... really took his time. He had not the slightest desire to go home. Death could wait. Death by Jim could wait longer.

"Hey, Jim, how do you spell 'extemporaneous'?"

"What, your spell-check take a dive, Sandburg?"

"Jiiiim," Blair whined.

"S-t-u-p-i-d. A synonym would be: p-o-o-r e-x-c-u-s-e f-o-r s-t-u-p-i-d."

"God, you're a riot. A laugh a minute. Look, I'm slapping my knee in mirth."

"Finish your report, Sandburg."

Blair went back to typing.

*****

"Sandburg, show me your wallet."

Blair frowned, then looked up at Jim, who shrugged.

"Simon?"

Simon held out his hand and wiggled his fingers. "Give it up, Sandburg. Now."

Shifting uncomfortably, Blair took out his wallet and with a last look at his partner, placed it in Simon's hand. Simon opened it. Rifled through it. Then looked up and smiled. "You know, I don't see anything in here that identifies you as a cop. I see a Rainier ID, a driver's license, a library card, a credit card--maxed out I'm sure--but damn, no police ID. Why is that, Sandburg?"

"Simon--"

"Sir, that would be because Sandburg isn't a cop. Sir."

"Is that right, Ellison? Are you sure? Because I just read this report, in fact, I just read all four reports--and it would appear that Mr. Sandburg, TA extraordinaire, thought he was a policeman. Was he perhaps, hit on the head? Did he suffer brain damage?"

"No sir. Although, neither of us really know.  He could have been dropped on his head as a baby."

"You know, I'm right here. You don't have to talk about me as if I weren't. And Mom never dropped me on my head."

"So you say," Jim said with a wiggle of his own head.

"Sandburg, maybe you'd like to explain this report?" Simon asked while tapping said report.

"I'm his," he jerked a thumb at Jim, "backup. I backed him up."

"You're an observer, Sandburg."

"Yes, sir. And I observed the three perps coming toward me. I observed that either they would get away, or start shooting as soon Jim and the others came around the corner. I acted in a manner commensurate with my job."

"Would that be your job as an anthropologist? A teacher? A researcher, maybe?"

"As Jim's partner." Blair lifted his chin but wasn't surprised that the move didn't really make him taller.

Simon sat back in his chair. "Jim, get him outta here. Now."

"Yes sir."

Jim grabbed Blair's sleeve and pushed him gently out the door. As he closed it behind him, he said, "This isn't over, Sandburg. When we get home--"

"Yadda, yadda."

*****

Jim pulled up in front of their building, but left the truck running.

Blair turned to him, a quizzical expression on his face. "Jim?"

"I'm going to go get us dinner. I suspect neither one of us feels like cooking?"

"Oh, okay. Great. But I can come with--"

"Go up, Sandburg."

Blair frowned, then with his hand on the door handle, he said quietly, "A little anger control working here?"

Jim smiled wryly. "You got it, Chief. I'll bring back Italian, okay?"

"All right, Jim. You know what I like. See you... when you get here."

Blair jumped out and stood on the sidewalk as Jim pulled away. Even after the truck faded from view, Blair stood watching the now nearly empty street.

*****

Sandburg dropped his jacket on the bed, then with a sigh, picked it up and put it on a hanger. He hung it in his closet, then after changing, wandered back into the living room. He noticed the answering machine blinking red, and with nothing better to do, punched the rewind, then play. The first two messages were for Jim, but the third captured his attention.

"Blair? Honey? It's Mom. I... don't know how to tell you this, but they've arrested a man--in Boston-- for the... for Danny's murder. It seems that with all the new technology, and so on, well, several unsolved cases have been pulled... oh, dear. I'm not doing this well. They've been able to match fingerprints. I'm in New York, as you know, with Pablo. I'm flying to Boston tomorrow for a meeting with someone named Caulfield. He's an Assistant District Attorney. He needs to see you, as well. Call me. You know the number."  There was a click, then nothing.

Blair stared at the phone.

*****

Jim unlocked the door and stepped inside. He walked into the kitchen and put down dinner. He'd already ascertained that Blair was in his bedroom but as he took out the containers of pasta, his gaze landed on the overnight bag sitting just outside Blair's doors. Jim stopped what he was doing, then walked slowly over to the French doors.

"Sandburg?"

"Coming."

The door opened and Blair stepped out. He was wearing his coat and carrying a garment bag.

"Chief? What's--"

"Naomi called. It's nothing serious. She's got a slight problem and I've got to go her." Blair held up his hand. "Jim, it's nothing to get worried about, but I'd feel better going. I've already called the university and I'm covered. My flight leaves at eight. Any chance you could take me to the airport?"

"Look, it's only five. Take your coat off, sit down and have something to eat first. We can talk."

"Jim? Hello? By the time we get to the airport, it'll be closer to six and there's a two hour check-in, remember? And," his eyes went to the containers of food, "I could take my dinner with me," he finished with a grin.

"All right, you win. Let's go," Jim said, resignation in his voice.

*****

"You sure you don't need me to go with you?" Jim asked as they rode up the escalator.

"I'm sure. I guess you could call this boyfriend trouble. But you be careful while I'm gone, hear?"

"Sandburg, give me a break. I'm a cop. Got along just fine for years. I think I can handle a few days without your sparkling presence."

Blair glanced away from Jim as they stepped off and turned to their left. He bit back a retort, something to the effect that Jim hadn't been a sentinel before, and headed for gate twelve. He had his boarding pass so he dumped his stuff on a chair and finally faced Jim.

"You don't need to wait. It's been a long day. Go home. I've got a book to read."

Jim sat down.

"Or you could wait with me." Blair sat down on the other side of his luggage.

"You didn't really think that just because you're off to Boston, that we wouldn't have our little talk, did you?" Jim said quietly.

"Jim, you might as well know I'd do it again. And I don't really give a flying crap if I'm not a cop."

"Crap flies?"

"If you throw it? Sure."

"Well, nobody throws crap around better than you, Chief." They were both silent a moment, then Jim said, "Chief, you're a civilian. You can't--"

"I'm your partner. No matter what you say, I'm your partner. I'm here to watch your back. That's what I do."

"Chief, you're here to write your dissertation and help me with my senses. Do you have any idea what would happen if you were killed while backing me up? Do you have any idea what Simon's gone through each time you were hurt? The hours of explanations? Come on, Sandburg, for once, use your head."

Blair looked away and tried to relax his jaw. Okay, he'd been put in his place. Right. "Fine, Jim. Sorry. You can tell Simon it won't happen again."

"I'm taking you at your word, Chief--"

"You've got it."

And hour and twenty minutes later, his flight was called for boarding. He stood up and gathered his two bags. "I'll call when I get in--no, scratch that, it'll be too late.  I'll call tomorrow."

"Fine. Give Naomi a hug for me."

"Will do. See you in a few days, Jim." Blair smiled awkwardly, then headed for the line that had started to form. His assigned seat meant that he would be one of the first to board so he gave Jim a wave. The airline representative announced his row and he moved forward.

After giving his pass to the flight attendant, and shooting a last smile at Jim, he went through the gate.

*****

Jim watched his friend disappear but he didn't move away. He knew he'd been too brusque, but damn it, seeing Blair holding that gun on three toughs had nearly given him a heart attack. He couldn't lose him. And if he pulled any more stunts like that, Jim could indeed lose him. In more ways than one.

Twenty minutes later, the plane finally moved away from the gate. Jim never took his eyes from the plane. He watched as it taxied, then headed down the runway. When it took off, he zeroed in on Blair's window. He didn't like what he could see. Normally Blair would be gawking like a kid as the plane took off, but instead, his head was bent and he was rubbing at his eyes. Finally, even for a sentinel, there was nothing left to see. Feeling as though he were carrying around fifty-pound weights on his shoulders, Jim turned away and headed home.

*****

As Blair hiked his overnight bag higher up on his shoulder, he knew that when he stepped out into the airport, his mother would be there. He'd told her not to come, that he'd be arriving too late, but he knew, and he was right. There she was, a bittersweet smile on her face.

"Blair, honey. I'm so sorry... about all this," she said as she swept him into her embrace.

"This is your fault, Mom? I don't think so. Besides, shouldn't we be... happy, or something? The man who killed Danny... well, after all these years, you could have closure. That's a good thing."

Naomi put her hands on either side of her son's face and searched his features. He looked back at her, his gaze holding nothing but concern. "Yes, sweetie, it's a good thing. Come on, let's get to the hotel. You look exhausted."

"Mom? You're supposed to say I look great."

Smiling, Naomi slipped her arm around her son's waist. "Honey, you look great. Exhausted, but great."

"That's better. And where's Pablo?"

They moved to the escalator and as Naomi preceded him, she said, "He's back in New York. He has a show Saturday. I didn't really tell him what this was all about. Just said it was old family business."

"Ah."

"Don't 'Ah' me, young man. I know exactly what it means."

They stepped out into the night air and Naomi pointed to the parking structure. "I rented a car, naturally. It's over there."

"So what does my 'Ah' mean, O Great Swami?"

"It means that you think Pablo and I are weeks from parting."

"You got all that from one word?"

They stepped into the structure and she led him to a blue LeSabre. "The word, no. The inflection, yes." She unlocked the doors and as Blair tossed his bags into the back and slid in, she added, "And you're wrong. I'm very happy with Pablo. He makes me feel--"

"That would be young, Mom."

"Are you making fun of the fact that he's ten years younger than I am?" Naomi said as she started the car.

"Nope. More power to you, Mom."

They were quiet as she made her way out of the mess that was Logan Airport. Once they hit the thoroughfare, she said with a small grin, "But you're right. It is over. I just have to tell him. And for that, I'll wait 'til after his show. He's so sensitive."

Blair shook his head fondly. His mother. Nobody like her in the world.

*****

Blair signed the final page of the document, then slid it over to his mother. She flipped to the pages she needed to sign and did so, with a flourish. When she was finished, she put down the pen and asked, "Is this it, Mr. Caulfield?"

"For now, Ms. Sandburg. I'll give you a heads-up when we're ready to go to trial. Although, it may not come to that, as we've already discussed."

"You mean the possibility of plea bargaining?"

"That or he may plead out. He's currently on probation for drugs."

Blair leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and said, "Why would he plead out? His record is penny ante, with nothing heavier than being caught with a barely-there amount of cocaine."

"That's true. But I'm hoping."

Blair didn't say anything, but he thought Caulfield was a bit too hopeful. This was a twenty-five-year-old murder case, which made it pretty hard to bring to a jury. Any defense lawyer worth his or her salt would be quick to point that out to the suspect. Hell, a first-year law student would be jumping for joy at the prospect of trying a case like this.

Blair rose and held out a hand for his mother. She slid her hand into his, then gathered her purse.

"I'll send you my new address, Mr. Caulfield. Although you have my voicemail number and e-mail address, if you need me while I'm in transit."

Caulfield stood and held out his hand. Naomi took it and he said gently, "I want to thank both you and your son, Ms. Sandburg. I know how difficult this has been and how difficult it can still get. But believe me, we'll do everything in our power to make it as easy as possible."

"I know, and thank you. We'll be in touch."

Caulfield came around his desk and escorted them out, but not before assuring them one more time that he and his office were dedicated to assisting them.

As the two walked down the hall toward the elevator, Naomi said, "Well, that wasn't so bad, was it, honey?"

Blair punched the down button. "No, Mom, it wasn't. But trust me, this will go to trial."

"How soon?"

"My best guess? Months."

She nodded. The elevator opened and they both stepped in. Blair hit the 'L' and they rode down in silence, both mired in their own thoughts. When the doors opened at the lobby and they headed for the exit, Naomi said, "Honey, are you going to be all right?"

"I'm fine, Mom. Just wish I had more time with you. I feel like the hit and run kid." He smiled at her as he held open the door.

"I understand. Besides, I have a relationship to gracefully extricate myself from upon my return to New York City."

"Mom, you're impossible."

"But you love me anyway."

*****

"Did you say that Jim would be meeting you?"

"Yeah, Mom. Stop worrying."

Naomi smiled, then kissed Blair on the cheek. "Have a safe flight and give Jim a big hug for me, okay?"

"I will." Blair handed his mother's carry-on to her and as she pulled out her ticket, they both heard her flight called.

"That's you."

She nodded. "How long--"

"Another forty-five minutes or so. Where will you go when you leave New York?"

"I talked to Catherine. She and Ernest just bought a B&B in Boulder. I'm going to spend time with them, then I was thinking of visiting Charlie in Los Angeles. Did I tell you he has his own television show?"

Blair's mouth dropped open. "Mom? Are you serious?"

"Very. And he's quite successful too. I understand he may go national. At least, I think that's what he called it."

Blair shook his head, then gently guided his mother to the gate. "I'll miss you."

"Ditto, Sweetie. But if you're right, we'll be back here in a few months."

"True. Give Catherine a kiss for me."

"I will." She looked over her shoulder at the moving crowd, then back to her son. "You take care, understand?"

"Always, Mom. Go."

She laughed, then patted his cheek and, with regret evident in her body language, Naomi moved into line. A moment later, she was gone.

Blair waited until the door was shut, then headed to gate four. With a detour to the airport bar.

*****

His flight landed in Cascade at a quarter after two in the afternoon. Blair made his way to the white curb, the area for catching city buses. He'd lied to his mother--he hadn't told Jim of his arrival time. Just seemed easier not taking the man from work. He caught the downtown bus and, after two transfers, was let off only two blocks from home.

Three hours later, when Jim arrived, Blair had managed a short nap and lasagna was bubbling in the oven.

*****

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming home? I'd have picked you up."

Blair pushed his plate away and burped. Jim chuckled, then asked again, "Well? Why didn't you --"

"I just didn't want to bother anyone. It's a short bus ride, no biggie."

"Since when are you a bother?"

"Jim, you were at work. You know, the place that pays you to stay all day?"

Jim got up and took their plates into the kitchen. As he rinsed them off, he said, "So, you set for classes tomorrow?"

Blair picked up the lasagna pan and the bottle of wine, then joined Jim. "Yeah. Two classes, then office hours. But I should be able to make it in to the station by one. Okay?"

"Great. Good to have you home."

Blair smiled. "Great to be home."

*****

Jim watched Blair work. His glasses were slipping down his nose and Jim had the almost irresistible urge to push them back where they belonged. Blair was typing ferociously, his entire body tense with the effort. The only light on in the loft was the one above Blair.

Jim glanced back at the set, then with a disgusted look, shut it off. He got up, stretched, then walked over to the table and picked up Blair's coffee cup. It was empty.

"Need a refill, Chief?"

Without looking up, Blair said, "Yeah, thanks, Jim."

A minute later, Jim took Blair's right hand off the keyboard and placed the mug into it. Blair glanced up and smiled. "What time is it?"

"After midnight. How much longer you plan to work?"

Blair took a swallow, then peered at his screen. "Umm, maybe another hour or so." He looked up. "If I'm bothering you, I can move into my room--no problemo."

Jim waved a hand as he said, "No, no, you're fine. I have my white noise generators and sleep mask. I'm fine. In fact, heading up now. See you in the morning."

"Yeah, Jim, sure. See ya. Sleep tight."

Shaking his head, Jim headed for the stairs. Halfway up, he paused to stare back at his partner. If he'd wanted to, he could have zeroed in on the words on the computer screen. And he wanted to. But he resisted.

Blair was working on his dissertation.

Jim continued up and after stripping down to his boxers, he pulled the comforter back, piled up his pillows, then sat down. Blair had been working on his dissertation, working hard at it, since Incacha's death. Every spare moment was spent hunched over his laptop and the diss.

As Jim slipped under the covers and turned out his light, he pondered the fact that Blair working on his dissertation wasn't the only change since Incacha's death.  Blair had done a damn fine job of doing what Jim told him to do. Not that he hadn't done some investigations on his own, like using some cousin to connect Blair to a gambler when they were investigating the murder of Dwight Roshman, but overall, he'd stayed put. And somehow, that felt... wrong.

In fact, the last few months had felt wrong and... off. Jim just wished he could put his finger on it. His stomach rumbled a bit and he groaned. He'd eaten too many tostadas. He threw off the covers and padded down to the bathroom. Blair never even looked up.

Jim got the antacid, drank straight out of the bottle, then capped it and put it away. He turned out the light and headed back.

"Anything wrong, Jim?"

"Refried beans coming back to haunt me."

"Salsa, more like it. On the other hand, if it is the beans, I suspect I'm going to be as miserable as you." Blair pinched his nose, scrunched up his face, then made a fanning motion with his hand.

Jim slapped at the curly hair. "I'll make sure you know when those beans are speaking to me, Chief."

"You're all heart, Jim. All heart."

Jim headed back upstairs and as his bare feet hit the top, he froze.

Dinner.

Dinners. Blair had been doing almost all the cooking for the last several months. Jim started for his bed, then paused again as his gaze landed on the cleaning he'd hung from one of the pipes earlier. His cleaning. But picked up by Blair.

Damn. When was the last time Jim had been forced to pick up after his roommate?

What the hell was going on?

*****

Blair poured coffee into Jim's cup, then set the pot down on the tile coaster. He slid into his seat and picked up his fork.

"You coming in today, Chief?"

"All day, Jim."

"Great." Jim winced. He'd sounded too chipper. Blair was looking at him oddly. He shrugged and started chewing his eggs. He was still chewing when the phone rang. He lifted his shoulders and pointed to his mouth.

"Right. I'll get it." Blair hopped up and grabbed the receiver. "Ellison residence."

"Blair? Honey? It's a go--finally."

"Mom?"

"Who else calls you honey?"

"I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it might incriminate me. And what's a--"

"The trial. Jury selection begins on Monday."

Blair glanced quickly over at Jim and satisfied that he wasn't listening, moved closer to his room. "Okay, no problem. I'll be there. I suspect I should come in on Sunday?"

"I'll make the reservations for you and we're staying at the same hotel."

"Okay. E-mail me with the flight info, okay?"

"Will do. And Blair? Sweetie?"

"Yeah, Mom?"

"You okay?"

"More importantly, are you?"

"I think -- so. I will be anyway, when you get here."

"Everything will be fine, Mom. Don't worry."

"Thanks, honey. See you Sunday."

"You got it. Bye."

"Bye."

He put the phone down, closed his eyes and worked on his breathing. A couple of seconds later, he turned to face Jim.

"What's up, Chief?"

"A small family problem. I've got to fly out again. On Sunday."

"Blair?"

"It's kind of a weird thing, involving legal stuff, you know? Boring as hell, but has to be done. To be honest, I really don't want Mom to have to go through it alone."

"I see. Makes sense. Naomi still in Boston?"

"Yeah," he obfuscated, not needing to clarify.

"So another trip to the airport. No problem. But this time," Jim wagged his finger at Blair, "you call me when you're due to arrive home. Got that?"

Blair gave him a one-fingered salute. The middle finger.

*****

"Simon? You got a minute?"

"In, Ellison. I have exactly one minute."

Jim moved to the chair in front of Simon's desk and sat down. "Simon, have you noticed anything odd about Sandburg lately?"

"Odd? Sandburg? Jim, those two words go together like Cascade and the Jags. Are you asking me if he's been even more odd than normal?"

Normally, Jim would have chuckled, but he had the feeling he'd just heard part of the problem.

"Simon, have you noticed anything or not?"

"Well, he's been... quiet. Not too quiet, just--"

"Quiet."

"Yeah. Helpful too. He's been very helpful. Running out for lunches, volunteering to do the Starbucks run, that kind of thing."

"He's always helpful, Simon."

Simon gave Jim a disbelieving look. "Jim? We're talking 'You-want-a-donut-the-cart's-over-there' Sandburg."

"Still, he's always helpful. Helping with reports, your computer, your budget, helping with family problems--"

"Whether asked or not."

"Whether asked or not."

Both men smiled.

"Honestly, Jim, I think Sandburg's fine. Hell, I haven't had to explain him to the brass upstairs in weeks."

Something tickled Jim's brain but then floated just out of reach. He shook his head a bit, then stood.

"Okay, so I'm imagining things. Sort of." Jim started to leave, then turned back around. "By the way, he's going to be gone for a few days. It's a Naomi thing again."

"Aw, Jim. Does this mean we have to put up with you on desk duty?"

"You didn't last time."

"No, and you zoned twice."

"Simon, I don't need Blair for doing my job."

Simon was about to say something, Jim could tell by the mouth movement, but Cynthia, Rhonda's replacement, buzzed.

"Sir? It's the Commissioner."

"Thanks, Cynthia."

"I'll get out of your hair, Simon."

"Is the kid due in today?"

"He's here. Upstairs getting a report from Serena. And have I mentioned that it's good having you back full time? Not that Captain Finkelman wasn't a gem--"

"Yeah, yeah, Jim. Captain Finkelman was very forthcoming in her comments about you. So was Taggert."

Jim chuckled, then opened the door. "You're keeping the Commish waiting, Simon."

Simon waved his hand, then picked up the phone. "Commissioner Wilson? What can I do for you?"

Jim closed the door behind him.

*****

"That it, Chief?"

Blair nodded and handed the folder to Jim before taking his seat. "Looks like you nailed it, Jim. It's so nice when the forensic evidence comes through supporting your senses. Makes it easier to book the bad guys."

"No kidding. Well, I say we bring Mr. Paloma in for questioning, Chief. Whatcha' think?"

Blair got up and tossed Jim his jacket.

*****

Blair's left leg jiggled uncontrollably. He put his hand on his thigh and held the dancing leg down. He didn't like this, not one bit. He should be up there with Jim. He should always be with Jim.

It was getting stuffy in the truck and he rolled down the window. As he did, he glanced up at the third floor of the building. Nothing. Not that he expected to see anything, but still --

His leg started jiggling again. Blair glanced over at the window of the business a few doors down from the building that housed Greg Paloma's decorating business. A pipe shop. Boring.

The door of Paloma's building opened and Greg Paloma walked out. Blair's mouth dropped open. Jim was nowhere to be seen.

Every atom of Blair's body screamed that he should do something, but there was nothing

he could do but watch and observe the man. A moment later, a cab pulled in front of the truck and Paloma got in, but not before Blair heard him order the driver to the airport.

Blair pulled out his cell and dialed Simon. He watched the cab move into traffic, then he jumped out, and as Simon's line rang, Blair ran into the building.

"Banks"

"Simon, this is Sandburg. Something's wrong here. Paloma just left in a cab headed for the airport. I'm on my way up to his offices to see what happened to Jim."

"Sandburg, you stay right where you are. We'll take care of Paloma and I'm sending Taggert to your location."

"Simon, Jim could be in trouble--"

"Did you hear me? Stay where you are. Period."

Blair closed his eyes and counted to ten. Then he said, his voice harder than intended, "Simon, do you really want Joel to see Jim in a zone?"

"Sandburg, it may not be--"

"There was no gunshot and there's no way Paloma could have gotten the drop on Jim. No way. I'm going up."

"Sandburg..."

Blair could almost hear the wheels turning. He waited.

"Keep me on the line. Tell me what you see as you see it."

With a sigh of relief, Sandburg punched '3'. Two minutes later he was stepping cautiously out and speaking softly to Simon.

"The hall is empty, man. But the door to Paloma's main studio is open."

"Be careful. Do you hear anything?"

"No. This is really weird, Simon. Where's his staff?"

"Sandburg, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm here and you're there --"

"Sorry, Simon."

Blair moved slowly toward the open door, while hugging the wall. When he got to the opening, he peeked in.

Jim. Standing motionless, hands at his side.

"Simon, he's zoned. I'm going in. There's nobody here."

"Let me know when he's rejoined us, then get him back here. Rafe and Brown have gone after Paloma."

"Yes, sir."

Blair disconnected, then as he pocketed the phone, he walked up to his partner. "Jim? Time to stop goofing off and come back to the real world, okay?"

Nothing. The man didn't even blink.

"I could take you down again, like that time with the trash truck? It was kind of cool, hand on your ass and all, but going down is messy and even though this is a wood floor, it'll hurt." Blair shook Jim's arm.

He sighed. He was in no mood for this. It should never have happened. Blair lifted Jim's right arm and as he brought Jim's hand to his face, he said, "This is gonna hurt you way more than me--"

He bit him.

"HOLY SHIT!"

Jim pulled his hand away from Blair and shook it hard. "What the hell?"

"You zoned. I bit you. Pretty effective, if you ask me."

Jim blinked in confusion. "You bit me? You BIT me?!"

"Yeah," Blair said smugly. "Simon says to get our asses back to the station. Rafe and Brown are going after Paloma."

"Well fuck."

"Mind telling me what triggered this one?"

Jim pointed. Blair followed Jim's arm. "Ah. It's... pretty."

"I barely managed to say, 'Detective Ellison, Mr. Paloma. I have a warrant. He stepped behind it and I looked. It's the model for a chandelier."

"It's -- shiny. And with the sun coming in from that window, it's a prism."

"Yeah. I got lost in the colors."

Blair tugged at Jim's sleeve. "Come on, buddy, let's get back to the station."

*****

Blair sat at the desk and watched Simon's closed door. The good news was that Rafe and Brown had brought Paloma in and the man was singing like a bird. Trite but true. The bad news was -- Jim had zoned. And Paloma could have killed him. Why the fuck didn't they let Blair do his job?

*****

"You zoned. You actually zoned. And in the middle of arresting a suspect."

"You know, I don't really need you to hammer the nail in any deeper."

"Jim, you haven't zoned in a long time. What the hell happened?"

Jim held his arms out as he shrugged. "Simon, what can I say? It happened, it's over, Paloma's in custody."

"Thanks to your partner. Our observer."

"Yeah, well, what do you want me to say?"

Simon sat back in his chair, then with a sigh, said, "Get outta here, Jim. Do your report. As only Sandburg can do them. Can't wait to read how he covers this one up."

Jim turned on his heel and walked out. Somehow, he managed not to slam the door.

*****

"Jim?"

"You done with that report?"

"You mean your report?"

"Sandburg, not now. You got it?"

Blair handed him the sheaf of papers. Jim took it, perused it, then said, "Not bad--for a pack of lies."

Jim signed it, then got up and carried the report to Simon's office. He cocked his head and, satisfied that Simon was no longer on the phone, knocked and entered. "Here it is. Simple and straightforward, Simon."

"How did he explain it?"

"Two ships passing in the night. Simple as that."

"That'll work. Call it a day, Jim."

"Yes, sir."

*****

When the door shut, Simon closed his eyes.

That had been too close. What the hell was going on with Ellison and Sandburg anyway? And would Simon survive it?

That was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.

*****

"What do you want for dinner, Sandburg?"

Blair tore his gaze from the passing scenery. "I have all the makings for that chicken salad you like. It'll only take a few minutes to put together."

"Sounds good."

Blair nodded, then went back to looking at the city as it passed by.

*****

Once again, Jim found himself staring at a silver speck in the sky. A speck that once again was carrying his partner to Boston. He didn't like staring at specks that carried Blair away from Cascade.

With a start, he realized that if Blair had received his doctorate, he would have spent a lifetime on specks.  Specks that carried him to faraway places with strange and sometimes unpronounceable names. Maybe Boston wasn't so bad after all.

Jim turned, headed out and home and agreed with himself that he also hated not knowing just how long Blair would be gone.

*****

Another airport, another day, Blair thought as he greeted his mother. They hugged just like last time, but Blair couldn't fail to notice the dark smudges under her eyes. He hated seeing them.

"You okay, Mom?"

"Sure, just kind of scared. Strange, uh?"

"Not at all. What time is our meeting with Caulfield?"

"Early. Eight. Jury selection begins at ten. He's going to go over our testimony, the plan for calling us, I guess."

Naomi sounded hesitant and that worried Blair as much as the dark circles under her eyes. He slipped his arm around her and held her close. People moved around them, some shooting dark looks in their direction, and Blair ignored them all.

Finally Naomi pulled away, sniffled, then smiled wryly. "Guess we'd better get going. We seem to be holding things up a bit."

They moved down the long hallway that would lead them outside.

*****

The hotel suite had two bedrooms, a nice living room, and a bar. While Naomi changed, Blair poured himself a stiff one. He downed it and was pouring another when his mother came out of her room wearing one of her signature caftans.

"Any wine, sweetie?"

"Um," Blair looked at the assortment of small bottles, then nodded. "Chardonnay and Merlot. Your preference?"

"The chardonnay. What are you drinking? Beer?"

"Mmm." He surreptitiously dumped the small, empty bottle of scotch, drank his down, then poured the wine for his mother. Carrying it over, he held it out. "Here you go."

As she took it, he said, "I'm assuming by your dress, that we're going to do room service tonight?"

Sipping at her wine, Naomi nodded. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Not at all. You're buying, right?" he said with a cheeky grin.

"This hotel is known for their lobster. Go to town, sweetie."

"Don't think I won't."

*****

The television was on, and as Blair sat back and tossed his napkin down, he found that he could watch his mother unreservedly. She was glued to the set and a show called Trading Spaces.

His mother never ceased to amaze him.

As he watched, he took another sip of his wine. They hadn't spoken much during the meal and Blair had the outlandish desire to ask her if she'd really loved Danny. If Danny had been the one. If Danny had been the reason for all her years of running, afraid to lose again. But he suspected that he knew the answer.

Blair glanced at his watch. It was after ten. His mother was usually asleep by now, having always been an early riser. Considering the next few days, he thought maybe she should get a head start.

"Mom? You look like sleep would be welcome right about now."

"It's almost over, honey. Then I'll head to bed. We don't need to leave here much before seven-forty or so tomorrow."

"I know."

Incredible how they were avoiding talking about it. The same way they'd avoided it for twenty-five years.

Amazing.

Damn, he used to talk about everything, now he rarely talked about anything.

Blair poured another glass of wine; emptying the bottle.

*****

Thanks to a couple of PainAid and the alcohol he'd consumed, Blair slept without the dark dreams that had haunted him of late. Dreams with no meaning, but that always left him unsettled and un-rested in the morning.

When his alarm went off, he was a bit groggy, but other than that, felt pretty good. He hit the shower, shaved, brushed his teeth and dressed. He'd decided casual for today since they would only be dealing with jury selection. Blair settled for grey slacks and his black pullover sweater. He tied his hair back.

When he came out of his room, he was surprised to see his mother seated at the small table they'd used for dinner the night before. She looked up and smiled softly.

"Breakfast just arrived. Eggs and English muffin for you, fruit for me. Sound good?"

"Sounds terrific, Mom. Thanks." He sat down next to her, speared a strawberry from her plate, then after eating it, turned to his own food. "Smells good."

"Scrambled eggs with chives."

Blair downed his glass of orange juice, took a forkful of eggs and watched as his mother poured him a cup of coffee. She added a bit of cream and he didn't have the heart to tell her that for the last ten years, he'd been drinking his coffee black.

"Did you sleep all right, Mom?"

"Actually, I did. I guess... knowing it's finally here, well, I've accepted." She made a face, then said, "Not to mention that I meditated for two hours this morning."

"How did I miss that? I didn't smell any incense."

"I went without. Just went with some yoga on top of my bed. It helped. I think I'm ready."

"Well, they can't have too many witnesses, Mom, so maybe this will be over in a few days."

"I pray you're right."

*****

Caulfield sat back in his chair and regarded his guests. They both looked good, if a little tired, which he'd have expected.

"So there you have it. I'm going to get the fingerprint expert out of the way first, then the investigating officers, and then you, Mr. Sandburg, followed by you, Ms. Sandburg. I want the human element to be the last thing they remember."

Caulfield looked at Naomi and added gently, "Your time in the witness box will be very brief. And to be honest, I doubt that the defense attorney, who, by the way, is quite good, will do much of a cross-examination on you."

Blair squeezed his mother's hand and favored her with a tender smile. She squeezed back.

"I do need to warn you, Ms. Sandburg. There may some evidence, in the form of photographs, up on the board behind me. They'll be quite graphic. I'll try to schedule you for after a break, which will give me time to take them down. It's the best I can do."

"I understand. How much notice will I have as to time and day?"

"Well, I'm anticipating a day and a half for jury selection, then two, maybe three days of evidence and testimony, then we close and turn it over to the jury. So by those calculations, we're looking at the actual trial starting on Tuesday afternoon and that would mean I'd be calling you on either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning."

"Do you have any problem with my mother not being present each day? I'd really rather she didn't have to relive this over and over again."

Caulfield nodded sympathetically. "No, no problem at all. If anything changes, I'll give you a head's up and you can call her. How would that be?"

"Perfect. Thank you."

"I should warn you both.  This has become a high profile case, and that means that the press will be covering the trial. This is a major endeavor--taking a twenty-five year old murder case to trial."

Naomi frowned and shot an almost frightened look at Blair. "I don't want anyone bothering--"

Caulfield held up his hand. "I understand, Ms. Sandburg. I'll do my best to keep them away from both of you."

Satisfied with that answer, she stood and gathered her purse. "Is there anything else we should be aware of?"

"Yes, just one other item. The suspect, Lionel Patterson, will have his mother and father in the courtroom during the trial, but they won't be testifying. In fact, Gordon Parks, the defense attorney, has no one listed. I just wanted you to know that there will be relatives of the suspect present. I only wish that Mr. Ojeda had remaining family."

"His only family at the time he was... killed... was me, Mr. Caulfield."

Blair winced at his mother's words and Caulfield immediately said, "I'm sorry, of course. I didn't mean--"

"I know. Well, if there's nothing else?"

"No, not for now. I'll want to meet with you, Mr. Sandburg, on Wednesday before I call you, but if you have any questions prior, you can--"

"I'll be there every day, Mr. Caulfield."

"Good, good. I guess that's it then. Jury selection in an hour."

Blair joined his mother in standing, reached over and shook hands with Caulfield, then guided his mother out. As they waited for the elevator, Blair said, "I'll take you back to the hotel, then I'll head over to the courthouse, okay?"

"All right."

Downstairs, they walked silently through the lobby, each deep in their own thoughts. Which was why Blair missed seeing the reporters just outside the lobby entrance. A security guard held open the door and, as both Sandburgs stepped out, the bulbs flashed.

"Mrs. Sandburg, can you tell us how you feel about the killer of your fiancé finally coming to trial after twenty-five years?"

"Do you think they have the man who killed your fiancé, Mrs. Sandburg?"

The questions were shouted and Blair, taking a leaf from Jim's book on 'How to Duck Out on the Press', brought his mother tight into his side, his arm high on her shoulders, then moved her quickly through the throng. He got her into the car, hurried around to the other side, jumped in and roared off, leaving the press standing in the dust.

*****

"Blair, do you understand why I can't be there? Can't be at the trial until I'm called?"

Naomi had the door to the rental car open and they were parked in front of the hotel. Her eyes were red-rimmed from the crying she'd done as Blair had sped back to the hotel.

"Of course. Besides, I wouldn't have let you come, even if you'd wanted to. It's better this way."

She nodded, clearly relieved. As she stepped up and onto the curb, she said, "I'll call Caulfield when I get upstairs, tell him about the reporters."

"Don't worry about it, Mom. I can handle them."

For the first time since leaving Caulfield's office, Naomi smiled. "So I noticed. You're very handy to have around, Blair."

"Yeah, yeah." He grinned, then waved as she shut the door.

Naomi watched him pull away, then ease into traffic to head to the courthouse. She sighed and headed inside.

*****

Blair sat in the back of the courtroom and watched a process he'd witnessed a few times in his years with Jim. Choosing juries always fascinated him, both as a naturally curious man and as an anthropologist. This time, it was very different. This time, the majority of the questions put to the prospective jurors revolved around the concept of how much a four-year-old child could remember, and how accurate that memory would be.

Blair really needed a drink by the time they broke at noon.

He got it at lunch.

*****

By four-thirty, they had nine of twelve jurors. At least by Blair's reckoning. He knew that more could be dismissed, but the nine that were still up there looked like keepers to him.

When the judge called it a day, Blair was very grateful. He'd forgotten how stubborn men and women could be. Considering that he lived with Jim Ellison, the personification of stubborn, that was saying something.

As Blair made his way out of the courtroom, he smiled at the memory of some of the jurors who'd been dismissed. Like the elderly gentleman who'd been asked if he understood that if he became a juror, he wouldn't be able to discuss the case with anyone, and did he have a problem with that?

"No, not at all. Besides, I'd only discuss it with my wife."

"But," Caulfield had asked, "you wouldn't, would you, Mr. Stallings?"

"What? Discuss the case with my wife?" At Caulfield's nod, he'd said, "Of course I would. We've been married over forty years. I tell her everything."

"But if you became a juror, you wouldn't be able to discuss the case with her."

"Then I guess I'd better not be a juror. She'd kill me if I even tried not to tell her."

Mr. Stallings had been dismissed. Duh.

Then there'd been the lady who'd had a problem with "Innocent until proven guilty". She was twenty-two.

"Miss Anderson, isn't it?" the defense lawyer had asked.

"Yes, Lori Anderson."

"Do you understand that right now, my client is innocent? That the burden to prove otherwise rests with the prosecution?"

Miss Anderson wrinkled her lovely brow, then said, "If he's been arrested, I'd have to say he's guilty. The police don't arrest innocent people."

Lori Anderson had been dismissed. Although Caulfield would have loved to keep her.

It had gone on like that for hours, the prospective jurors an odd combination of extreme intelligence (all dismissed) and extreme ignorance (all dismissed).

And in the middle? Mr. Joe Blow and Mrs. or Miss Jane Doe, nine of whom seemed destined to be the jurors in the trial of 'The Commonwealth of Massachusetts against Lionel Patterson for the murder of Daniel Ojeda.'

Only three more to go plus two alternates.

*****

Simon took his favorite seat and, after kicking back in the lounger, said, "Jim, there's apple pie for dessert, compliments of Rhonda."

Jim, seated on Simon's sofa, waved a hand dismissively, his eyes glued to the television. "No thanks, Simon. Maybe later. And by the way," he said without taking looking away from the news, "thanks for inviting me over tonight. A pity dinner is always appreciated."

Simon grinned and realized that he'd been the recipient of many a 'pity dinner' when he'd been married to Joan. Every time she'd gone out of town, someone would invite him over for a meal. Of course, Jim wasn't married. Exactly.

Simon grinned, then hid it by taking a sip of his liberally whiskey-laced coffee. Actually, Jim was the most married man he knew. Jim just didn't know it. Question was: did Blair? His further ruminations were cut short by a news story. Simon sat forward and listened intently.

"This trial is the first one to come about as a result of the newest directive from Mayor Forbes, and will, perhaps, be the most poignant."

The field reporter let her expression soften as she said, "Twenty-five years ago, a young man was brutally murdered in his home; the only witness, a four-year-old boy. And today, thanks to the more modern methods of testing evidence, an arrest has been made in a crime that the Boston Police Department had been forced to label, 'unsolved'."

The reporter disappeared to be replaced by a feed that had been recorded earlier. The screen was suddenly filled with Blair and Naomi Sandburg as they attempted to get away from a crowd of reporters.

"Our cameras were at the offices of the Boston District Attorney when Blair Sandburg, now twenty-nine, exited the building following a meeting with Assistant DA Caulfield, the man who will serve as the prosecuting attorney.

"Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Sandburg was the only witness to the murder of Daniel Ojeda, the man Mr. Sandburg called 'daddy'."

*****

Simon turned off the set, then with cold precision, threw the remote against the wall and watched it shatter. As pieces fell to the floor, he nodded, satisfied. Jim never winced as the piece of plastic collided with the wall, nor did he observe its destruction. His gaze never left the now blank screen. The vision of Blair, protecting his mother from the reporters, was burned onto his retina and it was as fresh as a moment ago. With his sentinel vision, he could see what he doubted anyone else had; the shaking hand on his mother's arm, the haunted look in the deepest recesses of those blue eyes, the dark circles, the dry, pinched skin.

Jim rose and walked over to the phone.

"Good idea, Ellison. You need a vacation. A few days in, say, Boston. Yeah, Boston." Simon's voice was devoid of expression.

Jim took the next few minutes and made his reservations, first for the flight, then the hotel. He used his job to find out which room Naomi and Blair Sandburg were in, then requested the same floor and as close as possible. When he hung up, he was booked two rooms down from the Sandburgs.

"Why didn't he tell us, Jim? We're his friends. All these years, and not one word. Not. One. Word."

"Well, you know us. So forthcoming with our own history and all," Jim said sarcastically.

"Speak for yourself, Ellison."

"Oh? And what have you shared with him lately? Other than reminding him at every possible moment that he's not a cop? That he's only an observer?"

"Oh, but you don't do that, do you, Ellison? You don't tell him to stay behind, call for backup, but don't get out of the truck. And of course, he's not your partner, right? What is he? Your associate? How do you introduce him?"

The anger and frustration were clearly evident in Simon's voice, as well as in the tense way he leaned forward, dark accusing eyes fixed on Jim.

Looking into the angry gaze of his boss and friend, Jim had an epiphany. Just like that, he understood what had been different about Blair Sandburg in the last few months.

"Jesus. He's been... my employee."

Simon blinked. "Excuse me?"

"He's been behaving as if he were simply an employee keeping up his end of a bargain. Don't you get it?"

Simon swiped a hand over his face. An employee?

An employee.

"Running errands. Getting lunches. Helping others with their paperwork..." Simon's voice trailed off.

Jim gave out with a dry humorless laugh. "Well, we certainly put him in his place, didn't we? Told him what's what."

"Jim--"

"No, Simon. A few months ago, Blair as much as told me that without my senses, there'd be no reason for you to allow him to hang around. I gave him some flip answer and then he asked, 'What about you, Jim? You sure don't need me around if you don't have your senses'."

"What did you say?"

"What do I always say when faced with something like that? I turned it back on him."

There was silence for a few minutes as both men digested everything. Finally, in an exhausted tone, Simon asked, "What time's your flight?"

"Ten. First one I could get. By the time I get in tomorrow, the day will be over. His day will be over."

Jim walked over to the spot on the carpet where the pieces of the remote were scattered. "You'll probably want to call your cable guy tomorrow."

"Yeah."

Jim picked up the chunks of black plastic. "You know what's so weird?"

"What, Jim?" Simon asked tiredly.

"He told me--after Peru--that it was about friendship. Funny that I should be the one to forget that."

Simon watched as Jim walked into the kitchen. He could hear him as he dumped the remnants of his remote into the trash.

Friendship.

Funny. Blair had turned out to be a very good friend. Yet, he hadn't felt that he could tell either of them the truth about Boston. Of course, it might not be that simple. A four-year-old witnessing a murder? Hell, look what finding a dead body had done to a ten-year-old Jim Ellison. On the other hand, Blair Sandburg was -- stronger -- than Jim Ellison.

Simon sat back, stunned by that thought. All this time and he was just realizing that fact? Or had he known it all along, and that was why he'd allowed Blair to partner with Ellison?

Strong or not, Simon had still developed an almost fatherly protective instinct for Sandburg. Which was ridiculous. Wasn't it?

"Simon?"

Simon glanced up into the apologetic eyes of Jim.

"I'm going to head home. I'll be in early, fill out the vacation request, make sure that everything is taken care of before I go."

"Sounds good, Jim."

Jim nodded, but didn't make a move to leave.

"Jim?"

Jim started to say something, do something, then shrugged and said quietly, "Nothing, Simon."

He finally moved, started to leave, and Simon had the urge to say something more. He didn't fight the urge. "Jim, do you understand that he's going to really need you? In a way he's never needed you or anyone? Maybe in a way no one's ever needed you?"

Jim's hand was on the door. "I know."

"You going to be able to give him what he needs?"

"I plan to give him everything I am."

Simon smiled. "That might be enough, Jim."

*****

They had a jury.

Following the lunch break, said jury had been sworn in and the Honorable Judge Thomas Silverton had imparted the jury instructions. Blair had watched each juror as they'd listened and as their faces had expressed their surprise and shock when the simple facts of the case had been presented.

Judge Silverton took a few minutes to explain the judicial process, how first the ADA would address the jury, then how defense counsel would give his opening remarks. The judge went on to warn that the attorneys opening statements were not evidence. At two-fifteen the trial officially began.

Assistant District Attorney Caulfield, dressed in a stylish grey suit, stood and faced the twelve men and women; fourteen counting the alternates. As he placed a large black notebook on the podium, Blair's anthropological brain registered the trim figure and expensive haircut. His eyes took in all the evidence boards lined up against the railing that separated the judge's domain from the audience. High tech, every one of them.

His attention was brought back to the case as Caulfield addressed the jury.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. My name is Paul Caulfield and I'm the Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County. I'm not going to take up too much time this afternoon," he smiled graciously, "my intent being to get you all out of here before rush hour."

He paused for the expected laughter and after receiving it, went on.

"Right now, I want to tell you a simple story about high school sweethearts. About a young man named Daniel Ojeda, his fiancée, Naomi Sandburg, and her four-year-old son, Blair."

In the back of the room, Blair's fingers gripped the armrests of his chair.

"Daniel was a guitarist who dreamed of one day becoming famous. He dreamed of marrying his high school sweetheart, Naomi, who'd he'd been fortunate enough to meet again after a four-year separation. And he dreamed of being a wonderful father to Naomi's boy. He was twenty-one.

"In June of 1973, his dreams were destroyed when he was brutally murdered in his own home -- and in front of the four-year-old boy he was already calling son."

The jurors were hanging on every word. Eyes wide, mouths slightly parted. No one in the entire room noticed Blair leaving.

*****

Blair shoved his way into the men's room and a stall. Once he'd locked the door, he dropped to his knees and threw up. He continued to heave for several minutes.

High school sweethearts.

His mother... and Danny.

Even as he dry heaved, his body going cold with shock, his mind calculated. He was conceived in August of '68, or thereabouts. Naomi had attended a year-round high school in 1968, Webster High. Its school year started in July. She'd been seventeen in the summer of '68.

Blair continued the dry heaves, his body shaking uncontrollably.

*****

His day was Hell. Airports without Blair. Flying without Blair. Sounds, smells, pressures, and no one telling him, reminding him, to dial it down. But he made it, thanks to one simple thing: a leather hair tie of Blair's.

Sandburg would have laughed his head off at that one. Big macho Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City, only able to fly cross-country by the grace of a leather hair tie.

Jim rented a car and followed the directions the hotel had given him. It took him over an hour and a half through rush hour traffic. By the time he was standing in front of registration, his head was pounding out a nice rendition of the Anvil Chorus.

Jim took his room cards, nodded at the helpful directions to an elevator that was in plain sight, and finally found himself in the relative peace and quiet of said elevator.

When he found his room, he dumped his luggage and immediately walked down to Blair's suite. For a moment, he stood staring at the door, at the room number. The single heartbeat inside, combined with the scent of summer flowers, told him that only Naomi was on the other side.

He knocked.

*****

At a knock on the door, Naomi put down the book she'd been trying to read. It couldn't be Blair, he had his card. She rose gracefully and opened the door, realizing that as she did, her son would have scolded her.

"Jim?"

"Naomi."

*****

"Jim, Blair never said a word."

"He didn't know. I decided -- last night."

Naomi hugged him, then stepped back. "You look tired. Rough flight?"

"You could say that. Where is--"

"Oh, probably still at the courthouse. Although, they must be done by now, it's after five. He might have waited to meet with Caulfield. More jury selection today."

Naomi took Jim's hand and guided him to one of the couches. "Sit. Can I get you anything? A drink?"

At Jim's confused look, she smiled almost shyly. "We have a bar. I can get you a beer?"

"That would be great, Naomi."

She pulled a bottle out of the small refrigerator and after taking off the top, walked over to him and handed it down. When he took it, she sat at the other end of the sofa and tucked her legs under her.

"I'm so glad you're here, Jim. I can't make myself go to the trial. I couldn't bear to hear everything, to see the -- pictures, but that means Blair has to do it alone." She shook her head and brought a hand up to brush hair from her face. "I want to be there, with him, but I just... can't do it."

Jim took a long swallow of his beer, then said, "I don't know all the details, Naomi. Would it be too painful to tell me?"

Naomi glanced away, then down as she started picking at the small frill that edged her sleeve. "I... haven't talked about it in years. I think I'd like to tell someone."

Jim was shocked at her words, at the implication that she and Blair hadn't spoken of it. Could she actually mean that?

"Just let me... tell it, all right? No interruptions or questions. It'll be easier for me. As if you're not here and I'm just... talking."

"All right, Naomi," he said gently.

Eyes staring at nothing except maybe the past, Naomi said, "Danny. Danny Ojeda. We grew up together, went to school together. We were high school sweethearts. Then I left--dropped out--and I didn't see him for years. In the Fall of 'seventy-two I went to Boston to stay with a friend. I'd always wanted to see New England in the Fall and somehow, I knew that Blair would love it too. Playing in all the leaves."

She smiled softly and Jim knew she was picturing her son; small, playful, possibly cavorting on a lawn almost buried in red, gold, and orange-colored leaves.

"That's when I met Danny again. It was as if we'd never parted. Within a week, I'd moved in with him. He loved Blair. Loved him so much."

Her voice had gone dreamy and it only served to punctuate the tragedy Jim knew was coming.

"The next months were wonderful. Danny was a guitar player with a hot little band and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, he played at a club. During the week, he worked for a brokerage firm. Danny was a genius. At music, at life, at work. Three nights a week, I was a waitress at the Acapulco Restaurant. On those nights, Danny and Blair would pick me up at ten. It was a special time for us. Danny would wake little Blair, carry him to the car, they'd chatter through the whole drive...."

Naomi looked up at Jim for the first time and asked, "Did I say how much Danny loved to hold Blair? And how much Blair loved being held by him? You have to understand how amazing this was. Blair never stopped long enough to be held. If you picked him up, he'd hug, kiss, then demand to be let down so he could run all over the place. But for Danny...."

Her eyes strayed away again and her voice took on that dreamy quality. Jim knew he had no real question to answer so he wisely remained silent.

"For Danny, he'd raise his arms and cuddle for hours. He loved being in Danny's embrace. Danny would hold him, and kiss his soft skin and run his fingers through Blair's curls...."

Her voice hitched and Naomi gulped, but went on.

"It was early June. We were still coming down from Blair's fourth birthday party. I went to work as usual, and, as usual, Danny and Blair were supposed to pick me up. At ten-thirty, I was still standing outside the restaurant. I went back inside and called home, but no one answered. Fifteen minutes later, still no Danny and Blair. The sous-chef, Miguel, offered me a ride and, figuring that Danny had broken down somewhere, I agreed.

"We covered the roads Danny would have taken, but no Danny. When Miguel pulled into our complex, we had to drive past our garage space and there was the Ford. I was relieved--and angry. I got out of the car and thanked Miguel. When he drove off, I was rehearsing--"

Her voice broke and she gulped a huge draught of air, then began twisting the material on her sleeve. Jim held his breath.

"I was rehearsing yelling at him. You know? 'How could you forget me?' or 'Do you know how long I waited?' and 'Why didn't you call? Or answer the phone?' I stormed up to the door and it was unlocked and I pushed it open, ready to let loose."

Jim let out the breath he'd been holding and watched as tears began to trickle down Naomi's cheek.

"We had a small place. Upstairs and downstairs. You walk in, kitchen on the right, long hallway to the living room...."

Her eyelids flickered and all the color drained from her face. The tears started to fall faster.

"He was the first thing I saw. On the floor. There was so much blood. I dropped everything--my purse and coat, the dinner from the restaurant--and I started for him.  His face was turned from me, and he had long curly hair and it was spread out on the tile and it was too dark and wet and then--just like that--I froze."

She was crying openly, her nose running and she swiped angrily at it, rubbed the back of her hand over it. Jim shook out his handkerchief and handed it to her. She took it and blew, then went on, her voice so soft that anyone but Jim would have had to strain to hear.

"In spite of what I was seeing, my brain could only seem to focus on one thing: Blair. Where was my baby? I didn't even touch Danny; all I could think about was my baby, my baby! I started up the stairs and... and... and then I could see him, in the living room. On the couch. Just... lying there. I think my heart stopped. I turned back, had to pass my Danny lying there, arm outstretched as if reaching for me, and I knew he was dead.  They told me later he died instantly, but I didn't know it then but I had to get to Blair, to my Blair because he COULDN'T be dead, do you understand, Jim? Blair couldn't BE DEAD." Naomi's words were said as she cried, deep cries, sobs, and Jim could do nothing but listen as he tried to stop his own tears.

"I think I tiptoed over and I craned my neck and wanted him to be breathing so badly. He was in his blue jeans and this little red sweater with a hood, and his hair was sweaty and damp and his cheeks were flushed and one tiny hand was on his chest and I saw it... rise and fall. I ran to his side, dropped to my knees and gathered him into my arms. I wrapped myself around him and he moved and rubbed his face against my blouse, knuckled his eyes and said, 'mommy?'" Naomi, like her tears, couldn't be contained then. She jumped up and moved quickly to the large window. Her shoulders were heaving with her sobs as her memory, a memory she'd refused to bring forth until now, gushed out and overwhelmed her.

"I stood and ran out, ran past my Danny and to a neighbor. They called the police for me while I sat in a chair, holding my baby.  And for the next thirty minutes, Blair said nothing but 'mommy' over and over again.

"mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy --"

*****

Blair grabbed at the toilet paper dispenser and used it to haul himself off the floor. He brushed at his slacks, then flushed the toilet. He opened the stall and sighed with relief; the restroom was empty. He stepped over to the sink and did the whole rinse/spit gig, then splashed water over his face, and with disgust, rinsed and spit again and again and again. When he was done with his sentinel-induced, compulsive obsessive habit, he stared at his reflection. He reached out with one tentative finger and touched the mirror. Damn, he wished he could remember what Danny had looked like.

Why couldn't he? He should be able to, shouldn't he?

Blair turned off the water, pulled out a hunk of paper towels, wiped his face, then tossed everything into the trash. He squared his shoulders and walked out, down the hall and quietly let himself back into the courtroom.

*****

"Detective Anders, you were the first officer on the scene, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Could you tell us what you found?"

"The front door was open and lying in the hallway, halfway between the kitchen and the living room, was the victim, Daniel Ojeda. His head was wrapped in towels and there was blood spreading out about two feet from the body."

Caulfield moved to the railing behind him and pulled out a large poster board. He placed it on an easel, then took out a grease pen and scribbled something in the corner.

"Your honor, the prosecution asks that this be marked as People's exhibit One-P." He took the board over to the judge's clerk. She wrote quickly.

The judge nodded. "Very well. Let the record reflect as stated."

Caulfield put the board back on the easel, then addressed his first witness. "Detective, would this diagram correctly represent the apartment of Daniel Ojeda?"

The detective squinted and seemed to take too long to answer.

"Detective Anders, if you need to refer to your own notes, I believe you have them in front of you?"

Detective William Anders, retired, nodded and immediately opened the file he'd created twenty-five years ago. After a moment, he looked up, his expression relieved. "Yes, that's the apartment."

Caulfield pointed to the large 'X'. "And this is an accurate representation of where Mr. Ojeda's body was found?"

Detective Anders glanced down at his notes, then nodded. "Yes, it is."

"Can you describe the rest of the scene for us?"

"On the kitchen table, we found a brown bag, a child's toy rifle and a pair of children's cowboy boots. Just inside the doorway, a woman's purse and coat were in a heap, as well as another small brown bag. There was a chair that had been dragged from the kitchen table to the sink. That's about it."

Caulfield lifted another poster board, this one with several pictures attached. He flipped to another section of his black notebook and took out more photos. After additional scribbling, he made his walk to the clerk as he said, "Your honor, we ask that the following be marked as People's exhibit Two through Five-P and the poster board to be Six-P."

"Very well."

When the clerk finished her writing and noting, Caulfield put the poster board up, then handed the pictures to Anders.

"The first picture was taken by you, was it not, Detective Anders?"

Anders turned it over, then nodded. "Yes, my initials are on the back."

"Could you describe that photo?"

"It's the kitchen."

As Anders spoke, Caulfield pointed to a corresponding photo on the poster board for the jury.

"There's the bag, the toy rifle and the little boy's boots--"

Gordon Parks, counsel for the Defense, interrupted quietly, "Objection, your honor, no foundation."

"Objection sustained. Detective, simply state what is in the picture, make no assumptions."

Anders nodded. "A toy rifle and a pair of boots."

"Anything else," Caulfield asked.

"On the floor, a purse and coat."

"Thank you. The next picture?"

*****

Blair felt a part of himself detach. He was very grateful that he couldn't see the pictures. Just watching the faces of the jurors as their gazes went from Anders to the poster board was bad enough. He wondered if he would last.

Caulfield was setting the stage, giving the jury the facts of the investigation, giving them the opportunity to 'be there', to be, Blair realized, in the home he'd occupied for almost a year. The jury was being given... his life.

The questioning of Anders went on for another thirty minutes. He confirmed the lifting of fingerprints from the Ojeda car, he identified the bag on the kitchen table as holding three cans of beer. Caulfield entered the three cans and the bag as People's exhibits Seven through Ten-P.

Anders memory proved to be fairly good and he only had to refer to his notes when dealing with physical evidence. It was after four when Caulfield asked the question that chilled Blair's heart.

"Detective Anders, you were the first officer to question Naomi Sandburg and her son, Blair Sandburg, were you not?"

"I was."

"Where did you find them?"

"With a neighbor."

"What was Ms. Sandburg able to tell you?"

Blair listened carefully. He'd never heard his mother's version. As Anders related what he'd been able to get from Naomi, Blair felt sweat build and start to trickle down his back.

"Thank you, Detective." Caulfield glanced down at his notebook and it was clear that the next question would be important for the jury.

"Detective, what was Blair Sandburg able to tell you? And again, if you have to refer to your own notes, do so."

Anders shook his head. "Even after twenty-five years, I remember that little boy. Believe it or not, it's not that often a cop has to question a toddler about a murder."

Parks lifted his head from his note-taking. "Objection, your honor."

The judge didn't lift his head. "Objection overruled."

Caulfield gave a discreet cough, then said, "Detective, please tell us about your interview with Blair Sandburg."

"He was on his mother's lap, awake, eyes wide, fingers holding onto his mother's sweater. I asked him if he could tell me what he remembered about his evening. He said that he watched cartoons and...

*****

Blair blinked and rubbed his eyes. He liked the police-man's big moustache. He really wanted to touch it.

"Son, can you tell me what you did tonight?"

Blair ducked his head, then said shyly, "watched 'toons. daddy made me spaghetti-os for dinner. then it was time to pick up my mommy." He smiled a small half-smile, "i fell asleep, but my daddy woke me. we had to go pick my mommy up."

"What happened then? Did you pick her up?"

Blair frowned, then shook his head. "no-o. we were walking though, and daddy met two men. daddy was carrying me and he whispered in my ear and it tickled."

"What did your daddy whisper, Blair?"

"he said that was just louey and johnny."

"Did he talk with Louis and Johnny?"

Blair frowned and bit his lip, then looked at his mommy. She nodded and smiled, then ran a finger over his cheek. "Go ahead, honey, you can tell him."

"yes, we went to daddy's car and johnny played wif me. we sat in the backseat and i played wif my toys and showt him every single one of them. he liked them."

"What happened then, Blair?"

"um, we went back home. i got to carry the bag."

"The bag, Blair? What bag?"


"johnny had a bag and he said it was for him... and louey and my daddy. he let me carry it like i were a big boy. and i did. i carried it all the way home."

"Do you know what was in the bag, Blair?"

Blair shook his head wildly, the short curls bobbing back and forth.

"Okay, what happened next?"

"um, i played in my play space--"

"That's under the stairs, Officer," his mommy offered.

"yep, under the stairs. my own little cave. i played and johnny played wif me."

"Where was your daddy?"

"in the kitchen, with louey. they were talking and sitting and," Blair lowered his voice, "louey was smoking. i knew my mommy would be mad."

"What happened then, Blair?"

Blair looked down at his jeans, then rested his head against his mother's shoulder. "i don't know. nuthing."

"Did you, maybe, take a nap? Under the stairs?"

"no. but... the phone rang."

"Did it? What happened? Did your daddy answer it?"

"no. he were napping. i tried to answer it, i did. i moved the chair and it were heavy, but i couldn't reach to answer."

"I see. What happened then?"

"i -- think i laid down."


"Where?"

"on -- the couch. then mommy woke me up."


*****

"Members of the jury, it's now four forty-five. I think we'll call it a day. Remember, you're not to speak of the case or discuss it with anyone, nor are you to discuss it amongst yourselves. We'll start promptly at nine tomorrow morning. Thank you for your attention and your patience. You're dismissed."

Blair watched as the jurors filed out, then as the rest of the courtroom emptied, Caulfield joined him.

"Blair, it looks like I'll be calling you tomorrow afternoon. We'll meet during the lunch break, if that's all right with you?"

Blair stood and nodded. "That's fine. When does it look as though my mother will be called?" "A bit earlier than expected. I'd say Thursday morning, perhaps Wednesday. If all goes well."

"Thank you, Mr. Caulfield."

*****

Blair stood on the sidewalk and looked down Devonshire. He started walking. After several blocks, he spotted a café with a bar. He went inside. The place was quiet, unassuming, and the far corner of the bar was relatively dark. Blair took a stool at the very end of the counter. The bartender came up and with a smile, asked, "What'll it be?"

"Dewars on the rocks."

Blair had three in the course of the next hour.

At six, he tossed down some money and left.

*****

Jim got up and hurried to Naomi's side. She was crying uncontrollably now and if there were more to the story, it wouldn't come from her. Jim took the sobbing woman into his arms.

*****

Exhausted and with his head pounding, Blair rode up in the elevator. As it opened, he stepped out and removed his room cardkey from his pocket. He took a few moments to collect himself, to put on his game face, then he inserted the card and pushed the door open... to see his mother in Jim Ellison's arms.

Jim's hand was on the back of his mother's head, fingers in her hair. She was crying.

Blair's forward motion was arrested and the air seemed to thicken around him. He was having trouble taking in oxygen....

Jim's head turned and his eyes widened as he spotted him.

"Chief."

At Jim's voice, Naomi moved out of his arms, keeping her back to Blair. She didn't want him to see her like this, to know she'd been crying.

"Mom?"

"I'm fine, honey. Give me a minute. I need... I'll be right back." She escaped into her room.

Blair watched with detached interest as the room seemed to right itself. It was altogether possible that he'd had too much to drink. He blinked up at Jim, who was walking toward him.

"Blair? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Surprised to see you here." He took off his jacket and draped it over the desk chair by the door.

"You made the news, even in Cascade."

"I see. So Simon just up and let you come?"

"That's about it, yeah."

Jim had stopped and was standing near the couch. Blair toed off his shoes and sat down.

"So. How long do you plan on staying? The trial will probably go another week, including jury deliberation. Not a lot of witnesses, you know."

"Figured as much. Did some reading, thanks to downloading some old news files. Your mother filled in a good part of what the news stories couldn't. And I plan to stay until you're done, until we can go home."

"That's actually good. In fact, I'm real glad you're here, Jim. Mom... I won't let her come and I don't think she could even if... well, anyway, that leaves her alone all day. She'll be called either late Wednesday, or on Thursday. With you here, she won't be alone. If you don't mind?"

Jim was prevented from answering by Naomi's re-entrance. She smiled sheepishly, then walked over to her son. She bent at the waist and kissed his cheek.

"How did it go today, honey?"

"Jury selection finished up and they actually got the trial started. One witness so far. I'll go on sometime tomorrow."

She nodded, then sat down in the opposite chair. "I guess you noticed Jim was here."

Blair smiled, a smile reserved for his mother, but this time, it never reached his eyes. "Yeah, Mom, I noticed. I'm pretty glad, too. He can keep you company. Get your mind off all of this."

Her head shot up and she glanced over at Jim. "Somehow, sweetie, I don't think Jim is here--"

"I'll feel better about leaving you," Blair interrupted. "Okay?"

Naomi frowned, then at Jim's helpless shrug, she nodded. "If it makes you feel more comfortable."

"It does and it will." Blair stood then and said easily, "So, dinner anyone? I thought maybe we'd try that favorite restaurant of yours, Mom. La Cucina?"

"That sounds good, Blair. Let me go change. Give me fifteen."

"No problem."

Naomi got up and moved quickly to her room. When the door closed, Blair turned to Jim and said, "Thanks, man. It really does help to know that she'll have someone while I'm at court."

Jim rose. "Hey," he said, holding his arms out to his side. "Isn't that what friends are for?"

Blair turned away quickly as he said, "Yeah." He walked to the bar and grabbed a beer.

"I can smell you from here, Sandburg."

The bottle froze halfway to Blair's mouth. He lowered his arm. "You think I'm drunk or something?"

"I know you're not, which worries me."

Blair took a healthy swig, then after swallowing, said, "Shit, I should have realized. You must be exhausted. The flight, the sounds, smells--I'm so sorry. The last thing you probably need is dinner with the Sandburgs."

"I'm fine now. And very hungry, to tell the truth."

"Oh. Okay then."

They were silent, Blair finishing the beer, Jim watching. The silence wasn't bad, just not as companionable as both men were used to.

"All right, I'm ready. Jim," Naomi said cheerfully, "you're going to love La Cucina. Okay, it's been a few years since I've been there, but I'm sure it's just as wonderful."

*****

Blair had been drinking. Jim still couldn't believe how strong the odor of alcohol was around him. He also couldn't believe how normal everything seemed. And now they were going to dinner as if there was nothing going on at all. No trial, no past nightmarish events, no... anything.

On the elevator ride down, they decided to take Jim's rental.  And, as they walked silently through the underground garage, Jim couldn't help but shake his head and mentally chastise himself. So much for giving Blair everything Jim had to give him.

*****

For all the strain that the three adults were trying to hide, the dinner was actually pretty good. La Cucina was as excellent as Naomi had promised. Sharing a bottle of wine hadn't hurt either.

Jim watched Blair throughout the meal, watched as only Blair's eyes gave any outward sign of the amount of alcohol he'd consumed in the last couple of hours.  He watched as Blair attempted to keep his mother happy, controlling the conversation, discussing things that brought happy memories to Naomi.

It was almost fascinating, in a morbid kind of way.

By the time they were digging into dessert--Tiramisu for Jim and Blair, a cannoli for Naomi--all three were pleasantly buzzed and fairly relaxed. On the walk back to the car, Naomi put her arm around Blair's waist and held him to her as they talked. Jim smiled at the gesture as mother and son whispered conspiratorially.

The ride back to the hotel was full of laughter and giggles as, somehow, Blair and Naomi got onto the subject of San Francisco, flower children and the Nehru jacket Naomi had made for her baby son.

"Oh, Jim, he looked so cute. I painted a daisy on his cheek and one of the guys put a small ankh around his neck.  He was the cutest flower baby at the festival."

"I'll bet," Jim said with a smile. "Hey, wait a minute, didn't I see that picture in the scrap book you showed me during your first visit?"

Naomi giggled and Blair groaned.

"I knew it," Jim chortled. "If I remember correctly, somewhere along the way, your little flower baby lost his diaper, right?"

"Aw, man, Jim. That is low."

"Hey, I'm just recalling the photo, Chief. I didn't take the dang thing."

"But you're laughing about it," Blair accused.

"But I didn't take the photo."

"But you're--"

"Boys? The hotel."

*****

"I'm going straight to bed, sweetie. You and Jim enjoy the rest of the evening, okay?"

"Mom, you don't have to..."

Naomi smiled. "Yes I do. I am tired. I'll just read for awhile, then go to sleep. Night, honey." She kissed Blair, then hugged Jim. "Glad you came, Jim. Thank you."

"Good-night, Naomi."

Both men watched as she entered her room. She gave them a wave, then shut the door.

Blair sighed heavily, then said, "You have got to be exhausted now, Jim."

"I'm fine. I thought maybe we could talk?"

Blair rubbed at the back of his neck and said, "Well, I'm bushed. Maybe tomorrow? After court?"

"Sure, I understand. What time will you be leaving in the morning?"

"Around eight-thirty or so. It's only ten minutes from here."

"Maybe we could meet for breakfast?"

"Sure. Great idea. The least I can do for you is buy you a meal, considering that you're going to be spending the day with Mom. Although, you'll probably enjoy that."

Jim rolled his eyes, then headed for the door. "Goodnight, Blair."

"Night, Jim. And... thanks, again."

Jim waved him off, then left.

*****

Jim carefully unpacked, then walked to the window and pulled the drapes aside. Boston winked at him. He wished the window opened. As he stared out over the unfamiliar city, his mind went back over the evening. He didn't like the drinking, but somehow, he couldn't really fault Blair for it. The man was trying to hold up his mother and himself at the same time. But still--it wasn't Blair's way.

Jim then did something he'd never normally do; he listened for Blair. He pinpointed him, thanks to piggybacking his sense of smell onto his hearing. The trail of Blair's aftershave led him to the suite two doors down.

He cocked his head and closed his eyes.  Footsteps, the tinkling of glass against glass, the sound of liquid sloshing over ice....

Jim reeled his hearing back with a frown. He rubbed his eyes, then his temples.

"God, Blair. How do I help you?"

*****

Blair sank down into the couch and took a sip of his drink.

Jim was here.

Jim.

He didn't understand it.

Blair got up and fixed another one, then ambled into his room. He set the drink down, then undressed. His head was pounding again. He probably shouldn't be drinking but it was the only way not to dream. Like the previous night, he took two PainAid with the last of his drink, then crawled into bed.

*****

Breakfast in the hotel café was almost a re-creation of the previous night's dinner. Again, in spite of the strain, all three were almost jovial. It was driving Jim crazy.

When the meal was over and they'd lingered over their morning coffee long enough, Blair checked his watch and immediately stood. "Man, I'll just make it, Mom. Why don't I join you two somewhere for lunch?"

"What a great idea, sweetie. Have you spotted anything that looked good nearby the courthouse?"

Blair put on his jacket and nodded. "Yeah, there's a small café called the Willows. It not only looked good, it smelled good too."

"Just tell me," Jim said as he dropped his credit card on top of the bill, "it's not vegetarian?"

Blair smiled. "No, Jim. I'm pretty sure I saw chicken and hamburgers. You'll be safe."

"In that case, I say we do it."

"What time, sweetie?"

Blair pushed the card back to Jim, then signed the ticket with his room number. "I'm buying, remember? And as long as you're there by noon, we should be able to meet up just fine. Okay?"

Jim and Naomi nodded, then watched as Blair hurried out. When he'd disappeared, Jim said, "I don't understand, Naomi. Why is he going every day?"

Naomi's eyes misted over as she said softly, "For... Danny, I think. For Danny."

*****

Naomi had convinced Jim that Boston Harbor and the nearby New England Aquarium should be their destination for the day. Secretly, Jim cringed. What he wanted, was to be seated beside Blair in a courtroom. However, Blair had made is clear that by remaining with Naomi, he was actually helping Blair in the best way--for now. So he acquiesced.

The harbor was beautiful and with tourist season still weeks away, he and Naomi managed to see everything with relative comfort. He was able to control his senses and enjoy the morning. The aquarium was beautiful and his only regret was not being able to share it with Blair. As they stood before one large tank, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked, "Did Blair see this, when you lived here?"

"Yes. We spent... Blair's fourth birthday here. Of course, it's been greatly improved since then. I think, maybe, he'd like to see it now."

Jim realized that spending Blair's birthday at the Aquarium meant that it had been with Danny. He was surprised Naomi had suggested the place. For him, it was truly a blessing. The quiet and natural beauty were giving his senses a field day, but for Naomi?

"I take it that it was a good day? A good memory?"

"One of the best," she said wistfully.

*****

"He never stops, does he?" Danny said, laughing.

"No, not unless he's asleep."

Danny and Naomi watched as Blair ran. This part of the aquarium had so much to look at and it was clear that their new four-year-old was having difficulty deciding. He kept running from display to display, head whipping about, curls flying.

"If we don't rein him in, he won't last the day."

Naomi nodded happily. "You're the only one he'll slow down for, Danny. Go for it."

Grinning, Daniel walked over to his son and bending at the knees, he tugged at the blue sweater until Blair gave him his full attention.

"daddy?"

"I'm feeling too empty. Can you help?"

With a huge grin, Blair launched himself into Daniel's embrace. Daniel lifted him as he stood, then settled him on his right arm. He felt the usual sense of warmth as the small hand crept around his neck to come to rest on the other side of his head.

"Okay, bubba, point and we go," he said into the smiling face.

Blair's tongue snuck out at the corner of his mouth as he considered his choices. He frowned, then after staring hard at the picture of several cavorting otters, pointed in their direction. "there. we go there."

"Ah, the sea otters. Good choice, bubba, very good choice."

Daniel put out his hand to Naomi, who took it and slipped into his left side.

"Ready, gang?" he said to both.

"ready, daddy!"


*****

Naomi stared at the otter exhibit and closed her eyes. They'd been a family in every sense of the word. She swayed and a strong arm came around her waist.

"Naomi?"

"I'm okay, Jim. Just... a memory."

Jim glanced around and spotted a bench. He led Naomi over to it and sat her down. As he took his place beside her, he said, "We have about forty minutes before we need to head out in order to meet Blair. I think you need to talk. I'm listening."

Naomi took in a choppy breath and nodded. "You're right. I... don't understand, and I've carried it with me all these years. Because the case was never solved, I never knew why." She turned an anguished face to him. "Do you understand what I mean? Why would anyone kill Danny? It made no sense then, and it makes no sense now. And the truly horrible part is that this trial still won't answer that. Unless Patterson confesses. But that's not likely, is it? Which means I'll never know why Danny was killed. Never."

Closure. Jim was an expert on that. And neither Naomi nor Blair were likely to have it this time. Not completely anyway. But Blair should have closure in other areas.

"Naomi, I get the feeling that you and Blair have never really discussed what happened twenty-five years ago?" Naomi closed her eyes and Jim watched a tear escape. When she opened them again, they were swimming in tears.

"We didn't. Haven't. You see, the doctors, they said not to pressure him, not to bring it up unless... you see, he kind of... blocked it out. No, that's not right. God, this is hard to explain."

"I think I understand. He simply refused to discuss it?"

Naomi nodded. "Exactly. Once one of the detectives managed to get what he actually saw--and it took four detectives trying--well, after that, nothing. There were child psychologists, therapists, and none of them could get a word about it out of him. And they all advised the same thing--until he's ready, don't bring it up."

"I see. That makes sense. And later? When he was older?"

Naomi looked down at her clasped hands. "I couldn't... later," she said softly, her face tinged pink.

"Ah." Jim understood now. And knowing Blair as he did, seeing Blair with his mother last night and then this morning, he understood more than Naomi realized.

"Naomi, has it ever occurred to you that you might have been the reason your son couldn't, or wouldn't, talk about it when he was still a small boy? And that later, as he grew, you were still the reason?"

Puzzled, Naomi shook her head. "No, that makes no sense, Jim. I'm not the one who witnessed it--"

"No, but you are his mother. The woman he protects in every way possible."

Jim could see the wheels turning as Naomi digested his words and the truth behind them.

"So... not talking about it was to protect me?"

"You know your son, Naomi. You tell me."

Slowly, she nodded. "He would do exactly that. God, he would."

*****

Four detectives, four retellings of the investigation of the murder of Daniel Ojeda. All morning he'd had to listen to defense counsel ask, "But no weapon was found, correct?" And all morning, he'd had to hear the same answer: "No, no weapon was found."

All morning, he'd had to listen to the defense counsel ask, "What about fingerprints inside the car?" and all morning, he'd listened to the fact that no latents were found in the car. Only on the outside. Four times, he'd listened to defense counsel ask, "What about in the house? Were my client's prints found inside the house?" and all morning, the same answer: "No."

Blair watched the jury as they finally and truly understood why Lionel Patterson was not charged with the first-degree murder of Daniel Ojeda. He observed the 'ah-ha's flash over all twelve faces throughout the examination and cross-examinations of the detectives. When Detective John Robbins (retired) stepped down, Blair started to observe the man accused of aiding and abetting the shooting death of Daniel Ojeda. He'd been avoiding even glancing at the man, but now, after listening to just how much evidence there wasn't, he found himself unable not to look.

Lionel Patterson appeared to be somewhere in age between Naomi and Jim. He kept his hands in his lap, his body slightly bent over the table. His dark hair was peppered with grey, his eyes usually downcast.

A small scar ran from the top outside corner of his left eye to the bottom outside corner. He wore a white shirt and dark slacks. No tie.

Blair knew that Lionel was in jail, that when the court-day was over, he was handcuffed and carted away, but the jury didn't. He knew that Lionel had been in prison for over a year while awaiting trial, but the jury didn't. And Blair knew the man's small, petty history of legal run-ins. The jury most definitely didn't, nor would they.

The judge called the mid-day recess and gave everyone an extra hour. When they returned, the fingerprint expert would be called; then Blair. The morning had gone faster than Caulfield had expected.

As the jurors left, once again Caulfield came over. With his hand on the railing, he said quietly, "It looks as though I'll be putting you on this afternoon, Blair. Can you be at my office, say around one?"

"I'll be there. I take it Mom will go on tomorrow?"

"Looks that way now. Defense Counsel has no witnesses. When he's done crossing mine, we'll go to summation, then to jury."

"I see. Perhaps I should bring Mom with me this afternoon?"

"That might be wise."

"All right. We'll see you at one."

"Thank you, Blair."

*****

Blair walked into the Willows and wasn't surprised to see his mother stand and wave. He smiled broadly as he joined her and Jim.

"Hey."

Jim smiled up at him. "Hey back. How did it go this morning?"

"A lot of repetition." Blair glanced at his mother. "I'll be going on this afternoon. Caulfield needs to see us both, Mom. At one. You'll be going on earlier as well." Naomi paled, but Blair noted the fractional movement of her stubborn chin.

"I see. I guess we'd better hurry and eat."

Jim handed him a menu, which Blair put down. "I'm having the soup. The board said clam chowder today."

"Ah. You sure you don't want more? You hardly ate your breakfast, Chief."

"I'm sure."

When the waitress arrived, it took all of Blair's considerable willpower not to order a drink. He ordered coffee instead.

"How many witnesses has the State put on so far?" Jim asked once the waitress had left with their order.

"Six. All detectives. This afternoon, the fingerprint expert, then me and tomorrow, Mom."

"Honey," Naomi said as she leaned toward him, "did you... recognize any of them?" The question caught Blair so off guard that he spit out the water he'd just sipped. He quickly started to clean up, but a hand over his stopped him.

"I've got it, Chief," Jim said quietly.

"I--um, thanks, Jim." He dabbed at his mouth, then said, "Um, it's been a long time, Mom."

"Of course." Then, "What about the accused?"

Blair's hand froze. Slowly he lowered it and placed the now wet napkin on the edge of the table. "I--no. No."

Jim put his hand over Blair's again, but this time, he left it. "Understandable. Twenty-five years. The man has to have changed a great deal."

Blair glanced down as he nodded. For a moment, he stared at the back of Jim's hand. Jim's hand. On his. He blinked. The temptation to succumb to the comfort was almost overwhelming.   But then he flashed on Jim's comfort of his mother yesterday, and he slid his hand out from under instead.

"I--you're right, of course, Jim," he said as the waitress arrived with their lunch.

*****

"You ready, Mom?"

Naomi looked at the building that housed the District Attorney and nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be."

Blair took her hand and, with Jim bringing up the rear, they entered the lobby and walked over to the elevator.

*****

Jim sat on the couch next to Naomi. He could see she was nervous, scared even. Her fingers were shredding a napkin she'd brought with her from the restaurant.

Blair had been in with Caulfield for fifteen minutes and Jim had used considerable restraint in managing to avoid listening. As another piece of napkin floated to the floor, Jim sighed and took Naomi's hand.

"It's okay, Naomi. Everything will be fine."

She squeezed his fingers, then said, "I know, I know. But," she turned to him, "Jim, I should be there--this afternoon. I should."

"Then tell Blair. Tell him you want to be there."

Before Naomi could answer, Blair stepped out of Caulfield's office.

*****

Blair stepped out into the reception area as Caulfield said, "Just answer how you remember it, Blair. That's all you can do."

He nodded, then turned and started to smile at his mother. Except... Jim was holding her hand. Blair's brow wrinkled, then smoothed as he straightened his shoulders and moved to a chair next to the couch.

"Your turn, Mom," he said with a gentle smile. Her hand slipped out of Jim's and she rose gracefully to take Caulfield's.

"This will just take a few moments, Naomi," Caulfield promised. "Your testimony is probably the easiest and I doubt sincerely if you'll even be crossed."

Caulfield led her into his office and when the door shut, Jim scooted down so that he was closer to Blair.

"Everything go all right?"

"Sure."

"Naomi wants to be there with you--for you."

Stunned, Blair stared at Jim. "You're kidding? Tell me you're kidding?"

"No."

"Jim, she can't. We can't let her."

Blair was up and pacing, his hands waving in the air like the Blair of old. Except he was so upset, a panic attack wasn't far in the future.

"Chief, she--"

"NO!" Blair looked around and red-faced, took his seat again. "No, Jim. She can't. You don't understand."

"She wants to be there for you, Chief."

Blair closed his eyes. Tightly. His fingers gripped the arms of the chair. "She can't. It'll kill me."

"Blair?"

He shook his head. "No. Too painful for her, Jim. Please? Help me? Convince her? Take her somewhere? Or we can tell her that you need her? That you're... ill?" He turned anguished blue eyes on Jim. "Please?"

"I'll do whatever you need, Chief. Whatever you need."

Expelling the breath he'd been holding, Blair slumped down in the chair.

"Thanks, Jim. Thanks."

*****

"Honey, I want to be there. You need me there."

Blair took Naomi's hand and led her away from his partner. "Mom, I need you to be with Jim. He's not feeling well, and yes," he put two fingers on her lips, "before you say it, I'd be very uncomfortable with you there today. And no, Mom, I can't explain it. Other than I worry about you. Please? Stay with Jim?"

"But what about you? You need someone --"

"Mom, this afternoon is a slam-dunk. Honest. Please, do this for me?"

Seeing the need in his eyes, Naomi nodded. "All right, honey."

Blair smiled and with a wicked thought, said, "I know just the thing for Jim. The trolley tour of Old Boston. You up for that?"

Looking at her son with suspicion, Naomi said doubtfully, "The trolley tour? But if Jim doesn't feel--"

"Oh, Mom, trust me, that is exactly what he needs. You guys did Boston Harbor, but I'm betting you didn't have time for, say, Old Ironsides? Jim would love that. Besides, the tour is long enough, that you can end up back here and I'm betting I'll be done. How does that sound?"

Still looking doubtful, Naomi said, "If that's what you think would please Jim, then that's what we'll do."

"Good. We'll meet right here, around five thirty, okay?"

"All right, honey."

*****

Simon raised his hand and the taxi pulled in next to the curb. The driver jumped out, took Simon's bag and put it in the trunk, then said cheerily, "Where to, Sir?"

"The McCormack Courthouse, please."

Simon slid his long legs in and the cabbie shut his door, then ran around to his side, jumped in, and with little to no preamble, let alone mirror use, the guy pulled out into airport traffic.

As Simon held on for dear life and the cab swerved, swayed, veered, and sped, he wondered what the hell he was doing here. He had work to do, a department to run. Yet here he was in a cab hell bent on killing him, on his way to a courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts. Would somebody please tell him why?

Damn, it wasn't like Sandburg needed him, right? Hell no. Sandburg had his mother and Jim. Naomi had Sandburg and Jim. Jim had... Sandburg. So who the hell needed Simon in this mess?

The cab screeched to a stop, the front wheels inches past the crosswalk. Gee, a red light. How thoughtful of him to stop, Simon thought wryly.

Okay, back to why he was here and fuck if he knew. But truth was, when his gut burned and his mind yelled--he listened. And that was why he was here. His gut had been screaming 'Sandburg' for two days. Okay, okay, in reality, it had been screaming, 'Sandburg needs you!'

The cab was moving again and Simon considered taking a Dramamine.  An eternity later the cab pulled up in front of a huge old building.

"Here ya go, Sir. That'll be twenty-three fifty." The man jumped out, opened Simon's door then retrieved his baggage from the trunk. He set it down and took the money from Simon's fingers. "Have a good day, Sir."

Yeah, right. Simon watched the cab take off, not unlike a 747.

He turned, gazed up at the building, then proceeded inside. It took him only a few minutes to discover the courtroom. As he entered the elevator, he checked his watch. It was almost three.

The hallway was empty as he stepped out, courtroom 110 to his right, the only courtroom in that direction. Simon squared his shoulders and opened the doors. As he stood for a moment, just inside, he thought wildly, "What if Sandburg isn't even here?" but a moment later, he spotted him. Quietly and unobtrusively, Simon slid in beside his observer.

*****

Blair was finding this part of the trial fascinating, but then, he always did. So far, Caulfield had taken Jenny Lawes through her credentials, her history and background, and her education. Now he was giving her time to explain to the jury, in relatively simple terms, the difference between pattern types in identifying fingerprints. The jury learned about whorls, arches and loops. They learned that finding matching whorls, arches or loops were called 'hits' and that the number of hits (six or more in most cases) constituted a match.

He'd asked how many she'd found that matched the defendant and the jury learned there'd been nine matches on a print left on the bag found on the kitchen table and ten hits on the print found on Daniel Ojeda's car.

The jury discovered that latents were those prints that were not matched to the people whose prints should have been found, like Daniel Ojeda, Naomi Sandburg and Blair Sandburg. They also discovered that some prints could never be matched due to skin oil that marred the print, or the surface the print was left on. They also discovered that back in '73 many of the techniques used in today's forensic labs did not exist.

After forty minutes of pretty convincing testimony, Caulfield relinquished his witness to the defense.

Blair watched Gordon Parks take his place at the podium and open his notebook.

"Good afternoon, Miss Lawes. My name is Gordon Parks and I represent the defendant, Lionel Patterson. I just have a few questions for you."

He smiled and while Lawes nodded, her body language made her real feelings about defense lawyers well known. Blair almost grinned.

"I'm wondering, Miss Lawes, if you could let the court know how often you're tested? You are tested in your abilities, are you not?"

Jenny, a tall statuesque redhead, nodded primly. "Yes, we're tested once a year."

"Could you tell us the last time you were tested prior to the handling of this case?"

Jenny coughed, then said, "Three months prior."

"What does the exam entail?"

"We're given a series of latents, along with several knowns --"

"Knowns, Miss Lawes?"

"I'm sorry, that just means identified prints."

"Thank you. Go on."

"We try to find matches."

"I see. How did you do in your last exam?"

"I passed."

Parks flipped a few pages of his book, his eyes downcast as he said easily, "The first time?"

Jenny Lawes gave a small shake of her head, then remembering that she needed to be verbal, said softly, "No."

"Out of how many attempts to match the first time, did you succeed?"

"There were ten, I matched... four. But the second time--"

"Thank you, Miss Lawes." Parks walked over to the evidence table and picked up three cans of beer that had been put into evidence during the testimony of one of the detectives. "Miss Lawes, were any prints found on these cans this time around?"

"None that could be used. As I explained earlier, some prints can't be matched due to either the material itself or the oils on the skin of the individual leaving the print."

"I see. So we have no fingerprint evidence linking these cans to the defendant, correct?"

"That is correct. But we have the bag the cans came in--"

Parks' head shot up. "Your Honor, please--"

Judge Silverton raised his hand. "I know, Counselor." He turned to face the witness. "Miss Lawes, please restrict your comments to asked questions only."

She nodded, but even Blair could see the twinkle in her eye. She'd managed to remind the jury that while Patterson's prints weren't on the cans, they had been on the bag carrying the cans.

Parks started in again but Blair missed his next question as a large shadow loomed over him. He glanced up and nearly choked as Simon slid into the seat beside him. Stunned, all Blair could do was stare at the man, who stared right back. Smiling.

Finally, feeling his throat constrict, Blair slowly turned his attention back to the trial.

*****

"Any redirect, Mr. Caulfield?"

"Yes, your Honor." Caulfield stood and once again approached the podium. He smiled and adjusted his glasses as he asked, "Miss Lawes, do you have a supervisor in Forensics?"

"Yes. Kenneth Putzier."

"What would one of his jobs be, regarding his people and the identification of fingerprints?"

"All our findings go to him as well as to others."

"For what purpose?"

"To double-check our work. To confirm our hits."

"Were your hits confirmed with regard to your matches of latents in the Daniel Ojeda murder case to the defendant, Lionel Patterson?"

"Yes."

"By whom?"

"By my boss, Mr. Putzier and two other experts."

"Thank you, Miss Lawes. That's all I have."

Judge Silverton dismissed her and as she stepped down and exited the courtroom, he said, "Mr. Caulfield, are you ready to call your next witness?"

"I am, your Honor. The Commonwealth calls Mr. Blair Sandburg."

The murmur that spread throughout the fairly crowded courtroom was loud enough for the judge to use his gavel. But he couldn't stop all the heads from turning to view the man who had been the... boy.

*****

Blair heard his name and still he was unprepared. He gave a physical start, then a soft voice in his ear encouraged, "It's okay, Blair. You're not alone."

Blair's heart calmed as his blue-eyed gaze met Simon's earnest browns. Slowly, Blair stood, then moved sideways past Simon, who immediately squeezed his arm in reassurance. Their gazes met again and Blair was surprised by the amount of affection he saw mirrored back at him.

He blinked, straightened, then moved out into the aisle.

*****

Blair was sworn in, then he took his seat. The clerk asked him to state his name for the record, which he did, quietly but firmly. He knew all eyes were on him, comparing him to the boy they'd been hearing so much about. It was strange, knowing that these people had seen so much of the boy he'd been, like his cowboy boots, toy rifle, and his precious play space under the stairs. Now the jury was faced with the boy grown to a man.

Caulfield was smiling at him and as Blair finished, he said, "Mr. Sandburg, I know this is not going to be easy for you. We're delving back in history and bringing up painful memories, but I'll try to make this as painless as possible, all right?"

"Thank you."

"What do you do for a living, Mr. Sandburg?"

"I'm an anthropologist, currently working towards my doctorate at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington."

"I see. Is that all?"

"I'm also an observer with the Cascade Police Department."

Blair had to credit the man. He'd just successfully implanted in the brains of the jury that, with his background, he was undoubtedly a very credible witness.  Even if what he was called upon to remember was twenty-five years in the past.

"Mr. Sandburg, can you tell us what happened on the night of June sixth, nineteen seventy-three?"

Blair was ready for this. It was what he and Caulfield had discussed.  Caulfield would question Naomi.  But he would allow Blair to  just tell the events in his own words; questioning only for effect or clarification.

Blair took a deep, and what he hoped was unobserved, breath, then said, "My--Daniel woke me up and said that it was time to go pick up my mother at work..."

"Do you remember where she worked, Blair?"

The use of his first name brought the members of the jury forward in their seats.

"She was a waitress, part time. I don't remember the name, but it was Mexican. She used to bring me tacos and quesadillas." Blair smiled in memory.

"So you got up and...?"

"Danny got me into my parka and I think I put on my rain boots."

Caulfield picked up a photograph that had been entered into evidence earlier. "Blair, would you look at this for us?"

He handed over the photo. Blair took it and glanced down.

"How many coats appear in that photo, Blair?"

"There are two."

"Is one of them your parka?"

Blair nodded. "Yes. It was on the back of the kitchen chair but in this photo, it's on the floor of the kitchen."

Caulfield took the photo and with a quick look at the judge, handed it to Juror number one. Again, Blair had to give the man credit. With one photo, not previously explained, he'd given credence to Blair's memory.

"So," Caulfield asked, as the jurors took their turns looking at the photo, "what happened after Daniel got you ready?"

"We headed outside to the carport. Danny was carrying me. We were almost at our garage space when two men rounded the corner and started walking towards us."

"Did Daniel know these men?"

"He whispered to me that it was okay, they were just Louis and Joe, so I guess he did. They came up to us and Danny put me down. One of the men, Joe, I think, knelt down and started talking to me. He noticed my toy--I'd brought one with me--and while he talked with me, the other man talked with Danny."

"The man you call Joe, did he have anything in his arms?"

"Yes, he carried a bag. I thought it was groceries."

"I see. So what happened then?"

"We walked to the car and got in. I remember being upset because I didn't get to sit up front with Danny. I had to sit in the back with Joe. But it turned out to be okay, he played with me."

"So your father and the man called Louis sat in front and you and the man called Joe sat in the back, correct?"

"Yes."

"Did you go to pick up your mother?"

"No. I'm not sure why, but Danny said something like, 'No, we won't go pick her up now,' and Louis said something about going inside and having a beer."

"Anything else happen in the car, Blair?"

"I was kind of... antsy, climbing down off the seat and onto the floor, then back up. The man in front asked Joe to keep me still, that I was kicking his seat. Joe reached over and picked me up, he was laughing, and I saw--"

Blair paused then and for the first time, his emotions leaked through. He gulped, then looked around for the water. He spotted the carafe, looked up quizzically at the judge, who nodded sympathetically. Blair poured, took a much-needed sip, then as he put down the paper cup, he said, "That's when I saw a gun."

"Let me make sure we understand, Blair. When Joe picked you up off the floor, you could see a gun?"

"Yes. It was in front of Louis, on the glove compartment."

"Did your father own a gun, Blair?"

Parks lifted his head and said quietly, "Objection, Your Honor. How could a four-year-old know if Daniel Ojeda owned a gun?"

Judge Silverton nodded slightly, then said, "Objection sustained. Mr. Caulfield, maybe you'd like to rephrase?"

"Yes, Your Honor." He turned back to Blair. "Blair, did you ever see a gun in your home?"

"No, never. And my mother would never have allowed it."

"Objection, Your Honor--"

"Objection sustained. Mr. Sandburg, yes or no answers unless otherwise asked, please?"

"Sorry, Judge."

"Go ahead, Mr. Caulfield," the judge said with a nod.

"So you never saw a gun at home, correct?"

"That's correct."

"Did you ever see a gun in the car before?"

"No."

"Blair, did you ever open the glove compartment while riding in the car?"

"Yes, many times, to Danny's dismay." Blair smiled again and it was clear the memory was a good one.

"And you never saw a gun?"

"No. Just my toys and I used to pull out Danny's sunglasses and put them on. They were too big. He also kept gum in there... for me. Mom didn't like me chewing, so he hid it there."

Smiling now himself, Caulfield nodded. The jury, also grinning, nodded right along with him. "So, you saw a gun. What happened next?"

"Um, Danny got out and so did the other man. Joe got me out and we started walking toward our home. I remember Danny and Louis were behind me and Joe was carrying me and the bag. I looked over my shoulder and I could see the gun, in Louis' hand. Joe said something like, 'Don't worry, nothing's going to happen,' or something like that. Then he put me down and handed me the bag and said I could carry it."

"Did you?"

"Yes. I remember feeling like a big kid. It was heavy, but I carried it all the way."

"So all of you got back to the apartment. What happened then?"

"Well, Joe took the bag and put it on the table, helped me out of the parka and rain boots and then Danny told me to go play and I went to my special space--"

"That's the spot under the stairs, correct?"

"Yes."

Caulfield turned to the posterboard that was still standing behind him. He pointed to one large photo that showed the entrance to the apartment and the staircase. "Is this the spot, Blair?"

"Yes."

"So you could see into the kitchen from here, correct?"

"Easily. I was almost directly across from it."

"Okay, so you went here and played. What happened then?"

"Joe came over and sat down on the floor and started to play with me. Danny sat in the kitchen with Louis."

"Blair, do you remember where each of them sat?" As he spoke, he turned back to the photo and the four chairs that sat around the kitchen table.

"Yes."

Caulfield went through his photos, pulled one out, a replica of the large one on the board, then said, "Your Honor, permission to approach the witness?"

"Go ahead."

Caulfield, photo in hand, approached Blair. "I'm handing the witness People's evidence marked Thirteen-P. Blair, would you take that grease pencil to your right and place a 'D' where Daniel was sitting and an 'L' for Louis?"

Blair did as instructed and when completed, he handed the photo back. Caulfield then handed it to Juror number one. As the photo made its rounds, Caulfield went to the large board, took a marking pen and held it over the chair that faced the kitchen. "Blair, is this the chair you marked with a 'D'?"

"Yes, it is."

Caulfield put a large 'D' on the chair. "And is the one you marked with a 'L''?"

"Yes."

Caulfield marked the chair that faced the far wall with an 'L'.

"All right, what happened next?"

"Um, Danny and Louis kept talking and I kept playing. Then--um, Danny got up, and he was shaking his head and he started out of the kitchen and Louis followed him. Joe got up and he was between Danny and the living room. I was playing with my truck and somebody, Joe, I think, yelled, "Don't!" and I looked up and heard a loud bang. I remember... I covered my ears and it happened again and I shut my eyes."

"So you heard two loud 'bangs', Blair? Correct?"

"Yes."

Caulfield knew Blair's answer was important to the jury, as it had been testified earlier that two bullets had been fired, with one retrieved from the wall in the living room, and the other -- from Daniel Ojeda's brain. His voice extremely gentle, Caulfield said, "What happened next, Blair?"

Blair reached out almost blindly for the cup of water he'd poured and quickly drank it down. In front of him, the courtroom had disappeared and it frightened him....

*****

Too loud. TOO LOUD! Blair scrunched up his face and pushed in with his hands, trying to make the ringing in his ears go away.

"daddy? daddy?"

He heard running and the door and he thought, mommy's home, she'll make it stop.

He opened his eyes but nobody was there. No mommy, no daddy....

Blair took his hands from his ears and gazed dazedly around and found his daddy--on the floor.

"daddy," he whispered, suddenly terrified.

His daddy's eyes stared up at him and then, it seemed, his daddy smiled
....

*****

Blair gasped and choked, almost spewing the water. Caulfield rushed forward but Blair held up his hand, and Caulfield stopped. In the courtroom, Simon had risen and was moving to the aisle. Blair met his gaze and, for a moment, he let the security of the larger man, the warmth in those brown eyes, wash over him. He put the cup down.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, as much to the judge and Caulfield as to the jurors.

"That's all right, Mr. Sandburg. Do we need to take a break?" Judge Silverton asked, concern in his voice.

"No, Sir. I'm fine."

"Very well, if you're sure?"

"Yes, Your Honor, I'm sure."

The judge gave Caulfield a small nod and Caulfield said, "You'd just told us about the loud noises, Blair."

Blair gave a small cough, then nodded.

"Yes. I closed my eyes and heard... running, and when I opened them the apartment was empty. Except for... except for... Danny."

"Can you tell us where you saw Daniel?"

"He was... a... few feet from me, closer to the living room than the kitchen. Of course as I see it now, I realize that he was... bleeding-horribly--but at the time, I think I just... thought something, maybe, had--you know--spilled."

"What did you do, Blair?"

"I think... I tried to clean it up... the mess, you know? I had some towels in my corner that I'd been using to play with... and I think I put them around... him. The phone rang and for some reason, I just knew I had to answer it, that it was my mother."

Caulfield made some quick notes, then asked softly, "Did you try to answer the phone?"

"Yes. I tiptoed past... Danny and I'm thinking now, you know, I probably thought he was... taking a nap. I went into the kitchen but the phone was on the wall, recessed and I couldn't reach it.

"I pulled a chair over, pushed it actually, and I think that's when my parka fell. Once I got the chair to the counter, I climbed up and still couldn't reach the phone. I think I gave up. I'm not sure, but since I woke up on the couch in the living room, I guess I wandered in there.  The next thing I remember was my mother, waking me."

"Then what?"

"She carried me to a neighbor's. I remember hearing sirens, and she was rocking me. The rest of the night is pretty much a blur."

"Understandable, Blair. Just one more question. You said that someone, and you thought it was Joe, yelled out, 'Don't!' Did he have the gun?"

Blair's face wrinkled with thought, then he shook his head. "No. No, he didn't. His hands were up and waving."

"I see. Thank you. That's all I have."

Caulfield sat down and the judge turned to Parks. "Do you wish to cross, Mr. Parks?"

"Yes, Your Honor. Thank you."

Feeling more in control, Blair watched the man do the usual, carry his notebook, lay it out, fix his tie, then look up and smile.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Sandburg."

"Good afternoon."

"I don't have too many questions for you. I know how trying this has been. Bear with me a bit. When you were questioned by Detective Tolliver, two days after the shooting, you told him that 'Joe and Louis' came to the front door and knocked. But just now you stated that the first time you saw them, was as you and your father were walking to the car, correct?"

"Yes."

"Do you know now which it was? Did they come to the door or did you see them as you were walking to the car?"

"The car."

"Do you remember why you might have told the detective about them coming to the door?"

Blair sighed, then said, "I remember that interview was very... confusing. He asked me several different scenarios."

"I see. Let me ask you this; when you saw the gun, were you frightened?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I think, I thought it was... a toy."

"I see. And when you were in 'Joe's' arms, walking back to the apartment, you saw the gun and he said, let me quote here, 'Don't worry, nothing is going to happen', were you frightened then?"

Again, Blair shook his head. "No."

"Why do you suppose 'Joe' might have said that?"

"Maybe because he thought I would be frightened?"

"I see. Were you frightened at any time, once Joe and Louis showed up?"

"No. Well, yes, when I heard the loud noises."

"Of course. But until then?"

"No."

"Did your father and Louis argue?"

"Not that I heard."

"Did they yell at each other? Get angry? A fight?"

"No. I don't think so."

"And the man you call 'Joe' played with you?"

"Yes."

"Did he frighten you?"

"No."

"Did he ever touch the gun?"

"No, not that I ever saw."

"And he yelled, at one point, 'DON'T!', correct?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Sandburg, do you remember what side of the car you got in and out of that night?"

Blair frowned, then shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not."

"But you did sit behind the man you call Louis, correct?"

"Yes."

"I have only one more question. In one of the interviews, Mr. Sandburg, you were asked if you had been the one to place the towels around your father's head. You answered no. But earlier, you stated that you had. Which is correct?"

"I didn't remember doing it... until today, when I was testifying. I don't think... I remembered then either."

"I see. That's all I have for this witness, Your Honor."

"Very good. Mr. Sandburg, you may step down, and thank you very much."

Blair nodded and, praying that his legs would hold him, he stood, stepped out of the witness box, and headed toward the bailiff, who was holding the gate open for him. As he walked through, the judge said, "It's now after four, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We'll call it a day and reconvene tomorrow at nine."

As the judge gave his usual admonishments, Blair, his stomach threatening to revolt, quickened his pace, wanting only to make it to the men's room in time. He was vaguely aware of Simon standing and following him.

*****

For the second time, Blair found himself on his knees, worshipping a strange toilet. His breakfast, lunch and stomach lining made rather abstract designs on the white porcelain. He was barely aware of an echo of footsteps, followed by a low soothing voice.

"Sandburg, I've locked the main door. You take all the time you need."

He continued to toss his cookies, and through it all, continued to see his--Danny's--smiling face, head lying in a pool of dark and ever-spreading blood. As he threw up, tears streamed down his face and shame nearly overwhelmed him.

He never saw the long arm reach over the short stall door and unlock it, but he did feel the hand on his back and the gentle fingers as they pulled his hair from his face. "It's okay," Simon whispered, over and over again.

*****

Blair opened his eyes and realized with a start, that he was still on the floor, but so was Simon. In fact, Simon was... holding him. The older man's back was to the side of the stall and he had Blair pulled up against his chest, and between his legs. "Aw, God, Simon. I'm so sorry." He started to scramble up, but a large hand held him in place.

"Stay put, Sandburg. I don't think you could stand just yet. And you have nothing to be sorry about. Relax."

"Oh, yeah," Blair snorted, "relax. I'm sitting on the floor of a strange bathroom in Boston, with my boss, I might add, and you want me to relax."

"That's right. Now shut up and rest."

Closing his eyes, Blair said tiredly, "I can do that."

*****

"Here."

Blair reached out and his hand was taken. A paper towel was placed into it. He dried his face, then tossed it. When he looked up, it was into Simon's worried eyes.

"Thanks, man. I really appreciate all that you've done, you're being here--the works." With a sigh, he turned and rested his back against the sink. "What brought you to Boston, anyway?"

One eyebrow rose and Simon tilted his head. He reached out and gently cuffed Sandburg. "What the hell do you think brought me to Boston, Sandburg? A sudden yen for clam chowder?"

Feeling a little unsteady, Blair said, "Um, okay, so you came for--"

"For my friend. For you. Now let's see if we can keep this from getting all touchy-feely, all right?"

Blair smiled wanly, then gave Simon a small salute. "Yes, Sir."

*****

Both men exited the bathroom, and both ignored the miffed looks from the line of men who'd been forced to wait. Blair felt his face heat up as he and Simon continued down the hall. He would have kept going, except Simon's arm across his chest stopped him.

"Reporters, Blair."

Blair looked past Simon, his eyes widening. Standing in front of the courtroom were several men and women, some with mikes, some with cameras, all waiting anxiously.

Simon took control. He pulled Blair slightly behind him and to his left side, then charged out.

"THERE HE IS!"

The reporters turned as one and moved toward them.

"MR.SANDBURG, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT IT WAS LIKE RELIVING THE DEATH OF YOUR FATHER?"

"MR. SANDBURG--BLAIR--HOW MUCH MORE HAVE YOU REMEMBERED?"

"DO YOU RECOGNIZE THE DEFENDANT? IS PATTERSON THE MAN YOU CALLED JOE? IS HE THE ONE WHO PLAYED WITH YOU?"

"WOULD YOU KNOW THE SHOOTER IF YOU SAW HIM AGAIN?"

Simon's considerable height and bulk shielded Blair from anyone getting ahold of him or even getting a decent picture. The elevator opened and Simon gave him a gentle push, then stepped in and immediately turned around and punched 'Close'. His body language dared anyone to try to join them. No one did. The doors slid shut.

As the elevator started its descent, Blair fell back against the wall and closed his eyes. Finally, "We can't let them get anywhere near Mom tomorrow. We can't."

"Don't worry, Sandburg, Jim and I will take care of it."

Blair opened his eyes and frowned at Simon's words. But one look at the larger man's expression stopped him from asking or saying anything. Simon was staring at him in almost the same affectionate manner in which he'd look at Daryl. It almost took Blair's breath away. "Thanks, Simon."

*****

The elevator pinged and as the doors slid open, Blair said, "Jim and Mom should be over by the exit. They were going to meet me here after--"

"Blair! Over here!"

The two men glanced to the left and spotted the waving Naomi. Beside her, and looking worried, stood Jim, pale blues seeing only Blair. It took a moment to register with both Naomi and Jim that the large man next to Blair was Simon. When it did, Jim's eyes widened, then he smiled. A huge, grateful smile. Naomi's was almost an exact match.

"Simon, it's so good to see you again."

"It's good to see you," Simon answered as he hugged Naomi.

"But I don't understand--"

"I'm here because I figured the Sandburgs could use all the support they could get. That's all."

Naomi placed her hand on Simon's arm. "Thank you.  Thank you so much. Are you staying at the La Meridien with us? How long can you--"

Simon chuckled as he held up a forestalling hand. "I'm not registered yet, but yes, I'm hoping to get a room at the La Meridien and I'll be here until this over."

"Simon, my room has two double beds. There's room--"

"Jim, one word -- cigars."

"Right. Get your own room, Simon," Jim said with a grin.

They might have remained standing and talking except that Jim's senses told him everything he needed to know about the last several minutes of Blair's life. He could also hear the reporters in two of the elevators.

"Look, we're about to be surrounded by the press, so I suggest we get the hell out of here?"

Simon nodded and took Naomi's arm. All four almost ran to the exit.

*****

Naomi stood with her arm around her son's waist. They were in the lobby of the hotel, a few feet from where Simon was checking in. Jim stood on the other side of Blair.

"Are you okay, sweetie?"

"I'm fine, Mom. Like I told you, it was a slam-dunk. But you should have seen my face when Simon showed."

Only Jim could tell that his partner was lying through his teeth.

Simon ambled over, a keycard in his hand. "Okay, I'm registered. Ninth floor, room nine-oh-six. What's on the agenda for tonight?"

Naomi smiled and said, "Dinner at The Union Oyster House, for starters. How does that sound?"

Simon grinned broadly. "Sounds perfect to me. I need to unpack, shower, so what time?"

Jim, concerned about Blair, said, "How 'bout seven? Is that too late for anyone?"

"No, that's fine with me," Naomi said.

"Me too, Jim," Blair agreed, Simon adding his own, "Yep," to the mix.

"Great. Seven down here in the lobby?" When everyone nodded, Jim then said, "Um, Chief, I'm going to go up to Simon's room with him, help him unpack, but would it be possible for you to meet me in my room in about forty minutes?"

Looking puzzled, Blair nodded. "Sure, Jim."

*****

Riding up in the elevator was a quiet affair. At their floor, Blair and Naomi got out, and as planned, Jim remained inside with Simon. Just before the doors closed, Blair peeked around his mother and said with a sly grin, "So thoughtful of you Jim, helping Simon with the difficult jobs--like unpacking."

Jim laughed, then noticing that Naomi had her back to them, he flipped Sandburg the bird. Before Blair could retaliate, the doors slid shut, but he heard Simon's booming laugh. As he followed his mother to their room, he felt... almost good. Almost normal.

*****

"I need help unpacking, do I?"

"No, but you do need to tell me how the afternoon went." Jim's eyes were dark with worry as he added, "I'm a sentinel, I could smell him, Simon."

The humorous expression on Simon's face evaporated. The elevator opened and a few moments later, they were in Simon's room. He walked over to the window and opened the drapes.

"Beautiful view. Yours this good?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Spill, Simon."

"You don't want to know why I'm here first?"

"I know why. You care about him. You were worried about him."

Simon sat down at the small table by the window. "That about says it. Almost. I'm worried about you too. And I think, maybe, it's about time Sandburg understood where he fits in our little world, don't you?"

Jim fidgeted a bit, then scratched his head. "You know where the shame is, Simon? That we have to help him understand his value. I mean, what's wrong with us anyway?"

"Us, Jim? I have an excuse, I'm the big, bad captain. You're his partner and friend, you have no excuse."

One eyebrow arched as Jim said, "Not going to work, Simon. You love him."

"So do you."

Jim dropped down into the chair behind him. "Yeah, I do. And it scares the hell out of me, Simon."

"So we agree on one thing, anyway. And I'm betting you haven't talked with him yet. Is that the reason you want him to meet you in your room in a few?"

Jim shook his head. "No. I want him to sleep. His body is screaming for it and if he stays in the suite with Naomi, he won't." Jim's tortured gaze met Simon's as he added, "He's been drinking, Simon."

Simon rubbed his eyes, then said, "I'd be drinking too, if this were happening to me. In fact, I could use a stiff one right now. Trust me, it was bad this afternoon. Hell, I knew what to expect and it was still bad. And after, he barely made it to the bathroom before he lost everything he'd probably eaten in the last two days."

Jim rubbed at his face, then asked, "How did the cross examination go?"

"Didn't go too badly, actually. I think Defense Counsel knew better than to do anything more than to gently try and show that a four-year-old's memory can't be relied upon."

"Did he? Show that?"

"Not in my estimation. Nor the jury's, if I'm any judge, and after twenty years, I am."

Jim grinned. "Good for Blair."

"Not that anything has been proven, mind you. The DA has one weak case, if you ask me."

"So you're telling me that Blair's going through all of this for nothing?"

*****

When Jim stepped out of the elevator on his floor, he found Blair just approaching his room. "Hey, great timing, Chief."

Blair smiled tiredly. "Yeah, that's us, Jim. Simon all settled?"

"Yep." Jim got out his card and opened the door, allowing Blair to precede him inside. "Beer in the small fridge, Chief. I'm going to shower quickly, if you don't mind?"

Blair shook his head as he pulled a bottle of Coors from the mini-bar. As Jim went into the bathroom, Blair sat down on the couch and put his feet up. He rested his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes.

In the forty minutes that Jim had been with Simon, Blair had managed a shower and while allowing the steam to relax him, he'd brushed his teeth -- several times. He felt better, and certainly cleaner. The floors of public bathrooms did nothing for making a man feel sanitary.

He took a good swig of the crisp beer, then set the too-cold bottle down. Keeping his eyes closed, Blair tried not to picture all the memories that were attempting to flood his mind. Instead, he concentrated on the comforting smell of Jim and the faint leftover scent of the man's aftershave.

*****

Jim dawdled. He showered, he moved slowly, he sat on the toilet seat. When, thirty minutes later, the breathing in the other room evened out, he smiled, then dressed in clean jeans and a sweater before walking out and over to the sofa. Blair was sound asleep, head resting on the back of the couch.

Sighing gratefully, Jim picked up a pillow from his bed, walked the two steps back to Blair, then carefully lowered the sleeping man so that his head was cushioned and his feet up. Jim's last act was to take a blanket from the closet and drape it tenderly over Blair.

Jim sat down on his bed. After a few minutes of watching Blair sleep, he finally dropped down on his side, got comfortable... and continued to watch.

*****

At six-forty, Jim got up and knelt by Blair's side. Placing one hand on his partner's shoulder, he said, "Chief, time to get up. Rise and shine, buddy."

Blair's eyes opened and Jim could see the struggle to focus. He watched the pupils expand, contract, expand, then Blair brought up a hand and the blues disappeared.

"Man, how did I fall asleep?"

"Well, it usually happens when you close your eyes, drift off...."

"Gee, thanks, Jim."

Smiling, Jim said, "You're welcome."

Blair chuckled and sat up. "What time is it?"

"You've got enough time to collect yourself before we meet your mom and Simon."

Blair swung his legs over and down as he sat up. He yawned, then ran nervous fingers through the tangled curls. Jim watched the move, his eyes following the strands of hair as they shook. Beautiful.

Best not to share that thought with Sandburg, he thought. Jim straightened, walked over to the mini-bar and pulled out a cold water. He unscrewed the cap, then handed it down to his partner.

"Oh, man, thanks. This I can use."

After swallowing several gulps, Blair said, "I suppose Simon told you all about court this afternoon?"

"You'd suppose right."

"That's what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No. I figured talking about it could wait until you were ready. I just wanted you to get some sleep."

Blair looked up at him, his eyes wide and Jim could pinpoint at least five different shades of blue.

"You wanted me to sleep?"

Jim nodded.

"I... I, thanks, Jim. Thanks. And thanks... for being here."

"I'm not here for your mother, you know," Jim said softly.

Blair got up, a move which put him in Jim's space. "I know. But by staying with her, you really were helping me." He dropped his head for a minute and added, "I doubt that I could have handled it this afternoon if she'd been there. I just couldn't have. Knowing she was hearing... everything."

"She's heard it before, Chief. She heard it from her four-year-old son, twenty-five years ago."

"Not really. I don't remember much, but I do remember sitting in our neighbor's kitchen while still another detective tried to talk to me. Mom was fixing hot chocolate and the woman, the neighbor, was whispering to her.  I don't think Mom heard me talk about the shots."

"I see."

Blair checked his watch, then said, "We should get going."

"Right."

*****

Oddly enough, dinner was quiet and comfortable. Jim could see Blair visibly relax, but he also noticed that the wine flowed pretty easily. If Naomi was nervous about testifying in the morning, it didn't show.

"So what did you two do this afternoon, anyway?" Simon asked as he dug into his halibut.

"Oh, I took Jim on the trolley tour."

The fork froze halfway to Simon's mouth. "Um, did you say trolley tour?"

Naomi grinned. "Yes. It was fun, wasn't it, Jim?" As she asked the question, she put her hand on his.

"It was... different. I'll admit that. Old Ironsides was pretty interesting though."

Blair reached for his wine.

*****

As they entered the lobby, Simon took Naomi's arm and said, "Join me in the lounge for a nightcap?"

Smiling up at him, Naomi said, "I'd love to." She turned to her son. "Honey, do you mind?"

"Not at all. See you in the morning."

They hugged and, as Simon led her away, Blair glanced up at Jim; and found the older man staring at him.

"You okay, Jim?"

"Yes  Why?"

"Nothing."

"Let's go up."

*****

Simon spotted a small table in a corner and led Naomi to it. They sat down and a cocktail waitress took their order. As she walked away, Simon said, "How do you think your son feels about his partner, Naomi?"

"I believe, Simon, the better question would be... how does Jim feel about my son?"

Talk about being put on your ass? Simon shook his head and took a quick sip of his drink. Naomi was good. But maybe he was better.

"Jim isn't the issue. But since you claim to know how Blair feels, I have to ask; what do you think Blair experiences when he sees you lean into Jim? Put your hand on his arm? Flirt with him?"

Naomi's mouth worked soundlessly. Finally she took a deep breath and said in a shocked voice, "I don't flirt with Jim!"

"You do. Consciously or unconsciously, you flirt with him."

Faced with the matter-of-fact way Simon spoke, Naomi had to glance away. She looked at her drink, then started to twirl the glass as she pondered Simon's words. Finally....

"I... I think it's second nature. It means nothing, Simon. Blair knows that."

Simon reached over and captured the nervous fingers in his. "Maybe he does, Naomi. But then again, maybe he doesn't. And he sure as hell has no clue what it might mean to Jim, does he?" At the startled look Naomi threw him, he said calmly, "Wouldn't we both agree that, right now, Blair is going through a version of Hell that very few could understand?"

At her nod, he went on.

"Naomi, he really has no one to turn to right now. He can't let you see what he's going through because he's worried about you. He can't let Jim see because, well, he never lets Jim see, never lets Jim in. Blair probably figures that his partner has enough on his plate. And maybe he feels Jim doesn't want in, at least not all the way. That leaves Blair pretty much alone in facing his past."

"Do you think I don't know that, Simon?"

"I honestly don't know. Look, things have been rough for both of them lately. I think their partnership is in flux. I know Blair has always seen it differently than Jim. But right now, I believe Jim has arrived at the same page in the book that is their partnership.

"But then this trial comes along. Jim's trying to do what Blair needs, but I suspect that all he wants is to be with Blair."

"But instead, he's with me. Babysitting me," Naomi said in a hushed, shocked voice.

Simon nodded, eyes watching warily.

"God, I'm stupid. And somehow, I do believe I've underestimated you, Simon. You and Jim."

*****

Jim and Blair stepped out of the elevator and as Blair started for his room, Jim took his arm. "Wait. Please?"

"Something wrong, man?"

"Yes. We need to talk."

"Your senses?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "No, Darwin. We need to talk about you.  About us."

 Blair was clearly taken back by Jim's words. "Us?"

"Yeah, us. We can talk in your room or mine. Up to you."

Blair sighed heavily, then looked up at his friend, eyes dark with exhaustion in spite of his earlier nap. "Jim, could we have this talk later? I'm bushed.  And tomorrow... Mom testifies.  Then it goes to jury. I really can't concentrate on anything else right now. Okay?"

Jim nodded slowly. He didn't like it, but did he have a choice? "All right, Chief. But when this is over, we talk. Right?"

"You got it. And thanks again for being here, man."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else, Chief. Now go to bed."

Blair gave a tired little salute, then unlocked the door and with a final smile, disappeared inside. Jim stood in the quiet empty hall, listening. When he was convinced that Blair was actually going to bed, he finally went into his own room.

*****

Blair shed his clothes and, wearing only his boxers and robe, turned down the bed. He thought of what Jim had said, about needing to talk.   With the bedspread in his arms, he paused. Was this it? Was he about to get his walking papers? No, Jim was here--for him. So that left maybe a talk about Jim... and Naomi?

God, walking papers would almost be better.

Blair dropped the bedspread on the chair and walked into the living room... and over to the mini-bar.

*****

It was after eleven when Naomi let herself into their suite. After dropping her shawl and keys onto the side table, she made her way into Blair's bedroom. The drapes were open and there was more than enough city light to see her son. Moving quietly, she sat down on the edge of the bed.

Naomi stayed like that, her hand on Blair's until the clock on the nightstand blinked a red 12.

*****

Simon made a few calls in the morning and, as a result, they were given directions that brought them all to the back of the courthouse. At that point, Blair, Naomi, Jim and Simon, were escorted up to the courtroom, allowing them to slip past the reporters who were waiting outside the courthouse and in the lobby. Once inside, Caulfield came over and spoke for a few minutes, giving Blair and Naomi a pretty good idea of how the morning would progress.

"After you testify, Ms. Sandburg, Parks will do his cross--"

"I thought you said he probably wouldn't cross-examine me?" Naomi asked, a tinge of fear in her voice.

"I suspect that what he'll do is simply confirm what you can't know. Make sure the jury understands that your testimony is really--superfluous."

Naomi gave a small smile and leaned into Blair, who had his arm around her waist. "Superfluous. I feel so much better now, Mr. Caulfield."

Caulfield returned her grin, then went back to business. "After he's done, the judge will give him his opportunity to present witnesses. As I told you earlier, he has no witness list. At that point, we go to summation. I suspect that will take us to lunch. The judge will give the trial over to the jury and then we wait and see."

*****

The trial started on time and, once again, Blair watched as the jury was led in and took their seats. He noticed a distinct difference now as the jurors actually looked at everyone. Some even smiled at Lionel Patterson and all of them, used to seeing Blair in the courtroom, smiled at him.

The only difference for Blair, today, was the fact that he wasn't alone.

The judge immediately turned the trial over to Caulfield, who called Naomi. Blair squeezed her hand as she stood. Naomi bent over and kissed him on the cheek. Behind them, newspaper artists sketched feverishly.

Naomi was led to the witness stand and, after taking the oath, sat down, clasped her hands in her lap, and waited.

"Ms. Sandburg, good morning."

"Good morning."

"I know this is difficult, so if you'll just bear with me for a bit, I just have a few questions, all right?"

"Of course."

"Thank you. Can you tell us about June sixth, nineteen seventy-three? About your day?"

They had discussed taking this approach and Naomi was ready. She nodded.

"Danny was off that day and that made it special. Blair was excited at having both of us home. We awoke around nine and Danny made pancakes. After we cleaned up, all three of us went to the mall. We spent most of the day there, window shopping, letting Blair ride the merry-go-round and enjoy the PlayZone. We had a late lunch, then came home."

Naomi's voice, while soft, had been strong. Now it faltered. "We got home and I just had time to change and get ready for work. A friend, Marta Lopez, was due to pick me up at three."

"Was that normal, Ms. Sandburg? Having someone take you to work?"

"Yes. Usually it was Marta. But Marta worked an eight-hour shift. I only worked six. Danny and Blair would... would... pick me up. It was a favorite event for Blair."

"Miss Lopez picked you up that evening? On time?"

"Yes. I kissed Blair good-bye and Danny walked me out. I got into Marta's VW and we just... drove off."

Naomi's voice broke and her eyes misted over as she said, almost to herself, "It was so normal and I didn't even... look back. I should have looked back, you know? I should have looked back...."

Caulfield caught the judge's attention and gave a pointed look at the carafe of water. Judge Silverton nodded. Caulfield moved toward Naomi, picked up the carafe and poured her a glass, then handed it to her. She took it gratefully, drank needily, then gave him a shaky smile. He walked back to the podium.

In a voice designed to instill confidence, he said, "Did your shift end on time?"

Naomi nodded and Caulfield smiled. "Ms. Sandburg, you'll need to give us a verbal answer. Did your shift end on time?"

Naomi blushed, then said, "I'm sorry. Yes, I went off duty at ten. But Danny and Blair weren't waiting. That was odd, but not unheard of so I just waited on the sidewalk."

"They'd been late before?"

Naomi smiled fondly. "Yes, whenever Danny had trouble getting Blair up."

"I see," Caulfield said, his smile in his voice. "How long did you wait in front of the restaurant?"

"Almost thirty minutes. It was ten thirty before I really started getting angry. Danny had never forgotten, but there was always a first time. I went back in and called home, but no one answered."

*****

Jim only partially listened to Naomi; after all, he was hearing what he'd heard two days ago. Most of his concentration and his senses were zeroed in on Sandburg. Jim glanced down at Blair's hand, fingers gripping the arm of chair. Without giving it a thought, Jim placed his over Blair's.

"I never went back."

Jim was startled as Blair's hand shook beneath his.

"Not even that night, Ms. Sandburg?"

"No. My neighbors retrieved everything and even did the packing for me. Five days later, I left Boston with Blair. We didn't go far, just to Winthrop. I had a friend there."

"Of course. Just a couple more questions, Ms. Sandburg. To your knowledge, did Daniel Ojeda know any men by the names of Louis or Joe?"

"Not to my knowledge, no."

"Was anything missing from the house?"

"Yes, my husband's wallet."

"Anything else?"

"No."

"Last question. Could you tell us what type of beer Mr. Ojeda drank?"

"Um, he drank Budweiser."

"Thank you. That's all I have for this witness, Your Honor."

"Very well. Mr. Parks, do you wish to cross?"

"Yes, Your Honor, I do."

Parks rose and smiling, said, "Good morning, Miss Sandburg. I'm Gordon Parks and I'm defending Lionel Patterson. I only have a few questions, if you don't mind?"

Naomi smiled thinly, then said, "Not at all."

"You stated that you, your son, and Mr. Ojeda spent the day at the mall, correct?"

"Yes."

"When did you remember seeing Mr. Ojeda's wallet last?"

Naomi frowned and gave a small shake of her head. "I don't think I understand?"

"Did Mr. Ojeda take his wallet out at any time to say, purchase anything?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"So when, that day, is the last time you saw his wallet?"

"Um, I guess... at lunch. He paid for lunch."

"Thank you. Miss Sandburg, is it possible for Mr. Ojeda to have had friends that you didn't know? From the club perhaps?"

"I doubt it."

"But is it possible?"

Looking slightly angry, Naomi nodded. "I suppose so. But again, I doubt it."

"But again, it's possible?"

"Yes, but--"

"Just answer the question, Ms. Sandburg," the judge interjected.

Dropping her eyes, Naomi said softly, "Yes. It's possible."

Parks went over to the evidence table and picked up the three cans of beer that had been entered during the fingerprinting testimony.

"Miss Sandburg, as you can see here, there are two cans of Pabst and one can of Burgermeister. If you weren't certain about what kind of beer someone drank, could you mistake Burgermeister for Budweiser or vice-versa?"

"Objection, Your Honor, calls for a conclusion."

"Objection overruled, Mr. Caulfield. Go ahead and answer, Ms. Sandburg."

Naomi shrugged. "I suppose so."

"Thank you, Miss Sandburg." He put the cans down and took his place at the podium again. "Miss Sandburg, did you and your son talk about that evening at all, in those early days following the tragedy?"

"Talk about it? No, not really. My son," Naomi's voice broke slightly, but she rushed on, "was only four, Mr. Parks. No, I didn't really discuss it with him, other than trying to explain why he'd never see Danny again, why he'd never have pancakes with him again, or play catch with him."

Naomi's voice started to rise as tears slipped down her cheeks. The judge quickly leaned across his desk. "Ms. Sandburg, would you like us to break for a few minutes?"

She brushed angrily at the moisture and shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I apologize, Your Honor."

"That's quite all right. Mr. Parks, do you have any more questions?"

"No, Your Honor. Thank you." Parks wisely retreated.

"Mr. Caulfield, any re-direct?"

"Yes, Judge Silverton." Caulfield didn't stand. "Naomi, when Daniel paid for the lunch, did you see what he did with his wallet?"

"Yes, he put it in his back pocket, like always."

"You saw this?"

Naomi nodded. "Yes."

"Thank you, Naomi, that's all I have."

"Ms. Sandburg, you may step down."

*****

When Naomi stepped down out of the witness box, she thought her legs would buckle under her. She gripped the wooden framework, then stubbornly lifted her head and walked slowly to the gate. The bailiff opened it for her and she moved, almost as if in a dream, to Blair. He stood, took her hand and guided her down.

As Blair took his seat, Naomi realized that Caulfield was speaking.

"Your Honor, the State rests."

"Very well, Mr. Caulfield. Mr. Parks?"

*****

Blair took his mother's hand and watched as Gordon Parks rose slowly. Blair held his breath.

"Your Honor, the defense rests."

There was an audible gasp from the courtroom and Blair didn't miss the looks on the faces of some of the jurors. With the defense resting now, it meant that Lionel Patterson was not going to testify on his own behalf.

Blair looked to his right and slightly behind him to the two other people who'd been in the courtroom every single day; Lionel Patterson's parents. The father, a tall thin man with almost white hair, was staring at his son, his gaze unflinching. Mrs. Patterson was a  petite woman with short, curly hair that was still jet-black. Her head was in her hands and even from where Blair sat, he could see that she was trembling. Blair turned away when the judge began speaking to the jury.

"It's close to the noon hour so we'll take our mid-day break. When we return, you'll hear closing arguments. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we're recessed until one."

As the court emptied, the same sheriff that had brought them up the back way, now approached again.

"Ms. Sandburg? Mr. Sandburg? There's a private extension of the cafeteria on the second floor and Judge Silverton thought you might want to eat there? The press isn't allowed," he finished with a slight smile.

Blair looked at his mother. "Mom?"

"I... I'm not sure."

Blair took her hand again. "It's okay, Mom. Why don't we have lunch on the second floor, then Simon and Jim can take you back to the hotel? I'll stay for the closing arguments, then meet you all at the Le Meridien, okay?"

Sighing in relief, Naomi nodded. "Thank you, sweetie. That's a good idea."

The sheriff led them out the same way he'd brought them in. At the elevator, he simply reminded them to push number two, then gave them directions to find the private cafeteria room.

"When you're ready to return to the courtroom, Mr. Sandburg, just come in this same way. I'll be at my desk, all right?"

"Thank you," Blair looked at the ID badge, "Sheriff Baldwin. Thank you very much."

The man nodded and took his leave. Jim reached out and punched '2'. The doors slid shut.

"You know, this food actually looks good," Simon commented as they worked their way down the short line.

Naomi agreed and reached for the Caesar salad while Jim and Simon both ordered, after quick glances down at Sandburg, turkey burgers--with everything.

Blair, after perusing the menu and the hot trays full of enticing dishes, ordered a tuna melt on wheat and a bowl of split pea soup. Naomi set off with her salad to find a corner table.

"Chief, Simon is going to take care of Naomi this afternoon. That way I can sit with you during final arguments."

"Jim, that won't be--"

"Necessary? I think it is. And I want to be there... with you. Understood?"

The cook was handing over Simon's and Jim's burgers as Blair said quietly, "Thanks, Jim, but... it would be easier for me if you weren't there. Okay?"

The plate holding Jim's burger tumbled out of his hand to crash on the floor.

Both Jim and Blair bent to begin the process of picking up Jim's tray and somehow managed to avoid hitting each other. One of the cooks came around and said, "Please, don't worry about it, we'll take care of it. We've got another burger coming up."

Straightening, Jim glanced away and nodded tersely. "Thank you." He reached for an apple as he said, "Why don't you two go on to the table."

Without a word, Blair picked up his tray and moved past Jim.

Simon watched him go, then said, "Jim--"

"It's all right, Simon. Go. I need to wait for my new burger. Go ahead."

With a sigh, Simon walked toward the cashier.

All four ate in relative silence, the main conversational topics being, "Where's the ketchup?" and "Pass the salt, please."

Simon noticed that Blair pulled the tomato from his sandwich and ate it, plus two spoonfuls of soup. He was starting to worry about Blair's health but until the damn trial was over, felt helpless. He'd never really had to 'read' Sandburg before, to try to get into his head. And didn't that say something after all this time? His thoughts were interrupted by Sandburg.

"It's almost one, I need to get back. Mom, you gonna be okay?"

"I'm fine, honey. You guys go."

"Simon and Jim are taking you back, Mom. I don't expect it'll go long. Probably be done by three, if not earlier. Then it's in the hands of the jury. I'll see you guys later, all right?"

Naomi, surprised, stood. "Blair, I think--"

"Mom? I've got to go." He kissed her cheek, then grabbed Jim's arm. "Jim, can I talk to you for a minute?"

He pulled the older man away from the table and whispered, "Keep her busy, please? There are a lot of things to do in Boston, just keep her mind off of the trial and me, okay? I need you and Simon to do this, Jim. Please?"

"Who keeps your mind off of it, Sandburg? Tell me that."

Blair closed his eyes a moment, then said, "Jim, knowing that you two are keeping Mom -- occupied, does help me, okay? I can't explain this, it -- just is."

Jim's gaze softened. "All right, Chief. We'll keep her going until Simon and I are ready to drop. How's that?"

Blair's lips twitched. "That's good, man. But you gotta know -- she'll outlast you both. Give you a real run for your money."

"I think Simon and I are up to the challenge. You'd better get going."

"Yeah. And Jim? Thanks."

Jim gave Blair a little push in answer.

Naomi watched her son walk out, then, with her gaze still focused on the door, said, "He's always had to do things alone. From the time he was...."

Her voice trailed off and both Jim and Simon glanced down at her.

"From the time he was what, Naomi?" Jim asked gently.

"From the time he was four." Her voice sounded distant as she went on. "In spite of all the things we did together, the places we saw... if Blair had a problem, he handled it alone. Saw it through alone. Protected the people he cared about. Protected me. If something went wrong, he had to be alone. Always alone."

As Jim listened, so much came back to him, like Blair's need to be alone after the debacle with Maya, and again following Sweet Roy's death. The man never let Jim suffer through anything by himself, yet Blair insisted on doing just that when it came to his own life.

God damn him.

Blair slid into his usual seat on the left side, in the back. He was a bit late and the jury was already in place. The judge was whispering with his clerk and, in the front rows of the courtroom, the reporters -- who'd been there from day one -- were busy sketching or writing. Finally the judge sat forward and addressed the court.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will now hear closing arguments, first from the Commonwealth, then from Defense Counsel. Please remember that, as with the opening statements, their summations do not constitute evidence and should not be used in your deliberation."

Judge Silverton glanced over at the ADA and said, "Mr. Caulfield, are you prepared to close?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

Caulfield rose, but this time, he remained standing at the work table as he faced the jury. On the easel behind him, a new posterboard had been set up. By craning his neck, Blair could just see the words printed boldly on the surface:

                    * Premeditated First Degree Murder
                    * Felony Murder in the First Degree
                    * Robbery
                    * Implied Malice - Second Degree Murder
                    * Brandishing a weapon

And below the initial printing, Blair could just see:

                    * Accountability
                    * Directly commits
                    * Aids and Abets
                    * Mere presence


Blair noticed that most members of the jury were busy reading the posterboard as well.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, twenty-five years ago, a young man was murdered. The technology of nineteen seventy-three prevented the justice system from closing in on those who committed the crime, but as the years passed and memories grew dim, two people remembered the young man and kept the faith: Naomi Sandburg and her son, Blair. Eventually, technology progressed and old cases were re-examined. The murder of Daniel Ojeda in nineteen seventy-three was one of those cases. That's why you are here today.

"So what do we have to tie that man sitting over there," Caulfield pointed to Patterson, "with the murder of Daniel Ojeda?"

Caulfield lifted one of the State's posterboards and balanced it on the table so that the jury could clearly see it.

Tapping the close-up photo of the bag with his pointer, Caulfield said, "We have this bag sitting on the table. A bag that, according to Blair Sandburg, he helped carry into the apartment at the bequest of a man he called Joe. On this bag, fingerprint experts were able to match the latents found here," his pointer touched the picture, "on the bottom of the bag and here," the pointer moved up "at the top of the bag. The only prints on the bag found in the apartment of Daniel Ojeda belong to Lionel Patterson, the defendant."

Caulfield put the posterboard down and picked up another one, this a diagram of Daniel's car as used in earlier testimony.

"We have fingerprints on Daniel Ojeda's car, both here," his pointer hit the driver's door, by the window, "and on the trunk of the car. Fingerprints belonging to the defendant, Lionel Patterson."

The board was lowered and Caulfield moved away from his table and approached the jury box.

"We have testimony from Blair Sandburg that two men, one carrying a bag that he later identified as the one on the kitchen table, approached him and Daniel Ojeda. We were told that they spent time in the car, with the four-year-old Blair sitting behind the man he called Louis, while Joe sat behind Daniel. We heard testimony that 'Joe' played with Blair and kept him busy and occupied."

"We know from Blair's testimony that he saw a gun sitting on the open glove compartment. We know that later, the man called 'Joe' told Blair that Louis wouldn't hurt his father. Blair testified that they never went to pick up his mother. Instead, they moved out of the car and went to the apartment and, finally, that Blair was given the bag to hold."

Caulfield picked up another board and held it in front of the jury. It contained the layout of the apartment.

"We know that Blair played here," he touched the area under the stairs, "and that 'Joe' again kept him company and played with him while Daniel sat here," his finger tapped the chair where he'd earlier placed Daniel's initials, "and that the man Blair called 'Louis', sat here. We know from Blair's testimony that Daniel Ojeda got up and walked into the hall. We know that 'Joe' yelled out, 'DON'T!' and that two shots were fired, one bullet lodging in the wall in the living room, the other killing Daniel Ojeda."

Caulfield looked at his jury, then started counting off on his right hand. "A bag of beer in the home, with the defendant's fingerprints. A conversation in a car where the defendant's prints were found again. A gun. A man yelling 'Don't', two shots fired, and a man left dead in his own home."

The ADA moved to the board that had been standing on the easel. "Your job as jurors is to not only decide if Lionel Patterson is guilty, but you must also decide where his guilt lies, ladies and gentlemen."

Blair listened to legal speech with only half an ear. This was now old hat to him. The ADA had been skirting this issue throughout the trial for the simple matter that the most his evidence could show was that Lionel Patterson was there when Daniel was shot. His job now was to get the jury to see that in being there, he was as culpable as the actual shooter.

Blair found himself looking at Lionel Patterson again. His parents were absent this afternoon and Blair thought that odd. As he watched Patterson, he was suddenly aware that at least one court artist was looking at him and sketching quickly. Blair tore his gaze from Patterson and concentrated his attention on Caulfield.

"... may not have been the actual shooter, but in aiding and abetting, as I've just outlined to you, he is guilty of murder. As guilty as if he'd pulled the trigger himself. A weapon was brandished. A wallet missing. A man left dead.

"The evidence is there, ladies and gentlemen, and I charge you with coming back and telling us that you have found that evidence compelling enough to prove to you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Lionel Patterson is guilty of murder."

Caulfield took a moment, made eye contact with each every juror, then took his seat.

"Mr. Parks?" the judge asked.

Parks nodded and rose smoothly. He walked immediately to the evidence table and picked up the three cans of beer.

"Daniel Ojeda told Blair Sandburg, 'That's just Louis and Joe'. He knew them, ladies and gentlemen." Parks held up the cans. "Three cans. Three cans, not six, the normal manner in which we buy beer. Not even two, which again would have been normal for two buddies.

"But three cans were found in the bag. And not three cans of the same kind of beer. No, we have two cans of Pabst and one can of Burgermeister. A beer that sounds very similar to Budweiser which as was earlier testified, was Daniel Ojeda's favorite."

He set the cans down and faced the jury. "You heard the fingerprint expert. A woman who, just a few months prior to identifying Lionel Patterson's prints, failed her yearly exam. You have a man named Lionel--yet identified by a four-year-old boy as 'Joe'. A four-year-old boy. A boy who in one interview, stated that he and Daniel came upon two men as they walked to the car. Yet in another interview, said that two men came to the apartment and knocked on the door. But then, he was only a baby, just barely four."

Parks moved closer to the jury box and his expression became one of puzzlement as he asked, "And when did the wallet go missing? If the two men were there to rob Daniel Ojeda, when did they take his wallet? In the car? Not according to Mr. Sandburg. According to Mr. Sandburg, they talked, then got out of the car. Was it in the apartment? Did Mr. Ojeda just... hand it over? When, ladies and gentlemen, did anyone take Mr. Ojeda's wallet?"

He moved down the railing, eyes connecting with each juror. "You know what I think? I think Mr. Ojeda lost his wallet. I don't think there was a robbery. No wallet was found anywhere near the apartment and you heard one of the detectives testify to the extensive search that was done. You know that money is taken out and usually the wallet is tossed. But no wallet was ever found. Ever."

He walked over to the evidence table and picked up a photo of the kitchen. Parks held it out as he walked back to the jury.

"They sat in this kitchen and talked. Just talked, according to Mr. Sandburg. No fighting, no arguing, no yelling. Does that sound like a robbery attempt to you? And while the man called 'Louis' talked with Mr. Ojeda, Joe played with the boy. Played with him, ladies and gentlemen. Does that sound like a robbery attempt? No. So what did happen? No one knows, ladies and gentlemen. No one knows."

He put the photo down, then faced the jury again.

"So that leaves us with the possibility that the man named Louis shot Daniel Ojeda. We don't know why. But there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the man called Joe was a part of any shooting. In fact, you know from Mr. Sandburg's testimony that Joe yelled out, 'DON'T!'. He was clearly surprised and shocked, and thus tried to stop it."

"Aiding and abetting? No. His mere presence does not constitute aiding and abetting. As the Assistant District Attorney pointed out during his closing arguments, in order for Joe to have aided and abetted, he had to know that Louis had an unlawful purpose. In addition, Joe had to be there with the intent and purpose of committing a crime, or by an act or advice, Joe had to promote, encourage or instigate the commission of the crime. Again, mere presence at the scene does NOT constitute aiding and abetting."

"Ladies and gentlemen, without aiding and abetting, you have no second degree murder charge."

He ran his hand over the railing, then looked up and caught the jury's collective gaze. "The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt and I'm sorry, but what we have here is a whole lot of doubt. Doubt that Lionel Patterson's prints are the correct matches. Doubt of any robbery. Doubt of any criminal intent at all, ladies and gentlemen. And with those doubts must come a verdict of not guilty. Thank you."

Parks walked to his table, squeezed Patterson's shoulder, then sat down. Blair let out his breath and closed his eyes. He knew what would come next. The judge's final instructions to the jury. He'd explain again, all the legal terms, reasonable doubt, what the procedure would be if they had questions and what to do when and if they reached a verdict.

Blair opened his eyes and noted that the reporters were busy sketching and writing. This was his best opportunity. He got up and quietly exited the courtroom.

Out on the street, Blair checked his watch. It wasn't yet three. He took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. He was at a loss. He didn't want to go back to the hotel, and he wasn't tired. In fact, he was experiencing a kind of restless energy. He ran his hand through his hair and realized that he was without a car. Of course, the hotel parking lot was only a short distance away, easily within walking distance, but with all this energy, he needed more than a short walk. Plus, he had some serious thinking to do.

Blair started walking.

*****

Jim checked his watch. Almost three. He wondered if the trial had been turned over to the jury yet, not that he wasn't having a ball. First they'd walked the Freedom Trail and now, now they were waiting for their Boston Duck Tour. He was going to kill Sandburg later, he was. Boston Duck Tour? How the hell--

"We were just called, Ellison."

Jim looked up and caught Simon smirking at him. Can't kill one's boss. Partners yes, bosses no. He'd have to draw the line at killing his partner's mother too.

"Okay, I admit it. The duck tour was -- you know --"

"Fun, Jim?" Simon asked after sharing a grin with Naomi.

"Yeah. Fun. So sue me."

Naomi looked at Jim from under her lashes and said, "And to think, Captain Foghorn actually let you drive the duck. Such an honor."

"You guys slay me. Really. And if either one of you tell Sandburg, this duck driver will have his revenge."

"Speaking of Sandburg, should we check out the court first or go directly to the hotel?" Simon asked.

"He said he'd meet us at Le Meridien, so I think we should head back," Naomi offered.

"Well, let's go. It's after six and I'm starved," Jim said as he waved the car keys.

Judging by the tenseness that surrounded Jim the moment Blair's name had come up, Naomi suspected that 'I'm starved' was code for 'I'm worried about my partner,' and she loved Jim for it.

*****

After endless walking with little thought, Blair found himself near the subway. As he stared at the maps showing the different lines, he realized how close he was to Harvard, or rather, how easy it would be to take the subway to Harvard. And Harvard meant great libraries. That was all Blair needed.

Less than thirty minutes later he was standing in front of the Tozzer Library--heaven for an anthropologist. As a TA with Rainier, he had easy access thanks to his university ID.

The Tozzer Library was world-renowned for its famous collection of information relating to the indigenous people of the Americas, and it was the Tozzer online reference site that had, so many years ago, alerted Blair to what many believed to be the non-existent Burton Monograph. Now he was here--in person.

All it took was to step inside and suddenly Blair's world was familiar and comfortable. The smell of books, the quiet hush and muted reading lamps, and the soft footsteps of students and teachers as they moved from tables to stacks, combined to say "home".

Trying to decide where to start, he smiled. Losing himself in his field, in the wonderful world of books--that was the ticket.

Two hours later, he had a headache. The quiet was deafening. Did Harvard have a police science department? In spite of his headache, Blair grinned. Jim would be so proud.

Merry-go-rounds were the same whether they existed at Rainier or the great Harvard University. But still, there was incredible peace here, if Blair could just relax.

But he couldn't. Not even in his own world. But then, did he have his own world anymore? Did he belong anywhere anymore? Academia no longer beckoned, and his life with Jim and the Cascade PD was limited. So where the hell did he belong now?

With no answers, Blair got up, closed the book on Native Tribes of Peru and returned it to the shelf. Hell, by the time he got to the hotel, Jim, Simon, and his mother would probably be waiting for him.

*****

Two wrong connections later, thanks to a raging headache and the resultant inattention, Blair finally exited the subway system a few blocks from the hotel. When he entered the lobby, Jim was striding toward him, concern in every line that covered his face.

"Sandburg, you okay?"

Blair stopped and shook his head. "Man, how far away were you tracking me?"

"Not as far as I should have been. You look miserable. Bad headache?"

Blair cocked his head and regarded his partner with a puzzled frown. "It's not so bad and since when do you know if I have a--"

Jim smiled gently. "Think back, Sherlock, and you'll realize that I always know. Just like you always know when I'm hurting. Come on," he took Blair's arm, "let's get you something."

Jim led him to the small gift store that specialized in stocking those items travelers so often needed in emergencies. He purchased a single pack of Advil and one water, then guided Blair back out and sat him down in a corner. Tearing open the packet, he handed the pills to Sandburg, then opened the water and handed that over.

"Thanks, Jim. Thanks, really."

"Take the pills, Chief," Jim said with a tender grin on his face.

Blair downed them quickly, then took a gulp of the cold water. When he was done, he looked up and said, "Where is everyone?"

"Lounge. We were relaxing while waiting for you. Nice little jazz trio playing. Might be too much for you right now--"

"No, no, sounds good. I'm game."

Blair got up, quickly finished off the junior-sized water, then trashed it. "Lead on, man," he said with a smile.

The trio was good, the lounge dark and atmospheric. Blair ordered a Dewars. He ignored Jim's look and missed Simon's.

By the time the trio took their break, his headache was a faint bounce in the back of his skull. The lights came up, now that the entertainment was over, and Naomi immediately turned to her son.

"How did it go, honey?"

"They closed and the jury has it now. We're stuck here while they deliberate. I told Caulfield that no, he didn't need to call us unless the jury reached its decision. He said he didn't think it would be long. Maybe even tomorrow."

Naomi closed her eyes and nodded. "Over... maybe tomorrow," she said softly.

"How do you think it'll go, Blair," Simon asked.

"Honestly? Hung jury."

"That's surprising, Chief."

Blair shrugged. "What can I say? That's just my read and we all know I'm not the expert, not the legal eagle."  He threw back the rest of his drink, then added, "I'm just the nerdy scientist."

He smiled to take the edge off, but neither Jim nor Simon were fooled. Jim caught Simon's eye and Simon shot him a 'not now' look. Jim had to agree. Now was not the time to talk about Blair's 'job', not with Naomi at the table.

"What will it mean if it is hung, honey?" Naomi asked with trepidation.

"Mom, don't worry. I'm hardly a judge here. I'm sure there will be a verdict." Jim knew he was lying, that Blair was comforting his mother and kicking himself for his earlier opinion. He decided to get the subject changed.

"Anyone hungry?"

Everyone was too tired to go far, so they ended up at a small pizza place two blocks from the hotel. No one complained about Italian two nights in a row. Besides, they actually had fun ordering two weirdly mixed pizzas and munching on celery, olives, peppers and cauliflower, all drenched in a lively marinade. The wine flowed and everyone had their fair share. By the time there was nothing left but crusts, all four were experiencing their own buzz.

Blair's headache was completely gone and he found himself actually having fun. His mother seemed relaxed and, listening to the day she'd given Simon and Jim, he'd ended up laughing so hard, tears had rolled down his cheeks.

It was after ten when they strolled back to the hotel, all sated and nicely tired. Blair thought he might sleep easily for a change. As they rode up in the elevator, he turned to Simon and asked, "You heading back tomorrow then? Now that--"

"No, Sandburg, I'm here through the end of the week, if that's how long it takes. If there's still no verdict by Friday, well, we'll see what happens."

Blair faced front. "Oh. I... that's--"

"Oh, Simon, thank you!" Naomi interrupted. "But are you sure--"

"I'm sure, Naomi. Blair is one of my people. I'll be here until this is resolved."

The words were spoken to Naomi, but they were for Sandburg.

For two days, they waited. Blair was edgy, always covertly watching his mother, yet keeping up appearances. Simon and Jim did everything they could to keep both Sandburgs busy, their minds occupied, but it was a tough battle.

For Jim, it was as if his own life was on hold. He couldn't approach Blair with anything more serious than what he wanted for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Finally, on Friday morning, Caulfield phoned. Blair took the call and, after hanging up, turned to his mother.

"Mom, the judge has called everyone back. The jury seems to have reached a decision. I'll go and call you from court, all right?"

Naomi was sitting on the couch, Jim and Simon having just arrived in preparation for going out for breakfast. At Blair's words, she rose a bit unsteadily and took his hand.

"No, I think... I want to try--"

"Mom," Blair had smiled at her, "it's okay, you know? I won't be long. You guys stay here and when it's over, we'll go have that big breakfast Simon and Jim have been dreaming about since you told them about Molly's. Besides, with just me, well, it will be considerably easier to avoid the press, okay?"

Naomi searched her son's face, then rested her hand against his cheek. "I love you, Blair. So very much."

Blair took her into his arms and Simon and Jim watched the two Sandburgs as they took comfort from each other.

Except, Jim realized, only one Sandburg was receiving comfort and he suspected that might reflect how it had always been between mother and son. Naomi going blissfully through life with Blair trotting along behind, cleaning up, giving support and comfort, loving her, and yes, in all fairness, being loved in return.

Come to think of it, didn't that pretty much define his relationship with Blair? Jim watched Blair pull away and his heart twisted in a fine agony at the thought that he'd allowed Blair to trot along behind him--cleaning up, giving support, teaching, listening, and comforting.

As Blair disappeared into his room to change, Jim said, "Naomi, I'm going too. But I'll wait until he leaves, follow him, keep an eye on him, all right?"

"Thank you, Jim. Thank you." She smiled weakly, then added, "I seem to have been saying that a great deal in the last few days. But somehow, it's not enough."

"Yes it is, Naomi."

Blair left his hair down and opted for a tan sweater over a white oxford shirt. With his sunglasses on, he was pretty certain he could slip by the press and he was right. They were used to seeing Blair Sandburg with hair pulled back, wearing wire rimmed glasses and a suit and tie.

He slipped into the courtroom and this time took a seat near the front, again throwing off the press who kept looking to the door and the back of the room.

Even Caulfield hadn't spotted him.

The judge was not in the courtroom so it looked as though there might be a slight wait. Blair settled back with a magazine he'd purchased downstairs.

Jim followed Blair as only a sentinel could. He waited until Blair had been inside for a good fifteen minutes, then he'd climbed out of the Taurus and quickly followed him.

Following the directions Simon had given him, he went up to the courtroom. But instead of going in, he waited in the hall, listening.

At ten, the judge came out of his chambers and took his place. A few whispered words and the bailiff went to the jury room, opened the door, and allowed them to take their seats in the jury box. Blair felt his heart drop as he watched them walk in. They looked miserable, some even disgusted. When they were all seated, the judge addressed them.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"

The foreman, a tall thin man, stood. "No, Your Honor, we have not."

"Do you believe that any further deliberation on your part will result in a verdict?"

"I'm sorry to say that the answer is no."

"Very well. Mr. Caulfield, would the Commonwealth like a polling?"

"Yes, Your Honor, we would."

"Very well. Juror number one, your verdict?"

"Guilty."

"Number two?"

"Not guilty."

Blair listened as the poll was taken. At the conclusion, there were seven votes for 'not guilty' and five for 'guilty'. The judge gave a small shake of his head and said, "With no verdict possible, I have no choice but to declare this a mistrial--"

Voices from behind Blair drowned out the rest of the judge's statement as the family of Lionel Patterson jumped up and rushed to his side. At the same time, all the members of the press rushed out, ready to hijack the jury as they were dismissed. And him, if spotted.

The judge was speaking again, thanking the jury and dismissing them. He also warned them that the press was outside and that they were no longer under a gag order now that the trial was over. He also reminded them that they were under no obligation to speak to the press. The jury, obviously relieved, filed out.

As the court cleared, Blair stood and approached the railing and Caulfield, who finally recognized him.

"Mr. Sandburg, I'm so sorry."

"Will you re-file, Mr. Caulfield?"

"To be honest, at this point it's not a decision I'll be making."

"I understand." Blair turned and watched the bailiff lead away a handcuffed Patterson, then he said, eyes on the man's retreating back, "He'll stay in jail until something's decided?"

"Yes."

"And if you re-file, he'll remain in prison until the next trial?"'

"Yes."

Blair tore his eyes from Patterson and looked hard at Caulfield. "Neither my mother, nor I, will testify again. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Mr. Sandburg, we can force--"

"And I can say I remember nothing. You and I both know it will be months before another trial date is set. And please, don't get me wrong. I'm grateful you tried to give us closure, but we both know the case was weak. Lionel Patterson couldn't have been a day over seventeen when my--Daniel was killed. If he was the man who played with me, well, that boy had no idea of what was going to go down. By all definitions of the law, 'Joe' is innocent."

For a moment, Caulfield's expression hardened, but then he relaxed and gave a small shake of his head. "Mr. Sandburg, it will be my recommendation that the Commonwealth does not re-file. I suspect by tomorrow, Lionel Patterson will be a free man."

"Thank you, Sir."

Eyes hardened by life as a prosecutor suddenly softened. "No, Mr. Sandburg, thank you."

*****

Jim heard the conversation between Blair and Caulfield. When it was over, he ducked into the elevator in an effort to beat Blair downstairs. Something told him that Blair would be seeking some private time, and while Jim intended to let him have it, he also had every intention of being close by.

Blair approached the doors and could see through the small windows that the press were gathered around three members of the jury. Three very talkative members. There wouldn't be a better chance. He squeezed through the crowd, noticed that some members of the press had Mr. and Mrs. Patterson cornered next to the elevator, so he decided on the stairs.

When he hit the lobby, a calm descended over him. He walked outside and to the rental car.

From two blocks down, Jim watched Blair get into the rental and drive off. He followed slowly. He was surprised, and then worried, when Blair stopped at a liquor store and came out with a six-pack of Budweiser. His surprise grew when Blair made two more stops; a deli, where he ordered two tongue sandwiches, and finally a florist shop. When Blair came out with a bouquet in his arms, Jim knew where they'd be going next.

Twenty minutes later he was proven right when Blair pulled into the driveway of the Mt. Auburn cemetery.

Jim followed at a discreet distance, which for a sentinel meant he had to take a very circuitous route. In a cemetery, that wasn't easy, in Mt. Auburn's, it was almost impossible--except that Jim was a sentinel.

By the time Blair parked, Jim was on a hilly road behind the younger man. Jim pulled over, jumped out, locked up and started walking, and as he walked, he listened.

He heard dry leaves crunching underfoot and several soft exhalations as Blair took in the beauty of the cemetery. In his arms, Blair carried the flowers, the beer and the sandwiches. As Sandburg walked, Jim scanned the headstones around his partner and soon gave out with his own soft sigh. He'd known of course, but still, seeing the name on the large simple piece of marble sent a strange emotion zinging through his blood.

Daniel Miguel Ojeda
Beloved of Naomi, Father of Blair
Taken Too Soon
1952~1973

Jim watched Blair slow his pace as he closed in on the gravestone. A moment later, he was standing over it. Jim was now several rows away. He glanced around and spotted a white bench. He sat down, knowing that from where Blair stood, he'd not be able to recognize Jim if he happened to spot him.

Thanks to his senses, it was as if he was standing right next to his partner.

Blair stopped at the grave. There were no flowers on it, but it was beautifully kept. He immediately unwrapped the bouquet and laid it gently across the green mound. For a moment, he chose to do nothing but look. Eventually, his gaze was drawn up to the marker itself.

He was an observer and it hit him immediately.

'Father of Blair'

Of. Not to.

One word confirming the conclusion Blair had come to during the first day of the trial. He put the two bags down and walked around the mound until he was standing next to the marble headstone. With one shaking hand, he reached out and touched first the word 'Daniel', then the word 'Father'.

A slight breeze ruffled through his hair, but he didn't notice. Nor did he notice the tears that tracked down his face. For several minutes he stood with his finger resting against 'Father', tears flowing unchecked, his body completely still.

Jim brushed the moisture away as he swallowed the lump in his throat. God help him, he could smell the saltiness of Blair's tears from here.

Blair gave himself a little shake and walked back to the bags. He picked them up, then took the few steps around the grave until he could sit beside it. He crossed his legs Indian style, then opened a bag and took out the six-pack. Setting it on the mound, he said softly, "Budweiser, Dad. Mom said it was your favorite. Figured now would be a good time to hoist a few. You and me."

He dug into the other bag and pulled out the sandwiches and other items. "Tongue. I don't know if you liked it, but knowing Mom, you at least tried it. I suspect you would have loved it, and it goes great with a cold beer."

Blair turned his head to the right and said, "Someone else will eat this one, but he'll eat it for you, okay? His name is Jim. He's my... partner. I suspect he's somewhere nearby, that's the kind of guy he is. Let's give him a moment to get here, all right?"

Jim's head shot up. How the hell? And did it matter? No. Jim rose and, with a half-smile on his face, began to walk quickly towards his partner.

"While we're waiting for Jim, I guess you'd better know.  Lionel Patterson won't be going to jail for your murder. I think... he was Joe. I do. Call it intuition. But Dad, I don't think he knew what would happen, and he was only seventeen. If I'm wrong, I pray you can forgive me."

Blair ran his hand over the soft grass of his father's grave and said, "I'm guessing you really were my dad. My biological dad, I mean. Mom didn't realize that her history with you would be used in Caulfield's opening remarks, you know?"

Blair pulled a beer from the plastic holder, popped the top and took a huge swallow. He wiped his mouth and tried to rein his emotions. A shadow loomed over the grave and he turned to find himself staring up at Jim. Without a word, he grabbed another beer, popped its top and handed it up to the older man. As Jim took the offering, Blair said, "Take a load off, man," then gestured to the ground with his own beer.

Jim dropped down, and crossing his legs like Sandburg, said, "Thanks, Chief."

"De nada."

Jim smiled and took a sip of the still very cool beer. He let a few moments pass, then asked, "So how did you know I was here?"

Blair, eyes now on the grave, shrugged. "You're a sentinel, I'm part of the tribe. Simon's with Mom, she's okay, so it figures you might follow me today--of all the days of this week."

"I see. A part of my tribe, Chief?"

Blair nodded absently, then reached out and touched the gravestone again. "You were listening to me, right?"

"I was listening and I'm not ashamed to admit it."

Blair gave him a wry smile. "Not like you do it all the time or anything."

"Right. I don't. I try to give you all the privacy I can."

"I know. And I try to make it as easy on you as I can, with my daily life."

"Guess we're just a couple of wonderful guys, eh?"

Blair made a little 'umph' sound, then said, "Now that we've established that you were listening and that we're both great, I'd like you to meet my... father. Dad, this is my part--this is Detective Jim Ellison, my... friend. My best friend."

"I'm--" Jim had to clear his throat and swallow hard. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Daniel. I can call you Daniel, can't I?"

"I'm sure he'd want you to, Jim," Blair said softly.

"Yes, well. Daniel, I think there are a few things you should know about your son. For instance, you couldn't have a better one. Naomi would vouch for that. But he's a hell of lot more, Daniel. You'd be very proud of him. He's smart as a whip, a great detective and he ain't a bad anthropologist either. I've never had a better friend in my life, and I'd go to hell and back for him. I don't think a man can say anything better about another human being than that."

Jim knew that Blair was staring at him, so he quickly took another swallow of beer, then said, "I think that maybe I can say more about your son, Sir. For instance, I could tell you that I'd die for him. I could tell you--would tell you--that if anything happened to him, I doubt that I'd be able to go on. And I could tell you that I love him. Actually," Jim shifted his gaze from the headstone to his partner, "I'm kind of crazy about him."

Jim took a final nervous swallow of beer. He quickly grabbed another. Blair was still staring at him, but now his mouth was open. Jim popped the top on the can and downed the beer, chug-a-lug.

He swiped a hand across his mouth and said, before Blair could gather his wits--which were currently strewn all over the grass--"We should have had this conversation months ago, Chief. I should have been able to tell you...  in the truck, the night we talked with Incacha. You made it clear to me then and in all the months before and since, just what our partnership meant to you, I should have been able to do the same."

Blair closed his mouth and looked away. Shaking hands reached for the sandwiches and, without looking at Jim, he handed one over. Jim took it and tilted his head, eyes focused on Blair. Sandburg unwrapped his and picked up half, then bit into it. Jim watched him chew, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Um, Chief?"

Blair quickly swallowed the chunk of sandwich, then jerked a head at the gravestone. "Don't talk to me, talk to the man."

Jim's lips twitched. He turned his attention back to the grave. "So that's about it, Daniel. I love your son, I'd give up all that I am for him, and if you were here right now, I'd give you half of this sandwich. It's the least a man can do for his future father-in-law. So to speak."

Shoving his food to the corner of his mouth, Blair said between chews, "You are so full of it, man."

Jim couldn't argue with that. "Yeah, I am. And you've done a masterful job of putting up with me all this time, Chief. But I'm serious here. I love you. Crazy as that sounds, I do. You're almost as much of a pill as I am, and in some cases, maybe even more so, but what can I do?"

Blair swallowed, "Oh yeah, that's the way to make your case, Jim. Bowl me over with your sweet talk."

"Hey, all I failed to tell you about was one little brother. You somehow forget to mention," he waved his hand in a circle, "this. What happened twenty-five years ago. That beats my leaving out a brother any day of the week."

Eyes narrowed, Blair leaned in close and Jim could smell the mustard, the beer and Blair. He almost zoned on the mixture as his body, almost of its own volition, leaned toward Sandburg.

"Jim, I asked you about family, remember? And you said, nope, no family. But you've never asked me anything. You lose."

He really couldn't concentrate on Blair's words. Not with that mustardy mouth so close.

Jim let his body flow the rest of the way and touched Blair's lips with his own. He flicked out his tongue and took a tender swipe at the bit of burnt yellow, then grinned. "You taste good, Chief."

Looking disgusted, Blair said dryly, "Grey Poupon, no doubt."

Jim reached out and twirled an errant Blairwave around his finger as he said softly, "I always thought I knew everything I needed to know about you, Chief. I knew what you were, who you were, what you were made of. I knew I needed you--"

"And you hated needing me--"

"Never. Never hated it. Just--"

"Rebelled?"

"That's a good word. Rebelled. But never against you, just against the idea. I'm not supposed to need anyone, Chief. I told that to myself for years, made myself believe it. Then you--"

"Came along."

"Yeah. And suddenly, I needed you to breathe and that seems, somehow, so inequitable. I'm the cop, the protector, the guy who's gone it alone, and yet, I need you."

"Aren't you forgetting who you're dealing with here? This is Lone Wolf Sandburg, you know? Hell, I've been on my own from the time I was sixteen, Jim. How the fuck do you think I felt when I suddenly meet this guy, this fucking gorgeous guy, ex-military, a cop, and he depends on me to solve problems--that if I don't he could die? And then I move in with him?

"Hell, Jim, once I moved to Cascade, well, I never lived with anyone. Never. Suddenly I had to remember not to flush after ten because of your senses, and watch what I eat, what cleaners I use, hell, even what type of clothes to wear. Even buying light bulbs was a major decision, not to mention household cleaners."

Blair glanced away, but remained close to Jim as he said, "And... you took care of me. I'm the caregiver, I've always been the caregiver. But suddenly, there you were, quietly, efficiently, and sometimes brusquely, taking care of me as much as I took care of you. And I have to admit, I loved it. And now I need it. Need you."

"I had no idea, Chief. And you never said a--"

"You never asked."

"No, I never asked."

"It's okay, Jim. I was actually... flattered. You took me in and I was pretty damn certain that you'd ask for references. But you didn't. Then I figured you simply ran my record."

Jim chuckled. "Do you have one?"

"Of course not, you putz. Well, okay, I do. Two arrests, one for disturbing the peace at a rally and the other--"

"For trespassing and the obstruction of the natural course of work for Ryan Construction Company."

Blair's face changed as he laughed, a real laugh that rumbled out of him and tickled Jim's libido. When Blair calmed, he immediately punched Jim in the chest and said with a smile in his voice, "I knew it. I knew you'd run my record."

Jim grinned and shook his head. "Nuh-uh, not me. Simon."

"You're kidding!  Simon ran it?"

"Oh, yeah. And he called Rainier. Wanted to make sure you weren't some kind of hustler. 'Rainmaker Sandburg', I think is the term he used."

Blair's eyes widened. "That is so cool, man."

"Wouldn't you know that you'd think so." Jim glanced over at the headstone, then back at Sandburg. "You know, if we do a little shifting, I could lean against your... dad, and you could lean against--"

"You?"

Jim nodded hopefully. "I don't think your dad would mind, do you?"

"No, Jim, I don't."

They both moved and shifted until Jim had his back against the side of the gravestone. He brought up his knees, then spread his legs so that Blair could move between them and rest against Jim's chest. They pulled the food and beer with them and for a few comfortable minutes, they ate and drank, content to just be.

"These sandwiches are good, Chief," Jim finally said as he swallowed the last of his.

"Mmm. Did you eat your pickle?"

"No, why? You want it?"

Blair nodded. And to Jim it felt odd because of course, Blair's head was just over Jim's heart. He opened his senses as he handed over the dill.

Closing his eyes, he let every inch of Blair burn into his skin. He could feel Blair's hip bones rubbing into his thighs, and his muscles move as they were stretched with each small move Blair made. One hand rested on Jim's thigh and if he really concentrated, he could feel the whorls of Blair's fingerprints. He could even feel, through the denim, the thickened pads that indicated the amount of typing that Blair did on a daily basis.

Jim sighed and Blair's voice penetrated his sensory haze.

"Jim, you okay?"

"More than you'll ever know, Blair. More than you'll ever know."

Sandburg twisted around until he could see Jim's face, then he cocked his head. "I've never... you've never said my name like that before."

"How did I say it?" Jim asked, a sweet smile playing about his lips.

"Softly and just... softly. As if--"

"As if you were the most important thing in my world?"

"Well, yeah, if you're gonna put it like that," Blair said, his own lips twitching with the grin he was holding back.

"In case you missed it from earlier, you are the most important person in my life. I love you, Blair Sandburg."

Blair put his hands on Jim's shoulders and leaned back enough to really see the older man's face. Finally, it appeared to Jim that whatever Blair was looking for, he'd found it. Blair smiled brilliantly, then said, "I love you too, Jim Ellison."

The kiss seemed a natural extension of their declarations, and Blair just kind of melted into Jim. The fact that they were in a cemetery, kissing at his father's grave, did nothing to diminish the kiss, the first kiss. When they broke away, both smiling, Jim said, "I sure as hell hope your father approves, Chief."

"He does. He does."

Blair closed his eyes and let himself settle completely within Jim's embrace. It felt incredible. Better than he'd ever imagined. He didn't quite understand everything that had happened between them, but Jim had never been so open with him--never. So it was real, right? Right.

Blair was content to accept all of this, but damn, he was still curious about one thing. Now if he could just ask? Oh, Hell, in for a penny, in for a pound.

"Jim, were you... did you know, were you--"

"Sandburg, spit it out," Jim said with a smile in his voice.

"Were you in love with me?  Did you know you loved me that night? The night you and Incacha talked?"

"You gonna hate me if I tell you the truth?"

"Get real."

"Yes, I loved you." Jim turned Blair half way around so that he could see the younger man's face. "Look, I know what I should have said that night, and like I said before, I knew what you wanted to hear, but damn it, Blair, we were talking about so much more than my senses. We were really talking about us. We were talking about your dissertation and that meant a future that... that I wasn't prepared to deal with, okay?"

Jim's pale blue eyes beseeched Blair to understand, but only more questions popped into Blair's fertile brain.

"Jim, just what do you think was the worst thing that could happen when I turned in my dissertation?"

"The worst? I'd lose you to your life. You'd be Doctor Blair Sandburg, anthropologist. You'd be on expeditions, your time would belong to Rainier, you'd be... Professor Sandburg."

"Ah. I see. So we'd both have our careers and while I was teaching, say, and living a fairly normal schedule, when not on expeditions, I'd be home and you'd be... on stake-out? Or maybe undercover? And partnered with someone else? And when I'd have my weekends, you'd be at work, and when I'd have my summers, you'd be... at work."

"What are you saying--exactly?" Jim asked suspiciously.

Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, in the truck that night, were you listening to me at all?"

"Hell yeah."

"Uh-huh. So what did I say?"

"That you were stalling. That you could have written a dozen dissertations."

"And I was stalling," Blair wiggled his head and his eyebrows, "why?"

"Why?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Um, you like my... cooking?"

Blair punched him in the arm. "Jiiim."

"What are you asking here, Chief?"

Blair's shoulders slumped and he moved away from Jim until he was sitting opposite, his legs crossed again. He grabbed his open beer and downed it quickly.

"Chief, whatever you're asking, well, isn't the important thing that I now know that when you get your doctorate, when you have to go on expeditions, I'm going with you? Don't you see? How I felt in the truck that night is not how I feel today. I felt threatened then, now I don't."

Blair's forehead wrinkled in thought as he digested Jim's words. His hands went out to his side, index fingers up as he said, "Wait, wait. You're saying that when I become Doctor Sandburg and head out on expeditions, you're coming with me? You'd just up and leave work?"

"That's what I'm saying."

"Two or three times a year? Or--or--even once, but for maybe six, eight months?"

"Yes, Chief, that's what I'm saying."

"And. Your. Job?" he asked, punctuating with his fingers.

"Isn't important."

Blair put his hands down and rose swiftly. He started pacing, hands waving in the air. "Jim, you're the Sentinel of the Great City, you can't just up and leave, go on sabbatical for months at a time. And the fact is, if you'd been listening to me in the truck, we wouldn't be discussing this grand sacrifice of yours!"

"I was listening."

"Then damn it, you should know what I thought I wanted, I no longer want. I'm not," he stopped, then stalked over to Jim and glared down at him, "the same man, Jim."

"Okay, so what do you want?"

Jim stared up at his partner, and at his question, it seemed as though all of Blair's energy leaked out of him. He watched as Blair shoved his hands in his pockets, then looked down at the ground.

"I thought... I thought we made a pretty good team, Jim."

Jim moved quickly to his feet, then reached tentatively for Blair's arm and gently pulled his hand from his pocket. He laced his fingers with Blair's.

"We do, Chief, we do. But facts are facts and you--"

"And I want to continue doing what we're doing, Jim. Somehow."

Jim gave a gentle pull of Blair's hand so that Blair's body bumped his. He wrapped his arms around Blair's waist. "Then I guess when the time comes, we'll just have to find a way."

"The time is here, Jim. I finished it."

Blair felt Jim stiffen immediately and he started to pull from the man's embrace, but then Jim relaxed and dropped his head so that it was resting against Blair's hair.

Voice soft and accepting, Jim said, "Then I guess we'll have to find a way sooner rather than later."

"That's all you have to say?"

"Well, um, er, yeah."

"I think you'll like the title, Jim."

"I'm waiting."

Blair lifted his head and with eyes dancing with mirth, he said, "Modern Sentinels For The Urban Tribes by Blair Sandburg."

"I -- Blair? Sentinels? As in plural?"

"It's about cops, Jim. It's about three years with you, observing you and Simon and the Cascade Police Department."

"Well damn."

*****

They were back on the ground, in the same position, Jim resting against the edge of the gravestone and doing deep breathing exercises--at Blair's suggestion.

"That's it, Jim. In, out, in, out."

"You... you--"

"Just breathe, man. Just breathe."

"When--"

"You breathe, I'll talk."

Blair rested his head back and, with his hands on Jim's arms, said, "It seemed the only solution, Jim. The whole idea of a dissertation on you seemed to scare you shitless. Every time we talked about it, or I tried to talk about it, well, it was the Fortress of Solitude, you know?

"You reeled up the drawbridge, dropped the gates, turned the electricity on the fences, and let the guard dogs out. So, being the intelligent man that I am, I changed my subject. Nearly got the boot, but hey, they love me at Rainier. Sort of. Kind of. In a 'he's a pest, but he's our pest' kind of way."

"I... I--"

"Are you breathing back there, Jim?" Blair asked as he reached for the last beer.

"I--yes, damn you. I'm fucking breathing."

"Well don't get your boxers in a bind, I was just concerned."

"I could tell, Sandburg. I could tell."

"Uh-oh. Sandburg. Why do I have this feeling we're never going to slide for home in this relationship?"

Jim grabbed the beer from Blair's hand and downed it. When he was done, he said, "We'll slide for home, Chief, have no fear. Over and over again."

"You say that now, but in reality, it'll just be the usual horny first weeks of any relationship. Grappling, rolling, fucking, finding new places to do it, new ways to do it--"

"Chief, you are... indescribable."

"Oh, like I haven't heard that before." Blair turned his head and looked for the rest of the beer, only to discover that there none left. "Okay, you drank all the beer, man!"

Jim chuckled and knocked on the side of Blair's head. "Excuse me? Who drank all the beer? I had," he waved his fingers in front of Blair's face, "two, my man. Two."

"You had at least four," Blair wiggled back.

"Two. And the second one was yours. I just finished it. So in reality, I had one and a half."

"Well, I need more." Blair started to move as he said, "Let's make a liquor run, man."

Jim tightened his hold around his partner and held him down. "I don't think so, Chief. You've had enough."

Blair's body stilled and thinking that he was relaxing, Jim loosened his grip. Blair popped up and out of Jim's arms like a Jack-in-the-box.

"Since when do you tell me when I've had enough of anything?" he asked, voice raw with sudden anger.

Jim stared up at him, mouth agape. Whoa. Where the hell?

"Look, Blair... Chief, I was just--"

"You don't anything, Jim. If I want more beer, than damn it, I'm getting more. You got that? And guess what?" he asked without waiting for either answer. "I'm going to get some. You can wait here, or come with me, but either way, more beer."

Jim rose but didn't move toward Sandburg. Instead, in a voice he might have used to a small, wounded child, he said, "What's going on, Chief? What's working in that complicated brain of yours?"

"Absolutely nothing. I. Want. More. Beer. Capice?"

"Don't make me beg, Chief. I love you and I want to know what's going on. Your body is radiating pain."

Blair went silent. Totally, completely silent. He stood there, moving from foot to foot and staring at Jim. As he stood, he moved his hands in and out of fists, and Jim had the ridiculous idea that Blair would love to hit him. He decided to go with it.

"If you want to hit me, go ahead." He turned his head so that the right side of his jaw was facing Blair. "I'll even do this," he bent at the knees, "so you don't have strain yourself trying to reach me."

Blair stopped moving. His eyes widened in shock, then his lips started twitching. "That was a low blow, man," he said, trying hard not to laugh.

"Actually, if I bend just so, and you lay one on me, it'll be a low blow. A low Sandburg blow."

"You are so lame."

"So, what, you don't want to hit me?"

The blue eyes suddenly filled. "No, Jim, I don't want to hit you. Never you. Would never--"

"Then talk to me," Jim prodded gently. Blair's gaze shifted past Jim and instinctively, the older man knew that Blair was staring at his father's grave again.

"What is it, Chief?"

Blair walked around to the front of the grassy mound and bent at the knees, forearm resting on his thigh as he regarded the marker.

"She... robbed me of my father, Jim. Do you understand?"

Jim didn't understand. Not one bit. But he would. Jim moved to Blair's side, then squatted next to him. Placing what he hoped was a comforting hand on Blair's back, Jim cajoled, "Talk to me, Chief."

"She didn't know he'd use the fact that she and... my dad were high school sweethearts. Did you know that, Jim?" Blair asked as he glanced away from his father's grave to look up at Jim.

"I think Naomi may have mentioned it when she was telling about the trial," Jim answered quietly.

"I'm pretty smart, Jim. I can add things up. I know when I had to have been conceived, that it was in September, or early October. Mom's high school was a year round school. She ran away a few months into her senior year. In early November. Do the math, man. He was her sweetheart. High school sweethearts. She runs away, has her baby, and three years later, goes to Boston and meets up with Daniel. They're still in love. She moves in with him, she's going to marry him."

Blair turned anguished eyes back to Jim. "She never planned to marry any of them, Jim. Never once. Never even thought about it. But she was going to marry Daniel."

He reached out and touched Jim's chin, then turned the older man's face so that Jim was looking at the gravestone. "You see it, don't you? 'Father of Blair'. Not to Blair, but of Blair. That was deliberate, Jim. It's not what you write when a man has acted like a father to someone, but really isn't, you know? And then there's this."

Blair reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet. With shaking fingers, Blair took out a piece of paper. As he tried to unfold it, he said, "I did some research. Found this. There was a picture of him during the trial, one that the jury saw, but I couldn't, so I went looking."

With a surprisingly tentative gesture, Blair held out the paper, his eyes pleading with Jim to take it, to open it, to confirm. Jim opened it.

"See? Look at him, Jim. I don't really look much like Mom, do I? Never have. Always knew I had to take after my father. Do I, Jim? Do I?"

There was so much emotion in Blair's voice, that Jim tore his gaze from the picture in his hand in order to look at Blair. He thought his heart would break. Blair tapped the picture and said, "I'm right, aren't I?"

It was a copy of a newspaper article about the murder, and was dated twenty-five years ago. The face looking up at Jim was a darker version of the man next to him.

Daniel Ojeda had long curly hair, full lips and a broad forehead. His chin was square. In the picture, he was wearing a white tee shirt. Jim could see the chest hair peeking out. Daniel also wore an earring in his right ear. He looked maybe--eighteen.

"It's his graduation picture. From the yearbook. Casual school, Mom always said. They used that picture when reporting the... murder."

Jim nodded at Blair's tumbled, emotion-filled words.

"You're a sentinel, Jim. You can see. I'm right, aren't I?" Blair placed his hand imploringly on Jim's arm.

Jim could focus only on the eyes. Daniel's eyes. For Jim, it was all that was needed. In spite of Daniel's eyes being dark, they were still Blair's. So very much Blair's.

Voice low and soft, Jim said, "Yes, Blair, I think this is your father. I'd know him anywhere."

Blair gave a little shake of Jim's arm. "Then you see how she robbed me, don't you?" His gaze moved back to the grassy mound. "All this time, Jim. All this time."

Blair made a choking sound that tore into Jim Ellison like a knife.

"I had a father, with a name, and I couldn't... couldn't..." Blair's eyes filled, but the tears were in his injured voice. "I couldn't hold him close, Jim. She kept him from me, and all these years--years--when I could have remembered him, loved him, talked to him; she kept him from me."

The tears were falling now as the tortured voice went on.

"I could have kept his picture in my mind, his voice in my heart. I could have shared my life, my failures and successes with him, I could have--would have--I wouldn't have been--I'm not--I HAD A FATHER! HE HAD A NAME AND HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN REMEMBERED!"

A sob broke through and Blair bent his head and quickly rubbed at his eyes. When Jim tried to hold him, Blair moved away.

"No. I'm okay.... I'm okay."

He rose and started pacing. Jim recognized the maneuver for what it was--Blair's attempt to gather himself back together. Jim was well aware of Blair's dislike of showing any real emotion to Jim.

"Blair, your mother was worried about you, about how you were dealing with what you saw that night. She talked with all the psychologists, and they all said the same thing; that you needed to remember on your own. How could she tell you that Daniel was your father?"

Blair stared at Jim, the words not registering. "What?" he asked, as he tried to understand.

"You'd repressed much of what had happened. You know that. You've probably remembered more since this whole trial thing started, right?"

At Blair's nod, Jim continued. "Come on, Chief. You were four. You witnessed a man's murder. And not just any man, but the man you knew as your daddy. You saw him fall, and you saw the blood. But when it came time to tell the police, your story almost always ended before the shots were fired. Only one man got any more out of you and even then, he got the story only once."

"Naomi let it fade, Chief. She did what all the experts told her she needed to do to keep you sane. To help you deal."

Blair was sitting cross-legged again, his body leaning into Jim's. His breathing had quieted and Jim was content to simply sit with one arm around Blair.

The afternoon had grown chilly and the sun was on its way down. Long shadows fell over the quiet cemetery now, and Daniel's grave was embraced by the shade. Blair showed no signs of wanting to get up or leave and that was fine for Jim.

"Why didn't she tell me when I was older, Jim?"

"I don't know. I think you'll have to ask her that one, Chief."

Blair placed his hand lovingly on the soft, rounded mound. "He's been so alone all this time. No one to come see him, or talk to him, or... acknowledge him. For twenty-five years, he was--"

"For twenty-nine years, Daniel Ojeda was father to and of Blair Sandburg," Jim said tenderly.

"Did he know? Did Mom tell him the truth?"

"Chief --"

"I know, I know. That's a conversation I need to have with Mom. But... I don't think I can."

"You can and you will. I know you. You can't not talk to her about this."

Blair chuckled for the first time and it was a beautiful sound. A sound that seemed to be needed in this quiet haven. "You're right, Jim."

"Always."

"Jerk."

"Always."

Eyes fixed on his father's grave, Blair said, sentinel-soft, "I love you so much, Jim, it's scary."

Smiling, Jim leaned in and with lips next to Blair's ear, he whispered, "Boo."

Blair's laughter seemed as perfect for the cemetery as his chuckles had.

They gathered their trash and the empty beer cans, then stood for a moment in the gathering dusk. Blair rested his hand on the gravestone.

"I love you, Dad. Thank you for being the father that you were. You loved me, hugged me when I needed hugs, chased me when I needed chasing, laughed with me when I needed laughter and held me when I needed to be held. I'll never forget. I promise."

Jim slid his arm around Blair's waist and together they walked back to their vehicles.

Finis


Disclaimer: All characters from The Sentinel are the property of Pet Fly Productions, Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. Characters from any other television show, movie or book are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. We believe the works contained in this archive to be transformative in nature and therefore protected under the 'fair use' provisions of copyright law.