"So, Jimbo, why am I here instead of Sandy?" Megan Connor stared idly into the darkness outside the truck. They were depending on Ellison's eyes for the stakeout, not hers; she just had to make sure he didn't blank out if he used his senses too hard -- 'zone', Sandy called it.
Jim Ellison shifted in his seat as he tried to restrain his irritation at having her here. It made no difference that Connor was doing the best she could; she just rubbed him the wrong way. Blair had instructed him firmly -- ordered him, really -- to 'play nice', but it felt wrong to have someone else in the passenger seat.
"Sandburg calls it the 'Plight of the Lowly TA'," he sighed. "Between studying for tests he needs to take himself, and grading his students' tests, he doesn't have time to sit in the dark and do nothing. Hell, he barely has time to eat and sleep; I don't know how he does it."
Megan smiled affectionately. "If we could bottle Sandy's energy, we'd be able to run crime right into the ground. But at least it's not permanent; term will be over next Thursday, right? And then you two can get back to normal."
"It would be nice," Jim said absently, as he focused more intently toward the target. "Sandburg's already making noises about developing a new syllabus for the Fall semester -- which means checking lots of sources to see what he wants to include -- and writing two papers to submit for publication. He needs to clone himself, just so he can get everything done."
"Why not just drag him out of town on one of your fishing trips? Then he'd have to take a break."
"Sometimes Sandburg gets so focused on one idea, he can't see anything different. I've already suggested a sort of mini-vacation, but he turned me down. Thought it would be real good for me and Simon and Joel to get away, though."
Megan chuckled. "Maybe you could kidnap him; just sling him over your shoulder and walk off. But I don't think Sandy would appreciate the caveman routine any more than I would."
"You got that right. Sandburg's easygoing, but he can be ferocious when he -- heads up! Our guy is on the move."
Megan squinted in the direction Jim was looking, but could distinguish only a vague area of 'slightly darker'. "You're the sentinel, mate, not me. How do you want to handle it?"
"He's on foot. I'll follow him, and you follow me. Is your phone on vibrate?"
Megan pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and made the adjustment. "It is now."
"No telling how far he'll lead us. I'll hang back far enough that he won't see me, while you follow both of us. I'll give you a call when we need backup."
"Or I'll move in if something goes wrong."
Jim gave a disgusted snort. "I'm not an amateur, Connor."
"No, you're Sandy's partner... and he'll wear steel-capped Blundstones to stomp all over anyone who lets you get hurt. I'm not taking any chances."
"Give me a break," Jim muttered. "Okay, he's far enough ahead not to see me. Stay as far back as you can, while still keeping me in sight."
He slipped out of the truck, easing the door closed behind him, and moving forward into the shadows. Megan also exited quietly, keeping her eyes on the dark figure in front of her. She wouldn't be able to let him get very far ahead... a flash of white near ground-level caught her eye; Ellison's ridiculous white socks. Her part of this moving surveillance had just gotten a little easier. She gave it a count of ten, then followed her temporary partner.
When Jim walked in at two AM, he found Blair snoring gently on the couch, his glasses askew on his face and a red pen dangling precariously from a limp hand; he'd obviously conked out in the middle of grading.
Jim shook his head ruefully; waking Blair to send him to bed would probably be counter-productive. Once awake, he was likely to go back to his grading, operating on the theory that he could override his body's need for sleep.
Working carefully but efficiently, Jim removed Blair's shoes and lifted his legs onto the couch, then pulled the glasses off his face and the pen out of his hand and set them safely on the coffee table. The final step was to pull the afghan from the back of the couch and drop it over his sleeping friend. That would hold him till morning and, hopefully, Blair would sleep in. Jim certainly intended to do just that; after all, there was a reason for Saturdays.
As he climbed the stairs and undressed for bed, Jim pondered Megan's suggestion. Kidnapping wouldn't work -- Blair would see right through any disguise he came up with -- but there had to be some way to get him away from the university stress. Blair would relax and make the best of things if he had no choice, but how to get him to that point...
Jim woke with a plan filling his mind in glorious detail. Complicated though; it would take a couple of weeks to work out, and he'd have to ask his dad for a favor and dip a bit into his savings account.
Actually, quite a bit of savings. He calculated swiftly; round-trip air for... well, two people, maybe, and one-way for four. Some out-of-the way but comfortable place for him and Blair to stay for a week. No, call it ten days; might as well enjoy as much time off as possible. Hmm... this was beginning to look suspiciously like overkill.
Jim gazed over the railing to watch Blair still sleeping on the couch, his face scrunched into the cushion and his right hand occasionally twitching as if he were grading papers even in his sleep. This was a man who had so many irons in the fire he couldn't even count them: student, teacher, sentinel researcher, guide, on-call anthropological expert for information to crack some of Cascade's more esoteric crimes, untrained but incredibly creative partner to an active cop, and... best friend.
And Blair had been juggling all those hats for the better part of three years. Not overkill so much as finally getting his due.
Having satisfactorily disposed of any possible arguments, Jim dressed and went downstairs, where he stopped in the bathroom and used the john. After showering and shaving, he moved to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, then raided the fridge. They had enough leftover this and that to make a killer super-duper deluxe omelet for two. If Blair was going to study and grade all day -- likely -- he'd do it more efficiently with a good meal under his belt.
Two Weeks Later
Blair slid his backpack off his shoulders as he approached the Volvo in the otherwise-empty parking lot. The University Library was on shortened hours during semester break, but he'd found the books he needed before they locked him out, and he'd get a lot done on his new syllabus this weekend. In fact, he'd managed to do more than he'd expected in the week since the semester had ended; Jim hadn't needed much help with his cases at the PD. It was odd for Jim to have such a light load -- he tended to grab any new case that came along if he was anywhere close to finishing a previous one -- but maybe he was closing things down for awhile to take that mini-vacation he'd talked about... and none too soon. Blair sincerely hoped Jim would take Simon along; they could both use the break, and maybe the captain would bellow a little more quietly after some time off. Blair grinned to himself; he'd be sure to point that out to Simon when he and Jim got back.
He had just tossed his backpack into the rear seat when someone crowded him from behind -- where the hell had he come from? Blair hadn't seen anyone nearby -- and jammed a gun into his ribs.
"Don't turn around, kid," a low, threatening voice said, "and put your hands on the side of the car."
"You have got to be kidding me!" Blair exclaimed bitterly, even as he obeyed the orders. "Jim's not working on anything important, and all I'm good for is anthropological information. Tell you what," he babbled as a blindfold was tied over his eyes and handcuffs snapped over his wrists -- in front of him, thankfully, "why don't you take off the cuffs, and I'll keep the blindfold on until you get out of here. No harm, no foul; I won't even try to look, and you won't have a pissed-off sen- senior detective looking for you."
His captor said nothing as Blair heard a vehicle drive up, and then he was urged forward. "Honest, you're just asking for trouble. You know about Jim Ellison, right? He won't stop till he finds me, and then you'll be in a world of hurt."
"The door's open; sit down." His captor grabbed Blair's hands and put them on the seat to give him a positional reference, then placed a protective hand on top of his head and guided him into place. Apparently this guy had watched too many cop shows -- or been on the receiving end of this procedure a few times. Blair did not find the thought reassuring.
"Relax, kid." Now his seatbelt was being buckled -- probably to make it harder for him to escape, Blair thought bitterly. "Your great Detective Ellison won't find you where you're going. We've got orders not to hurt you -- unless you give us too much grief -- so just take it easy. A couple days in custody, we get what we want, and you'll be let go. Like you said, no harm, no foul."
The guy got in from the other side and sat down beside Blair, the engine revved, and the van -- he'd had to step up to get in -- pulled smoothly away. So at least two -- the talker and the driver -- and possibly three, if there was someone in the front passenger seat. Not good odds for escape, especially in handcuffs. But maybe if he acted suitably resigned to the situation, they'd let their guard down and he'd have a chance later.
Blair relaxed against the back of the seat as the road-sound and -motion changed when they hit a major highway; apparently, they'd be going some distance. Meanwhile, he pondered the workings of the universe. Did every sentinel-and-guide pair get so much shit dumped on them, or was Jim Ellison some kind of focal point?
And how was said Jim Ellison going to find him?
Megan -- using binoculars -- and Jim stood in front of her car, watching from a distant rise as Blair was forced into the van and driven away.
"You sure you trust them with Sandy? That one bloke is awfully big," Megan observed thoughtfully.
"Hudson and Dominguez served with me for four years until I disappeared in Peru; I know them as well as I know anyone in Major Crime. They'll follow the game plan to the letter." Jim slid into the passenger seat; Megan wouldn't let him drive. "Hurry up; I need to take Sandburg's car home and hightail it to the airport. They'll backtrack and circle to let me get there ahead of them, but I can't waste any time."
"Sandy will be mad as a cut snake when you tell him it was a fake kidnapping -- and that he spent almost seven hours worried about you and afraid for his life."
Jim chuckled. "I thought you knew him better than that, Connor. His heartbeat is at an alert level, but he isn't particularly frightened. The guys won't make any death threats, just tell Sandburg that he's being held for a few days. He's already planning an escape; I can almost hear the wheels turning. Fortunately, both men are experienced in controlling prisoners."
Megan pulled up beside Blair's car and turned a curious eye toward Jim. "You can still hear his heartbeat... even from this distance?"
"I'm good, but not that good." Jim showed her the wireless earpiece, then returned it to his ear. "There's a radio-transmitter hanging behind the front seat. Blair won't see it, and I can listen in and call a halt if things get out of hand."
"You better," she said, darkly. "If Sandy gets hurt..." She left the threat unfinished. "If it was two of us scarpering off with him, we'd be sure he was okay."
Jim grinned at her as he climbed out of the car. "You just want a chance at a paid trip to Hawaii," he pointed out. "Even if no one talked -- and it's kind of hard to give orders that way -- and you kept his blindfold on, he'd figure out who had him. This way it stays a complete surprise."
"You're a boof-head. You could have just asked the man; this is a crappy way to start a holiday. But I suppose Sandy'll have fun... after he kills you for your shenanigans."
"We'll bring back postcards to taunt you," Jim promised as he started the Volvo. "See you in twelve days, Connor."
He sped away, jauntily waving from the window... just to rub it in, Megan was quite sure. Jimbo was like a big kid, planning this 'operation'. Still, he already seemed more relaxed than she'd ever known him... and if anyone deserved a flash holiday, it was those two. She put her car in gear and headed back toward the PD; some people still had to work.
After an interminable drive -- it was damned boring to travel without being able to watch the passing landscape, and no conversation to distract him -- the van turned off the main road; their speed was slower and the pavement was rougher. A shorter interminable time later, Blair tensed as his mind caught up with the input his ears were giving him. Planes -- lots of them -- landing and taking off. Shit! Being taken away from the city was bad enough; if he disappeared into the wide blue yonder, Jim might never find him.
Blair made swift plans as the van rolled to a stop. He doubted an escape attempt would be successful, but maybe if he created enough of an uproar, there'd be someone close enough to notice and intervene. At least he'd be doing something, instead of going quietly like a lamb to slaughter.
The engine was shut off, and the driver's door opened and slammed shut. No sound from the passenger side; good, he'd only have to contend with two men. Blair flinched as, without warning, a hand was fumbling against his hip.
"Sorry, kid; didn't mean to startle you," the man beside him said as he unbuckled Blair's seatbelt. "Hang on a sec; I'll come around and help you out."
The other door snicked open; this was his chance. Blair quietly drew in a deep, centering breath. Wait for it; wait... With the shifting of the seat cushion that indicated the man was unbalanced, half in the car and half on the ground, Blair shoved his blindfold to his forehead, pulled open the door and launched himself outward. Hangar ahead -- maybe there'd be someone there who wasn't involved in this insanity.
He'd managed barely half-a-dozen steps when he was tackled from the side. Blair felt the breath knocked out of him, and he was going down, but his assailant twisted so that Blair landed on top of the other man's body. Huh? Ignoring the possible reasons for such a painless takedown, Blair slammed an elbow into the man's gut and scrambled upward -- only to be caught by the other guy. Big guy, even bigger than Simon; a damn giant. But it didn't slow him down; the giant easily spun Blair around and simply lifted him off his feet, so that his twisting and wriggling and attempts to kick were completely ineffective.
He threw his head back, trying to slam into the giant's nose, but only hit his chest; the man was so tall that, even though Blair's feet couldn't reach the ground, his head didn't even come up to the giant's chin. Damn! It ought to be illegal to grow that big.
Only one option left. Blair filled his lungs as deeply as he could, considering the iron bands masquerading as arms that were clenched tight around his torso, and gave it everything he had. "HE-E-E-L-L-LP!" he shouted. "Call the POLICE! I'm being KIDNAPPED! HE-E-E-L-L-LP!"
The giant simply chuckled as he pulled the blindfold over Blair's eyes again, then turned and started walking. "Shout all you want, kid. Everyone who can hear you has already been paid off. You're too important for the boss to leave anything to chance."
Now Blair was being carried up some steps -- he heard the metal clattering of the rolling stairs that were used when a plane didn't have access to an airport gangway -- and then the air, sound, and smells changed as they entered the plane. After a few more steps forward, the giant set Blair on his feet, then guided him to sit down.
"I told you we won't hurt you," the giant was saying as he buckled Blair's seatbelt. "If the way Carlos was so careful in taking you down doesn't prove that, I don't know what will. Good move with that elbow-strike, by the way. Carlos's gonna be feeling that for awhile, and if I hadn't-a been there, you might've gotten away."
Yeah, right, Blair thought bitterly. He flinched as a hand grasped his ankle, then he felt a metal band circling it, and heard the 'snick' as it was locked.
"Okay, kid, you're all set." A giant hand patted his knee, then he heard the 'whoosh' of the seat cushion across the aisle. "Your shackle is chained to the floor, so don't try running again; you'll just end up flat on your face. I'll take off your blindfold and handcuffs after we've leveled off; it's a long flight, and the boss wants you to be comfortable."
Blair heard the door close behind him, then the engines engaged and they were taxiing to -- a position in the take-off lineup, he supposed. He sagged in his seat as despair almost overwhelmed him. He hoped that his 'comfort' wouldn't be equivalent to the condemned man's last meal; right now, his situation certainly didn't seem overly encouraging.
'Jim, I don't know how you'll do it, but please find me!' he whispered deep in his heart. Maybe, if Jim's spirit animal was on duty, he'd get the message. Blair couldn't think of any other option.
Jim watched the escape attempt from the cockpit. Although he flinched when Dominguez used a flying tackle to nab Blair again, that protective roll made it probably the gentlest takedown he'd ever seen. Jim winced, then smiled with pride. Dominguez was a good man, and didn't deserve the elbow-strike, but Blair's short stature made too many people underestimate him; he was stronger and scrappier than expected, especially when the odds were against him. He might even have completed his escape if Hudson hadn't been on hand to grab him.
Hudson had carried Blair through the hatch; now it was a matter of waiting their turn to take off. After a quick word with the pilot and co-pilot, Jim entered the cabin, closing the cockpit door behind him.
He glanced at the temporary partition that had been built to separate the cabin into two compartments, making a quick check that the connecting door was securely closed. It would be, of course -- Dominguez was a stickler for detail, and had never let his Captain down -- but Jim couldn't not check. Satisfied, he sat in one of the luxuriant leather chairs scattered around the area and smiled at the women cozily settled on the sectional sofa that filled one corner. He'd met Emily Hudson and Magdalena Dominguez for the first time last week; their husbands had been part of his squad before he went into Special Ops, but they had met and married their wives while he was living with the Chopec. Visually, the ladies appeared to be complete opposites. Magdalena was as tall as her husband, with an athletic build and long, dark hair. Emily, with a cap of short blonde curls, also sturdy but barely five-foot-four, seemed positively tiny when she was beside her husband. The women seemed similar in attitude, however, both approaching the world with easy acceptance and general good humor. Right now, they looked like excited teenagers at their first school dance, enjoying the opulence with open appreciation, and nibbling on the selection of fruit and candy that decorated the coffee table in front of them.
"Well, ladies, the pilot tells me we'll be taking off in about fifteen minutes. Are you both okay? Have you checked out the rest of our provisions?" He nodded toward a well-stocked serving cart resting against the forward bulkhead. "If there's anything else you need, I'll send the co-pilot back to get it before we're in the air."
Magdalena giggled and shared a look with Emily; like their husbands, the women were long-time friends. "You hire Pete and Carlos for a few hours' work and pay them with free trips to Hawaii, and a place to stay! And you include us in the deal. What on earth could we need on top of that?"
Emily nodded confirmation of her friend's words. "Neither of us had a real honeymoon when we married our guys; you know what it's like getting time off when you're in the Army. For an opportunity like this, we'd ride steerage and eat bread and water on the trip; I think we can make do with smoked salmon and cream-puff pastries."
Jim chuckled. "The menu was my father's doing. I don't often ask him for a favor; he was tickled to be able to help me out, and went a little overboard. But it's in a good cause."
"Just to get your friend to take a vacation?" Magdalena asked. "Surely there would be an easier way... although I should shut up before you reconsider and cancel the flight." She giggled again, and mimed zipping her mouth.
"You don't know Sandburg; if he's decided something is for the 'best', it takes dynamite -- or a kidnapping -- to move him. All of this --" Jim gestured to their well-appointed surroundings, "-- was easier to arrange than getting him to change his mind about working straight through his summer break."
Emily shook her head fondly. "I know the type; Pete's just like that. But Mr. Sandburg surely won't like being treated as a prisoner till we land. I mean, I know Pete and Carlos won't hurt him, but... well..." She glanced doubtfully at the closed door between the cabins. "It just seems an uncomfortable way to start a vacation."
"Actually, Sandburg's kind of an old hand at being kidnapped." Jim chuckled again as both women's jaws dropped. "And your husbands know what to do. In a little while, they'll take off the blindfold and handcuffs, and Sandburg will have food and some movement in the cabin. Not salmon and pastries -- he'd get suspicious if Pete and Carlos were too nice to him -- but good enough."
He paused as the plane turned, the engines revved, and the plane gathered speed down the runway. Moments later, the plane banked, heading out over the ocean. Jim unbuckled his seatbelt, and moved to the serving cart. "Next stop, Hawaii. May I offer you ladies a drink?"
Blair felt the plane bank onto a new heading for wherever-the-hell-they-were-going and pondered karma as it applied to one Blair Sandburg. What had he done in some past life that he was paying for? The worst part of it was that whatever happened to him spilled out to other people; how would Jim handle his senses without Blair's support? Of course, Megan knew what to do -- in theory -- and she could help Jim avoid zoning. On the other hand, if Jim's senses were spiking, her best efforts were generally ineffective, despite following every coaching suggestion Blair had tried to teach her. Blair was reasonably sure it wasn't Megan; she'd make a pretty good guide for a sentinel... as long as it wasn't Jim. He still retained a faint -- and sometimes not so faint -- edge of antagonism toward Megan whenever he had to work with her. It definitely affected his responses to her attempts to guide him, just when he most needed the help.
And any problems Jim might have with his senses would probably get worse as time went on. Blair's captors had said he'd be let go in 'a couple of days', but that didn't square with an airplane flight; why go to so much trouble and expense just to turn around and repeat it two -- or even three or four -- days later? And when -- or if -- he was let go, would he be within reach of Cascade? Or, worse, within reach of a way to get to Cascade?
That way lay madness, Blair decided. Better to get his captors talking; they might let something slip.
"Hey!" he called. "Feels like we're level; you said you'd take off the handcuffs and blindfold."
"Yeah, the boss said you wouldn't sit quiet for very long." Blair couldn't hear footsteps over the noise of the plane, but then the voice was right next to him. "Hold out your hands."
A moment later the cuffs were removed, and Blair pulled the blindfold over his head and looked around. His jaw dropped. He'd assumed 'the boss' must be wealthy to hire a private plane, but this was... sumptuous. His body was nestled deep in a wide, cushiony seat covered in butter-soft leather. Two pair faced each other, spaced so far apart that even Simon could have stretched his legs to full extension without hitting another seat. On the other side of the cabin was a sofa, decorated with plush pillows, and long enough to sleep on. The place was a flying palace.
Blair turned his gaze toward the two men watching him and evaluated them. The big guy really was a giant, easily six-foot-six and built like a linebacker; he was watching Blair with relaxed hazel eyes under sandy hair, and a wry grin on his broad, friendly face. Blair would have tagged him immediately as a 'good guy' and been happy to meet him... if he weren't part of a pair of kidnappers.
The other guy was smaller, about Henri's height, but built like a greyhound, lean and muscular; Blair had direct confirmation of his speed and strength. His eyes and hair were dark, and his gaze more cautious than his partner's but, in other circumstances, Blair would also have pegged him as one of the 'good guys'. Maybe he'd have to get his people-meter recalibrated.
When in doubt, negotiate, obfuscate, but above all, keep talking. "Listen, are you sure you've got the right man? I mean..." he waved at the sumptuous surroundings, "I don't think either Jim or I have gotten on the wrong side of anyone this rich; your boss wouldn't like it if you bring him the wrong man."
"Blair Sandburg, Teaching Fellow at Rainier University, ABD, observer and sort-of partner to Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes Division." The big man recited it like a well-learned lesson. His smaller partner spoke up for the first time to prove he had also done his homework. "You're well-liked at the University, popular with most of the personnel at the PD, and never lack for dating opportunities. You're a good poker player, inventive at self-defense," he touched his stomach with a rueful grimace, "and, when given the opportunity, never stop talking."
"Well, that certainly sounds like me," Blair acknowledged. "But maybe your boss mixed me up with whoever he really wants. I'm telling you, me and money like this -- we're so far apart that we aren't even in waving distance."
"The boss isn't wealthy himself," the giant admitted, "but he's... got connections. You're the right guy, so you might as well resign yourself to the idea that you're along for the whole ride."
Blair sighed. Yeah, might as well. "So, you know my name; what do I call you? Frick and Frack? Mutt and Jeff? David and Goliath?"
"Only if I get to be Goliath," the smaller guy said, while his giant friend snorted. They shared a glance, then the bigger guy shrugged.
"Can't hurt. I'm Pete, he's Carlos."
"Well, Pete, Carlos... can't say I'm exactly pleased to know you, but thanks. So now what? How long is 'the whole ride'?"
His captors exchanged glances again. "A few hours," Carlos said, noncommittally.
"A few hours?" Blair's voice rose in outrage. "And what? I'm supposed to just sit here and twiddle my thumbs? And just how many hours is 'a few'?"
"That information is need-to-know, and you don't," Pete told him. Funny; that tone of voice sounded a lot like Jim's when he was being similarly non-communicative. "It's not like you're in chains. Well..." he glanced at Blair's ankle and his lips twitched. "Not in a dungeon, anyway, and you'll find your -- tether -- is long enough that you can move around a bit. We have reading materials," he pointed to a shelf over the sofa, "and food." That gesture indicated a serving cart at the end of the sofa, piled with sandwiches, fruit, and carafes of whatever. "We'll even eat and drink what you do, to prove it's not drugged."
Blair eyed the serving cart with due consideration. "Well, I did miss lunch," he said thoughtfully.
"Say no more," Pete said, as Carlos brought the serving cart close enough for Blair to examine and choose from its contents. "And when we're finished --" From a shallow drawer under the sofa, he produced a deck of cards with a flourish worthy of a magician. "-- how about a hand or two of poker?"
Carlos handed his partner a sandwich, while Blair grabbed another from the same plate -- tuna on whole wheat. "Don't pay attention to him, kid. Pete's damn good; it'd be a shame for him to be censured for extorting money from our... guest."
Blair kept his surprise to himself. There were rules for the treatment of prisoners? Maybe among the police or military, but he'd never heard of such a thing among kidnappers. And -- 'extorted'? 'Censured'? Those terms certainly didn't fit the image of a band of criminals, of whatever flavor. These guys hadn't threatened him or made bombastic proclamations about the rightness of their particular cause, and they had treated him like a person instead of a tool -- or a pawn. In short, this wasn't like any kidnapping he'd ever experienced, or even heard of, and Pete and Carlos were acting suspiciously un-criminal-like. Maybe he could allow himself to relax a little... at least for the next 'few hours'. It wasn't like he could bail out at several thousand feet in the air.
Aloud, he said, "Don't let this boy-next-door façade fool you; I've taken my share of poker pots over the years. On the other hand, my wallet is in my backpack which, last time I saw it, was in the back seat of my Volvo." He reached into the pocket of his jeans, fished out a few stray coins, and made a show of counting them. "With a stake of eighty-seven cents, I don't think it'll be much of a game."
"What, you've never played for peanuts?" His eyes crinkling with humor, Pete handed Blair a large can of 'Gourmet Honey-Roasted Peanut Halves and Wholes'. "I think we've got enough here for several games."
Blair nodded, and swallowed before he spoke; the sandwich was excellent. In fact, it was one of his favorites from Dominic's Delicatessen, and if it hadn't come from there, he'd eat his shirt instead of the sandwich; Dominic's recipes for his sandwich mixtures were unduplicated by any other establishment and kept secret, known only to his family. And Jim, of course; teasing apart the ingredients had been one of Blair's early tests for his sense of taste. Blair glanced at the other plates; Philly steak, egg salad, and meatball subs were also staples on Dominic's menu. He'd have to taste them to be sure, but it was another point to add to the 'not the usual kind of kidnapping' column.
"You're on. I've experienced a severe shortage of peanuts lately; I'll be happy to relieve you of some of your no doubt ill-gotten gains." Blair reached for one of the carafes, discovered piping-hot coffee, and poured himself a cup.
Carlos groaned as he reached for one of the Philly steak sandwiches. "That's all I need, to sit in a game with two sharks instead of one. At least I can afford to lose peanuts."
"Yeah, yeah, you're so put-upon," Pete told his partner. "Ignore his whining," he advised Blair. "Carlos can hold his own with anyone in our --" He caught himself sharply, and finished with a lame, "-- group."
Blair wondered what term Pete had avoided. 'Team'? 'Unit'? 'Squad'? He was increasingly convinced that these guys were not the hired thugs they pretended to be. In which case, there were worse ways to spend an afternoon; sitting -- literally -- in the lap of luxury and passing the time with conversation and a good game of poker. And maybe one of them would let something else slip, to help confirm Blair's half-formed hypothesis about this abduction.
"I'm game," he said cheerfully, while reaching for one of the Philly steak sandwiches. "Just as soon as we finish lunch."
The afternoon passed in a sort of timeless Limbo. Most of the window shades were pulled down -- and stayed down, on specific orders from Pete -- preventing Blair from gaining any clues about the terrain they were flying over. The forward shades were left up, which provided some natural light, but Blair's leg chain didn't reach that far; all he could see was blue sky and the occasional cumulonimbus.
At least Pete and Carlos had abandoned most of the 'abductor' attitude, and become pleasant traveling companions. The three of them didn't so much play poker as dabble at it; betting was low-key, and the action frequently paused as they shared tales of past exploits. As Blair had thought, both Pete and Carlos were ex-military -- they wouldn't say which branch -- and each tried to top the other in recounting various off-duty capers in non-specific parts of the world. Blair suspected some of the stories were creatively enhanced -- training goats to race with monkey jockeys? -- but he easily countered with the peculiarities of undergraduate students, and adventures from his various expeditions. There was no need for Pete and Carlos to know that some of those escapades had happened to Blair's colleagues.
Despite the casual play, Blair had pulled considerably ahead -- a good handful of peanuts -- when they were interrupted by the pilot's announcement. "Prepare for landing; estimated time of arrival in twenty minutes. Please ensure that all loose items are safely stowed."
Carlos groaned as he tossed his final hand on the table. "Well, that's it. Not that I could have taken that pile away from you, but I was sure this hand was a winner." He began storing leftover food and drinks in locking compartments of the serving table.
"Not gonna happen; the kid's good," Pete said with a grin as he swept the cards and magazines into the drawer under the sofa. Then he sobered as he faced Blair directly. "Sorry, Professor; I'm gonna have to cuff and blindfold you again."
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" Blair exclaimed. "I promise you, I understand that I'm far enough from home that trying to make a break would be an exercise in futility. If you leave them off, I'll be a model prisoner." Until I see a chance to take off, he concluded silently.
Pete shook his head as he approached with the handcuffs. "No can do; the boss's orders are specific. It won't be much longer," he added as he closed the cuffs around Blair's wrists and tied the blindfold firmly around his head. "We'll be taking a car for the last part of the trip, and then you won't have to see us again."
Blair slumped deeper into his seat. "I appreciate the attempt, Pete, but that's not a whole lot of comfort right now."
The engine noise deepened and Blair felt the pressure as the plane descended for landing. He was not looking forward to meeting 'the boss'. Maybe he'd be lucky and the man would have died before Pete and Carlos delivered him to wherever. Right now, that looked like the only way he'd get out of this.
Blair sighed as Carlos -- even blindfolded, he could feel the difference in the bulk between him and Pete -- helped him into another vehicle, this time a car. At least the seat was comfortable, he thought as he leaned back when the car started moving along a smooth road, but he was getting damned tired of being hauled around willy-nilly every time a two-bit thug thought having a hostage was automatic protection from police retaliation. On the other hand, as kidnappings went, this was by far the easiest one he'd ever participated in. No bombastic threats, no injuries, good food, good company, comfortable travel arrangements... He'd like to put in a request that all future abductions would follow the same pattern. But if he had his druthers, he'd go with 'never again will Blair Sandburg be a hostage'.
He sighed again; this was boring. Pete and Carlos had reverted to their pre-plane silence; they didn't respond to a single one of his remarks, questions, or opinions. And with the blindfold on, he had no visual clues; they could be anywhere from Alexandria to Zanzibar. Hell, for all Blair knew, the plane had circled and they were back in Cascade.
The car turned, then traveled at a slower pace. Narrow road? Approaching their destination? Blair hoped so; he really couldn't plan anything until he knew what was going on. And he couldn't help but wonder who 'the boss' was, and what he wanted with Blair.
The car finally pulled to a smooth stop and the engine shut off. The driver -- Pete -- got out and shut the door firmly. Blair leaned to the side, expecting Carlos to unbuckle his seatbelt again, but he said, "Relax. Pete has to check with the boss, make sure everything's ready. It'll be a few minutes."
'Everything's ready'? Oh, that didn't sound good. Maybe all the easy-peasy 'we won't hurt you' camaraderie was just to soften him up for the kill. Blair winced, and hoped the gods wouldn't take his thoughts literally. He wondered if maybe the Fates could ensure that 'the boss' would never be ready. In fact, it would be outstanding if 'the boss' suddenly decided he didn't need a hostage any more, and told Pete and Carlos to turn Blair loose. That would be good. Very good. As long as he wasn't in the middle of the Sahara, he could hike to some kind of civilization. Then all he had to do was find a phone; one call and Jim would be on his way to end this travesty of human interaction.
Carlos shifted. "Pete's coming. Hold still; I'm gonna unbuckle your seatbelt."
They must have timed it. Just as Blair was loose, the door opened; with Pete standing right there, there was no sense in making another escape attempt. He accepted Pete's guiding hand on his elbow and moved forward with the other man --
-- only to stop short after a very few steps. Blair's senses weren't as good as Jim's -- they couldn't be -- but in working with the sentinel, he had learned to pay attention to what he could learn from other input. Right now, he didn't even have to strain to realize he wasn't in Cascade, unless 'the boss' was holed up in the Botanical Gardens. There were flowers growing nearby, many different varieties; the various scents mingled without competing, so strong that he could almost taste their nectar in the air. And there seemed to be as many birds calling as there must be flowers growing. Some he recognized -- there was a mockingbird, and there a house finch -- but most were completely new to him. If 'the boss' chose to live in such a paradise, maybe he wouldn't be such a bad guy.
On the other hand, Hector Carrasco had loved his daughter and grown prize-winning orchids as a hobby.
Pete had waited while Blair evaluated, but now nudged him forward again; soon enough he was being guided up a few steps and walking across a wooden floor. Blair heard a door open; he was guided through and, a few steps later, wooden floor gave way to a softer surface underfoot.
"Right here, Professor," Pete said. Blair stopped walking when he did, and then Pete was unlocking his handcuffs and pulling off the blindfold. "The boss wants you to look around for a few minutes before you meet him. Keep your nose clean and you'll be okay."
With those ominous words Pete was out the door, and Blair was surveying his new surroundings. On the surface the place could be mistaken for a 'rustic cabin', but the details proclaimed, 'High-End Resort'. The polished hardwood flooring was graced by a large woven mat in the center -- palm fronds, he thought -- and the cozy-looking wicker and bamboo furniture was enhanced with thick, colorful cushions. One wall was dominated by a full entertainment system -- large TV, stereo, and even a laptop. The opposite wall... wow!
Blair was stopped short in his clinical evaluation, standing in breathless admiration of sheer beauty. The huge picture window framed a vista of lush vegetation, trees, vines and bushes showcasing a riotous profusion of flowers. Within a short distance -- this cabin must be on a hill -- the land dropped away to give a view of the ocean, shining bright blue, far different from the grayer waters seen from Cascade. This place definitely met the criteria for 'Paradise'.
But even Paradise had a snake. Pete and Carlos were out of sight; maybe he could hightail it before 'the boss' showed up. Blair crossed to the outer door and had just turned the knob when a voice spoke behind him.
"Leaving so soon, Chief?"
Blair spun, and simply stared. Jim was standing in an archway that led to a short hall. He crossed his arms and cocked his head with a casual air, a broad grin on his face.
"Y'know, most people would look forward to a vacation in Hawaii," Jim continued. "I'm a bit disappointed that you'd want to walk away from it."
Blair prided himself on his flexibility and capacity to go with the flow, but he was having trouble processing this. "Jim? What are you doing here? I mean -- you're 'the boss'?" He quickly made the connection. "Let me guess; Pete and Carlos were in one of your units."
Jim chuckled as he moved into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Got it in one, Chief. But if they'd referred to me as 'Captain', it would've given the game away. You want a beer?" He pulled out two bottles as Blair walked forward in a daze, accepted one of the beers, and settled in a large comfortable chair, never taking his eyes from his friend.
"But... how? Why?" Blair sputtered.
"'Why' is easy; you were so determined to work through the summer that the only way I could get you out of Cascade was to kidnap you. 'How' wasn't much harder. Dad was happy to lend his corporate jet, and one of the vice-presidents has a time-share in these cabins; letting me use them for a couple of weeks got him big points with his boss. Add some incidental money from my savings and, voilá! We have the next ten days in Hawaii -- sun, sand, surf, native culture... take your pick."
"My pick? What's in it for you?"
Jim shrugged, with another easy grin. "I figured my best friend would share; I choose five days of activities, and you choose five. Every other day work for you?"
"I suppose your days will be surfing and golf," Blair said with a snicker. "And then some golf and surfing?"
"I can have you looking like a pro inside a few hours," Jim promised. "Haven't you always wanted to say you surfed in Hawaii?"
"Y'know, I really have," Blair agreed, his eyes twinkling. "And I'm sure you've always wanted to visit the State Museum of Cultural and Natural History, and listen to the legends of a native Kahuna... if he'll talk to a haole."
"Sounds like a blast. Although maybe I should keep my cop vibes away from the Kahuna, and go fishing or surfing while you talk."
Blair snickered again. After the worry about meeting 'the boss', relief brought snickering very close to the surface, and easily released. He took a swallow of beer before he said, "I figured you'd find a way to get out of talking to any kind of shaman-figure. But you'll have to catch enough for a good fish-fry."
"Count on it. But since that's at least a couple of days off, I think it's time to head out for some grub. It's late for Cascade, and those sandwiches were awhile ago."
"Those...? You were on the plane!" Blair accused. "Where? There wasn't room to hide."
Jim's expression proclaimed his virtue. "Sandburg, I'm hurt. You wouldn't expect me to take a commercial flight while you flew Executive Express. Magdalena and Emily and I were cozy and comfortable on the other side of the bulkhead. What you saw didn't lead to the cockpit; it split the cabin in half."
"Well I wondered why I was chained in the back half of the space. It wasn't like I'd try to jump out during the flight." He shot Jim an admiring glance. "Sneaky, man."
"Tactical, Chief, not sneaky; I was Covert Ops."
Blair shrugged. "Potato, potahto. And tell me about 'Magdalena and Emily'. Pretty?"
"Very. Also married -- Magdalena Dominguez and Emily Hudson." At Blair's blank look, he added, "Carlos and Pete? Your kidnappers?"
"You brought their wives to a kidnapping? Granted, I don't know the ins and outs of the criminal underworld, but that sounds a little hinky."
"Only from your end. From their end, it's payment for services rendered -- free flight to Hawaii, and a cabin for each couple, for ten days. The ladies were suitably impressed with my dedication to giving my best friend a vacation... and really looking forward to having belated honeymoons here."
Blair stared with raised eyebrow. "Jim Ellison; who'd-a thunk? Closet romantic softy."
Jim's level gaze dared Blair to contradict him. "Merely practical. I could hardly expect my men to do their best work if their wives knew they'd gone to Hawaii without them."
"Oh, yeah; I'm sure those two -- Pete especially -- are severely henpecked, and need the protection of their former captain." Jim nodded his confirmation, failing to suppress the quirk of his lips. "Okay, I'll give you that one, but you're not off the hook. You could've just said 'Hawaii', and I'd've put down my books. I mean, kidnapping is completely over the top, even for a gung-ho ex-Ranger. How did you even concoct such a plan --"
"Sandburg! Dinner! Magdalena and Emily want to meet you, and their husbands are pretty nice guys when they're not holding someone prisoner."
Blair paused, his rant barely begun. Jim's eyes were so hopeful... and, really, it was kind of stupid to complain about being in Hawaii for the next ten days.
"You're right," he acknowledged. "And I guess I really should offer Pete and Carlos a formal 'thanks'. That really was the best abduction I've ever had."
"I'm kind of hoping it's the last one you'll ever have," Jim said as he ushered Blair toward the door.
"I'm down with that," Blair agreed, fervently. He paused on the veranda to take another long look at the area. The sun was setting, casting shadows that birds flitted though as they headed to roost, while highlighting the jeweled tones of the blossoms that were closing for the night. In all of his travels, he'd never seen a lovelier view. "Jim?" he said quietly.
"You're welcome, buddy." Jim slung his arm over Blair's shoulders and, together, they headed out to dinner -- and the beginning of what promised to be a spectacular vacation, made even better by being shared with a true friend.
http://www.aaanativearts.com/tribes-by-states/hawaii_tribes.htm This site is where I found the definition / description of Kahuna: "Below the chiefs in temporal power, but often far above them in spiritual power, were the kahuna, or priest craftsmen. They were specialists in professions such as canoe-building, medicine, the casting and lifting spells, and in other fields."