Jim stormed out of the kitchen with Mulroney close on his heels. Blair and Harry were playing gin rummy on the coffee table, killing time until Blair could take the stack of clothes, blankets, and towels down to Jack. "Sandburg! Take Harry into the bedroom and watch out for him. Wait until my say-so. We need to get out of here."
"Huh? What's happened? It's not because of Jack, is it?" Blair stood and grabbed his backpack.
"No. But our position's been compromised." Jim checked to make sure his gun was fully loaded. "Rafe! Dills! We need to evacuate!"
"Oh, man." Blair stopped long enough to grab his Cree fishing spear over by the inner safehouse door, then he headed into the bedroom Harry was using.
Humiston seemed to hesitate. Mulroney nodded his head in Blair's direction, so Humiston followed.
A shrill ringing of a cellphone pierced the air. Since Simon's instructions had been "no cellphones," for his detectives, Jim automatically turned to Mulroney.
The agent removed a small cellphone from an inner pocket. "Mulroney." He paused a moment, then handed it to Jim.
"Ellison," Jim snapped out, hating to waste the time.
"Jim, it's Simon." The relief in Simon's voice was palpable.
"Captain, our location has been compromised --"
"We know. Mulroney's high school ring?"
"Yeah, it's got a homing device." Jim moved into the unrenovated exterior part of the house and stopped in front of a window, looking out through one of the relatively clean patches of glass. "How'd you know?"
"Ellison?" Mulroney stepped up beside him.
Jim raised his hand to silence Mulroney, tilting his head as he listened. The crunch of footsteps in the woods outside was either Branca's men, or the cavalry.
Simon's voice blared out of the phone, causing Jim to wince. "We arrested the owner of the jewelry store where Mulroney had it cleaned -- he was one of Branca's men. But don't worry, the cavalry's on its way."
"Sir, about that cavalry... How soon?"
"We're on the road, almost to the campgrounds."
"Damn." Jim threw a glance at Mulroney. "We've got company, and not the good kind."
"Damnit, Jim," came Simon's voice. "How many?"
"What? Can you see them?" Mulroney asked.
Jim nodded. Fact was, he couldn't see them from his position, but he could hear their approach. Two were walking straight up the path, while two more were approaching from the east, moving slowly through the brush. All footsteps were heavy and brisk, and Jim figured their visitors were all male.
"There are four of them," Jim said, turning to the agent. "They think they've got the element of surprise, and we can use that to our advantage." He spoke once again into the phone. "Sir, I need to hang up now. Get here as fast as you can."
"We'll be at the campsite in minutes."
Jim hung up the phone and handed it back to Mulroney. "Go get Sandburg and the witness --"
Rafe and Dills appeared in the hallway.
"Jim, what's going on?" Dills asked, his eyes wide with concern. He was still relatively new to Major Crime and hadn't seen as much action as the others.
"We've got four of Branca's men approaching. Cavalry's on its way. We're wasting time here, guys!"
His ears told him the two men coming up the path were now very close. They were running. He glanced out the window and could see them as two dark shadows crouched behind a cluster of trees. His sensitive vision penetrated the darkness, and he could make out the details of their faces. Both were young, and both carried large automatic weapons.
"Shit, no time," Jim said, turning around and drawing his firearm. "Two are in front. Two more approaching. Dills, stay here. Guard Humiston and Sandburg; they're in the west bedroom. Rafe, Mulroney, you're with me. We're going to throw our own little surprise party. Come on."
Jim took off toward the kitchen with Mulroney and Rafe close behind. If the men got to the house, the only armed resistance they'd meet was Dills, not exactly a fair fight. One against four.
There was no way Jim was going to let that happen. He opened the basement door and hurried down the stairs.
"Wait! Wait!" Mulroney looked panicked. "We can't... what about Jack?"
Hell. Now Frank cares about some homeless guy? Jim turned around and pulled the basement door shut, bolting it from the basement side. "Satisfied?" he asked Mulroney. Mulroney nodded.
"Jim," Rafe's voice came from behind him, "where are we going?"
"I saw the bulkhead from the basement earlier." He reached the bottom and glanced at their indigent guest huddled on his blankets in the corner. "Stay here."
Jack nodded. Mulroney looked at him for a moment and offered his own advice. "Lock the bulkhead after us -- tightly, okay? Then go into that darker corner over there --" he pointed "-- and take your blankets. Hide completely beneath them and don't move, okay?"
Jack nodded nervously, wringing his hands.
"Over here." Jim stopped at another, smaller flight of stairs that led up to the bulkhead doors. He unlocked them, stopping to listen before he stepped out. "All clear."
"How can you tell?" Mulroney asked.
Jim didn't have time to play the obfuscation game with the rest of his senses, so he opened the door and slipped into the night. "Come on," he whispered.
The crisp air stung his cheeks and penetrated his jacket, but he pushed aside the discomfort and turned to his two companions. Both had their guns drawn. "Mulroney, this is the way I think we should play it. I've got the sight advantage on you two, so I'm going to get into position to keep an eye on the two men approaching."
"Where are they?" whispered Rafe.
"About two hundred feet in front of the house, hiding behind some trees. There are two more coming from the east. They'll likely attack as one, so the two in front will be waiting for their companions. You two sneak around the two closest ones, and I'm going to intercept the two approaching. Think you can handle it?"
Mulroney nodded. "Just point us in the direction."
Jim nodded, moving closer to the house and flattening against the side as he peeked around the corner. His ears already told him the two close men were holding their positions. "Right there," he pointed, and Mulroney and Rafe both ducked and moved closer to the house, peering around him. "See the two trees there? The left one's leaning to the right?"
"Yeah," Rafe said. "Looks like a praying mantis?"
Both men looked at him.
"You know," he said, putting his arms in front of him in a gesture of prayer. "The two branches that --"
Jim nodded. "Right. That one. Your two marks are right near that tree. Can either of you imitate a whippoorwill?"
Mulroney and Rafe nodded, confused.
"Good. When I've neutralized the two men on the move, I'll make like a whippoorwill. If you've gotten your two secured, answer. If not, I'll hurry to assist. You should have your two taken care of before I get both of the approaching ones. Just sit tight until you hear my whippoorwill."
Mulroney nodded. "We can handle it, Ellison."
"Watch yourself out there, Jim," Rafe said, puckering and unpuckering his lips as he seemed to silently practice his bird calling techniques.
"Of course." Jim flashed a faint smile. "Now go. And, Rafe?"
"Watch where you step." He pointed to Rafe's dress shoes. "Those things aren't meant for sneaking."
With a final nod, Jim crouched low and circled around the back of the house, keeping his ears tuned to the two men approaching from the east. They were having a hard time making their way through the wild brush, and that was to his advantage. The Peruvian jungle made this wilderness look like a well-kept park by comparison.
In addition to the footsteps of the two approaching visitors, he heard Mulroney and Rafe's footsteps moving slowly but steadily away from the house toward the two unsuspecting men hiding in the trees.
It took him only a few minutes to reach his targets. He stopped a few feet ahead, hiding himself in a thick patch of bush, his gun ready. He waited, tracking them visually. He was now close enough that the brush didn't completely obstruct his line of sight, and he watched them stumbling through the darkness. They didn't have night vision goggles, but the moon was full, providing enough light for even a normal-sighted person to see, albeit with difficulty.
Jim waited until they were right on top of him, then sprang, hitting the closest one first with a debilitating blow to the left kidney. He couldn't risk a gunshot, not until he was sure Rafe and Mulroney had reached their targets. The man he'd hit was down, groaning loudly in agony, and the other man raised his gun.
Jim rolled to the side, the bullet tearing a superficial path along his right arm, leaving a trail of bright pain.
The gunshot rang in his ears, and he shook his head even as he lurched to his feet, his own gun drawn. Something hard hit him from behind, and he slammed face-first into the ground.
He blinked, his head throbbing, and pushed himself to his feet. The man he'd punched in the kidney now hovered over him, a Beretta clutched in his hands. Now that he was close, Jim took a moment to study his captor. The man was thick and stocky, and looked like he could play pro football if he were five years younger.
"You weren't out long."
Jim blinked. He hadn't realized he'd passed out. He looked around, his heart leaping to his throat. Where was --?
"He went up ahead."
"Why didn't you just kill me?"
"Because I want to know how you knew we were here, and what your plan of defense was."
Jim shrugged. "I saw your two buddies out front and then scouted the perimeter."
The man raised an eyebrow.
Jim tapped at the side of his eye. "I've got good vision."
"Oh, right. The cop with good eyes and a good nose. And my two friends?"
Jim smiled. "They should be taken care of by now. That leaves your one guy against three. He's probably in cuffs by now."
Jim punctuated his last word by dropping like a stone to the ground and swinging his feet under his opponent's legs. The man went down hard, and Jim moved quickly. In less than a second, he had the man pressed against a small tree, his wrists cuffed around the trunk to hold him in place.
It gave tree-hugging a whole new meaning.
"See you later," Jim said, then took off, his ears picking up two familiar voices reciting Miranda warnings.
Jim allowed himself a moment of relief. Three down. One to go.
He ran to the house and saw Mulroney and Rafe leading their prisoners to the front porch.
"Jim!" Simon's deep voice spun Rafe and Mulroney around. Half a dozen uniformed men scurried out from the brush, surrounding them and taking custody of the two handcuffed prisoners.
"One got by me!" Jim shouted. "He's inside."
Mulroney's eyes went wide.
A gunshot, then another, jolted the night.
Jim's heart skipped a beat. "Blair!"
"Harry!" Mulroney paled.
They flew up the porch and into the house, with Simon and a handful of uniforms right behind.
"This sucks!" Blair paced back and forth, his hands alternating between twisting his hair and gesturing to the room in general. They'd heard a gunshot moments ago, and Dills had gone out to check on the others.
The witness, the one who should have been nervous, was the poster child of calm, sitting on the bed wearing a thoughtful expression.
"You'll be fine, kid," Harry said. "Don't worry." Blair stopped his pacing. Harry just didn't seem like... well, Harry anymore.
Before he could work out exactly why, something enormously heavy and strong slammed against the door.
"Dills?" Blair called out uncertainly, picking up his Cree spear. Oh, he was so not ready for this. "Jim?" He flinched as the door was slammed again.
"Just keep away from the door, Blair," said Harry. "You'll be fine."
Yeah, right, thought Blair. He hoped Harry was good in a fight.
The third time was the charm. The door frame splintered dramatically and the door swung drunkenly open, attached by only the upper hinge. Someone shouted something, but all Blair saw was the big guy with a gun. Wasting no time, he held his spear backwards and rushed the giant in front of him like a champion jouster without a horse.
His move was definitely a surprise. The big guy took the smooth end of the spear smack on his right rib cage before it pushed against the skin over the bone and slid off to the side. Before the man could move, Blair twisted the spear around smoothly until the point was against the thug's neck. Shit, now what? Blair thought. He held the spear there with all his weight and tried to appear menacing.
SZZZZZZT. He heard the hiss of a spray can milliseconds before he felt the terrible burning in his eyes. Crying out, he automatically dropped the spear and reached for his eyes with his hands. Another body jammed against his and then a big, beefy arm grabbed his hair and he felt the muzzle of a gun against his temple. A harsh sound of flesh against flesh filled the room.
Damnit, he was not going down without a fight. Blair twisted his lower body like a Twizzler, then grabbed the wrist holding the gun with both of his hands and pushed at a right angle, hard. The gun slid sideways against his temple and the arm jerked away, but the movement caused the gun to discharge.
The pain against his skull was overwhelming. Blair may have cried out again, but all he could hear was the ringing in his ears. Another shot, further away and tinny, rang out, and the beefy arm around his neck relaxed and slipped free.
Staggering to his feet, Blair opened his still-tearing, burning eyes and tried to make sense of the fuzzy shapes in the room. The big fuzzy shape on the floor was the bad guy. Where was Harry?
"Harry?" he called, causing the pain in his head to sharpen. He wiped more tears from his eyes and moved forward. A shape to his right groaned and moved. Harry was leaning against the wall, bent over slightly, Blair guessed. The thug must have hurt him somehow.
Watch out for him, Jim had said. Watch out for Harry. Blair opened the closet door, grabbed Harry's arm, and shoved him inside. Slamming the door shut, he twisted the key in the lock and stuck it in his pocket.
Oh God! Footsteps sounded by the front door. Blair dropped to the floor and tried to blink away the fuzziness. He felt around until he finally felt the gun, still warm from having been shot. Scrambling backwards, he sat on the floor, back against the closet door, and held the gun out clumsily in front of him.
He would keep Harry safe.
Jim was first through the bedroom doorway, and shock brought him to a sudden halt. What the hell had happened? The hitman he'd seen in the woods was lying on the floor with a bullet hole neatly through his skull. Blair was sitting on the floor, leaning against the closet door with blood streaming from his temple. Harry was nowhere in sight. "Chief, what --"
"Stop!" Blair shouted a little too loudly. The gun wavered in Jim's general direction as Blair blinked his eyes rapidly. Now that Jim got a good look, he could see the mace burns and the tears tracking down his face.
"Jim. My God, what happened?" Simon stood slightly behind him.
"He's been maced. And I think creased by a bullet. There are powder burns on his temple, around the wound. The sound of the gun discharging so close to his ear must have caused his hearing to go whacky."
"Stop!" Blair shouted again, desperate. "Jim?"
"Right here, Chief." Relieved, Jim started towards him.
Jim stopped immediately.
"Where's Harry?" Mulroney called out, running into the bedroom. "Sandburg, where's Harry?"
"Don't move!" Blair shouted once again. "Just stay there. Don't move until I know who you are!"
Jim glared at Mulroney. "Harry's in the closet, he's fine." At Mulroney's questioning look, Jim added, "I can smell his aftershave, okay? Just let me handle this."
It took a look from Simon to actually shut Mulroney up.
"Chief, tell me what to do," Jim said loudly and carefully.
Blair's face scrunched up in frustration. "Just don't move. Everything you say sounds distorted, like a really bad phone call. And all I can see is blurry shapes."
"Ask me a question, Blair. Ask me one question that only I can answer."
Blair rubbed his cheek in frustration. "God, Jim, my head is killing me."
"I know Chief. Just ask me a question. Let me convince you it's me so we can help you and Harry."
"I have to protect Harry."
"No you don't!" said Mulroney. "He's a cop, Sandburg. You don't need to protect him. So give up the gun, okay?"
"Mulroney," Jim said softly through clenched teeth, "what the hell are you talking about?"
"Harry's an agent. My roommate from Quantico, in fact, one of the only other people I knew I could trust."
"So there was no witness? This was just a ruse to find out who was leaking the information in your department? You son of a --"
"No, you've got it wrong, Ellison." Mulroney held up his hands. "There was -- is -- a witness, I swear. I didn't lie about that. The witness just isn't Harry."
"Give me the password!" Blair called out suddenly. "If you're Jim, give me the password."
Password? Damn. What the hell was that stupid password he came up with? "Tea!" he said, remembering. "Comforting Chamomile Tea."
Blair shook his head slightly. "No! That's not it. That's not it, Jim."
Hell. What was that other thing he said, when Mulroney first arrived? "The password's 'Trigger Happy Feds,'" said Jim, hoping he remembered it right.
"No!" Blair began to panic, shifting the gun uneasily at all the blurry shapes in front of him.
Jim dredged a memory from a long time ago when they were on a train, protecting another witness at another time. The password had been a joke then, too, but with Sandburg's brain scrambled, maybe that's what he was remembering. "How about 'It's me, Ellison. Let me in.'?"
Simon quirked an eyebrow at that odd statement.
Blair's face twisted in misery. "Damnit, you can't be Jim. Jim would know the password." Blair rubbed a sleeve across his eyes to clear the tearing and winced as the flannel touched his burns. "It's a fish, Jim. It's a kind of fish named Mary."
"The kid's a mess, Jim," Simon said softly. "Maybe we should just rush him and take our chances."
"No." Jim smiled. "He's just fine. Sandburg, the password is 'swordfish.'"
Blair sighed, relief spreading through his body like a shot of Demerol."It is you, man. I am so glad."
Jim took the two steps needed to reach his partner and gently pulled the gun away, handing it off to Simon. There was another gun on the floor by the bed. Jim took an educated guess that that gun belonged to Harry, so it was likely Harry who shot the guy behind him.
"I need some aspirin," Blair said, sounding a bit more like himself.
"Why?" said Jim gently, holding his handkerchief against the crease on Blair's temple. "Do you have a haddock?"
Blair choked out a laugh and Jim laughed with him. Finally, he had something to laugh about.
Blair winced, his head still throbbing. Getting maced and creased by a bullet all in the same night just wasn't a good thing. "Yeah, Simon?"
"That's Captain." Simon stormed out of his office and stopped in front of Sandburg's desk. He seemed to sense Ellison's eyes on him, and threw a glare at the detective.
Jim's eyes snapped back to his monitor.
Simon returned his attention to Blair, who was sitting at his desk, his chin resting in his right hand and his eyes closed.
"Head still hurt?" Simon asked, his voice suddenly gentle.
"Yeah." Blair cracked an eye at him. "You were about to chew me out for something, sir?" He waved his free hand. "Go on. Don't let my pain stop you."
Simon sighed. "You're taking all the fun out of it...but I think I can still muster a bit of satisfaction. Next time the mayor asks you to write a report...."
Blair winced again as Brown hurried into the bullpen.
"Man, I owe you big time." Brown hurried up to Blair's desk and perched himself on the corner. "Hey, Captain."
"That's right. Captain," Simon replied. "Glad you remember, Detective."
Brown grinned, gesturing toward Sandburg. "Ain't he something else?" He looked back at Blair, who appeared almost asleep. "Stroke of genius, Blair! Absolutely brilliant. You're at the top of my Christmas list, kid."
"I take it the mayor implemented my suggestions?" Blair muttered the question, squinting up at the two men.
"Yes." Simon pressed his palms on the desk and leaned closer to Sandburg. "Next time, just ask for something like, oh, I don't know...an increase in officer salaries. A better coffee maker in the break room. Less civilian consultants on the payroll!"
"C'mon, Captain, wasn't it just a little fun for you?" Brown asked. "I mean, I did your budget report. You hate doing that stuff, right?"
Blair closed his eyes.
"Yeah." Simon's lips twitched upward. "That is something, I guess. But, riding around with Connor," he shook his head, "I should have gotten hazard pay."
Agent Frank Mulroney paused before entering Major Crime, standing in the doorway like a new kid on the first day of school. Jim, sensing a presence, looked up from his paper work and waved to him.
"Frank. Come on in."
Mulroney nodded and sauntered over to Jim's desk. "I uh... just wanted to thank you and the others for all your help. You'll all be getting official letters of commendation from the Bureau."
"No problem. Remember for next time, though, that you don't need to protect your witnesses by dressing them in filthy clothing and hiding them in a basement. Trust us enough to tell us the whole truth, okay?"
"No promises," Mulroney said, almost smiling. "I'm still a fed, remember?"
"I remember." They looked at each for a moment, then Jim held out his hand. "You take care of yourself, Frank," he said.
"You, too, Jim." Mulroney seemed on the verge of saying something else, but changed his mind. With another nod at Jim, he turned and left the bullpen.
"So?" asked Blair, sidling up to Jim's desk and gesturing at Mulroney's retreating back.
"So, what?" Jim countered, knowing full well what Blair was asking.
"You guys settle your differences? What did you talk about back at the safehouse?"
Jim shrugged. "Stuff like our first names."
"First names? Really?"
"In fact," Jim said, "you might say we had a 'frank' discussion."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Man, Jim, that's bad." He pushed away from the desk and headed toward the break room. "I'm going to go get a cup of coffee."
"Fine," Jim grumbled to himself after Blair had left. "I bet you would have laughed if Groucho said it."
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