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He wasn't sure if his cry had been loud enough to be heard across the hall, but moments later, he sensed the soothing presence of his Guide beside him. He felt the younger man's hands gently massaging his shoulders and heard him whisper quietly, "Can you hear me, Jim?"

Nodding his head, the Sentinel murmured, cognizant of possible on-lookers, "My eyes, Chief. I saw her again, and I feel as if someone blasted my eyes."

Jim felt the subtle movements of the air as his Guide nodded his head in understanding, and then spoke over his shoulder, "It's okay, Mr. Meredith. Jim just has occasional migraines that come on very suddenly. Just give me a couple minutes, and he'll be fine. Why don't you just go back to the lounge? I'll be right back, okay?"

"Jim," Blair's voice was low, urgent, "he's gone. What happened? Where did you see her? Did she say anything?"

Gazing at his partner with slowly clearing eyes, the detective had to smile a little bit. "Slow down, Chief. She was sitting at her desk, and no, she didn't say anything. At least nothing I heard. I haven't had a chance to look through the desk yet. Would you mind sticking around for a minute just to make sure that nothing happens?"

"Hey, no problem. We do have to figure out what she's trying to tell you and why you're having so much trouble with your senses whenever you see her. Maybe if I start on-line by researching Tobin's Spirit Guide--"

Jim blanked out the rest of the young man's words, listening to the grounding stream of sound rather than individual words as he flipped open the desk and rifled through its contents. "Text books, binders, papers, pencils. We should bring the books and papers with us just to make sure there's nothing hidden in them, but I don't think there are any clues here." A quick check to the underside of the desk and the chair turned up nothing of use.

"Okay, Chief, I'll tell you what. You seem to have a better rapport with Meredith. Why don't you finish up with him while I go out to the truck and just let my eyes clear on me for a few minutes?"

Smiling, Blair nodded and headed back toward the lounge. "I'll be out in a few minutes, Jim. Just go outside, put on your sunglasses and sit back with your eyes closed."

As he headed toward the front door, Jim couldn't resist throwing back over his shoulder, "Hey, Einstein, if I have my eyes closed, why do I need the sunglasses, too?"

The heavy front door closing cut off the sound of any retort his partner might have made.

Chuckling to himself, Jim continued to the truck. Once there, he slipped on his sunglasses and while waiting for his friend, spent several minutes flipping through the items he had removed from the desk.

About fifteen minutes later, Blair slipped into the passenger seat of the truck. "Poor guy. He really feels responsible. Maybe he should have taken her to the police immediately, but he did do the best he could." The young man sighed heavily before continuing, "Anyway, he gave me the name of her three closest friends, Jean Covern, Cindy Nash and Maureen Towers. He also gave me their phone numbers so we can call their parents and ask to speak to each of them for a minute or two.

"Oh, by the way, he says he never heard Rachael say anything about wanting to run away to San Francisco and live with those 'Charmed' sisters. He says she didn't have any particular fascination with television or trying to find the perfect family that he knew about. Her friends can probably give us a better idea about that."

Jim nodded. "Okay, ready to go here, Chief? Why don't you give those parents a call? The sooner we get their permission, the sooner we get those interviews over with." Shifting the big truck into drive, Jim headed back down the driveway.

***

"Well, that was a complete waste of time," Blair said tiredly as he stood before the locked loft door, holding the bags of Mexican food in one hand and precariously balancing his overloaded backpack on his other shoulder.

The interviews with Rachael's friends had yielded little that they didn't already know or suspect but had proven as emotionally draining as the talk with Mr. Meredith. Perhaps more so. At the moment, the poor kids were more confused than upset by their friend's disappearance, but it had taken a lot out of both men to tap dance delicately around the subject and still get as many of their questions answered as possible.

"Not really, Chief," Jim disagreed as he unlocked the door and held it open for his burdened partner. "We've confirmed that Rachael wasn't addicted to 'Charmed' and that something drastic happened recently in her life to make her change her normal behavior. It's not anything admissible in court, but it gives us a direction to go in. And thanks to Mr. Meredith, we also know what we're looking for now. All we have to do is find the videotape and probably that spelling bee trophy."

Blair sat the bags down on the dining room table and let his backpack slide off his shoulder onto one of the chairs that surrounded it. "I know, I know. It just seems like so little." He ran a restless hand through his long, curly hair. "And yes, I know that crimes don't solve themselves and that most detective work is slow and tedious. I just . . . I just really want this one, Jim."

When he looked up at his partner, Jim's eyes were filled with understanding. "Me, too, Chief."

"Yeah." He stood beside the table for a moment, shoulders slumped dejectedly. Jim moved closer to him, mouth opening to offer some kind of reassurance, but his actions caught Blair's attention and the young man's gaze focused sharply on his friend. "I also want to know what's up with you, man. You had two attacks today right after you say you saw Rachael's ghost."

"Sandburg-"

The younger man held up a placating hand and began pacing the living room. "Oh, hey, I believe you saw her, Jim," he said soothingly. "I just can't figure out why it's causing you so much pain. That didn't happen with Molly, or--or any other time you saw visions." Even now, it was hard to acknowledge the whole mess with Alex or their last case. "It sounds like she has something important to tell you, but you can't help her if just seeing or hearing her hurts. We've got to figure out a way around that."

Jim just shook his head in resigned amusement as he listened to his partner rattle on. Two minutes ago, the guy looked like he was ready to collapse from the weight of the world on his shoulders and now he was bouncing around the loft like a Ping-Pong ball. If he lived to be a hundred, he would never understand the inner workings of one Blair Sandburg.

"Fine, Chief, you work on it," he acquiesced as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers. "Right now, though, I'm gonna eat and get some sleep. Don't you be up too late either, remember, you've got a bed downstairs just calling your name. We've got another big day tomorrow. We've got those interviews with Myles' associates, the search warrants for his offices to serve, and with any luck, Serena will have the lab results tomorrow, too. We both need to be sharp."

"Yeah, okay, but this is important, too, Jim," Blair insisted as he made his way back to the table and began unwrapping their rapidly cooling dinner. He took a bite of his enchilada, and after swallowing, added, "I think I'll stay up a while longer and do a little research. Don't worry, I'll go downstairs to my place to work. I wouldn't want to keep you up. We do have to figure this out, though. We don't know when Rachael's going to show up again, and unless you have a masochistic side you've been hiding, I doubt you enjoy those headaches. The sooner I can figure out what's wrong with your senses, the sooner we can figure out what happened to Rachael."

Knowing there was no way to stop the younger man when he got into a research kick--especially one that involved Sentinels--without physical restraints being involved, the detective held up his hands in surrender. "Do what you want, Chief, and don't worry about keeping me up. Just eat your dinner first."

//Besides,// he thought to himself, //it'll get his mind off Rachael for a little while.// Jim wasn't blind to the effects this case was already having on his sensitive partner, and he knew it would probably only get worse as time went on. Not for the first time today, he cursed himself for giving in to Davis' request, but in his heart, he knew there was no way he could have refused. And he knew Blair never would have forgiven him that refusal, especially not for his sake. Jim sighed and handed his partner a beer.

Blair made a face at him as he accepted the ice-cold bottle. "Yes, Mom," he muttered in response to the directive. He obediently popped a forkful of fried rice into his mouth and washed it down with the alcohol. Jim just rolled his eyes at the comment and concentrated on consuming his own dinner.

Later that night, long after Jim had cleaned up and gone to bed, Blair had moved downstairs to the desk in his apartment and was still busily trying to find the answer to the Sentinel's sensory problems. Stacks of books were scattered on the floor in the corner that made up Blair's office; other tomes crowded every inch of available surface on the desk itself. A copy of his thesis rested open at his left elbow as he intently read the words etched on the laptop screen before him, restlessly tapping a pen against his lower lip. A notebook filled with his almost unintelligible scribble occupied the space on his right.

So far, he hadn't found anything truly useful, but Blair knew despite his exhaustion that he was getting close. He could feel it. If he could only stay awake for another half hour, he . . .

His head fell forward onto his chest before his mind could negotiate with his body for that extra thirty minutes.

***

As soon as his eyes fell shut, Blair was in the jungle, a dreamscape that he was becoming disturbingly familiar with. Before him was a narrow path. Though the dense green of the jungle that surrounded it blocked all but the thinnest trickle of light, it appeared clear of any obstructions. Staring down that path, uneasiness filled the young man as he recalled what happened the last time he'd visited the spirit plane, but he knew he had no choice. It was either follow the path or stand there forever. Never one to stay still for long despite any misgivings, Blair chose to move forward.

After a seemingly endless walk, he finally came to a clearing and winced at the sudden bright sunshine that illuminated the spot. As his eyes adjusted, Blair noticed with great relief that he was not alone. Dressed in traditional shaman dress, his face painted red, Incacha stood on the opposite side of the clearing. A large grey wolf sat at his feet. As he approached them, his relief turned back to worry as soon as he got close enough to read their body language. Both shaman and spirit guide looked anxious. He quickly crossed the rest of the distance until he was standing only a few yards in front of them and opened his mouth to greet them.

Before Blair could say anything, though, Incacha spoke, "You have finally come, young one. We have much to teach you and not much time for you to learn."

The words sent a chill scrabbling down Blair's spine. "What do you mean?" he demanded, hands spread wide in a pleading gesture. "Is it about Rachael? Jim's senses?"

In typical frustrating fashion, the shaman didn't answer his questions directly. "The answers you seek lie in your world. Follow the wolf. He will lead your way."

With those words, the grey wolf yipped once and, without waiting to see if Blair followed him or not, loped off into the dense underbrush of the jungle. Blair's dream self started to chase after the wolf when a harsh sound jolted him through him.

***

Disoriented, Blair flinched hard at finding himself in the waking world once again and lost his seat. As he landed in an ungainly heap amongst the books on the floor, he again heard the noise that had pulled him from his vision. It took him a moment to realize it was coming from the apartment upstairs--from the loft bedroom.

Jim!

Scrambling to an upright position, Blair pounded up the spiral staircase joining the two apartments as fast as his feet could carry him. Pausing momentarily once he reached the top, Jim's second scream jolted Blair back into action and he continued up the stairs leading to Jim's bedroom at a breakneck pace. His partner was curled up into a tight ball, his hands clamped over his ears. Sweat glistened on his bared skin, and his skin was pale with shock. The anthropologist guessed immediately that Rachael had paid Jim another visit, but this time looked worse than either previous attack.

Gingerly sitting on the edge of the bed, Blair gently rubbed the sweat-sheened skin on the stricken man's back. He didn't bother speaking since it looked like Jim's hearing had been affected again, but he knew that touch alone wouldn't bring him out of this deep a zone. He snagged the afghan folded neatly across the foot of the bed and snapped it open over the bedside lamp. Flicking on the switch, he stared at it a scant second and decided that it wasn't too bright for the Sentinel. Shaking the oblivious man roughly by one shoulder, the young Guide managed to get him to open watery eyes and made sure he was directly facing the covered lamp. At the same time, Blair kept up the rhythmic stroking on the older man's shoulder and back. It took several long, tense moments before he got any response at all from Jim, but eventually the older man began relaxing. Twenty minutes after the first shout, the detective was sitting up on the edge of the bed, rubbing carefully at his ears.

"Rachael again?" Blair asked unnecessarily, just to have something to say. He reached for the afghan and neatly plucked it from the lamp. He absently folded the covering and replaced it at the foot of the bed.

Jim shrugged tiredly, still massaging his ears. "I think so. I was dreaming that I was back in the classroom, but I was facing away from the desks. I heard a girl's voice behind me, and it sounded like Rachael's; but before I could turn around this horrible screeching drowned her out. Hurt like hell. The next thing I know, you're here and I'm back at the loft."

"How are your eyes?"

"My eyes?"

Blair nodded. "The first attack, you heard and saw her and both your eyes and ears got blasted. The second time, you were blinded before she could speak. And this time?"

Jim frowned thoughtfully. "Just my ears this time around, Darwin. Guess I didn't stick around long enough for the visual effects."

"Hmm." Blair's eyes lost focus for a moment as he pondered some point the Sentinel could only guess at. Then his gaze cleared once again, and he gave Jim a considering once-over. "Why don't you try to get some more sleep, Jim? You look pretty wasted."

"You're no prize yourself, Sandburg." He glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 2:59 a.m. "You been up all this time?"

"Nah," the younger man replied without elaborating further. "I'm fine, Jim." He pointed firmly at the bed. "Go to sleep. Like you said, we've got to be sharp for tomorrow--or should I say, later today."

The detective grumbled a bit more but eventually stretched back out under the covers. With his Guide murmuring softly to him, it didn't take long for the exhausted man's breathing to slow to a normal sleep pattern. Blair sat with him a few minutes longer to make sure he was really okay before switching off the lamp and slipping back down the stairs.

The light from his softly glowing laptop drew his attention back to the research disaster zone that engulfed the dining area and reminded him abruptly of his own dream. Tired as he was himself, Blair knew that he was a long way from getting any sleep. Incacha had said time was running out. Time for what, Blair still didn't know, but he knew it had to be important if he was having visions again. Incacha had also said the answers he sought lay in his own world. Well, his "world" consisted of books and the Internet. Time to get cracking.

***

Morning came much too soon so far as Blair was concerned. In the wee hours of the night he had finally found the answers he was looking for, but the resulting lack of sleep had left him feeling less than able to deal with the attitude of his incredulous Sentinel.

"You wanna run that past me one more time, Chief? In plain English this time?"

Blair sighed gustily as he expertly flipped over the pancakes. Eggs sizzled noisily on the griddle beside them. Not exactly the healthiest start to a day, but after the events of the past day and night, the anthropologist felt like indulging himself and his partner.

"Mirrors are scrying tools, Jim," he patiently explained one more time. "Throughout history, mystics have used them to more easily communicate with the spirits. I think that's why Molly's ghost didn't cause you the pain Rachael's is. You didn't have to strain your senses so much because you kept seeing her through a mirror and that took some of the pressure off you."

"Great. So all I have to do is get Rachael to start using mirrors," Jim muttered sarcastically as he pulled dishes out of the cupboard and began setting the table. Blair just rolled his eyes at his tone and made a snide remark of his own about the other man's comment low enough that even Sentinel hearing couldn't pick it up.

Jim ignored that and reluctantly asked his next question. "And the other time?"

When Blair didn't answer right away, he worriedly glanced over at his partner. The younger man was staring unseeingly down at the nearly cooked food. Jim reached over the counter and rested one hand on his friend's shoulder. Blair seemed to lean into the touch a moment then straightened his shoulders, and, with a downward glance at the eggs and pancakes, announced, "Order's up."

Though he helped get their breakfast to the table, the detective wasn't prepared to let the subject go. It was painful, yes, but it was also necessary that he understand what was going on with his senses and their ghost problem. "Chief . . .?"

Blair had no problem interpreting what Jim wasn't saying. With a brief grimace, he turned to face his partner, though his face and voice were carefully blank as he answered, "Near as I can tell, there was just too much happening at the time with . . . Alex." Jim's jaw muscles cinched tight at hearing the hated name spoken out loud, but he didn't interrupt when Blair continued. "With all the other . . . instinctive reactions you were experiencing by having another Sentinel in your territory, your senses were already haywire, so the added input of the visions wouldn't have really registered."

"Oh. And the rest of the visions and dreams I've had have involved me personally, and so they didn't affect me? Why would that make a difference?"

Blair's voice was quiet, with a tinge of guilt as he answered, "Near as I can figure, it's because the stuff that just involves you kind of--I don't know--falls under the heading of self actualization or whatever you want to call it. Dealings with the spirit world--seeing ghosts and things like that--and prophetic dreams and visions are traditionally more the bailiwick of a shaman." Blair ducked his head momentarily, his cheeks flushing pink with embarrassment as he spoke in a rush, "and-i-think-that's-supposed-to-be-my-responsibility-but-i've-messed-it-up."

"So, what? You're saying that because you aren't doing your job as a shaman it's falling on me, and I can't handle it? I thought that Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to you. If that's true, why can't you do it?" Blair didn't miss the slightly accusatory tone in the other man's voice as he continued, "This is really causing me trouble here and now you're telling me that this is all shaman stuff and, by extension, you should be handling it?"

"Uhm, yeah."

"So, Sandburg, how do we fix it?"

"Well, Jim, first I need to figure out why I'm not getting any of this shaman stuff. Incacha did pass the way of the shaman to me, and I did defeat death when I died at the fountain." Engrossed as he was in his theorizing, Blair missed the way his friend flinched at his words. "I'm going to have to do some more research at the U., and probably try another meditation. Maybe I can get some answers on the spirit side. Can you handle the routine stuff at the station if I go to Rainier this afternoon?"

The rest of their morning routine was consumed in silence as each man got lost in his own thoughts about the problems they had to face that day. Jim was more worried about the case and what the lab results and search warrants might bring. Blair was concerned about that as well, but the interaction of Rachael's ghost and Jim's senses took up more of his attention. Now that he knew what was causing the problem, he needed to come up with the how of fixing it and he didn't have clue one where to begin. Not for the first time, the anthropologist wished this Sentinel stuff came with a manual.

"Hey, Earth to Sandburg. C'mon, Chief, grab your stuff. We're due down at the station in twenty minutes."

"Yeah, yeah, right behind you," Blair answered as he stuffed a few more folders and books into his already overstuffed backpack. "There, all set. Ready when you are."

Jim eyed the leather bag critically, almost hearing the tortured sound of stressed seams. "Y'know, one of these days that thing's going to finally give up and explode your books and papers all over the place. Hope all of it's replaceable."

The younger man shot him an incredulous look. "This from a man who drives a truck so old that it's no longer in the blue books. At least my backpack was made in this decade."

Jim's eyes narrowed at the insult to his beloved truck and he advanced mock menacingly on the scientist. "Sandburg, I swear, one more comment about my truck and I'll--"

The rest of his threat was lost in Blair's laughter as he slipped out the loft door and down the stairwell, an inwardly smiling detective hot on his heels.

***

The good humor that chased them down the stairs lasted until they reached the police station. Seeing the building reminded the pair exactly what they were about and sobered them both immediately. After a quick stop in Major Crimes to drop off Blair's stuff and check on the status of the search warrant, which was almost ready, they headed down to Forensics to see how Serena had made out.

"So what have you got for us?" Jim asked without preamble as he and Blair joined the forensics expert by her station.

"Good morning to you, too, Detective," the dark-skinned woman retorted archly.

Blair chuckled at her reply. Like he'd told Simon before, sometimes it pays to be a little nicer to the support staff, especially when you want something from them. Jim shot him a quick glare that did nothing to quell the younger man's amusement then turned back expectantly to Serena.

She shook her head disapprovingly but answered him anyway. "I'm afraid I don't have much for you, Detective. The Luminol tests prove that the stains you found on the wall, carpet and bed are indeed blood, but there wasn't enough of it to determine blood type. It was fresh, though, a couple of days old, tops.

"We were luckier with the--" she glanced at the anthropologist, remembering that he didn't always react favorably to some of the more gruesome aspects of police work and changed the term she was going to use. "- other evidence you brought in. The blood type matches Rachael Myles' type; but until we can cross-check it with samples from the girl herself, we can't say for certain it's hers. We've contacted her doctor for that information, but we haven't heard back from him yet. The DNA results are going to take a bit longer." She handed him the folder with the printed results in it.

Grim expressions crossed both men's faces at the statement. It was no less than they expected, but the expectation did nothing to soften such news. The look on the forensic specialist's face left little doubt that she heartily disliked passing on such information herself.

"Thank you, Serena," Jim said with curt sincerity and stalked out of Forensics, the folder clutched tightly in his fist. Blair managed a nod of thanks and a wan smile before following his partner back up to Major Crimes.

"Now what?" the anthropologist asked quietly when they reached their desks once again.

"Now you get to serve this search warrant," Simon interjected as he dropped the document in between them. "Sorry it took so long, but it wasn't easy finding a judge who would sanction the searching of the offices of someone with Myles' social and financial standing." The captain scowled in disgust as he spoke. He hated it when money stood in the way of justice. It wasn't fair, especially not for the Rachael Myles of the world.

"Nobody ever promised life would be fair, Simon," Blair murmured, patting the captain lightly on the back as he passed him on the way out, unaware how closely his words mirrored the big man's thoughts. Simon shot him a startled look but got caught instead by the intense expression on the younger man's face. "But I promise you this, we're damn well gonna try for Rachael."

"Amen to that, Chief," his partner seconded. "Let's go see what we can shake free over at Myles Unlimited."

***

Later that afternoon, Jim found himself once again studying Adrian Myles through an interrogation room's one-way mirror. To a casual observer, the industrialist still appeared as calm as ever. His face gave nothing away, and he displayed no obvious nervous ticks or habits. To a Sentinel, though, it was an entirely different story. Jim could hear the slightly elevated beat of the man's heart, could smell the faint scent of fear on him, could see the slight twitch of his right eye that spoke of his tension.

//Good,// the detective thought with vicious delight.

Myles' lack of confidence was further proved in that he had not come alone this time. A smartly dressed young woman sat on his right side, her blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun, her brown eyes obscured by a pair of fashionable yet totally functionless plain glass lenses. Jim groaned silently when he saw her and felt his headache crank up a notch.

Vanessa Sedgewick was a bright new star in Cascade's legal world, a woman with a reputation of taking on cases no one else would touch . . . and winning. Jim hadn't had to deal with her before this case, but he had heard enough from other detectives who had and sincerely wished he didn't have to now. Though, it did give him a small sense of satisfaction that they had Myles so rattled that he felt he needed Sedgewick's services.

"Not so cocky this time around, huh?" a deep voice asked from Jim's left.

Jim smiled tightly at his superior. "Guess not. About time, too."

"Amen to that. I just wish I could have gotten you that search warrant faster. All that pussyfooting around with those damn judges gave Myles all the time he needed to hide any evidence he might have kept in those offices. Now we're back to square one."

The detective shook his head slowly. "I don't think so, Simon. He might have had time to destroy evidence, but not enough to hide the fact that he had destroyed it. Call it a hunch, but I honestly don't believe he was keeping anything incriminating at work. Everything there was too undisturbed. Either he's got a really good hiding place that all of us missed, or it's got to be someplace else."

"Yeah, but where?"

"I intend to ask him that very question myself, Captain. And if--"

The rest of Jim's reply was lost as something caught his eye in the window that housed the mirror. Looking closer, he was startled by a glimpse of pale features and long dark hair glittering next to his own distorted reflection in the back of the mirror. The eyes in that face stared hard at the man seated in the other room and a young voice stated with immense satisfaction, "Good. You got him."

The ghost's lips moved some more, but Jim lost whatever was being said in a maelstrom of chaotic shrieking and blazing light so much more intense than any previous attack. //Dammit, not again!// was the last thought that crossed his mind before he reflexively jerked back from the image and collapsed, gasping, to the floor.

***

"Jim!" Simon cried out in alarm, too surprised by the detective's sudden collapse to catch him before he hit the floor. Falling to his knees beside his friend, he gently turned him over, trying to see what was wrong. One look into Jim's vacant, blue eyes, and he knew.

The captain's shout had attracted the attention of two uniforms in the hall, and both came rushing to see how they could help. "Get Sandburg!" Simon demanded. When the pair hesitated, taken aback by the strange request, the captain growled in his best commanding tone, "Dammit, don't just stand there! Go get Sandburg! He's up in Major Crimes. Tell him it's Ellison. Go! Now!"

The two cops took off as if on fire, but their haste proved in vain. Just as the elevator doors parted to take them upstairs, the blurred form of the anthropologist streaked past them and shot straight for the door his partner laid behind. Staring at each other in confusion, the two patrolmen decided that whatever was going on could happen without them. They headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.

Simon looked up at the sound of running feet, so relieved to see Blair that he didn't even wonder how he'd gotten down there so fast. The young man didn't stop his mad dash until he collapsed to his knees on the opposite side of his prone partner. Blair looked almost ridiculous with his hair flying everywhere and the sticky remains of a donut clutched in one hand, but the worried look on his face prevented Simon from even thinking of laughing.

"Oh, man, this has got to stop," the consultant muttered in self-recrimination.

Simon watched as Blair's blue eyes roved the room searchingly, even while his free hand traced gentle circles on his Sentinel's back. A sigh of frustration escaped the Guide when he obviously did not find what he was looking for. Making an educated guess, Simon said softly, "Taste."

Blinking owlishly at him, Blair asked in confusion. "Taste?"

Keeping his voice low, the captain explained, "I'm guessing that his eyes and ears are bothering him from the way he's holding onto them, so you can't talk him out of this one. Touch doesn't seem to be getting it done. You need something else, right?"

"Yeah . . ." Blair's eyes were round with shock.

"Well, you've got the one thing any cop would recognize by taste. Why don't you try that?"

Looking down at the hand Simon was pointing at, Blair seemed to realize for the first time that he still held a half-eaten donut. "Good idea," he whispered. "Um, think you can give me a hand here?" Between the two of them, they managed to get Jim's mouth open and some of the glazed buttermilk donut onto his tongue, then they anxiously sat back to see if it would work.

The gentle stimulus of touch and taste slowly snapped the Sentinel out of the darkness of the zone. Unfortunately, upon finding something in his mouth, Jim involuntarily swallowed and almost choked on the small bit of donut. Simon hauled the coughing man into a sitting position while Blair pounded him lightly on the back. After a bit, Jim's airway cleared, and he was able to take a deep, clear breath. Blair stopped his pounding immediately, but Simon kept an arm around Jim's shoulders just in case.

"What the hell happened?" Jim asked hoarsely.

His gaze skittering over Simon briefly, Blair replied quickly, "Had to use taste this time, Jim. Didn't have anything else to work with. Guess now you know why I like to use your other senses when I can to pull you out of a zone."

"What the hell happened?" Simon repeated, instinctively knowing that he wasn't going to like the answer. He sighed inwardly. Like ripping off a Band-Aid in one swift move, he preferred to get the 'pain' over with all at once.

"Long story, Simon, and I'm sure you don't want to hear most of it," his detective responded as he climbed to his feet.

"Then you guessed wrong, Detective." The captain crossed his arms and set his face into his best 'you'll tell me now' look.

Blair stepped in. "I'll explain it all, Simon, if you answer a question for me first."

"What is it?"

The anthropologist held up the remains of the donut. "How did you know? How did you know that this is what Jim needed?"

Simon snorted. "Is that all? C'mon, Sandburg, give me a little credit. How long have I known about this Sentinel business? Five years. You think I'm so unobservant that I can't learn a thing or two from watching you two? I might not be able to pull Jim out of a zone myself, but I've seen you do it enough times to have a pretty good guess on how you do it. Just went with my observations, Mr. Anthropologist."

The smaller man stared up at Simon and shook his head. "I thought the less you knew about this, the happier you were."

"Yeah, well, I'm allowed to change my mind, aren't I?" Simon glanced over Blair's shoulder at Jim then returned his gaze back to the young man. "Besides, sticking my head in the sand won't make this go away, and I honestly don't want it to. I've gotten too used to the pair of you just the way you are."

"Thanks, Simon . . . I think," Jim murmured with a small grin.

Blair was still staring at the big captain. "Oh, man, you and I have got to sit down sometime and talk. I--"

Placing a friendly arm around the anthropologist's shoulders, Simon steered him towards the door. "And that's exactly what we're going to do right now. We're going to let Jim carry on his little chat with Mr. Myles while you and I go upstairs and have our own little chat about whatever it is that the two of you have been hiding from me this time."

"Uh . . ." Blair cast a pleading look at Jim.

"Sorry, Junior, you promised," the detective said with a smirk. "I've got other things to do." He beat as dignified a hasty retreat as he could manage into the interrogation room.

"Oh, don't you worry about him, Blair," Simon said in a falsely sweet tone as they made their way down the hall towards the elevator. "He'll get his chance to explain later."

***

Jim strode into the room, not pausing until he towered over the seated occupants across the metal table from him. He tossed the folder containing the forensic reports onto the rough surface with a sharp crack that echoed in the silent chamber and stared down at the pair a long, measuring moment. When he was sure he had their undivided attention, he opened his mouth to start the questioning. The blonde lawyer beat him to it.

"Are you just going to stand there and gawk, Detective Ellison, or was there a reason why you dragged my client out of a board meeting this afternoon?"

The detective smiled tightly at her attempt to get a rise out of him. "I have plenty of reasons, Ms. Sedgewick." He tapped a long finger on the folder in front of him. "Would you like to hear them?"

"That is why we are here, Detective."

"Hmm, yes." Jim nodded in slow agreement, purposely agitating the pair before him. "We've found out some pretty interesting things about your daughter's disappearance since we last talked, Mr. Myles."

The businessman raised an impatient brow at him and gestured for him to continue. "Don't keep me in suspense, Detective. Tell me everything. Will these things help you find my daughter?"

"They just might." Jim met the seemingly sincere gaze with hard blue eyes. "We've found several items missing from your daughter's room."

The industrialist put on an interested expression. "Such as?"

"A spelling bee trophy, for one."

The interested expression flickered, and Myles almost lost the staring contest then and there. "Ah yes, I remember that trophy. She was tremendously proud of that accomplishment. Maybe she took it with her to remember good times."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "I thought you said earlier that you weren't involved with your daughter's school activities?"

Again, there was the minutest of pauses, but Myles once again recovered before anyone other than a Sentinel would have noticed. "I'm not, usually. However, when your little girl comes home in as excited a state as Rachael was that day, it is rather hard to ignore, Detective. And I was proud of her, too. It was one of the few times I actually felt a part of my daughter's life. I'm not happy to admit that, especially now, but that's how it was."

//Damn, he's good,// Jim thought ruefully. Marshalling his thoughts, he continued the interrogation. "Did your daughter injure herself in any way prior to her disappearance, Mr. Myles?"

A frown marred the industrialist's handsome face. "What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said."

Grey eyes blazed with suppressed rage and frustration, but his voice was calm as Myles replied, "Yes, I'm sure. What I meant was, why do you ask?"

Picking up the forensics folder, Jim rifled through it casually. "Only because we found evidence of a large amount of blood on your daughter's bedroom wall and floor, and I was wondering what kind of accident could possibly have caused that."

"Oh, that," the businessman answered easily, waving a dismissing hand in the air. "Rachael was playing in her room, jumping on the bed like kids like to do, and slipped. She hit the headboard and gouged her forehead pretty badly. Had a hell of a time trying to get the bleeding stopped, you know how head wounds are."

"And when did this occur?"

Myles paused a moment as if trying to remember. "I believe it was the Saturday before she ran away."

A reasonable story . . . except Jim knew he was lying. The jump in his pulse and the increase in his respiration were just two of the more obvious signs of the falsehood he was spinning. Jim decided to see if he could speed those reactions up any.

Rising from his perch on the edge of the table, the detective began a slow circuit of the room's interior. "A fairly convincing story, except for the fact that according to our forensics experts, the pattern of blood stains we found in your daughter's room could not have been caused by a simple fall as you are claiming. Rather it seems, the bloodstains we found on the wall were caused by the back spatter of a bludgeoning instrument. You know, like when someone bashes someone's head in with, say, a spelling bee trophy?"

Jim's hearing caught the expected spike in the other man's vital signs. However, before he could move in to press his advantage, Vanessa Sedgewick stepped forward and laid a steadying hand on her client's shoulder.

Her voice was honey smooth when she spoke, "Detective Ellison. I'm sure that if Mr. Myles says his daughter fell that is exactly what happened. Unless of course, you are making some sort of accusation here? If that is the case, I am sure that you will have the evidence to back your claims up. If not. . . ." the woman's voice trailed off momentarily, and she smiled slightly before continuing, "let me assure you--my client is a very busy man, well-thought of in this community. If he should have to waste his valuable time defending himself, or if his reputation should be hurt in any way, well, I'm sure your department would be shocked to find out just how many zeros I can include in my lawsuit against them."

"No, of course I wouldn't be accusing your client without proper evidence to back it up." Jim forced a conciliatory smile on to his face, even though he could almost feel his teeth cracking. "I'm sure we're all just concerned with discovering exactly what happened to Rachael, and her current whereabouts. To that end, there are just a couple more questions I need to ask you."

Resuming his seat on the edge of the table, Jim met the other man's cold, grey eyes with a frigid, blue stare of his own, "You know that we've talked both to Rachael's teacher, Mr. Meredith, and several of Rachael's friends. All of them had some interesting things to tell us. Things that didn't quite match what you'd told me earlier, Mr. Myles."

"Such as?"

"Such as not a one of them ever heard Rachael so much as mention that show you claim she was so addicted to. Doesn't that seem odd to you? Usually when a child is as avidly fascinated with something as Rachael supposedly was with 'Charmed,' they like to share it with everyone close to them."

Ms. Sedgewick spoke up before her client could reply. "Are you calling my client a liar, Detective Ellison? If you are, that sounds perilously close to what were discussing just a few moments ago."

"I'm not accusing anyone of anything at the moment, Ms. Sedgewick," Jim stated calmly, getting up to pace the room again. "Just pointing out a fact I found odd. I also find it odd that Rachael disappeared the day after she asked Mr. Meredith to talk to her after school. A talk that revolved around a videotape young Rachael found in her VCR one day after school that so upset her it negatively affected her schoolwork and her relationship with her friends for over a month before she finally gained the courage to speak up about it. A videotape that she told Mr. Meredith involved your wife's death, Mr. Myles." The detective stopped directly in front of the other man and planted both hands on the scarred table between them. Staring once again into those hard, grey eyes, he asked softly, "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, sir?"

The bland, confident look had vanished from the businessman's face, to be replaced by one of rage and panic. Myles stood abruptly, his fists clenched so tightly at his sides that the knuckles were alabaster white. His mouth opened and closed a few times as if he wanted to refute the detective's words, but his anger was so great that nothing came out.

Again, the industrialist's attorney jumped in. With a cautionary hand on Myles' sleeve, she said icily, "Detective, I would like a few moments alone to consult with my client." The blonde emphasized the "alone" with a pointed look at the mirror behind him.

Knowing that he had won this round, Jim never took his eyes off the enraged man before him as he replied in the same soft tone as before, "Certainly, Ms. Sedgewick. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Thank you."

***

Barely waiting for the door to close behind Ellison, Myles grabbed the blonde's arm and hissed, "You've got to do something!"

Raising one elegant eyebrow, Vanessa coolly shook off the hand on her arm and stood, putting some distance between them. "That's what you're paying me for, Mr. Myles. Relax. For all of Detective Ellison's bluster, all it really boils down to is that they have nothing but circumstantial evidence that would hardly persuade the D.A. to even look at your case, let alone prosecute it. All you have to do is say exactly what I tell you to say and not lose your cool. I'll take care of everything else."

Myles bolted out of his chair and advanced on the smaller woman until he had her trapped between a concrete wall and his imposing frame. His eyes held a look of a hunted, desperate animal. "That's not good enough, Ms. Sedgewick. I want Detective Ellison off this case. He's worse than Davis ever was. I don't care how you do it, just get rid of him! He's getting too close!"

Unimpressed by his theatrics, the blonde met his wild gaze evenly. "I told you that I'll take care of everything else, Mr. Myles, but be careful what you ask for. I can make it happen. Are you prepared to deal with the consequences? Or should I say, pay for the consequences?"

The wild eyes narrowed as her calm words worked past his panic. "I don't care how much money you want. I'll pay it. Just make sure Detective Ellison never discovers exactly what happened to my poor, lost, little girl. Look, you don't have to kill Ellison or anything like that. I just need him to be distracted for a day or two while I get everything in order."

"Done." Slipping casually under the imprisoning arms, the attorney moved to the door and tapped on it. "I'll be right back, Mr. Myles. I suggest you use the time to regain your composure. Everything is going to be just fine."

As soon as the door closed behind her, a cold, calculating look replaced the one of carefully crafted panic. //Everything had better be, my dear Ms. Sedgewick, or it will be you who will be paying the consequences,// Adrian Myles thought as he resumed his seat to await her return. //Just get me out of here, and I guarantee that no one will ever see me again. Damned good thing that cabin is so twisted up in legal paperwork that no one will ever figure out that I own it. A quick trip up there, grab the fake passport, traveling money, and I'll be out of here before the cops even know anything is going on.//

***

"Detective Ellison?"

Blair looked up as Jim turned to greet the speaker and caught the quickly suppressed expression of displeasure on his partner's face. He peered around Jim to see who had put that look on his face. The woman standing there was a stunning, though severe looking blonde. Under normal circumstances, she might have been Jim's type. Obviously, these weren't normal circumstances.

"Ms. Sedgewick," the tall man answered coolly. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, you could introduce me to your friend here," she replied in a warm, friendly tone.

Blair watched the exchange with interest. He knew Vanessa Sedgewick by reputation, and he figured she and Jim wouldn't hit it off. He was a bit surprised by the tactics she was using to needle his friend, though. He'd been caught in the middle of similar situations several times before in the dating game and recognized what she was doing. Make one party jealous by flirting with a third party, usually a close friend of the first. Blair had no idea what Vanessa hoped to gain by pissing Jim off, but he wasn't going to play.

//Uh-uh, lady,// he thought resolutely, //I'm not gonna fall for that one. Did it once, sure as hell ain't gonna do it again. You can get your kicks someplace else.//

"Blair Sandburg," he introduced himself in a neutral tone. "I'm a consultant with the police force. I'm helping Detective Ellison with the Myles' case." Knowing the answer, he asked his next question just to see her reaction. "And you are?"

It was everything he hoped for. He might not be a Sentinel, able to catalogue the minutest details of a person's facial expressions and body language, but he was an anthropologist, trained to observe people. He concluded this time that his subject was not happy with his cool response, probably used to getting her way. Despite her beauty, Blair felt only satisfaction at his own success.

"Vanessa Sedgewick," she answered tightly. "Mr. Myles' attorney."

"I see. Well, I wish I could say it's a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Sedgewick, but considering the circumstances, I can't. Is there anything else I can do for you? If not, we're rather busy and need to get back to work."

"Then I won't take up any more of your precious time, Mr. Sandburg. Detective Ellison, my client will be ready to see you again in ten minutes."

"I'll be there," Jim promised, a smirk of appreciation tugging at his lips that did not go unnoticed by the attorney.

With a curt nod, the blonde woman turned on her heel and stalked out of Major Crimes.

***

Spying the door to the ladies room, she shoved the door open and went inside. She needed to calm herself before she faced Myles once more. The last thing she needed was to shake his faith in her abilities. As she dug in her bag for her lipstick, her sharp mind busily tried to come up with an alternate way to distract those who stood in the way of her client's freedom. Obviously, the subtle approach wasn't going to work this time.

Unlike some of her more morally bound colleagues, the ambitious blonde had no qualms about doing whatever it took to win. This case would be quite a feather in her cap if she won and having someone as powerful as Adrian Myles as an ally was just another added bonus. No, she had no problem with coming up with a way to "distract" the cops.

With a small, thoughtful frown, the blonde tossed the tube of lipstick back into her purse and headed out the door. Before she opened it, however, she suddenly recognized the voices on the other side. Ellison and Sandburg were standing by the water fountain just outside the restrooms, oblivious to her presence on the other side of the door. She paused to see if they would say anything that she could use.

"Hey, uh, Jim?" the consultant asked hesitantly.

"Yeah, Chief, what is it?"

"Well, you know how we left my car in the garage here last night?"

"Yeah, so?"

"And you remember that we kinda hurried out of the loft this morning?"

"Yeah, so?"

Sandburg paused then said in a rush, "I left my keys at the loft, and if I'm going to get some research done at the university, I need a vehicle, and I was just wondering if I could borrow the truck this afternoon. I promise I won't get a scratch on her."

There was another, longer pause as the detective apparently considered the request. Vanessa found herself holding her breath during that pause, willing him to agree, a plan already forming if he did.

"Not a scratch?"

"Not a scratch, Jim, I swear. Scout's honor."

"You were never a Scout, Sandburg."

"Aw, c'mon, Jim. I've never so much as breathed wrong on that truck. I promise to bring it back in exactly the same condition I take it out in."

"I'll take it out of your hide if you don't." Vanessa heard the sound of car keys jingling together. "Just be back here by 6:30 to pick me up, understand?"

"Yes, Dad, I got it. Don't dent the car and be home before curfew. Any other last minute instructions before I go out on my date?"

"Don't make me change my mind, Junior. Now get out of here and let me get back to work."

"Thanks, man. I promise to be back by the end of your shift."

//And I can promise that you won't,// the hidden lawyer thought vindictively.

Waiting until the voices of the two men faded down the hall, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number that connected her to the only other person she knew, other than her clients, who was as unscrupulous as herself.

"Lansdale."

"It's me. I've got a job for you."

Continued in Act Three