The Compassion Trap

By Gil Hale —

Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.

Author’s Notes: Inspired by a Themefic request from Hephaistos on the SentinelAngst List.

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. It wasn’t even a bright, sunny, hopeful morning, which in Cascade would have been enough to warn the cynical that Portents R Us could be in business. Instead, grey skies made a blandly predictable backdrop to a normal working day, and that suited Blair Sandburg fine; he was in the enviable position of loving his work and a routine day had its own charms. He glanced at his watch as he picked up the papers from his lecture. The last of his freshmen had just left the hall, enthused (he hoped) with the wondrous possibilities of anthropology, and the sad reality of their assignments wouldn’t come ’til later in the term. He had a couple of precious hours for research and coffee, not necessarily in that order, and then he’d an interesting seminar to attend. He had no problems on his mind at all, unless he counted the question of whether Jim should be persuaded to knowingly eat something that was, technically, a seaweed, or whether it should simply be a mystery ingredient. Amazing that anyone with a background in special forces should be so picky. Of course, nobody really wanted a survival situation in their own kitchen…

There should have been a drum roll or an outbreak of ominous music; life’s nasty surprises ought to come better heralded than the one that sprang out at Blair from the doldrums of the morning’s timetable. Instead it came as silently as an assassin, and put the knife neatly into all his peaceful musing. One moment Blair was turning the corner towards the stairs, thinking of nothing very much at all. The next, his eyes had lighted on a visitor walking briskly along the hall towards the fire doors—and between one heartbeat and the next his day was shattered into jigsaw recollections of an almost forgotten nightmare.

He stopped dead, stared at the silhouette of the man against the light, reacted at a level below thought. The visitor, quite unaware of him, went on. Blair tried to control his breathing, which was suddenly turning to the rapid respiration of childhood panic. He tried to get a grip on his thoughts, to talk sense to himself of chance resemblance, of how you couldn’t recognise a man after fifteen years from a briefly seen outline in a hall. It wasn’t possible that it could be the person he remembered anyway. Logically he knew that man could not be here. Defiant of logic, his mind spewed up long past images of fear and revulsion, and he had to put a hand on the wall to convince himself of the reality of the here and now. His palms were sweaty, his heart pounding.

“Mr Sandburg, are you all right?”

He wasn’t just scaring himself, he was scaring the students. He couldn’t focus on the face in front of him, but he found the breath from somewhere to answer as normally as he could, “Yes, thanks. Just need a cup of coffee.”

Having to speak jerked him back into some sort of grip on things. The man had gone. He looked along the empty corridor, and then hurried down to his own little cubby hole of an office. With hands that he could actually see shaking he shut and locked the door, then dropped at his overcrowded table and let his head rest on his arms. Rational or not, coincidence or not, that brief glimpse in the hallway had started off a chain of memories he would much rather endure in privacy.

Alone on the streets of Denver. He’d never been quite so alone in a place he didn’t know at all. It wasn’t Naomi’s fault. He was thirteen, going on fourteen; he ought to be resourceful enough to sort this out. Okay, so the area looked rough, but you couldn’t judge people by where they had to live… only you could judge them other ways, and it only took a glance to tell him to keep away from them, and he couldn’t help noticing it was getting dark. He tried to walk purposefully so that nobody paid him any attention, because he didn’t think ‘rough diamond’ was the way the most ardent philanthropist would describe anyone he could see. Maybe if he kept his head down and kept moving he would be just another scrawny kid and no one would think he was worth bothering with, and he wouldn’t panic, and he’d keep breathing not panting and he wouldn’t start to go too fast, and shit it was getting darker…

“You okay?”

He came back down from the standing jump record he thought he’d probably just set, and if it didn’t look much like the sort of rescuer he’d have liked in an ideal world, at least it was someone his own size—maybe even scrawnier—and the blue eyes that looked him over were surprisingly concerned. Blair took in the thin face and worn clothes, and the air the boy had of being able to look after himself.

“I’m lost,” he admitted.

“Y’ look it, and this ain’t the best place t’ be wandering. Where d’y want ta go?”

The accent, though Blair couldn’t quite place it, certainly wasn’t Denver, but the boy looked as if he knew his way about. He could think of a few inventive possibilities to avoid telling the truth about his predicament, but that wouldn’t give him any more options than his current zero, and those blue eyes, still fixed intently on him, seemed to invite honesty.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I don’t know Denver. My mom sent me to stay with some friends of hers here, but when I got to their apartment they were… they’d just been busted, pigs found some weed. I saw the car. They took them all away.”

“She sent ya here, on y’ own?”

Blair flushed, not prepared to accept even this hint of criticism of Naomi. “It wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t seen them for ages; she just had an address. I don’t think she knew what it was like here, or maybe she forgot. Anyway, my mom doesn’t judge people by where they live. Only it’s kind of difficult now, and I don’t want to go anywhere official because that could make trouble for her. ”

“Y’ got any money?”

Blair shook his head. Naomi had barely had enough for the two bus fares, his to Denver, hers to some kind of impromptu meditation centre. “It shouldn’t be long though. I mean, she’ll come as soon as they let her know.”

“They’ll only get one phone call. Why don’t y’ ring her y’self?”

“She hadn’t got a contact number when I got the bus. She was going to phone them with it when she got to the place.”

“So she mightn’t even ha’ done it in time? Y’ got an address for her?”

“No.” He had to struggle again to quell the persistent risings of panic. The meditation place had been one of Naomi’s more sudden decisions, inspired by the enthusiasm of a couple they’d met on the road. They’d given her rough directions, but warned her it wouldn’t accept Blair. These friends in Denver had been the only ones who could have Blair at short notice; she’d made hasty arrangements and bought the bus tickets. He realised miserably he didn’t even know the name of the meditation place. In spite of his best efforts, his breathing kept coming faster and faster, and his heart was pounding uncomfortably.

“What’s y’ name?” his companion asked quietly, something more supportive than mere sympathy in the blue eyes.

“Blair,” he managed. “Blair Sandburg.”

“I’m Vin Tanner. Reckon y’d better come with me. We c’n sort this out.”

Fifteen years later, Blair could still remember the relief he’d felt at this quietly confident reassurance. He’d picked up his small backpack and gone with him without any hesitation; even now he’d met only a few people in life who’d inspired him with as much trust as Vin had done that night.

Vin Tanner. They’d been closer than brothers for a month; had kept up a sort of correspondence for a surprising number of years against the odds of ever changing addresses and Vin’s difficulties with writing . Then he’d got into Rainier and Vin into the army, and they’d both had so many new challenges they’d almost lost touch. He’d had a card maybe three years ago, telling him Vin was out of the Rangers and, of all things, bounty hunting. It hadn’t had an address, presumably nor had Vin, and the bounty hunting on top of the Rangers had discouraged Blair from even trying to reply. If he ever thought of Vin, it was to wonder how the quiet, compassionate boy he remembered could have become a part of something so violent. How did someone change so much?

Now, somehow, his own perspective had changed as well. Working with Jim had done that. Sitting, still shivering slightly, at his desk, he thought again of the Vin he’d known: quiet, but immensely streetwise, tough and competent; gentle, but passionate in his protection of those who needed it. Blair’s idea of the Rangers was no longer the one that he’d learned from a hundred communes, and if he still had reservations, they were muted by his (off the record) admiration of Jim.

This wasn’t something he wanted to talk to Jim about, though—which meant he’d definitely better keep well out of Jim’s way ’til his heart had stopped racing and he could stand up without shaking. Otherwise what was he going to have to say? I saw a man who scared me rigid, though I know he couldn’t really have been who I thought he was. He just reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid, when Naomi accidentally mislaid me for a month in Denver… That would go down really well. Cop instincts and Jim’s archaic views on child-rearing would have a field day with it.

He forced himself to make a cup of coffee and drink it, and organise his thoughts like a logical academic, not a teenager. It was… highly improbable that Dr Levine, if that had really been his name, was alive. Not impossible, though. Blair could think of several rather far-fetched scenarios which might explain it. But how much of a coincidence would it have to be for him to turn up at Rainier and be recognised by Blair? Logic, pushed into action, suggested that the visitor might well have signed in with some reason for his presence in the hall, and that Blair could walk upstairs and start to look into this.

He’d do it in a minute.

Instead he opened his laptop, connected to the internet and settled to what might be a long search. He felt a sharp need to talk about what had happened—preferably to someone whose response might be a reassuring ‘we c’n sort this out.’ Vin Tanner, where are you now?

Friday afternoon, and the paperwork on Chris Larabee’s desk was piled dauntingly high. Two successful busts and one washout had made for a busy week and a hell of a lot too much report writing. He glanced out into the office. There was paperwork supposed to be getting finished out there too, but it seemed to be coming a poor second to more relaxing pursuits. Nathan was on the phone, which might have looked like work if Chris hadn’t recognised the inanely grinning look on his face as the one he wore when he’d successfully set up a date with Rain. Josiah was leaned over his work, but the angle of his head suggested he was napping not thinking. Buck was unashamedly taking a break, with his feet on the desk, and although JD was absorbed at the computer, Chris could see exploding meteorites on the screen, not text.

He expected to see Ezra writing, because Ez was claiming expenses so vast that Chris had told him to make his case direct to Orrin Travis, but even that motivation didn’t seem to be working. Ezra was staring into space. Or perhaps not into space. Chris tilted his chair so he could see him more clearly. He realised then that though Ezra looked relaxed and his gaze was apparently on nothing more interesting than the window, he was in fact covertly watching the last member of Team 7—the only one currently working.

So Ezra had noticed too. There’d been something on Vin’s mind for two or three days now, though Chris doubted if anyone but himself and his undercover man would have picked up on it. Vin was too professional to allow anything to distract him when he was working, and it was barely perceptible when the quality of his quietness changed at other times. He was typing laboriously but steadily now and looked like being the first finished, but as he frowned at the screen there was still that shadow of some other problem haunting the lines of his face. Ezra looked up, perhaps with a sixth sense attuned to knowing when he was watched, caught Chris’s eye and infinitesimally shrugged. So Ez had no more idea than Chris himself what, if anything, was wrong. Chris made the slightest gesture in return, and turned back to his paperwork. He’d reduced the pile by a millimetre or two before his sharpshooter walked in.

“Problem?” Chris asked.

Vin shook his head. “I’m done. Y’don’t want me for anything else?”

The wrong note in his voice was barely noticeable, something too subtle to define. It grated on Chris like nails down a chalkboard.

He leaned back in his chair and waited.

” ‘m going t’see a… friend for the weekend.”

Chris thought maybe he caught the slightest of pauses before the word. “Old friend?” he tried.

Vin nodded, still not quite looking up to meet his eyes. “Be back Monday.”

“Going far?” Chris was feeling his way here, step by cautious step. If Vin hadn’t wanted any conversation he’d have been gone by now, but Chris didn’t want to push the questions.

“Cascade,” Vin said.

“Cascade, Washington?”


A whole jumble of questions ran through Chris’s mind, well in the lead ‘Is it trouble?’ and ‘You want me to come?’ He bit them back and Vin offered quietly, “Tell y’about it Monday.”

He finally looked up as he said it. Chris met his eyes and nodded. It might be trouble, but Vin didn’t want company. Still, at least he wanted to talk when he’d got it sorted; and Chris had some idea now where this needed to go. He dropped his chair back onto four legs, stood up and held out his hand. Their arms locked for a moment, and Chris knew that this was right, that for some reason Vin had needed this reassurance. What the hell are you up to, cowboy that you need to take that reassurance with you?

Paperwork forgotten, he watched Vin out of the door of the office; he was filled with unease, all the more powerful for being so ill defined. He saw without surprise that his undercover agent was also unobtrusively watching. Figured. Times were when he and Ezra communicated about as well as if they spoke two different languages, but when it came to Vin they’d got an understanding that didn’t even need words. He’d buy Ez a drink when the damn reports were all done; if nothing else they’d have company while they drowned their concern.

It wasn’t until he slipped quietly into the loft in the early hours of Saturday morning that Jim remembered Blair had a visitor for the weekend. It was a mark of how tired he was and how prolonged his current case had been that everything else had been forgotten, but at least this last, lengthy stake out had paid off, and it was all over bar the reports. The main thing on his mind now was to get some sleep, but other thoughts had begun to filter through as he drove home. Now as he stood in the darkness of the kitchen, which wasn’t dark for him, most of those thoughts were of Blair.

Blair had been… off balance, somehow, all week. It hadn’t been obvious, and Jim had been home so little he might not have noticed it, except that whatever it was had disturbed Blair’s sleep. Several times Jim had stirred from his own half-exhausted slumber and heard a soft movement downstairs in the early hours of the morning. Once he’d dragged himself up, but Blair had been so mortified that he’d woken him, and so adamant it was just college stuff keeping him awake that Jim had given in and dropped thankfully back into the few hours of sleep he had time to snatch.

Then they’d coincided briefly over the coffee pot on Friday morning, and Blair had said, with nothing like his usual confidence, “Okay if I have a friend to stay over a couple of nights?”

Jim had wondered briefly if he’d been giving a more than usually ungracious impression all week. Or was the friend going to be weirder than Sandburg’s usual friends? Worse than Naomi and the sage?

“He can sleep in my room,” Blair said hastily.

At least it was a he.

“He’s not a native percussionist complete with ethnic drum kit, or the author of a seaweed cook book?”

That had won a reluctant smile from Sandburg. “He’s in the ATF actually. Just an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time.”

He’d been looking forward to it; Jim had heard that, but there’d been an edge there too, not the relaxed expectation there should have been. Jim had had no time to do anything but swallow his coffee, look with frustrated concern at Blair and go out. Now, trying to recapture his hasty impression, it seemed to him that Blair had been worried, even afraid of something, and looking forward to this visit as a lifeline.

Troubled—not least by the fact Blair had obviously not looked for a lifeline nearer home—he listened to the two heartbeats in Blair’s small room. Asleep, both of them. On impulse he looked in. Even to his own ears he was almost noiseless, and there wasn’t the slightest change in Blair, who was asleep under a mound of blankets. His visitor, on a sleeping bag on the floor, was a different matter. He didn’t move, but his heart rate quickened and Jim saw alert blue eyes fix on him using the light from the uncurtained window almost as efficiently as Jim was using it himself.

Jim nodded to the stranger, appreciating the honed ability to wake to the slightest change in the environment, appreciating still more the tiny increase in tension and position that told him the visitor’s waking instinct had been to protect Blair.

The man nodded in return, and uncoiled to his feet in an easy and soundless movement. He followed Jim out into the living room. With hair down to his shoulders, bare foot in a scruffy T shirt and threadbare sweats he didn’t look much like any kind of federal agent, but Jim had already formed a pretty accurate idea of his quality. Agility, alertness, strength in every inch of the slight build, the movements of someone trained and utterly fit: some captain had got lucky with this one. He held out his hand. “Jim Ellison,” he said quietly.

“Vin Tanner.” Jim had been appraised as well, and apparently not found wanting. He could tell that from the way the blue eyes met his and the acceptance in the firm handshake. “Thanks fer puttin’ me up.”

“Blair’s been looking forward to it,” Jim said easily though his mind wanted to yell, He’s worried. He won’t talk to me. He thinks you’re going to put it right.

Vin seemed to pick up some of the subtext. “We go back a long way. Reckon he wanted t’ talk about some stuff from back then.”

Okay. That made sense. Jim would still rather Blair had talked to him, but Tanner was a vast improvement on his vague expectations; anyone less flaky was hard to imagine. Feeling relieved, he let himself remember how tired he was.

“Make yourself at home,” he said to Tanner. “Glad to have you.”

Vin nodded. “Glad t’ see Blair again.”

Alliance declared, he went back to his sleeping bag. Jim dragged himself upstairs, shrugged out of his clothes and was asleep as soon as he was horizontal. It was broad daylight when he awoke, and the loft was empty. He took the opportunity of using all the hot water in a prolonged and much needed shower, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The loft was still empty in the evening. The peace and quiet had grown monotonous, and he went over to Simon’s to watch the game, and wondered if Blair and Tanner had managed to catch it somewhere.

The loft was still empty at midnight when he got home.

Blair was probably introducing his visitor to the night life of Cascade, but…

It was still empty at 3 a.m.

And four.

At 7.30 he cracked and tried Blair’s cell phone. He couldn’t get through.

Mid morning he went into the PD and called up information on ATF personnel. That, at least. turned out to be encouraging reading. Tanner was exactly who he was supposed to be and his team had an impressive record. He and Blair were probably just sleeping off a party on someone’s floor. All the same, Jim made a note of contact numbers for the Team 7 leader, and called up Cascade’s accident records for the night. Nothing.

He went to the gym, called the loft, called Blair’s cell phone again, went home and looked at the empty, untidy bedroom. Maybe they were just recalling more carefree days and having a really wild weekend.

Or maybe whatever had been worrying Blair had proved to be a present threat, not just a problem from the past. A bigger threat than the competent-looking Tanner could handle? His uneasiness grew.

Vin sat cross-legged in the corner of the bare room, chin on his knees and a cold feeling compounded of guilt and fury and fear gripping his heart. He should’ve done… well, hell, something different, that was for sure. Should’ve covered every angle and not been in such an all fired hurry to find out if it really was the Doctor. Should’ve acted like the man he was now, not the kid he’d been then…

“Not your fault,” Blair said softly. He’d been walking round on another futile tour of the empty walls, the solid locked door, the high-up and completely unhelpful ventilator. “It was my idea to come here.”

Vin shrugged. “I wanted t’know, same as you. And you were right.”

Blair had been right. Maybe if Vin had really believed it was possible, he’d’ve taken better precautions. And maybe not. It had seemed easy enough. Blair had done the detective stuff before Vin arrived in Cascade, had found out the visitor to Rainier (signed in under the name Dr Josephs) had been visiting Professor Saunders, and had made an extremely illicit evening visit to Professor Saunders’ computer.

Saunders was a Professor of Pharmacology, with a background in psychiatric drugs. For Blair, that had been another bit of confirmatory evidence, though what he’d managed to pull off the computer had been scanty enough. “And that’s suspicious too,” he’d told Vin, as they drove to the outskirts of Cascade. “I’ve never seen an academic with so many complicated ways of protecting material. I could have got into it if I’d had time, but I got the address and I thought that was the best place to start.”

The address had been on a database Blair had managed to access. He thought it had been used for posting either information or actual samples of drugs, and it seemed like a private address rather than some research place where ‘Dr Josephs’ might be working. Their plan was basic. They would go there, confirm it was the correct address, and try to get a sighting and photographs of the man. If they were both sure enough on the basis of that that Dr Levine really had survived the fire that was supposed to have killed him, they’d have to decide where to go from there. Vin had checked that the body found fifteen years ago had been identified from dental records, and that meant that if something had gone wrong, it hadn’t been a simple mistake.

It was obvious now it hadn’t been a mistake at all.

The place hadn’t been what they were expecting. That had been their first warning. It looked designed to be secure—in an unobtrusive way. Vin had noted the high gates and wall, the open grounds running up to the house. It was big, too. It might almost have been an expensive nursing home, if it hadn’t been for the couple of men who didn’t look much like gardeners, and the dogs who might have been pets but were good breeds for guard dogs.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Blair said again insistently, jerking him back to the present. He gave up his prowling of the room and came and dropped to the floor next to Vin. He was shivering a little. The room was cold, and they weren’t warmly dressed.

After they’d driven past, Vin had vetoed the idea of approaching the place openly, or hanging around outside, in fact he’d dismissed the idea of doing anything in daylight. The grounds of the house opposite were more overgrown. They should be safe enough coming back after dark and taking cover in there to watch the gates. It might be uncomfortable, and not give them such a good chance of seeing their man, but it ought to be safe.

Only it hadn’t been.

“We couldn’t have guessed their security would be state-of-the-art national paranoia stuff,” Blair said. “I did wonder if Professor Saunders had something to do with the CIA or whatever, but… Do you think those men who brought us in were telling the truth? Do you think this really is a hush hush government place?”

Vin thought of the speed with which their presence had been detected, and the quality of the equipment which had pinpointed them. To say nothing of the quantity of professional-looking armed men who’d appeared. “Probably,” he said reluctantly. It was certainly something on a scale he hadn’t anticipated. If he had to guess, he’d say CIA, somewhere on the unattributable fringe. The anonymous, smartly dressed man who’d had them locked up had exactly the right look. Now he wondered who they’d see when the door opened again. Would it help if they believed he was an ATF agent, or would it make things worse?

“What time do you think it is?” Blair asked. He sounded tired now, the adrenaline finally running out. Their watches had been taken, along with their shoes and any other loose possessions.

“Two, maybe three o’clock.”

“Jim’ll wonder where we are. Or else he’ll think I’ve taken you to Club Doom.”

“Y’ tell him anything?”

“No.” Blair shifted slightly. “Jim’s only met my mom a couple of times, and he has this really negative attitude to kids being given a lot of freedom. I mean, he’s a great guy but he wouldn’t get past the ‘loose on the streets of Denver’ thing. And I could have been wrong, was likely to be wrong. You tell anyone?”

“Nope.” Never really let the guys in on the past, not even Chris. Like Chris would give a damn about it. Wish I’d a telled him. Too late now.

Time passed, slowly. Vin thought of all the ways this might work out, and none of them were good. He should never have let Blair get into this. He’d good as promised Ellison he’d take care of things. Lousy job he’d made of it. Ellison was going to be pissed off.

So was Chris.

“It. Was. Not. Your. Fault,” Blair said so forcibly it made him jump. “Why do you think they’re leaving us so long.”

“Soften us up, maybe.”

“What for?”

“So we talk. They don’t know why we’re here.”

Blair thought about it. “How much do we tell them?”

That was the question Vin had been wrestling with for the last few hours. “We tell them the truth about the ATF and you being an observer with the PD. Tell ’em you thought Prof Saunders was a bit of a suspicious character, and we decided to do some freelancing, looking into what he was up to.”

“Right. That sounds okay. We don’t say anything about…?”

“Not if we want any chance at all of walking out of here. And keep your face down a bit when we’re talking. Lucky you’ve a real need to shave.”

He could feel Blair’s puzzlement, and the shudder when he suddenly got it. “Oh man. He wouldn’t recognise us. No way. Children change a lot more than adults, and he barely saw us.”

He’d seen them around before the final night, Vin thought. Anyway, they’d bust up the man’s life work. Sick, warped, distorted life’s work, but losing it was the sort of thing to fix an impression in a man’s mind. He didn’t say so though. Instead he said quietly, “Might as well get some rest. Could be a long time afore they bother to get us.”

Blair was quiet for a while, his arm warm against Vin’s as they leaned up in the corner. “I’d almost forgotten about it,” he said eventually. “You know, pushed it down among the things I never thought about. I never told Naomi. If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said I couldn’t really remember the details at all. Then since I saw him I’ve dreamed about it every night, full technicolour, nothing left out. Wish we’d known what happened to the children they rescued. Maybe then I wouldn’t see them still there in the lab.”

Vin had never stopped being able to picture every detail of the basement rooms and laboratory. Hell, when he thought about it he could even smell the place. “He ain’t doing that now,” he said. “Be something else. Debriefing, interrogating, that kinda stuff.”

“Warping minds for his country?”

“I reckon. CIA must’ve known about him even then. Those dental records, the whole way it disappeared out the news. They got him out and recruited him. Probably as much of a prisoner as the poor bastards he was dealing with t’ begin with. Fifteen years is a long time though. Don’t know what sort a leash they got him on now.”

It was a question he thought about a lot over the next slow hours. Blair seemed to doze a little against his shoulder, probably short of sleep after a run of disturbed nights. Vin dropped into a state of half alertness, not fully awake, but coming that way as soon as there were footsteps in the hallway outside the room they’d been locked in.

Even though he was ready, even though he knew well enough what might be coming when he heard the bolts drawn back, he wasn’t ready for the effect it had on him when the door opened and the first man to step in was the one Denver’s public had quickly nicknamed Dr Death when he was headline news. He moved automatically to put himself slightly in front of Blair, and he felt the fear rise in him thick and choking as if he was thirteen years old again.

The doctor smiled. He had several men with him, and Vin realised with failing hope that they were deferring to him. They had the look of men who’d been picked not to demur whatever they were asked to do, leaving thinking to their superiors. He looked vainly for the suited man who’d been in charge the night before. Behind him he felt Blair’s fingers dig into his arm as if in warning, and he could see in the doctor’s expression something like a personal hostility.

“I’ve waited such a long time to see the two of you again,” Dr Levine said, confirming his worst fears. “When I saw the security tapes last night I was really quite surprised. You were instantly recognisable you know, especially seen together like that.”

“Think you’re makin’ a mistake,” Vin said flatly. “My name’s Tanner. I’m an ATF agent.” He spoke not to Levine but to the men with him. They looked at him stolidly, unimpressed. “This here’s Mr Sandburg, who’s attached to Cascade PD. We’re looking into a Professor Saunders. If it’s government business, we apologise for the crossed wires. We’ll just walk out of here and ferget about it.”

Dr Levine nodded. “Yes. Funnily enough—eventually—that’s exactly what you’ll do. You’ll forget about this, and everything else from the last few years. I’ve persuaded my employers to allow me to handle this, you see.”

“Our departments are going to be concerned about our whereabouts,” Blair started, his voice commendably steady.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Dr Levine said. “Nobody looking at you could believe for a moment that you have any connections with federal or police organistations, even if they didn’t know about your past.” He, too, Vin realised was speaking for the benefit of the other men—unfortunately with much more success. “I have the facilities to know that there has been no sort of authorised surveillance of these premises, and that neither of you has made a call from your cell phone in the last twenty four hours. In addition, Mr Sandburg your… roommate? partner? has been calling you with increasing concern about your whereabouts. It seems quite obvious that whatever the two of you were doing was as individuals. I shall soon know exactly, of course. You will tell me, you see. That’s what the facilities here are for.”

“It’d be in your best interests t’ let us go now,” Vin said. He didn’t sound convincing even to himself. It just seemed to amuse Dr Levine.

“Fifteen years,” the doctor said, as if thinking aloud. “Such a long time. You’ve grown, and changed. Not married, I don’t think? No. But you have some sort of careers. Something that gives you self respect? And you have friends, of course. Your phones were quite informative. I’m going to take all that away from you.” He paused, smiled at their reaction. “I can do it you know. That’s why I’m so valuable to our respected security forces. Any mind hack can get information out of someone, given the right sort of chemicals. But I can do so much more. I can convince a man he’s spent his whole life working for us, so that he gladly tells us all he knows and goes back to collect more. Or I can convince him that he has deep personal reasons to eliminate an acquaintance. For you two I have something special in mind.”

When had they backed against the wall? Vin made himself straighten up, felt Blair at his side trying to do the same though his breathing was starting to come far too fast.

Levine motioned the men behind him into the room. “You’re going back to the streets,” he said. “I can’t convince you you’re thirteen of course, but we can take some years away—quite a lot of years. And all that confidence. We’ll build in a thorough fear of the law, I think, and a knowledge you don’t have a future. No homes, no hope, no friends. That’s what a man has on the streets. This time you’ll stay there. Perhaps we’ll add an addiction, or a disability. I’m going to take everything you value about yourselves and throw it away. And I will enjoy every minute of it.”

There wasn’t any point in trying to fight their way out, but Vin jumped into action anyway, kicking expertly at the first man who was now near enough, seeing Blair dive round another. They were doing it not from any sense they could actually get out of the room, but from sheer horror at the calm promises of the man in front of them. There were too many men with him, and they were too big and too well trained, but there was nothing left to do but give everything to the struggle. If he could do nothing else, Vin wanted to get his hands round the doctor’s plump neck.

He didn’t even get that far though. A fist caught him on the side of the head as he passed the second man, knocking him off balance, and at the corner of his eye he say Blair pinned against the wall. He tried to scramble to his feet, had them kicked from under him, and as he went down this time was pinned there by a weight he couldn’t shift. Before he could try a different move, he felt a stinging pain at the top of his leg.


He had a few seconds for complete despair, and then the darkness took him.

Chris Larabee had no need to be in his office by 7.30 that Monday morning. He was expecting a quiet week, stuck behind a desk, and that wasn’t normally something he’d have been eager to get into work for. He refused to think about the early hour, though, because that would have meant acknowledging to himself the vague unease that had pulled him from his bed at dawn and had him trying his sharpshooter’s home phone and mobile from not much later. On the way in he’d tried again, and even phoned the office, only to get the answering machine. Now as he strode into the building he was hoping that Vin was in fact here, and simply letting the answering machine pick up while he brewed some coffee.

People cleared out of his way as he went rapidly up to Team 7’s section. Noticing it, he moderated his pace a little and tossed a brusque good morning at one girl. She moved out of his way even more quickly than the rest and dropped the pile of files she was holding.

His haste did him no good, anyway. No relief for his unease offered in the bare, carefully cleaned office. No smell of bitterly strong coffee. No drawled greeting. Annoyed with himself for the way apprehension was building in him, he went through to his office and listened to the handful of messages. Nothing there, either.

He told himself that Vin almost never looked up old friends, was entitled to more time off if he wanted it. He was probably just making the most of this trip to Cascade; they’d all known it would be a quiet week. None of the others would be in much before nine, and Ezra not then unless someone gave him a wake-up call…

He picked up the phone. His mood lightened very slightly at the annoyed and less than usually coherent response. An hour earlier and Ez might actually have been monosyllabic. He hadn’t heard from Vin either though. Seemed likely the brief call Chris had got on the Friday evening, saying Vin had arrived and been picked up by his friend, was the last any of the team had heard of him.

“Ah have no doubt that by the time it is a civilised hour you will hear from him,” Ezra said. “My recollection is that he said he would return on Monday morning; he made no commitment to be in Denver at dawn.”

“Dawn was a couple of hours ago.”

“Technically. Nevertheless, my point remains valid. I will see you at nine o’clock, and, if necessary, I am sure at that point we will have no problem in ascertaining which flight from Cascade Mr Tanner had booked.” He put the phone down in a way that definitely came over as insubordinate.

Chris looked at his watch. 7.45. Maybe it was a bit early to be concerned. Vin after all, was an adult. A highly trained, competent adult, probably more dangerous than anyone he was likely to meet. His mind knew it; it was somewhere at the level of instinct that he was troubled.

He pulled his files towards him abruptly. It was plain stupid to think his feeling of unease meant anything. The one unbearably appalling thing that had happened to him in his life he’d had no premonition at all, no warning to prepare him for the news. He’d wait ’til everyone got in, and if Vin still hadn’t showed by then, maybe he’d take up Ezra’s suggestion and get JD to find out the flight bookings. He started to sort through his papers methodically, shutting out all thoughts except work.

At 7.59 his phone rang, and he picked it up so hastily he almost dropped it. “Larabee.”

“Jim Ellison, Cascade PD,” came an unfamiliar voice. “Think I had one of your men staying with my roommate this weekend.”

“What’s happened?” Chris asked tersely.

His first alarm subsided a little as he realised it was not definitely bad news, but it certainly wasn’t good news either. Vin had apparently been unaccounted for, along with his friend, since Saturday.

“And you didn’t feel concerned enough to do anything about it ’til now?” he asked sharply.

Ellison, in a mood which matched his own, retorted, “Hell, yes I felt concerned. I also felt that there was a good chance they were at an all night party. They’re not a couple of kids. I checked traffic accidents and emergency rooms. It didn’t seem grounds for an APB Saturday night.”

“You’ve put one out now?”

“2 a.m.,” Ellison admitted. “No sign of the car or either of them.”

Chris rubbed his forehead irritably. He’d known on Friday night there was something… Maybe he should have pushed.

“Did Tanner tell you why he was coming to Cascade?”

“To see a friend, that’s all. You know any more than that?”

“No. But I think there was more to know.”

“Think you’re right.” Chris looked at the papers on his desk. There was nothing that couldn’t wait, or that someone else couldn’t do. “Think I might come up to Cascade,” he added slowly.

“I’ll pick you up,” Ellison offered, apparently more than happy with this.

Chris drank a hasty cup of coffee, found he could get a flight and headed out. He’d planned to call the office from the airport, but crossed paths with Buck who was on his way up. “I’m going to Cascade,” he said shortly. “You’re in charge. I’ll be in touch.”

He escaped while Buck was still assimilating this, and before the questions started. He was already regretting his sharpness with Ellison over the APB. It was an awkward call. He wasn’t going to tell the team Vin was missing ’til he was dead sure it was that and not just Vin for once letting go and having a wild weekend.

That wasn’t how it played in his mind though. Vin had been troubled by something on Friday; when he’d said he’d be back Monday morning he’d been promising himself as much as Chris.

He rang Jim Ellison from the airport, and again a couple of times on the way.


“Sorry Jim. Still nothing.” Simon Banks leaned back in his chair a little, and tried reason. “You know, if the two of them had had an accident or got into any kind of trouble we’d have heard by now. They’re probably just sleeping off a two day hangover. Haven’t you ever got together with college friends?”

“I don’t think it’s that, sir.”

Simon winced. It wasn’t even Jim’s sarcastic ‘sir’.

“I just think you might be overreacting here, Jim. Sandburg works his butt off most of the time between Rainier and helping you out. You can’t tell me the kid doesn’t miss clubbing or letting his hair down with his friends occasionally.” The expression on Ellison’s face told him he was getting exactly nowhere with this tack. He tried another. “Maybe they went out of town. You know Sandburg’s car. They could still be walking home.”

“Blair would have called, and if he didn’t Tanner would have done. He was supposed to be back in Denver this morning.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“I called his captain first thing.” Ellison glanced at his watch. “He’s coming up here. I’m going to pick him up in an hour.”

This really did get Simon’s attention. What the hell had Jim told the man? And since when did Jim call in the feds on anything, even informally? And what was this going to mean for the smooth running of Major Crimes? “You did tell him that we have no reason at all for assuming there’s a serious problem?”

“He wanted to know why I waited so long before putting out an APB,” Jim said, with what might have been just a trace of satisfaction. “Look, I want to go over to Rainier before I pick him up and…”

“Fine,” Simon interrupted hastily. “And when you find Sandburg and Tanner on someone’s floor—some girl’s floor, knowing Sandburg—make sure you tell them it was your idea not mine to have the whole PD looking for them. Oh, and Jim, this ATF captain who’s coming—what’s his name?”

“Larabee,” Jim said, already on his way out of the door. “Chris Larabee.”

Simon’s day, which hadn’t started well—he hadn’t appreciated being phoned at dawn by Ellison—took a nosedive towards total disaster.

“Larabee,” he said aloud, though the door had already slammed.

If that wasn’t typical of Sandburg. He couldn’t mislay himself with some other college student, or someone with a nice sane police captain for a boss. Simon could count on one finger—the one he was about to raise at Fate—the number of ATF captains whose names he’d actually recognise. Larabee wasn’t just famous in law enforcement, he was notorious. If half the things Simon had heard about him were even partly true, then putting him with Ellison would be like putting the detonator in the C4.

He needed a cup of coffee.

Actually, he needed something stronger, but coffee would have to do.

Jim had never heard of Chris Larabee. The only thing he knew about him was that Larabee was the one person he’d dealt with so far who not only approved the APB but was inclined to think it should have gone out earlier. In Jim’s book that made him an ally.

An ally worth having, was his first impression when he saw him. Larabee looked like a man who could handle any amount of trouble. His records showed he’d been in the Seals, and he had more that air about him than much hint of being a federal agent. A tiny primitive bit at the back of Jim’s mind—the bit which Sandburg was tactlessly amused by—couldn’t help assessing how he’d fare in a fight against the man. He wasn’t totally confident he could take him, but luckily it was irrelevant. The minute he met Larabee’s eyes he knew they had a shared agenda.

“How long are you here for?” Jim asked, leading the way to his truck.

“Long as it takes.”

“Got anywhere to stay?”

“Not yet.”

“You can put up at my place if you like.”


Jim, not a man himself who’d ever tried for conversationalist of the year, appreciated Larabee’s terseness; it confirmed what he was picking up with his senses in the man’s body language: he was as worried about Tanner as Jim was about Blair, and equally determined to do something about it.

“We’ll call in at the PD, see if anything useful’s come in and introduce you to my captain,” he said. “I’d better warn you, he thinks I’m overreacting.”

Larabee’s tension increased slightly. “Vin’s a professional. If he says he’ll be somewhere at a given time, he’s there. If he wasn’t in some kind of trouble he’d have been in touch long before now. Want me to tell your captain just how out of character this is?”

Jim thought about it. It was time Simon began to take this seriously. “Go ahead,” he said.

On the way up, they checked for any sightings of their missing people or Blair’s car. There was still nothing at all.

Blair was somewhere dark and smooth and still, somewhere where there seemed to be nothing at all in his world except emptiness, and a voice. Sometimes he floated further from the voice, and sometimes close to it, but he could never get away from it entirely. It was low and persuasive and relentless, and the longer the emptiness around him lasted, the harder it was to ignore its words. His mind was fuzzy, as though he was thinking in his sleep, and when he tried to anchor his thoughts he couldn’t do it. A part of him almost welcomed the voice, because it was something real outside himself, but at the same time he flinched from it, though in the emptiness he couldn’t quite remember why.

Chris Larabee wasn’t used to following someone else, not these days, but for the time being he hadn’t a lot of choice. He let Ellison take the lead: to the PD, to an interview with his captain, and from there to Rainier, where apparently Sandburg worked as an anthropology student and teaching assistant.

It was made easier by the fact that he’d decided, provisionally, Ellison was a man he could respect. He soon added to that a grudging regard for Simon Banks. The man wasn’t intimidated easily. Well, wasn’t intimidated at all Chris suspected, but Banks did seem able to accept he might have called it wrong on the matter of Tanner and Sandburg. Once he’d got that point across, Chris eased up a bit. Wasn’t, after all, as if he didn’t have any tact in handling colleagues.

“I’ll be here ’til we’ve got somewhere on this,” he told the man, knowing he’d be grateful not to have to put any more of his own men on it.

Banks made an odd sort of noise. “I appreciate that,” he said, “but won’t that be a problem for your own case load.”

“My team can handle what we’ve got on at the moment,” Chris said briefly. “Reckon it’ll be better if I’m on the spot here.”

He’d have pointed out a few things the PD hadn’t done and might have considered doing towards improving their search for the missing men, but at that point Ellison had hurried him off to Rainier, where they called on the head of campus security to set things in motion and then went along to Sandburg’s office.

It seemed to Chris as good a place as anywhere to start. He didn’t know Cascade, or anything about Sandburg, and if nothing else it would help him start to build up some sort of picture of Vin’s friend. He wondered about a cop like Ellison having a ridealong observer, and still more about the fact he seemed to have taken the kid in as a lodger, but the one thing that actually seemed to matter about it was that Ellison clearly felt as strong a tie, as sharp a mix of concern and responsibility and sheer alarm for a friend, as Chris did.

The cupboard-sized office with Sandburg’s name on the door was a mess. On closer inspection it was a mess into which someone had been trying to bring some sort of order.

“I started to sort through this lot this morning,” Ellison said. “Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything that will give us a lead, but I’ll collect all the recent stuff except student papers.”

Chris shifted a pile of papers off a chair and sat down, taking in the details of the room. “Anthropologist?” he asked.

Ellison nodded, maybe surprised.

“Got a friend with a background in anthropology,” Chris explained. “What does an anthropologist study at the PD?”

“Closed societies.”

Chris let it go. The answer seemed to him too quick and too short, and nothing like an adequate explanation for Ellison’s long term involvement, but unless it seemed to have something to do with Vin’s disappearance he wasn’t making waves. He flicked absently through some of the printed off papers piled up next to him. None of them were about closed societies in any shape or form. They seemed more medical than anthropological, a whole sheaf of them dealing with perceptual problems. They were not, except presumably to Sandburg, remotely interesting. He put them down again, watched Ellison collecting bits and pieces, stretched his legs and tried to think.

“Your team know Tanner’s missing?” Ellison asked.

“They’ll have worked it out. Thought I’d contact them a bit later. Maybe by then we’ll have some news for them, or something useful they can do.”

“Background would be useful,” Ellison said. “Whatever’s happened, I don’t think it was a run of the mill accident on the way home from a night out. I don’t even think now they were planning a social weekend.”

Chris nodded. That fitted with his own impression. He tried to find the words to convey the subtle tension there had been about Vin on the Friday night. Trouble was, he barely understood it himself. “Vin knows what he’s doing in almost any situation,” he said slowly. “He can handle himself. He’s quiet, but he’s got that confidence if you know what I mean. He wasn’t like that before he came here. It wasn’t the way he’d be if he was just expecting some kind of reunion.”

“He was expecting trouble?”

“Don’t think it was that definite. Maybe not sure what he was expecting… hell, I don’t know. Whatever it was, he wasn’t talking about it.”

Ellison put the papers down. “Sandburg’s been awake at 2 a.m. most nights this week. He wasn’t talking about it either.”

“I should’ve made him talk,” Chris said, frustrated. “Damn it, I knew there was something.”

Ellison started to say something and stopped as there was a tap at the door and a student looked in. At any rate, he looked the right age for a student. Otherwise his appearance was more football pitch than library.

“Oh,” he said, disconcerted. “Where’s Mr Sandburg?”

“Were you expecting to see him?” Ellison asked.

“Yes. He helps me out with my work on a Monday. Who are you anyway? What are you doing with Mr Sandburg’s things.”

Showing him both their IDs was possibly overkill.

“Wow. What’s happened? Has Mr Sandburg got on the wrong side of some gunrunners. Hey, I saw a movie once where these AK47s were being smuggled inside mummies and…”

Ellison looked at him and he trailed off.

“Mr Sandburg is missing. Campus Security are going to take statements from anyone who’s seen him since after classes on Friday. What’s your name?”

“Watson, sir. Byron Watson. Everyone will want to help—Mr Sandburg’s a great teacher, and he helps a lot of us out. I mean, to keep our grades up overall, not just in Anthro. I haven’t seen him since last week though. I’ll put the word round that you want to see people.” He started to leave, then paused in the doorway. “You know, if it is something to do with a criminal gang, I think maybe Mr Sandburg saw one of them last Tuesday.”

“Why do you think that?” Ellison asked, giving the kid some rope.

“I saw him Tuesday morning, and he looked like he’d just seen a ghost or something. Seriously, sir. I bumped into him in the corridor and he was just staring into space and he looked as if he was about to pass out.”

Ellison glanced at Chris, who shrugged. Since they’d got exactly nothing, it was worth hearing it out.

“Was anyone else there?” Ellison asked.

“Someone had just gone through the fire doors I think. I didn’t really look—I mean, I thought at first he was feeling ill, only when I spoke to him he sort of shook it off and just said he needed a coffee. Then I thought it might have been bad news or something. It could have been someone he’d seen though.”

He looked at Ellison hopefully. Ellison said, “We’ll bear it in mind. Ask around, see if anyone else noticed Mr Sandburg on Tuesday morning, and I’ll see Campus Security include it in their enquiries.”

That seemed to be enough to send the student off happy.

Ellison picked up the pile of papers he’d collected. “Anything else you can think of we could do here?”

“Computer records?”

“Blair uses a laptop, and I can’t find it. I’m beginning to wonder if he took it with him when they went out.”

Chris looked round at the packed room. If there was anything here, they needed some sort of line on where to look, and he thought that would have to come from somewhere else. “Reckon the question we need to answer is where Tanner and Sandburg knew each other from.”

Ellison nodded. “I’ve been trying to track down Sandburg’s mother—she’s on the move all the time. We might as well go to the loft, check if she’s left a message there. You can contact your team.” He paused. “I don’t know a whole lot about Blair’s past, certainly not before Rainier.”

Chris knew what he was getting at. There were probably things in Vin’s life too that he’d’ve preferred to keep private. If it was a choice between respecting that privacy and finding Vin, he knew what he’d do, even if he had to take the flak afterwards.

Vin had fought the darkness, the sense of nothingness, the emptiness that had still managed to feel smothering. He’d fought until the tide of lassitude in him became so strong that he could do nothing so active as struggle. But there were other ways to win. When the voice started, he knew it was his enemy, as the darkness was. He could not shut the sound out, but he could set it aside, and make it meaningless. The voice went on, ’til it threatened to become the whole world, but Vin had known this sort of battle before. Sometimes, you had to retreat a little, find a safe place, outlast the enemy. He found a still place, somewhere within him where there was peace. He’d been there before, when he’d had to outlast hunger or humiliation or pain. The voice went on, but the words hardly reached him.

Chris dropped his bag by the door of the loft and looked round him with appreciation. It was remarkably like the one Buck and JD shared except that you could see the floor and the furniture without filling a rubbish sack. In the small spare room he could see Vin’s sleeping bag spread on the floor and a few of his belongings piled on it.

Ellison was already checking his messages, but there was nothing helpful—one from a TA saying she’d cover Blair’s classes, one from Banks saying there was no news. He looked for a moment as if he’d like to throw the answering machine against the wall, then he turned abruptly to the kitchen.

“Beer? Or coffee?”

“Beer, thanks.”

They drank in silence; not an uncomfortable silence, more a mutual acceptance that at the moment there was nothing to say. Then Chris called his team and told them what they’d pretty much already guessed, that Vin seemed to be missing. There were things he couldn’t very well say while he was a guest in the loft, but he’d confidence anyway that they’d thoroughly check out Ellison and Sandburg. What he was more concerned to do was to get them working on finding out what the link was between Vin and Sandburg, and why exactly he should have decided to come to Cascade this weekend.

He set Josiah to trace any links that might have come about through the anthropology—Vin, they all knew, had strong friendships among native Americans. Buck was to deal with Vin’s time in the Rangers and bounty hunting, though it didn’t seem a probable connection. JD he told to go through Vin’s computer and his recent emails as far as he could, and wasn’t surprised when the kid objected.

“It’s an order, JD. The responsibility’s mine.”

“But…” There was a noise that seemed to be Buck forcibly removing JD from the phone. Then for a minute or two he got Josiah in the foreground giving him details of what Vin’s flight bookings had been, while scarcely less loud in the background were Buck and Ezra explaining in stereo—one extremely bluntly, one with rhetorical emphasis—why JD had to do it.

Nathan was the only one of them who had anything unexpected to say. “Just had an odd conversation with Vin the other day,” he said, when he finally got hold of the phone. “May not mean much, but it kind of stuck in my mind. Remember Thursday—Mandy Roblin bringing her baby in for everyone to see?”

Chris did remember. It happened from time to time that one of the staff who had left temporarily or permanently to have a baby would come in to show off the new arrival. He always caught himself eyeing them uneasily for any resemblance to Buck.

“Well, we all saw the baby was a real pretty little thing, and how Mandy fussed over her—it was clear that baby was the most precious thing she’d ever held. Vin and me, we were at the back of the group admiring her, and suddenly he says to me, ‘What do babies remember, Nate?’ Told him it depended. Some folk remember way back, others can’t seem to recollect anything much before they were walking. Then he says, ‘If a baby suffered bad, then it went to a home where someone was good to it, d’you reckon it would grow up okay?’ It wasn’t no casual question, either.

“What did you tell him?” Chris asked.

“Told him love could turn most things round and babies were a lot tougher than he’d think. And that was just when Mandy got Ez to hold the baby and it brought up a little bit of milk…”

Chris grinned involuntarily at the memory. Ezra had been caught between horror at that infantile act of bioterrorism and the need to be courteous to the mother and otherwise charming daughter. It was no wonder Nate had lost the thread of the conversation.

“Something was on his mind,” Nathan finished. “Nothing cheerful either.”

“Yeah.” Chris put the phone down, and glanced at Ellison.

“I heard,” Ellison said briefly. “That phone’s loud. Will your boy go through the computer?”

“Yes. You find anything?”

Ellison had been sitting there sifting through the papers he’d brought back from Rainier. “Not a thing.”

After that there wasn’t a lot either of them could do, except wait—for any replies, for news, for something to give them a hint of where to start. They could have gone back to the PD, but Ellison was hoping one of his many attempts to get hold of Naomi Sandburg would result in a call, and he wanted to be there to get it. She seemed their best hope at the moment.

They ate without paying much attention to the food, then sorted out the spare room, partly in case Ellison had missed anything, partly so Chris could get in there to sleep. Picking up the strewn belongings, Chris felt it was uncomfortably reminiscent of packing up someone’s belongings in the forces, to return to his family because he wouldn’t be going home. He didn’t need more than a half glance to see it felt no better to Ellison.

While Ellison put clean sheets on the bed, Chris looked over the small pile of things that had been with Vin’s sleeping bag. Vin never packed much; maybe it was a hangover from times in his life when he’d had to carry all his belongings around with him. He picked up the small street map of Cascade. When he’d first noticed it, it had seemed an obvious enough thing to have in an unfamiliar city, but now he noticed it wasn’t new, and anyway, Vin hadn’t needed to find his way anywhere: Blair had picked him up and they’d been together all the time.

“Is this Sandburg’s?” he asked.

Ellison looked at it. “Could be.”

“Maybe they were looking up an address.”

Ellison looked slightly more interested. He took the map and scanned it as if he could see something, though Chris certainly couldn’t, then ran his fingers lightly over its surface. Chris had checked for any marks or indentations and was fairly sure there weren’t any, but Ellison had an intent, withdrawn look, as though he might be able to discern something from the map.

Then the telephone rang making them both jump. Wincing as if the sound had hurt, Ellison lifted the receiver.

“Simon? Hold on a minute.”

In spite of what he had said about the loudness of the phone, he now flicked a speaker switch so that Chris could hear both sides of the conversation.

“We’ve found Sandburg’s car,” Simon Banks said. “In the car park at Rainier. Well, to be accurate, we didn’t find it. A student noticed it and called Campus Security.”

“Have you sent a forensic team down?”

There was an audible sigh. “Jim. They’re adults. They’re men. They’ve been missing less than twenty four hours by any reasonable reckoning, and we’ve no grounds for supposing a crime’s been committed. Exactly how do you think I’m going to justify sending out a forensic team?”

“It wasn’t there at 5 a.m. this morning.”


“Sandburg’s car. I went round the whole of Rainier at around that time, car parks included. The car wasn’t there.”

A brief silence, then Banks, reluctantly. “It doesn’t make it a crime, Jim. Look, I’ve done the best I can. Campus Security will make sure no-one else touches it ’til you’ve gone over it personally. It’s dark now. They are not expecting you until tomorrow, all right?”

“I can manage in the dark.”

“Tomorrow. They’ve got it in a secure lock up.”

He rang off before Jim could raise any more objections.

Ellison’s hand was clenched on the receiver so hard that his knuckles were dead white, but he put it down with careful precision, as though any loss of control now would be to unleash the whirlwind. With the same outward calm he opened the doors to the balcony. Chris let him go, and waited.

He sensed rather than saw the moment when Ellison stopped being on the verge of an explosion, then joined him in the evening’s damp chill. The silence stretched a while, then Ellison said bitterly, “It’s not some superstitious fucking hunch.”

Chris knew exactly what he meant, shared the same gut deep feeling that Tanner and Sandburg were in trouble. “Think it would make a difference to get the car tonight?” he asked.

Ellison drew back from somewhere far away he’d been staring at. “No. But it would have been something we could do.”

And that was the worst of it. They had nothing, right now, they could do, and consequently no ease for the prickling concern that made them restless. Chris thought about the conversation he’d just heard. “You don’t think they or the car were at Rainier last night?”

“I’m sure Sandburg wasn’t there,” Ellison said with more certainty than seemed reasonable. He caught Chris’s reaction, and looked as if he was about to say something more, but just then the phone rang again and interrupted them.

“Jim?” It was woman’s voice this time as Ellison answered. “I had a message you were trying to get in touch with me.”

“Sandburg’s mother,” Jim muttered to Chris, who had worked this out anyway. “Naomi. Where are you?”

“Southern Ireland, on the Atlantic coast. It’s so beautiful here, Jim. But why did you need to speak to me?”

“It was about Blair,” Jim said. “I hope there’s no problem, but he’s a bit late back from a weekend with an old friend, and I was slightly concerned. I thought you might know his friend and where they could have gone.”

He was obviously trying to be tactful and avoid alarming the woman. He certainly succeeded. There was a peal of laughter from the phone. “Oh, Jim, lighten up. Blair can’t live with timetables and regulations all the time, he’s always been a free spirit. You fence him in too much.”

“I’m just a bit worried about him,” Ellison said, with a patience that surprised Chris. “He hasn’t been in touch, and nor has his friend. Do you remember the name Vin Tanner, Naomi. Blair must have met him some time ago.”

“Blair has such a lot of friends. Maybe if you told me what he looks like or…”

Chris leaned over and took the receiver. “Brown hair, wears it long, blue eyes, old-fashioned manner with women, probably called you ma’am.”

There was a long pause, then Naomi said uncertainly, “I do remember a boy. I think he’s the only person I’ve ever met who called me ma’am. But that was so long ago. It must have been nearly fifteen years ago.”

Jim took back the phone. “Could have been, Naomi. Blair said it was a friend from way back. I think it was someone he’d kept in touch with from time to time over years.”

“He tried so hard to keep in touch with the friends he’d made,” Naomi said fondly. “Detaching was one of the things Blair never really did well. I don’t remember him mentioning this boy though.”

“You remember where they met? Or how?”

“Well, yes. It was in Denver. I was really grateful to the boy, in fact, though I never did meet his family. Blair was in his early teens then, and I’d sent him to Denver to stay with some friends of mine. The arrangement fell through, and it could have been quite awkward, but luckily Blair made friends with this boy and was able to stay with him. I remember how sensible they were. When I got to Denver they were waiting outside the house where Blair should have been. I would have been quite worried otherwise.” She paused. “You know, Jim, I’m sure I took a photo of them together. Blair was very insistent we take… Vin, was it?… out for a meal. We went to some dreadful junk food place. I really had to set off with Blair after that, but I took a photo of the two of them. Blair had a little album, and he used to put pictures of friends in it when we moved on. I’m sure he still has it—it’s probably in his room. A little book made out of handmade paper, with some pressed leaves on the front. You might be able to tell from that if it’s the same boy. But I don’t remember Blair ever seeing him again; I can’t imagine what they would be doing if it is him.” There was some noise in the background. Distracted by it apparently, Naomi said hurriedly, “Jim, I really have to go. Don’t worry about Blair. He needs his space. Don’t try to stifle him or stop his spontaneity. Let him be himself.”

“How can I get in touch with you?” Jim asked hastily before she could cut him off.

“Oh, I’ll get back to you. In a couple of days. Give Blair my love when he comes home.”

She was gone. Ellison looked as if he had a headache.

“Unusual mother,” Chris said.

“Believe it. I didn’t want to panic her, but maybe I should have put it a bit more strongly.”

“She wasn’t going to believe anything was wrong,” Chris said. “Anyway, she obviously didn’t know much, if anything. We’d better go and look for that album, but some things didn’t sound right. Vin’s no family, and that long ago, I wouldn’t even be sure he had a home.”

Ellison shrugged. “We’ll look, anyway.”

It took them a long time to find the album, and Chris hadn’t much hope of getting anything from it anyway. It turned out to be a battered little book, the dried leaves crumbling on the front, and the pages well thumbed. Ellison turned them carefully. Those at the beginning were a small boy, always in a new setting, with a different friend or friends. Chris wondered if Sandburg was still long-haired and waif like.

Towards the middle of the book, the pictures seemed nearer the right age. Some were clearer than others. Chris wasn’t sure if he’d recognise Vin in a photo from so long ago. Then Ellison turned another page, and he didn’t need to wonder about it any longer. The photo seemed to leap from the page at him with heart stopping clarity, though in fact it was a simple snap like the rest.

“That’s Vin,” he said aloud, and saw Ellison had recognised it too.

For a ridiculously long time, they simply stood and stared at the picture. The image of the two boys, long wavy hair dangling round thin faces, grimy T shirts emphasising their skinny build, pushed all the wrong buttons when they were already worried. It was the eyes that got to Chris. The camera had captured something almost haunted in them. They looked out from the photo, too old and too stoical, and denied the smiles on their faces. ‘I’m fine’ that smile said to Chris. ‘I’m fine; I can do it alone. Don’t need help.’ There had been an echo of that lonely, ingrained self reliance on Vin’s face when Chris had last seen him. If two kids had been struggling on the streets and had tried to clean themselves up and put a good face on things to impress someone, they’d look exactly like what he was seeing there.

“Vin was homeless a lot of his childhood,” he said quietly. “Could she not have known—Sandburg’s mother I mean—if her son had been loose on the streets in Denver for a month or however long it was?”

“He wouldn’t tell her,” Ellison said, so promptly he’d obviously been thinking along the same lines. “He’d just let her think that he’d managed fine, and she’d pick him up and move on. It would be forgotten.”

“But wouldn’t she have seen?”

It seemed to Chris that one glance at a kid looking like Sandburg did in that picture would have told a mother that all sorts of things were wrong. Hell, even knowing how long ago it was, he couldn’t see Vin looking like that without a wrenching need to do something about it.

“She mostly seems to see what she wants to see,” Ellison said. He closed the book gently. “Well, that explains how Blair came to know Tanner. It doesn’t go far towards giving us any idea what they could have been doing this weekend.”

“If it was anything to do with that time, you’d expect them to have met up again in Denver,” Chris agreed. “More likely, they’ve got together for other reasons since. I’ve got Josiah looking into the anthropology side. I’ll tell him to extend that a bit to other interests they might have had as kids and I to go back to—how long ago did Sandburg’s mother say she thought this was?”

“Fifteen years, maybe.”

“I’ll get him to work back as far as that, then, looking for anything at all, but I can’t see what he might expect to find.”

Even though Ellison had closed the book, Chris couldn’t get the picture of Vin as a street kid out of his mind. It was one thing to know it was in Vin’s past, another to look at it like that. He’d seen familiar things in that kid’s face of course—he could imagine that even then Vin had had the courage and the independence he had now. But it wasn’t that which haunted him. It was the vulnerability he’d also seen. He wished he’d handcuffed Vin to his desk until he told him what the hell he was planning in Cascade.

The nothingness in which Blair passed eons of unmeasured time had changed a little. His lethargy had lightened. Now the voice which never seemed to go away asked questions as well as telling him things. He didn’t really want to answer the questions, but his will seemed to be one of the things that had floated irretrievably away. Without wanting to, he found himself talking. Then gradually, drifting through his mind in a way that could hardly be called thought, he found a different solution. He didn’t seem to be able to keep silent, so he talked and talked, piling detail on detail, talking until the voice went away, and in case it hadn’t he still went on talking then, about his work and expeditions he’d been on and anything and everything that was safe—because however far from himself and the world he seemed to have gone, somewhere in the core of him he knew there was one thing he must never talk about.

Jim Ellison had not slept the previous night and he was achingly tired, but he still slept shallowly and woke very early. He jerked from sleep with a start, alarmed and with all his senses aware. Shreds of some unpleasant dream, forgotten in the moment of waking, drifted away from him. Was that what had woken him? He let his senses reach further. No, not his own nightmare. Larabee’s. Now that he listened, he could hear the man’s speeding heartbeat and even smell the sweat on him. Coming from Sandburg’s room it had jolted his instincts into alertness.

The breathing below grew faster, then changed. He heard the movement as Larabee sat up abruptly, as wide awake now as Jim. They weren’t either of them likely to sleep again. Jim went down and started the coffee. They were both showered, shaved and drinking it before six o’clock. The disadvantage of that, of course, was that most of the other residents of Cascade weren’t quite as ready to start the day, but at least they could go to the PD and kick start proceedings there.

Jim was more than capable himself of inspiring some greater activity into the investigation, but he found quite quickly that it gave him an extra edge having Larabee along. The ATF agent loomed at his shoulder like a pissed off black shadow, and anyone who had developed an immunity to Ellison’s pleasantly persuasive manner crumpled when faced with Larabee’s additional charms. Unfortunately some of the people they had urged on to greater efforts took the coward’s way out and put indignant calls through to Simon Banks.

Simon, apparently, hadn’t planned to be at the PD before seven a.m.

Jim left it to Larabee, who wasn’t Banks subordinate, and who laid it on the line clearly enough. “There’s only two reasons Tanner wouldn’t have contacted me by now. He’s completely trapped or he’s… unconscious. Anything else and he’d have found a way.”

Jim noticed the very slight hesitation. There was another alternative, but they weren’t going there. Sandburg and Tanner were alive, and they were going to find them while that was still the case.

“I’m told Sandburg’s car showed no trace of any accident or problem,” Simon said. “I still think it’s most likely they’ll turn up sometime today, and then you can give them hell—there’ll be a queue here waiting to do the same. Anyway, the car’s at Rainier and that’s where they seem to have been seen last. Go and follow up the leads there this morning.”

He didn’t add ‘and stop harassing my detectives’ but it was all too obvious he meant it.

Jim glanced at Larabee, who gave the slightest of nods. They’d anyway been planning to go to Rainier as soon as it was far enough into the morning to have a chance of doing anything there. Neither of them was happy with Simon though, and while they were still within earshot Jim said as if conversationally, “I suppose you could always get your boys up here.”

“The team’s just waiting for the okay,” Larabee agreed, a glint in his eye. “Might get something done then.”

“Seven ATF agents,” Jim mused. “Certainly could make a difference.”

Behind him he could actually sense Simon’s blood pressure rising.

Being questioned called up trained reflexes in Vin. Name and rank. Whatever the voice asked, he heard himself repeat just that, name and rank, over and over again. He didn’t listen to the words of the question, they were irrelevant. Whenever the voice stopped, he gave it the same information. He didn’t know how long it went on, but he had given nothing else when the questions finally stopped. He hugged that small victory to himself as he slid back into the darkness.

Jim took one look at Sandburg’s car and knew that whatever he had got into was not going to be simple. The car was spotlessly clean, inside and out. It looked as though someone had run it through a carwash several times and then gone over it meticulously by hand. He doubted if even his senses were going to pick up anything useful here.

“This was filthy Saturday morning,” he said quietly to Larabee. “It always is. Usually it has a collection of old coffee cups on the seat, and worse.”

Larabee nodded, getting his point. He stopped to look at the almost spotless tyres. “Professional,” he commented.

Jim increased the intensity of his sight until he could see the minute variations, tiny details that normal eyes could never detect. It didn’t help. Not only was there nothing like a hair, he couldn’t even pick up skin cells, and in his increasingly frustrated search for some tiny fragment he began to lose himself in the greyness of a zone.

“Ellison?” It was a surprisingly quiet reminder he had company. He shook himself.

“Sorry. Thinking. This isn’t what I was expecting.”

“Security organisation, or some rogue branch of one,” Larabee said, confirming his own thoughts. He’d already checked Brackett was still locked up. How many more Bracketts were there around? But he doubted if this was anything to do with his sentinel abilities, or he would have heard from someone with their demands by now. It seemed more as though Blair and Vin Tanner had run across something they hadn’t expected either.

“No one’s going to get anything from this,” Larabee added, gesturing at the sanitised car.

“It’ll make Simon take things more seriously,” Jim said. “He always said he wouldn’t get in it without a tetanus shot.”

Larabee had gone to the door, but Jim lingered a moment longer. What would Blair have suggested he try. Smell, probably. Maybe if he sifted past the surface scents of cleaning materials, something else would remain beneath. He began to try, concentrating, discarding the odours that he’d decided were irrelevant. The others were faint, elusive. He pinned down vegetation, the lingering hint of crushed leaves. Maybe they’d left the car off road somewhere overgrown. And even fainter than that, a slight chemical smell that didn’t belong with the cleaning stuff… it was difficult to capture and define… he searched for it more closely, and this time lost himself completely.

Fresh air on his face, and his name being said, more urgently this time, brought him back. He blinked, realised he was now outside, the world flooded back into reality, and he saw Larabee looking torn between annoyance and concern.

“You want to tell me what the hell is going on?”

Well, no, he didn’t; though he could see that he might eventually have to. For now he put it off. “It happens to me occasionally when I concentrate,” he said dismissively. “Just get my attention.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last ten minutes.”

Ten? Shit.

“I brought you out here because I heard some of campus security coming along, and I thought you might rather they missed the zombie impression.”

“Thanks,” Jim said, and left it at that. One thing about Larabee, he wasn’t over talkative. He might be wondering, but he didn’t ask any more questions.

They managed to snatch a cup of coffee before they went along to join in the interviews with the students and other members of staff who had seen anything of the missing men over the weekend. All the more recent sightings were by students—Blair’s colleagues hadn’t set eyes on him since the Friday, and Jim could do the lie-detector thing well enough to check their veracity without fear of zoning.

Everyone, without exception, seemed genuinely keen to tell them anything they knew. The trouble was that the sum total of it added up to very little. However, he and Larabee gradually began to build up a tentative time frame. Sandburg and Tanner had clearly been at Rainier for some time on the Saturday afternoon. Quite a number of people had seen them, though no one later than the early evening. What they’d been doing seemed straightforward enough: having coffee, going to Blair’s office, going up to the library. Then they did get an interesting titbit of information. An earnest young biology major told them Sandburg had come to see him to borrow his night goggles.

“Why do you have night goggles?” Jim asked, wondering if he’d misunderstood.

“I’m studying nocturnal movements of small mammals for a research paper. Mr Sandburg knew that because once I… it was a complete accident… I would never use the goggles for something like that on purpose…”

Jim could see where this was going. “You saw some different nocturnal activity involving Mr Sandburg and one of his girlfriends?”

“Yes sir, exactly. I mean I would just have gone away quietly, but Mr Sandburg had already heard me. He was really nice about it. He quite often joked with me about it later, and of course I sort of owed him one so I was glad to lend him the goggles. I hope he’s all right.”

They all hoped Blair was okay. Jim found it almost disconcerting to discover quite a lot of them looked on Blair as an older friend or mentor, even a big brother figure. It made him look again at his own feelings. Was he over protective? Maybe it was because they were nearly always together in his professional surroundings, not Blair’s, and the dangers and problems were very different. Right now though, he wasn’t going to review that feeling. Somewhere, somehow, he was certain Blair was in trouble, and no amount of concern on Jim’s part was going to be over the top.

After they’d interviewed all those who’d actually seen their missing men on Saturday, they left the routine of follow up to the university’s security people, and turned their attention to the previous Tuesday morning. When he thought about it, it seemed to Jim that the timing tied in with when he’d first noticed something out of key with Blair. It was difficult to know exactly how to track down what it was, but they decided to start with visitors at around the time slot when young Watson said he’d seen Blair looking disturbed—the corridor was near the office where visitors were expected to check in, and it was a possibility that he’d seen someone coming from there.

The list of people for the whole of Tuesday morning was quite extensive.

“We go with Watson’s time slot?” Larabee asked.

Jim nodded. “With classes and practice most of them have a reasonably accurate idea of where they were when. If we go with that and leave any routine deliveries for campus security, along with visitors earlier or later that gives us…”

“Four.” Larabee was ahead of him. Four people who might be worth looking into personally. He took down the names and the details. A visiting academic from Canada, Scott Ballantyne, calling on a history professor. “He was here a couple of days last week,” the man on the desk said helpfully. “They were on some expedition together. He’s left Cascade now I think.” Then there was a Miss Hope. “Come from the grants committee. She’s eighty one, and a tartar. She’s not what I’d call a regular visitor, but she comes in from time to time.” There was a Dr Josephs, to see a Professor Saunders. “Never seen him in here before last week, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen outgoing post—packages—addressed to him.” Finally there was a Ms Barber. “She’s in every Tuesday, does something with the fine art people. She’ll be here now I should think… yes, she’s signed in.” He closed the book. “You said this was something to do with Mr Sandburg?”

“We’re concerned about his whereabouts,” Jim said briefly.

“Well, he was in here one day last week having a look at the book. He told me he was expecting a visitor he thought might have got lost, though.”

That sounded to Jim like typical Sandburg disregard for anything so uncreative as the simple truth. The unpromising list of names suddenly took on more interest. “Thanks,” he said. “We’ll start with Ms Barber, as she’s on the premises. Can you give us directions?”

The room was in a part of Rainier he hadn’t been through before, away from the usual lecture rooms. They had to ask again a couple of times before they tracked her down, getting something rather ambiguous in the expressions of the people who directed them. They realised why, when they finally opened the door of the correct room.

Ms Barber had been described to them as a ‘nice-looking’ blonde, mid twenties, 5’6”, wearing large hoop earrings. Jim couldn’t fault the description. No one, however, had told him that the earrings would be all she was wearing.

“Fine art,” Larabee muttered in his ear, though whether ironically or appreciatively Jim was too taken aback to tell. The art class appeared to be studying what might be called life-sculpting. A number of people were constructing, in various mediums, forms which really didn’t do justice to the naked charms of Ms Barber, poised in the centre.

They escaped with an arrangement for her to be interviewed by campus security, though not before the predatory lady in the paint smattered smock who seemed to be in charge had suggested that an athletic male model would be a nice change for her (mainly female) students. Jim, listening without really intending to as they beat a hasty retreat, was mildly piqued to hear in the hubbub of comments that most of them thought Larabee had a better butt.

The history professor also turned out to be a lady, but thankfully she was middle aged and clothed, and reserved her enthusiasm for her subject. She knew Blair, and seemed genuinely upset to hear he was missing. She’d also known Scott Ballantyne for years, and more significant, she’d walked along and met him at the office on the Tuesday. “We didn’t see Blair, in fact I’m almost sure he hadn’t quite finished his class,” she added. She was telling the truth, Jim thought, and he didn’t really see her as affiliated to the people, whoever they were, who had done such a professional job on Sandburg’s car. He would get Ballantyne checked out further, but from this it didn’t sound as though he was the person Blair had seen—if he’d really seen anyone at all. The foundations of their theory were shaky, and they didn’t seem to be building much on it at all.

“Professor Saunders?” Larabee said, as they walked yet again along Rainier’s corridors.

Professor Saunders small laboratory was locked up. He had no assistant. No one seemed to know whether he was likely to be back shortly or not—he didn’t have teaching responsibilities and kept pretty much to himself. In one way that was rather frustrating; on the other hand there was something tidy about it which for the first time quickened in them a sense of something worth following up.

They went back to the reception desk, where they found that they had no record of Dr Joseph’s address and no knowledge of Professor Saunder’s whereabouts.

“You say you think you’ve had post for Dr Joseph?” Larabee asked.

The man on the desk nodded. “I’ve been trying to recall anything about it, but all I can tell you is that it was somewhere local—around Cascade.”

Jim called Major Crimes and put someone on to finding out what they could. Meanwhile, it had occurred to him that he was overlooking someone who might well know all sorts of useful things about anything or anyone unusual at Rainier.

“You ever read a book by a chap called Jack Kelso? Ex CIA, writes about some of the less acceptable facets of it?” he asked.

Larabee, for once, didn’t quite come out with a straight answer. “Someone gave me a copy of it a Christmas or two back.”

“I haven’t read it properly either, but I’ve met Kelso a few times. He lectures in foreign affairs here, and he’s given me some valuable help before. Looking at Sandburg’s car, I couldn’t help wondering… And, anyway, Kelso has the training of a lifetime in noticing what’s going on around him.”

He found Kelso by the simple expedient of listening for the rather characteristic sound of the wheelchair, and hoped Larabee would just assume he knew where to look for him. Kelso was wheeling along towards the library, but as soon as he caught sight of Jim he came over to them.

“Ellison. Is this rumour true that you’re here because Blair is missing?”

“Blair’s missing along with a friend of his, Vin Tanner. He’s an ATF agent from Denver. This is Chris Larabee, his captain.”

Kelso nodded to Larabee. “This friend was here to socialise or in an official capacity?”

“He wasn’t here on ATF business. It was supposed to be a weekend seeing an old friend but now…”

“Now we wonder quite what they’ve got themselves into,” Jim finished. “If you’ve got a bit of time to spare there’s something I’d like to show you.”

Kelso wheeled round Blair’s car in silence. On the way there, Jim had told him the little they knew for certain, and summed up their speculations.

“Professional,” Kelso said, unknowingly echoing Larabee. It was in fact the only appropriate word. “I’ll tell you something though. It’s not what I would have done if I knew the two men in the car were an ATF agent and an observer with the PD.”

“Go on,” Jim said, interested.

“Frankly, if Blair hadn’t got this post—and room—with you, no one would have even reported him missing yet. Someone would have covered his lectures, and there might be some annoyance he hadn’t phoned in, but it certainly wouldn’t have been taken seriously for another day or two. There’s nothing about Sandburg’s appearance to suggest he has a connection with anyone who would recognise what a thorough job’s been done on this car. A fellow TA might be surprised it looked clean, but no more. I’d say, someone returned it here assuming Sandburg wouldn’t be missed for a while, and the car would simply misdirect any enquiries that eventually arose. A week out in the weather, and a hasty check inside for anything suspicious—that’s what they’d expect for the car.”

Chris Larabee was following this thoughtfully. “Vin was in scruffy jeans and an old biker jacket. The last thing he looked like was an agent,” he said slowly. “He wouldn’t have been carrying ID.”

“So we can imagine a situation where they seemed like a couple of students taking an interest in something they shouldn’t. I wonder if someone is still thinking that. Quite what, or who would object to their curiosity, we don’t know.”

“Or how strongly they’d object,” Jim added grimly. “If you’ve got the time, maybe we could get you to take a look at what we’re thinking of following up next.”

In Kelso’s office, they went again through what they had. It seemed to get less every time.

“Professor Saunders,” Kelso said thoughtfully. “I don’t know anything definite about him, but there’s been a lot of speculation about where his grants come from. He doesn’t teach, and hardly publishes. I’ve wondered about him.” He glanced at his watch. “If he’s not back, I suggest we get someone to let us into his office. His computer might be more informative than he would be.”

It probably would have been. Someone certainly thought so, because the desk top PC which was supposed to be there was missing too. Several people >from the department who knew the lab by sight confirmed it had been bulky enough to make this surprising. The lab in general seemed remarkably empty. Frustrated again, they left a technician trying to make a list of what might have been expected to be there, and decided to split up. Kelso would pursue what he could on campus; Jim wanted to go to Major Crimes and Larabee wanted to talk to his team which he could do well enough from the loft.

“Come and eat with me tonight,” Kelso offered. “Blair’s a friend of mine, and I don’t like the feel of this. If there’s anything I can do, I want to help.”

Dr Josephs, once Dr Levine, and possessor of a number of other names since his childhood one, was aware of an unfamiliar pressure of time. He needed longer to work. His CIA contact, and supposed controller, Henshaw, believed he would simply make sure Tanner and Sandburg’s memories were adjusted. That was because Henshaw believed it was some carelessness by Professor Saunders that had allowed Sandburg and a fellow student to become curious about this place and what was happening here. Josephs certainly hadn’t enlightened him as to his own long past encounter with the two of them. Even now the thought of that made the anger build up in him, distorting his thinking. They had been nothing. Worthless. Discountable bits of human flotsam. It was inconceivable that they could have destroyed his whole carefully developed experiment.

It mattered to him obsessively now that they should lose everything they had gained since then. He, at last, had some power and prestige, and was beginning to plan a return to his first research. They must go back to what they had been. And for that he needed to be sure he wouldn’t be disturbed too soon. Henshaw had thought they had a week before anyone would really be concerned about Tanner or Sandburg’s whereabouts. In that time, of course, if their presence had been no more than a whim of student curiosity, Josephs could have made sure they forgot these events and blocks were in place to discourage them from following up any line of thought to do with Saunders or the weekend. Then they would have been ‘found’ in some suitable location, confused as to how they got there, set up to look as if they had been indulging in drink and drugs. The scenario satisfied Henshaw. It was nothing like what Josephs had in mind.

Of course, such an apparent lapse might well cost them their jobs, but that was nowhere near enough to satisfy his need for revenge. They had friends who might stand by them. They would have other chances. He needed to take more away from them than that.

Clear in his mind was the image of the two boys they had once been. He’d seen them around the streets, Tanner especially, but why should he have taken any notice. They’d just been another couple of dirty and neglected children, hanging around. It was only that last night, when it was far too late, that he’d realised they might actually be a threat.

He wanted, obsessively, to have his revenge on those boys. Tanner and Sandburg must become what they deserved to be, part of the drifting, homeless, hopeless subclass of any big city. He had the skill to do it. The image of it had come into his mind the moment he set eyes on them. He would take and warp and block their memories so that much of their adult life became inaccessible; he would give them such a fear of the authorities that they would be completely cut off from any friend or colleague who might help them; he would even take some of the years from them. They were losing weight fast at the moment. A ragged cut to already long hair, clothes even more dirty and less adult than the ones they were now wearing, some sort of reasonably long lasting depilatory. He would make them look as if—and believe—they were barely leaving their teens. Add a drug habit, turn them loose confused onto the streets of any big city, and the natural order of things would carry out his revenge for him. The sort of conditioning he had in mind might not hold up indefinitely, but in the circumstances their situation ought to deteriorate so quickly it would hardly matter.

He’d need to block their memories of each other too, of course. They must be friendless.

And to do all this, even with his abilities, he had to have time. There was the chance that he could persuade Henshaw to give him longer, but Henshaw didn’t know yet what Josephs had used his databases to confirm. The two men really did have the connections they’d claimed. Sandburg might not have been such a problem; the PD were probably glad to be free of him. An ATF agent, though, was inconvenient. Henshaw would probably want to be rid of them one way or another. He was a man with no appreciation of the art involved in manipulating someone else’s mind and memories. All he cared about was whether it worked.

No, Henshaw would not be his ally in this. It was time to put into practice something he had been planning for some time. He had served the purpose of the CIA, and they had served his. Now it was time to return to his own experiments. This would be the first, and would wipe out the memory of that past disaster.

He disabled all the security recordings in the room. Most of the men in the building now were more used to taking orders from him, not the frequently absent Henshaw. He sent for the one he usually put in charge, Whiting. He was more intelligent than the rest, and had proved to be aware of how profitable a liaison with Josephs might be.

Whiting arrived, glanced automatically round the room.

“It’s all switched off,” Josephs said. “What sort of progress have you made with the warehouse?”

It had taken them two years of cautious planning and movement of money to purchase the lease of a small warehouse in a run down area, and then in the last six months they had begun to equip it.

Whiting shrugged. “One lab’s ready, and a couple of rooms. Outside security’s okay. Soundproofing’s done. Other parts are rough and the tank hasn’t even been ordered yet. No hint that the suits have got any inkling we might be branching out on our own.”

“And if I decide that we need to move much sooner?”

“Could be done. We’d be short of staff. Wouldn’t trust any of this lot except Freddy. And leaving without some of the boys noticing might be awkward.”

“I want to leave this afternoon, and take the two current subjects with us.”

Whiting blinked but didn’t offer any objection. “There’s two ways of going about it then. We could go for a major diversion, maybe disable the other transport. Or we could try and slip off very quietly in the van Freddy uses when he picks up deliveries. These young agents are unimaginative. The van comes and goes several times a week. You wouldn’t be able to take much with you, though.”

“I don’t need anything beyond the drugs. Those will go in my bag. I’d much rather try the quiet way, but the problem will be getting the subjects into the van.”

Whiting shrugged. “There isn’t much to them. Bundle them into a couple of crates. There’s plenty in the garage. Freddy can have the empty crates carried to the tank room. Send the guards for coffee—they won’t ask questions. Tip the two patients you’re working on into the crates; Freddy and I can get them down to the van. You stroll down yourself a bit later. You and I get in the back with the crates, Freddy drives off. Nothing interesting for anyone to see. By the time they realise something’s happened, we’ll be long gone.”

Josephs thought about it, and nodded. “Well planned,” he conceded. “All right. I’ll go down to the tank room now. Send Freddy up with the crates immediately.”

Jim Ellison spent his afternoon coming to terms with the fact that at far as the PD computers were concerned, Dr Josephs did no more than exist. He had no address, no vehicle registration, no health insurance; he left no trace of his life on the multitude of databases that could be accessed. He appeared to receive no income and pay no tax. And Jim had an uneasy feeling that some of his searches might have triggered flags, though he hadn’t the computer skills to be sure. He needed Sandburg. Of course, if he had Sandburg he wouldn’t need to be doing this at all.

Simon, who hadn’t been appointed for his computer literacy either, was nevertheless beginning to take Jim’s concerns more seriously. The description of the car, the absence of Saunders and now this at least brought him to looking over Jim’s shoulder at the uninformative screen.

“Only Sandburg,” he muttered. “Poster child for fools rush in…”

“I don’t think he can have known what he was getting into,” Jim said. None of this fitted with his impression of what had been bothering Blair. He pressed return and something unpleasant started to happen to his screen. “Shit. What’s that?”

“Spontaneous combustion apparently. Look, Jim, you’re getting nowhere here. I’ll do what I can at an official level, but your best hope is Kelso—or any unofficial contacts you or Larabee have got. Go and get some rest and a meal and see what they’ve come up with. All you’re doing at the moment is giving us both a headache.”

Jim hadn’t the energy to argue with this. His head did ache, painfully and spasmodically, his sight spiking and ebbing with every throb. He still just about had control of it, but it was probably a good idea to drive home while he still could. He’d had to use his senses a lot during the day, and concentrating, particularly on the interviews, had strained him more than he liked. And there had been that zone… He’d half forgotten it. It was almost certainly too much to hope Larabee had.

He wondered if he dared risk giving Larabee some hint of the sentinel stuff. It would make life easier, and it was the only edge they had in a game which seemed stacked against them.

Larabee would probably think he was insane. Or want him to prove it, and he wasn’t sure he had the control for that tonight.

He hadn’t any real reason to trust Larabee either. He knew his record, but that wasn’t the same as having worked with a man. It wasn’t two days since he’d first met him. If he did trust him, it was only because it was obvious Tanner’s friendship meant to him what Blair’s did to Jim.

On the other hand, was that such a bad reason?

His head throbbed worse than ever. He gave up thinking about it until he got back to the loft. Then he found he didn’t have to make the decision at all. Larabee, black-denimed legs stretched out on the couch, was reading Blair’s old battered copy of Richard Burton (explorer not actor). He was reading it ostentatiously, too.

Jim found to his surprise that all he felt was relief. He dropped into the other chair, and waited for whatever Larabee was going to say. Larabee put the book down, looked Jim over and silently fetched coffee and two Tylenol. Jim swallowed them, welcoming the silence and the coffee equally. After a while, the pounding behind his eyes dulled a little. He leaned back, and decided he could face the conversation now. “I see you found Sandburg’s bedtime reading.”

“Fascinating stuff,” Larabee agreed, only the slightest quirk at the corner of his mouth suggesting he might be enjoying this. “Had a long talk with my profiler. Did I tell you my team’s good? He’d done a pretty thorough job of reading through Sandburg’s published papers, and looking at his dissertation topic. We put it together with a few other things—this not specially loud phone, the way you went round that car, the fact you could walk straight through a campus crowd and find Kelso…”

Jim groaned inaudibly. Had he really been that obvious?

“… and it made more sense than the idea that Banks welcomes in students writing about the closed society he’s running at Major Crimes.”

It did really. He shouldn’t try that line on anyone who was actually going to meet Simon. Jim held out his empty cup. “Pour me a refill and I’ll tell you a story. A long story, starting six years or so ago, in Peru…”

Larabee listened intently, as Jim described his first experience of using his senses among the Chopec, and the return of his heightened abilities during the Switchman case. He tried to keep it dry and factual, but he suspected Larabee picked up some of the subtext. It was hard to be objective about something that had had him heading towards the mental ward before Sandburg came along.

“So who else knows about this?” Larabee asked as Jim wrapped up his story with the events when Brackett had made his bid for the prototype.

“Besides Sandburg, only Simon Banks. Apart from Brackett, I mean, and Brackett luckily was playing a lone hand and decided to keep it that way even when he went down. Maybe one or two people have wondered about my hearing, but I’m normally more careful than I was today. You’re the first law officer I’ve met with an anthropologist in his team, and anyway, when Sandburg’s around he helps me keep it discreet.”

“But you can use your senses without him?”

“Not so efficiently. Brackett called him a guide; that’s not a bad word for it. He seems to sort of know by instinct how I need to go about it. He’s really inventive—comes up with ways of solving problems you’d never imagine. But he’s taught me enough that I can cope.”

“Must be useful on an investigation. You can hear a long way? Overhear conversations?”

“If I can focus on them. And closer, I can hear things like heart rates. Blair’s taught me ways of making a good guess whether a witness is lying.”

“You checked out the people we talked to today?”


“Get anything?”

“No. Couple of the girls lied when they said they’d hardly noticed them. Don’t think that was any more than embarrassment—I expect they’d thought they were cute.”

Chris smiled slightly. “Could be. What about what you can see. Could you see anything on the car?”

“I could see the details that wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye—differences or blemishes in the surface, anything that would suggest damage had been repaired. I couldn’t find anything worth noting though.”

“What was the ten minute time out?”

Jim pushed down annoyance. “Sandburg calls it zoning out. It’s like I concentrate too hard on one thing, I suppose. It doesn’t often happen.”

With more tact than he looked as if he possessed, Larabee left that subject. “So yesterday, when we were cleaning out the room, you were trying to sense something on that map?”

Jim sat up. He’d forgotten the map. He’d been trying to trace any variation on the surface and then the phone calls had come, and led them off in other directions.

“The map had hardly been used,” he said. “I thought I might get something from it—Sandburg’s navigation is the ‘follow the road with your finger’ variety.”

“I’ll get it,” Larabee said, which in its way was good enough to show he understood what he’d heard and was prepared to trust Jim on it.

Jim spread the map on the table and tried to think how Blair would have talked him through tackling it. There were two problems with that. For a start he always let Blair do the thinking on the sentinel stuff and just followed the lead his voice gave him. Then there was the fact that it brought home to him yet again what it meant to have Blair missing.

Touch or sight? That was the first decision. He lost himself less easily with touch.

He began to ghost his fingers across the surface of the map, registering the texture, sorting and analysing what the traces of variation might mean. After a while he thought he found something, and although it was infinitesimal he tried to follow it for want of anything better. He’d closed his eyes to concentrate on the paper beneath his fingertips. He tried to dial his sense up further, to feel it every difference in the area his fingers followed. If he wasn’t just imagining it, someone had touched it here and here… He opened his eyes again, abandoned touch and used his sight now to focus in on the pores of the paper, the flecks of the ink. Here, on the outskirts of Cascade, where his fingers had led him…

“There’s a fingerprint,” he said. “Just here.”

Without a word Larabee circled in pencil the area he’d indicated. Jim rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t realised how hard he’d been straining until he stopped. Now the pounding in his head was back with full force and the room seemed to focus in and out wildly, as if he was looking through some flexing lens.

Larabee took the map, and took charge. “Okay. We’ll take this with us when we go to meet Kelso. Property’s often easier to trace than people. If the CIA ever owned, leased or come to that, watched anything in this area he night be able to find out. If he can’t, we’ll go there and drive round. Meanwhile we’re not meeting him for an hour. You want to get a shower and change?”

The room had settled to its normal proportions, and the thought of a hot shower was appealing enough to get Jim to his feet. Larabee almost reached out to make sure he was steady, but checked the movement. Jim walked stiffly to the bathroom and let the heat of the shower leach some of the tiredness out of him.

The telephone rang while Ellison was in the shower. Chris picked it up, wondering if enhanced hearing would be able to follow the conversation from a room away and through the sound of the water. It was Jack Kelso, asking what they’d prefer when he sent out for delivery. Chris took the opportunity to ask him to check the area of Cascade Ellison had pinpointed on the map.

“Any CIA use or any other organisation use they know about,” Kelso agreed. “All right, I’ll do what I can.”

Ellison came out of the bathroom towelling his hair. “Who was it?”

“Kelso. You didn’t…?”

“I’ve had enough. I want to keep things on even keel for a while. What did he want?”

“Wanted to know if we’d rather have Indian or Thai. I said Thai.”

“Good call.”

They arrived at Jack Kelso’s apartment at the same time as the man delivering a plentiful range of Thai dishes, and Chris discovered that he was hungrier than he’d expected. Time seemed to be flowing differently. He had no idea when lunch had been, and it seemed much more than three days that Vin had been missing.

While they ate, they exchanged what little information the afternoon had produced. Kelso’s contacts had come up with hints and surmises rather than anything substantial. No one had heard the name Josephs. Two or three thought Saunders had occasionally done some work without ever having a high security clearance. One old acquaintance who Kelso respected said there had been rumours for years that somewhere near Cascade was used for some highly sensitive debriefing.

“Did you come up with anything from the map reference?” Chris asked.

“I sent off some emails. Nothing had come back before you came.” He pushed aside his plate and stepped over to the computer, checking for new messages. “There’s something, but the man it’s from…” the pause stretched.

“Anything?” Ellison asked, perhaps noticing some change in Kelso that Chris couldn’t see.

“Yes,” Kelso said slowly. “I wasn’t expecting it from this source—he’s been retired longer than I have. But he’s sent me the address of a safe house that was maintained here when he was in the area nearly twenty years ago, and it’s exactly in the area you indicated. How did you come up with that, anyway?”

“Marked on Sandburg’s map,” Jim said briefly. “Give me the address. I’ve got the mobile number for that man on the desk at Rainier—Bob Freeland, wasn’t it?—who reckoned packages had been sent out to a Cascade address.”

Chris, not equipped with sentinel hearing, could only listen to one side of the conversation, but it wasn’t difficult to get the gist of it. Freeland thought the address was the one he’d seen.

“That’s corroboration enough,” Ellison said.

The atmosphere around Kelso’s table was tangibly different; they were revitalised by the prospect of finally being able to take some action. Piling the empty plates in the sink, they used the surface to spread out the map which they’d brought with them, its pencilled circle marking the target area.

“Well, we don’t know what Blair and his friend were looking for,” Kelso said, “but I think there’s enough things that fit for us to assume that they went out here looking for something or someone, and obviously ran into a situation that wasn’t what they anticipated.”

“We don’t know they’re still there,” Chris said. “And if we make official approaches to the CIA they won’t be.”

“No good prowling round the place either,” Ellison added. “We’re too likely to be picked up on surveillance if its really being used for something sensitive.”

“Do you mind if I make a suggestion?” Kelso asked. “I don’t know who’s in charge of this, and I doubt I could find out, but I can guarantee that whoever it is, the thing they would find really awkward would be the sudden arrival of the uniformed police. Plenty of police, with a good reason for searching the premises. Now suppose you had a reliable tip-off Ellison—from an ex CIA man at Rainier—that one of the professors at the university had been supplying illegal drugs to this address.” He paused. They waited in silent appreciation. “It wants to go down fast, no chance of a warning. How many cars can you get?”

“I can call on some help from Vice,” Ellison said. He glanced at his watch.

“Couple more things,” Chris said. “Might be an idea to let everyone involved know that the drug dealers’ll be masquerading as members of a security organisation. And if we want numbers, how about if an ATF tip off comes in as well. We can get the timing right, make sure the tip off comes direct to the PD. Men with fake IDs in a drugs for firearms deal at this address. Late evening rather than early am would be more convincing I suppose. Reckon we can get organised by then?”

There’d be consequences of course, but they’d got their backs fairly well covered with Kelso being prepared to help out and the evidence of packages being posted from Rainier. He’d get Ezra on to the Denver end; Ez would enjoy this. Well, would enjoy it in retrospect once they’d got Vin there to listen to it…

Chris didn’t give a damn about the consequences, anyway, and judging by the look in Ellison’s eyes, nor did he.

“Let’s draw up a timetable,” Kelso said.

Nigel Henshaw watched the curtain drop on the local drama group’s production of Macbeth. He made a point of attending neighbourhood events. People in the area had known him for years as the director of the small and very private nursing home at Redwoods. It was so discreet it was considered quite a suitable addition to the prosperous community, and Henshaw had always been aware that his donations to local charities and his impeccable appearance when he appeared at community events lent an important public face to it.

The curtain rose again for the actors to receive their applause. Macbeth joined the cast, standing rather incongruously next to what was supposed to be his own severed head. Clapping politely, Henshaw thought what a mess Shakespeare had made of the story. The original Macbeth that Holinshed wrote about had been a man he’d have been happy to do business with, much more efficient in his killing and certainly better at keeping the throne.

After excellent coffee and some civil exchanges with other members of the audience, he drove towards Redwoods. He hadn’t been there since the Saturday night; he had several other projects, and this was the one that usually required the least input from him. He wouldn’t have returned now, except that he had promised to attend this play, and he wanted to make sure Josephs had dealt as ordered with the two student intruders. It hadn’t been a major security incident, but it was a blip he could have done without. Everything had been tidied up satisfactorily, and Saunders, whom he blamed, had been sent to have his training updated, but he was still not clear as to what sequence of events had led the young men to Redwoods. It was a pity he had been unable to stay and question them himself. Josephs’ reports had not been quite as satisfactory as usual—and also, though he hardly acknowledged this, there was just a hint of unease in him recently when he thought about Josephs. It wasn’t that the man was anything less than a genius at what he did; it was something else about him recently, the arrogance showing through more clearly perhaps. The man had always been supremely confident about his abilities of course. Henshaw had been a junior member of the team that recruited him in Denver; it had probably been the key moment in his rise up the organisation. Even then Josephs had believed they were the ones benefiting most from the deal. He never seemed to appreciate the level of sophistication that had gone into creating his new identity and eliminating the memory of his old one. Or the risk. One of the few thoughts that had the power to give Henshaw nightmares was the image of a tabloid headline screaming out CIA AND DENVER’S DR DEATH. That fear had faded over the years. Even in the CIA itself, few people were now aware of Josephs’ origins. But it hadn’t entirely lost its power.

Words from the play he’d just been watching flitted through his mind again, a few thoughts he could wholeheartedly agree with: If the assassination could be carried out without consequences, Macbeth had mused, if the murder was over and done with when it was committed, he wouldn’t worry about the life to come. Shakespeare had got that part right. Focus on the political dimension, not some ethereal moral one. But it was something it was impossible to get the man in the street to understand, with his woolly worries about right and wrong, or worse, God. The possibility of consequences if anyone found out the true story of the man a government organisation had been using for fifteen years was still enough to chill him, and it was why he disliked even a breath of disquiet about Josephs.

He turned into the drive. The man on the gate waved him on; there should have been a second man, but he decided to park before he sorted this out.

The garage was empty. That was so unusual that it sent him instantly to amber alert. At this time of night the van used for supplies was always there, and it was rare for more than one of the cars to be gone. He was barely out of his own vehicle before Barr, his deputy, was there.

“Mr Henshaw! We seem to have had some… uh… movements off site that were not authorised by me. I’ve been trying to contact you.”

“You knew I was at this play.”

“Yes sir, but I didn’t want to contact anyone else until I knew if you knew…”

“Knew what?”

“Knew where Dr Josephs is and why he’s removed the two subjects he was working on, sir.”

The news had something of the impact on Henshaw that finding Banquo’s ghost smiling at him over the haggis had had on Macbeth, but he handled it better. “Dr Josephs does act independently if he feels there’s a clinical need,” he said. “Obviously he should have cleared any movements with you though. You’d better come up to the office with me and give me the details.”

The details did not make the situation look any better. The van had departed with its usual driver late afternoon. That had been commonplace enough to be routine. Some time later, the men who were supposed to be on duty in the tank room came to find Barr and asked if they could go off now the subjects weren’t there. Barr had told them to clear it with Dr Josephs, assuming the man had temporarily moved back to his lab. “I mean, he does it all the time, moves people he’s treating. I thought he’d simply forgotten to give the men permission to go.”

“So when did you realise Dr Josephs was missing?”

“Perhaps an hour after that, when they came back again to say they couldn’t find him or the subjects anywhere on the premises. The van hadn’t come back, and Whiting was missing as well. That’s when I first tried to get hold of you, but you must have already gone into the play. I sent out the cars to check the area, and obviously tried to call the driver and Whiting. Josephs doesn’t carry a phone. I mean, he’s so seldom off the premises…”

They’d begun allowing him out six years ago, Henshaw thought. One or two trips in the first year—a lecture, a science fair; there had been no problems. Now he perhaps went once in a month. It had seemed to be working fine. He always had the man watched. He only ever did exactly what they’d agreed on.

None of those places were likely to help them find out where Josephs was now.

A cold and unaccustomed apprehension gripped him. If he didn’t handle this exactly right, his career was going to come to a sudden and very nasty end. He’d probably be lucky if it was only the career… How long dared he try to deal with this on his own before he informed his superiors? Well, he could at least stop the more futile gestures.

“Bring the cars back,” he said. “Dr Josephs didn’t say anything to you to suggest that he felt he’d already made enough progress with these subjects?”

“No sir, I think he was still in the intensive phase.” He paused. “I had the impression he was, well, enjoying it. Some of the men say that he spoke to them as if he knew them—that first night, after they’d been locked up. No one reported it to me then; they’re not the brightest lot on duty in the house, they’re basically guards, but when I asked them if there had been anything out of the ordinary in the last few days, one of them came up with it. Said he’d told them he could recognise them, and said something about fifteen years ago… Sir?”

It meant nothing to Barr, who knew only the basics about the set up here. It meant far too much to Henshaw. He’d thought the original news that Josephs was missing had felt like a shock, but this—this really was what it was like to have the ghost of hidden actions rise up and fill you with the horror of their being exposed.

“Who told you Josephs knew the men?” he asked, trying to keep his voice calm.

“Cooper and Hall. And they said the men claimed they weren’t just students, though they were probably just trying it on. I mean a scruffy couple of kids like that aren’t going to be anything to do with the law… One of them apparently said he was ATF, though…”

“Send Cooper and Hall to me, and get the cars back. How many men are out?”

“Four. I sent one of the men on the gate out on foot, but he should be back by now.”

More futile gestures. Did Barr think they were all going to be coming back from a stroll? Never mind. He had to find out now exactly what level of problem he had here, before it could escalate any further.

“Sir!” Barr said, urgently, looking out of the window.

The burst of sound came at the same moment. Sirens suddenly blared and shattered what was left of his calm. There had been no build up, no gradual warning, just this eruption of noise practically on their doorsteps and blue flashing light in the night sky. It was like being in the centre of a drug bust or bank robbery. He stepped to the window, hardly able to think.

“Sir, there must be half the police force out there,” Barr said, almost equally horrified. “They must have got into position before they put on the lights and sirens…”

He trailed off. Coming into Redwoods’ drive were a startling number of cars with blue lights still flashing and sirens now disrupting the night horribly, and from them began to pour uniformed police and others. In the pulsing light Henshaw could clearly see some of his men offering identity cards and being bundled away regardless. What the hell was going on. He started for the door, started back towards the phone. There was no question now that he needed to call in support.

Before he could pick the phone up his door burst open and two large and angry men came in with apparently homicidal intentions. The phone was ripped out of his reach, and he was almost relieved to find he was only being arrested.

“This is a CIA operation,” Barr protested weakly, as he got the same treatment. “You can’t do this. Who are you?”

“Detective Ellison, Cascade PD.”

“Larabee, ATF.”

The IDs meant nothing to Henshaw, but the mention of the ATF after that fool Barr’s mutterings about the men they’d picked up was alarming. It had to be a coincidence. The young men had looked like students. Uniformed men appeared and took Barr away, and from their rough answers to his protests they had expected men to be posing as CIA agents. Henshaw struggled to believe this was even happening. He gestured wildly at the desk. “You fools. One phone call will prove to you we’re exactly who we say we are.”

But the uniformed men were already on their way out of the door, and he found himself on his own with the two officers, who refused to listen to his increasingly babbling assertions he could prove his identity, and who came forward in a manner that somehow had him backing up towards a window.

“We don’t care who you are,” the cop, Ellison, said.

“In fact, we know who you are,” Larabee added. “You’re the man responsible for the disappearance of his partner and one of my team. We don’t like that.”

“They were here, and they’re not here now,” Ellison went on, “so we’re still extremely unhappy about the situation.”

Henshaw backed up another step and found there was nowhere else to go. Did they mean the ‘students’? They couldn’t know the men had been here. It had to be guess work.

“This is a CIA operation,” he said again. “Everything to do with it is classified. I want to call my superiors.”

They did not look remotely worried by this. Henshaw’s fingers, scrabbling behind him, found the bottom edge of the window. It had begun to dawn on him that whatever the uniformed police believed, these two knew the place was CIA and didn’t care. That said a lot about how they felt about the two young men who he was beginning to believe must have truly worked with them. The two young men who Henshaw no longer had, and didn’t know the whereabouts of… They were never going to believe that. He pushed the window up in one sharp movement and vaulted out. It was a longish drop, but he’d take his chance with the ground and the uniforms outside.

He did something agonising to his ankle, and was arrested on his hands and knees. “There was no need for that, sir,” the officer said reprovingly. “You’ll be regretting you did that tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” Henshaw snarled, incoherent with pain and fury. “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”

“Macbeth,” the arresting officer said with pleased recognition. “Got what he deserved I always say.”

Some miles away. Dr Josephs was enjoying the prospect of a future no longer at anyone’s back and call. He should never have had to prostitute his abilities to that. It had been utilitarian. He wanted the autonomy his grandfather had had, the lack of interference from the unimaginative or those with petty scruples. This small warehouse was primitive to the labs he’d just left, but it would be the beginning of his power base.

He looked round him. It was enough for now. And it was private, on its own small site. They had chosen it carefully, knowing that whenever they made their move, they would have their old employers looking for them very vigorously.

“We’ll have to be careful about purchases,” he said to Whiting, who was storing chemicals on a set of metal shelves. “We need new suppliers, and to go through a reliable third party.”

“We ought to be careful about electric use to begin with,” Whiting said. “A sudden surge in demand from a place like this is the sort of blip a bright boy could just pick up.”

Josephs nodded. “It won’t be a problem until we get in more big equipment. You’re right though. We don’t want anything at all to draw attention here. It would be worth getting rid of the dumpster, too—we don’t want someone coming to pick it up without warning.”

“Damn dumpster company are useless,” Whiting grumbled. “Its full of cardboard packaging turning to sludge in the rain. I rang them to take it away a week ago. I’ll get on to them again.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to bed if you don’t want anything else.”

He and Freddy Gurney had camp beds in the empty room next door. Josephs was in the small office, but he had no intention of sleeping yet. He was looking forward to beginning the next stage of his ‘treatment’ of the young men. The questioning had been slightly frustrating. He could have broken Tanner, but he’d decided it wasn’t worth the time. Getting information wasn’t so important here; he could find out enough from official records. Then there was Sandburg. He seemed to talk easily, but Josephs had a feeling there was something he was hiding, something to do with the detective who he rode with. There was a pretty obvious explanation for that, given Sandburg’s looks, and he hadn’t troubled to probe further, but it bothered him slightly that both of them had held out, even in such small ways.

He watched their drugged sleep with cold assessment. They looked as if there was nothing to them, but he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He would take that strength of will and warp it, instead. It was time now to begin to twist their memories and build up false layers of the past, until their own determination became part of what kept them in torment. He’d gleaned enough information from Sandburg to know the weaknesses there he could work on; Tanner’s whole career suggested the one thing he wouldn’t cope with was the belief he’d hurt someone innocent.

It would be poetic justice. He would take them back to that night fifteen years ago, and make them believe it had all gone wrong from there.

Jim Ellison stood in the basement and felt Blair’s presence… and absence… drift past him in a breath of familiar scents mingled with the pervasive slightly chemical odour which infused the house. The smell he’d noticed in the car, he thought absently.

A touch on his arm recalled him.

“Sandburg was here, anyway,” he said.

He and Larabee had secured the site. The searches had finished and they had the place to themselves now. Plenty of substances had been taken away for testing, and there had been some shock and unease at the nature of the laboratories, and this basement with its electrical equipment and large flotation tanks.

“You sure they’re not CIA, Jim?” the senior man from vice had asked.

“We’re just going by the tip off,” Jim had said, shrugging. “Book them in.”

He knew, though, that it would only be a matter of hours before the PD were compelled to release them. He and Larabee needed to find all they could here, and get some questioning in before that. He moved closer to the tank, ignoring the stink of Epsom salts, and dialled up his sight. The tanks hadn’t been cleaned. He found and bagged a hair. It was long, springy, he’d bet on it being Sandburg’s.

“There are lockers out here,” Larabee called from the passage to the garage.

Would they have kept personal belongings? After seeing the car, Jim thought it was unlikely, but then Larabee called more urgently, “Ellison! Take a look at this.”

He’d found more evidence than they needed. It made Ellison wonder more and more what skewed sort of agenda had been going on here, because the clothes he’d last seen Blair wearing were there in a neat pile, alongside ones he vaguely recognised as Tanners. Larabee picked up an old and grimy leather jacket as if it was fragile.

“Where the fuck are they?” he said, and the strain was for once audible in his voice.

“They’d been in the tanks,” Jim said. “They must have stripped them for that…”

It didn’t answer the only question that really mattered, which was where were they now? They’d got what they needed here. Any better answers would have to be dragged out of the men who had just been arrested, and he was in the mood to do some dragging. He picked up the armful of Sandburg’s clothes. Worn jeans, Familiar shirt, smelling of Blair living in it. Trainers that needed replacing. They spoke to all his senses of Blair and home. He clenched his hands angrily at the knowledge of loss, saw the anger and the loss reflected in Larabee.

Without a word they set off for the PD.

In his dream, Blair was running: running from something he’d done; running down long streets he didn’t know where block after block merged with Escher-like geometric twists that tricked his eyes. He knew that however far and however fast he ran it would not be enough, but he had to keep on, not for his own sake but for Naomi’s. If they ever caught up with him, Naomi would be blamed. Maybe they’d even lock her up, and he couldn’t bear the thought of that. As he ran, he struggled to remember. How had he got here? What was the terrible thing he had done? Twin voices now spoke in his mind, and whichever one he listened to, the other slid past his conscious thought and its whispers sank deep into his mind.

It was the third day in a row that Simon Banks had made an enforced early start. Monday had been Ellison at dawn; Tuesday it was the indignant recipients of Ellison and Larabee’s personnel management style, shortly after dawn; he hadn’t expected it to get worse, but on Wednesday it did.

He hadn’t slept particularly well anyway. He was himself beginning to be slightly worried about Sandburg now. His first assumption of a wild weekend was looking less likely, and his further opinion, which was that Sandburg generally landed on his feet, and if he didn’t he bounced, wasn’t holding up quite as well as he’d like. If it was a bad night, though, that was nothing to the effect of being woken up at 5 a.m. by the chief of police, who’d just been ripped from his own slumbers by a phone call from CIA headquarters.

“I can’t make head or tail of what they’re telling me,” the chief complained with a frankness engendered by lack of sleep. “They say Vice has twenty of their men in lock up. Vice says it was Major Crime’s op, working with the ATF. The ATF said they weren’t involved and then they said their computers told them they were but they couldn’t trace the chain of command. When I got Major Crimes they told me some of their men night have gone out with Vice on an ATF tip off. Do you know anything about Major Crimes involvement? Is it possible we have arrested numbers of CIA agents.”

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Simon said truthfully. “There was no operation of any sort planned when I went off duty last night. I’ll look into it immediately.”

“Get back to me. I’ll be in my office, fielding phone calls.”

He rang off. Simon was in his clothes and into the car with a speed that could only be achieved by a police captain who felt a sinking certainty that he did indeed have quantities of the nation’s intelligence force in his cells, and that he knew just who would have been responsible for putting them there.

He’d hardly set foot in the PD when this theory got all the confirmation it needed. He heard someone calling eagerly along the corridor he was approaching, “Hey, come on guys. You’re missing the next instalment of the Ellison and Larabee show. You’ve got to see this. They’ve got these two men-in-black types up against a wall and…”

He stopped abruptly as he saw Simon Banks and tried futilely to become a silent and inconspicuous part of the background. Several other people melted suddenly away from the scene and found busy things to do elsewhere. Simon glared at the young officer who’d been speaking.

“Where exactly are Larabee and Ellison?”

“Down there, sir. There are two visitors…”

Simon didn’t wait to hear it. He hurried on, found a small crowd in his way, and bellowed, “Haven’t you people got work to do?”

The crowd parted, reluctantly, and revealed the tableau the young officers words had suggested. Two well-dressed and probably senior figures—whose haircuts, suits and ties screamed security organisation—were backed against the foyer wall. In front of them Ellison and Larabee were exuding all the friendly welcome of a pair of irritated rottweilers.

He refrained from shouting, “Down!”, he just said, “Gentlemen!” but he gave it full volume.

Ellison backed off a couple of inches, Larabee rather less. The suits looked as relieved as was compatible with their dignity. Simon was aware that the interested audience hadn’t really withdrawn very far.

“My office!” he said, and years of experience let him hit the tone of a man who really expects to be obeyed. He hoped no one would ever know how relieved he felt when they followed him there.

Vin could no longer get away from the voice. It dripped its poison into his ears in two different sets of words. He listened to one speaking and fled from it, but as he did so he lost track of the other and its low persuasive ugliness filtered through his barriers ’til the stillness he’d found a haven in was destroyed. Lies, he screamed soundlessly. It’s lies. It didn’t happen like that. The voice said it did, and as he tuned into one narrative to deny it, the other slid past him, the words different, but the story the same. Slowly in his mind nightmare images formed, and he was no longer sure they were fantasy.

Simon Banks looked at the two rather pathetic piles of clothing on his desk, and at the two tired and angry men who had put them there.

“They had Tanner and Sandburg,” Jim said. “We’ve proof of that including confessions. Now they’re claiming they’ve lost them.”

The suited men from central intelligence had introduced themselves as Miller and Haines. Miller, who was older and had an air of seniority, cut in now. “It’s completely inappropriate to talk about confessions here. All these men are being released at the moment on orders that your chief of police has confirmed. I accept that there was a weight of evidence leading to the mistaken raid on Redlands, but it should have become much more quickly obvious that a grave mistake had been made. Kelso’s a whistleblower and a troublemaker. The original source of the ATF evidence will no doubt eventually be traced…”

Simon caught the trace of a glance from Larabee to Jim, which seemed to him to suggest some confidence it would not be tracked back to the source he was personally sure it came from.

“… and my superiors are surprised and unhappy about the fact that Cascade PD appears to have a lie detection device unknown to other law enforcement agencies. I hope that as part of getting this matter cleared up that will be made available to us.”

“Tanner and Sandburg,” Simon said briefly, sensing the tension building again. “Sandburg is my responsibility. Tanner is Captain Larabee’s. We’d like to know their whereabouts. It seems plausible now that if they were on or near your property it was because they had some prior hint of the evidence last night’s raid was based on.”

He hoped it seemed plausible, anyway. As he was quite aware that the evidence for the previous night’s raid had almost certainly been cooked up over dinner at Kelso’s it was hard to judge how convincing he was being. Miller seemed to accept it though.

“Obviously the men in charge at Redlands had no way of knowing this.”

“Their man in charge had handed Tanner and Sandburg over to some psycho doctor, and didn’t even know who they were,” Jim interrupted angrily. “Now he’s saying the man’s gone rogue.”

Haines shifted uncomfortably. Miller said smoothly, “Dr Josephs is a highly trained psychiatrist, and had been with the organisation for many years. I have spoken to Mr Henshaw myself, and we expect to trace Josephs as soon as possible.”

“You’re confirming he’s gone rogue then,” Larabee said. “I’ll tell you something Miller. If I don’t find my man, unharmed, you and Henshaw and anyone else involved in this fuck up are going to…”

“We’re aiming to find him unharmed,” Simon cut in before this could get to the threat he could see coming. “Mr Miller, there seems to be something missing from this account. If Dr… Josephs, was it?… has gone missing, do you have any idea why he would have taken Tanner and Sandburg?”

Miller was silent a moment, presumably tossing up between half truths and outright lies.

“We’ve interviewed all the men who were on the site,” Ellison said. “Several of them independently said Josephs spoke to Tanner and Sandburg as if he’d known them. Two said he actually mentioned fifteen years ago.” He glanced sharply at Miller. Simon had seen nothing; he guessed Jim had sensed some internal response to that.

“That meant something to you, Miller,” Jim said. “Fifteen years ago. Had you recruited Dr Josephs then? What have you all got to hide about the man?”

“Everything to do with Dr Josephs is classified,” Miller said. “Furthermore, Captain Banks, you’ll be hearing more about the treatment these officers meted out to Mr Henshaw. He’s now been removed to Cascade General…”

“He broke his ankle jumping out of a window,” Larabee said hastily, perhaps guessing the thoughts that went through Banks’ mind at that remark.

“He should have been taken to hospital immediately,” Miller said. “Instead he appears to have spent the night being questioned in the most unpleasant manner…”

“Something you’d know nothing about?” Jim asked. “We’re still testing the drugs we found at Redlands, and then there was the electrical equipment along with the flotation tanks, and the multiple recording devices—that’s a subtle one, isn’t it, playing two different tapes, one into each ear. Subliminal, I’ve heard. I don’t think you’re in any position to talk about the methods we use for questioning people.”

“What we do is sanctioned by the law in the interests of national security,” Miller said stiffly.

“Returning to Dr Josephs,” Simon said quickly. “If his past has led to the kidnap of a police observer and an ATF officer, I think there is an obvious problem.”

“Everything to do with Dr Josephs is classified,” Miller said again. “I simply don’t have the authority to give you any more than that. We are making every effort to find him and the missing men.”

That didn’t exactly fill Simon with confidence. “And if it turns out that Tanner and Sandburg know something about Dr Josephs classified past?” he asked pointedly.

In the silence that followed this, Larabee’s phone rang, an almost startling sound given the tension that was in the room. Larabee stepped outside to answer it. No one in the room spoke. Simon could tell by the way Jim was standing that he was listening, and wasn’t too surprised when without a word he went out and joined Larabee. He would have given a great deal for sentinel hearing himself at that moment, because if Ellison and Larabee had been angry before, they moved now into some colder and more dangerous mood, perceptible even at a glimpse through the office window. Neither he nor the CIA men said anything to each other. He watched Ellison walk over to a fax machine; Larabee, still talking into the phone, followed him. Sheets of documents began to flip out.

Haines spoke to Miller in a low voice. The two men stood up, then Larabee and Ellison returned with a sheaf of papers they threw down on the desk in front of Simon. They seemed to be parts of newspaper front pages. Simon looked at them blankly, half distracted by the sense he had that both men were barely restraining themselves from some career-ending act of violence towards Miller. And still no one spoke.

The headlines in the paper made no sense for a minute, then he caught sight of half the front of the National Register which blazoned in massive print DENVER’S DR DEATH and as he picked it up Miller snatched it away and finally broke the silence. “You can’t…”

“We have,” Larabee said, but he sounded sick rather than satisfied. “It’s too late to tell us now that this is classified, Miller. You’ll give us all you’ve got or this is going to make such a splash on the tabloid front pages that all your past cock ups are going to look like nothing in comparison.”

Haines looked on blankly. Simon, equally confused, turned over more of the pages and realised he was looking at pictures of children and even babies in what seemed to be—a lab? A photo of a Downs syndrome child in a cage jumped out at him, bits of headlines about experiments on babies, and he realised he was looking at a news story that had run fifteen years ago. Dimly, he thought he remembered it. Even so it was a moment before he made the connection, and then to his own surprise his voice came out in a roar: “THIS is your Dr Josephs?”

In Denver, Team 7 had the complete newspapers spread out on Chris Larabee’s desk. They had faxed copies to Cascade before they’d done more than look at the headlines. Now they were putting together a story so appalling it seemed impossible it could have been forgotten for fifteen years.

“I remember it happening,” Josiah said. “I should have thought of it as soon as Chris gave us a rough date. Fifteen years ago, kids on the streets. I don’t know how I could have been so slow.”

Ezra thought that in fact, he’d been remarkably quick. There had never been one word of this in all the time he’d been in Denver; he would have been willing to wager there had never been a documentary, no mention in any dossier or manual. It wasn’t a case that had ever been mentioned in all the training he’d been through.

“Someone has been obliterating all references to it ever since it happened,” he said. “You can imagine the pattern. First journalists might be told it would compromise the investigation; then there would be the futures of the rescued children; anyone in any official position would have actual orders to avoid publicity on the case, and doubtless they would be given plausibly public spirited reasons why this would be advisable. The next step would probably be the fortuitous breaking of some local scandal that had been held in reserve for just this sort of eventuality.”

They were all looking at him oddly. “It was the mayor,” Josiah said after a moment. “I remember that, too. A sex scandal—all the trimmings the newspapers love. But so many ordinary people read this at the time…”

“It was news for what… a week? Ten days? Followed by fifteen years of silence,” Ezra said, reading as he talked. “Apparently none of these children had families, in fact they were all homeless. Even the babies, it says, were the babies of underage girls who had become pregnant on the streets. No relatives to keep the story alive, no teachers or classmates, no trial.”

“Why no trial?” JD asked; he kept looking away from the pictures.

“The man involved was believed to have died in a fire,” Josiah told him. “No one seemed to know about the place at all, no one else was prosecuted. The… lab, I suppose you’d call it… was only discovered by some freak chance.”

Ezra was reading about that, in one of the more balanced versions of events. Dr Levine, as he’d been known then, had been using the basement of a house which he owned in an area high in decaying housing and social problems. Far from being suspected, he’d been seen as a do-gooder, taking an interest in charitable work among young people with problems or on the streets.

The emergency services had been called there one night by a caller who gave the address and reported a fire and a chemical spillage. The fire had been in roof, easily quenched and not, anyway, an immediate threat to life, but the men who came had been told there were people downstairs in the building and dangerous chemicals. Half expecting a hoax, they had walked in on the scenes of horror that were captured in grainy shots in front of him—courtesy of a news reporter who’d been riding with them planning to write an article on an evening in the life of the emergency services. If it hadn’t been for that, he mused, perhaps the story would have been even more quickly and thoroughly suppressed.

He read on, the others doing the same now, gripped by the grotesque accounts. The doctor had bolted into a back room and locked himself in. When they broke down the door, the room was empty, and they found a shaft in the wall that housed an old service lift leading to the upper floors. Dr Levine was gone. By that time ambulances were arriving to take away the traumatised children, and the manhunt took second place to their distress.

The newspapers had only the barest account of what happened to Levine after that, preferring to follow up the children and the problems of homelessness. The popular version seemed to be he had never left the house but had hidden in the roof timbers. Early the following evening, perhaps because of something he did, the fire had broken out again with much greater force. The whole of the upper floor had burned this time, and a body had been found in it, badly burned, which was identified by dental records as being Levine. Case closed. Within a couple of days the newspapers were running stories calling for the children to be helped without press interference, and setting up charity collections for street children. Within a week, the mayor, the exotic dancer and the bodypaint had completely swept the story from the news.

It had been a rather smooth and sophisticated piece of work.

“So he’s been working for the CIA ever since,” Buck said grimly.

“Looks like it.”

“Now that we know what we’re looking for, maybe you could check Vin’s computer for the names—Levine or the names of anyone else mentioned in the reports,” Buck said to JD, probably noticing the younger man’s shocked discomfort at what he was reading. “I’m going to call Orrin Travis.”

Ezra picked up the newspapers, and reread the accounts through carefully. Nathan, picking up a slightly blurred photo of a baby linked to some machines said softly, “Told you what Vin asked me, ’bout a baby and its memories. Could he have seen this picture?”

“Could we find out any more about the call to the emergency services?” Ezra asked. He had an idea, or perhaps something less definable.

“What do you want to know?” Josiah asked.

“I wondered whether it was possible a child placed that call,” Ezra said slowly. “It… reading these descriptions of what happened, it does appear like an ingenious attempt to bring the authorities on to the scene, the sort of attempt that might be made by someone who thought no one would believe what they had to say. The fire, the phone call, someone there to tell the firemen to go down to the basement. I doubt if that chain of events was as much a matter of chance and coincidence as it seems.”

“You think it might have been Vin?”

“Or his friend. Or both of them, perhaps with others. It’s only a surmise.”

“It’s a good one,” Nathan said, surprising him. “Looking back, something kind of personal was bothering Vin. Makes sense that maybe he was more involved in this than simply knowing about it.”

“I don’t know what I’ll be able to find out after so many years, but I’ll try,” Josiah said, heading off towards his desk and phone. “One thing, no one around that night is likely to have forgotten much about it.”

Ezra’s eyes were drawn again to the photographs that showed the children and equipment in ugly juxtaposition. He knew what it would do to Vin now to see a child suffer like that. He didn’t want to think of him having seen such things when he was all but a child himself.

And even worse than that, if Vin really had had something to do with bringing that horror to an end, he didn’t want to think of him in the power of the man whom he had effectively defeated.

“Best not say anything to Chris until we know for sure,” Nathan said. “He’ll be finding it hard enough as it is.”

Chris was finding it hard, and as the day went on, it became progressively worse. Overnight he and Ellison had taken advantage of the general confusion and had managed to talk to most of the arrested men. They’d used Ellison’s abilities, along with an electronic gadget Chris had had in his pocket—because he’d taken it off JD and Buck the previous week—and had convinced even Henshaw of their superior lie detection capabilities, and in most cases they had got some answers. Knowing Josephs had gone rogue, a number of the younger agents had been concerned to distance themselves from him. Some of them even seemed to think it was their own organisation who had had them locked up. In the long run, though, all the questioning had led them nowhere, except to the realisation that in fact no one any longer knew where Vin and Sandburg might be.

The newspapers faxed from Denver had been almost unbearable to read. Leaving Simon Banks, now very worried and very angry, to deal with the visitors, he and Ellison had taken the documents away and gone through them. He could hardly believe he had never heard of the case. The shocking nature of what he read, though, was made much worse by the thought of Vin somehow being involved.

“It must have happened while Sandburg was in Denver,” Ellison said, his thoughts clearly following a similar uncomfortable path. “This story breaking, I mean. He recognised Josephs, Levine or whatever, and Josephs evidently recognised him and Tanner. So how involved were they?”

“I need to get in touch with my team again. They don’t know Josephs had recognised the two of them. They can do more at their end to see if they can find the connection.”

When he rang, Josiah came on, and after hearing what he had to say, told him Ezra’s theory. “I’m going to call on one of the firefighters who answered the call out,” Josiah said. “He’s retired now. And I know some nuns who worked with street children about that time. But if Josephs recognised the two of them—I think it would take some pretty powerful motivation for a man like that to have even noticed what a child looked like, let alone recollect it after so much time. Makes sense to run with Ezra’s idea.”

It would have made sense if there was anywhere to run with it. He and Ellison left the PD not long after Miller had obtained the release of all his personnel. Everything that could be done from there was being coordinated now by the Major Crimes team. In Denver his own men were filling in the missing details of the story as far as they could. Experience told him that unless they got a lucky break, this was going to be slow, but he desperately needed to be doing something.

“He wants them alive, anyway,” Ellison said, the first time he’d spoken since they left the PD.

“What did you make of what that lad said,” Chris asked. “That Josephs said he was sending them back to the streets, threatened to make addicts of them.”

“He was telling the truth, or thought he was. It makes more sense now in terms of revenge, I suppose. It’s not so easy to make an addict of a person though, and he hadn’t done anything like that while they were at Redlands.”

“But it might suggest he’s got a base near the homeless here. That would fit with his MO from last time.”

“He’s got people working with him this time. Miller told Simon neither of the men who left with Josephs know his past . Both he and Henshaw say that Whiting would only have taken a risk like this for profit. There’s no profit in Tanner or Sandburg, or the homeless for that matter. Where are they planning to make their money from?”

“Criminal organisations? Business espionage? Drugs.”

“So they’re going to be looking for customers. Or maybe Whiting is, while Josephs enjoys himself.” He stopped the truck outside the loft. “I agree with you about the homeless. A psycho like Josephs doesn’t change that much. He thought he was doing some kind of research then; there’s a chance he’ll want to go back to it now. We can check out any unusual activity on the streets, volunteers in the missions and so on. But we could also set up a buyer for some unusual indoctrination techniques. Preferably someone from out of town.”

Chris almost smiled. “Now there I think I can offer you some manpower. My undercover agent hasn’t got an assignment at the moment.”

He’d thought briefly earlier that day of bringing Ezra up to Cascade, but there hadn’t been anything obvious for him to do to justify it. He wanted Ezra’s input on this one. Well, he’d’ve liked to have all of them, but until he could swing that with Orrin Travis he’d settle for Ezra. And he couldn’t imagine anyone better equipped to carry out the role Ellison had just suggested.

They set that up, with Ezra to arrive in Cascade the next day, then they went on a slow and rather grim trail round the more miserable parts of Cascade. There were few children on the streets; most of the homeless were at least over sixteen. They made a note of hostels and missions, had a quiet word with managers where possible. They achieved nothing tangible. By the time they got back to the loft, they needed the clean air of the balcony. Ellison brought out a bottle of good whisky.

After a couple of glasses, Chris asked the question he’d been wanting to ask all day. “How close would you have to be to track Sandburg. We hadn’t been in that building a couple of minutes before you said he’d been there and he was gone. Could you do that on the street?”

“I checked Rainier from the parking lot. It’s easier if there aren’t too many people about, but yes, I could do it from the street. I’ve been thinking if I can’t sleep I’ll just drive round Cascade and see if I can pick anything up.”

“You’d listen?”

“Probably. If you know a person well, there are things you’d recognise. I can pick Simon up from the smell of cigars. Some people, it’s sounds.”

“A parent knows their own kid’s cry,” Chris said softly.

Maybe Ellison knew about Sarah and Adam, maybe he didn’t, but after a pause he said equally softly, “I can recognise Sandburg’s heartbeat. Weird, but I could pick it from a thousand.”

Chris wondered what that would be like, wished briefly he had some way of finding Vin among a crowd. Ellison poured him another whisky and they sat and drank and stared at the expanse of Cascade running down to the water. There was a lot of city to lose someone in. They’d drunk half the bottle before it seemed worth trying to sleep.

Blair was trapped in a nightmare, reliving events which seemed to become more real and vivid each time they replayed in his mind. He stood in the street, watching the burning of a tall building fill the night sky, and he screamed at the firefighters that there were people inside, people in the basement, but no one seemed to hear him and nobody moved. He could not understand how the small fire in the roof could have become this all-consuming conflagration; he ran to a firefighter and tugged at his arm telling him he had to act, but then with a colossal noise, and with terrible finality the building collapsed in on itself, and he knew there was no longer any hope. No one could have survived that. It was his fault, all his fault. He mourned for the people inside, and he did not care what happened to himself, but he knew if he was caught they would find Naomi and make her suffer as well. That couldn’t happen. He began to run and run.

Josephs and Whiting waited for three days before they thought it was safe for Whiting to leave their new premises. In that time Whiting cropped and dyed his hair and with a change to street casual clothes, was almost unrecognisable. Freddy gave the van a similar makeover. It kept him out of the way; when he wasn’t in the garage he was grumbling about the forced incarceration.

Josephs hardly noticed it. The last thing he wanted was to leave the premises. At last his work was going in a way that satisfied him. Connecting his subjects up to twin recorders playing different monologues into each ear had been particularly successful. He interspersed that with other forms of suggestion and indoctrination and he was sure now that the false memories were beginning to take hold. In a few days this stage would be over. Then he would work on their appearances, and begin to let them approach a waking level of consciousness. At the moment he had them on a fine balance, allowing them occasionally to rise close enough to awareness to swallow liquids and get rid of them. Without solid food, he thought it was already becoming visible that they’d lost weight. That was one of the things he remembered about them—thin faces with straggling hair dangling round them.

Whiting left on the Saturday morning with a long list of jobs. There was the need for basics of food and other stores, a few items of equipment; higher on their list of priorities was to make contact with a man they had been cultivating for some time as a potential business agent. They’d moved earlier than they had originally planned, and funds would soon be a problem. Finding customers for their unique service was now near the top of Whiting’s agenda.

He returned quite late in the afternoon. Josephs glanced down to see the van disappearing into the garage, leaving the site bare and anonymous except for the dumpster which still hadn’t been picked up. He’d caught Freddy that morning dropping packaging from the window into it. That was exactly the sort of thing that might catch the eye of a passerby.

Whiting came up, looking pleased with life.

“What are you grinning about?” Freddy asked sourly. “All right for some, getting out of this dump.”

“You know I set up a couple of long distance bugs on the office at Redlands? I picked up the tapes today.”

“That was an unnecessary risk,” Josephs said.

“No. Our agent had heard there had been problems at Redlands. He thought I’d come to reassure him we were still in a position to do business.”

“What happened?”

“It was busted the night we left. BIG police raid, lots of arrests. From what I’ve managed to find out they were all released by morning, but Henshaw’s in Cascade General in traction—broke his ankle jumping out of a window.”

Freddy grinned. “I like it. But how did it happen?”

“It seems that those two,” Whiting jerked his heads at the inert forms on the trolleys, “have got some very determined friends. I’d say from the recording that Henshaw might have had reason for jumping. There were two macho types called Ellison and Larabee, the tape picked up their identification clearly. They sounded very unhappy they’d just missed getting their little friends back.”

Josephs was caught between self-satisfaction that he’d made the decision to leave when he did, and concern at the narrow escape. “They shouldn’t have been able to trace them to Redlands, especially not so quickly.”

“Well, they did; and did us a good turn if you think about it. Our trail will have been nice and cold before anyone had a chance to start looking for us. And something else is going our way too. Our man has a potential customer: one of those smooth guys with an interest in several lines. He seems to be thinking of expanding into Cascade. That doesn’t concern us, but he expressed an incidental need to indulge in some business espionage. He seems to have ready cash, and we need it. I said we could supply anything necessary.”

Josephs nodded. It would be a distraction if he had to start on other work, but money was a pressing problem. “Set it up as soon as you can, then. I don’t suppose he’ll want anything very subtle.”

He went back to what he’d been doing, which was checking the monitors which gave him some idea as to Sandburg and Tanner’s levels of consciousness. His control of Sandburg seemed to work well enough; Tanner he couldn’t understand. He’d lightened the sedation considerably now, yet the man still seemed below the threshold he would have expected. Still, at least he no longer resisted what the tapes were hammering into his subconscious. The content of that might have to be adjusted a little now. Josephs was surprised and faintly alarmed that Sandburg and Tanner seemed to be an object of such personal concern to their colleagues. He’d wondered about Ellison and Sandburg of course, maybe that would explain it in their case, but that Larabee would have bothered to come to Cascade and abandon his other duties was disconcerting. It seemed a good idea to introduce something similar to aversion therapy into his program. If at some future date Ellison and Larabee remained persistent enough in their search to come close to these two, they would find Sandburg and Tanner primed to run from them even more readily than from any other law officers.

Vin watched the building blaze and collapse. Over and again he saw it, and he no longer shouted in his mind that it hadn’t happened like that, couldn’t have happened like that. The plan had gone wrong. The fire had spread out of control. All those kids, the babies… even in the dream he could not bear it. Again and again he saw it and ran, but he could never run far enough to get away from his guilt. And now from somewhere, another image entered his dream. A face that he found a name for. Chris Larabee. He struggled to fit him into this blazing world. Then the voice that always seemed to be there whispered in his mind ‘Larabee knows what you did. He’ll hunt you down’. Despair filled him, because although the voice was silent about it, other images came to him anyway: a good man grieving, a man with the best reason in the world to hate arsonists. Nothing the voice said could have made his image of Larabee ugly, but he could see him as an avenger. He knew his own guilt, but something in him could not endure the thought of paying for it at Larabee’s hands. He ran…

Jim Ellison really disliked people knowing he was what Sandburg called a sentinel. He wasn’t sure he even liked the term; it always suggested a piece of military technology to him, or at best someone only bright enough for guard duty. Over the months he’d known Sandburg, he realised it had different connotations for him: some kind of mystic watchmen, dedicated to the protection of his people. Jim doubted he could live up to that image even if he wanted to.

So he was relieved that Larabee didn’t seem to care what the sense-thing was called, and was only interested in how it was useful, to them now, and perhaps to Jim in his usual work. He seemed to view it as rather like being a phenomenally good shot, or fluent in rare languages—potentially valuable in certain situations, but not something to get too excited about. Jim could relate to that.

It didn’t mean, though, that he wanted it public knowledge in Larabee’s team.

“I won’t send Ez in unsure of his backup,” Larabee said, uncompromising.

“The backup’s good. We’ll be there. I’ll be listening. It’s safer than a wire.”

“It’s not safe if he doesn’t have confidence in what’s going on. I’m not going to give him a fudged story about a listening gizmo you’ve got that doesn’t need any wire. Anyway, he’s professional. He checks equipment.”

“What makes you think he’ll have confidence in the spiel about super-hearing?”

Larabee shrugged. “You could demonstrate that. Look, Ellison, I didn’t tell my team about this, and I told Josiah not to talk about Sandburg’s research or why I was interested in it, but that was when it wasn’t relevant to them. Standish is working with people he doesn’t know, and in a situation that’s not exactly standard. He’s got to be sure we’ll come in if he gives the word.”

“Let him wear a wire then.”

“Whiting’s ex CIA. Have you any idea how carefully he’ll check?”

After his experiences with Brackett, Jim did. He scowled at the empty bottle he was holding, but was silent. Larabee pushed his advantage. “Whiting won’t bring his prize money-spinner in unless he’s absolutely sure the set up is clean. It was hard enough for Ezra to insist on meeting the man. We put ourselves on line getting the deposit, maybe it’s your turn to put something on the line.”

They weren’t really fighting each other, it was just that the days had passed frustratingly slowly. In real terms, Standish had done wonders. Jim suspected he hadn’t slept at all the night before he arrived in Cascade, and he was impressed at the range of contacts the undercover agent had managed to come up with at such short notice. He’d done what he could himself, and called on Kelso and old friends in Vice for additional names, and Ezra had spent Thursday and Friday sallying out from his expensive hotel room as wealthy Edward Thorpe, giving the impression of a significant new player in town and visiting various haunts where he might meet the appropriate people. Larabee had made it clear to Jim that from their point of view, this was an extremely rushed job—normally Ezra would have put in weeks of meticulous preparation—but time was something they hadn’t got.

Perhaps they were lucky. Or perhaps the men they wanted to meet also didn’t have the luxury of time. On Friday Ezra had an introduction which he thought was promising. He’d had to show interest in several business areas to make his presence in Cascade plausible, but he’d dropped into one or two conversations his need, his urgent need, to find some creative way of persuading an employee of a rival organisation to work for him clandestinely. The man, a Mr Mason, called himself a facilitator, and hinted he might possibly be able to suggest something, though he was unwilling to be any more definite than that; the person he had in mind, he said, had other employers and might not be currently in the position to go freelance. At the time Ezra thought of this as no more than a tentative possibility, but on the Saturday evening, Mason had strolled up to him in a bar, and been considerably more upbeat.

Ezra had played him efficiently—Jim, unofficially listening, had been impressed. Larabee, also unofficially listening, but secondhand, had pointed out, not for the first time, that he had a good team. They’d avoided the issue of Ezra knowing the sentinel stuff at that point. Larabee had been confident in his man, had simply wanted to be around to make sure the rather hasty set up had not placed him in danger, and by mutual agreement he and Jim hadn’t informed Ezra of their presence nearby.

There had been another casual meeting on Sunday, and a more businesslike one on the Tuesday, This had included a man Ezra couldn’t definitely identify as Whiting from the photos he’d seen, but who fitted the bill on things like height and weight. That had got to them to the point they’d reached now. Team 7 had somehow, Jim didn’t enquire into the details, raised an impressive deposit; Ezra had indicated that if he was paying top class prices, he wanted to meet the man who would be doing the actual conditioning. With every meeting Ezra had had, it sounded more promising, but this one they were planning on the Wednesday night would be the proof. It seemed unlikely that there could be two doctors in Cascade who fitted the sort of profile Mason was describing—’many years experience’ ‘has worked with the security forces’ ‘can make a man believe he’s his own brother’—but they would find out.

What was concerning them now was planning what to do if the man was indeed Josephs. It was just possible he wouldn’t turn up, that only Whiting—the man they’d decided to assume was Whiting—would come. If that was the case, Ezra was to refuse to pay the deposit, the man would be allowed to leave, and Jim and Chris Larabee would do their damnedest to follow him ’til he led them to Josephs. If Josephs came as well, they would wait for Ezra to give the word and with a team from Major Crimes would go in and arrest both men.

Ezra had to know he was able to give the word, with certainty of it being acted on.

“If you’re worried he’ll talk, don’t be,” Larabee said. “His life relies on him being able to keep secrets efficiently.”

Jim could sense and accept Larabee’s confidence in the undercover agent; he didn’t know the man adequately to share it. How much did he trust Larabee’s judgement?

Rather to his own surprise, he found he trusted it enough. “All right,” he said reluctantly. “We’ve got most of the day. Lets pick him up and go through the details. Everyone except Standish will have to believe he’s wearing some state-of-the-art equipment though.”

“Thanks,” Larabee said. He didn’t give a speech about knowing what it had cost Jim to agree, but it was there in his eyes. Harmony restored, they went out to pick up their ace in the hole.

“I fail to see why Mr Thorpe needs to meet me personally,” Josephs said. He had been unhappy with the arrangement ever since it was suggested to him the previous day.

“He’s a rich man putting up a lot of money and he wants to see what he’s buying,” Whiting said. “If we want his cash, we go along with it.”

“It’s a most inconvenient moment to leave. You know I’ve begun to lessen the sedation on these two, in preparation for my next phase of treatment.”

Whiting shrugged. “So dope them up again. How hard can it be. It’s going to take us a couple of hours maximum. Freddy can keep an eye on them for that long.”

“You’re sure this meeting is safe?”

“Everything checks out so far. I won’t call you in until I’ve gone over Thorpe to make absolutely sure he’s clean.”

“And our agent?”

“He’d sell his own children, but at the moment we’re a good business proposition for him. He’s been reliable so far, and it’s been several months now.”

Grudgingly Josephs agreed that there seemed little option but to go ahead with the meeting. He spent the rest of the day carefully monitoring and adjusting Tanner and Sandburg. Freddy was reliable in only the most limited sense, and could not be trained to watch monitors and dials. It was made more difficult because Josephs was reluctant to return to the level of sedation he’d been using; it would interfere with his planned program. In the end, he decided to increase Sandburg’s dose slightly, as he seemed now very close to wakefulness. Tanner’s respiration and heartbeat still suggested he was much further under, even though he was already receiving less of the drugs; if he returned him to the earlier levels, it might set the whole thing back by days. He decided to leave him. Even if he began to wake, he was going to be dazed and weak, and no problem for the burly Freddy.

“Ready?” Whiting asked.

“We’re collecting the deposit at this meeting, you said?”

“And we need it, if the electricity is to stay on and we’re going to keep eating. Come on.”

Ezra Standish seldom met a situation he could justifiably term unprecedented. There were, after all, a finite number of permutations on the interactions of human beings. Some parallel incident, some comparable character—there was always a frame of reference if he thought laterally enough.

Tonight’s situation was unprecedented.

When Chris Larabee informed him of the way they intended to follow the course of the meeting he would have thought it some elaborate joke, except that the last thing Chris was likely to do at the moment was to joke about something so important to the hunt for Vin. Then he seriously wondered if anxiety had unhinged the man, but that was even more incredible than the idea of a man who could keep auditory surveillance from a distance simply by ‘cranking up’ his hearing.

Finally, when Ellison, extremely reluctantly, demonstrated that he could indeed see and hear at some phenomenal level of intensity, he accepted the idea and begun to consider potential problems.

“What if there is some other auditory stimulus—a loud noise, for example, closer than the conversation?”

Ellison looked at him as if he’d been surprisingly intelligent. “Good question. The answer is, I’d have a problem. Car horns etc I can cope with; if there’s a thunderstorm I suggest we abort.”

“And the—what did you call it—zone out?” Chris asked.

Ellison shrugged. “It’s a concentration thing,” he explained, even more reluctantly, to Ezra. “Like getting lost in something you’re interested in, only more so. But it hasn’t been a problem so far.” He turned to Larabee. “You haven’t noticed anything when we’ve been listening? I don’t think I’ve missed anything.”

“No.” Ezra registered what he thought was the slightest hint of discomfort in Chris.

“Basically, you can help me with that,” Ellison went on. “Just nudge me, speak to me, if you think I’m concentrating too hard. Even with the possible problems, I think it’s a better option than electronics.”

“Agreed.” Ezra knew he had nothing which would escape the type of detectors Whiting could probably employ.

He looked down at the plans, and tried to ignore the habitual suspicion at the back of his mind, which was just now suggesting to him a reason for the look which had flickered across Chris’s face. He would be willing to wager some of the conversations they’d been listening to were his own. It was entirely understandable. Chris was not going to leave anything to chance, or to a possibly flawed performance… It was absurd to feel distrusted.

“How do you expect the meeting to go?” Ellison asked.

That was something to which Ezra had given considerable thought. “I imagine Josephs will not be involved at first,” he said slowly. “It’s inconceivable that Whiting would risk him before he has satisfied himself the situation is safe. I imagine that I will have to spend some time with him and with Mason, convincing them of the genuine nature of my deposit and allowing them to assure themselves that I am not involved in some sort of entrapment. You should be able to hear when… if… Josephs arrives on the scene. I would suggest that you close in at that point to surround the building. I will give the word for your final entrance based on what seems to me the optimal chance of arresting the men without unnecessary loss of life. You will, I’m afraid, have to trust my judgement on that.”

“That’s not a problem,” Ellison said.

Chris looked at Ezra sharply, but before he could speak—had he been planning to—the rest of the Major Crimes team arrived, and the briefing had to begin. They seemed good men; it was futile to wish it was his own team. He had known before he came that he would be working with strangers.

After the briefing, Chris walked down to his car with him.

“Ez,” he started.

Ezra could guess what was coming, and forestalled it. “I will do my utmost not to let you down,” he said truthfully. “I would not offer less than my best with Vin…”

“Damn it, Ezra,” Chris interrupted, sounding quite unreasonably exasperated. “I know you won’t let me down. Stand still a minute and listen to me.”

Ezra stood still, not because of any particular instinct to obedience, but because his arm was held in the sort of grip that could only be broken by violence, and it would be embarrassing to have two ATF officers struggling under the PD security cameras.

“We listened to you,” Chris went on quickly and bluntly. “We didn’t tell you about it because, in case you hadn’t noticed, Ellison is about as coy on this sentinel business as a maiden aunt discussing sex aids.”

“Understandable,” Ezra said. “The potential use to the government might well induce some level of paranoia, and anyway, the tabloids would probably dub him Supercop if by any chance…”

“That’s not the point. The point is, that’s the only reason you didn’t know about it. I TRUST you. If you don’t start believing it soon, I’ll tattoo it on your ass. We were listening because we wanted to be on hand if a rushed job blew up on you. I’ve lost one of my team. I’m not losing any more. You did a damn good job, and Ellison wants to recruit you. When we’re listening tonight, there’ll only be two things on our mind—being in the right place when you give the word, and making sure that you’re okay. Did you follow that?”

Ezra realised he was standing there mesmerised and in danger of looking altogether too affected by this. Seizing back control, he managed to say blandly, “A tattoo would be entirely uncouth. I’m sure I can assimilate this in a less destructive manner.”

“Good. And good luck, Ez. We’ll be there.”

Vin lay still. If anyone looked at him, or at the monitors which still measured his breathing and heartbeat, it seemed like the stillness of drugged sleep, but it was no longer that. There were other reasons for stillness. Vin was alert now, and waiting, with the silent patience of a predator.

He hardly knew when the change had begun. Come to that, he hardly knew where he was now, or what was going on, but he knew that he was among enemies. His wariness had been instinctive, coming before thought really returned. The unnatural lethargy, the intrusive voices, even the smell of the place had blended with some half forgotten memory of danger to make him hide all sign of his waking. In the jumble of dreams and memories in his mind he remembered clearly the man who had taught him this. Chanu. How he’d known him, or where, was lost, but he could almost hear Chanu’s voice as he told him the ways to slow his breathing, keep his heart like that of someone asleep.

At first he had done it without a plan, with nothing but the desire to keep his awareness hidden from whoever had forced this confusion on him. Very slowly, his thoughts had become clearer. The more awake he became, the greater his control was. He was finding it easy now to fool the people who held him. Very cautiously he had begun to build up a picture of them and the place. He thought he had been properly awake for about a night and a day. In the night he had risked opening his eyes when everything was quiet; in brief glimpses he’d built up an idea of the room and what was in it. The biggest shock had been to see a still figure on a neighbouring trolley. It was lucky no one had been checking on him then. He sought through the mess of voices and nightmares and half-memories, and it was like swimming against a strong current. He struggled, found it caused a sort of physical pain to get near the memory, but at least he recaptured a series of images and a name. Blair. The images blurred from boy to man, confusing him, but his feelings were clearer. Blair was a friend, it was Vin’s fault somehow they were in this mess. Whatever he planned, he must allow for Blair. And he didn’t think Blair was awake.

Once he heard people moving, he had to be careful. For hours now he had maintained the outward slow rhythms of sleep while his mind worked with increasing clarity. There were three men. One belonged with the voices and it took all his skill to hide any evidence of the sick fear he felt when he heard him or felt him adjust wires near his skin. A doctor? Not a real doctor. All his mind would offer was monsters from children’s stories and he didn’t struggle for clearer memories in case some sign of the discomfort showed to the people watching him. One of the other men was sharp and confident. One was probably paid muscle. He listened to their words when they spoke, and later in the day to something like an argument.

He remembered what it felt like to hope.

Two of them were going away. Better, it was the doctor and the confident man who were going out.

He listened carefully, picking up what was important. They would be away for perhaps as much as two hours. Freddy—that seemed to be muscleman’s name—was to do nothing more than keep an eye on things. He must check the monitors every fifteen minutes, the doctor said. If either of the men seemed to be waking up, he could administer the syringe of sedative that lay ready measured on the table between the trolleys.

Vin’s face looked completely relaxed in sleep, but inside he was close to grinning. That would be very useful. Once he heard the door close behind the more dangerous men, he began to get ready. Very cautiously he flexed muscles that had not been used for too long. He knew he felt weak; he had to do what he could and hope surprise would help him.

It was more than fifteen minutes before Freddy moved. Vin heard a slight grunt and the sound of a magazine dropping to the floor. He could plot the man’s progress across the room as clearly as if he could see him: footsteps, cloth brushing a chair, breathing audible now, the smell of spicy food as the man leaned over for a closer look.

He timed it right. His body almost let him down.

He opened his eyes as the man turned away to look at Blair. It was the work of a moment to get hold of the syringe, but his grip as he caught Freddy round the neck was too easily broken. He hung on desperately just long enough to be sure he’d injected the whole dose into him, then was sent flying. He didn’t know how long the stuff would take to work. He rolled over, found himself near a table and flung it, though without much force.

“You little bastard,” Freddy said, swinging at him wildly and missing.

Vin got behind the trolley, kicked the brake off and rammed it into the man’s ribs. Freddy grunted and went down. Maybe the sedative was working by then, or maybe he just hadn’t much stomach for a fight. Vin didn’t care which. What mattered was he didn’t get up fighting. Vin picked up an empty beer bottle which had fallen off the table, and knocked the end off it.

“Get in the store room,” he said.

Freddy got up unsteadily, and obeyed. Vin locked the door and leaned for a moment on the trolley getting his breath. He felt as if he’d run twenty miles, but he daren’t stop to rest any longer. Blair hadn’t even stirred at the noise. Vin went to him and ripped the wires from his skin. It was only then that he realised they were both undressed, in some kind of hospital gowns. He rubbed his hand across his eyes. Shit. How could he not have noticed that before. Still, these men seemed to sleep here. There must be something.

He found a shirt and sweatshirt folded on the foot of a bed in the next door room, some stained jeans in a pile of washing and one pair of clean sweats. he took the shirt and jeans for himself, and the other things for Blair. They’d have to go commando.

It took him a long time to get Blair into the clothes—too long. His eyes were open now, but he was no help, flopping back asleep onto Vin’s shoulder as soon as he could. Vin hauled him to his feet.

“Come on, kid. We’ve got to run.”

“Run,” Blair agreed vacantly.

Vin had noticed a small fridge. He propped Blair against the wall while he grabbed two cokes and some ham from it, and the remains of a loaf of bread from on top, and dropped the lot inside his overlarge shirt. Blair had slid to the floor. He pulled him up again. His own legs were shaking with tiredness now, and he was beginning to feel seriously alarmed about how long it was all taking.

Getting them both down the stairs and outside was nothing more coordinated than a staggering, stumbling controlled fall. He paused, gasping, to lean against the doorframe, clutching Blair with what was left of his strength, and knew he needed to think again. They couldn’t go far like this. Hell, the way he felt now, he couldn’t even imagine getting out of the warehouse lot. He looked around.

There was one possibility, and it might not be a very good one. A large dumpster, of the sort builders or home improvers used for their waste, was standing close to one wall of the warehouse. He left Blair a moment and went and looked into it. It was almost full. It seemed to contain more packaging than rubble; that made it a slightly more promising option. They hadn’t got a lot of choice anyway.

With a last effort he got Blair, walked him over and somehow bundled him up onto the side of the dumpster, so that he fell in. Then he climbed in after him, and set about concealing them both, very thankful for the amount of cardboard boxes that seemed to have been flattened and thrown into it. Near the bottom the cardboard was slimy and damp, but they could manage without actually being in water. He found some broken pieces of wood, and used them to shore up a small space around them, then pulled back the cardboard above them until they were completely concealed. It might do. It was his best shot, anyway. He thought the doctor would expect them to have run as far as they could get. The other man might be more of a danger; he sounded like a man who would check all the possibilities, but there was no more Vin could do.

He settled back into the damp cardboard cave he’d made, and pulled Blair up against his shoulder to try to give him some warmth. Blair was asleep again now, and talking in his sleep. “Jim, please, no, not Naomi, you can’t arrest Naomi.” Vin thought the names should have meant something to him, but his head was aching and giddy and he couldn’t force himself to think about it. He’d got out. He’d got Blair. That would have to be enough for now. He’d save the food until Blair seemed ready to wake up. After that they would have to get much further away from here, and he didn’t know how they were going to do it. He wanted to stay awake to think about it but he was too exhausted. His head dropped against Blair’s and he let sleep take him.

Mason was jittery. Ezra noticed it as soon as he stepped into the man’s office. It wasn’t anything overt, but reading the tiny signs of someone’s body language was a part of Ezra’s professional existence. Mason was more tense than he’d seen him before; he moved a little too much, glanced a couple of times out of the window as if he was impatient for the other men to arrive, picked up a pen unnecessarily. Ezra didn’t doubt the man was uneasy; what he wasn’t sure of was why. It could be simply that his financial position was less secure than he’d indicated and the outcome of the negotiations were vital to his future prosperity. More likely he felt, as Ezra did, that the speed with which this deal had been set up was unusual, and had left less time for any cautious assessment of the other participants. If it was for either of those reasons, his edginess was not a real problem. There were two other possibilities though: he suspected Ezra’s real role or he anticipated some other trouble when Whiting and Josephs arrived.

At the moment Ezra judged it was safe to continue as planned but he wondered if he might manage to give Ellison a hint.

“I’m in no hurry, Mr Mason. If Whiting has been held up it’s not a problem.”

“No, no, I’m sure he’ll be here in a minute,” Mason said. He was trying to sound casual, but the tension was not quite masked. Ezra thought Ellison would probably have noted it.

At that moment they saw the headlights of a vehicle pulling up outside. Mason’s relief was palpable.

Jim Ellison and Chris Larabee were also relieved to see the van arrive, but after silently listening as the engine died away, Jim said, “Whiting’s alone.”

“Are you sure?”

“There’s only one heartbeat. I can judge that accurately enough. I guess Whiting has dropped his man off somewhere nearby and they have an audio link. He’s being careful.”

“It won’t be a problem so long as no one moves before Josephs shows.”

Jim nodded. They had Brown, Rafe, and others from Major Crimes positioned around the building. He informed them all that the van was empty, and reiterated the orders to wait. Switching off the radio he said to Chris, “Mason’s nervous. I’d picked up on it through his heart rate, but I think Standish wants to be sure we know, from the way he spoke to him.”

“He’s okay with going ahead?”

They had coded a number of phrases Ezra might use to signal he wanted to change the original plan.

“Seems okay so far. Whiting’s just being shown in.”

Ezra saw no sign in Whiting of the unease Mason was showing. Whiting looked confident and ready to deal. He strolled in ahead of Mason’s man and nodded to Ezra. “I see you’re on time, Thorpe. I hope that means you’re ready to do business.”

“Of course.”

“Then there are a few preliminary checks I’d…”

He broke off and Ezra’s attention also shifted sharply. Mason’s man had closed the door to the office while they were speaking. Now there was the sharp snick of the lock turning. Ezra saw alarmed comprehension dawning on Whiting’s face and knew it was mirrored on his own.

“Mason!” Whiting began angrily.

The two side doors to the office burst open and Ezra realised that Mason’s nervousness had had very good cause. He’d set them both up.

“Get out of here, it’s Miller!” Whiting shouted, obviously to Josephs listening somewhere. Ezra fervently hoped, in the split second it took him to realise this, that he was in the van and that this wouldn’t be a total disaster. Even as he shouted, Whiting fired from his pocket, hitting Mason high in the shoulder, then he went down under a handful of men. Almost certainly his previous employers Ezra realised, both from Whiting’s shout of recognition and the way they looked and handled themselves. He placed his hands on his head, showing he was offering no resistance.

The CIA men ignored this, slamming him backwards over the desk behind which Mason now lay holding his arm and swearing. Whiting still seemed to be struggling. Ezra was spreadeagled and searched, and winced as the acute angle put pressure on his unreliable shoulder joint. The men holding him looked as if they enjoyed his discomfort. Even so, naively, he didn’t expect what they did next. Perhaps his mind was too much on the complete reversal of their plans that had happened in barely a couple of minutes.

The men holding him looked at one another. Quite deliberately, one gripped him and the other pushed down sharply. The abused joint capitulated, dislocating with a flare of agony that was made worse as he was forced further over. Briefly the room disappeared in a red haze, and he had to bite back a cry, then managed to recapture his sense of what was happening. His back up needed to know something more than this confused noise.

“Ellison! Larabee!” he yelled.

His idea was to let them know the situation was out of his control, especially as he was afraid the men subduing Whiting were going to leave him in no state for questioning. He didn’t expect the names to have the effect they did.

The two men holding him let go so smartly he might have laughed if he hadn’t been hurting so much, and there was a perceptible change in the level of noise in the room. I’ve found the magic words, he thought giddily, then the office door fell down and Chris, Jim Ellison and assorted members of Cascade’s finest came in over its remains. Ezra incautiously tried to straighten up, and the pain returned so forcefully he lost track of things for a minute.

He blinked away the haze and looked up into the concerned eyes of his team leader. “Josephs? Did you get Josephs?” he asked Chris.

“No chance,” Chris said bitterly. “He was waiting off site somewhere. Where are you hurt?”

“Just the shoulder. Those bastards thought it was hilarious to put it out.”

Ellison materialised behind Chris and between them he was lifted not too agonisingly to an upright position. He tried not to gasp audibly.

Miller was justifying himself to their backs. “You should have kept me informed. I fail to see how any blame attaches to us.”

Ignoring him, Ellison asked Ezra, “You weren’t offering any resistance?”

Ezra shook his head. “I was standing with my hands on my head from the minute they entered the room.”

“Who was it?” Chris asked quietly. “Which ones.”

The men indicated looked sullen, and Miller said again, “We cannot be held responsible for a misunderstanding. My men believed they were dealing with a criminal.”

“You routinely injure people who are not resisting arrest if you think they may possibly have a criminal record?” Ellison asked.

“We thought he was resisting,” one of the men said, apparently taking confidence from Miller’s support. “It was a mistake, all right?”

Ezra saw the barely perceptible glance which flicked between Ellison and Chris Larabee. He was probably the only person in the room remotely prepared for what came next. They moved with simultaneous speed. The two men who had handled him with such deliberate brutality went flying back into the wall. One crumpled to the floor, bleeding copiously from his nose; the other clutched his mouth moaning.

“Oops,” Ellison said. “Another of those mistakes, I’m afraid.”

“Misunderstanding,” Larabee agreed smoothly. “Sorry, Miller. We thought they must be a pair of criminal thugs. Were they two of your men?”

Miller swallowed his anger, and said coldly, “I don’t think you have any further need to be on these premises. Perhaps you’d like to leave and let us finish our operation.”

“Not before we come to some sort of agreement,” Ellison said. “We had the perfect set up to bring Josephs here. You’ve lost him for us and I don’t know what that’s going to mean for our missing men. I want access to Whiting.”

Whiting had been subdued so thoroughly that Ezra doubted he would be capable of talking for some time. Miller didn’t answer Ellison’s demand though. Instead he turned to Mason who was shaking and still trying to stop the bleeding from his arm.

“You told me only Whiting would be here.”

“I didn’t,” Mason said bitterly. “You told me you knew what deal I had on tonight. How was I to know you only knew half of it.”

Miller looked slightly sick, not least perhaps because of the number of people outside his own organisation who could testify to this screw-up. “Take them both away,” he said to his men. “All right, Ellison. You can talk to him—later. I’ll be in touch with Captain Banks to arrange it.”

Ellison nodded, then seemed to dismiss the CIA from things he considered worth thinking about. He turned to Ezra. “We’ll take you along to the hospital, but if you like I can put your shoulder back first. It will save you some discomfort getting there.”

“I really don’t see the need to bother the medical authorities. This is not the first time I have suffered the problem,” Ezra said. “I would be grateful for your ministrations, but then it would be more useful to see if we can retrieve anything from this debacle.”

Ellison felt his shoulder very gently, his fingers perhaps able to feel more than the normal signs.

“Brace him,” he said to Chris.

“Chris Larabee, bracing personality,” Ezra murmured, trying not to think about what was coming. Ellison was good though. It hurt very, very much for a few seconds and then the relief was worth it. He took a couple of deep breaths, the room came back into focus, he ignored the fact he was leaning rather heavily against Chris and that Ellison seemed to be patting him reassuringly on his good shoulder and said, “Now, may I assume we have some sort of plan of action?”

It was at that point he realised just why men like Miller and Banks probably viewed this as an unholy alliance.

“Think we told you the plan,” Chris said.

“An X ray will show up any related damage,” Ellison agreed. “They’ll prescribe something for the pain as well.”

“Cascade General?” Chris asked.

“I’ll drive.”

“It really isn’t urgent,” Ezra said weakly.

Chris slid a hand under his good arm and Ellison opened the door. “We’re not going to get anything out of this mess until Whiting is capable of talking, and I doubt if that will be before morning. Henri—maybe you could let Simon Banks know what went down here tonight. There’s nothing more we can do for now.”

Ezra’s throbbing shoulder hurt enough but it felt trivial to him, compared with the thought of how much they had hoped, and how little they had gained, from all their planning.

Josephs drove back to the warehouse in the early hours of the morning. He had been waiting a couple of blocks away from Mason’s office in a small hired car; he’d sped away instantly at Whiting’s shouted warning, and spent the intervening time first making sure no one had followed him, and then returning to his base—cautiously. He was extremely shaken by what had happened. He and Whiting had been confident no one knew of their connection with Mason. He felt no personal concern for Whiting, but apart from the inconvenience of losing his services, there was the very real danger he would talk. Sooner or later most people did. In Whiting’s case he thought it would be later, but he did not intend to gamble his safety on that. He and Freddy would have to begin putting everything they could into storage and moving out. He’d been thinking it through as he drove slowly and circuitously back. He would have to end his current indoctrination of Tanner and Sandburg a little early, but he had almost completed things satisfactorily there. A cheap enough, sleazy enough hotel wouldn’t care about the state of anyone brought in so long as the rooms were paid for, so he would be able to carry out the final stage of induced addiction before he left them on the streets.

If nothing else went wrong. He had tried to contact the warehouse after he was confident no one had come after him, and had got no answer. That was not in itself so alarming. They often left the answering machine to pick up, and if Freddy was in another room he might not have heard his voice—but Freddy ought to have been expecting a call by now, or something to explain why they weren’t back. He called again when he was close, and again got no reply. He did not believe Whiting would have broken this easily. The warehouse should be safe. Could Freddy have left the place unattended for some reason?

The sight of the open door to the building made him even more concerned, yet everything seemed quiet. He decided to pull in and park. There was no sign of a problem otherwise, and people setting traps did not leave such obvious signs. It was quiet inside too. He ran up the stairs, and the anger that built in him at the sight of the empty trolleys was almost uncontainable. His hands clenched on the metal sides so hard that they went white and numb. It was minutes before he could even begin to think clearly.

Where would they go? How had they got away from Freddy? He saw the broken bottle on the floor. No blood, but it looked like a weapon. One of them had not only wakened, but been capable of this. It had to have been Tanner. He was the fighter, and it was his readings that had been anomalous. But however he had managed this, Tanner had definitely been confused and in no state to follow a rational course of action. It was extraordinary he’d managed to recognise Sandburg.

He glanced at his watch. They could have been gone for as much as six hours by now. Presumably Freddy was out searching for them. He went hastily back downstairs and started the car again. Tanner had been the easiest to convince that he was from the streets, belonged there, and would never leave the streets. He would go and look where the homeless of Cascade congregated. Dirty water found its own level, like any other.

Blair woke slowly, to total darkness and confusion. He was stiff and chilled, and he seemed to be curled up in some damp and rather smelly hole. He couldn’t remember how he got here. Come to that, he couldn’t remember where he had been before he got here, and the sense of disorientation made him jerk upright in alarm.

That was when he realised that someone was curled up in the hole with him, someone who had one arm clamped around him. He smothered a yell and tried to struggle free, which was when he realised that he was actually buried in the hole. A hand closed over his mouth, and complete panic set in.

“Quiet. ‘s okay Blair. We’re safe here. Just be quiet,” a voice whispered in his ear as he began to struggle. “Don’t think anyone’s near, but don’t make a noise anyway.”

Blair stopped struggling, though he didn’t feel much less alarmed. The voice though was sort of familiar. Why couldn’t he remember where he was or what he was doing here. The hand shifted from his mouth and he gasped with relief.

“Sorry,” the voice whispered. “Thought I’d wake up ‘fore you did. You remember anything?”

“No,” Blair said. Then, though a name came into his mind from nowhere, “Vin?”

“Yeah. Keep it down. This is a lot too close to the place we just got out of.”

The words brought a jumble of sensations, of fear and thick darkness and a hated voice. He shuddered and the arm clamped around him again. “We’re okay now. We’re not going back there.”

“Where are we?” Blair whispered.

“Sorta dumpster, just outside this lab place. Here.”

Cold plastic was pushed into his hands. He realised it was a bottle and fumbled in the darkness to open the lid. Cola. The sweet fizziness seemed to wake him up a little, but waking did not clear the muddle of thoughts troubling him.

“What happened?”

He felt the shrug against him. “Can’t sort it out. Don’t even know where we are. Don’t reckon it’s Denver.”

“Why not?”

“Air smelt wrong. Smelt like it was somewhere near the sea.”

Blair’s mind threw up another image at random. He struggled for a name and found it. “Cascade,” he said. “I was in Cascade.” But his memory went no further. He had a feeling he’d been in Cascade for a long time, but he also seemed to remember being on the move… no, more than that, on the run. He realised his head ached and that the air was unpleasantly stuffy around them. “I can’t hear anything,” he said. “Can’t we open this up a bit.”

“Wait,” Vin said, but he moved, and perhaps opened up the covering above them a little. Blair couldn’t tell. A long time seemed to pass. Vin moved again, and this time the breath of colder fresher air drifted in. Vin settled back. “It’s dead quiet. Clouds cleared a bit, and it looks not that far off dawn. If we’re lucky, they might’ve been back, found us gone and gone looking.”


“I heard three of them. One’s out of action, won’t bother us. One was a professional type. Then there was the doctor, scientist or whatever. I knew who he was, but I can’t get hold of it.”

Blair couldn’t get hold of any of it, except a sudden longing to be far away from here before he tried to think about it. “Wouldn’t it be better to go before they come back?”

“Need to be sure they’ve gone,” Vin said. “Don’t think we’re up to movin’ fast, and anyway we got no shoes.”

Blair hadn’t woken up enough even to consider what he had on. The thought bothered him now; he was wearing sweats that felt too large and unfamiliar and his feet were bare. “Why?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“Couldn’t find our clothes, so I took what was there, but there weren’t no shoes, ‘n the ones on the man I took down were too big.”

“Okay, this was too much information. Blair didn’t want to think about why he hadn’t been wearing clothes, and he had no idea what man Vin was talking about. “But where were we?” he said slowly, hoping that might make more sense of it.

“Told y’ it was a sort of lab place,” Vin said. He had been cautiously pushing the roof of their hideout back, and his mind seemed to be more on what was out there than the conversation. “Bit like a lab, bit like a clinic. Weren’t there for our health though.”

Blair felt abruptly colder and more afraid. Something between nightmare and memory was coming back into focus. “Like the place we burned down,” he said.

Vin dropped back beside him, gripping his arm painfully. “Don’t think about it,” he said angrily. “We can’t, not now. All we got to think about right now is getting safe away from here. Whatever we done, we don’t deserve what he’ll do to us, okay? We’ll get as far from here as we can, then we’ll talk, but not yet.”

He let go and Blair rubbed his arm. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Vin sound quite like that; not that that would make it the only thing he couldn’t remember of course, but he felt at a level below thought that Vin never sounded so close to not coping with something. It bothered him that he couldn’t get Vin straight in his mind either. He’d sound young one minute, older the next, and Blair’s image of him kept shifting as well. Uneasily he realised he felt that way about himself too. How old were they? He had no idea, and that made him feel so weird that he decided Vin was right. Thinking about it all now would be a really bad move.

Vin moved again, this time standing right up and looking around. “It’s been quiet a while. Don’t reckon anyone is here. Doesn’t mean they might not be on their way back though, so once we’re out of here we move off the premises fast, okay?”

Blair stood up, and realised he felt shaky and vaguely giddy. He lurched on the uneven footing, and had to hang on to Vin for a moment. “It’ll settle,” Vin promised, steadying him. “Just wait a bit. I got you, okay.”

The night around them was absolutely quiet except for distant traffic. Blair got his balance, and they scrambled down, and ran regardless of the roughness on their bare feet until they were off the site and onto a neighbouring one, where they slid along the edge in the darkness and hoped for no watchmen or dogs. Luckily the area seemed to be semi-derelict. They saw one man who was probably a nightwatchman, but he didn’t see them.

“Where are we going?” Blair whispered. He realised the sky was definitely lighter now. They didn’t want to be hanging around once the sun got up.

Vin didn’t answer, but he tugged his arm. In the next lot there were some trucks, rough looking even in the half light, and crates and barrels stacked haphazard. Blair followed him to crouch behind them. “What now?” he asked.

Vin gestured towards the building at the end of the lot, and Blair realised its lights were on.

“Looks like they might be making an early start,” Vin said softly.

A few minutes later a man came out, got into one of the trucks and drove off. That seemed to be what they’d been waiting to see. “Wanted to make sure they weren’t loading up,” Vin explained. “Come on.”

He’d already chosen one, Blair realised, as they passed the two closest to them; then he realised why—the third had sacks piled in the back, far from a perfect hiding place, but probably enough given that it was still fairly dark. He tried to flatten himself as much as possible. “Worst comes to the worst they’ll probably just shout a bit,” Vin said. “They’ll think we’re trying to keep warm.”

They heard two more engines start and depart. It sounded as though the trucks were leaving in the order they were parked. Blair felt his heart beat a tattoo so loud it ought to be reverberating off the metal, but if it did the driver must not have heard it. He got in and drove off like the others. Once they were definitely on the way, Vin pushed the sacks away from their faces.

“Think we made it,” he said.

“But where are we going?”

Vin shrugged. “Wherever it is, it’s better than where we were.”

Chris was getting kind of used to drinking coffee with Jim Ellison at dawn. Neither of them were sleeping much, and once there was daylight it seemed a waste not to get up. They didn’t talk, just drank the coffee in shared awareness that another day had arrived and they still hadn’t found Vin or Blair.

This morning was slightly different because he glanced from time to time into the small room where Ezra was deep asleep and hopefully going to stay that way. They’d been lucky at the hospital. The nurse who mainly dealt with Ezra was so young, so pretty, and so thoughtfully considerate of his welfare that the undercover agent had been constrained by his own sense of chivalry to be something like the perfect patient. He’d almost jibbed at the end when it came to the loathed painkillers, but she’d looked at him with such sweet expectation of his cooperation that he’d swallowed the things with less protest than Chris had ever seen him make. Chris’s own private assessment of the situation was confirmed when the nurse glanced at him and Ellison as she turned away, and winked. He’d have to go back and thank her, and get her to write a game plan for the nurses in Denver.

Ellison hadn’t hurried the drive, and thanks to the painkillers Ez had been almost asleep by the time they arrived at the loft. His argument that he’d be fine in his hotel room had trailed off as soon as Chris sat him down on Sandburg’s bed. His eyes had closed and he’d tilted over against Chris’s shoulder while Ellison was still fetching some extra pillows, so they’d simply eased him back and let him sleep. Chris—who’d had an extremely bad couple of minutes after he’d heard the shot in Mason’s room—was glad to have him where he could be sure he was okay.

Ellison refilled their cups and glanced at his watch.

“I’ll ring Simon in a minute and see if Miller has been in touch yet.” They’d contacted Banks immediately after the debacle, and Chris had called Josiah who would tell the rest of Team 7 how it had gone down, or failed to go down.

“Whiting didn’t look in good shape,” Chris said, “and I don’t suppose we’ll get a go at him until they’ve finished with him.”

Ellison nodded. “I know. And unless Josephs is completely insane he’ll have already moved. I’m not building too much hope on what we get out of Whiting but…”

The sentence did not need finishing. They weren’t sure what else there was to build hope on at the moment. They’d come close twice now, and the let down seemed worse each time. Doing nothing though was not an option. “It’s six thirty,” Ellison said, pushing away the depression. “If Simon hasn’t heard from them, he could at least call and find out the state of play with Whiting and Mason.”

Blair realised that in a world which currently made little sense, at least the geography was stable. He knew these streets. It wasn’t a part of Cascade he usually saw much of, but he’d driven through here… driven?… he shook his head to clear it. Sometimes he felt as if his mind was splitting. He had a clear memory of driving, yet his mind also told him he had no car, no job, had been on the run for some indeterminate length of time. He couldn’t even understand why he knew Cascade so well, but he did; he could have drawn a map of it more easily than he could remember his age.

“We should get out while the truck’s in this area,” he told Vin. “I know this place. There’s a mission a block away where they have a basement full of clothes and stuff people have given, and they let the homeless have them as well as poorer families.”

“There’s an intersection coming up,” Vin said, not questioning his judgement. “We’ll have to be quick when we jump but there’s not much traffic yet.”

Blair did his best to be quick—coordinated was more of a problem. He stumbled as he landed and Vin had to catch him and pull him onto the sidewalk out of the way of a car he hadn’t seen. They weren’t exactly inconspicuous either with clothes that were too large and bare filthy feet. The truck driver with quite surprising speed was out of his side door and confronting them before Blair had even got his balance back. He must have felt the vehicle move as they jumped.

“We didn’t take anythin’,” Vin said hastily. “Just needed a lift.”

“I’m not a taxi service,” the man said, but although he was rough-looking enough, his expression was not unkind. “What you did was stupid, and dangerous.”

“Hadn’t a lot of choice,” Vin said.

“I can see that. What do the two of you think you’re going to do now?”

“Go to the St James’s mission,” Blair said, suspecting some genuine concern behind the question. “They’ll give us shoes…”

He trailed off, feeling Vin nudge him. Maybe he shouldn’t have told anyone that. But the man said slowly, “Well, they’re good people. They won’t ask you what you’re running away from. You’d better get over there fast. Anyone who sees you looking like you do at the moment will be calling the police.” He turned back to his truck, then around again. “Here; while you’re waiting, get some breakfast.”

He tucked the money into Blair’s hand and ignored their thanks, driving off without looking back.

Josephs was back at the warehouse, furiously packing what he needed. He’d found the unconscious Freddy and left him where he was. With Tanner and Sandburg gone, and the prospect of the CIA closing in, the man was no use to him now. He’d driven around for the few remaining hours of the night, but seen nothing and the handful of people he’d asked had seen nothing either. He’d shown the photos he’d taken of Tanner and Sandburg the day after he half cropped their hair; the word would get out that he’d pay well for any information about them. Once he’d established himself somewhere in the area, he’d follow that up. Meanwhile he had to augment his cash, and among the many drugs he had on the premises were some he ought to be able to find a street market for. He took everything that seemed of any value and was gone by the time the sun was up.

Simon Banks wasn’t sure who was in the fouler temper, Miller who’d been up all night, or himself after yet another early start. They snarled at each other in an argument only limited by their mutual knowledge that the call was probably being recorded. As usual at the end of such confrontations, they both felt they’d had to make unnecessary concessions. Miller wouldn’t give an inch on Whiting: he wasn’t ready to be questioned even by them yet; he was one of their own anyway, and the PD could damned well wait until they’d finished with him. However, he was prepared to give Mason up, though he didn’t sound happy about it. Mason was in Cascade General. Ellison and Larabee would have to go through the proper channels with the doctors, but as far as the CIA were concerned they could do what they liked with him.

Not as far as Simon was concerned though. When he called with the information he gave them the option of following procedure to the letter or letting someone else do the questioning.

Ellison sounded aggrieved. “What do you think we’re going to do to him? Dangle him out of the ward window by his ankles?”

Simon could have done without that thought. “Just do it by the book. I’ve arranged for you to see him, but there’ll probably be a doctor or nurse present, maybe even a lawyer knowing the type.”

“We’ll make sure we don’t leave any witnesses,” Ellison said with grim humour. At least Simon hoped it was humour. The only tone he ever picked up really clearly these days in his conversations with Larabee and Ellison was an underlying note of desperation.

Blair had found his way with no problem to the mission. The muddle in his brain didn’t seem to extend to navigation, which was odd because he almost hear someone making a joke about his navigation skills, and he wished he could capture the thought of who; there was a warmth to the memory that didn’t seem to belong to this life he was leading.

“Vin,” he said softly as they waited for someone to come and open up the small office and the basement store. “Do you find it hurts—like really hurts, headache and jumping muscles and so on—to try and think about some things?”

Vin nodded.

“Why do you think that would happen? And why can I remember how to get here and not how old I am or why I’m in Cascade?”

“Must’ve been the doctor,” Vin said. “He messes with minds; that’s his type of doctoring. Reckon he did this—he used pain, electricity maybe, as well as drugs. The memories are there; just hurts to get hold of ’em.”

Blair stared at him, appalled by the idea and by the casual way Vin offered it. “What do you mean, electricity and drugs?”

“Why d’you think you were out of it. Reckon they’d been drugging us a while. I was a day waking up, and the way they talked, they’d had us for some time. I c’n remember voices, or one voice, and questions.”

Blair thought, remembered that and more, and found he was shivering.

“Leave it,” Vin said, but his arm slipped warm around Blair’s shoulders. “We think too much, that’ll finish us. We know where we are, we know who had us. That’ll do for now. Once we got the clothes, we’ll find somewhere real quiet and put together what we can remember. Okay?”

Blair nodded. “So long as we do think about it then. We can’t just leave it indefinitely. We need to talk.”

Vin didn’t answer. They waited in silence now. Blair had no idea of the time and couldn’t see a clock anywhere, but the street was getting busier and more people seemed to be going past. They drew back into the doorway as far as possible, trying to be inconspicuous. After a while a big African American man, old enough to be retired, came up and with him a couple of even more elderly ladies. Vin, who would have been in front of Blair if it had been armed thugs, took one look at the women and slid even further into the shadows, leaving Blair to deal with it.

“Uh, my friend and I… that is, we wondered…” Damn. He was sure he was usually so much more eloquent than this. Luckily the man seemed to have no trouble getting the idea.

“That’s all right. Come on in. We can see what you need, can’t we girls?”

Blair admired his nerve in addressing the women like this. They may have been frail and heading towards eighty, but they made up in authority what they lacked in physical force. Perhaps they’d run schools—or corporations. They certainly looked as if they could.

“Don’t stand gawping, young man,” the more elderly of the two said to him. “Move inside. We don’t encourage people to hang around the entrance. We try to be considerate of our neighbours.”

“Sorry ma’am,” Vin said quietly, following Blair in. “We don’t want to be no bother.”

“Any bother,” she corrected him, but less tartly than she’d spoken to Blair. “You don’t want to be any bother; and you’re not. This is exactly why we’re here.”

With a lack of justice which Blair knew it would be sexist to think of as feminine, both of the women spoke to him very firmly every time he opened his mouth, while they softened every time Vin looked at the floor and mumbled. It didn’t really matter though. Without any questions they were accepted in the building and offered coffee in the small office. They weren’t even asked for their names, though in an apparent effort to put them out their ease the man introduced himself as Ed, and the ladies as Harriet (the slightly less formidable one) and Charlotte (probably ex-military in Blair’s revised opinion. Did the US have lady generals?) The thought of calling them by their Christian names didn’t put him at his ease in the least.

Ed watched benignly as Vin spooned sugar into black coffee. “That’ll warm you up, and in a minute Lottie here and Harriet will take you downstairs and find you something to wear.” Boggling at the Lottie—the man must be fearless—Blair almost missed the next bit. “And we have hot water in the basement. Would you like to get a shower?”

“That would be great,” he said enthusiastically. The smell of damp cardboard and worse was clinging to him. “I could really use a shower.”

Vin shook his head at him almost imperceptibly.

“Why not?” Blair whispered.

“We’re filthy. Mess the place up.”

Charlotte appeared to have hearing as sharp as her tongue. “Nonsense. Everyone who comes here has a problem with access to good washing facilities. When you’ve finished we will expect you to clean the showers and place the towels in the laundry, that’s all. You can do that can’t you?”

“Yes ma’am.”


“Yes Miss Charlotte. If’n you got any other jobs, we’d gladly do some more.”

She almost smiled at him, even if it was rather as if he’d just said his tables correctly. “Good boy. Now follow me.”

To Blair’s relief, Vin made no further demur about getting a shower. A short while later they were in the cubicles, equipped with ultra hygienic soap, a sachet of shampoo from a corporate donor, and a thin but very clean towel. It was bliss. How long it was since he’d had a shower Blair had no idea, but it must have been quite a while. Even apart from the cardboard, he smelt of sweat and something salty and general unwashedness. He luxuriated in the hot water until he heard Vin outside getting dressed. They’d been found clothes that fitted—they were old, but clean and warm. And he had socks and shoes, which he was sure he’d never thought of as a luxury before now. Nightmares still lurked at the edge of his thoughts, but he could ignore them for a while in the relief of being clean and comfortable again.

They scrubbed out the showers. Blair had a vague feeling that normally he was less than conscientious about this, but he followed Vin’s lead and they left the area spotless. After that they swept and stacked high shelves and generally made themselves useful until lunchtime, when Ed offered them another coffee and a sandwich.

“We finish now,” he said. “The place will be locked up until 2:00, then another group comes on. I’ve got a paper for you here that gives you the addresses of the local night shelters and a free clinic. Is there anything you want to ask about?”

“If you have any problems you can come back tomorrow morning,” Harriet told them. “We can always use a couple of willing workers.”

“We’re grateful ma’am,” Vin said. He turned to go, hesitated a moment then looked back and added. “Don’t think we introduced ourselves. M’name’s Vin, this is Blair. We really ‘preciate your help.” He hurried off then and before Blair could say anything as he caught up, he said defensively, “Ain’t like tellin’ ’em our proper names. They’d been good to us, anyway. Seems rude to go off and never give ’em a name.”

“I wasn’t grumbling,” Blair said. “I would have told them our names at the start. I thought you didn’t want me to.”

“Reckon people are looking for us,” Vin said. “Not just the doctor, others too.” That suggestion came too close to the nightmares Blair was successfully avoiding.

“You think the doctor will bother to look for us?”

“Likely. We’ll spend what’s left of the money that truck driver gave you, and find somewhere real quiet to go.”

“And put together what we remember?” Blair said slowly, feeling no enthusiasm for it now, but knowing it had to be done.

“And put together what we remember,” Vin agreed. The words fell soft and ominous, and the gentleness of the morning was gone.

Mason was in a private room, and seemed to be recovering well. A nurse came in and out occasionally, but Mason had no lawyer present. He seemed, in fact, to positively welcome a visit from the PD. His grievances were entirely with the CIA.

“Pity you couldn’t deal with Miller the way you dealt with his men,” he said. “Am I under arrest by the way?”

Chris glanced at Jim Ellison who shrugged. “I didn’t arrest you, and I think Miller has washed his hands of you. I’m not sure exactly what offence you’d committed anyway. We’d just be grateful if you could help us with the case we’re on. I’d like you to take a look at these.”

He placed on Mason’s lap the better facsimiles they now had of the Denver front pages from fifteen years ago. Mason read them, rather puzzled as to what he was supposed to be getting from them. “I don’t quite follow. What case are you on now. This is what—fifteen years ago?”

“We’re trying to track down Whiting’s scientific colleague.”

Mason looked again at one of the more lurid headlines. “You’re telling me Whiting’s Dr Joseph’s had something to do with these appalling events?”

“I’m telling you Whiting’s colleague is the Dr Levine in those reports, and has only been known as Dr Josephs since he escaped from justice in Denver.”

Mason looked genuinely horrified. “You’re serious aren’t you. I had no idea, I swear. I thought the man must have something on his record but nothing like this. Is this why the CIA are so interested in him?”

“In a way,” Ellison said.

Mason hesitated. “Those bastards practically set me up to be shot.”

“Helping us isn’t going to mean helping them,” Chris said, seeing what was bothering him. “We’re interested in bringing the man to justice, openly.”

Mason was silent a while. Partly Chris suspected it was because he was still weak enough to find the conversation a strain, but he was also reading the papers they’d given him, and perhaps thinking over his past dealings with Whiting and the connections with the CIA. Whatever conclusion he came to, it was enough.

“I’ll give you what help I can,” he said. “I’m not sure how much use it will be.”

“We just want a place to start looking for Josephs,” Ellison said. “Any pointer you’ve got. Anything at all.”

A nurse came in, checked something and frowned. “You’re tiring my patient.”

“It won’t take long,” Mason told her. “I’d like to finish this.”

He waited until she’d gone, and said slowly, “I think I might be able to give you a lead to the right area, though I can’t guarantee it. Have you got a map?”

They’d come prepared. Ellison handed it to him.

“On Tuesday, when Whiting left our premises, one of my men thought he’d picked up a tail. He followed on some way further behind, and got in touch with me. I asked him if he thought Whiting was aware of it, but whoever it was was good. Now, we could have contacted Whiting, but he was jumpy already, and I didn’t want to spook him and lose this deal if it was nothing serious. I sent out a second car which managed to block the tail, and my first guy just followed on until he was sure Whiting was clear. I was going to look into it before I warned Whiting—but about an hour later Miller and his goons came down on me with some pretty unpleasant threats and set up the mess you saw last night. Evidently it had been a CIA tail. What might be useful to you, is that Whiting was heading into this area when my man left him.”

Chris looked at the area he was indicating on the map. “That’s mostly industrial,” Ellison said. “Warehouses, depots and so on. A warehouse on a quiet lot, maybe?”

“I don’t know how you’ll narrow it down,” Mason said, “but that’s the best I can give you.”


“If you want to thank me, rub Miller’s nose in the mess he’s made.”

“We’ll do our best.”

They left Mason to rest. “We can’t set ourselves up against the CIA though,” Ellison said as they made their way back to the truck. “If this business is ever going to come out, it can’t be from us, or even someone like Kelso.”

The same thought had occurred to Ezra as he slowly surfaced to something like capability of thought. He was still in the loft. He’d been wakened with a cup of palatable coffee, and left to his own devices. There hadn’t been even a hint of a suggestion that he had to stay there. Chris had put his car keys on the bedside table and Ellison had said that he ought to be able to decide for himself if he could drive, but anyway, if he wanted to get a taxi the number was by the phone. Without the impetus of any need to assert his independence, he had really not felt like making the effort to return to his hotel room. Ellison had even, with rare consideration, pressed his jacket and left the materials available for him to restore the rest of his garments to pristine condition. It was only now, with the benefit of his third cup of coffee, that he began to wonder if all this had been some unexpectedly subtle psychology on their part.

Surely not. Ellison and Larabee might be many things, and the combination was an interesting dynamic—though rather overwhelming in a confined space. But not subtle.

It was that which turned his thoughts to Miller, and the fact that something really quite subtle was going to be needed there. There had been an idea at the back of his mind for a little while now, though he had not yet explored its possibilities. This morning seemed a good time to do so. It would take his mind off the lingering ache in his shoulder… and off Vin. Perhaps this visit to Mason would produce some more promising lead. In the meantime…

He picked up the front of the National Register from fifteen years ago, and looked at the byline, and the name he had noticed before. Then he tried to call his mother. That was not always a simple proceeding, but this time it only required three calls before he heard her familiar, “Ezra?”

He thought sometimes that she was less hostile to his chosen career than she had once been; she was definitely less hostile to his chosen friends, and he was able to tell her about Vin and know that she at least comprehended his feelings.

“Why, darling, I remember the case in Denver. It was quite dreadful. For some reason I can actually picture the headlines.”

“The National Register was one of the papers that followed the story.”

“Ah. I see. That would be the reason, of course. I’d forgotten that it was that period. Darling, I know you liked the man. It was very sweet; you were so chivalrous then, what were you fourteen? Fifteen? You made it painfully clear his attentions were acceptable, but it was always a business arrangement on my part. Our interests coincided for a while, that’s all. I haven’t been in touch with him in years. I believe he went very boring and academic, if you can call parapsychology academic. He always did prefer those stories; I think he just happened to be the man on the spot for that one in Denver. The University of Georgetown is where I last heard of him. If you want to talk to him, I really think you might as well contact him yourself. He was always rather fond of you.”

There was a definite finality in her tone. Well, he had always been aware she disliked involving herself with past affairs, and the information she had given him was enough. “Thank you, mother,” he said politely. “You’ve been very helpful, as usual.”

Maude ignored the ironic note. “I hope things work out for your Mr Tanner. Whatever his other failings, he has always struck me as a survivor.”

She rang off. Ezra looked at the phone rather blankly. She had actually meant that last remark to be comforting, and, oddly, it was. Now he needed to find the phone number for The Georgetown Institute of Science.

Jim Ellison was missing his guide. Logically of course, he wouldn’t be trying to find this elusive trail if he hadn’t lost him in the first place, but at the moment all he was thinking of was how he really didn’t know where to start and how useful it would be if someone said ‘do it this way’. They had driven straight down to the district Mason had indicated on the map, and it was extensive. They could call on the resources of the PD, but he was reluctant to do that with so little to go on. He felt he ought to be able to use his senses to give them an advantage, but he had too many options.

“We can rule out all the depots, and anywhere busy,” Larabee said.

That was fair enough. He looked at the map again. Mason had shown them the road Whiting had been on. That would suggest some plausible boundaries to the search. But what exactly would be his best approach.

Larabee took out his cell phone. “You drive us to the best place to start. I’m going to call Ezra again. He might have something useful to suggest. He’s adaptable; he handled the idea of you listening in well.”

He had called Ezra’s cell phone when they first left Mason’s ward, but it had been busy. This time he got through. Ellison listened to both sides of the conversation. He could tell by a number of small familiar noises that Ezra was still at the loft, which proved their psychological skills weren’t as lacking as most people seemed to think.

“Describe the area to me,” Ezra said.

“How do you mean, describe it? It’s a typical warehouse area, not that far from the docks. It’s big, if that’s what you mean.”

“Is it modern? Would scientific equipment be common?”

Larabee looked at Ellison, who took the phone. “There would be offices with computers on most sites. It’s a long way from being a science park if that’s what you mean. It’s the cheapest end of the industrial area, and a lot of places are just storage.”

“Then I would suggest that you work past each site with potential, using a combination of hearing and scent. If I remember correctly, you mentioned a distinctive odour at Redlands. It’s possible that some of the same chemicals would have been used again. To put it crudely, you might search for an odour resembling that of a hospital, which ought, I imagine, to be unusual in that geographical context. If you can find it in conjunction with any quantity of electronic equipment, that would be worth investigating. Is that practicable?”

“I don’t know,” Jim said lamely. “Look, you seem to have some ideas about this. Why don’t we come back to the loft and get you? It wouldn’t take long.”

“Perhaps that would be advisable,” Ezra said smoothly. “As you have apparently deduced, I am indeed at the loft and I’m quite certain Mr Larabee’s abrasive style is not conducive to the most efficient use of anyone’s senses.”

Larabee grinned as the call was terminated. “Think it just dawned on him we’d conned him into staying put?”

The extra time spent collecting Ezra and returning in his car was worth it, Jim found. The undercover agent seemed to have an instinct for what it felt like to use enhanced senses; perhaps it was because he so often had to think himself into someone else’s lifestyle. Once they actually began, they also found the number of sites that were really quiet was minimal. Even so, it took a while to drive past and eliminate them efficiently. One seemed promising but proved a disappointment, turning out to be simply a warehouse storing medical supplies with a number of temperature monitors running.

“It does demonstrate that you’re searching effectively,” Ezra said.

For some time after that, the sites were too busy or obviously wrong—he discovered he could recognise fabrics and wood by their smells. Then late in the afternoon, they paused at a lot which was empty of vehicles, and he found he was again hearing the multitude of tiny noises that suggested a sizeable amount of electronic equipment. No Sandburg; he could tell that without even trying, but then they had not expected to find Josephs or their men even if they found the right place. A lead, preferably ahead of the CIA, was the most they’d hoped for.

“It’s on the upper floor,” he said slowly, trying to pinpoint it further.

“Excellent,” Ezra said. “Now perhaps it would be possible to use the direction you have, and test for the scents we want?”

It was more difficult to extend the ability to pick out smells over a distance. The medical supplies warehouse had been full, but now he was trying to find something much more elusive. “I don’t know,” he said, frustrated.

“Do you remember the smell at Redlands? Is there a hint of anything like that?”

“There are other things—food I think, and… beer?”

“That would not be impossible. Presumably Josephs and his companions had to live in whatever place they’d found. Can you pinpoint the electronic noises?”

“Yes, just about.”

“Just focus on those for a while and dismiss the rest of the room.”

He focussed. Some indeterminate time later he jerked back to awareness of the interior of the car, a distinct pain in his arm and an argument going on heatedly. “I cannot believe you did that! It was completely uncalled for. I am quite sure Mr Sandburg does not resort to violence in this situation.”

“Oh come off it, Ez. Ellison was a Ranger. He’s not made of glass.”

Jim blinked, rubbed his arm where he guessed Larabee had thumped it, and said, “All right. I think this is worth looking at. I’m sure I was picking up something like the right smell.”

“People?” Larabee asked.

Jim realised he had filtered out any noise but the machines. He concentrated again for a moment. “One. He’s not moving about. Might be asleep.”

The warehouse door was not locked, and Jim was picking up clearer signals now, scents and sounds that matched the profile he was searching for. They walked up, cautiously—and into a room that stopped them short. It was what they’d been looking for, and somehow that made it more shocking, not less. And Blair and Vin were not there. Jim felt a surge of anger at the sight of the empty trolleys, and trailing wires, the equipment that indicated all too eloquently what had been going on. Larabee was quicker, moving to haul up by the throat the man sprawled half asleep on the only chair. “Where they hell are they? What were you doing to them?”

The man, coughed and struggled ineffectually. “Wasn’t me,” he gasped out. “I didn’t know he was nuts, not before we came here.”

Larabee dropped him on the floor. “Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They got away. One of ’em was playing possum. Little bastard stuck me with a needle full of dope. Who are you? If Henshaw sent you, he’s lost them, and Josephs.”

The man, now Ellison looked more closely, still seemed half doped. Perhaps that was why he was so willing to talk. He took out his ID. “Cascade PD. You’d better tell us what you know about this.”

The words ‘they got away’ had raised his hopes sharply, and Larabee looked as if he was prepared to listen before committing bodily harm.

The man got up unsteadily, and identified himself as Frederick Turner. “I don’t know anything about this. I was just doing what Whiting ordered. Have you got Whiting?”

“The CIA have got him. I don’t want to know about your orders. I want to know what happened to the two young men who were here.”

“I told you. They got away.” Even without his enhanced senses Jim would have known that the garbled account that followed was the truth. Turner waved his hand at the broken bottle. “He was going to stick me with that. Made me get in the store room, and by then the stuff he’d injected me with was working. I only woke up about an hour ago. Josephs must have been here though. The store room door was open, and there’s stuff missing—drugs, stuff that would sell. I don’t know anything else.”

Jim looked at Chris Larabee, who was completely still now, staring at the broken bottle as if he could see Vin holding it.

“You are certain they made their escape?” Ezra asked quietly.

“Hell, no, I ain’t certain of anything. They were supposed to be asleep. Couldn’t believe it when one of ’em went for me. Don’t see how they could have gone far. The other one was definitely out of it, and they hadn’t got clothes…”

He trailed off, wisely, as Larabee turned towards him. Jim dared not be anything but the cop for now; if he let himself feel, or thought of Blair on the trolley, vulnerable to whatever they chose to do to him, he would lose it completely.

“Take him down to the car,” he said abruptly to Ezra. “Handcuff him. I’ll meet you down there.”

He walked over to the trolleys. He was aware of Blair’s scent here, rank with sweat, and now he began to think again, he realised he could see the marks of bare feet on the flooring. Bare feet must mean Vin and Blair. With that and the scent, maybe he could track them from here. Larabee came to his side. “What is it?”

“Footmarks. Bare feet. They’re easy to see on this surface.”

Larabee nodded. “I can just about make something out. Can you follow them?”

The footprints were thick around the trolleys. He moved away towards the door, and found them clearer there, two sets. “They were walking unevenly,” he said. “There’s some on the top step, then a gap, then several. Some here by the door…”

He cast around outside, failing on sight, but tuned in now to the lingering salt-sweat smell of the men he was tracking. He followed it like a thread to the dumpster, Larabee a silent support next to him—silent until he saw the abandoned hollow in the pile of damp cardboard. “They were there?”

It didn’t look large enough to conceal two people. The sight of the small damp hole pushed all the wrong buttons. He could imagine too well from Turner’s words and the uneven footprints how they must have dragged themselves in there, in their only hope of escaping detection.

“Vin’s near claustrophobic.”

Okay, it was pushing all the wrong buttons in Larabee too. Jim looked for some sign that they’d got out of this on their own terms. Ezra reappeared. He didn’t say how he’d made sure Turner would stay put, but Jim knew he wouldn’t have come back if he weren’t certain the man was secure.

“Vin can handle it if he’s the one in control,” he was saying to Larabee in surprisingly plain terms. “From what Turner says, they escaped at night. He would have made this, and known that he could push it back a little if he needed.”

Jim couldn’t find footprints on the rough surface of the lot. He cast ahead for scent, lost the one he’d been following but found “Blood?”

He could smell it but not see it. For a moment he drowned in the smell, expecting to see a pool spreading in front of him, and then he realised with a shock that it was tiny drops, a smear. “Bare feet,” he said aloud, understanding. “They’ve scraped a bit. I can track this.”

Now that he knew what he was looking for, he walked fast, following the slight trail until he lost it in a depot where trucks seemed to be pulling in for the end of the day.

“I think it finishes here,” he said at last. “Maybe they got a ride.”

They had to tackle it officially from there, identifying themselves to the man in the office and asking to question his drivers, in spite of his assurance they were forbidden to give lifts to anyone. They gathered them into the office, lucky that it was the time of day most of them checked in, and Jim easily identified whose heartbeat raced as they all denied having carried passengers. He wanted the man’s cooperation, not to lose him his job, so he dismissed them all and walked over to him as they left. “Mind if we take a closer look at your truck?”

The man’s heart raced again. He looked at Jim, and at Larabee behind him, and muttered a sullen agreement. Jim could tell that Vin and Blair had been in the truck before he reached it; he was rescued from how he was going to explain his certainty by the driver saying, “All right, you know, don’t you? I didn’t know they were in there until they jumped out. They looked to be not much more than kids. I didn’t think they were in serious trouble.”

This wasn’t what Jim had expected. “They aren’t in trouble,” he said quickly.

“Nor are you, I assure you,” Ezra added. “The rules of your company are not our concern, and you were evidently unaware of your passengers. Did they ask you for any help?”

Less sullen now, the driver shook his head. “They were running away from something, that was easy enough to see. I thought it must be from the cops or some institution or something. They said they were going over to a mission that’s near where they jumped , and I knew the folk there would help them out.”

This wasn’t making sense. Why would Vin and Blair not have simply called for help once they were safely away from Josephs.

“They wouldn’t have had any money,” Larabee said to him doubtfully. It wasn’t really an explanation; they could have walked up to any police car or council office.

“I gave them a bit,” the driver said. “They looked a bit rough. I thought maybe they hadn’t eaten in a while.” He paused. “They looked nice kids underneath. If they’re not in trouble, I’d say they thought they were.”

It was the second time he’d referred to them as kids, and if it wasn’t for the fact Jim’s senses were assuring him Vin and Blair had been in the truck, he’d have been beginning to think he was making a mistake here. Larabee, without that assurance, looked at him for it.

“They were definitely here,” Jim said to him quietly. “The rest doesn’t make sense to me either.” He turned back to the truck driver. “What time did you drop them off?”

“I didn’t drop them off, they just stood up and jumped. It was early—maybe 6.30.”

So in twelve hours they hadn’t managed to contact anyone. Could Josephs have caught up with them after all?

“Perhaps we should visit this mission,” Ezra said quietly. “They may have been confused, or even sick.”

“They weren’t sick,” the truck driver said. “Hungry maybe, and looked like the clothes they had on were a few sizes too big, but apart from being barefoot they were okay. Look, I’ve finished here. I can show you how to find the mission if you want, though I’m not sure anyone’ll be there now.” He paused, briefly suspicious again. “If they’re not in any trouble, how come the PD and the ATF are looking for them?”

“They had been abducted,” Ezra said. “We are trying to restore them to their homes.”

It would never have occurred to Jim to say that, although he supposed it was the simple truth. It certainly got rid of the truck driver’s last reservations. They went back and collected the car, with the grumbling Turner still inside, and followed the truck driver into one of the worst areas of Cascade.

All the way, he couldn’t stop picturing Blair barefoot and confused on these streets he wouldn’t walk himself with any enthusiasm. Larabee, stony faced beside him, only spoke once. “Vin used t’ live like this. Someone said Josephs was ranting about sending them back. They got away from the man. What if they haven’t got away from whatever he did to them?”

Blair had let Vin lead, because Vin seemed to have a knack for going along these rough streets unobtrusively as if he belonged in the area. They’d bought some bread and a couple of apples. Now they were looking for somewhere to go. They passed an open piece of ground with a basketball area and some scrubby grass and bushes, but its quieter corners were littered with syringes as well as paper and Vin said, “Wrong sorta quiet.”

“Where are we going then?”

“Don’t know yet. Nowhere the homeless go. The mission was okay—small, not too obvious. But anywhere like a shelter, that’s where we’d be looked for.”

He turned sharply down a side street Blair hadn’t noticed. It was unpleasantly dirty, with trash spilling out and overcrowded housing between the few stores. Vin stopped, leaned casually against the wall as if he and Blair were talking over some deal. “See that store, next but one?”

“The one that’s locked up?”

It had a few old books and older ornamental goods behind its barred window. They looked as if they’d been gathering dust for years, but the handwritten note on the door, saying the owner was ill, was recent.

“We need to get round the back,” Vin said. He looked around. There were children playing outside the neighbouring building and its door was open, showing a long dirty hallway with apartments off it.


He seemed so sure what he was doing that Blair followed him without questions, along the hallway, down a few steps and out into a yard shared by trashcans and washing. A woman who’d just finished pegging up children’s clothes looked at them suspiciously.

“Lookin’ for Tracey,” Vin said.

“Ain’t no Tracey here.”

“She’s new. Jus’ moved in.”

The woman lost interest, and went back inside. “Now,” Vin said quickly, and scrambled over the wall into the tiny yard behind the closed store. Blair followed, scraping his hands in his haste not to be left behind. Vin was already tinkering with the grimy window, using a piece of broken stone. “See if there’s a nail around or… no wait, I got it. Weren’t catched properly.”

Once they’d pushed it open and climbed in they could see why. The catch had rusted completely through. It probably hadn’t been touched in years. They stood in a dusty store room empty except for two boxes of old books. “This is quiet,” Vin said. “Nothing worth stealing, no money around. Should be all right here for a night.”

They didn’t go through to the front room with its window on the street, but they found a second back room with a torn leather couch and a desk piled with yellowing pieces of paper, and better still, there was a tiny washroom.

Blair sat heavily down on the couch. He’d felt better during the morning, but he was exhausted again now and his head ached dully. Vin dropped next to him. “Okay to rest now,” he said. “You hungry?”

The food Blair had eaten that day sat heavily on his stomach. He wondered how long before that he’d not eaten. He shook his head.

“Nor me,” Vin said. “Better if we save it, anyway.”

“We need to think what we’re going to do,” Blair said. “Food for a night, shelter for a night. We need to think further ahead than that.”

“Later,” Vin said. “You look like I feel. I got to get rid of this headache ‘fore I can face talking.”

Blair was too tired to argue. Maybe if they slept, they’d sleep off some of the confusion that still seemed to be clogging his brain. On the edge of sleep he imagined he was somewhere else entirely, a room of his own, with books and possessions, and above him was…

He jerked upright, but he’d lost the thought, only a vague emptiness remained.

Josephs walked from street to street, night shelter to soup kitchen and found no sign at all of the two men who had escaped from him. His anger had some time before passed any bounds of rationality, but he was unaware of it. The money he’d made so far, he passed into the hands of the most violent or dangerous men he met in those places, and he showed them the photos of Tanner and Sandburg. If it took all the resources he had, he would see that they came to the sort of miserable and desperate end he had planned.

“I don’t know what he was doing to them!”

Freddy Turner was in the unenviable position of being the only person available at the moment to answer questions. They had found the mission, and tried to get in touch with any of the staff, but it was taking time. Leaving it to Ezra, who was manoeuvring his way through the complications of volunteers and answering machines, Chris had come with Jim Ellison down to one of the interview rooms to talk to Turner.

“You were in the room most of the time. What did you see or hear?”

“I didn’t hear anything. He did it all with tapes, since we moved to the warehouse anyway. Or he did it real quiet, that sort of low voice shrinks use. We didn’t pay attention to it.”

“What did you think he was doing? You must have wondered.”

Turner shrugged. “I just wondered when we’d be able to go out. I suppose I wondered when he messed with their hair, that was a bit weird.”

“Messed with their hair?”

“He cut it odd. Chopped it off about shoulder level, and sort of ragged. Made ’em look younger he said. Tell you what, he took some photos of them. Might still be some at the warehouse.”

“Why did he take photos?”

“No good reason I don’t think. He was sort of gloating. He was like that. He liked it if they yelled in their sleep.”

Chris didn’t even know he’d picked him up by the throat until someone came in and made a fuss. Ellison got rid of them, but not long after that Banks appeared and hung around. He went and put a call through to Rafe and Henri who were checking out the warehouse, and told them to look for photographs, but he didn’t leave for long.

Turner really didn’t know much, but the bits of information they dragged out of him, along with what they’d learned of Josephs, began to make them wonder just what sort of mental state Vin and Blair could have been in.

“You think it’s possible they really don’t remember who they are?” Banks said doubtfully.

“Josephs did that for the CIA,” Ellison said “Messed with people’s memories, gave them false ones. Now it’s not easy to do that reliably, especially without monitoring and over any length of time, but if they just escaped and were confused…”

“Or if he only blocked more recent memories,” Chris said slowly. “We know he talked about sending them back to where they were fifteen years ago. No way he was going to make them believe they were thirteen again, but I’ve seen Vin on a weekend, hair messed, torn jeans, when he doesn’t look old enough to drink. They’re not big, either of them. That truck driver thought they were youngsters on the run because they were in trouble. Could they actually believe that too?”

“No,” Banks said. “Come off it, Larabee. You believe your man, with that military background and his years in the ATF could be conditioned like that? I don’t think so.”

Chris didn’t answer. Like Ellison, he doubted if something like that would hold indefinitely, but temporarily…? He wasn’t about to say to Banks that there was a side of Vin that had never forgotten growing up on the streets. Mostly it showed in the lengths he’d go to to help out any charity working to make things better there, but Chris saw something else just occasionally—a lonely self reliance, a kind of inability to believe he was really valued except for what he could do. He could believe a man as clever and manipulative as Josephs could have tapped in to that. And Sandburg? He didn’t know, but it hardly sounded as though he’d had the sort of childhood that would make it impossible for him to imagine having to fend for himself.

Banks gave up waiting for an answer and went to take a call. Ellison looked at Turner. “Well, we’ve finished with you. I think we’ll give you to Miller now. A goodwill gesture. You know Miller?”

Turner did. He wasn’t happy, at all. Too bad. As soon as the PD had everything they wanted from the warehouse, they were generously going to cooperate with the CIA, and if the men in suits could do to Turner things that the PD wouldn’t contemplate, Chris wouldn’t be losing any sleep about it.

Banks came back. “That was Rafe. They found a photo. He’s bringing it back here for you to take a look at.”

Chris looked at his watch. Nearly 10:00. The chances of Ezra getting through to anyone who would see them tonight were diminishing. He’d noticed Ez getting paler and paler as the evening wore on, too. As soon as they’d seen this photo, they’d better call it a day.

The best Ezra had managed was an elderly woman who seemed to have put the fear of God into him much more effectively than Chris ever managed, and who said she would see them at 7 a.m. the next morning. “She definitely saw them though. They seem to have spent the morning there doing her chores. I gather the old crone took to them.” He hesitated. “She also appears to have mistaken them for substantially younger than their age, although she appears to be of such advanced years herself that it’s possible she thinks of anyone under fifty as a boy.”

“You did well to get that much,” Chris said. “Leave it now. You look as if that shoulder’s hurting.”

“I assure you the shoulder is fine,” Ezra said firmly.

Ellison, to Chris’s silent applause, ran a hand very lightly over it and said, “I can feel the heat of it from here. It’s healing, but it’s sore. Your heart rate’s a bit elevated too. You ought to take some painkillers.”

“That is a completely unwarranted invasion of my privacy,” Ezra said indignantly.

“As your team leader, I reckon I’m entitled to a correct medical assessment,” Chris said. “Here, is that your man Rafe, Ellison?”

Rafe had gone directly into Simon Bank’s office, so they followed him without waiting for an invitation. Banks was staring with an extraordinary expression at A4 photograph in front of him. It had evidently been put together with shots taken from a digital camera. He turned it around so they could look at it, and Chris dug his nails into his palms so he would not speak before he had control of his voice.

Whatever Josephs had managed to do to their minds, here was the evidence of his intentions. Vin and Blair looked more like the picture in Blair’s album than the two men they were. Pale, their faces thinner, and their eyes closed in the shot, hair roughly cut and hanging around their faces, they looked nearer eighteen than adult. Josephs had superimposed the faces on a backdrop of some redlight area. It reminded Chris of a poster he’d once seen at a seminar about drugs on the streets. No one ought ever to see Vin vulnerable like this. He took it and turned it over.

Banks looked at him with something unacceptably like sympathy. “There was some suggestion among the men you originally interviewed that he planned to addict them to heroin. It doesn’t appear he got that far.”

“How do you know?” Ellison asked, his voice tightly controlled.

“I asked Turner myself after you’d finished with him. The batch of heroin had arrived but not been opened. He thinks that Josephs had been about to start that stage, but last night’s events and their escape saved them from that. But from this, it does look as if he was trying to set them up as homeless. I’ll get the nightshelters checked, and you’d better start in that area tomorrow. Now go home and get some sleep. They’re probably safer now than they were a couple of night’s ago.”

He sounded strained. Chris realised that he looked on Sandburg as one of his own, and that photo was enough to shake anyone who knew either of them. Ellison picked it up and slid it into a folder. “Goodnight, then, sir. We’re starting with a lady from the St James’s Mission at 7.”

Chris waited until they were in the elevator. “What are we really doing now?”

“We’re going to look for them and for Josephs. No one sick enough to produce a picture like that would give up easily. He’ll be looking for them as much as we are, and in the same places. I plan to get to them first.”

It was very dark when Blair woke and he felt completely disoriented. He wondered if his alarm had gone off and reached for the bedside lamp, then felt the torn leather under his hand and realised he’d been dreaming. The room he’d dreamed he’d woken up in was remarkably clear in his mind; it must have been somewhere he’d once stayed, but he was awake enough now to remember where he was and to realise that the warmth he was sprawled against was Vin.

“Go back t’sleep,” Vin said.

“Were you awake?”

“No. I just sleep light.”

Blair had lost all track of time. It must have been late afternoon when he’d fallen asleep. “How long do you think it is until morning?”

“Two, maybe three hours.”

He’d slept for nearly twelve hours then. No wonder he felt quite wide awake. He went to drink from the washroom sink, fumbling noisily in the dark. Other dreams were coming back to him now, disconnected but vivid. As he pulled his feet back up on the couch, one image stopped him dead. An old book. He could almost smell the pages he’d seen in his dream. A picture stood out in his mind, with what seemed like childhood memories of looking at the simple drawing many times: a drawing of a warrior, on guard over his people. A sentinel. Suddenly for a nauseating second or two he was back somewhere floating in the dark, guarding a secret from a questioning voice.

He floundered, remembered the secret, and sat upright, astonished that he could ever have forgotten something so important. His sentinel. He had found a living sentinel. It clashed with his other memories in painful and jangling confusion, but he knew it with absolute certainty.

“What’s wrong?” Vin asked softly.

“I remembered something. Something really important. I’ve talked to you about sentinels, haven’t I?”

“Tribal warriors? C’n see further, hear things a long way off t’ protect the folk? You told me about that way back. That’s what you were going to do. Be a…”


“And find a sentinel. You told me that first when we were kids.”

Blair had that memory too, huddled up with Vin whispering in the dark in some makeshift shelter. How long had he been on the streets? Part of his mind said forever, but he could also see himself studying, writing about enhanced senses—writing about his sentinel. Nothing fitted. He began to shiver.

Vin pulled him close, offering comfort more than warmth. “Reckon you were dreaming,” he said. “My mind’s been full of stuff, things I’d a liked to have, mostly.”

“It was more like a memory than a dream. Vin, I know a sentinel. I can hear myself talking to him, telling him how to use his senses, but I can’t see his face.”

“After effect of the drugs,” Vin said. “That’s why the dreams seem real. You’ve always wanted t’ find a sentinel. Me, I dreamed of having a horse.”

“A horse?”

“”Big, ornery creature, but mine. Called him Peso. Could see myself riding that horse alongside some cowboy type, even smell the air ‘n the grass.”

“Maybe you do have a horse somewhere.”

“Don’t reckon that’s too likely, and I don’t reckon your sentinel is either.”

Blair could understand where he was coming from with that, but he still did not believe the things he was remembering were no more than a dream. Apart from anything else, if he’d imagined a sentinel as a sort of wish fulfilment surely he would have created a noble and cooperative one. He had a distinct impression of his own voice calling his sentinel an asshole.

“I think the sentinel is a true memory, and if so some of the others can’t be,” he said stubbornly. “We ought to see what each of us remembers, then we might have some idea of why we were in that place.”

Vin shifted uneasily next to him. “I got that a bit clearer,” he said unexpectedly. “Been thinking about it on and off when I been awake. It don’t all fit together, but it makes sense of some things.”

He was trying to sound calm, but Blair could feel that he was the one shuddering now. “Go on,” he said.

“I was awake in that lab a day near enough. I heard quite a lot of talk. Those men were planning some kinda deal: the doctor was going to brainwash some business fellow, getting paid by a rival by th’ sound of it. Get his secrets, condition him t’ act certain ways. Sounds a bit farfetched, but they were discussing it serious enough.”

“You think someone paid them to do that to us.”

“No. I thought about it, but I can remember the way that doctor spoke about us, and the way it felt when he came near. We were his own little pet project I’d say. And I got to thinking about that, and—you know how if you kind of think round a memory sometimes it’ll come?”


“I remembered that doctor. He didn’t look quite the same, but it was him. Experimenting.”

He stopped. Blair waited, feeling the thoughts press ominously at the edge of his own mind. Vin started to say something, got up abruptly and went into the washroom. Blair was sure he didn’t want to get to grips with this memory; even more sure when the sounds he heard were definitely Vin being sick. He hesitated, knowing from somewhere that Vin hated to be fussed, then got up and went to him anyway.

” ‘m okay,” Vin managed, straightening up and getting cupped hands of water.

“Come and sit down,” Blair said, wishing there was more light. He really didn’t want to do this, not now, not in the dark, but he was sure Vin needed to say whatever it was he’d recalled.

“It was th’ experimenting gave me the lead,” Vin said, dropping onto the couch. “And—you didn’t see how he’d got us—wires everywhere and machines and stuff. I was half dreaming, and then I could see ’em. Kids hooked up like that. A baby even. It was the doctor. He’d done this to children. And someplace, sometime we’d seen him at it.”

His voice was so soft it was hardly audible, but every word seemed to drop slow and bitter into Blair’s memory, and he too saw what Vin had recalled. He was standing looking down a short passage into a room from a sci-fi horror movie. Only it wasn’t a movie, and the crying was real. “There was a boy, a handicapped kid, in a cage…” he said slowly. “The doctor standing there. He looked up at us…”

The rest of the memory was gone, or broken up. He sat silent a while, feeling cold and sick, and unable to get past the blinding pain in his head to understand what had happened next. He thought Vin was quiet for the same reason, ’til he felt the way he was shaking, and put out an uncertain hand to Vin’s face and felt the tears. He put his arm round him, but he knew that what was coming must be as bad as it could get. He’d never seen Vin cry.

“We wanted t’ help them,” Vin said, his voice almost under control. “I don’t know how it went wrong. Still can’t fill the gap. But I c’n see the fire, and I know we started it. Maybe we were trying to stop him and something electric shorted, I just can’t remember. But I can see that building coming down… and no one could get out.”

Blair could hear his own voice screaming at a firefighter that there were people inside. It was an isolated moment, but he knew it belonged with this, and he thought he could see the building burn. This was why he was running. This was the unbearable thought he had pushed away from his mind when he woke up in the dumpster. It filled his mind now, uncontrollable. His head was spinning with the ugliness of it, but he could no longer hold back the thoughts. He saw the flames rising from the roof and spinning giddily up into the night sky and between the pain in his head and the cold creeping into his heart, he began to spiral up with them. The flames swirled, and took him dizzily with them, and he thought he heard Vin’s voice a long way off, but it couldn’t hold him. The flames faded away into the darkness, and the darkness overwhelmed him as well.

It was welcome, the dark, a place without feeling or thought. But like all comfortable things, it was fleeting. He became aware of warmth against his face, and a hand rubbing his back.

“Jim?” he thought fuzzily, but the thought ran into the barriers of his mind and shattered.

“Blair? C’mon, Blair.”

Vin. Sounding very close to the edge. It was Vin he was held against, and Vin was shaking as badly as he was. “What are we going to do?” he said muffled into Vin’s shirt. “That’s why we were running, isn’t it?”

“Must be. I can’t put it together right, not all of it. Maybe we weren’t just running, but we went after the doctor, only something went wrong.”

Blair would have lifted his head off Vin’s arm but it was too heavy and aching. One other thing he knew. “My mom. Naomi. If I hadn’t run, she would’ve been in trouble. She has to be free, Vin. She’s someone who can’t be shut in. I remember being afraid of them arresting her…”

“I remember a man,” Vin said slowly. “Can’t get the name. Can’t really get the face. Weren’t my dad. I know I never knew my dad. But someone I couldn’t bear to know I ever set a fire… and children dying in a fire…”

He rested his face on Blair’s hair a while, and Blair guessed tears were blotting out there. His own eyes closed and the pounding in his head dimmed a little, but he couldn’t shut out the replaying images. They must have sat for a long time, but he had no sense of its passing until he realised the room was light now, with the thin light of very early morning. He moved stiffly to sit up, and Vin shifted to accommodate him.

Vin looked awful in the grey light, deep shadows under his eyes, and his face gaunt where his hanging hair didn’t hide it, but he’d been thinking, and he sounded decisive now.

“Something we got t’ do,” he said. “If th’ doctor’s here, he’s got t’ be taken down. Someone sick enough to start that kind a experimenting ain’t goin’ t’ stop, and there’s homeless folk enough around here. With the other stuff he was doing, the police ought t’ be able t’ get him. We got t’ get someone onto it.”

“But they’d have to have facts and places… Who’d listen to what we can half remember?”

“We’ll get facts ‘n places. I told you, the doctor’ll be looking for us. That cuts two ways. We’re looking for him now, as well. And in th’ meantime, we’ll write it down—that there’s this man in Cascade, that he might be looking for street kids, or homeless folks with mind problems. We c’n leave it at that mission place. They’d not just let something like that go, and they’d know who to warn.”

“We can’t go back there.” He didn’t want to face anyone he’d ever liked, even that briefly.

“We c’n leave a letter. You write well. There’s not much in this place but there’s paper and pen on th’ desk. Write down all we know, and we ought t’ be able to leave a letter before anyone’s there.”

Neither of them wanted to eat. Blair sat at the desk and started to write, and Vin searched the drawers.

“What are you looking for?”

“This’ll do.”

Blair saw it was an old table knife, probably used by the owner for opening post. Vin went outside, came back with a piece of stone, and while Blair wrote he was uneasily aware of Vin sitting there, patiently sharpening the blunt knife into a sharper and more dangerous tool.

Jim Ellison and Chris Larabee were on Miss Duncan’s doorstep promptly in the morning. Ezra, when they dropped him back in his hotel room, had agreed that two visitors were probably enough. “She seemed entirely immune to my charms over the telephone anyway,” he said. “I would recommend that you do not assume her to be a sweet old lady. Probably the person who ran your training in special forces would be a safer comparison, although I am sure her language will be impeccable. I will provide the day’s bulletin to Denver and dissuade them yet again from leaving en masse for Cascade, and I have a few other phone calls I would like to make.”

“He’s too cooperative,” Chris grumbled as they left him at the hotel. “It’s a bad sign.”

“Maybe Miss Duncan scared him.”

The lady did indeed turn out to be formidable, though they made a good first impression by their punctuality. She did not of course know that they had been sitting outside in the car for a while, after spending the night in an unsuccessful attempt to trace either Josephs or Vin and Blair. They’d found neither, but, worryingly, had picked up from the whispers Jim could overhear that Josephs had been ahead of them. They did their best to put the word about that anyone who did any harm to Vin or Blair would find himself in more trouble than he could handle, and there were plenty who took that warning seriously, but that didn’t mean there weren’t harder cases who would think the risk was worth it if Josephs would pay. Of Josephs himself they found no trace. Jim put as many men as he could get onto checking all the hotels and boarding rooms in the area. They snatched a couple of hours sleep in the truck before ringing Miss Duncan’s doorbell at exactly 7 a.m.

She waved them in and was speaking firmly before they’d left the porch. “You do realise that in order for us to work successfully we need an element of trust in our relationship with people on the streets. Are you telling me you have strong grounds for arresting these boys?”

“No,” Jim said quickly. “I thought Mr Standish explained to you. They’re not in any sort of trouble.”

“He did say that,” she admitted. “However, I know a conman when I hear one. I paid far more attention to the facts, and the facts are that you, Mr Ellison, are a detective with Major Crimes, and Mr Larabee is from the ATF. That does not convey an impression that there is no trouble.”

“It’s not Tanner and Sandburg who are in trouble,” Chris said. “It’s the people who forced them into this situation. We just want to get them safely back off the streets.”

They’d agreed this was a simpler approach than trying to tell her the full story, some of which, anyway, they could hardly disclose.

Miss Duncan looked at them with out any great confidence, but motioned them to take a chair. With tactical efficiency, she remained standing, a small but dominating presence. “And exactly why is it your responsibility? Are you telling me there has been a major crime involved here? And even if that were the case, I doubt it would necessitate bringing in federal officers from Denver.”

Jim glanced at Chris, who gave the slightest gesture of assent. “We’ve a personal interest,” Jim said. “Sandburg is a student at Rainier and has been riding along with me as part of his studies. Tanner works with the ATF.”

Miss Duncan refrained from snorting; presumably it was too unladylike. She asked, “You are quite sure there is no error in the people we’re discussing? They introduced themselves to me simply as Vin and Blair.”

“Blair Sandburg and Vin Tanner,” Jim said.

Miss Duncan nodded. “Well, perhaps I can see Blair as a student, though I find it hard to imagine him studying anything that involves police work. In what capacity are you expecting me to believe Vin works for the ATF?”

Chris leaned forward. “Miss Duncan, Vin’s not as young as he’s looking right now. He’s a skilled agent, and he’s a close friend of mine. And I don’t think he’s safe where he is.”

Miss Duncan hesitated. The tangible sincerity of Chris’s words seemed to have made some sort of impression. “I fail to understand why, if this is true, they should have been barefoot on the streets.”

“We’re grateful to you for helping them,” Jim said. “We’re not certain we fully understand either, but if you can help us to find them, perhaps we can get it sorted out. And get them home.”

Miss Duncan at last sat down. “A home is what they need,” she said. “We see many people, as I’m sure you can imagine, but those two boys made a deep impression on me yesterday morning. Harriet—Miss Trent—and I were very much hoping they would return today. I can tell you nothing about where they went, detective, it’s something we don’t ask, and I’m sure you or your colleagues will have tried the obvious places. However, it’s quite possible they will come back this morning or some future morning. You may wish to come with me to the mission?”

“Thank you,” Jim said. He could of course have put the place under surveillance without her permission, but this seemed a better way, particularly as he didn’t know quite how confused Vin and Blair might be. “I’m not sure what time you normally open up, but if you were happy for us to go there early, that would be helpful. We’re concerned that other people are looking for them as well, and I’d like to check the area’s safe.”

Miss Duncan looked at him piercingly. “I really don’t think you’ve told me everything relevant, young man. However, there is no reason why we should not go to the mission now and finish this discussion there. I prefer to drive myself. You may follow me.”

Obediently, they did. “I could use her for interrogations,” Jim said with feeling. “What do you think we ought to tell her?”

“I should refer her to your captain. Look out, she’s turning.”

Jim turned and nearly ran into the back of her as his eyes went to the sidewalk following some instinct. “It’s them,” he said abruptly, feeling Blair’s presence before he saw him. He pulled up sharply, and jumped down, Chris immediately behind him.

It was Vin and Blair, though he’d hardly have known it without the evidence of his other senses and the photo he had seen. They were coming towards them, but their attention was behind, glancing back as if they were looking for something. Three things happened at once. Miss Duncan, realising why Jim had stopped, drew up right next to the two of them. Blair looked up and saw Jim, went as white as if he’d just seen something horrifying, grabbed Vin’s arm and they bolted back the way they’d come. And three rough looking men appeared from some side turn or doorway and moved to attack them.

Vin swerved, pushed Blair out of the way and slashed at the one closest. The man jumped back, momentarily blocking the other two, and Vin and Blair were past them. They were out of reach now, but the men who’d just tried to attack them weren’t. Jim had never felt more like hitting someone, and Chris was right there with him tackling the three thugs before they could turn in pursuit. As an arrest, maybe they overdid it. Jim flattened the third man into the sidewalk and was aware of the precise tones of Miss Duncan. “I think perhaps that is enough, detective.”

He straightened up and without replying walked to the truck and called it in. Chris stood watching the men, and none of them moved so much as a finger. Jim wouldn’t have in their position. Chris looked about like he felt. He could not forget the fear on Blair’s face, or the panicked pounding of his heart as he’d looked at Jim. What the hell was going on? How could Blair so easily believe he was his enemy. There ought to be more to their friendship than that.

When the three men they had arrested had been taken away, they walked with Miss Duncan the half block to the mission. Jim had expected her disapproval, both for their violence in making the arrest, and because she must have seen the reaction they got from Blair and Vin, but she said nothing and her manner was more that of someone deep in thought.

She unlocked the mission door, and led them into the office. “Let me make you some coffee,” she said. “I think you had better explain to me just what happened there.”

“I don’t know what happened,” Jim said, and it came out with more of his frustration and pain than he intended.

“No, I saw that,” she said. “You both look—well, devastated. I appreciate that you expected something very different. Sit down and drink your coffee, and we’ll talk when we’ve all had time to think.”

She picked up the post as they obeyed, and sorted it out, opening a few of the envelopes. Jim drank the coffee without tasting it. Chris drained his in a couple of gulps and sat there rubbing a grazed knuckle and brooding. Miss Duncan made a small sound of surprise, and he glanced up, but did not bother to try to see what she was reading. To his surprise, though, she came and put it into his hand.

“Is this part of what you haven’t been telling me?”

Jim read it, holding it where Chris could see, and tried to suppress the ache he felt at the familiar handwriting, and the even more familiar reminder that Blair’s first thought was seldom for his own danger.

The letter was a muddle, a potent testament to the confusion Vin and Blair must be feeling, but its point was clear. They knew Josephs was in the area, and they believed he was a real danger to the homeless; Jim had never even considered this side of the matter. His whole attention had been focussed on the fact that the man was a danger to Vin and Blair.

He handed it back to Miss Duncan. “Yes, that’s part of it. It’s a complicated case, and not quite what you’ve got here, but the man is in the area, and we’ve a number of officers out looking for him. You would do well to warn anyone involved with the homeless. There will be men from the PD visiting the night shelters, hostels, clinics and so on, and I’ll see they do what they can to ensure people’s safety.”

She asked no more questions, though she read the letter again carefully, and commented, “They are clearly confused, about places and dates, and even their own status. I hope you realise that that is almost certainly the cause of their reaction this morning.”

Jim couldn’t speak. Larabee said briefly, “Seemed clear enough what they felt.”

“On the contrary, I think that would be a facile judgement. You got out of your… vehicle… in a manner that made it very clear you were law officers of some sort. I am quite convinced that both those boys, however mistakenly, believe they must keep clear of the law.”

“They recognised us,” Jim said.

“And that perhaps just made their situation harder. It is even more difficult to face someone for whom you feel respect, if you believe you’ve done something wrong.”

Jim needed to get away and think about this somewhere else. If there was anything he was absolutely sure of, it was that Vin and Blair would not return here. He stood up abruptly. “Thank you,” he said. “You’ve been very helpful, Miss Duncan.”

“Charlotte,” she said. “I wish I could do more. I shall be in St James this afternoon, and I shall sit and pray for you and for Vin and Blair. I don’t think they will come back here now, but if they do, I shall see that they wait here until you come, and that they understand just how much you want to help them.”

Jim wondered if he even knew how much himself. It was like a physical pain since he’d seen Blair looking about ten years too young and desperately in need of someone’s protection. As they walked back to the truck, Chris said softly, “I use to wonder what Vin looked like as a kid. Use to think, maybe if I’d known him then I’d’ve been ready to offer some kind of hand. Never imagined him looking at me as if I was his worst nightmare.”

That just about summed it up.

Jim pulled out into the traffic. “We going to update Ezra?”

“He’s a right to know. They all have. Maybe one of the others would’ve got a better reaction. Maybe anyone but us…”

On that bleak note they abandoned the conversation altogether, driving in silence to Ezra’s hotel.

“Stop running,” Vin said as soon as he realised they were clear. To run was to draw attention to themselves. “Walk casual and look like you’re just thinking where your next meal’s coming from. That was two lots from different sides looking for us, and I don’t suppose they’re the only ones. Keep to the inside of the sidewalk, and don’t say anything.”

Blair slowed but his distress was still obvious. Vin knew they couldn’t handle talking about it as they walked along, but he was lost for where to go. They’d turned in the opposite direction from the junk store, and he didn’t know Cascade. He didn’t really want to turn back though: although the buildings here were old and slightly dilapidated, they were walking into a less rough part of the city.

“Do you know where we are?” he asked quietly, hoping that giving Blair something to think about might bring him back from whatever remote and miserable place his mind seemed to be in.

Blair looked around him vaguely, and set off down the street—still too fast, but Vin let it go. He wondered what Blair was doing as he looked up at the fronts of the buildings, some in multiple occupancy and some with small businesses on different floors.

“Here,” Blair said. He had stopped outside a building, and now went down the steps to the basement. To Vin’s amazement he punched in the numbers on the security lock, and the door swung open to let them in to a small room almost full of books, bound periodicals and dusty magazines.

“Belongs to a local anthropological society,” Blair said. “It’s not much used.”

Abruptly he noticed the way Vin was looking at him, stared round at his surroundings and sat down hard on the single plastic chair. “Oh. That was… weird…”

“You knew the doorcode,” Vin said. “You didn’t have to think about it. You must have been here a few times.”

Blair looked at the walls. “I have. I’ve read some of these journals…”

But beyond that his memory didn’t seem to go, and his brief interest in his surroundings faded. He looked up at Vin who was leaning against the closed door. “That man. He was going to arrest us. He’s the one who wants to lock Naomi up. But he was a friend… someone important…”

“Cascade PD,” Vin said, not sure how he knew it, but the fact was there ready to be picked out of the chaos. “But th’ other man…” He stopped, got control of his voice, knew it had to be said. “He’s th’ one I told y’ about. They must’ve been close behind us to find us so quick. We aren’t going to be able to run for long, Blair; not with them near and Josephs near, and I reckon Josephs has got others on the street looking out for us, and there’ll be uniformed cops…”

Blair was paying no attention at all. “I think maybe he was the sentinel.”

Vin was silent. He still believed the sentinel had been a dream.

“But he couldn’t have been. Only I knew his face so well. I’ve a memory, or it feels like one of telling him he was the holy grail, but no way would I have been saying that, and then I remember just as clearly him holding me up against a wall and shouting… calling me a neo-hippie and a punk…”

That sounded more likely. Vin let him talk. He was having enough trouble with his own thoughts. It had been perhaps two seconds he’d met the eyes of the man in black who had also jumped out of the truck. Two seconds that lasted a lifetime. Felt like that man could see clear to the depths of him, and the shame that was piled up there, and Vin couldn’t bear it. He’d been glad of the attack that had burst out on them almost simultaneously, though he recoiled slightly from the savagery he remembered feeling as he got them through it.

Now he felt numb. His head ached, but worse than that was a feeling of enormous pressure on him, that had been there since he saw the man; a feeling that all the memories piled up, unattainable, were close to breaking their dam and overwhelming him.

He straightened up, tried to bear the load, and put his hand on Blair’s shoulder to stop him rambling to himself. “We c’n stay here a while, but not too long. Seems to me we got two choices. We c’n try and change what we look like and go on the run again, get out of Cascade. Or we can stay and try and take Josephs down with us.”

“There’s Naomi.”

“Blair, the whole Naomi thing don’t make real sense. If they were going to arrest her, whatever reason, they’d do it without you.”

“Maybe they don’t know where she is. They think they can find her through me…”

“Do you know where she is?”

Blair broke off and looked at him, surprised. “Oh. No, I don’t think I do.” He paused and considered it, then shook his head. “Maybe this whole fucked-up memory thing has an upside. They can’t make me tell them what I can’t remember.”

“So we stay?”

That was his own choice. Blair nodded. “No point running, anyway, if there’s a sentinel trailing you; and Josephs has to be stopped. But I don’t see what we can do.”

Vin was tired of propping the door up, tired through and through come to that. He dropped to a squatting position and began to think it over.

“First there’s a chance the cops will pick him up from what we put in the letter about the warehouse, nevermind we didn’t know where it was. Can’t be that hard to find. But I reckon he’d’ve cleared out of there once he knew he’d lost us; he wouldn’t’ve felt safe in a place someone knew. Maybe he’d leave Cascade, but I don’t think so. He probably knows enough about us to know we’d been on the run. Might not even think we’d risk something like the letter. And I reckon he’s unfinished business with us.”

“You said you thought he put those roughs onto us?”

“Thought there was a good chance. They must’ve thought they could get something out of it, and we don’t look like we’ve any money. That’d suggest he’d been around these streets. Course, if we got lucky he might run into the cops while he’s looking for us like those three this morning, but we can’t rely on that. We need to get him and the cops together, maybe use ourselves as bait. But we don’t want to be picked up too soon.”

“We could change how we look even if we’re staying,” Blair said. “I mean, how difficult can it be to look different from the descriptions people have got?”

“We’ve got no money at all.”

“Okay, so we can’t buy shades or change our hair colour. But we could cut our hair off, and maybe get hold of caps or something. The hair’s the thing people would notice.”

Vin could see that made sense. “Could cut it with the knife.”

“And our faces… Vin, do you think you’d normally have needed to shave by now?”

Vin ran a hand over his chin which was definitely still almost smooth. He didn’t know. It felt wrong as it was.

“Maybe in a day or so, there’ll be more shadow. That and a haircut would make a real difference.”

“Okay. We’re talking about taking days now. If we’re going to do this, we need to eat, and we need to get back to the junk shop without getting mugged—and hope the owner doesn’t show up.”

“The notice looked weeks old.”

“Still can’t bank on it. We’ll go back carefully; ought t’ be able t’ get something to eat on the way.”


Vin had kept an eye on the places they were passing on the way. This would be the easy part. They left the little basement, and went back in the direction they had come. It was late morning by now, and the small restaurants were already busy. He led Blair to one with a few tables and chairs outside, and jerked his head towards the occupants of one. It was a family, a mother, father and a couple of under fives. “You c’n see the mum and dad’s finished, and the kids are just playing with theirs.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the parents decided they’d had enough. As they walked away, Vin moved quickly to the table sliding most of a plate of fries into a napkin, along with half a burger. He picked up the plastic cup of cola that had been abandoned almost full, and was back with Blair before anyone from the restaurant came out to clear the table.

“Move on,” he muttered. “Can’t stand right outside the place and eat it, even if it would’ve gone in the trash.”

Blair was looking at him oddly. “I’ve seen you do that before,” he said.

“Done it plenty of times before; be surprised if you hadn’t. Here—eat.”

Blair didn’t look as if he thought much of it, but he ate half the fries. He wouldn’t touch the burger. “You really don’t want to know what they put in cheap burgers. Anyway, it’s been chewed.”

“Hasn’t been in the dumpster, though.”

He had a feeling that sometime long, really long, ago they’d had this sort of conversation before. They passed another restaurant and a small store which had put a box of bruised fruit out for people to take free, so they managed half a bun, another plastic cup of cola and several parts of apples. By then they were getting too close to the mission for him to feel comfortable, and he started to try to find his way to the junk store by a different route.

Twice they had to stop and lose themselves for a while, once in a cheap clothes store, once among the kids playing basketball on the park they’d seen the day before. It was late afternoon when they approached the side street the store was in, and in spite of the food he felt drained of energy. Even so he was alert. He caught Blair’s arm and pulled him to a halt when he realised there were two men at the entrance to the street—homeless like themselves by the look of them. One was sitting on the pavement, maybe drunk. The other was slouched against the wall. They didn’t seem to be looking for trouble, but something about them made Vin wary. Without any evidence for it, his instincts were screaming ‘trap’.

If anyone had dared to say Chris Larabee was running for comfort to his undercover agent, they probably wouldn’t have been able to say anything else at all for a week or two. But deep down, Chris was aware of at least a sort of easing in the black mood he was in when he and Jim sat down in the luxurious hotel room and told Ezra what had happened.

For one thing Ezra listened without interrupting and without a trace of judgement. For another, although he looked concerned, he also had the look which Chris recognised as an idea for where to go next, something that was definitely out of Chris’s reach. Jim Ellison also seemed marginally less bleak as they finished filling Ezra in, but he was still almost unable to believe that Blair had fled. “I don’t frighten, Blair,” he said. “I’d hardly met him before I had him up against the wall of his office threatening to shake the place down for drugs, and it didn’t phase him for more than about ten seconds. I’ve seen him cope in situations that threw people with years more training and experience. He doesn’t let me get away with any bullshit. And today he looked as if I was his worst nightmare.”

“I haven’t met Blair,” Ezra said slowly. “I do know Vin, and I know that there is only one thing that would make him run from Chris like that—feeling he’d let him down in some way so appalling he could no longer face him. He would never feel a physical fear of him and the penalty of the law would not be enough. It would have to be something Vin would feel cut more deeply than that. ”

A tendril of warmth weaselled its way into the chill of Chris’s world, because although it hadn’t occurred to him until Ezra said it, this made perfect sense. He had been so shocked at Vin’s appearance and so shaken by the horrified reaction he’d seen in Vin when their eyes met, that he had hardly begun to think again.

“But whatever Josephs did to them,” Jim said, and they all shared the awareness of what that could include, “they’d have to know no one would hold them responsible. They were the victims here.”

“I doubt if it is as straightforward as that,” Ezra said. “I have been finding out a little more about Dr Josephs, and it appears that false memories, or at least warped memories, were a sort of speciality of his. You can imagine how easy it would be in the sort of lives we lead. I know that I have nightmares of judgement calls I made that in fact were correct but might have led to tragedy if they had not been. That is the type of material the doctor may have worked on.”

Chris thought it over. Hell, who didn’t have nightmares like that. He remembered once waking up, drenched in sweat, because in his sleep he’d been convinced that he’d given Buck an order which had put him in the wrong place at the wrong time, to take a fatal bullet. Even when he was awake and could hear Buck snoring in the spare room it had taken him an hour and a lot of coffee to shake that one off.

Jim Ellison was looking at Ezra as if he was a revelation. “I can believe Blair blaming himself for something, yes. Now you say it, maybe that was part of what I was picking up from him. But if that’s what’s keeping them from coming back, where do we go from here? They’re in danger where they are, from Josephs, from this bounty he seems to have put on them, and from all the other hazards of being on the streets. They can’t have recovered physically from the time Josephs had them, either. They looked ill, both of them. How do we get close enough to them to help them?”

Ezra sat and thought a while. “I can only think of one reliable way. You will have to become something much less visible than your normal presence, and you will, in effect, have to set a sort of trap.”

“No good trying to be invisible to Vin, in the open or on the streets,” Chris said.

“I am not suggesting that you lurk round corners. What is required is a form of camouflage. You must look like the people already around them—in this case, I think it would be advisable if you, too, appear homeless. Appropriate clothes, perhaps a hat of some sort pulled down a little; it should be possible for you to fade into the general background of the streets.”

“They’re still going to be wary though,” Chris said. “After what happened this morning any man could be a threat. We might get close enough to see them, not closer than that.”

“That, I think, is where the trap will have to be involved. Mr Ellison—if Blair is, as Chris rightly suggests, wary, what would overcome that and draw him towards a person?”

Ellison shrugged. “He’d approach a girl.”

“That, I think, is beyond the acting capabilities of either of you.”

“Or, if someone was hurt…” Ellison said. “He wouldn’t walk away from someone who was in need.”

“That is also my estimate of Vin.” He glanced at Chris.

Chris said slowly, “Vin’s not easy to fool.”

“No, but this I think is potentially our ‘best shot’. If we set you up as homeless people with some further problem, requiring assistance. The question is, what would be plausible. And need their direct aid.”

Ellison looked up from his intensive study of the carpet, suddenly alive at the possibility of action. “You want a bait? Heightened senses, out of control. When I first met Blair, I was like that. I couldn’t do my job, I couldn’t do the most basic things like eat a normal meal. The doctors thought it was all in the mind. It wouldn’t call for much acting to put on an appearance of being like that again. Blair could never pass up someone suffering from over acute hearing, sight and so on. It would get to him on all levels. And maybe it would help him key into memories of who he really is.”

“Excellent,” Ezra said. “And it would need his direct input. That would be an ideal solution. I think we should proceed with it without delay. As you said earlier, they are not in a safe situation.”

“I can see it might work with Blair,” Chris said doubtfully. “Not sure Vin’ll be so easy.”

“No, nor am I. Well, you will just have to hope he indulges Blair, and beyond that rely on your… powerful personality. I still think this is the way to proceed. Now, I suppose we should look for a charity store to obtain some clothing.”

“No need for that,” Chris said. “We can just go back to the mission. We’d have to start from there anyway, and hope we find some trace of where they went. Charlotte will help us out.”

After that crack about his personality, he rather enjoyed Ezra’s expression, first at the thought of being dragged along to the mission, and then at his use of Miss Duncan’s first name. “We’ll need you along, Ez,” he added. “We need you to take your car. Anyway, you’re the one with the ideas.”

“It’s fortunate that someone has some,” Ezra said tartly. “I hope you’ll explain to the old witch that you invited me there.”

“That must have been one hell of a phone call,” Jim commented.

“Her bark’s a lot worse than her bite,” Chris said.

“Oh, wonderful. Now I have to put my reliance in clichés.”

He grumbled all the way to the mission, but they let him get away with it as he’d just transformed their morning into something with a bit of hope in it. Fortunately Miss Duncan approved the idea of their going onto the streets as homeless men. “I can see that in the circumstances a more devious approach has been helpful,” she said. “Come downstairs. The clothes will be simple enough. However, you will also need to adopt a different manner. Less…”

“Aggressive?” Ezra offered.

“There is no need to interrupt me, young man. Less authoritative, I was about to say. Homeless people lack power.”

Ezra sulked all the way down to the basement. “Are you sure you still need me?” he muttered to Chris. “I have several things I need to do, and you can call me once you are successfully on the streets.”

“I’d call that running out,” Chris said. “Come on, Ez. You’re the one who’s good at camouflage. Help me disguise that powerful personality.”

“Touché,” Ezra said. He wandered around the basement looking at the clothes available. In front of Miss Duncan they could not discuss the further, sentinel, aspects of the plan, but he found a cap with a green sun visor and handed it to Jim. That could be pulled well down over his eyes, and would be more realistic than shades while supporting the idea of hypersensitive sight. Chris found some old black jeans, and had them firmly removed from his grasp. “Black is far too much your trademark,” Ezra said firmly. “Here.”

Chris looked with distaste at the faded camouflage trousers. Ez was right though. He would be like himself in the jeans. Gradually he and Jim put together an appearance completely different from their normal one. The clothes were baggier, it seemed natural to shamble slightly in them. As they dressed, Ezra made them think of who they might be, how they might have come to be on the streets. Ex-military made sense. They wouldn’t be the first to end up there.

“You’ll have to keep your heads down too, once you sight them,” he said. “Ellison’s not so bad. With the visor pulled down you can hardly see his face. Your hair shows up too much, though, Chris. There must be another hat or cap in here.”

Miss Duncan pulled out a drawer, and rummaged through it. “This would do,” she said.

Chris glared at the camouflage hat which was even more offensive than his trousers, then switched the glare to the smirk on his undercover agent’s face; but there was no doubt the hat would do, and Ez was right, he needed something. In the very brief moment his eyes had met Vin’s he’d felt that instinctive recognition and connection, however warped it had become. If he looked Vin in the eyes, that would be the end of their deception.

“You’re too clean, as well,” Ezra said. “You’d better dirty your hands a bit, especially the nails. And walk where there’s cigarette smoke or a hot dog stall or something. Everything down here smells vaguely antiseptic.”

“It’s the soap in the showers,” Miss Duncan said. “Like carbolic, it provides for a certain level of antisepsis in washing, and I suppose it is rather pungent.”

Chris recognised a glint in Ezra’s eyes that suggested he was thinking. A second or two later, the undercover agent said politely, “Is that someone calling you from upstairs, Miss Duncan?”

As soon as she had gone, he turned to Jim Ellison. “Go and learn the scent of that soap. Our female Attila informed me in my first conversation with her that Blair and Vin had showered as well as receiving clean clothing. That is less than two days ago, and the scent is powerful and distinctive. Could you track it?”

“Maybe,” Ellison said. “It’s worth a try, anyway.”

Miss Duncan came down, annoyed. “Are you trying to amuse yourself at my expense,” she asked Ezra.

“Not at all. Was I mistaken?”

“I think we’re about finished here,” Chris said hastily. “We’re very grateful for your help.”

“I’m glad we could do something. I shall be thinking of you, and those poor boys. I hope you find them quickly.”

“You’ll let me know how things progress,” Ezra said. They’d agreed on carrying cell phones well concealed.

Chris caught the fleeting wistfulness that no one else would have heard. Ezra was finding it hard not being a part of this, though they all knew three of them would have been too many.

“Soon as I’ve got him, you can come and help me remind him where he belongs,” he promised quietly. “Update Buck and the boys for me.”

“I’ll do that.”

Miss Duncan glanced at the clock. “You should be on your way, and I must lock up,” she said, leading the way back upstairs. “I shall go straight to St James, and pray for you to find them quickly.”

“And I’ll be off too,” Ezra said hastily, as Jim and Chris stepped outside.

“Not so fast, young man,” Chris heard Miss Duncan say firmly. “I have a couple of heavy bags I need to take to the church. You may carry them for me and join me in prayer. Quite apart from being the most practical thing you can do for your friend, I am sure it will be good for your soul.”

Ezra’s squawk of protest followed them down the street, but when they glanced back a couple of minutes later he was following Miss Duncan, carrying the two bags and looking very much like a schoolboy being led to detention.

Chris hoped she’d be merciful and turned his attention back to what they were doing. “Okay, where do we go?” he asked.

“Give me a minute,” Ellison said shortly. Using his senses never seemed to improve his mood. Maybe it was because it reminded him he was missing Sandburg.

Chris leaned on the wall, pulled his hat down a bit and waited.

“It’s sifting out every other scent that’s hard,” Ellison said. “I think I’ve got a trace though. It’s faint, but that’s not surprising.”

It was a curious experience, following a trail that to Chris had no existence at all—though he sometimes felt like that even with a normal expert tracker. He put a hand on Ellison’s arm to help him concentrate, and they shuffled along like a drunk and his minder. Most people got out of their way; a couple of labourers deliberately crowded them off the sidewalk. He was aware of becoming somehow invisible to a lot of passers by, as if they’d rather not think about this downside to their city.

They stopped and started a lot, lost the trail and cast around to find it again. Once Ellison zoned, but Chris was getting used to the signs and jerked him sharply back. Towards the end of the afternoon, they lost it altogether, and decided in the end it had genuinely turned into a side street and stopped. A small girl watched them from the steps of her building as they stood and tried to decide where it ended.

“Go away,” she said firmly. “My mom don’t want bad lots ’round here.”

“Don’t see any bad lots,” Chris said, pretending to look everywhere and making her laugh. “Were there any yesterday?”

“My mom saw some bad boys last night,” she said, sitting down on the top step. “Lindy says they were hot and they could come and be bad with her any time, but mom said she was a wicked girl and she’d come to a bad end.”

Chris glanced at Jim, who shrugged. “Well, that fits.”

The little girl seemed pleased to have someone to listen to her. “The boys was in our yard. Mom says they told her some story. And Davey says they went over the wall, but Davey makes stuff up.”

Chris looked at the buildings. “The junk store?” he said under his breath to Jim.

“Just what they’d want, I should think. There’s a note on it saying it’s shut, and it looks like it’s been there a while.”

“Who owns the store?” Chris asked his small informant.

“Mr Peters. He’s nice. He gives me peppermints and if it’s quiet he reads me out a big book with pictures. But he’s real old and he gets sick a lot.” She looked at him suspiciously. “You leave his shop alone.”

At that point a bigger girl came out. “You talking to strangers? Come on in.”

There were other children, but they were playing a sort of tag further down the street, and anyway, Chris thought they’d learned enough. “They were here,” he said. “Reckon they’ll come back?”

“Good chance. They must have decided to avoid the places they’d be looked for. I think it’s worth waiting around here, at least until dark. Not right in front of the store, though.”

They walked back to the entrance to the side street. Jim sat down on the sidewalk; Chris leaned against the wall. They waited.

Dr Josephs, now passing as Mr Ullman, heard the policemen in the foyer of his cheap hotel asking about any new guests who were using rooms. The manager lied fluently, for his own sake. Josephs knew, as he was sure the police did, that the rooms were rented out by the hour in some cases, used by dealers in others. No one was likely to find him just by asking questions. The CIA were the ones who worried him, rather than the PD, and anyway Miller and Henshaw wouldn’t want the Cascade police interfering, so they were unlikely to be doing them any favours. He was rather surprised there was a police investigation at all, but he hoped he could safely ignore it. His weak point would be the men he’d suborned. He would have to be careful there. He’d heard rumours already that three had been picked up that morning, but they wouldn’t know where to find him, and he didn’t really care what else they talked about. All the same, later, when it was fully dark, he would slip out and find the dealer who had been very happy to take some drugs off his hands. The man would almost certainly know the truth of what had happened, and would act as a go-between for him if he made it worth his while.

Jim Ellison had too much time to think as he sat and waited. He didn’t regret what they were doing, because he couldn’t think of another way that held so much chance of getting close to Blair, but it bothered him that he was playing on Blair’s ready compassion to bait a trap. And it bothered him that if they didn’t time this quite right, Blair would look at him again with that horrified alarm and this time might run beyond all possibility of Jim bringing him home.

At the moment he sat with his chin on his knees, his cap pulled forward, and knew that to anyone passing he would look stoned or asleep, depending on their level of cynicism. In fact he was reaching out with his hearing, searching this street and then the next ones, through the heartbeats of the young, the old, the sick, the hurrying, looking for Blair. It was his voice he picked up first though, with a sudden jerk to alertness: Blair’s voice low and tired, saying, “I can’t see how we’re ever going to find Josephs.”

“Reckon he’s hunting us.” That was Vin. “That’ll bring him in the open.”

Jim nudged Larabee’s knee to let him know. Larabee squatted next to him, face taut with anticipation. “You got something?”

“I can hear them, maybe a street away.”

Larabee’s hand gripped his shoulder briefly, painfully hard. They had to get it right; there was no promise of second chances.

Vin and Blair weren’t saying much, but Jim was tuned in to them now, monitoring their progress towards him without ever lifting his head from his knees. He started his litany as soon as he thought Blair was in earshot, trying to sound different from his normal manner, complaining loudly to Chris. “I’m going out of my mind here. It’s all too bright, too loud. I can feel this fly as if it was twenty times its weight. You gotta help me, man. This traffic noise! It’s like being in a subway tunnel.”

Chris came in on cue, dropping his voice to a rough growl. “Shut up you fool, less you want locking up. Cops’ll think you’re on something. Light’s not bright. You don’t want to start up with this again, seeing things too far off to see, claiming to hear folks a street away. You can’t do it, okay?”

Jim clasped his hands over his head, Chris crouching beside him as Vin and Blair drew level. He could see how rigid Chris’s muscles were, with the same tension he felt at the prospect of having to let them pass. He heard Blair’s footsteps hesitate, then stumble as if he’d been pulled along. The sound turned the corner. Stopped. He heard the two of them begin to argue, and relayed it in an undertone to Chris.

“You’ve got to let me go back,” Blair was saying. “Did you hear him? Did you hear the things he was saying? That is absolutely typical of a person with heightened senses. That was someone with a real problem, not a drunk. We can’t just walk away. How many people know how to help someone like that. I could be his best hope of some kind of sanity.”

“We’re not going back. It’s a set up,” Vin said, with equal force. “I don’t buy it. Did y’ look at them? They look homeless but they got a lot too much muscle for men on th’ streets. Sides, they were waiting for us.”

“How could it be a set up? That’s just too way out to be a possibility. How many people have even heard of heightened senses, let alone know I’m interested in them? And even if they knew, how many could act it convincingly?”

“Too much of a coincidence they’re just sitting on this street corner.”

“Vin, if they’d wanted to jump us, don’t you think they’d have done it by now. They didn’t make any move to hurt us. At least let me ask him some questions.”

“I don’t know what they’re planning, or what they want, but I’m telling you there’s something more going on here. Don’t believe that guy was even talking until we were in earshot.”

Jim winced. He’d thought he’d got the timing about right, but he’d underestimated Vin. Well, if they walked on now, he knew where they were going. He’d just sit here until Blair went past again, even if it wasn’t before morning. Chris, squatting beside him, said very softly, “Vin goes by instinct, and he tends to be dead on.”

“They’re walking away, but they’re still arguing,” Jim said. “I can see them reflected in that window. Going into the store the front way this time. They must have found a key—I suppose the owner had a spare inside.”

“At least they’re safe for now.”

They were safe. All the same, Jim’s preferred course of action at this point would have been to go in and grab Blair, take him back to the loft, give him the care he obviously needed and not let him out of his sight again until Josephs was under arrest. He was just afraid that Blair would be too confused to realise he was being rescued rather than attacked. He didn’t look as if he could cope with many more traumas.

“If it’s a choice between losing them or taking them by force, we take them,” Chris murmured, his thoughts apparently running on similar lines. “Are they staying put?”

“Yeah. They sound as if they’ve had about enough for one day. They’re talking about trying to find a way to bring Josephs down with them. I can’t make it all out, but they do think they’ve done something—something really serious from the tone.”

A car horn blared near him and he flinched. “Damn. If I’m going to keep on listening lets move into the street a bit.”

They shifted around the corner and a little way into the side street. The sun had set, but their small acquaintance from earlier was still there. She looked sweet and old fashioned nursing a doll until her words became audible. “You’re nothing but trouble. You bad baby. Going to throw you in the trash ‘less you stop crying.” She cuddled it instead though, and stood up to look at them.

“Going to rain,” she told them smugly. “You best go or you’ll get wet.”

A boy ran out past her and snatched the doll, holding it up to torment her. She started to yell as he went down the steps. Chris stepped over as he went past, took the doll as it waved in the air, and walked across to the little girl.

She came down a step and snatched the doll. “Those bad boys come back. Only they got a key now, so mom thinks maybe they know Mr Peters.”

Jim looked up as Chris settled back against the wall beside him. The boy was making rude gestures at them from a safe distance, and the little girl was still finding them more interesting than the cartoons Jim could hear from the TVs in the apartments. It started to rain a little and she looked up. “Told you.”

Chris nudged Jim. “Look sick,” he whispered. “If we’re going to get wet, maybe it’ll play in our favour.”

Jim groaned and leaned over. He wasn’t sure if Blair was likely to see, but he agreed it was worth a try.

The boy, his interest caught, came back and stared at Jim. “He stoned?”

“No. He’s sick. He shouldn’t be out in the rain.”

The little girl came as far as the bottom step. “He can’t come in here. Mr Peters helps people when he’s well. Maybe the bad boys will let you in.”

“I don’t think so.”

She gave him the universal and ageless look of a woman faced with male incompetence. “Gotta ask them, stupid.” She waited, then made an impatient noise. “Want me ‘n Davey to ask ’em for you?”

Without waiting for an answer she marched down and got Davey by the hand. “You gotta ask just right if you want something.”

“She’s good,” Davey said. “She’s the best at getting candy.”

She pulled him with her and went and banged on the door. There was a pause, perhaps while Vin and Blair looked out and saw how small their visitor was, then it opened. “What is it sweetheart?” That was Vin.

If you had to ask just right, she was perfect. “There’s a poor man there, and he’s sick.”

“And it’s starting to rain,” Davey added, with the sort of pathos he probably used when it was his turn to persuade sweets out of old ladies.

“You ought t’ be inside then,” Vin said, unimpressed. “And you shouldn’t be going near strangers.”

They stuck their tongues out and ran home. “Our sister thinks you’re a hottie!” they yelled from the top step and went in giggling.

The rain started to come down more heavily. Jim doubled over as if it hurt. He remembered once when he had still been new to the senses and rain like this really had hurt, each drop thudding or needling onto his skin. Blair had stood there with him oblivious to the fact he too was getting soaked, teaching him to dial down the sensitivity. He clenched his fists in a spasm of genuine pain at the frustration of being so near him yet still unable to bridge the last gap, and decided there wasn’t that much subterfuge involved in this trap. He really needed Blair’s compassion; always had, probably always would.

Chris leaned over him. “You hear anything?”

“Same argument. Blair wants to come out. Vin still says it feels like a trap.”

He heard Blair’s answer to that, but didn’t repeat it. “You’re wrong, Vin. Maybe your instincts tell you it’s a trap, well mine tell me that man wouldn’t hurt me. It’s weird, but I felt like I knew him when I went past him, almost like there was some connection there.”

There was a pause. Blair spoke again, stubbornly. “I won’t bring him in if you don’t want, but I’m going out to see if I can help him.”

Blair broke the grip Vin had on his arm. After all the confusion and uncertainty he had struggled with since he woke outside the warehouse, he welcomed the conviction he felt now. He needed to go outside to the man he could see hunched over in the street. Even if it was the trap Vin said it was, he should go to him. There was an odd calm in feeling so sure of something. The clarity of it lightened his exhaustion, and gave him the energy to ignore the throbbing headache that had returned during the afternoon.

Vin must have seen that he was determined. “I’ll come with you,” he said shortly.

Blair caught something in his tone that made him uneasy. “What are you going to do.”

“Just keep an eye on his friend.”

The rain was coming down heavily now, soaking their hair as soon as they stepped out. Neither of the men looked up, even when they walked up to them. Blair crouched down next to the man who had been complaining of the lights and noise, and put a hand gently on his shoulder. “Do you want to come inside?”

The man didn’t lift his head, but he made a muffled sound of thanks.

“Are you okay to walk? Maybe your friend will help you…” he looked at the friend, and broke off, shocked. Vin had also squatted down by the men, but his hand wasn’t held out helpfully, it was holding the knife he’d painstakingly sharpened—not exactly threatening the other man, but definitely ready to do so if he made any unexpected move.

“Don’t think that’s a good idea,” Vin said quietly. “This one stays outside. Reckon you can guarantee your friend’s behaviour?” he added to the man.

“He’s sick,” the man muttered. “Thinks he can see things no one could see without a telescope. Says he can feel the rain bruising him. I’ll wait with you if that’s what you want. Don’t suppose your friend can help him, but he can try if he wants.”

Blair saw there was no hope at all of deflecting Vin, but at least he could offer some hope to the one man. “Sure I can help you,” he said. “Come inside with me, and I’ll explain to you what’s happening. You don’t have to suffer like this.”

The man who had been hunched over on the ground lurched to his feet, and followed Blair to the store. If he was concerned about leaving his friend with Vin it didn’t show. Blair was concerned, seriously, but short of starting a fight in the street he hadn’t a lot of options. Maybe the passive way the man was accepting it would change Vin’s mind.

He felt a surge of relief that was way over the top once he got the other one inside. The world was suddenly seeming to right itself a little. The man was still hanging his head and shambling, but for some reason Blair found his presence almost reassuring. He didn’t question it; he was too tired and too cold. He just went with the flow.

The man said unexpectedly, “Get yourself dry first.”

“Dry’s not really an option,” Blair admitted. “There’s no towels and no heat. But we’re not as wet in here as we would be outside.”

Without a word the man went to the hallway, lifted off a panel and did something inside. Puzzled, Blair watched. “Sorry, man—you’ve lost me here. What are you…? Oh. Cool. We thought there was no electricity.”

Evidently it had been switched off in the hall. Still silently, the man looked into the other rooms, found the small oil-filled radiator in the one with the couch, and switched it to full. “Sit down,” he said at last. “You’re soaked.”

“Well, hey—so are you. Tell you what, big guy. Sit down as well and listen to me, and we’ll both dry off.” He remembered suddenly. “I’m sorry about your friend. Vin won’t touch him.”

The man pulled the radiator closer to the couch. “It’s okay, Chief. They look like two of a kind. Maybe it’ll be one of those bonding experiences.”

Blair felt a small bubble of laughter. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to laugh. His clothes started to steam gently, and he sighed with relief at the warmth. “That is so much better.” He glanced at the man who had sat on the floor leaning back against the couch, where Blair could only see the top of his cap and the way he sat. Vin was right; he looked fit. Maybe he was only out on the streets because of the problem with his senses.

He wasn’t sure where to start now. He had a feeling he’d done this before, and his explanation had come out not quite as he’d intended. At least this man didn’t look as if he’d hold him up against a wall and yell. He said tentatively, “I heard what you were saying out there. Things too bright, sounds too loud. Maybe you find flavours intense too?”

“And skin that feels like cloth is sandpaper,” the man said.

“Wow. That’s four then. Four senses I mean. You see, what I think you’re experiencing isn’t an illness. In a way it’s a gift. In fact you could be… Do you notice smells too?”

“Sometimes. They come and go.”

Blair felt an excitement that was somehow familiar. “That’s all five then! Oh man, I wish I had some books here. I could show you exactly what you are. How am I going to explain this? This is a gift that was known way back. When tribes relied on knowledge of the weather and movement of game—or the movement of their enemies—each tribe would select a special warrior, a sentinel. He’d be someone like you, whose senses could help to protect the tribe, lead them to water and so on. A lot of people think it’s died out because modern life doesn’t need sentinels. Do you remember how you first came to have heightened senses?”

“It’s a long story,” the man said. “Sure you want to hear it?”

“Oh, yes, you bet I’m sure. Do you actually remember when it started.”

“It started when I was in the military,” the man said. “I was in an accident, crash-landed in a jungle area. For a long time I lived with tribesmen.”

Blair settled into the corner of the couch, listening. An odd sense of déja vu was beginning to make him feel giddily strange, but he wanted nothing more than for the man to go on talking. He began to picture a man in the jungle of Peru, among the Chopec, although he heard no facts as specific as that. His headache returned, worse than he had known it, and he must have made a slight noise. The man paused and turned to look at him. “Maybe we should do this some other time, Chief.”

Why did it feel so familiar when the man called him Chief? “No. Go on,” he managed to say. “I want to hear this.”

The man stood up, without any of the clumsiness he’d shown earlier, and in one smooth movement shifted Blair so he was lying down, his cheek against the damp leather. He sat back down next to the couch, one hand resting on Blair’s arm now. “I’ll tell you about when I came back to Cascade,” he said softly. “Some time after I was back, I started experiencing the heightened senses again. It made it difficult to do my job, and didn’t do a lot for my temper either. I wasn’t the friendliest guy in the world at the best of times, and just then I was a real son of a bitch. But I was probably a hell of a lot luckier than I deserved, because someone decided to help me in spite of the reception I gave him when he first tried…”

Vin stood in the rain and watched patiently. The man he was watching had made almost no move, except to stand up slowly and lean back against the wall. The shapeless camouflage hat he wore was soaked, rain dripped from it as it did from Vin’s hair. It ran down from their clothes into the filling gutters. Vin wasn’t sure he’d ever been wetter. Didn’t matter though.

“Should go inside before you get pneumonia,” the man said quietly.

“I’m going nowhere,” Vin said. “Nor are you. Don’t know what your game is, but you were here for a purpose. You set your trap, but you’re not springing it.” He showed the wicked double edge on the knife. “In a minute I’m going to check on my friend. You’d best not move.”

It bothered him, the man’s apparent acquiescence. He could read the way a person walked or stood. This man wasn’t really passive; he was waiting for something. Waiting for him to go down? He wondered how much his weakness showed. The headache and dizziness which had been with him intermittently since he woke up in the lab were almost overwhelming now. He had hardly slept the night before, and the things he and Blair had talked of had haunted him all day, worse since the morning’s brief sight of the men who were after them. He could shut it out of his mind when there was something there to do in front of him, but it was never far off, waiting dark at the edge of his thoughts.

He walked swiftly to the store, hoping the movement would restore him a little. It was the work of a moment to open the door, and hear the soft noise of voices from the back room. It sounded okay—peaceful even. He rubbed rain off his face, and closed the door quietly. Maybe that guy had after all been an innocent part of this set up. Or maybe, like camouflage man, he was biding his time. Vin had to keep himself alert. He grazed his left knuckles sharply down the wall next to the door, not enough to do damage, just enough to let the discomfort focus his mind, and took up his position again a few yards from the other man.

Time passed. Rain fell. He felt chilled clear through. The knife was starting to feel like it weighed more than a shotgun. The sting in his knuckles had faded to numbness. He was startled when the man he was watching finally spoke.

“Seen two different men setting traps for mountain lions, down in Mexico one time,” he said, as casually as if they’d been chatting. “One of ’em was a hunter. He didn’t give a damn about the lion. Just wanted the pelt. Wasn’t a bad man, just a peasant wanting to make some money. Other man, he couldn’t have been more different. He was a naturalist. It was a female he was trying to trap. He knew something about her bit of territory, that’s why he was after her—big company was going to start mining, and the cave where her den was, that was going up in the first explosion. Lioness didn’t know that of course. Trap was a trap to her, whether it was meant to harm her or help her.”

He fell silent again and his last words hung in the quiet.

Vin started shaking so much he was close to dropping the knife. It wasn’t just the chill from the rain. The man hadn’t looked up, but there was something about his voice now that brought Vin close to some abyss, and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to cross it safe or lose himself falling. Trap was a trap… only now even that was suddenly not the certainty it had been.

“Who are you?” he asked hoarsely.

“I’m not here to harm you.”

Vin fought against the temptation to believe it, to listen to something in himself that seemed to be tugging him towards the man. He would not give in to that or to the weakness that was dragging him down. But he was losing the battle with his body. He heard the knife fall at his feet, though his hands were so numb he’d never felt himself let go of it, and briefly felt a fast fading spurt of adrenaline. It would happen now. The attack would come.

But the man didn’t move. Vin stooped too swiftly to pick the knife up, and found himself on his hands and knees, the street swirling in front of him in the rain. He expected a swift kick now he was visibly helpless, some violent move to finish him and remove the knife, but still nothing happened.

Nothing happened, even when he couldn’t get himself up for a long painful minute. He lifted his head and saw the man still standing motionless against the wall, still waiting. What th’ hell was he waiting for?

He struggled back to his feet. The rain soaked world was spinning, and he felt like the abyss was in front of him now. He was past thinking, he knew that. Maybe he should listen to the instinct deeper than thought that had begun to pull him towards the man. He took a couple of steps that way, stumbled, caught himself and stopped. He was walking straight into the trap, some lingering wariness warned. What kind a fool did that? But at the core of him this felt okay, this was the path he had to go. His eyes fixed on the silent, drenched man who was still waiting. He stumbled on, the few yards a vast space. Now at last it seemed right, when he looked up and at last saw the dripping arms of the trap open up in front of him. He half fell the final step, then he was inside and the arms closed warmly, holding him safe. His soaked face dropped against soaked fabric, someone else’s strength took his weight, and there was an echoing familiarity in the reassuring voice.

“Okay, cowboy. Just take it easy. How about we get out of this rain before we both melt.”

He couldn’t lift his head, and his legs felt as insubstantial as the water running along the street, but it didn’t seem to matter any more. The instinct that had brought him this far told him he was home. An arm supported him, and he found himself moving. There were noises, and more movement. The air round his face was suddenly warm, not cold, and when he opened his eyes briefly, the small back room of the shop had taken the place of the street.


But Blair was comfortably asleep on the couch, next to the warmth of the radiator, watched by the other half of the trap, who was scrambling to his feet, sounding concerned.

“Here, my clothes have dried. Get those wet things off him.”

Vin mumbled a protest as his sweater and shirt were stripped away, but then warm clothes replaced them, and he realised that it was easiest just to let it happen. His eyes closed again, and the conversation he could hear made little sense.

“I’m going to call Ez, get him to bring some dry clothes and blankets, Tylenol, some food and maybe a way of making a hot drink. I’d rather get them away from here, but I don’t want to push things too fast.”

“No—I think we’re only at the beginning. They need to get it back at their own speed. The loft might just be too much.”

The warmth of the radiator was seeping in to him now, but something was missing. Vin reached out blindly for what he’d lost, and found a wet hand that gripped his wrist firmly. “Go to sleep,” the man said. It was an order rather than a suggestion. Seemed a good idea, anyway. Vin returned the grip, then slept.

“I appreciate you coming in to tell me this.”

Simon Banks had been working almost round the clock since he’d had that first meeting with Miller and Haines, and discovered just how much dirt the CIA were happy to get on their hands and just how deep into it Sandburg was probably sinking. It wasn’t that he blamed himself—not really, not as much as Jim probably blamed him, anyway. He was responsible for all of Major Crimes, and there were other unpleasant things going on in Cascade. He couldn’t really have handled things much differently until he knew what was going on, and Ellison had got onto the CIA link faster than anyone else could have hoped to have done.

But he was as worried now as Jim could have wanted—and not only about Sandburg. Watching Jim this last couple of weeks had been painful, and against all his expectations he’d actually been grateful for Larabee’s presence. It didn’t make his own job any easier though. Running interference for the two of them was a full time assignment in itself, and for their own sakes and the department’s he had to know they weren’t overstepping the lines too far. And all that was without the added complication of the CIA. He’d had Miller calling yet again about some supposed lie detector Ellison had used on Henshaw and about how they’d found the warehouse, and before he’d got back to work the Chief—doing his own tapdancing—called to remind him issues of national security were involved and basically that it was his duty to jump when the CIA said jump.

On top of that, he’d overslept this morning, because he’d dropped into bed at 4:00 confident he’d be woken up again before 7:00. Instead, he’d heard nothing of Jim and Chris all day and now into the evening, and had been completely unable to find where they were. Lately every time the phone rang, his blood pressure had gone through the roof.

So he was very grateful when Larabee’s man turned up around ten o’clock to check that he knew what was going on.

“Can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming in fact. Losing those two is like mislaying a hand grenade you’ve already pulled the pin on.”

“Well, I cannot of course guarantee that nothing explosive will happen, but the last news I received seemed reasonably positive. They had located a place where Mr Tanner and Mr Sandburg apparently spent the last night, and were hoping that they would return to it later today. The fact that I have heard nothing since then is quite probably a good sign; it suggests they are not simply waiting there.”

Simon poured coffee for him. “You say Tanner and Sandburg took off when they saw them this morning? That can’t have been easy for anyone.”

“No.” Ezra evidently didn’t plan to discuss it though. “This is really excellent coffee,” he said instead.

“Thanks. I’m learning to like it. So, you’re waiting for another call from them?”

“And checking to see there has been no trace of our elusive Dr Josephs.”

“Not a thing. The CIA won’t hand over an up to date photo of the man, which isn’t helping. I’ve been trying to call in some favours tonight and get some pressure put on Miller, but it’s not working. They want to get Josephs themselves, and you can see why.”

“The CIA and Denver’s Dr Death,” Standish said. “It would make an interesting headline.”

“The only trouble is, no newspaper would print it, and if they would, anyone giving them the information would be out of a career.”

Standish smiled. “We will have to hope that someone finds a suitably indirect route. Mr Tanner is my friend, and I would prefer not to see the cause of his suffering go unpunished.”

Simon looked thoughtfully at the man. He was as elegant as Rafe, and probably as devious as hell, most undercover men were, but he used the word friend like a man who meant it. It was probably better not to ask about the indirect route; Simon had a feeling it was one of those things he was better not knowing about. He poured more coffee.

“Sandburg’s made a lot of friends here—and whatever Ellison may have said, I count myself one of them,” he said, and felt a bit better for saying it.

Standish looked carefully at the rich liquid in his cup. “As a matter of fact, when he called, Detective Ellison said that if it was good news tonight, I was to let you know immediately. I am just pre-empting that slightly. I thought you would like to know there was that possibility.”

Simon straightened up a bit. “Thank you.”

Standish made no move to go, and it occurred to Simon that perhaps, in spite of the man’s self reliant manner, he would rather wait for news with someone who shared something of his own feelings. “Maybe you’d like to look through what I’ve got today on the case,” he offered. “Save you calling me with whatever news does come.”

“That would seem a very practical suggestion,” Standish agreed.

They looked at the files of negative reports. They drank far too much coffee. They waited for news of friends. And at last Ezra’s cell phone rang.

Chris had found it hard, worse than hard, to stand in the rain and wait for Vin to drop, but he thought what he was asking Ezra to do—to come and leave again—was even harder.

“I woke Nathan up and talked to him, and he says better go too slow than too fast,” he told him. “I haven’t even lifted this damn hat enough for Vin to recognise me yet. I think we’ve made a beginning, but there’s a hell of a long way to go.”

“I fully understand,” Ezra said. “I can deliver the items and leave. What should I bring?”

“Depends what you can get hold of reasonably fast. Where are you at the moment?”

“In Captain Banks office, which will probably make me considerably quicker, as he will be able to direct me.”

Jim Ellison leaned over and took the phone. “Simon?”

“Good work, Jim.”

“Simon, you’ve got a key to the loft. Can you get some things from there, I’ll tell you what in a minute, and—this is important—a book as well. Blair’s usually got it in his room; it’s the one he has a picture of a sentinel in. Old book. He’s had it since he was a kid I think.”

“I know it. By Richard Burton, the explorer not the actor. He’s shown it to me.”

“Yes. Bring it along with you. I’ll tell you where to come. And Simon—I’ll give you the address of this store. It belongs to a Mr Peters, who I think is sick. Can you see if you can trace him and clear it for us to use the place for a while.”

Chris left him to do the talking, and went back to the other room which was comfortably warm now. The clothes spread on the backs of a couple of chairs were drying. Vin and Blair hadn’t stirred from the couch. He felt Vin’s cheek. It was no longer so clammy, and his hair, falling raggedly across it, was only damp, not dripping. Chris wondered how long they’d been out there in the rain. He hadn’t been able to do anything except wait it out. He’d seen Vin wouldn’t last the night, but it had hurt watching him go down by inches. He still didn’t understand what had made the difference, and had brought Vin to him at the end. He’d got to the point where he thought his only option was to wait for him to pass out and then carry him in. Even when Vin dragged himself to his feet and stumbled over to him, he hadn’t been sure he knew what he was doing. Only at the last minute, when he’d held out his arms and Vin had carried on into them, was he certain Vin had chosen to trust him, and that gave him some hope for where they’d go next.

It wouldn’t be easy though. They hadn’t even shown their faces so far. Maybe Jim’s way was the best, just talking about what ought to be familiar, though Jim wasn’t sure his narrative had done any more than send Blair to sleep.

“They should be here in an hour or so,” Jim said, coming back through. “As they’re going to the loft, they can bring most things from there. I told him to pick up Vin’s sleeping bag and some of their clothes. They might recognise things—it’s not as if there’s real brain damage here, it’s a whole different sort of problem.”

They were talking quietly, but Chris doubted if it mattered. Nothing around them seemed likely to wake Blair, and even Vin, who normally had the ability to be wide awake in an instant, showed no response to their presence.

“They look wiped out,” he said to Jim.

“From what we saw of Josephs methods, they would have been pretty weak when they got away from him, and I doubt if they’ve had much to eat, or much rest, since. You can’t keep them down, though. They were talking about trying to take Josephs when they were coming towards us.”

“Lucky we found them when we did then.”

“Yes. I think what plan there was seemed to be using themselves as bait to bring Josephs out, then being in the middle while he fought it out with the PD. After that they were going to, quote, ‘give themselves up.'”

“You didn’t get any idea what for?”

“No, but I’d say from what I picked up just the thought of it was sending their heartbeats and breathing way over the top. Oh—and from the way they spoke, they seem to think it’s something they were both involved in, so if Standish was right about Josephs being more likely to warp memories than actually create them, that would limit the sort of thing it could be.”

Ezra had said that. In fact, he’d provided all the ideas that had worked so far, Chris realised. He was going to need Ez if they were going to get Vin back the way they knew him, and probably need him soon. Just seemed that Vin was still too near the edge to expect him to cope with seeing both of them at once when he woke up. Even as deeply asleep as he was, he didn’t look peaceful.

Ezra noticed that when he and Banks finally arrived. They pulled up fairly close, and Jim had already recognised the characteristic note of Simon’s car. Both of them seemed determined not to let it show how badly they wanted to see for themselves that Vin and Blair were all right.

“Come on through,” Chris said, dumping what seemed enough equipment for a month’s camping in the front room of the store.

Ezra was uncharacteristically hesitant. “I am not certain…”

“I am. He won’t wake up. And quite apart from the fact that I know damn well you want to see him, I want you to get some idea of what we’re dealing with.”

He knew it would shake Ezra, just as he and Jim had been shaken. It wasn’t so much that Vin looked pale and gaunt, restless even though he was obviously exhausted. It was the fact that, still, he just didn’t look like Vin. Partly of course it was the ragged hair, and the clothes which were nothing like Vin would normally have chosen. But it went deeper than that. Vin normally slept lightly, but with a sort of trained alertness that went with a confidence in his abilities and a knowledge based on experience. This Vin, struggling to shake off the weariness dragging him down had something more like the wariness of a wild animal, an animal that expected everyone’s hand to be against it. They could see him force himself somewhere near awake, and curl slightly as if to protect himself, then be pulled down again into sleep.

“At least when I was a child there was seldom more than one specific person to fear,” Ezra muttered.

He was completely preoccupied with Vin, and for once obviously not thinking of the effect of his words. Chris was careful to say nothing, in fact give no indication he’d heard at all. He looked at Vin with Ezra’s words in mind, and could see the child of the streets, in danger if he slept too long or too deeply; he also saw that other child in much more apparently comfortable circumstances, afraid of his mother’s mark, or worse, her current partner. No wonder Vin and Ez seemed to understand each other.

“Maybe you should stay,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure how well I understand the way Vin’s feeling right now.”

“No,” Ezra said. “Now is not the time for empathy. Vin needs someone to rescue him from where he is, not understand it. You are the only person for whom he feels that degree of trust—and respect.”

“Vin trusts you.”

“As I do him. But nevertheless, he trusts you in a different way—enough to rely on your judgement rather than his own, or your word against what he thinks is the memory he holds. You are not just his best friend, but also a person whose authority he acknowledges. And you are going to need all those advantages and more…”

Chris nodded, aware of it. Ezra turned reluctantly away and Chris went with him. “I’ll call you,” he said quietly. “Whether its good news or not. And if I forgot to mention it before, it was a damn good thing you came up to Cascade.”

Perhaps it was because of Ezra’s earlier remark, or perhaps he was just getting to read the undercover man better, but he caught the momentary unguarded reaction in Ezra—the desire to simply take the words at their face value, overshadowed instantly by the fear of being conned—then Ezra was changing the subject hastily. “Perhaps you could make a point of calling at around 11.30. I was inveigled by Miss Duncan into promising to return at that time and let her know what had happened.”

He didn’t really sound too upset about it.

“You and Charlotte kissed and made up then.”

“That is a truly revolting image, and one that I imagine the lady in question would object to even more strongly. However, she did appear to appreciate some of my finer qualities by the end of the day. The church was actually refreshingly peaceful, and she insisted on treating me to excellent tea and cake.”

“No situation you can’t handle, eh?”

“I prefer to think so.”

On that upbeat note he went to rejoin Simon Banks who had taken a hasty look at Blair and was now ready to leave.

Chris watched them go, then turned at the touch of Jim’s hand on his arm.

“Let’s go and make the place look something like home.”

Blair was riding a rollercoaster, images of action coursing up and down his sleep. He saw a man dead in the street, someone’s hand resting on him and covered in blood; he saw men leaning from a window, guns pointing down at him, and he was dangling way above the ground; he was flung from a couch and hit the floor to skid on his face as fire and smoke erupted behind him; but all that was nothing to the plunging horror he felt at the face in front of him on this downward loop, a pale strange face mockingly adorned in a wig that was a parody of his own hair. “You can’t be me!” he shouted out.

“Shit,” Jim said.

Wasn’t there anything good Blair could have remembered? He’d picked up a little of what he was thinking of from odd mutterings, restless twists and turns, but for the last few minutes Blair had been writhing as if he was trying to break free of sleep, and now he knew why. Lash. Blair was dreaming of those hours spent as Lash’s prisoner. They’d haunted Jim’s sleep more than once this last couple of weeks; he probably should have expected them to be in Blair’s nightmares too.

“I’m going to wake him up,” he said. He didn’t think anything could be worse than what Blair was probably dreaming at the moment.

Chris Larabee moved out of the line of sight. They’d left Blair on the couch, covered with one of his own spreads, and shifted Vin to the floor, managing to ease him into his sleeping bag without properly waking him. Without discussing it, they’d both been aware of the need for Vin and Blair to be able to see each other safe if they awoke. Chris and Jim had taken it in turns to doze a little, but Blair had been talking and tossing about for some little while now.

Jim lifted Blair so he was sitting up, leaned against him. “It’s just a dream, Chief,” he said, trying to sound the way he would if they were home and everything was normal. “Lash is dead. It was all over a long time ago.”

Blair shuddered and half woke. “Oh man. I’ve got to get a dreamcatcher. That was a doozy. He was there as large as life saying he could be me, and I’m telling him no way, then suddenly I think, I can’t be me either, I don’t know anything about me any more. I don’t know when my birthday is. I don’t know…”

“How you broke your arm falling out of Mrs Danbush’s tree?” Jim said. Every word spoken to Lash that night was imprinted painfully on his memory.

“Yeah, that too,” Blair said, still more asleep than awake, and still shuddering so much the couch moved with it. “It was one hell of a dream. I couldn’t remember how old I was, and you were going to arrest Naomi and…”

He jolted abruptly upright and looked around the room, which was dimly lit from the bulb they’d left on in the front of the store. His heart rate rocketed and he started to breathe so fast he began to cough violently. He struggled to shake off Jim’s arm.

Jim let him go free. Maybe he should say something, start explaining, but Blair had his own ways of arriving at the truth, and even though he was on his feet now, wide eyed and horribly pale, there was that glimpse of bright intelligence in his eyes. Chris managed to be almost invisible, sitting head bowed, in the shadows near the door—strategically placed, Jim realised gratefully, to intercept anyone who made a bolt for the door.

Blair stared in silence at the room itself, the old desk and leather couch, and then at the discarded covers on the couch, and Vin’s sleeping bag. His hand went to his forehead as if it ached, but still Jim dared not move, and still he could see that Blair was thinking, with the trained analytical skill that always seemed at odds with his general manner.

Blair moved unsteadily, to the desk to pick up the book Simon had brought. Even Jim could only see it dimly, but it must have been so familiar to Blair he hardly needed sight. Blair ran his hand over it, then picked it up, tucking it under his arm.

And finally he turned and looked at Jim—properly.

“Jim,” he said, with something that was almost a smile. “Damn. I sound like Spock in that movie… You have got no idea what it does to my head to even get the name, though. I think two realities just collided and now they’re pulling me apart.”

Jim realised that he’d really missed the Sandburg zone; he didn’t worry about trying to make sense of this, but he welcomed it. Blair sounded something like his real self at last and he was looking at Jim directly, without any sign of horrified panic. He was still white and swaying and obviously confused, but somewhere the balance of power had shifted, and Joseph’s lies weren’t holding. Jim no longer worried about him bolting. He stood up and took Blair’s arm gently.

“How about you try to stay in my reality?”

“Hey, you’re there in both of them, man.” He leaned against Jim’s support. “And you’re definitely real. And you knew about Lash so that would kind of be evidence for the better option, but you’re here…” He paused for thought, resisting Jim’s slight effort to move him back towards the couch. “You’re here on the streets, right.” His voice sharpened a little. “You’re here because you set me up—you knew I’d fall for the sentinel line!”

Okay, so sometimes it might be better if he was a bit slower at thinking. “I knew you wouldn’t turn your back on someone you thought was in pain.”

“Nice try. I notice you weren’t acting a broken ankle.”

“I wanted to get close enough to talk to you, not be given directions to the clinic.” He shifted his arm a little so Blair was held comfortably, and to his relief, Blair accepted it. “I thought whatever else you’d forgotten, the sentinel stuff would still be there. Are you going to give me a chance to explain?”

“Someone needs to,” Blair said. His weight against Jim was becoming heavier by the moment, as if his brief energy was running out, and his headache was apparently getting worse. He was holding on to the old book as if its solidity reassured him. Jim tried again, unsuccessfully, to persuade him back towards the couch. Blair seemed determined to stand there until he had things settled in his own mind.

“I was afraid he would ask about sentinels,” Blair said suddenly, and shivered, as if he was remembering something. “But he asked about Denver. Jim, if you’re not hunting me down, and you’re not trying to arrest Naomi, why the hell would I believe it. And how do I know which parts are real and which aren’t. What happened?”

“Come and sit down, and I’ll tell you,” Jim said, pushing aside the urge to pick him up and carry him to the couch. “It’s a long story, and you don’t want to hear it standing here. It starts with you and Vin deciding it’s a good idea to go and look for a dangerous psychopath on your own and without telling anyone…”

He broke off. He hadn’t meant it to come out quite like that, nor with the days of frustration and worry too clear in his voice, but for some reason it seemed to convince Blair better than the sweet reasonableness he’d been trying to go for.

“Now you, my brother, are definitely real,” Blair murmured. “That’s the Jim I know. Not some idealised atavism at all…” He stopped resisting so suddenly that Jim was taken aback and nearly dropped him. Blair made a small noise of pain. “Whoa. I feel really weird. I think I’ve been programmed not to think…” To Jim’s alarm as he said it he collapsed completely.

“Blair?” He did pick him up now, hastily, and lifted him on to the couch, checking him over and talking reassuringly to him at the same time. “It’s all right. You’re cold and a bit shocky, but you’ll be okay.”

Blair’s hands were icy, and shaking so much he’d dropped his precious book; if it wasn’t shock it seemed something very like it. His eyes were open though, and he suddenly started to talk very rapidly. “Jim. Listen to me. We went to a place called Redlands. They were CIA. You know what you always say about them, and, man, were you right. They had this complete secret set up there and we just walked into it. Jim, Dr Josephs was working for them. I’ve got to tell you, what he is, what he did, in case I forget it again, and there’s no way he should ever be allowed…” He tried to draw breath, and it made him start gulping for air.

“It’s okay,” Jim said hastily, lifting him up against him again and rubbing his back until he started to breathe more easily. “We know all about Josephs and the CIA. They won’t be using Redlands any more. Calm down a minute and… oh, thanks.”

He’d half forgotten Chris Larabee, and hadn’t noticed when he left the room, but he came back now with a hot mug of coffee which he offered to Blair. Jim intercepted it and steadied it while Blair drank. It rattled against his teeth. “Sorry,” he managed to Chris between mouthfuls. “My mind’s in total meltdown. I don’t remember you.”

“You never met him,” Jim said, almost surprised as he remembered that. He’d grown so used to Chris over the past weeks that it seemed odd Blair didn’t know him. “This is Chris Larabee. He’s Vin’s boss. We’ve been looking for the two of you since you disappeared that Saturday night. Now how about letting me do the talking for a while, and you can have your say later.”

“Like that isn’t the way in all realities?” Blair murmured into his cup, apparently restored a little by the hot drink. “Okay man; it makes my head split when I try. This is more comfortable.”

Jim was monitoring him with all his senses, and it did seem that brief total collapse had been a reaction to his finally accepting who Jim was. It had evidently triggered a flood of memories, and he had been overwhelmed. He was still slightly shaky, but he seemed to be recovering fast. Jim leaned back so Blair was sprawled easily against him. He noticed Blair had retrieved his book and was holding it like a talisman. “I’m going to tell you what happened,” he said. “Just listen to it from our point of view for now. You can fill in your part later.”

He glanced across at Vin, still motionless in his sleeping bag, and wondered if he should be keeping it down a bit. They must be in imminent danger of waking him up. Chris, seeing the line of his gaze, made a slight gesture he didn’t understand, but then he tuned into Vin’s heart and breathing and knew he was awake. He wasn’t sure how Chris, without the benefit of sentinel abilities, had been so certain.

“When did you realise they were missing?” Chris asked quietly. “Saturday night?”

It was a clear enough prompt to get on with the story. Chris moved to sit down next to the sleeping bag—still between Vin and the door, Jim noticed.

“I thought at first you’d taken Vin to see Cascade’s night life,” he said to Blair. “Well. I tried to think that. I couldn’t help remembering that all the previous week you’d been doing a good impression of what Caro was like with PMT, but I assumed you’d have told me if you were thinking of doing something dangerous involving a man you knew was a psychopath…”

“Yadda, yadda,” Blair muttered, settling himself comfortably against Jim’s warmth. “We had that bit earlier, man. We weren’t to know he was in with the CIA. So when you decided we weren’t blowing our minds at Club Doom?”

“Well, I tried a few of the obvious things, then I put an APB out on your car…”

Vin lay still, not intending to give away the fact he was awake. The pretence had served him well a few days ago. He feigned sleep now, partly to give himself the advantage if he needed it, and partly because he no longer felt he knew what was going on and he preferred his reactions to it all to stay hidden. He wasn’t sure what had woken him—a shout, a thud? He’d not known where he was for a moment, and in that time he’d heard someone talking, quietly, and then Blair answering as if he was talking to a friend. He’d opened his eyes to the back room of the store, and realised he didn’t know how he got there. If Blair had sounded afraid, or the person speaking to him had sounded less concerned, he might have moved then, but there seemed no immediate threat, and he needed time to think.

Eyes closed again, carefully not moving, he struggled to understand. There were things he remembered from this evening: the trap, baited with a lure Blair couldn’t resist, and his own determination not to allow it to be sprung. He remembered the relentless downpour, and feeling chilled and sick. That at least made sense. But the rest… When he’d first been on the streets, he used to make up that sort of story. Friends. A place where he was respected. Someone who cared enough what happened to him to go as many miles as it took. Family.

Had he trapped himself with that old longing? He couldn’t recapture the quiet voice that had spoken to him, or the sense of home that had driven him to surrender. And yet, he wasn’t locked up. His fingers rubbed against the material of the sleeping bag. He was warm. Didn’t feel great, but he was warm and dry.

Blair was talking, but not making a lot of sense. He knew the voice answering him, but it wasn’t the one he was listening for. That one didn’t come. He listened instead to what Blair was saying, and began to feel afraid. Blair believed whatever line the man had spun him. He was talking to him, calling him Jim, so he had to know now—yes he was saying it had been a set up, but the man had an answer, and chillingly, Vin even found himself wanting to believe it.

He wanted to look, but he still didn’t want to show that he was awake. He could hear Blair make a sound as if his head hurt, and then that low reassurance that didn’t sound faked. Was it all just a complicated ploy to get them to talk, a different sort of interrogation, all the worse for playing on their weaknesses? There was noise of a slightly different sort and the smell of coffee, faint but tantalising, and then he was digging his nails into the palms of his hands to keep himself from making any other movement, because he heard the name Chris Larabee, and the unlikely assertion ‘Vin’s boss,’ and suddenly images started flooding into his mind. He felt cold and more afraid than he had felt for a long time. It mattered to him too much wanting this to be true—he saw the fair haired, black clad man, leaned against black steel, then with others in an office, in a bar, laughing at a barbecue, watching his back… There were too many pictures and too fast, and although he finally heard now a few words in the voice he’d been waiting for, it wasn’t enough to anchor him against the whirlwind in his mind.

For a minute longer he held onto some sort of control, and then he lost it.

Scene after scene battered at his memory. He forgot about faking sleep and tried to roll up to stop the fierce pain in his head. He was being torn apart, his thoughts dissolving before this random disconnected assault. Faces filled his vision though his eyes were pressed shut and now his fists were grinding into them. There was nothing fixed to keep him from losing himself completely, nothing to show what was true and what wasn’t, nothing to grasp onto at all.

He couldn’t hold himself against the chaos, but suddenly he was held.

Someone gripped his shoulders, lifted him from the sweaty tangle of the sleeping bag, spoke to him with a rough gentleness that bypassed all suspicion and sent him back to where he’d briefly been safe earlier that evening. His hands were eased away from his eyes, and he let his face press into a hard shoulder instead. Arms closed round him, rock solid to steady him against whatever came. He held on to this refuge, and the whirling images in his mind stilled and focussed.

Chris Larabee. The name seemed to have unlocked all the closed doors of his mind at once. He saw him, holding out his hand and in his thoughts he gripped it, arm to arm; he saw him riding, and remembered his dream of the night before. The name, the man, was as familiar to him as he was to himself. He knew what he’d see when he looked at him, and that there was no hiding from the scrutiny he would get in return. And then, spoiling the security he’d found, he remembered, the eyes he’d fled from the day before, so that they couldn’t see the shame at the core of him. That had been Chris Larabee too. He flinched from the images of friendship now. It couldn’t have happened, not if Larabee had known the truth about him. If it had happened, if what he was seeing was real, it had to be that he’d hidden what he’d done. Or lied.

“You don’t know,” he said, realising, and with the realisation struggling to get free. “You don’t know about me. Shit. You haven’t got any idea what I done.”

“I know you haven’t done anything wrong,” Chris said, holding him with a grip he had no chance of breaking right now. “Vin, stop it and listen to me. You’ve done nothing. I don’t know what lies that bastard Josephs has got into your head, but they are lies. Ow. Dammit, Vin…”

Vin found a second pair of hands preventing him from using his knee again, and he stopped fighting.

“The fire!” he heard Blair say, and he knew it was all over. If there was one thing in this world Chris couldn’t forgive, it would be a fire taking the lives of innocents. “Jim, I’d forgotten the fire. No, not forgotten. I thought maybe it wasn’t real after all, if this is all real… but I do remember it, even now, I remember the building on fire…”

“Hold on a minute.” That was Jim. “There hasn’t been any fire.”

“A long time ago,” Blair said slowly, sounding confused. “I mean, it must have been a long time ago, because it was in Denver… I don’t think I’ve been back to Denver…”

What did it matter when it was? What mattered was what had happened. He couldn’t face this coming out slowly, piece by wrenchingly painful piece. He tried to push himself upright. “We set a fire,” he said to Chris, meeting his eyes, though it came hard. “We wanted to bring folks on the scene, get Josephs—Levine he was then—put away. But it went wrong and…”

“It didn’t go wrong,” Chris interrupted, with a certainty that shook him. “Vin, I know what you’re talking about, but that was fifteen years ago, and it went exactly right. What did Josephs make you think?”

“Fifteen years?” Vin said, disbelieving. “How’d you know about what I was doing fifteen years ago, anyway?”

“I was reading the newspaper accounts of it a few days ago,” Chris said. “Josiah found them, when we were trying to work out where the hell you’d gone, and we’d got the fifteen years thing from some of the people we questioned. Whole story was in the Denver papers. The reporters didn’t know who’d set the fire, but the rest of it was clear enough. Emergency services arrived, some kid sent them down to the basement, they found the children Josephs had been using for his sick experiments, and they took them away, safe.”

The words hammered down, black and white, nailed to reality by the knowledge that Chris didn’t lie, not to him, not about something like this.

But he’d seen the fire. He could almost taste the smoke. He could even see the shell of the burnt out building. “It did burn down,” he said.

“Not that night,” Chris said. “It was later. Looks like the CIA used it as a way to explain Josephs’—Levine’s—disappearance. Vin, the fire you set did no more than send a bit of smoke up through the roof. Anyone in the basement was long gone when the building actually burned.”

“They were safe?” Vin said blankly, the huge weight beginning to slip from his shoulders.

“Vin, you know they were safe. Nate told me you were asking him before this mess started, when Mandy Roblin brought her baby in, if a baby that had been badly treated would get over it in a good home.”

The detail caught and held in the chaos of Vin’s memory. Yeah. He could hear himself asking it. He’d wondered sometimes what happened to the kids who’d been rescued… He did know they were safe… As the belief in it sharpened, the world shifted. It changed its form, settled, then fell into place different; and he tumbled with it, not caring that he fell, because he knew Chris would catch him.

Chris did. For a little while the world shrank to that; encircling arms, and everything beyond them chaos and darkness, then very slowly reality crept back. He was half-smothered against Chris, and his face seemed to be wet. The headache and the dizziness were gone. He could hear Chris and Jim Ellison and Blair talking quietly, and though at first it was too much trouble to listen, gradually he started to take it in, and his own memories took shape, coherent.

He knew who he was again.

Vin Tanner. ATF. Part of a team. A man who could do his job, and was respected for doing it. Someone who had friends t’ watch out for him. The things he’d longed for as a kid on the streets hadn’t been out of reach after all. Even the bad-tempered horse he’d dreamed of…

“Peso,” he said, stirring. “That’s my horse, isn’t it?”

“No one else’d want him,” Chris said. “Might’ve known you’d remember that damn horse, whatever else you forgot.”

“You dreamed about riding him,” Blair said, remembering. “Along with some cowboy…”

Vin, grinning silently, waited for it.

“Do I want to know who you were calling a cowboy?” Chris asked.

“If the hat fits… or th’ boots come t’ that.”

He knew there’s be just the hint of a smile twisting one side of Chris’s mouth. He could see it as clear as if he’d bothered to lift his head up and look at him. He let the faces of the rest of the team drift through his mind: JD eager, wanting to know what it had been like; Buck giving him a hug that warmed him clear through; Ezra, maybe the only one who would fully understand; Nate concerned for his health, and ‘Siah for what it had done to his spirit. Only Josiah’d be able to find words that fitted what he felt like now, to have a life like this, not the one he’d seemed to be trapped in.

He shifted slightly, since his face was dry now, and Chris’s shirt was damp. Chris’s arms tightened just a bit. He realised something he’d never properly understood ’til tonight. It really didn’t matter to Chris what he was. He didn’t have to prove anything to him, be anything to earn his friendship. Okay, he’d known it, sort of, but with his mind. Now he could feel it. Chris held him the same whether he was the kid on the streets or the sharpshooter—like it was just all him. He’d always been wanting to live down, shut away, that part of his past and just be what he’d become, and he didn’t feel that way any more. Maybe for all his hate, Josephs had done him a kind of favour there.

He yawned.

“Still plenty of night left,” Chris said.

He knew when he woke he’d be completely the trained, adult, ATF agent. Just for now though, he let the warmth surrounding him be partly for that boy on Denver’s streets who’d come so vividly back into his life.

“Wish I’d known you then,” Chris muttered, their thoughts connecting like they did ‘times.

“Wish y’ had,” Vin agreed. “Feels like y’ did, now.”

At peace with himself, he slept.

Edgar Benedek picked up the papers he needed, ready to set off for the airport. It was a disgustingly early hour, but it meant he should be in Cascade by noon. He wanted this trip away from respectable academia. It was years since he’d last enjoyed that hunger for a great story. He liked his academic work—even if he amused himself slightly—but the thought of a belated guest appearance for the National Register was irresistible. He’d contacted them after little Ezzy’s phone call and Jordy Kerner, still editor in defiance of blood pressure, law suits and the vagaries of changing fashions in the tabloid world, had been equally enthusiastic.

“You’re a life saver, Benny. Sales have been sliding from disappointing to bloody pathetic. Some of the lads I get now would make the Marie Celeste sound like a shipping report. A guest appearance by Edgar Benedek should boost the circulation even if the story isn’t all you’re hoping.”

“It’s looking promising. I’ve got a lot of inside information that makes it almost a certainty that old story of Levine needs reopening. I told you back then there was something very fake about the neat way he was pronounced dead.”

“You told me a lot of things over the years, Benny. I still haven’t forgotten the one about the ghost of the Duke of Wellington coming to fight the War of Independence properly and take back the colonies.”

“Okay, okay. But ghosts are unpredictable. This story’s got everything—human wickedness, connived at in the highest areas of national security, threatening the children on our streets. What more could a tabloid editor want?”

“A touch of the supernatural? Be creative—your loyal readers, assuming there are still some out there, won’t be happy without it.”

“You’re a bloodsucker,” Benedek said. “I’ll get back to you from Cascade.”

“I’ll keep you the front page and a few inside ones as well.”

Smiling, Edgar Benedek added a rather tasteful orange and blue tie to his ensemble, ignoring the fact that the orange in his Armani jacket was a distinctly different shade, and set off for Cascade.

Ezra had left his cell phone next to the bed. It rang at around 6.30, and perhaps for the first time in his life he welcomed being wakened by the sound.


“I am not quite sure who else you might expect to answer my phone at this hour. Are our friends… somewhat restored?”

“I’d say well on the way to okay. You want to come back and bring some breakfast?”

Ezra found that he had somehow got up and headed for the shower, even while he was talking. “Certainly. Doughnuts? Bagels? Perhaps croissants?”

“Anything with sugar on I should think. No. Wait a minute. Ellison says that’ll do for him, but Sandburg likes healthy.”

“I will be with you shortly.”

The girl who served him seemed slightly surprised at the quantity of food he was purchasing. “You must have a lot of people in your office,” she said chattily. “Or are you celebrating a birthday?”

“Something like that,” Ezra murmured. He felt reasonably celebratory at least. The outlet he had found was a pleasant one, too. In addition to a variety of doughnuts and pastries, he had been able to purchase croissants worthy of a French patisserie, and some organic wholemeal bagels and muffins healthily speckled with fruits and seeds. Much closer to his destination he stopped to add fresh coffee to the provender.

A small girl, evidently an early riser, was watched him intently from some neighbouring steps as he approached the store, but otherwise the street was very quiet. In spite of Chris’s words, he still felt oddly apprehensive. Maude had been proved right of course, Vin was a survivor, but last night survival had looked like a painful process.

Physically, Vin didn’t look all that much better this morning, still too pale and with deep bruising shadows under the eyes, but nevertheless, Ezra’s heart lightened absurdly at the sight of him. However weary he looked, this was, at last, unmistakably Vin. Ezra handed him the strongest, well-sugared coffee and the box of doughnuts. “Breakfast is served,” he said.

“Smells beautiful,” Vin said, trying to drink his coffee and at the same time fend off Jim and Chris from the doughnuts. “Here. Wait y’ turn. These look good, Ez. What’s th’ dog chew for?”

Ezra couldn’t stop a completely unsophisticated grin breaking out. “That, I assure you, is an extremely healthy organic, wholemeal, sesame seed bagel,” he said solemnly, offering it to Sandburg, who actually seemed to welcome it.

He had not often eaten croissants while sitting on the floor surrounded by people who evidently hadn’t seen washing facilities recently, but he could hardly remember enjoying a breakfast more. The table—or perhaps floor—manners were about on a par with the hygiene, but it was impossible to object to people speaking with their mouths full of sugar as he wanted to hear what they had to say. His own news was less informative. No sighting of Josephs; no hint of cooperation from Miller beyond his most limited legal duty.

“I rang Simon after Chris had called you,” Ellison said. “He hadn’t got back into the PD then, but he said he’d call if anything had turned up later last night, so it doesn’t look as if it did. They do think Josephs is still in Cascade though.”

“He’ll won’t leave,” Vin said. “Got that sort of ego that can’t take anyone putting one over on him. Hell, he’d kept his hate for us fifteen years. More’n that, he wanted to send us back. That was th’ point of a lot of what he did to us—make us as close as he could to those kids he hadn’t beaten, so he could wipe out th’ fact he lost. And now he’s lost again, ‘less he finds us. He won’t leave Cascade.”

“Which means that the way Vin and I thought of is the best way to catch him,” Blair said.


Ezra didn’t know what Vin and Blair had had in mind, but that was a formidably definite negative from Jim and Chris simultaneously.

“It’s a non starter,” Jim went on firmly. “You can’t just wander the streets and try to lure him out. What sort of plan is that?”

“Hey, come on man, give us credit for a bit more subtlety than that. We just had some details to work out.”

“If we want him, on our terms, it’s the only way,” Vin said. “Even if the PD get lucky, Miller would know about any operation before it got properly started. Our way, the CIA needn’t know what was happening. We get the information out to Josephs somehow that we’ll be a certain place, at a certain time, he’ll bite.”

“There do seem to be quite a number of details remaining in need of working out,” Ezra said doubtfully, understanding that negative response from Jim and Chris now. “In the first place, feeding misinformation is not so simple, especially when…”

He broke off, startled, as a sharp, though juvenile, feminine voice spoke disapprovingly from behind him. “You’re making an awful mess. You better clear up good.”

It was the little girl from the steps. No one else seemed particularly surprised at her arrival, he noticed, or at her frown of disapprobation.

“What’d I tell you about stayin’ away from strangers,” Vin said reprovingly.

“You’re not allowed to tell me what to do,” she retorted. “Mr Peters is my friend. I come in his store. And you’re my friend aren’t you?” She sidled up to Chris and smiled at him sweetly. “You got my baby back from Davey.”

“Does your mom know you’re here, sweetheart?” Chris asked. “She might be worried.”

She evaded the question neatly. “You’re not a bum, are you, you’re just ‘tending. I knew yesterday you was really someone ‘portant, ‘cos I saw your phone. Are you a undercover cop?”

“Something like that,” Chris said, weakening in the face of this blatant flattery.

“On the TV the cops have doughnuts for breakfast.” She sat down firmly next to Chris and made a rude face at Vin. “I thought you might ‘rrest him,” she said to Chris. “Me ‘n Davey watched you out our bedroom window last night. It was boring. You just stood there. Davey went to bed, but I didn’t. I thought you might have a fight, but you gave him a cuddle in the end.”

It always interested Ezra to hear these things that no one else informed him of. He handed the little girl the croissant box in the hope she’d keep talking.

She took one. “Did you run away from home?” she asked Vin. “That’s a really silly thing to do.”

“He’s coming home now,” Chris said.

“Does he live with you? He’s lucky. You going to have a party when he’s home?”

“That’s a really good idea,” Chris said, apparently charmed. Ezra had never noticed this lamentable susceptibility to unscrupulous females before.

“I know,” she said, through a mouthful. “I heard a story. About a prog… prod… a boy who had to eat the pigs’ dinner. They had a party when he went home. His brother was really mad.”

“The prodigal son?” Blair said. “That’s an interesting story because…”

“Miss Duncan told it us,” she said, cutting off this attempt to enter the conversation. “They had a really big party even though he was a bad boy—like you,” she added to Vin.

“You know Miss Duncan?” Chris asked.

She favoured him with her sweet smile again. “Everybody knows Miss Duncan. She runs Sunday School. She runs lots of things. People do what she says,” she added wistfully. Ezra could see this was one of her ambitions in life. “I want…”

“Jodie! Jodie? Come home right now! Jodie! Where have you gone? Come back now!”

She looked up at this shrill and angry summons from somewhere out in the street, but didn’t hurry herself as the voice went on calling. Finishing her croissant, she put her hand on Chris’s arm, with a pleading look so nicely calculated Ezra felt a reluctant respect. “Will you come with me? Mom won’t be mean if you come and tell her I been helping you.”

Chris uncoiled to his feet, and let her slip her hand in his. Ezra shook his head sadly as they went. “How fortunate we are not often faced with the juvenile criminal element. I would never have suspected Chris of being so easily manipulated.”

“Seems a nice enough little girl,” Jim said, finishing off the last doughnut.

Blair met Ezra’s eyes and made a resigned face. “Very perceptive, Jim. And I suppose Miss Duncan is a sweet old lady?”

Vin was paying no attention to any of them. “Everybody knows Miss Duncan,” he repeated aloud. “That’s what we need. That’s how we could set up a way to draw Josephs out. We can use the local people, homeless too, she’ll know who can be trusted or who ought t’ be the channel for what Ez calls misinformation. We’d hardly need the PD if we did it right, just those on Ellison’s team. Anyone got her number? Or we c’n walk along to the office. I reckon Miss Duncan will help us out.

Miller and Haines were having no more success than the Cascade PD in tracing Josephs. They were even beginning to consider seriously a suggestion >from Henshaw, who had not yet been released from Cascade General.

“Mind you, I’m not sure how reliable Henshaw is at the moment,” Miller said. “His record is excellent of course, but I wonder if he’s becoming slightly obsessive about Larabee and Ellison. There seems to have been no foundation at all in his claims that they have some kind of infallible lie detector, and we have found a plausible chain of circumstances that explains their arrival at Redlands. They picked up Whiting with a straightforward undercover job.”

“It’s pretty certain it was Larabee and Ellison who found the warehouse,” Haines said slowly. “I’ve managed to talk to one or two people in the PD who Ellison’s rubbed up the wrong way, and although Banks implied to us it was routine which had thrown it up, they say it was Ellison and the ATF agents.”

Miller nodded. “I’ve had a look at their records. Their success rate is very high. All the same, it’s a very long shot to take our men off what they’re doing and set them to watching Larabee and Ellison instead.”

“If we don’t, and they get to Josephs first, we could find we’ve got real problems. They’re not known for being cooperative. I don’t know how they set up that bust at Redlands, and there’s been nothing we could get them on, but it seems clear they were behind our men spending the night in the lock up. They’d not be easy to pressurise, either—no family, too many friends who could make trouble for us in turn.”

“I know. I agree we must get Josephs—one way or another—before they do, it’s just a question of how we use our resources. How easy would it be to put a couple of men on them?”

“Not easy at all. They seem to have disappeared, although Banks is obviously in touch with them. No one in Major Crimes is talking to us, it’s been other departments who’ve been helpful. I did put a man to watch the loft this morning, but they haven’t been back there.”

“What about Standish?”

“That’s another slightly worrying thing. He left his hotel not long after six this morning, according to reception, and hasn’t been back. From his file, that’s well out of character. I’m beginning to wonder if they’re already on to something we don’t know about.”

Miller made a decision. “All right. Leave a man watching the loft, put another one on the hotel—someone good, I believe Standish is slippery. You work on the PD connection. From what I saw of Ellison there must be more than one or two people he’s upset. Our men on the streets can keep their eyes open for Larabee, Ellison and Standish, and step up their hunt for Tanner and Sandburg—from what we’ve got out of Whiting, Josephs was barely sane on the subject of those two. And for good measure, see what you can do about the Denver end. Larabee may be keeping his team informed.”

He paused as someone knocked urgently at the door, and looked blankly at the piece of paper he was handed. “What is this? Why do I need to know an Edgar Benedek has been to see Henshaw?”

“Mr Henshaw was very disturbed, sir. He wanted you to be informed that Mr Benedek was a reporter for the National Register some years ago. He said you would understand.”

“Benedek…” Haines said as the door closed. “Wasn’t he the ghost man—you know the sort of headlines in the Register—Poltergeist Peeping Tom; Genghis Khan’s Ghost Ate My Hamster. Supernatural tosh. Why would he worry Henshaw?”

“Why would he be interviewing Henshaw?” Miller pointed out. “And the reference to some years ago…”

He’d picked up his phone while he was speaking, to call Henshaw’s private room. “Nigel? What’s all this about Benedek?”

Haines watched him become first concerned, then grim as he listened.

“What is it?” he asked when Miller had finished the call.

“Edgar Benedek covered the Denver case for the Register fifteen years ago. He told Henshaw he’d been called in by that old fox Kerner because some truck driver called the Register: said he’d picked up a couple of kids the other day, barefoot, acting weird, who told him they’d run away from a man who had been Denver’s Dr Death. Says it was pure chance he found Henshaw—he’d gone to Cascade General to find out if the kids had ended up there, noticed his name on some post and followed his damned tabloid nose ’til he found him. He knew Henshaw unfortunately; Henshaw was one of the people who dealt with identifying Levine’s supposed body.”

Haines frowned. “It does sound plausible.”

“Of course it sounds plausible. It’ll all be a pack of lies, but it’s well worked out. Someone’s tipped him off, but if there’s one thing the National Register is good at when it covers a ‘real’ story, it’s protecting its sources.”

“But he doesn’t actually know anything. Not something he could print.”

“Not yet. But Henshaw says he’s cleverer than he looks, and persistent. He thought it was a set up fifteen years ago, and now Henshaw suspects he’s out to prove it. We need to find Josephs fast, and we need to make it very clear what will happen to the careers of anyone in the PD or ATF who talks to Benedek.”

“But what about Tanner and Sandburg. From what we’ve got out of Whiting, they could be so confused they’d talk to anyone.”

“Make it a priority to see that they don’t talk either,” Miller said flatly. “This country can’t survive if confidence in its security forces is undermined, and you can imagine the effect of the headlines Kerner would like on his front page. If Tanner and Sandburg can be brought in safely, fine, but our men are authorised to use what force they need if there’s any imminent danger of this story getting out. The same goes for Josephs. His usefulness is doubtful now anyway.”

“And Benedek?”

“He can’t make a story out of nothing. Put a man on him, see he doesn’t talk to anyone who knows anything. It’s no good putting pressure on Kerner, the next thing we know even the respectable papers would be screaming that we don’t want a free press. We don’t of course; I have dreams of working in one of those countries where people like Kerner could be removed in the early hours by men with dogs, but we have to live with it. They say years ago someone put a hit out on Kerner you know.”

“Not a very successful one.”

“They bought the hitman’s life story. Lots of sob stuff about his parents’ cruelty and the sexy babysitter who set his feet on the downward path. I gather it funded the damages they had to pay in their next law suit.”

Haines sighed. “Democracy is very limiting sometimes. So—we’re officially okay whatever action we take over Josephs. What about the rest?”

“We’d have to come out of it clean.”


Blair was a consensus person. He liked to believe that you could get to a point where all sides believed their opinions had been heard and ‘yes’ could be achieved amicably. He had been trying for what felt like far too long to show his present recalcitrant group that this would not work if two people just said ‘no’ and kept on saying it with a flat refusal to compromise and the third didn’t appear to notice that they’d spoken.

Actually Jim and Chris had varied ‘no’ a little. They’d added ‘too risky,’ ‘no way,’ ‘you’re not doing it,’ and ‘that’s an order Tanner’.

Vin had ignored all of these and continued to elaborate how his plan would work. Ezra, who had been Blair’s best hope for getting to ‘yes’ had answered a call on his cell phone about five minutes into the argument and disappeared into the front room to talk at length in peace. Blair felt beleaguered. Bush warriors had a better idea of compromise than these three.

“Look, Vin,” Larabee said, with every indication of having lost what little patience he possessed. “I’ll have you in handcuffs and…”

He broke off as Ezra returned, raising his eyebrows pointedly at this last remark.

“Far be it from me to question what you do in your private life Mr Larabee, but I thought this discussion was about the way we would ensnare the malevolent Dr Josephs.”

“Right,” said Vin, apparently sensing support. “And my way is the only plan on the table.”

“Your way is a damn, stupid, reckless, unacceptable…”

“Whoa,” Blair said, waving a hand to stop Larabee descending into abuse—not that either Vin or Ezra seemed to take it as more than mild dissent. “Now come on guys. Jim, I’m sure there are elements of this plan you can work with.”


It was the last straw. Blair bounced to his feet. “Damn it, Jim, will you just listen to yourself! No. No. No. It’s like the playground. In fact it’s worse than the playground. Have you got no idea how to listen to anyone else’s opinion at all? I’ve met toddlers with more ability to cooperate!”

At least he got their attention. He realised it might be an idea to stop jumping and waving his arms around now they were listening, especially as everyone but Ezra looked surprised—and everyone including Ezra seemed to be amused.

“Cool it, Chief,” Jim said, as if he was the reasonable one. “We’re just discussing all sides of this.”

“No good going into it without thinking things through,” Chris agreed.

“They haven’t heard it all yet,” Vin added. “Chris is coming round to the idea.”

Luckily this outrageous version of the ‘discussion’ they had been failing to have left Blair speechless for long enough for Ezra to step in.

“I may have missed vital elements of this,” he said smoothly, “but do I gather your key objection is your fear of Vin and Blair—the bait for Josephs, so to speak—being snapped up in some way before the forces of law and order have an opportunity to react?”



“Might be a few details to work out.”

Blair flopped down on the couch and thought how attractive living among the Kalahari seemed.

“In that case. I have a suggestion to make,” Ezra said. “I think it would be plausible—even to Josephs—that if Vin and Blair should choose to give themselves up, it might well be to the two of you. In fact, it appears that Josephs devoted some portion of his ‘treatment’ to attempting to block any such scenario. The rest of Vin’s plan seems to me admirable…” He bowed politely to Vin who smirked and waved a hand graciously. “If we add this to it, there will be no moment when he and Blair need be unprotected. I am sure Miss Duncan can mobilise an adequate number of reliable people—or at least people whom she terrifies enough to ensure reliability in this instance. We will use them to disseminate the rumour that you, Chris, and Detective Ellison will be at a particular place at a particular time, because some young homeless people on the run have made contact with the desire to give themselves up. After yesterday morning’s incident, your presence in the area will have become a matter of local interest anyway. Miss Duncan mentioned to me over tea that you had an enthralled audience while you pounded those three ruffians into the pavement. I am sure the relief of discovering that you are about to arrest two strangers and leave the local ‘bad element’ in peace will ensure a rapid spread of the news along the grapevine.”

He paused, perhaps for breath or maybe to gauge their reaction.

“Great,” Blair said hopefully. “Suits me all right.”

“Works for me,” Vin agreed. “Other way would’ve worked, but since Chris has gone all big brother on us…”

“We’ll have to work out how we set up the fake meeting, but it shouldn’t be a problem,” Jim said. “So long as we do it so Vin and Blair aren’t on their own at all.”


Larabee thought about it. “Plan’s okay, but if these two are going to be involved in any kind of action tonight—we are talking about tonight?—then they’d better spend the rest of the day getting some rest.”

“We’re okay,” Blair said hastily.

“Fine,” Vin agreed.

Ezra leaned over and murmured something to Chris Larabee that made them both smile. Vin looked at them suspiciously, but Ezra just said, “In that case I suggest we proceed to the mission on foot, which will be less conspicuous. Miss Duncan will be expecting us, and I have another acquaintance who needs to know where to find me.”

“What about the car?” Blair asked as they left. “Are you going to leave it here? Its not exactly the sort of neighbourhood where you can rely on coming back and finding it untouched.”

Ezra thought about it, and smiled. “Jodie!” he called.

She appeared looking cross. “Didn’t tell you my name.”

Ezra ignored this. “I would like to make a business arrangement with you,” he said briskly. “I will contribute generously to your candy fund, if I come back and find this vehicle in pristine condition.”

She scowled. “You ought to talk proper. You don’t want the boys messing with your car?”

“Exactly. I will pay you according to its condition.”

She looked at him with suspicion. “My grandda says don’t trust fancy men.”

Ezra dealt with this with aplomb. “Ah but your friend here will assure you of my honesty,” he said, gesturing at Chris Larabee.

“You’ll beat him up if he don’t pay?” she said to Chris.

“I’ll fillet him and hang him out to dry as a warning.”

She smiled happily, and ran down the steps to hug him round the waist. “I love you,” she said fervently. “I wish you’d come and live in Mr Peters shop for ever. Where are you going now?”

“To see Miss Duncan.”

“Should’ve washed your hands and faces then.”

With that word of warning she ran back up the steps to sit where she could see the car. Blair looked at his hands doubtfully. The small sink had only been adequate to get the sugar off; the grime remained. He caught Jim grinning. “All right for you, man,” he said defensively. “She didn’t take to me.”

He rubbed them surreptitiously down his jeans all the way to the mission.

Dr Josephs was not happy with the man known only to him as Marcos, who was currently negotiating for part of his stock of methylamphetamine. “I told you before. The money is secondary. What I want is information. You know these streets. How hard can it be to find two confused young men.”

“You did not warn us the couple of Rambo’s would be looking for them as well,” Marcos said. “Yesterday three men were arrested, Happily they were not my men, but they could have been. Those were not ordinary police. They were dangerous. People say if they had not had witnesses there, maybe they’d have killed them, not arrested them. No one will go near the mission now to look for your men.”

Josephs had already heard this from him twice. “They should have been more careful,” he said. “Those two officers can’t be everywhere at once. Find the young men when they are on their own. They will not want to go near Larabee and Ellison any more than your men do. Bring them to me, or if you are afraid to do that, just bring me the information where I can find them myself.”

“When can I take the drugs? You will not get a better price.”

“When you bring me some news.”

He watched Marcos leave. It infuriated him he could not be out there himself, no doubt doing a much better job of looking for Tanner and Sandburg, but too many people were looking for him to make it worth the risk. At night, or when he had a definite lead, that would be the time to take the chance of going outside. More worrying was the remarkable persistence—and success rate—of Larabee and Ellison. If he had underestimated the closeness of their ties to the younger men, would his conditioning hold? The fading voice of sanity suggested it might be as well to cut his losses and get out of Cascade, but his hatred of Tanner and Sandburg had was far too strong for him to hear it.

Vin sat in the rather dim and dusty cool of St James’ church hall and refused to give in to the weariness that was like an ache in his bones. They had been met on the way to the mission by Ed, who had brought them here instead, and since then he had sat slumped in an old chair, trying to straighten up and look fine if Chris came his way. It was a strange, slow morning, as different people dropped in once they had received the message that Miss Duncan would like a word with them. Some she gave the briefest of instructions to, others a much more detailed indication of how they could help; a few got the whole story, coming over to talk to him or Blair. They ranged from the homeless to store owners, labourers to clergy. It made him feel better, like a whole community was on his side.

Ezra came from the doorway and dropped elegantly into the chair next to him.

“Y’ friend coming?”

“He should be here shortly. He had to pursue a somewhat roundabout route in order to lose a persistent watcher.”


“Almost certainly. However, he is quite reliable. He will not arrive here unless he is quite sure he is not bringing any unwelcome follower.”

“Who is he? Ex-FBI?”

“Not at all. Ex-close acquaintance of my dear mother. They knew one another intermittently throughout my childhood, but when I was about fifteen he resided with us for some months.”

Vin looked him over, read the body language more easily than he ever read print, and knew Ez was looking forward to seeing the man. “Good t’ you, was he?”

“Yes.” The monosyllable was so utterly uncharacteristic, that Vin waited silently for an explanation. Ezra looked at his hands. “I am sure I had a far less arduous or painful adolescence than many young people, but nevertheless, there were times when life did not seem… particularly endurable. The man who had been my mother’s partner previously, was a bully and a brute. Not of course, to Maude. Even with me, he kept within what was perhaps acceptable to a certain social grouping—certain types of chastisement, threats of military school, a relentless removal of anything which gave me pleasure. There was nothing so overt that Maude felt it should stand between us and profit. Then Benny came along after a gap of several years.”

“He sort Maude out?”

“I am sure neither of them would use that expression, but yes. Our current con was terminated, with a minor loss of revenue, and Benny, temporarily, moved in. I entertained hopes at that age that Maude would see his excellent potential as a matrimonial partner.”

“He was rich?”

“Well, no, which of course was a major disqualification. He was, however, exactly what I needed at the time. He put the same level of subtlety into his kindness to me as many people would put into subterfuge, and consequently, even at that age, I found it acceptable. And he helped me to distance the previous experience, even to laugh at it. We had a sort of regular joke between us: he would adopt that exact tone, ‘come here boy, the belt will improve your manners’ and knowing that I was entirely safe with him, I began to see how limited the other man had been, and how in future perhaps a character like that could be manipulated.”

“Sounds a good man.”

“I’m sure a lot of people would take exception to the description, but yes, I think that is exactly what he is.”

He stood up to look out again, and Vin stretched and followed in time to see him greet a man who clasped Ezra’s arms briefly, looked him over with affection, and then stepped back and said with the mock severity Ezra had just been describing, “You haven’t improved, boy. It’s time you had a boss who could knock some obedience into you. Take the skin off your back and teach you some respect for…”

Someone moved with lethal swiftness past Vin, and pinned Ezra’s friend up against the wall before any of them could protest.

Vin grinned. “Hey Larabee, quit the rottweiler impression. Ezra—think you’d better tell Chris about that regular joke you got running afore your friend turns any bluer.”

Ezra, already spluttering a protest, realised what the misunderstanding was. “Chris—he was not one of… I assure you, this was a merely a moment of humour. Please let Mr Benedek go.”

Vin rather enjoyed the look on Chris’s face when he was embarrassed but determined not to show it. Chris released the startled Benedek, who said—with some generosity in the circumstances—”I’ve been told my sense of humour could get me into trouble. You are…?”

Ezra hadn’t recovered his cool. Vin, more entertained than he’d been all morning, heard him actually stammer, “Chris… that is Mr Larabee. Chris—this is Edgar Benedek, the friend I told you about—friend being a word I am sure you assimilated. Benny—this is Chris Larabee, my team leader. I had not realised he was in this immediate vicinity.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Chris muttered, elbowing Vin to stop him grinning. “Gather you’re Ezra’s ace-in-the-hole, though I’m not sure he’s explained how.”

“Well, perhaps if you have entirely finished assaulting my guest we could take this inside and I will make it clear,” Ezra said, leading Benedek into the hall.

Chris glared at Vin. “Thanks a lot, Tanner. You could have said something.”

“Didn’t see you ’til you tried to put him though the wall,” Vin said truthfully. “Nice t’ see Ez’s face though. I s’pose you don’t get what you did?”

“Oh I get it clear enough. I just half throttled his secret weapon.”

“Well, besides that.”

Chris looked blank.

“Hell, Chris, you just showed him what you’d do t’ anyone who really had treated him like that. He needs reminding ‘times that we ain’t the sorta family Maude was. Needs to know that’s how you feel when y’ hear of people treating him like shit.”

“If Charlotte hears you you’ll have to wash your mouth out,” Chris said, hastily changing the subject.

“Got eyes in th’ back of my head. No one here to hear me but you, and you ain’t got delicate sens’bilities. Come on. Let’s find out what Ez is cooking up.”

Agents Rigby and Botting would have made a professional sweep of the streets they were covering in any circumstances, but like the rest of Miller’s team, they were motivated today by the sort of urgency from above that spoke of impending disaster. Besides, they hadn’t appreciated the night they had spent being arrested then interrogated by Ellison and Larabee, or the fact that since then their own lack of progress had been shown up by a detective and a Fed. So they were thorough; and that thoroughness eventually brought a reward. The new hire car they found in a side street, amazingly untouched, fitted the description of the one belonging to Ezra Standish. Botting called it in, checking that the number was indeed a match. Rigby peered into it and saw nothing of interest. He looked around at his surroundings. The street was almost empty. A child was just disappearing through the door of the nearest house. There was no sign at all of any of the people they were looking for. But he gathered from Botting’s answers that it was the right car.

“Orders for now are to stay here, out of sight and keep an eye on it,” Botting said. “Miller’s going to call us back—may come out here himself.”

“Where are we supposed to be out of sight?”

Botting shrugged. A little further down was a concrete carport entrance to the back of one of the stores on the main street. It was rather dirty, and smelt of garbage, but they could be unseen there. reluctantly they withdrew into it to wait.

Jim Ellison sat and second guessed himself. Should they have chosen a different place to set up the supposed meeting? If Josephs believed Vin and Blair had broken his conditioning enough to give themselves up, would he resort to some sort of attempt on their lives? Would he show at all? He ran the plan and their predictions over and over, and reluctantly decided that if they were going to do it at all, they’d probably arrived at the best way of going ahead.

They’d given different parts of the story they’d devised to the different people Miss Duncan had called in to the church hall. Josephs was no fool; he would be suspicious of anything he hadn’t had to piece together from fragments. What he should get, if all went well, was the rumour that some young men had got word to the PD, via St James’ mission, that they wanted to negotiate handing themselves in. Larabee and Ellison, who they’d asked for, would be there to talk to them if they turned up. Other details had been added to this, though it wasn’t so important that Josephs picked all of them up: it was the young men who’d been to the mission earlier in the week; they’d said they wouldn’t show unless Larabee and Ellison were alone; they wanted certain guarantees. Jim had been impressed so far by the local people involved; he thought that by the evening, the bait for Josephs would have been laid as well as they could have hoped.

Whether it would be good enough to draw him there himself was another matter. They were satisfied it should at least be enough to draw someone who knew where to find him. Then of course they needed the manpower there to move quickly after Josephs while still dealing with anyone else on the scene whom he might have used. Simon Banks was handling the PD end. After days of being irritated by Haines sniffing about and chatting to personnel, he’d decided only to use officers from Major Crimes, with the option of calling in uniformed police. Chris Larabee was currently trying to arrange the presence of the rest of his team from Denver; Jim looked up from his brooding as Chris walked over to join him.

“That’s all sorted. My boys will be in Cascade late this afternoon. Banks is going to have someone pick them up and take them direct to the mission—he’ll see they go in unobtrusively, like the rest.”

The advantage of the mission had been that strangers drifted into it all day. Joel and Megan were already there, others would join them at suitable intervals.

Larabee leaned up on the wall next to Jim, and looked across at Vin—talking to Ezra and Benedek—and Blair, deep in conversation with one of Miss Duncan’s ‘reliables’. “They’ll have to wear vests,” he said.

“Simon’s seeing to that. Shooting doesn’t seem the most probable threat, though. Going by what happened the other morning, Josephs is more likely to hire some local muscle. I imagine he’ll hope to intercept Vin and Blair on the way, but of course we’ve made that impossible. Which means they’ll have to go for us—and they’ll probably enjoy that, since we just put three of their buddies away—and then take Tanner and Sandburg. I think they’ll have been told to keep them relatively unharmed. From what we saw of Joseph’s methods, he’ll want to keep them for himself.”

“Who’s going in the back of the van with them?”

To avoid any problems of Vin and Blair being attacked on the way to the meeting place, they had decided to take them there in the back of a nondescript van, parking it a short way down the street well before the time of the meeting. In the dark, they should be able to slip out of it unseen and walk along the last stretch.

“Standish?” Jim suggested. “We want someone who’s cool enough to read the situation, and who’s got some sort of knowledge of the two of them. Blair’s liable to be just a bit too quick, and Vin…”

“Vin wants Josephs too badly,” Chris said quietly. “His judgement’s maybe not back to normal, either—and they both look as if they’re running on empty.”

Jim was well aware of that. Blair was talking animatedly, but every line of his body was exhausted, and if Jim focused in he could see the tiredness of his eyes, and the lack of colour in his face. Vin was as pale, and the shadows under his eyes were deep as bruises.

“Ezra’s okay for the van. Vin might actually listen to him,” Chris said. “What about a driver?”

“Could use Henri, and maybe have Rafe in the back with the others. The three of them can cover that end of the street.”

“Good. You and I’ll be slightly to the far side of the mission; your men and mine in there and in the store next door.”

“And in the building opposite. Ed knows the owner of the front ground floor apartment. I wonder if we should have someone higher up though.” He broke off, seeing Miss Duncan waving imperiously to them to join her at the telephone.

It turned out to be Chris she wanted. She looked for once slightly taken aback. “Do you know little Jodie Reilly? She insists it’s very important that she speaks to you.”

Chris took the phone, nodding to Jim to listen in. “Jodie?” he asked.

“There’s men in suits been poking round fancy man’s car,” Jodie said quickly. “One of ’em made a call, and now they think they’re hiding. They’re no good at it. The car’s all right, but they’re waiting.”

“Good girl,” Chris said. “You did just right to call me. Stay inside now.”

“I c’n see ’em from my window. Want me to go out and scream ‘n scream so they get into trouble?”

“Don’t do anything just now,” Chris said. “Stay inside, sweetheart. We’ll send someone round.”

He waited to ring off until Jodie had promised to stay indoors.

“Sounds like the CIA,” he said to Jim.

“You know, Jodie’s idea wasn’t such a bad one,” Jim said thoughtfully. “I think we could do something with that… I’ll have to call in a favour or two.”

He made the calls, while Chris arranged for Ed, who knew Jodie’s family, and Benedek, who wanted to see this, to go around there and set things in motion.

Rigby and Botting were bored and rather tired of the smell of the garbage they were standing near. There seemed to be no sign of Standish or anyone else coming into the street. They pulled back into the shadows a little as a police car pulled up outside the dilapidated store further down the road. The uniformed policemen seemed to have no interest in Standish’s car though. They went into the store.

“I thought Miller was supposed to be coming along to look at this,” Rigby grumbled.

“Perhaps he’s on his way. It’s a pity there’s no indication of how long it’s been here. I don’t want to go knocking on doors—too much interest might get the locals standing around watching.”

Rigby peered out into the street. Two boys were playing at the far end. A big black man had just gone into one of the buildings. A small girl was pushing her doll towards them in a very battered buggy. “She was around earlier,” he said. “Children often notice things. We could ask her if she saw the man who left the car.”

Botting shrugged. “She doesn’t look very old. I suppose it’s worth a try, though.”

He stepped out to speak to the little girl. She promptly began to scream—extremely loudly. He stepped back in alarm.

“You scared her,” Rigby said unnecessarily, as the noise level rose to a volume it seemed impossible one small girl could produce. “Oh, damn…”

The uniformed police were coming out of the store at a run, and two men also came hastily down the steps from the apartments, followed by several women. Rigby and Botting found themselves the reluctant centre of a hostile crowd. The child continued to scream, though evading her mother’s attempts to pick her up. To Botting’s startled indignation, she was now wailing that he had wanted to do ‘bad things’ to her.

“I only tried to speak to her,” he said coldly to the police. “This is ridiculous.”

“He was hiding!” the child screamed. “He was waiting for me in there!”

Rigby realised with horror that they were in danger of being arrested—again. He hated Cascade.

Botting drew out his ID. One of the men in the group lifted a small but very expensive camera and got a nice series of shots, one of which Rigby was sure zoomed in on the ID.

“Edgar Benedek, for the National Register,” he identified himself pleasantly. Botting’s abortive move to get at him was thwarted by the burliest of the officers, who took his arm reprovingly.

The crowd, led by the African American man were demanding that no one should be allowed to hide behind an ID where a child’s safety was concerned. The child burst into harrowing sobs, burying her face in her doll.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” the senior of the police officers said, not looking sorry at all. “For your own safety, I think we’d better sort this out down at headquarters.”

“You can’t do this!” Botting said furiously.

Unfortunately, it seemed that they could. “We’ll get onto Miller straight away,” Rigby said, trying to calm his partner down as they were escorted into the police car. “It won’t take long to get this sorted out.”

“Long enough,” Botting said, choking on his anger. “It’s a set up. Look at that brat.”

The small girl had removed her face from the doll, and was sticking her tongue out at them as they went. Edgar Benedek, smiling benignly, was producing a bag of candy from his jacket—which was a sedate grey, nothing like the bright orange they’d been warned to look out for.

“You won’t mind if I call my superior,” Rigby said to the officer next to him, and pulled out his cell phone.

Miller, however, was already on the scene. He and Haines had pulled up just in time to see their men being taken away, and the small crowd watching. He jumped from the car. “Stay there,” he said tersely to Haines, then to the people there, “What the hell is going on here. Why have those men been arrested?”

First no one answered, then everyone answered at once; the voices ranged >from bass to shrill, but none of them were informative. He waved them to silence, but before he could begin again, his phone rang. He pulled it irritably out of his pocket. “Rigby? What are you fools playing at. You… what… Benedek?” he swung round, without ending the call to address the crowd. “Which of you is Edgar Benedek?”

No one answered. He saw one of the men was already leaving the street, and turned hastily to run after him. The small girl who had been the centre of attention had moved without him noticing. He bumped her, she swung round as he side-stepped, and the head of her doll hit him with quite surprising force in a most delicate place. In spite of his desire to get after Benedek, he was momentarily forced to double over, and gasp. Haines got out of the car, uncertain what had happened. The big black man picked the child and her doll up and said sympathetically, “Now, we’d better make sure your baby’s okay, hadn’t we sweetheart.” Rigby’s voice came plaintively down the phone, wanting someone to stop the car before it took him to the PD.

It took him a very brief time to sort out the mess, but by then Benedek had disappeared and it was very clear that the CIA were neither unnoticed, nor very welcome in this part of Cascade. He did pick up one useful bit of information though. The elderly African American who was holding the child his men had so foolishly frightened, told him that he thought it was unlikely the car owner would be coming back in the near future.

“He went off with some friends,” he said. “I hear they had some recent interest in the docks area. A warehouse there. They could have gone there. I think Mr Benedek is hoping to join them.”

Miller interpreted his slight unease as being from talking to the police. It did not occur to him that the man was wrestling with a sensitive conscience because although each individual statement he made was strictly true, the overall impression they were designed to give certainly wasn’t.

“Could be they’ve got some tip Josephs is still in that area,” Haines said to him in an undertone. “Do you want me to see if I can get any corroboration of that?”

Miller got slightly stiffly into the car. It was remarkable how hard the doll’s head had been. “Yes. Go down to the PD; get those idiots Rigby and Botting sorted out, and see if you can get anything else on any operation in that warehouse area. If it seems to be going ahead, pull some of our men out of this area, and get them on the spot. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen nothing of Ellison or Larabee. You can drop me off at headquarters.”

“What about Standish’s car?”

“I’m quite sure that if he doesn’t know now we were interested in it, he very soon will do. Leave it.”

He looked in the rearview mirror as Haines pulled out. The crowd was already dispersing. The small child, not apparently too traumatised, was sitting on the steps with a bag of candy.

“I think the situation seems neutralised,” he said to Haines.

“I gather Benedek took photos, sir.” Haines said pointedly. “And as several mothers seemed to be under the impression that Rigby and Botting had been lurking with perverted intentions, I can imagine the headlines now.”

Miller’s mood nosedived, but at least they had some sort of lead on where Larabee and Ellison might be. Perhaps this business could be finished soon.

Chris wished he could have arranged for his team to come to the hall rather than the mission, but the time frame had been against him. He’d heard >from them since they landed. They’d been briefed by Simon Banks, and Buck and JD were already on their way to the mission. Nathan had gone to the clinic, and would drop in with the doctor from there, who made a regular call during the afternoon. Josiah was to go in at the end of the afternoon, wearing his most ‘clergy’ looking garb. The meeting time they’d put about was not for another few hours, but with the uncertainty about which rumours would reach Josephs at which times, they were alert to the possibility of the site being watched from early on.

The hall was nearly empty now, and much quieter. Ed returned from a brief absence, with pizzas for everyone still there.

“After this you’d better come with me,” he said to Benedek, who had gone off to Rainier on their advice to talk to Jack Kelso. He’d returned not long before, looking pleased with life.

“I was going to suggest it,” Benedek agreed with his mouth full. “I now have a whole range of contacts on this story who are nothing to do with law enforcement. Nobody’s going to be sent to the principal’s office when this one breaks.”

“I told you about my friend’s apartment,” Ed said. “You’ll be able to see everything from there.”

After they had gone, Miss Duncan dismissed the last few helpers, and left for the mission. They had tried to suggest tactfully that she might rather not be involved in what might be a violent end to their plans but she had rejected this suggestion emphatically.

Chris and the others were left on their own to wait for the arrival of Henri, Rafe and the van. Ellison looked at his watch. “You’ll be in place plenty early enough. Chris and I will walk along about an hour before the time Josephs should have heard mentioned. Makes sense for us to be there early, waiting. And it’ll give us a chance to check out the area.”

“Try not to frighten anyone away,” Blair said. He’d eaten a few mouthfuls of pizza, then given up, but he accepted gratefully now as Ezra handed him a mug of herbal tea. “Chamomile? Thanks, man.”

“It was the only alternative offered in the kitchen cupboard,” Ezra admitted, handing coffee to the others and the sugar bowl to Vin.

Vin gulped the coffee down, but the single piece of pizza Chris had handed him was still virtually untouched, and his thoughts seemed to be preoccupying him.

“If Josephs don’t show once we been there a while,” he said abruptly, “then we’d best walk off, run off maybe liked you spooked us. Reckon if he’s somewhere around, he’d go for us then, even if he won’t go for the main set up.”

“No,” Chris said flatly. “If he doesn’t show, that’s it.”

“Can’t change the plans now,” Jim agreed. “There are too many people already in place, with their orders clear on what to do. It’ll throw everything if we make some other move.”

“I think he will show, anyway,” Blair said. “If you think about it, he must be feeling he’s running out of time. This will seem too good an opportunity to miss.”

Vin shifted restlessly. “We have t’ get Josephs.”

“Best way to do it is to stick to the plan,” Chris said; he didn’t mean it to come out more like he was talking to JD, but maybe it did.

Vin flushed slightly. “Man’s not sane,” he persisted. “Got to get him off th’ streets, whatever it takes.”

“We’re planning to do that,” Ellison said quietly. “Are you going to be able to handle it if he shows up in person? We’re arresting him, remember, for trial. We’ll be doing it by the book.”

Vin met his eyes. “S’ long as you don’t look like losing him by th’ book. If y’ do, I’ll take him down any way there is.”

That wasn’t Vin the professional ATF agent, Chris thought, not pleased by the defiant tone of it. That was the self reliant loner Vin had once been. He saw Ezra’s concern, and the glance exchanged between Blair and Jim, and was grateful Jim left it to him to deal with.

“Excuse us a minute,” Chris said quickly. “Tanner—in the kitchen. Think we need a private word about this.”

Vin came, not particularly happy about it. “Hell, Chris, I’m back to normal. Y’ called me out here like I’m some kid.”

“You’re behaving like a kid,” Chris said sharply. “That wasn’t normal Vin, and you know it. We all understand you want Josephs but…”

“Don’t think you do understand,” Vin cut him off. “Don’t think y’understand at all. Aint what he done t’ me; it’s what he done before. Y’only read about it. We saw it. Man’s gotta be stopped. Don’t matter how.”

Chris looked at him intently. The more exhausted he got, the more Vin seemed to revert to what he had been the previous night. His memories were more or less okay, and Chris had seen more than a few glimpses of the ‘real’ Vin during the day, but this… this was not his cool reliable partner. And he wasn’t sure of the best way to bring him back.

“This is basically an operation of the Cascade PD,” he said in the end, going for the formal, team leader tone. “We’re involved, but as far as I’m concerned, Banks and Ellison are calling the shots. I happen to respect both of them. I don’t want their judgement, or their orders, questioned.”

What he said, or maybe the way he said it, seemed to shock Vin into the realisation that he’d been out of line on this one. He nodded quickly. “I c’n see Ellison’s a good man,” he said to the floor.

“He’s also our best chance for spotting Josephs,” Chris said. He wasn’t sure how much chance anyone had had to make clear to Vin what it meant when they talked about sentinels or Ellison’s senses, other than that it wasn’t for public discussion. He dropped a hand on Vin’s shoulder now, turning him gently back towards the room. “We need to go and talk about that, now we’ve got a chance. Ellison may be able to pick up Josephs when no one else could, but he needs something to go on.”

It took a certain amount of explaining before Vin understood just what they all meant by heightened senses. Jim ruthlessly cut off Blair’s history of the sentinel from the iron age to the present day, and went to the point. “Was there any sound that could be associated with the man? Like he clicked his fingers, or sniffed, or, I don’t know, carried something electronic?”

“Or smell might work,” Blair said. “Though the lab smell will have faded. Can you think of anything Vin? I was never awake to notice him.”

“Pen clicked when he was writing in his notebook,” Vin said, thinking. “Don’t reckon he’d be doing that outside though. Saw him clean his glasses two or three times, and maybe that made a sound. Oh—better’n that, though. I could tell when it was him coming towards me rather than Turner because he had proper shoes, and one of them creaked a bit. Weren’t much of a noise, just enough for me t’ hear across a few feet. Could you hear something like that at a distance?”

“Hey, that’s peanuts,” Blair said. “If he really focuses he ought to be able to pick out the different footsteps of everyone on the scene. Every pair of shoes would make a slightly different sound, and people have different manners of walking, different weights and heights. That’s the best one to go for, Jim.”

“Unless he’s sitting in a car,” Ellison pointed out.

They had to leave the discussion there as Henri and Rafe arrived, bringing Kevlar vests for Vin and Blair and a message for Ezra that the PD had safely returned his car to the hire firm. They’d managed to pick up a suitable old van, with its body work much repaired and back doors that could easily be left very slightly ajar ’til Vin and Blair needed to slip out.

“Don’t move from it ’til you get the word from Simon Banks,” Jim told Blair, checking him for a quite unnecessary third time to make sure he was as well protected as possible. “Just walk straight to us okay?”

“Jim, I really think we can manage what, a hundred yards, without disaster.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself,” Jim said, tightening a buckle a little, and then giving him a hasty pat on the shoulder as he scrambled into the van.

Chris didn’t know what to say to Vin. None of the words seemed to fit. In the end, he simply held out his hand. Their arms met in a clasp that was affirmation enough for both of them, and then, reluctantly, he let Vin go.

Haines breezed into Miller’s office looking pleased with himself. Miller greeted him without enthusiasm. “Got something?”

“It looks as if it’s definitely around that warehouse or the neighbouring lots that the PD expect something to go down tonight.”

“How reliable was your source.”

“Bank’s own secretary. Rhonda something. Nice legs. I’ve been working on her for a while, and I thought she was weakening. She told me it worried her, failing to cooperate with us.”

“It’s a pity more of them don’t feel like that,” Miller said. He doodled an airborne missile on his blotting pad. It sounded as if at last things might be going their way, but he could not feel much confidence in it.

Haines on the other hand was the picture of a positive and confident agent. “I’ll start moving our men out that way straight away, shall I, so that we can be in position early?” he asked briskly. “We don’t want to be too obvious about it.”

“You can begin,” Miller agreed. “See if we can get some corroboration on the ground before you leave other areas uncovered.”

Haines looked unhappy with this lacklustre response. “How much more corroboration do we need, sir?”

“I’d be happier if we knew where Larabee and Ellison are; or why Standish’s car was where it was. Or, come to that, how that infernal reporter managed to be on the spot when Rigby and Botting made fools of themselves.”

“Maybe he’d been following Standish. Anyway, he’s moved on; he was over at Rainier this afternoon, talking to Kelso.”

“That figures. Kelso couldn’t have known anything about the old Denver op though, could he?”

“It wasn’t in his book. Would have made it a bestseller if it had been. Not that it did badly, anyway.”

Miller made a noise of disgust. He didn’t like whistleblowers, and he thought having a conscience was a symptom of degeneration; making money out of it just compounded the crime. But Haines point was good. Kelso couldn’t have known anything provable. Of course, the National Register had rather a different approach to proof…

“Who’s on Benedek now?” he asked.

Haines lost some of his shine. “I put Mitter on. He’s usually reliable.”

“He lost him?”

“He thinks Kelso helped him get clear.”

Miller doodled a small atomic explosion over Mt Rainier. There were too many missing people. “And no one has sighted Larabee or Ellison in over twenty four hours. I suppose your secretary didn’t know what they were doing?”

“I got the impression from her that they’re pretty insubordinate, don’t report in much.”

Well, that Miller could believe. “What about the rest of Larabee’s team?”

“They went straight to the PD, and from there to join the operation in the warehouse district.”

“We followed them there?”

Haines shrugged. “Brask followed them until he was spotted, then pulled back—I told him not to give away our interest in their operation.”

Miller knew it all fitted together well, but he couldn’t shake his own negativity. “It doesn’t make sense that Josephs would go anywhere near that area.”

“But Tanner and Sandburg might,” Miller said. “By all accounts, they ought to be pretty thoroughly confused. They might well head back to the place.”

“You don’t think this whole operation might just be to retrieve Tanner and Sandburg?”

“Even if it is, it’s worth our knowing what’s going on. It would be useful if we were the ones to debrief them. But there seems a general consensus among Henshaw’s men that Josephs was obsessed with Tanner and Sandburg and would make it a priority to go after them.”

Miller nodded. “All right. Carry on, Haines. By the way, did you sort out those idiots Botting and Rigby.”

“They hadn’t actually been arrested, sir. Just removed for their own safety. Botting says it was a set up.”

“By the little girl?” Miller asked incredulously. “Does he imagine it’s some kind of excuse if our agents can be set up by children still in kindergarten? Send Rigby and Botting to me.”

Blair wished he’d thought of borrowing a watch. He’d asked Rafe about the time twice, and Ezra once, and he wasn’t sure how long ago the last occasion had been, except probably not long enough. He felt strange—both wiped out and energised. He knew he was exhausted, and yet he seemed unable to keep still. Any minute now Jim would probably be setting off… if only Blair knew what minute they’d actually got to. He tossed up mentally between Ezra and Rafe. Maybe he could persuade them to mention it each time, say, half an hour had passed.

He turned to Ezra, but before he could ask anything, Ezra said, “Perhaps it would be most practical if I put my watch where we can all check the time as necessary.”

He said it as if it was the most natural thing in the world for Blair to ask them the time every ten minutes, and Blair appreciated that. He just somehow missed the ‘oh for pity’s sake’ he’d have got from Simon or Jim.

“Thanks,” he said to Ezra, then looked at the watch. Even less time had passed than he thought. He fiddled with the buckles on his vest, then guiltily left them alone. The seconds went past. He wished they had some idea if anything was going on out in the street. Ezra and Rafe discussed some sort of expensive designer label clothes importer, almost inaudibly. In the front of the van, Henri drank coffee and read a magazine, as if he was waiting to pick something up from one of the stores. Vin fidgeted with his left sleeve.

It wasn’t like Vin to fidget.

Blair looked again, doubtfully. Vin was sitting coiled and still now, apparently unconcerned about the time or his surroundings, but Blair had realised what the movement reminded him of. He was sure that at some point earlier he had seen Vin’s knife on the desk at the store, presumably put there the previous night. Could Vin have retrieved it since, and strapped it to his arm as Blair had seen him do before? He was fairly sure that if he had, neither Jim nor Chris Larabee knew about it. He tried to catch Vin’s eye. Vin seemed completely unaware of him, and uninterested in communicating with anybody.

He wondered whether it would be a good idea or a terrible one to whisper a ‘heads up’ on this one for sentinel ears, once his sentinel was in position. That couldn’t be so long now. He looked at Ezra’s watch again.

Josephs slipped quietly out of his hotel and into the car Marcos had obtained for him. Marcos was proving useful. He seemed to have connections everywhere, among the homeless and among the locals, and he was conveniently covetous of the drugs Josephs could supply. His contacts were finally coming up with some sort of useful information, and barely in time. One report that seemed well confirmed, was that the CIA were very active in the area. Josephs was prepared to risk the PD; he was more wary of his old employers.

Still, if things went smoothly tonight, he could stop worrying about keeping out of sight. Unfinished business with Tanner and Sandburg was the only thing keeping him in Cascade; if Marcos delivered on his promises, Josephs would hand over the rest of his marketable drugs, take Tanner and Sandburg, and find somewhere remote and quiet where he could finish with them.

After that? Europe, he thought. Eastern Europe. His bilingual childhood had left him fluent enough to cope anywhere they understood German, and he thought there would be a market for his talents somewhere in the area.

He drove to meet up with Marcos, and reiterate that Tanner and Sandburg were not to be harmed more than was necessary to subdue them.

“It’s Larabee and Ellison my men have a grudge against,” Marcos said. “But of course, they may have back up nearby, so I will have plenty of men there, ready to finish things quickly. You will wait in your car?”

“I’ll pull in where you told me along the street. You’re sure the owner of the carport understands? And you’ve made it clear to your men that they must bring them to me as swiftly as possible?”

“I’ve got half a dozen who know it’s their job. If Tanner and Sandburg show, they’ll be on them immediately. You’ll understand if I wait with you, just to make sure we finish our deal before you take off?”

“Of course.”

“And how exactly do you plan to have quantities of men on the spot without alerting Ellison and Larabee?”

“Four doors down from the mission, on the other side of the road, is a store whose owner owes me more money than he can pay. He has a back access to the store. I have two or three men on the street already. The rest will go to the store nearer the time. Do not worry—it is all planned. All you have to do is be sure you pay.”

“When I have Tanner and Sandburg, not before.”

Jim Ellison put his cell phone away. “That was Banks,” he said. “It’s looking promising. Apparently there’s a local would-be godfather whose men have been taking an interest in any information they can get.”

“A go-between for Josephs.”

“It would make sense. The man deals as well as being involved in most of the petty crime in the area. One of the men we took in yesterday has been suspected of carrying out some punishment beatings for him—store owners who wouldn’t pay up, you know the sort of thing.”

“So the bait’s being taken. Just have to see if we get the big one. What about Miller’s lot?”

“Rhonda seems to have done a nice job. They’ve pulled a lot of their men over to the warehouse district. They’ll find just enough police activity going on over there to keep them occupied until we’ve finished tonight’s work I hope. Oh, and Simon says the van’s in place. Nothing noticeable about it. They’ll have a long wait, but that was unavoidable.”

Ezra, although he was not showing it, was feeling something of the weight of responsibility. Quite apart from his own concern for Vin, he felt rather like a babysitter who had been entrusted with the cubs of two particularly short-tempered grizzlies. He had some sympathy with Blair’s constant glances at the watch; the time seemed to be passing with impossible tardiness. Thankfully, Rafe was good company, even though their conversation had to be pursued in an undertone, and he seemed to have an eye on Blair with the same level of apprehension that Ezra felt for Vin. It would be a good thing when this evening was over. Neither Vin nor Blair really looked remotely as if they should be involved in anything more demanding than a substantial meal followed by twelve hours sleep. He did not know Blair well enough to make any accurate assessment, but to Ezra he seemed to have long passed the point of exhaustion to that odd sort of restlessness that sometimes made it impossible to rest after an overlong assignment. Vin he did know, and Vin bothered him.

Vin sat, legs crossed, watching his hands as if they held the secret of the universe. He was in the van with them, but that was as far as any connection went. He had withdrawn to somewhere remote, where the only person he relied on was himself. Given some hours and some privacy, Ezra might have reached him, but he hadn’t got either. Perhaps Chris would do it. He had been wishing for some time that he had the means of communicating with Chris, and the thought occurred to him now that there was just one possibility. Jim Ellison would be listening to the whole area, he guessed, mapping people into locations. If Ezra was an accurate judge of character, he would be listening to Blair. Maybe a murmured message for Chris would not be out of the question then.

Miller glared at Rigby and Botting. Rigby, rather red in the face after Miller’s frank comments on their intelligence, ability and probable futures, looked stonily into the distance. Botting glared back.

“It was set up,” he maintained hotly. “The police there, Benedek there, just at the right time. If you believe that was a coincidence you’re still putting your teeth out for the tooth fairy. Standish set us up if you ask me.”

Miller decided to let the insubordinate tone go. “Why would Standish bother?”

“Perhaps they don’t want us in that area,” Rigby offered, sensing some hope of getting out of this without a reprimand. “We were covering those streets. Is anyone doing it now?”

Miller stared at his desk for a while. His blotter resembled a scenario for WWIII.

“Go and find out what you can about why the PD were there, and whether it could have been a genuine coincidence. What did you say they were doing?”

“They seemed to be checking out a store—maybe the premises had been broken into, but there was no sign of it.”

“Well follow it up. I’ll postpone putting this report in until you’ve done it. And make it a matter of urgency—if we’re really not wanted there, then that’s exactly where I want to be.”

He frowned after them as they went. Haines had just called to say the PD were definitely active in the warehouse district, but somehow Rigby and Botting’s words had resonated with Miller’s own unease.

Could they have been set up? Twice?

Chris was more than ready when Banks gave them the go ahead to take up their positions. He wanted this evening over, wanted it so badly it was like a physical ache.

He and Jim were vested up like Vin and Blair. Banks wasn’t taking any chances of it ending in a drive by shooting. He’d even arranged for a couple of crates—ostensibly containing donated clothes—to be on the sidewalk outside the mission to provide them with some ready cover. Chris appreciated the attention to detail, but he still didn’t think automatic fire or even a sniper was high on the probability list; knives, spiked gloves, chains, maybe handguns were more likely. Though Marcos men were hard, they weren’t so desperate they’d want to be involved in a high profile cop killing.

“Let’s go,” Ellison said, locking the hall behind them. It was as dark now as a city generally got. Chris wondered what Ellison saw—whether it could be as light as the daytime for him if he chose. The thought of Ellison giving them the edge, and of his own team there somewhere near his back, was about all that convinced him to go through with this.

“Tanner was right,” Ellison said, guessing at his thoughts. “It was the only plan on the table.”

“Vin’s not thinking straight yet. I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with the plan—we all had our say on that—but he’s not got his balance back where Josephs is concerned.”

“Worried about what he’ll do when the action starts?”

“I’d like to keep him with me. I haven’t seen that much of Blair, but it seems to me that if you’re using your senses he wouldn’t move far from your side. Vin, he knows the rest of the team are there tonight to watch my back, and he wants to take Josephs down so badly he can’t see much beyond it.”

“It’s like he said. It’s personal for him.” Ellison paused, as if he was thinking it through. “We didn’t see it. Even Blair, though he was there, was a stranger in the area. It was Vin’s place, it was among people he knew.”

“Yeah.” Chris wasn’t much of a territorial person, or maybe he’d lost it when he lost Sarah and Adam, but he knew Ellison was right. Even now in Purgatorio Vin had that sense of a community he felt responsible for.

Only, knowing it made sense didn’t solve the problem of what he did if Vin went off on some kind of personal vendetta after Josephs.

Ellison handed him something metal. Handcuffs, he realised, taken aback. “I got Henri to bring two sets,” Ellison said. “I have a problem convincing Blair to stay where it’s safe. You don’t want Tanner going berserk after Josephs. Seemed to me, if the worst came to the worst, we could cuff them and throw them into the mission. Easier to keep them protected like that.”

Chris took the handcuffs. Could he do that to Vin? Yep, in the blink of an eye. He’d rather live with the repercussions than with Vin hurt or suspended.

There were people around on the streets they moved through, just the normal evening life of the scruffier parts of any city; but once they approached the block where the mission was, it was suddenly almost deserted. He could guess there were people watching from inside the apartments, but word had evidently got about that there was going to be some sort of trouble, and if it had needed any confirmation, a few of Marcos’ men hanging about would have provided it.

They strolled past the van, so close he felt he could almost sense Vin the way Ellison could, then up to the mission to lean casually against the entrance. They had around three quarters of an hour before Ezra would send Vin and Blair along.

“Okay,” he said to Ellison quietly. “Do your stuff.”

Vin wanted to stop seeing the haunting faces. They seemed more real than the metal of the van, or the faces of Blair and Ezra. He knew what was real well enough now, but the present seemed misty, barely tangible, compared to the past, and his hold on it had grown thinner and more tenuous since he’d been away from Chris.

He stared at his hands, but in his mind he saw the lab and Josephs victims. Aaron, hurting without understanding it; Sadie’s baby, not ever knowing a mama. He hadn’t known the names of the others, but their faces were there too, frozen in a moment of suffering. His fingers slid again to the knife he’d made. If Josephs was arrested, the CIA would never let him come to trial; he’d disappear again, and the haunting wouldn’t stop. It had been different before. Then he’d believed the man had burned, and it was all over. It needed to be truly over now. Somewhere in the ethereal present, he knew blood justice wasn’t accepted, but it felt right. Shedding Josephs’ blood would stop the faces.

He felt the van move a little, Ezra come to squat silently beside him. He shuddered slightly, because that seemed more real but not real enough. Ezra’s hand set lightly on his arm, and he heard him say softly, “Everyone is in place. You have forty minutes now before you go.”

He nodded. No need to speak, and that was good, because he didn’t want his voice to tell Ez he was getting lost somewhere fifteen years ago. Ez’s hand tightened on his arm, and he was glad of it. It provided enough of an anchor that he wasn’t swept away completely. But not enough to make him trust anyone but himself to finish this. By the book meant nothing to the faces who were appealing to him. Chris was so far away he couldn’t feel him any more, and Ezra’s hand was a thread. When that broke, he’d be on his own.

Josephs sat in the carport and waited, and the anticipation was thick in his throat. He was parked facing the street, partly to be ready to leave in a hurry, but mainly so that he could see what was going on. Marcos hadn’t joined him yet—he would come as soon as his men were ready in the store—but Josephs knew already the information was good. Two men who had to be Ellison and Larabee were leaning on the wall just below the sign that said St James’ Mission. He watched them intently, but could see nothing about them that made them any different from the hard men who had been part of his life for the last fifteen years. Certainly nothing that explained the hold they seemed to have on Tanner and Sandburg, which appeared to have been strong enough to undermine his conditioning. He was glad, now, though, that it had been. He wanted Tanner and Sandburg to come. They reminded him of when his experiments had had more than an academic satisfaction. He could almost taste their bewilderment and pain.

Jim Ellison ‘did his stuff’. Perhaps the knowledge that Blair was nearby made it easier; perhaps it was the focus he felt on finishing this. Whatever the reason, his senses seemed sharp and controlled tonight. He pulled out his cell phone—they’d decided that would look natural enough in the set up—and let Simon hear his assessment.

There were no passersby on foot at all now, and the traffic was sparse. One of the men who’d already been identified as part of Marcos’ network was leaning on the wall across the street, smoking a cigarette. Two others were standing not far off, talking. Their presence was probably helping to keep pedestrians away. Jim started to add to this knowledge, partly using hearing, partly sight. “Okay, Simon. One on the basement steps, four doors to the left. Two just inside the door of the store opposite. I can see a knife. No guns visible. The proprietor—I think it’s him, it’s someone very scared—is just opening the back of the store. I’ll come back to there in a minute. There’s a man in a parked car in the carport, well down the street. Not moving at all, no radio, no cigarette or anything. I’d say he’s part of this. I can’t get anything out of the ordinary in any of the apartments. I’d say there’s definitely no threat of a hit from the higher ones opposite; the people sound normal, a bit apprehensive of what might be about to happen down here, that’s all.”

He paused for a minute, because his scan had reached the van, and he wanted to hear Blair. He picked up some of what he’d expected, overfast breathing, a heart rate that was more like that of someone running. Then to his surprise, he heard the soft murmur of words addressed directly to him. it sounded as though Blair might have been repeating them at intervals. “Jim, man, don’t know if you’ll be able to hear this; I can’t speak any louder. I’m pretty sure Vin’s got the knife he had last night. I’m not sure if Simon will be okay with that. I think he’s maybe brought it for Josephs.”

He switched off his phone. Larabee had better know that rather than anyone else.

“He could well have,” Chris said, concerned. “It was on the desk. I never looked at it again.”

“Would he try to take Josephs, supposing he shows up.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know quite who he is right now, and I don’t think he does either. If he was here as an ATF agent, I’d trust him utterly. But the fact he’s brought the knife at all… did you see it? It was a street weapon all right; he’d made it from an ordinary one, sharpened both sides, the handle strengthened. It’s not the sort of weapon you carry when you’re a professional, or part of a team. Is Sandburg saying anything else? Can you hear any of the others?”

Jim listened, stretching his hearing, finding them in the van. “I can hear Standish,” he said after a while. “No more than a breath—I think he’s right next to Vin—I doubt if he can even hear himself. He’s doing what Blair did I think—repeating a message from time to time in the hope that I’ll be listening in. He says to tell you, when Vin gets to you, hold on to him.”

Chris rubbed his hand across his head. “Fuck. From Ez that’s pretty much a red alert. He can usually get through to Vin. Well, we’ve got two choices. We abort, or I try to do just that.”

Jim drew back his hearing hastily, as a car passed rather close. “We ought to be able to keep him out of trouble between us. Seems a hell of a waste to call it off now. It’s not like he’s carrying a machine pistol or something.”

“I’d rather carry on,” Chris admitted. “I don’t think Josephs is a problem we can postpone. It’s what, five minutes until they leave the van?”

“Simon can make emergency radio contact with Henri to stop them if he has to, but I think we should go ahead.”

He saw the anxiety in Chris, but no lack of decision. “My call, too,” Chris said. “You’d better get back on to Banks.”

Simon wasn’t happy at having been cut off. “Damn it, Jim, I was just about to come out there and see what was going on. Have you got any hint of Josephs yet?”

“It’s not that easy, sir. No one’s walking around, or talking much. I’ve checked cars that have gone past; nothing there.”

“What about the man in the carport?”

“He’s out of sight, completely still at the moment. Could be anyone. I agree that it’s a possible, from the position, but I’ve nothing to go on.”

“Well keep an ear on him—can you do that?”

“Yes. I was going to get back to the store, too.” He focused his attention once more in the direction where he had picked up movement. It took him a minute to analyse what he was hearing, then he spoke in some alarm. “Simon? I think I’m getting a whole lot more people there; multiple heartbeats, people talking—someone giving orders. I think we’re talking about maybe a dozen men, in addition to the others I already told you about. They’re going for this in force. Wait a minute. I think someone else is in the carport now, too.”

He paused to listen. Simon said urgently, “Jim, we’ve run out of time. We’ll have to go with what you’ve got.”

He looked along the road, and saw Vin and Blair were already on the sidewalk. He tuned in for one last moment to the carport, even as people seemed to begin to move on all sides. Sharp and distinct, he at last picked up what he had been waiting for. A man’s voice, saying, “You told them to bring Tanner and Sandburg to me unharmed?”

“Definite on the carport,” he shouted into the phone, hoping that Banks was still listening. There was no time for more. Men from both sides were pouring onto the street, and he’d started running with Chris towards Vin and Blair while he was still speaking. Marcos’ men had reacted with more speed than he’d expected, and must have begun to move the moment Vin and Blair could be seen. He hit one man hard enough to knock him into another, heard someone shout behind him, and the street was plunged into a chaotic violence that seemed on the scale of a small war.

Miller drove at reckless speed. Botting and Rigby had finally returned—with the news that though they couldn’t find anything in the police records of the incident that proved they were right, they’d traced the owner of the store. Mr Peters was surprised there had been a problem there, because only that morning a Captain Banks had been in touch with him to request his cooperation in an ongoing police investigation. It was enough for Miller. They were heading back to the streets he’d just pulled most of his agents from. He’d called Haines urgently, but he had decided it might be quicker to go himself. Botting and Rigby he’d sent back to the scene of their humiliation, he was calling the handful of agents he still had left in the area for reports of anything unusual at all. And he’d just hit gold. He ran a red light, heading for the scene where one of his men had just witnessed the beginning of a free-for-all that he was sure included Simon Banks. On the seat beside him, a silenced sniper rifle slid as the car swerved. Miller didn’t want any witnesses tonight, not even from his own organisation.

Chris Larabee hit a man so hard he flew through the store window to lie sprawled in the goods he’d knocked over. Instinct made him duck as someone else swung a baseball bat at his head, then he heard a familiar laugh, another man fell through the broken glass, and Buck Wilmington said, “Always enjoy a weekend away with you, pard.”

“I’ve got to get to Vin,” Chris said shortly.

If Vin had wanted to be reached, they’d have been together by now. He and Ellison had cleared the sidewalk with a savagery that seemed to have wrongfooted their opponents, and Blair was now somewhere between Jim and the wall of the mission. Vin was fighting with an energy that seemed to have come from nowhere, and because he was easily recognisable as one of the men they were supposed to be delivering unharmed, Marcos’ men were having a great deal of trouble handling him.

And Chris was sure now Vin knew where he was heading. That last yell of Ellison’s about a definite on the carport had been audible enough, and Vin had obviously picked up its meaning. He was well on the way there by now, and Marcos’ men must have realised he was heading in the direction they wanted him to go—while Chris was trapped in the free for all blocking the road.

“Go get him,” Buck said. “I’ve got your back.”

Chris knew that. Problem was, he was having as much trouble with the front. He could only imagine what this must look like to anyone watching. He hadn’t been in a fight like it since he was in the navy. Someone ahead of him was in an open enough space to level a gun at someone Chris recognised as being from Major Crimes. He’d drawn and shot the man through the hand before his brain had even caught up with the thought.

“Stop that car!” he heard Banks voice, bellowing easily above the rest of the noise. The car with Josephs in, Chris realised. It was revving out of the carport, then someone else fired and its tyre went, sending it spinning into the concrete wall.

Two struggling men blocked his view for a minute, he kicked someone in the back of the leg and chopped down on him as he fell, and suddenly he was nearer to being in the open.

Nowhere near enough.

He could see a man who must be Marcos, already out of the damaged car and calling orders to his men, and it had to be Josephs struggling out behind him. And Vin, knife visible in his hand, was heading that way too far ahead for Chris to have a hope of catching him.

Desperate, he fired next to Vin’s feet. Vin swerved and stumbled slightly. He lost only a moment of speed, but someone else hurtled up that side of the street and flung himself at Vin in a diving tackle that must have hurt both of them. Ezra had come to the rescue, and Chris couldn’t remember when he’d ever been more pleased to see anyone.

He was there himself now, before either of them could pick themselves up. He kicked the knife away into the gutter, forced Vin back down as he scrambled to his feet, and saw that it had definitely hurt Ezra more than Vin. “You put your shoulder out again?” he asked quickly, half-kneeling on Vin to keep him there, and motioning threateningly with his gun at one of Marcos’ men who shrugged and ran.

“No—it was just not quite ready for a robust encounter with a hard surface,” Ezra said, rubbing it rather ruefully. “Behind you, Chris!”

Chris spun and ducked, something like a machete sliced over his head, he hit its owner very hard in the stomach and brought his knee up to finish him off—by which time Vin was almost up and away.

“Damn it Vin,” Chris snarled. “We’ve got the man. He’s not getting away.”

“Aint enough,” Vin managed, trying to wrench free.

“It’ll have to be,” Chris said. Then he remembered Ellison’s gift. “Sorry, Ez, but you’re about out of this fight anyway, and I can’t hang on to Vin and watch out for the three of us at the same time.”

Hastily he handcuffed Ezra’s good wrist to Vin’s, and the click of the cuff closing seemed to jerk Vin to some realisation of what he was doing. He stopped struggling, but his eyes were still fixed on Josephs, who must have tried to run and made the mistake of going in a direction blocked by Joel Taggart and Josiah.

Chris crouched ready to cover Ezra and Vin, but Marcos’ men were all running now, those who weren’t down or under arrest. Nathan was on his knees next to Henri, who seemed to have taken a bullet or knife in the arm. Simon Banks was giving orders. Surprisingly few people seemed to be much hurt, though someone was calling for ambulances for the walking wounded.

He put his hand under Ezra’s good arm, and brought him and Vin to their feet. He didn’t like the dazed expression on Vin’s face, and Ezra looked as if he’d just woken every nerve ending in his shoulder, but at least it was over. Josephs was being pushed forward now. He saw Ellison, a cut over his eye dripping blood down his face, walk towards him with Sandburg, who was probably just about to identify him officially.

Then as they stopped, something happened with no warning at all. Chris didn’t hear a shot, but he knew the way a man went down when he was hit, and Sandburg, arms suddenly flinging out, went falling face down, to an inarticulate shout of alarm and anger from Ellison. Before anyone had even had a chance to react to that, still without the sound of a shot, Josephs throat exploded in a bloody mess, and the men around him went flat expecting another bullet from nowhere. Chris spun round and saw a car at the far end of the street turn and race away. He and several others fired, but with no effect. Ellison, who might have had a chance of being more accurate was down on his knees next to Sandburg.

“Chris!” Ezra said urgently.

Vin was swaying where he stood. Chris hastily unlocked him from Ezra and took his weight.

“Blood justice,” Vin said incomprehensibly, and crumpled against him.

Chris supported him with one arm, found himself reaching out with the other to Ezra, who was by now looking distinctly pale, and as he held on to both of them, he couldn’t take his eyes from the growing group of people around the two men who had been shot.

Miller swerved down a side street, through a link, into another main street and knew he was clear. He felt no qualms of conscience. It was better for the country this way. He was reasonably certain that the man who’d briefly blocked his shot at Josephs would have been wearing a vest. It was Banks who should take the blame if he hadn’t been. He’d gone for the body shot, relying on that. As he’d predicted to himself, the man had fallen, everyone else had frozen and he’d got the one clear shot at Josephs that he needed. Josephs wouldn’t get his day in court to tell how the CIA had saved him from answering for what he’d done fifteen years ago. Ellison, Banks and a few of Team 7 might have a clear idea, but they were bound by their jobs to support anything that was in the interests of security. Benedek was sniffing around, but he’d only had a day and it was all over now. No, Miller was satisfied he’d done a good job. He wasn’t sure for a moment what was prickling uneasily at the back of his mind, then he realised. It was the long hair of the man he had had to shoot to get at Josephs. The long hair, and the fact he had been standing beside Ellison.

Miller’s hands tightened just a little on the steering wheel. Could that have been Sandburg? It made horribly plausible sense. He was more than ever grateful he’d decided to do this alone. There had better be no trace at all of his connection with the shooting. However sure he was he had done the right thing, if it had been Sandburg, he definitely never wanted to see Ellison again for the rest of his life.

Jim’s senses, which had served him so well all night had gone completely out of control. He didn’t seem to be able to hear anything, let alone the heartbeat he needed to hear, while the choking smell of Josephs’ blood was thick and overwhelming. Too many people were crowding round, and he could see their mouths move without hearing what they were saying; people were trying to move him and move Blair; Simon’s hand settled on his shoulder and he felt its heat and weight as if it was a log from a fire. His mind knew that Blair should be all right, that the vest at that distance should have been adequate protection, but his heart could only focus on the moment when he’d heard the impact of the bullet on Blair’s back and seen him go helplessly sprawling. Then Blair coughed and squirmed, and suddenly everything fell back into place.

“Ow, ow, ow,” Blair managed between coughs. “Damn it, ow, Jim?”

“Right here,” Jim said, biting his lip so that no one would hear the overwhelming relief. “Keep still, Chief. You could have hurt your back or got cracked ribs here. Whatever he was firing took Josephs out pretty effectively.”

“Someone killed Josephs?” Blair said between gasps. He was ignoring Jim’s recommendation to keep still, but other people were helping them now. A tall African American with long gentle fingers had come from somewhere to kneel beside them, and as it was becoming obvious from Blair’s efforts to get up that his back was okay, others began to help Blair out of the vest so he could examine him.

“This is Nathan Jackson, paramedic on Larabee’s team,” Simon said, His hand was still on Jim’s shoulder, but it felt normal now, just a warm touch. “Let him check Blair out, Jim.”

“Jim!” Blair said, hanging on to his arm as Jackson began. “Ow. Come on man, distract me. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Jim said grimly. “But I’m beginning to work it out. Someone wanted to hit Josephs before we took him away, and you were standing in the way.”

“Someone shot me to get me to move!” Blair said incredulously. “Who would do that?” He tried to turn around to see behind him. “He killed Josephs?”

The ambulances that had been called for were just arriving, and Blair just caught a glimpse of the amount of blood on Josephs’ body before they removed him. Jim felt him shudder, but Blair only said, “Does Vin know?”

Jim had had no room to think of anything but Blair; he felt as if he’d been on his knees for hours, that the time before Blair coughed and moved had stretched almost limitlessly. Now he abruptly became aware of the scene around him again. Almost everyone was crowded in their small space, but he knew Larabee wasn’t there. They had spent so much time together over the last weeks that he had a sense of the man’s presence. Jim looked up, over Blair and Jackson to the side of the street. Larabee stood there, eyes fixed intently on them. Vin was flopped against him, and his other arm was supporting a very white-faced Standish, but he saw Jim look up and smiled.

“Vin’s okay,” Jim said to Blair. “Though we’d better get that made official for both of you, and by the look of it for Ezra too.”

“I’d say Blair has a couple of ribs cracked but nothing broken,” Nathan said, “but he ought to get it checked out at ER. Looks like Vin might be best headed that way as well.”

“We’ve made a hell of a mess of this street,” Blair said, cautiously sitting up supported by Jim and Joel. Nathan, scrambled to his feet and went over to Chris, followed by the rest of Team 7. Chris had talked about them once or twice and Jim could put names to faces now. That was Buck, hugging Vin’s unresponsive back, and being warned by Ezra not under any circumstances to adopt a boisterous approach to him. The young one, asking questions too fast to get answers had to be JD. Nathan he could hear wanting to look at Ezra’s shoulder, and he would have to focus his hearing more precisely if he wanted to make out Josiah’s words to Vin, but the soft rumble of sound had to be comforting.

He settled Blair comfortably against his chest, and looked around at the damage. Blair wasn’t exaggerating. There seemed to be more glass than could possibly have come from the number of broken windows he could see. Goods from both the stores had spilled out with people who’d been knocked in then scrambled out again. The crates Simon had had placed for cover really had held clothes, and one of them had broken open, so that its contents were strewn for yards around. Members of Marcos’ gang—those who hadn’t been hurt—were being marched to awaiting police cars which had arrived with the ambulances.

He saw Miss Duncan come out of the mission. Joel gave Blair an encouraging pat and went to speak to her. Ed walked over to join them, and Benedek was there, still using his camera. Benedek exchanged a word or two with Ezra, then came over to Jim. “I think the Register is going to risk being sued on this one and claim the CIA took Josephs out.”

“You’ve got enough on them for them not to care about the details,” Jim said. He had no doubt either who had killed Josephs—and shot Blair. “Do they have any idea how much you know.”

Benny grinned. “I don’t think they do. It’ll be quite a surprise for them when they read the front page tomorrow—very considerate of you detectives to time this so well to fit in with when we go to press. And I’ve got an impeccable line of sources, that don’t involve any of you. I’m just off to gladden whatever it is Jordy keeps where his heart ought to be. Any chance of finding you early tomorrow and giving you your own personal copy?”

“I’ll call you and let you know where we are,” Jim promised.

“Jim, can we just skip the whole ER experience,” Blair said, as Benny went. “You can check these ribs out better than any X ray, and if there’s one thing we do have, it’s bandages.”

Jim wasn’t quite sure what that said about their lives; nothing in the freezer but the med kit was full. All the same, his first urge to rush Blair to the emergency room was fading fast. He hesitated. “If they’re taking Vin and Ezra…”

He looked over to Team 7. He hardly needed sentinel hearing to realise they weren’t in agreement on the subject. Ezra was eloquent on the reasons why treatment wasn’t necessary; Jackson, understandably perhaps, thought it never hurt to make sure; someone—Wilmington?—was saying he hadn’t met a woman under sixty so far in Cascade and there would be some pretty nurses. Ezra saw Jim looking and said clearly to Jackson, “Detective Ellison has medic training; I am quite sure the two of you would be able to form as adequate a judgement as the overworked staff of the emergency room.”

Jim realised that had been meant for his ears. He lifted Blair carefully to his feet, and eased him towards the other group. “If we go to ER we’re going to be queuing behind about twelve more serious injuries from this disturbance, as well as their normal numbers. I think we can wrap Blair’s ribs at my place.”

“I can do his ribs for you.” A helpful paramedic from the one remaining ambulance smiled at them all impartially. Buck Wilmington brightened at the sight of her. “It’s really busy at the hospital.”

Chris Larabee, still with Vin leaned unmoving against him, caught Jim’s eye as the girl led Blair off to have his ribs bandaged. Nathan Jackson followed to lend a hand if necessary, and Buck to enjoy the view. JD had already gone to help clear up outside the mission, and Josiah went to join him now. Chris waited until they were out of earshot. “Can you check Ezra’s shoulder?” he asked quietly. “I think that’s what he’s hoping.”

Jim very gently examined the joint, and found no real problems. “It’s just sore—feels bruised, but he’s not done any more damage to it. What happened?”

“I… fell on it,” Ezra said. “May I assure Mr Jackson it is your considered opinion that no further medical attention is necessary?”

“It wouldn’t hurt to rest it—maybe put some pain relieving gel on. Come back with us, if you like. As Sandburg was just saying, we do a good selection in bandages. You and Vin too,” he added to Chris as Ezra went smugly to do his assuring. “You’re still our houseguests.”

He wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with Vin, but he knew if Larabee thought it warranted medical attention they’d have been on the way by now, sirens blaring.

“Be grateful,” Chris accepted. “Don’t know what arrangements the boys have made.” He looked past Jim’s shoulder and called politely, “We’re sorry about the mess, Miss Duncan. You give the orders for getting it cleared up, and we’ll see it’s done.”

Vin moved very slightly at that. “C’n help,” he said, straightening up a little.

“You stay exactly where you are,” Miss Duncan said firmly. “Those men you dealt with tonight have caused a great deal of misery in the neighbourhood. We are all grateful for their removal, and as you can see, we already have plenty of volunteers to help.”

Jim had had all his spare attention on Blair, but he looked around now. The more seriously hurt had gone first, and now the walking wounded had been removed, as had the men who had been arrested. In their place, people had come out from the apartments onto the street and were clearing and sweeping. Ed was supervising, and someone was even boarding over the broken windows.

Miss Duncan put her hand lightly on Vin’s arm. “You can come back and see us later tomorrow. In fact, we would be very pleased if you would all come. Ed! We could arrange a supper for tomorrow in the hall, I think.”

Ed strolled over. “No problem,” he agreed. “Would you be able to come, Detective?”

Vin and Blair needed that kind of closure, rather than the kind given by Josephs’ death, Jim thought. “We’d enjoy it,” he said.

“Be a pleasure,” Chris agreed.

“Bring your friends,” Miss Duncan said. “I have very much enjoyed meeting Captain Banks and Captain Taggart, and your men, Mr Larabee, have been very helpful. We will see you at six o’clock.”

She gave Vin a final comforting pat on the arm. “You will feel much better by then,” she said in a voice which didn’t allow for argument. “Now there is no reason for any of you to be standing around here. I see Ezra is ready to leave. I suggest you collect Blair, let that young woman get on with her work, and all of you go home.”

She went off briskly to supervise some sweepers who were showing a deplorable tendency to lean on their brooms and chat.

“You coming on your feet or over my shoulder?” Chris asked Vin, as casually as if he was asking him how much sugar he wanted in his coffee.

“I c’n walk,” Vin said.

He looked truly exhausted, and didn’t protest the arm Chris slung around him to support him. Blair was using any final shreds of energy he had left to charm the young paramedic, and between them he and Buck were obviously brightening her evening. She reluctantly began to pack up. Simon came over to reiterate Miss Duncan’s advice. “Take them home, Jim. You got any food there?”

Jim hadn’t been back to the loft for a while, and he and Chris hadn’t bothered much about eating. He tried to think.

“Never mind,” Simon said. “Look, I’ve kept a couple of cars. Why don’t you two and Larabee’s team go back to the loft for now, and Joel and I will pick something up and bring it along.”


“Any preferences? Pizza? Chinese?”

“There’s a nice Thai place a couple of blocks from the loft.”

Simon looked over at Blair who was still trying to flirt with the paramedic, but yawning widely at the same time. “Take him away and put him to bed before he swallows her whole. We’ll see you at the loft, Jim. If you find you want groceries as well, just call.”

Vin’s world was fragmented. Reminded him of one of those kids’ toys—Ez’d know the name—little coloured bits that shook about and made a new picture. One minute he was sitting on the ground, looking at the handcuff on his wrist, knowing Ez was hurting and he’d really crossed some line with Chris. Then he was standing staring at the men round Josephs. Then he was seeing Blair suddenly jerk and fall, and being too shocked to take it in, and before he had, he was seeing Josephs die. He looked at that picture longer before it shivered and the pieces fell into a new pattern. It was red and violent and very final. Josephs wouldn’t hurt anyone again. But he was glad, at the last, that it hadn’t been at his hand.

The pieces shifted and fell again. He was looking at Chris, who didn’t look angry, not angry at all, which just made it more confusing. He wanted to explain to Chris how it had seemed like the crying would never stop until Josephs was dead, but he could see the words made no sense to him, and then they stopped making sense even to himself, and he would have fallen if Chris hadn’t been right there. After that the pictures stopped altogether for a while, and there was only darkness and sound—voices and shouting and sirens further away, and close against him just the thud that was Chris’s heart. He leaned up there, knowing that Chris had the strength and the savvy for both of them—three of them even, because when Ezra spoke he was real close as well and sounded not a lot better than Vin felt. Vin hoped the action was over, because if Chris had got him under one arm and Ez leaned on the other, he sure as hell hadn’t a chance of going for his gun.

Chris and Ez were talking about Blair. He’d blotted that picture out, but now an echo of it formed behind his closed eyes.

“Blair looks all right,” Chris said, maybe to Ez, maybe for Vin to know the picture was safe to look at.

“He does not appear to be enjoying Nathan’s administration of medical assistance.”

“Could have a cracked rib. Bullet hit him hard enough. Lucky he had the vest.”

Blair fidgeting with the buckles. Blair safe against a body shot. Blair, audible now in a pause in the other noise, complaining healthily. Vin straightened up just a little. Chris’s arm tightened; Chris’s voice, no more than a breath near his hair, warned. “You don’t move yet. Nate’s coming.”

It wasn’t just Nate. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the moment when they were all together again: there was JD, talking too much, asking questions no one else would even dare to think—’hey, Chris, why’d you handcuff Vin and Ezra’; Buck, managing to hug Vin even if half of him was still face down in Chris’s jacket; Josiah, his voice rumbling with the promise that there were everlasting arms warm as the ones holding him; Nate wanting Chris to let him check Vin, wanting Ezra to explain what was hurting, suggesting the emergency room. It was like stepping out into the sun. He was even glad of Nate fussing, hearing the care behind it.

He was relieved though to discover that Ez had wriggled out of it enough that they’d escaped Cascade General. The pictures resumed: a glimpse of Blair and a pretty paramedic; a whole load of folk cleaning up the mess; Jim Ellison, looking kind of battered, helping Blair over to one of the PD cars like he was made of glass. Then they were in a car themselves, and there were streets and lights and other traffic, ’til he closed his eyes on it all again.

“Vin? You awake?”

“Uh huh.”

He wasn’t sure what Larabee wanted him awake for. They’d got Ez as well in their car and he was talking enough for two.

“We’re here.”

Okay. Reckon that was why he needed to be awake. Street. Elevator. Door. Ellison’s loft. All on his own feet, though Chris was still using one arm to prop him up and holding the other ready in case Ez wobbled. Vin felt bad about Ezra. He leaned to apologise to him as they were both dumped on the couch in the loft. “Ez, I’m real sorry…”

“Don’t be,” Ezra said. “I should have found some way of reaching you with words long before it came to that.”

“I wouldn’t’ve heard…”

“You were a long way away,” Ezra said quietly, understanding. Then he grinned. “Of course, our esteemed leader soon bridged the gap with his resourceful use of the handcuffs.”

“You’re lucky I took them off the pair of you,” Chris said, leaning over. “Ez—Jim Ellison says he’s got some stuff that’ll ease up that shoulder.”

Ezra reluctantly agreed that some minor level of pain relief might be acceptable, and actually let Nathan help him off to have it applied. Chris sat down next to Vin. “How are you feeling?”


“Try again.”

Vin didn’t know how he could put it into words, the way the world seemed to be made up of hundreds of separate pieces even though he knew the connections were there. “M’ mind’s a jigsaw,” he said in the end. “And someone’s thrown th’ bits about.”

“So we’d best set about fitting them together again.”

“Y’ ain’t got th’ patience for jigsaws,” Vin said, wondering if the green eyes searching his really saw the extent of the mess.

Chris’s face softened a bit, like he wasn’t seeing any kind of mess at all. “Sarah used to have a plate she was really fond of,” he said quietly. “Used to be her great aunt’s or something. That got broke one day, about as many pieces as you’d expect from a whole dinner service. Anyone else, anything else I’d’ve just swept up the pieces and put them in the trash. This, I collected them up, spread them all out on a white tray, matched them up, made sure I’d got every bit. It took a while, but I fixed that plate and then took some advice on finishing it off to look like it hadn’t been so badly broken. Think Sarah liked it even better then, because she knew I’d found the patience because she mattered that much to me.”

He rested a hand on Vin’s shoulder. Around them there was plenty of noise, as Buck and JD explored the kitchen cupboards setting out plates and cutlery, Josiah examined the books, Blair and Ezra submitted to Jim and Nathan and the medical supplies; but they’d managed to find complete silence and harmony in the middle of it. Vin could almost hold in his hands the image Chris had given him; he knew just what it had meant to Chris to share it.

“I can find the patience,” Chris said. “So can the others, Vin.”

Because he mattered that much? Vin didn’t find it easy to believe, but Chris didn’t make promises he wasn’t planning to keep, and he didn’t let anything stand in the way of his keeping them either. Before Vin could swallow past the tight feeling in his throat enough to make any kind of reply, Simon Banks and Joel Taggart arrived with food, and the moment passed, but he reckoned Chris had a good idea how he felt anyway.

Ezra flopped back on the couch smelling of something pungent, and grumbling about Nathan and Jim egging each other on. Buck dropped a glass and JD cut his thumb clearing it up. Blair came and sat down near them and began to explain to Josiah the origins of his ceremonial mask. Nathan took JD away, Buck was thrown out of the kitchen area, and Jim, Simon and Joel served up the food like professionals.

“This smells extremely edible,” Ezra said, as plates were placed on their laps.

It did. Vin discovered that tired as he was, he actually wanted to eat. He emptied the plate. Someone took it and brought it back with some more food. JD handed him an opened bottle of beer; he and Buck had evidently found their way round the interior of the fridge. Blair, sitting rather stiffly, caught his eye, grinned and raised his own bottle in a sort of salute.

“Beer from Alsace,” Ezra murmured appreciatively.

“Hell, who thought beer all round was a good idea?” he heard Nate saying, too late to call it back.

“Beer and bandages,” Blair said. “That’s Jim’s idea of a shopping list. Simple. Alliterative.”

“We’re always running out of both.” That was JD, sitting cross legged on the floor.

Vin drained the bottle, enjoying the conversation swirling around him. The beer was strong, and he was dog tired, and if he’d had anything to do but sit there and fall asleep he wouldn’t have had another bottle. Luckily he hadn’t, and the supply of beer seemed unlimited. The third bottle was probably a mistake. He tilted his head back as he drained the last drops of it, and the couch seemed to do a sideways lurch. Chris caught him briefly, removed the bottle from his grasp and then let him slide the rest of the way until he was sprawled comfortably enough across the couch and Chris’s knees.

Nate was playing something quietly on Blair’s guitar. He heard Ezra give a small belch, say in a horrified and rather slurred voice, “Good lord, how mortifying, I am beginning to sound like Mr Wilmington,” and belch again. Josiah and someone else with a deep voice began to sing along with whatever Nate was playing. Chris’s hand rubbed lightly up and down his arm, and to his amazement Chris began to hum along with the song.

That was the only picture he took with him into sleep.

Miller was back in his office by the time Haines reported in from the aborted mission in the warehouse district. Haines arrived with Rigby and Botting, all of them by now aware of the PDs successful entrapment of Josephs.

“We went to the scene,” Rigby said formally. “By that time only two officers remained on the site, supervising the clear up. We established the basic facts, and confirmed that Josephs was dead after being shot while being arrested. I’ve seen the body for myself. there’s no doubt it is Josephs, and he was killed by a high velocity shot to the throat. We saw no advantage in remaining at the scene of the clear up.”

“Some old bat there tried to hand me a broom,” Botting complained. “And I’ll tell you something else, sir. That Negro was there who we saw at the… incident… with Standish’s car. He says he’s a church worker, but I think he’s something covert.”

“He’s 73, and definitely a church worker,” Haines said firmly, repressing this paranoia. “I’ve been at the PD, sir. It seems that Tanner and Sandburg were so confused they were wandering the streets. They were befriended by the people at a small mission there, and after a while were convinced it would be better to give themselves up. The people at the mission helped to arrange for them to talk to someone tonight, and when the PD heard of it, they realised such a meeting—it seemed to be a matter of talk locally—might bring Josephs out. They diverted their warehouse operation there.”

“That’s the official version is it?” Miller asked.

“It holds up, sir.”

“I don’t believe any of it.”

“Tanner and Sandburg definitely walked in to the mission, sir. I did get our agents to check that, and there were plenty of witnesses who had seen them outside, looking ‘strange’ and apparently barefoot, one morning earlier this week.”

“I’m not saying we can successfully challenge the story, Haines, just that I don’t believe for a moment the PD were involved in this as late as you suggest. This is why they wanted us out of the area.”

“They gave us the run around,” Botting agreed.

“But Josephs is dead,” Rigby said. “We’d settle for that, wouldn’t we?”

“Exactly. We can draw a line under this affair now.”

Miller dismissed Rigby and Botting. Haines, lingering, said, “Josephs seems to have been taken out very professionally.”

“Good. Careless of the PD to have allowed it to happen after they had the man under arrest. I think we should point that out. Good night, Haines.”

“Do you need a hand?” Jim Ellison asked, amused, watching the ATF team leader in action.

Jim had thought for a while he was going to have a number of people spending the night on his floor, but Simon had offered a bed to Nathan Jackson, and Joel had taken Josiah. Benedek had dropped in briefly and finished up the remains of the take out. His attention had been caught by something Simon had said about Josephs’ aliases—they’d found a passport in the name of Helmut Gregor—and he’d left again in a hurry, saying it gave him an idea for an additional twist to the story that would knock his editor’s socks off. He’d taken JD and Buck with him, to loan them his hotel room as he wasn’t going to have time to sleep.

That left Blair, snoring softly in his chair, and Chris Larabee, struggling to extricate himself from his sharpshooter sprawled across his lap, and his undercover agent tilted precariously against his shoulder.

“Damn it, Ellison, stop grinning and take one of them.”

Jim removed Ezra, lifting him to an equally precarious position on his feet. “Thank you, waiter,” Ezra said without opening his eyes. “Ah’ll have two more bottles.”

Jim propped him carefully up, avoiding his painful shoulder, and steered him towards the stairs to the upper bedroom. Ezra opened his eyes, and asked plaintively. “Where am ah going? This is not the direction of the bathroom?”

Okay, that was a valid objection. Jim redirected him, decided he could manage on his own, and pushed him into the bathroom. Sounds indicated that satisfactory progress had been made, but Ezra did not reappear. Jim looked in. For reasons best known to the Alsatian beer, Ezra had decided to sleep in the bath. If it hadn’t been for the shoulder Jim would have left him there. It was remarkably difficult getting him out again.

Chris looked in, amused in his turn. “You could always turn the taps on,” he said. “He doesn’t like cold water.”

But he came and added his efforts, and between them they steered Ezra once more to the stairs, and this time successfully upwards. There was a brief hiatus at the top, when it dawned on Ezra why he was there. “Ah cannot sleep in your bed. It would be quite an abuse of mah position as a guest.”

“Ellison wants you to guard it for him until he needs it,” Chris said, with a resourcefulness Jim secretly admired.

“Certainly.” Ezra sat down cautiously and flipped a small gun from his sleeve. “Ah will protect it against all comers.” He paused, and added with dignity. “Ah do not, however, do bed bugs. If detective Ellison needs protection against bed bugs ah am not the person he should be calling on. Ah am a highly trained agent and do not use mah powers for pest control…”

Chris deftly removed the gun, and Jim tucked a couple of pillows into position. Ezra was beginning an elaborate speech about why shooting was an ineffectual deterrent for bed bugs while they tipped him backwards on to the pillows, but he paused mid sentence. Apparently he had remembered that his role as a polite guest called for certain sacrifices, and he finished magnanimously, “However, ah am prepared to make an exception in this case. If ah see a bed bug, ah will take immediate action.”

“Thank you,” Jim said, equally politely, and was relieved to see that Ezra’s eyes were rapidly losing what focus they’d had.

“Going,” Chris murmured.

“Going,” Jim agreed.

“Gone,” they said together.

“It’s impressive that he can talk like that after as much beer as he’s drunk.”

“Might not be quite so eloquent tomorrow morning,” Chris said, easing Ezra into a slightly more comfortable position. “I’ll put a glass of water and some Tylenol up here.”

That was probably going to be the preferred choice at breakfast. Jim had stopped at a single beer, and as far as his senses told him, whatever Larabee had drunk hadn’t had much effect. But Vin and Blair were definitely sleeping it off. The ones who left hadn’t been much better, except Joel who was driving. He had a vague recollection that he and Chris had filled the fridge with beer one depressing evening and then never got around to drinking it. It was empty now, so thirty six bottles had gone somewhere.

“Blair?” Chris asked.

“Be more comfortable in bed.”

“You decide the best way.”

In fact, apart from the need to be careful of the slightly cracked ribs, it was easy to walk Blair to his own room. He barely woke up, rolled cooperatively into the position Jim thought would be best for his ribs, and went back to sleep without a murmur. Jim tried not to look at Larabee too smugly.

At some point in a busy afternoon Simon must have found time to send someone to retrieve their possessions from the store; Vin’s sleeping bag was rolled up in the corner of Blair’s room with some blankets, and the other things had been in the kitchen. Jim borrowed the sleeping bag now.

“I’m going to stay on the floor in here.”

Chris glanced at him with easy understanding. “I’ll take the chair.” He pulled it nearer to the couch, where Vin slept under the afghan.

Jim stretched out, listened to the final noises of Chris settling, listened to the soft sounds of his territory. He wasn’t planning to sleep, just to rest and watch. Or rather, be on watch; he was using all his senses, not just his sight. They were sharp tonight, his to command for once. He was aware of every changing nuance in his environment and could extend his awareness as he pleased. He relaxed into the harmony of it, not close to sleeping or zoning but able to let his mind rest as he monitored his world with instinctive skills. Maybe, he thought after some indefinite passage of time, this was a sentinel’s form of meditation. Maybe, if common sense didn’t prevail over his pleasure in having his guide back, he’d even mention it to Blair.

He sat up now, cross legged, back against the open doorway, and took Blair in with his eyes. His ears had already told him Blair was breathing slowly and peacefully, that his heart rate was that of undisturbed sleep; he smelt reassuringly of unwashed Sandburg and beer, with a garnish of Thai cuisine. Now Jim enjoyed the sight of him, comfortable as they’d left him, one arm flung out and the other curled lightly over his ribs. He slept like someone who knew he was safe.

He was safe.

But if he hadn’t been wearing a vest… Jim forgot meditation, and remembered he had unfinished business with someone. He wasn’t certain yet who. Miller or Haines he thought; even if one of them hadn’t pulled the trigger they’d probably given the orders. But in this slow, peaceful night, even his anger over that burned evenly, and with Blair in front of him it had no power to sear.

Besides, if Benedek could be believed, if his editor really was going to run the story, Miller, Haines and quite a few others would soon be getting an unpleasant surprise. Jim had no idea of the circulation of the National Register, or how much impact a story in it would make, but if it put up enough smoke, surely people would start looking for a fire. He was inclined to suspect the editor would hesitate to take on the CIA though.

Blair would probably have called it karma. It did cross Jim’s mind that maybe it was what he deserved for being a cynical son of a bitch. At any rate, the arrival of Edgar Benedek at his door at six in the morning, wearing a shirt that was hard on sentinel sight at any hour, suggested the National Register really had gone for the story, all the way.

Jim, who had heard him coming, hastily opened the door and shushed him in, but shushing Benedek was not easy. Chris opened one eye and winced. “Been paintballing?”

Benedek ignored this. Maybe it simply didn’t occur to him that it was meant as a comment on his shirt from a man who thought the in colour was always black. He was too busy turning on Jim’s TV.

“Look at this. Perfect, free publicity. Jordy thinks maybe his heart gave out in the night and he’s gone to editor’s paradise.”

Chris opened the other eye. It was worth it. There on a major news channel, a reporter was standing in front of a supermarket holding up a copy of the National Register for the nation to see.

“… and older readers will remember the days when Edgar Benedek…”

“Older readers!” Benedek said indignantly.

But Jim’s attention was fixed on the headlines that filled most of the front page:


The TV news reporter was talking about names being named, details given, questions to be asked. They hadn’t yet got any comments from the CIA but they were now going over to Denver to recall the story that had shocked the nation fifteen years ago.

Benedek produced several copies of the tabloid from his briefcase as interviews began on the TV with Denver’s retired policemen, social workers and firemen. Jim realised with startled satisfaction that it must be the station’s leading story. He hadn’t dared to hope for something like this.

“We’d actually got evidence on this one,” Benedek said, as though it was a luxury the Register often dispensed with, “so Jordy called every contact he’d got. And he’s been in the business a long time.”

Jim began to turn the pages of the copy Benedek had handed him, and was startled again. It was written in a style that went with Benedek’s choice in clothes, but under the flamboyance was a wealth of solid, damning, factual detail. The Register was telling the story of Josephs, or Levine as he’d been then, from Denver to his recent death and they were naming people and places, times and dates in a way that would have done credit to the New York Times.

“You didn’t get all this in a day,” he said.

“I got quite a lot of it fifteen years ago,” Benedek said, looking hopefully around the kitchen. “It stank even then, but I hadn’t got the right way in. When Ezra called me, I got out the old files, and of course Henshaw being here gave me a clear lead. With what you’d found out, and what Kelso could add—and I owe him big time, he must have been working on it from the minute you spoke to him—it all began to come together. It’s been a long night though. I’m caffeine deprived.”

Jim took the hint and started to put coffee on. The TV report had moved to Redlands and the expressions of horrified disbelief from its wealthy neighbours. The Register with its damning headline remained on screen throughout. Benedek sat down and looked through his story with considerable self-approval; he read aloud any gems he thought they shouldn’t miss. The phone rang, with Simon wanting to know if they’d seen the news.

Chris stretched and stood up. “It’s a real pleasure to think of Miller and Haines waking up to this,” he said.

Miller did not wake up to the news. He had never been to bed. After Haines had left he’d received a late call from the agent who, purely as a precaution, he had allocated to keep an eye on what happened at the offices of the National Register. Expressions such as ‘unusual amount of activity’ and ‘general excitement’ were just two parts of the report he found ominous. He told the man to consider it a matter of extreme priority to ascertain the front page headlines, and removed himself to a small all-night café, abandoning his car. When he called his agent again, he was confirmed in the wisdom of this.

“I had to spend more than we’d usually sanction to get someone to talk,” the man said doubtfully.

“It doesn’t matter. What are the headlines?”

“It’s just one really, and it’s definitely a CIA story. The rest didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The CIA and Denver’s Dr Death. Wasn’t that something from years ago?”

Miller terminated the call. The agent may not have understood the implications of the headline, but Miller did—all too well. He did not see any option but to get out while he had the chance. If he stayed, it didn’t just mean humiliation and repercussions, it meant no protection from the organisation if the killing of Josephs could be brought home to him. It probably meant he was the obvious choice to take the fall for everything.

Fortunately, wherever he was, he believed in being prepared. He got a taxi to the airport, where he had left some useful items in a storage locker: clothes, comb-in hair dye, coloured contacts, and most important of all a complete set of papers in a different identity. He would leave in his new persona, and disappear for a few weeks.

He called no one else. Haines and Henshaw could take the fall instead.

Haines was picked up and taken before someone so eminent that he knew there was a major crisis even before he was shown the breaking story. When he realised what was happening he did what any subordinate would do in the circumstances. He blamed everything on Miller and offered to find evidence that Miller himself had carried out the previous night’s shooting.

Henshaw, still in Cascade General, was alerted to the story by a nurse who knew he was ‘something to do with the government’ and who meant to be kind.

“It seems to be ever such a scandal,” she said, turning the TV on. “I haven’t really had time to watch it, but I thought you’d be interested.”

Henshaw, who had heard this from her before, looked at the screen with little expectation. Then he saw the tabloid front page prominently displayed in the corner of the running story. His involuntary sound of shock brought the nurse hurrying back in.

If it hadn’t been for the pain in his ankle, stirred up by his involuntary jerk towards the TV, Henshaw would have wondered if he was awake. This scene had appeared in his nightmares so many times over the years. He’d grown more confident though as time passed. Now he was wide awake and seeing his career, and possibly his liberty, under threat. The CIA and Denver’s Dr Death. It had to be Benedek. He’d heard him use that very phrase fifteen years ago telling Henshaw that nothing got covered up for ever. He’d known when he saw Benedek that morning… He’d even warned Miller…

But he was the one trapped in his bed with no option but to face what came. His mind jumped to that evening at Redlands. Even then, he’d sensed disaster.

“Come wind come wrack,” he said aloud. “At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

The nurse slipped away quietly. She’d been thinking for a while there was something just a little strange about Mr Henshaw. Perhaps the doctor would agree a psych evaluation for him.

Botting was glad for once that he hadn’t yet risen to the superior position he knew his talents deserved. He was too junior for this to be more than a setback. He bought a copy of the National Register and thought about how many senior posts might become vacant as a result of this. His enjoyment was spoiled however by the discovery that he featured on an inside page spread on the manifold vices of his organisation. There was a picture of himself, Rigby and the demon child, under the heading ‘Protectors or Perverts?’. The CIA was getting too soft. Benedek should have been dealt with long before he could go to press with anything. So should anyone have been who knew about Josephs. Elimination all round, that was what he’d have ordered.

Rigby watched the story as it developed on the screen and pushed his breakfast away untouched. His first thought was that it had to be lies. Then facts piled on facts and began to form a horrible sort of logic. He went in to work, to Miller’s office, but Miller was gone, and being searched for with increasing aggression. Haines was locked up with men so senior they were almost myths to Rigby. Everyone else who might have given him orders seemed to assume the story was true, and to be covering their own backs. He saw no one all morning who seemed to have realised how appalling it was if it was true, and no one who wanted to tell him to do anything more specific than to say nothing at all to anyone. Feeling as if what he thought was rock had turned to quicksand, Rigby wandered out and bought his own copy of The National Register.

The story ran all day. Blair lurched out of bed intending to hit the bathroom then sleep until noon, but was instantly gripped. In spite of a pounding headache and a dire need of a shower, he had to sit and watch. Jim probably had to dial down his sense of smell, but hey, who’d taught him how. Vin, even less awake than Blair, shuffled up the couch to make room for him. He was squinting painfully at the screen as if his head hurt.

“Coffee coming up,” Jim said from the kitchen area. He and Chris looked dauntingly clean, shaven and alert.

On the TV a spokesperson for the CIA was treading a fine line between denial and the implication that if this could be proved it had to be some rogue elements of an otherwise squeaky clean organisation the country should be grateful for. The program cut from that to scenes of people queuing up to get their copies of the Register, and then a reporter going into an obviously well-practised summary of what it said.

“Benedek did all this?” Blair asked. “He ought to get an award.”

“Deserves a Pulitzer,” Benedek agreed immodestly from above. Blair hadn’t realised he was upstairs. He realised that there had been voices up there, and made a guess that the other was Ezra’s.

“That would be a first in the Register’s long and illustrious history,” Benedek went on. He came down and turned to Jim. “I have to go. I’ve got some interviews to do. See you later, maybe.”

He strode off energetically. Blair tried not to wince and reached cautiously for his cup of coffee. Jim hovered briefly, probably wanting to check the ribs, but luckily he must have heard something. “Simon’s on his way up,” he said, and went to open the door.

It occurred to Blair that his current attire of boxers and a not very clean—or, in the interests of a precise use of language, disgustingly dirty—T shirt left something to be desired. He moved to snag half of Vin’s afghan. That was when he realised what was now showing on the news program.

“I never saw this,” Vin said quietly. “Never hardly saw TV.”

It was old footage, Blair realised. Denver as it had been fifteen years ago. He hadn’t seen it either. He and Naomi had moved on, and had anyway seldom seen a TV either. He just about recognised the street, and knew what he was seeing as emergency vehicles came into view. Vin hunched forward, painfully intent. They saw the camera move in to the front of the building and then down to the basement. In spite of himself, in spite of knowing this was fifteen year old film, and everything was over. Blair felt his heart speed up uncomfortably. The camera tracked down into an instantly recognisable basement. They must have filmed it during that first day, Blair thought, before the building burned down in the night.

Vin made the slightest of sounds. The slumped lines of his body had all stiffened to rigidity now.

Then the screen went blank.

Blair looked around and realised it was Chris Larabee holding the remote. Vin turned with an angry protest, then must have realised he was catching the attention of Simon and Jim in the doorway. He fell silent, but he held his hand out for the remote.

“Now’s not the time,” Chris said briefly. “It’ll be on enough times. Hell, I’ll get the tapes if you want them once we’re back in Denver. Wait ’til you’re ready.”

The argument, Blair realised, then continued in silence. He stared from face to angry face, not sure what either of them was thinking. At least if he and Jim had a difference of opinion, one of them was always vocal. He knew when Chris Larabee won though. Vin muttered something, ditched the afghan and stood up. Unlike Blair, he at least had jeans on. Standing up made him wince and put a hand to his head, but he walked doggedly over to the kitchen where he poured two cups of black coffee. He added an alarming amount of sugar to one of them, and stumped upstairs with both.

Chris offered a mug of coffee to Simon.

“No, I can’t stay. I’ve got to see the chief. Jackson and Sanchez will meet up with you at the PD at lunch time. And if you five could do some statements and reports then that’d be helpful, Jim.” He looked over towards the couch. “How are you doing, Sandburg?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“Well, they’re putting out the flags at Major Crimes. You’re going to get a big welcome back.” He gestured towards Jim and Chris Larabee. “These two in combination was a bit much for any police department. I can tell you, in Major Crimes the thought of it being just Ellison and Sandburg again is a big relief. Plus they’re pleased to have you back safe, kid. So am I.”

He turned and went hastily. Blair untangled himself from the afghan and jumped equally hastily to his feet to go after him and say… well, something. His mouth usually found the words if it was open, and right now it certainly was.

Jim’s arm halted him before he could go out though. “You need to think of Mrs Carlow’s blood pressure before you go down the hall dressed like that.”

Blair looked down at himself. Without the afghan he was definitely underclothed for a public appearance. Simon had escaped now, anyway. And Jim had that look on his face he got sometimes when he was sorting the socks in the dirty laundry: a sort of ‘I’m a tough guy, I can endure this, where are the damn dials’ look. Maybe it really was time for that shower. Jim could do the rebandaging.

He trailed back to his room, collected a pile of clean clothes, and went to do his bit to reduce air pollution. As the hot water did its stuff, it occurred to him it would be quite interesting—in the cause of thorough research of course—to find out just what sort of combination Jim and Chris had been.

“We’re leaving for the PD in an hour,” Chris called upstairs. “Shower’s free.”

He handed Vin a clean shirt and jeans out of his own supply. Vin had travelled light and they’d lost the clothes he’d been wearing; they were probably still in evidence lock up somewhere.

Vin looked at the charcoal jeans and dark grey shirt. “That all you got?”

“There’s black.”

“Ain’t going around like a Larabee clone. I’ll get a shirt off Blair.”

“You ever hear the saying beggars can’t be choosers?”

“Was I begging?”

In the end it was Jim who lent him a shirt, slightly too large but neither black nor checked. Vin finally headed for the bathroom, but paused as he got there to say over his shoulder, “Oh, and Ez says he’s not getting up at all ‘less someone goes and fetches him a change of something fancy from his hotel.”

Luckily, with a foresight Chris could only admire, when Benedek had called into his hotel room to spruce up for the round of interviews he had also given Buck and JD a shirt and jacket to bring over with them for Ezra. They even harmonised, which proved Benny’s normal clothes were a matter of choice rather than colour blindness. That left, of course, the question of the lower half. In the end, Jim pressed the pants Ezra had been wearing, and Chris issued threats in a voice raised enough to induce capitulation in any hangover sufferer. They left for the PD on time.

Simon Blanks had more than enough for Chris and Jim to do when they got there. He’d made it as easy as possible for Blair and Vin, and he’d seen one of Ezra’s reports and suggested the computer system’s vocabulary wasn’t up to too many of them, so they were finished more quickly. Chris left his team enjoying Blair’s ‘welcome home’ in the Major Crimes bull pen and went to get on with it in Simon’s office. The noise outside was cheerful; it was natural enough maybe that no one wanted to think of the more serious implications of what had gone down. At higher levels Chris could imagine there was a much more subdued atmosphere, especially now it was obvious Miller had cut his losses and run.

For Major Crimes though, and his own team, it was a day they’d been waiting for and probably sometimes secretly doubted they’d see. The case was closed. Vin and Blair were safe. Even Henri was already out of hospital, and back with his arm in a sling to eat cake with the rest of them.

Chris was happy to celebrate, but there was still one thing he wanted before he felt it was really finished. He wanted to hear the full story from Vin and Blair of what had happened fifteen years ago. So far, it had all been clues and guesses and little fragments of the past. He wanted to hear it as a whole, and he had a feeling that until they sat down and told it, there would be something niggling there, like a splinter in a wound. It had been too easy for Josephs to produce those feelings of guilt and fear and failure. It was time, more than time, for them to talk to someone about what really happened.

“Tonight,” said Jim, who agreed. “Even now, with Josephs dead and the story set out in print, I don’t think it’ll come that easily. After we’ve been to this supper and run the rest of your boys to the airport, we’ll see if they’ll talk.”

“I’ll prime Ezra.”

To give Simon Banks time to follow up any queries from today’s paperwork, they’d agreed that Chris, Vin and Ezra would stay over one more night. The others were heading back on a late evening flight.

Simon came back in with a plate of something sweet and sticky. “I just reminded them that everyone off duty is invited to supper at St James hall at six,” he said. “The community there couldn’t have done more for us, so I want to see a good turn out. And Rhonda says what should we take?”

“Give her Miss Duncan’s number,” Jim said quickly. He and Chris had already agreed on what they were taking.

Miss Duncan looked into the huge box of books and paper, card, pens, crayons and every sort of collage item they’d been able to think of, with much more enthusiasm than she would have shown for flowers—though they had got her some of those as well.

“This is excellent,” she said with rare enthusiasm. “How did you know we needed these things.”

“We took advice,” Chris said. It had cost him a large bag of jelly beans and a new outfit for the doll, but he’d been planning to treat Jodie anyway. She had not only told them how Miss Duncan spent her own money on Sunday School, but had also gleefully gone shopping with them. Josiah, who apparently had Sunday School teaching on his CV too, had come along and added suggestions.

Miss Duncan, exploring the treasures, lifted out a large and beautifully illustrated children’s Bible, and turned the pages with pleasure. “Thank you, Mr Standish,” she called to the undercover agent. Chris didn’t ask how she knew that had been Ezra’s contribution, but he was pleased she had guessed—Ezra had spent some time carefully choosing it, but had insisted it went in with the other things. He came over now, though, bringing a small troop of children with him to help unpack the box.

The hall was full. In addition to all the people who had helped them, there were local tradesmen, storekeepers, who must have provided some of the vast amounts of food available, people who lived around the area, anyone who ever came to a church activity, especially one involving food, and quite a few homeless people who were enjoying a free supper.

They ate, talked, sang a bit and enjoyed themselves. The only person allowed to make a speech was Miss Duncan and she made it briskly. Towards the end of the evening when people were starting to drift away, Chris found himself next to Vin.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Good place; good people,” Vin said. “You said good bye to Jodie? Her mom’s trying to go.”

Chris went and got a final hug.

“I might come and see you one day,” Jodie said. “But I got a lot to do and so do you. You should have some ladies on your team. They’d be less trouble.”

Chris looked around uneasily. Buck had a girl on each arm; JD was trying to match him, but both the girls he was talking to were giggling too much to do anything; Ezra was teaching some boys a card trick, which was probably not ideal on church premises, though Chris was a bit hazy on that one; Vin had joined Josiah and they were arm wrestling for an audience of slightly older kids, and Nate and Jim Ellison seemed to be ganging up on Blair.

“I think I’ll take them home,” he said to Jodie.

“That’s a good idea,” she said. “I ‘spect you’re a bit soft with them. You gotta have a firm hand.”

Her harassed mother gave her arm another tug. Jodie frowned. “I’m just saying goodbye.” She turned back to Chris. “You see they mind you, then you won’t lose no more of them. And if Vin don’t like it, you tell him he can’t ride his horse ‘less he’s good.”

With that sage advice, she waved and left. “Come on, mom. I’m always waitin’ for you.”

Chris wondered if she’d be the first woman president. She certainly wouldn’t mind the challenge. He realised Vin had drifted silently up beside him and was grinning.

“You can take that look off your face,” Chris said. “I’m thinking of taking her advice and developing a firm hand.”

Vin’s grin broadened. “I been telling Peso that ever since I had him. Let’s face it, Chris, she just saw clear through to that soft centre.”

He ducked the cuff Chris aimed and said, “Come to see if y’ want t’ arm wrestle ‘Siah.”

“There isn’t time,” Chris said. “They’ve got a plane to catch.”

“Well, if yer chicken…”

Chris arm wrestled with Josiah; he lost as he always did; Simon offered to send a car ahead of them with the siren going so they got to the airport in time, but they managed to make it without such extreme measures, and there was no hurry getting back to the loft.

There was no hurry recalling the past, when he’d just seen Vin spend the evening finally able to forget it.

He saw the same thought in Jim Ellison’s eyes, but then Ellison said, “If we let it go now, there might not be another time.”

Leave a splinter in, it stung or festered or worked its way out. He didn’t know what this one would do. He hesitated. Jim hesitated. Blair who was checking the answering machine said suddenly, “There’s a message from Naomi, Jim. She must have got your call to tell her I was home.”

Naomi’s clear voice told them she was still in Ireland, and that she’d known Blair would come back safely, she could feel it in the grass and the wind. “Did you find the photo, by the way?” she added. “Blair used to spend hours sitting and looking through those pictures. Love to both of you. Be safe.”

Chris looked at Jim, and saw agreement there. Jim fetched the small photo album while Blair was still telling Vin about his mom’s travels.

“This is the photo Naomi was talking about,” he said, showing it to Vin. “It set us a good way on finding out what happened.”

Chris could almost feel the mood in the room change, as if someone had opened a door to somewhere cold. He watched Vin’s face, not the photo which he’d looked at a lot of nights over the last three weeks. The shadow came back too easily. Blair said quietly, “Naomi never knew.”

“We worked that out,” Jim said, and by some miracle of self control his voice held no hint of judgement. “The two of you look pretty tired and hungry in this. How long were you in Denver?”

Blair glanced quickly at Vin.

“Did you encounter each other by chance?” Ezra asked. “It was a fortunate one, if so.”

“Seen him looking lost.” Vin broke his silence at last. “It weren’t a place to be lost in.”

“I had got no idea where to go,” Blair said. “There were some seriously scary people about.”

“Asked him if he was okay, and he just about jumped out of his skin.”

It was like the first heavy drops when the clouds had been lowering a while. They were slow, a bit far between at first, but you knew then the storm was coming.

“Seemed like he was in a real mess,” Vin said, the words hesitant still, as if he was choosing them carefully. “Nowhere to go, and no way of calling his mom.”

Blair interrupted, talking too rapidly in his need to explain that none of it had been Naomi’s fault, how she had every reason to think he would be safe. His hasty eloquence and Vin’s slow search for the right words to convey the truth made an odd counterpoint. Jim felt as if he was hearing those boys in the photograph. He could see how they would have been at that first meeting: Blair nervous and determined not to show it, talking too fast, hands waving to support his words; Vin quietly assessing him, and acting with an instinct to help others that his own harsh life hadn’t suppressed.

“He said we could sort it out,” Blair said. “I can tell you, I’ve hardly ever been so relieved in my life. I can still see him saying it, and stopping me just this side of totally freaking out.”

He sounded freaked enough even at the memory for Jim to want to reach out and put a hand on his arm. He didn’t yet though. He didn’t want to move, and break the fragile thread before the story had even begun, and also he’d chosen his position carefully. Where he’d pulled the kitchen chair to, he could watch Blair’s face and stay in shadow himself. The room was only lit with the one light, and that was dim enough never to jar on sentinel eyesight. Slowly, without really intending to, Jim extended his perception of everyone in the room. Larabee was leaned back at one end of the couch, deceptively casual; Jim could feel his tension. Standish was on Vin’s other side, and even heightened senses couldn’t work out what he was feeling; maybe he didn’t want them to, because he was sitting so Jim had no chance of seeing his expression.

“Weren’t a good part of Denver to be wandering about,” Vin said. “I knew some places we could go, and mostly it was best to get off the streets before it was late in the day. After that there was always more risk, and Blair looked kind of… well, innocent. Some people’d pay well for innocence, and it was in short supply.”

“I’d already seen people looking—and when I say looking, I mean the kind of ‘mmm, something different on the menu’ look a pack of dogs might give a rabbit.” Blair said it jokingly, but Jim could catch the echo of unforgotten panic.

“Probably ought t’ have taken him t’ some kind of authorities,” Vin said. “But I used t’ keep away from them case someone tried to put me back in care, and Blair thought maybe they’d take him from his mom, say she weren’t fit. There’d been a man who was a sort of halfway house; one of th’ good guys. He’d’ve helped out no questions asked, but he’d been taken out the area—stopped a cop beating up this guy who heard voices all the time. His word against the cop’s about what happened, and his charity sent him some place else. So there was no one.”

Jim heard the slight noise of Larabee’s hand clenching so tightly his knuckles grated. Jim was right there with him. It was the straightforward acceptance of it in Vin’s tone that got to him. Sometimes there was no one; that was the way it was.

“Vin had a cool hideout,” Blair said. “I mean. I wouldn’t think so now, but at thirteen… We had to break into this building site. There was a guard dog, but it loved Vin.”

“Was th’ dog that made it a good place,” Vin said. “Most people were put off. He made one hell of a racket, liked to look fierce. Was a big softie really though.” He glanced at Ezra, who looked up as if he was expecting it, and they both grinned without explaining the joke. “Anyway, it was one of those sites where they stop and start, have a few days without turning up, you know how it goes. Right then, they hadn’t been working for a couple of days and they had big concrete pipes there waiting to be laid. More’n big enough inside for a couple of kids, and open at th’ ends. Weren’t like being shut in.”

“Vin had it all lined up with newspaper. It was warmer than you’d expect. And believe it or not, newsprint is surprisingly antiseptic—in slum areas they used to spread it for childbirth.”

“He knew that sort of stuff even then. Told me all about it while we crawled in and got ourselves well covered up. He had some food in his pack too. We were okay.”

“We were good,” Blair agreed.

Jim felt his jaw clench so tightly he was in danger of cracking a tooth. He could picture it much, much too clearly—two kids, barely half dressed to be out at night, huddled up under a pile of newspaper at the end of a drainage pipe, thinking they’d got it good. The worst of it was, it probably was good compared to what it could have been. Please, Naomi, stay in Ireland ’til I’ve—what would you say?—processed this.

“Dog came in and slept on our feet,” Vin said. “That was th’ best part. Couldn’t have been safer with him there. But th’ trouble with that sort of place, it don’t last. We were okay for a few days. It rained and the men didn’t turn up. We stayed in ‘less we were hungry. Blair read me th’ papers, and he had a notebook and pens in his pack, so we did some writing. He was a good teacher.”

“Still is,” Jim said before he could stop himself.

Blair turned briefly, pleased and trying not to look it. “I taught Vin a few things, but what he taught me mattered more—like how to get food, shelter and keep out of trouble, for a start. I was beginning to realise I was on my own until Naomi came; we went back to the place where I was supposed to be staying, but it was locked up and empty.”

“We tried to get in; thought there might be an answer machine.”

“But the pi.. police were watching the place.”

“We ran. They weren’t a problem, couldn’t catch a fat man in a narrow alley. But th’ day after that the machines started up again on th’ building site, and I had t’ think. There’d been trouble a while with the hostels. Used to be two for anyone and one that was just for youngsters and women. The nuns ran that. It had a lot of rules, but it was clean and they cared for folk. About, maybe, six months before there’d been another one opened. Supposed to be run by some charity, probably sounded good to someone who lived away on a nice side of town, but we all knew from the start what it was. Anyone who was using, or dealing, or picking up kids who’d come to the city, you know how it goes, they all collected there. Didn’t seem so bad to start with, because the other places were open. Then one hostel had a bad fire; they got everyone out, but they lost too much of the building. That one closed while they tried to get th’insurance to pay up, and then there’s some ‘witnesses’ say they’d allowed drinking on the premises and so on… We knew it was a lie, but there was enough doubt that they’d trouble getting their money.”

“By the time I met Vin, the only shelter left was the dodgy one.”

“The nuns had just had to shut—temporary, though. Girl said they’d whipped her. Weren’t a word of truth in it though, and enough people spoke up for them she took it back, said she’d been paid to make trouble. They opened up again, but not ’til all this was over. They’re still there now. Josiah knows them. Looking back, I reckon Josephs—Levine he was then—got them shut. He’d been creeping around a while by then. Making a big play of being a doctor, and a psychi’trist. People didn’t know a lot about him, but he had qualifications all right, ‘nd letters about some research programme into mental health problems in the homeless to explain him being around. Looking back, I reckon he had a deal going with the new hostel—he’d provide drugs, they’d talk him up as some kind a saint to any boards with responsibility in the area. They’d probably provided him from the start with some of th’ people he wanted.”

“He really was a psychiatric expert,” Blair said. “Well, I suppose you knew that…”

He trailed off, perhaps thinking of the more recent past.

“He wanted people who had some kind of mental illness,” Vin said. “You got a lot of them, more than you would now probably—schizophrenics, war vets with stress disorders, folk who were handicapped and fell through what net there was. There was one man who thought there was always a snake following him. We used t’ call him Rattler… Weren’t taking the mickey, it was just he kept asking if we could hear its rattle…”

He trailed off too. Jim let the silence grow. He caught the slightest of glances between Chris and Ezra. Vin between them was leaned forward slightly, elbows on his knees, staring down at the floor. The last memory had disturbed him; Jim caught the slight quickening in his breathing.

“He disappeared, then a week later they found him dead,” Vin said at last. “Never knew what killed him. But there were marks on him—one man said it was where electrodes had been. And that was when the whispers about Levine—Josephs—started, because he’d been real interested in Rattler.”

“It was only whispers, though,” Blair said. “By the time Vin met me, he was sure we’d be safest staying away from the man, but he said a lot of people still thought he was a do-gooder, even the nuns had thought so, because he’d arranged help for a boy they’d been looking after.”

“That was Aaron,” Vin said softly, and Jim wondered if Aaron too had died because Vin said the name like a lament. “He was handicapped—there’s a name for it—can’t remember the words—anyway, he was the nicest kid you could meet. He could talk pretty well, and if he knew you, he’d come up and pat your face when you came in, put his arms round you. He’d wandered into the hostel some time, and they never found where he came from. He was happy there, but they thought they ought to organise something proper for him. Levine offered t’ do it. Said there was a school out east would take him and train him. Hell, he even had some letter posted from there to say Aaron would be welcome. Don’t know if th’ school was a real place, but Aaron never left Denver. We just didn’t know then.”

“We were moving a lot, sleeping somewhere different each night,” Blair said. “We did all right for food, though. I was a kind of would-be anthropologist even then, and I remember thinking hunter gatherer skills could adapt to any place.”

“We didn’t hunt anything.”

“No, but we did a lot of gathering. It’s just amazing how much good food just gets left or thrown out. And not so good food… Anyway, one night we went to this cellar place. It was under a store, but it wasn’t used. Vin said hardly anyone knew about it and he didn’t use it much in case more people found out. But there was a girl there.”

“Sadie,” Vin said. “I’d known Sadie more or less since I’d been on the streets. She was maybe a year older than us, but she was a lot bigger; you could think she was sixteen. She’d had about as bad a life as you could imagine, and she was pretty hard. Knew how to look out for herself, and if you got in her way, that’d be your bad luck.”

“She was down there crying,” Blair said.

“Threw me a bit. Not her being there, her me and a couple of others had found the place, but her crying. I thought maybe she’d had someone rough—I mean, only one way for someone like Sadie to earn some money, but she wasn’t stupid, she took care of herself pretty well usually.”

“She wasn’t too happy with Vin that he’d come down there—and especially not that he’d brought me.”

“But once she’d calmed down, she told us what she was crying about. Sadie’d had a baby. Went with th’ job, really. They hadn’t money for protection. Someone built stocky like Sadie could keep it from showing a long while. The nuns’d often arrange for a girl to go have the baby someplace and then it’d be adopted. Some never asked for help, just delivered ’em themselves in a toilet. A few kept them.”

“But Sadie had had an offer of money,” Blair said.

“Like I said, Sadie’d learned it didn’t get y’ anywhere being too nice. Levine had told her he knew some people who wanted a baby, and would pay her if the baby was born healthy. Sadie thought it was a good deal. Only, now she didn’t feel so good about it.”

“She was well enough,” Blair said. “It must have been about three months since she’d had it. She just couldn’t get the baby out of her mind.”

“Reckon it was th’ first unspoilt thing Sadie’d ever touched,” Vin said softly.

Vin had almost forgotten they were there, Jim thought. He could see what it was costing Larabee to sit there silent, separate, and just listen; he could smell the blood where Chris’s nails had dug into the palms of his hands because they were so tightly clenched.

“She talked about the little bit of time she’d had with the baby,” Blair said. “Not about the birth, but what it felt like to hold the baby, what he’d looked like. She could remember every detail. But I think she could have lived with that.”

“Just, she believed the baby was suffering somewhere,” Vin said. “She wasn’t a person to imagine stuff. Hard facts, cash in hand, that was Sadie. But she dreamed th’ baby was crying, and even when she was awake, she couldn’t feel right about it.”

“She’d been to Levine,” Blair said. “He told her the baby was fine, in a much better home than she could give it. But she’d started to wonder about him by then. Like Vin, she found if you listened, you soon heard all sorts of whispers.”

“But Levine’d scared her that night we saw her. She’d asked again, and he threatened her, not what he’d do to her, but that he knew where the baby was, and it’d be the baby suffered if she caused any trouble over this.”

“We listened to her, and in the end we said we’d help if we could. We’d follow Levine, and see if we could get any hint where her baby might have been taken.”

Jim could see Blair, all of thirteen, and small with it, cheerfully offering to follow a man who was quite clearly dangerous. Because he can’t turn his back on someone in trouble, his thoughts whispered, where would you be if he could? All the same, even knowing it was over safely fifteen years ago, the idea pressed all the wrong buttons.

“Weren’t so hard t’ follow him,” Vin said. “Took us a while, days I s’pose, but he never noticed us. We weren’t worth seeing. Reckon that’s why it still stuck in his craw all this time later. We weren’t nothing compared t’ him, and we stopped him.”

“It must have taken us a week before we began to have even the faintest idea what he might be doing,” Blair said. “I’d been in Denver about three weeks by then. I’d actually got to the point where I was glad Naomi wouldn’t be coming yet, because I wanted to stay with Vin and see this through. And to begin with, it was like a kid’s book, you know, tracking someone, keeping out of sight, spying on him. Only, it stopped being like that…”

“Stopped when we got in his place,” Vin said.

“We’d found where he lived after a couple of days,” Blair said. “Only, breaking in, that took a bit more of a decision.”

“Couldn’t find out anything otherwise. We walked round after him another two days, saw th’ people he talked to, but we couldn’t go asking questions of them without it getting back to him. And we found he spent a lot of time in the house, anyway. We wanted t’ get in, but leave it so we could get in th’ same way again, so we hadn’t t’ break anything. So we spent another day just watching. Reckoned th’ only way in was th’ fire escape. And we had t’ use a rope t’ get onto that.”

“We did it at night. Sadie got us the rope, and we tried something I read in a book once—throwing over string tied to a ball, then using the string to pull the rope over.”

“Weren’t as easy as his book had made it sound, but we managed it. There were no lights on, hadn’t been all evening though we knew he was in. We got on th’ fire escape, pulled th’ rope up after us, got right into th’ attic space. That was all quiet, so we went on down.”

They had fallen into a sort of pattern of telling the story now, not looking at each other, but picking up the thread so smoothly that it was hard to remember they hadn’t talked about it once in the fifteen years since it happened. Jim guessed they were drawing strength from each other. He could read the increased signs of tension, the struggle to get to the part of the story that had stayed to haunt their sleep over the years. He tried not to see the picture that haunted his mind, two thirteen year old boys armed with items like a ball and string clambering dangerously into the house of a man he now knew was a psychopath. Get a grip. It was over long before you knew him. He’s sitting in front of you, warm and live and vital.

“The house was empty,” Blair said. “We knew he hadn’t gone out, so that only left the basement. It wasn’t one with an outside entrance, and we worked out which door led down there, but it was locked. We were only sure he was down there because we could see light under the door. And it was a weird sort of thing to do—lock yourself in your basement. We thought maybe he had a drug lab down there or something. I mean, we couldn’t just leave it at that and walk away. We still hadn’t found anything out.”

“It was an old house, not much changed far as we c’d see. We’d seen other rooms because we worked our way down from the attic. And Blair knew about houses like it; he knew there was something we c’d try. We went back up t’ th’ rooms that y’ c’d see weren’t used, and looked in th’ cupboards, t’ see if any of them weren’t cupboards. Blair said they used to send stuff up and down on a thing like an elevator. We didn’t find the thing, but that didn’t matter, because we found th’ space. Easy enough t’ get down that braced against th’ sides.”

“We didn’t know if it would go all the way down, or where it would come out. Vin wanted me to wait, but I didn’t want him to be down there alone—it was quite small, though I suppose there was space up and down…”

Both their hearts were beating faster now. Blair was moving his hands nervously, as if to show the way they’d climbed down the shaft. Jim wondered if there was a dial that would shut down the picture unreeling in front of him; listening was bad enough, why did he keep seeing it as if he was there.

“Started hearing some noises part way down. Weren’t clear at first, then we thought it might be animals. Sounded a bit like a dog when it’s pining one time. We got t’ the bottom, found it opened t’ a room. We only opened it a crack at first; didn’t know where Josephs might be, but it was like a store room. It was piled with stuff. Didn’t think much about what we were seeing there, though. We could hear clear now. Real clear. I could hear it again in my mind yesterday. Weren’t animals…”

“It was people crying, children crying,” Blair said, because Vin had stopped abruptly and hunched right over. “But not the sort of proper yelling you expect from kids—it was like this thin wailing, keening sort of crying. I can’t forget it either.” Jim did put a hand gently on his arm now, giving it a slight squeeze, encouragement to go on with the story or to feel free to stop, whatever Blair needed. Blair half turned towards him. “We didn’t want to see, now, but we hadn’t got a choice any more. The door to the next room was ajar. We crept over there, and, well, you know what we saw.”

Vin lifted his head. Jim had thought perhaps he was crying, because he could scent the tang of tears, but Vin’s eyes were hard and dry. “They’d been there suffering all that time. Aaron—Levine had got him in a cage. And two babies, with wires from ’em like they were machines, and other kids, some just crying quiet like they knew there were no point… And we had t’ turn our backs on them. We didn’t even look for more ‘n a minute. We couldn’t think, and we c’d see Levine in there, and we just ran.”

“You were thirteen years old,” Chris said, also leaning forward, his head close to Vin’s. His body was braced, as much effort going into not putting his arm round Vin as it would have taken to bend metal.

“And you must in fact have done something quite soon after that,” Ezra added quietly, sliding closer on the other side. His voice was quite steady, and there was no visible trace, but Jim thought now they might have been his tears—for Vin, or maybe the whole situation. “We know that it was you two who brought an end to what they were suffering.”

“We climbed back up to the loft,” Blair said. “We weren’t thinking, we just had to get somewhere far enough away that we could talk. It hardly seemed real. It shouldn’t have been possible that something like that could happen in the middle of a city, with people all around. And that made it even harder to know what to do, because how would anyone have believed us?”

“We stayed in th’ loft and talked it through most of th’ rest of th’ night. Couldn’t get the children out ourselves, not with Levine there and th’ doors locked, and them needing proper help. Couldn’t go to tell Sadie; she might’ve believed us but it was worse than th’ worst she’d been thinking. Couldn’t go to anyone we trusted, because they weren’t th’ sort of people’d be listened to.”

“There was only one way to do it, and that was to get people there who did count. That’s when we thought about the emergency services. Even police can’t just break into a building, but firemen have to if there seems to be a need. And they come quickly.”

“We thought of a fire, but that weren’t enough—they might not go in th’ basement. So we planned to do it two ways. We’d get them there with a fire, and we’d tip something down under the basement door so that it stank of chemicals, and tell them people had tried to trash th’ place, and someone was trapped in th’ basement. That’s why it took us another day. Had to plan it out and get some things—bleach and stuff to react with it. Blair knew all the chemistry; reckon he could’ve gone to college even then. Then we had to get back in, and that was hard, because Levine was about most of the day. It was evening, when he went down th’ basement again, ‘fore we could get back in.”

“Vin set the fire in the attic, and once we were sure the smoke was going up well, we called as an emergency from the house. We were lucky the basement was locked up and sound proof, because Levine never heard the sirens. We opened the front door as the firemen arrived—we’d tipped the chemicals under the basement one once we saw the lights. We told them someone was stuck down there because the people who broke in had jammed the door. It all happened way too fast to think…”

“They told us to get out of the building, but there were only three of them, and there was a guy filming them, one of those ‘day in the life’ things. We slipped down behind him. And we saw Levine look up when they broke in—saw his face when he knew it was over.” Vin only had two notes, even to sentinel hearing, lament or this savage satisfaction.

“He knew we must somehow have brought them down there, but when he started to shout at us, they made us go back up. We went outside, because we knew it was done now—they were calling police and ambulance and just about every other organisation as well, and the cameraman was calling the news organisations.”

“We watched a bit, and they were bringing th’ children up, and Sadie came—she must have guessed something, and she started screaming until they took her away too. Then th’ cops came, and we went. Thought we’d try th’ building site again.”

“Vin said as it was only the dog, no watchman or tools, we’d be safe to reckon they weren’t working. The pipes were in the ground, and it was muddy, so we just sat up against the wall. We felt sort of shell-shocked I think; everything since we climbed into the house the night before hardly seemed real. And there was that whole let down after you’ve been really pumped up on the action and terrified it would go wrong…”

“We seen th’ babies brought up to th’ ambulance, and they were crying—everyone there just about seemed to be crying, and Sadie screaming—so we knew they were alive. But we didn’t know what would happen to them. We talked a bit about it, but it was hard, remembering how they’d looked. And we were tired. Th’ dog came and sat across us, and even if he smelt a bit, he was warm. So I suppose we went to sleep. Next day, there was a hundred and one different stories about it all, but they all said the police had lost Levine. That scared us some, but we hung round until dark. Don’t know why really, just to know the children weren’t there any more. That’s how we saw it burn down. We watched it ’til most of it fell in, and even then they were saying Levine was in it.” He shook himself a little, like a swimmer getting out of deep water, and straightened up a bit. “So we went back to th’ site, and th’ dog was pleased t’ see us, and it was over.”

It was over. Blair sighed, and shifted slightly, relaxing. Jim realised he’d gripped Blair’s arm so hard somewhere in this last part of the story that he’d probably bruised it.

“Sorry, Chief,” he said, letting go.

“Hey, it was a reality check. I needed it.” Jim had needed it too. He shifted his hand to the back of Blair’s chair, his senses dialled up enough that he could still feel the warmth from him, and the beat of his body through the fabric.

Vin, the lament ended, the harshness not quite gone, leaned back on the couch, his elbow on Ezra’s knee. He glanced at Chris, perhaps wanting to see his reaction, but instead saw the blood seep through the knuckles of Larabee’s still clenched hand.

“Ah, shit, Chris,” he said, understanding. “Weren’t like you could have been there.”

Chris looked down at his hands as if he’d only just noticed them himself, perhaps he had. He wiped the blood off down his jeans. “Like to have been there,” he said slowly. “Not because you hadn’t managed well enough without any help, but no kids should have to do something like that alone, and anyway, I’d like to have walked onto that building site at the end.”

“Dog would have bit y'” Vin said, caught between wanting to turn this away with a joke, and wanting to hear it.

“I’m good with dogs. Like to have walked onto that site, found a couple of scrawny kids under a mound of flea-ridden dog.”

“That’s—what is it Blair?”


“Yep. Slander. That dog was as clean as most folk.”

“You said he smelt.”

“He smelt of dog. Dog’s supposed to smell of dog.”

Larabee wasn’t deterred. The conversation rolled easily between them, part of their friendship, but what he had to say went deeper.

“Like to have found a couple of scrawny kids there, under a blanket of dog. Because someone ought to have been there to say to them ‘you did a hell of a good job. I’m proud of you’!”

He aimed his words as accurately as his bullets, Jim thought. The trace of hardness that was left in Vin’s expression wavered and then shattered at Chris’s words. Whatever he’d expected—pity maybe, or a further joke to turn the mood, this hadn’t been it. He looked uncertainly at Chris. Wanting to believe it, Jim saw, and struggling with the feeling he should somehow have done more or better.

“I’d’ve meant it then, I mean it now,” Chris said. “What you did worked; it must have taken a hell of a lot of courage, and even more heart. ‘Proud’ doesn’t begin to cover it.”

There was no disbelieving something said as forcefully as that. Vin met Chris’s eyes for a moment, then looked hastily back at his knees. Chris put an easy arm round his bent shoulders now.

Jim gave Blair’s back a quick pat he hoped would indicate his agreement with all Chris had said, and Blair, who was good at interpreting the inarticulate, looked up. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “But I think it just happened, really.

“And it don’t take away what they suffered,” Vin said.

Nevertheless, even though that could not be altered, you did change their future,” Ezra said. “I understand your frustration, but the pain stopped that night.”

“Don’t reckon you’ve done many night’s work better than that one,” Chris said. “Vin, every adult in that case would have had counselling to handle what they’d seen. They’d have known that the children were given the best possible care, from good people. They’d have seen, like Ez said, that you’d given the kids some chance of a future. You and Blair had none of that. You only had each other, and that was for how long?”

“A day,” Blair said. “Then Naomi came.”

“A day,” Chris said, making the point plain.

Jim could see a reluctant acceptance on Vin’s face. “Felt like we should’ve done more, or different, though.”

“Which is exactly what counselling would have dealt with, as in fact you know,” Ezra said.

“Or seeing the children getting proper care.”

“Quit ganging up on me,” Vin grumbled, but Jim could almost see him healing now. “Y’ both think y’ know it all. And shift yer hand, Chris—yer bleeding on Jim’s shirt. Y’d best go wash.”

Chris moved the hand he’d kept on Vin’s shoulder throughout most of this, looked at it doubtfully, and went to run it under cold water. Jim followed him to the kitchen, to make coffee. Blair shifted to the couch, to talk to Vin in an undertone. Jim dialled his hearing down so he wouldn’t accidentally catch the conversation, and was taken by surprise as much as anyone when there was an abrupt knock at the loft door.

It was late enough for him to be wary when he opened it, and Chris had immediately returned from the bathroom, but the open door presented nothing more alarming than a rather nervous young man who might as well have had CIA agent stamped on his convulsing Adam’s apple. He stepped back from the expression on Jim’s face.

“I’m… that is… Detective Ellison? I’m Rigby, sir. Agent Rigby. I wanted to speak to Mr Sandburg and Mr Tanner, if that was possible.”

He moved back further as Chris Larabee joined Jim, but Blair called hastily, “Come on in. What did you want?”

Rigby came in. Jim let him because he’d assessed him carefully enough by now to decide that Rigby was embarrassed, not on some devious mission. He walked stiffly past Chris, and up to Vin and Blair.

“I wanted to apologise to you. It won’t mean much, I know, but not many of us knew what was going on. I’ve spent all day finding out, and reading Benedek’s stuff, and it seemed like no one was going to say we screwed up, but I thought it needed saying. I’m sorry. For what we let happen to you, and that Josephs was ever recruited.”

“Good lord, they slipped up and let in an idealist,” Ezra said, but his tone was quite mild.

“Hey, we don’t blame you for what your bosses did,” said Blair, to whom forgiveness came as naturally as breathing.

“What’re you really apologising for?” Vin asked quietly.

Rigby frowned slightly as if he wasn’t sure himself. “All of it, but… you were there, weren’t you, in Denver at the start of this? I wanted to say, it seems, well, an insult to what those children suffered. I’m sorry for that.”

Vin nodded. “That’s th’ right answer, Rigby.” He held out his hand. Rigby clasped it a moment gratefully.

“You must only have been kids yourself,” he said. “They say you stopped him the first time?”

“They did.”

Rigby jumped slightly when Chris spoke, but he ploughed on. “Well, I admire what you did, then and now, and I hope you get a better apology than mine.”

He held out a hand slightly hesitantly to Blair, who took it readily. “Jim’s just making coffee. Stay and have some with us.”

Rigby glanced at Jim and at Chris Larabee. “Thanks, but I have to go.”

Jim hadn’t looked that forbidding, whatever Blair’s slightly reproachful glance said; it was probably Larabee’s glare.

Ezra uncoiled from his position beside Vin. “Perhaps, agent Rigby, you would be able to offer me transport to my hotel. I suffered some problems with the hire car—as I think you know.”

Rigby managed a weak grin. “She was good, that child—very good. Someone ought to recruit her in a few years. I’d be delighted to give you a lift Mr Standish.”

“Until tomorrow morning then, gentlemen.” Ezra held Vin’s gaze for a minute, seemed reassured by what he saw, and went to follow Rigby.

Chris grinned once they’d gone—a look more feral than amused. “If he knows anything we don’t, Ez’ll have it before they reach the hotel.

Jim nodded. He’d picked up that subtext.

Blair, who hadn’t, said, “Come on, guys, it can’t have been easy for him to do that. What’s wrong with giving him the benefit of the doubt?”

“We gave him that when we let him in. Coffee, Chief? Or dandelion, burdock and lemongrass?”


“Coffee,” Vin agreed hastily. “Who th’ hell would drink dandelion and whatever?”

“It’s supposed to be good for you,” Blair said defensively. “Country people say it does something to the blood.”

“Curdles it?” Jim suggested. “Why don’t we just put this box in the trash?”

“It was expensive. Anyway, Naomi might like it.

Now there was a suggestion Jim could relate to. He’d even wrap the box up and put a bow on it. Meanwhile he put it out of the way, and poured four coffees, flicking the TV on after he’d handed them round. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d done something so simple.

It didn’t take much channel flipping to find the story was still running. He settled on a channel where a cheerfully energetic Benedek—apparently thriving on forty eight hours without sleep—was talking too rapidly for the interviewer to get a question in. The cameras shimmered slightly at his latest set of clothes. He was giving the viewers a synoptic and scurrilous account of the CIA’s dealings with criminals and psychopaths going back to the Third Reich, adding in an occasional plug for the paranormal. Whatever Jim thought of the content, it made entertaining viewing.

Later Vin rolled his sleeping bag out on Blair’s floor as he had done on that first night he arrived. He and Blair talked in low voices for a long time. When Jim accidentally overheard some of it, Blair seemed to be recounting a quite bizarre version of his and Larabee’s dealings with Major Crimes in their absence, which he’d had from someone at the party. “… and Simon says they woke him up at dawn every day…”

Jim tuned it out again, and poured himself and Chris a whisky. He appreciated Larabee’s ability to enjoy good scotch in a companionable silence. They’d shared enough drinks over the past few weeks when they seemed to have set back after set back in their search for Vin and Blair; it was good to share this one knowing they were safe.

Chris sipped his second shot and opened Blair’s album again, to the picture that had been in their minds so much that evening.

“Lot of ways they haven’t changed,” he said.

“Still scrawny,” Jim agreed, looking at it.


“Still jump straight into trouble.”

“Got that—damn, what does Ez call it—tenacity.”

“Can’t turn their backs on anyone in trouble.”

They raised their glasses in a sort of toast.

The silence stretched comfortably to a third glass, then Chris stirred and yawned.

“Hope you’ll both make it to Denver next time you get a vacation.”

“It’s top of the list.”

There was no reason at all why, before Jim went upstairs and Chris took the couch, they should have wandered over to look in Blair’s small and crowded room. Blair slept in a peaceful and untidy sprawl, oblivious. Vin opened his eyes briefly at the change in the light, and sighed.

“Always seems t’ be some old dog around wanting to stand guard,” he said, and rolled over to go back to sleep.

They looked at each other.

“Old dog?”

“Got no respect.”

“Could be worse roles though.”

“Yeah—at least he knows we got teeth.”

If Vin was listening, he gave no sign of it. They stood there a little longer, lingered because this was good. It was always good when it was over and the team… tribe… family, whatever, was safe. Jim wondered how long it was since any of them had simply gone to bed and slept the night through. He glanced at Larabee, and got a nod that acknowledged all that they felt and wouldn’t put into words.

Then he turned to the stairs, that good night’s sleep, and a loft that thrummed peacefully to his senses. It was over.


“You mean you didn’t warn them, Jim?” The jokers in the bullpen were pleased to see Jim and Blair again after their short leave—which hadn’t been spent in Denver.

“No mention of the Ellison Sandburg holiday curse?”

“Even a fed’s entitled to a risk assessment before he goes near you two on vacation.”

“But who’s the Jonah? I’d say Hairboy; Ellison didn’t have holiday disasters before.”

“Ellison didn’t have holidays before.”


Jim Ellison strode past ignoring this. Blair, following him towards Simon’s office, just had to stop; it wasn’t the stride—he could do that—but he couldn’t let this injustice go.

“This is a typical example of how superstitions arise,” he said severely. “Just because on one or two occasions…”

“One or two?”

“We can do better than that. Where do we start. There was the monastery. That one called for real talent at finding trouble.”

“And the island. One lighthouse; no crime of any kind in living memory till you two visited.”

Blair was rescued from having to answer this by Simon looking impatiently from his doorway. He hurried across, but not too fast to look back over his shoulder and have the last word. “Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a holiday. It was a working break.”

“It still will be,” Jim said, closing the door firmly. “Simon’s cleared the next few days for me now. Rafe and Henri and the others won’t be grinning so much when they find the extra work they’ve got. We’ll fly down to Denver this evening.”

“You think Chris will be up to visitors?” Blair asked doubtfully.

“Good question. I wouldn’t want you two as house guests if I’d just got out of hospital,” Simon said. “Is he even home yet?”

Although the mills of monolithic government would eventually grind slowly and minutely over the whole case of Josephs and the CIA, the more immediate aftermath involved some detailed inhouse inquiries, especially as Miller had disappeared efficiently and all attempts to trace him had failed. Those enquiries were the reason for Jim’s planned trip to Denver—he and Larabee being called to appear in front of one of them. As the official version of their activities held a few key differences from the real one, they’d decided they’d better get every detail straight. Any discrepancy was unlikely to be overlooked.

This was why they’d decided to spend a few days staying on Chris’s ranch. It would give them the opportunity of getting Ezra’s advice; he was probably the best qualified of them all to make sure their story ran with silken smoothness. It was also the only opportunity Jim and Blair would have for quite a while to enjoy the Denver team’s hospitality.

Only, and Blair had to admit the coincidence level was maybe approaching statistically significant, yet again something unpredictable had interfered with their plans.

“Larabee’s home,” Jim told Simon. “A bit stiff and sore, and I imagine with a killing headache, but no lasting damage.”

“So what exactly happened to him? You just told me he’d been hurt on some routine bust.”

“Sheer bad luck,” Jim said.

Blair winced. He really shouldn’t put it like that, not when half the bullpen were talking about curses. “Actually, Simon, it’s amazing this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. It was a straightforward accident. Someone fell on him.”

Simon looked sceptical. “Can’t say it’s in the manual as a regular hazard. Do you mean jumped on him.”

“Fell on him,” Jim said. “Place was a typical warehouse. Larabee’s men were helping out another team who hadn’t done their homework well enough. The bust was going smoothly, then it turned out there was a man unaccounted for—and he was up high. He only got off a couple of shots before Tanner took him out, but one of those hit a man from the other team. It sounds like the team leader and Larabee were trying to get him undercover. Perp fell through the walkway and landed on the three of them. Big man, thirty foot drop—got to do a bit of damage. Larabee was concussed but apparently it wasn’t as bad as it looked.”

“When Vin first rang he was talking about coma and the works,” Blair added, remembering the careful control in Vin’s voice when he drawled the bare facts, sounding as though he was giving them an official report. Blair would have offered sympathy, but it was Jim who’d taken the call. Blair had stood there, shocked and concerned, alternately gesturing to Jim to give him the phone or say something encouraging, but afterwards he thought maybe Jim’s almost military response had been what Vin could handle just then. Vin had called back around dawn—which meant he got Jim again—to say that the doctors had underestimated the hardness of Chris’s head, and he was conscious, coherent and complaining. They kept him in for two days; Blair had picked up the idea that hospital stress levels had risen to an all time high. His release must have been as much of a relief to the nurses as to Chris himself.

“I talked to Larabee a couple of hours ago,” Jim said. This was news to Blair, who’d been at Rainier all morning, using his unexpected free time in the library.

“You spoke to Chris?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me? How is he?”

“I am telling you. He’s okay. Think he’d just won an argument with Jackson and that had made him feel better. He says his team are hovering, and he hopes we’ll distract them.”

“Should have got himself a pretty nurse instead,” Simon said. “Okay, Jim. Go and make your arrangements.” His phone rang, and he waved them away.

They were in the bullpen, giving the mockers there the good news that they’d now got Jim’s work to cover for a couple of days, when Simon looked out of the office with an odd expression on his face and called them back in.

“Denver?” Jim asked.

“No, Miss Duncan and your small friend with the large doll. She’s made a ‘get well’ card for Chris—the child that is—and would you call in and take it. You know, Jim, I wouldn’t tell the world you and Larabee are getting together. The CIA still have people who can add up.”

“We haven’t been telling anyone,” Blair said. “She’s just that sort of woman. One of her locals will have an aunt or a sister or son in law or something in every area of every city in the USA. You should be grateful she’s more or less on our side.”

Jim—who adhered in the face of all the evidence to the notion that Miss Duncan was a kind old lady and Jodie a nice little girl—said, “It’s no bother to call in, anyway. I expect they’d like the latest news.”

That, at least, was an accurate assessment. More than seventy years separated Miss Duncan and Jodie but they shared a strong preference for knowing exactly what was going on. Reassured that Larabee was doing rather better than the unlucky medical staff, they presented Jim with a large and highly decorated piece of cardboard to deliver. Blair looked at it with some amusement once they were safely on the plane.

“Not difficult to guess which one is Chris.”

There were a number of figures on the card, some drawn in more detail than others, but large and lovingly drawn in the middle was a man in black shirt and jeans with short blond hair. Jodie had written underneath THE BOS. Another hand, presumably Miss Duncan’s had squeezed in an extra ‘s’, but the message came over clear enough without it.

When they finally arrived at the ranch, after being picked up in style by Ezra, the work of art was presented to Chris and given a prominent position in the den.

“Perceptive,” Ezra commented, looking at it critically. “My jacket was not perhaps such a riot of technicolour, but her intentions are unmistakable. Do you think the gorilla figure is Mr Wilmington or Mr Sanchez?”

“Hey, that one’s me,” Buck protested. In one corner a man characterised by a face-smothering moustache was holding on to two bulging women.

“But of course. Mr Sanchez then. Mr Jackson, I see, has a syringe suited to the treatment of a rhinoceros, and this is…?”

“That’s Jim,” Blair said. He’d had the advantage of a flight spent with nothing much better to do than work it out. “You can tell by the lack of most of the hair. And the Popeye muscles… Besides, that’s Simon next to him—she’s got Miss Duncan to draw him a badge that says ‘I’m the captain’.”

Chris, sprawled in a chair, but not looking as bad as he might have been, held out his hand for it to look at it more closely. “She’s got Ellison’s jaw just right too,” he said. “So where are you, Sandburg?” He tilted it round for Vin to see, but Vin, quiet on the edge of the group, wasn’t drawn in.

“I don’t think she’s done the rest of us,” Blair said. “Just her and her friends. Maybe that’s her brother on the other side of Chris.”

Jodie herself was obvious, drawn holding Chris’s hand, her own clothes and her doll’s given meticulous detail. Every line of the picture proclaimed that she was a very good girl. The boy on the other side, though, seemed to be held by the arm, as if he was trying to run off.

Chris looked at it intently, and his mouth quirked in a half grin, but all he said was, “Jodie’s brother had red hair from what I remember. Short and spiky. That’s him in the corner tied to a totem pole. Now this one causing me trouble—and the waif squashed between Ellison and Banks—think I recognise them.”

Blair didn’t, but he hadn’t paid that much attention to the children at the party Miss Duncan had organised. He wondered what Jim was laughing at—Jim looked like a man who’d found a joke that made up for being insulted about his hairline, but the card wasn’t that funny.

“Meal’s ready,” Josiah said rather hastily. Ezra put the card back in its position of honour, and they piled through, hungry.

The kitchen at the ranch was large, luckily, and the lasagne was vast. Demolishing it and the accompanying garlic breads, salads and desserts took most of the rest of the evening. Chris ate but disappeared off to his room early; Vin went to check around outside; but the rest of them lingered, chatting and enjoying the company. Caught up in the conversation, Blair was a while before he noticed that Vin hadn’t come back in. He hadn’t heard Vin say more than a couple of words since he’d first joined in welcoming them, either.

“Well, boys, if there’s nothing left to eat, we’d best be on our way,” Buck finally said. “Want a lift, Josiah?”

Nathan was staying, though Chris seemed to be fine. Ezra followed Buck and JD outside. “Sleep well,” he said to Blair. “I suspect you will find that everyone else on the premises rises around dawn, so I would venture to suggest locking your door and adopting some means of muffling the noise.” He glanced into the darkness at the far end of the porch. “Goodnight, Vin.”

“Night, Ez.”

Blair turned in that direction as the cars left. “Vin?”

Vin slipped out of the shadows and joined him. He didn’t speak.

“Chris looks okay,” Blair said tentatively.


“I mean, I suppose it’ll be a few days before he’s right back to normal, but he seems to be recovering faster than they expected.”


“How about you?”

“Not a scratch.”

That wasn’t what Blair had meant, but the conversation seemed to be going nowhere fast. He tried something less direct. “Miss Duncan asked us to say she was thinking of you.”

“Nice of her.” There was another long silence, then Vin added quietly, “Thought of her a few times this last few weeks.”

“It doesn’t just stop, does it,” Blair said softly. “I hoped it would, but it’s been kind of slow progress. I’ve started to remember some of that time Josephs had us.”

“Uh huh.”

“Jim’s been cool with it. I don’t want to know how he knows so much about that sort of stuff, but it’s helped to talk about it. About Denver, too. I mean, it’s better, really, having it all out in the open.”


It was hard to argue with agreement; but Blair felt that somewhere Vin was hurting. “Okay, Chris is getting better, and you’re getting past the Josephs thing. That’s good. So why did you only eat half your normal amount of lasagne, then come out here to look at the dark?”

Vin sighed. “Aint dark when y’ look at it prop’ly.”


“Yer like one of them little dogs, y’ know that? Th’ sort that nips onto yer ankle and hangs on.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Talk to me, Vin. You don’t usually pass on dessert and friends.”

“They eat all that choc’late cake?”

“No. Josiah made them put some in the fridge for you. Why did you turn your back on it in the first place.”

Vin sighed again. “Aint that I’m bein’ unsociable. I’m real glad you and Ellison could come. Aint even something I c’n easy find words for. It’s like—you don’t have something, or think y’ don’t, y’ realise how good it is when y’ get it back, then y’ really know how hard it’d be if’n y’ didn’t have it again. Just seemed t’ hit me t’night.”

Blair was just running this one past the language centre of his brain to make sure he’d got the gist of it right when Jim came out to join them. The dark, of course, really wasn’t dark to him, and he moved sure footed. He must have had his hearing dialled up too because he answered Vin, “But right now you don’t not have it. That’s a hell of a lot easier to live with than the alternative.”

They, at least, seemed to be talking the same language, even if Blair was having trouble translating it. There was a soft, heartfelt, “Yeah,” from Vin, and he straightened up at last. “Reckon y’ right, Ellison. Gonna give up borrowin’ trouble and get me some cake.” He dropped a light arm across Blair’s shoulders. “C’mon. Might be enough fer you. Y’ deserve it! Y’ don’t give up easy.”

It was late, past midnight by the clock in the kitchen, and past the hour when Blair could really appreciate chocolate laden gateau, but he could appreciate watching Vin dig into it with enthusiasm. After a minute Jim decided it was his duty as a polite guest to join in. Conversation was limited mostly to mutters of appreciation, but when they were finally heading for bed Vin paused at the door of the den, and looked at Blair with the beginnings of a grin. “Y’ worked out what little miss bossy done on that card yet?”

“How do you mean?”

Vin wiped a smear of chocolate off his hands and picked it up. “Y’ see Ellison, right?”


“And Banks.”

“Epitome of a captain.”

Vin blinked. “Gotta try that one on Ezra. Well, see that scrawny kid squashed between them, with his mouth open.”

Jodie had, Blair saw, drawn a speech balloon coming from the mouth and filled it with an enormous number of squiggles.

An uncomfortable thought occurred to him.

Jodie had told him kindly at their last encounter that he talked too much.

He looked at the picture again. Long hair. Checked shirt. Could this pygmy be a Blair representation? “She’s drawn someone coming up to about Jim’s waist!” he said.

“Reckon that’s what Ez’d call subjective,” Vin said. Jim was grinning, rather smugly.

“See,” Vin went on. “Chris, he gets t’ be real big. Jim here, too. Less important to Jodie, smaller they get. Her brother’s ’bout fit fer th’ dolls house.”

“I thought that was perspective.”

“Yep. Jodie’s perspective. She done me the same, on th’ other side of Chris t’ her. Reckernised it when I saw th’ look on Larabee’s face. Better face it, to Jodie we’re just th’ bad boys. Other folk get t’ be th’ heroes.”

Blair realised Jim had spotted this appalling caricature first time round. That somehow made it even more annoying.

“Ezra had it right,” Jim said. “She’s an unusually perceptive child.” He dropped a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “She’s tucked you in a nice safe position though. Maybe we should take a photocopy for Simon. Recommended situation for a police observer.”

“Laugh it up, spinach man,” Blair said, and went off to bed. Behind him he could hear Vin laughing; he found it an encouraging sound.

As the purr of Ezra’s car faded into the distance, Jim tilted back in his chair and closed his eyes to let his other senses appreciate the ranch. A lingering scent of coffee from the kitchen; the touch of autumn sun and fresh air on his face; the faint snicker of a horse; it was worth dwelling on a minute. He heard the slight sounds of Larabee coming out to join him, still moving a bit stiffly as he eased down into the other seat. It was too cool to sit out really, but the morning was lovely, and this spot something of a suntrap. Tension he hadn’t been aware of feeling seeped out of him.

“Ez’ll bring them back this afternoon,” Chris said. “He’s up to something, but these days I don’t ask.”

“I thought he was taking Blair to see some place where they work wood in traditional ways.”

“He is, but there’s more to it. I know Ez; there’s that little edge he don’t know he shows when he’s hoping something’s going to work out right with us—like a kid who doesn’t know if you’ll like the present he’s made at school.”

“So what’s he planning?”

“Like I said, I don’t ask. Something to cheer Vin up probably. Vin’s on the road back but he hasn’t quite got there yet—and this last week hasn’t helped.”

“Or that he was the one who took the shot?”

“Damn lucky he did. He knows he did exactly the right thing. Just his heart hasn’t quite caught up with his head, and he’s a bit slower to shake it off then he’d normally be. Having you two here’s a good thing. And I suppose we’d better get this story watertight. I’ve got a feeling this mess is going to rumble on for a long time.”

Vin enjoyed the pristine comfort of Ezra’s Jaguar and wondered where the hell Ez thought he was going. He’d avoided the fast and direct routes, showing a preference for a completely meaningless tour of the suburbs; in fact he seemed to have made a—for him—phenomenally early start especially so they could crawl along behind a school bus. Blair, talking about craftsmanship and the self respect it had given people, only noticed when they stopped altogether. A bunch of boys, laughing and jostling together as they ran for the bus, stopped to comment on the Jag and then had to run even faster as the bus driver began to lose patience.

“This isn’t the place?” Blair asked puzzled.

“Nope. Reckon this is Ez’s guide to the parts of Denver tourists normally miss.”

“It’s quite a pleasant area of suburbia,” Ezra commented, as everyday life continued around them with mothers going out to the shops and to work. “However, I gather that your interest in it is limited. Our destination is not in fact too far distant.”

Their destination turned out to be not simply a workshop but a whole landscaped site. As well as the traditional woodworking he’d promised them, there were other handicrafts, and acres of planting of herbs and rarer varieties of common plants and vegetables.

“Is this a commercial place?” Blair asked, surprised.

“It is in fact making a profit now,” Ezra said, “but it was founded as a charity. Many of the workers here suffer from some sort of mental disability. Here they work side by side with craftsman and horticulturists, and I believe the results have been satisfactory even beyond the expectations of its founders. Some of the furniture is quite beautiful.”

He led them into the workshop, and they walked round a while. Blair was simply enjoying the place, and talking to some of the designers about the origins of the styles and finishes they were using. Vin, like Chris, tended to believe nothing was simple with Ezra involved, but he liked this—liked the smell of the wood and the low hum of people enjoying their work.

Ezra stopped beside a big shambling young man who was rubbing some sort of wax into the pieces of a rocking chair. He was humming to himself as he worked, and his stubby, starfish hands sometimes paused to stroke the wood lovingly. After a minute he seemed to realise he was being watched. He looked up and beamed at their interest.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” Blair said. “That’s a lovely piece of furniture.”

Vin couldn’t say anything. Something about the unlimited friendliness in the young man’s expression caught at his memory and suddenly made his stomach lurch. He looked into brown eyes which met his with slightly puzzled warmth, and between one heartbeat and the next stopped seeing a stranger. He recognised that look.

“Know you?” the man asked.

“Aaron?” Vin managed, his voice strangled. He didn’t know how it could be, but even as he said it, he knew he was right.

Aaron’s smile, if possible, grew broader. “That’s right,” he said. He put down his polishing cloths and held out his arms, as if he could see Vin’s need. “C’mon brother,” he said. “Hug.”

Vin hugged him, fervently. He’d remembered a lot of things about Aaron, but he’d forgotten till now the sheer goodness that shone out of him. It hadn’t been crushed. This was Aaron as he remembered him, giving much more than he ever took, generous and uncomplicated in his affection.

“Are you a friend of Aaron’s?”

A rather pretty girl in stained jeans had come up to join them. Vin pulled back and swiped an arm across his eyes. “Knew him way back,” he said. “M’names Vin. This here’s Blair and Ezra.”

“I’m Susannah. I’m—I suppose you’d call it Aaron’s house sister. I help with the organisation of the house he lives in. How long ago did you know Aaron?”

Vin glanced at Ezra, but it was Aaron who came to the rescue. “Vin was my friend,” he told her. “My friend who came.”

Vin stared, and saw that the puzzled look had gone from Aaron’s expression. How clear his memories were Vin couldn’t guess, but there was recognition there now. Aaron patted his face, his hand smelling of something sweet in the wax. “Vin,” he said again, softly. “Thankyou for coming.”

“I’m so pleased you came, too,” Susannah said, misunderstanding this as simply referring to today’s visit. “I came to call Aaron for coffee break. Maybe you’d all like to come over with us.”

Blair had already offered Aaron his own enthusiastic hug, and he and Ezra both showed some interest in improving their acquaintance with Susannah. Vin didn’t trust himself to speak, but he followed along with them to the bright and pleasant hostel which provided rooms for some of the workers on the site who didn’t live at home. An unfamiliar feeling that was almost joy was bubbling up in him. He was relieved to see there were a number of people sitting down for coffee, and he could get back his composure unnoticed. “Won’t ask how you managed this one,” he murmured to Ezra.

“It was Benny,” Ezra said softly. “And I was uncertain—whether he was right about the person and location, whether this was in fact one of my better ideas or not…”

“One of y’ best. One of y’ very best.”

Vin finished his coffee in silent but contented thought. He’d had no idea places like this existed. He’d never even begun to hope that Aaron would grow up into a place where he could thrive among friends and enjoy his work; never dared hope it for himself, come to that. He wondered what other places hope should have lightened. Had it only been Aaron, or had Ezra’s tour through the suburbs been a part of this day’s gift?

“Okay, Ez,” he said, as Aaron helped Blair clear the table. “Tell me about that street we stopped in.”

“That, I must admit, was a much more tentative endeavour. Your friend Sadie, according to Benny, was reunited with her baby, and given some sort of guidance in how to be a mother. His research had to be very tactful, but he believes that she currently lives in that street, and that her son—who of course is a teenager by now—would be one of the pupils at that particular picking up point. I would not suggest we intrude any more closely than we did today. You may like to share the information with Mr Sandburg, of course.”

Vin looked at him in wonder. “How long you and Benny been finding all this out?”

“I believe we began before your return to Denver. It was a rather slow and convoluted process. I visited this place last week, and then other events intervened. As Chris’s return home was to be rapidly followed by the advent of our colleagues from Cascade, this seemed an ideal opportunity to come. Although Blair did not know these people as you did, I thought he might also appreciate the closure.”

Vin nodded. “Thanks,” he said. “You given us something real precious t’day.”

“I imagine Aaron will be happy if you can come to visit occasionally now. Susannah can no doubt give you an idea whether some times are more appropriate than others.”

They improved on this with Blair’s dedicated help before they left though. Susannah, who had planned to spend her day off the next day with her sister and a couple of friends, was persuaded to bring all of them and Aaron out to the ranch in the evening.

“And if her sister is anything like Susannah, that should make the party go with a swing,” Blair told Buck and JD later, with satisfaction at a job well done.

Vin winked at Chris. “They’s all a bit young. Y’ might want t’ ask Mary and a few more matronly types.”

“Want me to repeat that to Mary?”

“I weren’t calling her matronly.”

“She might not appreciate that distinction. Anyway, she’s working. Hey, Ez!”

Ezra winced. “I wish you would make the effort to attract my attention in some other way.”

“I got something for you.”

Ezra looked more suspicious than enthusiastic, but he came over. “The word ‘something’ does not fill me with confidence.”

Chris produced a bottle of amber liquid. “Something from Scotland.”

“Ah, well in that case, accept my felicitations on your choice.” He took the bottle. “Glenfiddich. This is a very pleasant surprise. Have I forgotten my birthday?”

“Well, I was saving it for a special occasion. Reckon you made today that. And Vin knew which cupboard it was in…”

“Thanks, Ez,” Vin said again. “Feel like some kinda stone I been carrying round fer years just got shifted. Can’t tell y’ what it means to see Aaron like that.”

“I believe they are about to attempt to play poker in my absence,” Ezra said, and bolted, taking the scotch.

Chris laughed. “One of these days we might manage to thank him without scaring him off.”

Vin leaned back next to him, comfortable. “One of these days.”

“You know, I can just about remember being that young,” Chris said philosophically the next evening as Jim Ellison came in, put his cell phone away and dropped beside him. Nathan and Josiah were in the kitchen, but Buck was teaching everyone else a game which involved considerable contortion. He’d got them into threes, and was calling out instructions like ‘elbow/nose’ or ‘chin/knee’. Apparently the winning team would be joined in all the locations mentioned. Blair, JD and Susannah’s sister Alice seemed to be the most supple. Chris, who still ached in more places than he had any intention of admitting to, winced at the sight of it all.

Something about the silence next to him caught his attention. He glanced at Jim. “Problem?”

“Maybe. I hope not. That was Kelso who called. You remember a nasty piece of work called Botting?”


“He’s gone rogue. Kelso just heard. Not much loss in one way, but apparently he’d been mouthing off about the injustice of Miller having to run—and what should have been done to us instead.”

“Fits. So Kelso thinks he might be a threat?”

“No, not really. Kelso knows he was an incompetent little asshole, though he put it less bluntly. But he thinks the fact Botting got away clean suggests Miller might have recruited him. And Miller could be a threat.”

“Miller wouldn’t waste time on us unless we got in his way.”

“That’d be my assessment, too. We’re not planning to get in his way, so forget it. And I’m not planning to mention it to Blair, either.”

There was an outbreak of shrieking from the other side of the room. With the teams contorting with about equal success, Buck had introduced a new challenge. They had to hold their position while he went round and tickled the team members. As they all collapsed in ignominious heaps, Nathan looked in and yelled over the noise that the pizzas were cooked. Chris looked at Blair, laughing helplessly at the bottom of the pile, and Vin, who had extricated himself smoothly and was also laughing as he chivalrously helped up the girls. They didn’t need to know if there was some cloud way off in the distance. He nodded to Ellison, and they followed the others on through to the kitchen.

A long way from Denver, Miller was reading the classified version of the arrest and imprisonment of Lee Brackett. If Chris had known, maybe he’d have seen that cloud thicken and darken a little, but the ranch kitchen was noisy with cheerful conversation and he’d dismissed Miller from his thoughts.

Jim and Blair flew back to Cascade cheerful and well rested. They found the bull pen had been smitten with a nasty stomach bug donated by Daryl who’d caught it at school. The detectives who’d returned were pale and bad tempered.

It was irresistible.

“Lucky we were off on holiday,” Jim said.

“We missed all the problems.”

“Nice few days away.”

“This place just seems like a magnet for trouble.”

They got a couple of groans and a few more rude gestures, and Blair thought it would be quite a while before they heard the next joke about holiday disasters. He licked his finger and scored a one-up in the air, and he and Jim strolled through the convalescents and back to work.

~ End ~