Game For Murder by Krisser

Game For Murder - Krisser

~~~~~

Author's notes: This story is set in the Murder By Ritual setting. It doesn't need to be read to enjoy this one, only casual references to the first story.

The characters of Superintendent Roger West and Chief Inspector Venables are products of the deceased mystery writer, John Creasy. Most of what I know about Scotland Yard comes from him.

~~~~~

Blair Sandburg was happy to see the back of the real estate agent. Blair and his partner, Jim Ellison, had just signed the lease for a Greenwich flat. Having finally found a place to live was not the reason Blair was glad to see her go. It was the way the agent had flirted with Jim shamelessly for the last half-hour.

Not that Jim had paid any attention but she had been trying mercilessly to gain his exclusive attention, even going so far as to suggest dinner to finalize the deal. Jim declined and they both signed the papers. She was finally on her way, but not without first leaving her phone number.

They entered what was now their home and Jim felt the need to imprint the two-bedroom dwelling. The Sentinel went from room to room standing dead center and turning slowly to get the feeling of each room. Eventually he ended up in the master bedroom.

His Guide followed him in and found himself in a tight embrace. It was not a grounding embrace but one full of love. Blair returned it with equal fever.

"Home." Jim breathed with quiet exaltation, "Our home," Jim kissed Blair full on the lips. When his lips moved over Blair's ear, he whispered, "Our first one together."

Blair melted within the embrace. Jim had a romantic streak a mile wide, but few ever saw it.

Blair tracked Jim's lips over his face, down to his neck. Jim then retraced his trail with his tongue before burying his nose behind his ear. Little nips on the lobe had Blair losing all track of the here and now.

Jim wove a sensual web for his partner, expressing his joy the best way he knew how.

When awareness returned, Blair found himself on the floor. His jeans were pulled below his knees, his cheeks cupped firmly in Jim's hands and Jim licking his groin area clean.

"Jeez, man, that was spectacular ... that was like nothing before," he took a deep breath before he smiled at his partner, then remembered that he had not participated in this session whatsoever. "Hey, man, I need to take care of you."

Jim almost blushed, "No Chief, I'm fine."

"But, Jim ..." Blair protested.

"Chief, I was with you, with my senses wide open. I could feel you fly, I was with you all the way."

Blair reached out and ran his fingers through the part of Jim's hair that he could reach. "Love you."

"You, too, Blair."

After several minutes of just holding each other, Jim redressed his partner then headed to the bathroom to clean himself.

Blair moved into the front room, decorating with his imagination as he went. "Ready to go out and get some furniture?" he asked aloud as his partner joined him by the front window.

"Yeah, a decent bed should be the first order of the day."

Blair nodded and followed his partner out, locking up their new apartment behind them.

Jim got behind the wheel of his new Land Rover and followed Blair's directions into Camden.

"Most of our stuff should be arriving later this week," Blair reminded absently, thinking that they'd need a couple of dressers, too.

Jim uh-huhed as he remembered their last Cascade visit.

After accepting Scotland Yard's offer of employment, Detective Jim Ellison and Profiler, Dr. Blair Sandburg headed back to the States to resign in person. Jim truly felt he owed that to Simon Banks, his captain the last three years and friend the last five.

While sorry to lose the potential arrest records, Simon seemed almost relieved that he wouldn't have to deal with the 'relationship'. It seemed that while the sentinel abilities were a nuance, he could tuck them away. But, the very public nature of Jim personal relationship was something that couldn't be hidden. Captain Banks didn't want to deal with the daily fallout of that one.

He was cordially polite to Dr. Sandburg. He was unwilling to incur the wrath of the Governor, even if he did hold Sandburg responsible for the loss of a good detective.

Ellison was well aware of Bank's attitude and tried to keep his guide shielded from the brunt of it. Just one afternoon in the squad room was all it took to reaffirm the decision to leave. Blair was an oddity to be tolerated here, while in London, he was a sought after, respected professional. Jim left without regret.

He had been overjoyed to discover that Caroline had been attending a conference. She had been out of town their entire stay. His ex-wife had been so odious at their last meeting that he had wanted to spare Blair further unpleasantness.

They had made arrangements to ship their belongings. Blair didn't have much, most of his possessions had been lost in the explosion at his warehouse home. Jim, on the other hand, had more possessions but no real wish to drag them along.

He chose the books and CDs he treasured; clothes and kitchen stuff were selected on need. They figured on purchasing big furniture in London. No sense paying for freight on items that had no sentimental value.

Blair had mostly boxes of files dealing with work or research. They were already boxed and they only had to update the shipping labels.

All in all, not a very memorable sendoff from a place that had been home all these years.

Jim Ellison guessed the old cliché was actually true, home is where the heart is. Well, Blair Sandburg had his heart and he was at home where ever the energetic man was.

The beep behind him brought him out of his reverie and he moved forward into the backward traffic.

That was probably the hardest thing to get used to, driving on the wrong side of the road. Food wasn't a problem, they'd found several new eateries and the list was growing daily. The terms that differed were like any new situation, all sounded normal after a time. But driving on the opposite side of the road was going to take a lot more practice.

Jim had to admit to himself, that even in these moments of reflection, wondering about yet another assimilation into a foreign country, the way that Blair had been treated upon their return made it all worth the effort.

The Yard's anticipation of working with Sandburg was felt, as was the acceptance of working with the partnership of Sandburg and Ellison. Better yet, was that same acceptance was extended to the personal relationship of Ellison and Sandburg as well.

Jim bet himself that in a year's times he'd be used to all the idiosyncrasies of his new home...or at least he hopped so.

--------

Jim was upstairs with the deliverymen when Chief Inspector Gordon Venables pulled up.

"Gordon, good to see you," Blair greeted the Yard man enthusiastically.

"Blair," the Chief Inspector paused then plowed on, "I wish this was a social call, Roger said you'd be in tomorrow but something has come to my attention and I was hoping to involve you and Jim today."

"Jim's upstairs, but he can hear you, too," Blair reminded his new co-worker. "What's up."

Venables looked up towards the window that Blair indicated, still amazed at Ellison's abilities. "A mate from university is an Inspector in Surrey. He's found a body, said it nudged his memory of another murder in Kent last week. Both bodies were placed in the exact same position after death." Venables paused as he checked his notes, "The body's been taken in, but he's having it held and he's not released the crime scene as well. Was hoping to enlist our aid."

Ellison exited the building after the deliverymen. He gave them a wave before joining his partner and the Chief Inspector. He had Blair's laptop and digital camera along with their jackets. He nodded to his guide, letting him know that he had heard everything.

"Okay, let's go."

On the drive southwest of London, Gordon tried to clarify the makeup of the area. Confusing to natives; it was that much harder for transplants.

"Greater London actually consists of the Corporation of the City of London, but usually it's just called the City, plus thirty-two boroughs. The City is the old city of London and is the modern city's commercial center; it is also referred to as the "Square Mile" because of its area. It has twelve inner boroughs that surround the City and twenty outer boroughs. Boroughs are like mini cities within the greater city and each have their own council. Makes playing politics a pain in the arse."

"Sorta like New York City," Blair guessed as he compared it to a place he knew.

Conversation ended as Gordon Venables pulled up to the Dunsfold Police Station. He greeted his old mate, Inspector Paul Walden, and introduced Sandburg and Ellison as special officers of Scotland Yard.

Walden shook the officer's hands before starting in, "The Medical Examiner won't be done for several hours, so why don't we go to the crime scene?"

They switched to Walden's vehicle. He explained that he thought an out of an area police vehicle would draw too many questions.

They pulled up to an average looking house in an average looking neighborhood. Their arrival garnered looks from windows by neighbors, but nothing more than that.

Walden ushered the three Yard men into the dwelling. Yellow tape and chalk marks ringed the specific areas involved.

The Chief Inspector checked his notes for the victim's information, "Rodney Green, thirty-nine, librarian. He was found at the foot of the stairs leading to the cellar. The main blood spot was on the livingroom carpet. The bloody drag marks on the carpet and linoleum strongly indicate that the body was moved."

"How do you know he didn't drag himself?" Venables inquired.

"The bleeding wound was on the back of his head. So, he would have had to have dragged himself while lying on his back." The Dunsfold man pointed to the bloody trail.

Venables led Walden to the front of the house, allowing Sandburg and Ellison time to check out the scene on their own.

Without words, the men separated to first access the room individually. Then, they would do it together.

Jim first took the time to differentiate the smells. He categorized, separated and then eliminated the scents that were not immediately necessary. He was left with the human scents.

The Sentinel wandered the house to identify the scents that belonged. He found several that weren't from the residents that lived in the house. He eliminated Venables and Walden, but for the rest, he didn't know which belonged to the police force and which to the murderer.

He joined Blair and they worked his sight together. In the livingroom, he pointed out anything that hadn't been tagged by the Surrey forensic team. Blair quickly marked each spot indicated. They would ID and bag after they finished all the rooms.

"The cigarette butts in the bathroom may or may not be evidence," Jim shrugged, many a perp had stopped to use the toilet at a murder scene.

"It's better to over collect. I'll ask Walden if the team dusted in there," Blair jotted a note to himself.

"They didn't, Chief, no print dust," Jim told him.

"I'll ask anyway, better public relations."

"Wish we could have seen the other crime scene," Jim lamented.

"The Kent Police may not have noted anything amiss...but then again, the M.E. must have seen something for Walden to have picked up on it." Blair looked up at his partner, "We should go to Kent."

Jim nodded, "After we see the body."

Sandburg and Ellison located Venables and Walden out front.

Blair asked of Walden, "You guys dust down the kitchen and bathroom?"

"No, the team didn't dust the loo. Nothing was out of place in either room, so the team concentrated in the front rooms. I can have the forensics return if you deem it important."

"Don't know if it's important, but at this stage it's best to eliminate all we can. We don't have much to go on yet." Blair clarified.

They went straight to the morgue. Even though the coroner hadn't finished with Green, Jim asked if he could watch. Walden took them into view the procedure. The strong chemical scent froze Jim in place and the guide stepped up to remind his sentinel to dial down the offending smells.

Jim grabbed Blair's neck and rubbed his thumb under the left ear. The scent of his guide filled his senses and his equilibrium returned. The Sentinel began processing the scents still discernable on the victim's body.

The Medical Examiner took in the introductions while he continued to work. He gave them his preliminaries, "He was felled by the first blow to the head. The second blow was completely unnecessary. His head bumped the ground three times, but all impacts occurred post-mortem. He was repositioned almost immediately after death, as all lividity is in the position he was discovered in. He had been dead approximately twelve hours before he was found."

"Do we have the murder weapon?" Blair asked.

"No, it wasn't found around the body or in the living room. Another reason to go back and recheck the house." Walden made a note in his tablet.

"Check the kitchen, there was a scent of blood in there and I now know it matches the victim." Jim told them as a scent memory kicked in.

Inspector Walden and the M.E. both turned puzzled faces to the American. Venables smiled, "He's our blood hound."

Jim looked sheepishly to his guide, it was hard not to blurt out his findings. Blair gave him that special look of pride and smiled, telling him not to worry.

The drive to Kent was interrupted by a stop for a meal. It would time their arrival to coincide with the shift change at the Kent Station. It would be easier to locate the officer in charge of the White case with most of the officers in house.

Venables knew from the report that Inspector Anson handled the initial murder investigation. They had little information; Jan White, forty-two, a chef for the local school, had been found dead when she failed to show up for work. She had been shot. She had been found at the foot of the stairs, and, according to Walden, in the exact same position as Green.

"Without the body positioning, no one would put the murders together." Blair spoke his thoughts aloud.

"Venables shrugged, "Walden's wife did a bunk and he fills in his time by reading police reports from all the boroughs and surrounding shires of London. A fluke, but a lucky one."

"One of the better tools for the police," Jim grinned, knowing just how often intuition and gut instincts helped solve a crime.

Inspector Anson seemed puzzled by the Yard interest, but turned over his report without a problem.

"Any suspects?" Jim asked the Kent policeman.

"None. Best guess is that it was one of the local youths. She lived alone; no enemies that could be found. Overall she was loved for her desserts." Anson shared all he knew of the woman.

"What about the house?" Venables asked.

It's no longer under our authority, but it remains empty. She has a niece that hasn't come down as yet to attend to it. I still have keys and open permission to enter."

"I would like to see it," Blair affirmed.

"Fine. I'd like to come along and maybe you could explain your interest." Anson had noted both the American accents and their Yard IDs and his curiosity was piqued.

"Of course," Blair agreed.

The house struck Jim as middle class, same as Green's house. Nothing eye catching, just a modest home for a solitary lady.

Venables distracted Anson with a search of the outer perimeter as the sentinel and guide entered the dwelling.

Jim grounded himself first, inhaling a deep breath of pure Blair. He focused on his center before casting out his sense of smell. He pushed past the stale orders of non-use and searched for remembered scents. He found one, ever so faint, in the front room and the kitchen.

"Walden was right, these murders are connected."

The sentinel and guide wandered about the house and found little to fill in the blanks of Mrs. White's life. No pictures could be found, save a single wedding photo. The shelves held a few books and cooking magazines.

"This woman must have a past somewhere, the answers might be there, for there is nothing in the here and now." Blair said as he lifted up the piano bench and looked inside, "No sheet music."

"The piano is nothing more than a possession." Jim had come across that frequently in middle class dwellings.

"We have some research ahead of us. We need to tie the victims together, as well." Blair turned to his partner, "Guess we can furniture shop on the weekend," disappointed at the loss of time together.

Jim smiled, "At least the most important piece has already arrived."

-------------

"Special Chief Inspector Ellison," Susan Oscar called after the retreating back of the officer. She was the police staff assigned to this newly developed office. She was not yet used to the odds hours of this unit. Still, it was considered a plum assignment.

Jim stopped and turned, waiting for Susan to catch up. "Good morning, Susan. That was a mouthful."

She smiled in greeting. "There was a call from the States. A Captain Simon Banks. Said it was important, sir."

"Thanks, Susan, and it's Jim. Sir is unnecessary unless it's inspection day or something."

Ellison's smile and gentle manner won Susan over completely. She was certainly pleased to have received this assignment.

Jim took the message and glanced at the number, Simon's cell. It was important if he left a non-work number. With a deep breath, he punched in the number he knew by heart.

The call was answered on the first ring by its owner, "Banks."

"Hi, Simon, it's Jim."

"Jim," real warmth colored the captain's voice, "Glad you called."

"Simon. I know it's late there, but the Admin staffer said it was important."

"That's okay, Jim. Yeah, your father made a big stink with the Mayor about your leaving and he seemed unable to accept that you resigned. Thought you were fired. Anyway, he said he was going to England to straighten you out. Just wanted to give you a heads-up."

"Ah, damn it." Jim ran his hand through his hair, "Sorry, Simon, hope it didn't put you in too tough a spot with the mayor. My father only hears what he wants to hear."

Simon chuckled a bit, "Well, the Mayor was none too happy, but all survived."

Jim could hear that Simon wasn't quite comfortable in the conversation and didn't prolong it. "Thanks, Simon ... I know it's late... come visit, you're always welcome. Bring Daryl."

"Thanks, Jim, I might do that. Bye." Banks rang off.

Jim put down the phone, deep in thought. A confrontation with William Ellison was something he'd rather take a pass on. Damn.

---------

By mid-afternoon, Blair was certain that the morning's phone call from Simon Banks had contained distressing news. Of what kind, Blair didn't know, but he could guess. Jim hadn't shared it and that, on its own, was very telling.

Blair couldn't think of a time that Jim had withheld something important. In fact, Jim had called him on the carpet for doing as much when he had been troubled about returning to Cascade.

Jim distant was different for Blair and it had him worried. He knew he should just ask, but part of him was worried that the phone call had Jim homesick. As much as he didn't want to, he would return to Cascade if that's what Jim really wanted.

Fearful, but decided, Blair sought out his partner. He found him down in Records, in the computer annex.

As they were alone in the basement office, Blair forged ahead, "Bad news from the old home front?"

Jim turned, startled at the intrusion, he hadn't even noted Blair's entrance. One thing he did notice right away was his guide's agitated state. For all that he was trying to hide it, it was coming off Blair like a palatable sensation.

"Bad news? Yeah, I guess in a way it is." He pondered how those words echoed exactly how he felt.

Blair readied himself to accept whatever Jim told him.

"Simon called to warn me that my father caused an uproar and created ill will with the mayor; something my father excels at. Worse yet, it seems that he is planning on bringing his argument here. He's already on his way."

"Yeah?" Relief and excitement warred within the profiler.

"Get that look off your face, Darwin, this visit will be anything but a pleasure."

"He's your dad, man." Blair still envied Jim that.

Jim rubbed his face. "Let's get out of here," Jim shut down what he was working on and led Blair out of the building.

They walked in silence to the Whitehall Deli. They ordered their sandwiches and beverages in automatic accord. A nudge and raised brow accompanied Jim's extra order of peppers. Jim shrugged in return, with the control his guide had given him; all food was back on his table.

They waited for the food delivery before Jim began his explanation. "I told you my dad raised us, Steven and I."

Blair shook his head in disbelief, "Yeah, I remember and well."

Jim ignored his food and continued the story, "I told you about the competition thing," Jim felt his partner's nod, "My dad had this car. A '65 Cobra. You know that ride?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah." Blair smiled in fond memory.

"If my dad was in a good mood, he'd let me drive it every now and again, but only when he was with me. Once, I backed it out of the garage myself. Out of nowhere pops up my old man. I thought he would split a gasket. He wanted to rip my head open. It was so crazy. He forbid me to even go near the car again. He was going to go on this business trip. Japan, Australia -- I don't know where it was, but he had promised Steven that he was going to take him on this trip if he kept his grades up. One day Steven comes home with a "B." A "B." The old man says, "Steven, sorry, the deal's off. Jimmy, pack your bags."

Blair nodded in understanding, "So he punished him by rewarding you."

Jim nodded back, "Yeah, Steven was pretty pissed off. He was jealous. He was really hurt. I guess he wanted to get the old man back or maybe he was trying to get me back, but he took a crowbar to the Cobra. The old man must have figured I'd taken it out for a joyride and dinged it up. I said, "I had nothing to do with this, Pops." He just wouldn't believe me. I wasn't going to rat Steven out, but he never came forward and told the truth."

Blair guessed at the outcome, "So, he got to go on the trip?"

Jim shook his head at the memory, "Yeah, and I got to go on one of my own."

Events fell into place, "Right. Join the army, see the world."

Jim sucked in a deep breath, "Something like that. The bottom line was that I realized that I couldn't change the relationship I had with my old man. We didn't communicate then and we still don't now. He doesn't listen, I can talk all I want, but he just doesn't hear."

Curious, Blair asked, "What about Steven?"

Jim shrugged, "I haven't had a conversation with him in the last fifteen years."

Blair's head snapped back, incredulous, he asked, "What about when you got back from Peru?"

"Nothing, not a word. Have to admit I was pretty hurt. Expected some kind of word from my dad at least, after all, the military informed him of my death." Amazed at the hurt that still accompanied those thoughts.

"Wow, that is harsh. You would have expected something ... I would have." Blair wasn't feeling envious anymore.

Jim paid the bill as Blair wrapped up the sandwich for Jim to eat later when he got hungry. They walked back to the yard, both feeling better for the shared confidences. Jim thought it ironic that William Ellison could finally aid in a bonding, and, that was how it felt with Blair, bonded.

In a short reality check, Jim knew that he had never felt closer to anyone as he did with Blair. Even in the early months of his marriage to Carolyn, he had never felt this closeness. And trust! He had never trusted Caro enough to let down and share what he already shared with Sandburg. Jim actually thought a lifetime was possible.

A deep breath and smile from Blair later, Jim figured he'd just back-burnner his dad until he showed.

The two new Yard men headed back down to records. Connections between their victims were still elusive. They awaited the written files that hadn't yet been entered into the collective database.

The delivery was quicker than anticipated. Superintendent West must have been cracking some whips to get archive moving that fast. Three boxes arrived shortly after lunch break marked 'for their eyes only'.

"That's sound so James Bondish," Blair remarked playfully.

"That's junior James Bond to you. I had the official decoder ring."

"You're just saying that so I'll unpack your stuff looking for it." The bedevilment in his eyes belied the complaint in his voice.

"Not a chance, Darwin, I've seen how you keep your stuff. You keep your mitts off my stuff, and especially my decoder ring."

Blair twirled his imaginary moustache, "Ve ave vays to make you talk."

"I won't tell you nothing," Jim clowned back.

Blair tried for menacing, but Jim found it adorable and cried out in surrender as Blair fondled him boldly. "Uncle."

"Wrong show, man."

-------

Several hours later they were ready to pack it in for the night. Blair's cell rang sounding exceptionally loud in the quiet room.

"Sandburg."

Jim could easily hear Venables voice.

"We have another murder. The crime scene is said to be like the others. The forensic team has been there about a half hour."

"Address?' Blair requested.

"Sutton. One of the southern boroughs. Six eleven Hanson Court." Venables signed off.

Jim already had Blair's backpack open. He stuffed the laptop in, glad that the digital camera was already in there and didn't have to hunt for it.

Jim drove as Blair navigated, but he used his sentinel vision to checked the map several times, double-checking the route without alerting his partner. Navigation wasn't Blair's strongest suit.

Forty minutes later, Ellison and Sandburg showed their IDs and entered the house on Hanson Court.

Venables greeted them with information. "Ginny Blue; poultry supplier; twenty-seven."

Blair looked around the house. Aside from being full of forensic personal, he noticed that this home was a lot more up scale than the other two homes. It was hard to imagine what the common factor between the victims was. Other than the exact position of the bodies Blair didn't find a ritual.

No apparent forced entry, so the victims must have admitted their killer. He either appeared trustworthy or they knew him. He felt male, but a clear idea of the killer wasn't emerging. Finding the connection would hold the key.

Jim joined him after finishing his solitary loop around the house.

"The same scent is here, Chief, but the cause of death is different. This victim was stabbed in the chest. No signs of struggle, no defensive wounds."

"Yeah, ties in with my thoughts. I figure all the victims must have known the killer."

"Killer in the kitchen again. No prints though."

"Yeah, it's like it's personal, but yet, it's not." Blair took out the camera and took pictures of the entire house. He hoped that later something might stand out to him or Jim.

Venables closed his phone and sought out Sandburg and Ellison. "Roger suggested grabbing a meal at a jazz club in the West End. Ronnie Scott's. I can guarantee you a decent meal and it's open late.

"Sounds like a plan," Jim agreed.

"I can eat," Blair chimed in.

Gordon hit the dial back button on his phone.

It was going nine p.m. before they got out of Sutton. The traffic was light and they made good time. West had ale waiting for them upon their arrival.

"The press hasn't made a connection yet, but some Fleet Street journalists are knocking at the door. They are curious about what our new department is up to." West announced after a second order of chips arrived.

"So, it's not the case they're sniffing at, but us?"

"Apparently. The press is both friend and foe. Check your rear-views." West sipped his ale, "So, give me details."

They talked the case without new revelations.

It was after midnight when the Americans turned the lock on their new home. Exhausted, they undressed without turning on the lights and crawled into the new bed.

Blair was delighted to find that bed had already been made. Naked, under fresh sheets, they spooned closely together and fell asleep.

----------

A sentinel shower was the best way to start any day. First, Blair would find his hair washed and conditioned by gentle hands. Then, his body would receive the same special attention, washed with the acute eye of a sentinel. The final phase began when the Sentinel tasted his Guide to be sure his job was completed with the accuracy that his guide deserved.

His tongue only made it three-quarters of the way down Blair's body, as was usual, each time at this point his tongue would encounter a thick, throbbing protrusion. It beckoned care and the Sentinel did not have the will to ignore it. He worked with careful intensity. He ran his fingers through the dark curls as his tongue tasted the drops of essence and would lose control. He would envelop the entire protrusion to the hilt and suck on it like it was a special treat. As his mouth worked its will, his hands explored and found the crackline and followed it to his treasure. His fingers opened and stretched the private opening that was just for him.

His reward was a mouthful of fluid. A substance only Blair could give.

Blair rubbed sensually against Jim, wanting to be filled by something only Jim was allowed and Jim responded immediately. With one arm wrapped around Blair's waist, he arched them both back so that he could get the shower head set in such a way that the water hit Blair in the chest like a hundred tongues.

Then, he lifted Blair just enough that he could impale the prepared canal. With his other hand, well soaped, he grabbed the organ so recently depleted and felt its rebirth.

Jim pumped his hips and hand in a simultaneous motion. As he did, the Sentinel opened his senses fully, slowly, feeling all the sensations build. He heard Blair's blood race. He heard the steady breaths become pounding pants from the inside. He smelled Blair's musk release and mingle with his own scent and the combined scents engorged him further. His steady thrusting changed to hard, fast and erratic. Blair's cries of pleasure filled him in and out and pushed him over into orgasm.

The dual assault on Blair pushed him as well. He erupted on himself, Jim and the shower wall.

How Jim found the strength to towel him dry, then brush out his hair was always a source of amazement to him. One that he appreciated, though.

Blair found this was the best way to start a day. And, today was even better; they christened their new home with their own ritual.

----------

"I've got it." Blair sat up and plugged his monitor into the wall screen for easy viewing.

Jim and Gordon both paused their actions to look over at Blair.

"A link, look here," Blair ran his fingers over his keyboard and displayed three separate lists of phone numbers, one number highlighted on each list.

Jim swiveled his chair to face the screen. Gordon put down his stack of papers and walked around to sit on the other side of Blair.

"Going back through a year of home, work and cellphone records, this is the only repeat number that's the same for all three of our victims. It's a cell phone number that seems to belong to a company, Willard, Inc. The bills are paid with a company check, but that is just one of many shells that all tunnel back to one name, Andrew Royston." Blair's fingers flew again over the keys trying to run down the one common connection.

"He runs a gaming club in Bromley." Blair printed his sheet with particulars. "He's had a few run-ins with the law."

"Let's pay a visit to Andrew Royston." Jim closed the folders on his desk and reached for his jacket.

Gordon updated West on the way to the garage.

Bromely was a borough of Greater London, south of the yard. It didn't seem to matter which direction they chose, all were congested. Royston's address took them to the warehouse district.

"Definitely doesn't look much like a residence." Jim commented as he closed the car door.

"Oh, I don't know, in my undergrad days, I lived in one. Only place I could find that would let me live with my ape." Blair grinned at the incredulous looks. "He was part of my master's project. He now lives in a petting zoo," Blair explained further.

They reached the front area and had two doors to choose from, Jim pointed to the left one. "Lots of foot traffic." Jim knocked loudly. He tilted his head and listened. "One person. They're coming."

Blair smiled as Gordon looked non-pulsed. The Chief Inspector may have accepted the special abilities but he was still in awe when he watched them in action.

A copper-haired, lanky man answered the door. "Yes?"

"Andrew Royston?"

"Who's asking?"

All three men displayed their IDs.

Royston looked about, checking the area before he answered. "Yeah, I'm Royston."

"This doesn't look much like a residence," Jim stated.

Royston shrugged, "It's not. It's my place of business."

"What business is that?"

"I'm owner, director of a social club."

"Oh, is that what they call it now-a-days?"

"Not that kind of club. A place where folks can gather to play cards, here and off site."

"Bridge?" Blair asked innocently.

"Ah, no."

"Gambling."

"Poker mostly.

"A gaming house."

"Not exactly. The house doesn't deal. I just arrange the games and the meeting places."

"How does that work?" Blair asked. He opened his note pad and took notes.

Royston stared at the American, he couldn't believe that the cops expected him to incriminate himself.

Jim figured he could get cooperation, "If you're not involved with the murders, we don't care about your gaming house." The Sentinel tracked the increased heart rate indicating the man's fear when he heard the word murder.

Blair kept his smile to himself. "So, how does it work?" He could tell that Jim was reading him.

"The folk's names you've got there on your list are old timers. They call in once a month to get a location. By this time in their memberships they have established groups, usually four to six different ones, that only meet once or twice a year per group."

"Why?"

"Most of these people aren't your hard core betters, they're basically recreational gamblers," Royston clarified.

"Well, we need your list," Jim requested.

"Not possible. There's some five thousand names on it."

"Not all of them," Blair interjected, "Just the names that deal with colors, Green, Blue, White. There has to be a reason. I think coincidence is stretching it."

Jim stared hard at Royston.

Andrew Royston looked back. He made his living reading people. He knew a bluff and he knew when someone would follow through. The gambler knew without a doubt that the big man before him would follow through on every action his eyes and body language promised.

"Fine. All the members that have colors in their names." Royston conceded, waiting for the big man to stand down.

"Both first and last," Blair added.

"Yes, okay." Royston yielded, relieved when the large American stood down with just a subtle roll of his shoulders. He motioned with his hand for the Met men to follow him in and through to his office.

The gambler keyed in a program and typed the criterion wanted. He stood as he waited for the printout. He handed it to the shorter cop when it was completed. "There's probably close to a thousand names there."

Blair nodded his thanks, "We'll be back if we need more help." He was well aware that it was Jim's non-verbal request that truly got them the list.

Blair was anxious to get back and input the names. The profiler was hoping to find a connection quickly. He very much wanted to prevent any further deaths.

The hope of an uninterrupted afternoon went unanswered. A loud commotion generated by one man erupted in the newly created of offices of Special Assignments.

A whirlwind that Jim Ellison immediately identified; William Ellison, his father. Before he could get his visitor ushered into a more private setting the confrontation began.

"Jimmy, what in the hell do you think you're doing? You leave home and a great job? You were cop of the year, for Christ's sake. And now I find you cavorting in a lewd manner through Europe?" The senior Ellison shouted in an exceedingly loud voice.

"I work here, now." Jim stated in a calm voice. "I don't cavort."

"What do you call it then?" The older man's temper was on a boil.

"I am involved in a homosexual relationship, conducted with decorum at all times."

The senior Ellison positioned himself in front of his son, right in his face. "I won't have you tarnish the Ellison name by being associated with gutter trash."

Menace in his voice, he warned his father. "It's time to back off now..."

"His mother is a psychedelic fruit loop and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. This won't be allowed to continue." William Ellison's face was red with anger.

Pushed beyond his limits of good behavior, Jim Ellison got right into his father's face and said in a hard voice, "I will not tolerate you speaking of Blair Sandburg in that way."

William Ellison took a step back, intimidated in spite of himself.

Jim calmed a bit at the movement, "Dad, over this last year I've had some odd experiences with my senses and it was Dr. Blair Sandburg who saved my sanity."

Under his breath, the senior Ellison muttered, "Damn, I hoped that those were gone for good."

"What?" Incredulous didn't touch the stunned look upon Jim's face.

William shrugged, "I couldn't let it get out, bad for the reputation."

Jim looked at the man that was his father, "You...you...you knew?"

"Of course. I was trying to protect you. You understand? I didn't think people would understand you. They would think you were different, an oddball, and that would hurt you. I didn't want anything to hurt you. You're my son, Jimmy, my heir."

"I held back all I was... I didn't follow my instincts. All I ever got from you was that there was something wrong with me. I stuffed who I was...who I am...down inside of me. See, I have a gift, Dad. Now, it can be a burden sometimes, but it's a gift. It's just who I am." Jim tried to get through to his father.

"People are going to think you're a freak! You understand? Huh? Is that what you want? For people to think there's something wrong with you? You're an Ellison. That is synonymous for an upstanding member of the business community. You can't be parading around with those freaky senses and definitely not that hippie freak. He's corrupted you and forced his perverted ways onto you. My son would never have acted like this otherwise."

"Dad, do you even care how that makes me feel?"

"There's more at stake than what you're feeling here, Jimmy. It's your eventual place within the company that I'm trying to protect. I can't have a freak pansy on the board. I won't tolerate that and neither would the share holders."

Wearily, Jim tried again, certain that his father wasn't listening, "I have no wish to ever work in your company." He emphasized the word your, hoping futilely that his father would get the message.

"Don't be ridiculous, you're my heir. Once you've gotten over this cop thing you will have your rightful place in the company."

"Dad, I'm a sentinel in a homosexual relationship."

"Do you want me to give the position to Steven instead?" William threatened aggressively.

Jim nodded, "That would be perfect."

"Stop talking rubbish." The senior Ellison barked, he didn't believe for one moment that his eldest son didn't covet being the eventual head of the Ellison Enterprises.

"Dad, you're not listening. My life is here with Blair."

"ABSOLUTLY NOT. I forbid it." Red-faced and working himself into a frenzy, he clenched his fists, "That Sandburg is a ..."

"STOP! Stop right there. No more. Not another word about Sandburg. He is my partner both in work and in love. If you don't like it, leave. I didn't invite you here. You denied who I was when I was little and you're still doing it now."

"Jimmy, I was trying to protect you. Do what was best for you."

"What was best for you." Jim's tone left no wiggle room for any other interpretation.

"Same difference, the corporate image is our bread and butter. You'd do well to remember that."

"That isn't me now. This is me. Go home."

"But, Jimmy, you're my son..."

"Send me a Christmas card." Jim flung over his shoulder as he left his father alone in the outer office. He hit the stairs before his father's jaw finished dropping.

No one else gave notice to the senior Ellison as he straightened an already straight tie and headed for the elevator.

By the time that William Ellison reached the ground floor, Jim Ellison was leaving the parking garage.

Upstairs, one very upset admin staffer made it her immediate priority to find Dr. Sandburg. No one should speak to a Special Chief Inspector in that manner, especially that particular Chief Inspector.

Susan found Blair in the computer annex.

"Dr. Sandburg, an old man yelled at Jim. Your partner tried to remain calm but his voice did rise a few times. Never loud enough to hear the actual words, though." On afterthought, Susan looked about the room and was happy to see that it was empty.

Blair put down what he was working on, "Do you know who it was?" Even as he asked, he already had a suspicion.

Susan lowered her voice, "The man called him a freak." The staffer felt vindicated by the anger that flooded the doctor's face.

"Thank you, Susan. I will leave and take care of this." Blair suited deed to his words.

The profiler found his mate at the Savoy outdoor café, part of the hotel complex they stayed at on their first visit.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said for sentinel ears as he entered the patio.

Jim pushed the chair across from him out for his partner and the younger man sat in it.

"Susan said that an old man yelled at you. Your father, I suspect." Blair had no wish to pretend ignorance of the conflict.

"I felt like I was seventeen again. He yelled and I was supposed to listen and he never heard a thing. Again, just like when I was a kid."

"What were you suppose to listen to?" Blair smiled gently at their shared knowledge that there was no way the sentinel had missed any of the dialog.

"What it all boils down to, Chief, is that I've embarrassed him. The only way to fix it is to deny it and that can only be done by going back to the States, enter his employ to 'theoretically' to become the heir apparent."

"And?" Blair tried to mask the twinge of worry, family was important, but he could tell that there was more bothering his partner.

Jim sat up in the patio chair, "Blair, he has put this on you." Jim rubbed his face, hating the need to repeat any of the conversation, changed his mind and he stood up. "Let's walk." He threw money on the table to cover the bill.

Blair followed him out then stepped up beside him, shoulders touching. They walked to Springbank Park and sat on an empty bench.

Jim looked out but saw nothing as he repeated his father's words. "He called you guttertrash and insulted your mother. He thinks you've corrupted me and forced your perverted ways into my life."

Jim looked around before he pulled Blair close and buried his face in the curly hair. "I was so angry at him for insulting you. I explained about the senses and I tried to tell him how much you helped with the sense thing," Jim paused as he drew in a ragged breath. He straightened up and continued, "He knew, the bastard knew about the senses when I was a kid and still he said nothing. He let me think that there was something wrong, odd, about me all this time."

Blair could feel the betrayal that Jim felt. It was almost tangible. His own anger at the betrayal was equal to it.

"Jim, first off, don't worry about my mother, if anything, she'd consider it an honor to be insulted by a corporate big-wig sellout." Blair grinned to show his partner the truth behind the words. "As for me, thanks, but I, too, can take care of myself. Especially if you stand beside me, metaphorically speaking."

"Count on that."

"Okay, then, nuf worry about me. Boy, was he a bastard for leaving a kid in the dark about his heightened senses." Blair cut his hand through the air in emphasis to his words. "Only thing we gotta do now is resolve how these issues affect you."

"What do you mean?"

"Dealing with it, pick it apart, whatever, just as a precaution. I don't want it to come back and haunt you at some future time. Buried emotions could impact whatever you're doing ... and that can happen."

Jim couldn't help but smile at the scholarly Blair that took over his guide when he was educating him."

Blair squeezed his hand, "We'll work all of this out together."

"Oddly enough, I never doubted that."

-----------

Back down in the annex, Blair shared some of the information he had unearthed.

"Even though all three victim's names are a color, there has been no color significance used in or around the murder scenes. In fact, I don't think there is anything ritualistic about the murders other than the placement. The placement is the key to the murderer. Wild guess here, someone important died in that position and the rest are a reminder to him. They all knew him, only way he got so close without them putting up a struggle. So, he must..."

"...Be a member at that same gaming club." Jim finished the thought. "Also, FYI, your wild guesses are always worth pursuing, Darwin. It's why I hang out with you."

"I'm betting that he holds these people responsible. We have to find who all else these folk played with. He won't stop 'til he does and then he's done."

Jim's cell phone rang. He flipped it open with a snap. "Ellison."

"Jim," Gordon's voice sounded relaxed, "The computers are being delivered to our offices. Figured Blair would want to be included in the set up." He rang off, knowing he'd be joined momentarily.

Jim repeated Venables message

Blair bounced out of his seat. "That's great. Let's go, I want to help set up."

Jim laughed, "That's what Gordon figured."

"Go ahead and laugh, but now we can stay connected to some data bases and receive continual updates. You'll see, we'll never be unplugged from the information highway." Blair informed him lightheartedly.

"Chief, with you, I live on that information highway."

Blair paused and turned his head to look at Jim, "Shucks, you say the nicest things."

Jim looked playfully pleased, "I do, don't I?" Jim tilted his head, "Do you have an instruction booklet?"

Blair pushed the button for the elevator with a smile. The doors opened and they stepped in, as it was closing Jim asked, "About that booklet..."

Blair pulled Jim close, "It's a learn as you go thing." He kissed him fast and thorough.

"And that was for?" Jim asked bemused.

"Just 'cause I wanted to." Blair grinned.

The doors opened and Blair set off to have the computers placed exactly where he wanted them.

----------

Susan entered with tea and coffee after the workmen left. "We are the talk of the floor. Having twelve phone lines for only three Inspectors," she told them as she settled the tray and poured a mug of hot coffee for Jim. "I think they're just envious."

"Actually, don't we have fourteen, you should have two lines as well." Blair corrected as he accepted his mug of coffee.

Susan's face pinked with delight, "You consider me part of your department?"

"Absolutely." Jim declared.

"You've already proved your insight and discretion. We'd be elated if you decide to keep this post." Blair told her, referring to earlier in the day.

"Your organizational skills came highly recommended," Gordon added, thereby letting her know this posting was no fluke.

"I'm not going anywhere, gentlemen." Susan Oscar smiled and removed the tray after topping off the coffees. She was contented, she had found her niche at the Yard.

Blair enlisted his cohorts' aid in loading the new programs. It was after dark when they were completed to the doctor's satisfaction.

Venables left for the monthly dart tourney he partnered West in. He had tried, unsuccessfully to date, to get Jim to participate, knowing his accuracy. But Jim's schedule didn't allow for steady hours yet. Gordon wasn't about to give up, he'd just bide his time.

Jim fiddled with the blinds so that he could look out at the city lights as Blair set up a program that he wanted to have running through the night. Jim found his thoughts on his father.

He was disappointed. He knew he shouldn't be. His father was just the same as he always was, but he had hopped that time would have worked its magic. He didn't need his dad to be proud of him, it would have been nice, but not necessary. What he would have liked was acceptance, and he wasn't sure that was ever going to be on the table.

He looked back at Blair. He had all that with that energetic man. Never had he experienced what Blair had given earlier today. Despite a threat to himself or mother, Blair had been ultimately concerned with him, how it all had affected him. He had truly put his welfare above his own, again. Jim wasn't sure if his own mother would have done that. What he did know was that if anything at all threatened his Blair there would be no prisoners.

Blair finished his project and looked over to his partner. Jim was lost in thought with a pensive look. In tune to his guide, Jim caught the movement and turned, eyes locking on each other. Jim sucked in his breath at the look of love on Blair's face only to realize that he was mirroring Blair's action. It took thirty-seven years to find love like this and now that he had it he was...

"Never letting go," Blair finished Jim's thought aloud. "Let's go home."

Jim nodded and smiled. A smile that told Blair everything he ever needed to know.

In the elevator, Jim pulled Blair in front of him. He buried his nose into the heady scent of his guide and love. The back of Blair's ear never failed to fill his senses with a scent that was his favorite. The door on the garage floor opened but Jim didn't jump away form his companion, instead he leisurely moved apart with no embarrassment. They received no odder looks than they usually did. They headed home.

--------------

The ringing phone woke the sentinel after the first shrill slumber interruption. He disentangled himself and reached for the offending instrument.

"Ellison."

Gordon's voice announced, "There's been another one. Westminster, 42 Hooven."

"Forty minutes." Jim closed the phone as he got out of bed. He leaned over and shook his partner's shoulder, "Chief, been another one. We gotta go."

"Damn." Blair rolled out of bed and make straight for the bathroom.

With no traffic, they made in thirty-five minutes.

Blair made straight for Venables as Jim stopped and sentinel checked the surrounding area.

Gordon flipped open his note pad anticipating Sandburg's question. "Scarlett Hall, twenty-eight, actress, strangled with a curtain rope." The Chief Inspector sighed as he closed his book. "No struggle and the body was positioned." Gordon expected some response from the doctor and was surprised by the silence. "Blair?"

The profiler snapped his fingers, "Clue!" Blair turned for his partner, calling out, "Jim, I've got the connection, the colors, it's the game Clue." Excited, he turned back to the Englishman, "Ginny Blue, you said poultry, what was the exact kind of bird she dealt in?" He kept his fingers crossed.

Venables checked his notepad, flipping through the pages quickly until he found what Blair requested. "Peacocks..."

"Yes! 'Member the game, Plum in the library with the knife?" Blair was itching to get to the office to add this new information. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet, delighted at finally getting a break.

"Cludo?" Venables used the British name for the board game.

"How does it fit with the poker games?" Jim asked, trying to break through his partner's enthusiasm. He was onto something, but Jim wasn't tracking all the side rails of Blair's thought process.

"This I don't know, but we have a break through and by tomorrow we should finally have some answers. Let's check inside." Blair bounded off, gratified that he may be able to save a life or two.

Jim followed close behind, eager to finish here so they could go back to the office. Until they did, he knew they'd never get home tonight. He stopped beside Blair and stretched his senses out, looking for the similarities to the other crime scenes. He found what he expected and something more.

"A footprint." Jim shared what he had ferreted out.

The Sentinel pointed to the second stair above the body. Both men squinted, trying to see what was being indicated. They found nothing.

"Sorry, Jimbo, I can't see a thing," Blair explained gently.

"Same here," Gordon added.

Jim sighed. "There is a perfect marking of a shoeprint. Get me some print dust and sticky paper." The detective knew he couldn't leave it to a forensic team for they wouldn't see it either. It would be ruined before they'd ever think of infrared.

Venables collected the requested material from a crime scene member and handed over the items to his co-worker. He watched as Jim expertly dusted half the stair. His hand motion was rhythmic and smooth. He was unsurprised but awed at the same time, as a footprint became visible to his eye. Jim then took the sticky paper and laid it on top, using just enough pressure to get the print. If he had pressed too hard it would have deformed the integrity of the evidence. Gordon found he never ceased to be impressed by Ellison's abilities. What an asset he was.

Blair wasn't surprised, only pleased with the accepting atmosphere that his sentinel was now able to work in. "Perfect. Size ten, you think?"

"Nine and a half." Jim held up the print and waited for Blair to scan it into his camera. When his partner was through, he located a forensic team member so they could log the evidence.

Jim joined Blair and they finish sentinel checking the house. Venables called their boss and updated West. With cautious optimism, he let him know that a break in the case was realistic.

Even though it was pushing three a.m., Blair wanted to stop by their office. He specified new parameters for the search. His fingers flew about the keys programming what he desired to find. That done, Blair led Jim down the elevator and drove them home. His partner was looking worse for wear, he needed some sleep.

After a five-hour solid sleep, both men felt refreshed and were in the office by nine. Blair was anxious to apply his hypothesis to the facts and the databases.

Susan entered several hours later with fresh coffee collected from the coffeehouse down the street. The Americans seemed to much prefer the stylized coffees over the stock office selections. She was delighted by the appreciated thanks that both men gave her.

She was startled by the doctor's loud exclamation.

"Yes, I got it."

Jim and Gordon dropped what they were doing and turned to face the excited younger man.

"We're all ears," Jim sat back, unable to hide the pride he felt.

"Nearly ten months ago, a Dr. Jerome Black died from a fall down a flight of stairs in his own home. Foul play was never suspected. The forensic photo of the dead man is in the exact position of our murdered victims." Blair passed the photo he had printed up. "Whether out killer actually killed Black, I can't say, but I hazard a guess that it was most likely an accident. But his death did set off these murders."

"You said the detective game Cludo was related, how?" Venables asked.

Jim waited patiently, Blair usually conveyed his findings in his own Blair-like organized way.

Blair tossed the instructions to Clue and Cludo. "In the American set of rules the victim is a Mr. Boddy, but here in the UK it's Mr. Black. Our Jerome Black dies by a fall down stairs, as did the game victim. Black's phone records have Royston's number. He isn't on the lists given us, probably because he's deceased. In the game of Clue we have Green, White, Peacock and Scarlett; our current real victims. Mustard and Plum are left. Since our killer used blue instead of peacock, we must assume that any version of mustard or plum could be used as well. On this list," tapping the table, "We have close to a hundred names. It might take too long to call all of them and get their cooperation quickly so we really need Royston and his data base to help narrow our field fast."

Venables nodded and picked up the phone. "Roger, we need a warrant for search on Andrew Royston." Gordon nodded into the phone and answered the unheard question. "To prevent any further deaths. There hasn't been much lag time between these last three... thanks."

Jim moved closer to his partner, "The connection to the game is?"

"Most likely a coincidence that the killer took a step further for his killing methods. He's just killing them. Again, most likely revenge for something he feels these people are responsible for. I always felt it was personal, just not truly ritual."

"Good work, Darwin." Jim squeezed his mate's shoulder.

"I'll pull complete phone records, searching out cells and phonecards. With Royston's help I do hope we can prevent any more deaths." Blair's doubt was momentary but very real.

"I do, too. You cracked it and..."

"We cracked it, Jim, you and me together, all of us, we're a team." Blair knuckled the hand resting on his shoulder before standing and dislodging it. "Now get."

Gordon stepped up beside Jim and pointed to Blair, "Sounds a bit like the Superintendent." Blair looked as if he were about to interject some witty comment but Gordon forestalled it. "The warrant will meet us at Royston's. Let's get."

With a wave they left Blair and Susan.

"Susan, print out the complete lists. We'll need them for the case files. I'm gonna search out the cell and phonecard records." Blair directed as he picked up the relevant papers off the table.

"Sweet talking again?"

"Something like it," Blair chuckled as he left the office.

--------

William Ellison finally located his quarry after a couple of false starts. Seemed that the staff around here wasn't very sure where the dead beat was hiding out.

"Mr. Sandburg, I want to talk to you."

"Doctor. Dr. Sandburg," Blair emphasized in an attempt to gain a more equal footing.

William Ellison sneered, "Don't bother trying to assume airs with me. I'm not buying it."

The doctor of anthropology didn't bother with any further words or explanations. He knew from Jim's shared confidences that they would fall on deaf ears. He waited for the senior Ellison to speak, as he was the one that had hailed him. He used the moment of silence to appraise the man before him. He was a good-looking man and he probably used that shamelessly. He also had an air of stature about him, probably another tool of business. He could see the likeness to Jim in features, but he just didn't seem like Jim's dad. He stood patiently waiting, reading that it was annoying the other man.

William Ellison waited for Sandburg to ask him what he wanted, but he was doomed to disappointment. He finally forged ahead, "Jimmy has a problem I wish to discuss with you."

Blair nodded, thereby indicating that he was listening, but as he had just talked with Jim and knew that he was okay.

"Jimmy's future is in peril and you are the cause."

"Well, Billy," he used a definitive that he hoped the older Ellison would hate. "That goes to show you that you don't understand anything about your son and his abilities."

"Bullshit, those abilities just make him a freak..."

Blair interrupted the senior Ellison's tirade, his voice hard and unforgiving, "That exceptional man has never been a freak. His heightened senses allow him to be more aware of the world around him. With the correct training, he is now able to completely control each sense. Something you denied him as a child or an adult. Now he is able to help solve some of the most difficult of crimes because of these special abilities. He works with a crew of officers that know about and appreciate said abilities."

Blair stepped closer, invading the older man's space. "He has their acceptance, but you, his father, have also denied him that. You are the abhorrence and if you hurt that man again, you will have me to reckon with. Good day, Billy." Blair turned and left by way of the stairs.

William gasped in shock at being treated so rudely. The audacity of the man; to leave before he had finished with him was appalling. Another good reason to be rid of Sandburg.

Down below in the parking garage, West watched as Ellison froze in his tracks. Head tilted, just like the many times he had observed the man displaying his listening skills. He stopped beside him and waited. He didn't have wait long.

"Son of a bitch." Jim's hands clenched at his side.

"Problem?" West asked.

"My father was harassing Blair."

West's brows raised in silent question.

"Blair is well able to defend himself." Jim calmed and added, "It wouldn't surprise me if William Ellison tries to talk with you next."

West smiled, "I, too, like Blair, can defend myself and my staff."

Jim gave his boss a genuine smile, "Never doubted that."

West turned and reached in the police vehicle to pull out a disgruntled Royston. He led him upstairs and Jim went in search of Sandburg.

Jim found Blair sitting in the stairwell between the fourth and fifth floors. He sat next to him and waited. He used his senses to gauge the disposition his partner was in. Hot skin and racing blood let the Sentinel know that his guide and friend was angry. Not sure whom the anger was directed at forced him to remain still. He sighed.

Blair spoke, though it was easy to read that he was working hard to control himself. "How you ever survived with a parent like that I do not know."

"I heard. I heard what he said about you..."

"Forget me. You, how he must have treated you. He has never for one moment considered how accomplished you are. How great a person you have become. That your senses are not to hated and despised, but to be appreciated. He can not even fathom the good that can be accomplished. Not once did he stop to consider anything but himself." Blair turned to look at his partner and mate, "Jim, I wanted to strangle him. Do bodily harm without self-recrimination. Forgive me." Blair rested his forehead on Jim's shoulder.

"Forgive? There's nothing to forgive. I should apologize to you for his behavior." Jim rested his face on top of Blair's head. "I have no desire now or in the future to be part of Ellison Enterprises. My father is feeling thwarted right now. When it passes he will ignore me and favor Steven. My brother is welcome to the company. My life is here, with you, doing police work. Nothing he does will change that."

Jim felt Blair relax, but he knew that his father was a dangerous foe and he would have to take steps to prevent a retaliation aimed at Blair. He didn't want to share that with his partner, the extra worry wouldn't change anything.

Blair turned his face in and found his lips close to Jim's. He ignored convention and kissed his love on the stairwell. Jim melted as completely as Blair did and the need for air finally forced them apart. Jim smiled, bemused that he would hold his breath so that he could completely feel Blair's lips without distraction of scent.

Blair smiled then broke the spell, "Get Royston?"

Jim nodded, "Upstairs with West."

"Excellent, let's go."

Blair stood and reached to help Jim rise. They took the stairs to their floor.

------

The big man intimidated Royston. He felt menacing, he looked menacing, but oddly enough he also believed him when he said that this wasn't a trick to entrap him. "What do you want?"

"Was Jerome Black a member of your club?" Blair asked.

Royston keyed his laptop and examined his full directory. "Yes, though he is listed as deceased."

"Does Jerome Black, Rodney Green, Jan White, Ginny Blue and Scarlett Hall have some common factor?" The profiler watched the names being entered and added, "Besides being dead?"

Royston opened several directories and cross-referenced the names that the short one had rattled off. He worked fast, the big dog, Ellison, kept glaring. It was actually like being watched by a large cat that was intent on having him for dinner. The gambler worked faster. He finally hit pay dirt. "Had to go back four years but, yeah, they all had a schedule of play on the same night. I made a notation that they found the group cohesive and would only be needing a satellite site. From that point on, one member would call in for the group. Black was the contact." He dug into several more directories and added, "They met twice a year, the same seven people. The only two you didn't mention were Douglas Plum and Andrew Mustard."

The big dog spoke. "Do you have addresses?"

"Yeah, yeah." He hit the print button and handed the paper to Jim.

Venables already had West on the line and they were dispatching officers to the residences to both Plum and Mustard.

Blair thanked Royston for his help and arranged for a constable to drive him home. The gambler had to admit to himself that he was surprised that they kept their word. But, he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth and left without complaint beside the constable.

The profiler moved to his computer and started an in-depth research of Jerome Black. He had a gut feeling that neither of the two men still alive in the group was the murderer. The key was in Black's life just as the murders were connected to Black's death.

By the time Plum and Mustard were brought into the Special Assignment offices, Blair had a thorough history of Black.

Venables took Plum and Jim took Mustard into separate room.

Blair followed Jim into his room.

"Say, what's this all about? I've done nothing to warrant being dragged to the Yard like a common criminal." Mustard protested at his treatment.

"Actually, Mr. Mustard, we are trying to save your life." Blair told him flatly.

Disbelieving, Mustard continued to protest, "See here, being man-handled is hardly the way to go about it." The corpulent man shifted in his seat, curiosity finally getting the better of him, "Just who is trying to kill me?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out." Blair was using his patient voice.

Jim thought he could get to the man faster. He tossed the pictures of the dead people on the table in front of Mustard. "Do you know those people?"

Mustard spared a glance, then did a double take as he did recognize the photos. His demeanor changed, "Yes, I do." He shuffled through all the pictures. "All of them. We are the Cludo Club. We play cards together. We thought it hysterical that we all should end up together in a single game with our names." He realized what he had said and shut up, he had been about to give away his gaming.

"We are not interested in the poker games, Mr. Mustard, what we are interested in are your club's members." Jim told the man frankly.

Mustard pointed to the picture, "Besides them, just Plum and me. We met twice a year. We all knew that Jerome had died. We've only met one time since. We weren't sure if we wanted to carry on."

"When was that, Mr. Mustard?" Blair asked, making his own guess.

Mustard sighed as he picked at his memory, "Five, six weeks ago at the most." He looked through the pictures again, "Who would do this?"

"Was there anyone that you excluded from your group?" Jim asked in a standard cop voice.

"Nah, never worked that way. The arranged game nights rarely had repeat members. Most liked it that way. Those that wanted to repeat meet did so on the side. Andrew would get an anonymous setting for a secondary fee. Was always private that way." Mustard was forthcoming now that he feared for his life.

"Did any of you bring friends to these games?" Blair asked as an idea struck him.

"Not really, most of us used the game as a get-a-way from our real life. Black sometimes brought a friend, usually he would prepare a great meal. That only happened once a year."

"What was his name?" Blair was hoping it matched a name on his list.

"Arnie... not sure of his last name. We only knew him as Arnie." Mustard looked at Blair, "Does that help? Do you thinks it's him?"

"Is there any reason you would think that?" Jim asked, detecting something in the man's voice.

"Well, not really, it's just that one time I seem to remember that we questioned why Jerome kept bringing Arnie with him. But nothing was said in front of him."

"Then what has you nervous," Jim asked, his sentinel hearing picked up the accelerated heart rate.

"Nothing really, just that vague feeling one has when you feel uneasy around someone. That was how I felt around Arnie. A couple of us thought that might be Jerome's plan so he could win. But that was fairly even, winning, I mean. See, I said it was not much of anything." Mustard concluded.

"No, thank you. It may have helped a great deal." Blair was quick to reassure. "Would you like some coffee or tea?"

"Tea would be delightful. Two sugars." Mustard looked happy anticipating the beverage.

Both men left the room.

"Arnie Winters was the person that found Black dead." Blair shared with his partner as soon as the door closed behind them.

Jim opened up his phone and dialed West. While he listened to the ring he asked his partner, "You have an address for Winters?"

Blair shook his head, "Nothing current. It wasn't like he had to notify us. Let me search the phone directory. Most folks have to pay a bill."

Jim spoke to West, happy to impart some positive information.

Venables joined them, "Only fellow that struck Plum as odd was Black's friend, Arnie."

"Arnie Winters. We're trying to run him down now."

"We should probably lay a stake out at both Mustard and Plum's homes. He will be going for them soon." Venables suggested.

Thinking aloud, Jim commented, "If we didn't spook him already. He could have been laying in wait today." Jim then thought about the time between killings. "It's been almost every other night. So tomorrow night would follow that. Maybe we could get someone in undercover."

"Don't think we have anyone large enough to look like Mustard." Venables tried not to smile.

Jim did grin, "Wicked sense of humor, you British."

-----------

William Ellison made an appointment with Superintendent West. He knew that once he had explained the situation to the policeman, he would be suitably appalled. If not, he would be forced to become explicate on their living conditions and that would cinch it for his son and the reprobate he was currently hanging with. He knew that the quack doctor had been prevaricating when he had stated that he had shared the senses thing publicly. He had them now. He headed to the Scotland Yard building for the third time in as many days.

He was directed to wait, which he did so impatiently. He had made an appointment after all.

The constable at the information desk put down the phone and spoke to the Senior Ellison. "The far lift will take you directly to the Superintendent's office."

Ellison walked by the desk without a thank you. He depressed the button and the elevator doors opened immediately.

West greeted him as he emerged. "Roger West," he stuck out his hand and shook William Ellison's hand. "Delighted to meet you. Jim is an invaluable asset to our team." He led the senior Ellison to his office and indicated a chair. "Coffee, tea?" he inquired.

"Nothing, thank you."

"Then what can I do for you, Mr. Ellison."

William Ellison got right to the point. "I don't wish to defame my son, but, on the other hand, I wish to avoid a lawsuit even more. There is something wrong with Jimmy and it's only fair for you to know. My son has impaired sensory input. In fact, he can enter a fugue state at any time, losing all awareness of the outside world."

"We are fully aware of Jim's gift."

"Gift? That's the fruitcake talking."

"Fruitcake?"

"Sandburg, the quack."

"Dr. Sandburg is a highly respected member of our department. We consider it rather a coup in obtaining his services for our agency."

"Dribble. Utter dribble."

"The team of Sandburg and Ellison has already solved several heinous crimes in this country and France. Not to mention their record back in the United States."

As the sense thing didn't put the policeman off, William went for the kill. "The team of Sandburg and Ellison are practicing homosexuals. That fact made known can damage the reputation of your entire police force." William sat back smug in the knowledge that this was ultimately the best for Jimmy. His reputation was unimportant, this wasn't his county anyway.

"I, the Prime Minister and the Yard were all aware of their sexual orientation before we offered them the positions." West told the man calmly and was inwardly satisfied at the stunned look on his face. Sad, as well, for a son should be able to expect support from family, not the behavior displayed here today.

"You knowingly hired homosexuals?"

"We knowingly hired a highly skilled profiler and his partner, a detective with heightened senses to enhance out crime fighting team. Sexual orientation has no bearing in our hiring practices. Homosexual orientation is not illegal here."

William Ellison was appalled by what he was hearing, "You have a bastard fruitcake in that Sandburg and he is ruining my son's life and you care not that he is working for you?"

"Mr. Ellison, let me ask you, is it so hard to believe that we are appreciative having your son working for us? Having these two talented men with their specialized ability to solve cases has made us the most envied crime department in Europe." Noting the mutinous expression, West added, "You won't be able to destroy their reputations here, Mr. Ellison." The Superintendent relaxed his posture, "I do suggest that you talk with your son. I hope you can reach a mutual understanding." Roger West held little real hope in that direction.

William left without another word. Glad that he didn't live in a country that allowed queers to defend said country. He would have to find another way to be rid of the fruitcake bastard.

----------------

West stood with Andrew Mustard in the man's hallway, out of sight of the front room windows. "We wish to thank you for cooperating and opening your home to the Yard. It makes our jobs much easier."

"Quite frankly, Superintendent, I must thank you. I could have easily met the same fate as my friends." Mustard had a whole new attitude toward the officers of Scotland Yard.

"All part of the job. The cab driver is our man and will take you to a safe house. We believe it will just be a few days at most." West explained. Many protectees hated the enforced stay, even if it was their own life at stake.

Andrew Mustard had no such reservations with the arrangements. He carried a suitcase with his effects and approached the waiting cab. He didn't take a breath of relief until they were away from the curb and the policeman flashed his badge so he could see.

West watched the cab drive away. He exited out through the back and checked on the stake out crew located in the house next door. The occupants had left earlier in the evening on an all expense week at the Savoy. It made his men's duty easier. West located Venables.

On the other side of London, in the borough of Ealing, Ellison and Sandburg found themselves in the home of Douglas Plum. He had agreed to remain at home as bait. Ellison and Sandburg would stay in the house, out of view from all windows. Yard men were employed all about the neighborhood. Dog walkers, repairmen, caretakers, policemen with experience in these areas were on the job.

Plum had to admit he felt safe as he could, considering, but it still felt peculiar to know he was being stalked, marked for death. He welcomed Ellison and Sandburg, even if they were Yankees.

He made up the spare room, but was assured that they only needed one bed. One man would always be on watch. No chances were being taken with his life.

For most of the night, both men were awake playing cards. Blair eventually took a catnap in the chair next to Jim. They got sleep during the day when Plum went to work as usual. A Yard man hidden in the backseat of his vehicle ensured his safety on the way to work.

It was just after dusk on the third day, Plum had been home a short time and was sitting down to a meal prepared by Blair when Jim signaled his partner. -One person sneaking in the back.-

Blair radioed the back up and put them on alert.

Jim whispered, "He's sitting in the back, smoking a cigarette."

"Probably waiting for the cover of darkness before he comes to the door," Blair guessed as he moved closer to Jim. The guide wanted to keep his scent close to the working sentinel so that he could extend his senses without fear of a zone. They had been practicing non-verbal and non-tactical methods of avoiding zone-outs.

Plum did wonder how the policeman was getting his information, but he had seen all the gadgets the two men had carried in and suspected they were helping him now.

It was well over an hour before the nocturnal visitor made a move.

The Sentinel tracked the human as he moved from the back to the front. The man came around and knocked on the front door as if he were a regular visitor.

Plum knew the Yard men were counting on him and he allowed the frustrated actor within to shine. He answered the door. "Why, Arnie, what a pleasant surprise. Please come in."

"Thank you," the suspected killer said. "Hope you feel that way after my visit."

Plum closed the door behind Winters and ushered him into the living room.

"Haven't seen you since the funeral. What can I do for you?" Plum was working at keeping his composure.

"What can you do for me? I'm trying to put Jerome behind me. You all have made it exceedingly difficult."

"How is that?" We only met one time after Jerome's death and we all decided that we would dissolve that playing group."

"Yes, and that forced me to contact you all individually."

Regarding what?"

"To discover why you collectivity tried to turn Jerome against me. He told me what you all said. I was hurt and we fought. He turned away from me in anger and fell down the stairs." Arnie shook his head to clear away that memory. His expression hardened when he locked eyes with Plum. "Now you will pay, if not for you all, Jerome would still be here." He stood with a gun in one hand and a candlestick in the other.

"So this is 'Professor' Plum with the candlestick in the living room. Arnie, Arnie, that's a repeat room." Blair stepped into view from Plum's left side.

Startled, Arnie turned toward the newcomer, "Who?" A noise suddenly behind surprised him again and before he could reposition his gun, Ellison had him disarmed and in a headlock.

Blair moved Plum out to the kitchen as he opened his cell and called the back up in. Then he called West. "We got him." Blair knew that the Superintendent would shut down the operation and coordinate the arrest.

At the station the next morning, Ellison and Sandburg reinterviewed the killer. Last night he kept babbling on about how he had to wait for eight months after the death of Black for this particular group to meet again so he could get their addresses. He complained that the group had foiled his plan of taking them out all together. He was upset with the officer's for not understanding his need to finish.

This morning they finally obtained Winter's address. That was all he offered today, his name and address. Ellison and Sandburg left him in lock up as they arranged to meet Venables at Winter's residence with the warrant.

Blair was pleasantly surprised to see Roger there as well.

"I have a press conference this afternoon and want to have knowledge of all evidence. Hopefully, it can connect him to all the murders." Roger walked along side Blair.

"The media's involved now?" Blair asked.

"I was questioned about the stakeout the new department had on. Don't think they've put together yet what all we have. That will make us look good. It's always hard at first to validate new government expenditures. This case will show that you all worked outside the detecting box." West smiled at the profiler that started it all.

"Then, Roger, make sure you credit the Dunsford Inspector, Paul Walden. He made the initial connection. We worked it from there."

West nodded and followed Sandburg up the stairs. His current thoughts echoed those he'd said to William Ellison. It really was quite a coup to have Dr. Sandburg working here.

Winter's flat was a cluttered mess. Jim was grateful that half the man's possessions were still in the moving boxes. The only area that was neat was the makeshift desk by the window. Jim found a list of license plates with the address of the victims. The only one missing was Mustard's and for him there was a cab dispatch log, obviously stolen.

"He has been busy." Roger West had enough for his press conference.

They bagged the relevant papers and left the rest for the forensic team. Jim carried the box downstairs to the Superintendent's car, locking the trunk before tossing the keys to his boss.

Jim froze in his spot, head tilting. Blair moved to his side thinking sentinel search or zone.

The Sentinel heard the bolt pull back and the bullet drop into the chamber. It was during the bolt closing that he tried to triangulate the trajectory of the proposed target. He tried to find the assassin as he listened to a finger pull back the firing pin. It was as he heard the firing pin hit the shell casing that he knew his guide was the target. The Sentinel jumped forward, pushing Blair down and out of the path of the bullet.

Dirt and rocks sprayed the trio but that was all that hit them. The time it took for this to register in Jim's thoughts, the dirt and rocks were still in their motion of recoil. The Sentinel retraced the trajectory of the bullet back along its path from the hole in the ground and looked into the face of the assassin. He pointed to the roof top two blocks away.

"Keep Blair covered until I call," Jim commanded Gordon as he got up. He signaled West to the vehicle with him. Jim drove to the building that still had the unsuspecting assassin atop it.

"I saw the man on the rooftop. He doesn't know that so he won't be hurrying, maybe still waiting to acquire his target. I really want him alive. We need to know who is after Sandburg." Jim reigned in his anger, it wouldn't do to kill him before he got that information. He forced himself into Black Ops mode so he could function effectively.

Roger West radioed for silent back up as they pulled up to the curb. Jim jumped out and proceeded stealthily up to the roof.

The dark haired assassin was obviously a professional. He could tell by the equipment used. Jim apprehended the man swiftly. Gun to his temple, the hired gun silently checked all the escape options and found none. He gave in gracefully, not uttering a word.

West cuffed him before Jim pulled him aside. In a low, dangerous voice Jim spoke for his ears only, "You tried to kill the most important person in my life. If you do not tell me who hired you I will break your neck, here, now."

West didn't know if it was the menace or sincere intent, or both, but the assassin acquiesced and turned to speak. Another shot rang out and the assassin crumpled to the ground.

His only word was, "Ellison."

Jim backtracked the shot same as before and caught a glimpse of a man turning away from the edge of the rooftop a block away. He stood for a moment, frozen, stupefied. He was certain the assassin's shooter looked identical to William Ellison, his father.

Back up arrived with Blair Sandburg in tow. The profiler hurried to the frozen man, afraid that his sentinel had zoned. He found Jim with a horrified expression but not a zoned one.

West turned to Blair, "The assassin was shot before he could reveal his employer." West leaned in closer, "He's disappointed that he didn't get a look at the second shooter."

Blair was sure that it was exactly the opposite. Jim had seen the shooter and he was angry. The deep, quiet anger that signaled a fury so intense that he had to remain still so he didn't lash out at innocents. Under it all, Blair read that his friend and mate was disillusioned, and that was just as worrisome.

They headed back to the station. Reports had to be turned in and filed before they could adjourn for the day. Blair would like to have stayed and written the wrap-up report, but he knew that reassuring his sentinel was paramount and far more important at the moment.

They picked up Thai takeaway before heading home.

No sooner than they'd finished eating, Jim led Blair to the bedroom and undressed him. He undressed himself quickly as Blair lay back on the bed. He felt the need to establish that Blair was well and truly alive.

With his eyes he devoured Blair. He watched the rise and fall of his chest, he watched the flair of his nostrils as he took in breath. He watched the hairs on his chest ruffle as he shivered. Jim locked eyes with Blair and smiled.

The Sentinel moved closer and ran his hands all over his guide's body. He felt the muscles respond to the tickles and caresses. Jim buried his nose behind Blair's ear and inhaled deeply. The essence of Blair, no finer cologne could be found and only one man wore it.

His nose traveled south to the armpit and inhaled another long draught of Blair-scent. Then he moved still further south, to the groin. He ignored the hardened flesh and buried his nose into the soft curls. Again, an odor that was like no other assailed his senses, and this was all his.

The sentinel moved up to the head and kissed his love with all his joy in having Blair alive and next to him. He licked his ears and neck and throat. He wanted to taste all of his guide, so his tongue continued. He bathed his chest with extra flicks at the nipples. His tongue took delight at the rippling he created on Blair's stomach.

He moved once again to end at the groin. Scent and taste combined when he sucked the hardened flesh into his mouth.

The sounds Blair made were a delight and he listened closer. He could hear more blood fill the column in his mouth. He could hear the lungs gasp in air, he could hear the heart beat. Blair was gloriously alive and in his excitement Jim sucked harder and faster. He was able to hear, smell, feel and taste Blair's orgasm.

He opened his eyes to see a wantonly sated lover with a smile that only he saw. A smile that he would kill to keep.

They cuddled and Jim willed his partner to sleep. He waited an hour before moving. Sated and content, Blair, guide to the sentinel, slept Jim kissed his temple before dressing quietly in the other room.

Alone, Jim hailed a cab for Heathrow. He directed the cabby to a private terminal. Just as he expected, his father's plane was on the tarmac being prepared for flight. Of the first crewmember that he encountered he requested that they alert his father to his presence.

William Ellison's face lit into a smug, self-congratulatory smile when he saw his son below. He knew he would win, and now he obviously had.

"Jimmy, good to see you. Knew you'd come to your senses," the father greeted his son.

Jim bet to himself that his father didn't even hear or intend his play on words. Jim waited for his father to reach him at the bottom of the stairs before speaking.

Eyes like flint and in his coldest voice, "If anything and I repeat, anything, happens to Blair. If an accident of any sort should befall him or his family, the tiniest hint of scandal, anything at all and I will take the confession of the dying assassin, considered binding here, and I will make it public."

"You wouldn't," William Ellison sputtered.

"Take it to the bank. If you believe nothing else, believe that." Jim locked eyes with his father, his disdain and disgust was clear for the reading.

"Jimmy..." the senior Ellison tried again.

"Hear this, I will never join your business. Not now, not ever. No amount of money will ever entice me. Nothing connected to you remotely interests me now. Remember what I've said. I won't forget this, ever." Jim walked away without looking back; not wanting to, not needing to.

----------

Blair awoke alone and knew that Jim wasn't in the apartment. He sat up and turned on the light. The guide knew it wasn't something sentinel, it was personal. Blair also figured that it had to do with what he had seen earlier in the day.

West thought that Jim hadn't been able to see that far, but Blair knew without a doubt that Jim had seen, recognized and had been hurt by whomever his sight had encountered. Therefore, this was close to home and the only threat on the home front was Jim's father.

Jim must have recognized somebody who worked for his father. Meaning, William Ellison was prepared to kill the man that he held responsible for corrupting his son. Well, it wasn't the first time that he had someone wanting to kill him. Well, okay, it was the first time that it was the father of his lover.

And this was coming from a man who didn't even check up on his son after he returned alive from Peru after being thought dead. This wasn't about the corruption of his son, this wasn't even image, this was about control.

Jim had left the country without telling his father. He took a job in another country and was publicly outted here in said country and back in the states. That combined with Jim's refusing to return in the family fold must have pushed William Ellison to his breaking point.

Blair was now worried, Jim was an intensely passionate man. His feelings ran deep and hard. Plus, he was a sentinel and this was a threat to his guide. They may not have discussed all the throwback behavior that could come up but that didn't mean it wouldn't exhibit itself.

Blair did not want Jim to kill his father.

A noise at the front door broke into his reverie. Jim was home.

"Hello, Jim." Blair greeted his partner in a normal voice, knowing Jim would be able to hear it.

In the kitchen, Jim sighed, he had hoped to return unnoticed. Now he would have to explain and justify. He carried the ice water and two glasses into the bedroom.

"Thanks," Blair took the glass and a sip before going straight to the heart. "Is he still alive?"

Dumbfounded, Jim smiled, then realized that he shouldn't be surprised. Blair was a remarkable detective in his own right and with what he knew, Jim figured it wasn't that great a leap in logic.

"Yes."

"I'm glad."

Incredulous, Jim asked, "Why? The man wanted you dead."

"Past tense?"

"Yes. I will expose him if anything happens to you or Naomi. Right now, he's probably angling how to keep you both alive." Jim sat on the bed, "You still didn't answer me, why?"

"Why I'm glad you didn't commit murder because of me? Because I didn't want it to rot at your soul." Blair swallowed another sip of water, "And, killing your father cold bloodedly would do that."

Jim thought that Blair put a lot more emphasis on William Ellison's place within his life than was there. When he tried to have Blair killed, he effectively killed any feeling he may have had for the man, but no matter, at this moment the situation was under control. He would put feelers out to see that it remained that way.

"Jim, however justified you may have found it, I would hate to see you jailed for any length of time. Thank you."

Jim locked eyes with Blair, marveling at his luck. Blair understood him on so many levels. "No, thank you. You are the finest part of me."

"I love you, too, Jim."

No lifetime was long enough, but Jim vowed to make it as long as possible for the two of them.

The end.

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Author's Acknowledgements: Many thanks to my beta Mary, and Patt for her art and encouragement.