She'd left a phone number on the Loft's answering machine. Just a phone number, nothing else.
Blair's mind was all awhirl as he dialed the number. When the other end was picked up, he asked, "Are you all right?"
Naomi's voice was weary. "Yes, honey, I'm still in remission. The leukemia hasn't come back."
Visibly relaxing, Blair asked, "Then what ---"
"Aunt LauraJane died," she sniffled.
THUMP. Blair sat right down where he was. "Sh-She...."
"It was ALS, Blair."
Jim came in right when Blair choked out, "L-Lou Gehrig's Disease? B-But I didn't know...."
Worried, Jim opened his hearing to hear Naomi's "Nobody knew, honey. She kept it from us all until just bef-before...."
"Wh-when is the f-funeral?"
"Monday at noon. In Portland. C-can you..."
Blair turned and looked at Jim, who nodded. "We've both got the days."
Blair smiled his thanks. "We're coming, Naomi."
"Thank you," Naomi said, her voice trembling. "This will make your karma shine..." she sniffled as she hung up.
Blair let out a deep sigh. "Just once," he said, rubbing his neck. "Just once I wish she'd come right out and just say she's proud of me."
Another sigh. "Aunt LauraJane died."
Jim frowned. "I didn't know Naomi had any sisters."
"She doesn't. Well, not biological ones at any rate. She's ... a friend that's so close they chose each other as sisters."
A pause, then a slow nod. "I know exactly what you mean."
Jim smiled and squeezed the back of Blair's neck. "I sure do." Then paused again. "Sandy better call Masterson."
"Oh, man, you're right!" Blair's flesh quite literally crawled under Jim's hand, which vanished behind a curtain of auburn curls.
Smiling, Jim slid his hand out of her hair. "I'll start packing -- give you some privacy."
Ten minutes later, Sandy knocked on Jim's door. "You're not gonna believe this one...."
She was right -- at first Jim didn’t believe it. Cascade to Portland -- by air -- for free?
But it was absolutely true. To ease the financial burden on a grieving Sandy -- as well as, Jim suspected, getting to spend this trying time with the beautiful detective -- Masterson flew them himself in the small plane he'd piloted from Denver to Cascade.
When Blair and Jim showed up instead of Sandy and Jim, Masterson smiled and opened the door for them. As they got settled, Blair mumbled, "He didn't ask where Sandy was...."
Jim leaned over and whispered, "Chief -- he knows." At Blair's expression, he smiled. "He wasn't at all surprised to see you instead of Sandy. His heart reacted exactly the same as it does when he first sees Sandy. He knows.”
Blair stared at Masterson as he got in. When he put on his radio, Blair asked, "How long have you known?"
Masterson smiled. "Since the game of hide-and-seek you and Jim played when your mom got sick. I figured you'd tell me when you were ready." With that, he began the pre-flight checklist.
Only Jim heard Blair's muttered, "....feel like five kinds of fool... man's an ATF agent, of course he'd figure it out...."
Blair called Naomi from the hotel room, and she asked him if he could stay till Wednesday.
"I'll check." He put his hand over the receiver. "Can we stay till Wednesday?"
"We can stay as long as we need to," Jim assured him.
"So can I," Masterson said, drawing an odd look from Jim. He smiled. "I've accrued a few years' worth of vacation days...."
Jim chuckled and shook his head.
Blair relayed the message, then frowned, hanging up a few moments later.
"What is it, Chief?" Jim asked.
"She wants us to stay till the reading of the will," Blair said as he sank onto the bed, frowning deeply. "Apparently, I'm mentioned in it."
As the will was read, Blair's eyes grew wider and wider, until he gripped the chair arms so tightly his knuckles turned white. When the lawyer was done, Blair whispered "There... there's got to be a mistake..."
"Agreed," a young woman said beside him. Jim automatically did a sensory sweep of her; cataloguing voice, heart and breathing rhythms and scent with the mental file "Krilynda Baker, LauraJane's daughter". She went on, "He is not blood relation to my mother, and he should not gain as much as he has."
"I mean...." Blair went on. "The entire cabin? I...I can't...."
The lawyer frowned at him. "The will is quite explicit, Mister Sandburg. You and your twin sister have inherited the cabin lock, stock, and barrel. I shall be by in the morning to deposit your key." He stood up and blew out of the room.
Blair looked at Krilynda. "I... I never exp---"
She waved a hand and cut him off. "I know you didn't. I'm not angry at you, Blair, you had no control over this." She met his eyes. "And I know you don't want it, either."
He nodded. "Got that right. I just don't understand...."
"Nor do I," Krilynda sighed. "But I will find out. In the meanwhile...."
Blair shrugged. "In the meanwhile, I seem to have a cabin."
Krilynda smiled. "Temporarily."
He returned her smile. "The temporarier the better!"
They laughed together, then Krilynda left. Masterson looked after her. "I don't completely trust her," he said finally.
"Me either," Jim sighed.
"That makes three of us," Blair put in. "I just hope I let her know that I'm just as unhappy with this as she is."
"You got the point across, Chief," Jim grinned. "I think that was the only reason she didn't rip into you."
"Still," Masterson said, pulling out his cell phone. "Either of you mind if I run a check or five on Ms Baker?"
"Be my guest," Jim said with a conspiratorial grin.
"In the meanwhile...." Blair sighed as his watch bleeped an alarm. Making sure they were alone, he shifted to Sandy and the lines of pain around her eyes eased.
"In the meanwhile, I'll get the three of us reservations at that nice Italian restaurant I saw on the way in," Jim grinned. As she blinked at him, his grin grew. "Hey, gotta eat sometime."
"Man, you don't think of anything but your stomach, do you?" Sandy grinned.
"Way to a man's heart, Chief," Jim cracked as they left the room and left Masterson to his calls.
"This is bad," the voice on the phone said. "This is very very bad."
"It could be worse," the other one said.
"How? They're cops! And they'll find the treasure before we do!"
"Now you don't know that...."
"I do! I feel it in my bones! And it's all that meddling Baker biddy's fault!"
"Now hold on a sec---"
"Delay them. I don't care how you do it, just do it. If you have to hurt them, hurt them!" CLICK.
Krilynda met them at their hotel the next morning and insisted on riding with them to her mother's house. "Riding with us?" Blair asked. "Don't you live there?"
She shook her head. "Mother and I had a falling-out some years ago. I live in the next town over. I couldn't stay in that house, it was almost as if she were still there, disapproving of everything I do."
Masterson's cell rang a moment later and he excused himself to answer it. Blair and Jim kept making small talk with Krilynda, and Blair was amused to find LauraJane had approved of Krilynda's choice of a career as a librarian about as much as Naomi had approved of Blair's becoming a cop.
"She dismissed it as being 'pedestrian'." Krilynda laughed. "She accused me of 'settling'! I've never 'settled' for anything in my life!"
"Now I see why they chose each other as sisters," Blair chuckled, wiping tears from his eyes. "They're so much alike it's frightening!"
Masterson motioned Jim over and whispered, "That was my office. Krilynda's clean as a whistle."
Jim nodded. "That jibes with what my gut says." *Not to mention my senses, she's not lied to us once.*
They drove to LauraJane's house, and found the lawyer wasn't there yet. "Huh," Blair said, crossing his arms. "That's odd, he said he'd be right here with the keys..."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Masterson, you think you can put your office to work again?"
But Masterson was already dialing. "Already on it." Not two minutes later, his cell rang again and he answered it. "That was fast."
"*Yeah, turns out we already had his file up,*" Jim eavesdropped.
"For real? For what?"
"*Andrew Tucker, lawyer-at-large, is one of a half dozen pseudonyms used by a Tyler Anderson.*"
"Tyler Anderson?" At Blair and Krilynda's looks, he said, "Our lawyer's a shady character."
"Damn," Blair and his cousin swore together.
Hanging up, Masterson said, "Fraud, swindling... I'd go to the courthouse if I were you, Ms Baker, and find out if that will is the true will."
"Definitely," she said, taking a set of keys from the mantle. "I'll be back when I know something."
They nodded and with a "Be careful," from Blair, she was gone.
“Let's go to that cabin anyhow," Jim said. "For now, it is yours, Chief...."
Blair nodded. "Let's roll."
He upended the last drawer in the bedroom, searching. Still nothing. With a curse, he flung the drawer against the wall and ran into the combination den/living room, feeling along the walls for any hidden catch that would open a hidden panel.
The sound of tires crunching on gravel startled him and he made a running beeline for the back door, and out of it. Abandoning his jeep, he ran for the woods.
He didn't get far. Something tackled him from behind and whirled him around once he was down. He found himself looking up into the very irate face of one Jim Ellison.
Jim smiled tightly, and a shiver went down the man's spine. That smile was almost --- feral. "Well, well, what have we here? Mister Tucker --- or would you rather I called you Tyler Anderson?"
His shoulders slumped. "Aw, shit...."
"What were you doing here, man?" Blair asked as they brought Anderson into the house.
"There's a treasure somewhere in this house," he growled. "And I was sent to find it!"
"Sent?" Masterson asked. "By who?"
Anderson clammed up.
Jim sighed. "All right, then, we do this the har----"
"Jim, wait," Blair said. "What if we all found it? That way Anderson here could have done his job and when we let him contact his boss, he can lead us to him!"
Anderson blanched at that.
Jim smiled. "I like that idea. Okay, laughing boy, start talking. Tell us about this treasure."
After a moment, Anderson stammered, "I-I told you what I know.... there's a t-treasure here. That's it. That's all I know."
"Not even rumors?" Masterson asked.
That made Anderson smile. "It's rumored to be gold."
Blair was looking around the small den. "Aunt LauraJane, where would you hide a treasure...." Suddenly he smiled and moved to the fireplace. "She's my mother's soul-sister," he said as he ran his fingers lightly over the carved mantelpiece. "And they both loved Poe and Doyle.... aahhhh...." he sighed in satisfaction as his fingers traced the outline of a small carved wolf howling on the edge of the mantelpiece. "Let's see if Aunt LauraJane held true to form..."
With that, Blair pushed the carving and it slid inward. There was a slight rumbling noise and part of the hearth slid open. "Jackpot," Blair smiled.
As Jim still held onto Anderson, Masterson and Blair used teamwork to wrestle a strongbox out of the hearth. "The treasure..." Anderson breathed.
After breathing Sentinel-soft, "Dial it down, Jim," and receiving a nod in return, Blair shot the lock off the strongbox and crouched down, opening it slowly.
When Blair lifted out a sheaf of papers, Anderson asked, "Well, what is it? Stock certificates? Notes on how much gold and where it's stored?"
Blair looked through them, and let out a hoot of laughter. "Neither!" he giggled. "Adoption papers!"
"Adoption papers?" Masterson said, taking them and scanning them.
"For Krilynda?" Jim asked.
"Nope!" Blair stood, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "For four wolves in Yellowstone!"
"WHAT?" Anderson bellowed, and even as Jim grinned, he reflected that it was a good thing he had his hearing dialed down. "That's...that's not a treasure at all!"
"You're wrong, man," Blair said as he replaced the papers and lifted the strongbox. "It's the greatest treasure of all. Let's take him to the police station."
As they walked out of the cabin, frogmarching Anderson to the car, the captive stuttered, "B-but how can that be a treasure? It's not money or jewelry or gold or ---"
“No, it's something infinitely more precious," Blair said as they got into the car. "It's the most valuable investment anyone can make."
"I'm afraid you've lost me, pal," Masterson said.
Blair turned to him, smiling. "Life, man. She invested in life itself."
Anderson's groans and the three lawmen's smiles lasted all the way to the Portland Police Station.
He slammed down the phone and growled in frustration. Anderson was gone, the ineffectual ....
That Baker brat and her damned cousin....
He took a deep breath and picked up the phone again. "Anderson's failed," he said succinctly once the other person picked up. "And the Baker woman wasn't hoarding gold."
He listened, then said shortly, "Well, we just change tacks, that's all. We couldn't get to her through her sister's wealth, we'll find another way to get to her." He hung up and blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling.
Soon, Naomi.... very very soon......
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