72 hours and 30 minutes in the Game.
It had been a long and productive few weeks. Several cases -- both open and 'cold' -- had been solved by the Ellison-Sandburg team with the occasional aid of ATF agent Dean Masterson. Blair had teased Dean about relocating to Cascade -- he'd never thought Dean would take him UP on it!
At any rate, it had been a productive few weeks. So why was Jim so sulky?
"Jim?" Blair asked after breakfast, sitting beside him on the couch. "What's wrong?"
A sigh, and Jim replied, "Nothing, really."
"Yeah? Well, 'nothing' wouldn't make you this blue. C'mon, man..."
Another sigh. "Oh, all right. It's just....Cheif, I..." He waved his hands slightly as he tried to gather his thoughts. Blair couldn't fully suppress the grin at the habit Jim had picked up from his roommate. "It's.... I-I feel like everyone who knows what I am expects me to ... to be Superman! I... I mean, the last few cases, I've gotten the feeling that everyone who knows --- even you --- thinks I solved them just with my senses!"
"Hey." The smile faded. "Whoa, Jim. Hold up, here. You know that's not true."
"Isn't it?" He nodded at Blair. "You've got a special ability, too -- you know what I mean!"
Blair sighed and his eyes trailed to the mantle, where a photograph of Sandy and Jim in formal wear -- taken on an undercover assignment a week earlier -- rested. "Yeah, I know. But, Jim, you're more than just your senses. You're one of the best detectives on the force! Your senses are... are a bit of icing on the cake!"
"Thick icing," Jim shot back.
Blair sighed in exasperation. "Okay... look, I'll prove it to you."
"You go on to the station without me. Give me four hours to vanish. Then you find me. Without your senses."
Jim chuckled. "That's it?"
"That's it." He smiled. "And if you find me within --- say --- 72 hours, no senses --- then you'll know."
Jim nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me. Four hours isn't much time, Chief. How completely can you vanish in just four hours?"
Blair smiled. "You'd be surprised."
60 hours to go.
Jim hung up the phone and looked at his watch. 9:30 PM. Blair had been 'missing' for 12 hours now, and all Jim knew for certain was that he was still in Cascade.
Somehow, Blair had managed -- in four hours -- to vanish without a trace. He'd left the Volvo parked at the Loft. His duffel and backpack were gone. His cell phone, Jim had found resting beside the answering machine.
He'd not gone to the bus station, airport, or rental car agencies. He had shown up briefly at the station, to deliver Rafe's lunch as he'd promised the day before -- but he'd said nothing to Rafe about his whereabouts.
*Damn,* Jim thought in admiration. *Kid's slippier than an eel. Good thing this is only a game, or I'd really be worried!*
Jim flipped on the Jags game and sat down with a notebook and a pen, making a list of favourite haunts -- past and present -- that he'd start checking out in the morning.
After he watched the Jags cream their opponents, Jim went to bed.
49 hours to go.
The ringing of the downstairs phone woke Jim. He glanced at the clock. 8 AM.
"Who in their right mind would be calling this early," Jim growled, racing down the stairs and grabbing the phone on the fifth ring. "Yeah!"
Silence for a couple of seconds, then an unfamiliar voice asked, "Is this... Is this Blair Sandburg?"
Alarm bells went off in Jim's head. He stiffened unconsciously as he responded, "No, this is his roommate. May I help you?"
“This is Doctor Cordell Benson at Mercy General Hospital in Los Angeles. I need to speak to Mister Sandburg --- it is a matter of some importance."
*Oh, God.* Jim licked his lips before he said, "Blair is... unavailable. I hold power of attourney -- is there anything I can help you with?"
Another moment of silence, then Benson's voice turned grim. "Yes, sir. You can get in touch with Blair Sandburg and have him come to Mercy ASAP. We have a Ms. Naomi Sandburg admitted here."
Jim frowned. "Naomi? His mother? What... what's wrong with ...."
"I'm not supposed to discuss that with non-family memebers--- but in this case I'll make an exception so you can inform Mister Sandburg of the gravity of the situation. Ms Sandburg is suffering from a form of leukemia, and Mister Sandburg's marrow is a match."
Jim nodded, remembering Blair being so excited about donating marrow to a bank, eager to help out. "What... what time frame are we looking at?"
"Ideally, we want to start the transplantation within 48 to 72 hours. Sooner, if possible."
"It'll be sooner," Jim said. "I'll see to it. Give me your number." He took down the numbers given him -- hospital, home, office, pager, cell phone -- then hung up.
Jim sat back and ran both hands down his face. *God, Sandburg....*
42 hours to go.
Jim lay down his pen and strode to the door, pulling it open. "Simon."
Simon shook his head as he walked in. "Jeez, Jim, give a guy a chance to knock every now and then, huh?"
Jim just looked at him as he sat back down and picked up a pen.
"What's wrong?" Simon asked.
"Why're you here, Simon?"
"I came to see how this Game thing was going."
Jim sighed. "Good. Too good. He's not at any of his usual haunts -- or un-usual ones! I called Masterson -- he’s not even seen Blair!" He sighed again. "I even called Ranier."
Simon frowned. "Jim ... why do I get the feeling this is suddenly more than a game?"
"Because it is." He rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Got a phone call a few hours ago --- Naomi's in the hospital."
Simon blinked. "Aw, Jim..."
"That's not the worst of it." Another sigh. "She's got leukemia. Blair's a marrow match --- we've got to find him."
"I'll drive." Simon grabbed Jim's coat and tossed it to him. "Tell me about it on the way."
"To where?" Jim asked, even as he pulled on his coat.
"Lunch." Simon nodded toward the notepad. "Then to Ranier. We'll go there and make absolutely sure there's nothing there."
38 hours to go.
Jim walked back into the Loft and, in a gesture of pure frustration, flung his keys across the room.
"Hey!" Simon cried. "Hey, cool down! That won't find Sandburg!"
Jim sighed and moved across the room to recover his keys. "Yeah, I know. I just feel so damned helpless. I mean, how could he have vanished so compl---" He broke off, looking at the mantel.
"Simon..." Jim reached up and gently touched the framed photograph of himself and the lovely auburn-haired woman. "Simon, I think I know where Blair is." He moved to the phone and began looking through the small business card index there. "Or at least, someone who might have a clue."
As he lifted the receiver, Simon asked, "Who're you calling?"
"Masterson," Jim said as he began to dial.
"Masterson?" Simon gasped. "Hold on, Jim, I thought you said you'd called him before!"
"I did -- but see, I made a mist--" Jim broke off. "Yeah, Masterson? It's Ellison again. Look, I need to know -- have you seen Sandy today?" Jim looked over at Simon and grinned, his face lighting up. "That's great! Well, where can I...huh?" the smile faded. "Oh....I see.... well, I need you to give her a message for me. She needs to call me ASAP -- it's an emergency. Her mother's in the hospital." Another pause, then Jim smiled a bit. "Thanks, I owe you one." He hung up and turned to Simon. "Got her. Masterson said she's been staying in a motel, but had asked him not to tell me which one or where. He said he'd give her the message."
Simon shook his head. "You said you'd made a mistake?"
Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I'd asked him if he'd seen Blair. He's never met Blair, he's only met Sandy. He thinks they're two separate people."
Simon blinked. Then he blinked again, pointing to the phone. "You mean to tell me Sandburg's been in drag this entire time?"
"Uhm.... well...." Jim rubbed the back of his neck. "Simon -- I... see, we've...."
"Aw, hell, Jim, we go through this every time you've got a new secret. Why don't we just make this easy on us both and just spill it?"
34 hours to go.
The phone rang in the hotel room. Blair wrapped the towel around his slender hips and dripped across the thick carpet. "Sandburg," he said into the phone.
Silence for a second, then Dean Masterson's voice. "Blair? I...I was calling for your twin..."
Blair couldn't suppress the smile. After he'd learned Sandy's last name was the same as her 'bodyguard's', and realising they weren't married, Dean had quickly jumped to the conclusion they were brother and sister. When he found they "shared" a birthday, that was amended to twins. "She's in the shower," Blair said. "Can I have her call you back once she's done?"
Dean laughed. "Feel free."
Chuckling, Blair hung up and returned to his shower.
When he was done, Blair dried off and shifted to Sandy, who bundled up in a very warm, very feminine robe. Settling on the bed, she dialed the familiar number. "Hi, Dean, it's Sandy. Blair said you called?"
"Yeah, Ellison called again a few hours ago -- asking for you this time."
Sandy grinned. *Took him long enough....* "And?"
His sile was audible. "And I did as you asked. Told him you were safe, but not where you were."
"Great, thanks, Dean!"
"Not a problem. And, hey, Ellison played dirty pool on me."
"Oh, really?” Sandy tucked her legs under her -- this promised to be good! "What did he do?"
"Oh, he gave me a cock-and-bull story about your mother."
Sandy blinked. She sat straight up. "My....mother?"
"Uh-huh." Dean chuckled. "If you'd not told me he plays hardball---"
"Dean....Jim plays hardball, all right -- but even at his worst, he wouldn't bring my mother into it unless there's really something up. Jim plays to win --- but he's not cruel."
Dean sighed. "Looks like I've got a lot to learn about Ellison. If I'd have known it was real, I'd have called you the minute I got off the phone with him."
Sandy smiled slightly. "It's all right, Dean. I know. Thanks for telling me." Another few moments of reassurances on both sides, then Sandy hung up.
Shifting to Blair, and shedding the robe for jeans and a t-shirt, he dialed the phone again. "...Jim?...my mom...?"
20 hours to go.
The doctor came into the waiting room of Mercy General in LA and smiled. "Well, gentlemen, all is going as it should -- and right now, Ms Sandburg's prognosis looks good."
Jim and Simon looked at each other and shared relieved smiles.
The doctor then frowned. "Mister Sandburg asked me to tell you he was 'damned pleased you won the bet'. Whatever that means."
Jim met his eyes. "So am I, Doctor Benson --- for Naomi's sake."
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