Sam had spotted Ellison in the crowd and had almost reached him when Al appeared right in front of him. The Leaper jumped a little in surprise and swore under his breath. “Don’t do that!” he hissed.
“Do what?” Jim demanded, turning to face him. The cold, hard look on his face was not comforting. “What are you doing, Sandburg?”
“Captain Banks sent me,” Sam explained weakly. “He, uh, wants me to help you focus.” This was with a pointed glance at the hologram.
“Oh, okay.” Al started to punch at the handlink. “I’ll get Ziggy to ask Blair what you should do.”
“Captain Banks?” Now’s a hell of a time to pull that one out of your ass, Sandburg, unless you’re trying to make up for lost brownie points. The detective’s nostril’s flared. “Fine.”
You don’t sound like it’s fine, Sam thought, but he chose not to speak.
He didn’t realize that choice only amplified Ellison’s suspicions. Now he was suddenly being quiet without having to be asked? And there’d been that weird static again a moment ago…
“Ok, Blair says you should tell him to try to isolate sounds. Zeller isn’t going to make this easy on them–”
Sam repeated the young man’s instructions to Ellison.
“I know what to do, Chief, all right?” Jim snapped. “I know the drill. You don’t have to quote me chapter and verse. Why don’t you save that for your interviews?”
Damn. He’s definitely not taking this well. Sam sighed. Well, at least he’s calling me…er, Blair…by a nickname. That’s a good sign…I hope.
“Sheesh, I’m glad the kid wasn’t here to hear that,” Al muttered.
Ellison started to wander away, scanning the crowd with his eyes and ears. Sam watched him go with another sigh.
Up on the stage, a man approached the podium. “Mr. Bartley will be out momentarily. He’s finishing a phone call to the attorney general.”
The Leaper continued watching Jim, who had reached up to remove the radio ear-piece. He paused, turning his head as if reacting to a sound, then pushed further into the crowd.
“Aw, hell!” Al swore as they suddenly noticed a group of reporters converging on the detective. “Sam, there’s a ninety-six percent chance they won’t catch Zeller if those reporters–”
The Leaper didn’t wait to hear any more. He started barreling through the crowd. When he reached the enclave surrounding Jim, he started pulling the reporters away.
It was too late. A shot rang through the air and a glance up at Bartley’s window revealed the man tumbling out of his chair.
Sam swore loudly. “Damn it, Al, why didn’t you warn me sooner?!”
“Jack’s been shot!” a voice shouted. “Get a paramedic in here!”
With an odd look in the Leaper’s direction, Jim bounded up onto the platform and began to search the crowd once more with his eyes.
Sam swore again.
Back at the Project
“Hey, how’re you doing?” Al asked gently as he entered the room.
Blair set down the book he’d been reading and ran one hand through his dark curls. “I don’t know. Between this…swiss-cheese thing you told me about and worrying about Jim…” He lifted disturbed eyes to the Admiral. “Are you sure Sam can fix this?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Al replied with quiet confidence. “Sam’s been doing this for a pretty long time.”
“Maybe it would be better if he didn’t,” Blair confessed. “I mean, man, if I screwed up this badly, maybe Jim would be better off without me.”
“Hey, Kid, you’re not the one that screwed up. And I’ll tell you something. Ziggy doesn’t even think Sam’s there to straighten out this business with your dissertation. He thinks you did a good enough job of that on your own.”
“Really? Then why is he there?”
“He’s there because this guy Zeller is gonna take a shot at your Captain and this Inspector Connor.”
Blair turned white and Al held up a comforting hand. “Don’t worry–forewarned is forearmed, remember?”
The kid nodded and Al studied him. “Ellison really means a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Blair nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I know he’s not old enough to be my father, but he’s the closest thing I have. Or more like a big brother, I guess.”
The Observer nodded, thinking of the absent genius who’d always been like a younger brother or a son to him. I hear you, Kid. “Your dad wasn’t around much?”
“Hell, I don’t even know who he is,” Blair admitted. “All Naomi ever said was that there was a list of candidates. Let’s just say I met one of them…and I sure hope it’s not him.”
Damn. No wonder the kid’s so devastated by this.
“I know where you’re coming from,” he sympathized. “I grew up in an orphanage.”
“Yeah. My mom ran off with an encyclopedia salesman when I was just a kid. My sister had Down’s Syndrome and Dad couldn’t take care of us, so he placed us in a home. A few years later, he died of cancer.”
“What happened to your sister?” Blair asked gently.
“She was sent to a mental hospital. She died there of pneumonia when she was sixteen.”
“That’s why I went into the Naval Academy as soon as I turned eighteen. That was my family.”
Blair nodded. “Sounds kind of like Jim. His dad went a little overboard on the sibling rivalry thing–he pitted his sons against each other so much that it took them until a couple of years ago to have any sort of a relationship. Plus, Jim’s dad made fun of him because of his senses…I guess Jim was looking for a better family than the one he had.”
“Most of us do, Kid,” Al agreed.