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This, friends, is what you get when you tell somebody you'll write them a fanfic for their birthday. So, Kristine, happy birthday! Hope you like your present-sorry it's so late!

DISCLAIMER: Y'all know the drill. Jim, Blair and the Sentinel crew belong to Pet Fly and Paramount. Walker and company belong to Chuck Norris, Top Kick Productions and CBS. No copyright infringement is intended. We're just doing this for fun, after all.

Oh, and I hope all you guys on the IRC like the little acronym joke I threw in here…

*****

The Bonds of Friendship

A Sentinel / Walker, Texas Ranger Crossover

by Laura Picken

Blair Sandburg couldn't believe it. All he had done was go to the convenience store a couple of blocks away from the loft to pick up a particular brand of coffee that he knew his partner, Jim Ellison, liked. With the man's hyperactive sense of taste, Jim was particularly sensitive to bad coffee. The brand that Blair had discovered, that he had gone out that night to buy, a small generic brand that only this store carried, seemed to be less bitter than other brands (that is, according to Jim -- frankly, Blair couldn't tell the difference). So, naturally, it was now the only kind of coffee that Jim would allow in the house, and they had just run out.

Of course, that was when the bad guys decided it would be a good day to hold up said convenience store.

What, thought Blair, do I give off some sort of scent or something that attracts the bad guys so that they come after me from miles around?!?!?

The clerk behind the counter triggered some sort of silent alarm, and even Blair could faintly hear the sirens of the police cars that were headed their way. The robbers heard those sirens, too, and panicked. From his position near the back of the store he heard more than saw the apparent leader of the group yell, "lock the doors!" When his partner-in-crime started to mumble an objection the leader yelled even louder, "do it!" and fired a shot in the air to punctuate his point.

The other man locked the door.

Blair sighed. He just hoped Jim would get there soon.

*****

Jim Ellison was standing at the balcony to his loft, enjoying the sunset even while feeling the cold air that signaled that rain was coming.

It was then that he heard the sirens. At first he ignored them, out of habit, but then he heard the blast of the sawed-off shotgun. That sounds like it's only a couple of blocks from here... He scanned the area until he found where the sound was coming from. As he ran to get his jacket he sighed, thinking, oh, that's just great. Sandburg! One of these days, we've got to find a way to somehow get that invisible 'kick me' sign removed from your back...]

*****

Simon rubbed his exhausted eyes and took another sip of his cold and bitter coffee. As with all hostage situations, Major Crimes had been, by order of the mayor himself, placed in charge of the crime scene. Which was the only reason why, after thirty-six non-stop hours of work trying to bring down a druglord who had the nerve to try and set up shop in -his- town, Simon was standing around in the freezing drizzle outside a convenience store. Seeing about forty of his officers around him suffering though the same fate, though, did a lot to reassure his mood.

Until the -one- officer he didn't want to see at this particular crime scene was headed straight for him. I thought I sent those two home to get some sleep. This could only mean one thing... As soon as Jim was in earshot (for a normal human being, anyway) Simon confronted Jim, "Sandburg's in there, isn't he?"

Jim looked at his captain in shock. "How did you--?"

Simon interrupted, "experience is a -very- good teacher, Jim. You've just come off the same thirty-six hour nightmare that I have. So the only possible thing that could keep you away from your pillow right now..."

Jim brought his hands up in defeat. "I get the picture, sir. So what's the situation?"

"Well, aside from what you just told me, we know very little. We got a report of shots fired about ten minutes ago, and when the officer came by to investigate, this place had been locked down and our man was shot at again when he tried to get any closer than twenty feet from the building. Two armed thugs and at least three hostages, including Sandburg and the store clerk. We're trying to set up a secured phone line inside right now."

"Any other ways inside the building?"

"There's an entrance around back that leads into a small storage room."

Before Simon could get a chance to say anything else, Jim declared, "I'm on it, sir," and disappeared into the crowd.

The captain cursed his luck, both good and bad, that he was the only other person in the world to know about the Sentinel and his trouble-magnet guide. He should have realized that the minute he informed Jim about what was going on and -didn't- order the detective to just sit tight until they got Blair out of there that he would no longer have control over the situation. He prayed under his breath, "Lord, whatever that Neanderthal is planning to do to get the kid out of there, just make sure nobody gets hurt..."

*****

In the darkened alley behind the convenience store, Jim easily found the store's back entrance. Trying the door, however, he found it to be heavily padlocked. Prepared for such a challenge, he took a hairpin out of his sock, and, using the pin and his hyperactive sense of touch, he worked quickly and silently, easily opening the three padlocks that secured the door. Silently turning the knob and opening the door, he made his way through the pitch-black darkness of the storeroom. Since Simon hadn't apparently known that Blair was in the store until Jim showed up, there had to be a way to get into the room without being seen.

It was a fact that Jim had been counting on for the past few minutes.

Finally reaching the door that led to the main area of the store, he stopped and listened intently, trying to determine the locations of the people on the other side. He found five heartbeats easily, scattered around the room in positions that were a safe distance away from the door. But then he heard a sixth heartbeat, faint and slow...he began to wonder if someone had been hurt, if Blair had been hurt, when he realized that the smell of blood was not there. That could only mean...oh great, thought the Sentinel. One of the hostages must be a pregnant woman. -She's- not going to be easy to sneak out of here. That meant switching to Plan B: overpowering the two thugs who started this whole mess in the first place.

Noticing the small crack of light escaping from the bottom of the door, he wondered if he could use it to determine exactly who was where. He knew Blair was closest to the door, and the pregnant woman was in a far corner of the store to his left, but determining the identities of the other three was proving difficult. As he crouched down, he took a deep breath, and listened, piggybacking his sight onto his hearing. He found a 'security' mirror which helped him immensely. Sure enough, the robbers and the store clerk were clustered at the other end of the store, closest to the door. The pregnant woman was in the far left corner, crouched down so the robbers couldn't see her, and Blair was a few feet away from him, hidden behind the coffee cans. Good move, chief, thought Jim, they may only think they have one hostage. Now how do we get the other woman not to panic...

The problem was solved for him as Blair motioned for her to come closer to his spot, and she crawled in his direction. Jim smiled. It was like the younger man was reading his mind. That leaves the clerk up to me. I can't expect him to do -everything-, after all. He waited until the two thugs had their backs turned to his door and slipped through, immediately crouching behind the nearest row of shelves. Keeping a constant eye on the mirror and his position in relation to it, he made his way over to Blair's location, whispering to the younger man, "how's it going, chief?"

To Jim's surprise, Blair didn't even flinch. "Took you long enough, Ellison."

"Sorry. Had a few padlocks to deal with."

Padlocks? He never told me he could open those. I'll have to drag it out of him later... "So what happens next?"

"I have to take down those two without them or anybody else getting hurt."

"Simon's expecting miracles, huh?" Jim nodded.

Blair continued, "okay, I'll provide a distraction for the one guy while you go after the second." Before Jim could protest, Blair spat out, "unless you have any better ideas."

Jim thought for a second, then hung his head slightly in resignation. Against his better judgment, Blair was right. He knew Blair could handle himself, especially when dealing with talking down psychos, and there was no way he could do this on his own without at least putting the life of the store clerk in danger. He moved around to get closer to the clerk and the thug behind the clerk, then took a deep breath and waited for the Blair Sandburg Show to begin.

Blair glanced over to his partner, and saw that he was in position. Okay, he's ready, thought Blair, now comes the hard part: distracting the other guy without him shooting me. The younger man then noticed the carefully stacked display of beer bottles a few feet from the gunman. On second thought, maybe it won't be so difficult after all... Squeezing the shoulder of his fellow hostage to reassure her that he would be all right, he crawled down the short aisle of shelves to the beer bottle display. Jim, I hope you're ready for this... He pulled an eight-pack from the bottom level, and crawled quickly out of the way as the entire eight-level display came crashing down.

Jim winced as he heard the first bottle break, but quickly recovered and knocked the thug closest to him unconscious with a quick blow to the back of the head. As the second thug spun around to see his partner fall to the floor, Jim drew his gun, yelling, "freeze! Cascade PD!" The thug started to pull the trigger of his gun, though, so Jim fired, knocking the gun out of his hands.

Shaking the shocked hand in dismay, the thug hesitated long enough for Jim to throw Blair his pair of handcuffs. As Blair pulled the thug's hands behind him, Jim complimented his partner, "nice work, Blair."

Blair simply shrugged, commenting, "yeah, I just wish I didn't get so much practice."

Laughing, Jim added, "me too, chief. Me too."

*****

The next afternoon, Jim knocked on the doorframe to Simon's office, glad that their long night had finally ended with about twelve hours of sleep. Simon had let them go back home after the two thugs were taken downtown, saying that they could come to the station to fill out their reports after they had gotten a chance to rest.

However, before, Jim had even had a chance to hand Simon the reports, he ordered the two men, "come in and close the door behind you."

As Jim and Blair walked in the office and sat down, confused, Jim asked, "what's going on, sir?"

Simon looked up from the reports on the druglord case he had been working on. I know they're not going to like this... "Turns out we got more from that little hostage situation than we bargained for. The guys downstairs ran our two thug's pictures against the VICAP computer and we found out that our two nervous amateurs are actually wanted for a string of about twenty robberies down in Texas."

"You can't be serious," exclaimed Blair, "-those- two? They'd acted like they'd never done this before in their lives."

"Actually, the hostage thing -was- new for them," said Simon. "Usually, they were in and out of a store within five minutes. Even the Texas Rangers couldn't get their hands on them."

"Texas Rangers?" asked Blair. "You mean the baseball team?"

Jim rolled his eyes at the statement, then explained, "the Texas Rangers are the Texas equivalent of Major Crimes, but on a statewide scale. Their men are some of the best in the South."

Simon smiled, surprisingly, at the statement. "Glad you feel that way, Jim, because a couple of Rangers flew in this morning to collect our two friends and bring them back down to Texas, and they want you two to come with them."

"Us?" questioned Jim. "Why?"

"Apparently they consider these men a flight risk." As Simon handed Jim a picture of the guy Jim had knocked out he explained, "they believe this man, Julio Rodriguez, is part of a gang responsible for the Texas robberies, and most of the gang is still at large. We don't know if his men are up here or still back down in Texas."

Blair asked, "what about the other guy?"

"Enrique?" replied Simon, "he's not talking, but from his rap sheet we have reason to believe he's another member of the gang. If they can get these two back to Texas, though, the Rangers think they'll help bring down the rest of them."

"If we can get them back," repeated Jim. "So where are our travel companions anyway?"

Wincing at the sarcastic tone in Jim's voice, Simon motioned to his door, diverting their attention to the two men coming into the office. "Here they come now."

Jim's eyes widened in surprise as he recognized one of the men coming into the office. Simon, not noticing Jim's reaction, began the introductions. "James Ellison, Blair Sandburg, these are Rangers..."

Jim completed the sentence. "Walker. It's been a long time."

Ranger Cordell Walker smiled as he recognized his old friend. "Good to see you again, Ellison."

Jim smiled. "Good to see you too. I'd heard you'd gotten out of Special Forces, but I didn't know you had become a Ranger."

Walker commented, "you're looking pretty good yourself." Like something's different about you...

Jim turned to introduce his partner. "Walker, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. Blair, Ranger Walker here was the commander of my first Special Forces unit."

-This- is Jim's -partner-? It wasn't like him to even -want- a partner before... "Nice to meet you, detective Sandburg. This is my partner, James Trivette."

-Detective-?!?! Blair had to stifle a laugh, something Walker found it hard not to take notice of.

For the first time in this little get-together, Trivette got a chance to speak. "Nice to meet you, gentlemen."

Simon interrupted, "forgive me for intruding, but perhaps you two old Army buddies would like to take this little show -on-the-road-."

Jim, naturally, got the hint immediately. "Gotcha. See ya 'round Simon."

As Simon watched the four men leave, the last thing he heard Walker say was "I heard about Peru..."

Simon laughed. Looks like Blair won't be the one telling the stories on -this- trip...

*****

The four men decided it would be best to let their prisoners spend the night in jail and start out in the morning. In the meantime, Jim invited the two men over to the loft for dinner.

As Walker entered the apartment, it became clear to him that Jim did -not- decorate the apartment. Or if he had, the man was decidedly different from the man he remembered from his days in the service. The collection of objects he noticed surrounding him looked like it came from a variety of cultures all over the world, and the Ranger whistled, impressed at the diversity of things around him. He complimented Blair, "nice place. Did you do the decorating?"

Sentinel and Guide stole a glance at each other before Blair replied, "actually, yeah, I did. How'd you guess?"

"This stuff just isn't Ellison's style, from what I remember." As he picked up a wooden statue of a West African warrior he commented, "actually, there aren't many detectives I know of with this kind of taste."

I guess I -should- tell them... thought Blair. Out loud he told Walker, "actually, I'm not really a cop. I'm an anthropologist.

Well, that explains the collection, thought Walker, but what that -doesn't- explain is... "so how'd you end up as Ellison's partner?"

"Now, that's actually a very interesting story, Ranger Walker..." Blair was off and running on one of his legendary obfuscations, and Jim had to work very hard to suppress the growing smile. When Blair got started, the results were often quite enjoyable to watch.

Walker, for his part, was listening intently to Blair's story, and not believing a word of it. The kid was a good storyteller, that was for sure, but the young anthropologist was -definitely- spinning a tall tale, of that much Walker was certain. But he couldn't tell yet what the real story was.

How did a cop as talented and obviously well-respected cop like Jim Ellison end up with an anthropologist for a partner, particularly when the man was almost legendary in his desire to work -alone-?

He was determined to find out.

*****

Jim, Blair, Walker and Trivette arrived at the station at 8am, as requested, to pick up their prisoners and get started. With any luck, thought Jim, we can get on a plane, drop these guys in Texas, and get home in time for dinner...

As the four men assembled outside the front entrance to Police Headquarters, Jim noticed that his former Army CO had enough gear for at least three days, and he began to feel like a man distinctly out of the loop. Surprised, Walker looked at his empty-handed friend and guessed, "your captain didn't tell you, did he?"

Blair asked, "tell us what?"

Trivette replied, "our two suspects have a severe fear of flying..."

Oh no, thought both Jim and Blair, not again.

Trivette continued,"...so we're going to drive them down to Texas."

Jim asked, "now, don't get me wrong guys. It's not that I don't enjoy your company, but exactly what are we using to transport the 'Blues Brothers' here down to Texas?" The two Rangers could only shrug their shoulders. They didn't know either.

To the complete surprise of all four men, a large touring bus pulled up to the street in front of them and Simon Banks stepped out, a wide grin plastered on his face. "Like your new temporary home, gentlemen?"

More confused than ever, Jim asked, "what's this about, Simon?"

"Well," explained the captain, "considering the luck you two have had with transporting prisoners, I figured we might try a different approach this time."

Walker and Trivette faced the other two men, concerned. "you've had problems with milk runs like this before?"

While Jim simply graced Walker with a look that screamed it's a long story, Blair walked up, open-mouthed, to touch the barely concealed logo on the side of the bus. His eyes were wide with excitement. "This is one of the Jags' team busses, isn't it, Simon?"

Simon nodded, and chomped on his cigar. "I called in a favor from our friend Mr. Wallace. This is the bus the managers and coaches ride in to away games. Go on in, take a look."

Blair eagerly climbed onto the bus, then stood slack-jawed in the entryway as he noticed the satellite TV, mini kitchen with microwave, conference table and three sets of bunk beds in the back.

Finally noticing his men's lack of gear, Simon directed, "look, Jim, why don't you let the Rangers finish the paperwork on your prisoners while you two go home and pack. I'll give them directions to your place and they can meet you there when they're done."

Jim regarded his superior's suggestion cautiously. "Are you sure, Simon?"

The man is -such- a control freak, thought Simon. Out loud he replied, "yes, I'm sure. Most of the paperwork that's left involved the extradition stuff, and that's something Ranger Walker has to fill out anyway. Now will you two just get out of here!"

Jim laughed at the teasing forcefulness of his captain's order. "All right, all right! C'mon chief." As the two men walked back to the truck Jim called out to Walker, "we'll meet you at my building when you're done."

*****

The paperwork hardly took any time at all, so Jim and Blair were barely finishing packing up when Jim heard the bus pull up outside the loft. He called out, "c'mon chief, let's get a move on! Walker and Trivette are downstairs already."

Blair called out from his room, "can you give me a hand here, Jim?"

Jim turned, wondering what Blair would need a hand with, then realized that the kid was bringing a backpack, his laptop, and a huge handful of books and papers that (evidently) he hadn't been able to fit in the backpack. It was all the older man could do to stifle a laugh. Joking, he asked, "you planning on moving out, chief?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Ha ha. I just figured I could get some of this work done while we're on the road. You know, so I don't have to listen to all your war stories all the time."

Jim shied back innocently. "War stories? Me? Chief, when I have bored you to death with war stories?"

"Normally you don't," replied Blair. "But you and old Army buddy Walker in the same bus for a few days? I figured it best to be prepared."

"You know you're right," agreed Jim, "and here I thought you'd probably want to drive the bus. But I guess I could do it..."

Blair suddenly had a flashback of Jim driving an eighteen-wheeler in the department impound lot, and how many cars almost got totaled. Dropping everything save his backpack and a stack of papers to grade, Blair declared, "okay, -now- I'm ready. Let's go."

*****

After a quick survey of who had more experience driving large vehicles, it was clear the Blair was the only one who had any idea what he was doing, and so he had been officially drafted to take the first shift. Trivette, who had attempted to drive the bus over to the loft (and made it, but only barely), sat next to Blair, who tried to teach him what to do, and launched immediately into what Jim called a 'story chain', where one story led to another story which led to yet another story. The Ranger listened to Blair intently, half-impressed by how well-rounded a man Blair truly was and half-impressed by the way it seemed like the man could literally talk for hours just off the top of his head. Anthropologist, huh? thought Trivette, his students must have a ball...

Walker, too, noticed Blair's lively non-stop storytelling as he shuffled a deck of cards. He asked Jim, "can I ask you a question about Blair?"

Jim replied, "sure, what?"

Walker glanced back over at Blair, then turned to Jim and whispered conspiratorially, "does he ever shut up?"

Laughing, Jim replied, "I've often wondered that myself."

Both men shared a laugh as Walker dealt the cards for the first hand of poker. As each man organized their cards, Walker asked, "so how'd you end up with a partner like Blair, anyhow?"

He's fishing, Jim thought, apparently he didn't buy Blair's story last night. Better make this believable..."I needed his help on a case I was working on a couple of years ago. He proved to be a big help on the case, and so when he told me about what he was studying, he talked me and Simon into signing for him to have observer credentials." Well, at least, that's the official truth...

Walker looked at his old friend skeptically. "The way you two were talking last night, it seems like he does a lot more than just observe."

"Well, Blair does have a tendency to get himself in over his head. I think it's an instinct of his."

"Probably," shrugged Walker. Yep, Blair did look like the type that tended to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the time.

"He also thinks incredibly fast on his feet..."

"So I've noticed."

"...which has helped us to get out of a lot of those situations, and solve some pretty tough cases. So I guess it's a trade-off in some ways."

Trade-off? Sure. So why does he act like an overprotective big brother towards the guy? Walker sighed inwardly. These two just keep getting more and more interesting... As he laid down his cards Walker said, "Royal flush, Jim. Apparently your poker skills haven't improved that much over the years..."

*****

Eight hours into the trip, the men had settled into a comfortable routine. Trivette, to everyone's relief, had taken the second leg of the driving, which left Walker and Jim free to play a few more hands of poker. Blair, for his part, had started working through the jumble of barely intelligible nonsense his students considered to be their midterms, and decided after grading four of them (in eight hours), to take a break by watching a tape of the Jags game he had missed two nights earlier.

Their prisoners were seated at the table next to the mini-kitchen, chained to both each other and the center pole that held up the table. They whispered to each other in Spanish, their speech so soft that only the Sentinel could hear it, and even he tuned it out, figuring the conversation to be unimportant.

A screech of tires on the pavement pierced through the relaxed atmosphere in the van, and before anyone had a chance to react, Trivette swerved just in time to miss two cars that had just stopped directly in the path of the bus. Four women dressed in camouflage poured out of the cars, each carrying high-powered assault rifles. Between their identical dress and their identical ponytails of long red hair, it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. Two women flanked the sides of the bus, while the other two women forced the door open (mostly by shooting through the glass) and stormed the bus.

"My name is Brenda," declared the woman who was heading toward Walker and Jim, "and this is my associate Olive. Tracy and Wendy are the two women outside, and they will be more than happy to blow us all to kingdom come if I don't get what I want."

Walker asked, calmly, "and what would that be?"

"The keys to the chains of our friends over there. And in my hands, please, not dropped on the floor where I have to pick them up."

Sighing, and looking cautiously at the gun Olive had trained on Blair, Jim handed the keys to Brenda. Brenda, in turn, handed the keys to Enrique, who quickly undid the chains holding him and his partner to the table. After the two men beat a hasty retreat into the awaiting cars, Brenda declared, "I hate to have to do this to such an attractive group of men, but since we can't have you following us...GO!"

On 'GO!', Tracy and Wendy quickly and efficiently shot out all of the tires on the bus. While the bus was settling as air was coming out of the tires, Brenda and Olive ran out of the bus, into the waiting cars, and sped away.

By the time Jim and Walker made their way off the bus, the cars were some distance away. Walker was about to go back to the bus and call in the escape when he saw Jim pull out his gun. Impossible, thought Walker, they're too far away...

Jim fired four times, squarely hitting each of the cars' rear tires. The two cars swerved off the road, each one hitting a tree on opposite sides of the road. The four men ran to the crashed cars, but by the time they arrived, there was no sign of Julio, Enrique or any of the women.

Frustrated, Trivette asked, "great. Now what?"

Walker suggested, "maybe one of them was injured from the accident -- it would slow them down."

Jim disagreed, smelling no significant blood in either of the cars. "No, they all got out okay." All senses on full alert, he heard two groups of people, one on either side of the road, heading in the same direction. "They've split up, which means they'll probably meet back up somewhere further down the road. We follow one group, it'll lead us to both of them."

Without objection, Walker reacted to his old friend's assured presence. "So which way?"

Jim immediately picked out which group was closer to them and declared, "follow me."

As the other three men followed the Sentinel's lead, Blair mumbled, "start the chase music, boys..."

*****

Enrique, Brenda and Olive moved cautiously, but quickly, through the woods. They were making good time, but they -had- to get to the cabin (and the boat) at the same time Julio and the others did, or he was afraid Julio would leave without them. And Brenda wasn't helping any...

"Why are we walking so slow?"

"How long -is- it to this cabin anyway?"

"I thought we ditched those cops back when we shot out their bus..."

Enrique pulled out his gun and held it to his wife's head. "Look, I have just about had it with you. We're walking this slow because I don't want someone to drop breadcrumbs that are going to lead that pig Walker straight to us. And yes, we may have shot out their bus, but if -anyone- out there can still find us, he can. And we're about an hour's walk from the cabin, which is a walk you're not going to finish in the land of the living if you don't shut your mouth and stop whining!"

But even holding the gun to her head didn't do much good. After five minutes she was back at it, mostly whispering or muttering her objections to try and keep Enrique from hearing them. He still heard them, though.

So did another man, one who was following at a distance that was too far away for the three criminals to see or hear him. And Jim was using those very words like a radar signal to follow exactly where the group was and where they were headed, using the comforting presence of his Guide beside him to anchor his 'tracking' in some level of reality. The Sentinel had to suppress a smile as he muttered, "an hour, Enrique? Well, I've got all the time in the world right now. Lead on."

Walker, noticing Jim stop and pay attention to something in the distance, caught up to the younger man and asked, "which way, Jim?"

"There's a cabin about an hour's hike from here. I think that's where they're headed."

Confused, Trivette asked, "how did you know--?"

Blair replied quickly, "we go camping in this area all the time." Hoping he was heading in the right direction, he started walking again, calling out to the group, "now c'mon guys, it's this way..."

Jim picked up on the line immediately. "You and your sense of direction, chief." Cuffing his guide in the back of the head he pointed toward the direction he was hearing the voices coming from, "it's this way, -remember-?"

Blair faked a moment of realization. "Oh, of course! How could I forget?"

As the two men started off ahead, Trivette grabbed his partner and asked, "hey Walker, can I ask you a question?"

Walker replied, "sure," as the two men started a light jog to keep up with the men in front of them.

Trivette asked, "what do you make of that load of lies Blair just tried to feed us?"

Walker's replied, "You noticed it too, huh?"

Trivette nodded. "There's something they're not telling us."

Walker agreed. He had been trying to figure out how Jim knew where he was going from the moment the younger man had led them into the forest. Jim was a good tracker when he was under Walker's command, but he was never -this- good. The Ranger had kept a keen eye out for clues that could confirm Jim's suspicions, but they were few and very far between. Even with his own tracking skills, it would have taken him at least three times as long to follow this sketchy trail. Yet Jim was acting like a man with a hundred percent confidence in where he was going. A memory of a story he had heard of as a boy was trying to force its way to the front of his mind, but it was being pushed down by a stronger, far more dangerous thought that Walker was trying with all his heart and soul to believe to be impossible.

Jim wasn't helping these guys escape, was he?

*****

Trivette couldn't help but shake his head in disbelief. Here he was, running in the middle of the woods, following a man who just seemed to 'know' where the escaped convicts they were supposed to be transporting back to Texas went to. This guy they were following, Ellison, didn't seem the type to even -believe- in psychics, let alone be one himself. Plus, psychics were rarely as confident about their 'hits' as Ellison seemed to be about where he was going. And it was even obvious to the birds in the trees that this was not just any detective playing a hunch. So what was this guy not telling them?

His mind soon came up with the only possible answer.

His body, in turn, tensed slightly, realizing that if he was wrong about this, Walker would most certainly kill him. The two men, after all, were old friends.

But if he was right, then he and his partner were walking into a trap, and he was not about to let that happen. It'd be better if Walker killed him.

He ran ahead of his partner, catching up to the two men in front of him. Glancing back to make sure Walker was still in earshot, he asked Jim, "can I ask you a question, Ellison?"

"Sure," shrugged Jim, "what's on your mind, Trivette?"

"Well, I was just wondering how you're so sure that you know where you're going."

Jim stopped and turned to the man, irritated. It seems like every lie that Blair came up with, these two were trying to see right through. Where's the trust in a fellow officer? "Excuse me?"

Growing more confident by the minute, Trivette replied, "you heard me, Ellison. As I recall, you and Blair studied the map for at least forty-five minutes the other night, trying to make sure you knew where you were going. Not normal behavior for men who supposedly have been to this area many times before. There's something that you're not telling us here, gentlemen, and I'd be a whole lot less likely to think that you're leading us into some trap or wild goose chase if you'd just come clean and let us know what it is."

The fury Walker saw in Ellison's eyes was like nothing he had ever seen, and could only be matched by the level of disbelief he saw in Blair's eyes. In that instant, Walker immediately ruled out the possibility that these men were helping the gang escape. There was no way the expressions he saw in those men's faces could possibly be fake-it was a truth that Walker felt down to his very soul.

And it was in that truth, that Walker remembered.

And all the answers to all the questions he had been asking the past two days suddenly fell into place.

His voice broke the tension before he even noticed he had spoken his thoughts out loud, declaring to his partner and the group, "wait a second, Trivette -- I think I know what it is these men have been trying to hide from us."

Out of respect for the man that both Jim and Trivette so greatly admired, they stood down their confrontation, while Blair folded his hands in front of him, skeptically thinking, now -this- ought to be good.

Seeing that he had everyone's attention, Walker began, "up until a couple of minutes ago, I was starting to have the same suspicions about you, Jim, that my partner had."

When he noticed Jim's anger start to be directed at him he immediately continued, "but seeing that look on your face made it clear to me that there was no possible way you could be in cahoots with those guys. It's completely opposite everything you believe in - that's why you got so upset. But, that didn't answer the other questions that Trivette and I had going through our minds."

Trivette was curious to find out where this was leading. He prodded his partner, "until-?"

Walker continued, "until I remembered an old legend White Eagle taught me."

Trivette rolled his eyes at the idea that one of those old Indian stories was, in this case, the answer to everything.

Noticing his partner's objections Walker continued, "no, Trivette, hear me out. This legend was about a group of warriors called Sentinels, men who were dedicated to protecting their tribe at all costs. Most tribes needed only one Sentinel, because their sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell were so powerful that they could track better than five ordinary men."

Trivette wasn't sure he liked the direction this was headed. It seemed, to him, like Walker was probably going to make the two men think he'd gone crazy, and they'd never find out what was really going on. He changed his mind, though, when he glanced over to Ellison and Sandburg and it was clear that both men were starting to shift uncomfortably in their spots. It was as if they knew they had just been backed into a corner.

Noticing their reactions, Walker continued, "but that's not everything. The elders of the tribe recognized the great weight of the responsibility on the Sentinel's shoulders, and decided that it was too great a burden for just one man to carry, regardless of the gifts the gods had blessed him with. The wisest men of the tribe cast lots to determine who would assist and guide the Sentinel, and the lot fell to the Shaman, who was then bound by the gods to his Sentinel for life." Walker couldn't help but notice how Blair flinched slightly when he talked of the Shaman, and wondered briefly what had happened to Blair that the mention of the word caused him pain.

As Walker finished his explanation of the Sentinel 'legend', it finally hit Jim how Walker would know about Sentinels. As his face broke into a strange grin he chuckled, "I should have known you would know about something like this, Walker."

Blair looked at Walker, then at his Sentinel in confusion. "How -do- you know about something like this, Ranger Walker?"

Jim replied for his old friend, "Walker is half Cherokee and grew up on an Indian reservation as a kid. I guess you really -were- paying attention."

Walker, in return, simply smiled and nodded.

Finally putting two and two together, Trivette stared at Jim in disbelief. "Then it's -true-?" As Jim nodded, Trivette continued, "then how did you--?"

Jim replied, "how did I know which way the gang was headed? Apparently one of the women wasn't prepared for the idea of hiking to a cabin. She wouldn't shut up. Between her and the noise of the four people cutting a path through the trail it was pretty easy to follow them."

Trivette added, "and now she's probably gotten out of even -your- earshot because I couldn't trust you. Sorry, man."

Jim let out a deep breath to get rid of some of the tension in the air and in his body. Already he was scanning the area to find any small clue that would help him to determine where they went. "Don't worry about it, Trivette. We're not that far from the cabin. I don't know how careless they've gotten -- apparently our friend Enrique has a lot of respect for you, Walker -- but no one can completely hide where they've been in woods this thick." He noticed the three sets of footprints in front of him, and started to pick up the faint markings of the trail that Enrique, Brenda and Olive had left behind. Tracing the trail with his sight, he could barely make out the cabin in the distance.

Without another word, he broke into a jog, trying to set a pace the other men could keep up with.

He soon heard three sets of footfalls quietly following behind him.

*****

Within twenty minutes, the cabin was within everyone's range of sight, and they crouched low behind a fallen tree trunk, understanding that if the entire group could see the cabin, it was more than likely that the gang inside the cabin, if they were looking, would be able to see them. The Jeep Grand Cherokee parked outside the cabin meant, to Walker, one of two things: either they had just taken more hostages, who may or may not already be dead; or they had this 'plan B' set up way in advance.

What worked to his advantage this time, though, was that he had a way to figure out which one was the case.

He turned to Jim and asked, "can you tell how many people are in the cabin right now, and whether or not they're armed?"

Jim replied, "I can try." As Blair quickly moved to his side to keep him focused, Jim turned and peeked his head just far enough over the trunk to be able to see in the darkened window.

He described the scene to the other three men. "The three we've been following have already made it inside." As he opened up his hearing he picked up the rustling made by the other three in the distance. "The others are coming."

Walker asked, "any hostages?"

Jim shook his head, then replied, "no. The only ones here are us and them."

That means they've been planning this, thought Walker. So much for their 'fear of flying'… Walker then asked, "what's their weapons load?"

"There's a gun cabinet along one of the walls of the cabin, but it's closed so I can't see what's in it. There may be weapons in the truck as well. Nothing else lying around, though."

Walker looked around and realized that Blair was unarmed. From what he could tell, Since he didn't seem to be missing having a weapon in his hand, Walker realized the young man probably didn't carry in general (a normal procedure for a police observer, and one of the few the young Guide seemed to follow). Releasing the safety on his own weapon, he asked Jim, "so what's the plan?"

Walker replied to the group, "first we have to wait until the other three get here. We don't want to risk scaring them off by revealing our presence too quickly. We're going to need a distraction after that…"

All four men looked around to try and find a way to provide a distraction with their limited resources, when Blair spotted an old tool shed some distance from the house, with a fishing net, some rope, and several cans of gasoline outside. He grinned wickedly, announcing, "I think I have an idea…"

*****

Julio and the girls finally made it to the cabin, and the air inside was tense and uncomfortable as the two men were trying to decide what to do. One of the girls swore she had seen the cops outside the tool shed near the house, and Julio was reluctant to take the chance that Walker might be nearby. Enrique, though, thought it was a figment of Wendy's imagination and wanted to run for the truck to get out of there.

That silence, then, was one of the reasons why the explosion didn't shake just the floorboards to their foundations. Drawing six rifles out of the cabinet, the group ran out of the cabin to face their attackers…

…and were immediately swept up into the fishing net that was rigged to a nearby tree.

After the 'fish' trapped in the tree net had exhausted their ammunition, the two Rangers, the Sentinel and his Guide looked up at their 'catch', laughing. Jim complimented Blair, "nice work, chief."

"Thanks," replied Blair, "and here I always thought you were the better fisherman."

"Not anymore, chief. Not anymore." His composure stiffened slightly, though, as he heard the sounds of sirens and a chopper in the far distance. Remembering how Walker had wanted to call in the escape, he wondered if the Ranger had gotten through. "Walker, did you get a chance to call this in earlier."

The older man shook his head. "No, you shot out the getaway cars before I had a chance. Why?"

Jim started to laugh even harder. Maybe Simon really -was- developing a sixth sense…"it seems like our ride is coming."

Trivette was about to say that he didn't hear anything, but he then remembered who he was talking to. If Jim was saying he heard something, he heard it.

Sure enough, within a few minutes a local patrol car pulled up the dirt road leading to the cabin and Cascade Police Captain Simon Banks stepped out. Gun drawn, he was prepared to fight for his men when he noticed that the escapees were not in the cabin, but instead were in the tree.

Smiling, Simon chomped on his cigar and made his way over to where his men and the Rangers were enjoying the view. He asked the group, "this was Sandburg's doing, wasn't it?"

Blair replied, "as much as I'd like to take all the credit, sir, I had a lot of help in the implementation."

Jim added, "it's really a long story, sir. We'll fill you in on all the details later. Right now, I think we should cut down our friends over there before they really do develop a fear of flying."

"You mean--?" He should have known. After all, -nothing- ever came easy when it came to these two…

*****

The chopper arrived about five minutes after Simon did, and everyone was more than happy to see all the members of the BOTW gang, in shackles, loaded into the back of the chopper--a location that left -no- possibility for their escape. Walker asked Trivette to help Jim explain the whole story to Simon and the local sheriff, since there was apparently a lot of paperwork to be filled out. In Walker's mind, though, it could wait. There was something he needed to find out about first…

Blair watched as the older Ranger came over and sat down next to him on the steps of the cabin. The whole day had been pretty overwhelming, both physically and mentally, and Blair felt like he needed to sit down and take a breather. He couldn't blame Walker for feeling the same way. After all, how would -you- feel if you found out that a man you were in the service with fifteen years earlier had now become some sort of superhero?

After a few moments of companionable silence, Walker began the conversation. "Wild day, huh?"

Blair agreed. "Yeah. We seem to get a lot of those."

Walker's eyes widened slightly. This was -normal- for them? Anyway, back to the matter at hand. "Can I ask you a personal question, Blair?"

Curious, Blair replied, "go ahead?"

"Well, I was wondering why the term 'Shaman' bothers you so much?"

Blair was about to ask how he knew about that, but stopped himself. This is, after all, the man who came up to -him- with the realization that Jim was a Sentinel. Not a man whose intuition should be questioned…instead, he decided to find out if the half-Cherokee Ranger might be able to help him get some answers of his own. "How much do you know about Shamans, Ranger Walker?"

"Quite a bit, actually. I know a couple of them from the reservation. Why?"

Blair briefly relayed to Walker some of Jim's background from Peru, Incacha's surprise visit and untimely death in Cascade, and the Chopec shaman's chilling last words. "I've tried to look up stuff about Shamanism since then but it seems like every culture has a different concept of it. I don't know what to do."

Walker thought for a minute about the unique partnership he had just witnessed in action. "Blair, I don't think Incacha was passing on responsibility for the tribe to you, whether it was the Chopec or Cascade. I think it was more like he was passing on responsibility for Jim."

Blair looked to Walker, confused. "I don't follow. Jim said--?"

"Jim said that Incacha was passing on the way of the Shaman to you, specifically to get him to become the Sentinel again. Remember, the Shaman who is asked to guide a Sentinel is bound to his Sentinel for life. His Sentinel, instead of the tribe, becomes his first priority, because by helping the Sentinel he -is- helping the tribe. By helping Jim, you're doing far more for Cascade than you would be say, if you hung out your shingle proclaiming yourself to be 'Shaman of the Great City' or something like that. Incacha was simply formally recognizing your ties to Jim--officially proclaiming you to be his Guide."

Blair thought about it, his own thoughts about being proclaimed 'Shaman of the Great City' now bothering him. In truth, Walker's explanation made a lot of sense, and was tremendously reassuring. "Thanks, Walker. That helps a lot."

"No problem. Now let's go join the others."

The two men made it over to Jim, Simon and Trivette just as the three men were discussing the state of the bus. Blair asked the group, "so, who's going to tell Orvelle about what happened?"

Walker, Jim, Trivette, and Simon looked at each other, then looked back at Blair and simultaneously replied, "you are."

Every ounce of color drained out of Blair's face, even while the other four men walked away, laughing. Blair didn't know which was worse: being robbed by four redheads with automatic weapons or having to tell a 6 foot 5 inch plus basketball general manager that you were responsible for trashing all the tires on his bus.

He was beginning to think he would have had better luck with the women.

*****

End part three… [Back to Main Fiction Page]