Friendly Fires

May 27, 2000, 11:32 am

Sara awoke slowly, stretching as a small satisfied smile crossed her face. They had made love several times. Against the wall, hard and fast. Then on the floor, slow and sweet. They cuddled for a while, then she had wanted to brush her hair and put it back in a braid. They ended up making love in the chair, her hair loose and wild. Curling onto her side, she remembered the two of them dragging themselves into bed and falling to sleep in each other's arms. Almost immediately she realized that the bed was empty. She turned and her smile deepened. There on his pillow lay a tiger lily.

Sara gave a contented sigh. She picked up the lily and fingered its delicate blossom, then growl of her stomach cut through the silence. Sara laughed.

"Geez, I'm always feeding at least one of my hungers." Sara grabbed the satin housecoat that Josh had laid out for her and wrapped it around her nude body. She stood and walked to the kitchen to get a vase for her flower. As she walked by the answering machine, she glanced down to see if the message from last night was still there.

Reaching the kitchen, she took out a vase, filled it with water and placed the lily inside. Sara turned and saw a note from Josh on the table.

Hope you slept well, darling. Sorry about the panties – you know how flimsy they are. I have some errands to run, so I'll be home around 8. I've got my cell, so if you need to get a hold of me, call. Dinner's my treat.

Sara smiled and tucked the note into her pocket. She grabbed the container of ice cream out of the fridge and a spoon and headed into her office. She put the vase on the console table under the window and turned on the screen of her computer to see what her searches had uncovered.

The first items where the two shops. The first, owned by Robert Twofeathers, was called Owl. The store catered to the tourist trade, had been open for 3 years, logged several break-ins and thefts with the police. Robert Twofeathers was 64, and a widower. No surviving children.

The second, Talisman. Was owned by Talia Runesith, it catered to those who wanted to know more about the mysticism of natives and others. Talia had a record as a con artist but her last arrest was in 1994.

The Director of the Friendship Centre was one Kyle Runs With Deer. He had been director from the first opening in 1974 and was a driving force behind the whole program. There are several articles of interviews with him. He seemed articulate and passionate about the friendship centres.

The assistant director was one Paul Martin. There was very little on him. He had attended the University of New London Business Program. Unmarried.

According to the computer search, the last known ethnic crime against Natives was in 1995, June. A group of parents tried to have natives banned from their school. Two years of legal battle later, and the rights of the natives were upheld.

The last violent crime was perpetrated by the Native Liberation Association in 1997. A riot on campus. Actually, Sara thought to herself, I seem to remember that.

Sara made a hard copy of the search results, and set the computer to work getting more details of the riot. She also jotted down a few notes on the pages. On a separate sheet of paper, she wrote down the addresses and telephone numbers of the other stores that were broken into. Sara wrote down a couple of questions, and one she underlined was 'Was anything stolen?' The vandalism may just be an elaborate cover up, she thought to herself.

After a few moments, Sara picked up the phone and dialed Josh's cellular phone number.

"What!" Josh screams into the phone. In the background there was a lot of noise. "One second please."

A few seconds later the phone clicks on again with a much more quiet background. "Colours of the Wind Gallery, how may I be of assistance?"

"I said, I need a hold of you, but it sounds like you need to be left alone for a while. How are things going?" Sara asked with concern, not liking it when Josh is upset about something.

"Sorry hon, but there is some construction going on across the street. It's really screwing with my concentration. The contractor is really good! And they sound like they will be enthusiastic. I figured I might as well go with a new look, Douglas has some fantastic ideas."

"Construction? What construction?" Sara thought quickly, trying to remember what was being built.

"They are totaling the building across the street, some sort of internal damage or something."

Sara frowned, across the street was the building that the police and taped off. How did someone get permission to tear it down so quickly?

"What is Douglas suggesting?" Sara asked curiously.

"You'll have to see it after we have got it done."

"I just had a quick question for you. I know it's really hectic right now, but do you know if anything was stolen? It may be a long shot, but whoever may have trashed the gallery may have done so to cover a theft." Sara swivelled in her chair to look at the lily Josh had left for her on her pillow.

"Just a sec. Pete! You finished that inventory yet!"

A few seconds later Josh spoke again, "Doesn't look like it. Everything accounted for. They didn't even touch the safe. I have $1000 in there. The police are convinced that it is vandalism or insurance fraud. Looks like I am as much a suspect as you now," he finished dryly.

"Someone shut off the security system and used a key to open the blasted door." Sara could almost see Josh running his hand over his face in frustration. "It doesn't make any sense. Both my people have alibis. You and I are the only other ones that have both the keys and the code."

"Close the goddamn door! Look honey can we talk when I get home tonight?"

"Sure, sweetie. I've got a meeting with Sam Carr this afternoon, but I should be home before you. I'll call you if I won't. Love you." Sara hung up the phone, sat back in her chair and started to chew on the tip of her pencil. After a few moments she rummaged through the stack of papers and pulled out the one with her info about the break-in at the gallery. Sara quickly wrote down what Josh had told her about how the police suspected the vandals broke in. She also wrote down that the police suspected insurance fraud, next to which she immediately wrote "bullshit."

Sara glanced quickly at the clock, then typed in all her notes and copied the file to a disk to give to Sam. She put all the papers into a paper document case, grabbed the disk and walked out into the living room. She put the folder and disk into her purse and double checked that the list of chemicals she needed for the darkroom was in her purse.

"Oh, what a twit I am," Sara swore as she retied her robe and went back to her office. She started up a new search, this time for crimes which had been committed where keys and knowledge of security systems were used. She set a search for known criminals, whether normals, mutant or metas who would either have the skills to disarm a sophisticated system like the gallery had or powers which could do the same thing.

She also set a search in motion for any reported or suspected activities of the 'Syndicate,' and what was happening to real estate in the areas around the break in and fire sites. Sara then returned to her shower.

Sara glanced quickly at the computer as she dressed. 7,618 files on the word 'Syndicate'. Sara glanced at the clock and cursed, not enough time to even do a quick scan.

Sara finally dashed out the door, muttering under her breath. An hour later she pulled into a parking lot a few blocks down from Sam's Diner. A quick glance at her watch. 3:30pm. I hope she is still there, Sara thought as she locked the car.

She had taken a few steps when Sam's car pulled into a slot ahead of her.

"Looks like we are…" Sam broke off as her police scanner went off. "69 at St. Clair and 3rd, unit 1232 respond. Over."

"Are about to go to a murder scene?" Sara asked, digging into her purse for her keys.

Sam climbed back in her car. She moved her camera case to the back seat and unlocked the passenger door. "Get in."

"Tell me what you've learned," she asked, navigating traffic.

Sara pulled out her document file and opened it up. "A lot of background information, mainly. I got basic histories of the owners of the other two galleries that were vandalized, as well as the director and assistant director of the Friendship Centres.

"Owl, owned by Robert Twofeathers, has had several reported break-ins and thefts. Talisman is owned by Talia Runesith. She has a police record, but her last arrest was 1994. Kyle Runs With Deer is the director of the Friendship Centre program. He's very much the driving force behind the whole program, and from the articles and interviews seems very passionate about it. The assistant director is Paul Martin, and there's not a heck of a lot about him, just that he's a UNL Business program graduate."

"I also checked out ethnically based crime against Natives. The last nonviolent crime was June '95 when a group of parents tried to have natives banned from their school. In '97 the rights of the natives were upheld. The last violent crime relating to natives was a riot on campus in 1997 by the Native Liberation Association."

Sara sighed. "So far, there's nothing concrete in this info. Well, that's not quite true. Josh told me the police said that whoever broke into Colours had a key and knew the security codes. Now, Josh and I are the only ones with keys and know the codes, so of course, we're suspects."

"Whoever it was who vandalized the gallery wanted to send a message, so I'm trying to find out about any known criminals, whether normal, mutant or meta, who have the skills or abilities to pick the locks and turn off the security system. I had also thought that perhaps the vandalism was a cover up for robbery, but an inventory of the shop shows nothing was missing as far as they can tell, and Josh had some money in the safe. The searches hadn't finished when I left to get here."

Sara ran her fingers through her hair in mild frustration. "I've also been thinking about other reasons for the fires and the vandalism. Reasons that aren't so obvious. I doubt it's a protection racket, as Josh hasn't said anything to me. It could be an attempt to play with the real estate values, and I'm checking into it. One thing struck me as very funny, though. The building across the street from Colours is being demolished. As far as we knew, the building was fine, but the workmen told Josh it was because of interior damage or something like that. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet."

"It's not as much info as I'd like, but it's a start."

Sam glanced at Sara quickly then back to the road, "Impressive, Mclintock. There is one reason you haven't mentioned though."

Sam made a quick left. "All the fires and vandalism are aimed at Natives, the NLA is known to be extremely excitable and militant. My sources say that they are rumbling and there have been several heated confrontations with native gangs and other gangs in Sarita River. Someone may be just trying to stir up the NLA, increase racial tensions, again."

"That would make sense," Sara agreed. "Though to what purpose? To cause another riot like the one on campus?"

"I remember that riot. 6 people hospitalized if I recall, but we were gone that day, on the field trip to New York, remember. Let's see, Winona was in charge of campus activities that month, she might remember who organized it."

Sam pulled up to the address. Two cop cars and a ghost car were parked nearby. The two women quickly climbed the steps of the office building. Glad that they had arrived quickly enough that the police hadn't had time to put up the police tape. Sara swung the door open and Sam walked in and stopped.

Sam's face grew completely expressionless and she unconsciously dropped into a defensive stance. Down the hallway, a police officer went into an open doorway.

"What's up, Carr?" Sara asked in a low voice. She scanned the hallway ahead of them, looking for what may have caused Sam's reaction. Sara reached blindly into her purse, feeling for the fully automatic 35 mm camera she always keeps with her ever since she missed out on a fantastic shot of Champion du Nord rescuing those kids from a burning school bus.

The hallway seemed clear of any danger but the two approached the room cautiously. Inside, 3 police officers were dusting the room. A plainclothes officer leaned over a body. The walls of the room were splattered with the occasional blood spot. Furniture lay overturned. The room smelled of urine and blood.

The body was a male Caucasian, mid thirties. He was wearing black slacks, a white muscle shirt and red suspenders. His legs, shoulders, elbows, wrist and fingers lay at unnatural angles as if they had been broken one at a time. His neck was stretched and seemed to have been turned all the way around. The man's face was froze in an expression of terror and pain.

Twin flashes went off as the two photographers reacted by instinct alone. The plainclothes officer looked and stood up. Easily six feet, blonde, blue eyed and well tanned and muscled, he pinned both women with a stare.

May 27, 2000. Flaming Bistro Café

Joe wondered why he had taken two days off for this visit, as Mrs. Forrester explained her order again for the poor waitress. He reached under the table and squeezed Lyta's hand. She awarded him with a rueful smile.

Just then a beeper went off. Both Lyta and Joe checked their belts. Joe half smiled as the office number came up. Sometimes it paid to have a job where he was on call.

The waiter brought over a phone, which surprised Joe until he looked more closely at all the "suits" that frequented the Bistro.

"Joe, you are needed at 325 Le Clair. Murder, get over there."

Short and to the point, Joe thought as the phone on the other end was slammed down. Quickly making excuses, Joe kissed Lyta and headed for the car. The drive to the office complex was uneventful. Joe parked the car beside the two police cruisers, grabbed his bag and lab coat from the trunk and walked up the stairs.

May 27, 2000. The murder scene

Dear God, Sara thought to herself. What sort of animal would do this to a man? She swallowed, trying to fight down the disgust and queasiness she felt.

"Sara Mclintock," she said perfunctorily. "Who was that poor guy?" She craned her head to see more of the interior of the room, but doesn't enter, knowing how the police would react since the rest of the forensics team hadn't shown up yet.

"Okay you two, out. Burt, show the press out will you and get that line up."

"Terry…" Sam began.

"Not a word, Sam," Terry pointed the way out. "Don't make me have to have you both physically removed."

The two women exchanged sour looks and turned to leave. Standing behind them was an Asian man standing about 5'10" and weighing about 150 lbs. He had black hair, dark brown eyes, and a slender, wiry build. He was wearing jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and a lab coat. Joe relaxed a little, he enjoyed working with Gear, he didn't get in the way, asked intelligent questions and took 'I don't know' as a legitimate answer.

The two women looked him over as they walked past. They were both of a height. One had dirty blonde hair, was wearing jeans, shirt and a multi-pocketed vest as well as what appeared to be an ammo belt. The other was also wearing jeans and a shirt but looked a bit pale.

Joe nodded to them as he made his way through the door. I don't think I recognize either of them, he thought, but they look like they're here on official business. Anyway, Terry would undoubtedly boot them out if they were just gawkers.

Terry greeted him by moving out of the way. The walls of the room were splattered with the occasional blood spot. Furniture lay overturned. The room smelled of urine and blood.

Okay, first things first. Joe nodded to Terry in a silent greeting as he studied the room. I'll introduce myself to the others later, if Terry hasn't mentioned me already. Joe extracted a small camera from his bag and stepped carefully across the room, his trained eye scrutinizing the details of the scene as he snapped a quick succession of photos.

The body was a male Caucasian, mid thirties. He was wearing black slacks, a white muscle shirt and red suspenders. His legs, shoulders, elbows, wrist and fingers lay at unnatural angles as if they had been broken one at a time. His neck was stretched and seemed to have been turned all the way around. The man's face was froze in an expression of terror and pain. There were lines of dried blood on his check bones, upper and lower arms, chest, abdomen and thighs. Made from something thin.

Joe turned to Terry. "Have we ID'ed the body yet? What do we know about him? Who found him, and when? When was he last seen alive, and who saw him? What was he doing at the time?"

Terry crossed his arms and frowned. "His name is Dirk Hesshe, he's hired muscle for the Salvatori. Very good at keeping himself out of jail. He's also known to be a Tai Chi master," Terry finished dryly.

Joe tapped his finger thoughtfully against his chin. "I thought he had a peculiar build for someone who was supposed to be a knee-capper, but tai chi will do that to you."


Zoe Davis pulled up to the office complex. Two police cars, a ghost car and two civilian vehicles were parked outside. Zoe relaxed a little. Of course. A crime scene. Taking a deep breath she barely stopped herself from checking the mirror.

The first thing she noticed in the long hallway was a constable escorting Sam and another photographer from a room. Sam seemed to look right by her but the other woman looked her over. Zoe dragged a name from her mind to fit the 5'7 ish, athletic frame - Sara Mclintock.

Zoe approached the room cautiously, she felt a chill as she approached. Inside, 3 police officers were dusting the room. Joe Tatsunoko from the provincial medical examiners leaned over a body. The walls of the room were splattered with the occasional blood spot. Furniture lay overturned. The room smelled of urine and blood.

The body was a male Caucasian, mid thirties. He was wearing black slacks, a white muscle shirt and red suspenders. His legs, shoulders, elbows, wrist and fingers lay at unnatural angles as if they had been broken one at a time. His neck was stretched and seemed to have been turned all the way around. The man's face was froze in an expression of terror and pain. The room was very cold.

Behind Terry a beautiful young woman in an attractive business skirt, blouse and jacket set walked in. A badge was pinned to her jacket. She glanced around and the area around her dark eyes became tight, she paled slightly. She made her way to Detective Gear and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

Wow, Joe thought wryly. This guy must have been a really big deal. I can only hope my death scene is this well-attended.

"I need your help on this one, Doc," Terry whispered to Zoe. His voice was even but his eyes kept sweeping the room.

Zoe shook herself and looked at the room as a whole.

"There seems to a pattern to the broken furniture, as if the man was herded, possibly allowed to think he could escape. The perpetrator is most likely male—an arrogant one. The victim was tortured, perhaps as a game. I can't tell whether or not it was for pleasure. The perpetrator seems to perceive himself to be an artist with his work as can be seen by the precision breaks and the fact that the only blood on the wall probably came from the cuts on the victim's body." She shuddered as her skin crawled and her stomach reeled. Then she whispered to Terry, "I feel as if something is watching us. How thoroughly has the area been searched?"

"Who's the victim, and were there any witnesses?" she asked. Why did Sam have to be here? He looks so shaken! she worried with growing misgivings.

Joe turned back to the body. Hmmm, looks like multiple clean fractures and dislocations of all major extremities. Multiple ligature marks. Probable transaction of the cervical spinal cord with subluxation of vertebrae. The body's still warm, so he hasn't been dead all that long. Joe looked around. Must have been a struggle, he thought, eyeing the splintered furniture and the bruising on the victims body.

"Okay, Terry." Joe rose to his feet. "I guess we're ready to take the body down to the M.E.'s office for an autopsy, if there are no further questions." I'm still a bit curious about who those two women are, but I suppose I'd've been introduced to them by now if they had something to do with the case…

Terry moved closer and lowered his voice, "What do you have for me, Joichi-san? I'll take guesses and gut instinct here. Give me a scenario. What do you think happened?"

"Guesses?" Joe laughed grimly. "Shame on you, Terry. Don't you remember what Sherlock Holmes said about not theorizing until one has all the facts in hand?" Joe shrugged. "Okay, so I'm not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle either. My first guess would be that there was a fight, and our friend here lost. His assailant then tied him up with something and took his sweet old time with him, judging by the careful placement of the breaks…" Joe's voice trailed off as his thoughts raced ahead. "Interrogation, maybe? Torture? Or someone making a statement?" A guy like this probably had a lot of enemies, Joe thought, but in his line of work, it would take a lot to get him to look so terrified. Something really out of the ordinary, I'd surmise.

"The black powder on his hand could be soot, or ash," Joe continued. "Have there been any suspicious fires around lately? Or has anyone found any evidence of gunfire in this room? We'll know more after the lab analyzes it."

"Thanks, Joe."

"You look like you need a break." Zoe touched Terry's arm. "Coffee?"

Terry smiled at her and squeezed her hand, "You take good care of me, Doc. Let me finish up here. And anything else you can see would be helpful."

The feeling of being watched increased and with a feeling of well, pure evil was the only thing Zoe could bring to mind. She almost expected the corpse to sit up and attack the two men. THAT was certainly unscientific.

What kind of person…? Or meta, or perhaps something else, not even human… Given the victim's martial art expertise, he must have been murdered by a group or some sort of meta. Probably not a group, the damage is too consistent and precise—no variety in style. When I get back to the office, I'll have to do some research and see if any similar murders have been committed. I wonder if he became a loose-end for his employers and had to be eliminated…

Terry walked back to her, giving her a tight smile, he gestured toward the door. Zoe turned her attention away from the murder, more than ready to leave, and returned his smile. She felt his fingertips on the small of her back as he stepped out behind her.

As they exited the building, the press began arriving in full force. Quickly the two climbed into Zoe's car and drove off. Silence sat heavily in the car and slowly Zoe's spooked feeling left her.

Sara and Sam

"Can you believe that scene in there? Looks like someone was trying to send a definite message," Sara remarked to Sam. "Any ideas who the victim might have been?"

Sam paced, her face still expressionless. "He was tortured," she replied shortly.

"Rather brutally at that. It's rather coincidental that it happened after the fires. I seem to remember Josh talking about what some of the tribes originating in the area did to their enemies. I'm planning on asking him tonight if anything like that," Sara said, gesturing with her head toward the office building, "was done, and by whom. I think I'll check the databases on similar crimes tonight as well."

Suddenly Sam stopped and looked at Sara. "Do you play racquetball?"

A look of surprise crossed Sara's face. "No. I'm surprised you don't remember my dislike for small projectiles travelling at the speed of sound toward my head." She laughed and smiled. "Actually, I've been thinking about giving it a try but I've never found anyone with whom my crazy schedule could mesh with to arrange a time to play. I asked Josh about it, but he prefers lacrosse."

"Why, are you looking for a partner or something?"

Sam frowned, "I need to work off some energy. The Arts are out, I might just kill someone."

The Drive

"I have never…" Terry frowned at his hands which were rubbing themselves on his pants and went still. "What was he doing there, who killed him, why? For information? To send a message?"

He rubbed his temples, a grimace of pain or disgust crossed his face.

"Perhaps he was in over his head or became a loose-end. Or maybe someone is trying to send the Salvatori a message. I must admit it's certainly a graphic way to do either. Enough on the murder, though. There's plenty of time to talk about that. What you need to do is relax."

She reached over to squeeze his hand. "Now where did you want to go for coffee? Or is it lunch-time already?" She glanced over at him and smiled. "This morning's been so busy, I kind of lost track of time."

He sighed as Zoe found a place to park. "I have a feeling this is going to be a red file."

They ordered and after a few attempts at conversation, they lapsed into silence. Terry stared off into space, Zoe could almost see his mind going over the few facts they had, putting them together differently, trying different angles and scenarios in his mind. Half way through lunch, he suddenly focused on her.

"Okay, how does this sound? For some reason, Dirk draws this guy's attention. I think we can for now rule out random selection. Dirk is confident. One guy. Dirk knows martial arts. But our guy throws him around, plays with him. So he's strong. Very strong. Let's assume that means meta. Which means we can rule out the Salvatori. So Dirk crossed someone else. Here's the kicker. Why were Dirk's pants and hands covered with soot?"

"Since the Salvatori are anti-meta, they or their henchman—Dirk—could feasibly be the target of some radical metahuman or mutant. Also, I could just be stretching my imagination here, but… could the soot possibly be the result of some meta-power or… arson-related activity?"

"At any rate, it might be a good idea to have the police labs examine a sample of that soot."

Zoe leaned forward and touched his hand. "How are you feeling now? Did it bother you that your cousin showed up?"

"Sam? She disturbed the cop in me. I don't know how either of them do it. If there is so much as a sniff of a story, one of them is there snapping pictures. They are both worse than the reporters."

"Isn't it a bit strange that they would be there together?"

He signalled to the waitress. She walked over. Swayed actually, her eyes appraising Terry. Not the first time. As a matter of fact a lot of women watched Terry, especially when he wasn't watching. His body, the way his clothes fit, that fine blonde hair which cried out for someone to run their fingers through it and that devastating smile when he chose to bestow it.

Zoe had watched women watching Terry, mentally undressing him, for five years now. This was the first time it irritated her. Something must have shown on her face because the waitress started, grabbed Terry's twenty and beat a quick retreat. In fact the two ladies at the table slightly behind Terry were now pointedly looking elsewhere. One gave a sideways glance then actually turned her body and pointed something out in the street to her friend.

"Was it something I said?" Terry asked, staring after the departing waitress. "Did I not specify a big enough tip?"

"She probably wanted a much better tip," Zoe answered as a wry smile formed on her red, pouty lips. With a sway of her head, she tossed her long, soft curls of light brown hair to the side. Her smile deepened as he stared into her green eyes… those green eyes that seemed to flirt without effort and mesmerize the unwary.

Zoe glanced down at the table where her hand still lay over Terry's. "I've been wanting to tell you how much I enjoyed our excursion to the beach and I'd love to do something like that again real soon. Did you have a good time, too?"

Terry's gaze came back to rest on her. He frowned eyeing as he did those mind puzzles he spent so much time on. Slowly he withdrew his hand.

"I had fun. It had been a while since I had relaxed." Getting to his feet he pulled her chair out.

Zoe glanced down in momentary disappointment.

"Maybe," again that look as if trying to fit things together, "I'll get Ray working on the Salvatori angle and we can tackle the arson end."

"...maybe, you should relax more often. You're going to burn out working so hard, never taking time for yourself." Realizing the direction she was going, she stopped herself. "Sorry, I'm analyzing again, aren't I?"

Well, so much for the coffee break doing a lot of good, she thought. Terry really needs to learn to get his mind off work...

The Racquetball Court

An hour later Sara picked herself off the racquetball court and took several deep breaths. The game was harder than it looked, but rather fun. Sam leaned against the wall trying to control her breathing. She looked over at Sara and an actual smile lit her face.

"Not bad for a second game, Mclintock."

"Not bad," Sara snorted, "I kicked your butt the first game."

"And I kicked yours the second," Sam nodded and stepped to the service line, bouncing the ball a few times she spoke again punctuating it with the service.

"Do you tumble shoot?"

"Sometimes," Sara replied as she returned the serve. "If it's a really busy scene, I do, but otherwise it's clusters of four to six shots of a specific thing. Slick, for example," she continued, backhanding the ball after Sam's angled shot. "I took less than a roll of the whole fight. Partially due to the location, of course. If I'm investigating a scene or story, I tend to tumble shoot. The Ucluelet fire took just over three rolls."

"Good," Sam dived to return a shot and then bounced back to her feet in time to barely smash the return into a corner. She waited until Sara almost reached the slowly returning ball, "because the stiff was in your picture of the fire that is splashed all over the Chronicle's front page."

Sara came to a stumbling halt, the ball passing by her unnoticed. "What?" Her voice was filled with shock. Sara's mind raced. Why didn't I recognize him? I tried to get a look at his face. Suddenly her heart dropped. Don't tell me he's dead because of one of my photos. Oh God, what have I done?

"Do you know who he was? Is he connected to the group that may be behind the fires?" Sara fought to keep her voice steady. "God, Carr. Was he one of the firefighters or the bystanders at the edge of the shot?"

"I highly doubt it," Sam commented dryly. "If my memory isn't totally off, his name is Dirk Hesshe, he works for the Salvatori. And no reason for you not to have seen it, he was very background and off to one side."

Sam gave her a sheepish grin. "Hobby of mine, studying other photographers' work. Helps me improve my own. One other thing, he had been walking in ashes. Maybe we should take a look at the roll, hmmm?"

"Definitely," Sara answered, wiping the sweat from her forehead. "I'll need to do up prints for the rolls. I had only done the ones for the Chronicle when I developed the film and I was going to do the rest tomorrow. It's a good thing I just stocked up on chemicals." A thoughtful look crossed her face. "I'm pretty sure I've got enough paper to do the lot on eight and a half by eleven. Probably doubles too." Sara glanced at her watch.

"We'd better get going. The computer searches I set up last night should be done by now, and we're going to have a lot of work going through it all."

Another hour and half later, the two young photojournalists entered Sara's apartment. As one they both stride toward the dark room. Sara frowned thoughtfully as she allowed Sam to enter ahead of her. How did she know where my dark room was?

In the pale light of the dark room the two women worked quickly side by side. Time passed as they scoured the photo's for useful information. Suddenly Sam straightened, and took a deep breath.

"Bako!" Samantha muttered and threw herself past Sara at the door to the darkroom.

The door creaked under her weight but held. She twisted the door handle and threw her weight against it again.

"What's wrong?" Sara stood up and headed toward the door. She looked quickly to make sure the hook latch on the door was undone, knowing there was no lock on the other side.

"The door's never stuck before." Sara put her hand on the door. The door was cold to the touch and resisted her efforts to open it. There was silence on the side, and Sara could smell something, something…

"Can't you smell it?" Sam asked frowning around at the darkroom. "But the gas alone won't…"

She suddenly spun to gaze at Sara. "What time does Josh get home? If this is what I think it is, a key turned in a lock could set off a primer."

Sara glanced at her watch–7:55 pm.

"Any time now. He said he'd be home around 8 PM." Sara's eyes widened. "We can… No. Shit, the hinges are on the other side. We're going to have to break the door down. Damn! But how?!" She turns and does a quick scan of the room, hoping against hope that there's something she can use. Damn! Sara thought. I wish to hell she wasn't here. I'd be out of here in a second!

"There must be away," Sam turned and began checking the strength of the wall near the vent. Her back was to Sara.

Do I have the time? Sara thought to herself.

I'm going to have to trust her, should she see, Sara thought. Maybe, if I can smash through the door and tumble into the room and away from the doorway, I can change back before she turns around. I have no choice–I have to do it.

Sara took a couple of steps back, checked over her shoulder to make sure Sam still had her back to her, then initiated her change, biting her lip at the spasm. Seconds later, Diamond threw herself at the door, holding nothing back and rolling to the left and away from the entrance to the darkroom as she hit the floor.

Diamond lay there for the time it took for the process to reverse itself. Sara raised her head as the sound of coughing reached her. Sam leaned against the door frame with an arm slung across her face. Around the door frame was a white foam-like substance.

"Get Josh, I'll… window," Sam managed to get out as she launched herself at the nearest window.

Josh! Sara scrambled to her feet and dashed to the apartment door. She stopped short as she noticed that her purse was lying on the floor, not on the stool upon which she normally tossed it when entering her apartment. The contents of the purse were scattered across the floor. A quick look informed Sara that only two things were missing. Her camera and her cell phone.

Sara glanced at her watch. 7:57.

"Oh gods, Josh, please answer your phone," Sara pleaded to herself, as she grabbed the phone, praying there'd be a dial tone.

Sara gave a quick thank you as she heard the dial tone, quickly she dialled Josh's cell.

"What did you think of now?" Josh's voice spoke after the second ring, the humour was so clear in his voice that Sara could almost see his smile.

"Oh, thank you for answering your phone." The relief was evident in her voice. "Whatever you do, don't unlock the door when you get home. There's a bomb triggering mechanism in the lock."

"Sam Carr and I were working on some stuff in the dark room. She smelled the gas just before I did, and we found were sealed in. I had a gem of an idea," Sara said, glancing over at Sam. "And I managed to get the darkroom door down and Sam is getting a couple of windows open." Her voice became unsteady. "Oh Josh, all I could think of is you unlocking the front door."

There was a long pause on the other end and then Josh spoke, his voice devoid of emotion. "A bomb."

"Yeah. It was aimed at me, more than likely, because of the research I've been doing lately. I never thought something like this would happen."

After a few moments, Sara regained her calm. "I'm going to call the police. I think I recognize the MO of this, and the cops will be very interested. Oh, and the person who broke in stole my cell phone and the camera I carry in my purse. Don't worry, love. Everything is under control. I love you."

Sara disconnected the line with a finger, then dialled the police.

"Detective Terry Gear, please. It's an emergency. I have some information regarding the Doorman he might be very interested in."

"One moment, please hold."

Sam touched Sara's arm, "Ask for extension 432, that's the bomb squad."

"Actually, officer, you'd better put me through to extension 432 first. They're the ones who are going to have to get here and soon. And yes, I'll hold." Sara looked over at Sam.

Sam then moved toward the doorway, "Did you disturb anything here?"

"No. The only thing I've touched is the receiver of the phone, and the number keys. The contents of my purse, except for my camera and cellular, are there on the floor. Whoever it was who broke in took them."

Sara took a closer look at her things on the floor, trying to see if there's anything else missing she hadn't noticed before, being very careful not to touch or move anything.

Sam squatted down and took several deep breaths. Nothing else seemed to be missing. Sara's wallet was still there and apparently untouched as was her day organizer.

"Hello, this is Sergeant Phillips, you have some information?"

"Yes, this is Sara Mclintock. I have good reason to believe someone, possibly the person known as the Doorman, has just tried to kill myself, Sam Carr, and possibly Joshua Blackburn with a bomb. Sam Carr and I smelled gas, and found ourselves sealed into my darkroom when we tried to get out. I managed to break out, and my apartment was filled with gas. We have been able to open a window to get rid of the fumes, but we haven't unlocked the front door. We think the triggering mechanism is still in it, and we don't want to disturb any evidence."

"Could you please send someone from your squad? I don't really like knowing there's a bomb in my front door, especially if it was set by the Doorman."

"Just sit tight, Ms. Mclintock, don't try to do anything. Is there a fire escape near any of the windows? If there is, you can leave that way. Don't go anywhere, there will be questions for you."

Sara grabbed a camera from the darkroom, making sure it's loaded with film, and once outside, began looking for anyone or anything suspicious. Sometimes a criminal hangs around afterwards to see their handiwork. She took photos of all the license plates of cars.

Sam grabbed the photos, and the negatives. "Could be a coincidence but with both your camera and cell gone… it pays to be sure."

The two climbed out the window and scampered down the fire escape. As they reached the bottom a police van pulled up and several men dashed out. One walked over to the two women.

"Ms. Mclintock?"

"Yes," Sara answered. Gosh, they got here rather quickly, she thought to herself, feeling suspicious. Sara looked the man over, trying to see if there was anything out of the ordinary.

"If you will just stand over here," he gestured to the side of the van, "someone should be along to take your statement. You two were lucky, if it is him this is the first time one of his bombs has been foiled."

He grinned at Sam. "We have to stop meeting like this, Carr, people are going to start talking."

He then put a hand up to his headset and moved off, talking. As soon as his back was turned, Sam made a gagging motion and gave Sara a faint grin. At that moment, an officer led Josh out of the building and pointed toward the two. He ran over and stopped in front of Sara. She could clearly see worry, fear and anger warring for prominent position in his eyes.

"Are you are right?" he asked sweeping her with his eyes and followed with a quick pat down as if he didn't trust his eyes. He hugged her to him and then shifted his glance to Sam.

Again Sara noticed a quick flash of hurt in Sam's eyes, quickly masked. Before she could introduce the two, Josh spoke.

"Samantha?" and his eyes raked her the same way, for a moment Sara thought he was going to do the pat down as well, as he tensed beside her.

Sam shook her head, her face carefully neutral. "I am fine, Josh, we never saw the guy. A few lungfuls of gas never hurt anyone."

Sara felt Josh tense beside her again and then relax when Sam sent him a genuine full smile.

"I think she prefers to be called Sam," Sara whispered into Josh's ear. Speaking louder, she continued. "I think you two still deserve a formal introduction. Josh, meet Sam Carr–my fiercest rival and racquetball teacher. Sam, meet Joshua Blackburn, owner of the Colours of the Wind Gallery, and my best friend."

Sam raised an eyebrow at Josh and something passed between them. The look was so quick that Sara almost doubted she had seen it. Sam paused and then gave Josh a slight bow, "I am honoured, Joshua-san."

Sara stepped back and out of Josh's arms so they could shake hands.

Josh bowed back, "Umm, thank you Saman… huh Sam?"

"Samantha is fine, Josh." Sam smiled at him again.

Sara gave him a subtle warning glance as he reached for her hand, tilting her head ever so slightly toward Sam. She took Josh's hand and gave it a squeeze and a 'we'll talk later' look. Sara started to walk toward the police van.

"So, Sam, who's your friend?" Sara asked, indicating the officer who has just spoken to them.

Sam grimaced, "Please. His name is Fred Dratern, bomb squad. Don't ask me why he would consider himself a friend or whatever." She shook her head.

Josh grinned over at her. "Must be your body, sure can't be your personality."

"Hey," Sara said in mock indignation, giving Josh a punch in the arm. "Just keep your eyes on me, if you're looking at anyone!" She looks at Sam.

"Men," she exclaimed in false exasperation. "That's all they think about." Sara grinned.

"Yeah, well if he keeps this up any longer, I'll whack him upside the head with his own baton."

"I don't know," Josh shook his head, "some guys like that sort of thing. Maybe I could talk to him for you."

Sam leaned against the van and grinned at Josh, "You do that, maybe he'll switch his attentions to you."

Josh opened his mouth, closed it and then grunted, "Hey I don't go that way."

Sam's smile widened, "That's not what I heard."

"Whoever said that is lying," Josh was actually grinning, obviously enjoying the exchange.

Sara suppressed the sudden desire to jump in between them waving her arms wildly and shouting, I am still here, hello. It was nice that Josh was treating Sam like a long lost friend. Except that they didn't even know each other…

"Sam," Sara's face and voice took on a serious note. "There's something about today that has been bothering me. When we arrived at the apartment, you knew exactly where my darkroom was. You've never been to the apartment before, and I certainly haven't told you about the layout of the place. How did you know where it was?"

They both turned to her with equally blank looks. Sam blinked and Josh darted a quick sideways look at her.

"Did I? I thought I was just following you."

The recover was quick, Sara had to give her that but it was also obvious to her trained eye that Sam had searched for a quick, plausible answer, not necessarily the true one.

"No, you were in the darkroom before I had even finished putting my purse down. Give, Carr. I've been freaked out enough by what just happened, and I really don't like the way that my thoughts are turning. I really don't. So stop bullshitting me and tell me how you knew. And don't give me any of that 'professional secret' and 'we have a gift' crap either." Sara's voice was filled more with frustration than anger. "I just don't need this!"

Any answer she would have made was drowned out by the thrum of a helicopter. The three glanced into the street as the police helicopter settled down. Terry Gear emerged from one side and the woman from the crime scene the other. Terry smacked the door and the two darted forward as the helicopter rose into the air.

Terry stopped and talked to Dratern. He was missing the suit jacket she had seen him wearing early that afternoon. The black t-shirt accented his body. The woman walked towards the three.

Meanwhile, earlier–Dr. Zoe Davis and Terry Gear

Zoe rubbed her eyes. This city had a lot of fires. Right now however, the recent fires at the Native Friendship Centres was what held her attention. Two in the last 3 days. A possible metahuman connection, if a crazed vet could be believed…

The lights flickered. Zoe glanced up startled. Terry was leaning on the door frame. Zoe hadn't realized he had left.

"We're rolling."

Zoe grabbed her purse and dashed after Terry. He strode to the stairwell and headed up.

Zoe looked askance of him by raising a delicate eyebrow. He leaned over and brushed his mouth against her ear. He smelled of lightly applied cologne, his breath was light. It took a second for Zoe to understand what he was saying.

"…on the roof. We have just had someone call in a possible DoorMan bomb."

Zoe almost stopped and had to rush after Terry as he hit the roof. The wind from the helicopter nearly knocked her over with its suddenness. Terry held the door for her. Again that light directing touch at her back and then he climbed up beside her. The helicopter jumped into the air.

DoorMan. Zoe shuddered as the images of small burnt bodies came back to her. Three months, a fairly good analysis of him and still they had not caught him. He had just stopped. No patterns. But maybe now there was. The same time every year? God please don't let that be the only pattern.

Zoe glanced at Terry. He was leaning forward slightly as if willing the helicopter to go faster. She remembered the tantrums he had thrown at being unable to catch this guy. And Terry had a terrible temper when it was unleashed. He had broken quite a bit of her apartment, apologized and bought her new stuff. It had been no different from her own crying on his shoulder when the images of those small bodies got to her or her beating her hands on the wall in frustration.

DoorMan. A ghost. An enigma that had never been figured or captured.

The helicopter set down in an Ucluelet street. The bomb squad van was there as well as a few more cars arriving. They scrambled from the helicopter and it sprang back into the air. Terry dashed over to Lt. Fred Dratern of the bomb squad.

Zoe walked toward the victims. And received a surprise as the three turned toward her. Samantha Carr and Sara Mclintock.

"Are any of you hurt? Can I help you in any way?" she asked with an air of concern as she looked them over more closely. Why are Sam and Sara here? she wondered. They almost seem to know something we don't. It can't just be a coincidence now; there's some sort of connection between the DoorMan and the dead Salvatori man.

"We're fine, just a bit shaken up. Not to mention pissed off that someone would plant a bomb in my apartment and try and kill the three of us." Sara tried not to grimace at the woman's words. "And you are?"

I saw her this morning, at the murder site. Sara made a mental note. She certainly gets around. Bomb squad? No, I don't think so.

Offering her hand, "My name's Zoe Davis. I'm a criminal psychologist working for the police department."

"Do you know of any reason why someone would want to make an attempt on your lives?"

"Do you want the short or long version?" Sara gave a wry smile. "Sam and I have been working on the Friendship Centre fires story, and there are several other things I'm working on. Take your pick."

"My guess is that this would be related to the Friendship Centre fires. I'd be interested in learning anything you know about that and the dead Salvatori man. I'm sure Det. Gear would like to be in on this conversation…"

Zoe glanced around until she spotted Terry walking toward them, his eyes were on his cousin. He did not look happy.

Sara noticed the sudden tenseness in Sam's stance as the homicide detective closed the distance between them.

"Okay, from the top, you two," Detective Gear growled.

"No need to get so upset, Detective. It's not like we were asking for this to happen," Sara said, wondering why Sam was reacting to the man so badly. "As I told Ms. Davis, we're working on the Friendship Centre fires story. We had gone back to my apartment to use my darkroom to look at the shots I had taken at the Ucluelet fire when Sam, then I, smelled gas. We couldn't open the door to the darkroom to get out, and we managed to break it down, then open the windows to let the gas out, and I called the police. End of story."

Detective Gear glanced from one woman to the other. "We will be putting you all under protective custody."

Sam broke in, "It wasn't my apartment. I can take care of mysel…"

"God DAMN it, Sam! This was a fucking bomb! You can't defend yourself against that!" Detective Gear shouted.

"You seem to forget who protected whom through school, Terry."

"This isn't school anymore, Sam!"

"Whatever." Sam made a negating motion and started to walk away.

"Samantha! As God as my witness I will arrest you for obstruction."

Sam stopped and turned around. "Fine."

Terry blinked, and then looked at Sam suspiously. "You won't give the constables any trouble?"


Detective Gear sighed in relief. Glancing around, he realized that everyone was staring at them. He motioned to a couple of constables, spoke quickly to them and then walked into the apartment building.

"Excuse me," one of the constables walked over, "if you will all come with me, we will move to a hotel."

As Sara started to enter the building, she noticed that Josh was talking to Sam.

Zoe could hear the two talking.

"Why didn't you tell her that we had already met, Josh?"

Josh shrugged, "It never came up."

Suddenly they both noticed Zoe. Sam glared at her and Josh coughed into his hand. Sara returned and they piled into two police cars.

Terry ran a hand through his hair and gave Zoe a smile, "She can be damn annoying at times. I'm okay. It was definitely him. And he took some stuff this time, a camera and a cell phone. I think its time to take a look at the pictures that Ms. Mclintock has done over the past few days."

"Perhaps we should check both of their pictures." He looked at her as the constable drove off. "Can I try to convince you again to take to the field?"

She smiled smugly at him. "Perhaps… but I may take some more convincing. As for their pictures, I agree—the sooner we can analyze them, the better."

The drive to the hotel was quiet. The hotel itself was a small affair with easily guarded entrances and exits. As Sara, Josh and Sam stepped out of their respective police cars, Detective Gear and Dr. Davis approached them.

"We'd like to talk to the two of you. Mr. Blackburn, could you make a statement to this constable, please?" Detective Gear indicated the young cop behind him. "Sam, I will talk to you in your room. Dr. Davis, if you will take Ms. Mclintock's statement?"

Josh reached over and gave Sara's hand a squeeze and flashed her a quick smile. He then walked off with the constable.

The hotel room was small; bathroom, one bed, sofa and armchair. TV, radio and a small writing desk. Dr. Davis sat down on the sofa and opened a small note book.

"Do you want the details of my day since this morning, or will from the time from the arrival at the apartment to the time Sam and I realized there was a problem suffice?" Sara waited patiently for Dr. Davis to get herself prepared.

Dr. Davis looked at Sara very attentively and smiled. "I have several questions, but why don't you go ahead and start with your arrival at the apartment…"

Sara shrugged. "There's not much to say, really. Sam Carr and I arrived at my apartment, oh, about 6ish, and I let us in. I didn't notice anything unusual–no signs of forced entry, nothing. I put my purse on the stool as I normally do, then we went into the darkroom, closed the door, and got to work. We had just about finished when Sam, then I, smelled gas. Sam tried to open the door, but it appeared to be stuck because the door wasn't locked."

"I managed to break the door down, then Sam went to open the windows and I called Josh to warn him, because he was due home any second and I didn't want to take any chances. Just before I did, though, I noticed the contents of my purse were on the floor, and my cellular phone and camera were missing, and that there was a white foam like substance sealing the door to the darkroom," Sara finished. "Then I called the police. That's about it."

Dr. Davis scribbled down some notes. "You don't happen to have a small sample of that white foam, do you?" she asked.

"No. I didn't touch anything at the apartment other than the phone and the windows. Everything should still be there, and the forensics crew should be able to get a sample."

"Do you know of any reasons why someone would be so interested in your camera, or why they would want to harm you?"

"Take a pick. There's a long list. I was at the scene of a murder earlier, if you remember, Dr. Davis. You saw me there. The only pictures on the film were of the victim. All of my other cameras were in the darkroom. I'm a reporter," Sara shrugged. "I investigate things, powerful people get nervous, and the bad guys try to stop me. It isn't that far of a leap to figure that someone would want me dead."

"Sara, can you tell me a little about how you met Ms. Carr and started working with her?"

"We met at university, and we don't usually work together. On this occasion we happen to have similar goals, and realize that two heads are better than one."

"How did the two of you stumble onto the murder scene the other morning? Is it related to anything you've been working on?"

"Heard it on the police scanner and we were nearby. We went to check it out. And yes, it may be related to a story I've been working on. The man who was murdered was in the photograph of mine that was published by the Chronicle about the Ucluelet Friendship Centre fire." Sara walked Dr. Davis to the door.

Zoe waited a few moments before Terry joined her. He smiled and shook his head ruefully. Giving orders to the constables, he then called a cab. As they rode back to police headquarters, they compared notes. The stories were pretty much the same.

"Maybe the lab boys have some clue as to what that stuff was. Bet you a dinner that it's completely consumed by fire. All the fire stations and bomb squads have been alerted to his possible presence again. I wonder how long before the media gets wind of it?"

"Dinner, huh? You're on…although I think you're probably right. As for the media, I'd say not very long—after all, two photographers are already on to it."

"And what does it have to do with a dead gangster? What was he looking for in whatever fire he was in?"

"Maybe he was involved in setting the fire, possibly even working for the DoorMan. Or maybe not. Perhaps he was in opposition to the DoorMan."

Sara sat down thinking the day through. A few minutes later, the door opened and Josh stepped through.

"God, Sara. A bomb. In our apartment. What have you gotten yourself into now?"

"It might not have just been aimed at me, you know," Sara said defensively. "Sam and I are working together on a story about the Friendship Centre fires. We believe the break-in at the gallery, both fires, and the murder this morning are all connected. We've been looking into organized crime, terrorists, white supremacist groups and any anti-native groups about the fires, as well as any violent pro-native groups."

"Murder? Terrorists?" Josh's voice began to rise.

"It's just a theory. If it was the DoorMan, then who knows why? You might have been the one the bomb was set for. You are a prominent figure in the Native community, and anyone trying to start a war between Native and non-Native factions couldn't have picked a better target. Sam and I would have just been a bonus."

He just starred at her, his mouth open. Then he had crossed the distance, his mouth finding hers, breaking away only long enough to assure himself that she was whole and uninjured.

Sara enthusiastically returned his kisses, thinking how close she had come to losing him, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close. She leaned back, taking them both down so they were lying on the bed side by side.

"Are you okay, love? The only thing I could think of was that I wouldn't be able to warn you in time. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you." Sara buried her face in Josh's shoulder.

Josh didn't answer, his fingers were too busy undoing her pants. There was an urgency that was uncharacteristic of him. He sat up and undid his own. He then pulled hers off, taking her panties with them.

"Sara," it was a murmur, as his mouth found hers. He ran a hand over her waist. He suddenly slid off the bed. Grabbing her by the waist he pulled her down till only her upper back was on the bed and then with a quick twist turned her over. Her knees hit the floor and she could feel him behind her. His breathing had quickened.

His hands over her ass, then her waist. Not light but not hard. They travelled down the front of her thighs, then back up in a circle. Then to the inside, pulling her legs apart sharply, pulling her back hard against him.

"Sara," a low moan.

"Josh," she echoed, feeling the same urgency, the need to feel him deep inside her. She widened her legs slightly and tilted her hips, rubbing herself against him. "Oh god, I ache."

He didn't need any further urging. He thrust. Deep. The tempo he set fast, untamed. Never had he taken her like this. The only contact were his hands at her waist, him inside her. Each thrust crushing her into the bed. And then he cried out, falling against her, pinning her to the bed with his weight. With a shudder he left her, almost as quick as he went in. She was suddenly alone, the air brushing against her. She could hear his breathing behind her.

"Josh," Sara whispered, sliding to her knees and shaking with unfulfilled need. He's never left me like that before? Never been so urgent, almost selfish. Is he alright? Is there something wrong? "Are you okay?" She turned to face him and reached out to touch his arm. "Is there anything I can do? Do you need anything?"

He shook his head. "I've never been in a situation like this. Sorry. I don't know what came over me."

There was a knock at the door.

Sara grabbed the bedspread and pulled it off the bed and wrapped it around them. "Yes? Who is it?"

"It's me," came Sam's voice.

"Hang on a sec," Sara replied. She quickly gathered up her clothes. "I have to go to the bathroom," she said to Josh. "Let her in when you're ready. I'll be back in a sec." Sara gave Josh a quick hard kiss, then went into the other room. She took care of what she needed to, put her pants back on, and came back out into the bedroom area.

Both Sam and Josh looked up when she entered the room. Josh then walked past her to the bathroom.

"I was thinking you would want to do some investigating," Sam asked, her whole body stiff, her eyes shuttered, "but I could do it myself."

"What's wrong, Sam? It isn't like you to be acting this way," Sara said, concerned. What's with her? It's almost as if she… Was she one of the women Josh dated? No, I doubt it. I don't think she's lived in New York, let alone Spain.

Brief anger flared in Sam's eyes, "Nothing. It's nothing at all." By the end of the sentence, she was cold. Cold inside and out. As if she had shut down all emotion.

"Shall we go? Or would rather stay here?"

"Let's go. Josh," Sara called out. "I'm going out for a while. There's some work I have to do. I'll be back later."

"Fine," Josh called back, the bathroom door slammed.

Sara winced. Oh, shit. Sara blunders yet again.

Sara grabbed her purse from on top the small desk and followed Sam out the door. I wish I knew what was up with Sam. I'm going to have to remember to talk to Josh about where the two of them met before. After I apologize about taking off like this. God, what a mess I make of things.

Sam led her up to the roof and across to the other building.

"So, what's your lead?" Sara asked, surveying the building.

"Ever hear of a hacker named Lightning Bill?"

Sam paused and looked at Sara, weighing her, "I promise never to use your sources without asking if you will do the same."

"Of course," Sara said, offended that Sam would even think she had to ask such a question.

"I thought we would pay him a visit. He can find out more of the people involved than we can. Then another stop at Buddy's. Someone has to be setting these fires. Someone professional."

Sam spoke quietly as they moved across two buildings and down to street level where a taxi waited.

"Police headquarters, please."

Meanwhile, at Police Headquarters

For the next several hours, the two poured over the photographs that Sam and Sara had published in the last week.

"Bingo," Terry held up the Saturday morning edition of The Mirror. A half hour later they were looking at a computer blowup. The dead man was in the background, talking to someone. The only problem was that the who was cut off.

"Why don't you call the photographers? I am going to talk to arson and see if they had any photographers on the scene."

"Aye aye," she responded with a wink.

After Terry had left, Zoe picked up the phone and then paused. I think I'll call Ms. Mclintock first. I'm not really looking forward to talking to Samantha…

*Ring Ring*

On the second ring the phone picked up and a male voice came over the line, "Hello?"

"Hello. This is Dr. Davis with the New London PD, and I have some questions for Sara."

"I am sorry, Dr. Davis, but Sara isn't here."

"Is this Mr. Blackburn?"

"Yes it is."

"Could you please have her give me a call as soon as she returns? Tell her it's urgent."

"Of course."

"Thank you, Mr. Blackburn. Good-bye."

A few minutes later, Terry came back; the look on his face told everything. "No dice. Looks like Ms. Mclintock's camera is our only lead. What did they say?"

"Er… Actually I just finished calling for Ms. Mclintock but had to leave a message for her to call me," she responded.

"I was just about to try Sam. Unless you'd like to talk to her…"

"Shit," he exclaimed and grabbed the phone. After talking to the officers at the hotel he slammed the phone down. "I should have known when she gave in so easily that she wasn't going to stay put!"

"Since both Sara and Sam are gone, I'd assume they're together. Where do you suppose they would go?"

"Who knows?" he sighed and rubbed his neck. "It's late, there's nothing more you can do. Why don't you go home?"

"What, and leave you here to brood all alone?"

Zoe stood up and moved around behind Terry.

"You look like you need a good neck and shoulder rub," she suggested while reaching toward him.

She touched his shoulder with her left hand and began to caress deeply while the fingers of her right hand walked lightly, but steadily, up and down his neck. Moving both hands to the back of his hair, she massaged both sides of his neck. Several times she ran her fingers up through his hair, pressing lightly against his scalp.

Gradually she moved down to his strong, broad shoulders. There her hands seemed to linger indefinitely, pressing deeply again and again as she coaxed his rigid muscles into releasing the high-strung tension. The occasional exhalation of warm, moist breath against the back of his neck was the only indication of Zoe's exertion. When she had finally finished, she seated herself attentively beside Terry.

"God, you are so good at that, thank you," he smiled at her. "Come on, I think I'm going to call it a night as well. You can take me home."

Back in the cab

"Who do you think the target was at the apartment? You, me, or Josh?"

"If it was the DoorMan, does it matter? For him it seems that all are targets. If not, I would say you or Josh or both." She gave a ghost of a smile. "My enemies would not use a bomb. Also we might want to check this out." She tossed Sara a piece of the foam.

They moved quickly through the main entrance and headed for the basement, winding past the file cabinets that dominated the files room toward the back where the computers were tucked away. There was only one person on duty at the moment. A tall, willowy man, glasses perched on top of his head, Adidas-clad feet propped up on the computer desk, a walkman blaring into his ears and a half eaten pizza to one side.

"Hiya, Will."

Sara glanced over at Sam in surprise. Gone was the grim woman of just seconds ago. In her place was a smiling young woman who didn't have a care in the world. Sam grinned as she slapped his feet off the desk and reached over to snag a piece of pizza.

"Working hard I see."

"Sam," the startled, almost fugitive look left the young man's face and blossomed into a smile, "haven't seen you in a while."

"That's because I haven't needed any lightning strokes of inspiration," Sam held up a couple of tickets.

The young man glanced from Sam to Sara.

"She's all right, Will, I trust her," she spoke softly, tilting her head, "I haven't betrayed your trust. This is Sara Mclintock. She might be able to get you stuff that I can't."

Will sighed and nodded. Reaching out a hand to Sara, he said, "If Sam trusts you… Okay, what do you need, and when?"

"The knowledge of the Ancients in five minutes," Sara joked, shaking Will's hand with a firm and friendly grip and a smile. "If you can't manage that, we'll take anything you've got on the Friendship Center fires. We believe they're more than just random acts of arson. I've tried finding links between the fires and the Salvatori and the Syndicate with no luck with the sources I have. We're also trying to find out who would benefit from an all out war between violent pro- and anti-Native groups. As for when, yesterday would be preferable, but we'll settle for as soon as possible."

The sooner we get this info, the safer we'll be. At least then we might know who wanted to kill us, and possibly why, Sara thought.

"Well, that seems to be a popular subject. Homicide just put in its own request. Do you have any new info?"

"Other than the fact that someone, probably the DoorMan, just tried to blow up Sam, myself, and my boyfriend, and that the murder victim this morning was at the Ucluelet fire and has white supremacist ties, not that I can think of. But give me a sec."

Sara thought hard about everything she's learned so far. "A witness said that he saw the ghost of Geronimo when the gallery was broken into, and then the building across the street from Colours suddenly was given the go ahead for demolition when there's nothing wrong with it. Three other Native galleries have been broken into and vandalized. We think they may be connected to the fires." She paused for a moment. She then pulled a disk out of her purse. "This is a copy of everything I've been able to find on my computer searches so far. It's the only copy I have with me–my computer's back at the apartment under police guard." A wry smile twisted Sara's lips.

"And do a check on recent movements of the NLA and anything on Paul Martin, Kyle Runs With Deer, Robert Twofeathers, Talia Runesith, Pete Forysthe, Joshua Blackburn, Sara Mclintock, Reno Todd, May Fellows, Herbert Long Walker, and Ernie Kasstle," Sam added and then gave Sara a small smile. "Sorry, but we should be thorough. The last are all the people that had access to the places that were trashed. Keys and security codes."

"Let's add your name to that list too," Sara replied with the same smile. "Not that I don't trust you, but if you were a target for the bomb, you never know what someone might have let slip through the web as to their intentions or desires about you."

Sam went complete still, her eyes narrowed, her hand brushed her hip in a seemingly unconscious gesture, "As I said before I doubt that I had anything to do with it."

Going for a weapon, that isn't there, are we? How interesting. Sara shrugged. "Fine. We won't have your name on the list, despite the fact you knew exactly where my darkroom was and you've never been to the apartment before. That's not the least bit suspicious, no sir. But enough about us suspecting each other, and lack of trust and faith. Let's let Will get to work." Close your mouth before you put the other foot in, Sara.

Will looked from one to the other, wondering if he should dive under a desk or something until the body parts stopped falling. Sam forced herself to relax.

"Oh, and check on Remus Security Systems. They placed two of the three systems."

"Right." Will gave them both a wry grin. "And I get?"

Sam handed him the two tickets, "Backstage passes."

He shook his head, "You two owe me something else, this will take me all night."

Sam grinned, "I think Sara might know the artist Wanda R."

Will looked up at Sara hopefully.

Sara smiled at the look on Will's face. "Yes, I do. In fact, I have one of her early pieces in my office. She also did a sketch of me while I interviewed her. Amazing talent, that woman." She grinned. "I hear she's having a show in a month, and invites are worth their owner's weight in gold. I can pull some strings and get one for you. It shouldn't be a problem. Heck, when we're there, I could even introduce you to her. She loves talking to people who appreciate her work."

Will popped Sara's disk into a drive and a few seconds later handed it back to her. "I'll call when it's done."

Another cab ride later found the pair outside the Neon Samurai in Edo. Sam stepped out and addressed Sara, "I have to go alone here, Buddy would not like a stranger being brought to him without him checking 'em out first. Do you have any contacts you want to pursue? Meet back here in, say, 3 hours?"

Sara glanced at her watch. "Sure. See you later." She watched Sam enter the building, then turned and started walking. It's Saturday, would Grandfather Ito be at the shop right now? What a silly question. He's always there. I wonder if Mai will be working tonight. She smiled when she remembered how she had met Mai and her grandfather Ito.

She had been working on a story early in her career about Japanese community in New London, and had heard that a renegade group of yakuza were trying to muscle in on businesses in Edo, extorting protection money. Sara had come down to the area to check the story out and came across a trio of toughs harassing a teenaged girl and her grandfather in front of their small shop. She hung back and took a roll of photos, until the violence started.

Sara had no opportunity to change–no cover and no time to look for any. She went in and managed to chase them off, but not before getting a rather nasty cut on her arm and having one of her camera lenses smashed. Knowing how private the inhabitants of Edo were about their problems, she apologized for intruding, but she couldn't just stand back and see the two of them harmed.

The elderly gentleman made a huge fuss over what had happened and before Sara knew it, she was swept into the shop, her arm bandaged up and was drinking a delicious cup of tea. The man introduced himself as Ito, and the girl was his granddaughter Mai, and knew who she was and just about everything to do with her career. By the end of her drink, Sara was calling Ito "Grandfather," learned more about Edo than she thought possible in such a short period of time, and promised to come back for more tea and talk.

Over the weeks that followed, Sara became like an adopted granddaughter–or as close as a non-Japanese could. Sara also learned that if there was anything going on with ethnic-based gangs, Grandfather Ito knew it. She had no idea how he managed it, because for as far as she knew he never left the shop, let alone Edo.

Sara walked toward the shop, her "don't mess with me" wrapped around her. She arrived at the shop and walked up the narrow three steps to the shop, opened the door and walked in. The scents of tea, herbs, spices and incense washed over her, delighting her senses.

Mai looked up from her university books and smiled, "Sara-chan, how good to see you. Are you well? Are you here to see Grandfather-chan? If so, I am so sorry but he is out of town tonight. Perhaps I could help?"

"Grandfather-chan? Out of town? Is the world coming to an end?" Sara laughed. "It's good to see you too, Mai-chan. How's school coming?"

She smiled, "It is going very well. And how is your photography? And how is Josh-san?"

"Just about as well as usual. I've come to believe that someone must have decided I deserve to live in interesting times. Josh loves that herb mixture Grandfather gave me last time I was here. Please pass on my thanks when you see him again."

"There are a couple of things you can help me with. I need to buy some more tea, and some of the muscle liniment. I also need some information. Have you heard anything about a growing conflict between Native and anti-Native groups? I'm looking into the fires at the Friendship Centres and the gallery break-ins." Sara's demeanour became serious. "If it's going to be a problem for you to tell me, I understand." She hesitated. "Someone tried to kill Josh and I tonight. A bomb, in our apartment. I don't want to out either you or Grandfather Ito in danger if telling me will get you into trouble."

Mai sat straighter in alarm. "Someone tried to kill you? Let me think. No. Not until recently. Things are starting to get a little tense since the break-ins and fires. If it were not for the Director of the Friendship Centres, hostilities would have already broken out. I can start digging a little deeper. And do not worry about danger, Sara-chan. This person has attacked the family."

"Mai-chan. Please be careful. I believe it was the DoorMan who set the bomb. That's why I'm so concerned. I've been looking into all sorts of things recently. The Salvatori, the Syndicate, and a couple of other groups. I know how dangerous these people can be. That's why I'm asking you not to do anything that will get you or Grandfather-chan hurt."

Mai smiled, "Sara-chan. We are always careful. Besides, Grandfather-chan is seeing that we have the protection of a powerful clan, even as we speak. But I will be careful."

"So, what new and wonderful concoctions has Grandfather-chan developed since I was last here?"

The two women laughed and talked about the things the had all been doing since last month.

"Are you still seeing Chris Miragashi? He still works for BC Chem, right?"

"Why, yes, on both accounts."

"I know it's a long shot, but I have a sample of some foam I need to get analyzed. Do you think he'd be willing to help me?"

"Let us call him."

Mai picked up the phone and after a few moments of rapid fire Japanese, she hung up and smiled at Sara. "Here is Chris-chan's address, he will be waiting for you. Good luck, Sara-chan."

"Ah, Sara-chan. You know Grandfather-chan does not charge family. We take our payments as a family does, yes."

"Say hello to Grandfather-chan, and tell him I was sorry to have missed him. I hope his mission went well and was successful. Thank you for your help tonight, Mai-chan. And thank you for the tea." Sara stowed her packages in her purse and left the shop. Outside on the sidewalk she looked at the slip of paper Mai had given her, then at her watch.

Two hours left yet and the address was a 15, 20 minute walk. She loved walking in Edo, being able to look at all the architecture and curious mix of buildings. The people were exotic only in their looks. For the most part they behaved as any other. People going out to eat, walking and talking with friends. She found the address easily and walked up the stairs and politely knocked.

A few seconds later the door opened and Chris Miragashi stood smiling at her, "Welcome Sara-san, won't you please come in? May I offer you some tea?"

"That would be very kind of you, thank you, Chris-san." Sara slipped out of her shoes, picked them up and stepped into Chris' home. "I appreciate your willingness to talk to me on such short notice."

"Think nothing of it, Sara-san." He mixed some tea and led her into his work room. "Mai-chan said that you had something you wished me to take a look at?"

"Yes, I do." Sara fished into her purse for the piece of foam wrapped in a tissue. "I have this piece of foam which I was wondering if you could tell me about it. It was used to seal a door, to prevent natural gas from leaking out and to keep the door shut as well, I believe. I have no idea what state is in before it sets into the foam–I encountered it after it had been put in place." She handed it to Chris.

"Hmmm. Please forgive my rudeness in working. This may take a while. Please make yourself at home."

"Thank you. May I watch you as you work? I know little about chemistry beyond high school, but if I could be of any assistance…"

"Yes, thank you."

For the next hour Sara helps Chris as best she can. Finally he leaned back and rubbed his eyes.

"It's properties are amazing. You are correct; it is best used as a sealant. Basically, once it hardens it becomes extremely strong and adhesive. Unless you can exert enough force, there is no way to break it. It also has one interesting property. It's structure breaks done completely in 50 C+ heat. So a fire would remove all traces of the substance."

"There are only a few chemists that might be able to make something like this. I am not one of them," he smiles. "Let's see Amel in Iselia, Franks in Germany and Allison here in New London. He works for Scott Industries. I don't know him personally but he sometimes does lectures at the U."

"Hope this helps."

"It does, Chris-san. Thank you very much for your help. It explains a lot. Please, let me know if there's ever anything I can do for you in exchange for your assistance today." Sara gave a short, respectful bow, then extended her hand for a firm handshake, then a teasing glint entered her eyes. "Remember, I may be a journalist, but I will do wedding photos for friends and family."

He blushed, "Thank you Sara-san. But I don't think I am worthy to marry Mai-chan. Not yet."

"Give it time, Chris-san. You are young, intelligent, and from what I know of you, very honorable. Grandfather Ito has expressed his pleasure to me regarding your relationship with Mai-chan, and I believe that is a very good sign, is it not?" Sara finished with a smile. "If there is anything you might need my help with before such photos are desired, please let me know." She dug into her purse for a business card and presented it to him. "Because of events that happened earlier today, you cannot, unfortunately, reach me directly. If there is anything urgent, let Mai-chan or Grandfather Ito-chan know, and they will get the message to me."

"Grandfather-san said that?" Chris sat up straight, blinking at her.

Sara thanked Chris again and left his home. Allison at Scott Industries. What do I know about them? Sara thought as she strolled down the sidewalk. Sara frowns as she turns over what she knows of Scott Industries. International. Head offices here. Owned by Dr. Johnathan Scott III, renowned, Nobel-winning, 18-year-old scientist. Heavy into research. They had created the Space Chamber, an environment chamber that allowed complete control over gravity, temperature, atmosphere. Seemed every year the company was bringing out something new.

So caught up in her thinking, Sara all but ran into the phone booth. She glanced at her watch, half hour before the meeting.

I'd better give Josh a call. I feel really bad walking out like that. She picked up the phone, dropped in a quarter and dialed the phone number for the room. Please let him be there, and not be upset at me.

The phone rang 8 times before it was picked up, "Hello?"

"Hi sweetie," Sara said softly into the phone. "How ya doing? I spoke with Mai a little while ago. She sends her greetings."

"How is she? Where are you?"

"She's fine, studying hard for school. I'm over in Edo. I'm meeting up with Sam again in about 20 minutes. Why, is there something wrong?"

"The police are looking for you. Sara…"

The clang of metal on metal drew her attention to the alleyway beside the Neon Samurai.

"What do they want?" Sara tried to look over into the alley from the phone booth, hoping to see what was going on.. "Do they have more questions for me?"

"I think so."

The sounds continues, a regular beat. By changing her position she could see some shadows. She could make out three maybe four, one appeared to have a sword.

"Listen, I'll probably be back in about an hour or so. Tell them I'll talk to them then. I gotta go. Love you," Sara said, hanging up the phone. She got out of the booth and cautiously approached the entrance to the alley, trying to keep hidden as much as possible.

"Sara..." Back at the hotel Joshua Blackburn stared at the phone and cursed the dial tone. He barely restrained himself for pitching the unit across the room. He began to pace.

Meanwhile Sara cautiously approached the alleyway, straining to make out what was going on. She felt something cold and sharp press into her side.

"Gently, keep your hands where they can be seen," a male voice spoke near her ear. There was a slight accent that led Sara to believe that the man was Japanese. "We will walk into the alleyway. I will not hesitate to kill you, gaijin."

Sara put her hands out to her side and raised slightly so he could see them. Smooth move, Sara. Get yourself in deep shit. She walked towards the alleyway, praying for a distraction.

In the alleyway, two people dressed in red ninja-like suits were attacking Sam with swords. She was defending herself with a trash can lid. The dance looked like it would continue forever, until the man behind Sara spoke a rapid string of Japanese in which Sara caught the word 'gaijin.' The fight stopped.

Sam stood, the trash can lid loose at her side, arrogance and confidence etched in every line. She answered with obvious contempt and disrespect. With a snarl, one of the red clad men lunged forward.

Sam was a blur of movement. She flung herself at the two red-clad figures and in the same motion hurled the trash can lid at Sara. It clipped her shoulder and slammed into the man behind her. Sara felt a quick pain that was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

Sara spun, her hand snapped out board ridged across his wrist. There was a slight snapping sound and the knife clattered to the ground. Her other hand snaked out and slammed him across the neck. Without a sound the man crumpled to the pavement.

Taking a few quick breaths, Sara turned, ready to defend herself. Sam now had one of the swords. She was facing off against the remaining red figure. Behind her, the other was down. His body began to smoke and then there was a small puff sound and he was gone.

The two swordsmen closed in a series of slashes. Even Sara could see that Sam was the better of the two. With a snarl, the man charged, his sword held high. Sam waited to the last second, then moved sideways, her sword moving with apparent ease. She stopped a few steps from her starting point, spinning smoothly to face her opponent. Sara could see that her face was completely expressionless.

The man took a few steps his sword clattered to the ground. He turned.

"Sohei dog," he spat and collapsed, his body already starting to smoke.

Sam tossed the sword on the body and turned. She walked towards Sara. She had only taken a few steps towards Sara when she gasped and moved quickly towards her. "You're hurt," Sam knelt and gently moved Sara's shirt up. There was real concern in her voice and eyes.

"I am?" Sara said in surprise and she looked down. "When the hell did that happen?" Realization crossed her face. "Oh. When you hit me with the trash can lid. I thought it was that. It doesn't hurt." The wound was small and hardly bleeding, a shallow slice.

Sam hissed, "They sometimes poison their blades. I am sorry Sara, you should never have been involved." She reached over and ripped a piece of cloth off the man's shirt and applied pressure. It was then that Sara noticed the dark stain on Sam's jeans across her thigh. As she watched, it grew larger.

"Sam, who the hell were they? You killed them. What the hell is going on? First you're all cold and won't give me the time of day when I ask you what's wrong. Now, just after you've committed two capital crimes, you're concerned about a slight scratch I have? What about your leg? You're bleeding like a stuck pig."

"Did I?" She glanced around. "Where are the bodies?"

She sighed, "Your questions will have to wait. I know a herbalist, a doctor really, close by." She tore another strip off the man's close and tied it around her leg.

"Can you carry him?"

Sara looked at the downed man, sizing him up. "Probably." She bent over and felt a twinge in her side. "Oh man, Josh is going to have a cow. First, the police are looking for me, supposedly to ask more questions. Now I got myself cut. Great. Just great." She continued to bend over and picked up the man, slinging him over her shoulder. If I were Diamond, this would be a hell of a lot easier.

Sam didn't answer, using all of her strength to walk normally. She kept to the shadows so that her injury wasn't too apparent. A few people gave the odd threesome a quick glance but no more then that. This was Edo.

A few moments later, Sara realized that Sam was turning into Grandfather Ito's place. Sam knocked. A few seconds later the door opened. Mai looked at the people on her doorstop with rapidly enlarging eyes; then she gave a start and bowed low to Sam, head almost touching the floor.

"Ah, Fugikaki Samantha-tono." A rapid string of Japanese followed. Mai's voice was deferential. Sara could pick out numerous apologies. She ushered them in, bowing slightly to Sara.

What the hell is going on? Sara wracked her memory for the meaning of the honorific, and the reason for such deference being given to Sam. Ito-san's teaching came to her. Tono was an informal term for lord.

Sam bowed slightly, "Think nothing of it Mai-san. We have need of Ito-san." She motioned to their injuries.

Mai-san went to her knees and bowed, head touching the floor. "I am so sorry, Fugikaki-tono, but Grandfather-san is not here. He went to Kogowa Castle as you had suggested."

Sam smiled. "That is good Mai-san. I am pleased. You are learning Ito-san's work, are you not?"

"Oh, yes, Fugikaki-tono." Mai-san bowed again and quickly dashed into the other room. She returned with Ito-san's bags.

"Then see to Sara-san first," Sam ordered, easing herself into a chair, "and see if there is anything to keep this one under. He has a long ride ahead. I will need your car, Mai-san."

"Of course, Fugikaki-tono," Mai nodded and lifted up Sara's shirt. Sara noticed Sam's eyes ease shut.

Sara shook her head at Mai. "No, Mai-chan," she said softly. "Help Samantha-san first. She is hurt far worse than I am, and has lost much more blood. A bad leg injury. I'll take the risk of the knife being poisoned, but she's very weak, and with the deep wound she probably has, any poison will affect her before it does me."

"Oh, yes, Sara-chan, it would be very bad for the family should she die here." Mai quickly cut Sam's pant leg and then hissed. Glancing over Sara could see the edges of a 2 inch cut across Sam's thigh. Blood oozed.

"This will have to be stitched," Mai whispered. Her hands shook as she tightened the tourniquet. She threaded the needle and then gave Sara instructions in making a tea from some the stuff in the bag. Talking seemed to calm her, as she began to stitch. Sam twitched once and the lay still, her hand gripping the corner of the table, her eyes shut, her breathing a little uneven.

Sara kept an eye on Mai's work as she made the tea. "Mai-chan, please forgive my ignorance on this matter, but why do you honor Samantha-san with the honorific tono?"

Mai didn't look up from her work. "Not to do so would bring dishonor to the family and insult Fugikaki-sama, her father."

Mai sighed, "I have done all I can." She took the tea from Sara-san and lifted Sam's head, "Please, Fugikaki-tono, drink this."

Sam slurped at the tea and pushed herself into a sitting position. She glanced down at her leg. "Domo, Mai-san. Please give me the keys to your car and I will go start it."

"Ah, no, tono, allow me..."

"Ea. Sara-san can drive me out there."

Sam took the offered keys and limped slowly towards the back door. Mai tended Sara's injury and made her drink the tea as well, then made a different mixture of dried stuff which she placed on a rag in the man's mouth. She helped Sara carry him to the car. The trunk was open and the car running. Sam slouched in the front seat.

"Where to, and would you mind explaining what is going on?" Sara asked when she slid behind the wheel after dumping the man in the truck of the car and thanking Mai for her help.

"Kogowa Castle," Sam answered as Sara pulled out into traffic. "I told you my enemies wouldn't use a bomb."

She chuckled softly and shifted on the seat. As Sara pulled out on Hunter's Road, she glanced at Sam. Sam seemed restless, her eyes bright. When she spoke it was in a rambling sort of way.

"The Sohei and Nara have long been locked in mortal combat, bitterest rivals. Since 788 long time," again the soft chuckle, "long time. And whoever leaves behind the weapons of honor loses." There was a long pause, and then, "Where are we going, Mom? Are we going to visit that nice old man?"

"Yes, dear. You look tired. Why don't you just close your eyes and rest. I'll wake you before we get there." Sara looked at Sam with concern. Is she just kidding around, or is that the poison or the antidote talking? I'd better get to the Castle, and fast.

As Sara drove, Sam mumbled, sometimes in English, sometimes in Japanese. Sara caught words every now and then. Mom. Dad. Terry. No. She was suddenly quiet.

Sara glanced over. Sam was watching her, tears in her eyes. "My honor and life are in your hands. Damn you, Sara. I swore I would never be in this position again."

"What position? Needing help from a friend? Sam, if I were not worthy, would Ito-chan have taken me in like a daughter? Just because I am not Japanese, nor the daughter of a powerful clan leader does not mean I have no honor. There is no shame in needing help from someone. You know me well enough that you should realize I would never take advantage of such a situation. I may not be a samurai, but does not mean I don't do what I can to stop people like those who attacked you."

Sam shook her head, "Caring..."

It's not just caring, Sam, Sara thought.

Sam winced as Sara took a corner and seemed to fall a sleep. As the car approached the medieval castle, Sam's hand shot across the car and gripped Sara's arm. "There must be some pattern to the fires." She then slipped back into unconsciousness. Sara pulled into the parking lot and looked at the large doors. A gong sat off to one side. She glanced at her watch--11:26 pm.

Sara looked at Sam. She's not getting any better. She's actually looking worse. It's late, but I have no choice. She turned off the engine and with a last look at Sam, got out of the car and went over to the doors. She looked to see if there was a doorbell, and not seeing one, looked for a mallet or something to strike the gong with.

A few minutes later the door sung open. An elderly man blinked at her. "I am so sorry, but the castle is not open to visitors at this time."

Sara bowed respectfully. "Forgive my intrusion so late at night. I am Mirahashi Sara-san, a friend of Fugikaki Samantha-san. She was in a battle with men I believe from the Nara clan, defeated them and helped keep me from grievous harm, but was severely injured." Sara looked back at the car. "One of her combatants is unconscious in the trunk. Samantha-san is in the car, and I fear that the poison that may have been on the blade is spreading too quickly and she needs assistance I cannot give." She paused.

The old man's eyebrows rose as Sara spoke. "Please wait here, Mirahashi-san." He closed the door. Minutes ticked by as Sara went back to sit with Sam. She was hot to the touch. She seemed to be carrying on a conversation with someone, but only her lips moved.

The castle doors opened and men boiled out. Several took the keys and opened the trunk. The unconscious man was whisked away. The others eased Sam out of the car and carried her into the castle. They took her to an inner room and laid her carefully on the futon. Others took their place and began undressing her. A man, the only one not wearing a kimono, entered and placed a doctor's bag to one side he began examining Sam, giving instructions. Sara moved off to one side, feeling useless.

Another man walked in. The power in him radiated outwards. He wore a kimono and the traditional top knot of the samurai. He carried a sheathed katana in his left hand. The shorter sword in his waist band. He gazed down on Sam and the people attending her, who, with the exception of the doctor, had bowed low.

He turned to Sara, brown eyes insistent. "What happened?" he barked.

Sara bowed deeply in respect. "I was to meet Samantha-san in front of the Neon Samurai and arrived to find her engaged in battle, Sama-san." Her voice was filled with respect and deference. "She defeated her opponents. We were both injured, though she far greater than I. We received assistance from Mai-chan in Ito-chan's absence, but the poison, Sama-san." Sara could not keep the concern from her voice.

"How many opponents, and where is her sword?"

"When I arrived the battle was already engaged, Sama-san. At that time, there were two men dressed in red, plus the one who injured me. He is the one we brought here in the trunk of the car. I do not believe Samantha-san had her sword with her, Sama-san. She used one of their own swords against them."

Sword, Sara thought. Sam is a samurai? Do I know any Samurai... Wait a sec. Could Sam be Sentry? Oh man, now I really understand why she said what she did.

The man nodded. "Good," he snapped, then spun on his heel and stalked out.

The doctor spoke for the first time, "Do not let Kaishukunan-tono bother you, Mirahashi-san. Samantha-san is his student and he pleased that she did not receive this injury while she had a sword to hand. The wound is infected, that is all, the poison has been neutralized."

Student? Then she must be training as a Samurai. I hope she will forgive me for figuring it out, if it is true. Now what am I going to do?

As he spoke he prepared a shot. A woman entered, bringing a covered tray, which she set down beside him. "Domo, wife."

The woman bowed her head and then looked over at Sara. "You are a friend to Samantha-san?" Sara could hear a trace of surprise in her voice.

"We are not close enough to share secrets, honored Lady, but I consider Samantha-san a friend, especially after the events of today. We are in the same profession, and have similar interests." Including the protection of those who require it. Sara let a small smile cross her lips. "We may be rivals at times, but it makes us both stronger."

"Mirahashi Ito-chan helped me understand the true importance of family and honor. I am honored and duty-bound to assist Samantha-san in this, both in my name and the name of my family."

"Ah," the lady smiled," it is good to know that Samantha-san does have a friend. She always seems so sad and alone..."

"Samantha-san would not thank you, wife, for speaking of her private life."

The woman blushed and bowed her head. "Yes, you are correct, my husband. So sorry, Mirahashi-san, I spoke were I should not have."

"No insult or offense taken, honored Lady," Sara replied.

The doctor finished restitching Sam's leg and spoke to the people kneeling in the room. They began to tie Sam to the futon, which was proving a problem as she fought back in her fever-induced delirium. The doctor was calling instructions, as people tried to hold her down. Then a voice cut through the ruckus. It was thin but with surprising strength. As one the room bowed, head to floor and stayed there. Sam went still and with a sigh drifted off to sleep.

What do I do now? Do I bow as well? I wish I knew what to do! I can't afford to screw up now. She wracked her brain frantically, try to figure out what was proper procedure, desperately trying not to cause offense or insult because of her lack of knowledge.

The man she had spoken to early was standing beside an older Japanese man. The older man's kimono was of the finest silk. He wouldn't have topped Sara's breasts, and he was thin, but with a wiry strength still evident. If she had thought that Kaishukunan radiated power, this man was power. His eyes, as they fell on Sara, were keen and intelligent. Sara was sure everyone was looking at her, even though their heads were down.

Sara bowed low, chagrined at the thought she may have offended him, hoping that her flush of embarrassment wasn't too evident.

He spoke, again the soft voice of command, and people all but leapt to obey. They finished tying Sam to the futon and left. This left Sara, the doctor, his wife, the two samurai and Sam.

"Welcome to Kogawa, Mirahashi Sara-san. I thank you for bringing my daughter home." His English was without accent, his face expressionless. He turned and spoke to the doctor in rapid fire Japanese. He then turned and left, Kaishukunan-tono heeling him.

The doctor rose and began packing his stuff. "Samantha-san will need someone to stay with her. The fever should break in a few hours but she could still injure herself. There is a cell phone in my bag. I am afraid that the castle doesn't have a phone."

"Thank you, Doctor-san. I will stay with her until the fever breaks. If I may use the phone, Doctor-san, I must call someone. He will be concerned at my absence. Also, if there are complications, can you tell me what I can do to minimize them, and at what point I should contact you again?"

The doctor gave Sara a run down on possible complications and what to do. He would be staying in the castle until Samantha-san was out of danger. Sara thanked him and used the phone. It was picked up on the second ring.


"Hi, love. I'm sorry I'm not back yet. Are the police giving you a hassle?"

"Don't you ever do that to me again, Sara! I have been sitting here worrying. Are you okay? Where are you?"

"Listen, I'm at Kogawa Castle. It's going to be several hours before I get back to the hotel. Sam.... We... Oh damn, there was a fight. I'm okay," Sara reassured him. "But Sam isn't in too good condition. She's already been looked at by a doctor, but something got into the wound and she's really sick. I have to stay with her until the fever breaks. There's no one else here who can."

Sara sighed. "I know I shouldn't ask this, but please don't tell the police what happened to Sam. Just... Just tell them I'm working. I'll tell you later what happened." Her voice fell to a whisper. "I love you so much."

He sighed into the phone, "I love you too. I miss you. I want to touch your breasts. Take them gently into my mouth. Move down your torso, tasting you," he moaned softly, "Move my mouth across you the tops of your thighs. Waiting for you to open for me, inviting me to taste you."

Sara's eyes closed and she echoed his soft moan. "No fair," she murmured, feeling her pulse begin to race. She opened one eye and looked over to where the doctor was to see if he was still there, waiting for the return of his phone.

The doors were closing shut. Was there a smile on the doctor's face? Sara was alone with only Sam, who was still sleeping.

"What are you doing now?" Josh asked, his voice a mere whisper.

"I'm sitting here, talking to you on the phone, getting horny as hell. What did you think I was doing?" Sara replied teasingly. "I'm alone now. Well, not really alone. The doctor's left, and Sam's here, but she's out cold."

She sighed. "I'm also wishing I was back there at the hotel with you. Being a hero is really the pits sometimes."

"Mmmmm," he moaned, "I wish you were here too. Then I could run my tongue over you, breathe deeply, exhale. Push my tongue... inside you..." he gasped, groaned.

Sara's eyes fell closed and she unconsciously lifted her hips slightly, making a husky noise deep in her throat. She could feel herself beginning to get wet and could almost feel Josh's touch. "What are you doing?" Her voice was breathless.

"I am just stepping out of my pants. I am so hard. I am lying down now. One of the windows is open. I can feel the night air, cool across my body, like your breath. I want to run my hands over your thighs. Kiss your lips, feel your tongue against mine," his breathing deepened. "Are you wearing the red panties I got you for your birthday?"

"Yes," Sara murmured. "And the matching bra." The image of Josh lying naked on the bed took hold in her head. She felt her nipples harden and the familiar throbbing began. "Oh Josh, I want to run my fingers through the hair on your chest then lightly down your stomach. I...." She hesitated, trying to bring herself to say the words over the phone. "I want to touch you. Hold you in my hands and stroke you. Feel your strength. I want to whisper I love you in your ear as I gently bite your earlobe."

"Ohhhh... God. Sara," his breath skipped, "I want to run my tongue over your breasts. Are they hard yet? Take each point into my mouth, flick my tongue over, and around. Suck gently. Then the other. I want to nibble along your throat. I can't...Saaarra." His breathing became labored.

"My nipples are as hard as rocks," Sara whispered. "And I'm so wet I'm soaking my pants. Oh Josh, I ache for you. I want to rub my body against yours, feel your strength. I want to take you in my mouth and drive you utterly wild so you can't think of anything else." Her own breath was becoming erratic, and the ache she was feeling was getting worse. God, I wish there was something I could do. I wish I knew how to deal with this - pleasure myself.

Josh moaned, his voice was now a just a little stronger then a whisper, "I am touching myself. My hand is your hand. Tell me what its doing."

Sara shivered and closed her eyes. "I take my index finger and run it around the rim of your head ever so lightly, and rub the cleft. I then run my finger down your length to the base and curl my fingers around you. A gentle squeeze and then I stroke you once, then twice. If I had another hand free I would...."

Sam began to mumble in Japanese, her head tossing. She screamed, her eyes snapping open and began to trash. One word was intelligible, "No!"

"Oh no. Josh, there's something wrong with Sam. Oh god, I'm so sorry," Sara said, audibly upset.

Sara could hear the frustration in Josh's voice. "Go ahead. I'm not the one hurt here." There was a soft click and a buzz as the phone went dead.

Sara felt a lump form in her throat, and tears threatened. Oh Josh, I'm so sorry. What am I going to do? Damn it. I can't do anything right. She turned off the cell phone and went over to check on Sam.

The door opened and one the castle residents bowed, waiting for instructions. Sam was tossing her head from side to side, shaking. Sweat stood out, her eyes were open. Pain, anguish, tears, and "no" repeated over and over, like a mantra.

"Shh, Sam, it's alright. You're going to be okay." Sara took the damp cloth from the bowl of water and bathed Sam's face, trying to help cool her down. She leaned forward so she could whisper in Sam's ear, knowing she was delirious and hoping that her words just might register, even subconsciously.

"You carried yourself well, today, Samantha-san. Your teacher was pleased with your actions, and your father is glad you are home." Sara leaned closer, so that her lips were almost touching Sam's ear. "Your honor is safe, Sam, and your life, well, that's in your hands. We've done everything we can for you, now it's up to you to fight through the fever." Sara bathed Sam's face again, then her neck.

She seemed to quiet down, and then she spoke, "Promise you won't tell anyone ever. Please, Terry. It's over. Promise." She became agitated again. "...won't understand... please..."

"I promise, Sam. I promise," Sara said in soothing tones. She looked up at the person in the doorway. "I think everything's going to be okay. Thank you for coming so promptly." She gave an awkward bow because of the way she was sitting.

The woman bowed and the doors slid shut. Sam was now mumbling in Japanese but had ceased to thrash about. A few moments later she fell silent then spoke, a little girl's voice.

"Momma? I scared." The tone switched more towards Sam's voice. "Why would he do that, Momma?" A pause. "Terry, promise, no one will know. It never happened. Oh God, the pain." The little girl voice. "Make it stop. I'll be good."

She began to whimper and toss her head from side to side.

Sara's heart stopped. She was abused? Oh, God... What am I going to do? What do I say? "No one will hurt you anymore Sam. I'll protect you, and no one will know. Now hush, dear. Get some rest. I'm here to watch over you." Sara took Sam's hand and held it comfortingly. Do I tell Sam what she said while she was delirious?

The night was a long one. Just before dawn Sam's fever broke and she slept peacefully. Sara curled up in a corner, shifting to get comfortable and went to sleep.

It seemed she had just closed her eyes when... "Sara?"

Sara opened her eyes wearily and looked towards the futon. She groaned and grimaced, moving stiffly. "Yeah?" She sighed. "Remind me never to sleep in the corner again."

"Never sleep in the corner again," Sam replied dryly, her voice little more then a dry rasp. "What happened?"

"I brought you here like you asked in the car, but on the way you started to get feverish. The people here took the guy from the trunk - who I haven't seen again, by the way, and brought you here. The doctor looked after your wound which had gotten infected, your teacher arrived and gave me the third degree, then your father thanked me for bringing you home. Your fever broke just before dawn." Sara stretched, then awkwardly went over to the futon.

"And don't worry, Samantha-san. Your honor is safe, and your teacher is pleased that you did not have your sword when you received your injury." Sara smiled wryly. "I feel like such an outsider here. Everyone was staring at me, and their jaws nearly hit the floor when I told them I was a friend of yours." She paused. "Well, considering what happened yesterday, I would like to be able to call you a friend. After all, friends save each other's lives, don't they? And don't think you owe me for what I did, Sam. I may be an outsider, but I know about honor. Consider it repayment for smelling the gas at the apartment."

Sam watched her undo the ties a confused look on her face. "Honor is safe?" She winced a little when Sara started talking about friends, going a little more pale. "Fever? What...what did I say?"

"One of the things you said to me in the car was that your honor and life were in my hands, that you had never wanted to be in that position ever again, and you cursed me for it. Listen, Sam," Sara said as she undid the last knot. "What's this thing you have about friends. Every time I say something, you wince - just like you did just now. You can't let things that happened to you in the past ruin your life now. Trust me. I know." Sara blushed slightly.

"It was something you said. You sounded like a little girl, wanting Terry to promise not to say anything, then saying you'd be good and asking for the pain to stop. You said other stuff, a lot in Japanese that I couldn't understand. You know," Sara said, changing the subject. "Your teacher was pleased at how you had handled yourself last night, especially since you didn't have your sword. Or your armor," she added, watching Sam out of the corner of her eyes as she tucked her shirt back into her pants.

As Sara spoke, Sam went whiter and her eyes closed. She took several deep breaths and opened her eyes. Sara could almost see the walls being built again. "Did I say anything else? What did I tell you?" She tried to sit up and then sank back down scowling.

Sara thought for a second. "You said there had to be a pattern with regards to the fires. You didn't say much else. You asked your mother why he would do something like that to you. Not much else that I could understand. Oh yeah," she added. "You asked in the car if we were going to visit that nice old man."

"Nice old man?" Sam suddenly smiled. It was a real smile, not her customary one or the ones she used when trying to seem nice to other people. It made her look a little younger. "I remember that. It was the first summer I spent here, right after I got my cast off. Thank god I never said that to his face."

Suddenly the barriers came crashing down again and she looked over at Sara. "Armor? What are you talking about?"

"Your samurai armor. I know you're Sentry, Sam. Don't worry, it wasn't anything you said. Not really. I figured it out on my own. Seeing you fight last night, Mai referring to you as 'sama', finding out you are learning to be a Samurai. I've suspected for a while, but tonight just helped me put everything together." Sara looked at Sam, knowing no matter what expression she had on her face, it wouldn't help. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. I said once before that you and I are very much alike, Sam. We both protect the people we feel responsible for and care about, and have secrets that can put our loved ones in danger if the secret was known."

I wonder if she knows I'm Diamond. She knew about the apartment, though she certainly didn't suggest I change and break down the door, Sara thought to herself as she waited for Sam's reaction.

"Learning to be a Samurai?" Sam sighed, "I have been one since I was 18." She shook her head, "I am going to have to be more careful. I just can't seem to get that through my head with you."

She stared Sara straight in the eye, her face neutral. "I don't want to be your friend Sara-san, I don't want to care for you. Caring costs to much." Her voice faded and she looked away, that lost, vulnerable look back, her hands drifted to her stomach. "Way too much." Sara wasn't sure if the last was meant to be heard.

"Sam, I've told you before. I don't need to be looked after by you, so you don't have to include me in your sphere of protection. You can't exist without friends. Do I need to prove to you that letting me close enough to be a friend isn't going to get either of us hurt?" Sara shook her head in exasperation. "Is that what it's going to take? Is it that you don't consider me an equal, so we just can't be friends? You certainly didn't act that way in Midland park when we apprehended Tusk."

Sam looked startled. "I consider you my equal. Besides, that was different."

"How was that different? Because I'm a mutant and you're a normal human? Because I didn't swear an oath of some sort? How does being able to work together in a relatively decent fashion as heroes, and as journalists preclude us being friends? What am I going to have to do to prove to you that having me as a friend is not going to cause you more harm than good." Sara shook her head. "You are so exasperating sometimes. What am I going to have to do? Change so that you can take some good whacks at me to prove I'm not so easily hurt so you don't have to worry about me not being able to take care of myself if someone attacks me?"

Sam's eyes grew wider at Sara's words. Perhaps it was her weakness that prompted her answer. "I am not worried about you being hurt. Physical pain has nothing to do with this. I'm worried about me, okay?" Sam began to cry, not sobbing, just tears. "It takes too much of myself to care...."

"Sam," Sara said softly, moving to sit facing her. "Like it takes more muscles to frown than to smile, it takes a lot more work to keep people out of your life than to let them in. You don't have to give your entire soul to a person, and you can't let things that have happened to you in the past control your future. Father O'Mallory taught me that when I was fifteen, after I was brutally attacked and raped." Sara paused.

Sam frowned reaching for the weapon that would normally be by the bed.

"Friends are something that make you stronger, Sam. They don't cost you anything, and a true friend expects nothing more than you are willing to give. Friends help you in times of need, and share your triumphs. I refuse to believe that you would rather grow old, bitter and alone than to allow one, just one, person to be your friend. I want you to say five, simple words. The hardest one is three syllables. Now, repeat after me. Sara Mclintock..."

Sam's anger dwindled as Sara spoke. Half way through Sara's speech she reached out and took her hand.

"Sara..." Her hand tightened.

"Come on Sam, you know my last name," Sara said softly and calmly. "Mclintock. That's the most difficult word you'll have to say. Let's hear you say it."


"Is my friend."

" friend."

The last is barely a whisper, Sam's eyes closed and she began to shake, silent tears.

"Four out of five. Not bad. Now that you've said it," Sara said gently. "The hardest part is over. Oh, Sam," she said, moving closer. Sara took Sam into her arms and hugged her soothingly. "There's no need to cry any more. I mean, it's not like I tried to pull your teeth without anesthetic," she joked softly.

"There. Now you have a friend. It's good that you were able to say it. Now I won't have to go running around New London telling everyone we know that we're friends until you just give up in exasperation and agree. And you know I'd do that too, don't you. Besides," Sara said in mock arrogance, pulling back to look Sam in the face. "You don't know how lucky you are. After all, diamonds are a girl's best friend."

Sam gave a shaky laugh and lay back down, looking drained and exhausted. "I don't know if this will work, Sara-san. I am not an easy person to know. I like my privacy, I don't open up well, I keep secrets, I..."

After a moment, Sara spoke again. "So, when did you figure out what my night job was?"

Sam sighed. "In the dark room." She hesitated and then took a deep breath. "I noticed the change in your smell. That's how I knew where your darkroom was. I could smell the chemicals. And that has what has got me worried about this whole bomb thing. There was no other smells in the room but yours, mine, Josh's and Diamond's."

"This is really odd. I have never spoken to someone about my abilities before."

"I haven't spoken to many people about mine either. Just Josh and Father O'Mallory. There was one other person, but she died of cancer several years ago. And now there's you. And don't worry. I won't tell Josh about you. Speaking of Josh, Dr. Davis said that one of you said you knew each other before? Where did you guys meet?"

"Hmmm? Oh, at one of those art things. I occasionally have to cover them for the paper. I have no idea why he never told you."

"Shoot! I almost forgot. I had that foam analyzed. It has some really interesting properties, among which is the fact it breaks down completely under high heat. So after a fire, there'd be no traces of it for arson investigators to find. There's a good chance it's made by Allison, who works for Scott Industries."

"Makes sense, I always wondered why the explosions where so big," she sighed, as she once again tried to rise and failed. "I hate being weak. Looks like you are going to have to run down our leads. Talk to our computer hack first. Take my cell. Should be in side jacket pocket."

"Call Marvin... no, let me call him," she reached for the phone. A few moments and promises of baseball tickets later, she said, "Marvin has set up an appointment for you to speak to Allison. God, I wish I was there, then we would know if he were lying."

"You mean I can't just look for shifty eyes?" Sara grinned. "I'd suspect that if he denies knowledge of the foam, he would be lying. My source says he's only one of three people who could make the foam, and he's the only one nearby. Besides, I could always go to his Highness Scott the Third and tell him I suspect a member of his organization is a murderer, or at least in league with one. You don't happen to have another sample of the foam, do you? The one I had got used up in the testing."

"What time is my appointment with Allison for?"

"Five-ish. Marvin says that is when he does most of his work."

"I'm going to go back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes," Sara said, looking down at the rumpled garments she was wearing. And to apologize to Josh, if he's there. "I've got to go to police headquarters anyway. They've been trying to get a hold of me since last night, something about more questions. We don't want to irritate your cousin, now do we." Sara smiled slightly. She stood up and grimaced at the stiffness in her legs.

"Buddha no, don't want to do that, " Sam sighed and ran a hand over her face.

"Do you want me to get someone to bring you some water or something, Samantha-san?"

"Go on, they'll take care of me as soon as you leave."

"Gee. Nice to know I'm wanted and needed," Sara joked. "I'll talk to you later."

Sara dove the car back to New London, her thoughts churning. What a couple of days this has been. I've probably screwed things up badly with Josh, nearly gotten killed twice, not to mention probably made new enemies. What the heck am I going to do now? Talk to Josh. That's top on the list.

She stopped at Grandfather's Ito's and dropped the car off. Neither was home so she made a quick note that she still had the keys. She then caught a cab back to the hotel. The room was empty, the clock read 4:35 pm. An invitation to a gala was sitting on the bed stand.

Sara picked up the invitation and looked at it. I don't remember seeing this before. What's it for? She started to undress one handed. Gala tonight, 7:00, Dance, drinks.

Sara showered and dressed, leaving Josh a quick note. She took a taxi to the Scott Industries building.

Scott Industries crouched on the edge of Elizabethtown, in Alberni Cove. The egg-like appearance of its two towers dominated the skyline.

Sara entered the building in the middle of a tour. "... designed by Doctor Scott, the 105 story twin tower is a marvel of technology and unproven architectural theory. All aspects of the interior design are constantly being improved upon including security and safety. The entire building has been constructed using state-of-the-art technology and advanced experimental materials. For example, this building is woven from carbon aramid thread; hence, although the walls are relatively thin, they are extraordinarily resistant to damage. The windows are made of a carbon lattice which most closely resembles diamond. All interior doors are air-locks and are governed by a central housekeeping computer, H.O.M.E.R. The SI building possesses an independent energy source and is powered by twin solid-state hydroelectric generators, which explains why the building is partially in water. Additionally...."

The guide's voice trailed off as the tour moved out of earshot. A security guard looked at her expectantly. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, you can. I have an appointment to speak with Dr. Allison. My name is Sara Mclintock."

"Ah, yes, I was told you were coming. Follow me, please." He handed her a pass.

The guard led Sara deep into the facility. Security was impressive. At each door the guard spoke his name, position and reason for needing this door open. A light played over each of them centering on face and badge. Fifteen minutes later, the guard once again gave his speil again to a door marked "Lab 10." The door whooshed open and the guard motioned her through. "Just buzz the front desk when you are ready to leave."

The lab was white and sparkling clean. A chamber separated two parts of the lab. On one side people walked around and worked normally, on the other they wore protective gloves and goggles. Computer terminals, microscopes, test tubes and the rest and other equipment any good scientist seemed to need lay about.

"Excuse me, but may I help you?"

"Yes, I have an appointment with Allison." Sara looked at the person speaking to her. Impressive set-up here. It's plain to see why SI is at the forefront of technology these days.

The young lab rat looked startled. "Um, sure follow me."

He led Sara past the other scientists and into a back corner. A man sat hunched over a microscope. He was balding, about mid 30's, out of shape and Sara could tell, by the slight tinge of yellow around his nails, that he was a smoker.

"Um, Dr. Allison, this woman claims to have an appointment."

Dr. Allison glanced up frowning. He looked from the assistant to Sara and then back at the assistant. When he spoke his voice held a slight tinge of impatience. "I am sure, Rombard, that you have better things to do then stand here entertaining young women."

"Yes, doctor," Rombard scooted off and Allison turned his attention to Sara.

"I was told to expect you. I am not best pleased with the need to interrupt my work so ask your questions and leave me to it."

Watching Allison carefully, she spoke. "I'm working on a piece about technology and new forms of sealants. I have heard about one recently and wanted to ask you about it. It's a type of foam, Dr. Allison. When exposed to air and allowed to harden, it forms a superstrong seal, nearly impossible to break." Sara paused. "I've also heard it has some rather interesting applications and other properties, such as breaking down under intense heat." Sara's voice was calm and unaccusing.

He sighed, "You're the second reporter to ask about this in the last month." He stood up and walked over to a small area. "Homer."

"Yes, Doctor Allison?" a male voice spoke quietly out of the air.

"Bring up a vial of ADF343." He then turned and opened a small metal cabinet, pulling out a small covered jar. He placed it on the table.

"ADF343 isn't finished testing yet. So far we have found only a use in demolitions. This is what it looks like in its inert form."

The glass jar contained a white, sluggish liquid. "It's oily to the touch and when exposed to air..." he opened the jar and dabbed a bit on a test tube, "...within a minute hardens to a foam like substance that acts as a sealant. It can withstand up to 4 tons of pressure. It might be useful for sealant in space, but we are still working on that."

He pointed to the computer screen. "Here is the molecular make up on the substance." He launched into a jumble of scientific jargon and then grinned at her. "The long and short of it, miss, is that Scott Industries is not quite ready to bring this out. There's a lot of testing to be done. I am sure that when we are ready to announce it, you'll be the first to know. Any other questions?"

"Yes. Who is other reporter who has asked about it? And who has access to it? And what uses have you found for it with demolitions?" She looks around the room again, evaluating the security system. "Is this the only sample you have, or is there more? Has any of it been 'misplaced' recently?" Sara waited, not really expecting an answer from him for the last question, but hoping to shake him up.

He frowned and shook his head. "Maybe someday I will learn not ask that question of reporters. Let's see... he was a Native, well spoken and polite... he was interested in a few of our other projects, but that is the only one I could show him. I can't remember his name off hand. As for demolitions, several applications. It is useful in making large explosions with a miminal amount of explosive, also in making a semi-contained explosion and somewhat successful in muffling explosions. Since it breaks down completely in heat, there is no evidence that it existed and is confusing as hell to bomb experts. As I said, not much practical use."

Unless you're an assassin, Sara thought to herself wryly.

"There are samples all over this lab. It is fairly easily to make as long as you have large quantities of clay and zinc. Of course, there are a few other elements, and the production of it is a secret. As for missing samples, I doubt it, but let me check. HOMER, track usage of ADF343. Just give us a simple break down on what's there and if any is missing."

"Yes, Doctor Allison, one moment please. Total ADF343 production is currently at 35 liters since production first began. All is accounted for except 0.23 ml."

"Thank you, HOMER."

"You are welcome, Doctor Allison."

"There, you see? Not even enough to coat a loonie. Anything else I could for you?"

"What does ADF stand for, and is the amount missing enough to analyze and find a method to reproduce it?"

"Adhesive Draft F," he frowned, "and if you had the right equipment, a molecule is enough to analyze it. And if you chemist was really good, he might be able to reverse engineering it in a few months."

"I have just one more question, Dr. Allison. Were you the scientist who first developed ADF343, or was it a team? And have any of that team left the employ of Scott Industries since the successful creation of the substance? Sorry," Sara smiled. "That's two questions."

"It was a team, and to my knowledge no one has left Scott Industries. Are you suggesting industrial espionage?" He reached for a phone.

"Not just espionage, Dr. Allison, but murder several times over. The sample was from a crime scene where the DoorMan was suspected of attempting to blow up the apartment, killing the two people inside as well as the third who was going to open the door and trigger the fuse." Sara looked directly at Allison. "That was strictly confidential, Doctor. The police are still investigating, and none of this information has been released to the public yet. I had it analyzed, and there are only three people capable of developing something like that foam. You were top on the list as you are located here in New London."

The doctor looked at her in horror and then down at his sample. "My God. We'll begin a check immediately of the people who had access to this."

He picked up the phone and began talking to someone--probably security. Sara glanced at her watch. If she left now she would just make it back to the hotel in time to catch Josh before he left for the gala.

"If you'll excuse me, Dr. Allison," Sara said. "I have another appointment, and I know your time is valuable. Will I be able to contact you here tomorrow about what you have been able to discover?"

"Yes, of course." The doctor still seemed shaken and gave her a card.