This story was originally posted in the second edition of Cascade Beyond The Veil. Usual disclaimers.
Forest For the Trees
by Sue Pokorny
Blair Sandburg pulled the collar of his jacket closer around his neck and squinted up at the darkening sky.
"Jim, man, maybe we should head back."
Detective Jim Ellison held up a hand, motioning for his companion to be quiet. He tilted his head, allowing his sentinel hearing to move out into the dense forest that surrounded them. The overcast sky visible between the trees was now almost completely dark, casting shadows deep into the woods as the day succumbed to the call of the night.
Blair hunched his shoulders as the slight drizzle that had been present for the last hour started to come down in earnest. He shivered as the cold rain found its way under his collar and ran an icy tendril down the damp skin of his back.
They had come out of a copse of trees near the edge of an embankment. The ledge sloped at a steep angle to an old, narrow logging road about thirty feet below. Blair glanced down the embankment, swallowed hard and took a few careful steps in the opposite direction.
"Can you hear anything?"
Jim sighed and shook his head, a look of frustration on his chiseled features. "It's this damn rain. I can't seem to get around it."
Blair listened to the soft sound of the rain falling on the trees and shrubs surrounding them. The sound was almost melodic -- familiar and comforting.
Jim turned and looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"White noise," Blair repeated. He thrust his hands into his pockets and looked up at Jim, wonder shining in his eyes. "The rain, man. Listen to it. It's like white noise."
He watched as Jim focused on the sound, his smile widening as surprise registered on the sentinel's face.
"Yeah," Jim breathed. His eyes darted around the small clearing as he focused on the distinct sounds of the raindrops hitting the leaves.
Blair smiled, pushing a strand of wet hair from his face. "Yeah. So all you have to do is listen through it."
Jim threw him a look of doubt. "And just how to you suggest I do that, Einstein?"
Blair held up a hand and took a few steps forward before remembering the steep ledge and backing away again. "I've been working on that."
Ever since Lee Brackett had used a white noise generator to mask his location, Blair had been trying to find a way to circumvent the effect if necessary. "I think you can eliminate the sound. Sort of like removing a layer of clothing." Blair hurried on before Jim could utter a word of doubt. "This is a sound you're familiar with, Jim. All you have to do is concentrate on it and remove it from your conscious hearing. Once you've done that, you should have no problem hearing what's under it."
Jim stared at him for a moment, before shaking his head. "I think we should turn back, Chief. I'm sure the rest of the search party has already headed back to base." Four search groups were combing the woods in search of escaped prisoner Carl Blakely, a cold blooded killer who had managed to escape custody during a transfer from Cascade to Seattle. As soon as it became apparent that Blakely was hiding somewhere within the forest that skirted the small town of Morris Creek, the local sheriff had welcomed help from the Cascade PD. The state police had also been alerted and they were concentrating their search north of the forest, leaving the local sheriff's department and the Cascade contingent to focus on the area just outside the town limits.
Jim pulled the two-way radio from his pocket and attempted to contact the base. The rain and dense forest had hampered their attempts for the last half hour or so, but Jim had been following a faint trail and they had decided to press on. The rain had all but eliminated the trail and, as the darkness crept in, even Jim was beginning to have a hard time distinguishing the terrain.
"Come on, Jim." Blair placed a hand on his arm. "Just try it. If you don't pick up anything, we'll head back." Even though it was getting much too dark to continue, both men were comfortable with their ability to function in the woods.
Jim hesitated. He could see the shivers racking his friend's body and he knew he should get them both someplace warm and dry before they spent the next week sacked out in the loft with the flu. A sick Sandburg was not a pleasant Sandburg, but he hated the thought of Blakely getting away. He knew they were close. He could feel it.
Blair looked up at him, the determination on his face making Jim's decision for him.
"Okay, Chief. I'll give it one shot."
Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He allowed his body to slowly relax as he opened himself up to the sounds of the forest. The rain filled his ears and he let the noise become a grounding beat to the music of Mother Nature. Slowly the noise became less intense and he concentrated on pushing through to hear the sounds beneath.
Blair shifted from one foot to the other, hunching his shoulders against the rain. He looked up at the sky in concern, his eyes searching for any increase in the storm.
A sudden crash of thunder caught them both off guard, the intensity of the noise driving Jim to his knees as the echo rumbled through his head.
"Jim! Jim!" Blair rushed to his partner's side, almost slipping on the mud near the embankment.
Jim shook his head sharply, his hands clamped firmly to both sides of his head.
"I'm okay." The pounding in his head was beginning to recede and Jim chanced moving his hands from their protective position over his ears.
Blair was kneeling beside him, his concern evident in his voice. "Oh shit, Jim. I am so sorry. I didn't expect that. I am so sorry -"
Jim clamped a hand on his partner's shoulder, his voice a little louder than normal to compensate for the ringing in his ears. "Chief! It's okay. It just took me by surprise."
He managed not to wince as he nodded. "Yeah."
"Well, well. Ain't this a pretty picture."
The sound of the voice from their left caused Blair to jump, which brought Jim to full alert. Carl Blakely stood just at the edge of the treeline, twenty yards from their position by the embankment. Blakely held a gun on them, a cold grin on his face as he moved closer.
"Ellison," he sneered. "Figures it'd be you."
Jim kept his eyes on the gun as he rose, carefully maneuvering himself between Blakely and Sandburg. The gesture was not lost on the convict, who eyed Blair curiously before returning his attention to Jim.
"You know, Ellison, I should just kill you for what you did to my brother."
Ellison took another step forward, trying to get Blakely to focus his attention on him. "Your brother was a murderer. He chose his own fate when he pulled his gun in that warehouse."
"You didn't even give him a chance,"
"He shot two cops." Jim chanced another small step, but stopped when the gun leveled at him.
Blakley eyed the detective with a cold, calculating expression. A slow smile spread across his face as he raised the gun to eye level. "Then what's one more?"
Before Jim could react, Blakely shifted the gun and fired. Jim felt the bullet speed past him and his heart stopped at the soft grunt of surprise as it found its target.
Ellison turned as Blair fell back, his face registering his shock.
"Jim." The soft voice replaced the ringing in his ears as Blair tried to catch himself. He took a feeble step back in an attempt to regain his balance. His left foot hit the edge of the embankment and Jim watched in horror as the soft mud gave way under his weight.
Jim lunged forward, his fingers brushing the sleeve of Blair's denim jacket he lost his brief fight with gravity and tumbled over the edge. "Blair!" Landing on his stomach in the soft mud, he crawled to the edge, watching in stunned silence as Blair's body tumbled down the slope and came to a sudden stop on the road below.
The vengeful laughter from behind him finally registered on his senses. He launched himself at Blakely, a primal scream ripping from his throat.
Caught completely off guard, Blakely tried to bring the gun to bare, but was thwarted by two hundred pounds of enraged sentinel. The gun flew from his hand as the weight of the attack pushed both men back away from the embankment.
The initial impact drove them backwards, the mud making their footing tentative. As they fell to the ground, Blakely caught sight of the gun near the edge. He pushed Ellison off and scrambled for the weapon only to be grabbed by the detective and hauled back. Ellison dove on top of him and they grappled, neither of them aware of their position as they slid closer to the edge.
Blakely threw a punch, which was blocked as Ellison grabbed his arm and pulled him over his body in a roll. Grabbing for the gun, Blakely grunted as the mud gave way and both men slid bonelessly down the embankment.
The first thing that registered was that he was cold. The second was that he was wet. Jim moved his arm, forcing it beneath
him, and pushed himself up from the hard ground. Raising his eyes, he discovered he was at the base of the muddy slope.
They had rolled down the embankment, coming to a painful halt on the hard, packed earth of the old logging road that ran through the southern section of the woods.
His leg brushed something and Jim reached out to find the familiar shape of the two-way radio. A quick test produced nothing but static. Jim shoved it inside his jacket and tried to get his bearings.
A low moan to his left brought his attention to the dark shape laid out beside him. A sudden burst of lightning revealed Carl Blakely lying on his back, clutching his arm close to his body. Jim could see the blood mixed with mud contrast sharply with the fractured white bone of Blakely's left arm.
Moving slowly, Jim tested his own limbs. He winced at the pain in his right knee, but nothing seemed broken. He pushed himself onto his left knee, and scrambled the few feet to the criminal.
"Help me," Blakely hissed between clenched teeth. The break was bad, but Jim could find no sympathy for the man's pain. Reaching behind him, he was relieved to find his handcuffs still attached to his belt. He grabbed Blakely's arm and dragged him a few feet to a small sapling that had sprouted near the base of the embankment. Ignoring the profane protest from the convict, Jim quickly snapped the cuffs around both wrists, tethering him to the small tree. It wouldn't hold him long, but it would have to do for now. Blinking hard against the rain which ran down his face into his eyes, Jim looked around the muddy embankment, but could find no sign of the gun. Fearing it was lost, buried deep in the thick mud, Jim turned his attention to a more important search.
Another flash of lightning brightened the sky and Jim let his eyes roam the area, searching for a sign of his partner. Blair had gone over the edge not far from where they had tumbled, so he should be close…
A dark shape lay huddled at the edge of the road about fifteen feet in front of him. The shape wasn't moving and Jim forced himself up, limping as quickly as possible across the distance.
Blair lay on his side, one arm still pointing up the embankment, the other at an awkward angle beneath him. The rain had washed away most of the mud from his exposed left side and Jim notched his sight up a bit, swearing under his breath at the unnatural stillness of the normally animate anthropologist.
"Blair?" Jim pitched his voice loud enough to be heard over the still falling rain. "Chief? Can you hear me?"
He received no reaction and reached out a hand to move a few strands of the rain soaked hair that had fallen across Blair's face. Because of the cold rain pelting them from above, Jim was alarmed, but not surprised at the coolness of his friend's skin beneath his touch. Slowly he ran his hands down Blair's neck and back, breathing a sigh of relief when he felt no fractures. Assured it was safe to move the injured man, Jim rolled Blair onto his back, carefully checking his arms and legs as he moved them into what he hoped was a more comfortable position.
He knew Blair had been shot. He shuddered as he recalled the sound of the bullet impacting the soft flesh -- it wasn't a sound he was likely to forget. A quick search revealed blood seeping from a small wound low on his right side. The rain washed the blood away quickly, but Jim could tell the wound was still bleeding heavily. Carefully feeling beneath the limp body, Jim found a slightly larger hole, also seeping warm blood.
At least the bullet had gone straight through. From the location of the wounds, Jim didn't think the bullet had hit any vital organs, but he knew he had to get Blair somewhere warm and dry and stop the bleeding before shock set in.
Quickly he pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around his still unresponsive partner. Not wanting to risk turning up his enhanced senses any further due to the building storm, Jim searched the growing blackness, surprised to find a darker outline of a small shack about forty yards on the other side of the road.
Leaning forward, he carefully placed his arms beneath Blair and slowly rose, keeping the chilled body close to his chest. "Hang on, Chief," he whispered. He shifted the weight in his arms and carefully began his way across the road. "Just hang on."
By the time Jim got close to the shack, his knee was throbbing and the rain had picked up, making his footing on the slippery mud treacherous. The ground was strewn with small rocks that made the journey even more difficult and he breathed a short sigh of relief as the he approached the small structure. The shack had been barely visible through the line of trees, and as Jim approached he could tell it obviously hadn't been used in years. The shack was leaning to one side and the rotting wooden door hung loose, moving slowly back and forth in the wind. Kicking aside the partially attached door, Jim chanced turning his eyesight up a notch to see inside the gloomy interior of the cabin.
The two windows were broken out, dirty glass sticking out from the panes in jagged shards. One corner of the small room was strewn with piles of rotting wood and leaves and the only discernable furniture was a table with broken legs which sat tilted along the far wall. Finding no alternative, Jim gently lowered Blair to the ground by the door and quickly moved across the room. He grabbed the table and with a kick from his good leg, broke off the two remaining legs of the table, leaving a roughly level surface.
At least he wouldn't have to leave Blair on the cold floor. A quick look around netted him three large burlap bags. He used one to wipe the accumulated dirt and debris from the table top before moving back to the door and kneeling down next to his unconscious friend.
Carefully bracing his throbbing knee, he lifted Blair with a grunt and limped the final few steps across the room, depositing the limp body on the makeshift bed.
"I know it's not the Ritz, Chief, but it's all we've got."
Blair gave a low groan as Jim released him, but otherwise gave no sign of consciousness.
Working quickly yet gently, Jim worked Blair's sodden jacket and flannel shirt off, leaving the skin on his bare arms exposed to the rapidly cooling night. Pulling his own jacket off, Jim placed the walkie-talkie near the foot of the table then quickly removed his sweater and T-shirt, relieved to find the undergarment relatively dry. He ripped the T-shirt in strips and threw them over his shoulder before reaching for the hem of Blair's T-shirt and carefully pulling the bloody material up.
The wound was still bleeding and Jim did his best to clean it and apply pressure. His efforts received another low moan from Blair who turned his head in a feeble attempt to escape the added pain.
"I know, Chief. Just take it easy," Jim soothed. He didn't know if Blair could hear him, but he kept up the soothing litany until the bleeding had stopped and he had managed to wrap a few strips of the T-shirt around Blair's body to protect the wound. Blair still showed no signs of waking, so Jim placed his still damp jacket over him, hoping it would help keep out some of the chill.
A sound from behind him made him jump and he turned, ready to defend his partner. He squinted into the darkness, his mind registering that the small, dark shape in the doorway of the shack was not the convict.
The young girl couldn't have been more than fifteen. Her hair was pulled high in a ponytail by a thin red scarf. She wore a pair of denim pedal pushers, a white blouse and white tennis shoes. She pulled a soft, pink sweater closer around her neck as she stared at Jim.
Jim blinked a couple times, surprised to find a child out so far in the woods. "Hello." He finally regained his voice, pitching it soft and low so as not to scare her. "My name is Jim Ellison. I'm a police officer." The girl must be a runaway. What else would she be doing this far out in the middle of nowhere? She didn't look like she'd been out here long, though. Her clothes were still fairly clean and her hair was neat. She wasn't even very wet, despite the rain.
Her big brown eyes drifted from Jim to the still form behind him and he turned slightly. "That's my friend, Blair Sandburg. We were chasing someone - a criminal - and he was hurt."
The girl continued to stare, her eyes moving between the two men. Jim took a hesitant step forward, but stopped abruptly when she cringed back. He smiled what he hoped was a charming smile, fervently wishing it was Blair trying to approach the frightened girl instead of him. Blair seemed to have a way with kids - especially teenaged girls -- that made them instantly trust him. Maybe it was because he wasn't that far removed from being a kid himself.
"Look, I don't want to scare you. I won't hurt you." When she stopped moving away, he continued. "What's your name? I told you mine, it's Jim. I -" A soft moan from behind him stole his attention and he turned quickly and leaned over his friend. "Blair? Can you hear me, Chief?'
Blair's head moved to the side and his brow furrowed as consciousness returned. He groaned again, gasping as the pain registered. He squeezed his eyes tight and grimaced, his hand coming up to inspect the source of the pain. Jim caught the hand and held it, not at all pleased with the continued clammy coldness of Blair's skin.
"That's it, Chief. Come on back."
Blair's eyes fluttered a few times, then cracked open and he squinted up into the darkness. "Jim?" His voice was no more than a whisper, but it was a beautiful sound to Jim.
"Welcome back, Junior."
Blair attempted to smile, but it was more of a grimace. "Where'd I go?"
Jim chuckled. "For a ride down a mudslide." He pushed some of the still damp curls from Blair's forehead, relieved to see him aware. "How ya feeling?"
Jim laughed. "Anybody ever tell you that you have a hell of a way with words, Sandburg?"
The possibility of Blair sustaining a head injury on his tumble down the slope had occurred to Jim, but because of the low light, Jim had not been able to tell. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Blair squeezed his eyes closed again as he tried to recall the events. "Um, we were tracking Blakely, right? The thunder - oh, man, Jim, your hearing. Are you okay?"
Jim shook his head in fond exasperation. "I'm fine, Chief. You're the one with the hole in your side."
The statement got Blair's attention. "Huh? What are…" His eyes widened and he made an effort to pull his hand from Jim's. "He shot me! The creep! Didn't he?"
"Shh, it's okay, Blair." Jim placed a hand on the damp curls. "Just calm down. You have to stay still or you'll start bleeding again and this isn't exactly Cascade General." He watched as Blair took a couple breaths and forced himself to follow Jim's instruction. "That's good, Chief. Just breathe."
Blair nodded, his eyes still closed, but Jim could still feel the tension in his body. "That's better. Just relax. The bullet went all the way through. I don't think it hit anything vital, but you lost a lot of blood. You can't afford to lose much more, so you gotta promise me you're going to stay still and rest until I can get us out of here, okay?"
Blair nodded again, and Jim opened his hearing to monitor his heartbeat. After a few moments, Blair was able to calm himself enough for exhaustion to take over and he fell back into a troubled sleep. A quick check showed the wound had not started to bleed again, and Jim gave a long sigh of relief.
"Is he okay?"
Jim turned his head, but continued to hold Blair's limp hand. "I need to get him to a hospital."
He stayed completely still as the girl approached, not wanting to scare her with any sudden moves. She walked to his right side and placed a thin hand on Blair's forehead. A small smile graced her face and Jim blinked a few times, trying to eliminate the hazy glow that suddenly hampered his sight. He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing them with his free hand and opened them to find the girl looking at him curiously.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her head cocked to one side.
"Um, yeah." Jim blinked a few more times, but the haze was no longer there. Maybe Blair wasn't the only one with a possible head injury.
She just nodded and returned her attention to Blair. Jim watched as she stroked the long curls, her petite fingers sliding gracefully through the dark tendrils. As she stroked, Blair's face relaxed until the lines of pain were almost completely gone and he was resting quietly.
"That's quite a touch you've got there."
She looked up at Jim's words and smiled shyly. "He'll be alright." She spoke with a certainty that belied her age. Jim smiled and nodded, believing her. He didn't know what it was that made him believe, but at the moment, he didn't care.
Jim checked the wound and changed the bandage, careful not to disturb his sleeping friend. The girl had helped him clean the wound by wetting some of the smaller T-shirt strips in the rain and gently washing the area to decrease the chance of infection. Blair was still sleeping peacefully and Jim didn't want to chance moving him until the rain let up. He knew he should go check on Blakely - leaving the man trussed up to the tree in this weather wasn't exactly proper police procedure, but he was reluctant to leave Blair in this condition. Besides, morning was only a few hours away. Blakely could survive until then. Jim was sure Simon and the rest of the search crew would be back out at first light. They would just have to sit tight until then.
He sat near Blair's head, watching as the girl tucked the still damp jacket tighter around Blair's shoulders.
"You're pretty good at that," Jim remarked. He was rewarded with another shy smile.
"I had two little brothers at home," she answered. "Momma worked, so I spent a lot of time taking care of them." Her fingers toyed with the silver locket around her neck as a sad smile crossed her face.
Jim returned her smile, thankful she was at least talking. "They were lucky boys. Do you miss them?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then continued to fuss over Blair. "At first I did. But, it's been so long."
Jim frowned. From the relatively clean state of her clothing, the girl couldn't have been gone for too long or come from too far away. Perhaps she was from Morris Creek and had simply gotten caught in the woods when the storm broke. His curiosity over his new acquaintance piqued, he decided to take a different tact.
"You still haven't told me your name. I'd like to know who I'm talking to."
The girl looked at him, then scooted back and sat cross-legged on the floor next to Blair. "Julie."
Jim smiled and held out his hand. "It's nice to meet you, Julie."
She took his hand and giggled. "It's nice to meet you, too, Jim."
They shook hands and Julie returned her attention to Blair. "You said Blair was your friend?"
Jim nodded. "He helps me out sometimes with my work. We share an apartment."
"So, you're sort of like family?"
Jim chuckled. "I guess you could say that." He'd never really thought about it before, but he supposed Blair had become family. Somewhere along the weird ride that was Sandburg, Jim had really come to care about the long-haired anthropologist - despite his eclectic tastes in music, art and food. Along with helping him to control his senses and regain some equilibrium in his life, Blair had somehow brought color into his black and white world, and Jim was the richer for it. He couldn't imagine his life without Sandburg in it anymore. If that wasn't the definition of family, he didn't know what was. "I guess you can say he kind of grew on me over time."
"You seem so different."
Jim had to nod in acknowledgement of that truth. "We are. But differences aren't necessarily bad. Sandburg has a unique way of looking at things." He watched the slow rise and fall of Blair's chest and the peaceful expression on his face. "I guess he's opened my eyes a little. Because of that, I'm a better cop."
"And a better man." Julie's soft statement took him by surprise.
"Yeah, I guess so."
The shout from outside the shack took them both by surprise. Jim jumped to his feet and moved to the partially open doorway. He instinctively reached for his gun, silently cursing as he remembered it was no longer there. Keeping himself low and flat against the wall, he peered out through the cracks, his Sentinel vision searching the blackness for Blakley. The storm was letting up and Jim knew he would have to chance using his senses. Daylight was still a few hours away, and he needed to find Blakely in order to keep Blair and Julie safe.
"Is that the man you were chasing? The criminal?" Julie had scooted over behind him, crouching down in the dark shadows.
Jim nodded. "I cuffed him to a tree, but he must have gotten loose. He's hurt, but he's still dangerous."
"Ellison! I'm still here! How's your little friend? Is he dead? How does it feel, huh? How does it feel to know you're next?"
Jim's eyes searched the darkness. He piggy-backed his eyesight on the sound of Blakely's voice. He itched to respond to the convict's threats, but the protector in him would not allow Julie and Blair to be placed in such a position of danger. He needed to lead Blakely away from them. Maybe, if he could get Blakely somewhere deeper into the forest, he could get the drop on him and take him out. At the moment, Blair's condition and the presence of Julie severely limited his options. There was no way he'd be able to get Blair out of here and protect the girl with Blakely still mobile. His only choice was to play the convict's game. But he could still play with a few rules of his own.
A fit of laughter split the night. "Take your time, cop. I can wait all night." He heard the sound of rustling leaves and his eyes picked up a dark shape moving away from the cabin into the thick trees. Quickly he grabbed Julie's arm and steered her back across the small room to Blair.
"I need you to stay here and watch my friend. Don't leave him, you understand?"
He waited until the frightened girl nodded, then patted an unconscious Blair on the shoulder. "I'll be back, Chief." With a final nod to Julie, he crossed back to the door and slipped out into the darkness.
The rain was still falling around him, but Jim kept his eyes on the clump of bushes he had last seen Blakely. He had made his way back to the logging road, careful to stay hidden. He crouched down behind a fallen trunk and listened to the sounds of the woods. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sound of the rain, dismissing it from his conscious hearing as Blair had instructed. He was left with the sounds of the forest underneath. There were small animals scurrying from cover to cover, trying to forage for food despite nature's hindrance.
The rustle of leaves to his left caught his attention and he tightened his focus, smiling as he distinguished the heavy, squishing footfalls of his prey. Blakely was breathing hard, a few gasps of pain betraying his diminished condition. Jim frowned as he concentrated on the man's progress. Blakely was heading in the direction of the cabin. The small structure was well hidden in the trees, Jim's enhanced sight being the only reason he had been able to discern the shape from the blackness of the forest.
Even if Blakely hadn't noticed the shack yet, he would soon. Jim had to get to him before that happened. Turning up his vision, Jim searched through the thick foliage for a bead on the convict's location and condition. Bingo! About fifty yards away, stumbling over a log in the dim light. Blakley was drenched, his broken arm tucked inside his prison jumpsuit, Jim's cuffs dangling from the other wrist. His shoulder length hair hung in wet tendrils and his eyes shone with an insane determination.
"Blakely!" Jim watched as the convict stopped, his eyes searching the darkness. "Give it up, Blakley. You've only got one good arm. There's no way you can take me and you know it." Jim moved forward, hoping the conversation would hold Blakely's attention enough to distract him from the shack.
"In your dreams, Ellison!" Blakely hollered back. "You got lucky the first time you took me down. I won't let that happen again." He moved his head back and forth, his eyes darting around the shadows. A bullet ricocheted off a tree about ten feet to Jim's right causing the detective to quickly duck. Great, so Blakely had found one of the guns.
"Damn," he whispered, cursing himself for not going back for Blakely earlier. He had been so concerned with Sandburg and getting him out of the rain, that he had neglected to follow basic procedure. When Julie had appeared, Jim's options had been severely limited. Going back for Blakely had become secondary to the safety of the two civilians.
Another bullet whizzed by, this one close enough to throw debris from the tree bark into Jim's face. The shot was followed by a high-pitched laugh that did not sound the least bit sane. "What'sa matter, Ellison? Too scared to fire back? " Another burst of laughter was followed by another shot. "That's too bad, cop! You see, I may have only one arm, but I've got two guns. And in my book, that puts the odds in my favor." Blakely laughed again as he hauled himself up and began moving toward the small shack.
"You want me, Ellison, you're gonna have to come and get me!"
The rustle of movement alerted Jim that Blakely was once again on the move. He quickly dialed up his sight to get a better location on the convict. An unexpected flash of lightning blinded him. Squeezing his eyes tightly against he searing brightness, he fell to his knees, burying his face in his hands as the pain exploded in his head, driving all other concerns into the back of his mind.
Blakely stumbled out of the tree line, nearly colliding with the rotting wooden wall of the old shack. He paused a moment to catch his breath, grinning at the game of cat and mouse he had been playing with the Cascade cop. He couldn't believe his luck when he woke at the bottom of that ledge alone. It had only taken a few minutes to pull the small tree he had been cuffed to from the mud. He had dislocated his thumb in the fall, and the cuffs had easily slid over the damaged left hand. In an attempt to claw his way back up the muddy embankment, Blakely had, to his delight, discovered the detective's gun. Another twenty minute search had rewarded him with his own weapon, half buried in the thick mud. The rain had washed both weapons relatively clean, but Blakely hadn't known if either would fire until he had taken those shots at Ellison.
He couldn't see anything because of all the damn trees, but he had fired at the sound of Ellison's voice and he must have come close. He held his breath and tried to listen for any sounds of pursuit, but the rain beating down was too loud and thrummed in his ears like a symphony. He clamped down on a fit of laughter, knowing he needed to get up and keep moving.
Ellison had been right about one thing - with only one functioning arm, he was no match for the big detective if it came to a fight. But he wasn't going to let it get that far. He shifted the weight of the gun, comforted by its heft. He'd take Ellison out before the cop had a chance. A feral smile spread across his face as he imagined Ellison's expression as round after round of lead was pumped into his body.
A low moan filtered through the rain, causing Blakely to jump in alarm. Slowly he worked his way to his feet, using the decaying wall for support. His eyes darted through the darkness as he held his breath, listening intently to the rain as it pelted down through the leaves onto the forest floor.
There it was again!
Edging his way down the wall, Blakely stopped at the window, stooping to look through the broken glass. A slow smile spread across his face as his searching eyes took in the sole occupant of the dank little shack.
"Well I'll be damned," he breathed, hardly believing his good fortune. "Must be my lucky day."
Blakley made his way to the front of the shack and, keeping his back to the wall, edged his way to the doorway. The flimsy door was only partially attached and was jammed open, allowing him to slide into the structure without a sound. Once inside, he let his eyes roam the shadowed interior, finally resting upon the figure lying on a low table against the back wall.
Hefting the gun, Blakely slowly made his way across the small room to the still form. He laughed silently as the kid turned his head and emitted another low moan. Blakely poked the kid with the barrel of the gun, causing a cry of pain.
"Looks like you're in a whole world of hurt, my friend." He raised the gun and cocked the hammer. "Good thing I'm here to help you out."
Jim shook his head and breathed deeply through his nose, fighting the nausea in the pit of his stomach. Opening his eyes a fraction, he held his breath momentarily as the pain intensified, then slowly ebbed to a dull ache. Finally able to dial back his sight, he squinted into the darkness, trying to get his bearings.
"Damn," he muttered. There was no sign of Blakely. Jim quickly covered the distance to where he had last seen the convict. The incessant rain had covered any tracks, and Jim steeled himself as he chanced opening up his sensitive hearing. Concentrating on the sounds around him, he quickly filtered through the rain, zeroing in on Blakely's amused voice.
"Look's like you're in a world of hurt, my friend. Good thing I'm here to help you out."
Jim's eyes snapped open in alarm. Blakely had found the shack! He took off through the dense foliage, his headache no longer a concern.
Blakely frowned at the kid. He didn't look like a cop, but he had been with Ellison, and Blakely could only assume he was the cop's partner. Too bad he didn't choose his associates with a little more care. He took a step back and tucked the gun under his broken left arm. He reached inside his jumpsuit and pulled out Ellison's weapon. He gazed at the weapon, grinning at the irony. Ellison's partner would die from a wound inflicted by Ellison's own gun. He started to chuckle. This was almost better than watching Ellison die himself.
Not only would he find his partner dead, he would have to live with the fact that it was his own carelessness that killed him. "Perfect," he whispered.
He stepped to the center of the small room and leveled the gun at the kid's head. "This is for my brother, cop."
As his finger tightened on the trigger, a cracking sound from above caught his attention. He lifted his head in time to see the rickety ceiling crashing down.
Jim heard the gun shot along with a mighty crash as he slid to a stop near the cabin door. Rushing inside, he quickly surveyed the room. It was in a shambles. A pile of debris stood in the center on the small room, a large tree branch lying across the prone form of Carl Blakely. A large hole in the already patchy roof had fallen in, allowing the rain to invade the semi dry interior of the rickety structure.
Jim looked up as a shadow appeared at the edge of the hole.
"Did I get him?" Julie looked down from her perch on the roof, her eyes wide as she gazed at the scene below.
Jim quickly picked up his gun lying near Blakely's hand and pulled the other from under the debris. He leaned over the convict, feeling for a pulse. The convict was still alive, but the branch had left a nasty mark on his forehead and Jim doubted he'd be coming around very soon.
He looked up, a smile of bewilderment across his face. "Yeah, you got him."
Julie returned the smile with a bright one of her own. Swinging her legs over the opening, Jim watched as the lithe young girl dropped herself over the edge, landing silently on her feet on the opposite side of the debris.
"Is he…?" her voice trailed off as she stared at Blakely, her smile replaced by a worried frown.
"He's alive," Jim quickly assured her. "But I'm sure he'll wish he wasn't as soon as he wakes up."
A moan from his right drew Jim's attention and he took the few steps across the room to Blair.
"Blair? Can you hear me, Chief?"
Blair rolled his head in Jim's direction, but kept his eyes closed. "'m'tired." His voice was barely audible, but Jim smiled, relieved to hear it at all.
"I know. You just rest now. We'll get you fixed up in no time."
Blair didn't answer, already losing his tentative hold on consciousness.
"The rain has stopped."
Jim looked up at Julie's words. The sky was tinged with pink and the rain had slowed to a near drizzle. They had made it.
A crackle of static from the two-way radio at Blair's feet made him jump.
"….Ellison…is Banks….come in…. ammit, Jim….."
Jim grabbed the radio and depressed the button, a smile spreading across his weary face. "Good morning to you, too, Sir."
"Jim!" The familiar voice crackled over the radio. "Where the hell are you? Are you and Sandburg okay?"
"We're alive, but we need to get Blair out of here soon if we want him to stay that way. Can you get me a Life Flight?"
"Will do. What's your location?"
Jim relayed the approximate location, promising a detailed explanation later, and turned back to his sleeping partner.
"You hear that, Chief? You're gonna be okay. We're going home."
Jim pulled the blanket tighter around him as he watched the stokes basket carrying his friend disappear above the treetops. The sound of the helicopter began to fade as the pilot started toward Cascade General.
"Too bad Sandburg is unconscious for this trip," Simon stated around a puff of his cigar. "I remember how much he loved the last ride."
Jim couldn't help but chuckle. The paramedics had checked Blair out and pronounced him stable. The bleeding had stopped and there was no sign of infection. That alone had relieved Jim immensely. Blair had regained consciousness momentarily, but quickly succumbed to the medication the paramedics had administered and had slept soundly through all preparations for his transport. Now that Blair was on his way to the hospital, Jim allowed himself to acknowledge his own exhaustion.
"You look like you could use a few days rest yourself, Jim." Simon studied the detective with a practiced eye, not at all happy with his conclusions.
Jim just smiled and nodded. "I'm fine, sir. But, since you've offered, I guess a few days vacation would be okay." Simon gave him a pained expression before nodding reluctantly.
Jim looked around the small group of people near the shack, his brow knitting in concern. "Where'd she go?"
Simon turned to follow Jim's gaze. "Where'd who go?"
"The girl. Julie."
Simon looked at his detective and cocked an eyebrow. "There's a girl involved?"
It was Jim's turn to give the pained expression. "She turned up here after I got Sandburg into the shack. She helped save his life."
Jim limped back toward the shack, Simon trailing along behind him. Jim squinted as he searched the area, his eyes finally resting on a tarnished silver locket dangling from the hand of Morris Creek's sheriff.
Jim moved quickly, grabbing the locket from the surprised man and holding it up in front of him.
"Where did you find this?" he demanded.
Sheriff Cook was an older man, thin with a shock of white hair and a thick moustache. His skin was weathered, but his eyes held the air of authority. Normally in complete control, he took a step back from the detective's intense blue eyes before replying. "One of my deputies found it in there." He pointed toward the shack. "It was in the debris."
Jim took another look at the locket, his outrage turning to confusion as he noticed the condition of the locket. It was severely tarnished, as if it had been out in the rain for years. He shook his head, the memory of the shiny silver locket around Julie's neck very clear in his mind. The necklace he held in his hand was obviously very old and worn. It was the same shape and size as Julie's locket, but there was no way it could have gotten this damaged in so short a time.
"It must be a different locket," he mumbled.
"Jim?" Simon placed a hand on his detective's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Jim nodded absently. "Yeah," he looked back toward the shack. "What happened to the girl this belongs to?"
The sheriff's brow creased in confusion. "What do you mean, detective?"
"She was here. She couldn't have just disappeared."
Cook was looking from Jim to Simon, his confusion apparent on his face. "There was no one here except you and your partner when we arrived. Ask your Captain."
Jim reached out and grabbed the sheriff. "She was here. You had to have seen her!"
The soft warning was enough to make him take a deep breath and bring himself under control. He released the sheriff's jacket and took a step back. "I - I'm sorry. There was a girl here last night. She was about fourteen or fifteen, pretty. Wore her hair in a ponytail."
Cook looked to Simon for an explanation then simply shrugged. "I'm sorry, detective. I can ask around, but as far as I know, nobody reported seeing any girl. There was just you, your partner, and Blakely."
Jim opened the locket and took a quick look at the picture. Julie's image smiled back at him along with two young boys who must be the brothers she told him about. He thrust the locket back at the sheriff and instructed him to look at the faded picture.
"Look at her. You're telling me you never saw her?"
Cook glanced at the picture, then did a double take before turning wary eyes to the detective.
Jim's frowned at the sheriff's hesitation. "What?"
Cook narrowed his eyes and raised his head, assessing Ellison with experienced eyes. "Detective, this couldn't be the girl you saw."
Jim exchanged a look of confusion with Simon, then took the locket back and stared at the photo.
"I think you'd better explain that statement, sheriff."
Cook crossed his arms, his eyes never leaving Ellison's face. "That's a picture of the Cavenaugh kids. Julie Cavenaugh died almost fifty years ago. As a matter of fact, she was killed somewhere out in these very woods." His expression softened as he noticed the look of confusion spread across Ellison's face. "Local folk lore says Julie's spirit still roams these woods. A lot of the locals have reported seeing her from time to time." He shrugged, not knowing what else to say. "I've always been a little skeptical about it all myself." He patted Jim on the arm and nodded to Simon before leaving to answer a call from one of his deputies.
Jim turned from the shack, his eyes staring out into the greenery as the hand holding the locket slowly lowered. "She was here, Simon." His voice was barely a whisper. "I swear it."
Simon sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Look, Jim. You had a rough night. Why don't we get you checked out and then you can get some sleep. I'm sure everything will look a lot clearer in the morning."
Jim took another look at the picture then slowly closed the locket, squeezing it tightly in his hand. "Yes, sir," he said softly. "I'm sure it will."
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Sue.
Back to Sue's page.