Forword: A thousand thanks to Shycat for her extreme generosity, patience, good humor, encouragement and spear-sharpening.
My gratitude to Mercury for her wonderful beta services.
I'd also like to dedicate this to those who have the extraordinary luck to call another Best Friend. (Hi, BJ!)
Murder in Mind
by Bonnie and Shycat
Blair unlocked his car, threw his backpack in the front seat, then followed after. He situated himself with a sigh, then checked his watch. Okay, 11:00 AM. He was making good time; his only class was over, he'd met with one student, and he still had an hour before he was to meet Jim at the station for the meeting about the string of robberies hitting mini-marts. Feeling virtuous, he realized he had time to stop and put air in his front tires like he'd been promising himself for a week. No way would he feel like doing it tonight, after putting in a long day at his 'other job' as a police observer. Now or never.
He eased his green classic Volvo out of the parking lot at Rainier University. Traffic was light, another good omen. A couple of blocks away, he turned the car in to his usual gas station and pulled around the side to the air and water pumps. He climbed out and knelt down to fill his right front tire first. Looking around, Blair noticed the lack of custom. He grinned to himself; his days rarely went so smoothly.
No, Blair Sandburg's days were usually rushed affairs, starting with a scramble to get to school on time, after an all-nighter grading papers or sitting on a stakeout with his friend, Detective James Ellison. After fulfilling his responsibilities as a teaching fellow in anthropology, he would begin his duties as Jim's partner and Guide. These ranged from merely typing reports to chasing psychos through the streets of Cascade, trying to keep up with Jim and keep him from zoning out at inopportune - and dangerous - moments. He squeezed in meals, tests on Jim's hyperactive senses and writing his thesis, when possible.
Today the gods smiled on the young anthropologist.
"Excuse me, mister, have you got any change?"
Blair looked up to see a lanky blond boy of about fourteen holding out a dollar bill. A pack full of books, apparently, dragged at one shoulder.
"I want to call my sister to pick me up."
Blair screwed the cap onto his tire, then stood up. "Yeah, I think so. Hang on." He tried his pockets; no luck. Reaching through the window of his car, he rummaged in his backpack pockets. Aha. "Yep. Here you go," Blair said, counting out the change into the kid's palm. "School out early today?"
"Yeah. Conferences. Thank you, sir." The boy smiled, handed over the bill, then turned to use the phone behind them.
Blair was both pleased and offended. Nice to see kids with good manners, but when had he become a 'sir'? His dark curly hair was longer than the kid's, and he knew his jeans were overdue for a wash. Jim would've laughed himself silly if he'd heard that. Smiling, Blair jammed the bill into his pants pocket and turned back to the job at hand. Just as he finished the second tire, he heard another car pull in to the station, round in front. He wiped his hands together, grimacing at the grunge on them. Well, he'd go borrow the key to the restroom. He didn't want to get his steering wheel grimy.
Starting around the corner to the mini-mart's entrance, Blair noticed the open doors and idling engine of a brown Mustang before the door. An outraged shout and curses from inside froze him in his tracks. The popping of gunfire - a sound he knew well - sent his heart and feet both racing.
"Get down, kid!"
He saw the boy drop between the Volvo and the wall, while throwing himself down on the other side, scraping his knees on the pavement. Oh God, I'm in it now, he thought. Got to get help. He opened the driver's door, still crouching, pulled his backpack out and scrabbled frantically for his cell phone. Jeez, it sounded like the OK Corral - where was the damn phone?!
Running footsteps, more shots exchanged - there! Blair flattened himself against the door in a panic and hit the speed dial for Jim's cell.Pleasepleaseplease be there, Jim!
The roar of a gunned engine and squealing rubber nearly deafened Blair. Then more yelling while another ring went unanswered,
and, oh no, the car was coming his way! It passed between the pumps before him in a brown metallic blur. Still clutching the
phone uselessly to his ear, Blair raised his head to catch a glimpse of the license plate. As if in slow motion, he saw a gun
muzzle pop out a window, followed by an arm, followed by a head, then - an explosion of sound and agony, someone moaning ...
and blessed darkness.
Detective Jim Ellison had made a few calls, following some leads. Now he waited for his partner to show up, typing halfheartedly at his computer in the bullpen of Major Crimes in the Cascade PD.
Half of Major Crimes this morning was concentrating on two robberies that had occurred in the last week. An informer had warned them less than a month ago that a Seattle drug network was expanding, and Cascade was to be its next market. One of the hallmarks of its street soldiers was holding up mini-marts, partially as a challenge and act of intimidation towards rivals.
As expected, they had a 7-Eleven and gas station mini-mart held up in short order; few witnesses, and all they saw were two masked and armed men who were quick and efficient, then escaped in a car later found to be stolen. No one had been injured, but the possibility weighed on all their minds; one Samaritan in the wrong place, one thug a little too quick on the trigger ...
The few leads that Major Crimes had left them ultimately frustrated, like their Seattle colleagues. This morning, the detectives involved were to go over all evidence available from Cascade and Seattle, and see what they could come up with. Robberies were not usually in the jurisdiction of Major Crimes, but the drug connection made it imperative that they tackle the case from the beginning.
For Jim, it had been a boring morning, and he didn't even have a decent cup of coffee to keep him awake. As if on cue, an enticing smell wafted from Captain Simon Banks' office. Jim raised his head and sampled the odor again. Mmm, something new. Maybe Simon would take pity on him and share some of his cousin's gourmet coffee. He picked up his cup and sauntered to the open door. When Simon looked up, Jim raised the mug hopefully.
"All right, Ellison," the big man said, rolling his eyes. "Close the door." He pushed the carafe across the desk. Jim did as asked, then helped himself. "But what am I going to do when everyone else starts expecting favors, huh? I won't have any peace. Or coffee."
Jim grinned and sat at the conference table. "Just tell them the truth. I'm special."
Banks snorted. "Yeah, I can see that going over. Maybe I'd have to tell them just how special."
Jim only shook his head at the reference to his unique abilities. They drank in companionable silence for a few moments, savoring the coffee and unusual calm. Glancing out the office window into the bullpen, Jim noted the low activity.
"Ryf going to be back in time for the meeting?" Shortly before, he had passed the younger, dark-haired detective hurrying down the hall.
"I'm waiting to hear from him," Simon replied. "There was another robbery reported, with a similar MO to the last two. We may have to put off the review 'til we get his report." The captain tilted his wrist to check his watch. "In which case, Sandburg may actually be on time."
Jim looked at his own watch. "Hey, he's still got almost thirty minutes. He was pretty sure there wouldn't be any problems today."
The two cops exchanged amused looks. Blair never expected problems, but they always came knocking.
Jim suddenly swung to face the outer office. Moments later, Simon heard it too: running footsteps pounding into the bullpen, bringing them both instantly alert and to their feet.
Detective Brown headed directly towards them. "Captain! Ellison, you gotta see this!"
The burly detective slammed open the door, pushed his way past the startled men and slapped the power button on the captain's television. It hummed to life and he flipped quickly through the channels.
"I was passing the break room when this came on." He stopped on a local news broadcast and turned up the sound.
Jim's gut knotted as he immediately spotted his bandaged partner, right behind the reporter in the center of the frame. Blair was lying on a gurney with a paramedic in attendance. Hardly hearing the reporter's words, Jim found himself vainly trying to listen for Blair's vitals. However, when the reporter jammed his mike into Blair's face, and his Guide recoiled in confusion and winced in pain, Jim found himself looking carefully at the man; he'd remember that voice, that face filled with false concern.
"I understand you're with the police department, sir," the reporter said. "Is it Blair Sandburg? Can you tell us what you saw?"
"For God's sake!" Simon exploded. Brown shook his head. "How'd they get so close?"
Jim's feelings were expressed more graphically; Blair was a possible witness to a crime? And the damn reporter just plastered his face on the news! Never mind that he was obviously injured and disoriented! He carefully placed the mug on the table, then clenched his fists in impotent fury and tried to interpret the scene.
"Where is this? Why the hell haven't we been called?"
Brown said, "I'm not sure. I just caught sight of Sandburg and rushed to find you."
All became clear when Ryf appeared, frowning, and placed a hand over the camera. "Hey, back off!" they heard him order. "Give the poor guy some room. Anderson, take care of this!"
The picture went blank and there was momentary confusion while the news team was hustled away. The three men exchanged disbelieving looks.
"It's the latest station robbery," Simon muttered. "Trust Sandburg ..." he trailed off when Jim glared at him, jaw tensed in fear and anger.
The reporter reappeared, stationed on the sidewalk, with the chaotic gas station/mini-mart for a backdrop. Police were taping off the crime scene, onlookers jostling one another; an ambulance was partially visible, but Jim could no longer see Blair. The Volvo was glimpsed. He was torn between fetching his phone to get some information and waiting to see what the news report said.
When the phone in the outer office rang, he instinctively extended his hearing. When he heard Blair's name, he strode out the door before Rhonda could summon the captain.
"I'll take it," Jim told the startled secretary, snatching the phone from her.
"This is Detective Ellison. Anderson? Yeah, what can you tell me? How's Blair? Uh huh ... yeah, I saw it on TV ... Okay, I'll meet them at the hospital." He replaced the receiver and turned to Banks, who hovered in his doorway.
"They're taking Blair to General. He was shot, but the paramedics say he was only creased." Jim hurried to his desk to collect his phone and jacket. "Probably got a concussion. He was out when they got there," he continued, backing towards the hall. "I'm going -"
Simon nodded sympathetically. "Go. I'll be in touch." He called after Jim's quickly retreating back, "Don't worry, the kid's tough!"
"And damned unlucky, " he said to the presence at his shoulder; Brown agreed.
It was a sad, but true fact about his partner, Blair Sandburg: the kid had the most unfortunate luck of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time he had been extremely lucky; what about the next time?
Jim Ellison rushed into the hospital, eyes scanning his surroundings. He noticed Ryf standing patiently, apparently waiting for his arrival.
"Hey, Ellison," the other detective greeted him, amicably. "I decided to accompany Blair down here. The doctor's with him right now."
"How is he?"
"He's not in any serious danger, but he does have a concussion. The doctor wants to keep him under strict observation."
Jim could tell that there was something else the younger man wasn't telling him. "And ...?"
Ryf took in a deep breath. "And he has a mild case of amnesia."
For a moment Jim simply stood, brow furrowing as if he hadn't heard the younger man correctly. There was no way he had heard that right. "He has what?"
"It's only mild and it's far from long-term, according to the doctor."
The assurances did nothing for the older detective. This was his partner Ryf was talking about. There was only one way he would feel any better about Blair's condition. "Where is he? I want to see him."
"I had a feeling you would. He's down here." Ryf indicated the corridor to the left of the waiting room.
Jim followed behind, Sentinel senses already searching for any sign of his partner. Just down the stretch to the right he could hear the familiar heartbeat. At the door, Ryf moved to the side, allowing Jim to walk in by himself.
Blair looked like he was in serious pain, his features pinched and pale. His eyes were slightly dilated and there were stitches on the side of his head. Jim winced in sympathy. This was hardly the reassurance he had been hoping for.
A fortyish woman, whose appearance screamed "doctor" with her wire-rimmed glasses, severely twisted-back hair, and the dead giveaway white coat, turned towards Jim as he entered the room.
"I'm Detective Ellison," he informed the woman. "Blair's my partner."
The woman nodded. "Dr. Schleider. Were you filled in on Mr. Sandburg's situation?"
"To a degree, but I'm not sure I understand what you mean by amnesia. Does he know who he is?"
Schleider nodded. "He has what is known as retrograde amnesia. His long-term memory is well intact, but he has forgotten events leading up to and during the shooting. The bullet only grazed the head, so he's very fortunate, but it did require stitches. He's suffering from bilateral lesions to the limbic system." At the blank look she was receiving from her audience, she went on to explain, "The limbic system is responsible for forming new memories and retaining recent memories."
"How long will it take him to gain back his memories?"
"This form of amnesia is temporary, but it is hard to make an accurate guess as to how long it lasts. Sometimes it takes hours, others days. Right now I don't want anyone trying to jog his memory. It's dangerous for anyone in his condition. The concussion had some other nasty side effects that I want to tend to."
"How severe is the concussion?"
The doctor gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Considering the stubbornness this man has shown, it's nothing he can't live through."
Jim chuckled slightly. "That's Blair all right. Stubborn."
"Okay," a mildly groggy voice chimed in. "You guys done talking about me now? I am right here you know."
The Sentinel focused his senses on his Guide. Blair squinted to look up at Jim, a sign of a concussion. Otherwise he appeared alert.
"How you doing, Chief?"
"Other than the headache that ate Japan? Great, simply wonderful. I can't even remember what I was doing this morning!" he complained. "And now I'm being told I can't go home. Tell her that I can't stay here, Jim. Come on, you have got to explain this to her."
Schleider gave Jim an "I told you so" look over the rims of her glasses. It was plain that she had already heard the spiel. Sandburg truly was amazing. Even concussed, the kid was trying to be as slippery as a con artist.
"I don't think so, buddy. You have a concussion; I think it's best for you to stay right here. I really don't like the amnesia bit either."
Blair frowned. "It's not like I'm having an identity crisis! So I have a headache, so I'm a little bit dizzy, so I can't even remember what happened after I left the loft this morning!" He sank back into the bed, arms crossed over his chest, lip stuck out in a pout.
For an instant, Jim felt really sorry for the kid and almost considered insisting to the doctor that he take Blair home. Then he berated himself. That was exactly what Blair was trying to do. Unbelievable. The kid just about had him wrapped around his pinkie.
"Forget it, Chief. Don't act like you don't know what you're trying to do. I'm not taking you home tonight. It may not be safe, yet. I'll come get you as soon as you're allowed to leave tomorrow. I promise."
Blair brightened considerably at Jim's assurance. He opened his mouth to speak and was rudely cut off by a traitorous yawn.
Schleider inclined an eyebrow. "I think we should allow you to get the rest you need. Detective, I'm going to have to ask you to leave for now. You may come back later, but I think the company's only going to keep him awake now."
Jim looked doubtfully upon Blair.
"He's under constant surveillance. I'll see to it personally that nothing else happens to him."
"Thank you, Doctor. When would be the best time to come back?"
"I would say six, at the moment. I'm sure Mr. Sandburg would enjoy the company then."
"I'll talk to you later, Chief."
Already groggy with the medication he had been given earlier, Blair nodded and mumbled a good-bye before drifting off. Jim
allowed himself a wan smile, shook his head, and left the room.
Jim shut off the cell phone and tossed it onto the empty passenger seat - Blair's usual place. Scrubbing a hand across his face, he turned his icy gaze out the window and his thoughts inward.
He had called the station while sitting in the parking lot at the hospital. Jim knew Simon had been concerned on learning Sandburg's condition because he hadn't made any sarcastic remarks at Blair's expense. The meeting was postponed for the day, and Simon gave him the bare facts he knew: the suspects had entered the mini-mart, and the owner apparently confronted them with his own gun, retrieved at the scene. Presumably the robbers were masked, as one ski mask had been found inside. They also shot out the security camera. Sadly, the station owner was DOA, so nothing could be learned there. The station was riddled with bullet holes. Ballistics and forensics were going to earn their pay on this one.
The Blessed Protector in Jim warred with the cop. One wanted his Guide safely out of the mix; the other wanted justice for a dead man and disrupted lives. Simon and Jim both knew that Blair might have the answers they needed locked inside his blessedly thick skull.
Simon's frustration had tainted his voice. "You mean he remembers nothing? Did you ask him?"
Jim had told him, "Captain, the doc said it was dangerous to press him. We have to let him alone for now, let him heal; maybe he'll remember in a day or so."
Simon let out an irritated whoosh of air. Jim could imagine the mauling Banks was giving his cigar at that moment. "What if he doesn't?"
"Then he doesn't," Jim replied steadily. He had a secret preference; if Blair didn't remember, then he was out of the investigation. A foreboding about this case prickled at his neck. Jim had cut the connection at those words, not wanting the discussion to escalate to the point where he'd have to apologize later for heated words. This wasn't Blair's fault.
Now, Jim needed to check out the crime scene for himself; even forensics didn't have his resources. He started the Ford's engine and headed out. First a stop at the loft; then the gas station to see what Ryf had found - or hadn't; a bite to eat, then back here.
He yearned for the boredom that plagued him an hour ago.
"What were you thinking? No, wait. You weren't thinking. I can't believe you actually killed them!"
"The old man saw my face, Tony. 'Sides, he had it coming. And the other guy probably saw me. What was I supposed to do?"
"Before it was just robbery. Now it's murder. Big difference, if you haven't noticed before."
"I don't care. I killed the only witness. They'll never figure it out."
"What about the mask you were wearing?"
"What about it?"
"Did you get it?"
"Shit! I thought you got it!"
"Maybe it doesn't matter. They may not be able to prove anything. A mask isn't really substantial evidence if there's nothing to back it with," Tony tried to convince himself
A third person came into the dimly lit room. "Hey, guys. I think you better check this out."
The other two followed their companion into the apartment-sized living room. The TV was switched on to the news. On the screen a reporter was attempting to question a disoriented, injured young man.
"I understand you're with the police department, sir. Is it Blair Sandburg? Can you tell us what you saw?"
"He's not dead," the third person groaned. "Dammit, I thought you killed him!"
"So did I, but there's an easy way to fix that little problem. We find him and make sure he's dead the second time around."
"Murder," Tony muttered. "This is just wonderful ... Uh-uh. You can just forget it, Jake. I'm not killing anyone."
"You're already an accessory to murder. It won't look any better in front of a judge for you. You help me or we all go down."
Tony scowled, still not entirely convinced, yet he reluctantly agreed along with his friend.
"Good," Jake grinned insidiously. "Now all we have to do is find out who this Blair Sandburg is."
Jim traveled south on Gaines Avenue; the independently-owned station he wanted appeared on the left, on the corner where Gaines intersected with Rainier Way. Late lunch traffic would have made his turn into the drive more difficult, but the northbound traffic on Gaines had been halted to facilitate the comings and goings of the police vehicles.
A uniformed cop glanced at the ID Jim showed him as he drove up. Jim parked his vehicle with the others behind the south-facing building. He walked around the corner. And stopped. Sandburg's car was still in place by the air pump, facing north, door ajar. Jim slowly knelt, opening his senses, and touched one finger to the rusty stain near the rear tire. There wasn't much blood, not really. Blair had only been grazed. But to Jim's sensitive finger, the blood was damp; to his sensitive nose, the coppery odor was fresh and raw; to his sight…it filled his vision, became his world, and Jim felt himself slipping into a zone-out ... Part of him recognized the symptoms, and warned that he would be lost without his Guide to pull him out; but his senses told him Blair was there, all around him. His senses and emotions felt scrambled; he forced himself to concentrate on the meaning of the input: Blair was in trouble, needed him ... he had to come back.
"Ellison?" Jim came to himself with a shudder; Ryf's voice gave him a new focus. The other detective stood a few feet away, uncertain. "Are you all right, Jim?"
Jim rose to his full, six-foot plus height, wary. "Yeah. I came to see what you've got, as Sandburg won't be any help in the foreseeable future."
Ryf knew that the older man's stare dared him to probe further. Frankly, he wasn't inclined; he had too much respect for the other's skills, seniority and record. He'd seen Blair and Jim in action frequently, and knew how close the partners were. Whatever they had, it worked. And it was also a little bit daunting.
Ryf gestured to the Volvo. "I figure Blair was crouched here, using his phone, when he was hit. We found the phone by the car door. The batteries were knocked out of it. We've bagged it for now, but I doubt we'll get anything but Blair's prints. He was probably calling 911."
Jim nodded. There was a pay phone adjacent to the beige station wall; on their side of Blair's car, parallel to Gaines Avenue, were two banks of gas pumps. Jim had quickly filtered out the sharp tang of gas that burned his sinuses, vulnerable as they were with his senses extended.
Pointing to the pumps, Ryf continued. "You can see where several bullets hit the beams supporting the roof over those. Some on the other side too."
He again pointed, this time to a much larger reddish stain that congealed on the cement behind them, near the southwest corner of the building. "That's where the owner, Ray Ortega, made his last stand. I got here just as the ambulance was taking him away, but he never made it to the hospital." The young detective shook his head. "He has two daughters and a wife. I talked to a son-in-law on the phone. After I'm done here, I'm going to go see them. He seems to have been a tough old guy: pulled the mask off one of the robbers, grabbed his own gun, and faced them down."
Jim had been silently absorbing all he learned; now he drew some conclusions.
"So Blair was, what, filling his tires? These guys probably pulled up afterwards, attempted the robbery, were surprised by Ortega's response and took off, exchanging gunfire. If Blair was on this side of the building, and they pulled in from the front, they wouldn't have seen him ‘til they escaped out the Gaines exit, with Ortega still firing from the corner. Blair was caught in the crossfire."
"That's the way I figure it, at the moment." Ryf cleared his throat. "Sandburg be okay, you think? I mean, the doctor didn't seem too worried ..."
Jim turned, his ice-blue eyes almost warm. "I think so. I meant to say thanks, for shutting down the reporter, and going with Blair to the hospital."
"No problem. He was so out of it, I really felt sorry for him."
The blue eyes hardened again; the jaw muscle worked. "How did the reporter find out who Blair was?"
Ryf had seen this coming and swallowed. "It was a rookie, Anderson's partner. He recognized Blair and called out to me when I arrived on the scene." At Jim's expression, he hurried on. "He and Anderson have gone to lunch. Believe me, we gave him a dressing down. But, really, if he hadn't alerted me, I might not have gotten to the reporter when I did."
Ellison accepted that with a nod, and the other detective thought the rookie owed him, big time; the kid had made a mistake, but it didn't merit the murder he was sure Jim had momentarily contemplated.
Ryf gestured. They walked around front where two more banks of pumps lined the property, and entered the mini-mart itself. Several investigators prowled among the racks of candy and soft drinks and magazines; collecting evidence, conferring with one another.
"I'm not sure how that news team got here so fast; someone said something about an opening exhibit at the university. Guess they were in the neighborhood."
"Talk about your comedy of errors." Jim shook his head. "It's all a case of bad timing: if Sandburg had gotten here ten minutes later, if the reporters hadn't been in the area, if the rookie hadn't called out when he did ..." He managed to joke: "Typical Sandburg luck."
Ryf felt on firm ground again and smiled. "I'm going to see how these guys are doing, then go talk to Ortega's family. See you tomorrow?"
Jim gave his colleague a clap on the back. "Yeah. Thanks, Ryf."
When the younger man moved off, Jim surveyed his surroundings more carefully. He couldn't risk a zone-out, but he could usually extend his senses without the intense focus that put him at risk. Using only one or two senses at a time, while grounding himself to his environment with another, seemed to limit his vulnerability also. 'Divide and conquer,' he thought with a slight smile. Thus, he could study closely the security camera that stared at the ceiling in one corner, noting the broken lens and battered casing, while listening to the radio crackle from a patrol car parked in back. Neither sense predominated. But a faint whirring tickled at his hearing; he focused it back inside the store and filtered out the hum of refrigeration, fluorescent lights and anything else recognizable. Finally, he traced it to the camera they thought dead. The bullet's impact had swung the shattered lens upwards, but the film continued to roll, undamaged. Jim smiled in satisfaction and called over one of the investigators.
"Don't forget to bring that," he told the man, pointing up. "I think there's something we can use in there."
Surprised, the man nodded.
The robbery had been unsuccessful. The cash register was still closed when the first police arrived on the scene. They found a couple hundred dollars inside, and a substantial amount of money inside an untouched, small safe in the back room; Ortega probably kept a key for it. There was a minimum of damage here, inside: two bullets buried in the wall behind the counter, miraculously missing a window; one in the door jamb, probably from the owner's gun as he chased his assailants. A rack near the door had tumbled over, spilling paperbacks. Not much to show for the ultimate violence that had occurred here. Amazingly, none of the stray bullets had hit passerbys.
Jim processed what he could without being too conspicuous. No unexplainable odors: various snack foods and beverages; one of the forensics men reeked of the onion rings he'd eaten at lunch; oil, slight smell of cologne (he'd have to find out if Ortega wore any); perspiration, dry odor of paper, car exhaust from the streets and, underlying all, the pervasive smell of gas. He caught the unmistakable, pungent odor of marijuana. Jim sighed, frustrated. Too many possibilities, too many people in and out of here, both before and after the murder. He tried to file it all in his memory for future inspection. If he was up for it in a day or so, maybe Blair could help Jim review it while in a light trance. They had tried that successfully on other cases.
Another half hour spent roaming the scene proved unhelpful. Jim gave up when his stomach grumbled, and returned to his truck.
Tomorrow at the station he'd go over the evidence collected. Maybe the robber's ski mask would provide a lead solid enough for
When Jim pushed through the hospital doors that evening, he nearly gagged at the odors that assaulted his sensitive nose: disinfectant, various liquids and medicines, soap, sweat ... illness. He had not completely blunted his senses, which had been extended for the search of the crime scene; now they were unprepared to deal with the sudden onslaught of smells that festered in such a densely inhabited, enclosed area. Deliberately, he compensated, turning down the ‘dials' until he could walk calmly through the corridors. Would he ever get to the point where he did everything instinctively, in complete control? He recognized his own impatience and realized just how much he still depended on his Guide for centering.
A middle-aged nurse was just closing Blair's door. She had the fierce expression of a bulldog and the personality to match. She glared at the detective who towered above her.
"If you're visiting Mr. Sandburg, you're not to pester him about his memory. He needs rest and quiet at this point. Visiting hours are over at 7:00, so don't be long." She bustled off to harass some other unfortunate without giving Jim a chance to reply.
Bemused, Jim listened in on Blair; if he was sleeping, he'd enter quietly. He heard the accelerated thumping of Blair's heart and a slight groan. Worried, he pushed open the door. Blair was propped up in bed, eyes tightly closed, one hand worrying at the bandage over his stitches.
"Hey, Chief, I told you, you could hurt yourself doing that."
Blair's eyes flew open. "Hey, Jim! Doing what?"
"Thinking. And now I've got a doctor to back me up." Jim pulled forward a chair and collapsed into it.
"Yeah, Jim, kick a guy when he's down." But Blair couldn't help smiling to see his partner. "So tell me, what's happening? What am I missing?" He grimaced at the choice of words. "Besides a whole morning. Man, this is the strangest ..."
Jim held up his hand to forestall the flood. "Uh-uh, Chief. No discussion of the case or your missing memories. Your watchdog out there made it perfectly clear." He gave a mock shudder. "Simon should recruit her."
"Who, Nurse Byrnes?" Blair grinned, distracted. "She's a sweetheart, Jim. You must be losing your touch with the ladies."
"I guess she saves her manners for her patients." Jim studied his friend. Still a little pale, especially in contrast to the dark curls that framed his face. A crease in his forehead denoted pain. But there was a definite gleam in the expressive eyes that had been missing earlier.
Blair sighed. "You know, man, there's not much to do here but think. One minute I'm lying in bed at home, thinking of breakfast, and the next I'm in the ER with a pounding head made worse by people asking stupid questions, like what year is it and do I know who I am." Blair stared up at the ceiling as if it had the answers he wanted. "I just can't wrap my mind around it, Jim. It's like the Twilight Zone."
Jim put a sympathetic hand on his friend's shoulder, drawing the troubled blue eyes to his face.
"I know, it's hard, buddy. Here, I brought you something that might help." He dug Blair's Walkman from his jacket and laid it on the bedcover. Two cassettes followed.
He was rewarded with a slow smile. "This is great! What tapes you bring?" the anthropologist asked, reaching for them.
"Something with drums," Jim replied vaguely.
That earned him a suspicious glance. "Better not be Santana."
Blair read the titles. They were two of his favorites for meditation. One thing he could remember was tossing them in his tape case a couple days ago; they weren't random choices. The big guy had been paying attention all this time.
"Thanks, man. I'm touched."
"In the head," Jim joked, a little embarrassed. "How about some TV? Have you eaten?"
"I tried. I think our next case should be to find out what they've done with the real food here. Someone's embezzled it and left glop in its place. Another reason I need to come home, Jim."
Jim shook his head at his friend's persistence; he didn't want him getting upset. "Look, before I leave tonight I'll see what your doctor says about when you can come home. For now ..." He reached for the remote on the bedside table. "I think a Jags game just started."
"All right. One thing first." Blair eased back the covers, and placed his feet on the floor as if he walked on eggshells. "I haven't been to the bathroom since - well, I can't remember."
Jim hopped up and steadied Blair while he got his bearings. "That's getting to be a theme. Need help?" He grinned.
"No, Jim, I think I remember how to do this." He walked unsteadily to the bathroom, dragging his IV stand, while Jim kept a watchful eye out.
"Hey, Sandburg, nice jammies!"
Blair immediately put a hand back to the gaping hospital gown and groaned. "This really sucks!"
Jim smiled, sat back down and heard the door close. Now to find that game ... He punched the remote and flipped through a few channels. A familiar face caught his eye.
Damn! It was that reporter from earlier! The crime scene was shown in all its sickening glory; "Recorded earlier" was displayed at the bottom of the screen. Jim felt a horrified sense of deja vu. Blair's 'interview' was again shown, and Jim's blood boiled. It didn't matter that the news anchor who came back on temporized, saying that the witness' identity had not been confirmed by authorities. The damage had been done. Unable to contain himself, Jim stood up and paced, turning the channel so Blair would see none of it.
Deciding quickly, he got on the phone and punched in Simon's number, keeping an eye on the bathroom door.
"Hello." Simon sounded tired.
"Captain, Jim. I can't believe what I just saw!" He tried to keep his fury down.
"The evening news? Yeah, me too. Jim, I'm sorry. I'll have someone quash that and put the fear of God into the station."
Jim was aware of water running in the sink. "I'm with Blair; he's in the bathroom and missed it, but he'll be here in a minute. Tell them if they run that once more, they'll have worse than God to fear!"
"Jim, just settle down. I'll take care of it. See you in the morning." Banks hung up.
Jim sat down again, found the game, and tried to slow his breathing. Blair emerged and wobbled his way back to bed, Jim silently giving him a hand. Blair lay back with a sigh, feeling depleted.
Keeping his attention on the game, Jim was glad his partner didn't have Sentinel senses that could hear his pounding heart, or feel the heat that lately flushed his face.
It seemed Blair didn't need them. "Jim? What's wrong?"
Keeping his face averted, Jim replied, "Nothing. Why?"
"Come on, man. One minute you're Mr. Geniality, the next you look like the Grim Reaper." Blair put a hand out and touched his shoulder. "What happened?"
With a sigh, Jim faced his concerned Guide. No way would he burden Blair with this; a partial truth would have to satisfy him. "I just checked in with Simon about the case. Someone made a blunder. That's all. It's nothing for you to worry about."
Blair seemed to accept that, saying only, "From your expression, I'd hate to be in the shoes of the guy who made the mistake."
Jim managed a relaxed demeanor, and patted Blair on the leg. "Forget him. Let's watch the game."
A pleasant hour passed while their favorite basketball team pounded their opponents, and Blair's eyes drooped. A nurse came in - not the dreaded Nurse Byrnes - checked Blair's vitals and gave him some medication. He faltered quickly after that, whatever energy he'd gained during his afternoon nap obviously deserting him.
Finally Jim checked his watch. Seven o'clock. He smiled at his drowsy friend and rose.
Turning the set off, he said, "I better get out of here before the bouncer comes. You feeling better?"
With an effort, Blair roused and returned the smile. "Yeah. Headache's down to a dull roar and I'm only seeing two of you now. No, really. Thanks, man. For the music and, uh, everything."
"No problem, partner. Want to listen to your tapes?"
At Blair's nod, he snapped a tape in place and took the headphones from un-resisting hands, settling them carefully over Blair's head.
"Okay, you're good to go. I'll track down the doctor and be back tomorrow. Hopefully to spring you. Good night."
Blair barely nodded, eyes closed. Heartbeat and respiration were at his normal resting pace. Soothing music emanated from the Walkman, easily picked up by the Sentinel's acute hearing. With a final glance back, Jim eased silently out the door.
At the nurses station he requested to talk with Dr. Schleider, if she was available. She was on the floor, so he restlessly paced during the ten minutes it took her to finish up with another patient.
"Detective Ellison, wasn't it?" Although the doctor looked tired, her starched coat and coiffure had held up admirably. She gestured him to sit with her. "Have you seen your friend?"
"Just left him. Can you tell me when he can come home?"
"Well, I'll have to check his chart again, of course, but we like to keep concussions for twenty-four hours. There has been no deterioration in his condition so far, and that's a good sign. Tomorrow around noon I'll give him a final look, and if all's well, he can go."
Jim cleared his throat, both relieved and a little nervous. "You heard what happened to him, didn't you? He witnessed a robbery and got in the way. And a man was killed."
The doctor nodded.
"Well, twice now Blair's picture and name was broadcast on the news. We haven't caught the killers yet, and we don't know how much Blair may have seen. In short, I'm worried about his safety here."
"The nurses station is right outside his door," the doctor reassured him. "We can forbid any visitors to Mr. Sandburg's room, and alert our security to be on guard. At this time of night, after visiting hours, a stranger will be more easily spotted. Short of a police guard on his door, I'm sure he couldn't be any safer."
Jim slowly nodded. "All right. I'll give you my card and leave one at the desk; call me if anyone tries to see him. His only family is out of town, and anyone from the Department will show their ID." He stood up, took out his wallet and pried two cards out, handing one to Dr. Schleider. "My home phone is there, too. That's where I'm going now."
They walked together to the nurses desk. Nurse Byrnes watched their approach, stolid and expressionless. Jim smiled inwardly; probably her idea of respect for the doctor. He was sure she wouldn't mind another go at him. Inspired, he stopped in front of her. He'd called her a watchdog ...
"Nurse Byrnes? May I give you my card? Dr. Schleider will explain, but we don't want Mr. Sandburg to be disturbed tonight. He spoke very highly of you, so I'd feel better if you would keep an eye on him, and call me if anything comes up ...?"
Apparently the nurse wasn't immune to flattery, and Jim had mustered all his charm for a smile.
"No one will bother him." She accepted the card. Jim felt absurdly pleased and relieved.
"Thank you, both. I'll be back around noon tomorrow."
The detective trudged out to his truck, feeling a little better about leaving his partner. He hoped to get a night's
uninterrupted rest; he'd need the fortification for tomorrow's trials.
Upon his arrival at the station the next morning, Jim made sure that he was able to study the mask as soon as possible. He couldn't help but feel that the mask would reveal some hidden detail that would aid them in figuring out who these robbers-turned-murderers were.
Formalities of any kind were pushed aside as he made his way into forensics, not caring to be interrupted. He felt driven, needing to know who had dared injure his partner -- his Guide. A part of him realized that it was his Blessed Protector instinct swimming to the surface, and that he was pushing aside the people that could help him figure this out. His friends.
"Hey Jim," Ryf had greeted him as he had walked in that morning, into the bullpen. "You look like you didn't get any sleep last night."
Jim had simply glanced at him and muttered a terse, "I didn't."
Then had made his way to the forensics department, unaware of the shocked look on Ryf's face. Walking down, his thoughts were ridden by the nightmare that had driven him from sleep. The one where Blair had been shot, but this time the aim had been perfect. He had watched the young man crumple to the ground, unable to do anything to stop it, curls covering the bullet hole, blood seeping. As the body collided with the ground Jim's eyes had shot open while he cried out.
Blair had been very lucky.
Hands now gloved, Jim retrieved the evidence and took up the task of inspecting it using his highly enhanced senses.
He sat on a chair, a cool current blew across his skin and he used that sensation to keep himself from slipping into a zone out.
The dark-gloved hands opened the plastic bag and Jim closed his eyes as he lifted it up to his nose. There it was. That same scent he had caught yesterday at the crime scene, this time slightly stronger. He blanched at the reedy stench and shoved the bag away from himself. Marijuana. His Sentinel abilities could not mistake that smell. Obviously forensics hadn't detected any traces of marijuana on the mask, but he knew that the person who had been wearing it must have been high during the robbery.
Dialing down his sense of smell, he pulled the mask out of the bag to inspect it more thoroughly, but was unable to pick up anything else. Still fighting weariness and anxiety he placed the ski mask back in the plastic bag, silently reminding himself that the marijuana was more than he'd had before.
After the mask had been put back in evidence lock-up, Jim headed back to the bullpen. As he entered, he noticed Ryf and remembered his coolness towards the younger detective earlier.
He called out. "Ryf."
Ryf turned in his direction.
"I'm sorry about earlier. I've been kind of preoccupied."
The younger man shook it off. "I understand. You know we're all behind you 100%. We're doing everything we can to find these people."
"Have you found anymore leads?"
"Not yet. Brown's been checking out the brown Mustang the security camera picked up. The scene was completely free of fingerprints and we're still trying to track down where the bullets may have been bought."
Jim frowned. "This isn't going to be easy."
"Not unless Blair can remember what he saw."
"No one's going to push him about his memory. The doctor said it could be dangerous to his health. I'm not going to risk that."
Ryf nodded his assent. "No one's going to give Hairboy a hard time. I'll see to it myself."
After his conversation with Ryf, Jim headed towards Simon's office and knocked.
Jim did so and closed the door behind him before speaking. "I found another clue on the mask."
Simon motioned for him to take a seat.
"With your Sentinel senses?" he asked, realizing Jim would've mentioned it to the others if it had been otherwise.
"Yes sir. Marijuana. It couldn't be detected with any equipment, but I can smell it clearly. I bet at least one of our robbers was a junkie. It looks like these robberies probably are drug related, as we expected."
"Maybe stealing money for another quick fix."
"Possibly. I know it's a thin rope to be dangling from, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Hopefully, Blair will remember something important before it's too late."
"Speaking of the kid, when are you picking him up?"
"Noon. I better not be late picking him up, either. Poor guy will probably go stir crazy if I'm even five minutes late."
Simon chuckled at that. "Doesn't he normally act stir crazy?"
Jim laughed. "You know, I've always wondered how well Blair would do in a marathon. Anyone with that much energy could probably take home the gold."
"I think the kid gets enough exercise sticking around you."
"That's the truth. The life of a normal anthropologist he does not lead. I wonder how he's holding up right now?"
"You know Sandburg. Probably seeing how many nurses' phone numbers he can go home with."
"It wouldn't amaze me if he is." Jim grinned. "Nothing he does anymore amazes me. Well ... almost nothing."
"Wait, miss! You can't go in there."
Anna turned and approached the graying, heavy-set woman impatiently. "I've brought some flowers, sent by his friends at work."
The nurse told her firmly, "You can leave them here. I'll see he gets them."
"But ..." Anna began, then was quelled by a look. Old battle-ax, she thought. At least the guy that Tony was looking for was here. What was so important, anyway? Well, she'd done her part.
"All right. Thanks." Anna set the vase on the counter and re-traced her steps to the elevator. When she exited the building downstairs, into the clear air, she took a deep breath; hospitals unnerved her. She hadn't visited one since the night her parents were killed in a car crash three years earlier, leaving herself and her eleven year-old brother Jeremy wards of the state.
She waited at the entrance and watched as Tony and his friend drove up in Tony's old brown Mustang, with the recently acquired bullet hole over the right rear tire. Anna hadn't asked what it meant. Tony was the best thing to happen to her in years, and the price of her happiness was discretion. Tony had made it clear his activities weren't to be discussed. This was the first time he'd ever asked for her participation, and she was glad to do it. But glad she didn't know what it was about, truthfully.
As she lowered herself into the seat beside Tony, Jake leaned forward from his place in the rear and demanded, "Well?"
He stank of smoke and perspiration, and Anna had never liked the way he stared at her when they chanced to be alone. She faced forward, and only answered when Tony asked, "How'd it go, babe?"
"He's there, on the third floor. Room 312."
Tony gave her a brilliant smile, the one that made her fall in love with him. She hated to disappoint him. "But, some old biddy wouldn't let me in. She said no one could see him. I had to leave the flowers with her."
"That's okay. We know where he is, that's the main thing." He leaned over and rewarded her with a kiss.
Jake thumped the back of her seat. They broke off the kiss and Anna glared resentfully. Jake was such a prick.
"All right, kids," Jake smirked, "we still got business."
"Well, get out then," Tony replied crossly. "I'll take Anna to work, and be back in twenty."
Jake pushed open the door and got out. He leaned in Anna's window to as, "You got your pager, right?"
Anna turned away from Jake's leer as Tony frowned, and said, "Yeah. I'll be back soon, don't worry. If he leaves, just get his license and the car's make. We know where he works."
Tony nudged the Mustang away, and Jake stepped back, then entered the hospital to start his vigil. They'd get this guy, no
problem. In fact, he was kinda looking forward to it; he'd gotten such a rush after killing the old guy, and now he'd actually
been ordered to do it again.
Jim parked as close he could to the hospital's entrance. Remembering how he'd been overwhelmed last time, he prudently blunted his sense of smell before walking through the door. He carried a small duffel with some clean clothes for Blair.
He made his way to the third floor nurses station, and was surprised to find Nurse Byrnes still on duty, looking tired but vigilant. She had thawed toward him, even addressing him civilly. "Dr. Schleider is with Mr. Sandburg now."
"Great. I'll sit over there and wait." First Jim set the duffel by Blair's door, knocked, and called out, "I brought you some clean clothes here, Chief. I'll leave them by the door." Catching a reply, he returned to the waiting area and lowered his muscular frame into the same uncomfortable, molded chair he had sat in the preceding evening, elbows on knees and hands clasped before him.
He hadn't long to wait. Dr. Schleider came out of Blair's room, chart in hand. Spying Jim, she motioned him to remain seated and joined him.
"Well," she began with a smile, "if willpower alone could heal, your young friend would have walked out of here yesterday."
Jim grinned in return. "I know what you mean. Headstrong is his middle name." He sat back in his chair. "What's the prognosis?"
The doctor sobered and glanced at the chart she held. "He's doing well. Tests and x-rays are clean. He's getting dressed now. But as I told him, there are some side effects to expect: dizziness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety. You must watch for anything abnormal; neuronal damage may become evident."
"I was a medic once," Jim told her. "I'll keep an eye on him. How about the amnesia?"
"Recovery in these cases is spontaneous; most patients do get their memory back."
"He'll be relieved," Jim told her ruefully. "Personally, I don't know if it's a memory he needs."
"To have a gap like that is very disorienting. It's a toss-up as to which is more traumatic, in the long run: the memory or the loss of time. It depends on the individual."
Jim smiled. "Blair has a very curious mind; he's an anthropologist. I think the loss would disturb him more."
Dr. Schleider tilted her head in question. "I thought he was a policeman, your partner."
"He's a civilian observer, actually. It's a long story. I say 'partner' 'cause it's easier." And also the truth, but the doctor didn't need the details. "I thought I'd take him home for the rest of the day, although I should go back to work. I don't suppose he should be exposed to the case and any pressure to remember ...?"
The doctor frowned in thought, and re-settled her slipping glasses. Finally, she said, "I think you two should decide where he'd be more comfortable. Home, away from the case, would normally be best. But if he's alone, that may increase his anxiety. Also, if he has any episodes, no one would be there to help."
It was Jim's turn to frown. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. "All right, we'll talk it over."
The doctor stood and Jim followed suit. He took her hand. "Thanks so much. You've been great."
"You're very welcome." They turned together to the desk, where she handed the chart to a nurse. "Barring complications, Mr. Sandburg should see his own doctor within a week. He can advise you further."
Jim nodded. "Thanks again, doctor." He went to Blair's room then and knocked.
"Yeah, come in," Blair called, a little breathlessly.
The detective entered and found his friend, wearing the fresh jeans and flannel shirt Jim had brought, stuffing yesterday's clothes into the bag. Blair looked rested. The bandage gave him a rakish air today, like a wounded hero.
Grinning, Jim took up the bag when Blair finished.
"What?" Blair asked.
"I was just thinking how much sympathy those stitches are going to get you from Serena, Samantha, Molly…even Vera in personnel. You'll have to beat them off with a stick."
"You think?" Blair inquired hopefully. "And Cassie?"
"I'll beat her off myself," Jim muttered.
"What? Missed that."
"Never mind." Jim aimed a cuff at his Guide's head, purposely missing him. "Let's go find your chair, and be glad they aren't here to see your exit. You'd have them swooning in the halls."
Blair groaned. "Jeez, I hate that part. Makes me feel stupid when I can walk on my own perfectly well."
"Come on, D'Artagnan. Let's get your walking papers, say bye to your watchdog and go home."
"Oh, wait!" Blair reached over to take up a vase of bright flowers that stood on the night stand. "I got this today from the station. Smell good, don't they?" He held the bouquet up to his own nose.
Jim's lips quirked upward. "Nope. I've got my smell turned down. Last time I was here, the odors nearly knocked me over." At Blair's bright, curious glance, Jim rolled his eyes and continued, "We can talk about that experience later."
With that promise, Blair looked at the card propped among the blooms, and read, "'Get well soon. Cascade P.D.'" He chuckled. "Sounds like Simon, sentimental fool that he is."
Jim shook his head, held the door and escorted his friend to the wheelchair and orderly that waited outside. "Yeah, it's
enough to bring tears to your eyes. What'll it be for lunch? Italian or Chinese?"
Blair sat on the couch, an indignant pout bringing out his puppy-dog eyes. Jim stood stubbornly, arms crossed in set determination.
"I said 'no', Blair. What part of that don't you understand?'
"But I want to help!" The young grad student argued, rising to his feet. "This happened to me! I want to know who caused me to lose an entire day."
"Chief, you can't push yourself. If you come with me there's no way I'm gonna let you get involved, and you know it."
Blair sighed, well aware of just how right Jim was. He nodded, albeit reluctantly. "All right. I'll stay here."
"It's your choice. Don't think that I'm stopping you from coming. I'm just stopping you from getting involved."
"I know, and if I go with you, I'll want to be involved. So just go. I'll be fine here."
Jim headed towards the door, snagging his leather jacket off the hook nearby. He turned once more, hand on the knob, and looked at his partner. Blair stood by the table with arms crossed, possibly hugging himself against the cold. He looked rather forlorn.
"Look, Sandburg--" Jim began.
Blair shook his dark head and pasted on a smile. "I'll be fine, man. Don't worry. Got some work from school to catch up on, anyway."
"Okay. I'll have my cell with me, so call if you need anything."
Blair made a shooing motion with both hands and came forward to open the door himself. Just as Jim stepped into the hall, the anthropologist said lightly, "Okay, but you gonna answer it this time?"
Jim turned quickly, head cocked. "When didn't I?"
Blair's face was momentarily blank, then stunned. Eyes wide, he opened and closed his mouth, but no sound emerged.
Jim gripped his friend's arm. "When did you call me, and I didn't answer?"
Blair's deep blue eyes met his friend's intense gaze, and he said hoarsely, "Yesterday. I-I remember sitting on the ground, by my car -- I tried to call for help. You never answered."
Jim gently shook his friend, then led him back into the loft to the couch before releasing him. They both sat.
Blair rubbed absently at his arm where Jim had gripped it, and whispered, "My God. I remembered something!" He aimed a smile at his friend, who returned a pale copy of it.
"Blair, I don't know what to say ... Why didn't I get your call? I would've come ... " Jim's reply was met by a whoop from Blair, who jumped up and began pacing.
"Jim, Jim, that's not the point - I know you would have!" He faced his friend again, momentarily still, except for his expressive hands and face. "I'm remembering! Yeah, I was trying to call, it rang about four times; there was shooting going on, then a car ... " Blair's brow furrowed in thought.
"Then what?" he muttered. "I know it's there, it's - it's like there, on the tip of my tongue ..." He began pacing again, this time in agitation.
Jim stood and put out a hand to halt his partner. "Take it easy, Chief. You're right, this is great, but I don't think you should force it. Try not to think about it too hard." He remembered the doctor's words, not to let Blair get too anxious or excited.
"Jim, are you nuts? You can't tell me not to think of it." Blair shook his head in disgust. "Might as well tell me not to think of a pink elephant. It's in the room, man, and it ain't gonna be ignored."
Jim smiled despite himself; Blair was closer to his usual sarcastic self.
"All I meant was, well, that memory came naturally. It came out in a casual comment. You weren't trying to remember, were you?"
"No." Blair's gaze turned away and he dropped onto the couch again. Jim was afraid his friend was now on the downhill side of an emotional roller coaster, but Blair's expression merely turned thoughtful. He pushed some curls from his face and behind his ear.
Before he spoke again, a thought occurred to Jim. "I was away from my desk for about fifteen minutes yesterday morning." Blair turned inquisitive eyes up. Jim rubbed a hand across his short hair. "In the hour before I heard about what happened to you. I took a stroll down to records to return a file and stretch my legs. That must have been when you called."
Something in his voice or face must have expressed the guilt he still felt in some measure, because Blair hastened to assure him, "Jim, come on, man. Even if my call got to you, it was happening then. You couldn't stop it. It's illogical to think otherwise. It still would have been over by the time you got there."
The tall detective smiled at the sincere reassurance. "Thanks, Chief. Now I'm wondering, though - if you called me, who called 911? The ambulances were on their way almost before we were; they were alerted by somebody."
"Can you find out?" Blair looked askance. "I mean, you guys have access to tapes of 911 calls, right?"
Jim nodded. "We've got someone on that, but just assumed it was you who called." He grinned. "I know how I'm going to spend the rest of my day."
Blair nodded enthusiastically, almost up to his usual bounce. "Right! Maybe there'll be something in the voice you can use, or something helpful in the background!" He stood and made as if to go to his room. "Listen, Jim, you may need me on this. Can't have you zoning out on your hearing. I'll just get my --"
"Forget it, Chief." Jim spoke in his most authoritative cop voice and hoped for the best. "I can handle this." As Blair opened his mouth, Jim rushed on, "Look, I'll have Simon sit with me, okay? He'll want to hear it too, anyway. This is a piece of cake, don't worry."
Blair stood, hands on hips, pale face set. Finally, he gave up and nodded. "All right. I guess so." He gave a sudden grin. "Maybe I'll meditate a while, and more memories will come back. At least I helped some, huh?"
Relieved, Jim nodded. "That you did. It may lead to one of the first real clues we've got." He once again collected his coat, and turned to the door which they'd never closed. He paused before shutting it from outside, in the hall. "Seems like this is a good sign. Remember, the doctor said most patients get their memories back. I'm sure you will, soon."
Blair joined him at the door, prepared to lock it behind his partner. "I hope it's soon enough to do more good."
Jim hadn't even been gone an hour and already Blair had decided that reading was a futile effort. He'd been attempting some light reading on North African tribes, but couldn't make sense out of the words. All they came out to was gibberish. None of it made sense. Frustrated, he placed the book beside him on the couch. This was getting him absolutely nowhere. For a moment he sat there, considering his options, before deciding to go out on the balcony. The loft was starting to feel too confining as it was.
He stood up, stretched, and made his way around the coffee table towards the balcony doors. Any signs of impending claustrophobia were swept away as the doors were opened and he stepped out into the cool, crisp Cascade breeze. All thoughts of amnesia's stifling confines vanished as he took in the view of the city. Taking in a few deep breaths, his hearing detected a faint sound that pushed at his roadblocked mind.
Attempting to discern what it was he was hearing, he looked down to the streets below and was confronted with a sight that caught the breath in his throat.
The roar of a gunned engine and squealing rubber was almost deafening. In the background were angry shouts and the Mustang was heading his way. It passed between the pumps before him in a brown metallic blur.
Blair's eyes widened involuntarily at the sudden memory.
As if in slow motion, he saw a gun muzzle pop out a window, followed by an arm, followed by a head, then -- an explosion of sound ...
He collapsed to his knees trying to escape the bullet. The pain assaulted him and he cried out.
"Jim, where are you?"
Wide-eyed, he looked around the balcony and realized that he had been in the throes of a very vivid flashback. The pain, bullets, and shouts had all been phantoms of his mind. Shuddering with the intensity of it, he slowly and gingerly made his way to his feet and dared another look down. The brown Mustang was no longer in sight.
Maybe I was just imagining the whole thing.
But it had been too real. There was no way that had been imagined. With sudden urgency he was gripped with the need to call Jim and have him come back to the loft. Part of his mind argued that it was just an anxiety attack like the doctor had forewarned him of, but another part, perhaps survival instinct, was screaming at him to call his Sentinel.
His legs backed up of their own accord and he finally made his way back into the loft. He grasped the doors, then closed and locked them. Next step ...
He strode over towards the cordless phone, picked it up, and dialed in Jim's number at the station. It rang only once before Jim answered.
"Jim, you have to come back."
The panic must've been evident because Jim's next words were much more alert. "What's going on, Chief? Are you hurt?"
"No, no. Nothing like that, but I saw a car. I've seen that car somewhere before because ..." he gulped in a breath. "I had another flashback."
"Another flashback? What did you see?"
"I saw a gun aimed right at me and it fired. I could feel the pain, hear the shouting, and the tires squealing -- and it was all in my head."
"What kind of car did you see?"
"Brown Mustang. Kind of old. Early eighties, I think."
"Ok, Chief. Just sit tight. I'm going to have someone run a check on the car and I'll be down there immediately. Can you handle it that long?"
"Yeah, Jim. I'm just seriously spooked right now."
"Understandable, partner. I'll be right there."
With that the phone clicked and Blair stood listening to the busy signal. Everything would be fine now. Jim had answered the phone this time. Everything would be fine.
He hung up the phone and sat on the couch, waiting.
"I saw him, man. He looked directly at us."
"You sure, Tony?"
"Pretty much. As soon as he saw us he ducked down. Must've recognized us."
Jake swore under his breath. "Ok. Park out of sight. Let's go about this carefully. He may have already called the cops if he suspects something's up."
Tony steered the Mustang down a narrow street that ran between two buildings. Jake opened the console and took out the two K40's -- small, compact handguns known for accuracy and power. These sweet deals had come from the higher-ups Jake and Tony worked for.
"Try not to miss," Tony growled. "We don't need to attract attention."
"I never miss," Jake assured him smugly. He put a gun into Tony's grasp. "You just make sure you don't miss."
He chuckled as he got out of the car and shut the door. This was gonna be fun.
Blair had started pacing again, trying to fight off the dizziness that kept coming in waves of nausea. He wanted to be sick, but repressed the urge, knowing that his life may very well be on the line. Panic and fear were taking residence in his mind and he knew that these feelings were far too strong to be normal. It was just the affects of his amnesia, he told himself, but it didn't do any good. He was still scared and he still couldn't think straight. Mass confusion tumbled around in his brain and he desperately attempted to piece together the puzzle, try to remember what was evading him. It kept prodding at him, that there was something very important he needed to remember. Something about the Mustang and the shooting and something else ...
Whispers halted him in his footsteps. These were the people who had shot him, the ones driving the Mustang. Immediately his heart started sprinting, tiny beads of perspiration formed on his forehead, and his hands began to tremble slightly.
It was just a panic attack. Dr. Schleider had told him to expect panic attacks. That's all this was. A panic attack.
The doorknob jiggled.
A gunshot rang out and the door swung open.
That was all the persuasion Blair needed to vault through the living room and towards the French doors of his bedroom.
An outraged shout and curses froze him in his tracks; the popping of gunfire - a sound he knew well - sent his heart and feet both racing.
"Get down, kid!" He yelled out to the person in his hidden memories.
Not even realizing where he was going, Blair dove into his bedroom and slammed the doors shut behind him. Dimly aware of his surroundings, his mind registered the door leading out onto the fire escape.
Something heavy was thrown up against the French doors.
"Dammit! Get it open!" a muffled voice raged.
Blair scrambled over towards the exit and wrestled with it. It was stuck.
Another gunshot rang out. A surge of adrenaline gave the grad student the next burst of strength he needed to wrench the door open. He hurtled through the opening and slammed it shut just as the French doors were thrown open.
"Shit! The cop!"
Blair froze when he heard the exclamation. The cop? Jim!
Gunfire was exchanged, then a lone voice called out: "Blair?"
"Jim!" His voice was weak even to his own ears.
The detective peered out the bedroom window and saw his young partner huddled against the fire escape's cold, metallic side.
"Blair--" Jim's voice was overcome with chagrin when he saw his friend's frazzled appearance. "Oh god, kid. I am so sorry. This is all my fault. I should've never let you stay here by yourself in this condition."
The larger man opened the door, reached out to his friend and, grasping his arms, managed to pull him back into the bedroom.
"The gunmen?" Blair questioned, still shaking from the chill and adrenaline rush.
"Took off out the back door. Are you okay?"
"I'll live. Jim, you can't let them get away! There's something else I remembered."
"What was it?"
"There was a kid at the crime scene. He's the one who made the 911 call."
Jim nodded. "I checked it out. So there's another witness then?"
Blair shook his head. "No. I don't think I saw anything. I'm almost sure of it now. But the kid who was there may have seen everything."
The detective stood still momentarily, head tilted in his listening pose. "I don't hear ... there's a car racing away, about a block down ..." He shook his head, then returned his attention to his Guide. "They're gone, I'm sure. And I need to hear what you remember." Jim drew his shivering friend back to the living room and pushed him down on the couch. After a final pat on the shoulder, he withdrew to the phone in the kitchen, saying, "Wait just a minute; let me call the station and report this, then we'll talk."
Blair hugged himself; his t-shirt and flannel were suddenly inadequate. He heard Jim talking to Simon, but tried to shut it out and concentrate on his returned memory. He had shouted to a boy ... a wiry blond kid, right. He'd given him change for the phone, so the kid could call his sister. Despite his upset, he smiled to himself. Oh, man, it was good to fill in that gap! He felt whole, and surer of himself.
Five minutes later, Jim hung up the phone. Filling a glass from the sink, he told Blair, "The captain's sending over the team to do their stuff on the bullet holes." He shook his head as he came over, holding out the cold glass to his partner and glancing at the forced door and the holes in the wall. "Can't believe we have to do this again. I should hire a full-time decorator."
Blair took the glass without comment, feeling a little guilty. "Thanks," he murmured, and took a gulp.
Jim sat on the edge of the living room table, facing Blair, and clasped his hands together. He took a deep breath, as if to prepare himself for the next part. Suddenly, he cocked his head in the way Blair recognized as a signal that he'd picked up something with his senses.
"What is it, Jim?"
A slight smile crossed the chiseled features. "Confirmation. I smell marijuana. Another link to who these characters are, as if there were any doubt." He looked intently at Blair. "So, what have you got for me?"
Blair sat back, the glass chilling his hands. He turned it unconsciously as condensation on the smooth surface dribbled through his fingers, and returned Jim's gaze.
"I had stopped to fill my tires. I remember a blond kid, about my height, and wiry, asking for some change for the phone. After I gave it to him, I filled the second tire." Blair leaned forward to set the glass on a nearby coaster and wiped his hands across his jeans.
"My hands were dirty, so I started around front to get the restroom key. There was a car parked in front with the engine running."
He paused, and Jim interjected, "The infamous brown Mustang."
"Yeah. It was just then that I heard someone - I guess it was one of our bad guys - yell 'Shit! Get him!' Then all hell broke loose."
Blair's words came faster now, as if the adrenaline he'd experienced at the time affected him in the present.
"I ran back to my car and saw the boy still on the phone, facing me. I yelled at him, saw him drop and threw myself down on the driver's side and reached in for my pack, to find my phone." Blair's fingers twitched as if searching for the instrument. "Always in the way when you don't want it, never there when you need it, huh?"
Jim gave him a brief smile of encouragement.
"Anyway," Blair continued after clearing his throat, "I heard several people yelling and cussing, and bullets were flying everywhere; I found my phone and dialed you, but it was hard to hear; when I could, all I heard was the ringing."
Jim put a hand on his partner's knee but said nothing. There had been nothing accusatory in Blair's tone, only remembered fear. After a moment, he removed his hand and asked, "Did you see the boy again?"
Blair closed his eyes in thought. "When I grabbed my pack ... I think I saw the phone cord dangling against the wall, on the other side of my car. Maybe caught a glimpse of the top of his head by the hood." He opened his blue eyes again. "Then the Mustang went roaring by, and I got up on my knees, you know, to see if I could catch the plate."
Jim shook his head at his friend's foolhardiness. "And caught a bullet instead."
"I had to try, Jim! Sure, looking back on it, it was stupid, but it was instinct - I haven't worked with you for two years for nothing." Blair shoved his hair back resentfully and leaned into the cushion at his back. "That's what you would have done, right?"
Jim had to acknowledge the truth of the statement - but he didn't have to like it. He backed down and raised his hands to calm his heavily breathing partner. "Okay, okay. I guess the hero bug is catching."
Blair looked mollified. "I know, though, that I never got a look at the shooters. I got a glimpse as one shot at - well, at me, I guess. But I wouldn't recognize him." He continued glumly, "In fact, I can't exactly say I saw them here either; I was either running or re-living yesterday." He sighed. "My life, welcome to it."
The detective watched his friend almost physically shake off the impending depression. His Guide was nothing, if not resilient. "So, what now? It's too late to go after those guys, they're long gone."
Jim tilted his head. "How old do you think that kid was?"
"Oh, thirteen or fourteen, I'd guess."
"You know that area by the university pretty good, right? Are there any high schools around?"
Blair's expression brightened. "Yeah. About two blocks north of the station, just off Gaines Avenue. George Washington High, I think." He grew more excited. "The boy said he got off early ‘cause of conferences, and wanted to call his sister to pick him up. He must have come from there, it's too far to walk from any other school, I'd say."
Blair jumped up, forcing Jim to lean back as he brushed by him. He reached for his coat on the hook by the door, but paused when he sensed Jim hadn't followed him.
"Well? Aren't we going to check it out?"
Jim grinned at Blair's enthusiasm, but merely stood up and crossed his arms. "I think you're forgetting something, Chief. Simon's on his way over; we'll have to report to him first, let him know what's going on here. Do you think you'd recognize this kid again? Maybe from a picture in a yearbook?"
Blair moved back into the living room, retrieved the glass from the table and headed to the kitchen.
"I think so." He squirted some soap into the glass, mindful of his watching partner and the House Rules. And it gave his restless hands something to do while waiting for the captain.
"He was nice looking, had a thin face, thick blond hair." He swished hot water around in the glass, then grinned at a sudden memory. "He was unfailingly polite; called me 'mister' and 'sir'."
As expected, that got a laugh out of Jim. The Sentinel came around to the kitchen table and dropped into a chair there. "Shouldn't be hard to find, then. I'll just ask around at the school: 'Which student would call my long-haired friend here, "sir"?' Can't be that many. Anyway, I heard him, you saw and heard him ... We'll find him," he finished confidently.
Blair dried and put away the glass, then leaned against the stove, arms crossed. "Why do you think he ran? Why not stick around? The killers were gone."
"I don't know, Chief. Probably scared, didn't want to get involved." The Sentinel's fond gaze warmed his Guide. "Not everyone's such a Good Samaritan."
Blair blushed and surrendered, moving away. "I'm gonna clean up a bit. I want to be ready to go ASAP." At Jim's slight head tilt, he continued, "Great. They're on their way up." He headed down the hall, not staying to see Jim's smile of confirmation.
Jim stood when he heard the elevator doors clatter open. The captain's cigar fumes preceded the big man, and Jim stifled a sneeze. As expected, an unlit cigar dangled from Simon's lips as he paused in the doorway. Rank notwithstanding, he knew Jim wouldn't let him pass the threshold with a live one. The captain stood with hands on hips, giving the damaged door a deliberate, thorough look before turning to Jim with a paternal shake of the head.
He removed the cigar. "Can't you ever play nice?"
It's not my fault," Jim protested. "Sandburg needs to meet a better class of people."
"I heard that!" Blair appeared from the hall, the curls around his face damp and his flannel shirt neatly buttoned.
The two bigger men immediately sobered, and Simon came in, followed by two forensics men burdened with their kits. Jim set them to work, then went to make a quick call.
Simon gave Blair a slight smile. "How you doing, Sandburg? I hear you remembered what happened."
"Yeah, it all came back!" The anthropologist gestured Simon into the living room, out of the way of the others. Briefly, he told Simon what he had already told Jim about the previous day's events, then explained how the memories returned: "I saw the Mustang outside, and it was like a bomb going off in my head. It set off a chain reaction of memories, and I felt like it was all happening again. I can't say it was fun, but it was definitely worth it! Man, it was the worst feeling, not knowing what I did the day before. I mean, not having access to a part of your mind, it's like someone robbed you, almost a sense of violation." He shook his head. "Indescribable, really."
"I can see that. Well, I'm glad for your sake, as well as ours, that you have remembered."
Thanks, Simon. Oh, and thanks for the flowers."
"The ones you sent," Blair replied, puzzled. He pointed to the bouquet on the kitchen table. "Or had Rhonda send ... ?"
The captain shook his head. "Sorry, they weren't from me. Was there a card?"
Blair fetched the colorful card from the table and returned to the living room, offering it to Simon. "Well, I didn't really think flowers were your style, but the message was."
The captain snorted, having read it; he handed it back. "I don't know what to tell you, Sandburg. Maybe some of the guys - or ladies - put their heads together."
Jim had been monitoring the conversation; curiosity piqued, he came up behind his friend and took the card from his hand. He read the message again, then turned the paper over. "Here's the florist's address: Betty's Blooms, on ... Gaines. Hmm." A speculative gleam appeared.
"What do you read in that, Jim?" Blair asked. Simon too raised his brows.
"Just seems rather a coincidence - the school, the crime scene, now the flower shop - all over in that part of town."
"Come on, Jim, maybe someone from the university sent it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
At his friends expressions, he elaborated, "You know, like Freud said; meaning that sometimes a thing is exactly what it seems, without any hidden meaning or symbolism attached. In this case, I mean it could just be coincidence.
"Yeah, well, I'll keep an open mind," Jim replied, unconvinced. "But why would someone from the university sign it Cascade P.D.?" At Blair's silent "oh", he nodded, then suddenly frowned and held the card to his nose. "There's a familiar odor. Marijuana again. Guess your 'cigar' quote was pretty close."
Blair suddenly realized something. He looked at the forensics men, then leaned in and asked quietly, "Why didn't you smell that before, Jim? In the hospital."
Jim also kept his voice low. "I had the dial turned down because of the smells there, remember?"
They exchanged meaningful looks. "Well, then," Simon said, fingering his cigar, "now you have two leads: the florist and the kid. You better get moving. I'll wrap things up here."
"Thanks, Captain." Jim herded Blair towards their jackets and the door, checking his pockets for his keys. "Oh, by the way,
I called the locksmith a few minutes ago." He pulled out his wallet, then threw some bills on the small table by the door.
Blair grabbed their jackets. "He should be here soon. Would you wait? Thanks again, Captain!" The detective pushed his friend
into the hall and hurried him down the stairs, not waiting for the protest he'd seen clouding Simon's face. He heard it anyway,
of course, with his Sentinel hearing, as Simon knew he would. "Sure, Jim," the captain grumbled, "I've got nothing better to
"Whoa, wait a minute! This isn't my fault, damn it!"
"You never wanted to do it in the first place!" Jake yelled back. "Your mind's been on that girl since you met her, and you've been practically useless!"
Tony had time to throw his partner a glare before a green light allowed him to shoot forward once more, outdistancing the more sedate traffic. His first instinct had been to head for their apartment here in Cascade, but he was tempted to stop right now and thrash it out with Jake. Keeping an eye on his mirrors for pursuit, he navigated more carefully, not wanting to attract official attention so close to their hideout.
"Yeah, and I thought you were the one who never missed?" he said spitefully. "I make it twice now you let that long-haired cop get away."
"You should have been watching my back, and never let the other cop sneak up on us!" Disgusted, Jake finally stuffed his gun into his waistband, then stashed Tony's in the glove compartment and slapped it shut.
"All right, this isn't gonna get us anywhere," Tony pointed out. "The question is, what now?"
"We have to get this guy, Tony, or you know what'll happen to us. You don't get second chances with these people!"
For the first time he could ever recall, Tony heard Jake's voice crack with fear.
"I know." He pulled the Mustang into an empty parking lot, outside a closed supermarket near their place, where it wouldn't be visible from the street. They'd have to dump it, soon, as they couldn't risk being identified with it. He had hoped to do this job, then get rid of it, like the others, but now ... Would this latest crime make Cascade more alert, make it harder for them to 'acquire' another car?
As Tony parked, Jake looked around. "What are we doing here?" He twisted in his seat to stare at Tony.
"Planning. If we go back and Hogan's there, what're we going to tell him?" He rolled down his window and propped an arm in the opening.
"Jesus." Jake dragged a hand worriedly through his straggly hair. "We have to get this guy, soon, before Hogan hears about this. But now the cops know about us." He shook his head. "I don't know ... " Jake suddenly turned to look at his partner as he remembered something strange about their recent encounter. "What the hell was Sandburg doing, yelling ‘Get down, kid'? I didn't see anyone else, did you?"
Tony rubbed his jaw. "No. I'd swear we were alone ... "
They sat in silent thought for a few minutes. Tony glanced at his watch. Great, and he'd promised to pick up Anna and her brother after the kid got out of school today.
He gave a sigh, and turned the key in the ignition. As the car sputtered to life, Jake asked "So, where are we going?"
Gritting his teeth against the explosion he knew was coming, he told Jake.
"Shit! Tony, I can't believe you, man! We are dead, and you're still thinking about this bitch!"
"Shut up, Jake," Tony said evenly. "Whether I pick her up or not, we have the job to do. But unless you're suggesting we go back right now and try again, I may as well pick them up. You can come along, or," here he looked pointedly at his partner, "I'll drop you off at the apartment."
Jake shook his head and muttered imprecations. Hogan could be waiting there.
They pulled into traffic again, heading east towards Gaines and the flower shop where Anna worked.
"Tonight," Jake said tightly. "I know some friends who can help us, but we finish this by tonight or I'm outta here."
When they found a slot to park in, before the administration block, Blair finally stopped for a breath.
"Come on, Chief. Here's your chance to show off that memory of yours."
The school had been built in the mid-seventies, Jim guessed. Cement corridors lined brick classrooms; the path they followed led to an apparently newer performing arts building on their right, but before them, between two lush planters, it led to the office.
They entered. A counter running most the length of the small, well-lit room barred further entrance. Behind it were several desks with computers, banks of files, bookcases, and doors leading presumably to more offices. It was late afternoon, almost time for school to let out, Jim suspected. There was an air of lazy chaos: stacks of papers in baskets, that wouldn't be filed for another day; a young man, a student possibly, sat at one desk in the back, using the phone. Two women, one about fifty and the other in her twenties, were the only staff visible. They both glanced up from their tasks as the two men entered, the younger doing a double-take at the unexpected sight of two attractive men who were obviously not students, probably not academics, and, oh boy, hopefully not parents. Certainly the younger one with the luminous eyes couldn't have a child attending here.
The brunette hastily waved to her colleague. "I'll take care of this, Irene. I know you have to get home on time today."
The older woman nodded knowingly and returned to her typing. The younger woman rose, bestowing a brilliant smile on both men. "Can I help you?"
Jim had his badge ready, and showed it to her. "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. This is Blair Sandburg. We need to see if a young man we're looking for is a student here."
"Oh - someone in trouble? My name is Terri, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Terri. We just need to question him about a case we're on. He's not a suspect." Jim kept his tone businesslike; he'd seen her reaction upon their entrance and knew her eagerness to help was more than professional. He hoped to squelch any like response from his hapless partner, who seemed to fall in love on a weekly basis.
"What's his name?" Terri asked, pulling a scratch pad across the counter and grabbing a handy pencil.
Jim and Blair glanced at one another. "Well, that's the problem," Blair put in. "We don't know. I saw him, and can describe him, but we were hoping maybe I could pick him out of the yearbook, if you have one. He's about fourteen."
"If he's fourteen, he'd be a freshman. Luckily the yearbook just came out, otherwise we wouldn't have a picture of him. Hang on." Terri retreated to a bookcase in the back of the room. Blair watched appreciatively as she bent to pull out a book from a lower shelf, and her short skirt became even shorter.
Jim nudged him and murmured, "Table legs."
Blair grinned cheekily at his partner and whispered back, "Oh, I don't know, I think they're rather attractive legs."
They both schooled their expressions as Terri returned and placed a large book before them, the red, white and blue cover emblazoned with a flag and the year "1998" printed in gold.
"You can sit there, if you want." She pointed to some chairs that lined the outer wall. "I think I'd better tell the principal what's going on, too, in case you find the student you want."
"Thanks." Blair picked up the book, and he and Jim settled down to find the section picturing the youngest class. They smiled at the sentimental and uplifting quotes sprinkled throughout.
"Some things never change," Jim said.
"Just the clothes," Blair chuckled.
"Not even those. I wore bellbottoms in high school," the cop retorted, putting a finger beside a picture of the freshman class gathered before the performing arts building. A good many of them wore bellbottoms or hip-huggers. Some had the thick-soled shoes Jim had hated the first time they were in fashion. "Ugh. Clogs." Seeing the grin on Blair's face and wanting to avert the forthcoming teasing, Jim tapped the book. "Come on, look at the individual pictures. We have to find this kid."
Blair nodded and obediently turned the page. He studied the faces, the students arranged alphabetically. Abbot ... Andrews ... Arthur. He drifted through the As, into the Bs on the next page, the Cs ...A couple faces caused him to pause, then shake his head. The pictures were so posed, and most of the kids had primped; he began to wonder if he would recognize the boy from the few moments of conversation they'd had.
On the fifth page, he came to the F's. Farber ... Fasone ... Foo ... Fraley ... Frame. Blair paused, then held the book up to let more light spill from the window behind him. Thick blond hair, thin face, serious expression.
He tapped the picture and turned to his partner. "Jim, that's him. I'm pretty sure."
"Well, as sure as I can be looking at these stiff poses, but, yeah, 99% sure."
"Okay. Let's just finish looking at the freshmen." The detective pulled out his notepad and pen. "Jeremy Frame," he said, writing it down. "Keep looking, I'll talk to Terri."
Jim strode to the counter and caught Terri's eye; she had gone back to her desk, but jumped up quickly.
"Did you find him?" she asked, coming over.
"We think so. A freshman named Jeremy Frame."
"Okay, let me get Mr. Fuentes. He wants to speak with you." She picked up the receiver from a phone on the counter and punched in a number. "Mr. Fuentes, the police think they found the student ... Jeremy Frame ... Yes, all right. Bye." Terri disconnected, keeping the receiver in her hand, but turning to Jim. "He'll be right here. He asked me to call the appropriate counselor, who can maybe give you some background info on the boy."
Jim nodded, surprised at their thoughtfulness. "Thanks, we appreciate it." He glanced back; Blair was just finishing, closing the book with a snap. Terri dialed another number and spoke into the phone.
The younger man joined him, setting the book on the counter. "That was the best resemblance. I flipped through the sophomores real fast, but no one caught my eye."
"All right. They're getting the counselor and--" he broke off as a tall, fiftyish man approached from one of the connected offices.
The man held out his hand, but wavered between the two men he faced. "Detective Ellison?"
"That's me." Jim took the hand. "My partner, Blair Sandburg."
Blair's hand was also shaken, with a curious glance at his bandaged head. "I'm Edward Fuentes, the principal here. I understand you think one of our students is mixed up in a case of yours. May I ask how?" The honest brown eyes looked from one to another. "I ask because I'll need to contact the boy's parents, you realize."
Blair looked to Jim, frustrated. He hadn't thought of that. There was another delay.
Jim was unperturbed. "I know. I thought we'd better be sure of his identity first. May we talk to the counselor? Maybe have the boy brought in on another pretext, so Blair here can at least get a look at him? They were both at a crime scene; we think the boy may have witnessed something."
The principal looked at Blair in surprise, then turned as another door opened to his left. A bespectacled man in a rumpled suit came their way, running one hand through thinning red hair, and clutching a file in the other.
"This is John Campbell," Mr. Fuentes said, stepping aside. "He's Jeremy Frame's counselor."
Campbell placed the file between them on the counter, and opened it. Before Jim could say anything, Fuentes scanned the top page.
"I'll call his parents now, just in case ... " He copied the number on the notepad, then paused. "It says Jeremy is living with foster parents."
Campbell nodded and told them, "His third set since being orphaned at eleven. His only family is an older sister, but she isn't his guardian."
"All right. Let me make the call in my office, John, while you talk to the officers about Jeremy."
Jim filled the counselor in on their reasons for being there. "Jeremy was at a gas station yesterday when an attempted robbery and a murder took place. We think he may have seen something that can help us find the killers."
Campbell nodded and looked at Blair with dawning recognition. "Yeah, I remember seeing that on the news; and I saw you too, didn't I?"
Blair grimaced. "So I'm told. It wasn't my finest hour."
"Those reporters can be insensitive, to say the least," the counselor sympathized. "And Jeremy was there?"
"He told me school was out early because of conferences, and wanted to call his sister. I gave him some change for the phone."
Campbell gave a disgusted shake of his head and responded, "Right. Neither of Jeremy's foster parents was interested enough to show up for their appointment. I've talked to the boy about three times since he's been here. He's withdrawn, but seems very intelligent, and attached to his sister. Understandable, under the circumstances; both parents were killed in a car accident three years ago. The sister, uh . . . " he referred to the file, "Anna - she went to the first foster home with him, where they stayed the longest. But she was out when she turned eighteen; she must be almost twenty now. Anyway, I gather she and Jeremy are still close, and he's just biding his time ‘til he can be with her. I get the feeling there's a lot of insecurity being repressed. His teachers like him, but he doesn't open up much in class."
Blair smiled. "He was awfully polite to me; that's gotta go over well."
"Yes--" Whatever Campbell was about to reply was cut off when the principal re-joined them.
Fuentes told them, "Mrs. Fuller, Jeremy's foster mother, says ask him whatever you need to." He shook his head at the woman's indifference. "Let's call him in; if he's your witness, we can decide how to proceed from there."
He turned to the boy at the back of the room, who was now dragging a backpack from under the desk where he sat. "Allen, before you go, I need you to take a message for me." The student waited while the principal scribbled a note, pausing to ask Terri for Jeremy's present class.
"Got it for you here." She smiled, handing him her own note.
The summons was sent out. They waited, Blair a little nervously. He looked at the clock: two forty-five. "What time does school get out?"
"Fifteen minutes," the principal told him. "You got here just in time today."
Terri and the other secretary began end-of-the-day tasks: straightening their desks, turning off computers, closing files. Mr. Fuentes looked over Jeremy's file; the counselor and Jim leaned against their respective sides of the counter. Blair wondered how his partner could be calm, when he felt like they were so close to getting their answers; it almost hurt to stand still. Jim fixed his penetrating gaze on the anthropologist. 'Great,' Blair thought, ‘never a private moment.' Jim probably heard him sweating. He gave his friend a faint smile and pretended a calm he didn't feel, leaning his back against the counter and crossing his arms.
It couldn't have been much longer than five minutes before Jim stood up and looked sidelong at the door. Blair, the inveterate Sentinel watcher, knew what that meant and also rose to his full height in anticipation. He was practically bouncing by the time a lanky blond boy entered the door a minute later, carrying a pack and looking worried.
Blair and the boy froze, staring at one another. Yes, Blair thought jubilantly. He finally felt the last piece of the puzzle snap into place; his memory was complete, and vindicated.
However, his elation was obviously not shared by Jeremy. The boy's mouth dropped open and he paled in shock at sight of the anthropologist. The principal barely got out, "Ah, Jeremy, this ..." before the student swung around and sprinted out the door like a frightened deer. Jim was seconds behind, with Blair quickly on his heels, leaving the others paralyzed and gaping at the sudden exits.
Jim could still see the boy ahead of him, but he also had fastened his extended hearing onto the racing heart. The three of them ran down the path toward the performing arts building. As the boy passed it and headed down the sidewalk, Jim had an idea where he might be going. He stopped in front of the building and grabbed Blair's arm, nearly staggering him. Still keeping his eyes on the fleeing figure, Jim dug his keys from his pocket and pressed them into Blair's hand.
"Follow in the truck! If you lose sight of me go to Betty's Blooms. We passed it on the way, remember?"
"Yeah, but ..."
"I think he's running to his sister! According to his file, she works there, she was listed in case of emergency. Wait for me in the truck! One way or another, I'll get in touch with you there. Go!"
Jim raced off after the boy, who had disappeared into an alley across the street from the school. He knew Blair wouldn't have been able to keep up anyway, not after just being released from the hospital. This way he could follow whatever circuitous route Jeremy took and not worry about his partner; and perhaps Blair would get ahead of them, and they'd have the boy trapped between them.
As long as Jim could see Jeremy, he tried to keep his hearing at a reasonable level; he didn't want to be stunned by the sudden blare of a horn two blocks away, which was a painful possibility. He also couldn't filter all sound but the boy's heart or feet, and risk a zone-out. He'd sent his Guide away.
Man and boy ran down the alley which separated two strip malls; as he ran, Jeremy tried to fling a few obstacles in Jim's way: a trash can lid, a bag of cans awaiting recycling, his backpack. But Jim avoided them easily, and recognized the panic in Jeremy's gasping breaths and desperate attempts. What was he so afraid of? Surely he didn't think the police suspected him, and he didn't know that Blair was affiliated with the cops, anyway. Why had he run?
There was a heart-stopping moment when a car entered the far end of the alley as Jeremy approached it at high speed; the car squealed to a halt as Jeremy darted sideways, scrabbling for balance. The brief moment allowed Jim to lessen the distance, but then the boy was off across the busy intersection with hardly a glance to either side. Thanking whatever god looked after fools, children and anthropologists, Jim pounded along behind and managed to cross safely in the confused lull of traffic the boy's passing had created.
The Sentinel was almost positive that his quarry was running to his sister, so desperately that he ran in a direct line, probably hoping his younger legs would outstrip his hunter. Jim wasn't so sure that might not have happened, if he hadn't had an idea where the boy was going. He could hear his own heart pounding now, his own breathing, and tried to filter that out and concentrate only on Jeremy.
As they raced along the second alley, Jim knew they were approaching Gaines Avenue at an oblique angle; one of the shops ahead was the florist's where Anna Frame worked; it was situated in the middle of the block. Jim felt his legs burning with his efforts - surely Jeremy was nearly there?
Ah! Jeremy slowed, scanned the backs of the buildings to his right, then headed for a back entrance he apparently recognized. He threw a quick glance at the detective who was half a block behind, then wrenched open a screen door and disappeared.
Jim pounded up to the same entrance, gasping and leaning against it for support. A heavier wooden door opening inward backed the screen door. As expected, it was locked. He stayed in that position for several moments while he gulped air; he was in good condition, but, man, that two-block chase at full speed had been work!
When he could at last hear something besides his own pounding heart and rushing blood, the Sentinel extended his senses to hear what was happening on the other side of the brick wall before him ...
... Jeremy was fighting his own breathless condition, trying to explain to someone inside that he needed to talk to Anna. Jim recognized the voice from the 911 tape. A woman's concerned voice exclaimed over the boy's sudden appearance and condition. She sounded like she had more than a passing acquaintance with Jeremy. Betty? Jim wondered.
"Here, Jeremy, sit down! I'll get you some water." There was a pause in the conversation as the woman evidently did as she said; Jim could hear movement, then the magnified gurgle of swallowing.
The woman continued, "Anna's with customers right now; I heard them come in a minute ago. Can you tell me what's happened?"
Jim counted heartbeats: five, one still doing double-time.
His voice steadier, but urgent, Jeremy told her, "I'm sorry, it's ... there's just something really important I need to talk to Anna about."
"Did something happen at school?"
Jim assumed the boy nodded, as there was no answer.
"All right, I'll go see if she's done yet." Jim heard high-heeled steps receding. While he waited, he scanned the alley and his environs with eyesight and hearing; where had Sandburg gotten to? As Jim considered going around to enter through the front door, the faster heartbeat he had tagged as the boy's came nearer; Jim rolled aside, so he couldn't be seen through the small window that pierced the inner wooden door. A tread lighter than the woman's approached, and a startled, young female voice asked, "Jeremy, what's wrong? We were coming to pick you up."
"Oh God, I need to talk to you!"
The boy interrupted, his words nearly stumbling in his hurry: "Listen! Anna, I saw something yesterday. I got out of school early, and tried to call you from a gas station down the street, but there was a robbery going on." Jim noted the increased respiration, and a tremble in Jeremy's voice, as he continued. "I was on the phone when these guys came running out of the station, shooting at the owner. One guy had a ski mask on, but the other one didn't. Anna, it was Jake! They killed the owner! I saw them!"
Anna gave a gasp and Jim heard both hearts thundering loudly in the stunned silence.
"They were in Tony's car, the Mustang, and there was another guy outside with me, and he probably saw too, and they shot at him, but he showed up at school today with some big guy who chased me here ... " the kid paused for a ragged breath. "Anna, what are we gonna do?! I think Tony and Jake are robbers."
Anna finally pulled herself together and hissed, "Keep your voice down!" She apparently stepped closer to her brother - and Jim - because it sounded as if she were whispering in the Sentinel's ear as she said, "That's Jake and Tony out front. We were coming to pick you up."
"What are we gonna do?" Jeremy repeated, his voice rising in panic. "Anna, that must have been Tony ..."
"You're right," a new, deeper and male voice joined the conversation. "It was, I'm sorry to say."
Jim cursed to himself. His cell phone was in the truck with Sandburg; if he left to call for help from a neighboring business, he was abandoning possible hostages to killers. In utter frustration, he extended his hearing briefly to scan for passersby he could recruit to make the call. Instead, he caught a familiar engine's rumble; it was his own truck, accompanied by a well-known heartbeat. Sandburg was in front! If the Mustang was also parked there, surely his partner recognized it - yes, there went the heart, galloping now at an uncomfortable pace.
Jim made a quick decision. Still lightly focusing his hearing on the action inside the shop, he ducked below the window, passed the next business, which had boarded windows and a barred door on this side, and turned into the short alley that cut through the block of businesses to a driveway entrance from Gaines.
Peeking around the corner, he saw his truck double parked beside the Mustang, engine running. Where the hell was his partner? It seemed an interminable time before he saw the driver's door open, and Blair climb in. Jim leaped out before the truck could move past, waving; Blair made a sudden swerve into the drive, stopping long enough for Jim to wrench open the passenger door and pull himself in.
"Go around the corner!" Jim directed. "Stop as close as you can get to the second door, here, so no one can get out!"
Blair did as told, pale and tight-lipped, thankfully asking no questions yet. He parked the bulky old pick-up mere inches from the wall, the cab blocking the doorway, preventing escape. Jim grimaced as the mirror on his side scraped the brick surface, and locked his own door.
"Okay, out!" Jim pushed the anthropologist out the driver's side, then bailed out after him, grabbing his cell phone from the seat. Clutching Blair's arm, he crouched in the lee side of the truck, dragging his friend down until they were face to face.
"Here, call for back-up," the Sentinel said, shoving the phone into Blair's hand. He explained briefly, "The killers are in there, with Jeremy, his sister and another woman, presumably the owner. I've been listening. Jeremy and Anna know the killers, I think one's her boyfriend, and they've been found out."
As Jim climbed to his feet, preparing to return to the front where their quarries only exit was, Blair grabbed a fistful of sweater.
"Jim, where are you going?" He glared at the Sentinel, having an idea about his intentions. The Guide had a few intentions of his own.
"I'm going to the front," Jim explained quickly, drawing his gun from its holster at his waist. "I've left them alone in there too long. Tell Simon we should consider these two guys armed and dangerous. Do it, Chief!"
Jim left his partner clutching at air and disappeared around the corner. Blair punched in the number and made the report in record time. Jim was in full "Sentinel of the City" mode, and his Guide should be at his back. As soon as he received Simon's acknowledgment, he cut the connection and ran to join his partner; Jim hadn't actually told him to stay put, after all.
As he approached the corner, he peeked around it; Jim was only steps away, cautiously peering through the large plate glass window that fronted the shop. A sudden fit of sneezing told Blair that Jim's sense of smell had been extended, and had run smack up against an olfactory assault from the numerous flowers inside. Jim hurriedly backed away from the glass, bent nearly double by the violence of the sneezes. The anthropologist kept his back pressed securely to the wall and inched up to the detective.
"Jim, close off your sense of smell. I don't think it will help here, anyway."
After one last mighty sneeze and a moment of concentration, Jim straightened and wiped at tearing eyes. "Hell," he muttered. "There was that marijuana again, too. I think I've inhaled more of that in the last few days than I have since high school."
"Could you see anything?" Blair asked quietly.
"Yeah, Betty or whoever she is. I don't think she knows what's going on, she's arranging some flowers." Jim leaned against the wall with a sigh and wiped a sleeve across his eyes, searching his pockets for a tissue. His fumbling fingers met something stiff; on impulse, Jim pulled out the card that had come with Blair's flowers.
"Chief, call the number here. When Betty answers, tell her who we are, to remain quiet and look out the window. I'll show her my badge. Tell her to walk out the front door, quickly."
Jim dug out his shield and re-focused his sight on the Mustang's window, where he could watch Betty's movements in the reflection. Blair made the call, repeating Jim's instructions. When he saw the woman look up, open-mouthed, the detective pressed his badge against the glass and dared a direct look into the shop. The woman was hanging up. She walked forward directly as Jim beckoned, thank God, but not without a worried glance behind. Jim met her at the door, grabbed an arm and tugged her safely aside, towards Blair.
"Officer, what's going on? My employee and her brother are still in there." She was a petite black woman who managed to sound calm, despite her evident bewilderment.
"Those men inside are wanted for murder and robbery," Jim said brusquely. The woman put a shaking hand her to mouth, and nodded when Jim asked, "Are you Betty? Do you have any idea what's happening in there?"
"No. They're in a back room with one door leading to it. Jeremy, my assistant's brother-"
Jim interrupted: "We know who he is, and Anna. Jeremy saw the murder committed, and now the murderers know it. You didn't hear anything they were saying? Didn't see any weapons?" Betty shook her head. "All right." Jim patted her shoulder. "I want you to go to the next business behind us, go inside and tell them to lock the doors and stay towards the back. None of you are to come out unless an officer says so, okay? More police are on the way."
As the woman turned and trotted away, Jim began, "Chief--"
"No!" Blair said fiercely, scowling. "I'm staying. Jim, you're going to listen in, right? Well, that's exactly when you're most vulnerable, and that's exactly why I'm here." He placed a hand on his partner's back. "Now let's do it, those kids need you!"
The irresistible force clashed with the immovable object; a compromise was reached.
Jim turned his intent blue gaze to the reflections in the Mustang's window, watching for movement.
"If I say move, you do it, no questions asked! Things could get pretty nasty, pretty fast."
"I will, Jim." Blair's reply was made in the low, soothing tone adopted when he went into Guide mode. As Jim concentrated his hearing and sight, he felt his body responding to the security elicited by that tone. He fell into the curiously relaxed vigilance that allowed him to send his senses outward, knowing that his physical body was protected and grounded by his Guide.
Blair's hand was warm on his back as the Sentinel listened for, and found, voices emanating from the back room of Betty's Blooms. Angry and frightened voices mixed.
Anna was pleading with both men. "Jake! Let him go, we won't tell anyone! Tony, I promise you, he hasn't told anyone, and he won't! Tonyyy!!" The last word was a pleading wail.
"Shut up, Anna! Jeremy got us in this mess we're in now, he's gonna get us out! Tony, check the front!"
"All right, but keep your hands off Anna!" Tony returned forcefully.
Jim assumed the rear exit had been attempted, and his truck perhaps recognized. He could hear scuffling, footsteps approaching. His reflected view showed him a burly young man in his mid-twenties about fifteen feet from the front, his right hand holding a gun to Jeremy's cheek while the left arm encircled the boy's throat, pinning him securely. The boy was wide-eyed with fear; Anna hovered, fingers alternately reaching out to her brother then nervously clasping one another. She kept up a steady stream of promises and entreaties. Jake ignored her, except for an occasional scowl in her direction; otherwise his eyes followed Tony, who was hidden behind floral displays as he crept forward. The Sentinel tracked Tony's movements with his extended hearing. Unconsciously he pushed against his Guide. Blair gave maybe an inch and kept his hand in place.
"How's it looking, Jim?"
"I think we've been discovered; Tony's reconnoitering for an escape through the front. They've got Jeremy at gunpoint."
Unaware that he'd even pulled it out, Jim clasped his service revolver before him in both hands, ready if necessary. He hoped it wouldn't be ... A face peered around a rack of cards, not five feet from Jim on the other side of the window. Jim turned from his second-hand view in the Mustang to face the man directly.
"Tony! You may as well give yourselves up, we've got all we need to arrest you for murder and attempted robbery. Don't add kidnapping to the charges!"
Tony looked steadily at the detective for a moment, emotionless, then turned away. "Jake! It's that big cop, Sandburg's partner. You can bet Sandburg's out there, too. You wanna push it?"
"Goddamn it!" Jake breathed noisily through his nose, evidently tightening his hold on Jeremy; the boy gave a whimper that made Jim clutch his gun tighter. "Do you see any other cops?"
Tony moved and chanced a better look, knowing the cop wouldn't start shooting heedlessly with hostages inside. "I don't see any. Traffic's normal, and I can't see anything unusual across the street. Well?"
"Tony, come on, please!" Anna interjected. "I'll come with you, I love you, but leave Jeremy here!"
"Anna ... " Jim thought he heard sincere regret in Tony's voice. "It's gotten too far out of hand. We're in deep shit with our bosses. If we don't get out of Cascade now, we're dead."
"All right, but use me! They don't have to know I'm going willingly!"
"No," Jake said roughly. "The kid saw too much; he comes with us. Tony, bring Anna. We have to leave now, before back-up arrives for those guys. Move!" He raised his voice, pitching it for the two outside. "We're leaving! If you don't want to see these two die, you better back off!"
"Jake and Tony are coming out with Jeremy and his sister," Jim quickly relayed to Blair before the front door was kicked open; Jake and Tony sidled out, facing the cops with a hostage before each of them. Jeremy was still pinned against Jake with a gun trained on him, but Tony appeared unarmed, and held Anna before him almost casually.
Jim raised his gun and placed himself squarely before his partner. He would have preferred shoving Sandburg around the corner, but couldn't risk dividing his attention. God knew Blair wouldn't think of it himself.
"You guys aren't going to make it, you know. We've got men coming, they'll be here in a minute. Don't make this worse, for yourselves or anyone innocent."
"Open the door, Tony," Jake said with a jerk of the head toward the Mustang. Tony obeyed, still holding Anna by the hand.
"Tony, no, please," Anna whispered, tears pooling, then spilling down her cheeks. Tony paused.
"Get in, Anna!" Jake ordered, without breaking eye contact with Jim.
Anna suddenly yanked her hand from Tony's grasp, throwing him off balance, and leaped into the street. In the confusion of horns and screeching tires which followed, Jim cringed at the assault to his ears but tried to keep his gun steadily on Jake, who had turned at the sudden chaos and dragged Jeremy closer to the waiting car. His gun wavered momentarily, then returned to its threatening position.
"Shit! That's it, Tony! Forget it, let's get out of here!"
Jim felt a sudden coldness at his back; Blair had stepped away from him, several feet to his right, with arms raised non-threateningly.
"Blair!? What the hell- Get back here!" Jim nearly choked on his anger and fear. Did Sandburg have a death wish?
The anthropologist shook his head. "Can't, Jim. I can't let them take that kid." His voice shook with anguish at the decision he had somehow made spontaneously. He couldn't look at Jim, or his resolve might melt, and everybody would suffer. "Come on, Jake, take me instead. Let the kid go. I was there too, remember?"
Jake swore. "Yeah, you're a goddamned nuisance." His fingers tightened minutely on the trigger of his gun. God, he wanted this guy, one small, bloody, painful piece at a time.
"Blair, get out of the way," Jim ordered helplessly as his partner inched towards Jake and the car. Jim heard sirens - finally - in the distance. If he could just hold it together for a few more minutes ... Blair was no help.
"Take me," the anthropologist insisted. "I won't fight you; that'll be easier than dragging along a scared kid."
And just what are you? Jim thought to himself, noting the quiver in Blair's arms, the tension in his back. "Sandburg, I don't know what you think you're doing ..."
Still keeping his arms upraised, Blair finally swung around and faced Jim, his back to the fidgeting Jake. His lips moved; Jim extended his hearing and heard a whisper: "I slashed the tires. Get ready." Speaking loudly, for all to hear, Blair said, "I'm trying to prevent a bloodbath here, Jim." He stared pleadingly into his partner's white face, and said, with a significance only Jim understood, "Do you understand me?"
Defeated, Jim nodded. Blair must have been sabotaging the Mustang earlier, when the truck was double-parked. The kid got points for resourcefulness.
The sirens became audible to everyone. Tony jumped into the back seat and yelled to his partner, who made a hasty decision; Jake shoved the boy at Jim, staggering both of them, and wrenched Blair around and forced him to crawl through to the driver's seat, the cold gun muzzle now prodding the anthropologist. The doors were slammed, and Blair turned the key in the ignition, praying that the Sentinel would know his cue when he saw it.
Jim pushed Jeremy behind him and to the ground, then stood protectively between him and the car. After that, all he could do was wait with muscles tensed and ready for whatever action his Guide expected of him, trying not to let panic gain control. Subconsciously, he was aware of the police cars which encircled the block, taking up position while their radios crackled and the occupants prepared to lay siege, if necessary.
The Mustang pulled from the curb, and Jim saw it did indeed list to the left. What should have been a smooth, quick departure was an awkward, abrupt lurch as Blair floored the gas pedal, then stomped on the break only seconds later, sending his passengers flailing for support. Jake's gun hand involuntarily flew to the dash to prevent him from smashing his face against it.
Jim vaulted off the curb, barely having time to realize that Blair had thrown himself out his own door into the street. The detective clamped an iron grip onto Jake's wrist through the open window, and wrestled the gun from him before the burly killer had time to recover. With his own gun at Jake's temple, he stowed his captive's weapon in his waistband, then dragged Jake from the car.
Keeping an eye on Tony, who sat in the back seat with arms raised, Jim called, "Sandburg! You all right?"
His partner finally appeared upright on the opposite side of the Mustang, inspecting a ragged hole in his flannel sleeve. The left side of his face and hand showed a smear of blood and painful-looking welts. His dark hair hung in tangled curls, strands of it plastered to the wounds. Unconsciously, Jim winced at the sight. Great, that'll really help his previous head injury, he couldn't help but think.
"Yeah, Jim. Just a little road rash, but, hey, I've had worse, right?" Blair gingerly smoothed his hair back.
Jim grinned, relieved to hear his partner's nonchalance. "Right, Chief. Just yesterday, in fact."
As Blair joined him, a swarm of officers converged cautiously on the scene, guns drawn. Brown, Rafe and several others from Major Crimes took custody of the silent Tony and his cursing partner. Jake threw Blair a venomous look, and was about to speak when Brown gave him a jerk that nearly knocked him off his feet. "Save it, pal," Brown told him. "You'll never get the better of him in any argument." Blair smiled his thanks.
There were grins and quick congratulations from their colleagues. The Sentinel gripped his Guide's shoulder and gave him a look Blair found both warming and alarming. He pondered excuses to avoid the imminent lecture - perhaps he could plead exhaustion ...injury ...an invitation to join an expedition halfway around the world ...
As always, Simon's presence was broadcast to the Sentinel by the ever-present, heavy smell of tobacco. Jim sneezed. Without turning around, he said with amusement, "Hi, Simon."
A cloud of smoke wreathed the tall, dark man as he drew up beside the partners. "Was that a joke, Jim? Because I didn't think it was funny." The captain's mild tone belied his words, though, as he gave his team the once-over from sharp brown eyes. He took another drag on his cigar and nodded approvingly. "Good job." He drew their attention to the scene behind them, where Anna and Jeremy clung to one another in the back seat of a patrol car while an officer took their statements.
"We picked her up about a block away. She ran right out in traffic to flag us down, told us what to expect. She said she ran away, hoping to distract the killers long enough for you to get the upper hand."
Jim thought how close she had come to bringing tragedy down on them all instead, but, as he and his Guide were safe, he was inclined to be forgiving; she was young.
"Seems like a brave kid," Simon finished.
"Yeah, well, she doesn't have a monopoly on it," Jim said meaningfully.
Blair kept his gaze on the blue, yellow and silver patrol car, but felt himself flushing. Oh, well, maybe he owed Jim; he'd endure the lecture.
The three friends contemplated the busy scene in momentary silence, letting their rattled nerves settle, taking stock of their injuries, risks and gains.
"Well, gentlemen, I think we can call it a day." Simon appraised the Sentinel and Guide. "Why don't you take it easy tomorrow; come in around ten."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Gee, Simon, so kind. Next thing we know you'll be sending flowers."
Jim choked on his next breath and collared his partner, dragging him away from their sputtering superior.
"That's 'Captain' to you, Sandburg, remember?" The tall man pointed his cigar at the anthropologist.
"Sorry, Captain," Blair called unrepentantly over his shoulder. "I forgot. I have amnesia, you know, I can't be held responsible ..." His last words ended in a laughing gasp as Jim gave him a friendly but firm shove toward the truck.
"You trying to get me fired? " Jim asked lightly, eyeing his battered partner. "One of these days, Chief, you'll come home and find the locks changed."
"Nah," his friend said, sailing happily on a tide of relief, security and bonhomie. "You won't be rid of me that easily."
"No, I won't," Jim said in satisfaction. He stopped, grasping Blair's arm. His friend looked up inquiringly. "And don't you forget that."
"How could I, Jim?" Blair flashed a quick smile in understanding. "That's not written up there," pointing to his head. He placed a finger over his heart. "That's here."
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