Disclaimer: No profit; copyright laws bent but not broken
Story Notes: Case description of the Altamont concert is based upon a true event; names and details have been altered for use in this work of fiction; Warnings for language and descriptions of violence. Beta'd by Starwatcher and Arianna with my thanks for their generosity in all things. Thanks also to Starfox for housing my stories in a room at her 'Mansion'.
Spoilers: Post TSbyBS and Blair is a cop; Continuation of my story lines in prior tales but can stand alone.
Summary: A 'cold case' investigation requires a trip into a bygone era with Naomi; the partners adapt to life in separate living quarters after Blair moves next door.
Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2000; 7:15 A.M., the Lofts
"Hey, Chief! Is breakfast ready?" Jim shouted, to ensure he'd be heard through the open, communicating door between their living quarters.
"Sure thing!" Blair responded in his normal tones, knowing Jim could hear him at any volume. "Come and get it. This is an omelet to end all omelets."
"More new food?" He wasn't actually whining, Jim assured himself, virtuously. It was just that there was nothing wrong with the old breakfast standbys.
Blair choked back a laugh. "Have I made one thing you didn't like yet?"
"I'm taking the fifth on that one! Don't want to encourage you in this apparent burst of creativity you've got going here." Jim lowered his volume as he came through the door, still buckling his belt and sniffing cautiously. He wasn't entirely sure he was looking forward to breakfast after all. "When we decided yours ought to be the breakfast kitchen, I had no idea you would start taking your work home with you.
"Committing Major Crimes in the kitchen."
'Cute, Ellison. Just because I screwed up one morning with that admittedly odd recipe I got from Naomi, is no reason to disparage my overall prowess with a skillet."
Jim assumed a deadpan expression. "It was a codfish omelet made with eggs and mashed potatoes. It gave me culinary PTSD and I'm gonna be in therapy until the end of time."
"Well, this one will redeem my reputation. I present you with a green pepper and beef fry omelet. Have a seat, Monsieur Ellison."
Jim seated himself at his friend's new breakfast bar. "I don't know, Chief. I'm flirting with anorexia right now, after that recent trauma."
"I saw you put away half a chicken last night, so forgive me if I'm not too alarmed at this point about you becoming faint with hunger."
Jim paused, his omelet-laden fork wavering. "So, what's 'beef fry' exactly?"
"It's like bacon slices made with beef instead of pork. My kitchen is…"
The rest of the sentence was indistinguishable and Jim decided the lack of clarity was intentional. "Are you gonna make me dial up or can I ask you to repeat that last bit in the audible range?"
"My kitchen is 'kosher', Jim."
Jim was content to offer a simple nod to that rather surprising admission. A tentative bite led to a trencherman's interest in consuming the dish. "Hey, this is really good. Okay, maybe novelty isn't always bad. But I'd better help you with these dishes when we're done or we're going to be late."
Blair nodded, his mouth full. Okay, so Jim wasn't going to quiz him about his choices regarding ritual observances in his kitchen, but that tolerance wasn't going to extend to his housekeeping. Once, I would've let the dishes sit and soak for a day… or three. But in those days, I wasn't sharing space with a sentinel, the sentinel's nose and the sentinel's demand for order. Well, I can live with all that. First Jim's loft and now my own. Who'd have thought the concept of 'shelter' could be so personally gratifying?
9:00 A.M.; the Bullpen
"My report on the Jensen case isn't finished yet."
And we're hoping for an offer, are we? "Yeah, Jim. That's a bitch of a case to have to write up. I've already finished my version." Blair hid his smile with a half turn of his head.
"I'm still due to finish some witness statements too."
Blair relented. "Hey, why don't I finish your Jensen report so you can get those done?"
"Great, Chief. Thanks, and here are the notes I took." Two post-it notes were passed along to the startled rookie.
"Jim, these don't tell me anything …Oh, hi, Captain."
"It does seem inevitable, Sir." Jim glanced at the post-its in Blair's hands, hoping Simon wouldn't inquire too closely into the status of his progress.
"I'm gonna pretend I don't know what Sandburg is holding there, since I have some other fun things for us on tap today." Simon smiled, toothily.
Ellison adopted a confiding tone. "Okay, Chief. Lesson number thirty-one. Always be suspicious when new assignments are dispensed in hearty tones." He addressed his Captain again. "I'm guessing it isn't the approaching holiday season that sparked this joviality?"
Simon snorted in agreement. "You got that right. Some California sheriff is in my office right now and I've been ordered to provide him with the assistance of my top detective."
Blair stood up. "Ready, willing and able, Sir." He finished with a snappy salute.
Simon looked upward in an appeal for inspiration which, apparently, wasn't forthcoming. "Behave yourself and you just may get to come along for the ride, rookie."
Blair's grin indicated no damage had been done to his self-esteem, but Jim was less amused at the implications. "This isn't going to be a federal job, is it Sir? All that multi-state cooperation…"
"Cooperation isn't a dirty word, Ellison. But I think this one is just a California case and we're about to find out why our office is involved. Let's go. I've got a conference room booked because this guy wants to show us a movie."
"Hooray for Hollywood, Sir."
Sheriff Charles ("Call me Charley") Vinick fiddled with the VCR/TV unit. "This is the unedited version of a film you may know by the title of 'Gimme Shelter'. It's a documentary about the Rolling Stones concert held at Altamont Raceway on December sixth, in nineteen sixty-nine. It was a free concert, modeled after Woodstock, and attended by some three hundred thousand people without adequate facilities or security."
"I remember hearing some recordings from the event." Jim reached for his memories of old newscasts. "Santana played there and Jefferson Airplane. But it ended violently."
"It's before I was born," Blair informed the group, rather unnecessarily. "But I remember wanting to rent the video when I was a kid. For some reason, we never did get around to it."
Vinick studied the young detective with somewhat intense regard and then shrugged. "Well, let me run this footage of the event. Security was actually provided by the Hell's Angels and four people died that night. One person drowned in a ditch - yeah, I know, but that isn't being investigated here. Two others died in a hit and run, also not my problem. Then there was the knifing."
Banks glared at Vinick, most unappreciative of his dramatic pause. "Before we start microwaving popcorn for this feature film, are we going to get to the point of your little jaunt here at taxpayer expense, or not?" Simon didn't care for the man's casual manners, the heavy tan that was likely owed less to sunshine than a tanning bed, or his California arrogance that assumed Cascade's finest had unlimited time to offer Alameda County. "Just show us the footage in question please. We have other things to do around here."
The Sheriff flushed at their failure to be impressed by his presentation and resented the barely suppressed smiles of the other two detectives. "I'll just show enough to give you an idea of the context and then play the actual scenes of that knifing." He turned on the television and hit the play button on the VCR.
Jim glanced at his watch, noting they were now ten minutes into the unedited footage of the tail end of the concert, thankfully spared the rest by Banks' impatience. Blair's obvious enjoyment of the 'ancient' footage of a defunct culture seemed to be the only compensation for this foray into interminable boredom. Well, that and the music. Jim realized he was going to zone on it soon if Vinick didn't get to the point.
"It's coming up now, gentlemen. You've seen how the bikers, serving as the security force, were drunk and high on God-only-knows-what. They used their roles as an excuse to assault spectators. Now, take a look at that young guy over there, close to the stage and looking directly into the camera. His name is, or was, Carl Hemmings."
The group carefully watched Hemmings, and the surrounding mob, undulate to the beat of the Rolling Stones. The man indicated - little more than a boy actually - suddenly produced a gun and pointed it at the stage. The detectives next saw images of a beefy biker lunging for the would-be shooter, knocking him to the ground while pulling a knife from his boot. Vinick resumed his monologue. "You'll now see the footage go in and out of focus, showing seconds here and there of Hemmings being alternately kicked and stabbed. The biker you see in the process of killing this guy was named Sam Javik."
A moment of blackness was seen before filming resumed and fixed on the still form of the corpse. Finally leaving the gruesome sight, the camera panned slowly to record the array of shocked, appalled expressions on those sober enough to realize what had taken place. Vinick hit a button allowing him to freeze the frame when the camera came to rest on a particularly vivid expression of revulsion and horror. It rested upon the face of a very pretty girl, reacting to the obscenity playing out before her innocent gaze.
Blair stared at the screen in shock. "Holy fucking… that's my MOM!"
Jim took immediate umbrage at the smug expression on the Sheriff's face. "Is Naomi Sandburg wanted as a witness or a suspect?" he growled.
"Witness," Vinick responded hastily, his sense of self-preservation kicking in rather belatedly. "Really. Just a witness, but I was directed to show you all this film without advance preparation. My boss wanted to know if Sandburg would be surprised or if maybe he'd heard about this incident from his mother at some point."
Jim slammed a fist down on the conference room table.
"Ellison, stand down." Simon's voice was tight with unreleased fury. He was also concerned by Blair's continued silent study of the freeze frame.
"I'm still sitting, Sir."
Simon regarded Jim sharply. "You're the only man I know who can stand up while still in a seated position." Jim leaned further back into his chair to offer nonverbal reassurance to his boss that he wasn't really going to rise and pound Vinick into the tile floor. Simon silently congratulated himself at having become proficient at diffusing what Sandburg referred to as Jim's "tense responses to perceived threats".
"On the other hand," Simon advised his less than welcome guest, "I'm gonna need a damn good reason why my newest detective should be treated this way in his own precinct house. You have any reason to believe Naomi Sandburg acted violently or conspired to murder someone?"
"Right now, it's just about her being at the scene."
"You have no right to be testing any man on my team. Apart from the fact that Detective Sandburg wasn't even a gleam in his daddy's eye back in nineteen sixty-nine, you're way beyond the boundaries of professional courtesy. Now start explaining before I call your bosses and insist they haul your ass back to the land of sunshine and herbal tea!"
Blair found his voice again and attempted to soothe rising tempers. "Hey, Captain, I like herbal tea."
Banks wasn't buying it. "Then you'll be very happy when they extradite you."
"I don't like it all that much." Now recovered from his shock, Blair's infectious grin seemed to inject a note of calm back into the proceedings.
Vinick doggedly pursued his goals, though in a milder tone. "I'm following my orders, Captain Banks. The D.A. is demanding we either produce further evidence or they're going to close the case anyway. It's been a black eye on our books for a long time."
"Why?" Jim's voice was still hard. "You have the attack on film, what more do you need? Or are the juries back in Alameda County sun-blind?"
Vinick shook his head in annoyance. "Tell me, do you guys have it in for Californians in general or just anybody from a place that actually gets a few rays from time to time? Don't bust my chops, because I didn't do anything you wouldn't have done under the same circumstances. Now, you've all seen the quality of the film. It was a hand-held camera and the scenes weren't continuous, with all those nuts running around at that screwball affair. We tried Javik, the guy you saw go after Hemmings. He was acquitted of murder, seeing as how the vic was armed and intent upon shooting Mick Jagger. Still, the film doesn't indicate that it was really Javik who killed the guy. We aren't sure who actually performed the killing stab wound. Forensics thinks there was another knife involved that wasn't seen on the film."
Banks looked interested, now. "What did Javik say on the stand?"
"Just that he was alone, as far as he could tell given the fact he was obviously 'impaired' at the time. But he might have lied to protect someone, figuring his acquittal would keep us from hunting down another perp. Javik died back in 'eighty-five and his lawyer maintains he'd been solely responsible, but new techniques for examining the evidence have since become available. So, we hired a pro to take the old footage edited out of the movie made from this camera and rehab it. Only one new face was clearly visible, and that's the girl you saw there. Our records showed a girl disappeared before questioning that night, and she's the one." Vinick turned towards Blair. "Naomi Sandburg, confirmed by your statement."
Blair glanced again at his mother's face in the freeze frame. "She never said anything to me about that concert or witnessing any murders. But she's constitutionally incapable of any act that would contribute to violence like that."
"We just want to question her about the events of that night. The coroner's report indicates that a slightly-built woman like that wouldn't have been able to inflict the fatal wound anyway. But we don't know if she was on something, uhm, powerful that night." Vinick was discouraged from expanding further on that theme by a trio of glares.
Jim spoke for them all. "Naomi Sandburg is deeply committed to non-violence and there won't be any evidence at this late date regarding drug abuse that night, short of a confession. Even with a confession, the statute of limitations is long gone for drug use or actions taken while under the influence. So there aren't any charges pending at this juncture, right?"
"Right. Look, I'm really sorry about all this. You know the element of surprise is important in these interviews. I don't know if the vic's family keeps the heat on or if it's just a way for the brass to keep an eye on the bikers but…"
"…But, nothing. I'm in charge of this department and object to your tactics. Still, I get it about your orders," Simon relented in the face of the man's apparent sincerity. "I'll take this up with your superiors, instead of taking you apart. Fair enough?"
"Thank you, Captain," Vinick responded, relieved by that dispensation.
Blair stood up. "Okay, then. I'll try to find out where Naomi is at present and see if she can swing by here on her way to wherever she's headed next. But the choice is hers to make and I'm not lying to her about the reason for my call."
Vinick nodded in agreement. "That's fine. Now, your father must have been with her at the time…"
"I don't know who my father is, or was. Naomi told me she wasn't sure herself, for what that's worth. Also, since I was born in nineteen seventy-one, my father most likely wasn't even at the concert. Naomi didn't stay with guys all that long."
"My sources said you were born in 'sixty-nine."
"Your data is wrong. A corrected birth certificate recently came to light and was put into the file."
"Jesus, why can't something about this damn case be simple." Vinick looked at Banks for some sympathy but decided he'd definitely barked up the wrong tree when that implacable expression looked back at him.
Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I'll call Connelly and make sure he's around when Naomi's questioned." Their lawyer was always available to help the pair when needed, and an outstanding companion on their rare, riotous bachelor nights spent out on the town.
"Thanks, man. What a terrible experience for her to go through at that age. No wonder she was freaked about my working in a field that exposed me to this sort of stuff on a daily basis."
"It does put some of her reactions in a more understandable light. Now let's look at that footage again." Jim's sympathetic tone indicated he would be employing his enhanced sight and hearing for this go-round. They settled around the VCR unit once again with Blair's hand casually resting upon Jim's arm. If Vinick thought that was peculiar, he wisely refrained from any remarks.
6:15 P.M., the Lofts
Jim awoke from his nap to hear some commotion from next door. He'd clocked out at 3:15, the headache from straining through the visual and auditory static of the poorly restored film, still unrelieved. He'd gone to sleep as soon as he'd gotten home. Glancing at the clock, he realized he'd slept for two hours and Sandburg was likely home, perhaps with company. Nonetheless, he grabbed his service weapon and padded down the stairs to stand by the connecting door, slightly ajar as it had been when they'd left for work that morning.
"Look, Emily, I would love to have an in-depth philosophical discussion with you and your friend about the texts and all, but you're gonna make me late for an appointment. Come back later tonight or tomorrow and we can enjoy our talk." Blair's voice was friendly, if somewhat impatient.
"This is about your life and salvation, Blair. My friend and I are here to bring you the word of your Savior and help you find the light inside your soul."
"Well, I'm interested in your views about faith but I really don't want you to be wasting your time trying to convert me. I am SO not interested in that. Emily, you said you wanted to stop by and show me some ancient texts when you called this afternoon. I said yes, because you'd been one of my best students in the past. But this isn't really what I thought you intended. Now if you'll please leave so I can go too…"
"If your errand is short, we can sit here and wait for your return. Nothing is too much trouble for us." Jim heard the sounds of two people walking over and sitting on Sandburg's only piece of furniture, the couch left for him by that loft's relocated owner, Mrs. Oster. "Really, don't let us keep you. We can read scripture until you return."
Blair gave up. "Fine, I've gotta go."
Jim strode through the door, not about to leave anyone in the conjoined unit who hadn't been thoroughly vetted. He allowed his gun to remain visible, but held down by his side. Unthreatening, relatively speaking. If you were a felon, maybe. "Sandburg? Do we have intruders here?"
The unwanted guests rose in alarm and clutched one another, bibles falling to the floor.
"Jesus, Jim. Put that away! Uhm, sorry folks, my friend here is a cop and didn't mean to scare you. I guess he just heard me asking you to leave and all… yeah, fine. Just close the door on your way…" The door slammed loudly. "out?"
Blair grabbed for what remained of his patience. "Jim, I could have pulled my own gun if I felt threatened. Now I'm running real late here and…"
"And you were gonna leave two complete strangers here in this apartment with the OPEN connecting door to do… whatever, in your absence?"
"I'm sorry if your territoriality was abused here. I should have realized it might be a problem but only the guy was a stranger. I happen to know Emily, but didn't realize that she'd joined up with some evangelical group. It's not like there's anything here to steal and they weren't armed with anything more than a pair of bibles - which they left here. Want one?" His partner's glare of outrage confirmed the unlikelihood of his accepting that offer.
"Sandburg, I don't know whether you're the most innocent person I know or the most stu - uhm, trusting. But, you can't go leaving strangers in here, connecting door or not! It isn't smart, okay? You can't really know your students all that well, not to mention how long it's been since you last saw her! And no, I have enough reading material, thank you very much." Irritated, Jim returned to his own apartment as Blair rushed out to his appointment.
Jim shook his head in reluctant amusement, however, as certain parting comments uttered in warm, apologetic tones, arrived for his benefit. "You aren't allowed to shoot roaming Bible thumpers, Jim, even though it might be considered justifiable homicide in some states. But I do appreciate the offer of protection despite the fact that I knew these people were safe. I don't always Know, you know, with a capital K kind of 'Knowing'? But I did in this case."
Blair was just getting in when Jim went back to sleep at eleven-thirty, after the evening news. He contained his curiosity, but also wondered if his friend had made any progress that afternoon in locating his peripatetic parent.
Thursday, 6:45 A.M.; the Lofts
Jim walked through the door, still ajar, only to see a young girl engaged in the task of pouring herself some juice in their breakfast kitchen. Okay, it's Sandburg's life but this one is jail bait for sure. And the connecting door is open. "Can I help you?"
"OHMYGOD". The waif leaped in shock, her glass shattering in the steel sink. Shards scratched the glossy surface. Breathing deeply, she turned, hand to breast in the time-honored signal of feminine surprise. "I hope you're Jim and not some nut breaking in here. Blair mentioned a friend who might come in but, hell; you ought to be wearing a bell."
"I'm sorry, Miss, er, Miss. But the connecting door between the apartments was open so I had no reason to believe I might come across a stranger in here." And I wasn't listening for it either." Disturbed by his own lapse and even more disturbed with Sandburg's apparent lack of vigilance, Jim faced the young intruder. "Who are you?"
"I'm Daria. You are this 'Jim' guy, right? Or do I start screaming now?" Her expression reflected amusement now, in place of alarm. And perhaps something else?
"Yes, I'm Jim. And shouldn't there be someone here supervising you? How old are you, anyway?"
"I'm fourteen. How old are you?"
"I'm… that's beside the point. Where's your baby sitter or Blair for that matter?"
"He went to get us some bagels from the corner bakery before we start the tutoring session."
"Tutoring? At," Jim checked his watch, "six forty-seven in the morning?"
"Got a test today and he figured an extra study hour before class might allow me to pass this time. We didn't quite get it all done last night. But the Home doesn't serve breakfast till seven and I'd have missed it. He won't let me skip breakfast."
"The 'Home'? Right. Of course he wouldn't. Uhm, tell him I stopped by and that I'll see him later at work, okay?"
"Sure. And next time, knock. Sheesh, just look at this sink."
Jim turned and went back into his apartment, the faint strains of a bugle sounding retreat playing in his head. I definitely don't need this first thing in the morning. Figuring he'd hit a coffee shop for some eggs and bacon before work, he left the building.
9:10 A.M.; the Bullpen
"I am not opening a home for wayward girls, man! I volunteered to do some tutoring with one of the city agencies for foster kids who haven't yet been parceled out to the public. They tend to get very little in the way of extra help for school."
"That's all very laudable, Chief, but you might want to clue me in when you're having company with that connecting door and all. Not to mention the fact that she's under age and you're a cop with a reputation to protect."
"No promises on the advance notice thing, but I'll try to accommodate you. And Daria isn't exactly Monica Lewinski."
"Maybe not, but you should know better. The kind of work you're doing with her ought to be done at the group home or at her school, in an office with an open door and preferably more than one student. There are certain risks inherent…"
"Inherent? Inherent!" Blair interrupted in disgust. "This lecture is getting better by the minute. By all means, Professor Ellison. Please tell me more about the 'inherent risks' of being an overqualified tutor on the police force." Blair hesitated, appalled at the stricken look on his friend's face. He recalled his exact statements.
"Jim, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. Really, man. It was just stupid, not at all what I intended."
"Sure, Chief. Save it for later; here comes the Captain."
Blair sighed and prepared to greet his boss. Way to go, Sandburg. I haven't seen an expression that cold on Jim's face for quite awhile and this time, I'm responsible. "Hi, Captain."
"Good morning, Sir." Ellison's tone was coldly professional.
Simon looked long and carefully at his men. "Okay, is there something I need to hear about now or is it gonna be the secret surprise in my crackerjack of a day today? I have a meeting with the Chief to look forward to, so tell me now."
"Nope, Simon, uhm, Captain."
"Good. Sandburg, any progress on finding your mother?"
"Yes, Sir. I got hold of her friend, Willow Makepeace, yesterday and she knows someone who knows someone…"
"I didn't ask for details, Detective. Just get her in here and make sure that attorney of yours is available when she comes in for questioning. And tell the old shyster that I've decided to forgive him for winning that football bet we had last month."
Blair smiled at the reminder of that weekend party. "Sure, Captain. But, you know that Naomi isn't gonna be thrilled about coming all this way just now. Not with the election being next week and all."
"Oh. My. God." Simon blanched at the thought of Naomi electioneering on his premises and stalked off to find comfort in caffeine.
They followed Simon's retreat into his office with their gaze. "Willow Makepeace?" Jim grinned, the topic shift serving as his dismissal of any affront taken earlier.
"Yeah, they've been friends forever, but don't tell that to Vinick or he'll haul her in too. I think she's too young to have been at the concert herself, though. Anyway, Naomi had been working with Willow and her Green Party connections on the election but was called away by some emergency with an environmental group."
"Don't tell me. The 'Spotted Owl Society'."
"Getting old, Ellison. You can't dis the environmentalists anymore with that old saw. Do you know how many species, and how much forest, has been lost since those guys first made environmental groups sound frivolous to the ignoramuses of society?"
"I'm a happy ignoramus, Chief. You just store up all that information and I'll know where to go when I need it."
"Stupid, you're not! Look, I'm sorry about snapping at you before. It's just that I'm seeing all these foster kids getting shafted in terms of services any parent would arrange for them in a heartbeat. And the boys don't have any role models because most volunteers are women who don't work during the day. I've been meaning to ask you to help out there. Some of the boys need a role model of strength that doesn't involve gang violence or entry level jobs with organized crime. And let's face it…it sounds kind of ludicrous for someone like me to direct them into a branch of the military services. But it's really all that's out there for some of these kids, if they're going to stay out of jail."
Jim wasn't proof against the pleading look in combination with his memories of Danny Choi as a 'little brother'. "Look, Chief. I don't have time these days for any big commitments, but if an hour or so per week will be enough to spend with one of those boys - at the Home, mind you - then count me in. You're right that there isn't much else a foster kid can do with no income or a place to live as soon as they turn eighteen. I can maybe help them get placed in a good unit so they can do college or job training. But if anyone other than you winds up knowing about this, it'll take Sentinel sight to find the pieces, okay?"
Blair grinned his confirmation and began to mentally pick out names of the kids who would join Jim's little encounter group. He'd explain about that later. Like a few minutes before the meeting he'd set up at the Home for the following week. Now, where the hell is Naomi?
The pair worked steadily for another hour until interrupted by a familiar bellow. "SANDBURG, my office, NOW!"
Jim looked up from his keyboard at his partner, already rising from his chair. "You want me to listen in, Chief?"
"YOU TOO, ELLISON."
"Looks like you're gonna have to. If I had the know-how, I'd dial down my own hearing real low, right about now."
Jim laughed as he joined his partner in the short trip to their captain's office. The reason for the summons was quite clear upon entering. Simon was speaking intently into his phone.
"Ms. Sandburg! I've explained to you that Blair is just fine. I simply want him to discuss the issue at hand with you instead of me. He just came into my office so I'm going to hand over the receiver to him now. It's been real nice talking with you." A long arm extended the phone receiver towards Blair. "Take over, Sandburg." Simon didn't at all care for the plaintive note that had crept into his directive. Naomi always had that effect upon him.
Blair took the phone and settled a hip on the edge of Banks' desk. Jim took a chair nearby and sent sympathetic glances towards his boss.
"Hi, Naomi! Sure, I'm real good here. Having a blast in the new place and I've got an air mattress all ready for when you come and visit." He paused, head nodding as if his mother could see him responding. "Really? Simon said I was doing good work? Wow, I ought to have you talk to him more often. That's more feedback than I've gotten from him in months."
Banks sputtered his annoyance. "Sandburg, get to the point already. I'm not running a parent-teacher conference here, okay?"
Jim ducked his head, not quite able to hide his amusement at the expected growl, and stoically accepted the ensuing glare of disapproval.
"You heard that, Mom? Yeah, I'm calling about business. Some very old business that involves you, but you're not in trouble or anything, okay?" Blair waved away Simon's gesture of impatience and continued.
"Listen, we have a Sheriff out here from Alameda County, California. It seems there's some old footage from a rock concert back in nineteen sixty-nine which shows you in the crowd…" Blair looked down at Jim and tapped his own ear, signaling his wish that the Sentinel listen in to both sides of the conversation.
"Oh, Blair, I haven't thought about that awful day in so long. Who would be looking at that old film after all these years?"
"No one thinks you did anything wrong, Mom. But that old murder at the Altamont Raceway was never closed."
"I was sure they tried that motorcycle psycho, I mean the security guard, who killed that boy and acquitted him. What else is left to do?"
"Sorry, Mom, but they still think there might have been another guy with a knife who dealt the killing blow apart from the damage that the guard caused. The security guy died, by the way, back in eighty-five, so all they have to go on is some extra footage they enhanced and Whoa! There you were. So they checked into your identity and Cascade came up as an old place of residence. Then the Sheriff looked up yours truly and got me and the gang here involved. I don't see how it's going to matter but you really ought to talk to them. Are you okay with that? We even have a lawyer here who can make sure…"
"I don't see why I need a lawyer to talk to some pig about that murder. I didn't do anything wrong, well not legally wrong. There's a statute of limitations on drug use, right? And I… was pretty traumatized at the time and had defied my parents in even going to the concert. They kicked me out of the house for it. It was an awful time in my life, Blair. I don't remember a lot of it, and there were so many people there. It's all a blur in my memory and I frankly prefer it that way."
"I'm really sorry about this, but it looks like they aren't going to let it go. I'll be with you though, and so will Jim." A glance took in Jim's firm nod of assent at that promise.
"Well, I need to process this and it really isn't a good time anyway. The election is coming up and there's so much to be done if we're going to keep the fascists out of the White House. I'm calling from a hotbed of Republicanism right now and …"
"I hear you, Mom." Blair stopped to shush his partner, now openly chuckling in the background. "But you really need to get here right away because it's important to have a lawyer sit in on the interview and safeguard our… your, interests. If we all have to travel to you, it'll be awfully expensive. So, make your excuses and we'll get you back to work really fast. You want help with the travel arrangements?"
"No, Sweetie. I'm sure you know best in these matters so I'll take the next flight out. See you soon."
6:00 P.M.; the Lofts
"Come and get it, Chief." Jim turned off the stove and began ladling stew directly from the pot onto their plates. He turned his head to engage in a vociferous sneeze before recognizing the nature, and source, of the offending particles reaching his nose. "Sandburg, your mother's in the hallway!"
Blair's feet tapped out a fast rhythm as he opened his front door, spying his mother at the entrance to Jim's unit. "Naomi!" He engulfed her in a tight embrace as Jim opened his door to intercept them both and herd them into his apartment.
He sneezed again and extended his greetings in a somewhat nasal voice. "It's really good to see you again, Naomi. Dinner's ready so maybe you'd like to take a quick shower before we all sit down to eat?" His hopeful eyes met hers.
"Why Jim, do you automatically tell all your guests that they stink?" She laughed, musically. "No, don't start apologizing. I know the herbal lotion I'm wearing contains sage. Blair, why don't you bring in my bags from the hallway while I shower? Just leave me something fresh to wear outside the bathroom. Oh, which bath should I use?" Naomi looked from one man to the next.
"Chief? What's the status of your bathroom these days?"
"I'll ignore the slanderous implications of that question. I'll have you know that my bathroom is both clean and organized. Your shower awaits you, Madame." Blair comically bowed his mother into his adjoining apartment. Naomi kissed her son gleefully and floated off through the open, connecting doorway.
Jim scraped the portions of stew back into the pot to keep warm until the three of them were ready to eat. He listened to Blair clump back inside with what sounded like two suitcases. From the sounds they made as they were dropped to the floor, one was large and the other small. Personal effects or maybe gifts for Blair's new place, only about six weeks late.
Jim had already laid an additional place setting at the table by the time Blair returned. He grinned at his friend's light, bouncing steps around the kitchen island as a serving bowl was produced. The two put together the salad they would have skipped, if left to their own devices. "Do you think she'll eat the stew, Chief? Or will the salad be enough?"
"It'll be okay. Naomi eats beef occasionally and if she's been living with Willow, it's likely been awhile. She'll ask for something else if she wants it."
"Good. I'm sorry her visit isn't just for fun, but maybe we can get all the legal business out of the way quickly. I'm sure Vinick isn't enjoying his stay very much and wants to get back to his California sunshine."
"Hey, don't knock the climate just because Vinick got off on the wrong foot with us."
"I know he was just trying to do his job, Chief, but he went about it wrong. None of this rings true as far as the way a valid investigation is usually conducted. I mean, with so much evidence available and an acquittal already on record, something else is operating here. Let's see how he is with Naomi. Connelly will protect her interests and Vinick seems disinterested in you at this point."
"Mainly because he's scared of you and Simon. I just hate for Naomi to have to dredge up old memories and deal with him. If she'd processed this through already, it seems like she'd have told me about it. I wasn't kidding about not getting to see that video. She wouldn't rent it for us to watch and kind of distracted me when I asked for it."
"Well, let's see just how hard Naomi will make him work for his answers. Might be a bit entertaining, you know?" Jim grinned at his partner, hoping to reduce Blair's anxiety about these proceedings.
"True, and also educational for me. I've always been curious about her life before I was born. We never really talked about it since Naomi always insisted upon living in the 'now', if you know what that means."
"I hear that, Chief." They laughed as Naomi made her second entrance of the day, red hair contrasting attractively with the teal of her gauze dress. Jim gave her a peck on the cheek as she settled into her chair and placed several boxes by her plate. Breathing in deeply, he smiled at her. "Ah, sage-free." He kissed her lightly again, just to ruffle Blair's feathers.
The predictable response was quickly provoked. "Hey, man. That's my Mom, you're kissing!" All three laughed, recalling other times.
"It's so good to see you both!" Naomi assured her hosts that she was content to feast on Jim's stew. "I managed to get a seat on the first flight available, after we'd spoken. I've been trying to get out here anyway for the past couple of weeks to help you fix up your apartment, Blair. It's still rather, er, formless. Were you waiting for me?"
"Well, I've been real busy with work and there didn't seem to be much reason to rush things. I don't want a lot of junk around me and I didn't want to strip the walls here bare for Jim to have to fill. What I do pick out should be, like, really special. How long can you stay? I'd love for you to help me with fixing up the place."
"The election, Blair," Naomi gently chided.
"Yeah, tell me about it! I'm not allowed to take an open position on the matter because of my job."
"Chief, stop sulking. Police department protocol in this town says that cops remain outwardly neutral. You'll have your say in the voting booth."
"It's un-American." Blair repeated his oft-stated objection perfunctorily but expanded upon it, noting his mother's look of incomprehension. "But, it's not that unusual a restriction for public employees. They don't want us taking positions openly in demonstrations we have to police, and they can't assign us our duties based upon personal, political preferences."
Jim sighed, having revisited this topic frequently over the past few months. "Maybe your mother can find a few Republicans around here to, uhm…" I guess the term 'torture' wouldn't go over too well just now. Two Sandburgs returned his look of sympathy with an intensity that indicated discretion was definitely the better part of valor. "I'm just saying…"
Naomi looked at him curiously. "Jim, what are your political views? I never did inquire."
"I'm an Independent."
"I always thought that was a euphemism for a conservative who can't be bothered to vote in the primaries."
Blair looked at his partner's fulminating expression and decided to intervene. "Okay, enough with the politics for now. Since you're obviously gonna make me ask, what's in these boxes?"
Naomi relented. "Open them up and see, Sweetie."
Blair gasped at the sight of the beautiful, antique saltcellar contained in the first box, already filled with the condiment. "I'll bet there's bread in the second box." Examination proved that to be true.
"How did you figure that, Chief?" Jim grinned widely, happy to see his friend's delight.
"Just like I know what's in this last box. A mezuzah, right Mom?"
She nodded as Blair removed a long, thin polished metal cylinder from the tiniest box, where it had been carefully surrounded with bubble wrap. "Naomi!" Fine silver filigree workmanship distinguished the object in Blair's memory. "This was your mother's. I can't take this…"
"Of course you can. That's what I've been saving it for all these years. We never took much with us but this was my mother's last gift to me when… it came time for me to go. We'll talk about that soon, but I want you to have it. You're a nester now, Blair. You may not be here permanently but wherever you go, you'll make that dwelling a home and not just a stopping place. This declares your intention of sanctifying a residence as a place for the protection and nourishment for the soul as well as the body."
Blair became silent, as if conferring with another part of him. "It's time. If you're both willing, we can do the ceremony now, before dinner."
At their consenting nods, Blair rose. "I'll find a hammer and see you in my place in five. Jim, please set out the food, since we'll eat afterwards, and put this salt cellar to good use." He disappeared next door.
Jim moved about the kitchen, setting out a covered serving bowl of stew along with the salad and rolls. "This seems important, but I'm afraid I don't understand what it all means."
Naomi got a plate for the two small loaves of braided bread she had brought with her. "Blair studies cultures and observes those around him. Now, he's discovering the relevance of many unused rituals in his own life. I'm glad I can give this one to him, Jim. I, well I owe him this much. Come." Naomi rose gracefully and extended her hand to the man she had long resented for his influence upon her son.
They arrived to find Blair extracting a hammer from his 'junk drawer'. Jim had teased him about it, claiming that every one of Blair's drawers would soon be deserving of that title. Blair moved to stand by his front door, holding the tiny nails, which would fit through the fine openings at the top and bottom of the metal cylinder. He looked up, his expression shyly revealing this long-denied need for this particular, ancient ritual.
"Jim, this is a 'mezuzah'. That's an ornamental container for a tiny scroll of parchment upon which is written a prayer and a section of text from the Bible or Torah, as we Jews refer to the Old Testament." Blair slid the tiny backing on the silver casing forward. "The scroll is in here. I didn't remember if there was one."
Naomi blushed, a bit embarrassed to explain the rest of the gift. "Blair, the parchment was very worn when I looked at it, so I had it replaced."
"You wanted me to have a 'kosher' scroll?" Blair looked surprised at such care being taken to make the ritual 'official'.
"Yes." Naomi glanced at Jim briefly. "I had it sent to me from that scribe I met last year in Israel. That's why this gift is late in coming to you."
Blair swallowed, hard. "Yes, well, the scroll has to be readable and the Biblical passage tells us that the principles, by which we are supposed to live, should be inscribed upon the doorposts of our houses and upon our gates. So, it's placed at the main door of a new home. Some people put them on all their doorposts but I think the main door is sufficient."
Jim realized what this step meant for his formerly rootless partner. He glanced at their connecting door and came to a decision. "Chief? Does it mean the doorway where you put it is the entrance to your home?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Then I think it belongs on the doorpost between the two lofts, don't you?" Jim hoped he wasn't overstepping boundaries that Blair's residency in the new unit seemed to have established. "I mean, if it would mean to you that both places were 'yours', it seems like that would be a good place for it." He paused, awkwardly.
Blair looked at his best friend and walked to the connecting door in wordless acceptance of the concept. Clearing his throat, he explained the ritual. "Instead of tilting the mezuzah inward, towards the residence, this one will be placed straight up and down to reflect its place and value in both parts of this residence." He blinked rapidly and placed the cylinder upright on the right doorpost at the spot marking division between the upper third, and bottom two thirds, of the doorway. Tapping in the nails with delicate precision, he looked at the results of his handiwork.
Blair began the recitation of ancient phrases, uttered across the millennia. "Baruch Ata Ashem, E-loheinu Melech Ha-olam Asher Kiddishanu Be-mitzvosav Vetzivanu Likboa Mezuzah." He turned to Jim and translated, eyes fixed upon the face of his friend. "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His laws, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah."
Smiling broadly, he offered Naomi his arm. "Let's go back to our seats. We can do this at Jim's table, just as well as my own breakfast bar."
Naomi hesitated momentarily, still reluctant to accept this new evidence of her son's concept of 'family'. Brushing off her reservations, she linked arms with her son and accepted his escort.
Blair remained standing and placed two shiny rolls, glistening with egg-white glazed crusts, on a plate before him. "The table in one's home is sanctified with a blessing said over two loaves of bread, represented here by these two rolls of challah, or egg bread." Sprinkling a bit of salt onto a saucer, he recited the blessing easily recalled from his year of Bar Mitzvah lessons when he'd lived with his New York relatives.
"Baruch Ata Ashem, E-loheinu Melech Ha-olam, Hamotzi Lechem meen Ha'arets." He followed his words with their translation. "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth Bread from the Earth." Tearing off a piece of bread from one roll - 'breaking bread' so to speak - he dipped it into the salt and placed it in his mouth. While chewing and swallowing it, he divided the rest of the roll into two parts, dipping each in the tiny pile of salt and distributing it to the members of his family. Jim took his lead from Blair and Naomi, eating the bread. The ceremony apparently over, Blair self-consciously sat down and looked at his plate, finally at a loss for words.
Jim reached over to place a firm hand on his friend's shoulder. Finally, we've offered him a permanence he actually wants. Fair enough, he's the only reason I feel comfortable in my own skin these days. "Chief?" he called softly, hoarsely.
Blair looked up.
Friday, 10:00 A.M.; Lawyer's Home
Sean Connelly politely seated Naomi at the hand-hewn wooden dining table of his ten-acre residence in the woods. The fruits of his labors in law, along with the hiring of a supremely talented divorce attorney, were in evidence throughout his home. The remainder of the party, comprised of Sheriff Vinick, Simon, Blair and Jim, also took their seats.
Naomi looked about her surroundings with a semblance of calm. "I really appreciate your agreeing to do this here instead of the precinct interrogation room."
Vinick looked disapproving. "You have very devoted friends and family, Ms. Sandburg. This is really not procedure."
"Of course, there is no real procedure when being questioned in the absence of charges." Connelly spoke with the easy assurance of a legal expert - backed up by three large, armed men who were closely involved with his 'client'. He quickly established his position. "This is very nice of you, Ms. Sandburg, to voluntarily testify about this matter in the absence of a court summons." He looked sharply at the Sheriff.
Vinick decided to abandon his official demeanor, as he'd always looked upon this as a pointless exercise, and it was obvious that playing 'hard-ball' would get him nowhere. "You win, lady and gentleman." He smiled warmly. "Let's get this over with so I can make my people happy and you can all get back to more important things."
Simon extended his own version of the olive branch. "I appreciate that, Vinick. My official stance will be that you were a hard-ass, excuse me Ms. Sandburg, to the bitter end." A brusque nod ended their mutual need for posturing. "Connelly, it's in your ballpark now. We're merely spectators at this point." Glancing at Blair's tense expression, he modified that. "Interested spectators."
A uniformed maid bustled into the room, pushing a cart of refreshments. Opting for coffee, everyone was served swiftly and business resumed.
Vinick switched on his tape recorder. "This is Ms. Naomi Sandburg's official statement regarding the events she witnessed at the Altamont concert on the sixth of December, nineteen sixty-nine. Ms. Sandburg, please review for me how you came to be at that concert."
Connelly held up a hand. "How is that relevant?"
"You're already objecting? I thought this was going to be friendly." Vinick switched off the recorder in disgust.
"That question goes to establishing motive…"
"Gentlemen!" Naomi looked disgusted. "I am not going to spend the day here wondering what to say or leave out about that day. I can't tell my son about my history, his history, and worry about how you are all going to take apart every word to find some evil in it."
Jim stood up. "My bullshit meter is pretty much off the scale here. Vinick, let's stop all the games, since you don't really want to play them anyway. Call your D.A. and have them fax over a paper granting Ms. Sandburg full immunity so she can speak her piece without all this nonsense." He leaned over, hands flat on the table. "Chief, why don't you fill everyone in on your research."
Blair was ready. He walked over to his ever-present backpack and tugged out a legal pad. "Here are my notes of annual stories on the Altamont murders. It appears that each November, over the past thirty years, a story has appeared in newspapers all around the country about the still un-resolved matter of Carl Hemmings' murder. Apparently, statistics then go up for the rental and purchase of that sleazy, badly edited film about the concert instead of a more limited distribution. Like, maybe to film classes studying about what not to do when filming a documentary." Blair passed Vinick a table of the statistics he'd compiled. "Captain, I believe you're up next."
Simon pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket. "My D.A. has bigger, uhm…," he glanced in embarrassment at the confused woman he was trying to protect, "…more clout, than your D.A., apparently. She obtained this record from your office file, which shows annual inquiries into the case by the filmmakers each year at this time. Those letters are always followed by a press conference, which is covered by reporters and sent out by AP wire service."
"My office doesn't have a choice about such things! When the questions roll in from any source, particularly Hollywood types, we have to play ball with them." The defensive tone was followed by a derisive one. "Don't you gentleman know how to tap dance when you get a call from your wealthier constituency?"
Simon sighed. "Of course we do, but we try not to annoy the hell out of other departments around the country while we two-step. Can you please make this simpler for all of us? How about if I agree to rent the damn film over Christmas?"
"No argument here, folks." Vinick grinned broadly and shifted his glance to the lawyer. "I resent the hell out of being here during a cold, wet, Washington winter for the same stupid reasons. But then I'd have missed out on this terrific coffee. Where's your phone, Connelly? And your fax number too, while we're at it."
Naomi brought her son and his colleagues up to date on her recent activities while that business was conducted. Twenty minutes later, they were ready to begin. Impressed with the colorful manner in which the beleaguered Sheriff had manipulated the self-important morons still pursuing a dead case into the new century, Connelly presided over the brief signing of the document. "Now you can say anything you want, Naomi."
Jim winced. "That might be a bit more latitude than you want to offer, Sean." Jim winced again, as his partner defended the slur upon his mother by slugging him in the arm.
"Never mind them, Mom. What happened that night?"
"Well, it's all a bit complicated, Blair, but it began after my high school graduation in May, nineteen sixty-nine. I was anxious to begin a more experiential form of education but my parents had insisted upon applications being filed with several colleges. I received acceptances but wanted to defer enrollment. My parents hoped that a single summer spent traveling would lead me to relent by September. They even sent an acceptance to UCLA on my behalf, without my knowledge. The sixties were waning but I'd been very impressed by the peace movement and needed to pursue its tenets. That month, John Lennon was having his 'bed-in' for peace up in Montreal and I was thinking about experimenting with the Castaneda theories of mind expansion,"
Blair interrupted her. "But he was discredited as a sociologist in later years."
"Yes, Sweetie, I know, but in those days it seemed to make sense for a lot of us who weren't simply looking for a 'high'. I think we wanted to be persuaded that the search for a higher consciousness didn't have to be about polluting one's body."
A strangled sound came from Vinick's direction. Jim and Simon, perfectly poker-faced, frowned in his direction. Jim then cleared his throat, warningly. We might rib Sandburg later on about this, but no shit-kicking California Sheriff is going to make my best friend, or his mother, feel uncomfortable in my own city.
Vinick subsided and Naomi returned to her story.
"Well, when you think about how rigid society was back then, it was really all we had. There was such a climate of fear during the Vietnam era, we were all desperate to explore concepts that people now think of as self-evident." She looked around her and smiled at her son, gently teasing. "Well, some people. Anyway, I'd heard that Timothy Leary was going to be there in June so I packed up a few things and took off for Canada."
"How did you fund your travels, Ms. Sandburg?"
Naomi looked up in surprise. "I'd worked on and off throughout high school and used those savings. Does it matter?"
Her interrogator's expression was unreadable, so she continued. "I'd been corresponding for some time with John and Yoko, and was invited to meet them and their guest."
Simon's eyes widened. "You wrote to John Lennon? And he answered?"
"Mostly, it was Yoko. I sent her some poetry she found consistent with her art." Her comment was greeted by astonished silence, so she moved on with her tale. "There were a lot of American boys there - conscientious objectors, you know - and some of us got on very well together. Timothy convinced us that LSD would make it possible for us to discover the breadth of our sensory potential, and the whole group became very close; very tight from the experience."
"Naomi, I'm gonna have a lot of questions about all this after we're done here."
"Of course, Blair. In a way, I'm glad this came up. You've always been so interested in the past, while I was always forward-looking. I guess it's time to review it all." She cocked her head slightly, once again focusing inwardly. "The summer passed quickly. Of course, our goals were meaningful but our methods were very misguided. I realized early on that drugs weren't really a good way to expand the spirit and Timothy was more caught up in expansion of our temporal powers. Still, he did increase my awareness of how constricted - how futile- it would be to live life the way my parents did. I loved them of course, and went home to begin college, but only took a few credits of urban studies and philosophy classes. The rest of the time, I worked in the peace movement with some of the boys I'd met in Canada, and they introduced me to others in my area. When the concert was planned for December, Timothy was already on trial for drug charges brought against him in 1968. But he wrote and urged us to rekindle the Woodstock spirit by going to Altamont and challenging the fascists by demonstrating that our capacity for the peaceful expression of our differences with the government was still in force." Naomi laughed, somewhat bitterly.
"My parents forbade me to go, but I went anyway. It was there that I saw just how deeply - how thoroughly - that our society had been damaged. The sell-outs from the Woodstock hey-day showed up; mostly stoned on high-priced, recreational drugs. They seemed to spend their more sober hours comparing expensive cars and jewelry. The younger people who showed up were mostly frightened of what lay ahead for them. They were trying to let the music drown out their anxieties. I'd thought, hoped really, that I would be able to see the spirit of the sixties bloom again. All that was left was a legacy of violence and self-indulgence, polluting thousands of disillusioned souls."
Simon placed his hand over hers. "I never thought I would say this, but I hope you'll have a talk with my Daryl sometime, and let him hear about those days."
The astonished woman turned to him, her vividly colored eyes moistening as she gazed upon this figure that had always represented everything she had fought. "I'd be honored, Simon."
Jim and Blair exchanged glances of disbelief but Vinick was anxious to return to business. "Ms. Sandburg, how did you get to the concert?"
She closed her eyes in reminiscence. "A friend drove me. I can see him in my mind's eye, can't quite recall ever hearing his real name. I knew him as Shakir."
"Was he one of the Montreal crowd?"
Naomi looked at him in puzzlement. "Yes, I had met him there. He worked with our peace group, but under the radar, so to speak. He would have been arrested for draft dodging if anyone had recognized him. He kept to himself mostly, but had access to a lot of data we needed. He was dedicated to his work, and took the necessary risks. It wasn't cowardice that had sent him over the border." She looked at Jim. "He couldn't convince the draft board that hunting animals for food, as he did, wasn't the same as hunting Asians who'd never threatened his home and family."
The three Army veterans around the table couldn't help but glance at one another. Simon spoke for them. "We're all old enough to have dispensed with the old 'knee-jerk' reactions to the Vietnam draft evasion stories. I still don't condone it, but there were a lot of individual cases of kids doing what they thought was right. Since becoming the father of a teenager, I've stopped judging them."
Surprised, Naomi nodded her appreciation while Blair blithely took their acceptance for granted. Taking his mother's hand, his statement both surprised and pleased her. "I'm lucky to have been born in the seventies, since I would never have gone to fight in such a war, myself."
Jim nodded his understanding. Blair's no coward; he'd have risked everything to stay and fight in the underground peace movement, too. He suppressed a smile at the wry thought and realized how many of his former notions, obtained from the straight-jacket that had housed his father's school of conservative thought, had been discarded. But I'm still an Independent!
"Things were very exciting at first glance, but it didn't take long for reality to hit." Naomi sighed, half-recalled details coming to the fore. "By the time the Stones were playing, I only wanted to go home. Unfortunately, Shakir had gotten spooked by some security people - it isn't true that all the security was informally arranged. There were plenty of pigs there too. I'm sorry, but that's how it was then." Not at all abashed, she looked squarely at her son. "The Hell's Angels weren't the only ones shoving people around that night. But anyway, Shakir left alone and I didn't have a ride, so I needed to hang out until someone else I knew was ready to leave."
"Why didn't you leave with Shakir?" Vinick's casual tone began to grate on Blair's ears.
"Can we pause the tape here for a moment? Connelly, I'd like to speak with you and my Mom for a minute."
"Let's go." Sean rose from the table and led his clients into another room, ignoring the annoyed glances flung in his direction by Vinick. "Have a seat, Ms. Sandburg. Blair, I gather this smells as bad to you as it does to me?"
"Wow, I am so glad you picked up on this. I just… hey, Jim! You joining this party?"
"Vinick seemed a bit, er; perturbed by your holding this impromptu conference, so I left Simon in charge of entertaining him. Now, why would the man have any reason to be concerned at all? I mean, he's certainly gained Naomi's full cooperation."
Connelly wasn't satisfied with such sparse details. "What do you mean by 'perturbed'?"
Blair intercepted Jim's gaze and rubbed his chest surreptitiously. Jim nodded, confirming that he'd noticed a change in the Sheriff's heart rate. Jim contented the lawyer with a more general explanation for his suspicions. "He just seemed nervous, started to fidget. You know. The kinds of things detectives learn to look for in interrogations."
"Gotcha. So, what's with this guy's fixation on Shakir? He's not here to listen to a story about the Hemmings killing. We may have thought we were being clever, finding out about the video profits, but there's something else here."
"Agreed." Jim scrubbed at his face briefly. "I feel completely stupid to have been so thoroughly taken in this way. No law enforcement agency is going to spend their resources on the Hemmings case. Naomi, was Shakir involved in any of the more violent demonstrations against the Vietnam War?"
"I don't know. Well, maybe I've suspected. When I made it home from the concert, my parents threw me out of the house. I had nowhere else to go, so I took refuge with my friends in the peace movement. A few were more interested in ending the war, rather than fostering the cause of peace. I maintained that you couldn't counter violence with more violence. It seemed ridiculous to bomb draft offices to protest bombs… not to mention the potential danger to others, whether or not they were guilty of complicity with that atrocity of a war."
Her lawyer looked at her sternly. "Ms. Sandburg, that doesn't answer the question of what you did or didn't know. I strongly advise you to say nothing further about it."
"It was because I made my feelings known that people considering violent acts stopped taking me into their confidence. Going to the concert and then becoming homeless and living among those people - it all taught me that activists were not always pacifists. I distanced myself more and more from that element and Shakir was among those who were encouraged to remain 'at arm's length'. I began to work more with the Buddhist monks and other clergy against the war. That's how I met Brother Jeremy and the monks of Saint Sebastian's." Naomi faced her son, squarely. "Blair, it was those early lessons that make it so hard for me to watch you choose to wield a gun, even if it is in the service of peace."
Blair rose, approached his mother and knelt by her chair. "I hear you, Mom. Really, I get it now." He touched her face. "It had to be so hard for you." His voice faded as he watched his mother's eyes fill.
"Naomi, as your lawyer, I am instructing you not to say another word, to me or anyone else, about anything other than the moments surrounding the Hemmings killing. That's all we're here to discuss. And that's all your immunity agreement covers."
"But Blair needs to hear the rest of it and that pi…uhm, officer, will want a lot more out of me now."
"I'm sorry but the fact remains that Blair, Jim and I are all officers of the court in one way or another. We can't tell this guy you have nothing to offer, if you tell us otherwise. Don't put your son in a position of having to…"
"Hold it right there, man! My mother and I will discuss whatever…"
"Chief! The man's right. We all have to live with the choices we've made, and that means dealing with the consequences of being on different sides of an issue. There are many forms of alliances, and some just can't be that straightforward. Kind of like when we work with the feds, remember?"
Naomi sat up straight, resolution in her drying eyes. "I had hoped I was past the point of playing games of this kind, but I still remember the rules." Her expression hardened and Blair rose, intensely uncomfortable with the alteration in personality.
Connelly rose as well. "Shall we return?"
"And that's all I recall from the concert. Afterwards, things were so disrupted in terms of my personal life - because of my parent's disapproval - that I didn't really pay much attention to anything beyond my own concerns."
"Ms. Sandburg, I don't understand how you could have spent so much time with those people and profess to know so little about their activities."
"Well, Charley," she began, disarmingly, "It was thirty years ago. My family was in upheaval. I'd done some unwise experimentation with drugs and the general tenor of those times was tremendously negative, energetically speaking." Vinick winced openly at that remark, convincing all and sundry that Naomi had struck exactly the right chord here. "None of us stayed together for much longer," she continued. "I began to travel shortly after that. Remember, I was too young back then to know that the search for meaning begins from within."
"Uhm, right. Well, I do have a record of your going to Algier the following winter."
"How very thorough of your office."
"Can you explain that?"
Naomi held up a hand, to stop her lawyer from objecting. "Of course. Timothy Leary was convicted on drug charges in January of 1970, but escaped from prison and fled to Algier in September of that year. I had decided to leave the country by that time and was invited to join him there, based upon our previous contact in Montreal. He was kind enough to offer plane fare so -"
Connelly assumed a rather shuttered mien. "This conversation has strayed far enough from the original topic."
Naomi decided to play out her part, disliking both sides of this battle. "- so I went, as there seemed little reason to remain here. It was a simple, communal existence for the most part. Other than Timothy, I hadn't known anyone there prior to my arrival. Yes, there were drugs and that's where I learned that enlightenment comes far more easily with a clean body and a mind purified by meditation." Naomi looked at her son. Obfuscation wasn't out of the realm of her abilities, but she hoped this last part of her narrative would register as the truth. "I moved on from there - fortunately, as it turned out, because I learned soon afterwards that I was pregnant."
She smiled brightly at the growing disdain on the face of the Sheriff. "And that is the point at which my true life began. Nothing that came before mattered, and I devoted myself to developing a bond with Gaia."
"Who was he or she?" Vinick's tone brightened at the potential for some real information.
Smiling inwardly at that expected bit of ignorance, Blair watched his mother go in for the spiritual equivalent of 'the kill'.
"Gaia is the totality that is this earth. Instead of concerning myself with who fertilized his egg, I ensured that my son would grow from the fertilization of his mind with all this earth has to offer."
Vinick stood abruptly, wondering when he'd lost his advantage. "I'm sure there's a lot of 'fertilizer' involved here."
Simon and Jim rose with equal abruptness, but knew their Sandburgs well enough to refrain from impulsive violence. Connelly smoothly turned off the tape recorder.
"This interview is so over, Vinick." Blair's quiet intensity bespoke a warning more powerful than any invectives would have conveyed. "You will never even look at my mother again unless you have a warrant or a subpoena, and a D.A. with you. You've gotten Naomi's recital of the concert events. Your opinions of her lifestyle, travels and choice of companions are irrelevant and unprofessional."
"Not to mention the fact that you've abused the courtesy of my department, righteously labeled Major Crimes, with your minor league games." Simon used his height to advantage, looming over the visiting officer. "Don't think we won't be contacting the press about their manipulation all these years in terms of promoting tape sales, and your departmental vigilance to already solved crimes."
Sean rang a buzzer discreetly installed beneath his table. "My staff will see you out, Sheriff." The man who arrived might have been a gardener or handyman, but his eyes suggested otherwise.
"My office will be in touch with you if there is anything more we need." Vinick no longer felt the need to hide his intentions. A motion from Connelly kept the group passive as the California officer left with his unresolved questions.
"Ms. Sandburg. I am going to assume that Mr. Leary was intelligent enough to avoid confiding in his friends about those who assisted in his escape, and that thirty years were sufficient to erode your memories of any further encounters you may have had with Shakir. He seems to be of primary interest here."
Naomi's tone registered her exhaustion. "Timothy died in nineteen ninety-six. I had no further contacts with him after leaving the commune. You see, I never wanted anyone questioning their role in my son's existence. There was nothing there of much value, beyond my experiences in that world. I found other ways of passing them on to Blair."
"Thank God for that." Simon removed a cigar from his pocket, only to return it upon receiving a headshake from Naomi.
"Simon, I'd like to take the rest of the day in personal time. Take Naomi home with me and talk some more, ya know?"
"Sure, Blair. Go ahead."
"Sweetie, I need to take the next flight out of here and get back to work on the election."
Blair sighed in resignation. "I gather this means we aren't going to talk a lot more about all this?"
She looked at him sadly. "No, Detective Sandburg. We aren't."
Saturday, 9:45 A.M.; the Lofts
Jim grabbed a towel and put it around his neck, dreaming of a shower after his morning run and a pot of coffee. He then became aware of sounds coming from next door, which were atypical of his partner. A sniff indicated the presence of a man who apparently hadn't bathed for some time and was… cooking? He searched frantically for the more familiar heartbeat and found it, but it was definitely elevated. Drawing his gun, Jim lunged into the next loft, braced for the unknown.
"NO! DON'T SHOOT ME!" A skillet hit the floor, along with a glass dish of butter as two grimy hands extended upward in the time-honored manner in which persons demonstrate they are unarmed.
Jim immediately raised the gun above the 'perp's' level to ensure safety during this negotiation with an apparently unarmed suspect. "Okay, who are you and where's Blair Sandburg? And, while we exchange these pleasantries, you might as well assume the position. I imagine you've done it before."
"Shit. The kid said this place was his. Make yourself at home, he says. Have a meal and a shower, he says. Not, I have a homicidal neighbor with a gun and delusions of being a cop. Nope, never said that." His fear was now gone and replaced with what seemed to be a more familiar feeling of bitterness. "HEY, BLAIR!"
"Be out in a minute and then the shower is all yours." The voice from the bathroom didn't sound entirely normal, but held no note of fear.
"Blair, you okay?" Jim called out.
"No, I'm not okay. Don't ever order a tongue sandwich at Cascade International's so-called deli!"
Well, that explains the rapid heartbeat. "How sick are you?"
"I'm fine, Jim. He's fine, Jim."
"How do you know?"
"Can we discuss this after I get off the toilet? Listen, I know he's cool."
"BECAUSE. I. KNOW. You know? Capital 'K'?"
"Okay, sorry." Great, another trip to Shamans-R-Us.
Not sensing the presence of any weapons other than kitchen implements, Jim lowered his weapon. "Look, I happen to be a cop. Really. I'm sorry for scaring you. It's just that I thought you were an intruder and… well, never mind that now. Give it to me again, from the beginning."
"My name is Harvey Schorr and I've been homeless for awhile now. Lost my wife and then I lost my house when the insurance didn't cover the medical bills. Lost my job when… I just lost it. So, I'm sleeping on the church steps over on Third this morning and this kid - well, maybe not a kid, but dressed like one with the long hair, ya know? Well he trips over my blanket and I apologize to him. He looks me over and the next thing you know, we're talking while I'm walking with him to some weird store where he can buy a stomach powder. But talking, like he really wants to know about me. Next thing I know, here we are. Look, can I go clean up that mess over there? And then, if it's all the same to you, I'll just leave. You can search me if you want."
Jim sighed and subtly checked the man's vitals. No hint of anything other than subsiding fear. The tale was all too common these days. "No need. You're here already and I believe you were invited. That 'kid' happens to be my partner in the Cascade PD."
"No shit? And he brings strangers to his place just like that?"
"Apparently, yes. An issue he and I will take up in the very near future. But no reason for you not to enjoy his hospitality." And it's not as if there's anything of value in the place yet.
"I could really use that meal and the shower, if it's all the same to you, uhm, Mr.?"
"I'm Detective Ellison. Sure, go ahead, Sir. I'll be next door if you need me and I can talk to my partner later."
"Sure. I wasn't gonna give him any grief or nothing."
"May I ask you a personal question?"
"Thank you. Go right ahead with your cooking. I'd like to know the name of your last employer. Would he be willing to give you a reference?"
"Maybe. I got canned after I'd used up all my family leave time and hit my insurance limits. Those expenses had already put the poor son of a bitch into a new bracket for health insurance costs for all his employees. He didn't have much of a choice, ya know?"
"If your story checks out, maybe I can find you some employment while Sandburg works on living arrangements. Want me to try?"
"God, yes!" Tears welled in the smudged eyes and were hastily blinked away.
"Okay. Here, write down the information for me and then relax. Also, leave me a contact number where you can get messages if I can't come up with anything today. I promise to keep on it, though."
"Father Michael over at the mission, he takes messages for a lot of us. I'll write down his number. I…I'll write it down with the rest."
"Good." Jesus, Sandburg. This is like living next door to Mother Theresa. I can't take it; this guy might've been another Lash.
6:30 P.M.; Jim's Loft
"One lamb chop left, and it's yours for the asking."
"No, thanks, man. My stomach is a lot better, but I don't want to chance it."
"I guess I can microwave it for my lunch tomorrow."
Blair shook his head. "I keep telling you, microwaving sucks. Did you know that you can't even sprout seeds in water that was micro-waved?"
"I'd rather hear about Naomi's departure, that is, if you won't be breaking any confidences."
Blair winced. "It won't, because Naomi decided the matter for me. Or us, actually. You mind if we take our coffee into the living room?"
"Sure, but you're having tea tonight. Your digestive tract is still off." Jim rose from the table to gather the makings.
"You can hear it? Wow, is that the sound of peristalsis you're listening to?"
"I can't confirm that until you define it. I didn't major in biology, Chief." Jim finished fixing the hot drinks and carried the tray into the living room. Setting it on the coffee table, he took a seat on the couch.
Blair settled himself on the area rug in front of the love seat, within reach of the coffee table's offerings. "Peristalsis is the process by which the smooth muscles of the intestinal tract rhythmically contract and move digested food and waste products around."
"Yeah, guess that's it. Just don't start devising any tests, because listening to your bowel sounds isn't exactly the high point of my day. So, what's with Naomi?"
"You know, she really is at home in the world, Jim. First, she rejected the narrow options in life style her family had planned for her, and then she rejected the alternatives offered by those really conflicted people she told us about yesterday. Instead, she decided to bring me up in the gaps between cultures and counter-cultures around the world. She had this instinctive affinity for understanding what's taken me a couple of decades of travel, and formal schooling, to learn. Life exists with a capital 'L'. Individual societies and their languages reflect most of the social mores required by the majority in a given location. Influenced of course by climate, natural resources and…"
"Chief, I promise to tune into the full lecture later but could you fill me in on the specifics first? How did you leave things with Naomi at the airport?"
Blair shook his head, the deep divide between himself and his mother now fully defined. "She refused to tell me anything more about the time surrounding my conception or the people influencing her. Said that the information wouldn't be enlightening, since I'd made the choice to live within the narrower confines within 'a' society."
"But you're an anthropologist! No one could be more conscious of life with a capital 'L' than you. You understand life as it's lived across a hundred societies." Jim fought his outrage, unwilling to add to Blair's obvious disappointment with his mother's… displeasure. With him, apparently.
"No, Jim. That just means I can comprehend, and even predict, variations across multiple cultures. I've chosen to live my life within a more restrictive set of parameters. These consist of a mixture of cultural expressions representing the parts of 'Life' that are essential to my, to our existence. Most narrowly, is the culture of formalized 'Law Enforcement'. That allows us to effectively protect the tribe - the population of Cascade - and its version of society within the U.S.A. Of course, that's because it's your territory as a sentinel. Next is Shamanism, because the powers of healing within me require some outward structure to be realized. I'm still in the primitive stages of development in that reality and will have to look for further guidance there. Then, there's Judaism, representing an ancient and wider variety of behavioral practices, all reinforcing the constructs I most value. Do you know why you can't mix meat and dairy in a kosher kitchen, Jim? Because it reminds us to respect the animals used for our nourishment by not cooking the calf in its mother's milk. The Talmud teaches that no detail of life is considered too small to be a tool for learning or as a reminder to live consciously.
"That sounds damned broad to me, Sandburg. How can that be considered 'limited' in any way?"
"I appreciate your support, Jim. It's - heartening - how you wish you could keep me from hurting over this but there's a pretty big chasm here. I used to stand outside of the cultural groups I encountered so that I could better study and define them. Now, I stand for the preservation of particular structures and live within them. This means Naomi can't tell me anything that might conflict with those structures."
"She can't really think you'd betray her confidences, Chief. She knows you better than that."
"Naomi knows that conflicts of any kind are death to the inner self; she won't lay that kind of trip on me. Some of my choices were made awhile back and you've seen how my personal space has been marked with signs of specific cultural significance. The fact that I've chosen to do this and can embrace it all intellectually doesn't make it less… restrictive. Naomi can't share everything with me any longer." Blair swallowed and dropped his gaze. "It's a lonely feeling."
Jim put down his mug and rose, transitioning to the love seat. His left leg came to rest against Blair's right side.
Blair closed his eyes and leaned into the strength offered. Inhaling steam from his cooling tea, he exhaled on a sigh. "So many times I've insisted that you 'choose'. To be a sentinel, to recognize the other realities and planes from which your abilities draw strength. I was a fool to believe I didn't have to choose as well, just because I'm aware of a larger range of choices to be made."
"It seems more like some of the wider realities 'chose' you. At least, that's the way it went down if I recall anything having to do with wolves and panthers, a Shaman from Peru and a certain stubborn detective, infallible though he may be, from Cascade.
The remark provoked a ghost of a grin. "You mean, Simon?"
Jim snorted as his hand came to rest upon the long hair, fingers lightly carding through the strands instead of providing the usual quick tousle. "As far as reality goes, wasn't it you who taught me that change and development comes from modifying existing structures? How can we possibly accomplish anything unless we're grounded in society?"
"Don't worry about me, Jim. It'll be okay."
"You've never settled for 'okay' up to now and never will. 'Okay', hell. When you get it all worked out, it'll be… outstanding!"
"I'll settle for that."
Sunday, 2:20 P.M.; the Lofts
The sound of childish laughter rang out. Resigned to another sojourn into the expanded Sandburg Zone, Jim brought his gun upstairs and locked it in his closet safe in case of an unauthorized entry by a munchkin. Dad was right. Good fences make for good neighbors. Damn it, connecting the lofts was supposed to be a good thing!
The token knock having been administered, Jim strode warily into the lion's den.
"Hi, Jim!" Sandburg knelt down to meet the eyes of his little charge. "Hey, Sweetie. This is our friend, Jim. Jim, this little lady is Casey, Megan's niece. Megan's sister is visiting, but got sick and had to see a doctor. I'm sitting 'till they get back. Looks like it'll be awhile." Casey looked up, tears gathering upon seeing yet another stranger added to the other upheavals of her day.
"Gotcha, Chief. Hello Casey." Jim hastily sat on the couch so that his size would be less intimidating to the shy youngster. "How old is she?"
"She can tell you herself. Right, Casey? How old are you?"
"Fwee", said the preschooler. She held up four fingers, unsure of what to do with her thumb.
Jim's smile broke open her well of faith in adults, as he praised her. "Wow, you're a big girl, aren't you?" His smile faltered momentarily as she climbed into his lap at that bit of encouragement. Gamely, he continued, "I know your Aunty Megan. We work together."
"She taked my mommy to da doctah."
Blair sat beside the pair. "That's right, Sweetie. So your mommy can feel better and come home to take care of you. But right now, we're taking care of you." A nod and a snuggle served to acknowledge that fact. Anxiety, and the approach of her normal naptime, had taken their toll.
The two men grinned over her head, already knowing they were at this baby's beck and call for all time.
"Oh, Chiefy?" Jim continued to use the soft, sing-song tone they'd both adopted when speaking to the sleepy child. "I think you're gonna hafta call a locksmith tomorrow and have a little locky put on our door, for when you have company, right? Before the next new guest, prisoner, pensioner, patient, adoptee, starving artist, mad scientist, local yokel, camp follower, proselytizer, salesman, lost moppet…"
Sandburg whispered his defense as Casey's soft snores indicated she'd lost her battle with consciousness. "She's just a baby and the relative of a colleague at that!"
"And my service weapon was hanging from a hook on my wall." Jim's stare dared Blair to make light of the dangers.
Blair looked stricken. "Ohmygod. Mine's locked up but I never thought about yours. I'm an diot."
"I'll go with 'idiot' too then, given the choice. I can suggest a few others, if pressed."
"Not necessary, thanks. I'm sorry, Jim. It's just so great, you know, having a space to share if it's needed. But I guess it isn't that simple, now that I'm a cop. It won't happen again. I'll get that lock put on too, just in case people do come over but, well, it probably won't happen much now. "
Shit, he's discovered yet another downside to partnering with me. "Let's not be hasty here." Jim shifted to allow the tyke resting against him to stretch out more comfortably. She never awakened. "No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Well, okay, bad choice of expressions. I'll manage to restrain what you annoyingly refer to as my 'territoriality', if you'll throw in a bit more common sense about who gains access to your home as a guest. And agree not to let strangers occupy it in your absence, without cluing me in first. I'm sorry your life can't be as open as it once was because of me and…"
"Whoa, stop right there, my friend. Let's just chalk it up to reality. If reality were that idyllic, your gifts wouldn't have evolved to begin with. And society wouldn't need cops, with or without long hair and earrings. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Take off that hair shirt, man. It is so past time for it to be laundered."
They grinned in mutual understanding and acceptance.
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