Sorry for the delay. Real life and work have been weighing down on me. Still, I always find time to daydream. My sister and I recently played hooky from work and watched the last aired (at least for the summer of 2003) episode of The Sentinel on the Sci-Fi channel. Even though I have video taped the show twice, even though I know the stories by heart and even though I am hoping they put the series on DVD, I still like watching the aired version. It's kind of cool to pretend that the show is completely new and that the episodes are still unknown to the viewer.
Anyhow this is my next installment on the Steps series. Hope you enjoy it and I will try to get to the next installment as soon as possible.
They aren't mine but so what. Thanks again to Starfox for the home to put this story in and to you readers who give a reason to write. I love you all!
Steps - Portion 3
Needing to Be Needed
The new and still adjusting parent sighed in utter frustration. It wasn't that the boy didn't listen or even that the child was a bad kid. The problem was that the boy was too darn good.
"Dad? Thanks again for letting me take the bus. All the other kids do it and it will be a lot easier on the wallet right?"
Once again the man sighed as he sat at the dining table in his bathrobe watching his son prepare to leave. The kid was always finding new ways to further his independence and to protect what he perceived as a threat to his new home. Were ten year olds supposed to be like this?
Jim had enjoyed driving his son to school. He had enjoyed their little talks before each went their own way at the start of each week day. Didn't the boy enjoy it as well?
Sure Chief but sometimes cheaper isn't always better."
"True but this is." The boy pulled on his jacket, and then reached for his backpack. "Oh, made toast and coffee for you and I watered the plants. I gotta go." He walked over to his dad and hugged him. "Have a good day."
You too Blair." Ellison watched the door slam and sat on the couch in dismay. Terrific. What am I doing wrong?
"Listen up people. Another person has been murdered. This one was a newspaper deliveryman. Murdered around five in the morning and found in his car with the motor still running. That makes four in the last week. We need to find out why this is happening."
Det. Brown nodded at his superior. "The only clue is that they all once lived in the Orchard Street area and all have worked there most of their lives."His partner, Det. Rafe concurred. "Nothing else seems to match up."
Capt. Banks sighed at the lack of information. "There has to be something there and we are missing it. I want everyone to return to each crime scene. Review the layout, re-interview the neighbors if necessary but find something more to go on. We need to get this killer off of the streets and into a cell before another person is murdered."
Ellison sat as he listened to his superior while reviewing his notes on the case. It was true, there was nothing new to go on and it was as frustrating as hell. This person was good at what he did.
Unconsciously, he looked over at the clock and sighed. He then continued re-reading his notes and found nothing that could suggest handling the case any differently. For lack of a better idea on how to proceed, his mind again drifted. Abruptly he stood and then, just as abruptly he sat again.
While he did this, he was unaware of his superior observing his moves. "Ellison, in my office, now."
Captain Banks waited until the other was seated. "Alright, spill."
"I recognize a man who is distracted by personal problems. I don't need you out there and unfocused. I need your complete attention to the job, now talk."
Ellison sat up a bit straighter, feeling he was being wrongfully judged. "I always give a hundred percent to you and this department, sir. I assure you I will not allow personal problems to affect what I do here."
Banks smiled at the minor undetected admission and then shook his head. "Come on Jim. What's wrong? Being a dad proving to be a bit much?"
"No. Blair is perfect. He's doing terrific in school, takes care of himself and does everything I ask of him. He is just perfect."
Banks noted the slightly angry way the other sounded when he said 'perfect'. "Hey take the kid out and toss the ball around. It's a great way to get the boy to open up about things and for the two of you to, you know, bond. Maybe even teach him a few pointers. Fathers and sons have been doing it for years."
"Did that. The kid is good at the game, seems his mother once dated some ballplayer who taught the boy some tricks of the trade. Hell the boy even taught me to toss a new curve ball." The detective stood and walked over to the window facing out of the building. The sun was barely visible and the sky was slightly overcast. "I thought that ... I wanted to be there for him if he needed me. I wanted to teach him things, you know? Share what I know about life, granted it's not a whole lot, but he; he doesn't seem to need me or anyone else for that matter. He never asks me any questions about, stuff. He never needs help with his homework and even if he did, whatever he is learning is beyond me at the moment. He even taught Irene a new recipe for making some sort of pasta dish. The kid is ten years old and he is completely self-sufficient."
Banks chuckled which gained him an angry glare from his friend. "Jim, forgive me. I've never had that problem. Granted Daryl is a bit younger but the kid is a mess all of the time. He questions everything and then questions the answers and God the kid can be so cranky. Not to mention the fact that he hates helping out. Does it only after I've used every threat in the book to get him going. If I were you, I'd consider myself damn lucky."
Ellison looked back out the window. "I just thought it would be about sharing and getting to know about each other by being there but he doesn't really need me. He does it all and by himself. The only thing I give him is a home and food."
"Things any child needs." Banks sighed and then tilted his head as an idea came to him. "He did take care of his mother when she was ill, didn't he?"
"Yes, but he doesn't need to do that anymore. He needs to be a child, have fun, explore things but it's like he is beyond all of that. Too young to be a man but self-sufficient enough to act like one."
"And you feel like a fifth wheel."
"Yeah, the spare tire in the trunk."
Banks stood and joined the other by the window. "You are a parent of a child who isn't like others. He is highly intelligent and someone who had been forced into a situation that demanded he grow quicker than most. Give it time. The simple fact is that he is a ten year old child and no matter how educated or how grown-up he tries to be, he is still just a child."
Ellison nodded and then stood straighter and looked down at the file in his hand. "Thanks for the talk Simon. I'll get on this immediately."
A gardener, a plumber, a gas meter reader and now a newspaper boy. Nothing out of the ordinary about any of the victims. No gambling problems, no illegal or illicit acts of any sort. These were simple, hard-working people who were shot in the back of the head while doing what they were hired to do. Good law abiding citizens. So why had they been murdered?
No one saw anything; no one heard the shot and yet all the murders occurred on Orchard Street. A street known for its solitude and the home to people who treasured the rural area within the City of Cascade. A crime had not been committed here since 1918 and that was a minor domestic dispute.
A search into the lives of each victim turned up another anomaly. Each lived and worked in this area all of their lives. Strange but it was not uncommon for people to work at their first job until they retired. Each lived an uncolorful lives and each knew the other along with everyone in the neighborhood. It was a close-knit community. So why were they murdered?
Ellison visited each site and spoke with several neighbors. Other than the fact that they knew of each victim and of their demise, nothing new turned up. It was like the murderer was invisible.
He looked at his watch and called in at the lunch hour.
He drove away from the now heavily watched street, never noticing the man watching him from an attic window on top of a rather old Victorian home. A home, which overlooked all of Orchard Street from the odd way it sat on its property. The man smiled brightly as he stepped away from the window.
It was 4:30p when the call came in from Irene. The woman was extremely upset. "Jim, he isn't on the bus and I called the school. They said he had left with the rest of the children but no one knows what happened next. It's like he just disappeared. Jim, I even had the principal check the parking lot, he isn't there. He should have been home an hour ago."
"I'll be there in five minutes. Stay by the phone in case he calls.
Capt. Banks watched as the detective left to search for his son, offering assistance should the other need it. He shook his head. "Be careful what you wish for, my friend."
The blue Explorer traveled along the bus route, as the worried parent searched the rain slicked streets while navigating carefully through the after rush hour traffic. Repeatedly his mind reviewed the color of the boy's jacket, what slacks he wore, and the reason for his allowing the boy to ride the bus when he should have just driven him to school. As he turned the SUV around the block and onto Prospect Avenue he slammed on his brakes. There walking along the street was Blair.
The child was thoroughly drenched and completely focused on getting home. Not watching his surroundings and looking completely vulnerable to the man trained to watch out for others. Ellison parked and got out to retrieve the boy. Anger slowly gaining strength over his concern.
"Dad!!! I ..."
"What the hell where you thinking? Your school is four miles away. You're too young to be out here alone."
"I just ... "
"And why didn't you call me or Irene? The poor woman is out of her mind with worry about you and I thought ... Answer me."
"I forgot a book. I thought I had enough time to get to my locker and back on the bus, but it left without me."
"So you decided to walk?"
"I know how to get home. I had my lunch money and I took the number 96 bus. I only had to walk five blocks. It's not like I'm a baby or something, I've done this before - no biggie."
Ellison looked up and sighed. It was still raining harder. Things were not looking up. "In the truck now. We finish this when we get home, Mister."
The moment the headstrong child entered the loft; Irene showered the boy with kisses and then scolded him for not calling.
Blair apologized and then was sent to his room to get some dry clothes and then ushered off to the bathroom for a shower.
Ellison waited till the sitter went home for the day, assuring her that this would never happen again, and then went to make sure the boy took a warm shower and to inform him that he would be waiting to speak with him in the front room.
The child emerged from the bathroom and went to sit on the couch. Waiting wordlessly for his father to speak. The wait wasn't very long.
"I know you were raised to be independent and, though it may have been the right thing to do because of the situation your mom was faced with, things have changed."
The angry parent turned and faced the child seated on the couch. "You are a child. A ten-year-old boy and you are my son. I will not have you walking the streets alone."
"It was just five blocks."
"It wasn't just five blocks or even the ride on the bus. One block or twenty, you are not to walk alone. As for catching public transportation, you are never to do that without adult supervision. Now, I agreed for you to catch the school bus to and from RPS but I did not agree to let you run around Cascade unsupervised."
"Nothing happened and I wasn't running around. I was getting home safely."
Jim sighed and tried another tact. He walked over and sat beside the child. "Blair, on this you are wrong. I love you kiddo and I know you can handle yourself, believe me I know and I trust you but there are reasons for what I am saying here and reasons why I am telling you never to do this again. Please Chief just do as I say."
Blair looked up at the man beside him and stared for a moment. "No questions asked?"
"No kid, not on this. Promise me you will never do this again."
The boy shrugged, "Alright."
Jim nodded. "Now, I'm going to ask the principal to give you the cell phone to carry. I think from now on you should travel with it and I will give her our promise that you will only use it in an emergency."
Blair nodded. "I promise to call you if I get let behind again." He hesitated and then spoke softly. "I'm sorry you're mad at me."
Jim pulled the boy onto his lap and whispered softly as he hugged the small body tightly. "I just don't want to lose you."
"But dad I really can handle myself."
"Promise me Blair."
"I did. I do."
Satisfied Jim sat holding the boy and closed his eyes. He could smell the strangely woodsy scent from his shampoo, could feel the warmth of the young body envelop his heart and enjoyed the comfort of knowing all was right with the world because he and his son were safe and sound.
"Dad? I'm hungry. Want me to make something?"
"How about we work together?"
After supper the two talked about their day and then Blair was allowed to watch one Discovery show while his father showered.
"Alright Chief. Time for bed."
Blair stood and walked to the small room beneath his father's. He remembered the day his dad decided to let him sleep here. It was like dad expected him to behave like a grown boy. It was so cool to have a room of your own and most of the kids his age complained about having to share with a brother or sister. Some had to sleep close to their parents - yeesh. Even Naomi used to make him sleep close to her room. What did they think? We aren't infants. Go figure.
As the boy crawled into bed a multitude of diverse thoughts flowed into his mind. "Dad? Why do people hurt animals? You know? Maybe someday I'll work for Pet Control and stop the suffering. Hey did you know that lions and tigers will become extinct by the year 2010? We should try to stop that. The world needs its wild animals. I really like the big cats."
The boy spoke like this while his father tucked him in and in response the man mumbled answers to the non-stop commentary. It was like the child needed to empty his mind before sleeping and Jim had learned that it was easier to let the stream of thoughts ebb than to fight the current. Sometimes the kid's thoughts were fascinating and sometimes they were a bit abstract.
Blair yawned widely. "I like my room dad. It's so big and comfy. So adult."
"I'm glad you like it."
Again Blair yawned. "I love you."
Ellison placed a kiss on the small forehead. "I love you too. Now relax and go to sleep."
Blair smiled groggily and nodded. "Yes sir. Dad sir."
As Jim finally lay in bed, he listened to Blair whisper comments about his day to his mother. It was strange to be able to listen in on his son like this but it had its advantages and at the moment the parent was grateful for any advantage he could get.
He smiled when the boy asked his mom to watch over the both of them and was startled Blair whispered 'good-night dad'. Surely he had no idea he was listening, did he?
Another person had been murdered. The latest victim was a retired man whose pension barely made ends meet. Irv Balcik had taken on the part-time job of placing fliers into mailboxes for a local restaurant. A restaurant he had once co-owned but lost due to the recent change in the economy. His current job supplied him with pocket change and helped to put a bit more on the table to eat.
Balcik had been found seated on the ground next to a mailbox of one of the homes he was working past. The sixty-four year old looked as though he had fallen asleep. Instead he was dead from single a bullet to the head.
Capt. Banks was livid. These murders were unacceptable. His best men were on the job and no one could find anything useful. It was as if the murderer knew what the police was doing and what would be done next.
Nothing scared the killer off, not the added patrol cars nor the constant surveillance of the area. The guy knew when to attack and did so without a single mistake.
Det. Ellison bent down to look at the crime site and frowned. He hadn't mentioned it before but there was a strange odor at each of the victims' location. It was old and cold. A scent similar to one smelled at a morgue. Not formaldehyde but the other. Death.
"Got something Jim?"
"It's not really anything monumental but there is an odor that I keep smelling wherever we encounter a new victim."
Banks knew the guy had extra sensitive senses so he accepted the statement. "Of what?"
"Death. Old, month old death."
Two days later
Blair finished up his homework, pulled out something to wear for school the next day and went to ask Irene if he could watch the Discovery Channel. The woman was asleep on the couch; she had looked a bit sick when she met him at the bus stop and had taken some medication that made her fall asleep. Not wanting to disturb the lady, Blair decided he'd do something else. Besides his head was hurting and his skin felt funny. Sometimes doing something made the pain disappear.
Time passed and when Irene didn't come to tell him to get ready for dinner, Blair went to check on her.
"Irene? You alright?"
The woman opened her eyes and winced. "No kiddo. I think I need help."
Blair immediately called 911. "Yes, that's our address. She has a fever and her eyes are unfocused." When the voice on the phone asked to speak with the woman, Blair handed the phone to her. He quickly gathered their coats and her purse. He looked around and then grabbed his backpack.
The ambulance arrived five minutes later and the two were off. On the kitchen table was a note to his dad informing him where Irene and he were.
Ellison couldn't shake the feeling of unease that suddenly overcame him. He called the loft earlier and Irene had told him all was fine. Blair had gotten home safely and was doing his homework. When he spoke with the boy everything seemed alright. So why this feeling?
The detective sighed and again focused on the job at hand. He again looked down the Orchard Street neighborhood and frowned. "Whoever is doing this is right in plain sight. He has to be."
The next couple of hours were spent in the department. Going through files of anyone with criminal record who either came or worked in the area. The detectives continued to toss out ideas and suspicions but nothing seemed to pan out. These were good people.
Banks decided to wrap things up for the night. "We have other cases to solve. There was a woman who was raped on 16th and left to die in the doorway of her home from multiple stab wounds. A child was found dead and stuffed into the family's doghouse. Molested and strangled while he went to feed the family pet, which was also found dead. People need our help out there and we need this wrapped up so we can get to them."
The superior sighed and dismissed his team. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.
Ellison completed his report on a carjacker he managed to arrest while returning to the station. He grabbed his coat and went to leave. He reached the elevator just as Capt. Banks called him back. "Simon, I have to go ... "
"There's been an attack. I need you on the scene now."
Ellison nodded, grateful that Irene was able to stay later if needed. He'd call her to let her know later.
It turned out to be nothing but a domestic dispute. Husband found in the arms of the babysitter doing the nasty while his four year old was in the room nearby.
The wife decided to introduce the backside of their heads to her new skillet.
It took three men to pull the angry wife away from her husband who had his arms filled with a teenager who claimed to have lost the condom within and was crying because of a potential pregnancy.
Through it all, Ellison worried about his son. He had left two messages at the loft but wondered why no one answered the phone. They always answer the phone.
Simon watched the trio being loaded into separate cars and then walked over to Ellison. "Well that was interesting."
Jim nodded and reached for his cell phone. Again no answer. "Sir, I have to go now. See you tomorrow."
He drove using the lights and siren.
He arrived at the loft and as he read the note, he was pushed beyond concerned. The boy had left a note alright but what did it mean?
Dad, Irene and I went to the hospital. Be back soon.
Which hospital? When did they leave? Who was sick? When was 'soon'?
Just as he was about to reach for the phone, it rang. "Blair?"
"Dad. Irene is real sick. I tried to help but the doctor said I needed to wait out here. Joe is here and he's so worried. They haven't been apart like this before and I... "
"Chief, please, just ... where are you? Which hospital?"
"St. Claire's. I wanted to call earlier but some nurse said I couldn't use my cell phone and the pay phones are too high up."
"Sit tight and I will be there in a few minutes."
Five minutes and twenty seconds later Jim arrived at St. Claire's and quickly located his son who was handing some coffee to a worried older man. He turned and smiled. "Dad!!"
Jim caught the happy child in his arms and hugged him tightly. "You alright Chief?"
Blair smiled. "Sure, I can handle myself. How was your day?"
Ellison lowered the child down and walked down the hall with the boy's hand clasped in his. "It is fine now. How about you introduce me to Irene's husband?"
When the doctor arrived he informed the concerned friends and husband that Irene would be in the hospital for a while, for observation but she would be fine in time.
Hours later the two rode in the truck back to the loft. The weather was getting worse and the weatherman reported that thunderstorms were soon to follow.
It was a well-known fact at the Major Crimes Unit that whenever there was a thunderstorm, the day after meant a grouchy Ellison. No one knew why the man reacted that way but most simply tried to stay far away from him. It was the smart thing to do.
In the truck the once energetic child was nodding off. It was around eleven at night and way past any normal ten year old's bedtime. Jim slipped out of the now parked truck and went to the passenger side to retrieve his son.
"I can walk dad."
Yawn. "You think Irene will be alright?"
Grandma will be happy to come over tomorrow."
"Yes. She said the two of you would be going to the museum."
"Hmmm." Blair lowered his head onto the broad shoulder of his father and sighed. He'd walk when they got inside.
Jim entered the loft holding on to the sleeping boy in his arms, locked the doors and crossed the area to step into his son's room. He laid the boy down and then prepared the sleeper for bed. As he tucked the child in, Jim winced at the unexpected sound of thunder. "Great."
The rumbling was getting louder and so was the pain in his head. He winced after every loud crash and wished that just once he could figure out why thunder hurt his hearing so much. He had been getting better. Lights and smells weren't bothering him so much lately. He thought this was all under control. What was with his ears?
Downstairs the thunder woke the exhausted child. He sat up and looked around, only to dive onto his pillow when the lightening flashed.
His heart raced and he almost called out for his mother. He opened his eyes just as his room illuminated again and then went dark. He closed his eyes tightly, trying hard to be an adult about this but when the sound erupted he instead found himself wishing he had a brother or sister to share his room with. Wishing he slept closer to his dad. Where was his dad? Didn't he know? Didn't all parents know about thunder and closets and strange shapes and ...
He considered the fact that his dad was new to the ways of being a father and sat up clutching his pillow against his chest. Maybe dad was waiting for him. Maybe he needed to know the rules.
He waited for the next loud crash and then quickly ran through the loft, up the stairs and dove into the bed on the second level.
Jim, who had been trying to relax, was startled by the sudden intrusion and almost shoved the small body away. "Chief?"
"Dad, i-its thundering. I-I didn't know if you knew but dads are supposed to sleep with their kids when it thunders."
The detective smiled. "Supposed to?"
"Y-yeah. I'm scared and ..."
Just then there was a loud rumble and Blair scooted closer to his father and hugged him tightly around the waist.
"Alright, Chief. Come on." He pulled the boy up and placed the small head on his shoulder. He then pulled the covers around the two of them and sighed. "Better?"
Again another thunder rumbled. This time the father wondered why it was that the sound suddenly didn't bother him. He ignored the query and smiled. It felt good to be here holding and protecting his son from his fears.
"I love you dad."
"Love you too."
"Thanks for being here."
With a broad smile the other nodded. "Anytime you need me Chief, just remember I am always here for you."
The two drifted off to sleep. Both no longer hearing the loud noise from the outside weather. Instead, they felt safe and content.
Another murder had occurred. This time it was the death of garbage collector. Again shot in the head and again no witnesses. Banks was at the end of his rope on this one. He also knew that after last night's storm, Ellison would be a cranky as hell.
"Morning sir, brought you a pineapple danish."
"Uhhh, thanks Ellison."
"I've been thinking, we've focused solely on the people who work here. What about someone who recently quit because of the murders?"
"You suggesting that one of the potential victims might know who or why this is happening?"
"It's worth a look-see."
"Interesting. Get on it." Banks smiled and then allowed his curiosity to be voiced. "Why the upbeat attitude Ellison?"
"My son needed me last night." He didn't elaborate and Banks understood. He was, after all, a father too.
Lyle Johanssen had been with the post-office for thirty-two years. The man never missed a day, never took vacations and was awarded several good employee awards. Then, two weeks ago he quit. No reason given, just quit.
He lived outside of Orchard, in a modest coach house. The detective noted that there had been a dog but apparently the animal was no longer on the premises. The curtain off to the left moved slightly and the detective knew the man had heard him knocking.
When the door opened a thin grey haired man appeared. "Look I don't know anything. I just want to be left alone."
"What exactly are you referring to sir?"
"Those murders down the street. I don't know anything."
Ellison tilted his head and smelled the odor from behind him. It was the odor he smelled at each crime scene. He turned and noted the large hedges across the street and then the muzzle of a gun. He turned and shoved the older man down just as a bullet passed through the front door.
He reached into his pocked and pulled out a cell phone, "This is Det. Ellison at 992 Orchard. A shot has been fired. I need back-up."
Another shot was fired. This one lower and Ellison grabbed Johanssen and pulled him into a small closet. "Stay here and don't come out."
Before the shocked man could protest the door was slammed shut and a chair propped up against it.
Ellison was out the door and down the street. He saw one of the patrol cars and shouted that the shooter was in the lot ahead.
The man fired several rounds and Ellison took aim. "Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air, this is the police. Drop your weapon now."
The shooter turned and fired. Ellison returned with a well-placed discharge. The man was on the ground and unconscious.
As the detective walked up to the suspect the clean-cut boyish face surprised him. This was a kid, hardly out of high school. There was only one question that needed to be answered. 'Why?'
"Granddad, that's cheating. Grandma said you have to behave or she won't let you take her turn watching me again. You can't peek at the cards still on the table."
The old man chuckled. "Hey, give an old man a break. You've won every hand."
"Dad says that it's best to always be honest even when playing with relatives."
Grandpa Sandburg placed his cards on the table and looked at the child. "Are you happy here my boy?"
"Yeah. Go to a good school, I like Irene and I got a dad. He's the best."
"Does he come home late often?"
"Hmmm? No. Just when they have a big case. Simon, dad's really tall boss? He says that being a detective is way hard and it's nice when kids are not a bother. That way the detectives can do their jobs and then not have to come home and do more work."
"Is that why you cook and clean?"
"Yeah. I don't want dad to get tired of me. I do what I can so he doesn't have to."
The gray haired man sighed. "He loves you no matter what you know."
Blair shrugged and looked at the older man. He seemed about to speak but remained silent.
"What boy? Ask me."
"I love you grandpa, you know that don't you?"
"And you loved momma too. Right?"
"Love doesn't mean you won't get tired of the other person. You and grandma didn't see momma for a long time. Even when she was dying."
The older man looked away. "If I had known I would have been there."
"Dads and moms are always supposed to be there but look at you guys and look at how mom left me. I just ... I don't want dad to leave me too."
"Blair ..." He reached out to the child but the smaller arm pulled away feeling uncertain about what he just told the older man.
"He never talks about his parents either - Dad I mean. I-I just don't want you all to hate me. I-I promise not to hate you ..." The boy ran into his room and closed the door. It suddenly felt so lonely in there. He wanted his dad but he didn't want to be a bother. Dad's work was important. He pulled his backpack onto his bed and retrieved the cell phone. Tears fell from his eyes. He really didn't want to be a bother.
Ellison stood in the interrogation room and listened to Mr. Johanssen. The man spoke quietly. "It was twenty damn years ago. Twenty. I thought it was all behind us. You said the kid's name is Charlie Spiggot?"
The old man looked away. "I didn't think she go through with the pregnancy and have that boy. I thought she'd abort the abomination."
Ellison sighed. "Sir, please. What exactly are you talking about?"
"We were a bunch of teens back then. Kids. Well most of us, except for Cecil Shower, the garbage man that was murdered. He was around seven or eight then. Anyhow we were quite a bunch. We went everywhere together, the best of friends. Susan, Susan Spiggot was the prettiest girl in the bunch. Our favorite place to hang out was a store on the corner of Dane and Seventh. The place was owned by a man named Mario Salmas, and our parents thought the guy was strange, being foreign and not from the neighborhood. To a child it made his store a cooler place to be. Salmas had a son - Georgie who was, well, he was retarded or something. The son was eight years older than most of us and big. Built like a wrestler. He had a thing for Susan. Gave her free candy, soda and stuff. None of us saw it coming. We should have."
"It was cool that day and Susan went to the store to get a hot chocolate. She took a long time and so we all decided to check on her." The old man looked down at his hands. "We were so young. We walked in on him you see. He was raping the girl. She had been beaten to a pulp and was pretty much out of it by the time we got there."
Ellison frowned. "You're saying this Georgie raped Susan Spiggot."
"It would have made sense. It's what was reported but no. Georgie took the fall for him."
"We didn't know what to do. He made it seem right what we did."
"Mr. Salmas. The old man had lost his wife to child birth and was left with Georgie. None of us knew what to do. Susan was crying. Mr. Salmas convinced us to say it was Georgie. He said he was sorry and that Susan had asked for it."
"At the time I kind of agreed. Susan was a flirt and a tease. I realized much later that I had been jealous. Acted like the immature child that I was. So I went along with the lie."
Ellison looked away. "So Georgie went to jail for this?"
"Hung himself in the holding cell because the dumb fool actually believed his father's lies. He truly believed it was his fault. Two innocent people hurt because some old freak convinced us to protect him. We didn't owe him a damn thing and yet we backed him up. Susan recovered but her mind was gone." The old man sighed. "It was like a dare to see who would snitch first and none of us did."
"What happened to the old man, Mario?"
"Died twelve years later in a car accident. At least that is what I heard."
"She was never right again. Spent time in the Cascade Sanitarium. I thought they aborted the children of a mental patient. It would have been the right thing to do."
"The right thing to do would have been to tell the truth back at the store." Ellison stood and handed the older man a pad of paper. "Write the entire story you just told me down and then sign it."
"What's going to happen to me?"
Ellison walked to the door and looked back. Hell was too good for the guy. "Maybe nothing. Excuse me."
He stepped out of the room and was immediately met by Capt. Banks and Det. Brown. Brown shook his head. "All this because an old pervert had the 'jones' for a child. The poor girl didn't deserve this and worse yet she didn't deserve to be betrayed by those kids."
Banks shook his head. "Sometimes it amazes me that your own friends, hell even your own father can turn on you the very moment you need them."
Ellison handed his superior the tape recorder. "I've never trusted anyone and I have never been surprised."
Banks shook his head and felt sorry for the detective. Trust could be betrayed but when it was honored it made life seem that much better.
"The Spiggot boy isn't speaking. We did get a warrant to enter his home. The attic is filled with pictures of his victims and their graves. The kid is consumed with hatred for these people."
"Can you really blame him?"
Ellison entered the loft and found Mr. Sandburg sitting on the couch staring off into space. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, James, didn't hear you come in." He looked towards Blair's room and then back. "My grandson is mad at me."
The old man looked at the other and sighed. "The reasons behind my and his grandmother's turning Naomi away, well, they're no longer important but Blair thinks we got tired of her and abandoned her. That she got sick and abandoned him and now he thinks if he isn't a good child that you will do the same."
Ellison frowned. "I've never said such a thing. Why would he think that?"
The older man stood and gathered his coat. He walked up to Jim and laid a hand on the other's arm. "That boy listens too well. Hears too much. Talk to him James and please remind him that we all make mistakes."
He walked out of the loft slowly leaving James to handle the situation.
He opened the door to the small bedroom and looked around. The bed was empty and the child was not visible. He walked over to the closet and opened it. "Chief?"
The boy opened tear-filled eyes and immediately moved to hug his father. "Dad? You home for the night?"
"Yeah kiddo. Want to tell me why you're keeping your shoes company?"
The tears began to fall again but nothing was said. Jim pulled the boy up and out of the closet and went to sit on the futon. "Talk to me Chief. Please trust me."
"I-I don't want t-to make you angry. Grandpa ... he left ... I didn't mean to hurt his feelings... please dad don't leave.
Ellison hugged the sobbing child and rubbed the small back slowly. "Chief I can't hate you and I am not leaving you. You are my son. Understand? My son."
Blair eased back and spoke softly. "Parents always leave. Momma's parents left, she left and you never talk about your parents but I guess they left you too. Everyone is so alone." He looked his father straight in the eye somehow touching his father's soul with his next words. "Dad no matter what, I will always be here for you. I just don't want you to leave me too."
Again the boy was pulled close and held tightly. "Blair Ellison, you are my son. Now, I won't lie to you Chief. My dad and mom, well they weren't the best. I don't think they knew how to be parents but that was them, not me. I love you kiddo. I love you more than I ever thought possible. I will never turn my back on you. Not ever."
"But what if I am really bad or what if I become a crook and get arrested. Simon said sometimes it happens and a parent has to be tough."
"You are a good boy Blair and I believe in you. I see your potential and it is nothing but good." He whispered softly into the child's ear. "Naomi and I know you will be a good man when you grow up. She told me you are special."
Jim smiled at the tear stained face that had clear mucus resting on the upper lip. A face only a father would love forever. "You made your momma's last days good ones. You made her proud to call you her son. And as for me, well, it's not often that a tyke like yourself would pick some grumpy fella like me for a dad."
"You weren't grumpy, just lonely."
"Yeah and I knew I could make you my friend."
Ellison reached into his pocket and pulled out some tissue. He had the boy blow his nose and then wiped the tears off of his face. "Well friend, how about you take a shower and then we call Grandpa and tell him you're alright."
"Okay. Dad? My skin feels kinda funny."
Jim frowned and looked at Blair's eyes and then at his arms. "Let's get into the water and get you ready for bed."
Jim made some chicken soup, warmed up some toast and made some tea. He then joined his son in the shower and the two emerged later wrapped in towels. His son felt warmer than normal and the detective was becoming a bit concerned.
The two quickly dressed and then Blair got on the phone. Ellison served up the food and watched the boy carefully. "Dad, grandpa was cool about it. Said he and I need to talk more about momma. He said he wants me to understand how not to repeat his mistake."
"I am glad. Here eat your soup." As the boy slurped up a spoonful of his chicken soup, Jim smiled. "He's right you know."
"If we all share what we did wrong in the past sometimes you younger fellas will avoid making the same mistakes."
"Ummm." The boy pulled off a piece of bread and nibbled on it. "Dad will my thing get as big as yours when I grow up? Billy says that small ones always stay small."
"Chief I don't think that is appropriate dinner talk but..." He sighed. He did want the kid to ask questions about stuff. This was stuff wasn't it? "It does grow as you get older."
"Does it grow every year?"
"Why the interest on that particular area?"
The boy shrugged. "Billy says it's important. Says his momma likes it big and that most woman do."
"Well Romeo, when the time comes for you to be with a lady we will talk but for now how about we concentrate on eating. As for Billy's momma, I don't thing the boy should be discussing things like that and I want you to stay away from him." He watched his son slow down in his eating and frowned. Blair was a healthy eater and this didn't bode well.
"Not very hungry dad. My skin hurts and I feel sore in the neck and legs."
"Alright. Let's get you to bed."
Jim cleared the table and placed the dishes in the sink with some water in the bowl. He'd wash them tomorrow.
"Thanks for making dinner."
"I'm glad you ate some. Now off to bed."
He tried. He tried really hard to go to sleep but his head was hurting and he felt so cold and achy. He wanted to be held and wished his mom were here. He began to cry.
Jim woke the moment the child whimpered. He quickly went downstairs and pulled the boy into an embrace the second a tear fell. "God, Chief, you're burning up." He quickly carried the boy into the bathroom, being a medic he knew of some ways to cool down a body. He undressed the child and himself and the two stood under a tepid spray of water. Blair cried out as though the water was ice cold and then tried to get away but Jim held him close. "No. It hurts. No more."
"Shhhh. Blair just a moment longer."
"Please dad, noooo."
They stood there for five minutes more and then Jim pulled his son out. Dressed them both and carried the boy up to his room. "I'm going to get some juice for you. I'll be right back.
The boy watched his father go downstairs and turned his face into the pillow. "Momma it hurts. Please momma make it go away." He sobbed. "Please dad make it stop."
It was at that moment that James Ellison, rogue detective, generally emotionless and a take-charge sort of guy realized that nothing tore at his soul more than his son's plea to ease his suffering. Losing a limb seemed a lesser pain to suffer than this.
He rushed upstairs and made the boy take some children's Tylenol and drink some banana-strawberry juice Irene had bought for the two. That's when he paused. Irene. His son got this from Irene.
He laid beside Blair and monitored the boy's temperature. "Come kiddo, don't do this to me."
Concern continued to grow. Jim carried Blair when he woke later that night crying because he felt like his skin was bruised and he was ready with the waste basket when the boy vomited but when the child had a nose bleed that was too much.
Jim bundled him up in warm clothing and then dressed himself. He then called the hospital as he carried the now weakened boy to the SUV while keeping him protected from the rain.
Blair was frustrated and cranky. "Dad I'm hot. Can't I take off a jacket?"
"Chief not now. Just relax."
Blair looked out the window and watched the rain fall. "I don't want to go to the hospital. Please dad. I don't like it there."
Jim pulled the truck into the parking lot and ran around to get the child. As he carried the boy he spoke softly, trying hard not to sound worried and Jim was very, very worried. "Chief, I've tried everything I know. Your fever won't go down. They have medicine that can help."
"I hate hospitals. They hurt you when you're already hurt and they give you medicine that makes you sicker."
Blair was observant and it was true sometimes the cure was as painful as the sickness. Still no man wants his child to remain sick without trying to get them cured. "Blair please let's just see what happens."
As predicted, the doctors drew blood. Pain. They listened to his chest for congestion and his heart for any weirdness. Cold and pain. They stuck a wooden stick down his throat and made him feel like puking. More pain. Then they gave him a shot. More pain still.
Through it all Jim held the boy, trying hard to calm the child and felt like punching the doctor for inflicting more pain on the already suffering child. Irrational? Yes, but it would have made him feel a whole lot better.
"Mr. Ellison, your son has an extremely high fever and it would be best if he were to stay for a few nights. He is too small to fight this alone and we will be able to watch him in case things get worse."
"Wait. What are you saying? Do you expect things to get worse?"
The doctor could see he was going to have his hands full and tried to sound calmer. "Mr. Ellison, children are a bit unpredictable. I hate to promise a parent anything. It's best to make sure a child is monitored for anything and everything.
Jim looked at the boy now asleep on his lap and nodded. "He hates hospitals. His mother died recently and he's a bit too smart about things most children his age still need to learn."
The doctor frowned and looked at the child's chart. "Says here she had cancer. Tried everything." He looked at the man and boy and nodded. "I can allow you to stay the night. Then we'll see."
"Thank you doctor."
The physician smiled and escorted the two to the room.
"But you said 'we'll see'. I gotta tell you dad, I don't like what I see." Blair looked at the large room through half opened fever laden eyes and back at his father.
Jim nodded. "I agree with you but Chief> your temperature is at 102º. That's not good."
"It should be 99.5º and for my body weight 102 is bad news."
"Exactly and your dear old dad has tried everything." He tucked his son into the bed. "Now you get some sleep. The doctor said I can stay here tonight and hopefully you'll get better fast."
Unfortunately, that was not the case. The fever refused to leave the boy. The doctors tried another sponge bath. This time the child was too weak to refuse and that worried Jim more than anything.
Next was getting the boy to drink cold fluids but he barely took in anything. When the fever rose to 103º, the doctors got more concerned.
Through it all Jim paced, prayed to the God he had mostly ignored throughout his life and stayed close to his son.
Blair felt so hot, his eyes felt like they were boiling in his skull. He saw how worried his dad looked and tried hard to get better but only felt more tired. Then he fell unconscious.
The doctor took the concerned father into another room and updated him on what was happening. "Mr. Ellison he has pneumonia. From what I understand about your babysitter Irene, he also contacted a bacterial infection, which she inadvertently passed on to him. We've given him some medicine to rid him of the infection, now we wait for the body to fight back."
"He's so weak. There has to be something more you can do?"
The doctor rose and looked towards the patient's room. "Give it time sir."
Jim turned and was surprised when he saw Simon Banks standing in the hallway. "One of the vice team said he saw you here. He thought maybe you were sick."
"No, it's my son. He's got a fever of 103º and the doctors can't do a damn thing for him. He fell into a coma a while ago." He looked away feeling trapped and wanting nothing more than to yell at the top of his lungs. "He's not looking too good."
"Hey, now that is no way for any father to think." The tall man placed a hand on the other's shoulder. "Jim, you have to be positive. Never give up on him."
The two walked into the room and looked down at the sleeping child. Ellison grasped the small, limp hand and rubbed a thumb across the top of the knuckles. "He needed me the other night. Came to me to protect him. I felt so proud. A few days later we talked. You know man stuff." He smirked. "Seems some kid at school is already talking about genitals. H-he wanted to know if ... when he grew up if ... oh god ... he can't ... I need him so very much. I won't survive this Simon."
The darker man held on to his friend and looked down at the boy. It was said that a boy needs their mother but no one ever understood how much a man needs his son. The heir to the name and the reason one tries to make the world better. "He'll come through and be just fine."
Two hours later, Ellison walked to the windows that faced the front of the hospital. Blair's grandparents would be by in the morning. For a visit. Though it felt as though they were coming to say their goodbyes. His son wasn't getting any better and the doctors were stopping by more often.
Tears blurred his vision and he looked up at the dark cloud filled sky. In the distance he saw the faint flash of lightening. Another storm front was moving in.
He stood there unable to believe that this small miracle, which had been gifted to him by Naomi on her deathbed was to be taken away before the boy had made Ellison a grandfather. He smirked at the thought. "My little Romeo a father." He chuckled again and slowly began to cry.
The sounds in the hospital room slowly got drowned out by the loud sounds of the encroaching storm. The thunder was so fierce that the room vibrated from the sheer volume. The lights in the hospital suddenly flickered off. Ellison looked down the street and noted that all the power had gone out. Just then another loud thunder rumbled in the sky.
The boy was swiftly scooped up and held tightly.
">Dad it's thundering out."
Jim couldn't speak, couldn't do anything but hold the suddenly alert and speaking boy. He placed kisses on the damp crown of stringy curls. The fever had broke.
"Dad, I feel so wet."
Finding his voice, Jim pressed the button beside the hospital bed for a nurse only to watch the lights flicker on and then off again. He placed his son back on the bed and went to the closet. He didn't need lights to find what he was searching for. Several small gowns had been placed there. He then went to the small bathroom and grabbed some towels and filled a basin with tepid water.
As quickly as possible and being careful not to cause the weakened child any duress, the boy was undressed, given a quick sponge bath and then re-dressed into fresh clothing he had carried with him from home. Not wanting to put his son back on the wet bed, Jim wrapped him in an extra blanket he had found in the closet and sat on a chair with Blair seated on his lap and closely embraced.
"Dad? Where is everyone?"
Jim tilted his head for a moment and the answered. "Trying to restart the power, calming patients down and making sure no one was injured moving around in the dark."
Not having use of his arms, which were bundled within the blankets, Blair scooted closer and was resituated by his father. "I feel so tired."
The thunder clapped loudly and the child flinched.
"Hey, hey, I'm here and you're safe." He kissed the child's forehead and smiled when the boy sighed. "Go to sleep. I'll be right here."
"Dad? <yawn> If you need to get to work, I'll be alright. Your work is important."
He never knew where such thoughts came from and right now he didn't care. "You are much more important. Sleep."
"<Yawn> I love you dad." And Blair child was asleep.
Jim pulled him close and buried his nose into his son's neck. The fever was gone. Softly he whispered. "Thank you. Thank you so very much."
Simon walked into the hospital with a rather large bag and several balloons. Seems a certain smart nosed kid had befriended quite a few people down at the precinct. Including his very own son, Daryl. who insisted his father bring the boy a few things.
He walked into the room and smiled at the sight of a child who should be reading a 'Harry Potter' book instead reading what looked like 'War and Peace'."Hey kid what are you reading?"
"Hey Simon, just a book on the social values of people in Peru. Dad says that he's gonna take me there. There are like so many sights to see, I can't wait. Dad said he'd introduce me to the Chopec and, hey, what's in the bag?"
Banks was surprised and grateful for the change in subject. "A bag of something for you to entertain yourself but, well, since you have that book ..."
The boy shoved the book under his bed sheets and smiled. "Book? What book? Please Simon, let me see."
Puzzle books, a stuffed beanie panther and magazines on the latest stories in anime made him smile brightly. "Oh, I can find out about Inuyasha and Yogi-oh. Oh, hey, there's a story about Cowboy Bee Bop."
Simon new that if it weren't for the fact that he too was a father to another enthusiastic boy, what had just been said would have been foreign to him. "The comic convention will be in town in a month, maybe your dad, Daryl and I can go together."
"Oh, your dad will be by in a few hours. I swear the man has been interviewed by six investigators and let's not even discuss the media."
Blair smiled brightly but it was apparent he was losing energy from the surprise visit. The doctors had said his body needed to rest and gain its strength and weight back but the child had no idea how staying in the creepy hospital and eating globby food could help anyone. "Thanks Simon. I really like the panther, he's like the one in my dreams."
"Daryl told me about that. He thought you'd like to have one to hug when you were awake." Noting the sleepy eyes, Banks pulled the items away and stacked them on the table nearby. "I'll get going. Jim said you should be getting out of here in a day or two."
"Umm, doc wants my temperature to stay down. It keeps moving around and he thinks I just need rest, more rest and stuff to drink. I told the dude that I'd rest better at home with dad but he just says 'we'll see'."
"Oh! Almost forgot." The tall man pulled a newspaper clipping out of his pocket and handed it to the boy. "For you."
Blair looked at the clipping and read the words beside it: "Det. James Ellison was able perform his duty and still have time to tend to his only son, who, in the detective's own words, 'is the best part of his life'. Single parents can learn a thing or two from the hard-working detective.
Blair smiled brightly. "Thanks for all the nice gifts and tell Daryl, I'll call him when I get home. And Simon? Thanks for coming by. I know you are a busy man."
Okay the kid was a bit of a smart mouth but he was basically a good kid. "Alright, get some sleep and when you wake. Your dad will be here."
The 'South Side Reader' rarely made it to this part of town. Neighborhood papers were often read by those in its designated community.
The reader read the article several times and once more to make sure. James Ellison a single parent? Since when? The well-dressed older gentlemen reached for the telephone. "Ms. Waller get me the investigator we used on the Gorick matter immediately."
He was a man with many resources and he knew how to use them.
Ellison was behaving like a man with a new born. The minute he completed his interviews with IAD, he rushed to a nearby grocery store, purchased four kinds of soup, fresh bread, fresh fruits and vegetable, bought six different types of juices in one gallon containers and some oatmeal.
He quickly made his way home. Cleaned, change beddings and left a window open to ensure fresh air was in the living area.
He placed several DVDs he had purchased earlier that day on top of the television. They ranged from various cartoons to some relative easy to understand documentaries of various foreign lands.
He then grabbed some clean clothing for his son and a duffle bag. He had been informed by the doctor that he could bring Blair home today and he had to make sure everything was just right.
"Hey Chief, ready to come home?"
"Yeah. Umm hmmm. You bet! Gotta say I really like it when the doctor gives you good news like this."
Jim chuckled. "How about we get you out of those PJs and into some sweats."
"Fine with me."
Half an hour later, Blair was home, seated on the couch underneath two blankets and lying on several new pillows. On television was a documentary on Lemurs. "Dad? When can I go back to school?"
Jim chuckled. When he was a kid anytime away from school was usually considered a good time. Well, unless his Dad ... but that was another story. He walked up to join his son on the couch and handed him the rather large plate of fruit. "Doc said you need to stay home the rest of the week. Rest kiddo or it's back to the hospital. I did ask Ms. Mavis to download some of your homework and she said she would day after tomorrow."
As the boy chewed on a slice of mango he spoke. "Um, don't want to get behind. Megan e-mailed me and said we had a test yesterday. I hate to miss a test and lower my grades."
"Chief, you are to be relaxing and that is what you are going to do. Capice?
"You need to lay off the 'Godfather'." He pushed the plate back to his father and scooted down. "Sorry, I'm really not all that hungry."
Jim placed the plate on the nearby coffee table and uncovered the boy.
He winced at the loud whiny voice and pulled his son up and into his arms. "You are going to take a nap in your bed."
"Don't want to."
"No nap, no milkshake from Xapa's."
The two headed to the small bedroom beneath the stairs and the boy sighed. "Can I sleep in your bed?"
Changing direction the two now headed upstairs.
"I can walk you know?"
"Chief you're sick and need to take it easy. That means no stair climbing."
"You need a nap too, dad."
"And I thought I heard a report for a thunderstorm coming. We could keep each other company."
The young father chuckled at the poor manipulation skills but realized that the boy was going to get his way no matter what. Jim waited until Blair crawled into his king size bed. "How about I stay here until you go to sleep?"
"Okay but I'm not sleepy at all. You'll probably be asleep before I will."
Five minutes later the sleepless child was snoring. Jim looked at the small body curled against him. He touched the rounded cheek and played with the curls that surround the small face. He took in a deep breath and again took in the scent that was his son's and his son's alone. The boy curled closer and then sighed.
James Ellison had protected many people, rescued lives, had been married and been divorced but never in all his life - ever had he come to love someone, to care for someone as deeply as he had come to care for this child. The boy seemed to fill in a large gap in his soul. The child had such an effect on the older man. When Blair was sad or ill, Jim felt the pain more deeply than anything he had ever experienced. He would do almost anything to make the boy smile.
And when the boy was happy, healthy and safe, Jim's world was perfect. He smiled more often, he even spoke with other dads about their children, something he once hated when other did that and, yes, once, he even shared a Blair story with Simon. Again something he never ever considered doing.
The child had definitely changed him.
He kissed the sleeping child on the forehead and smiled. "Why did you choose me? You are so wonderful and special. Why me?"
Again he kissed the boy on the forehead and then laid down beside him. "I am so proud to have you for my own." He covered the two of them with an extra blanket and smiled at the fact that a nap seemed really good right now. Just as he was about to nod of he shifted the black beanie panther back into the boy's arms.
Sleep soon claimed the two of them. Safe and sound in the comfort of their home.
END OF PORTION 3 - Steps
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