Acknowledgment: My thanks go to Lola for her excellent betaing skills. She always goes above and beyond the call of duty. Also a big thank you and hey goes to the Lurkers who gave me the courage to post this. (More acknowledgments can be found at the end of the story)
Setting: 4th Season, right after Murder 101
CAVEAT LECTOR: THIS IS NOT A HHJJ STORY. IT'S DARK AND ANGSTY. IT'S DEFINITELY NOT THE TYPE OF STORY YOU HAVE COME TO KNOW AND EXPECT FROM ME. IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE THAT, BAIL NOW, FOR I MAKE NO APOLOGIES FOR THIS STORY. This is, I believe, an accurate portrayal of end of third season/beginning of fourth season Jim.
Captain Simon Banks looked up from his papers as a knock at his office door interrupted his train of thought. "Come," he called out gruffly, annoyed that Rhonda hadn't run interference for him.
A petite woman nervously slipped around his door and shut it behind her with slow deliberation.
Anderson,, Simon thought, one of the evidence file clerks. "What can I do for you, Laura?" he asked softly, sensing her nervousness and trying to put her at ease.
The blonde swallowed hard then moved swiftly to one of the chairs in front of his desk and sat down. "I... I... I..."
"Take a deep breath, Laura. Would you like a glass of water?" he asked, starting to stand, but she shook her head vigorously so he sat back down, which seemed to calm her.
"I don't want to lose my job. I love working for the department, sir."
Simon remained silent, although he nodded encouragingly, not wanting to rush her statement. Laura had a reputation for being efficient and businesslike; for her to come to him in such a distressed state told him that something was very wrong. The paperwork laying beneath his elbows would just have to wait.
"I... I was just logging in evidence for Vice on the Peterman drug bust."
"I hear the boys downstairs got lucky and hit the mother lode."
Laura nodded nervously. "As you know, in a case like this it's standard procedure to go in and take everything out."
Simon nodded encouragingly at her when she hesitated.
"I've been entering his video collection into the system, which means I basically stick each tape into a vcr and make sure the label on the tape corresponds with the contents." Simon said nothing when she paused in her narration. "I've been responsible for helping solve two murders, a prostitution ring and a series of home invasions this way," she whispered, dropping her gaze to her hands which were trembling over the black plastic case in her lap.
"I remember your commendation last year. You've always been an asset to the department."
Tears ran down the woman's face unexpectedly. Simon leaned across his desk and handed her a tissue. She nodded her thanks as she dried her eyes.
"This job saved my life, sir. After my husband died, I thought I'd go nuts. His whole life was about helping people. I wanted to continue on in his name, to be part of the department he loved so much, but I knew I would never be able to meet the physical requirements necessary to become an officer."
"I remember Daniel. He was a good man."
"The best." She sniffed, then closed her eyes. "Blair was the one who suggested I should take an administrative job. He said I could be part of Dan's world without having to participate in the inherent dangers of the job." Laura opened her eyes and looked Simon directly in the face. "I think... I think Dan would've been proud of my decision."
"I know he would have," Simon concurred.
Laura looked down at the video case in her hands. "I owe Blair my sanity."
"He's a good man. I'm proud to have him on my team."
Laura's whole body shook as her sob unexpectedly shook her. Simon grabbed another tissue then walked around the desk, kneeling by her side. She waved off the tissue, instead shoving the case into his hand.
"It's the original, sir. There are no copies. I haven't logged it in yet. Do with it as you will."
She shook her head vehemently and slid out the opposite side of the chair. "Watch the tape, sir. I'll abide by your decision, but as far as I'm concerned it doesn't exist." She covered her mouth as if trying to catch the escaping sob, then turned and fled his office.
"Jim, my office please," Simon requested quietly when he passed his lead detective's desk.
Jim Ellison looked up, surprised. Normally when his captain wanted him, he just bellowed. Simon's roar was expected. It meant business as usual. This seemingly quiet approach unnerved Jim more than he cared to admit. He stood hesitantly then followed his captain into his lair.
"Rhonda, hold all my calls," Simon said before placing the phone back in its cradle. "Shut the door, Jim. Please," he added in the same quiet tone. He nodded toward a chair and Jim sat in it, waiting, expectantly. The captain sat on the edge of his desk, rubbing his face with one large palm.
"Vice took Peterman down yesterday."
"Yeah, I heard."
"They got something close to a half million dollars in uncut heroin. Even managed to bring in over half his middle men and a good portion of his street distributors. It's a case that'll probably make national news. After the damage 'the crew' did to Vice, the department could really use the good press."
Jim nodded, but remained silent, knowing his captain was working toward something.
"Standard procedure is to take everything and catalogue it, even video tapes."
"I know. Isn't Anderson in charge of that?"
"That's right." Simon stood and began to pace. "She came to me about two hours ago with this tape. She told me she hadn't logged it in and wasn't going to... as far as she's concerned the whole matter has been left to my discretion."
Jim turned, his eyes widening.
Simon shook his head and raised one hand, heading off the protest he knew was coming. "She's as pure as they come, Jim. She's untainted. The woman was in tears when she came to me. She's terrified beyond belief about losing her job."
"So why did she give you a tape without entering it first?"
"Watch the tape, Jim. I want your input as to what you think I should do with it."
"Watch the tape, Jim."
Jim shifted uncomfortably in his chair as Simon pressed the play button. The video was black and white, sort of grainy, the type documentaries often used.
"I've spotted the one I want to talk to." The cameraman's excited voice reverberated around the captain's office and Simon moved quickly to lower the sound. The picture on the screen had obviously been shot while the man walked. The camera struggled to focus on the sidewalk and the bottom portion of the various buildings he passed. "Based on his location to the main strip, I would speculate that he's in, but not real deep. He looked scared, but determined, when I drove by. He's just starting to get into the lifestyle. There he is."
The jerky motion of the camera stopped and focused on a lone figure turned away from the cameraman. The extremely thin figure was wearing faded blue jeans and a jacket; hands stuffed in the pockets made it impossible to tell the person's sex. If the reporter hadn't just said 'he' Jim would have thought it was a woman because of the long curly hair which cascaded down the figure's back to his jean clad buttocks.
Upon hearing the cameraman's approach, the figure turned, a look of fear in his eyes, then a sly smile blossomed over the handsome face.
Jim gasped aloud and Simon paused the tape, freezing the frame on the face of a very young Blair Sandburg.
"Do you want me to continue?"
Jim nodded, unable to speak.
Simon pushed the play button on the remote.
"A camera." Young Blair smiled seductively. "That's kinky."
"Do you mind?"
"Depends on what you want to do with it."
Jim noted that Blair looked gaunt. His arms and legs were practically sticks. The jeans he wore were torn and seemed indecently snug on the thin frame.
"What do you normally do?"
"Hey, I may be young, but I'm not an idiot."
"I'm not a cop."
"Sure you aren't."
"Look, I just want to talk. I can pay you for your time."
Blair licked his lips nervously. "All you want to do is talk?"
"Like I said, kinky, man." Blair laughed nervously, then sobered instantly. "How long?"
"An hour, minimum. Maybe longer. Depends on our rapport."
"For just talking?"
"'Cause anything else is gonna cost you extra."
Blair hesitated. "Okay. Fifty dollars an hour. The rest to be negotiated. You pay for the room."
The tape went dark for a moment. When it came back up, they appeared to be in a seedy hotel room.
"So what are we going to talk about?" Blair asked nervously as he walked to the filthy window and looked out.
"I was hoping we could talk about you."
Blair turned and grinned impishly at the camera. "Hey, my favorite subject. So where do you want to start?"
"How about your name?"
"It's as good a place to start as any."
Blair nodded nervously, then shrugged. "My name is Blair. I don't... I don't feel comfortable giving you my last name, just yet."
"Fair enough," the disembodied voice said. "Would you do me a favor, Blair?"
"Sure. It's your time."
"If it won't cost me extra, would you take off your shirt?"
Blair laughed. "Naw, man, I won't charge you for that. Do you want them both off?"
"No. Just the long sleeved one."
Blair slowly unbuttoned his flannel shirt, smiling seductively at the camera while doing so. His eyebrows waggled as he slipped the shirt from his shoulders, turned and shimmied the shirt down his back, then pulled it off with a flourish. The cameraman chuckled.
"Show me your arms, Blair."
The grin instantly vanished from the kid's face. Blair folded his arms in front of him, hugging his chest as if he were cold, making him look incredibly young and vulnerable.
"Blair, show me your arms," the cameraman said in a slightly sterner voice.
Slowly, Blair unhooked his arms from his body. He raised his head and looked out the window, humiliation clearly written on his face, while he held his arms straight down by his side, facing toward the camera.
Jim swallowed hard as he noted the track marks on the too thin arms.
"How long have you been using, Blair?"
"It's not like that," the kid whispered, but refused to look toward the camera.
"Then tell me what it's like."
"You think I'm a junkie."
"Then why are you down here hustling?"
Blair swallowed hard and finally looked back at the camera. "Look, I'm a student."
"Which high school do you go to?"
"Not high school. College, man. I'll be a junior next semester."
"Oh, come on. What are you? Eighteen?"
"And you're a junior... in college?"
"Hey, I was in an accelerated program. I've been going to college since I was sixteen years old," Blair said, his tone angry at not being believed.
"No offense, dude. Just asking."
Blair nodded and moved back to the window.
"So what does your being a student have to do with hustling?"
Blair's hands moved nervously through his long hair. "My scholarships don't cover everything, you know?"
"So hustling gives you spending cash?"
"And drug money?"
The nodding stopped. "I'm not addicted, you know?"
"I never said you were."
"You've been implying it."
"So you're saying you aren't down here on the strip willing to sell blows for twenty a pop in order to get drug money?"
Blair raised his chin defiantly toward the camera. "That's right."
"Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?" the cameraman asked in a not quite taunting voice.
"Hey, that's why I thought you approached me in the first place."
"It's just a figure of speech, Blair. I didn't mean it like that."
Blair snorted in laughter.
"So, you game?"
Blair looked nervous, but nodded.
"I'm willing to pay you one hundred dollars for each hour you spend in this room with me."
"Just talking, like we are now."
"For how long?"
"For as long as you want."
"And you'll give me a hundred dollars for each hour? No matter how many hours I stay?"
"Let me see the cash, man."
The camera angle shifted awkwardly before a hand appeared holding a wad of cash. "Here."
Blair stepped forward and took the bills, flipping through them. "There's like two thousand bucks here, man."
"Are you game?"
"And all we'll do is talk?"
"And film." Blair grinned brilliantly at the camera. "Man, it's going to be a pleasure taking your money," he said as he handed the cash back.
The screen went dark again.
Jim turned and faced his captain.
"It gets worse, Jim."
"How much worse?"
Simon opened his mouth to speak, but Jim just shook his head, cutting him off. "Just roll the tape."
The hand was back in front of the camera with the cash. "Just to show you I'm on the up and up. Your first hour is complete, so peel yourself off a c-note."
"How about my original fifty dollars?"
"Take it too."
Blair grinned as he peeled two bills off the wad and handed it back to the cameraman. He pulled his wallet from his jeans, folded his bills very precisely, and carefully put them in his battered leather billfold, before putting it back in his rear pocket.
"Anyway, as I was saying, the tribesman of Tunisia..."
The screen darkened again.
When it came on, Blair was pacing back and forth, his hands waving in the air as he spoke. "During the Hittite empire, the ruler became absolute; regarded as the representative of the weather- god, which was their supreme god in their polytheistic religion, and was basically deified at his death. In some ways the Hittite legal system was more just and liberal, say, than the Mesopotamian and Mosaic codes."
"Blair," the cameraman called out.
The young man stopped. "Yeah."
"Here." A hundred dollar bill was thrust in to view.
"Cool. Thanks, man." Blair sat on the edge of the bed and removed his billfold, adding the newest bill with the same precision he had with the others. He stood up and put his wallet back in his rear pocket. "Anyway, what was I saying?"
"You were talking about the Hittite legal system."
"That's right. I mean the whole culture is just fascinating. They regulated prices and used silver pieces as money, which is..."
The screen went dark again.
"What's wrong, Blair?"
"Nothing's wrong, man."
"You appear to be nervous."
"Naw. It's just that it's a beautiful day out. The sun is actually shining for a change." The young man sighed. "God, I hate rain. I don't suppose we could go outside to get some fresh air while it's actually nice out?"
"I'd rather not. But you can open a window if you'd like."
"Cool." Blair quickly opened the window.
"Oh, by the way, you hit another hour mark."
Jim grimaced as he watched the weird folding ritual take place again. He sighed in relief as the image faded to black.
When the picture returned, Blair was on his hands and knees cleaning the bathroom floor with a grungy towel.
"God, can you believe how filthy this place is? I mean, come on. How much does it cost to hire someone to come in once a day and clean? This place is just disgusting."
"And why is it your job to clean it up?"
"Cause I'm bored, man. You won't let me leave. I'm not used to being idle."
"You can leave any time you want."
"Naw, man. I'm here to take your money." Blair flashed the camera an impish grin then stood and rinsed the towel in the sink. "Do you have any idea what I can do with $2,000?"
"Get high to your heart's content?"
Blair turned angrily. "Look, I told you, I'm not addicted. For what I'm going to make today, I can buy a book I've had my eye on for a long time, and eat some real food for a while instead of that dorm crap. Do you have any idea how bad that stuff is for you? I mean I might as well eat at Wonderburger for all the nutritional value I get out of a meal from the cafeteria."
"You don't look like you eat very much."
"Oh, man, I eat like a horse. It's just that between studying, classes and tutoring sessions I'm always running. Ya know?"
The hand appeared once again with the bill that Jim was beginning to loathe. Thankfully, the camera went dark as Blair pulled out his wallet.
"So, what's your name?" Blair asked. He was pressed back as far as he could get into the corner on the far side of the room. He was unconsciously scratching his skin, leaving angry red welts on the pale skin.
"My name is Mark."
"So, why are you filming me, Mark?"
"It's for a film class. I go to UCLA. I'm hoping to enter my work in a national contest."
"Then you're wasting your time with me. I only use as a pick me up. I can stop anytime."
"You seem like a smart guy, Blair. Surely, you know that's a classic denial line?"
"Yeah, well in my case it's true. I only shoot occasionally. You know, when I'm starting to get beat down."
"So you only use to get a little energy?"
"Yeah, but never during finals, man, 'cause that stuff will seriously screw with your brain." Blair rocked slightly from side to side in the corner. "Hey, is my hour up?"
"Yeah, sorry buddy. Here you go."
Blair leaned forward onto his hands and knees and crawled toward the money before backing up into the corner.
"Your arm's bleeding, Blair."
The kid looked down at his forearm. Several of the welts were dotted with thin lines of blood. Blair shrugged nonchalantly as he pulled his wallet out.
"Do you need a break, Jim?" Simon asked quietly.
Jim shook his head and swallowed hard.
The picture came back on and Blair was visibly trembling on the bed.
"How long have we been here, Mark?"
"God, who knew time could drag so much?"
"How are you holding up, kid?"
"I'm doing okay," Blair whispered. He closed his eyes, his entire frame shook violently once, then stilled. After a moment he propped himself up on his elbows and looked at the cameraman, a seductive grin slowly blossoming over his face. "I know a way we could make the time pass quicker."
"I... don't think so."
"Hey, it won't cost you any extra. Besides, I'm starting to feel bad about taking your money and not doing anything in return," Blair said as he sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Hey, a deal's a deal."
Blair slid off the bed onto his knees, stalking forward like a cat on the prowl. "Your mouth is saying no," he whispered, "but your body is definitely reacting."
The cameraman gasped as Blair's hands disappeared beneath the frame. Suddenly, the picture was of the ceiling. "Jesus," a shout echoed around the room and the sound of a chair overturning became clear. Seconds later, from the far side of the room, the picture returned to Blair who was still on his knees, sitting back on his heels, grinning wickedly.
"Look, your hour's up. Here." The camera fumbled again and a crumpled bill was flung into the middle of the room.
Blair flowed smoothly to his feet, slinked forward, and licked his lips as he slowly bent to pick the bill off the floor. Chuckling under his breath, he went back to the bed and pulled out his wallet, the bizarre folding ritual caught completely on tape before the picture went dark.
The picture slowly focused on the young man whose head was on his knees, his arms wrapped tightly around both legs, rocking back and forth on the bed, crying. Tears ran down his face. "I'm not an addict, man. I'm not. I'm not."
The camera moved in closer. The voice behind the camera broke with emotion, "Yes, you are, Blair. I wish to God you weren't, but you are."
"Why are you doing this to me, man? What have I ever done to you?" Blair raised his face toward the camera, his mouth open as silent sobs racked his body.
"I just need you to see the truth. You have to see the truth."
"Why?" was the anguished wail. "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"
"Because my big brother is addicted, Blair," the answer was returned in an equally anguished voice. "Because I can't save him, but maybe I can save you. Maybe I can reach you before it's too late. You have so much to live for. So far to go in life. Don't throw it away."
Blair threw his head back on his shoulders and keened high and low.
"You're halfway through withdrawal right now. Stay with me, Blair. Here. Here's another hundred. You made it another hour. You can do this. You can beat this addiction." The hand fumbled forward and tucked the bill in between Blair's chest and thigh.
"No. No. No. No. No. I can't do it. I can't," Blair sobbed, clutching the bill in his fist and holding the money to his chest. "You don't understand. I can't do it. I can't."
"Simon," Jim cried out, then rubbed his face with the palm of both hands. "I can't... How much more is there?"
"Of this last segment... about thirty minutes."
"Where does it end?"
Simon turned off the television and fast forwarded the tape. When he reached the appropriate counter number, he turned the television back on.
The image showed Blair hunched over, slowly pulling the liquefied heroin into a needle.
"No," Jim mouthed.
With trembling hands, Blair hunched forward, his hair obscuring the camera view of the actual shoot up. As soon as he was done, he tossed the needle on the table and loosened the belt strap on his forearm. His head fell back against the plastic chair. His eyes closed in pleasure. His breathing became more even.
The camera recorded faithfully for several silent minutes.
Blair moaned in pleasure. "Yeah, Mark?"
"Come with me downtown. Let me get you enrolled in a methadone clinic."
Blair opened his eyes halfway. "Methadone is for addicts, man. I told you I only do this every once in a while."
The tape continued, but Jim held up his hand and Simon immediately turned off the tape.
Jim leaned forward in his chair and held his head in both of his hands.
"No one in the precinct has seen this, except for Laura and she's not going to tell anyone. How... how do you want to handle this?"
Jim lifted his head. "What are you saying, Simon?"
"I'm saying, that as far as I'm concerned, this tape doesn't exist."
"Because he's a good kid. Because he's been clean for as long as you've known him, right?"
"He's done a lot of good in this department, done a lot of good for you. I'm not willing to humiliate him for something that happened almost ten years ago, when he was little more than a baby." Simon stood and began pacing. "God, I just want to know where in the hell Naomi was during this time."
"I don't know." Jim shook his head, then stood and walked to the window. "How am I ever going to trust him again."
"What do you mean, Jim?"
"I mean he's never said a word."
"And just what would you have wanted him to say? To a cop?"
Jim leaned his head against the cool glass. "I don't know."
"Is he coming in today?"
Before Jim could answer, a quick knock at the door interrupted them and Blair popped his head around the door.
"Hey, Jim, I just wanted to let you know... whoa. I'm sorry. Bad timing. Sorry. I'll be at your desk getting a head start on your paperwork," the young man said as he caught the tension in the room.
"Sandburg," Jim snapped.
"Have a seat."
"Jim, I don't know..." Simon started.
"I want this out in the open." Jim turned and faced the department's observer. "Chair. Now," he said, pointing to one of the chairs in front of Simon's desk.
Blair gulped nervously but complied with the order, looking to Simon for an explanation as he did so. "What's up, guys?"
"Sandburg," Simon started, but stopped and rubbed his chin briefly with one hand. Taking a deep breath, he tried another approach. "You know our records are audited from time to time, right?"
The open face before him nodded.
"And you know how important it is for our records to be as accurate as possible, right?"
"Yeah," Blair said in a tone which told the men that he had no idea where the conversation was heading.
"I was just wondering if there was anything you wanted to amend in your observer's paperwork -- just in case of an audit?"
Blair looked between the two men. Simon was looking at Jim and Jim was looking out the windows, his face tight with pain.
"Are your senses okay, man?" Blair asked, starting to push himself out of the chair.
"Just answer the question, Sandburg," Jim growled.
Blair sat back in the chair and frowned as if running over the application in his head. He opened his eyes wide. "Hey, Vera said I didn't have to include campus parking tickets. But if it's a big deal I can talk to Suzanne and get a printout; although I think their records only go back about five years and I've been at the university for almost twelve--"
"We're not talking about your goddamn parking tickets," Jim snapped, pushing himself off the window and closing the distance between himself and the seated student. "Just answer the goddamn question."
"Jim!" Simon bellowed before the detective could lean into the observer's personal space. "Back off! That's an order."
Blair blinked, pressing back into his chair as far as he could go.
"Son, I don't want to call college a den of inequity, but I know for a fact that quite a bit of experimentation goes on, what with students trying to find themselves and all."
"What are you trying not to ask me, Simon?"
"Blair," the captain started, then stopped; sitting on the edge of his desk and letting out a long sigh. "Have you ever taken drugs? Experimented with pot?"
"Not since I was five, man."
"What?" Simon barked out in surprise.
Blair chuckled, but sobered quickly as the tension in the room mounted. "Look, my mom was a flower child. She knew people who experimented with drugs, probably even smoked some weed herself when I wasn't around. She was pretty non-judgmental that way. Sometimes someone would bring pot over to the house, but they were never allowed to smoke it inside. When I was five, I was outside playing on the porch when one of her friends was smoking. When he put the joint down, I picked it up and took a drag. Naomi was always telling me that smoking was bad for you, but it seemed like all her friends did it. I just wanted to see what it was all about."
"What did Naomi do?" Simon asked, leaning forward.
"Oh, man, she basically scared the shit out of me. My friends said you could hear her shriek all the way down the block. First she got a broom and beat the crap out of Chuck for being so stupid, then she washed my mouth out with soap and made me gargle for like ten minutes. For the next week she burned sage, and got her hands on every piece of drug literature she could find."
"So you're saying you never experimented in college?"
"Look, man. I have an IQ of 127. Do you have any idea how many brain cells are killed, not damaged, man, but killed, in one drag of pot? I didn't get to be the youngest teaching fellow in the history of Rainier by being stupid."
"Goddamn it, Chief, don't lie to us!" Jim shouted.
Blair deliberately pushed himself out of his chair and turned to face his friend and roommate. His face was carved in granite. His blue eyes were frosty.
"You obviously have something to say, Jim. So why don't you just say it instead of beating around the bush?"
Jim grabbed Blair's forearm and forced the younger man to face the television set, viciously punching the play button on the vcr.
Blair's young face appeared on the screen. "Don't worry about me, man. I'll be okay. Really, I will. I got this under control. I'm sorry about your brother though. Truly, I am. "
The young Blair pushed himself out of the chair.
"Hey, look, I'm sorry about not staying longer, but I got some tests to study for. Are you going to be okay?"
A choked voice whispered, "Yeah, Blair. I'll be okay."
"We could still... you know. I mean, I want you to feel like you got something for your money."
"No, that's okay."
"Yes. I'm sure."
"Okay, then. I'm out of here. I want to go buy that book I was telling you about. And I think I'm going to see if Janey is free for dinner. Thanks, Mark, it's been... strange."
With that Blair bounced out of the room. The camera, still facing the door, was very obviously set on the bed. A sob was heard off camera and the picture faded to black.
Jim released Blair's arm as soon as the vcr clicked off. Blair turned, his face briefly showing his confusion before becoming unreadable. He looked at Jim then over to Simon and back to Jim again.
"I see," he said quietly.
"Is that all you have to say, Chief?"
"What else is there to say? You've seen the tape, you've drawn your own conclusions."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You're a detective, you figure it out." Blair's right hand moved up his chest and very deliberately unclipped his observer's pass. He turned and took a step toward Simon, swallowing hard before handing the laminated plastic to the captain. He seemed almost reluctant to release it, but once he did he moved toward the door. "Trust is a two way street, Jim. I can't back you up if you don't trust me."
"What are you saying, Sandburg?"
"I'm saying I'm tired of fighting with you, man. I tried to tell you about Alex, but you didn't listen to me. Yes, I lost sight of us because I was caught up in the science and the possibilities of two sentinels meeting. I let you intimidate me into silence. But my coming clean with you wasn't for a lack of trying on my part and you know it. Then with the whole Ventriss fiasco, you pretty much made it clear what you thought of my opinion. Sort of have egg on your face with that one, don't you, Jimmy?" Blair said the name as if it were a vile oath.
Jim opened his mouth to speak, but Blair cut him off with the wave of his hand.
"Well, I'm done crawling, Jim. I'm done begging you to believe me, especially when you're so far from pure yourself."
"No. I won't listen and I won't be intimidated any longer. The ride's over. I'll be out of your hair as quickly as I can." With that, the former observer slipped through the door.
Simon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Shit. That could have gone better."
Jim stalked toward the door. "He's not walking out of here until--"
"Yes, he is, detective," Simon said, physically blocking the door. "Give the kid some time to cool off."
"Cool off? He lied to us, sir. He's been lying to me for three years."
"Is that what your senses are telling you?"
"Did your senses tell you he was lying?"
"What do my senses have to do with this? The evidence is right there," the sentinel said, pointing toward the television set.
Simon took a step toward the detective. "Look, Jim. I'm not a psychologist, but I know your life story pretty well. Everyone you've ever cared for or trusted has basically let you down or betrayed your trust in some way, from your father, to Oliver, to Carolyn, and Lila. You've been looking for Blair to betray you ever since you read the first chapter of his dissertation, but the kid has done nothing but stick by you through thick and thin. Quite frankly, I don't know how he puts up with your crap."
"Is that all, sir?"
"No, that's not all, detective. What I saw when Sandburg first turned around was confusion."
"What are you saying, sir? "
"I'm just repeating what Sandburg said. You're a detective. I want you to figure out what in the hell is going on."
"And the tape, sir?"
"Will stay with me until we have our answers."
The loft, as he suspected it would be, was empty. Empty not only of his roommate, but of his roommate's possessions. Blair had never completely unpacked after Sierra Verde. Still, he had to have had help in order to have cleared out so fast. He took a deep breath. Ah, Chad and his English Leather and Maggie with her Chanel No. 5.
He found Blair's key in the middle of the kitchen table. No note. No forwarding address. Nothing.
Jim rubbed his forehead.
Was Simon right? Had he been expecting Blair to betray him somehow and therefore blinded himself to the truth?
He swung by the refrigerator and snagged a beer on his way to the couch. He plopped onto the sofa, popped the lid off the bottle and carelessly threw it onto the coffee table in clear violation of house rules.
The creature on the video was Blair. There was no mistaking that. Even now, the memory of the too-thin frame haunted him. Blair's ribs had practically stuck out from the henley he had been wearing. Jim closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the couch.
The boy's hair was long, way too long. He opened his eyes. Hadn't Blair once mentioned his hair being almost to his rear? Something about coming off an expedition. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force the memory.
"You think this is long, you should have seen it when I got back from Irian Jaya. The tree people there see hair length in their warriors as a sign of masculinity. Like I was going to cut it after learning that little factoid."
"So what made you finally chop it off, Chief?"
"I got tired of sitting on it, you know? Three weeks back and it was driving me nuts. Plus it took forever to wash and braid. I basically cut it before classes started. I didn't need to be hassled by some Neanderthal jock who couldn't appreciate the sociological status symbols of adulthood from a different culture. Plus, American girls don't usually have strict rules regarding length -- of hair, that is."
Jim sat up. So the documentary couldn't have been filmed during the school year.
If Blair was to be believed.
There had been no hesitancy during the conversation about his time in Irian Jaya, and the trip would be a matter of public record -- one he could check first thing in the morning.
"So what have you discovered, Jim?" Simon Banks asked as he watched his friend pace in front of his desk the next afternoon.
"That I'm a complete idiot," Jim sighed.
"Do you want to explain that, detective?"
Jim stopped by the window, but didn't turn to face his captain. "In 1987, a film student named Mark Peterman won a UCLA film award for a short dramatic piece called "I'm Not an Addict." According to the write up, Peterman's documentary style was considered pretty cutting edge. In fact, the film is used in several high school anti-drug curriculum programs around the country. It's even won a couple of educational awards for it's realistic portrayal of drug usage."
"I'm sensing there's something more?"
"Blair won a five thousand dollar scholarship at the same ceremony for best dramatic actor."
Simon leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. "But you can't fake being as thin as he was. That's a classic sign of an addict. Even if you could fake the track marks, make up and lighting will only do so much with weight."
Jim nodded and turned toward the seated man. "I know. I spoke with Janice, the Anthropology department's secretary. You know, Tim Wilson's wife. Apparently, Blair contracted malaria while he was in Irian Jaya. Between the heat and trying to shake the bug, he lost about twenty pounds. You remember how thin the kid was when he started riding with me? Subtract twenty pounds from that and you have a..."
"Poster child for addiction."
"Exactly." Jim sighed deeply. "Anyway, Peterman--"
"Wait a minute. You don't mean--"
"Yes, sir, Mark is J.P. Peterman's younger brother."
"Then that explains--"
"Yes, sir. Mark sent the raw footage to his brother, hoping that if J.P. couldn't see the addiction in himself that maybe he could see it in others and realize what he had become."
Simon shook his head sadly. "Ironically, I think he succeeded."
"In what way, sir?"
"J.P. claims to have been clean for over ten years. He said he did it for his little brother, but he was too deep into the business end of things to get out of the lifestyle."
Both men sat in silence for several minutes.
"So what are we going to do, Jim?"
"Did you turn in Sandburg's observers' pass?"
"Of course not."
"Then hand it over; I have some apologizing to do."
Jim turned the dial down on his sense of hearing as he entered the old building used for student housing. He climbed to the third floor and knocked, ironically, on 307.
"It's open," a familiar voice called from within.
Taking a deep breath, Jim steeled himself and entered the tiny one bedroom apartment.
"Hello, Chief," he said quietly, shutting the door behind him.
Blair spun around, his eyes wide with shock. "Jim." The blue eyes cooled instantly. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to apologize for my behavior yesterday."
Blair remained silent.
"I guess you were right in your dissertation chapter, Chief. I do have a fear of intimacy." Jim tried to smile, but the smile faltered under the weight of the granite stare before him.
"It's not an excuse, Blair. Simon and I talked yesterday. He told me that I've been waiting for you to betray me like everyone else in my life has done. I guess he's right. It's hard to look at oneself from a dispassionate third person point of view, but I can see where he's right, where you're right."
Blair indicated that Jim should sit in one of the folding chairs at his card table, but remained standing himself.
"Sorry, seems so inadequate and yet it's all I have to give at the moment."
"It's as good a place to start as any," Blair whispered, finally taking a seat beside him.
"I'd like for you to come home, Blair."
Blair looked up into his eyes and Jim could see the longing there, so his response came as a surprise. "I can't... not just yet."
"Why not?" Jim whispered.
"Because we keep making the same mistakes, Jim, over and over again. We seem incapable of breaking the cycle."
"I still need you," Jim said softly.
Blair placed his hand over Jim's. "And I still need you."
"So what are we going to do?"
Blair swallowed hard. "I think we need to slow down and evaluate our situation before we spin out of control, then take things one step at a time until we get everything resolved."
Jim pulled his hand back, and immediately saw the pain in his friend's eyes. He quickly regrabbed the hand and shook his head, then shifted awkwardly in the rickety wooden chair and pulled Blair's observer's pass out of his jacket pocket and laid it on the table.
Blair reverently ran his fingers over the laminated plastic.
"Can we start here?" Jim asked quietly, hopefully.
Blair looked up from the pass, his smile brilliant, his eyes bright. "Yeah, I think that would be an excellent place to start."
-- End --
Additional acknowledgments: Thanks to Susn who told me that my first title took the bite out of the story and to JoAnn who helped me come up with a new title.
Also, I want to thank Kikkimax for her support. A couple of weeks ago, I talked to my friends Lisa and Beth about this story. I didn't have time to write it then because I was on a deadline for a zine story. Then Kikkimax wrote a wonderful story along the same lines, touching on at least one similar point. So I debated with myself about whether or not I wanted to go ahead and write this story. But, I thought it different enough to be okay, so I did.
So, first, my nod to Kikkimax who did a fantastic job with her story! The originality stunned me. I loved the whole concept of the prostitute misreading Blair's malaria as drug withdrawal. That was incredibly frightening. And made me go, "Damn, why didn't I think of that."
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