Standard Disclaimer: I don't own them, other people have that pleasure. I'm working on visitation rights. Don't bother to sue, you'd just end up with the kids or the cat. The kids all need shoes, and the cat has a baked bean fetish. Don't get downwind of him.
This story is a sequel to Suicide Watch and picks up about a week after that one ends. It's not necessary to have read that one first, but it will make a lot more sense. A lot of questions were raised in that story and they are addressed here. This is the auction story won by Steffi. Thank you for your patience and support, Stef.
Warning: You are about to embark on a rough ride. Blair's fear of heights, his dislike of guns, and Naomi's mistrust of cops will all be uncovered here, along with Blair's feelings towards having a father-figure in his life. There will be graphic references to child abuse on several levels.
Spoilers for Sentinel Two, parts one and two and for Murder 101. The sequel to this, Little Boy Found, will have spoilers for TSbBS. You have been warned *g*
A special thanks go out to my betas, TAE, Dolimir, and Virginia who have been with me through this very long journey. I couldn't have made it without you.
Simon Banks signed off on the last report on his desk with a flourish and sent it sailing into his out box. Leaning back with his favorite coffee blend, he took a break to watch the interactions of his unit. The center of the activity, not surprisingly, was Sandburg.
It had only been a week. One week since Sandburg had returned from the attack that had not only injured him, but also had almost destroyed the entire unit. One week of coddling and hovering by those same men and women, grateful that he was back where he belonged. One week that had stretched the young man's patience to the breaking point.
Paperwork done and coffee in hand, Captain Banks was ready for the show to begin. He didn't have long to wait. By Monday morning, he would be wishing the wait had been longer.
"Here you go, Blair. I grabbed you one of your favorites." Joel Taggart set a cream filled donut in front of the young man. "It was the last one they had."
"Thank God." The words were muttered, but loud enough for a Sentinel to hear. The Sentinel, however, was spending the day in court.
"What was that, Blair? Do you need anything else? Are you all right?" Taggart studied the young man seated at Ellison's desk. He still seemed too pale and too quiet for the older man's comfort.
Blair smiled and took a deep breath before answering the question. He understood everyone's concern. It could be weeks or months before full strength and flexibility would return to Blair's wrists.
"Thanks for the donut, Joel. I'm fine, really. I just get a little stiff, you know?" When the other man still seemed unconvinced, Blair took a bite from the donut before continuing. "It's good to be back, even if it's just to do Jim's paperwork."
That seemed to satisfy Taggart. "All right, but if you start getting tired, you let us know and one of us will take you home. Okay?"
Blair bit back a chuckle. "Joel, it's only 9:15 in the morning. I think I'll be able to last a little while longer."
"Yes Joel, I promise."
Finally satisfied, the former Bomb Squad Captain returned to work. After he left, Blair opened the top right hand drawer of Jim's desk and slid the donut in, next to the five half-eaten pastries already there. One off-hand remark by Jim while I was in the hospital and now every cream-filled donut in Cascade has my name on it. Blair barely got the desk drawer closed before Henry Brown walked up, a white pastry bag in his hand.
"Hi, Brown. Umm, what's in the bag?"
Rafe looked up as an unfamiliar, gray-haired man stepped off the elevator and walked through the doors of Major Crime. As the unit's fashion critic, he noted the chain store suit and nondescript shoes.
Exchanging glances, Rafe and Brown knew what he was.
Bypassing the closed door of Simon Banks' office, the fed walked up behind Sandburg and scrutinized him.
Feeling the stare, Blair turned around. "Um, can I help you?"
"Are you Blair Sandburg?" The nameless fed continued to stare at the young man.
He hesitated, uncomfortable from the tone. "Who are you? What's this all about?"
"You damn murdering punk!" Enraged, the Fed jerked Blair up by the shirt and began shaking him. "Did you really think you were going to get away with it? Did you think hiding behind these cops was going to keep me from finding you?"
"Who are you?" Blair's frightened cry cut through the shock that had paralyzed the bullpen. Rafe and Brown were the first to react and quickly had him off Blair while Taggart steadied the young man.
"Easy, Blair. Are you all right?" Taggart resisted the urge to pull Blair into a bear hug, but did not release his grip entirely.
The arrival of Simon Banks brought the commotion to a halt. "Get him out of here." Banks' voice was deadly quiet; the only sound was that of the cigar snapping between his fingers.
"I'm Special Agent Terrance Williams, and I have a warrant for this man's arrest."
The captain did not seem impressed. "What are the charges against Mr. Sandburg?"
With a smug expression on his face, Agent Williams pulled the warrant out of his jacket pocket. "This warrant is from the state of Texas for the murder of Special Agent Dwayne Olson. What do you think of your buddy now? Are you still so hot to protect a cop killer, Banks?"
"Blair?" Simon turned questioning eyes towards the young police observer. "What is he talking about, son?"
The young man in question stood frozen in the middle of the room, his arms wrapped around his stomach. A closer observation showed the tremors running through him.
His voice was low, almost a whisper. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't think he was dead. I didn't think I hit him that hard. I'm sorry." Sandburg turned to face the agent. "I'll go with you. I won't fight extradition."
This was going even better than the agent had planned. "While you're at it, why don't you save everybody a lot of trouble and plead guilty when we get there?"
"That would probably be best." The traumatized young man stared at the floor.
"I'm sorry, Simon. It would be for the best. I don't want to be an embarrassment to the department or to Jim. I don't want this to hurt him. If I go quietly, there won't be the publicity and it will be easier on him, on everyone."
It was happening again. Someone was hurting Sandburg and the entire unit with him. Banks could see it in their eyes, feel it reflected in his heart. Not again. Never again. They can't go through that again. Jim can't go through that again. Hell, I can't go through that again.
Decision made, Banks stepped into action. "Rafe, Conner, take Agent Williams to get the paperwork started." A patented Banks stare quieted the young detectives' questions while Banks continued. "Make sure he sees the proper people in Internal Affairs, then run him over to the District Attorney's office. We want to make sure all the proper paperwork is filled out. ADA Greene would be the best one to see."
Rafe straightened his shoulders and nodded at Simon in understanding. "Don't worry, sir. We will make sure the proper procedures are followed, all the proper procedures."
Megan, too, began to understand. One thing she had learned about the American justice system was its love of paperwork. The innumerable ways of explaining an arrest boggled the mind at times. But why ADA Greene? She was a formidable woman who had no love for federal agents. Not only that, she had a soft spot for Sandburg, and a secretary who adored him. Best of all, according to the station scuttlebutt, she had meetings all day, preparing for a case that had been damaged by another federal agent. The pieces clicked together. This could be fun.
"What are you going to do with my prisoner while I attend to your busy work, captain?" The slur was apparent to every officer present, and Sandburg cringed at the idea of being the cause of such embarrassment.
Simon took a moment to remind everyone just how tall 6'4" could be. When he spoke his voice was colder than any member of the unit could ever remember hearing. "This is the Major Crimes unit of the Cascade Police Department. We have the highest solve rate of any unit in this department. We have the highest solve rate of any unit in this state. We have a higher solve rate than any federal agency that we deal with. The suspect will be just fine here with us. He won't be yours until you complete all the paperwork this department deems necessary. Is that understood?"
Realizing his place in the hierarchy did not please the man, but bowing to the inevitable, he accepted it. "I trust that when I am done following your department's many procedures Sandburg will be ready for transport." Without another word he followed Rafe and Conner out into the hall.
Banks spared a quick glance at the shell-shocked faces around him. As before, whatever affected Sandburg affected them all. His voice was soft, as to not startle the young man still leaning against Taggart. "Get me some answers, folks."
His words to Joel were even softer. "Go get Jim." With that, he pulled Blair closer to him and guided the young man towards his office.
Seated on the small sofa in Simon's office, Blair seemed even younger and more frightened as his trembling increased. Banks reached out and touched his arm. Blair was cold to the touch and Simon instantly became concerned about the real possibility of shock setting in. Realizing there was no blanket or afghan to warm Sandburg with, Banks slid off his own coat and draped it over the younger man. Next, he poured a cup of coffee, sugared it, and placed the warm mug in Blair's icy hands.
"It's hot, Blair. Drink it slow." Banks pulled a chair up next to the sofa and settled in to watch the observer.
"Ugh, it's too sweet." Blair grimaced and started to set the cup down. "Shouldn't I be in a holding cell or something, sir?"
"You're in something, Sandburg. You're in my office. Now drink that coffee, I don't want you to go into shock, Jim would have my hide for sure." Simon nudged the cup back towards Blair's face. "Come on son, a few more sips now."
Blair obediently swallowed the bittersweet liquid. When he had drunk enough to satisfy the older man, he set the cup back on the table. "Will the paperwork be done before Jim gets back from court?"
"If I didn't know better I'd say you were in a hurry to be sent to Texas. It's a death penalty state, son. He's got a warrant for your arrest on a capital crime. Since when do you have a death wish?"
Blair shrank back even more on the sofa and pulled his knees up beneath his chin, clasping his arms around them. "I don't want him to see me being taken away. I don't want that to be the last memory of me that he has."
This was not in the job description. Banks watched the man seated before him. Blair looked impossibly young and child-like in Simon's oversized jacket, his eyes frightened and lost in the private pain. Simon could not even begin to fathom how to reach through the pain. Before he could come to a decision he was interrupted by the reappearance of Rafe. Silently acknowledging the younger detective, Banks slipped out the door, following him.
"Rafe, this had better be good. Are you sure you should have left Conner with Williams alone? I don't want him pulling a fast one and getting the okay to pull Sandburg out of here before we figure out how to stop this."
"Don't worry, sir. Sheila from IA and Conner have it covered. We thought this couldn't wait." There was hardness in the younger man's eyes that Banks had never seen before. "Look at the date on this warrant."
Banks stared at the document, then adjusted his glasses and looked at it again. "This can't be right."
"Yeah, it is. Blair is being arrested for a murder that happened almost twenty years ago, when he was ten years old, Simon. He confessed sir. What drives a ten-year-old kid to kill somebody? Especially somebody like Sandburg?"
Simon shook his head, gazing at the lost soul sitting in his office. "I don't know, Rafe. But I sure as hell am not going to let him out of this building until I do."
"Where is he?" Ellison barreled into Major Crimes at an almost dead run. "Simon, what's going on, where is he?
Definitely not in my job description. "Calm down a minute, Jim."
"Calm down, Simon? Joel pulls me out of court to tell me that my partner is being extradited to face murder charges in Texas, and you tell me to calm down? With all due respect, sir, you're crazy as hell."
"Ellison!" A dark finger was jabbed repeatedly into Jim's chest. "You listen to me, and you listen good. Take a good look at your partner, you look at him with everything you've got. Do you know what you're looking at?" Simon didn't wait for an answer before continuing. "You're looking at a man so tightly wound that he's ready to snap. He needs your support and your strength, not your attitude. Is that understood? Is that understood?"
Jim silently nodded, taking several deep breaths to calm himself. After he felt more in control, the Sentinel opened the door and eased in to kneel at his Guide's side.
"Hey, Chief, how are you doing?"
The young man looked up, startled. "Jim, what are you doing here?"
"What am I doing... Where did you think I'd be?"
Blair's eyes lowered again before he answered the man who was his partner, his Sentinel, his best friend. "I thought I'd be on my way to Texas before you found out. I didn't want you to see them take me out of here in cuffs."
"Then what? Did you think I would just leave you there? If they take you away then they take me too. My god, did you think I'd just abandon you? I thought we had worked all this out after we got back from Sierra Verde." Jim rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Remember, no more holding back, no more hiding, no more secrets? We talk, no matter what, we talk about it."
The voice was small and child-like. "I remember. I didn't want anything to hurt you. Williams was Olson's partner, I remember him now. He hates me and I didn't want him to hurt you."
"The only way he could hurt me is by hurting you, Chief. Let me protect you, that's the only way you can protect me. Don't you see that?" Jim was pulling out the big guns on this one and he knew it, but the slight nod he got was worth it.
A short rap on the door preceded Conner into the room. Simon slipped in behind her. With the barest acknowledgement to the others, she sat beside Blair and took his hand. "There are a lot of questions that you need to answer for us." She smiled apologetically at Jim. "But this one can't wait. You said you didn't hit him that hard. What did you hit him with?"
Blair's blue eyes stared blankly at her, then slowly focused. "A pan of some sorts. It was one of those big cast iron ones. I hit him on the back of the head. I just wanted him to stop. That's all. I just wanted him to stop."
Stop what, Buddy? Jim's unasked question reflected back at him from the other faces in the suddenly small office. Instead, he clenched his fists and waited for Megan to finish her question.
"That's all you did?"
"Wasn't it enough?" A hint of disgust worked its way into Sandburg's voice.
Megan allowed her sweetest smile to cross her face as she squeezed Blair's hand. "No it wasn't. All you did was give him a concussion; he died of a gunshot wound to the back.
"He was shot?"
"But I didn't shoot him."
Megan didn't answer, she just patted his hand before she stood up.
"I... I didn't kill him?"
"No, Sandy, you didn't."
Thank you, Megan. Jim leaned closer to his best friend. "Now will you let us fight for you?"
"I didn't kill him, Jim."
"I know, Buddy."
Megan stepped closer to the captain. She spoke softly, not wanting to disturb Blair, but knowing Jim would be able to hear her easily. "I've asked Laura Woodley to come in and take his statement. She's set up in interview room 4."
Simon indicated his acceptance, while behind him Jim nodded in silence. It was a wise choice on Conner's part. Laura Woodley specialized in dealing with traumatized children and adults. Both Ellison and Banks trusted her to get the answers that were needed without damaging the tender soul that housed them.
"Chief?" Jim gave his friend a moment before continuing. "We need to take your statement, Buddy. Are you okay with that? We need to know what this is all about." I need to know what happened, who hurt you. The Sentinel briskly rubbed his Guide's icy hands, hoping to infuse enough warmth to quiet the young man's pain.
"Who will be taking my statement?" Blair's question went much further than that. Jim could see it in his eyes, and remembered back to an afternoon in a hospital room, a memory still too close, too painful for the older man. Blair had been unable to talk to Jim, needing the neutrality of speaking to Simon, instead.
Remembering too, how overwhelming it had been to just overhear the bedside conversation, Jim understood how he could not be the one asking the questions. "Detective Woodley, Laura Woodley. She... she is very good at this. She will be able to help you piece together what you remember and make sense of it." Ellison stumbled, unsure how to ask what he really wanted to know. "Do you want... would it be all right with you if I sit in the observation room? If it makes you uncomfortable, I'll understand, and I'll be somewhere else, somewhere that..."
"Jim, it's okay." This time it was the Guide who rushed to comfort the Sentinel. "I want you in the observation room. You're right, no more secrets." Sandburg stood up slowly, leaning on Jim when he swayed. "Let's get this over with, before Williams gets back here. I don't want him listening in. He thought his partner walked on water, and I'm afraid he won't like what he hears."
As the group exited Banks' office, Simon answered in a voice loud enough to carry through the bullpen. "Don't worry Sandburg, he won't be anywhere near you while you give your statement." My people will make sure of that.
Jim walked into the interview room with Sandburg, fussing with him a little as he got settled. Woodley had seen the special friendship between the two men and she gave them time. She was, however, surprised to see Captain Banks hovering over the two of them.
"How ya' doing, Chief? If you're not ready to do this, just say the word. Williams has waited this long, he can wait a little bit longer if you need some more time."
Blair was calm as he looked up at his best friend. "I'm ready. For the first time, I'm ready to talk about this. I never even told Naomi everything that happened." The expression in his eyes spoke volumes. "I'm ready to let go of the shadows."
"Okay." Jim nodded and sat back. "Promise me that if it gets too much, you'll stop. There is no shame in asking for a break. You have all the time you need, and if you need me..." His voice faded off, as emotions came too close to the surface.
This was still not Ellison's strong suit; Banks realized and stepped in. "How about a safe word, kid. All you have to do is say the word and Jim'll be in there for you. What do you think?"
Blair glanced up at his two friends and saw nothing but compassion and understanding. "Yeah, that would work."
Banks seemed relieved that Blair was willing to accept their help. "What word, son. What word would be safe for you?"
Jim's eyes were bright, but his voice was steady. "Yeah, that sounds good to me too."
Banks settled himself and Ellison in the observation room. Without asking, he handed Jim a cup of coffee. Let's keep those hands occupied. Jim glanced questioningly at his superior, but accepted the coffee. Before the interview could begin, a well-dressed man walked into the room and identified himself as Sandburg's attorney. It was Banks' time to turn questioning eyes toward the other man. Before the answer could be given, the question was vocalized on the other side of the glass.
"What do you mean, my attorney? Nothing personal, but I don't think I can afford you." Already suspicious, the young man's face turned towards the mirrored wall.
Not bothered by the question, Blair's new lawyer answered him. "It's been taken care of. Your partner hired me. You just worry about yourself, leave everything else to me."
Busy with his papers, he didn't notice Blair turn and whisper "thank you" to the mirror.
The lawyer turned back to Detective Woodley. "Let me introduce myself. I'm Nathan Henshaw III, and I've been retained as Mr. Sandburg's attorney. I assume Mr. Sandburg has been read his rights and you have not begun interrogating him without me present?"
Much to her credit, Detective Woodley took no offence at Henshaw's tone. "Mr. Sandburg is not under arrest, we are interviewing him as a possible witness in a crime. I will handle this as I do all interviews with victims. If Mr. Sandburg wishes to stop, he may do so at any time." She paused and smiled before continuing. "Any claim Agent Williams may have on Mr. Sandburg will have to wait until he goes through all the proper procedures, and I do mean all the proper procedures."
"Blair, are you ready to begin?" Her voice was calm and soothing, not only to the young man seated at the table, but also to the older man behind the mirror. Blair nodded his head and she turned on the recording equipment.
"This is Detective Laura Woodley. I am interviewing Blair Sandburg in connection with the murder of Dwayne Olson, which occurred on or about the 18th of July 1979. This interview is being conducted on March 18th, 1999."
"Mr. Sandburg, how old were you in July of 1979?"
"It happened just before my tenth birthday."
"What was the nature of your relationship with Dwayne Olson?"
"My mother was engaged to his brother. He was in a car accident and I was sent to stay with him while Tony was in the hospital."
Woodley leaned forwards and spoke very clearly. "Were you comfortable with those arrangements?"
The usually verbose observer silently shook his head, staring intently at the table in front of him. Eventually he looked up and quietly gave his answer. "No ma'am. After about a week he started hurting me. He did things to me, things I didn't like... things I didn't want him to do."
"These things he did, can you tell me about them?
Blair didn't answer; he just began to rock back and forth, ever so slightly.
"Did he hit you?"
"Did he use his hand to hit you with?"
"Did he ever use any objects to strike you with?"
Blair was silent. The rocking increased.
Behind the mirror, pain and silence were reflected. Simon watched, helpless, as they each struggled, drowning in the horror. One remembered, one imagined, both separated by a wall of glass. Unable to reach one, Simon turned to the other. "Jim, you've got to keep it together, for Blair's sake. Imagining what he went through won't help him."
Still as silent as his counterpart he nodded, his fingers tracing the figure reflecting through the glass.
"What did he use to hit you with, Blair?"
"His belt, a switch, an electric cord. He never hit me where it could be seen, in case anybody came by.
"Didn't your mother ever notice the marks?"
This brought the first reaction out of the young man. He sat up and made eye contact. "It wasn't her fault. She never saw them. She had to take care of Tony, he needed her. He needed her a lot."
What about you, Chief? You needed her too. They left you alone with this monster, and they didn't even notice.
"Did he hurt you in other ways?"
"Yes." With each answer, the voice became more child-like.
Woodley stepped around the table and laid her hand on Blair's shoulder. "Blair, did he ever hurt you in a sexual manner?"
"Did he touch you in an inappropriate way?"
"Did he force you to touch him?"
"You said he touched you. Was there penetration?"
"Yes. I don't want to talk about what he did, any more. Is that okay?" Any desire to continue the line of questioning was squelched by Henshaw.
"Let's move on for now." The older man patted his client on the arm, hoping to comfort him. Instead Blair reacted as if he'd been struck, pulling his knees up against his chest, trying to become as small a target as possible. The action was pure instinct and heartbreaking to all who witnessed it.
Blair's trembling was visible in the two-way mirror, even without a sentinel's vision.
"Tell me you want to go home, Chief. Let me take you home." Jim Ellison leaned against the cold glass wall; forgotten coffee still wrapped in his hand. "Just tell me 'home', that's all you have to do."
"Jim." Banks rubbed his forehead, not wanting to remind his friend, but finding no other choice. "Even if he says his safe word, you can't take him out of here. He needs to stay here at the station until we get this warrant straightened out."
Ellison turned and faced his captain. "Simon, if Blair tells me that he wants to go home, then I will take him home. You don't have enough people to stop me, so don't try." His voice was composed, and his gaze never wavered.
It didn't take long for Simon to turn away, shaken by the quiet determination and intensity he saw. Please don't make me try, Jim.
"Blair, lets talk about the last time you saw Dwayne Olson. What do you remember about that day?" Deciding to try a different angle, Detective Woodley sat back in her chair and moved to another line of questioning. "Start as early in the day as you can recall, and some background if you could."
"All right, I'll try. Tony was in a hospital in another town, so Mom was staying there. It had been about three weeks since the accident and about two weeks since they had moved him to the second hospital. They were getting ready to move Tony to someplace else again, a rehab center I guess. I fixed Dwayne his breakfast, but there was something wrong, he didn't like it." Blair shifted in his chair as the memories began to surface.
Woodley straightened as well. "You fixed his breakfast? You weren't even ten yet, how could you even reach anything?" She had a hard time imagining this slight man as a nine-year-old child, struggling to reach over a hot stove.
"I... I had a box I stood on to reach the stove. Anyway, I fixed his regular breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast but he didn't like it and he threw it at me. I still have the scar from the plate hitting me." Blair let out a bitter laugh as he rubbed at the faint mark on his left temple. "Then he got mad because of the mess." Another harsh laugh escaped. "In a way I guess it's kind of funny, me standing there with scrambled eggs and blood all over me."
Blair glanced up at the two people in the room with him and saw no smiles, nor were they reflected behind the mirrored wall.
"It wasn't that bad at first. He grabbed me, but I tripped, so he ended up dragging me to the bathroom. I think he scrubbed me pretty good, but I don't recollect if he drew blood. I do know that he made me stay in the tub for a long time. It was past lunch before he let me get out and I was really cold." Blair's voice was detached as he began to detail the abuses he had suffered as a child.
"He still hates to be cold, Simon. How could I tease him about it?" Jim paused, then turned towards his superior when there was no response. "Simon?"
The other man sat staring at the floor; unaware of Ellison's questioning concern. Eventually he looked up, his pain-etched face seeming older than Jim could ever remember recalling. "She ignored what was happening to her son. What kind of a woman could do that?"
It was Jim's turn to be the comforter in the small room. "Simon, she wasn't there, she didn't know."
"She was his mother. How in the hell could she not know?" No one under his command, not even those he considered friends, had ever seen Banks become this emotional, but he didn't care. "Nine, hell, even ten years old is still a baby. You don't leave a baby with someone you don't know. I don't care if he was going to be the brother-in-law, she didn't know him. No matter what else happens, your kid comes first. She didn't learn that lesson fast enough and Blair paid the price for it."
Jim nodded slightly before turning back towards the glass. "Maybe, but I can't worry about it right now, because you're right. I need to spend all my energy on taking care of Blair. I can't waste it on being angry at her."
Stepping close to Jim, Simon laid his hand on the small of Jim's back; a touch of comfort he had seen many times between the two friends. "That's all right, Jim. I have enough anger for the both of us."
"What happened after he let you get out of the tub?" Woodley was good at her job, and as much as she hated pushing about such painful ugliness, she knew how necessary it was at times. "Do you remember what happened after that?"
"Well sure." The memory seemed to lighten Blair's pain. "He put me in the closet."
Woodley glanced past Blair, to Henshaw, then towards the mirrored partition as she shrugged her shoulders. Blair tilted his head, noting her confusion.
"He'd put me in the closet if he wasn't in the mood to hurt me. It was safe, see? As long as I was locked in there, nothing bad would happen to me. Guess that's why I never became claustrophobic. The young man smiled at his own pun, then the pain returned to his face. "Eventually, he'd unlock the door."
"What happened that day, when he unlocked the door?"
Blair's gaze returned to the floor. "He was drunk and really mad."
Woodley continued to press. "Why was he mad, Blair? Do you remember, was it about you?"
The silence was painful, as the young man relived the incident in his mind. "No. Well, not exactly. He had called the hospital. He said the doctors had told him that Tony would never be well enough to come home. It was my fault; the accident was my fault, and he wanted to know why I did it."
It was a long time before the question was asked that could not be ignored. "Why you did what, Blair?" It wasn't fitting for an investigating officer to shed tears at the witness' pain, but the men behind the mirror didn't notice through their own tears.
For too long the tears of pain had been beaten into submission and now could not be released. With a dry face, he answered with the barest of whispers. "Why I destroyed a good man. Why I took a man who wanted to be my father and twisted his love into something that took his soul away. That's what he said. He said that God had taken Tony's soul from him as a punishment for trying to be a father to a fatherless bastard. He said it was my turn to be punished."
Even the questions were whispered. "Is that what he did? Did he punish you?"
"Yes. He punished me. He hurt me really bad." Blair pressed the heel of his hands against his temples. "I don't want to talk about this, but I guess I have to."
"No, you don't." This time Henshaw was a little more adamant about stepping in. "You are the victim here and you don't have to talk about anything that makes you too uncomfortable."
"Thank you." Jim's voice was hoarse as he thanked the man who could not hear him from behind the mirror. So focused on what was happening on the other side of that thin wall of silver- coated glass, Jim did not hear Simon until he touched Jim's shoulder.
"He seems to be pretty good. At least he's taking care of Sandburg. How'd you find him?"
A ghost of a smile brushed against Jim's unusually pale features. "I don't know, Simon. You'll have to ask Joel. I gave him my paycheck and asked him to get Blair the best lawyer he could find."
"Your paycheck? Your entire paycheck? I never considered the costs of..."
A flash of anger reminded Simon he was dealing with a very over-protective Sentinel. "We're talking about Blair, sir. I don't give a damn about the money."
Simon's response was just as angry. "And you think I do? Damn it Jim, when are you going to get it through your thick skull? He's my friend too. Did it ever occur to you that other people are hurting for him besides you? Why can't you let us help him too?" Banks began to pace the tiny room. "None of us will ever understand the depth of the friendship the two of you share. But it doesn't lessen the friendship we feel for him."
Ellison sagged against the glass wall, rubbing his face with one hand. "You're right, Simon. I'm sorry, it wasn't intentional. It wasn't thought out at all. Joel showed up outside the courtroom and told me Sandburg had been arrested. He needed a lawyer, the lawyer needed a retainer and the paycheck was in my pocket. Even if I had thought about it, there wasn't time to do it any differently. I'm sorry." Jim's voice picked up speed as he spoke, truly embarrassed that he seemed to be cutting their friends out of their lives again
"No, Jim. I'm sorry. We settled this last week. I had no right to bring it up again. Just promise me that you'll let us help with the rest of this mess."
"I know that I don't have to talk about this Mr. Henshaw, but I need to. I want to. Otherwise I keep being his victim. He's taken enough of my life already; he's not getting any more." Blair sat up a little straighter and looked past Henshaw and Woodley, looked to the mirrored wall. He closed his eyes and looked again with his heart at the friend who would always be there for him. Blair Sandburg opened his eyes again. "I am no longer Dwayne Olson's victim."
"He didn't give me time to get dressed. He just grabbed me and dragged me back into his study. I fell, I think, and hit my head. The next thing I remember was him standing over me, saying that if I didn't wake up soon, he'd make sure I wouldn't wake up at all. I heard him taking his belt off, and then he hit me with it. He hit me across the face with it. He'd never hit my face before, always someplace where it wouldn't show, so I knew I was in big trouble."
Woodley reached across the table, but didn't touch him. "Because this time he didn't care?"
Blair looked down at his hands before he looked up at her and continued. "I could see it in his eyes. It was like he had snapped. He didn't care about anything, not about being discovered, not about anything. I knew that I would be dead before morning.
"Did that scare you?"
"I was scared for Mom. I didn't know what he would do once he didn't have me to hurt anymore. I thought he might go after her."
The answer clearly shocked the middle-aged woman, as she straightened in her seat. "What about you? Weren't you scared for you?"
At first, Blair didn't answer her, but turned and looked into the two-way mirror.
Simon watched as the young man stared at the observation mirror. For a second it seemed he could see through the mirror as he stared at them. Simon shook off the thought. Don't be ridiculous, he's not the Sentinel. Besides, even Jim can't see through that mirror. Can he? As the seconds ticked by, Banks recalled another conversation with the young man. One that had happened just a week ago, one that still hurt to think about. I've been there Simon. I know what it's like to hurt so bad that you want to end it. He turned to Jim but before he could ask he saw the same memory in the other man's eyes.
Ellison turned to him. "Oh my God, Simon. Oh my God."
Blair turned back to his interviewer, but not before she saw an apology in his eyes. One that was not meant for her. "For myself? I wasn't scared, I was relieved. It was going to be over." He again turned his face towards the table. "I was ready for it to be over."
"What..." Woodley's voice cracked before she continued. "What happened next? Can you tell us?"
"He... I tried to get away, but there was no place to go. He pinned my arm behind me, and started to grope me. He had done it before, hell, after two weeks, it was routine. But this time was different." Unable to find peace with the memories, the hurting observer began to pace the small room. His third circuit of the room brought him next to the mirror and he stopped, leaning his head against the cool surface and brushing his hand across it.
On the other side of the reflective wall Jim paced as well, the forgotten cup wrapped dangerously tight in one hand. Simon was braced for the sound of flesh against plaster, but it never came. Instead, the Sentinel gave a sharp laugh that sounded suspiciously like a sob as he closed his eyes and leaned against the chilled surface. "Why, Simon? Why wasn't there anyone there to protect him?" Simon didn't answer him, but instead watched his friends become true mirror images of each other, unknowingly leaning together on the glass. One hand each, brushing the surface in perfect sync.
"How was it different?" The questions were softer, lower each time. It was as if the weight of the memories were pushing down on them all.
"He didn't have anything to lose. It was like that had freed him. Freed him to do what he wanted with me, without worrying about getting caught. He didn't care about anything but his own sick fun. He had his gun and he..."
The pacing resumed as Blair again coped with a new onslaught of memories. Trembling hands tied back his hair before he spoke again. "I... I never answered your question earlier. Yes, there was penetration, he used... he used objects." Another bout of pacing interrupted the questions, as Woodley waited for him to calm down.
"He had his gun." Blair broke off, his eyes pleading with the older woman to understand what he couldn't say.
"Did he threaten you with the gun?"
"No, he used it on me." Pain filled eyes stared at the woman, willing her to understand what he could not vocalize.
"Used? Oh dear Lord." The silence that followed was deafening. After a quick glance at Henshaw's face, the veteran of ten years of child abuse cases drew a deep breath and forced herself to maintain her professionalism.
"Blair, I'm sorry, but I need to ask this officially for the record. Are you saying that Dwayne Olson, in the act of a sexual assault, caused sexual penetration with his service weapon?"
Blair began to rock; eventually he dipped his head in conformation. "Yes, he did. It was a revolver and he put one bullet in it and spun it. Said we were going to play Russian Roulette."
Impossible as it seemed, the people in the room with Blair paled even more. Taking a look at the face of the female detective, Henshaw asked the needed question. "While he was... assaulting... you with it, did he...?" Even the attorney couldn't verbalize the image in his head.
Blair didn't need to hear the question to know what it was. "He pulled the trigger three times."
Simon stared at the scene in front of him, unable to react until he heard the sound of breaking ceramic. Turning, he glanced down and saw the shards of broken coffee mug in a puddle of cold coffee on the floor at Jim's feet. He dropped his cup. No surprise, I'm ready to lose my lunch. Before Banks could offer to have it cleaned, a drop of red splashed down into the dark brown liquid. Following the trail up, he found a bloody hand still clutching the shattered remnants of the mug. "Shit, Jim!" He pulled out a handkerchief and began to clean the wound, stopping to pull out several imbedded pieces of what had been Jim's favorite mug.
The other man didn't flinch when the large splinters of pottery were being removed from his hand and Simon realized he was dealing with a zone-out. The Sentinel's face was blank, his eyes locked on the young face behind the glass wall. "Shit, Jim." He repeated, shaking the shorter man hard. "This is not the time to do this. Sandburg's in no condition to pull you out." Remembering Jim's last zone-out at the loft after the attack on Sandburg, Simon spun him around, causing him to break visual contact with what was happening.
"What... God, Simon what kind of a monster would do that to a little boy?" Jim's legs sagged and Banks dragged him to the nearest chair and continued to work on the bloody palm. "I wish he wasn't dead."
"You wish WHAT?" That was not the response Banks was expecting. "How could you want him alive?"
Ellison's voice was low, but the intent was clear. "So I could kill him, myself."
Simon finished his first aid. Not if I got to him first.
Stepping in front of Blair, Woodley knelt down and grasped his hands. "You're tired, I know, but we're almost done. Tell me what happened next."
"Mom walked in. I could tell by the look on his face, that he wasn't expecting her." Blair pulled away, uncomfortable with the contact. "She saw what he was doing to me and she went wild. She jumped on him and started hitting him. I'd never seen her even raise her voice and there she was, like a wildcat, hanging onto him and ripping him to shreds. They ended up in the kitchen, and he finally kicked her off. She went down hard and she didn't move. I thought she was dead. I thought he had killed her."
He stopped again, lost in thought for a while. Those with him waited patiently, understanding how horrible this must be to recall. It had to be. Just hearing it was almost more than any of them could stand.
"He was standing over her, staring at her. I thought she was dead, and that it was because of me. He started taking his clothes off, and he was going to rape her. I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't let his filth touch her, even if she was dead."
"What did you do?"
"There was this big pan there, a skillet. It was real heavy; it must have been cast iron. Before the accident, Tony had been working with me on my batting for little league. I picked up the skillet and I swung it like I was going for a home run."
Professionalism was out the window. "You poor baby, weren't you scared, what if he had used it to hurt you?"
"I wasn't scared..." The young man thought for moment. "I was resigned. I thought my mother was dead, and I knew that he was going to kill me, it was just a matter of when. I didn't want to see what he was going to do to her body, so..."
"So you tried to provoke him into finishing you off first." Henshaw's face showed a depth of compassion rarely seen in his profession. "You didn't see any options, did you?"
"No sir." Blair chewed on his bottom lip. "I must have improved my batting more than I thought, because he went down and landed on Mom. She moaned when he fell on her. I think by then I was in shock, because the rest is kind of fuzzy."
Woodley was surprised by how much he had remembered. "That's all right, Blair. Just tell us what you do remember, no matter how little, or unimportant it may seem."
Blair glanced up at her, then let his gaze drop back down to the tabletop. "She crawled out from under him, and... she was crying and asking me if I was okay. Then she said that we had to get out of there before he woke up. She wrapped me in her sweater and told me to get in her car, then she disappeared. When she came back, I hadn't moved. I couldn't stop staring at him lying there. I remember Mom grabbing a blanket and wrapping it around me. Then she picked me up and we ran out to the car." Exhausted by the memories, Blair leaned back in his chair.
Woodley knew her next few questions were very critical to the young man's future. "Blair, how long was your mother out of the room?"
He understood the question. "Only about 45 seconds, no longer that a minute, I swear. All she took were our emergency backpacks, we left everything else we owned there."
"Where was the gun?"
Blair frowned, trying to remember. "The last time I remember seeing it was in the study. I think he dropped it when she jumped on his back."
"Did you, at any time, pick it up?"
"Willingly touch it?" He seemed to shrink back at the thought. "No, never, I couldn't. Not after what he used it for."
Woodley decided to drop that line of questioning. The attorney seemed ready to jump on her about it, and later she could have sworn that she heard the growling of a large cat in the distance.
"All right, Detective, I think this is enough for today. Mr. Sandburg has answered all of your questions." Henshaw began to gather his notes. He had allowed the questioning to continue unchecked because it benefited his client, but now it was time to stop it.
"He's given you enough information, and he's been through enough for one day. There is not enough evidence to hold him on any crime, not according to Washington law, not according to Texas law, and not even according to federal law. When Williams crawls out from under whatever rock he's hiding behind, you can tell him to get a court date because he's not taking my client anywhere without a court order from this state."
Woodley was glad. Although she couldn't admit it, she wanted to protect the young man too. "All right, I just have one more question if that's allowed?"
Henshaw studied his client, then nodded.
"Blair, to the best of your knowledge, was Dwayne Olson alive when you and your mother left that night?"
He stared at her hard before answering. "I honestly don't know, but I do know there were no bullet holes in him."
"Simon, what do I do?" Ellison turned to his captain and friend. "How do I fix this?"
Banks thought for a long time before answering him. "Look at him, Jim. He's not broken, he doesn't need fixing. He's just going to need your support. Sandburg is strong enough to get through this."
Haunted blue eyes stared at, then through the captain, before Ellison answered him in a broken whisper. "Yeah, but I don't know if I am."
"This is my official statement, isn't it?"
"Yes it is. Is there something you want to add, something we haven't covered?"
He nodded, looking away for a moment to collect his thoughts. "When the authorities in Texas get this, I want them to know that the people I work with here at the department knew nothing about this. I would have never come to work here if I thought that it would hurt them."
"I love my mom, I love her a lot. But my friends here, they're not just friends, they're my family. In some ways, Simon's almost as much of a father to me as Tony was, even if he could never admit it. And Jim, well, Jim's more than a brother. A lot more. That's why I was willing to return to Texas without a fight, so I wouldn't drag them down with me." Blair sat up straight in the chair and stared at the two people seated at the table with him. "I didn't kill Dwayne Olson. I know that now." He looked more confident and in control than he had since this whole thing had started.
Henshaw tentatively reached out and touched Blair's arm. This time the young man did not react badly. "This is still going to be very difficult. There is a lot of pain in those memories you are carrying around. Are you ready to deal with that?"
"No matter what Williams may wish, Dwayne Olson's ghost can't reach out and grab me. As far as the memories, well I've got a blessed protector and a bunch of guardian angels that won't let me drown ever again."
Woodley smiled at him. "I know you'd like this to be done, so let me have this typed up, then you can sign it and get out of here. With any luck, this statement should satisfy anyone involved in the case."
Blair snorted. "Yeah, anyone except Williams."
Before Henshaw could say anything, Woodley smiled and picked up her papers. "I wouldn't worry too much about him. You'll be playing with your grandchildren by the time he finishes the paperwork." Her smile became almost feral. "After all, we're a government agency too." With that, she slipped out of the room.
Before Henshaw could even open his mouth, Blair began to speak. "I know that you're my lawyer and you have a ton of questions that you need me to answer, but could you give me a few minutes here, alone, please?"
"Of course, take all the time you need. I'll see about finding someplace more comfortable for you to wait." Henshaw patted his young client's arm and stepped out of the room. Once out in the hallway, he didn't hesitate, but continued into the observation room.
"Mr. Henshaw, thank you." Ellison wasted no time once the older man entered the room.
Henshaw smiled, he had been briefed by Taggart on his way over, and understood that when dealing with his new client, he was also dealing with this man. "You must be Detective Ellison. Joel told me about you. Enough to make me want to bring a whip and chair. Let me assure you that I will do everything that is legally possible to protect your friend. He's obviously very traumatized by what happened, but he's strong and in control."
Ellison silently acknowledged the man, but his attention was drawn back to the mirrored wall. His partner was sitting cross-legged, wedged in the hard wooden chair in an attempt to meditate. When the silence became uncomfortable, Simon spoke up.
"What happens now? How anxious is Texas to get their hands on him?"
Before Henshaw could answer the question, Brown rushed into the room, Joel Taggart on his heels. "Texas doesn't want him."
"Then what the hell is going on?" Ellison's presence was back in that room and he had landed with both feet. "If they didn't want to prosecute him, why did they send a federal agent to get him?"
Taggart spoke for the first time, also watching the young man beyond the mirror.
"They didn't send him, he came here on his own. The warrants were real. They were issued to bring Blair and his mom in for questioning as witnesses, nothing more." Taggart paused and tilted his head towards the mirror. "How's he holding up?"
Ellison gave a mirthless laugh before turning away. "Better than I am." He rubbed his face before continuing. "Are you saying that this Williams character has some sort of vendetta against Sandburg? Why? He was just a kid. Why didn't he go after Naomi, she would have been a more likely suspect?"
"Yeah, you would have thought so, but he's only interested in Sandburg, not his mom." Brown continued, frowning as he spoke. "The agent in charge at the time of the murder had the records sealed. He retired about six months ago, and Williams convinced his replacement to unseal the records."
Ellison turned to face Brown. "Are you saying that they were covering it up? Why?" The silence was long and uncomfortable as Brown looked at everyplace but at the face of the man asking the questions. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Did Sandburg... did Blair ever mention photographs?"
"What kind of photographs?" Horror began to show on the Sentinel's face as he began to understand what Brown was trying to say. "Olson?"
"I'm sorry, man. That sicko took pictures of what he did to the kid. Get this; the guy was part of a task force tracking serial child molesters. He was a profiler who got too much into the heads of the sick bastards he was tracking. Guess the FBI had to be pretty embarrassed to find that one of their own was taking lessons from the creeps he was after."
"So when he ended up dead one night, they just figured good riddance to bad rubbish." Ellison broke in, anger coloring his words. "They covered it up to protect the Bureau's image and just ignored the fact that there was a little boy out there who needed help."
"Sort of brings new meaning to the term, 'we're from the government, and we're here to help you', doesn't it." The attorney's voice had a bitter edge to it, and he seemed lost in thought.
"Well, I," Simon paused to pull off his glasses and rub his eyes, "for one, will be a little more understanding when Naomi starts complaining about not trusting the 'pigs' to take care of her son. Any luck in finding her?"
Joel answered, regret tingeing his voice. "The most recent location we had for her, she left over three weeks ago. She doesn't even know about him being in the hospital. Jim, do you have any ideas where to look for her, did she give the kid any clue where she was going next?"
"No, when I brought him home from the hospital I offered to track her down, but he really didn't know where she was. Don't worry about it, Joel. He has us."
Jim's final words on the subject were faint as he turned back towards the window, watching his pale friend swaying ever so slightly in his chair. "Oh, Chief."
As he moved to leave the observation room, Henshaw reached out and snagged Jim's arm. He placed a folded paper in Ellison's hand, one that the younger man recognized immediately. Before Jim could say anything, Henshaw began to speak. "Some things you do because they're the right thing to do. Sometimes it's so right that you can't let it be tainted with money. We'll do what needs to be done, you just take care of your partner." Jim opened the folded paper, revealing his endorsed paycheck.
There was nothing he could say, except, "Thank you." When he did, his voice was suspiciously rough and his eyes bright.
Silently he slipped away and entered the small room his friend waited in.
"Hey yourself." Ellison studied his friend and partner of three years. Not wanting to make him feel intimidated, Jim pulled a chair close and sat down, straddling it, becoming eye-level before speaking again. "How are you doing? You look tired."
"Man." Blair pinched the bridge of his nose, then briskly rubbed the palms of his hands over his face. "I have never, never felt this tired. What..." The young man's words stumbled out. "What's going to happen to me now? I told Williams that I wouldn't fight extradition. Can I... can I change my mind? Or is it too... is it too late, Jim?"
"There won't be any extradition, because there weren't any charges." Ellison smiled at the confusion on his friend's face.
"But the warrant?"
"The warrant was for questioning. The authorities in Texas wanted to question you and Naomi as witnesses, that's all." Jim watched his partner, debating on how much to tell him right now, how much he needed to hear.
Ellison leaned forward and placed his hands on the sides of Blair's face. "Williams has his own agenda, and we don't know why. That warrant for questioning isn't going to get anywhere here in Cascade. He can't have you; I won't let him."
"But if they wanted me for questioning, and I don't go... won't that make it worse?" Sandburg worried at his bottom lip with his teeth.
"You were questioned, remember? You gave a deposition that is being typed up right now. It's standard procedure, it's interdepartmental co-operation to send all agencies involved a copy. That's all the DA in Texas wants. According to them, you've never been a suspect in the death of Dwayne Olson."
"What about the FBI?"
Ellison patted the face he held so tenderly in his hands. "They are refusing to get involved in Williams' little vendetta. He's here alone, without the blessing of any department or agency that has any say in this matter."
Sandburg stood up, pulling away from his friend and resumed his pacing in the small room. "I played right into his hands, didn't I?" Finally giving in to some of the anger, he slammed a chair into the far wall. "Man, I was such an idiot! All he had to do was wave that damn warrant, and I was ready to go marching off to death row."
One word from Jim shouldn't have been enough to rock Blair's world, but the pained expression behind it was. For once, the man who always knew what to say didn't have a clue. Ellison took advantage of the silence and stood behind the troubled young man. He never reached out, but instead stood close enough that his words could be felt as well as heard. The words fluttered past his neck, and went straight to his heart.
"Why couldn't you trust me?"
"No." The question seemed to deflate the young man. "No, I do trust you, man. I trust you with everything I've got. This wasn't about trust; I didn't want to get you hurt. I didn't want to drag you down with me."
"What else?" Jim could sense that his friend was holding something back. He turned Blair around by the shoulders and repeated the question. "What else?"
"When people know that you've been 'damaged' they treat you different." The sadness in the voice of his friend was heart breaking, but Ellison forced himself to listen without interrupting. "Doesn't matter, revulsion or pity, it's always there. You can see it in their eyes. Your friendship is the most important thing in the world to me."
"You thought you'd lose that?" Do you have that little faith in me, Chief?
"No. NO, Jim, that's not what I thought at all. But I knew that it would change. That you..." Blair stopped, struggling to find the right words to express what he feared. "Not very many people in my life have treated me as an equal. I was always smaller, younger, different. Especially here in your world. Do you know how many times I've heard 'you're not a cop, Sandburg' or 'you're not trained for this, Sandburg' or 'let the professionals handle it, Sandburg'? You are the first person to really treat me as an equal. You worry, you argue, but when it comes down to it, when it really counts, you treat me as an equal."
Speech over, Sandburg slumped over in the nearest chair. "I knew that it was going to change, I just didn't want to see it when it did."
Understanding how important his next words were to his friend's psyche, Jim thought carefully as he crouched down in front of the chair. "You've come through the most horrible nightmare that I could ever imagine, and you did it on your own. Now you're trying to protect me."
"You're right, though, about how I'd feel. Well, almost right." Jim stopped and smiled; his eyes bright with unshed tears. "You are the strongest, bravest, most courageous person I have ever known. It's not a matter of you no longer being my equal; it's a question of my no longer being yours."
Two exhausted men entered the loft well after dark that night. Guided more by instinct that sight, Blair eased across the room to collapse on the sofa. Jim detoured into the kitchen to set down the bags of take-out and flip on a light before settling down on the arm of the sofa, pulling Blair back to lean against him. Jim was amazed by the strength shown by the smaller man, but didn't have a clue as to how to tell him that. As usual, it was Blair who broke the silence.
"What took them so long? He was a FBI agent for God's sake. Why did it take 20 years to track me down? We never hid; we never used fake identification. Weren't they looking for us?"
Don't go there, Buddy. "I don't think they were." Please drop it. I won't lie to you, so please don't ask me.
"Why not?" Blair shifted around to see Jim's face. "Why weren't they looking for me, Jim?"
"They... they knew about the abuse, Sandburg. I'm sorry, I guess they figured that he got what was coming to him." Jim answered as honestly as he could, knowing that his friend needed the truth.
"They knew? They knew?" Blair ran shaky hands through his hair before continuing. "What do you mean, they knew? Knew when? Did they know all along what was happening to me? I don't think I could take the idea of somebody else knowing and not helping me."
"It was during the investigation that... wait a minute... somebody else? Are you saying that somebody knew what was being done to you and didn't stop it, didn't tell anyone? Was it Naomi, did she know?" Ellison clamped his mouth shut, instinctively knowing that he couldn't push his Guide to talk about this. He had to wait and proceed at the other man's pace. Patience was not the Sentinel's strong suit; but he was learning.
As his grandfather had told him many times, patience has its own reward. Jim's came when Blair turned around and leaned back against him. Over the last ten days, Ellison had learned that his friend could not always face him when baring his soul. In a move that would have made his grandfather proud, Jim waited for his friend to speak.
"No, it wasn't Naomi, everything he did happened while she was staying at the hospital with Tony. Dwayne's house was in the country. I mean way out in the country. There was only one other house that I could even see from there. I got away from Dwayne one day and ran there as fast as I could. I figured, you know, that he would help me, that he would stand up to Dwayne and then I could get away. At the least, I thought I could call my mom and she could come save me."
"What happened?" Deep in his gut, Ellison knew the answer would be one he didn't want to hear, but needed to.
"He sent me back. He said Dwayne was an important man, because he was a FBI agent, and that I wasn't worth it. He..." Blair's head bowed down as his voice broke, "he sent me back there because I wasn't worth the trouble."
Jim pulled his friend even closer to his chest and buried his face in the chestnut curls. It was a long time before he spoke, and when he did his voice was rough and shaky. "You are to me. You're worth it to me." When he could breathe again, Jim squeezed the younger man, then released him.
"Why don't you take a quick shower while I warm up the Chinese food?"
Blair nodded, then slipped off to the bathroom unaware of the drops of salty moisture glistening in his hair.
Simon Banks had been staring at the same page for over an hour when Joel knocked on the door, then entered the office without waiting for an answer.
"I thought you went home, Joel." Banks made no attempt to hide his exhaustion from his old friend.
"I'm on my way. I'm going to meet Sharon for a late supper in a few minutes. Thought you'd want to see this right away, and be the one to tell Jim and Blair." He handed Simon the printout in his hand. "We've finally located Naomi."
"You've located her? That's great, Joel. I'll take care of this myself... wait a minute, did you say Sharon? Your Sharon?"
"Yeah, Simon, my Sharon. The kid called her while he was still in the hospital, got us to talk, believe it or not. Hell, before we knew what was happening, he had us in a counseling group for parents who'd lost a child. That's where I met that lawyer, Henshaw. His daughter was killed by a drunk driver."
Simon couldn't help but smile at the burly man standing in front of his desk, blushing. "So are you and Sharon going to be getting..."
"We're talking, Simon, that's all. We're talking, but talking is good, right?"
"Talking is very good, Joel." For the first time in hours, Banks smiled. "So what are you still doing here? Go on, get going." Simon made shooing motions with his hands.
Joel paused at the door. "So what are you going to do about Naomi? I'm not sure seeing her would be the best thing for the kid right now."
"Neither am I, but I sure the hell am going to find out, before she gets anywhere near him."
"That's not what I meant, Simon." Taggart stepped back into the office and closed the door behind him. "Come on man, she fell in love with a guy who wanted not only her, but to be a dad to Blair. Then he's in an accident, and Naomi leaves her son with the guy's family while she stays at the hospital with him. She loved Tony, how was she to know that his brother was some sick pervert? He was a FBI agent who tracked down the sick bastards who hurt little kids. How was she supposed to know that he had become one?"
"She just should have."
"Like you should have known that Daryl's nanny would neglect him?" Understanding showed in Taggart's face as he moved to sit in front of Simon's desk. "When I was projecting my pain about losing Davy, you called me on it. Now it's my turn."
"A bad woman came into your son's life, and you didn't recognize it in time to prevent him from getting hurt. That doesn't make you a bad parent, it makes you human, just like Naomi. The two of you are a lot alike, you know."
"Naomi and I are nothing alike." Banks noticeably stiffened and turned away. "How could you even suggest it?"
Joel recognized that this macabre dance was the mirror image of one that had occurred just over a week ago in this same office. He took a deep breath and turned the table on his old friend.
"Did you know the nanny had a drinking problem when you hired her?"
"What?" Simon's anger exploded from behind his normally cool persona. "How in the hell could you even suggest such a thing?" No matter where he turned in his chair, it seemed that Joel was still in front of him. "If I'd had any idea what kind of a person she was, I wouldn't have let her in the same state as my boy!"
Joel kept the pressure on. "How many times did she neglect him, or hit him? How many times did he lay in his crib and cry because she was too busy hitting the gin to take care of him? How many times did he go hungry because she couldn't be bothered to feed him?"
Simon seemed to deflate right in front of Joel. "Do you know how many nights those same questions kept me awake? He was just a baby, he doesn't remember anything about her, but I'll take the memories to my grave with me."
"When you discovered what she was doing, you stopped her, didn't you?" Joel knew exactly where he was going with this.
"Did I stop her? If I'd had my gun, I would have shot her. If Joan hadn't been there, I would have killed her with my bare hands." Simon began to see the pattern that his friend was developing.
Taggart nodded and smiled at the recognition he saw in Simon's face. "Daryl is a strong young man with an innate sense of right and wrong who grew up secure in the love of his family. In a love that was strong enough to heal him. Sound like anyone else we know?"
"Damn, you're good, Joel."
Taggart smiled softly. "Yeah, well I learned from the master." With that, he left Simon to his thoughts.
A much calmer Simon Banks called and made reservations for the red-eye flight to New Mexico.
Jim woke to the sounds of Blair puttering around in the kitchen. Wordlessly, he slipped on his robe and went down the stairs to watch his best friend put the finishing touches on their breakfast.
When Blair finally noticed Jim's scrutiny he smiled. "Morning Jim. Did you sleep at all or were you up, keeping me safe all night?"
"Comes with the territory, Sandburg. You didn't have to fix breakfast this morning."
He shrugged. "I know, but it's normal. I needed normal, I guess. Eat up while it's still hot."
Ellison sat at his place at the table before he looked at his plate. It was his regular Saturday breakfast, scrambled eggs and toast.
"I... I had a box I stood on to reach the stove. Anyway, I fixed his regular breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast but he didn't like it and he threw it at me."
Jim stared at his breakfast; one that his friend had been making for twenty years, then barely made to the bathroom. Blair followed, but stayed in the hallway to give him some privacy. When the sound of retching stopped, Blair quietly entered the small bathroom and handed the older man a glass of water.
"Here, Jim. That's it, slowly. Little sips, how are you doing? Better?" Blair rubbed circles on his friend's back and watched as his breathing slowed and calmed.
Jim took a deep breath and turned around. "How could you stand me doing it?" His hands began to wave around as his agitation came to the foreground. "How could you stand to fix me breakfast, were you scared to say something? Were you scared of... oh, God, were you scared of me?"
Blair caught the flying hands and held them tight. "Jim, what are you talking about? Why would I be scared of you? Why would fixing your breakfast..." Realization hit the younger man and he fell silent, unsure of how to answer the other man's questions.
Sorrow hit as the Sentinel misunderstood his Guide's silence. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Blair."
"No, Jim." Blair struggled for exactly the right words to say what was in his heart. While he thought, he began to rub the palms of his Sentinel's hands in an instinctive calming pattern. "Nothing about you reminds me of him. Do you understand that, Jim? Nothing. He was pure, unadulterated evil. The two of you are so different, I can't even think of you both at the same time. For everything he took away from me, you gave back ten-fold. The only way I can go through the darkness that he left me in is because you're shining on me, illuminating my way back." Blair saw Jim lean his head down towards him and moved slightly so their foreheads rested together.
The two men stood for a long time like that, drawing strength from one another, until the soft rumbling of unfed stomachs pulled them apart. Blair chuckled and it was like a drink of water to his friend's thirsty soul.
Jim's smile matched his. "Never let it be said that I made you fix breakfast twice in one morning. Let me take a quick shower and we'll go grab some breakfast on our way to the beach."
"The beach? It's still wintertime."
"Good, less crowded."
"Bad, more cold."
Jim's hands slid out of Blair's soothing hands to reach up and tug on the collar of one of the flannel shirts the other man was wearing. "A bundled guppy is a warm guppy."
Blair laughed again as he left the bathroom. "Just no snowsuit, man."
Have to get him one for his next birthday. The older man's soft laughter was a welcome sound to Blair as the shower started.
"Simon, what's wrong?" Naomi was out the door and across the dirt yard before the rental car came to a stop. "What's happened to Blair? Is he... Simon... no..."
Strong dark hands grasped her arms as her legs buckled. "He's all right, Naomi. He's with Jim, Jim's taking care of him." Not knowing what kind of a reaction the red-haired woman would have, he did not release her as he spoke. "I need to talk to you about Dwayne Olson."
"Dwayne... is he... did he come after Blair? Did he try to hurt him?" Despite Simon's strong grasp, she pulled away from him. "What has he done to my Blair?"
Looking into the frightened face of Blair's mother, Simon felt the last of his anger towards the woman fade. "He's dead, Naomi. He will never hurt Blair again." Understanding the relief she would feel at those words, Banks was prepared when she sagged against him. "Blair's safe, it's over. Olson will never hurt Blair or anyone else, ever again."
Trying to regain her composure, Naomi stepped back, wiping her eyes. "How did he die? Did Jim kill him?"
"Naomi..." Simon wasn't sure just how to tell her what had happened in the last day, how their worlds had been turned upside down. "Olson was killed the night you and Blair left. He was..."
"I killed him. That's why you're here without Blair, you're here to arrest me."
"Why don't we go inside and talk about what happened that day?" Simon gently turned her towards the door of the small house and followed her inside.
Naomi entered the house, stepping past the living room and into the kitchen. Without a word, she started to make a pot of tea. Simon kept silent also, giving her the time to compose herself. While he waited, he examined the contents of the sparse room. Simon's hands began to shake as he saw the large tray of prescription bottles on the table.
Before he could ask, Naomi spoke up. "They're not mine. I'm here taking care of a friend. Blair doesn't know, and I didn't want to worry him." She set a cup in front of him, then sat at the table with her own cup in hand. "What do you need to know? I walked in and he was attacking my baby. I hit him; I hit him hard enough to kill him, then we ran. He was alive when we left, but I didn't get him any medical help, I had to protect Blair."
Like you're doing now. "What did you hit him with?"
"I'm not sure, it was a long time ago."
"Why did you shoot him?"
"What? I... he..."
"You didn't shoot him, did you? You weren't the one who hit him either, were you? Tell me the truth, what happened that day? Lying won't protect Blair, and we can't protect him if we don't know the truth, all of it."
"You don't know what it's like. To walk in and find someone hurting your baby."
Yes I do. "Tell me."
"I had just spent three weeks at the hospital with Tony. He was my fiance and he had been in a horrible car accident. The hospital near where we were living wasn't set up to handle such serious injuries and he had been moved to another hospital further away."
"Dwayne was Tony's brother. They weren't close but he lived only about 50 miles away and he offered to keep Blair while I stayed at the hospital. At first the doctors thought that Tony could hear me, that my being there was helping him." She stopped to wipe her eyes and Simon handed her his handkerchief. "He was the only man who ever loved me enough for me to want to stay. He loved Blair so much; he was so excited to be his dad. Tony was going to adopt Blair, we were going to be a real family. I had to do everything I could to help him get better. Can't you see that?"
Simon nodded without saying a word. He could understand why Naomi had made the decisions she had. Understanding, however, didn't help the hollow pain in his chest.
Naomi stood and began to pace in the small room. "That last day, the doctors had finally admitted there was no hope, the brain damage was too severe. 'Our' Tony was gone, and he was never coming back. I left the hospital to drive back to Dwayne's house; there's just some things you don't tell a child over the phone, that you don't tell anyone over the phone."
Naomi slumped back into the chair and began to cry again. Banks leaned forward to hear her soft voice. "When I got there, he was hurting my beautiful little boy, Captain Banks. I tried to stop him, but I didn't do a very good job. He threw me down, and I was fighting to stay conscious. Then I felt him land on me, and Blair was standing over him. He dropped something out of his hands, it was big and dark, and he started backing away."
"I tried to get him to talk to me, to tell me if he was okay, but he wouldn't answer me. I put my sweater on him and pushed him towards the door and told him to go get in my car. Then I went upstairs to get our packs. I had moved us out of the apartment we had before the accident, and all of our things were there, at Dwayne's."
"What was so important that you left Blair in the room with his molester?" Try as he might, Banks could not keep all of the anger out of his voice.
Naomi visibly stiffened at the tone of Banks' voice. "I had cash hidden in my pack along with Blair's birth certificate and addresses of people who could help us if Dwayne came after us. I didn't go back to retrieve a new dress, if that's what you were thinking. And I thought that Blair was in a dead run out to the car."
It was Simon's turn to cringe. "I'm sorry, I was out of line. Was there anyone else that you know of who might have had a reason to kill Olson?"
Naomi scraped at a spot on the kitchen table with her fingernail. When she finally answered, her voice was barely a whisper. "Obviously, I didn't know him as well as I thought I did. I must not be the person who you should be asking."
"Did you ever suspect?" Somewhere the questions had ceased to be part of a police investigation, and were now from one parent to another.
Naomi was lost in her own painful memories as she absently answered the question. "No, I never suspected. I never dreamed he could be so different from Tony. Tony loved him so much, wouldn't he have told me if his brother was a danger to Blair? Dwayne was Tony's brother, he would have known, he should have known."
Remembering his own failure to protect a boy he loved, Simon grasped Naomi's arm hard enough to make her wince before realizing and letting go.
She studied Simon's face. "You care about him." It was a statement as much as a question.
For a second, Simon looked like he was sharing a private joke with the woman across the table from him. "Sometimes I catch myself treating him like Daryl, like an older version of Daryl."
Naomi returned the smile. With a quiet "Wait here." she left the room, only to return a few moments later with a photo album. Opening the heavy album, she slid a faded envelope out from behind a photo of a smiling, curly-haired boy in a Superman costume. "It was easier for Blair to never talk about what happened. Even all the therapists I sent him to couldn't get him to open up completely. Jim makes him feel safe, and you help that."
Simon gently squeezed her hand and waited for her to continue.
"Blair doesn't know that I still have these pictures. Losing Tony hurt him as much as what Dwayne did to him. We were on top of the world, you know. The three of us were the perfect family. How could it all go so wrong, so fast?" Naomi fell silent as Banks studied the pictures on the table.
A younger Naomi with the curly-haired boy sat roasting marshmallows at a campfire. The same young boy with a tall, dark haired man was flying a kite in another one. Picture after picture of a happy, loving family. Pictures that reminded him of a time when his family was like that.
"Was it wrong?" Naomi's voice brought Simon back to the present. Was I wrong to want a chance to be happy, for us to be happy?"
"No, of course not." Simon blinked back tears as he thought about the little boy who had been hurt all those years ago, and how he had grown up to be the man who affected them all so deeply now.
"How do I help him through this?"
Simon thought for a moment before answering the redhead. "I think part of what is keeping Sandburg going right now is his belief that he is protecting you from it.
"You're not going to tell him about your trip down here, are you?" Naomi saw the troubled look on the dark face in front of her and hastened to reassure him. "It's probably for the best that he doesn't know. If things change and he... if he needs..."
Banks knew what she was trying to say. "I'll call you the second that happens. You have my word on that." An unspoken message seemed to pass between them as one parent to another in the silence that followed.
"Take care of him."
Simon didn't say anything as he picked up his coat, but the expression on his face was answer enough. He was almost to the door before she spoke again.
"Tony loved Blair like he was his own. He said that blood didn't make a dad, that love did. That's why he wanted to adopt him, to tell the world that Blair was his son now. He couldn't have known what kind of man Dwayne was. He wouldn't have kept something like that from me. Would he?"
Banks didn't have an answer for her as he walked back to his car.
Two men sat shoulder to shoulder on the cold and deserted beach, drawing strength and warmth from each other. Blair looked up into the face of his friend to find eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Jim?" He turned to face his older companion. "Talk to me, man. What's going on?"
"I can't get it out of my head. I think about what you went through and..."
"It was two weeks out of a whole lifetime. I was lucky; it could have been a whole lot worse. What if Naomi had been in the car with Tony? Dwayne knew the system and how to work it. He could have ended up with custody of me. I could have ended up his own personal playground, and who would have stopped him?" Blair hesitated as he felt a shudder pass through Jim's body.
"Don't say that. Don't even think that." Ellison's voice was raw with emotion. "You could have died before I even met you. I keep seeing you at the hospital that first day, when you pretended to be a doctor so you could talk to me. Do you remember?"
Despite the seriousness of the topic, Blair smiled. "My brief foray into the medical profession? Yeah, I remember. What about it?"
"It's almost like a vision."
That got the younger man's attention. "Tell me."
Jim nodded and cleared his throat before starting. "You're standing in front of me, giving me that line of bull about the correct pronunciation of the name on that lab coat you acquired and you start to disappear."
"Yeah, like you're fading, or something. There's a voice. It's not out loud, but in my head, telling me that you were the only one who could ever help me, but you were already dead because there was no one to protect you. Then you realized what was happening to you and you reached out to me. I tried to grab you, but my hand went right through your arm. You kept fading until there was nothing left but your voice, begging me to help you. In my head I could see everything that I was losing with you, and I started screaming 'No' but then you were gone and suddenly I was in a straight-jacket in a room somewhere with my senses totally out of control. I was so alone, Blair. I've never felt that alone before."
"Oh, Jim." Blair's voice was barely above a whisper as he took Jim's hand and placed it on his arm. "Do you feel that? Do you? I'm here and I'm real. He didn't take me away from you. Nobody is going to take me away from you. Certainly not Dwayne, or his memory."
"Not even his partner?" Jim's voice was rough as he turned to face his friend. "What was that all about, Chief? I still don't understand. When I was accused of being a dirty cop you were right there, fighting for me, believing in me. Why didn't you want me fighting for you? You never gave me a chance."
"I'm an anthropologist, Jim."
"If that was suppose to be a big revelation Sandburg, I think it lost something in the translation." In spite of himself, Jim grinned at him. "You want to clarify that, Buddy?"
Blair pulled away slightly and settled himself on the damp sand. His fingers traced an abstract pattern in the sand while he collected his thoughts.
"I'm an anthropologist who's been partnered with a police detective for three years. Don't you think that's going to look pretty strange to the feds who claim that I'm a cop killer? What if they start digging? What if they find my earlier papers on Sentinels, man? Brackett found them, he figured it out."
"That's what you meant? When you said that you didn't want to 'drag me down with you' you were talking about my senses?" Jim reached forward and grabbed Blair's arms. "Don't you get it, Sandburg?"
With a shudder, the Sentinel released his grip. "Sorry, I'm sorry." He rubbed the bruised arms as he struggled to say what was in his heart.
"If I've never said the words, let me say them now. You are important. To me, you are very important. If it would keep you safe, let the FBI find out. Hell, let them all find out. You. Are. What's. Important."
Blair's eyes widened in alarm. "No. You can't mean that. If the wrong people found out about you..."
"If the wrong people found out, then so be it. If I had to deal with it, I could." Ellison let his hands slide down to grasp the tightly clenched hands of his Guide. "I couldn't deal with losing you. The fountain was bad enough, but last week..."
Blair allowed his fingers to intertwine with his Sentinel's. "We haven't really talked about it. I kind of got the feeling that you weren't ready yet."
"Did you know that the loft still smells of blood?"
"Still?" Blair was amazed by the admission. "Joel and the guys replaced my mattress and bedding. Simon had a crew come in to strip and refinish the floor in my room. Megan's still complaining about wrecking her manicure scrubbing the rest of the loft." Blair leaned forward. "Maybe we are dealing with a sense memory here, Jim?"
Ellison smiled at the 'we' in his friend's question. "I guess so. I went back to the loft that day with Simon to see if I could pick up on anything. I was drowning. It was so overwhelming that I... if Simon hadn't been there to drag me out..."
"If you had... if the doctors..." Jim looked away and took a deep breath. "I could never have gone back there. It was all I could do to wear the clothes Joel got out for me."
"After that first time, you never went back to the loft until I came home from the hospital, did you?" It was more of a statement than a question, and Jim just nodded to him.
"You haven't been alone in the loft since then."
The bigger man shrugged. Turning the younger man's hands over, he softly rubbed his thumbs over the fresh scars. "Our home should have been safe. I should have been able to make it safe."
Blair slid his hands out from under Jim's. "It wasn't your fault, man. You've got to let go of this guilt." Leaning forward, Blair grasped Jim's face and tilted it up until they made eye contact. "It. Was. Not. Your. Fault. Okay?" He punctuated every word with a gentle shake.
Jim gave him a wry smile. "Okay, Chief." He straightened up and pulled away slightly. "Simon's coming."
Blair glanced over Ellison's shoulder to see the big man walking towards them. "How did he find... I'm under surveillance, aren't I?"
Recognizing the troubled expression on his Guide's face, Ellison hastened to reassure him. "It's not like that, Sandburg. You've got a lot of friends in the department. They just want to make sure Williams stays away from you.
"But department man hours..."
"Aren't being used. Megan's our shadow this morning. We've got Rafe this afternoon."
"No buts, Buddy. We just want to keep you safe."
"Hey, Simon. How's it going?" Sandburg looked over his partner's shoulder to greet their captain as he walked up.
"How ya' doing, kid?" Simon squatted down next to the pair, careful not to drag his coat through the sand. Although he was addressing Blair, Banks kept glancing at Ellison.
"Blair." Simon Banks kept his voice as soft and gentle as he could, not wanting to spook the young man. "I just got off the phone with the FBI."
One look into the dark troubled face and Blair was expecting the worst. "Oh, God."
"No, son, it's all right. They haven't changed their stance. As far as they are concerned, you are still just a witness to a crime." Banks did his best to calm the young man's fears before facing a suddenly angry Sentinel. "It's possible that Olson's murder had something to do with his work, or that someone else knew what he was doing and decided to put a stop to it."
Remembering their conversation the night before, Ellison glanced away to not show his anger to the young man seated in front of him, or to their captain.
Unaware of the admissions made by their young friend, Simon misunderstood Jim's actions. "Jim, we don't know how many other children Olson hurt. It's possible that a parent of an earlier victim came gunning for him; or even someone in town who found out what kind of a man he was. Under the circumstances, it is entirely possible that it was a justified shoot. Nobody is trying to pin this on anyone. They just want some answers."
Ellison seemed lost in thought. Pin. Yeah, I'd like to pin that bastard that turned away from Blair. Pin him to the table like the bug he is.
"Jim, you zoning?" Blair's words and touch brought him back to the here and now.
One glance at his friend's face told Ellison that the young man knew his troubled thoughts. He squeezed the hand resting on his arm to acknowledge it before he answered. "I'm not going to zone on you, Buddy." To Simon he added, "They want him down there, don't they?"
So much for gradually working up to it. "I'm afraid so. We're booked on an early afternoon flight."
"Really Jim, you don't think that I'd turn you loose on the good state of Texas without a keeper?" The tone was light and teasing, but Ellison could see the fierce protectiveness reflected back from his captain's eyes. If somebody else there is going to try and hurt him, they are going to have to go through the both of us to do it.
"What about Williams? Is he going to be there?" The voice was so soft that the two bigger men almost missed it.
Before Ellison could make known any threats he might have towards the rogue agent, Banks hastened to reassure the partners. "Williams is out of the investigation and awaiting disciplinary action. He won't be anywhere near us; I made that part of the conditions of our being there. I've also insisted on full immunity, in writing, for Sandburg. There is no way they can come up with some trumped up charge once we get there."
The look of gratitude on Ellison's face said more than words ever could.
"Be sure to turn down your hearing, Jim. The plane will be taking off in a few minutes."
"Yes, mother." Jim's tone was teasing, but his face showed the gratitude that his friend was still concerned about him after all he, himself, had been through.
Simon smiled at the attempt at normalcy and had to join in. "Am I going to have to separate you two? And if I hear one chorus of 'Are We There, Yet?' I will personally lock you in the luggage compartment."
"Nah, Simon." The smile on Blair's face didn't quite reach his eyes. "This is one time that I'm not in a hurry to get to where I'm going." Looking suddenly very young, he leaned his face against his Sentinel's shoulder. Murmuring words too soft for Simon to hear, Jim pressed his cheek against the top of the curly head.
Only the arrival of the stewardess with the beverage cart was enough to disturb the pair. The cart produced coffee easily enough for the two taller men and after a brief search, a bag of herbal tea was found for Sandburg. Before she left, the stewardess deposited three bags of peanuts on the middle tray. Banks and Sandburg made short work of their bags, while Ellison's remained untouched.
Blair smiled at his friend. "Are you going to eat those? Because if not..."
"You can always have my nuts, Buddy."
"Thanks, man." Blair's smile grew wider as he happily munched on the honey roasted peanuts.
"Well, we've got a two-hour layover in Denver and I, for one, plan on getting some real food while we're there. You need a good meal under your belt, too, Sandburg."
Blair's smile faltered a bit as he glanced up at his Sentinel. "You figure I won't have much of an appetite when we get to Texas." His voice dropped, but was still loud enough for Jim to hear. "You're probably right."
Simon felt his heart breaking for the young man sitting between Jim and him. "Tell us about the town we're going to, Sandburg. What do you remember about living there?"
Ellison shot Simon a pointed look, but remained silent as his best friend began to speak.
"When Mom and I were living with Tony, we were in Sierra Blanca. It was actually a pretty neat little town to grow up in. Everybody knew everybody else, so you couldn't get away with anything, but you could walk home at night without ever being scared. Mr. Roberts ran the general store..."
"The general store?" Simon couldn't help but be amused at the images that brought to mind.
"Yeah, Simon. A real general store. It even had the ongoing checkers game set up on the old barrel next to the pot-bellied stove." Lost in a pleasant memory, he sat back and began to chuckle. When he realized that his two friends were staring at him with smiles of their own, he hastened to explain.
"Mr. Roberts and the town barber had this battle going on about which one of them was the better checkers player. Bud, the barber, claimed he was the best player in the county. He sure didn't take it seriously when some snot-nosed kid challenged him."
Jim was openly laughing by this point. "Let me guess, you beat him?"
"I jumped five of his pieces in one move. Man, I didn't know a person could turn that color. After that, I got all the penny candy I wanted from the store."
Simon shook his head. "Only you, Sandburg; only you."
For the rest of the flight Blair regaled his friends with tales of his time in Sierra Blanca. By the time the three of them had disembarked in Denver they had heard about every character the young man remembered from the months he lived in the small town.
The waitress had removed the last of the dishes before Banks began pressing for more information. "What do you remember about Dell City?"
"Not much, I'm afraid." Blair frowned, deep in thought before he answered. "Dwayne was at the hospital with us at Van Horn..."
"Van Horn?" Ellison interrupted, needing to know as much as possible.
"Yeah, Sierra Blanca didn't have a hospital. Van Horn was the closest town that did. Anyway, the doctors thought that having Mom with him could help bring him out of it, so he convinced Mom that I should go home with him. It was dark when we got there, and he lived so far out of town that I never saw Dell City itself.
"How far was it between the hospital and Olson's house?" Silently, Simon acknowledged the need to reassure himself that Naomi could not have maintained much control over the situation.
"Distance-wise, I'm not sure. Tony's accident was during the worst summer storms they ever had in Texas. That's why it was a couple of days before they moved him from the clinic in Sierra Blanca to the hospital in Van Horn. The storm had washed out entire sections of road. I know we left the hospital right after lunch and like I said, we didn't get to his house until after dark."
"When did the... how long before he...?"
"Jim, this really isn't the place for those kind of questions." Simon's voice was soft, but left no doubt as to his concern.
"It's okay, Simon." The gentle words and the hand on his arm stopped anything else Banks might have said.
"The first week he was really nice to me. In fact things didn't change until after the second round of storms. The bridge was washed out and we were cut off from the main road.
There were a lot of questions in Ellison's mind, but he knew his Guide had answered all he could for now. "Come on Buddy, our connecting flight leaves pretty soon. He threw a couple of crumpled bills on the table and steered the emotionally drained young man towards the door. Simon grabbed the check and followed them, stopping at the cash register.
The plane was airborne and Blair was fast asleep against the window before either of his companions spoke of the reason for their trip again. Banks made several false starts before he finally broached the subject to the worried and over-protective Sentinel folded into the middle seat.
"Jim, it would help if we knew everything he remembered about this before we arrive. The county sheriff and a local FBI agent will be interviewing him and I don't want any surprises."
"I thought you said he had immunity!" In deference to his sleeping friend, Ellison never raised his voice, but his intent was still clear.
"Calm down, Jim. I'm not talking about legal concerns. I'm talking about emotional ones. Some of his memories have got to be overwhelming and total strangers are going to be asking him questions. I don't like it. If we knew more about it, we could know when to make them back off.
Jim studied his sleeping friend, frowning as a shudder ran through the otherwise still figure. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Simon stand and retrieve a blanket from the overhead compartment. Without a word Jim reached for it, letting his grateful smile speak for him. Strong hands smoothed the coarse fabric and soothed away the tension.
Simon waited silently and patiently for Ellison to be satisfied that their friend was sleeping comfortably. He knew from vast experience that Jim wouldn't answer him until that happened.
"We have to let him do this at his pace. I don't want a stranger there when he tells us about that bastard, but some of this is going to be so bad that I'm afraid he may only be able to tell it once." Ellison turned back towards his sleeping friend, but not before his captain caught a glimpse of the pain etched in his face.
Before Banks could think of any way to reassure him, the pilot announced that they were on final approach to El Paso.
Silence reigned in the dark blue rental car as the trio made their way from El Paso to Sierra Blanca. Simon sat alone in the front seat, dividing his attention between the road and the two quiet men sitting in the back seat. As expected, Ellison's full attention was on his partner, who was staring out the window as miles of tumbleweeds passed by. Only the occasional slight movements from the taller man convinced Banks that he had not zoned.
"Simon, pull over." The sudden request from the young man was so unexpected that Banks almost put the car in the ditch to comply. Both he and Ellison were shocked to see the smile that lit up Sandburg's face.
"It's still here." He scrambled out of the car before it had come to a complete stop, Ellison a half step behind him. The tall police captain took a few seconds longer to put the car in park and unfold himself from the driver's seat.
"Tony built this for me. Isn't it great, I can't believe it's still here." Blair stood in the middle of an empty field, eyes closed, soaking up the memories he could feel around him. Behind him, Blair's two companions exchanged puzzled glances as they looked over the barren field and the rotting benches beyond it.
"Every kid in Texas played football. That is, every kid but me. I was too small for even the peewee teams. Do you know what it's like to be the only kid in town who doesn't play the town sport? Tony decided that I could hold my own in baseball, so he convinced the football coach that it was a great sport for the off-season.
Jim nodded, remembering back to his own childhood when the kids who warmed the bench in football often excelled in sports where size was not an advantage. "So in baseball, the playing field was a little more equal?"
"Better that equal, actually." A glimmer of the Sandburg spark showed on the younger man's face. "Tony spent a couple of years in the minors before he tore up his arm. He taught me everything he could about pitching and game strategy. By the time the team started practicing, I had the best fast ball in the county. After that the linebackers were too worried about the state baseball championship to risk beating up their star pitcher."
Simon had no trouble imagining the quick-witted young man as an intense little boy winding up behind the pitcher's mound. "Did Tony coach the team?"
"Nope, the football coach doubled up and coached both sports." Blair gave all appearances of revealing a deep, dark secret and without realizing it, his friends leaned forward to hear the rest of what he had to say. "People around here couldn't imagine a 'city boy' understanding enough about a sport to be able to teach it to a bunch of kids."
Jim made no attempt to hide his laughter. "Didn't any of them know that he played pro ball?"
"He may have played pro, but he didn't play in Texas." Blair's soft laughter echoed that of his Sentinel. "He wasn't that interested in coaching, said it was too much 'politics' for him. He'd rather just teach the fundamentals of the game. He got his publisher to sponsor the team, uniforms and everything."
"Publisher?" Ellison turned serious. "What exactly did Tony do?"
The laughter stopped, but the sweet smile never left the young man's face. "He wrote children's books. They were all about adventure and exploring. Man, I loved those books; that's how Mom met him -- she took me to a book signing of his. He made all those different places seem so alive. In all of his books he used the character of a kid as a magical explorer who got to learn the hidden secrets of each mysterious place. The reader 'saw' through the kid's eyes. The book he wrote while we were together, well that kid was me."
Blair bent down and began to gently brush away the dirt covering the abandoned home base. The two men with him knew that they were seeing a rare glimpse into the soul of their friend and waited patiently to hear him continue.
"Tony made learning come alive for me, he was the one who told me the legend of the Sentinels. When I told him that I was going to grow up and find a real Sentinel, he never laughed at me. He said that all facts were myths until somebody was smart enough to prove them real; that if a Sentinel was out there, I could find him."
Ellison squatted down next to his partner and swallowed twice before he could speak. "He was right, you found me."
Blair reached up and squeezed the hand resting on his shoulder. "I just wish he could have known." He leaned against the weight pressing on his shoulder, drawing strength from his Sentinel. "Simon, could you do me a favor while we're here?"
Banks felt like a voyeur intruding on a private moment, then suddenly called on it. "What..." he cleared his throat before continuing, "what would you like me to do?"
"Nobody ever told me what happened to Tony. The only thing Mom would ever say was that he would never get better. I need to know... I need to know what really happened to him... I never got to say good-bye."
Banks reached out, but propriety kept him from touching the young man's face so instead he patted Blair's other shoulder. "Of course. I'll find out everything I can about what happened."
Blue met brown as two sets of eyes met. One asking, one accepting the importance of the task. A dark, strong hand offered assistance to the two forms kneeling in the Texas dirt, but they stood together, as one, and walked back to the car as Banks followed behind.
"What happens when we get to town?" The car was back on the road before Blair hesitantly asked his questions. "Are we staying there, or are we going on to Dell City?"
"The sheriff is meeting us in the morning and then we will drive out there together. Someone destroyed a lot of the records from back then, and the sheriff wants Sandburg to visually confirm that they have the right house before the FBI arrives the next day."
"They want him to go out there twice? And just how much of the FBI is coming here?" The anger and fear that had become so much of the Sentinel's world of late eased with the calming touch of his Guide. "Sorry, Simon."
"It's alright, Jim. We thought it might be easier to break this down into smaller steps for him." Simon adjusted his attention to the young man sitting next to Ellison. "If you'd rather wait until the FBI agent arrives, I can put the sheriff off for a day Blair. It's your call."
Sandburg gave honest thought to the options his captain had given him before giving him his answer. "You're probably right, Simon. I'm not sure what it's going to be like to walk back into that house. In might be nice to not be expected to give a formal statement right then." He smiled at his friends, trying to relieve some of the tension before changing the subject.
"So where are we spending the night? I can't imagine Sierra Blanca has gotten big enough to support a motel."
"No. One of the residents runs a bed and breakfast in town. She's a widow by the name of Mrs. Bowmer." Simon glanced up in the mirror to see if Sandburg recognized the name.
"You're kidding, right? Old lady Bowmer?"
"You remember her?" Jim couldn't recall her name from the previous conversation they had had about the local folks of Sierra Blanca.
"Let's just say that her husband was the only barber in town."
A quick cough was heard from the front seat as Jim grinned at his friend. "I would assume that checkers is out then?"
A petite, gray-haired woman bustled out of the clapboard house before the dust had settled around the car. "Oh my, you boys must be tired and thirsty. It's such a long drive from El Paso. Come on in, supper's waiting on the stove." She stopped and took a long look at Blair. "You're Anthony Olson's boy, aren't you? My, how you've grown up. He'd be so proud of you. It was such a tragedy, and you never came home afterwards. You know my Bud was always ready to give you a rematch. He never forgot the trouncing you gave him." She moved ahead of them, into the kitchen, never stopping to take a breath of air.
She talks as much as Sandburg, I didn't think that was possible. Ellison's quiet musings were interrupted by Simon's whispered words.
"You sure she's not Sandburg's long-lost aunt? She's got the lungs for it."
Unaware of the exchange behind him, Blair allowed himself to be led to the table where, long ago, he had spent many an afternoon ridding the world of Mrs. B's chocolate chip cookies. Jim and Simon joined him and they enjoyed a late supper of chicken potpie and homemade biscuits.
Sensing Blair's stress and exhaustion, their hostess did not pry into the details of their visit, earning her the immediate gratitude of his two companions. After the three men had polished off a large proportion of a peach pie, she shooed Blair and Jim upstairs. "That boy is asleep on his feet, you just take him upstairs and put him to bed. I've put the two of you in the last bedroom on the left side of the hall. Your Captain Banks has the room across from you. Now go on, the good captain will fetch your bags for you and bring them up.
Fetch their bags? Banks opened his mouth to comment but quickly closed it, seeing the look on the elderly woman's face. The last time I talked back to a woman like her, my grandmother whipped my butt, but good. With that memory in mind he fled the kitchen for the safety of the outdoors, reminding himself to check in with the station, using his cell phone in the privacy of the back yard.
Jim smiled at the retreating back of his captain and friend. Before he could steer his sleepy Guide up the narrow stairs, Mrs. Bowmer spoke again.
"Breakfast will be whenever you get up. He looks like he could use some extra sleep."
"Yeah, he could. But I guess that depends on what time the sheriff wants to leave for Dell City." Ellison turned towards her, his hand never leaving Blair's back. "I'm assuming that he will want to get an early start."
"He'll leave when you're good and ready to leave. If Tommy Montgomery doesn't like that, you just remind him who used to change his diapers when he was little. He may be all grown up, but I can still turn him over my knee."
"Yes ma'am." Jim bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as he hurried Blair upstairs.
Mrs. Bowmer was starting the dishes when Simon carried the three overnight bags in from the car. Sensing a good opportunity to find out more about the accident that had shattered young Blair's life he took the luggage upstairs to deposit them in the appropriate rooms before returning to the kitchen to ask some questions in private.
Slipping back into the cheerful yellow and white room Simon picked up the dishtowel and silently began to dry the dishes that were in the rack.
"You don't have to do that." She didn't seem as startled as she made out to be by the appearance of the captain at the sink.
He smiled at her, hoping to slip in some unobtrusive questions while they chatted. "Yes ma'am, I know. I just thought that..."
"...I could answer some questions about what happened all those years ago?"
At Banks' guilty look, she laughed. "Captain Banks, I am 83 years old. I have, on occasion, been referred to as a busy-body." She paused, noticing the slight choking sound he made and seeing the humor sparkle behind his glasses. "So, ask away. I don't know too much about what happened in Dell City, but I'll tell you everything I remember."
Simon slowly nodded as he dried the large baking dish. "Actually I was hoping you could tell me a little about Tony's accident. I promised him that I would find out what happened to Tony after he and his mother left."
"He's still alive, but I'm not sure knowing that would be best for the boy." She shut off the water and turned towards Banks, daring him to continue.
This time the elderly woman did not intimidate Simon. "I think that decision should be made by those who know him a little better, don't you?"
She pursed her lips, then gestured to the table before turning to pour two cups of coffee. Simon waited while she brought the coffee to the table and settled herself. "We'd never had a year like that. So many freak storms, it was like God himself was trying to punish this part of Texas. Anthony was in the barbershop when that one storm started brewing. Had his hair cut every third Wednesday, regular as clockwork, that man did."
Simon took a deep breath and rubbed his face, willing himself not to hurry her along.
"Anyway when the storm started, he and Bud were arguing about some such thing, I think it was about the boy's hair. His mother wouldn't let Bud cut it, she did it herself. I don't know why she didn't trust Bud; he gave the best crew cuts in all of west Texas. But Anthony would just tell him that all those curls were just too cute to cut. Really, Anthony was right; I mean, just look at that head of hair on him now, but I would never have told Bud that of course."
Breathe. Come on, breathe. She's not as bad as Sandburg, she's worse. My God is it something in the water here? Willing his eyes not to cross, Simon settled in to wait for some useful information to creep into the monologue.
"As soon as the first thunderclap hit, Anthony told Bud that he was going to the ball field to fetch his boy. He doted on that boy something awful. People in town used to tell him that he was going to spoil him rotten. But he would tell us that he never wanted the boy to ever feel fatherless again. How could you argue with something that sweet?"
"As near as any of the town folk could figure, something caused the car to go off the road into the creek bed, then it was carried downstream. The car was found in a gully, miles from the road. Have you ever seen a flash flood, Captain Banks? It was the next morning before the water went down enough to get to the car. The worst part of it was that everyone thought little Blair was in the car with him. You could see his raincoat through the window. Poor Naomi, she was with the group that stayed to monitor the wreckage, believing that her baby was inside. You never saw such terror as when they reached the car that morning and found he wasn't in there."
Simon sat up, horrorstruck. "Where in the hell was he?"
For the first time, tears glistened in the wrinkled blue eyes. "He was still at the ball field. When we found him he was asleep under one of the benches. He kept telling us that he couldn't leave, that his daddy was going to be there soon, that his daddy promised to always pick him up and that his daddy never broke a promise."
"My God, what did he do when you told him what happened to Tony?" Remembering what had happened to Jim in the observation room, Simon forced himself to loosen his grip on the delicate china cup.
"He... he blamed himself. He was instantly convinced that he was responsible for the accident. He even..." The frail woman's voice trailed off and she bit her lip, staring at Simon.
The question was ground out between clenched teeth. "He what?"
She twisted the gold band on her finger as she continued. "We couldn't make him understand that everyone in town thought he was trapped in that car too. He convinced himself that he was left at that field all night as punishment for the accident."
Tiring, their elderly hostess bade the captain goodnight and left him alone in the quiet kitchen. Through the last of the coffee he sat, trying to absorb the enormity of his young friend's loss. Finally he gave up and moved to the stairs, praying for an undisturbed sleep.
Simon stopped at the door on the left side of the hall, studying the sliver of light that was reflected on the hardwood floor. Not wanting to disturb, but needing to see, he warred with himself. It was a choice he did not have to make.
"I'm awake, Simon. Come on in." Ellison sounded in control, quiet.
Banks pushed the door open and eased his tall frame into the room. "Is he asleep?" Concern marked his face, but there was softness too, as he studied his two friends.
"Out like a light." Ellison glanced up at his captain and grinned at what he knew they must look like. He was leaning against the headboard of Sandburg's bed, reading a paperback. Curled up against him was his partner, his head settled on a pillow on Ellison's lap. "I didn't have the heart to move him."
Simon tilted his head towards the door. "I was talking to Mrs. Bowmer, umm... how much did you hear?"
"All of it, sir. I'm sorry, right now someone could say Blair's name in Pittsburgh and I could probably hear him"
"It's all right, Jim. I'm glad you heard. You're not having trouble with your senses right now, are you?"
Ellison set his book down before answering. "No, I've got them pretty much clamped down right now, can't afford the distractions. But anything that affects Sandburg right now catches my attention, no matter what."
"That's understandable." Banks kept nodding, as if to himself, as he studied the pair. "I called the station, I had Joel check on some things for me. Tony Olson is in a care facility in El Paso. After we're done in Dell City tomorrow I'm flying up there, talk to the doctors."
"Flying, Simon? I didn't know there was an airport around here."
"There isn't," Banks' face turned a slight shade of green. "I'm catching a ride with a crop duster. Not a word, Ellison; not one single solitary word." His finger jabbed in time with the words.
The Sentinel kept quiet, but did nothing to hide the gratitude on his face. It was Banks who broke the silence.
"Do you want some help getting out from under him?"
Ellison shifted, then grimaced. "No, he'll wake up in a few hours. I'll move then."
Banks knew that the daybreak would find Jim still sitting on the bed in the same position, but he didn't argue as he slipped out the door.
"Good night, Jim. Yell if either of you need something tonight."
"I will sir, and thanks."
Sheriff Montgomery didn't say a word as his patrol car pulled into the driveway with three passengers inside. What records remained showed that this was the house of horrors Blair had experienced as a child. Twenty years and new owners had left their mark on the place and he wanted to see just how much the young man could reconstruct from his memories. Silently he waited for the some sign of recognition.
"They painted it. It was brown before, and I remember the porch being a lot bigger."
"Sandburg, everything's bigger when you're a kid." Simon reached out a comforting hand and patted Blair's shoulder. The reassuring gesture and the slight teasing in the tall man's voice showed the sheriff that these men were friends as well as colleagues.
"Actually the kid's right. The house received some damage about twelve years ago and the porch had to be replaced. The owners didn't want to spend the money to make it the full length of the house. I don't know what color it was when you were here, but it's been painted several times that I know of." The sheriff broke off when Ellison turned the young man towards him and began to speak.
"Hey Chief, how are you doing? You okay?"
Blair smiled patiently at his worrying friend. "It's all right, Jim. I need to do this. If nothing else, I need to exorcise some old ghosts."
Ellison seemed unconvinced. "If it gets to be too much, I want you to tell me, we can stop whenever you need to. Promise?"
Stepping closer to his protector, Blair's voice dropped to a whisper. "I remember my safe word." The two men touched foreheads briefly before turning to enter the house.
The house was unoccupied, as had been arranged. Blair walked silently through the empty rooms, three shadows following wordlessly behind him, waiting for him to break the spell of quiet that had fallen over the scene.
Blair walked through the house, letting his hand trail along the tops of chairs and tables, seemingly unaware of anything else around him. Just when Ellison thought he couldn't stand the silence anymore, Blair spoke as he knelt in front of a large antique desk.
"Some of the furniture is the same as when we were here. I thought I was imagining it, but the marks are still on the desk." It took three visible attempts before his shaking hand touched the scars in the finish on the desk leg.
Acting as both detective and friend, Ellison crouched next to the young man, but didn't quite face him. "Tell us about the desk, Blair. What do you remember about it? How can you be sure it's the same one?" Looking up at Montgomery, he changed the questions. "How much is still here from Olson? Were you aware he'd be facing such vivid reminders of what happened?"
The stocky man grimaced and shook his head. "The county sheriff back then joined the FBI right after this Olson guy bought the farm. Whatever records the county had on the case left about the same time. The whole thing stinks like last week's manure pile and I want it closed and gone before I retire. I don't know what went on here, but I sure as hell intend to find out. If that means I gotta rattle that kid, then so be it." The end was punctuated by a sharp jab on Ellison's arm.
"Simon, tell this red-necked ostrich to get his hand off me and his head out of the sand." That accomplished, Ellison turned his wrath back towards the hapless man in front of him. "The kid wasn't even ten years old. He was victimized. First by Olson, then by the FBI, and now, apparently, by you. Use your imagination, Sheriff. How many scenarios can you think of involving a child that the FBI would want to cover up? He is here of his own volition to help sort out what happened the night Olson died. You are not going to harass him or intimidate him in any way."
The sheriff took a step back, but to his credit his voice was steady. "If he's just a witness, then he doesn't have anything to worry about, does he?" After a stressful silence, he exhaled sharply, then leveled with the three men in the room with him. "Okay, my oldest sister bought this place a few years back. She and her husband take in foster kids. If there is anything here still that could hurt those kids, I need to know about it. I want to know about it. I promised her."
"Sheriff..." The quiet voice broke through the tension in the room. Montgomery bent down to hear the soft words better.
"I'll tell you all I can remember, but I need to do it in my own way."
Ellison squashed any answer that Sheriff Montgomery might have had. "That's right. This is how it's going to work, Montgomery. Sandburg will tell you what he remembers and is comfortable talking about. I may ask him a few questions to help clarify his memories. Any questions you might have will wait until the FBI agent is here tomorrow to take his statement. He is going to be questioned only once. Is that understood?"
The few doubts the sheriff had about who was in control of the situation dissipated when he looked at the dark face that was hovering above the two figures kneeling on the floor. "Of course. Do you mind if I take a few notes?"
With a nod, Ellison granted him that. Effectively dismissing the other man from his mind, he turned back to his friend. "You were telling us about the marks on the desk. Do you remember what they were from?"
Blair nodded, but didn't speak at first as his fingers trailed from the desk leg to his own wrist, rubbing it as if it ached with the memory. "He... he would handcuff me to it while he worked so I wouldn't get away from him. He'd tell me about the case he was working on, sometimes even show me the pictures from the crime scene. I couldn't get away from him, you know."
Blair sat back and pulled his knees up under his chin. "I'd just have to sit here and pretend to look at what he was showing me and pray that he wouldn't want to try it out on me later. He said... he said that he needed to know if what was in the reports was physically possible. It was like he was doing it for his job, man. He said he had to save the good kids." He turned to look at his Blessed Protector. "Why wasn't I good enough to save?"
Unwilling to trust his voice, Jim pulled the young man close and began to gently rock back and forth.
Choking down the bile Simon rushed for the door, not stopping until he reached the patrol car. Leaning heavily against it, he realized with a start that he wasn't alone. "Sheriff?" Unsure of the other man's reaction, he waited to see the response.
"I never knew, I never dreamed something that bad could happen here. No wonder they covered it up." Seeing the dark fury on the tall captain's face, he hastened to clarify himself. "I'm not saying it was the right thing to do. I'm saying I understand it. Twenty years ago most of the kids around here didn't even know what the word 'molester' meant. Hell, my folks didn't even have a lock for their front door back then. That was the kind of stuff you only had to worry about in the big cities. By the time they knew what had happened, the kid was gone, and the sicko was dead. I think it was kind of natural to want to sweep it under the rug."
Simon pushed himself off the hood of the patrol car and took a cigar out of his pocket and began to finger it. "Well you may understand sweeping it under the rug, but I want to dig that bastard up and shoot him again." He looked up, almost embarrassed by his admittance.
"Got a shovel in the trunk."
"I've got a shovel, just say the word." The arrival of a dusty station wagon prevented Simon from questioning further.
"Donna, what are you doing back so soon?"
Banks studied the brown-haired woman as she exited the Buick with a sleeping child. The family resemblance was strong; there was no doubt this was Sheriff Montgomery's sister.
"Sorry Tommy, but I've got a sick one here. We'll stay out of your way."
"That's quite alright, ma'am. We didn't mean to chase you out of your home." Simon felt a flash of guilt at the requirement he had insisted on.
"Donna, I'm sorry. This is Captain Banks from Cascade, Washington. His men are still inside. Captain, this is my sister, Donna Davis." The introductions were hastily made, as the three adults stood uncomfortable with the reason that had brought them together.
She shifted the toddler to her other shoulder. "Washington sent down a senior officer? I didn't realize this was part of an ongoing investigation."
Banks shook his head, a sad smile on his face. "The victim grew up to be one-half of my best team, I couldn't let them go through this alone."
Understanding flashed on the plain face. "Did they need some privacy, is that why you're out here?"
"No, I... I needed some fresh air." Simon looked away, his gaze falling on a ramshackle old house -- the only one in sight. He heard the whispered tones as the sheriff told his sister about the history of the large, antique desk now so predominately displayed in her living room.
The bang of the front door screen brought everyone's attention to the two men now exiting the house. The shorter of the men walked with his head down, seemingly unaware of the gentle guidance given him by his companion. When their path brought them near the patrol car, Banks reached out and opened the back door. Ellison sat his partner down on the vinyl seat, then squatted down in the dirt in front of him, waiting for a reaction. Eventually, he looked up at his friend and smiled.
"I'm sorry, Jim. It just got to be too much, you know?" He looked back at the house again, this time his eyes following upward to the small balcony nestled in the tall peaks of the roofline. "Oh, my God..."
"What?" Jim turned to see what Blair was seeing.
"It doesn't seem so far off the ground from down here."
I don't think I can hear any more of this right now. "Tell me about the balcony, Blair. What do you remember? Did something happen up there?" Jim reached out and touched Blair's knee, grounding him with his touch, as the Guide had done so many times for the Sentinel.
His voice was so soft, only Jim could hear him clearly. "The night the bridge washed out was the first time he hurt me. The next morning he dragged me up there and... and he held me upside down over the railings while we 'talked' about how I would never tell anybody anything. He held me by one leg and he kept loosening his grip, like he was going to drop me. I... I kept promising that I'd be good and he kept laughing and letting me slip a little more. I was so scared, Jim. I was so scared." His voice dropping too low for even Ellison to hear, Blair turned away and rested his head against the seat.
Jim recognized this silent plea for privacy and moved away from the car. He automatically joined the group gathered a few feet away, still glancing up the innocuous wooden platform overhead.
"Is he all right?" The sheriff's concern was genuine and melted some of Ellison's earlier hostility towards the man.
"Yeah, he just needs a few minutes."
"Jim, what happened up there? What did he tell you?" Simon's anxiety grew as he watched the clenched jaw and fists on the other man.
"Don't ever ask me that." His breathing became harsher and louder as he paced back and forth. "Don't ever ask me what happened on that balcony." Ellison stopped and stared at the battered old house that had caught Simon's attention earlier. The one with the perfect view of the balcony; the one Blair had run to in terror those many years ago.
The fury was instant and classic Ellison. "The old man who lived there, what happened to him? Is he still alive?"
The sheriff shrugged his shoulders and looked to his sister. Her grip on the youngster still sleeping peacefully in her arms tightened a fraction, enough to be noticed by her questioner.
"What do you know about him?"
"Bradley Barnes. He's lived there for almost 40 years. He never leaves that house, but the kids are afraid of him anyway."
"Sis, why didn't you say anything? Has he threatened you or the kids?" Montgomery took a better look at his sister's neighbor's house.
"No, he's never done anything, he just gives us the creeps."
Ellison's voice held an edge that even Simon Banks had seldom heard. "Sometimes doing nothing is just as bad." His jaw clenched even tighter as he faced the people around him. "Sandburg got away once; he made it that far."
Banks and Montgomery understood what was involved in that statement and waited patiently for Ellison to regain his composure. Mrs. Davis quietly slipped into her kitchen, rather than show her tears to the men she barely knew.
"I want to talk to him."
"I know you do, Jim. But look at Sandburg, he's exhausted and he doesn't need to be here when you confront Barnes." Banks motioned at the slumping figure in the back seat of the patrol car.
"It'll be just an interview, Simon. Really. I've got a handle on it." Ellison's knuckles turned white, belying the calm expression he turned towards his companions. "Besides, Barnes knows we're here. The longer we wait, the more time he has to concoct a story. I want to catch him before he comes up with something."
"Ellison's right, Banks."
Simon groaned at the words. Now was not the time to have the sheriff agreeing with the angry detective. "Even if I agree with it, there is no way that Sandburg should be here for this. He's at the end of his rope. It's time to take him back to Sierra Blanca, and I have a crop duster to meet in a few hours."
It was the sheriff who came up with an answer. "Donna's husband just finished working on my car. It would save me a trip if you'd drive it back to town for me; I could pick it up at the boarding house later." When Simon still hesitated, the sheriff seemed to understand his concerns. "I'll go with Ellison -- I want to get a good look at that joker myself."
Outnumbered and recognizing a losing battle, Banks accepted the keys the sheriff was handing him. Kneeling by the open door of the patrol car, Simon studied the dozing figure inside. With the instinctive touch of a father, hands brushed back the hair off the sleeping face before he spoke.
"Blair, son, it's time to wake up."
The young man pressed his face deeper into the cushion before giving a sleepy response. "Mmmm, it's Saturday, don't have to go to school Tony. Get to sleep in."
Banks couldn't help but smile at the response from the still sleeping form in front of him. Should I? "But you don't want to miss cartoons."
"Cartoons? What?" Suddenly awake, Blair sat up, rubbing his face. "What a weird dream... hey Simon, what's going on?" He blinked, still trying to get his eyes to focus.
Banks stood up and offered a hand to the seated figure. "Come on, we're going back to Sierra Blanca."
Blair accepted the hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. Banks didn't release him until he was steady enough to stand on his own. "Um, Captain, if we're going back now, why did I get out of the car?"
Chuckling at the sleepy confusion, Banks steered him towards the bright green Ford the sheriff had pointed out to him. "Sheriff Montgomery needs a car driven back into town, so we're going to drive it back for him."
Blair took another three steps before the implication of the words sunk in. He stopped, pulling the captain up short. "Jim's staying here? What's going on, Simon?"
"It's all right, Sandburg. He's just got some follow-up questions. He'll be riding back with the sheriff." Banks tried to move the stationary figure, but Blair held his ground.
"Interview? Who's he going to interview here?" Sandburg glanced around, then spotted the old house. "No, no he can't do that, not alone."
Damn, I did not want to have this conversation. "He won't be alone, the sheriff will be with him."
"But he needs his Guide."
"Blair..." at first Banks was speechless at the depths of the devotion he saw in the young man, then he knew, "do you think that Jim could interview that man if he knew that you were there, listening to what was being said? He needs to feel that he is protecting you, it's important to him."
"He needs me." The words were so soft that Banks almost missed them, would have missed them except he was waiting for them.
"You are with him, always. Don't you know that?" He tapped Sandburg's chest and bent down to look him in the eye. "You're right there; even when you are apart, you are right there for him. Sometimes that just has to be enough." Banks smiled as Blair looked up at him. "Sometimes it is enough."
Thoughtful blue eyes studied the other man for long minutes before they closed and the head nodded in consent. Banks let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "You get in the car and I'll check on Jim before we go." He waited until the shaky young man was safely in the car before returning to Ellison's side.
"Is he okay?" Ellison looked past his captain at the figure now seated in the other car.
"He's worried about you." Banks hoped the emphasis was enough to get the meaning across.
"Me? He's worried about me?" The Sentinel let his hearing focus on the Ford Falcon.
"Be careful, Jim. Don't let him get to you, you've got to keep your senses dialed down. Everything about him is evil, don't let your senses feed off your emotions. I won't be there to pull you out of a zone. Be careful, man."
"Tell him I'll be fine; tell him I'll be... careful." The message passed on several levels and both men relaxed.
"If I'm not there when you get back, then I'll be on my way to El Paso. Mrs. Bowmer will take good care of him for us." Simon laughed in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "She told me this morning that he was too thin, so she was going to fatten him up a bit."
Ellison, too, smiled at the memory of their hostess bustling about in her kitchen that morning baking all of 'Blair's favorites' that she could remember. "She's right, the last couple of weeks have been hard on him, he can use all the pampering he can get."
Banks acknowledged both men before climbing in the older car. Man, I haven't driven one of these since high school. As he fired up the engine, Sandburg awoke and turned to him, a puzzled look on his face.
Banks raised one eyebrow as he turned towards him. "Go back to sleep, kid." When the blue orbs obediently closed he allowed himself a silent chuckle. One of these days I'll have to surprise them on a Saturday morning.
Ellison watched the car until even Sentinel vision could no longer see the vivid green reflected against the dusty scenery.
"How do you want to handle this?" The sheriff's question and the scene it brought back hit him hard and he stumbled as he turned to face Montgomery. Had it only been a week since Simon Banks had asked him that same question standing outside the bloodstained loft? How much more can Blair take? How much more can I take?
"Sorry, it's been a long couple of weeks." Ellison rubbed his hands across his face, taking a moment to compose himself.
"It's okay, I didn't realize this had been going on that long. I thought that the FBI just found him a few days ago.
"They did; we were just coming off a really bad case. We hadn't really gotten our feet back under us yet." Ellison hoped that Montgomery wouldn't pick up on how shaky his voice had become, but one glance told him otherwise.
Instead of suspicion or scorn, the sheriff's words were full of compassion. "Sounds like it was pretty rough on him." He didn't push the other man, but waited, accepting only what knowledge he could willingly give.
Once started, the words came tumbling out. "We... we'd had someone pulling strings among the criminal element in Cascade for a while now and one of our investigations got us closer than we realized, so to throw us off the track he, or actually she, had Sandburg attacked. They drugged him, then slashed his wrists so it would look like he had killed himself. It was real touch and go for a while. He hadn't even been cleared for duty yet -- he was just filing some paperwork for me when Williams came in and tried to arrest him for Olson's murder."
Montgomery gave a low whistle. "Damn, that's rough. No wonder you're so protective of him."
"They wanted me to find him." Ellison was finally able to give words to the feelings he had bottled up since that day. "They attacked him in our home, so that I'd have to live with it."
"Your home? You live together?" There was no hiding the surprise behind the words.
"He's my room mate."
The challenge was unspoken but still heard. "He seems like a good kid."
"The best." Ellison's glare softened as he turned to his companion and saw no malice behind the words. He turned back away and continued to speak, softly this time, as if the words were private, for him alone.
"Sometimes, when the darkness of the world is so overpowering, and there is just one glimmer of light left in the universe, you just have to grab hold and pray that it doesn't extinguish. He is my light."
Montgomery watched as the last of the words were barely a whisper and the proud head bowed down. Later he would be convinced that more was said, although he could not hear it.
"Let's go." With a deep breath, Ellison was in control again. He turned and headed towards the other house, painfully aware that he was retracing the path taken so long ago.
Time and neglect had taken its toll on the small cottage, that much was clear. Beyond that was darkness, a gloom that even the bright daylight could not seem to dispel. The Sentinel shuddered, unsure if it was his imagination or his senses that felt the waves of malaise that seemed to permeate the property. Unsure, that is, until he saw a flash of black fur. Never before had he seen his animal spirit so agitated. The animal was pacing, its teeth bared, its hackles raised. Without a thought, Ellison adjusted the gun holstered against his back.
"Damn, this place gives me the creeps. No wonder the kids are scared to come near it." The sheriff adjusted his hat and glanced nervously at Ellison. Jim noticed that the safety was off the sheriff's gun, but only nodded.
"Let's get this over with." Ellison focused on the rotted steps, picking his way carefully, stepping over the ones that seemed ready to give way. Without questioning, Montgomery followed his path up onto the porch. Once there, Montgomery turned around, staring in amazement at the filth and debris that littered what was once probably a beautiful home.
Using the sheriff's momentary distraction, Ellison extended his senses as much as he dared. Hearing was easy. The wheeze of disease-filled lungs was almost painfully loud to the Sentinel. Allowing his sight to follow the sound he saw the crippled old man through the curtains covering the windows.
Gnarled, twisted fingers held an unfiltered cigarette. Tar stains gave way to the yellowed skin of advanced liver failure. His dirty undershirt was all that covered his sunken chest, showing the faded tattoo of a swastika on his right arm. The old man seemed unconcerned at their presence outside his window. Ignoring the crawling of his skin, he moved on to smell. Expecting the cigarette smoke to be the strongest odor, the Sentinel let his guard down as he dialed up his sense of smell.
Death. Putrefaction. Decay. Slamming into the Sentinel faster than the man could cope. Gagging and wanting to retch, he turned away, afraid to open his mouth, afraid to taste what he had smelled. Clamping down on his senses, Ellison struggled to regain control, allowing the image of his friend to fill his mind, his heart, and his soul. Calm now, he turned back to the sagging door, ready to face one of the horrors his friend had faced so long ago.
Repulsed by what even normal senses could detect, the sheriff had not noticed Ellison's struggles. He rapped sharply on the door, and announced their presence. "Barnes, Bradley Barnes! It's Sheriff Montgomery, open up!" After a pause, he repeated himself. "Barnes, we know you're in there!"
Another pause, then, "Yeah, what do you want?" issued from inside the door. It was enough for the sheriff, and he shoved the door open and entered the dark room.
Ellison followed; glad for once to let another officer take the lead. Montgomery seemed more than willing to lead the offensive.
"Barnes, we're here to talk to you about Dwayne Olson. Do you remember him living in the house up the road?"
A twisted smile crossed the old man's face. "Sure I remember him, the city-slicker who'd get a hankering for little boys." He turned and stared at Ellison, "You have the same taste in skinny little Jew boys?"
Hands balled into fists, Ellison took a step towards the object of his hatred, but Montgomery quietly moved between them.
"Watch your mouth, old man. He's an officer of the law." This deflected Barnes' attention back to the sheriff and gave Ellison time to regain control while a vile response was spit at them.
"Well, so was Olson, sure as hell didn't make him some kind of Boy Scout."
"What do you know about that?" Ellison was back in charge of his emotions and the investigation. "You were the closest neighbor, what did you know?"
Barnes seemed to enjoy the exchange. "You hear things, you know. You notice this and that."
"When you heard things, what did you do? Did you try to help that little boy?"
Never wavering, Barnes was obviously relishing the pain Jim couldn't quite hide in his eyes. "Nah, wasn't... worth it."
Behind him, Ellison could sense Montgomery tensing up. Whether to help him or to stop him, the Sentinel couldn't be sure, nor did he care. Instead he leaned even closer into Barnes' face and ground out his next question. "What about the night Olson died; did you happen to notice anything then?
This time the Ellison glare broke the old man and he noticeably flinched. "So, what about it? Yeah I heard it, my windows were open. Somebody popped a round in his back. Seems like you should think he had it coming."
Ellison stood so quickly that it startled both Barnes and Montgomery. With an officially polite smile he spoke again. "Thank you for your time. You've been most... helpful." With that, he turned and strode out the door.
Montgomery had no choice but to follow. They were half way back to the house before he caught up with the long-legged detective. "Ellison, what the hell was that?"
Jim didn't stop, didn't slow down until he was next to the parked patrol car. When he did turn around, there was an expression on his face Montgomery had never seen on anyone before -- a mix of hatred and joy. "I've got you, you mother-fucker. I've got you."
"What?" Slowly confusion gave way to understanding as the sheriff slowly shook his head. "Of course, and you gave him enough rope to hang himself. Shrewd move, Ellison, but why wait? You could have broken him."
"We wait for the FBI. I want this totally by the book, no chance at a slip up."
Montgomery nodded, but before he could respond, his attention was caught by the sight of a large desk being shoved through the front door of his sister's house.
"Donna, what are you doing?" He moved out of the way as the antique slid down the porch steps.
Ignoring her brother, Mrs. Davis turned, instead, to Ellison. "Get it out of here; I want it turned into fire wood before the kids get home. Take it out back, there's an ax by the woodshed." She studied the two men in front of her, the tall detective understood her, but her brother did not. "Tommy, please, I can't see one of my boys sitting at that desk, doing their homework. I can't, and I won't, and I want it destroyed. Now."
The slam of the screen door as she returned into the house made both men jump. Montgomery was the first to find his voice, and he tried to make light of his sister's actions. "Sorry about that, guess you know who got the temper in the family?"
Ellison didn't answer him; he just picked up his end of the heavy oak desk and waited for the sheriff to pick up the other. As they moved it to the back of the house Montgomery again tried to talk to Jim. "You don't have to do this. I can break it up for her later if she insists."
His words went unanswered, as Ellison picked up the ax and studied the blade, turning it to catch the afternoon sun. Finally recognizing his own intrusion, the sheriff moved away, retreating back into the house.
Ellison stared at the desk. No matter how much he wanted to, he'd never be able to punish Olson. That was taken from him by one as vile as Olson, himself. He raised the ax over his head; the wooden object in front of him was as close to Olson as he would ever get.
"He... he would handcuff me to it."
A resounding crack echoed in the air, then the blade arched back up.
"...I couldn't get away."
"...my turn to be punished."
"...I still have a scar from the plate hitting me."
Crack. Tears and sweat mixed freely in the mid-day heat.
"...Why wasn't I good enough to save?"
"...He sent me back there because I wasn't worth the trouble."
"...I didn't want to drag you down with me."
The ax handle slid from nerveless fingers only seconds before knees hit the dirt. Jim finally gasped for air, letting the exhaustion fill him, replacing the rage and the pain. He knelt, head bowed, in front of the pile of broken kindling, unaware and uncaring of the two sets of eyes watching him from the house.
Dust churned behind the police sedan as the two men drove silently back to Sierra Verde. Ellison watched the swirls in the passenger side mirror, churning and falling away, churning and falling away. Lost in the pain and wishing he could outrun it as easily as the old cruiser could outrun the dust, he began to zone.
Sparkling grains danced about him, each one shining brighter than the one before as his focus slipped closer and closer. From the distant clouds behind them to the microscopic particles that changed direction every time he took a breath. Reality slipped away, the torment along with it. As the rest of his senses went silent, Jim could feel the tingle of each speck as it brushed against him, soothing and stroking him as a mother would calm a distraught child. Only the sudden grip on his arm kept him from sliding totally away.
"What?" Jim shook his head to clear it as he turned to the sheriff. "Sorry, I was lost in thought."
"Lost in thought? I thought you had stopped breathing for a second there."
"I'm sorry," Jim repeated as he thought of a way to explain away what had happened. "I was meditating, Sandburg taught me this technique to relax and slow my breathing way down when I'm stressed."
The sheriff was not entirely convinced. "Well, I think you learned it a little too good. Do me a favor and don't do that again without warning a guy. I was ready to pull over and start CPR."
Ellison tried desperately to redirect the conversation. "Were you asking me something?"
Distraction is a wonderful thing. "Before, when you interrupted my meditation, were you asking me something?"
"Oh, yeah," Montgomery rubbed his eyes before continuing. "Why do you think he did it? I mean the kid was gone, so why bother?"
Ellison exhaled sharply through his nose. "I don't know, but it makes it premeditated in my book. I want him to go down for first degree murder." After a few seconds, he continued. "I want to see everything that you still have on the night of the shooting, Medical Examiner's report, newspaper clippings, everything."
"Sure, but what are you looking for?" Montgomery had relaxed, but was still watching Ellison out of the corner of his eye.
"I want to make sure that his lawyer can't claim that Barnes was just a concerned citizen who saw the body. Before the FBI arrest him tomorrow, I want to make sure that we can prove the only persons who knew that Olson was shot in the back were the investigation team and his killer. I don't want that scumbag to walk on some damn technicality."
Ellison's last words were spoken with such a vengeance, that Tommy Montgomery blessed his long dead grandmother for keeping him on the straight and narrow. He didn't ever want to be on the wrong side of the law when dealing with this man.
Back and forth, back and forth, Simon paced nervously in the small office. Five steps to the window, three steps to the desk, then four more to the door. Twenty-two trips in forty-five minutes, then the door opened, startling the captain.
"Captain Banks?" The speaker was short and balding, wearing a white lab coat and a smiley face tie.
"Yes, yes, I'm Simon Banks." The handshake was delayed as Banks wiped sweaty palms on his slacks. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice."
"That's quite all right. I'm Dr. Young, Chief of Staff here at Maxwell Care Center." He moved behind the large desk and sat down, gesturing towards the chair situated in front of his desk. "The nurse tells me that you have some questions about one of our long term patients."
"Yes, I do." With a deep sigh, Simon sank into the leather seat and briefly rubbed his forehead before continuing. "You have a patient here by the name of Anthony Olson..."
"Tony." The doctor smiled his recognition.
Banks was stunned. He did not expect such informality in regards to a patient in a coma. "Yes, Tony. As I was saying, I've promised his son that I would check on his condition, and..."
"Little Blair? How is he? Of course he's not a little boy anymore, but to us he still is."
"How do you know about Blair?" The arms of the chair creaked ominously under the pressure of Simon's grip.
"Tony talks about him all the time."
"What!" Simon forced himself to release the antique walnut. "Are you telling me that Tony Olson is conscious and aware of his surroundings?"
The expression on Simon's face told the doctor that he had not handled the situation well. He tried to explain himself. "In a manner of speaking he is aware. Perhaps I should explain the nature of his injuries and the resulting condition he has suffered."
"Yes, perhaps you should." It took all of Simon's training not to reach across the wooden expanse and shake the answers out of the smaller man.
Ellison leaned back in his chair, exhausted. It wasn't possible to dial back his senses enough to deal with the dust accumulated on the old files. Wordlessly, Montgomery handed him a cup of coffee. Jim held it under his face, letting the fragrant steam wash away the stale smell he had been bombarded with. Before the silence became uncomfortable, he answered the unspoken questions. "There's enough to give us probable cause, and maybe more."
"What do you mean?" Montgomery had his own coffee and was now perched on the edge of the desk that Ellison had commandeered. "Did you find something they missed back then?"
Ellison turned to the sheriff with a smug look on his face. "The gun was wiped clean, but they found one unidentified fingerprint on the inside of the door. If we can match that to Barnes..."
"You mean they never compared his prints?" Montgomery slid off the desk and began to pace. "We need to get him fingerprinted before the FBI gets here. That way..."
Montgomery turned and stared at Ellison. "What, you want to wait and let the FBI fingerprint him? If that's not his print, then we could blow the whole case out of the water."
Ellison tapped one of the files he had been studying. "Barnes was dishonorably discharged from the Army. We can get his fingerprints from his Army records, without tipping our hand."
The two men shared an almost feral smile. "I like the way you think, Ellison."
Simon Banks nervously tapped his fingers on the edge of the desk as he waited for the doctor to finish his phone call. What on earth could be wrong with Tony that everyone involved thought it would be better for Blair to never see him again? He can communicate, he remembers Blair, obviously still loves the boy, what in the hell is going on? The click of a disconnecting phone line brought Simon out of his musings.
"I've had my secretary reschedule my afternoon appointments, this may take awhile." Dr. Young smiled reassuringly at Banks, but the captain was not calmed by the effort.
"Just tell me what is wrong with him. Then explain to me just why everyone thought it would be better for Blair to grow up without his father, than to see him permanently injured." Simon exhaled sharply, trying to keep his emotions in check.
"Captain, Tony is not Blair's biological father, and the adoption was never completed..."
"Do you have children, Dr. Young?" Banks dropped all pretense of calmness.
"No, I don't."
"Then don't you dare presume to understand what it's like to be a father. Biology be damned, that man was his daddy, and you're going to tell me what reason any of you had to take him away." Banks stood up, kicking his chair away, and leaned into the doctor's personal space. "Is that understood?"
In spite of his exhaustion, Jim couldn't help but smile as he stepped into the warm friendly kitchen. His nose twitched as he sought to identify the smells wafting around the cheerful room. Cinnamon and sugar, that's easy, but what kind of berry do I smell? Raspberry? No, blackberry...? Realizing that his tiredness made him prone to a zone out, the Sentinel pulled back and instead asked, "Mmm, smells good, what is it?"
The elderly woman turned around with a pan and presented it with a flourish. It's my Mixed Berry Cobbler. I make it every summer for Founders Day, and I keep some berries in the freezer for emergencies." Smiling, she set the pan in the waiting oven. "I think this qualifies, don't you?"
More relaxed than he had been since they had left the house that morning, Jim leaned against the counter and helped himself to the plate of cookies there. "Yeah, today definitely qualifies as a cobbler emergency." He tilted his head to look up the stairs. "How's he doing?"
"Sleeping, but he's awfully restless." Anything else she was going to say was interrupted by the arrival of the sheriff.
"Hey, Mrs. B, is that a berry cobbler I smell?" Montgomery moved towards the ancient gas stove. His path was blocked by a short, gray-haired dynamo who tapped his nose with a flour- coated wooden spoon.
"You can wait for the Founder's Day picnic, young man. This cobbler is for these three boys."
Tommy Montgomery pulled himself up to his full height, attempting to look official as he stared at the neighborhood grandmother. "Now I happen to know for a fact that your cobbler serves six." In spite of his best intentions, the corner of his mouth twitched as he tried to stare down his adversary.
Mrs. Bowmer stepped back, resting her hands on her hips. Sentinel eyes tracked the fine trail of flour that drifted off the spoon still in her hand as he watched the exchange. "Thomas Jeffrey Montgomery, don't you ever try to intimidate someone who's powdered your naked behind. Is that understood?"
Ellison bit the inside of his cheek as the sheriff turned to him, face reddening. "We've got a match on the fingerprints, and the FBI will be here in the morning. I'll pick you up then."
Any answer Jim may have had was wasted as Montgomery rushed out the door with a mumbled good-by. Instead, he rubbed his face to hide the grin he could no longer stifle. The grin quickly faded as the muffled sounds of a nightmare drifted down from the upstairs bedroom. Not waiting to explain to their hostess, Jim took the stairs two at a time.
Banks sagged back in his chair; the news from the doctor had drained him of all his former anger. "My God," he whispered as he pulled off his glasses and rubbed tiredly at his face. "What you're saying is that time has stood still for Tony? That he is trapped twenty years in the past?"
"Yes." Dr. Young leaned back in his own chair and steepled his fingers together under his chin as he studied the other man. "Tony is incapable of forming new memories. As far as he is concerned today is the day of his accident, as will tomorrow and the day after that. To him, Blair is the curly-haired moppet that he tucks into bed every night. If Blair were to walk into his room right now, he would be a total stranger to Tony and there is nothing we can do to change that."
Without a sound, Simon pulled out a notepad and began to copy down the medical terms the doctor had used to explain what had happened to Tony Olson.
"You're going to tell Blair about him, aren't you? Would it make any difference if I told you that it was Ms Sandburg's decision in the first place to not tell her son about the extent of Tony's injury?"
Banks looked up, pen in hand. "You've been in touch with Naomi? When?"
Young glanced briefly at his notes. "It's been about ten years since I've spoken with her, but she was very adamant about it. She didn't want Blair to know."
Finished with his notes, Banks shoved the pen and pad back into his jacket pocket. "Well, that's just too damn bad."
"No. Naomi Sandburg may love her son, but she doesn't have a clue as to what he needs. He knows Tony is alive, he deserves to know the truth."
"Perhaps if you explained to him that it was for his own good?"
"Doctor, I realize that you mean well," Simon paused and took a deep breath. "But he is not one of your brain-damaged patients. If I am less than honest with him, he'll find out on his own. When he does..." The big man's voice broke and he swallowed hard before continuing. "When he does, it will be like losing his father all over again, and I can't..." Banks cleared his throat, but his words became rougher as he continued, "I won't let him go through that alone. Now I want to see Tony before I leave." Simon stood up and grabbed his overcoat, indicating the conversation was over.
Realizing his defeat, Dr. Young stood as well. "I'll take you to his room."
"Blair?" Jim slipped into the darkened room, not bothering to turn on the light. "Easy, Buddy, It's me." He reached out and brushed back the tangled curls from his friend's face, hoping to impart a bit of comfort and coax Blair from his nightmare. Instead the moans turned into pleas.
"No, no... please don't hurt me. I'll be good, Dwayne... please don't... no..."
Jim drew back as if he'd been struck, hovering at the bedside of his Guide, unable to comfort, unwilling to leave. He continued the gentle murmuring, hoping to reach past the terror and soothe his friend's soul, wondering which of the two -- horror or comfort would bring the younger man to awareness first.
Jim's question was soon answered as Blair sat up with a strangled scream. He waited, aching to give comfort, but not wanting to force himself onto the traumatized younger man. The barest of whispers was all he could manage. "Blair?"
It was enough. Sentinel hearing was needed to detect the broken "Jim," that ghosted back, and Sentinel sight was needed to see the slight movement toward him, but it was the heart of friendship that told Jim what to do as he wrapped his arms around the trembling form.
Simon took a deep breath before opening the door before him. With one last prayer that he did this right, he nodded to the man next to him and entered the room. Dr. Young patted him briefly on the shoulder before stepping in front of him and addressing the man seated next to the window.
"Hello, Tony." Young bent down and touched the older man's arm. "I'm Dr. Young, you're in a hospital, but you're going to be fine."
Banks took the opportunity to study the man who had meant so much to Blair. The dark hair had faded to gray, while his skin had the pallor of someone who had been out of the sun for many years. With a start, Simon realized that Tony probably had not been outside since that fateful day twenty years ago. His legs were stick thin, as was one arm. These outward signs of the injuries could be noticed immediately, while the more subtle ones took a bit longer. Simon concentrated on the interaction between doctor and patient.
"Accident? What happened?" The words were slow and carefully spoken, as if with great effort and concentration. His face was tilted to one side, and a slight tic was evident.
The doctor's words were patient and careful and Simon realized that this conversation had taken place hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. "You had a car accident, Mr. Olson."
"Car accident? Was my family hurt?" His words sped up with the anxiety and became more slurred. "Are they okay?" The shriveled hand began to softly twitch against the arm of the wheelchair, unnoticed by its owner.
Dr. Young gently grasped both of Tony's hands. "No, they're fine, they weren't in the car. Do you remember driving in the storm?"
"The storm... oh, yes. I was on my way to pick up Blair, and I leaned over into the backseat to hide his present and when I looked up there was this wall of water coming at me." For a split second Simon thought he had just witnessed some type of breakthrough, but the calm expression on Dr. Young's face told him that this, too, was familiar territory. The disabled man began to speak again.
"When can I see my son?"
Dr. Young was ready for the question, Simon wasn't. "The hospital doesn't allow children to visit, I'm sorry."
Tony gave a crooked smile. "Well then, when can I go home? I don't want him to think I've disappeared on him."
Oh dear God, how can words hurt so much? Simon stumbled backwards, bumping into a small table in the room and attracting the attention of the other two occupants. Tony turned slowly, following the sound and Simon idly noticed that the Doctor turned with him, never leaving his line of sight.
"Hello, who are you?" Tony didn't seem alarmed or concerned to find a stranger in his room, only mildly curious. It was then that Simon realized that everyone was a stranger to him, every time they walked into the room. He thought quickly as to how he could explain his presence while still getting the man to talk about Blair.
Simon pulled a chair up and sat down, realizing that his legs were shaking. "Hello Mr. Olson, my name is Simon Banks. Our boys are friends."
"Banks? I don't remember the name. I try to know all of Blair's friends."
"We... we just moved to town. Blair's been very nice to my son."
"Making him feel welcome? That sounds like my boy. Your son couldn't have a better friend."
Simon swallowed hard as he nodded. "Is there anything I can do for you, or for Blair while you're in the hospital?"
"Did the rainstorm cancel the game?"
"What?" Simon looked to the doctor for guidance.
Dr. Young's answer was smooth. "They're going to let the field dry out another day before they decide that, Tony."
Tony seemed to accept the explanation. "If I'm not out of the hospital before then, would you go to the game for me? I missed the first eight years of my son's life, and I promised myself that he would never be the kid without a dad around when something important was going on. Could you do that for me?"
Finding his voice at that moment was probably the hardest thing Simon Banks had ever done. "Of course I will." He cleared his throat and continued, making what seemed to be more of a vow than conversation. "From this day on, Blair will always have a dad with him. I would be honored to fill in for you until you're strong enough to be there yourself."
Tony smiled his thanks, then a small bird landed outside the window, distracting him. It took less than thirty seconds for him to turn back, but that was enough. He looked blankly at Simon, and then his words confirmed it.
"Have we met?"
His back ached and his left leg was numb, but Jim never faltered as he comforted the trembling form in his arms. Eventually, Blair calmed and raised his face to look at his friend.
"Yeah, Buddy?" Try as he might, Jim couldn't keep the slight quiver out of his voice. "You doing okay? That was some nightmare."
Blair didn't answer; he just nodded before he leaned forward to rest his forehead on Jim's chest. Jim could feel the soft wisp of air as his guide opened his mouth, trying to speak. He knew that for someone like Blair it wasn't healthy to keep all that pain bottled up, so he encouraged him to find the words.
Blair shifted around restlessly as he tried to say the words. Eventually, they came.
"He was there... it was Dwayne. He was hurting me so bad and I couldn't get away."
The younger man shook as he pressed his face into Jim's shoulder, but the Sentinel could feel no trace of the moisture he was expecting. Come on Chief, let it go. Don't keep all that pain bottled up inside you. "I'm so sorry Blair, I wish I could have been there for you."
"You were, that's what made it so bad."
Dear God, no. Jim straightened up in horror, waiting for Blair to finish.
Blair didn't seem to notice Jim's reaction as he told the details of his nightmare in a flat monotone voice. "He was hurting me like he used to, and you broke through the door, but Williams was there and he grabbed you. The more you fought, the more he was hurting you. Dwayne was laughing and I kept begging them to stop it, to let you go. Dwayne told me that you could turn away and Williams would stop, but you kept trying to drag yourself closer to save me... and Williams was killing you... you wouldn't stop trying to help me... and..."
Jim couldn't take anymore. "Blair..." he whispered in a broken tone as he brushed his fingers under the still dry eyes.
"I don't want them to hurt you too."
"They already have. They hurt me twenty years ago." Jim gave a sad smile and tucked the sweaty curls behind Blair's ears before continuing. "I just didn't know it at the time."
For the first time since he had awakened, Blair made eye contact with Jim, and the older man smiled as he saw the understanding cross his best friend's face. After a moment Blair returned the smile, then frowned as he plucked at his damp T-shirt.
"Man I feel sticky, I'm gonna take a shower."
Concern instantly radiated off the Sentinel as he felt the subtle tremors still coursing through his Guide's body. "You're still pretty shaky, Chief. How 'bout if I help you take a bath instead?" It only took a second for what he had said to register with Ellison.
"Oh, God! Blair, I am so sorry! I didn't... I'd never..."
"Jim... Jim, it's all right." Blair patted him on the arm to gain his attention. "You couldn't remind me of him if you tried, it's okay. You're probably right, I'd fall on my face in the shower. You gonna scrub my back?" Blair smiled up at Ellison, trying to get his friend to relax.
Jim returned the smile, but it was forced. "I'm sorry, you're the one that's had to live with this for twenty years, but I'm the one that can't cope. Why is that?"
"I kinda had a head start in the coping department, been at it for twenty years."
"Smart Alec." This time, the smile was real.
Simon didn't realize he was back in Dr. Young's office until the back of his legs bumped against the chair. Gratefully, he sank into it and buried his head in his hands. A scraping noise caught his attention and he looked up to see the doctor pulling his own chair around to sit in front of Simon.
"How do you get used to it? How many times have you introduced yourself to him over the years?"
Dr. Young nodded his understanding. "Some of the employees never get used to it. We try to limit his contact to the long term nursing staff. They are the ones who have had the most experience with him."
"Does he ever question things?" Simon struggled to grasp the implications. "He's aged twenty years, what does he see when he looks in the mirror?"
"There's no mirror in that room, and he's never been out of it except for medical reasons. He has no contact with the outside world, no television, no radio, no newspaper. He wouldn't understand any of it." Dr. Young leaned back and waited while Simon thought about what he had said.
Simon rubbed his face briefly before he spoke. "My God, what a lonely existence."
"To us, yes. But to Tony, there is no linear time. Every time he opens his eyes, he is waking up from the accident. Once in a while, when he seems depressed, we give him this to read." As he spoke, Dr. Young walked around to his desk and opened a drawer. After rummaging around for a bit, he pulled out a manila envelope and brought it to Banks.
Simon stared at the large envelope without taking it. Hesitatingly, he reached out and the doctor placed it in his waiting hand. His large hands shook as he reached in and drew out the single sheet of paper.
"We make a new copy of it every few years."
Simon looked up, bewildered. "What?"
"When it starts to look worn, that's when we make a new copy of it for him."
The doctor's cryptic words didn't make sense until Simon looked down and realized that he held in his hand a get well letter written by Blair all those years ago.
Simon didn't say anything for a long time. Finally the doctor broke the silence. "When we give that to him, he holds onto it for hours, talking about Blair. It's the longest single stretch of awareness he ever has."
"Would it have made a difference if Blair had been allowed to see his father at the time?" Simon wasn't sure if he was ready for the answer or not.
"No." Dr. Young tried to be as gentle as possible. "Brain damage of that magnitude doesn't get better, no matter how much we wish for it. You have a son, yes?" When Simon nodded, he continued. "You've seen Tony, seen how he can't remember anything he is not directly looking at. How do you explain that to a child? What would happen when Blair grew, and Tony no longer recognized him? If that were you in that room, would you want your son to go through that?"
Simon didn't have an answer for him.
A few well placed words to their hostess meant that the bathroom was ready when Jim guided his still trembling friend through the door. The large claw footed tub was full of steaming, bubble- covered water, while towels and a terry cloth robe hung across the radiator, ready and warm. The most thoughtful touch was the chair that Blair gratefully collapsed into.
"Man, I just woke up, I shouldn't be this tired." He didn't protest when Jim knelt down and pulled off his socks.
"You've had a rough couple of days Chief, not to mention that you're still recovering from the attack. Rising, he pulled Blair's T-shirt up and off of him, then steadied the younger man as he removed his sweatpants and boxers. Nothing more was said as he settled his friend in the tub.
"Oh, man, this tub is heaven. Do you think she'd notice if we snuck it back with us?"
Jim grinned as he watched Blair visibly relax in the hot water. "If you think you can get it into one of the suitcases..." He waited, hoping for a smile at that image.
Even better, he was rewarded with a chuckle. "Well, maybe Simon's. He doesn't exactly travel light."
"Of course if we had Rafe with us, his suitcase would be plenty big enough." Jim soaped up the washcloth as he spoke, and began to gently wash Blair's arms.
Blair looked up and grinned cheekily at his friend. "Yeah, but who'd tell him that we sacrificed his clothes for the cause?"
"You're the one that wants the tub." Jim scooped up a handful of bubbles and deposited them on Blair's nose.
"Funny, man." Blair reached up, planning to return the gift to his friend, but the free-form bubble sculpture slid off him and back into the water. Instead, he leaned against Jim as he began to wash Blair's back.
Jim smiled to himself as the tense figure relaxed under his gentle strokes. Abandoning the washcloth he kneaded the tight shoulders with soap-slicked fingers. The only sounds in the room were the contented sighs of a calming Guide.
"Ready for me to wash your hair?"
"Blair?" This time he tilted the young man's face up slightly so he could look him in the eye.
"Mmmm" Sleepy blue eyes opened to look at him.
"I need to lean you back so I can get your hair wet. Is that all right?"
"Sure it's all right, 'cause it's you." His eyes slid closed again, but not before Jim saw the trust shining in them.
Thank you, Buddy. Jim gently eased him back and used his free hand to pour water over the chestnut curls before working the shampoo into them. As he worked he heard Mrs. Bowmer moving about in their room.
By the time he had Blair's hair rinsed clean, she had made several trips up and down the stairs, and the famous Sentinel nose had tracked the berry cobbler out of the oven, into bowls, and up the stairs. He paused, extending his sense of smell until, yes, there it was -- vanilla and cream. He had been so tuned into the smells coming from the kitchen that he had missed the sounds of the freezer opening. Good. After all, how can we eat warm berry cobbler without ice cream?
"Come on, Buddy, time to get out." With a soft nudge he woke his dozing friend. With the barest of murmurs, Blair reached up and wrapped his arms around Jim's neck and allowed himself to be lifted up. Once he was on his feet and out of the tub, Jim loosened his grip long enough to grab one of the warm towels and wrap it around his waist. The other two towels made quick work out of his wet skin and hair.
"Yeah?" Jim snagged the robe and helped Blair thread his arms through the sleeves. "Towel?" Blair pulled the damp towel off as Jim tied the robe closed for him.
"You're going to think I'm crazy, but I could swear I smell cobbler."
"I thought I was the nose of the team?" His arm around Blair's shoulders, they walked down the hallway. With a smile, he opened the bedroom door.
"Oh, man, I was right!" Blair spotted the food-ladened tray right away.
Jim smiled at the enthusiasm in his friend's voice, but he was even more grateful to see that Blair's bed had been made up with fresh linens, and an extra blanket had been added across the foot along with a clean pair of sweats. He steered Blair past the tray on the dresser and sat him down on the bed. "Clothes first, then we'll eat."
Under the sweat pants he found a pair of boxers and a T-shirt, which he handed over to Blair, along with the sweatpants. When he saw that Blair was steady enough to dress without falling over, he moved to the dresser and picked up the bowls. Blair slid under the covers and scooted over. Jim handed him one bowl, then sat on the edge of the bed.
"Tell me about the Founder's Day picnic." Jim kicked off his shoes and swung his legs up onto the bed, leaning back against the pillows Blair had moved for him.
"Mmmm, this smells like heaven." Blair took an appreciative sniff before answering Jim. "Founder's Day? Oh, yeah, all the businesses would close and the whole town would meet in the Town Square for the biggest picnic you ever saw. There were games for the kids all day and a huge fireworks display that night. Man, you wouldn't believe the food -- pie eating contests and chili cook-offs, the works."
Any other questions Jim may have had were put on hold as he watched his friend dig into the cobbler with an enthusiasm he had missed so much in the younger man. Smiling, he began eating his own helping of the sweet dessert.
Many hours later, when an exhausted Simon Banks returned, he found them still in the same position, sound asleep. Smiling, he removed the bowls from their lax hands and covered Jim with the extra blanket before returning downstairs to help himself to the remaining cobbler.
The morning air was crisp and Simon gladly pulled on the heavy sweater he had packed at the last minute, glad he had ignored Henry's opinion that it was always hot in Texas. Not wanting to disturb the occupants of the other room he carried his shoes with him down the stairs and into the kitchen. Sitting alone at the table was Ellison, slumped over a cup of coffee.
"Hey, Jim, I didn't expect to see you up this early." Simon hesitated, unsure of how to read his best detective's mood this morning.
After a momentary hesitation Jim raised his head, a forced smile on his face. "Good morning, Simon. I didn't hear you come in last night."
Simon poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down across from Ellison. "No, you seemed pretty out of it when I checked on you." He wasn't sure if he should say anything about covering Jim up, but Ellison beat him to the punch.
"Thanks for the blanket." This time the smile was a little more genuine.
"How's he handling all this? Yesterday was pretty rough; has he talked about it at all?"
"He was asleep when I got back, then he had the most awful nightmare."
"About Olson, and Williams, and me."
The hitch in Jim breathing warned Simon not to ask anything further. Instead he leaned forward and grasped Jim's arm in a show of silent comfort and support and waited for the other man to continue.
"Why did Williams drag all this back up? What did he want with Blair? What did he accomplish with his stunt in the bull pen?" Ellison rubbed his hands over his face. "God, that seems like forever ago."
Simon leaned back and took a sip of his coffee. "I don't know, Jim, and neither does the FBI. Maybe we'll get some answers when the agents show up today."
"We better, I want that man held accountable for his actions." Anything further he wanted to say was stalled as Sandburg stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Morning, guys." Blair made a beeline to the coffeepot and helped himself to the coffee. He didn't say anything else until he sat down next to Jim. "What did you find out about Tony?"
Simon choked slightly on his coffee as he swallowed wrong. Damn it, kid, I wasn't expecting you to spring that on me so quick. I still haven't figured out how to tell you. "I spoke at length with the doctor..."
"You could have done that on the phone, Simon. Did you see him, did you see Tony?"
Simon studied the young man in front of him, practically vibrating with excitement. Knowing he was about to shatter that, Simon took a deep breath before saying what had to be said. "Yes, I saw him."
"Blair, you've got to understand. Tony's injuries were massive. Massive enough that he's spent twenty years in a care facility."
"How many people are in nursing homes because they don't have any family willing to take care of them? What if..."
"No, son, I'm sorry." Simon scooted his chair around so he was next to Blair and grasped both of his hands, rubbing his thumbs across Blair's wrists as he spoke. Jim placed his hands on Blair's shoulders, lending silent support as he, too, listened to the words. "He would not survive outside a facility like where he is now."
Blair seemed to study his words, nodding to himself. "You mean he's in a coma."
A simple 'yes' was so tempting as Simon opened his mouth to speak. But would that suffice, or would the young man sitting there insist on seeing him anyway? Could he risk the lie?
"Sometimes people in comas are aware of what's around them. Maybe he could still hear me." Blair's voice was soft and almost child-like.
"He's not in a coma, Blair." Simon released one hand as he reached for the notepad he had filled the day before. Lord, give me strength.
Blair sat up straight. "You mean he's awake? Simon, did you talk to him?"
"Yes, I did, briefly. He has a form of amnesia that..."
"Amnesia? You mean he doesn't remember? That's okay, we'll just make new memories."
"I'm sorry, son, you can't." Simon dropped his notes on the table and grasped Blair's hand again. "Tony can't make new memories."
"I don't understand."
"Simon, perhaps you'd better tell us exactly what the doctors told you yesterday." Jim's words were soft, but his tone was firm.
With a pained expression, Simon nodded and leaned back, releasing Blair's hands. He needed the emotional distance to tell his friends what had happened to Tony during that tragic night.
"The accident was pretty bad, Blair. The car was mangled severely by the time it came to rest; then it was surrounded by the floodwater. That meant a delay in his treatment."
"Did that make it worse?" Blair was picking at the edge of his thumbnail until Jim reached over and grasped his hand.
"It did, son. I'm sorry. He had a spinal injury, but the worst part was the internal injuries. He lost a lot of blood, and then the delay in treatment caused an infection to set in."
"Why did that cause amnesia, Simon? I don't understand."
"He was very sick, Blair, and very weak. On top of that, the blood loss was too much and it triggered a series of strokes."
"That's was caused the amnesia?"
"Yes. His injuries and his fever were so life threatening that at the time the strokes seemed to be the least of his problems. When it was all over, though, they had done the most damage, and it was irreversible."
"If they had caught the strokes when they were happening, could they have..."
"No, it wouldn't have helped. I'm sorry."
"Chief," Jim spoke up for the first time, "what kind of treatment was available back then for stroke victims?"
"I know, Jim. If the patient survived, then they would try physical therapy to help them regain what they had lost. There was nothing else they could do. It's just different when it's your own..." Blair winced as his words ran out.
Jim turned his focus from Blair to Simon. "You said he can't make new memories, I don't understand. I thought in amnesia you lost past memories, not new ones." He raised an eyebrow as Simon reached over and picked up his notepad. "You took notes, Simon?"
"I'd never heard of this either, Jim." He flipped through the pages before speaking to the young man in front of him.
"Blair, do you know what the hippocampus is?"
"Sure, it's the part of the brain that converts short-term memories into long-term ones. Are you saying that's the area of Tony's brain that was damaged?"
"I'm afraid so. It's given him what they refer to as Total Anterograde Amnesia. He can carry on a conversation to a point, but as soon as he's distracted, or even loses eye contact, then it's gone."
"Blair, when we were talking, a bird flew past the window. Just that little distraction and he didn't even know he'd ever met me."
"I want to see him."
"Chief, I don't think that's such a good..."
Before Jim could get started, Simon cut him off. "Blair, he doesn't know you anymore. He thinks the game is in a few days, that he just woke up from the accident."
"I know that. I won't tell him who I am; I just need to see him for myself. Can't you understand that?"
Simon puffed out his cheeks and looked up at Jim. Ellison seemed lost in thought, but before Simon could say anything, he began to speak.
"Tell you what, Buddy, if you still want to see him tomorrow when we get back to El Paso, we'll take you to see him. But think about why you want to do this. It won't make any kind of difference to Tony, and if you're doing it out of misplaced guilt, you'll only be hurting yourself. This shouldn't be a snap decision."
Banks agreed, "Jim's right. You don't need to make a decision until we get to El Paso."
"In the meantime," Jim tugged on a curl as he tried to lighten his best friend's mood, "why don't you go up and get dressed before the sheriff gets here with the FBI agents."
"You trying to get rid of me?"
Ellison had the good grace to blush. "No, I just want to set up some ground rules with them before we get started today."
Blair turned to their captain. "I hope you brought bail money."
Ellison didn't see the glint return in his Guide's eye. "You're not going to be arrested, I give you my word, Blair."
"He wasn't talking about needing it for him." Simon stood up and turned to the coffeepot, effectively turning his back to Ellison.
Jim looked back and forth between his two friends. "What? I'll be my usual charming self."
In union they answered him. "That's what we're afraid of."
"Sheriff." Ellison's greeting was curt, bordering on rude. If the truth were told, he was much more nervous about this meeting today with the FBI than he was letting on.
"Good morning, Detective Ellison, Captain Banks." Montgomery looked around the cheerful kitchen. "Is Mr. Sandburg still resting?"
Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot with the two federal agents standing behind the sheriff, Simon stepped up, blocking Ellison. "No, he's upstairs, getting dressed. Before he comes down, we'd like to hear what the FBI has to say about the evidence that's been brought to light."
"Of course, my apologies. This is Special Agent Rand and his partner, Special Agent Taylor. They've already examined the matching fingerprint and the original interview transcripts."
"Transcripts?" Ellison moved past Banks as he spoke. "What transcripts? Sheriff, I thought you said most of the records were destroyed."
"Ours were." The sheriff spoke fast, as if realizing the error in casually mentioning the new information.
"The FBI has always had a complete set of files on this case, detective. The sheriff was not aware of that fact until this morning." The taller of the two agents, Taylor, stepped forward and leaned against the sturdy wooden table. "Your Mr. Barnes was identified early on as a suspect; I'm afraid the agent in charge at the time really dropped the ball. Now that you've tied him to the scene of the murder, it's made our jobs a whole lot easier. Now, if we could speak to Mr. Sandburg?"
"Not until we get a few things straightened out, gentlemen, and we're going to do it at the sheriff's office."
One look at the scowling detective and his equally grim captain told the two agents that it was going to be a very long morning.
"I don't believe this. I don't friggin' believe this." With a disgusted snort, Ellison tossed the files down onto the conference table. "Why in the hell hasn't Barnes spent the last twenty years in jail?"
"He knew. Barnes knew that the FBI let him walk. He was toying with us yesterday, like it was some kind of game." Pushing away from the table, the agitated man began to pace the small room.
Banks tried again. "You can't know that for sure."
Jim stopped pacing and stared out the window overlooking the town-square. "You weren't there, Simon. You didn't see him, gloating about what that sick bastard did to Blair, about Olson being shot in the back. Only the killer and the investigating officers knew about the location of the wound." Ellison turned back, picked up the file and shoved it into Banks' hands. "It's in the report, Barnes knew something that only the killer should have known, and they did nothing about it."
The captain continued to play peacemaker. "There's no point in second-guessing a twenty- year-old investigation. The better question would be why did Barnes do it."
"No sir!" Ellison turned his fury towards the two agents. "The better question would be why Williams went after Blair if he knew what was in this report. What is his vendetta against Sandburg?"
Taylor and Rand said nothing as they shifted uncomfortably in the wooden chairs. Finally, Simon Banks had had enough. "Well, gentlemen, I think you owe Detective Ellison an explanation, now."
Rand nodded at his partner, and Taylor began to speak. "Olson was Williams' training officer when he was a rookie. After everything went down, the brass had him transferred back east. He managed to get transferred back a little over a year ago, and eventually got his hands on the files of the case."
Ellison slammed his fists down on the table. "We know all that! What is his fixation with my partner?"
Taylor stared down at the floor. "We, umm..."
"Tell us now." Banks and Sheriff Montgomery moved closer to Ellison in a show of solidarity as Banks continued to speak. "You can tell us now, or perhaps you'd rather tell the good citizens of this fine community why they were denied the full protection of the federal government?"
"You wouldn't dare."
The sheriff walked around and leaned against the table between the two agents. "Do you know what one of the best things about living in a small town is?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Everyone is either a friend or a relative. For example, my little brother's father-in-law is the editor of the local paper. I'll be seeing him at the school play next Thursday and he'll be asking me if anything new is up. After all, his sister-in-law is the nice lady who runs the bed and breakfast these gentlemen are staying at, so I'm sure he knows that they're here. What should I tell him?"
"I'm sure we can handle the situation without bringing the press into it." Rand never looked up as he spoke. "When Williams was through with the Olson file there were some things missing out of it."
"What kind of things?" The Sentinel's voice dripped ice.
"Oh, God," Banks choked as he moved away from the table.
Taylor tried to salvage the situation. "Just because he has some evidence without authorization..."
"You're telling me" Ellison leaned as far as he could into Taylor's personal space without knocking the man over, "that Williams stole pictures of Olson molesting a child? He then tracked that child down and tried to force him into leaving with him. I think we're all pretty sure that he wasn't planning on arresting Sandburg, aren't we? What in the hell are you planning on doing about it?"
"We don't know." This time it was Rand that spoke. "We will be speaking with him on this when we reach El Paso this afternoon."
One look at Ellison reminded the two agents the man was ex-covert ops. "You won't mind if we tag along then, will you?"
Blair looked up from his breakfast as his friends walked through the door, followed by the sheriff and two men he did not recognize. "Hey guys, you're just in time for breakfast; Mrs. B. makes the best omelets in the state."
Ellison just grimaced as a wave of stress induced nausea rolled over him, allowing Simon to answer for both of them. "That's all right, son. We're not really hungry right now."
The younger man was sensitive to the anguish in his Sentinel's eyes and he squeezed Jim's arm. "It's almost over, Jim. One more time out to Olson's and we can go to El Paso."
Ellison knew his friend was only thinking of Tony, and had no idea of what else awaited them in El Paso. He swallowed hard and blinked back the moisture as he forced a smile on his face. "You bet. In fact, we're going this afternoon, so why don't you go back upstairs and pack."
"Please Buddy, trust me on this and just go up and pack. We're going to get all of our questions answered in El Paso. Please, Chief."
Seeing the pain in Ellison's eyes was almost Blair's undoing, but he instinctively knew that any questions needed to wait until they were alone. "Sure, what about your clothes, why don't you come pack too?"
For a second, neither man moved. Ellison was so grateful at the 'out' his friend had given him, but at the same time was terrified that he would fall apart when explaining the new developments to him. His doubts vanished with the softly whispered, "now trust me" that filled his ears and his heart.
With more peace than he had thought possible only minutes earlier, Ellison followed his Guide up the stairs.
By the time Ellison reached the bedroom, Blair was sitting next to a half-packed bag. Surprised, he sat down on the opposite bed. "You already started packing?"
"Yeah, while you were at the sheriff's office with those FBI guys. What's going on, Jim? You hustled them out of here pretty fast, what couldn't you talk about here?"
Ellison sat down and began to throw his own clothes into his suitcase. "It was nothing, like I said, I just wanted to lay down some ground rules."
"They were all gung-ho to question you, so Simon and I wanted to straighten them out."
"The new evidence." Ellison's folding became less and less precise as he filled his bag, unwilling to look up at his partner.
Blair stilled, then moved to the chair next to Ellison's bed. "What new evidence?" He reached out and took the shirt from the Sentinel's hands. "Stop torturing the permanent press and tell me what's happening."
Jim watched the tangled fabric slide out from his fingers and then rested his elbows on his knees, he let his body sag. "We can place Bradley Barnes at the murder scene."
"Okay, umm, who's Bradley Barnes?" Sandburg leaned forward to look at Ellison's face.
The question stunned the older man until he realized his friend had never called the man by his name. "I guess you didn't know his name. Barnes is the old man who was Olson's neighbor."
"Him." The shudder was easy to recognize, but the words required Sentinel hearing. "To me he was the Bogeyman." Blair studied his feet, "it was him?"
Jim started to reach out, to comfort his friend, but he didn't know how it would be received and he drew back his hand, letting it rest instead on the back of Blair's chair. "Yeah, there were some unidentified fingerprints, and we matched them up to Barnes' old military records."
"But why?" Blair stood up and began to pace. "Why kill him? I mean, he sure didn't give a damn about what was happening to me, so why bother?"
A gentle hand stopped the younger man's pacing. "I don't know, Buddy. But I promise you this, before today is over we're going to get all our questions answered.
Three cars pulled into the trash-littered driveway of the ramshackle old house. Out of the first car emerged the sheriff, eager to close this blight on his town's otherwise proud history. The two FBI agents stepped out of their unmarked sedan, pleased to have the answers to a twenty-year-old crime handed to them on a silver platter. The third car, a rental, pulled in, but the occupants were deeply immersed in a conversation.
"Sandburg, son, you don't have to do this. We can just let the FBI handle it; in fact, they really don't need any of us."
Blair smiled reassuringly at the brown eyes studying him in the rear-view-mirror. "I need to do this, Simon. Really."
"Jim, I can't believe you're going along with this." Banks was not swayed by the pleading eyes of the younger man.
"Simon," Ellison's words were for the dark-skinned man in the front seat, but his gaze never left the man at his side. "I may not like it, but part of this trip is about closure. Sandburg deserves to watch the cuffs get slapped on that old man. It may be the closest to retribution he gets."
"What in the hell does that mean?" Banks spun around in his seat and stared hard at his best detective. "There is no way that they're going to shove this under the rug. Not again, I won't stand for it. Barnes is gonna go down for Olson's murder."
Jim couldn't help but smile at his captain's almost feral defense of their young friend. "Simon, you didn't see him. I don't think he's going to live long enough to stand trial. He... he smelled of death."
"Then it's a good thing the sheriff 's got that search warrant. Any other scumbags missing?" Banks got out of the car and slammed his door closed. With a shared sigh, the other two men followed, both making sure to latch their doors softly, and hurried to catch up with him.
"Guys, listen to me, okay?" Blair reached out and snagged both of their arms. "This guy haunted my nightmares for years, almost more than Dwayne. Sometimes I can still... I can still hear him telling me that I'm not worth the bother."
"Oh, God." Simon's voice was barely a whisper. Jim was silent, but the flex of his jaw was eloquent.
"I need to see him. I need to see that he is not the huge monster of my nightmares."
"Okay, Buddy, but I want you to promise me something." Jim turned him so that Blair was facing away from the house.
"Anything, man." Sandburg smiled indulgently. He knew how much his best friend needed to be protecting him right now.
"Promise me..." Jim's voice broke and he turned his head away for a moment, taking a deep breath. "Just remember, you have a safe word. I want you to use it if it gets to be too much. Okay?"
"You ready to do this?" The loud voice of Agent Rand interrupted the quiet moment of bonding between Sentinel and Guide. Banks instantly stepped between the agent and his friends, giving them a chance to collect their thoughts.
"You dragged your feet for twenty years, you can afford to give them five minutes."
Rand started to protest, then thought better of it, realizing how grateful he was that he'd never pulled duty in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, he beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the unmarked sedan, and Simon turned his attention back to his friends.
"Yeah, Simon, I'm ready to do this." Sandburg turned to Ellison and squeezed his arm in an attempt to reassure the older man. "I will always remember my safe word, Jim, and it won't be too much, because I'm not alone. Right?"
Ellison swallowed hard before he answered, his voice thick with emotion. "You've got that right, Buddy." With the briefest nod towards Banks, he placed his hand on Sandburg's back and guided him towards the rickety porch. Without a word, Banks fell in behind them as the two agents and the sheriff moved ahead and banged on the door.
"Barnes, open up!" Montgomery waited until the count of five before pounding the door again. "Barnes, we're coming in." Satisfied the old man had enough warning the sheriff shoved open the door and moved in, weapon at the ready, the two agents right behind him. Ellison held his group back, unwilling to expose his Guide to the situation until it was controlled. When he heard the soft 'click' of the handcuffs he allowed Sandburg inside, never moving from his side.
Barnes was sitting in a kitchen chair, his wrists cuffed in front of him, in deference to his age. Beside him, on the table, was a half-empty bottle of gin. He grinned up at Ellison as they stepped into the room. "So the hot-shot figured it out. Guess the big city cop's got more brains that these imbeciles in their fancy suits. Old J. Edgar must be turning over in his grave about now."
Taylor tried to divert the old man's attention from Ellison. "You act like you wanted to be caught, old man."
"Well, hell, I'm not getting any younger. This way, when I die, the town will bury me like the hero that I am."
"Hero? How in the hell do you figure that, Barnes?" Sheriff Montgomery slammed his hands down on the table to emphasis his anger, but the old man didn't flinch.
"I killed the pervert." Barnes was obviously pleased with what was apparently his life's greatest accomplishment.
Montgomery reacted before Ellison could. "Well, you were about three weeks too late to be a hero in my book. The kid was already gone, the damage was done."
"Why?" It was whisper-soft, and the first word uttered by the young man since entering the house.
Barnes stared at Blair, his cold smile growing wider as he spoke. "Well, after you left our fair town, there was a real shortage of Jew boys. Couldn't take the risk that he'd go after one of ours, now could I?"
Only the quick reach of the two FBI agents prevented Ellison from reaching Barnes, but they couldn't quiet him. "Damn you, you're just as much trash as he was! You sick, worthless piece of sh..."
"Jim! Come on, man, look at me!" The soft, but firm urgings of his Guide drew Ellison from the object of his hate. "That's it, Jim. Look at me, not at him." Slowly Sandburg turned his friend away from the old man and towards himself.
"Damn it, Chief... he..." The older man broke off, as a sob threatened to break through his control, knowing his friend would understand.
Blair's calmness balanced the Sentinel, as his words centered him. "He's not... worth it, Jim. He's not worth the bother."
Three hours after the satisfaction of watching Bradley Barnes being placed in a holding cell the three men from Cascade were on their way back to El Paso. Their good-byes with Mrs. Bowmer were especially poignant, and she had extracted a promise from them to try and make the next Founder's Day celebration. Jim had received an extra lecture on the care and feeding of her favorite 'sweet boy', and the front seat of the rented car was filled with more food than they could eat in a month.
Simon covertly studied the two men in the back seat. Blair had been writing in his journal since they had cleared the city limits, while Ellison seemed lost in his own thoughts. Without turning towards the pile of goodies next to him, Banks reached over and wrapped his fingers around a sweet morsel.
"Drop the macaroon and no one gets hurt." Jim hadn't moved from his comfortable spot, but the slightest of smiles was on his face. "Do you want me to tell Mrs. Bowmer that you ate Sandburg's cookies?"
Banks couldn't help the shudder that ran through his tall frame. Their petite hostess had reminded him of his grandmother, and Grandmother Banks had made sure all of her 'boys' toed the line. Before he could come up with a snappy response, Sandburg came to his rescue.
"Let the man have the cookie. We've put him through enough lately that he's earned a couple of cookies." Sandburg closed his journal and turned to face his seatmate. "Jim, I know you and Mrs. B. have the best of intentions, but if I ate all that stuff, I'd explode. Besides, when was the last time you saw me eat coconut?"
Jim thought for a minute before the obvious sunk in. "You don't like coconut." He turned to the captain. "Well, heck, hand me a couple of those, would you Simon?"
Sandburg smiled and picked up his journal again. "However, touch the peanut butter crisps and die, gentlemen." Banks wisely handed that entire plate to the shorter man in the back seat as he decided on how to broach another subject.
"Yeah, Simon?" He used both hands to brush the golden brown crumbs off his shirt.
"I was wondering what kind of graduation party to have for Darryl. Any suggestions? This is a pretty big step, what kind of graduation party did you have?" Tony had such high hopes for everything he wanted to do for you, I hope you got some of them.
"Didn't have one."
"Why not?" Ellison was the first to ask the question, not noticing the pained expression on Simon's face.
"Cause I wasn't done."
"But you had finished high school."
"Guys, before I finished high school, I knew that I wanted to be an anthropologist, and I had to get my Ph.D. to do it right. The only graduation ceremony I care about is the one that gives me those three little letters. When they give me my doctorate, then you can watch me party hearty."
Simon finally cleared the lump in his throat enough to speak. "Are you telling us that you've never had a graduation party? Ever?"
"Nope, never even gone to the ceremonies."
"What about Naomi?" Banks asked the question automatically, already planning the big blow out for the night their Blair became Dr. Sandburg. I promised you Tony, never again would he pass a milestone without a 'dad' at his side.
"She understood, man. She knows that the doctorate was the only part I care about. The rest is just steps along the way, just stepping stones."
Ellison wasn't as easily persuaded. "Are you saying that there isn't any part of the graduating ceremony that you didn't miss?"
"Well..." Blair looked up and saw the compassion in his friends' eyes, and that gave him the courage to continue. "The year I graduated from high school, I was the class valedictorian. I should have given the class speech because of that. The vice-principle didn't think I projected the image he wanted the school to be known for, so he gave the speech to one of the salutatorians. Someone who wore button down white shirts to school and whose dad drove a BMW. It sure wasn't me."
Seeing the somber mood of his friends, Blair tried to lighten the mood. "Say, after I become 'Dr. Sandburg' how about getting everybody together for some pizza and beer?"
"Sounds good, Chief." Jim didn't really trust himself to say any more and he saw that Banks was deep in thought and muttering to himself. Thinking the captain was lost in anger over what their young friend had missed he dialed his hearing up.
Gotta get good music. Ask Darryl about that.
An outdoor BBQ?
Yeah, Tony'd like that."
The miles slipped away with two men musing over the past and one planning the future.
Ellison waited until the motel shower was running before telling Banks his plans for the afternoon. "I'm meeting Rand and Taylor at the sheriff's office. I want local cops involved in this, so they can't sweep Williams back under the rug. I need you to stay with Blair and not let him talk you into going to see Tony until I get back."
That set off an alarm in Simon's head. "What's going on? Why don't you want me with you at Williams' place?"
"I don't want Sandburg left alone."
"Jim, he's fine. He's handling some of this better than we are."
"I know he is." Ellison began pacing the nondescript room.
Banks reached out and grasped Jim's arm on his third circuit of the room. "What aren't you telling me?" He saw the Sentinel's focus shift towards his Guide before turning to answer the question.
"This is Williams' territory. What if he knows we're here? What better time to go after Sandburg than while we're banging on his front door?"
"You can't be serious?" Banks released Jim's arm and sat down heavily on the bed, just missing the suitcases. "He wouldn't dare."
"Wouldn't he?" Jim hissed. "He came into our squad room and tried to take him with a twenty year old warrant for questioning. I wouldn't put anything past him." Anything else he wanted to say was halted when they both heard the shower shut off.
The residual stress was palpable when Blair walked out of the bathroom. "Umm, guys, what's going on?"
"It's nothing, Sandburg." The flex of Ellison's jaw told a different story.
"Tony? Did something happen to Tony?"
"No! No, that's not it at all. It's just some loose ends of the case that I want to get tied up, that's all. Honest, Chief."
"If it's just some loose ends, then it can wait. Let's go see Tony first." The hopeful look on Blair's face was Ellison's undoing and he looked at Banks for help.
Simon stood up and stepped forward, placing his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Son, it's almost dinnertime at the nursing home, then visiting hours will be over. It's better that we wait and see Tony in the morning, when he is the most rested."
Blair studied the two men carefully before nodding his agreement. "All right, we'll see Tony in the morning, but you're not talking me out of it." He paused, as if weighing his next question. "What loose ends are left? Barnes is in custody; I gave my statement back in Cascade... oh. Williams, right?"
"Yeah Buddy, sorry."
"But I've been totally cleared, can't we just drop it? I mean he can't still have any interest in me now."
Ellison paled as he thought about those missing photos and the various reasons Williams could have for taking them. His ever-observant partner picked up on it immediately. "What is it?"
"We need to make sure. Just trust me, okay?" Jim held his breath, willing his friend to accept and not question this.
"Always, man." The words were but a whisper, while the feelings echoed throughout the small room.
The mood held until the sound of a car horn broke through the quiet. Simon looked out the window and announced what Ellison already knew. "Your ride's here."
"Aren't you going with him Simon?"
Banks pushed the younger man towards the round table in the corner of the motel room. On the table was a brand new checkers set. "Joan's parents are coming for Darryl's birthday next week. I have never beaten my ex-father-in-law in checkers. You are going to change that for me. Is that understood?"
Grateful for the distraction, Ellison slipped out the door to meet the taxi waiting in the parking lot.
A small, yellow house with white trim sat alongside several other houses of the same vintage. All older homes, well kept, with freshly mowed lawns and brightly colored flower beds. Children's laughter echoed as the bikes darted down the gravel road. Neither Taylor nor Rand said a word as they pulled next to the curb. Ellison had his door open before the car was at a full stop. At the sound of his door slamming, an older gentleman raised up from under the hood of his car and came over from across the street, wiping his hands on a rag.
"If you're looking for Terrence, he went to the parts store to pick up an oil filter for me. Can't believe the kid there sold me the wrong size filter."
"Then you know Special Agent Williams?" Rand leaned back against the side of the sedan, as if making idle conversation.
"Oh, yeah. The whole neighborhood was thrilled when he moved in a few months back. Makes all the parents here feel safe knowing that a FBI agent is living around here, especially one that tracks down child molesters. Do you boys work with him?"
Ellison waited to see what kind of response the two agents would give him. Rand seemed to stumble over his answer, so Taylor stepped in. "Actually, we work out of the Dallas office, but we needed to confer with him about a case. The sheriff is meeting us too." With a nod of his head, Taylor pointed out the county car pulling up at the curb.
One of the largest men Jim had ever seen unfolded himself from the front seat of the patrol car and walked up to greet them. "Gentlemen, I'm Sheriff Gib Lobel. I spoke with Montgomery and he brought me up to speed on the situation."
Not wanting to tip their hand to the neighbor, Ellison rushed through the introductions. "These are Special Agents Taylor and Rand, and I'm Ellison from Cascade. Apparently Special Agent Williams is running an errand. Mr...."
"Little." The older man seemed pleased to be included.
"Yes, Mr. Little was just telling us how happy the folks around here are to have Williams as a neighbor."
"We sure are. In fact, Terrence knows all the kids around here by name, and just last week he bought all of them Ice Cream when they brought home their progress reports from school." As a car slowed down to pull into the driveway, Little turned around. "Well look, here he is now." Waving, he walked up the driveway to greet the man stepping out of the car. With a pat on the back, Williams handed a package to Little, refusing any money for it.
Ellison felt sick, knowing the probable reason Williams was working so hard to gain the friendship and trust of the area families. One glance at Lobel showed the same disgust. Wanting this dealt with away from the prying eyes of well-meaning neighbors, Ellison hung back, letting the agents initiate contact and get all of them into the house.
Taylor seemed to have the same idea in mind. Ellison cranked up his hearing ever so slightly to hear the exchange between the two men. "I hate to bother you on your vacation, but we really need your help with a case. Could we come in and talk about it?"
Williams' ego allowed him to believe that his expertise was really needed and he opened the door and invited the four men inside. "You know that I'm always willing to help with a case; how have you boys been? Haven't seen you two since the Christmas party." Barely taking a breath, he stuck his hand out to the sheriff. "Sheriff Lobel, isn't it? We met at the county offices once, but were never formally introduced. How are you?"
The sheriff's stony silence didn't seem to bother him and he moved over to stand in front of Ellison. Jim shut the door with a resounding click as he waited for Williams, glad that they had never actually met in Cascade. Williams' smile reminded Jim of a used car salesman. "I don't believe we've met; I'm Special Agent Terrence Williams, of the CAC unit."
Jim decided to play dumb. "The CAC unit?"
"Crimes against Children. We're a pilot program, designed to assist local law enforcement in combating the predator usually associated with child molestation, stranger abductions, that sort of thing."
"You being the expert on predators, of course." Now that they had him inside and surrounded, Ellison did nothing to hide his anger.
The bland smile faded from Williams' face. "Who are you?"
A feral smile spread over the Sentinel's features. "That's right. You don't know me nearly as well as I know you. I'm Detective Ellison from Cascade, Washington. But you do seem to know my partner, Blair Sandburg, don't you? In fact, it seems that you wanted to know him a bit too well." Ellison stepped into Williams' personal space, causing the man to step backwards and into Lobel who caught his arms and handed him a search warrant.
Williams jerked out of the sheriff's grasp and stared at the warrant in his hand. "What in the hell is this? I thought you wanted my help on a case."
"Oh, but we do." Rand's voice practically oozed. "We want you to show us what happened to the missing photos from the Olson case."
"Photos?" Williams was starting to sweat. "What missing photos?"
"It's simple," Taylor began to get into the act now too. "The photos were in the file. You took the file. When you returned the file, they were missing."
"Oh, is that all?" Williams gave a nervous laugh. "They must have fallen out of the folder. I'll take a look for them."
"How about if we help you look for them?" Lobel nodded at Rand and Taylor before keying his radio and telling his deputies to move in. Williams was speechless as two carloads of uniformed men entered and began to methodically search his home.
Ellison made a show of going through the bookcase in the living room, but what he was actually doing was studying Williams' reaction to the working of the men around him. When three deputies moved into the bedroom, his heart rate skyrocketed.
Something there you don't want us to find? "You know, most people keep porn in their bedroom if they have it. What do you say, shall we take a walk in there and see what turns up?" Without giving him a chance to react, Ellison pulled Williams to his feet and dragged him into the bedroom. Once there, he shoved him down on the bed and began walking around the room, monitoring Williams the entire time. After three laps around, Jim was certain that Williams kept his 'dirty laundry' in the walk-in closet along with the clean clothes, and joined the officer already working on it.
Between the two of them it was only a matter of minutes before the closet was empty, the contents piled in the center of the room. Another of the deputies joined them as they began the task of sorting through the large pile. Immediately, Ellison noticed Williams relaxing, and stood back up. After thinking for a minute, he returned to the now empty closet while carefully monitoring Williams. He wasn't surprised when Williams' heart rate and breathing skyrocketed.
Carefully and slowly Jim dialed up his senses to examine what seemed to be empty space. Hearing was odd; distortions echoed throughout the bungalow and were amplified in the closet. Sight was difficult without his Guide, as the entire closet was lined with cedar strips and the pattern made him dizzy and on the verge of a zone out. Dialing those back, he tried smell next. Past the scent of cedar, of laundry starch, of dust, there was another odor. Barely detectable, but recognizable to any man, the musky scent drew him to one wall of the closet. From out in the bedroom the sour scent of fear was a sharp contrast to what had gathered his attention in the closet.
"Did you find something?" Ellison had been deep in thought and the arrival of the sheriff startled him.
"Maybe, hang on a second." Jim walked past Lobel and began pacing off the size of the room. Once he was satisfied with the measurements, he continued in the same manner throughout the neat house. Williams' agitation was now visible to everyone there.
"What have you got? You're sure making him nervous in there." The sheriff followed Ellison but didn't interfere.
"It doesn't add up. The closet should be about four feet deeper than it is."
"A false wall?"
Ellison turned to the sheriff, an unreadable expression on his face. "Let's go find out." Not trusting his emotions, Ellison never looked at Williams as he walked past the man and re-entered the closet, Lobel behind him. Now that he knew where to look, finding the hidden latch was ridiculously easy for the Sentinel, and within seconds the door slid open.
"Oh my God." Even whispered, the sheriff's words were louder than Ellison could have managed at that moment. In front of them was a collection of sexual torture devices that made Tina LeMat's stash seem like a mild kink. Many of the items were new, unused; as if waiting for their first victim. Understanding whom that was to have been made Jim gasp in pain. The scent, forgotten for a moment, made him choke and he instinctively followed it to its source.
On the third shelf down from the top, looking innocent among the leather and the clamps, was a stack of pictures. The curly brown hair and the blue eyes in the top photo were easy to recognize. So was the telltale translucent puddle still damp across it. Without touching anything, Jim bolted out into the hallway, only stopping at the outside door when his vision caught sight of the group of curious neighbors gathered in the yard.
How many of their kids have been in this house? As that thought ripped across his belly Ellison made a dash for the bathroom, barely making it in time. As he rinsed out his mouth, Jim looked up to see Lobel waiting discretely outside the bathroom door. He stepped out to stand across from the sheriff. "Sorry about that."
Lobel just shook his head. "Don't be, I'm just glad this place has two bathrooms."
Jim understood. "There were more photos than he took from the file. Do you know if those are from other cases or if he..."
"If he started taking his own pictures? I don't know, but I can tell you that I'm gonna need a good stiff drink before I find out." Lobel paused, as if weighing what he wanted to say, and Ellison waited, understanding how difficult this was. "Listen, Ellison, it's going to be a pretty bad scene when we tell his neighbors what kind of a man was around their kids. It might be easier if there isn't a northerner around at the time. I'm gonna have one of my deputies drive you to the station before we bring Williams outside."
Ellison started to object, then realized how much he didn't want to see Williams right now, and nodded his agreement.
Neither man spoke until they were at the sheriff's office. Once they were in the building, the young deputy turned to Ellison and pointed out one of the interrogation rooms. "You can wait in there if you'd like, sir, or there's coffee in the break room."
"That sounds good." The emotional strain was heavy and Ellison was ready for some caffeine. He followed the deputy down the hall and into the breakroom, spotting the phone on the table. "I need to make a local call, do you mind if I use the phone?"
His escort seemed to understand, and grabbed a hastily poured cup of coffee. "No problem, just dial 9 for an outside line. I'll give you some privacy." He was out the door before Ellison reached the coffeepot. Cup in hand, he dialed the number for what he so desperately needed to hear.
"Banks." Expecting a call, the captain had grabbed the phone before the first ring was done.
"He's in custody." The words didn't begin to cover the pain that was obvious in the Sentinel's voice.
"Was it bad?" Simon kept his tone low and soothing, not only for the distressed friend on the phone, but for the sleeping friend only a few feet away. He heard a choked sob before Jim spoke again.
"Yeah, it was. Is Blair with you?"
"He just dozed off a few minutes ago, but I can wake him..."
"No! No, I need something else, but it's going to sound pretty strange."
"Is this one of those Sentinel things?"
Banks listened and understood. Quietly he laid the phone receiver on the sleeping man's chest, over his heart, and moved away.
"Detective?" The timid voice brought Ellison out of his near zone-out. Jim opened his eyes to see a young female deputy standing next to him, shifting nervously. Giving her a reassuring smile he returned his attention to the phone.
"Simon, thanks." Not waiting to see if the captain had heard him he set the receiver back down on its cradle, and turned to the young woman. "Are they ready for me?"
"Umm, yes, they are." Ellison got the distinct impression that there was some kind of problem.
"What's going on?" Ellison stepped between the deputy and the door, effectively blocking her path and forcing her to answer his question.
She seemed almost grateful to tell what she had heard. "Those agents are planning to send Williams back east to be assessed by some FBI shrink. They're going to over-rule local law."
"Like hell they will!" Ellison stormed out of the breakroom, almost hitting the young woman in the face with the door. He already knew where he was going, although it was not necessary to dial up his hearing to follow the loud argument coming from the interrogation room.
The Sentinel was very proud of his control when he didn't kick the interrogation room door open, although his hands did almost as much damage. "What charges are you filing, Lobel?"
"The state charges are immaterial, detective." Rand's words were bland, as if he knew something the rest of them did not. "Special Agent Williams has been under a great deal of stress, and it has obviously made him very ill, the way he's become obsessed with your Mr. Sandburg. Our superiors in DC will make sure he gets the best care possible."
"So you've decided that you can just ignore the laws he broke in this state?" Jim couldn't believe how fast things were spiraling out of control.
"What laws would that be? We can speculate, but there is no proof of any crimes being committed by Williams while in Texas." Taylor leaned forward, blocking Ellison's view of the smug Williams sitting next to him. "Listen detective, we don't like this, and we're really glad that he never lived in our neighborhood, but our hands are tied. The brass is never going to let this get anywhere near trial; they don't want the image of the bureau tarnished. He'll never be allowed anywhere where he can hurt your partner, or anyone else. Just be grateful for that."
"Grateful? Grateful? What kind of people are you? You saw what was in that closet, you know what he was planning to do with it."
"Again, speculation. Now if you had let him take your partner out of Cascade, you could possibly have more to hold him on."
"Why, you..." It was only the bulk of Sheriff Lobel that kept Ellison from taking on both agents and their smug charge.
"Easy, boy, easy." Lobel pushed him down in one of the chairs and winked. Ellison froze, unsure of what the sheriff was planning. "After all, they have their procedure, as do we. Mr. Williams here was complaining about all the procedure you folks made him go through up in Cascade. We heard about it all the way back here from his place. Well, before he can leave here, he'll have to go through Texas procedure, and as you know, everything's bigger in Texas."
Jim allowed himself a glimmer of hope as Williams began to squirm. Lobel explained further. "You federal boys seem to think that there was no actual crime committed here by Williams. Well, we're not quite ready to say for sure, after all there are a lot of children that he's had contact with and there is that stack of photos we found at his place. Until we identify every child in every photo, and interview every kid that's been within twenty miles of that man, then he'll be a suspect, and as a suspect, he will remain in our custody. Unless you gentlemen would like to go in front of a local judge and explain your side of the matter."
The room was deathly quiet as the realization hit. Ellison smiled as Rand and Taylor stared at each other, mouths open. Williams slumped down and laid his head on the tabletop with a soft thud. Lobel ignored them and turned his attention to Ellison.
"I figure that it'll take a couple of months at least to sort through all of this, and get it before a judge for an extradition hearing. Our jail isn't as fancy as any federal facility, but it is real cozy. In fact, many of our inmates are very friendly with the staff. News travels quite fast in prison, don't you agree, detective? Two months might not seem that long to us, but to a federal cop who was using his position to track and possibly abuse children, it could seem like a very long time."
"Oh, God, you wouldn't." Williams was a white as a sheet. He turned to the two agents flanking him. "You can't let him get away with this."
Rand looked at Taylor. "He's right, we were told to get him out of here as soon as the paperwork was done."
Taylor agreed. "Of course, they didn't tell us that it would take that long. When they finish the paperwork, we'll pick him up. Right?"
"Absolutely." Neither man seemed too broken up over losing control of the situation. "Our butts are covered." Rand nodded to his partner and stood up.
Taylor picked up their copies of the report and gave Lobel a card. "Give us a call when he's ready for transport." Neither man gave Williams a second glance as they left.
The sheriff called in two deputies to remove the prisoner. After they closed the door behind them, he turned to Ellison. "I'm sorry that we couldn't do more."
Ellison cleared his throat several times before his voice was audible. "I know, and I do appreciate what you were able to do. You're right, that can be a long time for someone like that, especially if the general population knows about him."
"But it's not enough?"
"Nothing will ever be enough, but it will have to do. Won't it?" A sad smile crossed the tired face as Ellison walked out of the claustrophobic room. He didn't stop until the outside door of the station was behind him. Then he began walking in the direction of the motel.
It was after midnight before Jim entered the room they had rented for the night. Simon was dozing in the chair, a forgotten book draped across his chest.
"Hey." The soft voice drew Jim's attention towards the bed. Blair was sitting up, rubbing his face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't, I'm kind of slept out." Blair got up and moved next to his friend. "You're freezing, let me get my shoes and we can go get coffee. There is an all night diner across the street. Have you eaten?" He tugged on Ellison's arm, but Jim didn't move.
There was no response from the obviously hurting man.
"Is it over?"
This time there was a nod.
"Was it bad?"
The nod was accompanied by a shaky intake of breath.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
A shake instead of a nod, that seemed to travel throughout the larger man's body as a shudder.
That seemed to propel the younger man into action and he pulled Jim across the room. Bypassing the closer bed, he sat Jim down on the one he had been sleeping in, knowing that the Sentinel would be able to feel the body heat remaining trapped between the blankets. Quickly and efficiently he removed Jim's outer clothes and tucked him in the bed. Blair then turned to pull the blankets off the other bed only to be handed them by Simon. Two sets of eyes met in understanding as Banks quietly left to discover what had transpired that afternoon.
After locking the door behind Simon, Blair settled himself on the other side of the bed, ready to battle any demons that would disturb his Sentinel's rest.
Little was said over breakfast the next morning. Jim seemed limited to one word answers and Simon's response to Blair's unasked questions had been a terse "later" while Ellison had been in the shower. Under normal circumstances, Blair would have been miffed at his two friends, but he understood they were trying to protect him, and waited until the words would come to them more easily.
After a hearty breakfast, the three men set out to the care facility that had been Tony Olson's home for the past twenty years. Twice, Jim turned to his partner and began to speak, only to stop and turn away. The third time, Blair grasped his arm and refused to break eye contact.
"I appreciate that you are trying to protect me, but I'm all right. If something happened that I need to know about, then I want you to tell me."
Ellison nodded and turned to Banks. "How much do you know? I'm sure that you did some checking after I got back to the motel last night."
Banks glanced up in the rear-view mirror. "I got a full report from Lobel last night, but I haven't talked to Sandburg about it yet."
"Something is tearing you apart, man." Blair rubbed Jim's arm in an attempt to relax him. "You don't have to tell me everything, but I think you need to tell me part of it, whatever is tearing you apart."
Jim licked his lips before speaking. "He was turning into another Olson. He had everything there to hurt somebody."
"Dwayne taught him well, huh?" Blair looked at the floor mat as he asked his next question. "Had he done it, had he crossed that line yet?"
"I don't think so, everything he had there looked new, like maybe he was fighting the urge, or working his way up to it. Who knows how a mind like his thinks. He seemed to have a fascination for the kids in the neighborhood, but I'm sure that he hadn't done anything, at least in that house."
"Is he going to get the chance to do it later?"
Ellison thought about what would happen to Williams, about what could happen to child molesters in jail, even the ones that had not crossed that fine line. There was no group in jail that would protect him, not even the guards. Lobel had been right; two months could be a very long time indeed. "No, Buddy, he's not going to get the chance to hurt any kids."
An enormous weight seemed to lift off the younger man and he leaned back against the vinyl seat. "Then it was worth it."
"What?" Ellison didn't seem to understand. When a red light stopped the progress of the car, Banks turned around, also puzzled by the reaction.
Blair pointed out the window at a small playground. "Look." Sitting in the sandbox was a small, blond haired boy. On the swings were two more children, one with a riot of curls. Jim thought he understood, and relaxed as his Guide explained.
"Olson's been dead for twenty years. Barnes will never see the inside of a courtroom, we all know that. All this pain, for all of us, and what did it accomplish? But look at those kids, they're innocents. And now one less potential threat is gone from their world. Olson passed his evil on to Williams, but we broke the cycle. It stops here and now."
A famous Sandburg smile broke the gloom in the car. "I can live with that. I really can." He leaned back as the light turned green and Simon pulled away from the intersection. "Now, let's go see Tony."
Jim watched the younger man, allowing Blair's contentment to fill his own soul. Finally coming to terms with what they had experienced, he turned back to Banks. "Tell me Simon, are you ready to beat Darryl's grandfather in checkers?
"Bite me, Ellison." For emphasis, Banks chomped down on an unlit cigar.
The soft crunch of the gravel underneath the tires was the only sound, as Simon pulled the car up in front of the Maxwell Care Center. Blair traced the outline of the building into the moisture on the window as his companions waited. "It seems like a nice place, you hear about some of these, and..."
"It's a private facility, son. His publisher pays for it out of the proceeds from his books." Simon turned around and leaned his arm against the back of his seat. "There's a whole new generation of young people reading Tony's books."
"Really? That's so cool. I never thought about it, but they were such classics that they would never become dated. Remind me to track down his publisher when we get home, I want to thank him for taking care of Tony. A less honorable man would have taken advantage of the situation."
"We'll take care of it, Chief. Do you remember his name?"
"He was just Uncle Martin to me. He had an assistant named Sid, but Sid left for another company a little while before the accident. I'm sorry, I don't remember any more than that."
Banks growled around his well-chewed cigar, "Sandburg, you were just a kid, you weren't expected to remember business contacts."
"I guess we should do this, right?" Blair drummed his fingers against the door handle.
"That's entirely up to you." Jim rested his hand on the thin shoulder. "In some ways this man will be a total stranger to you. No one is going to think less of you if you decide not to do this."
"He's not the stranger here, I am. I know that I've grown up into someone he won't recognize, but what if I've grown up into someone he won't like?" Not giving his companions a chance to answer, he shoved the door open and stumbled out into the crisp spring morning.
"Are we doing the right thing, Simon?" Ellison gave Banks a hard look before he climbed out of the car. Banks had been so sure, but now he couldn't answer the question. The two of them followed his now subdued Guide into the nursing home.
Blair seemed in control as he stepped up to the reception desk, but the Sentinel could detect minute tremors coursing through him. "Yes, I'm here to see Anthony Olson, I'm his... I'm his son."
The blue-haired woman looked up and smiled. "Blair, right? Dr. Young said you might be by to see him."
"You know Tony, then?" The younger man's voice was full of hope.
"I've sat behind this desk for 32 years, I know everybody. One of the nurses is giving your father his morning bath, and then he'll get breakfast. We try to keep a routine established for all our patients. I'll send you back to speak with the doctor first and by the time you're done, Tony should be ready for a visitor. How does that sound?" Without waiting for an answer, she buzzed for Dr. Young.
Blair wandered around the lobby, expending nervous energy as they waited. Through the window into the courtyard he could see the more mobile residents having their breakfast next to the raised flowerbeds. The staff seemed gentle and attentive and he relaxed, the unspoken nightmare of Tony trapped in a heartless facility faded away. There was one person whom he trusted to confirm this.
Only one word, his name, but the Sentinel knew exactly what his Guide was asking. He too, had experienced concerns for the injured man's welfare. Ellison remembered the one time he had entered a care facility to arrest an aide who had been stealing the patient's medication and selling it on the street. Less than a month later the home had been closed by the state, but the sensitive man had never forgotten the hopelessness he saw within those walls.
One by one, he opened his senses to fully experience what was now Tony Olson's entire world. Instead of the expected odor of ammonia and urine, he found the scent of baking bread, fresh flowers and the same natural cleaning compounds they used in their own home. Hearing gave him not the sounds of misery, but the gentle murmuring of caring voices and the soft laughter accompanying a bingo game. Looking through the courtyard, he could see into the rooms beyond, filled with personal belongings, sparkling with natural light.
To complete his inspection, Jim ran his hand over the edge of the large desk centered in the room. The wood was smooth and cared for. Sensitive fingertips did not pick up the roughness of a quick dust job, but rather the silkiness of a true polishing. When the older woman gestured towards the plate sitting on it, he helped himself to the pastries piled high. Fresh and flaky, the flavor exploded in his mouth. Linking taste and smell, the Sentinel followed the sweet bread throughout the building. This was not a treat to impress the visitors; this was what the residents were enjoying with their morning meal.
A smile and a nod conveyed his answer to his young friend. It was enough, as Blair could read the rest in his eyes.
"Dr. Young can see you now." The receptionist's words broke through the quiet but not the connection, as they followed her through the inner doors, with Simon bringing up the rear.
Silently, the three men entered the slightly cluttered office. Dr. Young, this time wearing an Animanics tie, stood up to greet them. "Captain Banks, good to see you again; and you must be Blair." He gave the younger man an apprising look. "It's hard to remember that you're all grown up. Captain Banks speaks very highly of you."
"Really?" Blair's voice almost squeaked as he turned to look at the other man. Simon just raised an eyebrow in response.
Dr. Young next turned his attention to the third man in the room. The big silent one with Blair's shoulder clutched in his hand. "And you are?"
The doctor's words boomed loud to the Sentinel who had been studying him so intently. He stammered out a reply as he extended his free hand. "Jim... Detective Jim Ellison, I'm Blair's partner."
"With the police department?" Dr. Young was having a hard time believing that Blair was all grown up, much less working with the police.
Blair could see the questions in the doctor's eyes, but didn't want to expend the energy to explain the cover story about his place with the Cascade PD and stepped closer to him. "I'd like to see my father now. Is there anything I need to know beforehand?"
"Yes, I'm afraid there is." Dr. Young paused, unsure how to present this new wrinkle in the young man's plans to reunite with his father.
Jim quickly reached out again with his senses and found the man to be nervous. Dreading the worst, he moved closer to Blair. His Guide responded by leaning back against him, ever so slightly.
Simon looked back and forth between the doctor and his men. It wasn't possible; he could not have delayed this meet only to have Tony taken away again. He reached out and grasped Ellison's arm, hoping to add his own strength to the bond.
Dr. Young saw their reactions and tried to backpedal. "It's not that bad, really. One of our nurses came back from vacation today and didn't know you were coming. She gave him the letter this morning."
"Oh, God." Simon had hoped never to face those innocent words again.
"Letter?" Blair shook his head as he puzzled over the doctor's comment and Simon's reaction to it. "Simon, what is he talking about?"
Simon pulled away and began pacing, rubbing his face as he tried to gather his thoughts. "Blair, do you remember writing a letter to Tony while he was in the hospital?"
Slowly Blair nodded. "Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything? That was over twenty tears ago."
Young took over the explanation for Simon. "To us, yes. But to Tony, every morning he regains consciousness from the accident and he's worried about you."
"So the letter..."
"Helps him know you're all right." With a gentle smile, Dr. Young finished Blair's thought. After a moment he continued his explanation. "He is very focused on the letter, and asks anyone who comes in to read it out loud to him. I just didn't want you to get blindsided by it. If you prefer to wait until after his mid-day rest, he won't remember seeing it. It might be easier for you."
"No. No, I'd like to see him now, please." Blair squared his shoulders and waited for the response.
With no other option available, Dr. Young led the group out of the office and down the hall.
Once he reached the door to Tony's room, Dr. Young once again turned to the young man at his side. The determination he saw answered his questions without a word and he silently opened the door.
Blair looked back at the two men who waited in the hall and gave a gentle smile. His words were only loud enough for the intended person to hear. "I remember my safe word, Jim." With that he took a deep, calming breath and followed the doctor into the room.
Simon watched the interaction between his best team as Sandburg entered the small room. Whatever private message Blair whispered to his Sentinel had visibly calmed the older man, but Ellison had still jumped when the door closed. When Ellison cocked his head to the side, Banks realized that the other man was listening to what was happening behind the now closed door. Feeling helpless to do more, he placed a steadying hand on Ellison's shoulder.
Blair entered the small room, startling at the soft noise made when the door closed behind him. Dr. Young just smiled at the quiet "sorry", never realizing the apology was not for him. His smile faded as Blair looked past him and got his first look at his father, in twenty years.
Daddy. Blair bit his lip to keep from saying the word out loud as all the memories rushed back. The weekend spent camping on the gulf coast. Pitching lessons out in back of the house. Tony running behind him, cheering him on the first time he rode his bike without training wheels. The two of them raiding the refrigerator while Naomi slept followed by vague memories of being carried back upstairs and being tucked into bed. Memories he had locked away all these years, unable to reach past the pain of his loss to recapture the warmth of his father's love.
Memories, Blair shook his head at the irony of it. The only thing Tony had left; the only thing Blair could never share with him. Almost against his will, he was drawn to the frail figure in the wheelchair, listening as Tony's familiar voice rose with excitement.
"He's a good boy, doctor. He wouldn't cause any problems if you let him come visit me. I just want to see him before he goes to stay with my brother. Five minutes, just let him come see me for five minutes." Tony's pleading face looked past the pained expression of Dr. Young to see Blair standing behind him.
Tony's face lit up and for one glorious second, Blair thought that his father recognized him. A pale and trembling hand reached out, clutching the crisp, new copy of the letter Blair had written to his father all those years ago. "Here, you read it then tell me if you think he's old enough to come visit his old man."
Blair took a deep breath and began to read, as much from memory as from sight.
When he finished, he returned the letter to Tony, taking the opportunity to squeeze his hand. "Your son loves you very much. I'm sure he understands why he can't be with you right now."
Tony clumsily wiped his eyes. "I love my little boy so much. I don't want him to forget about me."
Blair knelt down and carefully gathered the hands that had guided and supported him all those years ago into his own hand. With his other hand he gently smoothed away Tony's tears. "No matter what happens, little boys never forget their daddies -- and they never stop loving them. Your little Blair will always remember you and will always love you."
When Tony's eyes met Blair's, he could see that exhaustion was rapidly overtaking the now elderly man. With obviously fading strength Tony reached up with his good hand and cupped Blair's cheek. "Thank you. Does your father know what a wonderful young man you are?"
"I'd like to think so." Blair's voice was barely a whisper as he returned Tony's hands to his lap and kissed the now sleeping man on the forehead. "I'd like to think so."
Out in the hallway, Simon Banks watched the many emotions that flickered across Ellison's usually stoic face. He didn't need much of an imagination to guess what was going on in the closed hospital room. Before Simon could work up the courage to ask, Jim stiffened and pulled away from him. The opening of the door drew his attention away from his companion.
The minutes passed slowly for Jim as he listened and ached for his best friend, Simon's presence grounding him and allowing him to focus on the conversation. Nothing prepared him for the devastation on Blair's face as his partner stumbled through the door. Before he could reach out, Blair turned and leaned against the door that he had just closed behind him. Sentinel hearing wasn't necessary to hear the broken words.
Jim didn't remember moving, just suddenly Blair was within reach. As he tentatively reached out, his Guide instinctively turned towards him, allowing Jim to tuck him under the taller man's chin.
They stood there for a long time, drawing strength from one another until a broken voice breached the silence as the first traces of long awaited moisture could be felt on the Sentinel's shoulder.
"Home, Jim, I want to go home."
Worth the wait? Let me know.
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