It had snowed on Sunday.
White flakes had blanketed the wakening city, hampering the traffic, clogging the roads, shutting down buses and transit. It had lured the residents outside to play on a pleasant day off: to make snowmen, go for walks, throw snowballs. It was all a novelty. A game. A break in the usual Cascade weather. Laughter, the scraping of shovels on the sidewalk, an excuse to set aside the day's plans and escape into the magic of another land.
James Ellison hadn't laughed so hard in weeks. With a bit of coaxing, Blair Sandburg had emerged from the loft and gone to the park with him and had even tossed aside his aversion to the cold to help make what was probably the worst constructed snowman in Cascade's history. In the evening they had relaxed inside, hot chocolate by the fireplace, stretched out on their own couches wrapped in quilts, the gentle strains of music on the stereo system soothing tired minds and aching bodies. They had watched an old movie and talked about the tires on the Volvo, the deteriorating upholstery on the Ford, and whose turn it was to clean out the fridge.
All in all, a decadent winter's day, in a city famous for only springs and falls.
By Monday morning, it was over. Rain lashed down on the city in true Westcoast fashion, washing out the remains of the weekend's snowfall until the frosted trees were a dim memory. They drove to the station, staring out the windshield as the wipers fought to clear the glass of the heavy rain. Cold winds caught the downpour and drenched the city's workers, sending them shivering through the streets, soaked and miserable, seeking shelter in doorways and under awnings. Traffic plowed through dirty slush, spilling over onto pedestrians already miserable with wet feet and ruined shoes.
"Have I mentioned how much I hate the cold?" Sandburg asked, hunkering down into his jacket.
"That didn't seem to stop you from throwing snowballs yesterday." Ellison cast a tolerant glance his way.
"I didn't have much choice, did I?"
Ellison grinned. "You could have just conceded right away. I ended up winning."
Blair looked back at his roommate and partner in mock astonishment. "It was a draw! We agreed it was a draw."
"Well, I've been thinking about it, Junior, and I think I actually won that fight." Ellison slammed on his brakes, his right hand shooting out to brace his partner as the car skidded through a pile of slush. "Pedestrians," he muttered, humor gone as his sharp eyes watched the bobbing yellow umbrella and a pair of legs cross the street. "She didn't even look before she stepped off the curb."
Blair stared out the side window at the group of angry commuters waiting at the bus stop. "You just sprayed them all, Jim."
"And what do you suggest I could have done differently? Tell Miss Walk-Across-the-Street-Without-Looking about it, not me, Chief."
Blair stared back out at the gray day. His feet were already wet. His boots had still been damp from the day before, so he had opted to let them dry out and wear his sneakers, thinking he had only to get to the car and he'd be fine. He hadn't allowed for the small lake that had formed just outside the door to their building and had gone only two steps before realizing his mistake.
He frowned at the rain, at the unfairness of Cascade's weather. Yesterday was unbelievable and today sucks. I'm uncomfortable and tired and cold--and we haven't even gotten to the station yet.
"Oh, you'll survive," Jim said, then shrugged as Blair glared at him for having the audacity to read his thoughts.
By eight in the morning, they were in the bullpen, sitting with too-weak coffee in hand as Ellison went through his accumulated email. Blair took off his sneakers and hooked them on the heating vent, hoping they would dry out by the time he had to leave the station. He picked up his coffee mug again and wrapped his fingers around it, absorbing the heat into his body. It didn't seem to stop the occasional shivers that still sneaked up on him. Every time he would shiver, Jim would glance toward him, the automatic response funny at first to Blair, but now a little annoying after fifteen minutes. If only there were some switch or something which turned off that protective streak in his partner...but then again, Blair reasoned, maybe that wasn't something he wanted to mess with. At least until he managed to get through an entire month without almost killing himself.
The door to Simon Banks' office opened and the captain came out, saw they were there, then went back into his office to retrieve some files from his desk. Aware of the tension hovering around the man, Blair curled his stocking feet around to the back of his chair, not wanting the captain to find any reason to explode in his direction. At least not until he had warmed up and finished his coffee.
Banks made his way over to Jim's desk and handed the detective one of the files. Blair smiled a wan greeting at Banks, noting that he was totally ignored. Not a good sign. Simon usually didn't miss an opportunity to sigh in his direction, as if someone were blackmailing the man into letting Blair stay there. Actually, in a way, maybe Jim was doing just that. Blair knew damn well--and so, for that matter, did Simon-- that if the anthropologist were to ever decide to leave the department for good, so would Jim. Ellison had grown remarkably good at controlling his senses, but, if history proved itself correct, the Sentinel would always need his Guide nearby. There were just too many risks for Jim to go without appropriate backup.
That was the problem really. Simon could always assign backup, but, like it or not, there was only one person in Cascade that could be the appropriate backup for Detective James Ellison.
Smiling into his mug and sitting a little taller in his chair, Sandburg accepted the file Banks handed him. His smile faded along with the color in his face as he opened it and realized what they were discussing.
The captain towered over them, his arms crossed, anger and frustration etched on his face. "We've had six preschool-aged children kidnaped in the last few months, all from the west side of the city, and we believe it's the work of one man. The first three children were found wandering the streets after their captor abandoned them at a playground. The next two were found dead. Last night, another four-year-old boy was abducted, Marty Leboir. His parents are well off, so we're not sure at this time if this is a separate incident and we should be expecting a ransom note, or if we're dealing with the same guy who took the others." Banks leaned toward them, his hands flat on the desk and his voice lowered. "This case was passed to us from the Cascade Police Westside Station; they're desperate for help on it. I've already got Rafe and Chan assigned---they're at the Leboirs' home right now--- but I'm going to put you in charge, Jim. Brown is just finishing up his case; he's in court this morning, then he'll be at your disposal."
Ellison nodded. "As you're aware, sir, I've been monitoring the case. I've actually been following up some leads of my own, and Rafe and I interviewed someone about it on Friday. I haven't had the opportunity to read the full report, though."
Sandburg glanced at his partner. Strange that Jim hadn't mentioned this case to him. Strange that this was the first he had heard of it. He had been busy lately at the University, getting ready for the new term, but still, it was unusual for Jim not to have discussed any of it with him. Blair read the first page of the report in his hands, the facts laid out on cold, dispassionate paper without a trace of the horror and anguish that each case represented, of what the families of the four- and five-year-old children were feeling. "What's with this guy?" he whispered. "Why target little kids?" His stomach churned as he read, and he swallowed hard to keep his breakfast down.
"No sign of sexual or physical abuse on any of the children?" Ellison confirmed, with a brief glance up to Banks before he looked back to the file, shaking his head as he scanned the information. "Has he called about this one? It says his trademark is to notify the police that he's snatched someone, how long he intends to keep them, and how scared they are."
"Scared? Try terrified." His hands trembling, and no longer from the cold, Sandburg closed the file Banks had given him. It sent Blair's heart pounding just to think about what the children must have gone through.
Ellison glanced over at him, the look conveying nothing to the uneducated, but to Blair it acknowledged silently that Jim knew how he felt--and understood. It gave him the strength to open the file again and keep reading. He could never get over what Jim could convey in a single glance, a nod, a touch on the back, or even a simple 'I'm glad you came.' It was that simple commitment, that physical and emotional awareness the Sentinel extended toward him, that made it possible for the anthropologist to look back at the file and try to understand something of the psychopath they were dealing with.
Ellison looked up at the police captain. "If he's called, do we have a voice pattern on him? Something on tape that we can use for evidence?"
"Nothing of value. I have copies of the tapes for you to listen to. This guy is careful not to get caught. With the first three children, he called from a pay phone and said --almost politely--- where he had left the child. With the fourth child, he had a cassette tape delivered to the Westside Police Station, saying there had been an accident and the child had died. A few days later there was another tape left, saying the body was in a warehouse on the edge of town. When we found him, the boy had been dead for three days. The fifth child was taken a month later. Same thing happened; after a week, a tape appeared saying the child had died and two days after that there was another tape saying where the body could be found. The perp sounded more irritated than anything, although it was hard to tell, as he uses a voice altering device to make his recordings. That was three weeks ago, and we hadn't heard a word from him until yesterday afternoon."
Sandburg shivered again as he read the report. "This really sucks, man. The little boy's family was at a matinee movie and were walking home in the snow when the child was snatched. It was beautiful yesterday." He looked across to Ellison, remembering the snowball fight and the fun they'd had. Remembering how peaceful it had been to walk through the park and how incredible the evergreen trees had looked with their snow-laden branches.
And thinking of what else was happening as they enjoyed the day.
Banks took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "The mother had stopped to adjust the scarf on a younger child and the two older children had wandered ahead of her. The seven-year-old girl was knocked aside, and he deliberately went after the four-year-old boy when it would have been easier for him to take the girl."
"So he has a pattern established that he's sticking to so far." Ellison closed the file. "Anything else?"
Banks shrugged. "There was no evidence the first two children who were abducted had been sexually or physically abused. They remembered watching TV and looking at books, but they couldn't describe the man who took them. The third child gave the same story, although there were traces of a mild sedative in his bloodstream. The autopsies on the two murdered children showed the first died of suffocation, the other of heart failure. There was some minute trace of drugs in their systems, but not enough to establish what it was, other than a generally harmless sedative."
"Were there any witnesses to the abductions or when he abandoned the first three children at the playgrounds?"
"None. Marty Leboir's sister who saw him yesterday was only able to tell us that he was big, and we assume from her description that he was Caucasian and probably in his late forties or early fifties. I've got the tapes and some pictures of the victims in my office, Jim," Banks said, glancing meaningfully down to Blair, then meeting Ellison's eyes again. "I figured maybe Sandburg might want to wait out here."
"Thanks, Simon," Blair said before Jim could ask him. "I've got to make a few calls about university stuff."
Ellison stood and Sandburg took over his chair, his hand already reaching for the phone. Jim leaned over and said softly, "You all right, Chief?"
"Yeah. I just need a few minutes. I can't look at those kids, okay?" Blair could feel his heart thumping again and put the receiver back. Jim picked up the file, gave his shoulder a brief squeeze, then headed into Simon's office. It took a few minutes for Blair's hands to stop shaking, then he wiped his palms on his jeans and made his phone calls. He was team-teaching a class every afternoon, and his teaching partner agreed to take the entire week, freeing him to work at the station.
He didn't really want to be involved in the case, but, like someone driving by an accident scene, he knew he wouldn't be able to ignore it now that he had heard about it. This had been going on for months and it was the first he had heard about it. What else happened in this city every day that he never knew about in his safe little world? He had to stop and look. Maybe not at the pictures, but he had to be there for Jim. If not as an observer, then as a support.
Blair looked at the closed file on his desk. Maybe if he read it again, he'd see something. Jim always maintained Blair had a different way of looking at things that was sometimes helpful. But he really didn't want to even touch it. There was something about the case that was making him shiver again as though he were coming down with the flu. He felt sick just thinking about it.
There were few cases in and of themselves that made him want to catch the perps, and this was one of them. He felt dizzy. And angry. His chest hurt to even look at the closed file. He was angry at the man who had done this, but terrified for the child who was missing. Marty Laboir. It wasn't just about helping Jim with his senses. He wanted to help that little boy.
And he didn't want to see the pictures that were in Simon's office. He had to believe there was a chance they could find Marty in time.
He opened the file.
Blair jumped, startled, when he heard Jim slam down the phone in the other room. He could see his partner through the open doorway and winced at the way Jim was rubbing his forehead. Walking as quickly as his stocking feet allowed, Blair slipped into the office and over to Jim's side. "What happened?" he asked quietly, tucking his rain-damp hair behind his ears as he leaned forward to look at his partner's face.
It took Ellison a moment to answer and even then the tense jaw and the icy stare at the telephone kept Sandburg at arm's length. "That was the kidnaper. He called the station and asked for the officer in charge of the Marty Leboir case. When I answered the phone, all he said was that he had the child and then he hung up before we could run the trace."
Sandburg centered himself and let himself slip into his guide mode. "Okay, what else did you hear? Anything in the background?"
There was a quick negative shake of his head, then Ellison shifted slightly to sit on the edge of the conference table. "Give me a minute." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, letting the distractions melt away so he could concentrate on what he had heard.
"You picked up the phone," Sandburg coached softly, letting his voice be a path for the sentinel to follow.
"I said 'Ellison.' He asked if I was the officer in charge of the Marty Leboir case, and I said yes. He said he had the kid, said where he had picked him up and what the child was wearing. Then he said he would return the child when he was finished, as long as we kept this out of the public eye. Then he hung up."
"Listen again. Run it through your mind again. Tune out the guy's voice and listen to whatever else is there." Sandburg watched as Ellison buried his face in his hands and focused on the memory. He placed the palm of his hand on Jim's shoulder, trying to let his presence offer whatever stability the sentinel could take from it.
The captain came back into his office, saw what was going on, and closed the door to the bullpen. "Anything?" Banks asked, moving around to sit at his desk.
Sandburg shook his head, but kept his attention on his partner. It was difficult to stand and watch Jim wrestling with the process of retrieving information. One day it would all be smoother, but for now they were both still learning.
Ellison jerked upright. "The kid was there. He was crying." The detective stood and pushed away from Sandburg, moving to the window and staring out at the gray sky. He slowly raised one fist, shaking it silently in frustration. "I am going to get this guy."
"At least the child is still alive," Banks said, softly. "Anything else?"
"Nothing. It was quiet there. No other sounds." Ellison turned around, restless, and retrieved his file. Without a word, he went back to his desk, leaving Blair to trail after him.
"Can I get you anything?" There were days like this when Blair felt totally useless. He watched Jim sit silently, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Jim?" he whispered, sliding his chair closer. "Hey, man--"
For a moment, Ellison ignored him and Sandburg felt shut out. The worst thing Jim could do to him was act as though he didn't exist, to look right through him as though he wasn't there. It crippled him, denied him of his rights and negated his position, his place, at the sentinel's side.
Then the detective turned his head and found a smile, ruffling Blair's damp hair affectionately, and the world righted itself. Just that easily. "I'll be fine. Thanks, Chief. Listen, I'm going to run down to Forensics and find out what they have to tell me. Can you look through the rest of this paperwork and see what else has come in over the weekend?"
"Sure. Unless you want me to get the report from Forensics . . ."
"Not even remotely," Jim said, his hands raised up quickly to stop the thought from going any further. "Once you start flirting with Cassie, it'll take hours for me to get the file. Besides, with my luck you'd slip in your socks on the way there and knock yourself out."
"Ha, ha. Funny. And I am not flirting with Cassie. There's no reason why I can't be nice to her."
"Trust me. You're flirting. Everyone knows it. Cassie knows it. Simon knows it. Stay here and stay out of trouble. Okay?" Ellison pointed his finger in warning as he moved around the desk toward the exit.
"I thought it was impossible for me to stay out of trouble. Don't you say that I'm a magnet for it? It comes to me."
"Well, if you see trouble coming, run into Simon's office and shut the door, okay?" Ellison called over his shoulder as he headed out the far exit and down the hall to Forensics.
"Where did Sandburg go?" he asked Rhonda.
"Down to Starbucks to get a latte," Simon's secretary answered with a smile. "He said it was worth braving the cold to get a decent cup of coffee. I gave him a couple of dollars to bring one back for me."
Ellison sat at his desk, nodding at the organized stack his in-box had become. Post-it notes identified the different division of topics, with another two notes stuck on his computer screen. He peeled one off and read Blair's announcement that he was going to get a cup of coffee and would be right back. The other was a note reminding him to check his email again. Amazing how the kid always managed to keep him organized, yet couldn't keep his own papers in his office at the university in order. The last time Jim had seen that office even remotely organized was when Maya had been Blair's temporary assistant. Of course, she had her own reasons for putting extra effort into helping the grad student, but--
It took him a moment to realize that he wasn't sure why he had shivered. He wasn't cold. He wasn't nervous. There was no draft. But he had shivered.
He did it again.
Ellison stood up at his desk, head tilted to one side, listening for something. His entire body felt like there were thousands of pin-pricks on it, electricity charging his system. He felt lightheaded as his sight faded in and out. Then, as suddenly as it had began, it all stabilized. Except for the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
"Where's Sandburg?" he asked again, half to himself. He picked up the note, then glanced to the clock. "Rhonda," he called across to her, "what time did Sandburg leave? How long has he been gone?"
She looked up from her paperwork and shrugged. "I don't know. I wasn't really paying much attention. About thirty minutes, I guess. Shortly after you left."
"He should be back by now." Ellison was aware of Banks coming to stand at the door of his office and watching him. "Sandburg's not here," Jim said. "Something's wrong."
"Maybe he was just sidetracked--" Rhonda started to answer, but Ellison waved her silent and she went back to her files.
"Come in here." Banks stood back as the detective moved past him to the windows. "What are you saying, Jim?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
Ellison tried to see down to the street, to focus his attention on the sidewalk. The coffee shop was on the far side of the building. He spun around and stared at Banks. "Simon, I-- I don't know what to say. I feel like something is wrong, but I don't know what." He was pacing, his fists clenched. He didn't know what to do first. Listen? Try to see? Smell? Someone needed to talk to him, to tell him what to go after. Damn it, Sandburg needed to be here.
He'd go looking for the kid, that's what he'd do. He'd go get him and bring him back. He'd gone to Starbucks. That wasn't far. He'll be back in a minute. No, I'll go get him.
Strong hands intercepted him as he headed to the doorway and steered him toward a chair. Ellison dropped into it, hardly hearing what the captain was saying to him, hardly aware of the telephone ringing and Banks answering it. But when he heard his partner's name, everything snapped back in focus. "What happened?" He jumped to his feet, leaning on Banks' desk, waving aside the captain's gesture to sit down again. He couldn't focus to listen in on what was said on the other end of the line.
Banks hung up the phone and reluctantly passed on the conversation. "Now don't leap to conclusions here, Ellison. Two of the secretaries from R&I just reported an abduction along the north side of the building. The description sounds like it might be Sandburg. They knew that the man who was forced into the car had long, dark curly hair and they've seen him around the building here. He was carrying a cardboard tray with a couple coffees from Starbucks. He was just about to go into the side entrance, when he stopped to talk to a man standing by an idling car, then he leaned over to look into the vehicle and that's when they saw the man put a cloth over the young man's face, then ease him into the back of the car."
"The north entrance? We normally don't use that entrance, but Sandburg uses it when it's raining. The coffee shop is just across the street."
"They said the man pulled out into traffic and was gone before they could do anything. They only saw the back of his head."
"No one else saw anything?"
"What about the car?"
"Dark sedan. They had no idea of the make or model. Neither got the licence plate."
"What? What were they staring at then?"
"The women aren't cops, Jim. Don't fault them. They're both upset and are trying to remember everything they can."
"He's got Sandburg," Ellison said, sitting back in the chair, then leaning forward, his face in his hands. "That bastard has Sandburg."
"We don't know that was the guy we're after. It could have been someone else. And we don't know that was Sandburg either."
"No. It was him. Keep the phone lines open, sir. He'll be calling."
It came forty-five minutes later.
The caller read off Sandburg's Cascade PD identification number and said he would return his subjects when he was finished with them. Once more, he cautioned them not to put anything in the news, and then he hung up. The call was under fifteen seconds. Ellison heard his partner in the background yelling at the man furiously, and he heard the message his friend delivered to him in whispers between the shouted words. He didn't know where he was, but he was in a house. The child was there, too.
Sandburg was still alive. Still thinking. But Ellison had also heard the fear in his voice.
"His subjects? What does he mean by that?" Banks asked softly.
Ellison looked over to the photographs on the conference table of the last two children the man had taken; small, white-skinned corpses, looking like they were just asleep. As though any minute they would open their eyes and smile. His mind stubbornly provided the image of two more photographs which were now in circulation in the police department. One four-year-old little boy he had never met, posing with his Christmas gifts just two weeks before. And one sentinel's guide, sitting beside Jim on a log by the river the previous summer. Ellison had taken the photograph from where it sat on his desk and handed it to the officer who asked for a current photo, watching the man carry away more than just a framed piece of paper. He felt like a piece of his soul was gone.
Ellison sat down heavily on the chair in front of Banks' desk, delayed reaction hitting him.
He looked up finally, meeting Simon's eyes.
"So...Where do we start?"
Four days passed without a word.
Now, at four o'clock on a Friday afternoon, five blocks from the wind-tossed bay waters, Ellison stood on the sidewalk of a cul-de-sac and looked at the remains of a two-storey, wood-framed house that was the hub of attention of six undercover police officers and a determined crowd of spectators. Robbed of his sight in the pouring rain and in the tangle of boards that disappeared into darkness, he let his hearing skip around, unfocused, searching for some sign that life existed beneath the wreckage. Rain ran down his neck beneath the collar of his jacket, unnoticed. The world stood still around him while he worked his way through the tangle of sounds.
Where the hell are you, Sandburg? The thought had run through his mind for days, repeating itself endlessly. Damn it. You better be here, because I'm tired, kid. I need to sleep, but I can't. Not yet. Not until I find you. Then we'll both get some rest. We're partners. We'll do this together, whatever happens now.
The police department had been tipped off by a neighbor that an older man had escorted first a young man and then a child into the deserted house a few hours previously, but only the older man had left the boarded-up dwelling a short time later. The wreckers had arrived, as previously scheduled, and had started to demolish the place. The neighbor, an elderly man who watched the world from his front window, had tried to interfere, and only his call to the police--and a clear, vivid description of Sandburg which was immediately recognized by the young woman taking the phone call--had stopped the destruction.
Darkness was falling as Ellison approached the building. The rain had eased as the week progressed, but it was colder now and windy as Ellison moved up the stairs of the semi-demolished house. He stood alone, a silent statue, and turned his head, listening, sifting through the unwanted sounds hoping against hope he would find the one he wanted. The harsh wind whipped at his exposed face and hands, cutting through his jacket, but not registering on the heightened senses of a man who had hardly felt anything for four long days.
Senses flared suddenly, not responding. It took him long seconds to find it again.
He stopped breathing, his lungs frozen as his concentration zeroed in on that one sound.
Thump--thump Thump--thump Thump--thump
Eyes closed for a brief second, raindrops pooling on his lashes, then he exploded into action. "Sandburg!" The single name, grated from his throat, shouted over the sound of sirens and screams, came out harsher than Ellison had intended. He sprinted up the rest of the cement stairs and shifted around the wreckage of the house, his ears straining for sounds beyond the identified racing heartbeat of his partner. Sounds that would indicate the rest of the house was ready to collapse, to fall under the damage the back hoe and bulldozer had already inflicted on it an hour before.
In moving, he had lost it. He came to a halt, staring at shattered bricks that had once been a fireplace. Somewhere he had heard that heartbeat...but surely there would be another? Where was the child?
Thump--thump Thump--thump Thump--thump
"Sandburg," he whispered, nodding to himself, unaware of the worried stares of his colleagues. Ellison filtered away the sounds of workmen and machinery, of children and dogs two blocks away, of angry neighborhood residents herded down the street by the police, and even--for a brief moment--the sound of his own Guide's heartbeat. But there was nothing.
Frantically, he found Blair's heartbeat again, frowning at the too-fast pace. Calm down, Chief. You'll hurt yourself. Ellison looked down, forcing his sight between the cracked floorboards, the piles of rubble. "Sandburg's in the basement," he said, his voice remarkably stable, considering his own breathing was erratic at best.
Thump--thump Thump--thump Thump--thump
Brown, then Rafe, joined him, stepping ever so carefully over the loose boarding. Two more black and whites pulled up to the house, lights flashing as the car doors fell open and more officers responded to the 911.
"How do you know?" Rafe asked him, rain plastering his hair to his forehead. "Ellison? Can you hear him? Did you hear him?" Rafe asked again when the senior detective didn't answer him.
Ellison waved him silent, his head tilted, listening, and as he moved slowly, Rafe shadowed him. A signal passed from Brown to Rafe and the younger officer nodded in understanding, moving to kneel next to Ellison, who was examining the half-crushed door leading to the basement. Officers scattered between the houses, weapons drawn, but Ellison knew they would find no one. Whoever had done this was long gone, if he went to pattern.
Thump--thump Thump--thump Thump--thump
"Blair? Talk to me, buddy," Ellison yelled into a sliver of darkness that was open to the lower level of the house. "Come on, Blair. I need you to tell me where you are." He couldn't concentrate to pinpoint the heartbeat. It was loud in his ears, a staccato sound that hadn't slowed. He pulled his hearing away from the heart sounds, far enough back to hear the hyperventilation, the racking, dust-filled cough, and the silent sobs. He let his sense of smell connect with the location. Blood. Not a lot of it, but there were injuries. How couldn't there be, when the top floor of the house was now compressed into the bottom floor?
Boards creaked as he moved, loud enough to Rafe beside him, but thunderous in the Sentinel's ears. He paused for a moment, getting himself under control, letting his senses filter back the distractions.
At first, Ellison thought it was Rafe, as the young detective touched his elbow at the same time the querulous voice reached him. But the surge of adrenaline, the scream through his muscles as his whole body sought to respond, to leap into action and protect the Guide, alerted him to who called him.
He crouched down, trying to bring himself physically closer to his partner, to somehow calm the wave of fear that had accompanied the whispered name. "Blair? Just relax, Chief. We're getting you out."
This time, both Rafe and Brown heard the anguished cry, faintly echoing through the flooring. It vibrated through Ellison's body to his soul.
"We're coming!" he yelled back, wanting to say more, but not knowing the words. "Don't move. Blair-- where are you? Answer me! Tell me something about your surroundings!" he demanded.
"C-c-closet. In a closet."
Ellison turned automatically to look at Simon Banks as the police captain worked his way over to them. "Sandburg is here. He's alive, but injured. He's in a closet in the basement."
"And the kidnapper?"
"Gone." Ellison wasted no more breath on an explanation, and Banks knew not to press the matter.
"I don't know. Not here."
Ten minutes later, they were still clearing out the stairway, the uniformed officers watching silently on the perimeter as the detectives had wordlessly rolled up their sleeves and, with the firemen who had responded to the 911, began the daunting task of moving aside the nail-spiked boards. Hammers and axes appeared, crowbars and more hands as the neighbors responded to the emergency. An ambulance pulled up beside the fire engine, waiting, along with the growing crowd, for a miracle to happen and someone to emerge from the wreckage alive.
The workers hired to demolish the house were now using their tools to help, the nightmare of what they had done, however innocently, something that would haunt them for years to come. They had checked the house, as sometimes animals or vagrants would break into vacant dwellings, but they had found no one and there had been no response to their calls. No, they hadn't checked the basement. The door had been sealed earlier and if someone was down there the lock would have been unlatched so they could get back out. The burly worker Ellison had spoken to had gone white when he realized what their oversight had meant. They had never considered that someone might have been deliberately locked in the basement.
As soon as they had cleared enough space for him to maneuver in, Ellison carefully eased himself down into the darkness, enhanced sight aiding his fall so his feet landed flat on the cracked basement floor. Now was not the time to sprain an ankle. He could see through the rubble to the closet where Blair was trapped, but they would need more help, maybe even a crane to lift the boards. "Chief?"
He slid under some planks, his body bent almost double as he worked his way around the splintered wood, backtracking several times as he sought a path closer. "Chief?" he repeated, louder.
"Get me out of here," came the murmured plea. The heartbeat was slower now; he could hear the shivers, the slight rocking, as his partner trembled in his dark prison.
"We're trying, Blair. It'll be a little while yet; you're in here pretty good." He listened, wincing at the despair in the anthropologist's voice. "We found you, though."
"Let me out. I can't stay here, Jim."
"You'll be fine," he called back, hating the callousness of his words.
"I'm all alone."
"I'm here, Buddy."
"No. You're out there, Jim. I'm here alone. Just me and . . ." The heartbeat rose again, hammering on ribs.
"Who else is there, Sandburg?" Ellison listened to the gasps, as his partner tried to get his mouth to say the words the detective didn't want to hear.
"Marty." A sharp cough. "He's dead." Another cough. "I'm sorry, Jim. Get me out of here. I can't . . ."
"You can, Blair. I'm sorry about Marty, too. I'll get you out, but it's going to take some time. How are you feeling?"
A pause lengthened beyond Ellison's comfort zone, then Sandburg's voice came. "I'm fine, Jim. I'll be fine."
"I know you're hurting, Chief. Can you tell me what's wrong?" He tried to put together the smell of blood and sweat with the small sounds he could hear from his partner, but the answers he came up with could mean so many different things.
"I'll be fine until you get me out." Blair must have tried to shift position, to stoically settle in for a wait, for the faint shuffling sound was followed by a whimper of pain.
Yeah, right. "Sandburg? It looks a lot like that game Pickup Sticks out here. If we take one board away, the whole thing could come down. We've got to get it stable before we can get at you."
"We will." Ellison climbed back out of the hole, waiting only until his head cleared the surface before giving his report to Banks and the fire chief. "He's about ten feet in, east of the furnace room."
"How is he?" Banks asked, softly.
"I can't tell. He's in some pain. We can call off the search for Marty. Sandburg says he's dead." Ellison watched the news reach the female police officer standing on the front lawn of the ruined house, a stuffed bear in her arms ready to hand to a traumatized child. Donna Holgan had been with the force for over twenty-five years, a valuable asset to the department who specialized in trauma cases, especially those involving rape or physical abuse. With a shudder, Holgan hugged the bear briefly, then turned to return it to the trunk of her car, to wait again until it was needed. It was standard equipment now, in the back of each police car. Along with blankets and other supplies, a child's stuffed toy was waiting to help. Only this time, there was no one to give it to.
"Holgan!" he called out, his subconscious knowing what he was going to do before it reached conscious thought.
She turned her head as his voice, pausing before she shut the truck of the car.
"Bring it here."
"Hey, he may punch me later, but right now I've got a partner who's trapped, injured and feeling very much alone."
Holgan smiled grimly and tossed him the brown bear. "Just don't tell Sandburg where you got him, okay?"
Ellison smiled, the expression foreign on his face, and he looked down at the scruffy bear. "I promise." Without an explanation to Banks or anyone else, he disappeared back down the hole and worked his way over to the blocked door. His hands itched to plow into the boards and planks responsible for this prison, to pull and shove and clear the doorway somehow. Memories of the archaeological site two weeks before taunted him with nightmare visions of the entire structure caving in on him, and he knew intimately why his partner was terrified. It was too close, their bruises hardly healed from that frantic race through a crumbling underground maze.
He studied the area, finally spying a break in the rubble, probably the place where his partner was able to get some breathable air. "Sandburg?"
"What?" The voice was whisper soft.
"I've got a friend for you." He pulled himself up high enough to shove the bear into the small hole, glad the fabric was able to stand up to such rough treatment as it was compressed and twisted and worked into the tiny area. Finally it disappeared. "Do you have him?" He could hear Blair shift slightly to retrieve the bear, the amplified sound of fingers slowly tracing the shaggy coat of the bear.
"What is it?"
Ellison could hear the exhaustion in his friend's voice. "Just hold him until we get you out. He'll remind you that I'm coming back." As he climbed upward, he heard the sound of Blair enfolding the bear, then the air being squeezed out of it as his partner clung to the stuffed animal.
He hurried back to Ellison, hoping his presence would somehow reassure the man that Sandburg was being helped by experts. It had taken both his own order and that of the officer in charge of the rescue to pry Ellison away from where they were working, but there simply wasn't room in the area for anyone other than the paramedics and those watching the structure. At first Banks had thought that the detective wouldn't listen to him, then they had both seen Ellison's hands shaking---from fatigue, from too much coffee, from who knew what else---and Ellison had stepped away.
Banks knew Ellison was listening though, by the clenched-fist tightness in the detective's body as he stood, eyes closed. And Simon knew what he was listening to. Listening to his partner's heartbeat. To the conversations below. To each creak of wood, each shift of the structure as they lifted Sandburg and placed him on the spine board. Simon saw the jaw tighten even more, and knew that Blair had made a sound, probably nothing more than a gasp or a single word, but it reverberated through the body of the man beside him.
It had been four days of hell. Ellison had been as intense as he had ever seen him, focused, determined. Not a smile nor a stray thought beyond the case. As far as Banks could tell, Ellison had only left his desk long enough to go to the men's room. He had taken calls, worked round the clock to organize the unit, eaten what they had placed in front of him, as long as it could be done with one hand and didn't hold him back. When his body absolutely demanded sleep, he had stumbled into Simon's office and slept on the couch there. Either Rafe or Brown had stayed with him, putting in long twelve-hour days, coordinating their time to work with Ellison and allow Simon to concentrate on his duties uninterrupted.
Even Cassie had only spoken to Jim in response to his questions, offering no more information than he needed. Cups of coffee had appeared on his desk. If he asked her for anything, she did it quickly. Banks had seen her talking with Rafe in the Break Room, had watched as both wiped away tired tears as they stared through the blinds. He knew what had captured their attention. Ellison at his desk rubbing the pain from his forehead, silently, methodically, going over every single piece of evidence again and again. And the empty chair beside him.
They did everything they could. And then they did it again. Phone calls, interviews with the families of the previously abducted children. More phone calls. They had involved not only the West Cascade Police Department, but also the suburbs and smaller cities surrounding Cascade.
And until an eighty-five-year-old man had handed them the information, they had come up with nothing.
Simon paced, never straying more than a few yards from Jim's side. It took the rescue team longer to retrieve Sandburg, each minute an hour to his top detective. Ellison's jaw continued to clench and unclench, his fingers bent into tight-packed fists. At last, they brought the spine board upward, and at the first sight of his partner, a low growl scraped across Ellison's throat as he surged forward to take one edge of the board.
"It's just a precaution," one of the rescue workers said reassuringly, as they approached Banks. "We don't know how seriously he might be injured. From what we could see, he has a bump on his head, a bad cut on his left forearm, another on his back. Numerous cuts, abrasions, and bruises."
Sandburg was strapped to the spine board, still curled on his side, holding the bear. Foam restraints kept his head in place; a padded brace was visible around his neck and straps crisscrossed the blankets holding him in one position on the board. As they lowered the spine board to the stretcher, Banks could see the kid's eyes were closed, dark lashes on pearl gray skin, his face stained with blood. But he was breathing, unassisted.
"Jim?" Banks glanced over to Ellison's stony face and groaned. "Jim!" he called sharply, not bothering to raise his voice. "Come on, man. Let's go to the hospital." He tugged Ellison away from the stretcher, muttering to himself about zoning and shock, hoping the words would reach the sentinel and break him out of the dazed, awkward trance. From what he knew of these zone-outs, they would happen if the sentinel concentrated too much on just one of his senses and just now, Ellison's entire concentration had been focused on Sandburg: hearing, touch, sight, and smell.
Three steps and Ellison was back, braking to a halt. "Wait, Simon." He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, then determinedly walked over to the family of the murdered child. Holgan opened the front door of her cruiser, and Ellison sat in the driver's seat, his conversation with the child's parents brief. Holgan smiled weakly across to Banks, then went over to her own partner, a balding officer in his fifties, who was wiping the tears from his eyes as he filled out the reports.
The ambulance was ready to leave by the time Ellison backed out of the cruiser. Long strides took the detective to the door of the emergency vehicle and he conferred with the man and woman who were hooking Sandburg up to an IV. His eyes darted for a moment to his partner inside before the siren came on and Ellison firmly closed the rear doors. He was heading for his truck when Simon caught up to him.
"Hold it, Jim."
Ellison opened his door, one foot already inside. "I want to be there when they arrive. What is it?"
"Are you okay to drive? I could get someone to go with you."
"I'm fine. Blair will be fine. You heard the attendant." Ellison slid onto the front seat, the door still ajar.
"Take it slow."
"I'll meet you at the hospital."
"I'll be in Emergency," Ellison said, quite unnecessarily, and closed the car door.
"Easy there," the sentinel rumbled, his hands on Sandburg's upper arms, steadying him. "Just stay awake a little bit longer."
Blair's forearm was stitched and wrapped, the swelling on the bump on his head had gone down, and his forehead had been bandaged. The rest of the scrapes and abrasions had been cleaned and the strong odor of antiseptic and antibacterial cream had long since been tuned down by Ellison. Blair's bare legs hung over the side of the table, the thin gown falling open around his shoulders. The ER doctor, on the other side of the exam table, checked a gash along Blair's back, caused by a splinter of wood. Apparently satisfied that it didn't need additional stitches, the doctor bandaged the long cut.
"Wanna go home," Blair whispered. "I'm tired."
"Soon," Ellison promised. "Almost done here."
"He's going to be groggy for a few hours," the doctor said. "We should probably keep him overnight for observation, but we can't force him to stay. He insists that he's going home and you'll keep an eye on him."
"I'm a trained medic. As long as there is no immediate danger, he's probably better off at home where he can relax."
"As far as we can tell, at this point, he appears to be okay. Nothing broken. No internal injuries that we can see. The x-rays of his skull are clear. The initial tests on his blood show trace elements of sedatives, but we're having more specialized tests done now. Routinely, we test for alcohol or drugs in the blood, but many of the more refined drugs are difficult to detect in blood if the test was done more than four hours after ingestion. We've taken a urine sample and that has been sent to our lab here, as well as to another lab out of state for a series of three assays to detect the metabolites of various other chemicals." The doctor smiled briefly at Blair's blank stare. "What all that means, Mr Sandburg, is at this time you appear to be out of any danger. If, as we suspect, you were given drugs, they are not showing up in our preliminary examinations, which means they probably aren't going to cause you any problems. As for what you were given, we'll have to wait until the other tests come back."
The doctor moved to replace Ellison, tilting Sandburg's head up to check his eyes once more. "All in all, you're a very lucky young man to have survived a house coming down on you."
"Lucky," Blair echoed, his head lolling forward.
"Can we go? It's been a long week," Ellison said, shortly, not interested in trivial reassurances.
There was still a lecture about concussions and potential side effects from the doctor, and then Sandburg was helped on with his cords and footwear, wrapped in Jim's jacket and taken from the ER into the dark, cold night where Simon Banks had the truck waiting.
A nurse came running out after them, with Blair's pocket watch and the stuffed bear. Ellison put the watch in his jean pocket, handed Sandburg the bear, and strapped his partner into the front seat. He checked the belt's tension, then gently closed the door, his face even with Simon's as he turned.
Banks handed him the keys. "They gave me a written report. It said that barring any unforeseen complications, he'll be fine. Did they tell you about the needle marks on his arm?"
"I saw them."
"They'll fax me the secondary results of his blood tests as soon as they come in. I told them I'd call you with the information." Banks took a good look through the window at the young police observer. "He's exhausted."
Ellison nodded. "Concussion will do that. I'll get a statement from Sandburg in the morning and then I'll come in for a while. Let me know if anything else happens. If this guy calls, put him through to me at the loft."
"Will you be okay with the kid? You're just as exhausted as he is."
"Yeah. Nothing new here, Simon. This is getting to be old hat. We'll get some sleep and I'll call you in the morning."
The drive home from the hospital went smoothly, a short distance, over a bridge and up the hill, a route Ellison had driven many times. It was already past eleven o'clock when he parked in the back so they could take the elevator to the loft. Blair had his seatbelt off and managed the truck door on his own, carefully locking it after him. Jim opened the back entrance, holding the glass door while Blair ducked around him, walking unassisted, but unsteadily, the scruffy stuffed bear under his arm.
The elevator was waiting on the ground level. Jim punched the button as the door slid shut, glancing over to his partner who was leaning against the elevator wall. "We're almost there."
"We'll have to talk about it later, though. Okay? I need to find out what happened."
Blair nodded, looking down at the bear, touching its face. "I can't remember it."
"Just tell me what you can remember."
"He smothered Marty with a pillow. I think. I don't know. I didn't see him do it. But I think that's what he did." Blair squeezed his eyes shut.
Jim draped an arm over his shoulder, relieved that Blair didn't shy away from the contact. "We'll figure it out, Chief."
"I'm just so tired, Jim."
"Me, too. We'll sleep, and then tackle this all in the morning." Ellison held the elevator open and Blair walked quietly beside him, pausing outside the loft while he unlocked the door. With a sigh of relief that the day was almost over and they were returning together, Ellison waved Sandburg ahead of him into their home.
A note lay on the floor, obviously slipped under the door. Blair blinked owlishly at it, then stepped over the paper and sat at the table.
Jim retrieved it, smiling and shaking his head. "It's dated today and is from your mother. She's in town and wants to stop by and say hi before she heads out tomorrow. She says she'll come back here at midnight and hopes we'll be in by then."
Blair's eyes brightened at little bit. "Mom? Coming here?"
"Are you up to seeing her? I could tell her to come back tomorrow. You should probably go straight to bed, Chief."
"Jim, this is my mother we're talking about. If I don't see her tonight, who knows when I'll see her next?" Blair looked around the loft, his eyes taking in the familiar sights. "Did she...uh...did she call while I was gone?"
"No. And the note doesn't sound like she'd heard what had happened. It was kept from the papers. The public heard about Marty, but not about you."
Blair nodded. "Don't tell her, okay? I'm all right. Nothing lasting. She doesn't need to know this."
"Naomi will see your injuries."
"Okay, then, tell her that we were investigating the kidnaping and I slipped and fell in the house you found me in. I bumped my forehead. Something like that."
"You want me to lie to your mother?"
"No, not lie to her. Not exactly."
"Just shade the truth."
Ellison glanced at his watch, then scrutinized his partner. "Why don't you get changed before she gets here? I don't think you'll want her to see you looking like that. I known I don't want her to see you looking like this--she'll take my head off. And unless you have some special attachment to those cords, I think we better toss them." The faded corduroy pants were bloody, ripped, and filthy.
"Might as well. I'd never get them clean anyway." Blair pushed himself up and went into his room, dropping the bear on the bed as he pulled sweat pants and a sweatshirt out of his dresser, using only his right hand. He washed himself up in the bathroom and tied his hair back awkwardly, sleepily dressing with movements that were both automatic and without thought. "This look okay?" he asked, presenting himself to his partner a few minutes later. "I wore my longest sleeved sweatshirt that should cover the bandage on my arm. Maybe she won't notice," he grinned hopefully, the smile dissolving into a huge yawn.
"She'll see the one on your forehead. Turn around." Ellison fixed the coated elastic band to include a few hairs that Blair had missed. His roommate's hair needed washing, a bit dusty from the closet in the basement and slightly matted in the spot where they had cleaned the blood from the bump on his head, but Ellison's hands--and nose-- told him that the hair had been washed as recently as that morning. He had been fed and given liquids, Blair had assured the doctors. He had been allowed to shower once a day. Beyond that, Sandburg had said very little about his captivity.
Jim wasn't about to pry for information right now, though. "There's still half an hour before she said she'd be here. How about lying down and getting some sleep?" He was surprised when Blair nodded wearily and returned to his room without argument or comment. However much they needed to talk about what had happened, that could wait until after Naomi's visit. No use bringing all the horrors of the day to mind just before she came. Or just before they turned in for the night.
Interesting timing, Naomi. Months would sometimes go by without a word from her, then suddenly there would be a call or she'd be standing on their doorstep waiting to be let in. Blair didn't seem to think this unusual but it had steadily grown to irritate Jim.
She kissed his cheek lightly, then breezed into the warmth of the loft. "Is he home?"
"Yes, he's just sleeping. I'll get him up; he wanted to see you. I'll make some tea. We were actually expecting you an hour and a half ago."
"Time got away from me, as usual. Oh, let me wake him," she said, slipping past him to Blair's doorway. She paused, letting the light from the kitchen fall onto the bed. "What on earth--?" she murmured softly, seeing the bandage on his forehead.
Jim came to the doorway and watched as she gently placed her hand on his partner's shoulder, partly turning him. She took the bear from Blair's arms and placed it aside and he woke with a start.
"What? Jim? Is he here? NO! Did he find me?" Blair pushed back the hands reaching for him, trying to get his eyes to focus in the dim light. "Who--?"
"It's me, sweetie," Naomi whispered, cupping his face in her hands.
"Who?" Blair gasped, then shivered as recognition came. "Mommy?" he sighed happily, groping for the bear with one hand.
"Are you awake, sunshine?" she asked, smiling at the heavy-lidded eyes.
Jim moved just inside the room, taking a closer look at Blair's pupils. "He's got a bit of a concussion, Naomi. We were at the hospital earlier, getting him checked out. They said he's fine, but he needs his rest. I've been keeping an eye on him."
Naomi turned her head sharply and glared at Ellison. "A concussion? What more does Blair have in store for him staying with you?" Her attention went back to her son. "Did you fall, sweetie?" she asked, in that feathery voice.
"No," Blair said, moving his face from her hands to show her the bear. "Remember Silver? I found him again."
Naomi glanced at the toy. "Silver was a stuffed koala bear from the koala reserve in Australia, and that is just a common teddy bear, honey. They're nothing alike. Does your head hurt?"
Blair's eyes drifted shut. "It's Silver," he stated, slowly melting back to the mattress.
"Blair, sweetie, get up. Jim's making us some tea. Why don't you get up and join us?"
He burrowed deeper into the pillow. "I don't want to go. I want to stay here. Can't I stay here? I like it here."
Of course you can stay. Always. Jim put his hand gently on Naomi's shoulder. "Let's let him sleep a bit. I'll explain to you what happened today."
She started to argue, then realized Blair was already asleep again. She pulled the comforter over his shoulders and reluctantly left the room. While Jim adjusted the gas fireplace, she poured the tea and then joined him in the living room. Leaving out a lot of information, he filled her in on what had transpired that day, stressing that Blair had a mild concussion and the doctors had said he was bound to be a little disoriented.
"Meanwhile, since you're here, how about telling me about this 'Silver'," he asked, trying to change the subject. "Sounds like potential teasing material to me."
Naomi recognized the tactic, but was every inch the storyteller her son was and not one to pass up an opportunity to relate a story about her son. "When Blair was little, we were in Australia for a year. I had some friends down there who...well, that doesn't matter," she said suddenly, realizing who she was speaking to. "The group was demonstrating against the tourist industry using actual koala pelts for the toys, and they had...well, 'confiscated' some toy animals from a local reserve gift store. Anyway, during one of the committee's planning sessions, my little Blair managed to wander away and get himself lost in the group's main headquarters, a farmhouse near one of the reserves.
"When things started winding down from the meeting and we were all sitting around having ...having some refreshments, someone noticed Blair was missing. We organized a search for him--probably thirty or more of us. We combed the fields and the barns and the house. Crazy Tommy found Blair in the closet of an upstairs room, curled into a little ball, asleep. My little peanut. When I woke him, I found he had one of the toy koala bears tucked under his shirt. He had a full-blown tantrum when I went to throw it back in the closet, so I agreed he could keep it for a while, just to keep him quiet, but made him promise that he had to keep it hidden from the others. Some of the group leaders were on the militant side, and I knew they would have been extremely angry to see him with it--defeating their whole purpose, of course. When we moved on, I wanted him to leave it behind, but Blair adored it and refused to leave without it. And I could never say no to him."
"Why did he call it 'Silver'?"
"A poem I used to sing to him. 'Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver, the others, gold.'" She laughed, remembering. "'My bear is Silver. Where's the gold, Mama?' he used to say. It became a catch-phrase with us. He made friends easily when he was little, but he always called them his 'silver' friends, like his bear. 'One day,' he would say, so solemnly, he would have a 'gold' friend."
With a shrug, Naomi dismissed the memory, embarking on a travelogue of her last trip to Australia the summer before. Twenty minutes later, realizing Blair was sleeping soundly and Jim wasn't going to let her wake him up, she made arrangements to come back the next morning and left the loft.
Overtired, Ellison poured himself the last cup of tea and sat by the fire, staring at nothing,
listening to his friend's even, restive
breathing in the room behind him. It was almost three in the morning before he headed up the
stairs to his own room, something deep
inside of him aching for the little boy they had found dead that day, and for another little boy
who had been lost in his mother's world.
Murder wasn't the thing they normally discussed at breakfast, but Sandburg was awake and seemed to want to talk about what little he remembered right away. "If I tell you, Jim, then it's in the 'been there, done it' part of my brain. Sort of fait accompli. I can't change it, but it's out in the open, ready to be examined to death, and not crammed inside my head. Besides," Blair added after a long drink of his orange juice, "he's still out there, right? Everything I say, even if it's not much, can and will be held against him in a court of law. I want to get this bastard, Jim."
"Stand in line."
"No way. Not this time. The line begins behind me."
"We do this by the book, and we'll get him. No heroics. No taking matters into your own hands."
"No crossing the line, for you either, right?" Sandburg met his eyes, reading his thoughts. "I can't study you if you're in jail, man. That's not my scene."
"I would hate to compromise your delicate nature, Chief." The smile came more naturally now, and he held his guide's gaze for a moment longer, letting all the things he wanted to say--but couldn't find the words for--shine through his eyes. "I'm glad you're back."
"Me, too," Blair whispered, wiping at his eyes. "Now are you going to take notes or what?"
"Actually, Donna Holgan is going to be here in a few minutes to take your statement. Remember her?"
"I think so. Graying auburn hair? Incredible brown eyes? Yeah. She came to see me after the Golden drug thing in the police garage. She took my statement then."
"Are you okay about talking to her?"
"Depends...Will you be here?" Tired blue eyes looked up at Ellison, as though afraid to ask.
"If you want me to. Otherwise, I'll just step out for a while so you'll have your privacy."
"No. Please. I want you here." Blair's hand shot out and grabbed hold of Jim's arm, fingers taloning in the sweater. "Stay. Please."
"I'd be glad to stay. It's okay." He placed his hand over Blair's. "No problem. Relax, Chief." He waited until Blair's heart rate calmed before he went back to eating, trying to appear as relaxed as possible, considering the circumstances. At least they had both slept the night through, undisturbed, he with six hours sleep, and Blair with two hours more. And now, Blair was awake, hungry, and there was a spark of life in him. That was all good. The detective just had to ignore the fact that his partner looked like he had a bad hangover. His skin was pale, his heartbeat was rapid, his eyes were bloodshot, and he had numerous cuts and bruises marring his body.
Detective Holgan arrived a short time later and Ellison put on a fresh pot of coffee. After a few minutes of pleasantries, Holgan got out a small tape recorder, set it on the table, and pressed the record button, reciting the date, case number and who she was interviewing. "So, Blair, what happened after you left the police station on Monday? You went for a latte and..."
Blair took a deep breath, gave Jim a little smile as though reassuring himself, and started talking. "I was on my way back to the station when this guy jumps out of his car and grabs my arm as I was walking by him. He asked if I worked for the police and if I knew who Detective Ellison was. I said I did. He told me that he had found this kid and he thought it might be the missing child and he wanted me to take the little boy into the station. I could see Marty, man, crying, and no cops were around to ask for help. The car was right there and . . ."
"He chloroformed you and pushed you in," Ellison finished for him. That much he had got from eyewitnesses, just not what had lured the anthropologist over to the car on his own.
"Jim, let Blair give the answers, okay?" Holgan waited for Ellison's nod. "Then what happened, Blair? When did you wake up?"
"I guess when he made me get out of the car. In the garage of a house." Blair rubbed at his forehead, his eyes closed. "We went directly into a house without going outside. I couldn't move much to fight him. The chloroform made me dizzy and I was a little freaked that I was going to throw up. Everything was kind of hazy and I was trying to watch out for the kid." Blair looked across the table at Jim. "He tied us up and then he made some phone calls. He talked to you. I heard him say your name."
Ellison nodded. "I could hear you in the background. You sounded angry, but I was glad to hear you were alive." Let Holgan think what she wanted to about that statement. He doubted if any other voices were picked up on the tape of his conversation.
"I didn't give you any information to find me, though. And the house had all the shades drawn, so I couldn't see out." Blair rubbed at the tape marks still visible on his wrists. "He had me confined most of the time, I think."
"And the boy?" Holgan asked, gently.
"He killed the little boy." Blair closed his eyes again.
"In that house?"
"Hmm? No. Later. With a pillow." Blair sounded distant.
At Ellison's gesture, Holgan put the recorder on pause and looked across at him. "Why don't we take a break for a minute. The coffee's ready," he said in answer to her unspoken question. He got up and poured her a cup of coffee, refilled his mug and Blair's, then returned to the table. Sandburg was still sitting motionless, his eyes tightly closed, as though shutting out the sight. If there were some way Jim could have swept the memory away, he would have. But he couldn't, and he couldn't help without knowing what had happened, when it had happened, and if the possibility existed that it would happen again. "Chief, stay with us, okay? Just tell us what you remember." He waited for another nod, then Holgan pressed the release button to start the machine recording again.
"Any idea what the man's name is?"
Blair shook his head. "His real name? No idea."
"Did he ask you to call him by a name you thought might not be his?"
"Yeah." Blair caught his breath, rubbing his arms as though he was cold. "He wanted me to call him 'lover'."
Holgan nodded, trying to keep her face emotionless. "Both you and the boy?"
"No. Just me."
"Did you get a good look at him? Enough to look at some books and I.D. him? Or help us get a composite of him put together?"
"Yeah. No problem. I know what he looks like."
Holgan hit the pause button and made a phone call to have a police artist come by, while Jim snagged the afghan from the back of the couch to drape around Blair's shoulders. "Can you keep going, Chief?"
"I've got nothing else to do. Might as well get this over with, right?" Again the tentative smile flickered across Blair's face, almost lost in the tired features.
"Just let me know when you need a break, or if you want to stop and think about your answer."
Holgan came back to the table and released the pause button. "You didn't arrive at the vacated house until one-thirty in the afternoon over four days later. The child was still alive at that point. What else happened at this guy's house? Did you go anywhere else? What happened in between the phone call he made to us at the precinct, and you arriving at the deserted house?"
"What?" Blair asked, looking at her blankly, as though she'd asked some outlandish question that the young man hadn't heard right.
"What happened at the man's house? What did he do after the phone call?"
"Nothing. He just talked a lot," Blair said, nervously sipping at the hot coffee.
"About?" Holgan prompted.
A shiver racked the young man and he drew the afghan closer around him. "I don't remember. Just talked." Blair rubbed at his forehead. "He had these books . . ."
"Nothing, I guess. I can't remember. He just talked."
"Okay, he talked, and then what?" Holgan asked.
Ellison could feel his impatience start to rise, but Blair's heart rate was going up and he forced himself to stay calm. "Sandburg? Just think back and tell us what you can remember. I want to nail this guy's ass to the wall, too, but we need more information from you. Come on." He placed his hand on his partner's shoulder, giving a reassuring squeeze.
Blair nodded, took a few deep breaths, then smiled wanly, as though taking strength from the contact. "Okay. Like what?" he asked, turning back to Detective Holgan.
"You were alone in a house with the man for four days. What happened? What did you do? Were you tied up the whole time?"
"I think so. Mostly."
"According to the statement from the hospital, last night you told the doctors that the man who abducted you also fed you. Three meals a day?"
"It was sort of hard to tell night and day because we never saw outside. I remember wondering what time of day it was. He gave us cereal and milk. And Kraft dinners. I remember a turkey TV-dinner but it was the $1.25 kind that has funny-looking, watery mashed potatoes and a few grains of corn stuck in the apple cobbler. I didn't eat much of it."
"What about the boy? Did he eat, too?"
"Not at first. Later he did."
"Did he let you sleep?"
Blair nodded, but looked away.
"Blair?" she asked softly.
It was the first real show of reluctance. "He was a pervert."
"What do you mean?"
"A pervert. You know, a freakin' pervert! Do I have to draw it for you?" Blair asked angrily.
"Tell us what happened," Ellison said, one hand connecting with his partner's forearm. "You told me you'd feel better if you brought it all out into the open."
"It's just not that easy to talk about."
"It might be easier for you to tell Detective Holgan if I'm not here. Do you want me to leave?" Ellison asked, making a move to stand up, but Sandburg's hand stopped him.
"No. I want you to know. Just don't blow it out of proportion, okay?"
"Just tell me what happened, Sandburg." Pretend we're alone and you're just talking to me.
"Okay. Give me a second. No, keep it rolling. He made me lie down in his bed and he turned off the lights. The room would be pitch black. My wrists were taped to the bedposts, so I wasn't going anywhere. Then...he did things."
"To you?" Holgan asked.
Blair shook his head. "No. He was in the other room."
"So what would the man do?"
"I couldn't see him but I could hear him. He sat in a chair at the foot of the bed and jerked off. He sort of mumbled to himself sometimes. Laughed. But he jerked off a lot."
"Did he touch either of you sexually?"
"Did he expose himself?"
"Not to me. I don't know about Marty."
"Did he separate you sometimes?"
A faint nod. "He would take Marty into the other room and watch movies with him."
"What kind of movies?"
"I don't know. Kid movies, I guess."
"Did he watch movies with you?"
"The man?" Blair nodded again, studying the top of the table. "Yeah."
"What kind of movies?" Holgan asked again.
"Porn. Hard core. Pretty raunchy stuff. Some gay stuff. He would ask me if I liked the movies...He said that I should be in movies like that."
"Why do you think that nothing went on sexually with the little boy when you weren't in the room?"
"Because I asked him. Marty told me that the man never touched him or made him take his clothes off." Blair took a deep breath and kept talking. "And yes, he took my clothes off, but he never touched me."
"What did he do?"
There was pause. Blair played with a thread on the afghan. "I'm not exactly sure. I think maybe I was drugged or something, because there's lots of things I don't remember."
"Did he sexually abuse you?"
"No. I'd know, right? I'd wake up on the bed naked, but I'd feel okay. Not sore or anything. I checked myself over carefully when it happened."
"How many times?"
Blair shrugged. "Three times. Maybe four."
"Within the four days you were gone? Or all in a short period of time?"
"Not all at once. But he never sexually abused me," Blair repeated.
Holgan studied him for a moment, then turned off the tape recorder. She clasped her hands on the table in front of her and looked thoughtfully at Ellison and then back to Sandburg. "Blair, I want to define what I mean when I ask you if you were sexually abused. Now I'm not asking a leading question here, you understand, I'm simply giving a definition of what sexual abuse is, okay?"
Blair nodded, and Jim could hear the familiar heart rate pick up.
"Sexual abuse is when someone has intercourse--in this case, anal intercourse--with you without your permission." She raised her hand to stop Sandburg's response. "Wait until I'm finished, Blair, okay? I know you've already answered that one. Now listen to the rest of what I have to say. Sexual abuse is when someone touches you without your permission for sexual purposes or requires you to touch them or yourself in a sexual manner. Sexual abuse is when someone is menacing or threatening sexual acts, makes obscene gestures, or says obscene things of a sexual nature. Sexual abuse is when someone makes unwanted sexual references to your body or your behavior by word or by gesture."
Tears welled up in the young man's eyes, spilling down his cheeks.
"Sexual abuse is when your body is exposed without your permission, or when you are forced to expose your body for someone else's sexual purpose."
Blair covered his face with his hands, bending over the table, and Jim rested his hand on his partner's back.
"Sexual abuse is when you are, without your consent, deliberately exposed to sexual activity or material." Holgan waited a moment, then continued, "Blair, did any of these things happen? Did this man abuse you sexually?"
The tears became deep sobs and Blair turned toward Jim, letting the older man pull him into his arms. Ellison looked across the table to Holgan, seeing tears in her eyes as well, as she watched them. He rested his chin on top of Blair's head, gently rubbing his guide's back. "I'm here," he said softly, feeling Blair's arms wrap around his waist. "We'll work it out, whatever happened. I'm glad you're back, and you're home again safely."
Finally, Blair pulled away from Jim and accepted the tissue from Holgan, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose. "Sorry. I don't know why that happened." He took a deep breath and tried to breathe normally. "My head feels clogged."
"I bet it does. Blair, I know--and so does Jim--that this is very difficult for anyone to handle. You are doing great. Don't rush yourself. We'll take as long as you need."
"Keep going, okay? Let's get this over with."
"Blair, I need to ask you some questions again, but with the tape on."
"Yeah." He wiped his tears on his shirt sleeve, hardly aware of the tape recorder beside him. "But I don't remember much. I just know how I felt afterwards. I feel like some of those things you said happened to me, but I don't know. I don't remember. I told you that I would wake up without my clothes on. And I remember him jerking off in the dark. But I don't know if he ever touched me."
"Blair, when you woke up naked, how did you get dressed again?"
"He would free my hands and leave me alone to shower and get into my clothes."
"When he made you watch movies with him, would he talk to you?"
"Yeah. He'd do what you said...he'd make obscene gestures and say suggestive things to me."
"What would be happening to Marty all this time?"
"I don't know. I think he was sleeping. He slept a lot. So did I."
"Do you have any idea of what he wanted?" Jim asked, ignoring Holgan's exasperated expression at his interruption.
"What? Other than scaring that little kid half out of his mind and then killing him? I don't know, man. Maybe he gets his jollies doing that."
"What did he want?" Ellison asked again.
"I don't know. Maybe...no. Jim, he wanted--" Blair stumbled on his thoughts. "He wanted something. He wanted . . ." A shrug; he couldn't find the words. Tears welled in his eyes again and Blair pounded the table in frustration. "I don't freakin' know what happened!"
"Do you feel he wanted something from you?" Holgan asked, carefully, trying to release whatever information the young man was having difficulty with.
"No. Not really. I don't think so."
"Let's keep going and come back to that if we have to. Blair, do you have any idea why he grabbed you and not another child?"
Blair's heartbeat picked up, his respiration doubled, and he grabbed hold of Jim's wrist. "He said he would...I don't remember . . . He scared the little boy, Jim," Sandburg said, focusing on Ellison. "He was scared and he was crying for his parents. He cried a lot. Screamed, sometimes. I could hear him from the . . ." Blair got up from the table abruptly and went into the living room. They watched silently as he stood in the middle of the room and turned around slowly, as though looking for something. He picked up the scruffy brown bear from the couch where he had left it and pushed the fur from its eyes. "Where's my mother?" he asked finally, looking back at Jim.
"She said she'd be back this morning sometime. You were a bit out of it when she stopped by last night."
"Oh." Blair sat on the couch, facing the windows, and Jim could only see the back of his head.
Damn. What's going on, Chief? You're drifting away from me. "Blair? Where were you when you heard the child crying?"
Blair didn't move for a moment, but the words finally came. "In the closet."
"At the house we found you in?"
"At the man's house?" When there was no response, Ellison joined his partner in the living room. Blair was sitting on the couch, his legs drawn up to his chin, his arms wrapped around his ankles. As though hidden away, one furry paw of the stuffed bear was poking out from the squashing embrace. Ellison frowned, then lowered his voice, keeping it unthreatening and calm. "How's your head, buddy?"
"Still hurts." Blair opened his eyes, then closed them again. "Not enough to go to the hospital, though," he added quickly.
"The doctor said you'd probably still have a headache today. I've got something you can take if it gets worse, okay?"
"Yeah. I'll let you know."
Ellison sat on the other couch and waited almost five minutes before Blair looked over at him again.
"Sorry, Jim. It kinda closes in on me." Blair smiled wanly at Detective Holgan as she joined them. "Sorry."
"It's okay. We'll take it slow, Blair. Do you have anything else to add? No? What about the needle marks on your arm? Do you remember anything about them?"
Again the blank stare, and Jim leaned over and pushed up one sleeve to show the young man the marks on his arm. "There are two puncture wounds there. Do you remember that?"
"No." Blair rubbed at the marks, as though trying to make them go away. He rolled up his other sleeve and peered at that arm. "Just those? Nothing else? I'm not going to turn into a dope addict or freak out or something, am I?"
"No," Holgan said with a slight smile. "They probably weren't those kinds of drugs. Most likely they were just sedatives or something."
"Why would he do that?"
"We're not sure. None of the children had needle marks on them." Ellison reached and pulled Blair's sleeves down, covering the bandage on his forearm.
"What about the house we found you in?" Holgan asked. "Any idea if that was planned or not? Was he just driving around looking for an empty house or did he have that one in mind?"
It took a minute before her question sunk in. "He had an address."
"So he knew about it then?"
"I guess. He had an address." Sandburg's hands were suddenly tight fists and he stared over to Ellison. "Get him, Jim. I hate him. I hate him because I can't remember stuff. I hate what he did to that little boy."
"I know. I hate that, too. Let's get through the rest of this before Tom gets here to do the composite."
"You said he suffocated Marty," Holgan continued smoothly. "Did you witness that?"
"I heard, but I was already in the closet. The one in the empty house. Then he opened the door and put Marty's body in the closet with me."
"Why didn't you leave the closet when the man left? It wasn't locked when we found you."
Blair looked up at her strangely. "It must have been locked. I couldn't get out. I couldn't leave the closet. Then there were loud noises and I realized the house was falling apart. I thought it was an earthquake. That God was going to kill him."
"It was the wreckers. The house was scheduled to be demolished that day. Blair, do you have any idea where the man's house is?"
Ellison watched his partner's half-hearted shrug and nodded his agreement when Holgan switched off the tape recorder. He crouched down in front of his partner. "I'm going to the station once Tom is finished. Think you'd be up to coming in later?"
"Blair, " Holgan said, placing the tape recorder in her briefcase. "I'd like you to try to remember as much as you can about being in the house and write it down. Try and separate the days, if you can. What you ate, how he treated you and Marty, what movies he made you watch. Any or all of that could be helpful. And I want you to try to think about when you would wake up on the bed."
"And after that, maybe we can do a little paperwork on another case. I could use the help," Ellison added, trying to look hopeful.
"Sure," Blair said instantly. "I'll come. Jim, when did you say Naomi was coming over?"
Ellison glanced at his watch. "In about two hours. Tom will be here in half an hour. Why don't you have a quick shower and I'll change the bandages on your arm and back before I go."
"Sounds like a good idea. I'm kinda sweaty." Blair pushed himself up, stared at the bear for a moment, then took it with him to his bedroom. A few dresser drawers were opened and closed, then Blair went down the hall to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Jim saw Donna Holgan to the door, then listened to the shower coming on and the little grunts and groans as the water made contact with Blair's cuts and bruises. Standing, he took their mugs to the sink, then turned and looked over the island into Blair's bedroom, where the bear lay at the top of the unmade bed, as though carefully placed against the pillows.
It was obvious his partner was upset by what had happened, and he had every reason to be upset, Ellison reasoned. But there was something not quite right with Blair Sandburg, and it was more than just the effect of the trauma. He was too quiet, too disjointed. Blair wasn't prone to bursting into tears, even if under stress. It was as if he 'blurred' now and again as they talked, fading out of the conversation. Then again, he was also suffering from a mild concussion and the aftereffects of whatever the perp had given him.
With a tired sigh, Ellison took the first aid box out of the cupboard and started cutting the gauze and dressings to the size he'd need. At least he could bandage those outer injuries. The rest might take longer.
Banks came out of his office. "Jim? Could I see you for a moment?" he said, then disappeared back into the room.
Taking the file with him, Ellison joined him, closing the door when Simon indicated he should do so.
"Did you read that yet?" Banks asked, as the detective sat down in a chair across from his desk.
"Most of it." Ellison met Banks' eyes with determination.
"Does that sound like Sandburg to you?"
"No, sir. Not in that type of situation. The witness was across the street and over one house, though. He's a senior citizen who probably does not have the best eyesight, and it was pouring rain."
"He also gave us a licence plate number of a car he believed the man was driving--complained that it was covered in mud and hard to see. There's no problem with his eyes, Jim." Banks pointed to his own copy of the report. "He said the young man walked on his own into the house, although he appeared to be crying. The witness thought that maybe there had been a family problem, as the older man went back to get a child from the car, leaving the young man standing alone on the porch. The young man was shivering, his arms wrapped around himself, but made no effort to leave the porch. When the older man returned, he opened the door, then pushed them both inside."
"Maybe he threatened to hurt the child if Sandburg didn't do what he said."
"He said he thought at first that the young man was drunk, but then realized he had a muscle coordination problem of some kind. He thought maybe he was mentally retarded by the way he moved and acted."
Ellison winced at the outdated callous term. "Sandburg had been hit on the head, chloroformed, and drugged. He was probably just dazed."
"Is he okay now?" Simon asked, leaning back in his chair. "Have you talked to him?"
Jim nodded, rubbing his neck. "Donna Holgan came over and got a statement of sorts from him, but I'll have him give a more detailed one later when he comes in. He's having trouble remembering things and he's still not feeling that well. It took a lot out of him doing the report with Donna and then the composite when Tom came over."
"Rattled, mainly. More emotional than usual. Scared. He told us everything he could, though, even though it must have been hell trying to verbalize a lot of it. The transcript is being typed; you'll get a copy when it's done. Tom is running the picture he and Sandburg came up with through our databases to see if there's a match. Tom thinks he has a good likeness to go by."
"How did Sandburg handle that?"
"He gave some good information, was able to describe the perp in detail. Cassie came by with Tom, which actually helped, I think, because Sandburg was so busy flirting with her that he didn't have time to get upset by it all."
"Flirting? I thought we had already settled that," Banks said, irritated.
"Simon, surely you know that Sandburg flirts with all women. It's in his blood. Or his hormones or something."
"Sometimes I think he's as bad as Daryl is. If she's young and female, Daryl's staring."
Ellison looked across at Simon, a smile touching his features. "Sandburg doesn't stare anymore. He just walks up to them, introduces himself, gives some hokey line, and starts batting those eyes."
"Quite the charmer."
"At least he was acting normal, for him." The smile faded. "I'm taking him to the clinic at the university for a checkup later today. He told Donna that he would wake up tied to the bed, with no memory of what had happened to him. I want the doctor to give him a complete physical in case there's anything the hospital overlooked."
"What do you think might have happened?" Banks asked, carefully. "I haven't read his report."
Ellison shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "I don't want to speculate. But I don't want to miss anything either. Sandburg's been under an incredible amount of stress these last few days, and I want to make sure he's okay."
"No, he slept fine last night. No nightmares for either of us, actually. Too tired, I think. And he ate breakfast okay. Kept it down, even though we were talking about his abduction and what had gone on. Considering what he's been through, he's handling it all pretty well."
"Where is he now? Did you leave him alone at the loft?" Banks glanced through his windows to the bullpen, just registering that Sandburg wasn't at Ellison's desk.
"No, Naomi's there. I wanted him to rest a bit and she'll make sure he gets something to eat. I told her to keep him inside. Not to answer the door."
"Naomi? She's in town, eh?" Banks smiled in spite of himself, shaking his head. "What all did you tell her?"
Ellison smiled back, giving an off-hand shrug. The smile faded quickly, though. "Oh, that we'd been working on a case where some children were killed. Sandburg had been caught by the guy, but we got him away before anything could happen to him."
"I bet she was less than pleased with that," Simon commiserated, turning around to pour himself some coffee, then refilling Jim's cup.
"She was pretty quiet, too, for her, this morning. Just kept watching Blair as though he were going to spontaneously combust or something."
There was a knock at the door, then Rafe's head poked into the room. "Sir, we ran the licence plate through DMV and we've come up with a possible ID on the perp. Name of Daniel Crawford. We're running his name through R&I right now, but we've already got an address on him from his driver's licence record which matches the address on the car's registration papers. Two patrol cars are heading over to watch the house: one at the garage at the back, and the other watching the front entrance. Can we get a warrant to search it if no one is there?"
"I'm on it." Simon took down the address and made a few calls, then returned to his conversation with Ellison, who was jotting Crawford's address in his note pad. "Jim, did Sandburg know why this guy grabbed him? I'm wondering if we have a change in M.O., or if this was an isolated occurrence?"
"Blair didn't say. He didn't say much, actually, other than some surface facts. Said the man 'talked' to him a lot, but he couldn't remember what he said. Sandburg can't remember if either he or the child were touched sexually, but he remembers waking up naked, tied to the bed, and the man sitting in the dark masturbating. He remembers enough that Holgan is listing it as a definite sexual abuse case."
"Damn. Is he okay?" Simon asked. "Are you okay?"
"He's shaken up by it all, but I'd be more worried if he wasn't. He's withdrawing a bit, but he's not shutting himself off from me, so I think he'll work through it okay. I set up a session for him with the department shrink on Monday, to make sure he talks about it with her. He's talked to her before, about Lash and the Golden drug overdose, so he agreed that he'd see her for this."
"Good." The captain shook his head. "Poor kid. What a thing to have to deal with, on top of being abducted and having the little boy die. I'm glad to hear he's talking to you, Jim. You're right--if he wasn't talking, I'd really be worried."
"Sir, if you don't mind, I'm going to swing by the loft and take him with me to the house once forensics is finished. Maybe something there will jog his memory."
"If you're sure he's up for it."
"I won't leave him alone. He said he wants to get this guy, and is willing to do whatever it takes." Ellison paused at the door. "If Sandburg identifies Crawford as being our man, then we're half way there."
"Your mother heading out now?"
Sandburg snapped his seatbelt on. "She said she'll come by later tonight."
"I thought she had a plane to catch this afternoon?"
"She changed her mind, I guess. She's not leaving until tomorrow now."
"What's she doing today then?"
"I dunno. Just visiting friends, probably. She has a lot of friends. We didn't get around to talking about it; she was kind of freaked at my injuries. Kept asking about it, then backing off and saying I was free to find my own path, then asking how safe it was to be around you." Blair laughed. "Sort of flipping from Mom to Naomi, then back to Mom. You got to love her, man."
Ellison couldn't help but smile at the comment, and at his partner's obvious devotion to his mother. It wasn't a sentiment Jim could share about his own mother, though; his early childhood memories of her existence in their home were far from happy. Naomi was, in many ways, every boy's dream mother: beautiful, carefree, fun to be around. So why does she make me so angry sometimes? There was a sore nerve there somewhere, and one day he would poke at his own memories a bit more. But not today.
Ellison sighed, moving the car back into traffic. "We've got a warrant to search Daniel Crawford's house in south Cascade."
Wide eyes glanced his way. "Crawford? Is that his name?"
"Maybe. We ran the licence plate number through the DMV and came up with a car registration in the name of Daniel Crawford. The composite drawing you did with Tom matched the photo on Crawford's driver's licence."
Sandburg stared at the road ahead of them. "Crawford . . ." he murmured. "It's weird to have a name attached to him."
"It might not be him, Chief. Let's take a look at his place first. He's definitely a suspect, though, and your description of him matches the photo in our records. Do you think you'll remember enough about the inside of the house to recognize it?"
"Oh, yes. If it's the same guy." Sandburg swallowed and stared out the passenger side window. Ellison could hear his heartbeat grow faster. "Is that where we're going? To his house? I thought you said I had to go to the clinic."
"We don't have to stop by the house, but if you're up to it, you might be able to shed some light on what we find there. It's up to you."
"He won't be there, will he?"
"No. He hasn't shown up yet. We're searching the place now. Rafe and Brown will be there, and the forensic team might still be there," Ellison provided. "We'll probably end up scaring him off with all the vehicles parked outside. Simon wants the place checked though."
"But what if he gets away?"
"We'll find him. Once we have an ID on him, that's half the battle won."
"Oh. Right." Sandburg was thoughtfully staring out the window. "The car," he said in a soft voice. "A sedan, right?"
"Right. It was registered in his name. Are you feeling okay?" Ellison asked. Blair's heart rate had calmed, but his tight grip on his backpack, knuckles almost white, was revealing something else. "I'm here with you, remember?"
"Hmm? Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks, Jim. Let's go there and get that son of a bitch."
"You just tell me if you want to leave, okay?" They passed the rest of the trip in silence, Ellison checking his partner every block or so, concerned at the lack of conversation. Sandburg was never quiet for this long at a time, unless he wasn't feeling well or was exhausted, and even then he usually found the energy to keep talking. To all appearances, he wasn't sleepy or in any pain, so this unaccustomed silence was wearing on the sentinel.
"You sure you're all right?" he asked, as he slowed down and parked behind Brown's car. "Talking with Donna Holgan must have been rough on you."
"I'm okay. It was just hard to think about it. She's a nice lady and she never looks like I'm shocking her when I tell her things. Makes it easy to say stuff like that to her. I'm glad you were there, though." Blair looked with interest at the house the forensics van was parked in front of. "Is that the house?"
"Yes, that's the address. Do you recognize it?"
"No." Blair looked the other way, out his side window to an apartment building across the street from Crawford's house. "I remember the blue thingies on top of that roof, though. I must have seen them when we drove away later." He undid his seatbelt and got out of the truck. "Hey--I just remembered something, Jim. When we left, we went out the front door of the house. The car was parked on the street, right where Brown's car is parked now. I remember coming out and looking at the blue things on top of the apartment building and thinking how dorky they looked."
Ellison looked up to see what he was talking about and saw two blue, sloped turrets on either side of the roof of the new complex. He locked the truck and headed across the street, then realized he was alone. Turning around, he saw Sandburg still standing by the truck, looking apprehensively at the house. "You coming?" Ellison called out.
"Yeah. I know this is dumb, but I've got to ask again, man. He's not there, is he? I just have to prepare myself if he is. I mean, I'm going to go in there with you, but I've got to know if he's going to be there."
"No. The house is empty, except for our own crew."
"Maybe he's hiding." Sandburg still hadn't moved. "Could you tell? Do you know for sure that he's not there?"
"I don't think he's there. They've searched the place pretty carefully by now. I'll listen when we get inside, okay? And even if he is, I'm here. He won't touch you. Got that?" He waited for the faint nod. "Hey, Chief, I thought you wanted to get this guy?"
"I do." Sandburg skittered across the street to join him, shadowing him up the front stairs. An officer at the door had them sign into the crime scene, but Blair seemed calmer, more sure of himself as they entered the house. "This is it," Sandburg said, quite firmly as they stepped into the hallway. "This is where I was."
The initial forensics team was just finishing up, repacking their equipment to take to their van, so the two men waited in the hallway for a minute until the living room was clear. Rafe and two other officers were canvassing the neighborhood for possible witnesses. There was a ghost car parked at either end of the block, watching for some indication that Crawford was returning to his home.
Pictures had been taken of the entire house, sketches had been made and fingerprints lifted, but the secondary team had not arrived yet to handle the actual physical evidence and prepare it for its trip to the Evidence Lockup. This was the best time for a detective like Ellison to do his work. He took a quick tour of the layout of the place, noting that Sandburg stayed quietly at the entrance, eyes fixed on the activity in the living room. The house was a three-bedroom bungalow, with no second floor or basement. The living room and two smaller rooms were on the street side of the house and the larger bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room were on the alley side. A door through the kitchen led to an enclosed back porch with two doors--one to the back yard and one to the garage.
Detective Brown was in one of the smaller bedrooms, which looked like an office. A large oak desk dominated most of the area, with a desktop computer and printer on a smaller table to one side. All available wall space was taken with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The room was immaculate, every paper in place, the books carefully placed on the shelves by subject. Leaning in the corner was a video camera mounted on a tripod. The window, like all the windows in the house, had blackout material taped over the glass with louvered wooden blinds as the window dressing.
"This guy doesn't like light," Ellison commented. "Or he likes his privacy."
Brown's head was tilted, trying to read the titles of the books on the shelves. "The office was locked when we came. Guess he didn't want any of his guests in here." He gestured to the books. "Interesting reading material. I don't know what most of this stuff is, though. Medical texts. Psych texts. Did you bring Sandburg with you? Maybe he could take a look at it. He's the professor."
Jim nodded and they returned to the entrance of the house where Blair still waited silently. The forensic officers were just leaving and Ellison shut the door behind them.
Brown tugged on Sandburg's ponytail affectionately. "Hey, kid. Glad to see you moving about. You gave us a scare yesterday."
"You were there? Wow, man. I must have been, like, totally out of it. Thanks." Blair touched the other man's arm, relaying his gratitude.
"Well, just take care of yourself, okay? You still look pretty shaken up." Brown headed into the kitchen, then out onto the porch. "If you need us, Jim, Rafe and I will be looking around outside and in the garage."
"We'll be here for a while." Ellison took Sandburg's elbow and drew him into the living room.
As if the movement triggered his Guide mode, Sandburg took charge once they were alone again, falling into an established pattern. "Can you tell how long it's been since Crawford was here last? You once said you could read the heat pattern where a body had been. Maybe he sat down in a chair or something."
"There've been too many people in here. I have no way of knowing who belonged to what." Ellison glanced around the room, his eyes detailing the place his partner had been held. It was tidy and clean, the furniture standard---probably from a rental place. "You know the drill, Chief. Don't touch anything. Now where were you when he phoned me?"
"There, initially." Sandburg pointed to a chair across the room. Ropes had secured him to the wooden chair, and now lay cut into pieces on the carpet.
"And the little boy?"
"Over there." Another chair, with fewer ropes. "Bastard." A child's toy truck rested by one chair leg.
Ellison frowned. While Crawford was a meticulous house keeper, there were certainly signs that he'd had children residing in the house, and he had at least made some attempt to provide toys and books for them. One of the children who had been released had described watching cartoons on TV and eating hotdogs. "Did he keep Marty tied up all the time?"
"No. Hardly ever. Not if I was good."
"What do you mean, 'good'?"
"If I did what he wanted."
"I don't know. Stuff. Stayed quiet. Paid attention to what he was doing." Sandburg moved over to the television, staring at the video boxes on top of it. "Marty cried a lot."
"Why was that?"
Sandburg whirled around to stare at him in anger. "Because the guy was a fucking lunatic. Because he made us cry. He would keep at it and at it until we started crying, and then he would stop and go away. Or sit and write the results down in his book." Anger turned into despair. "What the hell was he doing? We were real people. I mean, when I do tests with you, Jim, I'm doing something important. I'm using that information to help you with your senses---You believe that, don't you? I'm not doing it just so I can feel like I'm controlling you, so I can dominate the situation. You know that, don't you?"
"Easy, Chief." Ellison crossed to stand beside him, one hand resting on Sandburg's shoulder. "I know that." Blair scrunched his eyes closed, taking some deep breaths to calm himself, and Jim stayed beside him until he could breathe normally.
Sandburg pulled a tissue from his pocket and blew his nose. "Sorry. I'm not mad at you," he whispered, retreating a short distance away.
"I know. It's okay to be angry about it." Ellison gave his partner a minute to pull himself together and took a quick look at the two bedrooms. One was obviously Crawford's, but the other bedroom also had a double bed that appeared to have been recently slept in. In the corner of the room was a box of children's toys. A combined TV/VCR unit sat on top of the four-drawer bureau, two video tapes beside it--The Jungle Book and an unlabeled tape. The only window, one to the street, had the same blackout material and wooden louvers as the rest of the house. And like the office beside it, this room also had a lock on the outside of the door.
Crawford was confident, if nothing else. Ellison shifted his impression of the man. These abductions weren't spontaneous. They had obviously been planned, for whatever sinister purpose, down to the purchasing of toys and movies to keep the children entertained. What Crawford hadn't expected, though, was Sandburg surviving. Just how much that may have affected his plans still remained to be seen.
The detective returned to his partner, monitoring the young man's heart rate. Sandburg was staring blankly over toward the dining room.
"Blair, you said he locked you in a closet. Which one?"
"Which closet did he lock you in?"
Sandburg blinked slowly, looking around the room. "I don't remember, I guess. I'll look at them. This is the right place, I'm sure of it, but it's like the details are all mixed up in my brain. I tried to do what Detective Holgan said and sort out the individual days but time had a whole different meaning here, man. There wasn't, like, a morning and then an afternoon, and then an evening. I wouldn't remember falling asleep, but then I'd wake up in a different place in the house from where I last remembered being."
"I'm going to take a good look around before the second team gets here." Ellison put on gloves and searched the living room and dining room, being careful not to disturb more than he had to. Blair led him through three intense focusings with his senses, but he came up with nothing other than the relief of hearing his guide's voice in its familiar cadence and tone.
"Let's take a look at the office. I'd like your opinion on his bookshelves." Ellison walked down the hallway and into the office, realizing after a moment that Blair hadn't followed him. He went to the doorway and looked at his partner standing at the end of the hall, not moving, all the color drained from his face. "What's wrong?"
"Not supposed to go in there."
"He's not here, Chief."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. There's just you and me in the house." He listened carefully for a moment. "No other heartbeats."
"He said he'd be mad if we went into his office. He said he'd kill us."
"He won't hurt you, Chief. He's not here. But you don't have to come in here if you don't want to. Just wait out here and I'll search this room." Ellison touched Sandburg's shoulder briefly and walked into the office again, aware of the silent shadow accompanying him. "Can you check to see if there is any pattern to his reading material?"
Blair stared at the shelves while Jim tackled the desk. "There are a lot of psychology texts, Jim," he said finally. "Also a shelf on occultism, one on biographies, and the bottom one has magazines--Newsweek and Time and Psychology Today." He moved on to the next bookcase. "Most of these are on hypnosis. The middle shelf and top two shelves are medical textbooks and manuals. The bottom shelf has a bunch of documents, mainly photocopied." He pulled out one stack, paging through them. "They're copies of government reports, magazine articles, newspaper columns. All kinds of stuff. And there are two large manuals on pharmaceuticals."
"That makes sense, considering this." Ellison held up a diploma in Crawford's name that he had pulled from a bottom drawer. It showed he had successfully completed a course allowing him to be a pharmacist's assistant. It was dated eight years previously. Ellison wrote down on his notepad where he found it, then went out to the back porch and passed the information on to Brown, asking him to check to see if Crawford was currently, or had been recently, working for a pharmacy in the city or area.
Sandburg was waiting for him in the hallway. "I think he might have been employed somewhere, Jim. I remember him saying he was late for work, and that we had to eat our sandwiches and finish our drinks quickly."
"Do you remember how long he was away?"
Sandburg shrugged. "Honestly, I can't even remember him leaving. He was probably drugging our food."
Simon Banks joined them, glancing around the living room, his eyes immediately finding the two chairs with the cut bindings on the floor. "What have you found out so far?"
Sandburg filled the captain in, his hands in motion as he talked, looking a little more animated. Ellison moved to the main bedroom, still listening, but Sandburg stopped talking when he went out of sight.
A moment later, Banks joined him. "We've got some more information on Crawford and it fits in with what Sandburg's statement says," he said, keeping his voice low. "Seems Crawford was charged with the sexual abuse of two young men back in 1988 in San Francisco. The charges were dropped, though. We're trying to get some more information."
"Young men? Not boys? How old were they?" Ellison asked, checking the private bathroom out first.
"The initial report didn't say. We're waiting for further information on the case to be sent over. There's more, Jim. Crawford called the station just before I left."
Ellison closed the medicine cabinet and looked over at the captain for a moment before continuing his search under the bathroom sink. "What did he want?"
"Said he's going to get another hostage. He threatened to kill him if the news gets out to the public," Banks said, standing at the doorway of the bedroom. "This guy is a serial killer. He's killed three children, and attempted murder on Sandburg. We have no reason not to believe he'd do just that. The story is bound to get out in the next few hours, no matter how carefully we guard it. We can't keep something like this under lock and key. It's too big."
"Did you trace the call?"
"Yeah. We got a trace on him this time, but it was to a phone booth, and he was long gone before we got there."
Ellison closed the door to the bathroom and looked around the bedroom. Of all the rooms in the house, this was the room Sandburg had not yet entered and showed no desire to go near. It had another television and a large bookcase of privately recorded video tapes, numbered, but not named. On top of the bookcase, Ellison found a binder with a list of what was on the videos. Crawford had eclectic tastes, from classic movies to self-help tapes to illegal porn films.
Empty hangers in the closet and two bare drawers in the bureau seemed to signal that Crawford might have packed a suitcase and vacated the place. Two boxes of pornographic magazines were on the floor of the closet, and another box of gay magazines was in the man's bathroom.
"I'm going to check on Sandburg. He's too quiet out there." Ellison returned to the living room to see his partner sitting in the chair he had been tied up in, arms wrapped around his leather backpack, rocking slightly, tears running down his face. "Shit." He moved quickly across the room and crouched down in front of Blair, resting one hand on his leg. "Hey, Chief. What's wrong? We can go now, if you're ready...Blair, why don't we get out of here?"
"He's going to get someone else? Will he kill them, too? Will he come and kill me?" The voice was wrong. It was Blair's, but yet it wasn't. It was a timid, heartbroken query that had the hair on Jim's neck standing up on end. "I'm sorry," Blair sniffed, his fists in his eyes, trying to hold back the tears that streamed down his face. "I'm sorry. Please."
Jim shifted to rest an arm across Blair's shoulders, drawing him close. Something was most definitely wrong. He'd seen Blair frightened on other occasions, but never had he reacted like this. Blair Sandburg would spit in his captor's face, scream at him, and smart mouth him, almost antagonizing his captor into shutting him up for good.
"It's not your fault he's still out there and you're alive."
"Yes, I didn't do what he wanted." A sob caught in his throat. "I didn't want to do it. He said-- that-- I- was--" Blair was gasping for air.
"Don't worry about him, okay? You're with me."
"Don't hit me."
"I won't," Ellison said, surprised. "I'd never hit you. Chief? Can you hear me? Focus on me, okay?"
"I did what you said not to do. I sat on the chair. You said not to touch anything. I'm sorry. Please. I was trying to remember something so I could help and I forgot." The rocking got more pronounced.
"I understand. It's all right. Blair, did you remember something? Can you tell me?" A book and two bound reports on the end table caught Ellison's eye and he picked them up. "What did you remember, Chief?"
"I remembered being scared," Blair answered, in a small voice. "I remember crying all the time and asking him to let me go."
"What was his reaction when you did that?" Jim asked, his full attention back on his partner.
"He called me a big baby, and he spanked me. But he wanted me to cry. He did." Blair wiped his eyes on his sleeve, but his shivering got worse. "It hurt, Jim. I want to go home. Why did he say that? Why did it scare me so much?" The sobs broke then, and he doubled over and cried, his fists rubbing his eyes, heartbroken and terrified.
Ellison rubbed his back and supported him, frantically trying to figure out what was happening. "Easy, Chief. Crawford wanted you to feel frightened, that's why. You didn't do anything wrong." Ellison looked up at Banks and mouthed, 'What should I do?'
The captain shrugged, obviously at a loss to know how to proceed.
Jim moved his hands to cup Blair's face as soon as the tears tapered off. "Chief, I want you to think about something for me. I know you didn't remember it before, but I want you to tell me if you do remember him touching you, okay? Or if he hurt you in any way? Did he hit you?" Ellison frowned as Sandburg seemed to dissolve in front of him again, but schooled the look from his face when the young man looked up at him.
"He didn't. Except for spanking me. He said he would hurt me, but I don't think he did."
"But you'd tell me if he did, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah. I'm okay, though. I just feel funny. A bit dizzy. Can we go home now?" Sandburg asked, again. "My head hurts."
"It does?" Ellison touched the top of Blair's head. "Up here?" he asked, resting his hand on the bump he could still feel through the curls.
"No. Here." Sandburg touched his temples, wincing, struggling to keep from crying again. "I don't want him to come back."
The detective stood, turning the touch into a gentle pat on Blair's cheek. "Can you wait just a little while longer?"
Sandburg sniffed, nodding silently, tears pooling in the scared eyes.
"I'm almost done here. I just want to check the kitchen first and then I'll be right back. Are you okay for a few minutes?"
"Yeah." Blair rested his forehead on his backpack, still clutched to his chest. "Don't go away though, okay?"
"You can hear my voice. I'm just going to talk to Simon." He waited again for the nod that Sandburg had heard him.
Simon followed Jim into the kitchen, his voice low. "What was that all about? Is he having a breakdown of some kind? He seemed fine one minute, then was all weepy the next." Simon glanced out the doorway to where Blair sat shivering in the living room. "Are you sure you shouldn't be keeping him at home? Maybe it's too early for him to be out."
Ellison swung around, one finger upraised as if he were onto something. "Before we get to Sandburg, listen to this for a minute. What was the profile on Crawford so far? He liked to intimidate, to feed off the fear of children, but when the children were found, there were no marks on them, other than when he suffocated them. So what was he doing to them then?" Ellison held up the reports. "These were on the coffee table. This first one is a CIA study on interrogation. Where did he get it from? It's restricted information. And this other report is a study by Crawford himself on sexual abuse and trauma in children translating to phobias in adults. It was published by the University of California, Berkeley."
"One of the boxes of magazines in the bedroom closet that I went through had magazines about prepubescent boys. So was he after little boys or men? It's rare to have a pedophile also interested in adults. Their sexual objects are children. If he abused any of the children he abducted, we have no evidence of it. None of the children still alive have made any comments that would lead us to believe they were used sexually."
"You said Crawford was charged with sexual abuse in a case involving young men. Well, Sandburg said Crawford made him watch videos. Crawford jerked off when he was in the room. What if Crawford only went so far, but couldn't go through with the actual physical act. The desire was there---hell, look at those magazines and videos, the idea was certainly attractive to him-- but maybe he couldn't actually go through with it, for whatever reason. Maybe he was building to that, but we haven't been able to tell from his M.O. Something was stopping him."
"So he did what? Grabbed Sandburg because he couldn't rape a child? The kid looks young, but he's definitely not prepubescent, even in Crawford's wild imaginings. The kid's--what?-- in his late twenties."
"He's twenty-eight...Simon, you just saw him out there now. Blair was acting normally when you got here, his usual hyper self, talking about the man's collection of books and everything. He was nervous, scared stiff, but he was still Blair. Then, something happened. Something out there scared him. He was sitting on a chair right next to these books and reports. Maybe he's reacting to something he can't remember yet. Or he's remembering something he can't process because something isn't letting him."
"Frankly, Jim, it looks more like he's acting like a child."
"Exactly. How old would you peg that version of him, sir?"
Banks stared back at him. "Age-wise? Four or five. Are you asserting that Crawford scared Sandburg so badly he's regressed to a preschooler? Crawford didn't have time to do something like that. That kid has gone through situations much worse than this and he hasn't snapped. Why now?"
"I think Crawford was manipulating them for some reason. What if he was trying to bring out that childlike fear in Sandburg?"
"I don't know. To get some thrill in inducing a childlike fear in an adult body, a body he could ravage without shame."
"What are you saying? That this guy feels that killing children is okay, but not raping them?"
"In his mind, maybe. Maybe. I don't know. Look at this from another angle. He said he was doing research. Into what? He's got a video camera set up, ready to go, but until we look at all the tapes, we won't know what he's been videoing. We couldn't find any notebooks where he's recording anything, so he probably has all that with him. He was making them cry. Sandburg's said something along those lines several times now. He was making them cry, exposing Sandburg and maybe the child to pornographic video tapes. Blair would wake up tied to one of the beds, and not remember being put there. He would wake up naked and not remember how it happened. So what was Crawford up to?"
"And how does he intimidate someone into being four years old?"
Ellison held up the book he had taken from the end table. "If he's good at it and has absolutely no morals-hypnotism. Combine that with his knowledge of pharmaceuticals and he's one dangerous man. We need that information on the charges against him in San Francisco in the 80's. What exactly was he charged with and why were the charges dropped?"
"I'll get the information if I have to call the Chief of Police down there myself," Banks promised, his dark eyes flashing as he stared at the books and reports.
"Shall we go now?" Ellison asked, unlocking the passenger door. "We have time to make your doctor appointment, and then get home to see your mother."
"Okay." Blair looked up at him, wiping at the tears streaks on his face. "What the hell just happened?"
"In the house?" Jim guessed easily.
Blair nodded. "I feel strange. Light-headed. Like I'm missing stuff again. Did he come back?" Shivers threatened again. Blair had the backpack crushed to his chest, his free hand on the door handle of the truck.
"No, but we'll be waiting for him if he does." It was the only answer he could give, and still be truthful. However childlike Sandburg had been just a moment before inside the house, this was his partner with him now. All he could hope was that the doctor would have some answers for them, that the test results were back.
Ellison heard a noise behind him, a car slowing down at the other end of the long block, beyond where the ghost car was parked. Turning, he extended his sight to see the driver, but it wasn't Crawford. Behind that car, another vehicle also had slowed, the driver's head trying to see what the activity was all about in front of Crawford's house. From where they were half-hidden behind the passenger side of the Ford truck, the driver wouldn't have been able to see either Blair or him, even if he had been looking. Ellison blinked, trying to find his focus.
He felt Sandburg's hand on his arm. "Jim, what do you see?" the guide's voice asked, calmly.
"I'm not sure if it's Crawford or not. It's hard to tell. He's looking away, looking down now, either talking to himself, or he's got a cell phone there. I don't see anyone else in the car. Damn. I think he's going to turn before he gets here. There's an alley before he reaches the squad car."
"Try melding your hearing with your sight, Jim. You've done it before. Damn, we should be testing this more. You need more practice. Can you see him breathing? Watch his chest. See if you can see the faint rise and fall. Then sift around and find the sound that matches that."
"Got it," Ellison said after a few seconds. He tried to draw away enough to listen to what the man was saying, but it was hard to hold the location when the car was moving. Maybe Sandburg was right, and he just needed more practice at it. Ellison had to keep his sight engaged to hold the fix, wincing at the strain of using two of his senses at such limits.
"Relax, Jim. Keep it easy. Don't get all tense."
Sandburg's whispered words eased the tightness across his forehead and he felt his focus sharpen. The driver's words came to him slowly, but it was just someone looking for an address. An insurance salesman talking to his secretary on the phone.
"Sorry, Chief. It's not Crawford. Damn. I want to catch this bastard." Ellison watched the car approach and pass them, then turned to his guide, ready to thank him for the help, when he saw the shift again in Sandburg's face, the fear replacing the quiet light that had been in Blair's eyes only a moment before.
"That's not him, is it? Don't let him hurt me, Jim," Sandburg said, his voice scarcely heard. "He scared me."
With a groan, Jim drew the man into his embrace, holding him while the child sobbed.
He took stock, his eyes blinking back the tears that continued to well up. He was sitting sideways in the front seat of the truck, leaning out against Jim's chest. Wearily, he pushed himself away from the comfort of the scratchy sweater and looked up to his partner's anxious face.
"Chief?" Jim was standing at the passenger's door, one hand still rubbing Blair's neck.
"I'm okay. At least for the next few minutes. Let's get out of here, okay? I think I've provided enough entertainment for the neighborhood today. What the hell is wrong with me?"
"We'll find out. Just remember I'm here, okay?" The detective carefully closed the door of the truck, and almost raced around to the other side and got in. Once the vehicle was heading for the university's medical center, Blair felt the ice blue eyes glancing his way again. "Want to talk about it?" Jim asked.
Blair shook his head, and leaned back against the headrest. "Nothing really to talk about. I've told you everything I know. Really." He shrugged again, his head throbbing. "I wish I had more to tell you. I feel like such a wuss, bursting into tears every five minutes. It's like something snaps inside and away I go."
"We'll get this guy."
"Yeah." He didn't know what else to say. When they arrived in the medical center's parking lot, he stopped Jim before the man could jump out of the truck. "I'm actually feeling okay right now, except for this gargantuan headache, man. I guess I just needed to get that out of my system. Sorry about your sweater and everything."
Jim glanced down to the damp spot on the front of his sweater, then back up to Blair. "Let's go see the doctor. We're fifteen minutes late."
"Okay." Blair scooped up his backpack and left the truck. The rain was just beginning again and the cool drops felt soothing to his hot skin. He tilted his head back as they walked from the parking lot into the building, letting the rain fall gently on his face.
It was rather disconcerting for Blair to be left in the waiting area as his partner spoke to his doctor before he even made it in to the examination room. He felt a little sorry for Doctor Korchin, having to put up with Jim's interrogation. Finally they came out of their mini-conference, and he felt like some rare artifact passed from Ellison's care over to Korchin as he was led down the hall into a small room and told to strip. Korchin left him for a few minutes and Blair put down his backpack and eased out of his leather coat. The pullover sweater was going to be a problem with his bandaged hand and back, but before he could begin to wiggle out of it, Jim slipped into the room, wordlessly helped him out of the sweater, and then disappeared back into the waiting area.
Korchin returned back by the time Blair had made it up to the table and draped the thin paper sheet across his lap. The doctor gave him a rather thorough head-to-toe examination, listened to his heart, his lungs, took his blood pressure, poked, prodded, stuck various instruments in various places, and all-in-all made Blair wish he were an artifact. At least they were handled with extreme care and dignity, not told to turn on their side while someone examined their rectum. How dignified was that?
Korchin switched the computer monitor on and looked over his file while Blair struggled back into his clothes. "You've been here a lot the last two years," he said, shaking his head at the numerous visits. "I could retire on the money that comes in from you alone. Are you just accident prone or has the anthropology department gotten more dangerous over the years? Indiana Jones was an archaeologist, wasn't he? Are you trying to rival his reputation? Or just bring new glamor to the world of anthropology?" He jotted down a few notes, not waiting for an answer. "You've had far too many concussions, Blair. Let's make sure there's nothing wrong with what's up top," he said, taping his pencil on Blair's head. "I'm going to order a full CAT scan and some testing at the hospital. You can go to either Cascade General or St. Paul's Hospital. Your friend Mr Ellison felt that since you've been to Cascade General on several occasions, including immediately after this abduction, it might be best for you to go there. He said it was up to you, though."
"How generous of him," Blair muttered, then smiled reassuringly as the doctor turned to look at him over his half-rim glasses. "Just kidding, Doctor Korchin. He's a good friend, believe me."
"He's worried about you."
"I sort of had a panic attack on him this afternoon. Haven't had those since I was a kid."
"Oh? What were your symptoms?"
"My heart was going two thousand miles an hour, I couldn't breathe, and then I started crying and couldn't get myself to stop. I'm not sure what set it off, though. I used to be really claustrophobic and scared of heights, but I figured I've already worked out most of that. I mean, it still bothers me, but it's never stopped me from doing what I needed or wanted to do."
"Have you been in therapy at all?"
"Usually," Blair said, with another smile and a shrug. "A lot when I was a kid. Now, sometimes, yes, after I've helped Jim with a case that kind of gets to me, then there's this police department shrink who talks to me. She's trained to handle gross cases, so she's not going to be shocked by anything I say. I'm supposed to be seeing her about this on Monday."
"That's good. If you want to be recommended to a therapist, though, we can refer you to one."
"I think I'm doing okay, now that I've had a chance to catch my breath. It all just sort of snuck up on me, you know, and Jim had to deal with this little crying jag of mine. I usually don't break down and sob every time something goes wrong, believe me." He crammed his sweater into his backpack, not bothering to put it back on.
Korchin rubbed at his chin, as though thinking about it all. "You were just in a very traumatic situation, and I would be surprised if you didn't need to talk to someone. You may find that the police department's psychologist can help you, but, if not, please see me and we'll set you up with someone else. It's very important that you get the proper help in dealing with this."
"Sure." Blair shrugged and smiled, trying to look his very sanest. "So...am I all done here?"
"Let me check with Simon before we go in. Stay here out of the rain, okay?" Ellison said, then left a yawning Blair in the truck and went over to the captain's car, leaning on the open window. "What's up?"
"We got back the report on Crawford. Apparently he had been a clinical hypnotherapist in California, and the two men were patients of his, seeing him about using hypnosis to quit smoking. One of them began to suspect that something was going on, as his clothing was disturbed while he was in for treatment. When he pressed charges of sexual assault, another man stepped forward on the urging of his girlfriend, and said that he felt he had been violated by the therapist, but he had no proof. Same thing, his clothes felt wrong, like someone had tried to dress him. The case ended up getting tossed out for lack of evidence, but it made the headlines in San Francisco while it was going on. The Federation of Hypnotherapists were upset about the case, as it alleged that those practicing hypnotism could make their clients do things against their will."
Ellison's face twitched in anger. "Don't say anything about this to Sandburg right now. He's stressed out enough as it is."
"Jim, we also got another call from Crawford. The son of a bitch said that he had decided he wasn't finished with Sandburg and he wants him back. Said he had just abducted someone and might be willing to trade him for his 'little boy'. If we don't give Sandburg back to him, he's going to kill his captive and get someone else. He's going to keep on killing until we give Sandburg back to him."
Ellison rested his forehead against the top of the car door frame. "I swear, when I get my hands on this guy...What kind of protection do we have?"
"I've got a surveillance order on the loft." Banks nodded as Detective Rafe pulled up as they spoke, parking several cars down from them. "There's another officer watching the front."
"I appreciate it." Ellison stood and stretched, trying to center himself before collecting his partner and heading upstairs. "Why don't you come up? I have a feeling Blair might just go to sleep the moment we get up there, and I need someone to talk to," he admitted frankly.
Banks turned the car off. "I was faxed the initial drug results from the blood tests the kid had done at the hospital last night. I'll tell you later, but basically the needle marks were from an injection of Sodium Pentothal. It appears to have only been used once, but Crawford, or whoever injected Sandburg, seemed to have trouble with the needle which is why there were multiple puncture sites. He probably doesn't have much practice using a needle--- Sandburg's lucky the guy didn't kill him trying to inject him."
"Sodium Pentothal? Why shouldn't I be surprised?" Ellison gestured for Sandburg to join them, and the young man got out of the truck, shouldering his backpack.
As he held the elevator door for Simon, Jim automatically checked out the building with his hearing, then kept his groan to himself. He could hear Naomi waiting for them in the loft, anxiously pacing, repeating some nonsense phrase over and over to herself. So much for a little time to themselves. As the elevator slowly made its way up, he didn't say anything to his partner, watching the younger man wilt as exhaustion caught up with him again. Blair seemed perfectly normal at the moment, but Jim was having a hard time shaking the image of his partner appearing to be no older than four years. The doctor had assured him that Blair was fine physically. There were no signs of rape or abuse, and the drug tests had come back clean. They were still waiting for the results on the urine tests. The CAT scan showed no injury to the brain, or other problems due to the knocks on the head Sandburg had taken over the last two years.
So what exactly had happened to him, then? If there was nothing physical that caused the radical changes and the crying, it must be mental. Ellison knew what he needed to do was talk to a hypno-therapist, one he could trust, and get some answers on the areas of hypnotic research that Crawford had been dabbling in. Maybe Naomi could...babysit...while he and Simon tried to look for someone to help.
"Mom?" Blair dropped his backpack just inside the entrance. "What are you doing here? How'd you get in?"
Naomi took a few steps toward him, then paused, looking over at Ellison. "I hope you don't mind, Jim. I took Blair's key."
"You did?" Blair frowned. "When? I don't remember."
"I locked up when we went downstairs to wait for Jim earlier." Naomi looked over at Ellison, her large eyes reflecting her worry. "You were gone a long time."
"We were at the hospital for more tests," Jim answered.
"Because of the bump on his head?" Naomi asked.
"The doctor just wanted to be on the safe side."
"I read in the newspaper that the little boy you found was dead. And the man responsible is still on the loose."
"That man scared me," Blair whispered.
Ellison looked over at his partner, registering the childlike tone in Blair's voice. "How did he scare you?" he asked softly, hearing Simon groan behind him as the captain realized what was happening. Ellison moved to stand in front of Blair, who was rubbing at his eyes again. "Chief, you're okay here."
"No, he's going to come and do it again. He told me he was. Because I was bad."
"Do what, Chief?" Jim bent down a bit, trying to catch Blair's tear-filled eyes.
"Don't let him come here."
"We won't. Blair, Brown and Rafe are outside watching the building. I'm here. Simon's here. And your mother is here, too. No one is going to get you."
Blair exhaled shakily, his hand clutching Jim's arm for support. He shivered, blinked, and looked around. And realized everyone was looking at him. "Whoa...a little dizzy there, I guess. Uh, Jim? Thanks, but you can let go now."
Ellison stepped back, letting the young man find his balance. "Why don't you go sit down? You look a little pale."
"Yes, he does. You look tired, sweetie," Naomi said to her son, and opened her arms. Blair went to her willingly, comfortable in her embrace, his head resting on her shoulder. Naomi looked over to Ellison, her eyes full of tears. "Blair, why don't you go change into some dry clothes? It's pouring out there and you're all wet. Then come back and I'll make you some hot chocolate."
"We just ate, but who could refuse hot chocolate, hey, Jim? Sounds good," Blair said with a smile, disappearing into his room.
"Jim? What the hell is going on?" she demanded, in a fierce whisper, turning on Ellison, startling him with an expression he had heard many times from his partner. "What's wrong with him? That head injury--" She looked from him to Banks, then back again.
"No." He glanced to the open bedroom door, then led her into the living room and over by the windows. "Naomi," Ellison began, then looked over to the captain, trying to find the words to say. "Naomi, there's a chance that Blair might be slipping in and out of an-- an altered state right now, sort of--"
"What? He's stoned?" she asked. "Flashbacks?"
Simon fielded that one. "We're not sure yet, Ms Sandburg, but we think he may have somehow been hypnotized into behaving younger than he is. Much younger."
"He's acting like a little child," she whispered.
"Only if he's frightened. Otherwise he's fine. He's got his memories and everything; it's just that if he gets scared, emotionally he becomes...younger. And then afterwards, he seems to blank out the memory of it."
"I can see that. Quite frankly, it's scaring me." She paused. "Hypnotized? Do you mean actually hypnotized?"
Ellison handed her the book he had signed out from the forensic officers after it had been documented. The pornography magazines were safely in Evidence at the station, but Jim had with him a list of the books that had been in the office, as well as the book that had been lying on the coffee table. It was a rather advanced practitioner's text on hypno-suggestion. He watched as she thumbed through it.
"Do you need to speak to an expert on hypnotism?" Naomi asked finally, handing it back. "The couple I'm staying with here, she's a practicing hypnotist and hypno-therapist with a good reputation."
Ellison started to say no, then amended it quickly. "Sure. I'm sure it would be next to impossible for me to find someone at eight o'clock on a Saturday night. If you don't mind, why don't you call her and have her meet us here . . . No, make that the cafe down the street. I don't want Blair to hear."
As she went for the phone, Blair came out of his room, and at Ellison's nod of permission, Naomi went up to the loft bedroom to use the phone there.
"Who's she calling?" Blair asked, padding over to the fridge, unaware of two sets of eyes following his every movement.
"Oh." Blair squatted down to rifle through the fruit bin at the bottom of the fridge, emerging with an apple. "You guys want one?" he asked, holding it out. Both men shook their heads, so he closed the bin, then the fridge door. "I'm still a little hungry." He scooped up his backpack on his way to the living area, then dropped down on the couch, and pulled his legs up to sit cross-legged. He took a bite of the apple, becoming aware of their continued stares. "What are you looking at?" he asked, pulling his sweater half out of his backpack to get at a textbook inside. He still moved awkwardly, careful of his bandaged left arm.
Jim came and sat beside him. "How are you doing, Chief?"
"Bit of a headache, that's all. The doctor said it would come and go, right? It's not like a brain tumor or anything. Listen, Jim, sorry about being so emotional earlier. I guess I'm still not one-hundred percent." Blair glanced from him over to Simon, round blue eyes carefully gauging the two men. "Is something wrong? Did the doctor at the hospital tell you something they didn't tell me? You guys are staring at me like I've got a third eye or something."
"No," Jim said quickly. "What are you reading?"
"This? Nothing you'd be interested in. It's for a class next week. Since Brian covered for me this week, I've got to take his share of next week's classes." When he saw he still had a willing audience, he shrugged and continued. "It's a Beginning Anthro class I'm teaching that looks at the meaning of culture as we approach the Millennium. It talks about environmental and social relations, reclassification of races, etc., as we prepare to enter the next millennium. Sort of looks at what we might have in store for us as human beings over the next thousand years. Our destiny, if you will. This book was recently published and it's making the rounds on campus, so I figured I'd read it in case I can use any of it. I mean, if my students are reading it anyway, they might as well get some benefit from it, right?" He paused, realizing he had lost them. "Unless there was some more we were going to do on the case tonight? I thought we were done until tomorrow. I don't specifically have to read this. I was going to show it to Naomi because I know she's into the whole 'bring on the Millennium' craze."
"Figures." Ellison nodded, then looked up as Naomi came down the stairs signaling ten minutes and pointing down the block. "Listen, Chief, Simon and I are going to take off for an hour or so. Meeting someone about the case, but we can handle it alone---it's just an interview. Why don't you stay here with Naomi and visit a little? You've hardly seen her and I know you've got that Christmas gift put aside for her."
"That's right. Wow. How could I have forgotten that, man?" Blair unraveled himself from the couch and headed to his bedroom. "Sit down right there, Mom. You'll love this."
Simon waited until he was in his room, then noted, softly, "He seems better now. Maybe we were all reading something into his actions that wasn't there."
"Oh? Then this is what he usually carries around with him while he's doing cop things?" Naomi asked. She had pulled Blair's sweater from his open backpack, intending to fold it, when she'd seen something else. She tilted it toward them so they could see the inquisitive face of a brown stuffed bear within.
Ellison stared at it, remembering how Blair had clung to the backpack the entire day. He had thought it might be because he had given it to his partner, that Blair was taking comfort from it somehow. But Sandburg had put the bear inside it, and kept it there all day, without a word to Ellison about it. Did the kid even realize he had done it? He was hiding it, but from whom?
"What happened?" Jim asked, cursing himself for taking so long.
"Everything was okay for about thirty minutes. We talked about the classes he's teaching this semester, which grants he had applied for, the course I've applied for in New Mexico. Then there was a loud crash outside--I don't know what it was--and I guess it frightened him because suddenly I had my four-year-old child back, and he was scared stiff. It's taken this long to get him calmed down and to sleep."
Jim sat down on the other couch, leaning forward, his hands clasped in front of him. "Your friend Sheila is waiting outside for you. She'll come back tomorrow and see if she can help further, but she gave us some good information tonight. Obviously Crawford was able to do something to Blair, but we aren't sure exactly how he did it, probably some sort of hypno-suggestion. Usually, according to Sheila, the hypnotist succeeds by winning the trust and cooperation of the subject. I can't imagine Blair trusting Crawford enough to be hypnotized by him. So Crawford must have done something else to him--we just don't know what right now. Add to that, the truth drug that was used on him...Simon is arranging for someone familiar with the particular subject area of hypno-suggestion. Crawford had a fairly extensive collection of books on the topic and Sheila gave us some names here in Cascade to contact, researchers in the field. Apparently there's quite an interest in the area right now--different government groups and other agencies have been by to see her, asking if she would be willing to be involved in testing. She's said no, but she suggested one of these groups might be using Crawford."
"You lied to me."
"I'm sorry. I didn't tell you the whole truth." Ellison shrugged. "We didn't want you to worry."
"I'm not some flake just off the street. Blair's my son. I have the right to know what's happening with him."
"I understand. Naomi, Sheila's just gone out to her car now. She's waiting for you."
"I can't leave Blair like this," Naomi said, her voice flat.
"I'll be here. I won't leave him. He'll be in good hands."
"He needs me. He needs his mother. He needs to know someone's looking after him." Naomi met Jim's eyes head-on. Whether it was the lateness of the hour or whether she had reached her limit in dealing with the situation and was well past any normal show of politeness, she was in no mood for an argument. "I am going to take him with me to New Mexico," she said firmly. "He'll like it there. I know people there who might be able to help him--and if nothing reaches him there, maybe when I go to Florida in February. He'll like that. He loves the sun."
"And where are you going after that? And after that? He's not a four-year-old child any longer, Naomi. He's a man, with a life of his own, and he's got a real problem here unless we can get some help for him."
"I can help him. I can be with him twenty-four hours a day until he's better. I'm his mother."
"I'm not debating that. But what if he wants to stay here?"
"I don't think he's in any condition to make that kind of decision. He needs the peace and freedom of a natural, holistic, healing environment to come back to himself, and he won't find it here in the city with all its negative energy."
"Naomi, I think it might be best if he stayed here--"
"What? For you to take care of him?" Naomi laughed, bitterly. "Right. When he's crying and scared, who is he going to turn to? You?" she said with a sneer. "Granted, you and he might have a friendship on a superficial level, but we're talking about emotional things here, Mister Police Officer. Matters of the heart and soul, not of the intellect and rational mind. I don't think you have what it takes to reach out and really care for someone."
"I'm not getting into an argument with you about this. I just think it should be Blair's decision whether he goes with you or stays here. It's not like he's four years old all the time."
"He'll come with me," she said, her voice final. She stroked his cheek possessively. "He needs to know that he's loved, that someone will kiss away his tears."
"There are other ways of showing people you care besides mothering them. What if he just needs the security of a home while he gets better?"
"Wherever I am, that's where his home is."
"Maybe once. I'm not so sure that's how he feels anymore."
"What realistically can you offer him, Detective? How many more murderers and kidnapers and psychotic madmen are out there ready to hurt my son? And you keep dragging him along with you like this is some game! Well, Ellison, you're playing that game with my child's life!"
"Blair has made his decisions on his own. He is your son, but he's no longer your child, Naomi."
"And what is he to you? Your little tag-along down at the Police Station? Someone who rents a room in your apartment while doing his paper on police subcultures? When his paper is done, he'll be out the door, on to his next project and you will gradually become just words on paper. I, however, will always be his mother. Don't presume to tell me about my own child and what is best for him."
Ellison concentrated on keeping his anger under control. He knew what it must look like to her. For a moment, he entertained the idea of telling her about his senses, and how Blair had become woven into his life. About the strides they had made in putting together the pieces of what it meant for him to be a Sentinel and Blair to be his Guide. About permanence and trust and commitment. But those are foreign words to her. How do I tell her how I feel?--- That Blair is my dearest friend, my guide, my teacher. Someone I have sworn to protect. Someone I cherish as much as she does.
A sound outside woke Blair, and he looked around quickly, his eyes meeting his mother's, then sliding past her to Ellison.
"What was that?" he asked, sleepily, his body tightening up, his grip on the bear more fierce. "Was that him?" He started to shiver.
"Nothing, sweetie. Go back to sleep," Naomi whispered, stroking his forehead. "I'll keep you safe, little one. Go back to sleep and think sweet thoughts."
Ellison grimaced at her tone. "It wasn't Crawford, Chief. It was a tow truck. A car is blocking the fire hydrant again and they're towing it away. It's not Crawford."
"You went away," Blair whispered, staring at him. "I was scared he was coming."
"Yes. I was trying to find help for you, so you wouldn't feel so frightened. I'm sorry I was gone so long." Ellison leaned back against the couch, not knowing what else to do. He didn't realize his eyes had closed until he felt the tentative touch of someone's hand. He opened his eyes to see that Blair had left his mother's side and was curling himself up by Jim on the short couch. The young man settled in place, resting his cheek on the detective's chest, his head cradled in the crook of Jim's arm. Once he had wiggled himself comfortable, his face burrowed against Jim, he went back to sleep. Peaceful. Safe.
The silence in the loft was deafening.
Naomi stared at them, her arms crossed, her eyes reflecting nothing of her soul. "I was about to make a comment about your lifestyle with my son, but then, I suppose that would be quite hypocritical of me. I'm not one to point fingers, considering my own past. Tell me this, though, Mister Cop--- why do you look as surprised at this as I feel?...And are you surprised at what he just did, or just that he did it in front of me?"
Ellison shrugged, shifting slightly to get comfortable himself, his free hand resting on the brown bear, still tucked under Blair's arm. "Surprised? Maybe," he admitted, brushing back the hair from Blair's face. "But not for the reasons you mentioned. I was surprised for a moment that the four-year-old inside of him trusted me as much as the twenty-eight-year-old does. I'm sometimes amazed at the depth of his trust, the extent of it."
"Trust doesn't mean love and caring and giving, Ellison. So you're good with a gun. He feels you'll protect him from the creeps out there."
"If it was only my protection he wanted, he would've hidden behind me, not curled up in my arms." Jim glanced from his partner to the fiery woman alone on the couch opposite him. He could feel himself getting angry at her resentment of Blair's simple action, but it was late, he was tired, and he really wanted her to leave. Now was not the time to cause a scene, not with Blair this vulnerable.
"I suppose now you'll tell me you love him."
Ellison was amazed at the cold ice in her tone, and chose his answer carefully. "I care about him, yes. He's the best friend I've ever had, yes. Do I love him? Yes. I was never a part of the whole hippie scene, Naomi. I don't know what made up the free love of your world. As far as I'm concerned, love is never free. It costs. It has responsibilities. Maybe it's time you left the Sixties and joined the Nineties. There isn't a rosy-colored world out there. Blair came over to me just now because he wanted to, not because I coaxed him to or bullied him or made him feel guilty. He came to me because he trusts me to guard him. Because he knows I will do anything and everything in my power to protect him from the Crawfords of the world. And that is because I care about him; and because I care, because he's my friend, he is my sworn responsibility. If he can sleep peacefully because of that, it's all been worth it."
And maybe he came because he knows how frustrated I am with this case and how I need to feel that I truly am physically protecting him, that beneath the childish fears, he's there, ready to find the way out and counting on me to help through this . . .
Naomi stood up quickly and reached for her shawl, pulling it tightly around her shoulders. "I'll be back tomorrow morning. If he's no different, I expect him to be packed. I can find help for him. As his mother, I hold the cards for his future. And if it ever should come to that, the courts will side with me." She left the loft, and he listened, following her footsteps down the stairs and out into the street.
"Yeah, well, I'm his Power of Attorney," Ellison whispered, wincing as he heard the car door slam and the car pull away. He looked down at Blair, so blithely relaxed against him. "Your mama is mad at me and you looking so content is not helping matters any."
He sat there a few more minutes, trying to let the conversation with Naomi fall from his shoulders. He really didn't need the extra baggage right now. He was already regretting almost everything he had said to her. Almost everything. Some of it had needed to be said.
And it was true he had papers making him Blair's Power of Attorney, just as Blair was his Power of Attorney. Simon had actually come up with the idea once when Ellison was in the hospital, unconscious, and Sandburg had fought with the hospital officials about his medication. Making the kid his Power of Attorney had solved the problem, allowing Sandburg to make decisions for him if he should be unable to make them for himself. Blair had insisted on making it both ways, although Jim hadn't imagined ever needing it. Now the possibility was there, if this didn't get resolved.
Finally, he sat his guide up, gently rubbing his friend's back as Blair pulled himself to consciousness. "Come on, Chief. Let's get you in bed. Tomorrow is going to be fun, I can tell."
His hand reached out and searched the little area he was in but there was nothing there. He wrapped his arms around his bare chest and shivered. The shelf above him scraped against his back when he moved. He was alone. He couldn't remember how long he had been in the closet. He couldn't remember why he was in the closet.
He could hear a little boy crying and he wondered why...
It was hot. Now the closet was big. And stuffy. He cried for a while, but no one came. His small hands tried to make the door open, pounded on it, but it wouldn't budge. And no one came.
He fell and landed in a corner of the darkness, his frightened scream echoing in his ears. His fists pommeled the floor until his hand quite by accident found the little bear. Clutching it, he brought it to his face and rubbed his skin against the soft pelt. Inquisitive fingers traced the smooth eyes and the cool plastic of the bear's nose.
"My friend," he whispered to it. "Silver, I'll call you, because I don't know your name." He hugged the bear and waited in the darkness. He was almost alone. No one came to let him out of the closet...
It was cold again. He was crammed back under the bottom of shelf in the linen closet. He had been bad, but he couldn't remember what he had done. Shadows and footsteps went by the door and he tensed up, but the door didn't open. More voices. More footsteps. They were talking but he couldn't hear what they were talking about. He kept his face near the crack under the door, because it was stuffy in the closet and he needed to see the light...
He was sitting on a wooden chair wearing a bathrobe that did not belong to him.
He opened his eyes and looked around. The room bent at strange angles. It slowly rotated and he hung on to the seat of the chair so he wouldn't fall off. Two men wearing suits sat at the dining room table. Looking at him. Talking to the Man. He wondered who they were.
The room tilted and spun when he raised his head. Someone said something to him and he opened his bathrobe. His hands weren't tied, but he didn't stand up. When he got cold, he closed the bathrobe, but no one yelled at him.
The Man came over to him. The Man stood in front of him, arms crossed, and he said something. About being alone. About being in the closet. About no one caring. No one had come to get him out of the closet.
And he cried because no one came to get him out of the closet . . .
Blair woke up shivering, tears running down his face, his eyes blinking to adjust in the dim light coming from the bathroom down the hall. He was in the loft. The door to his bedroom was open. He rolled over in his bed, his hand finding the stuffed bear. Crushing it against him, he buried his face in its scruffy fur, trying to push away the dream images.
A moment later, he sat up and pushed the bear aside. Maybe he needed to keep the images. To remember. There had been other men in the house besides Crawford. This was important. Men who stared at him with cold clinical eyes. What was discussed was beyond his recollection, but he remembered sitting on the chair and...Oh, God. What did I do? Vague memories of sitting unnoticed in the chair. Naked. But they weren't looking at him like the man looked at him. They wanted something else from him. Something else . . .
I have to tell Jim. I might forget.
Blair got out of his bed and stood in the middle of his room. He didn't remember going to bed. Was it happening again here?
No. He did remember...Jim steering him into the bathroom, then later making sure he was settled in his bed okay. Asking if he wanted the bear . . .
I'm an adult...why would I need a bear?
Blair went back to his bed and pushed back his covers, retrieving the stuffed animal. He took it into the hallway for a better look at it. This bear hadn't been at Crawford's house. He wasn't sure where it had come from, now that he stopped to think about it. It had just been here, in his room at the loft when he came back. Where had it . . .?
No, he had it before that, he remembered coming up the elevator with it. And earlier, it had been at the hospital. And before the hospital...had it been at the house where Jim had found him?
Silver. The bear had a name, but it wasn't the same bear as before. Blair remembered not wanting to leave the bear alone in his room when he went to the doctor with Jim. He tried to, but he got too scared. So he had put it in his backpack. It was silly, really, to need a teddy bear at his age for comfort. But Jim hadn't been in the loft and he didn't want to go outside alone without something to take with him. He remembered fingering the leather backpack, thinking it would be enough, then going back for the bear. He needed both right now.
The bear was here, but where was Jim?
For a moment, Blair panicked, feeling his heart rate soar. But it was night time. He could see the street lights outside through the big windows in the living room. Jim was upstairs in his bed, asleep. Because it was night time. Blair stood alone in the living room, his bare feet on the carpet, toes digging into the wool pile. He put the bear on the couch. Then picked it up again.
The loft was all grays and blacks and dark, dark blue. All the color leached out. He drifted through it, touching the couch, the plants, his hands resting finally on the cool glass of the balcony window. It almost felt like he was still in the dream.
Maybe I am still dreaming.
No, he was awake and he was home. He was okay. Well, maybe not. He was standing in the dark, shivering and holding onto a stuffed bear. The loft was real, though. Solid beneath his hands. Nothing shifted or faded on him. And there was a hovering peace about it, a hushed silence that echoed along with his breathing, that made him feel safe. Because Jim was there.
As soon as he thought it, the doubt hit. Part of him knew Jim was there, but part of him needed to make sure. Things sometimes went wrong in the loft if Jim wasn't there. Going back to the windows, he turned around and stood on the ledge, squinting up into the upper loft to see if he could see Jim's head on the pillow. It was a stupid place to put the bed, but Jim said he liked the light in his face in the morning.
The shadows weren't falling right. Was Jim there or not? He stared at the spot for a long time, but he couldn't tell. He didn't have his glasses on and he didn't know where they were.
He stepped down and walked over to the bottom of the stairs. Against the brick wall, the bannister was cool under his hand as he slowly walked up the stairs. Yes, Jim was there...Or, more correctly, someone was there, and he thought it was Jim, anyway. Blair sat on the step and wondered if he should wake Jim up and tell him about the dream.
Was it just a dream or did those things happen to him and he was just remembering it now? Had the men been there?
Was he dreaming now, sitting on the stairs, holding a bear, shivering in the middle-of-the-night coldness of the loft? What would Jim say if he woke up and saw him there?
"I'm awake. Come on up."
It took a few seconds to realize that Jim had actually spoken to him.
"Chief? Come here. Is something wrong?" The figure on the bed moved, leaning up on one elbow.
"I had a dream," he whispered. His voice wouldn't go any louder, but he knew it didn't have to.
"Want to tell me about it?"
Blair stood and went to the top of the stairs, then over to the bed, standing, staring into the dark shadows.
"Sit down, Chief," Jim said, yawning. But he didn't sound angry at all. "Are you cold?"
"Yeah." Blair lay down on the bed and felt the down quilt pulled over him. "I had a dream, Jim."
"You sound spooked."
"I don't know if it was just a dream or if it really happened to me."
"Do you want me to turn on the light?"
"No." Blair shivered, clutching the bear. "I'm not that cold. Just nerves, I think."
A hand reached out and touched his hand. "Your skin is icy." The hand stayed on his, and he returned the firm pressure. "So what did you did you dream about?" Jim asked softly.
Blair told him everything about the dream that he could remember. About the two different closets. And the koala bear from a long time ago. And the two men in Crawford's dining room. And how he had opened his bathrobe and exposed himself to them and they didn't care. About how Crawford had looked at him. About crying.
He wasn't crying now, though. He was shivering. He felt Jim draw him closer and hold him until the shivers stopped. Soft words told him he was safe. That he had been right to wake him and tell him about the dream. That Jim was sorry that it had happened to him. That he hadn't deserved that to happen to him. Then Jim released him and he inched back from the sentinel.
"Sorry about that," he said softly.
"Nothing to apologize for, Chief.."
"I'm not the scared kid right now, Jim. I'm just me."
"I know. I can tell the difference. Sandburg, we'll talk about this in the morning, okay? Don't try to figure it out now." Jim kept a hand on his arm. "Can you go back to sleep? You can stay up here if you want to. It's a big bed. Just don't kick me." Jim turned and faced the other way, moving over a bit to give him lots of room.
Blair lay there for almost half an hour, on his back, hugging the bear and listening to the sounds in the loft. Familiar sounds that reminded him he was home. And he was safe. Beside him, Jim was asleep, a comforting soft snore drifting across the bed to him. Blair sometimes heard Jim snore when he was up all night working on his thesis or marking student essays, and it always made him feel calm because it meant Jim was nearby.
I'm awake. I'm home. He felt like himself, he could remember everything, but there was a distant otherness that came from being wide awake at three in the morning. The light from the windows cast strange shadows, but they were interesting rather than disturbing. From where he lay, he could see the two windows at either end of the room at the foot of the bed, three more along the wall above the kitchen, and three high along the opposite wall in the living room. It was windy outside. Clouds moved across the moon and for a little while, it was darker. The fridge came on, the motor softly humming.
When all the cold inside him was gone, Blair slipped out of the bed and went downstairs to his bed and went to sleep.
The coffee was chortling in the pot signaling it was ready when Ellison finished showering and shaving the next morning. He came out of the bathroom to see Sandburg sitting with his elbows on the table, his chin resting in the palms of his hands as he massaged his temples.
"Good morning," Ellison said, trying not to monitor the young man too closely.
"Morning, Jim." Blair pushed himself up from the chair and moved across to take the pot from the coffee maker, yawning as he poured them each a cup. "When did Naomi leave last night? I must have fallen asleep on her."
Ellison smiled at the apt expression. "She said she'd be back today. How are you doing? Feeling okay?"
Sandburg shrugged, stretching. "Yeah. Just thinking about the case. It kinda comes and goes on me, what all happened with Crawford." He froze and stared up at Ellison. "Wait... was I upstairs last night?"
"For a while. You had a dream and you came up and told me about it." He waited for the memory to reconnect. It had been strange hearing Blair moving about in the darkness and then slowly mounting the steps. There had been almost a sense of disassociation about his partner that had faded away once Blair felt anchored again. He hadn't slipped back into the child, but had just been lost in his fragmented memories and dreams and needed to reestablish his connections.
Sandburg looked at him now, intently. "A dream?... Oh... About the men?"
"That's right. I remember what you told me, so we can record it later and we'll see if you have anything more to add to it." Ellison took a sip of his coffee. "Up to doing a little brainstorming?"
"Sure." There didn't seem to be any hesitancy in Blair's nod, just his normal curiosity. "Now or after we eat?"
"There's lots of hot water left. Why don't you have a shower, then we'll talk?" As the younger man walked by him, sipping his coffee, Jim snagged his arm and pulled him over. "How's that bump on your head?"
"Can't feel it this morning," Blair answered, putting down his mug and tilting his head so Jim could examine the spot. "I'll be gentle on it, but it seems to be fine."
"Bit of a headache?"
"Yeah. The shower will probably work that out. Just tense, I guess."
"Well, breakfast will be ready when you get out. How does scrambled eggs sound?"
Blair grinned. "Fine, considering that's all we ever make most mornings."
"No, I'm Blair. Alec was a student at--" Sandburg ducked to avoid the soggy dishcloth missiling toward him.
Jim watched the door close with a loud crash, and let out a sigh of relief that he hadn't realized he was suppressing. So far, so good. That was the Blair he knew.
"No. You were just a little scared. Listen, Chief, I've got an idea." Jim pushed his empty plate back and wrapped long fingers around his coffee mug.
"I'm all ears, man. Anything. I don't want to start peeing my pants every time something spooks me."
"You never did that," Ellison pointed out.
"Ask my mom about the spider incident in Mexico." Blair made an attempt to eat a mouthful of his scrambled eggs.
"Which brings me to my point: your mother told me something about what happened in Australia when you were a child."
"That kangaroo thing? I swear I never thought she'd do that, man. I just wanted to see if I could fit inside her pouch and then the--"
Jim held up his hand blocking the rest of the story. He had a feeling he really didn't want to know what happened next. "No, not that. Do you remember being locked in a closet when you were a child?"
Blair stared at him, the color slowly fading from his face. "Oh...I...Did I tell you about that?...Oh. I don't remember much about it. Not really. Not much of it anyway."
"Your mother told me about it. Do you remember what Crawford asked you about when he was talking to you?"
Blair shook his head. "No."
"Did he ask you about being four years old?"
Eyes closed, Blair shivered, trying to remember. "Maybe. Yeah, something about 'did I remember what it was like to be Marty's age and afraid?' I said I did. Yeah, it was that closet, being locked in the closet and I couldn't get out." He looked over at Jim. "Naomi told you about that?" he asked, double-checking.
"Oh...sometimes I wondered if it really happened. She never mentioned it. But I had the bear, so it must have happened," he reasoned.
"So Crawford found that memory somehow and exposed it."
"How? Why would I have told him?"
"Remember the needle marks on your arms? We did some blood work on you and we found traces of thiopental sodium in your system. It's often called by its trade name, Sodium Pentothal. Have you heard of it?"
"That's the truth drug, right? Yeah, I've heard of it. The spies in the movies always use that."
Ellison tried to smile reassuringly. "Not just the movies, Chief."
"So it works?"
"Depends on the person doing the questioning, as well as the mental and psychological condition of the subject. You have to be trained to get the information you're looking for, to get around the subject's own blocks. The person being questioned may become very communicative, verbalizing their thoughts, but unlike the movies, they don't usually lose their self-control. They don't just start babbling the truth the moment they're injected with the serum. Crawford knows his drugs, though. If he added the thiopental sodium to other hallucinogens or sedatives, he could have a pretty potent drug mix going there."
"He's got that diploma to be a pharmaceutical assistant," Blair whispered.
"That's right. And we've discovered that up until yesterday he worked for one of the large twenty-four hour drugstores in the city. He's taken quite a bit of time off work lately, supposedly due to sickness, and they say he didn't show up for work the last three days."
Blair nodded, turning back to his cooling eggs. "I wonder what else I told him. Did I tell him about you?"
"Not unless he asked you specifically about me, but I still think he wouldn't have been able to get that information from you, Chief. No, he wanted to find out what scared you, especially at a young age. He was probably trying to find some way of bringing back a childhood fear of yours that would produce the level of terror he wanted. Once he found it, that's what he would have concentrated on."
Blair's fork scraped along the plate. "So am I still under the influence of that drug?"
"No, the effect would have worn off a long time ago." Jim paused a moment, debating whether to continue, but Blair immediately noticed the lapse.
"There's more, Chief. Have you heard of the drug flunitrazepam or Rohypnol?"
"Roofies? The date-rape drug?"
"Yes, we think---"
"Fuck." Blair was on his feet, eyes wide, but fastened on his partner. "Please, man, don't tell me you think he did that to me. Don't say it. It wasn't on my blood test results, right? No way, man. I would have known if the bastard raped me. Damn it, I would have known. I told you that."
"Slow down. I'm not saying he raped you. Sit down." Ellison waited until Blair sat back in his chair before continuing. "The hospital here did tests on your urine sample, but they also sent a sample out of state to a special lab for testing. Rohypnol can't be detected in your blood after four or five hours after ingestion, but it still shows up in the urine up to three days later. There are special tests to look for it."
"You're serious about this. You think he gave it to me."
"Yes, I think he did. Either Rohypnol or something like it. You say you have memory lapses, that you would wake up in a different room than you went to sleep in. This drug is tasteless, colorless and odorless. It dissolves quickly in drinks. If it's a newer batch of the drug, the manufacturers have changed it so now when it's put into a light-colored drink, the beverage turns blue."
Blair shivered. "The Kool-Aid was blue. He said it was the blueberry kind. Marty liked the color. Jim . . .?" Blair was gulping air again.
Ellison reached across the table and took his partner's hand. "We'll find out for sure when the tests come back. The tests results at the hospital here were inconclusive, although they said there is a strong possibility that's what he gave you. Meanwhile, we're just going to proceed with the investigation under the assumption that you were drugged with thiopental sodium and the Rohypnol. And we already know that while he didn't rape you, you were sexually abused, partner. The drug has other purposes ---"
"Yeah, like making me do a strip show or exposing myself--- or--"
"It does have the effect of releasing inhibitions, but don't jump to conclusions yet. Regardless, it's now a Federal offense to administer any controlled substance to any person without their knowledge with the intent of committing a violent crime and there are harsh criminal penalties for using any drugs to commit sexual assault."
"But we have to catch the guy first."
"You're right. And we're going to." He waited until Blair pulled his arm away to sit with his face buried in both hands. "We'll work it out, Chief. You're not alone in this. You've got friends who care about you---"
"I've never told anyone about that. About that house in Australia," Blair said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper.
"He stole the memory from you." Ellison made no attempt to keep the anger from his voice, but the effect on his partner was unexpected.
Blair smiled and wiped a tear from his eye.
"What?" Jim asked quietly.
"You blow me away, man. That's it exactly, and you understand. You understand! He stole that fucking memory from me." Blair's fist came down on the table, rattling the mugs and plates.
"Chief . . ."
"I'm okay. I'm okay," Blair muttered, eyes closed.
"Nah, but you'll be okay."
Bright blue eyes opened to stare at Jim. "I know. I told Naomi you were my Blessed Protector and---"
"Oh, please tell me you didn't," Ellison groaned.
"I did, and she could dig that, man. She believes all that stuff."
"Well, she wasn't believing it when we talked last night." He waited a moment, knowing Blair's next question.
"What happened? I don't . . ." The young man's forehead was scrunched trying to remember what had transpired. "You and Simon went somewhere. Naomi and I were talking about my classes and the stuff she was doing this year and . . ." He shook his head. "Is that when I...I don't remember. Did I, you know, lose it or something?"
"There was a noise outside and you had a reaction when you were alone with her."
"What do you want me to call it? A panic attack? An episode?"
"No. You're not broken. Just a little rattled, right now." Ellison waited until his partner met his steady gaze. "I mean it. Every time I've needed you to help me with my senses yesterday, you were there. You did your job. You focused me, encouraged me, guided me. Thank you. I know how hard this must be for you and it means a lot to me that consciously or subconsciously, you still are watching out for me."
Blair shook his head, the smile back. "How do you always know what to say to cheer me up?"
Jim shrugged. "Practice. Wisdom. Superior intelligence." He looked to the door a moment before the knock sounded and wrinkled his nose. "Sage. Your mother, Chief. And her friend Sheila...who just asked Naomi if you still had those beautiful long curls . . ."
"Oh, that Sheila. Cripes, she couldn't keep her hands off my hair last time I saw her. You gotta help me, man." The knock sounded again and Blair took a deep breath, blowing it out in little puffs trying to calm himself, then breaking into a laugh as he caught Jim's eye. "Coming!" he called, pushing himself out his chair and sliding in his socks to the door. "Hi, Mom." He stood back to let her in. "Sheila," he added, then ducked as her hand reached out to pat his hair.
They sat around the table, their attention focused on Sheila as she explained to Blair how hypnotism worked, how the therapist gained a rapport with their subject, procedures, styles, and varying methods of induction techniques. "The most popular method is one we call 'progressive relaxation' where the patient is told to relax each muscle in their body."
"I'm familiar with hypno-therapy," Blair said, glancing over to his partner. "I've been using it with Jim sometimes, helping him remember things about cases or unwind after a case."
"Besides, they're really only simple meditation steps," Naomi put in. "Blair was taught to do that when he was a little child."
"Which may also mean he'd be easier to hypnotize," Sheila responded, gently, looking from mother to son.
"That's what our department psychologist said, too." Ellison liked Sheila's no-nonsense approach to her field of expertise, and also the way she didn't back down to Naomi. He suspected that there were few people who were not intimidated by his partner's mother. Naomi Sandburg was beautiful and carefree, but she was also strong-willed and determined to do as she pleased. He had gone from being captivated by her to indifferent to her; now, he would would have been happy enough to have her elsewhere. Except that Blair adored her. And if the kid thought she was worth caring about, then he was going to work hard at caring for her, too, and get over any overlapping baggage he had about his own mother. He owed Sandburg that.
Naomi glared across the table to Jim, ignoring her son altogether. "So, is there anything else you've neglected to tell me about this?"
"I'm a police officer, Naomi. I'm not at liberty to tell you every aspect of the case."
"Well, I'm his mother and I think I'm entitled to know what has happened to my son. Would you tell me why Sheila seems to know more than I do?"
"We consulted with her last night, as you know, and we asked her to keep what we said confidential. As a professional in her field, she agreed to do just that."
Sheila leaned over and placed a placating hand on Naomi's arm. "I'm sorry. I told you we'd be talking about it this morning."
"I didn't know you were keeping from me that some psycho drugged my son, tried to murder him, and brainwash him. How do we know he's not programmed to--"
"Naomi, just wait and let us explain before you jump to conclusions." Ellison kept calm, aware of how distressed his partner was becoming. He knew Blair hated to see his mother upset, especially when the fight was with someone else he considered family. And he also hated to be excluded from conversations, which is exactly what was happening now. "From what we know so far, Blair was likely drugged while he was with Crawford," Ellison said, glancing to his partner on his right. "There are needle marks on his arm and there were traces of Sodium Pentothal in his blood work. Tomorrow or Tuesday we should get back the results of some additional urine tests we sent to an out-of-state lab. Crawford might have used other drugs such as flunitrazepam or GHB on Blair and we need to confirm that."
Sheila nodded. "That's a potent mixture. Assuming what you and your Captain Banks suggested last night is true, if this man was trying to invoke a childlike-fear reaction in Blair, and if he knew what he was doing, he may have uncovered a severe trauma that had happened to Blair when he was a child and was using that as leverage."
"But what could he have used?" Naomi asked. "Nothing traumatic happened to Blair when he was a little boy. He had a happy, carefree childhood."
"He was locked in a closet for hours. I would think that was traumatic," Ellison said.
"Come on now, Jim. That's reaching, don't you think? I don't know why I even told you that little story. Blair didn't seem that upset at the time. When Crazy Tommy called down from upstairs that he had found him, we all rushed up and Blair was sound asleep."
Ellison was prevented from answering by the shrill ring of the telephone. He crossed to the cordless phone on the coffee table in the living room, picking it up before the third ring. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Simon. Two things: The case made the front page of today's paper--don't ask me how, but they have Crawford's picture on the first page. And more urgently, we may have a lead on Crawford. Someone matching his description was reported inside the main branch of the Cascade Library on Westbrook Avenue. Can you meet us?"
Ellison glanced behind him to the table and the conversation continuing there. Naomi was trying to convince Blair that what had happened when he was a child was nothing, that he hadn't been traumatized by anything. What would he have been afraid of? He was never in any danger.
"Simon, I'll come as soon as I can. I'm not leaving Sandburg alone." He could hear Blair's heart beating faster as his mother continued to argue her point, as focused on getting her opinion across as her son could be sometimes. "It might be a few minutes. I've got to go." He slammed down the phone.
"No!" Blair was hyperventilating, gasping for air, shivering, his head tilting back as though he could swallow the oxygen he needed. He stood up, his chair falling backwards.
Naomi started to get up to move toward him, arms outstretched, "Sweetie, it's okay--"
"No!" Blair recoiled from her, backing up to his room, bumping into the door. Jim could hear the creak of the wooden slats of the futon bed as Blair dropped to the mattress, the odd collection of square and rectangular cushions swept away and pushed to the floor with no regard for the sacred history behind each acquisition. Blair had once sent a cushion cover by UPS to a particular shop in Seattle to have it dry cleaned, so careful was he with them. Fear had no place for beauty, though, and the only history Blair Sandburg was remembering at this moment was a stuffy closet on the top floor of a dusty farm house in Australia, where a little boy had felt abandoned and alone and terrified of the monsters of his dreams.
Ellison grabbed Naomi's arm as she went past him, bringing her to a halt. "Leave him alone."
"Don't you tell me what to do--"
"I am damn well going to tell you what to do! This is my house and if you don't like it you can get out."
"He needs me--"
"He needed you twenty-four years ago but you didn't notice he was missing. You had your chance, Naomi. Now it's my turn."
"Like hell it is." She shook off his grasp, then swore, boiling with anger, as Ellison cornered her with her back against the kitchen island.
"Let me deal with this," Ellison insisted. He could hear behind him the faint sounds from Blair's room. The little brown bear was slowly having the air crushed out of it as Blair clung to the stuffed toy. He could hear his partner rock back and forth trying to calm himself down, trying not to surrender to the overwhelming emotions.
"Silver... Silver... Stay here... Not alone... Not alone..." The broken whispers drifted out of the room, chanted over and over like a mantra. "Find me... Silver... Stay here... Not alone..."
Jim felt Naomi's fingers touch his face, and the detective realized he had tears running down his cheeks.
"I'm sorry," she said, suddenly, backing down. "Go to him. Do something, if you can." Naomi dropped back into her chair at the table, hardly aware of Sheila's arm going around her.
Jim wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then stepped to the door of Blair's room and into the shadows. His eyes adjusted to the dim light, to the young man on the bed. Turning, he closed both doors, giving them some privacy, then edged closer to sit on the edge of the futon. "Chief?"
Bright eyes brimming with tears looked up at him. "No one came to find me."
"Naomi said they were all looking for you."
Blair smiled grimly at him, and Ellison could see that the little boy had been replaced by the adult. "Crazy Tommy found me, Jim, because he knew where to look for me."
Shit. "Did he put you in there?"
"He said I was too noisy and I'd be a distraction at the meeting. The meeting was important . . . no one could hear me upstairs in the closet. No one came when I called. No one came to find me."
"Why didn't you tell your mother?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know if I remembered it then. Maybe I told her. It was a long time ago. And now, I don't know if what I remembered is true. It's all muddled in my brain now. Did it ever happen? Jim, why the hell do I feel like hiding under the bed and crying? I can't stop shaking. What's wrong with me?"
Ellison rested his arms across his partner's shoulders, trying to draw away some of the pain. "Chief, you had a real scare when you were a young child, and Crawford wanted you to remember what it felt like to be afraid like that. To feel abandoned and terrified. That bastard attacked your emotions and you're hurting from it, just the same as the wound on your arm or on your forehead. Crawford grabbed the memory and tapped into it, for his own reasons. Like rubbing salt on an open sore--guaranteed to cause immediate pain. Don't blame yourself."
"Don't blame myself . . ." Blair studied the bear, as if it held some hope of truth if he examined it closely enough. "This isn't Silver," he said finally. "I shouldn't be holding it. I'm a grown man holding a stuffed bear."
"If it makes you feel better right now, you just go on holding it, Chief. It doesn't bother me. He's kinda cute. Reminds me of a bear I had once." As if to put his words into actions, Jim pulled them both into his arms, feeling Blair's shivers gradually calm down.
"I tried to get away from Crawford, Jim. I tried to take Marty away from him. The man was strong, though; it was like trying to stop a bull. He would get angry and would threaten to hurt Marty if I didn't behave. He would put me over his knee and spank me like I was a little child and he'd put me in the closet and leave me there. I could hear him with Marty, talking to him, yelling at him, making him cry. I couldn't stop him. I didn't know how to stop him."
"We'll find a way, Chief. You and me, we'll stop him together."
"I don't want to go back out there," Blair whispered into his shoulder, eyes tightly shut.
"Do you want me to tell them to leave?" Jim asked, resting his chin on the top of Blair's head.
He shrugged. "I just don't want to talk to them right now." Another tremor quaked through his slim body. "Man, this really sucks, Jim. I'm a basket case here. Maybe you better call the padded wagon to come and get me."
"I have another idea," Ellison said softly, waiting until another shiver passed. "That was Simon who just phoned. They've spotted Crawford at the main branch of the library downtown. I may need your help. Think you're up to it?"
Blair pulled back, trying to see Jim's face in the dull light. "You still want me to go with you?"
"You're my partner, aren't you? Watching my back and all that?"
"What if I, like, freak again or something?"
Ellison pulled a tissue from the box by the bed and handed it to him. "Bring the bear, then. Between Silver and I, we've got you covered."
Blair was on his feet, scrambling in the darkness to put on socks and shoes. "I need to get changed."
Jim switched on the bedside light. "I'm going to go start up the truck. It's cold out; there'll be ice on the windows. Dress warm. You've got two minutes to get your butt downstairs. Don't worry; Naomi and Sheila will be gone by the time you head down to the truck." He left the bedroom and crossed to the front doorway.
"Ladies, I'm sorry but that telephone call I took a minute ago was my boss. Blair and I have been called on a case. Naomi, I know you don't like him being involved in police work, but you're just going to have to respect his wishes on this."
"He's not in any condition to be--"
"He's my partner. I'll take care of him. He wants to go with me." Ellison gestured to the door as he put on his coat. "I'll see you out." He set his Cascade PD cap on his head, waited for them to take their coats, then left the loft after them. "Hurry up, Chief! Move it!" he called as he shut the door.
"Coming! Don't leave without me, man."
The children's section librarian, who had called in the report, was waiting for them at her desk. She had already noted the time, where exactly Crawford had been when she first noticed him, then his actions after she had calmly called 911 and followed their instructions. She had alerted security, who had rerouted others from the section. When Ellison asked her how she recognized Crawford, she simply opened her folded newspaper and pointed to the driver's licence photo of the man on the front cover. It was the lead news story of the week, saying only that residents of Cascade were asked to be on the alert for this man, as he was wanted by the police for questioning. He was considered dangerous.
She had seen him walking into the stairwell, heading up one floor to the reference and non-fiction sections. Politely thanking her for her help, Ellison jogged up the carpeted stairs, Sandburg right behind him. They emerged into a large sun-lit area with rows of tables packed with students, all with their backpacks, laptops, headphones, and stacks of books. He had to adjust his hearing against the twenty or thirty Walkmans that played everything from Beethoven, to the Beatles, to -- well, he had no idea what the rest of the noise was.
It seemed the two young female clerks at the reference desk both knew his partner and looked rather surprised when they realized he was with 'the cop' . Ellison pocketed his ID and scouted around for the other police officers, leaving Sandburg chatting with the two clerks.
"What's happening, Blair?" they asked.
"Don't worry, ladies. We're on the job. We're handling it," he heard his partner respond confidently, in what Blair considered his best deep, sexy voice.
"What's this 'we'? You holding out on us, Professor Sandburg?" one teased him. "Interesting moonlighting job. I was wondering why you're teaching fewer courses this semester, and now I know."
"Is your friend spoken for?" the other one asked, staring after Ellison. "Please don't tell me he's gay or married."
"He's not gay or married, and he's not seeing anyone in particular right now." Sandburg fished a notebook out of his backpack. "However, I am taking bookings for him, although there is a twenty-five dollar cover fee for expenses." He flashed a smile at them. "Could I get your current phone numbers please?"
"Good line, Blair," the first clerk drawled. "But I'm still not giving you my number. Send your friend back here, and maybe, if he asks nicely, then just maybe I'll slip him my phone number. Watch out for this one, Karen. Don't let those big blue eyes fool you." She waved goodbye and walked away to help the next person in line.
"Hmm...Twenty-five dollars...What exactly would I get for my money?" Karen asked, leaning on the counter and staring into Sandburg's eyes. "And is there a two-for-one deal available?"
Ellison tuned the rest of the conversation out. At least Blair had something to keep him occupied while he met with the two police officers who had just checked out the aisles between the walls of books. "Anything?" he asked as they approached.
"We're going to look again. Barry, check out the reference section," Rafe directed the rookie officer with him, then stared over to the south end of the floor and the section of non-fiction books. "Jim, I'm going right back to the far end, then over to the windows, and check the east/west aisles from there. He might be at the end of one of the rows, and I can't see him."
"I'll watch from here." Ellison stood at the railing overlooking the main floor, his sight flickering over the faces, dismissing each one. With a disgusted sigh, he stopped on one particular redhead and wondered what it was about that color of hair that automatically tensed his jaw these days. And for good reason. Naomi and her friend must have either followed them or heard him mention the Collingwood Library to Blair. What else had they heard?
He moved back from the railing, seeing that Rafe had reached the far end of the floor and was gesturing that he was heading over to the windows. He tried his hearing again, but without anything in particular to listen for, the babble of sound meant nothing. Maybe Blair could help him sort out---
"Detective?" The head librarian had come out of her office, wanting an explanation, and Ellison nodded impatiently, realizing that he would have to speak with her. Banks wasn't there yet to handle the public relations.
He looked back to see if Rafe's movements had flushed out anyone in the non-fiction books yet. Nothing. He had taken six steps toward the administration area when he heard Blair call his name amid the commotion behind him, and he whirled around, gun out. "Police! Don't move!"
Crawford had Blair.
Beneath his frozen, emotionless expression, Ellison gaped at them in shock, wondering what the hell had gone wrong. Where had the creep come from? There was a guard watching at the top of the stairs, and they had just established he wasn't on the second floor.
But Crawford had Blair, had a gun pressed against the young man's throat. There would be time later to figure the logistics.
Crawford was backing up into the basically deserted alcove that held the microfiche readers and other older periodicals no longer in demand. Two college-aged students grabbed their bags and scurried out of the man's way, eyes wide in terror. Much like Blair's.
Ellison took a step closer, then another. "Crawford!" he yelled, as the man disappeared with his partner around the corner into the alcove. A single gunshot from Crawford brought Ellison to a staggered halt, but it was a warning shot, pinging off a metal microfiche viewer. Jim wondered fleetingly just who that warning shot was for--himself or Blair?
Three police officers bounded up the stairs from the main level, Banks with them. Ellison ignored the panicked sounds as the floor was quickly vacated behind him and fought to find the one sound he knew he could identify in the entire building---the heartbeat of his guide. Sifting through them, he found it, letting the aliveness of his partner ground him for a moment before taking a few steps closer to where Crawford had been last seen.
Banks had moved beside him. "Jim, there's a child missing. The mother thought he was at the Story Time but he had wandered away."
Ellison's jaw tightened. "Crawford's got Blair...They're in a stairwell around the corner," he added as he heard the door shut behind his partner. Ten long strides took him into the alcove and he spotted the maintenance door. "They're going up. He's telling Sandburg to behave...There's a child in there. I can hear the heartbeat...The child's been chloroformed or something...out cold." Ellison stood with one hand flat on the door, his gun in the other. "If I go into the stairwell, he's ready to shoot...he's just got Blair to open the door to the upper floor."
A fire alarm sounded through the building, shattering the detective's concentration and sending a tidal wave of pain crashing into his skull. Banks grabbed his elbow, half-supporting him, while Jim held his head, trying to find the damned dial Blair always talked about. Standing under one of the alarms, he couldn't hear anything and Simon dragged him back around the corner away from the clanging bell.
"The library has another half floor above this one, plus an open deck to the roof," Banks said. "Rafe!" The young detective ran over to them. "Find out what's upstairs from here. Are there any personnel up there that we have to worry about?"
"Yes, Captain." Rafe headed over to the head librarian, who was still standing in the doorway of her office.
Despite the intense headache, Ellison kept his hearing centered on his partner.
<What's wrong with him? Let him go!> Blair's voice.
<Shut up and move outside that door. Remember, kid---you're four years old and you're scared shitless of me.>
<No, I'm not!. Angh . . .! Don't touch me!>
<Then do what I say, brat.>
Ellison could hear the sound of the outer door opening. "He's moved them to the roof," he reported to Banks. The detective slowly opened the door and looked up the empty stairwell. "Simon, I'm going to go up there; see if I can hear anything. He'll be waiting for someone to come after him, though. I swear, I'm getting this bastard."
"I'm with you. Jim, we found out this guy is a Vietnam vet. He was a trained fighter twenty-five years ago, and we have no idea what kind of shape he's currently in." Banks swore silently as Ellison disappeared into the stairwell. The captain called Rafe over again, rapidly giving instructions for clearing out the rest of the building and securing any other doors to the roof. "And call an ambulance," he added quietly.
Just keeping thinking about how he's trying to manipulate you. Be angry at him. Think about other things. Remember Jim is out there and he'll come. He won't forget you. He promised.
You promised, Jim.
Crawford was holding the limp body of a young child draped over one arm as he walked backwards. "Keep moving, little boy," he ordered Sandburg. "Stay with me, or I'll shoot this kid right now." Crawford was big-- not as big as Simon, maybe, but he had an inch at least on Jim. Dark wiry hair, Rasputin's eyes, and Charles Manson's insane smile. And the biggest, shiniest gun Sandburg had ever seen.
Probably a phallic symbol of some kind making up for his less than average---
Crawford pointed the gun upward and pulled the trigger, the blast of gunfire almost sending Blair out of his sneakers.
"Damn you! Come on, man. Let him go. You've got me. Put the kid down. He's never done anything to deserve this. You've got me."
Blair still wasn't sure how that had happened. He had been leaning against the counter, talking to Karen when suddenly there was a gun in his side and an arm around his neck dragging him backwards. He had a brief glimpse of an extremely pissed-off Ellison as Crawford pulled him into the stairwell. Then Blair had seen the little boy, and Crawford had forced him to follow him up the stairs and onto the roof, or he would hurt the child.
"Go stand by the edge of the roof," Crawford demanded.
"Why?" Blair asked, too quickly.
"Or I'll shoot him," Crawford added.
"Okay, okay." Blair moved closer to the edge, stopping about three feet away. "Now put him down--you don't need him. You have me."
"I will have you," Crawford corrected. "I'm not finished with you yet. You're going to have to be the experiment again, since I don't have the luxury of any more time. I will finish my research, despite funding being cut out. They thought I was too distracted by my other interests, such as your scrawny body. Well, maybe I was. Maybe I still am. Because you are my little boy, all grown up."
"Damn you," Blair whispered. "Jim?" he added, softer yet. "I could use some help here." He took a step. "What funding?" he asked Crawford, stalling for time. "Those men I saw at your place? Were they supposed to be bankrolling you?"
"Who were they? Mafia? Drug lords? CIA?"
"Closer to the edge," Crawford ordered, his face red with anger. "Now!"
Blair took another hesitant step, feeling his heart rate skyrocket. Too many things were coming into view down below. He felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him. Oh, please, God, I didn't tell him about the heights thing, did I?
He sat, almost smiling in relief not to be standing so close to the edge.
"Move closer. I want you to crawl like a baby to the edge of the roof. Closer. Closer, I said!"
Blair wanted to refuse, but he knew he couldn't. He moved closer. He could feel the upward draft, the noises, the kaleidoscope of images slowly twirling; the rain falling on his back, soaking his thin jacket. His stomach flopped and he swallowed hard. He could do this. He had done it before. He had jumped out of planes and jumped over cliffs and...he hadn't been alone then. "Jim?" he whispered.
"Look over the edge." Crawford's voice dropped to a low monotone, invading Blair's thoughts. "Look over the edge. Do it! How do you feel? You're all alone. No one else is here. They left you. You're at the edge of the building and you're all alone. You're terrified of heights."
"Please, no," Blair whispered, trying to hold away his fear, but feeling it slide closer. "Jim!" he cried out.
"Jim's not here," Crawford laughed. "You're all alone, little boy. No one is with you."
"No." Blair clung to the backpack still in his arms. "No," he said, shaking. "I've got Silver with me."
Crawford snarled at him. "Silver? Who's that? No one is here. You're all alone."
"No. I have Silver. I have Silver."
"Where? Where is this Silver?"
Blair went to open his backpack, but Crawford made a sudden lunge for it, the movement almost startling Blair off the roof and he clung to the edge, lying face-down on the roof, his face pressed against the stone pebbles.
Crawford pulled open the backpack and saw the bear. And laughed, almost hysterically. "So this is Silver? Take him, little boy." He flung the bear at Blair, and tossed the backpack over the edge.
"No!" Blair screamed, coming close to falling off the roof trying to lunge for the pack. "Jim!"
"Jim's gone. You've got nothing left but that toy. Nothing. No one. But me. Do you want to come with me, little boy? I'll take care of you. Like I did before, remember?" Crawford spun away from Sandburg and dove down to retrieve the unconscious child as the door to the roof opened. Using the child as shield, Crawford backed up until he was standing beside Blair. His leg kicked out and knocked the young man half off the roof.
Heedless of the rain and wind, Crawford towered over his two victims: the unconscious child draped over his left arm, and Sandburg at his feet, Blair's legs dangling over the edge of the roof. "Stay back, Detective. I saw you down there with your little partner. Well, he's not yours any longer."
"Sandburg, are you okay?" Ellison called, not bothering to respond to Crawford.
"Jim?" Blair lay along the edge of the roof, clinging to the stuffed bear. "Jim, get me down from here!" he wailed, his face buried in the fur, one hand covering his head, as though waiting for the blows to fall on him. He was dangerously close to falling off the edge and Ellison wasn't willing to take a chance with him surviving even a three-storey drop.
"Don't move, Chief." Ellison tore his eyes from his friend over to the man who held the gun on him. "Stay where you are, Crawford! We have police surrounding the building. Look at the cars and the lights." Despite having seen a picture of the man, Crawford was not what Ellison had expected. He had envisioned a cross between Timothy Leary and Svengali, but the man in front of him was more like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry.
Crawford shook his head. "I have the kid. Let me go and I'll keep him alive." To show his bargaining power, he nudged Sandburg's hip, eliciting a startled cry from the young man.
"Push him over the edge, and you're dead," Ellison promised.
"Oh, I have no intention letting him go. Not yet. If I can prove myself, if I can finish what I started, I'll show them I'm worthy of their interest. They're powerful men. They can protect me from your little laws."
"No one is above the law."
"How very naive of you. Of course there are those above the law. And that's who I'm working for. Which is why I need your partner again. Maybe even this kid here, if I have to take him. I have tests to finish." Crawford's calm delivery sent shivers up Ellison's spine.
"On what? How to bully a child?" he responded.
"Close. How children acquire phobias, and how these phobias can be accessed and brought to the surface in adults. Quite enlightening to actually be there when a phobia comes into existence. Your partner was a wonderful subject, as I stumbled quite by accident on two very strong phobias he exhibited: the fear of heights and one other, although I haven't yet decided what it is. Almost a mixture of the fear of abandonment and the fear of closed places. In his case, it was easy enough to draw them out, once I had isolated the initial cause. I haven't found what precipitated the fear of heights yet, but there may yet be time.... Satisfied, Detective? Did you get all that down for your records or do you want me to say it again slower before I leave with them?"
"You're not touching him again."
"Think again, Detective. I've taken him from you twice. What makes you think I can't do it again--providing that he lives through the next half-hour, of course. You really have no choice. If you shoot me and I go over, I'm taking them both with me." Crawford stood tall, one foot resting on Sandburg's hip. He hoisted the child in his arms higher. "Now you listen carefully, Ellison," the man ordered. "Throw your gun down, over there," he indicated the far side of the roof. "Or I'll kick your little friend off the roof," he added, when Ellison didn't move. "It would be an inconvenience, I admit, but I'm willing to start over again with a new subject. I prefer to use this one, though. He responds nicely to hypnotism---the easiest subject I've ever used. He's more in tune with his subconscious than most. Throw your gun, Ellison."
There was no way he could shoot the man and not have him fall backwards, taking the child and probably knocking Blair off the roof with him. He saw Crawford's foot slowly rock Blair, and heard the paralyzed cries from the young man, the choking sobs caught in his throat. With a frustrated groan, Ellison clicked the safety on his gun and tossed it away from him.
"Good choice. I applaud your sensibility. Now stand away from the door."
The stairwell was empty. Ellison could hear the activity on the street below and knew they were trying to prepare for someone falling from the roof. In the far stairwell, he could hear Banks running up the stairs with his backup, hoping to corner Crawford. Ellison just had to stall a few more minutes--- but Crawford wasn't about to let them wait long enough to get organized.
"I said, away from the door."
Ellison moved in the direction indicated, his eyes flicking from Crawford to Sandburg and back again. "Put the child down."
Crawford glanced down to the street, to the activity there. He seemed to be calmly going over his options, working through different plans as though this were a simple chess game. "No, I don't think I'll put the kid down. Not till I'm out of here." Crawford kicked Blair, knocking his legs over the edge. Another kick elicited a scream of terror from Blair that cut into Jim's heart. Crawford pulled his gun out, ready to fire, the barrel against the head of the child in his arms.
Ellison opened his hearing, focusing on the little boy. The child was alive and was beginning to stir, to come out of the effects of the chloroform. Crawford's finger on the trigger was ready. There was no hesitancy over killing a child, no remorse or guilt.
One more kick and Blair's body slid further off the edge, but he was still hanging on to the roof, one hand scrambling for purchase in the graveled surface, the other still clutching the bear. Crawford moved away from him, splitting Ellison's concentration. The man strode past the detective, then held open the door to the stairwell. "Get in here."
"You heard me. I want you to go ahead of me down the stairs. I'll be right behind you. Tell the cops to vacate the stairs, or I swear I'll kill the child."
"We'd take you out within seconds if you pulled the trigger."
"But the child would be dead, wouldn't he?" Crawford laughed. "Right now, you can keep him alive. Don't waste the offer." He stood, leaning back against the open doorway, out of the rain. "Now get down the stairs."
"Let me pull Sandburg up onto the roof first, then I'll go with you."
"Move quickly down the stairs and let me get out of here, and then you can come back and rescue your little partner. At least for now. I'll come back and get him later. I'm still not finished with him. You won't be able to hide him from me forever."
"You bastard." Ellison spared a brief glance to Blair, then moved down the stairs, walking backwards, his eyes fixed on Crawford, then turning and hurrying down. They went two flights, until they reached the ground level. Hang on, Chief. I'll be back for you.
Crawford looked out the glass window of the emergency side door. There was only one officer there, gun trained on the door. "Tell him to move back. I'm coming out and there's a gun on the child."
<Jim? Where are you? Don't leave me!>
Ellison faltered a moment, his back against the rough stairwell wall as he heard his partner's cry. I'm coming, Chief. Hold on.
"Tell him to move back!"
"You'll never get away with it, Crawford." Lame words, perhaps, but he had to say them. "There are police officers all up and down this street."
"Talk to the cop." Crawford gestured with his head to the lone officer waiting outside. "I've killed three children, already. I'm really not worried about a fourth." He tightened his hold on the now-wiggling child, half strangling him, and the little boy's movements gradually stilled as he ran out of oxygen.
Ellison waved the officer away, and Crawford opened the side door and stepped outside. He kept his back along the wall and moved to the side of the building, checking out the situation. From where Jim stood at the doorway of the stairwell, he could see the man's calm, calculating stance, but the way Crawford held a gun showed he was familiar with firearms, or at least the semiautomatic Beretta M9 US military issue he was carrying. Crawford was comfortable enough with the weapon to make trying to get it away from him a risk Ellison wasn't willing to take. Simon Banks had said the man was a Vietnam veteran, but not what unit or branch he had been with. The detective wasn't about to put a child's life in jeopardy on the off-chance he could distract Crawford long enough to disarm him.
Simon's voice filtered down to him. <Jim, if you can hear me, we've got Crawford covered. Leave him to the SWAT team. We need you up here. Sandburg's trapped and we can't get at him. Hurry up, damn it. He's not cooperating with us. I don't know how long he's got before he falls.>
Ellison swore silently, torn in two directions. The cop in him---hell, the sentinel in him--wanted to go after Crawford. He wanted to personally bring the man down. Grind his face into the pavement and cuff him. To shout the Miranda at the back of the bastard's head.
<Ellison! Get up here!>
<Please, Jim. Help me...Jiiiiiiimmmmmm!>
Which meant Blair was still on the roof. Oh, God, let him still be on the roof.
Simon Banks hadn't come down yet. That had to mean something. But what?
There were doors at the top of the carpeted main stairwell, a sign on them reading that the third floor was for authorized personnel only. One side was unlatched--- she could see that from where she stood. Moving quickly, she sprinted up the rest of the stairs, pushing the door open to a hallway. One side led to a boardroom --twenty chairs, or so, around a conference table, from what she could see through the window on the door. There was another door to the rooftop deck, a place where the staff would have lunch on sunny days, with a picnic table on the gray slate squared surface and a few green patio chairs stacked along one side of the building. Beyond the patio was the rest of the pebble-strewn roof, assorted pipes and the top of the elevator shaft.
Naomi pushed the door open and stepped out into the wind-tossed rain, walking carefully across the slippery cement blocks until she cleared the corner. At first, she could only see Banks crouched at the edge of the roof, then she realized why he was there. "Blair?" she screamed.
Banks turned his head to look at her. "Get back."
She skidded to the pebbled surface beside him. "Oh, God. Grab him!"
"I'm trying to, Naomi. I can't reach him."
Sandburg was pressed against the side of the building, one hand grasping a drainage pipe that ran vertically beside him, his feet precariously balanced on the top outer frame of a second floor window. In his other hand, the toy bear. He was drenched and shaking. If he let go of the bear, they'd be able to reach his outstretched hand.
Naomi hung over the roof edge, her hand reaching out to her son. "Come on, Blair. Let Silver go."
"He'll fall." A sob carried up to them.
"Detach with love, darling. Let him go."
"Sandburg, do what she says. They'll catch the damned bear down below. They may not be able to catch you." Simon Banks leaned over as far as he dared, but he couldn't do more than graze the top of Blair's hand.
"No!" Sobs racked the young man, his hand slipping on the pipe as he clung to the side of the building. "I can't."
Banks looked back over his shoulder at the roof entrance. "Come on, Jim. Where are you?"
Naomi hung over the edge, her hand outstretched, pleading with her son. "Sweetie, we're here. We want to help you. Let go of the bear go so we can help you."
"It's Silver. He'll fall." They could barely hear Sandburg's choked words. "I can't let him fall. I need him with me. No one else is here."
Sandburg looked up at him through teary eyes. The bear instantly dropped from his right hand and with a cry, Blair lunged up for Jim to latch onto his wrist. He cried out again as Banks grabbed his bandaged left forearm when Jim started to hoist him up, but made no other sound until his arms wrapped around Jim's neck and he was safely on the roof.
Sprawled back across the stones on the roof, Ellison tried to catch his breath from his mad dash up the stairs, alternating gasping and trying to calm his partner, his hands stroking the young man's back as Blair sobbed and panted and shivered, the panic still not gone from his body. One scowl from Ellison sent Naomi reeling backwards, but he had no words for her. Not yet. He knew he had to find time to explain it all to her. To explain what was happening. But not now.
Because they weren't finished yet.
"I'm sorry, Chief. I'm sorry. Damn, I let him take you away from me again." Ellison whispered. What kind of Blessed Protector am I? You should fire me. He could feel Blair's gasps for air, could feel the child banished as the adult strove to take control. But the adult was just as frightened as the child had been. The fear was still there, maybe it always would be there: the fear of heights, the fear of abandonment, but the adult had a way of dealing with the emotion that wasn't available to the child. Blair simply drew strength from his partner, just as Jim felt restored by the presence of his guide, each pulse of their matching heartbeats a message to both that they were alive, that there would be a future, and they could, ultimately, trust each other.
"You all right?" he asked, as Blair quieted in his arms.
"Fine," came the muffled voice.
A minute passed between them. "Chief? You okay?" Same question. Same question he always asked. But he had to know.
"Fine. I'm fine." Sniff. "I'm cold."
Another minute spent rubbing Sandburg's back and arms, trying to warm him up. "That better?"
"Yeah." Blair lifted his head a bit, looking around. He saw his mother and the captain, then dropped his head back to Jim's shoulder with a defeated sigh. "Shit, man."
Ellison knew damn well what the kid was feeling. "We'll get through this. You're doing fine. You know that the way you're feeling is because of what he did to you, right? Remember that."
"You saying I'm lying, Chief?"
"Obfuscating." A small chuckle.
"Not to you. Not about this."
Ellison listened in on the captain's telephone conversation with Rafe on the street. Crawford had managed to get to the side street, stop a car and force a woman out. Just as the SWAT team was in place to fire, he had moved, thrusting the child into the car with him and stepping on the gas, leaving the woman sprawled on the road. One sniper got the rear tire, but Crawford cleared the corner and sped off. Police were in pursuit, but the chase was cautious because of the child in the car.
Ellison wanted to give Blair all the time in the world to recuperate, to catch his breath, but there was no more time. Not at this moment, anyway. The detective stood, dragging Sandburg up with him. Keeping his arms locked around Sandburg, holding him up, Ellison looked down at the street, eyes scanning quickly for Crawford. Sight blurred, shifted, lengthened. Depth and focus came and went. The sentinel stepped backwards, reeling slightly from the massive input. He knew he was forcing it, risking zoning, but he had to know what was happening.
"Go slow. Just look at it all; don't try to see everything at once," came the whisper he needed to hear.
"He may have abandoned the car."
"Then picture what he was wearing, Jim. Think about that, let your senses tell you when you have a match." Although Sandburg was still facing Ellison, his head resting on the taller man's shoulder, Blair's low quiet voice registered in what Jim had grown to think of as his 'guide' tone. "Skip over it like a stone on water. Don't absorb it, okay?"
Ellison tried it again, listening to the voice, letting the idea guide his sight. It was still difficult, there were still far too many images for his mind to grasp, but it was no longer impossible. It no longer crippled him. He had a measure of control.
A rustle of movement behind them brought Ellison back enough to recognize Naomi approaching.
"Blair--" Naomi began, but Banks intercepted. The tall captain put his arm around her and firmly led her across the roof and over to the door, despite her objections. She was handed over to Brown and both stood inside the third floor hallway and stared through the glass doors at the three men left on the roof.
Ellison watched the streets from his vantage point, listening in on the on-going report the captain was receiving on his cell phone from Rafe. Crawford had taken two quick turns, then driven into a parkade. By the time the police units had arrived there, a half-minute later, he had abandoned the car and had gone inside the building. Underground malls linked the buildings, branching out to other parkades, stairways, and elevators. The police officers were spreading out to search but there were too many places where Crawford could have gone.
"Anything?" Blair whispered, not wanting to interrupt whatever Jim was watching or listening to. "Do you see him yet?"
"They lost Crawford at the Sixth Street entrance to the Brewster Towers underground mall." Ellison found the top of the tall office building but another blocked it, robbing him of the view. He struggled trying to find an alternate way of tracking it for several minutes, finally cursing his lack of control over his senses.
"You aren't Superman, Jim. You can't see through brick buildings."
"I know." He quelled another spasm of shaking from the younger man. "I wish I was Superman sometimes."
"Don't try to fly, yet, okay? I'm not quite up to it."
A gust of wind brought more rain that soaked them both, and Jim wrapped his arms securely around his partner. "Just take it easy."
"Thanks, but my knees feel like they're going to collapse if you let go yet. I don't know what's wrong with them. Uh...what exactly scared me this time--or do I want to know?"
Ellison looked down at him. "Do you remember coming up to the roof with Crawford?"
Sandburg nodded. "More or less, yeah. He had a little boy with him--- Oh, no...Jim?" he asked, alarmed.
"He's still with Crawford. He's alive. The ambulance down there is helping the woman who was thrown from the car Crawford commandeered. She's got a few cuts and bruises, and the paramedics are checking her out." Ellison glanced down at the fingers twisted into his shirt.
Sandburg turned his head and leaned outward, trying to see down to the street. "That ambulance?"
"I can see her through the reflection off the glass door of the next building. She's sitting just inside the ambulance," Ellison added, his eyes searching through the Sunday shoppers two blocks away for Crawford.
Blair took a few deep breaths before releasing his partner's shirt and turning himself around to take a better look. "Hey, Jim, come on, now, get real. I can see the ambulance, man--it's big and has flashing lights. The people--that's another story. They're all kind of a blur."
Ellison looked further down the street, letting his sight push as far as he could. The rapidly changing scenes made him dizzy, and he swayed and grabbed hold of Sandburg standing in front of him. He could feel his partner's body brace him and the captain's arm suddenly steadying his back. He could feel the cold rain on his skin, the wind blowing against his face. Sandburg's heartbeat, pounding through his body.
"Easy, big guy." Blair had dug his heels into the rough surface of the roof, leaning backwards into Ellison, trying to avoid being pushed closer to the edge of the roof. "Four feet back is close enough, thank you. No more zoning, Jim."
Simon snapped his cell phone closed. "Ellison? I'm going down. You coming?" he asked, anxious to get moving, but reluctant to leave them.
"We're fine, sir." Ellison straightened, finding his balance again, and watched the captain move away toward the propped open door to the third floor of the library. Along one outer wall was a crawl ladder, leading up one flight. "Chief, walk around in this patio area a bit and get your legs back. I'm going to see what I can see from the upper roof."
"How can you see him if he's in an underground mall?"
"If he waits too long there, he's going to be trapped. I think he'll come out."
Sandburg walked shakily over to the cement blocks of the patio and sat on the edge of the picnic table bench, one leg doing a nervous staccato beat. "Where do you think he'd head to?"
Ellison paused mid-climb. "What options would he have?" he asked, stepping on to the higher roof and looking around. He had to raise his voice slightly for Sandburg to continue to hear him. "Any suggestions?"
"I don't know. He didn't have his research logs and books with him just now, and they weren't at his house, right? So he's stashed them somewhere. My guess is he's got to get them first, then get out of town and start again somewhere else. He was, like, majorly into the research thing. Wrote down everything, man. I'd wake up and he'd click some kind of timer, then record how long I was asleep, I guess. He did the same thing with Marty. Yeah...he'd continue with his research. He took all the money out of his safety deposit box the other day, so he's not short on cash." Blair laughed, glancing up at Jim. "You should have seen the hundred-dollar bills, man. I've never seen so much money since that armored car accident--and we found out later that wasn't real currency. There were these men who gave him a briefcase of bills, too, but they were all twenties."
Ellison stared back down at him. "Sounds like some memories to me, Chief. Got any more?"
Sandburg looked startled. "What? That money thing? Oh. Yeah. I guess I did remember something. I wasn't trying, though." The leg that had paused briefly in its nervous bounce, now began again with a vengeance. "Am I going to remember it all?"
"Maybe. Depends what he drugged you with."
"He said he wasn't finished with me yet. He said he was coming back to get me. Where is he?"
"He could be anywhere, Chief. We're looking for him, and we'll get him eventually. He . . . wait . . ." Ellison blinked. He had seen something, like Blair had said. Now he had to find it again. He tried to backtrack where he'd been looking, slowing down the images until his eyes fastened on Crawford. "There he is! That bastard's done a circle and he's behind us at the LRT station. Going up the escalator." Ellison jumped the last few feet to the surface of the patio. "Shall we go get him?"
"After you, Oh Great Sentinel." Blair bounded to his feet with an award-winning smile.
"You sure? Probably better for you to stay with Simon." Ellison held open the door to the building.
"Nope. I can do it, if I stay with you."
"What if we get separated?"
Blair tapped his own chest, over his heart. "You're still with me, man. I've just got to remember that."
"Later, we talk." Ellison tousled the rain-drenched hair, then headed down the stairwell. "Let's go."
"To the bat pole, Batman," Blair joked weakly. "We've a city to protect."
The stairs were steep. Ellison reached back and grabbed hold of Sandburg's right wrist as they rapidly made their way down the cement steps of the emergency stairwell, ready to catch him if his partner missed a step. Blair was puffing by the time they emerged through the fire doors on the ground floor, the same exit that Crawford had left from. They ran through the courtyard into a street in chaos, police cars, ambulances, lights flashing. The rain had brought out a multi-colored quilt of umbrellas and rain gear.
Ellison yelled to Banks where they were heading, noting the captain calling the information to the units. "Come on, Chief."
"Mom?" Blair waved at Naomi as he ran by. "What are you doing here? I'll talk to you later! Come by our place tonight, okay? Don't go without talking to me!"
"Blair? What's going on? Are you okay?" Shocked, Naomi tried to go after him, but Brown still had a firm grip on her arm. And a huge grin on his face as they ran past him.
"I'm fine, Mom. Really! I'm with Jim," Blair answered, then gave a little hop and another wave, and ran after his partner.
Ellison would have smiled as Sandburg caught up to him, but he didn't have time. Tonight, I'll smile, he promised himself. Tonight, when this is over, and we're both home safely and Crawford is rotting in jail, then I'll smile.
They ran across the plaza to the Light Rail Transit station just south of the library. Blair couldn't see a SkyRail train approaching down the elevated track, but Jim was looking at something in the distance, and odds were, it was a train. If Crawford wanted the westbound train and that's what Jim was looking at, then they had approximately two minutes to get across the street, up the escalator, and to the LRT train access platform before he boarded it and left.
The lights were in their favor, turning green just as they approached the corner. Jim was moving quickly, and Blair knew immediately he was in trouble. He was simply too tired to keep up and his partner had his 'focused' look on his face which meant he wasn't listening to anything around him. His hearing was centered on the LRT platform above. Which meant this was definitely one of those times the Sentinel needed his Guide around for backup, because he couldn't hear what was happening around him and that was potentially dangerous. Especially in traffic.
And his guide was, quite frankly, pooped. "Jim! Slow down, man!" Blair followed him into the street, relieved when Jim seemed to negotiate around the one car that was half into the crosswalk. At least the sentinel wasn't trying to run with his sight focused elsewhere. It would make an interesting experiment sometime, though...could Jim actually learn to multi-task his senses? Blair had been experimenting with different tones of voice, all geared at securing Jim's attention at a crucial point. Sort of an emergency beacon. So far, he hadn't found one that worked particularly well. "Jim? Slow down, please," he tried in a lower register. No, that didn't seem to get his attention either.
Blair tripped as he reached the other side, his left leg not lifting high enough to clear the curb, and he went sprawling. He tried to roll with the fall as he'd seen Jim do countless times, and ended up banging one knee and skinning the palms of his hands. "Ouch! Great. Just great." He pushed himself up, but Jim was already at the bottom of the stairs, pounding up them like he was on some assault course, his concentration completely wired into the platform and Crawford.
Blair started jogging again, wincing with the pinging feeling in his knee. "Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow."
Jim stopped on the stairs and stared back at him, and Blair realized with a start that the sentinel must have heard him. "I'm okay," he responded immediately. "Keep going. Just be careful until I get there, okay?"
Jim nodded and kept going up the stairs. Blair could see the elevated train now at the edge of his sight; it was getting closer to the stop, but Jim would make it on time. Now, I have to make it on time, Blair sighed. He got to the bottom of the stairs finally and passed by them to take the escalator going up. Looking up the long stairway, he could see Jim round the corner at the top, racing toward his quarry. It was obvious he had Crawford in his sight now, and Blair braced himself for the inevitable sound of gunfire that was sure to happen as soon as the two men clashed.
His hearing picked up Sandburg coming up the escalator, quietly talking to him now, telling him to be careful, and he returned the sentiment.
Crawford was ahead of Ellison at ten o'clock, sitting on a bench, supposedly looking at a newspaper, glancing up now to the east to see if the train was coming yet. Confident bastard. The child was draped over one shoulder, appearing asleep, but probably drugged again. Ellison focused for a moment and heard the boy's heartbeat, steady but slow. It was a rather cozy scene, looking like a father with his tired child at the end of a day, heading home.
"Police! Stay where you are, Crawford!" Ellison said, just loud enough for the man to hear.
Crawford reacted immediately, head twisting around to see who it was. He leaped to his feet, jacket falling to the ground to reveal a gun drawn and ready. He was furious that he had been found. "Not so fast, cop. I've got hostages."
Without looking at them, Ellison waved at the commuters to get out of the way. "Put the child down."
"What? Do you think I'm an idiot? I've got more than just this kid. I've got others, too." Crawford's gun was pointed at the child's head, lodged under the small chin.
"Why should I believe you?" Behind him, the fleeing passengers reached the stairwell and almost knocked Sandburg off his feet as they pushed past him.
"I can provide you their names, if you're really interested," Crawford said. "Now you could kill me and still eventually find out who was missing, but they'd be dead by the time you found them."
Sandburg rounded the top of the escalator and approached cautiously, staying well behind Ellison.
Crawford smiled when he saw who it was, and Ellison felt his trigger finger twitch in response to the calculated grin. "Well, look who's back. You're a regular cat with nine lives, aren't you, little boy? Thank you, Detective. How kind of you to bring him back to me." Crawford ignored the weapon Ellison had out in front of him. "Don't be too hasty with that gun, cop. As I said, I've got two young men locked up. If you kill me, you won't find them. This little kid is expendable. As is your partner, despite his rather fascinating personality facets, which unfortunately I was paid rather well to break. Did he tell you what a lovely toy he made for me?" Crawford smiled again as the train came around the corner and began its approach to the station. "I think I'll take this little kid, though. He's not putting up much of a fight, much like Marty, hey, little boy? Remember him?"
"No!" Blair headed straight for Crawford. "Don't touch him!"
There was an interesting moment of hesitancy, as though Crawford was reluctant to harm Sandburg, and Ellison acted in that moment, covering the distance, and reaching the armed man before his partner could, his right foot kicking out in an attempt to knock away the gun. Crawford seemed to anticipate the move and stepped aside, completing the motion by striking Sandburg with the barrel of his gun, then returning the weapon to the child's head. Blair fell to the floor in a dazed heap, but Crawford's momentary distraction was enough for Ellison to make a second attempt to secure the gun, this time succeeding as he chopped the man's upper arm. Crawford's hand involuntarily released the weapon, allowing Ellison to kick it away.
Then Crawford turned on him. There was a transformation that made it instantly clear to Ellison that this man had at one time been a trained and dangerous fighter. The stance was rusty but the instinct was still there, still accessible. Crawford's eyes flashed with rage as he dropped the child with no more concern than he would give a sack of flour. He charged the detective, his first double-fisted blow landing on the sentinel's shoulder, knocking him aside as Ellison tried to put his body between the wanted man and the exits. Something had snapped in Crawford; by any logic, the man should have been trying to escape, but instead, his rage focused itself on Ellison to the exclusion of all else. Ellison fell heavily from a kick and rolled to one side. As he came back to his feet, he could see Sandburg crawling over to the child, but his partner still had several yards to travel before he would be able to get the boy--and himself--out of danger.
Reeling from a powerful blow to his kidneys, Crawford lost his balance, fell to one knee, then regained his stance, scrambling to reach his discarded gun. Ellison drew his gun and fired at the weapon and Crawford snatched his hand back.
"Remember, I have hostages," Crawford snarled, standing, his hands away from his sides. "Kill me, and they're dead."
"Just don't move," Ellison warned, seeing the train pulling into the station behind Crawford. His fingers flexed over the butt of his pistol, keeping control over his desire to shoot Crawford between the eyes. "Stay right where you are," he shouted over the noise of the train.
Crawford smiled suddenly as he saw Ellison would be compromised in shooting as a crowd of teenagers poured through the open doors of the car behind him. He turned and ran for the stairwell, pushing between the commuters, using them as shields.
Ellison swore, holstered his gun, and chased after Crawford, crossing half the length of the platform before his feet left the surface and he tackled the kidnaper. They crashed to the platform floor, rolling, both trying to get their arms free. A woman's scream cut through the air, then the noise of shouts and people yelling to call security and call 911. Ellison got one hand free long enough to send a fist into the side of Crawford's head, but the other man retaliated before he was able to land a second blow. A knee, aimed for Ellison's groin, caught him instead a foot higher on his lower chest, knocking the air from his lungs and in the split second it took him to regain control, Crawford moved. They each had a hand on the other now, striking out with right fists, Ellison hampered by the press of the crowd around him as he fought.
Crawford had the advantage of height and weight, but Ellison was in better shape and faster. Both men were determined. The sentinel, however, was bound to protect not only his guide and the young child, but also to safeguard the innocent bystanders--some watching the fight, captivated by the violence, and others totally unaware of what was happening as they came up the escalator.
The smell of blood was strong. Pain flared along one shoulder and the sentinel faintly heard his guide's shouted instructions to dial down his touch sensitivity. With the resultant a burst of energy, he ducked a wild swing and, at the top of the stairs, dragged Crawford back down to the floor, his fist slamming first into Crawford's cheek, then his temple.
From the corner of his eye, Ellison saw two seniors about to reach the top of the escalator, their faces frozen in horror as they realized the moving stairs were taking them into a dangerous situation, one they had no way of avoiding. With a loud cry, Ellison twisted his body to get out of their way. The distraction was enough for Crawford to land a savage kick on Ellison's left knee. The detective roared in pain, the dial forgotten, and hurled himself at the perp as s one brave soul in the crowd darted forward and pulled the seniors out of the way.
Crawford had the upper hand as Ellison's leg collapsed beneath him and all it took was a rough push for the detective to fall backwards down the escalator, rolling, the sharp, ridged metal edges cutting into the back of his head, his jaw pushed painfully into his chest as gravity pulled his legs over into a tumbling somersault that continued all the way down the long moving staircase. He tried to stop himself, flailing out with both arms along the sides, but succeeded only in sliding along his back until he hit the bottom. He lay motionless for several seconds as the abrupt ending to his fall finally registered on reeling senses.
He tried to stand and fell over, weighed down by helpful arms that fought to keep him immobile and check his injuries. He knew his head was bleeding; he could feel the warmth trickling down his neck. Someone was screaming, an older woman obviously distressed by the strange man who had rolled wildly down the escalator at her, sending her grocery bag to the ground, the items scattered across the floor.
Sandburg...The thought got him to his feet, waving his badge blindly at anyone who would look at it. Damn it, Sandburg. Where are you?
Ellison eluded his good Samaritans, stumbling to the rising escalator he had come down, and pulled himself up the moving staircase to the transit level. The platform had already cleared. The train was gone. No Crawford. No child. No Sandburg.
"NO!" Ellison roared at the silence. "NO!" he screamed at Simon Banks as the captain cleared the top of the escalator in time to catch the detective as he crumpled on the platform, lost in a haze of pain.
"The police won't have time," Crawford taunted. "This is a short ride. Ninety seconds and we'll be there, and I'll be gone."
Sandburg darted a look around him, then fastened on the crazed face again. Crawford was probably right. There wouldn't be time. Not if Crawford got out right away. "I think you're going to be missing that stop," he said, confidently, nonetheless. The one after that was closer to police headquarters. He had to wait until then. The police needed time to set up.
"I've got plans for you," Crawford said calmly, rubbing his bleeding left arm. "I was going to take you later, once I reestablished myself, but when I saw you in the library, I altered my plans. The opportunity was just too good to be true. It's true what I said to your big partner, by the way. I do have two more subjects locked up, but now that you're back, I won't have to start all over again from the beginning. This will save me an incredible amount of time to vindicate my research. You're primed and ready, especially now that your cop Ellison is gone."
Jim had tumbled down the escalator out of sight and Blair had seen the look of horror on the faces of the bystanders who were still able to see his partner. He didn't know what had happened. In those brief seconds between when Crawford had grabbed the child and him and before the doors closed, he had expected Jim to reappear at the top of the stairs But he hadn't. Jim's not dead. He's not dead. He's not--- God, don't let him be dead.
"Even if Jim's not there, there will be other police waiting for us at the next station. Just wait." Sandburg glanced from Crawford's face to the emergency phone on the commuter transit train. No use in calling for help. Simon already knew and would be acting on it, right? They'd be there.
"You actually think you can stop me?" Crawford laughed, stretching the stiffness from his muscles, clearly acknowledging that he didn't consider Blair a threat at all. Crawford's physical presence was intimidating enough, but Sandburg had just seen him fight and knew that even without his gun he was dangerous.
Crawford had dumped the little boy on one of the seats, and now the child was awake and crying. Sandburg inched over to him, roughly pulled him off the seat, and sent him stumbling toward the other passengers. "Take care of him," he said, as calmly as he could. "Get him away at the next station." Two teenage boys, both taller than Blair and in red Chicago Bulls jackets, nodded, one moving forward to pick up the sobbing child and pat his back with all the experience of an older brother.
The other teenager's hand drifted to his pocket, showing Blair the briefest glimpse of a switchblade. "Need help?" he asked
Sandburg shook his head. He knew better than to use any weapon that could be taken away from him and used against him. "Thanks, but just get the kid away and take him to the cops for me. Promise me that."
Crawford was amused by the exchange. "And how do you expect you are going to stop me from getting off the train and taking you with me, my little boy?"
"I'm not prepared to let you snatch someone else. That makes me dangerous, Crawford." The few passengers on the SkyRail car had moved behind Sandburg to the far side of the car and the young anthropologist guarded them like a sentry.
"I took out your buddy," Crawford laughed. "He was twice your size. Twice as strong. Probably a thousand times more equipped to fight. Why should I worry about you?"
"Don't let my size fool you. I've been trained by the best." The train slowed down. "Listen, the rest of you. I want you to get out here and don't let anyone else on the train. Understand?" Most of the passengers had gotten off at the last stop near the library and bus terminal, and the train was almost empty. What he could have done with one or two big, football-player-type guys, but the few mid-day passengers were two senior citizens, a young mother with an infant in a stroller, and three young girls on their way to a movie or something, sobbing by one exit door. And the two teenagers with the little boy, both looking almost thrilled with being part of the action.
"Okay . . ." The doors opened. "Get out! Go!" Sandburg yelled at them all, inching toward Crawford, preventing him from escaping from the nearest exit.
"We're getting out here, little boy. You're all alone. Come with me," Crawford reached out his hand as though expecting Blair would come straight to him. "Come here!" Crawford demanded, bending to look out the window of the elevated train car to the growing commotion on the platform. No sign of police or any security guards yet, despite the buzz of activity.
One of the senior citizens who left the SkyRail car had tossed Sandburg his cane, and the young anthropologist swept it through the air, connecting with the side of Crawford's shoulder as he straightened. It was like hitting at a grizzly bear, Blair discovered. It didn't hurt Crawford as much as it made him mad.
"Come here!" Crawford demanded again.
"Make me." Sandburg backed further into the car, hoping to draw Crawford toward him. "If you want me, you'll have to carry me out of here." If he could somehow make Crawford come toward him and away from the door, then he could...Well, that's as far as Blair had time to plan.
Bing! The first warning sound chimed, signaling the doors were closing in a moment.
"Don't hurt me," Blair whimpered. "Please," he added, shaking, one fist going to his mouth as he cowered.
Crawford came at him. He grabbed the end of the cane that Sandburg held out unsteadily in front of him, tugging the wooden stick closer and knocking the young man off balance. Blair clung to the metal hand grips on the back of the seats as a powerful arm circled his waist and tugged at him, almost pulling his arms out of their sockets. But the distraction of playing at being a scared child was enough and had hooked Crawford.
Bing! The second chime rang and the doors slid closed as Sandburg let go, twisting and kicking with his feet, his fists pounding Crawford's already battered face. The kidnapper dropped him and Blair fell to the aisle, pushing off like a sprinter as he tried to tackle the larger man. He managed to knock him back a whole two inches, then a hand grabbed his hair, almost snapping his neck as Crawford pulled him to his feet.
"You little shit!" Crawford roared, furious at being kept on the train. "If you cost me this job and you'll wish you had died in that house."
Sandburg had no extra energy to yell back, using all his force to twist away from the man and scramble down the aisle as the taller man wiped the blood from his face.
Then it all changed. "Hey, little boy." Crawford's voice lowered. "I control your nightmares, remember?"
Blair shivered, feeling his arms and legs start to shake in earnest this time. Grabbing at one of the metal poles to steady himself, Sandburg spun around and faced Crawford. "Maybe for a while, you were. But I'm awake now. I can see you for what you are. Whatever drug you shot me up with isn't in my system." How long until the next stop? Can I make it that long? I have to. I have to.
Crawford took a step closer. "Listen to my voice, little boy. Remember the closet. Remember being locked in the closet. Who cared about you then? No one. No one loved you enough to come. No one cared enough to look for you."
"They came. They found me. You lied about that."
"They were your memories, little boy."
"Don't call me that!" Sandburg fumed. "I'm not a child."
"Oh, but I can make you one. No one came to get you. Alone in the closet. Just like this car. You're all alone. No one can help you. Ellison can't reach you. Your mother can't reach you. No one is coming. Just me. I'm here. And you will do what I say or--"
"No!" The raw scream tore from Sandburg's throat. "I'm not listening to you any more! You listen to me this time. They know all your tricks now. They've got you. They know about your practice down in San Francisco. They know about your drugs and your little parlor games. Killing helpless children -- what a pathetic creature you are! What a pathetic, useless man who stoops to harming innocent--"
"Stop it!" Crawford rushed him again. "Shut up!"
Sandburg moved back as far as he could go in the car, knowing he was trapped in the tiny alcove. He had a brief glimpse of faces staring at him in horror from the car behind, the passengers unable to do anything more than watch as Crawford grabbed hold of his throat. Blair could hear their enraged yells through the space that separated one car from the next.
Crawford drew him away from the alcove, shoving him into the middle of the car, sending Blair ricocheting down the aisle to lie sprawled in between two seats.
He kept talking, loudly. "Jim came and took me from the house. He came and got me. You thought no one could. You lied to me. You said no one would come," Blair babbled, seeing the effect his words were having on an increasingly angry Crawford. "And on the roof, Jim came again. He pulled me up and he broke whatever it was you did to me. It won't work again because I don't believe you any more. They did come to get me. They do love me."
Crawford turned away from him, writing him off. "I've got two more subjects to work on. I don't need you. It would have saved me some valuable time, but I don't need you." He headed to the door, picking up the cane to use as a weapon as he prepared to exit the car.
The train was pulling into the next station and Sandburg stared wide-eyed at the passengers waiting to get on the train. No one had cleared them away yet. The police weren't there yet. Fuck. There was no way he was going to let Crawford get away. Blair drew upon a reserve of strength he didn't know he had left and scrambled down the aisle to attack Crawford, leaping onto the man's back, his legs wrapped around the guy's waist and his arms around Crawford's head, hanging on for dear life.
Crawford stumbled as the train stopped, then tried to smash backwards against the back of the car, but Sandburg held on determinedly, one arm shifting to tighten around Crawford's throat while the other locked into his hair just above his forehead. Unable to breathe, Crawford dropped to his knees as the doors opened, and Blair felt his arm bruise as Crawford fought to get it loose from his neck. Blair almost let go when Crawford's fingers found the bandage on his forearm and dug into the stitched gash, but the pain seemed to unleash something in Blair and he started hitting Crawford's face with his free fist.
He heard his name called and was distantly aware that there were others now in the train car with him.
"Sandburg. Stop it. We've got him."
Was that Simon's voice?
"Hey, Hairboy. Let us do our job."
Blair wasn't sure how to stop anymore and sobbed with relief when someone grabbed his right arm and halted the blows. He was lifted from Crawford and was dimly aware of Brown handing him to the captain, then Brown joining Rafe in cuffing Crawford.
His face was turned to look at Banks, but he pulled away. He had to see what they were doing to Crawford. He had to watch as they pulled Crawford to his feet, blood streaming from reopened cuts on his face. Banks was pulling Sandburg backwards through the car, a strong but gentle arm around his waist.
"Come on, kid. Let's go. You did good."
"The b-boy? What happened to him?" Blair asked, still staring at Crawford
"He's safe. He'll be fine. And Jim's in an ambulance down below, waiting for you."
The sound of his partner's name was enough to break his mesmerized stare at what was happening to Crawford. As Simon brought him out of the car to the platform, Blair turned to look at him, cut and bruised hands clutching the front of the captain's coat. "Where's Jim? Why isn't he here? Is he hurt? Oh, God, he's hurt, isn't he? You said he's in an ambulance?"
"The ambulance just pulled up. They picked him up at the library LRT station and brought him straight here." Simon herded him into the elevator that would take them to the ground level.
As the car lurched, Blair thought for one horrifying moment that he was going to throw up all over the captain. The elevator was too small. Too confining. Simon seemed to understand, and let Blair hang onto his arm and gasp until they reached the ground.
Jim Ellison lay flat on his back on the stretcher inside the ambulance and listened to his guide's rapid breathing. Blair was running now, stumbling down the stairs of the station as he neared the emergency vehicles. He felt the ambulance sway slightly as Sandburg jumped inside, then the hands all over his body.
"Jim. Oh, my God, Jim. Are you okay?"
"I went the wrong way on the escalator. You know how strict they are about those things." He tried to laugh it off, but the stricken look on Blair's face made him reach out with his good arm and say, "I'll be fine. I've got a bad cut on the back of my head, but it'll be fine. They're going to take me in for x-rays and some tests, but I told them I couldn't go until you got here and I knew you were okay."
Blair had found the bloody drainage pad his head was resting on. "How bad is it?"
"You know head wounds. They bleed a lot. It might need a few stitches."
"Your arm? You're not moving your left arm."
"I pulled a muscle. Relax. It'll heal. I'm going to be stiff tomorrow and maybe the next day, but this is nothing, kid." He grabbed hold of Blair's right hand with his own, gently squeezing it reassuringly. "I was listening up there and I heard Rafe tell the captain that you had Crawford under control when they got to him, Chief. They're talking about you with respect up there. Considering what he did to me, they weren't sure what condition they'd find you in. Instead, they're going to take him away in the other ambulance."
There was no response from Sandburg, who was still checking over his partner with such determined diligence that the ambulance attendant at the rear door smiled as he watched. Ellison rolled his eyes and echoed the man's smile, then caught Sandburg's hand. "Hey, Chief? Slow down a little, okay? They've already checked me over during the brief ride here. I'm just lying flat because I still get dizzy when I sit up." He took a closer look at Blair's swollen, reddened knuckles, then turned his hand over and frowned at the scraped palms. "You need an ice bag for these. How about letting Joe take care of them? You really got in some good punches, didn't you? They say you badly bruised Crawford's windpipe and they're going to put him on oxygen."
Sandburg hunched over the stretcher, his forehead against Jim's chest, and shook like a leaf in a wind storm, his eyes wide and blank, his breath still coming in short gasps. Jim rested his right hand on top of his partner's head, trying to ease the panic attack. "It'll be okay, Chief. It's over. We'll make a brief stop at the hospital, and then we're going home. You stopped him. It's over."
Well, it was almost over.
Jim hobbled out of the bathroom and began the long journey down the hall, past the kitchen, and into the living room. He had decided to sleep on the couch, as the trip up and down the stairs was not one he looked forward to several times that night--one of the drawbacks to having bruised kidneys. And bruised everywhere else, for that matter.
His main problem at this point was one very hyper, very freaked-out, over-tired, and over-protective guide. They had been back from the hospital for almost two hours, and Blair had yet to sit down for more than thirty seconds. At least at the hospital Sandburg had held still long enough for the Emergency Room staff to check him for concussion, clean the bump on his head, put some ice on his knuckles, and bandage his other cuts and scrapes. Then he was up and pacing next to Jim's bed, pacing in the halls, pacing outside while they waited for a squad car to come and get them and take them home.
It got worse once they cleared the door to the loft. Then the real frenzy began. Blair ran up the stairs to Jim's bedroom and grabbed some comfortable sweat clothes for his partner. Then while Jim cleaned up, he pulled the cushions off the couch and arranged them on the floor, with one cushion at an angle against the couch so Jim could relax back and watch television while he made dinner. Another trip upstairs had secured Jim's quilt and pillows and the blue robe for over his shoulders. The coffee table, to one side of the makeshift bed, was soon burdened with a tissue box, the remote for the television, the remote for the stereo, the cordless phone, the book Jim had been reading, a glass of water, a glass of orange juice, the pain pills from the hospital, some Tylenol and, for some reason, cough drops.
Jim's throat was actually the only place on his body that didn't hurt. Falling down stairs was never something to look forward to, but the experience of rolling backwards down metal escalator stairs with sharp, raised ridges was one Ellison was going to make a point of not doing again. He looked like he had lost a fight with a very mad cat, slash marks down his back, arms, and legs where the edges of the stairs tore through his clothing. A significant amount of stitches --and the bruised kidneys--made him walk slightly hunched, grimacing every other step. At least his knee had suffered no lasting damage.
With a glance behind him to the growing disaster in his kitchen, Jim hobbled over to the book shelf and pulled a few videos down. While Blair's attention was elsewhere, he popped one of his pre-recorded videos into the machine, then warily lowered himself to the cushion-bed, holding his breath as he eased his legs out in front of him. Sandburg appeared at his side instantly, gingerly placing pillows under his knees, then covering him with the quilt as he kept up a steady stream of inane chatter about Jim being injured and needing to be careful.
Dinner was grilled-cheese sandwiches, but considering the amount of effort put into them, it was a wonder the kid hadn't made some elaborate, ten-course meal. The plate was brought over to him, the two sandwiches already cut into quarters so it would be easier for Jim to pick up with his bruised, scraped hands. Not that Blair's hands looked any better. Then began the what-do-you-want-to-drink segment of the evening as Blair reeled off every possibility known to man. Jim had the feeling that if he had asked for an obscure English lager, Blair would have been out the door and running to the local specialty store. Jim had settled for hot chocolate, but rather than use their instant packages, out had come the pot with milk heating on the stove, the chocolate powder attentively poured into it as Blair stirred and stirred and stirred the poor milk that didn't have a chance of getting hotter.
Jim sat back silently and watched the whirlwind dance around his place, spinning from place to place, almost bouncing off the furniture and walls. The sink was filled with water and soap and the few dishes and utensils were scoured, rinsed, and set to dry. Then Blair drained the sink, scrubbed it clean, and wiped down the counter. Before he could drag out the vacuum, Jim called him over.
"Yeah, Jim? Are you okay? What's wrong? Can I get you anything?"
"Could you bring the TV Guide over here? I want to see if anything's on tonight."
"Sure." Blair bounded over to the television, retrieved the TV Guide, returned it to Jim, fixed his pillow, checked the soil of one of the plants, then went back to the kitchen to fill a pitcher with water. While Jim paged through the television listings for the evening, all of the plants in the loft were watered, tended to, pinched back, and given vitamins or whatever it was Blair stuck in the soil every so often.
Yes. This will do. The TV Guide was set aside and Jim looked around him, mentally ticking off that everything else he needed was in arms' reach. He had no desire to get up again for a while. "Hey, Chief, come over here for a minute."
Blair came into the living room, wiping his hands on a towel. "You need something?"
"Yes, a few more blankets, in case it gets chillier later." The blankets were brought, and Jim stacked them behind him.
"What about some more hot chocolate? There's some left."
"I'm fine. Could you bring me the cushions from the other couch, though? Just place them alongside these. That gives me more room if I want to stretch out more." The cushions were dutifully rearranged. "Do we have any trail mix left?" Blair brought him a bag. "Thanks, Chief. Can you turn some of these lights down? I'm getting a headache."
"Sure thing. Need anything else? Your pills? How about a heating pad for your back?" Blair turned off the lights in the kitchen and hallway, leaving only the soft light from one of the lamps in the living room. "This okay?"
"Perfect. Can you put the fireplace on? That's always relaxing."
Blair smiled his forced 'everything's okay' smile. "It is, isn't it?" he agreed, rubbing his hands together and nodding his head amiably. He adjusted the gas fireplace. "What about something for your headache?" he asked, straightening, and half-running back to the kitchen. "How about some more hot chocolate? Let me warm it up for you." He started to adjust the gas element.
"No, I'm fine. I don't need any hot chocolate." Jim took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The whole feeling of the loft was changing. Becoming calm. Peaceful.
Except for the whirlwind who was bouncing on his toes in the middle of the loft, unable to let go of the stress of the week.
"Blair, come over here."
Blue eyes narrowed in the dim room, suspicious at the rare use of his given name. "Why?"
"I think I need some help."
That brought him to stand at Jim's feet. "With what? Your pillows? Do you need something more to drink? You didn't say if you needed that heating pad or not--"
"I need you to come over here."
Whether it was the tone of his voice or some other clue, but realization hit. "I'm fine, Jim," Sandburg said, backing away, hands raised slightly in protest.
"Fifteen minutes." Ellison watched the haunted eyes shut tightly as Blair shook his head.
"I can't. I'm fine."
"Well, maybe I need you to just sit here with me for fifteen minutes. We've done this before and you survived. Just sit quietly for fifteen minutes, then you can go on with whatever you had planned for the rest of the evening."
"Naomi might be coming by . . ."
"She said she'd phone first. If we do the fifteen minutes now, it'll be done by the time she gets here."
"Why not wait until she's gone?"
"Now. You need to relax and let go of everything that happened this week. You need to know you're safe again."
"I know all that. I'm fine. I'm just a bit restless. A lot is running around in my head, okay? Just let me be."
"You said it: You're restless. That means you need to rest."
Anger flared. "I don't know what it is with you and this fifteen-minute business. What do you expect me to do? Break down into sobs and tell you how scared I was? How scared I still am that I can't remember what happened to me? That a little boy named Marty died and I did nothing about it except hide in a closet crying with the fucking door unlocked? That I thought I was going to die three separate times today and I just don't want to think about it right now? Is that what you want? Is this what you're going to do every time I get in a little bit of trouble? Comfort your poor, mixed-up partner? Pat him on the head and tell him it's going to be all right in the morning? Well, it's not!"
Ellison let him yell. Then he held out an arm, hand extended, and waited. "Trust me."
A full minute passed, then Blair sighed in frustration and took reluctant steps toward him. "You know I do. I just---"
"Then come here. Humor me, if nothing else. There's something on the Sports Network that looks good; we could watch it and that'll make the time go by quicker for you."
"You're stuck on this idea?"
Eyes rolled in exasperation. "Fine. Whatever. Let's get it over. Same as last time?"
"Well, last time we were sitting on a log down by the river, but we can make do." Jim shifted carefully to make room for Blair beside him. "Just sit here, next to me."
"This is so lame. I can't believe you want me to do this. You're not well enough--"
"Don't shush me. I'm not even sitting yet."
"Hurry up, Junior. This is going to take all night if you keep talking." Jim motioned him down, relieved when his partner gave up and sat next to him on the extra cushions. "Can you see the TV okay?"
"Yeah. Hand me my glasses."
His glasses were handed over and adjusted. "Okay. Just sit quietly for fifteen minutes."
"Yeah. What's on? Hockey? Basketball?"
Jim turned the television on to the golf tournament, not bothering to hide his smile as Blair groaned and handed back his glasses. "Just rest then if you don't want to watch the tournament."
"Not a lot of choice, is there?"
Two minutes later, Blair was almost asleep, his head nodding forward in the quiet of the room. With his last conscious thought, he whispered, sentinel-soft, "Thanks, Jim."
"Anytime, Chief." Ellison waited another five minutes before tilting Blair to lie curled beside him, his head on a pillow on Jim's lap. From past experience he had learned that his guide responded to his physical presence with an amazing sense of safety and relaxation, instinctually knowing the sentinel was awake and guarding him. And if Blair was sleeping peacefully, that meant Jim could relax and enjoy the evening.
Yes, much better. Taking stock again, Jim reached back and pulled the extra blankets down, covering Blair's sprawled legs. Another reach brought the TV/VCR remote into his hands and he turned off the golf tournament and settled back to watch the Seven Samurai, one hand resting on Blair's forehead and then his shoulder, calming any restless tremors, while the other hand delved into the bag of trail mix.
An hour and a half into the movie, the phone rang and he grabbed it quickly. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Simon. I've got some papers you need to sign. The supplemental report you dictated to Rafe in the hospital earlier this evening is on my desk, as well as our initial statement from Crawford. The FBI's involved since they believe he was also responsible for some similar activity in California in the early 90s. And our friends the CIA have advised us that they will be speaking to Crawford tomorrow."
"Is Crawford cooperating?"
"Singing the blues. If what he says is true, there's a group within the CIA who enlisted him to do some research for them. He's madder than a hornet that they backed out on their agreement with him and tried to pay him off. Crawford says they didn't like his extracurricular activities and told him to take the money and get out of town. Try again somewhere else where he's not quite so obvious."
"Is he in lockup?"
"Under guard at the hospital. Sandburg did a number on his face. They're keeping him overnight. Kid's got quite a punch." Simon had been rustling papers and seemed to have found what he was looking for. "Anyway Jim, I've got the papers --- Is it too late for me to stop by?"
"No problem. I'll listen for you. It'll take me a few minutes to get up and over to the door though."
"Why? You a bit stiff?"
"I'm a lot stiff."
"Where's Sandburg? He okay?"
"He's sleeping finally and I don't want to wake him up. He's back to normal, though---well, as normal---"
"---as normal as he usually gets," Banks finished, with a laugh. "Glad he was able to fall asleep. I expect he'll have some nightmares for a while from this one, though." He paused, the sound of papers sliding into a briefcase. "I won't be long, Jim. I'm just leaving now and I'll be there in about twenty minutes."
The first half of the movie clicked off just as Jim heard Simon's car pull up. Blair was still sleeping soundly, and with any luck would sleep through the night. He gently eased Blair off his lap and then pulled himself from the cushion mattress on the floor, catching his balance as he limped to the door and unlocked it.
"Come in," he said softly, motioning that Blair was asleep in the living room. Simon nodded and followed him into the kitchen, where Jim filled the kettle with water and put it on the burner. "Want some hot chocolate? I had some earlier tonight but I'm ready for another." Reaching up for the mugs, he grimaced at the complaints from his shoulder muscles.
"That sore, eh?" Simon moved past him and took the mugs from the shelf.
"Thanks. Watch the kettle for me, will you?" Jim tossed the instant hot chocolate packages on the counter and went into the bathroom, returning two or three minutes later to the sound of the kettle about to whistle. Simon took it off the burner and poured water into the mugs, stirring and dissolving the contents. "Sit down and relax. It's been a long day." Jim accepted the full mug and blew on it as he walked slowly back to the living room.
Simon followed him in, sitting near the fireplace on the yellow armchair. "Has it ever. But we've got the guy and he's going to jail for a long time. Good work. Both of you."
"I'll pass that on to Sandburg." Ellison stood at the rain-streaked windows and looked out over the city. His city. His violated city. "What about the other two hostages Crawford mentioned?" Ellison asked, turning around, eyes focused on his sleeping partner.
"Found and released, apparently unhurt. He had them in a rented apartment in a town just south of here." Simon watched the detective. "Is Sandburg okay?" he asked, as Jim moved back to the middle of the living room and looked down at his young friend.
"He's dreaming." Jim carefully maneuvered his aching body back to the cushions on the floor, settling onto the makeshift mattress. One hand reached across to rest on Blair's forehead and the minute twitching stopped. He waited a few minutes until his guide slipped into a deeper level of sleep, then removed his hand and adjusted the covers on them both. Sandburg shivered and shifted closer to him.
Outside the loft, the rain came down steadily, tossed about by an icy wind in the near-freezing temperatures. Outside the loft, the plants shivered with the heavy drops as snow began to mix in with the rain, leaving paw-shaped marks on the window that dissolved into trickling streams pooling on the floor of the balcony. Outside the loft, Crawford was under arrest. The abducted men had been released. One family grieved the loss of their child, while another family rejoiced that their child was returned to them.
Inside the loft, it was different. Inside the loft, the room was warmly lit by the fireplace, the lights of the city and the lights of the heavens. Inside the loft, tired, aching bodies mended. Eyes closed, Ellison sat with the hot drink in hand, inhaling the scent, relaxing in the luxurious feeling of sitting quietly with friends at the end of the day. Beside him, Blair rolled over, moving closer to him and settling back asleep without waking. Jim rested his hand on his partner's back, feeling the steady breathing. The armchair creaked as Simon stretched his long legs out, crossing them at the ankle, his hands locked behind his neck as he enjoyed the respite from the demands of his office.
Outside was them. Inside was us.
Long minutes passed, then Simon spoke into the peaceful silence. "I imagine this is what it must have been like hundreds of years ago," he mused. "Sentinel and Guide, camped by the fire after a difficult day. Sleeping in shifts. Watching out for each other." The captain put his empty cup on the floor by the chair. "Do you think about it at all?" he asked, yawning. "About what it might have been like having your senses and living in the wilds rather than in Cascade?"
Jim shrugged, leaning further back against the cushions. "Sometimes. Cascade is wild enough for me, though."
"But it's more than just the danger, or you'd have burned out long ago. The partnership of Sentinel and Guide had to be more than just taking care of the tribe. Deeper than just partners solving crimes--that would never allow for the depth of trust and commitment you two share. I'm becoming convinced that the Sentinel partnership includes friendship and brotherhood as part of the matrix."
"Given this a lot of thought, have you?" Jim teased softly.
"I've had to. I'm responsible for you both. It's my head that rolls if something goes wrong." Simon's eyes met his and Jim could see the seriousness in them. "In all honesty, Jim, would you have continued in the police force this long, or had Sandburg around this long, if he were just here to write his dissertation?"
Jim shook his head, but he had no words for what he truly felt, no words to explain the essence of their partnership, what made it live and breathe and become fundamental to his survival as a sentinel and as a person. It was this small contentment in the middle of tension. The eye in the hurricane. The sun coming out from behind storm clouds. Instinctual behavior, Sandburg called it--and then fought it whenever it had to do with him. Better at doling out than accepting, no different than the rest of them.
Simon yawned again and groaned. "I'm bushed," he said, standing. " If I stay here much longer, I'm going to fall asleep, just like the kid there. I only came by to bring you those reports. Sandburg might be interested in looking at them, considering his involvement." The captain shivered as he reconsidered. "Or not. Maybe he should give it a pass."
"His call," Jim said. He watched as Simon put on his coat. "Before you go, can you change the video for me? I forgot to and I don't want to disturb Sandburg. The tape of the second half of my movie is on top of the television."
"Seven Samurai?" The captain chuckled as he switched tapes. "This is what, your tenth viewing of this movie?"
"Something like that. It's comfortable. Perfect for tonight."
"Well, goodnight, Jim. I'm taking tomorrow off. Rafe and Brown are holding down the fort until we get back on Tuesday, so take your time."
"We'll sleep in, but Blair is teaching this week, every afternoon. I'll probably stop by the station tomorrow after lunch sometime."
"No rush. Crawford's not going anywhere." Banks stuck a cigar in his mouth, waved goodbye, and shut the door behind him.
Two hours later, the movie almost over, the telephone rang a second time and Jim grabbed it before it could ring again. His swollen knuckles were stiffening, making it hard to hold the phone, but he was able to make it work. "Ellison."
"Jim? It's Naomi. Blair told me to come by. Can I come up? I'm downstairs."
He hesitated, reluctant to let go of the peaceful tenor of the loft. But this was his partner's mother and he didn't want to turn her away. "I'm not too mobile right now, Naomi, and Blair's asleep, so give me a few minutes to get myself up and over to the door."
"Don't worry. I still have Blair's key. I'll let myself in." She had hung up before he could say anything, and he made a mental note to get the key back before she left, mother or not. He looked down at Blair, at the dark head once again resting on a pillow on his lap, and he wondered if he should move. Shift position. Move Blair to lie beside him. Appear less--- less---
No. If she was to be a part of his life, too, there would need to be understanding between them.
She breezed into the loft, sweeping her woven shawl off and hooking it on the coat rack. Then she turned and saw them in the living room and Jim knew instantly that something inside her melted at what she saw. "Is he all right?" she whispered, drawing closer to them. She put her bag down and drew out the stuffed bear, holding it out like a peace offering. "I had Silver cleaned. If he wants him . . ."
Ellison nodded, but said nothing as she knelt beside her son and placed the bear next to him. She ran a hand through her son's hair, brushing it away from his face with the lightest of touches. Jim watched her hands begin a slow massage on Blair's back and felt the last of the day's tension leave his partner. "That helped. Thanks."
She looked over at Ellison in the dimness of the room. "I need to apologize."
"So do I. I didn't mean to challenge your love for him."
"Nor I yours." She smiled down at her son. "He's very rich. Silver on one side, Gold on the other. Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver, the others gold," she sang, softly. Again her eyes sought out Ellison's. "You're what he was looking for all those years. 'Where's the gold, Mama?' He knows now. He found you. He's found the gold at the end of the rainbow and he has no intentions of leaving. I realized that when I was up on the library roof, when he looked up and saw you and immediately knew he would be okay if he could just reach out and grab hold of you."
Ellison looked down at Blair, blinking back the moisture from his eyes. He waited until he was sure he had control of his voice before speaking. "I'm the rich one. Your son has not only saved my life, but he's managed to safeguard my soul. He is a part of my life. I don't know how it happened, but I woke up one day and he was my brother. We've grown to be friends, but he was my brother first." He placed his hand once more over Blair's forehead, letting his touch register each beat of the heart, the blood rushing through his veins, the slight fever from overexertion.
"Did you find out yet what he was drugged with?" Naomi asked.
"We should know tomorrow sometime, after the lab opens and sends their results. The hospital checked him out again today, and they're still satisfied that he's clear of any side effects. Our forensics lab has identified some of the unlabeled pills found when Crawford's house was searched as Rohypnol."
"I'm familiar with it." Naomi looked back to Ellison. "Why is my son here?" The antagonism was gone from her voice, but the question remained.
"Here in the room now, or here at the loft?"
"With you. Living here. Rescuing children from madmen. Standing on top of a roof, shaking with fear one minute, then blindly following you to catch the guy the next minute. What is it about you that captured him? No offence, you seem to honestly care about him, but why is he with you?"
"He's doing research on police sub-cultures--"
"I know the story. I just haven't found any reason to believe it." She sat back and crossed her arms, the light from the fire setting her hair the color of polished copper. "Two years he's been writing this paper."
"He's meticulous about his data."
"It just seems to be such a vast change from what he was doing before. I don't understand why he shifted topics. He spent most of his undergraduate years researching . . ."
Naomi looked at Jim.
"Researching sentinels," she finished, staring at him, eyes slightly narrowed. "An interesting topic, but highly unlikely, wouldn't you say, Jim?"
Ellison shrugged, and kept his own response light. "His chance of finding one would be almost impossible, I would guess."
"Almost being the operative word." She stared at Ellison, as closed with her emotions as her son was open. "I've read his papers. Every sentinel needed a partner to watch his back."
"Yes, I've seen the article. I suspect that would be true. You'd have to talk to your son about that." Ellison shifted his neck trying to relieve the sudden headache that flared.
"You're hurting," she said, the topic changed.
"Just a little sore. It'll be gone in a day or so."
"I'm good at back massages."
"I remember. You gave me one when you stayed with us before."
Naomi glanced up to the loft bedroom and laughed softly. "Oh...Yes, I do remember." She stood slowly and walked around Blair to sit by Jim. "James Ellison, how would you like a massage on your neck if I promise to keep my hands off your chest?"
"I'd never make you make a promise like that, Naomi. It would cramp your free spirit."
"So I have permission to massage your body as the spirit moves?"
A small groan brought both their attentions back to Blair. "Why do I always come into these conversations at the wrong time?" Blair lifted his head from Jim's lap to look up at them with bleary eyes. "Mom, what's going on now?"
Jim pushed his head back to the pillow. "Go to sleep, Chief. Your mother's going to give me a neck massage."
"What's going on? How long have I been asleep?"
"A few hours." Ellison smiled at the confused look on Sandburg's face. "Do you want to go to your own bed, or stay here?"
"Stay here. I don't trust you two." Blair suddenly became aware of the bear in his arms. "Hey, it's Silver. How did he get here? I mean, he's cute, but I think he can sit on the shelf now, don't you?"
"I brought him for you, sweetie. Sheila and I cleaned him."
"Gee. Thanks, Mom. Just don't ask me to wear those pajamas with the feet in them, okay?"
"Go to sleep, Blair."
He shifted his head to look at them, sleepily grinning. "Hey, this is just like old times,
remember, Mom? Sitting around by the fire at
the campsites? Everyone telling me to go to sleep so you could proceed with all the ---
Naomi interrupted with a hand over her son's mouth. "I think Jim gets the picture, Blair Bear. Why don't we keep some secrets just between the two of us, okay? Now go to sleep so I can help your friend."
Blair's eyes soon lost their focus as he watched Naomi's hands work the tension out of Jim's shoulders. "Things are okay here, right?" he asked softly, suddenly needing the reassurance.
Jim smiled down at his partner, feeling himself begin to relax finally. Things are fine here, Chief. More than fine. You're home. You're you again. What more could I ask for? "Things will be fine as soon as you go back to sleep," Jim said aloud, his head lolling forward as he opened his sense of touch to the magic happening to his aching muscles.
"Behave yourselves, okay? I'm still impressionable," Blair whispered, settling back and closing his eyes. "Good night, Mom. Good night, Silver. Good night, Jim. Good night, John Boy. Goodnight, Mary Ellen."
"Shut up, Chief."
"Go to sleep, Blair."
"Just what I need, now that I'm approaching thirty. Pseudo-parents," Sandburg said with a laugh, then he sobered, forced his eyes back open, and looked up at his partner. "Seriously, Jim, can we talk tomorrow? About Marty and what happened with Crawford and some other stuff?" he asked, tentatively. "I think I'll be ready to talk by then."
Ellison rested his hand on his partner's forehead. "We'll talk. As much as you want," he promised, and then groaned as Naomi found a sensitive knot in his muscles. "Yeah. That's it. Perfect."
"Yeah..." Blair agreed with a contented sigh. He closed his eyes and went to sleep, surrounded by enough silver and gold to last a lifetime.
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