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Looking at the window of the bus, all Blair Sandburg could see against the blackness of the night was his reflection and that of the back of the seat in front of him. Somehow that was also a reflection of his life, he thought gloomily. His world had shrunk to one that consisted only of himself and the backpack on the rack above his head - the backpack that contained all his possessions.
It might be truer to say all the possessions that he considered necessary for his new, solitary life. He had left everything else behind; but for all he knew, Jim might have already dumped the four carefully packed boxes he had left in the storage space of 852 Prospect - although he didn't seriously think that if Jim took time to consider, he would do that. But if, in his first anger at what he would undoubtedly see as Blair's desertion, he acted before thinking, the backpack might indeed contain all Blair's possessions.
Now that he had had time to reflect, he realized that he should never have used the word 'fraudulent' when he held that life-altering, media-deflecting, Jim-saving press conference. He had called it 'a good piece of fiction' - he should have claimed all along that it was a novel written in the form of a thesis. He would probably still have lost his place at Rainier - Edwards had been looking for an excuse to get rid of him for quite some time, thought she had found it with the Ventriss incident and been forced to retract, and seized this opportunity with both hands - but he would have retained some credibility at the PD.
Certainly the cops with whom he had been friendly - in all departments, not just the ones in Major Crime - had remained friendly, totally disregarding the press conference and his claim of 'fraud', but he had discovered, within a day of Simon's offer of a badge, that he had... yes, it wouldn't be too strong a word to say enemies in the PD, possibly not many, but enough; three men - whose names he didn't know - had waylaid him on the stairs and told him, with a quiet restraint that made their threat all the more deadly, that if he accepted the badge, he and Ellison would find themselves without backup when it was urgently needed... or, perhaps, 'accidentally' killed by 'friendly' fire. They did not, under any circumstances, want a throw-back to the sixties in their ranks.
It was a threat he had believed, because of the calm way in which it was delivered.
He didn't even know which department they were in. They were wearing ordinary clothes, not uniforms, which said 'detectives' - but that was all he could have said about them.
He would have taken the risk if it was only his own life that was threatened; but he would not risk Jim's life. And so, two days later, on a day when Jim was in court, he spent the morning packing up his things and putting the boxes holding them in Jim's basement storage; he went to the PD, where he told Simon, who, although still convalescing from being shot, had returned to light duty, that much as he appreciated the job offer, he couldn't accept it, suggesting Megan, who knew about Jim's senses, as Jim's partner (once she, too, returned to full-time duty) and left for her a copy of his notes on Jim's vulnerabilities; he had left all his sentinel research at the loft, with a note for Jim that apologised for leaving, explaining that he knew he would be resented by at least some of the PD personnel if he accepted the badge, resentment that could cause major problems, and promising to send for the stored boxes when he found somewhere to live. He took the Volvo to his garage and sold it to one of the mechanics who had expressed an interest in it some weeks previously, closed his Cascade Bank account and caught a bus to Seattle.
There he changed buses, taking this overnight one that was headed east.
He had no real idea where he was going or what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
He could, of course, join Naomi - who had not gone back to the loft after Blair was offered the badge, heading, instead, to her favorite retreat in Big Sur - and then continue to travel with her as she made her aimless way through life; but although he had forgiven Naomi for the mess she had made of his life, it would be a while before he could... not forget, but accept what she had done, accept that she had acted in her usual thoughtless fashion. And in any case, if his future life was going to be aimless, he was determined that it would be his own aimlessness, not his mother's.
Money was not, and never would be, a problem. Although he had closed his Cascade Bank account, he had another one in the First National Bank that only he and Naomi knew about. When Naomi's father Andrew died fourteen years earlier, he had left Blair enough money to make him... not just independent, but rich; the money had remained in trust until Blair was twenty-one, managed by the bank, increasing in value every year as investments matured and interest was added. Even when he had access to the money, however, Blair had chosen not to touch it apart from withdrawing enough money to clear his student debts, continuing to take weekend and holiday jobs until he met his sentinel. After that, to augment what he earned as a TA, he had withdrawn some of the interest each year, claiming that he was getting grants, but leaving the capital untouched. Now, he supposed, he might have to start dipping into his capital, but even if he chose a far more extravagant lifestyle than he knew he would be comfortable with, there was more than enough there to last him the rest of his life - even if he lived to be a hundred - and still leave a considerable fortune.
Naomi, he knew, had never understood why, once he had access to his money, he had chosen to work. She had understood why he wanted to continue his studies, but not why he had chosen to work.
The simple answer was that 'aimless' was not, from choice, Blair's way.
Certainly he could do with taking a holiday. He hadn't had a decent break since he was sixteen; working weekend and holiday jobs meant that until he graduated he had only had a few single-day breaks. Continuing at Rainier as a post-grad student, working as a TA, studying for his doctorate, and then working with Jim as well as continuing with his Rainier commitments had left him drained, although he hadn't been willing to admit it. Yes, they had had a few long weekends, but Jim had never taken his full holiday entitlement; Blair had never been able to decide whether Jim's single-minded pursuit of the denizens of the criminal world was because he was a sentinel or just because he was Jim, passionate about defending those weaker than himself.
All right, he told himself. That's one decision made. Have a vacation. But where?
He studied his reflection as the bus traveled on through the night, but it gave him no answers, especially since the idea of a solitary vacation didn't really beckon.
Neither did the idea of company. The only person he wanted with him was Jim. Jim. The one person he must never see again, the one person he had to keep safe, whatever the emotional cost to himself.
Jim plodded - there was no other word for it - up the stairs to the loft. He had noted the absence of Blair's Volvo, and hoped that Blair was enjoying himself, wherever he had decided to go. Jim himself felt more than depressed by the knowledge that Blair had gone somewhere; he had been looking forward to relaxing in his friend's undemanding company - well, undemanding except when he wanted to run tests on some new aspect of Jim's abilities that might have surfaced.
He opened the door, went in - and stopped. Something looked different... It took him only a couple of seconds to realize what it was. Blair's things were missing, though a big, familiar-looking book was sitting on the coffee table holding down a fairly thick sheaf of paper. With the vague feeling of walking through a nightmare, he crossed to the table. There, on top of the book, was an envelope with his name written on it in Blair's precise writing, and he spared a moment to think about the two styles of writing Blair used. This, the neat, precise style, was what he used when someone else had to read it, and was far removed from the scribble, illegible to anyone else, that he used for notes to himself.
He opened the envelope, already knowing what it said.
Sorry for leaving like this, but if I'd told you what I was planning, you'd have tried to stop me - and it wouldn't have taken much to persuade me to stay.
It's safer for you if I go. A lot of the guys at the PD are our friends and would be happy to see me joining their ranks - but there are some who I know aren't happy about it and whose resentment could - would - cause a lot of trouble, even without my claim of fraud.
Most of my stuff is in boxes in the basement. I'll send for them once I've found somewhere to stay. I don't know yet where that'll be - all I know is that it won't be in Cascade. Don't bother putting out an APB on the Volvo; I've sold it.
I've spoken to Simon and suggested Megan to partner you, since she knows about your senses. I doubt you'll have much trouble with them anyway - you haven't really needed me around for quite a while.
It's been a helluva ride, Jim. Thank you. Thank you for everything - for your friendship, and for the 'week' that lasted for four years.
Jim did not sleep well that night, and first thing in the morning went to see Simon.
"Got a minute?"
Simon took one look at the expression on Jim's face, and knew that even if he didn't 'have a minute', he would make one.
"Sandburg?" He didn't sound surprised.
"You know? Yes, of course; he said he'd spoken to you."
"Yes. He came to see me yesterday. He didn't say much, just that he couldn't accept the badge - "
"He didn't give you a reason?"
"No; but him saying 'can't' rather then 'don't want to' did make me wonder... He's always seemed happy enough doing police work. Yes, he had a problem with guns, but not the police work."
"He left this letter." Jim handed it over.
After a moment Simon looked up. "He knows there are 'some who aren't happy'?"
"Makes me wonder if someone threatened him."
"Or threatened you."
They looked at each other. Slowly, Jim nodded. "Yes, that makes sense. He'd ignore any threat to himself, but if I was the one threatened... yes, he'd give in rather than risk my safety."
"At the same time - he's well liked here, and not just in this department. Who would want to chase him away? And why?"
"Jealousy?" Jim suggested. "Someone who's failed the detective's exams, pissed off because Blair would have been walking into Major Crime? Completely forgetting - or ignoring - that he's been working with me, doing a detective's work, for four years?"
"It's possible. Leave it with me, Jim. I'll put out some feelers."
"Right. And I'll keep my ears open." There was a grim note in Jim's voice, and Simon knew that he wouldn't like to be any man that Jim overheard bad-mouthing Blair Sandburg.
Blair's bus took him to Spokane.
He stayed there for several days while he pondered his options. On the afternoon of the second day, he went in search of a used car dealer.
The image he had always tried to present, that of an impoverished grad student, had required him to buy cars that were well past their best and liable to break down at the most inconvenient of moments. Although he had liked the Volvo, he had often been tempted to tell his garage to put in a new engine, rather than patch up the one that was in it, but of course that would have blown the 'just managing to get along financially' image that had once been true, and that he had maintained ever since he learned he was in fact wealthy. Now, with no need to maintain it - although he had no intention of drastically changing his way of life - and having decided that he would have to start using money from his trust fund, at least in the short term, he decided to get what he hoped would be a reliable two-year-old car. A used car that was only a few months old might very well have hidden problems that the original owner was passing on to some unsuspecting buyer; but a lot of people, he knew, chose to replace cars that were two years old, even if there was nothing wrong with them, in favor of a new car, especially if there was a new model available. A totally new car - while it would have been nice - would, he felt, be too much of a giveaway; hiding his true financial status was an ingrained habit.
He found something he liked in the second dealership that he checked. A Volvo, eighteen months old, with just over 1500 miles on the clock, it had belonged to an elderly woman who only used it to go shopping. Failing eyesight had compelled her to give up driving, and the dealer had bought the car from her earlier that week; it had just been mechanically checked and cleaned, and put on display barely an hour before Blair walked in. It sounded almost too good to be true, but a short test drive was enough to tell him that this car would do him very nicely, and he wrote out a check for it as soon as he returned to the garage. He took possession of it the next day, and spent an hour driving around, getting used to it - although it handled much the same as his old Volvo, every vehicle had a slightly different 'feel' to it, and at the end of the hour he was more than even convinced that he had made a very good buy.
Since he now had a reliable set of wheels, he decided that he would tour around for a vacation and visit some of America's National Parks - not that he wanted to spend long at any of them. A day or two at each, to get the flavor of them...
He left Spokane in the morning planning to go first to Yellowstone, followed by Grand Teton, but instead found himself heading on south past the roads leading to them both, somehow driven to keep moving - apart from overnight stops - further and further from Cascade.
Blair hadn't even bought his new car when Simon got the first clue as to what had happened.
Late afternoon, just as he was getting ready to go home, there was a knock on his door, and one of the Patrol cops came in.
"Ken Spalding, Captain. Can you spare a minute?"
Simon waved him to a chair, and resumed his own seat.
"I thought you should know... " Spalding hesitated, then went on quickly. "That sentinel business - I know Sandburg didn't lie about it; quite a lot of us know, because... we don't make a big thing of it, but I have very acute hearing, another of the Patrol officers has much better than average sight, and two or three others have sight and hearing better than normal, though not at our level. Not everyone in Patrol knows about us, but most do; it wasn't any great reach for us to realize that it was possible for someone to have both sight and hearing much sharper than normal.
"I couldn't come in earlier today, because I had to get out onto the streets, but this morning I overheard two of our guys, two of the ones who don't know about Chaz and me, muttering together about 'Haven't seen any sign of the lying little fag since we had that word with him. That was a good idea of Rick's - making it a threat to Ellison. Little upstart, expecting to jump straight into Major Crime - bad enough he's been filling a slot as Ellison's ride-along. Now he's gone, that'll leave a position free and gives Rick a chance to move up'.
"I don't think this Rick is in Patrol - don't know which department he's in - but my guess is that he's already a detective in one of the other units, looking for a shift into what's seen as the most prestigious department."
Simon nodded. "We were pretty sure it had to have been something like that. Sandburg wouldn't risk Ellison's safety."
"So now you know, you can let Sandburg know it's only a couple of them, and the rest of us will be backing him all the way."
"I wish I could," Simon sighed. "He left a couple of days ago, didn't say where he was going, just left a note - he didn't say anything about a threat, but he did say that he knew there would be some resentment if he took the badge."
"We are looking for him... but even if we can't persuade him to come back, he'll be happy to hear that most of you are on his side. Meanwhile, if someone called 'Rick' tries to get a shift into Major Crime... " and Spalding knew that he never wanted to see that particular smile directed at him "... I'll certainly be very suspicious, and asking some very pointed questions. Will you tell me the names of the officers you heard talking?" His tone made it clear he wouldn't be annoyed if Spalding refused.
Spalding hesitated for the briefest of moments, before saying, "Normally I'm in favor of the 'cop brotherhood', but in this case... Sandburg wasn't actually a cop, but he was doing a cop's work, and it was never too much trouble to him to help someone. Les Ferris and Larry Winston."
"At the moment, all I can say is thank you." Simon's smile this time was genuine and friendly. "And warn you that if Sandburg does come back, you might well find yourself the subject of some of the tests he's run on Ellison. Do you find that sometimes your hearing is a disadvantage?"
"Occasionally," Spalding admitted. "Unexpected loud noises - "
"Have a word with Ellison about that. Oh, and your friend with the excellent sight as well. Sandburg came up with one or two ways of dealing with sensory overload - I'm not sure just what they were, but Ellison could tell you."
After Spalding left, Simon sat for some minutes, mulling over what he'd been told.
One thing was sure - he wasn't asking for applications to fill the 'empty slot', so if someone did apply for a transfer to Major Crime it would look extremely suspicious, even without the heads up Spalding had given him.
And he had one other thing to think about - if two of the Patrol cops had a much more acute than normal sense, and two or three others had slightly more acute senses, how many of the cops in other departments had one - or more? How many of them had known instantly that Sandburg had been lying through his teeth when he gave that press conference?
So much for heading straight home. He had to go home via the loft, and pass this information on to Jim.
It was another week before there were any further developments.
During that week, Jim went in search of Ken Spalding, partly to thank him for his support of Blair, partly to follow up on Simon's suggestion that he could help Spalding. Spalding, in turn, introduced him to Chaz Morris, who had 20/15 eyesight. He gave them a lesson on the use of dialling down the acuity of their senses, finding Spalding in particular very responsive and extremely grateful; Morris had had fewer problems.
Neither man, he learned, particularly trusted Ferris or his partner Winston - indeed, Morris admitted that both were thoroughly disliked by the other Patrol officers. "Nobody else wanted to be paired with either one," he said.
"Ferris had three partners request a change of pairing, and Winston four, before Captain Avery put them together," Spalding added. "They're both bigoted assholes, but they seem happy enough together, agreeing about all the things they think 'shouldn't be allowed'."
"Like equal rights for women, African Americans, native Americans, Jews, Muslims... Anyone who isn't a white Bible-thumping English-first-language Christian is a potential terrorist planning on bringing down the American government?"
"You forgot gays," Spalding added. "And democrats."
Jim sighed. "Where do these guys get all that prejudice from?" he asked sadly.
"Good question," Morris said. "Some of it is taught to them when they're kids - for example, my father is rabidly anti-gay, and I grew up thinking that all gays were pedophiles, devil's spawn with tails kept carefully hidden inside their pants so nobody would realize what they were. But then I hit teenage rebellion, inclined to reject all my old man's standards just because they were his. I decided to form my own opinion on a lot of points, not just accept what he spouted, and I made a point of checking up on homosexuality from a factual source - you have no idea how that opened my eyes. But a lot of guys, brought up that way, wouldn't question it."
"I think some of the bigots feel threatened by anyone who's different, afraid that somehow these others will prove superior in some way," Spalding added.
Jim nodded agreement. "It all comes down to fear."
He left them then, after saying simply, "Someone with all five senses heightened needs a guide - someone to work with him, to keep him from being overwhelmed by them. That was what Sandburg did for me. But with just the one sense, neither of you should have the kind of problems I might have. If you do have any problems, though, just contact me."
"Good luck," Spalding said. "And we hope you find Sandburg and persuade him to come back."
"And let him know that most of us are on his side," Morris added. "I don't think there's anyone other than Ferris and Winston who might cause problems - but if there are, the rest of us won't let them."
After speaking with Spalding and Morris, Jim went to see the Chief of Police, wondering just how much Warren knew about men in the force with heightened senses.
Warren grinned. "I've been wondering for a while when you'd come in to see me," he said. "Yes, I know there are several men - and women - here who have sight and hearing ranging from better than average to much better than average, and from some of the things I've heard about you, I reckoned you had to be one of them. So what do you have?"
"Sandburg's dissertation was the truth. I've got all five senses heightened. But we thought it would be too dangerous if that was universally known."
"Banks knew, of course?"
"Yes. He had to know. Inspector Connor put two and two together after we chased Alex Barnes to Sierra Verde to retrieve the nerve gas she stole. Apart from them - and two of the Patrol cops I spoke to earlier today, who themselves each have a heightened sense - nobody actually knows, though I think the other Major Crime detectives have to suspect something."
"Will you tell them now?"
"I don't know. The habit of secrecy... yet they deserve to know."
Warren nodded agreement. "And Sandburg? Banks told me he's left?"
"Apparently someone told him to get lost before he got me killed by 'friendly fire'."
"Hardly the action of a 'fraud'. What's his position in this?"
"He's studied the role that people with heightened senses play in their communities. The ones with just one or two senses don't have any problems. Ones with all five, though, can have problems controlling the amount of input they get, and need someone to help them maintain balance. Sandburg does - did - that for me."
"In that case, you have to find him and bring him back."
And then, a week after Spalding had spoken to him, Simon had a visitor.
"Captain Banks, my name is Frederick Winston. I'm a detective with Homicide, but - well, I don't deny I'm ambitious, and I'm looking to extend the range of what I investigate. I was wondering if you had any vacancies in Major Crime? I realize I'd have to go through official procedure, apply for a change of department, but I thought I'd have a word with you first, see what my chances were of getting in here."
Winston. Frede*rick* Winston. "I do have one detective who's currently unpartnered," Simon said blandly. He crossed to the door. "Ellison! My office, now!" And then under his breath he muttered, "We've got the bastard!"
Jim's eyes narrowed, then he rose and walked, as briskly as his not-quite-healed leg allowed, to Simon's office.
"Ellison, this is Frederick Winston. He's with Homicide." He put the faintest of emphasis on the 'rick'.
Jim nodded in what might have been acknowledgment. "Winston... " he murmured, as if thoughtfully. "Do you have a brother in Patrol?"
A slightly disdainful looked flitted across Winston's face. "Yes. He's got no ambition, though - he's perfectly happy where he is."
"You sound as if you don't like him much," Jim commented, his voice casual.
"We don't really have much in common except the same parents, though he always tagged along after me when we were younger - I'm sure he only became a cop because I did. Lucky for him he didn't try for Detective - he would never have passed the exam. Like I said, he likes it in Patrol. No responsibilities, and a partner who's happy to be the dominant one in the car. I don't see much of him."
"Didn't stop you from using him, though, when you decided you wanted to scare off Sandburg." It took a considerable effort for Jim to keep his voice casual, even fractionally approving as he tried to give the impression that he, too, used people.
"I'll grant you Sandburg was clever, the way he managed to persuade you all how good he would be as a detective," Winston said, clearly not seeing the trap into which he was being led. "But Major Crime deserves better than a little punk that freeloaded for years, pretending he was studying - and all the time he was lying - "
"Yet you banked on his sense of loyalty to get rid of him. Threaten me, and you were sure to scare him off."
"How - " Winton stopped himself before he said anything more, but that one word, the surprise in his voice, was enough to incriminate him.
"How did we know?" Jim's lips twisted in a smile that was a hundred miles from reaching his eyes. "We know Sandburg. You could threaten him, and he'd thumb his nose at you. The only thing that could frighten him off would be a threat to someone else; to someone he cared about."
"He didn't care much about you when he made you the central character in the lies he was writing! Do you really want a liar working beside you? Enhanced senses? How credulous did he think even the academic world is?"
"But enhanced senses do exist," Jim murmured, his voice still gently reasonable though the look in his eyes would have frozen a volcano. "Perfumiers. Wine tasters. Tea and coffee blenders. A lot of musicians. There are people with better than 20/20 vision. There are cops in Patrol who have better than average sight and hearing. They don't make a big thing out of it, but they don't try to hide it either. How good a detective are you, Mr. Winston, that you didn't know that?"
"I've been with Homicide - "
"With ambitions to go further," Simon put in. "To 'extend the range of what I investigate' - isn't that what you said? But I need men in this department who can think outside the box. If you're so ready to dismiss the possibility of something as simple as heightened senses - "
"But Sandburg said he lied about that!"
"No, he said that the documentation proving that Detective Ellison had heightened senses was fraudulent. Not the same thing," Simon said.
"His dissertation was on the police, specifically Major Crime," Jim said, and the tone of his voice suddenly matched the look in his eyes. "What that publisher got hold of - and Sandburg didn't send it to him - was the first draft of a novel he was writing in the form of a thesis. He used my name for his protagonist to allow him to focus better."
"And the only vacancy in Major Crime is the one that's being held for him," Simon added. "We know you were responsible for making him think he wasn't really wanted here - but the truth is that you didn't want him here. You hoped that with him gone, you could step into Major Crime. Well, you can't. Not now - not ever. Take your ambition somewhere else, Detective Winston. Somewhere that isn't Cascade."
" - And take your brother and his partner with you," Jim added.
'Get out before you're kicked out.' The message was clear. Winston looked from one to the other, and Jim could see in his eyes the understanding that he had totally screwed up, that there would never be forgiveness here. The realization that if he was lucky - very, very lucky - they would be content with his resignation, and not try to block him from being employed in the police department of another city.
With an obvious attempt at retaining as much dignity as he could, Winston walked out.
Left alone, Jim and Simon looked at each other. "Okay," Simon said after a moment. "That's disposed of the threat against Sandburg... "
"But it doesn't tell us where we can find him. He's sold his car, closed his bank account... "
"And if he gets work somewhere, dare we hope he'd use his own name?" Simon added.
"He'd have to unless he went the route of low-paid, virtually illegal worker," Jim said. "He couldn't even enroll in another university - not at his age - without money. He certainly wouldn't get any kind of grant - not apparently going in cold, and if he admitted to having been at Rainier, he promptly leaves a paper trail."
"Would Naomi know where he's gone? Or has she vanished too?"
"I thought of that. She may have moved on by now, but when she left here she went to Big Sur. I was able to contact her a couple of days after Blair left. She said she hadn't heard from him, and I believed her. She didn't sound worried, though, and that did make me wonder if she knew something that she wasn't saying. The other odd thing... I thought Sandburg had student loans that he'd have to pay back, so I contacted Cascade Bank to ask about that, see if the appropriate department there could give me an address. Spoke to a very nice woman, one who knew who I was, who assured me that Blair didn't have any outstanding student loans. He'd had one, and repaid it shortly after his twenty-first birthday. Then she told me he'd withdrawn all his money and closed his account."
"That's unusual, surely," Simon said.
"Well, he did say once that he'd been able to get several grants, but just what he'd had to do in return for them I don't know. I thought they were to finance some kind of study, but I never really saw him 'study' anything apart from me."
"Why do I get the impression that the kid's been holding out on us in some way?" Simon murmured thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" Jim asked.
"Well... money. It just occurred to me... Naomi must have money, the way she travels all over the place - she couldn't do that if she had to work - and if she has money, chances are she pays the kid an allowance - "
Jim was shaking his head. "Blair never had that much money," he said. "Would he have been living in an out-of-use, near-derelict warehouse that was swarming with rats and running clunkers of ancient clapped-out cars if he had money? You're probably right about Naomi, but if she gave Blair an allowance it had to have been a pretty meager one."
"Jim - think about it. He'd been at Rainier since he was sixteen. Naomi can't be as much of an airhead as she seems - she must have done a lot right for Blair to be accepted that young. Now - he had a student loan until he was twenty-one, when he repaid it. Suppose... Suppose that, when he first went to Rainier, in order to teach him the value of money she left him to get on with it himself, with maybe a very small allowance that he augmented - had to augment - by weekend jobs and a loan - which he probably wouldn't have been eligible for till he was eighteen. Then when he was twenty-one and maybe getting worried about the amount of money he owed, she paid off his debts, but told him that was the only time she'd do it? Maybe upped his allowance at that point so that as long as he was careful, he'd get by without taking out another loan?
"So he knows how to be thrifty. He buys his clothes from charity shops, where the money is going to help people rather than just add to someone's profits, studies cooking so he doesn't spend money on expensive food - how often have I heard you say you didn't know how he managed to produce the tasty meals he did for just a few dollars?
"We've all heard him talking about not wasting resources. How much of that was environmental awareness, how much was based on not spending more money than necessary, only he knows - possibly a bit of both."
"You know, I keep forgetting you were a detective before you made Captain," Jim said. "But... why didn't I think of that?"
"You were living with him; seeing what he wanted you to see," Simon suggested.
"Yet there were times he spent money on getting sentinel-friendly stuff for the loft... and some of that hypoallergenic stuff is expensive."
"And how do you know he didn't skip lunch to help pay for it?" Simon asked shrewdly.
"If he did, I owe him so much more than I ever realized," Jim said.
"It would probably have embarrassed him if you'd ever made much of it," Simon said.
"Possibly... but there's a difference between being grateful without being effusive and taking everything he did for granted. God, I even joked about him owing back rent! At least, I meant it as a joke - I just hope to hell he took it as one!"
"I'm sure he did," Simon said. "Jim, the kid understood you in a way nobody else ever did. And you... you gave him something I doubt anyone else ever did - a home, someplace he could put down roots. I don't think even he realized how badly he wanted - needed - to put down roots until they were in place. It must have nearly killed him to pull them up - but he did it because he thought that was the only way to keep you safe."
"I have to find him," Jim said. "I just... have to find him. But how? He's learned a lot from his time with us. If he wants to disappear... "
"He told you he'd send for his stuff once he'd found someplace to stay - "
"He said it, but did he mean it?" Jim asked. "Depending on where he went... Buying new stuff would be cheaper than getting four boxes sent to a lot of places, especially if he left America."
"Well, that's something we can check up on," Simon said. "Another thing - you said he's closed his bank account?"
"Okay - we can always see if he opened one in another bank. Living without a bank account these days - not easy."
"I did think of that," Jim said, "but I wasn't happy about using my position as a cop to try checking it out. I was pushing things as it was."
A slow smile dawned on Simon's face. "You've done all the checking a concerned friend or relative could realistically do. You've reported Blair to me as a missing person - we don't need to say it was over a week ago - and I can authorize a police investigation. You had a couple of cases he was helping you with when he disappeared, didn't you."
Strictly speaking, he hadn't, because although Jim had had to give evidence in court on the day Blair slipped away he hadn't been responsible for any new cases because he was still on light duty after taking a ricocheted bullet from Zeller's gun; but he understood what Simon was saying. "Couple of older cases not quite gone cold, yes. He'd come up with a suggestion for one of them, but we hadn't had time to check it out," he embellished.
"And whether it was linked or not, we discovered that the day he disappeared he'd received a death threat that he'd taken seriously," Simon added.
"And that, at least, is the complete truth, only it was directed at me, not at him," Jim murmured, so quietly that Simon barely heard him.
"And now that the threat has been neutralized, we need to find him," Simon finished.
Blair finally stopped when he reached Monument Valley, drawn into it by the stark beauty of the mesas and buttes that he could see from the road, though he only stayed for three or four hours, long enough to take one of the tours around the buttes, and then visit Goulding's Trading Post. He was mildly amused by a sign saying 'Caution - do not enter when flooded' that the small tour bus passed - it seemed impossible that there could ever be a flood in these desert conditions, but he knew well enough that only a fool would ignore a warning such as this that was placed there by the local people.
In these dry conditions, heavy rain would run straight off the ground rather than soaking in, accumulating in the lowest areas; and he knew the amount of force even a few inches of fast-running water could generate. No; if he had chosen to drive himself around the track through the buttes, rather than taking a tour, he would have been paying signs like that a great deal of respect.
From Goulding's he drove on to Kayenta, where he stopped for the night.
Next morning he set off again, not quite sure where he wanted to go, but tempted by the Grand Canyon...
He stayed several days there, exploring both the north and south rims, and - with teeth firmly gritted - he took a helicopter ride across the canyon. The one thing he didn't consider doing was descending to the floor of the canyon, either on foot or on mule. And then he moved on to Sedona, a town he remembered visiting not long before he went to Rainier, using that as a base to visit Montezuma's Castle. It was a bittersweet day; he enjoyed seeing the cliff houses the Sinagua had built - or should that be 'excavated'? - but at the same time it was a too-vivid reminder of the life he had willingly destroyed in order to protect his sentinel.
Jim was sitting unenthusiastically finishing a hamburger when he was disturbed by a knock on the door. As he rose to answer, he thought it was a definite symptom of how depressed he felt, that he hadn't been aware of anyone approaching.
He opened the door. "Naomi!"
He stood back to let her enter. She put a small case down at the side of the door.
"Have you eaten?" he asked.
"Coffee, then? I'm afraid there's no tea - Blair cleared it all before he left."
"You're staying, of course?" he asked as he started the coffee and put his dishes in the sink. He didn't want her to stay, because he didn't want company, but he felt a weird sense of responsibility for Blair's mother.
"I'm not sure. You might not want me to stay, after you hear what I have to tell you."
"You know where Blair is?"
"No. But what I have to say does concern Blair."
As he poured the coffee, he said, almost casually, "Are you going to tell me that you're rich?"
Her mouth dropped open. "What... How... "
"We're detectives, Naomi. It occurred to us - to Simon and me - that to travel around the way you do, you had to have money. You give Blair a pretty reasonable allowance, right?" He handed her a cup.
"Actually, no, I don't. I don't need to." She took a sip of the coffee. "My mother died when I was still quite young. I was her only child. My father didn't remarry. When he died, he left his money split between Blair and me. Blair's half was kept in trust until he was twenty-one.
"I did offer Blair an allowance when he first went to Rainier, but he chose to be independent and I didn't insist. He really did struggle financially for those five years, and even after he had access to his trust fund he chose not to use it apart from paying off the loan and taking some of the interest to augment what he could earn." She drank a little more, obviously using that to give herself time to decide just what to say next. "I don't know where he is, but I do know that financially he's secure. You don't have to worry that he's living on the streets, anything like that. I... I didn't want to tell you on the phone, but I knew how worried you were about him. I wanted to relieve your mind of that, at least."
"I don't deny that I'm glad to hear that our guesses were at least partly right," Jim said. "Has he been in touch with you at all?"
"No, but when you phoned to ask if I knew where he was... it was quite a shock. I thought he'd decided to accept Simon's offer?"
Jim reached for his wallet and took from it a folded piece of paper. "He left me this."
She read it and looked up. "Resentment?" she asked. "But everyone seemed so pleased - "
"Basically it was one man in another department, who thought Blair was blocking his chance of a transfer into Major Crime - and we've dealt with him."
"And he says he'll send for his things - "
"But will he?" Jim asked.
"I don't know." She sounded almost defeated. "I raised him to not consider material things particularly important, so he mightn't bother... A lot would depend on where he went. He could easily decide that it would be simpler and cheaper to replace what he wanted than send for it. He doesn't have to worry about money, but the habit of frugality is very ingrained now."
Jim sighed. "That's what I'm afraid of; that he'll consider replacing things cheaper than sending for them. Naomi - " He hesitated before going on. "Be honest with me. You put a good face on it when we offered Blair the badge... but how do you really feel? If he contacted you, what would you say to him? Would you tell him what I just told you, that it was just one man?"
She raised her hands to cover her mouth for a moment, then, lowering them, "I don't know. No, that's the truth. I..." She took a deep breath. "Blair doesn't know, and I don't want him ever to know. I've never told anyone the whole truth. But... because of one man, I've distrusted the police since 1968."
"196... 8?" Jim had a horrible feeling that he knew where this was going.
"I was fifteen, and visiting my mother's cousin who lived in another town; I'd gone out for a walk and... well, I got lost. When I saw a patrol car parked, I went to ask the cops in it for directions. I suppose I should have been suspicious that there was just the one cop on his own, but... He said he was actually off duty, but he'd take me home; I got into the car... "
"He raped you?"
She nodded. "Afterwards, he did take me back to the street where my cousin lived, told me that it would be no use trying to accuse him of anything because nobody would believe me, that they'd believe a cop before they believed a silly little teenager, and drove off. Within a month I knew I was pregnant. I told Dad I'd been raped but that I didn't know who it was, that the guy had run off afterwards. But I never trusted a cop again.
"When Blair told me he was working with the cops here, studying them, riding with one and living with him... I really was horrified. But since then, since I met you and Captain Banks and the other detectives in Major Crime, I've come to understand that what one man - one cop - did back then wasn't typical; he was the rotten apple that taints the entire barrel."
"You get one or two rotten apples everywhere," Jim said quietly, "as long as there are people who are motivated by greed or power, and see a position of trust as an opportunity to satisfy that hunger."
"I know. I do know that... but you don't understand what it's like. Knowing it and living it... When you've been a victim of a man like that... "
"Naomi, I do understand. I've been the victim of a man like that." He hesitated for a moment before expanding on his statement. "When I was in the army, there was a lot of cross-border conflict between Ecuador and Peru. My unit was sent to Peru to 'contact the local tribes and organize a militia against the insurgents'. Turned out a lot of these so-called 'insurgents' were part of a drug cartel. Anyway, the intel we were given was faulty, we were shot down, everyone was killed but me. I was in the jungle for eighteen months, living with one of the tribes there. I always wanted to believe it was just bad luck... until a couple of years ago, when I discovered that we'd been given that faulty intel deliberately, by a senior officer who was working with the cartel. At least I survived and was able to carry out the mission."
"Oh. How... how secret is that? I know from something Blair said that a lot of what you did in the army was classified."
"Not very, apart from the bit about the intel being deliberately faulty. When the army finally sent a team to investigate and brought me home, they decided it would be good publicity to get Newsweek to interview me, and of course at that point all I knew was that it was faulty, possibly just out of date. So the fact that we crashed, that I was the only survivor, that I continued with our mission - that's all common knowledge. But it's history now, and I'd just as soon it stayed that way."
"A secret for a secret, then, Jim? Deal?" Naomi asked.
"Deal," he agreed, though he knew it wasn't necessary; he would never tell Blair what he had learned. "More coffee?"
"And you'll stay for a few days?" he asked as he poured the coffee.
She nodded. "Thanks. I'm hoping that Blair will contact me, and if I'm here... with luck I can get him to speak to you. I can admit now that I'm a little worried about him. He's given up everything he cared about; he has to be... well... fairly emotionally fragile."
"He's a strong man, Naomi."
"Normally, yes - but you can't deny that I betrayed his trust, even though it was with the best of intentions; I just wanted to help him. He doesn't have to work, but he wants to - and I lost him his chosen career, and indirectly lost him his second choice... as well as the only place he's ever called home."
Jim shook his head. "No. He can come back any time. There have been a few... half secrets brought into the open at the PD, things that will restore what little credibility he lost there, and this is still his home if he wants it."
"His chosen career was anthropology. He's lost that. He enjoyed teaching. He's lost that."
"I'm not so sure that he did enjoy teaching. He was good at it, but I'm not sure he enjoyed it. He was always happy to get someone else to take his classes so that he could work with me. He admitted once that he'd been stalling on finishing his dissertation because he didn't want to quit the roller coaster of police work and go back to the merry-go-round that was academic life."
After visiting Montezuma's Castle, with no clear destination in mind, Blair found himself heading north again when he'd really meant to go east. He stopped when he reached Las Vegas, mostly because, by the time he got there, it was getting late. He and Jim had spoken about visiting 'Sin City' some time, but had never actually done so; well, he was here now. He booked into Circus Circus, a less flamboyant hotel than many, and after a meal, went out sightseeing; wandered around the streets for a while, then went back to the hotel. He went into the casino, looked around for a few minutes, then chose a slot machine and began feeding quarters into it. Five dollars, he decided. Just five. Just so that he could say he'd gambled at Las Vegas. He won a dollar, and added that to the amount he was playing; and then on his second last quarter, he won twenty-five dollars. He grinned, shoveled his winnings into a bucket and exchanged the quarters for bills, and went back to his room.
He'd played at Las Vegas, and won! Okay, it was on a slot machine and it was for peanuts, but he'd played at Las Vegas and he'd won. Wishing he could share that with Jim, he got ready for bed.
Next day he carried on north and west, going through Death Valley - glad he had a reliable set of wheels; or would that be engine? - and ending up at Visalia, where he stopped for the night, again because it was getting late. It had been a long day - he'd covered over four hundred miles - but something seemed to be urging him back towards the north.
After a quick meal he was glad to get to bed, though he lay awake for a long time, unable to relax properly, still, in a sense, unconsciously driving.
Still tired in the morning, he decided to have a lazy day; Visalia was close to Sequoia National Park, so he went there, drove through it without stopping, and when he reached Fresno, he stopped for the night.
He had bypassed Yellowstone. He decided he couldn't pass Yosemite as well, not without at least going in as far as the visitor center, so next morning he headed for Yosemite. He stopped briefly to admire Bridal Veil Falls; leaving his car at the visitor center, he walked the short distance to Yosemite Falls; then, although he was tempted to stay for a day or two, he returned to his car and drove off again, heading for San Francisco, where he spent the night.
In bed that night, he decided he had been subconsciously heading west again so that he could go to Big Sur and see if Naomi was still there; not that he intended joining her, and just where he would go after that he was uncertain - but with an immediate destination in mind, he was able to relax, and for the first night since he had left Cascade, he slept well.
In the morning he turned south down the Pacific Highway, but when he reached the retreat at Big Sur he discovered that Naomi had only stayed for two or three days, before heading off again. "She got a phone call one night; she left the next morning, saying there was someone she had to see," one of the other women at the retreat told him, "but she didn't say where she was going."
"And she didn't say who phoned?"
"Pity. Looks like I won't see her again for a while. Well, thanks anyway."
Someone she had to see. Blair frowned thoughtfully as he returned to his car and drove slowly away from the retreat. Still thinking, he pulled in to Ragged Point, knowing that this was a... well, a turning point. He knew he had been procrastinating for the past two weeks; it was time to make a decision about his future. He had, he realized now, hoped to discuss things with Naomi, if only to clarify them in his own mind, but Naomi had moved on... again.
Someone Naomi had to see. There was nobody that he knew of among Naomi's friends that she ever felt she had to see. Although she was more than happy to help out a friend if necessary, her friendships were for the most part fairly casual; just as her romances were short. Intense while they lasted, but short, and in all seriousness, Blair doubted if she actually slept with most of the men who romanced her. The only persons for whom she had ever shown any deep, lasting affection had been her father, with whom they had lived until Andrew's death when Blair was fourteen, and Blair himself - and after Blair went to Rainier he saw her only rarely, when the wind blew her in his direction.
Someone who phoned her. Someone who, as a result, she felt she had to see. Now who...
Oh, God! Jim? Was Jim having problems? He had said once that Naomi's presence, while not as effective as Blair's own, could calm him when his senses were running wild. Had he phoned her, begging her to go to him, because Blair wasn't there? It was possible...
He had to go to Jim.
Yet... how could he go to Jim without risking Jim's life? For if he went back, he would never be able to summon up the strength to leave again. And how could he risk Jim's safety?
If he was there, in Cascade, his friends at the PD would expect him to take firearms training and become Jim's permanent, official partner - it had been obvious to them all that he enjoyed working with Jim, or why, from their viewpoint, would he have extended and extended that original ninety-day ride-along? - but the threat had been very, very real. Even if he told Jim, told Simon, told the rest of the gang in Major Crime about that threat, how could they live with always looking over their shoulders, always fearing that this was the time that backup wouldn't show?
Damned if he went back, damned if he didn't...
In the end, after thinking it over for close on an hour, Blair made the decision that had been inevitable from the moment he first suspected that Jim might be having a problem, and as he drove away from Ragged Point heading north again, he wondered if his subconscious had actually been taking him back to Jim, rather than to Naomi.
The road, while not busy, was busier than it had been; five minutes after leaving Ragged Point, he found himself caught in a line of half a dozen cars, held up by a tour coach that was surely longer than was meant to be on this winding road, where it was not unknown for large vehicles to fail to make one of the tight bends and drop down the steep cliff into the sea. The coach driver was skilled enough, he wasn't delaying the cars behind him by much, but Blair wasn't surprised when, a few minutes later, the driver of the car immediately behind the coach, seeing what appeared to be an opportunity to overtake, pulled out to do so. Blair shook his head; he certainly wouldn't have attempted to overtake just there - he was resigned to remaining behind the coach for as long as necessary.
The overtaking car was halfway past the coach when another car appeared around a blind bend, barely twenty yards from the overtaking vehicle. The approaching car pulled sharply over to its right - a maneuver the driver clearly felt preferable to going over the cliff - which put it directly in the path of the coach, which was braking hard but with no chance of stopping in time.
Blair, who had hit his brakes as soon as the oncoming car appeared, already had his cell phone switched on and was dialing 911 even as the bus stopped abruptly, probably having hit the oncoming car; Blair couldn't actually see what had happened to it. The back of the coach slewed across the road, slamming into the crash barrier and knocking the overtaking car off the cliff as its back wheels left the road, leaving its rear hanging over the drop, while the car immediately behind the coach ran into its side. All the other cars had managed to stop safely.
The ringing stopped as his phone was answered. "What is your emergency?"
Blair got out of his car as he answered, reporting the accident even as he ran forward to see what he could do to help.
He had reacted more rapidly than anyone else, well aware that it was his four years of police experience that enabled him to do so. As he slipped his phone back into his pocket, he grabbed the driver of one of the other cars. "Get around that corner and stop the traffic!" he said, pointing northwards.
The man nodded and squeezed his way past the bus and the oncoming car that had indeed rammed it, clearly glad that someone was taking charge. Blair sent another driver back the way they had come to stop the traffic in that direction as well, although nobody driving north would come on it quite as abruptly as someone driving south.
The coach driver had managed to open the door and Blair directed the shaken passengers out and back down the road, glad to see that none of them were actually hurt. The occupants of another of the cars that had managed to stop in time were seeing to the people in the car that had rammed the bus - they, too, seemed to be shaken rather than hurt - so Blair squeezed past the front of the coach to get to the car that had hit it head-on.
Its driver was slumped forward in his seat, unconscious. His female passenger seemed to be trying to arouse him as she shook him weakly. "Jerry! Jerry!"
Blair reached across the unconscious man and caught her hand. "No," he said. "Don't try to move him. If you try, you might aggravate any injuries he has." He could hear the man breathing heavily. "He's alive. Paramedics should be here soon, and they have the equipment to move him safely. For the moment, we're better to leave him as he is; he's breathing, and doesn't seem to be losing blood." Though he might be bleeding internally he thought. "How about you - are you hurt, Ms... ?"
"Parker... Jenny Parker. This is my brother Jerry."
"Are you hurt?" he asked again as he switched off the ignition. The engine had stalled, certainly, but it would be safer switched off.
"My leg... When I saw what was happening, I automatically tried to hit the brake. I think my leg's broken."
Blair nodded. "That's one of the commonest injuries to a passenger who can drive. I think it's best if we leave you in the car as well till the paramedics get here. They can get you out, too, without causing any further damage to your leg."
A voice behind him said, "Is there anything I can do?"
He glanced around, to see a woman from one of the stopped cars. "If you stay with Ms. Parker, I'll go and check on the car that - " he gestured towards the cliff.
"Are you a policeman?"
He shook his head. "No, but my best friend is a cop. I know what he'd do in a situation like this." Turning, he crossed the road, took a deep breath and peered over the side. Far below, he saw the crumpled wreckage of the car, the driver of which had caused this accident.
There was no sign of movement... not that he had expected any.
"Jim! It's Blair!"
Jim moved quickly from the kitchen to join Naomi, who was sitting watching the news. Behind the reporter was a coach sitting across a road, its rear suspended in mid-air over a very steep drop to the sea. At least one car had crashed into it. Beside it were several people - and in the background there was a policeman standing at the side of the road, talking to Blair.
"... caused by a driver overtaking the coach too close to a bend and meeting an oncoming vehicle. The driver of one of the cars following the coach took charge immediately, sending men in each direction to stop oncoming traffic. Without his quick thinking this accident might have been worse, occurring as it did on a blind bend in the road; as it is, the people in the car that caused the accident were killed when their car went over the cliff. The two people in the oncoming car were the only others injured in what could have been a far more serious accident. The driver's injuries are understood to be fairly serious, while his passenger suffered a broken leg."
"Where?" Jim asked as the camera panned to show the wreckage of a car at the bottom of the cliff.
"A few miles north of Big Sur. Blair must have gone there looking for me."
The reporter was speaking again. "...will be closed for several hours until the coach is removed as well as the two cars that collided with it, and the bodies recovered from the car that went over the cliff. This is Tom Clunie reporting from the Pacific Highway near Big Sur."
Jim was already dialing Simon's number. "Simon, have you seen the news? No? Blair's talking to the police just north of Big Sur... Yes. There was an accident, not involving him - he's obviously a witness. Can you find out anything?... Thanks." He hung up. "Simon's going to see what he can find out. I could try, but I'm just a detective; he's a captain, head of Major Crime; he'll get co-operation that I mightn't get."
"I wonder... " Naomi frowned thoughtfully. "I've tried phoning Blair, but his phone was switched off."
Jim nodded. He'd tried that, too.
"Maybe... Taking charge is what he'd do, and if he phoned for the emergency services, maybe his phone is still switched on."
"It's worth trying," Jim agreed. "But Naomi - maybe you'd better not tell him you're here. Just say you saw the news report."
"Jim, if he's on his way north from Big Sur, he's already been to the retreat and been told I left after getting a phone call. I'd guess he knows where I am." She used the speed dial, and nodded. "It's ringing."
The two phones - Blair's and that of Dan Teller, the Patrol cop he'd been speaking to - rang in chorus. They grinned at each other as they took their phones from their pockets.
Blair hesitated for a second, then saw his caller was Naomi. "Hi, Mom."
"I just saw on the news... are you all right, sweetie?"
"Yes - I was about five cars back from the coach, saw the situation developing, so I'd plenty of time to stop." He saw Teller gesturing to him, and said, "Hold on a moment - someone wants me." He looked questioningly at the cop.
"Do you know a Captain Banks, Cascade PD?"
"He'd like a word." He held out his phone.
Blair raised his own phone again and said quickly, "I'll call you back in a few minutes. Yes, I promise," and closed it. "My mother," he said dryly as he took Teller's phone. "Hello, Simon."
"Blair! Are you all right? Jim's been really worried - "
"I'm fine, Simon. Actually I'm on my way back, though I'll be delayed a day because of this accident. It'll take a while to get the road cleared."
"You weren't involved?"
"No, only as a witness."
"Thank god for that. Now, the important thing - Blair, you don't have to worry about anything. We discovered who threatened you, and he's gone, along with his two accomplices. Everyone else... Blair, they all know you lied at the press conference."
"They know... How?"
"Turns out several of the cops here have at least one heightened sense, and they've actually not been making any great secret of it inside their own departments. People who knew them just accepted it - and when you held your press conference, everyone who knew about them put two and two together. One of them came to see me, a couple of days after you left, and what he told me he'd overheard... well, it let us work out who was responsible - a detective who thought the idea of heightened senses was just plain ridiculous, and hoped that with you gone he'd be able to move into Major Crime. They all want to you to come back."
"That's... good to know. Thanks. Er - Simon - is Naomi in Cascade?"
"Yes. Jim phoned her to see if she knew where you were - "
"Which of course she didn't," Blair put in wryly.
" - and the next thing he knew, she turned up at the loft."
"She just called me - she'd seen the news. I suppose you did, too."
"Well, only the last bit of it - Jim phoned to tell me. Since you were speaking to the local police, we thought there was a good chance of getting hold of you through them, to let you know everything's all right and there's no reason you can't take the weapons training and join us as Jim's official partner - if you want to, that is."
"Yes," Blair said. "I want to."
"And you'll phone Jim?"
Blair smiled. "I had to cut Naomi off when Officer Teller put me on to you, but I promised I'd phone her back. I'll be surprised if it isn't Jim who answers when I do."
"You're probably right. Just remember - your place is waiting for you... and we all want you here."
"Thanks. See you." Blair closed the phone and handed it back to Teller. "Thanks."
"From the look on your face, that was some pretty good news?"
Blair grinned. "I'd had what amounted to a death threat before I left Cascade for this vacation. They've caught the guy responsible, so it's a weight off my mind."
Teller nodded. "I can appreciate that."
"Now I need to phone my Mom, before she decides I've been arrested for causing the accident," Blair joked.
Teller chuckled with him. "Don't be too long, though. We need to get you all to move your cars so that we can see about getting the road cleared."
"Just long enough to reassure her, and then I'll get back to Big Sur, find someplace to stay the night, and I can call her again from there."
"I think that's wise," Teller said. "There'll be some folk who'll sit in their cars waiting with varying degrees of patience till they're allowed through, but the road'll be closed for several hours - and one or two will take it personally, think we're deliberately being slow, deliberately obstructing them just for the hell of it. You should be able to get through all right in the morning. Thanks for your help. I wish everyone was as quick-witted after an accident, and could give as clear a statement as you did. But of course if you're on first name terms with a police captain in Cascade..."
"My room mate is a friend of his," Blair said. "The way things worked out, Captain Banks and I got friendly too. I used to type up my friend's reports - I was a far better typist - so I know a bit about police work, what is useful in a statement..." He opened his phone and Teller moved away as Blair hit the speed dial for the loft.
"Blair! Are you all right?"
"Hi. Jim. Didn't Naomi tell you I was?"
"Well, yes, but - How did you know Naomi's here?"
"Would you believe an educated guess?"
"I'd believe a guess," Jim admitted, "but an educated one?"
Blair chuckled. "Shaman's instinct."
"I suppose that's all the answer I'll get," Jim said wryly. "Are you coming home?"
"Yes. I was on my way when I got held up by this accident. Stupid, trying to overtake on this stretch of road... and he and his passengers died for his impatience. One of them was a boy not more than six or seven - probably his son; the other was presumably his wife. Such a waste... Anyway, Simon told me - "
"The local police put me on to him. He said everything's all right?"
"Yes. I've been working with the guy who gave us the first clue - he has heightened hearing, and it was giving him some problems. I gave him a few of your tips. But according to Chief Warren there are several others, mostly with sight or hearing."
"Warren knows?... Yes, Simon said there were several others... How many cops are involved?"
"I'm not sure, Warren didn't say and they mostly haven't identified themselves to me yet, but he knew I had to be one of them. I told him what you are, and he's most insistent that you come back."
"Well, I'm on my way. Probably a couple of days. Now I have to go - the cops here want all the cars moved so that the road can be cleared. I'm going back to Big Sur for the night - phone you from there."
"Bye." Blair rang off, returned to his car, turned it very carefully, waved to Teller and drove off.
True to his word, Blair phoned again once he had found himself a room at Ragged Point Inn. He spoke briefly with Naomi, rather longer with Jim and got the whole story about Rick Winston, his brother and his brother's partner.
"You should have called their bluff," Jim added.
"I couldn't," Blair said. "Although I have a lot of friends at the station, for all I knew they were speaking for a fairly sizeable minority. How could I risk your safety?"
"Blair," Jim said. "I've never admitted it before, but ever since we met, you've been putting my needs first. Winston knew that. He was banking on it."
"You... I... "
"And it's time you began putting your needs first. Just come home, Chief. We can discuss... everything... once you're home."
The road was open again by morning, and Blair set off early, passing the scene of the accident before 9am. The only obvious sign that there had been an accident was the twisted and broken segment of the crash barrier, where rope had been tied across the break to give the illusion of
something solid between the road and the drop. Shaking his head again at the waste of three lives, he drove on.
He was glad when he finally reached San Francisco. The roads from there would be better, and he could relax as he drove. It was not until then that he realized that at every bend, even the very gentle ones, he had been almost subconsciously expecting another accident of some kind to delay him again.
He headed first for Sacramento, and then, choosing not to stop except to fill his depleted gas tank, headed on towards the north. By the time he was some twenty miles short of Eugene, Oregon, he was aware of hunger and beginning to feel tired, so when he saw a motel he pulled in for the night.
Next morning, he again left early, knowing that in a few hours he would be home.
Only now did he admit to himself how appealing that word, that concept was.
He was aware that Jim sometimes referred to the days Before Sandburg, but Blair hadn't actually registered that he thought of that same time as the days Before Jim. Before Jim, where Blair stayed had been nothing more than that, a place to stay, as impersonal and welcoming as a hotel room, a place he could - and did - leave without a second thought. During the four years he had known Jim, the place where he stayed had become home, a place where he could relax, a place in which he enjoyed spending time; a place it had torn his heart to leave, but which he had forced himself to leave in an urge to protect Jim that he now knew was mistaken.
Yet he couldn't totally regret leaving. Although he now knew that the threats uttered that day were meaningless, the embittered outpouring of a jealous man, he had believed them. Jim's safety was worth the price. And - although he hadn't said so - he had half believed that Jim would be happy to get his space back.
And yet... from the tone of Jim's voice, Jim wanted him back.
Mile after mile slid past. He crossed the border from Oregon into Washington. There was still a long way to go, but now he was into Washington he began to feel as if he was almost home.
Once again he only stopped when he needed fuel. To stop long enough for a meal was wasted time...
At last he reached Cascade and drove through increasingly familiar streets until he reached Prospect. He pulled into his usual parking space at 852, knowing that the sound of this car was unfamiliar, that Jim wouldn't automatically know that he was there. He went into the building.
Now that he was actually back, doubt struck... What if he had totally misunderstood what Jim was saying? He could only find out by going upstairs, seeing Jim... He took a deep breath, and slowly began to climb the stairs.
But for as slowly as he went, eventually he reached the third floor. He paused, took a deep breath, and walked steadily along to 307. There he paused again.
He had kept his keys, but somehow it seemed wrong just to unlock the door and walk in. He raised his hand to knock -
- and before he touched it, the door opened.
He was caught in a tight embrace as Jim's arms closed around him, pulling him close. His own arms rose of their own volition and he wrapped them around Jim, holding him as tightly.
They clung together for a long minute, then Jim's arms relaxed a little. Although he was reluctant to let go, Blair reacted, relaxing his grip too. Jim pulled him into the loft, and pushed the door shut.
"God, Chief... " Jim pulled him into another fierce hug.
Blair leaned against him, relishing the - yes, the need that he could feel in the arms holding him. Nobody had ever needed him like that...
At last Jim released his grip once more. They moved a little apart, and Blair saw past Jim's shoulder to where Naomi was sitting.
"Welcome back, sweetie," Naomi said. She licked her lips, then went on resolutely, "I... I have a confession to make."
Blair looked at her, puzzled. "A confession?"
"Jim was so worried about you... about how you'd manage... I told him about the money Dad left you."
"Oh." He looked back at Jim, well aware that for four years he had... at least obfuscated, even at times downright lied, about his financial status.
Jim smiled. "I'd already guessed that Naomi had money, and if she had money she was sure to give you a fairly generous allowance. It made sense that you'd keep quiet about it - if you're undercover, you stay undercover. That way there's no chance of slipping up."
Blair sighed. "There are always one or two students who'll try to con money out of anyone they know has some. I don't say they're dishonest, exactly, just trying to make things easier for themselves financially. After I had access to the money, it was easier to lie low, pretend I was still as strapped for cash as they were, and... well... it just got to be habit."
"You always paid your way," Jim said. "You paid your share of everything. Yes, I know I joked about back rent, but you did understand that I was joking, right?" It was something that had been on his conscience since Blair left.
"Well... I hoped you were."
"I did wish you'd get a better, more reliable car - "
"I've got one now. Another Volvo, low mileage... well, not nearly as low now as it was when I bought it - I've covered a fair distance in the last two weeks. It's not two years old yet, and I don't think I'll have to worry about it breaking down every other day."
"Good." Jim hesitated for a moment, looked at Naomi, then said, "You are back to stay, Chief?"
"And... will you go to the Academy? I know you don't have to, but... "
It was Blair's turn to glance at Naomi. Instead of answering Jim directly, he said, "I know you don't understand, Naomi, but I really don't want to live a life of idle luxury - "
"It doesn't have to be a life of luxury," Naomi said. "You can have as simple a lifestyle as you want. I go to retreats, look for enlightenment - all part of a simple lifestyle."
"But are you really happy?" he asked. "You never settle anywhere, you're always moving on, looking for something new, something to give meaning to what you're doing. Once I went to Rainier, I was studying, well, that filled my time - "
"You could afford to finance your own expeditions," she said, ignoring his question.
"Yes, I could," Blair agreed, "and if things were still the way they were four years ago, I'd likely have settled for that - because I know now, after working as a TA, that I definitely don't want to teach - and probably been reasonably happy. I still love anthropology, but four years ago I met Jim, and found something more rewarding to do. Working with the police, I can still use a lot of what I learned - all those years at Rainier weren't wasted. But if I were to settle for financing my own expeditions, spending my time traveling and still studying other cultures, it would be in the nature of... well, not much more than a hobby, even if I discovered something meaningful, wrote books about it and it turned out to be a paying hobby.
"I want to work, to do something meaningful with my life. So I'll go to the Academy, take firearms training and whatever other courses I need, though after four years riding along with Jim I'd guess I could test out of everything but firearms, and become Jim's official partner. All I ask is that you accept that, if not happily - because I know you don't like the police - but at least philosophically."
Naomi was silent for a moment. Then she said, "I have to admit... I met some bad cops when I was younger, ones who used their position to throw their weight around, and let that color my perception of all cops. But the ones here, the ones you'll be working with... I've come to respect them, the little I've seen of them. I don't say I'm happy about it, but yes... I'm accepting it, and I won't say anything more against it. Just be careful, right, sweetie?"
"I always try to be careful," Blair said, "and Jim'll look out for me."
"Yes," Jim said.
Naomi left first thing the next morning; Jim and Blair dropped her off at the airport before going to the station. She had no immediate destination in mind; she would, she said, take the first available standby flight, wherever it was going, gave them both a quick hug and disappeared into the building without a backward glance.
Blair shrugged as Jim glanced at him before switching on the ignition. "Typical Naomi," he said. "She rarely plans ahead; she gets the urge to move on, and almost always goes wherever the first available transport is going. I was lucky she stayed here long enough for me to see her - especially since she didn't know I was actually coming back."
"Were you 'actually coming back'?" Jim asked. There was no accusation in his voice.
"Yes," Blair said. "I'd been heading south, and meant to turn east; instead, I found myself heading north and west. I was being pulled home."
They drove on in a comfortable silence.
Jim swung into the PD garage and pulled into his usual space. "Right," he said. "Major Crime first; then we'd better have a word with Warren, if he's available."
As the elevator door opened at the floor for Major Crime, Blair hesitated. "Jim... "
"All right, we'll sneak in," Jim said. "I'll go straight to my desk; you just follow me."
Blair swallowed, and nodded; Jim opened the bullpen door and walked in. They were halfway to Jim's desk when -
"Hairboy!" And Brown was there, pounding his back.
"Sandy!" Megan rushed over and threw her arms around him.
"Good to see you, Sandburg," Rafe said.
"Welcome back, Blair," Joel said and grabbed him from Megan.
Blair looked around. Apart from Simon, these were the ones he knew best, but the other members of Major Crime, the ones he knew less well, were gathering around him too, all murmuring words of welcome.
"You are here to stay, aren't you?" Megan asked.
"Yes," Blair said.
"Does nobody have any work to do?" Simon, bellowing from his office. Then, as the group around Blair began to scatter and he saw the reason for it - "Ah, Sandburg, you're back." He gestured for Blair and Jim to go into his office.
Once they were inside, with the door closed, he went on. "Are you likely to be needed about that accident?"
"Officer Teller didn't think so," Blair said. "He said everyone's statements were clear enough, and anything further - like any queries from the insurance companies involved - could be handled by post or email."
"Good. Now, yesterday I had a discussion with Chief Warren and Captain Franklin of the Police Academy. Franklin is prepared to let you test out of everything except the firearms training - he's prepared to accept that four years in the field, working with Jim, is more than adequate training, especially since you're coming straight into Major Crime. Starting on Monday, you'll get a concentrated course in firearms, all day every day for as long as it takes, but considering how accurate you are throwing things, I don't expect you to take long to qualify."
"Well... " Blair said hesitantly, "I've played paintball, though not for a few years, and I was pretty accurate. I don't like guns, but using one can't be very different from using a paintball marker. It's just that a blob of paint on your chest is only going to hurt your pride, not cause serious injury."
"In that case, we'll probably see you qualifying in a couple of days," Jim said cheerfully.
"And with that settled, Chief Warren wants to see you as soon as possible." Simon reached for his phone. "Rhonda, can you see if Chief Warren is free? Tell him Sandburg's here." As he waited for a reply, he went on, "Blair, it's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back."
"Rhonda? Yes? Right, they're on their way." He put the phone down. Werren wants to see you both immediately."
As they turned towards the door, Jim said, "We'll probably be tied up for a lot of the day. Come to the loft tonight, Simon."
Simon nodded. "Around seven?"
"That'll be fine."
Jim guided Blair out of the bullpen and led the way to Warren's office.
Much to Blair's surprise, Warren wanted details about just what he did that helped Jim. "Detective Ellison explained that he has problems with control and that you help him."
"Yes," Blair said. It's what you might call the downside to 'being a comics superhero' syndrome. Comics superheroes were always vulnerable to something."
"Superman and kryptonite?"
"Yes. Sentinels - full sentinels - have problems that people with only one or two senses don't, or at least not to the same extent. If they concentrate too hard on one sense, they zone out - lose contact with their surroundings for a variable length of time - so they always had someone, a companion who worked with them, who could pull them out of a zone-out relatively easily; or whose presence helped to ground them so that they could use their abilities to the best advantage."
"But if those abilities are natural to them, why should there be a problem?" Warren asked, in the tone of someone who genuinely wanted information.
"Up to a point, that's a fair comment," Blair said. "Most of the time, there isn't a problem. But take someone with normal eyesight; he sees something very small, maybe a book with tiny print; he squints, peers closely, concentrates on it to see exactly what it is, what it says. Someone with enhanced sight can do the same, but he might be trying to see details of something at a considerable distance - like read a plate number five blocks away.
"If he's doing that, and someone flashes a light in his eyes - well, a sudden bright light can blind anyone for a second; for a sentinel concentrating on seeing something at a distance, it's totally incapacitating. Or hearing - you hear a sudden, unexpected loud noise, you jump; think how much worse that noise would be for someone straining his ears trying to catch a faint whisper.
"That's what I do. I keep Jim - Detective Ellison - grounded so that his senses don't overwhelm him.
"I couldn't be with him all the time, these past four years, because I had responsibilities at Rainier; but I came up with some ways in which he could control his senses himself so that when I wasn't there he could manage. But his senses have always been more reliable when I was around."
"So you think that anyone with a sense more acute than normal could have problems," Warren commented.
"Potentially. Hearing, sight and touch are the worst, taste and smell not so bad. Easy to avoid eating something that tastes too strong, and your nose always adjusts to a smell. Touch? If that goes out of control, your very clothes can irritate your skin. Remember Alex Barnes? Stole nerve gas from Rainier's hazmat unit?"
"I remember the incident," Warren agreed.
"She had heightened senses - all five, like Jim. She first came to our notice when she was brought in after having an accident, ostensibly to give a statement, but actually on suspicion of driving under the influence of drink or drugs. She'd been stripping her clothes off in the middle of the street after she wrapped her car around a telephone pole; said they felt as if they were made of sandpaper. At the time, of course, we didn't know she was a criminal, and she was allowed to go when her blood test showed clear.
"In the end all her senses spiked, her mind couldn't handle it, and it drove her catatonic. But she didn't have anyone to help her."
Warren was nodding slowly. "I suppose Ellison has already told you, we have several people here who have a sense - at least one - heightened."
"And that as a result, pretty well everyone here knows that the only time you lied was when you gave that press conference."
Blair could feel his face beginning to flush. "I was careless. I used Jim's name on the first draft of my dissertation, meaning to take it off before I submitted it... only my mother thought that 'second draft' just meant polishing the grammar, etc, and that professional advice would help me; and Graham at Berkshire Publishing wouldn't pay any attention when I told him it wasn't for publication. People had already been hurt; I had to do something to stop the media frenzy before they got someone killed."
"We guessed it was something like that," Warren said, "or you'd never have been offered the badge. Now I have a proposition for you.
"For most of the people here who have a heighted sense, it's either sight or hearing. Would you consider - I suppose you could call it a class, to teach them some of the things you've found worked with Detective Ellison?"
"I gave two of the guys in Patrol a few tips," Jim reminded him, "and the one with acute hearing found they helped him a lot. The one with sight had had fewer problems. But you could do so much more for them - for all of them."
"My first priority is getting firearms certification," Blair said, "so that I can get back to working with Jim. But once that's done - yes, I'll do a series of courses on control for anyone who wants to participate. Might be a good idea to include their partners so that they have an idea of how they can help if there's a problem in the field."
"Good! Think about it and let me have a schedule as soon as possible. And welcome back - Detective Sandburg."
Three weeks later, Blair, with Jim at his side, faced the fifteen men and seven women who had either sight or hearing much more acute than normal, and the partners of those men and women, and began to speak.
"Good evening. My name is Blair Sandburg and this is Jim Ellison.
"For centuries, in tribal cultures, people with heightened senses have been known and valued members of their communities. Some had one sense heightened, some more than one, and the most valued ones had all five... "