|Home||My Photos||My Fiction||My Dolls Houses|
Despite the early morning start being forced on him by his university schedule, Blair Sandburg was humming to himself as he walked out of 852 Prospect and headed for his car.
Things were looking up. He'd found a sentinel - finally - after years of searching, years during which he had often found himself fearing that sentinels had died out. But just a few weeks previously, a friend - a nurse at the hospital - had faxed him details of this man who had come in complaining that the light was hurting his eyes, sound was hurting his ears...
A quick visit to the emergency room, a piece of blatant effrontery and some fast talk later, he had his prospect hooked.
Now, barely a month after that first meeting, a week after his warehouse home blew up, a week after he had persuaded Jim to give him a bed 'for a week', it looked as if he'd found a permanent home - at least, one as permanent as he was likely to want - for Jim had told him that morning he was welcome to stay on for as long as he wanted. Which was lucky, because he hadn't been able to find anywhere else, and he'd been resigned to sleeping on the floor of the mostly-storage room that he'd taken over as a sort of office once that week was up.
Granted, Jim wasn't quite as full a sentinel as he'd hoped for; hearing was far and away his strongest sense, eyesight was pretty good and the other three senses were at least slightly enhanced - but he had long suspected that this was true of all sentinels; that even when all five senses were heightened, one or two were always more acute than the others. And most of the people with acute senses he had so far found were ones for whom taste and smell were the strongest, with the other three heightened so little that for practical purposes they were at the high end of the normal range but still inside it.
Once he got his dissertion written, of course, he would move on; it was unlikely that there would be a position for him at Rainier even if he wanted to teach, which he didn't - and in any case he knew that he would be welcomed on any and every expedition Eli Stoddard organised. He could look forward to many years of continuing research. He might even gain a reputation as the writer of interesting and sought-after travel books written for the general public as well as producing a few more erudite volumes intended for scholars.
Yes; life was indeed looking up.
It was a pity he and Jim didn't have a little more in common - they'd never be best buds - but at least they liked each other well enough, and hey, you couldn't have everything.
He paid no attention to the two men standing talking beside the car parked next to his.
As he groped in his pocket for his car keys he was aware of a sudden sharp prick on his arm. He had just time to wonder what stinging insect had flown off its course and into Cascade before he collapsed.
Mid-way through the morning, Jim Ellison sat in the bullpen, reading, with steadily increasing confusion, the note that had been handed in for him.
Detective Ellison - by the time you read this, your little 'friend' will be my guest. He will remain with me indefinitely. His continuing comfort will depend on your forgetfulness regarding the events surrounding a certain arrest you made three days ago.
It would serve no useful purpose to question Oliver Finnison regarding your 'friend's' whereabouts; he does not know and has no way of finding out - I am personally unconnected with him; you could say I have my own reasons for wishing to help him.
As long as Mr Finnison remains free and not troubled by the police, whatever he may do, your 'friend' will remain unharmed. That is a promise. However, should Mr Finnison be given as much as a parking ticket by the police in another precinct, your 'friend' will suffer for it.
He read the note through twice more before crossing to Rhonda. "Any idea who delivered this note for me?" He waved the envelope at her.
She looked at it. "No, it came in from the mail room. I can buzz down and ask, if you want."
She picked up the phone and dialed the connection she wanted without having to look it up. He waited with barely-concealed impatience while she spoke briefly, then fell silent. She glanced up at him, hand over the mouthpiece. "They're checking - Yes. Right, thanks." Putting the phone down, she said, "It was hand delivered, but nobody saw who brought it in. The counter isn't always manned, anyone wanting attention often has to ring for it, and whoever brought it in just left it on the counter and walked out."
And dusting the envelope for fingerprints won't accomplish much, either, he decided; too many people would have handled it. He sighed as he make his way to Simon Banks' office. Detective though he was, some mysteries he hated.
"Jim! Finished getting the details down on the Finnison case?"
"Well - yes and no. I got this ten minutes ago. Nobody saw who delivered it. It's about the Finnison case, but it doesn't make sense." He handed it over.
Simon read it and looked up. "Who's your 'little friend'?"
"I don't know. The way the guy's put quote marks round 'friend' implies that he thinks I've got a relationship with whoever this is that's something more than friendship - but I've hardly even dated since Carolyn walked out let alone formed any sort of liaison with anyone - and you'll note, it says 'he' in connection with 'friend'. I've never dated a guy in my life."
"And you don't have a partner since Jack disappeared - and that's too long ago for this to refer to Jack."
"And nobody would ever have called Jack 'little." Jim said dryly. "I wish we could find out what happened to him; I still can't believe he'd go bad." He sighed. "Simon, there's no way I'm going to let Finnison walk. The guy was giving out drugs to schoolkids, for God's sake! Said the stuff makes him feel good and he wanted to spread the joy. How stupid does he think we are? It's a nasty and insidious trick - get 'em hooked on it when it's free, then when they must have more, he'll disappear and someone else will come along who'll charge them good and high for it. Hell, I've got more respect for the dealer who makes the kids pay for their drugs than for this bit of shit and what he's doing!
"I suspect this note comes from someone connected with whatever drug lord was supplying Finnison, and right enough, Finnison himself won't have a clue - he's a very minor cog in the scheme of things; he'll have been dealing with a middleman, mightn't even know how to get in touch with his contact, probably has to wait for the contact to drop off supplies and his payoff. He mightn't even ever see the guy. So we've no way of letting whoever kidnapped this person - " he indicated the note - "know that whoever he's got has no connection to me."
"And even if we tried putting something in a paper, telling them that, they're likely to think we're bluffing," Simon added.
"Yeah. I won't let Finnison walk," he repeated, "but we can't let this guy suffer. What puzzles me is why they think I've got a male lover. I live alone. I don't go out to ordinary clubs or bars at night, let alone gay ones. Hell, I was married - why should they think I'd swing that way?" He shook his head. "We can delay doing anything about Finnison for a day or two - I'll have a word with Sneaks and see if any of my snitches can come up with something."
"Is that wise?" Simon asked. "Whoever this is must be watching you - "
"But not closely enough to know that they've got their facts all wrong. This guy, whoever he is, is in trouble because of me. I can't just palm the case off onto someone else!"
"Might be the safest thing for him if you did," Simon pointed out. "If you go chasing around looking for him, it'll confirm in their minds that they're right. That you care about his safety. Yes, I know." He held up his hand to silence Jim's reply. "You're a good cop because you do care about the safety of the law-abiding public. But that sort of morality is beyond what the criminal mind can grasp. They'll use it - but they don't understand it, see it as a weakness. You know that."
"Yes," Jim said. "I do know it." His lips tightened, and Simon recognised the look Ellison had worn when he first left Vice for Major Crime. Cold, hard, it was the look of a man who could - and would - kill, ruthlessly and efficiently, if he felt the situation called for it; and for a brief moment he felt a touch of sympathy for Oliver Finnison and whoever had kidnapped the unknown man they believed was Ellison's 'friend'.
He knew that if that unknown was harmed in any way, if there was a gloating note delivered that described the 'discomfort' inflicted on the man in retaliation for police failure to allow Finnison free rein, there was no way he could restrain Ellison; he wasn't even sure he wanted to try.
He was quite certain that if it came down to it, Ellison would be far more ruthless that the unknown kidnapper.
Blair lay still for some moments after he woke. Strange - he could have sworn he was on his way to Rainier, was even getting into his car... yet here he was, back in bed.
He opened his eyes.
What the... This wasn't his room, the little box room where he'd been sleeping for the last week. Neither was it the huge, chilly warehouse with the comforting snores of several of his fellow students echoing in the vast emptiness of ten thousand cubic feet of space.
"Ah, Mr Sandburg," a voice said. He turned his head. A man sat beside the bed, smiling - but his smile did not touch his eyes. "So sorry about the inconvenience - but your friend happens to be inconveniencing a friend of a friend of mine, and my friend is not happy about it; not happy at all. Now if your friend is sensible and stops inconveniencing my friend's friend, your life here will be... quite comfortable. However, if he is not sensible...
"Of course, I realize you've only been with him for a few days, and he might not mind too much if his little rentboy is returned a piece at a time... "
It took Blair a moment to register anything.
"Rentboy?" he exclaimed. "Rentboy? You think I'm a... a... " He was almost spluttering in his indignation. "I might be a student, man, and a bit short of cash, but there are plenty of jobs around without risking STDs! And as for thinking a guy like Jim has to buy it - you must be joking. Anyway, he's completely straight. Even if he did buy it, it'd be from a girl."
And then his brain caught up with the rest of the sentence. "What do you mean, a piece at a time?"
"Oh, we'd start small, of course. Perhaps that very nice hair of yours, to begin with? Then a toe, perhaps - something that wouldn't really show. After that, a finger or an ear. If he still didn't pay attention, we'd have to escalate things; send him a full arm or a leg. You'd better hope he sees sense before it reaches that stage." The man's voice was very cold, and Blair knew the threat was far from empty.
He took a couple of deep breaths. "Would you mind telling me exactly what Jim is supposed to have done?"
"He arrested someone my friend would really rather not see arrested."
"Arrested? Man, you are so wrong! How can a music salesman arrest anyone?"
"Is that what he told you he is? A music salesman? No, no; James Ellison is a cop, my friend, one of Cascade's 'finest'." His voice dripped sarcasm.
It took a moment for the name to sink in. "Ellison? You've got the wrong man. Jim's name is Davis. I know him because I'm studying people with very acute senses, and he's got really great hearing. That's why he was drawn to music, I suppose. The ones with enhanced taste are mostly working for tea and coffee blenders, and the ones with smell work for perfumiers. They're all in jobs where their enhanced sense will help them. There's no way Jim could be a pig." The word fell totally naturally from his lips.
There was a split second of silence, then the man sitting at his bedside said, "A pig? I didn't expect to hear that word from you."
"Oh, man, you should hear my Mom! I grew up knowing all about the tyranny of the pigs. And you know, she was so proud of me the first time I was arrested... Hell, I was proud the first time I was arrested because I knew she'd be so pleased about it."
"Arrested?" For the first time there was a note of uncertainty in the man's voice. "Proud?"
"Oh, nothing came of it. It was a peaceful protest; they couldn't actually charge us with anything because we didn't do anything illegal, but the bosses insisted that the pigs got us away from there, and arresting us was the only way to do it. But they weren't exactly gentle; we were shoved around quite a bit, and there were a few injuries. One of my friends ended up with a dislocated shoulder. The pig responsible said Tommy had resisted arrest, but it was a peaceful environmental protest, man; we were just sitting there blocking the road, trying to stop a tanker carrying chemicals to the plant, 'cause the firm was being careless about the discharge of waste and it was poisoning a river. It made the papers, though, with an accurately reported statement from the guy who organised us, so we'd made our point. But it let me see exactly what Mom meant about the pigs, as well. There's no way I'd trust one."
The man was silent for a moment. "Tell me about 'Jim'."
"Jim? He can hear when one instrument in an orchestra makes a single mistake, and it hurts him, you know, really hurts him any time he hears anything like that. Well - " He hesitated for a split second before going on. "Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it's not much of one. He can play a dozen instruments, and he can pick up any tune by ear, instantly, on any of them. He can sort of hear inside his head what the next note should be before he plays it, and he's always right, exactly on key. He can tell if an instrument is off-key at all, even when nobody else can, and that isn't an exaggeration. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen - well, heard - it for myself. I couldn't hear anything wrong, but he did, and a machine test confirmed it - a microphone can pick up distortions the human ear usually misses, but his doesn't. I'm getting so much data about enhanced hearing from him! It's going to be the best chapter in my dissertation, it really is. 'Course, it helps that I've been living in his house for the past week; it's let me discover things he can do, things he can hear, that I'd never have thought to test for."
"So why are you living in his house?"
"Well, some of us were living in a warehouse down at the docks, only it burned down last week; the place was condemned, and the electricity to it should have been cut off, but I think the guy who owned it had cobbled a supply from somewhere else - you know, making a connection to someone else's supply? Because we did have electricity. Or maybe he even reconnected his own, somehow. I don't know, I'm a student not a technician. Hey, I'm not even very good at hammering in a nail - not if I want it to go in straight. If I'm fastening two planks together, I'd rather lash them together with twine, anyway - do you have any idea the pollution ironworks pour into the air?
"Anyway, we were always very careful, because it was our home, you know? So I think maybe the power shorted out - it wasn't anything any of us had done. We all got out okay, but then we had to look for somewhere else to stay, and I thought of Jim - not that I knew him well, I just met him a month ago, but none of my student friends who weren't living at the warehouse had space, I knew that - and asked him if he could give me a bed for a night or two while I looked for somewhere." Blair grinned. "I think I've even conned him into letting me stay as long as I want."
"Well, it's not as if we're friends; I like him all right, and I think he quite likes me, but it's a working relationship, know what I mean? I'm getting info from him on enhanced hearing - perfect pitch, perfect sense of harmony, all that sort of thing." He felt slightly guilty about telling anyone this using Jim's real name, but he suspected the man wasn't interested enough in his babble to be paying real attention, and anyway he was concentrating on describing Jim's musical gift rather than his ability to hear better and further than most people. "I picked up a few tricks from some of the other guys I've studied - the ones working for perfume companies in particular," he went on. "A strong sense of smell has quite a serious downside; some smells can make you feel quite sick, even pleasant ones if they're too strong. And there was one who worked for a tea blending company - one that specialised in herbal teas. Man, he was really something as well. He had smell and taste, and he could use the one to tell when two or three herbs would blend well and then the other to make sure the blend really was good. One of my favourite herbal teas is one of his. But good as he was at what he did, Jim's better at what he does. I suppose most of your top composers must have that same kind of enhanced hearing, so one of them might be an even better subject, because they're composing music and Jim doesn't - but Jim's here and they aren't. Well, of course, a lot of them are dead - "
"All right, Mr Sandburg. Enough. Tell me; what is your apartment number at 852 Prospect?"
"And where does your Jim work?"
"Largs' Music Store."
"Very well." He waved a hand around the room. "As I said, we want you to be comfortable; I'm afraid you can't leave this room, but we'll keep the temperature nicely high for you. There's a selection of books in that cupboard - "
"Fiction?" Blair asked, his voice that of someone who fears the worst.
"Boring. I don't read fiction. The plotlines are usually too predictable, even when the characters aren't cardboard cut-outs with over-exaggerated characteristics. Now if you could get hold of a few anthropology textbooks for me - there's a new study of the Amazon tribes published recently that I haven't had the chance to read yet - Intertribal Relationships in the Amazon Basin; Why Some Tribes Coexist Peacefully While Others Do Not by Vaugn Peters. Of course, it costs $100, which is why I haven't bought it yet - well, $99.99 if you want to split hairs. Then there's Eli Stoddard's new book, Vanishing Tribes of Borneo - he'll be donating a copy to the Rainier library when it comes out next week, but, man, have you any idea the waiting list there is already for it? I put my name down for it as soon as I heard he'd finished proofing it, and at that I'm ninth on the list - "
"Very well, I will see what I can do."
Blair grinned to himself. He knew this guy wouldn't cough up $100 for a book - he was pretty sure the agreement was just to shut him up, but sometimes wonders didn't cease.
"Someone will be here shortly with a meal," the man continued. "I do hope you don't have any strong food preferences?"
Blair grinned. "Impoverished grad students can't afford to have preferences. I don't like anything that's swimming in grease - I'd rather something deep fried had at least made it out of the frying pan onto dry land before it was served - but if that's all there is, I'll eat it. Anyway, after you've eaten some of the things hunter-gatherer tribes consider delicacies, anything's edible."
The man nodded, and walked out; Blair heard the click of a lock as the door closed. He tossed the comforter covering him to one side and confirmed what he had suspected from the moment he realized he was a prisoner; he was completely naked.
At least, as promised, the room was warm.
Ignoring his unclad state he crossed to the window, his mind working furiously. Why had they left him naked? One possibity occurred to him, but he dismissed it even as he thought of it. Something like rape didn't match the impersonal attitude of the man who had just left. To keep him embarrassed, and thus off-balance? That was possible. In that case, he felt almost sorry for his captors, who were going to be very disappointed.
Nudity had never been a big deal when he was growing up; possessed of a mother who considered nudity, when it was warm enough, perfectly natural and healthy and had taken him to a nudist colony for at least a month every year until he was sixteen, and having spent time since then with several tribes who never wore anything, the lack of clothes worried him not the slightest.
The window looked out onto a small walled yard, but the wall was very high; all he could see over it was the upper trunks and branches of trees. He tested the window; it opened easily enough, wide enough to let him get out if he wanted, and the drop to the ground was only some ten or twelve feet. Getting over the wall, however, would be harder - and he had no idea where this house was. In addition, he could hardly go wandering around Cascade sky-clad - though it would be one sure way of getting help quickly; he was bound to be arrested in fairly short order for indecent exposure.
But that would bring him to the attention of the pigs and - the days of his protesting youth aside - he preferred to remain out of their sight. He had no faith in their willingness to consider anyone who came to their notice innocent of any misdemeanor.
Still gazing out of the window, he frowned as he considered his situation.
He was reasonably well-acquainted with bullies; there had been few places he'd visited as a child where he had been completely accepted, and some places he had actively been not accepted - but bullies are soon disarmed if their victims shrug off their attentions as if these don't matter. And in truth, usually he hadn't cared what the bullies thought or said, for he had known his mother would soon move on and he would never see them again. On the rare occasions when the bullying threatened to go beyond words, his quick mind and active body had normally provided him with an escape.
But there was more.
As an anthropologist, he was an observer of human nature; he had begun to observe people when he was still a child. In addition, his minor was psychology. He knew all about the danger of a captive beginning to sympathise with his captor's aims, identify with his captor's cause. However, partly based on his experiences with bullies, he had a theory that it could work the other way; if a captive could begin to make his captor see him as a person, the captor might just begin to identify with his prisoner. It had certainly worked once or twice with bullies. So he had already begun to establish himself as a person - a voluble babbler who would expound at considerable length on a subject if given the slightest provocation.
His immediate captor wasn't as obvious a bully as most of the ones he had known, but Blair had recognised the type instantly. Of course, it helped that the guy had obviously got hold of the wrong... hostage, he supposed, was the best description for his present situation. Once he actually checked up he would soon discover how wrong he was. Unfortunately...
Blair suspected that would not automatically mean his release. He was uncertain what it would mean, however - though he suspected it might earn him an automatic death sentence. However, one thing he knew was certain; he must not allow himelf to be intimidated - or, at least, he must not show it if he was.
He was a person, with thoughts and hopes and a life outside this room, and he must not, even for a moment, allow himself to forget it.
He turned to investigate the room. One of the three doors was the one his... host?... had used; he knew it was locked, and ignored it. The second revealed a small toilet with a tiny shower stall and a washhand basin; soap, shower gel, shaving things, even shampoo, sat on a shelf. He took the immediate opportunity to relieve himself before moving on to the third door, which opened onto several shelves of books. He glanced at the titles, and shook his head; most were war, mystery or western titles, with one or two SF. He supposed that a lot of men might find most of these books readable; they were certainly not his taste, however, nor that of most of his friends. The SF might be readable, but the others? Unlikely to be anything other than stereotypical characters moving through tired old formulaic plots.
His backpack lay on the floor of the closet; he checked it, and retrieved his notebook with a sigh of relief. His laptop was there too; he connected the laptop and called up the chapter he was working on. At least this would give him some uninterrupted hours to work on his dissertation.
He refused to consider the possibility that he might die before he had the chance to present it.
To the room's occupant, the one way glass appeared to be nothing more than a mirror. Two men stood watching Blair through it as he investigated the room.
"Do you believe him?" one asked.
"Yes, Mr Finnison," the other - the man who had spoken to Blair - replied. "It's too easy for us to discover if he lied about it. And I intend to have a few words with the men who were watching Ellison," he added, his voice very cold. "Perhaps I should say - the men who were supposed to be watching Ellison. Clearly they were not."
After some minutes, as Blair settled down in front of his laptop, he went on. "I hoped at first that we could still use him to put pressure on Ellison, possibly get him to tape a terrified plea to 'Do what these guys want', but... " He shook his head. "I don't think it would occur to him to expect a cop to help 'an impoverished grad student'." He was silent for a moment, thinking. "The impression I got was, rather, that he considered cops were automatic enemies of anyone who did not have money. That does not mean to say, however, that he is on our side. You heard him - he was arrested for taking part in a 'peaceful protest', he said, because 'the bosses insisted'; the impression I got was that he distrusts anyone in authority and would happily exist without authority figures. That if someone else tells him to do something, or expects him to do something, he will consider it first and only do it if he wants to, if he sees a reason, perhaps an advantage to himself, if he does it.
"How many men in his situation do you know who would not have wrapped a sheet or a towel around their waist, even believing themselves to be alone? I think he knows we would expect it, so he has deliberately chosen to remain completely naked."
"I wonder if he would remain as unselfconscious about it if we went in?"
"I'm quite sure he would." Although Rob Hardiman knew that his employer had been watching while he spoke to their prisoner and had heard every word the man said, he was also aware that he was undoubtedly the better judge of character; his employer was too used to dealing with men who could be bought, and bought easily. He had no doubt that their prisoner had a price - all men did. However, money would not buy this man, of that he was sure - and Albert Finnison did not have the imagination to understand there was any other way to buy someone.
But even realising that, he had no idea what would buy their prisoner.
The locked door of the room they were watching opened; two men entered, one carrying a tray. Blair glanced round, and grinned. "Ah, lunch." He rose, totally unselfconsciously; it was the men who had entered who looked slightly uneasy, probably disconcerted at how easily he handled his nudity. "Hey, scrambled eggs, that's great!" he added as he looked at the contents of the tray. "Jim doesn't seem to think there's any way to cook eggs but fried, with bacon and sausages. Which is fine sometimes, but not every morning, and I really do prefer really lean bacon, not the fatty kind Jim buys. I think I'm going to like it here," he added cheerfully. "It's warm, looks like there's going to be good food, plenty of time to work on my diss without being interrupted. I'm kept really busy at Rainier - well, of course, being a TA I've got to spend time preparing lectures, correcting papers, all that kind of thing, because I've got responsibilities to the students I teach. 'Course, I imagine it'll only be for a day or so till your boss confirms that I'm not who he thinks I am, but even one day without interruption... " He allowed his voice to trail off, letting the enthusiasm in it speak for itself.
The man with the tray put it down on the table before joining his companion who had remained at the door. Blair settled down to eat hungrily; he stopped short of licking the plate, but gave the impression that only good manners kept him from doing so. With the eggs nothing but a memory he started on the toast before apparently remembering his guards. "Hey, guys, I'd offer you some of this, only I'm really hungry. What time is it, anyway?"
One of them opened his mouth to answer, then with a guilty glance towards the wall that held the mirror, closed it again.
"Ah - not supposed to speak to me or tell me anything, huh? Not even the time? Though I don't see why I shouldn't know that." He glanced towards the window. "Well, I don't really need you to tell me; judging from the shadows I can see out there, it's early afternoon, and I had an early breakfast. Seven really is the middle of the night, but when you're teaching an 8.30 class... I'm sure the Chancellor gave me a class that early because she doesn't like me and she knows I'm not really a morning person. Spite, you see? So I've been here... what, five, six hours max? That means I've got plenty of time to get on with my work before bedtime."
He finished the toast and poured himself a mug of coffee, tasted it. "My compliments to whoever made this - it's really good. Just the right strength... Would you mind leaving the coffee pot? It's really too good to rush, and there has to be at least another mugful there, maybe two." Neither man moved, and Blair shrugged. "Okay, guys, but you're going to get really tired of just standing there before I finish."
Grabbing the mug and the pot, he swung back to his laptop.
On the other side of the two-way glass, the watchers looked at each other. "I begin to believe his story, even without checking apartment 208," Finnison said.
Hardiman nodded agreement. "From what I've heard about Ellison, he would not tolerate seven hours of that non-stop chatter, let alone seven days of it."
The knock at the door came when Jim Ellison was in the middle of washing his dinner dishes. He grabbed a towel and gave his hands a perfunctory dry as he crossed to the door and opened it.
It wasn't quite like looking in a mirror.
The man outside was about his height and build; his hair was perhaps a shade lighter and a very little longer, but the same basic description would have fitted both men equally well, and anyone not knowing them might very well have considered them brothers.
"Mr Ellison? I live in 208. Moved in five weeks ago. I... I was told you're a cop? A detective?"
Ellison nodded. "Yes."
"The thing is... my roommate's missing. His car's there - it was there when I got home about an hour ago, but there's no sign of him. I haven't known him for long, but I think I know him well enough to say that if he was going out for the evening, if he'd arranged to go out after I left for work this morning, he'd have left me a note."
Ellison frowned. "Normally I'd have said it was far too early to worry, but... Come in, Mr - ?"
"Davis - Jim Davis."
Ellison indicated his smaller couch, and as Davis sat, said, "Coffee?"
"Oh - no. No, thanks. I had a cup just before I came to see you... while I was trying to make up my mind whether I should come. As you said, it's not as if he's been missing overnight; it does seem a little early to worry. But he takes his car to work, and although it's here, there's no sign that he came back into the apartment."
"First of all, can you tell me his name?"
"Oh - Sandburg. Blair Sandburg. He's a grad student at Rainier - a TA. He was giving two lectures today; one at 8.30 this morning, the other at 11. He should have been home early afternoon. I haven't been able to contact anyone at Rainier who knows anything about him."
"You said you haven't known him long?"
"About a month, and he's been living with me for the past six days. He was living in that warehouse at the docks that burned down last week; he'd nowhere to go that night, so I let him stay in my spare room, if you can call it that. Hell, it's not much bigger than a broom closet. I suppose yours is much the same - there's room in it for a bed, a chest of drawers and a chair and not much more. But he seems comfortable enough - says it's warmer than the warehouse, anyway, that it was a waste of money trying to heat it."
His line of thought momentarily distacted, Ellison said, "The warehouse that was burned was derelict, due for demolition."
Davis shrugged. "Apparently the owner was making a few bucks while he still could by 'renting' space in it to students. According to Blair there were several of them living there. When they realized it was on fire, the ones who were in the building grabbed everything they could carry, whether it was theirs or someone else's, got out, and stayed out of the way. That was before the fire department arrived - as he said, they knew their 'landlord' was renting them the place illegally, but he was a nice guy and hadn't charged them that much; they didn't want to get him into trouble, which he would have been if the authorities knew what he was doing. From what Blair said the next day, nobody lost anything important. But they all had to find somewhere to sleep, and Blair came to me. I said he could stay for a week while he looked for somewhere else, but well, it was nice having the company, so yesterday I told him he was welcome to stay on. It won't be for all that long, anyway; he's ABD."
"All but dissertation. It's nearly finished. Once he gets his dissertation written and accepted, he'll probably leave Cascade."
Ellison nodded thoughtfully. This was beginning to make sense. If 852 Prospect was being watched by some perps, they probably took turns watching and didn't realize there were two guys living there who could both be described in the same way; in the morning they'd probably stop watching when they saw one of the two leave, and resume the watch when they thought it was about time for their target to arrive home, though they were pretty stupid if they didn't realize that sometimes the guy they were watching drove one vehicle and sometimes a different one. They'd kidnapped Davis's roommate, believing he was Ellison's. Yes, it made sense.
Unfortunately they were still left with the problem of how to protect this young man. How to find him and rescue him.
Despite his cheerful words about 'getting on with his diss', despite his expectation that the lack of interruption would give him the chance to do some serious work on it, Blair found that inspiration was sadly lacking. He checked and cross-checked his notes, wrote some paragraphs, read them, and made a face. Yes, the words said what he wanted to say, but there was no spark of enthusiasm for his subject in them. The paragraphs were pedestrian, dull, sterile - the work of someone conscientious who had been given an assignment for which he had little enthusiasm because he had no great interest in the subject, but was determined to hand in something that looked as if he'd worked at it.
Blair scrolled back a little, thinking hard as he apparently studied the words on the screen. Some sixth sense told him that he was being watched, and he was damned if he would let the watcher see that he was in any way worried. He grinned involuntarily, recalling an expedition three years previously where the team members spent much of their time bluffing a tribe which, while not exactly hostile, was not particularly friendly; knowing that if the tribesmen realized that their attitude was intimidating the strangers, they very well might become actively hostile. That experience was coming in useful now.
Eli had planned on spending at least a month with that particular tribe but, when he realized that the natives were remaining suspicious, he cut the expedition short, choosing to spend only two weeks there rather than run the risk of having one or more of his team killed. The general attitude of the natives had prevented any of the party from gathering enough information to write a worthwhile paper about the trip, but Blair still had the notes he had taken; and it occurred to him that a comparison of that situation with his current one might prove interesting.
He opened a new folder; thought for a moment, then called it 'My Holiday', and typed in his immediate observations for the day. Then he closed it and opened his dissertation folder again. After reading through the paragraphs he had written, he frowned and gave a mental shrug. They would need to be rewritten, but as a first draft, they at least said what he wanted to say, if not how he wanted to say it. He turned his attention back to his notes.
The door opened without warning, and Blair glanced up. The same two men entered; once again, one carried a tray.
"Oh! Hi, guys! Dinner time already?" Blair said cheerfully. This time he remained sitting - he'd already made his point about nudity. "So what have you got for me this time?" He inspected the plate with an enthusiasm that didn't have to be faked. "Is your cook a mind reader, by any chance? He couldn't have given me anything better than this if he'd given me a menu and let me choose what I wanted! It's exactly what I would have picked, exactly what I feel like tonight. And - " he reached out and stroked the handle of the coffee pot - "more of his marvellous coffee. Pure nectar." He fell silent while he chewed a mouthful of roast chicken. He glanced up at them, watching as they retreated to stand by the door again, noting that the one who had almost spoken on their first visit definely looked ever so slightly uneasy. Yes, he thought. I'm definitely making that one feel guilty... and quicker than I'd have expected, too. "Perfect," he said, in the tone of someone whose fondest wish had just been fulfilled, and turned his attention back to his food. He continued to make enthusiastic noises as he cleared the plate. "Ah, that was good," he said as he put his fork down carefully.
He poured himself a mug of coffee, sipped it. "Mmm. Just as good as it was at lunchtime. A perfect complement to the meal." He sat back. "So did you guys have a good day? I hope your afternoon was more interesting than just standing there watching me eat. Do you get meals like this? I do hope so - it would be a real pity if the only experience you had of this sort of cooking was watching someone else eating it." He took another mouthful of coffee. "I certainly was able to make a fair amount of progress here - Oh, that reminds me. Any chance you could get me an alarm clock? I really need one to remind me to stop working and go to bed - otherwise you'll be coming in in the morning and finding I've fallen asleep sitting here, and if that happens it's because my eyes just closed even though I was in the middle of doing something, and you won't find it easy to wake me. I really need to get to bed before I hit that stage."
There was no reply - not that he had expected one. He took another mouthful of coffee.
"You know, I've just had an idea for a paper, thanks to your excellent cook; the effect of good, well-prepared meals on someone's general state of mind. I can remember a while when I was really short of money, and eating nothing but junk food once a day. God, I was so irritable! 'Course, some of that could have been the additives - there's some medical proof that additives can cause behavioural problems in children, sometimes quite severe behavioural problems. And there was the time Mom took me to live in a village in India. They ate almost nothing but whole rice - they had just a few vegetables mixed in, sometimes. Well, they were all really poor, had little apart from what they could grow, and as devout Hindus they were strict vegetarians. Mom worked in the fields with the women, wanting to experience life as the villagers had to live. I was only about seven, and I didn't like their all-rice diet at all, so a lot of the time I slipped most of my meals to the children of the family we were living with. Well, I knew they didn't have much and even at that age I knew better than waste any of what food they were sparing for us. Do you know how bad a headache you can get from hunger? It was lucky Mom realized I was losing weight. She didn't realize it was because I wasn't eating, thought the diet just wasn't agreeing with me, so we left the place after about a month. Anyway, I can compare my memories of those days with how I feel now, here, with the excellent meals you're feeding me."
Blair savored another mouthful of coffee. "I'm not sure I'd appreciate a diet of nothing but rice even now - though now that I've spend time with other indigenous races, and eaten some of the things they call delicacies, rice is pretty damned good. And I do like rice with Chinese or Indian food." He emptied the mug and poured himself a second mugful, noting as he did that one of the men - the one who had been carrying the tray - was looking increasingly annoyed, and guessed that he desperately wanted to snap, 'Shut up!' but wouldn't disobey the order not to speak to the prisoner that he had clearly been given.
"I do hope you've told your cook how much I'm enjoying the meals he's providing - oh, that's a point. Should I actually be calling him a chef? Whatever, I'd hate him to think I'm not appreciating the food.
"Anyway, I'll have to think about it, but I'm sure I can get a paper out of how good I feel as a result of his cooking. I'm not sure where I'd submit it, probably to a cookery magazine, I suppose; I suspect it would be a new slant, an original sort of idea, for one of those magazines. Though I'd have to watch how I worded it - the readership for something like a cookery magazine certainly wouldn't enjoy the very factual presentation I'd give a more academic study. It would be an article, rather than a paper."
He gazed into the mug for a moment, murmured, "Must finish this before it gets cold," and fell silent as he drank the last of the coffee.
The annoyed man snatched up the tray almost before Blair put the mug back onto it, and headed for the door, which his companion opened; the two men left, and Blair clearly heard the 'click' as the door was relocked.
He would, he decided, probably be left to his own devices now until the morning. He wasn't sorry; if the two men had remained much longer, he knew he would have run out of things to babble on about. He frowned slightly as he returned his attention to the laptop, knowing that if he was being watched - and he was quite sure he was still being watched, although he had been unable to see a camera - whoever it was would think he was frowning over his writing, instead of wondering how he was going to continue that non-stop talking every time he saw someone. Chattering on in the face of total silence was unnerving, and the lack of response discouraging... to say nothing of the lack of stimulus to give him inspiration for a subject.
Then he grinned. Total silence over breakfast - yes. He'd already established that he wasn't a 'morning' person. Let them think he just hadn't wakened enough to talk...
He began typing again. So what if he all he could produce here was a very rough first draft? He was at least getting something down...
At 852 Prospect, Jim Ellison finished telling Jim Davis about the note he had received. Davis frowned. "So does that mean Blair's in danger?"
"Not if I can help it, but you do realize I can't give in to this - well, blackmail. I won't give in to it; the guy we arrested was giving drugs to school kids. I'm sorry."
Davis shook his head. "It's not as if Blair's a friend, exactly, though obviously I'd be sorry to see him suffering. He's good company, which is partly why I'm letting him stay with me, though I can see that he could be quite an irritant if he tried - like that old joke about the guy the kidnapper pays the parents to take back. The guys who have him won't know what to make of him, I can tell you that."
"He's an anthropologist. An observer. He can sum someone up in thirty seconds flat and alter his own behaviour to fit, while at the same time never losing his own individuality - it's some trick. I wouldn't have believed it possible if I hadn't seen him do it. He said it comes from studying primitive tribes where visitors have to fit in if they're not to damage the culture but at the same time have to maintain their objectivity if their study of the tribe is to be accurate."
"I see. So if he's not exactly a friend, how do you know him?"
"I'm part of his dissertation. He's got a bee in his bonnet about what he calls tribal sentinels - guys with all their senses enhanced. He's got a book about them, written last century. He thought the whole set-up was pretty cool, so he started studying the value of enhanced senses in today's more civilized world. Most of the subjects he's found have taste and smell; he found a couple of very long-sighted guys, but they need glasses for close-up, so they're not exactly what he's looking for, but from what he said he was able to get some material from them. I've got good hearing - perfect pitch and a fair sensitivity to noise, and my sight's pretty good. I think he's given up on finding someone with all five senses a lot sharper than normal, though - he's been muttering about doing a chapter on why people nowadays rarely have any senses enhanced, for balance.
"In return for letting him write about me, he's helping me control my hearing. It's valuable in my job, but if I'm not careful ordinary noises can seem pretty loud. He's taught me how to control the volume of what I can hear."
Ellison was careful to restrain the sudden hope he felt, to allow nothing of it to show on his face.
Someone who knows about sharper-than-normal senses, who could help someone with these to control them. It made finding and saving this innocent victim of mistaken identity even more important than it had been, for Ellison desperately needed the control that Jim Davis said his roommate gave him.
Should he disclose to this man who admitted to having enhanced hearing that he, too, had the same ability? More, that he had enhanced sight as well, sometimes could smell things that were far away, found tastes too strong, felt his clothes, even the softest ones he had, irritating his skin at times...
He had to find this young man, rescue him, appeal to him for help... even if it meant becoming a chapter in a dissertation. Although...
"What happens when he lets the world know you have that ability?"
"Nothing - he's using false names for everyone he writes about, states rather than cities for where they live, and generic occupations rather than specific - for example, I'm listed as working 'in Washington, in the music industry'. There's no way it would be easy to identify any of us. Even if we go in front of his dissertation committee to demonstrate what we do, to validate his research, we'll be introduced to them by the names he's given us. I've got a written guarantee of that, so I imagine all the others have too. I know about some of the others; I don't know their real names or where they actually work."
Ellison nodded slowly. "Yeah, that makes sense."
Davis looked thoughtfully at him. "I don't think I've ever met anyone who accepted the idea of heightened senses as readily as you've done."
"Let's just say I already knew they existed," Ellison said carefully.
"You know someone with heightened senses." It was a flat statement.
"Yes," Ellison replied quietly, then, making a rare impulse decision, "I have them."
"You? What sense?"
"All of them."
Davis whistled softly. "That must be useful in your line of work."
Ellison shook his head. "Only indirectly. If I were to say I heard something clearly from two hundred yards away, it'd be laughed out of court. If I prove I can hear something clearly at that distance... defence attorneys start screaming 'unfair, no normal person can hear from that distance' - it comes in with listening devices. Then if the criminals know I have that sort of edge, I promptly become a target for a major hit. I can do without that. Anyway, I have no control. I can't depend on the senses. Sometimes I can use them to help me find the kind of evidence that does count in court. Sometimes all I get is a headache. Occasionally I sort of black out for a minute or two. Trouble is, I can never be sure which it'll be."
"I used to get headaches," Davis said. "One of the most useful things Blair taught me - picture a volume control in your mind - a dial or a sliding scale of some kind. If you get a headache, it's a sign that the control has slipped up too high. Visualise yourself turning it down until the input is at a comfortable level. For me, for hearing, that's about three on a scale of ten."
Ellison looked at him as he concentrated. After a minute, he said, "Hell, it works!"
Davis grinned. "Don't sound so surprised. I wouldn't have told you if it didn't. How Blair came up with the idea, I don't know, but he said it's always worked."
"Do you suppose he'd be willing to work with me for a while?"
"Well... He's not keen on the cops - he's muttered once or twice about peaceful protests and police brutality. On the other hand, you'd be another subject for him, and he is really anxious to get someone with all five senses - and while I do have the lot, only hearing and sight are strongly enhanced. At their strongest, the other three aren't more than about four on that scale of ten, where 'normal' comes in at three. You'd be a godsend to him."
"On the other hand - he found you first. Could he work with both of us?"
"I don't see why not," Davis said thoughtfully. "From what he's said, he's often worked with more than one person at a time. Maybe not on the same day, but on different days in the same week. Of course, if all your senses are strong, he might want to spend more time with you, but seriously, if he does, I don't mind. I think he's helped me about as much as he can - I can control my hearing easily, my sight almost as easily, and the other three senses have never been a problem. He's really only still studying me now because I'm the closest thing he's found to a full sentinel."
"We still have to find him," Ellison said. He rubbed his hands over his face. "There's a link with Finnison," he went on slowly.
"But you said the note said Finnison didn't know anything." Davis objected.
"Yes, but can we guarantee that's the truth?" Ellison asked. "I think I want to have another word with Mr Finnison."
Davis hesitated for a moment, then said uneasily, "If you do, won't whoever sent that note take it as harrassing him, and make Blair suffer?"
"I'll be very surprised if these guys haven't discovered by now that he's got nothing to do with me," Ellison said. "Unless they've kept him either unconscious or locked up where he can't speak to anyone, he's bound to have told them he doesn't know any Jim Ellison - and the note did say he wouldn't be harmed unless Finnison was. Talking to Finnison isn't harming him." He sighed. "You go back home; I'll see what I can find out tonight, and arrange to speak to Finnison tomorrow. Then we can discuss what to do to find your friend."
Conscious that he had probably done all he could that day to help Blair, Jim Davis went back to his own apartment. He prepared a meal, ate it, and was in the middle of washing the dishes when someone knocked loudly on the door.
Two men he had never seen before stood there. "Mr Ellison?" one asked.
"No," he said. "My name's Davis. I believe there's an Ellison lives on the next floor, though."
"We maybe got the name wrong," the other one said. "Are you a cop? The guy we need to see is a cop."
Feeling suddenly uneasy, Davis shook his head. "I work in a music store," he said. "One of my neighbors did say there's a cop lives in the building - I only moved into here a few weeks ago, haven't met more than two neighbors in that time. If my roommate was here he might be able to tell you - he's a sociable kind of guy, and from what he's said, I think he's spoken to more neighbors in the week he's been here than I have in a month. But he has to be working late - he's not home yet," he added, striving for a casual tone. If these guys were the ones who'd kidnapped Blair, letting them think that he wasn't worried about him being late was undoubtedly the way to go.
The two glanced at each other. "Okay, Mr Davis - sorry to have bothered you." As they turned away, Davis closed the door. He listened carefully. One was saying, "Looks like Chuck and Randy screwed up, right enough. Wouldn't like to be in their shoes when Rob catches up with them."
"I'm just glad it was Chuck and Randy watching the place and not us," the other one said. The voices were beginning to fade slightly as their footsteps receded. "That guy could be Ellison's brother - same sort of build, same kind of face, same coloring. I'm not sure I could have told the difference from half a block away."
The footsteps were going down the stairs, not up; Davis grabbed the phone, and dialled the number Ellison had given him earlier that evening.
"Davis. I've just had a visit - two guys looking for a cop called 'Ellison'. I told them there's a cop in the building, but they're going down the stairs right now without trying any other doors. After I closed the door I heard them talking - someone has been watching the building and did think I was you."
"Right. I'm at the window... Yes, I see them. They're getting into a car, driving off... I can get the PD to check the number. Thanks - every little helps us find your friend."
Ellison rang off, then immediately dialled the PD. "Major Crime... Hi, H. I need a check on a car number. Eight zero two delta alpha tango. Thanks." He rang off again.
Crossing to the fridge, he took out a bottle of beer. He settled in front of the television, automatically switching it on but, almost immediately, tuning it out mentally as he considered the day's events.
Davis's roommate was probably safe for the moment, especially since the kidnappers had checked on Davis and confirmed he wasn't a cop; the young man had clearly managed to convince them that they'd got the wrong guy. It was his experience, however, that criminals expected to be able to blackmail the good guys into behavior that they considered weak - so it didn't guarantee the guy's continued safety.
The phone rang, and Ellison scooped it up. "Ellison."
"Brown. I've tracked that car. It's registered to an Albert Finnison, 559 Greenbank Road. I've checked Albert Finnison, but he's clean. Not even a parking ticket."
"Right, H. Thanks."
Ellison hung up thoughtfully. Finnison. There had to be a connection with Oliver - father, grandfather, uncle - something to make Albert act to protect Oliver. Oliver was handing out drugs to guys. Did that make Albert a drug dealer who had been clever enough - until now - to remain undetected, unsuspected? Somehow he didn't think so. Someone that careful wouldn't have entrusted any job of drug distribution to Oliver, who struck Ellison as having skipped class the day intelligence was given out. No - whatever Albert's racket was, it wasn't drugs - but it did seem probable that he had some connection to the crime world, or he wouldn't have been able to kidnap Sandburg as easily as he did.
He had an address...
Abandoning his barely-touched beer, he switched the television off, and grabbing his coat in passing, he strode out of the door. He shrugged into the coat as he ran down the stairs to the floor below, and knocked on the door of 208.
"I've got a name and address for that car. Want to help me check it out?"
"Help you? But... but I'm not... "
"Not a cop? I know, but you've got the hearing and you know your roommate; I don't."
Davis grinned, grabbed his coat, and followed Ellison. At the foot of the stairs, Ellison stopped. "Just in case the place is still being watched, we'd better go separately. It's 559 Greenbank Road - "
"Isn't it. Big houses with big yards. Stop no closer than number 550 and wait for me. I won't be far behind you, but we do need to drive off in separate directions and at least five minutes apart. Keep an eye on your mirror. It's not the car immediately behind you you need to watch, it's the car two or three back. If you have any reason to think you're being followed, go to the PD, go to Major Crime and ask for Henri Brown, tell him what's happening and get him to bring you to Greenbank Road. Okay?"
"Major Crime, Henri Brown - right."
"If you really run into a problem, my cell phone number's on this." Ellison handed over a card.
Davis pocketed the card as he ran down the stairs, and some moments later, Ellison heard a car starting and driving off. He couldn't be sure, though, whether or not the other man was being followed; there was enough traffic on the road to disguise the sound of another car possibly a hundred yards away being started.
Ellison waited for several minutes, then walked briskly onto the sidewalk, crossed to his truck, climbed in and set off as if he was heading for the PD. Several unnecessary changes of route later, he decided that he wasn't being followed, and made one more change of direction, this time heading by the most direct route possible towards Greenbank Road.
Jim Davis drove steadily for two or three minutes before deciding that he probably was being followed. About to change direction and head for the PD as Ellison had directed, he realized that if he did, the man following him would probably assume that yes, he was a cop - though he couldn't be certain if the man in question thought he was Ellison or knew he was Jim Davis. A moment's consideration told him that his best plan would probably be to head for Largs' Music Store, which wasn't too far off the route he was already taking. He glanced at his watch - good, the place had closed fully half an hour earlier. There would be nobody there to question his late-evening arrival.
He parked in his usual place beside the store. As he locked his car, he was aware of another car stopping nearby, and knew that he was right; this had to be the car that was following him. Crossing to the staff door, he pulled out his keys, selected the store key, unlocked the door and went in, making sure it was locked behind him.
He went to the office, and dialled the cell phone number Ellison had given him.
"Jim Davis. I was followed. What I've done - I've come to my workplace. It struck me that that would really confirm in their minds that I'm not a cop. There's another way out that I can take, but then I'll have to get a cab, so I'll be late joining you."
"All right, but take the cab to the PD and get Brown to bring you as we arranged."
Davis went up the stairs to the stock room and switched on the light - knowing that it would show through the crack where the security shutters failed, by the merest fraction of an inch, to join. Let the men tailing him sit there indefinitely watching that thin sliver of light, convinced that their target was still inside, whatever he was doing. Then he returned downstairs, glad of the enhanced vision that let him see quite clearly where he was going in the dim interior. He went on down into the basement where second-hand instruments were cleaned and polished, and, if necessary, renovated. Here it was really dark, but he knew the layout and crossed easily enough to the small door that led into a back alley. Even if the men watching the building prowled around it, there was nothing to indicate that this door led into Largs' Music Store.
Normally it was only opened from the inside; he took the key, knowing he could replace it easily enough in the morning without anyone realising he had borrowed it, slipped out and locked the door, then spared a moment to attach the key to his keyring. Then he set off confidently down the alley.
In a weird way, he was beginning to enjoy himself. He enjoyed his work, but there was an odd exhileration in this cloak-and-dagger stuff. It wasn't something he would want to do all the time but, as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he was definitely enjoying pitting his wits against the men who had kidnapped his roommate.
Once he reached the main road at the end of the block, he waved down a cab.
He found Henri Brown to be an outgoing African American who greeted him cheerfully, and took him straight back downstairs to the garage. Brown selected an unmarked car of such an undistinguished appearance that anyone asked to describe it would simply say, "It was a red car".
"You go in the back, man," Brown said. "Crouch down. We don't know if the PD is being watched to see what Ellison is doing - personally I'd doubt it, but let's not take any chances. That's partly why Ellison chose me to take you to Greenbank Road - a watcher, if there is one, isn't going to mistake me for a six-foot, brown-haired white guy, so he'll ignore my car. You, on the other hand - I wouldn't say you actually look like Ellison except superficially, but the same description would fit you both. You do look enough like him that a watcher, seeing you, could assume you're Ellison and follow you."
"I suppose he told you that's what we think did happen," Davis said as he climbed into the car. He slid down to the floor, squeezing himself into the not-very-generous space.
Brown climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine, and set off.
Brown pulled up behind Ellison's truck, stopped in front of number 550, and he and Davis, who had finally straightened from his crouched position once Brown was sure they weren't being followed, got out, and walked forward to join Ellison, who had the hood up and was prodding under it as if the vehicle had broken down. The two men joined him, and Brown immediately bent over the engine as if he was a mechanic called out to fix it.
550 was actually opposite 557, so they were nearer Finnison's house than Ellison had expected. Ellison said softly, "I don't think anybody is paying attention to the street. Even if there's a local busybody with nothing better to do than watch everything going on during the day, now that it's dark she - or he - will have given up. Come on - let's see if we can get close to 559, see if we can hear anything."
Leaving Brown behind to continue the charade, they crossed the road, Davis - whose first instinct had been to run - matching his pace to Ellison's apparently leisurely but actually quite brisk stride. As they reached the other sidewalk, Ellison glanced round once then, quietly, without fuss, sat on the low wall fronting 557, swung his legs up and over it, Davis followed him. Within seconds they were lost to view among the shrubs that hid the house from the road.
The wall between 557 and 559 was a good bit higher than the one they had climbed over, but Ellison knew that he, at least, could get over it easily. Whether Davis could remained unknown, but Ellison considered it probable that he could, perhaps with a little help. He paused as their route took them closer to the house, but all the curtains seemed to be closed, and the only rectangle of faint light was from a window at the other side of the building.
"Can you hear anything?" he murmured.
Davis shook his head. Ellison, who had also not heard anything, moved on.
As they came level with the back of the two houses - both were the same distance from the road - a voice became audible. They moved on a little further until they could see the windows of the house they were watching. Several were lit.
"Let's get over this wall," Ellison said. Davis nodded - although he thought it foolhardy, he was willing to follow the detective's reach. Ellison boosted him up, and he lay along the top of the wall, one hand stretched down, ready to help Ellison, who backed up two or three steps, ran and jumped. He caught the top of the wall, and swung himself up.
"Not very neighborly, having a wall this high," Davis muttered. Ellison grinned as he dropped down the other side, and steadied Davis as he too jumped down.
"...watch how I worded it - the readership for something like a cookery magazine certainly wouldn't enjoy the very factual presentation I'd give a more academic study. It would be an article, rather than a paper. . . Must finish this before it gets cold."
"That's Blair," Davis whispered.
"He doesn't sound worried," Ellison said.
"I'm not so sure," Davis responded. "When he's worked up about something, he can't stop talking." He concentrated. "I don't think he's alone."
Ellison listened. He could make out a faint, confused thumping sound, but he had no idea what it was, and said so.
"Heartbeats," Davis replied. "I'd no idea what they were either till Blair made me concentrate on individual sounds. "I think there are eight or possibly nine people in the building... " He closed his eyes to allow himself to concentrate more fully on his hearing. "I think I can detect Blair's heartbeat - there are fractional differences in people's heartbeats - and there are at least four others very close to him... Two are moving away... but the others are still very close."
From his position behind the one-way glass, Albert Finnison ran irritable fingers through his thinning hair. "I don't understand the man," he said. "He doesn't even seem to realize he's a prisoner. I would have expected him to be quite worried."
Hardiman shook his head. "You heard what he said, sir - he's thinking of writing a magazine article about the benefits of well-prepared food. He's looking at this as a research opportunity. Although I told him we'd return him a bit at a time, if Ellison proved awkward, he doesn't see any reason to worry because he doesn't know Ellison. Or, more importantly, Ellison doesn't know him; so in his mind there's absolutely no need to worry. His mind is telling him that you can't coerce someone with a threat if the threat is meaningless. What he doesn't understand is that we might choose to use him anyway, since Ellison, as a cop, is likely to surrender to a proven threat to someone else. But we can't do that unless the cops do go after Oliver again."
"Young fool!" Finnison growled as he turned away from the window to walk down the hallway. Hardiman, with a last glance at the man busy at his laptop, followed. "I tell you, Hardiman, I never did think much of the silly little piece my son married, but I did think his brains would compensate for her stupidity. I didn't expect her to breed a son who could do well at school but didn't have the mentality of a gnat! Handing out thousands of my dollars... Giving them away, Hardiman - how stupid is that?"
"Catch them young does make sense," Hardiman said.
"Yes, but that wasn't why he did it! But even if he did think he was catching them young, he was catching most of them too young! How can six-year-olds, especially from the kind of background he was targeting, get the money to buy more? How can six-year-olds from that sort of background hide the habit, hide their need, from their parents? Parents like that pay attention to their children and are going to react quite badly - which, I imagine, is how he was caught. I suppose I should be pleased that he found, and worked out how to get the stuff, from my stock, but what he did with it was criminal!"
Outside, two men with enhanced hearing were listening intently, and at that last comment, one of them spluttered with instantly controlled laughter. The other glanced at him; Ellison said softly, "I said it was criminal, too, but I think my definition of 'criminal' isn't quite the same as Finnison's. Have you worked out which room your friend is in?"
"Second story; the window third along." Davis's voice was as quiet.
Ellison nodded. "That's the one I thought it was. I wonder if he can open it? I think he's alone now - I can't hear that steady off-beat thumping any more."
"You're right - I just hear Blair now. But if he is alone, wouldn't he try to escape if he could open the window?"
Ellison moved to lean back against the wall very close to the window below the one they were interested in, his hands cupped. "Can you get onto my shoulders?" he said. "Then you can see in, maybe have a word with him."
Davis nodded. He put one foot in the cupped hands, and Ellison boosted him up. It was awkward, but he clutched at the wall and retained his balance He leaned over the few inches necessary, and looked in the window.
"Ah," he murmured. "They've got Blair naked."
"Yes, that would rather discourage an escape attempt," Ellison agreed.
"He's alone," Davis added, and tapped gently on the window.
Blair abandoned the laptop and picked up his notebook. He scanned rapidly through it, knowing he had a reference in it that he needed for this segment. Half of his mind was still on his surroundings, however; although he suspected his captors would not be visiting him again that night, there was always the faint possiblity that the first man, the one who had actually spoken to him, might come back with one or two anthropology books.
It was because he was half expecting to be interrupted that the sound of faint tapping at the window did not make him jump out of his skin. He glanced towards it, and sighed with relief as he recognised the face peering in at him. Just how Jim had found him didn't matter; here was his opportunity for escape. Moving quickly, he saved the file on his laptop, switched it off, pulled the plug and pushed it and his notebook into the backpack, and moved to the window. He slid it open.
"Man, am I glad to see you!" he whispered.
"You all right?" Davis asked softly.
Blair nodded. "Yeah, but there's someone - if the cops give him any grief, they planned to take it out on me."
"Give me your pack." Blair handed it over, and he lowered it, and it was only then that Blair realized his sort-of friend was standing on someone else's shoulders. The man supporting Jim reached up and took the pack.
Blair sat on the sill and swung his legs round so that he was facing outwards; Davis caught one of his hands, and he slid downwards, his drop slowed by both the firm grasp of Davis' hand and the other hands that caught him, steadying the last two or three feet of his drop to the ground.
Above him, the man on whose shoulders Davis had been standing bent his knees, and Blair spared a second to appreciate the man's muscular control. It was this man who pulled off his jacket, revealing a dark-coloured shirt underneath, and gave the jacket to Blair, who slipped his arms into it, glad of its warmth - the room had been warm, but out of it, there was a chill in the late evening air. His legs were still bare, but his body was protected.
The stranger picked up Blair's backpack. "This way."
He led them round the side of the house so that they were out of sight of the windows, then over to the wall. He boosted Davis up, then between them they helped Blair up, Davis pulling and the other man pushing, both men knowing that the jacket would not be enough to protect Blair's skin should he try to get over the wall on his own; he handed up the backpack, and finally he jumped up athletically and dropped down the other side, reached up for the pack, helped Blair down, then steadied Davis as he too dropped to the ground. They made their way cautiously through the shrubs and back to the road.
Both Davis and the stranger paused, then; Blair knew that Jim was listening, but it seemed that the other man was listening too.
"Clear," the stranger murmured. They moved quickly across the road to the two vehicles parked there; as they reached them, another man, who was bending over the engine of the truck, lowered the hood and clicked it shut.
"Right - Davis, Brown will take you back to your workplace. Sneak in the way you came out, then leave it as if you've been working there all this time, and drive home. I'll take Sandburg back home - to my place rather than yours. When you get back, go into your apartment, put the light and the television on, get some clothes for him, then come up to my apartment."
Davis nodded and moved off. The stranger opened the passenger door of the truck and gestured for Blair to get in. "Crouch down," he said softly. "We have to drive past the front of the house where you were held; we don't want anyone there to see you."
Wordlessly, Blair obeyed. For all he knew he was swapping one kidnapper for another, but Jim had been with this man and clearly knew and trusted him... and what he had said about the apartment? He had to live in the same building. But Blair thought he had met pretty well everyone who lived there. He glanced up at the man as he climbed into the driving seat, trying to see his face in the dim light.
After a minute, the stranger said, "You can sit up now. We're not being followed. I'm Jim Ellison - live in apartment 307."
"Ellison? You're the guy they thought I knew. The cop."
"I'm afraid so. The first I knew about it was getting a note earlier today, threatening a friend I didn't have. Your friend Davis and I look fairly alike - same build, same kind of face - the guys who kidnapped you obviously saw you with him, thought he was me... Anyway, he was worried when there was no sign of you, and he'd heard the guy in 307 was a cop, so he came up to see me. After he went home again, a couple of guys knocked on his door wanting Jim Ellison, and that gave us a clue where to look for you."
Blair nodded. "It didn't take long for me to tell them my friend was called Davis, not Ellison - I supposed they would check it."
"Did they threaten you at all?"
"Not after I told them I didn't know anyone called Ellison. But I don't think they were going to let me go."
"And they took your clothes so you wouldn't try to escape."
"Well, I think their real reason was to demoralise me. Western man is really terribly dependant on clothes to maintain his dignity." Blair grinned. "Instead, I think I rather demoralised the two guys who brought me my meals."
"I'm an anthropologist, man. I've spent too much time with tribes who don't wear clothes for a bit of bare skin, even when it's my own, to bother me. These guys thought they'd have a psychological advantage over me, and were embarrassed because I wasn't embarrassed."
Ellison thought about that for a moment. "Your friend Davis said they wouldn't know what to make of you. I suspect he understated the case."
"Well, I do have a minor in psychology," Blair admitted.
There was a brief silence, then Ellison said, "We'll need a statement from you."
"I don't think I can tell you much," Blair said. "I only saw three guys, and two of them never spoke. The one who did burbled on about 'my friend inconveniencing the friend of a friend of his' but that I'd be perfectly safe and comfortable 'as long as my friend stopped inconveniencing his friend's friend', but if he didn't I'd be returned 'a bit at a time' - starting small, with a toe, a finger, an ear, then moving on to an arm or a leg."
"He didn't mention any names?"
"No. He was very careful, very roundabout, in the way he referred to people - he said 'my friend', but I guessed he meant 'my employer'."
"I think you're right," Ellison said.
Blair was silent for a moment. Then he said, "How did you know I was alone? I mean, for all you knew there was someone in the same room guarding me."
"We heard them leaving."
"Oh. Jim told you about having good hearing, then."
"I said 'we', Chief." Ellison glanced briefly over. "We both heard them. I've got heightened senses too."
"Senses," Blair said. "As in more than one. How many?"
Blair stared at him, speechless.
"Davis said you're studying people with heightened senses, that you helped him learn control," Ellison went on. "He said you'd promised him anonymity if he let you study what he can do."
"Yes," Blair said.
"Could you help me the way you helped him?"
"I don't see why not," Blair said. "Have you been having problems?"
"Headaches," Ellison replied. "When they're bad, I find it hard to concentrate."
"Maybe that's just as well," Blair said. "Have you ever... well... lost time? Suddenly became aware of your surroundings and then realized you'd lost a few minutes, maybe even an hour or so?"
"Once or twice, but just for a minute or two."
"It's something you have to watch. People with only one or two senses don't seem to have any bother, but when you have all five, you need to be really careful. Jim's been lucky that way - all five of his senses are heightened, but only sight and hearing are strongly enhanced. The rest are close enough to normal to keep him grounded; he hadn't even realized they were at all better than 'normal' until I tested them. He didn't know about the zone-out factor until I told him. You, though... if you're aware of all five senses being sharp, if you've already zoned out, you are at risk, and a major zone out isn't something to take lightly. I don't have personal experience of seeing anyone zoned out - Jim's the first person I've found with all five senses, even though three of them are only marginal, and like I said, it doesn't affect him.
"The only serious study ever made of people with five very acute senses was done around a hundred and seventy years ago, by an explorer called Burton. He found that a lot of communities in the South American rain forest had at least one individual with better-than-average senses; he called them sentinels, because they guarded and helped the community; they watched out for the approach of enemies - that was more of a risk in some areas than in others - for changes in the weather, led the hunting parties to game, watched out for dangerous plants... the women always had a good idea of what plants in their neighborhood were safe, but sometimes they moved, either because game was scarce or because they were threatened by something, and when they did, they could come across something new to them.
"Burton commented that sentinels sometimes concentrated so hard on one sense that they became lost in it, so they usually had a companion whose job was to guide them back to 'reality', so to speak. Unfortunately, he was far more interested in the sentinels than in their companions, so it was only a passing reference - or maybe it was because The Sentinels of Paraguay was specifically written to be about sentinels; it's possible he did a companion book about the... well, I suppose you could call them 'guides' because that was what they did, but then never published it because his reports of sentinels were dismissed by his fellow explorers, none of whom admitted finding anyone fitting Burton's parameters. Then he went to Africa, and none of his works on Africa mentioned sentinels at all. He left a lot of unpublished material when he died, and his widow destroyed a lot of it." Blair chuckled. "Burton was pretty uninhibited, and his writing reflected that - he translated both the Kama Sutra and The Arabian Nights, and made no attempt to use euphemisms - you can imagine how well that went down with Victorian society. Even today's versions of The Arabian Nights tend to be watered down. Publishing those unpublished works would have given her an income, but can you imagine the reaction of a properly-brought-up Victorian lady to any suggestion that she should offer that kind of thing to a publisher? She showed her breeding by destroying it. So if Burton did write something about guides, it went up in flames," he finished with an abrupt change of mood.
"So all you know is that the companion helped the... what did you call him? Sentinel? but not how."
Blair nodded. "Up until now it hasn't mattered, but it's been in my mind for a long time - that if the day came when I found the real thing, he would probably need help to control his senses - well, nearly everyone I've found with even one sense has had some problems connected to it, and I've managed to come up with some ideas - but would I be able to help someone with all five senses well developed?"
"From what Davis said, you've helped him quite a bit. He mentioned something about dials, to tone down the 'volume' of things, and I tried it."
"Did it work?"
"Yes!" Blair sounded delighted. Then he sobered. "But you must have been concentrating on your hearing to have heard that there was nobody with me, 'cause the guys who'd not long left didn't say anything."
"We could both hear their heartbeats."
"Cool. So... if you were concentrating enough to hear that, how's your hearing now?"
"All right," Ellison said. "I'm not hearing your heartbeat right now, for example - but then I'm not concentrating on trying to."
"That means some degree of control has to be instinctive," Blair muttered. He fell silent, clearly thinking.
Ellison pulled his truck into a parking space. "We're here, Darwin."
Blair shook himself out of his absorption. "Darwin?"
"He was a scientist, wasn't he?"
"More of a botanist. I'm an anthropologist," Blair growled, but it was clear to Ellison that the younger man wasn't unhappy with the nickname.
Ellison glanced around. "All quiet," he said. "Come on."
Blair followed him into the building, aware for the first time that his feet were painful - bruised, maybe even cut slightly, by the rough ground of the shrubbery they'd crossed on their way to the truck. Well, it wouldn't be the first time, he reflected, with memories of the occasions he'd chosen to adopt native dress - or should that be undress? he snickered mentally - in order to be accepted by some of the tribes he'd visited. He was, however, glad that Ellison chose to use the elevator.
As he left it, he glanced down, noted that one foot was indeed leaving small bloodstains, and when Ellison opened the door of apartment 307, he paused. "My foot's bleeding. I don't want to get blood on your floor."
"What? How? Did Finnison's men - "
"Cool it!" Blair interrupted. "The ground in those yards was rough. You're wearing shoes, so you wouldn't have noticed."
"You should have said something."
"I was too happy to be getting away to waste time complaining," Blair told him.
Ellison moved back to him, and quietly, without fuss, lifted Blair into his arms. "Didn't it occur to you that you could be picking up all kinds of infection, including tetanus, walking on an open cut?" As he carried Blair into the apartment, Blair said,
"My tetanus shots are up to date."
Ellison closed the door by pushing it shut with one foot then leaning against it until the latch clicked. He crossed to a long couch, and put Blair down on it. "Keep your feet up," he said, and headed off to the bathroom, re-emerging seconds later with a small first-aid box in one hand. He put it down beside Blair, then continued into the kitchen, returning with a steaming bowl and a soft-looking cloth. "Let's get those feet cleaned," he said.
The water was a very comfortable temperature, and Ellison's touch surprisingly gentle, Blair noted as his feet were carefully cleaned. "Just the one cut," Ellison said. He wiped it carefully with antiseptic, smeared some cream over it, then applied a dressing. "There are some bruises, though."
"It's a while since I last had to go barefoot," Blair admitted.
"Huh? Nobody in this country goes barefoot."
"I didn't say it was in this country," Blair said. "Last time was just over two years ago - an expedition near the headwaters of the Xingu River. We lost a lot of stuff when one of our canoes capsized, including most of our clothes. Since we had to keep what we were wearing in good condition for when we came out of the rain forest, we adopted native clothing while we were there. That meant no shoes. It was amazing how quickly our feet hardened."
Ellison looked at him, and he grinned, knowing that the big cop didn't entirely believe him. "It's true, man. I did an article on it for Anthropology Today - I've got the copy downstairs if you ever want to see it."
"I might take you up on that," Ellison told him as he gathered up the bowl of water and went to empty it. He tidied up quickly, then went upstairs for a moment, returning with a set of sweats. "Your friend shouldn't be long, but you'll be more comfortable wearing these till he gets here with your own clothes," he said.
"Thanks." Blair shed the jacket he was still wearing and slipped into the sweats, standing as briefly as possible to pull the pants up over his hips. As he sat again, he was aware that the other man's gaze was fixed on his groin. "Ellison?"
The cop jumped. "Oh - sorry," he mumbled. "I just... I was half expecting to see four balls."
"Two ordinary ones and two brass ones."
The quiet knock, some fifteen minutes later, while expected, sent Ellison into protective mode. Drawing his gun, he crossed quietly to the door. "Who is it?"
Keeping the chain on the door, he opened it a fraction, enough to see that Davis looked cheerful, in no way nervous, and was carrying a bag; stretching his hearing, he could detect nobody else. Ellison released the chain, and opened the door.
"Were you expecting someone else?" Davis asked.
"Let's just say I'm not willing to take any chances. Finnison has clearly had his men watching here for some days." He locked the door carefully. "Did you have any trouble?" he went on.
Davis shook his head. "Brown dropped me off near the back entrance of the music store, I went in the way I left, secured the place and left by the front door. I'm pretty sure I was followed home, but nobody came into the building."
Ellison moved to where he could see out of his window without being noticed, and nodded. "I see them. The same car we saw earlier, two men in it." He moved over to the kitchen. "Coffee?"
"Thanks," Davis said.
As he filled the coffeemaker, Ellison said, "I've been trying to think of the safest place for Blair to stay. I'm not sure either of our apartments is totally safe - especially once they find out he's escaped."
"Will they realize he's been rescued?" Davis asked.
"They might not," Ellison agreed. "They go in in the morning, the room is empty, the window open... There's nothing to say that he didn't wait till he was sure he'd been left alone for the night, then climbed out by himself. Since the building is being watched, they 'know' he didn't come here, but I wouldn't put money on them not coming to check out your apartment, at least, and with those goons outside, it won't be easy getting him out of the building. I should have thought of that before I brought him here."
"Will you stop speaking about me as if I'm not here!" Blair demanded. "Anyway - are they likely to bother? I had to have been an embarrassment to them - since you - " looking at Ellison - "didn't know me, and you - " looking at Davis - "have nothing to do with the cops. I can see that they wouldn't just let me go, but wouldn't they be quite glad to be rid of a... a hostage?... that wasn't going to be of any use to them?"
"It doesn't work quite that way," Ellison said. "These crime lords think they're god. By escaping, you took the question of what to do with you out of Finnison's hands; he won't like that." He frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe we made a mistake, getting you out of there. Having established you were there, maybe we'd have been wiser calling for backup and raiding the place, because we had the acceptable evidence of the car to lead us to him. Finding you there, a prisoner, with plenty of cops as witnesses, would have given us cause to arrest Finnison. As it is, we've no longer any reason to accuse him of anything. Damn! I was so intent on seeing you safe I wasn't thinking straight."
"Wait a minute," Davis said slowly. "I understand that even with two of us hearing him, because he was inside the house and we were outside, you can't use what we heard against him. But could you use it indirectly?"
A slow, calculating smile spread across Ellison's face.
Oliver Finnison looked up nervously at the man who entered the small room where he'd been sitting for some minutes. He recognised Detective Ellison from his previous 'visit', and shivered. This man terrified him as nobody else ever had.
"Ah, Mr Finnison," Ellison said cheerfully.
"I just wanted to ask you one or two more things - just a few little details about the incident that led to your arrest a few days ago."
"I told you... I wanted to give those children something that would make them feel good."
"Yes, and I believe you. What I don't understand is why you bothered. Why did it matter to you to make them feel good?" Ellison was more used to playing 'bad cop' than 'good', but he could do 'good' when he had to.
"They're at an age when they've mostly got problems," Finnison said.
"Six and seven-year-olds?" Ellison asked blankly. "That's a pretty carefree age, surely."
Finnison shook his head. "It's when they begin to pressure you. You've had a year at school, they expect you to be better at reading and counting than you know you are - "
"Who are 'they'?" Ellison asked, his voice quiet.
"Your parents. Your grandparents. If they were good at school themselves, they expect you to be good. If they weren't, they expect you to be better than they were. Either way, there's pressure.
"Nobody helped me when I was their age, but I thought I could help at least some of them."
"By giving them drugs."
"Well, yes. Drugs take away your worries, let you relax... "
"When did you find that out?"
Finnison frowned. "Two years ago? Maybe three. It's hard to remember exactly."
"Where did you get them?"
A cunning look passed over the younger man's face. "My grandfather," he said. "He has a lot. I knew he wouldn't miss it as long as I didn't take too much; he could never use as much as he has hidden away."
"It's not hidden very well if you could find it," Ellison suggested.
"He has a special safe built into the wall of his study, hidden behind a picture, and that's where he keeps it, but I was watching him one day when he didn't know I was there - I was looking for a book on a low shelf of his bookcase, and I was hidden behind a chair. I wondered why he was moving a picture, but then I saw the safe behind it and saw him punching the keypad to open it. I've got a good memory for things like that. I remembered the numbers." He was boasting, and suddenly Ellison could see the insecure child telling his elders how clever he was, hoping, desperately hoping, for praise. At the same time, Ellison wasn't sure what he could say in reply that wouldn't sound patronising.
"Did you know what was in there?" he asked.
Finnison shook his head. "Not then, but a few days later. I was visiting him, and he was called away for something. He told me he'd be about half an hour, so I knew I had time. I really just wanted to see if I'd remembered the numbers right, but I had."
"And when you saw what was in there, you knew what it was?"
"There was a big packet with a name on it. Heroin... I knew heroin was supposed to be bad, and wondered why he had it, but I took a little to try it. Well, since my grandfather did, why shouldn't I?"
That was when Ellison realized that while Oliver Finnison was intelligent enough, he had no maturity, had probably never been encouraged to think for himself; it was a child's reasoning, and Finnison clearly thought he had reached an astute conclusion. It obviously didn't occur to him that his grandfather might have the drugs to sell, rather than for his own use.
"And you liked the feeling it gave you, so the first chance you got, you took some more?" he asked.
"And then you thought you'd help others to feel good?"
"The children you thought were under pressure from their parents."
"Yes." He was beaming, apparently happy that, unlike the previous time he had spoken to this man, the detective now understood and sympathised with his need to help these children.
"Do you know anywhere else you can get these drugs?" Ellison asked.
Finnison shook his head. "No," he said.
"All right. That's all I wanted to know," Ellison said. "It might be a good idea if you were to stay away from your grandfather for a few days; he's found out you took the drugs from his supply, and he's not happy about it."
"Oh." Finnison didn't question Ellison's comment, clearly accepting that anything someone in apparent authority said had to be correct. "Yes, I'll do that. Thanks."
Ellison watched him leave, then sprang into action.
Albert Finnison was not amused to discover that his unwilling guest had vanished into the night. Contacted by cell phone, the two men assigned to watch Jim Davis assured him that they had followed Davis the previous night to his place of work, and then back to 852 Prospect around two hours later. He had been alone the entire time. Ellison's truck had been parked when they left and was still there when they arrived back. There was no sign of Sandburg - a man they knew from their many hours of surveillance of the building. A man they had already kidnapped once.
A phone call to Rainier asking for Sandburg had been equally unproductive. He wasn't there.
So where had he gone? "Naked men don't go wandering around cities at night," he muttered.
Hardiman was less surprised. He had formed a fairly accurate judgement of their prisoner, and was in fact mildly amused that he hadn't foreseen this successful escape attempt - considering how little the man had been bothered by his unclad state. The only puzzle was, where had he gone?
"What if he's gone to the cops?" Finnison muttered.
"Well, sir, he might have been seen and arrested," Hardiman said, "but I don't think, from what he said to me, that it would occur to him to go to the cops."
"Oh... No, he said the cops were enemies, didn't he?" Finnison remembered.
"In fact," Hardiman went on, "he's saved you the trouble of deciding what to do with him. Since he didn't know Ellison, he wasn't going to be much use as a bargaining chip. Anyway, I doubt he'll have much idea of where he was; even if he does go to the cops, or if they arrested them and he told his story, he won't be able to tell them much. By the time he stopped running, he was probably well away from here with no idea of the route he took. In the dark he wouldn't be able to see street names. I don't think you need worry about him being able to give the cops any help."
"Yes, I understand that, Hardiman," Finnison said testily. "However, I think he was more of a bargaining chip than you suppose. Ellison was bound to consider the man's welfare, even though he didn't know him. I'm very much afraid we'll have to find some other way to keep Oliver safe. Stupid boy! He deserves to go to prison - but I can't allow that. He is a Finnison, after all."
"Yes, sir." Privately, Hardiman thought that prison was likely to be Oliver's eventual fate anyway. He was too used to having money; the generous allowance his grandfather provided undoubtedly gave him the illusion that every time he spent every cent he had in his pocket, all he had to do was go to the bank and he'd get more. Even if Albert Finnison left him millions, he'd spend it all in a remarkably short time, never understanding that once that was gone there would be no more. An ordinary job would never keep him in the luxury he was used to; especially since he had no training in anything, the only jobs available to him would be those involving unskilled grunt work. He would inevitably turn to crime, but he didn't have the mindset that would make him a successful criminal... No, Old Man Finnison was simply postponing the inevitable, but Hardiman had too much sense of self-preservation to voice the thought.
Finnison was frowning thoughtfully. "Does Ellison have any relatives?" he asked.
Hardiman shook his head. "If he does, he totally ignores them," he said. "Even his marriage didn't last, and he's not known for socialising with his co-workers. I suppose I should have been more doubtful of Fitchett's claim that Ellison had a room mate, but considering Sandburg's appearance, the possibility that he was gay made all those things perfectly logical."
"There has to be some way... "
"Have you thought of getting Oliver out of Cascade, sir?" Hardiman asked. "I doubt the Cascade PD would bother trying to track him down."
"It's a possibility," Finnison conceded. "Though I wouldn't lay odds on him not getting into trouble somewhere else as well, and I wouldn't be there to help him. I'll think about it. Meanwhile, see if you can find anything, anything at all, we could use to persuade the cops to leave Oliver alone."
Finnison watched as Hardiman left, closing the door carefully behind him. Then with a sigh he turned his attention to the paperwork that had arrived that morning concerning the small sports store that was his legitimate business, and put Oliver and his problems concerning Oliver out of his mind.
The raid on Albert Finnison's house in the early afternoon resulted in the arrest of Albert Finnison and all of his men except Hardiman, who arrived back while it was in progress, and quietly slipped away, knowing there was nothing he could do. An attempt on Finnison's part to bluster his way out of it was met by a quiet smile as Ellison went straight to the picture hiding the safe where he kept his stock of drugs. Pulling on gloves, Ellison then opened the safe with the skill of a master safebreaker.
There was no way Finnison could deny that the drugs there were his; no way he could claim that they were for his sole use, not when there was enough there to last one man several lifetimes.
Ellison turned and quietly read Albert Finnison his rights.
Jim Davis was in apartment 307 with Blair when Ellison returned home. They had clearly been discussing something; both men looked less than completely happy.
When Ellison entered, Davis looked up, clearly glad of the interruption. "Well?" he asked, with an eagerness that Ellison felt was, at least in part, assumed.
"We got Finnison," Ellison replied. "He'll try, but I don't think there's any way he can wriggle out of a charge of selling drugs."
Ellison turned to Blair. "I think you can safely go back home again."
"Well... there's a slight problem about that," Blair said.
Ellison looked from Blair to Davis and back again.
"I got a phone call a couple of hours ago," Davis said. "From my work. I'm being promoted; but it means I've to move to Seattle by the end of the month - just when I've managed to get things here the way I want them. I'll have to sell the apartment, and while I'd be happy to let Blair have it at the price I paid - "
"I can't afford it," Blair said bluntly.
Ellison grinned. "In that case," he said, "why not move in with me? Help me with my senses the way you helped Davis. I'm not going to be promoted away from Cascade. You're not likely to be kidnapped again by someone wanting to use you as a hostage to protect a relative. I think it would benefit us both - it gives you a home, gives me some help with my senses. You can move in today if you want."
"You mean that?" Blair asked. Ellison nodded. "Man, that is so good of you! I'll get a contract drawn up - we can sign it tomorrow - guaranteeing your anonymity if I can use things you do for my dissertation - "
Davis chuckled. "Ellison, you don't know what you've let yourself in for. Blair, you come down when you're ready, get your things packed and I'll help you bring them up."
"I'll come and help too," Ellison said.
"I don't have that much," Blair protested.
They went downstairs, and as Blair packed, Davis and Ellison looked at each other. "Look after him," Davis said softly, and Ellison nodded.
"Stay in touch," he said.
"I don't think I've much option," Davis said wryly. "I'm one of Blair's subjects. But yes - I'll stay in touch."
They took Blair's bags back upstairs, and into the small spare room; Davis shook hands with them both, and turned to go back to his own apartment.
Ellison closed the door, and turned to his new roommate.
"All right," he said. "What would you like for dinner?"
THREE MONTHS LATER
Blair looked up from the magazine he was reading as the door opened and Jim Ellison walked in, already loosening the tie he had been forced to wear for his day in court.
"Hi, Jim. How did it go?"
Jim grinned. "Guilty on all counts. Finnison's gone down for twenty years without parole." Then he sobered. "And considering what he was willing to do to protect Oliver - would you believe he tried to say the drugs were Oliver's? That he never used that safe, that he'd given it to Oliver? He was willing to accuse his grandson to cover his sorry ass. Well - Oliver mightn't be the brightest guy in the world, and he loved his grandfather, but family loyalty only goes so far. When he realized Grandad was trying to set him up to take the fall... Can you say 'righteous indignation'? And of course what he said matched what he told me. The jury - well, the jury took a collective look at the attitude of both men, and decided that no way could Oliver have done anything without his grandfather's knowledge.
"Oliver told me afterwards he'd stopped handing out drugs - well, we knew that - and stopped taking them himself, if only because he didn't know where to get any now that he couldn't steal them from his grandfather any more. I think he was actually only ever an occasional user; an addict wouldn't have stopped that easily."
Blair snickered. "I think that's the most original reason I've ever heard for quitting the drug scene."
"Yeah. So - how was your day?"
"Oh, same old, same old. I've caught up with the grading, though, so... I'm all yours, little buddy."
"So what do you want to test tonight?" Jim asked, a resigned note in his voice.
"I was thinking taste," Blair said. "I have some samples made up - just a grain or two of some substances dissolved in water - to see if you can identify them... "
Jim sighed, for the look of things. In honesty... he didn't really mind.