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The explosion in what was thought to be a derelict warehouse took out the adjoining warehouse as well.
After the ensuing blaze was extinguished the fire department checked the interior to make sure everything was properly damped down, and found five bodies. The fire should have made it almost impossible for the bodies to tell the authorities anything, but the force of the explosion had damaged the walls and the wind blowing in through a massive hole in one wall had forced the fire upwards. As a result, the bodies were almost untouched by the flames. All had been shot; all were actually dead, Dan Wolf later determined, before the fire started.
The safety check of the building revealed more; because of the way the building had burned, a metal box that was found in a corner was barely damaged. Inside it, partly melted by the heat but still recognizable, were dozens of little plastic bags holding charred powder. There was no doubt in the Fire Chief's mind what that powder was.
Because there had been an explosion, the bomb squad was called in; Joel Taggert, in command, checked the place, shaking his head as he went. "Safety in this place was virtually non-existent," he said ruefully.
It didn't take him long to decide that this was a case of arson, rather than being, as well as a drug lab, a terrorist hideout where someone had managed to explode his own bomb; in addition to what was probably a cache of several containers of gasoline, more gas had been lavishly sprinkled around before being ignited. The heat caused the containers to explode.
"It looks like when the gasoline went up, the chemical precursor exploded too. That's what tore out the wall between here and the warehouse next door," Taggert decided. "The Fire Chief was right; this place shows all the signs of being a major drug lab. There's just one thing missing; apart from what's in that one small box - the drugs."
"No chance they were burned?" Jim Ellison hated his work in Narcotics, hated the apparently impossible task of trying to keep the various designer drugs off the street. For every dealer they arrested, every dealer they put away, two more seemed to surface. The destruction of a drug lab was, in his book, something to welcome, but if the drugs that should have been there were missing...
That was bad.
"It's possible," Taggert said, "but I don't think so... and you don't, either, do you?"
"No," Ellison said gloomily. He glanced around as Tommy Yuan, the Narcotics Captain, joined them. "Captain."
"Ellison. Captain Taggert. Your conclusions, gentlemen?" Yuan was a man who rarely wasted words.
"Fire Chief Matson was right. This was a drug lab." Taggert repeated what he had already told Ellison.
Yuan glanced at the other man. "Is that your conclusion too, Ellison?"
"Yes," Ellison said. "I think the dead men were working here, someone broke in, killed them, stole the drugs and torched the place to try to cover up what they'd done. My guess is that the drugs were being made by one gang, and the killing and the theft were done by a rival gang."
"Hm." Yuan's grunt gave no indication of either agreement or dissent. However, when he continued with, "I've asked Lt. Williams of the anti-gang unit for his input," both of his listeners knew that he must have come to much the same conclusion. Yuan glanced around, and raised his voice. "Lieutenant! Over here."
Not one but two African Americans joined them, nodding acknowledgement to both Ellison and Taggert. "This is Earl Gaines," the older one said. "Fairly new to the unit, but he's pretty good at dealing with some of the younger kids - the ones who hang around with the gangs but aren't quite old enough to be accepted as full members."
"Gaines." Ellison frowned thoughtfully. "Wait a minute - I remember your game winner against Oregon in '93. Hell of a catch."
Gaines smiled ruefully. "I had a few lucky plays. Then a knee injury put me out of the game. Doesn't bother me most of the time, but it wouldn't stand up to the stresses of a full pro-level game. Nowadays I just train some of the kids, try to give them something to aim for that's worth more than being accepted into a gang."
"So what do you think, Lieutenant?" Yuan asked. "Think this could be gang related?"
It was Gaines who answered with an apparent non sequiteur. "Your dead men are Maurice Brown, Eldridge Wardell, Byron Walker, Darnell Devane and Vernon Simms."
"How do you know that?" Yuan sounded accusing.
"I looked at the bodies in the coroner's van," Gaines said. They're all - they were all - members of the 357s."
Ellison gave a soft whistle. "We're not talking about some punk wannabe gang, then. The 357s are big time."
"So this was a 357 lab. Who'd be crazy enough to hit them?" Taggert asked.
"What about the Deuces?" Williams suggested. "Those are their main rivals."
Gaines shook his head. "I don't think so, sir. Remember there's been a truce between the Deuces and the 357s for over a year."
"Truces fail," Yuan commented.
"If this one had, I think we would have heard sooner than this," Gaines said. "I've known the Deuces' leader Antoine Hollins most of my life. He made a promise to stop the killing. It's hard for me to believe he would just throw that away."
Strictly speaking, the case should have gone to Major Crime because of the combination of drugs, murder and arson, but Yuan claimed it for Narcotics because of the sheer quantity of drugs the place had obviously been producing. Now Ellison was in an interview room facing Antoine Hollins, leader of the Deuces, and getting nowhere.
"Deuces had nothing to do with those dudes getting capped," Hollins said flatly.
Ellison glared at him. "They just accidentally shot each other and blew the place up, huh? After they accidentally flushed ice worth several million dollars down the toilet?"
"If you want Q&A, watch Ricki Lake 'cause I ain't got a damn thing more to say to you."
Ellison considered the tone. It held a note of total innocence. But who else could it have been? Although there were two or three other fairly large gangs in Cascade, Hollins led the only one big enough to rival the 357s. "I've got five bodies and solid motive. Talk to me now, Hollins. 'Cause when the evidence backs me up, you are looking at life in lock down and we're not cutting a deal."
"You want to charge me, go for it," Hollins growled. "Otherwise, get out of my face."
"Okay," Ellison said, his voice reasonable. "If you're innocent, then you just tell me who did it."
Hollins stared at him, his expression saying, 'How am I supposed to know?' All he said, however, was, "You got the badge. Figure it out."
"I already did, Antoine, and you're going down." But he knew it was an empty threat.
So did Hollins. "Ooh, you got me shaking real hard," he mocked.
Ellison glanced at the cop guarding the door. "Get him out of here."
He watched as Hollins was led out, knowing that they had no cause to hold him, and secretly convinced that the guy was telling the truth.
As Hollins walked away from the PD, ostentatiously not hurrying, Earl Gaines caught up with him. "Talk to me, 'Toine. I know the Deuces didn't do that lab."
Hollins glanced at him. "Tell that to the 357s."
"How bad is it?" Gaines asked.
Hollins sighed. "It's all falling apart, man." He was silent for a moment. "You know how hard I worked to make that truce, how Tyrell wasn't easy to convince at first - and now... "
"Who did the hit?"
"You're not gonna believe me," Hollins said grimly.
"'Cause it was a cop."
Gaines stared at him. "A cop?" he mouthed silently.
"Straight up, man. See, that's why I didn't tell you down at the station."
"Who is it, 'Toine?" Gaines asked.
"I'm not sure. I'm working on it. Give me a coupla' days, and I'll have a name for you."
Hollins shook his head. "I know the gangs mostly think of cops as the enemy, but... We do respect most of them. You know that. Cops're just doin' their job. So there's something about a dirty cop, man, that rubs most of us up the wrong way. I wouldn't turn in any of our own, not even one of the 357s, whatever he did, but a dirty cop? Nobody owes him loyalty. Nobody."
They nodded a wordless goodbye, and Gaines stopped, watching as Hollins walked away.
Hollins had gone forty or fifty yards when a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun stepped out of an alleyway in front of him. Gaines clearly heard him saying, "Yo, Deuce? Yeah, you ain't so wild now, huh?" and then he fired three times.
Hollins jerked as the bullets hit him, and fell.
Gaines reached for his gun and ran down the sidewalk. "Police! Freeze! Drop your weapon!" But he was handicapped by several people on the sidewalk who had frozen, stunned by the sudden violence. "Get down!" Gaines yelled at them. "Get down! Get down! Get down!"
But it seemed most were either too much in shock to pay attention, or too focused on what was happening, watching with the morbid fascination that seemed to be almost universal when people were faced with blood and injury.
A black car was standing at the curb; the door was opened from the inside, the gunman scrambled in and as he did, Gaines noticed a distinctive bracelet on the killer's wrist - and knew instantly who the man was. The car shot away, engine revving wildly as the driver over-accelerated. Unable even to fire at the disappearing car because of the people on the sidewalk, Gaines crossed to Hollins.
There was nothing he could do. Antoine Hollins was dead.
"Why the hell didn't you hold Hollins?" Yuan snarled.
"Because I actually believed him!" Ellison snapped. He knew from the expression on Yuan's face that the Narcotics Captain didn't appreciate his tone of voice, but Ellison had never been one to back down when he felt his attitude was justified.
"And now he's dead!" Yuan went on.
"Which in my opinion, sir, proves my point."
"I think Ellison is right, Captain," Gaines said quietly. "I've known Antoine all my life; we grew up together, and it's thanks to him that I'm where I am today. He knew that playing ball was my ticket off the streets, so he saw to it nobody messed with me. He even made sure I hit the books. After my knee blew out, I came home, quit school, hung out a coupla' weeks, blowing crack, feeling sorry for myself. When 'Toine saw what I was messing with he cleaned me up, drove me back to school. He said if I came home without a degree, he'd kill me. He made sure I'd have the advantage he didn't get.
"After he left the station, I caught up with him. Asked him what he knew. He said a cop was responsible."
"A cop," Ellison said.
"That's what he said."
"I don't buy that," Yuan muttered.
"Neither do I," Williams agreed. "I still think the Deuces raided that lab."
Ellison looked at Gaines. "I believed Hollins, so yes, I can buy that. He give a name?"
"No." Gaines looked from him to Williams and on to Yuan. "Look, we all know Antoine Hollins was a gangbanger, but he was my best friend. He wasn't your typical gang leader; he wanted to improve the quality of life for his people. That's partly why I started coaching the younger gang kids - to support him, show the kids that there are things they can do other than hang around on street corners looking for trouble. I'm telling you the truce between the Deuces and the 357s was the most important thing in his life. There's no way he would ever do anything to risk it. The Deuces didn't hit that lab. Whoever did, Antoine knew a cop was involved, but not who it was."
"We all hear what you're saying, but I think your judgment is a little... ah... clouded," Yuan said. "We know you're good at dealing with the gangs, which is why Williams brought you in, but a friend of yours has been killed. I think you're too personally involved now. That's why I want you off this case."
Gaines stared at him for a moment then turned to Williams. "Lieutenant?"
"I think he's right, Earl. You've admitted that Hollins was your best friend. You're too personally involved."
Gaines glared at his boss. "You think I can't stay objective? God, I'm not surprised when I'm screwed over by white men, but I didn't expect it from a brother!" he snapped, and marched out, slamming the door as he went.
Ellison spent some minutes arguing with Williams and Yuan before his Captain pulled rank, snapped at him for insubordination, and ordered him to check the files of certain known drug dealers, looking for any connection with the 357s.
Quietly fuming, Ellison obeyed, knowing that this was busy work; any connection between known dealers and the 357s - or any other of Cascade's gangs - would have been picked up months previously. Yuan was simply giving him some mindless and unnecessary work as - well, punishment for arguing.
Finally finished, a full hour later than his usual stopping time, he left the station, heading for home.
Unable to find a parking space near his apartment, he supposed because he was so late, he had to park two blocks away. He began to walk home, and when he was nearly there something made him pause and study the road outside his apartment block.
When he drove past, he had simply registered that all the available parking near the apartment had been taken; more than half of his mind had been on the road. Now, he recognized several of the cars parked there as unmarked police cars. Although he had his own vehicle, it was a truck; there were times when he needed the greater anonymity of a car, and he had driven more than one of these cars in the last few months.
Stopping at a shop window, he pretended to be studying the display while covertly watching the cars that had taken up all the available parking spaces outside his home.
His conscience was clear... but why did he think this looked suspiciously like a raid on his apartment? And why did he think they'd 'find' something that shouldn't have been there?
The voice was soft, and he looked around. Earl Gaines was standing just a couple of feet away. Gaines jerked his head, indicating that Ellison should go with him.
Once out of sight of the front of the block, Gaines said quietly, "I came to you for help - you believed me, believed 'Toine. But it looks like they've decided to shut you up too."
"Shut me up?"
"My apartment was raided a coupla' hours ago. They very conveniently 'found' some crack there - not just what one person would use, enough for a small-time dealer. But someone was careless; he came running out yelling what they'd 'found', and that warned me. I'd say they've 'found' the same at your place - but this lot is lyin' low, waiting for you to walk in, so they can arrest you where you have less chance of making a run for it.
"Interesting thing, though - I saw Leron Maxwell and Jason Garvey hanging around near my place. It was Maxwell who killed Antoine - and that means Garvey was the driver. Where one of them is, the other isn't far away."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Maxwell wears a fancy bracelet - not the kind you'd normally expect a guy to wear, but apparently it had belonged to his grandmother, who'd reared him - his mother disappeared years ago - and when grandma died, he claimed the bracelet. I saw it on the killer's wrist when he was getting into the car after he shot 'Toine. I think they planted whatever was found at my place - possibly yours, too." Gaines frowned. "Williams has been working on Maxwell, trying - he says - to get him away from the gang, but if I was goin' to work on getting one of the 357s off the street, it wouldn't be him. He's Tyrell Lang's second. And now I'm wondering if he sees himself managing to discredit Lang in the eyes of the gang, and taking over."
"Are you saying you think it was a couple of their own gang that blew the 357s' lab?"
Ellison looked at him. "And we're being framed because we believed Hollins?"
"Looks like it. So who does that make the dirty cop that's involved?"
They looked at each other. Finally, Ellison said, "Banks."
"Huh?" Ellison had clearly lost him.
"Captain Banks. Major Crime. He's a good man. I know where he lives. Let's go and see him, give him the story, see what he thinks."
A little more than an hour later, Simon Banks looked from Ellison to Gaines and back again. "You're trying to tell me that a senior officer in the PD is dirty?"
Ellison sighed. "I know it sounds crazy, sir, but it's the only explanation we can come up with. Gaines knew Hollins well, and believes this whole business is totally foreign to everything Hollins was working for. I was given some busy work that kept me occupied for several hours - certainly long enough to let something incriminating be planted in my apartment, maybe an anonymous 'tip' phoned in, just in time for an official search before I got home, just in time for me to be arrested when I walked in the door. And don't you think it odd that the two of us who believed Hollins were suddenly 'discovered' to have drugs stashed in our own homes?"
"And why come to me?"
"You have a good reputation, Captain," Ellison said. "In this precinct, Major Crime is generally considered to be the best department to work for, in terms of having a boss who'll listen to way-out theories - and God knows this suspicion of ours is way out there; neither of us wants to think that our immediate bosses are on the take and would hang us out to cover their own asses. Without false modesty, I can say we're two of their top men. Maybe that's why... maybe they've realized that if anyone could finger them, we could, so they're getting us out of the way."
"Have you any idea how much ice could be involved here?" Banks asked.
The two men looked at each other. "There hasn't been a massive amount of extra ice showing up recently," Ellison said slowly. "It wasn't a small time lab, exactly, but not big time either - at least not yet. Maybe a nice steady output worth several thousand a month? With at least a month's supply stored, ready to hit the streets?"
Gaines nodded. "I'd say the 357s were onto quite a good thing with that lab. At least, Tyrell Lang was. The rank and file would get something out of it, but Lang isn't a man who'll share more'n he has to. Some of his gang aren't real happy with the way he runs things, but each gang has its own patch; you live in that patch, want to join a gang - that's the gang you join, even if you don't like the way it's led."
"And you're quite sure Hollins had nothing to do with attacking it." It was a statement rather than a question.
"You can't get off the street if you're hooked on drugs. So Antoine tried to keep his folk off drugs," Gaines said. "Any time he saw a kid had potential, he pushed him into fulfilling it. I wasn't the only one he encouraged, protected, got off the street, though I think I was the only one he sorted out twice."
Banks turned his attention to Ellison. "I shouldn't be telling you this - but I agree with you, something smells off, and while I don't know Gaines at all, I know you left Patrol with a reputation for hard-assed honesty. You're not going to like it, though," he went on. "Remember the Nowatny bust a few months ago?"
Ellison scowled. "Yeah. It was a couple of weeks before I moved upstairs - I was still doing Patrol at the time. Narcotics netted around... sixteen mil, wasn't it? Mostly drugs, some cash. Biggest haul they'd had all year. They were still boasting about it when I went into the department."
"Nowatny decided to rat out his suppliers in Mexico and became a government witness. One of the things he claimed was that more drugs - and especially more money - should have been recovered - he insisted the amount involved was at least another two mil. IA questioned Captain Yuan and his men; turned out only Yuan and one or two others in the squad had actually been involved in grabbing the stuff. Yuan even expressed surprise that there hadn't been more cash, and suggested a lot had been laundered just prior to the bust, and certainly that was feasible, though Nowatny denied it."
"Who were the others?" Ellison asked. "No, I'll tell you. Ed Costello and David Brooks."
"How do you know that?" Banks sounded slightly stunned.
"They're always Captain Yuan's first choice to take seizures - especially big ones - back to the station."
Banks nodded slowly. "But he occasionally sends someone completely different so that everyone in the squad does it at some point?"
"Yes. There are one or two others like Dave Mariott and Randy Young that he selects for the medium-sized busts, sometimes partnered with one of those two. With a very minor one it's never one of them. And if some ice from a big bust goes missing before reaching evidence lock-up, who's to know? But where are they selling it?"
"Not in Cascade," Gaines said. "If they sell it to a dealer in Cascade then bust that dealer for anything, even months later, word's gonna get around; nobody in Cascade would buy from them ever again. It'd be called entrapment."
"You're right," Banks said. "IA came to me, asking Major Crime to do some checking up, and that was what we found; no new players had showed up to provide any of the known or suspected dealers with additional stock. So we started wondering if maybe they were lying low, waiting for the heat to die down before they tried selling - or spending the nearly two mil cash that Nowatny insisted was missing."
"Yeah," Ellison muttered. "Lying low. That makes sense. Who better than a cop to know how many perps give themselves away by spending too freely too soon? And while they lie low and carry on working, they can always add more ice from other big seizures. Split possibly five ways... "
"Plus one," Banks said. "A few days ago, we got a tip-off to keep an eye on Lt. Williams. We were able to check his phone records. Two local names showed up a lot - Leron Maxwell and Jason Garvey."
"They're in the 357s," Gaines said. "Maxwell is Lang's second; Garvey is Maxwell's best friend. Lt. Williams has been trying to get Maxwell off the street - he said."
"Gaines thinks they're the ones who actually planted whatever was found in our homes," Ellison added.
"Maxwell is a pretty hard case, but Garvey's more of a wannabe. Questioned hard enough, he'll crack," Gaines said confidently.
Banks shook his head. "No, he won't. Neither will Maxwell. They both turned up dead a little over an hour ago."
"What?" Shock showed clearly on both faces.
"They'd both been shot. I was notified just before you two turned up because of the link with Williams. And no, I don't think either of you had anything to do with it.
"But to get back to Williams and his phone calls. There are several to a San Francisco number - to a John Magnuson. We checked with the SFPD; Magnuson is one of their biggest known dealers, but although they know that, they haven't been able to pin anything onto him. Every time they've tried to bust him, they've ended up arresting someone else."
"Someone's warning him?" Ellison asked.
"Sure looks that way," Banks agreed, "but that's up to the SFPD to sort out. Anyway, Magnuson is due in Cascade tomorrow. His flight arrives at 4:00 p.m."
Ellison and Gaines looked at each other. "He's coming to buy the ice," Ellison said.
"That was my conclusion," Banks agreed.
Ellison drew a deep breath. "Yuan and whoever else in Narcotics is involved slide the stuff sideways, and Williams makes contact with a buyer in another city. Only they get greedy, Williams talks two of the 357s into hitting their own lab, probably with a promise of a fairly big pay-off... "
"And then kills his two dupes so that he doesn't have to pay them and the only people outside their little group who know who hit the lab can't be pressured into admitting anything," Banks finished.
"Whatever made 'Toine suspicious, they must have realized that he knew something, so they got Maxwell to kill him. The Deuces are going to blame the 357s for 'Toine's death, say the 357s broke the truce. The 357s are going to blame the Deuces for killing Maxwell and Garvey, as well as thinking the Deuces raided their lab. There's going to be blood spilled over this - a lot of blood," Gaines said.
"Unless we can prove to both sides that Williams was responsible," Banks said. "Whether Yuan knew about it... but I'd guess he didn't. All the evidence we have points to Williams trying to stir up trouble between the two gangs... what we don't know is why."
"Could just have been greed - add some more ice to the stock they already had, with Magnuson already contacted as a buyer," Ellison suggested.
"No," Gaines said. "This is going to lead to a major gang war, and that's bad news. Some folk would say that in the long run that's a good thing because it takes out a lot of gangbangers, weakens Cascade's two biggest gangs, but our remit is to persuade the kids away from the gangs, persuade them there are other things they can do, not encourage them to kill each other! Williams knows that."
"How successful has he been?" Ellison asked.
"The unit's been reasonably successful. I've had a lot of interest in the football coaching I do, and a couple of clubs have shown interest - "
"No, not you, and not the unit. How successful has Williams been?"
Gaines looked thoughtful. "Not very," he said at last. "He's claimed to be working with some of the older ones, like Maxwell, but everyone in the unit knows that it's the young ones you need to catch, before they get too caught up in the lifestyle. Williams doesn't seem able to relate to the younger ones."
"Where was he before he went into the anti-gang unit?" Ellison wondered.
"He came here from San Francisco around two, three years ago," Gaines replied. "He went straight into the anti-gang unit."
"And that's how he knows Magnuson," Banks muttered. "Okay. You two up for coming along with Major Crime tomorrow?"
"Try to stop me!" Gaines exclaimed. "Williams is my boss, and he tried to set me up, make it look like I was the dirty cop who was destroying everything Antoine Hollins was trying to do - making it look like I betrayed the man who got me off the streets. I don't owe Williams any loyalty. Like 'Toine said to me - nobody owes a dirty cop anything."
Ellison nodded agreement. "Whether it was Williams or Tommy Yuan who tried to set me up - it doesn't really matter. Guys like that, who use their position to... well, cheat society - I want them off the force!"
"Right," Banks said. "The two of you can stay here tonight; then stay out of sight tomorrow till I come for you. We'll catch Magnuson at the airport and follow him to wherever Williams has set up his meet."
The ease with which Williams and Magnuson were taken down the following day was almost anticlimatic. Williams clearly had no idea he was under suspicion and being followed - which led Banks to wonder audibly just how many times Williams had done this without ever being suspected, to make him so confident.
As they went, it became clear to them just where Williams was going - to the warehouse area beside the Bay. It was Banks' guess that the one derelict building there was the site of Williams' planned meet with Magnuson - although scheduled for demolition after a bad fire, a contract to demolish it and rebuild on the site had not yet been signed, and its yard would be empty.
Banks stopped just before the side road that led to the burned-out warehouse, and the cars following him pulled up behind him. A few words, and his men moved stealthily towards the ruined building, fading into the shadows.
Williams was waiting, not very patiently; he swung around as a car appeared, driving along the road that fronted the warehouses. Two men got out, gazing around suspiciously, then one of them said something and a third man left the car.
Banks waited, watching as Williams offered a case to this third man, who nodded to one of his followers. The heavy took the case and went to the back of the car, disappearing from the sight of the watchers; after a minute he reappeared, nodding, the movement clearly visible to the watchers.
Banks gestured his men forward.
As Banks announced their presence - "Cascade PD!" - Williams turned and ran. One of Magnuson's heavies went for his gun - whether to defend his boss or shoot the fleeing man would forever remain a mystery, because the moment the man pulled his gun, one of the Patrol cops shot him.
Gaines and Ellison took off after Williams.
Ellison had considered himself fit; but Gaines quickly pulled ahead, and Ellison, realizing that he was outclassed as a runner, made no attempt to keep up, relegating himself to the position of Gaines' backup. Gaines caught up with Williams surprisingly quickly, and brought him down with a perfect football tackle. When Ellison reached them, just seconds later, Gaines had Williams under complete control. Jim handcuffed him, and they marched Williams back to where Banks was supervising the loading into Patrol cars of Magnuson and his uninjured heavy.
On the way back to the station, Williams was quick to accuse Captain Yuan of Narcotics of masterminding the whole thing, insisting that he had contacted Magnuson only because he had the San Francisco contacts. However, Magnuson, in a separate car, was being just as quick to accuse Williams of having sold him drugs on several occasions, both when he worked in San Francisco and, more recently, since he moved to Cascade.
On reaching the station, Banks contacted IA; they moved fast, and within the hour, Yuan and his two known accomplices found themselves under arrest. They, too, were quick to accuse Williams of masterminding the whole thing, saying that Williams had come to them suggesting how easy it would be for them to slide some of a big seizure sideways, and offering to act as middleman in the sale of these drugs. Whether it was true or they were trying to cover their asses to some extent, it was three against one, and Magnuson, too, hadn't hesitated to drop Williams into deep shit. Whatever the outcome regarding Yuan and the men from his squad, Williams was screwed.
Banks leaned back in his chair, and studied the two men in front of him. "Well done, gentlemen. What do you want to do now? Stay where you are, or look for a change of department? I could use men like you in Major Crime."
"If it's all the same to you, Captain, I'd like to stay with the anti-gang unit," Gaines said. "I feel I'm doing some good there. I don't suppose we'll ever eliminate the gangs, but if I can get even one or two of the younger ones off the streets, it gives some of the others hope that they might make it as well. In any case, I want to do it for Antoine."
Banks nodded understandingly. "Yes, I see that. What about you, Ellison?"
Ellison looked at him. "I don't know," he said. "It's not that I don't trust you, Captain; I do, or I would never have come to you for help. But Yuan tried to frame me, and this is the second time I've been betrayed by my superior officer."
"Second time?" Banks asked.
"I can't give you all the details - it was when I was still in the army, in Covert Ops. Oddly enough, drugs were involved that time, too... It turned out that our C.O. was involved with the drug runners we'd been sent to stop, getting a payout from them for leaving them alone. When his orders were to send in a unit, he betrayed us, letting the bastards know we were coming. We were all meant to die, and I still don't know how I survived when nobody else did. Eighteen months later, Oliver was promoted, the new commander discovered that there had never been a search for my unit, and initiated one without Oliver's knowledge. When I was debriefed... well, what I had to report took down Oliver.
"By then I'd served my time; I'd planned to stay on, but that changed my mind, and I took my discharge. That was five years ago.
"Now this has happened, I don't know if I want to stay with the police. I need time to think; time to decide what I really want to do with my life. I've got a two-week vacation due. I'm gonna go camping in Cascade Forest; there won't be any distractions there to keep me from thinking things through. I'll let you know when I get back - whether I want to move to Major Crime, or quit altogether, go into a different line of work - okay?"
"Okay," Banks agreed. "If you do decide to quit, I'll be sorry, but I can understand. If you do quit, you'll be looking for the sort of work where you're either working for yourself, or are in the kind of work where your boss wouldn't be in a position to betray your trust - am I right?"
Ellison grinned, but mirthlessly. "Yes, Captain. Don't take it personally - as I said, I trust you - but what if you move on? Would your successor be a man I could trust? There are several things I need to consider, and that's only one of them."
"I do understand," Banks said, "and I don't take it personally. But add this to the things you consider - if all good cops quit, who's left to protect the innocent? We need men like you."
"That's... a pretty convincing argument," Ellison agreed.
His vacation started ten days later. During those ten days, he kept his head down, doggedly writing full reports on all the cases he'd been working on, knowing that some of the men left in Narcotics thought he'd betrayed Yuan. Only one - Rob Jenning - actually said anything to him; he simply stared Jenning down as he said, "IA already suspected him, and it was Williams who said he was involved. All I did was help arrest him. The man tried to frame me," he went on quietly. "Would you have allowed him to do that to you? Would you have stayed quiet to protect someone who'd framed you? Allowed yourself, in the name of cop solidarity, to be considered the dirty cop, so that you lost your job and your pension, while the real dirty cop kept his job and his pension? Knowing that the next time he was suspected of anything, he'd frame someone else?" And then he repeated what had almost become a justification; "Nobody owes a dirty cop anything. Not even his partners in crime."
Nothing more was actually said - audibly - but Ellison knew that there were still a few mutters behind his back, though not as many as there had been. What he had said had obviously been repeated, and made at least some of the men in Narcotics think hard about motivations and loyalty. He ignored the ones that, encouraged by Jenning, he knew still thought he was disloyal to Yuan, and simply carried on working on his reports, making sure that as he finished each one he handed it in - he was sure that if he didn't, someone would look for an opportunity to damage or even destroy his work, forcing him to redo it.
As he left the PD on the last day before his vacation started, he was aware of a feeling of relief. Life had been far from easy during those ten days, and he already knew that if he did return to the PD, he would accept Banks' offer of a position in Major Crime.
He spent the evening getting his gear together in preparation for an early start; tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food... He made sure there was nothing perishable left in the fridge, and double-checked that he had paid all that month's bills.
Morning saw him setting out at first light, and by the time the sun rose, he was well on the way to the parking area he favored. When he eventually reached it, he gathered his gear, locked the truck, and, swinging his pack onto his back, his tent balanced on top, set off along a well-marked trail. Not that he stayed on it for long; after a couple of miles he left it, making his way through the trees as he headed for a small clearing he had discovered a few months after his return to Cascade five years previously. He had camped there a number of times since finding it, allowing the peace of the place to relax him after some of the cases he worked, though never for more than twenty-four hours at a time - mid-day one day to mid-day the next, depending on his days off.
Reaching his clearing, he set up his tent near the stream that trickled down one side of it. He threw a rope over a convenient branch, attached the waterproof bag holding his food, pulled it ten feet into the air and fastened the rope to a convenient stump where he had carved a groove for the rope on his second visit to the place.
He had no real plans; he would, he decided, take each day as it came - but he would take the opportunity to explore the area for several miles around the clearing thoroughly; something he had never really had the time to do in his twenty-four-hour-at-a-time visits.
Turning to the tiny river, he began to follow it upstream.
Two weeks later, Simon Banks waited in vain for Jim Ellison to come to his office. When it was nearly noon, Banks went to Narcotics; there, Acting Captain Limbrey told him there had been no sign of Ellison that morning. It was enough to arouse some worry in Banks' mind, and he asked Patrol to send someone to Ellison's home to check on him.
There was no reply.
Remembering that Ellison had planned to camp in Cascade National Forest, Banks sent a note of the number of Ellison's truck to the park wardens, asking them if the truck was there. It was two days before he received a reply; yes, the truck was indeed there. The wardens were initiating a search because its driver was overdue - there was, after all, the possiblity that the missing man was injured.
It was another four days before the head warden contacted Banks; a tent had been found a few miles from the truck; a bag of mostly spoiled food was still hanging from a tree beside it. There was no sleeping bag in the tent. All the indications were that its owner had gone off several days previously, and simply failed to return. They suspected that the man had gone hiking, probably - because of the missing sleeping bag - intending to make a long day of it, spend the night wherever he had reached, returning the next day; and possibly fallen some distance away and been too badly hurt to make his way back. They would, of course, mount a search, but with nothing to indicate which direction the missing man had gone, he didn't hold out any great hope that they would find him.
As he put the phone down, Banks was aware of regret. He had liked Ellison.
Time to inform the next of kin... but when he checked Ellison's personnel record, it was to find no next of kin listed. Nobody to care if the man lived or died...
After thinking about it for a minute, Banks decided to take responsibility for Ellison's property. He arranged for the tent and its contents, and the truck, to be returned to the PD, where he had it parked in a corner of the garage, and personally went to Ellison's apartment, where an elderly neighbor admitted to having a key in case of emergencies. He checked the place, finding that while it had been left carefully locked and with nothing perishable in the fridge, there was also nothing to indicate that Ellison had simply decided to disappear - a passing thought that had occurred to Banks, although he was confident that the missing man would have returned long enough to give Banks his decision and work out his notice if he had indeed decided to quit.
But it was still too soon to assume that Ellison was dead. Banks locked everything up carefully and returned the key to the neighbor, asking her to send any mail that arrived to him at the PD, then went back to his office.
Dr. Blair Sandburg, professor of anthropology at Rainier University, straightened after hammering in his last tent peg, and looked around the small encampment, making sure that none of his students was having a problem. Not that he expected one; this was the fourth time he had taken this group out to give them some practical experience of living in tents, without any of the conveniences of urban living, and he could almost now call them old hands. He noted that the designated cooks were, without fuss, getting the bags of food hung onto branches, out of the reach of bears; two of the girls were already gathering dead wood for the cooking fire and one of the men had begun to erect the toilet tent just in sight of the camp. A heap of earth beside it showed where he had already dug a pit.
Yes; this group had taken to camping surprisingly easily, and when they went on their first actual expedition they would know exactly what they were doing.
Blair had inaugurated these camping trips two years previously, shortly after getting tenure, because he had long known just how unprepared many of the students were for living in the wilds. Some had camped with their families when they were children, but always in a designated camping site with a toilet block, washing facilities and often a games room; most didn't have even that much experience of life in the 'wilds'. And when they went on an anthropological expedition, although sometimes the tribes welcomed the visitors into their huts, it wasn't something they could depend on; and even when they were welcomed into huts, the tribes rarely had any sort of toilet provision; individuals usually ducked behind a convenient bush some yards from their village or where they were working, if indeed they sought privacy at all, knowing that the small creatures living in the leaf litter would dispose of the 'evidence' in a very few hours. This was as close as it was possible to get to conditions in the field, and it had already paid off. Students who were reasonably comfortable with roughing it, who had learned that the wild was not full of creatures desperate for a meal of human flesh (while taking precautions against those animals that were potentially dangerous, like bears) and were confident that they could manage without having a convenient MacDonalds half a block away, gained far more from expeditions than ones who barely knew which end of a tent peg went into the ground.
He grinned wryly to himself as he remembered one nineteen-year-old, a fellow student on the first expedition Blair himself had been on as a student. They hadn't been too far from civilization, dropped off from a wheeled vehicle so had been able to take a wider range of food than was often available. For some obscure reason known only to the organiser, they hadn't had a designated cook; each student had been responsible for feeding himself. Marty had stared helplessly at a can opener, looked at the can as if for inspiration, then turned to Blair, the only student nearby, to mutter plaintively, "How do you use this thing?" Certainly it had taken a little adjusting to fit it onto the can and operate it, and Blair had never learned who had selected that particular tool when there were plenty of simpler, more basic ones available. It was a clear measure of Marty's desperation that he had asked Blair, who at the time was only seventeen, for help. Blair - who had learned self-sufficiency at a very early age and, although he didn't say so, was more than surprised that anyone could reach nineteen without knowing how to do something as simple as open a can - showed him how to open it, and it had been the start of a lasting friendship. Marty was currently in Nepal, where he was studying the sherpas and the climbers who employed them, and looked set to remain there for at least another two years.
Actually, Blair's group wasn't too far from a designated campsite; before he started taking students wild camping, Blair had contacted the ranger service to explain what he wanted to do - where one or two people could camp wild without being a nuisance, his was too big a party. The rangers had agreed, as long as he wasn't more than a mile from a designated site. Since then he had always let them know where his camp would be, and he had formed a good rapport with the men who worked the area where he normally camped. He knew that this was because he was scrupulous about leaving a site as he found it - apart from some flattened grass, a few fire-blackened stones and rather less dead wood than there had been.
An hour later, their meal eaten and everything washed and put carefully away, the students gathered around Blair as he explained what they would be doing the next day. He had arranged with the rangers that a tent would be erected some distance from their camp - this was to simulate a tribal village, and they had to find it. He told them it was somewhere north of their present position - the only actual information he himself had - and allowed them to select one of their number as leader. He would follow them, but would not give them any help, unless it became obvious that they were totally lost. In the field they would normally have a local guide, but it did no harm to give them experience in route-finding; even local guides were sometimes less than totally reliable. He had given them a lecture on the subject earlier in the semester, but it was the first time he had done an exercise on it with this group. What he did not tell them was that he had in his pocket one piece of equipment he was quite certain none of them had although they had seen him using it in the past, a piece of equipment he was certain none of them had considered necessary to acquire for themselves, if only because they had expected him to lead them the way he had done on the three previous trips, when he gave them experience of hiking through pathless forest.
He had learned the value of always carrying a compass when he was off the beaten track nearly twenty years previously, when Naomi's then boyfriend took him camping, a thick fog had come down blanketing everything, cutting visibility to a few yards, and only the man's possession of a compass had allowed them to get safely back to their site.
As the students returned to their tents, Blair turned to his TA, who was learning how to organize and lead an expedition. "Molly? How do you think they'll manage?"
Molly watched the students for some minutes before she answered. "Lew's a natural leader, and he has plenty of confidence. I think they'll do all right. Why? What do you think?"
"I'm... not sure," Blair said. "Yes, Lew's a natural leader - I wasn't surprised when they picked him to lead. And yes, he's got confidence - but I suspect he's actually over-confident, and that could lead him into making mistakes. But if he is to make mistakes, this is the place for him to make them - not someplace in the Amazon rainforest. As long as he learns from them."
"You sound as if you're not too sure that he will."
Blair grinned. "Well, of course, he mightn't make any - but I think he's already made one - though he's not the only one to make that same mistake. And when he realizes it? Those very confident young men are often reluctant to admit that anything they do could be wrong. If a mistake has been made it has to be someone else's fault - they were given bad info, someone distracted them at the wrong moment..."
"That's a weakness, surely?"
"Yes, it is. A genuinely strong personality isn't afraid to admit to making a mistake, and will learn from it. I haven't quite made up my mind whether Lew is a genuinely strong personality or just a confident, but basically weak, one."
"So what's Lew already done that's wrong?"
Blair grinned. "Guess."
"I don't know."
"Think about it. But you'll see tomorrow, once we start moving." He fell silent for a moment, watching the students. Lew seemed to be giving them instructions for the morning. "And you'd be surprised how many people have the ability to lead, and lead well, but don't want to. Second in command is the height of their ambition. We've got two like that in this group, and I'm not sure that either of them wouldn't have been a better choice than Lew."
Molly looked back at the students, frowning as she considered them. "Michelle?" she asked at last.
"Yes. Now what makes them stand out as capable of leading?"
"Well... some of the others, especially the girls, seem to be consulting them, as if... as if they're not too happy with Lew as leader, but when Lew's name was put forward, nobody objected."
"There's still a perception that a man is the natural choice to lead," Blair said. "And in anthropology, on an expedition that's often the case; in a lot of tribal cultures, women are second-class citizens, unless they're shamen. You'll find that if you lead an expedition into someplace like the Amazon, you'll have to give the impression that you're a shaman if the tribes are to take you seriously."
Molly grinned. "Just as well I don't really want to go on any expeditions to the Amazon, then."
"Have you decided what specialty you want to follow?"
"I think I'm most interested in how people lived in the past," Molly said. "The everyday life of people in the stone age... and yes, I realize that studying some present-day tribes will give a lot of clues."
"Back to the Amazon again," Blair laughed.
Soon after, everyone began to retreat into their tents, and the group settled down for the night.
In accordance with his instructions to the students the previous day - Lew Coupar was their leader - Blair made no attempt to rouse the camp in the morning. However, Lew was taking his position seriously, and called the camp to wakefulness early - perhaps quarter of an hour later than Blair himself would have done, but still within what Blair called an acceptable time to start.
Breakfast was the last thing that went according to plan.
They were just finishing when two men in ranger uniforms entered the camp, and after a quick glance around, crossed straight to Blair.
"Doctor - "
"John?" One look at Ranger Thery's face as he approached had been enough to let Blair know something was wrong. "What's the problem?"
"There's a child missing from the campsite," Thery said. "A six-year-old. There are several children there this week, and late yesterday afternoon some of them went off together to play hide and seek in the forest. They weren't supposed to go far from the camp, and when they got back the oldest - a ten-year-old - insisted they hadn't. Anyway, an hour or so later... Apparently they hadn't been able to find young Denise Starling. They assumed she'd found somewhere really good to hide, so they called for her to come out, that she'd won, and when she didn't the ten-year-old took the rest of them back to the site, then took Mr. and Mrs. Starling and some of the other fathers to where they'd been, and right enough, it was only a couple of hundred yards from the camp. They searched till it was dark and when there wasn't any sign of the kid, they reported it. Most of the adults from the site are joining the search this morning - just a few of the mothers are staying behind to look after the other kids - and we wondered if your party would help as well."
"Yes, of course," Blair said. "Listen up, people - " He raised his voice. "Change of plan. There's a kid missing from the campsite - I've said we'll help the search. You've got five minutes to get ready." He turned back to Thery as the students scattered to their tents to put on hiking boots and anoraks and push candy bars and trail mix into their day packs. "You're organizing things from the site?"
"Yes. We hope to get started - " he glanced at his watch - "in about half an hour."
"We'll be with you in around twenty minutes," Blair said, as he turned to retrieve his boots. Thery nodded and the two rangers headed off.
The search was in a direction that went nowhere near their camp.
The line of searchers, each one about six feet from his - or her - neighbors on each side - moved steadily through the forest, holding as straight a direction as possible. Every so often they turned to check behind them in case the child had hidden somewhere that wasn't obvious as they passed it, but there was no sign of her. No sign at all, and they were getting further and further from the campsite.
Soon, surely, Thery would stop their advance, Blair thought; a six-year-old couldn't have come this far - even assuming she realized that the other children had gone, leaving her behind, and tried to make her own way back to the site, but actually moving away from it instead of towards it. The line was breaking up, too, because the ground was so uneven. Blair had moved a little ahead of the students to each side of him, his greater experience helping him maintain a steady pace where the students sometimes stumbled and hesitated as they scrambled over exposed roots.
Ahead of him, he saw a moving shadow; something dark that paused for a moment then moved away, disappearing behind a tree. Something else was moving there, and he speeded up.
The child sitting on the ground appeared to be unhurt. "Denise?" he asked softly, and unnecessarily. As she nodded, he turned and yelled, "Over here!"
Within moments they were surrounded by the searchers. The parents came running, to snatch up their daughter and cling to her.
At last things quieted down, and Mr. Starling asked, "What happened to you, Denise?"
"We were playing hide and seek. I found a really good hiding place, but then I fell asleep. When I woke up everyone else had gone, and I tried to get back, but I couldn't find the tents. Then it got dark, and I couldn't see anything, so I just curled up and went to sleep again. Then this morning after I woke up I started walking again, and a big hairy man found me. He carried me for a while, then he put me down and went away... but then the man with long hair came. He knew who I was. I don't think the hairy one did."
"What did he say to you?" Mrs. Starling asked.
"He didn't say anything at all."
"When you say he was hairy... " Thery said.
"He had hair all over, like a big monkey," Denise said.
"Sasquatch?" someone whispered.
"Most Sasquatch sightings are south of here, south of Seattle," someone else said.
"Doesn't mean one hasn't come this far north," the first voice muttered.
"But would a Sasquatch bother helping a human?" another voice asked.
"Well, it seems to be a primate, and adult primates usually do have a protective instinct where an obvious child is concerned," the first one replied.
Blair listened and, remembering the dark figure he had seen, wondered...
With the child found, uninjured and not even badly traumatized by her night spent in the forest, the searchers headed back. As they went, Blair checked his watch. The search and rescue had taken roughly two hours; another hour, possibly, to get back to the campsite, then they had to get back to their camp... There might be time to finish the planned exercise today, depending on how tired the students were. It would, however, be nearly four hours less time for them to find the 'native village' - Blair had planned to leave the search for it entirely in Lew's hands, not correcting any of his mistakes unless it became obvious that he wasn't going to find their target. Now, he decided, he would have to point out the need for a compass.
He dropped back to walk with Thery. "I want to finish our planned exercise if possible," he said softly, "but I need a hint for the students if they're to do it in half a day instead of a full day."
"Two degrees east of north, about a mile from your camp," Thery said, equally quietly. "You said it was the first time they'd done this. I didn't want to make it too difficult."
"Yeah - and that gives them a reasonable chance. Thanks."
"No, thank you. Having the extra bodies for the search... that let us lengthen the line. Without your party there, we might easily have missed the kid."
Blair was silent for a moment, then he said, "What do you make of her story about a 'hairy man'?"
"I'm not sure."
"I heard someone muttering 'Sasquatch'."
"I know Washington's had a fair number of sightings reported, probably more than any other state, but most of them are south or east of here. There have been a few sightings in Snohomish and King Counties this last two or three years, but none this far north since the mid eighties... until now. It's not the first time this year that a visitor's mentioned seeing a big hairy ape-like creature, always just a distant glimpse. This... The BFRO is going to be all over the place as soon as they hear about this one, which they will. Someone's bound to talk."
"None of the rangers have seen anything?" Blair asked.
"No, and that's the problem. Frankly, I'm hesitant to believe a 'sighting' by a visitor - even ones who do a fair amount of camping and hiking in the wild can be easily misled by the shape of a tree, or the way a shadow falls, into thinking it's a human-like shape. They take another step, the angle is different and then they recognize it as a tree or a shadow, but it doesn't stop them being sure they saw something that's now disappeared; or they don't realize what they see just disappearing into the bushes is the back of a bear that's been up on its hind legs getting berries. Those 'sightings' are genuine, in that the people reporting them do believe, or do know, they saw something, but they're not sightings of Bigfoot. And I don't believe any of the folk who say they've heard Bigfoot. Most of them have no idea what sound some animals or birds make.
"This kid, though... She can't have dreamed that someone helped her, but there are sometimes folk wild camping that we don't know about, and it might just have been one of those, a guy with a heavy beard, who was afraid that he might get into trouble for being in here without anyone knowing about him."
They went on in silence for two or three minutes. Finally, Blair said, "I have a month's vacation coming up. I was thinking of coming here, camping wild, to look for traces of prehistoric humans in the area."
Blair chuckled. "Well, finding Sasquatch would be a bonus, but no. I'm thinking more of signs that humans lived and worked in this area thousands of years ago, before the known tribal culture developed. There have been traces found in other parts of Washington, but I haven't been able to find anything written that's local to here. There are signs to the south, along the Skagit River, some finds at Lake Chelan, there have been a few things found further north in what is now British Columbia, but nothing from around here. Archaeology isn't my main interest, but historical anthropology - or prehistorical anthropology - needs archaeology if we're to form any kind of reasonable hypotheses about how early man lived, and if I found anything I could get a paper, or at least an article, out of it. It's worth a month of my time. If I don't find anything, well, at least I'll have had a healthy vacation out of it. I don't really get enough exercise - too much to do, preparing lectures, grading essays and exams... and if I'm honest, I don't expect to find anything; I'm using this 'search' as an excuse to have a healthy vacation. If I stay in Cascade, I'll end up going in to Rainier most days."
"You'll be alone?" When Blair nodded, Thery went on, "Bring a cell phone, and report in every night. We're keeping a closer eye on wild campers, especially single ones - the ones we know about - than we used to."
"Yup. About a year ago, a Cascade cop disappeared without trace a few miles from here. The alarm was raised when he didn't report back to work. We found his truck, hell, we found what had to have been his camp, but there was no sign of him or some of his gear. Looked as if he might have gone further afield for a day or two without his tent, and never got back to it. He could have had an accident the first day - that would have been two weeks before he was reported missing, and died long before we started looking for him. If he'd been in touch with us every day, we'd have known right away, and might have found him in time."
"You never found a body?"
Thery shook his head. "No. The boys keep an eye out, any time they're in that general area, but... Didn't you hear about it at the time?"
"No... but last year, about this time, I was in Borneo - we were there six months. Arrived back just in time for the start of the academic year, and wasn't that fun - first there was trying to get the work for new classes organized in just two days - even when you've covered the ground in previous years, every class is slightly different. Okay, you know the second and third year classes, but not the freshmen. Then there was writing up the material on Borneo, both an official report and trying to get something put together to submit to a magazine. I hadn't kept on my apartment - thought it was a waste of money to keep it on, standing empty - so I had to find somewhere to stay. While living in a motel is fine for a few days, it's not something anyone can afford to do long-term unless they have a seriously high income. But finding someplace affordable isn't easy in a university town just at the start of the semester. All the reasonably-priced, reasonable-quality places have gone, and you either pay something extortionate or settle for a slum. Couldn't afford extortionate, and ended up in very temporary accommodation in a warehouse - had a never-ending battle with rats the size of terriers, and finally found a reasonable place just before Christmas. Taught me a lesson, though; even if I'm away on an expedition, it's worth paying the money to keep a decent apartment."
When the students returned to their camp, Blair called them together. "Right, everyone. We have two options here. We've lost four hours of our day. Now I for one don't grudge that - what we did today was well worth while, and Mr. and Mrs. Starling are more than grateful to everyone who joined the search for Denise. I'm proud of all of you.
"The first thing we can do is begin our planned exercise now - to help compensate for the shorter day, I got a little information on direction and distance from Ranger Thery. Or we can abandon the exercise - you've had a good productive day already. We covered a fair distance, and the search found the missing child."
Almost instantly, Lew said, "I'd like to try to finish the exercise."
In the ensuing brief silence, Blair glanced at Michelle and Vina, standing together just about as far from Lew as they could get, and knew that they didn't altogether trust the young man's judgement.
"I'm a little tired. How long is it likely to take us?" Vina asked, directing her question at Blair, and he knew she was speaking for everyone except Lew.
It was the question that, under the circumstances, Lew should have asked. "I can tell you that our objective is only about a mile from here," Blair said.
"I could manage that, so I'd agree with Lew," she said, and Blair mentally gave her points for reminding everyone that Lew was their chosen leader, while making it appear that, in hesitating, she had been speaking only for herself. "It would be nice to finish the exercise."
There was a general murmur of agreement.
"All right," Blair said. "We already knew the direction was north of here - Lew, it's all yours." He stepped back to join Molly.
Lew looked around the group. "Which way is north?" he asked, and Blair grinned. It was clear to him that Lew didn't know, and was trying to cover the fact by seeming to take on the role of a teacher.
"He's asking them, but does he know?" Molly whispered.
"I'd lay odds that he doesn't," Blair murmured, "but I give him an A for covering his ass."
"The sun's over there, so I think north is that way," someone suggested, pointing.
"Good answer," Molly said.
"Only definitive around mid-day," Blair replied, "unless you've grown up using the sun as a guide to time and direction."
"But it is mid-day," Molly replied, "just after, anyway."
"We should see which side of the trees has moss," Michelle said, cutting off whatever answer Blair would have made. "Moss grows on the north side of trees."
"Yes," Lew said. "The sun moves, but the north side of the trees will always have moss."
Blair glanced at Molly, "Comment?"
"I'm... not sure," Molly said. "Did he actually know that, or is he believing it because Michelle said so?
"It was covered in a lecture," Blair admitted as Lew crossed to the nearest tree and examined it. "But don't you think that even though he didn't know he'd be elected the leader of this little jaunt, he should have thought to bring a compass?"
Molly stared at him. "That was his mistake?"
"But... we all thought you were to be leading."
"Exactly. But what if, on a real expedition, I'd been - oh, killed by a lion and dragged off to feed the family? Or fallen into a flooded river, and my body either carried away or grabbed by a crocodile? My compass is in my pocket, so it's lost to the group. What do you do? Everyone on an expedition, even a trip like this, should have his or her own compass and to some extent do their own routefinding. Doesn't have to be an expensive one. I've seen tiny ones as keyring fobs, and you know how cheap keyrings are. All they'll give you is basic north east south and west, but that could be enough to get you to safety."
"But you never said anything about compasses when you were telling us what we'd need - "
"I've never specified anything like flashlights either, but two or three people always think to bring one. Molly, you know I like people to think for themselves. I've covered things like route-finding, mostly in emergencies; but compasses aren't exactly esoteric mysteries known only to a secretive priesthood. I expect people to realize that the best method of route-finding isn't which side of a tree moss grows on, though that's a handy guide in an emergency, but to have with them a tool that's intended for the job. And that'll be covered when we discuss this trip, once we're back at Rainier."
"This way," Lew said, and set off. The others scurried to catch up.
Blair slipped his compass out of his pocket, and checked the direction. "Not bad," he said. "They're headed pretty well due north, but the question is, can they hold that line?"
He let the students get about fifty yards ahead, then followed, Molly at his side.
"How will they know when they've gone a mile?" Molly asked.
"Will you know?" Blair asked.
"I think so," she replied, though she didn't sound certain. She dropped behind him as they followed the students through the trees.
They found the tent reasonably quickly, although it was, Blair judged, more by luck and Michelle's route-finding than Lew's leadership; she kept them on a steady northwards line that, by chance, veered ever so slightly towards the east. It made the exercise a success, but didn't, in Blair's opinion, demonstrate that Lew had any great leadership abilities. On the other hand, he had been willing to accept and use Michelle's strengths. Blair decided that he would wait and see if Lew tried to take all the credit before marking the group on the exercise.
In accordance with the arrangement he had made with Thery, Blair directed the students to pack up the tent; they would leave it at the campsite office when they left in the morning. Then he let the students lead the way back to their camp.
Once again, he noticed, it was Michelle who found their route, although Lew was walking close beside her. When they arrived back, Blair simply called out, "Well done, everyone!" and waited to see what they would do. He was gratified to see that, without waiting to be told, the designated cooks were immediately beginning to organize a meal.
He wondered if they would realize for themselves what might have gone wrong, once they were back at Rainier and discussing the weekend.
But, on the whole, he thought this group of students would do well on a proper expedition.
Mid-morning on Saturday, two weeks later, saw Blair arriving back at the same parking lot. It was quite full, but he found a parking space almost as far from the path into the site as it was possible to be. Shouldering his rucksack, he set off up the path that led the few dozen yards to the campsite.
He reported in, leaving a note of the area he planned to be in, then paused for a moment as he left the site office, looking around.
The site was surprisingly crowded - but of course this was further into the busy season than his previous visit. There was some turnover obvious, with some people packing up, while, early though he was, others had clearly arrived even earlier that morning and were still occupied pitching tents.
He watched for a moment, then continued around the edge of the camp and headed into the trees.
Despite his words to Thery about not getting enough exercise, Blair was reasonably fit. Checking his compass, he made good time as he headed towards the area where they had found young Denise Starling. He hadn't taken the mutters of 'Sasquatch' seriously, but he did remember the shadow he had seen, and he wondered about it. Just who had helped young Denise Starling? And although he had been serious in his declared objective of looking for traces of early occupation of the area, even temporary occupation, he knew that without the lure of that evasive shadow, he wouldn't have devoted time to looking for any equally evasive signs of ten-thousand-year-old occupation of the land.
It was believed that early man, or at least one wave of them, coming into the Americas from Asia via a land bridge, were hunters following large prey like mammoths, then instead of going home again, carried further on into this new land, making it their new home; and geologists had found chert in what was now northern Washington. More brittle than flint, it was nevertheless a useful resource, one of several alternatives to flint that stone age man had exploited; the deposits showed signs of having been quarried, and it made sense that at least some of the incomers had stayed where there was a good supply of tool-making stone, trading the stone knives, the arrow and spear heads they made, for food and skins.
His best bet for finding signs of early occupation, he knew, would be to find one of those chert deposits, or just maybe one of obsidian, although the nearest obsidian deposits he knew of were a fair distance north of his present position. But to find exposed rock of any description, he would have to climb fairly high.
At least these mountains, rising to eight thousand feet, weren't, in Blair's opinion, as high as they might be; although he admitted to himself that it wasn't fair to compare them to the mountains of Nepal, where he had lived for nearly a year when he was ten.
Without the delays caused by making sure the ground he passed was properly searched, he soon passed the area where they had found Denise. He was gaining height slowly but steadily as he followed one of the valleys that cut into the mountains.
Coming to a point where the trees opened out into a clearing beside a small stream, he paused, appreciating the panorama that opened out both before him and behind him. He slipped his rucksack off while he took photos of the valley in both directions, then, about to lift it again, he changed his mind. It was still only late afternoon; he could, he knew, easily cover two or three more miles before he stopped for the night, but something about this spot tempted him, and he had no timetable to maintain.
He had chosen not to carry a tent; instead, he had packed a large lightweight tarpaulin and a length of thin rope. He fastened the rope between two trees and slung the tarp over it, pulling the sides taut and fastening them fairly low. He rolled out his foam mattress and laid his sleeping bag over it. A few minutes was enough to let him gather some fallen branches to provide 'walls' for the open sides, carefully tucking some of them under the tarpaulin roof. He cleared a circle of ground to use as a fireplace, and laid stones from the stream around the edge of it; lit a small fire, then as he heated water for a meal - he was carrying mostly packets of dry food, pasta and instant soup, which he planned to use mostly as a supplement to anything he could catch or gather, but for this evening he decided to be lazy, and eat from his supplies.
While the water heated, he slung a rope over a convenient branch, and hoisted his bag of food high, keeping out only what he wanted for his meal. He suspected that bears wouldn't find dry packeted food particularly attractive, but he preferred not to take the chance that one might. Then he dialled the rangers' number, and reported in.
It was still dark when he was wakened by the sound of heavy rain hitting the tarp. He lay for some minutes listening to it, then rolled over and buried his head in his sleeping bag. With the sound muffled, he quickly fell asleep again.
When he woke again it was daylight, but when he looked out it was to see a grey, overcast morning with fingers of mist entwining the trees both up and down the valley. It was still raining, but now it was a fine rain that no longer bounced off his shelter; though when he glanced at one side, squinting to see past the branches he had piled there, it was to see water dripping steadily off the edge of the tarp. This was not a good start to his vacation, he decided.
Well, he reminded himself, he had no timetable to maintain. Apart from one quick rush to retrieve food for the day and any necessary comfort trips, he could stay under cover. Sitting up, he scrabbled in his pack for a towel, then wriggled out of his sleeping bag and, naked apart from the boots he pulled on to protect his feet, he moved quickly over to his food store, lowered it, took out what he wanted for the day, and hoisted the waterproof bag high again. He fastened the rope and returned to his shelter, put the food inside it, and went some yards into the trees to relieve himself. Returning to the stream, he washed, deciding on this wet morning not to shave, collected a pan of water and went back to the shelter. He hesitated for a moment, then took his camera from the pack to get one or two photos to contrast with the ones from the previous afternoon. Then he kicked off his boots, dried himself, and slipped back into his sleeping bag.
He wasn't particularly hungry, but he nibbled an energy bar and drank a mug of water, savoring its unchlorinated sweetness, before taking a notebook and pencil from a side pocket of his rucksack. He sat up, leaning back against his pack, and opened the notebook. On the back page he recorded the photos he had taken; turning to the front he put down the previous day's date, then began to write down his thoughts and observations from it. These would probably be redundant when he came to write up an article on the trip - if indeed he found anything worth writing about - but he had learned in the past that a passing thought sometimes led to some deeper insight. Instead of doing it the previous evening he had explored the forest around his camp, returning to his shelter only when the light began to fade; today he had time.
The rain stopped around mid-morning and over the next hour the clouds lifted quite considerably, although the sky remained more than half covered by them. Finishing his notes, he dressed and went 'outside'. The air smelled fresh and green - he grinned at the whimsy, and checked the tarpaulin. It was still damp; another hour, he thought, and it would be dry enough to pack. He retrieved some dry sticks from under it and lit his fire; he could eat while he waited.
Once he decided the tarpaulin was reasonably dry, it didn't take Blair long to break camp. He retrieved his bag of food, packed his rucksack, made triply sure that his fire was completely out and there were no warm twigs left that a capricious wind might blow into flame, returned the stones to the stream, and moved on. Instead of following the valley deeper into the mountains, however, he turned his back on the valley bottom and cut up the side at a much sharper angle, his pace slowing considerably as the terrain became steeper.
Some two hours later, when he estimated that he was close to the treeline, he paused and sat on a convenient boulder, breathing deeply. Not that he was panting breathlessly; he had paced himself too well for that, but he was beginning - just - to feel the effects of the altitude.
He sat for a few minutes, then moved on.
About half an hour later, he found another stream running through a welcoming clearing, and paused again. He was tempted to stop, rather than continuing - he could, he estimated, easily carry on for another hour. Well, as he had reminded himself the previous evening - he had no timetable to maintain.
Although still beautiful, the view from here wasn't quite as spectacular as the one the previous night, partly because much of it was hidden by the tops of trees; there wasn't a clear line of sight either up or down the valley. Once again, however, he took a picture each way before pulling the tarpaulin out of his rucksack.
The slope was steeper here than at his previous stop - the one downside to the site - but even so he set up his camp quickly, piling some branches to give himself a more-or-less-level bed, and as he boiled water to reconstitute a packet of soup he make the obligatory phone call to the rangers. Switching off the phone to save battery power, he pulled out his notebook and pencil, recorded the photos, then turned again to the front of the book, wrote the date - he had a suspicion that in the timelessness of the mountains he would need this day-by-day record to keep track of the exact passage of time - then began to commit his thoughts and feelings to the blank page.
Although he slept well enough, his bed wasn't particularly comfortable, and as he packed everything away in the morning he knew he had to find a more level site for what he hoped would be a semi-permanent camp some time in the next day or two; somewhere that would be comfortable to remain for several nights while he explored the territory for several miles around.
He didn't really want to go much higher for his base camp, so he carried on towards the head of the valley, carefully not trying to gain any additional height. The sun was beating down, and it was very hot - the first day he had been walking in the shade of thick trees for much of the time, the second had been kept from getting too warm by the clouds and the breeze that had blown steadily for much of the day. On this third day the clouds had cleared and the wind dropped completely. It was a beautiful day - but he knew that if the sky stayed clear, at this altitude it would probably get surprisingly cold as the light began to fade.
Much to his surprise, he came on a perfect campsite early in the afternoon. It was just too far from his second camp for him to have reached it the previous day, and as he studied the spot, it seemed ideal.
It looked as if, long ago, something had dammed a small stream, letting sediment settle for many years until whatever-it-was had collapsed - it might even have been a small ice dam melting at the end of the Ice Age, he reflected. Now the stream ran through a flat... he could almost call it a hanging valley, he decided, although it was only about ten yards deep by around six across. At the edge of the flat ground, the stream tumbled down the hillside in a cascade of tiny waterfalls, disappearing among the trees a few hundred feet below him.
Even as close as he was to the edge of the treeline there were only a few stunted trees, but the little... well, ex-dam offered shelter and probably rather deeper soil than the surrounding hillside, and the five trees growing in it stood taller and straighter than their less fortunate neighbors. Blair wasted no time in getting his camp set up. He had to go a little further afield to gather dead wood, and he spent much of the afternoon collecting a reasonable stock of it, much of which he stashed around and under the edges of the tarpaulin shelter. After the rain, most of it was wet, but it was all surface moisture, not the wet of green wood, so it would burn perfectly well. There were pockets of dried, dead pine needles in sheltered crannies, and he gathered a bagful of them for kindling.
It was nearly seven before he was satisfied that his camp was properly established, a safe fireplace built, and his stock of wood adequate for possibly a week. He would almost certainly have to collect more pine needles and possibly more wood, but for three or four days he could forget about that and spend his time exploring the slope above him, as well as investigating the ridge, as he searched for any traces of the activities of early man.
He made the necessary phone call, took a few photos, then lit a fire and settled down to his routine of writing up a journal while the water for his meal heated.
On the second day of searching, he found a vein of chert. He was far from being an expert on the often subtle marks that showed where stone had been worked, but the vein looked to be untouched by human hand. Some pieces, broken off the exposed rock, lay on the ground beneath it; he studied them carefully, but could see nothing to indicate that anything other than natural weathering had broken them off the face.
A thin layer of broken pieces of mostly chert covered the ground for some distance below the bare rock, and at one point some eight yards downhill from it, a deposit of small pieces was held back by a big boulder. Blair picked up several, looking at them carefully. Debitage, or caused by natural forces? He was far from sure. Taking a small self-sealing plastic bag from his pocket, he gathered up a big handful of the chert fragments. He would take these to his friend Barry in Archaeology when he returned to Cascade. Barry would know if any of these pieces were the small flakes discarded when stone tools were made.
He made a careful note of the position of the vein and the boulder where he had retrieved the pieces, took several photos of the main vein and the pocket of chert fragments, and headed back towards his camp.
As he went, he considered his next move. He had planned to use his supply of dried food to augment what he could catch and gather, but this high up the mountain he had found nothing edible, nor had he seen any small animals that he could trap, and he was using his supplies faster than he liked. It made sense to lose altitude, although he could still go further up the valley; there was a strong likelihood that stone age hunters venturing into the mountains would stay in the valley bottoms, where game was more plentiful, for much of the time.
Yes; that was a decision made. He would move to lower ground, and it was early enough that he could pack up as soon as he reached his camp and cover several downhill miles before stopping again. He might find a good site where he could stay for several days, he might have to move on again in the morning, looking for somewhere better. But hey, that was part of the fun of it! He reminded himself that if he found nothing, it was still a restful vacation, demanding nothing but what he cared to do.
Camping lower down would mean he took longer to climb to the levels where he expected to find bare rock that might have veins of workable stone... but on the other hand, if he made his way to the head of the valley, he might find signs of past occupation there.
He wasted very little time returning to the camp, and within quarter of an hour had packed up. As he shouldered his rucksack, he looked around the site with a touch of regret. It was such a perfect spot; pity it wasn't three thousand feet lower. Then he turned and headed downhill, angling his descent so that he was travelling towards the head of the valley as well as losing height.
Well aware that, although the rangers had a fair idea of where he was, he was on his own, Blair took no chances as he went. After about five miles and a couple of hours, he noticed that the ground ahead of him showed signs of a recent landslide. He slowed his pace considerably, approaching it cautiously.
It was far from being a major slide; the rain of five nights earlier had probably loosened some soil on the banks of one of the small streams that ran down the valley sides and, probably that same night, the soil had been washed downhill for a matter of a hundred yards or so.
He frowned as he looked down the line of the slide; at the bottom of it was a dark shape. Had a bear, perhaps, been caught in the slide? It might be worth a look; it would be merciful to put a badly injured animal out of its misery. He scrambled down the side of the raw scar, and approached the furry shape cautiously.
Even from a distance he could see that although its head and shoulders were clear, the rest of its body was covered with a layer of mud and stone. Then as he got nearer, he realized that it was a man whose hair and beard were long and untrimmed, and who was wearing a sort of jacket that appeared to be made from the skin of an animal. With a gasp, he ran the last few yards, and dropped to his knees beside the body.
As he did, the man raised his head and looked towards him.
"How badly are you hurt?" Blair asked.
"I don't... think... badly." The voice was hoarse. Blair slipped out of his rucksack, and retrieved a cup; he filled it with water, and held it to the man's lips. He drank surprisingly carefully and quite slowly; Blair, who had been ready to pull the cup away rather than let him make himself sick by drinking too fast, found himself impressed by the man's self-control. When the cup was empty, the trapped man murmured, "Thanks," then carried on speaking more easily. "I don't think I'm badly hurt, but I'm stuck; the stuff on top of me isn't all that heavy, but I can't get enough purchase to pull myself clear."
"How long have you been trapped?" Blair asked as he began to dig, using one of his two small pots as a spade.
"This... I think this is the third day." He was silent for a moment, then added, "I didn't expect anyone to find me."
"Nobody knew where you were?"
Blair dug on for some time before saying, "I think I ought to call the rangers - they can get a helicopter out here, get you dug out faster, then taken to the hospital for a check-up."
"No!" It was a sharp exclamation, and Blair hesitated for a moment before carrying on digging.
"You're not, like, a criminal escaping from justice?" Even as he spoke, Blair knew that if this man was a criminal escaping from justice, he certainly wouldn't admit it.
"No." The man was silent for a moment before saying, "Let's just say I have a good reason for not wanting any contact with people. Every now and then I try... but I always have to retreat."
Blair registered the hopeless note in the resigned voice.
"Was it you who found a child lost in the forest a few weeks ago? Took her to where the search party was?"
"How do you know that?" For the first time there was almost some animation in the man's voice.
"I caught just a glimpse of you... and Denise said a big hairy man helped her." Another memory surfaced. "You... you wouldn't be the Cascade cop who disappeared a year ago, by any chance?"
"Oh. You know about that."
"Ranger Thery told me. What happened, man? You must have been pretty desperate about something to just vanish like that."
"I thought I was going mad," he said.
Blair dug in silence for some minutes. "And now?" he asked gently.
"Now? I don't know. I'm all right as long as I stay away from people. But in general... people are so loud... and have you any idea of how nasty a sweating human smells?"
"Have to admit I've met one or two I wouldn't like to share an elevator with," Blair said, a smile in his voice. "But if you find the smell of human sweat nasty, I hate to think of how bad I must smell to you right now. 'Course, I'm digging you out... it's probably worth putting up with the stink."
The cop - ex-cop would be more accurate, passed through Blair's mind - said slowly, "No... No, you don't. Yes, I can smell your sweat, but it doesn't bother me; it's not pleasant, but it's not unpleasant. And your voice... it doesn't stab into my brain the way almost everyone else's does... that is, the times I've gone near one of the campsites, or seen any of the rangers."
"Do you know they were looking for you? They're still keeping an eye open for your body."
"Oh." After a moment, he continued. "I've been trying to stay out of their sight. Maybe you could tell them you found me, I'm okay, but want to stay out here."
"And the next time you're caught in a landslide? You lie here for three, four days until you die of thirst? I don't think you'd have lasted much longer if I hadn't found you."
"Maybe it would be better if I did." The hopeless note was back in his voice.
Blair put down his now slightly battered pot. "I've got a lot of the earth off you; let's see if I can pull you out." He caught the man under the arms and pulled. Nothing happened for a moment, and then he felt the man shift; he managed one step backwards, then two, and then the man's body came free and Blair fell backwards, the muddy figure on top of him.
The man rolled over and sat up; Blair also pushed himself into a sitting position, and grinned. "Blair Sandburg," he introduced himself.
"How do you feel now you're out of that little hole?"
"I don't know whether to feel grateful that you came along, or sorry that you weren't a day later," Jim said, and the desolation in his voice stabbed Blair.
Nobody, he thought, should ever have to feel like that.
Jim looked up the mountain. "I'd better move. I've a fair way to go to get to my shelter," he said.
"Jim! You can't!" Blair said. "You've been lying there for several days unable to move, you haven't eaten, you're still dehydrated - that one mug of water helped, but you need to drink a lot more. You can't go off on your own!"
"In case you've forgotten, Chief, I've been on my own for a year."
"Yes, but not... Look, stay with me tonight, at least. I don't have a brilliant stock of food, but I can at least give you a meal - and if you get a good night's sleep, you can think about heading off tomorrow - though I wish you wouldn't."
"Where are you camped?"
Blair glanced around. There was a promising-looking spot about fifty yards away - he nodded towards it. "Over there," he said.
Jim pushed himself upright, took a step, and almost fell again. Only Blair's quick move to catch him kept him on his feet. "Still think you can go off on your own?" Blair asked sardonically.
"Looks like I can't," Jim admitted.
Blair helped him over to the small area of level ground that he had seen, noting that he was limping slightly, and lowered him into a sitting position. "Just relax. This won't take long."
Jim watched in some awe as Blair fastened his rope to two trees and within a few minutes had his tarpaulin thrown over it and fastened.
"Lighter to carry than a tent, and as effective as one," Blair said as he worked. "Even during that rain five days ago, I was perfectly dry under this." A few more minutes saw him with a fireplace built. "Getting firewood takes a little longer," he admitted. It didn't, however, take him very long to gather enough wood for a fire. He went back to the stream, filled both pots with water, and set them beside the fire. While the water heated, he unrolled his foam mattress and unzipped his sleeping bag. "This will cover both of us," he said cheerfully. He threw a quick glance at his guest. "Those clothes will take some cleaning - do you have any more at your shelter?" He deliberately used the same word that Jim had.
"Yes... but... " He sighed. "You're right, Chief; there's no way I'll be able to get to it till I recover a bit. I'm going to be stiff for days."
"All right. I've got some spare clothes - the pants'll be a bit short in the leg, but I think everything else should fit. Something for your feet will be awkward, though. But if you tell me where the shelter is, I can probably find it tomorrow and get some of your own things." He looked thoughtful. "It might be possible to wash the mud out of what you're wearing, but not here; we'll need a lot more water than I can get into those pots. If there was a pool in the stream, instead of it just carrying on running downhill... " He broke a packet of instant noodles into one pot, and added several strips of dried chicken. "Oh - I have a phone call to make - "
"You're not going to tell anyone about me - ?" The anxiety in Jim's voice sent a shiver down Blair's spine.
"Not yet," Blair said. "You said you had a good reason to go missing; I respect that, but I would like to know a little more... because I think I could maybe help you." He dialled the ranger number. "Hi, John, it's Blair. I've moved downhill a couple of thousand feet, and I'm nearer the head of the valley than I was... No, I don't think I'm going to find much up there. I'm still hoping to find some signs of settlement, but I'm going to start concentrating on the lower slopes. I'll probably stay at this site for another couple of days. It does occur to me, though, that if I move nearer the head of the valley, I might not be able to get a signal, so if I miss one night, don't worry; I'll go a bit higher the next morning until I do get a signal... Okay. You too. 'Night." As he switched the phone off, he grinned at Jim. "I've actually got you to thank for having to report in every night."
"Since you went missing, they're keeping a closer eye on solitary campers."
"Now, while dinner is cooking - let's get you out of those muddy clothes. Make them yourself?"
"Yes," Jim said. "I learned how to work skins when I was in Peru - "
"Peru? You're that Ellison?"
Was that a touch of defensiveness in your voice? Blair wondered. Time to surprise the man with a reaction he probably didn't expect. "I envy you, living with the Chopek for so long. I've been on expeditions where we lived with the indigenous tribesfolk, but never for more than two or three months; and we were always regarded as being... well, outsiders, even by the most hospitable tribes. As far as I could tell from the reports, you were accepted into the tribe."
Jim shrugged. "Their shaman took a liking to me."
He had no idea just what that told the anthropologist. Blair remained silent, however, as he helped Jim out of the muddy garments. Under them, his skin was streaked in places with mud. Blair took a T-shirt out of his plastic bag of 'to be washed' clothes, dipped it into the warm water of the second pot - the one he had used as a shovel - and began to wipe the mud off Jim's body. "I think we can trim that hair and beard of yours, too," he said offhandedly, making it sound like no big deal. "I bet all that loose hair is annoying you."
"A bit," Jim admitted, "but I've nothing to cut them with - and even if I did, I don't have a mirror."
"Okay. I'll do that after we eat," Blair said. He dried Jim with another T-shirt. "Your clothes need washed, and I'll need to get some things washed in a day or two as well," he said. "I can see a trip down to the river in my fairly immediate future."
Jim struggled into the clothes Blair handed to him, finding that the smaller man's assessment had been right. The T-shirt fitted perfectly; the jeans fitted fine around waist and hips, but were short in the leg. Not that he cared; it was enough to be dry and clean... and warm.
Blair served a little more than half of the noodle-chicken mix onto his plate and handed it and a fork to Jim. "Just the one plate, I'm afraid, but I can eat out of the pot." Which he did, using the spoon.
Because of the time it had taken to clean Jim, the noodles were perhaps rather over-cooked, but Blair was too hungry to worry about it and Jim was far too hungry to care. In addition, Blair decided, having them over-cooked was probably kinder on Jim's stomach, which after three days without food shouldn't really have to deal with al dente pasta.
"I do miss things like pasta," Jim said as he finished. "My diet these days is about 95% protein - mostly meat and some fish."
"You need to watch out for scurvy," Blair said seriously.
"I know - that's why I do gather what edible greenery I can."
Blair washed the dishes and returned to the camp with a half-full pot of water. He had a lot to put in his journal... though much of what he had done that day was far from being apropos to the study he was supposed to be doing. As he put the water on to heat, Jim said, "What brings you out here, Chief?"
"I'm an anthropologist," Blair said, "attached to Rainier University. There have been some studies done on the very early settlers in the Americas - mostly they're supposed to have come across a land bridge from Asia, possibly following the animals they hunted, then eventually worked their way right down to Patagonia. I decided to spend a month this summer investigating the mountains here, to see if I could find any traces of those early nomads - there have been some recent finds of worked stone both north and south of here, but none in this immediate area. So far it's been a bit of a bust; I found some chert, but I've got no idea if it's been worked - I'll get one of the archaeologists at Rainier to look over the samples I collected." He grinned. "God, I've had a full day! I found the chert this morning, then decided to shift camp and see if there was anything along the valley floor... and found you."
"So you're a student?"
"Huh? I'm sorry, Chief, but you don't look nearly old enough - "
Blair grinned. "Story of my life, Jim. I'm twenty-eight; got my doctorate in anthropology six years ago."
"When you were just twenty-two? You must be brilliant!"
"Nah, I wouldn't say that." Blair dug into his pack and pulled out a comb and scissors. "Come on, let's get some of that hair off you. I do know what I'm doing - well, at apprentice level. I worked part-time at a barber's shop one year." As he began trimming the beard, he went on. "Circumstances helped me a lot. You try being the only child in a gathering of adults; if you sit quietly in a corner with a book, they forget you're there, and it's amazing how much you can hear and learn. I went to Rainier when I was sixteen, and the age gap... well, it was uncrossable. The other freshmen were mostly eighteen, though one or two were older; if they went out, say to Club Doom, they were all trying to look legal. Having a just-sixteen-year-old who looked about fourteen with them... it would have made the doorman and the barman look three times at the others, even the ones that were legal. So all that was left for me to do at night was study - luckily I always enjoyed learning. Oh, I'd no problems with the other freshmen, even got friendly with one or two despite the age thing, but even they didn't want to socialize with me till I was over eighteen.
"And frankly, even after I was legal age, I still looked too young, and while I could prove I was legal, having to do it every time pissed me off so much I still didn't go out much.
"Jobs in anthropology aren't always that easy to find, especially in a field that interests you, so after I got my Masters it was easiest to stay on at Rainier and go for my doctorate." He chuckled. "Used 'the problems of youth in an advanced culture' for my dissertation, leaning a lot on personal experience and comparing the way I was treated in America with the way I'd been treated in places like India, where I was regarded as able to hold down an adult job at an age when it would have been illegal for anyone to employ me in America. 'Course, I had to make it more impersonal than that, but it's amazing how much personal stuff you can generalize when you're using thesis-speak."
With the beard trimmed short, he turned his attention to the hair. "You must have had a pretty serious problem if just disappearing, living totally alone with no human contact, surviving on what you could hunt and gather, seemed your best option."
For some moments he thought Jim wasn't going to answer. "You'll find this impossible to believe," he said at last. "I don't believe it, and it happened to me."
"Try me," Blair said encouragingly. "I've seen a lot of strange things over the years. In any case, sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
"Huh? You've lost me, Chief."
Blair grinned. "Alice Through the Looking Glass?"
"I've heard of it."
"But never read it? Actually, I don't blame you. It's a bit weird. I only read it because there was nothing else available at the time. Anyway, in it the Red Queen tells Alice that sometimes she believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Actually, that bit did make me think. And some of the things I've seen have definitely taught me that truth can often be stranger than fiction. Fiction is usually expected to make sense; real life often doesn't. So - try me."
"Sometimes I'm not sure how much I'm imagining, and how much actually happened... I don't remember much about my time in Peru, but sometimes a half memory seems to surface and there's a similarity to what happened to me a year ago... "
Blair clipped carefully around one ear as he gave an encouraging, "Mmm?"
"You know I was a cop. I'd just had a bad experience - two of us were being framed by a pair of dirty cops - senior ones, one of them my immediate boss, one the other guy's boss. The details don't matter, but IA had been watching and they were brought down. Anyway, because of what happened, I felt I had to think quite seriously about whether I wanted to stay with the police or move on to something else." He fell silent again.
"I can understand that," Blair said.
"I had the chance of a change of department, and the guy who would be my boss there was a good man. I'd a vacation coming up; told him I wanted to think about my future, and came out here where there wouldn't be any distractions. Ten days into the vacation, I'd pretty well made up my mind to take Banks up on his offer of a transfer to Major Crime... and then... "
"Yes?" Blair encouraged as he trimmed around the other ear.
"This is a national forest," Jim said. "I didn't think planes were allowed to fly low over them. But a couple of jets flew over, couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred feet up, that had to be very close to my camp although I didn't see them. The sound... I blacked out for a while. When I came round, I'd lost several hours. Then I heard voices approaching, and they were so loud... and somehow I knew they were still at least quarter of a mile away... I knew then I couldn't go back, that I'd never be able to handle the noises in Cascade. I thought I was going mad, and to save what was left of my sanity, I couldn't go back. I grabbed up what I could shove into my pack before the people coming got too close, just left the tent and got the hell away, deeper into the forest."
"You said you could smell people too?"
"Yes. And animals, but they usually don't smell too bad. Human sweat is pretty unpleasant once it gets stale."
Blair nodded slowly. "What about sight? Can you see really well?"
"Sometimes... if I come on an animal that's been dead for a while, I think I can see bacteria. But that has to be imagination."
"Not necessarily," Blair said. "What about taste and touch?"
"They're not too bad," Jim said. "I can taste if something's going off, so that's at least useful. Touch? Not really, though if I'm climbing something I don't have any problems finding handholds."
"Mmm. Out here, you probably wouldn't need touch as badly as the others," Blair said thoughtfully.
"You're being... very matter-of-fact about it," Jim said.
"I did my Masters' thesis on sentinels," Blair said as he put down the scissors. The water was boiling, and he pulled the pot away from the fire. "Coffee? Just instant, I'm afraid - out here, it's easier than ground. Obviously I don't have any milk, and whitener is just added bulk to carry."
"Black's fine," Jim murmured. "Thanks."
Blair spooned coffee powder into his mug and added water, gave it to Jim, then put some of the powder into the water remaining in the pan. He took a cautious mouthful, well aware that the pot would be hot, and carried on. "Much of what I wrote was based on historical anecdote, and I ended up speculating about why there were no sentinels in the Western world when some villages in the Third World still had them. When I was going for my doctorate, I originally hoped to expand on the subject, but I couldn't get enough factual information, so I ended up going for the 'youth in different cultures' thing."
"I'm not quite following you." Jim took an equally cautious sip, aware that the coffee would be very hot, then sighed contentedly.
"Sentinels. Usually men, very occasionally women, who had five heightened senses. The historical references imply that time spent alone in the wild could trigger the senses in someone who had the potential, and in a tribal culture, women were rarely alone in the wild. Men, though - while they often hunted in groups, sometimes one would go off on his own, or the Trial of Manhood for the adolescent boys involved surviving on their own for several days. Made it far more likely that the senses would show up in men than in women.
"You said you blacked out - that's a sign too. A sentinel who was concentrating too much on one sense could black out. Those jets totally overwhelmed your sense of hearing, and out you went.
"In tribal cultures, shamans would watch out for the signs that someone's sentinel senses had been triggered. Sentinels in those tribes always had a friend who accompanied them, to keep them anchored; here, in the so-called 'civilized' world, nobody knows about sentinels and any poor schmuck whose senses are triggered, as yours obviously were, wouldn't understand what was happening to him. Doctors can't help because the western world has forgotten or deliberately ignored so much; at times in the past ancient knowledge was deliberately suppressed, usually by the Church, as evil. We no longer have a 'tribal culture' and dismiss a lot of ancient wisdom as mythology or even superstition. In our culture, if an emerging sentinel is lucky, he'll end up in an institution, being reasonably well cared for; being medicated to stop the voices he's hearing inside his head - only he really is hearing voices. He's hearing conversations between people he can't see. If he's unlucky... "
"If he's really unlucky, the only way to stop the voices... and everything else... is suicide," Jim said quietly.
"You've considered it?" Blair asked gently.
"Yes," Jim replied. "I've considered it. But suicide would be the coward's way out. I decided to stay out here, where there was very little adverse stimulus."
"In Peru... the Chopek shaman took a liking to you. My guess is that he recognized you as a sentinel. He probably kept you anchored."
"Maybe. I certainly don't remember having any problems when I was with the Chopek though, like I said, I don't actually remember terribly much about my time with them, but... Incacha worked with me a lot of the time, and I did serve the village as... well, a scout."
Blair nodded. "Typical sentinel behavior."
"But then the army came and rescued me, and anything weird that I could do went away."
"It's not 'weird', Jim. It's perfectly natural for you," Blair said.
"Natural?" Jim said bitterly. "Not when it means I can't live among other people."
"You've been fine with me."
"Yes... but you're different. In a way you remind me of Incacha. Living among other people - it's a risk I can't take."
"Living out here on your own - it's not safe."
"But it's... I can't really say comfortable, and God knows it can get very lonely at times, but it's not a strain on my nerves."
There didn't seem to be any answer that Blair could make.
The opened sleeping bag was big enough to cover them both, but the foam mattress was only wide enough for one. Blair insisted that Jim use it, on the grounds that his body had to be aching from being held immobile for so long.
Neither man undressed; they didn't know each other well enough for the intimacy of sharing sleeping accommodation without the barrier of clothes. They lay back to back, and although it could have been awkward sleeping in such close proximity to a stranger, both were tired enough that they fell asleep very quickly.
Jim opened his eyes to a blue-tinted jungle, and knew that he was dreaming. He had visited this place often in the past year. He had never seen another human, though sometimes he had seen animals. Occasionally he had glimpsed a grey animal - he thought probably a dog - through the trees, but it had never come close enough for him to see it properly. Once or twice he had seen an owl that always stayed high in the trees. Most often, though, he had been joined by a black panther. It had always remained a short distance from him, but in his dreams he could remember that Incacha had spoken of spirit animals, of how everyone had one, and - in this dream world where nothing had to make sense - he wondered if the panther was his spirit animal.
And then the owl swooped down, and landed on the ground near him. Immediately it began to grow in size and change shape, and in moments it had changed into a Chopek male.
"Incacha!" Jim whispered.
"The wolf has come," Incacha said.
The grey animal padded out of the jungle to stand beside the Chopek, and now that he could see it clearly, Jim realized that it was indeed a wolf, not a dog.
It also began to change shape, and there, where it had been, was a man he had only just met -
"The young shaman has power," Incacha said, "but he does not yet know it. Listen to him, Enqueri. Until the wolf came, you had no companion; it was wise for you to remain apart from the tribe. With him to guide you, it will be possible for you to return to the great city and once again serve the tribe."
"And if I don't want to return to the great city, Incacha? What then?"
"A Guardian has a duty to the tribe. If you choose not to return, you must find some other way to serve the tribe. But there is no reason now for you not to return. When you lived with the Chopek, I was able to help you, but I could not help you in the great city, for that is not my world. The wolf is your true companion, and he can help you there in ways that I could not."
Jim looked at the smaller, long-haired, blue-eyed man who stood beside Incacha, nodding. "We have just met, but know that you can trust me. I am a wolf; remember that canines are loyal to their pack."
The two men morphed back into owl and wolf. The owl immediately flew up onto a branch; the wolf remained, and was joined a moment later by the panther. The two animals nuzzled each other as if they were already friends; then both faded from sight.
Jim woke in the half light of pre-dawn and lay remembering his dream... and remembering more about his time in Peru than at any time since he left the place.
As a child Jim had been taught, and taught well, that a man did not trust readily, and depended only on himself.
He had learned to trust Incacha; but life in the Amazon rain forest was completely different from life in an American city. It was relatively easy for a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe, even the shaman, to devote as much time as necessary to helping a guardian. It would be far from easy for a man who already held a responsible job to spare more than a little time - and that in the evenings, not during the day when - if Jim went back to the PD - he would most need help. Did Incacha understand that? Had the wolf spirit understood? Jim was far from sure.
And how could he tell Sandburg that he was supposed to be Jim's companion in the 'great city'? Oh, the man was very accepting of... well, weirdness, had easily believed what Jim said about his senses, had even said that having too-acute senses was natural for Jim. He'd even spoken about the companion who worked with the guardian. But how could he turn around and say, 'Oh, by the way, Chief, I dreamed that the Chopek shaman told me that you're my new companion'?
That would be a great way to show his gratitude to the man for saving his life!
No. The best thing he could do would be to slip away while Sandburg still slept, letting him get on with his life, unencumbered by an emotionally crippled freak who couldn't function in civilization without someone to hold his hand!
Freak... Oh, God! His father had called him that. His father... Because... because... But he had somehow managed to forget how well he could see and hear and...
Until Peru. In Peru it hadn't mattered. Among the Chopek, everyone had accepted what he could do. But much as he had respected the Chopek, admired the way they could survive and have a comfortable standard of living in the dangerous world of the rain forest, they did have a level of superstition, a belief in the mystic, that the civilized world didn't have.
He'd come back to America, and somehow forgotten the senses again. Until a year ago.
He couldn't let anyone know. He'd thought he was going mad when the senses manifested themselves again. If he claimed he had senses as acute as they seemed to be, it would be a very short step into permanent care in a mental institution, because nobody had senses that acute. The shrinks would all say he was imagining things, even if he tried to prove it.
No. The last few hours, spent with someone whose presence didn't irritate his nerves, who accepted him, had been kind to him, had been a welcome interlude in a life of total loneliness, but he couldn't - couldn't - impose on the man's good nature any longer. He had to go.
He tried to slide out from under the sleeping bag, and was unable to prevent the pained yelp he gave as his stiffened muscles protested the movement.
Had he wakened Sandburg, or had he, too, been lying awake and thinking? Without changing his mind about leaving - just mentally changing the time scale from 'now' to 'in a day or two' - he said, "I need a pee... but I've really stiffened up and it hurt when I moved."
"Okay - hold on a moment, I'll give you a hand."
Blair crawled from under the tarpaulin, scrambled to his feet, and walked around to Jim's side of the shelter. Jim's attempt at rising had taken him to the edge of the tarp - it was easy for Blair to pull the bigger man upright, before supporting him over to a nearby tree. Once Jim was leaning against it, Blair turned away to offer him some privacy, crossing to another tree to relieve himself while he waited to help Jim back.
Blair was stronger than he looked, Jim realized as he unzipped the jeans he was wearing.
They spent the morning talking, getting to know each other. Jim knew that it was a mistake, that it would make the loneliness of his existence even worse when he did manage to disappear again, but Blair's cheerful friendliness was irresistible. Every now and then, Blair insisted that Jim move, walk around for a while (with help) in an attempt to ease the stiffness, and then they settled down to talk some more.
Once again Blair offered to go to Jim's shelter to fetch some of this things, but Jim shook his head, saying it would be too difficult for him to describe where it was. In fact, it wasn't far from their present position; the stream that ran so close to where they were was the stream from which Jim got his water supply. The flow had diminished to almost nothing after the rain, which had surprised him; he had gone to check it, found it dammed as the result of the landslide and with the overflow heading off in a slightly different direction. He had been trying - successfully as it happened - to clear some of the earth and rocks away to return the stream to its original bed; he moved one, to discover that it had been locking everything in place, and had slipped and fallen as he tried to escape - although when Blair asked what had happened, he simply said that he had slipped when trying to get away from the landslide.
As long as Blair didn't know where his shelter was, he could hide in it by day, slipping out at night to hunt, until the younger man had to return to Cascade.
At one point, Blair said, "I really ought to take your clothes down to the river and get the mud washed out of them before it cakes solid."
"It doesn't matter," Jim replied. Once it dried he could brush a lot of the mud off the fur, then soak the clothes to wash out the rest; and letting Blair think it didn't matter would leave him with the impression that he, Jim, was seriously thinking about going back. Certainly if Blair left him alone it would give him an opportunity to disappear, but Jim couldn't fool himself into thinking he was able to manage by himself; not yet, and not, probably, for another two or three days. Not after the fiasco of first thing, when he hadn't been able to keep from giving that agonized yelp as soon as he tried to move.
"Well... " Blair said. "I have to admit that I don't really want to leave you alone, not as stiff as you are." He hesitated, then said, "If it doesn't matter... does that mean you're thinking of coming back to Cascade?"
'Yes' would be a lie, and somehow he didn't want to lie to Blair. Misdirect - possibly. Lie, no. And he was sure Blair wouldn't accept 'No' as an answer. "I'm not sure," he answered. "These senses... they're something of a liability."
"Liability?" Blair exclaimed. "Man, for a cop they'd be a gift! Just think - any time you investigated anything, you could pick up clues really easily."
"I'd soon get a reputation for being odd, if I was on a stake-out and started saying I could hear the perps discussing their plans from a hundred yards away!"
"Jim. JIM. It's something you could easily prove."
"I suppose I could," Jim said, ignoring his earlier thought - that even if he tried, he wouldn't be believed. "But in the end it would still be a liability, could endanger both myself and anyone with me. All it needs is for some low-life to suspect I could have an edge, and I'd have a dozen contracts on my head before the evening. I could use the senses to help me find legitimate evidence, but only the legit evidence could be used in court. If I tried using 'I overheard' as evidence in a trial when I was clearly too far away for normal hearing to catch a conversation, the perp could walk on a technicality because his lawyer could claim that enhanced hearing was equivalent to phone tapping or directional mikes, both of which have very doubtful legality. What I could do with the Chopek, what they would accept as normal, would never be accepted in Cascade.
"And then there's the blacking out. I don't black out often, but it's happened a few times. If I blacked out in the middle of a gunfight, because the noise got to be too much, I could end up dead, or getting someone else killed. Hell, it would only have to happen once, and any time I called for backup after that it would be delayed because the other cops would consider me too likely to get someone killed. My own death... that doesn't matter, but delayed backup could mean a perp getting away."
"Your death would matter," Blair said quietly.
Jim looked at him, and swallowed around a sudden tightness in his throat. What was it about this man that made him, made his opinion, so important? He wanted nothing so much as to believe him, believe he could once again have a life in Cascade, but he was cynical enough to have no illusions, and he was quite sure that the possibility of returning to Cascade was an illusion.
He began to wonder... Might it be possible to persuade Blair that he was perfectly happy here, but that he'd be pleased to see Blair any weekend he chose to visit the Forest? Because suddenly he was sure that Blair wouldn't just go off and forget him, if he did creep away to hide.
Blair licked his lips, and Jim thought he looked just a trifle nervous. "Jim... I had a dream last night."
"We all dream," Jim said offhandedly.
"Yes, but this dream was a bit weird... and you were in it."
Jim stiffened, knowing what was coming.
"We were in a jungle, but everything was blue, not green. You were there, talking to a tribesman; you called him Incacha - didn't you tell me that was the name of the Chopek shaman? - and there was a black panther lying there watching.
"I was a wolf, watching from the shelter of some shrubs. Incacha told you the wolf had come, and I felt myself pulled forward to stand beside him. I could feel myself changing shape. He said... he said I was a shaman, and your true companion, and with me beside you, you could go back. I told you that although we had just met, you could trust me; then the panther came over to me, and I knew that he and I had been together in the past and would be together again in the future; that nothing could come between us. And I knew that just as I was the wolf, you were the panther." Blair looked at him. "You had the same dream... didn't you?"
Jim hesitated for a moment. Finally - "Yes," he said.
"We're meant to be together."
"Chief, you have your own life. I can't ask you to sacrifice any of it because we're told in a dream that... that... "
"That you're a guardian, a sentinel - which I already knew - and I'm your companion. Jim, remember I know about sentinels. I know about companions, about their function... about how much a sentinel needs one. Sentinels were my original interest, my original - yes, obsession. I know I ended up getting my doctorate on a completely different subject, but that doesn't mean my interest in sentinels diminished. I've always hoped I'd find one. And no, that doesn't mean I think of you as a lab rat. I think I've always known that I had the ability to help a sentinel... and your Incacha definitely said I could.
"In any case - don't you remember what I said? I was the wolf; I told you canines are loyal. I know we've only just met in this life, but I think we've been friends and worked together over many lives.
"Now - " Briskly, he changed the subject. "How do you feel today? Physically, I mean."
"I'm still stiff," Jim admitted, "but I think I can force myself to walk around a bit more."
"Good. We shouldn't go too far from camp - I think maybe the same program as yesterday, little and often, would be best."
"Chief, you don't have to hang around just because I can't do much. You said you were looking for signs of early settlers - you won't find anything if you stay here with me."
Blair grinned. "Actually, that was an excuse for coming out here, not a reason. The real reason - though I didn't admit it to anyone - I was looking for you."
"Well, I wasn't actually looking for Jim Ellison, but I was looking for the 'big hairy man' who found Denise and left her where the searchers would find her. I did see you - a shadow that disappeared very quickly - just before we found her - "
"You were the searcher who found her." Jim had moved away quickly once one of the search party showed up, not wanting to be discovered, but he had been strangely aware of the man who had come through the trees, and now he knew why.
"Yes." Blair chuckled. "When Denise described you, someone thought 'Sasquatch'." "I haven't seen any."
For a split second, Blair thought Jim was serious, realized he was actually joking, but answered semi-seriously anyway. "Wouldn't expect you to - most Washington sightings aren't this far north, and you said you don't have a mirror with you.
"Anyway, I told everyone that I was looking for signs of early settlement in the area, and while I was genuinely looking, it was still just an excuse to spend time out here. I probably wouldn't have thought about it if I hadn't been planning on keeping an eye open for Denise's 'hairy man' - and with that fur suit you were wearing, I totally get her description."
"Seemed a good idea - I thought if anyone saw me, they'd probably think I was a bear."
"Good way to get yourself shot by a trigger-happy hunter, though," Blair pointed out.
"I don't think that would have worried me... as long as it was a killing shot."
"Don't say that!" Blair snapped. He took a deep, would-be calming breath. "Anyway, it's unlikely that it would have been. Injured is more likely. From what John Thery says, the way a lot of these guys shoot, it's a wonder they ever take anything home."
"The Tom Lehrer song?"
"What - 'I went and shot the maximum the game laws would allow - '"
"'Two game wardens, seven hunters and a cow'," they finished in chorus, grinning at each other.
"Unfortunately, Tom Lehrer aside, it's not a joke. Some of those guys can leave animals quite badly injured and don't even try to follow them to give them a clean death," Blair said sadly.
"I know," Jim agreed. "Several times during this past year I've found dying animals with bad gunshot wounds. I've always managed to finish them off, and I've benefitted from the meat, but if it had been possible for me to get my hands on the irresponsible idiots who would leave an animal in that condition... Who's John Thery?"
"The head ranger. I've been bringing students out here for a couple of years now, never too far from a campsite, to give them a taste of what life on an expedition would be, and we've become fairly friendly. Well, friendly acquaintances rather than friends. Put it this way - last year at this time I was in Borneo, and it wasn't until he expressed surprise that I hadn't heard about a cop going missing that I mentioned having been to Borneo to him."
"What were you doing in Borneo?" Jim asked.
"It's one of the few places left where you find people still wanting to live without any... interference, I suppose you can call it, from the outside world. My department head at Rainier has been interested in the Borneo tribes since he was a student himself, and he got the chance to visit one of those tribes - the Penan. The Penan have been trying for years to persuade the government to stop the destruction of the forest by the loggers, but basically it's a losing battle. The government sees clearing the rain forest to provide agricultural land as the best option for the greatest number of people, and - " his voice took on a sardonic note - "who cares about a few tribes of lazy hunter-gatherers who don't want to contribute anything to the development of the country?" He resumed his normal tone. "Never mind that they have a better standard of living and more leisure time than a lot of the peasant farmers struggling to make a living off land that isn't fertile enough for crops. Some of those tribes consist of just thirty or forty people - they're better described as an extended family, really, since everyone is related to everyone else.
"And why is it that the Establishment seems to think that 'leisure time' for anyone - except possibly the guys at the top - is a bad thing? Hmmm... I might get a paper out of that...
"Anyway - it was a small expedition - Eli, me, and four students. We were able to get away a little before the end of the school year, and got back just in time for the new semester. It was probably about the last chance anyone will have to see one of those tribes still living what you might call a natural existence. Another few years and their habitat will have been destroyed," Blair finished, his voice sad.
"So this year you decided to look for ancient hunter-gatherers?" Jim asked.
"And Sasquatch. Don't forget the big hairy man of the woods."
"Pity he turned out to be just a drop-out," Jim said.
"Don't call yourself that!" Blair exclaimed. "You were basically in an untenable position - your senses were wreaking havoc with your nerves, you didn't know what was happening to you, there was nobody to help you - but I'm here now, and I'm sure I can help you."
"Chief - you have your own life to lead." Jim was beginning to feel slightly like a broken record, repeating itself over and over.
"And I can lead it just as easily working with you as lecturing a bunch of students, a lot of whom aren't all that interested in anthropology anyway. Sometimes I wonder why three-quarters of them take the subject. I think I'm a reasonably good teacher - and Rainier must think so to have given me tenure - but I never really wanted to teach. I ended up teaching by default. I love anthropology but, like I said, job prospects, especially in an aspect of the subject that interests me, aren't thick on the ground. There are lots of other things I could do - including writing full-time, and don't think I haven't considered that. Trouble is, the kind of writing an anthropologist does doesn't pay all that well. 'Publish or perish' is the credo - and I've been published regularly - but my income from it is peanuts. On the other hand, if I used a pen-name and made sure nobody in anthropology found out, I could write anthropology-based fiction without losing my credibility as a serious researcher. Catch the public's imagination, get on the best-seller list, churn out a new book every year, and it'd net a reasonable income.
"I'd have to give Rainier a full semester's notice, so until Christmas I could only work with you some of the time, but after that I'd be free to work with you pretty well full time. Would you want to go back to being a cop?"
"I'd pretty well decided to take Banks up on his offer of a place in Major Crime," Jim said. Blair was being so persuasive, making things sound relatively easy... "So I suppose... I suppose the answer is 'yes', but what do I tell him about this past year?"
"I think you'd have to tell him the truth," Blair said, "especially since we'll have to explain the part I play in all this. As for everyone else... PTSD? Weren't you under some stress at the time? Accused of being a dirty cop by your boss?"
"Or you had a fall, hit your head, suffered amnesia. Then I found you after you were caught in a landslide, the shock of the second accident brought back your memory, and you were horrified when I told you that you'd 'lost' a year. It's maybe a bit far-fetched, but the mind's a funny thing. Nobody can prove that wasn't what happened. And in any case, don't you have something of a history of not really remembering something because of possible PTSD? Peru ring a bell?"
Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I repressed a lot of what happened there... I'm only remembering a lot of it now."
"Now... when the companion Incacha told you about appeared. And I'm thinking... since it was probably safer for you not to remember what you did, what you were, for the Chopek, just how much did Incacha, a shaman, have to do with how much you forgot?"
Jim fell asleep in the early afternoon, shortly after they returned from his fourth 'walk' of the day.
Blair spent some minutes watching the sleeping man. He was aware that Jim had not slept well the previous night, had - despite the stiffness that had so handicapped him in the morning - been restless, as if he couldn't stop watching for potential danger.
Now, Blair noted how the tension had slipped from Jim's face, and wondered how long it was since Jim had been able to relax - really relax. He had a suspicion that Jim had been living on his nerves for far longer than he would ever admit; that Jim had needed his 'true companion' for a long time - but the difference in their ages and the lives they had led had kept them apart until now.
He wondered, too, about the feeling he had had, that they had been together in past lives and would be together again in the future. Certainly that would explain how quickly they seemed to have bonded - he knew that he was willing to see the best in everyone, but usually he found it hard to be sure about someone as reserved as he was sure Jim normally was; Jim, he was convinced, did not trust easily at all. Yet despite that, despite - Blair was sure - feeling very vulnerable - he was now willing to surrender his watchfulness and sleep, trusting to his companion to keep him safe.
Blair reached over to his pack, pulled out his journal and pencil, and began to write. He had not in fact written anything the previous day; he still had to record the chert he had found and his few conclusions and guesses regarding it. That done, he turned to the back of the book, left a few pages to record any more photos he might take, and recorded how he had found and rescued Jim, and what he had learned about Jim - writing it in a personal shorthand he had developed in the days when he had had to take notes during lectures - he had never met a lecturer who spoke slowly enough for anyone to keep up, using normal writing.
He was quite sure that nobody else would be able to read these notes.
It took him a fair while. He finally put down his pencil, lit the fire - he had allowed it to go out after they ate - and set a pot of water on to heat. Then he reached for his phone, and dialled.
"Hi, Blair - you're early today," Thery said.
"I had a lazy day - spent it relaxing, enjoying the sunshine and writing up what I've been doing. I'll probably take tomorrow off as well, but I'll make contact as usual."
"Ah. In other words, you're having a vacation."
"Ah well, enjoy it. Incidentally, remember our discussion about Sasquatch?"
"A couple of representatives of the BFRO turned up this morning. You probably won't see them, though. They're planning on concentrating on the area where we found Denise - "
"Working to the theory that Bigfoot would be territorial?" Blair speculated.
"They won't find anything."
Thery chuckled. "More or less what I told them. That whatever the kid said, none of my boys had seen anything they couldn't positively identify, but they insisted that because of what they'd been told, they had to investigate."
"It hasn't occurred to them that a creature like Bigfoot could have a territory that covered the entire valley?" Blair asked.
"I'd just as soon it didn't. They don't strike me as being particularly wilderness-wise. Wouldn't surprise me to get a call from them saying they're lost, but at least if they're not too far from where we found the kid, it wouldn't cause a major search."
"Ah, well. I don't suppose I'll see them, but if they should move further afield and I do meet them, I'll mutter 'territory' and try to encourage them back down."
"Thanks. Talk to you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Bye." Blair rang off and gazed back down the valley, as much of it as he could see for the trees - thicker here now that he was lower down the mountainside. He was quite sure that when they found nothing where they were searching, the two men would move deeper into the valley.
He had hoped he would have a peaceful couple of weeks working with Jim, trying to get him comfortable with the idea of going back to Cascade; Jim might have agreed that he'd consider going back, but there was a chasm the width of the Grand Canyon between agreeing to go back and being happy to go back. Some time during the next two weeks, before they announced to the world that Jim Ellison was alive and well, Jim had to learn how to control his senses, rather than having them control him.
Jim rolled over and grunted as he pushed himself up on an elbow. "Were you talking to someone?"
"Just my daily call to the rangers."
"John was telling me - a couple of guys from the BFRO arrived this morning, looking for Denise's 'sasquatch'." He was getting the coffee ready as he spoke.
"BFRO?" Jim asked.
"Bigfoot Research Organisation. Remember, Denise was old enough to describe her rescuer, and one of the search team promptly suggested sasquatch. All it needed was a reporter with an eye to a good story..."
"I thought you were joking," Jim muttered as he took the mug of coffee.
"I know." Blair sighed. "I don't know whether to admire the BFRO guys' dedication or shake my head at their credulousness."
"Shake your head at their credulousness," Jim said.
"Well... I keep remembering that biologists proved the existence of some animals that at one time were believed to be nothing more than travellers' tales, and in some parts of the world animals are still being found that are new to science, though I admit they're usually very small - insects, mostly. And Sasquatch isn't the only big ape-like creature that's been 'seen'. There are stories about others from other countries; Tibet has the Yeti, Australia the Yowie. Like Sasquatch, they're reported as living in remote areas and sightings are usually distant and very brief glimpses.
"There have been sightings - or evidence - or apparent evidence - of other creatures that have never been positively identified, too - water monsters, chupacabras, even big cats like panthers in countries like Britain. Yes, a lot of these sightings can be explained away, but there's always a small percentage of them that have no obvious rational explanation... other than a so far unidentified animal."
"Are you saying that you believe in Sasquatch?" Jim demanded.
Blair chuckled. "Hardly. But 'believe six impossible things before breakfast' - remember? I do believe that there are some sightings that can't be easily explained away. Most of them - a bear just disappearing, a shadow, a hoax, a runaway cop - " he grinned. "But after you've found a reasonable rationalization for most of them, there's still that elusive handful that have no obvious explanation. Doesn't mean there isn't one, just that it isn't obvious.
"It's archaeologically proven that there have been a lot of hominid species over the last couple of million years. There's a possibility that a handful of individuals from one of these - or more than one - or whatever they evolved into - have survived until today, living in really remote areas. "'Course, the big problem with a very small population is inbreeding. You can't avoid it. Too much inbreeding, you run into health problems. After several generations IQ is dwindling. After thousands of years, what you have is no longer any kind of homo, it's a man-shaped animal that has little - if any - reasoning ability; it's working on sheer instinct, but the one thing it's going to have in spades is an awareness of danger." Blair fell silent for a moment, thinking, before going on.
"It doesn't have to be a creature that's survived for thousands of years, though; a more likely explanation is a handful of native Americans who managed to hide from the incursions of the white man, living in these mountains. They'd probably have a pretty high rate of infant mortality, which would keep their numbers low - a lot of people who live in mountainous regions are at least semi-nomadic and move to the lowest part of their territory for the winter, but these ones would be stuck on the high ground, staying in hiding because their tribal word of mouth tells them that the white man is a killer. They wear fur clothes - like you - for the same sort of reason; if one is seen, he could be misidentified as a bear. And that's the most likely 'not obvious' explanation."
"Chief, I haven't seen anything in the past year that made me suspect there was anyone other than me hiding here," Jim protested as Blair paused to swallow some coffee.
"Most Sasquatch sightings in Washington have been south of here," Blair said. "There was a place known as 'Ape Canyon' near Mount St. Helens, where a group of them are supposed to have attacked a cabin some prospectors were living in, back in the twenties. There were other sightings from that area, too, and stories going back to before the white man arrived. Ape Canyon was badly affected, though, when Mount St. Helens erupted. The one or two sightings from Skagit and Whatcom counties could very well come into the easily rationalized category."
"How come you know so much about sightings?" Jim asked.
"I read up a bit on the subject in the couple of weeks before I came up here," Blair said, "and formed one or two hypotheses on the basis of what I'd read."
"Oh." Jim gazed down the line of the stream. "Blair... I think it's time you told the rangers that you found me."
"Are you sure? I'd thought to wait a little longer, give you more time to learn some control of your senses and - well, let you get more comfortable with the idea of going back."
"Well... maybe another day or two, till I've loosened up a bit more. But there's another thing; I think there's some really bad weather coming, and that tarpaulin of yours isn't going to stand up to storm force winds. I'd like to try to reach my shelter today."
"It isn't far away, then?" Blair asked.
"Not really. It's a bit further down this stream - that's why I was up there, trying to clear a blockage that had diverted the water. But it wouldn't be easy describing to you just how to get in, and that's the truth."
"Right," Blair said. "Okay, finish your coffee, give me ten minutes and I'll be ready to go."
Although he had everything except the pan and the mug packed inside ten minutes, it was actually nearer fifteen before Blair was satisfied that the fire was completely out. He kicked some earth over the wet patch where the fire had been, fetched another pot of water and poured that over the earth, then pushed pot and mug into the top of his pack. "Okay, let's go."
They went cautiously downhill, Blair keeping a watchful eye on Jim, but the ex-cop seemed to be managing quite well. Several hundred feet lower, they reached a pile of fallen rock.
"Here we are, Chief," Jim said.
"This is your shelter?" Blair asked, almost disbelievingly.
"Yes." Jim grinned. "There's more to it than you'd think. You get in over here." He began to climb cautiously around the edge.
"Third rock on the right and straight on till morning?" Blair muttered. Jim glanced back at him, clearly puzzled, and he chuckled. "Never mind. You really don't know children's books, do you?"
"Not really. Dad didn't think it was manly for boys to read fiction." He clambered awkwardly onto a rock, then moved carefully between two that were sitting on it, leaning against another one above it. Blair followed more easily, understanding why Jim had felt he couldn't describe the way into his shelter. The 'passage' between the rocks was perhaps eighteen inches wide and went behind one of them; anyone walking past was unlikely to realize that the gap was in any way significant, that it led anywhere.
Blair took off his rucksack before entering it, and carried it in front of himself. A step around the corner, and Blair found he was in a sort of cave. It was fairly dim, lit only by a gap high in one 'wall', a gap that was partly covered by hanging plants.
"Better switch on your flashlight, Chief, until you get the hang of the place."
Blair put down his pack and groped in a side pocket for the light.
"Okay," he said. "Watch your eyes."
He shone the light around the 'cave'. It was roughly square, perhaps ten feet across. Along one wall was a pile of wood; there was an obvious fireplace against the opposite wall, and he realized that above it was a small gap that would carry the smoke away. Beside it was a heap of dry moss and what he recognized as a simple fire-making kit - a flat piece of wood, a pointed stick and a small bow - as well as a pot, mug and plate. Apart from that one crack, the roof appeared to be a single huge slab of rock about seven feet above the floor. There was a 'bed' under what he could call the 'window' - a pile of small branches and dry vegetation, with a sleeping bag laid on top. Beside it, neatly folded, were some clothes - ordinary ones as well as some clearly made from furs. A large bag hung from a rock near the 'door', held there by a rope fastened to a rock projecting a little from the side wall.
Blair whistled softly in admiration. "Neat," he said. "Did you find this, or make it?"
"A bit of both," Jim said. He glanced upwards. "There was a... you could call it a sort of cave under that rock, about five feet deep. Looked as if it was pretty much earth under it, so I thought I would try digging it a little deeper, using some of the soil I dug out to make a wall in front. I left a gap to get in and out, but then when I reached the back there, I discovered the crack between the stones, and once I established that I could get through it, I filled up the gap in the earth wall. Left the space at the top for light and ventilation. It's quite surprisingly warm - I wasn't too cold even during the winter. I did have to watch that the snow didn't block the ventilation - the heat from the fire kept the 'chimney' open, though."
"And the rangers wouldn't come up here much during the winter, so it was safe enough for you to go out."
"Yes. I was a bit nervous after the first snowfall because I knew I'd leave tracks any time I went out - I'd had time to store some food, but I had to go out for water and to relieve myself - but nobody came near here till after the thaw. Any time I go hunting, I dry some of the meat - it's in the bag there - and I try not to let the supply run too low." He moved over to his bed and cautiously sank down onto it.
"But you can't spend all your time here?" Blair asked as he switched off the flashlight - he had spare batteries, but wanted to keep them for emergencies. And although the natural light was dim, he could see well enough to get around. He pushed it back into his pack as he added, "You were a lot further down the valley the day you found Denise."
Jim sighed. "I've done a lot of walking to pass the time. I told you I've sometimes tried to go back, gone to one of the campsites to be near people because I was feeling lonely, but then someone would yell and suddenly the loneliness didn't seem so bad... "
"Oh, Jim!" Unable to stop himself, Blair crossed quickly to the other man, knelt beside him and took his hand. "I'm here now. You don't ever have to be alone again."
Unsure how the other man would react to the gesture, Blair was pleased when Jim gripped his hand in response. "I've never depended on anyone... not on a personal level," Jim said, very quietly. "Dad made sure of that. 'Depending on someone just makes you weak', he said. 'A real man depends on himself.' I don't think he had any friends. Business acquaintances, yes, but none of them were friends. In the army... we worked together, had to trust each other, but we knew not to get too close to any of the others. They'd be posted away, or you would, and you'd never see them again.
"And then... I was betrayed by my commanding officer - twice. First in the army, then again when I was a cop.
"Now," Jim went on, "you're here, and... and... "
"I'm the wolf," Blair said quietly. "Canines are loyal to their pack. We're a pack of two, Jim. You need my help, and I know that I need to help you. You were born to be a sentinel; I was born to be your companion."
After a while, Jim moved slowly to the fireplace. Carefully, he gathered what he needed to start a fire, while Blair unrolled his mattress, laying it out beside Jim's bed, and throwing his sleeping bag on top of it. Then as Jim began applying friction to his fire-lighting wood, Blair took out his cell phone again.
"Sure you want me to report finding you?" he asked.
"Yes. Do it before I get cold feet," Jim replied.
The signal wasn't as strong as it might have been, but Blair made the connection. "Hi, John, it's me again - "
"Blair, thank God you phoned this early. You need to come out now. There's a pretty bad weather forecast - severe storms to hit this area in the next twenty-four hours. I've sent someone to call in the BFRO guys - they haven't phoned in - and chased all the campers home."
Blair glanced at Jim, who had known bad weather was on its way. "I think I'll be all right. I've moved a little further downhill... and I've got company."
"Ellison? He's alive? What happened?"
"Had to be PTSD," Blair said. On consideration, he'd decided to stick with the probably more credible 'nervous breakdown' explanation. "He'd had a bad experience just before he came out here, and when he heard another party approaching his camp, he realized he just couldn't face anyone. He's been living out here ever since, avoiding everyone, but he'd begun to think it was maybe time to go back. When he saw me, one man on his own... he approached me. Sort of dipping a toe in the waters of getting back with other people. We're planning on staying here for another day or two, get him used to having someone around again, before we come down."
"Doesn't change the forecast, though," Thery pointed out.
"We're in a sort of cave - Jim lived in here all winter with no problems - "
"Cave? Where? I don't know any caves - "
"It's been formed by fallen rock," Blair said. "Jim's done some work to it, made the entrance less obvious - just walking past, you'd never suspect there was a nice little room in here. We can sit out the storm no bother."
"I believe you," Thery said, "but I'd be happier if you came in."
"John, if there's a bad storm brewing, staying here makes more sense than going a few miles then having to stop until first light before we can carry on. Remember it took me three days to get this far up the valley - okay, I wasn't hurrying and I was going uphill; going downhill and hurrying, we could probably get back in one day, but I wouldn't like to guarantee it. If I was still actually camping I'd have to try to get back; as it is - this place is solid."
"All right. Just don't go too far away from it, and once the wind begins to rise - "
Blair chuckled. "We'll keep as much water in here as we can, and pee from the entrance. And we'll come in as soon as possible."
As he slipped the phone back into his pack, Blair said, "I imagine you heard what John said?"
"Yes," Jim replied. "I think he's right, getting the campers away. Actually, we should be all right going outside for water and to relieve ourselves - it's surprisingly sheltered here - but we'd probably be wise to keep some water in the shelter - remember that little landslide that blocked the stream?"
"I was thinking about that," Blair agreed, "though anything that was going to slip probably slipped then."
The wind began to rise during the afternoon of the next day, but although even Blair could hear it blowing through the trees, Jim was right; where they were was quite sheltered from the wind, although not from the rain. Safely ensconced in Jim's 'cave', they were hardly aware of the flashes of lightning, but the thunder rumbled ominously, echoing off the surrounding mountains. Since it was easier to go outside wearing only underwear - to keep their clothes from getting wet - both men remained in their sleeping bags the rest of the time, sitting up and leaning against one of the walls, talking spasmodically.
After one particularly loud rumble that had Jim covering his ears reflexively, Blair said thoughtfully, "There has to be a way of controlling your reaction to sudden very loud noises."
Jim sighed. "That was one of the reasons I couldn't face going back to Cascade. The thought of all that noise... You're walking to the store half a block away, minding your own business, and someone blasts a car horn. Even with normal hearing you jump. Or in the store - there's a mother with a small child that, for whatever reason, is screaming its lungs out, and she either can't quiet it or can't be bothered trying to."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Blair agreed. "There are times I think there should be just one day a week when mothers aren't allowed to take screaming-age kids into stores, so that everyone else can get their groceries in peace. Though if any store did that, I suspect they'd be so crowded that day nobody would be able to move."
"And the papers would get all sorts of complaints from mothers about the store being 'child unfriendly'."
"And the complainers would mostly be the ones who caused the problem in the first place. Granted they're in the minority; there are plenty of well-behaved kids - but why do some mothers automatically assume that everyone else is quite happy to hear their brat yelling?" Blair asked.
"That was one thing I don't remember ever hearing when I was with the Chopek," Jim said. "A screaming child."
"Jim, in a hunter-gatherer society like that, kids grow up fast, and while they might be indulged, even spoiled, for their first five years or so, screaming is anti-survival because it could attract predators to the women who are out gathering, and the adults all know that; mothers are expected to keep their kids quiet. Nobody in the tribe tolerates a screaming child, and no woman would ever accuse the tribe of being anti-child for it. And by the time they're five, they're expected to be learning hunting and gathering; they begin to see being indulged as a sign of childhood, and think of themselves as getting too old to be considered a 'child'. We, on the other hand, have probably moved too far in the other direction, and treat teenagers as children when they think of themselves as being 'all grown up'. That's part of the reason for so much juvenile crime. They're saying to society, 'Look what I can do! How dare you think of me as a child!'"
"But kids need a good education - " Jim protested.
"I don't deny that, or that kids who want to learn shouldn't get every opportunity to stay in school," Blair said. "But there are plenty of kids who aren't academic, and you can't force them to become academic; however, if they were given the chance to work with their hands from the time they were... oh, fourteen or so, as part of their school curriculum, it's not turning them into second class citizens; it's simply training them in a direction that suits them."
"I didn't expect a university professor to hold that kind of opinion," Jim said.
"Just because I'm academically minded doesn't mean I don't understand people who aren't," Blair responded. "Now you - I imagine you probably had a college education, but did you ever want an academic career? No - you went into the army, then became a cop. Your education hasn't been wasted, but you would have been wasted in academia."
The thunder and lightning moved away after a while, though the rain continued unchecked and the wind, if anything, gained in strength.
Blair glanced at his watch. "Time to report in, I think," he said, and pulled his rucksack to him. "... Hi, John."
"Blair! Are you and Ellison all right?"
"Snug as two hibernating bears," Blair replied.
"You got problems?" Something about the note in Thery's voice...
"Yes. You'll have a problem getting out, and waiting a couple of weeks till you were coming out anyway won't help."
"What's wrong?" Blair asked.
"Windblow. It's not usually a problem here, but this storm came from an unusual direction, and snapped a few trees. Once some had gone... "
"Yeah. It'll take months to clear everything. Thank heavens I sent the campers away - the campsite is a mess. Trees down all around it, some across one side of it - there would have been injuries for sure, possibly fatalities, if anyone had still been here. Your vehicle is okay, but the road out is blocked - not badly, and it'll probably be cleared by the time you get here. But we've lost the BFRO guys."
"Lost?" Blair said. "As in dead?"
"Probably," Thery said unhappily. "Couldn't find them yesterday; they weren't camped where they said they'd be. With the destruction there's been... It doesn't look good."
"And the wind still hasn't dropped any. More trees could go."
"Forecast is for improved conditions in a couple of days. We could try to get a helicopter to pick you up, but not all of the campsites in the affected area were cleared beforehand, and then there are the folk camping wild in other parts of the Forest - frankly, I think all the rescue choppers'll be tied up rescuing injured and parties with kids, as soon as they can fly. For the moment they're all grounded. There's a fair area involved."
"We'll manage," Blair said optimistically. "And we'll keep an eye open for the BFRO guys, though the odds on them being anywhere near the line we take coming down aren't good."
"We won't be moving until the wind drops, so I won't phone again until we're ready to leave - I'm sure you have plenty to do without me taking up your time."
"Nobody can do much until the wind drops," Thery said. "It's too dangerous. It's hard to wait, knowing someone could be seriously injured but still alive, but if we go out too soon people in the rescue parties could be hurt, and that wouldn't help anyone."
Over coffee the next morning, Blair said slowly, "You know, I've been thinking about your problem with sudden noises, and I think I might have an answer."
"Think radio or TV. Normally you have the volume set to whatever is most comfortable for you, but what do you do if the volume of the transmission is wrong?"
"Turn the volume control up or down... Oh."
"You're with me? It might be possible to treat your hearing like a radio, and find some way to turn the volume down when it's too loud." Blair thought for a moment. "You'd have to work at it, though, so that it became instinctive, so that you automatically reacted instantly, the moment you heard something that was louder that you found comfortable - or at least bearable."
Jim thought about it for a minute. "Like visualizing a control dial," he said.
"Yeah. We'll have to work out what's a comfortable setting for you, and we can't really do that here - there's not the constant background noise you get in a city - but at least we can make a start. What about your other senses? How do you adjust to going out of here into full daylight?"
"Much the way anyone adjusts to switching a light on in the middle of the night," Jim said. "I keep my eyes almost closed to start with, then slowly blink them further and further open. But light intensity mostly increases or decreases gradually; I have good night vision, but mostly it's just seeing further."
"Mmm. Yes, sight probably wouldn't be too much bother. Touch - how much do things irritate your skin?"
"In general, I don't have too much trouble, but sometimes I do react quite badly," Jim said. "The first skins I worked for clothes, I didn't work enough; I had to learn not to be impatient, and get them really soft."
"And once we get back to Cascade, you'll probably have to watch things like detergent or you might end up with dermatitis."
"Isn't that an infection?"
"No, it's more like an allergic reaction to something. Smell - it's amazing how fast your nose can get used to almost anything, but a control for that, to cut back on unpleasant smells fast... And taste? I think you'll have to work on dials for that as well, or you'll be condemned to pretty bland food for the rest of your life." Blair thought for a moment. "Might be an idea to work on dials for all your senses, but hearing is the most important one for now."
"But it's quiet in here, now that the thunder's away."
"Simplest way - I'll keep talking, and you try to dial my voice down to a whisper."
By the time they settled for the night, Jim had begun to show some degree of control of his hearing, and next morning they continued working on it.
The wind did seem to have dropped, but the rain continued. Blair had been right; whatever had been going to slip on the banks of the little stream had already slid, and the stream - now a rather bigger one - rushed past their shelter, as if the water was desperate to reach the bigger river a thousand feet below, and only its headlong dash downwards kept it from overflowing its banks.
As the hours passed, they experimented further with Jim's control; every now and then, without warning, Blair raised his voice to a shout to give Jim practice in lowering the dial quickly.
The first two or three times, Jim was unable to react quickly, and looked hopelessly at Blair. "This isn't working!" he said.
"It will," Blair encouraged. "It takes time. You can't expect to do something new perfectly the first time you try it - or the second time, or the third. But you can do it. Think positive!"
It took much of the day, but eventually he managed to pull the volume to a reasonable level on the first word.
"Great!" Blair said as he began to prepare their meal. "Don't think you've mastered it yet, though. A shout isn't unbearably loud. You need more practice with louder noises, but it's a really good start."
"Just knowing I can do it, knowing I've got some positive control, is so much more than I had just a couple of days ago," Jim said.
"We have to work on your other senses, too," Blair reminded him.
"Yes, but none of the others gave me quite the trouble hearing did. And knowing I can do it for one, well, I know I should be able to do it for the others as well."
When they looked outside the next day, it was to find that the weather had cleared overnight - inside the 'cave', Jim commented, he had remained unaware of the change in air pressure that signalled the improvement. The rain, they decided, had probably stopped not long after they'd gone to bed; the level of water in the stream had dropped a little.
"Though it's just as well we don't have to cross it," Blair said.
"There'll be other streams," Jim reminded him.
After a quick breakfast, Blair made his promised phone call to let Thery know they were heading out. They packed their things, including Jim's stock of dried meat; remembering what Thery had said about windblow, they knew it would probably take them several days to cover the distance back to civilization - fighting their way through fallen trees would not be easy - and while Blair still had some dry food, because of the circumstances he had been using it faster than he'd expected. In addition, although it wouldn't be particularly appetizing, the dried meat could be eaten as it was; in a forest of windblown trees, they both suspected that finding an open space where they could safely light a fire to heat water would be almost impossible. The one thing Jim left behind was the fur clothes he had made, which he wouldn't need again.
After a minute Jim paused and looked back. This had been his home, his refuge, for a year; leaving it, Blair suspected, was harder than he had expected. Understanding that, Blair said nothing, but waited patiently until Jim swung around again and moved on.
They made good time for the first hour - and then they hit the windblow. The trees were lying more or less directly across their path. Some were snapped off, while others had been blown over, pulling their roots out of the ground.
Pausing, they studied the ground.
"If we dropped nearer the valley floor," Blair suggested, "we might find fewer trees down."
"We don't want to go too low, though," Jim said. "The river has cut a sort of canyon for itself, and so have some of the tributary streams - not too deep, certainly, but deep enough to be awkward to cross. We don't want to go down more than five or six hundred feet."
Blair nodded, accepting that Jim's knowledge of the forest here was far greater than his own. But as they went lower, there was no change in the density of fallen trees, and it wasn't long before Jim stopped. "I don't think going any lower will help."
"Maybe we'd be better going higher, then, getting above the treeline, and once we started going downhill again we'd at least be travelling parallel to the fallen trees," Blair suggested. They looked at each other. "You know the ground, Jim," Blair went on. "Do you think that would make it easier?"
"It would make it easier for a few miles," Jim said, "but I'm not sure it would save much time in the long run. Even if we're going parallel to the tree trunks, the branches will still be blocking the path. I think we should just carry on at this level."
Almost instantly, the route took on all the characteristics of a nightmare. They helped each other over the fallen trunks, sometimes ducking under one that had gone down in such a way that it hadn't reached the ground, or where, in going down, it had pulled up a lot of its roots, leaving a small triangle formed of ground, roots and trunk. And all the time the conifer needles pricked them as they pushed through the branches, sometimes merely uncomfortable, sometimes surprisingly painful.
After a while they reached another stream, obvious only because they could hear it; they scrambled over a tree that covered it, then Blair paused. "I wouldn't mind a break," he said. In fact he could have kept going for a while longer without one, but he was aware that after being trapped in the landslide for three days, Jim was not yet in top form. He was equally well aware that sheer pride wouldn't let Jim admit that he needed a rest. "A quick mug of water and something to eat?"
"We're going very slowly," Jim said as Blair scooped two mugs of water from the stream.
"Not surprising," Blair said. "But better to go slow, and take a break every now and then, than exhaust ourselves trying to cover the ground as fast as we did the first hour. It's not as if we have a plane to catch." He scrabbled in one of the side pockets of his pack, and pulled out a bar of chocolate. "Emergency rations," he said. "I always carry some candy, but aim not to use it unless I must. I think this is as good a time as any to break into the stock." He broke the bar neatly in two, and gave Jim half.
They rested for perhaps half an hour, then set off again.
Blair had no idea at all how far they had travelled when they reached another stream, this one quite small, and he called another break, but he suspected that, at most, it was about two miles. "I think it's about time to stop for the day," he said. "I'm getting tired." He grinned. "You've been hiking around this valley for a year; I've spent most of the year stuck in a classroom or sitting grading papers, which doesn't exactly keep you fit. This looks like a possible place to camp. There's water, and those two snapped-off trees will do to support my tarp."
When Jim nodded agreement without arguing, Blair knew that he had judged the stop well.
They had travelled perhaps five miles, and it had taken them nearly eight hours.
Working together, it didn't take long to fix the tarpaulin shelter and clear enough ground under it for the two sleeping bags. Blair collected a pan full of water - it was slightly muddy, but he knew that if they left it for a few minutes, the mud would settle.
"This isn't a permanent stream," Jim said as he pulled some dried meat from his pack. He looked at the rest of it, then at the jumble of trees around them. "I don't think we're likely to be raided by a bear," he said wryly.
"And there's nowhere high enough to hang the food anyway," Blair finished. "How do you know it's not permanent? Oh, of course - after walking this forest for a year, you have to know where all the streams are, even with the trees down to alter the look of the land."
Jim nodded. "There are some places where you get a stream in wet weather, or the run-off from melting snow," he said. "I don't say I know this one, but I can see it isn't a regular stream bed."
They chewed the dry meat, washing it down with gulps of water, then Blair pulled out his phone. "Better report in," he said, but when he tried, he was unable to get a signal.
"We're probably too low now," Jim said.
"Yeah," Blair agreed. "The one downside to a cell phone; losing the signal. Oh, well, I tried."
They were both tired; the light was just beginning to fail when they settled down, and both fell asleep almost immediately.
Mid-morning, three days later, they were still scrambling over fallen tree trunks. They had, they thought, covered around sixteen miles, which meant that they weren't too far, now, from the campsite that was their target. With luck they would reach it that night.
Suddenly, as he was about to scramble over a tree, Jim stopped, turning his head sharply. "Did you hear that?"
Blair glanced at him. "I'm not the guy with top of the range hearing," he replied. "What did you hear?"
"I thought I heard someone yelling."
Blair tensed. "Positively a human yell?"
"Sure sounded like one."
"The only people out here apart from us were the BFRO guys."
They looked at each other. "This way," Jim said, and started off at an angle to the direction they had been going.
After a while, Jim said, "There's that yell again. The guy doesn't sound too good."
"I heard something," Blair said, "but I wouldn't like to confirm that it's someone yelling. What I heard, it could be an animal."
They went on. The next yell, Blair clearly heard it. "Help!"
Jim and Blair looked at each other again. "Just yelling for help isn't going to accomplish much," Blair said.
"The guy could be trapped, and it's all he can do - and hope that someone is looking for him," Jim suggested. "I don't think he's more than a couple of hundred yards from here."
"There's another problem," Blair said gloomily. "If he's hurt... how do we get help? We're having enough problems getting ourselves through this - " He gestured around.
"Let's find him first," Jim said, and scrambled on.
Nearly quarter of an hour later they heard another yell, but this time it was very close.
"Hello!" Blair called.
"Thank god!" came the voice.
They pushed on over two more trees, and found a man trapped under one of the trees - or, rather, held down by two fairly thick branches. There was no way he could lever himself free of them; the marks on the ground around his arms showed how hard he had tried. A trickle of water just within his reach showed where he had managed to get something to drink. He had been both lucky and very unlucky.
"Are you hurt, or just stuck?" Blair asked.
"Just stuck, I think," he said.
"You one of the BFRO guys?" Blair went on as he and Jim began to examine the branches holding the man down.
"Yeah. Ron Driscoll."
"Where's your partner?"
"I don't know. We got separated when the trees began to come down. I've been yelling off and on for... I dunno... four days? No, this is the fifth day... hoping that someone was looking for us, hoping he managed to get out and they'd be looking for me... You're not an official search party, are you?"
"No," Blair said. "We were camped higher up the valley. Where we were was relatively sheltered from the wind; conditions were rough, but we didn't have falling trees. We were heading back to the road when we heard you."
"I thought... if Charlie got through, someone would come... He could be stuck somewhere too."
"The head ranger did send someone in to warn you a storm was forecast, but you weren't where he expected you to be," Blair said.
"Chief, I'm going to see if I can find a branch to let us lever this tree up slightly," Jim said. "If we can lift it just two or three inches, Mr. Driscoll should manage to wriggle out." He slipped his rucksack off and put it down beside Blair.
"Okay," Blair said as he slipped off his own rucksack. He turned his attention back to Driscoll. "So where were you, that the ranger couldn't find you?"
Driscoll seemed to pull himself together. "Well... a lot of the time, the evidence of Bigfoot is in the form of footprints, but when we reached where we reckoned the kid had been found, we couldn't see any sign of footprints, other than the ones the rescue party had made, so we decided to head a bit further up the mountain. The rangers knew we'd be searching over a fair area, so we didn't think it was that important to camp exactly where they'd found the kid. Even if we had, we'd have moved on once we'd checked that bit of the forest. We still didn't find anything, though. Then when the storm blew up and it was getting really rough, we thought we'd better get back down, so we just abandoned everything and made a run for it... but then the trees started to blow down... We got separated then, ducking in different directions when a tree came down and, well, I just kept going. I suppose Charlie did too. A few minutes later, this one came down. I tried to dodge away, but it hit me."
"Well, I wasn't exactly looking for Bigfoot, but I didn't see any sign of anything I couldn't identify," Blair said. He hesitated for a moment, then went on, "Any reason why didn't you report in every day?"
"Battery on the phone was low. Charlie... said he forgot to charge it. We thought... with two of us, phoning in wasn't vital. We were saving it for a total emergency."
"And when you got separated, he had it?"
They fell silent for a moment; Blair couldn't really think of anything to say - which, he reflected ruefully, was a new experience for him.
Driscoll broke the silence. "I must stink," he muttered.
"Well, now you mention it... " Blair replied, keeping his tone light. In fact, Driscoll stank of both urine and feces. Odd that he should be so aware of it this time, when he'd barely noticed it when he found Jim. Of course, Driscoll had been trapped for longer, but even so...
"Right, Chief," Jim said as he climbed back into sight, pulling a fairly heavy-looking branch behind him. "I think this should give us enough leverage... " He carefully wedged it under the tree holding Driscoll down, balancing it over the trunk of another one. Blair joined him; together, they pulled downwards. For a moment nothing happened, then they felt it moving. Moments later, Driscoll said, "I'm out."
They let the tree fall back and joined the rescued man. He was on his hands and knees, head down.
"All right?" Blair asked.
"Yes... Just glad to be out. Thanks, guys."
Blair felt in his backpack for his phone. "Let's see if I can get a signal from here," he said as he switched it on. "Yes!" He dialled quickly.
"Ranger station," came the voice as the phone was answered.
"Hi - is John Thery there?"
"Just a moment... "
"Hi, John, it's Blair. I tried to phone earlier, but couldn't get a signal."
"I thought that might be the problem when we didn't hear from you. Where are you now?"
"Well down - we should get in by tonight."
"It's as well - the forecast is for the weather going downhill again by morning."
"Ouch. Has the road been cleared?"
"In that case, we'll head straight off as soon as we get to you, okay?"
"It'll let you get home before the weather breaks," Thery agreed.
"And we've just found one of the BFRO guys - Ron Driscoll. He was trapped under a fallen tree, but we got him out, so he'll be coming in with us. He's not hurt - he was just held down, not able to get free. They got separated, though, and he doesn't know where the other one is."
"He didn't get out."
"We guessed that. Okay, John, see you."
He put the phone away, and pulled out two chocolate bars. He handed one to Driscoll. "This'll be the easiest thing to eat, of what we have, and fast energy for you," he said as he broke the other into two and gave Jim half.
"Thanks," Driscoll said.
They gave him until he'd eaten it to recover a little more, then set off again. Their already slow pace became even slower as they helped Driscoll, who was very stiff after his ordeal, both well aware that the man should really be being carried out on a stretcher and needed a proper medical check and probably at least one night in a hospital bed but, placed as they were, supporting him as he struggled on was the best they could do.
Rather more than an hour later, Jim paused again. "Wait a moment," he said, and moved off at an angle. He returned a few minutes later.
"I found your friend," he said quietly. "I'm sorry - he's dead. A tree caught him on the head - if he wasn't killed instantly, I don't think he would have regained consciousness."
Driscoll took a deep breath. "I was afraid of that," he said. Then - "How did you know to go over there?"
"Well... " Jim began, and glanced helplessly at Blair.
"It sounds gross, but can't you smell anything?" Blair asked gently. "He's been dead for several days; out here, a body begins to decay quickly, and once you've smelt a several-day-old corpse, well, it's not a smell you forget."
"No," Driscoll said. "I don't really smell anything apart from pine trees."
"It's not strong," Jim said, "but like Blair said, it's not a smell you ever forget. There's nothing we can do - we couldn't move the tree off him, even if it was possible for us to carry him; all we can do is tell the rangers where he is. They'll get him out as soon as they can."
They carried on, forcing a way over tree trunks and through branches that seemed determined to halt their progress. Every now and then Jim glanced up at the sky, and after the fourth time Driscoll said, "What's so interesting up there?"
"Just checking our direction from the position of the sun," Jim told him.
"Oh. But the sun moves."
Jim grinned, "I know how to compensate for that," and moved on.
A little further on, they reached a well-marked track. Although the trees were blocking it, it was going in the direction they wanted, and they used it as a guide. Blair knew - and he guessed Jim did too - that it was one of the tracks leading from the campsite into the forest, maintained for the benefit of people who wanted a set route to follow.
Suddenly they came to the edge of the trees.
If anything, Thery had understated the damage to the site, Blair decided as they allowed Driscoll to sink to the ground. He pulled out his phone again. "Hi, John - we're at the campsite."
"Okay. I'll come down and get Mr. Driscoll."
As Blair put the phone away again, he realized Jim was laying three branches on the ground in the form of an arrow.
"Just indicating where we came out - it'll give them a guide for finding the body." He hesitated. "You two stay here. I'll go over to the gate - I want a quick word with Ranger Thery."
Blair nodded, knowing what was on Jim's mind. Jim undoubtedly felt guilty that by helping Denise he had indirectly been the cause of Charlie's death, and he would certainly not want Driscoll to know that he was Denise's 'hairy man'. Blair suspected that he'd have to do some fast talking to persuade Jim that it wasn't in any way his fault that someone had thought 'sasquatch', and it certainly wasn't his fault that two Bigfoot hunters had come looking and been caught in the forest during a storm severe enough to cause massive damage to it.
He watched Jim crossing the devastated site to the gate; a few minutes later, a jeep pulled up beside him. He stood for some minutes talking to the driver, then stepped back to let the driver carry on to where Blair waited.
Thery jumped out. "Glad you're all right, Blair! And you, Mr. Driscoll."
Driscoll looked up. "I'm sorry," he muttered. "Blair said you'd tried to warn us, and couldn't find us. We hadn't gone much past where we said we'd camp, but... "
Thery said quietly, and - Blair could see - with considerable self-control, "You weren't to know how quickly the weather would change, or how bad it would be. But you were incredibly lucky at the end of the day."
"I know." Driscoll licked his lips. "You don't need to tell me we were stupid. I had five days of thinking I was going to die - a long, slow death - to reflect on that. At least Charlie died quickly, from what Mr. Ellison said."
"I'm just glad that one of you got out safely," Thery told him. "We'll get your friend's body out as soon as we can - Ellison has given me directions - but it won't be until we can get a lot of the trees cleared."
Driscoll left with Thery, and Blair walked over to where Jim was waiting beside the solitary car that sat, looking rather lonely, in the campsite's parking lot.
"It just struck me," Jim said as Blair joined him. "I've no money, I can't get any because I'm presumed dead, my apartment will have been emptied and re-let... all my things disposed of."
"You can come home with me," Blair said. "I've got a spare room - more or less - and I can certainly afford to support you till you get things sorted out."
"I don't want to be a nuisance - " Jim objected, but weakly. "I could always go to my Dad - "
"Would that be your first choice, Jim? Or even your second?"
"Well... no. It's rather last resort," Jim said wryly.
"In that case, why not come with me? In fact, I'd sort of assumed you would."
Jim looked at him for a moment, then, very quietly, said, "Thanks."
They put their rucksacks into the trunk, got into the car and set off.
For some distance they drove through an avenue of fallen trees, seeing clearly where in places these had landed across the road and had had to be cleared off it, but after a while they drove out of the area affected by the windblow and Blair gratefully speeded up. The forecast of more bad weather to come was worrying him a little; he wanted to get home.
They spoke only spasmodically as they went; Blair suspected that Jim was beginning to have... not second thoughts, exactly, but some trepidation about returning to the city, and he was bound to be wondering just what reception he would face when he walked into the PD again. And although he wanted to reassure the man he was beginning to think of as a friend, he wasn't sure just what he could say, for he, too, was far from sure the reception Jim would get. Basically Jim was AWOL.
As they reached Cascade, they passed a supermarket, and Blair turned into the parking lot. Jim glanced at him as he pulled into a space. He grinned. "I was supposed to be out there for a month, right? So although I have stuff in the freezer, there's no fresh food in the apartment."
"Come on; let's go shopping."
Half an hour later they had a shopping cart full of basic foodstuffs, and Blair turned his attention to cleaning products. Jim hovered, frowning slightly, as Blair studied packets, rejecting most of them. Eventually he tossed a packet of washing machine powder, a bottle of disinfectant, a tube of shaving cream and a bar of soap into the cart.
He grinned up at Jim. "As near hypoallergenic as there is here. These'll do for the moment - I'll find something better as soon as I can."
"Hypoallergenic?" Jim asked.
"Extra acute sense of touch, remember? Even people with 'ordinary' - that is, run-of-the-mill - skin can have severe allergic reactions to the chemicals in detergents and bleaches. You haven't been exposed to anything but 'natural' substances since your senses came on-line again. You really don't want to end up with itches and rashes caused by the chemicals 'civilized' man thinks are necessary. Necessary - huh! Only because they're cheaper for the manufacturer and seem to give faster results, and if you get a rash, why, they get around that by putting a warning on the box saying 'some people are sensitive to the materials used in the manufacture of this product; if affected, wear rubber gloves'."
"So you always use hypoallergenic cleaners, Chief?"
"No. But then I don't have sensitive skin. Like most folk, I usually go for the cheapest thing that I think does the job properly. But you need something better than that, and - " as Jim opened his mouth to protest - "it'll be good for me to use something healthier. All I needed was a little push."
"Chief... " Jim sounded unhappy.
"Jim. I'm your companion. That means it's my responsibility to watch out for you so that you can fulfil your responsibility to the tribe."
"We can discuss it again once we get home, if you insist, but you won't change my mind."
Jim looked at him, and knew he was defeated. Partly because, stubborn though he was, he had already learned that Blair could easily out-stubborn him; and partly because he didn't want to be alone again - he wanted to be out-stubborned.
Blair paid for the groceries with plastic, and they carried the bags to the car.
It wasn't long before Blair pulled up outside what looked as if might once have been a warehouse, now converted into shops on the first floor and apartments above. Jim said as much, and Blair chuckled. "Yes, it is. Was." He got out, slung his rucksack onto one shoulder and began to gather up shopping bags. Jim copied him. Blair locked the car and headed for the building. As he went in, he continued, "The apartments are very open-plan, and it's hard to keep heated in the winter, but the rent is reasonable and the area as safe as anywhere in a city." He started up the stairs, still talking. "Last year, just after I got back from Borneo, I lived for a while in a derelict, unconverted warehouse - it was all I could get at the time - and the area wasn't safe at all; I moved out of it as soon as I could. Moved to here just before Christmas, and I'm hanging on to it - I'd given up a small apartment when I went to Borneo, thought it was a waste of money paying rent when I wasn't here, but that one experience of having to take what I could get was enough. Though... "
"You might want more privacy than it offers. As I said, it's open-plan. Here we are." He stopped at a door numbered 307, groped in his pocket for the key, and unlocked the door.
Inside, Jim glanced around, assessing the place. 'Open plan' was a generous description; basically the entire apartment was one room. One segment of the big room was set up as a kitchen, the main part was a living room; stairs led to a platform on which he could see a bed, and under the platform, with the only interior walls that he could see (though a door hinted at a bathroom) was a small, doorless room that was probably intended as a closet. A curtain hid its contents from sight.
Blair headed for the kitchen area and put down the bags of shopping; Jim followed him. Then Blair crossed to the doorway of the small room and deposited his rucksack beside it. Not sure what else to do, Jim put his there as well.
"Coffee?" Blair asked.
While he waited for the water to heat, Blair began putting away the fresh food. Not sure where everything went, Jim could only help by emptying the carrier bags. Finally Blair handed Jim a mug of coffee then, picking up his own mug, he led Jim to the living area and indicated a comfortable-looking couch. "Take a load off."
As Jim sat on the couch, Blair sank down into an armchair. He took a mouthful of coffee, then put his mug down. "There's a spare bed in there," he said, indicating the small room under the platform, "but considering your size and mine, I think you're better going upstairs and I'll sleep in there. The bed upstairs is bigger."
"Chief, I can't expect you to give up your bed - " There was a look in Jim's eyes that Blair couldn't quite interpret, but that suddenly made him wonder if Jim had ever known unconditional kindness.
Kindness. To Blair, what he was offering was nothing more than the casual courtesy he would extend to anyone, but then he realized how Jim was seeing it and that Jim was on the point of losing control of his emotions, and hurried to ease the moment, aware of how ashamed Jim would be if he did break down.
"Jim, half the time I sleep down here anyway. At exam times, it's work-till-you-drop to get all the papers graded in any sort of reasonable time, and when I reach the stage when I can't stay awake any longer, it's easier - and probably safer - just to stay downstairs, fall into bed down here, rather than force myself upstairs. Anyway, there are clean sheets on the bed upstairs - I'd have to change the ones downstairs if you slept in there, because that was where I spent the night before I headed off into the Cascades."
Jim swallowed. "What can I say but thank you," he managed.
They finished their coffee, then Blair went into the bathroom for a moment, returning to say, "I'm sure you'll want a hot shower, and I've put out a spare razor for you. I have some sweats that should fit you not too badly - a little short in the leg, certainly, but apart from that we already know my clothes fit you - until we can get your clothes properly washed." He grinned. "I've washed clothes in cold water before now, and I know that no matter what you do, it isn't as effective as hot water in getting anything completely clean. I'll put the sweats out on the bed." He was careful to sound completely matter-of-fact about it.
"Thanks," Jim whispered. He took a deep breath, and headed for the bathroom.
Once the door was closed, Blair scooped up Jim's rucksack and took it upstairs. He put it beside the wardrobe, then cleared some space for Jim's things, leaving two drawers empty and some empty coathangers in the wardrobe. He left the promised sweats on the bed, scooped up the armful of clothes that had lived in those drawers and on the coathangers, and retreated to the tiny downstairs room. It took him only a few minutes to store his clothes in the chest of drawers there. Luckily the drawers were mostly empty; left so for occasional overnight visitors like his mother. If she made one of her occasional and unexpected appearances while Jim was still living with him... Well, he could face that bridge when he came to it.
Naomi would not, he knew, fault him for... well... adopting a lost spirit. She would not, however, be happy that his adoptee was ex-army, ex-pig... and possibly even now-pig, depending on whether Jim was accepted back by Cascade PD.
Blair frowned thoughtfully as he returned to the kitchen area, carrying clean clothes to wear after his shower. He left them on the armchair as he started preparing dinner, wondering - just how would Jim's reappearance be regarded by the men - and women - who had been his co-workers? He had been ready to change departments, which argued that he hadn't had a very good relationship with the cops in whatever department he'd been in when his boss tried to frame him.
Jim, a towel around his hips, came out of the bathroom just as Blair was putting a chicken and mushroom casserole into the oven. Blair grinned, forcing his expression into a cheerfulness he wasn't really feeling. "Dinner in about an hour," he said. Then, suspecting that Jim would feel happier about accepting hospitality if he felt he was contributing something, he added, "I'm going for my shower now. If you'd like to peel some potatoes, the pots are in the cupboard under the draining board. Oh, and I've put your pack upstairs, there are some empty drawers you can use and if there's anything you need to hang up, there's room in the wardrobe."
Blair showered quickly, washed his hair, dried himself, shaved, dressed and dragged a brush through his hair. He fastened his hair into a ponytail, dumped his dirty clothes in the hamper, and rejoined Jim, who, now dressed, was just finishing peeling several potatoes.
"That enough, Chief?" he asked.
Blair grinned, genuinely this time. "More than enough - I hope you're hungry. Well, if there are any left, we can have potato salad tomorrow." He hesitated. "I was thinking we could get the clothes washed tomorrow; even though the machine does the work, I don't feel up to it tonight. It's been a strenuous few days."
Jim nodded. "Yeah."
The monosyllable told Blair more about Jim's state of mind than he was sure the older man realized. He made no comment, letting Jim think he had successfully covered his... yes, it had to be apprehension. Instead, he said, "I was thinking... You were going to change departments - 'take Banks up on his offer of a transfer to Major Crime', I think you said?"
"Yes. Captain Banks had a really good reputation, and he certainly played fair by Gaines and me when Yuan and Williams tried to frame us. I decided I could trust him."
"I suspect he might have been the one who reported you missing, then - John told me the alarm was raised when you didn't go back to work.
"I was thinking... rather than going in to the police station, how would you feel about meeting him here? I could contact him, ask him to come here to meet me. If you trust him, we could tell him the truth, even though we tell everyone else you've been suffering from PTSD."
Jim licked his lips as he thought about it. "Yes... I owe him that much. And if he wants to yell at me... it would be in private."
"I won't let him yell at you," Blair told him. "At least, not about finding your senses overwhelming. In any case, I'm your companion; if I'm to end up working with you he has to respect me, at least, and it does no harm to start teaching him to respect me on our very first meeting."
"There's a point, Chief - how do we get you a paid job with the PD?"
"I'll have to think about that." Blair glanced at the clock, got up and turned on the heat under the pot of potatoes. As he rejoined Jim, he said, "I'll phone him tomorrow or - possibly better - the day after. Tomorrow, you'll still be wearing too-short pants; by the day after, your own pants will be dry."
Jim gave a wry chuckle. "Looking out for my dignity, Chief?"
"Why not?" Blair asked seriously. "It's part of the companion's job description."
Two days later, Blair phoned the police department and asked to speak to Captain Banks.
"Ah, Captain. My name is Sandburg - Blair Sandburg. I'm an anthropologist, teaching at Rainier University. My specialty has been 'primitive' tribes, but I did some forensic anthropology as part of my course work on my way to my PhD, which is in cultural anthropology. I've been thinking about it recently, and I'd like to explore police work a little more closely - the work of the detectives and how forensic anthropology can help them in their work - with a view to perhaps getting a second PhD, this time in forensic anthropology. I realize you're a busy man and if I came to see you I'd be interrupting your work, so I wondered if you would come here and discuss my options - I understand I could ride along with someone for a few weeks, observing him - or her - in the everyday work of a police officer. Someone told me that you're a good man to work under, which is why I contacted you.
"If you could visit me one evening, I could discuss with you what I hope to achieve, see if you think I stand a chance... "
For a moment there was silence at the other end, then Banks said, "What's your address?"
"852 Prospect, apartment 307."
"All right. I'll come and see you tonight, but I'm promising nothing."
"I wouldn't expect you to promise anything until you hear what I have to say," Blair said.
He hung up, then turned to Jim. "I don't know how easily I could get into the PD as a forensic anthropologist, and if I did I'd probably have to work at least some of the time with other departments, but if Captain Banks knows the truth, he could - I hope - swing things so that we worked together at least fifty percent of the time. And all the time, I'll be working on ways to teach you so that you control the senses rather than have them control you."
"Unless Banks tells me to get lost. He's not necessarily going to trust a man who just up and disappears - "
"Jim, leave the explanation to me. You have the senses, yes; but you don't really know much about them. I do." He grinned. "If necessary, I'll give him a copy of my Masters thesis to read. That'll blind him with science."
"Let's not forget that I mightn't be able to handle going back. The bullpen can be a pretty busy place. Crime scenes can be noisy, smelly... Come to that, you mightn't be able to handle crime scenes."
"Yo, Jim. Forensic anthropology. It was part of my studies, remember? It wasn't feasible for our lecturer to take us to a crime scene, but we were shown photos of quite a few. I know photos don't show the full horror of those scenes, but the lecturer told us about the smells... I've a pretty good idea of what one could be like. And I've seen... There was once when I was on an expedition... " He was silent for a moment. "We knew there had been some trouble in the area - in fact, we were leaving early because of it - and we came on a village where everyone had been massacred, maybe twenty-four hours earlier. Everyone, including the babies. What had been done to some of them... I can't think any of your crime scenes could be quite as bad as that," he finished somberly.
Jim looked at him, and said, "Probably not."
Blair was silent for a moment, deliberately pushing the recollection back into the quiet corner of his mind where he stored those memories be preferred not to think about. "All right, what do you want for dinner?"
Captain Banks arrived just before 8 pm.
Blair answered the knock, smiling ruefully as he saw the expression on the man's face when he first saw Blair, knowing exactly what Banks was thinking, knowing that Banks was trying to reconcile what he was seeing with what Blair had said about 'doctorate'.
"Thanks for coming, Captain," he said.
"You'd better not be playing some stupid trick here," Banks said.
"Well, what I said was the truth, but there's a little more to it than I told you on the phone," Blair admitted. "But before I go into that, there's someone here who wants to see you."
He let Banks enter, closed the door and locked it, then led Banks to stand in front of Jim.
"Hello, Captain," Jim said quietly.
Banks drew a deep breath. "Ellison?"
Jim nodded. "I owe you an apology, Captain."
"Where the hell have you been for the last year?"
"It's a complicated story," Blair said quietly as Jim winced at the sheer volume of Banks' voice.
Banks swung around to glare at Blair. "And supposing I believe even half of what you said about a PhD in forensic anthropology, where do you fit in?"
"If you'll just calm down, Captain, we'll tell you," Blair said. "First of all, would you like a coffee?"
Banks glared at him; Blair looked back, his gaze questioning, unintimidated. Banks seemed to realize that, and he capitulated. "Thank you. That doesn't mean you won't have to do some convincing talking, but I'll try to listen with an open mind."
"That's all we ask, sir," Jim told him.
It took Blair only a couple of minutes to pour the coffee - he had had everything prepared in readiness for Banks' arrival. He indicated the single armchair, and sat on the couch beside Jim.
He took a sip of coffee as he marshalled his thoughts. "Captain, what do you know about the bell curve?"
Banks frowned, clearly considering the question a non sequiteur. "Bell curve?"
"In education. The theory that in exams, most people's results cluster in about the middle, then the numbers tail off on each side to a very few at the bottom end and an equal very few at the top - like out of a hundred unselected candidates in an exam with top marks of a hundred, around maybe forty have results between forty and sixty; fifteen will come in with marks in the thirties and seventies, ten will have marks in the twenties and eighties, and five will have marks under twenty or above ninety. Make a graph of the results, and you have a curve that looks like a bell. Or the height of people in any unselected group - start with the smallest, going up to the tallest, and the numbers will - or should - average out with five small, ten a little bigger, fifteen a little bigger again, forty clustering around the average, fifteen a little bigger, ten bigger still and the last five pretty tall."
"Okay, I see what you're getting at," Banks admitted. "But what does that have to do with Ellison?"
"I'm coming to that. Now, take - oh, eyesight. A small percentage of any population is blind; then you have a slightly larger percentage with sight but quite severe problems, and a somewhat larger group with less severe problems who still need glasses. Then there's a cluster of people with 'normal' vision, whatever that is, a smaller group with excellent sight, a rather smaller one with what's called 'perfect' vision - that is, 20/20 - and beyond that there's a very small group with sight that's better than 20/20. Still with me?"
"And hearing," Blair continued enthusiastically. "Bottom end of the scale, deaf people; no hearing at all, grading through people with some hearing but severe difficulties, people with slight difficulties, ones with 'perfect' hearing, then on to ones with excellent hearing - perfect pitch, for example, or people for whom a whisper is as clear as a shout."
"Right, I can see that as a possibility," Banks agreed.
"The other senses are the same," Blair continued, "ranging from almost non-existent to very sensitive.
"Years ago, I came across a book that was written over a hundred years ago by an explorer, Sir Richard Burton, and you have no idea how often I have to tell people that no, he wasn't an actor, and he sure wasn't married to Elizabeth Taylor because he died in 1890, a good few years before she was born! He was a little unusual for an explorer back then; it was a respectable pursuit for a man rich enough that he didn't have to work, but most of them, when they wrote about their travels, seemed to believe that it was more important to point out that they were the first white men to see... whatever, than it was to comment on the people they met. The people they encountered were, after all, uncivilized, uneducated barbarians - what could they offer to the civilized, educated white man? But Burton was interested in the people that he met, and wrote about them."
"And this has to do with bell curves - how?"
"Burton devoted an entire book to people he called sentinels. He might or might not have found any in other parts of the world, but when he was in South America he came across several. He described them as people with a genetic advantage, who had senses more acute than 'normal' - in other words, all their senses were at the upper end of the bell curve."
"All their senses? That would make them pretty rare, surely," Banks said.
Blair nodded. "I did my Masters thesis on sentinels, but while I was able to find a fair number of people with one, two or even three heightened senses - taste and smell combined were the commonest - I was never able to find anyone with even four, let alone all five, so I did my doctoral dissertation on another subject. But I never lost my interest in sentinels."
"I still don't see where all this fits in with you wanting a ride-along... Or with Ellison, come to that."
"A lot of tribes had - sometimes still have - a 'rite of manhood', when the young men of the tribe, and sometimes the girls, undergo a... I suppose the best word you could use is ordeal." Blair carried on as if Banks hadn't spoken. "It's to prove that they are no longer children, though it's usually at an age when, in our society, they're well under school-leaving age. In many cases, especially for the boys, it's something painful, to be suffered in silence - for one Amazon tribe, they've to put one arm into a box full of ants that have a particularly nasty bite, and keep it there for a set time. Sometimes it's relatively simple, like the first boar they kill single-handed. Sometimes, though - " Blair went on quickly, seeing impatience on Banks' face - "it's to spend a set number of days alone in the jungle. According to Burton, several days spent in a solitary existence was enough to trigger the senses, providing the potential for heightened senses was there; those tribes had to have realized that, hence that particular trial. It did mean that sentinels were usually male - girls didn't have as rigorous a trial; maybe just a few days when they first hit puberty when they were restricted to not leaving their huts - and in any case they were of more value to the tribe as prospective mothers."
"All right, I see that, but I don't understand why you're telling me all this." Banks sounded more than impatient.
"'Civilized' man dropped all those rituals long ago; age became the criterion for adulthood, rather than hunting ability or the stoic acceptance of pain. But even 'civilized' man had the potential - it was just almost never triggered. I suspect, too, we killed off a lot of the genes for heightened senses with the witch hunts of two to five hundred years ago - but all it needs is for two people carrying the correct genes as a recessive to marry; they have a child, and the potential for that child developing into a sentinel - given the right trigger - is quite high.
"That was what happened to Jim," he finished.
Banks was silent for a long moment.
At last - "You're saying Ellison is one of those sentinels?"
Clearly deciding that it was time he contributed something - "After we caught Williams and Yuan, I told you I needed time to think about my future," Jim reminded Banks, who nodded. "I went camping in the Cascades, and didn't see anyone for at least ten days. By then I'd made up my mind to accept your offer of a job with Major Crime; you'd proved that I could trust you, and there were still one or two in Narcotics who seemed to think that I should have taken the blame for what Yuan did, in the name of cop solidarity."
"Would they have taken the blame if Yuan had tried to frame them?" Blair asked dryly.
"Good question," Jim said. "I shut up most of them by asking the most outspoken one that. Anyway - " He turned his attention back to Banks. "Up until then, I hadn't really been aware of any difference in my senses - but then I heard some people approaching, and I knew they had to be at least four or five hundred yards away, maybe more - and it sounded as if they were screaming right in my ears. I had to get away from the noise. That was when I realized I couldn't come back to Cascade. Not to put too fine a point on it, I ran. I found a shelter well up the valley, away from everyone. Over the past year, I tried more than once to come back, and every time, as soon as I got anywhere near people, the noise of their voices... it was just overwhelming."
"I see," Banks murmured. "So why now? What brings you back now?"
"Blair," Jim replied. "Blair found me - in fact, he saved my life. I'd been caught in a mudslide, not hurt but trapped, unable to get free. He was looking for signs of prehistoric settlement, and instead found a throwback to prehistoric times."
"Jim, don't say that!" Blair exclaimed.
"Anyway, he got me free. The weird thing was, his voice didn't drive a spike into my head the way all the others had... and he knew what was wrong with me and how to counter it."
"According to Burton, each sentinel had a companion who kept the senses from overwhelming him," Blair said. "It didn't take us long to realize that... well... that was what I was doing. Helping Jim control his senses, helping him to find ways to deal with them. And it's worked, to the point where he felt comfortable with the idea of coming back to Cascade - and that was after only a few days of interaction with me."
"And because Blair's here, all the noises and smells that I was... well, afraid would bother me, haven't been too bad."
"And that's why I need a ride-along pass," Blair said. "Jim will be able to return to working as a cop as long as I'm with him at least some of the time - that is, if you're willing to have him back."
"And the 'doctorate in forensic anthropology' line?" Banks demanded.
"Wasn't entirely a 'line'. It makes a good excuse for me to work with Jim without telling anyone else about his senses; as far as pretty well everyone else is concerned, he disappeared because he was suffering from PTSD, caused by the situation with Williams and Yuan; but after a year just relaxing, with no demands on him, he's recovered and can function perfectly well again. You needed to know. The police chief will probably need to know, maybe the DA; maybe even one or two of the other detectives in Major Crime, once they're sworn to secrecy, since I won't be able to be with him all the time, at least at first - I have my job at Rainier University, though I'm planning to tender my resignation as soon as possible, using the 'research into forensic anthropology to get a second doctorate' as my reason. But I'll have to work out my notice - oh, and get back into the doctoral programme, but I don't foresee any problems there.
"After Christmas, I'll be free to spend as much time as possible with Jim and at the PD. All things being equal, I should be able to start work on the dissertation by the summer."
"You are remembering that Ellison has been declared dead," Banks said. "There could be some problems getting him reinstated."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "Yes, that had occurred to me," Jim said quietly. "And while I think my senses would help me to find evidence, and I have the training to be a cop, I don't have to be a cop. There are other jobs I could do. I'm not desperate, Captain."
"Have we convinced you, Captain Banks?" Blair asked.
"About Ellison's reasons for disappearing and why he's now reappeared?" Banks thought for a moment. "Yes. I suppose so; it all sounds surprisingly reasonable."
"In that case, can you get us a meeting with the police chief? We'll give him the same argument, then take things from there. But in any case, I'm quitting Rainier, and it wasn't a difficult decision to make. I went into anthropology in the first instance because I learned about sentinels when I was still quite young; studying about them, wanting to find one, was always my main interest. I have a responsibility to Jim now, and I take that seriously. If Jim isn't reinstated, then I'll forget about that second doctorate, and accompany him into whatever line of work he chooses to pursue. There are plenty of jobs where heightened senses would be an advantage."
Banks nodded. "I'll get that set up as soon as possible. Oh, and Ellison - I emptied your apartment a couple of weeks after you disappeared. Just your clothes and the contents of your drawers, books, photos, things like that - I always had a feeling you'd resurface. It's all stored in my basement. I don't mind how long you wait to collect it all - "
JIm's jaw dropped. "Captain... what can I say? I thought everything would have been disposed of - "
"We'll come for it tomorrow night, Captain," Blair said.
"How will you be able to get an apartment that fast?" Banks asked.
Blair grinned. "Jim will be living here for the foreseeable future," he said.
A joint meeting with Police Chief Warren and the DA went surprisingly well, once Jim had demonstrated what he could do - unlike Banks, Warren demanded proof of Jim's heightened senses. Both Jim and Blair made it clear that they understood Jim's senses could only be used to help find evidence that would stand up in court; and in less time that he had expected, Jim found himself once again a cop employed by Cascade Police Department, with Blair cleared to ride with him.
One point Warren raised was that it would seem more sensible for Blair to spend time with the forensics team if he was studying for a doctorate in forensic anthropology.
Blair gave an unamused half chuckle. "Yes, I do realize that I'm going to have to spread myself fairly thin," he admitted. "However, I already know a lot of what's involved; faced with a skeleton, for example, I can easily recognize if it's old. The proposal I put to Rainier, is that I need experience in dealing with newer remains. I'd get that, at least in part, with Detective Ellison. He might have to work a little more closely with Forensics than he might normally do, but neither of us thinks that would be a problem."
There, were, however, other problems.
They soon became aware that Jim was being regarded with some suspicion by many of the other cops. "They're afraid I'll have another breakdown, this time someplace where I could endanger lives," Jim said quietly when Blair commented on it. "For a cop on the street, it can cause a major problem, because the cop who isn't trusted can encounter delays any time he calls for backup. It's not so bad for a detective, whose main job is finding the evidence to catch the criminals, but... "
"I see," Blair murmured thoughtfully. "It's never occurred to the guys who are slow to answer a call for backup that their delay could let a criminal escape?"
"The general feeling seems to be that there's always another day to catch the bad guy," Jim said soberly. "Whereas if an innocent bystander is badly hurt - or killed - because a cop who's known to have had a breakdown has another one, well, that's irreversible."
"Never thinking that an innocent bystander could be killed because they've delayed backup?"
"They don't see it that way. They see it as still being the fault of the guy they don't trust."
Blair gave the matter some consideration over the next day or two, then, arriving at the PD at a time when Jim had gone down to Records to check something, took the opportunity to have a quick word on the subject with Simon Banks.
"I'd hoped it wouldn't come to that," Banks admitted.
"You knew it would be a possibility?" Blair found it hard to believe that Banks would risk any man's life on that possibility, not when he knew the truth.
"PTSD isn't the same as losing one's nerve on the street," Banks said. "Nobody was ever put at risk when Ellison's senses... well, I suppose you could say jump-started."
Blair nodded. "Right, he was out in the middle of nowhere."
"But I was never totally convinced that we got all the Narcotics guys who were working with Yuan," Banks went on. "We had evidence against Yuan and four of the men in the squad, and they went down. But we'd no actual evidence against anyone else, and any others who were involved have kept their noses clean since then - probably knowing that IA is still watching. I wonder if they're at the root of any 'We can't trust Ellison not to crack again' campaign. Revenge for losing their easy money scheme."
"Jim did say that some of the Narcotics guys seemed to think he should have accepted the false accusation and allowed himself to be sent down for something he didn't do, rather than defend himself," Blair reminded him.
"I remember," Banks said. "He didn't give you any names?"
"No, and I don't suppose there's much we can do about it - it's totally in the past, but it was another of the things that led to his... well, his doubt about continuing as a cop. But now that he's back, and this situation of doubt about his reliability has arisen... We hadn't thought to tell more people than needed to know about his senses being heightened - you, Chief Warren, the DA - but I think that if Jim has to call for backup, he should do it direct through you rather than Dispatch. That way we'd know, if there was a delay, just who to blame. We thought we might need to tell some of the Major Crime guys, too; I'm beginning to think the time for that is now."
"That might be wise," Banks agreed. "A couple of them have already come to me suggesting that it could be a mistake assigning you to ride with Ellison, 'in case he has a relapse and a recurrence of his PTSD'."
Blair frowned. "Sounds as if they know there could be a 'delay response' conspiracy."
"You could be right," Banks agreed.
"All right," Blair said decisively. "When Jim comes back up from Records, we let him know the situation, and then we tell... how many of the others?"
The door opened, and Jim said quietly, "Might as well make it all of them." Blair opened his mouth to speak, and Jim raised his hand. "I know you weren't going behind my back, Chief, that you brought a justifiable concern to Captain Banks."
Banks glanced into the bullpen. Pretty well everyone seemed to be there, for once. "Let's do it now, then." He looked at Blair. "Planning on giving them that bell curve speil?"
Blair grinned and shook his head. "Nah, I'll keep it shorter than that."
They went into the bullpen. "Right, everyone, pay attention!" Banks said. "Sandburg and Ellison have something to tell you. This is not to be discussed with anyone else, or anyplace where you might be overheard, is that clear?" There was a mutter of puzzled agreement. "It's all yours, Doctor."
Blair waited for silence before saying quietly, "Is there anyone not here?"
"Good. That means everyone in Major Crime will hear this now, and we won't have to go through it again. First of all, we owe you an apology. We misled you all as to the reason for Jim's disappearance a year ago. PTSD made a acceptable excuse, but it's rather coming back to bite us - I'm sure you all know, better than we do, that Jim is now regarded as mentally unreliable, and there's a general... well, conspiracy to delay if he needs to call for backup."
"Someone had to have started it," Banks added. "If any of you know exactly who it was, I'd appreciate knowing."
Blair carried on as if there had been no interruption. "This might sound like a change of subject, but bear with me." He grinned. "This is the short version. It's a documented fact that some people have extremely acute sight or hearing - "
"Like people with perfect pitch?" Henri Brown asked.
"That's one aspect of it," Blair agreed. "Then you get people who work for tea or coffee blenders, who have an excellent sense of taste or smell. And touch - people who collect antique vases, for example, often say that the appeal is in the feel of the things.
"In hunter-gatherer tribes, you often find people - usually men, so I'll use 'man' as the default - who have all five senses that are sharper than the norm. These men were highly valued by their communities. A century ago, an explorer called Burton wrote a book about them; he called them sentinels, though some of the tribes today call them watchmen or guardians. These men could watch the movement of game from much further away than anyone else. They were aware of changes in the weather long before it actually changed. A group of hunters coming on the body of an animal already dead would regard it as a windfall; the sentinel could tell, by its smell, if it was fresh enough to eat. Working with the tribal shaman, he could tell just by touching someone if there was fever, or a broken bone... All his senses were tools, used for the benefit of his tribe.
"Most of them weren't aware of the senses as children, although they undoubtedly had and used them - but with other people around all the time, they would grow up sort of blocking them, keeping them to a level where they were comfortable. Sentinels mostly first became aware of their senses if they spent any length of time on their own, having no contact with others of their tribes. The solitude seemed to hone the senses, make the man more aware of them, if he had them.
"In the so-called civilized world, it's rare for someone to be totally alone for any length of time. If nothing else, there's background radio noise giving the illusion of someone else there, or traffic noise. Even in the bullpen here when you're all working hard - I'm aware of voices, phones ringing, general background noise. I'd guess you all are." He glanced around, registering the nods. "But we've all learned how to ignore those background sounds. We tune them out - so people don't normally get the chance to realize if they have particularly acute senses; they're too used to tuning out.
"However, a year ago Jim went camping in the Cascades, on his own. He saw nobody for over a week, and when eventually a group of hikers came near his camp, he discovered that their ordinary speaking voices - when they were still far enough away that most of us wouldn't have been aware of them at all - were so loud that he couldn't face them; he grabbed his pack and his sleeping bag, abandoned everything else including his tent and ran. Every time he tried to go back - and he tried several times - he was driven away again by the sheer noise people were making - a noise that any of the rest of us would hardly have noticed. He didn't go missing because of PTSD - that was just what seemed like a reasonable explanation - he went missing because he's a sentinel. His senses had been triggered, and he had no control."
"But surely that would happen in your hunter-gatherer tribes too," Henri Brown commented.
"Yes, but they had an answer. Every sentinel had a companion - someone whose job it was to help keep the senses from overwhelming him. When I met Jim up in the mountains we discovered that he responded to my presence. Because I was there, his senses settled and he was able to come back. Just what quality I have that accomplishes that, we don't know.
"Officially I'm here to study how anthropology can be applied to forensic work - but I'm also here to help Jim control his senses.
"It would be simplest if we could let everyone know about Jim's senses. However, we can't afford to do that. The more people who know, the higher the chance of criminals hearing about it. I don't say anyone would deliberately tell them, but all it would take would be two cops having a quiet off-duty beer talking about it, and someone beside them overhearing and repeating the 'wild tale' to a friend, who passes it on... and before you know where you are, half of Cascade is aware that there's a cop on the force who has weirdly acute senses.
"Criminals aren't stupid. It wouldn't take that much for them to discover a sentinel's vulnerabilities, and look for ways to combat him." Once again Blair looked around the group. "What I'm asking... I've already suggested to Captain Banks that if Jim needs backup, we call him direct instead of going through Dispatch; and what I'm asking is that you provide immediate backup, at least until the official backup arrives."
"But if Ellison uses his senses at crime scenes, won't that have to come out in court?" Rafe asked.
Jim shook his head. "A good defence lawyer - and the slimeballs a lot of crooks have defending them are good, at least at twisting facts - could claim that my senses are the equivalent of illegal surveillance equipment, and get his clients off on a technicality. No, I can only use my senses to find the kind of evidence that will stand up in court."
"They're a tool, nothing more," Blair said. "Think of it as checking something out with a magnifying glass or using a sniffer dog. The dog can't testify, but its handler can check out what it's found. If necessary, because everyone 'knows' people don't have that acute a sense of smell, Jim could call in one of the K-9 units because he's smelled something suspicious. The handler is the guy who'll give that evidence in court - "
"And I'm not going to worry that the K-9 unit gets the credit," Jim finished.
"We've spoken with Chief Warren and D.A. Sanchez, and Ellison has proved to their satisfaction - and, obviously, mine as well - that he does have particularly acute senses," Banks said.
"Now you all know - can we depend on you for backup?" Blair asked quietly.
There was a general murmur of agreement.
"There is a general conspiracy to be slow, isn't there?" Blair went on.
After a moment of silence, Joel said quietly, "Not as such. Not yet, anyway. But somebody started a rumor that Ellison couldn't be trusted, that he was bent, if not actually dirty, good at blaming other people when he was found out. For the moment not too many people are believing it, but the rumor isn't going away; and it keeps getting more detailed."
"As if someone was out to get Jim?"
Banks looked around. "Anybody have any idea where that rumor started?"
"The guy who told me said he'd heard it from someone in Narcotics," Rafe said. "And that sort of made sense - "
"Because that's the department Jim was in," Blair finished.
Rafe nodded. "The guys there had seen more of Jim than anyone else, so if they say something... It's the 'no smoke without fire' reaction; even if they don't actually believe the rumor, people are beginning to wonder why someone he'd worked beside says he doesn't trust Jim."
"Weren't some of the Narcotics guys caught stealing some of the drugs they'd seized?" Brown asked. "There was quite a bit of talk about it at the time, but wasn't it Williams from the gang unit who fingered Yuan?"
"Yes," Banks said. "But Jim was one of the men who took down Williams."
"And some of the Narcotics squad blamed me when Yuan was arrested," Jim said. "I don't deny that I told Captain Banks which of the men I thought were involved - but - "
"I don't blame you," Rafe said. "Dirty cops give all of us a bad name." There was a general murmur of agreement.
"Unfortunately, while there was evidence to prove that Yuan and four of the men in the squad were guilty, we've no guarantee that everyone involved was caught," Banks went on. "I've always thought there was at least one more man in Yuan's little group that we didn't catch. Something Brooks began to say when he was questioned... then he stopped himself, and wouldn't say anything more. Just 'yes' and 'no'. But if I'm right, the cop involved is lying very low right now... He could be the source of the rumors about Ellison."
"We'll keep our ears open, Captain," Rafe said.
When Blair was at Rainier, Banks assigned exchange officer Megan Connor to work with Jim, since she didn't have a regular partner. Each found the other something of an irritant - their natures were too alike - but privately, Jim admitted to Blair that that irritation was actually a good thing - it kept his attention on his surroundings in a way that, for example, someone with a more laid-back attitude wouldn't.
Both Blair and Connor developed the habit of calling dispatch as well as Simon Banks when Jim needed backup, and as long as the official backup arrived promptly, the Major Crime detectives maintained a low profile; they were all convinced that none of the patrol cops who were the usual backups suspected that Major Crime was providing a backup to the backup.
Christmas came and went, and Blair started working beside Jim as much as possible - he had to spend at least some time with Homicide and some with Forensics, if he was to stand any chance of getting his second doctorate relatively quickly. In addition, he still had to show his face at Rainier every so often; despite his existing doctorate in anthropology, he had to attend some lectures in forensic anthropology - he would have some exams to sit - as well as meeting his doctoral committee occasionally. He considered himself fortunate that Eli Stoddard, head of the anthropology department, had been willing to act as his adviser even though his primary interest was cultural anthropology. Stoddard had been something of a mentor for Blair when, starting at Rainier as an over-achieving sixteen-year-old, he had found the work easy enough but had been desperately lonely and over-compensated for being ignored by the older students - who considered him still little more than a child - by adopting a brash know-it-all attitude that irritated almost everyone. The only person who had seen past Blair's mask was Stoddard, and Blair was well aware that without Stoddard, he would not be the man he had become.
Stoddard had given him acceptance, affection, a sense of direction and, above all, stability at a time when he had desperately needed all four.
It was with Stoddard's encouragement that Blair had already begun working on his dissertation, although he knew that what he was writing would need considerable revision and expansion before he submitted it. It was, however, getting an outline done; the single step that began the journey of a thousand miles.
Jim and Blair had just entered the bullpen one morning in late April when Simon Banks, who had obviously been watching for them, called them into his office. There, they discovered that two other men were present. They were strangers to Blair, but Jim recognized both immediately.
"Captain," he said, nodding to the older of the two, then, in a less cordial tone, "Jenning."
"Ellison." It was the older of the two who answered, in a very neutral voice; the one Jim had called 'Jenning' said nothing.
Blair glanced from Jim to Banks, then to the two strangers. Banks said quietly, "Sandburg, this is Captain Limbrey from Narcotics, and Rob Jenning, also from Narcotics. Limbrey, this is Blair Sandburg - he's working for a doctorate in forensic anthropology, riding along with Detective Ellison."
"Good morning, gentlemen," Blair said quietly. Narcotics, huh? The department that was apparently responsible for the whisper campaign directed at Jim. Blair was not prepared to be more than coldly polite to anyone from Narcotics. And he found it interesting that Banks had not introduced him as Dr. Sandburg - almost as if he wanted Limbrey to underestimate Blair.
Jim turned his attention back to Banks. "What's this about, Captain?" he asked.
It was Limbrey who answered. "Can you tell us what you were doing yesterday? And Mr. Sandburg, too?"
Jim and Blair glanced at each other. "Is there any particular reason you want to know?" Jim asked.
"There are some drugs missing from a seizure that was made two days ago," Limbrey said. "The same quantity of the missing drugs was found in your locker. We know that drugs were found in your apartment just before you went missing - "
Jim looked at him. "Drugs which, it was proved, were planted there to frame me. And don't you think I'd have more sense than to stash anything illegal in my locker here?" He glanced at Jenning, and carried on. "I suppose it was Jenning who 'found' them? He always did seem to think I should have allowed myself to be framed back then and gone down for something I didn't do, instead of helping to catch the guys who really were sliding some seized drugs sideways."
Before Limbrey could say anything, Blair cut in. "As for where we were yesterday - we were here all morning, never out of the bullpen; and we left here just before one. Detective Brown left at the same time, and we went in the same elevator to the parking level. My car was nearer the elevator than Brown's; he watched us leaving. I had a meeting with my dissertation committee at two, so we went from here to Rainier; on the way we stopped at a diner near there for a quick lunch before going on to the meeting. It went on until three - Detective Ellison accompanied me because my ride-along is with him, and I considered it possible they might have one or two questions for him. Then we went for coffee and an informal discussion with Dr. Stoddard, who is my dissertation adviser. We got home a little after five, and spent the evening at home. Neither of us felt like cooking, so we phoned for a Chinese take-out, then Detective Ellison watched television and I worked on the dissertation from about seven until bedtime."
"And we're supposed to take the word of a student for all that?" Jenning asked, his voice dripping scorn. He looked at Limbrey. "How do we know the pair of them didn't sneak back instead of going to that diner, to grab that ice?"
Banks smiled. "No," he said before either Jim or Blair could answer. "You're not being asked to take the word of a student - though I can't imagine why you should think a student would automatically be an unreliable witness. Dr. Sandburg already has one PhD, and was employed by Rainier University until Christmas. He resigned his post so that he could work on a second PhD, this one in forensic anthropology."
Jenning's jaw dropped slightly as Blair added, "And we didn't sneak back after Brown drove away. The staff at the diner can confirm that we were there; they know me well."
"Thank you, Doctor," Limbrey said. He glanced at Jim. "I'm sorry. You understand that I had to check."
"Yes," Jim said grimly. "I understand." He looked thoughtfully at Jenning for a moment. "Could I suggest that you look a little nearer to home for the person who stashed the stuff in my locker? Someone in Narcotics is spreading a rumor that I'm unreliable - and the person who told me, nearly two years ago, that I had betrayed cop solidarity by helping to stop Captain Yuan is here in this room."
"Are you accusing me - " Jenning began indignantly.
"Back then you did your best to make everyone distrust me; can you blame me for thinking that you're the instigator of the current whisper campaign against me?" Jim asked. "Yes, I know there's one. I don't fault you for your loyalty to Yuan, but you have to face it; it was proved he was lining his pockets by reselling drugs from big seizures. And I wasn't his accuser. I wasn't the one who claimed that not all the drugs - or money - from seizures made it back to evidence lockup. That claim was made by a perp trying to cut a deal.
"Gaines and I were framed because we agreed that Antoine Hollins had nothing to do with a raid on a 357 drug lab; because we believed his claim that a cop was involved. It seems most likely that the cop he meant was Williams - Williams was as dirty as it was possible for a cop to be. Magnuson made it very clear that Williams had been working with him for several years. And it was Williams who dropped the dime on Yuan."
"So why did you run away?" Jennings snapped.
"Are you claiming that you wouldn't have suffered a considerable amount of stress if you'd been framed by your boss?" Blair demanded. "A man you trusted, a man you'd just discovered was a dirty cop, who'd tried to frame you to carry the can for his crimes? Ellison stayed away long enough to recover from that stress, and came back once he was sure he had recovered."
Jenning glared at him, and said nothing.
A few days later, Jim and Blair went into the small store where Blair bought most of his groceries. Things were slightly dearer than in the nearest supermarket, but Blair liked to support the small storekeepers, arguing that once the supermarkets had undercut them until they were all forced out of business, supermarket prices would go up. Jim had been a little surprised at his friend's cynicism, while agreeing that he was probably right. They would have bought some things there anyway, though, because it carried several items that both men liked, and which they couldn't get at the supermarket - "Which only carries the run-of-the-mill things that they know sell fast," Blair said, "and everything's so centralized, none of their fruit or vegetables are really fresh."
They were at the back of the store, hidden from the counter by some of the shelves, when Jim stiffened, and whispered, "Call it in, Chief - armed robbery in progress."
Blair nodded. "Be careful," he murmured, knowing exactly what Jim was going to do.
"Always," Jim grinned as he moved cautiously to the end of the aisle and peered around it. Behind him, he could hear Blair advising dispatch of the problem, then phoning Banks.
There was just one man facing the counter - Jim's guess was that he was high on something - but he was waving a gun from the storekeeper to the young female assistant who, Jim knew, was Wallace Brent's daughter. It wouldn't take much to spook the man into shooting.
"Gimme the money!" His voice was rough, hoarse, and there was a note in it that Jim didn't like. Definitely high on something, and probably living on his nerves.
The Brents saw Jim, and mentally he gave both top marks for not betraying his presence, even as Robyn Brent opened the till and began to fumble the money out.
Jim moved cautiously forward until he was fairly close. He raised his gun, and with his left hand gestured for the Brents to drop behind the counter. As they did, he snapped, "Cascade PD. Drop the gun!"
The gunman whirled, to point his gun straight at Jim. "No, you drop the gun!" he growled.
Jim watched him carefully, trying to read his body language, trying to identify the moment when he decided that shooting a cop might provide him with an escape route. Probably the first sound of a siren... and why wasn't he hearing one yet?
Then out of the corner of his eye he saw something flying towards the gunman. It impacted firmly with the man's head just above his ear and he staggered; Jim leaped forward and grabbed his arm while he was still disoriented, wrenching it behind the man's back as the door flew open. Moments later, Brown and Rafe joined him; Brown help him to handcuff the gunman while Rafe collected the gun.
Blair rushed from the shelter of the aisle. He slid to a halt beside Jim. "You okay, man?" He barely waited for Jim's nod before heading for the counter. "You two all right?"
The Brents scrambled to their feet. "Yes," Wallace Brent said. He drew a deep breath. "Thank you. I don't know what we'd have done if you hadn't been here. Given him the money, of course - it would have been a heavy loss, but worth it as long as he didn't shoot either of us. I don't know that he wouldn't have shot us anyway, though."
Blair had a horrible suspicion that Brent was right.
"Sandburg," Jim said.
Blair glanced around. "Yeah?"
"What did you throw at him?"
"Oh." He crossed the floor, and picked up a can of soup. "This."
Jim's jaw dropped, then he chuckled. Anything he might have said, however, was lost when two patrol cops appeared in the doorway, guns at the ready. They took one look at the situation, lowered their guns and moved to join the other men.
"That was fast!" one of them said. "You must have had him down before you called for backup."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "Hardly," Jim said dryly. "Sandburg called it in... what, ten minutes ago?"
There was no mistaking the genuine surprise on the faces of both patrol cops. "We just got the call about two minutes ago!"
Even without the surprised expressions, Jim would have believed him. He knew the men; this car had answered their calls for backup more than once in the last six months.
Although they weren't related, they had the same surname - Meller. It was a standing joke in the department that they had been partnered; a lot of the cops had a problem remembering which first name went with each. Now the one who hadn't yet spoken - Jim thought it was Phil - said grimly, "This is beyond a joke. If I find who delayed calling us - "
"Don't do anything that might get you into trouble, guys," Blair said.
"The delay had to be at dispatch," the other one said. He looked at Brown and Rafe. "Lucky there were four of you."
"Right, Zack," Blair went on. "We've known for a while that this was a possibility - so Captain Banks can take it from here, find out who in dispatch was late calling you." He grinned. "His bad luck that you were the nearest patrol and we know you're reliable."
As the partners Meller took charge of the gunman, Wallace Brent joined them, and took the can of soup from Blair. "I'm going to keep this," he said. "Put it on display, with a sign - 'This can took out a gunman'."
Phil Meller looked at it, looked at Blair, and grinned. "You took him down with a can of soup?"
Jim chuckled. "Yup. My partner doesn't need a gun. He throws a mean can!"
It proved easier than they had expected to catch the dispatcher who had delayed sending backup; Rob Jenning's girlfriend, still on duty.
"Rob was here when the call came in. He said it was all a practical joke," she said, and the disillusion in her voice was heart-breaking. "He said it was all staged, that the gunman and the storekeeper were part of it, to prove that Mr. Sandburg didn't fit in here, pretending he was a cop."
"I'm not pretending I'm a cop," Blair told her. "I'm riding along with Detective Ellison, yes, but that's to get an on-the-job view of things. I'm with Forensics just about as often. Once I get my doctorate in forensic anthropology, I'm hoping there'll be a place for me here, but I've never claimed to be anything but an anthropologist; I'll always be an anthropologist."
She was silent for a moment or two, then said, "Rob doesn't like Detective Ellison. I did sort of wonder if what he really wanted was to show that Detective Ellison wasn't... couldn't... "
"Couldn't really do my job?" Jim asked.
"Yes." Her voice was so soft it was nearly inaudible. "He's been saying that you couldn't handle stress, and... and... and it might get a good cop killed... That you needed to prove yourself... But what he said this time was just that it was a joke... aimed at Mr. Sandburg. I should have known better! I'm so sorry!"
"Luckily there was no harm done," Jim said, "because my partner is good at thinking on his feet. But you might think of this - slow backup could mean injury to an innocent member of the public. That's even more important if you do have a cop who might lose his nerve. The backup could make all the difference to that member of the public."
"You can thank Detective Ellison that you still have a job," the senior dispatcher said quietly. "Forget personalities. Your job is to take calls and send out assistance where it's needed, when it's needed. Understand?"
"Yes... and thank you."
That night after dinner, Jim said quietly, "I'm not sure I can do this after all, Chief."
"You can't let Jenning win. He's a... a... " Blair waved his hands helplessly, unable to think of a word that he felt would adequately describe the man.
"Slimeball?" Jim suggested. Blair grinned, recognizing Jim's favorite word to describe someone he despised. "I know. I don't want to give up, especially after all you've done - are doing - to help me, including totally changing your career. I don't want to slink away with my tail between my legs as if Jenning's whisper campaign matters to me. I don't really care what other people think as long as I know I'm doing my job the best I can. But I have to consider other people's safety. We were lucky today. Next time we mightn't be."
"You like being a cop, though."
"Yes. I like being a cop; but I don't want to risk innocent lives. I don't want to be the cause of an unnecessary death."
"Jim, if someone dies because of what Jenning does and says, it's his fault, not yours."
"It's still my fault, because he'll never forgive me for my part in catching Yuan. I don't suppose he's forgiven Earl Gaines either, but Gaines works with the gangs. He's trying to help them and they know it, so he's never in a position where he has to call for backup. I handed myself to Jenning on a plate by disappearing for that year."
"You didn't have much choice." Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Do you suppose Banks is right, and Jenning was one of Yuan's little gang, who somehow managed to dodge being caught?"
"It's possible, but I can't think what part he played. He was never one of the ones who took big seizures back to the station. Yuan was the one who decided how much to slide sideways, and Williams the one who contacted Magnuson... "
"Maybe Jenning was the one who did the paperwork. Filing false reports on the seizures, keeping track of how much they had... He'd be less obvious than the others, more able to keep his involvement hidden once things blew up. There was money too, wasn't there? Maybe the others kept their mouths shut about him because he's the one who had the money stashed away, and they're still hoping for a share of it once they've done their time."
"Which could be why they kept their mouths shut about him when they might have cut a deal by dropping him in it too. It's possible." Jim thought for a minute. "I think we stay out of this. We tell Banks, and let him take it from there. If we were involved in any investigation of Jenning, he - or his lawyer - could scream 'personal vendetta'.
"But even if Jenning does turn out to be one of Yuan's gang, he's done quite a lot of damage to my reputation here."
"I'm not sure that he has," Blair said. "This is the first time backup has actually been late, and we know why. It wasn't part of a general 'get rid of Ellison' plot, it was Jenning. And it won't take long for word to get round Dispatch that you persuaded TPTB to let that girl keep her job."
"Probably. But... "
"Leave it for the moment, Jim. You can think about options, but don't rush into making any rash decisions. In any case, I have to stay here for a little longer - certainly until I get the dissertation written."
"Dr. Stoddard seemed very pleased with what you've got done so far."
Blair grinned. "He's always very encouraging, especially with the people he likes. But yes - I think he is genuinely pleased." He sighed. "I just wish we could get at least one genuinely old body - maybe something from one of the cold cases, that goes back twenty, thirty years. The dissertation will be unbalanced without that. I mean, sometimes a doctoral candidate can spend years researching his facts. I don't want to do that; I want to finish inside a year. I've got all the theory down pat. But I do need at least one older body to compare with recent murder victims if the dissertation is to be totally comprehensive."
"I thought you said you can recognize an older body?"
"Yes, I can, but there's a difference between recognizing an old body and doing a forensic examination of it. I can manage without, but the dissertation would better if I could include one."
They took their supposition regarding Jenning to Captain Banks in the morning. He nodded as they explained their reasoning, and agreed that they should remain totally apart from the investigation he needed to put in motion to catch Jenning; Jim returned to his desk to read through reports, while Blair headed off to speak to Dan Wolf, wanting to pick his brains - and experience - on the subject of bodies found after several years.
Halfway through the morning, a call came in from a builder.
The site he was working had been derelict for many years; the old buildings where furniture had once been made collapsing as lack of maintenance ate away at their fabric. When the owner retired after suffering a stroke he had simply closed the business, and had consistently turned down increasingly lucrative offers from several businessmen who wanted to buy the ground.
When old man Rivers died from a second stroke three years later, his son - his only child - inherited everything including what had become virtually a piece of waste ground. Offers to buy the land had again been made, but Tom Rivers had been as adamant as his father about not selling. When he was killed in an accident some ten months previously, Tom's three children had inherited everything between them - their mother had walked out and disappeared without trace when the youngest of them was only eight. It didn't take them long to decide that the best thing to do with this piece of land that was of no use to them was sell it, and split the money between them.
The new owner intended putting an apartment block on it. Plans for this were submitted to the appropriate department as soon as the sale was finalized, these had been approved, and his men had moved in some days previously.
The first thing the men had to do was demolish the ruins of the old furniture factory... and in what had been a cellar, they had found a skeleton.
Banks sent Jim, and Blair with him, to the site.
They were met by two men, who both looked very shaken.
"Mr. Merrick?" Jim asked.
One of the men nodded. "This is the site foreman, Tony Rixon. As soon as the men saw the bones, he stopped the work and called me."
"Mr. Rixon. I'm Detective Ellison, and this is my associate, Dr. Sandburg. He's studying to become a forensic anthropologist, so he'll be working closely with Dr. Wolf, the forensic examiner."
"Dr. Sandburg," Merrick acknowledged. He turned his attention back to Jim. "The cellar with the... the body is over here."
As they crossed the site, Blair noticed two or three small groups of men standing around. Word of the discovery of the bones had clearly spread, and the workers were waiting to see what would happen. Two men were waiting beside a stationary digger; Merrick headed for them.
"These are the men who opened up the cellar," Merrick said. "Brad Travers operates the digger, Raul Lopez guides him when we're on a site like this."
While scooping out debris, the digger had broken through a floor, to reveal the cellar; on the second scoop of the floor that was the cellar roof, Lopez had seen the bones and yelled for Travers to stop. Then he'd run to report to Rixon, who in turn had called for Merrick.
Jim and Blair went to the side of the hole and stood looking down. "I should have been careful what I wished for," Blair whispered as Dan Wolf joined them.
Leaving Wolf to supervise the transfer of the body to the morgue, Jim and Blair headed off to see the Rivers siblings.
"I doubt they know anything," Jim said. "They were too ready to sell, knowing that the place was going to be dug over. Their father, though; and their grandfather. They weren't willing to sell. They must both have known the body was there; I'd guess that one or both were responsible."
"And since they're both dead... "
"It'll save the state the expense of a trial."
The two Rivers brothers were out of town, but they were able to see the sister.
When they explained why they were there, Jim watched her reaction carefully. There was no way her shock and horror were faked.
"But who could have put a body there?" she asked. "Someone who knew that the place was derelict, because both Dad and Grandad had an emotional attachment to the old factory and wouldn't sell?"
"The body seemed to be fairly old," Blair said. "The factory closed - what, twenty years ago? Obviously the forensic examiner hasn't had a chance to study the bones carefully, but he thought the body was older than that."
"Did either your father or your grandfather leave any personal papers?" Jim asked. "Diaries, for example?"
"I don't think so," she said. "Mark might know - he was Dad's executor - but he and Martin are away on a camping vacation, totally out of touch, and won't be home until the end of next week."
"Will you ask him to get in touch with me when he comes back," Jim said.
"Yes, of course," she replied. "But... does that mean you think Dad or Grandad might have known about... about... "
"We have to check everything," Jim said.
Next morning, while Jim began the painstaking task of checking missing persons for twenty to thirty years previously, Blair worked with Forensics as Wolf began to check the skeleton, giving it priority over two other bodies because of the help it would give to Blair.
Examining it with Wolf gave Blair considerable insight into older bodies, and that evening - knowing he had only touched the surface of what Wolf might yet find - he sat down to do some serious work on his dissertation.
Things fell into place once Mark Rivers returned home. Tom Rivers had left a locked box full of diaries, which Mark had laid aside to read through at some future date, and he was quite willing to give them to the police.
It seemed that Tom had started keeping a diary when he was ten. There were forty-eight diaries in the box. Jim and Blair checked through them together.
The first few held typical schoolboy entries; complaints about his teachers, some of the subjects... They put those to one side. Then came the boastful entries for a young man, dating.
"I don't think I'd have liked to have my sister knowing this guy," Blair said after reading a frank and derogatory assessment of the sexual satisfaction Tom had had - or, rather, to judge from his comments, had not had - with one of his dates, an underage girl with a crush on him, when he himself was still underage.
"What have you been hiding from me, Chief?" Jim asked. "Your sister?"
"Well... maybe I should say my Mom," Blair answered. "Though even she would've been too young for this sleaze. The best you can say for him was that he didn't go for anyone pre-pubescent."
They read on.
"Got it!" Jim said at last. "I'm surprised he actually wrote down all the details, but... "
"His wife?" Blair asked. The diary he was reading was full of increasingly acrimonious comments about her and her 'totally unreasonable' reaction to his several affairs.
"Yes. Seems she'd finally had enough, and told him she wanted a divorce. Two days later... He hasn't gone into any details about how he did it, but he told good old Dad what he'd done, and Dad suggested putting her into the cellar and saying she'd walked out... God, he even filed a missing persons report next day."
They read on, both curious about how he had managed to continue leading an apparently respectable life. Now unburdened by a wife, Tom gave his libido full rein in a series of short but intense affairs, all with girls who were barely of legal age.
Three years later, when Lew Rivers was forced by his first stroke to retire, Tom had considered carrying on with the business, but in his diary he admitted that he didn't have what it took to make a success of running it, his father knew it, and so had chosen to close down rather than see the business run down, though they had kept - known they had to keep - the site, unless they could find some way to dispose of Maureen Rivers' bones. At that point, Tom - who was good at working with wood - went to work for a carpenter who made customized furniture to order, which meant that although he had been in the same line of business, he hadn't actually been a rival.
"Not a guy seriously over-burdened with morals," Blair said as he put down the diary he had been reading. "It's a wonder his kids have turned out as well as they have."
"You'll often find that," Jim said. "His father had probably spoiled him, he knew what he was and didn't want to change, but made certain that his kids behaved."
The case gave Blair the last insights he needed to let him complete his dissertation. On the day he defended it, Rafe and Brown finally managed to track down a foreign bank account in Jenning's name - an account that held far more money than any police officer would have been able to save in ten lifetimes.
Under questioning, Jenning finally broke. They had been right; he had been the one who looked after the paperwork, had taken responsibility for the money that had never reached evidence lockup and, additionally, the money they had received for the drugs they had sold - Magnuson had been buying from them, through Williams, since Williams' arrival in Cascade. Only Williams had taken his share; the others had agreed to leave it all in one account, signatures from any two of them sufficient to withdraw money, until they were due to retire. Then they would split the take, and go their separate ways.
Within a week of getting his PhD in forensic anthropology, Blair received two job offers; one from the PD for a position as forensic anthropologist, the other from Rainier, offering to reinstate him as a tenured lecturer. He read the second with a stunned look on his face; the offer was virtually unprecedented. A position as lecturer, yes; but to re-employ him with instant tenure? It was pretty well unheard-of.
"So what do you want to do?" Jim asked as they settled in front of the television that night. "The Rainier job will certainly pay better - "
"Jim, the whole purpose of getting that second doctorate was so that I could work with you," Blair pointed out. "If I take the Rainier job, it's pretty well back to the way we were working before Christmas... though what excuse do I use this time for wanting a ride-along? No, the question is, rather, what do you want to do? You said, two or three weeks ago, that you didn't think you could do this now. Do you still feel that way? Seriously, now that Jenning is away and the whisper campaign seems to have died the death."
Jim sighed. "I do like being a cop, knowing that I'm making a difference... though maybe not much of a difference - it used to get me down in Narcotics. No matter how many dealers we took down, how many supply routes we closed, someone else always moved in... In Major Crime it's a different level of crime, but the story is still the same. Someone else always moves in to take the place of the scum we've put away.
"And it's frustrating, not being able to use my senses freely. I can use them to help me find evidence, but it would be so much easier if we had a dozen sentinels and their companions, our abilities were known, respected, and what we discovered using them was accepted instead of having to be wallpapered over. I mean, if I see someone committing a crime from two blocks away, I'd like that to be acceptable evidence in court, instead of having to chase my tail looking for a way to pin the crime on the guy in a way that won't have his lawyer screaming about illegal surveillance."
"Basically, then, you want to quit?"
"If it was my decision... probably. But you've done so much to make it possible for me to get my life back. How can I throw that back at you as if it's all worthless?"
"Jim. We're a team, sentinel and companion. Basically we both have to be happy in what we're doing if we're to function properly, the way we're meant to."
"You've never said that before. You... You implied that the companion had to follow where the sentinel wanted to go. You were an academic, dammit! That was your choice of career, and you gave it up to follow me into my cop world. I know that this new doctorate is still a kind of anthropology - but would you really have wanted to move away from Rainier and into forensic work if you hadn't met me? Would you have made that choice if my... If you weren't putting my needs first?"
"I don't deny I always found cultural anthropology more interesting than forensic, back when I was an undergrad. It was seeing how other people lived, not how they died... but I'm not unhappy working in your Dirty Harry world."
"You're not unhappy - but are you happy?"
Blair opened his mouth to answer, then closed it again as he considered the question.
"I'm happy to be where you are," he said at last.
"Chief. Blair. That's not an answer."
"It's the only one I have," Blair murmured. "I don't know about you, Jim, but... We haven't known each other all that long; less than a year. But I can't conceive of a life without you in it. So... I'm happy to be where you are."
Jim looked at him and dropped an arm around his shoulders. "Yeah, Chief. I... I guess I feel the same. But I want you to be doing what makes you happy, not what you think will make me happy."
Blair said quietly, "Then we need to find something to do that will make us both happy."
Over breakfast next morning, Blair said, "You like being a cop, right?"
"That figures. You're a sentinel; you have that instinct to protect the tribe. But you're a bit disillusioned, not sure that you want to carry on working for the tribe that way."
"That's about it. But," he repeated, "you already gave up one you liked - and you went to all that bother to get a doctorate in forensic anthropology so that you could work with me. How can I throw that back in your face?"
Blair shook his head. "Actually, no. I was a good teacher, but I didn't like it all that much. I taught because it was a job, being on the faculty meant that I had a chance of being considered for funding for an expedition. But I was disillusioned too. It seemed that there were too many students who were only there to delay going into a job, who became more interested in the social life or who thought anthropology was an easy option for a humanities subject. Oh, don't get me wrong, there were plenty of good, interested, hard-working students too, but... I love learning. I ate academic work when I was a student. Looking back, I can see that we had the lazy ones too - I just didn't notice it at the time, I was so busy absorbing knowledge.
"I've enjoyed learning about police work, enjoyed being back studying, working for another doctorate - but a lot of it was because I was back to doing what I like best - absorbing knowledge.
"I'd be perfectly happy putting that knowledge to use. But if you want to quit, I don't mind. What do you think you'd like to do instead of police work?"
"Search and Rescue. I could use the senses there to help me find people without having to disguise what I was doing. But what would you get out of SAR work?"
"The satisfaction of working with you, companion to your sentinel. I wouldn't mind doing some consultation work with the police on the forensic side, too, but that could be on an as-needed basis. Let's have a word with Banks and see what he thinks."
"Come to that, how would we get into a SAR unit?" Jim asked, suddenly nervous.
"Simplest thing would be to have a word with John Thery. They're always looking for good Rangers, SAR comes into their work, and I could carry on looking for traces of early settlement in the area while we patrolled it. There had to have been some settlement - I never did tell you, because I'd moved away from lecturing and didn't think I'd be doing anything with the info, but Barry Croft in Archaeology at Rainier told me that a couple of the bits of chert I picked up definitely showed signs of having been worked. And I minored in psychology - I could work for a doctorate in that in my spare time."
Jim grinned. "Collecting as many doctorates as you can, huh?"
"Why not?" Blair grinned back. "Everyone should have a hobby. It keeps your mind active."
Jim ate in silence for some seconds before he said, "Let's not rush into anything. You don't have to give either Rainier or the PD an answer instantly, and... yes, I'd like to talk things over with Banks before I make any decisions."
As they walked into the bullpen, Banks surprised them by calling them into his office before they even had time to reach Jim's desk.
As soon as the door was closed, Banks said quietly, "Ellison, I know that just about the only reason you came back to the PD was because you trusted me. Right?"
Jim frowned. "Yes. Quite apart from your reputation, you gave me cause to trust you. Why?"
"I wanted you to know - before it's publicly announced - that I've resigned. I came here from Spokane. For family reasons, I'm having to move back there. I've recommended Joel Taggert from the bomb squad as my replacement; I know he wants a shift, though of course there's no guarantee that he'll get the job. Taggert is a good man - "
"And I trust your assessment of him," Jim said, "but, in fact - " he glanced at Blair, who nodded - "this resolves a problem we've been discussing. I've been thinking - since the mess with Jenning - that I want to get out of police work, though I'd be willing to come in as a... let's say consultant, if there was a situation where my senses would help. Sandburg has had an offer to resume his position at Rainier, as well as the Forensics one from the PD, though he, too, would be happy to come in as a consultant if he was needed."
"What would you do?"
"We were thinking of applying for work with the ranger service at Cascade National Forest," Blair said.
"Isn't that a bit of a waste of your double doctorate?" Banks asked.
"That's why I'd like to do some as-needed consultant work here," Blair told him. "Seriously, though, my main job is to back up Jim, help him with his senses. A sentinel was never really meant to work in a city; his place is outdoors, and working as a ranger he'd be keeping an eye on animal movement, what people were doing inside his territory, keeping an eye on the weather, search and rescue, but if he's to work at full capacity, he needs his companion, and that's me."
"So you're going to give up everything to follow Ellison?"
"That's roughly what I said," Jim murmured. "He already gave up so much... "
"Jim. I told you. Academia was only ever a means to an end. Getting that second doctorate was only a means to that same end. From the time I first heard about sentinels I was fascinated, and now that I've met one, I know it's because... " He looked directly at Banks. "Just as Jim was born with the senses, I was born with the ability, the need, to help him. In a primitive society, that's all I would be expected to do. As it is - we can set it up with the ranger service that if we're needed by the PD for a specific case, we can get the time off. If we're patrolling the National Forest, well, when I met Jim I was up there looking for signs that people once lived there. I can carry on doing that, write papers or articles about the Forest, even while I work with Jim."
Banks scratched his cheek. "Well, it's your life," he said. "Frankly, Ellison, I don't blame you for wanting out. Even though we finally caught Jenning, even though not many people seemed to be listening to his poison, I imagine you'd be looking over your shoulder at least some of the time, wondering just how many of your fellow officers actually believed there might be something in his lies...
"The people here who know the truth will miss you, though."
"What brought me back was something you said close on two years ago; 'if all good cops quit, who's left to protect the innocent?' But... "
"A sentinel serves the tribe," Blair told him. "And although according to Burton each community had its own sentinel, that doesn't mean to say that their gifts were all exactly the same. In some ways your senses are wasted here; you can't use them openly, you can only use them to lead you to the sort of evidence that can be used in court. You said yourself how frustrating that was.
"So I have a suggestion. Let's have a word with John first, before you actually resign - "
"John?" Banks asked.
"Chief ranger. See if he's willing to give us jobs, and let us have time off if necessary to work a few cases a year with Major Crime."
"See if the Chief of Police is willing to use us as consultants," Jim said.
"And I'll have a word with Rainier. Turn down their offer of a permanent post, but maybe do two or three guest lectures a year. I'm sure Eli would go for that. That would keep my Rainier affiliation, and if I can get some stuff published that would keep the Chancellor happy too," Blair said. "We can keep our apartment - somewhere for us to stay when we do come into Cascade."
It took several days to work everything out, but so it was decided.
Two men stood on a rocky outcrop near the mountain top, gazing over the valley. One took a deep breath of the clean air, and sighed contentedly.
"I missed this," Jim Ellison said as they turned to begin the long descent to the ranger station. "I didn't realize how much until we came back. The difference is that now I'm not alone."
"Never alone again," Blair said, and the quiet certainty in his voice filled Jim with confidence. "As long as I live, you'll never be forsaken."