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"It seems perfectly clear," the lawyer said, "that Mr. Sandburg has taken a totally unwarranted dislike to my client, based largely on an unsubstantiated accusation of assault by another student, who did not even register a complaint about the alleged incident, and which he heard about at third hand."
Chancellor Edwards frowned. "In fairness, Mr. Kaplan, I checked the records. It appears that the student in question did in fact register a complaint, but she withdrew it two days later, apologising for wasting everyone's time and saying that she did it because Brad wasn't interested in her; but then she realized the damage her accusation could do to him, and her conscience wouldn't let her continue with the lie."
"It has nothing to do with that!" Blair exclaimed. "My main concern here is that Ventriss handed in, as his own work, an essay that was written by someone else. It's easy to prove that it isn't in his writing."
"How would you know?" the lawyer asked. "Chancellor, my client's father is also concerned about the standard of teaching provided by Mr. Sandburg. In the last year alone he has been absent on expeditions no fewer than four times, and while each one has been relatively short, his cumulative absence amounts to more than half the academic year. Is he a teacher here, or is he simply playing at teaching between research expeditions?"
"I'm not the one on trial here!" Blair snapped. "Research is an essential part of an anthropologist's life unless we're to remain stuck with the ideas of the past, and many of these are misinterpretations based on the cultural expectations of their time. I'm talking about standards and integrity; and Chancellor, I don't see that Rainier can maintain its reputation as a prestigious university if it allows standards to be ignored - and yes, that does include social standards as well as academic integrity."
"Mr. Sandburg, it is clear to me that you are completely prejudiced against Brad," Chancellor Edwards said, and frost would have been warmer than her tone. "Two of your fellow TAs looked at that paper, and both said that, in their opinion, it was worth at least a B - "
"It probably was, to the student who actually wrote it," Blair muttered.
Ignoring his comment, Edwards continued, "Since the general standard of marks in your classes is reasonably high, it makes me wonder if you are giving unwarrantedly high marks to students you like, whether or not they deserve such a mark, in order to keep the average up, when you are so willing to fail a well-written paper handed in by a student you clearly dislike."
"Would you be saying that if Ventriss wasn't from a rich family?" Blair asked bitterly. His shoulders slumped slightly. "I should have known this wouldn't get a fair hearing. Dr. Sidney told me that Mr. Ventriss was funding the Norman Ventriss Gymnasium for Rainier, and that alone was a good reason to give the paper a passing grade and let it go at that. It means Ventriss isn't earning his degree; his father is buying it for him!"
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," Edwards said. "Although you do realize, of course, that to say something like that in the presence of the family lawyer is laying yourself open to an accusation of slander." She smirked at Kaplan. "I am sure, however, that the family would be reluctant to expose themselves to the unpleasantness that could result from such a case."
For that read 'Rainier', Blair thought viciously.
Edwards turned her attention back to Blair. "However, Mr. Kaplan is correct in one respect; while I agree that research is a necessary part of an anthropologist's life, four such absences in a year is too many. I have no alternative but to consider such frequent absences as a breach of your contract with us, and terminate your employment with immediate effect."
"Fine!" Blair said. "I hope your gymnasium is worth it!" He turned and strode out.
Sheer anger carried him to the small storeroom that he used as an office. He snagged an empty box from several pushed under the shelving, left there to carry whatever material was being taken from the storeroom, and began to check the books on the shelf he had cleared of Rainier material and used for his own books and papers. He sorted out the books that were his, and put them into the box, leaving on the shelf the books he had borrowed from the university library; let someone else return them when Edwards had the place checked to make sure he had entirely removed his unwelcome presence from Rainier's hallowed halls. He added the contents of two loose-leaf folders - partly written papers and the notes he had made on his probably-never-to-be-finished-now dissertation on the interaction between members of small hunter-gatherer tribes, carefully leaving the folders themselves on the shelf; they had been requisitioned from Rainier, and he wouldn't put it past Edwards to charge him with theft if he took them. His small tape recorder and some tapes of tribal rhythms that he sometimes used during lectures went on top of the papers.
He looked round the room. There were some ungraded papers on the shelf - someone else could deal with them. He had no Rainier material at home -
A sudden thought gave him pause, and he picked up the backpack that lay beside the small table he used as a desk. He scrabbled through it, retrieved one book, and put it on the shelf beside the other library books. Then he fastened the pack, slung it over one shoulder, picked up the box and walked out.
Barely fifteen minutes had passed since he left Edwards' office.
He reached his car, put the box and pack on the back seat, and drove off.
It didn't take him long to reach the small one-room apartment in the centre of Cascade that had been his home for the last two years, but it was long enough for him to decide he had to move. Rainier had this address; it would be too easy for Ventriss to get hold of it and set out to cause him a lot of petty annoyance.
He took the box and pack up to his third floor apartment and started to gather his things together. His clothes half filled a large case; he added to the case his shaving things, soap, toothbrush, towels; the books and papers from the box and the half dozen books and several magazines from the table beside his bed, and the tape recorder. The tapes, as well as a few more he took from a drawer along with a box of CDs, he pushed into his backpack. Although the room came furnished, bedding was not provided, and he hadn't bothered buying any - why should he when he had a perfectly serviceable sleeping bag? He let the air out of the small inflatable pillow he used, rolled up his sleeping bag, and pushed both into a duffle bag.
Picking up the now-empty box, he moved to the small kitchen. He packed into it the few cans and boxes he had in store, and added a half tub of butter, a wrapper containing the last few slices of a loaf of bread, a nearly full jar of coffee, and his stock of fruit and vegetables. Then he added the two pans, the mug and the handful of cutlery that were his own. The room didn't come equipped with a freezer, so he didn't have to worry about what to do with the frozen food he didn't have.
The room was paid until the end of the month, but that was only four days away; balanced against possible harassment, losing four days' rent was the better choice.
Damned if he waited until he was being harassed, in the hope he wouldn't be; to move out after trouble started would be to concede a further victory to Brad Ventriss.
Blair carried the case, duffle bag and backpack down the stairs to his car, and locked them in the trunk; went back to the room and looked round it with a weird feeling of deja vu. It wasn't much more than an hour since he had done exactly the same in his 'office' at Rainier. He double-checked the drawers; all empty. Making sure everything was secure, he took the box of food down to the car and put it in the trunk.
As he drove to the office where he paid his rent, he realized that it would be wise to change his car, too; Ventriss undoubtedly knew this one.
When he handed in the keys, he explained that he was having to leave Cascade unexpectedly to answer a family emergency; he didn't know how long he would be away, so he didn't want to retain the apartment, and because he wanted to leave immediately, before they had a chance to check the apartment, he was willing to forfeit the deposit he had left to cover possible damage.
He drove to his bank, and withdrew almost all his money, leaving a few dollars more than was needed to cover one uncleared cheque. His salary would be paid in at the end of the month - Chancellor Edwards might want to withhold it, but the most she could legally do would be to stop four days.
Next, his car... but he would have to find someplace to leave his possessions, at least temporarily, because he felt it would be unwise to buy a car from the same dealer he sold this one to.
Perhaps he was being paranoid, he reflected as he returned to the car, but he had no illusions as to the vindictiveness of Brad Ventriss. Ventriss would certainly not be satisfied with having lost Blair his job. Sitting in the car, he considered his future, wanting to have some kind of plan before he drove off, the energy his anger had given him finally dissipated.
There was, of course, no law that said he had to stay in Cascade. He could move elsewhere, apply to another university... but the incidents of the past two days had left him terribly disillusioned. He still loved anthropology, but he no longer wanted to teach; he couldn't fool himself that Rainier was the only university where politics, rather than learning, was a motivating factor in its organisation.
He was so deep in thought, the single word barely penetrated his awareness. It took the knock on the side window of the car to draw his attention. He jumped, for a split second sure than Ventriss had found him, then he focussed on the man leaning against his car.
Eli Stoddard went round to the passenger seat and got into the car. "I heard about what happened at Rainier," he said.
Blair's eyebrows lifted. "That was fast," he commented.
Stoddard grinned. "I may have quit working with the university to freelance, but I've still got friends at Rainier," he said. "The university grapevine is pretty fast; I got four different phone calls telling me about it within twenty minutes of your little interview with Edwards and that student - Vents? No, that's wrong."
"Ventriss, but Vents fits him," Blair growled.
"Apparently Ventriss started boasting about having had you kicked out pretty much as soon as he left Edwards' office. Well, it was a pretty short step for certain people, even ones who don't really know you, to realize you'd fallen foul of the political game. I don't know that I got the correct story, let alone the full one, but I think I got enough to form a pretty fair picture of what happened. Given a choice between academic integrity and student discipline or cash for the university, Edwards went with the cash, right?"
"Right. Though it didn't help that Edwards never much liked me anyway. She never could see past the hair and the earrings."
"If I'm objective about it, she was put in a fairly untenable position, though," Stoddard went on. "Even if she wanted to back you, she wouldn't want to go down in university history as the chancellor who lost Rainier a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art gymnasium." He shrugged. "It was one of the reasons I quit - the office politics. Some people would say that you and I live in a dream world where right always - or should always - triumph, and that I didn't want to live in the real world where money has the loudest voice and shouts down integrity, honesty and so on. Well, if that's the case, so be it.
"Anyway, I came looking for you - found someone checking your apartment who said you were leaving Cascade and had handed in the key, and took a guess that you'd come to your bank."
"That was fast," Blair said. "I wouldn't have expected them to have anyone available to do that until tomorrow or the day after, at the earliest."
"There's a lot of demand for small, relatively cheap apartments, when you live in a university town," Stoddard pointed out. "You know what it's like; two friends who start off rooming together can find themselves falling out about almost anything once they're actually sharing living space; it makes sense then for one of them to look for somewhere else. Are you planning on leaving Cascade?"
"I haven't decided yet, though I think it might be the wisest thing to do," Blair admitted. "But I wanted to get away from anywhere Brad Ventriss could track me easily as fast as possible. He's a vindictive little bastard; I could well see him aiming a lot of petty harassment at me if he knew my address - and he could find it - the one I just left - very easily through Rainier. Broken windows, graffiti, nuisance mail... I took money out of the bank so I could pay for everything in cash. I don't know that he has the resources to track me via credit card transactions, but his father certainly will - though I don't know if Ventriss senior is as vindictive as his spoiled brat of a son."
"Possibly not; he has a reputation for being ruthless, fighting to win, but I've never heard that he's vindictive.
"Anyway, I didn't come looking for you just to commiserate. I can offer you a job."
"You can? Eli, that's good of you, but I wouldn't want to see you landing in trouble - I'm sure Brad Ventriss would at least try to cause trouble for you if he found out - "
"Blair, I've got a good reputation as a respectable academic. It's also known that I've got money - enough that Ventriss would take me seriously. Junior didn't take you seriously because you earn your living - which is one of the things I've always respected about you. Do you really think he'd have hassled you if he'd known about that other account you have - the one you don't touch and pretend doesn't exist? Do you think Edwards would have fired you if she'd known you could have given the university two gymnasiums rather than one, and never missed the money?"
"Eli, I did nothing to deserve that money." Blair looked as agitated as he sounded. "I inherited it from a grandfather I didn't even know existed - well, academically I knew I had four grandparents, but Naomi always told me she didn't know who my father was; I always thought I was a bastard. Then to discover that she was the disapproved-of daughter-in-law of a man so rich he didn't have to work - didn't even play stocks and shares, just let his money sit there in the bank while he lived a life of luxury off the interest... That I was perfectly legitimate, born eleven months after the wedding, with a father so weak-spined that he let his father bully him into divorcing Mom a few months later... But he was killed in an accident a few weeks after that, without remarrying, so that, disapproved-of or not, I was the only grandchild, so I inherited the lot.
"It was why Naomi kept on the move, of course; so that my grandfather couldn't track her down and force her to give me up, once he knew there would be no more grandchildren. She had no illusions; she knew that if it came to a court battle, the rich grandparents would be seen as far better guardians than the relatively poor mother. Luckily, by the time he did track me down, in my third year at Rainier, I was already nineteen. He couldn't force me to go anywhere."
There was nothing Stoddard felt he could say; he knew that Blair's assessment was cynically accurate.
Stoddard was probably the only person apart from Naomi Sandburg to know about Blair's massive inheritance - other than the lawyer and the bankers concerned, for whom it had been nothing more than a business transaction; and he had never heard any details until now. At the time he inherited the money, Blair had simply needed someone to give him impartial advice - his first instinct had been to refuse it, to tell the lawyer to find some other relative to give it to, although Naomi had been able to tell him that by the time the lawyers found any other relatives, most of the money would have been in their pockets, because her husband had been an only child, her father-in-law had been an only child, and *his* father had been the only child of his immigrant parents to survive childhood.
Stoddard's advice had been to take the money, then leave it as a resource he could tap if he ever needed to. The bank dealt with all the paperwork involved, and once a year he was sent a statement detailing the interest accumulated and the tax paid.
After a moment, Stoddard went on. "As I said, Blair, I can offer you a job. It'll pay slightly better than the university did, and it includes a place to stay; my house has a small mother-in-law apartment attached, two rooms and a kitchen and bathroom, so you'd be as independent as you wanted to be, but still on hand for discussion. In addition, there'll be time for you to carry on writing your dissertation, and once it's finished, I'll see that you get a chance to present it somewhere. Fair enough?"
Blair nodded, still trying to absorb the total turnaround his life had taken in the last few hours.
"What it entails - You know how curious I've always been in tribal sentinels."
Blair nodded again. On three expeditions with Stoddard, he'd been an interested spectator as the older man asked the various tribes about sentinels, receiving answers indicating that yes, in the past the tribes had had such guardians, but that in this generation there were none - though the Chopek admitted to having had a sentinel who 'left them' two or three years previously - a statement that could have meant anything from physically moved somewhere else to died.
"Recently I've been thinking about them again. I reread Burton's Sentinels of Paraguay, and realized it gave some tips on how to identify potential sentinels as well as a few inferences on why and when sentinels appeared. Then I began wondering about heightened senses in general. I'm planning a study on heightened senses and the use modern man makes of them, but I soon realized I need an assistant; I had you in mind anyway - I'd intended to get in touch with you, ask you to quit working at Rainier at the end of this semester and join me. Interested?"
"Yes. God, Eli, yes! I've always enjoyed working with you." It was true; Blair had always considered Stoddard a friend as well as a mentor. In addition, Stoddard always gave his assistants, and the students who went on expeditions with him, full credit for their input; working with him on this study would give him back a great deal of the academic reputation that Chancellor Edwards had stripped from him by firing him, and if Stoddard could also arrange for him to present his dissertation...
"Good. I can think of more comfortable places to discuss it, though. My car's over there - follow me home, then we can talk about it properly." He reached for the door handle.
"Eli - I want to get rid of this car as soon as possible - Ventriss knows it. How about... could we transfer my stuff from the trunk to your car, then go via a used car dealer, I sell the car, and then we go on to your place?"
Stoddard glanced at him. Blair grinned weakly. "Yeah, I know, I'm being paranoid. I'm just not underestimating the little brat's maliciousness. I need to change my appearance a little, too, if I'm staying in Cascade - I don't want to cut my hair, but I can wear it in a ponytail - I always wore it loose at Rainier. That'll make quite a difference."
"Blair, you know this young man. If you think that's necessary, I won't try to argue against it. Right, let's get your stuff shifted."
Half an hour later, now carless but several hundred dollars richer, Blair slid into the passenger seat of Stoddard's car and relaxed for the first time since being called into Chancellor Edwards' office that morning.
As Stoddard pulled away from the curb, he asked, "Are you meaning to buy another car?"
"How urgently will I need one?" Blair didn't really have the money to buy a reasonable car, unless he was willing to dip into the account he refused to acknowledge existed, but he would do it if Stoddard felt it was essential he have a car. He had made excuses for his '62 Corvair, but in honesty he had long passed the stage of irritation with the difficulty of getting reliable spare parts, and was determined that his next car would be no more than three years old. Still, now he'd passed his car problems on to someone else, he could save more rapidly towards getting that three-year-old car.
"Not particularly urgently. I've got a small van you can use - I only need it occasionally, for example if I'm guest lecturing somewhere and want to take some artefacts along - and once we get this study started I won't be accepting many lecturing jobs for its duration, if I take on any at all, so you'd be doing me a favor by using it."
"Thanks." Blair wasn't sure just how honest Stoddard was being - if he didn't need the van for the year (at least) that this study would take, the obvious thing to do was sell it - but he wasn't about to look gift wheels in the carburetor, so to speak.
Stoddard's home was in one of the reasonably affluent suburbs of Cascade - a district that spoke of financial comfort rather than outright ostentation, with houses of five or six rooms rather than the 'what the hell do you need so many rooms for?' houses of the men who were actively using the size of those houses to display their wealth, and as a result had to spend a small fortune on security for them. He had moved to it after he left Rainier, so Blair, who had visited him at his previous house, had never been there.
As Stoddard turned into the driveway, Blair said, "Nice."
Stoddard grinned. "Yes, it is. It's really bigger than I need, but it gives me space for when the family visits." He had never married, considering that his many absences on various expeditions would be unfair to a wife, but he was, as Blair knew, very fond of his two nephews and their children, and - on the three or four occasions Blair had met them - both had seemed genuinely fond of their uncle.
He drove towards the double garage at one side of the house; the door swung upwards as he approached, revealing the van he had mentioned. He drove in and stopped beside it. "There's a light switch beside the door there," he said, pointing to the corner nearest him. "If you put the light on, I'll get the garage door shut."
As Blair obeyed, Stoddard also got out of the car, took down a small control from a hook on the wall, and pointed it at a unit beside the garage door, which slid smoothly back into place. "There's a sensor in the drive that operates the door when I'm coming in or going out," he explained, "but I have to close and open it with this when I'm inside. It's battery operated, like a TV remote control." He walked Blair through the steps required to enable the system, open and close the doors and disable it again. "This is also, in a way, a fire escape - and because there are battery backups it works even with a power outage. Right - let's get your things inside."
The door led into a small utility room. A chest freezer occupied the length of one wall, and a washing machine stood against the back wall. "That's a combined washer/dryer," Stoddard said. He led the way to the door into the actual house.
Stoddard passed through a hallway into the smaller apartment, and went into its living room, where he put down the box and duffle he was carrying for Blair. A stair went up one wall of it. "Bedroom and bathroom up there. Do you have your own bedding, or will you need some?"
"I've been using my sleeping bag," Blair said. "I'm perfectly happy with that."
"Are you sure?" Stoddard asked. "It's no bother to get out some of my spare blankets."
Blair nodded. "It's warm and it's comfortable," he said.
"All right," Stoddard agreed. "As far as meals are concerned, if you want to be totally independent that's fine, and you can use the freezer if you want; I'll clear space in it for you. It's just as easy, though, if we have dinner together; and feel free to come through any time you want to use the washing machine, too. I think we know each other well enough that if I say I'm busy and don't want to be disturbed you won't take offense, just as I won't if you want to work on something."
"We've worked well together before now," Blair said. "I wouldn't think we'd have any problems."
"Yes. Yes, I am." So much had happened that day, Blair hadn't had time to think about eating, but now he realized he hadn't had anything since his breakfast of a slice of toast and mug of coffee.
"I'll go and get a meal ready while you get your stuff put away," Stoddard went on. "About half an hour, all right?"
Blair sat for some minutes after Stoddard left. After the pressure of the day, he needed that time to relax, to adjust, to accept that his life was taking a completely different direction... but one, he admitted to himself, that was very welcome.
Then he rose, opened his case, took out the tape recorder, the books and the papers and put them on the table, one book holding down the papers - he'd have to buy a couple of folders for them; then went upstairs with the now much lighter case and the duffle bag.
He hadn't realized how near the sea the house was. From the downstairs room, all he could see were some tall shrubs that hid the ground behind them. The bedroom window gave enough extra height that he could see over the shrubs; beyond them, at most quarter of a mile away, was the sea, the sun glinting off the waves. He stood for a moment looking out, then turned and began to unpack. His few clothes were soon stored in drawers; he shook out the sleeping bag and threw it onto the bed, glad that there was a pillow on it - the small inflatable one he had, while adequate, wasn't really all that comfortable. He took his toiletries through to the small bathroom, which held a shower stall, sink and toilet. He put his things on the shelf above the basin, used the toilet then gave himself a quick wash.
Downstairs again, he sorted through the contents of his backpack. The tapes went on the table beside the tape recorder, and he put his laptop there too. A quick check showed a suitable socket, and he plugged it in - making a mental note to ask Eli about paying his share of the utilities. Then he carried the box of food into the small kitchen, noting that it was better equipped than the one he had left. Bread and butter went into the fridge, cans and boxes and the coffee went into a small cupboard, the vegetables into a small, neat rack and he found a bowl for the fruit. There was a coffeemaker, which his previous apartment had lacked; good. He'd finish the jar of instant, then get some proper coffee. Then, with everything more or less ready, he went back through to Eli's side of the door.
Eli always refused to discuss anything important over a meal; he maintained that to do so spoiled the proper appreciation of good food, while nobody could pay proper attention to a discussion when half his mind was concentrated on the meal.
Blair, knowing this of old, made no attempt, while they ate, to discover more about the job he was being offered, nor did he say anything about his dismissal from Rainier; instead he concentrated on the meal, enjoying the perfectly cooked, succulent chicken in a slightly spicy sauce, the accompanying brown rice complementing it perfectly. Although he was himself a reasonably good cook, it was the sort of meal he had been unable to produce in the very basic kitchen of the tiny apartment he had called home for the past two years.
It was the sort of comment that could hardly be called 'serious', being as it was a remark about the food, and so he made it.
Stoddard grinned. "I enjoy cooking, but I rarely go to the trouble of doing anything other than fairly basic when I'm on my own; I'm going to suggest that you have dinner with me every night, even if you eat in your own apartment the rest of the time. Then afterwards we can discuss things - if we have anything to discuss, of course."
"That's a good idea, but only if you take something off my pay to cover my share of the food," Blair said as he finally put his fork down. "And we could split the cooking duties."
"All right," Stoddard agreed as he pushed his empty plate away.
"And what about electricity?" Blair added.
"That goes in with the apartment as part of your pay," Stoddard said firmly. "No, no arguments - I'll let you pay a share of what we have for dinner, but everything else - including the use of the house phone if you need it - comes with the job."
Blair looked at him, correctly assessed that Stoddard wouldn't appreciate an argument about it, grinned and said, "Thanks, Eli."
He washed the dishes, then leaving them to drain he followed the older man through to the room he had indicated was his study.
Shelves of books lined the walls, and Blair looked around with barely-concealed envy. He had rarely stayed in one place long enough to make the purchase of more than one or two books feasible; the university library, supplemented by magazines, had for years satisfied much of his hunger for information; he had stayed late at the university several evenings each month to scan articles of particular interest into his laptop, and these were safely stored on his growing collection of CDs, which at least had the merit of taking up very little space. The university library was closed to him now; but he knew Eli would not grudge him the use of any of these books if he needed them, and at need he could copy articles into his laptop, although that would take time he would prefer to use for other things.
Stoddard waved him to a seat, then sat in the chair at his desk and leaned back.
"Right," he said. "First of all, how do you want your pay? As cash, or paid into a bank? And weekly, or monthly?"
"Whatever's easiest for you," Blair said.
"Well, monthly into a bank account by direct deposit would be the simplest way," Stoddard said.
"Then that's fine," Blair said. "I'll be opening a new account in another bank, anyway; I'll go and see about that tomorrow. I'll tell you the details as soon as I have them."
"Have you any particular preference for a bank?" Stoddard asked, and when Blair shook his head, went on, "Then why don't you just use my bank? We could go in together, you open an account and I set up the bank transfer to it."
"Okay," Blair said.
"Now, the parameters of the job," Stoddard went on. "As I said, this is a new study I'm starting; I've put some thought into it, done a little reading, made a few preliminary notes, but that's as far as I've gone. I don't imagine you've had time to think about it yet...?" From the way his voice trailed off, Blair was sure he was actually thinking the opposite.
"Not really," he said, "because I'm not completely sure what you're looking at. Enhanced senses; are you actually looking for sentinel abilities, as in all five senses, or just enhanced senses in general?"
"Well, obviously I'd like to find subjects with more than one sense enhanced, but in the first instance I'm willing to settle for people with just one, or maybe two."
"Right. Taste and smell are the two most likely to be linked, right?"
"Yes, and it seems to me they could be the easiest to find."
Blair thought about it for a moment. "Tea and coffee blenders, wine tasters, people who work for perfume companies?"
Blair frowned, considering. "Touch - the blind develop pretty sensitive touch, but can we say that's a naturally enhanced sense?"
"It's still worth adding to the study," Stoddard said, "especially for someone who has lost sight as an adult."
"Sight and hearing - those are harder. Mmm... Sight - check with opticians for anyone with 20/20 sight or better, really long sight... They probably wouldn't consider it ethical to give us names, but we could ask them to contact anyone fitting the parameters to see if they were willing to speak to us. Some top athletes, too - the ones who consistently score for their teams, or top golfers? They've probably got better than average sight, to assess distance and angle...
"Hearing, though... Musicians? Piano tuners? People with perfect pitch? That's not necessarily hearing more, but it would be hearing better."
"You've a lot of good suggestions there, Blair."
"Thanks," Blair said absently - he was quietly sure that Stoddard had already thought of all these. "Have you thought about people who are in psychiatric care? Ones who claim to hear voices when there's nobody there? Maybe they genuinely are hearing voices - from the next street."
"Good, good! That's exactly the sort of input I was hoping for from you. It's a possibility I hadn't considered. Now - " he went on when it was obvious Blair wasn't going to add anything more - "I want you to do some concentrated reading. First, Burton, to see exactly what he has to say about sentinels. Then I want you to check some old magazines - see if you can spot anything in them. I've already read them, but you might see something I've missed. Finally, I'll want you to read new magazines as they come out, looking for mention of anything we might be able to use. No - it's not busy work; it's what I've been doing for the last month, but while I was doing that, I couldn't do much else. If you're doing that I'll be able to follow up any possible subjects as soon as we spot them.
"Then I also want you to think about possible tests for the various senses, to see how sensitive they are, but at the moment that's secondary to finding possible subjects." Stoddard reached forward and pushed a pile of magazines and a book towards Blair. "Here's your homework."
Blair grinned. "Do you have any books by other explorers who were contemporaries of Burton? Or at least were in the field in the same era, give or take... oh, twenty, thirty years?"
"I've got one by Robert Schomburgk - he was in South America in the 1830s, mapping as well as exploring, as well as one about him and the work he did. Then there's A Personal Narrative by Alexander von Humboldt - he was in South America rather earlier, around the turn of the eighteenth century. I've got Speke's Discovery of the Source of the Nile, but that's rather later - 1863. Of course, Burton was in Africa during the mid to late 1850s, too."
"Speke travelled with Burton for a while, didn't he?" Blair asked.
"Yes, for about five years, but they eventually fell out over whether or not Lake Victoria was the source of the Nile. Burton agreed with the prevailing view that it was Lake Nyassa. Speke wasn't as interested in the people they met, though, as Burton was; his book doesn't say much about the people. He was far more interested in the places they saw. More interested in saying that he was the first white man to see... wherever. I doubt you'll find anything of value to our study in it. As for Burton - at least ninety percent of his Sentinel research was done before he went to Africa, before he met Speke, even although he did most of his actual writing after that, when he was living in Trieste."
"So what you're saying is that there isn't likely to be much information on sentinels anywhere except in Burton's books about South America?"
Stoddard nodded. "Europe and much of Asia has been 'civilized' too long, and because North America was mostly settled from Europe - and because the native culture was despised as 'primitive' - it, too, hasn't been of particular interest to anthropologists in general until relatively recently. Much the same can be said for Australia, and how much African culture was lost between the slave trade and European settlement? Central and South America, though - especially the jungle areas - hell, we're still finding the odd tribe that has had no contact at all with white men."
He was repeating things that he knew Blair knew perfectly well, but he had learned that discussing things that were already known sometimes triggered a forgotten memory.
"Civilized or not, it's not really that long since the peasant culture died out," Blair said thoughtfully. "Have you considered folk tales as a possible source of information? There are the stories of heroes who have companions who have different abilities, and as I remember some of them were able to hear or see much more than ordinary men."
Stoddard grinned. "Blair, my boy, you've just suggested a whole new line of research for yourself. That hadn't occurred to me at all, and it all adds background to the study." He thought for a moment. "I've only one or two books of folk tales or legends - ones with the more common stories you get world-wide. Have a quick look through them tonight. Tomorrow, go onto Amazon and see what they've got. Anything that looks as if it'd be useful - "
"Wouldn't it be better if I went into Cascade, went to Borders? It would let me check the contents of the books, discard any that didn't have that kind of story in them, and get our hands on any useful ones they might have instantly. We could check out Amazon after that, depending on how much I get from Borders."
"Just be careful your nightmare student doesn't see you." Stoddard, who, during his career, had been threatened once or twice by students without ever actually being attacked, wasn't totally convinced that Ventriss would go to the bother of chasing after Blair, but he respected Blair's judgement.
"Eli, the likelihood of Ventriss being anywhere near a bookstore is so small you wouldn't find it with a microscope," Blair said dryly.
Although he was satisfied that Stoddard's job offer was genuine, over the next few days Blair was aware that he was re-reading much of what Stoddard had already read, and, apart from the folk tales, he doubted that he would find anything that the older man had missed. However, he dutifully made notes as he read, just in case he had found something new.
The books of folk tales proved less useful than he had hoped, but he did find enough to justify purchasing them. There was certainly enough material there to show that the early story-tellers - and presumably their audiences - believed that it was possible for people to have heightened senses, although in each case only one sense was involved - usually, as Blair had remembered, sight or hearing. It was something that could provide an introductory chapter to the study.
A week into his new job, he had fallen into a routine that got him out of bed at eight and let him start reading by nine. On the ninth morning, he had just finished shaving when he heard Stoddard on the stairs.
"Give me five minutes and I'll be with you," he called.
"Right. I'll wait for you downstairs."
Puzzled, he heard Stoddard going down the stairs again. Stoddard's routine started his day at seven, and by half past he was usually reading his morning paper over breakfast. Normally Blair would have expected Stoddard to be on his second cup of coffee by the time he, Blair, was thinking of starting his first. Then after he finished breakfast, Blair went through to Stoddard's study to pick up the paper, and began his day's reading with it.
Blair hurriedly finished in the bathroom, returned to the bedroom where he hauled on a T-shirt and jeans, pulled his hair back into a ponytail and ran down the stairs to join Stoddard.
The older man was looking worried. Wordlessly, he held out the paper, folded open at a report headed "Arson suspected in early morning blaze". Although it was the sort of story that normally would have merited front page status, it had been pushed into a lesser spot by a newly-broken moral scandal of the kind that had people gossiping indignantly, but ultimately was of no importance whatsoever except to smear the reputation of a top politician who was probably doing nothing that his opponents weren't also doing; it was his misfortune that he had been found out, but basically all he could justifiably be accused of was lack of discretion in his personal life, not political ineptitude.
It took Blair only seconds to realize that his fears had been justified. The building was the one where he had been living just over a week earlier. There was a photo, showing the fire engines at the scene, an ambulance, several blanket-clad figures, and a handful of gawking spectators. It was all fairly dark, lit only by the leaping flames, but several faces were clear. Blair nodded grimly, and pointed to one - a young man with a satisfied smirk on his face.
"Ventriss," he said quietly.
Stoddard looked at the photo, then raised his eyes to Blair's face. "You think he set the fire."
"Or had it set. He probably believed I was still living there. Whether he'll be happy now that he believes he's left me homeless, all my belongings destroyed, I wouldn't like to guess." He returned his attention to the paper. "Four confirmed dead - three adults and a baby. Shit. All because this spoiled brat objected to me expecting him to work. It's possible he thinks I'm one of the dead, since he was there and didn't see me leave the building... Eli, I've got to take this to the police."
Blair decided that a short delay wouldn't matter, and paused long enough to swallow a quick breakfast before he headed for Cascade's police headquarters. There, he was directed to Major Crime, where he paused beside an obvious secretary.
He showed her the paper. "I might have some information on this," he said, oddly diffident now that he was actually at the police station - his upbringing had not been one to encourage him to trust the 'pigs'.
She looked at the paper, and her lips set in a tight line. "Your name?"
"Sandburg. Blair Sandburg."
She led him to a door marked 'Captain Simon Banks', and knocked on it.
She opened the door, ushered Blair in. "Mr. Sandburg, Captain. He says he has some information on last night's arson case." She withdrew, pulling the door closed as she went.
Banks stood, his hand held out. "Mr. Sandburg."
Blair was used to being surrounded by people who ranged from taller to much taller, so Banks' height fazed him not the slightest, though he could see that the African-American standing behind the desk clearly expected him to feel slightly intimidated. It was enough to make him forget his diffidence. He reached out and grasped the outstretched hand. "Morning, Captain. I won't waste your time here." He dropped the paper onto the desk and tapped the photo. "I'm quite sure this man knows something about it. Brad Ventriss."
Banks looked at the photo, and the man Blair was indicating. "Brad Ventriss? That's Norman Ventriss' son."
"That's right. I'm not saying he set the fire himself, but I'm sure he knows something about it. You just have to look at the expression on his face."
Instead, Banks looked at Blair, then strode to the door. Opening it, he yelled, "Ellison!"
The man who entered, while smaller than the Captain, still towered at least four inches above Blair.
"Jim, this is Mr. Sandburg," Banks said. "Mr. Sandburg, Detective Ellison is the primary investigator in this case. Would you care to repeat your accusation, and then give us your reasons for making it?"
Blair did so. "The boy's a malicious brat," he continued. "I was a TA - a teaching assistant, lecturing at Rainier until last week. I caught him cheating, called him on it, and he turned up for the Chancellor's enquiry into it with a lawyer to back him; a guy called Kaplan. Instead of backing me, Chancellor Edwards terminated my contract on a technicality based on something Kaplan said. Call me suspicious, but I wasn't convinced that Ventriss would be satisfied with losing me my job, though all I expected was petty annoyance; so I decided to move, since Rainier had that address. I think the coincidence of the building being torched during the night when most of the people in it would be in bed and asleep, and his presence there at that hour with that look on his face while it burned, is pretty definitive."
Banks was watching his detective, who nodded as Blair finished. "It sounds probable," Ellison said. "And Kaplan's a slimeball who'll do and say anything for money."
"Jim!" Banks said, a note of warning in his voice.
Blair grinned, understanding that Banks considered Ellison's comment indiscreet. "Oddly enough, that was the impression I got." Then he sobered again. "Four deaths," he said quietly. "Four deaths because a spoiled, vindictive brat wanted to destroy my home. I doubt he even stopped to consider the possibility of deaths, except perhaps mine, or that he'd be destroying other people's homes too. But I also doubt that he'd care." He sighed. "He couldn't even have bothered trying a quick phone call to find out if I still lived there; under the circumstances, I could have left Cascade any time in the last week. I certainly considered it."
"Why did you stay here, then, if you expected the boy to harass you?" Banks asked.
"I was offered a job I couldn't resist," Blair said. "I don't deny I'm a little worried that Ventriss will find out where I'm living now, but I've changed my appearance a little and I'm driving a small van belonging to my employer, rather than a car of my own. I don't think he's observant enough to recognise me - but if he did, and followed me, he'd find that instead of a fairly low-rent apartment block, I'm living in the kind of house that says 'money'. He won't mess with someone rich enough to live in a house like that, because he knows how money can talk."
Ellison nodded. "He's right, Simon. These rich guys might try to cut each other's throats in business, but basically they do respect wealth... especially the independently wealthy, which I gather your employer is?" He was looking at Blair.
"Yes." He hesitated for a moment, still reluctant to trust a cop, but he couldn't deny that these two men were treating him with respect - which contradicted the stories Naomi had told him about her dealings with the police. On the other hand, Naomi, while not actually breaking the law, had been involved in protests and Blair was objective enough to realize that the cops breaking up these protests had simply been doing their job, and that Naomi and her friends had undoubtedly been less than co-operative when asked to 'break it up'. Abruptly making up his mind, he said, "I'm working for - working with - Dr. Stoddard as a research assistant, and living in his house - it makes it easier to discuss our findings. As you said, he's independently wealthy - he lectures occasionally if he isn't involved in some project, writes books and works on research projects as - well, almost a hobby, but he's very well-respected in anthropological circles and his books sell well. His current project - as his assistant, I'll get valuable academic credit for all my input, and he's going to make sure I can present my doctoral dissertation somewhere. You see why I couldn't pass up his job offer?"
"Yes," Ellison said. "But be careful; if Ventriss does recognise you, he might try to run you off the road."
"He won't expect me to be in a van," Blair replied. "As far as he knows, I drive a '62 Corvair. I sold it the same day that I left Rainier."
"All right, I'll have a word with Mr. Ventriss Jr," Ellison said.
"He'll have Kaplan with him," Blair warned.
"Only if we mention we think the fire was arson aimed at harming you; I think we can be a bit more subtle than that. We recognised him from the photo in the paper, and are treating him as a witness. He doesn't need a lawyer along if he's being questioned as a witness."
"Be careful," Blair said. "Remember he's vindictive. If you do prove something against him, he could well decide to target you."
Ellison's lips curled in a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You said yourself that he wouldn't mess with someone who had money. His father and mine aren't actually business rivals - they're not in the same line of business - but they are certainly business acquaintances. I can remember Norman Ventriss and his wife visiting my father - and bringing their baby son with them - just before I went into the army. If I mention that before I question him... that will show him I belong to his 'class', and knowing I saw him as a baby might unsettle him. Anyway, we won't mention your name to him, and we'll keep you informed."
"Thanks." Blair gave his address and phone number.
Ellison left Banks' office with him, saying, "I have a visit to make in that direction - can I give you a lift? That's if you're going straight back."
"I am - I've got a lot of reading to do. But I do have wheels, thanks. I'm in the visitors' parking space in your garage." As they headed for the elevator, he continued, "At the moment our work load is split - I'm reading up on things, looking for anything that might be relevant to our study, while Eli - Dr. Stoddard - is following up the one or two possible leads we have. It makes sense for the guy with the full credentials to do that - he's likely to get more co-operation because he's taken more seriously than a post-grad student. Later, we'll both be working with anyone we find who meets Eli's criteria. But for the moment we're just looking for... well..."
"I wouldn't put it quite like that. We're looking for people who fit certain parameters - who have certain abilities - and then we need to study how they use these abilities in their everyday lives."
"Test subjects," Ellison repeated.
"Well, yes, we'll be testing them - but only the ones who are willing to have their abilities tested and assessed," Blair said. "Anyone who's not willing to be tested will simply go into a database to provide us with numbers - 'In total we found X subjects, but only tested the abilities of Y% of them'."
Ellison shook his head and changed the subject slightly as they got into the elevator. "You said you were lecturing at Rainier - what subject?"
"Anthropology. Up till now all the field work I've done has been abroad - working with hunter-gatherer tribes, ones who've had very little contact with Western civilization. This is the first time I've become involved in a study of civilized Man."
"And it never occurs to you that your subjects might resent being subjects?" It could have sounded accusing; instead, it sounded as if he was genuinely asking for information.
"The so-called 'primitive' tribes are usually flattered that there are white men who find their way of life interesting - as well as being able to feel superior because there are so many things they can do that we can't. Well, actually they don't feel superior; more usually they pity the ignorant white men who couldn't possibly survive in the jungle on their own. As for this current study - we'll have some sort of contract with our subjects. We'll ensure their anonymity, for example - that's the most important thing. And of course, in the final analysis, it's up to them to agree to help us or tell us to get lost. You can't get reliable data from unwilling participants in a study."
The elevator doors opened onto the garage and Ellison led the way into it. Blair waved a cheerful farewell as Ellison turned towards an elderly blue truck - not quite as old as the Corvair, Blair decided - then himself turned towards Stoddard's small red van.
He had wasted enough time; he needed to get back, to get on with his work. But he was quietly satisfied with his morning so far, with the response he had had from the two cops, who had treated him with a courtesy Naomi had led him to believe cops extended to nobody.
Two days later, Ellison phoned Blair.
"Mr. Sandburg? Detective Ellison. I've spoken to Brad Ventriss, and between ourselves, I'm sure you're right; he does know something about the fire. Unfortunately, he is remarkably self-possessed - there was no weakness, no uncertainty, that I could have used to unnerve him. He was, he said, passing, saw the flames, and stopped to watch. The emergency services were already there, and he hadn't seen anyone leaving the scene. It was, he agreed, morbid curiosity that made him stop. Forensics is checking the building thoroughly, but unless they find something, there's no way I can pin this on him - the court doesn't accept 'a cop's instinct' as just cause to arrest someone, just as it wouldn't accept your conviction that he was responsible for the fire based on the expression on his face as he watched. I don't suppose you're happy about it, and I certainly am not, but as it stands there's not much I can do."
Blair sighed. "Since he now knows the police do suspect arson - the headline could have been journalistic hype - it might stop him from trying anything more."
"He certainly knows the arsonist will be looking at a murder charge - four known deaths - and I implied - without mentioning any names - that because there were still people missing, it might be more than four."
"Are there still people missing?" Blair asked, his voice unhappy.
"We've tracked down almost everyone - one or two are still in hospital, several have found beds with relatives - but we haven't traced everyone. That doesn't mean to say their bodies are somewhere in the building; they could have moved in with friends and we just haven't found them yet, to account for them." Ellison hesitated before going on. "How well did you know your neighbors there?"
"I didn't know most of them at all; I could recognise one or two I met on the stairs occasionally, but we never exchanged more than a 'good morning'. I just find it hard to think some of them died because of me."
"You did nothing wrong, Mr. Sandburg," Ellison said quietly. "Remember that."
Days passed into weeks. During that time, Blair finally finished reading through the older magazines, and started reading the new ones. He finished reading through Burton's book, and turned his attention to Schomburgk's, finding it not very helpful; Schomburgk's primary focus seemed to be mapping the land he was exploring, and he mentioned the tribes he met only briefly, although at rare intervals he did refer to specific individuals. It was interesting reading, and Blair found himself enjoying the book, but he couldn't fool himself into thinking he would find anything of value in it. Torn between abandoning it for that reason and carrying on reading it in case he found anything, as his conscientious nature urged, he compromised, treating it as recreational reading and turning to it only when he was in bed, in the last few minutes before he switched off the light.
Meanwhile, Stoddard had contacted and interviewed several people with heightened senses. Most had especially sensitive taste and smell, and worked in industries where their sense of taste, in particular, was essential. Following one of Blair's suggestions, he had also been able to find a young man - a voluntary patient in a mental hospital - who claimed to hear voices. "I've heard of other people who heard voices," he told Stoddard. "They usually say the voices are telling them to do something. The ones I hear aren't, like, telling me to do anything special - they're just talking. Holding conversations with each other." Tested, he proved to have enhanced hearing, and the relief on his face when Stoddard explained this to him made Stoddard realize fully just how valuable this line of study could be to psychiatrists - he had originally seen it as an interesting field of study, but hadn't given any thought to its value outside his own discipline.
However, although they had a growing database on people with one or two enhanced senses - some of them very enhanced - they had been unable to find anyone with more than two - and the two were always taste and smell.
One evening about six weeks after Blair joined him, Stoddard sat adding another single-sensed subject to the database while Blair washed the dinner dishes.
"There have to be people somewhere with more than two enhanced senses!" Stoddard exclaimed in sudden frustration as Blair returned to the study.
"Eli... have you considered that heightened senses might be... well... dying out?" Blair said reluctantly. "Even Burton indicates that sentinels were rarely found, and he was exploring areas where the tribes were still living as they did centuries ago. Today... today there aren't many areas that haven't been exposed to Western man's technological culture. The way people live today, heightened senses aren't going to give anyone an advantage. Even something like sense of direction - that had to have been a survival characteristic at one time. Some people still have a good sense of direction, but a lot of people don't. They don't need one. They depend on compasses; maps; and a lot couldn't find their way with just those, either. They need road signs, dammit!"
Stoddard shook his head. "I can't believe that, Blair. I can believe that the circumstances that allow heightened senses to develop might be a lot rarer than they used to be, but I can't believe the potential for it isn't there."
Blair sighed. "Just playing devil's advocate," he murmured. "I'd agree, the potential has to be there. How do the percentages go, anyway?"
"Sight is far and away the most common at forty three percent, ranging from marginally better than 20/20 vision to fairly extreme long sight," Stoddard replied. "Then various combinations of taste and smell, at thirty eight percent. Hearing - I'm including the ones with perfect pitch in that - seventeen percent. Touch is rarest, at two percent, and all the subjects with touch have some degree of visual impairment."
"Which could argue that we might find a subject with four enhanced senses, with the missing one being either touch or sight," Blair said.
"At the moment I'd settle for one with three," Stoddard said, the frustration back in his voice. He waved his hands irritably. "Oh, never mind me, Blair - you know how impatient I get sometimes. I'll be back to normal tomorrow. I won't accomplish anything useful tonight, but that doesn't mean you can't. Go and do some work on your dissertation - I know you've hardly looked at it since you started working with me."
Blair was indeed aware that at some point relatively early in a study, Stoddard almost invariably had a day or two of depression that it wasn't moving faster. Knowing that Stoddard was best left to his own devices until he got over it, Blair nodded and moved towards the door. "If you're quite sure there's nothing I can do...?"
Blair retreated to his own living room and called up the notes on his dissertation. Despite Stoddard's promise that he would have time to work on it, his mentor was right, Blair reflected; he had been ignoring his own work, feeling that he owed it to Stoddard to concentrate on his study. Stoddard's brief and accustomed descent into depression meant he could, without feeling guilty for working on it.
Half an hour later, he pushed his laptop away and rubbed his hands over his face. He couldn't concentrate. Why couldn't he concentrate?
Suddenly he felt an overwhelming urge to speak to Stoddard, which drove him halfway to the door before he paused for a second to wonder why; but the need to speak to Stoddard was still strong, although he didn't know what he needed to talk to Stoddard about. He went through to Stoddard's study.
Stoddard was sitting, hunched over, and panting.
Stoddard raised his head. "Blair... " he gasped.
Blair scrambled for the phone, and dialled 911.
Stoddard had had a heart attack.
Blair listened to the doctor giving him the information, shaking his head in near disbelief.
"He should make a good recovery," the doctor was saying. "You found him quickly, so there was no delay in treating him. However, this will probably mean a change in the way he lives. Does he smoke?"
"No. As far as I know he's never smoked."
"Well, that's good. Does he drink much?"
"No. He's an anthropologist, and when you go off on an expedition somewhere, you don't carry any unnecessary weight, and beer and stuff is definitely unnecessary. A lot of tribes do have their own version of booze, and some use hallucinogens almost routinely, but he always felt that taking these - except a very little to be polite - interfered with his attention to detail, and he never really bothered with it when he was at home, either."
"What about his customary diet?"
Blair managed a half smile. "Depends on where he is. On an expedition, well, as I said, we have to carry a lot of supplies, so we stick with whatever won't spoil and gives most nutritional value for its bulk and weight, or what we can buy from the tribes we visit. At home, we eat a lot of fish and poultry, rice, pasta, vegetables - pretty healthy eating on the whole."
"You're sure of that?"
Blair nodded. "I'm working with him on his current study, living in his house because it's more convenient for us, and we usually have dinner together. Tonight, for example, we had baked salmon, boiled potatoes and a mixture of vegetables. Yesterday, we had chicken, roasted without basting, baked potato and mixed vegetables. Those are typical meals."
"Mmm. Looks as if he won't have to change his diet either. Does he eat regularly?"
"Well, dinner is fairly regular - any time between six and eight, depending on what we're doing. I don't know about breakfast or lunch because we eat those separately, but I know he's likely not to bother stopping to eat if he's busy."
"That's a little variable as well, depending on what he's doing. On an expedition, he'll cover a fair distance daily. On the other hand, when he's writing, he's sitting at the computer much of the day, but he usually does some walking because he doesn't want to lose too much condition."
"At the moment?"
"He's been interviewing people for his current study, so he's been moving around a bit. I'm the one who's been fairly sedentary - there's a fair amount of reading involved, and that's been my job."
"What about his stress level?"
"Most of the time, Eli doesn't get what I would call stressed. He sometimes gets a bit depressed if things aren't going quite the way he thinks they should, and he was feeling a bit depressed tonight - he didn't say much about it, but I think - more from what he didn't say than from what he did - the guy he was seeing today wasn't very helpful, and he was feeling frustrated about that."
The doctor nodded. "In that case, his heart attack was probably caused by frustration and possibly irregular mealtimes stressing his body, and he'll have to watch that. He'll get a regimen to follow when he's home again, but from what you say, it won't in fact make much difference to his life style - he's just been unlucky."
"When will he get home?" Blair asked.
"Possibly about a week, but even although this wasn't a severe heart attack he'll need to come in for regular checks for a while, and get supervised exercise."
"Oh. You mean I should go with him when he goes out?"
"No. He'll have to go to an exercise class where his blood pressure and pulse are monitored to make sure his recovery is - well, routine. He can forget about heading off on an expedition for the foreseeable future."
"That's all right, the study we're doing is based here in Cascade, and it should take at least a year - possibly more, the rate it's going," Blair added wryly. "Can I see him tonight?"
"Yes, for a few minutes. The nurses will have him settled by now. Room 385."
"Right. Thanks, Doctor."
Blair found Stoddard looking far more relaxed than he had been some four hours earlier. He grinned as he entered. "Hi, Eli. How're you feeling?"
"Tired," Stoddard admitted. He looked at Blair. "I was trying to decide if there was something seriously wrong with me, wondering if I should call you to see what you thought, when you walked in. What brought you back through?"
"This is going to sound crazy, but I just suddenly felt I had to speak to you. I didn't even know what I had to speak to you about, just that I had to."
"Well, I'm glad you did. The doctor says I should recover all right, but that if I'd been much later arriving at the hospital, the damage would have been worse. As it is, I may never be able to risk going on another expedition."
"Well, I don't really know much about heart attacks and the recovery time involved," Blair said, "and from what the doctor said to me, you'd be better not going into the wilds for a while, but this senses study is going to take long enough that by the time it's finished, you could be recovered enough to tackle a short expedition."
"I really don't see why not," Blair said. He grinned down at his friend. "You go to sleep now, and don't worry about anything. I'll be in to see you some time tomorrow."
Stoddard murmured, "Thanks," and allowed his eyes to drift shut. Blair waited until he was sure the older man was sleeping, then turned and walked out.
It was late when he returned home. He debated with himself whether it was worth trying to do any work, but briefly; he knew he was too drained to pay proper attention to anything he might read. Yawning, he checked the house, made sure it was all secure, then went to bed. He lay reading Schomburgk for a while, then switched off the light and closed his eyes.
Tired though he had been the previous night, Blair woke early, probably because he had gone to bed, and to sleep, at least two hours earlier than usual. He lay for a few minutes, planning his day, then got up, put on the coffee maker, showered and shaved while the coffee brewed, dressed quickly, swallowed his first mug of coffee without tasting it, savored the second one, then went to pick up the morning paper from the box at the foot of the drive.
Returning to the house, he made some more coffee and toasted a bagel for breakfast, wondering how Stoddard was, but not really worried since the doctor had seemed confident that things weren't too serious. He read through the paper, finding nothing of great interest, washed the dishes then went through to Stoddard's study to check his diary for any appointments.
There were none, and he sighed with relief. He could get on with his own work without trying to cover Stoddard's as well. Going back to his own room, he turned his attention to Humboldt.
After lunch, he drove to the hospital and went in to see Stoddard, taking with him a magazine that had arrived in that morning's mail, and a notebook and pencil; he knew that Stoddard wouldn't consider lying in bed doing nothing an acceptable way to pass the day.
In fact, Stoddard was sitting beside his bed, and in reasonably high spirits.
"I feel fine," he said. Blair was unconvinced; while they spoke, Blair kept an eye on Stoddard, and when, after about an hour, he decided that the older man looked a little tired, he told Stoddard he wasn't taking any responsibility for tiring out the patient, and rose to leave.
Stoddard gripped his hand for a moment. "Thanks, Blair."
Blair grinned. "You're welcome, Eli. Not that I did that much."
"You could have suggested I wait until morning before seeing the doctor, instead of insisting on calling an ambulance last night. Left to myself, I'd probably have waited, to see if a good night's sleep would help - but if I'd waited, I'd have been much worse off today and the prognosis wouldn't have been as good."
Blair squeezed Stoddard's hand. "Just concentrate on getting better," he said.
He left Stoddard's room and headed along the corridor.
As he crossed the parking lot towards the van, he noticed a man leaning against a vaguely familiar blue and white truck, rubbing his forehead. The man was clearly in some distress, and Blair turned towards him; a few more steps, and he remembered why the truck looked familiar.
The man looked up at him briefly, then closed his eyes, screwing them shut.
"Are you all right?" Blair asked.
Ellison shook his head very slowly. "No, but... " He forced his eyes open again and squinted at Blair. "Mr. - Mr. - "
"Sandburg. Blair Sandburg. I spoke to you about that apartment block that someone torched. Do you need to see a doctor?"
"Already seen one," Ellison muttered. "The hospital can't find anything wrong with me."
Blair frowned. "I think it's pretty obvious that there is, even if it's only migraine. Light hurting your eyes?"
"Hearing too acute?"
"I'm not a doctor, but those sound like pretty typical symptoms of migraine to me."
"No," Ellison said. "It's the other way around. It's the light and the sound that give me the headache. And the stink here..."
Blair stiffened. "Stink? Like... A drop of perfume smells like someone's had a bath in it? What about taste? Like chips taste too salty, mild salsa tastes like five alarm chili?"
"How do you know that?"
"Because... Detective, I think I might know what's wrong with you. Well, 'wrong' isn't quite the word, because if I'm right, you've got a gift - it's just that you don't know how to deal with it."
"It doesn't feel like a gift to me," Ellison muttered.
Blair thought for a moment. "It probably isn't safe for you to try driving right now. Can you leave your truck here, and come with me? There's something I want to show you. Then, when you're feeling better, I'll bring you back to collect your truck."
"All right." Ellison sounded reluctant, but he allowed Blair to lead the way to his small van.
As he pulled out of his parking spot, Blair said, "How about touch, Detective? Is that giving you trouble, too?"
"Yes," Ellison said. He gave a wry grin. "Carolyn - my ex - gave me some silk underwear our first Christmas together. At the time, I thanked her, but I never wore any of it - I mean, silk? For a guy? But this last few days, my ordinary underwear has been really uncomfortable, rough, you know? So, in desperation, I tried the silk, and I can wear that without it irritating me."
"In what way?"
"Remember I said I was involved in a study of people with certain abilities? I think you're the living embodiment of our field of study."
"I remember you saying you were looking for lab rats."
"Hardly. I said that allowing us to test their abilities was voluntary."
There was a long silence as Ellison nursed his pounding head and Blair concentrated on negotiating the traffic of central Cascade, traffic which for some reason seemed heavier than usual for that time of day. At last he drove clear of the worst of it and speeded up.
Finally, Ellison said, "What abilities are you looking for, anyway?"
"Heightened senses," Blair said as he turned the van into the driveway.
With the van in the garage and the garage locked, Blair took Ellison into the house and through to his own sitting room.
"Coffee?" he asked automatically.
Ellison made a face. "I wish I could, but even weak coffee tastes too strong. Do you have any water?" He sank into a chair.
Blair took two bottles of water from the fridge. "Is that all you're drinking now? Water?" he asked.
As Ellison sipped the water, Blair turned to the books that he had been reading, and selected Burton's Sentinels of Paraguay. He flipped through the pages till he reached the one he wanted, and carried the book over to his guest. "Burton is the only one of the nineteenth century explorers who was interested enough to investigate the subject of tribal sentinels," he said, deliberately keeping his voice quiet, thinking that doing so would be kinder on his guest's ears.
"Sentinels?" Ellison asked.
"According to Burton, in all tribal cultures, villages had what Burton called a sentinel. This was someone who patrolled the border - a watchman, someone who watched the movement of the game, kept an eye on the weather, and so on. Villages that had a sentinel thrived better than villages that didn't." Leaving the book with Ellison, Blair crossed to his own seat.
"I can see that," Ellison agreed. "Like an army camp has guards. But I don't see what this has to do with me."
"Army guards are whoever is next on the rotation," Blair said. "One shift on and two off, right? Sentinels were on duty basically twenty-four/seven, because each village only had one. Nobody to relieve him of duty, ever.
"Sentinels were usually men, very occasionally women, who had heightened sensory awareness. This awareness was honed, sometimes triggered, by time spent alone in the wild - which was why most sentinels were male, of course."
"Why 'of course'?"
"Rites of adulthood," Blair explained. "A time when the children proved that they were now adult, could take on adult responsibilities. For many of the tribes, this involved - and sometimes still involves - boys suffering pain stoically. For many, it involved proving that they could survive on their own in the jungle for X days, living on what they could hunt. If a boy had sentinel potential, even if it had never shown up previously, solitary time in the wild would trigger it. A girl's rite of adulthood was rarely as difficult, so even if she had the potential, she was rarely put in a position where the sensory awareness would be triggered."
Ellison nodded. "Many tribes didn't value girls except as possible mothers."
"Exactly. A girl was seen to be of more value to the tribe as a breeder than as a protector.
"Anyway, Burton was the only explorer to expand on sentinels. At first his reports of sentinels were disputed - I've been reading the accounts of other explorers, and none of them mention sentinels - and now nobody believes in them at all.
"Dr. Stoddard's been interested in sentinels for years, and he decided to make a study of heightened senses in today's culture, and the uses people made of them. We've tracked down a fair number of people with one or two heightened senses, mostly taste and smell, who work for coffee and perfume companies. We found one with heightened hearing who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic because he heard voices speaking when there was nobody there; and several of these people have indicated a willingness to participate once we actually start doing proper tests instead of just the simple ones we've developed to check that they actually do have an enhanced sense. We found some athletes whose eyesight was sharper than normal - but up till now we haven't found anyone with all five. Detective, I think you're the real thing."
"But why now? I'm nearly forty years old, dammit! Why have they suddenly redeveloped now?"
"Redeveloped?" Blair asked sharply.
"I just remembered - I used to get into trouble when I was a child for making up stories saying I'd heard or seen things nobody else could... but the... the ability to do that went away. Why has it come back now?"
"I don't know! Unless... Have you recently spent a period of time on your own?"
"Yes," Ellison said. "I'd a few days off last month - went camping in Cascade Forest. Walking, fishing - just unwinding after a nasty case. You may have seen it in the papers - three children, brothers, murdered."
Blair nodded. "Yes, I saw it. They were killed by a neighbor, weren't they? I don't understand how anyone could do that."
"The whole story wasn't reported," Ellison said, "because 'Neighbor murders three children' with the emphasis on the murder and the grieving parents, while true, is more sensational that the full truth. It turned out the kids had been making his life a misery for months. They broke his windows, scrawled graffiti on his doors, slashed the tires on his car, scratched the paintwork... He was an enthusiastic gardener, so they hauled up plants and left them to die, made nuisance phone calls... He'd complained to the parents, and they didn't want to know, wouldn't admit their little darlings could possibly do anything to annoy anyone, and accused him of being anti-child. When we were questioning the other neighbors, one of them said he didn't know who'd killed the little brats but he'd like to give the guy a medal. Another neighbor called them 'Spawn from hell, and I'll bet the devil was sorry to see them arriving back'. The more we heard about them, the clearer it became that their killer had saved the cops a lot of trouble a few years down the line, but we still had to find him and arrest him - and he'd covered his tracks pretty well.
"Anyway, after we wrapped up the case, I didn't see anyone, didn't want to see anyone, for a week. Then when I came back to Cascade, I started having trouble with my senses spiking, giving me headaches. Going to the hospital for tests was a last resort, and a fruitless one; none of their tests and scans showed up any abnormalities."
"That's because heightened senses are perfectly normal for the people who have them," Blair said.
"Normal?" Ellison said bitterly. "I remember now... my father said people would think I was a freak if they found out about them. He said I was lucky I could hide my... my weirdness, unlike the handful of people with pituitary problems who grow to be eight foot tall. That nobody had any time for freaks." He rubbed his forehead. "I was ten when he gave me The Chrysalids to read." At Blair's puzzled looked, he added, "It's a book where there'd been a horrible nuclear war years previously, and in the society of the main character, anyone who was in any way the slightest bit 'deviant' - from having six toes to being telepathic - was vilified and either put to death or forced to run off to the Badlands just to live. He said people would react like that to me if I kept on saying I could see or hear things nobody else could."
"Bastard!" Blair muttered. "Think of it this way. You accept that a lot of people have to wear glasses, right?"
"Yes. They're near-sighted, or have astigmatism or... I dunno, something wrong with their eyes."
"And they accept that people who don't need glasses can see things they can't - at least without the glasses."
"And there are the ones who don't need glasses at all, and still others who see perfectly well outside, but need glasses for reading, because they're naturally long-sighed. And *anyone* could see a long way if they used binoculars - which for 'normally' sighted people is the equivalent of someone near-sighted wearing glasses. Right?"
"So you admit the natural range of sight is quite wide."
"Well... yes." But Ellison still sounded a trifle unsure.
"So is it any great stretch to accept that some people, at the top end of the scale, are very long-sighted?"
Ellison frowned slightly. "But the number of people who can see naturally as if they were using binoculars must be vanishingly small."
"The ends of the bell curve are always extreme, and always a very, very low percentage," Blair pointed out. "I haven't had anything to do with the people we've found - at least, not yet. Eli's the one who spoke to them, checked out what they could do - but we've discussed his interviews with them; from what he's said, their ability varies. Some have far more acute senses than others; the one thing they have in common is that all can detect things that the average guy in the street can't.
"People with one enhanced sense are rare enough," Blair went on. "With two or three, rarer still. You've got all five senses. You're one of a kind, man. Unique."
"What if I don't want to be unique, Chief?" Ellison asked. "Isn't there any way I can just turn then off? I seem to have managed it once, when I was a child... if only I could remember what I did back then!"
"I don't think it works that way," Blair said. "Maybe it was because you still hadn't hit puberty - Burton indicated that the senses didn't usually show up in children. Maybe with you they developed early for a short time, then went dormant because you were still too young to handle them, and stayed dormant because you weren't in the kind of solitary environment that would trigger them. According to Eli, several of the people we found said they found their sense either developed or improved quite dramatically as they hit their mid-teens. The only thing that doesn't fit is that although most are loners, happy with their own company, only one of them had spent any length of time on his own - the one with hearing. He'd had a bad fever when he was seventeen and been kept in isolation in the hospital. Even the medical staff had spent only minimal time with him until he was over the worst of it. Eli's theory is that he was so desperate for some sort of contact that he achieved the potential he had for acute hearing."
Ellison turned his attention to the book in his hands and began to glance down the page. Watching him, Blair knew the moment the text caught the detective's attention and he began reading in earnest. At last Ellison looked up.
"This... " he began hesitantly.
Blair grinned at him. "Feels familiar?" he asked.
"It's unreal," Ellison whispered. "He could be describing me, except that when I focus on anything for any length of time, I end up with a headache. These guys didn't. Or if they did, there's no mention of it."
"Some of that might be linked to environment," Blair said. "You're trying to listen, but there's all sorts of constant background noise that there wasn't in the South American rainforest. I know, the rainforest isn't silent, but the quality of noise in it is completely different from that in a city. You're trying to see something at a distance, and there are traffic fumes interfering, maybe making the air shimmer. The food you buy has all kinds of additives - which are bound to interfere with how things taste. And you've got to be aware all the time of the smell of the city. Any of those things could be enough to give you a headache. Combined, they could be overwhelming."
"So what can I do?" He sounded completely dispirited. "The recommended dose of the strongest painkillers barely works. And sometimes when I'm concentrating on something, I seem to lose touch with reality - at one point I wondered if I had narcolepsy, but the doctor said no - and anyway, I'd expect to fall over if I fell asleep on my feet, and there have been times I seem to have stood somewhere for an hour or more without being aware of time passing until something suddenly drew my attention and I realized it - whatever 'it' is - had happened again. I can't do my job like this, Sandburg. Up until now it hasn't happened when I'm at work, but if it did... I could end up getting someone killed if I blanked out at the wrong moment."
Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Nobody else has mentioned blanking out - I'm sure Eli would have told me about it if they had. None of the other nineteenth century explorers who wrote about their travels said anything that makes me think they encountered sentinels - though I have to admit Burton was the only one of the explorers whose work I've been reading who showed any great interest in the people he met. The others were more concerned with what they saw - that is, the geography of the land and what 'new' plants or animals they'd found - some of which of course would be named for them. And even Burton only commented on sentinels in South America - he spent time in Africa, too, but nothing he's written about Africa mentions sentinels. He doesn't even say he didn't meet any. Maybe that's because much of what he said about sentinels was debunked by some of the other explorers - if they commented at all."
"Travellers' tales," Ellison said slowly.
"Yes. You'd think one explorer would believe what another one said, because back in the nineteenth century they were all finding 'new' things, and much of what they all said was disbelieved. Maybe it was because Burton was talking about human abilities rather than some strange new animal, or a plant with medicinal qualities. Who knows? They'd all found new animals and plants; they all had experience of those. But if nobody else found any evidence of men with heightened senses - I suppose it's not impossible that they'd think Burton made that up to get a bit of attention, even though they'd probably all been accused of that at some time."
Blair shrugged. "Even today - someone says that while on a camping trip in Cascade National Park he saw a big biped that looked like a man covered in hair. He's even managed to take a photo - something those early explorers couldn't do. How many people actually believe him? How many claim the photo's been faked? God knows it's easy enough to do that, given modern computer technology; you can hardly use a photo as proof of anything these days. So how much harder is it to provide proof of something as abstract - and variable - as enhanced senses?
"So Eli and I are having to come up with a lot of tests, carried out under laboratory conditions with a control group, to prove that enhanced senses do exist. We haven't reached that stage yet, though; we're still looking for subjects as well as trying to find historical references to provide background. Well, we have Burton, but we'd like more - but I've read Humboldt, Schomburgk, Darwin, Speke... and none of them mention anything like Burton's sentinels. Eli was getting very frustrated about that - which is probably what triggered his heart attack, and took me to the hospital to visit him... just in time to meet you there."
"At least I know now what's wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong with you!" Blair was beginning to feel ever so slightly irritated; to feel that he was talking in circles. Ellison was so damn' sure his enhanced senses were nothing but a disadvantage...
Ellison remained silent for some minutes. Finally he said quietly, "Do any of your other subjects have problems?"
"One did. The one with enhanced hearing was sure he was going crazy - as I said, he was diagnosed schizophrenic - until Eli proved to him that he was hearing real conversations - ones that were taking place a hundred yards and more away, with the participants sometimes out of sight. He's volunteered for further testing once we actually start on that part of the study. Hell, he fell over himself to volunteer! It's not just gratitude either, though God knows he's more than grateful to Eli; he really does want to know the limits of his ability. The others are mostly taste, sometimes smell - and you only taste things you actually put in your mouth, while once you've been exposed to a smell for a while you do tend not to notice it any more."
Ellison nodded. "Yes, it's sight and hearing - and the feel of my clothes, to a certain extent - that have been the main problems. Okay, I can't eat or drink anything that isn't absolutely bland." He gave a mirthless snort. "I don't enjoy food any more; I eat because I know I have to. When I go into the bullpen in the morning, the smell of people is almost overpowering - but yes, it fades after a few minutes."
"What do people smell of?" Blair asked curiously.
"Sweat. Soap. Perfume - sometimes so strong you could swear someone's bathed in the stuff."
Blair grinned. "You don't always need an enhanced sense of smell to think that," he said. "And sometimes the smell of something like perfume is so nauseating when it's strong enough that you can't get used to it. There's a girl in one of my classes... There was a girl," he corrected himself. "I always knew when she was there even when I couldn't see her. She came to me in tears one day, wondering why nobody would come near her, sure that nobody liked her. I told her to cut back on the perfume, that that was what people didn't like. Hey... I must remember to mention her to Eli," he said with sudden excitement. "She's the opposite of what he's studying, and that could be valuable... Anyway, it turned out that she had practically no sense of smell, thought that the amount of perfume she used was barely noticeable. Anyway, she took my advice, and sure enough, after a day or two people did begin to sit beside her, talk to her."
"Nice for her, but that doesn't help me," Ellison said. "My problem is too much input, not too little."
"I know," Blair said. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder if Burton's sentinels ever had problems with too much input? I didn't see any mention of it when I read the book, but how would a stranger visiting a tribe know? Mmm... I think I ought to read through it again, see if there's anything where you could read between the lines..."
"I'm not sure there would be too much input in a jungle situation," Ellison said thoughtfully. "When I was in Peru - "
"Peru?" Blair interrupted. "You're that James Ellison? The only survivor of your unit?"
"Yes." An old grief, instantly suppressed, showed for a moment on his face. "I don't remember much about my time with the Chopek, but I don't remember that I had any problems with too much input then. You're right, there was always noise - bird calls if nothing else - but it was never loud."
"Your senses were working then?" Blair asked.
"Yes, I think they were... but it was easy there. A more... a more natural way of life, in a way. I worked with the shaman a lot."
"Eli visited the Chopek a year or two ago," Blair said. "He always asked about sentinels when he visited those tribes. They told him they'd had a sentinel a year or two previously. They must have meant you."
Ellison ignored the comment, almost as if he didn't register what Blair had said. "Anyway, when the army found me and brought me home again, I couldn't remember much about the day-to-day routine, just the army-related stuff - we'd been sent in with orders to organise the locals into a sort of militia - some sort of deal between our government and the Peruvian one - but the chopper crashed in Chopek territory. Without Incacha's support, I wouldn't have found it easy to get the tribe to accept me, but for some reason he took a liking to me - probably because the tribe had had some problems with unfriendly visitors from what had been the Uruguay side of the border, although they actually lived south of the territory both Peru and Uruguay were claiming, and Incacha realized that, as a soldier, I could help combat them."
"Or he realized you were a sentinel, and the tribe could use your skills."
"Incacha wasn't underhanded," Jim said sharply. "He didn't use people."
"I didn't say he was, or that he did," Blair replied. "I'm saying it's possible he recognised you as a sentinel, didn't realize that you didn't know what you were - didn't understand that because of their culture, white men with sentinel potential rarely developed it - and, because of his own background, believed that as a sentinel you had the instinct to serve your community, and at that point the Chopek were your community. If your sentinel abilities re-emerged in Peru, it's possible that because everyone accepted them as normal for you, and because of the more natural input, you were never overwhelmed by it, so you used your abilities as they were meant to be used.
"Okay, that's guessing; it's Eli who was really interested in sentinels and heightened senses - I didn't know much until a couple of months ago when I started working with Eli on this study, but I've been really immersing myself in the subject and I've begun to understand why sentinel abilities were of value to hunter-gatherer tribes. Clearly they're not of as much general value in a society that doesn't have to hunt for its food and dials 911 if there's a medical problem, but I'd think that they could have specialised value... especially for someone like a cop."
"Sandburg, I'd still have to produce ordinary evidence if a case was to stick. If I say in court that I heard two men discussing the crime they've just committed, but that I was a hundred yards away at the time, the defense attorney is going to be screaming 'illegal gathering of evidence' before I've finished my first sentence. I might be able to use what I heard to help me find some additional evidence of the kind that will stand up in court, but anything put forward as found by the use of heightened senses - the perp is likely to walk on a technicality, claiming it's equivalent to... oh, tapping a phone. And if I proved in court that I could hear that far, I'd have a contract on my head so fast you'd hear a sonic boom."
Blair looked thoughtfully at him. "Hmmm. Yes, I can see that could be a problem," he said slowly.
Ellison finished his bottle of water, and put the empty down.
"How are you feeling?" Blair asked.
"Better. It's quiet here, and - this is going to sound weird, but you've got a very soothing voice. I've still got something of a headache, but it's not as... well, incapacitating as it was. I can function all right with it."
"I'll see if I can find anything in any of the books that might give a clue to the times you say you lose touch with reality. I'll be on my own here for a day or two - I'm not sure when they'll let Eli come home, but I wouldn't think it'll be tomorrow or the day after. If you want to come and talk, feel free; I'll be at the hospital in the afternoons, but morning and evening I'll be here. And Eli is bound to want to speak with you about your abilities, once he's home again - and it would be better for him if you could come here. Yes, I know that's asking a lot - usually Eli believes he should go to the person he wants to talk to, but to start with, at least, once he gets home he'll be on gentle exercise, and I'm going to make sure he sticks with the regimen the hospital gives him."
"You're pretty fond of him, aren't you." It wasn't a question.
"He's the father I never had," Blair said. "I don't say I'm the son he never had, but... well, I'd like to think that's how he sees me."
Blair drove Ellison back to the hospital to collect his truck, then on impulse, went back in to visit Stoddard again.
He found the older man in bed, reading. Stoddard lowered the magazine when he realized who was standing by his bedside.
"Blair! I didn't expect to see you again today."
"How do you feel now?"
"A lot better now I have something to occupy my mind." Stoddard waved the magazine.
Blair grinned back. "I'm not staying, but I wanted to let you know... I think I've found a full sentinel." He kept his voice very soft.
Stoddard froze, his mouth slightly open as he stared at Blair. After a moment, he whispered, "A full sentinel? Seriously?"
"I wouldn't joke about something like that. Jim Ellison. He's a cop, and Eli - he's the army ranger who spent eighteen months with the Chopek." He knew Stoddard would understand the reference.
"Their sentinel who 'went away'?"
Blair nodded. "Has to be. When he came home, he suppressed his abilities - probably subconsciously - but they resurfaced recently, and now he's having problems. Eli, you know Burton better than I do. Do you remember if Burton ever said anything, anything at all, about sentinels having problems caused by their senses? Headaches, losing track of time, anything like that?"
Stoddard shook his head. "No, he didn't."
"That's what I thought, but I've only read the book once and it was possible I might have missed something - and I haven't found anything else about sentinels in any of the other books. Jim did say that he didn't remember having problems in Peru; maybe they're a feature of the Western way of life.
"Anyway, he's agreed to speak to you once you're home again."
"Blair... I don't know what to say. Just... I think you've just done me more good in thirty seconds than all these hours in hospital did."
Omce he was home again, Blair prepared a quick meal. As he ate, he considered his next move. With Stoddard confirming his fear that Burton had mentioned nothing about sentinels having any problems, it would probably be a waste of time going through the book again in the hope of finding anything. But there had been nothing in any of the other books; he hadn't quite finished Schomburgk, but doubted that Schomburgk would change his focus from the land to the people in the last two chapters.
All right. He'd read Burton, Speke, Darwin, Humboldt, Schomburgk - the obvious explorers of the nineteenth century. Perhaps he should try the less obvious ones.
He washed his dishes, went through to Stoddard's study, looked around the full shelves and thought how lucky it was that Stoddard kept his books shelved according to the Dewey decimal system. Any other method of arranging the books would have made finding anything that might be even remotely useful very difficult.
As he looked at the books, he realized for the first time just how wealthy Stoddard had to be.
The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana, by Sir Walter Raleigh.
Memorias y Historiales del Peru by Fernando de Montesinos.
Coronica moralizada de la orden de N.S.P.S. Agustín en el Peru, by Antonio de la Calancha.
God! Blair knew how extremely rare that one was... yet here was a copy sitting on an open shelf in a private house, not locked away somewhere in the deepest vaults of a library, seen only under supervision by the most highly qualified of scholars. He was aware of envy for the barest of moments, then chuckled in self-deprecation; if he wanted to, he could afford to buy rare books like that one - all he had to do was watch out for one being sold, and use the account holding his grandfather's money to buy it; and for the first time since discovering that he was very, very rich, he began to consider using some of the money.
He turned his attention back to the shelf.
On the Road to Macchu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. At a mere ninety years old, it was far, far more modern than the other three, or even the other ones he had been reading, but maybe worth checking out too.
Of the four books, the only one he felt comfortable taking off the shelf without first consulting Stoddard was Bingham's. He took it back through to his own room, and settled down to read it.
By the time he was halfway through, he knew there would be nothing here to help him. Bingham, it seemed, wasn't a man to pay much attention to the people he met; like Humboldt and Schomburgk before him, he was more interested in what he saw, rather than noticing things about the people. Still, the book was interesting, and he read on. It was very late by the time he finished it. He put it back in its place, checked that the house was secure, then headed up the stairs to bed, reminding himself as he went that negative results were still important.
Stoddard was sitting by the bed again when Blair arrived next day.
"How're you doing?" Blair asked cheerfully.
"I saw the physiotherapist this morning," Stoddard said. "Spent half an hour doing gentle exercises. And the doctor says I can get home the day after tomorrow."
"That's great!" Blair exclaimed. "Do you know what time?"
"Probably late morning. He wants to check me in the morning before I go."
"Okay. I'll come in about eleven, and wait for you. You're not likely to be ready before that?"
"I wouldn't think so. So - have you seen Ellison again?"
"No. I spent last night reading Bingham's On the Road to Macchu Picchu, but it doesn't have anything. But Eli - when I was looking at your books, I saw the Raleigh, the Montesinos and the Calancha. I didn't touch them - not without asking you first - but Eli, those aren't later reprints, are they?"
"No, they're the real thing. I came across the Raleigh several years ago, in South America oddly enough; the seller hadn't a clue about its real value, was only asking a few dollars for it, but I gave him a respectable price - I still got a bargain, but I couldn't have lived with myself if I'd totally cheated him. The Calancha has been in my family for at least four generations. It's pretty heavy reading - he has a very pedantic style of writing; hard enough to tackle in English, and in Spanish... " He shook his head. "Montesinos - I bought that one last year. He was never taken all that seriously, either by his contemporaries or by modern scholars. Interesting enough, and he had some intriguing ideas about Inca writing skills, but he often manipulates his facts to fit his theories. You have to interpret what he says rather carefully.
"If you want to read them, go right ahead, but... well, you know to wear gloves when you're handling books that old - there are some suitable ones in the top right hand drawer of my desk."
Blair nodded. "Right. Thanks, Eli - I'll be careful, I promise."
Blair decided to begin with Raleigh, for no other reason than he wrote in English. The writing style was very formal, and much of the content involved the search for treasure, with some detail given of natives who were friendly and their fear of both the Spaniards and the Epuremei - a race Blair couldn't place at all. There was some detail given of the geography of the area... and then, suddenly, Raleigh went into a description that instantly drew Blair's attention.
I never saw a more beautiful country, nor more lively prospects; hills so raised here and there over the valley; the river winding into divers branches; the plains adjoining without bush or stubble, all fair green grass; the ground of hard sand, easy to march on, either for horse or foot; the deer crossing in every path; the birds towards the evening singing on every tree with a thousand several tunes; cranes and herons of white, crimson, and carnation, perching in the river's side; the air fresh with a gentle easterly wind.
The men provide victual for their families by hunting these creatures; it was a most wonderful sight to observe them as they followed the tracks made by the beasts. There was in particular one skilly man who read the ground with great ease. He had at his side a friend who guided his steps; his mind was so wholly set on following the deer, he watched not whither he placed his own feet. Their fellowship was so close I never saw the twain separate, each from the other.
Blair put the book down, and carefully copied the second paragraph, noting the page number of the book. He read it again, considering its meaning. Then he picked up Burton again.
...he follows the movement of game, and thus informs the people of his tribe which days are most propitious for hunting...
Okay, a tracker wasn't quite the same thing, but saying a sentinel watched for the movement of game didn't mean the sentinel didn't track game as well. And what was it Jim had said?
...when I'm concentrating on something, I seem to lose touch with reality . . . there have been times I seem to have stood somewhere for an hour or more without being aware of time passing until something suddenly drew my attention and I realized it - whatever 'it' is - had happened again.
And Raleigh's tracker needed a friend to guide his steps because he was so concentrated on what he was doing.
It was possible that Raleigh had seen only one aspect of a sentinel's work for his community, and that he hadn't realized it was anything more than a learned skill. And - thinking of times when he himself had been so buried in what he was doing a bomb could have gone off behind him and he wouldn't have noticed - Blair knew how easy it was for someone to concentrate so hard on one thing that he totally lost touch with the world around him. So...
Was it possible that if they were to use their senses to full advantage, sentinels needed someone along to keep them grounded? God, why hadn't Raleigh gone into more detail about what the tracker's friend did to 'guide his steps', instead of just dismissing it in thirty words as a curiosity?
But Blair knew why. In common with all the adventurers of his day, Raleigh was mostly concerned in gathering treasure - gold, silver, precious gems - to enrich both himself and his queen. A few - a very few - of the clerics who went out as missionaries to convert the heathen to Christianity were genuinely interested in the people they met, in the culture of those people, and wrote it down before it could be forgotten; most priests saw that culture as pagan ignorance, to be destroyed as quickly as possible. If there were written records, it was their Christian duty to destroy these so that the next generation could not be led back into pagan error. Even the explorers of the nineteenth century cared little for the culture of the tribes they visited; their 'treasure' was scientific discovery, new plants and animals; the traditions of the people mostly counted for nothing, for how could natives living in mud huts and totally lacking a written language possibly have any sort of history?
Blair pulled his thoughts back to the present. He glanced at his watch - it was a shock to discover it was nearly nine. He'd been reading steadily since he arrived home from the hospital, and completely lost track of time. He wished he had a phone number for Jim, to share this scrap of information with him - as it was, he would have to wait until morning and then phone the police station, hoping to get Jim there.
He put together a quick meal, thinking that in Stoddard's absence he was slipping into bad habits, eating only when he'd finished doing something more important. He was just finished when the doorbell rang. He went to the door, peering through the security peephole, and was surprised to see Jim Ellison. He opened the door.
"Jim? What brings you here? Come in, man!"
Jim seemed to gather his strength, and walked in with the exaggerated care a man who was drunk, knew he was drunk, and was determined not to show it, might take; but Blair knew the cop wasn't drunk.
Blair closed and locked the door, then took Jim's arm and half supported him into his living room. Jim sank into a chair, and when Blair would have moved away, caught his hand. "No... Please. Stay with me."
Blair perched on the arm of the chair. "What's wrong?" he asked, keeping his voice soft.
"Yesterday, when I went home... "
"My headache was so much better. Just a dull ache that I could ignore, and I realized that... that talking to you seemed to have helped it. I told you your voice was soothing." He took a deep breath. "Today... It wasn't bad first thing, but as the day went on, it got worse and worse. I don't think it was worse than it has been for the past few days, but it seemed worse because it had been eased so much. The only thing different yesterday was you."
Blair was silent for a moment. Then, speaking very quietly, his voice little more than a whisper, he said, "I was meaning to phone you in the morning - I didn't think they'd give me a number for you tonight. I think I've found something that might be helpful."
"You have?" The hope in the strained voice almost broke Blair's heart.
"Do you have any close friends? Or a family member you're very close to?"
"No. I broke contact with my family nearly twenty years ago, and I've no real friends - I get on all right with the guys in the bullpen, but I'm not close to any of them. None of them helped me today the way you did yesterday, just by being there."
Almost unbearably touched, Blair blinked back tears. His childhood had been one of frequent change, and he had known not to get too friendly with any of the other children he met - tomorrow he might well be on the road again, knowing he would never see them again; but his mother had always been there for him. When he went to Rainier came the realization that now, now, he wasn't at the mercy of his mother's restlessness, her apparent need to keep moving, that there was no reason for him not to make friends, and although at that point he had really been too young to socialise much with his fellow students, they had been friendly enough in class and over the years he had formed reasonably close friendships with several of them; and right from his first days at Rainier, there had been Eli.
Jim, it seemed, had had nobody.
He put a gentle hand on Ellison's shoulder. "Don't you have a partner?"
"No. Jack - my partner - disappeared nearly two years ago. He was accused of being dirty, and... well, it's possible I went too far in defending him. The first guy I heard bad-mouthing Jack... let's just say I was suspended for two weeks without pay, and everyone was very careful after that not to say anything when I was likely to overhear it, though I knew things were still being said. Since then, I've mostly worked alone. It's not like I'm patrolling the streets, where you really need a partner along. Sometimes we have to do surveillance duty, when it's not a good idea to be alone, and then someone's assigned to work with me, but it's not usually the same one twice." He shrugged. "Just whoever's top of the roster."
Somehow that didn't surprise Blair. From all he'd heard, a cop's partner was usually closer than kin. Losing one under those circumstances... Jim had to have had doubts himself, feel disloyal for harboring them, and be very doubtful about risking his loyalty again.
"What did you find?" Ellison's tone clearly indicated that the subject was closed.
"It's really just a throwaway reference in a much earlier book, written at the end of the sixteenth century - something that Eli must have read but didn't associate with heightened senses. It's a brief mention of a man who was particularly good at tracking game; with a reference to another man who always accompanied him because he was liable to concentrate so hard on something that he lost track of where he was, and the comment that the two men were never seen apart. I suppose I noticed it because I came on it after reading Burton, and after you saying you sometimes lost track of time. It occurred to me - Raleigh's tracker needed a friend along to 'guide his steps'; what if he was a sentinel, able to use his senses to full advantage only because there was someone with him who could keep him grounded?"
"But the only person who's had any effect on my headache was you... and you're not a cop. You've got a job here, and you can't abandon it, can you?"
"No," Blair said. "God knows I'd help you if I could... but you're right, I can't abandon Eli - especially not now - even if I could get a job at the PD." He thought about Ellison's comment for a moment, then said, "How is your headache now, anyway?"
"Much better already," he said. "I think... I really do think there's something in your idea that a sentinel needs someone to work with him. It doesn't help me much, though."
"One thing that might help a little," Blair said slowly, "is if you came here for a while every evening. I might be able to come up with something to help keep the headaches at least manageable. I know, it would eat into your free time, but in the short term it would probably be worth it."
"It would be eating into your time, too."
"Well, not entirely," Blair said, "because I'd be learning things about heightened senses. Eli was pretty sure they'd be an advantage, and they probably are to the tribe, but you're showing us a downside - the headaches - and the need a full sentinel has for someone compatible to work with him. None of the others - with only one or two senses heightened - has a problem with headaches, as far as I know, so that could be linked to too much input on five levels. We've got to come up with some way to limit the input you get, so you can use your senses without being overwhelmed by them. Hmmm... I wonder... "
He was interrupted by the phone. Absently, he leaned over and picked it up. "Dr. Stoddard's residence."
"Mr. Sandburg? This is Cascade General. Dr. Stoddard has suffered another heart attack, and there's nothing we can do. If you want to come in and see him, you need to come at once."
"On my way." He hung up, and looked at Ellison. "I'm sorry. I've got to go to the hospital. Eli's dying."
"I'll come with you," Ellison said immediately.
When Blair entered Stoddard's room, he found his mentor linked to a cardiac monitor, lying with his eyes shut, and breathing heavily.
Stoddard opened his eyes with an effort. "Blair. I'm sorry we can't finish the study... or get you your PhD... You'll find... list in my study... my volunteers... let them know, please?"
"Yes, of course." Blair beckoned Ellison forward. "Eli, this is Jim Ellison - the one with all five senses."
"Dr. Stoddard," Ellison said softly.
Stoddard smiled weakly. "At least I can die... knowing I've met a sentinel." After a moment, he went on. "Blair... "
"Yes?" Blair reached down and took the dying man's hand.
"None of my family... interested... I've left you my books... know... you'll value them... "
"Yes. Always. And... thank you. But I'd rather have you coming home the day after tomorrow, as we expected."
"The... best... best laid plans... Was good... having you... there..." His hand went limp and his head rolled to the side.
Ellison reached for the buzzer; a nurse entered inside thirty seconds. pressed a button on the wall, and went into a flurry of activity as she attended to the unconscious man.
Moments later, the doctor arrived. He gave Stoddard a quick but thorough check, and shook his head. "He's still alive, but I don't think he'll regain consciousness. The heart muscle was too badly damaged by the attack a few hours ago, and he'd have to live as an invalid the rest of his life if we were to revive him; and he signed a DNR order when we told him that. I'm sorry."
"Can I stay, until...?"
Ellison fetched a chair, and put it beside the bed for Blair; then he stood beside him, his hand on Blair's shoulder, as they waited. The change from unconsciousness to death was very gentle; not even Ellison was sure when Stoddard drew his last breath, but the machine knew. It flatlined just before midnight.
They finally left the hospital about an hour later. As they walked to the parking lot, Ellison said quietly, "You can't go back to that empty house tonight. Come home with me - I've got a spare room."
"There are things I should be doing - " Blair protested.
"Not in the middle of the night," Ellison said. "Tomorrow is soon enough."
"Jim... what can I say but thanks?"
They had driven to the hospital in Blair's van - not feeling competent to drive, Ellison had taken a cab when he went to see Blair. Now, however, as they reached the van he held out his hand. "I'll drive," he said. "It's the same as last night - being with you, even under these circumstances, has eased my headache. You just sit back and let yourself grieve."
As he entered Jim's spacious loft apartment, Blair automatically glanced around, not really registering his surroundings. He was too occupied thinking of the father figure he had lost, and the things he would have to do... not the least of which would be finding a new apartment. Whichever of Eli's nephews inherited the house would be sure to want him out of it as soon as possible, probably in order to sell it; although they had both enjoyed visiting, their work and their homes were on the east coast, and Blair didn't think either one would want to move west - and while he could certainly afford to buy it from them, he didn't think he would want to continue living there with Eli gone. Then there were the books; he would have to get them packed up as soon as possible, too. And Eli's volunteers; they would almost certainly see his obituary - and he'd have to see about that, as well - but it would be courteous to contact them, and he would have done that even if Eli hadn't asked him to. First, though, he would have to contact Eli's nephews, let them know, and at least offer to arrange the funeral because he was on the spot.
"Coffee?" Jim asked. "I do have some in the house although I'm not drinking it myself. Or - you look as if you could do with a whisky."
"Coffee's fine, thanks," Blair said. "I never got into the habit of drinking, apart from the occasional beer. Grad students don't exactly have the sort of income you need for riotous living."
Jim looked at him. "What will you do now?" he asked as he started the coffeemaker.
"See what I can do about helping you," Blair said. "None of the people he spoke to who agreed to help Eli need help. I'll phone them in the morning, let them know the situation, thank them for their input, and wave them goodbye - well, maybe not the one with enhanced hearing, he might need some help, but now he knows why he was 'hearing things' he should be all right. You, on the other hand... Until we can find a colleague who's your match, so to speak, you will need help."
"Blair... I think you're my 'match'. Twice now, just being with you, speaking with you, has eased a killer migraine. You didn't actually have to do anything; just be there."
"But I'm not a cop."
"Yeah, that could be a problem. But that wasn't what I meant. Stoddard was your employer; you were living in his house. You've lost your job and in a few days you'll probably lose your home, too. What will you do?" He poured a mug of coffee. "Milk?"
Blair shook his head. "Black's fine, thanks." He watched as Jim went to the fridge for a bottle of water. As the cop returned to the table, Blair reached a decision. "Actually, I don't have to work," he admitted. "I choose to work, just as I chose to live inside a grad student's income. I inherited quite a lot of money from my grandfather. I've never touched it, never wanted to, because I didn't want it in the first place. I didn't want anything from him."
Half expecting some sort of comment along the lines of, "But doesn't everyone want more money than they have?" Blair was surprised when Jim just said, "You too, huh?"
Blair looked at him. "You?" he asked.
"Me. I told you my father's a successful businessman; while we were growing up he assumed that both my brother and I would be joining the firm, and tried to bring us up to be cut-throat in competition. It worked up to a point, but in the process he alienated both of us - and alienated us from each other. Soon as I hit eighteen, I left home, went into the army. I've made my own way since then, and not asked my father for anything - and I never will. What did your grandfather do to piss you off?"
"I don't know the full story, but basically he disapproved of my mother, forced my father to divorce her. He couldn't force him to remarry, though, and I was the only grandchild. He could have left the lot to charity, but no, it had to stay in the family." He finished the coffee and put the mug down.
Jim finished his water, took the mug and put it in the sink. "We can wash that in the morning," he said. "Normally I'd do it right away, but I'm tired; I want to get to bed. There's the spare room." He indicated a door.
Blair yawned. "I wasn't tired till you mentioned it, but yes; I'll be glad to get to bed."
"It'll only take a moment to put a cover on the comforter," Jim went on as he crossed to the door. By the time he had put the cover on, Blair had visited the bathroom, given his face a quick wash and relieved himself. As Blair walked into the small room, Jim added, "Would you like me to take tomorrow off, come with you while you see to things?"
Blair looked at him. "You've done enough for me," he protested half-heartedly. "But if you can get the time off, I'd appreciate it."
The next day passed in a blur as Blair saw to all the immediate arrangments. He was spared having to arrange for the funeral, however - when Blair phoned him first thing, Eli's older nephew told him he'd come right away and see to it, because he knew his uncle's wishes on the matter - something Blair hadn't known, although it didn't surprise him that Stoddard had wanted to be cremated, and his ashes scattered from the air over the Amazon rainforest. David Stoddard arrived in the early afternoon, having flown standby from New York, being lucky enough to get the last seat on a plane that finished boarding just minutes after he collected his ticket. Blair met him, and took him back to Stoddard's house, where he had spent much of the morning phoning the various people on the list of people with an enhanced sense. David planned to stay there, which would have been company, but since his brother and their families would be arrived next day, Blair decided to go back with Jim; fitting the seven members of the family into the house would be hard enough without adding him. It didn't take him long to pack his few belongings to take back with him.
While David dealt with the funeral home, Blair continued grimly preparing an obituary to be sent to the Cascade Times, glad of Jim's quiet support as he worked, trying, without omitting anything, to cut his original draft to a more realistic length.
It would probably be cut again by one of the paper's editorial staff, but at least he would be able to say he tried to include everything of importance in Eli's life. Finally, he showed it to David, who frowned slightly as he read it.
"You haven't mentioned yourself at all. You worked a lot with him, and you're - you were - his last assistant. You know how highly he regarded you."
"David, it's best this way," Blair said. "I've got a vindictive student gunning for me; it's best that he doesn't get the chance to find out I'm still alive and in Cascade. Anyway - " he indicated the last paragraph - "I fit in there."
David read it out. "'Eli Stoddard will be sadly missed by all those who knew him; by the students he taught, by the colleagues who worked with him, by his friends, and not least by his family.'" He looked up. "I suppose, but you were more to him than a student or just a colleague."
"I like to think so," Blair said quietly, "but that's between me and my heart. Let it go, David."
Jim put a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder. "He's right," he said. "You know that Dr. Stoddard thought a lot of Blair, but to academia, Blair was just one of his students, just an assistant. Pick out Blair specifically as important to your uncle, all you'll do is arouse jealousy."
David looked unconvinced, but said no more on the subject.
As Blair had expected, the funeral was an ordeal, though he was able to avoid giving the euology, pointing out to David, who suggested it, that there would be too many distinguished colleagues attending who would feel themselves slighted if a mere grad student - even one who had been working closely with Eli on his last study - was given the honor. David, albeit reluctantly, conceded Blair's point, and decided to do it himself, with input from Blair regarding Eli's professional life, about which David actually knew very little, and agreeing not to name Blair when he gave it.
Blair sat quietly at the back of the crowded church, having slipped in after most of the distinguished academics who attended had taken their places, knowing that although they had come en masse to pay their last respects, and that many of them probably did feel genuinely sorry about his death, he - and the anthropology TAs from Rainier who had studied under him, who were also occupying seats at the back - were, along with the family, the ones who truly grieved.
Several of the TAs spoke to him, commenting on the problems he had had with Ventriss, and sympathizing; one of them said he now had Ventriss in his class, and strongly suspected him of cheating, but in light of what had happened with Blair, he saw no point in trying to take it further. Blair sighed, and agreed; another accusation by someone else might help Blair, but he had no illusions; Edwards would be bought off again.
He let them think he had left Cascade, had just returned for the funeral, and would be leaving again almost immediately.
David had reserved a hotel room for a meal; Blair remained in the background, carefully avoiding bringing himself to the notice of the Rainier dignitaries who were there, and left as soon as was politely possible. He returned to the house, where he sat in Eli's study meditating, quietly coming to terms with the loss of a man he had admired, respected, and - yes, loved.
Finally he straightened, stretched, and rose to consider the books. He wasn't sure what he would do about them, if indeed Eli had willed them to him, rather than just meaning to. He hoped David would give him time to find an apartment before insisting that he get them out of the house - though, as little as he had seen of the man, he had always been on friendly terms with David, so he thought it likely.
There was a knock at the front door. He went over and opened it. Jim stood there. "How're you doing, Chief?"
"Jim! Come in. I was just waiting for the family to get home. They shouldn't be long now. And then the will's being read, and that's the real reason I'm here; Eli told me he'd left me his books, but David also told me to be here for it." He led the way back into the study.
Jim nodded. "I know. I just hope they don't argue about it. There's no time like the reading of a will for petty complaints to be made, sometimes causing family feuds that last for a lifetime." He sat in the chair beside the desk.
"That sounds like the voice of experience," Blair said as he perched on the edge of the desk.
"Let's just say the cops have been called out once to twice to family riots that started with the reading of a will."
Blair threw up his hands in a 'how can anyone be so stupid' gesture, and Jim shrugged. "You have no conception how greedy some people can be, especially when a wealthy relative dies. Or sometimes it's not even greed; it's someone who wants an ornament or piece of furniture - not necessarily something intrinsically valuable - that's been left to someone else, and never speaks to them again."
"But those are just things! It's the same with money. Useful for what you can do with it, but what's important is people."
"There speaks a man who travels light," Jim said, thinking of how little Blair had had to pack when he left the house.
"Too many belongings just tie you down," Blair said. "And I've moved around pretty well all my life. We never stayed anywhere for long when I was child; then as a student I lived in different places every semester, and in between semesters I travelled, did temporary work anyplace I could find it. Then once I graduated, I went on every expedition I could... mostly with Eli. The only thing I ever regretted about not having a settled life was not being able to build up any kind of personal library."
"So how would you feel if you discovered that Stoddard hadn't actually signed whatever he wrote to leave you the books?"
"Disappointed," Blair said. "and I might offer to buy them, or at least some of them, from whoever did inherit them. At the moment, though... At the moment, much as I would like them, damned if I know where I'll keep them. I haven't had a chance to look for an apartment."
"If you don't mind staying in that tiny room, I don't mind how long you stay," Jim said quietly. He looked around the study. "There's room in the loft for the books."
Blair glanced at him. "Thanks," he said gruffly. Whatever else he might have said was lost as they heard the front door opening.
Blair moved quickly to the door of the study, and opened it. Coming into the house, with the family, was an older man who, Blair assumed, was the lawyer.
Jim waited in the kitchen while the will was read.
Stoddard had not failed Blair; he had indeed left him the books, and any of the artefacts that he might want, with instructions to disperse the other artefacts to whatever museums or universities Blair considered most suitable for them. The house and the rest of the contents was left to David, and most of his money was split between his nephews, with small sums going to each of their children.
When the solicitor finished reading the will, the younger of Stoddard's great nephews muttered to his brother, in a voice that was meant to be overheard, "Why should he get all those things? Why should he get anything? He's not one of the family."
David Stoddard glared at his son. "Your uncle gave them to Blair because they were friends, because Blair is an anthropologist and can use them, and because none of the family - especially you - has ever shown the slightest interest in the subject. Personally, I'm grateful that he did; it saves me the bother of deciding what to do with the things." He looked over at Blair. "I don't know how long it will take to clear Uncle Eli's books and artefacts, but there's no hurry; take as long as you need."
Blair smiled gratefully. "I can get the books cleared out by the end of the week. The artefacts will take longer, because I'm not sure all what's there. I'll need to check them, decide where best to offer them, then contact the various places to see if they actually want them; sometimes a museum has more of something than it can display. I wouldn't expect to finish in less than a month, possibly more."
"Well, let me know when you do finish. I haven't decided yet whether to keep the house standing empty for most of the time so that we have somewhere to come on vacation, rent it long-term, or sell, but I won't do anything until you've had time to clear everything. If you want to carry on living here while you do, that's fine."
"No," Blair said. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't think I could bear being here without Eli. For the moment, at least, I'm staying with Detective Ellison - 852 Prospect, apartment 307. I'll let you know when everything's away. Will you let me know when you're going to scatter Eli's ashes? Because I'd like to come along, if you don't mind."
"Yes, of course."
As they drove away, Blair said wryly, "I see what you mean, Jim. Henry didn't want the books himself, but he resented anyone else getting them. I don't suppose he even knows that some of them are worth quite a lot of money - "
"Among the older ones, you're talking about some of the earliest books written by Europeans about the rest of the world," Blair said. "'Rare' doesn't even begin to describe two or three of them. I don't suppose even David realizes the value of what Eli has given me, but even if he did, he was quite happy for me to get the books - he said it saved him the bother of getting rid of them. If David had inherited the books, he might have asked if Rainier wanted the ones published in the last two or three years, but I imagine he'd probably have just dumped most of them, unless Eli had told him to get them all valued - he'd certainly have thrown out the oldest ones, thinking them worthless, which of course is why they're valuable." He affected a prim falsetto. "We've got to clear Grandpa's house before we can sell it... For heaven's sake, these are really old books, why did he keep them cluttering up the place?" Then he deepened his voice. "Who'd want them? Doubt even the secondhand bookshops would be interested, they're so outdated. Chuck 'em in the garbage."
He resumed his normal voice. "And they never realize that they've dumped books worth hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. Each. But the lawyer said Eli wrote that will ten years ago, and even then I was named to get the books. It's not something he added to it just a month ago."
"So even that long ago, he valued you."
"Even that long ago we were friends. Lecturers usually keep a distance from the students - it avoids possible accusations of favoritism - unless they're the faculty adviser for the student, and even then they keep things impartial. My adviser was Professor Buckner, and he and I never did see eye to eye. I thought he was a pompous idiot, he thought I was an undisciplined, big-headed brat who needed to be knocked down to size and he made it his aim in life to do just that. I refused to let him see how badly he was getting under my skin... but one day, six months or so into my freshman year, when he'd been particularly nasty and I hadn't heard from Mom for a couple of months and was feeling... well, unloved and unwanted, I found a quiet corner and curled up in it, crying. Eli found me. I didn't tell him much, but he must have heard a lot in my voice that I didn't say. Next thing I knew, he was my adviser. He kept things fairly impartial for the next two years, affectionate in an avuncular kind of way, and it was only in my third year, just after my nineteenth birthday, that he asked me to join a summer expedition he was planning. That was when we really became friends, though I'd been regarding him as a father figure since that first day."
"You were just sixteen when you started at Rainier?" Jim asked. Blair nodded. "And your mother... "
"Was actually laying down a false trail to keep my grandfather from finding me. Long story. Remember I said we moved around a lot when I was a child? That was why. She wanted to keep me out of his hands. By the time he did find me, I was legally adult. I only met him once, at my grandmother's funeral - I only went to it out of courtesy - and in fact he only survived her by two or three weeks."
Jim glanced sideways at him, and said only, "It happens that way sometimes."
Jim phoned the PD first thing in the morning and arranged to take the rest of the week off, then he drove Blair back to the Stoddard house. They arrived as the family was getting ready to leave it, to return home; there was time for a few quick words before the cab arrived for them, then the two men were left alone in a house that Blair found unbearably empty.
They had brought some flattened cardboard boxes with them; filling those with books took very little time, and then leaving Blair to start work on checking out the artefacts, Jim took the boxes home, carried them to the loft, carefully emptied them, flattened them again, then went back for more. Over the course of the day he ferried most of the books to the loft.
Blair, meanwhile, bethought himself and checked Stoddard's desk, where, as he hoped, he found a list of the things in the artefact room. It speeded things up; he checked the items against the list, and next each he marked a tentative suggestion regarding its possible destination. For himself, he kept only a few small carved totem figures; a jaguar that he remembered Eli buying from the Chopec, a bird of prey that might have been an eagle, a horse, a bear, a seal and a wolf that Eli had owned for as long as Blair had known him, and had always loved.
The doorbell rang in mid-afternoon, not long after Jim left with another load of books. Wondering who it could possibly be, Blair went down the stairs and opened the door.
A young man stood there, the expression on his face an odd mixture of hope and nervousness.
"Can I help you?" Blair asked.
"I'm Drew Grant."
Blair frowned for a second, then snapped his fingers. "Enhanced hearing, right?"
"Come in." Blair led the way to the three-quarters-denuded study. "You do realize that with Dr. Stoddard's death, the study he was doing has died too."
"Yes, but... You were his assistant, weren't you?"
"Yes, but up to this point I was really only doing the grunt work, looking for background information to give the study some historical significance."
"He said it was something you said that let him find me."
"Well, obviously we were discussing things, tossing ideas back and forth, and eventually I'd have been actively participating in compiling tests to check on the level of people's ability, but we hadn't reached that stage yet. Most of the people with heightened senses Dr. Stoddard had found only had taste and smell, and to some extent touch; you were the only one with hearing, and he was still looking for one with really long sight, as well as people with three or more senses enhanced - historically there were people who had all five senses heightened to some degree."
"Yes, he explained that. The thing is, I was hoping that his tests would show me just how good my hearing actually is, and that he could suggest some way of controlling it so that I wouldn't unconsciously eavesdrop on people all the time. At least now I know why I hear constant noise, voices talking... Mr. Sandburg, isn't there any way you could help me?"
"I'm sorry," Blair said helplessly. "I'd help you if I could, but I'm almost completely new to this. Oh, I've heard Dr. Stoddard asking different tribes about people with heightened senses, heard their answers, read up quite a bit in the last weeks, but it was Eli who knew about it all, Eli who had been studying the subject for years."
Grant sighed. "Have you any idea what it's like, to be given hope and then have circumstances destroy it?"
"Actually, I do," Blair told him. "Look, let me think about it. I have all Eli's notes, and plan on writing an article about the study. If I can develop one or two of the tests we'd begun to think about, and find enough of his volunteers willing to work with me, it would give a kind of closure to it. Not the full study he'd have done, obviously, but enough to provide a tribute to him and his work. Would you be willing to participate?"
"Yes. Anything, anything at all."
"All right. It'll take a few weeks - my first priority is to find homes for Eli's artefacts, in accordance with the instructions in his will, and then I'll have to work on developing the tests. Meanwhile... have you thought about using a white noise generator? It would at least block a lot of the noise."
"You think that would help?"
"Well, it would be like using a bandaid on a cut that really needed stitches, but yes, I think it might. I do think it would be worth trying."
"Now, if you don't mind, I am really busy right now - but I will be in touch, when I can get something worked out, and I'll give priority to thinking up a test or two for hearing."
After Grant left, Blair sank into a chair and buried his head in his hands. How could he hope to even begin to accomplish the merest fraction of what Eli could probably have done to help Grant... or, even more importantly, Jim, the perfect example of what Eli had been seeking for so many years?
He was still sitting, head in his hands, when Jim returned.
Jim took one look at him, and crossed quickly to crouch beside him. "Chief?"
Blair lifted a tear-wet face, wearing an expression of such desolation that Jim instinctively pulled the younger man into a tight hug. Blair relaxed into Jim's arms, gratefully accepting the comfort they offered. They remained like that for some minutes, then Blair pulled himself free. "Thanks, man. Everything got just a bit on top of me there. I had a visitor while you were away - one of the guys Eli found, desperate for help with his hearing. I've promised to do what I can to find some way to help him control it, but I'm not sure I can do much - for him or for you. This was so much Eli's field of expertise... "
"Chief, I'm sure you'll think of something. Come on - let's get one more load of books, then call it a day."
"I need to get - "
"A quiet evening just relaxing," Jim interrupted. "Recharge your batteries for tomorrow." He picked up the list from the desk. "You look as if you've checked pretty well all the artefacts."
"Well, I know what's there," Blair said, "and I've emailed several places that might be interested in getting some of the things. I can't do much more till I get answers from them."
Fifteen days later, faster than he had believed possible, Blair sent off the last two packets of artefacts. The museums he had contacted had fallen over themselves to get some of Dr. Stoddard's collection - which, it was well known, contained only excellent specimens of their type.
He went back to the house for the last time, and went through it carefully, unnecessarily double-checking that he had removed everything that said 'anthropology', everything that was his own, and cleared the last items from the refrigerator in 'his' kitchen, putting them into his backpack - the things he had left there for meals while he worked at the house; he had emptied the freezer some days earlier - with David's blessing, he had taken everything from it to a homeless shelter. He fastened the garage door from the inside, phoned for a cab - he no longer had the right to use Eli's van - then turned off the electricity supply and left, locking the door carefully, and waited at the gate for the cab.
During the previous two weeks, Blair had spent most of his evenings thinking about tests to determine the extent of the abilities of the men and women who had agreed to work with Eli. Of all the people Eli had contacted, roughly half were willing to be tested. Of that half, only sixteen had agreed to continue working with Blair, and of those sixteen, only Drew Grant was enthusiastic.
Although he told Grant it would take some weeks before he was ready to start thinking about any tests, he had abandoned his reading of the old books after just two days. While he had been helping Eli, he could afford the time to plow through many unhelpful pages in the hope of finding a single reference to heightened senses, letting Eli deal with the practicalities of the study. With Eli gone, he was the one who had to deal with the practicalities, and for the first time he understood fully why Eli had needed an assistant.
Now, with Eli's last instructions to him fulfilled, he had to get the first tests - for taste, smell and touch - he had spent his evenings developing actually administered. They were the easy ones.
He unlocked the door to the loft, and as he went in he realized that Jim was already home. Surprised, he glanced at his watch, checking the time. No, he was right; he hadn't made a mistake. Jim should still have been at the PD for at least another hour. Blair crossed quickly to the couch where Jim was sitting, hunched over, his whole posture speaking of misery.
Jim turned towards him. "Thank god," he whispered. He reached out and caught Blair's hand, pulling it close to his face. He breathed deeply, inhaling Blair's scent. Blair stood, waiting patiently until Jim relaxed.
"Better now?" he murmured.
"Yes. Chief, whatever it takes. You have to find some long-term way to help me. Please."
Blair sat beside him. "Well, I've been thinking about that. First of all we have to find out just how good your senses are. Unfortunately sight and hearing are going to be the hardest to quantify, and I think they're your strongest ones.
"All the hearing tests I know of are designed to determine loss of hearing, but I was wondering if we could adapt them to establish acuteness of hearing - "
Jim leaned back, letting his head rest against the back of the couch. "All I know, Chief, is that I can hear too damn well."
"Yeah, that's pretty well what Drew says. Constant noise... "
"Does he say anything about it being not as bad when you're there?"
"No. It doesn't seem to make any difference. But I've never spent any length of time with him."
"But it does make a difference for me," Jim said. "I told you your voice is soothing, but it's not just that. You weren't saying anything just now, you were just standing there letting me sniff your hand, and it was all so much easier... and it didn't take long."
Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Applying one sense to help an overload in one of the others... I wonder if that's significant? You could try that next time things get a bit much - maybe get some mint-flavored candy, and if your hearing is spiking, suck a piece to trigger your sense of taste, see if that helps."
Jim looked doubtful. "Wouldn't that just be adding stimulus and make things worse?"
"I don't know," Blair admitted. "What I am pretty sure of is that what helps you won't necessarily help Drew, and what helps him might not help you. How'd you know sniffing my hand would help?"
"I didn't. It just seemed the fastest way to imprint you on my senses."
"Instinct... " Blair murmured. "But you said it doesn't work with anyone else?"
"No. I remembered what you said about the tracker having a friend, and made an excuse to talk to several of the guys in the bullpen - the ones I've worked with most - when my senses started spiking today, and it didn't help."
Blair rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder... " he said slowly. "The tracker needed someone to keep him grounded. Raleigh called him 'a friend', and his inference was that the man helped because he was a friend. But what if it was the other way? He became a friend because he could help?"
"It's possible," Jim said. "We barely knew each other, but you were able to help me - to the point where I'm beginning to find it hard to let you out of my sight."
Blair grinned. "And I can't think of anyone else I would let hold my hand and sniff it," he said. "And that's not all; although I agreed to help Drew, it was mostly because I knew it would probably help you, too."
"So does that mean that you're a 'tracker's friend'?"
"I think it must. But why? What have I got that hundreds of other guys don't?"
Jim smiled ruefully. "Now you know how I feel," he said. "Why me? There isn't an answer, is there?"
Next morning, over breakfast, Jim said, "Chief, how would you feel about getting an observer's pass? It's only for ninety days, but it would let you ride along with me, and maybe in that time we'd be able to come up with something that would work to let me keep control when you're not there."
"I'd have to come up with a good reason to want one, though," Blair said. "It's easy enough to get one with the traffic cops just by asking for one. You just have to sign a waiver saying you know it's dangerous and you won't sue if you're killed."
"The dead are so well known for suing, right?"
Jim grinned. "Riding along with a detective, though - that's less common. How about you're doing research for an article on police work?"
"Wouldn't I actually have to write one, in that case?" but he was looking thoughtful.
"I seem to remember one ride-along, three or four years ago, who wanted to see police work close up because he was planning on writing a detective novel. I don't think that novel ever materialized."
"Could have been written but didn't find a publisher," Blair said. "But I take the point; something that's planned in good faith could fall through."
"Don't you think it would be simpler to tell the truth? At least to whoever has to approve a ride-along?"
"Only if I have to," Jim said. "I don't need the guys at work to know about the senses."
"You think they'd give you a hard time?"
"No, not necessarily. But the more people who know, the more chance there is of it becoming public knowledge, and I really don't need the bad guys to know I could have an edge."
Simon Banks remembered Blair immediately, and listened with what Jim felt was unusual patience to their request for a ride-along pass for Blair.
"An article on police work?" he asked, but he sounded interested.
"Well, I'm an academic," Blair explained. "Because Rainier fired me - and Chancellor Edwards isn't likely to give me any kind of reference - I'd have some difficulty persuading any other university to employ me, but being fired because I was on too many expeditions doesn't kill my academic credibility - so I thought I'd try to develop a career as a freelance writer of factual articles. I'm working on an article about Dr. Stoddard's last study, trying to... well, give closure to it; but after that? It occurred to me that I could try writing a... well, not quite an insider's view of different professions, because they're not my profession, but I could write the impression of a close observer to the everyday work of people in different professions, especially the ones that serve the public. That could include the personal reaction - anger, perhaps - of those people to some of the things they encounter; the things that motivate them to continue in a job that can be dangerous and is certainly often thankless.
"I wouldn't use real names, I'd use fictional ones - there's a standard disclaimer writers use for that, 'Names have been changed to protect privacy'. That would include the names of any criminals or victims - like a break-in at Wilkes' hardware store would become a break-in at Smith's. That way, I also wouldn't have to get clearance from anyone because nobody is being directly identified."
Banks looked at Jim. "And you're prepared to have the kid here ride along with you?"
"Well, I don't see any reason why not," Banks said. "Get him his credentials, and he can start on Monday." He looked closely at Jim. "How are you feeling today?"
"A lot better," Jim said.
"You're certainly looking better. You looked like death warmed over when you left yesterday."
"Migraine can be very debilitating," Blair said. "There was a boy in my class when I was ten or so, had two days off school every couple of months - one day nursing a migraine, the next day recovering from its effects. Jim's lucky that his don't last as long."
Banks nodded, accepting the comment, and Jim ushered Blair out.
At the weekend, Blair worked on developing tests for hearing and sight, and tried them - and his tests for the other senses - on Jim. The results left him speechless.
Over the next week, Blair spent his days with Jim, mostly at the PD watching as Jim dealt with paperwork - "The bane of a cop's life," Jim muttered - and his evenings testing his sixteen volunteers. Jim had agreed that they could visit Blair at the loft, and he sat close to Blair, acting as his assistant, while the tests were administered. As each one finished, Blair thanked him - or her - and promised to let them see the article before it was submitted anywhere.
As he had expected, Drew Grant proved to have a range of hearing that almost equalled Jim's. Grant looked at the results, and whistled softly. "That's... frightening," he murmured. "But how do I control it?"
Opening his mouth to say, "I don't know," Blair paused, thought for a moment, then said slowly, "I wonder... What do you do when the radio or TV is too loud?"
"You lower the volume," Grant said.
Blair nodded. "You lower the volume. I wonder... Could you visualise a... a dial, or a sliding scale of some kind, calibrated from one to... oh, ten, and turn the volume down? Take it down to a level that's comfortable, and try to hold it there?" He crossed to his tape recorder, took out the tape he had made of various levels of sound, and replaced it with an ordinary one. He pressed 'Play' and the music started at a reasonable volume; and then turned his attention to Grant. "All right; pretend that's playing loudly. Visualise a sliding scale - it's at ten. Now imagine yourself reducing the volume. Slowly." He glanced at Jim, who was sitting with his eyes closed, a fixed expressionlessness on his face, and knew that Jim, too, was trying it. With the idea of taking Grant's attention from Jim, Blair tried it himself. It wasn't easy, but... yes; he could almost feel it working.
"It works!" Grant exclaimed. Blair jerked his attention back to the young man. "It works," Grant repeated softly, and the relief in his voice was unmeasureable. "Thank you!"
"You'll probably have to work at maintaining your hearing at a level that's comfortable for you," Blair said, "but eventually it'll probably become second nature. Just don't get discouraged if you lose control, especially at first; you know you can dial it all down again."
"Thank you," Grant said again.
After Grant left, Blair turned to Jim. "Well?"
Jim didn't try to pretend he didn't know what Blair meant.
"Yes," he said. "It worked for me, as well."
"It'll probably work for your other senses, too," Blair said. "But don't forget what I told Drew; it'll take a while before it becomes automatic." He thought for a moment. "As a matter of interest, what's a comfortable level for you?"
"I don't know, because I could see from the volume control you weren't playing the tape loud - and I'd really prefer it if you didn't," he added as Blair began to reach for the volume control on the tape recorder.
"Just teasing," Blair murmured, and he switched the tape recorder off.
The body lay sprawled a few feet from the door of a comfortable-looking living room, the shards of a broken vase beside him. A pool of drying blood had soaked into the carpet. Standing just inside the door, Blair watched as Jim and Serena Chang from Forensics moved around the body. Serena carefully lifted something from the dead man's jacket, Blair couldn't see what, and put it into a bag, and registered, 'Evidence'.
Jim came over to him. "We're checking upstairs now. Other than the broken vase, there's no sign that anything down here has been disturbed."
Blair nodded and followed Jim up the stairs, glad to be away from sight of the murdered man.
The door of one of the upstairs rooms stood open, and Jim headed for it. It was an office; and it looked undisturbed. A wallet lay on the desk beside a keyboard; Jim picked it up, opened it and glanced inside. "My guess is that the victim either came home unexpectedly and found the intruders before they had the chance to ransack the house, or he was upstairs when they broke in and came down to see what the noise was; they killed him and then ran for it, afraid that the sound of the shot would attract attention."
"But it didn't?" Blair asked.
"The cleaning woman found Mr. Chung's body when she arrived this morning. We'll have to wait to get the exact time of death from Serena, but I'd guess it was some time last night."
"Is that an actual guess, or an estimate?" Blair asked.
"A guess," Jim said slowly. "You think I could estimate it?"
"Don't see why not," Blair replied.
Jim thought about it for a moment. "I could try," he said slowly, "but it's not going to make any difference to Mr. Chung whether his time of death is established now or this afternoon."
Blair made a face. "That's not funny."
"No, it's not," Jim agreed. "But it's how we - cops, firemen, paramedics even - manage to stay sane. By making bad jokes."
"Laugh or cry, huh?"
"Yes," Jim said quietly. "Hmmm - interesting."
"Mr. Chung had a private investigator's license. A lot of PI work involves relatively petty stuff - wives looking for evidence that their husbands are cheating on them, for example - but even so, they can make some bad enemies, without the protection that being a cop gives. Not that a cop doesn't make some bad enemies, but a lot of guys out for revenge will think twice before killing a cop." He glanced around and shivered. "Chief - there's an electromagnetic charge in here."
"There is? How do you know?"
"You don't feel the hair on your arms standing up from static electricity?"
"No," Blair said. "Hey - if you can sense that... Touch, huh?"
"Probably." Jim picked up a paper clip and held it towards the computer; it stuck to the casing. "This equipment's been magnetized. All the data in the computer will have been wiped out."
He lifted a pad from the desk, and ran his fingers over it. His face went blank for a moment, and Blair murmured, "Don't concentrate quite so hard, Jim. Just let the information travel from your fingers to your brain... "
"There's a name... Connie Roberts. I wonder who that is? Maybe her?" He lifted a framed photo from the desk; there was writing across the bottom of it. "All my love, Jennifer," he read.
"Might 'Jennifer' be a girl friend?" Blair asked.
"Probably." Jim began to search through the desk drawers, and pulled out an address book. He flipped through it quickly. "Seems to be personal addresses rather than business ones," he said. "There's no 'Connie Roberts'. Ah - here's a 'Jennifer', though. Jennifer Olsen. I think I want a word with her."
The address led them to an apartment block not too far from the PD. The woman who answered the door was unmistakeably the one from the photo.
"Police?" she asked when Jim showed her his ID. "There's nothing wrong, is there?" she continued as she led them into a comfortable living room.
Jim said quietly, "We're here investigating a case involving Dennis Chung."
"Dennis? He's on the side of the cops, not against them."
"I know," Jim said. "How long have you known Dennis?"
"About two years. Why?"
Jim sighed. "There's no easy way to tell you, Ms. Olson. He was murdered some time last night."
"No. No. God, no!" She sank into a chair.
Blair said softly, "We understand how difficult this must be for you, but we need your help - for Dennis. The quicker Detective Ellison gets the information he needs, the better chance he has of finding out who killed him. Do you understand?
"We know he was a private investigator, but we don't know anything about the kind of cases he worked. His safe was locked, and we haven't been able to get it open yet."
She gave a rueful half smile. "He liked to call himself a cyber-detective. Most of his clients are... were... big firms who believed that their computer networks had been hacked into, and valuable information stolen."
Jim nodded. "Are you familiar with any of his cases?"
"No. He never talked about individual clients. He had a good reputation, and he always said it was because he was known for keeping his mouth shut about the things he learned - a lot of his work came from word-of-mouth recommendation, and because of the sensitive nature of a lot of the material these firms had on their computers, discretion on his part was vital. I understood."
"Do you know the name 'Connie Roberts'?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. And I'm sorry I can't be of more help."
"We have more of a starting point now than we had," Jim said. "Thank you."
When they returned to the PD, Jim reported the little they had learned from Jennifer Olsen, then turned his attention to checking through Serena's initial report on the crime scene. The most interesting item was the long blonde hair she had picked off Chung's jacket; Jennifer Olsen was dark-haired, so the hair wasn't hers. It had to belong to the killer - and the killer was female.
Blair settled down to make notes with a view to the article he would at least have to draft, half of his attention on Jim. It wasn't long before Banks called them into his office.
"I've had the name "Connie Roberts" run through the system," he said. "Came up with a computer programmer who works for Questscape. Might be worth having a word with her."
"On my way. Come on, Chief."
"Er, Jim - that's Norman Ventriss' business," Blair said as Jim led the way to the door.
"His son was my student from hell."
"You don't expect him to be there, though, do you?"
"Not him, no, but from the way Kaplan spoke, the father knows who I am."
"So we don't mention your name," Jim said.
Blair glanced at him, but said no more.
He remained standing in the background when Jim spoke to the receptionist; he remained silent as he he followed Jim to the secretary's office; there, he stood silently beside the door while Jim spoke to the secretary.
"Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. I understand you have a woman on your staff named Connie Roberts?"
"Yes, one of our programmers."
"I'd like a word with her."
The secretary threw a nervous glance at the silent Blair who, without realizing it, was projecting the image of 'bad cop allowing good cop to take charge for the moment'. She picked up her phone and pressed a button. "Connie? Could you come down to my office, please. There's a Detective Ellison wants to speak to you." She put the phone down as she said, "Connie's on her way."
The woman who entered passed Blair without seeing him and went straight to the desk. "Detective Ellison?"
"Ms Roberts. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm investigating a homicide. The victim had your name written on a pad on his desk. Dennis Chung?"
She frowned and shook her head. "Chung? I don't think I know the name."
"I see. It's possible someone mentioned your name to him and he hadn't had time to contact you - whatever it was he wanted to ask you. May I ask what you do here?"
"I design anti-viral programs. That's as much as I can tell you. It's the sort of work that's very sensitive to industrial espionage - a new and effective program is worth millions."
"I see. Ms Roberts - who gets those millions?"
"Why, the firm does, of course."
"You're never tempted to sell something you're developing to another firm?"
"Detective, I resent the implication. I'm very well paid. I don't need to cheat Mr. Ventriss."
"So can you tell me why a private investigator who specialised in industrial espionage cases had a note of your name?"
She froze for an instant. "I have no idea, Detective. Now if that's all, I'm really very busy." She turned and walked briskly out, completely ignoring Blair; he was almost certain she hadn't even seen him.
Jim looked back at the secretary. "Thank you," he said. "Now would it be possible for me to have a word with Mr. Ventriss?"
"I'm sorry, he's not in the office at the moment." Blair relaxed slightly at those words. "He's gone to a meeting; I can't even suggest that you wait for him - he might or might not be back this afternoon. A lot will depend on how well the meeting goes."
Jim nodded. "Yes, I can understand that," he said. "My father owns Ellison Enterprises, and I grew up never knowing when he'd be home."
"I can make an appointment for you to see him first thing in the morning," she said.
Unnoticed in the background, Blair grinned. Talk about casual name-dropping; she had clearly been about to say something politely dismissive, and her change of direction was certainly as obvious to Jim as it was to him.
"Thank you," Jim murmured.
Jim nodded. "I won't take up any more of your time," he said, and turned to leave.
Back in his truck, Jim said quietly, "Roberts was lying. She may not have known Chung, but she certainly knew of him; her heart was pounding fit to burst. And I'm not convinced of her loyalty to Questscape; the question about money hit home. Well, there's not much more I can do about it till I see good old Norman in the morning. But I'm just wondering if he was the one who called in Chung, because he suspected that information on one of their new programs was being sold somewhere."
"And he wouldn't want to fire anyone without proof of their guilt, because his employees are good at what they do."
"That's my guess."
As he started the engine, his cell phone rang.
"Ellison. Yes... yes... We'll be right over." He glanced at Blair. "That was Ms Olsen. She thinks she might have something for us."
"Thanks for coming so quickly, Detective," Jennifer Olsen said as she let them in. "Did you get Dennis's safe open yet?"
"I don't know. They still didn't have it open when we left the PD."
"Well, this might not be any help, but Dennis often took photos when he was investigating something - photos of the people he was investigating, that is. Two nights ago, he accidentally left his camera here." She handed over a camera that both men instantly recognised as very expensive. "The film's half exposed. I know there are some shots on it that have nothing to do with anything he was investigating - there are two of me, two or three of the coast to the south that he took at the weekend - but he didn't take more than half a dozen photos that day, and since then he's taken at least eight more."
"I don't think we need the camera," Jim said. He wound the film back, took it out and returned the camera. "Thank you; this could be the break we need."
They left and continued their interrupted trip to the PD.
Later that afternoon, several men sat around a table, examining the eight newly-developed photos - Jim, Blair, Banks, and Detectives Brown, Rafe and Taggert. Banks examined them in turn, then passed them around the table. They showed a woman, not in the first flush of youth, talking to a young man.
When the first photo reached him, Jim smiled grimly. "Connie Roberts," he said. "The guy she's speaking to looks familiar, but... " He shook his head.
Blair leaned over to look. "That's Brad Ventriss."
Banks looked at him, remembering a photo in a newspaper. "You're sure?"
"I had him in my class for several months, and he wasn't the kind of guy to be invisible. I'm sure."
Jim nodded. "Blair's right, Simon. I recognise Ventriss now."
"That's all very well, but you could say he's entitled to speak to a woman who works for his father," Banks commented.
"You could," Jim agreed, "but why did Dennis Chung feel it necessary to try to get a photo of him doing so? And - " he picked up one of the photos and looked at it closely. "Let's get this one enhanced. Specifically their hands. It looks to me as if he's giving her something."
Banks scowled. "Are you saying you think Ventriss Junior was ripping off his father?"
"It wouldn't surprise me," Blair said quietly.
The call came in about half past four; a panicked call from a ten-year-old. He had arrived home from school to find his mother lying in a pool of blood - "And I can't wake her!"
Connie Roberts had been shot at point-blank range, and died more than an hour before her son found her.
"Some files didn't read quite right, so we checked the backups, which we'd just started keeping on an external hard drive that's disconnected when it's not in use," Norman Ventriss said. "The files in the main computer had been altered - only slightly, but enough to delay our work on a new internet upgrader quite significantly. I had to consider the possibility that a competitor had hacked in and stolen the original files. Henry Nadine of Complexium had some problems with hackers last year so I asked his advice, and he suggested I call in Dennis Chung."
"Aren't Questscape and Complexium business rivals?"
"Yes, to some extent, but Henry and I go back a long way; we were at school together. We were friends then, and we've stayed friends. Oh, if one of us could develop something that just beat the other into the market, we would - we both know that - but we'd do it honestly. We trust each other."
Privately, Jim thought Ventriss might be just a little over-confident of his friend's trustworthiness, though at the same time it seemed unlikely that Nadine would have recommended a good PI if he'd had anything to do with the hacking. "How much would those files have been worth - to one of your competitors?"
"Someone would have become very rich."
"Why doesn't that surprise me? Did anybody else know you'd called Chung?" Jim asked.
"Well, Connie - Connie Roberts - knew I'd called in someone, though I didn't tell her who. She deserved to know, because it was her work that had been stolen."
"And now she's been killed." Jim opened the large envelope he was carrying, and took a photo out of it. "Chung took this photo of Ms Roberts and your son. I wonder why?"
"Are you implying my son is involved?"
"This is a murder investigation. We have to consider anything like this as a possible clue. Can you give me any reason why your son would be speaking to Ms Roberts? I understand he's attending Rainier University, and has no immediate connection with Questscape."
"He comes in occasionally; he knows some of the staff. If he met her by chance, it would be only natural for them to exchange a few words - "
"But why would Mr. Chung feel it necessary to take not one, but eight photos of that meeting? And - " he pulled out another photo - "this one clearly shows that he is giving her something. I'm sorry, Mr. Ventriss, but I'm going to have to call your son in for questioning."
Ventriss scowled. "Why do I feel there's some kind of vendetta here? A biased TA at Rainier accuses him of a violation of the academic code, then you question him about a fire he happened to witness - "
"Mr. Ventriss, there were four deaths in that fire - in the building which was the last address Rainier had for the TA in question. It seems a strange coincidence that your son should 'happen' to witness that fire - which has been established as arson."
"Coincidences do happen," Ventriss snapped, "and I'll take my son's word over anyone else's!"
"I applaud your family loyalty," Jim said, "but... just how well do you know your son?"
From Questscape, Jim went to the Complexium building. As soon as he knew their destination, Blair, who had waited in the truck while Jim spoke to Ventriss, said, "Henry Nadine's daughter Suzanne and Brad Ventriss are pretty close. One of the other students accused Ventriss of date rape, then withdrew the charge; but she admitted to me that her father worked for Complexium, and a couple of days after she made the charge, he was fired. Then she got an anonymous note that said if she withdrew the charge, it would help her dad get his job back. So she did, and presto! he got his job back.
"Now, Suzanne's basically a decent girl, and I really don't see one girl happily accepting that her boyfriend has raped another girl, but Ventriss could have lied to her, told her the accusation was false, and persuaded her to do something to help him 'clear his name'."
Jim glanced at him, then turned his attention back to the road. "Amazing what someone in love will do."
"Yeah," Blair said.
After thinking about it for a moment, Jim said, "What colour is her hair?"
Blair stared at him. "Blonde."
Jim handed him his cell phone. "Call the PD - speed dial 1. Ask Simon to get someone to go to Nadine's home, and check out Suzanne's room; get a sample of her hair, if possible, and get it tested against the one found on Chung's jacket."
"God, Jim, I hope you're wrong. Nothing Ventriss did would surprise me, but I do hope she wasn't directly involved in killing Chung."
He punched in the number, and passed on Jim's message.
At Complexium, Blair went into the building with Jim, but once again he remained quietly in the background, not drawing any attention to himself.
Nadine agreed to see them immediately. When they went in, he said, "I'm pretty busy, gentlemen, but I can give you a few minutes."
"We've just come from Questscape," Jim said, "and I wanted to clear up one or two things. Mr. Ventriss said you'd recommended Dennis Chung to him."
"Yes. I had some problems with hackers last year, and he tracked them down surprisingly quickly."
"You haven't had any problems recently?"
"No. At the moment we're not developing anything new - just trying to improve and upgrade some of the programs we're already marketing."
"But your company and Questscape are competitors in the marketplace, right?" Jim asked.
"We wouldn't steal from each other, Detective. Norman and I have been friends for years. We regard our business competition as... well, as akin to a race between two men who are very evenly matched. Sometimes one pulls ahead, other times the other overtakes him."
"Your daughter and Brad Ventriss are very close, I understand," Jim said.
"Yes. I don't say I'm terribly happy about it," Nadine admitted. "I've tried to make sure Suzanne understands the value of money - she gets a monthly allowance that is approximately the amount one of my office juniors is paid, and if she overspends, I don't bail her out; she has to wait until next 'payday' to get more money - but Norman has always spoiled Brad, gives him cash pretty well on demand, and if Brad doesn't get his own way... well, I have to admit he can be a little vindictive. I've tried to teach Suzanne something about the business, especially programming and what to do to stop hackers, but Norman has never tried to show Brad how things work."
On the way back to the PD, Jim said thoughtfully, "I feel sorry for Nadine."
"I think he's really tried to be a responsible father. Ventriss, on the other hand, seems to have substituted money for attention." He sighed. "My dad was a sort of mixture of the two. My brother and I had to work for what we got, but dad wasn't there a lot of the time. Sally pretty well brought us up."
"Our housekeeper. Mom died when I was six. Dad remarried a year later, and Grace walked out after just a few months. Said he was more married to his work than he was to her." Jim shrugged. "Sally was... pretty good. Because she was there, we always had an adult around to pay attention to us. I wonder what sort of attention those two kids got from their mothers?"
As they walked into the bullpen, Joel Taggert called over. "Hey, Jim - the forensic boys dropped off a few items for you. They found some quite interesting things in Suzanne Nadine's room. The most interesting item was this - "
"An electromagnet," Jim said. "And Chung's disks, everything, had been wiped clean... "
"And there's some carpet fibre stuck in the coil. It doesn't match the carpet in her room - totally the wrong color. They got some hair, too, and Serena's checking it now."
"Let me see the fibre," Jim said. He ran a finger lightly over it. "This is a nylon-wool mix; the same fibre as Dennis Chung's carpet."
Half an hour later, Serena contacted Jim. The hair from Suzanne Nadine's room was a match for the one found on Dennis Chung's jacket.
"All right," Banks said. "We're going to have to play this pretty carefully. We've phoned both Questscape and Complexium, and both Norman Ventriss and Henry Nadine left their offices at lunchtime and didn't go back in the afternoon. Seems to me they both decided to check up on their children. We've no evidence to place young Ventriss at Dennis Chung's; all we really have is some evidence that Suzanne Nadine visited Dennis Chung's house and was in possession of an electromagnet that had probably been in that house. The rest is bluff."
"Which house do we go to first?" Taggert asked.
"The Ventriss one," Jim said. "According to Blair, Suzanne Nadine just goes where Brad Ventriss leads. He's the brains behind whatever they did."
As they reached Norman Ventriss' house, they realized that Jim had called it correctly; when Jim and Banks were shown in, they found Henry Nadine talked to Ventriss.
Both fathers indicated shock at hearing the police had evidence pointing to Suzanne, and their suspicion that she had simply gone where her boyfriend led; both men assured the police that they would do whatever was 'right', but they were sure their children would never kill anyone; but watching Ventriss closely, Jim was aware that the man was showing signs of considerable nervousness. With no sign of the younger Ventriss or Nadine in the house, however, the two men had no option but to leave.
When Jim and Banks returned to the car where Blair was waiting, they found the younger man almost buzzing with excitement. The cops from the second car were nowhere in sight.
Banks scowled. "Where's everyone gone?" he demanded.
"We saw the kids," Blair explained. "They came out of a side door just after you went in the front, and went off to that garage - " He pointed. "So Captain Taggert told everyone to - well, surround the garage, hiding, and I waited here to tell you when you came back out. And look!" He nodded towards the house.
Ventriss and Nadine were just coming out of a side door. They went to the garage and disappeared into it.
Blair glanced at Jim. "Can you hear what they're saying?" he asked.
Jim shook his head, aware of Banks' puzzled look.
"The sliding scale, Jim. Push it up."
Jim's face took on an expression of extreme concentration. "Yes!" he breathed. "I hear them... "
Banks opened his mouth to say something, and Blair touched his arm. "We'll tell you later," he murmured. "For the moment, let Jim listen."
Banks glared at him, but waited.
"... did you persuade Connie to give you the work she was doing?" Norman Ventriss' voice.
"Money, Dad. What else? She needed twenty thousand fast, so I gave it to her for the most recent version of her program."
"And what were you going to do with it?"
"What you've always said was important - make money. I'd found a buyer. Oh, I knew Questscape would take a hit - "
"Damn right it would!"
"But you've taken hits before and you always just write it off and look for a way to recoup. Only you realized too soon that the file wasn't right and called in Chung, and he saw me paying off Connie. All we did was go to his house to wipe his records so he wouldn't have any proof."
"Chung wasn't supposed to be there, Daddy." A girl's voice - Suzanne, presumably. "We saw him go out, but he came back almost immediately. We had to defend ourselves."
"By killing him?" Nadine's voice. "How much were you two making off cheating Norman?"
"About twenty million." There was no mistaking the self-satisfaction in Brad Ventriss' voice. "Enough to give us a very comfortable life without ever having to work."
"Well, the police have evidence that you were at Chung's house the night he was killed." It was Norman Ventriss again. "We have to get you out of the country. There's no statute of limitation on murder, so you'll never be able to come back. We'll arrange for an allowance, but you'll have to make a new life for yourselves - and Brad, I won't ever bail you out again, so you'd better be careful."
Jim glanced at Banks. "They're planning to get the kids out of the country," he said. "I think we need to move in now, before they can leave here."
Banks nodded and moved forwards quickly, Jim and Blair at his heels.
"Cascade PD. Move away from that car!" It was Taggert's voice, and even as he spoke the watching cops rose from their positions in hiding.
Banks, Jim and Blair rounded the side of the garage, to see the Ventrisses and Nadines standing beside a car. The younger man looked round almost desperately, then made a run for it.
Blair reacted instantly, ahead of everyone else. He raced after Ventriss, and brought him down with a perfect football tackle. Ventriss began to struggle, with Blair holding on desperately, as Jim reached them. "Hold it right there, Ventriss," Jim said coldly.
Blair sat up. He gave Ventriss a grin that was totally false. "I do hope you don't intend to file a grievance over this," he said sweetly, and then his voice changed. "Because resisting arrest isn't a valid grievance."
It had never occurred to Jim that Blair could sound so cold, so ruthless.
Blair glanced up from his laptop, where he was carefully entering the details of the tests he had spend the last couple of days administering to his volunteers, as Jim entered the loft.
Jim hung his coat up and crossed to join him. "How're you doing?"
"I should be able to start on the article about heightened senses any time. But that'll be an evening job; now I've got those tests done, I can start coming in to the PD every day. How was it there today?"
"Suzanne Nadine has agreed to go for a plea bargain. Ventriss did the actual killing - both Chung and Connie Roberts. She was horrified to hear about Connie; he did that on his own, to dispose of the only witness who could link him to the theft of the files. She may have been genuinely in love with him, but she decided she'd rather drop him in it than suffer the full consequences of the killing herself. Norman Ventriss and Henry Nadine aren't going to be found guilty of anything worse than a misdemeanor - wanting to help a killer escape justice is as far as they got, and it isn't the same as actually getting the killer away. Ventriss isn't planning on charging Suzanne with the theft of the files; he's accepted that it was entirely his son's doing, and that she just went along."
"That's good. Suzanne wasn't one of the students I knew well, but she always seemed reasonably conscientious," Blair said. "Ventriss, on the other hand, wanted everything just given to him." He fell silent for a moment, then went on. "What about the arson? Is there any likelihood that he can be made to pay for that?"
"Officially... probably not, because we've no proof. Unofficially? It's possible to drop a word in someone's ear, and then word will get around the prison. A baby died in that fire... and even the hardest cons don't like child killers.
"Anyway, now that he's been discredited... is there any chance you can get your job at Rainier back?" Jim asked. There was an odd note in his voice, a weird combination of forced cheerfulness and fear.
"I probably could," Blair said, "but I'm not sure I want to. Work under Edwards again, after she kicked me out on the say-so of a pathological little liar whose father just happened to be rich?
"What I might do is see if I can get Rainier to agree that I can present my dissertation, but carry on as a freelance writer, maybe affiliated to Rainier, which would mean doing the odd lecture - and articles by Dr. B. Sandburg, Rainier University, would be more prestigious than articles by Blair Sandburg, M.A. - as well as reflecting well on the University. And I've been thinking." He chuckled. "The Norman Ventriss Gymnasium isn't likely to be built now - but the Eli Stoddard Gymnasium? I've got the money; I think I might just finance that, though I wouldn't make the offer until I see if they'll let me present the diss, so they don't think it's dependant on my getting anything from them - except maybe an apology from Edwards. Wouldn't that just rub her nose in it?"
"Why do I get the feeling you don't like her?"
"Probably because I don't. She was too ready to fall in with what Kaplan wanted, too ready to assume the best of Ventriss and the worst of me."
"Where'll you get the material for those articles?" Jim asked.
"Well, ride-alongs for a start. Spending time actually working in different environments - I have a fair number of skills I picked up over the years - spent one summer as a trucker, another working for a welding firm, took interior decorating as an elective one year... I haven't really thought about it yet."
"Will you stay in Cascade?"
"I don't know. I'd like to, but... I don't know."
Jim licked his lips. "Chief - I'd appreciate it if you'd consider staying in Cascade... staying here."
Blair looked at him. "As in here here? Living with you?"
"Yes. I need you, Chief. Maybe not beside me 24/7, but if I'm to have any sort of life, manage to work properly, I need you here a lot of the time." He hesitated. "But more than that - I want you here. We haven't known each other very long, but - well, I don't think I've ever had a better friend."
"Thanks. I could say the same. Apart from Eli, who was more of a father figure for me, I don't think I've ever had a better friend." He stood and turned to face Jim, his hand held out to seal the agreement.
These books mentioned in the story do exist -
Sir Walter Raleigh - The Discovery of the Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guyana The first paragraph 'quoted' in the story is taken from it; the second is my invention. (Guyana is the present-day Venezuela.)
Fernando de Montesinos - 1642 book Memorias y Historiales del Peru.
Fray Antonio de la Calancha, Prior of Lima - Coronica moralizada de la orden de N.S.P.S. Agustín en el Peru, pub in two volumes, pub. in 1638 & 1653.
The following were real explorers, but the books mentioned are imaginary -
Hiram Bingham, Robert Schomburgk, Alexander von Humboldt, John Speke