"Geez, Jim, slow down!" Blair was thrown against the back of his seat and the side window as his partner steered the screeching truck around an inconvenient corner.
The sentinel's right arm automatically went out to protect his guide, and Blair patted it comfortingly. "I'm okay, buddy. I'm tougher than I look."
Jim Ellison did not acknowledge that he heard, but he drew his arm back again.
"You know, we may be wrong, Jim," Blair started, hoping that perhaps engaging Jim's rational side would slow him down a little.
"We're not wrong," Jim came back at him. "We were slow to catch on, but we're not wrong, Chief."
Blair fell silent. He was morally certain that they weren't wrong, too. But this skittering around in a truck through the avenues of Cascade during the tag end of rush hour traffic was scary. He made a careful decision to let Jim just do it, drive like a sentinel, drive like Jim Ellison. He wondered if that were an even scarier thing, and shielded his eyes with his hands. Yeah, driving with Jim was pretty much the pinnacle of the roller coaster ride.
After an eternity, or perhaps half an hour, the truck hit the side-roads in country club country. Jim was driving as fast as ever, because he had more ground to cover out there, but at least there were no pedestrians or cars to worry about. Blair settled back to being worried for Jim instead. The entrance to the Calverton estate loomed up and the gates were wide open.
The place was in pandemonium. The circus had come to Lloyd Rodney.
"Ooooooh, shit!" Jim had to brake suddenly in order to avoid a tyke riding, of all things, an ostrich. "Is that even safe?"
Blair preferred to keep his comments on what constituted a safe ride to himself.
Ellison pulled the truck behind the gatehouse onto the lawn, and damned the turf. He and Blair got out and tried to take their bearings.
It wasn't easy. Though the lawn leading immediately to the house was clear, every square inch on the left side of the circular drive was jam-packed with things.
There was a midway with games and prizes that, from the looks of the kids carrying stuffed rabbits and snakes, weren't fixed. The sideshows were limited to displays of skill, sword-swallowing, juggling with torches, contortionists' acts and the like; no 'freaks' or 'oddities' were allowed in the Calverton universe. A petting zoo of wild creatures took up the interest of the children while they waited for rides on a pair of ostriches, a pair of zebras, and a very large elephant complete with howdah. Clowns ran everywhere, clowning, and a few rode gussied-up golf carts in skits involving cops, robbers, firemen and big plastic 'bombs' full of water.
In the center of the side lawn was a huge marquee, and around it trapeze artists were limbering up, while the roars of big cats could be heard off beyond the hub of the action. An equestrienne led her horse back and forth to accustom it to the new location, its sights and sounds and smells.
Popcorn and peanut stands, candy floss machines, taffy apple booths and hot dog carts stood waiting for the mothers of the attendees to decide it was appropriate for their little ones to start stuffing themselves. Ten in the morning was a trifle early, they seemed to agree, from lawn chairs and chaise longues well away from the noise and bustle. But they were all drinking orange juice with bubbles in it, and Jim knew mimosas when he saw, heard and smelled them. The chatter was about leaving the children in the care of the help, and arranging for their chauffeurs to pick them up again later. But, of course, Sweet Annabelle and Dear Cynthia and Precious Ginnie had to stay to share a morning pick-me-up with Darling Marilys and congratulate her on a job well done under pressure. The circus, they all said, was brilliant.
Privately, though, a few were tossing around words like 'tawdry' and 'tacky' and 'overdone', behind Darling Marilys' back.
Jim didn't care. He had one mission and one mission only: to find Lloyd Rodney.
Blair was there to urge him on, and to help him concentrate in the great din and hurrah going on around them.
"Try sight first, Jim. Scan the area. You know the animals are supposed to be there; let them fade. The tent should be there, let it fade. The people in make-up and costumes, the concession booths, the games – let them all fade. See only the children. Go over them one by one. Is he there? Have you found him?"
Jim pulled back from a focus that hurt, it was so tight. "No, I don't see him anywhere around."
"Okay, sound. You know his voice. Cancel out the parents' chatter. Cancel out the animals' noises. Cancel out the concessionaires and barkers. Hear only the children's voices. Listen to them one by one. Do you hear Lloyd Rodney?"
Jim jerked back again. "Nothing, Chief. It's too much! Finding one kid in a freaking circus? With an elephant in the side yard yet? I can't deal with this!" The sentinel threw his arms out wide.
"Okay, then, we'll ask."
The simplicity of this suggestion made Jim smile. "Okay, Chief, we'll ask."
He led the way to the group of mamas. The ladies put up sunglasses to get a better look at the two undeniably handsome men bearing down on Marilys.
"Why, Jimmy, and Blair! How lovely to see you! Come to enjoy Lloyd Rodney's birthday party? The whole lower and middle schools came. Isn't it fun?" Marilys was waving at Rosalita to come serve her new guests.
"Where is he, Marilys?" Jim asked urgently.
"Where is who?" Marilys was not slurring her words, but Jim had his doubts about whether she was completely sober. If she had taken one of her Ativan tablets on top of her mimosa, and this madhouse would make anyone anxious, it would account for her failure to make sense.
"Lloyd Rodney," Jim said slowly and gently. "We need to find Lloyd Rodney."
"It's very important, Marilys dear," Blair coaxed in his most dulcet tones. "Can you tell us where Lloyd Rodney is?"
Marilys frowned prettily and looked around the area. "I don't know, exactly. He was here a minute ago. I think he was pitching baseballs at milk bottles. Maybe he won something and ran up to his room to put it away. You can go in and look for him, if you like." She took another mimosa glass from the salver Rosalita offered, and Jim took it swiftly from her hands.
"I think that's enough for right now, Marilys. We'll want to talk to you in a while, and you'll want to be fresh for it." Jim stuck the fluted wineglass back on the salver and sent Rosalita on her way with a nod.
"Oh, well, really!" Marilys was fluffing up her hair with indignation.
Blair smiled warmly at her. "It's for the best, my dear."
"Oh, well, then," Marilys said, holding out her hand, "I'll survive." She giggled.
Blair bent over the hand, his jeans and flannel shirt apparently acceptable wear for a circus day, and Marilys cooed something Jim did not even try to hear.
"Okay, Chief, we'll check the house. I'll take the upstairs, you the downstairs, neither of us goes into the basement or third floor unless we're together. I don't expect he's hiding, so if he's here, we should find him readily enough."
The hunt was on.
Jim went straight for Lloyd Rodney's bedroom. It was barren of little boys, but Jim was not disappointed entirely. He commandeered what he had found, and went about searching the rest of the upper area.
"No one down here, Jim," Blair called out.
Jim danced down the long staircase. "No one upstairs either. I listened overhead in each of the rooms, and couldn't hear anyone above me. Let's do the basement."
"Sounds like a plan."
The partners switched on all the lights to the lower level and split up to canvas it. Again, no one, nothing.
"Damn!" Jim swore. "Where's the kid gotten to? We've got to find him, Chief! God knows it's not safe...!"
"Calm down. We'll find him, we'll find him. Once we do, we'll keep an eye on him and make sure he's in safe hands."
Blair's pats to Jim's back transmitted a degree of certain calm. Jim steadied himself.
"Okay, back to the circus. He could be there after all, and I just missed him." Jim led the way up.
Out in the bright sunshine, Blair had to tell Jim to dial down his eyesight, and once that was done, Jim again extended his hypersensitive senses. This time, he got lucky.
"Shoot, Chief, he's been out here all along. He's messing around in the circus tent."
A sudden silence befell the investigators. They looked wildly at each other, and then there were wings at their heels.
But by the time they had gotten to the tent, there was no trace of Lloyd Rodney again. He had circled the marquee, and while out of sight, had disappeared.
Lloyd Rodney was not the object of their search at that moment. Instead, Jim was rampaging through the tiers of seats, kicking away at sawdust, and sneezing heartily. Blair was likewise involved, checking the perimeter of the tent, where it met the ground.
"Nothing," Blair reported breathlessly.
Jim was still sneezing. He shook his head to indicate that his search had come up empty too, and Blair pushed him out of the enclosed area and into free air.
"Cough it all out, Jim," he ordered. "Man, you can't get a break on this case, can you? First the smoke and stuff, and now sawdust and feathers and animal hair and greasepaint. Go ahead and cough and sneeze it out of your system. We'll have to hope that we don't have to go back into the tent again."
Jim's eyes were streaming, and he was hacking up a lung, from the sounds of it. But a few minutes later, he was fine once more.
"Wish we had a filter for you," his partner said with concern.
"Never mind that. We still have one small boy to find in all this hubbub. We know he was here a few minutes ago. Let's look around, and ask the other kids."
They finally struck gold.
One of the boys watching the sword-swallower very carefully refused to turn his head, but pointed back over his shoulder. "He's over by the performing dogs show, I think."
That said, the boy went back into his trance state.
The dog show was visible from where Jim and Blair stood, and, sure enough, there was Lloyd Rodney watching poodles and terrier mixes do amazing things with balls, hoops, and unicycles. He was amid a group of about five kids, and Jim tuned into the conversation.
"They're talking about the dogs. Whether Libby as a pure-bred is smarter than any of the circus dogs. Lloyd Rodney is standing firm on the fact that she would have to be; she cost more than any of the 'mongrels', as he calls them," he reported.
"Looks like he's safe for a bit, then," Blair said. "How do we keep him safe from here, though?"
Jim jogged to the gaggle of women on the other side of the drive, Blair following a step behind.
"Marilys," Jim said commandingly, ignoring a passel of 'ooh's' and 'ahh's' from the other women, "we need to talk now, and I want you to tell me where Albany is."
"Well, all right, then, Jimmy," said Marilys, getting up and gracing her guests with look of triumph. Fifty-two, and she had two gorgeous men demanding her attentions. It was more than enough to make up for the tackiness of the circus. "Albany should be in the gatehouse. Why?"
"We need him out here as fast as he can get here. Excuse us, ladies," Jim said, sketching a bow, and winning a collection of smiles and 'buh-bye's' and winks as he and Blair escorted the hostess to the front door of the mansion.
"I'll call him then," Marilys said, and produced a cell phone from a pocket.
Within five minutes, Albany was at their side. "Really, Madame, I was working –"
Jim did not have time for a squabble with the butler. He cut in, "We need you to keep an eye on Lloyd Rodney, Albany, and this is a very serious matter."
Marilys eyed Jim uncertainly. "'Serious'?" she echoed. "Is Lloyd Rodney in danger? Albany! Don't let anything happen to Lloyd Rodney!"
So a spark of maternal interest did burn in the breast of the matron of the house! Who'd have thought it?
Jim gave further instructions. Albany was not to attract the child's attention. If Lloyd Rodney moved to another circus attraction, Albany was to keep him in sight. If he looked as if he was wandering off, Albany was to telephone Marilys immediately and report it.
Albany was bitter-faced at playing nanny, but he took his orders from Madame and turned to watch the boy.
Blair and Jim scurried Marilys into the house.
"Marilys, call Roddie."
"Why, Jimmy, why would I do that? He's busy today, or else he'd be out on the Constance III with Lloyd Rodney, and I wouldn't be trying to entertain with a wretched circus going on around me!" Marilys was perplexed, hard-done-by and sullen, all together.
"Call Roddie." Velvet-wrapped steel.
"But he's with the Chinese manufacturers, and today was the only day...."
"CALL RODDIE. NOW!"
That penetrated Marilys' haze of drugs and alcohol. "Well, all right, but you're going to have to do the talking. I certainly can't persuade him to take a day off work whenever I want him to." She beeped the numbers into her phone, handed it off to Jim, then flounced to one of the window seats in the parlor, and watched her garden in lieu of the circus attractions.
"Jennifer, give me Roddie. Tell him it's Jim Ellison and it's an emergency."
"I don't give a damn about the Chinese manufacturers; put him on the phone now!"
"Listen, lady, you put Roddie Calverton on the phone within ten seconds or I'll personally come down there and ten seconds after I arrive, you'll have lost your job – whatever it really is. Do you understand?" This was the Black Ops Ranger speaking.
Jennifer got the message. So did Roddie. He picked up the phone.
"Ellison, I don't appreciate –"
"Get home, Roddie. Now. There is something I have to tell you and it isn't pleasant. Tell your associates it's a family emergency. Because it is."
"It had better be, Ellison. It's going to cost me millions if this deal goes sour."
"Come home, Calverton. You're not going to have a red cent left if you don't get here soon."
"Are you threatening me?"
"Don't be ridiculous. And don't waste my time or my partner's. You wanted the arsonist found. We found him. Get here now."
With that, Jim hung up and handed the unit back to Marilys Calverton, who was staring at him with admiration. "No one speaks like that to Roddie. No one."
Jim was under-impressed. "Long overdue then."
Blair put in a heartfelt, "Oh, yeah."
They spent the time waiting for Roddie to show up, in clarification of some facts with Marilys, turning conjecture into reality. The two men muttered back and forth about things Marilys obviously couldn't understand and didn't wish to. They had to stop her from hitting the Ativan again and to send Rosalita away with the new mimosa Marilys had rung for; withal, they were relatively overjoyed when Roddie finally pulled up in the Silver Seraph.
"Now what was so urgent that I had to leave in the middle of making a deal that can bring me in roughly fifty million dollars over the next seven years?" Roddie was dangerous. The predator in him was coming to the fore.
Blair looked at him sympathetically.
With waves of his hand, Jim motioned both Marilys and Roddie to a couch, and he and Blair took the loveseat perpendicular to them.
The Calvertons were silent. There was something in the atmosphere which even they in their self-absorption could not avoid sensing.
Blair took the podium. "This is going to be hard to take, and I have to say I'm sorry to tell it to you. But Jim and I have the goods on this case, and you need to know."
Roddie and Marilys exchanges glances full of apprehension. He took her hand.
"Have you ever heard of MacDonald's Triad?" Blair asked.
"No," Marilys replied wonderingly.
Roddie shook his head.
"It's a finding in criminology that goes back as far as 1963, Mr. and Mrs. Calverton, when a researcher named MacDonald noticed that there are three characteristics that appear in childhood among certain criminals." Blair waited for the implications to sink in.
"This had better be damned good, Ellison, because I'm gonna have your hide and his for this, this, travesty of law enforcement!" Roddie fell quiet, but it wasn't a still quietness.
"Oh, my God," Marilys whispered. "Oh, my God." She said it over and over again, and didn't stop all through Blair's explanation.
"It keeps showing up," the consultant went on. "The three factors in childhood are fire-setting, abusiveness to small animals and/or children, and enuresis."
"Enuresis?" Roddie said with astonishment.
"Bed-wetting past the usual age of toilet training," Blair explained gently. "All three of these behaviors are to be found in your son, Lloyd Rodney. We believe that he is the arsonist. We also believe that he deliberately killed Dwight Franklin, for the thrill alone."
"You, you, you can't prove any, any of this," Roddie
stumbled. "Lloyd Rodney doesn't hurt people or animals, or set fires, or wet the
bed! He's no killer! He's a little boy!"
Jim tapped his nose. "He wets the bed, Roddie. You may not notice the smell, but I do. That's provable. And little boys have killed before now." He sighed.
"We saw how Lloyd Rodney behaves with Libby. He's abusive toward her, hitting her with sticks, and yelling at her. He may have kicked her in the side; she's got a huge bruise there. At first, we thought we were seeing the cycle of abuse happening, with you abusing Lloyd Rodney, and him turning around and hurting Libby as a result. We're sorry for that." The shaman was sincere on that point.
Roddie's face took on an absent look. "The cats."
Marilys turned gray.
Blair raised his eyebrows.
Calverton went on. "We thought they ran away. The tabby, and the calico. They were indoor cats. Declawed. We thought they ran away. They wouldn't have a chance against anything...out there." His head shot up, sheer horror on his features. "No more. No more. I'm calling my lawyers." He reached for his cell phone.
Blair stretched out a gentle hand to restrain him. "You might want to hear what we have to say first. We're not at the point of charging him with any crime. We're just explaining things to you, that's all."
Jim nodded reassurance.
Roddie let himself be persuaded to wait for the full telling.
"Setting the fires was just too easy, Roddie," the consultant went on. "He had access to all the keys. He only needed a supply of cleaning fluid or gasoline for an accelerant, a paper plate, and a candle to light so it would burn down while he made his get-away, before the conflagration burst out. He's got the motorcycle, and that's transportation and gas both." He left the next part for Jim to tell.
"He also has the candles," Jim divulged. "I found a box of twelve hidden in a hollowed out book in his bedroom. They're cheap candles, made of tallow, animal fat, not beeswax. I smelled it at the main warehouse. I smelled it again here, today." He stopped for a moment for his hearers to catch up to him. "But I was in his bedroom yesterday, and I didn't smell tallow there then. Urine, yes, in the bedroom and not the bathroom, but no tallow smell. Today I found the box of tallow candles. A new box, Roddie, and four of them are missing."
Marilys' hands were at her mouth, and she was emitting small cries like a dumb animal.
Roddie collapsed into himself for a moment, and then surged up. "Where is he?" Calverton demanded. "Where is the boy?"
"He's outside at the circus. We left Albany to keep an eye on him, with orders that he call if Lloyd Rodney made a move to leave." Jim hung his hands over his knees. "We needed to tell you first, and...."
But Calverton was already storming out the door.
"Oh, hell," Blair muttered as he and Jim jumped up, right behind him. Marilys was crushed into the couch; anything like walking was beyond her ability.
Calverton stopped dead at the edge of the patio. The flock of interested geese dissuaded him from any overt emotional displays. But he had hellfire and damnation glinting in his eyes, and a kind of wash as of the waters of Acheron spilled out from the man's sheer force of character. People all over the estate stopped and turned to look at him, never knowing why.
But Lloyd Rodney knew. He was tormenting Libby with a stick, trying to make her jump through a hoop and ignoring his comrades' taunts about her worthlessness, when he felt his father's deadly glower aimed at him. He confronted his father at that distance, with equal parts of challenge and fear, and dashed for the garage.
Albany, shocked out of his mental meanderings, tried to grab him, but was too far away, and pulled out his cell phone. It had hardly started to ring in Marilys' pocket before the growl of the motorcycle drowned out all other sounds.
Lloyd Rodney was off and running.
The men hurtled off the patio, leaving squeals of dismay, some of them real, behind them.
Lloyd Rodney, on his motorbike, a little too small for it, but not enough to stop him from riding, toured in and around the circus. He stampeded the ostriches and zebras, and caused the elephant to trumpet defiance and take a few quick, long strides towards him. Lloyd Rodney knew instinctively that she was not his friend; when he'd ridden in the howdah, he'd poked and pulled at her ears. The boy zipped away, and Elaine the elephant's cry turned to victory.
She set the child on a new course though, one which he could more easily reach than the men, as he slammed through the midway without heed for the pedestrians. The men were caught up in the turmoil of the animals rioting and the boy running rampant. When they realized he had swung away from the gates and back to the woods behind the mansion, they knew he was heading for a dead-end. Only, he still had the gasoline and candles, and he probably had the matches too.
They had to catch him. They were on foot, but they had to catch him.
Jim took Roddie by his well-tailored lapels and shook him hard. "How do we catch him?"
Roddie was seething, but helpless in Jim's steel grip. "We can't. The bike's too fast. We don't have anything small enough to follow him into the bush. It's over."
"Idiot!" Jim threw in his face. "We have to try. He's going for the boat, Roddie."
Blair was bouncing back and forth on his feet, ready to sprint.
"So what if he burns the boat?" Roddie yelped.
Blair grabbed at the back of the entrepreneur's jacket, tore him from Jim's grasp, and shook him some more. "There's a boatman at the boat. Lloyd Rodney's already killed once, Roddie, or have you forgotten that fact because it only concerns the little people? Is the boatman expendable to you because you don't know his name? Because, let me tell you, he's not expendable to us! Your kid's escalating the violence! Have you gotten the picture yet? Now tell us, how do we get there faster than he can?"
Blair was so close up and in Roddie's face that Roddie could count the fillings in the man's teeth. He had great incentive to come up with an answer. In a second, he did. "Rosalita! She knows! There's a berry patch, and a path to it, but I don't know where it starts. It should come out just below the hillocks. The bike can't handle them, so the bike path goes around them. You might make it. You might make it!"
Jim was already on his way to Rosalita's side. She looked scared out of her wits, but she was self-possessed enough to gesture toward the start of the pathway into heart of the bushes. Jim's sentinel vision was enough to do the rest.
He pointed the way for Blair, and then neither of them had time or breath for speech.
They ran full out, ignoring the snags of old thorns and the stings of sappy new shoots.
Jim kept the way as clear as he could for Blair, and his partner watched Jim's footfalls carefully, avoiding any trouble spots the detective turned up.
They hurdled fallen logs. They spooked a deer, thankfully female, who fled from them. They tore Blair's flannel shirt from his back when it became inextricably snarled at the edge of a wild rose thicket.
When they finally reached the clearing, surrounded by blueberry and raspberry bushes, Jim threw his partner a question with his eyes and Blair nodded back. They redoubled their efforts.
All the time they kept thinking, He's got to be ahead. How far ahead is he? How much faster can I go? What if we don't make it in time?
They were two men in top physical condition. They had adrenaline pumping to beat the band. But could they beat Lloyd Rodney, a small baby of a killer, on his motorcycle?
Blair found himself belting out 'John Henry' in his mind, the tempo going faster and faster, his calves and thighs forcing the pace on and on.
When they reached the first of the hillocks Roddie Calverton had spoken of, it seemed a thing of huge proportions. Surely it couldn't be that high? Surely there couldn't be more like it?
Jim and Blair shared looks of distress as they bent double and wheezed for more breath. But there was no stopping now. They drew in all the air their diaphragms and intercostal spaces could store.
Jim threw a fist forward and yelled hoarsely, "Go!"
They ran. The angle of the side of the hill was not as steep once they brought their arms and hands into the running. Clambering, climbing, slithering, it was all running. Sandy mounds and salt sea grasses were torn and destroyed as they ran and ran.
Once at the top of the first hillock, they had a panoramic view of the area around.
Lloyd Rodney was a good two miles to the east, but the boathouse was due north of Jim and Blair. There were two more hillocks to go, but Lloyd Rodney seemed to be distracted, patting at his pockets, and he wasn't riding flat out.
He also hadn't seen them. He wasn't looking for pursuers coming overland by a different route. Clearly, the boy had never gone berrying with the help.
Jim stopped to grab more oxygen, and Blair stopped too, breathing deeply.
"We've got a good chance," Jim said. "Even if we don't get there before he does, we can probably stop him doing anything violent."
"Gasoline splashes," Blair spoke his greatest fear. "The Asian boatman."
Jim looked horrified. "Oh, God, no."
"Run?" Blair suggested.
"Yeah," Jim said, and they sped up the rate.
Down the first hillock was relatively easy, though they had to be careful of going too fast and turning an ankle. Climbing the second hillock was only easier than the first because it was not as high; the incline was steeper, though. They did not pause for speech at the top of it, dragging in deep draughts of air, and then off again on the chase.
The third hillock was the treacherous one. The soil was sandier and the footing unsafe.
On the way up, Jim lost his balance for a moment as a clod of gritty soil loosened beneath him, and he came down hard on his right side. Blair was beside him in a trice, but Jim only nodded a silent I'm okay, I'm okay, and let Blair pull him back on his feet again.
They reached the top.
The boathouse was a mere thousand feet away; the glorious, 40-foot classic cutter, made of mahogany on oak, the Constance III, was within hailing distance. But they had no voices left to hail with, and all their strength was in their legs, shaky and wobbly though those were.
But they would have to do.
The men had to run.
Lloyd Rodney was at the dock.
The wizened boatman, who looked to be Korean, came out from the hatchway to wave at the child. He leaped off the deck and onto the dock.
Lloyd Rodney smiled back, sweetly, angelically, and as he stowed the cycle well away from the dock, he reached around for something strapped to the back of it.
Jim and Blair groaned despairingly.
It was a Thermos.
The old man was smiling and nodding, as the boy uncapped the Thermos with deadly hands. The child paused for a moment, the cup hanging from a finger as he patted himself down, and Jim saw Lloyd Rodney finally locate what he had been searching for in his pockets.
A book of matches.
The Korean boatman urged Lloyd Rodney onto the boat with gestures and bobs of his head. Boy and man stepped aboard, chattering to each other.
Cop and consultant ran.
They took no care for themselves this time. Blair pitched head first over a tussock and let himself roll, heedless of any bruises. Jim managed to keep from falling, but he tore down the hill making new footholds with every heavy step.
They reached the dock.
Lloyd Rodney was holding the cup steady as he poured it full of poison.
The men trampled down the pier and leaped on board.
Lloyd Rodney turned and screamed with anger, a banshee's cry of rage which had no words, but struck the spirit as if it were a lance of sound.
The Korean man started, and stared.
He never received the cup of champagne, the cup with which he had been intended to celebrate the life of Lloyd Rodney Calverton, the last thing he had been meant ever to do in the child's monstrous plan.
The sentinel and shaman slowed. They had their quarry almost within reach. They prowled closer and closer.
No one said a word.
Lloyd Rodney backed up and away from his nemeses. He slithered backwards, closer and closer to the taffrail.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Jim exploded, and pounced on the child.
Lloyd Rodney dropped everything he had – cup, thermos, matches, and suspicious white pills – overboard.
He had time for one huge exultant shining burst of glee, full radiance turned on the sentinel and shaman, and then he became a little boy again.
He started to cry. "Hong Do! Hong Do! Help me! Who are these people? What do they want?" He sniffled woefully. "I'm scared! Help me!"
The Korean boatman was indignant. He ordered the cop and consultant off the boat with commendable authority. Jim showed him his badge, and told him he was there at Roddie Calverton's behest. The man's face puckered with disbelief and displeasure.
"Did you drink any of that wine?" Blair demanded of the boatman, just to be completely certain.
The man shook his head slowly.
"Why does that matter? It's only a cup of champagne, and he didn't drink any of it." Lloyd Rodney hiccupped as he continued to cry, sobbing for all he was worth. "Why are you angry? Why did you frighten me? It was only some champagne to celebrate my birthday! Why shouldn't Hong Do have some? Mommy's friends are all having some! So's Mommy!"
He cried and cried and cried, and the boatman put his arms around the little boy.
Jim flipped open his cell phone and called Roddie.
After a brief conversation, the boatman was handed the phone, and he got his orders from his employer. He moved back, and the boy was left alone.
Lloyd Rodney spun to face the water and tried to make a dash for it.
Jim reached out and grabbed the demon child before he could dive off the boat.
Lloyd Rodney was a fountain of unleashed passion. He screamed, kicked, and tried to elbow Jim in the ribs and off the boat. His voice screeched incessantly.
Jim flinched, and Blair told him to turn the dials down.
Jim's face cleared. He picked up the hellion and threw him over his shoulder. Blair got the motorcycle up and running, and between them, handing off the bike in exchange for the boy as they went, they shared the labor of bringing Lloyd Rodney home.
The child wailed defiance all the way to the rolling, green lawn.
When they reached the end of the motorcycle route to home, Blair had the boy hoisted over his wide shoulder, and Jim was on the cycle.
"Let me go! Let me go!" Lloyd Rodney was still kicking and squirming.
Jim didn't respond verbally at first. He stopped the motorcycle, got off and scooped the kid up and off his partner's shoulder and onto his own. Then he spoke. "It's over, Lloyd. Give it up."
"Lloyd Rodney! It's Lloyd Rodney!" The child was well on the way to becoming hysterical with rage. Jim took it all in stride and bore him off at a halting jog across the lawn, leaving Blair to ride the cycle to the mansion.
When they arrived, Jim scoured the site for the boy's parents.
Roddie had apparently cleared the mansion of the encampment of Marilys' friends; no one was sipping mimosas any longer. The school children had disappeared, presumably along with said friends. The circus was tearing down, preparing to leave, completely engaged in their tasks and uncaring about the drama inside the great house. To all intents and purposes, the family was alone.
Roddie appeared at the patio doors. "Where's my son! What did he do? Jimmy, what's happening?" Roddie begged to know.
Carrying the combative kid like a sack of potatoes, Jim filled the father in on the doings of Lloyd Rodney at the yacht. Tiredly, he handed the boy over to Roddie Calverton, who used a firm grip on him.
Blair had left the motorcycle behind, and came up to the group.
Roddie looked into two exhausted faces. "Thank you, both of you," he said. "The boatman?"
"Hong Do doesn't have any idea of what was happening. We got there in time."
"Thank God." The comment came from more than one throat.
Lloyd Rodney made a play for sympathy with Roddie. He turned his back on the men from Major Crime, threw himself at his father with his arms wide, and burst into more crocodile tears. "Daddy! Daddy! They hurt me and they're frightening me! Make them stop!"
But Roddie Calverton grabbed his son's upper arms and held him at a distance. He was unmoved. His face was adamant, his eyes fire opals. "No more, Lloyd Rodney. No more lies, no more pleas, no more tears. We're going to get at the truth, and then we're going to decide what to do."
Lloyd Rodney recoiled. He tried to pull away, and when that wouldn't work, he held himself perfectly still, trying to psych his father out with his own basilisk stare. When that didn't work, he spoke loudly and firmly. "I want my lawyer."
Roddie's mouth curled. "Inside."
Lloyd Rodney said it again. "I want my lawyer." He said it often, in the hearing of everyone he came close to, Albany, Rosalita, Troy, a couple of circus joeys, and his parents and the best team from Major Crime.
Finally, when they were all in the parlor again, Lloyd Rodney broke free of his father's grasp and headed straight for a big overstuffed chair. He plopped into it, grabbing a pillow and picking and tearing at the threads. "I'm not saying anything until my lawyer gets here," he announced, intent on his labor.
Roddie watched the predator he had sired. The one challenging him, too young to establish supremacy in the pride. Then he spoke. "You get the protection your parents give you, son. That's all. We're not calling our lawyers. Do you understand me?"
Lloyd Rodney looked up, all wide eyes and innocent. "Yes, Daddy. I understand you. Do you understand me?" Oh, but he was sly.
Marilys reached for another Ativan, and this time they let her have it. She never could have made it through the interview without it, and she needed to hear what had happened. She was escorted by her husband to the corner of a large couch, and he sat next to her. Jim and Blair took their places together on an adjoining sofa. No one took his or her eyes off Lloyd Rodney as they seated themselves.
Jim started talking. "Three fires, Lloyd Rodney. Over six weeks. Not counting today's attempt. What made you decide to set the first one six weeks ago?"
Lloyd Rodney professed ignorance. "I don't know what you mean. I didn't set any fires."
"Oh, yes, you did," Blair put in. There was something compelling in his rich voice, something that couldn't be ignored. He was making a charge against the child that did not entirely fall under the letter of manmade law, witnessed by more than the few humans in the parlor. "Now answer the question."
Lloyd Rodney stared with hatred at the shaman. "I don't know anything," he tried, but as Blair stood and took a step forward, he went on quickly, "but hy-po-the-tic'ly speaking, the person who set a fire might have done it if someone else hadn't been nice to him. If someone maybe insulted him."
Jim asked, "What happened in your life six weeks ago? What made you angry? Who insulted you, and how?"
Lloyd Rodney blinked, and said, "I don't know what you mean. It was just a hypothetical thing I said. I don't know if it happened really." He picked at the threads, eyes hidden.
Blair responded, answering the question. "Six weeks ago your parents gave you a gift. A gift you didn't appreciate. A gift you didn't want. A gift most boys would give their teeth for, but one that wasn't good enough for you. Your parents gave you a dog."
"Libby?" Marilys whispered. "He started this over Libby?" She began to gasp like a gaffed fish.
Roddie swayed closer to her and held her. He looked up at Jim with desperate eyes, and Jim rang for Rosalita to bring coffee and brandy.
Lloyd Rodney looked up, surprised. "Libby? You didn't want her, mom. She's too big, not worth the money you paid for her, a bad investment, not going to make you any money in the future. If you didn't want her, why would I?" He peered at his mother, genuinely curious.
Jim said, "Two weeks ago, it was the secondary warehouse you burned down. What triggered that?"
"I haven't done anything," Lloyd Rodney alleged coolly. "I keep telling you that, but you don't seem to understand it." He let silence overtake him then.
The room was still as people pondered.
Roddie spoke up, quietly, with conviction. "I teased you about the ballet tickets. That's why. You felt insulted. So you burned my warehouse."
"'Your' warehouse, Daddy?" Lloyd Rodney asked. "I thought it was 'our' warehouse, a Calverton warehouse." There was venom in the last few words, and another pause ensued.
Rosalita brought in a full tray, and Roddie saw to it that his wife got a cup of coffee inside her, and the thirsty runners also. Lloyd Rodney was ignored through the coffee ritual, and he finally spoke up. "I want some juice, Rosalita. Grape juice."
"Si," the maid began, but Roddie held up his hand.
"No. No juice for Lloyd Rodney. Not yet. He's not thirsty. He hasn't been running or talking. He doesn't need any juice."
Baffled, Rosalita followed orders and left the room.
It was war between father and son.
Jim led them deeper into dark territory. "The main warehouse fire, Lloyd." The boy's angry protest was ignored. "Why did you set the main warehouse fire?"
"Now, that I don't understand," Roddie said. "Nothing happened around that time. He'd already gotten the motorcycle. He liked it. What could have set him off then?" He was at a loss.
Marilys, in the circle of her husband's arms, gave the answer. "It was the yacht, Roddie. He never believed that you wouldn't go sailing on his birthday."
"But the meeting with the Chinese was set up over a week ago," Roddie insisted. "It wasn't anything new or different, not on Sunday."
Marilys persisted. "Yes, I know, Roddie, but Lloyd Rodney didn't understand. He thought that your sailing on his birthday was almost, I don't know, sacred or something."
"A hallowed tradition," a faux-bass voice intoned from the overstuffed chair. "Sounds rather silly to me."
It didn't sound silly to the adults in the room.
"Pretty typical for his sort to live in their fantasies," Blair muttered to himself. "So he only came to realize it on Sunday?" he wanted to know.
"Yes. Along with the tickets to Coppelia. He didn't want to believe that either, but it was as if it finally hammered home that he wouldn't be going out on the Constance III after all, when we told him we expected to be leaving for the ballet by 7:30 p.m., and he must be ready then." Her voice hitched. Marilys couldn't look at her child as she spoke. "The two outings seemed to be linked together in his mind. I don't know why, but they were."
"One he wanted to go to, the other he didn't, and he was living in denial about both," Blair said consideringly. "Forcing him to confront the one made him face the other. Yes, that could do it."
"But the man, Lloyd Rodney!" his mother said piteously, finally raising her gaze to the child of her womb. "Why did you murder a man you didn't know and who had never done you any harm?" There were tears rolling unheeded down Marilys Calverton's face. Her husband daubed at her cheeks with his silk handkerchief. She was oblivious to everything but her son.
Lloyd Rodney picked at threads.
"He killed Dwight Franklin because he could, Marilys," Jim told her bluntly. "He had burned down two Calverton locations, and he was escalating – retail store to secondary warehouse to main warehouse, faster and faster -- and he was looking to up the thrill of the sport. Isn't that right, Lloyd?"
"I don't speak to people who can't remember my name," the child said grandly.
But the partners were giving him no outs. Blair pressed on. "And the yacht today. And the boatman. Same M.O., but this time you were going to be there to see it. That made a big difference to you, didn't it? Being there and seeing the fire on Sunday. Bet when you were watching the warehouse burn from the car, you loved it and suddenly knew what you'd been missing. Yeah."
There was a telltale flush on the boy's cheeks. Even in hindsight, what he had seen was still exciting to him.
Everyone else's stomachs turned over.
"Why the yacht?" Roddie asked, fatigue fogging his voice.
Everyone stared at the boy who was playing with his pillow. He had drawn into himself somehow, as if concentrating his energies. When he looked up, his face was contorted demoniacally, and Marilys gave a little scream.
"What better than the yacht?" he giggled. "The Constance III. The Calverton cutter. All that family tradition. Not going to be much family left, though, when you split up, Mommy and Daddy. Too bad you can't work out which of you is going to get to take me home with you when you do. You know, your 'constant' arguing bores me." He punched violently at the pillow, and all along one side, the stuffing began pouring out. He bobbled the thing, deriving some unholy satisfaction from it, judging by his grin.
Roddie put out a trembling hand for the brandy. Jim moved forward, got the bottle, poured out a huge tot into an empty coffee cup, and held it for Roddie to drink. "Take it all," he advised, and poured out another. "That's for later."
Roddie looked up. "There's more?" he choked out.
Blair said gently, "Yes, there's more. We told you about the MacDonald Triad –"
"The MacDonald Triad?" Lloyd Rodney asked brightly. "What's that?"
"You'll be quiet, boy. One way or another, you'll be quiet. You are here on sufferance. Do you understand?" his father demanded.
Lloyd Rodney settled back sulkily.
"In newer criminological and true crime books, it's being called the 'homicide triad' now," Blair let them know. "We told you how we knew that Lloyd Rodney was the arsonist, but we didn't tell you the full implications of that finding."
Marilys tried to stand. "I don't want to be here. Roddie, take me away! I don't want to be here!" All of her sagged, her skin, her figure, her face. She was a woman in her fifties and her life was waning before their very eyes.
Roddie captured her arm and pulled her down beside him. "I think you have to be, dear."
She turned toward him and buried her face against his shoulder.
Lloyd Rodney watched, remote.
"It's not guaranteed, by any means, and there are too many variables for social scientists to gauge exactly how or why this type of thing happens, and by no means does every child who displays the traits turn out this way, but when criminologists look back in time, the finding is clear: serial killers consistently demonstrate the MacDonald Triad in childhood. These are people who don't stop at one murder. The ones who go on and on and on. For no reason but the kick of it. As Lloyd Rodney first killed Dwight Franklin, and then tried today with Hong Do. It's almost like an addiction." Blair fell silent at the dreadfulness of what he had reported.
"Serial killers?" Roddie could not seem to wrap his mind around the concept. "But they're abused children from the lower classes." His voice rose high. "What have they to do with Lloyd Rodney?"
Jim shook his head pityingly. "Roddie, the statistics aren't like that. We checked them out. Most serial killers are from families where the mother is a homemaker and the family has a stable, self-sufficient income. Middle class and up. At least a third have superior intelligence. They seem to have everything going for them."
"But the picture isn't that pretty," Blair elaborated. "They have a poor body image, and we know that Lloyd Rodney thinks he's short and fat, and is teased for it at school. They are great at manipulating people to get what they want, too, and Lloyd Rodney plays the part of the darling poor-little-rich-boy to perfection. These kids are often are habitual liars, but you'd know more about that than we do. Then, too, the parents usually divorce during their childhood, most before the children are twelve years old."
Both Marilys and Roddie looked appalled at that.
"They're usually abused, but the concept of abuse isn't solely about violence, a child being hit or whipped," the consultant went on. "It also can involve an emotional distance of the parents from the child, a kind of abandonment right from birth, even though the family is still a nuclear unit. Emotional neglect may even be more important than any other type of abuse, in creating a child who has no conscience, who has no mercy, who cannot love, and who kills for sport."
Marilys turned dead white. Roddie was carved of granite.
"There are a whole lot of other factors that play into this, too," Jim added. "Lloyd Rodney is young still. Whether he'd fit any of the other characteristics that apply to adult killers, we can't tell. But he fits the serial killer pattern, insofar as what is known about them in childhood, and with Dwight Franklin and Hong Do merely four days apart...." The detective paused and there was compassion in his face for the two people responsible for unwittingly creating a sociopath in the family. "You have a clear and present danger in your home, and the bars on his bedroom windows, and the cheap doorknob lock on the outside of his door that you put there to pen him in at night, won't help. Not if he wants to kill again. Especially since he's a poisoner."
Lloyd Rodney issued a giggle that raised the hairs on all who heard him.
"How long have you been afraid of him?" Blair asked softly, with a compassionate glance at Marilys' pillbox. "How much do you trust in the bars and locks at night? He sets fire for revenge. He kills for thrills. I think you have to consider your own safety in all of this."
Marilys went into a panic attack on the spot, and it took two of her Ativan tablets to bring her down again. She was almost unconscious by then.
Lloyd Rodney cocked his head dismissively. He tore at the pillow until there was a lull and he took center stage again. "Well, all that's interesting, of course, but I love my Mommy and my Daddy, and I'd never want to lose them! I'd never hurt them, or this house, or the businesses, or anything."
Roddie got up and went to kneel before his boy's chair. He held Lloyd Rodney down so that the child could not avoid seeing him. "You are a fool," the father said.
Lloyd Rodney was all contempt.
"You'd never hurt us? We'd have to be cretins to believe that, and you got your brains from us, you know."
Lloyd Rodney's eyes opened wide. Apparently, he had never thought of his parents as having brains.
"You'd never hurt the businesses?" The man laughed joylessly. "You've nearly destroyed them already."
"How!" Lloyd Rodney hit back, yelling in his father's face. "How did the arsonist, whoever he was, nearly destroy the businesses?"
"What did you think would happen when you set those fires, boy?" Roddie Calverton demanded.
"Whoever set the fires probably figured there was insurance money. That's what people burn their own buildings down for. Insurance money." Lloyd Rodney was smug.
Blair said quietly, "Your father's right. You didn't check your facts. You are a fool."
Lloyd Rodney speared him with open detestation, but his father took him by the chin and forced him to face him again.
"I don't have any more insurance, Lloyd Rodney. You took care of that."
"I don't believe you," the child said, miffed. "You're lying."
His father's hand flew close to the child's face, and the boy cowered back, as if suddenly realizing he was not the master of ceremonies there.
"I'm not lying. Too many big claims in too short a period of time. Does that make sense to you, my little genius? No insurance company will take a five hundred dollar premium to issue a one hundred thousand dollar policy to someone who's made three claims higher than that already this month! They've cancelled the policies."
Lloyd Rodney stared open-mouthed from his father to his mother, to the detective and the consultant. "I didn't know that," he muttered to himself. There was doubt in his eyes that had not been there before.
"And I've lost an entire season's income, which was not insured, and there is no replacing it. And I pulled out of a meeting today that might have brought us many millions over the next few years, because of you!"
Lloyd Rodney got his back up. "You didn't have to come," he said. "You wouldn't come to sail with me. You could have said no to them!" He tossed his head at Jim and Blair.
"You have no idea what you've done, have you?" Roddie marveled. "I don't think you ever will." He looked at Jim and Blair and saw confirmation in their eyes. "What will you do now?" he asked.
"Absolutely nothing," Lloyd Rodney asserted with ripe satisfaction. "There's no evidence because I didn't do anything." He grinned that same demonic smile again.
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Jim had to say it. "He's right about what the law can do, Roddie. There isn't any evidence to link him to the fires except that he has access to gas, matches and Ativan, and the tallow candles I found in his room."
"Twelve candles, for my eleventh birthday and one to grow on," Lloyd Rodney said glibly. "Everyone has access to gas, matches and Ativan. Everyone I know, anyway." His gaze bounced off Marilys' pillbox.
Jim stared forbiddingly at the boy. It had no obvious effect.
"He probably takes them himself," Lloyd Rodney said nonchalantly. "Lots of people do." But his foot had begun to hit the chair, and it was picking up speed and growing harder in its thumping until his father grabbed it and stayed it.
Blair looked at Roddie. "He's your problem, I'm afraid. You'd better get him a lot of expert help. I wouldn't trust him an iota, and you might want to consider a bodyguard for him. Or rather, to protect others from him."
"Aren't there any social service agencies we could send him to?" Marilys rejoined the conversation. She was peeking at her son, clearly terrified.
Blair looked at his shoes. Jim had to tell her. "No one wants an arsonist as a foster child. He can't be gotten into a young offender's program because we haven't sufficient proof against him. We can't make him a ward of the court because you're not abusing him and you're supplying him with all the necessities of life and then some. What do you expect the rest of the world to do about your little boy, Marilys? Roddie?"
Roddie looked long and deep into the china blue eyes of his fair-haired son. "Do you know what you deserve, Lloyd Rodney?" he asked.
"A piece of birthday cake!" The child clapped his hands.
Lloyd Rodney became very still.
"This is a death penalty state."
"I'm too young." Lloyd Rodney had turned mulish.
"Eleven-year-olds are in a gray area," Jim told him. "At twelve, virtually everywhere, you'll find yourself fully accountable for committing adult crimes. With what you've done and what you've tried to do, I think they might well make an exception for you now that you're eleven. Oh, and don't go thinking you can move out of state and start killing again."
Blair put in his two cents, speaking very deliberately. "You really have been stupid about this, Lloyd Rodney." He waved off the child's foul response. "Yeah, stupid. A one-shot arson deal, and you'd have gotten away with it with no one knowing any different. Multiple times – that draws attention down on your head. Killing people – you're on our short list now, you know?"
Lloyd Rodney's face dropped. His eyes wandered around the room.
Jim spoke, and it was the panther protecting Cascade. "I know you, Lloyd Rodney. I have your spoor in my nostrils. If you so much as throw a rock at a tin can, I'll be there breathing down your neck. Change addresses? I can follow you anywhere. Change the crime? You'll be my first suspect now and forever. I will spread the word about you, Lloyd Rodney Calverton. Every police officer and law enforcement agency in North America will know who you are. Step out of line, and you will go down as hard as possible. God help you if you ever pick up a packet of street dope; you will go away for the rest of your life. Oh, and in case you were thinking of bumping off Mom and Dad for your inheritance, the law doesn't let you inherit, no matter what the pre-nuptial agreement says."
Lloyd Rodney turned red.
"You know," Blair said conversationally, "life in prison isn't all it's cracked up to be, either." He looked at his fingernails. "Yeah, sure, there's lots of violence, and the new fish, like you, get gang-raped and humiliated pretty much all the time, but then there's the rest of it, too, the totally boring down time. No Quake or chess games on the computer. Or Nintendo. Or Sega."
Lloyd Rodney was hawk-eyed.
"No calling out for pepperoni pizza or Chinese."
The boy hung on Sandburg's lips.
"No motorcycle, no swimming pool, no tennis court, no yacht."
"No stereo system, no cable or pay-per-view TV, no choice of movies, no comfy mattress and extra blankets in winter." Jim was speaking as if at random.
"Lights out for a curfew. No dates, when you get around to wanting dates, except maybe the roommate they assign you, no visits to the country club, no Rolls, no Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. There aren't very many geniuses doing hard time, and it isn't because they're too smart to get caught; it's because they know the risk isn't worth taking, and they don't do the crime in the first place."
"You know, I wouldn't want to be doing life without the possibility of parole," Jim said.
"Neither do you, little boy," Sandburg said to the murderous child.
Lloyd Rodney snarled back.
"You really are rather stupid for a genius," Sandburg advised him again. "All it takes is calculating the risk and thinking through the consequences. Sure, there's only one in a hundred or two hundred who can claim to be a bona fide genius, but, hey, you know, there are a lot more people than that in Cascade. Add up all the people you know, kid. If the list tops a hundred, there's someone who knows you who's as smart as you are, and maybe even smarter. Anything you can figure out, they can figure out. Jim and I figured you out in four days. There are geniuses working for the CPD, lots of them, all working together to stop people like you. You'll never be able to learn all the scientific stuff – forensics, police procedures, criminology, law, 'cause there's just too much of it – so you'll never be safe. Someone, somewhere, will be able to ID you, Lloyd Rodney Calverton. Think about it."
Blair got up from his seat and stretched. "You hungry, Jim?"
"Yeah, I could eat," his partner said. "Marilys, Roddie, I think we're done here."
"Please, oh, please," Marilys Calverton begged them, not knowing what she wanted them to do.
Roddie went back to his wife's side. "Let them go. We have a lot to talk about. A lot of thinking to do. Jimmy, let me walk you to the door." He rang for Rosalita, so that Marilys would not be alone with her son.
The men headed for the main entrance.
"Thank you, Jimmy," Roddie Calverton said simply. "And you, Dr. Sandburg."
"You have a hell of a time ahead of you," Blair said bluntly. "I wish I could believe you can sleep safely in your beds, but...." his voice trailed off.
Jim was shaking his head. "I wanted to solve this case, but this I never wanted, Roddie. If he hadn't tossed all the evidence overboard so it went swirling down the current as we watched, we might have had a fair case against him for poisoning, or attempting to poison, the boatman. As it is, we don't stand a chance."
"I feel sick," Roddie admitted. "He must be mad. Maybe I can get him into a psychiatric institute somewhere?" He sounded as if he knew he was grasping at straws.
"You can try," Jim said, "and I hope you succeed. But he's not really insane. Think of the planning that went into this, and he's only a little child. Look at how cool he's been as we questioned him. No admissions, a complete denial of knowing anything. He's a stone cold killer, Roddie. When he's eighteen and out on his own -- because you'd never be able to keep him in an institution when he comes of age -- you'd better have a hideout somewhere safe. He doesn't love you. He doesn't love anyone but himself, and he never will."
"Man, I'm sorry for you and Marilys," Blair said, holding out his hand to shake Roddie's. "I wish you both well."
"I'll tell Charlotte Hanratty that I'm convinced you've done an excellent job of investigation." Calverton was at once noble and pathetic. He tugged strangely at the heartstrings. He had Marilys as well as Lloyd Rodney to deal with. For all their money and advantages, it was their characters being tested in the forge, and they could be shattered or overwrought and destroyed, as much as strengthened in this trial by fire. "She doesn't have to know, does she?"
"You brought us into this by using her," Jim said wearily. "What do you think?"
"Ah," Roddie said, hanging his head.
"There is one last thing," Blair put in.
"Dwight Franklin's widow. They were hardly getting by with his pension and his paycheck; there's no insurance."
"I'll pay her a pension for the rest of her life, Dr. Sandburg, one bigger than his paycheck, and you can trust me to make it sound plausible to her. She won't need for anything. And if she has anyone or anything she wants to have money, now or later, I'll see to it that it's there. I know my obligations." Calverton stood tall and squared his shoulders. His face was severe.
They all shook hands.
It was time to grab something to eat, and then go and report in.
"...and that, Sir, is why, even though we know who did it, we don't have an arrest for the fires or the murder." Jim sat back and watched as Simon absorbed his verbal report of the results of their investigation of the Calverton case. Despite the satisfaction of the solve, it was hard for him to come to terms with the facts: a spoiled, malicious ten-year-old child had been responsible for everything. For once, despite his nurturing, shamanic nature, even Blair had no pity for the culprit, especially as the kid had sat there and practically dared them to find a way to prove he had committed the crimes. There was no remorse in the boy, and no way to heal the lack of a soul.
As Simon busied himself looking over the case folders, Jim sneaked a glance over at his partner, sitting in the chair beside his. Blair had hardly spoken a word since they had left the Calverton estate, and hadn't interrupted him once while he updated Simon on their findings, both reasons enough for concern. Now he was sitting way too still, staring at nothing. Before Jim could say anything, Simon spoke.
"Based on what you've told me, this is one seriously mentally unbalanced kid. It really galls me that because he committed all his crimes so young, he wouldn't be held accountable, even if we had the evidence we needed. I agree about the boy; even if the evidence was solid for poisoning the boatman, the kid makes a sympathetic figure, there's no harm done that a jury could be told about – the fires and all being irrelevant – and the idea that kids don't understand what death really is: no, you're right. There'd be no point in trying to make a case against him. The DA would kick it."
Simon smacked his desk. "I hope the Calvertons are at least planning on getting him some kind of help. I don't mind telling you that the thought that he is out there, free to come and go, scares the daylights out of me."
Blair showed some life then. "Jim put the fear of God in him, or at least the fear of Jim Ellison. I think the kid understood for the first time that cops aren't all as brainless and stumbling as in the TV shows he watches. Jim did a real good job of that. If Lloyd Rodney never commits another crime, it will be Jim who worked that miracle." He lapsed back into nonbeing.
Simon shot Blair a quick peek, then switched to Jim, one eyebrow raised.
"He left out something important, Sir. It was Blair who pretty much convinced Lloyd Rodney that if he was as smart as he thinks, he wouldn't be committing crimes and risking life in prison. He put that in terms a kid could understand: no computer games, no pizza, no stereo. I think he got through to him. I hope so, anyway." Jim nodded once. He shifted uncomfortably, never looking at Blair.
Simon leaned back in his chair, his gaze sweeping over both men sitting in front of his desk. "All in all, gentlemen, despite the lack of an arrest, this is a fine piece of detective work."
Jim sat up a little straighter. "Thank you, Sir. I hope the mayor accepts Roddie's assurances on that point.
Simon waved his hand in the air. "I'll take care of Her Honor. I intend to speak to her personally about the results of this case. Maybe now she'll think twice before getting involved in the handling of a police investigation." A look of sadness came over his normal game face, and his voice took on a wistful tone. "I just wish he had been stopped before...well, before Dwight. I still haven't been able to make myself call Pearl yet. Now that I have an answer, I haven't decided whether to tell her or not. I don't think it would be of much comfort to her to know that her husband was killed because a spoiled brat was having a major temper tantrum." He set his jaw, and again looked directly at his two tired-looking men. Time to do the right thing.
"Jim, Sand-, uh, Blair, speaking of temper tantrums...." A weary hand removed gold-rimmed glasses and tossed them onto the desk, landing on top of the manila folders scattered there. "I believe I owe you both an apology for my outburst yesterday. Even though I was shocked when I found out who the security guard was, I had no right to lash out at you two. You were just doing your job, investigating every possible lead. Had it been anyone else who'd been murdered, I wouldn't have thought twice about your suspicions; in fact, I was agreeing with you right up until you called Dwight by name.
"I'm also sorry about some of the personal remarks I made." Simon looked down at his hands for a moment, then faced his men with remorse in his eyes. "It was very unprofessional of me as a police officer and your captain. You can both be assured that such behavior won't happen again. If either of you want to file a formal complaint, feel free to do so; I won't protest it." Picking up his glasses, Simon put them back on and watched each man's face for any reaction.
An awkward silence filled the room as no one said anything. Finally, Blair filled the gap.
"It's okay, Simon. I think this case made us all a little crazy. There were a lot of things about it that seemed to bring out the worst in all of us. Don't worry about it; nobody's going to file anything. Right, Jim?"
Jim had been concentrating on the meaning of Blair's words and was a bit startled to hear his name. "Huh? Oh, right. It's already forgotten, Simon, really." Now he had something very important he had to do. "Do you need us anymore right now?"
Relieved at being back in his friends' good graces, a sly grin crossed his face as Simon answered Jim. "No, I think we're done here. I will need a pretty detailed account of everything in your reports. Especially about this MacDonald's Triad. Why don't you get started on it now? I want at least a preliminary report today. Then you can take the rest of the afternoon off; you both look a little trashed."
Jim winced. They'd stopped at the loft to shower and tend to the worst of the thorny rose scratches Blair had taken, a few deep, bloody, and still with the points embedded. But Jim had blown off the ankle he'd twisted when he went down hard in the mad dash to stop Lloyd Rodney from killing again; he'd refused his partner's help with it. Now, he had to admit to himself, he was paying for it. He lowered his head. It would take more than a shower and some bandaging to repair the damage done to them by this case.
They stood to leave.
As Jim followed Blair out of the office door, he heard Simon whisper, "See if you can get Sandburg out of the office for a few minutes. I'll let you know when you can bring him back."
A small nod behind Blair's back told the captain he had been heard. Simon leaned back in his chair with a satisfied sigh; today had suddenly taken a rare turn for the better in the last hour and was going to get even better soon.
Jim knew what was behind Simon's whispered words, and had already planned exactly how to occupy his partner's time for a while. As Blair started to head towards their desks, Jim took hold of his upper arm and gently pushed him around toward the front of the division.
Surprised at the change in direction, Blair missed seeing Henri give Jim a furtive thumb's up as they passed the other detective's desk.
"I could use a little help, Chief," Jim muttered, steering his partner over to Rhonda's desk. "Hey, Rhonda, you got an Ace bandage and some of that arnica goop Sandburg here brews up?'
"Your ankle is bothering you, isn't it? I knew you came down worse than you were letting on, on that last fall. It's starting to swell, isn't it?" Blair accused, starting to mutter darkly about sentinels who used denial as a medical prescription, to their own detriment.
Simon's blonde secretary was apparently too busy to take notice of the men directly, but she opened a large desk drawer, took out a bandage and tossed it over her shoulder for Blair to catch, and let Jim filch out the pot of bruise cream. When Jim looked back to mouth a 'thank you', Rhonda grinned broadly.
Jim limped out of Major Crime, Blair at his side lending an arm, and maneuvered them into an empty interrogation room. Once inside, he let go of his unwitting prisoner to lock the door and flip the switch on the 'Interview in Progress' sign on the outside wall, insuring they would not be disturbed. When he turned back around, he found that Blair had moved to the far side of the room, his body stiff as he watched Jim warily. He had dropped the bandage on the large interview table he was keeping between them. Now that the adrenaline rush from their discovery and confrontation with Lloyd Rodney had run its course, it wasn't surprising that Blair's always-active mind was probably focusing on their own confrontations earlier. That would explain why his best friend had been so quiet in Simon's office. Considering the things he had said, especially about Blair's mother, Jim didn't blame his guide for being tense.
Surprised that Blair spoke first, Jim let him continue.
"I'm not sure why you brought me down here, but I'm beginning to think it isn't your ankle. I really don't want to fight anymore. I've been thinking about what you said, about me not having the training and experience of a real detective. And you're right, I don't. I guess that I've been 'playing' cop for so long now that sometimes I forget that I'm not really one. Even if Simon does remind me of that little fact every chance he gets." He tried for a grin, but failed miserably. "Anyway, if this is about your wanting to tell me that you don't want me hanging around with you on the job anymore, it's okay. I understand. I guess I've only been fooling myself, thinking that I've been any kind of real help to you as a detective."
Jim watched as Blair refused to meet his eyes. Instead, he seemed to find the battered metal tabletop he was standing behind very interesting. It must have really hurt Blair to hear him say that, after all this time and everything he'd been through, his partner didn't think his opinions and ideas were worth anything because he hadn't gone through the Police Academy. How could he have said something so utterly wrong, so mean, to the one person whose opinions he valued above anyone else's? He felt like a rat. Not the laboratory kind, either, but one from deep in the sewers of Cascade.
As much as he hated opening up and becoming vulnerable, this was one time Jim Ellison had to be perfectly honest with himself and his all-but-official partner.
"Blair." He was still talking to a curtain of hair. "Blair, I...I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I was angry. I do value your ideas, more than I let you know. Your input has helped me solve more cases than I ever did on my own. And I don't just mean your help with my senses, either. We both already agree that you're the expert there. Besides your four years of experience riding with me, you've got years of life experiences that let you notice things any cop would miss. I want your thoughts and suggestions on the hard cases, and on the day-in, day-out nitty-gritty police stuff too. You're more than Jack Pendergrast ever could have been to me, Blair. We double-teamed Lloyd Rodney Calverton together, and may have made a difference there that no other cop and I could have done. You are my partner, Partner."
Slowly, Blair's head came up until his eyes met Jim's. It was one of those rare times when the sentinel's face was open, allowing his true emotions to show through. Blair saw the truth and relaxed slightly.
Sensing his guide's reaction, Jim decided to keep going. He needed to mend some dreadfully broken fences.
"About all that other stuff I said, about your mother, I didn't mean any of that either. I was only –"
"Yes, you did," Blair contradicted him. "And I meant everything about your father."
Blair sighed and walked around the table to stand in front of Jim. "I was up half the night thinking about all this. What we said to each other, and what we didn't say. I think what you said about Naomi and what I said about William are what we both have been thinking about each other's parent for a long time now. But we could never say it out loud. So the anger kept on building, without an outlet, getting hotter and hotter.
"When we thought that Lloyd Rodney might be being abused, if not physically then at least psychologically, it simply reinforced how we each felt, that the other had been 'abused' as a child. You feel that Naomi's constant 'detach with love' lifestyle was harmful to me. I've always hated how cold William was to you and how bad he made you feel about yourself." Blair's smile this time was genuine. "Ironic as it sounds, we were actually putting down the way each other was raised because we care so much. We were mad we couldn't change certain things for each other during our childhoods, which we perceived as harmful." He paused to let Jim think about what he had said. "Does that make any sense to you?"
Jim stared at his partner. Blair had managed to put into gentle words exactly what he had been feeling, but could only express in loud and hurtful ways. "You are a friggin' genius, you know that, Darwin?"
"I've been trying to tell you that ever since we met!" He whacked the broad chest in front of him with the back of his hand. "Took you long enough to figure that out. Um, so, is your ankle really okay?"
Jim shook his head. "It can use some glop and the bandage."
"Let me get a look at it." Blair snagged the cream as Jim sat and put his leg up on a chair. "Oh, yeah, that's a nasty looking bruise and it is swelling. Needs an ice bag now. We'll have to do with a bandage and my bruise cream – not, glop, you goop -- my personally prepared, safe for sentinel senses, arnica and witch hazel bruise cream I should sell the rights to for millions...."
He ran on and on like that until the cream was carefully rubbed in, the sock and shoe replaced, and Jim testing out the results with approving noises, limping slightly up three paces and back three paces. Blair stood back and watched.
Jim looked up with thanks in his eyes, and saw that there was worry in Blair's. "What?"
"So, like, we're really okay now? You know, like, if I promise not to punch William in the nose next time I see him, you'll promise to be nice to Mom next time she comes to visit?"
Blair still had doubts, then, deep and serious doubts. The tension was back in the room, thick as wallpaper paste.
"Deal," Jim said, still feeling the cold between them. "And, we're okay now."
Blair gave the very slightest of nods, and turned away, busying himself with putting the lid back on the cream jar. "Jim?"
God, wouldn't Blair even look at him? Jim was supremely uneasy. All the guilt from his behavior of the last few days suffused him again; he had taken Blair too much for granted, had stopped thinking of him as a human being with feelings. What else had he done or said to hurt his partner? He sucked in a deep breath. "What is it, Chief? Tell me."
"Umm. I know that you think I should have had a more stable childhood, and that's okay," Blair hurried to affirm as he moved his head and looked Jim in the eyes intensely, "but you don't really think that my Mom's a...a tramp or a bad mother, do you? You don't really think she's like Marilys?"
Jim could feel Blair tense up from across five feet, waiting for his answer. Despite his own inner feelings about how Naomi had neglected Blair, there was no way he was ever going to deliberately hurt his friend as badly as he had earlier. "No. No, I don't Chief. She may have had a different way of seeing things, but that's the life she was comfortable leading. Anything else would have gone against her nature. Besides, look how great her kid turned out!" Blair's look of relief told him it was definitely the right answer.
"Thanks, Jim." Even as Blair seemed to accept that answer, the previous air of sadness and anxiety returned. Damn! Jim could feel that something still was not right between them.
But before he address whatever issues Blair still had, Jim suddenly became aware of another voice. Simon's, and he did not sound happy. // Jim! Where the hell are you two? We've been waiting for over fifteen minutes now. Get yourself and Sandburg back here on the double! //
"Uh-oh, Chief. Simon's looking for us. I think we need to get back to that report right now."
Blair shook his curls, still looking sad and tired; Jim knew precisely how he felt.
"Oh, hell, Jim! How long have we been gone? He wanted that preliminary report done fast. He must be going ballistic by now."
Jim rolled his eyes in fellow feeling. After unlocking the door and turning off the sign, he followed Blair back to the bullpen, his limp much better.
Blair slowed down as he went through the Major Crime doors. Almost all the detectives were crowded around Jim's desk with a none-too-pleased Simon towering behind it, arms crossed. Oh, shit. He probably has them all looking for that report. "Uh, Simon. Give us a minute and we'll get that prelim knocked right out. Won't take any time at all, right, Jim?"
Simon scowled. "How do you expect to get any work done with all this stuff all over Jim's desk?" At those words, the detectives moved aside to reveal in the center of the desk a large, square, chocolate-frosted cake with two lit candles, a 3 and a 1, beside each other. The blue icing read 'Happy Birthday, Blair!'. The rest of the desk was covered with colorfully wrapped presents. Blair stood and stared, not moving until Jim placed both hands on his shoulders and slowly pushed him forward until he was standing beside the desk.
"'Bout time you decided to show up. Thought we were going to have to have your birthday party without you." The gleam in his eyes made up for Simon's gruff voice.
"C'mon, Sandy, make a wish and blow out the candles."
Instead of leaning forward, Blair turned his head around and looked up at Jim, who still had his hands on the smaller man's shoulders. "You...you knew about this? The whole time?"
"Yeah, Chief, I knew. Now you better hurry up and blow out those candles. The natives are getting restless."
"Okay!" Blair closed his eyes for a few seconds, then a small smile appeared. He opened his eyes, leaned forward, and blew out both candles, to a round of applause.
"So, Hairboy, what'd you wish for?"
The smile was back. "Can't tell, H, or it won't come true. Now, are all those presents for me?"
For the next hour, the main sounds emanating from Major Crime was that of tearing paper and laughter as the department's consultant opened his mostly gag gifts, and, later, the softer mumbles as a birthday cake rapidly disappeared.
As Jim helped Blair carry his presents from the surprise birthday party into his living room, he noticed how tired his guide looked.
On the drive home, Blair, ever the anthropologist, couldn't help but compare his small but heartfelt party to the lavish, literal three ring circus the Calvertons had arranged for Lloyd Rodney's birthday. The main difference, he had pointed out, was that the detectives had wanted to be there, wanted to help him celebrate, while there probably wasn't a child at the larger party who wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for the lure of the circus. And Lloyd Rodney was probably well aware of that fact, too.
Jim was struck by the irony of two such opposite people sharing the same birthday. Blair, who was the epitome of what Sally used to call 'good people', and Lloyd Rodney, a sociopath in the making. Life was strange sometimes.
Stomachs were rumbling. An impatient and hungry sentinel argued that it would be faster and easier for him to pick up something for dinner, rather than ordering anything in. Having let Blair select the cuisine in honor of the day, Jim left to go pick up the food.
Blair collapsed on the couch, going over his birthday loot again, in his partner's absence. He had to laugh at some of the gifts. Like the battery-operated pink Energizer Bunny toy from Henri. Or the gaudy, psychedelic-patterned tie from Rafe, who had quipped that at least then they knew he owned one! The large, super economy-sized can of pine-scented room deodorizer from Jim got a big laugh, since he was always complaining about the natural cedar chips Blair still put in his bathroom.
One made him smile gently. Daryl had somehow stolen into the party and given him a set of refrigerator magnets depicting wolves, the only ones suitable, he said, for a lair. Jim and Blair both got a turn at clapping him on the back, and from Simon's beaming face, all was right on the Banks front again.
Sighing, Blair leaned his head back against the top of the couch. Despite the silly nature of most of the gifts, it left a warm feeling in his heart for Blair to know that there were people who cared enough about him to throw him a surprise party. Only one thing would have made this birthday perfect, but no amount of wishing on his birthday candles could change the past. He closed his eyes and waited for Jim to get back. He nodded off.
A loud noise somewhere in the apartment building startled Blair awake. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, not having meant to fall asleep. Looking at the time on the VCR, he began to wonder where Jim was. It was taking a pretty long time to go grab some Thai take-out. But before he could start to worry, there was another loud bang, this one on the lower part of his door.
"Open up, Chief! My hands are full."
"Coming! Took you long enough. A man could starve – " Holding the door open, Blair stopped talking when he saw the large cardboard box Jim was awkwardly carrying. He looked past the man to see if anyone else were with him, then stepped back out of his way. "Damn, Jim, how much food did you get? Are you expecting more people?"
"Nope." Instead of heading into the kitchen, Jim walked into the living room and, crouching down, put the box on the floor. He grinned as he watched Blair's eyes go wide with disbelief."
"On the floor? Jim, uh, this is Thai food, not Japanese, right?" Blair shook his head. "I can't believe you put a box of food, possibly leaking food, on my floor."
"Payback is a bitch." Jim smirked devilishly. "I'll get the plates while you open the box." Standing up, Jim took a few steps back and stood aside as Blair sat down in front of the box and reached to open it, muttering to himself.
"I can just imagine if I ever did that when I was living upstairs! I'd still be scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush."
He barely got the first flap open when...
...he was attacked by a brown-and-white flying missile, which almost knocked him over.
It took him a few seconds to recognize the excited dog who was trying to lick his face off.
"Libby! Omigod. Libby. What are you doing here, girl?" He looked up even as he kept petting the obviously overjoyed dog. "Jim?"
"Happy Birthday, Chief."
"Happy.... You mean she's mine? To keep? But how?"
"The more I thought about how Lloyd Rodney was treating her, the more worried I became. So, during your party, while you were busy, I called Roddie. I told him about how we'd seen the kid abusing her, and how she seemed to bond to you. When I told him today was also your birthday, he agreed to let you have her. He also promised that Lloyd will never get another pet. So here she is." Jim hesitated and a little uncertainty crept into his voice. "That is, if you want her. I know I was presuming a lot by going out and getting her without asking you first, so if you decide not to keep her, we can figure something else out. But she's not going back there, back to Lloyd Rodney Calverton."
By then, Libby had found the cuff of Blair's jeans, and was trying to pull the pant leg off him. Blair was laughing as he tried to save his jeans from a ferocious twenty-pound terrier.
Seeing his friend's happiness, Jim couldn't help laughing too. "There are some toys and stuff in the box. Maybe you can distract her."
Looking into the container, Blair saw that the bottom had been lined with a soft towel. It also held two small plastic bowls, a retractable leash, a few dog toys, a half-empty bag of dog food and a sack of dog treats. "Let me guess; Rosalita packed the box."
"Yeah. She seemed to be the only one sorry to see her go."
"Well, I can use the box as her bed for now. I'll have to get some more dog food."
"Yeah, and a groomer. One plus factor is that that kind of coat doesn't shed, according to Rosalita. It keeps growing out until it's way too long and has to be clipped." Jim hid a smile at the thought of photos of owners who looked like their companion animals.
But Blair just nodded, ticking off more necessities. "Find a vet, too. Hey, I wonder if she's been fixed yet. How do you tell if a female dog's been fixed?"
"You're asking me? How should I know?"
"I figured you must have had a pet once. You might know these things." Blair sounded at a loss.
Jim sat down on the couch, moving a few of the other birthday presents aside. "You never had a pet, Chief?"
Blair shrugged as he reached to scratch Libby's ears. He had given her a chew toy, and she was happily lying next to him as she mangled it to death. As soon as his hand touched her head, her tail started thumping. "Nope, no pets. Couldn't. Not with all the, you know, moving around and stuff. Some of Naomi's boyfriends didn't like animals."
Or small boys either, I'd bet, Chief. "Well, it looks like you've got one now."
"Yeah. She's not too big, and already housebroken. She won't be any trouble, willya, girl?" As he started to run his hand down her back, she managed to roll over and was soon enjoying a wonderful tummy rub. "You like that, don't you, girl?"
Jim was tempted to get down and join them, but he knew how important it was that Libby understand right from the start that she belonged to Blair. As he watched them commune silently, Jim congratulated himself on sticking with the struggle to make Libby stay in the box; Blair had to let her out of her confinement; it was for Blair's sake that Jim had rescued Libby, and it was with Blair that she should bond. Not Jim, even if he had been her chauffeur to the lair. Jim saw the total loyalty and adoration in Libby's eyes for Blair when he scratched her chin, and was satisfied.
As soon as Blair stood up, Libby was right by his side. Looking around, Blair wondered out loud, "Now, where are we going to put the rest of your stuff?" He picked up the box and carried it to an out-of-the-way corner of the living room and started emptying the rest of Libby's things from it. "Okay, your bed can go here."
Jim grinned. He'd bet ten-to-one that Libby never spent even one night in the box. At the first whimper, she'd be out and with Blair.
Blair was in the kitchen, putting the dog food and treats away. As soon as he set her bowls on the floor, Libby stuck her nose in one and looked at her new owner. "You hungry, girl, or maybe thirsty?" Filling both bowls, he put them back down and watched as Libby immediately started eating. "Guess so."
Returning to the living room, Blair sat down next to Jim. "Wow. I have a dog. Wait till Naomi finds out."
"So you really don't mind that I surprised you with her? I mean, a dog is a pretty big responsibility."
"No, Jim. I'm glad you did." Blair and his best friend watched as Libby left the kitchen and started exploring her new home, her sensitive nose checking out everything within reach. When she found something personal to Blair, like his jacket or backpack, she would sniff a little longer, her tail wagging, and move on to something new. "I figure I can take her out in the morning, and get Joey Myers down the hall to walk her after school. I'll pay him five dollars a week, though he'd do it for free, he's been dying for a dog but they have two cats. I'll give his mom a key. He's a good kid; if I'm late for some reason, I'm pretty sure I can rely on him to feed her and take her out again too. Hey! Where's she going?"
Both men jumped up as the dog's explorations led her to the spiral staircase. After a few tentative upward sniffs, she started scrambling up the steps.
"Where's she going?"
"What's she doing?"
The humans followed her up the stairs, and found her nosing around the loft. She seemed a little confused. She trotted happily into Blair's old bedroom and out again, and around the kitchen and bathroom, but at the base of the steps to Jim's bedroom, she raised her head, sniffed, sneezed, and turned back.
"She's caught your scent up here, Chief," Jim said, with some surprise. He hadn't thought of that before, and wondered why.
"Yeah, I guess; the loft must smell of both of us. Must have her confused."
Libby was working things out. All of the downstairs smelled deliciously of Her Person, but up here smelled of him more strongly in some areas than others, and everywhere upstairs smelled nicely of Her Other Person. She had learned in her short life to be careful of some people, but she had already decided that Her Other Person was all right. He had been kind to her, he had brought her home to Her Person, and, most importantly, Her Person liked him. Therefore, he was accepted into her pack.
More than satisfied with her new surroundings, she bounced onto one of the couches and promptly curled up at one end.
Jim began to rush over to her. "Oh, no! It's one thing that she's figured out how to get up here, but there will be no jumping on the furniture!"
A hand on his arm stopped the detective from moving forward.
"Don't start yelling at her her first night here. I have those old blankets the guys used when we were moving my things downstairs. We'll fold one up and put it on the floor. That'll be her bed when she's up here, until we can get something better. It'll only take a minute to get it. Don't do anything until I get back, okay?"
The request was unnecessary, since, as soon as she heard Her Person move, Libby was flying off the couch to follow him. She hesitated at the railing, more leery of going down the strange twisting stairs than up them, but her need to be with Her Person overcame her fear and she tentatively made her way down. By the time she reached the bottom, she had gotten the hang of navigating in a circle and was panting with success.
Jim shook his head as he watched. If there had ever been any doubts about whom Libby belonged to, there weren't anymore. Granted, she was just a dog, but maybe, just maybe, she could start to heal the Sky-shaped hole in Blair's heart.
Jim mused about things for a while, and realized with a start that it was taking rather a long time to get a blanket. He went downstairs, and at the bottom of the staircase he could hear two heartbeats coming from Blair's room. The first thing he saw from the bedroom doorway was Libby, lying in the middle of Blair's bed, head between her paws, looking sadly at Her Person, who was now the most important thing in her life.
Then he saw Blair, standing in front of his dresser, the blanket in a heap at his feet. At an angle, Jim could see he was holding a framed photo of himself and Sky, arms around each other's waist, laughing at the camera. His index finger was slowly tracing an outline around the young woman's image. The tangy scent of salt was in the air.
Jim spoke softly, so he wouldn't startle his guide. "Hey, Chief."
Despite the gentle tone, Blair still jumped. He carefully put the picture back on the dresser, then quickly wiped his cheeks with the heels of his hands. "Sorry, Jim. Didn't mean to take so long."
He picked up the blanket, and Libby's head cocked in anticipation of getting up and following Her Beloved New Person. She knew something wasn't right with him, and she had no intention of letting him out of her sight. She looked over at Her Other Person. Maybe he knew what was wrong and could help.
As if reading the small dog's mind, Jim moved to Blair and took the blanket from him, letting it drop on the floor. "Blair, it's all right. It's all right to be upset and miss Sky, especially today of all days. You don't have to hide your feelings. Not from me. It's better to talk things out."
Blair blinked up at him. "This coming from the King of Repression?"
"Yeah, well, I've had a not very old, but still very wise, shaman try to teach me that ever since I met him. I guess the lesson's finally sinking in."
Blair glanced at the photo, then looked at Jim. "Well, the shaman learned another valuable lesson himself."
Placing one hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim maintained steady eye contact. "What would that be?"
Covering Jim's hand with his own, Blair spoke softly. "That we never know what will happen. One day, everything's fine; the next, and someone you love could be gone forever. Sometimes you never get the chance to say 'Goodbye'. Or 'I'm sorry'." Tears started falling from Blair's eyes again, but he ignored them. "I... I don't want that to happen to us, Jim. I don't think I could stand it if something happened to you, and we still had this stupid argument, about who had the better or worse parents, hanging over us."
The tears were coming faster, but neither man moved. "I'm sorry, Jim. I don't care what kind of father William was. I only care about the man his son grew up to be. The best friend I ever had. Please, Jim, let's not be mad at each other anymore."
Instead of answering, Jim simply pulled his best friend close and wrapped his arms around him, relieved when he felt Blair reciprocate. He laid his cheek on a soft bed of curls, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "I'm sorry too, Blair. I'm not mad. I don't think I was ever mad at you. I was mad about what I thought might have happened to you. I think this case got to both of us. You were the handiest target when I got worried and frustrated." Jim swallowed and said hoarsely, "I'm sorry, Chief. Let's promise to try not to let outside influences come between us again. Okay, Buddy?"
All Blair could manage was a few nods, but it was enough.
They stayed like that for several minutes, each holding onto what was most important to him, until a small whimper caught their attention. Two heads turned to see Libby standing at the edge of the bed, worry clearly showing in her eyes.
Reluctantly, they moved apart, as Blair reached out a hand and petted the wiry-haired head. Immediately, her tail started wagging.
"It's all right now, girl." Blair turned and smiled at his partner. "Everything is all right now." The smile slowly faded. "Well, except for one thing."
"What the matter, Chief?"
Blair looked at Libby, then back at Jim.
"What are we supposed to have for dinner?"
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