Whipping his head to the right, Blair found himself nose-to-nose with a raven-tressed little girl. He knew instantly that it was Rachael. Her eyes sparkled merrily at him, and she clapped with delight at his recognition.
"You can hear me! And see me, too! Oh good!" A small, sad frown suddenly crossed her face. "I'm not hurting you, am I? I didn't mean to hurt Detective Jim, but I needed someone to hear me. I don't want my Daddy hurting anybody else like he did me and Mommy."
The sound of self-reproach and grief in the young voice snapped Blair out of his shock. "Oh, honey, it wasn't your fault. It was mine. Don't you ever think you did something wrong." Reaching out, he gently brushed an errant lock of hair out of her eyes. "In fact, I think you've been a really brave little girl, trying so hard to help us."
With the simple forgiveness that only children are capable of, Rachael threw herself into the young shaman's arms. "Thank you, Mr. Blair." She pulled back a little so she could look him in the face, though her arms stayed loosely clasped around his neck. She bit at her lower lip. "I know where Daddy is. I can take you there."
"I believe you, honey. Let's just go get Detective Jim, and we'll go find your dad and make sure he doesn't hurt anybody ever again."
"Okay." The little girl slid down from his lap and put her hand in his. "We've got to hurry, though. He was packing when I left."
Blair willingly followed his guide out the door. He was so intent on reaching Jim and putting an end to this nightmare once and for all that he never stopped to consider how odd the pair of them, one visible, one not, looked to the casual observer. The same two cops who had answered Simon's cry earlier passed them on their way to the Major Crimes bullpen and shook their heads at the sight of the "Professor" seemingly talking to an imaginary friend.
"Remind me never to transfer into Major Crimes once we become detectives," the taller of the officers requested of his companion. "They're all nuts!"
His partner nodded vigorous affirmation, and the pair once again escaped in the opposite direction.
Oblivious to the doubts concerning his sanity, Blair tossed a quick glance around the bullpen and finally located his partner in Simon's office. With little more than a perfunctory knock, he burst through the door. "I know where Myles is holed up!"
Irritation crossing his stern features, Simon barked, "And just how did you come across this information, Sandburg?"
"Don't have time to explain now, Captain." He turned desperate eyes on Jim. "C'mon, man, we have to go! He's getting ready to leave the country. We've got to stop him!"
Sighing in frustration, the captain looked over at his best detective. "Jim, do you have any idea what he--" The rest of his sentence was silenced by the wary expression on the Sentinel's face. "What's wrong?"
Jim ignored Simon's question and took a half step closer to Blair. "She's here, isn't she?"
"Yes. It's working, Jim, just like Incacha said it would. Now can we go?!"
"Go?" Simon stepped in, looming over the pair like Judgment. "You're not going anywhere until you kindly,"----he practically bit out the word--"explain to me what's going on."
"Uh, Simon, you really . . ." Blair began to warn him off the subject, hoping that trust would win through in this situation. Jim looked uneasy; his 'practical' persona was about to be shattered.
Obviously, any mystical abilities gained with Blair's acceptance of his identity did not come with divine luck. Simon simply waited, his demeanor showing nothing but calm, his eyes glaring impatience despite that. A "Well?" would be superfluous, because the question was virtually tangible already.
"Captain," Jim started, "we have an outside informant who's very close to the murder and to Myles."
"Aw, man, this is something best not jumped around, Jim." Blair drew in a slow breath. This was not going to be easy to explain without sounding asinine or insane. The Sentinel nodded reluctantly. "Ever since we received this case, Simon, Jim and I have been getting visitations from Rachael Myles."
"I think that would be a little difficult, Sandburg. She's dead."
"I know, sir," Jim replied, not wanting to step on the wrong side of Simon this time. As many times as he had before and won, this was a big leap of faith. "I thought it was impossible myself, at first, until I found myself looking at her then right in the middle of one of the worst zones I've ever had."
"I see. How did Sandburg survive talking to her, then?" Simon looked somewhere between disgusted and amused. Blair hadn't mentioned anything like this during their little chat yesterday.
"I'm the Guide, Captain, it's part of my job. I'll explain later," Blair gave the taller man a cursory answer and tugged at Jim's arm like an impatient child. "C'mon, man, we need to get moving."
"Let me get my coat before we go," Simon sighed, knowing that he was going to have to run interference on this one.
Jim's laser-blue stare leveled at Simon, suspicious. "Since when do you believe us?"
"I don't. I'm just not going to let you damage the department's reputation by gunning down Myles on the advice of your imaginary friend!" Simon informed them as they piled into the elevator. The other two men wisely kept silent. Once they reached the garage and were on their way, Simon finally succumbed to the urge to blow up. "Ghosts? We need some definite evidence to nail this bastard, and you're giving me ghosts?! Every time I think I've heard the last of the weird crap from you two, you push something like this on me."
Jim remained quiet, finding the subject of his captain's annoyance somewhat funny. A light tapping, like one would hear from a fingernail on glass, sounded to him under the thick rumble of the car's engine. Something prickled at all his senses, telling him Rachael was with them.
The young spirit drifted to sit next to Blair, speaking to him in a soft, excited voice while drumming her index finger lightly on the window. She knew her ordeal was soon to be ended, and like most children, was eager to have what she wanted done 'now'. "Daddy's cabin is east of the city. Take the next road up."
Like his Sentinel, the shaman also refrained from commenting on the intensifying spiritual presence, preferring to simply give Simon the directions the girl supplied him with. He noticed Rachael wasn't there once they'd gotten to the highway, or at least, she wasn't visible. This wasn't promising; the little ghost was full of pent-up emotion and energy. The police captain's constant venomous commentary on ghosts wasn't helping the situation.
Grudgingly, the dark man was following Blair's instructions, convincing himself he was only humoring them. The alternative was too much to deal with. "Tell me, you two, should I expect the Easter Bunny as your next informant? Maybe we should bring in the Tooth Fairy to work with Forensics?"
As if cued, the driver's side sun visor creaked down, obscuring Simon's view for a moment. Simon pushed it back up, ignoring the possibility that a tiny, invisible hand had pushed it there. "Maybe you should take Sandburg, quit the force, and become an exorcist next, Ellison."
The tapping Jim had heard grew loud and this time, a tiny crack appeared in Simon's windshield. Jim and Blair looked at each other over the seat and, despite what would undoubtedly be expensive damage to Simon's car, couldn't help snickering. Then, Simon's glasses seemed to possess the sudden urge to leap onto his forehead. The captain nearly jerked the sedan off the road in his surprise and sudden inability to see clearly. Rachael appeared beside Blair again, nudging his arm and smiling smugly.
After a few strangled attempts not to laugh, Jim, Blair and Rachel let the humor out of their systems. Simon shook his head, not wanting to ask, and the car continued on into the mountains without any more sarcasm being directed at spirits.
Adrian Myles was hurriedly packing, a one way-ticket to Costa Rica clutched too tightly in his fingers. What he'd lost was best left undisturbed. Beating a hasty exit from the country was his first priority now. He was shoving his passport into an inner pocket of his jacket when he heard the loud crunch of tires on the gravel drive outside. Looking out the window, he confirmed his suspicions, seeing a dark blue sedan pull up a few yards from the cabin.
There was no leaving through the front door to make his escape. The vehicle read "unmarked cop car" to him as clearly as if the words had been painted on the hood. Running on a nearly automatic response, Myles drew his shotgun from behind the couch.
The industrialist scrutinized the car more closely. That looked like Banks and Ellison, and where Ellison was, his little shadow was sure to follow. Obviously, Sedgewick's diversion hadn't worked out. It looked like he'd have to take care of it himself. He took aim at the windshield and fired at the car.
Simon eyed the dark cabin suspiciously. "All right, we're here. Now what?"
In answer to his question, two loud booms thundered from the house. All three men immediately ducked, throwing their arms over their faces as glass shards imploded all over them. With a hasty spin of the wheel, Simon managed to slide the car sideways to provide some measure of cover before another bark of the shotgun sent a slug into his engine and stopped it cold. Tumbling out of the driver's side door, the captain and Jim moved to opposite ends of the sedan and returned fire. Blair slithered out of the back seat a moment later and crouched down behind his partner. He already had his cell phone out to call for backup.
When the lethal volley from the cabin paused a moment, Jim took a quick glance at their surroundings and came up with a plan. Looking over his shoulder at his superior, he said in a stage whisper, "Simon, cover me. I'm gonna try for the woods and circle back, see if there's a back exit to this place."
"Got it. Be careful, Jim."
"Aren't I always? Sandburg, stay here with Simon."
"No buts, just do it, Chief! I'll be back in a few."
With these last words, the detective suddenly sprinted from behind the meager cover of the sedan. Immediately, the gunfire from the cabin resumed, but with Simon also shooting back at the cabin, Jim managed to get to the woods unscathed. This time, though, the enemy's fire did not diminish, and with only one gun and limited ammunition, the captain was forced to seek shelter once more.
"Damn, what does he have in there, an armory?!" the dark captain muttered almost to himself. "Jim, whatever you're gonna do, do it fast!"
Blair made no reply to the other man's comments. Huddled by the rear wheel well, he once more found himself in the situation where the air above his head was being littered with bullets, and he could do nothing about it. He hated feeling this useless. He tried to tap into his new spiritual connections to calm himself, and was met with a small hand that ran itself over his hair and cheek.
"Mr. Blair," Rachael's pale green eyes were larger and more haunted by pain than he had ever seen them. "I need your help."
"What is it, honey? Mr. Blair's a little busy right now."
"I need you to see. You need to come see where Daddy buried my body. You need to tell them! I don't want him to hurt anyone else." She grabbed his forearms with icy fingers, the contact sending a cold shock through him that he'd never felt before with Rachael. The fledgling shaman jolted, resisting the urge to pull back. "Please!!!"
His spirit guide itself seemed to have fastened its teeth in his clothes, pulling inexorably in Rachael's direction. Ignoring his instincts would mean losing all the ground that he'd recently gained. Follow the vision . Whether the thought had come from his own mind or some other source, Blair couldn't ignore it, or the desperate spirit-girl before him. "Okay."
Her grip was surprisingly strong as she gave a last tug at Blair's wrist. Taking a deep breath, he edged over to the back bumper and peered hastily around it. Seeing that the coast was as clear as it was going to get, he suddenly bolted out from behind the cover, following the retreating swing of the black hair into the woods.
"Sandburg!!! Get back here!!" Simon screamed from behind him, and kept screaming various warnings. Blair knew to dodge the bullets as best he could, but otherwise, all his concentration was fixed on the fleeing ghost.
She took him, panting with the speed at which he needed to run, to a small clearing within sight of the back of the cabin. Pointing, Rachael directed Blair's attention to a small, slightly convex, grass-covered spot between two trees. "Here . . . I'm here!"
A grave as recent as Rachel's wouldn't be that overgrown, would have shown more disturbance to the soil. "I don't see anything," he muttered softly at the ghost. "I don't see it."
"It's under the grass," Rachel explained, suddenly becoming invisible again. Her voice remained, "Please, Mr. Blair, they need to see! The police need to be able to see it!!"
Under the grass? Kneeling, Blair saw that the little mound was covered in small squares of sheet sod, only partially rooted in. Urged on by the child's need for justice and an end to her continuing suffering, he began to pull the grass up, revealing a little hill of fresh dirt, what he'd expected to see.
Blair was pulling up the sod that concealed the relatively fresh grave, the child's profound sadness rolling around like an echo in his skull. For the first time, he felt the great power his soul had when he connected it to the natural and spiritual realities around him. For a spare moment, his hands appeared to him as the wolf's paws, digging to find the truth; by uncovering it, he would bury the suffering.
The shaman was so intent on his task that he didn't hear Myles. The murderer had padded out a small side door, abandoned his shotgun for a pistol, and was hoping to take advantage of the fact that there was only one man guarding the cabin. He was met with a different opportunity, an easier one.
"Don't move, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair turned on Myles with a look on his face that was at once wild and serene. Something in that look indicated to Myles that the younger man wasn't completely with him mentally. It didn't matter much; he wasn't a cop . . . he'd make an easy hostage, one that Adrian could hold on to as a shield, at least until he got to his truck. Myles tilted his hand, intending to pistol-whip Blair to keep the anthropologist quiet and sedate.
Blair heard the little girl's voice before he saw her, and it shook him from his half-trance. Then, she materialized in front of him, and this time, the vision was for Myles himself. The black hair was caked with thickening, viscous blood, streams of it running down Rachael's cheeks, over her ears. The right side of her head, near the top of her skull, showed a deep indentation where the trophy had hit, bludgeoning her young life away.
Rachael's eyes were cold, full of anger and accusation. Her voice was eerily smooth, as calm as her appearance was violent. "You aren't going to hurt anyone ever again. You won't kill anyone anymore."
Myles felt the gun go cold in his numb fingers. He dropped it in shock and fear. "No, I killed you! I KILLED YOU! You're not real!"
"I am real, and you did this to me. Just like you were about to do to Mr. Blair. Like you did to Mommy, and maybe other people, too. You have to stop it, Daddy! You have to stop now!"
Myles inched back away from Blair and the bloody apparition of his daughter. "I'm going crazy . . . stay away from me . . ."
"What are you so scared of, Daddy? You're too afraid to look at what you did? You were scared of me, I know that. You were scared that I'd tell the police about Mommy, but why did you kill her? She never hurt you . . . I never did." Rachael edged closer to her father.
Myles was terrified, but he was pinned in place by the blood, the blue eyes that so resembled the scared ones of his wife as he pushed her down the stairs. "Stay back!" He screamed the phrase over and over, but Rachael didn't seem to listen. She came close enough to wrap her cold fingers around his hand.
A searing pain not born of her touch blazed through Adrian Myles' head, and he felt his body go numb. Gasping for a much-needed breath of air, he fell, clawing at the pulled-up sod and watching the eyes of the innocent that he had killed. His frightened stare became the blank one of death.
The little ghost turned from the fallen figure of her father, her countenance changing to it's former, uninjured appearance, and looked up at Blair with wide, sad eyes. "I guess it's all over now, Mr. Blair. Daddy's where he belongs, and I have to go where I belong soon, too."
The young professor squatted down beside the spectral child and said softly, "Yes, you will. You'll like it there, honey. Your Mommy's there, and you'll never have to be scared ever again."
Rachael's voice was a tremulous whisper. "Promise?"
Blair smiled confidently. "I promise."
The spirit-girl suddenly darted forward and threw her arms around his neck. Blair stiffened, anticipating the same cold shock as before, but instead a wave of gentle warmth encircled him. Recovering from this pleasant surprise quickly, the consultant returned the hug.
"I'll miss you, Mr. Blair."
"I'll miss you, too, sweetie. But one day, Detective Jim and I and your friends and all the other people you love will come to that nice place, too, and then we won't have to miss each other anymore. Okay?"
The dark head nodded trustingly. "Okay." Suddenly the solid shape of the girl started to shift and become more translucent. "Mommy says it's time to go now, Mr. Blair. Thank you! I'll be waiting for you!" With those last words, Rachael's Myles' soul finally found its way home.
"Good-bye, Rachael," Blair whispered. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Jim standing beside him. "Jim, I didn't hear you coming?"
"What happened here, Chief?"
"Myles is dead. Rachael finally showed her self to Daddy, and his heart couldn't take it, I guess."
"And what happened to Rachael?"
"She's gone where she finally deserves. Her mother came and got her."
"You all right, Chief?" Jim asked quietly, his blue eyes soft with understanding.
"Yeah," the younger man nodded, absently tucking his hair behind one ear as he stood. He smiled a little at his partner. "Yeah, I am."
Jim returned the smile and gave his shoulder a brief, friendly shake before releasing him. "Good. Let's get this mess cleaned up and go home."
Kent Davis arrived with the backup and forensics teams and swiftly made his way over to where the Major Crimes trio stood beside a coat-covered lump. A dark-complected man followed closely behind him. After introducing the three to his partner, Davis demanded, "Did you get the son of a bitch?"
Jim shook his head. "We didn't, but Mother Nature did. He had a heart attack or stroke or something and just died on us. But at least he won't be hurting anyone else ever again."
"He still got off way too easy," the blonde detective muttered, staring vengefully down at the inert form. While the other men agreed with him, they chose not to comment. "Did you find the videotape?"
"And the murder weapon," Jim affirmed. "And some other stuff I think you'll find interesting."
Davis gave him a curious look. "What do you mean?"
Leading the Homicide detectives into the cabin, Jim took them through the shifting mass of personnel to a small study. There, on one shelf was Rachael's spelling bee trophy, her dried blood still coating it. Other objects littered the shelves that lined the entire west wall--a bloody T-shirt, a Colt revolver, a length of coarse rope and others--each arranged in a specific pattern, though what that pattern meant, no one knew yet. A video cabinet crouching in one corner held an assortment of generic tapes, each labeled only with a date. A big screen TV and VCR stood opposite the desk, where the remote lay askew.
"We found this while we were waiting for forensics to get here. I think there was more to Mr. Myles' crimes than just his family's murders," the dark-haired detective murmured quietly. "You were right, Kent. And here's your chance to prove it."
An odd look of sad triumph flitted across Davis' face at this proof that the battle he'd been fighting for over a year had been worth it. He turned to face Jim. "Thank you."
The Sentinel nodded and left the room to the two detectives. Within a few moments, he had vacated the cabin and stood beside his friends. Blair was staring at something down the driveway, and when Jim followed his gaze, he winced. The anthropologist's next words turned the wince into a grimace of dismay.
"Guys, I have just one question."
"Shoot, Sandburg" Simon said absently, his attention focused on the goings on inside the cabin. Blair's reply caused him to shift that attention abruptly elsewhere.
"How are we getting back?" He pointed at the remains of the sedan they had ridden up in.
The Major Crimes captain glared balefully at his bullet-ridden car and accused, "Ellison, this is all your fault!"
"My fault?! How is this my fault? I didn't take a shotgun to your car!"
"It was your case and your suspect. That makes it your fault!" The tall, dark man circled the wreck and winced as the closer inspection revealed more damage.
"Um, Jim?" Davis interrupted tentatively. He had heard the heated conversation from the living room and figured he owed Ellison enough to get him out of this fix. He fished his car keys out of his jeans' pocket. "You guys can take my car back to the station. It looks like we're going to be here a while, and, anyway, I can catch a ride back with Glaser." He went to toss the keys to Jim, only to have the captain pluck them out of mid-air.
"Thank you, but I don't think so," he barked. "You'd never get it back in one piece, Davis, if you let this bozo drive. I'll make sure it's waiting for you at the garage."
"Sure, Captain Banks," the Homicide detective agreed and hastily vanished into the cabin.
"'You'll never get it back in one piece if you let this bozo drive?!' Gee, thanks a lot, Simon. And it's not like we put a gun to your head and made you drive us up here, either," Jim continued to protest his innocence as he and Blair followed the angry man across the yard to the car. "In fact, you were the one who insisted on taking us up here. You can't pin this one on me, sir."
Not being able to refute the facts, Simon threw his hands up in surrender and stalked over to Davis' red sports car, muttering under his breath the entire way. Blair looked to Jim to see if it was actually safe to follow the older man. Jim shrugged, and the two of them reluctantly climbed into the car for what was sure to be a long trip home.
Simon was staring at the two younger men over Jim's table. He'd been doing that for the past couple of minutes, and it was seriously unnerving the objects of his scrutiny. The remains of the hastily prepared dinner were strewn between them, and a half-empty bottle of beer was clasped tightly between both his huge hands.
The Sentinel and Shaman had just finished telling him in full detail all that had occurred since Jim had first accepted the Myles case. They had filled in the blanks that Blair had left out during their previous discussion on the subject and had concluded with more about Blair's new role as Shaman as well as Guide. The captain was really beginning to wish he'd kept up with his "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding all things Sentinel--and now, apparently Shaman as well.
After taking a healthy swig of the alcohol, the dark man said reluctantly, "I don't have any choice but to believe you after all I saw today, but you both know that no else will. Hell, they'd toss you into the nearest loony bin and throw away the key before you even knew what hit you if you said anything about this--and me along with you!" He raised one hand to halt the objections from both men. "Just make sure your reports are believable. Myles might be dead, but this is still a high profile case, and the press is gonna be all over it. I don't want to hear any cracks about ghostbusting this time around, got it?"
"Yes, sir," Jim answered, kicking Blair under the table when it looked like the younger man might pursue the topic. "We'll figure out a way to make this sound sane."
"Good luck." Rising to his feet, Simon snagged his coat off the hooks by the door and shrugged it on. "Well, I'm going to go home now and try to forget the past couple of days ever happened."
Getting up from his own chair, Blair opened the door for him. "So much for that open mind, eh, Simon?" The consultant tried to make his comment sound lightly casual, but even so, some of his disappointment at the older man's relapse back into denial filtered through.
Simon paused in the midst of buttoning his coat and peered through his glasses at the anthropologist. "Sandburg, if my mind were any more open, my brain would fall out. I said I believed you. It's just going to take some time to get used to having two unusually talented people working for me, all right?"
Reading the sincerity in the brown eyes, Blair smiled slightly. "And how long do you think that's gonna take?"
The captain snorted. "With all the practice I've been getting in the past couple years, I'd say it might take, oh, maybe a week. Think you can hang in there with me that long?"
"Sure, Simon," the younger man replied with a straight face, his disappointment alleviated with the elder man's words. "I know that it takes the older generation a while to adjust to new things sometimes."
"Sandburg, one of these days . . ." the tall, dark man left his threat unfinished as he left the apartment.
Jim chuckled quietly at the by-play between his two friends. The sound captured the attention of the anthropologist, making him remember that he and Jim still had unfinished business to take care of. He turned and regarded his friend solemnly.
Jim instantly stopped laughing. He knew that look and felt his face twist in determined stubbornness. Blair wanted to talk, not about the case or Simon's attitude on the supernatural, but about something else he had no desire to hear. Jim moved as far away from the other man as the confines of the room allowed and found himself staring out the front windows at the flickering lights of nighttime Cascade. He concentrated on those lights, hoping that Blair would take the hint and not push the issue tonight. After a few moments of silence, the detective began to hope that he really could be that lucky when a warm hand descended on his shoulder.
Jumping, the Sentinel whirled to find his Guide close behind him. He hadn't heard him cross the room! //What the hell?!//
Then he got a good look at Blair's face and felt a shudder work through his body. He looked exactly like Incacha had whenever he was about to tell him something that he wasn't going to like but the older shaman had determined was best for him. The deep, resonant voice that exited Blair's throat only emphasized the likeness.
"We gotta go back, Jim. You know it's the only way."
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