"You wanted to see me, Simon?" Detective Jim Ellison asked as he entered the captain's office. He pulled up short when he saw the blonde man standing in front of Banks' desk.
//Well, I'll be damned. What's he doing here?//
The blonde man was Kent Davis, a Homicide detective, and a damned good one from all accounts. He and Jim had worked in Vice together before each had transferred out. The two of them hadn't ever really been friendly--Jim hadn't been the friendly sort back then--but they had been temporarily partnered on several especially nasty cases and had gained a healthy respect for each other's talents and coolness under pressure.
The Sentinel hadn't seen Davis since the younger man had left to join Homicide, though at first glance, time seemed to have treated him kindly. The tanned, youthful face was almost exactly the way he remembered it. Then Jim noticed the unfamiliar worry lines creasing the man's forehead and the frustrated glint in his dark green eyes. Davis had always been the optimistic, carefree one in Vice, never letting his job affect his outlook on life. Whatever reason brought him to Simon's office had to be incredibly disturbing to put that look on his face.
Shaking off his surprise, Jim took the last couple of steps into the office and held out a hand. "Hey, Davis, what's going on?"
The blonde detective took the proffered hand and shook it firmly as he answered in a grim tone. "Got a favor to ask you, Jim, and I'm hopin' you won't say no."
The Major Crimes detective quirked an eyebrow at the statement, but before he could reply, Simon Banks waved them both to the chairs in front of his desk. "Have a seat, gentlemen. Detective Davis, why don't you tell Jim what you've been telling me."
In response to the suggestion, Davis picked up a thick folder from the desk and handed it to Jim. As he flipped through it, the other man gave him a summary of its contents. "About two years back, my partner, Rick Glaser, and I were called in to handle the death of Nancy Myles, wife of industrialist Adrian Myles. According to her husband, she'd gotten drunk and taken a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs. The autopsy revealed that she did have a high alcohol content in her blood, but there were a lot of other things that just didn't add up. Things that pointed to murder--and Adrian Myles. Glaser and I wanted to investigate further," Davis' tone turned bitter, "but Myles has a lot of connections and a very fancy lawyer. They put the pressure on Captain Scroggin, and he made us lay off. Mrs. Myles' death was officially ruled accidental."
Davis sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He continued a bit sheepishly, though there was an undertone of defiance as well. "I couldn't let it go, though Rick has tried repeatedly to get me to stop. I just knew that I could prove Myles was guilty. I've been working on this off and on ever since. Haven't really gotten as far as I'd hoped. Then I get this phone call a couple of days ago from a guy by the name of Meredith."
"Turns out that Meredith is the teacher of Adrian Myles' eleven year old daughter, Rachael. He told me that Rachael started out the school year as his best student, always completed her homework on time, got straight A's, well-liked by the other students. Then a month ago, her grades start slippin' and she gets real withdrawn. Meredith suspected abuse and even reported it to the school's administration." Davis' face twisted in disgust. "But the administrators are too scared of Papa Myles' influence and don't do a thing. And Rachael just keeps getting worse."
"Then one day, the kid stayed late after class and asked Meredith if she can talk to him privately. She was pretty upset about something, so Meredith agreed. She then told him that she thought her daddy had done something really bad--apparently she'd found evidence of it--and wanted to know what she should do. The teacher got her to promise to bring him the evidence and told her that he would take it from there." The blonde man paused. "She never showed up at their appointed time, and she didn't show up for class the next day. Meredith knew going to the administration wouldn't get him anywhere, so he called the police himself instead."
"As soon as the Myles name was mentioned, the desk sergeant sent Meredith to me. After I got done talking to him, I went out to see Myles, but he wasn't home." A dark gleam shone in the green eyes. "I did bump into his neighbor, though, and she told me an interesting story. Said on the night when Rachael disappeared, she couldn't sleep and was up reading. She heard a noise outside and looked out her window to see what it was, and there was Myles taking out the trash. At two in the morning. The neighbor thought it was a bit odd, but since the next day was trash day, she just assumed he couldn't sleep either and decided to get the chore out of the way."
"She could be right, you know," Simon said quietly.
The Homicide detective shot him a sour look. "I know, I know. But what concerns me now is the daughter's disappearance."
Jim frowned slightly as he closed the folder. "What was this evidence she supposedly found?"
Davis' face contorted into a grimace of disgust, "From what the girl told him, Meredith says it was apparently a videotape of Myles actually pushing his wife down the stairs."
Jim and Simon stopped, absolutely dumbfounded for a minute.
Shaking himself in disbelief, Simon was the first to find his voice, which was low and raspy with incredulity and rage, "Are you absolutely sure about that? Are you sure that Meredith didn't misunderstand? Are we supposed to believe that Myles not only planned to murder his wife, but that he had a video recorder on hand to tape the event and he's kept the tape around to watch again whenever the mood strikes him?"
"Yeah, that pretty much sums up the situation exactly," the blonde man's features betrayed his fury as he spoke. "According to what Rachael told Meredith, she came home from school one day and went to put one of her favorite movies in the VCR. She found there was another tape already in the machine, but she didn't recognize it, so she decided to see what was on it."
"That was when her grades started to fall. Apparently she agonized over what to do for an entire month before deciding to ask her favorite teacher for advice. Unfortunately, I'm betting that daddy-dearest discovered what she was going to do and has probably killed her, too."
Jim grimaced, his voice almost inhumanly modulated as he attempted to contain his anger, "How does her father justify her absence?"
Davis snorted derisively. "He claims she ran away."
"Hmm." The dark-haired detective met the intense green eyes of the man opposite him. "So what's this favor you need?"
"I want you to take over the case."
Both of Jim's brows shot up at that. "You what?"
The blonde shook his head in frustration. "Scroggin took me off the case this morning. Said I 'was too emotionally involved' and didn't want me anywhere near it. I'm guessin' Myles has been turning the screws again. But he did tell me I could pass it on to whichever detective was free." Davis grinned a bit maliciously. "I'm sure he meant someone in Homicide, but since he never specified, I came here instead."
Abruptly turning serious once again, Davis gestured towards Simon. "Captain Banks says you're free at the moment, but it has to be your call. Jim, I know it's been a while since we've worked together, but I remember how you get things done. And I know that you don't take crap from anybody. If I can't investigate this little girl's disappearance, I want the best man I know to be doing it for me. And that's you." A mischievous grin, the kind Jim remembered from their days in Vice, curved his mouth. "After all, we all know that you can smell a rat before the rest of us, and probably be able to follow his scurrying feet back to whatever hole he came out of. Will you help me?"
Somewhat taken aback by Davis' appeal, Jim sat back in his chair and silently thought about it for a moment. On the surface, it certainly seemed like foul play had been committed here, but there was Davis' obsession with the case to consider as well. Then again, the younger detective had always had pretty good instincts. If he thought there was something going on, there probably was. At any rate, it wouldn't hurt to check into it.
Jim raised his eyes to meet those of his captain. "Well, if it's all right with you, sir, I wouldn't mind looking into this."
Simon sighed. Somehow, he'd known Ellison was going to say that. "Fine. I'll smooth things over with Scroggin." He hid his grimace of distaste behind his coffee cup. Scroggin was a real jerk, and Simon always felt dirty after just talking with the man over the phone. Smoothing things over was going to be a major undertaking, but something in the way Davis told his story struck a chord in the big captain. He wanted to find the little girl as much as the other two men.
"Thanks, Captain," Jim replied then turned his attention back to Davis. "I'm going to want to talk to Myles."
"Not a problem. I was going to do that myself this morning before I had my little chat with Scroggin. I'll make sure Myles is here around eleven-thirty. That work for you?"
Jim glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty a.m. Plenty of time to go through the files more thoroughly before confronting Myles. Too bad Blair was at the university this morning. He could have used his insights on the whole mess. "Sounds good."
Both detectives rose to leave. Davis laid a hand on his fellow detective's arm. "Thanks, Jim. This really means a lot to me."
Jim shook his head. "Don't thank me yet. I still have a murder to prove."
Three hours later, Jim was standing on one side of the one-way mirror, peering into the interrogation room at his suspect. The man seated on the other side of the glass looked more like a CEO presiding over a board meeting than a murder suspect. Adrian Myles was a handsome man in his mid-to-late thirties. His dark hair was neatly trimmed and coifed, his suit immaculately pressed, his manners impeccable. He sat without fidgeting at the scarred table in the middle of the small room, and his expressionless face would put the best poker player to shame. His cool grey eyes also gave nothing away. Jim smiled grimly to himself. This man would not be easy to crack.
Cool--and cocky. Myles had come alone for this meeting, eschewing the company of his attorney. A bold show of having nothing to fear.
Wiping the grin off his face, the detective opened the door to the interrogation room and stepped in. Those grey eyes landed on him instantly, and after a bare instant of appraisal, suddenly grew warm. A welcoming smile tilted Myles' lips.
"Ah, you are not whom I was expecting to see, sir, but I am most happy that it is you and not the unpleasant Detective Davis. He and I never seem to see eye to eye."
"So I've been told," Jim answered noncommittally. He introduced himself. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison."
The industrialist held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Detective Ellison. Adrian Myles, but I suspect you already know that." After Jim shook his hand, the man frowned a bit, as if he were trying to remember something. "Ellison? Are you any relation to William Ellison?"
Jim's face went stony. "Yes." Without giving the other man time to make further inquiries, the detective went on. "I have a few questions about your daughter, Rachael, Mr. Myles. Do you have any idea where she might be?"
Myles easily accepted the change of topic. "Somewhere between here and San Francisco, I would assume."
Jim was a bit startled by the easy reply but recovered quickly. "And why is that?"
"Ever since Nancy died, my daughter has been obsessed with finding 'the perfect family.' I'm afraid that between her mother's drinking and my being away on business so much, Rachael hasn't had a very good example of that. For some ungodly reason, she latched onto the TV show 'Charmed'--the series about three sisters who are also witches." He shrugged. "I don't know why she would think that's a perfect family. Anyway, I believe they are supposed to live in San Francisco, and no doubt Rachael has left to join them. I've tried to tell her that TV is all make believe, but apparently she wasn't listening."
"I see. Any idea why she would choose to wait until now to run away?"
Myles shook his head regretfully. "None whatsoever, I'm afraid. I would have stopped her had I any indication she'd do something this rash."
"Of course." The detective switched tactics. "Mr. Myles, are you aware that your daughter's grades have begun to suffer over the past month?"
The man seemed taken aback. "Why no, I was not aware. I had not received any such impression from her teacher. Rachael's always been a good student. I'm surprised that Mr. Meredith did not bring it to my attention sooner. Perhaps it was something at school that prompted her to leave when she did?"
"Perhaps," Jim conceded. "I'll be talking further to Mr. Meredith on the subject myself. Also, I would like to talk to her friends. Do you know their names, by any chance?"
"I don't even know if she has any good friends, Detective. I don't recall her mentioning anyone in particular, anyway. Like I said, she spent much of her time watching TV and fantasizing."
"Something else to ask Mr. Meredith then," Jim responded almost absently. His gaze suddenly sharpened on the man across from him. "Mr. Myles, I'd like your permission for my partner and I to take a look around your house."
A glint of something indefinable flashed briefly in the grey eyes but was quickly gone. If Jim hadn't been looking for it, he would have missed it. His nose twitched as he caught the faint yet acrid scent of blossoming fear. //Hah! Gotcha!//
"I don't see why that is necessary, Detective. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to concentrate your search out on the highways and byways of this city? Surely a girl as young and inexperienced as my Rachael couldn't have gotten that far."
"Sir, if we are to find your daughter, we need to know what she was thinking at the time she ran away. She could have left clues behind that would be vital in our search," Jim's voice grew a shade colder. "I'd like to have your permission, Mr. Myles, but I can get a search warrant if you'd prefer to go that route."
There was no mistaking it this time. Whatever warmth Myles had regarded him with at the beginning of this interview had quickly been replaced with grey ice. "There's no need for that, Detective. I have nothing to hide. I just want my daughter back. Do as you wish."
"Thank you, Mr. Myles. I don't have any further questions for you right now." Jim pulled out a card from his pocket. "If you think of anything else that might help us locate Rachael faster, please give me a call."
Myles took the card and said with polite stiffness, "I'll be sure and do that, Detective. Am I free to go now?"
"Be my guest."
Without a backward glance, Myles rose and swiftly exited the room. Jim followed at a slower pace. Simon was waiting for him on the other side of the door.
"So, what do you think?" the captain asked as they made their way back to Major Crimes.
"He's one cool customer, Captain. His heart rate hardly went up until the very end, but the mention of searching the house had him sweating a little." Jim stared down the hallway that had swallowed up Myles. "He's hiding something. Look, Simon, I want to get over to the house right away before he has a chance to destroy any evidence."
"All right, but you're going to wait for Blair, aren't you? I don't want you going out there without any backup. He's supposed to be in today, isn't he?"
Just then, the man in question strode into the room. "Hey, Jim!" Blair Sandburg's cheerful voice rang out clearly over the hubbub of the bullpen. His smile turned to a frown as his partner turned around and he got a good look at his grim expression. "What's going on?"
"You got here just in time, Chief. C'mon, I'll explain on the way."
The battered, blue pickup pulled to a halt at the curb in front of 1272 Greenspring Avenue. Yanking the key out of the ignition, Jim stepped out into the street, but Blair just sat in the passenger seat for a moment, staring at the Victorian style house that was Adrian Myles' residence. Set back a little bit from the rest of the neighborhood on a large lot, the house was beautiful, charming. With its fancy gingerbread, bright green shutters and exquisite landscaping, it looked more like something out of a fairytale than the site of two probable murders.
"Hey, Chief, shake a leg! Are you coming or not? We've got a house to search."
Jim's words shook Blair out of his reverie, and he scrambled out of the truck to stand beside his friend. "God, Jim, look at this place. It looks like everyone's vision of happily ever after. How could something so horrible have happened here?"
Focusing his gaze on a turreted window on the second story of the house, and the cheerful, flower patterned curtains visible there, Jim shook his head sadly and nudged his partner up the steps in the direction of the front door. "I don't know, Chief. To be honest, I really don't understand how this can happen anywhere."
Pausing momentarily to usher his friend into the foyer of the house, Jim took a last look at the immaculately manicured lawn. "I really don't."
Inside Jim stopped short in the foyer, the malignant atmosphere of the beautiful house striking him like a fist. At first glance, the décor and furnishings reflected the same quiet elegance and understated welcome as the exterior had. To the right of the foyer, plush, cream colored carpeting stretched across what was obviously a family room, while an exquisite oriental rug provided a colorful accent to a formal dining room. Directly in front of the foyer a wide, highly polished, mahogany staircase led to the second floor.
Impenetrable shadows seemed to line the edges of the staircase, and Jim found himself reluctant to try to pierce their darkness, afraid of what he might see within. A quick slither of movement caught the corner of his eye, and as Jim snapped his head around toward the family room, he could almost have sworn that he really had seen the tail end of something disappear under the couch.
Steadfastly squaring his shoulders and pushing away the tearing emptiness that scrabbled at the corners of his brain, Jim turned all his attention to his partner. "So, Chief, where should we start? Upstairs or down?"
"I don't know," Blair countered, lifting his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. "There's just something about this place that sets my teeth on edge. I'll tell you what. Why don't we start upstairs and work our way back down? It'll feel more like we're working our way back outside that way."
"Upstairs it is, then." Trying to keep to the exact center of the steps and stubbornly refusing to look at shadows that seemed to squirm down the edges of the staircase, Jim led the way to the second floor, one arm back to ensure that Blair followed directly in his footsteps.
Stopping at the second floor landing, Blair turned a slow circle, glancing into the open doorways as he went. "Parents' room, spare bedroom, guest bathroom--I'd say that," the young man continued, pointing toward a closed door, "is Rachael's room. If she was going to bring her teacher that videotape, there's a good chance that's where she would have hidden it. If it was there, her father's probably found it already, but who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and find either the tape or some trace of what happened to Rachael."
Blair turned to face his partner, his expressive face clearly reflecting his tangled emotions, "I really hate this, Jim. How could a parent even think about murdering his own child? I know it's not going to happen, but I keep hoping that we'll get a phone call and Simon will tell us that they found Rachael. She'd just gone to spend the night at a friend's house and forgotten to call her father."
"I know how you feel, Darwin," Jim gave his friend's shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze. "But, don't forget: even if Rachael were to turn up safe, Adrian Myles is already under suspicion of having murdered his wife."
"A real prince of a guy, isn't he?" Taking a deep breath, Blair dug into his pocket to pull on a pair of latex gloves, before reaching out to open the door. "Well, let's go, Jim. Unfortunately, this isn't going to get done without us."
The small bedroom was decorated in clashing shades of sea green and purple. While the color choices were definitely not those an adult may have made, the carpeting and all of the furnishings were of the highest quality available. A small desk sat in one corner of the room, schoolbooks and spiral binders fighting for space with a top of the line computer set-up. Two long shelves above the dresser held an assortment of dolls and other toys, all neatly arranged and waiting for the return of their owner.
Stepping into the room, the Sentinel felt as if the malevolent atmosphere of the house had increased ten-fold. Almost against his will, Jim found his attention drawn to the neatly made four-poster bed that dominated the room and the discarded doll sprawled lifelessly across the quilt. Her black hair was tangled wildly around her face and head and her blue, glass eyes gazed sightlessly upward in an uncanny imitation of a death stare. For just a moment, the detective would have sworn that a puddle of blood was seeping out from under the doll's head, but when he squeezed his eyes shut then looked again, it was gone.
Rubbing vainly at his temples against the increase in his headache, Jim turned resolutely from the bed and struggled to keep his voice even as he addressed his partner, "Okay, Chief, I'll start in this corner of the room, you start over there by the desk. Don't forget. We're looking for any signs of what happened to Rachael as well as that videotape she talked to Meredith about."
The look on his friend's face gave Jim his first clue that Blair hadn't bought his act, even before the young man spoke, concern evident in his face as well as his tone, "Jim, Jim. C'mon, man, what's the problem? Just listen to my voice, breathe deeply and dial it down."
Focusing on the comforting feeling of Blair's hands on his shoulders as well as the young man's voice, Jim was able to push the pain in his head to the background as he answered quietly, "Can't you feel it, Chief? This place has an atmosphere worse than any murder scene I've ever investigated. Look, I can't explain it, but there's something really wrong here. Don't you feel it?"
Glancing around the room, Blair's eyes settled momentarily on the discarded doll lying lifelessly across the bed, and he found himself swallowing nervously before answering, "Well, like I said before, something about this place really sets my teeth on edge, but I couldn't tell you what it is. All I feel is this sense of unease, and a sort of pressure in the back of my head. I don't know how to describe it."
Turning his gaze back to his partner, Blair continued, "Now, are you sure you're all right to do this? We can search together, or we can call Simon and ask him to get another team out here to look at the place. The regular forensics team will be here in a couple hours. We can just wait for them. I don't know if this is a Sentinel thing or not, but I don't want you to hurt yourself. Once we get out of here, you're going to have to tell me everything you feel. Maybe I can do some research or we can run some tests--"
"Hold it right there, Darwin," Jim held up one hand to stop the torrent of words. "I'm fine, and I don't think we need to run any more tests on anything at this point. Now, if you'll start searching your corner of the room, maybe we can get out of this house before my head explodes."
Walking over to the desk, Blair was unable to resist a parting shot as he began flipping through the books scattered over the top of the work area, "Okay, Jim, if that's the way you want to play it. Just don't forget to let me know if it gets to be too much for even someone of your immense abilities."
Suppressing a chuckle at his partner's sharp, "Humph!" Blair began opening the desk's drawers, carefully searching through the contents of each and checking underneath for anything taped to the bottom.
As he neared the end of his task, his partner's voice called his attention over to the canopied bed, "Come here, Sandburg. I've found something."
Hurrying over to where Jim was kneeling by the side of the bed, Blair followed his partner's gaze to the wall. "Look right there--about a foot and a half above the floor. What do you see?"
Squinting hard, Blair thought he could just make out, "Spots. I don't know what they are, but it looks like there are spots of something kind of sprayed across the wall."
"You got it right in one, Junior," Jim smiled slightly, ruffling the younger man's hair. "I hate to say it, but this is at least part of what we were looking for."
"What? You think those spots are blood, maybe from when Rachael's father--" Blair broke off suddenly, looking to his partner for support.
"Yeah, that's exactly what it is, Chief. It is blood. I can smell it. I think it's a blood spray from when that bastard killed his daughter. He tried to scrub it off the walls, but hopefully, forensics will still be able to get enough of it to type and tell us how old it is. Would you mind marking the area, Sandburg?"
Pulling a permanent marker out of his pocket, Blair scrawled a large X on the wall while Jim continued to search the area around the bed.
Running his gaze along the edges of the bed itself, and the area under the bed frame, Jim's eyes locked on what looked like a small tuft of black hair. Reaching over, he had barely touched it when he heard a young, lilting voice say, "Oh, goody. You're starting to find me, now--"
The rest of what the girl might have said was drowned out by the sudden, sharp spike that rammed through Jim's head as the voice dissolved into a deafening squeal. Turning his eyes toward the sound of the voice, the detective caught a fleeting glimpse of a young, black-haired girl standing by the window, surrounded by a nimbus of light, before his vision dissolved in a blinding flair of golden brilliance.
Overwhelmed by the dual attack on his senses, Jim could not help curling up, with his hands clenched over his head as he tried very hard not to whimper. He didn't know how long he spent caught between the agony in his ears and eyes. Slowly, however, he became aware of the gentle touch of his Guide's hand, rubbing soothing circles over his back. A moment later, he caught the fresh, herbal scent of Blair's shampoo.
Following the reassuring feedback of these two senses, Jim found his sight and hearing slowly coming under control again, and in a few minutes, he was able to hear his friend's voice gently urging him back from the brink.
"I'm okay, Chief. I have it under control now." Jim turned his rapidly clearing eyes to Blair just in time to see the young man screw a cap on a small bottle and place it in his backpack. "What did you just put away?"
"Oh, that's just a bottle of my shampoo. I thought it might be useful if your sight and hearing ever went together. It would give you a second sense besides touch to focus on." Shaking himself, Blair suddenly switched tacks, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. That's not important right now. What happened to you? One minute you're fine and the next you're curled in a ball and whimpering in pain."
"Chief, just for a second, I saw Rachael's ghost. She was right here, but when she started to talk to me, my hearing went on the fritz, and when I turned to look at her, there was this absolutely brilliant light that just blinded me. Oh, and by the way, I was not whimpering."
"Trust me, Jim, I know whimpering when I hear it. So, what caused this? And why did seeing Rachael's ghost cause problems for you now, when you were able to see and talk to Molly before with no trouble?"
Blair paused momentarily, and his face went white as the implications of what he had just said sunk in, "Oh, god, Jim. If you saw Rachael's ghost that means she's dead for sure. I was really hoping we were wrong here."
"Just calm down, Junior. I was looking at that." Jim pointed to the small tuft of hair he had seen earlier, careful not to touch it again. "When I touched it, I heard a little girl's voice say, 'Oh, goody. You're starting to find me now.' Then I was blasted by this horrible, high-pitched squeal. I turned, and just for a second, I saw her, before I got blinded." The detective gave himself a little shake. "Uhm, Chief. I really don't want to touch it again, just in case. Can you please bag that hair - carefully - for forensics."
"No problem." Blair reached a latex clad hand toward the hair, just to recoil as he pulled it free of the bed frame. "Jim. Please tell me there isn't a piece of scalp attached to that."
"I'm afraid it is. Bag it up. I'm sure forensics will be interested, and I want to know how Mr. Myles is going to explain a fresh blood spray and some hair with a piece of scalp still attached. I hate to say it, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say that he probably bashed her over the head with some sort of blunt object. He's probably gotten rid of it, but look very carefully at anything he could have used. Especially something with sharp corners that might have cut her scalp."
Blair's face was rather pale, and he looked distinctly queasy as he nodded his head reluctantly. "Okay, Jim, but we really need to figure out exactly what Rachael was trying to tell you. Maybe she wanted to let you know where her body is." He peered up at Jim. "We also need to figure out why you're having trouble this time when you didn't with Molly. If we could figure that out, maybe you'd be able to see her without a problem."
"Well, you just think about it, Einstein. That seems to be what you do best. Do some research, but, in the meantime, let's try to solve this with good, old fashioned police work," Jim's face was determined as he continued searching around and underneath the bed for further clues. His next words were muffled by his actions. "One question, though. Didn't you see or hear anything?"
"No, Jim. I didn't see or hear a thing. I did feel this sort of pressure in the back of my head, like before, but stronger. That's all, though." Blair looked momentarily disgusted as he continued, "I thought Incacha had passed the way of the shaman to me, and shamans are supposed to be sensitive to the spiritual realm. You'd think I'd be able to see a simple ghost."
"Don't worry about it, Chief. We'll figure out what happened here one way or another. Now, come on. Let's finish searching this house so we can get out of here. I still don't like it in here."
However, after searching for another two hours, the pair had finally reached the front door of the house, and hadn't discovered anything else unusual or incriminating.
Seeing Blair's disappointed expression, Jim pointed out, "All this proves, Chief, is that that bastard knows how to hide his tracks pretty well. We're going to have to get a warrant to search his office and car. We're also going to have to talk to all his friends and business associates, see what they know and we'll have to get some people out here to interview all the neighbors. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone saw something a little more concrete than just a man possibly taking out his garbage."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Somehow, I doubt that we're going to find the tape of Myles pushing his wife down the stairs among all those ones we boxed up. Who knows, maybe the experts might turn something up when they go through his computer's hard drive and all those computer discs we found. There's got to be some clue, somewhere, as to what he did with his daughter."
Blair's voice cracked slightly on the last word, and Jim gave his friend a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder as he opened the front door, allowing them back out into the real world. They stood on the porch for a moment, just enjoying the sensation of being out of the oppressive atmosphere inside the house. In just a few minutes, the forensics team arrived, and after giving them all the evidence they had collected and a quick overview of what they would find inside, Jim and Blair decided it was time to head over to Rachael's school.
As they walked slowly to the truck, neither one of them noticed the young girl with long, black hair watching them sadly from an upstairs window.
It was almost three p.m. when Jim pulled his truck to a stop in front of the ornate, iron fence surrounding Cedar Run Elementary School. Pressing the button on the call box stationed beside the entry gate, the detective waited impatiently for the answer.
"Hello. Please state your name and the nature of your business." The voice issuing from the speaker was male, clipped, no nonsense and efficient.
"Detective James Ellison, Cascade P.D. I'm here to interview one of your teachers, a Mr. Timothy Meredith. If you'll check with him, you'll find that he is expecting me."
"We'll do that, Detective Ellison. Can you please tell us who that is with you in the truck?"
Looking around, Jim spotted the security camera almost hidden in the vines growing around the call box. "Mr. Blair Sandburg. He's a consultant with the force."
"Very good. If you two can please hold your identifications up to the camera, we will open the gate. Please proceed up the driveway and park your vehicle in slot number twelve, directly in front of a school. A guard will be waiting at the entrance to take you to meet Mr. Meredith."
"Thank you." Jim put the truck in gear and accelerated smoothly as the heavy, metal gates parted.
Moving down the tree-lined driveway, Jim looked around at the immaculately kept grounds. "You know, my father was well-off when I was a child, but he never sent Stephen and I to anything nearly this exclusive." Glancing over at his partner, he noticed the slight smile playing around the younger man's lips. "What is it, Chief? Do you have some super rich background I should know about? Have you been hiding some unimaginable wealth from me?"
Blair smiled and gave a snort before answering the question. "Yeah, right, Jim. Me, rich. That explains all the student loans, the times I've had to borrow money from you, and the Volvo. No, man. When I was about twelve, Naomi hitched up with this really rich guy for a while. I spent a couple semesters in a school just like this one before Naomi got tired and moved on." Blair's face twisted into a moue of disgust for a moment before he continued, "Let me tell you what. The parents may be a whole lot richer, but the kids can be just as nasty to someone they don't think quite fits into their little cliques."
Jim smiled slightly as he eased the truck into his assigned parking space and turned off the engine. "I think you've hit on one of the great truths of life, Chief. Human nature is human nature."
"Oh, look, Jim." Blair pointed toward the imposing marble entrance to the small building. "The man up there with the stick you-know-where must be our escort. Boy, they just don't get any more ex-military than that, do they? Where do you think they got him? Soldiers-Are-Us?"
"Hey, Shorty." Jim gave his partner an affectionate cuff as they approached the school. "Watch what you have to say about those of us with military backgrounds. Some of us turned out okay."
"Hello. I assume you are Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg." The man was tall and clean-shaven, with a buzz cut, and his voice betrayed the same military discipline as the rest of him did. "If you could please show me your identifications, I will take you to see Mr. Meredith."
After examining the pro-offered badges closely, the man turned on his heel, opened one of the large front doors and ushered the two men into the building. "My name is Bruce Davidson. There are a couple rules that we ask you follow during your visit to Cedar Run. First of all, do not speak to any of the students unless it has been cleared by Mr. Meredith and he is there during the interview. Secondly, do not go anywhere in this school without Mr. Meredith or I to act as an escort. If you follow these rules, we'll get along fine. Here," the man stopped in front of a door, "is the teacher's lounge. If you'll just stay here, I'll let him know that you're waiting."
"Geez," Blair whispered as the other man entered the room, shutting the door firmly behind him, "do you think maybe they wrap him back up in the G.I. Joe package he came in at night and just take him out again every morning?"
"Sandburg," Jim's answering growl was barely audible, "are you going to behave yourself or do I need to send you to your room without any supper again?"
"Jim, it's your turn to cook tonight and I've seen the preservative stuffed, salt laden, fat dripping items you have waiting in the refrigerator. Explain to me again why going to bed without dinner is a punishment?"
Jim was still trying to form a suitable retort when their chaperone opened the door again and ushered them in.
"This way please, gentlemen." Bruce Davidson led them into the room filled with half a dozen comfortable chairs arranged in a rough circle. There was a large coffee table in the middle of the circle. In one corner, a state of the art coffee/cappuccino maker rested. In the opposite corner, another table sat, this one littered with books and papers.
As they entered the room, a middle-aged man stood up and walked toward them, holding his hand out. "Hi, there. I'm Tim Meredith." The man's handshake was firm and somehow reassuring. "You must be Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg. I'm very pleased to meet you. Please have a seat and I'll tell you everything I can about Rachael and her father. Please."
As they took the seats indicated, Jim studied the man in front of them. He was tall and broad, with a muscular build that was just beginning to run to fat. His sandy hair was beginning to thin on top, but he had a full beard and compassionate brown eyes. He reminded Jim of nothing so much as an overgrown teddy bear, and he could easily understand why Mr. Meredith's students would come to him when they needed someone they could trust.
"So, before we get started, can I offer either one of you a cup of coffee or perhaps a cappuccino? One of the perks of teaching at a private school is that we actually do have decent coffee." Meredith looked up at the guard still stationed by the door as he continued, "Davidson. Would you please get the beverages for our guests before you leave? If you could bring me back a coffee, black, I would appreciate it."
Smiling brightly, Blair turned toward the sullen looking man standing behind him, "Oh, yes, please, Davidson. Could you please get me a cappuccino, extra froth and a coffee, cream, two sugars for Detective Ellison? Thank you ever so much."
As the security man stalked angrily to the coffee machine, Jim leaned over to his partner and whispered in a barely audible voice, "Control yourself, Chief. If you give that man a tip when he brings our coffee back, I'm sure he's going to kill you."
Blair only grinned impishly as he accepted his cup from the returning Davidson. "Thank you so very much, kind sir," he offered as the guard reluctantly left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Oh, good." Meredith set his coffee cup down, his intense, brown eyes taking in the two men seated in front of him. "We can speak freely now. Adrian Myles is a very important man in this community, and I really need to watch what I say about him in front of the administrative staff. Davidson is nothing if not a good little flunky. Anything we said with him in the room would have made its way to the principal's ears in record time."
"Now, how can I help you gentlemen? I assume you're going to want to know everything that Rachael told me as well as some background information on the girl herself, and perhaps a listing of her closest friends?" Meredith's face clouded over as he continued, "I really like Rachael. I know it's a cliché, but she really is a very special young girl. Very sweet, very unspoiled, despite her family's wealth, and there is a spiritual dimension to her that I see in far too few of my students these days."
"So, what can you tell us, Mr. Meredith? Please, start from the beginning and don't forget anything. The least detail may turn out to be important." Jim spoke with quiet authority as Blair pulled out a pen and a small notebook to take notes with.
"Well, Rachael Myles was--is--one of the students in my sixth grade class. God, I'm sure her bastard of a father has killed her, but talking about her in the past tense just seems so--final. I'm sorry, I'll just talk about this as best I can, okay?"
"That's okay, Mr. Meredith." Blair voice was low, honey smooth and reassuring. "Just take as much time as you need. We're here to listen."
After a moment, Meredith nodded and began. "Up until about a month ago, Rachael was one of the best students I had. She seemed to enjoy learning, participated in class, did all her homework and got good grades. She was also just a genuinely nice person. Yes, she did have some bouts of, I guess you could say, depression--after all, her mother had just died in that horrible accident two years ago. Overall, though, she was a happy girl.
"She even enjoyed participating in some of the extra-curricular activities. She was so proud of that trophy she got for winning the sixth grade spelling bee. She said she was going to take it home and put it in it's very own place of honor on her desk--" The teacher broke off speaking for a moment, his eyes suspiciously bright with unshed tears.
Jim and Blair exchanged a quick look at the other man's words. They definitely had not found a spelling bee trophy while searching the house.
Taking a deep breath to compose himself, Tim Meredith continued with his narration. "She was popular and had plenty of friends. And then, about a month ago, everything changed.
"She stopped doing her homework or participating in class. She started failing all of her tests and became very withdrawn from both her teachers and all of her friends. I tried talking to her, to find out what the problem was, but she just claimed there was no problem and that there was nothing to talk about. I know that other teachers and some of her friends also tried to gain her confidence, without success.
"I suspected abuse, so I reported my suspicions to administration." Meredith's face twisted into a scowl of disgust as he spoke. "They wouldn't do anything. Mr. Myles is a very influential man in this area, and no one was willing to take any chances or step on any toes without the proverbial smoking gun. In fact, the school board hinted to me strenuously that it would be in my best interest to drop the whole matter."
Meredith paused and took a sip of his coffee before continuing his narration. "Then, a week ago, Rachael came to me and asked if we could talk privately after class. She told me that she thought her daddy had 'done something really bad' and she wasn't sure what to do about it.
"When I asked her exactly why she thought this, she told me that she had come home from school one day about a month earlier. Her father wasn't home--she was a latch key kid--and she decided that she wanted to watch a favorite movie of hers on the VCR before she started her homework. When she tried to slide the tape into the machine, she found that there was another tape already in there.
"She took it out and looked at it, but didn't recognize it. So, she decided to watch a little bit to find out what it was. When she turned it on, she saw that it was a movie of that bastard of a father of hers pushing her mother down the stairs."
Jim interrupted the narrative. "Now, Mr. Meredith, was Rachael absolutely sure that that was what she saw? Isn't it possible that she might have actually been watching a scene from some movie that reminded her of what happened, and she superimposed the faces of her parents onto the actors?" His questions were low, but sure. "We don't want to doubt what Rachael told you, but we need to be absolutely certain of what she saw."
"I know, I know," the teacher responded. "I asked her exactly the same questions myself. She was crying and nearly hysterical, but she insisted that it was her parents. She said that she recognized them both and that she knows the front staircase of her house. She couldn't mistake it for anything else. She also said that her mother was wearing a night dress that Rachael had given her for Christmas the year before, so she knew for sure it was her."
"Did Rachael tell you how this videotape was supposedly shot? If Myles was holding the camera, how did she ever see his face to know it was him?"
Meredith paused, seemingly to center himself, took another sip of coffee and continued in a tone that was as cold as ice. "No. She said that the videotape was shot from the bottom of the stairs looking up. She could see her father drag her mother, struggling, from out of the bedroom and throw her down the stairs. She said she could see their mouths move, but there was no sound on the tape, so she didn't know what they said." The older man looked up at both Jim and Blair, his eyes as hard as chips of diamond. "The bastard must have been planning to murder Nancy that night, and he set up the video camera at the base of the stairs so that he could tape the festivities.
"I told that poor, little girl to go home and bring me the videotape the next day, and I'd watch it and take it to the police with her if need be. She never showed up at school the next day, and no one's seen her since.
The teacher's face twisted as he tried to hold back tears. "It's all my fault! If only I had told Rachael that we'd go to the police together that night. You could have searched the house, and nothing would have happened to her. I, I don't know if I can ever forgive myself for that." The older man finally broke down completely, hiding his face in his hands as tears made their way down his cheeks.
Getting quickly out of his chair, Blair knelt in front of the teacher and placed a comforting hand on his knee as he spoke in quiet, reassuring tones, "Shhhh, shhhh. You did your best. I'm sure no matter what happened, Rachael knows that and doesn't blame you." Blair gently pried the other man's hands away from his face and continued speaking in a calming voice. "You did the best you could. That's all any of us can ever do. C'mon, why don't we get you another cup of coffee and you can tell me all about Rachael. Who were her friends? What did she like to do? You know, all those sorts of questions.
"While we're busy here, how about if Jim goes into your classroom and looks through Rachael's desk, just to be sure there's nothing there that might tell us where she is. Is that okay with you?"
The teacher looked up at the detective momentarily, his cheeks streaked with tear tracks. "Go ahead. My classroom is the one right across the hall. Rachael's desk was--is--the third desk in the row closest to the window."
Jim quietly closed the door to the lounge, his ears still picking up the comforting murmur of his Guide's voice from the room behind him. Pausing, he took a quick look up and down the hall. Good. No sign of Bruce Davidson--Over Enthusiastic Security Guards Are Us. Crossing the hall, he found himself in what seemed to be a typical classroom. He was looking at the teacher's desk and the chalkboard with math work still written on it, when a flicker of motion caught the corner of his eye.
Turning to see what had captured his attention, he caught sight of a pretty girl with long, black hair sitting at the third desk, in the row closest to the window. She smiled at him and started to speak when it suddenly felt as if someone had set off the world's largest flashbulb directly in his eyes. As he reeled back against the desk, putting a hand out for support, he managed a strangled, "Blair."
He wasn't sure if his cry had been loud enough to be heard across the hall, but moments later, he sensed the soothing presence of his Guide beside him. He felt the younger man's hands gently massaging his shoulders and heard him whisper quietly, "Can you hear me, Jim?"
Nodding his head, the Sentinel murmured, cognizant of possible on-lookers, "My eyes, Chief. I saw her again, and I feel as if someone blasted my eyes."
Jim felt the subtle movements of the air as his Guide nodded his head in understanding, and then spoke over his shoulder, "It's okay, Mr. Meredith. Jim just has occasional migraines that come on very suddenly. Just give me a couple minutes, and he'll be fine. Why don't you just go back to the lounge? I'll be right back, okay?"
"Jim," Blair's voice was low, urgent, "he's gone. What happened? Where did you see her? Did she say anything?"
Gazing at his partner with slowly clearing eyes, the detective had to smile a little bit. "Slow down, Chief. She was sitting at her desk, and no, she didn't say anything. At least nothing I heard. I haven't had a chance to look through the desk yet. Would you mind sticking around for a minute just to make sure that nothing happens?"
"Hey, no problem. We do have to figure out what she's trying to tell you and why you're having so much trouble with your senses whenever you see her. Maybe if I start on-line by researching Tobin's Spirit Guide--"
Jim blanked out the rest of the young man's words, listening to the grounding stream of sound rather than individual words as he flipped open the desk and rifled through its contents. "Text books, binders, papers, pencils. We should bring the books and papers with us just to make sure there's nothing hidden in them, but I don't think there are any clues here." A quick check to the underside of the desk and the chair turned up nothing of use.
"Okay, Chief, I'll tell you what. You seem to have a better rapport with Meredith. Why don't you finish up with him while I go out to the truck and just let my eyes clear on me for a few minutes?"
Smiling, Blair nodded and headed back toward the lounge. "I'll be out in a few minutes, Jim. Just go outside, put on your sunglasses and sit back with your eyes closed."
As he headed toward the front door, Jim couldn't resist throwing back over his shoulder, "Hey, Einstein, if I have my eyes closed, why do I need the sunglasses, too?"
The heavy front door closing cut off the sound of any retort his partner might have made.
Chuckling to himself, Jim continued to the truck. Once there, he slipped on his sunglasses and while waiting for his friend, spent several minutes flipping through the items he had removed from the desk.
About fifteen minutes later, Blair slipped into the passenger seat of the truck. "Poor guy. He really feels responsible. Maybe he should have taken her to the police immediately, but he did do the best he could." The young man sighed heavily before continuing, "Anyway, he gave me the name of her three closest friends, Jean Covern, Cindy Nash and Maureen Towers. He also gave me their phone numbers so we can call their parents and ask to speak to each of them for a minute or two.
"Oh, by the way, he says he never heard Rachael say anything about wanting to run away to San Francisco and live with those 'Charmed' sisters. He says she didn't have any particular fascination with television or trying to find the perfect family that he knew about. Her friends can probably give us a better idea about that."
Jim nodded. "Okay, ready to go here, Chief? Why don't you give those parents a call? The sooner we get their permission, the sooner we get those interviews over with." Shifting the big truck into drive, Jim headed back down the driveway.
"Well, that was a complete waste of time," Blair said tiredly as he stood before the locked loft door, holding the bags of Mexican food in one hand and precariously balancing his overloaded backpack on his other shoulder.
The interviews with Rachael's friends had yielded little that they didn't already know or suspect but had proven as emotionally draining as the talk with Mr. Meredith. Perhaps more so. At the moment, the poor kids were more confused than upset by their friend's disappearance, but it had taken a lot out of both men to tap dance delicately around the subject and still get as many of their questions answered as possible.
"Not really, Chief," Jim disagreed as he unlocked the door and held it open for his burdened partner. "We've confirmed that Rachael wasn't addicted to 'Charmed' and that something drastic happened recently in her life to make her change her normal behavior. It's not anything admissible in court, but it gives us a direction to go in. And thanks to Mr. Meredith, we also know what we're looking for now. All we have to do is find the videotape and probably that spelling bee trophy."
Blair sat the bags down on the dining room table and let his backpack slide off his shoulder onto one of the chairs that surrounded it. "I know, I know. It just seems like so little." He ran a restless hand through his long, curly hair. "And yes, I know that crimes don't solve themselves and that most detective work is slow and tedious. I just . . . I just really want this one, Jim."
When he looked up at his partner, Jim's eyes were filled with understanding. "Me, too, Chief."
"Yeah." He stood beside the table for a moment, shoulders slumped dejectedly. Jim moved closer to him, mouth opening to offer some kind of reassurance, but his actions caught Blair's attention and the young man's gaze focused sharply on his friend. "I also want to know what's up with you, man. You had two attacks today right after you say you saw Rachael's ghost."
The younger man held up a placating hand and began pacing the living room. "Oh, hey, I believe you saw her, Jim," he said soothingly. "I just can't figure out why it's causing you so much pain. That didn't happen with Molly, or--or any other time you saw visions." Even now, it was hard to acknowledge the whole mess with Alex or their last case. "It sounds like she has something important to tell you, but you can't help her if just seeing or hearing her hurts. We've got to figure out a way around that."
Jim just shook his head in resigned amusement as he listened to his partner rattle on. Two minutes ago, the guy looked like he was ready to collapse from the weight of the world on his shoulders and now he was bouncing around the loft like a Ping-Pong ball. If he lived to be a hundred, he would never understand the inner workings of one Blair Sandburg.
"Fine, Chief, you work on it," he acquiesced as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers. "Right now, though, I'm gonna eat and get some sleep. Don't you be up too late either, remember, you've got a bed downstairs just calling your name. We've got another big day tomorrow. We've got those interviews with Myles' associates, the search warrants for his offices to serve, and with any luck, Serena will have the lab results tomorrow, too. We both need to be sharp."
"Yeah, okay, but this is important, too, Jim," Blair insisted as he made his way back to the table and began unwrapping their rapidly cooling dinner. He took a bite of his enchilada, and after swallowing, added, "I think I'll stay up a while longer and do a little research. Don't worry, I'll go downstairs to my place to work. I wouldn't want to keep you up. We do have to figure this out, though. We don't know when Rachael's going to show up again, and unless you have a masochistic side you've been hiding, I doubt you enjoy those headaches. The sooner I can figure out what's wrong with your senses, the sooner we can figure out what happened to Rachael."
Knowing there was no way to stop the younger man when he got into a research kick--especially one that involved Sentinels--without physical restraints being involved, the detective held up his hands in surrender. "Do what you want, Chief, and don't worry about keeping me up. Just eat your dinner first."
//Besides,// he thought to himself, //it'll get his mind off Rachael for a little while.// Jim wasn't blind to the effects this case was already having on his sensitive partner, and he knew it would probably only get worse as time went on. Not for the first time today, he cursed himself for giving in to Davis' request, but in his heart, he knew there was no way he could have refused. And he knew Blair never would have forgiven him that refusal, especially not for his sake. Jim sighed and handed his partner a beer.
Blair made a face at him as he accepted the ice-cold bottle. "Yes, Mom," he muttered in response to the directive. He obediently popped a forkful of fried rice into his mouth and washed it down with the alcohol. Jim just rolled his eyes at the comment and concentrated on consuming his own dinner.
Later that night, long after Jim had cleaned up and gone to bed, Blair had moved downstairs to the desk in his apartment and was still busily trying to find the answer to the Sentinel's sensory problems. Stacks of books were scattered on the floor in the corner that made up Blair's office; other tomes crowded every inch of available surface on the desk itself. A copy of his thesis rested open at his left elbow as he intently read the words etched on the laptop screen before him, restlessly tapping a pen against his lower lip. A notebook filled with his almost unintelligible scribble occupied the space on his right.
So far, he hadn't found anything truly useful, but Blair knew despite his exhaustion that he was getting close. He could feel it. If he could only stay awake for another half hour, he . . .
His head fell forward onto his chest before his mind could negotiate with his body for that extra thirty minutes.
As soon as his eyes fell shut, Blair was in the jungle, a dreamscape that he was becoming disturbingly familiar with. Before him was a narrow path. Though the dense green of the jungle that surrounded it blocked all but the thinnest trickle of light, it appeared clear of any obstructions. Staring down that path, uneasiness filled the young man as he recalled what happened the last time he'd visited the spirit plane, but he knew he had no choice. It was either follow the path or stand there forever. Never one to stay still for long despite any misgivings, Blair chose to move forward.
After a seemingly endless walk, he finally came to a clearing and winced at the sudden bright sunshine that illuminated the spot. As his eyes adjusted, Blair noticed with great relief that he was not alone. Dressed in traditional shaman dress, his face painted red, Incacha stood on the opposite side of the clearing. A large grey wolf sat at his feet. As he approached them, his relief turned back to worry as soon as he got close enough to read their body language. Both shaman and spirit guide looked anxious. He quickly crossed the rest of the distance until he was standing only a few yards in front of them and opened his mouth to greet them.
Before Blair could say anything, though, Incacha spoke, "You have finally come, young one. We have much to teach you and not much time for you to learn."
The words sent a chill scrabbling down Blair's spine. "What do you mean?" he demanded, hands spread wide in a pleading gesture. "Is it about Rachael? Jim's senses?"
In typical frustrating fashion, the shaman didn't answer his questions directly. "The answers you seek lie in your world. Follow the wolf. He will lead your way."
With those words, the grey wolf yipped once and, without waiting to see if Blair followed him or not, loped off into the dense underbrush of the jungle. Blair's dream self started to chase after the wolf when a harsh sound jolted him through him.
Disoriented, Blair flinched hard at finding himself in the waking world once again and lost his seat. As he landed in an ungainly heap amongst the books on the floor, he again heard the noise that had pulled him from his vision. It took him a moment to realize it was coming from the apartment upstairs--from the loft bedroom.
Scrambling to an upright position, Blair pounded up the spiral staircase joining the two apartments as fast as his feet could carry him. Pausing momentarily once he reached the top, Jim's second scream jolted Blair back into action and he continued up the stairs leading to Jim's bedroom at a breakneck pace. His partner was curled up into a tight ball, his hands clamped over his ears. Sweat glistened on his bared skin, and his skin was pale with shock. The anthropologist guessed immediately that Rachael had paid Jim another visit, but this time looked worse than either previous attack.
Gingerly sitting on the edge of the bed, Blair gently rubbed the sweat-sheened skin on the stricken man's back. He didn't bother speaking since it looked like Jim's hearing had been affected again, but he knew that touch alone wouldn't bring him out of this deep a zone. He snagged the afghan folded neatly across the foot of the bed and snapped it open over the bedside lamp. Flicking on the switch, he stared at it a scant second and decided that it wasn't too bright for the Sentinel. Shaking the oblivious man roughly by one shoulder, the young Guide managed to get him to open watery eyes and made sure he was directly facing the covered lamp. At the same time, Blair kept up the rhythmic stroking on the older man's shoulder and back. It took several long, tense moments before he got any response at all from Jim, but eventually the older man began relaxing. Twenty minutes after the first shout, the detective was sitting up on the edge of the bed, rubbing carefully at his ears.
"Rachael again?" Blair asked unnecessarily, just to have something to say. He reached for the afghan and neatly plucked it from the lamp. He absently folded the covering and replaced it at the foot of the bed.
Jim shrugged tiredly, still massaging his ears. "I think so. I was dreaming that I was back in the classroom, but I was facing away from the desks. I heard a girl's voice behind me, and it sounded like Rachael's; but before I could turn around this horrible screeching drowned her out. Hurt like hell. The next thing I know, you're here and I'm back at the loft."
"How are your eyes?"
Blair nodded. "The first attack, you heard and saw her and both your eyes and ears got blasted. The second time, you were blinded before she could speak. And this time?"
Jim frowned thoughtfully. "Just my ears this time around, Darwin. Guess I didn't stick around long enough for the visual effects."
"Hmm." Blair's eyes lost focus for a moment as he pondered some point the Sentinel could only guess at. Then his gaze cleared once again, and he gave Jim a considering once-over. "Why don't you try to get some more sleep, Jim? You look pretty wasted."
"You're no prize yourself, Sandburg." He glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 2:59 a.m. "You been up all this time?"
"Nah," the younger man replied without elaborating further. "I'm fine, Jim." He pointed firmly at the bed. "Go to sleep. Like you said, we've got to be sharp for tomorrow--or should I say, later today."
The detective grumbled a bit more but eventually stretched back out under the covers. With his Guide murmuring softly to him, it didn't take long for the exhausted man's breathing to slow to a normal sleep pattern. Blair sat with him a few minutes longer to make sure he was really okay before switching off the lamp and slipping back down the stairs.
The light from his softly glowing laptop drew his attention back to the research disaster zone that engulfed the dining area and reminded him abruptly of his own dream. Tired as he was himself, Blair knew that he was a long way from getting any sleep. Incacha had said time was running out. Time for what, Blair still didn't know, but he knew it had to be important if he was having visions again. Incacha had also said the answers he sought lay in his own world. Well, his "world" consisted of books and the Internet. Time to get cracking.
Morning came much too soon so far as Blair was concerned. In the wee hours of the night he had finally found the answers he was looking for, but the resulting lack of sleep had left him feeling less than able to deal with the attitude of his incredulous Sentinel.
"You wanna run that past me one more time, Chief? In plain English this time?"
Blair sighed gustily as he expertly flipped over the pancakes. Eggs sizzled noisily on the griddle beside them. Not exactly the healthiest start to a day, but after the events of the past day and night, the anthropologist felt like indulging himself and his partner.
"Mirrors are scrying tools, Jim," he patiently explained one more time. "Throughout history, mystics have used them to more easily communicate with the spirits. I think that's why Molly's ghost didn't cause you the pain Rachael's is. You didn't have to strain your senses so much because you kept seeing her through a mirror and that took some of the pressure off you."
"Great. So all I have to do is get Rachael to start using mirrors," Jim muttered sarcastically as he pulled dishes out of the cupboard and began setting the table. Blair just rolled his eyes at his tone and made a snide remark of his own about the other man's comment low enough that even Sentinel hearing couldn't pick it up.
Jim ignored that and reluctantly asked his next question. "And the other time?"
When Blair didn't answer right away, he worriedly glanced over at his partner. The younger man was staring unseeingly down at the nearly cooked food. Jim reached over the counter and rested one hand on his friend's shoulder. Blair seemed to lean into the touch a moment then straightened his shoulders, and, with a downward glance at the eggs and pancakes, announced, "Order's up."
Though he helped get their breakfast to the table, the detective wasn't prepared to let the subject go. It was painful, yes, but it was also necessary that he understand what was going on with his senses and their ghost problem. "Chief . . .?"
Blair had no problem interpreting what Jim wasn't saying. With a brief grimace, he turned to face his partner, though his face and voice were carefully blank as he answered, "Near as I can tell, there was just too much happening at the time with . . . Alex." Jim's jaw muscles cinched tight at hearing the hated name spoken out loud, but he didn't interrupt when Blair continued. "With all the other . . . instinctive reactions you were experiencing by having another Sentinel in your territory, your senses were already haywire, so the added input of the visions wouldn't have really registered."
"Oh. And the rest of the visions and dreams I've had have involved me personally, and so they didn't affect me? Why would that make a difference?"
Blair's voice was quiet, with a tinge of guilt as he answered, "Near as I can figure, it's because the stuff that just involves you kind of--I don't know--falls under the heading of self actualization or whatever you want to call it. Dealings with the spirit world--seeing ghosts and things like that--and prophetic dreams and visions are traditionally more the bailiwick of a shaman." Blair ducked his head momentarily, his cheeks flushing pink with embarrassment as he spoke in a rush, "and-i-think-that's-supposed-to-be-my-responsibility-but-i've-messed-it-up."
"So, what? You're saying that because you aren't doing your job as a shaman it's falling on me, and I can't handle it? I thought that Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to you. If that's true, why can't you do it?" Blair didn't miss the slightly accusatory tone in the other man's voice as he continued, "This is really causing me trouble here and now you're telling me that this is all shaman stuff and, by extension, you should be handling it?"
"So, Sandburg, how do we fix it?"
"Well, Jim, first I need to figure out why I'm not getting any of this shaman stuff. Incacha did pass the way of the shaman to me, and I did defeat death when I died at the fountain." Engrossed as he was in his theorizing, Blair missed the way his friend flinched at his words. "I'm going to have to do some more research at the U., and probably try another meditation. Maybe I can get some answers on the spirit side. Can you handle the routine stuff at the station if I go to Rainier this afternoon?"
The rest of their morning routine was consumed in silence as each man got lost in his own thoughts about the problems they had to face that day. Jim was more worried about the case and what the lab results and search warrants might bring. Blair was concerned about that as well, but the interaction of Rachael's ghost and Jim's senses took up more of his attention. Now that he knew what was causing the problem, he needed to come up with the how of fixing it and he didn't have clue one where to begin. Not for the first time, the anthropologist wished this Sentinel stuff came with a manual.
"Hey, Earth to Sandburg. C'mon, Chief, grab your stuff. We're due down at the station in twenty minutes."
"Yeah, yeah, right behind you," Blair answered as he stuffed a few more folders and books into his already overstuffed backpack. "There, all set. Ready when you are."
Jim eyed the leather bag critically, almost hearing the tortured sound of stressed seams. "Y'know, one of these days that thing's going to finally give up and explode your books and papers all over the place. Hope all of it's replaceable."
The younger man shot him an incredulous look. "This from a man who drives a truck so old that it's no longer in the blue books. At least my backpack was made in this decade."
Jim's eyes narrowed at the insult to his beloved truck and he advanced mock menacingly on the scientist. "Sandburg, I swear, one more comment about my truck and I'll--"
The rest of his threat was lost in Blair's laughter as he slipped out the loft door and down the stairwell, an inwardly smiling detective hot on his heels.
The good humor that chased them down the stairs lasted until they reached the police station. Seeing the building reminded the pair exactly what they were about and sobered them both immediately. After a quick stop in Major Crimes to drop off Blair's stuff and check on the status of the search warrant, which was almost ready, they headed down to Forensics to see how Serena had made out.
"So what have you got for us?" Jim asked without preamble as he and Blair joined the forensics expert by her station.
"Good morning to you, too, Detective," the dark-skinned woman retorted archly.
Blair chuckled at her reply. Like he'd told Simon before, sometimes it pays to be a little nicer to the support staff, especially when you want something from them. Jim shot him a quick glare that did nothing to quell the younger man's amusement then turned back expectantly to Serena.
She shook her head disapprovingly but answered him anyway. "I'm afraid I don't have much for you, Detective. The Luminol tests prove that the stains you found on the wall, carpet and bed are indeed blood, but there wasn't enough of it to determine blood type. It was fresh, though, a couple of days old, tops.
"We were luckier with the--" she glanced at the anthropologist, remembering that he didn't always react favorably to some of the more gruesome aspects of police work and changed the term she was going to use. "- other evidence you brought in. The blood type matches Rachael Myles' type; but until we can cross-check it with samples from the girl herself, we can't say for certain it's hers. We've contacted her doctor for that information, but we haven't heard back from him yet. The DNA results are going to take a bit longer." She handed him the folder with the printed results in it.
Grim expressions crossed both men's faces at the statement. It was no less than they expected, but the expectation did nothing to soften such news. The look on the forensic specialist's face left little doubt that she heartily disliked passing on such information herself.
"Thank you, Serena," Jim said with curt sincerity and stalked out of Forensics, the folder clutched tightly in his fist. Blair managed a nod of thanks and a wan smile before following his partner back up to Major Crimes.
"Now what?" the anthropologist asked quietly when they reached their desks once again.
"Now you get to serve this search warrant," Simon interjected as he dropped the document in between them. "Sorry it took so long, but it wasn't easy finding a judge who would sanction the searching of the offices of someone with Myles' social and financial standing." The captain scowled in disgust as he spoke. He hated it when money stood in the way of justice. It wasn't fair, especially not for the Rachael Myles of the world.
"Nobody ever promised life would be fair, Simon," Blair murmured, patting the captain lightly on the back as he passed him on the way out, unaware how closely his words mirrored the big man's thoughts. Simon shot him a startled look but got caught instead by the intense expression on the younger man's face. "But I promise you this, we're damn well gonna try for Rachael."
"Amen to that, Chief," his partner seconded. "Let's go see what we can shake free over at Myles Unlimited."
Later that afternoon, Jim found himself once again studying Adrian Myles through an interrogation room's one-way mirror. To a casual observer, the industrialist still appeared as calm as ever. His face gave nothing away, and he displayed no obvious nervous ticks or habits. To a Sentinel, though, it was an entirely different story. Jim could hear the slightly elevated beat of the man's heart, could smell the faint scent of fear on him, could see the slight twitch of his right eye that spoke of his tension.
//Good,// the detective thought with vicious delight.
Myles' lack of confidence was further proved in that he had not come alone this time. A smartly dressed young woman sat on his right side, her blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun, her brown eyes obscured by a pair of fashionable yet totally functionless plain glass lenses. Jim groaned silently when he saw her and felt his headache crank up a notch.
Vanessa Sedgewick was a bright new star in Cascade's legal world, a woman with a reputation of taking on cases no one else would touch . . . and winning. Jim hadn't had to deal with her before this case, but he had heard enough from other detectives who had and sincerely wished he didn't have to now. Though, it did give him a small sense of satisfaction that they had Myles so rattled that he felt he needed Sedgewick's services.
"Not so cocky this time around, huh?" a deep voice asked from Jim's left.
Jim smiled tightly at his superior. "Guess not. About time, too."
"Amen to that. I just wish I could have gotten you that search warrant faster. All that pussyfooting around with those damn judges gave Myles all the time he needed to hide any evidence he might have kept in those offices. Now we're back to square one."
The detective shook his head slowly. "I don't think so, Simon. He might have had time to destroy evidence, but not enough to hide the fact that he had destroyed it. Call it a hunch, but I honestly don't believe he was keeping anything incriminating at work. Everything there was too undisturbed. Either he's got a really good hiding place that all of us missed, or it's got to be someplace else."
"Yeah, but where?"
"I intend to ask him that very question myself, Captain. And if--"
The rest of Jim's reply was lost as something caught his eye in the window that housed the mirror. Looking closer, he was startled by a glimpse of pale features and long dark hair glittering next to his own distorted reflection in the back of the mirror. The eyes in that face stared hard at the man seated in the other room and a young voice stated with immense satisfaction, "Good. You got him."
The ghost's lips moved some more, but Jim lost whatever was being said in a maelstrom of chaotic shrieking and blazing light so much more intense than any previous attack. //Dammit, not again!// was the last thought that crossed his mind before he reflexively jerked back from the image and collapsed, gasping, to the floor.
"Jim!" Simon cried out in alarm, too surprised by the detective's sudden collapse to catch him before he hit the floor. Falling to his knees beside his friend, he gently turned him over, trying to see what was wrong. One look into Jim's vacant, blue eyes, and he knew.
The captain's shout had attracted the attention of two uniforms in the hall, and both came rushing to see how they could help. "Get Sandburg!" Simon demanded. When the pair hesitated, taken aback by the strange request, the captain growled in his best commanding tone, "Dammit, don't just stand there! Go get Sandburg! He's up in Major Crimes. Tell him it's Ellison. Go! Now!"
The two cops took off as if on fire, but their haste proved in vain. Just as the elevator doors parted to take them upstairs, the blurred form of the anthropologist streaked past them and shot straight for the door his partner laid behind. Staring at each other in confusion, the two patrolmen decided that whatever was going on could happen without them. They headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.
Simon looked up at the sound of running feet, so relieved to see Blair that he didn't even wonder how he'd gotten down there so fast. The young man didn't stop his mad dash until he collapsed to his knees on the opposite side of his prone partner. Blair looked almost ridiculous with his hair flying everywhere and the sticky remains of a donut clutched in one hand, but the worried look on his face prevented Simon from even thinking of laughing.
"Oh, man, this has got to stop," the consultant muttered in self-recrimination.
Simon watched as Blair's blue eyes roved the room searchingly, even while his free hand traced gentle circles on his Sentinel's back. A sigh of frustration escaped the Guide when he obviously did not find what he was looking for. Making an educated guess, Simon said softly, "Taste."
Blinking owlishly at him, Blair asked in confusion. "Taste?"
Keeping his voice low, the captain explained, "I'm guessing that his eyes and ears are bothering him from the way he's holding onto them, so you can't talk him out of this one. Touch doesn't seem to be getting it done. You need something else, right?"
"Yeah . . ." Blair's eyes were round with shock.
"Well, you've got the one thing any cop would recognize by taste. Why don't you try that?"
Looking down at the hand Simon was pointing at, Blair seemed to realize for the first time that he still held a half-eaten donut. "Good idea," he whispered. "Um, think you can give me a hand here?" Between the two of them, they managed to get Jim's mouth open and some of the glazed buttermilk donut onto his tongue, then they anxiously sat back to see if it would work.
The gentle stimulus of touch and taste slowly snapped the Sentinel out of the darkness of the zone. Unfortunately, upon finding something in his mouth, Jim involuntarily swallowed and almost choked on the small bit of donut. Simon hauled the coughing man into a sitting position while Blair pounded him lightly on the back. After a bit, Jim's airway cleared, and he was able to take a deep, clear breath. Blair stopped his pounding immediately, but Simon kept an arm around Jim's shoulders just in case.
"What the hell happened?" Jim asked hoarsely.
His gaze skittering over Simon briefly, Blair replied quickly, "Had to use taste this time, Jim. Didn't have anything else to work with. Guess now you know why I like to use your other senses when I can to pull you out of a zone."
"What the hell happened?" Simon repeated, instinctively knowing that he wasn't going to like the answer. He sighed inwardly. Like ripping off a Band-Aid in one swift move, he preferred to get the 'pain' over with all at once.
"Long story, Simon, and I'm sure you don't want to hear most of it," his detective responded as he climbed to his feet.
"Then you guessed wrong, Detective." The captain crossed his arms and set his face into his best 'you'll tell me now' look.
Blair stepped in. "I'll explain it all, Simon, if you answer a question for me first."
"What is it?"
The anthropologist held up the remains of the donut. "How did you know? How did you know that this is what Jim needed?"
Simon snorted. "Is that all? C'mon, Sandburg, give me a little credit. How long have I known about this Sentinel business? Five years. You think I'm so unobservant that I can't learn a thing or two from watching you two? I might not be able to pull Jim out of a zone myself, but I've seen you do it enough times to have a pretty good guess on how you do it. Just went with my observations, Mr. Anthropologist."
The smaller man stared up at Simon and shook his head. "I thought the less you knew about this, the happier you were."
"Yeah, well, I'm allowed to change my mind, aren't I?" Simon glanced over Blair's shoulder at Jim then returned his gaze back to the young man. "Besides, sticking my head in the sand won't make this go away, and I honestly don't want it to. I've gotten too used to the pair of you just the way you are."
"Thanks, Simon . . . I think," Jim murmured with a small grin.
Blair was still staring at the big captain. "Oh, man, you and I have got to sit down sometime and talk. I--"
Placing a friendly arm around the anthropologist's shoulders, Simon steered him towards the door. "And that's exactly what we're going to do right now. We're going to let Jim carry on his little chat with Mr. Myles while you and I go upstairs and have our own little chat about whatever it is that the two of you have been hiding from me this time."
"Uh . . ." Blair cast a pleading look at Jim.
"Sorry, Junior, you promised," the detective said with a smirk. "I've got other things to do." He beat as dignified a hasty retreat as he could manage into the interrogation room.
"Oh, don't you worry about him, Blair," Simon said in a falsely sweet tone as they made their way down the hall towards the elevator. "He'll get his chance to explain later."
Jim strode into the room, not pausing until he towered over the seated occupants across the metal table from him. He tossed the folder containing the forensic reports onto the rough surface with a sharp crack that echoed in the silent chamber and stared down at the pair a long, measuring moment. When he was sure he had their undivided attention, he opened his mouth to start the questioning. The blonde lawyer beat him to it.
"Are you just going to stand there and gawk, Detective Ellison, or was there a reason why you dragged my client out of a board meeting this afternoon?"
The detective smiled tightly at her attempt to get a rise out of him. "I have plenty of reasons, Ms. Sedgewick." He tapped a long finger on the folder in front of him. "Would you like to hear them?"
"That is why we are here, Detective."
"Hmm, yes." Jim nodded in slow agreement, purposely agitating the pair before him. "We've found out some pretty interesting things about your daughter's disappearance since we last talked, Mr. Myles."
The businessman raised an impatient brow at him and gestured for him to continue. "Don't keep me in suspense, Detective. Tell me everything. Will these things help you find my daughter?"
"They just might." Jim met the seemingly sincere gaze with hard blue eyes. "We've found several items missing from your daughter's room."
The industrialist put on an interested expression. "Such as?"
"A spelling bee trophy, for one."
The interested expression flickered, and Myles almost lost the staring contest then and there. "Ah yes, I remember that trophy. She was tremendously proud of that accomplishment. Maybe she took it with her to remember good times."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "I thought you said earlier that you weren't involved with your daughter's school activities?"
Again, there was the minutest of pauses, but Myles once again recovered before anyone other than a Sentinel would have noticed. "I'm not, usually. However, when your little girl comes home in as excited a state as Rachael was that day, it is rather hard to ignore, Detective. And I was proud of her, too. It was one of the few times I actually felt a part of my daughter's life. I'm not happy to admit that, especially now, but that's how it was."
//Damn, he's good,// Jim thought ruefully. Marshalling his thoughts, he continued the interrogation. "Did your daughter injure herself in any way prior to her disappearance, Mr. Myles?"
A frown marred the industrialist's handsome face. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said."
Grey eyes blazed with suppressed rage and frustration, but his voice was calm as Myles replied, "Yes, I'm sure. What I meant was, why do you ask?"
Picking up the forensics folder, Jim rifled through it casually. "Only because we found evidence of a large amount of blood on your daughter's bedroom wall and floor, and I was wondering what kind of accident could possibly have caused that."
"Oh, that," the businessman answered easily, waving a dismissing hand in the air. "Rachael was playing in her room, jumping on the bed like kids like to do, and slipped. She hit the headboard and gouged her forehead pretty badly. Had a hell of a time trying to get the bleeding stopped, you know how head wounds are."
"And when did this occur?"
Myles paused a moment as if trying to remember. "I believe it was the Saturday before she ran away."
A reasonable story . . . except Jim knew he was lying. The jump in his pulse and the increase in his respiration were just two of the more obvious signs of the falsehood he was spinning. Jim decided to see if he could speed those reactions up any.
Rising from his perch on the edge of the table, the detective began a slow circuit of the room's interior. "A fairly convincing story, except for the fact that according to our forensics experts, the pattern of blood stains we found in your daughter's room could not have been caused by a simple fall as you are claiming. Rather it seems, the bloodstains we found on the wall were caused by the back spatter of a bludgeoning instrument. You know, like when someone bashes someone's head in with, say, a spelling bee trophy?"
Jim's hearing caught the expected spike in the other man's vital signs. However, before he could move in to press his advantage, Vanessa Sedgewick stepped forward and laid a steadying hand on her client's shoulder.
Her voice was honey smooth when she spoke, "Detective Ellison. I'm sure that if Mr. Myles says his daughter fell that is exactly what happened. Unless of course, you are making some sort of accusation here? If that is the case, I am sure that you will have the evidence to back your claims up. If not. . . ." the woman's voice trailed off momentarily, and she smiled slightly before continuing, "let me assure you--my client is a very busy man, well-thought of in this community. If he should have to waste his valuable time defending himself, or if his reputation should be hurt in any way, well, I'm sure your department would be shocked to find out just how many zeros I can include in my lawsuit against them."
"No, of course I wouldn't be accusing your client without proper evidence to back it up." Jim forced a conciliatory smile on to his face, even though he could almost feel his teeth cracking. "I'm sure we're all just concerned with discovering exactly what happened to Rachael, and her current whereabouts. To that end, there are just a couple more questions I need to ask you."
Resuming his seat on the edge of the table, Jim met the other man's cold, grey eyes with a frigid, blue stare of his own, "You know that we've talked both to Rachael's teacher, Mr. Meredith, and several of Rachael's friends. All of them had some interesting things to tell us. Things that didn't quite match what you'd told me earlier, Mr. Myles."
"Such as not a one of them ever heard Rachael so much as mention that show you claim she was so addicted to. Doesn't that seem odd to you? Usually when a child is as avidly fascinated with something as Rachael supposedly was with 'Charmed,' they like to share it with everyone close to them."
Ms. Sedgewick spoke up before her client could reply. "Are you calling my client a liar, Detective Ellison? If you are, that sounds perilously close to what were discussing just a few moments ago."
"I'm not accusing anyone of anything at the moment, Ms. Sedgewick," Jim stated calmly, getting up to pace the room again. "Just pointing out a fact I found odd. I also find it odd that Rachael disappeared the day after she asked Mr. Meredith to talk to her after school. A talk that revolved around a videotape young Rachael found in her VCR one day after school that so upset her it negatively affected her schoolwork and her relationship with her friends for over a month before she finally gained the courage to speak up about it. A videotape that she told Mr. Meredith involved your wife's death, Mr. Myles." The detective stopped directly in front of the other man and planted both hands on the scarred table between them. Staring once again into those hard, grey eyes, he asked softly, "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, sir?"
The bland, confident look had vanished from the businessman's face, to be replaced by one of rage and panic. Myles stood abruptly, his fists clenched so tightly at his sides that the knuckles were alabaster white. His mouth opened and closed a few times as if he wanted to refute the detective's words, but his anger was so great that nothing came out.
Again, the industrialist's attorney jumped in. With a cautionary hand on Myles' sleeve, she said icily, "Detective, I would like a few moments alone to consult with my client." The blonde emphasized the "alone" with a pointed look at the mirror behind him.
Knowing that he had won this round, Jim never took his eyes off the enraged man before him as he replied in the same soft tone as before, "Certainly, Ms. Sedgewick. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Barely waiting for the door to close behind Ellison, Myles grabbed the blonde's arm and hissed, "You've got to do something!"
Raising one elegant eyebrow, Vanessa coolly shook off the hand on her arm and stood, putting some distance between them. "That's what you're paying me for, Mr. Myles. Relax. For all of Detective Ellison's bluster, all it really boils down to is that they have nothing but circumstantial evidence that would hardly persuade the D.A. to even look at your case, let alone prosecute it. All you have to do is say exactly what I tell you to say and not lose your cool. I'll take care of everything else."
Myles bolted out of his chair and advanced on the smaller woman until he had her trapped between a concrete wall and his imposing frame. His eyes held a look of a hunted, desperate animal. "That's not good enough, Ms. Sedgewick. I want Detective Ellison off this case. He's worse than Davis ever was. I don't care how you do it, just get rid of him! He's getting too close!"
Unimpressed by his theatrics, the blonde met his wild gaze evenly. "I told you that I'll take care of everything else, Mr. Myles, but be careful what you ask for. I can make it happen. Are you prepared to deal with the consequences? Or should I say, pay for the consequences?"
The wild eyes narrowed as her calm words worked past his panic. "I don't care how much money you want. I'll pay it. Just make sure Detective Ellison never discovers exactly what happened to my poor, lost, little girl. Look, you don't have to kill Ellison or anything like that. I just need him to be distracted for a day or two while I get everything in order."
"Done." Slipping casually under the imprisoning arms, the attorney moved to the door and tapped on it. "I'll be right back, Mr. Myles. I suggest you use the time to regain your composure. Everything is going to be just fine."
As soon as the door closed behind her, a cold, calculating look replaced the one of carefully crafted panic. //Everything had better be, my dear Ms. Sedgewick, or it will be you who will be paying the consequences,// Adrian Myles thought as he resumed his seat to await her return. //Just get me out of here, and I guarantee that no one will ever see me again. Damned good thing that cabin is so twisted up in legal paperwork that no one will ever figure out that I own it. A quick trip up there, grab the fake passport, traveling money, and I'll be out of here before the cops even know anything is going on.//
Blair looked up as Jim turned to greet the speaker and caught the quickly suppressed expression of displeasure on his partner's face. He peered around Jim to see who had put that look on his face. The woman standing there was a stunning, though severe looking blonde. Under normal circumstances, she might have been Jim's type. Obviously, these weren't normal circumstances.
"Ms. Sedgewick," the tall man answered coolly. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, you could introduce me to your friend here," she replied in a warm, friendly tone.
Blair watched the exchange with interest. He knew Vanessa Sedgewick by reputation, and he figured she and Jim wouldn't hit it off. He was a bit surprised by the tactics she was using to needle his friend, though. He'd been caught in the middle of similar situations several times before in the dating game and recognized what she was doing. Make one party jealous by flirting with a third party, usually a close friend of the first. Blair had no idea what Vanessa hoped to gain by pissing Jim off, but he wasn't going to play.
//Uh-uh, lady,// he thought resolutely, //I'm not gonna fall for that one. Did it once, sure as hell ain't gonna do it again. You can get your kicks someplace else.//
"Blair Sandburg," he introduced himself in a neutral tone. "I'm a consultant with the police force. I'm helping Detective Ellison with the Myles' case." Knowing the answer, he asked his next question just to see her reaction. "And you are?"
It was everything he hoped for. He might not be a Sentinel, able to catalogue the minutest details of a person's facial expressions and body language, but he was an anthropologist, trained to observe people. He concluded this time that his subject was not happy with his cool response, probably used to getting her way. Despite her beauty, Blair felt only satisfaction at his own success.
"Vanessa Sedgewick," she answered tightly. "Mr. Myles' attorney."
"I see. Well, I wish I could say it's a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Sedgewick, but considering the circumstances, I can't. Is there anything else I can do for you? If not, we're rather busy and need to get back to work."
"Then I won't take up any more of your precious time, Mr. Sandburg. Detective Ellison, my client will be ready to see you again in ten minutes."
"I'll be there," Jim promised, a smirk of appreciation tugging at his lips that did not go unnoticed by the attorney.
With a curt nod, the blonde woman turned on her heel and stalked out of Major Crimes.
Spying the door to the ladies room, she shoved the door open and went inside. She needed to calm herself before she faced Myles once more. The last thing she needed was to shake his faith in her abilities. As she dug in her bag for her lipstick, her sharp mind busily tried to come up with an alternate way to distract those who stood in the way of her client's freedom. Obviously, the subtle approach wasn't going to work this time.
Unlike some of her more morally bound colleagues, the ambitious blonde had no qualms about doing whatever it took to win. This case would be quite a feather in her cap if she won and having someone as powerful as Adrian Myles as an ally was just another added bonus. No, she had no problem with coming up with a way to "distract" the cops.
With a small, thoughtful frown, the blonde tossed the tube of lipstick back into her purse and headed out the door. Before she opened it, however, she suddenly recognized the voices on the other side. Ellison and Sandburg were standing by the water fountain just outside the restrooms, oblivious to her presence on the other side of the door. She paused to see if they would say anything that she could use.
"Hey, uh, Jim?" the consultant asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, Chief, what is it?"
"Well, you know how we left my car in the garage here last night?"
"And you remember that we kinda hurried out of the loft this morning?"
Sandburg paused then said in a rush, "I left my keys at the loft, and if I'm going to get some research done at the university, I need a vehicle, and I was just wondering if I could borrow the truck this afternoon. I promise I won't get a scratch on her."
There was another, longer pause as the detective apparently considered the request. Vanessa found herself holding her breath during that pause, willing him to agree, a plan already forming if he did.
"Not a scratch?"
"Not a scratch, Jim, I swear. Scout's honor."
"You were never a Scout, Sandburg."
"Aw, c'mon, Jim. I've never so much as breathed wrong on that truck. I promise to bring it back in exactly the same condition I take it out in."
"I'll take it out of your hide if you don't." Vanessa heard the sound of car keys jingling together. "Just be back here by 6:30 to pick me up, understand?"
"Yes, Dad, I got it. Don't dent the car and be home before curfew. Any other last minute instructions before I go out on my date?"
"Don't make me change my mind, Junior. Now get out of here and let me get back to work."
"Thanks, man. I promise to be back by the end of your shift."
//And I can promise that you won't,// the hidden lawyer thought vindictively.
Waiting until the voices of the two men faded down the hall, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number that connected her to the only other person she knew, other than her clients, who was as unscrupulous as herself.
"It's me. I've got a job for you."
Picking a rather isolated corner of the lot, Blair carefully parked the truck straddling two parking spaces. He hopped out, grabbing his ever-present backpack as he slammed the door, then stepped back to scrutinize his handiwork.
"I've always hated people that hogged up two parking spaces to protect their precious cars. But, I do know what Jim threatened to do to me if I got so much as one scratch on you, Sweetheart, so, as they say, discretion is the better part of valor!" Smiling slightly, Blair gave the old truck's hood a fond pat before heading in the direction of the library.
Focused as he was on his destination, Blair didn't notice that the man who'd pulled up in the same remote corner of the parking lot just after he did never got out of his car nor did he notice the intense stare the man aimed at his retreating back.
The man watched until Blair had vanished from sight. Then, after giving a five-minute grace period, just in case the police consultant had forgotten something back at the truck, the man casually unlocked his car door and stepped out. After scanning the area to be sure there was no one within sight, he reached quickly into the back seat and pulled out a small, black satchel. Glancing around one more time for possible witnesses, the man gracefully dropped to the ground beside the truck and rolled swiftly under its chassis, opening the bag as he did so.
Blair hitched his backpack higher on one shoulder and pushed open the library doors, pausing just inside the threshold to appreciate the myriad of sights and sounds that greeted him. He'd forgotten just what a hive of activity the campus library could be--especially when finals were starting to draw near, and he had to admit to himself that he'd missed it. Being a professor, his workload did not involve as much time at the library as it used to in his grad student days.
As he strode further into the building, toward the computer screens where card catalog information was displayed, he had to smile at all the memories this brought back. There were at least forty students seated at the tables in the main gallery. Some were grumbling quietly as they tried to track down some elusive fact, the soft flutter of turning pages a fitting counterpoint to their frustrated voices. A slightly louder, 'Yes!' and the accompanying thud of a book closing let Blair know that at least one student had finished her quest. The sound of soft snoring and the sight of two or three students with their foreheads resting on their open books were a sure sign that a long night of cramming had finally caught up.
Seating himself in front of one of the computer monitors, Blair fumbled in his pockets for a piece of paper. "Okay, okay, I know it's here somewhere. I did put it in my pocket, right? Yeah, I'm sure I--ahh! Okay, here it is!" Pulling the crumpled sheet from his jeans, he started smoothing it out, his motions slowing as he gazed sadly at the familiar handwriting covering the paper.
"Ahh, Sky. I'm so sorry. I still miss you so much. I know, I know, you'd say not to mourn you. I'm sure you're happy in the Otherworld right now, awaiting your next incarnation. I can't help it, though. Just promise me that you'll look in on me occasionally, okay?" Wiping a hint of a tear from the corner of one eye, Blair looked at the list again and began typing the first title into the library's search engine. "See, Sky? You always knew I'd look further into this shamanistic legacy one of these days. Thank you again for the suggested reading list," the young man's voice became softer and more melancholy, "I'll always miss you."
A short while later, Blair found an empty table in a secluded corner of the library and carefully laid the three books he'd collected off the shelves in front of him. "'By Oak, Ash and Thorn' by D.J. Conway, 'Real Magic' by Isaac Bonewits and 'Animal-Wise The Spirit Language and Signs of Nature' by Ted Andrews. So, where do I start? I can take all three of them home with me for later perusal, but I really only have time to look at one this afternoon. Okay, Sky, you're the one who recommended these to me originally. Which one should it be?"
Blair sat for a moment, his gaze flickering between the three covers. Suddenly, he stopped and smiled, reaching out to draw one of the books closer, while simultaneously pushing the other two to the far side of the table. "'By Oak, Ash and Thorn' it is." Taking a moment to set the alarm on his watch, Blair opened up to the book's title page, settled himself in and began to read.
Four hours later, the soft beeping of the watch's alarm jolted Blair back to reality, and he reluctantly drew his mind away from the fascinating information he'd been reading long enough to look at the time. "Four o'clock. Okay. I've got to pick Jim up by six-thirty. This should give me just enough time to check out these books, head over to my office for an attempt at meditation, and then over to the precinct in time to pick Jim up before he even has time to start bitching about how I'm always late for everything."
The young man quickly gathered up the books and his backpack and made his way to the desk at the front of the library and checked out the books. Fumbling in his backpack for a moment, Blair came up with his cell phone, and flipping it open, quickly dialed a number that was almost second nature to him. He started across the quiet campus to his office as the phone was answered.
"Major Crimes. Ellison speaking."
"Hey, Jim, it's me. I've just spent the past four hours reading this really fascinating book on shamanism. I've checked it and a couple of other books on the subject out of the library. I'm heading over to my office right now, and I'm going to try a short meditation. Maybe it will help me to really digest what I've read, and help us come up with an answer for this thing with Rachael.
"Don't worry. I'm setting the alarm on my watch for quarter of six so that I'll have plenty of time to be at the station by six-thirty to pick you up."
"You forgot to mention that there won't be so much as a scratch on the truck, didn't you?" Jim's voice was slightly teasing, but Blair could hear the underlying command in the playful words.
"You worry too much, Jim," Blair tried unsuccessfully to suppress a sigh. "I promised you I'd be careful with your precious truck, and I will be. If I'm really good, though, Daddy, can we go out for ice cream after dinner?"
Despite himself, Jim was chuckling as he ended the conversation. "Only if you eat all your cheeseburger and fries first."
"Cheeseburger and fries?" The anthropologist grimaced as he snapped the phone shut with one hand while fumbling the key into his office door with the other. "I think that man is having delusions of Wonderburger again."
Blair stopped for a moment at his desk to shove the three library books inside his already bulging pack. Opening the second drawer on the left side of his desk, he withdrew four mild smelling meditation candles and, lighting and arranging them in a pattern on the floor, dropped into a half-lotus, closed his eyes and began to try to make his way to that inner-space.
As the scents of the Peruvian rainforest replaced the gentle aroma of the candles, Blair opened his and found that he was once again standing on a path in the middle of the jungle, just as he had last night. Looking ahead, he saw the grey wolf from his previous vision. Yipping once, the great beast turned and continued to lead the way down the trail.
After walking seemingly forever, Blair noticed that the verdant rainforest was giving way to the darker green pine forests native to the Pacific Northwest. Before he had time to really wonder about the change, however, the trees stopped abruptly at the entrance to a large clearing. Blair felt a nameless dread seize his bones as the sound of flowing water and screaming voices reached his ears.
The young man slowed his steps, uncertain whether he really wanted to see whatever it was that was taking place in the center of the clearing. The wolf turned back to him, and growling impatiently, gripped Blair's shirtsleeve firmly in his teeth, drawing the anthropologist into the clearing, regardless of whether he wanted to go or not.
Breaking through the circle of trees, Blair found himself watching what seemed to be a vision out of his own private hell. Directly facing him was the fountain in front of Hargrove Hall--the fountain. His lifeless body lay dripping on the grass, Jim and Simon trying desperately to coax new life into it. He could hear his Sentinel exhorting him, in heartbroken tones, not to leave. He started to turn away, not wanting to witness anymore of the wrenching scene.
Before he completed the movement, however, he felt a hand on his arm, and looked over to see Incacha watching him, a very serious expression on his face.
"Why did you bring me here?" Blair's voice was rough with his surging emotions. "In case you've forgotten, I've been there, done that, have the T-shirt. What possible use could there be in showing me this again?"
"Did you not learn anything from the experience? How did you grow as a result?"
"A shaman has to die in order to truly open his powers. I'm assuming that most of the time it's done on a more symbolic level, but I was never an underachiever, so I went for the gusto." Blair's voice cracked a bit at the end, and he stopped, unable to continue.
"Yes, but what did you truly learn?"
"I defeated death, okay? What do you want out of me? What else am I supposed to learn?"
"But, what did you learn? How did you truly defeat death?" Incacha's voice was endlessly patient, and Blair suppressed a momentary urge to slug him for it.
"Defeat death? I was dead. I died and came back. What more can I do to defeat death? Wrestle it to the ground, best two out of three?"
"You died, but how did you defeat death?"
Blair looked back over to the scene by the fountain, just in time to catch Jim's heartbroken, 'No!!!' as Henri and Simon hauled him bodily away from the young man's corpse still lying on the grass.
"No. I think you're right." Blair's brow furrowed as he considered the Chopec's question. "I died, but I have not truly defeated death. I don't need to die, I need to overcome my fear of it, so that death has no hold over me. Only then can I truly recognize it as part of the natural cycle. I do not fear for my death, but I fear what effect my death would have on a certain other who was left behind. I cannot truly defeat death until I can accept that what happens, happens. My fearing death on his behalf will not change what will be if my death does happen, will it? Until I can accept that death is part of the natural cycle and comes to all in its time, regardless of those left behind, I have not truly defeated death, have I?"
The other shaman's face broke into a rare smile and he gave Blair an encouraging pat on the back. "Now you begin to learn, young shaman. Learn to defeat death and you will truly open the potential inside you."
Blair opened his eyes to find himself still seated in a half-lotus on his office floor, the meditation candles guttering as they burned out around him. Staring at the dying flames of the candle in front of him, Blair stayed where he was for a few minutes, contemplating the message his vision had contained. He had thought that when he died at the fountain, he had defeated death. He now understood that dying and defeating death were often two entirely different things. As a part of his calling, the shaman revered life and was willing to do battle to preserve the life force. However, the shaman also understood that death was a part of the natural order and comes to all in their turn.
He could understand the distinction. Death did not wait until a man had his affairs in order. When it was time, it was time, and nothing could, or should, change that. Yes, he did not want to leave Jim without a Guide, but, by the same token, a woman did not want to leave her children, nor a husband his wife.
Blair stood up slowly, brushing the dust off the legs of his jeans. When he looked at it that way, his situation really was not that different from anyone else's. Many people died leaving unfinished affairs of one sort or another behind them. His situation was no different. To truly defeat death, he had to learn to fight it whenever possible, but to welcome it when the time came, no matter whom it came for.
Still deep in thought, Blair absently extinguished the candles on the floor and gathered up his backpack before leaving his office and heading out to the parking lot. Half way to the truck, he remembered his promise to call Jim and pulled the cell phone out of his pocket.
"Hey, Jim, it's me. I'm all done here at the university and am heading back out to the truck right now. I should get to the station in about twenty minutes."
"That's fine, Chief. Were you able to find anything useful?"
"Oh, yeah, Jim," Blair chuckled as he juggled the phone and his backpack while attempting to pull the truck's keys out of his jeans pocket. "I have lots to think about. I'll tell you about it when I get to the station, okay?"
"Sounds good. We still have some stuff to finish up here, so would you mind stopping off at Wonderburger for dinner on your way here? I want the Megaburger with cheese, large fries and a large coke."
"Yeah, sure, dream on. I'll tell you what. I'll stop at that deli you like and pick you up a nice roast beef sandwich with tomatoes and onions and hot mustard. Okay?"
Jim's sigh was theatrical in its suffering. "If that's the best you can do, Sandburg, I guess I'll have to live with it. Don't forget the large bag of potato chips, though."
"Fine. I'll get you the chips, Jim, I promise."
"None of those baked ones, either, I want the real thing! Got that, Sandburg?"
"Sorry, didn't quite catch that, Jim," Blair laughed as he clicked the phone shut and climbed into the cab of the old, Ford pickup.
He didn't pay any attention to the car that pulled out of the parking lot behind him, trailing his route through the roads leading back to the city.
The other man stared intently as Blair guided the pickup through the turns leading back to Cascade. He gently fingered a small remote control device as he watched the truck maneuver around a particularly twisty part of the route. Timing his action carefully, the man depressed the button just as the old Ford steered into a rather tight curve that was bounded by a guardrail and a rather steep drop off.
He smiled as a small explosion rocked the other vehicle, and the passenger side tire blew, sending the truck into an uncontrolled skid into the rail and down over the embankment.
Glancing just once in the direction the truck had disappeared into, the man tucked the remote control into the glove compartment and continued at a leisurely pace back toward Cascade. Whether the young man was dead or not was not his concern. He had only been paid to arrange the accident, and, once again, he had performed superbly. A self-satisfied grin split the man's face as he began considering all of the things he would buy with his payment for this job.
The sound of the explosion and the hard jolt that rocked the truck shocked Blair out of the half zone he'd been driving in. He could feel the vehicle veer off to the left, toward the guardrail and the drop off. Gripping the wheel tighter, he attempted to control the skid by pumping the brakes gently and steering in the direction the truck was sliding.
In the end, though, he could only stare in horror and pray to all the gods and goddesses he had ever heard of as the old Ford crashed through the guardrail and careened down the steep embankment. Attempting to steer or apply the brakes had no effect as the pickup tobogganed wildly down the hill. The truck skidded sideways, and the last thing that Blair saw was the trunk of the huge, old oak as it slammed through the passenger door of the cab.
Consciousness returned to Blair by slow degrees. At least he assumed that it was consciousness. Opening his eyes, he found that he was lying flat on his stomach in the midst of some completely featureless, black plain. There was no sign of anything that he'd expected to see upon waking. No truck, no tree, no ambulance, no hospital, hell, even his vision forest and his ever-faithful wolf companion were nowhere to be seen.
Pushing himself up to a sitting position, Blair began to feel the first stirrings of fear as his eyes tried unsuccessfully to pierce the darkness. Taking a deep breath, he called out, his voice cracking just a little bit, "Hey, is there anybody out there? What's going on here? Where is everybody? Everything?"
His voice seemed to echo slightly, but other than that, the void gave him no answers. "Hmmm. Maybe I'm dead. Funny, though. I always thought that being dead would be a lot more interesting than this. Guess I'm not going to figure anything out just sitting here. Of course, it's not like I have the slightest idea of where to go--or even if there is anywhere to go."
Rising to his feet, Blair turned a slow circle. The flat, black, featureless plain stretched as far as his eyes could see in every direction. "Well, eenie-meenie-minie-moe. Left it is." Turning, the young man began to walk in the direction he'd chosen, scanning around him for anything to break the monotony of his surroundings.
"Couldn't you find a better use for your time discovering why you are here rather than wandering aimlessly about?"
"Incacha?" Blair jerked his head around quickly, searching for the owner of that voice. "Incacha, where are you? Where am I? What am I doing here?"
"Where do you think you are, young one? Why do you think you are here?" The Chopec shaman's voice seemed to come from all around, and Blair could not pinpoint a single direction no matter how hard he tried.
"Come on, young one. I know you can do better than this. Think."
Drawing a deep breath, Blair contemplated the blackness all around him for a moment before he spoke. "I think maybe I'm dead. I'm hoping that I'm not, but all of this nothing doesn't exactly make me feel happy, sunshine thoughts. Is this an in between place that my soul has to go through to make it to the other side?"
A resonant voice suddenly spoke. "It's not for me to give you the answers. You must find those for yourself."
"Incacha! Why can't you ever give me a straight answer rather than talking in riddles all the time!" Exasperated, Blair let out a long sigh, which rustled the hair hanging around his face. "Okay, okay. So it's my journey, right? Well," he gestured at the black, featureless plain, "I must be dead. This must be a sort of staging area where I have to wait until, I don't know, my soul can move on or something?"
"And how do you feel about that?" Incacha's voice was quiet and cajoling.
"I'm not sure. I definitely wasn't planning on being dead this young, and there's no way I want to leave Jim behind. I'm not sure what he'll do without me. I'm not trying to make myself sound indispensable or anything, but he'll have a hard time trying to deal with all that Sentinel stuff alone. Damn it, Incacha--I'm really not ready to die right now! I've got things to do and obligations to meet."
This time, there was no mistaking the reproof in the Chopec shaman's voice, "Did you not learn anything from your prior vision? What is the way of the shaman, young one?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Blair's frustration came through clearly in his voice and posture as he spoke. "The shaman defends life, but accepts death when its time comes. What good does it do me, though, to accept death--my death in particular--if that means I'm actually going to die? What good does this do me as a shaman if I have to die for good to defeat death?"
"Who ever said death was fair?"
Blair's head shot up at the unexpected echo of his comment to Simon. He grimaced, his sense of justice outraged. If life wasn't fair and death wasn't fair, how did anyone ever get the chance to get things right?
Incacha went on before he had the chance to voice his questions. "Why should you be different or be given special consideration over others? The shaman knows that death is inevitable, and while he may fight to keep it at bay, death will not and should not be denied. When the time comes, whether for you or your closest friend or the most powerful man in the world, you must accept that, for only in accepting that death is as necessary as life, can the shaman truly open himself to the power that surrounds him."
Blair hung his head and sighed sadly, brown curls obscuring his face. "You're right, Incacha. I would rather not die, but if this is my time, then at least I can face my final test with a bit of style." A tiny smile quirked the young man's lips as he threw his arms wide. "Death, if this must be, then I welcome you! If this is not set in stone, then I ask that you pass me by on this trip, but if I must go, let's go! I would ask, if possible, that you help those I leave behind, especially Jim, to go on with their lives, but I know that what happens, happens."
Lifting his head, squaring his shoulders and peering through the impenetrable blackness, Blair spoke in a calm, quiet voice, "Incacha, I am ready. Guide me to the other side, so that I may meet those who have gone before me and prepare for my next incarnation."
Suddenly, the oppressive darkness lifted, and Blair found himself once again standing on a path in the middle of a thick, Pacific Northwestern, pine forest. Incacha stood before him, a handsome grey wolf close by his side.
A rare smile split the older shaman's face as he reached forward with a bloody hand and grasped Blair's forearm. "Now is not your time to die, young one. Now that you are truly ready, I once again pass the way of the shaman on to you. Use it wisely."
Blair gazed, dumbfounded at the bloody handprint on his arm for a moment. A soft growl caught his attention, and he looked down at his spirit guide just in time to see the wolf gather itself and leap. He gasped in wonder as the animal merged with him, and he felt a sudden rush of power and ancient knowledge fill his soul.
"Once you have finished the business before you now, you and Enqueri must complete your bond. You cannot truly think that the two pools in the sacred temple were for the use of two Sentinels, can you?"
"No. . . ." Blair answered slowly, the knowledge suddenly as sure in him as anything ever had been in his life. "They are for the use of the watcher and his partner, to complete the bond between them.
"Incacha--I know that this is true. But why didn't Jim and I know that when we were at the temple before? It certainly would have saved us some time and heartache," Blair finished with some asperity.
"You were not prepared then. To have rushed the ritual when both parties are not ready would have been disastrous. You are ready this time."
"But, Incacha, is Jim ready?" Blair's voice was quiet and carried a strong undercurrent of concern. "I know I made my mistakes before, but Jim did, too. I will not go forward unless it is safe for him as well."
"Your concern for your Sentinel does you proud, but this is your story we are telling, not his." Blair did not miss the hint of reproof as the older man continued speaking, "We cannot tell another man's story. I am sure that Enqueri will make whatever preparations he must.
"Remember, young one. The way of the shaman is truly yours now. Use the gifts it brings you wisely." The Chopec shaman's voice seemed to be coming from a great distance as Blair was once again enfolded by velvet blackness, only this time, he was not aware of his surroundings.
The next thing Blair was aware of was a liquid trail slowly wending its way past his eye and down his cheek. The warm wetness of it was annoying and itched miserably besides. Warily opening one eye, Blair took careful stock of his current situation.
Okay, crumpled truck, large tree poking through the passenger door, various bumps and bruises--he could handle this. No Chopec shamen, no wolves, no dream forests, he was back in the real world. Lifting his hand, Blair cautiously touched the warm, wet trail running down his face. Blood. Okay, that was hardly a surprise. Glancing around, he took stock of his situation. The truck? Well, as far as he could tell, it was toast. He, on the other hand, seemed to have escaped serious injury. Carefully flexing all of his limbs and feeling along his ribs and up and down his body just confirmed his first impression. A few bumps and bruises, a nasty cut to his forehead, but he was otherwise intact.
As he cautiously felt his way into the crumpled passenger side of the truck, Blair could hardly suppress a little cry of triumph. He could feel his beloved backpack wedged on the floorboards of the truck. A little more careful poking located his cell phone, still zipped up in its side compartment. Gingerly opening the zipper, trying to be careful of the sharp edges of crushed metal that surrounded it, he managed to extract the device. Upon inspection, he was pleased to find that the instrument seemed to have come through the accident unscathed. Flipping the phone open, he dialed a familiar number and waited while it rang once in his ear.
"Jim, it's me--"
"Sandburg, where are you?" Jim's worried voice cut through Blair's words, "You're an hour late to the station already. I've been trying your office and cell phone, but haven't gotten an answer. I even had campus security at Rainier check your office and look for my truck in the parking lot. Simon and I were just about to head out to look for you. What happened?"
"Well, Jim, remember that promise I made that I wouldn't get a scratch on your truck?" Hearing nothing but his partner's suspicious silence on the other end, Blair continued, "I'm afraid that I was a bad boy, Daddy, and there won't be any ice cream after dinner tonight."
"What happened, Sandburg? Where are you? Are you hurt? How's the truck?"
Blair couldn't help smiling at Jim's steady stream of questions. Trust him to immediately try to take control of any situation. "No, no, really, I'm fine, Jim. I was driving to the station from Rainier and when I got to the part of the road that has that really steep drop off, the front tire suddenly blew. I lost control of the truck and ended up here, halfway down the hill, with a large tree making itself comfortable in the passenger seat. And, Jim, I felt an explosion when that tire went. I don't think it was a natural occurrence, if you know what I mean."
"Okay, Chief, as long as you're okay. Just stay where you are. We're on our way with an ambulance and a wrecker."
"Jim, the ambulance really isn't necessary, I'm fine."
"That's non-negotiable, Sandburg. Now, just stay where you are. You probably shook what few brains you have up even more than normal. We'll be out there soon."
The line went dead in Blair's hands before he could come up with any sort of suitable retort. Closing up the phone with a sigh, he looked around, taking better stock of his surroundings, or more particularly, of his chances of getting out of the truck without killing himself. Peering through the windows of the vehicle, he realized that the old Ford had gone only about fifty feet down the slope before hitting the tree. Although the slope ended in an almost vertical drop-off another fifty feet down or so, this part of the incline was actually fairly shallow. The truck and the tree it had hit seemed to be wedged securely together.
Okay, that was a good start. Experimentally, he tried shifting his weight slightly in each direction. The wrecked truck did not move at all. Okay, the truck probably wasn't going to plunge over the cliff if he tried to escape the vehicle. Now the sixty-four thousand dollar question was whether he was pinned in the vehicle in any way, and whether he could open the door or knock out a window to allow his escape. Feeling around carefully, he was able to determine that with a little bit of squirming, he'd be able to work his way out of the crumpled cab. Pulling at the latch and pushing at the door, he quickly determined that nothing short of a long session with a crowbar was going to convince it to open. When he turned his attention to the driver's side window, he was surprised and delighted to find that the handle turned easily and the window lowered obediently. Well, at least halfway.
Eyeing the resulting opening, Blair decided that with some prodigious wiggling, he'd just be able to fit his body through the window. He took a deep breath and squeezed through the portal, falling onto the soft pine needles scattered over the ground with a thump. Standing, he brushed himself off and started carefully back up the hill, toward the road.
Reaching the crumpled guardrail and soft gravel along the shoulder of the highway, Blair could hear the approaching wail of sirens steadily rising in pitch as they neared. //Okay, boys and girls, this is the Doppler effect in action. Remember this for your next pop quiz.// Giggling slightly, he listened more closely, //That sounds like, let's see, two police cars and an ambulance. I don't think there's any fire trucks with them. Oh, lord, what does that make now? Method number four hundred and twenty-two to tell that you've been hanging around with the cops too long. You can identify what type of emergency vehicle it is by the sound its siren makes.//
Peering down the road in the direction of Cascade, Blair had to smile when, right on cue, two police cars and an ambulance rounded the corner, followed, at a slightly more leisurely pace, by a heavy-duty wrecker. //See, I knew it! The wrecker doesn't count. Those don't have sirens.//
As Simon's sedan skidded to a stop nearby, the passenger door flew open, even as the police captain was disengaging the sirens and shutting off the ignition to his car.
"Chief! Are you okay?!? Here, let me see." Jim was by Blair's side almost before the anthropologist could register surprise that the man could move so quickly. Calming down as his first assessment assured him that Blair had suffered no serious injuries, the detective continued in a more placid tone of voice, "What happened here, Sandburg?"
Following the other man's gesture down the slope, Jim's eyes widened in shocked disbelief. A choked whisper of, "Sweetheart!" was torn from his throat as he found his feet drawn, almost beyond his control, down the hill toward the crushed remains of his truck.
Stopping at the smaller man's side, Simon tilted Blair's head up for a moment to get a better look at the blood still trickling down from a gash near the other man's hairline.
"Don't take it personally, Sandburg," the big captain's voice was quiet and comforting. "He was worrying himself sick over you the whole way here. Now that he's seen that you're okay, I'm afraid that the age old attraction between man and his big machine is coming back into play." Smiling slightly, Simon patted Blair's cheek gently before steering him in the direction of the waiting ambulance. "I think you're probably fine, Sandburg, but just for everyone's peace of mind, why don't you step over there and let those fine gentlemen check you out."
"No buts, Sandburg. It's going to take us a while to secure the accident scene and determine what happened. I'll send one of the uniforms over to take your statement in just a minute. In the meantime, why don't we just make sure that you really are fine.
"Jim would never forgive himself if you dropped over dead while he was down there mooning over that old truck of his. Get yourself checked out, make everyone feel better, and give Jim a minute to mourn the dead. Now, go." Simon punctuated his final words with a gentle shove in the direction of the waiting paramedics.
Watching long enough to see the younger man actually seated on the gurney and being attended to, the big police captain turned to look at Jim. The other man was seemingly in a deep discussion with the driver of the wrecking truck on the best way to haul the crumpled remains of the F-150 back up to road level.
Picking his way carefully down the slope, Simon surveyed the wreckage before touching his best detective briefly on the shoulder. "I'm really sorry, Jim. I know how fond you were of this truck."
"How fond I was? What are you talking about, Simon?" the other man's voice was disbelieving and slightly belligerent, "A few repairs, a little time at the body shop and she'll be as good as new!"
"Jim," Simon's gesture encompassed the whole scene, "look around you. I know that your insurance company hates you, but I don't think that even they will begrudge totaling the truck. It's got no bluebook value whatsoever. It's worth nothing except the salvage price."
"Salvage? You must be kidding, Simon." Jim's eyes flashed dangerously as he laid a protective hand on what was left of the old truck's hood. "You don't just 'salvage' a classic. With the proper care and TLC, and she'll be back on the road before you know it."
Holding up his hands in a placating gesture, Simon decided that it was time to turn Jim's thoughts back to the reason the truck had crashed in the first place. "Jim, Blair told you that there was an explosion before he lost control. Can't you check out the scene a little bit before we move anything, see if you can tell what happened? See if you can tell whether the tire blew by accident or if it had a little help."
"God, Simon, you're right, I got so wrapped up in the damage to the truck that I forgot all about the bigger picture here. Blair could have been killed! If the truck had spun in the other direction and that tree had hit the driver's side..." Jim shuddered at the thought.
"Let me see." Jim's gaze went slightly unfocused as he walked slowly around the truck, concentrating on finding anything out of place. "Wait a minute! Here, by the passenger side wheel well. I can smell just a slight hint of C4. I can't get close enough to actually take a look because that tree is in the way, but tell forensics to look carefully at that part of the truck."
"Okay, that's it!" Simon clapped his hands, calling the attention of the wrecking crew who were still trying to hook the truck up to the winch chain. "This is now an official crime scene. You're going to have to clear out of here. Tell one of the uniforms up top to call this into the station and get forensics out here. Also, please ask one of them to bring the crime scene tape down so we can mark this area off.
"C'mon, Jim. Let's go collect Sandburg. Maybe he can give us some clue about how this might have happened and who they were gunning for--you or him."
"Simon," Jim's voice was hard and angry as he answered his captain. "That C4 was new. I would have smelled it if it had been in the truck before we got to the station. That explosive was added either while I was parked in the PD garage, which I seriously doubt--too many witnesses, plus video surveillance--or it was done while Blair was parked at the university." Taking a deep breath as he reached the top of the hill, the detective made his way toward the ambulance. "I'll bet this has something to do with that bastard, Myles. I doubt that anyone Blair's flunked is proficient with C4. The timing is just too coincidental. I'll bet that sleazeball lawyer called somebody and set this up. But why would she do that? What possible purpose would that serve?"
"Hey, Sandburg--how are you doing? Have these fine medics given you the green light to go back to the loft, or is a trip to the hospital necessary?" Without waiting for the young man's answer, Simon looked back at his senior detective.
"How about as a distraction, Jim? You've got to admit that we got real lucky here. If that truck had gone over the edge or if it had hit one of the trees driver's side first or if it had rolled or if a hundred other things had happened Blair could have been hurt much worse. Then you would have been distracted by your worry or by waiting to see how things were going to go. It would have kept you busy for a while, anyway."
"Simon, what are you talking about?" Blair's voice trailed over the other man's words. "Someone was trying to hurt me as a distraction for Jim? Man, that sucks."
"A distraction, yes, Sandburg, but not just for Jim. I'm assuming you can go home now. Get in my car, both of you, I'll give you a ride back to the loft. I'm going to let the uniforms know what's going on, and I'll call Serena and tell her that you smelled C4, Jim. Don't take too long getting back to the car or I just might leave without you." With those words, the captain stalked off, leaving Blair gaping in disbelief behind him.
"Oh, wow, man, did I hear right? Not just a distraction for you? I mean, I know Simon's my friend, but to hear him actually admit he cares, I mean, wow." Blair smiled hugely as he watched the big man retreat.
"Now don't be getting any bright ideas there, Junior. You know better than to push Simon on this. 'Don't ask, don't tell' is his motto."
Grabbing the younger man's arm, Jim turned to the ambulance crew, who were busy packing up their supplies, "I take it he doesn't need a trip to the hospital and is free to go?" At the medics' nods, he steered his friend toward the waiting Chrysler.
Opening the door, he pushed Blair into the back seat, "Just wait there, Chief. We'll be leaving in a minute." Jim shut the door on the other man's complaints and peered over the roof of the car to see Simon approaching at a fast walk. Quickly opening his door, Jim slid into the car's comfortable front seat and waited for his captain.
"Hey, Jim," Blair's complaint came just as Simon was inserting his keys into the ignition. "How come you get the front seat, again, while I'm stuck back here like the red-headed stepchild?"
"Sandburg," Simon fixed the younger man's reflection in the rear view mirror with a glare. "Can you please act your age for once? So far as I know, there's no lasting social stigma attached to riding in a car's back seat." Snapping his head quickly to the side, he proceeded to fix Jim with an icy stare. "And that means that you stop sticking your tongue out at him, too. I swear, you two are worse than Daryl ever thought of being! Now, can we please discuss this case and what happened out there like the mature adults I am and you two pretend to be occasionally?"
"Uhm, okay, Simon." Blair actually did sound slightly chastised, although Jim privately thought he was just acting for Simon's benefit. "What were you two talking about back there? Someone rigged the truck so I'd wreck it on purpose? Why?"
Turning around to look at his partner, Jim filled his partner in on the suspicions he and Simon had discussed.
"Jim, look at the bright side." The detective cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at his captain's words, but Simon continued to speak anyway. "He wouldn't have tried something like this unless he's afraid that you and Blair are getting too close for comfort on the murders of his wife and daughter. Once you put him away for life, that should be payback enough." Pausing to fix Blair's gaze in the rear view mirror, he continued, "Are you absolutely sure you're okay, Sandburg? You really don't need to go to the hospital? I saw what the cab of that truck looked like, and I can't believe that you just walked away from it."
"No, no, Simon, I'm fine, really. I don't think I was unconscious for more than a half-hour or so, tops--"
Blair's words were cut off as Jim lunged across the seatback to grab hold of his upper arms while Simon screeched the big Chrysler to an abrupt stop. "Dear god, Chief, you were out for half an hour and you didn't think that it was worth telling anybody about? Don't the words 'brain injury' mean anything at all to you? Simon, turn this car around now, we need to get him to the nearest hospital."
Shaking his head in agreement, Simon started to turn the car toward Cascade General Hospital, but was stopped when Blair shook off Jim's grip and yelled at the top of his lungs, "NO HOSPITAL, I'M OKAY, REALLY!!!" Lowering his voice, he continued in a much calmer tone, "Look, Jim, I don't think I would have been unconscious after the accident at all, except that Incacha saw it as his opportunity to get me to really accept death."
"Whoa, whoa, hold it right there," Simon's words were commanding and brooked no argument. "This sounds like it's going to be one of those discussions about all that mystical Sentinel stuff. I really don't want to hear it--too much information. So, let's leave it that you're not seriously injured and the two of you can continue this discussion once I get you back to your apartments. Got that?"
"Sure, Dad." Blair leaned forward to secure Simon in a one armed hug over the seat back. "Wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable talking about our dates or anything, so we'll just wait until you go to bed then we'll meet out in the hallway and whisper together."
"Hey, Sandburg." Jim's features were set in an unhappy pout. "You said earlier that I was Dad. How come he gets to be Dad now and I'm just your older brother. It's not fair!"
"Well, Jim, you were supposed to take me out for ice cream after dinner, remember? You're not going to do that now, so I went out and found myself a nicer Dad.
"So, what do you think, Daddy?" Blair tightened his one armed hug around Simon even more as he continued, "Will you be nice and take me out for ice cream?"
"Now, that's not fair, Sandburg. I would have taken you out for ice cream, but you promised that you wouldn't get a scratch on the truck. You totaled it, Chief! I hardly think that's grounds for being treated to ice cream!"
"But even you said it wasn't my fault, Jim." Sticking his tongue out at the older man, Blair continued, "I don't think I should be held accountable for something that even you said wasn't my fault."
Shifting his car into park at the entrance to 852 Prospect, Simon let out a sigh of relief. "Okay, you two, out! Now! Some of us do have real work to do. I'll expect to see you two at the station by nine tomorrow. I'll let you know what forensics finds, and we'll do your official statement then, okay, Sandburg?"
Leaning in through the open car window, Blair smiled sweetly at the older man. "Uhm, Dad, we have a little problem there, remember? The truck is totaled and the Volvo is still at the PD garage. We don't have any way to get in. Please pick us up. You wouldn't want us to have to take the bus, would you?"
Rolling his eyes heavenward, Simon yanked his wallet out of his back pocket, extracted a $20 bill and handed it to the other man. "Here, take a cab! You two can be hard enough to handle in the afternoon when I'm wide-awake. If I had to pick both of you up first thing in the morning, I don't think a jury in the world could convict me of homicide. Now, get out of my window and let me get back to work!"
"Bye, Simon!" Blair laughed as he opened the door leading into the building. "Man, what a pushover! Cab fare to the precinct is only $10. I'm making $10 on the deal!"
"Well, then," laughed Jim as he followed Blair up the steps, "you're definitely the one buying the ice cream!"
"Rain check, okay? We have things we need to talk about tonight. Besides, you know I'm going to give it back to him, anyway." Pausing on the second floor landing, Blair dug through his pockets until he produced his apartment key. "I want to stop off to take a shower and get changed, and then I'll be up. Do you have sandwich makings?" At the other man's nod, he continued, "Okay, then. I'll bring up some of that fresh fruit salad I made and we can have dinner. I'll see you in a half-hour or so."
"Hey, Jim," Blair's voice floated up the spiral staircase to the loft. "Can you please come down here for a minute and help me? I've got too much stuff and I can't handle it all."
"Geez, Sandburg, what is all this?" Heading down the stairs, Jim took in the bowl, bottles and assortment of books laid out on the other man's kitchen table.
"The bowl, obviously, is the fruit salad. If I remember correctly, you're out of spring water, so I thought I'd bring some up because that's what I want to drink. It's what you should drink, too, so there's enough there for you. As for the books--I told you we have things to discuss, remember? The books have some references that could be helpful."
Suppressing a groan, Jim looked at the pile of books again. //Although I should probably refer to them as research materials or academic texts.// Jim thought with a sigh.
"Okay, Sandburg, I'll tell you what. The fruit salad sounds good. I'll even agree to go with the water instead of beer. But, is all this research material really necessary? Why don't you just tell me what you have to say without bringing other people's viewpoints into it? If we really need to get something clarified, we'll come down and get the books then, okay?"
Blair considered the other man's words for a minute, then smiled and picked up the fruit salad bowl. "I guess I can live with that. I'll grab the bowl, you take the bottles and let's go have dinner. I'm starving."
Back upstairs, Blair immediately started digging through the refrigerator for sandwich makings while Jim pulled small bowls out of the cupboard for individual servings of fruit salad. "Ham, cheese, turkey, corned beef, pastrami--I see someone was at the deli recently. Okay, let's see, mayonnaise, mustard, tomato, lettuce. I think we're ready to go here."
Sitting on the couches in the living room, the two men ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, then Blair placed his empty dishes on the coffee table and turned to look at his partner. "Well, truck crashes aside, I had a very interesting afternoon. I learned a lot, and I think I've taken care of the problems you've been having with Rachael's ghost. Where do you want to start?"
"Why don't you just pick a place near the beginning, and we'll go from there."
"Okay, I spent most of the afternoon reading this really fascinating book on shamanism. It said--"
"Whoa, Chief." Jim held his hand up for the other man to stop. "Do you really need to tell me everything the book said? Is that really necessary to the rest of your story?"
"No, I guess not." Blair's voice was slightly deflated, but brightened considerably as he continued his story, "After I was done at the library, I went to my office to try to meditate. It was so cool, Jim! I slipped right into a trance, or whatever you want to call it, and then the wolf was there. He led me to this clearing, where I saw Incacha."
"Incacha?!?" Jim's voice was disbelieving as he interrupted his friend's story.
"Yes, Incacha, Jim. He had some pretty important stuff to say. Anyway, they brought me to this clearing where, uhm, I saw the fountain and all of you trying to save my life." Blair's voice dropped to almost a whisper as he said this, and looking at Jim, he saw the telltale tensing of the other man's jaw muscles.
"I asked Incacha why he would want to bring me back there, and he told me that I hadn't really defeated death there."
"What do you mean, you didn't defeat death? You died--what more do you have to do to defeat death?" The older man's voice was incredulous.
"Well, that's what I asked Incacha. He explained that dying is not the same as defeating death. I died, but I didn't accept death as a natural and inevitable part of life--even mine. It seems that I had a little too much attachment to something here." Blair peeked through his hair at the other man, just in time to see a small smile flit across his lips. "So, anyway, since I hadn't defeated death, that's why the way of the shaman that Incacha passed to me wasn't kicking in or anything."
"So, what do we do about that? Wait a minute--didn't you say something in Simon's car about Incacha getting you to really accept death after you wrecked my truck?"
"And they say you only made detective because of your sterling wit and native good looks." Blair's voice turned serious as he continued. "Yeah, actually it was kind of a dirty trick. When the truck hit that tree, the next thing I remember is waking up on this completely black, featureless plain. After letting me wander around aimlessly for a while, Incacha got into this heavy discussion with me about how the role of the shaman is to fight for life, but to accept death when it comes and how no one has a choice when it's his time and it doesn't matter who or what we leave behind, we just have to accept it.
"Man, he really made me think that I was dead. So, eventually I agreed with him and called for death to come get me." Glancing over at his friend, Blair noticed that Jim's molars seemed to be taking a lot of punishment tonight. "When I did that, suddenly we were back in the forest and Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to me again. He said that I was ready to use it this time. Then the wolf leaped into my chest--man, did that feel weird! I think that means that I'm now the official shaman of this partnership."
"Does that mean that you're going to be the one seeing the ghosts from now on? I certainly hope so--I really could do with a few less of those headaches and blasted sensory spikes."
Smiling at his partner, Blair answered the other man's question. "I think so, Jim. After all, traditionally, the spirit is the realm of the shaman. Since I've done that whole defeating death thing and been named shaman, again, by Incacha, I would think Rachael's ghost would be my bailiwick now. Unfortunately, though, until she actually shows up again, we can't be positive that that's what's going to happen."
"Great, Sandburg," Jim sighed in exasperation. "I thought it was your job to figure all of this out. Can't you figure what's going to happen?"
Shifting to face the detective, Blair swallowed hard on the hurt that threatened to over flow into his words. "Jim, I'm sorry, I'm doing the best that I can. I truly don't think that you're going to have any further problems with Rachael blasting your senses. However, until I can positively tell you, I don't want to make any promises that might not turn out to be right. If this doesn't take care of it, I promise you that I will find some way to do it."
"I know, Chief." Jim ran the back of a tired hand across his face. "It's just that I always expect you to know the answers, and it always takes me by surprise when you don't. Sometimes I don't react quite as well as I should."
"Well, Jim, before you go getting all humble and apologetic on me, I have one more thing to tell you that I don't think you're going to like." Seeing Jim's encouraging nod, Blair took a deep breath and continued, "Incacha had one more thing to tell me when I saw him after the truck wrecked.
"He said, well, he said that now that I have fulfilled my shamanistic destiny, so to speak, that we need to go back to the temple of the Sentinels in Mexico."
"He what?!? He wants us to go back to that place?" Blair almost swore that he could hear Jim's teeth cracking from the strain as he talked, "Why in the world would we want to go back there? I don't exactly have the best memories from our last trip, and I doubt you do either."
"Incacha said that the purpose of the two pools was actually for the Sentinel and his Guide or shaman. He said that last time we were there," Blair suppressed a small shudder, "I wasn't ready. Now that I am, we need to go back and cement our partnership."
"Sandburg, I'm sorry. I have absolutely no interest in going back to that temple. I think that our partnership is fine the way it is. I don't see how some mystical mumbo-jumbo is supposed to make us work together better."
"I said no, Sandburg!" Jim's tone was implacable. "I don't want to go back to that temple, and I don't want to talk about it anymore tonight.
Smiling at his partner, the detective continued in a much lighter tone. "There's a Jags game coming on if you want to stay up here and watch some television with me. Now that we're finished with our 'healthy' dinner, there're some beers in the fridge if you want to grab a couple. Look, I'm sorry, Chief. Today has been a little tough and I just need to relax and unwind a bit. You can give your statement at the station tomorrow and we can try to figure out what to do about Rachael, her slimy father and her ghost, but for tonight, I just want to kick back and enjoy the game."
The first thing Jim did the next morning after they reached the bullpen was to buzz down to Forensics. Remembering his last talk with the Forensics Chief and mindful that he needed her cooperation for what he was about to ask, the detective decided to put Blair's advice into action. When Serena answered her phone, Jim's tone was nothing but pleasantly polite.
"Hello, Serena. How are you this fine morning?"
Beside him, Blair rolled his eyes. //Way to go, Jim. Make her suspicious from the very beginning.//
"I'm fine, too, thank you. Serena, I have a favor to ask. Is it possible that your techs could be finished with Sweet--er--my truck by late this afternoon? Why? Well, I called that garage this morning and they said they could pick it up then. I just wanted to make sure it would be all right."
Blair watched with growing amusement as the pleasant facade on his friend's face rapidly shifted into the more familiar belligerent expression that he wore when his wishes were thwarted. //Uh-oh. Must have made a derogatory remark about Sweetheart's chances. Serena, you're lucky you're several floors away.//
"What do you mean, she can't be fixed?! Of course she can! She's been through worse and come out okay. Just tell me if she'll be ready to go by 3:00!"
A spate of shouting from the captain's office diverted Blair's attention from the ridiculous conversation to the closed off room across from his desk. The blinds had not been shut, and the anthropologist could see the angry man gesticulating wildly as he chewed out whomever was on the other end of the phone he was holding. Blair, having been on the receiving end of Simon's temper more than once, winced sympathetically for the poor soul. He hastily diverted his gaze when the captain slammed down the receiver, rose from behind his desk, and stalked towards his door. This did not bode well for someone.
//Damn, I shoulda guessed!// the curly-headed consultant thought woefully as the big man crossed the room in several ground-consuming strides, straight for he and Jim.
By that time, Jim had finished his conversation with Serena and was staring impassively at the furious man heading their way. He didn't know what had happened, but he guessed it had something to do with the Myles' case since they weren't working on anything else at the moment.
The captain confirmed his suspicions by saying, "Myles has disappeared."
"What?!" Blair exclaimed. "Didn't we have people watching him?"
"Of course we did, Sandburg, I ordered the surveillance myself! But he must have known we were watching and found a way to get out of his house undetected. No one knew he was gone until this morning."
Frowning, Jim asked, "Who called his disappearance in?"
Simon snorted. "Would you believe Vanessa Sedgewick? Apparently, she was supposed to meet him at his house to go over the case, but by the time she got there, he was gone." A grim smile spread across the dark man's face. "She sounded pretty ticked off about losing her client."
"Aw, poor thing," Blair muttered in mocking sympathy. "So now we're back to square one."
"Not completely," his partner contradicted. "At least now we know who we're looking for. We just have to find him."
The younger man nodded dejectedly. "Back to the salt mines, then." He started in the direction of Jim's desk.
"Why don't we take the files into one of the smaller conference rooms, Chief? It'll be easier to spread out there, and we won't be disturbed as much. That okay with you, Captain?"
"Yeah, sure, fine. Jim, can I talk to you a minute first?"
The detective left with his superior for Simon's office, leaving Blair to his own devices. Scooping up the pertinent files from Jim's desk, the consultant walked the short distance down the hallway to the conference rooms, picked one at random, and went in.
Dropping down into one of the conference room chairs, Blair sighed as he snagged the top folder. They had already been through these files a dozen times over the past few days, but maybe there was something that had been missed. Something that would not only tell them what had happened to Rachael, but also where her father was currently hiding.
Flipping the folder open, the first thing the anthropologist was confronted with was Rachael's picture. He picked it up, one finger tracing the image of the smiling, dark-haired eleven-year old. A deep sense of sadness, anger, and determination closed around the young man's heart, and he silently renewed his promise to the girl to bring the man responsible for her death to justice. He set the photo back on the table and was in the act of reaching for Myles' first interview statement when a small voice piped up at his right elbow.
"Hey, Mr. Blair, can you hear me? The wolf said you could now."
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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