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Blair sat on the floor of his room, cross-legged, breathing steadily - in-two-three-four, hold-two-three-four, out-two-three-four, hold-two-three-four, in-two-three-four... He had done it so often over the years it was completely effortless, mindless, he didn't have to think about it to fall into, or maintain, the pattern.
He wasn't quite meditating; rather, he was using the discipline to put his thoughts in order.
How often had Naomi interfered in his life?
How often had he let her get away with it?
Almost every time.
But that was, in a way, habit - a habit begun when he was barely old enough to walk and talk. "Yes, sweetie, I know you like it here/want to stay here/know the people here, but if you do that, your mind will stagnate. There are so many new things to see, to experience, and they're just over the horizon... "
Back then he had had no choice; he had to go where - and when - his mother went.
Naomi - he had come to realize - had a very short attention span. It wasn't that she was easily bored - it was more that she was impatient. She was a quick, a very quick, learner, and as soon as she thought she knew/understood something, she was ready, even anxious, to move on, learn what, in her opinion, there was to discover about something or someplace new. He was almost certain that was why he had no siblings - one experience of pregnancy and childbirth had taught her what it was like, she didn't need - or want - to experience it again, even to see if it was in any way different second time around.
His childhood had been a succession of fresh starts.
That had ended when he went to Rainier as a streetwise sixteen-year-old who surprised everyone with how mature he was.
Naomi, he knew, had never understood why he wanted to stay in one place for years, why he wanted to spend years learning about what, to her mind, was just one subject. He'd tried to point out to her that anthropology and psychology, the two disciplines that interested him most, covered a wide range of sub-subjects, but in her single-minded, never-ending quest for new she was simply unable to comprehend wanting extent of knowledge.
He had to give her credit for accepting - with what he recognized as a considerable degree of resignation - that this was what he wanted, and making it possible for him to do it.
She had never been over-lavish with money and only gave him a small allowance when he went to Rainier because, as she'd explained to him, she didn't want him to stand out and she wanted him to understand how to manage what money he had - even although he had been managing their money for two years, ever since Naomi had finally told him that they weren't, as he had always thought, quite poor.
They had often hitch-hiked and every time Naomi stopped somewhere they had lived a fairly frugal existence - Blair found himself wondering, now, if she had been afraid that if she spent too much she would end up having to settle down and work in order to survive.
What would she have done, he sometimes wondered, if her parents hadn't died in an accident when she was seventeen, leaving her financially quite comfortable, not needing to work. He had been completely unable to answer his own question. But it seemed probable that she wouldn't have been happy.
He turned his mind back to the present.
He had spent nearly half of his life in Cascade - and until a few days ago had assumed that he would continue to live there. Possibly not in that tiny room underneath Jim's bedroom, but not too far away from his sentinel.
What should he do?
Several days ago, he had publicly declared that he was a fraud.
Yes, Simon had offered him a badge, Jim had indicated that he would be happy to have Blair as his permanent, official partner. The offer was tempting - more than tempting. But...
If he stayed, how many people would wonder why? Why Jim was tolerating the continued presence in his life of the man who had said, so publicly, that he had made up the 'evidence' proving that Jim was a sentinel, but, in addition, was accepting him as a partner?
No. He couldn't do it.
It was time for him to move on, to leave Cascade, and for the first time in fourteen years, make a fresh start.
Even with the fairly limited allowance she had given him when he went to Rainier, Blair had still been able to save a little, and once he obtained a position as a TA with a stipend, he had been able to save more. Once he moved in with Jim he had been able to save even more, for - although he had frequently joked about back rent - Jim had never accepted rent money from him; all he had ever asked was that Blair pay his share of the utilities and food.
His savings didn't amount to a fortune... but provided him with a comfortable buffer, especially since his allowance was on-going and he knew how to live frugally. In addition, he had a number of skills - he would find it quite easy to pick up a job.
But where should he go? Where could he go where his name was unknown? Dear old Sid had broadcast his releases from 'this brilliant account of the abilities of a man who is one in a hundred million - a sentinel!' worldwide.
And wasn't that a total mess, too.
It was amazing how quickly things had moved. Simon had suggested suing Berkshire Publishing for releasing excerpts of the manuscript when he had told them it wasn't for publication, but Blair had already discovered that the only thing preventing Berkshire Publishing from suing him for 'submitting as fact a manuscript that he then publicly admitted was fiction' was Naomi's letter to its CEO - which she'd threatened to make as public as Blair's own press conference - that she had sent the manuscript to Sid Graham, not as a submission, but asking him - as a friend - to suggest to Blair how it could be improved. That Blair had told Graham more than once that it wasn't for publication - and because at least one of Graham's calls was made to the PD, where calls were recorded as a matter of course, he could prove that he had told Graham that.
So no. As far as Berkshire was concerned, Blair's best bet was to leave the waters unstirred. Lie low. Keep off its radar. Let Naomi deal with it, if indeed further dealings were needed.
And if in the future he ever did write anything - a novel, for example; he had plenty of material that would let him write anthropological novels - the one place he wouldn't submit it was Berkshire Publishing.
In his own room, Jim listened as Blair finally moved, went to the bathroom, then returned to his room, undressed and slid into bed. As Blair's breathing evened out in sleep, Jim also closed his eyes and slept.
Jim sat up abruptly, aroused by the quiet voice.
Dreaming. He knew he was dreaming. He was surrounded by the weirdly familiar blue jungle, and in front of him stood a familiar figure.
"Incacha. Why have you come to me?" But he knew.
"Will you allow your guide to sacrifice himself, his entire future, because you are afraid?"
"I would never have asked it of him - but it isn't as simple as that," Jim protested. "In the rain forest, things are different, easier in many ways. A sentinel serves the tribe by watching for changes in the weather, finding the animals the tribe needs for food, even guarding against enemies who come from outside. Hardly anyone inside the tribe seeks to harm other members of the tribe. In the city, we have criminals, men - and women - who from greed do seek to harm others in the tribe. I told Blair when we first met that I don't need Cascade's criminals to know what I can do. If they did, the most powerful of them would try to kill me, might even succeed - and if I'm dead, I can no longer serve the tribe.
"I'm not afraid for myself, Incacha. If I die, I die. But if I die, I can no longer serve the tribe."
"Then you must find a way to help your guide but at the same time find a way to avoid dying."
Jim blinked, and opened his eyes to see the familiar ceiling above him.
He lay without moving, thinking.
Incacha was right; he couldn't allow Blair to sacrifice everything for him. Yet... how could he admit the truth? Admitting the truth publicly would automatically make him a target for every hitman around.
As he had told Incacha, he was not afraid of death. Death was an old enemy, one he had faced and defeated several times. One day, he knew, death would win. But as a sentinel it was his responsibility to continue protecting the tribe for as long as possible, and the only way to do that in this concrete jungle was to hide what he was.
There had to be a way. Somehow... somehow there had to be a way.
Over breakfast, Blair said quietly, "I was thinking about things last night, Jim... and I realized that... well... I really do appreciate the offer of the badge, and I'd really like to be your official partner... but it won't work. You're too well known as a man who... let's face it Jim, it's true and you know it - a man who is slow to forgive anything that could be construed as betrayal. Too many people would wonder why you'd forgiven me... unless what I'd written was true, so that there was no betrayal, no need for forgiveness. And that would be dangerous."
"I was thinking things over too," Jim said. "You're right - too many people know that it doesn't take much to make me believe the worst of someone. Offering you the badge seemed a good idea... and I do want you as my permanent partner - but... "
"So I need to leave. You can rant, very publicly, about how after you were prepared to let the fake diss go, I still walked out on you - "
"No!" Jim's response was instant. "Don't act too hastily, Chief. I do have an idea. It's pretty involved and it does depend on letting three or four people in on the secret, but I think it'll work."
"The more people who know something, the more chance there is of it slipping out," Blair said.
"I know, but some of them already know.
"Before we could offer you the badge, I had to see the Chief of Police and the DA, admit the senses thing."
"The DA? I doubt you could get Foster to believe in heightened senses even if you spent a solid year proving you have them."
"Ah, but Foster retired the end of last month. The new DA is an old friend of ours."
"She. It's Bev Sanchez."
Blair's jaw dropped. "I thought she moved to LA after she married, got a job in the DA's office there."
"She did, but her marriage failed after just a few months. She was earning more than her husband, and he couldn't handle it - he got jealous, abusive, and when he started hitting her she got the hell out. Got a divorce, moved to somewhere in Oregon. Then she saw the DA's job here being advertised; she'd liked it here, so she applied."
"And of course she was known from her time here - "
"Yes, but scuttlebutt said she was also the most experienced applicant. Anyway, Simon and I discussed things with Bev and Warren.
"Bev is sure they can get around the 'fraud' thing by claiming that the 'diss' was the first draft of a novel written in thesis style and you said it was fraudulent because as a diss it was. Warren agreed. He knows what's what, Chief; he knows how valuable you've been to Major Crime, or he wouldn't have let your ridealong carry on as long as it has."
"But that was just to get you official approval before we offered you the badge.
"Now I was thinking things over during the night. I've got an idea - I don't think you'll particularly like it, and as I said we'll have to let a few folk in on the secret, but it'll dispose of any potential danger to us from what happened, and also give you the chance to get your PhD."
Blair looked at him suspiciously. "The more people who know about the sentinel thing - " he repeated.
"Will have to be sworn to silence. First of all, I need to see your dissertation committee... "
Jim parked in the familiar grounds of Rainier University, and headed for the door of Hargrove Hall. Inside, he paused for a moment, glancing around - he knew the way to Blair's old office, having visited it often enough, but he wasn't completely sure where Chancellor Edward's office was.
There was an open door just down the corridor, and he walked over to it.
The women sitting at the desk inside was an obvious secretary - he spared a moment to wonder why it was so obvious before giving a mental shrug; it didn't really matter, after all. He knocked on the door and went in.
"Hello, sir. Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Chancellor Edwards."
"Do you have an appointment?" Although still perfectly polite, her tone said that she knew he didn't, even as she reached for what he thought was probably an appointments diary.
"I don't, but what I have to say to her won't wait." He held up his badge. "Jim Ellison, Cascade PD."
An 'uh-oh' expression flashed over her face before her professional secretarial demeanor covered it.
"Yes, sir. I'll see if the Chancellor can spare you a minute - she's very busy." She crossed to a door behind her desk, knocked and went through it, closing it behind her.
//Chancellor, it's Detective Ellison. He wants to speak to you.//
//Did he say what he wanted?//
//No, but it has to be something about... // her voice trailed off.
//I suppose I should have expected this. I'll just have to do some fast talking, hope I can manage some damage control, persuade the man to be reasonable - we were badly damaged by Sandburg's so-called dissertation too. All right, Lorna, send him in.//
Damage control, Jim thought. Are you in for a surprise, lady.
The secretary - Lorna - reappeared. "The Chancellor can spare you a few minutes, sir."
"Thank you." He passed her and went into Edwards' office, closing the door carefully.
She stood to greet him. "Detective Ellison. I'm so sorry we had to meet like this."
He nodded. "Actually, it's not just you I want to see. I want to see all of Sandburg's dissertation committee, and I want to see them now. One meeting with all of you - saves my time, police time - " though that was stretching a point, because he was still not passed as medically fit to work - "and ultimately your time. Damage control on this situation isn't going to be an easy job, fast talking won't help, and while I'm prepared to be reasonable... that'll depend on you."
The surprise on her face at hearing the words she had used thrown back at her would have been funny if Blair's situation hadn't been so serious. Still staring at him, she groped for a phone, and again Jim listened. "Lorna, get me Dr. Torrance please...
//Hello, Marie. I haven't missed a meeting, have I?"
"Hello, Sidney." She glanced at Jim. "How many of Sandburg's dissertation committee are here today?"
//Just me and Sam Lewis.//
"I need to see you both in my office now. There... could be a problem."
//Problem? Marie, although I really wouldn't have thought he was capable of doing anything so dishonest, Sandburg admitted publicly that he'd faked his research.//
"I think... that could be the problem." She glanced at Jim again as she hung up the phone.
Edwards gestured towards a chair. "Please sit, Detective. Coffee?" She gestured towards the coffee maker on a table at the rear of her office.
"No, thanks," Jim said. Tempted to tell her that she really should make - or get Lorna to make - coffee fresh each day instead of just warming up what had been left from the previous day, he decided to be polite and say nothing.
The silence as they waited for Torrance and Lewis was uneasy. Jim sat back, apparently relaxed, but he could see in Edwards' body the tension that she couldn't hide from a sentinel.
It was a little more than five minutes before there was a knock on the door that didn't lead into Lorna's room. It opened and two men entered.
"Ah, Dr. Torrance, Dr. Lewis," Edwards said, and Jim wondered if the relief in her voice was as obvious to them as it was to him. "This is Detective Ellison. Detective, Dr. Torrance, Dr. Lewis."
Jim looked at Torrance. "On Blair's behalf, I have to thank you," he said.
"For believing in his honesty."
Torrance looked from Jim to Edwards, who said quietly, "I didn't tell him you said that."
"Then... in spite of what he said, Sandburg didn't fake his results." Torrance sounded genuinely pleased.
"Before I say anything more, I want your word - all of you - that what I'm about to say will remain confidential," Jim said. "You don't discuss it even among yourselves anywhere where you might be overheard. If anyone asks you, you say 'No comment'. Do I have your word?"
"Very well. Yes." Edwards.
"Blair lied at the press conference. The documentation about my senses was accurate and obtained in scrupulous detail." Jim looked at Edwards. "I've shown you that I can hear a conversation through a closed door or from the other end of a telephone. What else do you want me to prove?"
Lewis pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote something in it. He moved to as far from Jim as he could, and held up the book. "I don't disbelieve you, but just for confirmation - what does this say?"
"'Why did Blair lie at the press conference?'" Jim waited for Lewis to nod confirmation, then went on to explain.
"To give you a little background - Blair had been planning on taking my name - and his own because he was too well-known as my ridealong - off the document, but he hadn't figured out how to do that without compromising the validity of the results. Unfortunately his mother discovered that he'd finished the first draft, and she sent it without his knowledge or consent to Sid Graham at Berkshire Publishing, to ask Graham's advice on how to improve it. She told us she thought Graham might pick up on a few typos, maybe the odd grammatical mistake - but basically that he'd tell Blair that it didn't need the work done to it that Blair had indicated to her that it did.
"The one mistake Blair made, really, was leaving her alone with his laptop, but he thought she was computer illiterate. Turned out that although she'd never emailed Blair, she often used internet cafes to keep in touch with friends all over the world... including, unfortunately, Sid Graham.
"When Graham contacted him, Blair told him the document wasn't a submission, wasn't for publication, and to destroy it. Graham completely ignored Blair's wishes.
"Once Graham started releasing excerpts, the media circus totally interfered with me doing my job. But we could have lived with that - in a few days something else would have been the big news story and we'd have dropped back into obscurity. The book wouldn't have been published - my father's lawyer would have seen to that. However, if Cascade's big criminals - the ones who usually get one of their rank and file to take the fall if the cops get too close - believed it was true, I'd have had more than one contract on my head inside twenty-four hours, plus a few of the lesser criminals trying to make a name for themselves inside crime circles by taking down 'the sentinel'. I couldn't do my job at all if I was having to look over my shoulder all the time.
"Blair probably could have worded his press conference a little less damningly, but he wanted to kill the story as fast as possible. He denied his work and destroyed his career without hesitation to protect me.
"I can't allow him to make such a sacrifice. Not without at least trying to put some of it right. He obviously can't present the sentinel dissertation, but he has a lot of notes on the work of the police, and he could easily do a dissertation on that."
The three academics looked at each other. Torrance and Lewis were nodding - only Edwards looked doubtful.
"Seems only fair," Torrance said quietly.
"Provided he can present it fairly quickly," Lewis added with a sideways glance at Edwards. "Within - say - six months."
"I agree with that," Edwards said. "Six months maximum. He's had plenty of time to do the research. However, I won't have him back as a TA, or give him a job as a lecturer. Although he did manage to get his classes covered, he's had altogether too many unauthorised absences, many of them due to injuries sustained as a result of his association with the police." She glanced at her associates. "I imagine Sandburg will want to continue working with the police - it's seemed to me for a while that he was more interested in that than in his academic work."
Jim looked at her for a moment before nodding. She did have a point, and he still hoped that Blair would get a position working in the PD. And it was only fair that he compromised a little by accepting their stipulations. Certainly it meant Blair wouldn't have an income while he worked on the new dissertation, but he was prepared - more than prepared - to support Blair for the next few months.
"I'll let him know," he said quietly. "He'll be in touch with you pretty quickly - who should he contact?"
"Me," Torrance said.
Jim nodded, said, "Thank you," and left. Mission accomplished.
Once he reached his truck, Jim pulled out his cell phone and called Blair.
"Sandburg." Since the press conference, Blair had started answering his phone fairly abruptly - although a surprising number of his acquaintances had ignored his claim of fraud and remained supportive, he'd had a few less than friendly calls.
"Hi, Chief, it's me. Contact Dr. Torrance as soon as you can - you've got the okay for a diss on the police as long as you can do it inside six months. Edwards refused to reinstate you as a TA, though."
"That doesn't surprise me, but if I don't have to teach it'll give me more time to work on the diss."
"Torrance is on your side, by the way - he told Edwards he didn't think you were capable of acting dishonestly. Dr. Lewis seemed to agree with him. I just saw those three."
"They're the important ones."
"I'm heading off now to my next meeting."
"It'll be all right, Chief. Now call Torrance." He ended the call before Blair could say anything more.
Blair sighed as he, too, hung up. Why, why, why hadn't he thought just a little longer before composing his speech for the press conference? Why hadn't he just said the whole thing was fiction, that he'd used Jim's name and his own to help him focus on his main characters? Why hadn't he told Sid that yes, the thing could be published, but because it was fiction he'd have to change the names of the characters? He had thrown away his academic career willingly to protect Jim, but if he'd said all along that it was fiction, Jim wouldn't have felt compelled now to take the drastic step he had decided was necessary because he couldn't bear to see Blair lose everything he had worked half his life to accomplish.
It was all his fault, after all; he should be the one to pay the price. He should never have used Jim's name even in his notes, and certainly not in his first draft. That had been so totally, utterly unprofessional... His first mistake. And while he hadn't known that Naomi knew a professional editor, with her history of interfering when she decided that her ideas for his future were better than his, he should have known better than to assume she wouldn't do something, wouldn't do what she thought was best for him even when it wasn't. Even though she had always insisted that she wanted him to be his own man, one who could and would make his own decisions, not one who subscribed to 'the herd mentality', he should have known better. His second mistake, thinking that she might have changed and accepted that he was making his own decisions.
Blair went to his room and retrieved the notes he had made on the police dissertation - the notes he had spent the time since he finished breakfast preparing, just in case... though he hadn't dared hope too hard, knowing how much Edwards disliked him. He was still unhappy with the 'solution' Jim had suggested, but at least the visit to Rainier had been successful. He took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and punched in the numbers for Rainier.
Jim's second meeting would, he knew, be more complicated.
It was mid-afternoon before the people he had called together met in Chief Warren's office. Large though it was, it gave the impression of being crowded with the number of people present. As well as Warren and DA Sanchez, there was Simon, Brown, Rafe, Joel and Megan from Major Crime, M.E. Dan Wolfe, Dr. Thomas from Cascade General, Jack Kelso from Rainier and William Ellison.
"Right, then, Ellison," Warren said. "We're in your hands."
Jim looked around the group. "First of all, although I do trust you all, I'm swearing you to secrecy."
There was a murmur of agreement.
"One or two more people will need to know something, but they don't need to know what I'm about to tell you here. For those of you who aren't already aware - it was Sandburg's press conference that was the lie. I am a sentinel." He noticed Brown, Rafe and Joel nodding. So - they had guessed. He wasn't surprised.
"What Berkshire Publishing got hold of, courtesy of Sandburg's 'helpful' mother, was a first draft that she, in effect, stole from his laptop; he had no intention of submitting it before changing names and letting me read it to ensure that I was satisfied that I couldn't be identified. In fairness to her, she didn't know what it was about - she believed she was acting in Sandburg's best interests by getting the writing vetted by a professional editor." He hesitated for a moment before continuing.
"I did have heightened senses as a child, but - " Jim glanced at his father - "Dad was afraid that if it became known, I would be considered a freak, and I managed - I'm still not sure how - to suppress them. I was using them when I was stranded in Peru, but when I returned home I suppressed them again, until I was on solitary stake-out during the Switchman case.
"Sandburg heard about me when I went to the hospital for tests - I didn't at that point remember having the senses when I was younger, and thought I might have been drugged - and explained to me what was happening.
"You know how it's possible to concentrate on something to the point where you're not really aware of what's going on around you?"
Again there was a staggered murmur of agreement.
"In sentinels, that's heightened too. Sandburg calls it the 'zone-out factor'. Historically, a sentinel had a companion who helped him to remain grounded. Almost anyone can pull a sentinel out of a zone out, but the companion - someone once called him a 'guide' - can do it faster and more easily than anyone else. For the past four years, Sandburg has been my guide.
"I have never used my heightened senses to do more than find evidence that would hold up in court - or no, there was once, just after the senses re-emerged; the Juno case. I saw Danny Choi's killer and identified him as Tommy Juno. That was thrown out because of the distance involved - but I honestly hadn't realized how far away he was, and I learned from the incident."
Jim was silent for a moment then, when nobody spoke, continued. "Right from the start I told Sandburg that I didn't need the bad guys to know that I had an edge, but as it turned out it's not just the bad guys I have to watch out for. When Berkshire started issuing excerpts from the document - although Sandburg had told Graham it wasn't intended for publication - the press got hold of the story. I couldn't do my job for them - and then Claus Zeller took a pot shot at the PD. I'm sure I was the target although the bullet actually hit Captain Banks, went through his body and the ricochet hit Inspector Connor.
"Zeller was probably only the first; I can expect to be targeted again, and more of my colleagues could suffer because of it. I've therefore come to the conclusion that Jim Ellison has to die - very publicly."
There was a sudden babble of voices, and Jim held up his hand.
"Tonight, I'm going to be shot. I'll be rushed to Cascade General, where Dr. Thomas will pronounce me dead, and my body will be taken to the PD morgue."
"All right, but at least three more people will have to know - the EMTs and my assisting nurse," Thomas said.
"We can tell them that it's a sting, that my life has been threatened and this is the only way to ensure my safety. Or, possibly better, that I'm going deep undercover and need to be officially dead so that anyone who 'recognizes' Jim Ellison can be assured it's just a chance resemblance - "
"Is that likely?" Rafe asked.
"To my knowledge, Jim has three cousins who resemble him quite closely, all on his mother's side of the family," William Ellison said. "Two are in law enforcement, one in Hawaii and the other in Washington DC. There's also a second cousin - a businessman in Seattle. I lost touch with my first wife's family after she died; I'd no real reason to maintain any contact with them. I only know about those three because I met the Seattle one a few years ago at a business conference, commented on the likeness, and we worked out the relationship. He told me about the other two, but he, too, had lost touch with a lot of the family. So there could be more. All three have different surnames, so it's unlikely that anyone would realize they were related. An apparently chance resemblance is perfectly possible."
Looking at Thomas, Jim went on, "But I need you to know the whole story because afterwards I'll need to have a regular doctor who knows the truth." He turned his attention from Thomas to Dan Wolfe. "Dan, I'd like you to 'perform' an autopsy and announce I was killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. Dad, you'll have to arrange a funeral - I assume you know someone who can see to it, no questions asked."
William Ellison nodded.
"Simon smuggles me away and I leave Cascade, adopt a new identity.
"Jack - that's where you come in. Off the record - you can get government records hacked, right? I need to get my army record changed so that anything that could identify John Doe as Jim Ellison has gone."
"I can get that done," Kelso agreed, wording his answer as carefully as Jim had made the request. "It might take a few days, but not more than a week."
"Major Crime will investigate, and come up blank," Simon, who had already discussed it with Jim, said. "The assumption will be that someone put a price on Jim's head, and a hitman has taken him out."
Predictably, it was Joel who said, "Blair knows what you're planning, of course?"
"Yes," Jim said. "He doesn't like it, but it'll give him the freedom to get his doctorate. I've already spoken to his dissertation committee, and they're letting him submit one on the work of the police." He looked at his friends. "Keep an eye on him for me?"
"You know we will," Simon said.
Jim took a deep breath. "Anyone got any questions?"
"Will you be coming back?" Warren asked.
"Eventually, yes, using a different name."
"There'll be a job waiting for you when you do."
"Thank you," Jim replied.
The phone rang, drawing Blair's attention from the notes he had spent the day assembling into rational order.
"Megan. Watch the news, Sandy. Jim said you knew what he was planning... "
"Yes," Blair said. "He did it today, then? Thanks for the heads up."
He glanced at the clock - yes, the news would be on in a minute. He switched on the television.
"A Cascade detective was killed today as he left PD headquarters." The anchorman's voice was sober. "We take you to Don Haas at the PD."
Blair watched unhappily, seeing the yellow crime scene tape fastened just outside the main door of the PD and what looked horribly like a pool of blood between the tape and the door, as the voice-over said, "An unknown gunman shot Detective James Ellison just seconds after he came out of this doorway less than an hour ago. Ellison was in the company of his immediate superior, Captain Taggart who, according to a passing witness, immediately shielded the victim's body with his own while he attempted to apply first aid. Several other officers were leaving the building at the same time, and while two stopped to help Captain Taggart, others immediately went in search of the gunman, but it appeared that he had used a long-distance rifle as no sign of him was found. An ambulance arrived within minutes and Ellison was rushed to Cascade General, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
"Captain Taggart is temporarily in charge of Major Crime until Captain Banks, who was badly injured in an attack on the PD some days ago, is able to return to duty. He accompanied Detective Ellison to the hospital, but I am able to speak to Detective Brown, one of the men who assisted Captain Taggart."
The camera zoomed back slightly, to show H standing beside Haas. "Detective Brown, can you tell us what happened?"
"Well, Jim - Detective Ellison - wasn't actually on duty today; he was injured in the attack earlier this week, but he came in to make a statement about that attack. He was just leaving when he jerked backwards and fell. From the way he went down we knew right away that he'd been shot. Captain Taggart was with him and immediately went to help him. I was just behind them and tried to help too, but Jim was bleeding very heavily from the chest. The officer on desk duty - " he nodded towards the building - "called for an ambulance, and it arrived very quickly and rushed Jim to the hospital... but I think he was killed instantly."
"Just over a week ago, Berkshire Publishing issued several excerpts from what purported to be a doctoral dissertation by Rainier student Blair Sandburg, saying that Detective Ellison was a sentinel," Haas said. "Although Sandburg admitted that he had faked the evidence proving it, do you think that this, the second attack since then, would indicate that someone in Cascade's criminal fraternity believed that the story was true, and acted to remove Detective Ellison?"
"It's possible," H said. "But I'd like to make one thing clear - Sandburg told the Berkshire editor that the document he had was not for publication. It was the first draft of a novel, based on information Sandburg had found in an old travel book. He'd used Jim's name to help him focus, and had intended to change it in the second draft. Sandburg's real dissertation was on the work of the police."
"I see. Is that first hand knowledge, Detective, or just something Sandburg claimed?"
"It's first hand knowledge. The editor called Blair more than once, and one of those calls was made to the PD, where incoming calls are automatically recorded. I've heard the tape, heard Blair tell the man it wasn't for publication. And right from the day he started riding with Jim, we've known that he was studying the police for his dissertation. He's spoken with quite a few of us about our work."
"So how did Berkshire Publishing get a copy of the sentinel story, and why did Sandburg say that it was fraudulent?"
"His mother thought it was his dissertation and sent it to the editor, without his knowledge, to get the writing vetted by a professional. He said it was fraudulent because the 'evidence proving Ellison had heightened senses' was all made up for his fictional character; so as far as Ellison was concerned, it was faked. He could have worded the press conference he gave a little better, but he wanted to kill the story that the document was about Ellison as quickly as possible."
"And threw away his academic career," Haas said quietly.
"No," H said. "He never submitted the sentinel story as his dissertation. But he should be submitting his dissertation on the work of the police quite soon."
Haas looked straight at the camera. "So there you have it. If Detective Ellison was killed because he was believed to be a sentinel, he was killed for nothing. Don Haas, Cascade News, returning you to the studio."
Blair switched off the television and sank into the armchair, fighting tears. Every time. It happened every single time she thought she knew what was best for him. 'It's what mothers do...' she'd said. She'd brought him up to be independent, there were so many times he hadn't known where she was... but when she felt maternal, suddenly - in her eyes - he was a child again, needing her to tell him what to do...
A few minutes later the phone rang again. Tempted to let the answering machine take the call, he forced himself to pick up the phone. "Sandburg."
"Blair, it's Wendy Hawthorne. I suppose... you've heard the news."
"Yes," he managed, oddly glad that he was so close to tears, knowing that she would hear it in his voice.
"I thought you might have been at the hospital, but... "
"They told me not to go," he lied. "And... well, there didn't seem to be any point. There wasn't anything I could do that Joel - Captain Taggart - wasn't already doing."
"Did you see the news report a few minutes ago?" Her voice was gentle, sympathetic, totally lacking the pushily intrusive note that was so much a feature of too many of the reporters.
"Could you give me a statement about what Detective Brown said?"
"He said it all," Blair replied. "I'm working on a dissertation on the police - " No need to say that although he had been keeping notes right from the start as part of the cover story for why he was riding with Jim, he'd only now started on doing anything with them. "I expect to finish and submit it in another three or four months. The sentinel thing was a novel in the form of a dissertation, something I did when I went with Jim on - " His voice broke, and only he knew that it was because he was still having to deny what Jim was, even though Jim was officially dead. "On stakeouts, but it was nowhere near being ready to submit anywhere - it was only a first draft, and I still don't understand why Berkshire wanted to publish it. It wasn't bad, but it could have been better."
"Word is that Chancellor Edwards... well, terminated your position at Rainier."
"I'm still in the doctoral program," he pointed out, "though it's true I'm not working as a TA any longer. I've taken far too long to finish my dissertation, and without a TA's responsibilities I'll be able to concentrate on getting it finished."
"Good luck," Wendy said. "And Blair - I'm really sorry about Jim."
"Thanks," Blair said.
As he hung up he was aware of a slight feeling of guilt. People like Wendy, friends and friendly acquaintances, had to be left thinking that Jim was indeed dead, and once again he damned Naomi's interference... and while he had resented it on previous occasions, this time, for the first time ever, he found himself wishing that she would disappear on one of her quests for 'enlightenment' and never reappear, even if it meant he never knew where she had gone or what had happened to her.
'Do you still love me?' she had asked him, and he had replied, 'Of course I do. Always. I mean, we were all doing what we thought was right.' Yes, he still loved her... but he knew now that he hadn't forgiven her.
It was - obviously - a closed casket funeral, ostensibly because of the damage done to Jim's body by bullet and autopsy. They had decided that an apparent cremation would be the best way to make sure that nobody could ever discover that the coffin was empty; the funeral director, an old friend of William's, became another of the 'need to know that this was part of an undercover operation' group. It was late when Jim was taken to the funeral parlor in a coffin; he helped Monty Langton lift a weighted dummy into it, then went out by a back door and drove off in a van Dan Wolfe had left in the small parking lot provided for the funeral staff, while Langton closed the coffin.
The 'funeral' itself was difficult, more difficult than Blair had expected - and he had not expected it to be easy.
It was a short humanitarian service. William Ellison had long since lapsed into agnosticism, whatever his childhood religion had been, and although Jim's marriage had been in a Catholic chapel it was because Carolyn was Catholic. Jim himself had never been a member of any church.
William had wanted Blair to sit with him and Stephen at the crematorium, but reluctantly acceded to Blair's argument that since Jim had been 'shot' because of something Blair had written even though he had publicly denied its accuracy, wouldn't it seem odd if William treated him as family. (Though William still said, when interviewed by a reporter who was less sympathetic than Wendy Hawthorne or even Don Haas, that he did not blame Blair for what had happened.) Instead, the Major Crime detectives had drawn him into their midst, and even many of the other police attending, ones who weren't in on the secret, seemed to be going out of their way to indicate sympathy. At first Blair, who had expected to be pretty well ostracized by everyone except Major Crime, was surprised by that, but then Simon muttered that word had gone around that he was still working on the police dissertation that had been his official reason for riding with Jim, and the consensus was that the sentinel thing had indeed been a novel, with the Berkshire editor claiming it as fact in an attempt to draw attention to it.
Blair had been surprised to see Doctors Torrance and Lewis at the crematorium. Torrance made a point of speaking to him, expressing his condolences and adding very quietly, "Detective Ellison swore us to secrecy regarding his abilities. Even though he's dead, Dr. Lewis and I still consider ourselves honor bound by that, and the Chancellor... well, if she broke her promise she'd have to admit publicly that you didn't make up your facts, and, well... "
"She wouldn't want to do that," Blair said quietly. "I know I'm not one of her favorite people. I'd like the world to know what Jim was - but... "
"It wouldn't hurt him now. If you did ever decide to admit that the sentinel manuscript was originally intended to be your dissertation, Dr. Lewis and I are both willing to come forward and testify that he proved to us that he did have heightened senses. But unless you do, we'll keep quiet."
"Thanks." Blair shook Torrance's hand, then moved quietly back to rejoin the MC detectives.
But even the longest and most depressing day finally comes to an end, and after an apparently interminable meal where everything he ate seemed to taste of ashes, Blair was able to make his unhappy way back to the loft, which was now officially his.
It had been lonely there in the days since Jim's 'death'. Now it was almost unbearably lonely.
If Jim really had died, Blair would have sold the loft, psychologically unable to continue living there on his own; but he was holding it - and Jim's money - in trust for Jim (though Jim had made it abundantly clear that he would feel insulted if Blair didn't use as much of it as he needed for his everyday expenses) and it made no sense to move out of the loft, leaving it empty, while he paid for a motel room.
He normally didn't drink much - a beer with Jim while they watched television, if he hadn't been busy grading papers - but there was a bottle of Talisker in the loft, and he poured himself a generous double. He should get on with the new dissertation, but on this evening he knew that anything he did would have to be entirely redone, so he switched on the TV and sipped the Scotch while he watched, without any real interest, a travel program that normally he would have enjoyed. When the program finished, he switched off the TV, swallowed the last mouthful, made sure everything was secure and went to bed.
The new dissertation proved surprisingly easy to write. Blair could only assume that he had immersed himself more deeply in the cop world than he'd thought, intent on the sentinel dissertation as he had been. The words flowed smoothly - and this time he kept the stable door carefully closed, using rank and first initials only when he named someone. Though the more he thought about it, the surer he was that in his original dissertation he should have changed his own name as well as Jim's, wording the entire thing in third person rather than first.
Gods, if only twenty-twenty hindsight were twenty-twenty foresight! But apart from the Charlie Springs of the world, nobody could foretell the future... and even psychics like Charlie mostly 'saw' the recent past, not the future. Prophesies of the future were usually so ambiguously worded that it was relatively easy to claim that Nostradamus had foretold such-and-such an event three, four hundred years previously.
Although the writing was going smoothly, Blair was very aware that he had just six months to finish it, and so he worked on it a minimum of eight hours a day. He almost never left the loft. He went out once a week for groceries. In four months, he went twice to Rainier to discuss the progress of the dissertation, discovering that although his dissertation committee was prepared to allow him some leeway if he needed more than six months to finish it, Chancellor Edwards was not. He wasn't surprised. Edwards had never liked him, and had never forgiven what she had seen as loss of face when he was reinstated after the Ventriss affair.
He went three or four times to visit William, who made it clear that he considered Blair a surrogate son; his initial reluctance to let William be seen to be on friendly terms faded when it became clear that the Press had moved on. There was no story in a rehash of the past when the subject of that past was dead.
He did have visitors. Someone from the PD visited him most evenings, never staying long (because they all knew he was working to a fairly tight deadline) but making it clear to him that he wasn't forgotten. Several times they even asked his input on a case, just as they had done when he was an observer (and later a consultant, no matter how unofficial). Even Chief Warren visited him, making it clear that there was still a place for him in Major Crime once he had his doctorate.
It took him just over four months to finish and hand in his final draft, and two weeks to do the minor rewording that the committee asked for. With almost a month of the time Lewis had suggested and Edwards had insisted on left, Blair was finally Dr. Blair Sandburg.
But in all those months, he heard nothing from Jim. And when he asked Simon and William, it transpired that they had heard nothing either.
Denied an academic career at Rainier (even if he'd wanted one) because of Edwards' intransigence, and not wanting to leave Cascade, Blair turned to the PD the day after officially becoming Dr. Sandburg. He went initially to see Simon, delayed a little as he went through the bullpen by fielding greetings from everyone.
"Blair! How did everything go?" Nobody else knew that his defense had been the previous day, but he had told Simon.
He grinned, cheerful but not actually happy. "Success. You're looking at Dr. Sandburg."
"Great! Though I knew you'd do it." Simon moved quickly around his desk. Blair, expecting, at best, a handshake, was surprised when Simon caught him in a hug. He clung to the bigger man for some seconds, trying to fool himself for just a moment that it was Jim, and when they drew apart Blair's eyes were moist.
"Thanks, Simon. So... can I take you up now on that offer of a badge?"
"You're sure you don't want to work at Rainier?"
"Don't have the option. Edwards doesn't want me there in any capacity - well, maybe as a janitor, but that's all. She wasn't exactly happy even giving me the chance to submit a different dissertation - although Dr. Lewis suggested it, I'd guess he did it as a way of making her think that I'd be working under a handicap; she was the one who kept insisting it had to be done in six months, not a day more - if I'd been a day over, even to do the defense, she'd have claimed I breached the terms under which I was allowed to submit the police diss. I had to make sure I'd time in hand to do revisions and the defense, so I was actually working to a deadline of nearer five months. I think that if she could have swung it she'd have given me a date for the defense that was over the six months, but luckily Dr. Torrance - well, all of the rest of the committee, really - was on my side.
"I know I could apply for a position in another university, but I need to be here for when Jim comes back.
"Even without that, though, I do want to be here. I wanted to get the PhD - it's something I've been aiming for for years after all - but even though I was just an observer, sometimes used as a sort-of unofficial consultant, I found... There was a degree of job satisfaction in what I did here that I wasn't getting as a TA. I didn't dislike teaching, but I did find it frustrating at times - yes, I know police work can be frustrating, I think pretty well any job has the potential to be frustrating some of the time.
"I think I'd be happier as a consultant than as a detective, if that was possible - but whatever, it doesn't really matter, just as long as I'm here."
Simon nodded understandingly. "And as a consultant, even one who went out on the streets, you wouldn't have to carry a gun?"
Blair sighed. "If I'm to partner Jim properly when he comes back, I really should qualify, shouldn't I."
Simon looked at him. "You don't say 'Learn how to use a gun'," he said.
"I'm out of practice," he said, "because I haven't fired a gun in over ten years. I was actually pretty good, back then. But when I was nineteen... There was an accident - the six-year-old son of someone I knew got hold of his father's gun. He managed to shoot both of his younger siblings. One survived - barely; the other died. In spite of all the things Naomi had said about guns, I hadn't given any real thought to how dangerous they actually were until then. I just need a bit of target shooting to get my eye in again, but I shouldn't have any trouble qualifying. Jim suggested, ages ago, that I get the training. I didn't tell him I didn't need it, and let him think I was totally anti-gun, when the truth was I just didn't want the responsibility... "
"All you have to do is be careful. What someone else's son did was ultimately his father's fault for not having the gun locked away properly, unloaded, and with the bullets somewhere else."
"I know," Blair said. "I do know that. But it's been hard to think of it objectively when a three-year-old died and a five-year-old was left crippled for life." He gave himself a mental shake. "I've made up my mind, though; I'll give myself a few days to practice, then I'll take the test and qualify."
"Good. Now if you just wait a minute - " Simon picked up his phone. "Rhonda - put me through the Chief Warren, please... Hello, sir. I have Sandburg here - he got his PhD... Yes, sir. Right away." He hung up. "Chief Warren wants to see you - well, us, because you'll be attached to Major Crime."
"You make it sound as if everything's already settled," Blair said.
"You already had the offer of a badge. That wasn't withdrawn - I know Warren told you that. Come on, now - we mustn't keep the Chief waiting."
Blair's position, as detailed by Warren, was detective-cum-consultant, based with Major Crime - but he, and the detective he would eventually be partnered with, would be available as necessary to work with other departments, most probably Homicide, if there was a case where anthropological knowledge - including forensic anthropology - might be needed. Left unstated was the probability that his partner would be a sentinel.
"I know from what Captain Banks has said that you've sometimes seen a pattern to a crime that wasn't obvious to someone who didn't have your background in anthropology," Warren told him. "And while I know that your main field of study has been cultural anthropology, I imagine you've had some exposure to forensic or historical anthropology?"
"Yes, sir - and I'm willing to spend time improving my knowledge of forensic anthropology."
Warren smiled. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."
He went on to discuss salary, since Blair's position wouldn't be purely that of detective. He would be at the lowest level of salary for a detective, despite the four years he had already spent with Major Crime, but the allowance for the consultant work took it to a little higher than that of a senior detective; and Blair eventually left Warren's office feeling slightly stunned. It was a level of salary he hadn't considered possible...
Blair settled in to his new career as easily as he had adapted to every job he had ever done - of course, in this case it wasn't exactly new, he had four years of working with Major Crime under his belt, but during those years he had been a civilian, unpaid, helping but with no actual responsibilities.
It didn't take him long to establish himself as a very effective detective, though he was quick to insist that he had learned a great deal about how to conduct an investigation from Jim Ellison. It did him no harm with the cops who didn't know that Ellison's death had been faked.
During the next months he was called on several times in his capacity as anthropological consultant, and even Vice Captain Southern, who had initially been very doubtful about how useful a consultant anthropologist could possibly be (despite Simon's insistence that while he was an observer riding along with Ellison his insights had often been very useful) admitted that Blair's input had been instrumental in solving one case.
So Blair was satisfied that the work he was doing was useful... but he was beginning to wonder if something had gone wrong with Jim's plans, or if Jim had changed his mind about coming back, for he still had not contacted Blair... or Simon... or his father. And - although for much of his life he had lived on his own - now that he no longer had the distraction of writing his dissertation, he was incredibly lonely. In an attempt to counter the loneliness he went in to work early and stayed late, visiting William at least one evening a week, spending as little time as possible in the loft.
The anniversary of Jim's 'death' arrived and there was still no word. Blair sat at his desk that day, desultorily going over the reports on a case that wasn't quite cold but getting rapidly chillier. It was, he admitted to himself, busy work; something that was no longer urgent, it kept him occupied, and if he failed to see anything relevant it didn't really matter. It seemed that everyone was aware of what day it was; early on, Joel crossed to Blair's desk. "No word yet?" he asked softly.
Blair looked up at him and shook his head. "Nothing."
"He will come back," Joel murmured.
"I've kept telling myself that," Blair said. "But that's a year now, Joel. I thought he'd have been back months ago... or at least contacted me to let me know how he was getting on. There's been no word at all. Not to me, not to Simon, not to William...
"I keep telling myself that he has to have a reason for this silence, but I'm so scared that something went wrong."
"Blair... " Joel sighed. "Don't give up yet. He'll turn up."
Joel was only the first. Pretty well everyone he encountered that morning tried to say something positive - even the ones who didn't know the truth, who thought Ellison really was dead, tried to be encouraging. "The first year, the first anniversary, is the worst," one of the Homicide cops said when he met Blair in the break room.
Blair pasted on an unconvincing smile, unable for the moment to remember the man's name. "I keep telling myself that," he said. "I just wish I could make myself believe it." He poured himself a coffee and selected a granola bar that he didn't really want from the vending machine, knowing that if his friends in Major Crime saw him eating something they were less likely to try to persuade him to go for a meal with them. Even knowing that Jim was alive somewhere, on this day his stomach was rebelling at the mere thought of food.
He went back to Major Crime and resumed reading through the file, forcing himself to think about what he was reading.
Simon's bellow made Blair jump. He could tell from the tone of it that this was the second time, at least, that Simon had called him, but he had managed to start concentrating on the file and felt he was almost on the point of seeing something... And when had Simon got back from the meeting he'd been at? Must have been while I was in the break room, he decided.
He dropped the report he'd been reading, crossed quickly to Simon's office and went in. "Sorry," he said; his attention fixed on Simon he paid no attention to the man sitting opposite Simon with his back to the door. "I thought I was seeing something in the Mason file - "
"You were? Well, you can think about it later. I'd like you to meet your new partner - Jim Williamson."
Blair looked at him for a moment, afraid to hope... and then he turned and looked at the complete stranger who had risen from his chair and turned towards him, smiling.
The face was a stranger's... but the stance, the eyes, and then the voice as he said, "Hello, Chief." Those were so, so familiar...
"Jim?" It was an afraid-to-believe whisper.
Jim Williamson took a step forward, hands outstretched, and Blair uttered a wordless sob and threw himself into his sentinel's arms. Caught in a fierce hug, neither man was aware that Simon walked out, giving them privacy.
"Jim... oh, Jim!"
"I'm sorry it's been so long," Jim whispered. "The plastic surgery didn't take long, but Warren thought it'd be best if I worked for a while in another part of the country, then I could transfer in here. His brother-in-law is Police Chief in Orlando and agreed to employ me for a few months - he got an abbreviated version of the story, just enough to understand why I needed to change my identity. Means that I have an already established identity and can refer to the odd case in Orlando and be authentic. It was Warren who said we should keep everyone here, even you, ignorant of where I was. I hated doing it, but at least you knew I was alive."
"I was beginning to be afraid that something had gone wrong," Blair admitted. He forced himself to loosen the death grip he had around Jim's shoulders, and felt Jim's arms also loosen slightly.
They drew a little apart and looked at each other. "You've lost weight," Jim said, concern in his eyes.
"A little," Blair admitted. "Apart from missing you, it wasn't so bad at the start, but this last month or two... when we didn't hear anything... Well, I found I wasn't terribly hungry."
"God, Chief... I should have insisted that you, at least, should have been given a hint about what I was doing."
"No, I can understand... and it's made my reaction this last day or two, to being so close to the anniversary of your 'death', very real. But Jim - you need to stop calling me 'Chief'. That was Jim Ellison's name for me. Same with a lot of the nicknames you used. You'll need to be careful. Bad enough that your voice hasn't changed... "
"I know. There wasn't anything I could do about my voice... but I know I will have to watch my speech patterns. I've actually used my time in Orlando to practice."
"So," Blair said. "Jim Williamson has transferred here from Orlando. Why?"
"Domestic situation gone badly wrong," Jim said. "Unfaithful partner, wanting to get away from anywhere I might meet her or her family." He shrugged. "Just have to call on personal experience for that, in any case. Carolyn and I did stay friendly, but me and her family? I never did get on with them... and they'll be the model for my Florida in-laws."
Blair grinned. "I suppose we'd better go out there so that I can introduce my 'new' partner," he said.
"I think Simon has already told them you have one," Jim said. "But since not everyone in the bullpen is in the 'know about it' group, all he'll have said is that he's partnered you with Jim Williamson, who's just moved here from the east coast."
"I'll need to make sure I'm not looking too happy," he said. Then - "Jim - when did you get into Cascade?"
"Flew in this morning." He nodded towards Simon's desk, and for the first time Blair registered the large suitcase sitting behind it. "I'm hoping my new partner will give me a bed for a week."
"Oh, I think I can manage that," Blair said.
He took a deep breath, arranged his features into a resigned expression, and turned towards the door.
As they entered the bullpen, Simon said, "And here he is - our newest detective, Jim Williamson from Orlando."
There was a babbled chorus of greeting, and Jim grinned. "Howdy, folks. Nice to meetcha."
No, his voice hadn't changed but his accent had, and it was amazing the difference it made. Both men saw the uncertainty on the faces of the four who were 'in the know', and knew what they were thinking - was this their Jim or not?
Then Simon went on, "Take the rest of the day off, Sandburg. Williamson just flew in this morning, and doesn't have anywhere to stay yet. Show him around, find him somewhere to stay, right?"
"Right, sir." Even Blair wasn't sure how he managed to keep his voice subdued.
Blair turned to his desk, put the reports he had been reading into their folder and slotted it into a drawer.
Jim nodded and followed him to the door. As Blair picked up his jacket, Simon went on, "And be in nice and early tomorrow!"
"Yessir!" Jim said.
Simon grinned to himself as they went out.
In the garage, Blair led the way to a blue and white truck. Jim looked at it, then at Blair.
"What can I say?" Blair asked. "The Volvo went to the big junkyard in the sky almost a year ago - it was going to cost more than it was worth to get it repaired - and the truck was sitting there doing nothing, so I started using it." He dropped his voice. "It's not as if we really need two vehicles, is it?"
"No, we don't," Jim agreed.
"But for today, at least, I'm driving," Blair finished. As Jim opened his mouth to say something, he added, "You're new to Cascade, remember? Until you've had a few weeks to get your bearings, I drive."
They got into the truck, fastened their seatbelts, and Blair drove smoothly out of the garage heading for home.
Both men were unutterably content.
It was a fresh start; the first day of the rest of their lives.