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Blair Sandburg enjoyed his life at Rainier University.

Not totally accepted at first by the other students because of his age, by the time he had his Masters he was old enough that the age difference, so important when he was a freshman and even a sophomore, no longer mattered, and now that he was a TA nobody paid any attention to it.

Sometimes he thought about that, and wondered if there was material in it for a paper - he could lean on the short time he had been at Aberdeen University for a personal angle, rather than his early days at Rainier - but, apart from the short paper he had done for Dr. Stoddard when he first went to Rainier, and which existed only in his personal folder, he was still wary of producing anything that actually linked him to Aberdeen.

He still felt a little guilty for not writing to Andy Douglas at Aberdeen University, asking to be put in touch with Craig, with whom he had formed a tentative friendship the one weekend they had met - but he had always been afraid that if anyone in that area knew exactly where he was, he could have been found by someone from the parallel universe he had been dragged into, that misty, wet afternoon ten years previously.

He knew he was probably being unnecessarily paranoid. Seumas MacEllis had said that he could not travel far from the Beinn Macdhui plateau, that even in another universe he was unable to leave the equivalent of the territory where, in his own universe, he was a Warden. So MacEllis himself couldn't follow him, and from what Roger Thorpe had said when he showed Blair the route out of that other universe - 'You should leave Scotland as soon as possible - leave Britain - and never come back' - it would not be easy for MacEllis to send anyone to look for him. Assuming that it was possible for someone from that world, who wasn't a Warden, to travel any distance from Beinn Macdhui. There would be a lot of problems for such a traveller, money being the first of them, clothes the second. No, Thorpe obviously considered that, away from Britain, Blair would be safe.

By Blair's reckoning Thorpe - if he was still alive, which was probable - would be at least sixty-six now. Even if he had been an adequate guide for MacEllis during the previous ten years, MacEllis would surely still be looking for a younger guide, and who else would he try to find again, want to find again, but the teenager he had found on the Beinn Macdhui plateau in 1985? Though Blair had a suspicion that MacEllis would prefer a younger guide, one he could dominate from the day they met, rather than one who was now in his mid twenties, MacEllis had clearly thought that he, Blair, was his perfect match.

Dominate? Blair grinned wryly at the thought. No, even when he was still sixteen MacEllis would not have found him easy to dominate; Blair knew himself to be someone who, while normally easy-going, friendly and co-operative, did not readily accept being forced to do anything. Blair had known, ten years previously, that in kidnapping him MacEllis could not have found a surer way to alienate him. If he had been forced to stay in that world, he might have had to act as guide to the man, but it would have been unwillingly, and he would never have accepted MacEllis as anything but his captor.


Although he had liked Aberdeen, he was not going to risk drawing anyone's attention to the fact that Blair Sandburg had ever been anywhere near there.

He did realize that he was drawn to the subject of Wardens - or Sentinels, as it seemed such men had been called in this world. The old book he found in Santiago had been fascinating, and he reread it at least once a year - but although he had searched, nowhere else had he found any reference to people with heightened senses. It was possible that books written by Burton's contemporaries might have contained the odd mention, though he now knew that the details Burton included in his book had always been considered controversial. As a sophomore, he had mentioned the possibility of abnormally acute senses in one class discussion of hunter techniques in hunter-gatherer societies, quoting Burton as a source, only to be told by Dr. Buckner that while Burton had done an excellent job translating existing works like The Arabian Nights, as a travel commentator he left a great deal to be desired. "I know a lot of things reported by Victorian explorers were frequently dismissed at the time as 'travellers' tales', although many were subsequently proved to be true," Buckner had said, "but while there is a wide range of, say, vision in the human population, nobody has ever been found with the acuity that Burton claimed was possible. The best you could say is that tribal trackers are extremely observant and very good at interpreting what they notice."

Although Buckner had worded his dismissal of the suggestion relatively objectively, Blair had never been quite sure how much of it had been because the suggestion had been his. He and Buckner had never quite seen eye-to-eye, their personalities clashing too much, and Buckner had the position of authority. As a result Blair had never again put forward any suggestion in one of Buckner's classes, though he had spoken for or against suggestions other students made. He had been tempted to sit back and listen but not join in, but participation in the discussions was essential since Buckner's assessment of that participation made up a third of a student's grades for the year.

It had not been easy to access other books written by nineteenth century explorers. The few that had survived were mostly in reference libraries, and were jealously guarded; they could be studied, but only by legitimate scholars, and only in the presence of a member of the library staff. He had managed to track down four books that were contemporary with Burton's. He found them interesting enough and from the notes he took from them had managed to write a paper, comparing the attitude of Victorian explorers with twentieth century anthropologists, that had been well received; but nowhere in them had he found even a hint that their writers had encountered anyone remotely resembling Burton's sentinels.

Perhaps MacEllis had been correct in saying that this world had no 'wardens' although it still had guides.

Could he write a paper speculating on why - no!

It wasn't, he decided in an introspective moment as he sat half watching the start of a travel documentary he had given his Anthro 101 class as required watching, that he particularly objected to acting as companion to a sentinel. From what Burton said, without the companion the sentinel was vulnerable, though he hadn't gone into much detail about why.

Blair could almost sympathize with MacEllis. But...

Surely there was more to the relationship than a sentinel simply seeing someone he knew was a guide and kidnapping him! It should be, must be, a partnership. That was what Thorpe seemed to have had with his Warden. But it seemed to Blair that MacEllis hadn't seen it that way. MacEllis had seen him as a tool, nothing more.

The sentinel got something positive out of the relationship; surely the guide had to get something positive out of it as well! Surely there had to be friendship, at the very least. Thorpe had indicated that he had been happy with Euan, the Warden who, in 1946, had found him on the Beinn Macdhui plateau and taken him through the portal between the universes. Had Euan explained first, rather than grabbing Thorpe and carrying him, willy-nilly, through the portal? It was possible, given Thorpe's apparently total lack of resentment over being taken into that other world.

Thorpe's apparently total lack of resentment... yet he had unhesitatingly recognized, understood and sympathized with Blair's reluctance to be there, unhesitatingly helped him to leave that world and return to this one.

Well, even if he speculated for the rest of his life, he would never actually know. He could only be forever grateful to Roger Thorpe for his help. Resolutely, he put the matter out of his mind and turned his full attention to the documentary. Although he had already seen it, it would never do if his students remembered more details about it than he did!

* * * * * * * *

A few days later, Dr. Buckner - who was now head of the anthropology department - called Blair to his office.

"Ah, Mr. Sandburg. I've been reviewing your position, and it has come to my attention that although you have entered the doctoral program, you have not as yet provided a positive proposal for a subject for a dissertation."

"Well, there are so many aspects of anthropology that interest me, that I'd like to study in more detail - "

"That may be so, but you have delayed committing yourself to anything for too long. I want a draft outline - even a fairly rough one - by mid-day tomorrow, or I will remove you from the doctoral program."

There was nothing Blair could say. He had been ABD for quite some time, and he couldn't continue as a mere TA indefinitely. It was more than time for him to make a decision, and buckle down to getting his dissertation written. Blair knew he had been vacillating, unable to decide on a subject for it. The trouble was, of course, that his interests were so eclectic, and there were several themes that he would have liked to study in the detail necessary for a doctoral thesis before deciding which one to choose.

"Yes, sir."

Buckner nodded towards the door, and Blair left.

* * * * * * * *

Blair handed in his outline as soon as he reached Rainier the next day, and the following day he received what could only be called a summons to meet Dr. Stoddard later that afternoon.

Some TAs, he knew, were instantly panicked at the mere thought of speaking directly to the Chancellor; he was not. A call to see Dr. Buckner again - that would be a different matter altogether, and almost certainly a reason to worry. But he had enjoyed a good relationship with Stoddard since the day he had first come to Rainier, and he knew he had done nothing to cause Stoddard concern. Even if he had, he knew that Stoddard would discuss the matter reasonably.

Five minutes before his appointment, he knocked on the secretary's door and went in. Cathie, he knew, appreciated the courtesy of the knock - not everyone bothered. She smiled at him. "Blair - hello. Have a seat. Dr. Stoddard had an unexpected phone call, and he's running a minute or two late, but he'll be with you as soon as possible."

"Thanks. So how're you doing? I heard you were off for a couple of days last week."

"Nothing serious," she said. "I think I ate something that disagreed with me - spent a full day throwing up, and couldn't face eating anything the next day, but I was fine after that."

"That's good. You've no idea what it was?"

"Not really. Nobody else in the family was sick, though, so it can't have been anything we had at home. That could make it the sandwich I had for lunch - I'd actually bought it the day before, but it was still inside its use-by date."

"Well, you be careful. This place would fall apart without you here."


Blair laughed. "Cathy, have you never heard it said that the boss could be off for a month and everything would go on as normal; his secretary is off for three days and there's chaos."

"Oh, go on. Dr. Stoddard would manage perfectly well without me."

"Well, he'd manage better than most, but he does depend on you for a lot of things."

"You're a real flatterer, Blair Sandburg, but I'm wise to your tricks."

"But you love me anyway." Blair grinned.

"You wish," she said cheerfully, and turned back to her work.

It was about ten minutes before the door leading to Stoddard's office opened. Stoddard stuck his head out. "Blair, my boy! Sorry to keep you waiting. Come in."

He closed the door and waved Blair to a seat in front of his desk. Taking his own seat, he said, "Dr. Buckner came to see me yesterday afternoon."

Blair opened his mouth, and closed it again. Had Buckner gone direct to Stoddard to complain about him, instead of - yes, challenging him himself?

"You submitted a rough draft for a PhD dissertation subject yesterday morning, I understand."

That didn't sound too threatening. "Yes, sir."

"He has concerns that your subject isn't academic enough."

Blair's jaw dropped. "But... but... "

Stoddard grinned. "I said I'd speak to you about it, but I'm afraid Dr. Buckner has never quite accepted that the study of modern urban man is a valid aspect of anthropology.

"However, in order to counter his... reservations... would you care to expand a little on what you propose to cover?"

Blair took a deep breath as he organized his thoughts.

It was a very rough outline, he knew, but the best he could do inside the time Buckner had given him. Of course, Buckner should really have taken the time to discuss the several options Blair was considering, but Blair had little doubt that Buckner would really like to see him fail. It was fortunate that Buckner was the only member of Rainier's permanent staff who regarded him as - yes, an annoying upstart who didn't have the proper respect for his superiors. Not even the fact that nobody else saw Blair as lacking respect for them seemed to have impinged on the man's self-importance.

"Basically - job specialization, and how it affects society," Blair said. "In the past, and even today in the small tribes that survive in remote areas, there was very little specialization. A house went on fire, all the village turned out to pass water buckets, though there were times and places when there was a sort-of fire service. Someone was caught committing a crime, the entire village acted as jury even though the person actually passing sentence was either the headman or the shaman. Any sort of disaster, everyone joined in to help each other, salvage what they could. If a community was attacked, everyone, often including the women, rallied to defend themselves. Today, especially in the cities, people don't do that - you have the fire service, the police, paramedics, customs officials, coastguards; there's the army, the air force... and then there are specialities inside some of those, like dog units and search and rescue. If there's a problem, the public yells for whichever service specializes in what they need done."

Stoddard nodded. "So you want to explore why attitudes changed?"

"Well, that would certainly come into it," Blair said. "I thought something like an introductory chapter that covered the historical attitude that said it was everyone's responsibility to help/work for the community, then a second chapter explaining why, with the development of big communities, where so many people in the community didn't know each other, this became unworkable, and then going into what was covered by different specializations and the psychology of the men and women who went into those jobs. I thought of including a chapter on why people today are in general more... well, comfortable, with leaving certain jobs to the specialists - firemen, police, etc - than trying to help out themselves, including why people can be reluctant to 'get involved', though it might be difficult to get members of the public willing to participate in anything that subjective."

"A lot of people would just answer 'They have the training, I don't' to that sort of question," Stoddard said thoughtfully.

"To say nothing of 'I was afraid that if I tried to help and something went wrong, I'd be sued'," Blair agreed. "And when you hear about a doctor who happens to be on the spot trying to help a road accident victim being sued because he wasn't able to prevent death, brain damage, you name it, can you blame people, even a doctor, for just standing by until the ambulance arrives?"

"Or, from the point of view of 'getting involved', the man who, in self-defense, injures someone who's broken into his house being arrested for it, and even sued by the burglar or his family," Stoddard added.

"So I suspect a detailed chapter on why a lot of people don't want to 'be involved' isn't really practicable," Blair said. "Obviously I'd try to get even a short one, but I wouldn't depend on it."

"How do you plan on studying the people who go into these specialized jobs?" Stoddard asked.

"I was thinking of seeing if I could get ride-alongs with some of them - say a fire team, paramedics, a police patrol car, maybe even with a forensic team or a detective," Blair said. "Though I realize that to do that, I'd have to give up working as a TA for at least a year. It wouldn't be practical to try to include all the specialist jobs, but those ones would give a reasonable cross-section."

"Can you afford to do that?" Stoddard asked bluntly.

"Yes. I've been careful not to let anyone know, but while we're not exactly rich, my family does have money. I'm living in an apartment that belongs to my mother, so I don't have to pay rent. Mom's given me a pretty good allowance for the past ten years and I've managed to save a lot of it, as well as everything I've earned as a TA and in my Saturday job. My allowance for the year is enough to let me take a year's sabbatical to do research for my dissertation. If anyone asks, though, I won't mention it, and imply that I'm living on what I've managed to save from what I've been earning, especially since I'm living in my family home."

"You're probably wise," Stoddard agreed. "Students who are known to have money can never be sure just how many of their friends are genuine. Now, these ride-alongs you're thinking of - if you're asked for a reference, feel free to give my name."


"I'm glad you already realize that you can't expand on every specialist job you might think of, but can I suggest including details of at least one of the less obvious ones? What you have in mind for ride-alongs so far is the obvious 911 'fire, police, ambulance'."

Blair frowned as he thought about that.

"The fairly obvious 'less obvious' one is something like search and rescue," he said at last. "I'll do a bit more research, find out more about the more unusual jobs that could be counted as specializations. But I'm also wondering if I might be wiser to stick with detailing just one, and cover the others in a general chapter... Dr. Buckner didn't give me much time to consider all the possibilities, I'm afraid."

"After glancing through your outline, I rather thought that might be the case," Stoddard said. "Well, I'll tell Dr. Buckner that after discussing it with you, I think you do have a viable subject. And Blair - I know that Dr. Buckner - well - "

"Doesn't like me," Blair said.

"Doesn't appreciate you," Stoddard said. "I'm about to be very indiscreet but, frankly, between you and me... he doesn't really understand anyone's interests when they differ from his, or that not everyone wants to limit his - or her - field of study to just one aspect of anthropology, though there are very few whose interests are as wide-ranging as yours. I don't say that his single-mindedness doesn't have certain merits - any discipline needs participants who are happy to devote their lives to examining one area in minute detail, and while it certainly doesn't make him a liberal thinker, it doesn't make him quite as close minded as I think you think he is."

Blair smiled. "I've always known that Dr. Buckner and I would never agree," he said. "He still hasn't forgiven me for being intelligent enough to start university when I was just sixteen; he still sees me as a precocious brat with the gall to think I'm as 'good' as someone several years older." He shrugged. "My grades from his classes were never as good as they were from other lecturers, unless they were straightforward multiple choice questions, though I don't blame him for it. Personality clashes occur, and in an academic situation where it happens in the student-teacher relationship, there isn't really an escape. I have two or three students I don't care for though I try not to let it show, and I know how hard it is to mark their papers objectively."

"Some people never realize that," Stoddard said. "Well - I'm glad we had this little chat. I think I'll tell Dr. Buckner that I'll supervise your work from now on - I still take one or two doctoral students, though not many."

"Thank you!" Blair said. "I really appreciate that. I won't let you down."

"I know you won't," Stoddard replied.

"I'll let you have a better outline by Monday," Blair added as he rose and turned towards the door. "And I'll contact the groups I plan to include and see if they'll give me a ride-along. If they agree, I'll also have to see about dropping out of teaching for the next few months."

"I'll deal with that for you," Stoddard said, "and guarantee there'll be a place for you when you're ready to come back. Go home and make a start now. Take tomorrow off as well - I'll get someone to cover your classes."

* * * * * * * *

Rather to his own surprise, Blair was able to make an appointment to see Fire Chief Matson for that evening.

He arrived a few minutes early, and was shown immediately to Matson's office.

"So, Mr Sandburg, how can I help you?"

"Well, as I explained when I phoned, I'm wanting to gather material for my doctoral dissertation. I haven't completely finalized what I'll cover in it yet, but basically it's about the specialized jobs that serve the public and the psychology of the people who are drawn into those jobs.

"In order to do that, I need to speak to some of them, and if possible observe them in their day to day work, hopefully with some kind of ride-along, though I'd be careful not to get in anyone's way."

"Well, I can ask for volunteers to speak to you - I assume you'll have specific, possibly personal, questions to ask them? - but I'm afraid a ride-along with one of the squads isn't possible," Matson said. "Part of it is the safety aspect - it would be irresponsible to let someone untrained inside our perimeter - but part is also the capacity of the vehicles. There isn't the space for a supernumerary body unless we cut the squad by one, and there are limits to what the smaller squads handle. The best I could do is give you access to the staff who take the 911 calls while they're working, and let you follow us to some fires - I assume you have a car?" Blair nodded, and Matson continued, "But you'd have to remain at a safe distance. How long would you need to gather material on the fire service?"

"I'm not sure - not less than a month, though I probably wouldn't be here from nine till five seven days a week. Until Dr. Stoddard can arrange to get the classes I teach reassigned, I have responsibilities at Rainier I can't just brush off."

"What other services are you hoping to include?" Matson asked.

"Certainly paramedics and police. Fire, police and ambulance are the obvious ones that everyone will expect to see included, but I hope to devote at least one chapter to the less obvious ones, like coastguards and search and rescue. I might have to make the main thrust of the thesis just one service, though, with the others covered more superficially. I can't plan too far ahead until I know how much... well, I don't say 'hands on' experience I can get, because I'll be there as an observer, not a participant, but certainly exposure to what the various jobs involve."

Matson nodded. "I'm glad you understand the difference. You're not the first student I've had who wanted to study the fire service at first hand, and not all have recognized and accepted they'd be there purely as an observer. One young man expected to be given the chance to play an active role in fighting a fire. I told him to go and get some training first.

"When do you want to start?"


"Right, then, Mr. Sandburg, I'll see you on Monday at 9am unless we've got a serious fire somewhere."

Satisfied that he had made a promising beginning, Blair left.

* * * * * * * *

Over the next couple of days he managed to see the men in charge of several services. Dan Colbert, in charge of the ambulance service, who was willing to give him a ride-along with a paramedic team when he discovered that Blair was a fully qualified first aider, and Police Chief Warren. From Warren, he carried on to see ME Dan Wolfe, Serena Chang in charge of Forensics and Major Crime Captain Simon Banks, most of the ones he would answer to in a series of ride-alongs. He then contacted the local Lifeboat service - whose Chief asked one question - "What experience of boats do you have?" and on being told none, replied, "Get lost."

Ed Harper, in charge of the local SAR unit, was more co-operative, however, being more than willing to have an extra body along on a search at some point. "Even untrained eyes can spot things." He didn't set a definite date for it, however, since call-outs were irregular and he needed to commit to the ride-alongs he would be doing.

It was a pity that he would not be able to include anything about sea rescue in his dissertation, but... He took Chief West's point about his total lack of sailing experience, but Blair thought that West could at least have given him permission to speak to some of the lifeboatmen about their work. Hmmm... maybe he could discover a few names, go and see the men privately? Well, he would leave that till last.

He had made tentative dates for when he would start his various ride-alongs, allowing a month each for the fire service and the paramedics. He suspected that he would need longer for the police ride-alongs since they covered a wider range of work.

* * * * * * * *

Blair enjoyed his month with the fire service. He found the men and women friendly and more than willing to talk about their work during their on-duty hours when there wasn't a call-out. He watched as they trained. He sat in the office while staff took emergency calls, admiring the sheer professionalism involved as they kept the sometimes panicked callers calm, getting them to change the uninformative 'My house is on fire!' to an address. And, above all, he respected the efficiency of the fire fighters as they tackled sometimes very dangerous incidents.

With the paramedics, it was similar yet totally different. Of course, he was actually riding along with a paramedic team, not standing on the sidelines just watching, and several times he was able to put his skills as a first aider - learned and kept up-to-date because there were no hospitals available if something went wrong when he was on an expedition in places like the Amazon - to good use, dealing with minor injuries while the paramedics dealt with really serious ones. It was, in a sense, 'going native', but he was aware of a feeling of having been useful during that month. But, as with the fire service, a month was long enough to give him a good overview of what was involved, and the psychology of the people who went into the work.

From there he took two or three days to talk to some of the hospital personnel he had met through riding with the paramedics, with a side trip to the local branch of the Red Cross to get some information about their work, quickly realizing that it was so all-encompassing that it could give him the basis for a dissertation on its own. As it was, he spent a week with them, gathering as much information as he could, and on the weekend went them when they attended a local Boy Scout display (though they had nothing more urgent to deal with than a broken leg when a child running without paying proper attention to where he was going tripped over a small dog - but that put the idea of also speaking to a vet into his mind.) He was beginning to realize that his chosen subject was far wider than he had originally thought.

He had been spending his evenings getting something written down from his extensive notes, putting things in order while they were still fresh in his mind; now he took four days to write a first draft of this part of his dissertation.

After that, he went to the police.

This would, he knew, take longer; he would be spending time with at least four departments, possibly five. First he contacted Chief Warren again, and the next day he reported to Patrol Captain Brewster.

This was the one officer Blair hadn't met on his earlier visit to the PD. Brewster had been off sick, and he still looked far from well; Blair guessed that he was some years younger than he looked, and wondered just what was wrong with him that had so obviously aged him.

"I understand you're wanting to study the work Patrol does?" Brewster said.

"Yes, sir, as well as some other departments in the PD. I'm doing my doctoral dissertation on the work done by the various public services. Obviously I can't produce a properly balanced document if all I have is a public's-eye-view; I need to see it from inside as well, at least as far as possible. I understand that I've had no kind of training, that I'm here as an observer, and my place is to stay in the car if there's a problem. If I use names in my dissertation I'll be using false names - 'I spent a month in a patrol car with officers Smith and Brown', for example."

"As long as you don't get carried away and don't forget that you're there strictly as an observer. I have to admit that I'm not happy with civilian ride-alongs, because Patrol can sometimes be quite dangerous, but since Chief Warren has agreed and I understand you've signed the necessary waivers - "

"Yes, sir."

"Officers Dempsey and Fraser have indicated a willingness to take you - they said they met you three or four times when you were riding with a paramedic team, and you were actually dealing with injuries." Brewster sounded faintly accusing.

"I was able to help EMTs Howard and Lopez several times," Blair agreed. "When we go on expeditions it's usually to areas where there aren't any doctors, so it makes sense for us to have some training in basic first aid. I took it a bit further than 'basic'. I'm a fully qualified first aider and I've kept my certification up-to-date, so when they were called out to an accident, I was able to deal with some of the minor injuries, which let those victims get immediate help while the EMTs dealt with the more seriously injured."

"Just remember - while your training in first aid made it possible for you to help the EMTs, you have no police training, so I repeat - while you're riding with Dempsey and Fraser, you are observing, and only observing. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Brewster glared at Blair for a moment longer, then moved to the door, opened it and called, "Dempsey! Fraser! My office!"

Blair recognized the two men instantly - he had known them only as Ted and Colin - and grinned cheerfully at them. "Hi, guys!"

Brewster's scowl deepened, though all he said was, "I believe you've met Mr. Sandburg."

"Yes, sir." It was Ted Dempsey, the older of the two, who answered.

"And you're still willing to have him as a ride-along?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right. I don't care how many waivers he's signed, remember he's an observer and, Dempsey, it's your responsibility to make sure that's why he's there. You're not to regard him as volunteer help, whatever the EMTs did. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Brewster turned his attention back to Blair. "A month, starting today. After that you're out of this department, understood?"

"Next month I'm scheduled to be with Forensics, so I might see Officers Dempsey and Fraser again, but I don't expect to need any more time riding with Patrol. Thanks for your time and your co-operation, sir." Rising, he followed the two Patrol officers out.

"We're due on the road in ten minutes, Blair," Dempsey said once the door was closed behind them.

"That's fine. What, did you think I'd ask for a cup of coffee first? I expect to fall in with whatever your routine is."

"We don't get many ride-alongs - Captain Brewster isn't what you might call enthusiastic about them - "

"I'd noticed."

" - but we've had one or two over the years, and there was one who - er - thought we should cater to his wishes, his timetable. He didn't last long - but he was the one who made the Captain, and a lot of the other guys in Patrol, so reluctant to accept ride-alongs. You must have a fair amount of clout to get him to agree to it."

"I doubt I do, but Dr. Stoddard at Rainier - he does, and he's my PhD adviser."

* * * * * * * *

Blair's time riding with Dempsey and Fraser was another enjoyable experience, though it only lasted for three weeks, not four. Three weeks into his month they responded to a call for backup - the crew of another patrol car was involved in a shoot-out. By the time they got there, one of the officers in the car had been shot and was bleeding badly. Dempsey and Fraser joined the uninjured officer; ducking, keeping well under cover, Blair reached the injured man and dragged him back to the additional shelter of the second car, then quietly and efficiently dealt with the bleeding - he always had a first aid kit in his backpack. By the time the EMTs arrived Officer Leary was ready to be transported to the hospital, the shooting had stopped and the gunman was dead.

The EMTs all knew him from his month riding with Howard and Lopez. As they loaded Leary into the ambulance one asked, "You sure you don't want a permanent job with us?"

Blair grinned. "Nah, Lew, I don't think so. You all do a great job, but I don't think I'm really ready for the amount of responsibility you guys have. I'll stick with patching up cuts and bruises when I'm on an expedition, thanks."

By the time everything had been dealt with it was long after their shift was over, and Dempsey took Blair home, saying, "We'll deal with the reports in the morning - and that'll show you something else, the hoops we have to jump through every time we fire a gun."

When he went in the next morning, Blair was overwhelmed by greetings from men who up until then had pretty well completely ignored him, and was embarrassed by the realization that the entire department knew about what had happened, and clearly considered Blair something of a hero for his actions.

Understanding the awkward position Brewster was in, Blair decided to pre-empt anything the Patrol Captain might say. As soon as they were called into Brewster's office, moments after Blair was able to join Dempsey and Fraser at their desk, Blair said quietly, "I'm sorry, Captain. None of what happened yesterday was the fault of your officers - they were too busy backing up Officer Corcoran to notice what I was doing. But I couldn't leave Officer Leary lying there bleeding without trying to help, and I made sure that I was sheltered by the cars at all times."

Brewster shook his head. "The medical report on Leary made it clear that without your intervention he would probably have bled to death before the EMTs arrived. If I was to say you shouldn't have done it, I'd be saying, in effect, that you should have left Leary to die... and, well, I'm just grateful you had the guts to act, in spite of everything I said when you started here. More guts than sense, right enough, but... You used your initiative, and I'm grateful.

"I hope you won't be put in that position again. But you'll need to go with someone else for your last week. Once their report on the incident is written, Dempsey and Fraser will be on administrative leave - as will Corcoran - because a man died. There'll be an IA investigation too, but we don't know yet which of them fired the fatal bullet, so that'll be delayed a day or two."

Blair thought for a moment. "Actually, Captain, I think... Would it be possible for me to - well - follow up this incident? If Officers Dempsey and Fraser agree, that is, and if IA would allow me to sit in on their investigation? It's all part of what's involved in police work, and since the situation has arisen, I realize I wouldn't be giving a balanced presentation without including it."

"I don't mind," Dempsey said, and Fraser nodded.

"Because you were there, IA will probably want to speak to you anyway even though you're not a cop," Brewster said. "Meanwhile, because you did participate in the incident by helping Officer Leary, you'll need to write a report as well."

"Yes, sir."

* * * * * * * *

It let Blair see what a routine investigation - which was judged a righteous kill - involved, and at the end of that week he moved on to Forensics.

He found much of the work there routine and surprisingly monotonous, but then he wasn't a scientist; this was not going to be a chapter that featured large in his dissertation! though he would have to include it. One bright - but slightly embarrassing - moment during that month came two weeks into it when he was called to Captain Brewster's office - delayed a few minutes getting to it as the cops who happened to be there filling in reports saw and greeted him - where he found a very grateful Officer Leary, out of hospital but not yet cleared to return to duty. Leary, thankfully, wasn't too effusive with his thanks but made it very clear that if there was ever anything he could do for Blair, Blair just had to call him.

Brewster nodded. "I think that goes for the entire department," he said.

"I'm just glad I had the training in first aid that let me help," Blair replied, "and that you're recovering well," and made his escape a few minutes later, saying he had to get back to Forensics where Serena Chang was in the middle of a computer search he'd been observing, waving a cheerful farewell to the men in the room as he went.

Although he carefully wrote it all up, he actually found only a little of the work Forensics did at all interesting, so it was with some relief that he headed to Major Crime at the end of his four-week stint with Forensics and reported to Captain Banks.

"Ah, Mr. Sandburg. I understand you made quite a name for yourself in Patrol."

Blair found it difficult to read Banks. He felt himself redden. "It wasn't deliberate, Captain. I just... just... "

"Saved the life of one of the Patrol cops. You impressed Captain Brewster, and it takes a lot to do that. However, that doesn't mean I'm giving you carte blanche to risk your life while you're riding along in this department."

"Yes, sir." At least Banks hadn't added 'Understood', which Brewster had tagged on to altogether too many of his orders, and for the briefest of moments, as Banks went to the door, he considered the possibility of a paper based on speech patterns and how these might reflect character traits like self-confidence. That train of thought was abruptly shattered when Banks opened the door and yelled,

"Ellison! My office!"

Banks went back to his seat, saying, "Detective Ellison is currently working without a partner. He's not the easiest of men to work with, but he's probably my best detective, so you'll be riding with him."

Ellison... MacEllis?... No. No, pure chance - had to be... And then the detective walked into the room.

Although it had been ten years, although his acquaintance with MacEllis had been less than an hour, Blair had never forgotten his kidnapper's face... and this man was almost identical. His hair was shorter and he looked more muscular, but his face was the same, and held much the same 'I'm right and to hell with what you think/want' expression that had been a small part of what had alienated Blair ten years previously in that other universe.

Ellison glanced at Blair, and it was obvious from his expression that he was not impressed. Then he directed his attention towards Banks, still saying nothing.

"Ellison, this is your ride-along, Blair Sandburg. Mr. Sandburg, this is Detective Jim Ellison."

Jim... James... Seumas. God, even the first name was the same! Blair nodded a wary acknowledgement of the introduction.

"This... Captain, I thought you said the ride-along was a PhD candidate. I've got better things to do than babysit a kid - "

Well, at least his attitude wasn't the immediate 'I want you' that MacEllis had displayed, but Ellison was still basically saying 'This is what I want...' and Blair found himself taking as instant a dislike towards this man as he had towards MacEllis. But before he could say anything, Banks beat him to it.

"Chief Warren approved Mr. Sandburg to ride with several departments. He came highly recommended by the Rainier Chancellor, and in his time here he has already saved the life of one of the Patrol cops," Banks was saying.


"Five weeks ago. I know you don't socialize much with your fellow cops, but even you must have heard about Officer Leary?"

"A ride-along who... That was him? This kid?"

"Yes. So I wouldn't let the Patrol cops hear you badmouthing Sandburg if I were you; they won't hear a word against him."

"Captain... " Blair thought it was time he said something.

"Yes, Mr. Sandburg?"

"If Detective Ellison is so reluctant - " Not even to himself did Blair admit that he, too, was very reluctant.

"If you want to learn something, learn from the best - right?" Banks asked.

"Well, yes."

"Ellison is the best."

"Captain, there's a reason I work alone - " Ellison said.

"Sandburg will be observing, not working with you," Banks growled. "And I expect you to cooperate with him fully."

Ellison took a deep breath. "This is for a PhD dissertation, right?" He glared at Blair.


"I don't want to see my name anywhere in it."

"It won't be," Blair assured him. "That would be unethical. I'd either say 'Detective A' or call you something pretty general, like Detective Brown."

"We do have a Detective Brown in this department, kid."

"Detective Zorro, then!" Blair snapped.

He noticed Banks' lips twitching, and knew that his momentary burst of temper had scored him some points with the Captain.

"You're not getting out of this, Ellison," Banks said. "I've heard several good reports about Sandburg; you won't be carrying around a lump of dead wood. Now get out of here and get some work done."

His lips set in a firm line, Ellison turned towards the door. Blair glanced at Banks, grinned, and turned to follow.

"One moment, Sandburg."

Blair paused, then as the door shut behind Ellison, Banks went on. "I think you could see for yourself - Ellison has a temper on a hair trigger. I might as well tell you - you'll hear gossip and not all of it is accurate. Much of it is because his partner disappeared a few months ago, and IA isn't happy about the circumstances, thinks the man did a runner with a million bucks of ransom money he was supposed to be delivering. Ellison has always maintained that however it looks, Pendergrast wouldn't do something like that. Because he's kept on defending Pendergrast, Ellison's had to take a lot of stick. And some of his attitude is because he was divorced about the same time, and it was messy. You'll have seen his ex-wife in Forensics - Carolyn Plummer."

"I see. And yeah, though I worked mostly with Serena Chang, I met Lt. Plummer. Not someone I'd say would be easy to live with. If he divorced her - " Banks nodded - "it's probably the most sensible thing he's done in years."

"Let's just say she wasn't exactly a faithful wife, and he's pretty bitter about the whole thing.

"So do the best you can with him. I'm still hoping that he'll manage to put all that behind him, but... " Banks shook his head. "Maybe not. As I said, he's the best detective in the unit, but if you find he's impossible to work with, let me know and I'll shift you to riding with someone else."

"Okay. Thanks. With that in mind, I'll be able to make some allowances, though." He left the office, glanced around, and crossed to where Ellison was just taking his seat at a desk.

He definitely didn't like the man, but it seemed Ellison had a degree of loyalty Blair suspected was completely foreign to Seumas MacEllis. And of course there was no sign that Ellison had heightened senses.

As Blair reached the desk, Ellison gave him a suspicious look. He ignored it, simply saying, "Okay, man, ground rules. I'm not here to butt in on whatever you're doing or to try telling you how to do your job. Granted, I'd like to know what drew you to police work, but that's not vital; I got a lot of info from the guys in Patrol, and I think I probably got the whole range of 'why' from them.

"I'd appreciate it if you would explain what you're doing when you're looking at evidence, what you're looking for and how you come to some of the conclusions you reach - I'm here to learn from you."

"Just don't get in my way or interrupt me when I'm busy." Ellison growled.

"I might ask some questions about what you're doing, but I'll not to be too intrusive. None of the guys I've ridden with have made any complaints."

"As long as your questions aren't stupid, I'll consider answering them."

"Thank you."

"Oh, get yourself a chair." Ellison waved to where several sat beside the wall. They didn't look particularly comfortable, and when he sat in his chosen one he discovered that he was right; he said nothing, however, and settled to watch Ellison.

Apparently resigned to his 'babysitting' fate, Ellison said, "A lot of detective work consists of matching up facts until we get a general picture of things. We get several witness statements, we read through them and compare them for what details are the same, what details are different. It's amazing how often you end up wondering if all the witnesses saw the same incident."

"I saw something of that with Patrol," Blair said. "Officers Dempsey and Fraser responded to several calls to accidents while I was riding with them, and they hardly ever got two witness statements that were exactly the same." About to add a comment from his psychology class, he firmly closed his mouth and said nothing more.

"I've got statements here from several people who were in a bank that was robbed earlier this week. One of the tellers was shot - she'll recover, but she was quite badly hurt. This is the second bank robbery this month, which is why Major Crime was given the case. This time they worked over the bank manager, forced him to give them the combination to the safe and the over-ride code for the time lock. The only thing the witnesses agree on is that there were three men involved, all masked. Estimates of their ages range from late teens to late thirties.

"So I've pulled the reports on the other one. Witness reports from it also say three masked men, so it looks like the work of the same group. But that's absolutely the only thing that matches. Several of the reports suggest that at least one of the men is black - the faces were masked, but their hands weren't covered; most say the hands of one of the men were black, but one witness insists that the black was gloves. Estimates of height vary too, from about five-ten to six-three."

Blair opened his mouth, then resolutely closed it again. He wasn't about offer any suggestions - not after what Banks had said about Ellison's temper, and what Ellison had said about interrupting him.

"What?" Ellison asked.


"You were going to say something."

"How tall were the witnesses?" Blair asked.

"Why do you think that's relevant?" But Ellison sounded curious rather than dismissive.

"Someone my height or smaller is quite likely to over-estimate the height of a guy who's about six foot, especially if nobody in their family is tall. Someone your height is more likely to be accurate unless the perp is a lot smaller, in which case he might under-estimate it. I'd guess these guys are probably five-ten to six foot."

Ellison looked thoughtful. Then he nodded. "Not something any of us would have thought of," he admitted.

Blair grinned. "I spend my life surrounded by giants," he said, adding, "Sometimes I feel like Gulliver in Brobdingnag." Ellison's lips twitched slightly So... Ellison did have a sense of humor, though he might keep it well hidden, and he had read enough to recognize the reference. Blair found himself reassessing the man. Yes, there were similarities to MacEllis, but there were differences too, and Blair decided that he could like those differences.

And at least Ellison didn't have heightened senses.

* * * * * * * *

Blair had expected detectives to be involved in only one case at a time; he was quickly disabused of that idea. They might, and did, spend much of each day investigating the most recent case that landed on their desk, the first three days after a crime being the vital period for collecting evidence, but they were also working on two or three older cases at the same time - there were just not enough detectives to allow them the luxury of dealing with only one case at a time.

He found the detectives' work fascinating.

Much of it - reading through reports, picking up on facts, etc - was familiar, being not too dissimilar to what he had done as a student studying for exams. And Ellison, once he had become (presumably) resigned to having a ride-along, once he had (presumably) realized that Blair wouldn't be a nuisance, had proved to be surprisingly cooperative when it came to explaining how he reached his conclusions. In the first two days he had closed three older cases, with two arrests; the third case, an apparent murder, Ellison had been able to show was actually the suicide of a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's, who had chosen to end her life before the condition developed and she 'became a burden' to the family who hadn't even known about the diagnosis.

In that time he had also managed to speak to two of the other detectives. Megan Connor had originally been an exchange officer from Australia but liked Cascade, and her fellow detectives in Major Crime, so well that she had applied to make the 'exchange' permanent. Joel Taggart had transferred to Major Crime from the bomb squad, retaining his rank of Captain but taking a voluntary reduction in salary, after an incident gone badly wrong shattered his confidence.

On the fourth day after 'joining' Major Crime, Blair stopped at his bank to deposit a check he had received for an article he'd sent to Anthropology Today - even though he was working towards his dissertation, the 'publish or perish' rule still held sway.

The bank was busy. Lunchtime was not his favorite time to transact any business, but he was being careful not to ask for any favors while doing his ride-alongs. Though if the tellers didn't get a move on, he wouldn't have time to eat and he'd still be late back.

He wasn't paying much attention to what was going on around him so the sudden gunshot made him jump. Three men stood at the doorway, and as they advanced it was clear that although they were keeping an eye on the customers, their main focus of attention was on the manager's office

The door to the office was locked; a bullet took care of that, and one of them kicked the door in. After that they pretty well ignored the customers, who, seeing a chance to escape, made a wild dash for the door. Predictably, they got in each others' way, jamming the exit. The tellers, too, were making a run for it.

Blair, keeping his head down but watching through the veil of his hair, studied the men carefully as he delayed moving, waiting for the crush to clear. Yes - one was wearing tight-fitting black gloves that Blair suspected were latex, and since his face was hidden, Blair could understand why some of the witnesses had said one of the men was black. He guessed at around six feet tall for all three, trying to assess their height against that of the door. Then, as one of the men flourished his gun, his sleeve rode up his arm a little, and Blair saw that he was wearing a very distinctive watch.

The doorway was clear, and Blair moved quickly to it. A car was sitting just outside, its driver apparently sleeping although its engine was idling.

Getaway car?

The customers who had already left the bank hadn't stopped running, and he knew it would make sense for him to do the same, but as he began to jog down the road he took time to memorize the number of the car. He turned into the first junction he came to, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed 911.

"This may have been called in already," he said when the call was answered, "but the First National Bank on Broad Street is being robbed. What I think could be the escape car is a silver Ford number 829 RRW. And can you contact Major Crime at the Central Precinct and tell Detective Ellison, please."

He moved cautiously back to the junction and peered around the corner.

The three men, still masked, each carrying a big bag, moved from the bank, not running but not wasting any time, got quickly into the car, which took off but, Blair judged, just inside the speed limit. Moments later he heard sirens and a black and white pulled in. He walked back to the bank as the two Patrol cops took up a careful position at the door.

"Hey, guys," Blair said. "You just missed them."

"What - Sandburg? What happened?"

"Might be a good idea to check on the manager - I think everyone else got out all right. These guys - they had everything timed - " He broke off as another black and white arrived.

The cops from it joined them, and one of the two who were there first - Blair thought his name was Whyte - said, "Sandburg says the perps have gone. Check inside - the manager might be hurt?" He was looking at Blair as he spoke.

"It's possible," Blair said. "They beat up the manager, the last job they did, to make him tell them the codes for the vault. They could have done the same here."

"And you're sure the perps are all away?"

"Three men went into the bank, three came out."

The two cops headed inside, though they had their guns drawn just in case. Another vehicle, siren wailing, came around the corner and pulled up. A truck. Ellison. He jumped out, joined the little group, and -

"Sandburg? What the hell - "

Blair gestured to the bank. "I was in there to deposit a check when these three masked guys came in, guns waving... "

"Was anyone hurt?"

"Harris and Yester are checking now," Whyte said.

"I think everyone got out safely except the manager," Blair said. "And once they got out, everyone kept running."

"Except you."

"Oh, I kept going - I'm not stupid. But I ducked around the first corner I came to, stopped once I knew I was out of sight and called it in. There was always the chance that someone hit the silent alarm or someone who got out ahead of me reported it, but I didn't want to assume it. And it let me ask the operator to contact you, so that you'd get here fast."

One of the men who had gone into the bank reappeared at the door - reminded of their names, Blair identified him as Harris. "It's clear," he said. "Not that we doubted you, Sandburg - "

"But you had to do your own check. Yes, I understand. How is the manager?"

"He's been shot. Bleeding badly. Ambulance on its way."

"I only heard one shot," Blair said, "when they shot out the lock."

"Yeah, well, it took out the manager as well as the lock - after the last two bank raids, he'd fitted a sliding bolt on the inside of the door, and when he realized his bank had been targeted, he was on his way to engage it. A second earlier or later and he wouldn't have been in the direct line of fire. He knew he was badly hurt - it didn't take much to get him to tell the robbers the code."

"Right," Ellison said. "I'm going in. Coming, Sandburg?" Without waiting for a reply, he headed for the door.

"He your latest 'partner'?" Whyte asked softly.

Blair gave a wry grin, nodded, and followed Ellison, who was already halfway to the kicked-in door of the manager's office.

Yester was applying pressure to the man's leg; there was quite a big pool of blood on the floor where he had been left lying by the robbers.

Ellison bent over him. "Detective Ellison, Mr. ?"

"Spencer," the injured man muttered.

"Officer Harris told me it was pretty well chance that you were shot?"

"Yes." He took a shuddering breath. "I didn't even try to resist them when they came in - all they had to do was threaten to put a bullet in the other leg... "

"These guys don't mess about," Ellison said, more gently than Blair would have expected. "They're determined and don't care how much they hurt you - so it made sense to give them what they wanted. It's what we always advise. Unless you have serious martial arts training, don't try to resist - and even if you have martial arts training, if they have a gun the playing field isn't level. Can you tell me anything about them?"

Spencer shook his head. "They were all masked. One of them kept saying numbers, as if he was counting down to something, and they went out when he got down to ten."

A distant siren, rapidly coming closer, cut off anything Ellison might have said; moments later two paramedics rushed in, one of them quickly taking over from Yester.

Ellison crossed to the open vault. Blair followed. "Same as last time," Ellison muttered as if to himself. "The marked notes have been left. The robbers have to have inside knowledge... "

* * * * * * * *

On the way back to the PD, Ellison said, "You called it in."

"Yeah. Gave the number of their escape car too, but I'd guess it was stolen and they've dumped it by now?"

"That's a certainty," Ellison said. "But you saw these guys? How good a look did you get?"

"They were all masked. I'd put them at around six feet - that's judging their height against the door. One was wearing black gloves - "

"Definitely gloves?"

"Yes. Looked like latex."

Ellison nodded. "Makes sense. He'd be the one dialing the code; gloves so as not to leave fingerprints, latex so he wouldn't fumble the way he might with thicker ones."

"But there's one thing none of the reports on the earlier robbery mentioned. Maybe they didn't see it - I only did because his sleeve rode up - maybe they didn't know enough to register it as unusual, maybe he only just got it. One of the other two was wearing a Mickley Mantle Collectors' Edition watch."

"A... what?"

Blair grinned. "He might or might not be a baseball fan, but he sure is a fan of Mickley Mantle."

"The name rings a faint bell... "

"Top baseball player back in the sixties. There was quite a lot of Mantle memorabilia around back then and even into the seventies, but you know what it can be like - kids who have hero-worshiped a specific sportsman will often move on to someone else once their original hero retires... or dies. A lot of the memorabilia gets dumped, and what's left - if there's any demand for it - gets pretty pricey, even if it was relatively cheap originally. In Mantle's case, though, he was killed in a freak accident on the field in 1970. A collectors' edition watch was produced to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death - just a thousand watches. They were expensive, and there's reason to believe that several were bought by dealers, because occasionally one comes on the market, and you're talking serious money to buy it - at least double the manufacturer's original price."

"How do you know all that?" It could have sounded accusing, but didn't; it sounded as if he really wanted to know, and again Blair was aware of the difference between this man and Seumas MacEllis.

"Anthropologist here, man. I'm a bit of a collector myself, though it's mostly cards - I even got one signed by Orville Wallace when I was ten. Cards aren't expensive to buy, don't take up much space, but they can provide a very accurate history of a club. Anyway, a year or so ago, I did a paper on collecting as a hobby, though I soon cut it to collecting baseball memorabilia, and researched some of the special edition stuff that's been put out. The Mantle watches are probably the most expensive - who says there isn't money in bank robbery?"

Ellison shook his head. "I can see being a fan of a team - hell, I'd even go as far as calling myself a fan of the Jags - but to pay 'serious money' for a watch bearing the name of a player who's been dead for over twenty-five years... I don't get it."

"Collectors - serious collectors - I suppose you could say they have an obsessive mentality. It's harmless - certainly healthier than being obsessed to the point of becoming a stalker. Me - it started off as hero-worship of the top players, regardless of their teams - but once I started collecting the cards I realized that for me it wasn't just about the players or the teams, it was about the history of the game - how the top players and teams changed over the years - but eventually I got a bit more selective and stuck to just the Jags. Sold the cards that were about other teams - got more for them than I'd spent, too - and if I decided to sell my collection of Jags cards I could probably pay off my student loans. I wouldn't sell my autographed Wallace card, but I managed to get a duplicate of it so the collection is still complete.

"Now it could be that this guy isn't a Mantle fan - he could be a collector of special edition watches - but I think the Mantle connection is more likely because a collector of watches is more likely to have them in a display case. There's a shop in Cascade that specializes in sport memorabilia - I know the owner quite well. 'Course, I should - I got a lot of the info about collectibles from him. He might be able to tell you who in Cascade collects Mantle memorabilia."

* * * * * * * *

The rest was pretty anticlimactic. Ralph Penney, owner of Penney's Sporting Bazaar, was able to give them a phone number for Mick Mann, who had asked to be notified if the shop managed to acquire any Mantle memorabilia. From there it was a short step to finding Mann's address, doing a background check on him (finding that yes, he did have a record for robbery and that he also used the name Mick McManus) and paying him a visit.

Mann - or, rather, McManus, which turned out to be his real name - cracked very easily - a bluff that threatened to damage or destroy some of his collection of Mantle memorabilia instantly destroyed his defiance, and inside the day his fellow thieves were also under arrest. Because he had cooperated, Jim agreed to contact McManus' sister, who agreed to take charge of the memorabilia; it wasn't, she said resignedly, the first time. "The money he wastes... " she added. "He keeps saying it's a good investment, that it's all gaining in value, but it's only worth money while people remember Mantle. In a few years it'll all be valueless."

"Surely your brother is too young to have seen Mantle playing?" Blair said.

"Dad was a fan, even before Mantle became a big name - that's why he called Mick 'Mick'," she explained. "Dad would have liked Mick to become a pro baseball player, but his co-ordination wasn't all that great; he was never going to be good enough to play professionally, even though he loved the game. Maybe that was why he turned to crime... Anyway, Mick grew up hearing all about how great a player Mantle was... The first part of the collection was Dad's; after he died, Mick could have gone either way - sold it for what he could get or keep it and add to it. In his place I'd have sold it - but then I never had much time for team sports. For Mick... Having the collection was like... like living a vicarious version of Mantle's life."

Blair and Ellison looked at each other. "Almost makes you feel sorry for the guy, doesn't it?" Blair murmured, mentally comparing this man who couldn't do what he wanted, what his father wanted, and the one he had met ten years previously, condemned by circumstances to a position he didn't really want and abandoned by his father because of it.

* * * * * * * *

Blair spent the weekend working on his dissertation, and by Sunday night he was reasonably satisfied with the progress he was making. Three more weeks riding with Ellison, then he would take several days to add that data, and with that done he could take this preliminary draft to Stoddard.

He still needed to add SAR, and he hadn't forgotten that the veterinary service was another possibility that would widen the range of the dissertation, but this would be the major part of the dissertation - the work of the fire, ambulance and police services.

Half an hour after Blair arrived at the PD on Monday morning, Ellison still hadn't shown up, and Blair, after thinking about it for a minute, went to Banks' office, and knocked.

"Come in - Sandburg? Something wrong?"

"That's what I was going to ask you, sir. There's no sign of Detective Ellison; and he's half an hour late."

"That's not like him," Banks muttered as he reached for his phone with one hand and opened a drawer with the other, taking from the drawer a sheet of paper. He checked it, and dialed. After a moment he frowned and hung up. "Gone to voicemail," he said. "He's not at home, wherever he is... " He dialed another number. "Cell phone's gone to voicemail too... " He dialed again. "Dispatch? Captain Banks. Has there been a road accident called in in the last hour? Right, thank you." He put the phone down again. "No accidents either. I wonder... "


"I wonder if he went fishing over the weekend, and something happened to keep him from getting home."

"Is that likely?" Blair asked.

"He's a keen fisherman, and he hasn't had a chance to go out for three or four weeks. With several of the cases he was working on solved, he could have taken the chance - " He was interrupted by the phone ringing. "Banks... yes... yes... We were wondering... Thanks for letting me know." As he hung up again, he said, "That was the State Patrol. Ellison's truck was reported to them about an hour ago as abandoned - someone who'd seen it Saturday and Sunday, assumed it was someone camping, but when it was still there this morning called it in. State Patrol checked, checked the immediate area, found a tent, nobody in it and no sign that anyone had slept in it over Sunday night. SAR is going in."

"Where is it?" Blair asked. "SAR comes into what I'm researching, and since it's Ellison who's missing... "

* * * * * * * *

Blair reached the place just behind the SAR vehicles, parked and went over to Ed Harper. "Hello, sir."

Harper looked at him, face blank for a moment, then he said, "Mr. Sandburg! What brings you here?"

"I've been riding with Detective Ellison - I was with Captain Banks when he got the word that Ellison was missing. Can I come along with the search?"

Harper looked at him again, ran his eyes down to his feet and back up again. "You're properly dressed for it - that's good. Yes, you can come along. Do you know anything about how to search?"

Blair shook his head. "Not really."

"We go in a line, about six feet apart. Study the ground, look for places where someone might have tripped and be lying unconscious. Every hundred yards or so turn and check behind you - oftener if it's very rough ground."

"Right. Oh, Captain Banks thought Ellison might have come out here to do some fishing."

"Good point. Knowing that could be useful. I'll send one of the dogs direct to the river."

Blair stepped back to let Harper get on with deploying the searchers, and soon found himself in a line that made slow but steady progress towards the river. One of the men was carrying a folding stretcher. They hadn't gone far, however, before they heard several sharp barks.

From his position at one end of the line, Harper called, "Dog's found someone. Let's move, people."

The line instantly speeded up, hurrying towards the river.

The dog had fallen silent again, and when they reached the river it was to find its handler kneeling beside -

"Ellison!" Blair hurried forward, Harper close behind him.

Ellison lay face down, unconscious, his feet still in the river. From his position, Blair guessed that he had fallen in the water but managed to drag himself up the bank before he collapsed. There was no sign of a fishing rod.

The dog handler looked up to report to Harper, confirming Blair's guess. "He's alive, but his clothes are wet - lucky it's been relatively mild, but just the same, he's hypothermic. Seems to have a broken leg. I'd guess he was wading, caught his foot, and fell, breaking his leg, but managed to drag himself this far before losing consciousness. But he could have been lying here for twenty-four hours or more."

The man carrying the stretcher had already shrugged it off his shoulders and was busily assembling it. They lifted Ellison carefully onto it, wrapping blankets around him, and a team of four moved quickly into place to lift the stretcher.

It wasn't far to where they'd left the vehicles. As they loaded Ellison into the van that did double duty as an ambulance, Blair said to Harper, "I'll deal with getting his tent down and his stuff packed, take it back to Cascade. What happens about his truck?"

Even as he asked the question, one of the other men left the 'ambulance' and crossed to join Harper. "I've got the keys to the truck - where should I take it?"

"The PD, central precinct, might be the best place," Blair suggested. "It'll be safe there."

Harper nodded. "What unit is he in?"

"Major Crime."

"Leave the keys there."

The man nodded. "Right, Cap."

* * * * * * * *

The SAR vehicles began to head back to Cascade as Blair finished taking down the tent. He'd done enough camping himself that it didn't take him long. With everything packed into his trunk, Blair got into the car and phoned Banks.

"Captain - Sandburg. We found Ellison - he's on his way to the hospital. Broken leg, possible hypothermia - he was unconscious when we found him. I've got his camping gear, and someone is taking his truck to the PD garage and will hand the keys in to Major Crime."

"Okay - might as well bring his camping gear here too, we can leave it with the truck."

"Will do." Blair pressed the 'off' button, pushed the phone into his pocket, started the car and set off, following the last of the SAR vehicles.

By the time Blair reached the PD, the familiar blue and white truck had already been delivered. He parked beside it and made his way up to Major Crime, going straight to Banks' office, and knocked.

"Come it - ah, Sandburg." Banks picked up the keys to the truck and handed them over.

"Has there been any word from the hospital?" Blair asked.

"No, but they won't have had time to assess him yet, let alone set his leg and get him settled into a room."

Blair nodded. "I'll put his gear into his truck and bring the keys back."

He stacked the gear carefully in the passenger side of the cab and locked it - here at the PD, he told himself, it should be safe in the bed of the truck or in an unlocked cab, but habit demanded that he lock it. Checking that his own car was locked again, he headed back to Major Crime and Banks' office.

As he returned the key, Banks said, "What are you wanting to do now? Even if Ellison is cleared to come back to work fairly quickly, he'll be on desk duty till his leg heals."

"I'm not sure," Blair said. "I could ask to ride with someone else for the rest of the month. I could sit out the desk duty with Ellison - it would be another aspect of the job, after all. It might be possible to break my time here, go somewhere else for a couple of months - I want to spend time with SAR and at least talk to one or two other specializations - then come back and do the rest of my month with Major Crime. Ellison should be back to full duty by then, shouldn't he?"

"You don't want to take the chance to duck out of riding with him?"

"Well... I felt I was beginning to get to know him. He hides his good qualities well, almost as if he's ashamed of them. All that attitude and bad temper? I think they're a shield. He started off snarling me not to get in his way, but he proved surprisingly willing to listen to anything I had to say. So yes - I'd like to do the rest of my time here with him."

"All right. Take the rest of today, maybe tomorrow as well, to speak to some of the others here - yes, I know from the other departments that you found time to speak to some of the ones you weren't riding with. You could go and have a word with Taggart about the Bomb Squad - he may have lost his nerve, but I'm sure he'd be willing to discuss what's involved with you. In any case, you wouldn't be allowed to go out with the bomb squad - safety."

"Just like Captain Matson wouldn't give me an actual ride-along, but did give me the opportunity to see at first hand as much as possible as well as talk to some of the men and women in his department. Yes, I understand the safety aspect."

* * * * * * * *

He spent the last hour of the afternoon talking to two of the detectives, then went home.

He was not particularly hungry, but he prepared a quick meal, ate it, then sat to read over the notes he had made while talking to Detectives Brown and Rafe. Within a very few minutes, however, he realized that although he had found what they had to say interesting, he was unable to concentrate. His mind kept wandering...

Why was he so concerned about Ellison? He'd known the man only a few days, and although Ellison wasn't as obnoxious as his counterpart in the other universe, Blair hadn't found any reason to care more than superficially about his welfare.

He shook his head and put his notebook down. He wasn't going to accomplish anything at this rate. Perhaps if he went to the hospital? He wasn't a friend, just a temporary... well, nuisance had been Ellison's first assessment of him - but he suspected that nobody would go to visit, unless perhaps Captain Banks, out of a sense of duty - and if Ellison had regained consciousness, he would be lying there bored and probably lonely. Even although Banks had described Ellison to his face as 'the best', Blair suspected that his self-esteem was fairly low. And even though he seemed to hold everyone at arm's length, was it because... What was it Banks had said? Because he's kept on defending Pendergrast, Ellison's had to take a lot of stick. A defensive reaction, an attempt to show that he wasn't hurt by that 'stick'? He sighed, and went to get his coat.

* * * * * * * *

At the hospital, he discovered that Ellison was still unconscious. His temperature was back to normal - the hypothermia had been marginal - but he was still unconscious.

Blair went in anyway, pulled a chair over to the bedside, and sat, studying the unconscious face for some seconds, then, remembering a medical claim that even unconscious people could be aware of people talking, he took a deep breath and began speaking quietly.

He wasn't sure why, but he spoke about his experience of ten years previously - of seeing a big man-shaped figure approaching him through the mist, of being grabbed and carried across the plateau and ending up in a different world. "I know it sounds weird," he said, "and man, I have to tell you, it was weird. But you know the weirdest thing? You look just like him... and you have the same name, although his was sort-of Gaelic. Turned out he was something he called a Warden, a man who guarded his territory, and he wanted me as a kind of servant." Not even with Ellison unconscious was he going to say exactly why MacEllis had wanted him. "He said there weren't Wardens in this world, though.

"I had no idea what MacEllis wanted me for. And there was no way I wanted to stay there."

"So how did you get back?"

Blair froze. "You're awake?"

Ellison's eyes opened, he gasped and screwed them shut again.

"What's wrong?" Blair asked.

"Light... it's so bright... "

"Well, that's not really surprising," Blair said. "You've been lying there with your eyes closed, of course the light is going to seem bright. Just blink, get them accustomed to it... "

It took two or three minutes, but Ellison finally lay with his eyes open. "The light still seems awfully bright, though," he murmured.

"What happened?" Blair asked. "We guessed - "

"We?" Ellison asked.

"I'd been meaning to go out with the SAR team anyway," Blair explained. "When your truck was reported as abandoned this morning, I followed them and offered to help the search, but it was one of the dogs that actually found you before we'd gone very far. Captain Banks said you'd maybe gone fishing, and we guessed that your foot had stuck between two stones, you'd probably overbalanced and broken your leg, but managed to free your foot then haul yourself almost out of the water before you collapsed."

"Well... more or less," Ellison said. "But... "


"I heard what sounded like someone revving a bike really close, turned to see what idiot was trying to ride a bike down the river bank. That's when I got my foot jammed. But there was nothing there... I could hear it, but there was nothing there."

Blair stiffened. Light too bright, hearing something that was out of sight... Solitary time spent in the wild seems to hone the senses He remembered Burton's words clearly. Though twenty-four, maybe thirty-six hours was hardly long enough, surely? Ellison had gone off on fishing weekends before without -

He resolutely put the subject out of his mind. Time enough to consider it when he was back home.

"I'm hearing things here, too," Ellison went on miserably. "And the smell... There's always a smell in a hospital, but it seems so strong, much stronger than usual... "

Blair swallowed. "I... I think I've read about something like that," he said. "I'll check the book when I go home, see what it says."

"Thanks. So... what brings you here, Sandburg?"

"Oh - after dinner, I couldn't settle, kept wondering how you were, so I thought I'd come and see you. If you had family or friends visiting, I wouldn't get in their way, just stop long enough to see how you were doing."

"Well, as you can see - no family visiting; Mom's dead, and I haven't spoken to my father or my brother since I left home and went into the army when I was eighteen. As for friends... " He shook his head. "I'm not Mr. Popularity in the bullpen, you must have seen that; and I don't - " He hesitated. "It was different when Jack was there... my partner; but he disappeared a few months ago, and everyone thinks he did a runner with a million bucks of ransom money he was supposed to be delivering. I was maybe a bit over the top, the way I reacted when I heard someone saying that a few days later. Since then, everyone avoids me."

There was a flat note to his voice that Blair was sure disguised a deep hurt that Ellison - no, Jim - was too proud to show.

"Did nobody else back you up?"

"Nobody. I couldn't understand it - Jack... I'd have said Jack was well liked, but everyone seemed willing to assume the worst of him when he disappeared. I know he had a whole slew of gambling debts - but he wouldn't have walked off with that money when someone's life was on the line."

"And everyone faulted you for your loyalty to him - as if his partner wouldn't know the kind of thing he wouldn't do. That sucks, Jim, it really does."

"You... " Jim's voice broke. He took a deep breath and tried again. "You've known me a week, and you accept that, when the guys we worked with didn't?"

Blair smiled. "I like to think I'm a reasonably good - fast - judge of character. You're someone who's dedicated to getting the bad guys off the street. You're loyal, but loyalty only goes so far. If you'd suspected for a second that he might have even considered it, you'd have slapped the handcuffs on him before he had a chance to even think about it."

"Yes... Yes, I would. Why didn't anyone else see that?"

"That, I don't know. Maybe some of them did, but didn't say so, in the face of fairly universal doubt. They should have told you that, but... " He hesitated, wondering how best to word it.

"I'm pretty good at projecting 'Leave me alone'?"

"Well... yes."

"Didn't work with you, though, did it." There was still the faintest of quavers in Jim's voice.

"Oh, it worked - the first day. But I'm an anthropologist; I've been on a fair number of expeditions, and when you're faced with a tribe that had headhunters as recently as fifty years ago, and might still succumb to the temptation of adding an exotic head to the collection, you soon learn how to project confidence even when you don't feel it. And anthropologists are observers of people; it didn't take me long to see that you have hidden depths - and I liked a lot of what I was seeing."

"And in spite of what I said that first day about 'babysitting a kid', I... I think I like a lot of what I'm seeing, too," Jim said. "You were a lot of help to me, last week. I should have said so on Friday."

"Thanks," Blair murmured.

"What you were saying... about that other universe," Jim said. "Did it happen, or was it just something you were making up, to have something to say?"

"It happened," Blair said, "but I never told anyone about it, except my mother. Even now, ten years later, I worry that MacEllis will send someone here, looking for me. Luckily, though, I never told him my name - well, he didn't ask me - and hardly anyone knows that I started university in Aberdeen. I even deliberately chose to lose contact with a couple of friends I'd made while I was there."

"Not easy to find someone if you don't know their name," Jim said. "And you didn't answer my question - how did you get back?"

"Some one who saw how reluctant I was helped me... "

* * * * * * * *

Next day, Blair went to speak to Joel Taggart, to ask him about his previous department.

"We didn't get many cases," Taggart said. "Not many perps have the know-how to use explosives, but the ones who do - there are enough of them to justify having a bomb squad, even though there were just two of us in it. We both had army training and we both felt we wanted to make use of that training. Actually, to call us a 'squad' was a bit of an exaggeration."

"When there was a call out, did you both go?" Blair asked.

"No. Normally only one of us was involved. It's an extremely dangerous job, even when you know what you're doing, and men have died doing it. Perps who use explosives... They're usually busting into a bank vault or they want to kill as many people as messily as they can, whatever their reasons. I can understand the perp who uses explosives to bust into a bank vault. I can understand the perp who sets out to kill the cops who are responding to an emergency. I can even understand what motivates terrorists to plant dirty bombs - but I don't, can't, understand the ones who set bombs in order to kill as many innocent bystanders as they can in order to get some twisted kind of revenge against one person they believe has wrongerd them in some way. And some of them have the know-how to set up quite surprisingly sophisticated triggers."

They spoke for most of the morning, with Taggart telling Blair about some of the cases he'd dealt with and the motivations of the perps concerned - those who had been caught. In one or two cases the perp had vanished, presumably left Cascade, possibly even Washington. Finally he commented briefly on his last case. "The guy had actually set two bombs. Trouble was, he was one of the perps who knew what he was doing; he had them set up so that disarming either one automatically triggered the other. I just made it out before the second one exploded." He shook his head. "It scared me to the point I transferred out, came to Major Crime."

* * * * * * * *

Blair went back to see Banks.

"I... I went to see Detective Ellison last night," Blair went on.

"You did?"

"We had... quite an informative conversation," Blair said. "Captain, you mentioned his partner disappearing and IA being suspicious about the circumstances... Did nobody else give the man the benefit of the doubt?"

"Everyone knew he had a gambling problem and debts up to here..." Banks gestured a vague distance above his head.

"Yes, Jim said that - but he was - is still - quite... " About to say 'hurt', Blair hesitated for a moment as if looking for the best word to use when he realized that saying it would be a breach of confidence. "Quite annoyed that everyone could believe Jack would walk off with a million bucks when it was the price of someone's life.

"I caught him in a vulnerable moment last night; he really thinks Jack was well enough liked that at least some of his fellow detectives would have believed in him."

"Some of us - no, make that quite a lot of us - did try to keep an open mind about it, but it wasn't easy - " Banks began.

"I don't suppose anyone considered the possibility that the kidnappers killed whoever it was they'd kidnapped, then killed the guy who was delivering the ransom money?"

Banks stared at him, then slowly shook his head. "Something like that would certainly explain a lot," he said. "But there weren't any bodies, Jack's car had disappeared... "

"So the killers decided to put both bodies in the car," Blair said, "and took it somewhere really remote, probably in an area that's policed from somewhere else, buried the bodies, took off the number and burned the car. If it's ever found, it's a burned-out wreck, possibly dumped by a joy-rider. Or they sold the car for spare parts, though I think that's less likely, because depending on how they killed the victims, there could have been blood in it."

"If that's what they did, they could have gone anywhere," Banks said.

"I don't think Jim expects the truth ever to come out. He'd just be happy to know that even one other person shared his belief that Jack wouldn't have taken that money."

"You do."

"I'm not a cop. I'm not a cop who knew the man." Blair half turned towards the door, and paused, glancing back. "I'm going to spend a day or two working on the diss - I'll come back next Monday, see what the situation is, okay?"

"Okay," Banks agreed.

* * * * * * * *

Blair went home and did indeed spend a couple of hours working on the notes he had taken that day, before closing his laptop and reaching for The Sentinels of Paraguay. He checked again the pages he had bookmarked before habit carried him to the kitchen area to prepare a meal. Knowing what he would soon be doing, he had no appetite, so he settled for soup.

After washing the dishes, he hesitated, looking at The Sentinels of Paraguay. Was he about to make the most monumental mistake of his life? But he had promised to check out Jim's 'symptoms' - as if he really needed to - and last night Jim had agreed that MacEllis's behavior had been inexcusable.

No, he had to keep that promise, tell Jim what he was, and then see what happened. But he didn't think that Jim would try to enslave him; Jim, he felt, was too independent to appreciate needing someone's help more than marginally.

Without giving himself time to think more about it, Blair pushed the book into his backpack, shrugged into his jacket and left, heading for the hospital.

He found Jim out of bed, sitting dejectedly beside it, two crutches leaning against the wall, within easy reach.

"Hi, Jim. Nice to see you out of bed."

Jim smiled a welcome, but Blair would see that it was forced. "Out of bed, but not out of the hospital," he said. "I live on my own, so they're not releasing me yet."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

Jim moved his hands in a resigned 'what can I do?' gesture. "I'm sure I could manage, but the physiotherapists say no - they'd let me home if everything was on one level, but since it isn't, they say I need someone else in the house in case I fall down the stairs going from the bedroom to the bathroom."

"I see their point," Blair said, "but in your position I don't think I'd be happy about it either.

"Anyway - what we were speaking about yesterday." He dug into his backpack. "I found this old book about nine years ago. I got it because it went into some detail about tribal life in the mid-nineteenth century - thought it would provide a useful contrast to the attitude anthropologists have today." He wasn't going to admit that his main reasons for getting it had been to discover what Burton had to say about tribal watchmen. "It turned out to be a little more specialized than I'd expected.

"According to its writer, a lot of villages had what he called a sentinel. That is, a sort of scout-cum-watchman, someone who could follow the movement of game, predict changes in the weather, watch out for the approach of enemies... and these men were marked by heightened senses; they could hear better that most men, see more clearly for a greater distance than normal, and in dim light; tell by the scent if a chance-found carcass was fresh enough to provide meat for their village.

"Not all tribes had sentinels. The ones who had most were the ones where the rite of manhood for the boys was solitary time spent in the wild; if a boy had the potential, that solitary time would trigger it. I've marked the pages where Burton speaks about that." He handed the book over, and Jim put it on the bed, turning the pages, pausing at the marked ones to read.

Finally he looked up. "How long did 'solitary time in the wild' last?"

"Varied. Usually seven to ten days - and yes, I know that a weekend isn't even half that. But you live on your own, so the trigger was probably already half cocked. Then you had around thirty-six hours camping before you heard that bike you mentioned... which was possibly on the road. And then you were lying there in pain, knowing that with a broken leg you were stuck - you probably strained your senses, trying to hear if someone was coming, until you either zoned out or simply lost consciousness between the pain and the cold."

"Zoned out?" Jim sounded puzzled.

"According to Burton, if a sentinel concentrated too much on one sense, he'd lose awareness of his surroundings. You know what it can be like in the bullpen - you're reading a report, concentrating on it, you tune out what's going on around you?"

"Yes... "

"Same thing, but on a slightly different scale."

"Say you're right - how do I keep from zoning out?"

"I'd say you try to not concentrate one sense on anything. Try to use two or more."

"That makes sense... But Chief - "

A nickname? Blair grinned to himself. He rather liked it. "Yes?"

"I can see that having acute senses could be an advantage, though only to find the kind of evidence that could be used in court. But there are so many things that could interfere with finding it... Like in here - I'm hearing voices from all over, there's someone crying somewhere down the corridor - " He flinched. "Someone just dropped something metallic. And there are so many different smells, they're - well, interfering with each other."

"So somehow you need to learn to control your senses, not let them control you."

"Was that why - " he indicated the book - "this guy says sentinels had a companion working with them?"

"I think so."

"And I work alone, since Jack... " His voice trailed off. "The senses could be an advantage - but they could be a danger too. If the bad guys found out... "

"They'd make you a target?"

"Yes. Bad enough that some of the perps we put away yell threats at us - 'When I get out, I'll get you!' Mostly it's just bravado, they're trying to get the last word. But if this got out, I'd have to keep looking over my shoulder all the time. Do I have the right to ask anyone to share that danger?"

Blair came to an abrupt decision. "Jim - yesterday - I lied."


"When I said I didn't know why MacEllis wanted me. I do know. He called himself a Warden, but he was the same thing as a sentinel. He told me a Warden needed someone he called a 'guide' to help him control his senses.

"He believed I was one - that was why he kidnapped me.

"At the time, I had no idea what that meant, what he expected of me, though I think he expected me to know instinctively, because 'I was a guide'. It was a year later when I found that book and realized it could - and did - give me answers. But I rationalized getting it by telling myself it was to compare Burton's attitude with that of today's anthropologists."

Blair paused and took a deep breath. "According to Burton, sentinels were fairly scarce, not more than one per village and not every village had one. People with the ability to help them were scarce, too. I assume MacEllis knew what he was talking about when he told me I had that ability. I... There was no way I was willing to help him. He didn't want a companion, he didn't even want a servant, he wanted a tool. Even at sixteen I was streetwise enough to understand that, and in any case I resented the way he grabbed me. But you... While I'm riding with you, I'd be willing to help you find some way to control your senses."

"You won't be riding with me again, Chief - I won't be back on full duty for at least a couple of months, and Captain Banks will team you up with someone else for the rest of your time with MC. But if you could visit me again while I'm stuck in here, give me some ideas, I'd be grateful."

"I've already told him that I want to finish the month with you, whether it's observing you on desk duty or heading off to do a month with SAR and taking time with some other service, then coming back to finish my month with Major Crime once you're on full duty again."

"You... you want... " Jim's voice wavered ever so slightly.

"Yes," Blair said. "I thought we were beginning to get along pretty well - am I wrong?"

"No. I wasn't happy about having a ride-along, I admit that, but you've been really helpful - even though you were supposed to be 'just observing'."

Blair grinned. "Just an observant witness," he said.

"Well, I'd certainly be happy if you could swing it to ride with me for another three weeks," Jim said.

"Banks accepts that's what I want to do... " He came to another abrupt decision. "You know, it just occurred to me... "


"The hospital would release you if you had someone to stay with you."

"Yes, though my apartment isn't what you might call broken leg friendly. Bedroom upstairs, bathroom downstairs, and not possible to fit a bed into the living room."

"What if you could stay with a friend who had a more broken leg friendly apartment?" Blair asked.

"Haven't you noticed, Chief? I have no friends." It was a blunt statement uttered without a trace of self-pity.

"I have a spare room," Blair said. "It's small, but it's off the living room and on the same level as the bathroom. And because I've been visiting you, the doctors will assume that I'm a friend. They don't need to know that we've only known each other for a week. And if you're staying with me, it'll give us a chance to work out how to control your senses." Mentally he crossed his fingers. Jim's response would tell him whether he had made the worst mistake of his life - but from what Jim had already said, he was pretty sure his impulsive offer would not be abused.

"I... You... " Jim swallowed, clearly fighting for self-control, and Blair could see a suspicious moistness around his eyes. "I can't impose... "

"I'm offering, so you're not imposing."

"You're not afraid that I'll try to make you a tool... like that other guy?"

"The fact that you're asking that tells me that you won't," Blair said. He glanced at his watch. "Visiting time is almost over. They won't let you out tonight, but I'll go now and have a word with the nurses." He rummaged in a side pocket of his backpack, took out a notebook, wrote his phone number on a blank page and gave it to Jim. "Phone me in the morning once you know when you're getting out, and I'll come for you. What about clothes?"

"I've got a spare set of clothes in my locker at the station. Once I'm out... could I impose on you to take me home so that I can get some more?"

"No problem," Blair said. "Want to hang onto the book tonight? It'll give you something to read."


Blair glanced back from the door, to see Jim watching him. He raised a hand in farewell, and headed for the nurses' station.

* * * * * * * *

Jim phoned not long after ten the next morning, to say that the doctors had agreed that if he was staying with someone, he could leave.

"I'll be there as soon as possible," Blair said, and hung up.

He went to the hospital via the PD, where he saw Banks, told him Jim would be staying with him, and collected Jim's spare clothes. By eleven he was delivering the clothes to Jim.

"Want some help getting dressed?" he asked.

Jim's cheeks reddened. "If you don't mind."

Blair chuckled. "I doubt you've got anything I haven't seen - and with your army background, I wouldn't have pegged you as overly modest."

"It's one thing being naked in an army barracks," Jim mumbled. "It's different when it's just you and one other person, one you hardly know, and that other person is fully dressed."

"Well, if it'll help, I've spent time in nudist colonies two or three times. And you've got a far more attractive bod than some of the ones I've seen there."

"I thought the whole point of a nudist colony was that everyone had to be naked? Not some naked and some dressed."

"Well, you do stand out a bit if you have anything on, and you can get quite embarrassed about it. So it's amazing how much easier it is to be naked." As he spoke, Blair eased Jim's boxers over the cast without first removing Jim's hospital gown, pulled them well up Jim's legs, then encouraged the bigger man to stand, leaning against him, while he finished pulling the boxers up. "There - and your modesty is preserved. Now the sweats... " He eased Jim down again and carefully worked the sweats over the cast.

Leaving Jim to deal with dressing the upper half of his body, Blair turned his attention to Jim's shoes.

* * * * * * * *

Blair's apartment was in a converted warehouse. Only three stories high, the only reason it had an elevator had been the presence in the building of a freight elevator, which the owner of the building had decided could be left in as a convenience for the tenants - a good selling point for the apartments.

Normally Blair preferred using the stairs, if only for the minimal exercise they offered, but with Jim on crutches it was easier to use the elevator.

He had given some thought to where Jim would sleep. Jim would undoubtedly be more comfortable in the airy upstairs bedroom, but that meant he would have to use the stairs to get to it; and so Blair had decided that, cramped though it was, his guest would just have to tolerate being in the tiny spare room.

As he showed Jim the converted closet, he apologized for its size - "This was my room before Mom started travelling again, so it wouldn't have been any hassle for me to move back into it, but I thought it wouldn't be a good idea for you to have to tackle the stairs just yet."

"This is fine, Chief," Jim said.

"We can go to your place this afternoon and get you some clothes," Blair went on as he turned Jim in the direction of an armchair, "and then we'll need to do some shopping - I wasn't sure what you'd want in the way of food. And talking of food - something to eat before we do anything else? I'd have had to go shopping today anyway," he went on as he turned into the kitchen. "I don't have much in. I do have eggs." The one thing of which he was almost certain was that Jim might have food preferences, but he was unlikely to be a fussy eater; not when he had been in the army.


"You got it. Some cheese mixed in?"

"Sounds good. Anything I can do?"

Blair was quite certain that MacEllis would never have offered to help, and he relaxed just a fraction more. At first sight the two men had seemed to have a lot in common; but the more he saw of Jim, the more convinced Blair was that in Jim it was all defensive, to hide how easily he could be hurt. Granted, he hadn't seen much of MacEllis, but the little he had seen had left him convinced that MacEllis didn't have a sensitive bone in his body.

"For the moment, no - just relax. We're going to have a busy afternoon."

* * * * * * * *

After they'd eaten, Jim insisted on helping to wash the dishes before they headed out.

Jim had said his apartment wasn't broken-leg friendly; climbing the two flights of stairs to it, Blair mentally amended that to 'it's broken-leg hostile'. As he entered it he glanced around. "Compact," he said. It was the most positive comment he could think of.

"You don't need to be tactful about it, Chief," Jim said wryly. "It's far too small, but when we divorced Carolyn got the house and pretty well all my money, even though I was the injured party, and this was all I could find at a price I could afford. I've been looking for somewhere else, but with the hours I sometimes have to work it's not easy finding the time, and price is still a consideration. At least the settlement was a one-off - the presiding judge was definitely prejudiced in Carolyn's favor, but even she had to accept that Caro was earning fifty percent more than I was so didn't actually need a monthly payment from me."

Blair shook his head. "Crazy that the innocent party should be penalized," he muttered.

Jim didn't have much in the way of possessions, so Blair packed the lot. They dumped the half carton of milk in the fridge - it was a day past its use-by date - but packed up the rest of the food in the apartment to take with them, Jim insisting that this at least was something he could do to repay Blair's generosity in helping him get out of the hospital. They switched off the electricity at the mains and left, double-checking that the door was properly locked.

On the way back to Blair's apartment, they stopped at a supermarket and bought some fresh food - bread, vegetables, cheese, bacon, more eggs. They didn't need any canned food, courtesy of Jim's small stock.

Once home again, Blair went to put away the food, letting Jim deal with putting away his clothes in a way that suited him. Again, he was gratified to realize that Jim was independent enough to do that - to want to do that; MacEllis, he was sure, would have expected Blair to do it all.

Of course, Jim's time in the army wouldn't have encouraged him to be anything but independent.

* * * * * * * *

It was amazing how quickly they fell into a routine. Unwilling to let his broken leg affect his activities too much, Jim offered to do most of the cooking while Blair worked on his dissertation.

Blair had already contacted a local veterinarian and arranged to spend a day there observing the work the vets did, as well as speaking to them about what took them (and the veterinary nurses) into that line of work, and four days after taking Jim home he went in to spend some hours there. He was warned that much of what they did was routine, but in the early afternoon an injured, blood-covered dog was rushed in by its owner and seen ahead of the people waiting for non-urgent appointments. The nearly hysterical owner explained that she'd been walking her dog - an elderly labrador - in the park when it was attacked without warning by a terrier. Luckily one of two nearby men had managed to haul the terrier away from its victim - there had been no sign of its owner - and declared his intention of handing it over to the police as dangerous. The other man had helped Dana Morris carry her dog back to her car.

Although he had a great deal of sympathy for both the labrador and its owner, Blair considered the opportunity to see the vets dealing with the emergency was valuable to him. At the same time, even while most of his attention was on the vets, he found himself comforting the tearful Dana. It let him feel that he was doing something useful,

After the labrador was finally stitched and bandaged it was decided to keep it in overnight, and as Dana left Blair decided to have a quick word with the Patrol cops, see if he could find out anything about the terrier. He could, of course, go direct to the pound, but he suspected that he might get more co-operation doing it through the police. (He did; nobody claimed the terrier, which was put down as dangerous a week later.)

The owners who had been kept waiting were mostly very understanding - only one complained about it, and the vet shut him up by saying quietly, "And if that had been Brandy, would you have been happy to wait while everyone whose pets weren't hurt were seen?"

His face reddened slightly, and he said no more.

Because of the delay caused by the attack on the labrador, the staff worked late, and when Blair understood that the last three appointments of the day were routine checks, he spent the time talking to the veterinary nurses. He also arranged to go in the following day to speak to the actual vets, then he went home.

He walked in to find Jim standing by the stove, propped up by one crutch, stirring something that smelled delicious.

"Dinner'll be ready in ten, Chief," Jim said.

"Jim? I'm late - now I know you're a sentinel, but... "

Jim grinned. "I had everything ready to start cooking as soon as you got in, and when you didn't arrive I phoned the vet - the receptionist told me you'd just left. I knew how long it'd take you to get home, so... "

Blair hung up his jacket and headed for the bathroom. "I think I'll keep you," he called as he went.

He washed quickly, and rejoined his guest just as Jim was beginning to serve the meal - a carbonara that tasted even better than it smelled.

* * * * * * * *

Eventually the day came when Blair took Jim to the hospital, and the cast was removed.

"You'll need therapy," the doctor reminded him, "but - You're still staying with your friend, right?"

Jim nodded.

"You're lucky to have a friend like that. But you can go back home now, as long as you remember that leg is still weak. Don't try to do too much at once."

"Thanks, Doc. Can I drive?"

"As long as it's not a stick shift. If it is, you'll need to wait until your leg is stronger."

"No, no stick shift."

He made an appointment to see the physiotherapist, then rejoined Blair. "Still on light duty, but I can drive - if we go to the PD, let Simon know, then I can take the truck and you won't have to drive me around any longer."

"Okay." Blair was pretty sure that although Jim hadn't said anything, having to be dependent on someone else for transport must have been very frustrating.

Blair had spent the entire time since Jim had been allowed back to light duty observing Jim doing desk work, registering how increasingly twitchy the detective was getting as he worked doggedly at the cold cases he had been given once he had cleared the routine involved with the cases he'd been working before he broke his leg.

Jim, Blair decided, didn't have much tolerance for paperwork; he preferred being out in the field. Well, that would fit with Burton's view of sentinels. Doing paperwork wasn't actually 'protecting the tribe'. He wondered just how long it would take for Jim to decide that he was perfectly able to get out into the field, especially since he had been cleared to drive.

* * * * * * * *

Taking the truck, Jim followed Blair home that night, parked beside him, and followed him into the building. "We should take the stairs," he said. "I need the exercise."

Blair looked at him. "You only got the cast off a few hours ago," he pointed out.

"And I've been mostly sitting around since then. I need to built up the muscle."

"Okay," Blair said, "but we walk up; we don't try running, right?" He moved smoothly in front of Jim and went steadily up the middle of the staircase, careful not to go too fast but at the same time not obviously lagging. With his attention on Jim, he was well aware when, about three-quarters of the way up, the older man began to feel the strain - the footfalls became slightly uneven as he favored the weaker leg. Knowing that Jim would consider it patronizing if he obviously slowed, he was careful to maintain the same steady speed till he reached the top. As he was unlocking the door, he paid no obvious attention when Jim leaned against the wall; but he was careful to move out of Jim's way once he went through the doorway.

Jim went straight to the nearest chair and sank into it.

Blair hung up his coat, very careful not to say, "I told you so," either verbally or in his body language. He headed straight for the bathroom, relieved himself, washed quickly, then went back into the living room.

"Anything special you'd like for dinner?" he asked, maintaining their normal routine.

"Whatever you want," Jim said. "Then... then after dinner I'll get my things packed and get out of your hair. The Doc said I could go home."

Blair looked at him. "Do you really want to move back into that shoebox?"

"Not really," Jim said, "but I can't inflict myself on you any longer. You've been great, and I really appreciate it - "

"Jim, you said you'd been looking for somewhere else to live. Why not just stay here while you look? We've managed fine these last few weeks; I don't see why that has to change. And if you're here... You've made great strides in learning how to control your senses while you've been here, but you can't afford to take that control for granted. Why risk losing any of it?"

"Chief... I don't forget what you said about your reaction to being... well, claimed, as a guide for... for the me of that other universe - "

"Jim. I don't deny that at first I was worried... but you're not the same person as MacEllis. I didn't trust him at all; I do trust you."

"God, Chief... What can I say but thanks? Now - what about rent?"

Blair shook his head. "Pay half of the utilities and food. More than that wouldn't be fair. Now there is one other thing - think you can tackle the stairs now?"


"Then you take the upstairs room - the bed is bigger - I'll go back to the downstairs one - it was mine anyway; I just moved out of it once Mom went on her travels."

"Chief, the downstairs room is fine for me, the bed's plenty big enough - "

"Jim... "

"Either I stay in the downstairs room, or I don't stay at all."

"Okay," Blair said.

"Now you get out your laptop and get on with your dissertation, and I'll made dinner."

"Has anyone ever told you that you're a bully?" Blair asked.

Jim easily detected the humor in Blair's voice. "You'd better believe it, Junior."

They grinned at each other, then Blair reached for his laptop and Jim headed for the kitchen.

* * * * * * * *

Three months later, Blair gave Chancellor Stoddard his dissertation. Much to his surprise, it was accepted without the need for any revision, and he defended it a month later. And when the diplomas were given, there was a group in the audience that consisted of all the people he had worked with as an observer. Even Naomi had made her way home for the occasion, arriving mid-morning.

Blair immediately offered to sleep on the couch; Naomi, however, insisted on sleeping on it herself. "I couldn't miss this occasion, Sweetie, but I'll be leaving again tomorrow," she said. "There's no need for you or Jim to give up your beds for just one night."

After all the diplomas had been presented, Blair's supporters carried him off for a celebration meal, and it was late before Blair, Jim and Naomi made their way home.

Naomi went straight to the kitchen, filled the kettle and switched it on. While she waited for it to boil, she put herbal teabags in three mugs - having already discovered that even if he hadn't tried herbal tea before he met Blair, Jim had, in the past few weeks, developed a taste for it.

"So, Dr. Sandburg," she said after giving the men their tea and settling down herself. "What are you planning on doing next?"

"I don't know," Blair said. "No, I really don't. I hadn't thought beyond getting those three letters after my name." It wasn't the whole truth, but only he knew that his future could be decided by Jim's reaction to his comment. "Back when I started positively working on the diss, Dr. Stoddard did say that he'd make sure there was a job at Rainier for me - but I'm not sure I want to go back to teaching."

"You always liked traveling, watching how people in other countries lived," Naomi said. "How about doing a bit of traveling again, but instead of looking at the countries and people academically, think of writing some travel books? We could rent this place to Jim."

Blair rubbed his chin as if he was considering her suggestion, but without being obvious about it, his attention was on Jim.

"If that was what you decided, I'd be happy to rent the place," Jim said, "but there is another option."

Here it comes, Blair thought.

"Ridealongs are usually considered... well, something of a nuisance but good PR, but I know that Warren has been very impressed by the reports he got on you. A lot of cities have started employing forensic anthropologists, and although your doctorate isn't in forensic anthropology per se, you have studied some as part of your general course work, right? Even maybe taught some?"


"If you were to apply to Cascade PD for a job as a forensic anthropologist, I'm pretty sure you'd get it."

"Just one thing wrong with that," Blair said wryly. "My month with Forensics? That was the one department I was glad to get away from. I liked Dan and found Serena easy to work with, but I didn't find their work all that interesting."


"Basically, I'm more interested in the living than the dead."

"Some kind of social work, then?" Jim suggested. "You do interact well with other people. Something like victim support?"

"Wouldn't that be a waste of his doctorate?" Naomi asked, but she did sound as if it was a genuine concern.

"Anthropologists work with people, right?" Jim asked, and Blair nodded. "So he'd still be working with people, and his doctorate would probably give him a higher salary."

He's not looking to keep me beside him 24/7, Blair thought. "That sounds interesting," he said. "Okay, I'm not looking to go out tomorrow job-hunting; I've had a busy few months, and I want a break. I think I'll sit back, relax for a few days, unwind, and then consider my options."

"You could come with me tomorrow," Naomi suggested.

"Why not?" Jim asked. "You haven't seen your Mom for ages."

He really isn't like MacEllis, Blair thought. He's happy to let me have a life of my own.

"On the whole, I think not," he said. "I'd enjoy it, but I wouldn't really relax - I'd still be studying the people we saw, the places we visited... No, I'll just stay here, veg out for a while, consider my options. I might go and see Warren - I did like working with the police."

"And you were well liked at the station," Jim put in.

"He might be able to suggest something that would let me continue to be involved without actually being a cop." He yawned. "It's been a tiring day - I'm for bed."

"Yes, it is getting late - and I need a fairly early start tomorrow," Naomi agreed. "My plane leaves at ten - I'll need to get to the airport by nine at the latest."

"I'll drive you there," Blair promised, and headed for the bathroom.

* * * * * * * *

As he switched his light off, Blair found himself smiling wryly.

The one thing he wanted to do - really wanted to do - was take Jim on a visit to Scotland. To go with him onto the Beinn Macdhui plateau on a cloudy, wet day with almost zero visibility, find Seumas MacEllis, and tell him,

"See? You were wrong. My world does have sentinels - and I'm guiding one of them."


Copyright bluewolf