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Ben Hershall was one of the top men in the Bears, a fairly major Cascade gang. The Bears caused less trouble than any of the other gangs - indeed, they could have been called positively law-abiding - so the police didn't pay too much attention to them. Certainly Earl Gaines, in command of the anti-gang unit, didn't ignore the younger, not-quite-old-enough-to-be-a-full-gang-member adherents - he gave them as much attention as he did the hangers-on of the more obstreperous gangs; but he didn't worry about them the way he worried about the youngsters attached to some of the other, more aggressive, gangs.
The odd thing was that none of the other gangs messed with the Bears.
In the cut-throat world of the gangs, there was a lot of dog-eat-dog, with a gang that didn't cause trouble of some sort on a pretty regular basis being considered weak, and therefore easy prey for a 'tougher' gang.
But nobody messed with the Bears.
Not even Earl Gaines, who had been vaguely attached to the Deuces when he was young, knew why.
Though the Deuces, too, had been a relatively peaceful gang; Antoine Hollins, who led them, had been a man who used his influence over his followers to ensure that any youngster with potential - any kind of potential - got the chance to develop it. Earl sometimes suspected that when he was young Hollins had been denied the chance to leave the street and make something better of himself, so when he attained a position of power on the street he chose to use his position to give others the chance he had missed. He had seen that inter-gang warfare accomplished nothing, and had persuaded Tyrrel Lang, leader of Cascade's other major gang at the time, the 357s, to enter into a truce. Each group kept strictly to its own territory and never encroached on that of the other... until a dirty cop, disliking the entente that had developed between the two because it lost him a lot of his opportunity to make money, upset the apple cart. Hollins had died because of it... but because Jim had been able to prove that everything had been instigated by that dirty cop, Lang had chosen to continue with the truce. The new leader of the Deuces had been glad to do so, aware that Lang was more powerful. Not long after, however, Lang too died, killed by an ambitious member of his own gang, and within months both gangs had fragmented, leaving the Bears well up the gang pecking order.
Rival gangs often clashed as each one strove to become the top dog on the street... but the Bears caused no trouble, and nobody messed with the Bears...
... until the Tuesday Ben Hershall disappeared.
A snitch told the police about the disappearance; nobody ever admitted who had told the Press.
Within twenty-four hours Cascade discovered why nobody messed with the Bears.
There were no witnesses. Nothing to identify the killers. Nothing even to indicate the cause of death - autopsies indicated nothing but natural causes for the deaths. But the day after Hershall disappeared, top members of three other major gangs turned up dead in very public places - in the street in front of the PD, the Court, and the Mayor's residence.
Nobody doubted that somehow this had been retaliation by the Bears for the disappearance of Ben Hershall. The media went wild with speculation, citing everything from some hitherto unknown drug - however it was administered - to black magic.
Several of the surviving prominent members of the other gangs disappeared - it was widely assumed that they had left Cascade. Others went to the Bears, claiming total ignorance concerning Hershall's disappearance, and at least by implication throwing suspicion towards those gangs whose members had fled.
It was Earl Gaines who, two days after Hershall's disappearance, went to see Simon; he was the one with most chance of hearing about gang warfare and the reasons for it. Simon, in turn, called in Jim and Blair. After discussing things with Earl, they went to visit Adam Hershall, the actual leader of the Bears. He had the features of a native American, as did the other two or three men they saw.
"Hello, Mr. Hershall," Jim said as the door closed behind the gang member who had shown them to what could be called Hershall's office. "I'm Detective Ellison, Major Crime; my partner, Detective Sandburg."
"And what can I do for Major Crime, Detective?" The man spoke quietly, his heart rate unaltered. Whatever had been going down among the gangs, this man's conscience was clear - at least in his own mind.
"We understand that one of your associates is missing," Jim said.
"My cousin." There was the faintest quiver in Hershall's voice, and Jim knew that he was concerned about that disappearance.
"I'm sorry," Jim said quietly. "Once we heard about it, investigating it became a matter for the police."
"The police investigating the disappearance of a gang member?" Hershall asked.
"The Bears have never been a gang to cause trouble," Jim said, "but the unexplained disappearance of a man who is well known in any segment of society is a matter for investigation."
"By Missing Persons, possibly, if his disappearance is reported - but Major Crime, when the disappearance was not reported?"
"Captain Gaines of the anti-gang unit heard about it, and was concerned enough to come to us... especially when, yesterday, three high-profile members of other gangs died suddenly."
"I saw the report of that in the papers this morning," Hershall said. "Discounting media speculation, the cause of death in each case was stated to be natural, no matter how much of a coincidence it might be."
His heartbeat was still unaltered.
"There are ways of killing that can look natural," Blair said.
He had been standing to one side and a little behind Jim; Hershall had clearly been discounting him, obviously believing him to be a junior partner who was still learning the ropes from a more experienced senior. Now Hershall looked at him, his eyes widening slightly, and for the first time Jim detected a slight change in his heartbeat.
"I believe there are some poisons that are undetectable very soon after being administered, and could give the appearance of heart failure," Hershall said, "but I've never encountered one."
"The interesting thing, though, is that although the Bears have a reputation for not causing trouble, none of the other gangs have ever given the Bears trouble... until possibly now," Blair went on, ignoring the comment about poison. "It made me wonder why. Do the other gangs know that you have a member - or perhaps more than one - who is a medicine man? Whose curses are known to strike home?"
Hershall's mouth dropped open. It was clear that he hadn't expected that sort of comment from a detective. "Curses?" he said, and although he tried to sound disbelieving, he was obviously shaken by Blair's comment.
Blair smiled. "My experience is not primarily Native American," he said. "It's a combination of Yupik and Chopek - Alaskan and Amazonian - but I have spent time on a reservation and seen at first hand the work of a medicine man. I know that curses can and do strike home."
Hershall glanced at Jim, who smiled. "My partner is a shaman," he said.
"It is... unusual to find a white man who... who... "
"Accepts shamanism? Who is a shaman?" Jim asked. "Mr. Hershall, some years ago I lived for eighteen months with a Peruvian tribe. I saw what the tribe's shaman could do. Detective Sandburg originally studied anthropology, and visited many tribes; he too saw what they could do but, in addition, several of them saw the potential in him, and gave him some training."
"I'm not a practicing shaman," Blair said, "but I could be. I have the knowledge."
Hershall licked his lips nervously. "It's true the other gangs believe that some of us do have the ability to curse an enemy and make the curse stick - which makes it that much stranger that any of them might have had a hand in Ben's disappearance." He looked from one to the other. "I think you know that all the Bears have Native American blood - " Blair nodded and Hershall continued. "Some are pure blooded, others have only one parent or grandparent who was Native American, but that is the tie that binds us all. Ben and I - we are double cousins, born less than a week apart, and we have always been very close. Our mothers were Yakama, sisters who married two brothers.
"We have three men in the Bears who can curse an enemy. They didn't curse anyone directly; it was a general curse aimed at anyone who, for whatever reason, hated Ben, or might have harmed him in some way. We were surprised there were as few as three," he added, "although Ben was never a man to cause trouble. I think, though, the top men in all the other gangs fear and hate the top men in the top gangs, at least to some extent. There's always the fear of a gang war that will destroy your group, kill the major players and absorb the minor ones. What saves us a lot of bother is the requirement that our members have Native American blood."
Blair nodded. "The gangs, in a way, are the equivalent of the old tribes."
"Yes," Hershall said. "You could say that. Too many of us feel marginalized, rejected by today's society. Being one of a gang gives us a sense of identity.
"We mostly do respect the work Gaines does with the younger ones. We know that he was in a gang when he was young, that his gang leader encouraged him - and others - to find a way to get off the street, and he's passing on that message. It's too late for a lot of us, and there are others who don't want to put the effort into getting off the street, seeing crime as an easy option. In the Bears... we work honestly as far as possible, and you won't find any of us doing drugs, either as users or sellers."
"We know the Bears have a good reputation," Jim said. "But to get back to the subject - my partner and I do believe in the power of a curse, but if we go back to the PD and tell our Captain that these men died because of a general curse on anyone who hated your cousin, we'd be laughed out of his office and be subject to a lot of ridicule from our fellow detectives. But we could live with that.
"However, the DA would never take it seriously. He'd throw out the mere suggestion, because everyone 'knows' that only superstitious people from backward tribes believe in the power of curses; and he'd suggest to our superiors that we get some psychiatric help since we considered 'yes, we cursed him and he died' was a valid... well, confession.
"Can I suggest, then - you made your point to the other gangs, so you leave it at that? We'll question the other gang leaders - those we can find - and see if we can come up with something. Our report on this visit will be that after questioning you, we felt we had no reason to suspect you of any wrongdoing. We don't need to mention your medicine men."
"And if we do discover anything, we'll let you know," Blair added.
Hershall turned his attention from Jim back to Blair. "Thank you."
They found a few of the close to top men in other gangs, despite some having fled the city and three others having died. All the men they questioned pleaded ignorance, repeating what everyone knew - 'Nobody messed with the Bears' - and Jim knew they were telling the truth.
Ben Hershall had just vanished... and considering what Adam had said, that the cousins were close, it seemed unlikely that the disappearance was voluntary. If he had planned on leaving Cascade, he would have told his cousin.
As they discussed things on their way back to the PD after seeing the last man on their list of possible suspects, Blair said, "Of course, it's possible that they weren't as close as Adam thought, or that it was Adam who, for whatever reason, disposed of him?"
"No," Jim said. "He was telling the truth. He genuinely believed they were very close, and he was genuinely upset about the whole thing."
"Just playing devil's advocate," Blair said. "The good old 'when you have eliminated everything possible, you must consider the impossible'."
"I don't think that's an exact quotation," Jim said.
"You know what I mean! But if you want to be pedantic - ' ...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' Satisfied?"
Jim grinned. "Gotcha!"
Blair stuck out his tongue - a more physical retaliation was contra-indicated because Jim was driving - and went on. "Seriously, to think Adam Hershall was involved in his cousin's disappearance - no. That's definitely on the impossible side of the equation."
With absolutely nothing more to go on, Jim and Blair moved on to another case... and then came the weekend.
The panicked call to 911 came mid-Saturday morning; from two teenage boys with an interest in biology who had planned to spend the day exploring the coast north of Cascade, hoping to find something of interest among the flotsam washed up by the tide. What they had found was not what they expected. Lying among the seaweed, odd branches, shells and jellyfish washed up by the tide was a body.
Although Jim had enough seniority that he didn't automatically have to work weekends, Blair didn't; because Jim wasn't on call, Blair didn't have to go in to the PD, but he was expected to be available alternate weekends, and Jim accepted that he would accompany his partner if Blair was called out.
When the phone rang, Jim answered it; within five minutes he and Blair were en route to the nearest point to the reported spot that they could leave the truck.
They beat Forensics to the site, though not by much, and hurried along the beach to where the two boys were sitting some yards inland from the high tide line, carefully not looking towards the body, which lay a little above high tide mark.
Jim headed for the body; Blair went straight to the boys.
He showed them his badge. "Detective Sandburg," he said. "And you are - ?"
"I'm Wayne Wright," the older-looking one said, his voice just a trifle unsteady. "This is my brother Jeff."
"And it was you who phoned the police, Wayne?"
"Can you tell me exactly what you were doing?"
"We... we're both hoping to go to Rainier when we finish school, and become biologists. So we come to different parts of the shore most weekends and - well, beachcomb, see what we can find washed up. We collect shells and try to identify them, things like that. We'd just started today when we saw the body."
Blair nodded. "Are you more interested in the zoology or botany side?"
"Zoology. We've been keeping caterpillars for two or three years, watching them develop into butterflies, stuff like that. I don't know that Mom is too happy with all our creepy crawlies, but Dad says the more we can find out from experience the better."
"He's right. So - you come out here a lot of weekends?"
"Yes, unless the weather is really bad. Parts of the shore are quite dangerous. So are some weather conditions."
Blair nodded. "And of course you know all the dangerous parts?"
"Dad came out with us the first month or two and made sure we knew everything and every place to avoid. But we're getting a bit blase about here; we're not actually finding anything new. I'm learning to drive, though, and we'll be able to go further afield once I pass my driving test. That'll give us wider experience of finding and seeing things in the field, because we won't be stuck with just the shoreline."
Blair glanced over to where the Forensic team and a couple of EMTs were joining Jim. "Can you tell me - was there anything about the weather recently - say in the last week - that you would have called dangerous?"
"It's dropped a bit now, but there was a strong wind blowing in from the sea earlier this week. There are some places you can get trapped when the wind's that strong."
Wayne pointed. "There's a small inlet just past those rocks. If you were caught in there... even if you were a strong swimmer, when the sea is breaking against the rocks, you wouldn't have a chance." He, too, glanced quickly over towards the group gathered around the body. "We didn't look closely at him, but there seemed to be a mark on his head, as if he'd been swept against the rocks and hit his head. If he did, if he was knocked out, he'd drown very quickly. The... the body would be sucked out to sea when the tide turned, but the way the currents are, it would be washed in again with the next high tide. Monday night was the highest tide of the month, so once it was washed in, it wouldn't be carried out to sea again."
"I see." He looked at Jeff. "Anything you want to add to that?"
Jeff shook his head.
"Thank you - you've been very helpful. I don't think we'll need to speak to you again, unless you'd like me to come and have a word with your parents? No?" As Wayne shook his head. "Bad enough you found a body without the police calling at your house? Whatever would the neighbors think?"
Wayne grinned weakly. Jeff just looked unhappy.
"All right, I have your names, but for the record we'll need your address as well." Blair wrote it down. "And a phone number, just in case we do need to contact you?" He wrote that down as well. "If I were you, I'd speak to your Dad first, because I suspect your Mom might worry that you'd find another body on the shore next week. We won't give the papers your names, we'll just say that a member of the public found him, but you will have to tell your parents so that if we should need to speak to you again, it won't come as a nasty surprise to them.
"Now I have a feeling that the media will be showing up soon - how they find out about things like this goodness knows, but they do. So I suggest you slip away - go up through the trees there, that'll hide you - and go straight home. It does mean you won't be able to do any beachcombing today, but under the circumstances I don't suppose that'll bother you too much. And thank you for your help."
Blair watched them disappear into the trees, thinking that Jeff was perhaps a little too influenced by his older brother - did he really want a career as a biologist, or was he just following where Wayne led? Then he went over to join Jim. He had just reached the group gathered around the body when the first reporters appeared.
Jim was looking really grim. "Wallet in his pocket - identifies him as Ben Hershall."
"God. Poor Adam."
Jim nodded. He, like Blair, had liked the man. "We'll have to get him properly identified, though," he murmured. "Did the boys give you any ideas about what might have happened to him?"
"Apparently there's a small inlet over there - " Blair pointed - "where it's possible to get trapped by the tide. If the sea is rough, someone trapped wouldn't stand a chance, the boys said."
"Detective Ellison! Do you have an identity for the victim?" One of the reporters.
"Was it an accident?" asked another. "Do you know what happened?"
"We think we know who it is, but we need to get a formal identification," Jim said.
"Was it an accident?" was repeated.
"We think so," Jim said. "But we'll need an autopsy before we can be sure."
"Who reported it?"
"A member of the public out for a walk," Blair put in, "who wants to remain anonymous." He grinned to himself as he saw the disappointment on the reporters' faces. If they wanted to print a 'what I saw/thought' report, they'd have to make it up.
The body was put into a body bag, loaded onto a stretcher and carried off. The Forensics personnel, Jim and Blair, followed; the reporters trailed behind, one cameraman pausing to take a photo of the beach.
Jim and Blair went back to the PD by way of the Bear's... well, headquarters, where they spoke to Adam Hershall.
"There's been a body found - a drowning victim. I'm sorry - there was a wallet in his pocket - the contents identified him as Ben. Could you come to the PD with us and confirm that it's your cousin?"
"Killed by drowning?" Adam asked.
"Accidental, we think," Blair said gently. "There are places along the shore where it's easy to be trapped by the tide, where even a strong swimmer could have a problem."
"But Ben wouldn't have had any reason to go to the seashore," Adam said.
"Maybe someone called him, asking to meet him there," Blair suggested.
"Unlikely," Adam said. "All right, I'll follow you in."
But when he saw the body, he shook his head. "No," he said. "That's not Ben. I've no idea who it is." There was a note in his voice that spoke of relief, but not total relief; Ben was, after all, still missing.
The wallet was lying on a table with the other things taken from the dead man's pockets. Slipping on a pair of latex gloves, Jim picked it up and opened it, showing Adam the contents.
"Yes," Adam said. "That's definitely Ben's wallet. But it isn't Ben." He frowned. "I know a lot of the members of different gangs by sight - but I don't recognize this guy at all. Gaines might know who it is."
But, called in to check the dead man, Earl Gaines didn't know who it was either.
Knowing that Dan Wolf was rushing the autopsy because of the circumstances, Jim and Blair took Adam Hershall to Major Crime, asking him some more questions regarding anyone at all who might have reason to kidnap the missing man - he could think of nobody - then escorted him from the PD, said goodbye to him at the door, promised to let him know when they had any additional information, and went back down to the morgue.
They found Dan sitting at his desk writing his report, a puzzled frown on his face.
"Dan?" Blair asked.
Dan looked over at them. "As far as I can tell, this John Doe died of natural causes; he was certainly dead when he went into the water. From the bruising on his body I'd say he was tossed around by the waves for a while - but there's no water in his lungs. He could have collapsed and died when the tide was out, then when it came in again, it swept him up and threw him against some rocks."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "Like the dead gang bangers," Jim muttered. "Natural causes."
"Yes," Dan said. He looked at them, almost calculatingly. "You know something," he said.
"Nothing we can take to Captain Banks," Jim told him.
"The Bears are - or identify as - Native American," Dan said slowly.
"There are three medicine men in the gang," Blair said.
"Ah." Dan's eyes met Blair's. "White men don't normally believe in the power of the medicine men," he went on. "I think, however, that you both do?"
"And that is what you cannot take to Captain Banks?"
Blair's lips twitched. "Are you calling Captain Banks a 'white man'?"
Dan grinned. "You know what I mean."
Blair allowed his grin to show. "You had the same kind of education."
"Yes, but my people aren't as far removed from our roots as his people are."
"True. Anyway, apparently the medicine men cursed anyone who ill-wished Ben Hershall - a 'drop dead' sort of thing."
"Hence the deaths of three known gang leaders." Dan nodded his understanding.
"And this man - who, at a guess, mugged Hershall, probably without knowing who he was, and stole his wallet. But if so, where is Hershall now?" Jim asked.
"Should we check the hospitals for a John Doe?" Blair suggested.
"Several days unconscious or amnesiac... Yes, let's do that!" Jim agreed.
Cascade General had one John Doe, found unconscious in a back street on Wednesday morning, and who had not actually regained consciousness, although the doctors believed he was close to doing so. There was no identification on him. He was not critically injured, in that his head injury was not life-threatening, and the examining doctor believed he might have been the victim of a hit and run, though he wasn't completely discounting a mugging. The unconscious man had been well-dressed, pretty obviously not someone who lived on the street; the hospital authorities had been hoping he would in fact regain consciousness at any time, but had begun to consider contacting the police about him, to see if someone answering his description had been reported missing.
When Jim and Blair went to the ward to see the man, both noted a close resemblance to Adam Hershall.
"It would be surprising if this wasn't Ben Hershall," Jim said softly.
"But if it was a hit and run, and if the driver was the guy on the shore... Okay. Let's say he stopped, checked the guy he hit, pinched his wallet, then left him and drove on. But why keep the wallet? You'd think he'd take the money and either drop the wallet into the nearest dumpster or shove it back into the pocket of the guy he'd hit," Blair said. "And why was he down on the shore? Where's his car? There wasn't one parked anywhere near. And if he was a mugger... Again, why was he at the shore?"
"He might have meant to throw the wallet into the ocean," Jim said, "and get rid of it that way. But I agree, I'd have expected him to take the money out of it right away."
"There's another possibility, but it implies someone even more cold-hearted than a hit and run driver or a mugger. A mugger is out for what he can get, which would be the wallet, plus a watch if his victim was wearing one. A driver who knocks someone down could simply be terrified of any repercussions, so he drives on. But someone else coming along soon after, finding the victim, rifling his pockets and then just walking away... "
Jim looked at his partner. "You never used to be that cynical, Chief." He didn't add that the same thought had already occurred to him.
Blair gave a wry smile. "I'm not sure I wasn't," he said. "Naomi always encouraged me to think the best of people, and pretending I did got to be a habit, but... well, sometimes it wasn't easy. I'm not convinced that there weren't times that she wasn't pretending, too. Realistically, nobody could be as naive as she seemed to be a lot of the time. Not without being conned out of everything she possessed, and I don't remember her ever being conned out of anything."
"Not very responsible of her, though, to... well, lay you open to being conned."
"I hear that. But Jim, moving around the way we did... She knew I saw a lot of unpleasantness, but I experienced more, a lot more, than she probably realized. I enjoyed going to school, but I was exactly the sort of child the would-be tough guys, the bullies, targeted. What none of them knew was that when I was seven, Naomi lived for several months with a professional boxer, and he taught me far more than she - well, would have been comfortable knowing I knew. After we left there I didn't get any practice, but I knew what to do, so I was able to defend myself if any of them got physical with their bullying. Verbal bullying I just ignored - that's something that dies a natural death if the victim doesn't react in any way, doesn't get obviously upset or angry. But it did help, too, that I was good at sport, not just an academic nerd.
"And when you don't have much... you're not going to be conned out of it. Not unless you're the sort of idiot who believes an email saying you've won the jackpot in a lottery you didn't enter.
"Anyway - we think this is Ben Hershall. Time to contact Adam again, isn't it."
They paused at the nurses' station on their way out. "We think we know who your John Doe is," Jim said. "We're just going to collect a relative to confirm our tentative identification. No point in giving you a name yet - not till we're sure."
This time when they went into the Bears' territory they found themselves being acknowledged by the two or three gang members they saw. It seemed that they were being acknowledged as non-hostile, at least - even a gang as law-abiding as the Bears tended to regard the police as potential enemies.
Adam looked up as they entered.
"Yes, it's us again," Blair said wryly, "but we think we have good news this time. We're as certain as people can be who don't know him that it's your cousin. The victim of either a hit and run or a mugger - the doctors aren't sure which. Picked up unconscious on Wednesday morning and hasn't regained consciousness yet, but the doctors think he'll make a full recovery. Would you come with us to the hospital and confirm that it is Ben."
"Pretty sure. He resembles you quite closely."
At the hospital, a doctor accompanied them to the bedside of the unconscious man.
Adam looked at him and nodded. "Yes, that's Ben." His voice broke. "He... Doctor, you're sure he'll recover all right?"
"We can't be certain until he does regain consciousness," Dr. Sampson said guardedly, "but all the tests we could do while he's still unconscious indicate that there's no permanent damage."
Adam murmured something in a language that wasn't English, and Blair guessed it was the language of his Yakama mother. Then he laid one hand on his cousin's forehead, and grasped one of the unconscious man's hands with the other. Blair took a deep breath and stepped forward. He took Ben's other hand and began to murmur quietly in a steady, repetitive rhythm that could almost be called a chant.
Jim smiled to himself. Blair had the knowledge to be a shaman; he was using it. Jim had half thought the language Blair was using would be Quechua, but it wasn't - he suspected it was probably the language of the Yupik, with whom Blair had spent a year before he went to Rainier.
Sampson looked from Blair to Adam and back to Blair, then turned his attention to Jim. "What... ?"
"I think you probably don't want to know," Jim said. "But I can now confirm that your John Doe's name is Ben Hershall. You'll have noticed the similarity between him and his cousin here? We saw it, but needed to get the other Mr. Hershall in to make a positive identification."
"Can you tell me - have you determined whether the injuries were caused by a hit and run, or by a mugging?"
"You could say the jury is still out on that - I think it was a mugging, but Dr. Fenwick, who first examined him, is still holding out for a hit and run, based on a severe bruise on his left side and dirt on his clothes around the site of the bruise. But I believe that could just as easily have been caused by a kick with muddy boots. The head injury could have been caused by either a heavy blow or by hitting his head on the ground if he was tossed into the air by a vehicle."
Jim nodded. The man found dead on the shore had been wearing boots. "I think you're probably right, and it was a mugging," he said.
"At least when he regains consciousness he should be able to tell you," Sampson said. "And whatever it is your man is doing, he seems to be pulling the victim back... "
"Yes," Jim said. He had been aware of a change in Ben's vitals for a minute or two. "But I think we have the man - there was a body found on the shore this morning, with Mr. Hershall's wallet in his pocket."
Blair's voice maintained its rhythm unaltered as Ben's head began to shift slightly on the pillow despite the pressure of Adam's hand on it. Then Ben's movement stilled and he opened his eyes.
"Adam," he murmured.
Adam responded in the unknown language he had used before Blair started his chant. Blair said a few more words, obviously - to Jim - finishing whatever it was he had been repeating, then fell silent. He would have released Ben's hand, but the injured man clung to it with a strength surprising in someone who had been lying unconscious for four days.
"Thank you, shaman," he murmured.
"Yes," Adam said. "Thank you, shaman. We owe you."
Jim grinned. So - even unconscious, Ben knew he had been pulled back by a shaman, and Adam had confirmed it.
Blair shook his head. "You owe me nothing," he said quietly. "It was my pleasure to help you."
Dr. Sampson moved forward. "Mr. Hershall," he said.
Ben blinked still slightly drooping eyelids at him. "Doctor?" It was as much a question as an acknowledgement.
"How do you feel?"
Ben took a deep breath, and flinched. "Sore," he said, "but not as if there was any serious damage."
"That was our conclusion also, but you were slow to regain consciousness."
"I think... I knew that if I was unconscious, the man who attacked me would leave me lying."
"And you lost your sense of time?" Sampson asked sympathetically.
Sampson glanced at Jim, who moved forward. "Detective Ellison," he identified himself. "Can you tell us what happened, sir?" he asked.
Ben frowned slightly. "I had been to see a friend who was having some problems," he said. "It was quite late when I left, but it was a nice night, the moon was bright, and I decided to walk home. The most direct route... There's just one road that it's probably better to avoid at night, but it was quiet... I was halfway down it when I heard a noise behind me... I turned and managed to dodge the first attack - he had what looked like a baseball bat - but he swung it again and hit my head; I know I fell, and I don't remember anything more, except thinking that I should lie still. But from the way my left side is hurting I'd guess he hit me again when I was on the ground."
"We think a kick," Sampson said.
Ben nodded. "So when was I found?"
"Wednesday morning, just before 7 - a man taking a short cut on his way to work," Sampson said. "There was nothing in your pockets to identify you - "
"He took my wallet?"
"Yes, but we got it back with, we think, all the contents intact - including the money," Jim told him. "We would have expected him to take the money and drop the wallet into the nearest dumpster, but for some reason he kept it with the money in it.
"Do you think you would recognize him if you saw him again?"
"I'm not sure," Ben said. "I was too busy watching the baseball bat and trying to dodge it to look closely at his face... "
"But you saw it?" Blair asked.
"Then I should be able to help you remember it," Blair said.
Ben was silent for a moment. "Adam?"
"If the shaman can help you, let him."
Sampson glanced at Jim, who smiled reassuringly. "Just call it a sort of psychiatry," he said softly.
Sampson shook his head. "Do I want to know?"
Jim's grin widened. "About as much as our Captain does," he replied. He looked over to the bed and said in Quechua, "Chief - a suggestion. If you want to stay here, that's fine, and under the circumstances I think you should. I'll go back to the PD and get a photo from Dan - I know it's getting late but he should still be there. Even if he isn't, though, there'll be someone on call. Then Ben can just say yes or no. I don't suppose you'll be able to stop Adam telling his cousin about the guy we thought might be Ben, though if you can, do."
"You got it," Blair answered, also in Quechua. He watched Jim walk out.
Sampson said, "I'll have a nurse bring you something to eat, Mr. Hershall. You'll have to stay in overnight, obviously, but assuming your condition remains as it is, I think you can be released in the morning. Do you have someone who can stay with you for a day or two, just to be on the safe side?"
"He can stay with me," Adam said.
Sampson nodded and walked out.
Blair watched him go, then turned his attention to Adam. "Detective Ellison has gone to get a photo of the man you know about; until he sees it, can I suggest you don't tell your cousin about what happened earlier today?" He looked at Ben. "Nothing for you to worry about, my word as a shaman, and we'll explain when Ellison gets back."
Adam nodded. "I understand." He paused, then went on, "Do cops normally work the sort of hours you seem to be doing?"
"It depends," Blair said. "Detective Ellison has a conscientious nature that makes him worry at something until he gets some sort of answer. As his partner, I just carry on working with him."
"And as a shaman, you can't stop either? But there's more to Detective Ellison than is obvious, too. A man in his position, who accepts so readily that his partner is a shaman, is clearly something special himself." His eyes narrowed slightly. "I seem to remember... a press conference... a denial that Detective Ellison had any special abilities... "
"Yes," Blair said. "It was necessary." He hesitated. "Our Captain knows - and he'd be happier not knowing - as does one of our fellow detectives, but that's all. One or two of our co-workers might suspect, but we haven't confirmed anything. Come to that, only our Captain has actually known about my being a shaman, though Dr. Sampson knows now too... as well as you two."
"Then Detective Ellison is a Guardian?" Ben asked. "A Guardian... with a shaman to help him?"
"How much do you know about Guardians?" Blair asked.
"They are rare - rarer now than they were - and a community that has the help of a Guardian always flourishes. But in today's world... yes, it is probably better if the Guardian hides his abilities even from his friends, and uses them with caution to protect his tribe."
Blair nodded. "We have known that since the day we met, but I was careless... and my mother betrayed my trust; hence the press conference." He looked from one to the other. "I trust you both to keep this knowledge to yourselves."
"We are honored by your trust," Adam said. "And if there is ever anything the Bears can do to help you and Detective Ellison, do not hesitate to call on us."
"Thank you. I will remember that. Now - " He looked at Ben and laid his right hand against Ben's forehead. "Detective Ellison had gone to get a photo, which may or may not be the man who attacked you. But you saw the face of that man - briefly, but you saw it. And now I say to you, you will remember it if you see it again." Dropping back into the language of the Yupik, knowing that the use of a language unknown to the Hershalls would impress them more than English would, he began a steady chant that simply said, over and over, 'You will remember it'. He knew, as all shamans did, how effective the power of suggestion could be; if Ben believed that the chant, in the shaman's unknown language, would help him to remember, he was more likely to remember.
Privately, though, Blair was wondering how long he should continue the chant. Not too long, he decided; to continue for too long would be patronizing, yet it had to be long enough for Ben to believe that it would be effective in helping him to remember.
So after what he estimated was about a minute, he dropped back into English, said, "You will remember the man's face," and fell silent. He lowered his head to gaze at the floor and took a long, deep breath, held it for a count of five, breathed out, waited for a count of five before he breathed in again. It was, in part, for effect, but also in part because he needed to relax. Finally he raised his head again. and smiled at the cousins.
"Detective Ellison should be back soon," he said, "and then we can leave you in peace. I know you've been unconscious for four days," he told Ben, "but it would do you no harm to sleep once you've had something to eat."
He had been half expecting to be interrupted by a nurse with some food, but realized that it was less than quarter of an hour since Sampson left, and since it wasn't the hospital's meal time, it would take a little while to organize something.
Sure enough, a nurse came in moments later wheeling a trolley on which sat a bowl of soup and one of Jello. "Sorry it's not more imaginative, but it was all the kitchen could manage on short notice. It's good to see you awake," she added. She put the trolley beside Ben and turned to go, meeting Jim in the doorway.
"Well timed!" Blair said. "I've suggested that Ben have a proper sleep once he's eaten. Once he's seen the photo we can get out of his way."
"Yes, of course," Jim said. He opened the folder he was carrying and took out a photo, which he showed to Ben.
Ben looked at it for a moment and nodded. "Yes," he said. "That's the man who attacked me."
Jim looked at Adam. "We'll let you give your cousin the details," he said. "And if one of you can come in to the PD on Monday, you can get his wallet."
"Thanks," Adam said.
They shook hands, then Jim and Blair left. As they went along the corridor, Jim could hear Adam beginning to tell Ben that his attacker was dead.
"We'll never know why the man went down to the shore," Jim said.
"Does it really matter?" Blair asked. "You were probably right when you suggested he meant to throw the wallet into the water, get rid of it that way, though why he hadn't taken the money out of it is a mystery.
"And because he had actually attacked Ben, he was caught in the general curse the Bears' medicine men cast. And that's something we can never tell Simon."
"No, we can't. However, because the man Ben has identified as his attacker is dead, we can close the case."
"Pity we couldn't close a few more cases as totally," Blair said, "with the perp just dropping dead."
"If we could, we'd be out of a job," Jim said.
"I'm sure we could find something else to do," Blair said. "How about Search and Rescue? Your senses would be really useful in a search."
"Well, we can bear that in mind for after we retire," Jim said. "If we get bored."
"You think that's likely? Blair asked.
"What, that we'll get bored?"
"No, that we'll ever retire," Blair said.
Jim grinned. "Oh, I plan to retire one day. Once you reach retirement age. Then I'll drag you to live in some remote part of the state where we can spend our days fishing, so that we can finally discover which of us is the better fisherman."
"I've got a better idea," Blair said. "We'll go to Peru and join the Chopek, and live as their sentinel and shaman - probably assistant shaman, whose main duty is the care and maintenance of his sentinel."
They paused as they reached the truck, and looked at each other. "Yes," Jim said. "That sounds perfect."