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Blair Sandburg, Senior Lecturer in Guide Studies at Rainier University, stood in front of the new intake of softly chattering, recently-established guides, waiting for his silence to impress itself on them. Gods, they were all so young! Had he ever been so young and naively enthusiastic, he wondered briefly, knowing that he had been... before disillusion regarding his abilities had killed that enthusiasm/dedication/sense of vocation. He still believed that guides were of value, or he wouldn't have made a career out of teaching young guides, but he no longer wanted to be one.
They were all between thirteen and fifteen - the qualities that defined a guide normally manifested themselves not long after puberty, although on rare occasions a guide came online much earlier - as he had done.
He wondered occasionally if that was what had gone wrong. Had he simply been too young, too emotionally immature - despite the unconventional upbringing that had given him street smarts at a very early age? But he didn't need to wonder. In his more introspective moments, he knew he had been too young.
It was one reason why, senior lecturer though he was, he had chosen to teach the freshmen rather than the final year students - the class the senior lecturer would normally have taken. He knew what it was like, to be online very young.
The class had finally fallen silent. He stood for some seconds longer, simply looking at them, knowing that his patience was making its own impact on them. Then he began.
"Sentinels first came to the notice of the so-called civilized world when a nineteenth century explorer, Richard Burton, realized that in some of the tribes he visited there were men - never more than one per village - whose senses appeared to be much more acute than those of their fellows. He was fascinated by these men, and studied them as best he could - learning quickly that the villages that had such men were more successful than villages that did not, and therefore tended to be very possessive of them.
"'Sentinels' was his name for them - the word that automatically came to the mind of a Victorian, rather than the terms 'watchman', 'protector' or 'guardian' that the tribes used.
"By using the word 'sentinel', however, Burton did these men a disservice. Today, we identify the word as meaning 'sentry', one who stands guard. To their tribes, these men were far more than that. Yes, they guarded their villages, warning them of approaching danger; but they also led the hunters in their search for food, led a wandering nomadic group to water in times of drought, knew if a chance-found carcass was fit to eat, forecast changes in the weather...
"Burton also noticed that a sentinel was invariably accompanied by a friend, whose presence seemed to assist the sentinel in the use of his abilities; but although he registered this, in his obsession with the sentinels, he actually paid very little attention to the friend. The constant companion.
"His work on sentinels was at first disputed, because none of his contemporaries had encountered one - hardly surprising when there were so few of them; it was amazing that he found as many as he did - and then it was ignored; his book about them, 'The Sentinels of Paraguay', was forgotten for many years, although one or two copies survived. After sentinels were... we could say rediscovered and found in Western countries, and the public realized how useful sentinels could be in certain professions, an enterprising publisher tracked down a copy and reprinted it.
"That book is required reading for this course." Blair paused for a moment, registering the expression on many of the faces in front of him, and grinned. "How many of you had to read Dickens when you were in high school?" Almost every hand went up.
"How many of you found him easy to read?" His grin broadened at the lack of response. "A lot of people do like his work, but I suspect they were older than any of you when they first met him.
"The trouble with many Victorian writers was a combination of verbosity and what appeared to be an irresistible habit of never using a one-syllable word where they could use a polysyllabic one. Burton's writing was typical of his era. However, nobody has to struggle through Burton's original wording. The reprint of the original book was very small. Then the publisher found Trevor Davis, an elderly anthropologist with an interest in the subject, and got him to rewrite it, translating it, so to speak, into more modern English. That version has been very successful.
"Davis was the first person to identify the absolute importance of the sentinel's friend... companion... guide. He had read Burton; like Burton, he had encountered one or two men with heightened senses when he was on expeditions into what is still commonly referred to as 'uncharted territory', and realized what they were; Burton's 'sentinels'. There were still - over a century after Burton's travels - one or two small tribes in remote areas that had had no exposure to 'civilization', who had never seen a white man or a metal knife; it's doubtful that any such tribes still exist today, even though several have chosen to continue living a hunter-gatherer life. It was Davis who, eighty-three years ago, found the first known sentinel of modern times in America - do any of you know his name?"
A hand rose tentatively, and Blair smiled encouragement. "Yes?"
"That's right. He was thirty-six years older than Davis, but despite the age difference they became friends, and worked together until Anderson died some twelve years later. By then more sentinels had been identified, and Davis turned his attention to publicizing a sentinel's need for a guide - Anderson had used Davis to help stabilize his sometimes erratic control with considerable success.
"Davis' book, 'My Life as a Guide' is the other one that is required reading, because it gives the origins of many of the techniques that guides use today to help their sentinels. Even if some of you eventually decide that you don't want to partner a sentinel, it's still useful for you to know those techniques."
Blair continued with his lecture, giving his young students a broad overview of the work that sentinel/guide pairs did in the modern world as well as an indication of work that a guide on his own might do.
As he reached the end of his talk he checked his watch, noting that there were still ten minutes of the class to run, and wound up his talk by saying, "Before next week's class, you need to buy the two books that are required reading - and just be grateful that I only list two books. The lecturers in some subjects list a dozen. I want you to read the first chapter of each book, and be prepared to discuss what you've read. Anyone who wants to consult with me about anything will find my office hours posted on the Guide Studies notice board. Any questions?"
One of the girls raised a hand. He had noticed her during the lesson, but had been unable to decide, on such brief exposure to her, whether she was a potential troublemaker who was unlikely ever to be a good, reliable guide or a genuinely ambitious guide who would be an asset to her sentinel. Strength, on its own, wasn't always a positive attribute. "Yes, Miss...?"
She correctly assumed that he wanted her name as well as her question. "Donna Tompkins. Sir, you've been referring to sentinels as 'he' all the time. Isn't that... well, isn't that a bit sexist?"
Blair drew a long, shuddering breath. Well, it was something that had to be addressed at some point, though not in detail for another two years; as well get the simple fact of it over with now, especially since he saw several of the girls and one or two of the boys nodding agreement. "No. Although there are as many female guides as there are male ones, sentinels are always male. There has never been a female sentinel recorded."
As he paused to take another steadying breath, one of the other girls said, "Are you saying that women have never had heightened senses? Or have they just never been given the chance to use them?"
"That might have been the case in tribal cultures, where women were rarely in a position where their senses would be triggered, even if they had the potential. In our culture, women can be in such a position, and... it can happen. I knew... knew of... one woman - and only one - who had heightened senses... and she wasn't a sentinel."
"But isn't that what defines a sentinel?" one of the boys asked. "Heightened senses?"
"There has to be the instinct to protect as well," Blair said. "She had no instinct to protect."
"What happened to her?"
"She ended up committed to a mental hospital - with the provision that it was for life. That no doctor or psychiatrist would ever be allowed to pronounce her mentally capable. Not that it's likely any doctor would try; she had reverted to having the mental level of a three- or four-year-old, and to the best of my knowledge still does."
"But didn't she have a guide?" Tompkins asked.
"She had a guide for a short while," Blair said quietly. "A young man, a trained guide who felt the way at least some of you do, that there was no reason why there shouldn't be female sentinels. He... in a way, he was broken as well. He survived with his sanity intact, because he had never totally trusted her and hadn't in fact imprinted on her, but he'll never guide again. Academically he knows that what happened with her isn't likely to happen with a male sentinel who has had the proper training - something she never had - but he isn't prepared to take the risk."
Nobody, it seemed, had anything more to say after that. Blair waited for some seconds, then said, "Remember - be prepared to discuss the first chapter of both books next week. Dismissed." He watched them go, then sank into the seat behind his desk that he almost never used, gazing blankly at the empty seats in front of him, remembering...
Brought up by a single mother who espoused sexual equality with a fanatical fervor, it never occurred to Blair that there was anything he could do that a woman couldn't... well, except father children; and nothing a woman could do (except give birth) that a man couldn't, or was beneath a man's dignity to do - even though he had met a few men whose stated belief was that a woman's place was either in the kitchen or in bed; that women were there for no purpose other than to serve men.
He was well aware of his mother's disapproval of such men; of her contempt for women who allowed themselves to be dominated by such men.
He was well aware, when he was growing up, that his mother felt as Donna Tompkins did; that 'only men were sentinels' was sexist, even though it was an apparently demonstrable fact.
As a young child, he had often thought how wonderful it would be to be a sentinel, with senses acute enough that helping other people would be automatic, instinctive, rewarding, and hoped that he was one - although there was no way to tell, when a child was very young, how he would develop; if he would be one of the very small percentage who were sentinels or guides, or the much higher percentage of people who were counted as 'normal'.
When he was ten, it became obvious that Blair was not, as he had hoped, a sentinel, but he was that other rarity, a guide. Not quite as uncommon as sentinels, not all guides chose to partner a sentinel, though all were trained in the necessary techniques; there were other jobs that someone with guide capabilities could do, and do well. But if he couldn't be a sentinel, he wanted to be guide to a sentinel.
His mother Naomi knew how he felt about sentinels, and encouraged him to train as a guide, although she deplored the fact that he would automatically be partnered with a male; she was quite sure that somewhere there had to be female sentinels.
At ten, Blair had developed a full three years earlier than was usual, but guides were rare enough that the authorities were not going to let that little detail delay Blair's training, even if it meant his education in general subjects suffered - and so Blair found himself enrolled as a student at Antioch University. Because of his age - or was that his youth? - he had to live in university accommodation, and for the first time in his short life he found himself in a situation where it was possible to amass more possessions than he was able to pack into a single duffel bag.
Not that he wanted many possessions; though he did seize the opportunity to buy some books, he was always aware that when he left Antioch, having found a sentinel to guide, he might have to return to an existence of being always on the move. It seemed unlikely, sentinels being as territorial as they were, but it wasn't impossible. A few sentinels did travel around, taking their skills to places that didn't have a resident sentinel, if there was a problem there that required one. Accustomed to travelling as he was, Blair thought that working with a peripatetic sentinel would suit him very well, but it wasn't something he would regard as essential; somewhat to his surprise, he found that the settled life at Antioch was surprisingly pleasant.
Naomi made one 'arrangement' for him when he went to Antioch; for the breaks in the university year, he travelled to Fort Worth, where Naomi's brother lived, and spent the holidays there.
She herself stayed in Los Angeles only long enough to know that he had settled in - and was doing better with his general studies than the Chancellor had thought possible, even though he was now doing work suitable for thirteen-year-olds. He enjoyed the challenge of the more advanced work, and although he no longer had the highest grades of anyone in his class, he was still in the top ten percent.
The one thing he lacked was friends.
Not that that was anything new. Moving around the way Naomi did, he had had few opportunities to form any kind of lasting friendship, though he had found many reasons to be bullied - the new kid, the small kid, the kid whose level of attainment was far in excess of the others in the class he was assigned to, the kid who actually enjoyed reading as a form of recreation, the kid with no father (even though Naomi usually claimed to be a widow, finding that people understood that more readily than her creed of 'I wanted a child but I never wanted a man permanently in my life')... all of these were anathema to the non-academically-minded often just would-be tough guys who ruled the playgrounds of too many schools. He had, in the past, been glad to move on, though occasionally it hadn't been quite as soon as he would have liked.
Because his fellow students at Antioch were all guides, he wasn't bullied in any way - bullying was not in a guide's nature; but although he was mature for his age, he was too young for most of them to find his company particularly congenial. Even the ones who were friendliest didn't go out of their way to spend time with him outside the classroom. Fortunately, he was used to being the only child among adults, and had over the years found several ways to compensate. He sat quietly in a corner of the common room watching and listening, learning more than anyone realized, forming his own opinions but not putting any of them forward. And for company, he had books; more now than he had ever had, thanks to the university library and, for fiction, the nearest branch of the LA library.
By his third year at Antioch, at least some of the new guides arriving to start Guide Studies were close to him in age, but there was still a barrier created by his being close to graduating while they were only starting.
In any case, friendship was a concept strange to him. Academically he knew what friendship was. From his reading, he knew the classical stories of close friendships - Damon and Pythias, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, David and Jonathan, Achilles and Patroclus, Alexander and Hephaistion... but at the same time, when he watched his fellow students and saw what some of them considered 'friendship' he couldn't help wondering if he was better off without friends. He recognized that the classic stories were probably an idealized depiction of friendship but, even though he understood that, he knew that that was the kind of friendship he wanted; the kind of friend he could be if he ever had the chance. The kind of friendship he hoped he might form with his sentinel. Who would be male.
He had finally learned why there were no female sentinels.
Although it had been pointed out to the guides-in-training quite early on that sentinels were mostly territorial, it wasn't until their third year that their lecturers went into any detail about that, and about why it was a bad thing for a woman's senses to be triggered, assuming she had the potential.
A sentinel did not readily allow another sentinel of any age into his territory once he had established it, seeing him as a rival. It had never been quite decided whether or not that instinct to defend a specific territory was a strength.
When sentinels were first identified in the 'civilized' world, it had been postulated by Andrew Howell, at that time a leading psychologist, that because of that territorial instinct, any woman who was a sentinel would, if she had a child who had sentinel potential, either abandon the child or - worse - kill it as soon as it showed any sign of developing into a sentinel. Granted most sentinels, like guides, didn't fully develop until they were entering their teens, so abandonment wasn't deadly, but how could anyone legislate against a mother killing her sentinel child before anyone else recognized what he was? It followed, logically, that it was anti-survival for the mutation for women to be sentinels. As it was, if a child's senses began to develop beyond a certain point in an area where there was a resident sentinel, mother and child could move away into a region where nobody was allowed to establish a territory other than his own bedroom - several such areas existed, with some older, unlinked guides whose job it was to help the young sentinels maintain some basic control while they were, first, trained and then found their own guides.
Although he understood the reasoning, Blair had a suspicion that there was a flaw in it. All mothers trained their children in certain basic skills as they began to develop them. It was primarily the mother who taught a child to talk, for example. There might be some input from other adults, mainly the father if there was one around, but such teaching was primarily the mother's domain. So wouldn't a sentinel mother be more likely to have the instinct to give her child some training in the control of his senses as they began to develop?
So Blair found himself wondering if females with sentinel potential had simply never been given the opportunity to develop it because of a mistaken theory postulated years previously by a psychologist who had enough of a reputation that his suppositions were accepted as facts.
It was a thought he chose not to voice. He had learned that few lecturers appreciated their facts being challenged, even by a question from someone genuinely seeking information about, or clarification of, some point they had made. Indeed, he found himself wondering if some of his teachers really knew their subject or if they were simply repeating what they themselves had been taught. For just as one sentinel could recognize another one, even sense the presence of another one in his territory, a guide could easily recognize another guide, although his reaction to the presence of another guide was less extreme - if only because part of the guides' training was aimed at teaching them how to control their automatic possessiveness regarding their sentinels; something that was vital in a world where some guides didn't work with sentinels.
So couldn't a sentinel be given similar training, at least enough that he wouldn't automatically consider all other sentinels, regardless of their age, as potential rivals, if they should enter his territory?
Well, to almost-thirteen-year-old Blair, it didn't seem likely that he would ever be in a position to find out.
Three months before the end of their final year, the guides-in-training had interviews with the Chancellor. This would to some extent decide their future. The Chancellor had a list of young sentinels who needed guides; this included what work the sentinels planned to pursue. After the interview, the young guides would send a resume, with their personal details and interests, to the sentinel whose details seemed the most congenial. A meeting would follow. Some pairings were made instantly at that first meeting. Other sentinels and guides met with two or three possible partners before meeting the one with whom they felt the most rapport.
This had been the subject of a lot of common room discussion for some weeks.
Some still hadn't decided if they wanted to guide a sentinel or apply for some other work where their abilities would be valued. Of those who thought they did want to guide a sentinel, several still hadn't decided what they wanted their sentinel to be; but of course if they felt sufficient rapport with a sentinel, they would fall into line with whatever work that sentinel wanted to do.
Blair faced his interview with less trepidation than some of his classmates; he knew what he wanted, had always known what he wanted; a sentinel to guide. He had no great preference for any particular line of work, although he thought Search and Rescue would be particularly rewarding.
Their interviews were done in alphabetical order, and not for the first time Blair silently cursed the fate that put him close to last in a society that considered alphabetical order the most obvious one. The ones with names in the first third of the alphabet would have a far better choice, and some of them were among the ones with the poorest grades - the ones whose guiding abilities were weakest. Surely it would have been fairer to have put the guides with the highest grades first, to give them a better choice of sentinel, to give the sentinels a greater chance of getting a guide who was better than just competent! Yes, personalities came into it too, but...
At last his turn came, and he entered the Chancellor's office.
"Mr. Sandburg. Sit."
Blair sank into the chair facing Chancellor Eli Stoddard, who glanced down at the paper in front of him.
"Hmmm. Yes. Excellent grades, Mr. Sandburg."
"Thank you, sir."
"Have you given any thought to what you want to do?"
"I want to be a sentinel's guide, sir. I've always wanted that."
Chancellor Stoddard nodded. "There's just one problem," he said. "Your age.
"You developed your abilities exceptionally young," he went on gently. "We couldn't, in good faith, allow you to stumble along without training once it was clear your ability had fully manifested, but we have to face the fact that you are only now at an age when those who are considered to have matured early would normally have been about to begin training. You are not yet quite thirteen, and quite frankly it wouldn't be legal for you to be partnered with a sentinel just yet. It's not legal for you to be working, even though you have completed your school work more than satisfactorily. You know, don't you, that guides who come on-line before they are fifteen, and therefore finish their training early, so to speak, have to spend the time until they are eighteen in further education before they can apply to work as guides. Only the ones who start at fifteen can go on to work as guides as soon as they finish their training."
Yes, Blair had known, and had chosen not to remember.
"I'm afraid, therefore, that for the next five years you must continue as a student, although as a qualified guide you won't have any student fees to pay, and you will get a small allowance from the government; I hope you will choose to remain with us, but you must choose a subject to study during those years. And once you are eighteen, you will be given a short refresher course and then automatically get first choice of the sentinels available at that time."
"Yes," Blair said dully, fighting back the tears that would have betrayed, more than anything else, his youth. "I... I understand. I don't deny I'm disappointed; five years before I can partner a sentinel seems... seems... "
"Seems like forever," Stoddard agreed sympathetically. "But you'll be surprised how quickly they pass. Now, unless you already have some thoughts about what you want to study...? No," as Blair shook his head. "You hadn't really thought past partnering a sentinel, had you? I suggest that you go back to your room and think about it, and I'll see you again tomorrow afternoon, 4 pm."
"Yes... Thank you, sir." Somehow Blair managed to keep his head up as he left the Chancellor's office.
The student with the next appointment was already waiting. "Hey, how did it go?" he asked.
Blair managed a smile. "I have to stay on here till I'm eighteen," he said.
The other student's jaw dropped. "But you're top of the class - "
"Doesn't change the law. I can't work as a guide until I'm eighteen. Neither can you," he added, remembering that Paul Sheridan was just seventeen.
"Shit." Sheridan made a face. "They told us, too... "
"Way back," Blair agreed. "They made it perfectly clear right at the start that those of us who'd matured early would have to mark time once we'd finished our training. Did anyone remember that, I wonder?"
"Probably not," Sheridan muttered. "And none of the ones who were affected by it that Stoddard has already seen thought to mention it, either. At least for me it's only a year. For you... "
"Five years to get some probably useless qualifications under my belt," Blair said bitterly. Turning, he headed off down the corridor, hearing, behind him, Sheridan knocking on the Chancellor's door.
Blair sat at the desk in his room doodling absent-mindedly as he considered his options. Was there any subject he could choose to study over the next five-and-a-bit years that wouldn't be a complete waste of time?
Yes, he had always been interested in learning, but as guide to a sentinel the work he did would be dictated by what his sentinel did. There would be absolutely no point in getting a degree in mathematics if his sentinel turned out to be involved in search and rescue; it would be a paper qualification that he could never use. Finally it occurred to him that anthropology might be useful. Studying tribal cultures could perhaps give him an insight into the ways in which sentinels had served their tribes, probably still did, an insight into the ways in which these sentinels were helped by their guides. And even if it didn't, it might help him understand human behavior - and since sentinels in general went in for jobs where they could help others, anything that helped understand what made people react in certain ways could only be an advantage.
And so Blair Sandburg, barely thirteen years old, qualified guide, moved from guide studies to anthropology.
He hadn't thought it possible to have less of a social life than he had had as a student guide; as a student anthropologist, however, he discovered that it was indeed possible. Some of his fellow guides-in-training had been eighteen by the end of their third year at Antioch, but many were not, and while he had no friends among them, they had respected him as a fellow guide and had been tolerant of his presence in the guide common room. But the six or so years that separated Blair from his fellow anthropology students seemed to pose a barrier that couldn't be crossed. They saw him as a young upstart who needed to be put, and kept, in his place, and resented the ease with which he learned; perhaps fortunately they had no idea that he had already been at Antioch for three years. There was no more sitting quietly in a corner of the common room listening to whatever his fellow students were discussing. It was made very clear to him that they might have to put up with his presence in the classroom, but children were not welcome in the common room.
Luckily he still had books to occupy his leisure hours. And he studied. Constantly.
He had his Bachelors and his Masters before he was sixteen, and with still more than two years to fill before he could partner a sentinel, began working towards a doctorate in anthropology; and that didn't particularly endear him to the older students, many of whom felt he was showing them up, even though he was now much closer in age to the freshmen.
It was perhaps fortunate that none of them ever knew that, as a fully qualified guide who planned to work with a sentinel, he was getting an allowance from the government - and housed and fed by the university and with no social life, he was spending almost none of that allowance except when he had to buy himself new clothes as he outgrew what he was wearing; but he shopped at Goodwill, saving most of his money. At sixteen he already had a nice little nest-egg; by the time he was old enough to work, it would have almost doubled in size, making him far more independent than guides often were; he had begun to realize that financially, at least, he was benefitting from these years that - in his opinion - were being wasted.
And for all of those years from ten to sixteen, he had seen nothing of his mother.
He did hear from her reasonably regularly; postcards from many of the places she visited, a card every year at least close to his birthday, a carefully non-specific card each year close to midwinter; she was eclectic in her religious observance, cheerfully accepting that a midwinter celebration of some kind was common, at least in areas far enough from the equator to have a winter, and not particularly caring which one she celebrated. Well, that at least was familiar; Blair could remember several totally different midwinter celebrations from before he was ten; Naomi simply joined the celebrations local to wherever she happened to be.
Until he was ten he had had nobody else, and he had no doubt that she loved him, but he was well aware that, although she had wanted a child (at a time when she had really been too young to understand the responsibility involved) when he went to Antioch, she had cheerfully shaken off her maternal responsibilities and flown free. He was never quite sure whether or not he missed her, after the first shock of her departure - though within a day of it he had accepted it, even, at ten, mildly amused that he should have thought, even for a moment, that anything would ever make her stay anywhere. By the time he was sixteen, he occasionally wondered if he would even recognize her, if she ever popped back into his life.
His Fort Worth relatives had become his family.
He enjoyed the time he spent at Fort Worth; David and Anna Sandburg had one son, Robert, who was close to Blair in age, and although Robert had other friends, he and Blair became quite close; Robert was his first actual friend - and if he secretly envied Robert the... yes, the security that having his parents around all the time gave him, he knew that Robert often envied him the freedom of having had the apron strings cut... especially when Robert wanted to go somewhere and his parents said no.
Blair knew that, when he first went to stay with them, his uncle and aunt had expected to have some difficulty getting him to understand that they had rules, and had been very happy to discover that he had fewer problems with obeying them than their own son did. Of course, at ten he had been obeying unspoken, self-set rules aimed at giving himself as trouble-free a life as possible for fully five years. With David and Anna, for the first time other people had set the rules for him, which meant they knew them too. Blair also knew Robert never quite understood how much he appreciated that. He had tried to explain that life without rules - even self-imposed ones - led to unhappiness, but faced with Robert's total lack of understanding of how or why that could be, he gave up, and simply tried as best he could to keep his cousin out of trouble, quickly finding that "I don't want to do that" was far more effective than "Aunt Anna wouldn't like it".
David and Anna were devout Jews, but Blair had seen enough in his first ten years to doubt, even at that age, that any one faith had merits denied to all the others. However, when he was at Fort Worth, gratitude made him pretend to adhere to Judaism.
His (and Robert's) bar mitzvah, when he was thirteen, had been a way of repaying David and Anna for their kindness to him. Robert, who had been rebellious about it, accepted Blair's argument that it meant that in the eyes of the church they would be regarded as adult even though legally they were still counted as children. However, away from Fort Worth, Blair resumed the 'take what you like out of all religions' approach that Naomi espoused. It was his only... rebellion, he supposed was the best word, against his uncle's standards; that his uncle didn't know he was rebelling didn't matter.
The card that arrived a little before his sixteenth birthday included a note - 'Blair, sweetie, I want to take you on a trip this summer to celebrate your academic success over the last six years. Make sure your passport is up-to-date! I can promise you something you'll never forget. I'll be in touch with David and Anna and explain to them why you won't be going to Fort Worth this summer.'
Blair read it. He thought for a moment, then he read it again. And again.
Well, wherever she was taking him, she'd better make sure he was back in time for the start of the university year! Although he had been forced to continue studying, he did want to get his Ph.D. before he finally quit the world of education to get himself a sentinel. And... it felt disloyal, but he didn't totally trust her; he loved her, despite her long absence from his life, but his memories of her didn't include reliability. She was very easily distracted. She might have meant to contact Uncle David, but had she actually remembered?
He went in search of a phone.
"Uncle David - it's Blair. Has Mom been in touch with you recently?"
"Yes, she has - day before yesterday, in fact. She said - oh, it's maybe a secret..."
"Mom was never any good with secrets," Blair laughed. "She wants to take me on a trip somewhere this summer, as a treat for doing so well at Antioch. She hasn't said where, but she told me I'd need a passport."
"Well, considering how little she's ever in America, I'm not surprised she's taking you somewhere abroad. We'll miss having you here, son, you know that."
"I'll miss seeing you and Aunt Anna and Robert. But... well... "
"You haven't seen your Mom for years, and she is your Mom. Don't worry, Blair, we understand. And I expect we'll see you as usual for the winter break."
"I certainly hope so." Blair meant it. In a way it would be nice to see Naomi again, but his Fort Worth relatives were his family now, and he knew he would miss visiting them.
"And you phoned to check that we knew about the summer?"
"Well... yes. Mom can be very forgetful. She said she'd let you know, but I didn't want to depend on her remembering."
David chuckled. "Enjoy your summer, Blair. Drop us a postcard if you can - I know your Mom often ends up someplace where there's no reliable postal service - and remember, after you get back, if you have two or three days before you dive back into your studies, we'd love to see you."
"I'll remember. Give Aunt Anna my love. 'Bye." With that off his mind, he went to see about getting an up-to-date photo for his passport.
Naomi arrived on the last day of term.
Blair was free that day; there was no class where he was supposed to show his face, even if all the students did was chat. Normally he would have headed off first thing, catching the first available bus east. Flying to Dallas-Fort Worth International was faster and more direct, but more expensive; he preferred to take the cheaper option, saving as much as possible of his money. He had, however, taken some money out of the bank to have spending money on this holiday Naomi was planning, tucking it in small quantities in various pockets and the duffle that held his clothes. Naomi had taught him that, even if he hadn't seen for himself in some of the areas they visited how skilled some pickpockets could be. He even sewed a little into hidden pockets in the hem of his various T-shirts or the waistband of his jeans. At least American dollars were acceptable currency pretty well everywhere, easily exchanged for local currency if necessary. And then he waited in his room, not knowing when she would arrive but knowing that she would be directed to it when she did.
Someone tried to open the door, but from habit he had it locked. He crossed quickly to it, knowing it had to be Naomi - only she would walk into his room without first knocking - and opened it.
He was happy to realize that he did recognize her immediately.
"Blair, sweetie!" She caught him in a hug that took him totally by surprise; she had never been all that demonstrative when he was younger. After a moment he hugged her back, releasing her quickly when he felt her arms slackening, surprised at how little he had appreciated it - there had been a time when he would have given anything for a hug from her.
He still loved her, but he realized that the past six years had taught him he could manage without her very well.
"Let me look at you! Oh, you've grown so much!" She gave a slightly guilty laugh. "Though I don't know what else I was expecting... But all the time you've been here, I've been learning too. I've learned so much about meditation and seeing auras and spiritual healing... and... Oh, dear. Your aura is ever so slightly dark. Have you suffered a disappointment recently?"
Yes, he thought mutinously. I wanted to go to Fort Worth, not wherever you're planning on taking me! But he knew he couldn't say that. And just maybe, once they were on the road - well, more probably plane - he might find he was enjoying the journey as much as he had until six years earlier. "Not recently," he obfuscated. "I qualified as a guide three years ago, but I can't work as one until I'm eighteen." Well, it was the truth, although he had begun to see the logic behind the ruling, and he had enjoyed his anthropology studies. "It still seems a terrible waste of five years."
She nodded understandingly. "They think you don't want to be too much younger than your sentinel," she said.
"I know. But I can't help thinking that somewhere there might be a very young sentinel who doesn't want a guide who's five or six years older, suffering because younger guides, no matter how well qualified they are, aren't allowed to work till they're eighteen. There should be some provision to let under-age sentinels and guides at least get to know each other and pair up, learn how to work together, even if they have to carry on at school. One of the reasons they give for not letting us partner till we're eighteen is that once people leave school, it's easy for them to drift apart, but that's silly; plenty of people who become friends at school stay friends."
"And there's been no mention of female sentinels?"
"No. Apparently it has something to do with a sentinel's terratoriality. The psychologists think that any woman who was a sentinel would either abandon or kill her children if they developed heightened senses, rather than share the territory for even a year or two till they were old enough to find their own territory, so the genes for it are apparently linked to the Y chromosome."
She shook her head. "You don't believe that, do you?"
"It seems plausible... but I think it's more likely that she would begin to train them."
"Of course she would!" Naomi exclaimed. "Anyway - are you ready to go?"
Silly question, he thought, since you told me to make sure it was! But all he said was, "Of course. Where are we going? You didn't say anything about visas... "
"Just Mexico," Naomi said. "A place called Sierra Verde. It's one of those places that time seems to have passed over, leaving it almost unchanged, with the people living pretty well as they did a couple of hundred years ago. There's a fairly modern hotel, and the foreigners who stay there are mostly ones on package tours that include showing people living as they did before 'civilization' took over everything." She obviously saw the doubtful look that he couldn't repress, and went on hastily, "I don't mean that in a bad way. The town itself gets most of its income from the visitors, and the people take... well, pride in showing that they can live without the amenities that America thinks are necessities. You'll find it really interesting from an anthropologistic viewpoint."
He nodded slowly, remembering from his lectures that some small tribes had turned themselves into living 'museums', earning a reasonable income from the visitors who came to see 'hunter-gatherers living a hunter-gatherer life' and buy 'authentic hand-crafted' souvenirs, where at least some of the tribesmen, and even one or two of the women, were actually highly educated; they hadn't lost the skills of their forefathers, but basically they were playing with those skills, acting out the lifestyle of their grandfathers, and if the tourists believed they were seeing the genuine article, well, it was a harmless pretense. He strongly suspected that the people of Sierra Verde were also living a double life, and that in the privacy of their own homes, in the rooms the public didn't see, they had at least some of the creature comforts Naomi believed were unknown to them. Probably not electricity, he decided; the hotel, and possibly the church, were probably the only buildings to have electricity. It would be too difficult to conceal power lines going to houses where the people were supposed to be living in the eighteenth century, and too expensive for those power lines to have been put underground.
So he pretended to believe what Naomi told him, gathered up the duffle bag that held his clothes and a couple of books, a large notebook and a pencil, double-checked his jacket pocket for his wallet and passport, and nodded. "Ready."
He locked his door, paused at the caretaker's office on the way out to hang the key on its hook, then followed Naomi to a small car parked, totally illegally, in 'administrative parking'. Naomi never had believed that rules, in general, applied to her.
They finally arrived at Campeche International Airport - which was rather smaller than its 'International' name implied - after two changes of plane and a fairly lengthy layover at one of the airports. Once they had dealt with the not very stringent formalities, Naomi led the way to a small car rental business. It seemed that she was known; after a few words exchanged with the attendant, she was handed a key, and with a quick, "This way, sweetie," she headed towards a small Ford.
The road she took was extremely good, but seemed underused for its quality; they met very few cars after they left Campeche, even although they were on the road to Merida - a route that Blair would have expected to be very busy. After about half an hour, however, she turned onto a side road... and then onto another, ending up on one that was... adequate, Blair supposed would be the best word. It was narrow, the edges potholed, and Blair suspected that in wet weather it would be rather muddy.
Well, if this road took them into Sierra Verde, it fitted Naomi's description of a town living in the past.
However, when they reached it, Sierra Verde proved to be something of a surprise. For a start, it was bigger than Blair would have expected, and the houses, far from being the thatched huts that he had expected, looked surprisingly modern.
"I thought you said this place didn't have any modern amenities?" he asked, careful to keep his voice curious rather than accusing; if this was where she had brought him for an 'archaeological holiday', as a 'treat' for doing well at Antioch, it was a serious let-down.
"Well, the houses don't have electricity, so they are living a fairly primitive lifestyle," she said. "And they do sell hand-made crafts. They need the income from visitors. But that wasn't the only reason I brought you here."
She turned the car into the parking lot of what looked to be a very modern hotel.
They retrieved their bags from the trunk and Naomi led Blair into the hotel.
The girl at Reception smiled cheerfully at them. "Senora Sandburg! Es bueno verte de nuevo. Este es tu hijo?"
"Si. Blair, this is Renata."
"Hello," Blair said, taken aback by the cheerfully flirting look she was giving him.
"Sabe si Señorita Bannister está en su habitación?" Naomi went on.
Renata nodded. "Si."
Naomi turned away from the desk and headed for the stairs; Blair grinned cheerfully at Renata, and followed. Naomi only went up one story, and headed along the corridor; stopping about half-way along it, she knocked at a door. After a moment, it was opened.
The blonde woman who had opened the door smiled. "Naomi! Come in. And this is Blair?"
Blair followed Naomi into the room. As the woman closed the door behind them, Naomi said, "Yes. Blair, this is Alicia Bannister. She's a sentinel."
Blair's mouth dropped open. It took him some moments to find his voice. "A sentinel? But... they told us... "
"I always said there had to be female sentinels," Naomi said triumphantly. "And Blair - we're in Mexico. American rules don't count here. You can be a guide now; you don't have to waste another two years."
"We should let the Sentinel Institute know!" Blair said. "Dr. Howell's reasoning, eighty-odd years ago, for why there weren't any female sentinels, sounded extremely plausible and it's still being quoted today, believed today." He looked at Alicia. "Weren't you ever tested?"
"When were girls ever tested?" she asked.
"Well, not routinely, but once your senses began to show - "
"My parents thought I was lying to get attention," Alicia said.
"And you've never had a guide?" Blair asked, honestly horrified.
"No. My brother had heightened hearing, and I learned some... tricks, I suppose you could call them, that helped me by watching him, but how could I get a guide? Nobody would believe that I had heightened senses; even when I tried to prove it, they said I was cheating somehow." She sounded bitter.
"Well, I'm sure I can help you," Blair said. He wouldn't get the 'short refresher course' Stoddard had mentioned three years previously, but he had forgotten nothing of what he had learned.
What he didn't know, what he hadn't been told, the one thing about which all newly-linked guides and sentinels were sworn to secrecy, the one thing that was meant to ensure that an under-age guide couldn't break the rules, was that once he and his sentinel had found each other they would have a final series of lessons together, to teach them how to drop their mental barriers with each other, to enable them to imprint fully on each other.
He didn't know how to drop his barriers. He didn't even know he had them.
The first two or three days were fun, as he began to help Alicia control her senses, quickly discovering that sight and hearing were by far the most enhanced. Touch wasn't bad, but taste and smell - although more sensitive than normal - weren't very much enhanced. The 'tricks' that she already knew were very basic, little more than bandaids on a cut that needed stitches, though for someone who didn't know anything else they were better than nothing. He was finally - finally! - getting to use the skills he had been taught. And yet...
Although these first few days were fun, they were somehow less... less satisfying than he had expected working with a sentinel would be. He had expected to have a rapport with his sentinel that was unlike any other he had ever experienced, and it just wasn't there. He hadn't expected it to be instant, but after a week he began to wonder if what he had been taught about the link between sentinel and guide was... not a myth, exactly, but an exaggeration. Part of it, of course, was that one thing he didn't know - that they both had barriers. He was just increasingly aware that, given a choice, she would not have been his choice.
His mind had begun to understand the logic behind the 'not until you're eighteen' ruling, but now, suddenly, he found he understood it emotionally, too, although he still felt that somewhere there might have been a fourteen-year-old sentinel who desperately needed a guide, a fourteen-year-old sentinel who had come on-line early, as he had. He was mature for his years, but - although he didn't know Alicia's age - it was obvious that she was a lot older that he; there was an age difference between them that there didn't seem to be any way to bridge. Maybe in four or five years the age difference would become unimportant, but - as it had been with his fellow students - he was young enough that it was still there.
Lying in bed on his eighth night in Sierra Verde, thinking about things, he decided that Alicia had been desperate; desperate enough to accept an underage guide as the only one she was likely to get. And Naomi, meeting a female sentinel, had been so delighted at the opportunity that would give Blair a female to guide, that she had been more than happy to ignore the ruling that said he was still too young - well, he had always known the ease with which she ignored rules she didn't think should apply to her, and by extension, to him. By bringing him here, ostensibly on holiday, she had almost kidnapped him.
He had never fully agreed with Andrew Howell's view that a female sentinel would react adversely to having a sentinel child, but this past week was making him reconsider, for it seemed to him that Alicia cared for no-one but herself.
Oh, she appeared friendly... on the surface; but he doubted very much that she was genuinely friendly. As far as he was concerned, the age thing came into it - but unless all his lecturers had been seriously wrong, with each generation misled by the teaching of the generation before into thinking of it as more than it actually was, he would have expected that he would feel something stronger from Alicia than... yes, something that was barely surface deep.
Naomi thought that the three of them were friends - although in many ways she was streetwise, she had always been a person to extend friendship readily. But Blair knew that they were not. He felt a responsibility towards Alicia, a responsibility that had been forced upon him by Naomi's expectations when she brought him to Sierra Verde, her joy that she could present him with a female sentinel. It was reinforced, in a way, by the way she had reared him to consider men and women as equal in all things. But he was beginning feel that Alicia lacked... something. Empathy? Yet was that innate, or had she learned, by the refusal of both her family and society to accept what she was, that the only person she could truly depend on was herself? If that were the case, he was trapped, for if he tried to leave - and he could, he carried his own passport and return ticket to Los Angeles - it would reinforce her feelings of being rejected - and if her guide rejected her, surely she would be completely destroyed.
And if it was innate... then sentinels weren't what he had always believed them to be. Was their service to their communities merely a matter of expedience, something that made them feel important? Or something they had been reared to believe was their destiny, even if they didn't want to spend their lives working for the good of their communities? How would he ever know?
What should he do? What could he do?
Finally he rolled over, and fell into a restless, unrefreshing sleep.
Matters came to a head just two days later.
Blair woke with a headache and a sense of something being terribly, horribly wrong. He forced himself out of bed, washed and dressed, and headed for the door, wondering if the hotel shop carried anything like Tylenol or if the girl on Reception could tell him where it was possible to buy some. As he opened the door, he heard voices - loud enough that he could recognize the voices, though not loud enough that he could hear what was being said.
Naomi and Alicia... From the tone of their voices, Blair thought that Alicia was trying to persuade Naomi of something that Naomi was angrily rejecting.
Naomi - angry? That was... unprecedented. Or it certainly would have been, back when he was ten, although it was possible that her attitudes had changed, unlikely though that seemed. With all she had always said about negative emotions being 'bad karma', as he remembered her she just didn't have it in her to feel very strongly about anything - except, possibly, women's rights. But even there, she didn't get angry; and whatever the provocation, she didn't get angry with another woman. Ever.
So what was Alicia wanting of her?
And then he heard a scream, and a succession of thuds.
He rushed out of his room, and ran along the corridor, to find Alicia standing at the top of the stairs, gazing down.
"Alicia?" he gasped as he reached her. She turned to face him, and for the briefest moment he saw something that looked like satisfaction on her face before she twisted it into sympathy as she caught him.
He looked down the stairs. There was a crumpled heap at the bottom, with two of the staff already bending over it... and he knew it was Naomi.
"Mom!" he screamed.
Alicia held him, preventing him from rushing down, as the man who had been bending over Naomi made his way up to them. "I'm sorry," he said. At least, unlike many of the staff, he spoke good English. "Senora Sandburg is dead. Do you know what happened?"
"We were talking," Alicia said. "She turned, seemed to lose her balance, and fell. There was nothing I could do. Then Blair came along, and I knew I had to keep him from going down the stairs... "
"Yes, of course." Blair recognized the man now as the hotel manager. "We have sent for a doctor, but I have training in first aid, and I know... She must have hit her head as she fell down the stairs." He turned his attention fully to Alicia. "It was clearly an accident, but I will have to inform the police."
"Yes, of course," she said.
Because Naomi was a foreign visitor, Police Chief Ortega came himself to speak to Alicia about the accident. She repeated what she had told the manager, Ortega nodded sympathetically, offered his condolences to her and to Blair, who sat huddled in a chair to one side of them, then said, "Have you thought about what you want to do about a funeral? Do you want to have her buried here, or taken back to America, to be buried there?"
Alicia turned to Blair.
Although he had been very much on his own for years, used to being dependent on nobody but himself, although Naomi had been nothing but a background figure in his life since he was ten, her death - if only because it was the first time he had encountered death - had really shaken him and his mind had gone totally blank. "Blair?" she prompted him.
"I... I don't know. My uncle... in Forth Worth... He'll have to be told. I think... I think maybe he'll want her buried there."
"All right," Alicia said. "Tell me how to contact him, and I'll let him know, ask him if he wants her body sent back. You don't have to worry about anything, Blair. I'll see to it all."
"Thanks." He told her the address and phone number, not noticing that she didn't bother to write them down, then added, "I think... I think I want to be alone - if you don't mind, I'll just go to my room..."
"Yes, of course." He stumbled out, half blinded by the tears he didn't allow himself to shed until he was back in his room and nobody could see them.
Blair finally pulled himself together. What should he do? Although it had always seemed to him that he had always made his own decisions, he was suddenly very aware that in fact many decisions had been made for him. As a student, he had had rules to follow; at vacation times, he had gone to Fort Worth, and once there he had obeyed his uncle's rules - his only decision had been how he got to and from Fort Worth. Even this trip had been decided on by Naomi, who had taken for granted that he'd be happy meeting a female sentinel - and he had certainly been happy to know that there was such a thing as a female sentinel - but somehow, in the back of his mind, there had been the knowledge that he was still too young, that in a few weeks he'd be going back to Antioch...
He knew that Naomi had hoped, possibly assumed, that he would be happy to stay with Alicia, here in Mexico where American laws regarding a guide's age could be ignored; but he had been working with Alicia now for nine days and - despite his realization of a couple of nights earlier that leaving her might destroy her - those extra two days had been enough to confirm in his mind that she was not, never could be, the sentinel he had hoped he would one day work with.
Had Naomi guessed that? Had she, that morning, decided to put her son's interests first and told Alicia that they wouldn't be staying on? Had - oh, God - had Alicia reacted by attacking Naomi, so that she had fallen backwards and down the stairs? No, surely not... A sentinel was a protector, a sentinel wouldn't kill... But he had already decided that Alicia didn't seem to have a sentinel's instincts...
And considering his age... she could claim that because they were friends, Naomi would want her to take responsibility for him, and even if he said he wanted to go back to America, that he was due back at Antioch, how much attention would anyone pay to that? Alicia was the one on the spot who knew him, after all...
Blair came to a sudden decision that owed nothing to logic and everything to an instinct that said he should keep his options open. He carefully unpicked a hidden pocket in his jeans, and added his plane ticket home and most of his money to the $20 note already in it, all carefully folded inside a plastic bag, then resewed the seam. He put the small sewing kit back into his duffel bag. He would have hidden his passport too, but there were probably times he would need it. In any case, Alicia knew he had it. She didn't know he had his own plane ticket, or that he had more than a few dollars spending money.
The knock at his door, just before dinner time, wasn't unexpected. He opened it, to find Alicia there.
"How are you feeling now, Blair?" she asked.
"I'm... I'll be all right. I'm still... processing what happened." He fell back on Naomi's vocabulary effortlessly.
Alicia nodded, apparently sympathetically. "I contacted your uncle," she said. "He told me to have your mother buried here - 'She liked to travel,' he said. 'I think she'd prefer to be buried in the place she was when she died.' I've been in touch with an undertaker, and he's seeing to everything for us."
"Will Uncle David be coming for... for the funeral?"
"No. He said he hadn't seen her for years, didn't hear from her very often, so there was no point."
"Yes, of course." But Blair was puzzled. Surely Uncle David would come for his sake, even if he wasn't interested in coming to bid his sister a final farewell? He said nothing about that, however. He was getting more and more distrustful of Alicia, even though she was a sentinel.
Naomi was buried two days later in a low-key affair with the only mourners Alicia and Blair, though the undertaker had somehow found a rabbi to conduct the funeral. Blair found that quite ironic; in her life she hadn't followed the religion of her birth, and he had a feeling that she wouldn't have chosen to be buried as a Jew. But again he said nothing, just thanking the man, appreciating the consideration and probable effort he had gone to.
Afterwards, back at the hotel, Alicia said, "So it's just you and me now, Blair. I'm sure we'll have a good partnership."
He nodded unenthusiastically. Luckily - he decided later - she seemed to take his lack of enthusiasm as a symptom of his grief.
"I've found an employer here - Carlos Arguillo. We start work on Monday."
Blair frowned. He understood Spanish better than he spoke it, and just a few days previously, he had heard... "Isn't he a drug lord?"
"What of it? If people are foolish enough to take drugs, that's their business. He's simply responding to a demand that's there. We don't have to sample the merchandise. He can easily find things for a sentinel like me to do."
Honest work? Somehow he doubted that. A form of industrial espionage seemed more probable. Was that what Naomi had been angry about? Alicia's plans to work for a drug lord, plans that would automatically include Blair? Naomi had never, to the best of his knowledge, used drugs, and before he went to Antioch, she had made him promise never to touch them - not that he had ever been tempted. Nor, when he thought about it, had any of his fellow students in Guide Studies, though he had his suspicions about one or two of the anthropology students he had worked with in the last three years. Naomi would have been far from happy at the mere suggestion that Alicia was even considering working for a man who was known to deal in drugs.
Caution once again reared its head. He nodded, as if he was happy to accept that. But it made him more than ever determined to get away, preferably before next Monday. Meanwhile Alicia was still speaking, but had changed the subject.
"But before that - We hadn't said anything to you about it, wanting it to be a surprise, but your mother and I had been thinking about a little trip into the interior. There are stories about an old Aztec temple twenty or thirty miles from here, and we thought that with your interest in anthropology you might like to see it - well, look for it, because nobody could tell us exactly where it's supposed to be. I was able to get rough directions from one old man who said he'd seen it when he was much younger."
A few days earlier he would have been reasonably enthusiastic, even though an old temple was in many ways more appropriate for a student of archaeology. But the two disciplines were related, and he would have been interested. But on this day, having just buried Naomi, all he really wanted to do was go home; back to America, to Uncle David, to the family who would share his grief. He gave Alicia points for at least trying to - well, distract him; but at the same time he was far from certain that she was acting out of kindness. If he had been asked to describe her in one word, he wasn't sure what word he would have chosen, but it would not have been 'kind'.
"Hasn't it been excavated?" he asked, forcing himself to show some interest.
"No. It's supposed to be almost intact, but like I said, nobody's quite sure where it is. The locals have a name for it - the Temple of the Jaguars, and one of the men who told me about it said that the jaguars keep it hidden from all but a favored few." She shook her head. "Just the kind of superstition you'd expect in this kind of backwater. I'd guess they don't go looking because they're afraid of the jungle."
Blair wasn't so sure, but decided he didn't want to risk contradicting Alicia. Let her think he agreed with her, that he was happy to be her guide, even working for Arguillo... until he had a chance to escape. He would, he was sure, only get one chance.
"We won't need to take much," she went on. "Just a change of clothes and food for a couple of days. From what I could learn, we'll be able to drive almost to it, then we have to walk, and that's the bit where apparently everyone who tries to find the temple starts going around in circles."
"Surely with a compass... " Blair began, forcing himself to respond.
"Exactly. But even without a compass, I don't think I'd lose my sense of direction, especially with you there to keep me balanced. We'll leave first thing in the morning."
In one thing, at least, Alicia was right; they didn't get lost. After they left the car, she selected a direction and led the way in a straight line. Inside half an hour they found themselves in a big clearing, and in the center of it was an Aztec temple in a better state of repair than many Blair had seen, or had seen pictures of.
All around it were carved stone jaguars.
Blair looked at them in some awe. The workmanship was superb... but Alicia started walking again, ignoring the stone animals, and led the way past two snarling beasts that looked as if they were guarding the doorway. Blair paused for a moment beside the stone jaguars, aware of a weird need to acknowledge them. It was, after all, only courteous to greet these guardians of the temple. He touched each one lightly on the head, and without understanding why, somehow felt himself welcome. And then he hurried after Alicia, catching up as she began to mount the steps to the doorway halfway up it.
He had expected the interior of the temple to be dark, but to his surprise it was light enough for him to see - faintly, it was true, but he could see. They were inside a relatively small room, and at one side of it were two stone troughs. There were no other furnishings.
Alicia paused, looking around. "There's nothing here," she said, sounding faintly disappointed. "Just those patterns painted on the walls."
Blair, who couldn't see them, hesitated for a moment, feeling that to say anything would be a betrayal of the welcome the stone jaguars seemed to have given him, then realized that he must. "The people who built these temples didn't paint meaningless patterns, wanting decoration on the walls. The paintings always meant something. For an archaeologist... they'd probably be priceless. Difficult to interpret, but they'd have been meant to tell the people who came here something, back when it was built."
"What sort of thing?" she asked, and he didn't like the almost predatory note in her voice.
"It could be anything, from something as simple as instructions about whatever ceremonies were carried out here, to a record of important events - "
"History," she said dismissively.
" - to a clue to where there was treasure of some kind hidden," Blair finished. "But although we know quite a bit about Aztec writing, it's all pictographs, and that's all pictographs really do - give the reader a clue about what the writer was saying; a lot of the meaning was - in effect - passed down from scribe to scribe, in a culture where reading and writing was... well, an esoteric mystery known only to the priesthood and a few of the top nobles." He was, he knew, over-simplifying the explanation, but he was quite sure Alicia wasn't interested in a more accurate report.
She looked at him, then walked over to the painted wall. She looked at it in a way that said 'superficial' to Blair; and then she suddenly stiffened, reached out and ran a finger over a line of pictographs. "This... " She looked around again. "Ah!" She walked quickly over to the nearer trough and picked up a small stone bowl. "Wait here!" she snapped, then turned, walked briskly back to the entrance, and went out.
Left alone, Blair walked over to the troughs and looked at them. Both were half full of what looked like ordinary water; he dipped a finger in and found that it was quite warm. Not lukewarm, positively warm. Peering more closely, he saw that at one end of each was what looked like a stone pillow. Well, that made sense; if these troughs were meant to be ritual baths, which seemed quite likely, they would need something to keep the participants' faces out of the water.
He turned his attention back to the pictographs. He could understand a few of them - a pictograph of a man meant 'man', whatever the language - but had no idea what Alicia had apparently read. Leaving the wall, he began to wander around, but there was nothing else to see.
His restless walk took him towards the doorway, and he looked out. Alicia was sitting beside a small fire that she had built, apparently cooking something on it. He frowned slightly; none of the food in their packs needed to be cooked... so what was she doing?
Well, in the days since Naomi's death he had learned that she didn't encourage curiosity; although he had never totally trusted her, he had only now begun to understand just how effectively Alicia had hidden her true nature while Naomi was alive. If she wanted him to know something, she would tell him. He turned away from the doorway before she realized he was watching her, and went back to the pictographs. They at least gave him something to look at while he waited.
He was more than ever glad that he had hidden his plane ticket and all but a few dollars of his money - Alicia hadn't asked, apparently presuming that, in bringing a guide to her, Naomi had only bought single tickets to Mexico, but it wouldn't surprise him to find Alicia going through his backpack, even now, to make sure he couldn't run away from her. He was surprised that she had let him keep his own passport... but she had to be reasoning that, without money, where could he go, even carrying his passport? There was no American Embassy anywhere near Sierra Verde.
It seemed a long time before Alicia came back, although he suspected it only seemed long because he had no way of filling the time except trying to make sense of the pictographs - and he had 'read' the ones he could understand in the first two or three minutes. In another context he might have thought it was about farming, but there was no pictograph for 'maize', an Aztec staple. When she came in, she was carrying the stone bowl very carefully. Without saying anything, she went straight to the second trough, and picked up the small bowl sitting beside it. Carefully, she tipped some of the thick liquid from the first bowl in the second, beckoned Blair over and gave it to him.
"I could understand the writing. This was a temple dedicated to sentinels and their guides," she said. "This will make it easier for us to work together. Lie in the trough, then drink this."
Reluctant, but knowing he had little choice, Blair stripped off his shirt and trousers then, wearing only his boxers, climbed in. At least the water was warm. He sniffed the liquid in the bowl, finding it smelled not too unpleasant, and took a tiny sip. It tasted not bad - but he was not about to do anything that might tie him to Alicia with an unbreakable knot. He pretended to drink it all, while in fact letting the rest of it trickle into the water beside him, then deliberately splashed the water as he settled down, stirring the spilled liquid thoroughly into the contents of the trough. He was sure Alicia's sense of smell wasn't strong enough for her to realize what he'd done.
Alicia had not hesitated; she drank her share of the liquid enthusiastically, then slid down to lie in her trough, out of his sight.
He felt oddly sleepy; even the little he'd drunk was affecting him. For the briefest of moments he thought about trying to make a run for it now, while she was lethargic from the effects of the drink, but knew there was no way he'd get as far as their rented car, let alone manage to drive it to Campeche International. No - he could only hope that by drinking only a fraction of the amount she had given him, he had minimized its effects on him.
He felt his eyelids drooping, and blinked... to find himself standing in the clearing in front of the temple. The stone jaguars were moving, stretching... several of them lay down, giving the impression that they were glad to rest their legs. The faces of the two snarling ones relaxed. One of them padded over to Blair and nudged his hand; he stroked its head gently and it gave a satisfied rumble deep in its throat - not quite a purr, but probably as close to one as it could manage. He had the weirdest feeling that this one had somehow appointed itself his guardian and would protect him.
He was right.
One of the other jaguars padded forward, snarling menacingly; his protector glared at it, as if daring it to attack, and it backed off a little, though it still looked as if it wished it had the nerve to make the attack. Blair was suddenly aware that the second one he had 'greeted' had moved forward as well, clearly prepared to back up its companion if necessary, but somehow he knew it wouldn't make a move unless the challenging one had reinforcements.
The others, however, all looked as if they were quite happy to lie resting.
Dominance, he thought. The two guardian jaguars are the dominant ones, and the others all know it. But why does this one seem to be challenging? And then he realized. It had to be Alicia's spirit animal, trying to claim him for her. Was this dominant one his, then, telling Alicia's that Blair was not her guide?
The challenging one hesitated a moment longer, then leaped forward. Blair's protector met it instantly; instinctively, he thought Be careful! then gave a wry smile. He had no doubt which animal would win this fight.
He was right. His protector took only a few moments to overcome its challenger, which rolled onto its back, baring its throat and vulnerable belly to signify its surrender.
The winner snarled once, then padded confidently back to Blair.
"Thank you," he said. He had time to give its head one last stroke before he blinked again, and found himself back in the trough.
He sat up, no longer feeling in the least bit sleepy, and climbed out of the water. He looked into the other trough, and saw that Alicia was still... what? sleeping, drugged into unconsciousness?
He pulled his clothes on over his wet body, and went to the doorway. Looking out, he saw that the stone jaguars had resumed their places... and yet something was subtly different. He frowned as he studied the clearing, and then he realized - one of the statues was no longer standing, head held high; it was crouching ever so slightly in a clearly submissive pose.
Now that was interesting.
Blair turned and went back to the troughs. He had a feeling that he could leave now, but - as much as he wanted to escape from Alicia, he couldn't bring himself to desert her, abandon her here.
After a while she sat up. There was a blank look on her face.
She blinked at him. "Daddy?" It was the voice of a very young child. "Why am I having a bath with my clothes on?"
"I don't know. I... found you like this. Come on, out you get."
He helped her out of the trough, and led her out of the temple. She clutched his hand as they went down the steps. He paused beside the two guardian jaguars, only half aware that Alicia had started crying, apparently frightened by them, and stroked both stone heads. "Thank you," he murmured to the one he was sure had protected him as he gave it a final stroke.
A little to one side, he saw a dark shape, apparently a living jaguar, and knew that it was there to lead him - them - back to the car.
Somehow, although he had never had any driving lessons, he managed to drive back to Sierra Verde. At the hotel, he managed a stumbling explanation, and the manager took charge. He got Alicia admitted to the nearest hospital (which happened to be in Campeche) and arranged for Blair to go to the small Embassy there. The ambassador took responsibility for Alicia, and Blair caught a plane for home.
With half of the holiday left, he changed planes in Los Angeles, for once choosing speed over economy. And when he reached Fort Worth... it was to discover that Alicia had not, in fact, contacted David Sandburg to tell him that Naomi was dead.
Over the remainder of the holiday he had thought long and hard about his future, and when he returned to Antioch he went to see Chancellor Stoddard and told him what had happened; and that as a result of Alicia's actions, he no longer wanted to be a sentinel's guide.
"You still have two years before you can think about accepting a sentinel," Stoddard reminded him. "Leave things as they are for the moment. Keep your options open."
"And if I do, and carry on getting my education paid and a guide allowance, then say I've changed my mind... Won't I have to pay these two years back? Maybe not the first three, when I really was planning on being a guide... but from now? If in two years' time I still feel this way... Wouldn't the authorities say I'd had that two years' money under false pretenses?"
Stoddard shook his head. "Blair, while five years is the longest any underage guide has ever had to continue his education, you wouldn't be the first one to change his mind after he had exposure to other possibilities. A doctorate in anthropology - at eighteen, which is unprecedented - opens up so much - "
"If I get it that young," Blair said.
"I'm confident that you will," Stoddard told him. "Do you still believe in sentinels, in the good they can do, or did this woman totally destroy that belief?"
"I still believe in sentinels as a force for good," Blair replied, "and that they need guides if they are to work to their full capacity. It's my own ability to be an effective guide that I doubt. I'm not sure whether Alicia would have been a proper sentinel if people had accepted, when she was a child, that she had the senses, or if she never had a sentinel's instincts along with the heightened senses. But surely it would have helped her if I'd been a better guide - surely I should have been able to direct her into... into at least an honest life!"
"From what you've told me, she accepted you as a guide because she couldn't get one any other way, but still saw you as a child. She wasn't going to let a child direct her away from the path she had chosen. Just think about that."
As his memory wound down, Blair became aware once again of the classroom in front of him. Yes, he had thought about Stoddard's words often in the years since then, but while he accepted them as truth, he still doubted that he could ever be more than a barely competent guide - despite his having had the highest grade ever recorded for a student guide at Antioch.
He had indeed obtained his doctorate in anthropology just before his eighteenth birthday, and had spent the next two years mostly studying sentinels in hunter-gatherer tribes - having chosen to remain in academia, working with sentinel-guide studies and working from Antioch. When he was between expeditions and actually at Antioch, Stoddard also asked him to stand in occasionally if a lecturer was sick, and somewhat to his own surprise he discovered that he was good at passing on information. And once he was eighteen, because he was working with guide studies, he learned about mental barriers and how to drop them... at which point he guessed that the herbal concoction Alicia had made had been designed for that purpose, and he was more than ever glad that he had only tasted it, hadn't drunk it all. Though he suspected that even if he had, the guardian jaguar would still have defended him, prevented the other one from reaching him.
When Stoddard was offered a job heading up the newly-opened Sentinel-Guide department at Rainier he accepted it, and one of his first actions was to offer a lecturing position to Blair. Blair would have been happy to remain affiliated to Antioch, but he felt he owed Stoddard - the one person who knew why he had changed his mind about working with a sentinel - and he quickly discovered that he liked living in Cascade and working at Rainier. After a year, he was granted tenure and promoted to senior lecturer, though he seriously suspected that he owed that promotion to the simple fact that he had initially been the only one, and a year later, two more were appointed.
Occasionally, in those first years, he had wondered if he should apply for consideration as a guide, but his feeling of having totally failed Alicia prevented him from doing so; and so he continued to lecture trainee guides, something he was confident he could do well.
At last he rose, picked up his notes and headed for the door. Distracted as he had been, it was as well that he had given his last lecture for the day. In his office, he put everything away, put on his coat and left, heading for the small apartment he called home.
If any of his Guide 101 students guessed that he himself was the 'young man' who had tried to guide the 'woman who was not a sentinel', none of them said so in his hearing. It was an excellent class; usually a class had one or two students who were barely competent wannabes rather than genuinely online protoguides - there were no wannabes in this group, and Blair hoped that they would all choose to become sentinels' guides. It would be a terrible waste of talent if they didn't.
He was mildly amused by the irony of that thought. While Eli Stoddard valued his ability as a teacher, Blair knew that Stoddard still believed that he was born to be a guide, that he was wasting his talent by remaining safely in a classroom. Indeed, he occasionally wondered about that himself - now - but as the years passed, he had begun to feel that he was getting too old to partner a young sentinel. And after his failure with Alicia, he was still afraid of - yes, the responsibility involved.
His feelings were highly ambivalent. He had regrets - he would be lying if he said he had not - and he could understand, now, the feeling of inadequacy his sixteen-year-old self had experienced. Yes - he had resented the ruling that said he had to be eighteen before he could work as a guide, though he had discovered, as soon as he began lecturing, that sentinels, too, had to wait till they were eighteen before they could be partnered with a guide and begin working; until then they had to make do with the help of their teachers. And Alicia had taught him that sixteen was too young, reasonably streetwise though he was.
He was sitting in his office checking his notes for the following day's lectures when there was a knock on the door. It opened before he could give permission to enter. He looked up, ready to suggest to the student responsible that it would be polite to wait for an invitation, and promptly changed his mind about what he was going to say.
"Eli! Come in. What brings you here?" Normally if Stoddard wanted to see someone, that person would be summoned to Stoddard's office.
Eli Stoddard - with whom he had been on first name terms since his arrival at Rainier - sank into the chair facing Blair. "I have a favor to ask."
Something about the note in his voice warned Blair that it would be a favor of some importance. "Anything I can do - you know that."
"This... is asking a lot." Stoddard hesitated for a moment. "Blair, I had a visit today from a friend - Simon Banks. He's a captain in the Cascade PD."
"Yes?" Blair prompted when Stoddard fell silent.
"He has a problem... or rather, one of his men does. This man was on a stakeout in the woods outside Cascade two or three weeks ago - on his own, and he didn't see or speak to anyone for six days."
Blair knew instantly where this was going.
"There had been nothing to indicate that he had any potential for heightened senses... but now he's complaining about light being too bright, sounds too loud, his clothes irritating his skin... "
Blair frowned. "Late onset - " he began.
"Yes. It's very rare," Stoddard agreed. "I certainly never expected to see a case of it in my lifetime. He needs a guide - desperately needs a guide. Blair, I know it's asking a lot of you, but would you at least see the man, see if you can help him until the next batch of students graduates? Obviously he'll get first choice from them, but they won't be ready for several months, and he needs someone now."
Blair took a long, steadying breath, aware of a feeling close to panic. "Eli, Alicia Bannister desperately needed someone; I tried, and I wasn't good enough - "
"This is a totally different situation. Although she knew she needed a guide to help her handle her senses, you said at the time that you instinctively mistrusted her, apparently with good reason. She had the senses but she wasn't a sentinel. You know that; you were the one who told me that. In any case, even though you were fully qualified, you were still barely sixteen; even fully trained you weren't really ready for the responsibility involved."
"Well, yes... Even at sixteen I'd begun to understand that, even though I didn't when I was thirteen."
"The difference is that you're thirty now; and this guy is a cop, one of the best according to Simon. He's thirty-five; he spent twelve years in the army and the last five with the police. Even without the senses, he's been a protector. Frankly, he'd prefer not to be a 'freak' - his own description of his situation, according to Simon."
"Freak?" Blair said blankly.
"Yes, it's an odd word for someone to use, isn't it. Makes you wonder why he used it. The PD has a couple of sentinels in other departments, and Simon said Ellison has always seemed quite accepting of them, never referring to them as freaks - being in different departments, even in the same city, seems to satisfy their territorial imperative."
"Much the same way, I suppose, that when they're in training they can only claim their own room as their territory," Blair said, seeing a sudden opportunity to lead Stoddard down a side track.
Stoddard wasn't fooled. He grinned. "Good try," he said. "Let's get back to Ellison, shall we?"
Blair grinned back ruefully. "I have to admit... well, you know. For six years, from the day I first realized I was a guide, I was desperate to partner a sentinel. Up until I tried working with Alicia. That experience taught me I wasn't really much good at it - though because of what she was probably nobody could have helped her; I realize now that what it really did was make me realize how cocksure I was. After I was eighteen, and old enough - though I did think about it once or twice, I was still more than hesitant about it - what if I failed again? I was afraid to take the risk, so I still shied away from trying. Recently I've been more relaxed, because a ten-year age gap between sentinel and guide is more than unusual, and that could have been part of what went wrong with Alicia - too big an age difference. Sentinel and guide have to see each other as equal partners, and I'd guess that Alicia only saw me as a tool, while I saw her as... well, a surrogate aunt, I suppose; she was more my mother's generation. So this last two or three years, I've stopped thinking about it as any kind of possibility.
"Now you're telling me that there's a late onset sentinel here in Cascade - and I know you, Eli; you've always thought I was wasted in lecturing, but getting me into it was just a way of keeping me in the guide program. You're seeing this as a chance for me to fulfil the potential you think I've been wasting, these past twelve years."
"Not entirely," Stoddard replied. "Yes, I've always thought that with the right sentinel, you'd be truly motivating, encouraging him to stretch his senses to the limit and even beyond that, enabling him to use his senses totally effortlessly. But as a lecturer you've been brilliant, and managed to push more than a few average trainees into stretching themselves beyond what they thought were their limits. I'd hate to lose your teaching skills permanently.
"Seriously, I don't really expect you to join with Detective Ellison; I can't see you being happy in police work, and if you had gone through the usual procedure when you were eighteen, and he'd been a candidate, I doubt you'd have considered him as a possibility. All I'm asking is that you help him to gain control until he does find his true guide."
"Eli, if he's thirty-five, am I not I the only guide he's likely to meet who's anywhere near his age? With a guide just finished training, there would be a seventeen year difference. I could take on a forty-seven-year-old sentinel with a fair chance of success, just as Davis was able to work with Anderson in spite of the thirty-six years between them, because there does come a time when age doesn't matter too much, but when the younger one is only eighteen? Not easy, no matter how mature the eighteen-year-old is."
"I know, but it's almost inevitable with late onset that there'll be a fairly large age difference. The only hope such a sentinel would have to get a guide close to himself in age would be to find someone whose sentinel had died, or someone who'd had the training but had chosen another line of work, and persuade him to change his mind about being a guide."
"You're coming back to me, aren't you."
"I suppose I am." Stoddard sighed. "Like I said, I don't want Rainier to lose you... but at the same time, you're Ellison's best bet. If he can't get control, we'll lose him, and we really can't afford to lose a cop of his caliber... even if he wasn't a sentinel.
"I'm not trying to guilt you into this, Blair; but I am appealing to your sense of responsibility."
"All right," Blair said. "I'll see the man - Ellison, you said? - and I'll do my best to help him. But I can't promise that I'll be successful."
"Thank you. And don't worry about your classes; although it's been years, I was a pretty good teacher before I went into administration. I'll take over from you. Just leave me your notes."
Blair gestured around his office. "Help yourself. On the theoretical side, the class is working through Burton's Sentinels - "
"The Davis rewrite, of course?"
"Of course. Also Davis' Life as a Guide. On the practical side they're working on ways of grounding a sentinel. Some of them are already surprisingly good. It's an extremely promising class."
"I won't let them down," Stoddard promised. "Now - can you go straight to the PD, central precinct, and have a word with Captain Banks in Major Crime. I'll phone him and let him know to expect you."
Trying to calm himself, Blair hesitated for some moments before he got into his car. As he switched on the ignition and drove out of his parking space, he was muttering to himself, "Eli, you did guilt me into it... just as Naomi guilted me into trying to help Alicia... Okay, this guy's a cop... but you hear about dirty cops. What if he's just been really good at hiding that? No. No, Sandburg. Give him a chance. You still believe in sentinels, after all. Alicia wasn't typical... but if I was a halfway competent guide, shouldn't I have been able to draw out the sentinel in her? If there was one in her... Howell was right," he tried to convince himself, "though maybe not for the right reason.
"This Ellison guy, though... he's a cop, a protector. But oh, God, he hasn't had any training. He won't know about anything...
"It can't be very different from teaching young guides, can it? You can do that... "
Still close to panic, calling himself all kinds of idiot for not just throwing a panic attack in front of Stoddard who, in the face of it, probably wouldn't have pushed him, he gritted his teeth and forced himself to drive to central precinct, stubbornly ignoring the small voice that was telling him to turn the car and go, leave Cascade, keep on driving till he got to... yes, Fort Worth. Anna Sandburg had died three years previously - cancer - but Uncle David was a healthy and active sixty-six-year-old who was always glad to see Blair.
Finally he turned into the police garage and stopped in a bay marked 'visitors'. He sat still for some moments, just breathing deeply as he tried to calm himself.
"All I have to do is speak to the man," he told himself. "He's late onset, not someone whose family denied what he was. He's a cop; a protector, not someone who plans to work for a drug lord. He - didn't - kill - Mom!"
At last he forced himself out of the car, locked it, and headed for the stairs leading into the building. He paused at the reception desk. "Dr. Sandburg," he said. "I think Captain Banks is expecting me."
The officer on duty checked a list, nodded, and gave him a visitor's pass. "Floor eight, and turn right," he said. "Elevator's over there."
Tempted to walk up the stairs - to waste time - he forced himself to stop at the elevator door and took a deep breath before pressing the 'up' button.
He exited the elevator to find himself in a corridor. There were doors in both directions. but remembering the directions he had been given he turned right. Three doors along he found the door marked 'Major Crime', took another deep breath and walked in.
Half of the desks in the room were empty - the detectives who used them had to be out somewhere, maybe seeing witnesses to whatever crimes they were investigating?
"Can I help you?" It was a friendly-looking woman at a desk fairly near the door, and something about her said 'secretary'.
"I think Captain Banks is expecting me - Dr. Sandburg." He was beginning to feel a little like a tape set to 'repeat'.
In the manner of all secretaries everywhere, it seemed she knew exactly what was going on, why he was there. "He'll be glad to see you, sir. Over there." She gestured to a door that proclaimed 'Captain Simon Banks'.
"Thanks." He crossed to the door and knocked, half aware that the handful of detectives in the room were watching him. Of course, that made sense; they had to know about Ellison, and for detectives it would - certainly should - be a short step to realizing that their Captain would try to find some way to help him.
That understanding didn't help his nerves - even though it didn't automatically follow that a stranger coming into the place was help for Ellison.
"Come in." He took one final deep breath, opened the door, and entered.
Even sitting behind his desk, Banks looked huge. His face held a welcoming smile that quickly changed to a sort of stunned disbelief.
It had been a long time since Blair had last met that sort of reaction - and back then he had been too young to do anything other than quietly back off. But since then he had obtained his doctorate in anthropology, he had been a respected lecturer in guide studies for several years, and an unaccustomed anger carried away his nervousness.
"Yes, I'm Sandburg. What were you expecting? A suit-clad sexagenarian?"
Banks looked slightly taken aback. "Well, no, but Dr. Stoddard said he was sending a senior lecturer in guide studies, and... well... "
"Captain Banks, I'm thirty years old. I've been the senior lecturer in guide studies here at Rainier for the past six, seven years. I came online young, qualified top of my year as a trained guide when I was thirteen. I got my doctorate in anthropology when I was eighteen."
"I'm sorry," Banks said, and sounded as if he genuinely meant it. "You have to know that you don't look a day older than twenty-one, if that - but I should know better than have a prejudiced reaction based on how you look. Please - sit."
The apology mollified Blair. He sat, saying, "Yeah. I know. I don't go out much - being carded every time I try to buy a drink stopped being funny eight years ago.
"Now - " He got straight to the point. "I understand that Detective Ellison is late onset, so he's never had any training. That'll be my job - to give him some training, so that when he does partner a guide, he'll at least know what the hell that guide is talking about."
"I'd hoped, from what Eli said, that you would be Jim's guide... " Banks said, a little tentatively.
"Until I was sixteen I wanted to partner a sentinel; that year something happened and I changed my mind, and instead went into training young guides."
"Must have been something pretty traumatic."
"Eli didn't give you any hint?"
Banks shook his head.
"I suppose I should explain... We were taught that sentinels are always male, but when I was sixteen my mother met a female in Mexico who had heightened senses and took me there - her idea was that in Mexico, US laws about not working as a guide till I was eighteen wouldn't matter.
"I tried to work with Alicia, but wasn't very successful. Then Alicia told me she'd got a job with a local drug lord - "
"What? But... "
"Yeah. Anyway, to cut a long story short, in the end she had a total breakdown, reverted to about four years old. She's in a mental hospital.
"We'd never linked, even partially, so I escaped unhurt... but I'd completely lost confidence in my ability to guide a sentinel, and I'm still far from sure than I could. I... couldn't bear to fail another one. But I can teach young guides what to do, so I'm sure I could teach a sentinel how to respond. Then at the end of this academic year, we'll see that Detective Ellison gets first choice from the newly-graduated guides."
"Anything you can do. Jim's desperately in need of someone to help him."
"Is he here?"
"No," Banks told him. "He tried - but there was too much stimulus. He's at home." He rose. "I'll take you to him."
852 Prospect was in an area of warehouses-converted-to-apartments with shops on the ground floor. There was an elevator, which Banks ignored - "Faster to walk up the stairs," he said wryly. Shrugging mentally - presumably Banks was speaking from experience - Blair followed.
Banks paused at the door to No. 307 and tapped lightly. When there was no answer, he make a face, selected a key from several on his keyring, and unlocked the door. Inside, it was quite dark; curtains were drawn across the windows, leaving visibility in the loft apartment - for someone with ordinary senses - totally inadequate, only the level provided by a long skylight. Blair nodded - that was consistent with a sentinel whose sense of sight was possibly spiking.
"Jim?" Banks said softly.
Silence for a moment, then - "Simon?" A shadow curled up on a couch moved, straightened, and rose to its feet. In the dim light, Blair couldn't see his face clearly, but what he could see -
He reacted automatically. "Do you know how to dial down your senses?" he asked, stepping closer, his voice even softer than Banks' had been.
"I'll take that as a no," Blair murmured. "Here - sit down. Close your eyes. Try to relax." He was half aware of Banks retreating to another part of what seemed to be a single big room, but for the moment his surroundings were of very secondary importance. "Now - take a deep breath - "
"Can't," came a miserable whisper. "Even though it's my own home, there are too many smells... "
Blair thought fast. Normally a guide could use his own scent to steady and center a sentinel whose sense of smell was playing up, but he wasn't Ellison's guide; he dared not risk letting Ellison close on him in any but the most superficial way or he might find himself trapped by Ellison's need - forced to become a plaster instead of a band-aid when he knew that however efficient he might be as a band-aid, no matter how high his grades had been as a student guide, no matter how well he could teach youngsters to use their gifts, he was useless as a plaster. This late-onset sentinel deserved a proper guide, not one who had proved to be a failure.
He glanced around, seeing a little more now that his eyes were becoming accustomed to the dim light. There was a bowl holding what he thought were three or four apples sitting on a table beside what appeared to be a kitchen area.
"Captain Banks," he said softly. "Could you cut one of those apples in two, and give me one of the pieces, please?"
Banks was quick to oblige, and Blair gave Ellison the half apple. "Hold this under your nose," he instructed. "Now try a deep breath."
Ellison began to breath in, slowly, shallowly, then he gave a soft grunt and breathed more deeply.
"That's it," Blair said. "Hold your breath... now breathe out, slowly. Breathe in... hold... breathe out... "
After several repetitions, Ellison began to look more relaxed.
"Right," Blair went on. "Now - picture in your mind some kind of volume control; like the control on the TV remote, perhaps? And think of it in colour - green, maybe pale green."
Silence for some moments, then - "Got it," Ellison muttered.
"At the moment it's set high; too high. Hit the remote and turn it down - slowly - slowly - down... down... take the apple away from your nose... a little further down... How's that?"
Ellison raised his head and took an experimental sniff. "It's fine," he said. "Thank you... " He looked, really looked, at Blair. "Who are you?"
"Blair Sandburg. I'm a lecturer in guide studies at Rainier. Captain Banks thought I might be able to help you until there are some qualified guides available."
"You mean... You think I really am a sentinel, not just someone with freak senses?"
Blair struggled for a moment to remember the man's first name. "Jim, a lot of people have one sense enhanced, or maybe two. The only thing unusual - not freakish, unusual - about you is that you have more than one sense that's more acute than 'normal' - whatever 'normal' is. No two people are exactly the same.
"Yes, it's possible for someone to have five enhanced senses but not actually be a sentinel; but I'm quite sure that you're a sentinel."
Ellison was silent for a moment. Finally, he said slowly, "I'd forgotten, until... until... " He turned his head to look at Banks. "I remember now; I did have acute senses when I was a child, but for some reason my father wouldn't believe it, said I'd be called a freak if I kept saying I could see or hear things... " He looked back at Blair. "Why would he say that if it wasn't true?"
"I don't know," Blair said. "Only he could tell you." Only the strictest self-discipline was keeping him speaking gently, keeping him in this room, when his every instinct was to run - to get away from this man whose childhood history was so like Alicia's... My parents thought I was lying to get attention. Nobody would believe that I had heightened senses; even when I tried to prove it, they said I was cheating somehow. He could still remember the bitterness in her voice.
"I remember," Ellison repeated. "After that I wouldn't let myself see things or hear things or... Somehow I turned myself into the normal child he wanted. So why... why... "
"Whatever you did back then was the equivalent of ramming a plug into the end of a hose with the water turned on," Blair said. "Eventually the pressure of the water pushes the plug out. And the six days you spent entirely alone wouldn't have helped; solitary time in the wild brings out senses that have been - well, dormant. Tribes whose rite of manhood for the boys involved surviving alone for several days always had more sentinels than tribes where - for example - it involved suffering pain stoically, or single-handedly killing a dangerous animal."
"Oh." Ellison seemed to consider that. "And I don't suppose I can... plug the hose again?"
"I wouldn't think so," Blair said sympathetically.
"Remember, too, that sentinels automatically get 25% higher pay than anyone else on the same pay scale," Banks put in.
"Beamish and Meldrum have guides."
Blair guessed that those were the other two guides in the Cascade PD. "Yes. A guide helps you keep from being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of input you can get from your senses. Not everyone with guide potential chooses to be a guide, for various reasons, though everyone identified as having the potential gets the training; sentinels and guides tend to be partnered at eighteen or nineteen, with only a year or so difference in their ages, so there are rarely any spare guides available for someone like you, who comes online late. As I said, you'll get first choice, the first batch of guides that comes available, though you will have to settle for one a lot younger rather than one close to your age."
"You - ?" Ellison sounded tentatively hopeful.
"I'm a teacher," Blair said gently. "Yes, I had the training, so I can help you temporarily, but I don't have what it takes to be a permanent guide. I can - and will - teach you the basics that young sentinels normally learn in their teens, though it'll be up to the guide you eventually pair up with to turn those basics into a working strategy.
"One of the first lessons all young sentinels learn is how to dial down their senses any time they are overwhelmed by the amount of input. Even so-called 'normal' people can be overwhelmed by too much noise, too strong a scent, and so on; I've often wished I could dial my senses down, but only sentinels seem to be able to do it - maybe Nature's way of compensating for making them so aware of whatever they're hearing, etc, in the first place.
"We call them 'dials' because that's the term used by the first person to realize a sentinel could turn his senses up or down, eighty-three years ago. Trevor Davis was brilliant; he worked with a sentinel for twelve years, and subsequently wrote about those years and what he did to help his sentinel. Back then controls for sound, etc, were dials. Today, different sentinels can vizualise different things, like the remote control I suggested you use. You might be able to come up with something you feel works better - it doesn't matter. Your guide will still use the term 'dial'.
"We usually assign colors to the dials for different senses, to help the sentinel differentiate. It's always green for scent, yellow for taste, red for touch, blue for sight and some shade of purple for hearing, but the intensity of the color is entirely up to you. That way, if a sentinel's guide is missing for any reason and the sentinel is in extreme distress, any trained guide - or even a non-guide who knows the colors - can help. 'Dial down purple' can be a better directive than 'dial down hearing' under those circumstances."
"And if the sentinel is color blind?" Banks asked.
"That could be a problem," Blair admitted, "but there's never been a full sentinel diagnosed with color blindness. Someone with one, two, three or even four acute senses, but not sight, could be color blind, but not someone with sight as well.
"So... Jim, you've already mastered the dial for sense of smell. Let's try the other four."
It was well into the evening before Blair left Ellison's apartment. Banks had already left, to return to work; Blair stayed on until he was sure Ellison had a fair grasp of the dials. When he left, it was with the promise to return early the next day.
When he reached his own apartment, Blair sank into his favorite chair, breathing deeply and steadily. He desperately needed to center himself.
Damn you, Eli! he thought. His sympathy for Ellison was threatening to overwhelm him, threatening to make him agree to becoming the man's guide, but he couldn't. He couldn't! He couldn't risk failing Ellison. He knew the theory of guiding forwards, backwards, sideways and inside out, he could teach others what to do, but when it came to using the theory, he just wasn't good enough.
He wanted nothing more than to head back to Rainier in the morning, resume his place in the classroom, and forget that in the police department there was a sentinel who had been abused by his father's refusal to accept what he was. But he had promised to teach Ellison as much as he could...
He just had to be more than ever careful that Ellison didn't come to depend on him too much.
Blair spent the next day with Ellison consolidating the use of the dials, stressing the importance of being able to turn the volume down instantly if the input from whichever sense was involved was suddenly heightened.
Ellison was a fast learner - surprisingly fast for someone who had been forced to suppress his senses for most of his life. Of course, Blair thought, for a protector, being unable to do his job must be pretty close to hell on earth.
As he went home that night, he found himself wondering just why Ellison Senior had been so unwilling to accept that his son had very acute senses. He could understand why Alicia's parents had been dismissive - there had never been a female recorded with sentinel-level senses. But for eighty-three years males with heightened senses had been known about, and for at least seventy of those years efforts had been made to identify and train them, team them with guides so that they could work most efficiently... Sentinels were automatically paid more than 'normals' doing the same kind of work because of the edge their senses gave them. Families with a sentinel son were envied because of the prestige that son gave to them. It just didn't make sense for the older Ellison to dismiss his son's abilities!
He deliberately dismissed that line of thought as unproductive, and instead turned his attention to his plans for the following day. Ellison would need to do more work on the dials, but he wanted to cover as much as possible as quickly as possible... so he needed to move on to the zone-out factor. It would be easy enough to instigate a zone; finding a safe way to bring Ellison out of one, though... It would be too easy to let Ellison depend on him, he reminded himself yet again, so he mustn't use his own body - scent, voice, heartbeat, whatever, the first things a guide normally employed - to pull Ellison out of one. He had to find alternatives...
He spent the evening gathering a selection of possible alternatives for hearing, touch, taste and smell. There was little he could do about sight... but sight wasn't normally employed when bringing a sentinel out of a zone; at least half the time sight was what he'd zoned on.
It seemed that Ellison was highly motivated to learn how to use his senses to best advantage, but all the time - or so it seemed to Blair - he was trying in several subtle ways to persuade Blair to become his guide, rather than his teacher. It was becoming harder and harder for Blair to maintain his distance; but he would not, could not, allow Ellison to imprint on someone who had already failed one sentinel.
He accepted the irony of his statement to his students that 'the woman he knew of' wasn't a sentinel despite her heightened senses. In his less pessimistic moments he understood that nobody could have guided her successfully. In his less pessimistic moments he accepted that he had been young and cocksure, over-confident, and had needed a serious lesson in humility.
But at least having learned it he knew better than risk harming anyone else.
"Simon! What brings you here this evening?"
"Just wondered how you were doing," Simon said cheerfully. "You seemed to be responding well to Sandburg - how are things going now?"
"I don't know," Jim said. "No, I mean that - I honestly don't know. Sandburg's a brilliant teacher. I understand that for young sentinels it's a three year course, most of it spent working with teacher guides, but the speed we're going through stuff, he'll have me trained by the end of the month. But that's trained to respond to a guide, with a guide present; I can't work to full efficiency without a guide close by to keep me grounded.
"He keeps telling me that I'll get first choice of the new guides leaving training this summer, but I already know that he's the guide I want - and he won't consider it. Just says that he's not competent to guide anyone. But he is. I know he is."
Simon sighed. "I don't know the whole story, Jim; Dr. Stoddard might, though I doubt it - but if he does, he didn't tell me. All I got was the Readers' Digest very condensed version. Apparently, when he was sixteen something happened that destroyed his confidence. It isn't that he doesn't want to guide you; it isn't that he lacks the ability. Stoddard said he'd be the best - if he would only trust himself."
"Doesn't he believe that I trust him?"
"He probably does," Simon said sadly. "But he's sure your trust is misplaced. I don't know what you could do to persuade him. Where is he now?"
"Gone home. I've tried to persuade him to stay over, but he won't."
Simon looked thoughtfully at him. "Get your coat," he said. "Let's go and see Eli Stoddard. I know he's working late tonight."
They went to Rainier, where they found Stoddard in his office. He looked as if he would be there for at least another hour, perhaps more, but he grinned cheerfully at them, as if the interruption was unimportant.
"Hello, Simon," he said, and looked at Jim. "Is this your sentinel?"
Simon grinned back. "Jim Ellison," he said. "Jim, this is Dr. Stoddard, head of the Sentinel-Guide department. He might be able to tell you a little more than I could about Sandburg."
"How are you getting on with Blair?" Stoddard asked.
"He's... done wonders for me," Jim said. "But... Why won't he believe me when I tell him he's the guide I want?"
Stoddard shook his head. "I'd hoped... " he said sadly. "It's true that when Simon came to me, asking for help for you, there was nobody else I could think of who I felt was competent enough to recommend. He's an excellent teacher, but I'd hoped that if he finally had to work with a true sentinel it would restore his confidence. It was such a waste - he came online when he was ten, was fully trained by the time he was thirteen - "
Jim whistled softly.
"And despite his youth, he was far and away the best in his year. Indeed, his results were the highest I've ever seen. All that time, he wanted to guide a sentinel. But then he had to mark time till he was eighteen.
"Blair told me quite a lot about what happened, but even so I doubt I know the full story. What I do know - he had never quite believed that women couldn't be sentinels - and he wasn't unique in that - and when he was sixteen, he met a woman who had heightened senses and tried to guide her. I don't know exactly what went wrong, but she had a total breakdown and is currently - permanently - in a mental hospital. He blamed himself, believing that somehow he failed her, and since then he's been afraid that he'd fail any sentinel he worked with."
"He obviously wasn't the right guide for her," Jim said.
"Academically, he knows that, but he still believes that he should have been able to do something to help her until she found her real guide. That's the trouble when someone is so gifted. He'd never failed at anything. Even his second... well, career, anthropology - the subject he chose when he discovered he had to continue in education until he was eighteen. He had his Masters at sixteen. It took him just another two years to get his PhD. That's unprecedented.
"So feeling he'd failed, when he'd had the highest results in his year despite his youth, hit him very hard. He's done extremely well as a teacher here at Rainier, and has had really good reports when he's been assessed. He'll admit he knows the work, he'll admit he's good at imparting the knowledge and taking young students through what they need to know; but he still can't - or won't - believe that he can use that knowledge to help a sentinel.
"Trouble is, just as a sentinel without a guide can't function at full efficiency, a guide as gifted as Blair needs a sentinel to work with if he's to lead a fully fulfilled life. Teaching young guides, while valuable, is a total waste of his ability. I won't deny I've been worried about him, and hoped that he'd realize that he didn't have to be afraid of failing the right sentinel. It seems his insecurity goes even deeper than I thought."
Jim was looking thoughtful. "He's taking me through the work very efficiently."
"I'd guess that's because he has his teacher's hat on. He's teaching you, not guiding you. In his own mind, that is creating a difference. So far, nothing has happened to damage his confidence as a teacher. He'll do everything he can to help a struggling student, but can ignore the odd one who ultimately ignores everything he's taught and does badly, as long as the others in the class do fairly well. If an entire class was to do badly, though... I think that would utterly destroy him."
"Because he'd blame himself?" Jim asked.
Stoddard nodded. "Because he'd blame himself."
Jim decided not to say anything to Blair about what he had learned. He would, he decided, just have to work harder at getting Blair to realize that he had no doubts about the ability of the man Jim definitely thought of as his guide; no fears that Blair would ever fail him. His only doubt was that he himself was barely good enough to interest a guide as good as Blair.
Next morning, when Blair arrived as usual, Jim was surprised by Blair's first words. "I've been thinking," he said. "You're doing extremely well, learning really fast - but I think you're still slighly inhibited by remembering that your father used the word 'freak' about your abilities. He is still alive?"
"I think we should go and see him and ask him why."
"Jim, there has to have been a reason why he... well, denied your abilities. Knowing what it was can only help you."
"Blair, I haven't seen or spoken to him in years. I never want to see him again."
"That's harsh," Blair said.
"Nothing I ever did was good enough," Jim told him. "Nothing. Luckily one of my teachers took me under his wing, encouraged me... and I respected him a lot more than I did my dad, so I listened more to what he had to say - and what was more to the point, I believed him. If I'd believed Dad... if I'd believed Dad, I'm not sure where I'd be today, but it certainly wouldn't be in Cascade PD. I think he wanted me to follow him into business, but - " He shook his head. "I couldn't have worked with - or for - him. If he'd tried giving me, as the boss's son, any sort of responsibility, he'd have spent so much time undermining my authority... telling me I didn't know what I was talking about, didn't have the experience to make this decision... Mr. Heydash taught sports, but he was always ready to encourage me in everything."
"Would you mind if I went to see your dad, then, even if you don't want to come?"
"Blair, he'd take one look at you - "
"And you think Captain Banks didn't? His immediate reaction when he saw me was 'what does this youngster know about anything?' He was quite surprised when I snapped back."
"Oh, I can throw a great temper tantrum when I think it's necessary. Just ask any student who thinks he can get away with doing less than his best."
Almost unwillingly, Jim grinned. "Okay, I'll come with you. I have to admit... Now I know I'm a sentinel, I have to admit I'm wondering why he kept saying 'freak'."
"Especially since he grew up knowing there were some people around whose senses were very acute. The first sentinel-guide schools were started seventy years ago, and they were never an esoteric secret. Granted sentinels have never been exactly common, but by the time he was an adult there had to have been at least one working in every big city - and even today the media still makes a big story out of things sentinels accomplish. Back then, anything a sentinel did would have been reported in even greater detail. He couldn't have not known."
"Jimmy, it's so good to see you!"
"Blair, this is Sally - she pretty well brought me up. Sally, this is Blair Sandburg - he's acting as my guide, teaching me how to handle my senses."
"Sally, I'm a sentinel."
"I knew it," she whispered. "Back when you were a child, I knew it - but your father... he wouldn't believe it."
"That's why we're here. We want to find out why." Jim's voice was grim.
"I never knew," Sally said. "He always told me not to encourage you by believing what you said - perhaps I should say 'by appearing to believe what you said' - and apart from that he was a good employer, so I went along with it. But he never said why."
"So is he in?"
"Yes. He'll be glad to see you, but... "
"But not if I ask him what I want to know?"
"He won't be happy to have the subject mentioned."
Sally closed the door behind them and led them up the stairs. She paused at a door, and said, "Don't leave without saying goodbye, Jimmy?"
He smiled. "Dad mightn't give me any choice, but if I do, I'll phone you afterwards."
She nodded, knocked on the door and opened it.
"Mr. Ellison - it's Jimmy."
The man who rose from a very comfortable-looking armchair looked to Blair to be a lot older than the sixty or so that he had to be.
"Jimmy? What brings you here?" He sounded pleased but surprised.
Jim looked at Blair, who responded instantly. "Mr. Ellison, I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm a lecturer in sentinel-guide studies at Rainier, currently teaching Jim how to use his senses - "
"Don't tell me you've started that nonsense again!" There was uneasiness mixed with anger in his voice.
"It isn't nonsense, Mr. Ellison," Blair said firmly. "The existence of heightened senses has been documented for at least a hundred and fifty years, and studied in increasing depth for seventy. You have to have heard of them all your life! Now, I've been studying sentinels and guides for twenty years - "
"You mean since before you were born?" Anger was mixed with disbelief this time.
"Mr. Ellison, I'm thirty. I came online with guide abilities when I was ten, and my life and studies since then have revolved around sentinels. I know what I'm talking about. Jim is a sentinel, and a very strong one. His abilities will help him immensely in his work, and - " remembering that Jim's father was a businessman - "will automatically earn him a higher salary than he is currently paid. However, he's being inhibited by something you said about his abilities when he was a child. Jim would like to know why; I need to know." Blair's voice was that of a lecturer demanding obedience, and he saw a faint respect in the older Ellison's eyes.
Mr. Ellison gestured them to seats, and retook his own before he replied. "Yes, I knew about sentinels. I also knew they were rare." He sighed, looking more at Jim than at Blair. "I suppose I do owe you an explanation. When I was eleven, my older brother seemed to have heightened hearing, at least; he claimed he heard things nobody else could. My parents took him to the doctor to be checked. He was diagnosed schizophrenic, suffering from auditory hallucinations. With that in my family history, how could I be so egotistic as assume that there actually was a sentinel in my family?"
"You could at least have had him tested," Blair said, careful to keep his voice non-judgemental.
"And if it turned out that he was schizophrenic too?" He turned his attention back to Jim, as if he was relieved to get this all into the open at last. "Andy killed himself a few days later - the disappointment of learning that his 'hearing' was due to hallucinations was too much for him. That destroyed my mother; she had a nervous breakdown, spent the rest of her life in and out of a mental hospital, and died a few months after you were born.
"I decided... You seemed to hear things, and I was quite sure you did; but if you were schizophrenic like Andy, I didn't want to know. It seemed easiest not to mention the word 'sentinel', and to call what you could do, what you were aware of, 'freakish'."
"All right," Jim said. "Given the circumstances, I can understand that; but why did you never seem to feel that I was any use at anything? Whatever I did, it wasn't good enough."
"I thought that was the best way to push you to try harder. I needed to be pushed when I was a child; I was lazy, and never did as well at school as I could have done. So I ended up taking over Dad's business, when - if I'd worked harder - I could have done so much more. Oh, I was successful enough - but I could have done more, and I wanted more for you and Stephen. But all I really succeeded in doing was alienating you both."
"Dad, if I'd taken your word for it, I'd have ended up on the streets, thinking I wasn't fit for anything better," Jim said. "Yes, I know that's harsh, but what you did was make me believe I wasn't any good at anything. That nothing I could ever do, no matter how hard I worked, would be better than mediocre. What saved me was Mr. Heydash at school; he praised me when I did well, encouraged me to try harder when I did badly - but I knew he wouldn't be there all my life, that I couldn't lean on him after I left school; but by then I'd realized that staying here would just kill my self-confidence all over again."
"The carrot usually works far better than the stick," Blair said softly.
"Usually, and I can see that now," Mr. Ellison said. "For what it's worth, Jimmy, I really am sorry. I treated you the way - well, the way I needed to be treated when I was young. Praise for work well done never worked for me - it was something I could more easily live without because I felt uncomfortable - embarrassed - when I was praised. I needed the discomfort of extreme disapproval from my parents to overcome my basic laziness, to make me work harder so that life became more comfortable. 'Comfortable' was normal. I thought that was the way things always were. You were like me - you always seemed to be a withdrawn child, not wanting to be embarrassed by being singled out."
"I think that although being singled out can embarrass a lot of children, they're usually happy to get positive attention from parents," Blair said.
Mr. Ellison shook his head. "I wasn't, but I think I was aware that my mother felt embarrassed if she ever did praise me," he said. "That could have been just my perception, of course - "
"Our own perception is what we often judge things by," Blair said. "And just because it's your perception doesn't mean that you're mistaken. If your parents weren't particularly demonstrative - "
"Mom certainly wasn't. I remember feeling surprised when she reacted so badly to Andy's suicide. She was the one who'd always pushed me; Dad was always ready to let me do just as much - or as little - as I wanted, saying that the results I got were what I deserved." He looked at Jim. "I'm glad you came," he said. "Glad to get all that out into the open. I did really want what was best for you; I just didn't understand that the best way to motivate me wasn't the way to motivate you."
"Understood," Jim said.
"And now I know all that, it'll let me help Jim better," Blair said.
"If Jimmy really is a sentinel - are you his guide?" Mr. Ellison asked.
"No. I do have some guide abilities and I did get the training, but as I said, I'm a lecturer, training young guides how to work with sentinels. Not all of them will - some, like me, will end up as teachers, some will go into social work or psychiatry - the guide 'voice' that helps a sentinel also works with disturbed - well, 'normals'. As senior lecturer, I was the best person to be seconded from Rainier to work with Jim, teach him how to control his abilities and how to respond to whoever he finally selects as his guide. He's actually doing extremely well, though I probably will have to ride along with him until the summer, when he should meet his true guide."
"And if he doesn't?"
"There are some extremely promising guides in their final year of training," Blair said. "I think it's unlikely that he won't. But if he doesn't, I won't leave him without the help I can give him."
"And now - will you stay for lunch?"
Jim and Blair looked at each other. Blair's eyes said, 'Your decision.'
Jim took the deep breath Blair had taught him to use to steady himself. "Thanks," he said. Although he understood things better, he wasn't totally sure he had forgiven his father - but Sally, he knew, would be happy if they stayed.
In the end they stayed for dinner as well. The day passed more pleasantly than Jim had expected, at least in part due to Blair, who carried the burden of conversation and whose range of knowledge seemed infinite. Much to his son's surprise, Mr. Ellison admitted that he had managed to keep track of Jim's career, and that he was proud of all Jim had done. They parted on reasonably friendly terms, and Jim promised that this time he would keep in touch.
They had come in Jim's truck; Blair's car was still parked beside 852 Prospect, so Jim headed for home. After driving for a minute in silence, he said,
"He was doing what he thought was best."
"Even though it wasn't what was best. Yes. I feel sorry for Andy, though," Blair said sadly.
"Any special reason? Certainly it had to have been hard for him to be diagnosed schizophrenic - "
Blair glanced sideways at him. "Jim, I didn't want to say this in front of your father, but I'm not convinced that the diagnosis was right."
"He wasn't properly tested. He was checked by a doctor."
"That would be... when? Fifty years ago?"
"Near enough. Dad was born in '38, so he'd have been eleven in '49."
"Although by then sentinels had been known about for twenty years and there were plenty of tests available, some doctors - especially older ones - were still skeptical about them and relying on what they had been taught - and the perceived wisdom when they were trained was that someone who heard voices when there was nobody near was 'hearing things' - aka hallucinating. It's a pity nobody thought to have him properly tested at a sentinel-guide center."
"I suppose... " Jim said thoughtfully, and broke off.
"What Dad said - about thinking it egotistical to assume that someone in the family was a sentinel. Maybe his parents felt the same."
"Or maybe they just trusted their old-fashioned family doctor," Blair said unhappily.
The next day, some two weeks after he started working with Jim, Blair finally agreed that Jim had learned enough that it was probably time that he returned to work - provided he didn't try to do too much, and had the support of his - his teacher.
Although Jim had learned a great deal about controlling his senses, Blair still didn't think he was safe to drive alone, for fear of zoning out, so in the morning Blair came to drive Jim to the PD.
A desk sergeant, who nodded to Jim as he stood waiting, signed Blair in as a guest, and then they took the elevator to Major Crime.
Blair dropped a little behind Jim as they walked in; partly because he wanted to see how the other occupants of the bullpen reacted to Jim, partly because he didn't want them to assume that he was in any way important. He was Jim's teacher, not his guide, dammit!
It took a few moments before anyone actually registered who had entered. Then -
"Jim!" It was a cheerful-looking, very over-weight African American. "Good to see you back! How are you?"
"Hi Joel. I'm learning control." He glanced to his side, then behind him, reached back and pulled Blair forwards. "Everyone - this is Blair Sandburg. He's a lecturer at Rainier, giving me what young sentinels are taught in the sentinel-guide unit as a crash course."
"Hello, Blair. A lecturer? You're not Jim's guide, then?" Joel asked.
Blair shook his head. "I know what to do, I can teach it, but I'm not competent to guide anyone," he said, getting that out into the open.
"Ellison!" It could only be called a bellow, and Blair flinched as he realized it was Banks. Banks, who knew Jim was having problems with control, who had cared enough to go to Rainier to get help for Jim, but who, in this work situation, had apparently forgotten how sensitive Jim's hearing was.
His response was automatic. "Captain, you don't need to shout. Jim can hear you perfectly well - remember?"
Banks' lips twitched for the briefest moment, and Blair knew he'd been had. "Sandburg, that wasn't the reaction of a teacher. It was the reaction of a guide protecting his sentinel."
"Interim guide," Blair admitted.
Banks turned his attention to the sentinel. "Did you have a problem, Jim?"
Jim shook his head. "I might have had, if Blair hadn't been here; but he is here, and I didn't have a problem."
"Are you here for a visit, or are you planning on working?"
"I'd like to come back to work," Jim said.
Banks looked at Blair. "Sandburg?"
"I think he's ready to try, at least, but I wouldn't like to see him attempting too much for another few days. He's got good control, but it still isn't totally automatic."
"Okay," Banks said briskly. "First thing we need to do is get Sandburg credentials as your guide - "
"Temporary," Blair said.
"Temporary or permanent, the procedure's the same. Take him down to personnel, Jim, get him signed on, then come back and start work. There's a case involving what seems to be a serial killer that was bumped up to us from Homicide this morning that I'd like you to have a look at, now that you're back."
His new police guide pass clipped to his belt, Blair followed Jim back to Major Crime, more than ever aware of the responsibility he had been handed and that, willy-nilly, seemed to be increasing daily. It was one thing to teach Jim some control, teach him the ways that his permanent guide would use to let him keep control relatively effortlessly; when he had agreed that Jim was probably ready to return to work, he had assumed that for the first few days, at least, Jim would be doing busy work while Banks assessed just how good his control was; he certainly hadn't expected Jim to be handed a case involving a serial killer five minutes after he walked in the door!
Someone had already put the files pertinent to the case on Jim's desk, and a second chair at the desk. As Jim settled into his chair, Blair took the second one, tipped it a little backwards and wiggled a little until it was at a comfortable angle, then settled it back on all four legs. "So now what?" he asked.
"Now we read through these reports," Jim said.
"Which are? Remember, I don't know anything about police work."
"The reports of the cops who were first on the scene with the statements of whoever found the bodies, the forensic reports, any follow-up interviews with the witnesses - "
" - if you can call them that," Blair muttered wryly.
"If you can call them that when all they did was find the bodies, but it's the easiest word to use. Also any statements by the families of the deceased. And we have those for each of the victims."
"I didn't realize how much... well, routine paperwork was involved in police work."
"Believe me, Chief, real life detective work isn't half as exciting as TV programs would have you think. An awful lot of it is reading reports, checking them against each other, looking for similarities or inconsistencies... "
"Oh, well, that's one thing I'm experienced at doing. Although all guides get the same training, it's changed a little over the years - any time a guide finds something new that works, or discovers that something they've tried positively doesn't work with their sentinel, they're expected to report it to their training center, and the lecturers then have to go through these reports and assess them. We're getting these in pretty well all the time, both from our own ex-students and from other centers. Then we decide which of them to incorporate or leave out of the program. The basics remain the same, but some of the details change. Okay - we might as well get started."
They read steadily, quickly discovering why this case was considered to involve a serial killer; a few dog hairs had been found on all three bodies, and Forensics had established that all the hairs came from the same dog - presumably one owned by the killer. In addition, every victim worked for the same employer.
According to the reports, the victims - two men and one woman - had been good workers and were well liked by their colleagues. All had been even-tempered and had never had a serious disagreement with anyone. All had had good family relationships. The first had died a month previously; the second two weeks later; the third, two days previously.
"This is the kind of case cops hate," Jim said after a while. "There doesn't seem to be any motive."
Blair looked up from the report he was reading. "Everyone has a motive for what they do. It mightn't be something that would motivate most of us, it mightn't be something that we could even understand as a motive, but it's valid to them."
"Sometimes it's just plain badness," Jim said. "Some criminals are out and out psychopaths."
"I doubt anyone is born bad. Even psychopaths have their reasons."
"By our standards. But they don't think of themselves as insane. Come to that, they mightn't even be aware of why they're doing something - they're just convinced that they have a good reason for what they do."
"Hey, I thought your doctorate was in anthropology, not psychology."
"Anthropologists study people. And guide training includes some psychology classes."
"And did your psychology classes give any reason why someone would become an amoral killer?"
Blair sighed. "Working out reasons... there are so many possibilities. We tend to assume childhood trauma - deprivation, neglect, abuse; that's the kind of thing defense lawyers would lean on to try to get sympathy for the killer if he were to be sent for trial. But there's another kind of abuse that nobody ever thinks of; the kid who's utterly spoiled, given everything he wants, never learns what 'no' means. When he finally hits an age when he meets outsiders who tell him 'no', he can't handle it; he doesn't see them as people, he sees them as enemies to be disposed of, but it's all in his mind; even he probably couldn't verbalize a reason why. Or a kid with over-protective parents, who wrap him in cotton wool and leave him thinking that everyone outside the family is a potential enemy, to be disposed of before they can hurt him. Might be a girl brought up by a mother who's been deserted by her husband or boyfriend, taught from the moment she understood words to distrust all men; she doesn't necessarily remember being taught it, as she grows up she just knows that men are a danger to her. Could be a boy raised in a house where Dad is very much the boss and Mom a total doormat, beaten black and blue if she ever dares to express an opinion or doesn't have a hot meal ready when Dad walks in the door, no matter what time of day or night he arrives - he'll grow up thinking that's the way it is, that women are there purely for the convenience of men, and if Dad is also a racial and religious bigot - "
"You have a white supremacist," Jim finished.
Both men returned their attention to the reports. At last Blair said, "We need to speak to the co-workers of the victims."
"I doubt they can give us anything that isn't here - but - "
"But you could tell if they're being totally truthful."
"That wasn't what I was going to say, but yes, I suppose I could."
"And I don't see any sign that anyone has checked on whether any of the co-workers owns a dog."
"They did - I have the report on that here. Eight of the people employed there have dogs. Samples of hair have been taken from each dog, but the testing isn't finished. It's not definitive, but none of the owners objected."
It was mid-afternoon before they reached Mutual Aid, the insurance office where the murder victims had worked.
Jim decided to speak to the dog owners first. With Blair sitting silently beside him, a hand on his back to keep him grounded, he studied the physical reaction of each person as he questioned them. As the last one left the room, some two hours after he started interviewing them, Jim shook his head.
"I'll swear they're all telling the truth," he said.
"Okay," Blair said. "Do you feel up to seeing any of the other employees, or would you rather put it off till tomorrow?"
"I should see them now - "
"Do you feel up to it?" Blair's voice was quietly demanding.
Jim rubbed his forehead. "No," he said. "Not really; I'm tired. But I have a job to do - "
"And so do I," Blair said. "As your guide, I'm calling a halt to this for today."
"And if there's another death tonight?" Jim asked. "The killer has to be here - "
"We don't know that," Blair said. "What we do know is that the killer has a dog. You've spoken to all the employees who have dogs; you're sure none of them is guilty. What, at this stage, would you say to someone else who was asking the questions, who admitted to feeling tired? And who had a headache?"
"How did you know - ?"
"What would you say?"
"Wait till tomorrow," Jim admitted.
"So we call this a day, and come back tomorrow," Blair said.
Jim sat silently for some moments. Then - "You're the boss," he said.
Blair grinned internally. No way was Ellison submissive! This surrender was simply a measure of how tired he actually was.
Blair took Jim home, settled him into a couch and turned his attention to the fridge. Apart from several cartons of milk and three bottles of water, it was empty.
"Hey, Jim, what've you been eating?"
"Oh... this and that," Jim said. "I'm sort of out of stuff - I really need to do some grocery shopping."
"Yeah, you do. And you know what? I think you need to start eating a bit more - not just drinking milk."
Jim flushed slightly. "I... I... "
"Tell me," Blair said gently.
"I haven't been terribly hungry," Jim admitted. "Nothing tastes right. I... can manage lunch fine, because you're there. With me. But in the evening... nothing tastes right. I've... Milk is all I've been able to stomach... since this whole thing started... except when you're with me."
Blair's mouth opened slightly. All he could feel was awe. This was the reaction of a sentinel to his true guide, and for the first time in fourteen years Blair found himself wondering if perhaps he was an effective guide... for the right sentinel.
"Okay. Now you just sit there and relax; practice your breathing exercises; I'll go and get you some decent food - eggs, chicken, something fairly light. And then... " He licked his lips nervously. "And then we need to make some decisions about the future." He was out of the door before Jim could reply.
As he went down the stairs and into his car, Blair was thinking furiously. Although as an interim guide/teacher he had maintained his own apartment, spending the nights there, sentinel and guide usually shared a home; and now that he had suddenly begun to think that he might, after all, actually be a reasonably competent guide for a sentinel who wanted him, he would have to address that. It was something he had not mentioned, not thinking it relevant to the current situation, and thinking there would be time enough to warn Jim about it. He did wonder how Jim would react to learning that fact - although by the time he reached the nearest supermarket he'd remembered that Jim understood how much he needed a guide. And if the choice was between living with someone and only able to consume milk when his guide wasn't there... Well, there wasn't really much of a choice.
He would - he admitted to himself - miss having his own apartment, especially since Jim's open-plan loft offered its occupants no privacy; but he was sure that Jim would feel more comfortable in his own home than moving into Blair's much smaller apartment.
He moved quickly around the supermarket - free-range eggs, chicken, fish, bread, unsalted butter, potatoes. He hesitated over fruit, and finally selected one or two items - he would try the local Farmers' Market in the morning. That was more likely to have organic... and although sentinels could handle non-organic food, organic was always best for them.
The store was quiet enough that he wasn't held up at the checkout, and he lost no time in returning to Jim's apartment. He went in quietly, hoping that Jim had managed to relax.
He smiled when he saw that Jim had fallen asleep... and remained asleep despite the noise of the door opening. He had been quiet enough that he wouldn't have wakened - but a sentinel would, unless he was confident that what he was hearing was a legitimate sound. Despite all Blair's attempts during the last two weeks to hold Jim at arm's length, despite all Blair's protests that he was only teaching Jim, it seemed that Jim had imprinted on him.
Jim had imprinted on him.
They weren't linked - yet - because he hadn't been able to believe that he was indeed a guide; but even without knowing how to lower his personal barriers, Jim had imprinted on him!
Blair moved into the kitchen area. He put the chicken and fish into the fridge, found a bowl, broke several eggs into it, added a little milk and whipped them up. He glanced over at Jim; still fast asleep. He put some butter into a pan, and when it was melted added the eggs, stirring the mixture gently.
After a minute, Jim moved; raised his head. "Mmm... smells good."
Blair smiled. "Hi, Jim. Sleep well?"
"Yes. Yes, I am!" He sounded almost surprised.
"Good. Eggs are almost ready."
Jim nodded, then looked sharply at Blair. "I... I didn't hear you come in. But when I woke... you were there, and it seemed... It seemed... I just accepted it... "
Blair's smile widened. "Because I'm your guide," he said quietly. "There are some things we do still need to discuss, but that can wait till we've eaten."
"You're not fighting it now? You accept that you're my guide?"
"You were wiser than I was," Blair said. "Because I failed to help a sentinel when I was sixteen, a sentinel who ended up in the hospital with a mental age of four, I thought I wasn't - couldn't be - a proper guide. But Alicia wasn't really a sentinel - though I thought she was. I knew she wasn't my sentinel, but I was young, too sure of myself, too sure that I should have been able to help her. And yet - I owe her. Because if she hadn't destroyed my belief in myself, I'd have joined with a sentinel when I was eighteen, settled for someone I found reasonably compatible and probably been perfectly content. But because she did destroy my belief in myself, I chose to teach rather than guide... and that meant I was still free when you needed a guide.
"I think I've known, right from the moment we met, that you were my sentinel; I just wouldn't admit it even to myself, because I'd become so used to thinking of myself as inadequate. But I'm admitting it now. You are my sentinel; I am your guide.
"Now - the eggs are ready; come and eat. And then we can discuss the future."
Blair had deliberately chosen a light meal, remembering that although Jim had been eating lunch, he had eaten sparingly. Blair had assumed that that was Jim's eating pattern - light lunch, substantial evening meal. Now he knew that Jim hadn't been eating at all in the evening, he wasn't about to make Jim ill by making him eat too much too quickly.
After they had finished, Jim insisted on washing the dishes, then walked over to a door that Blair had assumed opened into a walk-in closet. "It isn't much," Jim said, "but apart from the bathroom, it's the only place inside the loft that has a door."
The small room was furnished as a bedroom; everything in it looked new.
"I know that the guide usually moves in with his sentinel," Jim said diffidently. "Will... will it do?"
"I didn't realize you knew that," Blair said.
"I... There are two other sentinels in the PD - Meldrum in Narcotics, Beamish in Vice. I asked them what it was reasonable to expect my guide to do for me. What it was expected that I would do for him. They both told me that sentinels normally provide a room for their guides. That - that was part of the reason I kept asking you to stay over. But if you'd rather keep your apartment, I can move in with you."
"This is your space," Blair told him. "You'll be more comfortable if I move here rather than you moving in with me. In any case, I don't have a spare bedroom. I don't need one - at least, I haven't until now." He moved into the room that would be his and sat on the bed.
"Doesn't your family ever visit?" Jim sat beside him.
"Mom's dead - officially she fell down a flight of stairs, but... I'd heard her arguing with Alicia; I'm sure Alicia pushed her. Of course, there was no way to prove that. But even if there had been proof, there's no way that someone with a mental age of four, and no memory of her years since she was four, could be charged with anything. I never knew my father, or even who he was - Mom wanted a child, but she never wanted a husband. I would doubt she even told whoever it was that she was pregnant.
"My uncle was - well - a surrogate father, but he doesn't particularly like travelling, so he doesn't come to visit me; I visit him when I can. His wife died three years ago. His son, my cousin Robert - we were friendly enough when we were younger, but we grew apart. I still like him, but his interests and mine... you could say they clashed. And that's it for my family." Blair shrugged. "As for friends - I've got several casual friends - well, more like acquaintances - but they're all my colleagues at Rainier. Now that I'm your guide, I won't be working there again, and none of them will bother keeping in touch with me. Even though we were working together, I never felt I had much in common with them, and I'll have even less in common with them now. The only one I might try to stay in contact with is Eli Stoddard - like Uncle David, he's been a sort of surrogate father ever since the day he had to tell me that although I was fully qualified as a guide, I couldn't work as one until I was eighteen."
"I've had a few girl friends over the years, but... " Blair shook his head. "None of them worked out. When it came down to it, I expected them to be like Mom - never in a relationship for the long haul."
"Haven't you been lonely?"
"Not as long as I had books." He twisted around to look at Jim. "That doesn't mean I don't know what friendship is. It doesn't mean that I don't have it in me to be a loyal friend. All it means is that until now I haven't met anyone in what you might call my age group that I liked well enough to socialize with."
"Although I denied it, I felt a connection to you right away," Blair admitted. "But I was afraid."
Jim raised a querying eyebrow.
"Afraid of failing again. But today... the way you've been reacting to me... I'm no longer afraid of failing you. Now I need to relax my barriers, to imprint on you."
"Imprint - ?"
"Imprinting links sentinel and guide, gives them an awareness of each other that they really need if they're to work properly together. To imprint on each other normally needs both sentinel and guide to work together to lower their mental barriers - something that isn't easy. It's interesting that you seem to have done it without being told how."
"I have?" Jim sounded startled.
"That's why you didn't waken when I came in. Although I was quiet, you couldn't have missed the noise, but your mind told you that everything was all right, that the person who came in was your guide."
"Yes," Jim said. "My guide. So... how do you imprint on me?"
"There are one or two ways... The easiest, for me - since it is just me, not both of us... Just sit there. Don't try to speak to me - just sit quietly. Relax. Fall asleep again, if you want." He kicked off his shoes, drew his feet up onto the bed and sat cross-legged, his hands on his knees. He lowered his head and closed his eyes, breathing steadily...
Blair opened his eyes to find himself in a clearing in the Mexican rain forest. In front of him was the temple guarded by the stone jaguars. He moved slowly forward, aware of another subtle change in the position of the stone animals.
One of the two guardian jaguars looked somehow even more dominant than it had, and he was sure it was the one that had defended him when he was there with Alicia. He walked up to it, and stroked its head. "Thank you," he said.
It moved, morphing into a tribal warrior, and he smiled. "It was you who made me think that I wasn't a proper guide, wasn't it. You knew that I had to wait for my sentinel, that I wouldn't meet him for many years."
"Yes. Enqueri is very powerful, and needs a strong guide."
A wolf trotted out of the surrounding trees and joined them. Without being told, Blair knew that this was his spirit guide, just as the jaguar warrior was - he was sure - Jim's. He smiled at the wolf; it leaped towards him and he felt a momentary pressure against his chest as it seemed to jump into him. He gasped at the sudden feeling that he could do anything - anything - he wanted to, without regarding the consequences, and firmly reminded himself that his job was to support his sentinel in upholding the law. The feeling changed to one of approval, and he knew that he had been tested - and had passed the test.
The warrior was still speaking; it seemed that no time had passed while the wolf tested him. "You have the strength your sentinel needs. Never doubt yourself again, Yachachiq."
Blair lowered his head in acceptance, and as he raised it again, saw that the stone jaguar was once again standing in its place. The scene began to waver slightly; he just had time to touch the jaguar's head in farewell before it disappeared.
Blair opened his eyes to find himself sitting cross-legged on the bed that he knew was his, with Jim watching him. He smiled, aware of Jim in a way he hadn't been before, and he knew that he had been successful in lowering his mental barriers. He had imprinted on Jim, and they were now fully linked, sentinel to guide.
They wasted no time in going to Blair's apartment and packing up all his things - it was rented furnished, so they didn't have to worry about the furniture, only Blair's laptop and CD player - and then while Blair unpacked and put away his clothes, Jim cleared space on the living room shelves for Blair's books and CDs. There would be a few things to pick up from his office at Rainier as well, but that could wait, although Blair knew that he had to let Stoddard know in the morning that he'd been right, Jim was his sentinel and he'd accepted it. The sentinel-guide unit would have to find a new lecturer.
There was little left of the evening by the time they'd finished, but they lingered over coffee - the first time Jim had been able to enjoy coffee since his senses had been triggered - getting to know each other a little better before they finally headed off to bed.
And it was an extremely comfortable bed, Blair decided as he settled under the comforter.
It would, he knew, take a few days before either of them fully adapted to living with someone else - both having been the sole occupant of their individual territories for what was probably far too long - and there would certainly be times when they each needed their own space; but he had this room, with its closing door, and he would respect the upstairs bedroom as Jim's sole territory, where he only went by invitation, even though it was part of the open-plan structure of the apartment.
His last thought, as he fell asleep, was that this was the first time in his life that he had been truly happy.
In the morning Blair was wakened by the sound of Jim moving around. He swung his legs out of bed, sat up and stretched, more alert than he could ever remember feeling, and he realized that - although he had taught it - he hadn't truly understood that a guide needed a sentinel as much as a sentinel needed a guide; and the realization destroyed the last trace of the doubt that had shadowed his life for so long. Rising, he opened the door and walked into the living room.
Jim looked around from the kitchen area, where - the smell told Blair - he was preparing coffee. "Morning," he said. "Breakfast in quarter of an hour, okay?"
He had a quick shower and shaved, then hurried back to his room to dress. He took a minute to brush his wet hair and tie it back before going back to join Jim.
"Scrambled egg again, I'm afraid," Jim said.
Blair grinned. "Easiest on your stomach," he said. "But I'll do fish tonight, and we can maybe find time before we come home to do some more shopping - I just grabbed a few essentials last night."
As they ate, he said, "What's our program for today?"
"First we'll need to go in to the PD, get you signed on as a permanent guide. That'll get the wheels rolling to get you a decent pay check. Then I'll write up my report on yesterday's interviews. Next we'll see if the results are in yet for the dog hairs. If they are, we see which owner it is - "
" - if any," Blair put in.
" - if any, and check his original statements and compare them against the one I got. After that we can go back to Mutual Aid, speak to him again and then possibly interview the rest of the staff."
"And at some point I need to go to Rainier, tell Eli that - well, that he's just lost his senior lecturer. He'll be sorry to lose me - but at the same time, he'll be delighted that I've finally found a sentinel - and clear out my office, though that's not an immediate essential. I could phone Eli, but I really want to tell him face to face."
"Okay, we'll make a slight detour and fit that in when we're going to Mutual Aid."
The report on the dog hairs was there; they were a match for the animal owned by Gerry Branigan, the fifth man that Jim had interviewed the previous day.
"Didn't he have an alibi for one of the murders?" Blair said.
Jim nodded. "Cast iron," Jim agreed.
Branigan's ten-year-old daughter had been involved in an accident the day before the killing - a driver, going far too quickly, had failed to make a turn and ended up on the sidewalk. Jenny Branigan had tried to get out of the way, but hadn't quite made it. She had ended up in the hospital overnight, and left it with her arm in a cast.
Her parents had spent the night at the hospital; there was absolutely no way he could have killed anyone that night. He didn't have alibis for the other two killings, but that one alibi cast a lot of doubt on his potential guilt. Jim decided to have a word with him anyway.
As they had agreed, they went first to Rainier.
Stoddard was delighted with Blair's news. "As I said, though, I'm sorry to lose you as a lecturer," he said. He glanced at Jim, not betraying the fact that they had already met, then turned his attention back to Blair. "If you could do one or two guest lectures I'd be grateful, but if your duties at the PD don't allow it, I'll understand."
"I don't see any reason why he can't," Jim said.
Blair nodded. "I'm sure we can negotiate something," he agreed. "I don't have time today to clear my office - we're on our way to interview some people - but I will be in as soon as possible, and we can discuss it then."
"No hurry," Stoddard said. "I was able to give you a job without an interview because I knew what you were capable of, but we'll have to advertise for your replacement, then interview applicants - nobody'll be needing the office for at least a month, maybe longer."
They left Rainier and headed for Mutual Aid.
Jim decided to talk to Branigan again before he spoke to the other employees.
He watched carefully as Branigan walked into the room. The man looked a little concerned, obviously wondering why he was being called again, but he was clearly not worried.
"Sit down, please." Jim indicated the chair facing them. As Branigan sat, Jim went on, "We've got the results back on the dog hairs. The hairs found on the victims came from your dog."
"From Toby? That's not possible!"
Jim nodded. He could detect surprise and genuine confusion in Branigan's voice. "So someone managed to get hairs from your dog to plant on the bodies, to throw the blame onto you."
Branigan shook his head. "Toby isn't what you might call a trusting dog. He was removed from an abusive owner about this time last year, and I rehomed him a couple of months later. It took me ages to make him understand and accept that I wouldn't abuse him. The only people who can get near him without panicking him are my family... "
"Has he shown any signs of panicking recently?"
Branigan frowned, clearly thinking. "Not panic... " he said slowly. "But a month or so ago - just a day or two before Len Barclay was killed - Toby seemed... I don't know how best to describe it. Clinging. He wouldn't leave my side at all for about a week. As if something had spooked him, and he was looking for protection."
"And that was a different kind of reaction from his panicked one?" Jim said.
"Yes. When he panics, he shrinks away from contact and hides behind me. This time... This time he was leaning against me pretty well all the time, as if he was afraid to let me out of his sight. Even when I walked him - he doesn't range much at the best of times, but for that week he stayed closer than usual. After that he began to cling a little less, though he's still not quite back to what I'd call normal."
"Who took him from the abusive owner?"
"The ASPCA. Toby was in a terrible state; they treated his injuries and fattened him up a bit before they offered him for rehoming, but he was still well below his optimum weight when I got him."
"Right. I think that's all, Mr. Branigan. I don't think we'll need to bother you again. Thank you for your time."
As Branigan left, Jim turned to Blair. "I don't think we need speak to anyone else here, Chief."
Blair nodded. "ASPCA next?"
They paused at the reception desk long enough to thank the girl on duty and let her know they didn't expect to be back, walked briskly to Jim's truck and headed for the ASPCA kennels.
In the office of the Chief Inspector, Jim introduced himself and Blair, doing so for the first time as sentinel and guide.
"Sentinel?" Inspector Lowry said. "What brings a sentinel to an animal shelter?"
"About a year ago, you rescued an abused dog - yes, I know, you're doing that all the time. This particular one was rehomed after about two months with a family called Branigan."
"Just let me check." Lowry crossed to a filing cabinet. "Be... Bl... Br... Branigan." He pulled out a file and opened it, reading quickly. "Yes. We prosecuted the original owner and he was fined and banned from keeping a dog for ten years."
"I need his name and address," Jim said grimly.
"Even although we prosecuted, I should really see a warrant... " Lowry said apologetically.
"I have reason to believe that he recently tracked down the dog and while he didn't harm it, he did leave it somewhat traumatized," Jim said.
"What? In that case, I can forget the warrant. Jake Davis. His address at the time was 927 West Street, number 434."
"Thank you." Jim swung around and headed for the door. Blair nodded to Lowry, echoed the "Thank you," and followed.
Back in the truck, Jim said, "I'll need you with me, Chief, but stay behind me. We know that Davis is abusive; there's every reason to suspect that it isn't just with animals. He could very well turn violent."
"Just you be careful too, Jim."
West Street, while not in the seediest part of Cascade, was in an area that looked as if it was going downhill fairly quickly. Jim found a parking space in front of 929, locked the truck and led Blair down the street to 927.
They entered the building. There was no elevator; they climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and found 434. Jim knocked. After a few moments they heard movement; the man who opened the door clearly hadn't shaved for two or three days, and his shirt was badly in need of a wash.
"Who wants to know?" But Jim was aware of the nervousness behind the bravado.
"Sentinel Ellison, Cascade PD."
Davis made an attempt to slam the door, but hadn't bargained for Jim's quick reading of his intentions. Jim pushed Davis backwards, and with Blair at his heels, walked into the apartment, wrinkling his nose at the smell.
"Dial down green," Blair murmured, wishing that he could do the same. The one-room apartment smelt of cheap liquor and cigarettes, unwashed human and decay, and he was sure that Jim could identify more than those.
"You're nervous, Mr. Davis," Jim murmured. "I wonder why?"
"I don't trust no cops. Cops always pick on guys like me."
"In what way like you?" Jim asked, genuinely curious.
"Guys who aren't rich."
"Mr. Davis, only a very small percentage of people in this town are rich. If they were the only ones we paid any attention to, we'd have very little to do.
"Now - I understand that a few months ago, you were charged with ill-treating a dog."
"I paid the fine!" Davis growled.
"The dog was rehomed, and was settling down nicely. But then a month ago, it suddenly changed. It was worried, nervous... as if it had had a visit from someone it was afraid of. Did you find out where it had gone, Mr. Davis? Did you pay it a visit, hoping to give its new owner a problem?"
"Why would I do that?"
Even Blair could hear the bluster in the man's voice.
Jim looked around the room, his nostrils twitching. He walked towards the unmade bed, and stopped at it, looking at the bedside unit. He took a pair of latex gloves from a pocket and opened the drawer on the unit. Inside were a number of plastic bags. Some obviously contained drugs; but one held a ball of dog hair. Jim picked it up. "Was that what you did, Mr. Davis? Caught the dog, brushed it, collected its hair - "
Davis made a run for the door.
He had totally discounted Blair, seeing only that the sentinel's companion had long hair and looked very young.
Blair raced after him, and brought him down with a perfect football tackle.
When charged, Davis finally admitted that he had seen the dog with its new owner and resented the obvious affection it showed the man, because it had never given him any; he didn't seem able to understand that the way he had treated it made it fear him and gave it no reason to love him. He had decided to remove the new owner from the dog's life.
"By killing other people, and trying to throw the blame onto the new owner?" Jim asked.
Jim nodded to the police officer standing at the door, he came forward and led Davis away.
As Blair and Jim made their way back to Major Crime, Blair said, "The guy's insane."
"I think he is, but that's up to the court to decide," Jim agreed. "And now you get to see a bit more of the routine of a cop's life; filling in reports."
After they finished, they went via Rainier to clear out Blair's office, not that he had many personal items there. Some of the books were Blair's own, but most were ones he used for the classes he taught, and belonged to the university. As they left, they passed a group of students that Blair recognized.
"Dr. Sandburg!" It was Donna Tompkins. "Dr. Stoddard said you'd gone to help a late-onset sentinel. Does this mean you're coming back now?"
Blair smiled. "No, I won't be back, not permanently, though I might do one or two guest lectures," he said. "This is Detective Ellison - my sentinel." He looked around the group. "So - if you want to guide a sentinel, but don't meet one when you're eighteen and so you settle for doing something else, don't give up hope; you might still meet your sentinel several years later."
"You've had a long wait, sir."
"Yes - but it was worth it."
They watched the budding guides heading off down the corridor, then turned and made their way back to Jim's truck... and home.
The Spanish was taken from a 'translation' web page, so I don't guarantee how absolutely accurate (aka colloquial) it is!
Si - yes
gracias - thank you
Hola - Hello
Es bueno verte de nuevo. - Nice to see you again
Este es tu hijo? - This is your son?
Sabe si Señorita Bannister está en su habitación, - Do you know if Miss Bannister is in her room,