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Blair had long had the habit of exploring antique stores.
Anthropology had many facets, and while a lot of Blair's studies had involved jungle tribes still living as their ancestors did, some had been more 'civilized'-historically based. As interesting as he found the way of life of hunter-gatherer tribes, he found the history of 'civilised' races held as much, albeit a different kind of, interest. And he found the artifacts of 'civilised' man fascinating.
And so he explored antique stores.
He rarely bought anything, pointing out to the dealers that as a student he was looking for knowledge rather than material possessions, and found that most of them were quite willing to discuss the history and provenance of the items they were selling. On the rare occasions that he did buy something, it was always a relatively cheap ethnic artifact brought home by a nineteenth century traveller, sometimes working for two or three weekends in the shop to help pay for them..
Blair almost ran into what had been his favorite antique store one Saturday morning. It had been a long time since he had last been able to visit it - being guide to a sentinel - a sentinel! Even after three years he still experienced a frisson of excitement when he thought of it - was oh, so rewarding, but he still missed his frequent visits to the various stores in Cascade, the joy he felt in having the dealers telling him about the various items he found that interested him.
He crossed to the counter and grinned at the dealer. "Hello, Mr. Pearson."
Pearson's mouth dropped open. "Blair? It's been years... at least three. We thought you'd left Cascade, though I was surprised you hadn't stopped long enough to say goodbye."
"No, I've been here," Blair said, "I've just been too busy... Something had to go, though I kept hoping I've have the time to look in and at least say hello. I just never did find the time. I've been sort of holding down two jobs... my job as a TA at Rainier takes up a lot of time, but I'm doing research for my PhD as well, riding with a Cascade detective to get info on the police. But the detective I'm riding with has been sent to a seminar at Olympia. I've been to a couple with him - well, it's all research - but this time we were flatly told that it was cops only, no civilian ride alongs allowed in the hotel and no attendees allowed to leave the hotel, and if I had to be in a different hotel and not even meet up with Jim in the evenings... well, we agreed there was no point in me going. So I decided to take the time and come and see you. You're looking well."
"So are you... Blair, it's really good to see you. Don't disappear for years again."
"I'll try not to. So - how's life treating you?"
"Pretty well. My daughter married not long after you 'disappeared', and I've got two grandchildren now. Twins, a boy and a girl. My wife's in her element looking after them - Tracy want back to work, part time, three days a week, nearly a year ago, and Annie fell over herself offering to take them those days."
"Congratulations. There wasn't any conflict with their father's parents about the babysitting?"
"They live in Tacoma. Oh, they visit occasionally - they usually stay with Annie and me, and when they're here Wilma shares the babysitting. But they don't want to move to Cascade."
Blair nodded, and asked, "After all this time, what's new?"
"There's not much older stuff coming in at the moment, though. It happens that way sometimes. The older stuff has already been rehomed or else someone in the family wants it and it stays with them till the next generation is clearing a house. A lot of what I have at the moment dates from between the wars. But I do have one or two of the kind of ethnic 'souvenirs' you sometimes bought - just came in this week, as it happens. One of them is pretty old - this is actually the second time I've had it."
"The second time? That can't happen often."
"Not with this kind of thing," Pearson agreed as he crossed to a unit of drawers and opened one. "About twenty-four years ago an elderly brother and sister came in, asking if I would be interested in checking out the contents of their recently deceased father's house, with a view to buying anything I thought had any resale value. They were clearing his house preparatory to selling it; they originally thought of just dumping everything, believing that only the house had any value, but they knew he had considered some of his possessions were worth more than a few dollars so they decided it was worth getting everything valued.
"They were right about the furniture," he went on. "It was very basic, cheap stuff with practically no resale value at all; the kind of thing you'd expect to pay maybe $10 for at a garage sale, and even at that feel you'd been over-charged. But the man had spent serious money on what you might call non-essentials; there were Clarice Cliff and Moorcroft vases, first editions of books by several well-known writers, some of them dating from last century... there was some carved ivory and jade and one or two pieces that had obviously come from ethnic tribes, brought here probably a century ago by travellers. That's a relatively limited market, so the pieces don't fetch as much as - oh, the Moorcroft, but they're not something to just throw away.
"Anyway, this was one of those ethnic pieces." He produced a gourd carved with an intricate pattern. It rattled slightly as he lifted it.
Blair drew in a sharp breath. "Peruvian," he said. "Probably Chopek, and most likely belonged to a shaman. I'm surprised anyone ever got their hands on it."
"I couldn't have identified it as coming from any particular tribe," Pearson said, "but yes, Peruvian. Anyway, it sold pretty quickly; but the guy I sold it to died last month, and his heirs aren't interested in any of his collection, so they sold it - and a few other things - back to me a couple of days ago."
"How much?" Blair asked.
"You're not cheating yourself?"
"No, that gives me an acceptable profit."
"If you're sure... " Blair was already reaching for his wallet..
Once home, Blair gave the gourd an experimental rattle - not frivolous, not when he felt it had originally belonged to a shaman - thinking, as he did, of Incacha, and wishing Jim's dead friend well. Then he put it down in front of a picture Simon had taken of Jim teaching him how to fly fish - a picture that, somehow, he had always felt symbolized the relationship they shared. What Jim knew, he taught to Blair; what Blair knew, he taught - or tried to teach - to Jim.
It had been a surprisingly empty four days while Jim was in Olympia; Blair had expected to get a fair amount done to his dissertation during the week, but all he had been able to summon up the energy to do was go through what he had already written and rework one or two passages that he felt needed some clarification.
Just three more days, though, and Jim would be home. Blair wondered what he would make of the gourd..
The three days dragged past.
If he had needed anything to prove to him how much Jim's police work filled his days, the past week would certainly have done it. With Jim away, Blair had no reason to go in to the PD - he would have been welcome, he knew, but he would simply have been interrupting everyone's work. He had spent extra time at Rainier, but he quickly caught up on all his work there, and for the first time actively realized that in his days pre-Jim he had been able to keep up with preparation and grading without having to take much home. But he didn't regret one second of that lost time. He did, he decided, slightly regret losing the hours he had once spent studying - which included his visits to the antique stores. For even after he had graduated he still studied, being almost addicted to learning; though in its own way working with Jim was a learning experience.
He glanced at the clock. Jim should be home in two or three hours. Blair went to the kitchen and quickly prepared a casserole which he put into the oven. Once cooked it could stay there on a very low heat, keeping warm till Jim got home, a better welcome-home meal than a take out would be..
He had timed it perfectly; when the door opened and Jim entered, he was greeted by the aroma of a ready-to-eat casserole.
Jim had a quick wash and as they ate he told Blair about the seminar - "Not quite a waste of time, but I've got no idea why we weren't allowed to leave the hotel or have civilian attending. It wasn't as if we were discussing state secrets. I already knew a lot of what was covered; it would have been of more value to Ted Wylie - " naming a new addition to the ranks of Major Crime. "Actually, at least half of us were experienced detectives. It was almost as if our bosses sent us to make it look as if their entire PD was highly knowledgeable - "
"To give the impression that even the newbies were brilliant, yes?"
"Yes. I'll be telling Simon that; if he cares to pass it on, that's up to him. So - what have you been doing with your time?"
"I got caught up with all my Rainier work; and I took the chance to visit an antique store I haven't been to for several years."
"All part of anthropology, man - American history is an anthropological study too; where I might study Chinese culture and history, Chinese students would study us. So why should I ignore the history and artifacts of my own country? But I have to admit that I was always more interested in some of the things that had found their way here by way of eighteenth or nineteenth century travellers who'd picked up souvenirs. Anyway - " he went and picked up the gourd - "Mr. Pearson showed me this."
Jim looked at the gourd and his mouth dropped open. "Where did he get it?"
"Originally from a house clearance twenty or so years ago. He didn't know how it had reached Cascade, just that the man who had owned it was a collector. He sold it, but the buyer died recently and Mr Pearson bought it back from his family. When he showed it to me... I bought it."
Jim took it almost reverently. "I'll buy it from you, Chief. This... Incacha had one very similar, but he told me that what he had was a reproduction. The original was stolen by a traveller at least six generations ago; the then shaman carved a new one, but Incacha said it didn't have the power of the original. I'm sure that this is that stolen one. I wish... I wish Incacha was still alive to see this!"
"You were honored that he told you about it."
"I was their sentinel, working with the shaman. That gave me - well, status. I was one of the tribe.
"I need to take it back to them."
"We," Blair said. "And Jim - you don't need to buy it from me. Incacha passed on the way of the shaman to me. It's as much my responsibility to return this to the Chopek as it is yours.".
They found Simon surprisingly understanding - of course, Jim did have leave time accumulated, some of which he would lose if he didn't take it - and headed off two days later.
It was a two-day hike from the nearest place they could take a vehicle, and they were met by three Chopek warriors when they were still an hour from the village. One of them looked vaguely familiar, and Blair realized that he was one of the ones who had accompanied Incacha to Cascade a little more than a year previously.
And it was more than clear that all three Chopek recognized Jim.
Even before they explained why they were there, the tribe greeted them both enthusiastically; when they showed the tribe's new shaman, Pachacutec, the gourd, it took him only moments to confirm that it was, indeed, the one that had been stolen from them so many generations previously.
There was a huge celebration that evening, with Jim and Blair as honored guests.
They stayed with the Chopek for a week. When they left to return home, two of the warriors accompanied them as an 'honor guard', leaving them only when they reached their vehicle, watching from the shelter of the trees as the jeep bumped down the track the people of 'the big eye' had constructed and that had begun to return to nature just weeks after those men stopped pumping the black poison from the ground and left the area.
Even without their shaman's original powerful gourd, the Chopek had flourished; with it, they had no doubt that they could defeat any encroaching enemy - never again would they be bothered by white men seeking drugs or oil or timber. And they had no doubt that one day Enqueri and Incacha's heir would return to them - permanently.