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Alarms clanged as sprinklers began to spray water onto the budding fire in the prison laundry. Guards hurried to unlock cell doors and direct prisoners to the outside recreation area. Stone might not burn, but there was always the danger of smoke from the burning laundry filling the corridors.
The noise and confusion lasted nearly an hour, until it was confirmed that the fire was completely extinguished and anything that might re-ignite was safely out of the building. But when the guards checked the cells after the prisoners had returned to them, they discovered that one man had taken advantage of the situation.
An ex-cop under sentence of death -- a man who was normally kept in solitary confinement for his own safety; a man who had killed one cop in cold blood and had tried to kill another; who, despite the circumstances, should have remained under guard -- had somehow managed to escape.
Art Sturges was a bitter man.
Once wealthy, he had owned Canyon Lake Paper, where fully half of the population of Rossburg worked. He had enjoyed -- oh, how he had enjoyed -- the power over his employees that his wealth gave him, unlike his father, who had amassed only a small fortune in his many years of building up the business and had been content with that. Donald Sturges had given his workers privileges that -- Art believed -- had wasted the money that should have been gathering in the bank for him to inherit. He considered the money his father had left him -- just under a million dollars -- a paltry sum, but he had also inherited the business, and he had promptly set out to maximize his profit margin.
In the years since he had taken control, his workers had learned to fear Art where they had admired and respected his father, genuinely mourning Donald's death at the relatively young age of sixty-four. Art had several times heard himself described as ruthless, and considered the description complimentary. Believing himself to be feared, but respected for what he considered to be his strength, he had no idea that he was, rather, despised by almost everyone -- even the yes-men who had helped to cover the shortcuts he had taken to increase the profitability of the business.
In the years since he had taken control, his personal fortune had increased from under a million dollars to over twenty million -- due, he claimed, to increased efficiency and not wasting money. In addition, there was another four million in an account in a bank on an island republic, hidden under a false name, siphoned off in relatively small amounts over the years -- ten thousand here, twenty thousand there -- and paid into the account at irregular intervals when he visited Spokane and could use a bank where he was not known: a tax evasion measure. There was also still some money stashed away and not yet transferred to the account -- money he intended to retrieve in the not-too-distant future.
'Not wasting money', of course, meant that necessary repairs were delayed -- eventually resulting in contaminated run-off from the plant polluting the Rossburg's water supply.
He denied the accusation of pollution, of course, even as he reluctantly accepted the need to waste some of his profits on the repairs he had been putting off -- but then a stupid little employee found some papers she should never have seen, and decided to make public the information in them -- information that made it clear he had known all along about the pollution, but had refused to do anything about it.
On reflection, he realised that his chief yes-man -- Dave Becker, the local sheriff -- had made a total wreck of events thereafter. Killing the little bitch had been the obvious thing to do, of course, and Becker even had a convenient scapegoat he could use, a former classmate named Simon Banks; but he hadn't allowed for that scapegoat's two friends who were able to cut through the circumstantial 'evidence' he had been constructing.
Both Becker and Sturges ended up in prison - Sturges for only a year because he'd plea bargained down to a conspiracy charge, in exchange for testifying against Sheriff Becker. However, the claims for compensation from the people of Rossburg had forced him to sell both the plant and his house to pay them; because of the papers proving he had known about the problem, his insurance company had refused to pay any of them. Paying those claims had taken the money from the sale, along with almost all of his personal fortune. Now he was living relatively frugally in Spokane, in a manner consistent with the bankrupt he had declared himself to be, all the while promising himself that one day he would again enjoy the lifestyle of an openly rich man. He could have moved to the island republic where his money was banked and lived such a life immediately, but his peculiar pride insisted that he recover what he believed to be his reputation and his lifestyle, in his native country, his native state -- his native town.
He just hadn't worked out how to manage it.
During the day, he worked as a cleaner in a mall -- a job he hated and considered beneath him, but the only job available that he had been 'qualified' to do; the youngest apprentice at Canyon Lake Paper had forgotten more about the technicalities of papermaking than he had ever bothered to learn. He had not even been a good manager, though he had never realised it, for he believed that only financial success showed good management. He had accepted privilege as his due and ignored managerial responsibility as immaterial.
His evenings were employed in futilely planning revenge against the man who, on that disastrous night at the hotel, had told the crowd that in his suit pocket Art had the papers that would prove he'd been told exactly how badly his plant was polluting the environment. Futile, because he knew he would never have the guts to put any of his many ideas into effect.
He also occasionally debated what he would like to do to his wife, who had taken their sons and walked out on him when the whole mess exploded. She'd told him she wanted nothing from him -- not one penny -- because she now knew his money was amassed from the suffering of his workers. It earned her the approval of the town; the fact that she was independently wealthy and didn't need his money did nothing to reduce the expressed admiration of the people who had been his employees. She had chosen not to divorce him, for religious reasons, and he didn't dare risk initiating divorce proceedings, much as he would have liked to be legally rid of her. It would have taken money he wasn't supposed to have.
Sturges was sitting morosely, drinking his second beer of the evening and mentally punching his wife to a pulp, when someone knocked on his door. With a muttered curse, he put down the bottle and went to the door.
"Hello, Mr. Sturges." There was just a touch of mockery in the voice.
He gaped at his visitor for a moment. "Dave?"
Dave Becker pushed past Sturges, who closed the door and followed his unwanted visitor through the open door of the living room.
"They let you out?" Sturges asked hesitantly, trying to hide his disbelief at the suggestion.
"Get real!" Becker growled. "I killed a cop. Sure, I've been appealing, but the appeal process can only go on for so long. I've known from the beginning that the only way I was going to get out, early or late, was in a box, unless I did something to help myself. So I did. Got someone to start a fire in the laundry a few nights ago -- it's amazing what a little intimidation can do. Not that I ever saw many of the other prisoners, but the handful I did see occasionally were scared stiff of me. Everyone was taken outside, and in the confusion I managed to get away.
"I just want two things -- I need some money to get out of the country, but before I go I want to deal with that fucker Banks -- and the nigger-lover that helped him."
Sturges nodded as he had always done, not actually sharing Becker's views on African Americans, but sympathizing with his desire for revenge. "Yeah, and I want to get the long-haired hippie that was with them. He was the one that told everyone I had the papers."
"I've had plenty of time to think about what I want to do," Becker growled.
"Yeah, me, too."
"At first I wanted to kill 'em -- Banks and his cop friend. But the longer I was in there, the more I realized that killing 'em would be too easy. I want to make them suffer."
"What I'd really like to do...." Becker allowed his voice to trail off, glancing sideways at his companion in the silence.
"I'd like to get at Ellison too, but mostly I want to make Banks suffer. If I could do that, I wouldn't worry too much if I missed the other one."
"It's the hippie I want," Sturges repeated.
Ignoring the comment, Becker continued, "Strutting around, captain of the debating team -- as if fancy talking mattered worth a damn! -- pretending that made him as good as a white guy. A lot of girls chased after him, too -- fuckin' degrading is what it was. 'Least the sensible girls stuck with the football team. God, I hated him! But the school had this policy, and I had to keep my mouth shut. I used to laugh sometimes when he said it was a 'friendly rivalry' -- there was nothing fucking friendly about it! And then finding out he was a Captain...."
Becker's voice turned calculating. "He's got a son. Now it seems to me that if we could kill the son, that might just about make up for everything. Besides, we'd get rid of a young one -- which would prevent more of his degenerate race being born. Stop a whole line."
"Hey, the son and the hippie!" Sturges said. "Him and Ellison went off together -- though it was odd they came back when they did."
"Yeah -- they were going kayaking. When they came back, they said they'd gone off in the wrong direction, but I never believed that."
"So they've got to be pals. Right?"
Becker nodded. "Well, of course they would be -- they were partners, though the hippie guy wasn't actually a cop, he was a consultant, whatever the fuck that meant. Partners who don't get pretty close don't last long."
"Just killing them -- that's too quick," Sturges said.
"You got any other ideas?"
"Several -- and I'm sure you do, too, Dave."
Jim Ellison glanced at his watch for the twentieth time in an hour, straining his hearing to the point of a zone-out in the hope of detecting the approaching sound of Blair's car.
The younger man had gone out about half past nine, soon after they'd realized just how horrendously bad the video -- one that had been recommended to Jim by someone in Vice -- they'd rented earlier in the evening was. Blair, who had heard bad things about it but had given in to Jim's persuasion, had been inclined to say, "To hell with it," and find something on the box to watch. Jim, however, had been more in the mood for watching a video, and he had muttered about it until Blair, whose name was on the rental card, had given in and gone off to return the turkey and get something that they were more likely to enjoy. It shouldn't have taken him more than half an hour to drive to the video store, get a new tape, and drive back -- even if he'd delayed to complain bitterly to the store clerk about the poor acting, stupidity and almost non-existent plot of the movie. Now, it was nearly eleven. Finally coming to a decision, Jim pulled on his jacket, pocketed his keys, and headed down the stairs, trying to convince himself that there was a simple answer although he couldn't think of one.
His imagination, rarely overactive, was working full-time, running potential disaster after potential disaster through his mind. An accident, with someone running into Blair's car? A hold-up at the video store while Blair was there?
He drove quickly to the video store and pulled in to the parking lot. A quick glance around it was enough to discover Blair's car near the entrance to the store. Pulling in beside the Volvo, he paused to check it, and saw Blair's backpack still lying on the passenger seat, and the offending video on the driver's seat. He headed into the store.
An employee muttered, "We're closing," as he tried to stop the man he assumed was a too-late customer.
Jim waved his badge. "Anyone in the place?" he asked.
The employee -- barely eighteen, Jim guessed -- shook his head. "The last one left about ten minutes ago, man. It's been quiet tonight. Always is at the start of the week."
"I'm following up a report on a missing person," Jim lied fluently. "He was known to be coming here earlier this evening to return a tape, and his car's sitting out there. Man about thirty, five foot eight, shoulder-length curly hair."
"Nobody like that came in here that I saw, man." He called over to the older man who was checking the cash. "Hey, Marty! There wasn't a guy with long curly hair came in tonight, was there?"
The store employees looked at each other, then Marty also shook his head. "Sorry, can't help you. We haven't had more than a dozen folks in over the last three hours, and most of them were women. The only guys that came in - one was a kid about fifteen, maybe sixteen, and the other was half bald."
Jim took a deep breath, knowing they were telling the truth. "Thanks," he said, and turned to leave; then he paused and turned back. "Word of advice, sir. I'd lock the door before counting the day's take if I were you. Makes you less of a target."
Outside, he returned to Blair's car and carefully checked the ground around it, but he couldn't see anything suspicious. Reluctantly, but knowing Blair hadn't been missing long enough for Jim to report him as a missing person, even with the evidence of the abandoned car -- Jim hauled himself into his truck.
He had some phone calls to make, and as he drove he mentally listed them.
He hadn't intended to take the road that went past the hospital... but when he realized he had, he decided he might as well look in on the emergency room... just in case. It would save one of his planned phone calls.
Simon Banks lounged in front of the fire, already half asleep but too comfortable to bother waking up enough to go to bed, although he knew he would have to move soon. He was jolted awake by the phone. A quick glance at the clock showed it was close to midnight. With a muttered curse, he reached for the offending instrument. He was off duty, damn it! And the only people likely to call him at this hour were the ones likely to be recalling him to duty. "Banks."
"Simon, is Daryl with you?" The demanding, angry tone did nothing to hide the worry in his ex-wife's voice.
"Daryl?" he asked. "No. I haven't seen him since Saturday."
"Oh God." The anger was suddenly gone and only the worry was left. "Simon, he should have been home over three hours ago, and there's no sign of him. He had an evening lecture, seven till eight. I called Rainier at ten when there was no sign of him, but couldn't get an answer."
"He might have gone out for a drink with some of his friends and lost track of the time," Simon suggested.
"That's what I've been telling myself, but he promised me a while ago that he'd call and let me know if he knew he'd be late. Well, more than maybe half an hour late. So then I wondered if maybe he'd gone to see you about something, just meaning to be a few minutes, and forgot the time."
"No, Joan, he didn't."
"Simon, maybe there's been an accident." She was beginning to sound panicked. "Maybe -- "
"Wait, wait! Look, I'll phone the P.D. and check up, and get back to you. And try not to worry too much. I'm sure there's a simple answer." But even as he spoke, Simon knew he was lying. Daryl was too responsible a young man to forget a promise.
No longer sleepy, Simon hung up briefly. He knew he had to check it out for his own peace of mind, as well as for Joan, but he hesitated for some moments, afraid of what he might discover, memories of horrific accidents and terrible injuries flashing through his memory. At last he took a deep breath and called the P.D.
Dispatch was unable to help him; there had been no incidents involving unidentified black youths that night. After a moment's thought, Simon called Cascade General. Nothing. Simon frowned, thinking, then remembered there was a list of phone numbers for Daryl's friends tucked into his phone book, and started calling them. Several futile phone calls later, with nowhere else he could think of to contact, Simon finally hung up.
It looked as if there was no reason for Daryl to be late, and if Daryl had promised his mother he'd let her know when he was going to be late, he'd do it. Really worried now, he looked at the phone for some seconds before a new thought struck him and he half smiled. There was one other possibility....
He dialed Joan's number, and she answered on the first ring.
"No, it's Simon. I've checked everywhere I could think of, but there have been no accidents or muggings involving anyone who could have been Daryl."
"Well, that's something... but then where can he be?"
"Joan -- you might not want to hear this, but does he have a girlfriend?"
"None that he's mentioned."
"So he wouldn't have gone home with a girl, meaning to... er... stay for an hour, but fallen asleep?"
"Simon, Daryl wouldn't do something like that!" Joan's voice was outraged.
"Joan, Daryl's nineteen. At that age sometimes the glands take over, totally overrule the brain. Look, I know you're worried -- hell, I'm worried -- but we can't report him missing tonight. Does he have a class tomorrow?"
"Not till the afternoon."
"Okay. If he doesn't arrive home in the morning, say by ten o'clock, let me know." Before she could interrupt, he added, "Yes, I know. This is the cop talking, not the anxious father. I'm saying to you what the cops say to any parent. Assume he's done something silly like get drunk, even if you think he wouldn't. Give him time to sleep it off and get home before you officially report him missing. And Joan -- if that's what's happened, don't nag him. Let him see you're disappointed in him, and leave the rest to his conscience."
He heard her swallowing. "I'll try."
"Remember I'll be at the P.D. at least by nine, but I often go in early."
"Okay, Simon, I'll call you tomorrow." He heard the click as she hung up.
Simon put down the phone and sighed, wishing he could feel as optimistic as he had pretended to be. Although there were times when, like all teenagers, Daryl could do something stupid, basically he was a responsible kid, a sensible kid. And, as a cop's son, he was well aware of dangers which other teens might ignore.
Just what had prevented him from phoning his mother as he had promised?
If Simon thought it strange that Jim should be at his desk as early as seven, he didn't show it. Indeed, he was happy to see his best detective already at work.
"Jim, a word?" he said as he moved towards his office.
Jim followed him in, to be greeted by, "Jim, Daryl's missing. He never went home last night."
"That's odd," Jim said slowly. "Sandburg's missing too."
Simon froze for a moment as he stared at Jim. "What?"
"He went out between nine and ten to return a rented video. When he didn't come back, I went looking for him. His car was in the parking lot at the store, but the staff told me he never went in. I've been checking the hospital, homicide... everywhere I can think of, but nobody's seen him." With an effort, Jim turned his attention to Simon, who had moved almost on autopilot to switch on his coffeemaker. "What about Daryl?"
"Joan called about midnight. He should have been home by nine at the latest and there was still no sign of him. Like you, I checked the departments here and the hospitals, but there hadn't been an accident, or anybody seriously mugged, involving someone who fitted his description. He's just vanished. If he'd ever arrived home, she'd have let me know. I know we don't entirely see eye to eye on a lot of things, but she's not spiteful."
Thee two men looked at each other in silence for a moment, each seeing his personal worry reflected in the other's eyes.
"I've been trying to think if there was any perp who might have it in for Blair," Jim said, "and now I'm half wondering... Kincaid? He's the only one I can think of who might want to get at Daryl, too, but at the same time, I don't really see it."
Simon thought about that for a moment. "No. After the last trouble we had with Kincaid, I made sure the prison authorities would let me know if he ever escaped again." With a sigh, he turned to the coffeemaker and poured a cup. "Coffee?"
Jim accepted a cup absently. "Doesn't have to have been Kincaid himself. We don't know that we caught all of Kincaid's men. He could have left some of them at his base."
"I'm still not sure. He seemed to have a kind of respect for Daryl -- yes, and Sandburg too. And, although he was ruthless, I can't see him bothering with a revenge attack. Not while he's still in prison, and not against two guys who aren't even cops. And certainly not anonymously. He was too proud of who he was."
Jim nodded slowly. "It's maybe worth double-checking though -- and at least see if he's had any visitors or if he's sent out any letters recently."
But the answer, when Simon phoned the prison, was totally negative. Kincaid was still safely behind bars, he had sent no letters and he had had no visitors. Nor had any of his men.
Blair woke feeling chilly, and with the awareness of a dry throat, a pounding headache, a general feeling of nausea, and no memory whatsoever of having drunk enough to give him such a monumental hangover.
He opened reluctant eyes, and saw nothing -- nothing but darkness. He blinked, his mind drawn briefly away from his physical discomfort, and still saw nothing.
There was always some light in the loft; even in the middle of the night, the street lamps brightened the darkness to such a degree that Jim always wore an eye mask -- although it was never bright enough to have bothered Blair at all. Now, here, there was no light. Nothing.
Oh God -- had he gone blind overnight?
The panic attack that theatened was halted by his sudden awareness that the bed was distinctly uncomfortable as well as being cold. He reached out cautiously, and felt stones. Stones? Forgetting his headache for a split second, he shook his head to clear it, and instantly regretted it.
Had they gone camping? No, he had no memory of leaving Cascade to go camping.
There was a blanket covering him, but a combination of the chill hitting his back and further cautious groping told him that he was lying on bare ground -- mostly dirt, he thought, though there were some small stones that were flat enough that they didn't press painfully into his body.
More alert now, he became aware of the silence -- it was almost total, except....
There was someone breathing close by. He stretched out and touched what felt like another blanket-covered body. At least he had company in this weirdness.
"Jim?" he asked quietly.
There was no answer.
Blair ran his hand up the motionless body until he touched the face. The build felt wrong -- whoever his companion was, it wasn't Jim. It was, however, male, possibly quite young, since he felt a soft stubble on cheeks and chin.
He pushed himself cautiously into a sitting position and leaned over to shake the other man.
The only response was a sleepy grunt.
"Hey, wake up!" he said. His voice, he thought, sounded unnaturally loud, although he was speaking normally, and seemed to echo slightly.
His companion moaned softly, then muttered, "Dad? Oh man, I feel sick!"
"Daryl?" Blair asked, more puzzled than ever.
There was a moment of silence, then, "That you, Blair?"
"Why don't you put the light on?"
"Mainly because there isn't a light to put on," Blair said wryly.
"There isn't? But there has to be! Where are we? Where's my dad?" Daryl asked, panic in his voice.
The need to calm Daryl calmed Blair. "Where are we? I have no idea. Your dad? He's probably at home. And before you ask - why are we here? Don't know that, either."
"Oh." Another brief silence. "Why am I lying on the ground?" Daryl's voice still betrayed his fear.
"Good question," Blair muttered. "I wish I had an answer. How are you feeling?"
"Like shit, man," Daryl said. "I've got a headache and I feel, like, really sick."
"Yeah, that, too."
"That makes two of us," Blair said.
There was a long silence. With memory finally beginning to connect, Blair asked, "What's the last thing you remember?"
It was a moment before Daryl replied. "Walking across the campus after a late lecture. I'd stayed behind to have a word with Mr. Hutton, so everyone else was gone by the time I left... and... and someone grabbed me, threw something over my head. I tried to get away, and whoever it was punched me... and that's all. I must've been knocked out." He paused before continuing, "What about you, man?"
"Last thing I remember is getting out of my car... "
The parking lot beside the video store was empty. As Blair pulled into a space, he realized that another car had followed him in; and, with over a hundred empty spaces to choose from, the driver decided to pull in right beside Blair's car, so close that Blair knew he wouldn't be able to get his door fully open.
He shook his head, not really surprised; it was a phenomenon he had noticed many times since his psychology lecturer first mentioned it. He was, however, annoyed at the inconsiderateness that put this car so close. Even if the guy was also going into the video store, it wouldn't have been any problem to have left at least one space between the cars -- to say nothing of being by far more courteous.
Half inclined for a moment to move his car, Blair decided it was too much effort -- it would just make a point that the other driver probably wouldn't get.
As Blair scrabbled in his backpack for the video, he was aware that the passenger in the other car had climbed out -- not without some difficulty -- and moved to stand at the front of it, clearly waiting for the driver who, however, seemed in no hurry to move as he leaned over to search in the glove compartment for something. Blair gave a mental shrug and, leaving the pack on the passenger seat, he squeezed out of his seat through the half-opened door.
Half tempted to say something to the man as he passed him, Blair decided, once again, that it wasn't worth the effort.
"... Anyway, as I passed the guy standing there, he grabbed my arm and... yes! I felt something pricking my arm. He must have injected me with something. That's why I feel so lousy now! It's the aftereffects of whatever he used. It was really fast-acting, too -- I just had time to think I was being robbed before I collapsed."
"But that doesn't make sense," Daryl said. "If they were just trying to rob you, wouldn't they have grabbed your wallet, shoved you back in your car or left you lying there, and driven off?"
"And why inject me with something when all they had to do was hit me, grab my wallet and run? No, Daryl, this was deliberate. They drugged me so I'd stay out cold for a while, so they could bring me here -- wherever this is."
"But why?" Daryl sounded as if he was on the verge of hysterics.
"Good question," Blair muttered. "It's certainly not an ordinary kidnapping -- if that's what they were trying for, they've got the wrong guys." He frowned thoughtfully. "Ransom? Neither of our families has the kind of money to make it worth the risk. Mistaken identity? Hardly, when they took both of us. I've maybe made one or two enemies while I've been riding with Jim, but you can't have made any." He sighed. "I don't see how this can be anything but some sort of revenge attack, probably aimed at Jim and your dad, probably by someone they arrested, maybe years ago, who's out of prison now."
"But why would they target us?"
"Some of those perps do yell out threats at the cops who put them away."
"You're saying we could have been kidnapped by someone who doesn't know us at all?" Daryl's voice shook. "Someone we haven't harmed in any way?"
"Someone looking for revenge is only going to care that we're people Jim and your dad are close to," Blair said grimly.
Daryl thought about that for a minute. At last he said slowly, "So why not just kill us?"
"I don't know."
"And the really crazy thing..."
"Why the blankets, man?"
"I don't know." But Blair was afraid that he did know. It was cold where they were; the blankets would keep them at least semi-warm. Without the blankets, they could die from hypothermia.
A quick death.
As it was, now that he felt a little more alert, now that he was listening, he could hear water dripping somewhere nearby; if they could actually find the water, they wouldn't die of thirst either. Instead, they faced a long, lingering death from starvation. And he guessed that the perps would find some way to let Jim and Simon know it.
To die at the hands of someone he had really pissed off was one thing. Direct revenge. To die at the hands of someone who didn't know him, who wanted to strike out at Jim...
It sucked. It really, really sucked.
The road was quiet. The driver of the car speeding along hadn't seen another vehicle for some time -- he felt as if he was the only person awake at this late hour.
With visibility limited to the triangle of light provided by the headlights, he had no real idea of how far he had come, but it didn't matter. He was in no real hurry, speeding only because he could, for the sheer joy of it. He hummed tunelessly as the miles slid past, only half of his mind on the road, a sense of accomplishment foremost in his thoughts.
Suddenly, something seemed to spring at the car out of the shadows alongside the road. Even as he instinctively wrenched the wheel around to avoid hitting it, he realised it was a wolf.
After a while, Daryl said, "I'm, like, really thirsty. Is that water I can hear dripping?"
"Yes," Blair said. He reached out and found Daryl's arm. "I think it's to my left. Let's try to get to it."
"We'll have to crawl -- don't forget your blanket, and try to keep close to me. If we get separated we'll have a lot of trouble trying to find each other again, and I think we'll both feel better if we're together."
It took a long time, partly because Blair kept having to stop to make sure Daryl was still with him, but eventually his hand splashed into water. Daryl crawled up beside him, and they drank from the pool they had found. Then they carefully wrapped themselves in the blankets again and settled back down.
They had slept, although badly, and now Daryl broke a long silence.
"You said there was a reason why someone would park beside you in an empty parking lot." Daryl wasn't really interested in knowing why, but the question would encourage Blair to speak. The silence, combined with the dark, was pressing on his nerves, and he was desperate for something to break it before he disgraced himself by starting to cry.
"I don't get you."
"Man is a gregarious species, Daryl. Oh, you get a few loners, the ones who are perfectly happy on their own much of the time, but mostly people like company. There are some folk who can't do without it, are totally miserable if they aren't surrounded by a crowd all the time. As a result, people tend to drift together, even when they don't know each other. If one car stops, it's a pretty sure bet that when another one comes along, if that driver is thinking about stopping soon, he'll pull in near the first car even if there's plenty of space round about."
"Oh. Like safety in numbers? Even if it's perfectly safe, they feel safer if there's someone else there?"
"That's right." He gave a short, unamused half laugh. "Actually, law enforcement encourages that when it advises people, women especially, to make sure they park their cars in a well-lit area near other cars for their own safety."
Daryl grunted and fell silent again, not sure how to keep the conversation going. It had given him something to think about, though.
"There's been no word on the streets, man."
Jim Ellison sighed. "This is crazy," he muttered.
Sneaks nodded. There was a disgusted look on his face, and Jim guessed his snitch was taking this personally. He had occasionally not been able to discover much, but this was the first time he had totally failed to come up with any information at all. In addition, Jim knew that Sneaks liked Sandburg, so he was highly motivated to help find him.
If someone had put out a contract on a civilian related to anyone in the P.D., the street should be buzzing with it. Although some had no compunction, most criminals -- even among those who would kill a cop without a second thought -- considered it unacceptable to target a cop's civilian relatives or friends. "I'll keep my ears open," Sneaks said, "but unless someone starts boasting about it, I don't think there'll be anything."
"Thanks, anyway," Jim said as he handed over a twenty. "No, take it," he added when Sneaks hesitated. "It's not your fault if there's no word."
Sneaks took the money reluctantly. Leaving him, Jim returned to the P.D. in a very depressed frame of mind.
Blair and Daryl slept, and woke again. At least their headaches had eased and they no longer felt sick or thirsty, though hunger was a continuing problem.
"Could we try to get out of here?"
Blair, who had been pondering much the same question for some time, didn't reply for a minute. Finally he said, almost reluctantly, "Too many reasons not to move, Daryl."
"But shouldn't we at least try?"
Blair's answer was indirect. "This place feels like a cave, Daryl." He fell silent again for a moment before continuing, "Naomi -- my mom -- took me to Britain once -- I was... oh, eight, maybe nine. We were going to stay for a while at a commune somewhere in the north of Scotland, Find... Findsomething, I don't remember the name, though we were there for about six months. For some reason, she made a vacation out of the first part of the trip -- we did some touring, some sightseeing, starting in the south of England and moving northwards."
"And you were just a kid? Cool!"
"It might have been, if it had been the only time it happened, but up until I was sixteen, Naomi took me all over the world. It was just another place we visited. Anyway, one of the places we visited on that trip was a cave with guided tours into it. We went in just two or three hundred yards, and without the artificial light provided, it was completely dark. At one point, the guide switched off the light and pretended to leave us. And yeah, someone screamed. When the guide put the light on again, he showed us a hole in the roof. He said it led into the cellars of a castle; several hundred years earlier, the owner of the castle used the cave as a dungeon -- put the prisoners into it through that hole. He didn't even close off the mouth of the cave or put a guard there. In the dark, the prisoners were completely disoriented. Nobody ever escaped.
"That's the position we're in. I'd like to try; but it's just not practical, for much the same reasons that none of those prisoners escaped. We can't see anything; we'd have to crawl, and crawl slowly, so that we didn't bump into anything. You know how long it took us to find the water, and that was with the sound to guide us." He didn't want to think about the short time when, despite his attempts to keep them together, he and Daryl had crawled a little way apart while they looked for the water -- and how difficult it had been to find each other again.
"Yes, but we're at the wall of the cave now. We could follow that."
"It's tempting, I know -- but there might be holes in the floor that could drop us hundreds of feet. Or the roof might suddenly get lower, and we could walk - or crawl - into it, bang our heads -- even moving quite slowly, that would hurt. At the moment, we're not actually injured, just cold and uncomfortable. Or we could end up falling into a pool like the one here. Would you really like to be wet as well as cold and uncomfortable?"
The question was rhetorical; Daryl clearly realized that, for he remained silent.
"There could be a maze of tunnels and following the wall could take us anywhere -- even nowhere. There was another cave we visited, a mine where they dug out a semi-precious stone called Blue John. The miners had left big columns of the stone to hold up the roof. If what we're beside is something like that -- a central column rather than the cave wall -- we could go around and around and around it, tiring ourselves out and getting nowhere. But even without that, even if there's only the one tunnel, we don't know which way is out -- I can't feel any movement of the air that might give us a clue -- and we have a fifty percent chance of guessing wrong. We could spend long enough going deeper into the cave instead of towards the entrance. It would use energy we aren't going to have. We know there's water here; we don't know if there's water anywhere else. Without water, we'll die very quickly. The longer we can stay alive, the better our chances of being found in time."
But although he was trying to sound hopeful, trying to persuade Daryl he thought they could be found, Blair had very little hope that they would be found. Ever.
Three days passed.
Simon had asked all the departments for help -- but report after report came back negative. Nobody, in any department, heard anything from their snitches. It was as if the two missing men had fallen off the face of the earth.
"I don't think they're in Cascade at all." Joel had just returned from another fruitless talk with his main informant.
"If they're even still alive," Simon said dully.
Jim took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'd know if Sandburg was dead," he said quietly. "It's part of what we are, Simon. You don't need to know the details, but it started with the fountain... and it's grown stronger since then. I don't know where he is -- it doesn't tell me that -- but I do know he's alive." It was, he knew, the only thing keeping him in control of his emotions -- that awareness of Blair in a corner of his mind.
Simon shook his head. "All right, I'll accept that you know Sandburg is alive. But I don't have that assurance about Daryl. Hell, Jim, we don't even know that the two of them are together! It could be sheer coincidence that they both disappeared at the same time. Daryl could be lying dead in the middle of the Sound for all I know." His sudden forcefulness was short-lived; elbow on his desk, he allowed his head to droop, resting his forehead against the hand that hid his face.
"Blair." Daryl broke another lengthy silence.
Blair, who had been half meditating, pulled his mind back to his surroundings. "Yeah?"
"Why don't cops' marriages last? I mean -- they've been divorced for a few years now, but Mom still loves Dad and I know she misses him a lot, though she'd never tell him. But she always says she had to leave, she couldn't live with him anymore. And Dad still loves her. So why did they split? And they're not the only ones. Half the guys at the P.D. are divorced. So are a couple of the women cops."
"Being a cop -- it's a dangerous job, Daryl. You know there have been times your dad's been hurt."
"And he's not even on the street a lot of the time. Someone whose spouse works out on the street never knows if he -- or she -- will come home safe or if there'll be a phone call one night, or maybe someone from the P.D. will arrive, to say her husband -- or his wife -- has been hurt on the job, maybe even killed. After a while, it becomes impossible to live with that sort of steady, subconscious anxiety. Then there are the hours. Depends on which department he's in, of course, but cops can often be late getting off duty, maybe hours late, and he might not always be able to call home to let his wife know. Something happens just before shift ends, there's a callout -- they'll get home when the crisis is over, but probably not before that. And there are some of the things a cop sees -- but at the time he has to seem totally unmoved by them. Then he goes home and either yells at his family for no reason or completely represses everything. That's what Jim does. Even though she was in forensics and knew the score, Carolyn couldn't deal with the way Jim closed down; and the worse he felt about something, the tighter he controlled himself. She could have coped with him... oh, collapsing in hysterics... but that's not Jim. I'd guess your dad is the same."
"Yeah, he doesn't say much about what he does. It's hard sometimes, and I'm really only seeing him on weekends when he's off duty. How do you manage with Jim? You guys have been living together for years."
Blair chuckled. "Oh, we've had our fights in the past and we'll probably have a few more in the future." If we get out of here alive. "But I understand what motivates Jim. And I've ridden with him right from the start, from pretty well the day I met him. I might not be with him all the time, but I've seen a lot of the things he's seen -- so I know, in a way that Carolyn didn't, just where he's at. And if he's late, I'm just as likely to be with him." He fell silent for a moment, then said, "Daryl, do you still want to be a cop? Even though you know a lot of the problems a cop has when he's off duty? The personal problems?"
"Most of the time, yeah. Sometimes when I'm with Mom and she's feeling down -- and I know she's feeling down because she misses Dad -- I wonder if it's the right way to go, but yeah, I do still want to be a cop. I just think, though, that I won't ever get married."
"Well, you could change your mind about that," Blair said. "You meet the right person, and before you know it, you're hitched."
"No," Daryl said, suddenly sounding much older than his nineteen years. "I wouldn't want to make anyone as unhappy as Mom is." After a moment, he added fiercely, "And don't you dare tell Dad I said she's unhappy."
"He's a detective, Daryl. I'd guess he knows. But he is what he is, and his job's too important to him to let anything get in his way when he's doing it." He reached out to touch Daryl's arm. "He wants to see you doing well; he doesn't want to see you in a job that could spoil your marriage the way being a cop spoiled his. At the same time, I think he's pleased and proud that you want to be a cop, too. Just don't ever expect him to say so."
"Blair, when will you get your Ph.D.?" Daryl asked.
Blair wondered if, like him, Daryl suspected that they would probably die in here. He could play along with discussing the future, though; the more positive they could keep their thoughts, the better their chances of remaining sane in this not-quite-sensory-deprived situation. He answered with a cheerfulness he hoped Daryl wouldn't recognise as forced. "With any luck I'll get it pretty soon."
"What are you going to do once you get it?"
"I'm... not sure," Blair said. "I doubt I can get a job at Rainier, and I don't want to move away. I could go the road of the perpetual student, of course; pick another subject, and aim for a doctorate in that, too, another five or six years down the line, but I don't think I'd get any more grants. I already have a minor in psychology -- it'd be useful to extend my knowledge of that if I'm going to keep on riding with Jim and working with the P.D.. But... I don't know, Daryl. I enjoy learning -- I've always enjoyed learning new things -- but I can do that just by living. You spend your entire life learning new things unless you deliberately close your mind off. I'm beginning to feel, though, that I've had enough of studying."
Daryl thought about that for a moment. "Yeah," he said slowly. "When I was younger, I thought that learning and studying were the same thing, but they aren't. You can study without really learning anything."
"That's right. I've known some guys who could ace every test they were ever given, but it was all empty knowledge. They couldn't use what they'd learned. One of them.... It was while I was at Find - Findhorn! That was the name. The kids at the commune had to go to school like everyone else, and one of them.... He was eight or nine, like me, in the same class as I was. We got lessons in road safety, and one day, a week or two after I joined the class, we were tested on it. He came out top of the class. A hundred percent. Every question right. Four o'clock that afternoon, on our way home.... He was fooling around, forgot everything we'd been taught, and ran out in the road without looking, right into the path of a car. He survived... but he was brain damaged, and had spinal injuries that meant he would probably never walk right again. He was in the hospital for a month, and I saw him after he got home. One leg was all right, but the other -- he had no strength in it. Had to use a crutch. Funny, I haven't thought about him in years.... But he was a perfect example of someone who didn't learn what he studied."
Daryl was silent for a moment, then said, "What about teaching? Would you like to do that?"
Blair shook his head, forgetting for a split second that Daryl couldn't see him. Then, remembering, he said, "No, not teaching. I've been down that road. I think I was a fairly good teacher -- at least, most of my students usually got pretty reasonable results -- but I found it so frustrating at times.... Anthro 101, for example, often got the ones who needed academic credits, thought anthropology would be an easy option, and whined when they discovered it wasn't.
"Okay, with a Ph.D., I'd be teaching the more advanced classes; but even there some of the students -- the ones filling their humanities requirements -- still aren't really interested in the subject. All they want is the paper qualification."
"It isn't easy being a teacher, is it?" Daryl sounded as if he'd never realized that before.
"No, it isn't. It takes hours to prepare the work -- no matter how well you know your subject, you have to know exactly what you want to say from class to class. When it comes to grading essays and tests, you're facing long evenings of solid grind, wondering at times just how you failed so badly with some of the students. Even when they all get things right, you can find yourself surprised that you got through to them all, rather than pleased that you did. You're a student, Daryl -- you can't tell me everyone in your classes is equally interested in what you're doing."
"Well, no -- there are some that don't seem interested at all, hardly ever show up at lectures."
"And don't think that your lecturers don't notice, and sometimes wonder where they're going wrong even when they know they're not at fault, that nothing they do is going to catch these guys' interest." Blair paused for a moment, thinking.
"Some anthropologists do a lot of work in the field, studying the way of life of tribes that are just moving out of the Stone Age -- in some cases, desperately trying to hang on to the hunter-gatherer life they know -- and writing papers and books about them, but unless you're very lucky you really can't make a living that way. The potential audience isn't big enough. You'd have to take a camera along and make a film about the tribe -- and that isn't always easy, either, because some of those people think that if you take their picture, you're stealing their souls. And some of them suffered a lot at the hands of early settlers who considered them little more than animals, so they're hostile towards strangers, even now, several generations later."
"Have you ever met any tribes like that?" Daryl asked.
"No, though I've encountered one that thought people with white skin had to be evil spirits. I know of ones where strangers are accepted as being people, but are watched very suspiciously. A year or two ago, a friend of mine was in an expedition to contact the Korubo in the Amazon rain forest. One of their party -- not someone I knew -- was killed."
Blair paused again, putting his thoughts together.
"Dr. Stoddard was lucky -- he has an entertaining style of writing, so financially his books haven't done too badly, but he can't make a living from them. At one time I contributed papers regularly to magazines and the income from that let me eat jelly with my peanut butter, but once I started working with Jim, studying the P.D., I wasn't in a position to write any more articles of interest to the magazines that knew me. If I did try to break into the writing market again -- Well, it's been four years, and the editors I worked with have probably pretty well forgotten my name. In some cases, the editors have changed and the new ones won't know me. So... I really don't know what I'll do."
"What about the P.D.? You're already a consultant there."
"There's just one thing wrong with that option," Blair said slowly. "Yes, I enjoy working with Jim and the rest of the guys, a lot more than I ever thought I would when I first started as an observer. There's a challenge in detective work I never used to realize was there."
"Dad always says it can be soul-destroying, and I've thought he said it to discourage me," Daryl said.
"Well, some of it can be pretty soul-destroying, when you know something but can't prove it, or when you're slogging away at something and don't seem to be getting anywhere, but there's a real buzz when you solve something and see a perp put away where he can't hurt anyone anymore. I'd like to be Jim's full-time official partner. Hell, I'd love to be Jim's full-time official partner! But as far as I can see, if I was looking at a full-time job at the P.D., I'd either have to stop working with Jim and sit behind a desk, or take firearms training. I don't want to sit behind a desk all day, and I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be carrying a gun."
"But you have thought about it," Daryl said.
"Yes; I have thought about it," Blair replied. "I haven't been able to give myself an answer, though."
"They will find us, won't they?" There was a slight tremor in Daryl's voice. It was the first time that either of them had actually broached the subject.
Blair took a deep breath, knowing that his first instinct, to give the easy answer, would be a mistake. If Daryl had still been fourteen, he might have given it, but Daryl was nineteen now -- too old to be offered false reassurance. "I don't know. I hope they will, but I'm afraid they won't."
"But they will be looking?"
"Oh yes, they'll be looking -- if there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that. All of Major Crime will have taken our disappearance personally, but how will they know where to look for us? They'll start in Cascade, but I don't think that's where we are."
"You don't?" Daryl asked in a surprised voice.
"I think we're somewhere miles from Cascade. How many caves do you know of near Cascade? I can't think of any."
"What made you decide to go to college after all?"
"Especially since I still want to be a cop?"
"Mmhm. Your dad was pleased that you'd 'listened to him' -- but you didn't, did you?"
"Nah, not really. It was more something you said... how valuable a degree would be if I was interested in getting promoted, whatever I finally decided to do... and that I was old enough to make up my own mind. Dad was so... you know, sure that he knew what was best for me, and I was, like, rebelling. He was the one pushing me towards Duke. I think maybe part of that was to get me as far away from Cascade as possible -- as far away from cop life as he could imagine, since I wouldn't have any reason to go near the police department there."
Blair nodded to himself, sure that Daryl had called that one correctly. "And was that why you chose Rainier, instead?" he asked. "So you wouldn't be so far away? Could still have potential contact with the cops?"
"Oh man, when did I ever visit Cascade P.D. unless it was to see Dad? No. I sure didn't want to go into medicine or engineering, and that's what Duke's best known for!"
"It's not bad for history and English, either, you know."
Daryl ignored Blair's comment. "Rainier could give me Criminal Studies and Forensic Science. But part of it -- a lot of it -- was Mom. She never wanted me to go to Duke. 'Too far away', she said, like I didn't know that. She and Dad had a big fight about it -- worse than any I remember ever hearing before they separated. In the end, I said it was my choice, and I wanted to stay in Cascade. I know, it sounds like Mom was using emotional blackmail on me, but it wasn't really. I think she had a picture of me, without her keeping an eye on me, enjoying the social life so much that I'd forget to study."
"Well, that happens," Blair said drily. "I was never really tempted that way, but sometimes I wonder if I would have been, if I'd been two or three years older. You're there now, Daryl -- what would you think about a sixteen-year-old in your class trying to join in, hang out with you and your friends?"
"Too young, man. Just a nuisance."
"Right." There was a wry note in Blair's voice -- almost bitter, as he remembered the way his enthusiastic younger self had been brushed off by his fellow freshmen. The passing years had brought understanding. He had clearly been underage back then, and his presence would have been a dead giveaway when the others tried to pass themselves off as being of legal drinking age. In addition, although in some respects he had possessed a maturity beyond his years, in others he was still naive -- especially when it came to the sexual innuendo favored by the other students. He pulled his mind away from the memories, and went on. "A couple of years makes a big difference when you're in your teens."
"I was just fourteen when we first met, but you never treated me like a kid."
"Well, I was older, remember. You weren't almost-but-not-quite in the same age group, trying to be one of the crowd. And now, you're old enough for the age difference not to matter at all."
"What makes some people criminals?" Daryl asked.
"If we knew that, we could maybe do something to help them before it's too late," Blair said. "You'll hear it blamed on poverty, on parental neglect... but sometimes they come from good and loving homes, and there are plenty of good people from homes where there isn't much money, but who don't turn to crime. Hell, most people don't. I think some of it has to be greed, or maybe it gives them a feeling of power."
"Is there anywhere that doesn't have criminals?"
"Hunter-gatherer tribes," Blair said. It was becoming more of an effort to think, to hold a coherent conversation, but his mind could access lectures he had given and produce facts almost automatically; and, more importantly, it gave Daryl something to take his mind off their situation. "In cultures where nobody has much in the way of possessions, there's no motive to steal. Those tribes usually share everything they have anyway. There's one tribe I visited where if you admired something it was automatically given to you, whatever it was; it caused us some trouble till we learned not to openly admire what we saw. It doesn't mean, though, that there wasn't the occasional murder, or the theft of a woman from another tribe."
Blair paused for a moment, then carried on. "Sometimes someone will break a taboo, do something that's considered anti-social, and when that happens, he's punished -- usually by being shunned. He's 'dead' to the tribe for a stated time -- nobody, even his family, will look at him, speak to him, he has to fend for himself.... It can be pretty traumatic for him.
"Some historians have theorised that most of man's problems arrived with the growth of towns. The development of agriculture gave people a vested interest in staying in one place, and a farming community might end up living in a small village, farming all the ground around it. It was okay while those villages remained small; but once they started to grow bigger, with craftsmen and merchants living there as well.... You take rats; put too many of them in a cage and you get exactly the same kind of behavior that we see in big towns. Gangs form, they attack each other, females are raped, individuals are mobbed and killed. Selfishness rules, and guilt flies out the window."
"But when we were talking about parking cars, you said man is gregarious."
"Yes, but there's a big difference between living in a village of thirty or forty people who are all related to you -- or even if they aren't - and living in a sprawling town of thirty or forty thousand -- or three hundred thousand -- and a lot of our cities are bigger than that. In a city, you're surrounded by strangers a lot of the time. It can get pretty stressful."
"Mr. Hutton tried to tell us something like that, but he seemed to contradict himself...."
"Yeah, but remember that some people can't imagine living anywhere except in a big city. I know Steve Hutton. He's totally a city guy, one of those 'only happy in a crowd' guys I mentioned a while back. His dream vacation is a couple of weeks in a city where he can see a different show every night, like New York. He doesn't understand the mentality of people who like open countryside, who are happy with solitude or the company of just two or three friends, who go fishing or hunting or climbing. He doesn't even understand staying at home in the evening watching television. When he tries to explain the advantages of small populations, he's talking about something he knows academically, but doesn't himself understand. It's like... oh, like trying to explain musical harmonies to someone who's totally tone-deaf, or shades of red or green to someone who's completely color-blind."
"Oh." There was a long silence. "Blair...?"
"You said even in places where there isn't theft, there might still be murder."
"What makes someone kill? And how can a killer not feel guilty about it?"
"Well, a lot of murders are domestic. A sudden quarrel, when someone hits out, or a slow build-up of anger that suddenly hits boiling point.... Those people probably do feel guilty, but they'll think of some way to transfer the blame to the victim -- 'She shouldn't have...' 'If she'd only...' 'She made me...' With gangs, it's often warfare -- the members of another gang are rivals."
"What about someone like a serial killer, who goes on and on..."
"With someone like a serial killer, I suppose it's the power thing. He feels powerful because he's killed someone."
"What about the guy who left us here?"
"Power again. Like I said, I think this could be a revenge thing. I think he's showing Jim and your dad that he's powerful enough to kidnap people they love, even though maybe they originally caught him. He's getting the last word. That's another quirk of the criminal mentality. Some criminals -- if they're caught and go to prison, that's the chance they took, the luck of the draw. Others, though, feel they can do whatever they want, and they resent anyone who objects to what they do, anyone who tries to stop them."
"Like saying, 'I can hit you, but don't you dare hit me back'?"
"Yes," Blair said. "That's part of what makes a cop's job so dangerous." And if this conversation doesn't make Daryl think twice about being a cop, he thought, Simon's just going to have to accept it.
Jim glanced up from the report he was attempting to study, trying in vain to read the expression on Simon's face, but instantly fearing the worst. "Yes, sir?"
Jim crossed to join Simon, who closed the door and nodded Jim into a seat. "I just got word down from Chief Warren," he said, his voice expressionless as he took his own seat. "The search for Daryl and Blair is being downgraded starting today. He didn't come right out and say so, but I'm sure he thinks they're dead -- that, otherwise, we'd have heard something from someone."
"I've been expecting that," Jim admitted. "There's been no word at all from the kidnappers, and... Dammit, Simon! How can Warren just give up on them?" His voice shook, and not even he knew if it was from anger or despair.
"Warren said he'd given us extra time because it's our own that are missing," Simon said, his voice strained. "And of course it's still on the books but, officially, I have to tell you to concentrate on some other cases. Unofficially... everyone else is willing to take on as much extra work as necessary to let you keep concentrating on Daryl and Sandburg."
"That's..." Jim swallowed, fighting unaccustomed tears, the kindness of his fellow detectives coming close to breaking his rigid self-control where a more impersonal approach would have failed. "That's good of them."
"Warren knows -- unofficially -- and he hasn't ordered them not to. He had his time on the street; he knows what it's like to lose... " Simon's voice broke as he fought for self-control. After a moment, he looked closely at Jim. "How are you doing, anyway? I know your senses have done odd things in the past when you've been stressed."
Jim shook his head. "They were okay to start with, but this last couple of days, they're sort of fading in and out -- sometimes they seem as sharp as ever, sometimes they seem to fade to almost nothing. I don't think I ever realized just how much Sandburg's presence anchors them. Of course, we haven't been apart for this long, with no contact at all, since we met. If we don't find him... I suspect they'll fade back to normal." He was silent for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. "I keep blaming myself, you know. That damned video.... Blair didn't want to bother taking it back that night, but I kept on and on about it, about wanting to watch something decent, until he gave in. If he hadn't gone out that night, he'd be here now."
"We don't know that," Simon said, his voice hoarse. "If this is a revenge thing, if the kidnappers hadn't taken Blair that night, they'd have grabbed him some other time, probably the next day. What I don't understand is why we haven't had any word." He rubbed his forehead with the fingers of both hands, trying to ease the threatening headache. "Joan blames me, you know."
"How can she? It wasn't as if he was staying with you."
"If I'd insisted he go to Duke instead of Rainier, he wouldn't have been here to be abducted." There was a bitter note in his voice." Forget that she never wanted him to go to Duke, encouraged him to choose Rainier."
"Simon, if you're right and they were both targets, would it have mattered where he was? He could have been taken from Duke just as easily."
Simon nodded. After a moment, he went on. "Have you managed to contact Naomi yet?"
Jim shook his head. "I tried all the numbers Blair has as emergency contacts for her, but none of the people had seen her for a while. I've left word with all of them for her to call me -- or you, if I'm not available -- if she gets in touch with them. There's nothing else I can do; I'm not sure if she's even in the states. For all I know, she could be anywhere from meditating with a guru in Nepal to... to... " He searched for the most unlikely thing he could think of. "...To being on an expedition headed for the South Pole to commemorate Amundsen's expedition there."
"Not that -- it hasn't been a hundred years yet." Simon's comment sounded forced, then he added more thoughtfully, "Though Nepal sounds possible. She's spent time in that part of the world, hasn't she?"
"Yeah. She wrote Sandburg a while back saying she was learning how to levitate, that she was sure she had -- just for a second." Jim shook his head. "Who knows what Naomi's likely to do at any given time, where she's likely to go? I don't think Blair ever knew. She turned up from time to time, but he never knew when to expect her." He knew he sounded bitter. "She's never here when she's actually needed. Blair had those emergency numbers -- as if her friends saw more of her than he ever did -- but he admitted a while ago that he had no guarantee of ever finding her when he actually wanted her, so I don't think he ever used any of them. I quite like her, but I can see that she certainly doesn't seem to have accepted that Blair's an adult, not a child to be told what to do -- even if she does leave him to his own devices most of the time. I'm not looking forward to having to tell her that Blair's missing, and that it was my fault."
"Jim, you said it yourself just a moment ago. He's a grown man, not a child. He didn't have to go out that night."
"I kept nagging."
"Since when did Sandburg do what you told him, unless he wanted to?" Simon asked quietly.
"He gave up so much.... It's always been about what I wanted, what I needed. God, Simon... where is he? What's happening to him? To... to them. Oh God...." His self-control suddenly shattering, he found himself crying for the first time in longer than he could remember.
Simon dropped a hand onto Jim's shoulder, but, caught up in his own worry, his own control suddenly fragile, he found himself unable to utter a word.
The tour bus pulled in to a small parking area on the left-hand side of the road; the guide said, "We'll have fifteen minutes here. Be careful crossing the road, and on the other side -- it's a steep drop, and there isn't a real barrier."
The passengers climbed out of the bus and, in ones and twos, made their careful way across the road; this was only a two lane road, but as a main route through the Wenatchee National Forest it was well travelled, even though the busiest part of the vacation season was still some time away.
"Hey, just look at that view!"
"How far down do you think the bottom is?"
"Look at the snow up there! I wonder if the road is ever blocked?"
The guide grinned to herself as she joined the tourists. After a couple of years in this job, she felt she could script the comments; not that they weren't deserved. Even after two years, she still admired this particular view, placed as it was on a bend in the road, catching an angle that none of the regular viewpoints gave. It wasn't one of the scheduled stops, but it was one she usually persuaded her driver to make.
She kept a cautious eye on the young teenager who was getting just a little too close to the drop, wishing, as she often did, that there was a decent fence, at least, between the road and the steep slope below, rather than the few-inches-high curb that was there. The kid was staring down into the canyon, concentrating on something, and she moved over to him. "What do you see?" she asked, careful to speak softly in case she startled him. "I saw a coyote here once, but mostly the animals don't come so close to the road during the day. There's too much traffic noise."
The boy looked at her. "I thought I saw a wolf moving in among the trees. Well, it could have been a coyote. Then while I was trying to see what it was, I saw something shiny. I think there's a car down there."
Curious, she asked, "Where?"
Sure enough, now that he mentioned it, she could see that the weak sunlight hitting the ground below the road was shining on something among the trees three hundred feet or so down the slope -- and the conifers above it had some broken branches, as if something had fallen through them. And now that she was looking, she could see one or two bits that had probably been broken off a car as it fell.
"Someone might have pushed an old car over the edge to get rid of it," she suggested, preferring that option to the more likely one that said 'accident'.
"It wouldn't be easy to push a car over the curb," he said with the insight of youth that few adults expected, "but if one was going fast when it hit, it would somersault."
The tour guide nodded; that had occurred to her as well. "There's nothing we can do from here, but I'll get the driver to radio for the police," she said. "It could be an old accident that's already been reported. If it is they'll know about it and tell us, but I'm sure they'd rather get a repeat call than have someone assume somebody else has contacted them."
The other passengers, their photographs taken, were beginning to drift back across the road. She urged the boy to follow them, took one last look, and walked briskly back to the bus.
"It's a car all right," Dan Mathers called up when he was about a hundred feet down the slope. "And I think there's someone in the driver's seat." As he continued his descent to the car to check it out, a large bird flapped away, disturbed by his approach.
Having torn its way through the branches of smaller trees for some distance, the car had finally been stopped by a tree that was much larger than most of the others nearby. The car's windows were shattered, and it was lying on its partly-crushed roof, the trunk crumpled against the tree. The driver was still held in place by his seat belt. It was impossible to tell if he had died immediately or later, trapped upside-down, perhaps injured, unable to release the restraint. The arm that projected from the window was little more than bone; remembering the bird, Mathers knew where the flesh had gone. The sickly smell of decay, not detectable from the road, hung over the scene.
While his partner, Jeff Lewis, radioed back to Everett's P.D. recovery and forensics teams, Mathers hauled himself back up the slope and onto the road, leaving the ropes in place.
They spoke briefly with the tour guide, and the boy and his parents, then let the much-delayed bus continue on its way. After a look around the road above the wreck, the two Patrolmen returned to their car to wait for the forensic examiner.
The driver of the vehicle had clearly been dead for some days; another hour or two wasn't going to make any difference to him.
"What's that smell? I noticed it a while ago, and it's getting worse."
Blair had noticed the smell, too, and didn't like the implications. "I think we can be grateful we can't see anything," he muttered. "There's a body in here with us. Maybe not right here, but somewhere in this cave. Even though it's pretty cold here, it's beginning to decompose."
Blair nodded automatically even though Daryl couldn't see him. "It's a smell you never forget," he said quietly. "And if you're going to be a cop, it's a smell you'll meet again."
"It's not an animal?" Daryl asked.
Again Blair chose not to give the younger man the easy answer. "No, it's not an animal. That's got a slightly different smell. It's definitely a human."
"Someone else who was kidnapped, like us?"
"It could be, but I don't think so. Whoever took us didn't try to kill us right away, after all." Suddenly afraid, Blair thought, Please, don't let it be Jim or Simon!
"I don't know. But I wonder if whoever kidnapped us hired some muscle to help him, then once we were in here, killed the muscle to dispose of a possible witness?" I hope!
"Oh. That would make it harder for Dad to find us, wouldn't it? If only the one person knows where we are?"
"Yeah." Where's Wolf when I need him? It was beginning to seem to Blair that only the intervention of his spirit animal was going to help -- but Wolf, who had been so helpful the last time Blair was stuck in a hole in the ground, was, this time, conspicuous by his absence. Was this being used by the spirit plane as some sort of test? Perhaps. But what could he realistically do? He had already tried meditating. He had tried imagining himself back at the loft, trying to communicate with Jim. Neither seemed to have accomplished any good at all.
Everett P.D. had inherited the case of the crashed car.
"It's a rental car," Jake Reubens said. "Rented a couple of weeks ago in Spokane by a guy called Simon Banks, and paid up for a week. The company reported it stolen when Banks failed to return it. They sent someone to the address he gave, but couldn't get an answer. They weren't exactly happy to learn it had been totaled. Seemed more concerned about the car than about Banks."
Mark McKenzie, busy with the details of a more straightforward accident, shrugged. "Has anyone tracked down Banks, found out anything about him?"
"No. There are five families in Spokane called Banks, and none of them have reported any of their relatives missing; one of them has a cousin Simon who's a cop in Cascade, but it's unlikely to be him -- the family's black, and our Banks was white. The Spokane P.D. went to the address the guy gave, and got no answer, either, so they checked up with the neighbors. A guy named Sturges lives at the address, but nobody's seen him for two or three weeks. Nobody could give a definite time when they'd last seen him. Someone knew where he worked, but he hasn't been there, either, for close to a month, and he didn't call in sick. The cops broke in and checked the house -- nothing in it to say that when he went out, he hadn't just gone out for the day. Milk, cheese, eggs in the fridge, but he'd been away long enough that the cheese was moldy and the milk very sour, even in the fridge. The eggs were a week past their use-by date. What they did find, though, was paperwork from a foreign bank account containing four million dollars."
McKenzie whistled. "Four million?"
"One thing -- he wasn't Banks, either; the description was all wrong."
"Guy can change his appearance easy enough."
"Yeah, but he was smaller -- Sturges was described as about six feet tall; Banks was around six foot five. Man tries to disguise himself, he grows facial hair -- Sturges and Banks were both clean-shaven."
McKenzie grunted. They fell into a routine they often used, with one arguing as devil's advocate and the other trying to find a logical answer. "It's always possible Banks was visiting Sturges for a few days and rented a car using the address where he was staying, rather than his home address."
"Okay. It looks like a straightforward accident... right?"
"So what about that case full of money Forensics found in the car? Nearly two hundred thousand dollars."
"Well, we know it probably wasn't from a heist -- there haven't been any thefts involving that amount of money anywhere for hundreds of miles around. It could have been the guy's savings, not banked because he didn't trust banks."
"Possible. So why was he driving so fast? Mountain road, maybe icy, possibly dark -- "
"We don't know it was dark -- that was just the guess the kid on the bus made, though I'd agree it seems probable. As for the fast driving -- a lot of people drive too fast. Too many."
The phone buzzed. McKenzie, nearer to it, answered. "Officer McKenzie."
"Forensics here. Can you come down?"
"On our way."
The two patrolmen walked into the room where the pathologist was checking the body. He gestured them to a table. "He had those envelopes in his pocket."
Reubens looked down at the two envelopes. Both carried stamps, as if the dead man had been intending to mail them. One was addressed to Jim Ellison, Cascade P.D.; the other, to the same address, was for Captain Simon Banks.
Jim Ellison looked up from the report from Steve Hutton at Rainier, that he was rereading for the fiftieth time in the hope -- which he knew was vain -- of finding something in the simple statement that might indicate where Daryl had gone. "Yeah?"
There was a lifeless quality in Jim's voice that worried Simon, although he knew the reason for it; the same dull hopelessness was present in his own mind every waking minute. Daryl and Blair had been missing now for eight days, and Simon knew that with the official search called off a couple of days earlier, every day that passed reduced the chances of finding them alive.
"Would you come in here a minute?"
Phrased as a question, it was, as Jim knew, an order. He put Hutton's statement down and pushed himself to his feet. He was bone-weary with the exhaustion that comes with near despair, a good night's sleep a distant memory. And above all was the knowledge that he had failed the man whose very presence, some four years previously, had saved his sanity -- a knowledge, an awareness, that was slowly returning him to that same insanity.
The two men waiting in Simon's office were cops Jim didn't recognize. He had seen them going into the office two or three minutes earlier, but hadn't been interested enough to wonder who they were or why they were there.
"This is Detective Ellison," Simon was saying. "Jim, Lieutenants Reubens and McKenzie from Everett." Jim nodded automatically. "Gentlemen?" Simon nodded for the visitors to explain their presence.
"Yesterday, a tourist saw where a car had gone off the road through the Wenatchee National Forest. When the Highway Patrol checked it, they found the driver was dead, so it landed in our laps. The forensic examination of the driver found these letters in his pocket." He nodded to the sheet of paper in Simon's hand and then handed an envelope to Jim.
As he took the envelope, Jim noted that it had already been opened. He stared at the address on it for a moment before taking out the sheet of paper inside.
As you read this, your consultant partner is still alive, but six weeks from now he will be dead. You will never find him or his body no matter how long you search. It's already been buried.
He ruined my life. I am taking his.*
There was no signature.
Jim read it twice, then looked up, holding it out to Simon, to find that Simon was offering him the sheet of paper he'd been holding. There was a set look on Simon's face, a look that Jim knew his own face mirrored; neither man dared relax the iron control he had on his facial muscles for fear of breaking down.
Real men never cry. Why had Jim never realized until now how insidious his father's teaching had been? But at that moment he found himself grateful for that teaching. He couldn't break down; he had work to do.
Numbly, he took the paper.
*I always hated you, Banks -- and after what you did, I hate you even more. And while I sit enjoying the sun far from Cascade, I will, for a while, have the pleasure of knowing that your son is dying, and there's nothing you can do about it. He has at most six weeks to live.
You always thought you were better than me -- but I'm having the last laugh.*
Jim looked up. "It's different handwriting," he said.
Simon nodded. He looked at their two visitors. "My son and Ellison's partner have been missing for over a week. These letters... are from the kidnappers." He took back the letter addressed to him, and handed both to the men from Everett, since the letters were evidence in what was now clearly something more involved than the straightforward fatal accident they had originally thought they were investigating.
Reubens looked up sharply as McKenzie took the letters and glanced over them. "Kidnappers? But there was only one guy in the car."
"So they split up," Simon said.
Jim suddenly came back to life. "What else can you tell us?" and it seemed to the two visitors that there was something predatory in his attitude.
"Well, the dead guy had no ID, so we traced the vehicle registration. It had been rented in Spokane by someone calling himself Simon Banks... but the person living at the address he gave was called Sturges."
"Sturges?" Jim repeated as he and Simon looked at each other.
Three strides took Simon to the door. "Rhonda -- contact Starkville. Ask them about Dave Becker -- same questions we asked about Kincaid. Any letters, visitors..."
As Simon closed the door, the two visitors looked from him to Jim, saw that Jim clearly understood what his captain was talking about, and turned their attention back to Simon again. "How do you get 'Dave Becker' from 'Sturges'?" Reubens asked.
Simon's reply was succinct. "Sturges was a crooked businessman. Becker was a dirty cop who was helping him. Becker killed two people -- one of them one of his own men -- to try to cover what he was doing." He nodded towards the letters in McKenzie's hand. "'I always hated you'," he quoted. "That makes complete sense now. Becker and I went to school together, and we never really hit it off."
"Simon," Jim said slowly. "None of our snitches has heard anything. For nobody to have heard anything on the street is more than unusual. Now, the car our friends here found was rented in Spokane, and Sturges was living in Spokane... "
"You think... you think Sturges maybe hired someone and took Daryl and Sandburg to Spokane?" Simon was quick to follow Jim's line of thought.
"Maybe not Spokane itself... maybe somewhere fairly near Spokane. What about Rossburg? His home town."
There was a knock on the door, and Rhonda looked in. "Dave Becker escaped over a month ago," she said. "They didn't even apologize for not letting us know."
"Make that their home town," Simon said grimly. "Thanks, Rhonda."
"They're not going to find us, are they." It was not a question. Daryl's voice held a hopeless note it had previously lacked.
"I'm afraid not." We've already had this conversation, or something very like it, Blair thought.
"Do you think they're still looking?"
"I'm sure they are." He would have said it even if he hadn't believed it, but he was aware that time was running out for them. They were both getting steadily weaker -- and although he might be very reluctant to do so, Chief Warren was soon going to call off any search that was still in progress, if he hadn't already done so.
They fell silent again. It was becoming more and more of an effort to think straight and hold any sort of conversation, though they were still exchanging the odd word from time to time.
Blair ran his fingers through his beard, trying to assess from its length how long they had been here. Combining its length with his growing weakness... too long. He drifted into a meditative state, thinking about his sentinel friend. As he had already done several times, he tried to reach out with his mind, sending his consciousness in search of the one person who would be able to hear him; but even as he did, he was aware of the uselessness of it. Even if he made contact, all he could do was let Jim know they were still alive; he had no idea where they were.
And -- as he had thought before -- just where the hell was Wolf when he was needed?
Although he had turned a blind eye to their unofficial continuation of the search, Chief Warren was more sympathetic to Jim and Simon's request for time off to go to Rossburg than either might have expected. He even took the time to contact the sheriff's office there and arrange for them to see Sheriff Rogers on their arrival, telling the man the situation and sparing them the distress of having to explain it to him in detail.
They drove to Rossburg overnight, trading off every hour to keep from getting too tired (though neither slept during his hours as a passenger), arriving a little after 7 a.m. Finding a small cafe, they went in for an unwanted coffee to pass the time till they could expect Rogers to be in his office.
When they entered his office, they realized that Rogers seemed just a little nervous; after greeting them, he hesitated for a moment, before blurting, "Captain Banks, I'm sorry. We had no reason to doubt Dave Becker when he accused you of killing Peggy Anderson. I mean..."
"It's all right, Sheriff," Simon said quietly. "It was totally personal. Becker and I -- we'd always been rivals. I just never realized how much he actually hated me."
"And now he's suspected of kidnapping your son? And a civilian consultant to your department?"
"Yes," Simon said. "I know Chief Warren gave you some of the details..."
"Yes, but what he didn't explain was why you think they might be here."
"It's a pretty long shot," Jim said quietly, "but it's the only one we've got. There's been no word at all in Cascade; we decided a while ago that Daryl and Sandburg must have been taken outside Cascade, but there was nothing to indicate where. Now we've discovered there's a link with Art Sturges, and the information that both Daryl and Sandburg had 'six weeks to live' and that Sandburg 'was already buried'. Sturges knows this area. Simon tells me there was silver mining around here back in the nineteenth century. We think 'already buried' could mean they've been put in an old mine, left there to die." His voice was grim. "That way, they'd already be in a hole in the ground and Sturges wouldn't need to go back to hide the bodies. They'd already be hidden."
Rogers looked from one to the other.
"I knew some of those old mines when I was a boy here," Simon said, "but I've forgotten where most of them are. I'm sure that today's teenagers know them, though, just as well as my generation did."
"You want to check them out," Rogers said.
"Yes," Jim agreed, "but we'll need someone who knows them to lead us to them."
"They've mostly been sealed off," Rogers said. "They were getting to be too dangerous -- cave-ins, for example -- it was only going to be a matter of time before one of the kids was killed." He looked at Simon. "You grew up here... you know what it was like."
Simon nodded. "Chicken," he said. "A sign saying 'Danger' was an invitation for us to dare someone to go in."
"Yeah. And these worked-out mines are so old, nobody knows who should actually be responsible for them. They were so worried about it, some of the guys got together five or six years ago, and dynamited the entrances of a lot of them. We didn't close them all -- we left all the ones that seemed to be safe enough, as part of the town's history -- but we did close around... oh, around two-thirds of them."
"I don't suppose that stops the kids from looking for more," Simon said. "We used to do that sometimes -- go looking for undiscovered mines."
"I don't know about looking for lost mines," Rogers said, "but there's a history teacher at the school who's been compiling a list of the ones that are known. He might be able to help you." He glanced at his watch. "He'll be at the school by now."
Rogers took them to the High School. Both Jim and Simon guessed that it was partly to make amends for his initial behavior the first time they met him, but also partly the response of a conscientious sheriff who took crimes committed inside his jurisdiction personally.
They found Martin Young in his classroom, reading essays. He looked up as they entered. "Sheriff? What brings you here?"
Rogers introduced Jim and Simon, explaining who they were and why they were there, adding, "You're the best source of local information on the old mines."
"Well, I do have a list of them, and a map showing their positions," Young said. He turned to search in an overflowing cupboard. "I keep telling myself I should get a real filing system for all this, but I never seem to have the time... Ah, here we are." He retrieved a folder and straightened, opening it. From the papers in it he selected a single sheet folded in four; pausing to put the tests he'd been grading on his chair, he unfolded it and laid it out across his table.
It was a large-scale map. "Covers about ten miles in each direction," Young said. "There are more mines further away, of course. What I have marked here are the ones inside the maximum distance anyone could travel from here and get back in a day -- the miners probably lived in small camps beside their mines, of course -- maybe came back to Rossburg on the weekends to sell what they'd mined. This is the limit of the ones today's youngsters might reach."
"Yesterday's youngsters, too," Simon said. "We used to explore the area looking for old mines."
"You lived here?"
Simon nodded. "I left when I was eighteen. I used to know where a lot of the mines were, but I've forgotten most of them now."
Young nodded. "I suppose the Sheriff will have told you a lot were dynamited shut."
"Yes. As a responsible adult I agree that was the best thing to do. Nostalgia, though... nostalgia says it's a pity -- even though, in hindsight, I realize we were really lucky that none of us were killed in one of the mines."
"Quite a few of the teenage boys didn't speak to their fathers for days afterwards -- the fathers who were involved, that is." Young chuckled. "My daughter told me, in confidence, that we'd destroyed the boys' 'rite of manhood' challenge. Knowing that the adults considered the mines they'd open left were safe -- it took away most of the fun of exploring them."
"Yeah, I suppose you could call it a 'rite of manhood'," Simon agreed, forcing himself to make polite conversation when every instinct urged him to grab Young's map. "We thought of it just as a dare, but you're right, anyone who chickened out of a trip into one of the mines... we called him a baby." He leaned over the map, clearly signalling that he wanted to get down to business. "So -- which mines are still open?"
"The ones marked in black," Young said, indicating several. "The ones circled in red are closed."
"Right. Can we borrow this map? Or a copy of it?" Jim asked.
"Yes, of course," Young said. "Just take this one. I have another copy of it at home."
"Though -- I'm not convinced it's got all of the known ones," Young added. "From something I overheard one of the boys saying, I think his older brother knows one mine he's keeping quiet about for some reason. The kid seemed to think that it might not be completely worked out, and that the brother is hoping to reopen it one day." He shrugged. "I wouldn't say it's impossible, but the days of making any sort of money from one of those small mines are long past."
Jim, Simon and Rogers took their leave, then spent the day visiting most of the mines marked as 'open', and found nothing to indicate that any of them had been visited in weeks. Eventually, with Jim and Simon close to exhaustion and the last couple of mines too far away to reach that night, they realized they had to abandon the search for the day.
As they reached Rogers' office, the sheriff asked, "Where are you staying?"
"We hadn't thought that far ahead, but I suppose the hotel's been rebuilt by now?" Simon asked.
"Yes. It reopened about eighteen months ago. Billy Cates is still managing it, of course -- the day they get that guy to retire, there'll be purple snow." As Jim and Simon turned to leave, he added, "I'll see you first thing in the morning."
"That means as soon as it's daylight," Jim warned, and closed the door without waiting for a reply.
They retrieved Simon's car from the small parking lot at the sheriff's office and drove to the hotel.
Billy welcomed them with a cheerfulness that was quickly muted when he heard why they were there, and shook his head when Simon asked him about old mines. "You always knew more about them than I did, Simon," he said. "I never cared about those old mines. It was always hotels and restaurants that fascinated me. When I was a boy, I was more interested in hanging around my daddy's restaurant, learning the business, than I was in wandering around the countryside. You want to know anything about hotels or restaurants -- I'm your man. Anything else..." He shook his head.
"Well, Billy, we're looking for two single rooms with queen-size beds," Simon said. "I don't know how long we'll be staying."
"Right. Rooms 446 and 448. Since it's you, Simon, and you're here on business, so to speak, I can let you have them for seventy five a night. Each," he added almost as an afterthought as he put the keys on the counter.
Although the beds were very comfortable, neither Jim nor Simon slept well, despite their lack of sleep the previous night. Next morning, without stopping to eat, they returned to Rogers' office, finding the sheriff already there although it was barely 7 a.m.
They set off immediately in Rogers' car and checked the last two mines marked as 'open' on the map. As on the previous day, they found no sign of any recent visitors, although Jim suspected that several of them were used as dens by wild animals. They decided to investigate two or three of the closed mines nearby, and found, as they'd expected, that these were still properly sealed by fallen rock.
As they returned to Rossburg in mid-afternoon, all three were tired and more than a little dispirited. "About the only chance left is to speak to the boy Young mentioned," Rogers said as they entered his office. "If his brother does know about another mine -- it has to be your last chance."
"I'm not giving up," Jim said grimly. "Not while there's any chance at all."
"How much time is left?" Rogers asked.
"They've been missing for ten days. If they've been left in an old mine to starve to death, that gives them a good two weeks yet, at the very least, before their condition deteriorates to the point where full recovery is virtually impossible. We've got that long to find another mine, or maybe a cave, that isn't on Young's map; and if I have to walk over every inch of ground for ten miles around to look for one, I will." He was holding on to his self-control by sheer willpower.
A young cop who was filing some papers swung round. "I know a mine that isn't on Mr. Young's map."
All three stared at him. "You do?" Rogers asked. "Oh... Detective Ellison, Captain Banks -- this is Tom Matheson."
"Matheson?" Banks said. The name sounded familiar.
Rogers nodded. "Yeah -- the cop Becker killed was Tom's big brother. Okay, Tom... what about this mine?"
"It was about nine, ten years ago. Ricky and Zack Sturges, Pete Brewster and me -- we found this old mine. It's got a really narrow entrance, so it's not easy to see. We had flashlights because we were looking for mines, so we went in...." He hesitated, as if wondering if he might get into trouble, even now, for something he had done ten years previously.
Simon nodded. "We used to do that, too. Go on."
"Anyway, while we were in the mine, Zack fell -- tripped over something and hurt his leg. We were scared he'd damage it more if he tried to walk, so Ricky stayed with him, and Pete and me, we went to get help. We thought we'd better tell Zack's dad, so we went to him first. We thought he'd get some of the men to help, but he didn't. He came with us back to the cave and, between us, we got Zack out. Then Mr. Sturges said something like, 'I know you boys like looking for these old mines, but this one's proved to be too dangerous -- I want you all to promise me you won't come back here, or tell anyone else where it is'.
"We all promised -- well, we were still just kids, and we'd had a bad scare... even though it turned out Zack had only torn a ligament, not broken anything. It's the only old mine I know of that isn't on Mr. Young's map."
Jim and Simon glanced at each other. "This... " Simon's voice faltered on the tightness in his throat and he had to start again. "Ricky and Zack Sturges... Any relation to Art Sturges?"
"He's their father."
"Paydirt," Jim said quietly. In a world that had suddenly become hopeful, he was afraid to hope too much. Ten days... a man wouldn't starve to death in ten days, but he could die of thirst. Or no -- the notes had said 'six weeks'. Which had to mean they had left water for the captives. He took a deep breath to steady himself before asking, "Tom, where is this mine? Can you find it again?"
"I'm not sure... the area it was in, yes, but we only went there that one time, and it was years ago."
"Even the area is better than nothing."
Matheson looked from Jim to Simon to Rogers, and back to Jim. "It's only a couple of miles out, and it's near a road, but it's on the paper company's land. If Ricky and Zack hadn't been there, Pete and I wouldn't have been near the place."
"So we could get there this afternoon?"
"Easy, if I can find it again."
Rogers took fresh batteries for their flashlights from a cupboard and handed them out. Jim went in Matheson's car, with Simon following in the sheriff's. The road Matheson took off the main highway was narrow, and clearly seldom used. About a mile and a half along it, he pulled off the road; Rogers pulled in beside him. They got out, and Matheson pointed to an outcrop of rocks on the other side of the road. "It's up there, but I don't remember just where."
"The entrance should be obvious enough," Simon commented.
"It was fairly narrow, and sort of around a corner," Matheson said as they started up the hillside towards the rocks. "Not obvious from the road at all. We wondered at first if it was a mine -- I can remember Pete saying it looked more like the entrance to a cave -- but once we got inside, we could see where it had been worked."
"How far back does it go?" Simon asked.
"We went far enough into it that we couldn't see any light at all from the entrance," Matheson replied. "We all had flashlights, of course. But we weren't at the end of the tunnel when Zack tripped, so we never knew just how deep it went." They reached the outcrop and stopped. Matheson looked around. "I really don't remember... " he began.
"Split up," Rogers suggested.
"We're looking for a fairly narrow slit," Matheson reminded them. He and Rogers turned one way, Simon and Jim turned the other.
As soon as they were alone, Jim's face took on a faintly distant look that Simon recognized. "Just don't zone out," he growled.
Jim nodded absently. They moved along the hillside for some yards, then Jim stopped. "I can smell something," he said, an uneasy note in his voice.
Simon looked at him. "What is it?"
"Decay." Jim swung his head from side to side. "This way." He scrambled up the side of a rock face and stopped in front of a dark slit.
Following him, Simon saw the slit. He turned and yelled, "Rogers! We've found it!" Then he looked at Jim. "I don't smell anything."
"Sshh." Jim concentrated, then shook his head. "All I can detect is the smell -- human waste, very faint... and decay. There's a body in there."
"You're sure? I thought your senses were acting up."
"It's amazing what hope does," Jim said quietly. "They're not working perfectly by any means, but they are working again."
Panting, Rogers and Matheson clambered up the slope to join them. "Yes!" Matheson gasped as he fought to catch his breath. "That's it!"
Switching on their flashlights, the four men squeezed through the narrow entrance and set off down the tunnel. Jim carefully cut back his sense of smell, dreading what they would find. Simon still couldn't smell anything, but he had no doubt now that Jim did. He, too, dreaded what they might find.
It was Matheson who finally said, "What's that smell?"
Jim swallowed. "There's a body somewhere up ahead."
"You think... you think it might be your people?"
"I don't know," Jim said, his voice hoarse.
When they came to a fork in the tunnel, Matheson said, "I don't remember this. We didn't get this far."
None of them doubted which fork they should take -- the smell they were all now able to detect was clearly coming from the right-hand tunnel. Fifty or sixty yards further on, the walls opened out to reveal a small cavern. Rogers' light fell on a body just inside it. He knelt over it, light playing on its face, and shook his head. As he opened his mouth to speak, a soft, hesitant voice said, "Jim?"
"Blair!" Jim swung around, careful not to shine his flashlight too directly around the cave. He saw two shapes close to the far wall and he ran toward them.
He had no doubt which of them was his partner. He dropped to his knees and gathered Blair into his arms, holding him tightly, desperately, pressing Blair's head against his shoulder. Blair hugged him back, but weakly, as Jim rubbed his cheek against his partner's hair. It was lank, greasy... and it felt wonderful.
"It is you," Blair whispered, and fell silent.
Jim said nothing. They didn't need words -- their hands said everything that was necessary.
Simon reached them. He, too, dropped to his knees and caught Daryl to him in a fierce hug. "Daryl, are you all right?"
"Yes, Dad. I'm... all right."
With surprising tact, Rogers denied his curiosity, the urge to watch the reunion that most people would have obeyed, and turned to Matheson. "Any idea who this might be?" He indicated the body.
His attention drawn from the scene near the wall, Matheson looked down and frowned. The decay had been slowed by the low temperature in the cave, but the face was so mottled that it no longer looked totally human. There was, however, still something familiar about it. "I have a feeling I should," he said slowly.
"Who all knew about this mine?" Rogers asked.
Matheson gasped. "Mr. Sturges?" he whispered.
"That's what I think," Rogers said quietly. "We'll get a proper identification, though, once we get the body out of here and into some decent light. Go and call an ambulance and the meat wagon." He glanced at the expression on the younger cop's face, and added with rough sympathy, "Wait out there until you can lead them in."
"Right." Matheson was relieved to have an excuse to get away from the sight and smell of the decaying body.
Rogers watched him go, then bent to look more closely at the body; dealing with it would be Forensics' headache, and he had no intention of touching it, but it gave him something to do that continued to keep his attention off the reunion taking place only a few yards behind him. He was well aware that to watch it would be an intrusion.
Totally forgetting Rogers' existence, Simon continued to hug his son; and Daryl, completely forgetting that it wasn't cool for a teenager to hug his dad, clung to him with the desperation of a drowning man clutching a floating branch.
Blair relaxed totally into his sentinel's protective arms.
At last Jim raised his head. "Let's get you out of here, Chief. Simon, think you can carry Daryl?"
"We can walk... if you help us," Blair said hoarsely.
"After ten days of lying around?" Simon asked.
"Ten..." Blair began. "Ten days?"
"Close enough," Jim said.
"We knew it had been a while," Daryl muttered, "but we didn't have any way to measure time."
Simon put his flashlight into Daryl's hand and said quietly, "Shine that on the floor." Kneeling, he slipped one arm under Daryl's back and the other under his knees, then he stood with very little effort and headed towards Rogers. Jim held Blair tightly for a moment longer, then gave him the other flashlight, lifted him smoothly, and followed Simon.
Rogers -- himself not sorry to get away from the smell of the decaying body -- led the way out. They paused some yards from the entrance, where the light was dim, to let the eyes of the rescued men adjust somewhat from the total darkness. When they finally arrived at the entrance they were forced to allow Blair and Daryl to walk -- it was too narrow to carry them out, and Jim speculated that they must have been dragged the first two or three feet inside, although no marks showed on the rocky floor. But both he and Simon hovered, ready to support their loved ones the moment it looked necessary. When they emerged into the open, Matheson greeted them with the news that an ambulance was on its way.
Carrying the rescued men once more, Jim and Simon scrambled -- slowly and very carefully in the half light of early evening -- a little way from the mine entrance before they lowered their burdens to the ground, both sitting close to support the badly-weakened pair.
Rogers joined them and crouched beside them. "What happened? Who put you in there?" he asked.
Blair shook his head. "We don't know. I only caught a glimpse of the man who attacked me; Daryl had a blanket thrown over his head." He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts, which he knew were showing a tendency to wander. He had 'seen' Jim coming towards him at least four times recently, but the 'rescuer' had always faded from sight before he reached them. He had been desperately afraid, until he felt Jim's arms round him, that this, too, was a hallucination. "We think we were both drugged to keep us unconscious. We woke in the dark, and we've been stuck there since. In the dark, we didn't want to risk moving -- for all we knew, we could have crawled deeper into the cave or gone over the edge of a hole in the floor. Where are we, anyway?"
"Rossburg," Simon said.
"Rossburg... Man, how did you manage to find us?"
"We got lucky," Jim said quietly.
While they waited for the ambulance to arrive -- both Jim and Simon firmly vetoing Blair's suggestion that they cancel it and simply all drive back in the cars -- Simon took out his cell phone, and dialed the number that he'd had to dial too many times over the past days. It was answered almost immediately.
"Good news, Joan. I didn't tell you we had a lead in case it was a false one, but it paid off. We found them."
"Found... Is Daryl all right?" Simon could clearly hear the relief mixed with her automatic worry for her son.
"Yes -- hold on a second." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "Daryl, feel up to having a word with your mother?"
Daryl reached for the phone. "Hi, Mom," he said slowly. "I'm sorry, but it really wasn't my fault."
"Daryl! Are you all right? Where are you?"
"I'm fine, Mom, really."
"Where are you?" she repeated.
"Dad says... we're in Rossburg."
"Ross... But how?"
"Mom, we really don't know. Look, I'll... I'll tell you all about it -- or as much as I can -- when I get home, okay?" He looked helplessly at Simon, clearly unable to deal much longer with his mother.
Simon took the phone again. "It's me again, Joan. We're never going to know the whole story, but the nearest we can figure is that a couple of guys Jim Ellison and I put away two or three years ago decided to get back at us by kidnaping Daryl and Blair -- Jim's partner. I'll give you the details when I see you."
"What's the fastest way for me to get to Rossburg?" Joan demanded.
"Joan, I know you want to see him, but will you trust me here? I'll get Daryl home as soon as possible -- it'll depend on what the hospital says. Look, he's my son and I love him. You'll have him to fuss over as long as necessary as soon as we get him home. I won't. Please, give me the chance to look after him for once?"
There was a brief silence. "He really is all right?"
"Yes. Blair looked after him for us. He just needs a routine medical check, some food, and a good rest in a comfortable bed."
"Is this the cop speaking or the father?" Joan demanded.
"Both. Seriously, Joan, the anxious father isn't anxious anymore. Now you relax, and I'll call you again after the doctor's seen him. I promise that if there's a problem -- and I'm sure there won't be -- I'll tell you."
"All right,"Joan said quietly. "I do trust you, Simon. But I won't rest until I see him, see for myself that he's all right."
He hung up and pushed the phone back into his pocket with a long sigh of relief, glad that he had persuaded his ex-wife to wait in Cascade. Daryl needed time to... what was Sandburg's phrase again?... process all of this before he had to deal with his mother. The last thing he needed right now was Joan fussing over him -- though he would probably appreciate it a couple of days down the line.
Then, remembering some other people who needed to know as soon as possible, he took it out again and dialed.
"Joel, you can let everyone know we've found Daryl and Sandburg -- alive and weak, but as well as can be expected."
There was a moment of silence, then Joel said quietly, "Thank God. Okay, Simon, I'll let everyone know."
"Thanks. I'll let you know when I have more news. I can see the ambulance coming now, so... well, I'll talk to you later."
"Right. Look after them."
"Captain Banks? Mr. Ellison?"
Simon and Jim had agreed -- reluctantly -- to remain in the waiting area while a doctor checked out Daryl and Blair, and now both stood quickly.
"How are they?" Simon beat Jim with the question, but only just.
"They're in remarkably good condition, considering everything. Apparently Mr. Sandburg insisted that they conserve as much energy as possible. He just said, 'I knew Jim and Simon would find us', and Mr. Banks agreed." He sighed. "You're lucky men; I wish someone had that much faith in me."
"It's mutual," Jim said quietly. "If I'd been the one in there, Sandburg wouldn't have rested until he found me."
"When can we take them home?" Simon asked.
"We need to get some nutrients into them; ten days of total starvation can't be taken lightly, though they're not too dehydrated. I want to keep them in for at least thirty-six hours. We'll see how they are on Friday morning, but I wouldn't recommend traveling until Saturday at the earliest. We're getting them on TPN right away -- "
"TPN?" Simon asked.
"Total parenteral nutrition. You'd call it a drip. You'll be able to see them in about half an hour."
"Thank you, Doctor," Jim said.
Simon grunted. "And now I've got to tell Joan we won't be home before the weekend." He saw the doctor's inquiring look. "Daryl's mother. We're divorced. I managed to persuade her not to come -- mostly for Daryl's sake. It took enough out of him just speaking to her on the phone."
"Ah -- a worrier?"
"You did the right thing. He needs to build up a little strength before he has to deal with an over-anxious mother."
As a nurse showed Jim and Simon into her patients' room, Jim said, "The doctor was saying something about keeping them in for thirty-six hours."
"How long patients are left on TPN depends on how they respond," she explained cheerfully. "They'll be getting food by mouth, too, of course -- we have to get their digestive systems working again. I'll be back in half an hour or so with a meal. Now, don't tire them too much. They need to rest."
As the door closed behind her, Simon moved to Daryl's bedside and Jim went to Blair's. Oblivious of Simon's interaction with his son, Jim took Blair's free hand and then lowered his head to rest it against the younger man's shoulder for a moment.
Blair pressed Jim's hand weakly. "It's all right, tough guy," he murmured. "I knew you'd find us."
"We nearly didn't," Jim said, and Blair could hear the slight catch in his sentinel's voice.
"I tried to contact you, shaman to sentinel, but it didn't work. I guess telepathy isn't my strong suit."
Jim lifted his head again. "It did work up to a point -- I knew you were still alive -- though when we smelled that body... "
"I was afraid in case it was you or Simon," Blair admitted. He took a deep breath, and suddenly slipped into sleep.
Unalarmed, knowing this was likely to happen for a while, Jim sat patiently waiting for Blair to waken. He couldn't help but hear Daryl saying, "Blair was fantastic, Dad. He never gave up hope -- he kept saying that you and Jim wouldn't give up. I don't know how I would've managed if he hadn't been there."
Simon glanced over towards Jim. Jim said quietly, "Being together... probably kept both of you sane."
Blair was wakened by loud rattling as the nurse returning with a trolley. She said cheerfully, "Here's your first meal, though you probably won't think much of it."
She went first to Blair, whose bed was nearer to the door, and Jim took the cup of thick pink liquid from her and looked at it. "What is it?" he asked as she continued to Daryl's bed with the second cup; he could smell the milk in it.
"Ensure," she said. "Strawberry flavor. Easy to digest, and the strawberry tastes better than the vanilla." She looked from Daryl to Blair. "If you don't have problems with that, you'll get a scrambled egg later tonight. We'll give you a diet sheet before you leave -- it'll give you an idea of what you can eat and what you should avoid for a while. It'll be two to three weeks before your systems are back to normal."
"You'd better give me a note for Daryl's mother telling her to stick with that, and why," Simon said. "Otherwise, she'll try to give him too much too soon in an attempt to fatten him up again."
Shortly thereafter, the nurse chased Jim and Simon away and told them to get a good night's sleep. "You both look exhausted," she said bluntly. "Yes, I know you'd like to stay and reassure yourselves that they're safe, but you'll do yourselves and them more good by getting a proper rest in bed, rather than sitting beside a hospital bed."
Back at the hotel, Billy called them over to the reception desk. "I heard you found your folks. Will they be okay?"
Simon grinned. "Small town gossip -- you can't beat it for speed and efficiency. Yes. They have to stay in the hospital until Friday, so we'll be here two more nights at least."
"Well, you go and wash up, then come down to the dining room. Dinner's on the house; I want to help you celebrate."
"Thanks, Billy -- that's good of you," Jim said.
As they waited for the elevator, he added, "Simon, do we have any idea where that tour bus will be tonight?"
Simon shook his head. "No, but Reubens said they had the relevant information. Why?"
"Well... I just thought it might be a good idea to let the kid who spotted the car wreckage know that he saved two lives."
"Yes -- he did, didn't he?" Simon said as they moved into the elevator. "After I've let Joan know what the doctor said, I'll call Everett, see if I can get the info tonight. Come along when you're ready, and we'll let the kid and the tour guide know, then go down for dinner."
It was the first meal that either man had tasted, let alone enjoyed, since the whole affair had begun.
They left Rossburg early on Saturday, but by the time Simon pulled up at the loft it was already dark. "Need any help?" he asked.
Jim shook his head. "We'll manage," he said as he helped Blair out of the car. "You get Daryl home."
Simon nodded. "Take a couple of days off -- I'll see you on Wednesday," he said, and drove away.
"Come on, Chief; one more hurdle, then something to eat and bed."
"I won't be sorry," Blair admitted. "Though... I'm beginning to feel hungry, but I think I'm too tired to eat."
"You'll eat," Jim said firmly. "Doctor's orders, remember?"
If necessary, Jim would have carried Blair up the stairs to 307; as it was, they took the elevator and Jim supported his partner from it to the loft, where he settled Blair on the couch, then headed towards the freezer. "Soup again," he said. "Sorry. But it goes down easy."
Blair nodded; as he had said, he was too tired to care whether he ate or not, but knew he had to. Something fast and easily eaten would be perfect.
A little later, in bed, Blair murmured, "I kept wondering, though... Last time, when we were trapped by the mudslide, Wolf showed up to warn us and lead us to safety. This time, there was no sign of him."
"Last time might have had something to do with the kids with you. This time, it was up to Simon and me to find you. But I think Wolf helped."
"How? I never saw him. Did you...?"
"No. But the kid who spotted Becker's car said his attention was drawn to it because he saw a wolf going into the trees. It would be a huge coincidence if it was just an ordinary wolf down there at just the moment when someone was there to see it. Of course, that's something else we'll never know for certain."
Blair nodded, and snuggled under the comforter. Jim switched off the light as he also headed for bed - he, too, was exhausted. Five minutes later, both men were asleep.
And somewhere, not too far away, an exhausted wolf and a tired panther curled up together and also slept.
End SVS2-13: Six Weeks to Live by Bluewolf: FiveSenses@yahoogroups.com
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