|Home||My Photos||My Fiction||My Dolls Houses|
Prompt - I jump on a high speed train, I'll never look back again
The man sitting in the storage-room-cum-office could have been sitting in a larger, proper office with a window that gave a view across the campus, but he had a fondness for this dark little room that had been his office when he was merely a TA. He heaved a silent sigh of frustration as he read the blatantly bigoted comments in the essay he had just picked up.
He had covered this subject in detail with his anthropology 201 class just the previous week, dammit! First as a lecture than as a discussion. Although he didn't much enjoy teaching, he was conscientious about it and knew he was a good teacher who could make the most routine of situations sound, if not exciting, at least interesting - and he knew from the response of the anthropology 201 class at the time (and most of the essays he had already graded) that they had found the subject - cannibalism and possible reasons for it - quite fascinating. But this essay, which started with - 'There is never a good reason for cannibalism. It is totally, and always, against all God's teaching' - showed a narrow-minded, holier-than-thou attitude that didn't fit with the objective, academic view of the subject that an anthropologist had to adopt. Western man might see cannibalism as abhorrent - members of small hunter-gatherer tribes, or tribes living in a very restricted environment, had a totally different ethos.
Thinking back to the class, he remembered that Mark Owen had contributed nothing to the discussion; almost as if he knew he would have been in a minority of one, and that he couldn't produce a reasoned argument for his opinion, only a reiteration of religious 'facts' that he had learned without necessarily understanding a word of it. There were several sound arguments against cannibalism and some of the other students had presented them, but Dr. Blair Sandburg did not consider regurgitated memorized dogma to be a sound argument.
Because he was conscientious he forced himself to read through the entire repetitive five-page essay before scrawling at the bottom 'Flat condemnation like this, which is clearly quoting someone else, is not proving anything.' Returning to the first page he wrote 'F' clearly on the top right hand corner.
Nobody else had less than a B-.
He wasn't particularly surprised, two days later, to be summoned to the Chancellor's office. Even tenured professors (which Blair wasn't) could be slapped on the wrist by Chancellor Edwards - she had the authority and let nobody forget it - and she was also known for taking the side of any student who was from a wealthy family - as Owen was.
"Dr. Sandburg. I have had a complaint that you are deliberately penalizing a student who holds strong religious views because he had the courage to express them and, by doing so, opposed a lax moral view - one that you clearly hold and are trying to encourage your students to embrace."
Blair took a deep breath. Losing his temper would be counter-productive, he reminded himself. "The student in question should not be taking an anthropology class if he cannot be objective about things he learns about other cultures. Anthropology is about understanding those different cultures, not trying to impose our ethics on them. The whole purpose of the lecture involved, and the essay the class was assigned to do after it, was to show how different cultures regard things that we might find unacceptable, and even how circumstances can alter the way we ourselves normally look at things."
"Are you saying that Mr. Owen's objection to cannibalism is wrong?"
"No, Chancellor, just that he isn't even trying to understand the views of other races on the subject. Several of the students presented good and reasoned arguments against the practice, while accepting that there can be understandable reasons for it; only one student chose not to think, but instead used the required five pages to repeat and repeat 'God's law' on the subject. None of his comments showed an iota of original thought; he was not thinking for himself, just quoting and requoting the opinions and judgements of others.
"I am not an atheist, Chancellor, but I am a realist. The words of any Holy Book have been written down by men who use 'this is God's word' to pass their personal beliefs on to other people, and interpreted - often misinterpreted - by usually self-opinionated and bigoted men to support whatever prejudices they have. Over the centuries - "
"And are you encouraging your students to believe this?" Edwards' voice was icy as she interrupted whatever else he might have to say on the matter.
"The subject has never arisen in any of my classes." Blair was aware that he was, in a way, ducking the question, because he had always encouraged his students to think for themselves, but it was the truth. While of necessity including the religious beliefs of native cultures in his lectures, he had always avoided including the interpretation of religious texts of any kind. "Owen stated his 'views' in the first fifteen words and nothing else that he wrote expanded on that first statement. Quite apart from the subject matter, he deserved nothing better than an F for his complete failure to expand, in his own words, on his initial comment."
"Are you a member of any church, Dr. Sandburg?"
Although not quite a change of subject, the question was unexpected. "I'm non-practicing," Blair said quietly. "I was exposed to a number of different religions when I was younger, and grew up believing that none of them had a monopoly on the truth about God."
"And do you teach this to your students?" There was an expression on her face that Blair didn't like. He was beginning to suspect the direction this interview was taking.
"I have no reason to. Whatever their religions happen to be is their own affair. The only time religion is mentioned in any of my lectures is in relation to the beliefs of other cultures - "
"And do you express approval of those beliefs?"
"Only insofar as they apply to the people holding them," Blair said carefully.
"But you have, in class, criticized the attempts of missionaries to convert those people to a civilized religion like Christianity," Edwards challenged.
"I don't believe it's criticism to say that Christianity has no relevance to the lives of hunter-gatherers who live in a world so different from our own."
"Christianity has relevance to everyone!" Edwards snapped. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sandburg, but I have to consider you a bad influence on the students in your classes. I want your office cleared by the end of this week - and don't try asking Rainier for a reference. Someone who clearly thinks more highly of pagan error than civilized Christian values should not be teaching impressionable young minds."
Blair stared at her for a moment. "That all sounds a very justified reason, but basically you're firing me for giving an F to a bigoted student who parroted the values of his church rather than express his opinion in his own words, even if that opinion was to say that cannibalism is never justified." He began to turn towards the door, then paused. "Aren't you supposed to give me a month's notice?"
The look on her face was a picture as she obviously realized that if he called in the union, there could be a lot of trouble. "You'll get a month's salary in lieu."
It was a small victory. "Thank you." He walked over to the door. As he opened it, he said, "I'll have my office cleared inside the hour. And Chancellor - you'll need me before I need you."
He walked out, closing the door quietly behind him.
Outside Edwards' door, he paused for a moment to take a deep, cleansing breath before walking steadily along the corridor and down the stairs to the cramped little room that was his office.
Little in it was his own; and what there was was of little value. He had always brought in anything good that he wanted as an illustration for a lecture, then taken it home again once he had finished using it. The only things he kept at Rainier were cheap reproduction artifacts he used a lot, and books he was either using as course books or wanted for immediate reference. He could have abandoned everything there that was his without a second thought, but he knew that Edwards would probably - no, make that definitely - find some way of charging him with doing something illegal if he did.
When he first moved into the little room, he had packed the seldom-used contents of one shelf into two cardboard boxes; now he put the books and the few artifacts that were his onto the desk and emptied the two boxes of their contents, stacking them neatly on the shelf they had originally occupied. He packed his books and artifacts into the boxes and carried them to his car. Going back, he checked swiftly to make sure he had missed nothing. He locked the door and left without a backward glance. He nodded cheerfully to the receptionist as he hung the key from its usual hook, and walked out.
Forty-two minutes after leaving Edwards' office, Blair drove away from Rainier for the last time.
He had, he realized, no regrets about losing his job. He was mildly sorry that he would not see the students he had been teaching graduate, in particular the ones in that fateful 201 class - apart from Owen it had been a very good class; but with the qualifications he had, there were plenty of other jobs he could do - jobs that he would undoubtedly enjoy more. He had fallen into teaching pretty well by default; he had spent time as a TA while working towards his PhD, and, when he got it, Eli Stoddard, the then head of the anthropology department, immediately offered him a position on the staff. Even then he would really have preferred research, but a position on Rainier's staff for someone his age was not to be lightly dismissed, and he had accepted without hesitation.
But Eli had retired the previous year and Blair had lost his main... yes, he supposed, 'supporter' would be the best word. Eli's successor was a man for whom Blair had little respect; basically a yes-man, he had risen to the position of head of department not for his academic ability, but for his undoubted ability at boot-licking. Chancellor Edwards, Blair knew, had never liked him; their personalities clashed and, as Chancellor, she had far more clout than he did despite his reputation as a good teacher. She had, he knew, been looking for an excuse to get rid of him ever since Eli retired.
He was quite sure that Edwards was not herself particularly religious; that had been an excuse, nothing more; but he did wonder why she had been so anxious to defend Mark Owen - who was known to the entire faculty as a very mediocre student. This last incident had been exactly that - the last in a series of poor results from all his lecturers.
Probably it was geared to the Owen family money. Owen was one of several rich men locally with not-too-bright offspring who were attending Rainier, who by donating money to the university were, in effect, buying their children degrees. Most of those youngsters did try to the limit of their ability; one or two, like Mark Owen, would never be any good at anything. Without a rich father, Blair thought, young Mark would be lucky to hold down a job sweeping the streets.
He gave an unamused snort. Would Edwards have been so keen to get rid of him if she had known that he came from a rich family?
Perhaps... perhaps it was time for him to leave Cascade. He had been there since going to Rainier at sixteen, and he liked the place despite its generally damp climate, but perhaps it was time to move on. His mother had never settled anywhere and had never understood why he would want to stay in Cascade after he graduated; while realizing that he had to stay put while he studied, she had tried very hard to persuade him to take a year out once he had his Masters, and then move to another university to work for his doctorate. But Blair had discovered in himself an urge to put down roots. He had gone on several summer expeditions over the years and thoroughly enjoyed them, but he had always known that he would be returning to the small two-room apartment that was his home.
Now, though, he had to consider his options.
Unfortunately, the odds were that any academic job he applied for - anywhere - would want references. But in any case, he didn't really want to carry on teaching. Would museums want references? Especially if he said he wanted something more demanding than lecturing? He knew anthropologists who regularly mounted expeditions; he could apply to one of them for a position, and because they already knew him, references wouldn't be needed.
Well, he didn't have to decide immediately. He could take a few days - even a few weeks - to think things over, look around, check any situations vacant in the anthropology magazines he subscribed to - there were usually one or two - and see if any of them sounded interesting.
Blair spent the next two or three days sorting through his books and the sheafs of papers he had amassed. Many of them were first drafts of papers he had already submitted to various magazines, that had been accepted and printed months - even years - earlier. He laid these aside to discard. He had copies in his computer, after all, as well as having kept the magazines they were in - and he was beginning to think it was time he discarded the magazines too. As long as he made a note in the computer where each article had gone, he had a record of his published work.
Some were early drafts of possible papers, where he had had an idea and sketched out an outline, but had, for whatever reason, taken little or no further. These he kept; although he was no longer affiliated to Rainier, his name was well known to the editors of the various magazines and it would, in part, be thumbing his nose at Edwards if he had more articles published, although any income from them would be small.
Hmmm... that was a job opportunity he hadn't considered - as a writer, or on the editorial staff of one of the magazines. It wouldn't be his first choice, but it was a possibility.
He checked for 'situations vacant' in the three most recent magazines, finding a few, but none that looked interesting. Oh, well, maybe next week... Meanwhile, he could continue sorting through everything and maybe do some work on one or more of these potential papers.
Two days later the next copy of Anthropology Today arrived.
Tempted to procrastinate and just read the articles - several of which looked very interesting - he resolutely turned first to the small 'situations vacant' section... and stiffened.
'Forensic archaeologist wanted by Cascade Police Department. Hours to be determined. Pay scale $40,000 - $65,000 depending on experience. Apply to Chief of Police Warren, Cascade PD' and the phone number.
Blair's main interest had always been cultural archaeology, but he had covered some forensic anthropology and he could always read up a little more. In addition, Cascade PD was unlikely to be interested in an academic reference; if they wanted a character reference, he was sure he could get one from Eli Stoddard. Easy to explain 'personality clash' if he was asked why Eli rather than the current Head of Anthropology or the Chancellor at Rainier.
Without giving himself time to think about talking himself out of at least applying - Naomi, he knew, would be less than happy if he was accepted for a job with 'the pigs' - Blair picked up his phone and dialed the number.
He was surprised to be given an appointment for early the following morning - he had half expected it to be at least a week before anyone interviewed him. They must, he thought, be pretty anxious to get someone quickly. Now did that mean someone had left unexpectedly, or was this a new position that for some reason they wanted filled ASAP?
There were four men sitting in the room he was directed to. Even from their seated position, he could see that three of them were pretty tall; one was African American, the second was a white man who was carrying a fair amount of excess weight, while the third, was, he decided, native American. The fourth man was smaller, barely taller - as Blair realized when the man rose to greet him - than Blair himself, and with hair so grey it was nearly white, though Blair suspected that he wasn't as old as the grey hair implied.
"Dr. Sandburg? I'm Chief Warren." He indicated the African American. "Captain Banks, Major Crime." Blair nodded a response. The white man was next; "Captain Findlay, Homicide." Blair nodded again. "And Dr. Wolfe, Medical Examiner."
"Doctor," Blair murmured, guessing that this was the man he would mostly be working with - if he got the job.
Warren glanced down at the paper in front of him. "I understand your PhD is in cultural anthropology rather than forensic?"
"Yes, sir, although I did include in my dissertation several aspects of physical anthropology to support my theory of the way isolated cultures develop."
"So why your apparent wish to change to forensic anthropology?"
Blair hadn't expected that question, but he had always been very good at thinking on his feet. "While anthropology is a very rewarding subject to study, it isn't one where jobs in the field are easy to find. After I got my doctorate, I was invited to teach at Rainier, and I believe I was a good teacher, but it was never really what I wanted to do with my life. I parted company with Rainier a few days ago after what I admit was a fairly acrimonious exchange with the Chancellor over some of the material I included in my lectures. I decided to look for employment in a different area."
"You didn't consider seeking work in another university?"
"No, sir. If I can be frank - I've had enough of university politics. In this instance, it seemed to me that the money of a rich parent was of more importance to the Chancellor than academic integrity - though I have to admit that personalities came into it as well. Chancellor Edwards seemed to think that I was too much of a free thinker. I felt she was not open-minded enough. Not all subjects are in black and white hard fact.
"Although my name is well-known in cultural anthropology, I feel now that I want to do something totally different. You could say that I'm looking for a challenge.
"Although forensic anthropology was not the subject of my PhD, we covered the subject in some depth in my lectures - including spending some days at the body farm at Knoxville - and I included some of that in what I taught. In addition, I've been thinking that I would like to work towards a second PhD, this time in forensic anthropology." No need to add that he'd only been thinking of that as a possibility for the past few minutes.
Warren glanced at the other three men. "Any questions?" he asked. Banks and Findlay shook their heads right away; Wolfe was watching Blair intently and it took him a moment to respond. "No. I think Dr. Sandburg has been honest in his replies, and since he is willing to work towards a PhD in the subject, I think we would be foolish not to employ him."
Wow, Blair thought.
"Very well. Dr. Sandburg, you do appear to be reasonably well qualified to do the job. I'm prepared to offer you the position, effective immediately, on a trial basis; we'll reassess the situation in three months."
"Thank you - that sounds very reasonable."
"When can you start?"
"Now." Blair grinned at the startled expression on Warren's face. "No, it's not that I'm desperate to start earning a wage - I have enough money saved that I could support myself for quite some time, and I could spend my time studying; no matter how much you know, there's always more to learn. It's just that I don't like feeling... well, lazy."
"Tomorrow morning, 8am," Warren said.
"That's fine. Thank you."
"Report in the first instance to Dr. Wolfe. You'll be working with him except when you're needed in the field by either Homicide or Major Crime."
They spent a few minutes going over details of pay and hours, then Wolfe rose. "If you'd like to come with me, Dr. Sandburg, I'll get you your credentials and then show you where we work."
"Blair," he said as the door closed behind them.
"And I'm Dan."
Blair grinned. "Hi, Dan." He hesitated then, as Dan led the way along the corridor, said, "What can you tell me about our colleagues in there? What are they like to work with?"
"Banks is good. He can be a bit brusque, a bit loud, but he cares, and he runs a very efficient unit. Findlay is... efficient enough and runs a tight department, but somehow Homicide doesn't have the... the something that Major Crime does. Sure, MC is the 'plum' posting and Banks doesn't keep anyone there who doesn't totally pull his weight, but that alone doesn't explain MC's success rate when it comes to finding evidence."
"Are you a shaman, Dan?"
"No." He walked a few yards in silence, before adding, "My grandfather was, but the gift passed all his children. It's passed me, too, though I have a cousin who is quite gifted."
"I'm not so sure the gift has totally passed you," Blair said quietly. "I think you have a shaman's insight, at the very least."
They paused at an elevator, and while they waited for a car, Dan looked thoughtfully at him. "You do have a shaman's gifts," he said, "but I think you have never been tempted to a shaman's work."
"No, I haven't," Blair replied. "You're right, I was identified as having the gift when I was a child, though my path has taken me in a different direction. But my spirit animal often visits me in my dreams."
"Yes - Dan, you do have a shaman's gifts, though perhaps not too strongly."
They entered the elevator. As the car began to descend, Dan said, "I am sometimes aware of things... of the best path for a man to follow... and now I think you have been following a false path, but your true destiny is close."
"I sometimes felt I was wasting the gift, but I was led onto the path I have been following by a man I admired, who believed he was directing me onto a road I would find rewarding. In many ways it was; but I think I always knew that it was not, as you say, my true destiny. Teaching was like riding a merry-go-round, going around in circles and getting nowhere; I felt my true road would feel like being on a speeding train, with every minute opening up a new experience."
"I'm not so sure your true destiny lies in forensic anthropology either," Dan added, "but somehow I feel that forensic anthropology will lead you to it."
Dan took Blair to meet Vera, in Personnel, and waited while Blair filled in the necessary paperwork and provided the requisite sample for testing. "I'll send your permanent badge to Reception," she told them, and with a muttered, "Thanks", Dan ushered Blair out.
Blair spent most of the day with Dan, getting a feel for the work the medical examiner did. When he eventually left for home, it was with the conviction that he had made a good move.
He spent the evening with one of his anthropology notebooks, refreshing his memory of the days his class had spent at the body farm at Knoxville. It hadn't been exactly pleasant, seeing all those bodies in various stages of decomposition - and he could still remember the god-awful stench - but it had been very informative.
He slept better than he had expected he would, waking to the shrill 'briiiiing' of the alarm, feeling wider awake than he had done for a while. As he washed and shaved, he realized he was feeling anticipation; there was an awareness of a sense of challenge that he hadn't felt for a long time. God, he had to have been living in a terrible rut!
Breakfast had, for quite some time, been a meal he had eaten only because of the claim by doctors that it was important to start the day with a good meal; he had forced down the unwanted food without appetite, without enjoying it. On this morning, as he scrambled two eggs, stirring a little cheese in with them, he discovered that he was hungry.
He ate the eggs and three slices of bread with a mug of coffee, and really enjoyed the meal. A quick glance at the clock showed that he still had plenty of time, so he washed the dishes before grabbing his backpack and heading out.
Blair reached the PD with ten minutes to spare. He hesitated for a moment, then shrugged mentally. Yesterday he had been a visitor; today he was an employee. Bypassing the visitors' parking and hoping that he wasn't taking the favored place of someone else, he backed into a space and headed for the elevator, taking it to ground level. Once there, he approached the desk just inside the door and paused to grin at the sergeant manning it. "I'm starting work in Forensics this morning - name's Sandburg."
"Ah, yes, sir. I have a name tag here for you... " He checked a box sitting at the side and handed over a laminated tag. Blair clipped it to his belt.
"Thanks," he said.
"You know the way to Forensics?"
Blair's grin widened. "If I get lost, you'll probably see me back here in five minutes. But I spent a good part of yesterday there, and I think I remember the way."
In fact, Blair had no difficulty in making his way to Forensics, where he found Dan Wolfe already studying the contents of a folder. "Hi, Dan. You're started early."
"I usually get in around 7:30," Dan said. "I keep thinking I really need to get a car, but there isn't anyplace near where I live to park one, and there's a direct bus service to here that passes my door; by the time I walked to wherever I could park, I could be three-quarters of the way here by bus. So I just keep on getting the bus."
"I hear that," Blair murmured. "Incidentally, can you tell me - is there any kind of designated parking area down in the garage for different departments, do people have their preferred spaces, or can anyone just park anywhere?"
"Any designated parking spaces are marked with the name or position of whoever it's been allocated to. I don't say some people don't have a favorite spot, but if someone beats them to it, they just shrug philosophically and try to get in earlier next day."
"Mmm. It figures. Same with students in a classroom; they tend to have a favored seat, but nothing is official. So what are we doing today?"
"New case. Body was brought in overnight. There's night work going on in Harbor Street, and one of the squads found it two feet deep, under the road. It had been there for a while - it's just bones."
"So we have to check on how old it is?" Blair asked.
"That's right. Its age will determine whether it's a criminal case or not."
"What's the cut-off point for that?"
"Varies. If there's any chance that the killer is still around, it'll be investigated. In this case, I'd say it won't count as one; the road was built over a century ago. Anyone buried there at that time, even someone who'd been murdered - well, the killer certainly isn't going to be alive to answer for it."
"But we still need to check the body, see if we think it was a murder or a natural death?"
"For the record," Wolfe agreed.
Blair had expected to watch Dan for a day or two to ease his way in gently before he had to do anything himself, but Dan obviously had other ideas. He pulled open a drawer to reveal a skeleton.
"What do you think?" Dan asked.
Blair took a deep breath and examined it carefully for some minutes. "It could have been damaged when the ground was dug up, but I'd say it's several years old - there's disarticulation, a lot of the small bones are missing, there's only one tibia... You said the road was built over a century ago, but is there any way we can find out if there were any repairs to the part of the road where it was found within the last five to ten years?"
Dan grinned. "Good - you haven't fallen into the obvious trap of assuming that because the road was build a century ago, this body is obviously that old."
"I take there weren't the remains of any clothing?"
"We'll need to check the site for that - work has been stopped until we can get there. Now that you've had a preliminary, if brief, look at the bones, we'll need to get there ASAP." He closed the drawer, scooped up a bag from a shelf near the door and led Blair back to the garage.
"You haven't had the time to gather a working kit," he went on. "I have everything we'll need in here. Do you mind taking your car?"
"What do you normally do?"
"Call for a patrol car."
"Easiest to take mine, then."
At the site they checked carefully, finding some scraps of leather which Dan carefully put into evidence bags. As he did, Blair said, "I think what we have is a burial dating back at least a hundred and fifty, two hundred years."
Dan nodded. "I think you're probably right."
"This was Nootka territory, but there's no record of this area being a tribal burial ground for them," Blair went on, "so it could be someone from a hunting party who died here and for some reason was buried here rather than being taken home - or even a white settler, buried near his homestead. The skull should give us some indication of race."
As they straightened, the site foreman asked, "When can we start work again? We have a deadline here, with penalties if we don't finish in time."
"Refer anyone who complains to Cascade PD," Dan told him. "But from the evidence we have, this is an old burial; I'd expect you to be able to resume work fairly soon."
As they headed back to the PD, Dan commented "I didn't have any doubts about your ability to do this job, though I think Captain Findlay had some reservations, mostly based on your youth. This should go a long way towards settling any doubts he had."
"My youth," Blair said wryly. "Some people might have said 'my age', but it comes down to the same thing. I look too damned young for some people to take me seriously!"
"I take you seriously," Dan said. "And so does Captain Banks; his son started university at seventeen, and is doing extremely well. With Daryl as an example, Banks isn't going to assume anything based on age. Chief Warren was a little hesitant, initially, but he takes people as he finds them and you did impress him. The 'trial period' is pretty well mandatory, so don't worry about it."
"How do you know I'm not someone who'll work hard during a trial period, then start coasting once the job is confirmed?"
"Someone who's going to coast isn't going to show the range of knowledge you already have," Dan said. "And he wouldn't be asking that particular question."
Back at the PD, they sent the leather samples to the lab for processing then turned their attention to the skeleton. Working together, they laid it out, noting that almost all of the small bones had disappeared - they had found none in the vicinity of the leather scraps - as well as the right tibia. The right fibula, radius and ulna were all broken, and the right hand side of the skull and the right hand side of the rib cage showed some damage.
"I'd doubt that was caused by heavy traffic on the road," Blair said. "I think this guy had a serious fall - maybe thrown by a horse and landed awkwardly on some rocks? And I think he was definitely white."
"Agreed," Dan said.
They checked some more, and after an hour or so, Dan said, "I think you're right, the body has been there since at least the mid-1800s, possibly a little earlier."
"Yes," Blair said. "Possibly an early settler in the area. I think he had some sort of accident that he didn't survive, and was either buried where he died or - if he survived long enough to be taken home - close to where he was living. Back then, Cascade wouldn't have been more than a small town, maybe two or three hundred inhabitants; what's now the suburbs would have been open, farmed countryside."
The door opened, and a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties entered, clutching a manila folder.
"Hello, Serena - this is Dr. Blair Sandburg, our new forensic anthropologist. Blair, Serena Chang. She works in the forensics lab. You'll probably be seeing a lot of her."
"Dr. Sandburg." Serena smiled cheerfully.
It was immediately obvious to Blair that he had just gone up a few notches in her estimation, and he wondered what exposure she might have had to senior staff who took themselves far too seriously and thought they were 'above' being friendly with the rank and file. Well, not only was that not his way, he knew, from several years working as a TA, that the best way to get good, efficient work from the staff was to treat them with respect.
"So what do you have for us?" Dan asked.
"The scraps of material are buckskin," she said. "I'd say at least a hundred and fifty years old, plus or minus ten percent. There's no way it was the clothing of a recent cadaver."
"That agrees with our findings from the bones," Dan said. "Thanks, Serena."
She smiled at them both and left, leaving the folder on a work surface.
"I'll report this to Captain Findlay - anything involving a body is reported to him in the first instance in case it's a homicide," Dan said. "He'll take it from there."
Dan left Blair to write up the report on the old skeleton, although he glanced through it before a copy was sent to Homicide, nodding approval as he read.
The next few days were relatively quiet. There was no immediate call on Blair, but he spent time with various members of the Forensics team, acquainting himself with the work that they did. And then, soon after he arrived on the morning of a day when he was working with Dan, there came a call from Major Crime.
A body had been found near Miller's Pond; If Dr. Sandburg would make his way to the garage, Detective Ellison would meet him there, and the two could travel together.
With a quick word to Dan ("Someone's found a body. But why's Major Crime dealing with it rather than Homicide?" "Don't know - sometimes which department gets the case seems quite arbitrary.") Blair grabbed his backpack - he had gathered the gear he would need - and headed for the garage. There he found a tall, muscular detective waiting near the elevator, a look of half-suppressed impatience on his face although he couldn't have been waiting more than a couple of minutes.
"Detective Ellison? I'm... " About to say 'Blair Sandburg', he changed his mind. Something about the man's attitude put his back up and he decided, between one word and the next, that informality wasn't an option he wanted to pursue with Ellison. "... Dr. Sandburg."
He could see the disbelief in Ellison's eyes, and decided that, although he didn't normally flex his alpha muscles, no way was he going to show the slightest sign of beta behavior here. "Yes, I know I look young. I'm lucky - good genes. I'll still look a lot younger than my actual age when I'm fifty. Now will you stop mentally criticizing me because of the way I look, and accept that a) the committee that gave me my doctorate were satisfied that I knew my subject, and b) the men who interviewed me for my current position were satisfied that I know my subject, and c) even without their approval, I know that I know my subject or I wouldn't have applied for the damn job. Now are we going to Miller's Pond or not?"
He noted the dawning respect in Ellison's eyes with a degree of satisfaction that he was slightly ashamed of. "All right, Dr. Sandburg, I won't make any judgement call until I see you at work. My truck is over here." He headed towards a blue and white truck some yards away, clearly assuming that Blair would follow
Blair followed, prepared to allow the man this sop to his alpha susceptabilities. If he was happy to contend with the traffic at this time of day when the morning commuters would still be arriving, Blair saw no reason to object.
He soon discovered why - and, presumably, why Ellison drove a truck. Ellison planked an emergency police light on the roof and left the garage at speed, driving it as if it were a tank, and clearly expecting that any driver hearing him approaching would get the hell out of his way. There weren't many car drivers who would argue with a vehicle so much bigger than their own.
Miller's Pond was a much larger stretch of water than its name implied. Surrounded by trees on three sides and a swathe of grass on the fourth, it covered fully half of one of Cascade's parks and was home to a selection of water birds. Ellison pulled in beside the police vehicles already there; a young Patrol officer, probably not long out of the Academy, was waiting.
"The body's this way, sir."
He led them almost half-way around the water's edge to where several police were standing, actually doing very little other than possibly guarding the area. The closer they got, the more aware Blair became of the smell, and he began to assess it, comparing it with his memories from his days at the body farm.
One officer was speaking to three boys who looked to be not more than ten or eleven; a woman, probably the mother of at least one of the boys, was standing beside them, looking as if she wanted nothing more than to grab her son - sons? - and leave the area.
"What's the story, Jenkins?" Ellison asked.
"The boys here were out at dawn bird-watching in the woodland; they were on their way home when they found the body," Jenkins replied. "They live quite close, so they ran home to tell their mother. She phoned 911, then when the first car arrived, came with us when the boys showed us where it was."
Ellison nodded then turned his attention to the woman. "Mrs. - ?"
"Travis." Her voice shook just a little. "And these are my sons - Don is eleven, and Mark and Andy are nearly ten - they're twins."
Blair looked a little more closely at the boys, and decided that Mark and Andy were fraternal twins; they didn't look much like each other.
"We can arrange for the boys to get counseling if they're upset by what they saw," Ellison said, which knocked him up a notch in Blair's estimation. "But I'm afraid I'll need to ask them a few questions. Yes," he added quickly as Mrs. Travis opened her mouth. "I understand that they've told Officer Jenkins what they saw, but that's how we get information - by asking the same questions more than once. That way sometimes a witness will remember a detail that they didn't actually remember seeing, the first time they told what they saw... "
Blair turned away, and moved to the body he could see lying there. He grinned amiably at the nearest officers, and held up his ID. "Dr. Sandburg, forensic anthropologist," he introduced himself.
"Haven't seen you before, Doc," one of them offered as he checked the ID.
"It's a recent appointment - I've only been in the job about a week." He knelt beside the body.
Partially covered by a thin layer of earth and leaf mold, it was lying face down; a quick glance around was enough to show Blair that the surface of the ground had been scraped to provide material for that layer, which would have hidden the body from casual discovery if some animal hadn't scratched the soil and humus away to reach what, to it, would have been a tempting smell. One arm, stetched forward, was mostly stripped of flesh; some scraps still clung to the bone, and ants were crawling over it, harvesting those scraps.
Blair studied the rest of the uncovered part of the body, then pulled a notebook from his backpack and began to make notes.
He was interrupted after some minutes by a polite, "Sir?"
He looked up. "Yes?"
"Vince Allerdyce, sir - police photographer."
"Oh. Right." He stood and moved back a few paces to give Allerdyce access to the body.
Ellison joined him. "I don't think the boys can give us much useful info," he said. "They were out early, were on their way home for breakfast, became aware of the smell; when they saw the arm, the oldest one hurried his brothers on - they didn't get a good look at it at all, though they did realize what it was - and they all knew they had to report it to the police."
"Good thing their mother didn't try to persuade them it was nothing," Blair said absently.
"I think she might have, but they're all bird daft, and living as close to here as they do, they spend a lot of time watching the birds here. So it made sense to her not to wait in the hope someone else would find it, but to call it in, get it removed so that the boys wouldn't trip over it again. What have you found?"
"It was thinly covered with soil, not deep enough to have been buried, enough so it was just hidden from casual view, and unless someone investigated to discover what was causing the smell would probably not have been found for a while, only an animal - possibly a coyote - found it and uncovered enough of it to get a meal. Once Vince has finished, I'll clear some more of what's covering the body. Judging from the hair, I'd say it's female - " He caught Ellison's pointed look at his hair. "I know some men have long hair, but the bone structure also says 'female' to me - "
"I've finished for the moment, sir," Allerdyce called over.
"Thanks. Hang about, though, we'll need you again."
Until that point he hadn't touched the body; now he pulled on gloves and began to brush more of the earth/leaf mold mixture off the body. A scatter of insects went with it; he bent close to examine the newly-exposed skin of the second arm, holding his breath against the smell. Bad enough at two or three feet away, at two or three inches it would be unbearable. He made a mental note to get hold of a mask.
Straightening, he scribbled another note in his book as Ellison asked, "Well?"
"Definitely female. I don't think she's been dead more than two, possibly three, days; long enough for the insects to get to work - there are some eggs on her skin - but nowhere near long enough for them to be anywhere near hatching. Decay has been slightly delayed because the body was covered, albeit thinly - if it had been deeper, the insects wouldn't have been able to reach it." He glanced over at Allerdyce. "A few more photos at this stage would be useful."
A few minutes later, Blair carefully rolled the body over and released his breath in a long "Ssssss." He glanced up. "This is definitely murder," he said unnecessarily; the fact that the body had been thinly covered in an attempt to hide it had already made that clear. "She's been stabbed."
Ellison looked down at the body for a moment, then beckoned Allardyce over. The photographer moved in and resumed work.
Once the body had been collected and taken back to the morgue, Blair and Dan got to work on it. First Blair checked it over, confirming his on-the-spot conclusions and establishing the death as more likely to be three days than two - not only the raw flesh of the stab wounds was quite thickly covered with insect eggs, some of them had had time to hatch...
This, he admitted to himself, was the main reason he had decided to concentrate on cultural anthropology. He had found forensic anthropology interesting, especially when it involved older, aka skeletonized, bodies. These less-than-six-months-old, especially the not-more-than-a-week-old, bodies were ones he had found disturbing.
The victim, he estimated, was young, probably mid-teens; it was almost certain that she had been reported as a missing person - though not necessarily in Cascade. She could have been a runaway. The clothes were of good quality, but that didn't necessarily mean she wasn't a runaway. Young teens from every strata of society rebelled against their parents and were capable of leaving home if their feelings of 'you don't understand!' were strong enough - even if they didn't have anywhere to go.
When Blair went to write up his report, Dan started work, quickly establishing that the victim had not been sexually assaulted. Blair breathed a mental sigh of relief. Bad enough that she had been murdered; how much worse would her last minutes have been if she had been raped as well?
He finished his report and sent a copy of it to Major Crime as Dan completed the autopsy.
Blair went home that night thinking about the girl whose life had been cut so brutally short. He had, of course, known when he applied for the job that it would not always involve old deaths, bodies that, like the one found beneath the road, he could identify as being over a hundred years old, but somehow he had not thought of having to investigate child deaths - and while today's victim would probably have resented being called a 'child', she was almost certainly under 16, and therefore classified as one by society.
He had little appetite, but forced himself to eat, telling himself firmly that eating was not a sign of a callous disregard for the dead girl and that not eating was not good for him.
He spent the evening reading the latest issue of Current Anthropology, and when he finished the last article he realized that the words had simply gone in one eye and out the other; he had no recollection of what he had been reading. Well, it had filled the evening... He went to bed even though it was still early, and quickly fell into an uneasy slumber.
Not long after he started work the next day, the morgue door opened and Detective Ellison entered accompanied by a man of around forty and a woman perhaps five years younger. Ellison nodded to Blair and turned to Dan. "Dr. Wolfe, this is Mr. and Mrs. Hunt. Their daughter went missing four days ago."
He didn't need to say anything more. Both Dan and Blair knew the couple was there to identify - or not identify - the dead girl. "Over here," Dan said quietly and took them over to the bank of drawers. He pulled out the drawer containing the stabbed girl.
Hunt uttered a broken sob. "Yes," he managed. "That's my Gina. Oh, God. What happened to her?"
"Someone stabbed her," Dan said quietly. "But whoever it was didn't rape her. She was spared that."
"You're sure of that?" Hunt asked.
"Yes," Dan said.
Ellison said, "Mrs. Hunt? I know your husband has identified Gina, but do you agree that this is your daughter?"
She glanced quickly at the body. "Yes," she said.
Hunt looked at Ellison. "When... when can we get her body?"
"In a few days," Ellison said quietly. "You can contact an undertaker, and we'll let you know when he can come for her." He led them out.
"That is one of the unhappier parts of our job," Dan told Blair. "Having relatives come in to identify a body. Bad when they do, but it's almost worse when they don't, when the body is that of a stranger. They're back to uncertainty; to not knowing what happened to their child or husband or sibling... not knowing whether to hope that the missing person will turn up or if he'll never show, alive or dead."
Blair nodded absently. "I can see that," he said. "But Dan... "
"Did it seem to you that Mr. Hunt was more concerned than his wife?"
"Women are sometimes more self-controlled in this sort of situation than men," Dan said. "Doesn't mean they won't break down once they get home again."
"I know women tend to be stronger than men generally give them credit for," Blair agreed, "but there was something about Mrs. Hunt... She agreed that it was her daughter, but she barely looked at the body, and she seemed almost too eager to confirm that it was. As if... as if she was going through choreographed behaviour that - that wasn't touching her emotionally."
Dan thought about it for a moment, then said slowly, "Yes, she was a bit detached, wasn't she... as if she didn't really care. But Gina was her daughter, for heaven's sake!"
"Was she?" Blair asked. "Mr. Hunt said, 'my Gina'. Not 'our'. Might Mrs. Hunt be a second wife, a stepmother rather than Gina's mother?"
"It's possible," Dan agreed.
"Not that it's particularly significant," Blair said.
"I'm not sure. It might be. Because what's interesting is how easily you picked up on it - but then a true shaman would. I noticed it, yes, but didn't really register it until you mentioned it."
"It could just mean that Mrs. Hunt and Gina didn't like each other very much. That can happen in a step relationship. It doesn't mean that Mrs. Hunt had anything to do with Gina's death."
"You don't really believe that, do you?" Dan asked.
"I don't want to believe it," Blair said reluctantly, "but... "
"You might not be properly trained, you might not follow a shaman's path, but you have the gift. You can read people. You've read something in Mrs. Hunt that you don't trust. I think you should mention this to Ellison."
"Like he'd pay any attention to my opinion!" Blair muttered. "He made it very clear that he didn't think much of me when he first saw me."
"Based on how young you look?"
"Yeah. I'd to give him a bit of attitude, and although he was polite enough after that, and even seemed to accept that I seemed to know what I was doing, I doubt very much that he'd listen to my opinion on anything."
"Then we can present it as a joint opinion. I don't have the disadvantage of looking ten years younger than I am, and I've known Jim Ellison for several years." He reached for the internal phone, and punched in a number. "Captain Banks - Dan Wolfe here. Has Jim finished with Mr. and Mrs. Hunt?... Well, could you send him down here when he does? Thanks." He put the phone down. "Probably be about half an hour."
"Mm. I suppose he'll have to get a statement from them - people Gina knew, maybe where she was going the day she disappeared, stuff like that?"
"Yes. Up until they identified her, she was still a missing person. Now he has to begin gathering the evidence that could catch the killer."
It was just over half an hour before the door opened and Ellison entered. "Dan? You wanted to see me? Have you found something else?"
"Not so much found something else as an observation. Dr. Sandburg was wondering - is Mrs. Hunt Gina's stepmother?"
Ellison threw a quick glance at Blair. "What makes you ask?"
"She didn't seem particularly upset," Blair said.
"Well, you're right. She's a stepmother. Hunt married her last year, a few months after his first wife died. Is that all you wanted me for?"
Blair threw a quick glance towards Dan, who said, "No. Go on, Doctor."
"I don't want to believe it, but... but I think she could have had something to do with Gina's death."
Ellison sounded a little impatient as he said, "Dr. Sandburg, the 'evil stepmother' scenario - "
"Can happen," Dan cut in. "Jim, Dr. Sandburg is a shaman. He read something in Mrs. Hunt that he didn't like."
"Are you sure of that?" Ellison asked. "Are you sure he's a shaman?"
"He's untrained, but yes; I'm sure," Dan said.
Ellison swung around. "What did you sense in her?" he demanded.
Blair thought for a moment, surprised that Ellison had accepted 'he's a shaman' so easily, and wondering how best to word an answer. "I don't think she was surprised. Her reaction seemed to be rehearsed."
"That was what I thought too - that her response was rehearsed - but I was speaking to her for a lot longer than you were. For you to get that from the short while she was here... He sounded surprisingly respectful. "Unfortunately, 'cop's instinct' or 'shaman's insight' aren't acceptable reasons for accusing someone... "
"I didn't think you'd believe in a shaman's insight," Blair said.
"I lived for eighteen months with a tribe in Peru," Ellison replied. "Their shaman sort of took me under his wing - and I saw first hand what he could do."
"Peru? - Yes, of course... Time magazine?"
"It was a fair while ago. I'm surprised you made the link." And Ellison really did sound surprised.
"Anthropologist here, Detective. My class had to read the article, then we had to do an essay based on it. You have no idea how much I envied the 'GI soldier' who lived for eighteen months as one of the Chopek... even though the article didn't say as much as it might have done."
"The mission I was on was top secret. The army didn't actually want me to give the interview at all, but if I hadn't, the guy who did it would have made something up that might have been too close to the truth. I had strict orders about what I couldn't say."
"Why doesn't that surprise me," Blair muttered. His mother hadn't thought much of 'the pigs' but his teachers had done a lot to show him how much good the police actually did; but Naomi's opinion of the army was even lower, and his teachers hadn't given him any balancing information about it.
Ellison shrugged. "I can say a little about it now, because the main issue has been politically settled. Back then there was a lot of skirmishing in the area between Peru and Equador - and my team was sent in, unofficially, to help the Peruvians. Turned out there was a lot of activity in the area by a drug cartel as well.
"Our helicopter crashed; I was the only survivor, and after the Chopek found me several days later, I carried on with our mission, with the help of the tribe. I never did quite understand, though, why they accepted me as readily as they did. We'd been warned that the locals might be quite... well, stand-offish, even if we were helping them."
"You're right," Blair agreed. "It is unusual. Those tribes tend to be suspicious of strangers - the tribal shaman is particularly so; so much of the tribe's welfare depends on him. He must have seen something special in you."
Ellison shook his head. "Whatever it was, I never knew." He sighed. "Sometimes I really miss Incacha... especially when I have a difficult case. I don't know what he did, but he could help me concentrate."
"You sound as if you were happy there," Blair murmured.
"Yes. I did wish my men had survived - we'd been together for a while, and worked well together - but apart from that... yes, I was happy. It felt as if I belonged there." Abruptly, he shook off what sounded like nostalgia. "Thanks. Now I know it wasn't just me, I can concentrate on finding out if Mrs. Hunt knows more about Gina's death than she's saying."
As Ellison walked out, Blair decided that he did in fact quite like the detective. He was an odd mixture of abrupt, distant, almost defensive, and sympathetic understanding; Blair found himself wondering if Ellison was afraid of being emotionally hurt.
As he turned to resume working, Blair also found himself distracted by wondering just what it was that the Chopek shaman - Incacha? - had seen in Ellison that he had considered special. Whatever it was... it was clearly at least part of what had made Ellison feel as if he 'belonged'.
When he got home that evening, he was still considering Ellison and his acceptance by the Chopek and, in particular, the Chopek shaman. What would a tribal shaman consider 'special'?
Some ability or some skill that was probably rare. But what skill or ability would a white man have that a Chopek shaman would value? Something that would benefit the tribe... but what skill would an American soldier have that members of the tribe did not?
Blair shook his head. It was more than unlikely that it was a skill; so it had to be an ability. What ability would be rare, but as likely to be possessed by a white man as a Chopek? Something Incacha realized that Ellison could do, that possibly none of the Chopek could. Some sort of genetic advantage, perhaps?
A genetic advantage... a sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans... honed by solitary time spent in the wild. The memory of a subject that had fascinated him when he was in his teens sent him to his bookcase.
He hadn't looked at The Sentinels of Paraguay for several years - not since he had come to the unhappy conclusion that he wasn't going to find anyone with five enhanced senses, and that there was no way he could base a thesis on the facts gleaned from one book that was over a century old and the people he had found with a very acute sense of taste and/or smell.
On his various expeditions, he had asked the tribes he had encountered if they knew of men with senses that were sharper than the norm, and received nothing but negatives. Certainly he had suspected that if a tribe did have a sentinel they wouldn't broadcast the fact; the sentinel was undoubtedly the most valuable man in the tribe, and as such would be the one first targeted by an enemy. Inter-tribal conflict was, sadly, still quite common in very remote parts of the world.
Blair flicked through the pages of the book, reminding himself of facts he had once known very well indeed. He hadn't actually forgotten them, but he had pushed them to the back of his mind once he had decided that he would have to find a subject other than sentinels for his Masters thesis and doctoral dissertation.
It was late before he went to bed, but even so he lay for some time wondering how he could broach the subject of acute senses to Ellison the next time he saw him - and wasn't it strange how convinced he was that he would see Ellison again, and fairly soon.
He fell asleep still considering how best to approach the subject...
Morning brought him no answers.
Still thinking about the enigma that was Detective Ellison over breakfast, he decided to add The Sentinels of Paraguay to the contents of his backpack. It would, he thought, be useful to have it conveniently to hand if the opportunity arose to speak to the man.
He drove into the PD garage just behind an already familiar blue and white truck that drove into a space just beside the entrance. Tempted to park beside it, he resisted the urge and carefully parked several spaces away from it.
"Morning, Chief." Good lord, was Ellison waiting for him? And sounding quite friendly, even without the nickname - one which, Blair thought, Ellison probably applied to people in general when he was in a good mood.
"Morning," he replied as he joined Ellison.
"Thought you might like to know - when I went to speak to her again, Mrs. Hunt broke down and admitted that she'd killed Gina. The two of them didn't like each other, but were polite in their dealings; but Gina had discovered that her stepmother had been having an affair, threatened to tell her father, then walked out. Mrs. Hunt followed, to try - she said - to persuade Gina not to say anything, and tried to say that the killing was a spur of the moment thing, but when I reminded her that the stab wounds were made by a pretty heavy knife she finally admitted that she'd taken the knife with her, meaning to get rid of Gina permanently. Afterwards she threw the knife into the lake."
Blair was silent for a moment. "Thanks for telling me. But, God, poor Mr. Hunt."
"There are always innocent victims," Ellison said.
They turned towards the elevator, but had taken only three or four steps when a car horn blared, the sound followed almost immediately by the sound of two cars crashing into each other. Blair turned instantly towards the entrance ramp, then realized that Ellison was standing with his hands clamped over his ears.
"Detective?" Blair touched Ellison's arm in the silence following the crash. "Are you all right?"
"Loud," Ellison muttered.
"It's quiet now," Blair said. As Ellison took his hands from his ears, Blair went on, speaking very quietly, "It sounded as if there was an accident just outside - hadn't we better go and see?"
However, when they reached the street, it was to find several police already in attendance - not surprising when the accident had happened just outside the PD - so they turned back and headed for the elevator. As they went, Blair said, still almost whispering, "I think I know what Incacha found special about you."
"You do? How? I never knew - "
"That crash - it was loud, but I've heard louder noises. You found it deafening."
"The horn blaring - it was loud enough to hurt," Ellison said.
Blair nodded. "In general... do you find noises louder than you find comfortable?"
"In general... they're pretty loud, yes."
"Means your ears are quite sensitive. What about your eyes?"
"Well, I'm fairly far-sighted... "
"What about night vision?"
"Yeah, that's good, too. I've heard people complain that it's too dark to see when I'm having no trouble at all." Ellison sounded slightly puzzled.
"Sense of smell pretty acute too?" Blair asked, seeing Ellison making a face as they entered the elevator car. Blair himself was aware of -
"Some idiot has peed in here," Ellison growled. He sniffed and shook his head, "Not someone I recognize, but if I meet him I'll know him."
"That's it confirmed," Blair said. "I know exactly what Incacha saw in you. I'll bet the Chopek were sorry when the army arrived to pick you up, too."
"Well, yes, they were, but I'd been one of them for eighteen months. Incacha... he said that I had served the Chopek well, but that my destiny was with my own people."
Blair hit the button for floor six. "We need privacy for this," he said. "An interrogation room will give us that."
"Won't Dan wonder where you are?"
"He might. Will Captain Banks wonder about you?"
"He might." Ellison's reply was totally deadpan, and Blair grinned.
"Well, even if they do, you and I need to discuss this."
Leaving the elevator, they found an empty room - at this time in the morning, it was easy to find one. Once inside, Ellison said, "All right, Chief. What did Incacha see in me?"
"Heightened senses," Blair said. He put his backpack on the table and opened it. Removing the book, he put it down in front of Ellison, who frowned at it.
"The Sentinels of Paraguay?"
"I found this book when I was thirteen, and it fascinated me. I wanted to make sentinels my focus of study, but I couldn't find any; I did find a few individuals with very acute sense of taste and smell, working for tea, coffee and wine companies, or perfumiers; but that was all. I went on expeditions as a student, but no tribe that we visited would admit to having a sentinel, though I'm sure some of them probably did. In the end I had to abandon the subject, and made my focus of study tribes living in remote, isolated areas.
"Last night I started wondering what Incacha could have seen in you that made you so special to him. It couldn't have been a skill - these tribes have all the skills they need at their fingertips; it had to have been something that none of his people had; and I remembered about sentinels. I brought the book in hoping that I might see you; I didn't expect to find proof that you have heightened senses practically the moment I parked my car this morning. All the time I was speaking to you in the garage, I was practically whispering, and you heard me, no bother at all. You agreed you're far-sighted and have excellent night vision; and in the elevator you indicated that you could find whoever it was that peed in there just by smelling him. Taste is linked to sense of smell - what about touch. Is that sensitive too?"
"Well... yes. I have to watch what material my clothes are made from, or what detergent I use to wash them. Some materials are really rough."
"Sense of direction?"
"If you mean do I always know where I'm going, yes, that's good too."
"Sense of time? When you look at your watch, do you find you're not surprised when you see what time it is? Because you know?"
Slowly, Ellison nodded. "But... "
"I thought we just had five senses."
"Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are the ones everyone thinks of, but there are more. Time, direction, balance, proprioception - "
Blair grinned. "Bodily awareness. Close your eyes. Now touch the tip of your nose."
Ellison shook his head but obeyed.
"Some people can't do that; their brain is damaged in some way. Doesn't affect their everyday lives but they don't have the awareness of their own bodies that most of us do. There are other senses too - even sense of humor - but let's not bother going into that.
"Even if all you'd had was sight and hearing, that would have been valuable to the Chopek; with all those main five senses acute, well, I can only imagine how keen Incacha was to hang on to you for as long as possible."
"I didn't have any problems with sounds being too loud, anything like that, when I was with the Chopek."
"Everything there was natural. You said you felt you 'belonged'; our way of life is - has to be - totally unsympathetic towards a sentinel. Actually, the time you spent there on your own, before the Chopek found you... One of the points Burton makes - "
Blair indicated the book. "Sir Richard Burton - an explorer in the Victorian era. There were a lot of 'gentlemen explorers' back then, and they all wrote books about what they saw and did. But for some reason, Burton was the only one who mentioned sentinels. He either managed to get some of the tribes to admit it and talk about what sentinels did, or he was an incredibly acute observer. Could have been a bit of both. But given that nobody else said anything about 'natives with remarkably acute senses', his finds were first disputed and then ignored as a traveler's tale.
"Burton suggested that people with a genetic predisposition to having heightened senses would have these honed by solitary time spent in the wild. He did reference one tribe whose test of manhood for the boys was to spend solitary time in the jungle. If they had that predisposition, their time in the jungle would develop it.
"I think that's what happened to you. Living in the 'civilized' world, we don't actually need particularly acute senses. Indeed, acute senses could be a positive disadvantage, so in self-defense you probably suppressed any tendency to hear or see, etcetera, more acutely than everyone else. But then, on your own in the jungle, you needed the senses to help you survive... just as Burton pointed out those young men undergoing their rite of manhood did - if they had the potential for them."
"Okay - that all sounds convincing," Ellison admitted. "But if sudden loud noises deafen me, things like that, it's a disadvantage here. How do I close them off?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't think you can," he said. "You've come on-line, so to speak, and you can't put the genie back in the bottle. But you're a detective; can't you imagine how valuable your senses could be in helping you gather evidence?"
"I suppose so... but it has to be evidence that would hold up in court. How could I stand up and say in evidence 'Yes, Your Honor, I know the accused had broken into the house because I could detect his scent'? And even if I could prove that I did have that acute a sense of smell... how long do you think it would take for the criminal fraternity to work things out and hire someone to take me out?"
"Why do you think most tribes keep quiet if they have a sentinel?" Blair asked. "It annoyed me, when I was trying to get info on sentinels, that nobody would admit to having one, but eventually I realized it was a defensive thing. An unfriendly tribe could come along and seek to weaken their enemy by kidnapping or killing the sentinel.
"But there's another thing you need to be aware of - a major downside to having heightened senses. According to Burton, a sentinel could be so intent on something - if he concentrated too hard with one sense - he could lose touch with reality. So apparently all sentinels had a companion, who would know the signs that it was happening and watch out for it, and guide them back to full awareness. Have you ever had - I suppose you could call them blank spells, where you've lost time, been unaware of your surroundings?"
"Once or twice, usually when I was looking pretty intently at something. I thought... Usually I came back to myself with some sort of idea of what I'd been looking for." He sounded a little lost. "I thought I'd just been totally lost in thought."
"No," Blair said. "Definitely what you might call a zone-out factor, caused by concentrating too hard. Interesting that you say it's mostly caused by sight... Is there someone you work with that could help you?"
"No. I work alone."
"I thought... I know you were on your own - apart from me - when we went to Miller's Pond, but I just thought your partner was maybe off ill. I mean... cops, even detectives, usually have partners, don't they?"
"Usually," Ellison agreed. "But my partner in Major Crime disappeared a couple of years ago. He was delivering the money for a ransom demand, but he disappeared along with the money; the guy who was kidnapped was never found. IA decided that Jack had taken the money and skedaddled, that the kidnappers had killed the victim when the ransom money wasn't paid. I... I ended up on a month's suspension because I reacted badly when I overheard another cop bad-mouthing Jack. I know he had cash problems - he was a gambler and didn't always think to stop before he lost too much money; but something like the delivery of ransom money, when it was someone's life on the line - there's no way he would have kept that money and done a disappearing act with it. I think the kidnappers killed him.
"Anyway, although the other guys respected my defense of Jack, I'd even say appreciated my loyalty to him, none of them actually wanted to partner me - and after the way Jack disappeared, I was happy to accept that; I didn't want another partner. I've worked alone since then." But there was a note in Ellison's voice that made Blair wonder if he was as happy about that as his words implied.
"Well, now that you know what you are and that there's a potential problem, you really need to get a partner."
Ellison looked at him. "I know you're here as a forensic anthropologist, but you know the situation. Could you do it?"
I'm not sure your true destiny lies in forensic anthropology, but somehow I feel that forensic anthropology will lead you to it.
Blair 'heard' the echo of Dan's words. Could it be? Was this the shaman's path Dan saw for him? Certainly he would never have met Ellison if he hadn't applied for the forensics anthropology position with the police...
"I... think I could," he said. "But we'll need to get both Captain Banks and Chief Warren to agree, because they'd need to allow me to move to Major Crime, though I could still probably do some forensic anthropology work. I'm not sure that Captain Findlay needs to be told, though he might wonder... "
"What about Dan?" Ellison asked.
"I think he might be ahead of us." Blair grinned at the puzzled look on Ellison's face. "Dan told me, the day I came to be interviewed, that I wasn't on my true path but that I was close to it. Seems it was closer that he thought... Jim." He scooped up the book and pushed it into his pack. "Come on - time to let Banks and Warren know the situation."
They left the interrogation room, and side by side headed towards Major Crime.
Yes, Blair thought. He'd quit the merry-go-round and his future looked to be far more fulfilling. He wasn't quite on the speeding train yet... but once he was, he wouldn't be looking back. He had finally found a sentinel; he would be working with that sentinel. Dan was right; he had finally found his destined path.
Life couldn't get better.
I know that 'Chopec' is the more usual spelling of the name, but because there is no 'c' in the Quechua alphabet, I prefer to spell it 'Chopek'. Strictly speaking, of course, that should also make the shaman's name 'Inkacha' but I've chosen not to change the more normally accepted spelling there.
Many thanks to Nat for the beta, and her unending patience in correcting my UK spelling and Briticisms.