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Simon Banks took a reflective sip of his coffee while he considered the best way to broach the subject that was currently foremost on his mind.
The best way? Hell, he had been considering that for close on thirty-six hours, and he still wasn't sure how to tell Jim Ellison that there was something suspicious about the grad student whose ninety-day pass as an observer had been approved a bare week earlier.
Of course, Simon should have insisted on a background check before Sandburg got his pass. He knew he should have insisted on a background check before Sandburg got his pass - but after the way the kid had helped to bring down the Switchman (and Simon still had difficulty in thinking of the Switchman as a woman) he had ignored the little voice that kept muttering 'background check... '. After the way the kid had handled himself during Kincaid's attack on the PD, Simon had convinced himself that the background check would be a pure formality.
But Sandburg's background only went back as far as 1984. It was as if, like Aphrodite, he had sprung full-grown - well, almost full-grown - from the sea. There was no record of childhood, no record that his parents had immigrated... the first mention of Blair Sandburg, DoB May 24th 1969, in any record was when he was enrolled in a school in Seattle. From there, at age sixteen he went to Rainier, and he had remained there ever since.
Sitting opposite Simon, Jim waited more or less patiently for his Captain to speak. He was not, he knew, in trouble - his reports were up to date, and in any case Simon was not looking annoyed. He drank half of his own coffee while he waited.
Finally, Simon said, "Jim, you said Sandburg was your cousin's kid."
"But that was just to cover up the sentinel thing, wasn't it? That you needed him for that."
Jim felt his cheeks redden. "Yes. Sorry about that - I... well... "
"Wasn't sure how anyone else would take the 'heightened senses' thing so you were keeping quiet about it."
Simon nodded. "I can understand that. If I hadn't seen for myself what you can do... "
"I wouldn't be able to do it without Sandburg."
"Are you sure?"
"I know it's only been a few days, but yes, I'm sure. He keeps me grounded. Helps me keep control."
Simon hesitated for a moment more, but he could put off no longer...
"Jim, how much do you know about the kid?"
"Well... not much. He doesn't talk about himself. Ask him something and he manages to twist it around so he's speaking about you."
"I'm not surprised. Jim - I don't know who he is, but our check couldn't find any record of someone called 'Blair Sandburg' before 1984. For the first fifteen years of his life... Blair Sandburg didn't exist."
"Possible, I suppose," Simon agreed. "And I like that possibility better than the one that at fifteen he was some kind of criminal, on the run and hiding behind a false identity, though a university career, going for a doctorate, does make that unlikely. But Jim - we're going to have to ask him. If he's to work with us... you and I, at least, need to know."
"I know," Jim said. "He's coming in this afternoon. When he does... when he does I'll tell him you want to see us, and once we're in here, I'll leave you to do the talking, and guard the door. That'll serve a double purpose - keep him from running, though he wouldn't get far through the bullpen if he tried - all you'd have to do is yell 'Stop him!'. I'd also be able to keep anyone else from coming in, and if it is something like witness protection, it would let him see we're protecting his anonymity."
Blair walked into the bullpen just after one.
Even although he'd only been going in for about a week, everyone knew how he'd helped Jim catch Veronica Sarris and then, just a day or two later, bluffed Kincaid's pilot into returning to the PD and landing on the roof, making it possible for them to arrest Kincaid as well as his men. As a result, he was greeted with more enthusiasm and friendliness than he'd expected. He responded happily as he made his way to Jim's desk.
As he reached it, Jim stood. "Hi, Chief. Simon wants to see us."
Blair dropped his backpack beside Jim's desk, threw his jacket over the back of the chair, and followed Jim into Simon's office. "Hi, Simon!"
"Sandburg. Have a seat."
Blair sank into one of the two chairs in front of Simon's desk, only then noticing that Jim had paused just inside the door. "Jim?"
"Just making sure that nobody walks in on us," Jim said quietly.
"That sounds ominous."
"We hope it isn't," Simon said. He looked at Blair, silent for long enough that the younger man began to look a little worried.
"So what's the problem?" Blair asked.
"Who are you?"
"Who...? I'm Blair Sandburg - "
"No, you're not. Or, rather - you're Blair Sandburg now, but who were you before you were Blair Sandburg? Who were you before 1984?"
"Well, it wasn't Winston Smith, even if you seem to think this is the Ministry of Truth!" Blair snapped.
Simon looked puzzled for a moment, then dismissed Blair's comment as meaningless and irrelevant, though he was beginning to think that Blair's - yes, defiant tone - made 'fifteen-year-old criminal' more likely than 'protected witness'. "Look, we did a background check on you and the first record we could find for you was when you went to school in Seattle in 1984. Where were you before that? Were your family illegal immigrants, perhaps? You were fifteen - so don't tell me you don't know!"
"No, we weren't illegal immigrants!" Blair snapped. He glanced over at Jim. "Did you know about this?"
"Not until Simon told me today. The check was pure routine, Chief, nothing personal. Every civilian employee has his - her - background checked. I knew it would be done, and didn't expect it to show up anything unusual. But since it has... Simon and I need to know why fifteen-year-old Blair Sandburg suddenly appeared, but it's nobody else's business - which is why I'm standing here in case someone - Rhonda, for example - tries to walk in."
Blair rubbed his hands over his face. Finally he looked back at Simon. "Okay. I'd... rather not tell you my real name," he said. "And in any case, what I thought was my real name isn't. Who am I? I don't know. I don't know what my real name is.
"No, I haven't done anything wrong... it's just... " He let out a long breath that was almost a sob.
"Witness protection?" Jim asked gently.
"No." He paused, clearly fighting to keep from breaking down. At last he went on, very quietly, "I wish it were that simple. My father... I adored my father, and thought he really loved me. When I was young he took me places, showed me things... but as I got older, he began to ignore me. Brush me off. And then, a few days after my thirteenth birthday, he tried to kill me."
The startled exclamations from the other men broke the silence as he swallowed before going on. "Mom heard something, came in, realized what was happening, and hit him from behind really hard. Knocked him out. We took a couple of minutes - if that - to pick up some money I had saved that was in a drawer in my bedroom and her purse, and ran for it. We took Mom's car, stopped at the bank long enough to withdraw as much money as possible, drove on another few miles, abandoned the car in a supermarket parking lot, took a cab from there to a shopping mall, delayed there about half an hour, then took another cab to the local bus station, and caught the first long distance bus that was leaving. We changed buses several times, sometimes doubling back - left a really convoluted trail in case he tried to find us, and didn't stop running till we reached Seattle. We changed our names, Mom got a job, enrolled me in a school there." He hesitated for a moment, then went on. "She'd found a way around the birth certificate thing - apparently she'd known a woman called Sandburg who'd had a son in May of 1969, so she adopted her identity, claimed that we'd lost everything in a fire, and asked for a duplicate birth certificate and gave me his identity. The original Sandburgs had emigrated in 1971, gone to Israel. I was fourteen, but I'd always been clever, so it was quite easy to get away with claiming I was fifteen; I could do the work. I've always said I started at Rainier when I was sixteen, but... "
"You actually started at Rainier when you were fifteen," Jim said.
"Do you know why...?" Jim asked.
"I think so," Blair said. "Well, it's a guess, really, but when Mom told me the story, she said she was pretty sure it had to be why... Dad was sterile. He'd always wanted to have children, and when the months passed and she didn't become pregnant, he first of all blamed Mom, then finally agreed that they should both be tested. When the doctors told him he was shooting blanks, he was shattered.
"He had a close friend who... well, after discussing things with him and with Mom, the man I'd thought was my father persuaded his friend act as surrogate, sleeping with Mom until she knew she was pregnant.
"The friend - the man who actually was my father - was killed in an accident a couple of years later, just before they were going to try to have a second child.
"When I was very young, there didn't seem to be a problem - as I said, he seemed to love me very much; but eventually, when I was almost twelve, apparently I began to look more and more like my real father. That was when Dad started pushing me away.
"Mom reckoned he'd become... well, unbalanced, because he couldn't fool himself any longer into thinking of me as his; even though it had been his suggestion in the first place for Mom to sleep with the friend. It was too obvious - to him, at least - that he wasn't my father... my biological father. Somehow he'd begun to convince himself that Mom had had a clandestine affair with the friend, rather than something that he had himself arranged.
"Mom has kept in touch with her parents, who had never much liked him - and apparently he's still looking for us, claiming that he wants his son back, though he doesn't seem to have realized that we moved to another part of the country, and he certainly hasn't realized that Mom changed our name... especially to a Jewish one." He looked at Simon. "So there you have it, Captain. Is it a problem?"
Simon shook his head. "No. I'm sorry - "
"Hey, if it was a routine check it had to be done, right?" Blair visibly relaxed.
Simon nodded, then said, "So what are you two cluttering up my office for? Don't you have work to do, Detective?"
"Yes, Captain," Jim replied. "Come on, Chief." As they left Simon's office, Jim went on, "Have you had lunch yet?"
"No, I was held up at Rainier, and if I'd stopped for lunch I'd have been late getting here - but it's not a problem."
"Well, I haven't had lunch either, so let's go and eat before we do anything else... "
From his office, Simon watched them leave the bullpen. He still wasn't totally sure about the kid, and without his original name there was no way to check the story, but his instinct was to believe it.
Hell of a load for anyone to carry.
Simon spared a moment to think about his own son, glad that - resentful though Daryl was about the divorce - he would never carry the burden of not knowing who his father was, or that the man he called father wanted him dead; and then Simon turned back to his own work.