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When Jim Ellison woke, he was instantly aware that something was wrong.
There was a strange, total silence in the loft. Well -- not strange, exactly; there was something familiar about the silence -- familiar and, he registered with some surprise, very, very unwelcome.
He sat up in bed, listening.
Silence. Complete silence. Not even the accustomed soft whoosh of water running through the pipes or the quiet hum, almost inaudible even to him, of the electric current in the wiring. The constant, twenty-four hour a day traffic noise, normally muted considerably by the double glazing he had installed in sheer self-defence, had disappeared.
He breathed deeply, scenting the air.
And smelled nothing.
He got out of bed, and realised he was wearing pajamas. Pajamas? Although he still had a couple of pairs he'd been given as a present at some forgotten time in the past, he'd worn nothing but boxers in bed for years, finding them the most comfortable sleepwear available. He hadn't even been aware of the touch of cloth against his upper body. Glancing down at himself, he saw that he was wearing one of those 'never-been-out-of-the-wrapper' pairs of pajamas -- even although he hadn't looked at them for years, he still recognised the 'joke' motif from the label.
He padded downstairs and crossed to the tiny room where his guide slept, his attention totally on its door, and looked in.
The room was empty. Totally, completely empty.
No futon. No desk. No books. No clutter.
Frowning, he turned and looked around the living room.
All Sandburg's things were gone. The walls were empty. The place had the bare, impersonal, unwelcoming, even unfriendly to the point of hostility aspect it had carried for months after Carolyn left and before Sandburg arrived. It was no longer a home, it was merely a place to give shelter; a place to eat and sleep.
What the hell...
How had Sandburg vanished so completely, leaving the place looking as if he'd never been there?
Still puzzled, he crossed to the bathroom. Although it was still very early, now that he was completely awake he might as well wash, shave, get ready for work while he tried to understand what had mysteriously happened in the last few hours since he went to bed, leaving his friend and roommate working on his laptop.
As he squirted the shaving cream onto his fingers he froze. The stuff felt... normal. Wiping his hands on a towel, he stumbled back into the living room, remembering when this had happened once before.
Remembering the strange silence when he wakened, remembering his inability to smell anything familiar, he deliberately tried his senses, one by one.
They were all gone. All downgraded to 'normal'.
When? Overnight, as last time? But how? Why? He'd accepted them, for god's sake!
And it still didn't explain Sandburg's overnight disappearance.
He went back into the bathroom and washed and shaved automatically. He went back upstairs and dressed mechanically, suddenly realising as he fastened his shoes that the clothes laid out ready, the shirt he had just put on, were winter-weight.
But... but it was July! He'd put his winter clothes away several weeks earlier, at the end of May, joking with Sandburg that it was time he got his winter clothes out of storage and put away his Antarctic expedition ones. When had he brought these thicker clothes out again? In his sleep? Dammit, he hadn't walked in his sleep for years!
It did feel a little chilly, though, now he came to think of it... and it was much darker outside than it should have been. Perhaps there was a storm brewing. So he simply went downstairs again and went to the kitchen.
The eggs and milk in the fridge were standard, but there was very little else in it apart from a broken six-pack of beer. He checked the cupboard for coffee, and frowned again. This was getting weirder by the minute -- there was no coffee there apart from a nearly-empty jar of Folgers.
He hated instant coffee. Well, no, he admitted, not hated -- but it didn't taste right... Well, maybe with his sense of taste off-line it might; it seemed to be the only coffee in the house, and he needed coffee right now!
Much to his surprise, he realised there was nothing wrong with it. It was perfectly drinkable; actually, quite surprisingly pleasant in a not-quite-coffee-tasting way.
He explored the kitchen with a feeling of being a guest in someone else's house. The freezer was half full of ready meals for one -- something he could not remember ever buying, even in the days immediately post-Carolyn, let alone eating. He searched through the contents, finding nothing that spoke, even faintly, of Blair Sandburg.
Jim closed the freezer again.
Had he dreamed the last three years? Had he dreamed that he had heightened senses, and if so, what had triggered such a dream? Had he dreamed the existence of Blair Sandburg?
No; there was too much detail clear in his mind for it all to have been a dream. There was no way his mind could have conjured up the hyperactive, highly-intelligent, long-haired hippy punk who had coerced his way into his life; his home; even -- he admitted to himself in his more honest moments -- his heart.
There was no way he could feel so worried about someone who existed only in his imagination.
Finishing the last of his coffee in two gulps, Jim swilled water round inside the mug, put it on the side to drip dry, grabbed his keys and headed out of the door.
In the street, he realised that far from being just chilly, it was cold; and in his haste to leave the loft he had forgotten that he was wearing fairly thick clothes so might need a jacket. It was never that cold in July.
But... it was cold.
Instead of heading straight for his truck, he swung aside to buy a newspaper, then went to the truck. Sitting in it, he looked at the headlines, and his eye was caught by the date on the paper.
That was... impossible. How had he lost three full months?
He scanned the headlines. None of them made any sense to him. None of the stories sounded even vaguely familiar.
Jim dropped the paper onto the seat beside him, started the truck, and headed for the PD.
Once there, he made his way to Major Crime. On the way up the stairs he passed a couple of uniformed cops; they pushed roughly past him as if he didn't exist, not even acknowledging his muttered, "Morning". As he walked into the bullpen, two or three heads lifted, registered his presence, ignored him completely and returned their attention to their work. Was it his imagination, or was there a look of disgust, of dislike, on their faces?
He went to his desk, and hesitated. Was this even his desk? Gone were the photos he kept on it. Gone was the second chair that Sandburg used. He reached down and opened the bottom drawer. Yes -- his spare gun was there. He sat and pulled some files forward, and began to read the top one.
Within seconds he was shaking his head. The case meant nothing. He closed the file and looked at the next one... and the next... and the next...
Not one looked in any way familiar.
After thinking for a minute, he crossed to Simon Banks' office, knocked and went in.
Simon looked up and scowled. "All right, Ellison -- what do you want? And make it fast."
The dislike, the disgust, that he had only thought he saw on the faces in the bullpen were both in Simon's face and voice, full measure.
His question took Jim totally by surprise. He hadn't known until he spoke what he was going to ask.
Simon frowned, the question clearly taking him by surprise as well. "What do you mean, 'Where's Sandburg?' As if you care. You've certainly waited long enough to think of asking."
"Simon, I woke up this morning and Sandburg wasn't there. There's no sign that he was ever there. Where is he?"
Simon looked at him, clearly annoyed by the question. "How am I supposed to know? Are you wanting to hound him some more? All I can tell you is that he left Cascade two or three days after you threw him out of the loft."
"After I... " threw him out of the loft.
Threw him out of the loft?
It made sense in a horrible, logical way. There had been no sense of his guide's presence in the loft, so he must have left months previously. In... late July, perhaps? But... threw him out?
Jim's bewilderment was terribly, terribly clear, and Simon frowned again, but with less hostility. "Are you trying to say you don't remember?"
Less hostility, perhaps, but Jim could easily hear the anger still in Simon's voice.
"When I woke up this morning, I thought it was summer. Then I bought a paper and when I saw the date on it... Simon, I don't know where the last three months went. I can't remember them at all. I've just looked through my case folders and I haven't a clue what any of them are about. And everyone -- including you, and you know it -- has been looking at me as if I'm a serial killer who's left a trail of murdered five-year-olds from LA to Cascade."
Simon was beginning to look more thoughtful as Jim repeated, "There was no sign of Blair at the loft; I'd almost begun to think I'd dreamed him. Where is he, Simon? You're his friend too. You've got to know."
"Well, you certainly sound more like the Jim Ellison I've known for the last three years," Simon said slowly. "This past few months you've been more like you were when you were in Vice; a guy nobody could stand."
"Attitude on two legs?"
Jim rubbed a hand over his mouth. "July." he said. "He left in July?"
"Yeah. You were edgy anyway through most of the month, easily annoyed, but all you could say was that something felt wrong. Then when Sandburg got home one night you had all his things in boxes and you told him to leave.
"Next day he came to the bullpen to speak to you. You told him that you needed a partner you could trust. He said, 'I don't know what I've done or what you think I've done, and if you won't tell me there's nothing I can do to set it right.' Then when you didn't answer him, he put his badge on my desk and walked out.
"I caught up with him at Rainier next day, as he was packing up his office there. He said he was leaving Cascade; that you had made it clear you didn't need him, but he'd found someone else who did.
"I said something about 'That was fast', and he said he'd known this woman for a couple of weeks and she seemed to have some sentinel abilities, but he'd never have left you for her while you still needed him."
"God. Why? Why?"
"Because you threw him out."
"Dammit, that's not what I meant. Why did I tell him to leave? What happened to make me say I didn't trust him? And why can't I remember the last three months?
"I do remember... I was feeling twitchy, for no obvious reason, just feeling that something bad was going to happen. Something was wrong, but I couldn't work out what it was. And then... I remember dreaming I was in the jungle, scouting like I did when I was with the Chopek, and I killed a wolf -- "
"A wolf? In the Peruvian jungle?"
"Hell, Simon, you know what dreams can be like," Jim muttered. "Weird shit seems to make total sense. Anyway, the dead wolf changed into Sandburg. I thought it meant I was going to get him killed. I woke feeling that I had to do something to protect him.
"But nothing happened, next day was pretty normal, and I... well, dismissed the dream as a stupid nightmare. Went to bed leaving Sandburg working...
"Then I woke this morning, thinking that was last night, and he wasn't there... and somehow," he repeated, "I've lost three months." He looked helplessly at Simon. "And it's very obvious that I'm not anyone's favourite person. Even a couple of uniforms, on the stairs... "
"Well, after you told Sandburg -- and very publicly too -- that you couldn't trust him and he left... let's say the ranks closed. He was 'just' an observer and you were the cop, but everyone reacted as if he was the brother," Simon told him. "Nobody was willing to work with you, nobody would even talk to you. It didn't seem to bother you; you acted as if you didn't care, didn't even notice. You did your work competently but not brilliantly. You seemed to have totally forgotten the sentinel thing -- one time early on I did ask if you could see something, and it wasn't all that far, and you just snarled 'Who the fuck could see anything at that distance?' You didn't actually say it, but I could hear 'you idiot' in your voice."
"So what had happened?"
"You tell me. But I'll tell you this -- it's nice to have Jim Ellison back, rather than the robot Ellison who's been here for the past months."
"Thanks," Jim muttered. "One thing -- my senses do seem to have gone on strike. Everything's... normal, the way it was before they came on-line."
"Could the two be linked? Losing your memory and losing your senses?"
"Could be," Jim muttered. "I can't help feeling that dream with the wolf is significant some way... " His mind had already returned to the problem of finding his guide. "Simon, did Blair say anything to indicate where he'd be, where he was going?"
Simon shook his head. "But it was odd," he added. "I put it down to shock, but he wasn't himself. I told him to keep in touch, let me know how he was getting on, and he said he would, but in an absent-minded way, as if he was just being polite and didn't really know what he was saying. And he hasn't contacted me, which doesn't really surprise me considering the way he seemed to be moving through a dream.
"He didn't have as much at Rainier as I'd expected; most of what was in his office he said belonged to or concerned Rainier; he'd a couple of boxes of books and I helped carry them out to his car. His boxes from your place were there too - the trunk and back seat were packed with them. He said he'd probably be getting rid of a lot of it. That most of the things from the loft also belonged to Rainier and he'd be returning them to there once he'd gone through everything, had a chance to sort out his own things from Rainier's.
"I asked if he had anywhere to go, and told him he could stay with me if he wanted, but he said no, he had somewhere. Then he drove off.
"I... well, I was curious, as well as concerned; I followed him, though he didn't know it. When he stopped, it was at a house on the outskirts of Cascade. A woman came out, spoke to him -- I have to admit, I didn't much like the look of her, though I couldn't say why -- but I was glad he had somewhere to go, someone who seemed to want him.
"He began to carry his stuff into her building. I didn't want him to know I'd been following him, so I drove on.
"When I got back here, I ran a check on the address. The house had been rented for a month by a Professor Alicia Bannister. So I checked her. She turned out to be an archaeologist specialising in the Mesoamerican culture -- pretty good reputation in her field, though she didn't appear to be much liked by anyone. She'd been at Rainer guest lecturing a summer class, so I imagine that's where Sandburg met her.
"They left Cascade together about a week later, heading for Mexico. I didn't want Rainier to know I was snooping around -- well, I didn't have a justifiable reason for wanting to know, so I asked Suzanne Tamaki if she could find out anything. She asked around, and told me Blair had been granted an extended leave of absence to join Bannister on an expedition -- Bannister had specifically asked for him. Where they are now is anyone's guess, though it's probably Mexico --isn't there supposed to be a lot of still-undiscovered Mesoamerican stuff there? I've been hoping he's okay -- but with no reason to think he wasn't.
"And of course if he's in the middle of nowhere, that could also explain why he hasn't contacted me."
Jim grunted. "In theory, if he's linked up with an archaeologist, that should help his career as an anthropologist, I suppose. They put together an expedition, she finds the ruins, he works out the cultural significance... But I don't know, Simon, the more you tell me, the more I'm worried."
Abruptly, Simon snapped his fingers. "That's what's wrong!"
"What?" Jim asked sharply.
"There's been something bugging me since Sandburg left Cascade -- something I was sure I'd been missing. There wasn't any expedition -- unless they'd arranged to meet others en route, it was just the two of them, and they didn't have that much luggage. Certainly not enough to allow for any sort of extended stay anywhere."
"Do we know this Professor Bannister's home address?"
"Palo Alto. Towards the end of August, I tried to contact Sandburg through her, pretending I had a message for him -- well, to tell you the truth, I wanted to speak to him, see if he had any idea what might be wrong with you; but the house had been let since the first of August, the tenants didn't know when she'd be back and didn't have a forwarding address; as far as they knew she'd headed off on an expedition. They had the house for a year, with the option to extend the lease by six months if she wasn't back at the time it ran out."
"An expedition... same story. What about where she worked? Couldn't they tell you anything?"
"She didn't work -- not regularly, anyway. She guest lectured occasionally, she's written some magazine articles and a couple of books on the Mesoamericans, but she didn't need the money -- she has a personal fortune of several million dollars, apparently inherited. She doesn't need to work, and she's never asked any institution for funding for her various expeditions -- she finances them herself. Gives her a lot of freedom of movement."
"Yeah, it would." Jim scowled "Simon, there's something really weird about all this, and the weirdness all seems to revolve around this Professor Bannister. I started feeling twitchy about the end of June -- which is about the time she arrived at Rainier?"
Simon nodded. "She was lecturing during the first two weeks in July."
"Sandburg must have been seeing her off and on during the last days of June in connection with that. Now Sandburg interacting with a colleague isn't something that would normally bother me or I'd have been a nervous wreck -- so maybe there was something about her that was disturbing me even though I never met her." He rubbed his neck reflectively. "He told you she seemed to have some sentinel abilities?"
"I don't remember him ever mentioning her. You'd have thought -- if she was a sentinel too -- he'd have said something to me about her."
"He must have had some reason... You know, Jim, sometimes you could be a real shit -- what was it Sandburg said? Fear-based responses? He might have thought you'd react adversely, afraid that he'd found a new sentinel in his own line of work -- "
"And that he'd prefer working with a sentinel in his own line of work to chasing around with a cop -- even though he told you he wouldn't have left me for her. But even without knowing about her, I still threw him at her, didn't I?"
"But that still doesn't make sense. If he went straight to her, he must have known she'd welcome him... "
"But everything had to have happened very quickly. Inside just a few hours. Look, my last memory of July is of a normal evening. I went to bed, leaving him working. He didn't say anything about considering an expedition, and I'm sure he would have if the subject had arisen between him and this Bannister woman. My next actual memory is of waking up this morning. So back in July I lost my memory pretty well overnight, but obviously I still knew him -- enough to tell him to get out, not ask him who the hell he was. He probably went direct to Rainier if all the stuff from the loft was still in his car next day, maybe spent the night in his office, but you didn't see Bannister there. Yet he then drove to her house and she was instantly willing to give him a room? And a week or so later they went off together?"
"You lost your memory, and Sandburg was almost sleepwalking when I spoke to him," Simon said slowly.
"All right. Maybe she proposed this expedition to Sandburg and he refused her. She might have more or less hypnotised him to get him to do what she wanted. But that still doesn't explain my reaction."
"Could she have visited you and hypnotised you to make you reject Sandburg and then forget you'd done it? And the effects have only just worn off?"
Jim scowled. "It's possible, I suppose. Sandburg -- a guide -- could coax back memories I thought I didn't have, so I suppose it's possible that another sentinel could make me forget things. But why?"
"Maybe she knew she needed a guide, and stealing yours was the only way she could get one."
"Bitch," Jim muttered. "Okay, if we assume that's the case -- how do we track her down and get him back?"
"Jim, after what happened -- do you think he'd want to come back to you?"
"He has to, Simon. I need him. He has to!"
"'Has to'?" Simon asked quietly.
Jim looked at him. "Whatever it takes to persuade him to come back -- I'll do it. I'm no good without him, Simon. I think I've known that since the day he conned himself into my life, I just never admitted it even to myself."
Kneeling at one side of a small fire, Alicia Bannister glared at the inoffensive map spread on the ground in front of her. Blair Sandburg, preparing a meal on the other side of the fire, raised his eyes from his work for a moment, glanced from the map to her face, and said nothing. Over the last... how long? he had learned that she did not welcome comment unless she asked for it.
He returned his attention to the foot-long lizard he was roasting.
There was a limit to the amount of food two people could carry, and the supplies they had brought into this uninhabited rainforest were several days gone. It had fallen to him to catch and collect whatever he could that looked edible, or that his memory told him was edible, while his... what? employer? tried to find her way through the tangled undergrowth, using a map that was far too small-scale to be properly useful and a compass that didn't work properly. In his few totally lucid moments, Blair suspected the presence of magnetic ores deep underground. Originally, he remembered, they had been in a ramshackle car that had broken down two days after they left... left the town where they had hired it, but he couldn't remember its name, if he had ever even known it.
He had a vague -- very vague -- memory of having been, at one time, something other than Professor Bannister's personal servant. Of having been, at one time, happy. He had an even more vague memory of a name -- Jim, that he somehow thought of with affection any time he remembered it -- although he couldn't remember who Jim was. A brother, perhaps? Vaguest of all was an impression that Professor Bannister had invited him to join an expedition she was planning, but his faint memory of other expeditions suggested to him that two people as ill-prepared as they were wasn't an expedition. He seemed to remember having initially refused the invitation, although her reputation in her field was such that being a member of an expedition led by her could only have been good for his own academic reputation.
It was at times like this, when Professor Bannister's attention was wholly on the map in front of her, or when she had fallen asleep while Blair lay, still wakeful, that Blair found he could remember a little about his life prior to entering this jungle -- although his academic knowledge remained clear.
He thought that what he had been doing before... this... had been useful; more useful, anyway, than anything he was doing now.
He had no clear memory of getting there, but he did remember they had spent several weeks in one place -- he thought it was Mexico City, but it could have been anywhere; he had seen nothing of the place. She had left him in his hotel room every time she went out, and it hadn't occurred to him to go out without her. And then one day she told him they were leaving; he carried their bags out to the car she had hired... and he had no memory of driving through the streets of the city. It was as if he had fallen asleep as soon as he got into the car.
They had driven for two or three days and finally stopped in another, much smaller, town, where again they spent some time -- and where she left the first car and, a few days later, hired another; then they drove on.
He did remember the rough, potholed road they drove along; a road where they had seen few other cars. And then the hired car shuddered to a halt in the middle of the forest. She had simply ordered him out of it, told him to take their packs, and headed into the rain forest, leaving the car where it had stopped.
He carefully turned the spitted lizard so that the heat could finish cooking its other side. In sudden near-clarity he wondered why she had left the road and the broken-down car, choosing to head onwards through the forest.
He glanced towards her, saw that her attention was entirely on the map, and realised that when she was concentrating wholly on something, his mind was clearer... and he remembered being aware of that more than once. He realised --and remembered being aware of it before, too -- that she must have some sort of control over his mind, keeping him obedient. For a moment he even considered making a run for it, trying to get away from her, but he had no idea where he was; staying with her was probably in his own best interests -- and he remembered reaching that conclusion more than once, as well.
Then she looked up from the map, and he felt his thoughts wavering back into a fuzzy fogginess where it was easier to let her make all the decisions; but even as they did, he knew she was completely unaware that he was in any way capable of independent thought.
He checked the roasting lizard once more and removed it from the heat.
"Is it ready?" she asked abruptly.
She took it and ate greedily, leaving him one foreleg and shoulder, which barely took the edge off his hunger. She smiled, and it was not a pleasant smile. "If you had been more conscientious about hunting, you would have eaten better."
"Yes, Professor." He had a vague memory of her telling him, after he killed the one lizard, that there was no time for him to hunt for anything else, as he had meant to do, and the wish to object to her comment hovered in the back of his mind; but somehow actually doing so seemed to be too much effort.
They settled down for the night. In the lucid moments before he slept -- after she had fallen asleep -- it seemed to him that she was deliberately trying to keep him weak by ensuring that he was not getting enough food, and for a moment he wondered why; but he was very tired, and his eyes drooped shut before he could reach any conclusion.
They reached the ruined temple shortly before noon the next day.
Blair knew instantly that this was what Professor Bannister had been seeking. She stood for some moments just looking at it, her attention entirely on it, then snapped, "Come!" and walked briskly forwards.
At the foot of the pyramid steps, she paused. "You can leave the bags here," she said, and Blair dropped the two packs he had been carrying, one on each shoulder, with a silent sigh of relief. Neither was particularly heavy, but carrying the two was awkward, especially in his progressively weakening state.
She set off up the steps, and Blair followed silently, only half registering the still-magnificent stone carvings on each side.
There was a ledge halfway up the steps, and to the side of the steps was a door; a door, rather than a doorway. Even in his half-dazed state he was aware of surprise that a ruin like this should have a surviving door. He couldn't see what she did, but it opened easily, and he followed her in.
Inside, she paused to allow her eyes to adjust to the dimness; breathless from the climb, even though it had only been two dozen steps, glad of the respite, Blair blinked as he waited patiently for her next move, half aware that not so very long ago he could have run up these steps without turning a hair.
As Bannister moved forward again, Blair realised that there had to be some form of lighting in the place -- perhaps some openings hidden from immediate view, because it was merely dim; not dark. He moved to follow her; she snapped, "Stay there!"
Obediently he stopped, and as she disappeared down what appeared to be a side passageway he looked at the wall carvings. He could recognise some of the glyphs, and as his mind cleared a little -- and continued to clear -- he realised where he was. This was the place Burton had written about! The legendary Temple of the Sentinels, a place each sentinel tried to visit at least once in his lifetime, a place where they had some sort of mystical experience. Burton had postulated that there were several such temples world-wide, although the only one he had actually heard of was somewhere in Mayan territory.
How had Professor Bannister found it?
Of course. She was an expert on the Mesoamericans. She must have found references, added the clues together...
Her 'expedition' had been intended to search for this Temple, and finding it would certainly enhance her reputation. But an expedition of two? And why him?
Because you studied sentinels, he remembered. She must think he had knowledge that would be useful to her. And he wondered if, once his usefulness was past, she would kill him.
It seemed quite possible.
He studied the glyphs as best he could without leaving the spot where he had been told to stay -- As if I were a dog! he thought, suddenly aware that for a long time he had not been capable of resentment. Resentment, however, was not enough to make him risk moving; Professor Bannister had shown more than once that she reacted badly to anything other than immediate and complete adherence to her wishes.
He wished he had more knowledge of these ancient glyphs.
It was probable that Bannister could read them, however, and for some reason that worried him. Although, he now remembered and wondered why he had forgotten so completely, she had shown some signs of having heightened senses, she was not a sentinel, for she completely lacked the protective instincts that were so much a feature of a real sentinel.
Turning his attention from the carved wall, he looked around the chamber in which he stood.
It was not particularly large. He realised now that more than one side corridor led off from it to both right and left, the walls as far as he could see covered with carved glyphs; Bannister's enhanced eyesight had clearly adjusted more easily than his own to the dim light. This was clearly simply a hallway designed to give access to a number of other chambers.
He did wonder, however, if Bannister had had any reason for selecting the passageway she did to explore.
It was certainly taking her a long time, he decided, wondering if he dared sit. Sheer tiredness decided him; she had said 'Stay' not 'Stand'. He sank down to sit leaning against the wall, finding it progressively easier to think clearly. Was her attention so much on what she was seeing that she had completely forgotten about him?
And -- whatever she had done to cloud his thinking -- might it be that she was over-confident about her control of him? That she wasn't aware of the way his mind cleared when she was thinking about something else?
He struggled to remember what had happened over the past weeks, but much of it, especially the further back he tried to recall, was far from clear. He did remember Professor Bannister's arrival at Rainier and his wonder when she had turned out to have enhanced senses. She had tried to persuade him to join her on an expedition, and he remembered refusing... and after that she had done something to make him turn to her, but he couldn't remember what she had done.
His eyes drooped shut and he dozed.
He jerked awake and scrambled to his feet. "Yes, Professor?"
"Get the bags. Now, idiot!"
"Yes, Professor." He headed at a stumbling run to the door and down the steps, picked up the packs and began to clamber wearily back upwards.
"It's getting late," she said. "We can't do any more today. I've decided we'll sleep in here tonight, and carry on investigating the place tomorrow."
She woke as the shape of the door began to be discernible, and wakened Blair ungently. "See what you can find for a meal," she snapped, "and don't take too long!"
It did not, in fact, take very long; he recognised a fruit-bearing tree growing not too far from the temple, and quickly gathered enough for a meal.
She grunted, but accepted the fruit, taking more than half for herself. As soon as she finished eating, she scrambled to her feet.
"This way! And bring the packs."
She led him along the passageway she had explored the previous day. A few yards along it, she paused and touched several of the glyphs in quick succession; a huge block of stone slid aside. She crawled though the opening; Blair followed.
The tunnel was quite short, and led into another dimly-lit chamber. Stone shelves lined the walls.
"Put the contents of my pack into yours," Bannister ordered. "Then put your pack down and bring mine over here."
By the time he joined her, his mind was again clear, and he realised her attention was wholly on the contents of the chamber. He seized the opportunity to study what was on the shelves.
They were covered with artifacts. She walked past the collection of coloured feathers, still in good condition despite the years that had to have passed since they were stored there, and paused at a shelf full of carved jade.
"Hold the pack open," she growled. When he did, she began to put the jade into it. She tipped the contents of a bowl full of jade beads into one of the side pockets of the pack. Then she paused, looking at the bowl, and snapped, "Get some cloth from the other pack and wrap this up carefully."
Blair did so, despite his conviction that this was not good archaeology. Surely she should be listing everything, recording everything, sketching where and how all these things were lying?
She took the wrapped bowl and put it into the pack.
Next she picked up several jade necklaces and put them into the other side pocket of the pack before moving on.
Several gold plates joined the jade in the pack that was becoming steadily heavier.
"That'll do for now," she muttered. "Now I know where this place is, I can come back. No point in flooding the market -- that just drives prices down." She led him back out of the chamber; he picked up the second pack as he passed it, wondering how he would find the strength to carry them back to wherever she chose to go next. It did seem, however, that she would let him live a little longer, for she would need him as a pack animal for a while yet.
In the first chamber, she stopped again and wandered round, studying the glyphs. Then she grunted. "Stay here," she ordered, and headed towards the external door. As she left, he looked around, wondering what he could see from this new perspective.
He could see up one of the corridors into another chamber. He glanced at the door, hesitated, then driven by curiosity he moved quickly along the passageway and looked into the chamber. It held two rectangular stone... baths, he supposed he would call them. And they were threequarters full of water. He wanted to go and check them, but dared not risk going too far from where he had been left in case she returned and found that he had moved -- was there water flowing in and out of them? If not, he would have expected the water to have evaporated long ago. Unless... He remembered the door. Unless some local tribe acted as caretaker for the place, keeping it ready for the arrival of a sentinel? In that case, Bannister -- and he, by association with her -- were in danger unless her enhanced senses fooled them into thinking that she was indeed a sentinel with the right to be there.
He went back to his original position, sank down to a sitting position again, and drifted into sleep.
As Alicia Bannister reached the door, she picked up a serpentine bowl -- one of several that lay just inside the doorway. She scrambled down to ground level, then began to explore the surrounding forest, picking one leaf here, another leaf there, somehow knowing that these were the ones referred to by the glyphs. Soon the bowl was full. She returned to the base of the temple; about to start up the stairs again, she paused.
Although in the long term she had no intention of letting Sandburg live, although she was confident of the hold she had on his mind, she did not, she decided, want him to know more than he must of her business. She was quite sure that he would be unable to read the glyphs that had told her so much, but he might just be aware enough to recognise what she was doing. And so she built a small fire at the foot of the steps, added some water to the bowl, and put it on the fire to boil.
As she waited, she considered what she had learned. The glyphs had told her what to do to prepare this drink, had told her how to use it.
It told her why she could control the men she met.
She had long known she had that ability, but she had never known why.
It had been so easy to hypnotise that stupid enhanced-senses male Sandburg lived with, so easy to influence his mind so that he rejected his... what had Sandburg called it? Oh, yes, guide. It had been easy, when Sandburg initially rejected her invitation to him, to hypnotise him so that he turned to her when his cop friend rejected him; easy to keep him controlled. Why, she didn't even have to concentrate on him any more; he was her total slave. But now he knew too much --even totally under her control, he knew too much, and might learn more.
She considered her options, as she had done several times over the years.
If she killed him here, she would have to carry the pack full of artifacts herself. If she waited until they returned to civilisation, it would be harder to dispose of his body, as she knew from experience; Sandburg was only the most recent in a line of 'assistants' who had come into the Yucatan rain forest with her over the years. Her earlier dupes had been young and enthusiastic archaeological students. She had always selected them from among the loners, the ones with little or no social life, the ones with loose family ties; the ones nobody would really miss when they failed to return. All had died to keep her secret as her fortune, the result of selling the artifacts she had removed from the sites she found to private collectors, grew.
Sandburg was different, in that he had a teaching position at Rainier and the Rainier authorities knew he had gone off with her; she had been unable to prevent his telling them, getting a leave of absence. In addition, his presence somehow helped the too-frequent headaches she suffered, somehow helped her to control her sometimes runaway senses.
And there was also that other little detail the glyphs had mentioned -- not that she believed it was important for her, but it might be useful...
Which was the wiser option? Kill him here and carry her booty herself, or keep him alive a little longer for the help he gave her with her senses, with the problem of disposing of his body once they got back to Mexico City?
She would have to account for his disappearance, as she had not had to do for anyone else... Leave him lying in a back alley, an American tourist who had gone into the wrong part of town and been murdered? Yes, that idea appealed. She could report him missing the next day, when he failed to appear for breakfast, she called the hotal management and they found his room empty, his bed unused --and nobody more horrified than she when his body was found.
And yet... and yet...
So much easier if all that could be found, should anyone search, was a gnawed skeleton. She could find her way to a road, follow it to the nearest town, and report her companion dead, attacked by a jaguar or stung by a scorpion or collapsed from exhaustion and starvation as they tried to make their way through the jungle. Their broken-down car must surely have been found by now. They had thought from the map that they could cut through the forest and reach a town in just two or three days, faster than they would be following the road, but they had become hopelessly lost... Possible, especially since her compass had proved to be faulty. Why had they left the car? They didn't know when another one would come along -- before the breakdown they hadn't seen one for what had seemed a very long time. It might make her seem pretty stupid, but who cared what the natives of a small Mexican town thought?
The contents of the bowl had been boiling for a while, and the fire was getting very low. She focused on the boiling leaves and decided that they were probably ready. Now she had to mash them all together to make a thick liquid. She looked around, and found a fallen branch from one of the plants she had gathered. Carefully, while the mixture cooled a little, she stripped bark and side twigs from it. Then, carefully, she worked at the leaves, crushing them, mixing them until she had a thick green liquid. It didn't look particularly inviting, and it didn't smell very good, but if it did what the glyphs promised that didn't matter.
She kicked loose earth over the still-smoking remnants of her fire. No point in causing a major fire through carelessness; it would attract attention to the area, and she didn't want anyone else finding this little gold mine until she had visited it at least twice more, taking from it the best of the artifacts. Then she would mount a proper expedition and 'find' it. It, and the handful of unsaleable artifacts she would leave in it, would enhance her reputation even more.
As she went back up the steps, she made her mind up. The least risky procedure would be to kill Sandburg here before she took the drug. Although her control of him didn't fail when she slept, could she assume the same would hold true while she was on a drugged trip?
She went back into the temple, and grinned mirthlessly when she realised that Sandburg was asleep. That would make things much easier. Perhaps it would help if she did what the glyphs said, and gave him some of the drug too? Even half asleep, even hypnotised, he would certainly struggle to live -- unless he was already suicidal he was unlikely to accept the order to die without fighting it; she had discovered that the very first time, when to her surprise her order to her then assistant to kill himself had been resisted easily.
Carefully, she tipped his head back and dribbled a little of the liquid into his partly-opened mouth. He coughed, then swallowed automatically, and she tipped in a little more. Then she put down the bowl and dragged him up the passage towards the chamber with the stone baths, smiling triumphantly when he remained limp in her grasp. She pulled him up onto the stone wall of one bath, and rolled him in.
Waiting only long enough to ascertain that he wasn't going to waken and struggle to get out, she retrieved the bowl and swallowed the rest of the contents, gagging a little at the taste; then following the instructions given by the glyphs, she climbed into the second bath and lay down.
There was a support for her head that kept her face out of the water, but apart from that she was totally submerged. It was very peaceful. She closed her eyes and within seconds drifted into unconsciousness.
It had proved easier than Jim expected to follow Professor Bannister's trail. She had spent a fair amount of time -- fully two months -- in Mexico City, during which time she had met with several people, before eventually hiring a car to drive to Merida. She stayed in Merida for a week before hiring another car and heading off into the Yucatan rainforest. Enquiries provided the information that she was accompanied by her brother, a young man who, in both Mexico City and Merida, had remained in his hotel room most of the time, left her to make all the arrangements, and indeed -- from the little the hotel staff had seen of him --seemed to be somewhat lacking in intelligence. However, the car had been found, abandoned, three days after they left Merida. The driver who saw it might not have bothered about it, but it had been left in the middle of the road; after struggling round it, the annoyed man had wasted no time in reporting it to the police, who in turn told the garage owner to collect his property.
There had been no sign of its occupants.
Jim paid the garage owner to allow one of the men who had retrieved the abandoned car to take him to where it had been found, and hired a car himself for a month, saying that if he did not return it at the end of that time, he could send someone to retrieve it because it would mean that he was probably dead. The garage owner shrugged -- it was no concern of his what these crazy --but rich -- Americans did as long as they paid good dollars for it.
Once they reached the spot -- he could probably have found it without help; Bannister's hired vehicle had been leaking oil, and even without sentinel eyesight he had no difficulty seeing where the oil trail stopped -- he waved away his guide, having given him a good tip, parked his car off the road, and cast around using all the tracking skills he had learned in the Rangers and with the Chopek; it didn't take him long to find the trail he wanted, despite its being fully two weeks old, and even as he detected the trail he realised that his senses had come back while he searched.
Even so, the trail was faint.
He quickly realised that the pair he was pursuing had not been entirely sure of their route, nor had they made good time; in his first day of pursuit he passed four of their campsites, and reckoned that they had only been covering four or five miles a day. He had to stop when darkness fell, starting again at dawn next day; soon he found signs that they had been living off the land, and that probably explained their lack of speed; time spent hunting would certainly delay them, he decided as he jogged past their tenth camp.
About mid-morning on the third day, he stopped, sniffing the air.
Smoke, combined with another smell he couldn't recognise. Faint, but not too distant. His nose wrinkled; even at this strength he didn't like the smell.
It could only be Bannister and Sandburg.
Carefully, quietly, he moved forward, his speed hardly lessened by his caution, and paused at the edge of a large clearing. A ruin stood there; the ruin of a temple, either Mayan or Aztec, he wasn't sure which. A woman, who had to be Professor Bannister, sat beside a small fire; the strange -- and unpleasant --smell was coming from a stone bowl that she appeared to be watching.
He watched while she worked at the contents of the bowl with a peeled stick then kicked earth over the fire before going up the steps into the ruin.
He hesitated, wondering if she would reappear and unwilling to lose the advantage of surprise; after several minutes he decided that she was not coming out again, and he moved quickly and silently up the steps.
He paused at the door, listening. Only one heartbeat, he registered, and it was already slow and getting slower.
So where was Sandburg?
He slipped into the passageway, following the sound of the heartbeat, and entered the chamber with the twin pools. The woman lay in one of them, submerged but for her face; and in the other -
Only the discipline of his years as a Ranger kept him from crying out. He rushed forward and hauled the body of his guide from the pool. He could detect no sign of life, but he couldn't give up; kneeling beside the limp body he began CPR.
He could taste something bitter on Blair's lips, but he ignored the unpleasantness of the taste, barely even registering it as he tried to breathe life back into his guide.
There was no sign that it was working, but he refused to give up. He was beginning to feel faint from his efforts to push air into Blair's body, his attempts to start Blair's heart beating again, and still he worked on.
His head jerked up. A familiar figure stood there. "Incacha."
"Use the power of your animal spirit."
Now that he had been told, he realised he knew what to do. He cupped Blair's face with his hands, allowing the very real affection he had for the younger man to surface. And then he saw a wolf that he recognised from his dream; it paused, looking at him, then turned away.
"No!" He wasn't aware of crying out, or of the anguish in his voice. It turned back, looking at him; and then it began to run towards him. He felt his own spirit reaching out, leaping towards the wolf, and then there was a flash of light and he heard the soft thump of Blair's heart.
Suddenly remembering the old, pre mouth-to-mouth method of CPR, he applied pressure to Blair's rib cage, compressing his lungs, and water ran from Blair's mouth; and then Blair was coughing, coughing, and spitting up more water.
Jim held him steady, and after a minute or two Blair tried to push himself upright.
"Chief, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Blair was silent for a moment, then he said, "Professor Bannister?"
Jim had completely forgotten her. He looked up.
"She's in one of the baths. Seems to be unconscious."
Blair looked over at the stone baths, and saw Bannister. "Jim, I think this is a Temple of the Sentinels. According to Burton, Sentinels came here to get a mystical experience that enhanced their ability. I think that's what she's doing. We've got to stop her. She's a thief, Jim."
"A thief? I thought she was an archaeologist, rich enough to fund her own expeditions -- "
"An archaeologist? Yes. Rich? Yes. By plundering the sites she found and selling the artifacts to collectors before mounting a proper expedition and officially 'finding' the sites. Her pack, there -- " He pointed. "It's full of stuff she's meaning to take from here to sell. She thought I was completely in her power and wouldn't understand the significance of what she was saying, so she was muttering to herself while she took it, but her control wasn't as complete as she thought; I couldn't stop her, couldn't do anything independently, but a lot of the time my thoughts were my own. We've got to put it back, Jim, and keep her from ever doing any more damage to these old sites." He began coughing again as the force with which he spoke strained his lungs, and spat out a little more water.
"Where did she get the things?"
"There's another chamber. I know where it is, but not how to get into it; I can't read the glyphs, but you're a sentinel, man -- if she could, you can -- "
"Chief, she's studied this culture. I don't know anything about it."
"But this is the Temple of the Sentinels. Any sentinel coming here has to be able to understand what the glyphs are telling him to do."
"All right, I'll try -- but I don't want to go off and leave her unguarded. I want to take her home to stand trial." He nodded towards the woman in the second bath. "Once we started digging into her history, we discovered that in the last ten years several students she showed an interest in disappeared. And from what I found here... I think she killed them."
"Hard to prove, man."
"Yes, but I do have the evidence of my eyes that she tried to kill you. We can get her for attempted murder at the very least."
Blair looked at him for a moment. "She succeeded, didn't she?"
"Yes. You weren't breathing. But we can get away with the story that I arrived in time, that CPR revived you. I don't think the courts are ready to hear about spirit animals bringing you back."
"You know that?"
"You were a wolf. I think I was a black jaguar. We jumped into each other."
Blair nodded. "Yes," he said.
"Incacha told me how to bring you back. If I hadn't been able to... If I hadn't been able to, I think I'd have died too."
Blair looked searchingly at his friend. "He's still watching over you, then."
"Over me? You were the one needing help, Chief. You were the one needing a miracle."
"Over us, then," Blair murmured.
"You have done well, Enqueri."
They looked round. Three figures stood there; Incacha, with a black jaguar at one side of him and a wolf at the other. As they watched, the animals morphed into men -- men with the faces of Jim and Blair, but wearing the costume of warriors of centuries previously.
"You can return the stolen objects any time you wish," Incacha continued. "The thief will not escape. Indeed, her punishment has already begun."
"I don't think it was entirely her fault," Blair said. "She had no guide."
"Even without a guide, she did not need to misuse her gifts. It was her choice to do so, and, as Enqueri said, she has killed, and more than once, for greed. And what she did to you and Enqueri -- the only excuse, and that not a good one, would have been if she had wanted you for a guide, but she did not. You were only the last of the enthusiastic young men she used. She killed all the others.
"In addition, she has made it impossible for you and your sentinel to take the spirit walk together, and for that she cannot be forgiven."
"Although her actions do mean that I have taken the shaman's spirit walk," Blair said. "You passed the way of the shaman to me, but until now I have only been a shaman wannabe. Now, I think, I truly am a shaman, and for that I must be grateful to her."
The spirit guide with Blair's face nodded. "He speaks truth, Incacha."
"What do you mean by us taking a spirit walk together?" Jim asked.
"There are two pools. One is for the sentinel, the other for the guide. They share the drug -- a mouthful each, no more -- and each lies in his pool. And as they sleep their minds are drawn together, affirming their commitment to each other and to their tribe. The experience is different for each pair. This is the mystical experience for which a sentinel comes here.
"If she had read the instructions properly, she might indeed have stolen your guide from you, Enqueri; you would have lost him, and she would have gained little for his loyalty to her would have been enforced and unwilling, but she would have been unable to harm him. But she did not. What she did do, however, was make it impossible for him to take the drug with you. One mouthful only, in all of your life. More will destroy your mind.
"You need not fear that she will escape to continue her wickedness. She has been her own punishment, for in her greed to experience it all, she drank too much of the drug. You can take her back to your world, but she can never be called to account for her crimes, for her mind is already gone."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "Incacha, I think we took that walk," Jim said at last. "I tasted the drug in his mouth when I was trying to revive him. And our spirits merged so that I could bring him back. We weren't in the pools at the time, but we were both wet with water from the pool. I think we took that walk."
They used the last of the afternoon to return the artifacts to the storage chamber. Jim found that he could indeed read the glyphs easily, and he had no difficulty understanding how to get into the storage chamber.
The glyphs also told him something about sentinels that even Burton had not known. Males with enhanced senses did not necessarily pass on the ability to their offspring, but females, such as Bannister, were rare, and their offspring did inherit her abilities -- so to ensure that they were fathered by the best males available, the females had the innate ability to hypnotise any men she encountered, so that she might coerce any who were reluctant to serve her to her will. It explained everything, and both men knew that there was nothing for them to feel guilty about; they had been used by a conniving female who had no conscience, only the desire for personal gain.
Blair wasn't sure, when they finished, that everything had been returned to its correct place, but felt that the spirits weren't likely to worry too much about that since they were doing what they could to correct the wrong that Bannister had done. When they returned to the pools, there was no sign of Incacha or the two spirit guides. Bannister was still lying in the water, but her eyes were open. Blair spoke to her; she turned vacant eyes to him, and it was clear she had no memory of him, no memory of where she was, of what she had done.
They helped her out of the water, out of the temple, and settled her, leaning against the wall beside the steps.
While Jim built a fire Blair, pushing aside Jim's objections, went in search of the fruit tree he had found that morning, and, with the light fading, returned with his shirt made into a bag that he had filled with the fruit. After they ate and they settled down for the night, Jim pulled Blair into his arms.
"Just making sure you're warm enough, Chief. Your body took quite a battering today."
Blair grunted, and snuggled closer, not caring that in fact he was not particularly cold.
After Blair was asleep, Jim lay awake for a long time, simply soaking in the comfort he was experiencing from his friend's proximity.
The trip back to civilisation was slower than Jim's mad dash through the forest, for Blair was still weak from days of semi-starvation and Bannister could only stumble along where they led her -- her mind was indeed gone. She could walk where she was led, she ate when food was put into her hand, but the actions were automatic, performed without thought. When they pushed her down to sit, she stayed where she was put without trying to move. Jim hunted for them as they went, and they ate better than Blair and Bannister had done for he was not being stopped before he collected enough food for them all. The trip was more direct than the one Bannister had taken Blair, however, for Jim did not need the help of an unreliable compass, and after six days they emerged onto the road.
Jim looked at the ground, and grinned. "This way."
"I suppose you know why it's this way," Blair muttered, "but how do you know?"
"No oil trail. Your car broke down because it was leaking oil."
"Oh." He thought about it for a moment. "I suppose I'd have realised that if I'd been firing on all cylinders."
"Don't blame yourself, Chief. She wouldn't have stayed with it anyway for much longer; she needed to leave the road to head for the temple. As it is, the oil trail -- or rather, the lack of it -- tells me where we are. Roughly, of course. But we shouldn't be too far from where I left transport."
They weren't; they found Jim's parked car not quite a mile down the road.
The first thing Jim did on their return to Merida was call Simon to let him know Blair was fine and ask him to try to track down someone who could be responsible for Bannister. He spent some time thereafter discussing things with Simon for the two days they delayed before they left Mexico.
They broke their flight in San Francisco, where Simon had arranged for them to be met by Bannister's lawyer; one of the few people she had trusted, she had always given him a great deal of autonomy in dealing with her affairs -- she was often out of the country and unavailable -- and he had agreed to see that she was given the best possible care.
Since they had nothing but some hand luggage, they were among the first passengers to reach the doors. The lawyer joined them there, recognising Bannister despite her vacant, mindless expression.
"Detective Ellison? And Mr Sandburg? I'm Don Harvey, Professor Bannister's lawyer." He looked at the woman. "Professor?"
Jim shook his head. "She isn't recognising anyone," he said soberly. "Her mind seems to have gone completely."
"What happened?" Harvey asked as he led the way to his car. "Captain Banks couldn't tell me very much."
Jim and Blair looked at each other. "How much do you know about this last trip she went on?" Blair asked.
"Not very much. I know she had found some references to a Mayan temple that she was sure was still unexcavated, and planned to mount a small expedition -- just herself and a couple of assistants -- to look for it. She's done that kind of thing before. Once she found it -- assuming she did, of course -- she usually did a preliminary investigation, then came back home and mounted a full expedition to do a more detailed study. That's partly why she had such a good reputation in her field; none of her major expeditions ever failed to produce something important. What I can't understand is what went wrong this time."
"We don't really know," Blair said. "I was her assistant on this trip, but she didn't tell me very much beforehand. We found a temple, though I don't know if it was the one she was actually looking for -- we were lost at the time. Anyway, she left me at the entrance to set up camp and find something to eat -- we were living off the land by then -- and went off on her own to explore it. When she didn't come back, I went looking for her; when I eventually found her she didn't know me or who she was or anything. I've got no idea what she found that -- well, drove her insane.
"It took me ages to find my way out of the forest with her, and I know I couldn't find my way back to the place. Considering what happened, I don't think I want to."
"So how did you get involved in this, Detective?" Harvey asked.
"After Blair went off with Professor Bannister, I got worried when I didn't hear anything from him," Jim said. "I know now that it was because they got lost; their car broke down and they thought it would be quicker trying to cut straight though the forest than stay with the road -- "
"It would have been, but our compass wasn't working. By the time we realised that -- I think there was some underground magnetism disrupting it -- we were already lost," Blair explained.
"Anyway, I took a leave of absence and went to Mexico to see if I could find him - I knew roughly where he and the Professor were going, so I was in the right area, having reported him -- and the Professor, of course -- missing, when he managed to find a road and get back to civilisation. All I was able to do then, of course, was contact Captain Banks and ask him to try to find someone with the authority to -- well, take charge of the Professor, then help bring her home. We couldn't leave her in Mexico, after all."
"No, and I'm grateful to you for bringing her home. I've always counted her as a friend as well as a client. I've made arrangements for her to go into care in the short term, but when the lease on her house terminates I'll try to establish her in her own home, with a permanent nurse. It'll depend on how completely her mind has gone."
"Totally, we think," Blair said, managing to sound regretful. "She'd only met Jim once, so it isn't surprising she didn't remember him, but she didn't know me at all, and we'd been in constant contact for weeks. She hasn't tried to initiate anything. She's like an automaton. Give her something to do, she'll do it. Put food in her hand, she'll eat it; put the plate in front of her and she doesn't seem to realise what it's for." He caught her arm to stop her from walking into the side of Harvey's car. "Start her walking and she'll go on till you stop her, but she bumps into any obstacles -- she doesn't seem aware of them."
As they settled Bannister into the car, Harvey said, "Is there anything the nursing staff need to know?"
Blair frowned, thinking. "I don't think so," he said at last. "As I said, put a plate in front of her and she'll just look at it; put the food into her hand and she'll eat. Put a cup in her hand and she'll drink. We found giving her sandwiches was the best way to feed her. She needs help getting dressed and undressed; put her on a toilet at regular intervals and she'll produce on demand, so to speak, otherwise she's likely to be incontinent. Jim?"
"She just doesn't seem aware of anything around her," Jim said quietly. "Whether she'll become more aware if people take the time to talk to her, I don't know. I'd be inclined to doubt it. She's certainly made no attempt to communicate."
"It's a terrible waste," Blair added mendaciously. "That brilliant mind gone."
Harvey nodded as he got into the driver's seat. "All I can say is thank you for bringing her home. Now I'd better get her to where she can begin to get care."
"You'll let us know if there's any change in her condition?" Blair asked. "You can always contact us through Cascade PD or Rainier."
"Yes, of course."
They stepped back and watched as he drove away. Jim took a deep breath. "You know, Chief, sometimes it frightens me how well you can lie."
"Jim, I didn't say anything that wasn't true. I maybe left out a few facts, but everything I said was the truth. You, on the other hand..."
Jim shrugged. "So I telescoped some events and left out a fact or two as well."
"And I do want to know if there's ever any change in her condition. She could be a danger to us if she was to recover. Forewarned is good."
"Yeah. It is."
Jim gripped Blair's arm, turning him back to the doorway into the airport. "Let's get home, Chief."
Blair was very quiet as the cab drew up at 852 Prospect. He looked, Jim thought, as if he could cheerfully start running and forget to stop until he reached... where was it he said he had cousins? Oh, yes, Fort Worth. He hooked his arm through Blair's and pulled him into the building.
The loft felt cool, and the first thing Jim did was put on the fire while Blair looked around, his jaw dropping as he registered the African mask in its usual place on the wall, looking as if it had never been taken down. He went slowly to his room and looked in.
His books were sitting on the shelf; the only thing that said they'd ever been moved was their re-arranged order.
"I asked Simon to get some food in," Jim said, "but I don't feel like doing any cooking tonight -- Chinese do you?"
Blair turned from his door. "Jim -- how?" he asked.
Jim grinned. "I asked the guys to find where Bannister had stored your things, and get them back here."
"Wasn't she more likely just to have got rid of it? I don't think she ever meant to bring me back to Cascade -- whether she planned on killing me right from the start rather than a spur of the moment thing."
"We didn't know she was a killer when they started looking. They started searched all the storage facilities. Didn't take them long -- she'd taken a locker under her own name. In hindsight, I'd guess she probably meant to send for it all once she got home, and that's when she'd have got rid of your stuff. Now -- Chinese?"
Jim phoned in the order, then called Simon while they were waiting for it to arrive. "Hi, Simon... Yes, we're home. Do you mind if we take tomorrow off, then come in the next day? We're both pretty tired... Right, thanks." He grinned at Blair, who was gesturing wildly. "I think Blair wants a word." He handed the phone over.
"Simon? Thank the guys for me... finding my stuff, bringing it here... I was pretty out of it for weeks, didn't really know what I was doing -- any more than Jim did, from what he tells me... Yes, I think we've got past any problems. We know now pretty well what happened -- tell you when we see you. Yeah, right. Bye." He hung up.
After they had eaten, they settled on the couch.
"I'm... really sorry, Chief," Jim said, feeling suddenly more awkward than he had done at any time since finding Blair again.
"It wasn't your fault, Jim. And even if I'd told you I thought our visiting Professor had some sentinel abilities -- it was just a guess, then. And later -- Later, when I knew for certain that she did have enhanced senses, it was too late. We were already in Mexico."
"And we didn't know she had hypnotic abilities. I know," Jim said wryly. "The odd thing is how suddenly I snapped out of it."
"Yes, I don't totally understand that," Blair said. "She could obviously continue to control you even over the distance involved or you'd probably have recovered earlier. Unless she got too involved in looking for the temple; when she was concentrating hard on something, I used to find I could think more clearly, but I didn't have the advantage of distance from her to break free of her... spell, I suppose you could say."
"How enhanced were her senses?" Jim asked.
"Not very. She did have all five, but as far as I could see, not at a fraction of your range. Just enough that she also had the ability to hypnotise. But she never saw her senses as something she could use to help others. She didn't want to help others. She was completely selfish. That could be why you felt uneasy, back in the summer. You sensed her presence, but if she had been a proper sentinel with a sentinel's instinct to protect the tribe, it probably wouldn't have bothered you. I think you were bothered because you could also sense that she wasn't a proper sentinel."
"This has taught me one thing," Jim said, breaking a short silence.
"While you were away, I lost my senses. They came back, in Mexico, once I started searching for you. I need you, Chief. If I'm to be any use as a sentinel, I need you."
"You've never actually said that before," Blair murmured.
"But it's the truth. It took nearly losing you to make me realise it. Don't ever leave me," he said. "Please. Don't ever leave me."
Blair smiled. "I don't think I could, even if I tried. You need your guide; I need my sentinel. And I need roots, more than I ever thought I did."
"You need roots, and I need someone to be there for me."
"I said once it's about friendship. It isn't. It's about trust," Blair said.
"It's about friendship -- and trust," Jim replied quietly.