Summary: A cop with super-heightened senses uses those senses to solve crimes in a fictional Pacific Northwest town, with the aid of his partner, a spunky graduate student in archeology. Ahem. <g> Okay, for real? Um, I really hate summaries, I do. There's so much I don't want to give away in my story...All right, here's the "real" thing: Late March, 1998 and things are a bit slow in Cascade for the guys. Between dreams and late night phone calls, Blair's beauty sleep is suffering. Jim is digging through old files looking for a case to solve, and no one is surprised when his trek through Cascade P.D.'s archives turns up a bit more than dust bunnies.
Rating: R - language and strong emotional themes. Nothing graphic, but one of my beta readers recommended "Check your teletubbies at the door" for the reader caveat. Things do get intense before the story's done.
Disclaimers: Standard they-aren't-mine-they-just-come-out-to-play-now-and-then disclaimers apply. Anything not already signed, sealed and delivered to UPN and Pet Fly is mine, all mine -- not that there's much of that beyond a story idea and an original character or two.
Beta Readers: Thanks first of all to peregrin anna, grammar goddess and queen of all beta readers! Buon Giorno, Principessa! You're da squirrel, girl, and one *big* reason my stories are half as good as they are. Hephaistos gets the next laurel wreath of gratitude, for her encouragement, for all her questions that kept me honest with my plot threads and all the "yeah, Blair/Jim would say/do that" stuff. Couldn't have done it without either one of you ladies! A large helping of gratitude goes to Kimberly Heggen, for her wonderful help with the few medical questions I had. Thanks for the little details that make a story real! And last but not least, to the other authors who encouraged me along the way: Maryilee, Daenea, D.L. Thanks ladies!
Proper pronunciation of the Scottish name Morag is actually "MAWR-akh." I'm sure Blair gets it right, but I'm the author and I don't always get it. <g>
Any "Star Trek: The Original Series" references in this story are purely peregrin anna's fault. <g> She's the one who challenged me, way back in January '99, to put that infamous Star Trek line, "He's dead, Jim" in a Senfic. (I promise, those parts of the story were written by the end of January, before any of the recent stories on the list with those lines had been posted. <g>)
The fields of memory are like a rich archeological site with layers upon layer of artifacts
from different periods, which through some geological upheaval, got mixed up.
Chunks of grey plaster rained down around Blair and he hunched closer to the large rock, wrapping his arms over his head. He ignored the faint trilling sound in the background in favor of attempting to prevent more dust and debris from landing on him. A few of the larger pieces impacted with his blue uniform, and he flinched. Oh well, a few bruises obtained in the line of duty on a landing party had to be worth something with the ladies on board. Maybe that Ensign Jamie Summers in Astrogation, maybe she'd be a little more impressed with him if he had a few battle wounds to kiss away.
The pulsing trill hadn't stopped but the pebbles falling from the sky finally did. Blair shook his head to clear the dust from his eyes and bit back a sneeze. Wouldn't do for Mr. Spock to think his newest specialist couldn't handle a little dirt. Catching the concerned glance that particular officer sent his way as the air cleared around them, Blair returned the somber gaze with his winningest smile, the one his Sentinel could never turn down. It didn't even rate a raised eyebrow from the Vulcan.
*Geez, and I thought Jim had this stoicism thing down pat.*
Stepping out from behind his meager shelter, Blair gravitated toward the center of the clearing with the rest of the landing party. The trilling noise was more annoying now, but he ignored it; turning instead to the confrontation taking place in front of him in the strange pink light of this planet's day. There the large carved monolith their blasting had excavated served as a fitting backdrop for the familiar golden figure cajoling another man, darkhaired, quicksilver in a blue shirt.
"Come on, Bones, there's got to be something there you can read!"
"Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not an anthropologist!"
The golden man was not to be denied. He turned to the other half of the sky in which his sun shone.
"Spock? Is there anything you can tell me?"
"Not without time and considerable effort, Captain. I have never seen these particular emblems before, and without considerable study--"
Eyes wide, Blair stared at the familiar symbols. The glyphs on the large stele matched those at the temple in Peru, the temple where Jim received his spirit guide. Blair swallowed, trying to bring some moisture to his suddenly dry throat, and stepped forward.
"Sirs? I am an anthropologist. I happen to be familiar with these symbols. My Master's thesis involved quite a bit of research..." Three pairs of eyes, one blue, one hazel and one dark chocolate, swiveled around toward him, and Blair's voice suddenly faded to a whisper.
Gulping, Blair tried to remember what he was going to say, but that damn trilling noise in the background was making it hard to think. He knew he looked like a wide-eyed kid on his first date, tried and failed to stop his knees from shaking, impatiently shoved his curly hair behind his ears knowing he never looked less like a Starfleet professional. But dammit, he couldn't expect to be anything *but* nervous! These men before him were ICONS. They and their fellow bridge crew had probably had more impact on modern pop culture than any other group like them. For him to be here, now, with them, well, it, it was a little like Stanley meeting Livingston, Schleimann meeting Agamemnon -- heck, sort of like suddenly finding himself standing in front of Frodo and Aragorn. As Blair stopped in front of the trio, Mr. Spock lifted an eyebrow.
"I believe that is your communicator, Ensign Sandburg."
Blair realized the slight vibrations coming from his own communicator were in perfect synch with the annoying trilling noise. Of all the times....He tried to ignore the heat rising in his cheeks as he fumbled for his communicator.
"Um, if you gentlemen will--"
"SANDBURG!! Answer the damn phone!"
Blair automatically reached for his backpack before he was truly awake, landing on the floor beside his bed with a thump and a groan before he found the pack. Wide-awake now, he dug for the cell phone that had to be buried somewhere in one of these pockets, retrieving it at the same moment his eyes finally focused enough to make sense of the numbers on his clock: 2:38 a.m. Man, no wonder Jim was pissed. The bathroom door slammed shut as Blair snapped the phone open and prepared to let whomever it was that called at this ungodly hour of the night know just exactly what he thought of the interruption. This better not be a crank call. If it was, and Jim ever found out who it was...well, lets just say the party in question would be sorry, sorry as only a cop could make them.
God, who *would* be calling him at this time of the night, unless it were an emergency? His stomach twisted now with worry, Blair pressed the button and put the phone to his ear.
He frowned. Female, sounded young, but the voice wasn't familiar. A student perhaps? The toilet flushed and Blair winced. Jim was really *not* going to be happy with this.
"Yeah, speaking. Who is this and what's the problem?"
Then what sounded suspiciously like a short sob, and the line went dead.
Blair looked up from his seat on the floor to the slightly darker outline of his partner in the door.
"New girlfriend?" At least Jim seemed willing to consider the humor in the situation.
"No, man, more likely an old one. She didn't say anything but hello and hung up. Probably wanted to interrupt my beauty sleep."
"Right. Why don't you turn the phone off and lets see if we can't actually get some sleep around here. I've got a long day--"
"I know, you've got a long day tomorrow. When *don't* you have a long day tomorrow?"
The dark shadow didn't move.
"Well, Darwin, if you'd answer the phone when it first started ringing instead of waiting for five minutes--"
"Yeah, man, sorry 'bout that. I was dreaming, and the phone was just part of the dream, you know, just--"
Blair paused, then smiled up at the shadow in his doorway.
"I *said* I wanted to get some sleep tonight. Turn that thing off and keep your dreams to yourself. I don't need any more fodder from you for my nightmares."
Blair's grin grew even wider. He thumbed the phone off, then climbed back into bed.
"Sure, Jim, whatever you say." Settling into his covers once more, Blair waited until he heard Jim's feet on the stairs up to his bedroom. "Just don't yell at me tomorrow when you try to call me and the phone's off."
"Sandburg! I'm going to do more than yell at you if you don't shut up!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"...see, and then the Internet came along, so suddenly what you had in the 60's and 70's with the Trekkies isn't so odd anymore because closed societies can form anywhere now, regardless of geographical location, with people from any given show or fandom and--"
"Peace, Chief! I get the picture." Jim didn't wait for the elevator doors to finish opening before he pushed his way through into the lobby. Major Crimes' doors were just a few steps away, and hopefully his release from Blair's discourse on the impact of the Internet on modern pop culture as well. The double doors flew open at Jim's touch, Sandburg almost running to keep up with him.
"But, Jim, you have to appreciate the fact that the Internet was *not* around then! The original Trekkies, they had this incredible fan network built up with just--"
Blair's voice came to an abrupt halt as he ran right into Jim's back, then stepped around him to stare at the tableau that had brought Jim to a standstill. Detectives Rafe, Brown and Taggart glumly stood around a desk covered in piles of files - lots and lots of files. Jim focused in on the desk and counted five stacks of files, all of two feet deep each. Minute motes of mold and dust suddenly clogged his nostrils. He sneezed four times in succession and Simon materialized in his office door as if summoned. The captain waved an unlit cigar in the bullpen's general direction.
"You ladies still whining about this assignment? Ellison, Sandburg, glad to see you decided to join us this morning. Since these girls don't seem to be able to make up their minds, you can be first in on the dance. Step right up and take your pick."
Blair stepped up to the desk, picking up one folder from a pile and ruffling through it.
"I thought we already did our review of unsolved cases for the year, Simon."
Simon's smile was just too big for Jim's comfort.
"My, aren't we observant. Guess that makes you the Official Police Observer here, Sandburg. Well, you're right. We did *our* review for the year." No one had to mention the fact it was thanks to the mismatched pair before him that Major Crimes' "unsolved" pile was mercifully thin. Simon's basso rumble continued. "These are all the unsolved cases from Homicide, with assaults and burglaries thrown in for fun. Since we don't have much of a caseload for the moment, and our own review was so light, the commissioner wants us to look through these files and see if there's anything we can come up with, any connections or patterns the other departments may have missed."
Jim shifted, frowned at the desk, then up at his Captain.
"Not much of a caseload? Sir, there's the D'Angelo investigation, the Rupert case, the--"
Simon held a hand up.
"None of which are urgent right now. You've got to wait on the stuff from the FBI for the Rupert case anyway." Simon surveyed his reluctant detectives, and smiled largely. "Just do the best you can, gentlemen, in your spare time."
Jim sighed, taking in his fellow detectives' resigned gazes.
"Spare time. Right." Catching Rafe's eye, Jim smiled grimly. "Might as well get on it. They aren't going to go away. Pick a stack, Chief."
"Hmmph?" Blair looked up at Jim from the folder he was studying. "Oh, yeah, okay." He dropped the folder he held back on the top of its stack and took about one third of the pile back up with it. Then he moved to the next pile, and resting his first group of folders on the desk next to it, took several inches worth of folders from the middle of that stack. Everyone stared at the grad student, but it was Jim who finally broke the silence.
Wide blue eyes gazed at him disingenuously, as Blair added the second group of folders to his first, almost losing the entire stack on the floor in the process. Jim stepped up and caught the folders just in time, handing them back for Blair to juggle into his growing pile.
"What are you doing? In case you don't remember, Simon said to *take* a stack, not play musical stacks."
Blair shook his head.
"Come on, man, think about it! We're supposed to look for patterns the other departments may have missed. If you want new patterns, you have to break the old ones, you know, mix things up a bit. Then you'll be able to see the new patterns, if they're there."
Jim raised his eyebrows, looked at Simon. Simon just grinned, stuck his unlighted cigar between his teeth, and nodded.
Brown, Rafe and Taggert exchanged a glance.
"I'd say Hairboy has a point there." Brown said admiringly.
"Yeah, but if he combs his hair right no one will notice." Rafe grinned, and all three detectives stepped up, reaching for the top portion of a stack of folders.
"No, no, don't all do that, man, that's not really mixing things up."
Jim stepped over to Simon's side and watched as Blair supervised the unmaking of the stacks of folders, remaking them into new piles by insisting each detective take folders from a different part of each pile.
"You know, Simon, there are days I wonder how we solved *anything* before he came along."
Simon clapped Jim on the shoulder.
"Yeah, well, there are days I wonder why nobody in the bullpen shot you before he came along." Ignoring the face Jim made at him, Simon dropped his hand and continued, "How'd that little Mr. Policeman talk at Sitka School go yesterday?"
Jim rolled his eyes. Two hours of safety discussions with 4- and 5-year-olds, no matter how intelligent or precocious, had *not* been his idea of fun. If taking on these old cases meant getting out of any more kiddy duty, then he was all for it.
"It went fine. Sandburg was the real star, though. Fit right in. Even had him handing out his own business cards at the end of it."
"Didn't you take enough department cards?"
"Yeah, but some of the kids wanted cards from him too. I think the kindergarten teacher put them up to it."
"Pheromone Boy strikes again?" Simon asked.
The deep, quaking rumble that followed Jim's baffled headshake was Simon's chuckle. Cigar once more clenched between his teeth, the Captain watched Blair boss the three detectives in front of them around as if they were the kindergarten students and he was the teacher.
"You know, if the kid could bottle and sell it, he'd never have to worry about another grant, would he?"
Jim snorted his agreement. *That* was for sure. Catching Simon's eye on him speculatively, Jim couldn't shake a sudden feeling of worry. "Simon?"
Simon sighed, then took his cigar out from between his teeth.
"They want you back. Monday, the 30th, to do the same talk with the older kids."
"Simon, this was supposed to be a one shot deal! Can't you se--"
"Not when they ask for you and Tonto by name. You impressed the administrators, Jim, and the teachers, *and* had a good rapport with the kids. Not just Sandburg, *you* did. And, need I remind you, the mayor, the commissioner, and four out of five city councilmen have their children in that school, along with a good portion of the local judges and as many other elected officials in this area that can beg, borrow or steal the tuition? With budget time rolling around, and the 'no more taxes' mood of the populace, we are going to need the all the good rapport we can get, especially if you want to ever get your shadow over there on as a full-time, paid consultant." The cigar went back between the white teeth, and Simon's smile disappeared as he gave Jim his best "I"m the Captain and you're the flunky" stare.
Jim sighed. Simon was right, even if it did mean another wasted afternoon. It wasn't wasted, truly, if they helped even one child out, but dammit, if he'd wanted to work with kids he'd have gone into juvey. One glance at Simon's teeth clenched around his cigar though, and Jim knew further argument was useless. Besides, if, in the future, it did help get Sandburg on the department's payroll, maybe obtain a little financial security for the kid so he didn't have to worry about jumping through all those damn hoops for grants and the University, the sacrifice of a few hours of Jim's time would be more than worth it.
Still, Jim grimaced at Simon before nodding his consent to the plan. Simon grunted in satisfaction. While they had talked, the other four men had finished divvying up the stacks of files. Blair was gathering the last few folders from the table and setting them on top of his pile--a pile that was noticeably taller than anyone else's. Jim uncrossed his arms and took a breath, but movement beside him caught his attention first. He turned to his captain.
"There are two of you. And, the case can be made that it's *your* fault we have such a light load of unsolved cases."
Jim glared for a moment, then, with a shrug, conceded that point too. Great. Score for the day, Banks 2, Ellison 0. The captain's phone rang then, and Simon swore briefly before heading into his office.
Tuning out Simon's greeting for the commissioner, Jim followed Blair and the pile of folders he carried over to their desks. The stack landed on Jim's desk with a thump and a whoosh! of dust that had Blair sneezing. Jim shook his head.
"You get started, Chief. I'm going down to supplies to get a few more boxes of Kleenex."
Blair looked up as Jim turned to leave.
"Hey, Jim, I have class at 1:30, remember?"
"Yeah, I know. I'll be back before then."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"In the dark night of the soul it's always three o'clock in the morning."
---F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jim heard the voices as he turned the corner towards Blair's office. Damn, if Blair couldn't get rid of whoever that was they were going to be seriously late for the game. A faint odor teased him as he strode down the hall... Bubble gum, he decided, opening up his sense of smell just a bit, with a lot of petroleum jelly and other unhealthy stuff thrown in for good measure. Not nearly as appetizing up close as he was sure it was supposed to smell. Damn again. That meant his Guide's visitor was one Morag Gilbertson, Blair's fellow TA and grad student, looking for more hand-holding as she finished putting her Master's thesis together.
"Might as well plan on missing the tip off at minimum and most likely the entire first quarter of the Jags' game," Jim muttered under his breath. Sighing, he slowed as he approached the corner, turning his hearing up just a bit, hoping against hope that Blair was almost done.
"No, okay, I think you're on the right track here, but you might try this quote up here..." The sound of a pen scritching on paper followed Blair's voice. "See? It makes your point that much more effective."
"Okay," replied Blair's visitor, followed by the sound of pages being turned and Blair's chair creaking. Then Morag's voice again. "I'd better get going. Thanks for your help, Blair. I don't know what I'd do--"
"You'd do fine, that's what you'd do. Morag, you've got a great premise here, your research is meticulous, and you're a good writer. The changes Mickelson wants aren't that hard to effect. Don't sweat it, you've got nothing to worry about, not at all."
"Well, too bad you're not on the review committee."
"Hey, man, you don't need me there to sway the votes. You can do that all on your own. Here, just let me see what he had to say on this part before you take off."
Papers rustled then, and someone--Morag hopefully--was putting on a coat. Stopping just inside the open door of Blair's office, Jim leaned against the door frame. Blair sat hunched forward, glasses on, intently perusing a paper, the surface of his desk lost beneath piles of paper and books. Gaze moving up from his partner and the mess he called his desk, Jim nodded at the girl standing behind his Guide, and -- just like every other time he'd seen Morag Gilbertson -- immediately found himself fighting the urge to laugh outright.
Approximately one inch taller than his roommate, the woman had long curls to rival Blair's. Except where his friend's were a natural brown, hers were an unnatural shade of deep purplish black. Large grey eyes coolly appraised Jim from a face made up with dead white foundation. Black eyeliner came out to overly dramatic points beside each eye, and her eyelids were topped with a color Jim had only ever been able to categorize as bruised purple -- dark bruised purple. There had to have been a two-for-one lifetime supply sale on the stuff, because Morag's lips were invariably painted the same painful color as her eyelids. She was shrugging a long black cape on over a black v-neck sweater dress with a lavender t-shirt peeking through at the neckline. Her shoes weren't visible, but Jim knew they would be the regulation black lace-up boots over black tights. Large silver spider web earrings completed the Gothic look he thought most students outgrew by the time they were 20 something.
*Maybe it has something to do with being grad students for so long that retards their social development.* Crossing his arms, Jim decided to let the smile that grew at that thought go unabated.
'It's a wonder you don't get cited for maintaining a fire hazard on University property, Chief."
Blair glanced up from the papers in front of him.
"Jim! What's the grand occasion, man?"
"Well, to start with your phone's off the hook." The Sentinel nodded at the phone, barely discernable beneath a pile of papers, the receiver knocked just far enough off to one side to make it impossible to connect. "I've been trying to reach you for the last hour on your cell phone."
"You know I turned the cell phone off last ni--The Jags' game!"
Jim merely raised one eyebrow slightly at his friend's sudden consternation.
"We've got 30 minutes before tip-off."
Blair was scrambling, grabbing his pack and stuffing papers in it. Long, delicate fingers with purplish-black nails quickly rescued the page Sandburg had dropped and a black folder from the frenzy, then Elvira, as Jim had mentally dubbed Morag the first time he saw her, reached for her own backpack on the floor. Settling it over her shoulder, she tucked the page in the folder and the folder under her arm as she headed for the door. Jim was unable to restrain his double take as he realized for the first time her backpack *was* dark purple all right, but there was also a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh embroidered on the top flap. He looked up, directly into icy grey eyes challenging him to make an issue of the applique. With a single sideways nod and a somewhat larger smile, Jim stepped aside as Morag arrived at the door, Blair suddenly noticing that she was leaving.
"Oh, man, Morag, I'm sorry--"
Already out the door and in the hall, Morag swung around to face the anthropologist. Backing away as she spoke, the smile she gave Sandburg almost overcame the makeup.
"As someone once told me, 'don't sweat it.' Between what you've said and the red ink Professor Mickelson drenched it with, I think I've got the idea. I've only got two weeks until my defense, anyway, so it's sink or swim at this point. Thanks for your time." Sketching a half-salute at Blair with the folder, she was gone.
Jim made a show of sniffing the air after she left.
"You know, I would never have guessed Elvira would go for bubble gum flavored lip gloss."
Disconnecting his laptop now, Blair froze, then looked up at Jim, eyes wide.
"*Don't* call her that, man!" He hissed, looking worriedly at the now empty door.
Jim shrugged, and stepped further into the office.
"Elvira? Tell me it's worse than the name she's already stuck with." Jim made scooping motions with his hand, ignoring Blair's obvious distress at his comment. "The game?"
Still glaring, the shorter man slammed his laptop shut, shoved it into his pack, and grabbed his jacket. Jim went out the door in front of him, waiting quietly while Sandburg locked it.
Blair swung his backpack up onto his shoulder as the two men hurried down the hall.
"So, did you get any further on those files after I left?"
"What files? You know, Chief, you are going to give yourself some serious back problems one of these days if you keep loading that backpack like that."
"Yes, Mom. What do you mean,' what files?' You know what files I mean."
"Hey, you were having so much fun with them this morning I thought that if I did any without you it would be like taking candy from a baby." Jim paused long enough to open the main door of Hargrove Hall, holding it for Blair to go out ahead of him. He shrugged as they headed out across the parking lot. "I brought a few home to look over after the game."
Jim unlocked the passenger door for Sandburg, then headed around to his side of the truck. Blair's door opened, then his partner's voice floated over the truck.
"A few? Jim, that looks like the entire pile."
Jim opened his own door, and reached for the small paper sack resting on the seat beside the folders as he climbed in.
"Since I don't have to go in tomorrow..." He shrugged and tossed Sandburg the bag as Blair climbed into the other side. The other man barely caught the sack.
"Yeah, well, after Star Trek, okay? Tonight's episode is 'Miri' and I am NOT missing that one. That is just not an option, man." Blair squinted at the bag in the half lit parking lot. "Hey, Super Natural Deli! Thanks Jim!" His backpack landed on the floorboard as he closed his door, and Jim started the truck and headed out of Rainier's parking lot.
"I'm not about to pay for you to eat at the game. It's bad enough what they charge you to get in the place, let alone having to buy the junk they call food there."
Blair just grinned and managed to pull the first pita sandwich out of the wrapping at the same time he fastened his seatbelt. Jim concentrated on driving, nodding absently at Blair's running commentary. In typical Sandburg fashion, his roommate covered a dozen different subjects in between bites--from traffic to the game to something about Peruvian music and ancient astronomers - and Star Trek. Can't forget Star Trek, Jim thought. Gods, was he gonna have to listen to this for the rest of his life? How long were they going to be running these late night reruns anyway?
They were sitting in line, waiting to get into the covered parking garage by the stadium when a thought occurred to Jim. He took advantage of Blair's momentary silence to ask the question.
"You never told me where you first met El--Morag."
Blair's mouth was full, and he chewed frantically for a moment before answering.
"She was a student--and one of my original test subjects for my Master's thesis."
The line moved slowly, a vehicle and a payment at a time.
"What's she getting her degree in again? Abnormal psychology?"
In the midst of another bite, Blair glared and swallowed hard after only a couple of chews.
"No, man. I told you this already. She's getting her Master's in Sociology. Her thesis is on 'The Lack of Coming of Age Rituals and Their Effect on Post Modern American Society.' And she doesn't dress like that all the time. Underneath all that black stuff she's just another normal grad student."
"'Normal' and 'grad student' are not necessarily compatible terms, Chief."
"There's no need to get nasty, Jim." They exchanged grins in the semi-darkness of the truck cab.
"Shut up and eat. You can't take that stuff inside."
Jim shifted into gear, and moved up one more space in line. Sandburg chewed some more.
Several minutes later Jim pocketed a wallet considerably lighter for the privilege of covered parking, and something Blair said finally clicked.
"Hey, you said Morag was one of your original test subjects? Did she have any hyper senses?"
"Well, she was borderline in touch. Not quite over the line, but close. She did qualify as fully hypersensitive in one sense, though."
Jim parked the truck in what had to be the last space in the fifth level of the garage and turned the key off, frowning as he caught his roommate's expression. Blair looked positively gleeful. What the...? His roommate's grin grew with Jim's confusion. When Sandburg finally said it, the word was barely understandable around the last bite of pita sandwich shoved into his mouth, but Jim understood. He understood enough to know his feet were both inserted in his mouth, probably to a terminal point when it came to one Rainier grad student by the name of Morag Gilbertson. Blair gave his Sentinel a moment to stare resignedly into the night around them, to contemplate the full magnitude of his blunder while the Guide chewed and swallowed. Then he said it again, and this time he was *definitely* gleeful.
"Hearing, man. Morag has ears just as good as yours."
"Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past."
Sandburg must have been sitting up late with those old files because he caught the cell phone before the second ring. Too late, though, for Jim's sensitive hearing to ignore it. With a resigned sigh, Jim rolled over onto his stomach. Pulling the pillow over his head, he refused to listen in to the conversation his roommate was having on the phone in the dead of night. Glancing at his clock, Jim amended that. A quarter to one in the morning wasn't exactly the dead of night, but it was close, close enough that Jim did *not* enjoy being woken out of a sound sleep for this. Blair had better get this person straightened out about these phone calls--yesterday.
Even through the pillow Jim heard Sandburg's door creak open. He lifted his head slightly, sliding out from under the pillow, tuning in to Blair's conversation as the second step up to Jim's room creaked under his roommate's weight.
"Okay, who is watching you? Why are afraid he'll hurt you?"
Jim was sitting up now, swinging his feet off the bed to the floor and reaching for his robe as he focused his hearing more tightly. The female voice responding to Blair from the cell phone sounded young--very young.
"I- I- I don't know his name! Emby, she knows, but she won't talk about him, she won't, she can't..." A sniff and a stifled sob, then, Blair's caller continued in a breathless rush, "But he's watching and she's so scared! And I don't want to get in trouble, they''ll be so mad at me if I tell anyone, but she's always mad and I don't care what she says, if Emby's gone we'll all be lost."
Blair was at the top of the stairs now, the concerned frown on his face obvious to Jim even in the night darkness. The younger man's robe hung open over his boxers and tank t-shirt; evidently the phone call had caught him just getting ready for bed. Extending his hearing a bit more, Jim quickly found the heartbeat behind the words. If this was just a crank call the pulse rate would give them away...Nope, the heart rate was up there, accurate for a child. He shook his head at Blair as his roommate sat beside him on the bed. The younger man tucked the phone under his chin and stabbed at his palm with one finger. Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head again as he shot up from the bed. He must still be half asleep if Sandburg had to remind him of something that basic. Two steps to his dresser, and he was pulling his cell phone out to dial the station.
"I don't want that, I don't want them to be mad at you, and I wouldn't want you to be lost. But, if you need help, you did the right thing to call. My friend, he's a policeman, and we'll do everything we can to help you both, okay? What can you tell me without getting in trouble?" Warm and reassuring, Blair's voice was yet calm, matter of fact. The man was a natural when it came to dealing with distraught people. Not like he hadn't had lots of practice in the last couple of years. "I'm not supposed to tell anything--no one is. That was the deal. Sheena says we can take care of ourselves, she won't let him get us, but she didn't stop it before and he was watching last night, jus' watching, and I'm so scared and Emby liked you, you and your big man, so I thought maybe..." The voice halted, and someone swallowed. Almost inaudibly then, she whispered, "But maybe you can't. No one did before, no one heard, no one came, it didn't matter how good any of us were--" The small voice broke off again, but before Blair could interject anything, "She was right; we have to take care of ourselves."
And the child's voice was gone, right as the phone in Jim's hand stopped ringing and the dispatcher's voice came on the line.
Blair just sat there, staring at the open cell phone while Jim identified himself and told the dispatcher it was a false alarm. Jim flipped his phone shut and turned back to his roommate. Blair sighed deeply and looked through the darkness in Jim's general direction.
"She didn't even tell me her name." Another deep sigh. "If this is a joke, it's pretty sick, man."
Jim's cell phone dropped on the dresser beside his wallet. He was silent for a moment.
"I don't know if it's a joke or not, Chief. I couldn't hear much, but the heartrate was right for a kid about what, five? Maybe six?"
Blair nodded, staring miserably into the darkness now. Two steps back across the room, and Jim sat beside his partner, put one hand on his shoulder.
"You don't recognize the voice?"
Blair shook his head, slowly closing the phone.
"Man, I don't think I even know anyone with a kid that age, at least not well enough for this..." He gestured helplessly with the silent cell phone. "And no one named Sheena or 'Emby.' Emby. What the hell kind of a name is that?"
Jim squeezed his roommate's shoulder, then took a deep breath himself.
"It's probably a nick name or something." Which meant it was going to be all that much more difficult to try to track the caller down. Jim closed his eyes, and a ghostly image of his roommate floated up in his mind's eye, Blair being mobbed by little girls wanting *his* business card too. Well, okay, there were almost as many boys as girls in the small crowd, but the image persisted. "You know, it could be one of the kids from the school the other day. Is your cell phone number on those cards?"
Sandburg froze for a moment, then his gaze met Jim's.
"I didn't even think about that, but yeah, the cell number was on that one batch. Took it off when I got the new cards printed, with my new office number, but I probably still had some of the old ones in my wallet."
Jim nodded silently, then asked, "What did she say before you came out here?"
Running one hand through his hair, Blair stared at the offending phone in his hand.
"She was crying, or had been." He looked up. "Sounded really upset. She said my name again--"
"Again? You think she's the one who called last night?"
Blair nodded, running his hand through his hair again. The motion did nothing to control his long curls but spoke volumes about his state of mind.
"I'm sure of it. She said my name, and I was trying to figure out how one of my students got my cell phone number and trying to think what to say to her to get her to quit calling me before you had a cow or something about these late night phone calls and I wasn't really listening to what she said at first." Jim's hand tightened on Blair's shoulder, and the younger man paused for breath. "Then suddenly it dawned on me she was telling me something about him being back and she was scared he was gonna get them again and there wasn't anyone else she could call and he's watching and Emby's afraid of being hurt--again. That's the funny thing, she's more worried about protecting this 'Emby' she keeps talking about than herself, it seems like."
"Yeah, I caught that too. It didn't make any sense to me either...unless they're sisters or something...?"
There was a brief silence in the loft as both men considered the possibility that there might be not just one, but two children in danger. Great. Just the right thought to guarantee a sound night's sleep for his partner and Guide. Jim patted Sandburg on the shoulder as he stood.
"Chief, there's not much we can do tonight. Why don't you get some sleep, and tomorrow we'll see what we can find out."
"Man, what can we do? We've got no name, nothing to go on. We can't even be sure this isn't someone's twisted idea of a practical joke!"
"Well, until we know it is a joke, I'm working from the assumption it's not. As for what we can do, remember, Blair? I work for the police. I'll call the school tomorrow and see if they have any students named Sheena or Emby. The department has some of those new cell phones with caller ID, and I'll pull some strings and get you one of those, too. And maybe see if I can dig up a digital scanner."
"Yeah, man, but what if it's too late? Think about what she said, Jim, think about it! If there's some guy watching her--what if we're too late?"
"Blair, there's nothing else we can do tonight. I'm sorry, but there's not. The best thing right now would be to get some sleep so we're fresh to tackle this in the morning."
At the angry shake of Blair's head, Jim sighed. "Look, she's called you twice already, two nights in a row. She sounds like she wants your help. In the meantime, we'll do what we can on our end. She will call back. Little kids don't give their trust easily, but somehow she's given you hers. Trust me, she'll call back."
Blair stood up as well, stepping around Jim to go downstairs.
"If she can." It was low, so low only a Sentinel could hear it. Trouble was, there wasn't much Jim could say to that, Sentinel or not. He chose to ignore it.
"Get some sleep, Chief. We'll get going on this in the morning. I promise you, we'll do all we can to find her." Or find whoever's responsible if this is a joke, Jim promised himself as he watched Blair, shoulders slumped in dejection, make his way slowly down the stairs into the darkened loft.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Yeah, that's all, Simon. I know it's not much, but...okay. Thanks, I appreciate it...sure, sounds good. Sandburg's home, we can be there in half an hour...yeah...Okay, see you then."
Jim flipped his cell phone shut and dropped it on the coffee table in front of him as the loft door swung open. His roommate breezed in the room, hair and coattails flying.
"Hey, Jim, what's up? Mind if I shed some light on the subject, whatever it is?"
Light? Oh, yeah. Jim hadn't noticed the gathering gloom as he'd worked. This late in winter night still fell before 6:30 p.m. The loft was barely illuminated by the streetlight below and the light streaming in from the hall behind his roommate. Outside the windows, fog wreathed its way in and around the building and the city, but all that disappeared into the flat black of the windows as Jim reached for the lamp on the end table, ignoring the creak in his denim clad knees as he did so. Hopefully the creak in the couch hid it from any other ears. A flick of a switch and the room was bathed in a soft, golden glow.
Once he could see, Blair dropped his keys in the basket and kicked the door to the loft shut behind him with one foot. Arms braced on his knees, Jim didn't move from his seat on the couch, the folder he'd gripped while he talked to Simon still held partially open with one finger. Carefully, he turned up his hearing, briefly monitoring his roommate's heartbeat and breathing. All was normal, including the grin Blair sent his way as he recognized the signs of what his Sentinel was doing. How Sandburg could look both chiding and exuberant at the same time... Jim shook his head. At least his roommate seemed to have had a good afternoon and wasn't still knotted up with worry over last night's anonymous caller. This morning Blair had hardly eaten breakfast, and the shadows under his eyes had told the tale of how little sleep he'd gotten. Jim hadn't fared much better, worried in his own way about the child caller and listening to Blair toss and turn all night.
This morning, to ease both their minds and true to his promise, Jim had called Sitka School--first thing after Blair left for Rainier. During his phone conversation with the headmaster Jim was forced to admit last night's call could be a prank. There was no "Emby" at the school. A couple of students were named Sheena, and the Administrator promised to have the school counselor interview the girls. However, the detective was told politely but firmly, until they were sure the call was real, such things must be delicately handled. Jim quickly conceded that he wouldn't want to upset any child with false accusations, but his Sentinel instincts were on overdrive on this one--whether because of Blair or the child, he wasn't sure. In the end, he hadn't gotten anything else out of the man except a promise to check with teachers for the possible use of Emby as a nickname. When Jim had phoned Blair to tell him the results, or lack thereof, it was only the Sentinel's thinly veiled threats that kept the grad student from driving over to the school himself to check things out.
Now, in the soft light of the loft, he watched as Blair dropped his backpack on the floor, then shed his jacket and reached up to drop it on the hook. Dressed in his omnipresent winter get up of plaid flannel over a long john shirt and khaki pants, the too-young grad student who had first offered his help to an uptight cop with out-of-control senses didn't seem to have aged at all in the past four years--on the outside, anyway.
When his roommate's attention swung Jim's way again, he pointed over his shoulder toward the dining room table.
"There's your new phone. It's got caller id, but not much else that you didn't already have."
On the table Jim indicated sat a compact black box covered in buttons and dials, all surrounding a small amber readout screen. Next to it lay a tape recorder, a tangled pile of electronic leads, and a small cellular phone. Blair grabbed the phone and proceeded to examine it minutely before opening it and turning it on. Watching him play with the buttons and examine the readout, Jim stifled the urge to laugh. His roommate looked for all the world like a monkey with a new toy. Finally the younger looked up and caught Jim's eye.
"Cool. How'd you get it so fast? And the scanner too? I thought you'd just listen in if she called again."
"This way we can record any calls." He didn't have to say the rest: In case we need it as evidence later. "As for fast, well, I called in a few favors."
Blair's blue gaze was solemn.
Jim tried to make his tone light, tried to inject some humor in what they both knew was a humorless subject.
"Don't thank me. The sooner we find out who your admirer is, the sooner I can go back to getting a full night's sleep--and the sooner we get her out of whatever it is that's going on." He pointed again, aiming a long finger at a yellow sticky note lying unnoticed on the table beside Blair's elbow. "You need to call the number there to have them switch your cell phone over. I didn't want to do it until you were home."
Blair nodded. He came over and sat on the arm of the couch before he finally seemed to take in the fact that Jim was surrounded by a sea of manila folders--manila and used tissues, the white blobs scattered like small blossoms amongst the pale yellow cardstock. Folders covered the love seat and the coffee table, with a slightly taller pile resting on the couch beside Jim.
"Hey, you find anything in those?"
Jim looked from the folder in his hand to the waves of paper surrounding him, considering. The small stack beside him rested heavily against his leg, but what had he found? Anything? Something? Nothing? It was enough that he'd finally called the station and asked Simon to talk to the other members of Major Crimes, to have Rafe and H and Joel check their folders for cases matching the slim thread he thought he'd found. Now, in the fading light of day, Jim wasn't so sure. Blue eyes met blue for a moment in the half-lit loft.
"Maybe, maybe not."
"What do you think you see?" Dropping the phone on the couch, Blair got up and walked around in front of the coffee table to stand, arms akimbo, staring at the folders there. His belief in his Sentinel radiated through the loft like a candle in a dark room. What, exactly, that belief expected him to find, Jim wasn't sure yet. Sentinel senses weren't exactly necessary for this task; it was just plain, old-fashioned detective work. Look at all the pieces, see if any fit together. Take them apart, put them together a different way, and hope something clicked. If it hadn't been for Sandburg and his musical piles, Jim would never have seen the one thread, tiny and frail as it seemed now.
Jim tugged one sleeve of his dark green sweater back up over his elbow instead of answering right away. Blair moved around the table now to stand beside him, hands in his back pockets for one brief moment, as if looking at things from the same point of view as the larger man would give him some insight into Jim's head. Jim snapped the folder he held shut, then grabbed a tissue from the box on the floor as the sneeze came a second later. He waved Blair's concern away, closing his eyes and fighting the next three sneezes unsuccessfully. Afterward he blew his nose and looked up Blair, knowing his roommate had just noticed how red that organ was.
"Jim, man, you should have turned your sense of smell down for this!"
"I did, Chief, I did. Trust me. There's just a lot of stuff here, and I can only tune out so much of it."
Jim carefully placed the folder he held on the pile beside him, and gathered up the wads of tissue on the floor and the table. In just a few strides he was in the kitchen, disposing of them in the wastebasket. On his way back to the living area, Jim switched on a couple more lights. Sandburg was still standing at the coffee table, looking through a folder.
"Man, it doesn't pay to be on the streets in Cascade, does it?"
Jim walked around the coffee table and stood beside his friend, hands on his hips, to glance over the information in the file Blair held open. This murder victim had been a homeless male, of approximately 50 years of age. No witnesses, no motive, no solution to the murder in the sixteen years since it was committed.
"No. A lot of these get shoved aside because there's no material witness. Without someone to testify as to what happened or to motive," Jim's shrug was eloquent, "there's not much we can do, and in the case of the street people--"
"No one cares," Blair finished for him.
Jim shut his eyes. This was not an aspect of his job that he liked, not at all. But maybe he could change that, with Blair's help, for a few of these people.
"There's only so much the good guys can do, Chief. We do what we can." He surprised himself with the pained tone that crept into his voice.
Blair looked up in surprise, then his gaze softened with remorse. He waved a hand over the folders as he spoke, an ancient tribal healer summoning peace for those gone--and those who remained.
"Hey, man, I know that. It just, it just doesn't seem fair, you know? These people were someone to somebody, once, before they hit bottom."
"Yeah, Chief, I know. And, if we can lay a few of their bones to rest, this time it will be because of the mixed up files of Professor Blair Sandburg."
Sandburg grinned. There, that was better. Gently, Jim took the folder from his friend and started to gather the others into a pile with it.
"Whoa, hey, wait a minute. You wanna spill the beans here are you just gonna leave me twisting in the wind?"
"Chief, I'm not sure there are any beans to spill. Look, I called Simon just before you came home. He's gonna have the rest of the guys check their piles and see if they have any cases that match the slim lead I might have found. Until then, I'd rather not say. Besides, we'll be late if we don't leave now."
"Late, late for what? Jim, really, man, what did you find?"
Jim dipped one shoulder to give his roommate a bodily shove towards the backpack still lying on the floor beside the door.
"We've been invited to dinner. Believe it or not, Simon's buying, that new Chinese place over by the University you've been wanting to try. Why don't you go put that backpack away where it belongs and we can go. We're going to be late as it is."
"Simon's buying? Whoa, hey, that's great! Oh, man, it is so definitely 'All You Can Eat' night!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Continued in Part Two...