See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Oh, why was I born with a different face?
Why was I not born like the rest of my race?"
--- William Blake
The humid scents of perennially damp pavement and concrete mingled with the smells of the sea and the early afternoon city, almost overpowering even to non-Sentinel senses. The afternoon itself was grey, what sunlight there was diffused through an overcast sky. Drifting in off the Sound, their load of rain dumped over the Peninsula and the Straight, the empty clouds had flowed in quickly, smoothly, piling up against the backdrop of the Cascades and Mt. Rainier until they covered the pale, late winter sky. Or, was that a pale, early spring sky? Whatever.
Jim shrugged and rubbed his shoulder with one hand while he waited for traffic to clear before making the left turn onto Jefferson Street. It wasn't his preferred way to spend the morning, sitting at his desk composing e-mail and looking through more ancient, dust-ridden folders. But at least it meant no *new* crimes to be investigated. Just old ones. The phone call from Sandburg requesting a ride to the station from Morag's apartment had been a welcome distraction.
Today, instead of skulking around the corner like some naughty child, Jim parked the blue and white truck directly in front of the large, two-story house with dark green dormers. Turning the engine off, he focused his hearing on the same second floor apartment he'd spied on last night. Today he heard music, soft music--something classical, he thought as he identified two heartbeats, then Blair's voice.
"...the garbage truck went *right* over both of us. Man, I thought we were dead!" Blair laughed, but Morag's exclamation sounded a bit more...distressed. Uh oh. Jim decided he'd better hurry and get up there before the anthropologist's reminiscing got out of hand. Deliberately dialing down his hearing, Jim got out of the truck and followed the sidewalk around the house, just as Blair had carefully instructed on the phone thirty minutes ago, both men trying to pretend they didn't already know which apartment was Morag's. Taking the stairs two at a time, Jim found himself on a large porch that had obviously been added sometime after the rest of the house was constructed.
A bespectacled Sandburg, his clothing making the usual "thrift store" fashion statement, answered the door at his soft knock.
"Jim, hey, come on in. You don't happen to remember the brand name on that white noise generator we bought, do you?"
Jim thought for a second, then shook his head.
"Nope, sorry, Chief, you did that job all on your lonesome."
"Shoot. Okay." Blair turned and headed back into the apartment. "Morag, why don't you go back to Alta Vista and let's try again there. Maybe if we narrow the search a bit more..."
Jim's eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light as he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. A quick glance around at Morag's apartment revealed a large room as dark and depressing as the woman herself. The studio took up half the upstairs of the large house. He'd just stepped through a long outer wall that was largely windows; they and another large window were heavily draped to match the dark purple paint on the windowless inner wall. The curtains were wide open and most of the lights Jim could see were switched on, their glow reflecting off the polished wooden floor, but still the room seemed shadowed. Between the greyness of the day outside and the way the room swallowed the artificial light from within...frowning, Jim fought off a series of shivers, focusing on scanning the rest of the room instead.
Immediately to his left sat a dining table, now hosting Blair's coat and both Sandburg's and Morag's backpacks. A terra cotta bowl full of gold and purple pansies provided an incongruous bright spot on the dining bar just beyond the table, and the kitchen alcove beyond that was created by the large bathroom he could just see through an open door. In the kitchen several glasses and an open pizza box sat beside the sink beneath a window looking out over the front yard.
Across from Jim, Morag sat hunched at a computer in the corner created by the bathroom and the purple wall. From there a series of overloaded bookshelves ran around that side of the room. The remainder of the room was cluttered with the usual detritus of college life--piles of papers and books and empty coffee cups on just about every available flat space, including the floor in between the bookshelves. Gee whiz, did she ever hand her students' assignments back? At the other end of the room several paperback books lay open on the floor next to a partially made futon bed; its sheets and comforter were another dark splotch in the cheerless room--burgundy, this time, not purple. Nothing like a little variety in life. The futon and a ratty, brown, overstuffed rocker were the only furniture besides the table and the computer desk.
Opposite the couch was a large stereo setup, much too large for the room itself. No photos that he could see, not of family or anything. One picture, a garish blue, yellow, and red print of pansies in a stoneware pitcher leaned on the floor between the stereo and the door. The purple wall sported a massive modern art print, a dark scene of ghostly figures hanging by the neck. Jim recognized the picture and he stared for a moment, unsuccessfully trying to conjure up the name. Maybe El Greco, but whatever and whomever, it was definitely less than cheerful, and proof in his own mind--along with the dark colors dominating the loft and the scent of bubble gum lip gloss that overrode almost every other scent in the house, even the days old Chinese take out in the garbage--that this was, indeed, Morag's apartment.
The pansies, Jim noticed as he finished his visual sweep of the apartment, were wilted.
Damn, how did she ever even get out of bed in this place in the mornings? The darkness weighed on him already, and he was usually immune to such things--or had been, until the advent of Sandburg into his life.
Shoving that train of thought away for another day, Jim turned to the pair at the computer. From what he could see they were surfing the web for something--wait, Sandburg had ordered his white noise generator from somewhere on the Net, hadn't he? Okay, that made sense. Blair stood next to Morag, leaning on the desk with one hand and the back of her chair with the other. Jim didn't miss Morag's slight movement away from his roommate as he leaned in, trying to read something on the screen.
"Damn, that's not it either. Morag, do you mind--"
She didn't mind, at least judging by the alacrity with which she gave up her seat to Blair. He plopped into the chair and began typing rapidly, pausing to click the mouse occasionally, Morag watching over his shoulder. Keeping his own careful distance from Morag, Jim walked over to join them. Hands in his jeans' front pockets, he stood a couple of feet behind Sandburg and watched for a minute, before offering, "Chief, may I remind you we've got work to do?"
Blair pushed his glasses up on his nose and typed some more before moving the mouse briefly. The screen blanked for a moment, then a new page started loading.
"Yeah, I know, just give me a minute here. It'll only take a second once I get the right page."
Jim shook his head, and looked at Morag out of the corner of his eye. Dark curls falling around a face bare of make up, her pinched and worn expression bore testimony to the previous pain-filled night. The violet sweatshirt she wore only emphasized the shadows under her eyes and made the dimpled scar on her right cheek more prominent. Her forearms were crossed tightly against her chest. Jim could just make out a dark mark on one arm. Damn, he had bruised her last night, much as he had tried not to. Morag tensed, aware of his scrutiny, but not looking at him. She lifted one eyebrow at Blair's back, still staring at the computer screen even when she spoke to Jim.
"Blair's not going to give up without a fight, so you might as well have a seat, Detective Ellison."
"Actually, I'd rather stand here and make him nervous. And, please, call me Jim." He waited until she did look up at him, and then he smiled--his best smile. Maybe it wasn't Sandburg's thousand-watt grin, but Jim knew his own particular brand of charm worked just as well. He'd used it often enough, he just didn't overwork it like his roommate there with the runaway libido. After a careful moment, his reward was an answering smile from Morag, a shy, tepid lip movement, reserved, distant, eyes carefully blank for the moment they brushed with his. None of the warmth he'd seen briefly at the restaurant last night, but none of the cold fury and fear he'd seen at the park either. However, Jim didn't miss the shifting shadows in her eyes as she looked away.
"Jim," she acknowledged, with a small tilt of her head in his direction. "Can I get you something to drink? Tea or coffee?"
"No thanks, I'm fine. Had a WonderBurger on the way over." Jim took a deep breath and rubbed his stomach as he spoke.
Blair groaned from his seat.
"Jim, man, I keep telling you, those things are gonna--"
"Shut up and finish your search, Sandburg." Jim swatted playfully at his roommate's head as he spoke. "Some of us have real jobs to get back to."
Blair ducked Jim's blow unsuccessfully, then glanced over his shoulder at Morag and shook his head.
"See what I have to put up with? I'm telling you Morag, be happy with a Master's. Do not, I repeat, do NOT go for your Ph.D. Or, at least, be sure to get a nicer subject to work with. Oh, hey, I think this is it!" His attention recaptured by the screen, Sandburg leaned closer to the computer and grabbed the mouse again.
Morag moved, then, shifting uncomfortably. Jim looked up in time to catch her wide-eyed gaze, her uncertainty at the teasing between the two men obvious. Jim shrugged and smiled reassuringly at her.
"He's Sandburg. You learn to live with it."
Morag nodded once, dubiously. The shadows shifted and flowed again in the grey eyes. Even without makeup her lashes were thick, dark. Darn, she would be pretty--very pretty--without the ghost makeup--and if you could get past the expression in those eyes.
"Okay." One hand came up to push a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Jim noticed the bruise on her arm again, the bruise he'd caused, however inadvertently. He winced.
"Sorry about that." Grey eyes followed his gaze down to her arm. Quickly drawing her sleeve down over the mark, Morag shrugged, once more folding her arms tight against her body.
"It's not like it was your fault. I'm just sorry to have been such a bother." Even facing him Morag wouldn't meet his gaze, staring instead over his shoulder, into the distance. Watching the subtle shift and changes in her eyes, Jim was reminded of a toy he had as a child, a Viewmaster. Pop in the disk, look through the binocular-like Viewmaster at the scene, pull the lever and watch the scene change again. Morag's eyes were like that today, emotions and impressions sliding past and through each other, cycling through faster than Jim could identify them.
He shrugged off her apology as quickly as she had his.
"I have some idea of what a headache like that can do to you. It's not fun. I take it things are better now?"
He'd noticed the earplugs when she tucked her hair behind her ear. Morag nodded.
"Some. Between the earplugs and Blair's 'dial.'" Her expression flickered, the color in her eyes shifting again. "It usually only bothers me in the spring. I've always thought it was some sort of bizarre allergy, you know, 'things are a booming out all over.' It's not usually this bad, though."
Jim smiled. Allergies, yeah, he'd been that route, looking for help with his Sentinel senses. Framing an answer, he looked up and found Morag's gaze directed straight at him. Once again the roiling emotions of last night were in the forefront of that icy gaze, though today they were more subtle, less raw, but somehow more focused. Since that focus was entirely on Jim at the moment, it was no less overwhelming than it had been last night. He had to mentally stop himself from stepping backwards, crossing his arms and shuffling his feet slightly instead. Morag didn't seem to notice his reaction.
"Blair, he said..." She swallowed loudly, then lowered her voice. "He said you have the same problem sometimes? For the same reason?"
Behind them, Blair stiffened, sitting up and looking over his shoulder at Jim with a pleading expression on his face. Morag didn't notice, her gaze fixed unwaveringly on Jim. He caught Sandburg's eyes and nodded slightly, then turned to Morag. Unsure how to read the intensity of her last question, Jim answered the first one.
"Yeah, sometimes. Between Sandburg and his dials it's pretty much under control." Jim met her eyes, returned that gaze with matching intensity. "You can trust him."
Morag flinched infinitesimally, her gaze immediately sliding away from his, over to the El Greco print. Jim waited a second as she stared at it, then, sure enough, she glanced back at him. He tried to keep his expression open, reassuring, but focused, wanting the message to get through: She could trust Sandburg, she could trust Jim himself--though Jim fully expected if she talked to anyone it would be his long-haired roommate. Blair had that effect on people; Jim was living proof of that. Still staring at him, snowy shades of gray swirling in her eyes again, Morag finally nodded once, then turned away completely. Blair had swiveled in his seat and was staring at them both, trying to catch the undertones of the exchange. Jim glared at his roommate in mock irritation.
"Aren't you done yet?" he growled.
"Just about." Blair still stared suspiciously at Jim, who put on his best innocent face. Morag stepped over behind his chair again, rubbing her arms, and Blair addressed his next comment to her. "This is the same model we got, though I don't think you need one this large, Morag. You're not dealing with the same square footage we have. There are a couple other models..." With another look at Jim, Blair swung around and reached for the mouse.
Both his companions now engrossed in the on-line catalog, Jim found himself drawn to the massive stereo set up. Behind him, Blair and Morag discussed the merits of various white noise generators. Jim grinned as Blair offered to float Morag the money to order one if she needed it. The idea of his perennially broke roommate having enough money to loan anyone...still, he listened in, determined to help out if necessary, until Morag said something about having enough money left from her father's settlement to take care of it. After that it was all a matter of filling out the online order form, so Jim tuned out the clicks and clatter, turning his attention back to the stereo.
Speakers almost as tall as he was flanked an impressive array of equipment, and one whole side of the shelving system that held the stereo was devoted to cd's. There were two family photos there, almost hidden between two silk ficas on the top shelf. One was a black and white wedding photo of a smiling couple in a heavy pewter frame. At first glance Jim thought it was Morag in the short white dress, leaning shyly back against the tall, dark-haired Marine in his dress blues. A second look revealed it to be a different woman, hair swept up and back from her gentle smile. The other photo was a candid shot of the happy family a few years later. Summer, it must have been, Morag and her mother were attired in spaghetti-strapped dresses, laughing as they blew a cloud of bubbles; her father, still with military sidewalls, attired in shorts and looking on with bemused pride just behind them. Morag couldn't have been more than six or seven in the photo, and there was no doubt she was her mother's daughter.
Moving on with his inspection, Jim found his favorite Santana cd amidst a confusing mix of acid rock, classical, and what looked like New Age meditation music--and several Sesame Street cds. Sesame Street? Those must go with the child's play set he noticed in the nook created by the far speaker and the outside corner of the apartment. A map of the Hundred Acre Wood lurked against the wall, almost hidden by the curtain next to it, and munchkin sized chairs around a small table hosted a large doll, a much-worn flop-eared rabbit, and a faded Winnie-the-Pooh. Crumbs and cookie pieces bore stale testimony to a recent tea party. Beside the table sat a basket of children's toys, predominately feminine in nature. Jim frowned. Morag did *not* strike him as an ideal babysitter. Still, growing up as he had in an all-male household, and going straight into the military, he wasn't exactly an expert on babysitters or children in general.
Which might have explained why he found the tiny figurines that sat on a shelf built into the window behind the small table so fascinating. Tea sets, Jim realized after a minute's scrutiny, miniature tea sets, small enough he could hold two in the palm of his hand. He reached for one tiny teacup from a set seemingly made of pansies and mice. Inspecting it more closely with his Sentinel eyesight, he caught one spot where the painter had missed and daubed the wrong color, but all in all, the detail was impressive. Standing right beside the speaker, caught up in his examination of the minute detail before him, Jim suddenly shivered. All the hair on the back of his neck stood at attention, but before he could figure out where the sensation was coming from, a voice spoke at his elbow. Jim nearly dropped the small teacup.
"That was the first one I ever got. Mom gave it to me for my birthday the year she died. She loved pansies."
The tea cup rescued from an untimely demise on the bare wood floor, Jim swung around to find Morag smiling at him, openly, trustingly, an unfamiliar light in her eyes. Belatedly, he realized it was happiness--Morag looking *happy?*
Oblivious to his stare, she continued, "We had a tea party for my friends, with hats and gloves and everything. It was way cool." The smile radiated from her, and she actually bounced on her tiptoes, long curls rebounding around her face. For a brief second Jim saw the girl Blair had described last night--a much younger version of that girl, but she was there, none the less. Grey eyes met blue, impish grey eyes, and Jim knew his own eyes had to be practically bugging out of his head when Morag winked at him.
"Okay, that's it." Blair's comment interrupted the moment, and after the pair by the tea party had looked at him, and then back at each other, the familiar detached expression had returned to Morag's face. She deftly retrieved the small cup from Jim- without touching his fingers at all, he couldn't help noticing. Her own fingers flicked over the tiny item, brushing it off before she placed it back with its companions. Sliding around a very confused detective, Morag glided over to where Blair was collecting his pack and coat.
"Thanks for lunch, Morag," Blair said, as Jim followed Morag to the door. The Sentinel had all he could do to keep himself from staring outright at the woman. Where in the world had all that come from? Belatedly, he realized he was being asked a question. Blair met Jim's blank look with his own puzzled expression.
"One of your business cards, Jim?" the younger man repeated, gesturing with the pen he'd conjured up from somewhere.
"Oh, yeah. Here you go." Jim took out his badge wallet, retrieved a card from it and handed it to his Guide, avoiding the question in those blue eyes at the same time he was trying to avoid looking at Morag. What in the hell had he just seen? The hair was standing up on the back of his neck again, and he absently rubbed at it. Blair scribbled a couple of numbers on the card before holding it out towards Morag.
"Here, you've already got my cell phone number, but this is the loft, and this is Jim's cell phone. You call if you have any more problems with your hearing, okay? Until you get really good at controlling this you're gonna need help. You call me, anytime. If you can't get me, you can call Jim." Blair's eyes sought Jim's as he said that, and Jim nodded his assent. Blair turned back to Morag who refused to meet his gaze. But the anthropologist was nothing if not persistent. "I'm serious, Morag. If you need help, you call."
Slowly, reluctantly, Morag reached for the card. Staring at it briefly, she finally looked up, her glance taking in both men as they stood by the door. Jim braced himself as her gaze caught his, but the expression in her eyes was as aloof as it had ever been. He felt just a bit guilty at the relief he felt when she looked away. Staring at the card again, she nodded slowly.
"Okay, well, great. That's settled." Blair shrugged his pack over one shoulder and opened the door. "Let's go, Jim. See you tomorrow, Morag."
Their hostess just nodded, and stood there, unmoving but for the shadows in her eyes, as they let themselves out of the apartment and headed down the stairs.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They drove the first few blocks towards the station in companionable silence. Jim worked on pushing Morag's eccentricities out of his mind by sheer force of will. Grad student or no, the woman was flat weird, that's all there was to it. The good news was Sandburg was already weird in his own way, so hopefully Jim didn't have to worry about Morag rubbing off on his roommate. Passing one hand across his face as if that could erase the strangeness of the scene in Morag's apartment, Jim turned to thoughts of the five unsolved cases sitting on his desk at the bullpen, only realizing a few moments later that Blair had asked him a question, the same question several times if the volume of this latest request was any indication.
"...don't mind me telling her about your hearing being heightened?"
"Hunh?" Jim shook his head as the individual noises became words in his thoughts. "Oh, no. You didn't tell her the whole thing did you?"
Blair shook his head, hands waving in front of him to emphasize his denial.
"No way, man. I didn't want to tell her anything, but she wouldn't settle down enough to let me work with her on the dial. I don't know, maybe she was still on edge from last night, but I could hardly get her to sit still when I first got there. She kept apologizing for being so much trouble. Funny thing is, I got the distinct impression she doesn't really remember what happened."
"She might not. Those sensory spike headaches can be pretty fierce."
Blair was suddenly all business.
"Do you experience any memory loss with your migraines, Jim?"
"Well, if I do, I don't remember," Jim drawled.
Blair thought that over, nodding his head once and smiling.
"Well, yeah, I guess not." His smile grew, and he chuckled. "Well, anyway, once I told her you had trouble with your hearing and the dials worked to control it, I finally got her to settle down and try it. She wasn't as quick a study as you were, but I think she got enough of it to help her out. The rest is just a matter of practice on her part." Sandburg shifted in his seat, obviously uncertain as to Jim's reaction to whatever else he had to say. "I thought--if you didn't mind, that is--we might go out to the State Park or something this Saturday and see if we couldn't both work some more on this with her."
Jim thought about it for a moment or two. The thought didn't exactly thrill him, but if it made his roommate happy, and helped Morag out a bit...He shrugged.
"Yeah, maybe. It all depends on how things go with this new case."
"What new case?"
"The old folders new case. If we can find something to connect them, I might have to work on that this weekend."
"Okay. So, does this mean you're finally gonna tell me what you think you saw?" Blair sounded aggrieved, and Jim shot a worried look at his roommate. The twinkle in the younger man's blue eyes as they met his belied the petulant tone of voice.
"Maybe. If you behave yourself."
They rode in silence for the next few blocks, Jim good-naturedly ignoring the gloating grin that lit up Sandburg's face. Traffic downtown was light, for whatever reason, but Jim didn't complain. So many people were fleeing the congestion in Seattle that Cascade was developing it's own traffic nightmare in turn. After the few minutes of silence, Blair turned to Jim.
"You want to tell me what else was going on there with Morag?"
Jim decided to play dumb. Big dumb lump of Neanderthal cop, just like he'd been accused of being on more than one occasion.
"What what was all about?"
"You know what I mean, you know exactly what I mean. You standing there telling Morag she could trust me and man, the vibes were so thick between you two *I* could almost see them--without Sentinel-vision to help. What was going on?"
Jim shrugged again.
"Maybe after the way you scared her last night I was just trying to reassure her that you were capable of helping her. You don't exactly look the part when it comes to expert help."
"Hey, man, I don't have to *look* the part, I am the part! Morag was just out-of-control because of the pain last night, that's all. You oughtta know how that goes."
Jim nodded. If that what Blair wanted to believe, then Jim was happy to let him. They were almost back at the station when Jim remembered his own question.
"Chief, what do you know about Morag's family? She have anybody nearby, siblings, nieces or nephews?"
Blair was shaking his head as Jim steered the truck through the parking garage.
"Nah, she's an only child. Her mom died when she was little, some sort of accident I think. Same place she got that scar on her face. Her dad died three or four years ago. That's where she got that awesome stereo set up. You know, when he built his house he had a room specially designed for that stereo, soundproofed and everything, just so he could listen to it as loud as he wanted and not bother anyone else?"
"It looked a little overpowering for her apartment," Jim agreed, parking the truck and reaching for the keys.
"Yeah, well, it's about all she got from her dad, the stereo and a little money. I guess his house and everything else went to some friend of his. Talk about a ripoff, I can't believe a man wouldn't just leave it all to his own flesh and blood. She was his only kid, for crying out loud."
Jim could believe it. Who knew what would come out of his own father's will when that time came? He pulled the keys out, but didn't get out of the truck just yet, his mind drifting between puzzles.
"Why do you ask, anyway?" Blair shifted in the seat so he faced Jim.
"The kid's table and chairs, the toys..." Jim shrugged. "It seemed a bit...out of place in her apartment. Out of character."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I asked her about it once, when I was in her other apartment, before she left. It's just stuff she's had since she was little. Keeps it around for sentimental reasons, and in case she ever has company with kids. That's all."
Oh. Jim fingered the keys for a minute. Really, there was nothing unusual about crumbs and stale cookies on a child's table, was there? Just because the owner of that table was a twenty-something--year-old grad student...Jim saw again the incarnation of Morag that had met him in that corner, the happier version with the impish eyes that had *winked* at him. On the other hand, she *had* winked at Simon and Blair last night, before her evening-- and theirs--spiraled completely out of control. Maybe she just enjoyed messing with their minds. One thing was certain, she was more than passing strange. *That* could be written in stone. He suddenly realized Sandburg was still waiting for his answer.
"Somehow Morag doesn't strike me as a social butterfly," was the only thing Jim could come up with, unable to put his finger on why that little setup in the corner was bothering him so much. He shrugged and got out of the truck, pocketing the keys and letting other concerns take over his thoughts for now. Blair wasn't worried about any of this, so maybe Jim would just follow his roommate's lead--this once.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad."
Two hours later, Jim stared grimly back at the faces staring up at him from the briefing room table, trying and failing to find something, anything that might link these deaths together. Blair was at his side, holding out yet another piece of evidence. Fabric, this time, from a blue dress--blue with psychedelic birds of paradise printed onto it. Even faded with time, the garish colors had the potential to hurt his sensitive eyes. Elbows on the table, Jim sighed and pushed the scrap away, rubbing a hand over his face as he did so.
"This isn't getting us anywhere, Chief." At least nowhere but a headache the size of Cascade, pounding behind his temples right now. Jim closed his eyes, only half listening as Blair put the scrap of blood-soaked fabric back into it's brown envelope. He'd been wrong, and more than likely they were just chasing rabbit trails--not a serial murderer. Eyes closed, Jim rubbed his temples with both hands.
"Headache?" Blair enquired softly. Jim felt the displaced air as Blair sat in the seat next to him.
"Yeah, just a bit." Jim mentally searched for the dials, toned down the pain first and his sense of smell second. There, that helped. Finally he opened his eyes, and met Blair's gaze. The blue eyes were bleak, and Jim's concern shifted immediately from his own needs to his roommate's. "You okay?"
Blair shifted in his seat, his gaze flicking away from Jim to the photos on the table in front of them.
"Yeah. It's just... you know... just hard to believe anyone could be so...brutal."
Jim nodded. Even after three years on the force man's inhumanity to man still managed to twist Blair's soul. Most cops would have been fairly numb to it by now, out of necessity if nothing else. Jim was. Not that he and his fellow detectives didn't care, they had just learned how to care--enough to get the job done, but not enough to make himself crazy when he couldn't go back and erase the tales told in the eyes of the victims. What amazed him was the fact that in spite the darkness he'd walked through with Jim, Blair had yet to get cynical or hard. Oh, he was a bit more streetwise, a little less naive, but the grad student hadn't lost that openness, the zest for life that defined him in so many ways, that had opened up one James Ellison, former covert ops, former Ranger, opened him up like the proverbial can of worms and proceeded to infuse that same zest for life into him--some of it anyway. No one could have as much joie de vivre as Blair did, no one. There was only one to a planet on that order, or at least so Jim and Simon hoped.
"I'm sorry you have to see all this," he offered, and Sandburg gave him a weak smile. Jim smiled in return, and batted the other man lightly on the head.
Truth was, he wasn't sorry, not really. They needed Sandburg on this--Jim did, anyway, if he was going to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat that everyone seemed to expect from him. Jim was a good detective, skilled at looking at the evidence and making connections even before his Sentinel senses came online, bringing Sandburg into his life. If the connection *was* there, if the thread that would unravel this knot and pull it all straight so they could see the guy who did it, if anything was there in the musty evidence boxes to be felt or smelled or tasted he would find it. On the other hand, Jim had come to rely on the fact that if the connection had to be intuited or conjured out of thin air, Sandburg was the one who could be counted on to do so. Simon knew that too; it was part of the reason why the by-the-book Captain suffered the long-haired grad student to stay. It was the anthropologist himself who generally seemed to be a little clueless as to his own abilities, his own contributions to the mix.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Jim carefully lifted the photos and rearranged them. Blair watched silently as he did so, but Jim knew better. He could almost hear the wheels spinning in that incredible brain skulking behind that baby face.
"Jim?" When Jim looked at him, Blair sat up straight, pushing his glasses up on his nose and looking suddenly professorial. "I want you to tell me about the cases again, okay? Just like you did when we first got in here. I'm going to open *all* the evidence bags at the same time, leave them open while you talk. As you talk, I want you to just sort of subconsciously let your senses go. Let the instincts work for you in this, see if you can find what's in all of them that way, instead of just one at a time."
Blair picked up the photos Jim had rearranged, and, standing, moved around the table, opening each envelope again and dumping the contents out into its tray. He made sure the various smaller bags were open, then placed the victim's photo in front of the corresponding tray, facing Jim.
"Okay, start talking. Close your eyes for now, though." At Jim's disgusted look, Blair remonstrated, "Just humor me for a minute, okay? I want to concentrate on your sense of smell."
Jim grimaced, but they both knew better than to take him seriously. Taking a deep breath, he leaned back in his chair, tried to relax. Mentally dialing up his sense of smell again, one hand still half covering his face, he began to talk.
"We've got five murders in a span of 15 years. All prostitutes, approximate ages 28 - 30, all about 5 foot, 7 - 10 inches tall, with long dark hair. Three were identified, two Jane Does. Time of death and method of death varies from injuries received to one Jane Doe whose throat was slashed. The one who was found alive was not able to identify her attacker before she died, except as a very generic Caucasian male, aged anywhere from mid-thirties to fifty something, with dark hair and indeterminate eyes. Two were evidently paid for their services before they died, and the others weren't, but all were beat to a bloody pulp afterwards."
"Okay, so what other connections are there? Other than their general body type?" Blair's voice had moved, came now from behind Jim, soft and almost hypnotic.
"There wasn't one. Not until I sorted them by date."
"And what did you find?"
"They were all murdered on March 29th, various years, the most recent being 1994, the earliest 1979, somewhere within the city limits of Cascade." And today was March 25th. Would they find another body this year?
"All of them died on March 29th, though?"
"All but the one in 1979, and that one took place on March 30, two days after a freak spring ice storm paralyzed Cascade and shut the entire city down for 48 hours."
"Okay, and the theory is you've got someone who's marking an anniversary--some sort of sick anniversary."
Jim nodded, keeping his eyes closed. Suddenly, something caught his attention, and he sniffed, taking a deep breath.
"Just flow with it, Jim, don't try to fight it, just flow with it. Let it come to you, let it come to you." Sandburg's reassuring prattle faded as Jim held up one hand, sitting up straight in his seat. Taking another deep breath, he checked carefully. Yes, the faint scent was coming from all five of the trays. Individually, there wasn't enough there for him to pick it up. Collectively, it was just enough.
"Okay, you got it?"
"Yeah..." Jim took another deep breath, trying to draw enough of the elusive molecules in to identify them...
And sneezed. Several times. Loudly.
"Oh, god..." Blindly, he lurched out of his chair and turned away from the table, his hands going to his suddenly out of control nose.
"Find the dial, Jim, find the dial and turn it down..." Sandburg's soft voice was barely audible over Jim's sneezing and gasping. At the same time, Jim found a tissue in his hand from somewhere. Sandburg again, no doubt. Focusing on his Guide's voice, he was finally able to get the sneezing under control. Blowing his nose and wiping at his eyes, he aimed the mangled tissue in the general direction of the wastebasket. He started to take another deep breath but stopped himself in time. Sandburg's hand was on his arm.
"You okay, Jim?"
"Yeah, I think so. Just got a bigger whiff than I intended."
"Whiff of what?"
"Sage." Blair's eyes grew round, and he looked over his shoulder at the table.
"From all of them, Chief. It's in all of the folders. There's something else too, but I couldn't get past the sage to identify it." Jim eyed the table warily, grabbing another tissue and blowing his nose again before taking his seat. Blair leaned beside him, one hand on the back of Jim's chair and one hand on the table.
"You sure you want to try this again?" Blair asked dubiously.
"Yeah, now that I know about it it's faint enough I should be able to control my reaction and still find out what else is there."
"Okay, but if you start to lose it again--"
"I'll be careful, Mom."
Sandburg grinned and stood up.
"Yeah, see that you are."
Jim closed his eyes and concentrated again, mentally sifting and sorting the scents coming out of the bags again. There, mingled with the sage--which he quickly suppressed--were the other scents...he took deep, careful breaths this time, several of them, before opening his eyes and finding Sandburg's concerned gaze about three inches from his own.
"Sandburg, do you mind?" Jim reached for another tissue and blew his nose again as Blair backed off, grinning.
"Yeah, there are at least two more, probably three, but the third one is pretty faint." Sandburg snorted. Faint for Jim was nonexistent for the rest of the population. Jim ignored him. "They're all familiar though, they all smell like... kitchens. Kitchens and cooking."
Sandburg stood up straight now, pacing excitedly around the room.
"Herbs?" At Jim's nod, he continued, "So, maybe our guy's a cook? A chef, or something?" He turned and paced back toward Jim. "We can take you to the store tonight, the one over on Walnut Road, with the big bulk department." Jim groaned. He hated that store, with its plethora of smells from that same bulk department. Sneezing fits plagued him for hours after shopping there. Blair ignored him, still planning his trip. Jim let him run on for a minute, then held up one hand.
"I've got a better idea." He reached for one of the trays, poked a long finger at a few minute specks that littered the green fabric there. "Let's send this dust down to forensics for analysis. We'll need it for the DA's office anyway, if we can make a case out of this. And save my nose in the process."
"Well, sure, Jim, but it would be faster to just go--"
"Sandburg, my sinuses have had about all they can take right now. Maybe tomorrow, if we don't find anything else to check out."
"Well, okay." His roommate obviously didn't like the idea, but Jim wasn't giving ground. His sinuses really had had all they could take for one day; the headache he'd controlled earlier was threatening again. He closed his eyes, seeking the pain dial once more, ignoring Sandburg as the anthropologist resumed his pacing.
"Okay, so you've got three, possibly four scents, mingled together, all some sort of kitchen herb, the kind that you cook with? Did you pick up anything else?"
Jim opened his mouth to say 'no,' but suddenly he saw one more thing in his mind's eye. Opening his eyes, he reached for the photos, pulling them all to him and arranging them side by side on the table. His memory was correct, his Sentinel eyesight had indeed picked something else up in all the photos, he'd just missed it earlier-- trying too hard probably. He pointed to each bruised and battered face in turn. "See that mark there?" Blair leaned over his shoulder, squinting.
"Um, no. But I'll take your word for it."
"It's there, on each woman's face, on the right side. Like she was backhanded by a man wearing a ring. A rather large ring."
"Wow! Could you identify the ring if you saw it?"
Jim stared at the photos a minute, before shaking his head.
"No, there's too much swelling and stuff to make out any identifying marks. If this was recent, if I could look at it in the flesh, then maybe I could make something out, but there's no way from these photos."
"Okay, well, hey, why don't we take a break, Jim? Give your sinuses a rest, let the air clear in here. I could use a cup of coffee or something."
"Yeah, sure." Jim dragged his six foot frame out of the chair, stretching and flexing his stiff muscles. "Simon wanted me to let him know if we found anything, anyway."
"You want something from the break room?" Blair paused, one hand on the briefing room door.
"Just some water."
"Okay, back in two."
Jim followed Sandburg out into the bullpen, slowing down to verify Simon's office door was closed as his partner headed on into the hall toward the break room. A quick check with Sentinel ears revealed Simon in the midst of a rather one-sided, rather contentious conversation with the DA. Okay, on second thought he'd check his e-mail instead. Jim made a beeline for his desk. Two of the women's bodies had been found close enough to the city limits he'd decided to ask if any of several nearby towns had similar unsolved cases. It only took a moment to download his mail, and he rapidly skimmed and deleted the negative answers to his morning's query.
Still staring at the last message on his screen, Jim barely acknowledged the chorus of greetings that followed Sandburg's reentry into the bull pen with two bottles of water. Blair stopped briefly to chat with several of the detectives, and then made a longer stop to talk with Simon's secretary, Rhonda. Jim finally looked up when Brown walked over, Blair not far behind, the anthropologist stepping around the dark-skinned detective to hold a bottle of water out to his friend.
"Hey, Jim, Sandburg." Brown held the ubiquitous manilla folders in one hand. "Here's more of those old files for you. Sorry I didn't get them to you earlier. I think the ones Rafe found fit your profile on both counts. I came up with one. It didn't fit your age criteria, and the victim lived, but everything else fit--even the date. It's almost scary."
A victim who had lived? This might be the break they needed. Jim nodded his thanks, busy opening his water bottle, so Blair set his own open bottle on the corner of Jim's desk and reached for the folders Henri held out.
"Thanks, H," Sandburg said.
"No problem, man, but I think maybe you should arrest the parents on this last one."
"Why?" Water bottle suspended a few inches from his face, it took Jim a couple of seconds to realize Henri was joking. Blair was a little quicker on the uptake, rolling his eyes at his less observant roommate. Jim ignored him; he could hear the title of Sandburg's lecture tonight already: Humor: Applications and Uses Of in Keeping Police Officers Sane. Find the funny and focus on it, the small detail you could laugh about and handle to keep the larger details at bay, the details you couldn't deal with. Like all these damn autopsy photos of beaten and broken women. Did he mention that they were all dead? Jim closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Sorry, H." He took a long drink from the water bottle, and then set it on the desk.
The bald detective shrugged and grinned.
"'S'okay, Ellison. Man, the photos in these are enough to set anyone on edge. This is one sick bastard. Looks like he'll get what's coming to him now." Jim almost sighed at the implicit faith in his fellow detective's words. He wasn't sure himself that he'd be able to do anything, even if the murders were linked. No one else seemed to share his doubts though. Henri let Blair take the folders, and started to leave.
"Hey," Blair said as Brown headed back to his own desk. "You didn't answer Jim's question. Why should we arrest the parents?"
This time Henri's smile lit up his face and a good portion of the bullpen.
"Because they named the poor little girl Morag Blanche. It oughtta be a crime to saddle someone with two names that ba--Hairboy? You okay?"
On his feet instantly, Jim tried to take the folders before Blair could find it, before he opened that one folder and saw the photos Jim knew would be there. He should have known better. The anthropologist yanked the folders away from his Sentinel, turning his back and locating the one labeled "Gilbertson, Morag B." before Jim could get another grip on them. Finding himself holding the files labeled with unfamiliar names, Jim dropped them on the floor. One step and he was at Blair's side just as the grad student opened Morag's folder and found the photos.
"Shit," they said, in unison.
The first picture had to be Morag's school photo for the year. Smiling sweetly at the camera, the grey eyes were wide, alive--shadowed but not "not-alive" like they were in the adult Morag. The photo beside and behind it was the same face, bruised and battered, and--Sentinel sight quickly confirmed--the same cut from the same ring on her right cheek. But the eyes--the eyes were no longer alive, not anymore. Ashes, dead gray ashes, that's what they were. His stomach twisted and Jim looked away, up, anywhere but at those dead, dead eyes.
Wide-eyed, his grin gone, Henri was staring at them both and their little scuffle over the folder had caught the attention of the other members of Major Crimes. In the background a door opened.
Jim turned his attention back to the folder and his roommate. He'd called it correctly; the eye shadow and lipstick Morag wore now were the same color as her own bruised skin in the police photos. He sighed. Some days it just didn't pay to be right. Neither man looked up as Simon joined them.
Blair ignored the Captain, one hand trembling as he traced the information on the page, his lips moving as he read but no sound coming out.
Jim closed his own eyes as he followed Blair's finger. Morag had only been sixteen, still living at home with her dad, an honor student at Cascade High. If this was the same guy their man had broken his MO, and majorly. Why? Well, that didn't matter, not anymore. Maybe her case didn't fit Jim's stupid little profile, but he didn't care. It was his case now, his and Sandburg's. This bastard they would bring down, profile or no. Jaw clenching, he looked at Simon.
"Blair knows the victim. So do I."
There was a chorus of muttered expletives at that.
"I'm sorry, Blair, if I had known..." Blair waved off Henri's apology.
"Man, it's not your fault, not your fault at all..." he muttered, turning away as he leafed further through the file. Jim heard Simon's teeth clench, looked at the taller man.
"Knows? She wasn't murdered?"
"No, actually, you met her last night."
Simon's eyes widened at that piece of information, and he swore softly under his breath, his eyes flicking to where Blair stood, still thumbing through the file.
"Take him out of here for a few minutes."
"Aw, SHIT, man, SHIT! This *really* SUCKS!"
The folder flew across the room, papers and photos fluttering down to the floor in its wake. Jim reached for Blair's arm, but the long-haired observer jerked away from him. Not meeting anyone's gaze, Blair spun around, his back to them all and his hands up in the air.
"I need some air, man, I gotta get some air."
And the anthropologist was gone. Jim rubbed one hand over his face again, then bent to pick up the files he had dropped. Probably better if he gave Blair a moment or two to vent before he followed him. Dark hands stopped him as Simon loomed over him.
"I'll get this; you go on."
Jim nodded, retrieving the two folders anyway, one of them half under the desk. Henri was gathering up the other file--Morag's file, Jim corrected mentally--the one that flew across the room, Rafe helping him put the pieces back together before they approached Jim. Simon intercepted the two men, taking Morag's file, adding it to the two he'd just taken from Jim.
"Go on, get outta here," he said, setting the folders on top of Jim's desk.
Jim met Simon's troubled gaze and nodded briefly, before grabbing Blair's coat from his desk and heading out in search of his partner.
Continued in Part Four...