See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"
--- T.S. Eliot
Blair was in the alley behind the precinct, kicking an empty soda can mercilessly against the wall.
"You keep that up and it won't be recyclable." Arms crossed, Jim leaned casually on the brick building.
Blair gave the can one last vicious kick, then his shoulders slumped and he shivered. Jim handed him his jacket.
"Kind of cold out here, isn't it?" The cold always bothered the smaller man more. Jim just tuned the cold out, he never noticed it until Sandburg came along. Blair took the jacket automatically. Jim opened his mouth to threaten to put Blair in it himself, but his Guide chose that moment to slide his arms into the coat and swing it on over his head. Jim waited, still leaning against the wall.
Hands limp at his sides, Blair stared at the bricks before him. One hand lifted to run through his hair, then he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, as if addressing his words to the sky instead of his partner.
"Man, I never knew, I never fucking knew or I never would have, I *never* would have--" Sandburg's hand went out, pleading with each denial that grated from his throat. "God, Jim, what did I do?"
Jim shifted, stood up straight. There wasn't a lot he could say, nothing that would make this grief disappear, but he could set the kid straight on one thing at least.
"Chief, you didn't do anything wrong. You didn't know. And, unlike the SOB that raped her, you took "No" for an answer."
Blair's head came down at that, staring at Jim in wide-eyed disbelief before rejecting the proffered comfort. He turned away, his hand cutting the air in time with his denial.
"No way, man, ignorance is no excuse, none! I'm supposed to be her friend, man, her friend. Instead I'm just... Oh, shit, no wonder she freaked, no wonder, and I was *so* damn clueless I just wrote her off as frigid or something and went on with my life--" Hands gesticulating wildly, Blair found the pop can again, and his tantrum ended with a small wad of wrinkled aluminum under his foot. "Shit!" he exploded, and the pop can rebounded off the brick wall to clatter forlornly down the alley for a few seconds until it clanged to a stop against the dumpster.
"Chief, that is *exactly* what she wanted." The debris in the alley crunched under Jim's feet as he stepped closer to his Guide, and he quickly squelched his sense of smell as it was assaulted by the fetid odor from the dumpster. Sandburg had to accept this, he had to, or he'd be useless on the case. "You did * exactly* what she wanted you to. Look, I did the same thing: I only saw what she wanted me to see and didn't look any closer."
Blair swung around to his friend, a hand out now inquiringly and indefinable emotion sparking deep in his eyes.
"Last night you said there was more to Morag than met the eye, and then today you were telling her she could trust me. Is this why?" At Jim's quiet nod, the emotion in Blair's eyes flared: anger, pure and bright, directed straight at his partner. The larger man let it ride, accepting the misdirected fury, wishing there was a cure for the grief that fed it. Hands on his hips, chin jutting forward, Blair stepped toward Jim. His voice was quiet now, almost lethal in its intensity. "Okay, so, like when did you figure this out, and was there sometime in the near future you were planning on giving me a clue?"
"Don't lose your cool, Chief. I didn't suspect anything until last night, all right? And, I never guessed it was anything like this...nothing this bad." Jim rubbed his face. Not this bad at all. Tucking his hands in his jeans pockets, he offered, "Last night? When I was holding her, trying to keep her from clawing your eyes out, it took everything she had to stand still. I could literally feel her flesh crawling where I touched her. At first I thought it was because of her being hypersensitive in touch, but after you told me what happened between the two of you, I don't know." Jim shrugged, his conclusion sounding lame all of a sudden. "It all just sort of fell together."
Blair closed his eyes, obviously considering Jim's words. His fury abated almost as quickly as it had risen, and he shifted so he faced away from Jim, staring down the alley, shoulders slumped and crossing his arms against his chest.
"Damn. I'm supposed to be the fucking observer here and I missed it. Missed it completely." His voice faded to a whisper, the words almost inaudible in the sudden growl of a passing truck. But the Sentinel heard it, and he was beside his friend in a moment, one hand on Blair's shoulder. His voice was soft, gentle, but firm too, firm enough to cut through the grief and guilt that blanketed the younger man.
"Blair, you didn't see it because she didn't want you to. It's not your fault. And this, this..." he didn't know how to say it without offending Blair, but the soft huff of breath from his partner said Blair understood: This temper tantrum. This little hissy fit. Whatever it was, Blair understood. Jim swallowed a smile, and continued, "This isn't getting us anywhere. It won't change what happened to Morag."
Throwing his head back, Blair laughed once, bitterly.
Hand still on his friend's shoulder, Jim sighed. "Look, Chief, I wish--"
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." The bitterness remained, flowing through the younger man's voice, and not for the first time Jim silently cursed the wounds his line of work inflicted on his less-hardened partner.
"Chief..." Jim tightened his grip, but Blair shrugged him off, again taking a step away from the detective.
"You know, Jim, Naomi always said that when I complained about something, anything. Said that was the way the world was sometimes, and it was best just not to think about it, do what you could, if you could, but just go on after that. Detach with love, from all of it, good and bad." Eyes closing, Blair shook his head, whether at the memory of his mother's advice or today's darkness Jim wasn't sure. He whispered it again. "If wishes were horses...shit, I'd have a whole herd here today if that was true." Swallowing convulsively then, he clenched a fist and swung it toward the wall as he wailed, "God, Jim I did *not* know, I didn't know!"
Jim grabbed the smaller man's fist before it hit the wall, holding it in his own grip and waiting until Blair looked at him to answer.
"I know that, Chief, and I honestly think Morag does too." He caught and held Blair's gaze with his own, pouring all the intensity of his conviction into both his own eyes and his words. "You have *nothing* to feel guilty about. Okay?"
Jim waited a long moment, holding Blair's fist in his own until the younger man tugged it free, nodding slowly. When the anthropologist didn't say anything else, just looked down at his shoes, Jim cleared his throat.
"We can do one thing for her."
Blair met Jim's gaze then, and the detective saw his own resolve mirrored there. It was all they had to offer Morag, the slim hope that when all these cases were laid side by side he and Blair could work their magic and come up with more than just a profile, that they could come up with a person, a name--someone to nail for this, for what had been done to her and at least half a dozen other women.
"We can take the son of a bitch that did it to her down." Blair said it for him, in a hard, heavy voice Jim had rarely heard from the police observer.
The Sentinel nodded. Blair looked at Jim, then back at the sky. Closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, cleansing breaths, Jim knew, and he almost smiled as he watched his roommate mentally and emotionally center himself. Caught himself before the dark blue eyes opened, meeting his in a cold stare.
"All right then, let's go."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jim studied one half of Winnie the Pooh's ruined face gazing back at him from the wadded-up nightshirt before glancing at his partner.
"You okay, Chief?"
Ashen-faced, Blair hesitantly reached for the torn and stained material, gently smoothing it between his thumb and fingers until he encountered a darker, stiffer stain. His hand jerked back as if burned, and both men stared silently at the bear's ragged visage, leering now from the turquoise rag in between splotches of blood and other bodily fluids that neither one of them really wanted to identify.
"You don't have to be here. I can get Brown--"
"No." Blair's denial was firm. He took a deep breath, then his eyes met Jim's. "I can do this. I'll be fine. It's just..." His voice trailed away, and he couldn't meet Jim's gaze anymore. The detective put one hand on Sandburg's shoulder.
"I know," he answered quietly, then his hand dropped away, and he reached for the tray, intending to release the rest of the evidence of Morag's nightmare from its sealed oblivion. Blair's hand stopped his.
"Wait, close your eyes and see if you smell it first."
Eyes closed, Jim waited while Blair opened the envelopes. That done, it only took a second to find his answer, two to be certain. The scents were there, faint to be sure, but exactly as in all the other evidence trays, the five from before, and now the three new trays filled with items Jim had fetched up from downstairs just a couple of hours ago. Normally Blair would have saved his Sentinel the aggravation of a trip to the dusty evidence storage room, but not this time. This time Sandburg had acquiesced all too easily when Jim suggested he return to Major Crimes' briefing room while the detective retrieved the available evidence.
There, staring at the three envelopes before he inked his name on the register, staring hardest at the one lettered bluntly with Morag's last name and initials, Jim had briefly considered not bringing up that particular envelope. But in the end he knew it had to be done. If this was the same guy, Morag was the best chance they had yet of catching him. The detective had scrawled his name, accepting responsibility for it all, and carried the evidence up to where Blair was waiting, his unnatural silence filling the room. By mutual, unspoken consent they'd waited until last to open Morag's envelope.
Now Jim took a third second to be absolutely certain the smells of sage and other herbs were coming from that particular tray, and then his eyes opened, meeting Sandburg's gaze. The Sentinel nodded.
"It's there. Stronger even than the last ones."
"Maybe because it's more recent," Blair muttered, before reaching out to sort through the evidence. There wasn't much. In Morag's tray there were the ruined nightdress, the herbal residue of leaves and dust, and her panties, blue and white, once-jaunty stripes sobered now with stains and blotches. Her father'd found those on the floor by the door, when he'd finally found his daughter in the middle of the night. Sandburg shoved the tray forcefully aside and Jim caught it just before it shot off the table and onto the floor. Sliding it back a safe distance away from the edge, Jim dropped into the seat next to his partner.
They sat in silence for a moment, Blair's face buried in his hands and his hair cascading over all of it. Jim leaned back in his chair, hands dangling loosely in his lap. After a moment, the detective realized Blair was talking, saying something, probably something important, but as Jim stared at the eight trays sitting in silent accusation on the table in front of them, the familiar voice was gradually overwhelmed and then shut out completely by his own rising doubts. Just exactly when had this charge been given to him, laid at his feet? How had it been decided that the responsibility was his to find and contain the demon from Morag's past? He'd been in Peru when she was attacked, dealing with his own demons, his own nightmares. What could he do now?
Even more, how was he to accomplish this goal? What lay before him was frail evidence, indeed, with which to catch a murderer and a rapist after so many years. Just so many different shreds of cloth, bound with both innocence and terror and sprinkled with a fragrant ash of herbs and hope. And the flowers. Morag alone received flowers from her attacker, the once bright nosegay now just another fragile piece of the puzzle, withered pansies and rosebuds, ivoried with age and perfumed with mildew, all wound up in a purple ribbon. The puzzle pieces danced before Jim, tantalizing and teasing him, refusing to slide into a recognizable pattern even as they refused to deny their connectedness, the details he'd read in Morag's folder suddenly flashing and winding through and over the others.
An early riser who laid himself down to sleep religiously at 10:30 p.m., John Gilbertson had been irritated when he woke up at 3 a.m. March 30, 1988 to the mumble of late night TV in the family room downstairs. Studying the hand-drawn layout of the house in the case file, Jim wondered if Morag didn't get her preternatural hearing from her father; the family room was a long ways from the master suite her father inhabited. His daughter not asleep in her room, John Gilbertson headed downstairs to turn off the TV and grouch at his insomniac child. The only sign of Morag was most of a bowl of cold cereal spilled across the couch, and he'd grumbled about that too, cleaning up the spill with military precision and expecting Morag to pop out of the bathroom any minute. When she didn't turn up, he checked the bathroom, and then her room again. Not finding her, he wasn't worried, not yet, because Morag liked to listen to music too, and in the middle of the night when she couldn't sleep she'd go downstairs in the basement and listen to his stereo.
Jim wondered briefly if Morag's midnight attacks of insomnia were frequent; her father's acceptance of her late night musical habits seemed odd to him. Still, Jim knew better than to base his judgement of other people's parenting on his own sterile upbringing. Still irritated because she'd left the TV on, Morag's father headed for the basement and his stereo room, noticing along the way that the front door was open. Feeling the first tingling of worry, he ran down the stairs, tripping over Morag's robe halfway down. Sprawled across the middle landing, he saw a small bundle of flowers at the bottom of the steps, a bouquet he knew hadn't been there before he went upstairs for the night, and John fell down the rest of the stairs, trying to reach his daughter before it was too late. The door to his stereo room was locked, and in the dark he wasted precious seconds finding the spare key he'd hung in the broom closet. Once he'd gotten the door open, then and only then had his nightmare begun in earnest.
The transcript of Gilbertson's frantic call to 911 was in the file, as were the many interviews Cascade P.D. had had with him, trying to find out who his daughter knew well enough to let in the house in the middle of the night, who would know about the presence of the soundproofed stereo room in the basement. Hell, Morag's father himself had been the prime suspect, until a blood test on the tissue residue beneath his daughter's fingernails had revealed a different blood type than his own for her attacker. Angrily, Gilbertson had accused the police of trying to railroad him instead of finding the real rapist. The brutal assault in one of Cascade's finest neighborhoods had sent the city into a brief panic, but as the weeks passed and no one else was attacked, the furor slowly died down. And Morag...poor Morag.
She had fought her assailant, that much was certain, but the soundproofing in her father's stereo room was everything he'd paid for and more. No one could have heard her screams in there, perhaps not even a Sentinel. And she was punished for her struggle, though not fatally like the other women: there was little doubt that their man had never intended to kill Morag. Broken and bruised, she'd spent several nights in the hospital, but the physical wounds were the least of her injuries.
Morag was catatonic when her father finally knelt by her side, by official police estimate some three hours after her nightmare had ended. Eyes wide open, yet blinking and breathing at a rate far below normal, Morag had lain unresponsive in her hospital bed through three transfers, one from ICU to the psychiatric wing of Cascade General, and then another a week later to a private hospital north of town. Three long weeks passed, and when she finally reconnected to the outside world the only interview her father allowed with the police proved that Morag had dealt with the attack in her own way: she had forgotten about it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Severe Dissociation was the official diagnosis, and her father seemed more than willing to go along with her amnesia. Jim could hardly fault her; he'd done the same thing himself--*was* doing it, if the fact he still had almost no recollection of his time in Peru was any indication. In such cases who could truly judge who was sane versus insane? Sanity was a relative term, after all, and who was to say what it truly was when all you wanted to do was survive from day to day?
Almost as soon as she was released from the hospital, her father packed Morag off to live with an unspecified relative in another state, warning Cascade's finest that if, in the future, anyone should bother his daughter about the recent events they'd be facing a lawsuit. Detective Po insisted to the end that Gilbertson was withholding information crucial to the case, but no one could ever confirm what that information might be. Reluctantly, with no leads and no witness, the case had been shunted aside, landing finally in the dusty heap with the rest of the unsolved cases in the area. Until this week, that is, and the efforts of one Police Observer/grad student/Guide and his Sentinel. The Sentinel of the Great City, trying now to reach back into the past and right wrongs done before his time. The pattern was there, in the evidence, the answers were there, as surely as he *was* the Sentinel of the City, but even as he reached for them the pieces danced away, remaining seductively just beyond his ken, Morag's living nightmare flashing counterpoint to the murdered prostitutes.
"...im, come back. Jim, hey man, you're lost here, come on, focus on my voice and come on back, man. Jim, come on, I'm here, just listen to my voice, man, focus on me. It's getting kind of late, you know, and I'd sure be happier if we could go get some supper or something, okay? Come on back, Jim--"
With a deep intake of air, Jim suddenly became aware of Blair's hands rubbing his shoulders, Blair's voice floating in behind him over the silence in which he'd been cloaked. Reaching up to grab the anthropologist's wrist, Jim rubbed the other hand over his face. Man, how long had he been zoned? Pulling his arm free, Blair sat on his heels beside him as Jim slumped forward, head in his hands and absently noting the displaced air as the door to the briefing room opened silently. His Guide didn't notice, still concentrating on making sure his charge was reconnected with the world around them. The smell of Simon's cigars quickly overwhelmed the subtler scents on which Jim had zoned.
Kicking the briefing room door closed behind him, Simon asked, "Find anything, Watson?"
"Hunh?" Still at Jim's side, Blair fell backwards on his butt as Simon's voice and the door boomed simultaneously. Jim sneezed, loudly.
"Man, you should know better than to sneak up on someone like that!" Sprawled on the floor, Sandburg stared disgustedly at the Captain. Simon glared right back, but somehow, even with his height advantage his ire didn't seem to have any impact at all on the smaller man.
Captain Banks removed his cigar from his mouth with the hand that wasn't holding anything.
"Sandburg, I opened the door, came in and closed it. If that's what you call sneaking--"
Scrambling to his feet, Blair shook his head at Simon. He knelt beside Jim, who sat, still slumped forward, elbows on his knees and both hands rubbing at his temples. The detective sneezed again, then went back to rubbing his head.
"Jim? You okay, man?"
Belatedly, Simon realized he had interrupted something. "Is there a problem?" he inquired in that voice which meant there better not be a problem and if there was all parties concerned better damn well get it taken care of before this particular police Captain had to lift one finger to deal with it.
Still sitting slack in his chair, Jim shook his head, biting back another sneeze before answering. Blair had already found the tissue box and was holding it out to him.
"I just zoned for a minute, that's all." He grabbed a tissue, and gave in to the sneeze.
"A *minute?*" Sandburg squeaked. "Man, Jim, you were, like, gone. Completely zoned for at least ten minutes, man. I was about to call Simon and see if we couldn't get him and Henri to drop you out a window or something to wake you up."
Jim blew his nose, eyeing Sandburg before standing, one hand going to his back as he stretched. He must have zoned for a while, if he was this stiff.
"If I may interrupt?" Simon's deadly polite voice cut off whatever rejoinder Jim was framing. When he was certain he had both men's attention, Banks waved the folders he still held in one hand at them. "These came in today. Rafe found two of them when he did the computer search you asked for. The other five were faxed in from Skagit County Sheriff's office, Similk Beach P.D., La Conner P.D., and Bayview P.D., in that order."
Blair did the math faster than Jim, but Jim was the one who actually reached for the folders.
"Seven? You've got seven more?" The anthropologist stared in horror at the folders Jim was leafing through.
Simon nodded grimly, his cigar returning to be clenched between even white teeth.
"Yeah. All the same MO. Date, physical characteristics, woman winds up dead. One victim wasn't a prostitute, she was a waitress at a truck stop in Woodinville. But, her body turned up in Skagit county, March 30, 1994."
Damn. Damn and double damn. That made fourteen murdered women, and one raped and brutalized teenager. Quickly, he checked the dates. Now the most recent murder was 1997. Which meant that unless he moved fast chances were good there'd be another body found March 30. Shutting his eyes Jim closed the folders, suddenly weary beyond belief. Blair's hand on his elbow brought him out of his momentary stupor, and he found Simon and his Guide both staring at him.
"Jim, man, you're beat--"
"Go home, Jim, and get some rest." Simon's bass command cut across Blair's softer voice, and the grad student shot him a look of gratitude. The tall Captain ignored it, his voice sympathetic as he addressed his next comments to the detective. "I called the various departments and they're all sending the available evidence Fed Ex. Won't be here until tomorrow morning anyway, and it's getting late. You might as well get outta here for now."
"All right." Jim dropped the folders on the table, then stretched. Blair moved to put the evidence away, but Simon waved him off. Jim knew Sandburg's own exhaustion was just as obvious to the dark-skinned chief of Major Crimes.
"Leave it, Sandburg. I'll have Rafe seal all this stuff up for you. Go on, get outta here, both of you."
"Yeah, well, okay, then. Jim?"
Jim had to smile as Sandburg went into what could only be described as sheep dog mode, except in place of a flock this Guide had one large and very weary Sentinel to deal with. It was a toss up as to which would have been more difficult a task on any given day. Allowing himself to be herded out the door into the bullpen, Jim snagged his coat from the back of his desk chair as Blair retrieved his own jacket and backpack. Waving a hand in vague answer to the various farewells that floated their way from the few remaining denizens of the bull pen, he let his Guide shepherd him out door and on the way home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"'It's a poor sort of memory that works only backwards...."
--- Lewis Carroll
An hour later Blair blasted out of the bathroom, attired in clean sweats and toweling his curls dry. Jim knew the grad student had showered just that morning, but he also understood the need to be clean, to wash the outer shell even when you couldn't remove the inner dirt. Finding his own peace in the simple household chore of cooking, Jim stirred the white sauce quietly as Blair hung his towel and for once remembered the hamper, not the bathroom floor, was the proper place for dirty clothes. Detouring to grab a beer from the fridge and open it before finally coming to a stop beside the older man, Blair didn't notice the brown, labeled bottles Jim had carefully lined up on the back of the island.
"Whoa, that smells good! What is it?" Blair lifted the lid off the large kettle to reveal a goodly amount of pasta rolling in the boiling water.
"Noodles Romanoff or Alfredo, depending on how much Parmesan cheese you left after the last time you made lasagna."
"Hey, there's plenty, it's copacetic, man, it's copacetic! There's still salad stuff, isn't there?"
Jim nodded, and Blair busied himself putting a salad together. It wasn't until later, when dinner was actually being served, Sandburg holding the plates as Jim ladled out the noodles and sauce, that the small jars finally registered with his roommate.
"Hey, what are--"
"Sandburg! Watch out!" Both men grabbed at the same time and their combined efforts somehow had the right effect, preventing the noodles from sliding off the tilting plate to the floor.
"I hope you know that would have been your plate," Jim growled, taking the remaining plate and dishing up a rather large serving of pasta.
"Yeah, well, whatever, man, it's all fine now." Sandburg strode over to the table and set his plate down. Jim left his plate on the island, digging in the refrigerator for his own beer. Closing the door and turning to retrieve his plate, he found Sandburg examining the small bottles as if the red lettering on each label was some sort of hieroglyphic message.
"What are these, then?"
"Leftovers from Carolyn's residency." Jim was bound and determined that his supper would *not* get cold while Sandburg explored something that had been right under his nose for at least fifteen minutes. He stepped around his roommate and sat at the table, opening his beer and getting in one large bite of pasta before Blair suddenly dropped all four bottles in a tight group on the table in front of him. Jim fought the urge to sneeze that arose with the minute dust from the bottles. Victorious, he busied himself with eating while his supper was hot, waiting to see if the younger man made the connection he'd made when he dug the bottles out from behind the more current spices in his meager stock.
"These are the spices you smelled in the evidence room today." Blair crowed, and Jim smiled. He might not have been willing to make the hazardous trip to the bulk department at Winco, but he could still find a way to do what his partner wanted. Shoveling another bite of pasta in, Jim nodded.
"All of them? Every one?"
Another bite, another nod. Damn, he hadn't realized he was this hungry.
"Cool, man! That's great, it's just great! Let's see, we've got Thyme. We've got Sage. Parsley. Rosemary." Blair pronounced the labels out loud, again, slowly, clearly, placing the bottles in a row as he spoke. Finished, the grad student frowned in thought for just a second, then his gaze shot up to meet Jim's. "The song! Simon and Garfunkel, what did they call it? Um, Can, can something..." Blair's fingers were snapping as he tried to pull the name out of his memory.
"Can kul...Scahbowoh Fah," Jim mumbled around another bite of pasta, chasing it down with a swallow of beer. Blair was frowning at him, so Jim repeated himself, sans pasta this time. "'Canticle' was the part Simon and Garfunkel added, the war protest part. 'Scarborough Fair' was the original folk song they adapted."
"Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," Blair sang softly, moving the jars into order with the song. "I don't know the rest, but I know it had something to do with remembering love."
Jim got up to refill his plate as his roommate finally sat, still staring at the bottles. Returning with another half plate of pasta, Jim added salad this time. Blair had already helped himself, and was eating now with the same gusto with which his roommate had finished off his first plate. Silence reigned for a few minutes, Jim taking the time now to taste his food as he ate. After polishing off the second helping, Jim pushed his plate aside and leaned back into his chair. Taking a sip of beer as he eyed the spice jars on the end of the table, he softly began to recite:
"Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine." Another sip of beer, and then his gaze found Sandburg, hand frozen with a loaded fork halfway to his mouth. When their eyes met, Blair smiled mischievously.
"I, uh, I didn't catch which album Santana put out with their version of that song."
"Cute, Sandburg." Jim stood, collecting his plate and beer. "For that little show of disrespect you can do the dishes."
"Hey, no disrespect intended, man. Just never thought that sort of song was your style." Blair choked back a laugh as Jim scowled at him before heading into the kitchen. He rinsed his plate, then in spite of his threat to leave Blair with the dishes, left the water running, adding the soap to wash them himself. His roommate rattled on in the background, something about popular culture and the war, probably trying to explain how Star Trek, The Original Series had impacted the war protest effort. Jim listened for a moment, then lost himself in the smooth sensation of aerated water flowing over his hands.
*On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves washes the grave with silvery tears. A soldier cleans and polishes a gun, sleeps unaware of the clarion call.*
It was surprising how easily the lyrics were retrieved from the recesses of his mind. The song had enraptured him, warbling from Grace's kitchen radio when he was a child, not yet twelve years old. The prescience of it now unnerved him, and he shivered at a sudden flash of memory: graves on a hill in Peru. Seven of them, seven good men that he'd buried by himself. Once he'd taken care of his men, he'd cleaned his gun and slept one last night beside their graves before heading out to fulfill their mission alone--unaware of the clarion call already sounding in his own body, in his own genetic code, the call to be the Sentinel for the Chopec, and later for his own city of Cascade.
*War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions, Generals order their soldiers to kill. And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten...*
He'd never forgotten, though, even as he himself had been forgotten by the generals that sent him to enlist the Chopec in fighting a war that wasn't theirs, not truly. And still the Sentinel fought on; the war had allowed him to change locations and uniforms, but his battles weren't over, his war hadn't ended yet.
*Tell her to find me an acre of land: Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Between the salt sea and the sea strand...*
He'd danced to that same tune years later, in a bar on the base in California, after he was finally pulled out of Peru and just before he'd left the Army for good. There'd been a woman that night, Lauren, Lauren Ball, and he'd laughed when she said "Not quite Lauren Bacall." Then she and Jim had danced--to that song and a whole slew of others. He'd been nervous, on edge all night long, trying to bury his uncertainty about his immediate future in the music, the booze, Lauren's company, anything, unsure about his decision to return to Cascade but certain all the same he couldn't stay in the military, not any more--not after Peru. He didn't know why, he just knew he had to leave.
*Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine...*
Jim couldn't stop the shudder that ran through him, the sudden conviction that flowed with it. Looking up to find Blair standing next to him, touching his elbow as the water began to overflow the sink, Jim blurted out, "I know why he killed them."
Blair reached over him to shut the water off, then leaned on one hip against the counter, frowning slightly at Jim. Jim took a minute to release the drain in the sink, preventing more water from overflowing onto his boots. He replaced the stopper, then, hands braced against the cool edge of the steel sink, stared again at Blair. He'd zoned, Jim knew that; he could see the concern in his Guide's eyes, but he shrugged it off the way he shrugged off the water all over the counter and on the kitchen floor.
"I know why he killed them." Jim said it again, marveling for a moment that here he was the one pulling it out of thin air, when he'd counted on Blair to handle that part of the case. Arms crossed, the anthropologist lifted his eyebrows encouragingly.
"Yeah, so, why did he kill them?" A reasonable, patient tone of voice, one used for dim-witted adults and slow children, and evidently also good for prone-to-zone Sentinels. Jim glared at Blair just long enough to let him know that his tone of voice had not gone unnoticed, then stared over his friend's shoulder as he tried to formulate the conviction into words.
"'Remember me to one who lives there. She once was a true love of mine.'" His gaze caught and held Sandburg's. "She's dead. His lover, the one he loves, she's dead, and he's sending these women as messages."
"Whoa, now that's a pretty strange message to send the woman you love. 'I've just slept with this prostitute, now I want her to tell you I love you?' That does *not* compute, Jim, not at all. Does he love the woman or hate her?" Blair was the one who dug out a towel, and mopped up the water on the floor and the counter.
Staring off into the distance while his roommate worked, Jim explored that thought, felt it out like a new tooth, then looked at Sandburg again.
"Maybe he's not sure."
"Whether he loves or hates her?" Blair's incredulity faded as Jim shook himself and began washing the dishes in the sink. Blair automatically got a clean towel and reached for the plate Jim handed him after rinsing it. "Wait a minute, you know, that could be true."
"*Could* be true? Of course it's true, Sandburg. I thought of it."
As intended, his roommate's features lit in a smile at Jim's bravado, but the smile was quickly supplanted on Sandburg's face by a thoughtful frown. He dried the plate as if it was the most important thing in the world, obviously thinking hard. Sometimes Jim wondered what he would see if he peeked in Sandburg's ears at a time like this. Could Sentinel sight actually see the gears turning in there? Jim concentrated his attention on the sink, but he didn't have to hide his smile. Hot in pursuit of the idea they were discussing, Sandburg was oblivious to the fact he was amusing his Sentinel.
"Really, Jim, think about it. Love and hate are the strongest expression of emotion we know, not opposites, not like light and dark, since the opposite of love is indifference; hate is more like love gone bad - the flip side of the same coin. You can't hate someone you don't care about, and you can't love someone you couldn't hate. So, this guy, he loves--"
"Loved," Jim corrected, dunking the saucepan in the suds and carefully scrubbing the white sauce off the rim.
Blair accepted his correction and went on without pausing. "Loved her and she's done him wrong or something, and now she's dead and he feels guilty or he misses her, can't decide what he really feels, so he sleeps with women who remind him of her, looking for the love he's lost and then kills them because he's mad they're not her, or because he's still getting his revenge on her after all these years?"
The saucepan rinsed, Jim handed it to Blair. On second thought maybe he wasn't so sure about this after all.
"No." He shook his head once. "Nope, now you've just got a really bad country and western song, Cowboy. Forget it."
"No, wait, Jim, I think you're right, I really think this fits. But, that still leaves us with why Morag? Not only why did he attack her in the first place, but why didn't he kill her?"
Jim stared bleakly at the suds for a minute.
"Po was convinced it was someone she knew, someone who knew the family well enough to know about the sound room in the basement." The perfect place to commit his crime. Jim had seen the stereo in the background of the crime scene photos; it was the same stereo system sitting in Morag's apartment. How could she could stand that reminder of what she'd been through? But, Morag didn't remember what she'd been through. Maybe it didn't bother her at all, the way Peru didn't bother him.
Right. Peru didn't bother him, didn't have an effect on his life at all. Nothing like a big blank spot in your mind. And, in another life he'd been a lounge singer in Vegas. Blair's hand on his arm startled him out of his reverie.
"You okay, man? Looked like you were about to zone again."
Jim shook his head.
"No, just thinking." He stared at the wall for a minute, and then looked at his roommate. "Morag's the wild card in the deck, Chief. She fits the physical profile of his other victims, and the date, but why did he choose her, and more importantly, why didn't he kill her? Did he know she wouldn't remember him?"
"No kidding." Blair took a deep breath and blew it out. "It was a hell of a chance he took. And, was her father protecting someone? I mean, what kind of a man would protect the man that had raped and beaten his daughter?" Jim didn't miss the shiver the younger man couldn't control. Blair concentrated on drying the last few dishes, and started putting them away.
"I don't know Chief, I don't know." Jim rinsed the last piece of silverware, then let the water out, his weariness undeniable at last. Washing out the sink, he put the towel and dishrag away, then stretched and rubbed one hand over his face. "Time to veg, Sandburg. We can figure this out tomorrow."
"Hey, man, there's a Star Trek double feature tonight--'The Devil in the Dark' is the first episode, starts about now. Come on, man, we'll miss the opening."
"Star Trek? Not on your life, 'man,'" Jim growled, heading for the couch and the remote. Blair was there ahead of him, grabbing the remote for himself. It took less than two seconds for Jim to take the smaller man down, and he retrieved the coveted item with a flourish before stepping back and letting his roommate up off the floor. Jim waited until Sandburg was standing, then shoved his friend back onto the couch. Scowling, he stood over Blair, remote pointed threateningly.
"Never, never get between a Sentinel and the remote, chump. You'll lose every time, and you just might get hurt in the process."
Blair's grin was infectious, and Jim felt the corners of his mouth pulling up in return. He fought it, tried to hold his frown, but knew he'd lost when Sandburg launched a pillow at him.
"Okay, so that's chapter two of my diss, man, ways to placate and pacify grumpy Sentinels. Let them have the remote *all* of the time and don't interrupt their TV--especially when it's Monday Nitro Wrestling." Ignoring Jim's glare, Sandburg settled himself on the couch, feet tucked up underneath him, then gestured with both hands at the TV. "Now hurry up and sit down and get this show on the road before we miss the first part!"
With a sigh, Jim sat and clicked the TV on. Scary thing was, he knew *exactly* which channel to tune it to.
Later that night, much later, Jim was tracking Hortas in Peru when the phone rang.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The hiss and static of the scanner filled the loft, indefinable noises bracketing Persis's small voice. Blair somehow managed to find and tune the channel in the dark, while Jim stood beside him, cell phone open and trying to get somewhere with their young caller. No time to wonder why she'd called Jim this time, his roommate had already tried to hand the phone off to him; but Blair refused, hissing, "She called you, man!" while pushing the phone back at Jim. Blair wished for Sentinel ears while he fiddled with the buttons on the scanner, jumped when it came on, and, turning it up, pushed 'record' on the tape player.
"...scared. I don' wanna be taken away in a bag!"
Jim stood there, so tense for a minute Blair was afraid he'd zoned. Just as he reached for his friend's elbow, though, the Sentinel took a deep breath.
"Who was taken away in a bag?"
Oh, shit. A body bag. Jim had seen his share of those; Blair had too, since he'd become an observer on the police force. What would a little girl know about body bags? Damn a world where children understood those kinds of details about life and death!
The silence dragged out, but Blair could hear the snuffling, the heartbreakingly small sobs over the scanner, and, then, finally, came a very small, very tiny voice. Still Persis, but...
Oh, god, first Morag and now this. Wasn't his cup full yet? Elbows on the counter, Blair buried his face in his hands and felt Jim's hand on his shoulder briefly, before it dropped away. Blair resisted the urge to grab it back up again, to have something, anything to hold on to while this nightmare unfolded around him.
"Who took your mother away?"
"The soljer police did."
Then, as if that admission broke the dam, the words began to spill from their caller. "They didn't think Emby could see, but I was there, and I saw it, and they caught Mommy's hair all up in the zipper and they had to cut it to make the zipper close and Daddy was screaming at them and fighting them for hurting her again only Cap'n Shiffer, he made Daddy stop screaming, said 'your li'l gal needs you too' and Daddy stopped then, and he wanted to hold Emby, but they wouldn't let him, just made him hold my hand and we went in the big car to the doctor's place."
A long pause, then Jim somehow found the next question, his police instincts coming out even in the midst of the shock. Funny, Blair had never noticed her accent before. It was distinctly Southern--maybe Georgia?
"Did they catch the man who hurt your mother?"
"No. Daddy yelled a lot 'cuz they never catched him. That man, he promised Momma he would let us go if we were good, but none of us were ever good enough and Momma kept crying so I came and Emby went away, she went away and I listened for her. But he left, and Momma she took me, and we walked through the woods, only then she fell down and she wouldn't get up and I sat there with her, me and Emby, until the soljers came."
*Oh my god... oh my god...*
A small sob, and she whispered, "Jim, I'm so scared. The man, he's there, I know he's there, and I'm so scared for Emby." Then, petulantly, "Sheena says I'm just a big chicken."
"It's all right to be scared. That doesn't make you a chicken, not at all. You're being smart, you're asking for help when you need it. You know what though? We'd feel a lot better, Blair and I would, if you'd tell your dad. Can you tell him about the man who's watching you now?"
"Daddy isn't here anymore. He's gone; they gave him a big box, with a flag on it. Emby has the flag, she put it in the little box in the wall, with his tags and stuff. It's just me and Emby and Sheena now. Please, you can't let him hurt Emby, you can't!"
Jim seemed a bit lost for a moment, and Blair grabbed a scrap of paper and scribbled a frantic note, hoping it was legible in the darkness. Sentinel sight could read it, though, because he asked the right questions.
"Listen, is there anyone you trust, someone you can talk to? We could talk to you at school. Maybe we could take you to a safe place, somewhere the man couldn't get you. Who's your favorite teacher?"
Then, impossibly, a giggle.
"Blair. Emby said she thought only Gawd could make them dry bones dance lahk dat."
A beat, and Blair could feel the Sentinel's suspicion in the air, could feel the almost instantaneous hardening of the great heart that had been softened by the terrible tale.
"You go to school with Blair?"
"No, not me, Emby did. She used ta let me go to class with her, but I had to be quiet, 'cuz she said people looked at us funny when I talked. I don't talk funny, do I, Jim?"
"No, no you don't, not at all."
*Oh, god, no, no you don't talk funny, Persis, you're adorable, and you're fragile and vulnerable and you're not telling us anything that will really help us here!* The pencil broke in Blair's hand, and he fumbled for the pieces in the dark, almost missing the end of the conversation.
"Oh. Emby says I'll be old enough to go to school someday, but for now I have to stay inside and play."
"Persis, please, can you tell me where to find you? We really want to help you, to talk to you, but it would be easier to make sure the man doesn't get you if we could meet with you and Emby."
A small silence, but Blair felt hope leap in his heart. Silence was better than the outright denial his own request for information had been met with last night. Then, a sigh breathed feather-soft across the connection.
"You can't tell Sheena I tol' you. You have to promise she won't find out! As long as she thinks it's Emby's fault she'll leave me alone."
"I promise, I won't tell Sheena."
Another silence, then, finally, "Okay, you can come over in the morning, before--" and there was nothing, nothing at all. Blair could tell Jim was extending his hearing, trying to find more clues in the background noises, but he, the Guide, couldn't hear anything at all, not until there was a sudden, muffled "Fuck!" in the background and the line went dead.
Continued in Part Five...