See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"I kiss my wailing child and hold it to my breast,
And hear the narrow graves calling my child and me.
Desolate winds that cry over the wandering sea..."
--- William Butler Yeats
Anson Po was undeniably Polynesian. As tall as Jim, Po outweighed the Sentinel by at least 50 pounds. He had more hair, too. Thick, mostly black locks coupled with his relatively unwrinkled face belied the man's sixty plus years. Washed-out red shirt tucked into faded blue jeans, he stood behind a short counter in the back of the single room as Jim and Blair entered the store, the bell hanging from the door handle jangling behind them. As the door slid shut he looked up from the stack of paperbacks he was inspecting and cast a friendly smile their way--a smile that came readily and sat comfortably on his round face, lighting up the exotic, almond-shaped eyes. Blair cast a critical eye over the book selection as he walked through the store, pausing to pick up and inspect a couple of books before following Jim over to where Po was waiting, hands braced on top of the short counter.
"Good morning! Anything in particular I can help you find?" Po's voice was deep, resonate, the kind of voice actors practised for years to obtain.
Jim shot a glance at Blair before answering. Hands in his pockets as he waited beside Jim, Sandburg was in the process of replacing his morning-long scowl with a sickly smile. Satisfied that his partner would behave himself for the time being, Jim turned to the retired detective in front of him.
"Detective Po? I'm Detective Jim Ellison, with Cascade P.D.'s Major Crimes unit." Reaching into his coat for his badge wallet, Jim displayed the badge before he clasped the proffered hand briefly and firmly. He gestured towards Blair. "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
Maybe it was the years of living as a minority in the mostly Caucasian Pacific NW, but the retired detective didn't bat an eye at Sandburg. He didn't look like he was trying to figure out what rock the kid crawled out from under, or whom he had bribed to get onto the police force. The extended hand and the smile were simply transferred from Jim to Sandburg, and the hand clasp was equally enthusiastic. Jim had a sudden vision of the Chopec shaman, Incacha, not as he'd seen him last, dying on the couch in the loft, but as he had been in Peru. Po had that same confidence, that same easy bearing of a man not just at peace with this world but the next as well.
Formalities taken care of, Po hooked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans, looking his visitors up and down as he spoke.
"My old stomping grounds. Why do I know you didn't drive out here just to peruse my book selection?"
Jim acknowledged that with a rueful smile and a brief nod as he replaced his badge inside his coat. Hands in his back pockets, Blair shifted beside him, blessedly keeping his silence for the time being.
"Actually, if you've got a few minutes, I--we," Jim included Blair with a brief gesture, "have a few questions we'd like to ask you about one of your old cases." Jim cast a glance around the store as he finished speaking. No one else there, nothing but books. Lots and lots of books, some shelved, more piled on chairs and on the floor. There was no shortage of reading material in this town. Good thing, since there seemed to be a shortage of just about everything else.
As Jim's gaze returned to the man he'd come to talk with, Po's smile faded. His thumbs came out of the belt loops, and his hands fell to his sides. Jim could see the stillness settle on the man, like an ocean becalmed. 'Still waters run deep,' the saying went, and from all appearances Anson Po ran deeper than most.
"The Gilbertson case," Po pronounced, and the room dimmed. Jim looked over his shoulder in spite of himself, but the momentary shadow passed as quickly as it came.
Hands still in his pockets, Blair shivered, then frowned at Po.
"How'd you know?"
Po shook his head.
"That case took me many years and many prayers to let go. Not to mention it's the only case I left open, unfinished. Always bothered me, that did. Had to shell out a couple grand of my own money to finally lay it to rest in my own mind." Po shook his head. "Not that what I found got me any closer to solving it."
"What did you find?" Jim asked. "Your report said you were certain Gilbertson was withholding information that could help the case."
Po shook his head again.
"I was wrong." He pinned Jim with fathomless eyes. "Why have you come for this now, after all these years?"
Why indeed? Too bad Jim hadn't found the answer to that question yet. Too bad he didn't know himself why he'd been chosen for this job. Was it Fate? Genetics? God? Truthfully, he didn't want to look too closely at any of those potential answers, he just wanted to find this creep before Morag became a victim again.
Maybe he should ask Sandburg for some tips on "centering" after all. Looking away from that deep regard for a moment, Jim took a deep breath. Meeting his gaze again, it only took a few moments to brief Po on the particulars of the case, leaving out anything current about Morag for now. Po's broad shoulders sagged as Jim spoke and it was his trun to stare off into the distance. When Jim finished speaking the only sound in the room was Blair's boots scuffing on the floor as the grad student fidgeted. Then, sighing, Po looked bleakly at them.
"Well, if I'd known all that, I don't know if I would have let it go when I did." He reached beneath the counter, keys jangling in his hand as he moved out around the wooden case. "I've got the stuff at home. Let me lock up here and we can go get it."
Po wove his bulk through the crowded store with the sure-footed grace of a cat. He locked the front door, hanging a "Back in 15 minutes" notice beneath the "OPEN" sign. Jim and Blair followed him to the back, then preceded him out into the narrow alley. Po locked that door as well, then led the way down the alley, gravel crunching beneath their feet as they walked. A couple of buildings further on, they turned the corner onto a paved road, and Po took a deep breath before speaking again.
"You know, what happened to that little girl, in her own home, it was terrible. Everyone wanted to nail the SOB. But, with no leads and no witness and her dad not cooperating, we could only do so much. I was already scheduled to retire at the end of the summer, and there wasn't any reason to stay on just for one case." He gestured back over his shoulder toward the store they'd just left. "Maeve and I had our eyes on this place already, but she let me take some of the money we'd set aside and do some investigating on my own once I retired." He shook his head sadly. "It didn't help solve the case, but it sure helped explain Mr. Gilbertson's reactions, why he wanted to just leave the whole incident behind him. Took me a while longer to let it go, but I knew it would come up someday, that justice would be served. I just hoped I'd be around when it did. That little girl deserved justice, more than what she got."
"Yeah, she does." Blair commented harshly. Po frowned at Blair, then looked at Jim when Blair refused to meet his gaze.
"Morag's a friend," Jim said, and after a sympathetic glance at Blair, Po nodded.
He led them around another corner, then down a narrow asphalt driveway bordered by a weathered gray board fence. Through a gate in that fence four Sentinel-sized steps took them across the tiny yard and up to a narrow, two-story house on the edge of the rocky beach. Its faded, brown shake siding contrasted with bright salmon pink trim. The back door Po opened led into a snug kitchen, brightly lit despite the greyness of the day. A slender, grey-haired woman looked up from the flowers she was arranging as the room filled with Jim and Po, Blair squeezing in behind them. Po made the introductions, presenting the woman as his wife, Maeve.
"Can you get us some coffee, Hon?" As he passed her, Po put one hand on her shoulder, and bent to whisper in her ear. Jim didn't mean to eavesdrop, but the room was so small he almost had no choice.
"They're here for that information on the Gilbertson case," he whispered. Even Sandburg didn't miss her sudden intake of breath at her husband's words. For a brief second, sun-faded blue eyes warily assessed Jim and Blair, seeking whatever threat they might pose her husband and his hard won peace of mind. Jim tried to smile reassuringly, but the woman's skepticism was palpable, her eyes flicking from him to Sandburg and back again. Then she busied herself putting coffee on while Po showed them into the deceptively spacious living room.
Facing the Sound, the southern and west walls were entirely windows. The day's grey light came in, reflected and refracted off the many light colored surfaces in the room, and left the room itself brighter than the day outside. Jim sat on the beige futon couch while Blair claimed an overstuffed armchair, upholstered in the same salmon color as the outer trim of the house. Nodding towards a flight of stairs that ran up the east side of the living room, Po excused himself, the boards creaking beneath him as he ascended to the loft above. The foot of the neatly made bed was all Jim could see from where he sat. Relaxing into the peaceful ambience of the room, Jim settled back against the couch and busied himself counting birds out on the Sound. Blair leaned back in his chair, fingers drumming on the overstuffed arms. Jim wasn't going to try to guess what the grad student was staring at in the immense vista of sky, ocean, and rocks spread before them.
The Sentinel counted 93 seagulls, 17 puffins, and a pod of grey whales before the scent of fresh coffee distracted him.
"Thank you, Mrs. Po." Jim took the cup she offered, careful of the delicate china. She returned his smile with a bright one of her own, a smile that must have had the young men swarming around her before she wed. Blair seconded his thanks, claiming his own cup with his only genuine smile of the day as Po came down the stairs.
At first Jim thought it was a large book, but a second look revealed a dark, delicately carved wooden box in the man's hand. Stopping beside his wife, Po's other hand rested gently on her shoulder. Maeve looked up at him, the concern in her expression obvious. Po met her gaze, squeezing her shoulder softly. Jim had been wrong, the smile she'd given him was but a pale imitation of the one she now gave her husband. *That* smile would have knocked the socks off every man for a one mile square radius. The look in Po's eyes as he returned the smile said he knew that, and was still amazed to be the lucky man to win this rare woman.
Then Maeve nodded, looking over to include Jim and Blair as she spoke.
"I'll go mind the store for a bit. Take your time." Her voice was a combination of ocean breezes and children playing in the sand.
"Thanks, Hon." Po brushed a kiss across her cheek as Jim and Blair said their good byes and then she was gone. In the stillness after Maeve's departure, Po stood quietly, staring at the box in his hand. Jim took another drink of his coffee. Kona blend, and fresh to boot. The clatter of Blair's cup and saucer on the coffee table was loud in the silence. Jim knew Blair was itching to grab the box, but he hoped the grad student would have the grace to wait until the information was offered. Cases like Morag's took a lot out of a man's soul, and for Po to have been willing to spend his own money, well, that just meant it was an even bigger hole he'd had to heal.
Finally, Po raised bleak eyes to meet their gazes, first Jim, then Sandburg. Shaking his head, he held the box out. Jim set his cup on the table next to Blair's, but Sandburg got to the box first, holding it in his lap, thumbs caressing the lid for a long moment. Both men looked up as Po spoke.
"That information... Maeve's dad was career military, and her brother too. They called in some favors to get a lot of it for me; the autopsy reports and stuff came from the military police at Camp LeJuene. It's probably not admissible in court, not with the channels I got it through. But you're welcome to take it all with you." His shrug was an eloquent transference of responsibility. Blair took a deep breath and opened the box just as Jim shifted to take it from him.
Paper. Piles and piles of it. With shaking hands, Blair held the top piece up, a photocopied newspaper clipping. "Mother, Daughter Missing for Three Days" read the headline. Beneath that piece were more photocopies, newspaper articles detailing the exhaustive search by military and then state police for Martha and Morag Gilbertson. No leads, nothing, until three weeks later the tragic ending to the case: Morag, found sitting at the bottom of a dry gully on the rural outskirts of the base, holding her dead mother's hand.
There were no suspects in the case. Never had been.
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Persis. Blair had said it took extended and repeated trauma to induce DID; looked like Po had found the genesis for Persis. Thumbing through them briefly, Sandburg handed the newspaper clippings off to Jim. The detective thumbed through them as well, but he'd save the thorough reading for later, at the police station. Po settled into a wooden rocker across from Blair as the grad student dug further into the box. This time he found autopsy reports, photos and all. Jim rubbed a hand over his face, as if that would erase the sight of another photo of Morag, much younger, much frailer, but bruised and battered again. His eyes met Sandburg's, and the grief in his roommate's gaze was inconsolable. Setting his own papers aside, Jim took the photo, more to get it away from Sandburg than anything else. Once he held it, something caught his eye.
Sandburg looked up from the report he was skimming at Jim's sharp breath.
Silently, Jim pointed at the right side of Morag's face. The swelling wasn't as severe as when she was older, either that or she hadn't been hit as hard, or as many times. This time even non-Sentinel eyes could make out the cut on her right cheek, the check-mark shape almost half an inch tall and wide, high on the cheekbone and a finger's breadth from her hairline. The same scar she told Sandburg she'd gotten when her mother died.
This time it was Blair's indrawn breath sounding loudly in the stillness of the room, and Po looked back and forth at them in confusion.
"Damn, Jim, and look," Blair grabbed the newspaper clippings Jim had set on the table and searched through them. The one he waved at Jim a short second later said, "Base Kidnaping Ends in Tragedy."
"Morag and her mom disappeared on March 13 and turned up March 30, early morning. It's the same damn creep, it has to be!" Blair insisted.
Catching Po's eye, Jim explained, "In addition to the dates matching, all the women have that mark in the approximately the same place on their faces, and Morag had a cut here after she was attacked in her father's house. The guy must have quite the ring on his right hand." Jim brought his right hand up and half-demonstrated the blow that would have left the cut on so many battered faces. His hands full of photocopies, Sandburg's complexion was as pasty as the sky outside, anger warring now with grief. Po's gaze was glacial, until Jim looked in his eyes. There the anger was volcanic.
"Do me a favor?" Rough, Po's voice sounded as if he had just swallowed gravel. Grief would betray anyone that way.
Jim raised his eyebrows, and Sandburg looked up from his reading.
"Nail this son of a bitch."
"We'll get him." Or die trying, Jim didn't add. Don't think about the fact that Morag would die if they didn't find him soon.
Sandburg was doing a fair imitation of the famous Ellison jaw clenching routine as Jim handed the photo back to him. The younger man rubbed his fingers over it lightly before he placed it in the box, the healer trying to erase the brutal wounds. Only by now the wounds weren't physical, weren't so easily erased. They were internal fractures, heart and soul split asunder, and that was a bit more difficult to heal. Out of Jim's league for sure, though maybe not Sandburg's. Jim stood, holding his hand out to Po as Blair shut the lid on the box, his hands once more tracing the delicate carvings on the wood before he stood as well.
"Thank you for your time and the information." Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder and gently pushed him toward the kitchen as Blair mumbled his own thanks. Po nodded, and escorted them back through the house. There didn't seem to be much else to say. Just as they were stepping through the door, Blair stopped and looked back at Po.
"You said you knew we'd be coming for this." He lifted the box he clutched under one arm. "How?"
Po's smile was thin, and he looked off over the water for a few seconds before answering. The gulls cried loudly in the surf, and Jim shivered at the sound, reminding himself sternly that it was birds and not children screaming in the wind. Po took a deep breath, and then he looked straight at Blair.
"I prayed. A lot. I couldn't bear to leave this one undone. But even with what I had there, I couldn't seem to solve it. It was eating me alive inside, the look on that girl's face. Every time I went to sleep I dreamed about her, those dead eyes. Finally, I prayed. To my father's gods, to the God of my wife's fathers." His gesture was expansive, took in the sky, the sea, the birds on the wind, any and all gods who might hear and care about a small girl's torment. "The answer, it came to me in a dream. Justice would come, in time. Healing would come, in time. My part was to gather this information, to have it here when it was needed. The rest, the rest would be someone else's responsibility. I didn't know who or where, but I knew the time would come. After that night I could sleep again." He shrugged. "And now you're here." He lifted one open hand in their direction.
Jim didn't say anything, just stared out over the Sound again. This metaphysical stuff always made him a bit queasy. Then again, he was the one who decided the guy reminded him of Incacha. Sandburg stood still for a moment, waiting for Po's words to hit bottom in the depths of his own psyche. Then he nodded. Sure, the kid would accept that stuff; let him deal with it.
"We'll get the box back to you." Po's turn to nod, and they left. It was that simple. Turn and walk away with the weight of Morag's ever-increasing sorrow in that little box, back down the gravel street to the main road, back down the echoing boardwalk. Past Po's store, Maeve barely visible through the window behind a stack of books. Past the three painted ladies and out to the truck, and neither one of them had anything to say at all.
Then, one hand on the door handle, Blair looked at Jim, his eyes wide with shock.
"Jim, Morag's mother was named *Martha.* That's what Sheena said the guy called her when he..."
Oh, hell. Jim wrenched his door open without meeting Blair's gaze.
It was going to be a long drive back to Cascade.
"Little One! Oh, Little One! I am searching everywhere!"
Sandburg squeezed between the doors of the elevator before they opened completely, Po's carved box clutched tightly to his chest. Jim followed in his wake as, face set, Blair barely acknowledged the greetings that came his way from the rest of Major Crimes. Proceeding directly to the desk he'd finally been given after three years in the department, the box landed on the desktop at the same time Blair's butt hit his chair. Without pausing, he proceeded to unpack the box. Photocopied newspaper articles and Morag's medical report--read in the truck on the way back to Cascade--were piled off to the side; autopsy reports and other sundry pieces of information he had yet to peruse were stacked neatly in front of him. Closing the lid carefully, he pushed the wooden box aside and adjusted his glasses. Then Blair reached for the top piece of paper in the stack directly before him and began reading.
Jim watched his roommate as he shed his coat and dropped it over the back of his own chair. The kid was taking the news of what had happened to Morag and her mother hard--not that Jim blamed him. This kind of stuff was never easy to deal with; the fact that it was Sandburg's friend who had lived through such torment was even worse. And, they had yet to find anything in Po's box that would lead them to their man, or to Morag.
Well, there wasn't much he could do right now, except let Sandburg do what he did best: take in huge amounts of information and distill from it the few facts and details pertinent to the case. They'd all watched Blair do it, though no one understood how the kid--no matter he was almost 30 years old; Sandburg would still be "the kid" when he was 50--how the kid could so unerringly find the one or two small data bits that inevitably fell off the informational highway. While Blair worked on that, Jim needed to check in with Simon and see what had happened--if anything--in Cascade in the last few hours.
Simon was in his office, and, with another glance at Blair, Jim headed for the Captain's door. On second thought, he detoured to the break room. Sandburg acknowledged the cup of coffee and the doughnut he set on the desk a moment later with a nod and a murmured "thanks," but didn't reach for it, just kept reading. Okay, at least he had tried. Jim headed for Simon's office again.
Simon leaned back in his chair as Jim knocked once, then opened the door and stuck his head inside the office. Suitcoat on the rack and shirt sleeves rolled up, his pen tapping against the papers that covered his desk, Simon looked...flustered. As flapped as the relatively unflappable Captain ever got.
At that short acknowledgment, Jim stepped all the way into the office, closing the door behind him. The pen stopped its vibrating dance as Simon sighed.
"Please tell me your fishing trip to Samish came up with something."
Stepping over to lean against the table in front of Simon's desk, arms crossed against his chest, Jim shook his head and made a doubtful noise, but Simon hadn't finished venting yet.
"I hate to tell you this, but we've gotten nothing on this end, absolutely nothing. The fingerprints came back, nada. Nothing in the FBI database, nothing in the state database. We're still waiting on Gilbertson's military records. And, between Morag and an attempted kidnaping over at Sitka School, it's been a hell of a day around here."
Jim's eyebrows went up, and he frowned.
"Thankfully, yes. The little girl got away, ran to one of her teachers. But the mayor called, and he wants apprehending the suspect on that to take priority over everything else. I had to pull Henri and Rafe off Morag's case and put them to work on it. I'm just glad you were out of town, or we'd have had a fight on our hands to keep you on this case." Simon paused for breath and groaned, rubbing his chest with one hand. "Topping it all off, the Chinese food I ate for lunch has given me a killer case of heartburn."
Jim shook his head in sympathy, then took a breath. Before he could speak, the gold pen pointed at him, and like any good soldier, he waited to see what else his commander had to say.
"You know the victim and her teachers are crediting your safety lecture with saving that little girl's life?" Simon asked, softly. "She handled the situation perfectly, just like you told them to."
Dropping the pen, Simon gave Jim an enigmatic look then started digging in his desk.
Damn, did this mean he was going to get stuck with more kiddy duty? Jim was really not in the mood for this, not when there were real criminals out there to be caught. Wouldn't do him much good to complain, though, at least not today, not when the bottle of antacid Simon just came up with was almost empty. Simon knew his objections, knew his real worth to Cascade P.D. Jim would just have to trust his Captain to keep him from permanent assignment to the munchkin patrol.
Simon scowled at the dust that coated his desk when he shook the last three antacid tablets out. Replacing the lid and chucking the plastic bottle at his wastebasket, he looked up at Jim.
"Tell me about Samish. Did you get anything?"
The antacid disappeared down Simon's throat. Jim bit back a smile. No wonder the man got heartburn.
"You know, Simon, it helps if you chew before you swallow." The glare he received in return for that comment would have nailed lesser men to the wall. Jim let his smile show, just a little, before returning to the business at hand. "As for Samish, yes and no."
With a deep sigh, Simon stood, grabbing his coffee cup. Jim shook his head when the pot was held out towards him. The pot was shoved back into place under the brew basket, and Simon settled at his desk.
"Okay, explain yourself," he said, taking a sip of the coffee.
When Jim was done Simon's coffee was cold, but the Captain made no move to refill his cup. For a long moment he just stared at the plain white ceramic, then looked out his window to the bullpen where Sandburg sat hunched over his desk, still reading. Finally Simon met Jim's gaze.
"Damn." The expletive was followed by a heavy sigh, then Simon shook his head. "No wonder Sandburg looks like hell. You know, you wouldn't wish what was done to that poor girl on your worst enemy, once. But to have it happen twice? Talk about your negative karma."
Jim took a deep breath, to explain to Simon that actually this, this, this asshole--damn, he was running out of expletives to call the guy--actually the guy had victimized Morag three times, and if they didn't get a break soon it was going to be four. Just then Simon's door vibrated, and without waiting for an answer Henri barreled in. The way he was breathing the man must have run up all seven flights of stairs to Major Crimes, and Jim didn't think anyone's eyes could ever get that round. Simon took breath to reprimand him, but before he could say anything, Henri blurted, "Captain! We got a sighting on Sandburg's friend!"
"What?" was the response, in stereo.
Nodding at Jim, Henri waved the piece of paper in his hand as he tried to catch his breath. It took Jim a minute to make out the picture of Morag, taken from her Rainier student ID. They'd been using it all day to try and locate her. Through the open door behind Henri, Rafe led a group of people at a more sedate pace through the maze of desks towards Rhonda's station. Must be the folks from Sitka school. The father carried his little girl, about five or six, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and her face buried in his shoulder. The mother was close beside them, one hand holding lightly to her daughter's foot. A man in a business suit that tried and failed miserably to look stylishly expensive and another woman in a functional blue dress followed close at their heels.
As the group reached Rhonda's desk, Jim stared out the door at the child's face now peering out at the bullpen over her father's back: long, dark hair, light blue eyes vivid in a pale face. He shivered as another child's face was superimposed over this one suddenly, a face he'd seen in a 20-year-old newspaper photo only hours ago.
The current picture waving in front of Jim's face brought his attention back to the bald detective. Henri was still talking, and with a shake of his head, Jim tuned back in to the conversation.
"...man grabbed Riley, the little girl, but she was screeching and hollering. The teacher said she was too far away; she couldn't get there in time, and the guy was forcing Riley into his car. Then some woman jumped out of his car. She starts clobbering on him, and he has to let go of the little girl long enough to protect himself from her. The whole time this woman's screaming at Riley to run, and as soon as the guy lets her go she does, runs straight for her teacher. Then the other woman, she tried to run too, but the guy grabbed her and decked her. Knocked her cold, the teacher said, then stuffed her back in the car and took off." Breathless after his long recitation, Henri had to stop for a moment. He brandished Morag's picture again. "They identified the woman, Jim. It was Morag, Sandburg's friend."
There was a moment of stunned silence. Jim stared at the picture, and then up at Henri.
"Did we get a license plate or anything?" Simon's voice shattered the silence and Henri's smile faded.
"No." The portly detective was still trying to catch his breath. "But, they were Washington plates. And the car was an older model Blazer or something. Blue, with dual radio antennas in front of the cab."
"Run that description through the DMV now!" Simon bellowed. Henri nodded, pivoting on one foot to head back out in the bullpen, colliding with Sandburg at the door. The black man's quick grab kept the grad student from landing on the floor, but Blair ignored the detective in favor of waving his own piece of paper at Jim.
"I found it, man, I found it!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"It" proved to be Martha Douglass Gilbertson's obituary. Jim stared at the paper in his hand as Blair paced in Simon's office, hands waving as he talked.
"Remember we decided the guy was sending a message to his lost love, and we weren't sure if he loved her or hated her anymore? And the date thing has to be some sort of anniversary?" Jim nodded and Simon sighed, standing up to pour himself a new cup of coffee.
"Okay, well, Po said we'd need this information, so I was looking for something, you know, something beyond the obvious, and then we figured out it was the same guy who killed her mom, since he called Morag 'Martha' and--"
"Wait a minute, how did Po know you'd need this information?" Glaring at both Sandburg and Jim over his cup of coffee, Simon's tone boded ill for anyone caught withholding evidence.
Jim shook his head.
"Something about a dream and the voice of several gods...." The Sentinel let his voice trial off meaningfully and Simon shook, like a large chocolate cat who just walked through a puddle of something very, very wet. Rolling his eyes, the Captain sat back in his chair.
"Forget I asked, Sandburg. Just tell us what you found and spare us the details of why you found it."
"It's right here." Sandburg snatched the paper from Jim, and plopped it down on the desk in front of Simon. Leaning over the desk, he stabbed a finger at the article. Simon picked up the paper and stared at it.
"What am I looking for Sandburg? Can you just show me?"
"Here." Moving around to stand beside the Captain, Sandburg pointed at the paper a second time. Simon frowned, following the tip of Sandburg's finger as he read aloud: "Mrs. Gilbertson was preceded in death by a son, Matthew Phillip Harper, Jr." Sandburg looked like a puppy who'd just managed to pee outside instead of on the kitchen floor. If he'd had a tail every flat surface in sight would have been swept clean and he'd have been wiggling with delight. Jim and Simon traded confused looks over the piece of paper, and it slowly dawned on Blair that his companions were not following his reasoning.
"Don't you get it? Her son died, man, he was her son!" Blair slapped at the paper Simon still held.
"And this means...?" Jim shook his head at Sandburg's incredulous stare.
"Her son, man, her *son.* And his name is Matthew Phillip HARPER, JUNIOR. I don't know about you, but man, if my name was John Gilbertson I wouldn't be naming my kid Matthew Harper, Jr. She had to have been married before, and with the fact that--"
"We think March 29th is some sort of anniversary he's marking, it's a possibility that this Harper guy is our man." Jim stood up straight, heading for the door. Blair was right behind him. "Henri's running a trace on that car that they saw Morag with this morning. It won't take much to find out if there's a Matthew Harper here in town."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There should, Blair thought irrelevantly, be music; like in the movies, suspenseful, building the tension until people were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next big revelation.
Instead there was only the babble of the bullpen around them, the noisy breath of the three men waiting, waiting and watching for Henri's computer search to come up with something--anything. Henri was seated at his desk, Jim looming over him from behind. It was truly amazing that two such large men could be so close together in such a confined space and still leave room for one slight anthropologist. But, then, he'd always been good at getting into places he wanted to be. If you can't beat 'em, dazzle 'em with bullshit, had been his modus operandi. Then came James Ellison, Sentinel. Blair believed Jim saw right through his b.s. more often than not, but the older man not only tolerated it, he seemed to enjoy it.
Of course, the space they were crowding into wasn't really confined, it was just the area around Henri's desk, but still, the fact that all three of them were trying to be where they could see the computer screen sort of limited their positioning.
"It's coming up."
No one needed Henri's warning, but nobody objected. Blair imagined all the loose papers on Henri's desk suddenly being sucked up against their faces by the rush of indrawn breath and repressed a slightly hysterical giggle. The screen was loading now, and as the picture and information slowly built down the page, all three men leaned even closer to view it.
Matthew Phillip Harper, Sr., lived on the outskirts of Cascade, in an older neighborhood surrounded now by industrial development. Tall, dark haired, handsome--until you looked into those eyes. Green, and blazing with anger--or insanity. The DMV information loaded last: Harper drove a 1978 Chevy Blazer, navy blue, Washington license plate WSX 198.
It couldn't be this easy, could it?
"Print that picture." Jim's eyes had flicked up towards Simon's office before his finger jabbed at Henri's screen. Blair looked over to see a little girl exiting Simon's office with Rhonda and her mother. He caught his breath, looked over to find Jim staring at him.
"*That's* the attempted kidnap victim?"
Jim nodded once, his eyes never leaving Blair's face.
"My God, Jim, she looks enough like Morag to be her sister. Damn. What's he want..." Blair knew the color drained from his face, he felt it and he irrelevantly wondered if his eyes lost their color as well. "What if... what if he's trying to recreate the same scenario?" Blair tried to swallow, but the sudden lump in his throat made that difficult. What did the man have in mind? "What would be so special about this year; why Morag now when he's gone for other women so many other years?" Blair was thinking out loud, he knew it, but he thought better that way anyway, and it saved repeating himself later. "What does he want? What's different about this year..." He closed his eyes, then suddenly, the answer was there. His hand shot out to grab Jim's arm. "Oh my God, Jim, Morag is twenty-seven this year, that's the same age her mother was when she died!"
Jim's stoic gaze said better than words that he agreed with Blair's line of reasoning, and he didn't like it any better than the police observer did. Swallowing hard, Blair released Jim's arm. Okay, it was time to pull himself together, or he'd be no help to Morag at all. He scanned the room and found Rhonda and her guests heading in the direction of the break room. Then, looking up at Jim beside him, a thought tickled at the back of his mind, something Sheena had said last night, what was it? Something about military types....
Jim patted Blair on the back once, then leaned down beside Henri, his hand on the other man's shoulder.
"See what else you can dig up on this guy, okay?"
Henri nodded, reaching for his keyboard, and Blair suddenly found the memory he'd been teasing. He leaned in beside Jim.
"Henri, um, hey, why don't you, uh, why don't you check military records too, man. You know, National Guard, VA hospitals, that kind of stuff. Especially in this area." Blair laughed a little, self-deprecatingly, but Henri just glanced up at him, nodded, and then his fingers were flying over the computer keyboard. Just like that. Didn't even look to Jim for approval, just accepted Blair's addition to the workload. For that matter, Jim simply accepted Blair's contribution as well.
Silently blessing his roommate--in addition to promising Henri help with his paperwork for the next month, Blair looked up to find Jim already over at the communal printer. The Sentinel retrieved the picture as it finished printing and was almost to the break room before Blair caught up to him. Not that Blair didn't trust his Sentinel to be gentle, he just wanted to be there--moral support and all that.
Inside the breakroom, Rhonda and the girl's mother conversed quietly at the counter next to the coffee maker, the little girl already seated at one of the two round tables with a can of soda. Jim went to the mother first, conferring with her while Blair headed for the little girl.
Large blue eyes looked at him somberly over the can of pop, before shifting to look over at her mom, still at the coffee maker. Blair remembered her from the kiddy safety lecture. She'd sat in the front row, and asked mainly questions about where did he, Blair, live and was he married? The teacher had told him later the young girl had two unmarried aunts, and, thinking of Riley's long dark hair, Blair had thought it just might be worth his while to give her the information she'd asked for. However, that was one week and an entire lifetime ago, before Morag, before Sheena and Persis. Blair realized Riley was staring at him now, and he smiled as he put a hand on the chair across from her.
"You mind if I sit with you for a minute?"
She considered that, then shook her head slowly. Blair pulled out a chair and sat, folding his arms on the table as Jim joined them. The larger man knelt beside Riley, picture clutched in one hand.
"Hi, Riley. Remember me?"
A slow nod, the eyes still huge. Riley's mom had come over with Jim, and she sat down next to the girl, taking her daughter into her lap and wrapping her arms around the small waist. Riley snuggled back into the embrace.
Jim waited until Riley and her mom were settled before he said anything.
"Pretty scary today, huh?" he asked, gently.
Another nod, the eyes flicking from Jim's face to Blair's. Blair smiled encouragingly, he hoped. Damn, why did this case have to involve so many kids? Riley, Persis...Jim's voice pulled his attention away from those dark thoughts.
"You did good, though, you know? You did exactly what you were supposed to." Jim smiled as he spoke, but Riley didn't return his smile. Instead, the large eyes waited a moment, still looking from Blair to Jim. Then she focused on Jim.
"I didn't want to go with him. You said make a lot of noise if we didn't want to go with someone." Her mother's arms tightened around her as she spoke. Jim nodded, slowly, approval shining in his eyes.
"I did, didn't I? And, you did good, really good, Riley."
That rated a smile. The adults waited silently while Riley took a sip of her pop. Clutching the pop can close, Riley frowned.
"What about the other girl? She didn't want to go either, but he took her."
Jim took a deep breath, and Blair dropped his head down on his arms. God, what could they tell her about Morag? She'd saved Riley, but at what cost to herself? Did Riley's parents know what Morag had done for their daughter? Did they realize what fate she'd saved the little girl from? Maybe not; they hadn't read the medical report from Camp LeJeune this afternoon, they didn't know what had been done to the five-year-old Morag and her mom. Blair knew, though, he knew, and he wished he didn't. Men weren't supposed to treat little girls that way--women either, but somehow the magnitude of the horror increased when rape involved five-year-old girls.
Words came to Jim from somewhere to reassure Riley, and his voice drew Blair's thoughts away from the terror he'd read through this afternoon, weeks long horror detailed in stark black and white print.
"But, you know, that's where you can help. Can you look at this picture and tell me if you've seen this man before?"
Blair opened his eyes in time to see Jim hold the paper out, the picture facing toward him, away from Riley. Good job, man. No need to frighten the girl any more than necessary.
Riley twisted around to look at her mom, who smiled encouragingly. Then that somber gaze returned to Jim.
Jim turned the picture of Matt Harper towards her. Riley's eyes grew even rounder, and she jerked her head away, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. They waited another long moment, her mother's hand caressing her hair. Then the blue eyes peeked out at Jim.
"I didn't want to go with him," she whispered.
Jim dropped the picture down beside him, where Riley could no longer see it, and reached out to pat her shoulder with his other hand.
"I know you didn't, Riley, and now we know this is him we're going to put him in jail. You won't have to be afraid of him anymore."
Riley considered that, but she didn't smile. Blair pushed his chair back, and was halfway to his feet when Riley spoke again.
"What about the other girl?"
Blair found himself examining his inner eyelids one more time. What about Morag? They were well within the deadline for her to be alive, but whether or not she'd still be...Morag, there was no telling. Opening his eyes, he sought Jim's face, but the Sentinel wouldn't look at him as he answered the little girl.
"We're going to do our best to make sure she's okay too. Thank you for looking at the picture, and telling us who it was."
Snuggling deeper into her mother's embrace, Riley nodded. Jim stood, mouthed a "Thank you" at the mother, then he was out of the room and headed across the bullpen. Blair had to run to catch up to him. The detective knocked on Simon's door, not waiting for an acknowledgment before he opened it and stood half inside the door. Blair stayed right on his heels. No way was he getting left out of this.
"We've got an id from Riley and the car registered to him matches the vehicle at the school," Jim announced to the room at large. Simon stood, looked at the two men sitting front of his desk and the woman. He held out his hand, and Jim stepped all the way into the room and handed him the picture. Simon extended it toward the woman in the blue dress. She took it, looked at the picture for a few brief seconds, then shook her head.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't looking at him, my focus was on Riley. It looks right, but I can't be certain." She handed the picture back to Simon, who nodded.
"That's fine, ma'am. Thank you." Simon turned to Jim, but the Sentinel spoke first.
"Probable cause, Sir?"
Simon thought for a second, nodded, then looked at his guests.
"If you folks will excuse us? Rhonda will get someone to finish taking your statements." Rafe was already at the door, and Simon grabbed his coat. Closing his office door behind him, he bellowed "Rhonda!" Blair missed the rest of the conversation as he grabbed his own coat and followed Jim out the door to the elevator. Rafe and Henri were there, Henri with papers in his hands. Simon joined them just as the elevator doors opened.
They filed in, Blair wending his way to the back of the elevator. The Captain reached for the city map that Henri unfolded, and Jim moved over beside him.
"Okay, we'll request some black and whites to meet us there. We'll rendezvous at the corner of..." he consulted the map, "Young and Shute roads. That will give us some time to assess things before we go in. I don't have to remind you we have a victim in there. I do *not* want this to turn into a hostage situation, got that?" His inky stare pinned each man in turn, and they all nodded.
Jim and Simon continued to make plans, but Blair ignored them, closing his eyes and leaning against the back of the elevator as they rode down to the parking garage. He really did not want to think about the fact that Morag's sanity--her very life--depended upon the actions of the Cascade P.D. in the next few hours. Even if they did get to her in time to save her life, what kind of shape would she be in? What had Harper already done to her in the hours she'd been with him? His mind was too full of details from her mother's autopsy and Morag's own medical reports to let his imagination rest easy now that her rescue was nigh. Would his friend have any connection left with the real world? The sound of paper crinkling told him the map was being folded, more plans had to wait until they could scope out the scene itself. For a few seconds blessed silence filled the elevator, and Blair sought desperately to center himself in that void.
Then he felt a bump on his elbow, and he looked over to find Jim beside him, staring at him, blue eyes wide and solemn.
"We'll get him, Chief. She'll be okay." The softly spoken promise was a sacred oath from Sentinel to Guide. Simon looked over his shoulder at them, and Henri and Rafe exchanged a glance too. They didn't catch the undertones in Jim's promise, but still Blair felt the resolve solidify around him, the unspoken promise from these men, from his friends. He didn't feel like sharing all his fears for Morag with them; Jim was the only one who understood everything that was at stake. They were still waiting for some response from him as the elevator dipped and rose to settle at the basement parking garage. The doors opened, but Blair refused to look at the other men. He shrugged.
"Yeah, well, I hope so," was all he could offer in the face of their concern. Even though he was in the back of the elevator, Blair was the first one out, hurrying to Jim's truck before their sympathy undid him completely.
Continued in Part Eight...