New Arrivals
Author-Lynne Rogerson
Titles

The Value of Family
Part 2
by Lynne Rogerson

See notes and disclaimer in part one.

That had been a week ago. A long week of few leads and unpredictable weather. Mercurial April skies kept switching from heavy rain to snow and back to rain again. The one clear track that had been discovered at the scene belonged to a 17inch radial tire; that meant the vehicle had some size to it. Once information about the track had reached the press, Major Crimes fielded dozens of calls identifying a light colored SUV in the parking lot that last night Risa Landaux had worked at the gift shop. DMV supplied Captain Banks with a five-page list of possible matches. Taggart and Connor grabbed the list and ran with it. Two days later all but seven of the vehicles were accounted for.

Of Risa Landaux there was no sign. No miraculous reappearance, no phone calls, no demands, no body. Nothing at all. Seventy-two hours after she was discovered missing, Risa's case was officially elevated from missing person to kidnapping. Although no demands had been made, the assumption was a sound one. The abandoned car, personal effects, unlocked store -- it all pointed to something more ominous than an impromptu vacation. With the change in status to a federal crime, the FBI was contacted to help with the investigation. Ellison protested their involvement loudly, but was soundly over-ruled by his captain. The first official interview as a joint task force was with Adelaide Landaux. It took place on Saturday night, three days after her sister disappeared. As one of the last known people to have seen Risa, Adelaide's statement was critical in establishing a timeline for the night of the supposed abduction.


Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Adelaide entered the Major Crimes bullpen 15 minutes before her scheduled interview. She had come alone, unwilling to drag either her family or close friends >from the sanctuary of her parent's home. Everyone was at a loss, and the loss brought a need to do something. Danny and his best friend Patrick Corlion had confiscated the family room and turned it into a war room. Dissatisfied with what they saw as a lack of results, the young men had gathered their friends around a town map and deployed them in pairs like troops on recon. Every time someone came back, they marked off the searched area in red. It was a slow process, but one that kept everyone busy. Adelaide had left them to their plans and stood guard over her parents and Samantha. Making sure they rested, making sure they ate, making sure Auntie Trudy didn't burn the house down when she turned on the wrong burner on the stove and set a tray of muffins on fire. Her mom had taken to washing the kitchen floor three or four times a day, permeating the house with the acrid scent of ammonia. No amount of cajoling could keep her from the task, and Addy didn't have the heart to force the issue.

Now, standing nervously in the doorway, she almost regretted the decision to come to the police station by herself. Sarah had wanted to come with her, but Adelaide was certain it was something she needed to do on her own, and told her best friend no. She rubbed her stomach absently, trying to calm the stampede of nerves gnawing at her insides. She spotted Detective Sandburg sitting at a desk not too far from the door. Of Detective Ellison there was no sign; she couldn't decide if that made her feel better or not. His partner was obviously intent on the computer screen in front of him; she found the noise in the room exceptionally loud, but he wasn't even distracted. Taking a deep breath for courage, she walked over to the desk and cleared her throat quietly to get his attention. He didn't seem to hear her over the din, so she rapped lightly on the top of the monitor.

Startled, Blair looked up into the tired brown eyes of Adelaide Landaux. She smiled at him timidly and he jumped up to offer her a chair.

"Adelaide! Here, sit down. Jim is talking with Si-.., er, Captain Banks, and should be back shortly."

"Thanks," she said quietly and lowered herself carefully into the offered chair.

Blair moved to sit in his own chair, but hesitated as he watched her nervously twist the strap of her purse. "Can I get you anything while you're waiting? Tea, coffee, soda?"

"Actually, some water would be nice. If you have any, I mean."

"Water? Sure, no problem. Be right back." Blair patted her gently on the arm and disappeared across the busy room.

Adelaide glanced around the bullpen with no real interest. Her gaze roamed quickly over each of the men and women in the room, cataloguing their appearance without really seeing them. She had a vague recollection of a few of the detectives. Detective Brown was sitting at the next desk with his leather cap on; he was the fingerprint man Detective Taggart had pointed out at the store. His partner -- Raferty, Rafeeney, Rafael, was the cute one who had talked with Del. There was the dark-haired woman with the neat accent...

"Here you go, Adelaide."

"Addy," she corrected absently as she took the cone-shaped paper cup and sipped the cold water gratefully. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Blair smiled and sat down on the other side of the desk. "They really shouldn't be much longer."

"It's okay." Adelaide rolled the cup between her hands, "Just nervous, y'know?"

He leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "Jim's bark is worse than his bite."

Her laugh was quiet and pleasant. "Don't worry, detective. Your partner doesn't make me nervous. It's all the rest of this..." she waved her arms, unable to find the right word.

Blair nodded and leaned back.

"Sandburg!!!"

"Simon's bark on the other hand..." he muttered as he stood up. Adelaide covered her mouth to hide the grin.

Adelaide rose slowly from her seat. Three men were approaching; Detective Ellison, a tall, thin man with curly white hair, and a distinguished looking black man wearing glasses and a very nice suit. She held out her hand. "Detective Ellison."

Jim grasped the young woman's hand firmly, "Ms. Landaux. Thanks for coming down."

"Sure. Anything to help."

"Addy," Blair grabbed her by the elbow and steered her towards the third man. "This is Captain Simon Banks. He runs Major Crimes. Captain Banks," he said formally, "This is Adelaide Landaux, Risa's older sister."

Simon smiled briefly as he shook Adelaide's hand, showing even white teeth. "Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Landaux."

"Adelaide, please."

Banks nodded his agreement. "Adelaide. This," he pointed to the unknown gentleman between himself and Jim, " is Agent John Sutton."

Agent Sutton looked up briefly from the folder he was inspecting, made eye contact, and back down again.

"Because of the nature of your sister's disappearance, the FBI has been called in to help out."

Adelaide heard the undercurrent of disapproval in Detective Ellison's voice. Personally, she didn't care if they called in the President of the United States, as long as they found Risa.

"If you will follow Detective Ellison, we'll get this done as quickly as possible, so that you can get back to your family."

"Thank you, Captain Banks." Adelaide tossed the paper cup in a waste paper basket and gathered up her purse. "It was nice to meet you."

"I wish the circumstances were more pleasant, Adelaide."

The suddenness of why she was there threatened to overwhelm her and Adelaide swallowed hard as she followed the big detective to a room down the hallway.


Detective Ellison escorted her to a padded metal chair on the other side of a large rectangular table.

"Try to make yourself comfortable, Adelaide." Jim offered with a warm smile. "We'll get through this as quickly as possible. Agent Sutton will be asking most of the questions, and I'll be transcribing your statement. What we're trying to do here is establish a time line, as well as gather some history on Risa. Okay?"

She nodded her agreement and sat down.

FBI Agent 'Trapper John' Sutton began the questioning by walking slowly around the room, hands clasped behind his back. He stopped just behind Adelaide's chair.

"Ms. Landaux, when was the last time you saw your sister?"

"Wednesday night."

"And approximately what time on Wednesday night did you see her?"

"Around five thirty."

"How did she seem?"

"Seem?" Addy was unsure of the agent's request and tried to turn around and make eye contact. Sutton resumed his pacing in the other direction. Confused, she shot a questioning look to the big detective sitting across from her.

Throwing a stern glare at his counterpart, Jim restated the question. "How was Risa's mood? Did she seem happy, upset, angry, annoyed?"

"Oh!" She nodded in understanding. "No, no. She was fine. In a good mood actually."

"And, Ms. Landaux, while she was in this good mood, what did you talk about?"

Adelaide could feel her annoyance at the FBI agent building. She clamped down on the bad feeling and kept her answers civil. "Nothing specific. Work, school, the fact that I blew off the gym to hang out with her instead."

"Did she mention that she had been having any trouble with anyone at school?"

"She works with 5th graders. What kind of trouble could she have?"

Sutton lifted a well-manicured left hand and studied it thoughtfully. "Any enemies?"

Adelaide's eyes narrowed. "Not that I know of."

"What about her boyfriend?" He raised his head to make his first eye contact with her since they had met. "What is his name?"

"Daniel. Daniel Bastin. And no they weren't having any trouble. I would have known. She's my sister and he's one of my roomma..."

"And how is young Daniel reacting to your sister's disappearance?"

"He's devastated! He loves her. They've been together for a long time. How do you think he's reacting?" She briefly locked disbelieving eyes with Detective Ellison, before glaring at Agent Sutton.

Agent Sutton scrutinized the nail beds of his right hand, dismissing her answer. "Does your sister have any problems with drugs? Any history of drug abuse?"

"What?" Adelaide glanced again at Ellison. "I thought we already discussed all this!"

Jim inwardly cursed Simon Banks for agreeing to allow the FBI access to this case. Agent Sutton was about as subtle as a brick. "I know this is hard, Adelaide. Please. Just answer the questions for us." She opened her mouth to interrupt and he cut her off, "Even if you already answered the question in a previous interview."

She glared at him and turned to look pointedly at Agent Sutton, who was now straightening his suit coat and tie. "No." she ground out. "'Risa' does not do any drugs."

"Any chance she took off on a little vacation?"

The idea was so absurd Adelaide laughed and didn't even give an answer.

"Well, Detective Ellison, I guess you can record that as a no."

The agent's condescending tone was not lost on either the detective or the young woman. Ellison's temper was reaching critical mass. Simon, if my job wasn't so important to me, I'd pop this a**hole in the teeth. You are gonna owe me huge for this one. He scowled at the two-way mirror, where he knew his captain was observing the interview, and scratched a No on the lined pad. Jim didn't like feeling second fiddle to FBI Agent Sutton. He was, in fact, the primary on the case, regardless of Sutton's involvement. A warning was in order. "Sutton." He growled. Just the one word and a glower from icy blue eyes.

"Yes. Well, let's continue." Sutton adjusted his tie. Message received. And understood.

Regardless of the warning, Agent Sutton continued the interview for over an hour. He reworded and rephrased the same questions a dozen different ways. Adelaide tried to remain calm, but she was finding it almost impossible. The agent refused to make any duration of eye contact with her. She gave an inward sigh of relief when the questioning seemed to be coming to a close.

Sutton sauntered over to the mirror at the far end of the room. He began to admire his hair, combing it with his fingers and patting and rearranging the white curls on first the left, then right side of his head. "Daniel is taking her disappearance well, then?"

Adelaide gripped the table with whitened knuckles and spit her answer through gritted teeth. "No, Agent Sutton, Danny is not handling this okay! Like I told you the other three times you asked me this question, he is very upset!"

"How do you think he feels?"

"Feels?" she sputtered. "Like someone ripped out his god-damned heart, is how he feels. How do you think he's supposed to feel?"

Jim jumped up and grabbed the agent by the elbow. "Agent Sutton!" he ordered sharply. "Take a walk! Now!"

The agent actually seemed offended as Ellison practically dragged him to the door.

The door wasn't even closed before Adelaide pushed away from the table and surged to her feet. "Keep that arrogant jackass away from me, Detective Ellison!" She paced nervously and ran shaking hands through her close cropped hair. "Who in the hell does he think he is! Like I couldn't tell he was pulling some stupid ass interrogation tactic. My God! My sister's missing! She's out there somewhere, and he's acting like, he's acting like..." She clenched her fingers briefly in her hair. "God I can't even think straight!"

Jim made a placating gesture with his hands, "Please, Adelaide. You need to calm down." He glanced up at the mirror desperately. C'mon Sandburg. Help me out here, buddy.

"Do I look like a criminal to you, Detective Ellison?" The agitated young woman held her arms open wide and then brought them together sharply, offering her wrists to the detective. "Am I a suspect in my sister's disappearance? Do you wanna cuff me?"

"I'm sorry that he upset you, Adelaide. Please sit down!"

She flopped bonelessly into her chair, her elbows on the table and her head in her hands.

Jim's eyes shot another distressed request at the mirror. Now would be a good time, Chief.

That would be my cue. Blair stopped by the water cooler and filled his coffee mug. He barely noticed Simon stalking by him in the bullpen, but the Captain's rich baritone resounded through the office. "Sutton, my office, now!" With the characteristic sound of a slamming door ringing in his ears, Blair took a calming breath and knocked quietly on the door of the interview room before opening it. He walked over to the table and placed the cup in front of the quivering woman. She had scrunched herself up in the chair, knees drawn to her chest, and arms wrapped tightly around them. She stared at the mug and then upwards at him. He nodded encouragingly and she grasped the handle with a quiet "Thanks."

It took them the better part of an hour to relax Risa Landaux's older sister. Adelaide vented her fear and frustration at the partners, alternately pacing the small room or slumped in her metal chair. Blair had been passionate and sympathetic, while Jim just tried to get the young woman calm enough to finish the questioning. By the time the interview was over, Blair was exhausted, and both Jim and Adelaide were rubbing eyes and temples to forestall the coming headaches. She had been too shaky to drive, and Blair had been quick to offer her a ride home. She had given him a weak smile of thanks. The ride had been unnecessary. They led Adelaide back down the hall to the bullpen and were greeted by a sight that both surprised and gladdened the weary anthropologist. No less than seven people were waiting for Adelaide Landaux by Jim's desk. Daniel Bastin, Patrick Corlion, Risa's best friends Lark Salinger and Eileen Lester, Eileen's father, and Adelaide's best friends Sarah Phelps and Delilah Masters.

"Are you all waiting for Ms. Landaux?" Jim asked incredulously.

She had been absorbed into the group like a growing ameoba, and after exchanging small talk and haggard, tired looks, they left.


Simon waited until Adelaide Landaux was led from the bullpen to let Agent Sutton out of his office and out of his sight.

"Sutton." Banks' voice was cold as the older man put his hand on the doorknob of freedom.

"Sir." Sutton answered him without turning around.

"Save the grooming for your morning shower, and show that family some respect."

"Understood, Sir."

"It had better be. I hear or see anything to the contrary and your ass will be nailed to the wall for show and tell."

"Yes, Sir." The FBI agent shot Ellison and Sandburg a glare as he started towards the temporary office set aside for the task force.

Simon saw Jim lean over to his partner. Blair nodded his head in agreement and the big detective headed for the exit.

"Jim!" Simon barked.

Ellison winced and rubbed his forehead before answering. "Captain?"

"I want an update on the Landaux case in one hour!"

Jim nodded curtly. "It'll be done, Sir."

Simon pulled a cigar from the case in his shirt pocket and ran it under his nose, inhaling the calming aroma and thoughtfully gazing at the door through which his detective had just exited. He turned and saw Blair's head tilted in the same direction, the young man's brow wrinkled in concern.

Time to see if Jim had kept his promise.

"Sandburg!"

"Yeah, Simon?"

Simon suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at the familiar use of his name on the floor. "My office. Now!"

"Sure thing." The young police observer looked one last time in the direction his partner had gone and then followed the captain into his office.

Simon sat in his own chair and waved Blair into one of the two seats on the opposite side of the desk. As usual, the grad student ignored his directions and perched on the edge of the desk. In what the captain could only describe as puppy dog enthusiasm, Blair grinned at him.

"What's up, Simon?"

"First of all, get the hell off of my desk! Last I knew, desks were for writing on, not sitting on! Try a chair like the rest of us!"

Holding up his hands in mock surrender, the young man slid into one of the remaining chairs.

"Thank you. Now," he stuck the unlit cigar into his mouth and leaned forward. "How's the investigation going?"

"Shouldn't you be asking Jim?"

Simon sighed in exasperation and removed the cigar. "I'm asking you, Sandburg. How is the investigation going? Simple question really."

"As well as can be expected, I guess. Joel and Megan have narrowed down the list of possibles on the vehicle. Henry had a partial of a fingerprint and SinJin came up with B negative on those drops of blood. Man, you should have seen how small those drops were! I'm not surprised that Jim found them, but I can't believe SinJin actually got a blood type out of the sample. I was down in the lab when he was working on them. Have you seen all the equipment set up in Dan's lab? It was totally amazing! I can't believe I never noticed all that stuff before. Of course, usually I'm with Jim checking out some dead body. How does he do it? Five seconds and I am so ready to be out of there! I mean it's a dead person..."

"Sandburg!!"

The yell was so unexpected; it startled the young man into silence.

"The cliffnote version. Please. If I wanted a novel I'd've asked for the book on tape."

"Sure, Simon. Sorry." Blair smiled in embarrassment and started over. "There's a meeting at eight am tomorrow morning to bring everyone up to date. So far, it's obvious she didn't just take off. Adelaide's statement a little while ago only helped support that. There was some blood on the scene, but not enough to indicate foul play. So far no ransom demands. No body. No weapon."

"No witnesses yet?"

"None that have come forward anyway."

"Thank you. I'll wait for the long version at the meeting." Here's where we find out if Jim kept his end of the bargain. "By the way, how's Jim doing after the other day?"

"What? You mean his headaches? I haven't figured those out yet. Could be that he isn't getting any sleep. He's like a crusader with this case, Simon. He's taken sole responsibility for bringing Risa Landaux home. Whole. And intact. Me? Personally, I'm not surprised..."

"He hasn't told you has he?" Simon roughly shoved the unlit cigar into an ashtray. "Damn it, Jim. You said you'd tell him." He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, as Blair slowly stood, puzzled concern written plainly on his face.

"Jim didn't tell me what, Simon?"

"I'm sure he meant to..."

"Tell. Me. What?" It didn't take a sentinel to see that Blair Sandburg was getting seriously agitated.

"Aw, hell."

"Simon," Blair warned.

"The other day, in my office. Jim, he had an episode."

"An episode? What the hell do you mean, an episode?"

Simon braced himself for the explosion he knew was coming. "I think it was one of those zoneout thingies you're always talking about."

"Oh my God! He had a zoneout? What happened? Was he all right? How did you get him out of it?"

"Blair, you need to calm down."

"Calm down?! Jim zoned and didn't tell me and you want me to be calm?" His expression horrified, Blair paced frantically around the tiny office.

"Sandburg!" There was no mistaking the authority in the captain's voice. "Sit down. Now. I don't take this crap from Ellison and I certainly won't take it >from you!" Blair threw himself into a chair and crossed his arms, anger chiseled on the fine features. "Good. I'll tell you everything I know -- as long as you stay seated and keep calm."

"Simon," Blair pleaded, "What happened?"

"The first day of the Landaux case, I called Jim into my office. I assigned the case to him and went through the folder. One minute he's looking at the picture of a fifth grade class, the next minute he's staring off into space and not breathing!" Simon shuddered at the memory.

"Oh, God! He wasn't breathing. Man, this is so bad. How did you get him out of the zone? Why the hell hasn't he told me?"

"I tell you, Sandburg. He about scared me to death with that stunt. I don't know how you do it. I really don't. You should have a full head of white hair..."

"It's supposed to be my job!" Blair snapped. "How did you get him out of the zoneout?"

"I took him by the arms and shook him and just kept calling his name. Suddenly, his eyes seemed to focus and he was breathing again. He practically threw the picture at me, and I made him sit down. I asked him if I should get you and he said it was no big deal."

Blair closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. Jim didn't want my help.

Simon felt guilty at the hurt on his police observer's face. "I made him promise to talk with you. He said he would. I'm sure it just slipped his mind."

"Oh really?" Simon winced at the tone. "Tell me, Simon. Would you forget if you stopped breathing?"

"I'm sorry, Blair. I don't know why Jim hasn't told you. I wish I did."

"Maybe he doesn't need me anymore."

"You know that's not true!" Banks tried to keep his voice low and soothing. "He's stubborn. And probably thinking he can work through it himself." Blair shuddered. "You and I both know that isn't going to happen. So we need to help him fix it. Whether he wants the help or not."

"How can I fix anything if he won't talk to me?"

"So confront him about it. At home, tonight."

"Man, he's already so stressed out over this case! If I talk with him about this he's gonna freak!"

Simon threw his hands up in the air. "Oh this is rich! No wonder the two of you mis-communicate all the time. Neither of you will talk to each other!"

"But, Simon..."

"No! No Sandburg! No 'But Simon.' I don't run a damn counseling service! The two of you talk this thing out. If Jim can't control these episodes, he'll be a hazard on the job. Both to him and to you, never mind the rest of the general public. And if I feel he's a hazard, I won't hesitate to ground him. So talk it out. Figure it out. It's what you do isn't it?"

"Yes, but..."

"Ah! Ah! Not another word, Sandburg. Get out of my office and fix this problem. We have a missing person to locate."

Sandburg stood slowly, his expression downcast. "Yes, Sir." He replied softly.

Damn I hate that look! "He needs you kid, don't ever doubt it."

"I hope so, Simon."

Simon waited until the door closed behind Sandburg to let out a shaky sigh.

"Ah, hell..."


Two hours later, Jim sent Blair home to get some rest. Although he desperately wanted to talk to his friend, Blair went. But he didn't sleep. Instead he pulled out all of his notes and journals on his sentinel research. Four hours and three cold cups of tea later, the frustrated anthropologist still had no answers for either the unexplained surges in Jim's senses or the unexplained zoneout. He couldn't decide if he was angry with Jim or just plain hurt. After all this time together, Blair thought Jim would have trusted him enough to tell him what was going on. Maybe trust wasn't enough. And Blair was damned if he knew how to fix it.

When Ellison finally came home, around 4am, for a couple of hours of sleep, he found his guide buried on the couch under innumerable books and papers. With a little coaxing, he urged his sleepy roommate to bed before heading up to collapse in his own.


At 12:03 on Easter Sunday afternoon, the telephone rang in the loft at 852 Prospect Avenue.

"Hello?"

"Detective Ellison?"

"This is Detective Ellison."

"Detective Ellison, this is dispatch. They've found Risa Landaux."

"Is she...?"

"I'm sorry, sir. Detective Taggart said to tell you she's dead."


Sunday Afternoon, 12:30 p.m.

Detective Brian Rafe met them as they pulled up to the crime scene, his handsome face unusually pale.

"The area has been cordoned off, per your instructions, Jim." Rafe leaned his arms against the driver's side window. "Except for the Coroner's Wagon, no vehicles have been permitted past the clearing entrance. Henri is mobilizing the uniforms and has them posted around the entire perimeter. The area should be secure."

"Good. Where's the body?"

The young detective pointed straight ahead of the truck. "About 500 yards that way. Local found her in a grove of trees."

Ellison lifted a quizzical eyebrow.

"Walking his dog after dinner. Shepherd must have picked up the scent of the body."

"Dog leashed?"

"Yep. Owner reigned the dog in as soon as he caught sight of the clothes."

"Good." Jim said approvingly. "All right. Why don't you go see if you can give H a hand. Joel or Connor here yet?"

Rafe nodded. "Joel's with the dog owner. You can probably catch up to Megan at the Coroner's Wagon." The young detective acknowledged the partners as he walked away. "Jim. Sandburg."

The big detective turned to his partner. "You're awfully quiet."

Blair was staring out the window in the direction Rafe had pointed out earlier. "Not much to say."

"You always have something to say, Sandburg."

"Apparently I have more to say than you do!" Blair snapped back.

"W-What?" Jim leaned slightly away from his friend, surprised at the venom he heard in the normally soothing voice.

"Nothing, Jim." Blair sighed, leaning his head back and covering his eyes with his hands. Dropping his hands, he turned his head towards his partner. "Never mind. We'll talk about it later."

"Talk about what later?" Ellison replied, slightly annoyed. "Sandburg, what the hell is up with you?"

The young observer examined his hands with sad, disappointed eyes. "Nothing's up." He mustered up a small smile. "Really. We'll talk about it at home."

Jim huffed in exasperation and slowly drove the truck forward and parked it beside the captain's beige Grand Prix. "Stay with the truck, Chief. I just want to have a look around."

"But, Jim. What about..."

"I'm fine," the detective replied irritably. "If there's a problem, I'll let you know."

Jim didn't even wait for the protest he knew would be coming. He was out of the truck and on his way before Blair could form a sentence.


Ellison had been on the scene for what felt like hours, combing the area around the corpse, scrutinizing the body itself, his senses turned up as high as he dared without his partner right beside him.

Jim glanced at his watch and noted with some surprise that two hours had passed since he had begun his sensory investigation. He shook his head in disgust. He wasn't any closer to an answer now than four days ago. The only thing that he was certain of was that another migraine lurked nearby. Sandburg had done his best, walking him through meditation techniques and keeping the loft dark and quiet; but the detective part of his brain wouldn't let go of the case and he was unable to concentrate long enough to relax. Absently, Jim scanned the area for the telltale beat of his friend's heart, and found him Will wonders never cease? right where he was supposed to be. No matter how much of an asset the kid was to this Sentinel business, there was no need to expose him to additional reasons for nightmares. Jim studied the area around the body again, stubbornly hunting for some clue as to who the killer, or killers, was. He ground his teeth in frustration as he came up with nothing, for the sixth time in three hours. What good are these senses if I can't find one single god-damned clue? He brushed his hands on his pants roughly in disgust, and winced at the sudden grating sound in his ears, the tingling pain in his fingers even through the rubber gloves. Shit! That hurt! Ellison squinted and his eyes teared as he suddenly noticed how bright the patches of snow were on the ground around him. He rubbed his temples and forehead wearily. And snapped his hands away from fire hot skin. The latex gloves were suddenly uncomfortable and suffocating, and he ripped them off and threw them on the ground with a curse. He clenched his fists and then winced when his fingernails dug sharply into his palms. The wind caressed the exposed skin and airborne dirt clung painfully to his face and neck. This is crazy! What in the hell is going on? A hand on his shoulder startled him and he sprang back, coming face to face with worried blue eyes.

"You okay, man?" Blair crouched down next to him, speaking quietly, but didn't release his steadying grip. "Headache, huh?"

"Hands."

"What?"

"Hands. My hands hurt." Jim held his arms well away from his sides, not allowing them to touch anything.

"Hands, Jim? What's wrong with your hands? Is it your sense of touch? Your skin hurts?" Jim nodded and inhaled sharply as the movement aggravated his already pounding skull. "You've been focusing too tightly. Dial everything back, Jim. Close your eyes, give them a break." Blair shifted slightly so that his body shaded the man in front of him. "I'll bet the glare from the snow can't be helping too much. Good thing the sun's not out, or you'd be really hurting."

"Thanks for reminding me of the day's high point, Sandburg," Jim returned sarcastically, as he closed his eyes, "I think I'm miserable enough right now without searching for things to add to the list."

"Quiet." Blair admonished, taking no offense. "Concentrate on getting everything back on line. Don't think about anything but the sound of my voice. Let's get this stuff back to a manageable level, Jim. C'mon now..."

Jim felt himself responding immediately to his partner's soothing voice. What was nearly impossible to do on his own seemed to take only seconds when Blair guided him. Slowly, he lowered his arms back to his sides and flexed them gingerly. He blew a gusting breath in relief as the pain in his skull and on his skin receded to a dull ache, "Thanks." He looked sideways, through slitted eyes, at his partner, "I thought I told you to stay put. Do you ever do what you're told?"

"Rarely," Blair replied with a small smile as he released his hold, "It's how I keep your life interesting."

Jim shook his head carefully in rueful exasperation and they both stood. "You're certainly not working on keeping me young."

"Can't change history, man. I'm just working on your day-to-day. You know, helping you to center yourself."

"So what are you saying, Junior? My only salvation is to burn sage, listen to weird music, and contemplate my navel?"

"Ha, ha. You are so not funny, Jim."

Jim grinned slightly, glad for the levity of the moment. The past few days had been unpleasant. As the week and the Landaux case progressed, his senses had gotten more and more unpredictable. Just the day before, his sight had checked out for three hours and had thrown his concerned guide into a near panic. Blair's hovering was becoming almost as distracting as the dead spots in his senses. Today's discovery only ensured that the days would get longer and more stressful. God, he needed a vacation! Somewhere warm and quiet, with an ocean, and a beer, and a beautiful woman...

Blair cleared his throat nervously. "Did you want to try again? I'll stay right with you this time."

All thoughts of generous relief fled. "Chief, I wasn't kidding. You really don't want to see her. I don't want to see her."

"I'm sure I don't, Jim." Blair nodded in agreement. "But I want to help. I've seen corpses before; I'll get through it. Maybe I'll even get used to it, huh?" He grimaced at the incredulous look on his partner's face, and ran a hand through his hair, nervously tucking it behind one ear. "Okay, so I'll probably turn green and want to throw up. You might need me." He shrugged, as if that one statement answered all Ellison's doubts, and turned to walk towards the body.

"Her eyes are gone, Sandburg."

Blair froze in mid-turn and his startled glance rested on the tarp-covered body. "W-What?!?" He looked away, then shook his head in denial at Jim, who nodded a very slow, and very definite 'yes'.

"Look," his friend said gently, "what did you expect? Preliminaries show that she's been out here for at least three days. What the killer didn't do, the animals did."

"The animals..." Sandburg stopped, the words stuck in his throat. "You're right. I 'so' do not want to see that."

"Which means, partner," Jim said as he grabbed Blair's shoulders and steered him in the direction of the Coroner's wagon, "You go talk to Simon. Find out what he wants us to do next. I'm going to check with Connors and Dan. See if anything will help zero in these senses of mine."

Blair just nodded and did as he was asked. He was suddenly willing to do anything that put some distance between himself and that poor woman. No eyes! He didn't want that picture in his head for the rest of his life. Blair hugged his arms to his chest, as a shiver worked its way up his spine and settled coldly at the back of his neck.

"What's a matter, Sandburg?" someone called to him, making him jump in surprise, "Ghost do a dance on yer grave?" There was loud hooting laughter and the young police observer glanced in consternation at the large man in uniform who was grinning at him.

Blair Sandburg considered Sergeant Dennis McCabe to be one of the banes of his existence. The burly Irishman took every opportunity to belittle him, as if Blair's presence in Major Crimes was something that needed fixing. Physically, the anthropologist found McCabe's hulking nature more than a little imposing. Well over 6'5", the thirty-seven year old man had the body of a well muscled line backer, and an American Pie face topped with copper colored hair. McCabe was fiercely proud of his job, and just as loyal to his 'brothers' (gold shield or not); it was obvious Blair's long hair and new age attitude didn't sit well with the man. Regardless of the many dissimilarities between him and McCabe, Sandburg had to admit the man was a hell of a cop. He had seen him in action on more than one occasion; McCabe was an asset to the Cascade Police Department. But that didn't mean he wasn't an arrogant pain in the ass.

"...givin' you the shivers, Sandburg? Mebee a murder scene isn't the place for someone of yer delicate nature."

"I'm fine, Sergeant, but thanks for your concern."

"Och, lad," the grinning Irishman threw an arm around Blair's shoulders and gave them a meaningful squeeze, "Mebee yeh just need a quick peek to be sure she's dead. Could be the wonderin that's got yeh so terribly afraid."

Sandburg couldn't help an involuntary shudder as McCabe steered him towards the body. Blair forcibly pried the large hand from his shoulder and stepped away from the bigger man. His eyes strayed to the tarp and he couldn't help crossing his arms again.

"Everything okay, Hairboy?" Henri Brown glared at McCabe, his displeasure unmistakable. Sandburg's official title might only be an observer, but as far as Major Crimes was concerned, he was on the team. The detectives watched out for their own.

"No trouble here, Detective Brown. Sandburg and I were just gonna have a looksee under the tarp." McCabe laughed and waggled his fingers towards Blair, "We was lookin for ghosties!"

Blair grimaced at Dennis McCabe's gallows humor and forced his arms down by his sides, determined not to embarrass himself in front of Henri. "You know, Sgt. McCabe," he turned to address the officer, "in some cultures, its considered bad luck to be near the body of a murder victim. They believe that the soul has been denied the proper ceremonies for the journey into the afterlife, and seeks retribution. The first person to touch the body becomes the caretaker for the victim's restless spirit, forced to contain it until either the murderer is found or the caretaker goes mad." Sandburg stopped in front of the sergeant, his face serious, and leaned forward to catch the man's eye, "You weren't the first person to touch the body, were you?"

An involuntary shudder coursed through the big officer's frame, and he glared at the young anthropologist. He 'had' been first on the scene, and he 'had' been the first to touch Risa Landaux's corpse. He rubbed his hands self-consciously on the back of his pants, and walked away, muttering obscenities under his breath, his face as red as his hair.

Henri Brown exploded into laughter and clapped Blair on the shoulder. "Thanks, Hairboy! I really needed that." He walked back towards his partner, "Rafe! Did ya see what the kid just did to McCabe..."

Sandburg shook his head bemusedly and headed towards Captain Banks, who stood talking to Dan Wolf by the Coroner's wagon. He really wasn't trying to be funny. There were customs and rituals that allowed the soul to journey home. Okay, maybe he had embellished a little bit, but McCabe had embarrassed him and he...well he...Blair sighed. I guess I'll have to apologize later. Hope Jim isn't too pissed. You'd think I'd learn. He sighed again and waved to Simon, trying to catch his attention. Simon held up one finger, so he waited by Jim's pickup. Blair opened the tailgate and sat down, legs swinging nervously. He automatically scanned the crime scene for his partner, and saw him laughing with Brown and Rafe. He didn't need the Sentinel's hearing to know that Brown was telling Jim about his partner's 'confrontation'. It was the first real smile Jim had cracked in days. Sandburg was certain that Jim had heard the entire original conversation, but if it got the big guy to smile, even for a minute, it was worth the eleventy-seven times the story would be repeated, and changed. He tried on a small smile of his own. Maybe I did something right today after all.

Continued in Part Three...