by Sheila Paulson
Summary: Blair doesn't expect trouble when he helps a friend move a load of books to a house from which a man disappeared years before. But when Blair vanishes, Jim must use all his abilities--and some surprising new ones--to try to find him before it's too late. Rated PG. Previously published in Cascade Beyond the Veil 3.
Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters do not belong to me.
"Sorry, Jim, I can't go fishing this weekend. I'm going to check out a haunted house."
Jim Ellison frowned and shot Blair a suspicious look. "If you think I'll give up a weekend fishing to chase ghosts, Chief, you've got another think coming."
Blair's face lit up at the very thought. Probably wanted to make Jim dance through psychic hoops. No way. Just because he'd seen one ghost didn't mean he wanted to go out looking for them. Heightened senses he could cope with. The Twilight Zone was another matter.
His disgust must have shown on his face because Blair shrugged and grinned easily. "No, I'm not going ghost hunting. It might be fun--well, *maybe* it would be fun, if it was a controlled setting--but this wouldn't be. I told Toni Sinclair I'd help her move this weekend."
"Toni Sinclair? Isn't she the one who takes some of your classes for you when you're off with me doing police work?"
"Or when I wind up in the hospital. Toni's great. I said I'd help her because her fianc‚ is away on a dig in Belize." He hesitated, his eyes sparkling. "You sure you don't want to help, Jim? The Sinclair house is great, even if you leave the ghost out of the equation. It's one of the oldest houses in Cascade, and it's huge. Forty-two rooms. It's a replica of a house in Bath, England, and it's crammed with antiques and artifacts."
"Yeah? How does a teaching fellow afford a place like that? You guys have a secret salary you're not reporting? I haven't seen you wallowing in dough."
"I wish. No, it's Toni's family home. She moved into an apartment when she started grad school, but her father still lives there. He's a construction engineer, and he'll be on a job in Mexico City for a year. He didn't want to leave the house empty, and Toni's apartment was too big for one with Russ off on his dig, so she's moving home until her wedding. Most of her stuff's already there; it's just the books."
"You ought to be right at home hauling books, Chief." Jim cast a knowing glance around the loft. Blair's books refused to stay where they belonged, in Blair's room. When no one was looking, they had a tendency to creep out and gradually take over the living room, and the kitchen. There were always five or six in the bathroom, so Blair could enliven pit stops with some choice reading about the cultural practices of the Muckety-Muck tribe from Central America or the depths of Borneo.
"I can't wait to check out the library at Sinclair House, Jim. Toni's uncle was an anthropologist. She's second generation in the Rainier Anthro Department." He grinned slyly. "They say he's the ghost. Clark Sinclair. He was on his way to study the Hovitos in Peru when he disappeared." A sudden question pushed his train of thought onto a siding. "Jim! When you were in Peru, did you ever run into the Hovitos? They're headhunters. You should read the Jones report about them. It's great stuff."
"*Were* headhunters," Jim corrected. "Maybe back before World War II they were headhunters, but they're pretty civilized now, more than the Chopec. I met a couple of Hovitos once."
Blair's eyes widened like a kid gazing in the window of a toy store. "Really? That is so cool, man. What were they like?"
"They were great guys, Sandburg. One of them had a Sony Walkman, and the other wore a Santana tee shirt. We bonded."
Blair's skepticism flared like neon on his face. "Riiiight."
"Actually, it was a Star Wars shirt," Jim admitted. Sometimes it was just too easy to yank his guide's chain. "R2-D2. I had fun explaining that to Incacha." He replayed Blair's earlier remark. "If this guy disappeared in Peru, why's he haunting the house here? I didn't think it worked that way."
"Jim! You've been reading up on the paranormal!"
He spread his hands in hasty denial. "No way. You read up on it enough for both of us, and you never hesitate to share--at great length. Must be the teacher in you, but I never signed up for that class."
Blair didn't look remotely abashed and he didn't even bother to deny it. Every now and then, he made testing noises about the paranormal, and Jim had learned to block it out. Dial down the sound, filter out Blair's voice when he started in on his ghostbusting nonsense. In the month since the Molly experience there had been no new ghosts, and he preferred to keep it that way.
"He didn't disappear *in* Peru, Jim. He caught a plane to L.A. on the way to Peru, and didn't make his connecting flight to Lima. His bags showed up in Peru, but he never did. Big anthro mystery. He must have vanished from LAX. Maybe he met somebody there, maybe he went off voluntarily. The family is rich; he might have been kidnapped, but there was never a ransom demand. Nobody ever figured it out. He was finally declared legally dead."
"So this guy who's haunting your friend's house might not even be dead? Come on, Sandburg, next thing you'll want to do is set up a Ouija board and try to contact the other side."
"Jim, that's *great*. I never thought of trying you out with a Ouija board. What do you say? Come on, it'll be incredible. I've tried it, man, and it's weird. I know I wasn't pushing the planchette, and I know the people I tried it with weren't either."
"Maybe not consciously, Sandburg, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts one of you was. Anyway, they say that kind of thing opens up a pathway for the Devil."
He was sorry as soon as he said it. Blair's eyes widened triumphantly. "You *have* been reading about it."
"Not my usual style of bedtime reading. I dated a woman before I met Carolyn who was into it. Nutty as a fruitcake. Two dates were enough. She fed me more of this psychic hotline garbage than I ever wanted to hear. Past life regressions, channeling, scrying, lots of stuff about chakras, whatever they are."
Blair opened his mouth to explain them, and must have decided from Jim's forbidding expression that he didn't want to know. "You're right, up to a point, about the Ouija board, Jim. I've heard it said it could open up a nasty can of worms, but it's not the board per se, it's the attitudes of the people messing with it. They market it as a board game now, not as a psi research tool. But certain types of people can get carried away with the psychic stuff. They might be vulnerable."
"To *what*? Attack by demons?"
"That sounds unlikely to me, too, Jim, but a lot of it is in the mind. A person who isn't exactly sane to begin with can push himself over the edge when he messes with stuff he doesn't understand." He shrugged it aside. "Anyway, I don't think the place is haunted. I was there yesterday afternoon with the first load of Toni's books. It's a great house. Somebody in the Sinclair family was a collector. There are artifacts everywhere. It's great."
"Actually, I was there once, Sandburg." Jim frowned. "My father knows Benedict Sinclair. That must be your Toni's father. He took Steven and me there once for dinner when I was sixteen. Your Toni was there, but she was a little kid and she wasn't at the dinner. She had a nanny or something." He clenched his jaw. Not a good memory. He'd been as uncomfortable as hell there, and his father had chosen the event to find fault with his elder son's table manners and his company attitude. Benedict Sinclair hadn't been remotely surprised or upset at the tongue-lashing William had delivered. He was a guy a lot like Jim's father, and Jim had been at his most resentful, living for the moment when he could finish high school and move out.
"Yeah, the Sinclairs have money; that's why the police suspected kidnapping when Toni's uncle disappeared," Blair said. "Toni's dad is CEO of Sinclair Construction. He likes fieldwork so he's gone a lot, but he wouldn't have to work if he didn't want to."
"So your Toni could hire movers, and we could still go fishing."
Blair grinned. "She could, but she won't. She doesn't mess with her dad's money. I don't think she likes him any more than you did. Only reason she's moving back there is because it *is* where she grew up. And because her dad won't be there."
"Well, if you see the ghost, don't bother to tell him hi for me," Jim said. "When you're weighed down with fifty pounds of books, think of me, out there in a stream, making that perfect cast."
Blair's eyes went wistful, then he collected himself and pretended he didn't mind. "Oh well, maybe some of Clark Sinclair's books are still there. Man, that would be great. You never know, he might even have something on sentinels."
The following morning, Blair stood in the Sinclair library, his arms still wrapped around the box of textbooks he had lugged in from the car, and savored the collection with delight. There hadn't been time to check out the library two days ago, only to dump the boxes he'd hauled over in the main entry hall. He hadn't felt any ghost vibes, and much as he'd have loved to drag Jim here to see if he could sense anything, the odds of Clark Sinclair's ghost lurking here weren't worth betting on. He'd always figured the guy had chosen to disappear for personal reasons. He'd been on the plane. The flight attendant had recognized his picture when police had attempted to track him. He'd deplaned in Los Angeles. He had not boarded the flight to Lima. They'd never solve it now, twenty years later.
Toni didn't really remember her uncle very well. He'd disappeared when she was five, and she hadn't seen much of him. "Mom and I spent six months in London around the time when he disappeared. Her sister lost her baby and she was depressed. Mom wanted to be with her, and Dad said to go ahead, he'd be away half the time on a construction job anyway. He phoned Mom when Uncle Clark disappeared, but we didn't get home till two months later. They never found any reason for him to take off like that. It was the family mystery."
"Maybe he had a stroke and wandered away." Blair frowned. "Maybe he got mugged and lost his wallet and his memory. "
"Dad always insisted those theories had too many coincidences. I can't figure it out. He was just about to get tenure. He loved his work. I know I'd never take off if they were going to give me tenure." She gazed longingly at the distant future, and sighed. "I don't think we'll ever solve it."
Blair would have liked to solve it, but he didn't know enough, and it hadn't even happened here. Maybe he'd fallen in with someone on the plane who had lured him away. The police had probably thought of that and checked it out.
It wasn't as if the man's ghost had found its way back to the family home. Still, it would be great to get Jim over here, even if only for five minutes, and see if he could sense the ghost or figure out the one clue that had been missed twenty years before. Blair had tried, but Jim was adamant. Fishing. He had a chance to look past the veil that separated life and death and he chose to spend the day standing in waders in a mountain stream. Blair shrugged. There was no accounting for taste. Never mind that he liked fishing, too, not to mention it was a great bonding experience. But to have a chance to look upon the mysteries of life and death....
He realized he was still holding the box. Toni's books weren't exactly the cheap paperback variety. They weighed a ton. He deposited the box on the huge antique desk in the middle of the room and yelled out to her, "I'm gonna take ten minutes to check out the library. Did your uncle leave any books?"
She poked her head in, her hair disarrayed and sticking up all over her head in auburn spikes. A smear of dust connected the freckles on her nose. Blair made an automatic rubbing gesture at his own nose, and she mopped it away with her sleeve. "Tons of them. A lot of them are out of date, but they're still fun. He's got a first edition of Jones's text on the Hovitos there somewhere. I read it. It was great. Booby- trapped temples and natives chasing him with spears, like something out of a thirties movie serial." She drew herself up to her full five-foot-two and struck a pose like a daring adventurer. Actually, she was pretty good in the field. Professor Markham had taken both of them and a couple of other grad students to Central America the summer before Blair had met Jim, and Toni had been great. Of course Russ McKenna had been along, and he'd thought so, too. They'd been engaged for nearly a year. Would have been married by now if Russ hadn't wanted to finish up his doctoral work first.
"I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, too," Blair replied with a grin. "I was telling Jim about Jones and the Hovitos last night and he didn't even make the connection. Probably thinks it was fiction, like most people do. I went to a guest lecture once given by Doctor Jones. I swear, he was about a hundred years old but you'd never know it, he had so much energy."
She dimpled. "Wish I had. I was in Borneo when he came to Rainier. Uncle Clark's stuff is over there by the south wall." She waved a vague hand in that direction. "Have fun. I'm going to haul a couple of boxes upstairs."
He headed for the anthropology section of the library and stopped in front of it. Benedict Sinclair's housekeeper hadn't done a very good job dusting in here in the last six months or year. Not exactly up to the Jim Ellison/Martha Stewart style of housecleaning. He blew hard on the nearest row of books and a cloud of dust rose up and made him sneeze. "Gesundheit," he told himself.
*Let's see, what's here*. There was Calver's text from the thirties, the one that had been refuted as a hoax, the one that claimed the people of Easter Island were a lost remnant of Lemuria. Clark had shelved it right next to Kon Tiki. Either he had kept his books in order geographically or he'd possessed a wicked sense of humor.
Blair moved on, tracing the titles on the spines with his fingertip. South America? Where had Sinclair kept those books? It wasn't as if he'd find a clue to the man's disappearance, a convenient letter jammed in between the pages of a text, but you never knew.
Far East, Middle East, North Africa. Wait a minute. That book on the end. Blair's eyes widened. Burton in Africa. God, he'd been looking for that particular book for nearly five years. It had been written by a contemporary of Sir Richard Burton, and the excerpts from it that Blair had read in other source material had suggested a whole chapter existed on Berber sentinels. The book had been out of print forever, since long before Blair had been born, probably since before Clark Sinclair had been born. *Oh, man, this is incredible.* He grabbed the book to pull it off the shelf.
A weird clicking made him freeze. It almost sounded like a gun being cocked. A lot of teaching fellows wouldn't recognize that sound when they heard it, but Blair wasn't like most teaching fellows. It *wasn't* the cocking of a gun, but it was--
The floor dropped out from beneath Blair's feet. There was no chance to grab at the bookshelf for support. With a wild yell, he fell. An icy wind brushed his left shoulder so briefly he wasn't sure it was real. The trap door closed over him and he plummeted into darkness, conscious of an unnatural ripping sensation as if something had been yanked from his brain. *Oh, god, what was that*? Time slowed and it felt like he fell in slow motion, unable to see anything below him but an endless blackness that could have been a few feet--or a few hundred. He couldn't tell if he fell for a split second or for several minutes, but it was enough time for his stomach to twist into an agonizing knot, enough time for one last desperate cry: "Jim!"
The floor collided with him, and awareness vanished in a burst of pain.
Perfect. It was perfect. *Sandburg's nuts to pass up a trout stream for a day of hauling books.* Jim Ellison beamed. The weather couldn't be better, the fish were biting, and Simon had even foregone his customary cigar in respect for Jim's heightened sense of smell.
"Got one," Simon crowed and Jim stopped reeling in his line to watch Captain Banks haul in his prize. It looked like a big one. You could pull good trout out of this stream. Jim closed his eyes for a moment, imagining how good it would taste when they cooked it over the campfire this evening.
"Sandburg's missing a great day's fishing," he said when Simon had netted his catch and held it up to display it.
"I hear the lady in question is a pretty redhead."
"An engaged redhead," Jim replied. "Unless Sandburg thinks he can win her away from the other guy."
"When doesn't he try?" Simon detached the hook and tossed the fish into the bucket. "Conditioned response, he'd probably call it."
"He's a guy, what do you expect?"
"No remarks about table legs? I'm surprised at you, Jim."
"Leaving it for you this time, Simon. I--" His voice stopped as an abrupt sensation of cold slammed into him. It felt like he'd been pushed face down in the icy stream. Even worse was a sudden, inexplicable conviction of danger. Danger, and darkness, pain and shadows--and an icy chill that flowed into him and coursed like freezing fire through his bones.
"Jim? Jim? *Jim*!"
The voice that rang in his ear coincided with the shaking of his arm, and he realized it had been going on for a few minutes. "Come on, Jim, come out of it."
He blinked, abruptly realized that he'd been holding his breath, and gulped in large breaths of air. "Simon?" he said blankly.
"What the hell just happened, Jim?" Banks guided him out of the stream, up to a fallen tree on the bank and sat him down. "You yelled Sandburg's name, and then you went right into one of those weird zone- outs. I had a hell of a time bringing you out of it. I was afraid I'd have to dunk you in the water to get your attention."
Jim flexed cramped fingers, and Simon snatched his fishing rod away from him. "Come on, Jim, are you with me?"
"I...yeah. God, Simon, I don't know what...." The cold was still there. It hadn't gone away, even if it suddenly felt like a memory of cold, rather than the icy inundation itself. "He fell." He wasn't sure where the words had come from.
"Sandburg? You yelled his name. What do you mean, he fell? How could you possibly know? Oh. Is this some weird new sentinel thing?"
"I wouldn't think I could...." He trailed off, confused, the uncertainty and alarm doing battle in his gut. He could feel the muscles in his jaw tightening up. The worst of the abrupt sensation, the staggering fall, had retreated, but in its place there was darkness, pain, confusion--and something else, something so bizarre and unknowable that he couldn't even conceptualize it, full of anger and hatred, and endless despair. "He's in trouble, Simon."
"You can't know that."
"I do. I'm not sure how, but I do know it. We have to get back to Cascade."
"Ruin a perfectly good fishing day because you have a weird fit? Come on, Jim, you sure you weren't just feeling guilty because you didn't offer to help the kid out?"
"He didn't even ask. He only wanted me to come by because the place was supposed to be haunted." *Haunted, yeah. That's it.* He felt haunted, haunted by the memory of that imagined fall that had made his stomach swoop and lurch. It couldn't have happened. Jim couldn't have felt Blair take a tumble down a flight of stairs.
After the fountain, was that so impossible?
He hadn't wanted to go there, hadn't wanted to plunge any deeper into the world of weird. Had that step that he'd taken out of sheer desperation to save Blair from drowning opened a gateway inside him, a new ability that had suddenly enabled him to see Molly's ghost? Maybe the potential had always existed. There had been times when he'd been inexplicably uneasy and later learned that Blair had been in trouble at that exact moment. A time or two, he'd even headed over to Rainier to meet Blair on such a hunch and once arrived just in time to save him from a mugging. Blair had been thrilled when he realized the reason for Jim's timely arrival. "Just think, Jim, we're in tune. Precognition. That is so cool, man. We've got to study it." He'd backed off from the study, uncomfortable with the very concept. He only had enhanced senses. Genetic. Normal for him. This other stuff....
"I have to go," he said to Simon. "Something's wrong."
"You're sure?" Simon's face fell into skeptical lines. He still couldn't swallow the Molly thing. Put into a situation where he was forced to defend something he hadn't enjoyed and didn't want to acknowledge, Jim had not been thrilled with the teasing he'd endured from the other officers at Major Crime, or with the experience itself. But if the sixth sense thing could enable him to help Blair when he was in trouble, it just might be worth it.
Jim's cell phone jingled in his pocket.
"That's probably Sandburg now," Simon said.
"Maybe." His stomach knotted.
He activated the phone. "Ellison."
"Jim, this is Toni Sinclair. I think you'd better come right away."
"What's wrong?" he barked. "What happened to Sandburg?"
"I...don't know." Her voice shook. "He was in the library and I was upstairs putting things away. I heard him yell. He sounded terrified. Then the yell just stopped, and when I ran downstairs, he was gone."
"Gone?" Jim's heart stampeded up his throat.
"Not here. His car's still here, and I looked all through the house and can't find him. I don't know where he is or what happened. He's missing."
"He fell," Jim said involuntarily.
"Fell? Maybe. But if he fell off a ladder in the library, he'd still be there, especially if he'd been hurt. But he isn't. I've looked--I've gone through the whole house. I don't know what to do. I thought you should come. He says he's your partner, and you know him better than anybody else in the world. If anybody can figure out what happened, you can. And if somebody came in and kidnapped him, you're a police officer. Please come."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Don't touch anything. If someone grabbed him, they might have left fingerprints. I'll be there in, what, Simon? Forty-five minutes?"
Simon nodded. He took out his own cell phone and punched in a call to Major Crime.
"We'll send someone over," Jim told Toni. "Stay put, lock the doors, and don't let anybody in unless they show an ID."
"You think somebody snatched Sandburg?" Simon asked him. "Address, Jim?"
He reeled it off and Simon relayed it. When Jim finished his call with Toni, he took a moment to punch in Blair's cell number. No joy. He shook his head and gathered up their supplies. When Simon ended his call, they headed for Jim's truck.
"You think whatever happened is related to Sandburg's work with the department, Jim?" the Captain asked.
"Possibly. But Toni Sinclair is rich, or at least her old man is. Could be a kidnapping gone wrong."
"Pretty wrong if they took Sandburg in place of that little redhead."
"They...didn't take him," Jim said as if the words were forced from him. The weird thing was, he hadn't even meant to say them. "He's still there. I know he is."
"You *know* he is? Come on, Jim, how the hell could you know that? You've got enhanced senses, not psychic ability." His face tightened. "Tell me this isn't another mystical thing like that ghost last month."
"You think I liked that any more than you did?" Jim started the truck and peeled out. When they got down to the highway, he'd put the siren on. "I don't know, sir. Something happened. I don't understand it. Sandburg says primitive sentinels had a lot of abilities we don't know anything about. If this is one of them and if it saves Sandburg's life, it's worth it."
"I just don't see how."
"Neither do I," Jim admitted. "But there's a...link. I told you what happened at the fountain."
"This spirit animal thing?" Simon shook his head. Jim half expected him to go into a rant about what was and wasn't possible, even though he hadn't been able to explain Blair's resurrection any more than the paramedics could.
"There's a link. That's just a manifestation of it. Sometimes I just *know* when he's in trouble."
"When *isn't* he in trouble?" Simon muttered. "You were right this time. You reacted *before* she called."
"Sandburg's always wanting to run tests on it," Jim admitted. "I stalled him. I don't like this paranormal crap. The senses, yeah, I can use that in the job. There's a reason for it. But this other shit, seeing ghosts...." His fingers were so tight around the steering wheel he had to flex them one hand at a time. "Damn it, Simon, I shot him down over the tests. Maybe if I had gone for it, I'd understand what was going down today."
"People don't disappear without a trace, Jim."
"I know that. But something happened, and part of me--"
"Part of you what, Jim?" He could feel Simon's eyes boring into him.
"Part of me *knows* what happened."
"Then what did happen?"
Jim's shoulders lifted. "That's the hell of it. I know, but I can't get at it. It's there, pushing in my mind, but it won't come through."
"Some weird psychic thing?"
Jim gritted his teeth. "Yeah. Dammit, I should have let him run those tests."
"You'll know next time," Simon consoled him.
"Yeah." *If there is a next time*.
*Cold and dark is my world.*
Blair lay on what felt like a concrete floor, convinced that every square inch of his body was bruised. There was an awkward, hunching bulk between his shoulder blades that it took him forever to recognize as his backpack and not some threatening shape that might turn on him. Why couldn't he think?
Gradually, the aches and pains in his body focused on a sharp agony in his left ankle and a pounding throb behind his eyes. His eyes? They were wide open, but there wasn't a trace of light. Blind? *Omigod, I'm blind!* He knuckled them fiercely. Still nothing. He felt the start of a panic attack knot up his stomach and make his breath catch, but he stomped it down. *Maybe it's just dark, Sandburg.
Yeah, so dark there isn't even a trace of shadow*? Nowhere could be that dark. Sealed rooms? Underground caves? Where was he?
Where was Jim?
God, if Jim was near him, hurt, too--
Nothing else could have prodded Blair to full alertness faster than the idea of danger to his friend. The act of tensing in preparation for sitting up intensified his wooziness. Maybe he better not try that yet.
But if Jim--
Nothing. Only a heavy stillness, laden with threat. He shuddered. It was so cold here, cold and musty with a heavy, enclosed smell to it. Maybe it really was a cave.
*Yeah, right, man, a cave with a cement floor*?
He explored it with one cautious hand. It didn't hurt tremendously to move his arm, and his fingers worked just fine, thank you very much, as they groped their way across the concrete, searching for Jim, searching for answers. He didn't know where he was or why he was there. He couldn't remember how he had gotten here or where he'd been before. He vaguely remembered breakfast at the loft, that he was going somewhere, but it all fuzzed together in his brain, leaving him groping.
*Concussion. I have a concussion.*
Awed by that brilliant reasoning, he beamed. *That explains why I'm so confused. All right, Blair, think. What were you doing today?*
Jim was going fishing. Blair could recall the fly rods leaning against the wall near the door, the thermos of coffee.
*We went fishing and I got trapped in a cave near the stream.*
No, that wasn't right. He couldn't push it any farther. Jim was going fishing, with Simon, and Blair wasn't going because he had to--he had to--
No, it wasn't ready to come back to him.
He'd call Jim, that's what he'd do, call him. Jim would have his cell phone with him. Blair hesitated, frowning. Did he have his own? Was it charged? It was...in his backpack.
With a faint moan, he rolled over on his side. His ankle screamed at him. Unhappy with the motion, his stomach rebelled and he nearly lost his breakfast. Swallowing frantically, he willed its contents to stay in place. When he was as certain as possible that he wasn't going to spew, he wiggled carefully free of the backpack. *Slow, Sandburg. Take it slow.* He'd have to do something about his ankle, too. Was it broken? Sprained? He couldn't feel any bones grinding together. Oh, now, there's a lovely image. He steeled himself to try to wiggle his toes. Would that prove it wasn't broken? He couldn't remember. They moved obediently, but the effort sent fire through his ankle. His shoe felt tight. Sprained?
There, he had his backpack. Quickly he dug in it for the cell phone. Either he'd turned it off or he'd broken it in it the fall, because the face wasn't illuminated. Maybe he *was* blind. *No, don't think that, Blair.*
He turned the phone on and was rewarded with the faint green background of the screen. He could see the readout. Overwhelming relief flowed through him. *Oh, man, I can see*. According to the readout, it was 10:37 a.m. Saturday. It had been Saturday at breakfast, hadn't it? What time had he been hurt?
Damn it, he wasn't getting a signal. The phone was on, but the word 'searching' scrolled out endlessly on the readout. Maybe it *was* a cave, never mind the paved floor. Wherever he was, something was blocking his call.
At least the phone that lay useless in his hand proved that he could still see. There wasn't enough light from the dial to reveal his surroundings, but--
Wait a minute. He dug in the pack again. What other goodies did he have with him? A flashlight? Toni had said something about cellars and attics.
The Sinclair house.
He remembered standing outside, then and picking up a box of books, but everything fuzzed after that. Maybe the Sinclair ghost had snatched him.
*Yeah, right, Sandburg.
Why not? Ghosts are real. Jim saw Molly.*
Molly hadn't bothered with him; he couldn't see her. But she'd had Jim to communicate with. This ghost didn't. Jim was up in the mountains, fishing with Simon, not here looking for Blair.
*He'll find me.
He won't even know I'm missing until tomorrow night.*
Blair closed his eyes. *Jim, come and find me, man. I need you.*
It was like battering his thoughts against a stone wall. He could feel no sense of Jim.
*We can do it,* he thought wistfully. *I know we can. We could at the fountain.* He shuddered. Those memories were so tough, good and bad bound up together. The part where he and Jim had merged to save his life was the greatest thing he could remember, but there were other almost-memories, memories of dying, memories he never wanted to face. To hold them at bay, he'd fixated on the moment of blending to hold them at bay, eager, excited at the possibilities. Jim had been hesitant. Blair should have expected that. He *had* expected it. It was enough to know that, when the chips were down, Jim would go to the wall for him, a wall so far beyond other walls that it still awed him. That was what mattered, not that he had "died" at the fountain. He was alive now, thanks to Jim and the bond they shared.
The bond that would lead Jim to him.
He knew it, knew it as surely as anything he'd ever known. It was as reliable as the multiplication table, as fixed and constant.
*Come and find me, Jim.*
His searching fingers closed around the flashlight, and he turned it on. A sickly yellow beam shot out, quivering on the edges of a failing battery. He'd charged the cell phone, but he'd forgotten to check the flashlight batteries. Oh, man, Jim would ride him over that.
Quick, find out where he was, find the door.
He made a circle with the flashlight. A bare room, paneled with a cushioning substance like you'd find in--in a padded cell? *Don't think about that.* He shuddered involuntarily. Was there a door behind the padding? He couldn't see a door anywhere. No door, no windows, just those padded walls and a concrete floor.
Behind him, then. With a stern order to his stomach to behave itself, he propped himself up on one elbow and turned his failing beam in that direction.
A sprawled bundle lay less than a yard away from him.
Bundle? He could see outflung arms and legs, a head--no, a skull, a ghastly, grinning skull with mummified flesh clinging here and there and a few scraggly tufts of hair sticking up. Parchment flesh stretched across the left eye but the right one gaped emptily at him. *Oh, God, oh, God.*
Without knowing how he got there, he found himself jammed up against the padded wall as far from the grisly sight as he could get, his heart thundering in his chest, his breath coming in panicked gasps.
*Calm down, Sandburg. He's dead. He's not going to hurt you.
Oh yeah, then what was that icy cold when I fell?*
Fell? His memory cleared. He'd fallen; the floor had given way beneath his feet. Fallen forever into this hell. The flashlight beam jerked away from the body and pointed at the ceiling, where it glinted off the dull, metallic outline of a trapdoor so far out of reach over his head. The door was padded, too, in the middle, just like the rest of the ceiling, but Blair could see its shape where the padding meshed unevenly. Oh, god, not only a hidden room but one with its own version of sound baffles.
What the hell?
"Think, Sandburg," he said under his breath. "Think fast. The air in here won't last forever."
That thought scared him more than the decaying corpse did. Decaying corpses only lay around looking scary. But let the oxygen content in the room drop too low, and he'd pass out. He'd be pumping out carbon dioxide, polluting what air was left before the oxygen content became too low to sustain life.
*Calm, Blair. Be calm. Lie down flat and relax.*
Yeah, right, he should relax, right next to the last victim of this little hell? Relax, knowing he was going to suffocate before anyone would find him? Just like the corpse had?
*Come and find me, Jim.*
He stretched out flat as far away from the body as possible. It was the only way he knew to conserve oxygen. He'd conserve even more if he could fall asleep, but there were two strikes against that. First of all, sleeping with a head injury was bad, and second, he might fall asleep and never wake up. How could he make himself relax enough to sleep when it might be the next step to death?
Jim would expect him to hang on, to figure a way out. Jim would never expect him to give up. Blair wasn't keen on that himself. *Okay, if I can't give up, what do I do?*
The answer was simple. Learn what he could. Try to find a way out behind the padded walls. There might be a perfectly good door concealed there. He just had to figure out how to get rid of the padding.
There was another reason for that, too. If Toni came in answer to his yell--she was sure to--and there was no evidence of his fall, she'd wonder where he'd gone. She'd look, and when she didn't find him, what would she do? She'd call Jim. Jim would abandon fishing even if he had the perfect trout on the line, and rush back--and he'd use his sentinel senses to locate Blair.
Unless the padded walls made the room soundproof.
So, tear that padding down. The ceiling was out of reach; there was nothing he could use to stand on to reach the trapdoor, even assuming it had a handle on this side. He was just lucky he hadn't landed right on top of the body.
*I didn't want to think that.*
Better to think of how it got here in the first place, who it was.
He didn't feel well enough to stand up; his head felt swimmy just from propping himself up on one elbow. He bit on his bottom lip and worked himself onto his knees, then he sat back on his heels, fighting the dizziness that flowed over him in waves. He retrieved his Swiss army knife from his pocket and went to work on the padding on the nearest wall in the fading light of the flashlight. With effort, he worked the blade into the joining in the nearest corner. He couldn't get a good angle to pick at the fastenings, and as near as he could tell, the padding had been mounted to the wall. Somebody had gone to a hell of a lot of effort to seal this room up and make sure no one could find it.
And then he'd hidden a body inside.
Body? Blair angled a glance over his shoulder at the corpse. The only missing person in the case was Clark Sinclair, and he'd vanished in Los Angeles, not Cascade. Not here in the Sinclair house. In Los Angeles.
At least people thought he'd vanished there. He'd been seen on that plane. Had he taken another plane home and sealed himself up in a room beneath the library? Had someone else flown to Los Angeles under his name? That was crazy. The flight attendant had recognized his picture.
Much more logical that Clark Sinclair had murdered the body who shared Blair's prison and had vanished from LAX to elude a possible police pursuit. But if that were the case, there were two missing men, Clark Sinclair, unaccused murderer, and his unknown victim.
Jim would figure it out, once he got here. Jim could access missing persons records from the time in question.
Of course the body might have a wallet, and then Blair could find out who his silent companion was.
*No way, man. I'm not touching....that.*
His blade caught. He worked it free and started again. The exertion would use up oxygen faster. If there was no oxygen source in the room, then all he had was what had come in with him when he'd fallen. "Bones" would probably have exhausted the room's oxygen, and must have died of suffocation, if the fall hadn't killed him.
Maybe better if it had. He wouldn't have had to wait and hope, knowing he would never be rescued.
The knife slipped again and nicked Blair's thumb. It wasn't bad, but it did leave a thin line of red beside his fingernail. With a muttered curse, he dropped the knife and popped his thumb into his mouth. Barely a scratch, but in the fading light of his weak flashlight, it seemed the last straw.
"Okay," he said. "Jim would get all the information he could."
He edged closer to the body. "He's dead, Blair. He's not a ghost. He can't hurt you. You're trying to help, to identify him, so he can rest. It's what you'll want them to do for you when--"
*Don't go there. Do not go there.*
The clothes were largely intact. Looked like a suit and tie. At least he didn't reek. Blair had been afraid he'd smell like a decaying body, but he'd been here long enough to be pretty dried out. Think of him like an Egyptian mummy, that's what he should do.
He wouldn't enjoy a tete-a-tete with a mummy, either.
"Sorry, man," he said to the corpse. "I'm not trying to rob you."
Wallet in the hip pocket, probably. The guy was lying on his back. With a grimace of utter distaste, Blair slid his hand under the body and felt for the pocket. There was something in it. "I hate this, I hate this," he groaned, and worked it free.
Once he had the wallet in his hand, he scuttled painfully backward until he came up against the wall, and investigated his find. The leather had probably once been good quality but there was a kind of scaly, icky stuff all over it, somewhere between lichens and--well, he didn't want to imagine what it was. He opened it very carefully. There wouldn't be fingerprints after so long, would there? He didn't think fingerprints lasted for twenty years. Just in case, he held it carefully.
A Washington State driver's license. Photo ID. Blair squinted at it. It was encased in plastic, so it was in pretty decent shape, all things considered. A guy with brown hair. The flash gave too little light to see what color his eyes were in the picture, but the license said they were brown. Five-foot-ten, 170 pounds. And the name: Clark Alan Sinclair.
"So you didn't disappear on purpose," Blair said softly. "How did you get back here from Los Angeles?"
Clark Sinclair didn't answer him. Just as well. Blair would happily leave ghost sightings to Jim. He wouldn't mind seeing one in a more controlled setting, but not down here, trapped under the library where Sinclair had lain undiscovered for twenty years. Unless Sinclair's ghost explained to him what had happened, how he'd gotten here, and why no one had ever found him.
Did that mean no one would ever find Blair?
*Come and find me, Jim.*
Was the air thicker than before, or was he imagining it?
*Don't think about it.*
He set the wallet aside and turned his knife to the padded wall. Jim wouldn't be able to hear him if he didn't get it out of the way. Maybe even a little hole would be enough.
*Hurry, Jim*, he sent the urgent thought to his friend. *You're the Sentinel. Maybe you can find me even without hearing me.*
He closed his eyes and sought after the wolf spirit. He'd never been able to summon it voluntarily. It came in dreams, sometimes, running free in the woods, the panther at its side. He'd never mentioned that to Jim, but sometimes, in the morning after dreams of wild freedom in the forest, he'd glance at Jim and wonder if Jim had shared the dream. A couple of times, he'd caught Jim casting a wondering glance in his direction before he shut it down and went back to the usual Ellison morning persona. If Blair could reach Jim in his dreams, there had to be a way to do it consciously. He struggled after it, but he felt weird, empty, as if that part of him was gone. He couldn't touch it. What kind of shaman was he if he couldn't summon up his animal spirit at need?
Meditation. That was the answer. What time was it now? What time had it been when he fell? Could Jim be upstairs searching for him already?
He glanced at his watch. It wasn't running. He must have damaged it in the fall. Check the cell phone. It was 10:57. Only twenty minutes had passed since he'd checked last time? It felt like twenty days.
"*Jim!*" he bellowed.
Okay. A hole in the padded wall, and then he'd try the meditation gig. If only Jim had been willing to practice after the fountain. Blair knew why he wouldn't. The experience might have saved Blair's life, but for Jim it was all tied up with those moments he had believed Blair dead, and with the screwed up senses he'd experienced because of Alex Barnes.
He picked up the knife and resumed his task.
This time, the knife sliced cleanly, and he was able to get a grip on the padding and yank a corner of it away.
The wall behind it was solid concrete.
Concluded in part two...