by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimer in part one.
Detectives Rafe and Brown were waiting at the Sinclair house when Jim screeched the truck to a stop behind Blair's Volvo and ran for the door. He could tell from their expressions that they hadn't found Blair. The cold that lingered in his bones drove him inside with fierce compulsion, and he fought it long enough to ask, "Anything?"
Rafe shook his head. "No trace of him. He's gone. Ms. Sinclair said he was wearing his backpack, and he must have still had it when he disappeared, because it's not here either."
"Where did she last see him?" Jim glanced around the entry hall. The place was just like he remembered it all those years ago: stuffy and pretentious, formal enough to have made the teenage Jim uncomfortable. At least Sally had tried to make the Ellison home cozy, and Jim's father hadn't cared if she did, at least not in Jim's and Steven's rooms. This place didn't look as if it had ever been cozy.
"In the library." Rafe waved his hand in that direction. "He was there. A box of books he'd carried in is sitting on the desk. She said she talked to him in there before she went upstairs."
"He had his cell phone in his backpack," Jim said. "I tried to call him a couple of times on the way here, but I just got the message service."
"Might have forgotten to turn it on," offered Brown.
"Or to charge it," said Rafe.
Since Sandburg had been known to do both, Jim nodded impatiently. "Where's Ms. Sinclair?"
"In the library," said Brown.
Jim couldn't remember seeing the library on that long-ago visit, but his feet wanted to go in that direction. Whatever was pulling him--the link he and Blair had forged at the fountain or whatever it was that made him so cold--tugged him insistently toward the library.
"Told her not to touch anything," H added. He rolled his eyes in Simon's direction. "She said she heard him yell," he added reluctantly.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. She called me and told me that. Sandburg must have given her my cell number."
"Expecting trouble?" Rafe tried to sound light but failed. Henri gave him a nudge.
The library was probably Blair's idea of heaven. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling books in built-in cases. High ceilings, maybe twelve feet. There was even one of those ladders that moved around the room on a track so the eager reader could reach the top shelves. It was pushed over in front of one of the deeply recessed windows. Did that mean Sandburg had been checking the books in the shelf above the window? He hadn't fallen out through the window because it was closed and unbroken, and Jim could see it had a screen. Difficult for anyone to have snatched him through the window and then replaced the screen without being noticed.
Toni Sinclair sat curled up in the big, leather desk chair, her arms around her knees, her eyes wide and shocked. Jim had met her once when he'd stopped by Hargrove Hall to pick up Blair when the Volvo was in the shop. He nodded at her. At the sight of him, relief flashed in her eyes.
"I don't know where he is, Jim. I looked everywhere."
"We'll find him, Toni," he assured her.
"I even called my father. He hasn't left town yet. Well, he left but he came back last night for some things at his office, and he's there now. He said he'd come over, even though he couldn't imagine where Blair could have gone."
Neither could Jim. *Where are you, Sandburg?* He had to get everybody out of this room except for Simon so he could focus his senses on the puzzle it presented. The cold that shivered inside him approved. He could feel it as if it were a living consciousness. It couldn't be an awareness of Sandburg, the spirit animal thing; that had never felt so chill, so invasive.
Unless it meant Sandburg was--
*Don't go there, Ellison.*
"Anybody check the neighborhood for witnesses?" Simon's words cut through Jim's uncomfortable thoughts.
Rafe nodded. "I asked at the houses on either side and across the street. They're far enough apart that the people on either side didn't see anything. There was a yard guy mowing the lawn across the street, but he said he didn't notice anybody go in or come out after Blair and Ms. Sinclair went in." He grinned faintly. "He said he was watching because he always liked redheads."
"Maybe he had something to do with it," Simon suggested.
"We called him in. No record. He's a college student at City College, making money to supplement his scholarship."
"He's never spoken to me," Toni said. "Besides, the front door makes a horrible squeak when it opens. If Blair had gone out that way, I would have heard it. I just heard him yell and then it stopped all at once. I thought he'd fallen off the ladder and knocked himself out, and I ran down as fast as I could. I half expected to find him lying there with broken bones." She waved a vague hand at the ladder, then she shivered and tightened her grip on her knees. "But he wasn't there."
"You searched the entire house?" Simon asked.
She nodded. "Your men searched it again when they got here."
"So where the hell is Sandburg?" Simon frowned. His gaze traveled around the room, but he made no effort to move from where he stood. His fishing hat seemed incongruous here at the scene of--at the scene of what might be a crime. Could somebody have snatched Blair out the presumably non- squeaking back door before Toni got downstairs? The staircase rose opposite the front door, but a passage ran beside it and a door stood ajar beneath it, presumably to the kitchen. He hadn't been that way when he'd been here before. Bored, Jim and Steven had wanted to fidget, but William Ellison had always made sure they behaved in public. Failure to do so called down inevitable punishment once they returned home.
*Any house but this one.*
Jim frowned. "Toni, Blair told me about your uncle's disappearance twenty years ago. Do you think this could have anything to do with that?"
She opened her eyes very wide. "Uncle Clark? We never learned what happened to him. Dad finally decided he'd been snatched for ransom and it went bad and he died. They dumped the body somewhere and if it was ever found, it wasn't identified as Uncle Clark. But we don't know for sure. He always insisted Clark wouldn't just take off. But he didn't disappear from the house. He was last seen getting off a plane in Los Angeles. How on earth could Blair's disappearance have anything to do with Uncle Clark?"
"I don't know," Jim said, "but two disappearances connected with this house.... Yeah, I know it's unlikely. There may be some reasonable explanation for Sandburg to disappear. He might show up at any minute."
"You don't think so, though?" There was a challenge in the way she lifted her chin.
"No, Toni," Jim admitted reluctantly. "I don't think so."
"Think it's foul play, Jim?" Brown asked.
"If he had an accident, he'd still be here. Or he'd have asked Toni to take him to the hospital. He wouldn't duck out the back door."
"Check the back," Simon told Rafe, who nodded and went out. "I'll call in and have the old records of this Clark Sinclair pulled, see if anybody remembers the situation. If he disappeared somewhere else, we might not even have any records." He busied himself with his cell phone.
Jim shivered. The cold intensified. *Look for him. Look for him*. The words ran through his head, driving him with a fierce compulsion he didn't understand. Like he *wasn't* going to look for him? It shouldn't surprise him that he felt driven to find Blair. But the pressure that built in his head didn't feel normal, didn't feel *right*. It was a bitter, angry insistence, as if his subconscious had a hidden agenda.
"Let me take a look around," he said. "Toni, would you mind waiting out in the hall?"
She looked surprised, but she jumped up obediently. Jim nodded at Brown to go with her. When they had departed, he turned to Simon, who was just finishing his call. "I need to focus," he said. "Something happened in here. I want to see if I can get a feel for it."
"You're not going to zone, are you, Jim?"
He wasn't sure. Zoning had stopped being a major problem after Blair had started working with him. He wasn't sure how much he relied on Blair's presence to "ground" him when he had to focus deeply. "That's what you're here for, to poke me if I space out."
"What can you find? Sandburg's not here."
"I don't know until I try. Certain scents? Footprints in the dust?" He gestured at the floor. "I'm not sure how long the house has been standing empty, but there's bound to be something." He grimaced. "Sandburg has me practicing this kind of stuff all the time. God, Simon, I should listen to him more."
"You don't know there's anything wrong with him." A worried glint in Simon's eyes suggested he didn't believe it himself. Blair would react gleefully to the sight of that worry. Jim wished he were here to see it. Of course it he were here, there'd be no *need* to see it.
"Yes, I do. I felt it, even out there when we were fishing."
"Jim, listen, you might have heightened senses, but you're not psychic." He hesitated and his face contorted momentarily. "If you are, I don't want to know."
"No, I'm not psychic. But you know what happened when Sandburg drowned. Afterward, he kept wanting to practice and see if there was any way we could link. I put him off. I wasn't ready for that step. Maybe if I had listened to him--"
"Come on, Jim, don't second-guess yourself. Just do what you have to do now and see if you can figure out what went down here. I'll stand guard, play the guide for you."
Jim turned his attention to the floor. Footprints would be easiest. He started beside the ladder, but it only took a glance to tell that it must have been in position for some time, because no tracks disturbed the dust around it. The room had a big Turkish carpet, but it didn't go all the way up to the walls, leaving room for the ladder to move on its wheels. No marks there at all. No wheel tracks.
Jim turned slowly. Put in a room full of books, where would Blair go first? He'd look for different titles than Jim would. Odds were he wouldn't have headed over there next to the window where Jim could see a few thick books about the Civil War. He'd probably check for anthropology books, especially since the missing-presumed-dead Clark Sinclair had been an anthropologist. Where?
Jim saw the scuff marks in the dust before he spotted the anthro books. Along the south wall, right next to the fireplace, he could see a lot of smeared, scuffed dust on the floor that probably wouldn't be visible to a casual non-sentinel scan. There was a built-in cabinet that came to just below Jim's waist. The first bookshelf above it protruded farther than the ones above it, the books more deeply recessed as a result. The dust was disturbed there, too, as if someone had waved a feather duster over it--or maybe just blown on it. Jim focused on the shelf dust, using his heightened vision to analyze what he saw. The pattern of the dust swirl might match a deep breath expelled to clear it away. The tops of the nearest books were slightly more dust-free than their neighbors. Jim's nose wrinkled with the urge to sneeze.
"You okay, Jim?"
"Yeah, Simon. He was looking at these books." When Simon crowded up behind him, Jim put out an arm to stop him. "I want to check out the markings on the floor."
Simon laid his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Don't go in too deep. He's not here."
"I know that. But if I can spot any footprints that don't match his...." He didn't hold out a lot of hope of that. The marks on the floor were so scuffed he couldn't make out distinct treads. Wherever Blair had gone after that, he must have stepped onto the carpet to do it. Tracking him on the carpet would need such intense concentration that he would risk a zone-out, especially since Toni, Rafe, and Brown had been sure to walk all over it in their examination of the room.
Ludicrous though it was, he opened the cabinet below the first row of books. Nothing there but more books. No Blair, curled up in a hiding place. Jim hadn't expected that, but you never knew. If he'd seen the ghost--
*Oh, for God's sake, Ellison.*
Jim knelt on the carpet and focused on the dust on the floor. There was only one distinct mark and it matched the tread on Blair's Nikes. Blair had been here.
*I died here.*
The words came out of nowhere, out of the coldness inside him, out of the ether, he didn't know where, and hit him with the force of a locomotive. *Died* here? Had he imagined them? Had Blair spoken them into his mind? Blair couldn't be dead. Jim would *know* if he were dead. He'd be able to feel it, feel the emptiness of the universe if his guide and friend were no longer in it. The spirit realm, where he found himself so often in dreams, would summon him to face that great tragedy, a lone sentinel, deprived of a guide. Could he go there now and find Blair, bring him back the way he had at the fountain?
*Not Sandburg. I died here.*
He glanced over at Simon, who watched him warily as if he expected Jim to zone or to do some weird "ooga booga" routine. He cocked his head and looked a question at Jim, who shrugged and turned his focus to the disturbed dust on the floor.
*Who are you?* he thought to the voice in his head. Man, this is crazy. I'm losing my mind.
*Sharing it might be a more reasonable alternative.*
The coldness that enveloped him? Even though the voice said it wasn't Blair, how could it know who Blair was, how could it understand? He must be projecting Blair's weird psychobabble upon an untenable situation, seeking rational answers where none existed. *Where's Sandburg?*
*He is where I died. He will die, too, if you don't find him quickly.*
Jim felt a surge of anger boil through him. *Think you could give me answers here instead of weird double-talk?* He ran his eyes over the floor. That was weird. A faint ridge of dust formed a perfect square where the boards came together, tracing a line around them as if something had troubled it even down to the cracks between the floorboards. He put his finger on the line of dust and ran it along one side of the square. Was there a slight irregularity, an unevenness so minute it was barely detectable even with a sentinel's touch?
*I am bound; for too long I was bound in prison, but I felt him as he fell, and was thrust into...a state even I do not understand. There is a...wolf that runs in me, runs to you. Can you feel it, in your awareness, Sentinel?*
Jim froze. The wolf spirit? Blair? Projecting to him through another consciousness? Through the consciousness of a ghost? That was crazy. Impossible. How could Blair do that? Instinctively as he fell? But fell *where*? Jim's fingers traced their way around the thin disturbance in the dust. A trapdoor in the floor? If so, it was so perfectly fitted it would be nearly impossible to detect with normal human senses. Even with his heightened abilities, Jim could barely detect a difference in height in the boards beneath his fingers.
Feel the wolf spirit? He felt something, but it was cold, icy cold, and incomplete. He didn't understand it, but there was no sense of familiarity, no real touch of Blair. But without Blair, how could the voice in his mind have found him? How could it know what he was?
*Yeah, I feel...something,* he admitted. *It doesn't feel the way it should, though. Who are you? What are you?*
*I'm Clark Sinclair.*
Yeah, right! Jim groaned. Another invisible ghost, this one claiming it was in his mind, melded with him through the aid of Blair's spirit animal. Jim had heard some crazy claims in his time, but this was the most bizarre. He pressed on the edges of the square, prodded, felt for a hidden trigger. It was as solid as Gibraltar.
"Finding anything, Jim?"
He'd almost forgotten Simon. How could he explain this to him? Simon was a skeptic, pure and simple. He hadn't wanted to believe in Molly. Even if a part of him accepted it, he hated it, didn't want any part of it. He'd come to accept Jim's senses over the years, but this swing into the weird world of psi would never score high on his list of favorite things to believe.
"Simon, I've got something. Do me a favor. Go and make sure I'm not interrupted. I don't think I'm going to zone."
"You've got a weird look in your eye, and I don't like it, Jim. What's going on?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Simon made an impatient gesture with his free hand. "At this point, I'm open. Unless you tell me that the mad monk Rasputin is here and you're channeling him, I'd probably buy it--long as you don't ask me to admit it to anyone."
"Just take my word for it, okay?"
Simon nodded in agreement. "Probably just as well. I'll go see what Rafe and Brown found out." His hand still rested on Jim's shoulder, but he wasn't picking up on the cold or the eerie voice that was talking right inside Jim's head. He squeezed Jim's shoulder once, and let go, and headed for the door. Jim could feel his reluctance to desert his man as clearly as if he'd spoken it aloud.
Time to get down to business. *Okay, so you're Clark Sinclair. I thought you disappeared in Los Angeles.*
*No, I never left this house. Does that matter? He will suffocate soon, as I did. You must free him.*
Suffocate? Jim shuddered. He could feel cold from his uninvited passenger, but no shortness of breath. This wasn't a link with Blair, not really, at least not a link to Blair's conscious awareness.
*How do I get him out?*
*I don't know. I fell. The floor gave way beneath me. I'm not sure what triggered it.*
Wonderful. Jim grimaced. The cold flooded him. That faint touch of Blair-yet-not-Blair prodded him. It was more an aura of Blair than an essence of Blair, the way he could detect the essential Blair from the smell of his shirt left lying on the floor. A remnant, a fragment. Had Clark Sinclair damaged Blair when he'd done his escape-into-Jim number?
*He isn't damaged, not in the way you mean. Free him, and you release me. You're a detective. You will stop my killer.*
*Killer?* Jim froze. Nothing gave beneath his probing fingers. Yeah, people didn't crawl away to die in secret rooms unless someone arranged it that way. How had the killer deceived the airline into thinking he was in Los Angeles? Had a message in L.A. lured him back here after everyone assumed he had departed?
That didn't matter yet. Blair did. *What were you doing when you fell?* he demanded.
*Looking at one of my books.*
Jim lifted his eyes to the books above him, the books Sinclair would have seen if he stood precisely on the concealed trapdoor. That might not be the answer. Someone else might have watched him and triggered the trapdoor when he stood on the correct spot. But it was all Jim had. *Which one?*
The response was the equivalent of a mental shrug. The cold lingered but he shunted it aside, turned down the dial. It didn't make the presence in his head retreat, but it made it slightly more bearable.
Okay, which book? Pulling it out must have triggered the door opening. How much of that had Jim reasoned out and how much of it was from the passenger in his brain giving him subliminal clues? He didn't know what Clark Sinclair had known, not consciously. He wasn't reading the guy's mind. But for an instant, he could imagine vividly the shock and horror as the trapdoor slid open beneath his feet and pitched him into darkness. Or was he imagining Blair's fall, Blair who hated heights? Jim shuddered. Blair was down there in the dark, running out of air, unable to call for help or Jim would have heard him.
He stretched out flat on the floor and pressed his ear against the thin mark in the dust, narrowed down his senses to focus on hearing. Nothing. Did that mean the room beneath the library was soundproofed? Whoever had built the trapdoor had a cunning mind. Whether it had been put in place specifically to trap Clark Sinclair or whether he had fallen victim to an older trap, Jim didn't know, and right now he didn't care. Sandburg was down there. Soundproofing might block him, but he might be unconscious--or dead.
*No, he's not dead. I'd know if he were dead.*
*Then why can't I hear his heartbeat?*
Depending on how they landed, people could die of falls of even one story. If Sinclair had died of suffocation.... God, how long would the air last in a sealed room? Probably the only air Sandburg had was what had trickled in when the door opened. Not much. Not enough to last him very long.
Jim bounced to his feet, positioned himself carefully so that he was not standing on the outline of the trapdoor, and turned his eyes on the bookshelf where the dust was disturbed. Which book? His knowledge of anthropology had filtered in by osmosis, but he was sure these were titles Blair would have liked. He could have moved any of them. Were any out of alignment? Any stirring in the dust to indicate one had been moved and not the others?
In the end, it didn't take sentinel senses to know which book Blair had grabbed.
How could he resist Burton in Africa? The dust around it had shifted slightly right at its base. Blair had reached for it--and it had tumbled him down into darkness. Jim's jaw clenched.
Banks appeared running. "What, Jim, did you figure anything out?" He took in Jim's odd, wide-legged stance and arched an eyebrow.
"There's a trapdoor in the floor. Sandburg's down there."
"How did you-- No, never mind, I don't want to know." He shook his head. "What do you need?"
"I'm going to trigger it open. I know how it works. It must seal automatically. I'll need you to jam it open so we can get to Sandburg. I'm betting there's not much air down there."
"I'm betting you're right." Simon glanced around. "We need Rafe and Brown in here, too." He summoned the other two detectives with a shout, and Toni Sinclair followed them in, but stopped in the doorway when H held up his hand. A poker from the fireplace in hand, Simon positioned himself where Jim directed. Rafe and Brown crowded closer to hold the door open manually if necessary.
"You sure Hairboy's down there?" Brown asked.
"I'm sure." No need to explain how he knew, and Brown didn't ask.
"Now," said Jim and reached for the Burton book.
"You will move away from the bookcase or I will kill her."
His fingers an inch from the book, Jim turned cautiously to see a stunned Toni Sinclair struggling in the grip of a man who held a 9 mm. Beretta pressed up against her temple. Eyes wide with shock and horror, she gasped, "Dad?"
The coldness in Jim's head sang with sudden, fierce hatred.
Blair lay in the dark, the flashlight switched off to conserve the dying batteries. As long as it was dark, he didn't have to look at the ruin of Clark Sinclair. The prison felt stuffy. *Don't think about it, Blair. Think about Jim coming. He'll find you. He'll be here any minute.*
No way to hear through the concrete walls, not even for a sentinel. It wasn't as if Jim would even realize he should focus his hearing that closely. He might try, but the odds were he wouldn't be concentrating on soundproofed, hidden rooms. He'd probably assume Blair's disappearance was a crime, that somebody had come in and snatched him. He'd be looking outside the house, not in. Assuming he was looking at all.
*He's looking. I know he's looking.*
The cell felt unpleasantly close. *Just lie quiet and relax, Sandburg. Slow, shallow breaths. Try to meditate. Slow the body down, lower the respiration.*
But meditation proved impossible. He couldn't connect. When he tried, he touched a void he couldn't pass. Did the panic-tension jangling his nerves prevent him from achieving the necessary relaxation? It felt worse than that. It felt like something inside him had been severed, a connection he didn't want to lose, a connection too important to lose.
*As important as your life?*
He frowned, there in the darkness where no one could see him. *It is my life*.
Even though the automatic response made no sense, he understood at a subliminal level he couldn't explain that the mystical connection he had felt with Jim at the fountain had been severed.
Lying there in the closeness of his prison, the possibility stung and burned him and made his eyes water. *God, Jim, I need you*, he thought wistfully.
Jim would never find him, without.... without whatever it was.
He felt lost, empty, hopeless. It was impossible to stop shivering. He wrapped his arms around himself and prodded at the empty place in his mind. It was gone. Whatever had happened to him as he fell had stolen it away from him, yanked it free of his spirit.
What if he could never find it again? What if it was gone forever? How could he help Jim?
What had happened to him? Was it only the knock on the head that addled him? Or was it something more? Was it connected with the link he felt to Jim, that tie that had grown between them, in spite of their differences, that had flared into something far more at the fountain, when Jim had saved his life. Even if Jim were reluctant to acknowledge it, that bond had changed both of them, awakening the spirit of the wolf within Blair, and binding it to Jim's animal spirit.
Blair was convinced that Jim's ability to see that ghost, Molly, had been triggered by the events at the fountain. Until that link had formed, opening a wider range of abilities in Jim's mind, he hadn't seen the slightest glimpse of the paranormal--well, as long as you didn't count mystical visions and lurking panthers. Had primitive sentinels been able to talk to ghosts?
Blair gave a shaky laugh. Even here, alone in the darkness while his air trickled down to nothing and a hollowness of loss blossomed inside him, he couldn't stop theorizing. No wonder Jim said he drove him nuts.
Maybe he'd be glad not to be bothered any longer.
*No, erase that thought. Jim doesn't feel that way, you know he doesn't. He might get fed up from time to time, but he doesn't mean it. That's just Jim. He'll find me. I know he'll find me.
Will he find me in time?*
Blair shuddered, not just over his own fate, but even more, at the thought of Jim discovering his prison too late. His obliging mind presented him with the image of Jim popping open the trapdoor, climbing down a rope to him, his hand on Blair's neck to feel for a pulse he was unable to find. He'd throw back his head, bellow, "Nooooo!" groan, "This can't be happening," just like Simon had said Jim had done at the fountain. He'd give mouth-to-mouth, refuse to give up, but it would be too late.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Blair whispered. A part of him had "remembered" when Simon told him what had happened, not an actual memory but a weird overview, glowing oddly yellow, as if he were seeing it through the eyes of the wolf. He couldn't hear anything in that dream vision, but he could see Jim, see the stark desolation on his face, see past him to the others from Major Crime, every one of them miserable. Megan had been crying. Jim hadn't but Blair was certain Jim would have cried for him, once he was alone.
He didn't want Jim to cry for him now.
*Hurry, Jim. I don't know how much longer I can hold out.*
Would Jim blame him? Be furious because Sandburg hadn't lived?
Yes, he'd be angry. It was a legitimate part of the grieving process.
Blair made a sudden curt gesture. It hurt. All the bruises from his fall vied for his attention. His ankle was a mass of fire, but he realized now that he'd done something to his little finger. Not dislocated but strained. It hurt. So did his right shoulder, his left knee. Until now, the pain had all centered on his head and his ankle, and they still sent nasty signals to his brain, but the rest of him had decided to report in. He'd lain still so long he'd stiffened up.
What the hell did it matter? He would die here anyway. Jim would find his body. A shudder ran through him. He hated dead bodies. Seeing the victim was the worst part of police work. Not just because the corpse was often messy, bloody, gory, smelly. That part probably affected Jim's senses more than he let on. Jim had learned to be objective because it was his job. With Blair, it was different. It wasn't only that he was grossed out and nauseated, but that he felt the utter sense of violation that someone had taken a life. What had once been a person with hopes and dreams had become nothing but an empty shell.
Naomi would say they would be reborn to another life, but Blair wasn't sure what he thought about that. He remembered his mother dismissing utter jerks she had encountered by claiming they were new souls, that their karma was insufficient. But Blair couldn't dismiss anyone so easily. He didn't like the jerks any more than his mom did, but the victims didn't need to die like that, to have someone else steal their lives.
*Who stole mine?*
More than the wolf spirit within him that had been stolen. Maybe his very survival.
That thought stunned him. This place had been designed for one purpose, to trap someone. Had it been designed for Clark Sinclair? Had someone found it and used it for Sinclair? It had been carefully set up, baited with an anthro book, padded to mute the poor guy's yells for help. Which meant the killer had access to the house.
Blair frowned in the dark. He was onto something here. He had to reason it out. Maybe he could write it. Even if he didn't make it, at least someone would know what theories had buzzed in his brain.
If there were a secret door in the house, then Blair would bet Toni's dad was behind it. He was into construction. Under cover of remodeling, he could have rigged this room. Toni said her mom had been out of the country when her uncle disappeared. She wouldn't have known. That was the only way it could have happened. Once Clark's body was discovered, it ought to be clear to the police what had really happened--but in case it wasn't, Blair would write it down. The air wasn't depleted enough for him to pass out in the next ten minutes, was it?
He tugged over his backpack and pulled out a pen and notebook. Even that slight movement jarred his ankle, disturbed his equilibrium, and made the dizziness rush back. He propped himself up very carefully against the padded wall. If only he didn't feel so woozy. How much of that was from the head injury and how much from the thinning air?
He opened the notebook to a clean page and wrote in big letters, "The Murder of Clark Sinclair." Why was it so hard to concentrate? *Okay, think, Sandburg. Organize.*
He started writing.
When he had summed up his thoughts on the murder--he was positive it was a murder and not a bizarre accident--he tried to reason. If there had been a message left for Clark at LAX to lure him home, no one had reported it when the police had finally investigated his disappearance. Of course there had been no trace of Sinclair flying out of LAX. That part had been checked thoroughly. Unless, of course, he'd flown under a different name. But if he were conspiring, how could he have been locked up in a secret room in his brother's house? Had they both lived here? He wasn't a student at the time; he was a professor. Blair frowned. He didn't have it all yet. But it would make sense when someone put it together. *You can figure it out, Jim.*
He yawned widely. He was getting sleepy. Stuffy. The air was stuffy. He was losing it.
*Weird. I always thought I'd go out on an expedition somewhere in the jungle--or maybe even on one of Jim's cases. What kind of death is this for an anthropologist? Trapped in a secret room? Oh, man, that's gonna look so crummy on my tombstone.
Who's gonna tell Naomi? They never found Clark Sinclair. They'll never find me, either.*
He shuddered. No, that was sooo wrong. Clark Sinclair had been set up. Had to have been. And Clark Sinclair didn't have a sentinel
Blair's eyes drooped. Okay, back to the basics. He slid down flat and concentrated with all his strength on relaxing, breathing slowly.
He knew it wasn't going to work.
*Let me talk to him. Please, Jim.*
Ellison tensed, his fingers brushing the Burton book. Fierce revulsion at the idea pulsed through him, but somewhere inside him, the panther howled. Not a savage howl, nor a defensive, territorial howl. Maybe it signified approval.
Yet how could he approve when he knew all the way to the bone that Clark Sinclair had used Blair, used Blair's wolf essence to find him, to slide insidiously into his mind, masking the alien presence under the familiarity of Blair's quintessential being? The threat to Sandburg had lowered Jim's barriers enough for the possession. Some unexplained ghostly ability had enabled Clark Sinclair to steal his friend's--what? Not his soul. But a portion of what made him who he was, so that he could rape Jim's mind.
*No, no, no, God, no, never that. Please, Jim. He killed me. I was desperate. Let me talk to him. I can stop him. I promise you.*
Toni squirmed against her father, her face so white the scattering of freckles across her nose and cheekbones looked nearly black. The exchange in Jim's head had taken less than a second.
Jim had worn his ankle weapon for the fishing trip; he was used to the weight of it and it didn't get in the way of a good cast, but pulling it might set off the lunatic with the Beretta, even if he could reach it with ease. Simon was armed; he'd put on his shoulder holster when they arrived, but his hands were full of the fireplace poker. Brown and Rafe's more obvious weapons were holstered; they couldn't get at them easily. Benedict Sinclair might be bluffing; he might be reluctant to hurt his daughter to get his way, but according to Jim's passenger, the man had killed his own brother. His daughter might be expendable, too. Better to see what cards the man held before making a careless play that would win them a dead hostage.
Jim loathed the idea of relinquishing control, even for a second. But any other options risked the young woman, and Blair was running out of air.
All right, then, he would do it for Blair. Talk about playing a wild card.
Clark Sinclair snatched permission from Jim's head, just like that. He took something else, too. It was as if a screen door closed between Jim and the control of his body. He still held the motor functions and the sensory awareness, honed to a special refinement. A part of his mind knew it was the Blair element that allowed the take-over, not a consciousness from Blair but the energy that directed the link with Jim at the fountain. He could smell the acrid tang of Benedict Sinclair's fear, hear the panicked thudding of Toni's heart, feel a repressed fury from Simon as he stood close enough to Jim to touch. Every sense was on alert, but Jim controlled them. Just as well, because he could control nothing else.
Then Clark Sinclair spoke. Even though the voice was Jim's, the pitch and tone were so different that Rafe's eyebrows shot up to his hairline and Brown froze in the act of inching his hand toward his shoulder holster. Both men stared at him. Beside Jim, Simon stiffened.
"You killed me, Benno," Clark said very softly. "Why? To inherit? Because you hated me?"
"What game is this?" Benedict Sinclair flinched and his face twisted into fury.
"No game, little brother. Who else but you would have the skill and access to the equipment to build that prison you created for me? Julie was in England; you could tell anybody who asked that you were remodeling, even do a bit so Julie wouldn't wonder when she got back with little Tonia."
"It's a trick," snarled the gunman. "A trick!"
"You killed me, but you can't kill a ghost, Benno. I waited. All these years, I waited, hating you, wanting revenge. Now I'll have it. Blair triggered the trapdoor; he's down there, and I won't let him die. No one dies, no one but you, and you I'll kill gladly."
Jim moved uncomfortably. How the hell could the ghost do anything? It couldn't make Jim shoot the guy; Jim's gun was in its ankle holster. Simon and the other two detectives would hear Jim threatening him, but they wouldn't understand. Simon's face was taut with suspicion.
"Ji-im," he gritted out under his breath. *Give me an explanation, Jim.*
"Not Jim," said the ghost. "Clark Sinclair. Captain Banks, I wish to report a murder. My own."
"No!" gasped Toni. "Dad, no, you didn't kill Uncle Clark. You couldn't have. Your own twin brother!" She had stopped struggling; now she stood there, helpless and defeated, tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes.
*Twin* brother? God, it was so obvious. Blair's story came back to Jim. Clark Sinclair been seen on the plane to Los Angeles. No, his twin brother had been seen. He'd simply left the city and gone wherever he was expected to be so he could be notified of his brother's disappearance. No one had made the connection because no one was thinking of murder.
*Exactly.* Jim felt Clark's approval like a blessing.
"What's wrong, Benno? You don't buy a ghost story?" Jim's voice, so changed, hurled hatred at the gunman. Funny. He could move his body quite independently of the spirit, who only controlled his words. He shifted fractionally to make sure he wasn't standing on the trapdoor and his fingers closed around the trigger book.
"It's a trick." Benedict Sinclair tightened his grip on his daughter's arm. She stood at awkward angles like a broken statue. But her eyes met Jim's, and he realized from that one quick glance that she believed, that she was devastated, but that she was not beaten.
"It's not a trick," she said positively. "Uncle Clark, did he really kill you?"
"Yes, little Tonia. He did."
She gasped, and both she and her father whitened. "No one else but Uncle Clark ever called me Tonia," she whispered.
"You don't believe me, Benno?" Clark Sinclair was on a roll. "What about the time when we were ten, and Ralph Barker and Billy Ellison and I had the raft and were going to run away to sea? You squealed on us, all holier than thou. Thought you were so much better than us."
*Billy Ellison*? Even at such an inopportune moment, Jim felt a flash of amusement at the nickname. But this was no time for amusement. A confirmation flashed through his mind that Clark had indeed meant his father, the exchange so instantaneous that there was no hesitation in his speech.
"Anybody could know that," spat Sinclair. "Damn it, you're Billy's kid. I know you. You've been to the house. He probably told you all of it, what Clark called me and Toni, the whole bit. This is a trick, a setup. Entrapment."
"No one has entrapped you," Simon said coldly. "We didn't even know you were coming until you appeared with a gun. Do you think you can stop all of us?"
"I can kill her if you try anything."
"Because it's easier a second time?" Clark asked. "Or is it more than that by now, Benno? How many people have you killed besides me? No one ever was allowed to get in your way. I remember when you wanted to take Lucy Sullivan to the senior prom and she was dating Freddie Martin. How did he wind up with that broken leg? No accident, was it? I always knew you would stop at nothing to get your own way. We talked about it, remember, after Freddie's accident. You denied it, but I knew you'd done it."
It felt so weird to hear his voice talking and know that his wasn't the intelligence behind it. "You think I told Billy Ellison about that, Benno? I didn't even tell Dad. I promised I wouldn't, and I never did till now, but you killed me. That changed everything."
"How does he know that?" Brown's question to Rafe was so soft Benedict didn't hear it, but Jim did. Rafe's eloquent shrug was the only reply. Both detectives stared at Jim as if they'd never seen him before.
*I'm going to move,* Clark said to Jim alone. *Tell your friends to get ready.*
Jim wasn't sure how he was supposed to tell them. It wasn't as if he had heightened telepathy. But the hand that wasn't on the book made a surreptitious military gesture. Benedict Sinclair didn't notice. He was concentrating on Jim's face, although his gaze darted around the room, constantly checking out the others to make sure they didn't try anything.
Jim tightened his grip on the Burton book; it was all he had of Blair.
Bubbling free in a frenzy of fury, Clark Sinclair swarmed right out of him, assuming a tenuous form as he surged toward his brother, bigger than in life, seething with wrath and revenge. The cold that had permeated Jim since that moment in the stream vanished as if it had never existed. Toni screamed, and Rafe said distinctly, "Son of a bitch."
Benedict Sinclair staggered backward a step and let go of Toni, who collapsed. Jim had the sudden conviction that she wasn't panicking so much as getting out of the way.
He yanked the book with all his strength and the floor between his feet dropped open. Simon, who still held the fireplace poker, thrust it into the opening as if they'd rehearsed it. Brown yanked his gun free and leveled it at Benedict. The trapdoor caught on the poker, and made a fierce grinding sound before it jammed half-open. Air poured into the hidden room.
The killer didn't even notice. Eyes huge, he backed away from the spirit form of his brother. "No. You're not real. Go away. I killed you. I'll kill you again. I'll kill you."
Toni burrowed into the Turkish carpet and Rafe and Brown leveled their guns at him, but even as they yelled at him to drop it, the ghost was on him. Wispy and transparent it might be but it grabbed his wrist. Benedict screamed. He batted at the specter helplessly. "You're dead. I killed you. I sealed you up in the floor. You're dead, you're dead, you're dead!"
Clark detached the gun from his hand and offered it politely to Brown, who hesitated before he took it. Rafe cuffed the babbling Benedict and read him his rights.
The instant Clark took the gun, Jim dropped to his knees and squinted into the darkness below. *Focus, focus.* At least air was getting in. Simon had a death-grip on the poker. "Jim?"
"If you can't afford one an attorney will be appointed for you," Rafe intoned in the background, half drowned out by Toni's shaken weeping.
Jim filtered it out and listened for the sound of his guide's heartbeat. There it was! Alive! Blair was still alive. "Sandburg!"
"J-Jim?" The voice was shaken and breathless, but it was real. With a vast sigh that resonated through his entire being, Jim sat back on his heels. He could see Blair down there in the dark, stretched out on the floor, propped up on his elbows. It wasn't possible to tell if the mark on his forehead was dirt, shadows, or a bruise, but his heartbeat was steady, if a little too fast, and he was breathing hard. The air must have been getting pretty thick down there.
"Hang in there, Chief, we're getting you out. Are you hurt?"
"My bruises have bruises," called the strengthening voice from below. "I don't like small dark places, Jim. Not when they come equipped with dead bodies."
"Clark's down there with you. It's okay, Sandburg. He told me what happened."
Brown came up behind Jim and shone a flashlight down into the darkness. Blair jerked up his hand to shield his eyes and H moved the beam away from Blair's face. It came to rest on the partially mummified skeleton of Clark Sinclair. Jim winced and averted his eyes from the body. He had not been comfortable with Clark in his head, but he didn't want to see what was left of him.
"Who told you what happened?" Blair asked doubtfully. Then, abruptly, he gasped. His body twitched and Jim looked around for a way to get down there to see what was wrong. Could he detach the ladder?
"Man, what a weird thing," Blair said. "It feels like.... I don't know what it feels like. But it's a *good* feeling, Jim. I'm okay." He sat up straighter, favoring his right foot.
*I gave him back the wolf,* said a voice in Jim's mind. It wasn't as if Clark had resumed his possession but as if he had learned, while he was a passenger, how to contact Jim. *I didn't need it any longer. He'll be all right. I could never have found you without him, and if he had not stumbled into my prison, I could not have been free.*
"I know you are, Chief. Now, where are you hurt?"
"Wait a minute, Jim. How did you know? Oh. Did Toni call you? She had your cell number."
"She called me but...." He glanced up at Brown, who stood there, eyes huge, glancing from Blair to the hovering spirit. He'd fill Blair in later.
The ghost joined Jim at the edge of the trap. "I told him you were in danger," he said. "Not in words, but in knowledge. Thank you, Blair Sandburg. If you had not stumbled into my prison I could not be free. I am in your debt." Then, abruptly and finally, he disappeared without a trace.
Blair's eyes widened so drastically Jim thought his eyeballs would pop out. "Omigod, Jim, that was a *ghost*."
"Come on, Sandburg," Jim said, suddenly slaphappy with relief. Blair was alive, and it didn't look like he was badly hurt. Jim was un-possessed, and a self-confessed killer was in custody after being at liberty for twenty years. A good day's work. "That's hardly politically correct. Don't you mean 'living-impaired person'?"
"So, does Simon finally believe in ghosts now?" Blair asked. He had insisted on signing himself out of the hospital, and they'd gone along with it once Jim had assured them that he wouldn't be alone, that Jim had medic training from his service days, and that he knew exactly what to watch for. After all that time in a dark, nasty hole in the ground, Blair had wanted nothing so much as to go home. Now he sat on the couch, a comforter over his legs, his sprained ankle propped on a pillow on the coffee table. If he played his cards right, he could probably get away with breaking every single house rule for at least a week.
"Simon is *not* a happy camper," Jim called from the kitchen. "He says the only thing good about it is that none of us fired a weapon so we don't have to explain all that to IA. Sinclair confessed his crime in front of witnesses. He was ranting and raving about ghosts--"
"And you let him," Blair crowed triumphantly. "You stood back and shook your heads and acted like he was a space cadet. Didn't you?"
"It was obvious what happened, Sandburg." Jim carried in a steaming cup of tea. Herbal. Just what the doctor ordered. "When Toni phoned him and said you'd disappeared and she'd last seen you in the library, he knew it would all come out. So he hotfooted it over there and arrived just in time to see me about to open the trapdoor."
"The trapdoor!" Blair jerked upright, nearly spilling the tea down the front of his shirt. "Jim! There was a copy of Burton in Africa there. I didn't get to look at it."
"You will. It's been taken as evidence. Your friend Toni says that when it's released you can have it, and nobody will stop you heading down to the evidence room to read it before then." He dropped down on the couch beside Blair.
Blair beamed in delight. "You saw it?"
"I knew there was a trapdoor. I could feel the ridges in the floor and see where the dust had been disturbed."
"That's *great*, man. All that practice really worked. I knew we could get it right."
"If that's a way of angling for more testing...."
Blair batted innocent eyes, even though he knew Jim was wise to that expression. Jim pretended to look stern. In response, Blair stuck on a pathetic, nobody-loves-me expression before he buried his nose in the mug.
"You are *so* transparent, Chief."
Blair looked up, eyes sparkling. "But just think, Jim, it'd be great." He caught himself and very virtuously set aside his plans. "Never mind that now. That was really a ghost. I could see it, too, and so could Simon. And Rafe looked pretty spooked when the paramedics hauled me out of the secret room. Brown, too."
"Yeah, they all saw it. By this time next week, they'll probably convince themselves they imagined it."
"Maybe they won't ride you about Molly anymore."
Jim's head came up and he considered that. "There's something else, Sandburg. When you fell through the trapdoor, you released Clark Sinclair's spirit."
"The cold!" Blair gestured with the teacup. A little bit of tea slopped over and landed on the carpet. Jim hesitated, and Blair could see he was torn between complaining about damage to the pristine loft environment and dealing with whatever had brought those shadows to his eyes. "I felt it, Jim. I felt the ghost escaping."
"Did it feel like he...took something from you?" Man, Jim was uncomfortable now. He heaved a sigh and refused to meet Blair's gaze.
"I tried meditating down there. I was trying to slow my respiration and make the air last longer. But I couldn't do it. I thought maybe it was the concussion, or just because I was panicked, but it was more. It was like part of me was missing." He stared at Jim. "What did it do to me?"
"You tell me. You're the expert with the weird. I still don't know all the ins and outs of the Sandburg Zone."
Blair frowned. "You said the ghost was able to find you. He wouldn't have even known about you if he hadn't taken it out of my mind. Jim! He took the part of me that linked with you in the fountain. He borrowed it for a while. I felt...." His voice trailed off. The teacup became the most fascinating thing in the room. "I felt so *alone* down there in the dark. I knew you'd come, but I couldn't *reach* you. It was so weird, man." He deposited the cup on the coffee table and reached out to curl his fingers around Jim's wrist. "What did he do?"
The words came slowly as if Jim had to force them. "He...used that part of you to find me. He was in my head, Sandburg. He could talk to me in there. He even talked to his brother *through* me."
"That is so incredible. You didn't have any sentinel instincts to drive him out of you?" He didn't doubt the possession, not for a second. Jim would never make up a story like that.
Jim hesitated then he flung himself to his feet and paced up and down, up and down, coiled energy unleashed. Blair could practically see the panther's tail twitch. "No. It felt fiercely cold, but I couldn't push him out. There was something familiar there the whole time, a part of you, and even if I'd wanted him out of my head, I had a...a feeling that I couldn't shove him away without risking you. Besides, we didn't know where you'd gone, and I was sure he'd lead me to you." He made a curt, impatient gesture. "God, Sandburg, it sounds like I'm a candidate for the freak-of-the-century award here."
"It saved my life," Blair said quietly.
Jim halted both his rant and his pacing. He came back to the couch, looked down at Blair, and clasped both his shoulders. "I...knew inside, that he was my only chance of finding you in time. I couldn't repel him--even though a part of me knew how. Instinctively."
"He couldn't have gotten in without the wolf spirit, Jim. You won't be blindsided with ghosts wanting to rent your upper story."
"I better not be." He tightened his grip on Blair's shoulders, then let go. A disgusted grimace spread across his face. "Simon and the others must think I'm a real fruitcake, spouting things only the two brothers would know."
Blair shook his head so hard his hair flew around. His concussion protested the gesture with a sudden throbbing in his temples. *Oops, don't do that again.* He chose not to think about it. Besides, he had a brilliant idea. "No way, Jim. I've got it all figured out."
"I'm glad one of us does," Jim said morosely. "What's your idea, Chief?"
Blair favored him with a beatific smile. "You weren't channeling Clark at all, back there at the house, when you knew all that stuff. You got it from your father!" He saw surprise and realization in Jim's eyes and plunged on, delighted. "He knew your dad. You'd been over there for dinner once, remember? Simon said he called your dad 'Billy Ellison.' If he knew him that well, then your dad must have known Clark had called him 'Benno.' He was involved in that raft thing, and you can bet that prom story was an open secret. If anybody asks, you don't have to say word one about Clark. You just say that being at the house reminded you of old stories your father had told you."
"That might work for my report, and it might fool the press, but it's not gonna fly with Simon or with Rafe or H. Besides, your friend Toni was right there and heard every word."
Toni, yeah, that was right. Poor Toni. "Jim, she's feeling pretty devastated right now. She just found out her dad murdered her uncle. I'm gonna have to call her tonight and see if I can help. I might even send word down to Central America and have Russ fly back. But don't worry. She won't say word one about Clark's ghost."
That didn't help the Major Crime problem, but Blair had a sneaking suspicion that all the detectives who worked closely with Jim knew more about his sentinel abilities than they let on. Megan did know the truth, and Blair was pretty sure Joel Taggart had a few ideas of his own. Now that the others had seen a real live, er, genuine, ghost, they didn't have a leg to stand on when it came to giving Jim a hard time about it.
"It'll be fine, Jim. It's not like we'll face ghosts every day of the week. We're not the Ghostbusters. Let's go over what happened, how it felt, what instincts you had. You say you could have repelled him if you hadn't felt the wolf. That's *incredible*, Jim. Just think, maybe it means you can't be possessed by evil spirits."
"Evil spirits? We taking a little trip to the dark ages, Chief?"
"'There are more things in heaven and earth--'"
"Fine, Sandburg. I know there are. But I'll be a lot happier if they stay as far away from me as possible." He held up a hand when Blair would have objected. "Drink your tea. It's over."
Blair made a face at him and picked up his teacup.