A Hollow Within
by Sue Kelley
See notes and disclaimers on Part One.
Irritation rose within Jim as he came into the bullpen and spotted Craig Stephens sitting in front of his desk. 'I don't need him this early.' His mind was sluggish from lack of sleep and his temper correspondingly short. Swallowing his ire with an effort, he stopped to draw a cup of coffee from the community pot, since he could see Simon wasn't in his office as yet, then made his way over to his desk.
"Dr. Stephens," he greeted the man as he sat down. His tired eyes studied the wrecked man opposite.
Craig Stephens looked as if he had as little sleep as Jim in the last 48 hours. His hands shook as he offered the detective an envelope. "My secretary has been having my mail, from both the office and home, forwarded up to me. This is Missy's credit card statement. There's a charge on there for a private detective here in Cascade. I thought-- maybe--"
A platinum MasterCard, with easily fifty charges in the last month. Jim ran a practiced eye down the list. "Is this your wife's only credit card?"
"She has several, but she rarely uses anything but that card. Except for gas... she has two or three oil company cards she'd use for that."
The last charge was to Aldrich and Jones Investigations, Inc. Jim had met both men; Ty Aldrich had been with the Cascade PD for five years before leaving to open a private agency with his college roommate. A quick glance at this watch, and then Jim stood, reaching for his keys.
Stephens stood too. "What's wrong? Where are you going?"
"I'm going to go have a face-to-face chat with them," Jim answered, referring to the private detectives. He was taken aback when Stephens started to follow him.
"I'm going with you," Stephens declared, his voice shaking. "I can't just sit here, detective, do you understand that? And I can't sit around the hotel."
Jim hesitated, but he had to concede the danger was minimal. He wasn't at all worried about dealing with Ty, but Peter Jones would probably be more willing to open up his files to the husband of the woman that had employed him. "All right, Doctor, but you do as I say. You got that?"
Stephens nodded as he followed him to the elevator.
'God, this guy is more hyper than Sandburg even,' Jim thought, fifteen minutes later.
Craig Stephens drummed his fingers nervously on the passenger door of Jim's pick-up. He shifted in the seat, unbuckled his seat belt, re-belted, rolled down the window, rolled it back up, rolled it down. His breathing was driving Jim nuts: fast and erratic as if he'd just run a marathon.
Jim remembered the question he'd meant to ask and he brought it up abruptly. "Where are your kids? Any chance your wife may have contacted them?"
"Don't you think I thought of that?" Stephens responded sourly. "They're at boarding school in Connecticut. I call them every night, they haven't heard from her, and they don't know she's missing. I've had to come up with some pretty creative excuses for them not to know something's wrong."
"Boarding school?" Jim repeated.
"Yes. What's wrong with that?" Stephens sounded more than a little defensive. "It's a great school. The science curriculum was designed by some people from MIT! My God, if I could have gone to a prep school like that--"
According to Newsweek, Stephens had earned his MD at 22, his Ph.D. less than three years later. Jim had a hard time imagining how he could have done it much faster, even if he had gone to St. Andrews Preparatory School in Connecticut, rather than Bayside High School in San Diego, California. He didn't say anything. Stephens, too, relapsed into silence until they exited the freeway. Then he said, "Melissa was against sending the boys to school. We--- discussed it."
"Oh," Jim said, totally at a loss. "And then she agreed?"
"No. She never agreed. She wants them at home."
"How old are they?"
"Joshua is twelve and Christopher is fourteen."
"Oh," Jim said again. Personally he thought that was a little young to be away from home. He put on his left turn signal for the entrance to the Kilburg Building. Aldrich and Jones Investigations was on the sixth floor.
Luck was with him. Ty Aldrich was in the reception area when they entered. He recognized Jim and grinned, then his eyes moved to Stephens and the grin vanished. He gazed at the scientist with something very close to dislike in his blue eyes. After the first greetings, the private detective immediately ushered them into his private office. Waving them to matching green armchairs, Aldrich seated himself behind a handsome cherry desk and regarded them solemnly. "And what can I do for Cascade's finest and Dr. Craig Stephens of Medcomp?"
"You know me?" Stephens asked, surprised.
"I know your wife," Aldrich corrected. "A very nice lady. And somehow, I imagine she has something to do with this visit."
"Dr. Stephens hasn't had any contact with his wife in six days," Jim broke in. "She's officially listed as a missing person. We have reason to believe she may have hired someone in this agency."
"That's no secret. She did." Aldrich was studying Stephens, then he glanced at Jim. "However, Dr. Stephens is incorrect when he says he hasn't had any contact with his wife for six days. He spoke to her late Thursday night."
Surprised, Jim in his turn looked at the other man, whose face was coloring purplish red. "Doctor?"
Stephens stared at Aldrich. "Did you see her--after?"
"After you pretty much destroyed her? No, I didn't. She had an appointment for ten a.m. Friday. We were to discuss how to proceed with her case. She called me very early Friday morning, extremely upset. She was so upset that I was worried about her, and asked her to meet me for breakfast. She refused. She said she had to do some thinking, that she was checking out of the hotel and that she would be in touch. That was the last time I heard from her." He opened a drawer and pulled out a green file folder. "I imagine this is what you are wanting. Of course, Detective Ellison is perfectly aware that this is confidential information and that I *could* refuse to release it to the police without a court order. I'll save you the trouble of getting one. Only because I like this woman, and I'm worried about her. I've done some investigating on my own, but I can't find a trace of her since noon Friday. That's when she rented a car from Enterprise Rental over on Third Street. She took their special fifteen-day offer, so of course the car hasn't been turned in yet."
"What kind of car?"
"A Ford Taurus, 1997, light blue." Aldrich was still staring at Stephens, with something like contempt in his gaze. "You know, *Doctor,* I have to admit, I don't get you. Most men would kill to have a woman like that, and you--"
"You don't understand!" Aldrich broke in desperately. "I never meant to hurt her."
"How the hell did you think you *weren't* going to hurt her?"
Jim was starting to feel as if he were invisible. He cleared his throat in order to get their attention. "What did Mrs. Stephens hire you for?" He was pretty sure he knew the answer.
"She wanted to find out who her birth parents were," Aldrich answered promptly. "She had recently discovered she was adopted as a baby. She knew she had been born in Cascade, so it made sense to her to hire a Cascade firm to look into the matter."
"And did you find out who her birth parents were?"
Aldrich opened the file. "As you know, Detective Ellison--or maybe you don't--in this state when a baby is adopted an amended birth certificate is filed, with the names of the adoptive parents instead of the birth parents. It's a common practice in many states although it has recently come under fire. In Washington, the original birth certificate is sealed and is only supposed to be opened by court order." Aldrich pulled a piece of fax paper out of the file and handed it to Jim. "I trust the Cascade PD won't suddenly become interested in how I got that?"
"I'll assume you went about it legally, at least," Jim returned in the same tone. He studied the birth certificate for a girl child born September 16, 1960. He read the parents' names aloud. "Mary M. O'Malley, mother; Brett Carstairs, father." He raised his eyebrows as he glanced back at Aldrich. "So who were they?"
Aldrich shook his head. "I 'acquired' that on Wednesday, and gave the information to Mrs. Stephens. Her appointment on Friday was to determine how we proceeded. I told her, as I will tell you, that I very much doubt that was *really* her father's name. More likely it was just a name her mother put down."
"Why do you say that?" Stephens questioned, sounding interested for the first time.
"Because Brett Carstairs was a character in a movie that was extremely popular right around then. Won the Oscar for best picture that year. "Enchanted Summer", I think, was the name of it."
Blair arrived at Hargrove Hall to find the lawn outside in chaos, with students and teachers alike milling around in confusion. No one was going into the building, and as Blair approached he caught a whiff of a virulent stench that almost made him gag. "There was this big bang!" a student told him, her face flushed with excitement. "And then this God-awful smell! Everyone just ran for the doors."
Blair caught sight of Dr. Martinez, in a huddle with several professors and one or two other graduate students. He made his way to them, and saw a petite dark-haired woman yelling into a cell phone. After a second, he recognized her as Dr. Emily Turner, the newly-appointed vice-president for Academic Affairs. She clicked her cell-phone shut and turned to Martinez. "Don, Maintenance has no idea how long this is going to take. Just cancel classes for the rest of today and put signs up on the doors. It would be too chaotic to try to move all the classes into different buildings around campus today. We'll decide what to do about tomorrow when the plumbers have some idea of how long this will take."
Martinez nodded his agreement and delegated burly Dr. Jenson to announce the news at the top of his considerable lungs. The Department Secretary had had the presence of mind to bring out several pieces of pasteboard and some magic markers. As Martinez turned to leave, he caught sight of Blair and beckoned him over. "Blair! I was hoping to see you today. How are things going out at the house?"
"Oh, okay, fine. I found a broken window last night but I'll get it repaired," Blair assured him.
Martinez looked uncomfortable. "There's something I probably should have mentioned before--" he started.
"That it used to be Rita Mallory's house? That it's where she died?"
"You know?" Martinez looked chagrined. "I'm sorry, I should have mentioned it earlier. Jacob--my friend who owns it-- he was afraid if the press got wind of it being empty they'd drag up that whole story again, or students would turn it into a macabre museum. How did you find out?"
"It wasn't too hard, it looks as if the house hasn't changed too much since she owned it. Her portrait on the wall, scrapbooks in the study."
"My God." A thunderstruck expression covered Martinez's face. "I never thought about that. It's been years since I was out there, and then I was only in the kitchen. Jacob inherited that house from his uncle, Roger Winfield, who was married to Rita Mallory. They were separated, but not divorced, when the murders occurred. Jacob said his uncle was always crazy about the woman--plus his son was killed with her. He was something of a recluse after that, holed up in that house with his memories until he got so infirm Jacob had to put him in a care facility."
"It doesn't bother me," Blair assured him, stifling the little voice inside that shouted 'Liar!' He went on, "I was reading about her last night, and about the murders. They never caught anyone?"
Martinez shook his head. "Jacob and I were roommates at USC when the tragedy occurred. He was devastated by it; his parents were dead and he was very close to his uncle and to Rita Mallory. He'd been up for a visit not two weeks prior to the murders. The police always seemed to think that maybe Roger had something to do with it, but they never could prove anything and he was never charged. Jacob, of course, blamed associates of that gangster she took up with when she and Roger split up." He sighed. "I met her once, did you know? A totally fascinating woman. Something about her eyes... you almost felt as if she could crawl into your soul..." he broke off and looked embarrassed. "Goodness, I sound like some old coot..." He turned as Dr. Turner approached him, her face tense and her cell phone clenched in her hand. Blair stepped away.
What to do with a free day? He had tons of paperwork but he was totally disinclined to do it; plus, Campus Security had arrived and were locking the entrances. Blair remembered that he had stuffed "Hollywood Babylon" into his backpack. He'd return it to the library and see if the other books about Rita Mallory had been turned in yet.
"All those books were checked out five days ago. They won't be due back until the 20th."
Blair stifled a groan. "Joni, I really need to see those books." He fixed the full effect of what Jim called his puppy-dog eyes on the student working the library desk. Whether it was that, or the fact that a semester before, the A he'd given Joni Rasmussin in Cultural Anthropology had boosted her to the Dean's List, it worked. After clicking a few keys on her computer, Joni told him the books he wanted were checked out to a student named Ashley Cunningham who resided in the Chi-Omega sorority house on campus. Blair beamed at her, thanking her for the information, and went directly to the campus phone. The older woman who answered the phone--the House "mother", Blair presumed-- told him that Ashley was in class but that she would be glad to give her a message. Blair left his cell phone number and rang off, frustrated. He turned to leave the library.
Blair looked up to see the other student that had been working the desk with Joni. He didn't know this girl, who was taller than he and had very long hair of a purplish-red shade that could not have been natural. "Yes?" Blair smiled at her.
"Umm, I heard you talking to Joni about those books, the ones about Rita Mallory?"
"Yes?" Blair encouraged her.
"Well, there's a professor in the theater department that knows a lot about her. He's listed in the acknowledgments in her biography. Dr. Larry." The student caught herself and laughed. "I mean, Dr. Hughes. Larry Hughes. Just tell him Arlinna Majors sent you."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Larry isn't in right now. Can I leave him a message?"
"Do you know when he will be back?" Blair asked, disappointed.
"No, not really." The department secretary glanced down at the schedule taped to her desk. "His next class isn't until three, but I imagine he'll be back long before then. You're welcome to wait."
Blair hesitated, then he caught sight of a poster on the wall advertising the "Daniel and Martha Herring Film Library. That gave him an idea. He knew the university had an extensive collection of films. Holding his breath for the answer, he asked the secretary if there were any of Rita Mallory's films among the collection.
"Sure." She didn't even have to look on the computer. "Rita Mallory was from Cascade, you know, she died here even. Her movies were some of the first ones we got. As a matter of fact--" she broke off to type an entry into the computer, then nodded with a pleased smile. "I thought so. Dr. Padrogi's class is viewing one of her movies right now in Amph 1. You've missed the first hour or so, but if you want you can sit in and watch the rest of it. Just sit in the left hand section as you go in the door, so that Dr. Padrogi won't think you're a student--they'll be in the center section."
Blair glanced at his watch. A little after eleven; Jim wasn't expecting him at the station before two. "Which movie is it?"
"Melissa thinks I'm having an affair."
The words came out of nowhere. Jim was concentrating on driving; lunchtime traffic was heavy around the downtown area. Craig Stephens hadn't said a word since they left Ty Aldrich's office until he broke the silence with his calm pronouncement.
"Are you?" Jim asked evenly.
Stephens swung around to look at him, his face ravaged by fear or grief or possibly some darker emotion. "I love my wife," he spat out. Then his face crumpled and he turned his head. Jim smelled the tang of salt and knew the man was trying to conceal tears. "An affair," he said finally, "implies something--beautiful. Or at the very least, romantic. What I did was an animal act. It wasn't love, it wasn't even lust. It was just sex. I betrayed Melissa's trust, I broke my marriage vows, all for a half hour with a woman that couldn't hold a candle to my wife, in bed or anywhere else."
In spite of himself, Jim had to like the guy for not making excuses, not trying to shift the blame to his wife or to the other woman. "How did she find out?" he asked finally.
"I have no idea," Stephens answered, his voice very soft. "She asked me, when she called me that night. I stumbled and stammered and tried to lie, and of course she knew. She hung up before I could tell her the truth." He sighed. "It's no excuse, and I knew that at the time, but ever since our daughter was killed, Melissa and I have been... I don't know, going through the motions, maybe? I threw myself into my work. Then, when her parents were killed and Melissa found out she had been adopted... she withdrew from me, became so remote and like a stranger. I don't expect you to understand this, detective, but it terrified me. I define myself in terms of who I am to her, who I am to our kids, who I am to the company. And suddenly, I was *nothing* to Melissa. The most important part of *my* world, and it was like I didn't even exist in hers. I wanted to ask her, why do you have to know who your real parents were? What does it matter? What matters is who *we* are now, to each other." He fell silent, then his eyes met Jim's. "But I didn't ask her. I didn't support her in her search, I hurt her as much as she could be hurt... and now I can't find her."
Blair was transported into another world.
The woman glided across the sand to greet her young lover. The camera was tight on her face, on those incredible emerald eyes, huge and intense. Her mouth, drawn tight with fear as she begged him to forgive her, to forget her, to not tell her husband, the rich, elderly politician, about their three months of love, about their nights making love on the cold sand, under the brilliant stars, while her husband was in Washington and her children frolicked at summer camp. ~This has been the most wonderful time of my life. I love you as I have loved no other. But this is not real!~
~It *is* real.~ Her lover's voice, cold, his eyes alive with rage and hurt. A young man, not much more than a child himself, reacting with a child's hurt pride when she said she must leave. ~If you love me, come with me!~
~I can't!~ A scream, torn from the depths of her soul. ~I can't! He and the children are my life!~
~Then what was I?~
Tears spilling from her eyes, marring her face. ~You are my soul. You always will be.~
The two of them stared at each other, separated by four feet of sand and a lifetime of expectations and obligations. The waves, glittering in silver moonlight, lapped at their ankles.
~Please, don't do this. Don't betray me.~ Her anguished whisper.
~You betrayed me.~ His voice, hot with rage and a childish vindictiveness. He turned to leave her. Her scream tore the air behind him, lost in the crashing of the waves.
He kept walking, away from her. He didn't turn as he heard splashing.
Sunlight streamed across the sands. A group of people, solemn for such a beautiful day, such a beautiful place, standing around something. A body, lying supine, red hair twisted with seaweed, the incredible eyes long since closed forever, the beautiful face frozen forever in a death that she had embraced rather than lose the life she once had. And standing over her, side by side, was the husband and the young lover. Neither knowing the other. Both shattered and lost in their separate grief...
The screen faded to black, then lightened as the first line of credits crawled upward. Blair stirred, pulling his mind away from a summer beach long ago to the present. Students were standing, grabbing backpacks and books, talking, hushed voices gradually increasing in volume as the spell they had been under receded. A woman professor, her eyes surrounded by smudged mascara, reminded everyone that the first draft of their papers were due Tuesday. Then there was a mass exodus for the doors, until only two people were left in the amphitheater.
Blair turned with surprise to look at the man he had been vaguely aware had slid in behind him during the movie. At first, something about the man seemed very familiar, but he was sure they'd never met. Only a few inches taller than Blair himself, late fifties maybe, with a magnificent head of silvery-black hair, and hooded dark eyes still glittering with unshed tears. "She was magnificent, wasn't she?" the man asked, his voice surprisingly deep. He gestured to the now-dark screen.
"Yes, she was," Blair responded, still aware of that odd sense of recognition. Then it clicked and he looked back at the now-blank screen. "That was you! The young lover, you were the actor." His mind scrabbled for the name. "Colin LaMonte."
After several stunned minutes, the man's face brightened with a smile. "Do you know how long it has been since anyone recognized me?" He offered his hand. "Are you Blair Sandburg? I am Larry Hughes. Once upon a time I was Colin LaMonte.
"I understand you are looking for me."
Jim stifled a yawn. His eyes kept drifting shut. He went into the Men's room and splashed cold water on his face, then detoured for a cup of coffee. The stuff that came out of the community pot was not nearly as palatable as that in Simon's office, but it was a lot stronger.
"Ellison! My office!" Simon barked.
The dark captain studied his best detective with concern. "Jesus, Jim, you look terrible," he remarked. "Are you coming down with something?"
"No, sir, I don't think so. I feel fine. Just a little tired. You know." Jim tried to force a smile and was rewarded by a disbelieving snort from his commanding officer. He knew Simon wanted to pursue the subject, so he quickly changed it. "What's up?"
"Robberies." Simon Banks chewed on an unlit cigar. "Liquor stores, gas stations, mini-marts... anyplace that's open late at night with no near neighbors. Thirty-seven, in the last five months, starting in Northern California, then through Oregon, Seacouver, Seattle and finally here. Three hits this week." He hesitated. "Shot a clerk Monday night; he'll live. The one last night wasn't so lucky." He tossed a picture onto the desk. Jim numbly looked at it. "Good God, Simon, he barely looks sixteen!"
"Eighteen, actually. Mark Cohen. Straight A student from Tacoma, attending Rainier. His crime was apparently not bagging the money fast enough; for that he took two .38 bullets in heart. Robbery needs help with this one, Jim; I volunteered you and Sandburg."
Jim just nodded. Simon reached for the cup in his hand, took a sniff of the contents, then shook his head and moved to pour the detective a cup of fragrant hazelnut blend. "Jim, I don't like to interfere, but what's going on with you and Sandburg? Two weeks ago I would have sworn you wouldn't have gotten him out of the loft with dynamite, then all of a sudden he's packed up and gone? What's the deal?"
"I asked him to move out." Jim held up a hand to halt Simon's outraged comment. "I thought I was doing the right thing, sir. I haven't exactly been easy to get along with lately." (Simon snorted with apparent agreement.) "I was feeling... I don't know, trapped? No that's not it---just like I had no place, no space, to regroup. To have some peace, some downtime. I was jumping all over Sandburg, to the point where I think he was afraid to breathe too loudly around me. I talked with Dr. Ayer, and she suggested, maybe Sandburg and I are together too much."
Simon snorted again. "Since when do you listen to the department shrink? So, what, you just told Sandburg to hit the streets?"
"Not really. I just said, maybe when I got back from Dallas we should look around for a place of his own, close by." Jim laughed without humor. "I hadn't been in Dallas two days when I realized that wasn't the answer. But when I got home, Sandburg had already moved."
"So, did you mention to him that you'd changed your mind?"
Jim shook his head.
"Why the hell not?" Simon bellowed. "Jim, you look like crap--excuse the expression-- and the kid wanders around here like he's lost his best friend-- *you.* Why don't you tell him you were wrong and ask him to move back?"
"Simon, he wants to be gone. It's so obvious, he must have started moving the day I left. I think he was just looking for an excuse. Oh, I don't blame him--his life was enough of a mess without me dumping all my bad emotions on him. I want him to move back, but I don't think *he* wants to."
"Have you bothered to ask him *what* he wants?" Simon questioned.
Jim shook his head. "I can tell. Simon, if I thought Sandburg really wanted to move back in, I'd pack his stuff up myself. But as it is, if I say anything, Sandburg might move back because he thinks he *has* to, not because he *wants* to." Jim lowered his voice, even though Simon's office door was closed. "I am a Sentinel. Sandburg is my Guide. Sometimes, he lets that... me, be more important than his own life. He gave up the opportunity to go to Borneo, an anthropologist's dream, because of me. If living somewhere else is what *he* wants, then that's the way it's going to have to be."
"Why are you so interested in Rita Mallory? You're not a student, are you?"
Blair accepted the cup of tea Larry Hughes offered him. "I'm a grad student in Anthropology. My interest in Rita Mallory came about because, well, I'm living in her house."
Hughes raised his eyebrows. "Really? The house out on Coast Highway? You do know she died--"
"Yes, I know about that," Blair assured him hastily. The very thought made him uncomfortable and he hurried to tell the older man how he had come to be living in the house.
"Interesting. I had no idea Roger Winfield kept the house. I haven't seen it in years; I assume it's much changed."
"I kind of doubt it," Blair admitted. "It's almost eerie in a way, most of the house looks like it probably did then. A lot of personal possessions still around. I think Mr. Winfield maybe had the kitchen updated, and the bathroom off the maid's quarters. That's where I live."
"Roger Winfield. He wanted Rita; he worshipped the image she portrayed. He would have done anything for her. He *did* do everything for her. But in the long run he couldn't hold on to her any more than any other man could. We all wanted her, but none of us could keep her."
Blair cocked his head to one side. Hughes seemed to be unaware of his change from "they" to "we". "You included?"
Hughes' face darkened. "I didn't want her," he corrected. "I *loved* her. But Rita fell in love with the character I played. No, that's not even correct: 'Deirdre' fell in love with 'Brett Carstairs'. Once the filming of 'Enchanted Summer' was over, and she wasn't Deirdre, and I wasn't Brett, *we* were over."
"I'm sorry," Blair started. The other man waved his hand.
"It doesn't bother me. It was a long time ago, and I was just a kid at the time. To think back now, it's as if *our* romance was part of the film also. Rita went on. She took her Oscar and she put the film behind her and went on to the next role. That was Rita, you know, just one role after another. There was just one role she would never play." He stared into space.
Blair was starting to feel as if Hughes had forgotten who he was talking to. "What was that?" he prompted. The young anthropologist was fighting against a wild sense of unreality. Plus that strange feeling, the feeling that somehow he'd been here, seen this before.
"Mary Margaret O'Malley."
Blair frowned. "But she *was* Mary Margaret O'Malley."
"No, she wasn't." Hughes' voice deepened, developing almost an Irish brogue. "Mary Margaret O'Malley was a skinny, red-haired, freckled face lass from the wrong side of the tracks, one generation removed from the potato fields of Ireland. She shared a crowded attic bedroom with two brothers and two sisters. She was too tall to wear her sisters' hand-me-downs but she had to anyway, and the nuns punished her for being so immodest as to show her knees. Mary Margaret would grow up to marry Mike the cop or, if she was very lucky, Frank, who worked in his father's hardware store. She would live, bear children, and die, in the same kind of house in the same neighborhood as her mother before her, with the highlight of her life being Mass on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. That wasn't Rita. It never could have been Rita. She paid for her mother's funeral but she didn't attend, because if she did, she have to go as Mary Margaret, and she couldn't stand to do that, even for one afternoon."
Silence fell across the little office, the ceiling-high shelves crowded with books and plays and videotapes. In the distance, someone was playing piano, something classical, Mozart, maybe.
"Who killed her?" Blair asked finally.
Hughes' eyes, which had been staring off into the distance, sharpened suddenly and he focused on Blair. "Roger Winfield, of course. Her husband."
"But you said he loved her."
"He wanted her. He desired her. He didn't love her, how could he? He didn't even know her. Roger would have given her the world on a platter if he could. He gave and she took. But eventually he ran out of things Rita wanted, and she left him. She took up with that gangster." Hughes shrugged. "I can't really blame Roger. Can you imagine, having something that wonderful, it having been yours, and then to see her leave you for... trash? Scum. That's what he was, you know, that mobster she took up with. The one justice about the whole thing is that he died, too."
"But so did two children," Blair pointed out gently. "And one of them was Roger Winfield's own son. Are you saying he killed his own child?"
Hughes stared off into space. "Are you familiar with the Bible, Mr. Sandburg? An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A life for a life."
Blair shuddered. Before he could say anything else, there was a knock at the door and the secretary stuck her head in. "Dr. Larry, I'm so sorry to bother you, but Angie Maxwell just called in. She has chicken pox and can't teach her one thirty class--"
"I have to leave, anyway," Blair said hastily, catching sight of his watch. Grabbing the strap of his backpack, he stood up. "Thank you for your time, Dr. Hughes."
"Please, call me Dr. Larry," the man said, leaning forward to shake Blair's hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Blair. Would it be possible for me to come out to the house sometime? I would like to see it again, look at some of Rita's things."
"Yeah, well-- I'm sure that would be okay." Blair scribbled down his cell phone number and his extension in his office. "Just give me a call."
Jim Ellison dragged his body behind the wheel of his truck. For almost a minute, he just sat there, eyes closed, visualizing a dial in his mind, a dial labeled "Pain". A phantom hand tried to grasp the dial, turn it down, but the dial was stuck at ten and stubbornly refused to move. After three or four attempts, Jim gave up and opened his eyes again, staring unseeingly into the darkened parking garage.
A long, fruitless day. Jim still had no idea where Melissa Stephens might be and a long afternoon spent checking out possible targets for the robbers had turned up exactly nothing. The only good thing that had happened is that Blair had somehow managed to reduce Jim's ever-present headache, but now that he was away from his Guide the pain was back and worse than ever. Jim sighed and tried to find the energy to start the truck.
His senses were so out of kilter that the first warning he had someone was approaching was when he heard a tap on the window. "Jim?" Blair stood next to the truck, arms wrapped around himself against the chill of the parking garage, worry plain on his expressive features. "Are you okay?"
"Hey, Chief. I thought you'd left already," Jim said as he rolled down the window.
"What's wrong?" the younger man persisted. "Your headache again?"
Jim hesitated, then nodded. Blair shot him an exasperated look and rounded the truck, waiting until Jim reached across and unlocked the passenger door for him. As he climbed in, the Sentinel's hearing, suddenly back on-line, picked up the faint sounds of Blair's teeth chattering. Muttering, "Sandburg, you should live in Arizona," Jim leaned forward and turned up the heat.
"And you should try sleeping some time," Blair returned evenly. He gently pushed Jim so that his back was to him, reaching his hands to the Sentinel's shoulders.
Jim grunted as strong fingers dug into muscles rock-hard with tension. He heard his Guide's voice say, "Jeez, Jim, relax."
"I can't," Jim croaked.
"Yes, you can." Blair's voice lowered, deepened, became wonderfully soothing. "Turn down the dial."
"I tried. It won't work." Jim surrendered to the fingers that were somehow bringing relief to his aching body.
"You know the drill. Lean back, close your eyes. Visualize the pain dial. See your fingers grasping it, turning it. Turning it down. Down, down, down." Blair's voice was hypnotic. Jim felt the tightness in his neck, back and shoulders receding, the pounding agony in his head gradually eased. He didn't move for several minutes as Blair's fingers and voice continued to soothe and heal. Jim saw the dial in his head. A phantom hand reached out and turned it down, past nine, eight, seven. It stayed stubbornly there. Blair's voice persisted, wrapping around his Sentinel like a warm blanket, the words not as important as the voice that was saying them. After several long seconds, the dial turned again, to six, then five, down all the way. Jim opened his eyes.
"It's gone." He smiled in relief, then twisted back around to look at his partner. "How can you do that, Sandburg? So easily? I've been trying to turn down that damn dial for two days and I couldn't get it to budge."
"Is that why you haven't been sleeping? Your headache?" Blair asked, settling back against the door and massaging his hands.
"What makes you think I'm not sleeping?" Jim stalled.
Blair threw him an "Oh, right!" look. He held up his right hand, ticking the fingers off like beads on an abacus. "Let's see. You have black circles under your eyes. You ran through those interviews today like Simon had announced a prize for the first detective done. You look like walking death and you're acting like it, too. You didn't even know I was by the truck until I knocked on the window." He stopped and looked at Jim, his eyebrows raised.
"Okay," Jim confessed. "I haven't slept the last few nights. But that's normal."
"Normal?" Blair repeated, disbelief in his tone. "In all the time I've known you, the only times you've had two consecutive nights with no sleep have been when you're not feeling well or when your senses are out of control. Which one is it?"
"Both, I guess," Jim sighed, surrendering. "I just can't fall asleep. I'm sure it has something to do with being back home, all the noises seem so loud and everything seems so close and so... sharp."
Blair's forehead rippled with tiny frown lines as he considered Jim's words. "Have you tried your white noise earplugs?"
"No. I'll try them tonight," Jim assured Blair hastily. He cast around for a change of subject, then he frowned. "Why *haven't* you gone yet, Chief? You left fifteen minutes before I did."
"Well, actually, my car is acting funny," Blair said. "It started, but it keeps acting like it wants to die. I was going to see if you could maybe follow me home. But forget it, man; you're too tired. I'll be fine."
"Yeah, right," Jim snorted in turn. He stretched and reveled in the relief of pain. "You got anything to eat out there or should we stop for Chinese on the way?"
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Blair asked tentatively.
"I'd mind a lot more if I did manage to get to sleep only to have to come pick you up somewhere. Where are you parked?"
"Damn," Blair groaned as he fumbled with his keys at the back door. "The power must be out again. I know I left the kitchen light on."
"It can't be," Jim objected, "The microwave clock is on. Plus I can hear the hum in the power lines." He entered behind Blair. "Where is--oh I see it. Stay here."
Blair obediently stood by the door while Jim made his way easily across the room to the light switch. He blinked a little in the sudden glare of light. "Man, I could have sworn I left it on!"
"You probably turned it off automatically when you left. You do that, you know," Jim pointed out. He looked around, his nose wrinkling. "What is that smell?"
Blair dropped his backpack on a vacant kitchen chair. "What smell?"
"Don't you smell that?"
"No, Jim, I don't." Blair sighed, wondering how many times they'd had *that* particular exchange. Sometimes Jim just seemed to assume his Guide saw, smelled, heard and tasted everything he did. Blair moved to the refrigerator, opening it to survey the contents. "Pasta okay? Or would you rather have an omelet?" Jim was still rotating in the center of the room and as Blair stared at him, he started sneezing violently.
"Are you okay?"
Jim finally drew a deep breath, although his eyes were red and watery. "Must be the dust."
"It didn't bother you the other day. Besides, there's a professional cleaning service that comes out every other week; it's not that dusty."
"Well, then, it's whatever that smell is." Jim sneezed again.
Blair let the refrigerator door close. "What does it smell like?" he asked, sitting down at the table and motioning for Jim to do likewise.
"I don't--" Jim started, then he cocked his head. After a second, he turned to look out the kitchen door. "Someone's coming."
Blair stood up as headlights rounded the last curve and illuminated the driveway. "I wonder who that is?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim reach around to touch his gun, almost as a reassurance in case the visitor wasn't friendly. Blair strained his eyes, but he didn't recognize the figure until it moved into the pool of light from the kitchen windows. "Oh, I know him. It's Dr. Larry. He's the guy I was telling you about earlier, the one that I talked with about Rita Mallory."
"Kind of late for an impromptu visit, isn't it?" Jim wanted to know, letting his hand fall away from his gun. He wiped at his still-watering eyes impatiently.
Blair opened the door. "Dr. Larry! Come on in."
"Mr. Sandburg, I am so sorry for this unannounced visit," the professor apologized as he entered. He looked questioningly at Jim and Blair hastened to introduce them. Jim nodded, sneezing again. "Allergies?" Larry Hughes questioned sympathetically.
"Yeah, I guess." Blair pulled a box of Kleenex (the unscented kind) from his room and set it in front of Jim. "Can I get you a cup of tea?"
"No, no, I don't mean to intrude. I just had this wonderful thought, and I wanted to discuss it with you in person." Larry walked around the kitchen, his expression far away. "It looks almost the same as I remembered," he murmured. He swung to look at Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, I would like to live in this house."
Startled, Blair didn't say anything for a minute, then, "Dr. Larry, that isn't my call--"
"Oh, I know, we'd have to clear it with Roger's nephew or whatever he is, but I can't see why he would object. My apartment building is going condominium and I don't wish to buy into it; you said that many of Rita's personal possessions, her books and scrapbooks and letters are here; I've been thinking for some time about writing another biography of her; this would be perfect!"
"Well, maybe for you," Blair said, his mind in a whirl. One thought pushed its way to the forefront of all others and he stole a look at Jim. His next comment was addressed more to him than to Larry. "If I leave here I won't have anyplace to live." He held his breath as he studied the Sentinel's face.
Jim just stared at him blankly, never changing expression.
Seconds ticked by with nothing said.
'Well, that's pretty clear,' Blair thought, feeling almost sick with disappointment. 'He's glad I've moved out. I guess he really meant all that about being a loner and needing space.' His voice hardened as he turned his back on Jim. "I'm sorry, Dr. Larry, but I'm staying right where I am."
"Well, that settles it, Simon, you were wrong," Jim announced as if the captain was there to hear. He wasn't of course. No one was as Jim drove back to Cascade after what had been a remarkably uncomfortable dinner with Blair. "Sandburg had the perfect opportunity to move back to the loft tonight, and he nixed it. He's happy where he is."
Jim fell silent, the echo of his words mocking him in the quiet cab of the pickup. He thought back over the moment he'd heard Larry Hughes make his offer to take over the house from Blair. His heart had leapt for a second, sure that his Guide was on his way home. Then he'd been distracted for a minute, by something, some noise or smell that shouldn't have been there but was. He'd been dangerously close to zoning when he'd heard Blair's ringing statement, "I'm staying right where I am."
'Face it, Ellison, this is for the best. The kid wants to be on his own, or maybe Dr. Ayer was right and he just needs to be away from you.'
"But I need him," Jim whispered.
'He doesn't need you. Except for his dissertation.'
"No!" Jim exclaimed. 'I know that's not true. He said it himself, many times. It's more than that. It is.'
'Okay, so it is. But he doesn't have to give up his whole life for you, does he?'
Jim let out a great sigh as he parked his truck in its spot at 852 Prospect, resolutely turning his eyes away from the spot where Blair had usually parked the Volvo. Moving slowly, painfully, aware of the horrible tightness in the temples that signaled the beginning of another headache, he got out of the truck and locked the doors, then started for the building.
Blair poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Wearily he regarded the steam rising from his mug.
It was Jim's favorite brand of coffee. He had just automatically picked it up when shopping.
He glanced at his watch. After ten. Pale sunshine lay in patterns on the tile floor. A bird sang outside the window. Blair folded his hands around the mug, welcoming the warmth. It was cold in here. Or maybe it was just him.
After Jim had left after dinner the night before, Blair had just left the dirty dishes piled in the sink and gone to the bathroom for a long, blistering hot shower, then crawled into his bed with a stack of papers to grade. An hour later, realizing he'd only scored half of one quiz, he'd switched off the light. A message on the answering machine had informed him that Hargrove Hall was still off-limits so classes would be cancelled Thursday. Maybe even Friday.
Once that would have cheered Blair, as much as he enjoyed his students. Time to make inroads on the piles of papers that seemed to multiply when he wasn't looking, time to read and research and do Jim's paperwork at the station; most of all, time to spend with Jim. His friend, Jim.
His early (for him) night hadn't accomplished much. Blair had tossed and turned most of the night. He had been so sure that Jim was regretting his leaving; so sure that Jim was missing him as badly as Blair missed Jim. But then Blair had made the comment about having nowhere else to go, and Jim had just stared at him.
No. Jim had stared *through* him.
Almost as if he weren't seeing Blair at all.
Blair sat up in the chair, his heart quickening. Was it possible Jim had been distracted, maybe even starting to zone?
'But he wasn't using his senses...
'Maybe he was, though. He was sneezing and then he just stopped. That look on his face... it looked like a zone-out...'
Suddenly energized, Blair jumped to his feet, forgetting the coffee. He'd shower and dress and go to the station. Larry Hughes wanted the house. Blair would talk to Jim. Not hinting around like the night before, this time he would swallow his pride and risk it all and ask Jim if he could move back to the loft.
A horrible screeching filled the room.
Blair froze, startled for a second, until he recognized the sound as the ancient hot water heater protestingly sending water through the pipes.
Blair hadn't used any hot water this morning. And Blair was the only one in the house.
Or was he? Cold chills shuddered down his spine.
Things flashed through his mind: the missing yogurt, the bumps during the night, the opened cupboard in the study. Jim saying he'd smelled something. The fact that Blair *knew* he'd left the kitchen light on the day before.
He hesitated, then picked up the heavy flashlight and stealthily started for the staircase.
Then he jumped at the shrill ringing that cut through the air.
After a startled second, Blair identified the sound as his cell phone. He looked up at the stairs, then hurried back through the kitchen, into his bedroom and grabbed the instrument where it was lying on the bedside table.
"Sandburg!" Simon Banks' voice and he sounded upset: mad or worried, it was hard to tell sometimes with Simon. "Do you know where Jim is?"
"He's not at the station?" Blair questioned.
"Sandburg, would I be calling *you* if Jim was here at the station? He had an eight o'clock meeting with the guys from Robbery. He didn't show. I've called the loft and his cell and paged him. Nothing! I was hoping he might be with you or have said something to you."
"Jim missed a meeting?" Jim *never* missed meetings. The man was anal about setting the alarm. Even if he *had* overslept somehow, there was no way he could sleep though his pager, *and* the cell phone, *and* the regular phone.
Cold panic balled in Blair's stomach. Ice water coursed through his veins.
He said something to Simon, he wasn't sure what, and disconnected the phone while the captain was still making noises. Blair was panting, he was vaguely aware of cold sweat pouring down his face and the back of his neck.
'Something is wrong.' The Guide knew this.
Blair exploded into motion. He shoved his bare feet into his running shoes, grabbed a jacket to cover his T-shirt, snatched his keys off the table. He barely remembered to lock the door before he ran for his car. 'Please, please, please start--- thank you!' he mentally cheered as the engine coughed into life. Not giving the Volvo time to warm up, he threw it into gear and aimed it down the hill.
Concluded in Part Three...