Disclaimers: Nothing's mine but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. No infringement is intended, and I'm not makin' a dime. (Who needs money when you've got love?) (Well, okay, but I'm still not making any money!)
Summary: Following the intrepid adventures of Professor Sonia Cortez, Blair Sandburg's replacement at Rainier, as she introduces Blair's work to the public. Plus, insight into Jim and Blair, courtesy of the previously mysterious de Guzman.
Warnings: Like Nature's Cycles, sort of a death story — even more so, in fact, since time has passed and the guys are therefore that much deader. Again, however, I assure you that they both lived to ripe old ages and lived full and happy lives, so there's just rueful twinges, here, not gutwrenching horror.
Notes: Best read in conjunction with the Nature Series — in particular, after Nature's Sacrifices, which provoked me to write it. Again, thanks for previous feedback and please write more — I'm not sure where to take this now, suggestions are welcome.
"I am being roasted alive," thought Dr. Sonia Cortez. Outwardly she remained calm as she confronted the hundred and fifty agitated anthropologists, and the only noticeable sign of stress was a slight whiteness around her knuckles as she gripped the sides of the podium.
"Sentinels!" roared a large, round-faced man at the back. "In Cascade, Washington!" He laughed, turning around the room, looking for support.
A sharp-eyed woman stood up in the third row and turned toward him. "So you are willing to postulate the existence of Sentinels in, say Peru, or somewhere in Africa, but not in the United States. Why? Because we're so superior?" she sneered, "so technologically advanced — "
"I don't know that I'm prepared to postulate the existence of sentinels in Peru," interjected another man. "The existence of such a cultural role, yes, but this? Heightened senses? Some sort of telepathy? Telekinesis, for god's sake — "
"In Cascade, Washington!" added the round faced man, as if this were the punchline to a joke that he never tired of telling.
"This is a ridiculous conversation," said a third man, acidly. His old tweeds hung off his shriveled frame. "It's a joke. The very idea — "
"She says there's evidence," the sharp-eyed woman objected.
"A lot of evidence," said the another man.
"He says he was a Guide for crying out loud!" said the round-faced man.
"He must have been out of his mind," said Tweeds firmly.
"Excuse me?" said a very tall, dark-skinned man with an aquiline nose, rising angrily out of his seat. A woman at his side took his arm, tried to pull him down "Victor, he didn't mean — "
"I don't think anyone seriously intends to question Dr. Sandburg's integrity as a scholar, or the quality of his work," said a peacemaker, glancing reassuringly at the tall man.
"God, save me from Sandburgites," hissed Tweeds.
"Look, this arguing is pointless," said a woman, "until we've had the chance to review the work and draw our own conclusions."
"Which you can do," said Sonia Cortez, grateful for the opening, "when the volumes start coming out early next year. Cambridge University Press. Thank you all so much for coming," and she gathered her notes and strode out of the hall, made a left and a left and locked herself in the hotel ladies room.
"Oh God," she thought, sagging, letting her briefcase fall to the floor. She went to the sink, pushed back her suit sleeves and splashed cold water across her face. She ran a damp hand through her short dark waves, scraped some wayward mascara away from under an almond eye with her pinky, and then, surveying herself gloomily, she gathered her things for the trip back to her own hotel room.
Outside the ladies room door, she craned her neck and stared up into the face of the famous dark-skinned anthropologist.
"Dr. Cortez?" he said. "I'm Victor de Guzman."
"Yes, I know," replied Sonia.
"Can we talk?"
"I'm not sure I have anything else left to say," said Sonia tiredly.
"It's going to be all right," de Guzman assured her. "I believe it, and eventually they all will too."
"Why? Why do you believe it?" asked Sonia, peering up at him.
"Because Blair Sandburg said it was true," said de Guzman, simply. He frowned, looked at her intently. "You didn't know him?" he asked.
"No," replied Sonia. "He was on the committee that hired me at Rainier, and I met him once, briefly, but no, I didn't know him."
"Though I feel," Sonia found herself adding helplessly, "I feel like I know him — from his work. It's — it's incredible."
"I'm sure," said de Guzman. "I always suspected — well, I thought he was working on something big, but he never showed anything to me. I missed his funeral," he said abruptly. "I've been in Chile for two years. Couldn't be reached in time."
"I'm sorry," said Sonia.
"Mmmmm — me too," said de Guzman, absently. "Are you going back to Cascade?" he asked suddenly.
"Yes," said Sonia, looking at her watch. "In fact, I have to go — my train — "
"I'm going too," said de Guzman. "Let me drive you, we can talk on the way."
"I don't know..." said Sonia.
"Blair Sandburg designated me the executor of his will," said de Guzman, smiling as Sonia's head shot up. "Ah...I thought that might interest you."
Sonia smiled ruefully. "Okay, I'm interested." Suddenly she stopped, cringed. "Oh, but Dr. de Guzman — "
"Victor. If he made you his executor — well, maybe he wanted you to bring out his work."
"No, I doubt it," said Victor, putting up his hands. "First of all, the will didn't mention any books. Secondly, if he chose you to replace him — "
"He was going to retire. He wasn't a young man, he was in his late seventies, and — well, look, the point is that I think he chose you to do this work, and I'm not going to second guess him." He ran a hand through a thick thatch of black hair. "I'm way too close, anyway — I couldn't do it with any objectivity." He sighed. "It's the problem with all of us." He grinned. "The so-called Sandburgites. Shelley's having a nervous breakdown. Frankie's in a depression. Linda — well, I only found out that Blair had died because Linda, who knows Chile, got them to send me a message through the right pipeline. 'BLAIR DEAD STOP. WORLD ENDING STOP. COME HOME STOP. LINDA' We're a dramatic bunch," he admitted, smiling ruefully.
"Makes for good work," replied Sonia.
"Well, maybe. You probably already know through the gossip mill that Linda Hill and I have been having a torrid, non-committal affair since grad school." Sonia acknowledged the fact with an awkward nod. "Mm. We met in Blair's office. Me coming out, her going in." He paused, lost in thought. "So, you want that lift?"
"Yes, please," said Sonia.
"I'll pick you up in front of the hotel in an hour," said Victor de Guzman.
They were outside of the San Francisco city limits and heading north when Sonia finally worked up the courage to start asking questions.
"Did you know Professor Sandburg's partner?" she began abruptly.
"Detective James Ellison?" he responded, smiling. "Oh yeah, I knew Jim."
"What was he like?"
"Jim Ellison," said Victor, taking his eyes off the road to meet Sonia's, "was a pain in the ass." He laughed. "I once made the mistake of calling Jim a 'crotchety old man' in front of Blair. Blair corrected me sharply — he said that Jim had always been that way and I wasn't to be ageist." Sonia laughed. "No, Jim was okay," admitted Victor. "Eventually. I think it was just because I'm tall. I mean, there I was, 6'4" of hulking grad student — and I was in better shape in those days — and Ellison took one look at me and — you had to see his face. I thought he was going to throw me over the goddamn balcony." He smiled at the memory. "You have to understand, Jim was incredibly protective of Blair. Overprotective, even."
"Sentinel protecting his Guide," murmured Sonia.
"Well, yes, so it seems, but who knew that then?"
"So he was protective. Territorial?"
"Oh yes, yes," groaned de Guzman, "he was everything you said in your talk. It seems obvious now, but at the time — well none of us, to my knowledge, connected Blair's work on Sentinels with Jim. Sometimes you just can't see what's under your nose." He sighed. "Though I should have seen it, I knew Blair's work backwards and forwards. I should have seen the parallels. It never occurred to me that Jim was a Sentinel — I just thought of him as Blair's perpetually pissed-off boyfiend. At first, anyway. Later I grew to like him. He was incredibly, well, decent," said Victor. "And he worshipped the ground Blair walked on. Which was something we had in common. I suppose he was the original Sandburgite, really — the rest of us are just pale imitations.
"I mean, you had to respect Jim," continued Victor. "He closed so many big cases, was offered all these fancy promotions — turned them all down. He stayed on the street, actively involved, really working, till the end. They both did."
"Protecting the tribe," said Sonia.
"Yes, yes," said Victor de Guzman, irritably, "but we didn't know that. We didn't know. You just took them as they were. I mean, they'd been together such a long time, even then. So you figured, well of course Blair knew how Jim liked his coffee and of course Jim knew when Blair was going to have one of his migraines — "
"He had migraines?" asked Sonia.
"Yeah, bad ones, in later years. They always eased when Jim showed up. And he always showed up, out of nowhere," said Victor, frowning. "Dammit, its so obvious in retrospect. It explains everything. All the grants Blair turned down. Why he didn't publish more. Who he was protecting — god, who else would he be protecting? We must have been blind. And that book — the first one, about Sentinels in Peru — I'll bet Sandburg himself was the source for that. The famous, anonymous Guide," de Guzman snorted. "Cagey little bastard," he added, a note of admiration in his voice, and they fell into silence.
Later, when Victor de Guzman pulled up in front of Sonia's apartment, he turned to her and asked, "Do you want to come with me to the loft tomorrow?"
"The loft?" she asked.
"Where they lived. 852 Prospect. I'm picking the keys up from the lawyer tomorrow morning. He's left it to me. Not that I know what to do with it. You don't need a place, do you?"
"No," she said, smiling. "I'm happy here."
"Well, I'll figure something out. Do you want to see it?"
"Yes, very much," said Sonia.
"All right, let's say noon. Do you want me to pick you up?"
"No, I'll meet you there. 852 Prospect?"
"Yes. I'll wait for you outside."
"Okay." She got out of the car. "And thanks."
"Sonia?" called Victor, and she turned around. "Listen — can I — can I see the work while I'm in town? Just a sneak preview." His eyes were pleading. "I have to see it. Please say yes."
"Yes," said Sonia, and waving, she turned and walked into her building.
"Nice neighborhood," she said the next morning, slamming her car door shut and walking over to Victor de Guzman.
"Not then," he said, smiling in greeting. "Development," he added, as if in explanation.
They walked inside, took the elevator to the third floor. Victor fumbled with the unfamiliar keys, opened the door. Sonia looked in, sighed appreciatively. "Oh, beautiful," she said, immediately crossing to an elaborate carving hanging over the fireplace. "Beautiful art — such an eye. I must have seen fifty of these in Peru, and not one half as good. Look at the way the artist has rendered the face — " and she turned to look at Victor, who was still standing at the door. "Are you all right?"
"It's just really hit me that they're gone," said Victor de Guzman softly, sadly. "It looks just the same — you just expect — " He stopped, pressed his lips together. "I had a lot of meals here," he said abruptly, looking over at the dark, abandoned kitchen.
"You should sit down," said Sonia kindly, moving toward him.
"Yes," murmured Victor, folding his large frame into a chair and rubbing his deeply tanned face. "It isn't going to happen," he said suddenly.
"What?" asked Sonia gently. "What isn't?"
"I'm not going to get this place cleaned out in a week," he said. "It's just too much."
"It's not so difficult," said Sonia, reasonably. "The books," she said, gesturing toward all the shelves, "should go to the library at Rainier, and the artifacts mostly belong in museums, and — "
"The books," corrected Victor, angrily, "belong on the bookshelves and the art belongs just where it is. Can't you see that?" he snapped.
"Victor," said Sonia, softly, kneeling down by his chair, "I understand how you're feeling, really I do. When my father died — I had to clean out his house, and your whole soul cries out against it, but it has to be done. Life goes on," she said. "And we're not talking about throwing anything away — we're not talking about destroying a life, we're talking about preserving it. Celebrating it. When I finish working on Professor Sandburg's files down at the office, they're going into the library as the Sandburg Collection, so that scholars will have access to them — its difficult, but it has to be done. Sentimentality doesn't help," she said firmly.
"Fine," he said softly, and, taking her hand into his, he pressed the keys into her palm and gently closed her fingers around them. "You have it — you do it."
"Victor — "
"Please. Blair picked you, don't you understand? I'm sure he knew what he was doing. There must have been a reason — Blair always had his reasons."
"Okay," said Sonia, dropping the keys into her purse. "I'll take care of it."
"Thank you." Sonia got up, wandered toward the balcony. "Nice view," she said.
"They liked it out there. He died there, you know," said Victor quietly and Sonia felt suddenly sick. "They both did. Linda told me. In the chair on the balcony. The left one. First Jim, and then Blair, a month later. In the same chair. Jim's chair. I guess Blair took to sitting in Jim's chair after...." He stopped. "I should have been here. For them. For Linda," and his voice was infinitely sad.
"Victor, I don't think I can stay here right now, anymore," said Sonia, turning around.
De Guzman nodded.
"Come to my office tomorrow," she said. "I'll show you the manuscripts."
"Thank you," said Victor. "Call me at Linda's — I'm staying there. I'm going to sit here for a while. I'll let myself out."
"Okay," said Sonia, and she left quickly, wanting, needing, air.
Sonia was driving to her office at the university when suddenly she was gripped with fear, felt panic rising in her throat. "No, no, no, no," she said aloud and she wrenched the wheel to the left and the car spun with a squeal as she floored the accelerator, not knowing where she was going. She sped out of the city, into the woods, toward the river, driving blindly, and finally pulling up at the riverbank next to a parked blue sedan. She flung herself out of the car, darted around to the open driver's side door. "Casey, don't!" she cried.
Out of uniform, in his jeans and polo shirt, Daniel Casey looked younger, smaller, more boyish. He looked up at her with frightened eyes. "Sonia, what — "
"Don't," she said firmly, breathlessly, trying not to look at the gun lying on the passenger side seat.
"They revoked my license," he said in a ragged voice. "Because of my headaches. They won't let me fly." His desperate green eyes met her almond ones. "I've resigned my commission," he said, and his face was like a child's. "It's all I ever wanted — its all I can do," he said, and his face suddenly contorted and he began to weep bitterly. "I don't know what to do — what do I do now?"
And Sonia walked around the blue sedan and opened the passenger door; she gingerly picked the gun up off the seat and slid in beside him. Pulling the distraught Casey into her lap, she twined her hand into his blond hair tenderly and surreptitiously slipped the gun into her handbag, where it gently nestled against the keys to 852 Prospect.