Caveat lector

Betad by Linda of Sentry Post fame, thank you kindly.

Thought for the day: life sucks and then you die




By Sealie




Blair knew that he was pacing, and that it was irritating the watching detectives, but he simply could not stop. He told himself it was the pain of his broken right collar bone that kept him moving, he didn’t believe his own excuse.


Waiting and pacing… waiting for the results from Jim’s cat-scan.


A passing nurse had informed him that the last thing any doctor wanted to do was unnecessary surgery but it did look like a subdural haematoma. She hadn’t wanted to tell him anything but the student had hauled her into a secluded corner and questioned her like Jim with one of his suspects. The sheaf of forms that another nurse had handed him as Next-of-Kin mocked him. It would be his decision—Jim was deeply and profoundly unconscious.


‘It must of happened when he banged his head on the window.’


“Mr. Sandburg?” a compassionate voice spoke softly. The doctor was a small man, rotund and busy-harried like most medical workers.


“Yeah,” Blair glanced at the name tag, “Dr. Roget?”


“I understand that you’re Detective Ellison’s Next-of-Kin?”


“Yes—what’s happening?” Blair clamped down on the strident tone threading through his words.


“Surgery,” Dr. Roget said succinctly. “The clot is typically subdural, that’s something of a catch-all term, there is a large clot under the membrane enveloping the brain. The clot is pressing on the optic region and the medulla oblongata.”


“Is there any other treatment?” Surgery seemed too invasive. “Jim’s really sensitive, allergies, I don’t know how he’ll respond to anaesthetics or even painkillers.”


“Allergies?” Doctor Roget inquired.


“Yeah,” Blair said, and winced as his sling moved. It was as a neat sling designed to minimize the newly broken bone by tucking his hand up by the base of his throat.  “I told the doctor who treated me—he said that he would go and speak to the doctor who was treating Jim—you, I suppose.”


“Tell me the details.” Roget shepherded the exhausted student to a quiet corner.


“I’ve never managed to get him to go to his doctors for sensitivity tests or even allergen testing, but… like ibuprofen, ibuprofen gives him an upset stomach. He said that when he was in the army one of his inoculations gave him hives, he wouldn’t tell me which one.”


Roget sucked absently on his knuckles, evidently deep in thought. “What’s the name of his local doctor?”


“It won’t help you,” Blair said decisively. “He’s never reported his allergies, he just grins and bears it.”


“Ideally I’d like to see his army records but I don’t think we have time for that luxury.” With a brusque motion he tapped the clipboard which Blair held, “I require your signature before I can perform surgery.”


“What about his allergies?” Blair asked hollowly.


“I’ll inform the anaesthetist that we may have problems, some anesthetics are tolerated better than others in these cases.”


“Surgery.”  Blair swallowed. “Is there anything else you could do?”


“We could treat him with anticoagulants,” Roget said neutrally.


“But you don’t recommend it?”


“Both treatments have their risks.”


“Which one is less risky?”


Roget shrugged. “Personally, I would go with the surgery. If the bleeding restarts the damage could be irreparable. Anticoagulants increase the risk of bleeding.”


Blair chewed furtively on a hang nail. “Surgery,” he decided.


Roget retrieved the consent form and held it so the student could scribble his signature left handed on the form. As Doctor Roget beetled away Blair wondered if he should have asked another doctor for a second opinion.


Thoughts and fears spiralled out of control. Blair braced his head against one hand and concentrated on not breaking down. A hand on his shoulder broke the nightmarish, terrifying thoughts assailing him. Blair lifted his head and stared into the compassionate eyes of Simon. The captain’s cigar was bobbing in his mouth, unlit but chewed down to an ugly stub.


“You okay?” Simon shook his head at the stupid question. “Come on, Blair, please, sit down.”


Slowly, Blair realized that he had been standing in the corridor like a zombie for some time. The images of the firemen and paramedics gently extricating Jim from the ruin of the Ford blurred before his eyes. Shaking his head, he made his way to the Emergency waiting room.


“Blair,” Simon tried again, “can you tell me what happened? I need a statement.”


Joel was burrowed in the far corner of the waiting room nursing a cup of vending machine coffee. He was so lost in thought that he was drinking the unpalatable goop. Shocky and grey, it was obvious that he hadn’t driven from the precinct. Henri, no doubt his chauffeur, was watching him very carefully. His friends were here, Blair realized, and felt just slightly better. As soon as Henri saw Blair enter the waiting room he rose to his feet.


“Blair! How’s...”


A clatter and light sensitive doors swishing open wrenched Blair’s attention from his friends and colleagues. Blair looked down the long corridor. A gurney containing a deathly still form, surrounded by attendants wearing green scrubs, was rushed out of sight. Oblivious to Henri’s irritating and  necessary, questions, Blair sat down, hard, on the waiting room chair.


U  U  U  U  U


Three Blind Mice

By Sealie



Heavily sedated and swathed in bandages, Jim was a pale reflection of his normal self. All the brown hair had been shaved and replaced by an enveloping turban of bandages. What was most disconcerting was the draining, fluid filled tube that was pushed beneath the bandages spiralling up and inserted God knew where.


The doctor had been cautiously optimistic when Jim had been finally wheeled out of surgery. The swelling was extensive but the clot had been removed and there appeared to be no evidence of serious postoperative bleeding nor had the detective reacted adversely to the anaesthetic. It was just a case of waiting for Jim to wake up.


Every nurse who had come in had implored the student to leave, stating that the patient would not wake for another twenty four hours at the very least. Blair couldn’t bring himself to leave, not when it was all his fault. Memories assailed him...


U  U  U  U  U


“Jim, I think you’re driving a bit too fast,” Blair said tightly.


“You want I should let him get away?” Jim snapped.


Blair made no answer as he braced himself against the dashboard. The criminal, in the black sedan, was executing every illegal manoeuvre in the book and Jim seemed determined to play one-upmanship. The truck swung around a hairpin bend and impossibly kept all four wheels on the tarmac.


‘I think we just defied the laws of physics,’ Blair thought nervously.


The suspect’s car slued to the side narrowly avoiding a stationary bus and crossed three lanes of traffic before coming back to the correct lane. Jim made sure that the truck crossed all four lanes of traffic. Blair resisted the temptation to cover his eyes with his hands. The black car paralleled them for a heartbeat and then crossed into the oncoming traffic. A rickety old car continued happily down the road apparently oblivious to the imminent head on collision. Blair held his breath on seeing the decrepit old man at the wheel. At the last moment the black car moved over missing the old car.  Grinning widely, Jim forced the truck over the carefully tended green grass separating the traffic lanes to cut off the criminal’s car. The man inside had time to flash a raised finger at them before he spun the wheel and disappeared down an alley.


“He’s good,” Jim said begrudgingly as he shifted down through the gears and cannoned after him.


“Perhaps we better call for back-up?”


“You do it!”


Breathing a contained sigh of relief, Blair made the call. Then kept up a running commentary of the pursuit as Jim enjoyed himself to the hilt.


The truck barrelled down the alley, knocking away the debris kicked up by the sedan. A police car narrowly missed them at an intersection as they bounced over the two lanes. The police car continued down the road in the completely opposite direction.


“Idiot!” Jim hurled at the disappearing vehicle.


If Blair had been Catholic he would have made the sign of the cross. He could have sworn that he heard Jim laugh. Leaving tire tread coating the tarmac, the black sedan executed a right turn and joined the main traffic.


Jim wrenched down on the wheel and screamed onto the road. It was a nice long stretch of road; the detective’s foot hit the gas until the pedal touched the floor.  Blair turned in his seat to implore Jim to slow down when an immense vehicle suddenly loomed over them and then blindsided the truck. The world went askew as the momentum swung the truck around—there was a squeal of brakes as both the truck driver and Jim fought for control.


U  U  U  U  U


Ow.” Blair shook his head gingerly. Pain that was both numbing and agonizing ran across his chest. He had no intention of moving for as long as he lived or at least until the pain ebbed away. Miraculously, the truck was still upright. Opening his eyes, Blair breathed a sigh of relief that the Ford’s body work had held—they were sandwiched between a truck and the side of a building. They were lucky to be alive.


“Hey, Jim, are...”


Jim was sprawled face down across the gear stick, half lying in the foot well and half lying on his seat. The seat belt was wrapped around his waist.




At the last moment, Blair managed to stop himself shaking his friend. Oblivious, now, to his own injuries he bent over to... he wasn’t too sure what he was trying to do.


Youz guys al’ right?” a voice yelled.


“Get an ambulance!”


The heavyset man nodded once and then ran.


‘Don’t move him—God, is he breathing?’ Over the clamour of people yelling and vehicles he couldn’t hear a thing. ‘A.B.C—something to do with the alphabet. Yes, airway has to be clear—how do you do that if you’re face down? It’ll be clear if he’s face down. Breathing’


Blair released his seat belt, which—judging from the pain—had broken his collarbone, and pressed his ear against Jim’s back.  The air whistled in Jim’s cramped lungs. Circulation, that’s bleeding—pulse? Blood was welling up from the large gash in the back of Jim’s head. A small blood tinged fractured zone in the centre of the driver’s window was mute testimony to Ellison’s head impacting against the glass. A hollow clunk disturbed him as the heavy man clambered onto the Ford’s hood and wielding a crowbar pried out the windshield.


“Ambulance is on its way,” he informed the pair. “Is he al’ right?”


“I don’t know,” Blair wailed.


Paramedics and fire fighters boiled over the car, yelling orders and instructions. He could hear the familiar barking orders of police officers directing traffic and demanding answers. Every emergency service in the city seemed to have arrived on the scene together. The heavyset man relinquished his position to a trio of paramedics. The youngest man came into view over the student huddled in the passenger’s seat.


“Can you move, sir?”


“Yes, but you have to see to Jim first.”


“No,” the paramedic said patiently, “if I can get you out of the truck, my colleagues can get in and help your friend.”


Blair considered the logic of this as another paramedic reached into the car and felt for Jim’s pulse.


‘Yes, it would be easier if they can get into the truck’.


His arm refused to help him squirm out of his seat. Simply thinking about it made the bones grate together. Gritting his teeth, Blair held his arm to his chest and twisted to stand on the seat. The paramedic realized instantly that he was injured and moved into help him.


U  U  U  U  U


The respirator was mesmerizing, the black bag inflated—deflated—inflated—deflated. Was Jim breathing or was the ventilator breathing for him? Blair didn’t know. The intubating tube inserted in Jim’s mouth, secured by tape, terrified the student on a deep, visceral level. He could handle the intravenous drips and their dripping plastic bags, the catheters hidden beneath the intensive care blankets. The tube, however, seemed such a base invasion of Jim’s body. A nurse passed the room and Blair tried to make himself as small as possible on the chair beside the bed. The nurses kept insisting that he leave, get some rest.  Another nurse came into the room and modified an intravenous drip. She nearly covered her scrutinising of the student by reading the chart at the base of Jim’s bed. Blair smiled tiredly up at the woman.


“You’re not helping yourself.”


Blair shifted his sling and covered a wince. “I read somewhere once that people who are unconscious can be aware of... friends near them. That it can help...”


The nurse’s sympathetic smile cut him to the quick. She crouched next to the student. “It would be better if you headed home for a while.”


“I can’t. I have to stay.” It was not negotiable.


“Your ten minutes are up. You have to leave.”


“No! You don’t understand. I have to be here. I mean… what if…?”


She leaned in close, and Blair felt that she was reading his very soul. Her eyes were not a simple uniform dark brown, but the irises were flecked with amber.


“There is a cot in the staff room, if you promise me you’ll get your head down, I’ll let you sleep there.””


“Thank you,” Blair said simply.


U  U  U  U  U




Blair was curled up on a chair in the far corner of the room out of the way of the medical equipment He kept up a running, one sided, conversation with Jim as he watched the shadows and light moving on the ceiling. Every time another ambulance screamed into the hospital, colours played along the white plasterboard. .


“Looks nice. Kinda crappy, though, to put intensive care so near the emergency room. It’s noisy, I hope you’ve got senses turned down.”


The soft swish of a nurse, on night duty, walking along the darkened corridor interrupted him. Blair held his breath until the nurse had moved out of earshot. His ten minutes in every hour, could be stretched to fifteen if he kept quiet.


“It’s that weird time of night, isn’t it? You know what I mean, Jim. The world’s stopped dead and... this is usually where you say something snarky. I remember when I was studying as an undergrad—I always did my best thinking at this time of night. Well, I still do. Everybody else would be asleep (unless they were out clubbing) and I’d wander around making up essays and stuff and there’d be no interruptions.  I guess you do your thinking in the morning when everybody’s just about to get up. I do my thinking when everybody’s just gone to sleep.”


Blair shifted his aching shoulder, trying to find some relief.


“I remember the first time I couldn’t sleep. I lay on my bed just like this looking up at the ceiling. But the shadows were frightening, I tried burrowing under the covers but I knew that they were coming, so I kept completely still so that the monsters wouldn’t know I was there. Naomi found me in the morning curled up in a ball at the bottom of the bed. She had to strip the covers off before she could get me out to go to school—I’d wound myself up in the blankets so much. She was surprised that I could breathe.”


“Mr. Sandburg. Blair?”




Blair struggled out of his slouch as the matronly nurse entered the intensive care unit. She stood over him, tapping her foot with a decidedly maternal expression on her face.


“I thought our deal was that you could stay if you got some sleep.”


“Don’t they let you go home?” Blair deliberately changed the subject.


“No rest for the wicked.”


Blair actually laughed. The nurse made a rapid scan of the various monitors surrounding Jim and then turned her attention back to the student.


“Mr. Sandburg...”


“Blair.” He smiled a lopsided smile.


“Blair,” she corrected herself, “I know with that collarbone you’ll have a prescription for painkillers, have you taken any?”


She was as perceptive as Jim, reading the scurrilous evasion on his eyes, as he searched for a believable lie. Uhm.” He shook his head.


“Why do you people do that? We don’t give medication for fun, you know.”


Bowing to her authority, Blair rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the vial of pain killers. He rolled the container in his hand and then dissolved into giggles, albeit hysterical giggles.


“They put a child-proof cap on the bottle.” He hadn’t a hope in hell of getting it opened one handed. 


The nurse popped the cap off with practised ease and dropped two of the large tablets into his outstretched hand.


“Quit making excuses and take your medicine like a good boy. And then go back to the staff room and get some sleep.”


U  U  U  U  U


The agonizing ache in his shoulder and neck had eased to a dull hypnotic throbbing. M’benga, the nurse, had also supplied milky hot chocolate. Sleep was prowling around the edges of his waking world. Twice he’d caught himself nodding, almost asleep. He thought that he could hear Jim’s pulse monitor from across the corridor. The rhythm, slow and repetitive, soothed him with its steady music.  The door of the staff room opened and M’benga’s presence filled the room.


“He’s doing fine, Blair,” she whispered.


Blair managed a grunt before he fell asleep.


U  U  U  U  U


Blair sipped on his café latte. Twenty hours since coming out of surgery and Jim showed no signs of regaining consciousness. There was a sense of nothingness in the region where Jim’s body was lying which was horribly disconcerting. Maybe it was the complete lack of movement, movement that was even present in sleep, which was missing, that made Blair feel that it was not Jim lying in the hospital bed.


‘Yeah, and if it’s not Jim who is it?’ he thought acerbically.


Blair edged around the bed. The technology intimidated him, too many monitors and devices that seemed to tie his friend’s body to the bed. In retrospect, Blair realized that that was probably a good thing.


“Ah, come on, Jim, wake up. M’benga, that nice nurse who keeps checking on you, said the sedative was only for twenty hours or so.” Blair glanced theatrically at his watch. “It’s time for you to wake up—Now!”


Jim’s face remained still, no flicker of consciousness moved across his features.


“Damn,” he swore and turned to the window.


“Blair,” there was a light tap on wood.


Blair was surprised to see that the Simon had come, since he had stayed late the night before. Judging by his rumpled clothes, the captain hadn’t slept. Blair wondered distantly what had kept Simon chained to the desk overnight.  The captain waved the student out of the intensive care room.  Blair cast one glance over at Jim as he left the room for the first time in over twenty hours.


“How is he?” Simon nodded over Blair’s shoulder at the patient.


“His blood pressure’s gone down a little which is a good thing. The doctor’s been in and out this morning. M’benga, his ICU nurse, says he’s doing okay.”




“I’ll believe it when he wakes up,” Blair said under his breath as he allowed Simon to steer him to a waiting room. With the utmost gentleness the big man settled him on the sofa and then sat next to him.


“Blair, son, can you tell me what happened, now?”


U  U  U  U  U


“So you think that this Jacob Tree is the burglar who has been targeting the penthouses on the East Side,” Blair asked.


“Yes.” Ellison pushed open the door of the Greenhaugh Towers, an expensive apartment complex for expensive people.


The detective made a slow turn looking around the opulent foyer. Blair thought it was decked out very tacky. He leaned over towards Jim. “It’s a bit… gold.”


The sentinel’s eyes were wide; he seemed to be storing the sight for future use. Blair wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do with the memory but the whole foyer was in such bad taste that it deserved an award.


“It’s just an advert,” Jim said icily, dismissing the grandeur, “saying: ‘I’ve got money.’”


Blair raised an eyebrow, a bit surprised at Jim’s reaction. The detective flashed his badge at the doorman who was decked out in a black uniform edged in gold braid.


“What makes you think Tree is the criminal?” Blair asked as they entered the gold lamé lift.


“Whoever is doing the burglaries has to be familiar with the layout of the buildings,” Jim began.


“Seems like a good inference.”


Jim pursed his lips. “Henri, Rafe and I watched all the security videos for the buildings on the entire East Side.” There was an air of the ‘cat’s got the cream’ around the detective.


“What did you see?” Blair asked obediently.


“A delivery man, a mail man, a pizza delivery boy, a florist and a tarot reader all who had a cough.”


“A cough?”


“Yes, a cough.” Jim demonstrated a hacking cough.


Blair contained a laugh behind a well-placed hand at the unexpected mimicry.


“They all would spit into a handkerchief. Then I saw a video of Mr. Jacob Tree, new resident at Greenhaugh Towers, who would cough an’ then spit.”


“So we go talk to this guy and see if we can get him to...”


“Slip up?” Blair interjected.


“Got it in one, Chief.”


U  U  U  U  U


“Jim was going to pretend that we’d had a report of an intruder at Tree’s penthouse,” Blair continued his story, “but it wasn’t necessary; he wasn’t in.”


“So how did you get in?” Simon asked knowing full well that the detective would have found some legally stretched way of getting into his suspect’s apartment.


“His housekeeper was putting the garbage on the landing for the apartment’s super’. Once I explained the situation to her she was more than ready to let us look around.”


U  U  U  U  U


“That wasn’t very nice, Jim,” Blair chastised. “I think you frightened that poor woman.”


“Whatever,” Jim said offhandedly as he scanned the sitting room.


“When you showed her your badge she actually blanched; I thought she was going to faint.”


“She was just experiencing déja vu.” With his pen, Jim opened a drawer on the telephone table and rifled through the contents.


“Why déja vu?” Blair inquired. As far as he knew, they had never met the woman, who had been last seen running down the corridor, in any of Jim’s cases or their nights out.


“She didn’t want to go home.”


“Oh?” Blair mulled over Jim’s comment, it didn’t make much sense. “Where do you suppose that she has gone then?”


“Home as in South America—not downtown Cascade...,” Jim let his voice trail off.


“Ah,” Blair said, finally understanding.


The apartment was well appointed and ultimately sterile. No personal knickknacks were spread around, no magazines were strewn on the coffee table and no sense of home.


“Doesn’t look as if anyone lives here, does it?” Jim noted.


“Well, we do know that Tree has just moved in; maybe he hasn’t had time to unpack his personal possessions.”


“He’s the sick puppy who’s been breaking into the people’s apartments. I can feel it in my bones.”


“You’re taking this very personally,” Blair pointed out, realizing for the first time, that there was more here than met the eye.


Jim chewed absently on the inside of his cheek as he mooched through the wooden unit’s drawers. The question hung in the air but the detective was deliberately not answering. Straightening his backpack on his shoulder with deliberation, Blair interposed himself between his sentinel and the bureau. Resignation showed in Jim’s eyes as he came up against the immovable student.


“You have told me that a person, unspecified, has been breaking into apartments. And —” Blair raised a Spock-like eyebrow, “—what haven’t you been telling me?”


Jim neatly sidestepped the student, leaving his personal space. Antsy, the detective moved across the room scanning the area. As he moved, he spoke,


“When I was just out of uniform; I followed this investigation where this weirdo was taking one thing from each bedroom he broke into. The items got deliberately more ‘personal’—” Jim did not elaborate on the euphemism, “—until he found a victim who he decided to kidnap. We managed to get the kid back. The creep did it for fun, though, just to pull one over on the police. He didn’t care that he frightened this little boy half to death and hospitalized his mother with a nervous breakdown—he just liked running us through rings.”


“A strange sort of fetish.”




“Yeah, you know, he does it for ‘kicks’.”  Blair mimed the speech marks. “So you think that this is a reoccurrence?”


“Yes....” Jim moved into the open plan bedroom. “I wasn’t really involved with the case, just pulled in during the legwork looking for the kid. I heard all about it from this old FBI agent who was pensioned off after the whole fiasco. He called me the other night and told me that he’d been reading through the local papers and he thought the creep was back in town. I clicked that our Penthouse Burglar and that creep might be one and the same.”


“You must have made friends with this FBI agent.”


“Well, it happens.” Jim shrugged, deprecatingly—even FBI agents were human. “We got to talking one night while on stakeout....”


“And?” Blair prompted.


Jim eyed the student. “We spent a lot of time together; we shared a few stories. He’d been in the FBI—forever.”


“He must have been a font of knowledge,” Blair supplied. He was very fond of fonts of knowledge.


“He was an interesting old guy,” Jim finally seemed to admit.


“You don’t have to defend yourself, Jim,” Blair said picking up on his friend’s tone, “some of my best friends are old aged pensioners.”


“Yeah,” Jim responded as he began to rifle through another drawer, “that explains a lot.”


U  U  U  U  U


“So you didn’t find anything?” Simon interrupted.


“A whole selection of cough medicines and tissues with balm and moisturizers.”


“So that was your evidence?” Simon asked.


“Well, it was typically Jim. Tree had some cough syrup with Ipecacuanha—I’ve no idea what that is—Jim sniffed it. Any rate, we were going to the apartment complex over the street to investigate another break in and we were walking through the foyer and Jim suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and lifted his head up...”


U  U  U  U  U


Blair looked up from his conversation with an obstreperous doorman—who didn’t think the ragtag student matched the wallpaper in the foyer or something, therefore they couldn’t come into the building. Jim seemed to be enjoying the tête-à-tête—mainly for its entertainment and blackmail value—but Blair fully expected the sentinel to stop them very soon. Canvassing the high-class apartment complexes in the area on the off chance that they would find Tree was driving the student to new depths of boredom.


“Ah.” Jim inhaled deeply. He edged past them and catfooted over the plush carpet towards a side corridor. He angled around some large, vibrant green rubber plants and hanging vines. As Blair watched his friend, he wasn’t even consciously aware of the fact that he was automatically holding his breath. Jim had rocked onto the balls of his feet poised to act. Bushes obscured his view; Blair couldn’t see, or smell, what had triggered the sentinel’s interest. Brushing off the doorman with a hissed ‘call the cops,’ Blair attempted to move smoothly after the hunting sentinel.


“You’ve got an obstruction in the ground floor heating vent.” Blair heard Jim say and then point up to the grating in the ceiling.


“Thanks.” The man’s voice was harsh and guttural covering a rasping cough.


“Nasty cough, have you taken anything for it?”


“Yeah, I can’t get rid of it, though.”


Jim edged closer as the man bent down to rummage through his tool box.


Blair wondered at Jim’s circumspect behaviour, he was normally a lot more in-your-face. Jim was hunting for more evidence.


“I’ve heard that Ipecacuanha is a good old fashioned remedy for coughs,” Jim said neutrally. “I was just looking at a bottle a few moments ago.”


The man stepped out from behind the bush. The nondescript brown haired man, wearing engineering overalls, shot a harried glance up at the detective and immediately saw Blair creeping towards them. The engineer swung the heavy metal toolbox at the detective who neatly jumped back, straight into Blair. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs in a potted fern.


“Blair!” Jim struggled to free himself from under the flailing student. The engineer, Blair was fairly sure that he was Tree, was as fast as a jackrabbit and halfway out of the door before Jim got to his feet. The sentinel hovered for a heartbeat to make sure that he had not hurt his partner by falling on him. And then he was out the door after Tree. Blair chased after the pair. As he broke through the swinging doors, he saw Jim on the sidewalk and Tree was diving into a black sedan. Swearing loudly, Jim reversed his direction and ran to his beloved truck.


U  U  U  U  U


Simon shook his head. “What happened next?”


“Can I tell you later?” Blair pursed his lips. “‘Jim should be waking up soon, I should be there.”


The vigil would not be over until Jim rejoined them; awake and aware. Fuzzy with lack of sleep and pain, Blair staggered out of the psychologically comforting beige waiting room and back to Jim in ICU.


“Blair.” Simon caught the student mid-stride before he could enter the room. “That Tree saw you was an accident. You’re not at fault.”


Blair dropped his head against the wooden doorframe. “I was responsible for letting him get away. I alerted him to our presence. It was my fault.”


Simon was at his side, supporting him without touching. Blair looked up at the figure lying on the bed surrounded by the happily beeping equipment. Then Jim’s long limbs shifted, just a fraction, but he was no longer unconscious and sedated. Blair was across the room and clinging to the metal rails surrounding the patient’s bed before Simon could react.


Clouded blue eyes opened and closed.


“Come on, Jim, all the way,” Blair encouraged. “Turn the dials down. Hearing first…” 


Behind him, Simon was calmly informing the duty nurse that their patient was awaking. The heart monitor picked up. Jim’s throat worked against the oxygenating tube supplying his lungs. Blair caught Jim’s hand as he reached to tug at the intubating tube.


It’s okay, Jim. Simon has gone for a doctor. Don’t play with it—you’ll hurt yourself.”


Jim couldn’t speak around the tube but he was making a whole hearted attempt. Feebly, he twisted in Blair’s grasp.


“You’re in a hospital. We crashed the truck and you got hurt,” Blair said candidly as he attempted to soothe his friend.


Sssssh,” M’benga was suddenly at their side, offering her own brand of comfort. “Doctor’s here.” She made way for Dr. Roget.


Jim continued to fight against the tube despite Blair’s attempts to calm him. Roget, with terse instructions to his nurse, beckoned her closer. Blair withheld a gag as they extracted the incredibly long tube. Jim followed their instructions with an almost eager intensity, coughing on demand as they drew the plastic tube past his throat. M’benga dribbled ice chips between his parched lips as Roget placed a smaller less obtrusive oxygenating tube beneath Jim’s nose.  One of the units by the bed began beeping frantically.


“His heart rate is up,” M’benga reported, somewhat unnecessarily.


“Detective Ellison, you are at the Memorial Hospital in Cascade; you’ve just had surgery.” Roget kept his tone calm and even.


The figures on the monitor soared higher.


“Get me 15 mg of Diazepam,” Roget ordered.


M’benga nodded and left.


“What are you doing?” Blair demanded—he was aware of Simon trying to draw him aside. Jim was still twisting on the bed almost as if he didn’t know where he was.


“It’s a light sedative—we don’t want him hurting himself,” Roget said ungraciously, as M’benga returned with a filled syringe. The drug was quickly inserted in an IV line.


“Speak to your friend,” M’benga said, “try to calm him.”


The valium hit the sentinel like a ton of bricks, he sagged into the pillow, almost unconscious. The monitors linked to the detective immediately calmed. M’benga nodded at Blair impelling him to speak.


“Jim, it’s Blair.” Blair watched as Jim’s head turned on the pillow, unerringly honing in on the sound of his voice.


Roget snorted. “Detective Ellison can you tell me where you are?” He caught the detective’s face between his nimble hands. “Tell me where you are....”


Hosp’l,” Jim slurred, half asleep.


“Good,” Roget murmured, “you can relax now, detective. Go to sleep.”


Jim’s expression was confused as he slipped back into sedated sleep.


“Is he all right?” Blair demanded.


Roget waited, studying the pulse monitor, before speaking. “He’s coherent, that is usually a good sign. Undeniably, he is suffering the effects of a severe concussion accounting for his distress.” Roget finally looked away from his patient. “I think it is time for you to go home, Mr. Sandburg.”


Blair shot a glare at the doctor, hackles raised. “I’m not going anywhere.”


“Blair,” Simon interrupted, “I think it is a good idea for you to go home for a while. Jim isn’t going to wake up for....”


“Hours,” Roget supplied.


“Come on, Blair,” Simon ordered. “Henri’s here with Rafe —he’ll keep an eye on Jim for you. I’ll drop you off at the loft for a change of clothes and a nap and Joel can pick you up at visiting time.”


The captain’s tone was reasonable but the hint of steel was there beneath his quiet words. Blair debated a moment whether to fight to stay or leave—leaving won. He had seen Jim awake—albeit unsatisfactorily—and his body was crying out for a warm bath and a couple more hours of sleep. If he kept rattling Roget’s cage, the doctor might bar him from intensive care all together.


“I’ll be back at seven.” Blair allowed Simon to catch him by the elbow and help him from the room.


U  U  U  U  U


“Naomi!” Blair sagged against the doorjamb. Frantically, he wracked his brain, had his mother said that she was visiting? Surely he would remember? How had she got into the loft? He had stopped hiding the key over the lintel.


Concerned and upset, his mother was flapping around him. Blair tried to figure out why Naomi was annoyed, to say the right words to calm her down, but his brain had turned to mush and words escaped him.


“Come on, sweetie.” A soft hand brushed his hair. Obediently, Blair followed the voice, obeyed the instruction to sit and find his centre.


Unbelievably a cup of tea was suddenly pushed in his face. Tired, Blair decided not to argue and drink the lukewarm, sugary brew. After the first sip, he set it down. Closing his eyes, he let his head sag forwards.


‘Oh, shock,’ he realized, ‘Mom thinks I’m in shock.’


“How did you get hurt?” Naomi demanded. “Where’s Jim? Why did you come home alone?”


“He didn’t come alone,” Simon’s bass voice echoed through the loft.


‘Oh, yeah, I came ahead while Simon unloaded the groceries.’


Blair grayed out and let them rehash the events of the last two days without his input. Eyes closed, he had another mouthful of the tea.


“They operated on his head?” Naomi said, shocked, breaking through his reverie.


Blair lifted his head and focused on his mother.


“Yes. He woke up, though. He knew where he was.”


Surprisingly, the cup was empty. When had he drunk it? Blair looked at it like he had never seen a cup before, trying vaguely to decide what to do with it. Gentle hands enfolded his cold fingers and his mother lifted the cup away. Dazed with exhaustion, Blair watched her rinse out the cup. He was debating the merits of sleeping on the kitchen table when Naomi levered him to his feet.


“Well, that’s a good sign isn’t it, sweetie?”


“Uh?” Blair asked.


His mother seemed smaller than usual as she slipped an arm around his waist. Supporting him, in more ways than one.


“That he knew where he was,” she reiterated.


“Yeah, I think so.” The confusion on Jim’s face haunted him.


“You are going to bed.”


Eyes almost crossed with concentration, he managed to keep one foot in front of the other, as his mother shepherded him to his cubby hole of a bedroom. It was warm and dark and cozy.  He slumped, aiming on burrowing in the blankets, but somehow his mom kept him upright and skilfully pulled back the quilts. Blair squinted. How had she managed that? Was Simon in the room? But there was a sheet before him and he was allowed to fall head first into the warm nest that had been created. He didn’t remember anything else.


U   U   U


Rubbing the last shreds of embarrassment from his face, Blair settled onto the couch as he waited for Joel. Needing Naomi’s help in the bath had been a humiliating experience, especially when she had started to reminisce. The pain in his shoulder and collarbone was easing as the painkillers kicked in. The mild euphoria from the drugs mingled with the herbal tea his mother had foisted on him. He loathed camomile tea at the best of times and with boneknit added it was unbelievably vile.


“Are you sure that I could take that tea with ibuprofen? I’m feeling really dopey.”


“Yes, I checked with my herbalist before mixing it.”


“Ms. Syre-el-fadis?” She was a herbalist with years of experience. Nice lady, he’d learned a lot from her over the years.




Keeping his eyes firmly closed, Blair debated whether or not to acknowledge his mother. Footsteps came closer and a gentle hand was laid upon his knee. Deliberately smoothing out his breathing, Blair pretended to be asleep. He just needed ten minutes to himself, before he went to the hospital.


“Oh, Blair.” Naomi’s voice was soft.


The scent of perfume lessened; she was moving away.


Then the scent was back. Blair almost relented and opened his eyes but suddenly he was wrapped in softness. His mother was tucking a blanket around him. The unexpected tenderness nearly broke him. A soft rap on the door sent his mother across the loft. Blair heard the door click open.


“Hello, Joel. Shush—he’s asleep.”


“Oh,” Joel’s voice lowered. “I was going to take him to see Jim in the hospital?”


“Have you heard anything?”


“Simon keeps giving us updates, every hour on the hour; he’s stable. Reynolds and Lorne are hangin’ around the ICU waiting room.”


A theatrical yawn escaped from Blair and he let his eyes open sleepily. “Hi, Joel.”


“Blair,” Joel returned fondly. “Any chance of a cup of coffee, Ms. Sandburg, while your son wakes up?”


“I was only resting my eyes,” Blair said in an appropriately honest tone, his eyes wide open and innocent.


Naomi smiled. “Yes, right, that’s why your mouth was wide open and you were snoring. I’ll go get the coffee.”


“I wasn’t!” Blair protested. “Was I?”


Joel made himself comfortable opposite Blair as Naomi left to make coffee and give the boys time to talk.


“Did they catch Tree?” Blair couldn’t help but ask. It would be the first thing that Jim would ask him when he woke up.


“There was no sign of him anywhere,” Joel reported.


“What about at the apartments? There must be some records. Clues?”


“No—paid with a checking account. He had documents in his name but there is no Jacob Tree further back in the DMV and Tax database than eighteen months.”


“He’s been using the name quite a while.”


“Long enough for the bank to be happy with his credentials.”


“So the guy’s a pro,” Blair said introspectively and wondered if Jim had told Simon of his suspicions.


Joel leaned forwards. “Likely, he certainly is an accomplished burglar. He chose only the most expensive items from the penthouse apartments.”


“A bit like Raffles?”


Joel looked confused for a heartbeat. “The gentleman thief from the novels?”


“Yeah,” Blair confirmed absently. He wasn’t up on Jim’s case. He needed to read the reports – to see if there was a correlation with the Penthouse Burglar and the old FBI case.


Mulling on his thoughts, he missed Joel’s weighing expression.


“Blair?” Joel said quietly and then louder. “Blair!”




“Your mother…”


Naomi was standing over him holding a tray. Judging by the small smile on her face, she had been enjoying simply watching him lost in thought. She’d made a good host’s effort, and had supplied dense chocolate brownies and frothy cappuccinos. Blair wondered when she’d made them and what the ingredients were – carob and soothing herbs probably.


Joel visibly perked up. “Thanks Ms. Sandburg,” he snarfed down a home-baked brownie.


Blair fingered the treats, everything was designed to entice him to eat. Reluctantly, he took the chocolate brownie. Naomi beamed in response.


U  U  U  U  U


The sterile, futuristic technology of the intensive care was over powering. Blair noted a young woman sitting in the waiting area slowly shredding a tissue into a mass of white fragments. Yet, despite the inherent seriousness of the department there was a feeling of hope pervading the staff as they bustled from room to room intent on their work. Light sensitive doors swung open at their approach. Joel released Blair’s elbow at the swing doors and nodded at the waiting area.


“I’ll wait there with Reynolds and Nick.”


“Thanks, Joel.”


Not sparing him a second glance, Blair passed into the ICU. M’benga was still on duty—diligently working her way through a pile of forms. She smiled sunnily at the student.


“How is he?” Blair did not vacillate.


“He had a bad half hour this afternoon, but he rode the crisis well and his blood pressure is much better, now,” M’benga said candidly.


“What! What?”


“Blair, calm down—Doctor Roget will have you thrown out.” She closed her file and rose to reassure the student. “Shock is very insidious—it happens and we dealt with it.”


The nurse was left gasping in Blair’s wake as he flew past her.


The room was unchanged. Jim still lay on the metal bracketed bed surrounded by monitors and intravenous drips. Exhaling a sigh of relief, Blair approached the bed.


“Hi, Jim.”


His friend lay still on the bed, his mouth slightly open as he breathed. Blair’s fingers twitched, he wanted to touch him, to make sure that this wax dummy was real. His skin was sallow and pale; it would probably feel cool to the touch.


A gentle hand rested on his good shoulder. “He’s on the mend, Blair. Just have faith.”


Patting the hand, Blair smiled sadly. “I want…”


“I can’t tell you what happened. I will not tell you what happened,” Jim said clearly, “sir.”


“Jim?” Blair’s eyes widened as he leaned over the bed.


“Of course when Murray Blight entered the room I knew he was guilty because of the odour of chrysanthemums,” Jim said obliquely.


Confused, Blair reached forwards to lay his hand on Jim’s arm. M’benga caught his hand and shook her head. Jim’s eyes switched open and he gazed at them, unseeing.


“It’s the sedative—let him wake up slowly.”


‘This could be rather illuminating,’ Blair realized. Jim pumped full of potential truth drugs might let a few secrets past that closed façade.


“It depends doesn’t it... Jim said invitingly.


“Depends on what?” Blair prompted.


Jim giggled quietly. “My father works in an office; what does your Dad do?” He sounded very young.


“Does this normally happen?” Blair asked fascinated.


“It’s not unusual.” M’benga occupied herself taking Jim’s pulse as the detective carried on his one sided conversation. “We normally don’t listen.”


“Hey, Jim, what was the name of your first girlfriend?”


M’benga’s expression was disapproving.


Blair had the grace to look abashed. “Just curious....”


“I had to... hold Annie’s hand in first grade when we went....” Jim’s voice trailed off. His breathing speeded up and a confused little furrow formed between his eyebrows.


“Hey, Jim,” Blair said responding to the change, “you’re okay.”


“Blair? Chief?” Jim squinted in his friend’s general direction. “My head hurts.”


“You hit it.”


Jim reached up and slowly rubbed the bridge of his nose.  “What the fuck? Where am I? Which hospital? Was anyone else hurt?”


“No,” Blair reassured his friend, “just you.”


“There was a black sedan,” Jim said disjointedly.


“Detective Ellison,” M’benga joined the conversation, “My name is Dion M’benga. I’m your nurse. You’re in ICU at Memorial Hospital. Can you tell me what day it is?”


Jim ignored her, fingering the bandages enveloping his head seemed more important to him. Blair shot a concerned glance across Jim at the nurse who was studying his friend’s vitals with almost manic intensity. M’benga raised her hand, absently silencing the student. She leaned over the bed and stared directly into her patient’s eyes. Jim sniffed and then reached out and made contact with her shoulder.


“Who are you?” Instantly he backed off. “Sandburg?”


Blair grabbed Jim’s hand and gripped tightly. “Jim, that’s your nurse, she’s really nice.”


“Will someone get the doctor in charge, please?” Jim asked, incredibly politely.


“Oh, yeah, I should have straight away...” The fact that Jim was clenching his hand impinged. “Jim, what’s wrong?”


“I can’t see anything, Sandburg.”


U  U  U  U  U


On the coffee table, paper work from university, his sentinel notes, and Jim’s case files, waited in three distinct piles. Each pile had to be addressed. The sentinel work to see if he could help Jim, the university to keep up with his classes and the third, to find Jacob Tree. He had managed, with Naomi driving, to get down to Major Crime and grab Jim’s reports. Simon had been reluctant to give him the copies. He knew why Simon had capitulated and given him the reports – Naomi had asked Simon very nicely to give Blair some busy work to get him out from under her feet. Burying a smirk, Blair rifled through the mass of paper work. He had never been under Naomi’s feet in his life. Even when Naomi had had found him a bit hyperactive as a child, they either meditated, mock-wrestled or she simply decamped to a friend’s house giving him space to run free.


Naomi knew that he was up to something. He fingered the sheaf of police reports with his good hand, unaware of the hard light in his eyes. Blair scanned the first page; he had made a vow he was going to fulfil it. He remembered....


U  U  U  U  U


'I can’t see anything, Sandburg'


The hospital room was suddenly filled to capacity. Jim lay in the centre of a mass of professionals all of whom seemed to want a piece of him. Blair was demanding answers from everyone within reach. A bevy of medical students, who were studying such an interesting case, huddled, embarrassed and a little scared in a far corner. M’benga, the ICU staff nurse, was making commiserating noises, trying to comfort both her patient and his best friend. The neurosurgeon, Doctor Roget, looked ready to phone security.


“Did you know this might happen?” Blair half-yelled. “This was a potential side effect of surgery?”


Roget grimaced. “Will you lower your voice.


In full fettle, Blair was just about to launch another attack when M’benga stepped directly into his line of sight.


“Blair, consider your friend,” M’benga said, peacemaker.


Jim had turned an unsightly grey under his bandages; Blair reined in his vitriol.


“What happened?” Blair finished. The student scrabbled at his hair – was this a result of Jim’s senses or the incompetence of the doctors? How could he bring in the sentinel part of the equation into Jim’s treatment, without revealing Jim’s secret?


Doctor Roget cast an acerbic glance at the voluble student as he bent over Jim with a small medical light.


“Detective Ellison, can you see anything?”


“No,” Jim grated.


Roget breathed a deep introspective sigh and shone the light again. Moving to the other side of the bed, Blair saw the pupils constrict; that had to be a good thing.


“How long’s he going to be like this?” Blair asked.


“How long is a piece of string?” Roget countered. “I’m sorry, that was very unprofessional of me, Detective Ellison. Obviously we’ll be doing tests but it strikes me that this is related to the swelling in the optic region. I will be able to give you a better idea after the tests.”


“Is it okay for me to get some sleep?” Jim asked tiredly. “I don’t actually think I can stay awake much longer.”


“Of course.” Roget paternally patted the detective’s shoulder.


The medical staff followed the premier neurosurgeon like imprinted ducklings out of the ICU unit. An autocratic nod conveyed Nurse M’benga’s instructions and yet another injection was inserted in one of the many intravenous drips feeding into the detective.


“Jim,” Blair said through clenched teeth, “do you need anything?”


“No.” Jim was close to falling asleep. “Did we get Tree?”


A gentle little sigh escaped from the sentinel and sightless blue eyes drifted shut. Jim was asleep. Blair released his death grip on the edge of Jim’s bed.


‘I’ll find Tree for you, Jim. I let him get away once, I won’t let him get away again.’  


U  U  U  U  U


“Earth to, Blair; come in, sweetie,” there was gentle amusement in the tone. Naomi smiled compassionately and placed a black coffee on top of a dusty pile of police files.


“Thanks, Naomi.”


She slipped into Jim’s favorite chair, curled up and weighed her son with her warm eyes. Blair began to count and refused to look away. She guessed that he was fermenting mayhem, but he could sometimes obfuscate his mom.


“So what are you doing?” she asked directly, no hedging in her tone.


Blair blinked and tried to act innocent, even though he knew that he was not fooling her. “Just stuff.” To emphasize his point he blew a mountain of dust off the ancient kidnapping case files.


“Sweetie, give me some credit—I know you are going to go after Jacob Tree. And that’s so not a good thing.”


“I’m not going *after* Tree. I’m just trying to find him.”


“I just you to remember that revenge isn’t good for your soul,” Naomi said earnestly. “Your karmic destiny will unfurl if you act solely for revenge.”


“Well…” Blair told himself not to whine. “It’s not about revenge. I’m trying to solve a crime for Jim. I’m doing it for Jim.”


“Well, yes, of course.” Naomi smiled, and moved to crouch at his side. “But, sweetie, you’re not a p… cop. You’re a grad student. I wish you would remember that.”


“I know I’m not to cop. But I am Jim’s partner. He’s beating himself up ‘cause Tree got away. He knows that he’s going to do something else,” Blair said vehemently. Jim was pretty much obsessed by Tree and Blair hoped that if he found anything out it would put his sentinel’s mind at rest.


“You’re not centered at the moment, you’re pulled this way and that, you should concentrate on healing and helping Jim. Jim’s colleagues should be investigating the case —“


“Simon doesn’t believe that Tree and the kidnapper from the FBI case are one and the same. I have to do this for Jim.”


U  U  U  U  U


Blair clung to the door frame watching Jim. The sentinel sat quietly in an armchair by the private room’s window. His arms rested on his thighs, his palms facing upwards. The sightless eyes were closed. He appeared relaxed, but Blair knew better. Sitting before him was the personification of the Ice King of ancient mythology.  He appeared to be patiently waiting for his sight to return and was seemingly unaffected by the events.


‘Still waters run deep.’


Blair hoped that he could contain the eventual blow out. For the first week of Jim’s hospitalization, he had slept his days away. Once, exactly, eleven days after the accident Jim had dreamed deeply and terrifyingly. Fighting against what seemed to be an enshrouding cloth that threatened to smother him, Blair had had to wake him. Frozen, caught between sleep and wakefulness, for one bare moment Blair had seen the fear in his friend’s shadowed eyes. The instant had lasted less than a heartbeat.


“Come in, Sandburg.”


Blair sidled into the room, “Hi.  How are you feeling?”


“I’m fine.” Jim smiled in his direction.


“See they let you out of bed.”


Jim smiled sweetly. “It took a lot of badgering but after the battery of tests they’ve inflicted on me I asked that I should be allowed to sit upright for a little in the sunlight.”


Blair withheld a groan and rested his head in his hand, wondering how Jim had ‘asked.’ “What did the doctor say?”


The sentinel turned unerringly to his friend’s voice. “Time will tell.”


“I spoke to Roget. He mentioned operating. Have they said anything to you?”


“They’re not operating. They are releasing me.”


“What? When?”


“Doctor Roget hasn’t said yet, hopefully in less than a week.” Jim smiled tightly and then, for once, volunteered some personal information. “I received an all clear today.”


Blair nodded, waiting for Jim to continue. Then he berated himself since his sentinel was not going to respond to a visual prompt.


“For what?”


Jim turned his head, so the sunlight bathed his face. Naked pain showed in Blair’s expressive blue eyes as he watched his friend. Tense and unhappy, Blair shifted onto Jim’s bed and curled up in a ball.


“The hematoma will not reoccur,” Jim finally said. “Enough time has passed: if another clot was going to happen it would have by now.”


“You’re coming home soon?” Blair suddenly latched onto that revelation.


“Maybe,” Jim ran his fingers over his short, stubbly hair, a new nervous gesture.


There was a new level of detachment in the sentinel’s voice that made Blair shiver. Emotions were buried deeply but at the same time they were bubbling, curiously, at the surface. He knew that Jim had spoken to the hospital psychologist, he also knew that Jim would have supplied the sensible, correct answers and against the psychologist’s better judgement he would have been deigned as ‘coping’ with his hopefully temporary disability. Maybe they had spoken about the incidence with the Golden? Jim had regained his sight after being drugged, perhaps he thought that that experience promised that his sight would return.


“How’s the headache?” Blair asked deliberately changing the subject. “Do you need some help with the dials?”


“Fine. I feel a little thick headed, but that’s probably because I’ve been laying down for two weeks.” Abruptly, the sentinel inhaled, then he too changed the subject. “You’ve been to the bull pen.”


Howcanyoutell?” Blair said defensively.


“Simon’s cigars.”


“Yuck!” Blair sniffed at his shirt.


“So, Blair.” Jim’s hand snaked out and fingered the sling and strapping still immobilizing Blair’s arm. “When were you going to tell me about this?”


Blair disengaged his friend’s fingers and shifted across the bed. “It’s nothing,” he said sheepishly, “the doctor says it’s knitting—it’ll be healed in a couple of weeks.”


“Why didn’t you tell me that you’d been hurt in the crash?”


“Oh,” the student hedged, “who said?”


 “Joel“– he’s concerned about you.”


“Well, you know how Joel is, he on a new diet, he gets these thoughts...”


“You’re changing the subject, Chief.”


This was a kind of weird conversation, Blair noted, Jim normally didn’t chop and change conversations, nor be so personal, recounting other conversations. Opening his eyes, Jim non-focused his blue neon gaze at the student, Blair squirmed uncomfortably.


“I dunno it just didn’t seem important; it’s only a collarbone.”


“Ah.” Jim said.


Geez, Jim, you’d had your head cracked open. It seemed a bit pathetic to whine about a sore arm.’


“Why were you back at bull pen?”


“Simon let me get some of your files.”


“Relating to what?”


“Oh, stuff. I wanted to keep up on your paperwork, so you don’t fall behind….” Blair blushed. If Jim was permanently blind, it was hardly even necessary to keep up on his paperwork. But, Jim wasn’t blind – it was a temporary set back. Somehow even mentioning the possibly, even obliquely, seem horribly gauche.


Jim looked at him like he didn’t believe a word that he said—but he simply let the matter drop. The sentinel’s eyes slid away into infinity.


Blair contained a shudder.                                  


U  U  U  U  U


Jim lay on his squeaky hospital bed listening to the nurses’ quiet conversation. Earlier there had been some drama as an elderly patient suffered a terminal cardiac arrest. An older nurse was comforting a younger nurse as they doled out the medication for the night. He considered refusing his sedatives but he knew without the medication he wouldn’t sleep. A man was coughing somewhere along the corridor. Simply lying on his bed, resting, conserving energy, left him too much time to think. And when he thought too much, he had problems getting to sleep. He had been subjected to another battery of tests in the morning. He preferred not to dwell on the dye inserted in the femoral artery and then what seemed like hours spent lying in the CAT scanner as the neurologists mapped the flow of blood in his brain. The swelling around the excised blood clot constricted the flow of blood in the optic region. Doctor Roget was pleased with the results—there was sufficient blood flow to oxygenate the cells—there was no apparent brain damage. Roget’s final diagnosis was that tissue swelling was pressing on the optic nerves. Now the time was for waiting.


He twisted his head to face the window and opened his eyes as wide as possible.




Jim curled up on his side and pulled the blankets up around his neck.


U  U  U  U  U


Oblivious to the ongoing argument in the post-grad coffee room, Blair slowly double checked all of Rafe and Henri’s results in the Jacob Tree investigation. Much to his frustration, Jim’s colleagues’ work was sound. The police department had pulled out all the stops as one of their own had been injured.  Blair dropped his head to the desk and banged it lightly against his laptop computer keyboard. A long click series of clicks and his screen filled up with ‘H’s.’ No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t find a new angle to the investigation. The inertia of over three weeks with no leads and worrying about Jim were almost impossible to shift. Blair lifted his head up and stared at a brand new baby Ph.D. student who was arguing with a stressed ABD. Gina was near tears but the younger man seemed oblivious. Blair shook his head, you had to learn to walk softly around those that were writing up their Ph.D.s. Wadding up a sheaf of scrap paper, he launched it left handed at Lloyd. It bounced off his head. Surprised, the student stopped dead and glowered at Blair. Blair met his glower with his own incandescent glare until the younger student dropped his eyes.


“You can argue without insulting people’s intelligence,” Blair said pithily. “Cause otherwise you’re not arguing, you’re just being cruel – and that makes you come across as an idiot. We’re supposed to be in the top five percent of the intellectual elite, act like it.”


Lloyd stalked towards the sitting grad student, his fists were clenched. Blair remained sitting, his good hand curled around his cup of cold coffee. Hot head, was Blair’s judgement, without an ounce of empathy in his bones. 


“Yes, Lloyd?” Blair asked calmly, his brows lowered.


“Nothing,” the younger student grated, made an abrupt about turn and strutted out of the rec room.


Blair growled, satisfied; he had a Jim-like moment of utter satisfaction at routing a perp. Now he could get back into the swing of research.  He knew why he was in a bad mood, he’d visited Jim, as he had every day since he’d come out of his coma, but Simon was in the private room...


U  U  U  U  U


Sauntering down the corridor, Blair nodded to the nurses on the fifth floor wing. While he was happy that Jim was out of ICU he missed M’benga’s quiet competence. The sound of raised voices stopped him dead in his tracks. Blair had no compunctions against eavesdropping so he stopped and listened closely. There wasn’t voices, it was only one voice.


“Jim, you have to consider it.”


“I’m happy with Doctor Roget’s care,” Jim protested lightly. “He’s a capable physician and eminent neurosurgeon.”


Blair skirted along the thin plywood wall and paused just outside the door.


“Come on, Jim, you’re deliberately misunderstanding me.”


“I am?” Jim asked innocently.


The sound of grinding teeth could be heard in the corridor.


“You know full well if your disability is permanent, Jim, there are certain procedures to be followed.”


“Don’t you think that this is a bit premature, sir?” Jim said with soldier-speaking-to-superior perfect diction. “My sight may just be off line.”


Blair, however, heard the tense note in his best friend’s voice. Simon seemed oblivious to it.


“It’s been three weeks,” his voice was gentle. Maybe he wasn’t as insensitive as Blair thought.


“Yes, but Doctor Roget hasn’t given up hope and neither have I. The swelling was extensive and there is still evidence of bruising. Bruising in the region of the brain which processes visual information.”


Chancing it, Blair peeked around the doorway. His posture defensive, Jim was sitting ramrod straight on his bed. Simon Bank’s back was to the door and his arms were crossed. The dark haired man began to pace. “What about aftercare?”


“Aftercare?” Jim questioned defensively, implying that he was more than capable of looking after himself.


“Blair will bend over backwards, looking after you. But maybe some professional care, someone with knowledge of your… condition? There are governmental agencies, even groups associated with the P.D. who are there to help you.”


He wasn’t entirely sure, but Blair thought that Jim blanched under his hospital pallor.


“Hi!” Blair breezed into the room.


“Chief,” Jim greeted soberly.


“Sandburg.” Simon nodded. “You heard didn’t you?”


Blair shrugged one shouldered. “I might not be a sentinel, but I’m not deaf. I’m gonna be there for Jim.”


“I know that,” Simon said tiredly. “But, this isn’t the ‘flu, Jim has a serious condition.”


“But…” Blair began.


Simon held up his hand. “I’m not the enemy here. I’m setting out the options, there are support networks in place to help Jim. It’s sensible that you take advantage of them.”


“I’m capable of looking after myself.” Jim’s immovable expression settled on his face. Blair knew that there was no arguing with the sentinel when he had made a decision. It would take the equivalent of an emotional nuclear explosion to get the detective off his moral high ground.


Simon shot a resigned glance at Blair who shrugged and mouthed: ‘Why are you surprised?’


“I can hear you,” Jim said softly.


“Maybe,” Blair ventured, “Simon has a point?”


He flinched at the glare that Jim fired in his general direction, a lump rose in Blair’s throat as he realized the ire was misdirected over his shoulder. Abruptly, Jim’s expression smoothed. “If you don’t want to help, Sandburg.”


“It’s not that! But there are things, equipment that will make your life easier...”


“You all seem to assume that this is done and dusted. Roget doesn’t know that this is permanent. You may have given up, but I haven’t.” Jim crossed his arms over his chest.


“I haven’t given up. I just trying to…” Blair’s voice petered out. Faced by the blind eyes and the still massive bandages around Jim’s head, hope seemed so very distant.


U  U  U  U  U


Blair shook himself out of his reverie.  The rest of the visit had been pretty much the same as most of his visits with the sentinel, the man had retreated to his Ice Kingdom of Denial. Inconsequential chatting had followed until the nurse kicked him out. Snarling, Blair double clicked on his mouse and closed Tree’s files. He needed a break despite the fact he hadn’t achieved anything. Working in the common room was next to impossible, why ‘works and services’ had insisted that today was the day that they had to service his heater he didn’t know. He could have sworn that it had been checked last month. Blair closed his laptop and manhandled it into its case. If Jim was getting out of the hospital tomorrow then he had to tidy the loft, pick up groceries and cook some comfort food. In general, get things ready for Jim’s return.


U  U  U  U  U


‘A sense has been misplaced—not lost—it hasn’t been lost.’


He ran his palms over the thin patina of varnish on the windowsill. The wood was sun-warmed on the left and cool on the right.


‘Only one sense, I have others.’


The sentinel extended his senses: delicately he inhaled, the antiseptic irritated his nasal passages; elsewhere a child was sobbing and a soft voice attempted to console.


‘See!’ he told himself and then laughed inwardly.


He toed the bag resting at his feet—and waited.


Independence had been taken from him and that galled him. Simon was sending a car to pick him up and drive him to Prospect Avenue. Blair couldn’t drive his stick shift with a broken collarbone.


Independence.’ And now he needed people to chauffeur him around like royalty. Grinding his teeth together, Jim stopped himself from rubbing at the shorn hair on his scalp. Soft soled rubber shoes padded into the room, the shoop-shoop of a nurse’s footwear.


“Are you ready to be discharged, Detective Ellison?”




Hands caught the back of his wheelchair and deftly turned him out of the sunlight. Before the nurse could propel him from the room a voice interrupted.


“I’ll do that.” Blair’s voice.


Jim allowed himself a slight smile.


U  U  U  U  U


Narrow fingers gripped his arm just above the elbow. Blair was, unsurprisingly, clever at subtly directing him around the simple obstacles leading to the apartment.


‘Step,’ Blair said subvocally.


Jim lifted his foot and entered the building. A distinctive odor fresh paint, turpentine overlay baby powder—the Petersons in the apartment below his had been redecorating. Involved in his thoughts, Jim was surprised when his foot brushed the metal threshold of the elevator. He stumbled and Blair caught him—as always.






Blair released his hold and then the loud angry clamour of the elevator gate assaulted his senses. The sound of the gears straining to pull the car to the third floor was a horribly off pitch ‘c’ note. Jim shivered and Blair grabbed his arm tightly. There was no need for words. Only when they had reached the apartment and closed the door did Jim realize that he was over breathing.




Jim withheld a moan: when had Naomi descended? Could his life get anymore worse? He sniffed, but there was no smell of sage. Evidently, she had believed her son when he told her that his roommate was allergic to sage.


“Hi, Mom.”


“Hi, Naomi.” Jim listened carefully as she bounced forward – her steps had the same cadence of Blair’s steps.


“I’m going to kiss you on the cheek, Jim,” she said, and proceeded to do so.  “Oh, my poor baby. I know though, I can feel it in my heart that you’re going to be fine.”


“Mom,” Blair whined automatically.


“Don’t ‘mom’ me, Blair.” Another kiss was planted on his cheek.


“It’s nice to see you,” Jim said deliberately.


“He wouldn’t let me visit you, you know,” she said conspiratorially. “I came down, though. But you were always asleep.”


“I seem to sleep a lot,” Jim replied.


“And on that topic, let’s get you to the couch.”


With a Sandburg on both sides, he was shepherded into his apartment and settled on his couch. Naomi curled up against his side; she obviously had her let’s-tease-the-son hat on. Sighing deeply, Sandburg stomped over to the kitchen.


“You look well,” Naomi said with typical directness and brushed his newly grown hair.


Sandburg puttered angrily at the counter.


“I hope so.”


Naomi snuggled in. What was it about Sandburgs and their total non-appreciation of a guy’s personal space?


“I know a great chakra massage for freeing up tension. We could go upstairs and I’ll give you a massage.”


“Here.” Judging by the volume, Blair was standing directly over them.


“Yes?” Jim asked coolly.


“Oh, sorry,” Blair said. “I’ve got you a cup of herbal tea. It’s a blend good for reducing inflammation.”


“It smells like piss.”


“Jim!” Naomi said affronted.


“It probably tastes like piss, but it’s good for you. It’s also a natural diuretic.” The warmth of the cup was in his face. Concentrating on the region of heat floating before his face, he reached up and curled his hands around the mug. He might hold it, but he had no intention of drinking it.


“I’ve been staying here, helping Blair while you’ve been in the hospital. But I’m going to stay at a friend’s house, so you can have your big, comfy, warm bed back.”


“That’s not necessary,” Jim responded on cue.


“Oh, that’s sweet.” Somehow, Naomi snuggled in even closer.


“You’ll upset Auntie Ruth, if you don’t visit,” Blair growled.


“Oh, he’s so easy to tease.” Naomi tickled Jim’s side.


The world wasn’t big enough to contain two Sandburgs in his life. Blair was biting at each of his mother’s jibes, even though Jim knew that Blair knew that he was being teased. Jim spared a moment to wonder if he could have had such a relationship with his own mother. He shook his head; he would, emphatically, not treat his mother in such a way – it was almost impossible to contemplate.


“So Blair’s been working on your case,” Naomi dropped her bombshell with aplomb.


“What?” Jim snapped. He thought that he could almost hear Blair rolling his eyes back.


“I was just keeping up, you know, seeing if I could see any angles.”


“Oh?” Jim monitored his friend’s heart rate; he was fudging with the truth. “So what did Leon have to say?”


“What?” Blair questioned. Jim heard a soft intake of breath and the slap of a hand against a forehead. “Who? Leon Riccolo? Your FBI friend in the original case? I am such an idiot. Naomi, stay with Jim, please.”


“What?” he was trapped on sofa with Naomi pressed up against him.


“It’s okay, I won’t be long. I am such an idiot.” He snatched up his backpack and before Jim could protest further he was out of the door.


U  U  U  U  U


The brownstone apartment complex was well appointed and obviously catered to the elderly. Blair guessed that it was a sort of halfway house for people who did not need or desire care in a home, but would benefit from attendants. Blair thought it very sad that the residents either didn’t have families or had families that couldn’t care for them.


Inside the foyer was a care assistants’ desk – currently manned by an aged, cuddly lady who was the epitome of a grandmother.


“Hello,” Blair said carefully. “My name is Blair Sandburg, I would like to talk to Leon Riccolo.”


“Oh, why? Leon usually has a nap at this time of day.”


“It’s kinda important that I talk to him.”


She leaned back and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “You’re too young to have such an agitated gleam in your eye.”


“Look, I really need to talk to him about his work.”


Her brown eyes widened comically. “Is this police business?”


“Sort of. Not quite. I’d like to talk to him.”


“That’s interesting. But if you’re a policeman aren’t you supposed to have some ID?” she said astutely.


Blair slipped his backpack off his good shoulder to the floor and began to rifle through it. “Look I’m not a policeman, I work with the police. I just want to talk to him about one of his cases.”


“They… uhm… let you out with a broken arm?” she continued.


“Here it is.” Blair handed up the laminated card.


“Nice smile,” the grandmotherly figure said.


“Thank you.” Blair accepted the card back.


She smiled and Blair had the distinct impression if he stood any closer to her, she would tweak his cheeks and cluck fondly at him. Blair stepped back well out of reach as she called Leon. The student could only make out her part of the conversation, but the woman was obviously a professional grandmother. Blair discovered that he was bouncy and cute – which was hardly news.


She put the phone down and smiled. “Leon is in apartment 26. He’s waiting for you. I’ll take you up.”


“Thank you, Mrs.?”


“Bosworth.” She caught up his backpack and before Blair could protest, she had linked her arm through his. “You may call me Emily.”


“Emily,” Blair grinned toothily, feeling quite overawed, even Jim would be impressed by her take-charge manner.


Leon’s apartment door was an olive green. Emily Bosworth rapped on the door smartly, but Leon was waiting for her, opening the door immediately. He was a small, stooped man, with wisps of white hair growing above his ears. Blair was reminded of a benevolent Yoda, albeit without the green skin.


“Ciao, Emily, mia amore?” With a devilish gleam in his eye Leon kissed the back of Emily’s hand. The elderly aid was game and batted her eyelashes, flirting. They made quite the contrast; Mrs. Bosworth easily outweighed Leon by a factor of three. Her skin was warm and brown with health; his was pale and yellow, either from years of nicotine abuse or liver trouble.


“I’ve brought you a new friend. This is Blair Sandburg.”


“Sandburg?” Leon gave over his flirting and piercing rat like eyes focussed on Blair. “Ellison’s Sandburg?”


“Yeah. Does Jim talk about me?” Blair brightened.


Leon laughed showing rank and file of nicotine stained teeth. “Sometimes. How is he? I heard he’s in the hospital.”


“He got out today.” Blair didn’t say anything about the complications due to the head injury.


“You hurt yourself at the same time?”


Blair shrugged lopsidedly, showing the gnarled old man that his collarbone was healing. “Just a broken collarbone.”


“Are you going to keep us out here all day?” Emily asked.


Leon had the grace to look abashed. “Come in. Come in. Leave the desk, Emily, I know you’re interested.”


“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”


 Obediently, they followed Leon into his apartment. Blair had expected that the room would be wreathed in cigarette smoke and was surprised that Jim visited him. Yet, there were no dingy fumes. The retired FBI agent must smoke on the balcony or something.


“Come my love, sit by me.” Leon patted the sofa enticingly, and grinned like a mad ferret.


Emily leaned over and whispered loudly in Blair’s ear. “I’m too good for him.”


Blair tried very hard for an amused smile, he knew that they were simply bantering but he didn’t have time for games—they had to catch Tree. Both the old man and Emily picked up on his mood and abruptly sobered.


“You’re here about one of Jim’s cases?” Leon asked intently.


Emily sat on the couch opposite Leon’s offered chair and placed Blair’s backpack on the coffee table which separated the seats.


“The Penthouse Burglar,” Blair said succinctly, as he sat in Emily’s offered seat.  “Or more accurately, the link between your old case and the Penthouse Burglar.”


“Ah.” Leon said. He gnawed his bottom lip as he wandered over to the kitchenette adjoining the sitting area.  “So what you got for me, son, so we can finally put this guy away?”


“It’s more like what we don’t know.”


“Now, Blair,” Leon remonstrated as he started the coffee percolator. “Jim must have taught you better than that.”


Blair blinked at the thought of being considered as Jim’s student, but guessed that it kind of made sense. “I’ve been working through the old case file while Jim’s been out of commission and I thought that you might have some theories that I missed.”


Leon hummed. “So what you really want to do is throw some ideas around.”


“Yes. Why do you think Jacob Tree is the same guy from way back?”




“Sorry,” Blair realized that he was getting ahead of himself. “Jacob Tree is the guy that Jim identified as the Penthouse Burglar. Anyway that’s the name he gave when he registered at Greenhaugh Towers. We know that he has excellent sources of false documents, so good that he can get bank accounts and DMV licenses.”


“That’s a change from last time,” Leon mused. “I figured he was a transient or a traveller.”


“Maybe not,” Emily piped up, evidently Leon discussed old cases with the lady, “As I understood it you never really explored… identified who was doing the crimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a whole barrel of I.D.’s which he trots out depending on the situation.”


“And what do you base this interesting theory on,” Leon countered as he came over with a tray with three coffees.


“Gut feeling,” Emily said with her chin high.


Half listening to their discussion, Blair allowed his mind to wander, sipping on a cup of hot, black, sweet coffee that he hadn’t asked for. The source of Tree’s identification had suddenly become important. He knew from experience that forged documents were fairly easy to obtain but he felt that Emily was correct in her assumption that Tree had many aliases. The man’s cavalier attitude and mass of disguises lent credence to the idea that he had many forms of identification. He wondered distantly what a psychiatrist would make of Tree. More importantly, many aliases and many identities required a hell of a lot of money. Tree occasionally stole expensive items that he could fence—but they were always personal items to be coveted rather than sold. Therefore, either Tree was independently wealthy or he worked in a bank or the DMV. Was it possibly that the criminal opened his own accounts—that he actually supplied himself with aliases? It seemed perfectly simple.


“What other cities do you think the ‘old case’ guy worked out of?” Blair interjected into Leon and Emily’s now heated discussion.


Leon stopped mid-flow and screwed up his brow as he considered Blair’s question. “I’ve got a similar modus operandi in New York and Washington, one possible in Miami.”


“Henri said something about investigating Tree’s bank account?” Blair spoke to himself. He pulled out his file from the bowels of his backpack and rifled through his file of notes.


‘It can’t be that simple—can it’? Blair wondered. He couldn’t find the report; Henri had to have it. “I need to know about Tree’s bank account. Henri has the details.”  


“Who’s Henri?”


“Detective colleague of Jim’s, Simon assigned him Jim’s case. I need to know about Tree’s bank account,” Blair said feverishly.


Emily consulted her watch. “You won’t be able to do anything until Monday morning.” 


“Monday!” Blair demanded.


“Bank’s closed ‘til Monday, son,” Leon said carefully.


Blair sagged back into the depths of the well used sofa. He wanted to do something—now. Blair lapsed back into thought. First port of call was Henri and then maybe a ‘phone conversation with the head of Tree’s bank to find out who dealt with the paperwork concerning Tree’s account. Their next port of call, would be the DMV.


‘This is really going to be difficult over the weekend. I could go around to the...’’


“What’s going through that little mind?” Emily asked teasingly.


“Son, I can read your mind like a book. Can I point out that it is after five?” Leon added his three cents worth.


“And it’s pointless killing yourself getting the info’ that you’ll have in twenty minutes on Monday morning. You have to learn to pace yourself.”


Blair looked sheepishly into his coffee—Leon was someone to look up to. He didn’t want to disappoint him, even when he knew that the FBI agent was playing him like a violin.


“You can’t run off half cocked—we’ve got other aspects of the cases we can discuss,” the FBI agent continued.


Emily settled back contentedly a step away from rubbing her hands in glee. Blair looked first to Leon and second to Mrs. Bosworth, mentally replacing them with Yoda and Mrs. Marple.


“So are you staying for dinner?” Leon leaned forward conspiratorially.


“I’ve got steak.”


U  U  U  U  U


A cold feeling woke Jim from a restless doze. He lay a moment getting his bearings as he opened his eyes and saw nothing. To escape Naomi’s nattering, he had pretended to nap on the sofa. Lie had become fact.  The room was colder than usual. Had Naomi left the balcony windows open? Jim guessed that he’d slept for some time but he couldn’t know how long.  He threw the blanket from his lap and struggled to his feet. For a heartbeat, he swayed dizzily then the moment passed.


‘I’ve spent far too much time lying down.’




There was no answer. Mentally shrugging, Jim made ten easy steps and he reached the fridge. The bottle of organic half skimmed milk from Blair’s favourite health food store was in the door. He measured the amount by the simple expedience of sticking his finger in the glass and pouring the milk until his finger was wet. Carefully, Ellison returned to the fridge but somehow misjudged the door shelf and the bottle of milk slipped through his fingers and smashed on the floor.




The cloths were where he’d left them as were the brush and dustpan. He swept the area several times and then, gingerly, felt under the fridge door. He immediately cut himself.




Three sweeps and another cut finger, Ellison decided that the floor was clear and that no one was in any danger of cutting themselves accidentally. Both Naomi and Blair were fond of wandering around barefoot. The Band-Aids were where he’d left them.


‘Blair’s going to kill me,’ Jim noted, as he twisted the sticky Band-Aids around his fingers.


“Jim! What happened?” Blair was at his side, their fingers entangling. Jim hadn’t even heard the door open


the idea about senses heightening when you were blinded was obviously a myth. 


“I dropped your fancy bottle of milk.”


“Where’s Naomi?” Blair demanded.


“I don’t know. She wasn’t here when I woke up.”


Breath hissed angrily between Blair’s lips. “I don’t believe it. That’s beyond irresponsible.”


“Hey,” Jim growled. “I’m an adult.”


“Yeah, an adult who happens to be blind at the moment. She shouldn’t have left you.” Blair levered Jim to his feet. He heard Blair kick their back up first aid kit under the sink. “There it is: she left a note.”


“What’s it say?”


“I’ve no idea – it’s for you.”


“Eh?” Jim managed as Blair set him on a kitchen chair.


“Directly in front of you is a selection of objects on the kitchen table, I guess that they’re a note.”


Gingerly, Jim let his fingers creep forwards. His senses drifted over a tiny ivory elephant, a Tibetan gong, two cents and one of Blair’s old walking boots, heel facing upwards. “Do you get it?”


“Elephant, Tibetan, two cents and sole?” Blair ventured. “Nah. Ivory gong…”


“I’ve gone?”


Blair laughed. “I’ve gone two scents…?”


“Too boot… heel. Ah, I’ve gone to heal?”


“She probably popped out to see one of her gurus for a healing ritual or herbs for you.”


“At least she trusts that I can handle myself on my own,” Jim said dryly.


“Obviously.” Blair’s fingertips brushed Jim’s Band-Aids.


“Accidents happen.” Jim folded his hands against his chest. “What did Leon say?”


Blair fussed away, rustling a paper bag. “If you’re interested we’ve got a couple of leads we should follow up on.”


Jim snorted. “Detective Sandburg, is it?”


“I’ve just been following up on a few ideas, thinking about Jacob Tree, you know.”


“You’re not a detective.”


There was an intake of insulted breath. “Really? What am I the gopher?” Abruptly, Blair reined in his anger. “I’ve just been putting together a few ideas. You want Tree, don’t you?” he finished tightly.


“Oh, yes,” Jim said with shark like intensity.


“Well, we’re in the same ballpark then, aren’t we.


Introspective thoughts weren’t at the top of his agenda at the moment he was enjoying denial, but Joel had mentioned during a few hospital visits that Sandburg was acting ‘driven.’


“What’s the problem, Blair?” he asked deliberately.


“I don’t know what you mean,” Blair responded and then charged the subject. “Leon invited me for dinner—obviously I couldn’t—but he let me bring back some of his steaks when I said that you’d be at home and my Mom would be feeding you bean sprouts and tofu.”


“Oh.” Jim sniffed. “Emily added her garlic onions.”


“Yeah, you know Emily?”


“I know Mrs. Bosworth-Riccolo very well.”


“They’re married!”


U  U  U  U  U


‘Another day.’ Ellison noted as he woke with his customary immediacy—one moment asleep; another moment awake. The heavy quilt was warm and comfortable. Jim opened his eyes and experienced an unfamiliar sense of disillusionment when once again his sight hadn’t miraculously returned overnight. The fresh scent of the morning mocked him. He gazed blindly at the ceiling. Naomi had returned not long after Blair had reheated the steaks  effectively derailing any attempts at finding out what was bugging the younger man. He had no idea what was going on in the maze like knot of the grad student’s brain.


“Chief?” he tried. Sandburg had said that he had to go to the university first thing in the morning. Getting a decent night’s sleep on the hospital ward had been next to impossible and Jim had guessed that he would sleep until midday once he was back in his own bed. Sandburg had said that he would be back before Jim awoke. There was no sun on his face shining through the windows above his head, so it was either early or overcast.


“Coffee,” Jim said out loud, sniffing the percolating brew.


“Damn, I dropped the milk—didn’t I?”


He struggled out of the bed.


‘Shaving’s going to be difficult.’ Jim padded across the room and one hand against the wall found the top step with his toes. ‘Oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.’’


Carefully, he made his way to the bathroom. Blair had cleaned the loft thoroughly before he had been released from the hospital. A lot of the clutter in the loft had been hidden away along with the rugs on the wooden floor. The student had done everything he could think of to make the apartment four-sense friendly.


Jim rubbed his chin feeling quite pleased with himself. He hadn’t been stupid; using a cutthroat razor was nigh impossible, but the electric razor that Blair had supplied had been perfect. Padding barefoot to the coffee, he suppressed a laugh; he had to figure out where to get milk if he didn’t want black coffee. Would the shops be open? He didn’t even know what time it was. Crossing to the window, he listened carefully; there was a radio playing in the distance, the DJ’s caterwauling told the sentinel that it was after ten o’clock. The seven-eleven around the corner would be open.


Now getting to the seven-eleven would be a feat worthy of a sentinel.


Jim was dressed minutes later—he knew what clothes he was wearing—his wardrobe was neat and organized. Navigating the apartment corridors was easy as he’d walked through them nearly every day for more than eight years. Once he’d passed over the threshold and stepped onto the sidewalk it suddenly seemed more important to keep close to the wall.


Perhaps this was a mistake?


He wasn’t going to stay inside. Senses extended, but not completely open, Jim edged forwards, fingers trailing along the stonework. He had done this before. He could create the sensory picture of the world around him using his hearing and other senses.


“Can I help you?”


The voice was familiar, but Jim couldn’t place it. His ears cocked as he listened to the cadence of the voice.


“That’s not necessary.”


“Are you sure?” Then the voice spoke deliberately, “Detective Ellison?”


“Do I know you?” The short hairs on the back of his neck pricked up.


“Nasty scar.”


Air eddied behind him and he knew that fingers were reaching.  Jim shuddered, the person was moving around him – circling. He raised his hand ready to block any touch.  


“Automobile accident,” Jim said neutrally.


“Yes, Jimmy. Remember me to Chief.”


Then the voice was gone.


Jim stood frozen—analyzing the encounter—separating the meeting into its components. ‘Male. Most definitely male. Knows me and Sandburg. Confident and arrogant. Enjoys playing games. It’s hardly rocket science.’ Teeth gritted, he tried to listen for Tree but he hadn’t managed to form a sensory impression of the man. Sniffing, he caught the final ebbing trace of Ipecacuanha. Ellison made an about face and laboriously made his way back to his home.


U  U  U  U  U


Black coffee in hand, Jim sat on the edge of the sofa—sitting because the short walk had taken far too much out of him. Any second now the gang of Major Crime and Blair were going to descend on the loft, he didn’t know if he really had the energy.


“Jim, are you okay?” Blair burst through the door like a force of nature.


The squeak of high tops scraped across wooden floor. Blair gripped his shoulders, his face was suddenly close to Jim’s as he scrutinised his every feature.


“You look like shit,” Blair said candidly.


“Thank you.”


“You say Tree was waiting for you?” Blair asked worriedly.


“Looks that way.”


Jim inhaled, composing himself, and listened closely. Patrol car sirens were approaching, another car screeched to a halt and Simon started yelling orders. It was impressive the way the man could take control, Jim reflected. The captain had a positive talent cutting through any situation. Rafe’s distinctive voice joined the throng of people descending on the sidewalk. He could hear the thrum of four police cruisers and at least five police officers discussing a variety of subjects. Absently, he noted the amount of the policemen arriving on the scene seemed a tad over the top. He was, of course, completely oblivious to the actual reason for his fellow police officers descending on the sidewalk where one of their own had been threatened.


“What were you doing out!” Blair asked. “I said that I’d be right back.”


“I needed to buy some milk for breakfast,” Jim said amiably.


“You haven’t had any breakfast?” he demanded.


‘Obviously leaving the house without breakfast is unthinkable,’ Jim thought amused.


“Come on.” Blair levered Jim to his feet. “I’ll cook something.”


The student half yanked the detective in the direction of the kitchen area.


“You’re going to have to slow down, Chief.”


“Oh, sorry.”


Jim shook his head as he allowed Blair to guide him to the table. Plainly unnerved by Tree’s presence Blair was less than deft at directing him. 


“Sit,” Blair directed. Jim sat as ordered. The detective pressed a hand over his eyes. The loft door slammed open. The heavy tread of Banks’ footsteps entered the loft accompanied by the swish of his woollen coat. He started to speak and then stopped dead.


‘Probably thinks I’m zoning or something.’


“Jim, are you all right?” he said gently. “I need a statement.”


“Statement?” Jim propped his elbows on the table.


“Simon? How do you want your eggs?” Blair called out. Sniffing, Jim noted that Blair had started making a full cooked breakfast. Blair had apparently decided that he needed feeding up. Jim didn’t feel like arguing. Half dozing, he listened to the frying of bacon and eggs then the mixing of batter for waffles.


“Fried?” Simon ventured.


“Fried? Ask a man how he likes his eggs and he just says fried. Fried? Over easy, sunny side up, scrambled but no...” Blair said to the whole room.


“Chief, just cook the damn breakfast.”


“Ha!” Blair said expressively.  The skillet crashed against the pan.


“What happened, Jim?”


“He was playing with me.” The minute that he had stepped out of the apartment Tree had been waiting for him. That implied that he had been under surveillance. And it was likely that he and Blair had been under surveillance. “He has obviously been watching us—he called me ‘Jimmy’ and referred to Blair as ‘Chief.’”


“Damn,” Simon growled.


“This is exactly what he did the last time,” Blair said.


“You have no evidence that Tree is the same perp that committed the kidnapping five years ago.”


Leon’s fairly sure that he is.”


“There’s no evidence,” Simon reiterated.


Jim listened to his best friend kicking the kitchen cabinet. Soon he would have a nice foot shaped hole in the wooden door.


“If Tree is that guy from the FBI case, he stalked that woman and then he took her kid. He’s an obsessive compulsive who likes manipulating and playing with people. He was watching and waiting for Jim!” Blair finished.


“Blair,” Jim began, deliberately using his given name.


“He’s fixated on you, Jim.”


Jim turned that thought over. “Fixated on us.”


U  U  U  U  U


The threesome sat around the kitchen table all picking at their food. The egg, bacon, waffles and maple syrup smelled wonderful. Blair chased his forkful around the plate and watched Jim delicately spearing the plate, randomly picking up cut sections of waffle. 


“Jim, you can’t stay here—you’ll have to go to a safe house,” Simon said in between sips of coffee.


The room was silent.  Jim had no defence and Blair knew it. His best friend’s face was shuttered. Blair knew what the problem was: Jim was holding onto his independence like a handful of sand that was rapidly draining away.  If there was anyone who valued their own space and actually enjoyed their own company it was Detective Jim Ellison. He had had his independence thrust upon him at an early stage and he had learned to live with it, until he figured that that was the way that the world revolved.  


“A unit outside will be sufficient,” Jim countered.


Jim knew the boundaries of the loft, he would be better able to defend himself in his home, Blair realized. A strange place would be a nightmare.


“I think we should stay,” Blair said. “But, I’ll tell Naomi to stay with Auntie Ruth and not visit.”


Jim turned his slow, wide smile on him, and Blair was warmed.


U  U  U  U  U


Jim breathed out a deep sigh when the door closed behind his captain and best friend who immediately started arguing. The interval before Blair’s return would, of necessity be short, but Blair needed to speak to Naomi. Jim snorted wondering how the flighty woman would take the instructions.  Blair’s mom certainly was a character. 


He didn’t really remember his own mother.


He clambered up the stairs to his bedroom and reached for the trunk that he kept under the bed. He retrieved the padlock key from his secret place and knelt before the old carved trunk. There were too many memories trapped in the carved wooden box. The key turned and the lock clicked open. The faint scent of lavender wafted from the trunk. He ran his fingers over the shoebox tied with the leather bootlace. Scent evoked memories, memories inextricably burnt into his mind. Jim bowed his head, he couldn’t face the contents of the box: Lila, Bali, letters and the photographs of happier days. His medals and awards were in a folder in the left-hand corner. He pushed the cardboard box to the side and something tinkled.


‘What have I broken now?’ Jim thought despondently.


Once again it had sounded like glass. Jim set aside weapons from his Ranger days. His kay-bar knife joined the gun balancing it on the lid. Gingerly, he ran his fingers over the contents of the truck easily identifying a Chopec story knife and Chilkat blanket. The rough goat hair and cedar bark blanket was full of familiar friends. Animals raced through the blanket singing stories.  Jim breathed a deep sigh. The trunk’s contents were precious. But none so much as the engraved stone totem. For a moment, Jim forgot his worries as he unwrapped the totem from its silken cloth. He didn’t need sight to look at the intricate carving of the legend of snake and jaguar on the ancient carving. He could remember Incacha telling him the story as he sat by the shaman’s side during his initiation in to the tribe.


Idly stroking the coarse blanket, Jim lost himself in memories.


U  U  U  U  U


“Jim?” Blair called out as he entered the loft.  Glancing around revealed a Jim sized hole in the apartment. “Jim. Where the hell are you?”


“Up here,” the sentinel finally responded.


“I’m coming up.” Blair bounded up the stairs.


“That’s not necessary.”


The detective sat on the hard floor, belongings strewn around him, like a child with a toy box. Jim moved swiftly and placed something grubby and white back in the trunk. Blair lobbed his backpack onto Jim’s bed. He joined his friend, sinking easily into a crossed legged slouch at Jim’s side.


“Wow, I didn’t know that you had so much… crap.”


There was a suspicious dampness on his friend’s cheeks but Blair decided not to comment.


“What are you doing, Jim?”


“I wanted to check something out but I broke something and then I got distracted.”


“Distracted?” Blair peered into the box—there was still stuff neatly packed despite that the floor was littered with a plethora of interesting things.


The white grubby thing, which Jim had been holding, peeked out from under what looked like a sewing box. Jim was occupied, fingering a Chilkat blanket, his sensitive fingers mapping the pattern. There was a pile of books individually wrapped in protective, plastic covers.


‘Children’s books?’ Blair thought, he didn’t want to ask about the books and tellingly Jim hadn’t touched them. ‘How can we spend so much time together and I still don’t know you?’


Quietly, he picked up the old brown hardback book ‘Roughing it’ by Mark Twain. A well-thumbed copy of ‘20,000 leagues under the Sea’ lay beneath it.


“Chief,” Jim said simply


“Sorry,” Blair placed it back in the box. “It’s just hard to resist. I am an anthropologist.”




“But what are you doing?”


“You know how it is when you start going through the attic...”


“Yeah,” Blair said thinking of his office at Rainier.  He had another rifle through the box. “Aw, you’ve broken the glass in a photo frame.”


“Which one?” Jim demanded and reached into the box, then stopped himself. “Is the photo damaged? I heard something break before but I couldn’t find...”


Blair carefully patted his friend’s back. “It’s okay—I think—it’s just cracked.”


“Which photo?”


Blair picked up the ornate frame and saw whom he assumed was Jim as a very tiny baby held in a slim woman’s arms. The woman had to be Jim’s mother—she had the same brown hair and even in a grainy black and white photo he knew that she had piercing arctic-blue eyes.


“Which photo?” Jim asked tightly.


“You and your mother, I guess. It’s not damaged, honestly.”


“Damn,” Jim swore. The student watched as his friend’s face became pinched, but no tears fell.


It’s okay, Jim.”


“No, it’s not, Blair, is it.”


The room was silent. Blair sat facing his friend—searching for some understanding. The detective never reacted directly to a personal situation, his thoughts and feelings were always hidden under layer after layer after layer.


Ellison obviously steeled himself then said, “I’m blind.”


U  U  U  U  U


The precinct bull pen stopped dead as he conducted the detective to the seat. Then the hubbub restarted. Blair bypassed Jim’s friends and colleagues with a shake of his head. Simon still wasn’t convinced that Tree was the kidnapper from the old FBI case and if he caught them he’d probably bar their access to the P.D. databases. All he wanted was get the information before Simon caught on to his plans. Their friend would want to keep them safe. They needed Jacob Tree’s bank details and then the pair could escape the precinct and continue the investigation without any interference.


He settled Jim on the hard wooden chair on the opposite side of his desk leaving the computer free. With an almost pantomime sneakiness he logged on to Jim’s computer with the detective’s personal password.  Blair peeked a look over the top of the computer. Rhonda was keeping Simon occupied under a ton of paper work in need of signing. The secretary looked over her shoulder and caught his eye before he could escape. Her expression said quite simply: ‘you really owe me for this one’. He printed off the details without looking at them. Ellison was waiting poised. As soon as he touched the detective’s shoulder he stood ready to leave the precinct. Dutifully, Jim allowed himself to be turned and directed between the detectives’ desks. Leading a meek Jim around was an intensely weird experience. After the Sentinel’s near breakdown the day before Jim had retreated further into himself. Blair gritted his teeth remembering Jim’s taut, hurting face...


U  U  U  U  U


“I’m blind.”


“Aw, Jim.” Blair pulled Jim into a hug. The usually stoic detective protested weakly but Blair could tell that his heart wasn’t in it. They sat for a moment, unmoving, Jim’s face pressed into his shoulder. The Sentinel was as tense as an over tuned fiddle but the hug seemed to be helping. Carefully, Blair began to rub tiny, comforting circles between Jim’s shoulder blades. Blair, bottom lip clenched between his teeth, kept quiet. Any words would spook his too independent friend.  Slowly the over wound detective relaxed. Blair shifted and then he could see the angry red scar at the base of his friend’s skull practically glowing under the short, spiky hair.


“Jim, give it time. You’ve said it yourself—it’s the bruising. There’s probably some sentinel stuff going on as well.”


There was a noise that could have been a sob or a snort. The well-meant words had broken the fragile link. Jim pushed away and wiped at his face.


“You’re right,” Jim said reluctantly.


“Yeah, I know I am,” Blair said quietly.


He had never seen such naked emotion on his restrained friend’s face. Jim brushed at the one tear that had managed to escape from his carefully wrought barriers. Despair was crystallizing in the sentinel.


Jim got to his feet and stumbled to the top of the staircase. Blair chased after him. Jim stopped and planted his hand on the wall. Biting the inside of his cheek, Blair forced himself not help him as, unerringly, Jim picked his way down the stairs. Blair hovered behind him as he took each tentative step. Blair shadowed him all the way to the kitchen sink. Water splashed and then a calmer looking Jim faced him.


“I shouldn’t have...”


“Jim, stop it!  You’re allowed to have feelings.” Blair breathed out, hard. Now wasn’t the time to berate Jim. This shutting down of emotion could not be healthy, some anger, yelling, throwing furniture around would be welcomed.


Jim shuffled, deliberately casting his head to the side and his eyes slanted away.


“Talk to me, Jim.” Blair waited but Jim didn’t answer.


“What would you like to talk about?”


Blair noisily hissed through his clenched teeth. The detective rubbed again at his face, water droplets mixed with unshed tears in his eyes and glistened.


“What are you like?”


Jim shrugged, taking the question literally. “I am what I am.”


Blair rolled his eyes but didn’t make any quips despite the obvious opening.


‘You could let people help, though,’ he thought with a hint of censure.


Jim fumbled along the draining board until he encountered a dish towel. The moment of truth had passed.


‘What’s going through his mind?’ Blair wondered. The measure of trust that Jim had displayed for a short while was important, he realized. The reticent man had opened up—shown that he was confused and scared. Belatedly, Blair noted that he had been honoured. Jim trusted him. The walls were going up again; Blair could only hope, in vain, that they were weaker this time.


U  U  U  U  U


Blair cast a sideways glance at Jim as he settled himself in the Corvair. The rest of the day had been pleasant, Blair remembered with a smile. A tad forced initially but eventually Jim had relaxed as much as he was able. They had swapped a few stories over the chest. The detective wasn’t very acquisitive but the few memories living in the box were fascinating. During Jim’s mid-afternoon nap (he had protested) Blair had whipped up an enormous bowl of pastafazool. His friend had been suitably appreciative and had insisted on doing the dishes himself. After Jim had retired for the evening—very early—and Blair pulled out his bluebooks and began a marathon marking session.


Dismissing his memories of the previous day, Blair pulled out the printout from his back pocket and scrutinised the details. He found Henri’s notes that identified Tree’s bank and his heart thudded in his chest. The bank was familiar—it was Jim’s branch. Tree had an account at Jim’s bank. Was it a coincidence? Blair dropped his head onto the steering wheel and concentrated furiously.


‘Yes,’ he decided.


Henri had said that Tree had been using the account for eighteen months. He had never had any direct connection with Tree before the altercation in the apartment foyer. The man hadn’t known Jim from Adam until they had chased him out of the Greenhaugh Apartments. The assignment with Leon, in the past, had not led to a confrontation with Tree—if indeed Tree and the kidnapper were one and the same. There was no reason to assume that Tree had chosen that bank purely to access Jim’s records.


Or was it? The bank was down the block from the precinct. Plenty of police officers at the P.D. had accounts with the Cascade Federal Bank. The local bank was convenient; you could leave on a shift and drop by the bank, chew the fat with your partner while waiting for the teller. All in all, it was a good way to monitor the movements of police officers. Furthermore, a manager would have access to their customers’ addresses and employers.


Blair twisted himself out of his sling—there was a jarring twinge from the healing collarbone—and very carefully pulled out into the traffic.  Jim’s knuckles were white as he clutched at the seat.


“Don’t worry,” Blair said tightly, “Trust me.”


Jim immediately released his death grip and clasped his hands together on his lap. He was a study in relaxation; Blair wasn’t fooled for one minute. However, it was as good as it was going to get, Blair realized.


They drove with excruciating care—three miles under the speed limit. Blair’s mind was churning.  Leon, the FBI agent, thought that the kidnapper had operated out of Washington and New York—would a simple bank manager be able to move around from city to city feeding his psychosis?  Blair deliberately scanned for Rafe and Henri who had been assigned to look after them. He looked beyond the trailing police sedan, looking for a second tail. He seethed inwardly—Tree had been watching them—that was indisputable. But they hadn’t even discussed Tree’s surveillance. An ignored hollow pit in his stomach churned like an awakened slumbering giant.


Tree had been watching them.


They were lucky that they were on a straight stretch of road when the implications assailed the student.


Jim was oblivious to the fact that he had frozen for a heartbeat. Blair breathed slowly, determined not to alarm his friend. Jim had reached a semblance of relaxation into the upright seat. His expression was guard duty shuttered; his eyes closed.


What was going through the detective’s mind?


“Jim, what do you think?”


“Think? Think about what?”


“About Tree working at a bank? And that’s how he finds out about his victims and creates his own covers.”


“Seems reasonable.” Jim lapsed back into silence.


Blair cast an incredibly worried glance at his best friend. He shouldn’t be dragging the detective around the city searching after Tree—Jim obviously needed to be sitting quietly or preferably in bed. They would check out the bank and return to the loft for a rest.


This weird, amenable, remote Jim was scary indeed.


U  U  U  U  U


Blair had been to Jim’s bank a few times. He even knew Jim’s pin number for his credit cards.. Flashing his Cascade P.D. observer pass and basically ingratiating himself to the secretary brought the mismatched pair straight to the attention of the bank manager. Once he had Jim settled in the most comfy chair in the office, the student focussed on the bank manger.


“So who handles the new accounts?” Blair demanded.


The bank manager steepled his fingers together in a patently artificial gesture which only proved to amaze Blair at the clichéd action. He marvelled that someone actually used the gesture.


“Might I ask what this is...?”


“It’s relating to an important case,” Blair began.


Jim leaned over the polished table, looming over the man. “It’s police business,” he growled.  A slight squeak escaped the office worker and with an emphatic nod he tapped open the intercom and asked to see a Ms. Spence.


A quite obese, middle aged woman stormed into the office wearing an exasperated expression on her face.


“I have an appointment with a new client in five minutes.” She looked at the pair and then at her manager—her entire demeanour one of hurry, hurry, hurry.


“Detective Jim Ellison, Major Crime.” He opened and closed his badge case with a sharp snap. “This is my associate, Blair Sandburg, he has a few questions for you.”


Blair took the opening as if trained. “You opened a checking account for Jacob Tree about eighteen months ago—do you remember anything about him?”


“Eighteen months ago?” Ms. Spence’s nostrils flared and she almost laughed. “Tree?”


“Yeah, Jacob Tree.”


Her expression became introspective. “Yes, I remember. A detective came to the bank about a month ago and asked the same question. I average seven new accounts a day—you figure it out.”


“You can’t remember anything?” Blair asked, deflated


“That’s what I said.” She made to leave the office.


Blair caught her arm. “Please, it’s important.”


She looked down at the fingers entangled in her sleeve and pulled her arm away.


“It was a long time ago,” she responded to Blair’s tired, worn mien. “I’ll look in my old Daytimer—see if I wrote anything.”


“Now?” Blair asked eagerly.


“It’s at home. I don’t normally carry around old Daytimers,” she said with acid precision. “What’s the date? No, don’t tell me—I’ll get it from records. How do I contact you?”


Each statement the woman made was like bullet points driving her thoughts home. She reminded the student of his horribly efficient Aunt Rachel—ninety plus years and still going strong. Slightly cowed, Blair passed over one of Jim’s cards.


Ms. Spence scrutinised the card, checked the number, and strode from the office. The two men left standing in her wake stood flummoxed by her efficiency.


“So... er... what happens next?” the bank manager squeaked.


“Can you open accounts?” Blair asked intently, turning to the little man.


U  U  U  U  U


Blair bundled the once again too quiet sentinel back into his car. That flare of pure Jim had been a joy to behold, but the blaze had flashed and died like a match struck in a jar with little oxygen. Now it was time to return to the loft, and put his sentinel to bed for a nap. Gnawing at his bottom lip, he realized that they were once again playing the waiting game. That galled him.


“Jim, how are you feeling?”


There was a long pause. “Fine.”


Blair shook his head tiredly. The return trip to their apartment was spent in silence. Henri and Rafe pulled into a parking space beside them. Rafe wound down the car window and gestured for Blair to copy his actions.


“We’ll see you into the apartment, but then Gamble and Turner are going to take over.”


“I don’t know them.” Blair thought that he knew all the cops at the precinct.


Rafe shrugged. “Uniforms. Henri has to meet with the D.A.”


Blair would have preferred Rafe and Henri to stay with them. He clambered out of the car  and moved around to Jim’s side to open the door.


‘This is getting beyond weird,’ Blair mused. Jim remained dull and uncommunicative as Blair directed him back to the apartment. ‘If Jim doesn’t snap out of this soon I’m going to go back to the hospital and talk to someone or the Cascade P.D. shrink.'


U  U  U  U  U


Jim arrowed to the sofa, muttering something about sitting down for a few minutes.  Standing, alone, in the centre of the apartment Blair wondered at his next course of action. He decided to prepare lunch.


Rifling through the fridge he decided on the ubiquitous pasta. Naomi had brewed up a wagonload of home cooked sauces in glass jars and freshly prepared salads in Tupperware containers.


‘She’s my mom,’ Blair thought whimsically.


The jar of Amatricana sauce looked particularly mouth-watering. He picked the jar up and then realized that he was stymied—the lid was screwed on tightly. Blair looked at the jar and then at the dozing detective.


“I managed driving,” Blair said to himself and shrugged himself out of his sling. He gripped to jar in his stiff right hand and twisted with the left. The top came off far too easily and he over balanced catching his elbow on the counter.


“God!” Blair blasphemed as white-hot pain rippled through his shoulder and down his arm. There was nothing but a world of pain, even breaking the collarbone hadn’t been this painful. Unused tendons and torn muscles protested the abuse. Distantly, he heard the sound of smashing glass.


Geez, geez, oh God,” Blair gritted out through clenched teeth.


He settled in deep, harsh, rhythmic breathing waiting for the pain to ease. Aeons seemed to pass then feather light fingertips touched his face.


“Blair, what’s the matter?” Jim’s voice broke through the mind numbing agony.


“I jarred my arm,” Blair said tersely.


Jim’s hands patted downwards—gently touching the healing collarbone beneath the flannel shirt.


“Why aren’t you wearing your sling?” Jim asked, as he encountered the sling hanging free from Blair’s neck.


“I was trying to open a jar of sauce.”


“I think I stood in the remnants,” Jim said lightly. His hands started to investigate the sling, untangling the mess of straps and material. Slowly, he manoeuvred the canvas material under Blair’s elbow. The student finally opened his eyes’– Jim’s expression was intent as he worked through the fittings of the sling.




“Huh huh?” he asked, knowing what was going to happen next.


“You’ll be more comfortable if I can set the sling in position.”


Jim’s hand rested lightly on Blair’s left hand that was clenching his arm against his chest—minimizing any agonizing movement. Trustingly, Blair released his grip. Efficient as always, Jim immobilized the arm—firmly strapping it against the student’s chest.


“Better?” Jim asked quietly, supporting Blair’s arm in his large hands.


“Yes.” The sling was tight and alleviated the pain.


“Come on,” Jim said and caught him under his good elbow and pulled him into a kitchen chair.


Shaking in reaction to the fading pain, Blair watched his best friend putter around the kitchen making camomile tea.


‘He’s getting damn good at feeling his way around,’ Blair noted.


He couldn’t refuse the camomile tea but he was surprised when Jim also placed two ibuprofen on the saucer.


“Would you like a snack?” Jim didn’t wait for an answer but began to root through the refrigerator. Various items of food were fondled, identified and discarded. He set the cheese and crackers on the kitchen counter and reached towards the table. Blair swallowed the painkillers and washed them down with a mouthful of tea.


Blair withheld a pain-filled sigh as he shifted slightly; his friend could hear a pin drop in a rock concert. If Jim was permanently blinded maybe he would be able to cope. He had managed after the Golden episode but this time he was fighting with what Blair guessed was depression. Blair watched as his friend deftly made up a cheese board with crackers, and for show grabbed a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl. Then he moved onto the smashed jar on the floor with a dustpan and brush. Indecision wrote across Blair’s face—he wanted to stop the detective before he cut himself but the change in his friend after a simple little act of first-aid was unbelievable. He was motivated and involved—no longer depressed and introspective.


The ring of a cell phone stopped the sentinel mid-stride, turned and moved into the main room. Unerringly, he headed to the couch. Blair listened to the bell ring again—it sounded strangely muffled.


“Jim, where is the cell phone?”


“Oh, it probably fell down the back of the couch again.” Jim rooted between the cushions. He clicked it open. “Ellison,” and listened with a bird like twitch of his head. Muted sounds of satisfaction rumbled in the back of the detective’s throat. He finished with a nearly happy ‘thanks.’ By now, Blair was jumping up and down in his seat.


“What, what, what?” Blair demanded.


“That was Ms. Spence.” Jim smiled. “She went home to for an early lunch so she could check her diary....”


“And!” Blair snapped, the sentinel was actually baiting him.


“She doesn’t remember opening Jacob Tree’s account, despite the fact that her name is on the paperwork—” Ellison took a deep breath drawing it out, “—because she was on vacation in the Caribbean at the time.”


Yesss!” Blair breathed sibilantly—pleasure rife in his voice.


“You were right, Chief,” Jim said sounding proud, “it is somebody affiliated with the bank.”


“You were listening!”


“Well, yes, of course,” Jim hedged.


Blair rocked himself with glee, it was all going to come together. Jim placed the cell phone on the arm of the sofa, where no doubt it would disappear into the far recesses of the pillows joining the dust bunnies and forgotten quarters in an alternate universe.


“So what’s our next step?” Blair let out a cackle, if he could have—he would have rubbed his hands together.


The mess of Amatricana sauce apparently forgotten, Jim joined Blair at the kitchen table. Idly, he stole a piece of cheese and considered Blair’s words.


“Tree possibly worked out of Washington and New York?”


Blair nodded, then said, “Yes.”


“We have to find out if: a) a member of the staff at the bank here in Cascade travels extensively and his dates correlate with the incidents; b) an employee at a bank in Washington or New York travels to Cascade. Then we will be able to determine if the kidnapper and Tree are one and the same.”


‘Jim’s back,’ Blair chuckled to himself.


The detective picked up the dust pan and returned to the mess on the floor. Blair kicked back the kitchen chair and wandered over to the fridge.


“Do we have any milk?”


Jim stopped mid scrape. “There is a bottle of milk on the bottom shelf.”


“Bottle?” Blair gave the glass bottle a shake. Pale, pale, yellow cream mixed with the whiteness beneath.


“It’s that organically produced milk you like. I asked Rafe to pick some up on the way here this morning.”


“It’s not the normal brand,” Blair said, wondering where Rafe had found it.


The milk smelled different—more creamy and thick. That was probably because it was full milk fat instead of half-skimmed milk.


“Have I got everything?” Jim asked, gesturing at the floor.


“No.” Blair started to make himself a cup of coffee. “There’s a bit about a foot away from your right knee.”


The last of the glass disappeared under Jim’s ravenous brush—a damp cloth followed wiping away the sauce.


Blair eyed the coffee can pull tab with distaste. ‘Another lid.’ 


He clamped the jar between this knees and twisted off the lid. Engrossed in coffee making he considered their next step. He needed the police facilities to request bank details and examine staff records. Even if Simon wasn’t convinced that Tree and the kidnapper were one and the same, this was worth following up on.


‘I’m going to find you Tree.’


Jim had finished and was fumbling around in the cupboard under the sink. Blair slurped at his strange coffee—the fat of the milk floated on the top of the hot liquid.


‘I prefer half-skim. This is full of calories.’


U  U  U  U  U


Jim picked yet another fragment of glass out of his finger and surreptitiously dropped it in the waste bin under the sink. He mentally tweaked the dial down another notch. Slowly, he was forming a sensory impression of the world around him which had nothing to do with sight. It seemed to be formed of sound and heat. As he further dialled down his sense of touch, the warmth that was Blair disappeared from his field of sense.


‘If I am permanently blinded I will have to give up my job, but somehow, I don’t think that I’m going to be blind.’ Jim admitted to himself with ghoulish humour.  ‘Just call me Daredevil.’


Jim sat back on his heels. He had tried to shun all thoughts of blindness by pure force of will but he had been blindsided—appropriately enough—by a miserable well of depression. As he admitted to Blair that he was blind the full force of depression had descended. He’d had almost broken down in his friend’s arms, but he was determined that he wouldn’t lower himself to that level. Every time that Blair opened his mouth or helped with a simple little thing he would be reminded of what he had lost and depression would claw at his soul.


Dishes clattered in the sink; breaking his train of thought. Despite his best attempts to remain miserable, Jim smiled a tiny smile. Blair wouldn’t wash the dirty dishes. The student had a psychological aversion to soapy water.


‘I suppose it is hard to wash them with one hand.  I had kinda forgotten that Blair had been injured too.’ Jim shook his head.




“Yeah, Chief?”


“I’m gonna lie down for a bit. Okay?”




His friend’s voice sounded slurred; he was probably tired. A heavy tread crossed the room and then the wooden frame of the futon squeaked. Deep rhythmic breathing immediately followed.


‘Blair must have been tired. After reaction to the muscle spasm? Shock?’


A bit concerned, Jim hovered indecisively and then catfooted to Blair’s side. Judging from the sounds of the light snores, Blair was fast asleep. Gingerly, Jim reached forwards until he encountered Blair shoulder. Mapping out Blair’s position in his mind, he estimated where Blair’s head was and felt his forehead. The student’s temperature was within acceptable levels.


‘He must be exhausted.’


He hadn’t even pulled up the blanket before falling asleep. Carefully, Jim pulled the quilted blanket out from beneath Blair’s feet and cast it over the sleeping form. Then he left him to his nap.


‘What now?’ Jim wondered. ‘Call Simon about Tree and the bank.‘


He counted his paces back to the cell phone. Next to the couch, Jim stopped dead. He could hear footsteps creeping up the fire escape outside the building. The Sentinel canted his head to the side and listened to rubber soled treads and the whisper of cotton material.


“Chief,” he called.


There was no response.


“Blair?” he said sharply.


Metal creaked, someone was standing on the landing outside his the student’s room. The door handle rattled. Jim launched himself at the cell phone lying on the couch. Caught between rushing back to Blair’s room and calling reinforcement, training won and he felt on the cushions for the phone.


“Blair, wake the fuck up!” Where was the phone? He knew that he had left it on the sofa.


A slim boned hand caught his wrist.


“Naughty, naughty,” an unconscionably happy voice scolded.


“Blair!” Jim yelled.


A sharp backhand caught his jaw and he fell backwards onto the floor.


“Blair isn’t going to wake up any time soon.”


The darkness was spinning—it was very disorientating. The blow had taken him completely by surprise, unable to see he had not been able to anticipate and roll with the blow. Slowly, the implications in Tree’s words penetrated.


“Why?” Jim pulled himself up into a sitting position.


“It’s quite simple; I drugged your milk. You’re a creature of habit, Detective, or more accurately your live-in dietician is. You always buy your milk and organic vegetables from that under used health food store on Bingham. The shop assistant was very helpful when I spoke to her: ‘Oh, the sexy detective and his partner,’” Tree said in a high falsetto. “‘Yes, he’s very particular—always buys the Gold Dairies Brand’. And Rafe, moron, when I asked for his help at the dairy counter he was sooo polite and helpful. He’s not very observant, though.”


“And you still got the brand wrong.” Jim snorted. He felt rather than heard Tree bristle.


“The cop didn’t notice the swap,” Tree retorted, the derision that he felt for policemen came through clearly.


“What have you done with the uniforms outside?” Jim asked.


“Nothing,” Tree sounded surprised, “I’m not interested in them—where’s the challenge? Ah, consider, though, the intriguing mix of a student and detective. A strangely matched pair who almost caught me—now that could be fun.”


Jim lurched to his feet. This was so difficult, trying to determine Tree’s actions from just his voice. The psychotic sounded supremely happy and self congratulatory. A seminar on communication had told him once that eighty percent of communication was based on visual cues. He had thought the figure a tad high. Now he believed it. He estimated from Tree’s voice that he was standing approximately three feet from his left shoulder. Close enough to jump the self-important Tree.


“This is what is going to happen.” The grin was evident in Tree’s voice. “You are going to sit on the robust looking kitchen chair and I am going to tie you to it.”


“And if I say no?”


“I shoot your friend, who makes such a convenient, stationary target.”


The detective considered his options. There was no scent of gun oil in the air. Idly, he stroked his cheek and then licked his thumb. The slap across his face had left no trace of cordite.


‘He’s bluffing,’ Jim decided, ‘there is no gun.’


Jim leaped, hammering into the man. Tree went down beneath him like a ton of bricks. Flailing his fists, Jim failed to connect with any force. Desperately, he tried to hold onto Tree. The slighter man squirmed like an eel expertly tossing the detective on to his back. Disorientated by the sudden charge of position, Jim hesitated for a moment and lost the fight. A whisper of a razor sharp knife caressed his throat.


“I don’t want to play this game,” Tree said and pushed the knife in. Skin parted. Jim felt warm blood trickling down his neck. Razor sharp—there was no pain. The cut didn’t feel serious merely a slip of the knife to tell him that he had misbehaved.


“It seemed like a good idea,” Jim offered, swallowing around the lump in his throat.


“It wasn’t. I’m going to stand up now and you are going to sit on that chair I told you about like a good little blind detective. If you try that again—I’ll gut your friend.”


The pressure of the knife eased and then the weight of Tree on his chest. Jim hauled himself on to his knees using the coffee table and then dragged himself to his feet. He followed the terse instruction and sat down.


“I want you to let your arms drop down the back of the chair.”


Jim complied and was surprised when Tree wrapped his arms in what he could only assume were dish towels. The distinctive rasp of unfurling tape echoed in his ears. Then Tree wound the tape around his arms firmly securing his arms to the slats of wood. The precise procedure was repeated around his ankles binding them to the legs of the chair. The final piece of tape was pressed firmly across his mouth over a wad of what tasted like a sock.


“I think the pressure is all right. Your fingers look a bit pink but not dangerously so. Nod if it is painful.”


Jim kept still, then nodded furiously.


“Tough. Okay, this is what is going to happen... It occurred to me that you losing your sight was terribly interesting—especially after seeing how you coped with the dreadfully horrible situation. You seem, well, fairly adept at using your other senses. Hmmm, I wonder why that is?”


Cold sweat beaded on Jim’s forehead at the deliberately mocking voice.


“Blair’s notes are suitably vague when it comes to the identity of his subjects. But his thesis and his published papers are a matter of public record and, really, he spends most of his time with you. And then when you look at your cases. You testified to the D.A. under oath that you saw hundred of yards. For all your flaws, you’re a scrupulously honest man; you weren’t lying.”


Jim could only glare.


Tree continued, “So I thought it might be fun to see what happens if you lost another sense or maybe all five. I’m afraid I can’t do anything about the sixth sense.”


Jim shied backwards imagining any kind of damage that the psycho could do with the knife.


“No, no, no.” Tree patted his knee fondly and Jim’s skin crawled. “I won’t do anything permanent.  Well, I don’t think that it will be permanent. Okay, that will part of the experiment.”


Tree caught his head and twisted it to the side. Jim winced as Tree inserted something soft and pliable in his ear.


“Oh, I’ll explain. Oh dear.” Tree giggled in a strangely artificial manner, “I feel very Machiavellian. Sensory deprivation, my dear Detective Ellison. It would be better if you had a bath but the shower in the little cubby hole you call a bathroom won’t do—so I’ve tied you very comfortably to a chair. I’ll stop up your ears and then I’ll introduce you to the joys of white noise.”


The other ear plug was inserted. Muted sounds reached his ears. The last thing he heard was a demonic giggle.  Something unidentifiable cupped his ears and then the nothingness started.


U  U  U  U  U


At first it would have been pleasurable and relaxing if he wasn’t so worried about Blair. Tree hadn’t cut off all sensory input; he still had the sense of smell and he could feel vibrations. He had felt Tree walking around the apartment and spending an inordinate amount of time in Blair’s room. Tree had eventually left, the floorboards bowing under a heavier weight; he had carried Blair from the apartment.


Jim felt sick—which wasn’t a good idea when he was gagged. There was no sensation of the passage of time, he could have been here for hours or over a day. The sentinel inhaled desperately, there was a smell of pastrami, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. He breathed a sigh of relief—it was evening; the pizza parlour across was preparing for the night’s customers. He had been trapped here for over six hours. And his bladder was full.


U  U  U  U  U


His entire body was numb. He didn’t know if he had slept or lost himself in hallucinations. Had a spider touched his hip at one point?  He was so thirsty.


‘Surely someone will come and check on us. Simon, Joel, Rafe?’ His eyes were open but he couldn’t see anything; his ears were intact but he couldn’t hear. Tree was cruel beyond belief. ‘Please will somebody bang a door and make my floor vibrate so that I know that I’m alive.’


The earphones were lifted away and he cried with relief. Through the muffling of the plugs he could hear voices speaking. He couldn’t make out who they were. Unprofessional hands fumbled with the tape at his wrists. The lilt of a woman’s voice assailed him.




Fingers touched his cheek crawling for purchase on the tape across his mouth. Jim braced himself as his rescuer whipped away the sticky gag—pulling off skin and hair. Spitting out the wad of material almost made him vomit.


“Ears—blocked,” he croaked.


Hands caught his face stilling him and then delicate fingers probed and then pulled the plugs from his ears. Blessed noise assailed him.


“Jim, are you all right?”


‘‘Naomi?’ Jim thought flabbergasted. Sandburg’s mother hugged him tightly, crooning endearments.


Naomi, is Blair here?” he croaked.


“I don’t know where Blair is. He was supposed to call last night,” her voice was worried. “When he didn’t, I came over. I don’t care if you boys thought that I shouldn’t visit until your bad guy had been caught. Those silly pigs in the car just let me walk straight in.”


He heard the snick of a sharp knife and froze as Naomi sawed at the bonds at his wrists.


Numb fingers came back to blood tingling life. Then Naomi released his feet. He wanted the bathroom more than he ever had in his entire life but his legs felt like they had been immersed in ice and then thawed in molten iron. Briskly, Naomi was rubbing his stockinged feet promoting blood flow. It was torture.


“Move your fingers and toes it will help.”


Jim obeyed.


“Can you call Simon?” Jim asked through gritted teeth.


While she was engrossed in the phone call, Jim rolled himself of the chair and crawled to the bathroom. Relief was only a few feet away.


U  U  U  U  U


His apartment was bedlam. A thousand police officers had descended on it. He sat on the couch sandwiched between Naomi and the arm. Blair’s mom held his hand and he didn’t have the heart to pull it away. A paramedic had pronounced him as fit as could be expected and after taping the minor laceration on his neck she had left. Simon appeared first on the scene after the mobile units in the area and had taken over. That he wasn’t very happy was something of an understatement.


 “I don’t believe that Gamble and Turner didn’t even come up and check on you.”


“They hadn’t been taken out? They were just sitting there?”


Simon’s growl was unmistakable. Evidently, the captain would be reaming them new asses in the near future. Jim would also have a few words with them.


“We’ll deal with them later, sir. We’ve got to get Tree.”


“Tree? Any clues?”


Jim could imagine his cigar travelling from east to west across his mouth as he questioned.  He could tell them to get forensics to carefully go over Blair’s room. Tree had searched it thoroughly and had likely left physical evidence behind. Jim had made his own quick and dirty search, to try and figure out what was missing before Simon had arrived. It had been difficult given the clutter, but the beside table was empty. Tree had taken Blair’s journals.


The sentinel mused on any sensory clues, nothing sprung immediately to mind. “Tree works at the Cascade Federal Bank in some capacity. We figured that out yesterday. But there’s some inconsistencies. Tree’s been watching us and he drugged our milk at the first opportunity after discovering that Blair’s got a preference for organic products from a specific shop. But judging from his conversation with me he’s unaware that we have any leads on his identity.”


“Or he’s just assuming that you’ve linked the crimes together,” Simon mused. “Every police officer in Major Crime has a stake in this one and the FBI have been informed.”


“We don’t need….”


“Ellison,” Simon said quellingly. Footsteps told the sentinel that the captain was pacing. “You and I both know that as soon as Blair was kidnapped that the FBI had to be involved.”


Blair’s mother clutched Jim’s hand. “What can we do?”


Simon’s thrum was introspective, “Judging from what Jim’s told me about this Tree character I think there is a good chance that he will ring the ‘mother of his victim’ to turn the screws.“


“And?” Naomi asked quietly.


“We’ll set up an incident room here.”


He could hear the swish of Naomi’s hair as she shook her head. “Speaking with that man will result in seriously bad karma.”


“Naomi?” Jim began.


“For him.” And her hand clasped possessively over his thigh.


U  U  U  U  U


Naomi was mothering him—it was understandable she had to have some outlet for her emotions.  He didn’t really know the lady, but he did know that Blair loved her wholeheartedly. And in her caring Jim wanted see something of his own mother.


“Jim, are you all right?”


Jim smiled in her direction and forced another mouthful of vegetable casserole between his lips. Vegetables were a bit same-oh-same-oh, you could hide it under a superlative sauce but at the end of the day you wanted a steak maybe with a baked potato now and again.




Ooops, yes, she asked a question.’’


“I was thinking about Blair,” his voice was candid.


“Ah, sweetie.”


Jim started as Naomi clasped him to her ample bosom, he was even more disconcerted when she stroked his hair just above the pulsating scar. A long shudder echoed through his equally long frame.


“Blair, will be fine,” she said tautly. “I know he will.”


Jim wondered whom she was trying to convince.


“Yes,“ Jim said into her chest, “we got Tree’s last kidnap victim back safe and sound.”


The sentinel remained stock-still as his best friend’s mother continued to—for lack of a better word—mother him.  He knew a number of semi-lethal ways of freeing himself from her grip, but he remained still.


‘I’m triggering every maternal instinct that she has at the moment,’ he noted tiredly.


“What would you really like to eat, sweetie? I can tell that you don’t like the casserole. Would you like some… meat?”


‘Sacrilege—indeed.’ Jim thought with the tiniest of smiles.


“Ah, I’m sorry, Naomi; I don’t have much appetite.”


“You have to eat,” Naomi implored. If Blair had been here he would have said that his mother was sublimating her fear into cookery or some such nonsense. She released the sentinel from the hug but enfolded his larger hand in her two soft hands.


“I have eaten some. I just can’t eat a pound of vegetables drowned in cream sauce,” Jim pointed out. He gently withdrew his hand.


Simon’s heavy footsteps walked across the room. He joined them at the table. Jim could smell the coffee that he held. Naomi had batches brewing for the FBI and police officers who had taken up camp throughout his home.’


“What happens now?” Naomi asked.


“We wait.”


U  U  U  U  U


‘Evening and still no contact.’


Jim allowed his fingers to trail over the smooth surface of the kitchen table. There was a tacky ring; a FBI agent must not used a coaster. He would have to dig out the cleansers from under the sink and polish the stainless steel.  The drone of an unfamiliar twanging accent disrupted his thoughts. Two people had entered the warm, safe haven of the kitchen area. Jim identified them as FBI officers seconded from Seattle. They were discussing inconsequential matters that didn’t relate to Blair’s kidnapping. Their conversation ebbed. In the silence, he could hear Naomi flirting with another FBI agent with a warm, dark chocolaty voice somewhere in the hall. The two FBI officers in the kitchen hadn’t moved, Jim knew they were staring at him.


“Are you a member of the family?” A southern accented voice—Jim decided—asked. 


Jim bared his teeth in their direction. “Detective Jim Ellison” he said quietly.


“Yeah,” the voice said thickly, “well, we’ll get Mr. Sandburg back.”


“I’ll sure we will,” Jim said neutrally. He decided that they were very new baby FBI agents as they scurried away.


“That was very naughty,” Naomi reprimanded.


“In what way?” Jim asked incuriously.


Naomi tutt-tutted, and the chair on his left creaked as she sat. Jim shook his head as she once again played hostess: shelling peas for the next cooking extravaganza. The FBI agents had to be enjoying the investigation—they were being fed four-star food. The vaguest of figures flared across his eyes. Jim blinked furiously but the image was gone.


‘I saw something. I know I saw something. I think it was Naomi—but wasn’t she on my left a moment ago.’


Jim fumbled across the table, found his tea cup and gulped down a mouthful of lukewarm watery brew.


‘I saw blue...’


“Jim, are you okay?”


Naomi gripped his shoulder and squeezed.


“Naomi, what are you wearing?”


Erm, my blue caftan.” Then her voice became excited. “Jim, did you see something?”


“I think I did.” Jim smiled. “For a moment. I saw your dress.”


“Yes! Yes!” Naomi danced around him and then hugged him delightedly. Abruptly, she released him. “Sorry.” Then she just had to hug him again. A high pitched feminine squeal pierced his eardrums and he was hugged on what felt was all sides.


“Can you see anything now, sweetie?” Naomi asked.


“No—it’s dark again.”


Now he had hope. He had for a moment seen something.


“Do you need to go to the doctor, Jim?”


“No,” Jim said slowly. Roget only wanted to see him, outside his appointments, if he was in severe pain.


“What’s going on here?” A very familiar voice demanded.


‘Oh, damn,’ Jim thought, ‘Agent Ford.’’


Jim resisted the temptation to wring the man’s neck. Ford was no more capable of retrieving Blair than the tooth fairy and he didn’t trust him as far as he could throw him.


“I didn’t know that you were involved, Agent Ford.”


“I was assigned because I’m familiar with Major Crime.”


“Yeah,” Jim said, it was the only thing he could think to say. Ford had passed through the department once on the way to a meeting with the commissioner.


The cigar smell heralding his captain’s approach filled the kitchen.


“I see you’ve met Agent Ford,” Simon began.


“Not really,” Naomi said candidly.


Jim let Simon handle the introductions. Ford hummed and harhed but couldn’t be sarcastic in the face of the ethereal Ms. Sandburg. A chair back creaked as Simon joined them at the table excluding the FBI agent from the rest of the conversation. With a snort Ford sauntered back to the main living area.


“We haven’t found out if Tree works at a bank—yet. We’re having to be circumspect we don’t want Tree to be alerted that we’re onto him. We’ve canvassed the neighbours in the neighbourhood and we have a lead on the car Tree used—it was a Chevy. One of yourer... Sandburg’s friends gave us a partial number plate but we haven’t managed to cross reference it.”


“Who was it?”


Paper rustled. “A transient called Binnie Barnes.”


Binnie? Binnie’s dyslexic; transpose the numbers and run them through the database again.”


Simon exhaled sharply, treating the family around the table to second-hand Dominican cigars. Ms. Sandburg coughed lightly and Captain Banks apologized profusely. The pair traded apologies back and forth until the cigar had been drowned in the sink. Naomi finished with a pithy comment about the dangers of smoking.


“Yes—smoking!” Jim said into the debate.


He knew that his companions stopped mid-sentence and turned to face him.


“Why didn’t I think of that? Shit, man....” Jim let his voice trail off—this was usually when Blair would interrupt and bring him back on track.  Blair wasn’t here. His foil was missing


“Yes, Jim?”


Jim shook himself out of his entangling thoughts. “A cough. Tree had a bad cough. He didn’t cough when he kidnapped Blair. We’re looking for someone affiliated with the bank who recently shook off a very nasty cough. Ask the astute Ms. Spence if she has noticed anyone in the bank with a persistent cough.”


The chair clattered as Simon left the table muttering about how he could find Ms. Spence so late at night.


Naomi patted his hand and dipped a peck on his cheek. “Clever boy.”


“I wish I had thought of it earlier,” Jim said irritably. He had been blind in more ways than one.


“You’ve had a lot on your mind. You’re looking tired—you’ve had a long day. I think it is time for you to go to bed, don’t you?”




“James, whether you like it or not, you are ill. You are not going to get better if you run yourself ragged...”


“But...” Jim raised his finger to emphasize his point.


“No, you only got out of hospital a couple of days ago and you spent last night tied to a chair.” She pulled Jim to his feet. “You need to rest. Blair will understand. If you were in his shoes you would say the same thing.”


Naomi stopped with a heartrending sob.


And it was Jim’s turn to give comfort.


U  U  U  U  U


Jim woke early the next morning, which he thought was a good thing. Since the accident he had spent more time asleep than awake. Naomi had carted him off to bed, despite his protests, and with a pinch on his ass pushed him head first into bed. He had been allowed to get under the covers unmolested. With a peck on his forehead, Naomi had let him be. He had had a disturbed night awakening from dreams in which Blair figured prominently. 


Jim dragged himself into a sitting position. He rubbed his face tiredly as he dropped his hands he noticed a change in the quality of the darkness surrounding him. Breathing harshly, he covered his eyes with the palms of hands again waited several seconds and then abruptly pulled his hands away.


It’s grey! Jim realized. If he turned his head from the direct sunlight streaming through the window above his head, his darkness became impenetrable. Jim rested his hands on knees and




with all his heart and soul. The vaguest of shapes were visible.


The temptation to sit and identify the different patterns of grey was almost irresistible but that would achieve nothing. Binnie Barnes had spoken to the police, but maybe he would tell the companion of the friendly neighbourhood grad-student more if he was questioned personally? Carefully, he swung his legs out of bed.


Jim fumbled his way down the stairs. His home was filled to capacity. He thought that he could hear Henri’s distinctive snore from the vicinity of the sofa. Determined not to wander through his own home half dressed, he ran through his ablutions quickly. Away from the sunlight he was once again encased in blackness.


Deliberately not moving with a hand outstretched, he walked down the hall.


“Good sleep?” Ford said his tone flat and censorious.


“As good as could be expected given the circumstances,” Jim countered. “And you?”


Ford stepped aside as he brushed past him on the way to the coffee pot. Jim helped himself to the brewing coffee and tore off a hunk of bread from the loaf in the breadbox. As he ate his crude breakfast he moved to the window, attempting once again to differentiate the pieces of grey.  There were distinct shades of grey. A kaleidoscope of fractured shades shifted as he moved his head. The shapes bore no relationship to the landscape that lay before him. Blair would say that he could learn to interpret the patterns. A muffled ringing interrupted his melancholy.




It sounded like Blair’s cell phone.


‘I left it on the couch.’


The ringing stopped. There were no sounds of FBI agents responding to the call. Where were they? Carefully, Jim felt across the sofa trying not to disturb the sleeping detective. When it rang again, he would feel for the source of the muffled phone. The phone rang again, startling him. Jim hunted after the sound, his hand diving down the back of the cushions. The ringing vibrated up his fingertips as he touched it.


“Simon,” Jim called and then clicked open the phone. “Blair Sandburg’s phone.”


“Finally,” Tree’s mocking voice was almost good to hear.


“How’s Blair?” Jim said without preamble.


“Blair’s resting comfortably.”


“What do you want?”  


Ooooh, that’s an intriguing question.”


“Why are you acting like this?” Jim demanded. “This playfulness—if you’re attempting to pull the wool over my eyes—bad metaphor—this isn’t the true you. Let me speak to the real person—the man who coldly and calmly executed the kidnapping of a small boy, then a student…. The man who systematically burgled every expensive apartment in Greenhaugh Towers.”


“What small boy?” Tree asked. 


‘Could have worked,’ Jim thought with a fatalistic shrug. He could hear Simon talking to someone on his own cellphone and Agent Ford asking what was happening.


“This is what I want you to do, Detective Ellison. I want you and you alone to bring me something in exchange for Mr. Sandburg. The something is your choice. Needless to say if your fellow police officers get too close you won’t see—sorry, poor joke—Little Blair again.”




“You’ll figure it out...” There was silence on the phone line. Jim strained his ears trying to pick up any clue. All he could hear was a low hum. Tree laughed richly.


“I’m curious. Why are you so worried about someone who blinded you? Through their own stupidity ruined your life.” Tree’s voice smiled.


“What are you talking about?”


“So what’s your Blair worth now, Sentinel?”


The phone went dead.


U  U  U  U  U


Simon stood in front of the balcony window. The sunlight silhouetted the large captain. Jim carefully watched him. He couldn’t see any details except for a black mass surrounded by grey light like a stormy, grey ocean, but for now that was enough. The captain was outlining the next steps but since the ball was firmly in Tree’s court his thoughts were pure speculation. Blair’s cell phone was, of course, now bugged to high heaven. Jim ran his fingers over the rubber buttons. He knew instinctively that Tree would not use the phone again. The psychopath would find another way to contact him. Simon let out a heavy sigh and paced across the room muttering to himself. Jim sat quietly, now that peace had descended; the FBI agents had been absolutely fuming when they had realized that they had missed the kidnapper’s call. Jim tiredly rubbed his eyes.  He had miscalculated, he knew that, he should have let the phone ring, unattended. The FBI agents could have than tapped the phone and the next time that Tree had called they could have tried to trace the call.


“How did Tree know that the phone wasn’t bugged?” Jim asked midair. “He deliberately allowed sufficient time to pass for the FBI to trace the call. Either he knew that the phone wasn’t bugged or he wanted to be traced. How would he know that the phone wasn’t bugged? Is it part of his game—the thrill of the chase?”


He stood up, turning unerringly to the balcony where the darkness lightened.


“He said that he had been trying all night. He knew that the cell phone was in the apartment—it was lying on the couch when he kidnapped Blair. So if he kept trying he knew that the phone had been moved. Why didn’t he simply assume that the FBI bugged the phone? Why did he risk it?”


Jim answered his own question but in the loneliness of his mind, ‘Because he’s watching the apartment or it’s bugged.’ He leaned forward and pressed his hands and forehead against the cold window panes.




Footsteps clattered across the wooden floor.


“Jim, are you all right?”


His captain’s voice sounded concerned. Belatedly, Jim realized what a picture he made leaning against the windows. Simon probably thought that he was having a stroke or something. Jim moved away from the captivating kaleidoscopic light.


Simon caught his elbow and steadied him. Jim submitted to Simon guiding him back to his kitchen chair.


“What were you doing?”


Jim came to an abrupt halt and held up a single finger demanding silence. Irked, Simon sniffed, but stayed quiet.  Jim closed his useless eyes and cocked his head, his ears pricked; listening devices would give off the slightest of hums. As taught, he mapped and dismissed each known sound. The high pitched whine of a transmitter was not present.


“I want to show you something in Blair’s room.”


“Yeah, right,” Simon said, but led him to the room.


Blair’s room was a warm, dark haven. He felt surrounded by his roommate, the room sang of his presence.


Jim whispered, “Tree’s watching us. Get the FBI to canvas the neighbours again. He’ll have some kind of telescope. The apartment isn’t bugged but he might have a parabolic mike.”


Simon was already half way to the door.


“Simon.” Jim stopped the captain mid-stride. “I need to talk to Binnie Barnes.”


“Jim, you’re under protective custody,” Simon said dismissively, his mind obviously elsewhere.


“What?” Jim said into the resultant silence as Simon left the room.


He heard a knock at the door. Someone called circumspectly for identification. Jim tuned them out. He hadn’t been railroaded when he was blinded with Golden, it wasn’t going to happen now.


‘This is intolerable! Everyone thinks that they know best—I am babied.’




The voice was familiar. Jim’s ears twitched, the voice was roughened by many years of smoking and there was a trace of an accent.


“Yes,” Jim finally responded, relieved. “Leon, I am so glad to hear your voice.””


“I’m pleased to see you too, son.”


“We need to get out of here.”




“I think Tree’s waiting for me.”


“Shouldn’t we tell the agents? It is their job,” Leon asked.


“Ford is an idiot. I don’t trust him with Blair’s life.”


“And you’re capable of saving him? You’re blind, Ellison.”


“Look—” Jim shook his head. “Tree wants me. If he sees anyone else, Blair’s toast. I might be blind at the moment but I’m not helpless.”




U  U  U  U  U


One hand running along the wall, Jim picked his way carefully down the stairs of his apartment building. In bright sunlight he could now make out shapes but in the dark corridors he could only see varying shades of darkness.


Leon trotted down the stairs at his side. “So where do you think Tree has Blair?”


“I have no idea, but I bet there is a clue in the building across from the loft.”


The astute Leon said, “Tree’s been there listening, eh?”


“Yeah, I doubt that he’s there now.”


“Do you know which building?”


Jim pictured the shops and houses around their home. Both sides of the street mirrored each other with shops below and apartments above. He didn’t know their neighbours quite as well as Blair did. But he knew that the superintendent of the apartment building lived above the bakery. The foyer was brightly sunlit and Jim walked without hesitation onto the sidewalk. He pointed out their destination to Leon and let him do the directing across the busy road.’


The building super was very helpful; only one apartment had been recently rented.  Jim now stood outside listening. Nothing moved or breathed within, there was, however, the distinct smell of Ipecacuanha.


Heavy footsteps stormed up the stairs behind them; preceded by a waft of cigar smoke. Jim growled; Simon. He had hoped that he had given his captain the slip as he conferred with Rafe by cellphone on the balcony.




“Simon,” he acknowledged.


“So you were just thinking that you could run off.”


“No, I knew that you’d follow. I just didn’t want Ford to come along.”


“Boys, boys.” Leon chastised. Jim heard a snick of metal against ratchets and a distinct click as Leon used the super’s key.


“Describe what you see.”


“It’s a bit like yours. No furniture, though. There’s a parabolic mike and telescope set up pointed directly at your apartment.”


“There’s a surprise.” Jim quested forwards, nostrils flared. There was an overwhelming scent of Ipecacuanha. “I thought that there would be a clue here regarding Tree’s whereabouts.”


“Why? The man’s obviously intelligent: he would leave no clue,” Leon said.


“Because when I spoke to him he said I would know where he was.”


“I see no maps laying around. So you know already.”


Jim looked into the sparkling sunlight. Where was he? Where could Tree be with Blair in tow? Blair wouldn’t go silently. Someone should have noticed.


Tree was an artist; he liked to direct his pawns in a chess game, to watch them dance at his whim. Now where was Jim supposed to move? And he was supposed to bring a gift to the board. What could he offer in exchange for Blair? He could think of nothing. Tree took a mother’s child. A Monét. Exquisite African statuary. A sentinel’s guide. And what he normally received was a sense of superiority for pulling one over on the police. 


Had Mrs. Pogue ransomed her son? “Leon?”


“Maybe this isn’t the best place to talk, son? Ears, you know?”


“Yes.” Jim started as Leon took his elbow and led him from the apartment.


U  U  U  U  U


They chose a park that both he and Blair favoured. There was a really good hotdog vendor. They sat on a park bench each with a hotdog.


“Did Avril Pogue ransom her son?”


“Yes. Ten million dollars. We ran the whole scheme, thought that we had the drop under surveillance. Tree got away. The kid was dropped at Cascade General’s ER a couple a hours later.”


“Did the kid say where he was held?” Simon asked.


“Nah, he was drugged the whole time.”


“He drugged Blair with the milk.”


“We might have a clue there, knowledge of drugs,” Leon mused.


“What about Ms. Spence at the bank, can we check up on her?” Jim said.


Simon’s cell phone chirruped as he pressed the buttons. Jim squinted in his direction. He still couldn’t make out details, but the wash of variations of light and shadow now had colours. The green of the trees was darker than the green of the grass. Simon was a dark blob; Jim guessed than he was wearing his dark suit and dark, wool overcoat. The blob that was Leon’s head was a noxious yellow, which said something about the status of his liver, and he was wearing a purple top. His wife hadn’t offered any advice on his clothing this morning.


“Uh huh,” Simon was saying with interest. “Scalia? What? Ford. Rafe, you idiot!”




Simon swore under his breath. “I sent Rafe to speak to Ms. Spence. Ford sent two of his agents ahead of him.”




Rafe just found out that an Alan Scalia works out of Washington, he audits departments in Cascade, San Diego, Los Angles, Boston, Chicago and New York. He has chronic bronchitis.”


“So where is he now?”


“Supposedly in Chicago.”


“Where does he live when he stays here?”


“Rented apartment on the dockside belonging to the bank. The Feds are on their way their now.”


“Fuck!” Jim lurched to his feet. Running to Simon’s car took no sight; he knew where it was. They had to get there before the FBI agents screwed up everything.


“Jim!” Leon called. “Tree won’t be there—it’s too simple.”


Jim skidded to a stop on the wet grass. Leon was right, the psycho knew that they were investigating the bank, even his height of arrogance wouldn’t believe that they wouldn’t figure out who he was—assuming that Alan Scalia wasn’t just another pseudonym.


“So where the fuck is he?” Jim asked no one in particular. The only place that came to mind was the loft. That Tree was hiding in the loft in plain sight; yet as a sentinel, he knew that Blair wasn’t within the confines of the apartment building. Where would the clever, but insane, Tree hide both himself and Blair. “Hide in plain sight?”


“What, son?” Leon asked.


“The Greenhaugh Towers are under surveillance, aren’t they?”


“Yes,” Simon answered.


“What about his old haunts?”


“What do you mean?” Simon asked.


Avril Pogue’s home?”


“There’s no evidence that Tree and Colin Pogue’s kidnapper are one and the same.”


“Except for modus operandi,” Leon said acidly.


“The FBI doesn’t agree with you, Mr. Riccolo.”


“On what count? Weird cat-burglar steals important items from people. The systematic Greenhaugh Towers break-in included, amongst other things, a ceramic cookie jar and a black pearl necklace. The cookie jar was Mrs. Jackson’s great-grandmother’s and its only value was its family significance. The black pearl was rarer than rare and the DA’s prize possession. This is strikingly similar to the methodical chain of events that led up to the Pogue kidnapping.” The old man fell silent.


“You know that case back-to-front, Leon, where would Tree wait for me?” Jim asked.


“Interesting choice of words.” Light flared as Leon struck a match for one of his cancer sticks. He inhaled for a long breath, and then exhaled with an appreciative sigh. “I agree the Pogue house is a good idea. It’s in the suburbs, isolated—perfect.”


“So what are we waiting for?” Simon said.


U  U  U  U  U


The Pogue residence was, as Leon said, isolated. Situated in the northern part of Cascade where the rich lived, like Jim’s own family, the house stood in the centre of sprawling grounds and was separated from the rest of the world by a high wall. Leon gave him a blow-by-blow description of the house and the grounds as they sat in the car across the street. After her son’s kidnapping, Avril Pogue had installed the finest security system that money could buy.


Jim leaned forward in the car’s passenger seat listening.


There were four people. Two were on the top floor; judging from the faster heartbeat one was a child. Another person, who was sleeping based on the slow heart rhythm, was on a lower floor.  The fourth person paced and talked to himself on the same floor.




“He’s there,” Jim said.


“How do you know?” Leon asked from the driver’s seat.


Jim ignored the question. “I’ll go ahead. I want you two to sneak in through any way you can find.”


“No,” Leon protested.


“Jim,” Simon began simultaneously.


“Listen, Tree’s been studying me, he expects me to be gung-ho and go it alone. So I won’t do that…”


“Look, kid,” Leon interrupted testily, “you’re blind, how did you get here?”


“I’m not allowing you to put yourself in danger.”


“I’m just the demented old neighbour who you asked for help.”


“Like Tree’s going to believe that.”


“Okay, I’m an old cop, friend, that’s the truth.”


“Will Tree know you?” Simon asked.


Leon hedged. “I don’t think so, I was on the case but I was one of many, the leader was an agent called Jerry Principle.”


“You got a weapon?” Jim asked.


“My trusty magnum.”


“And where do I fit into this plan?” Simon asked sourly.


Jim read the sarcasm under his words; his captain was about to argue their method of confronting Tree.


“You’re going to skirt around the wall and get in from the west side. Tree’s pacing around, he’s not with Blair.”


“How do you know?” Leon asked.


Jim ignored him. “Blair’s in the room on the far side of the building. Tree’s switched off the security system; I can’t hear any humming. You can get in through any window and get Blair out. Mrs. Pogue and her son are upstairs.”


“How in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so you know this stuff?”


Leon, I’ll tell you later, just trust me.”


“I’m going to hold you to that, Jim Ellison.”


“Look, Jim, hold off—I’ll call Brown and Rafe. We need back up.”


“No. Tree’s pacing now. He could go back to where Blair is or the Pogues. We’ve got to go now.” Jim pushed open the car door and stepped out into the road. Listening, he could hear no traffic. Skilfully, he walked across the road, mapping the area by the reflection of the echoes from his footsteps. He could see a region of darkness ahead.


Jim rested his hands on the wall, fingers tracing the pattern of the bricks and mortar as he listened for movement within. He felt his way along the wall. He could see a brighter region which was likely a gate. His questing fingers met air and then felt cold metal. The vertical bars were cold to touch. Jim felt further and found the lock. It was a smooth metal plate.


“Got to be electronically controlled,” Leon observed moving up behind Jim.


An intercom crackled. “It took you long enough to get here, Ellison,” Tree said sardonically.


Jim honed in on the intercom like an arrow fired at a bull’s eye. He planted his hand over the speaker. Not knowing if it was two way, he whispered, “Stay back, away from the gate, Simon. Don’t let him see you.”


He heard a huff of acquiescence. Lifting his hand away, he spoke again. “You going to let me in?”


“Who’s your friend,” the voice asked.


“Leo,” the old FBI agent said.


“Jimmy. Jimmy. Why did you bring a friend to our little meeting, is he my prize?”


“Getting here by bus, would have been a little difficult,” Jim pointed out bitingly. “Leo’s an old friend, he’s going to wait here for me.”


“No, he’s not.”


The gates swung open.


“Come on, son.” Leon caught his elbow. Jim stalked ahead, and Leon hurried to keep up.


“I thought you couldn’t see?”


“Can you hear humming?” Jim cocked his head.


Uhm, no.”


“It’s more of a swish-swish.”


“Very descriptive.” Leon coughed, and Jim heard mucous rattling in his chest. “So magic man, is Tree listening to us with a parabolic mike, now?”


Jim listened. “I can’t tell. That swish-swish is getting pretty irritating.”


“You got super ears or something?”


“Yeah.” Jim stumbled. The world around him was rather strange at the moment. Under the influence of Golden he had seen images which strobed in a golden-yellow light. When the head injury had left him blind he had seen nothing, no light, no darkness, really, he had just seen nothing—as if his sight had just switched off. Now he saw the kaleidoscope. It was nauseating, twisting. He saw shapes that didn’t compute. By combining what he saw with his active senses he could figure out what he was seeing. Now he knew that he had tripped over the first cobbles of a winding drive.


Leon toddled along at his elbow. He didn’t like having the old man here—but Tree would underestimate his temporary partner. Simon was skirting the edge of the walled estate, trying to find another way in.


“Have you thought this through, Jim?” Leon asked.






“I’m playing my cards close to my chest. Someone might be listening, you know?”


“You’re playing them so close that you can’t even see them. Hah!”


Jim snorted. As they approached the wall of blankness that bespoke of the house, a click heralded a door opening. A figure, sinuous, twisting to his sight danced before him.


“Tree,” Jim said.


“Ah, Detective Ellison. So I’m curious: where’s the backup?”


Jim shrugged.


“I knew you wouldn’t bring back up.”


“I’m just the chauffeur,” Leon put in.


“Come in. Come in.”  A tendril emerged from the swirl—Jim guessed that it was an arm—and gestured them inside.


“He has a gun,” Leon whispered, “mine’s bigger.”


Outside, away from the sunlight, his vision became more vague, harder to interpret. The click of his footsteps reverberated through a hall with a high ceiling. His sense of smell told him that someone in the house was terrified: sour sweat. The mother and child upstairs, most likely. He could smell, Blair, sunshine and coriander. There was an unfamiliar cut to the known scent.


“Where’s Blair?”


“What did you bring me in exchange? The old guy?”


Jim patted his front trouser pocket. “Let me see Sandburg.”


“I want to see what pearl of great worth you’ve brought me.”


“Sandburg,” Jim said uncompromisingly, his hand not leaving his pocket.


“You see, I don’t think that you’ve brought anything. I think that I have the most valuable thing that you posses. Your Blair is a clever guy—although he should have invested in some better encryption program for his laptop. I think, though, he underestimates his worth. He writes of an agent called Bracket who mentions that a sentinel has a guide. His research into this—‘partnership’ is for the most part speculative. Although, his book on Burton’s sentinel states categorically that a sentinel needs a partner, he’s unable to be objective. His diaries are quite interesting too. He wants you to need him, but he can’t quite believe that you do need him.  It’s very sweet. I like diaries, they’re always filled with fears.”””


“I’m getting bored.”


“Well, you see, you’re the pearl of great price. I’m a collector and now I have a sentinel. The fact that you came here even when Blair was responsible for blinding you, that you’d come here, stupidly not daring to risk him, without backup, confirms that I also have your guide.”


Jim’s hands flexed. “Blair didn’t blind me.”


“Whatever,” Tree said absently. “He believes that it’s his fault.”


Jim shook his head. He would deal with that confusion after he had dealt with Tree. They walked into an open airy room. Blair’s heartbeat rang in his ears.


“Blair’s on the sofa; asleep,” Leon said


Jim walked without a misstep to Blair’s side. He reached down to feel the cold skin at his throat. Blair was chilled, like a sleeper deep in the arms of Morpheus. “What have you been drugging him with?”


“Nothing that will harm him.”


“What do you want?” Jim said tiredly.


“You,” Tree said simply.


“You’re insane.”


“You’re not the first to say that. Pick up your partner, Ellison. Leon, give me your gun.”


The arm-tendril moved demandingly.


“Gun?” Leon said vaguely.


“Leon Riccolo, you’ve been after me for years. Did you honestly believe that I didn’t know you? Pass over your gun, now.”


Leon didn’t move and muscle.


“Pass it over, Leon,” Jim said.


“An agent never gives up his weapon.”


Jim jumped as the shot echoed through his very bones. The stink of cordite and the stench of blood engulfed him.


Leon!” Jim demanded. What had happened? Who had shot? Someone was on the floor. The people-blurs were one giant amoeba. Who had jumped whom? Jim moved to whale into the tussle.


“Don’t move, Ellison.”


“I’m okay,” Leon said painfully. “It just nicked me.”


Tree moved right into Jim’s personal space. He backed away from the combination of Ipecacuanha and garlic oil.


“We don’t have time for this. Get your guide, now.”


The muzzle of a gun poked against his ribs. The tip was warm.




“Jim, damn, I’ll be okay—don’t worry about me.”


Growling, Jim turned to the unconscious Sandburg. He ran his fingers over the inert form. Blair lay on his back, lax, head rolled to the side. His lips were dry and cracked; he had been breathing through his mouth too long. Tree had thrown a blanket over him. Jim cast it aside. Blair still wore his jeans and shirt. His sling was in place.


“Chief? Wake up?”


Blair ignored his demands, staying in Never-Never land. Jim manhandled his friend, pulling his legs off the couch and then drawing him into a sitting position. Blair moaned at the handling.




“Hurry up.”


Jim jerked Blair onto his feet and ducked down to plant his shoulder into the student’s gut. Blair folded over his shoulder into the classic fireman’s position. He groaned for real, his mending collarbone protesting the movement.


“Come on.” The muzzle of the weapon jabbed Jim over his left kidney.


“Where are we going?” Jim walked slowly forward.


“You’re amazingly arrogant. Why didn’t you bring your colleagues?”


U  U  U  U  U


Jim picked his way carefully over the lawn, tripping and stumbling over the uneven terrain. Blair was an ungainly weight over his shoulder. Warm breath brushed through his sweater and shirt and dampened his skin. The student moaned and shifted. Jim jigged a bit harder, trying to draw him nearer to consciousness. The swish-swish was getting closer. The noise sounded like a rotor.


“A helicopter, you have a helicopter.”


“How did you expect me to get away?”


He was going to have to dump Blair on the grass and jump Tree. Blair’s hands flexed against his ass. The moan was only discernible to sentinel ears. It was amazing what a little pain could do. Jim pinched the sensitive skin at the back of Blair’s knee.


Jim’s ankle turned under him and he fought not to fall over. Holding Blair was like trying to carry a sleeping bag of loosely packed ball bearings, but somehow he didn’t drop him. Tree caught his elbow momentarily, helping him stay upright. The hand cupping his elbow was warm and felt moist and sweaty and excited.  Before he could think to drop Blair and take out the freak, Tree had moved away.


“Just out of curiosity, what do you hope to gain from kidnapping us?”


“I figure highest bidder.  Or I might have you stuffed and mounted.”


“Very funny.”


Tree took things that people valued over all else. Kidnapping Blair made twisted sense. But he was breaking his modus operandi taking them both.


“The blind thing is going to get in the way of any sales. Damaged goods,” Tree mused.


“I guess you’ll just have to have me stuffed and mounted.” Jim squinted, in the better light, a figure was resolving. A flare of sunlight was likely reflected off the muzzle of the gun. Tree was cavalier, it was aimlessly moving, rather than trained on his victims.


“Drop the weapon!” Simon’s voice boomed.


Jim stepped out from under Blair’s weight and straight armed Tree in the face. The psycho fell backwards. Jim followed through, palm open, the ball of his hand connected with Tree’s chin forcing his head back with a spine tingling crack. Tree’s throat was totally exposed. Jim heard teeth splintering. Honing in on the sound, he karate-chopped at the delicate larynx. Cartilage fractured and collapsed under the blow. The impact set a profoundly satisfying quiver through his guts. Jim felt, rather than heard, Tree’s Adam’s Apple pop. The man gagged a bloody sigh and fell.


Jim dropped beside the dying body. He flipped Tree on to his stomach and handcuffed his hands behind his back.


“You assumed that I hadn’t brought my friends.”


“Jim!” Simon was at his shoulder, reaching over to check Tree’s pulse. Jim could hear the hammering of Tree’s heart plainly and blood draining into his lungs.


“I need to check on Blair,” Jim said unnecessarily. He moved to his friend’s side. Blair lay in an ungainly sprawl, his arm twisted under him and his legs spread-eagled. With sentinel-sensitive fingers, Jim’s checked the soundness of his neck and spine before carefully turning him onto his back.


“How is he?”


Jim leaned in close until he could almost make out the broad planes and banks of Blair’s face. “Out for the count. I don’t know what Tree drugged him with, but it’s potent.”


“I’ll call an ambulance.”


“Call two; we need one for Leon.”




“Yeah, go check on him, I’ll watch Tree.”


“I think that we need one for Tree.” A dark blur squatted next to the dead body. “How hard did you hit him?”


Jim propped Blair up against his hip before answering, “Hard enough, I guess. He’s trained: a good fighter—he was armed, I needed to stop him before he shot one of us. I couldn’t chance him firing.”


“I had him covered.”


“Did you?” he asked sincerely. “I couldn’t see.”


U  U  U  U  U




Blair was doing a sort of sloppy thing on the couch. He was draped over the cushions like a child’s cuddly toy with all the stuffing hugged out. Jim walked past and flicked the hand hanging over the arm of the couch with his index finger.


“Get off,” Blair slurred.


“How are you feeling?”


“Dopey. What did he… use?”


“Some kind of narcotic like rohypnol cut with a curare derivative. Do you remember the emergency room?”




Jim shook his head. “The doctor said another forty eight hours before it’s out of your system.”


“Really,” Blair said disinterestedly as he made a futile attempt to roll onto his stomach.


“Tree’s been identified,” Jim volunteered.


“Oh, yeah?”


“Kyle Stewart Cottingham.”


Blair gave him a leery eye through a veil of tangled curls. “Is that supposed to mean anything?”


“Senator Cottingham’s son—big East Coast family. Father sits on the senate and kid swans around getting kicks turning people over.” 


“I’d love to be that bored some day.”


Jim shook his head at the sideline—Blair’s world was a strange and surreal place.


“He’s going to get off you know,” Blair said with uncharacteristic cynicism, the drugs had obviously squashed his bright, sunny personality. “He’ll have a high-priced lawyer and his dad will interfere.”


“Not a problem, Chief.”




“He was pronounced dead at the hospital. He suffocated.”


“What!” Blair managed to flip over and found the energy to sit up. “Suffocated?”


“He died of wounds sustained during his capture,” Jim said clinically.


“What happened?”


“I hit him too hard.”


“Shit,” Blair said inelegantly. Then he was silent, as only Blair could be when he was trying to process the unpalatable.


Jim shrugged and went to help himself to a beer. Tree would have undoubtedly been sidelined into a mental institution if he had been prosecuted. As Kyle Cottingham, a senator’s son, his lawyer would have probably played a different card since he apparently was only in it for ‘fun’ and no one had actually been harmed. The man had a strange and creepy sense of what was fun. Kyle had planned to kidnap a sentinel and guide and Jim only had suspicions of what the psycho had intended.


‘But it’s not a problem.’


Jim put the Coors back and grabbed a Bud.


“Jim?” Blair said with a tired, drugged voice from the vicinity of the sofa.




“How are you feeling?”


“In what way?” he asked, as he played with the bottle cap.


“About Tree, I mean—?


“That he died?




“I’ll have to talk to IA about it and probably the unit’s psychologist. I guess the senator will make sure that I never progress beyond detective.” Jim sighed deeply. ‘What a horrible punishment,’ he thought disingenuously.


Jim juggled the Bud then put it back and picked up the Coors again.


“Hey, you did that really well; is your sight back? Your eyes, man!”


“Hmm… no can’t see a thing. I’m as blind as a bat.” There weren’t any snacks in the refrigerator. He really wanted something non-nutritious and ‘bad-for-you’.


“I’m sorry, man,” Blair was saying sadly. “I…”


“It wasn’t your fault, Chief.” He found a Snickers hiding the behind the jar of homemade relish.




“It was a car accident, Chief; and I was driving.”


“But if I hadn’t fumbled when we first tried to catch him, he wouldn’t have run and you wouldn’t have had to go after him,” Blair burbled.


“Don’t second guess yourself, Sandburg; life’s too short. We’ll talk again when you’re more ‘here’.” Jim poured a small measure of the beer into a glass. It should be a safe amount coupled with the sedatives in Blair’s system: he would be out like a light. “I’m pretty sure that my sight will come back in a week or two.”


“What?” Blair was peering blearily at Jim, over the back of the couch.


Jim crossed to his side and handed over the beer. Blair sipped automatically, sighing happily at the taste. Jim listened to the alcohol flowing down his gullet and hitting his stomach like a club against the back of skull.


Knowing that Blair would be communing with his glass of beer for a while yet, Jim darted upstairs to his bedroom. He pulled the trunk out from underneath his bed. Opening it, he lifted out the top layer to reveal the hidden compartment beneath. His covert ops equipment lay in foam slots; safely stored. He pocketed the small knives and the lock picks and then closed the box up and tucked it back into place.


As he moved back down the stairs, Blair was sagging back onto his cushions, a snore in the back of his throat. Jim watched him, mentally mapping his physical condition and finding all rolling along on an even keel. He gently relieved his sleeping partner of the glass and set it on the coffee table.  Grabbing a handful of Blair’s jeans and shirt, he pulled him onto his side in an approximation of the standard recovery position. He tucked a pillow behind Blair’s back to stop him rolling back. His guide secure, he stood and then collected his sunglasses and his cell phone from the kitchen table. He could get a taxi to Tree’s apartment or maybe even drive himself?


“Decisions. Decisions.”


A taxi could be traced and he really needed to search Kyle Cottingham’s haunts to recover Blair’s journals and any other documents that Tree had left around revealing that he was a sentinel.


Jim grabbed his coat and his car keys.


He wouldn’t be exposed.


The End