Rating: ‘R’ if you’re sensitive; ‘PG-15’, otherwise.
Genre: Horror/Supernatural phenomenon. Religious and irreligious discussion
Familiarity with the other stories in the series is sort of recommended. But if you don’t want to wade through them, all you really need to know is that the boys have gone through the:
“My god, it’s a demon!”
“Demons don’t exist.”
“Try telling that thing that!”
Thank yous… Olwyn saw the first draft a wee while ago. There then was a considerable lag as I tried to get other folk (who could add an American twang) to beta the darn story. Then I found Susan (HMG), who made time in her busy, busy schedule to go over it with a fine tooth comb. Lisa gave it a quick overview ‘cos I couldn’t see any booboos by then ‘cos I was so tired. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Any booboos left belong to me.
However, the boys belong to someone else apparently,
Watchman eye and watchman hand
are spun of water, air and sand.
where I find my sight,
Shadowless and burning night,
here where death and life are met
is the fire of being set
Watchman eye and watchman hand
are spun of water, air and sand.
These will crumble and be gone,
still that darkness rages on
As a plant in winter dies
down into the germ, and lies
leafless, tongueless, lost in earth
imaging its fierce rebirth;
And with the whirling rays of the sun
and shuttle-stroke of living rain
weaves that image from its heart
and like a god is born again
Fire of Being
Judith Arundell Wright (1915-2000)
“Where have you been?” Jim demanded.
Blair froze in the doorway, in one hand he held the morning paper and in the other a paper bag emblazoned with the local bakery’s logo. He held them up.
“Why didn’t you tell me where you’d gone? Where were you?” Jim stomped down the final two steps from his loft bedroom.
“I don’t normally, Jim.” Shaking his head, he crossed to the kitchen to start breakfast.
“I got up and you weren’t here,” Jim continued.
Turning his back to the Sentinel, Blair crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue as he popped the split croissants in the toaster. Jim had always been committed when it came to guarding his tribe of one, but since the incident in the fountain he had been a tad overboard.
“Has Philip called?” Jim asked surprisingly.
“No.” Blair slowly turned and leaned on the kitchen counter. “Were you expecting him to?”
“Croissants?” Jim settled at the kitchen table and glowered at the preserves and cream cheese set on the table.
The pastries popped out of the toaster. Distracted, Blair snagged the warm croissants and dropped them on a plate.
“You woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Blair set the breakfast in front of Jim.
Grumbling under his breath, Jim concentrated diligently on buttering his croissant. Ignoring the moody, unpredictable Sentinel, Blair settled in his chair and applied himself to his own breakfast.
and watchman hand
are spun of water, air and sand.
The bluebook exam papers always took so long that Blair had prepared himself for a prolonged session. He had coffee, candy and Oysterband’s latest CD playing on auto-repeat on his stereo. The mess of answers ranged from perfect, through amusing and into the pathetic. He saved the best for the beginning and the end of the marking marathon. While the exam books bore only numbers to identify the writers, after several years of marking their essays he could easily tell one student from another. Making a filling of the worst offerings in a sandwich of halfway decent exam papers made marking palatable.
His office door slammed open, bouncing against the wall, and a large figure filled the space. “Why the hell didn’t you call?” Jim yelled.
Blair jerked back in his chair. “What?”
“Why the hell didn’t you call?”
“You’re nuts, it’s only…” Blair cast a glance at the clock on the bottom corner of his computer screen and winced. “Ah.”
“Yeah, ‘Ah’; it’s after . You said you’d be home at eleven.”
“Well, it’s only just after .” He grinned engagingly. “Look, Jim, I have to get these exams marked before the morning. Students are waiting on them and it’s their final exam, it’s important for their degrees.”
“They can’t expect you to work after .” Jim reached out to gather up Blair’s backpack.
“Jim! I’m a TA; it’s my job. And I take the time to do it when I can,” he finished pointedly.
Immediately subdued, Jim backed off, both physically and figuratively. “How long?”
Caught by surprise, Blair hemmed and hawed, “Uhm, ten to fifteen minutes a book -– an hour and a half.”
“So , then,” Jim said. “You’ll be home at a .”
“Give or take five minutes.”
“Right.” Jim fired a gimlet stare at him and strode out of the office.
Blair sagged in his chair. That was bizarre. There was something seriously off kilter with Jim; he was obviously going nuts. Jim was watching him like a possessive father. Whatever the cliché, he was as irritating as heck.
Blair sighed deeply. He knew that the fountain was never far from the Sentinel’s thoughts.
Barely a click of a clock’s second hand later he was standing in the corridor outside his room. There was no sign of his Sentinel. Grinding his teeth (a la Ellison), he raced down the corridor. Jim must have run all the way. Unless… Blair made an abrupt about turn, ran past his office and up the staircase to the postgraduate coffee room. It, too, was empty. It was now pointless trying for the parking lot, since Jim would have had time to drive away.
Looking out of the coffee room window, he could see that the parking lot was empty except for his lone, beloved car, sitting under a single street light.
“We’re going to talk, Ellison, the minute I get home.”
He had to get the exams marked and put in the database before his supervisor -- who was threatening to cut off important body parts if he was late -- acted.
He had barely put pen to paper when he paused, his gaze drifting to the door. Jim was acting weird. Blair could understand the hyper-alertness. He contained a shudder. He had died, the paramedics had given up on him and Jim had called him back.
The water had been lovely.
Blair wiped feverishly at the sweat beading on his forehead. No matter how hard he tried, Jim refused to talk about the meeting of the spirit guides on the spirit plane. Jim now oscillated between whacked-out over-attentiveness and cool dismissal. The Sentinel had always blown hot and cold, but this was making Blair seasick.
Camping was probably the solution. Jim needed to relax into the elements, touch base with his inner sentinel.
Blair ground his teeth, frustrated. Part of him wanted to quit marking and hash out Jim’s weird behaviour, and the other part needed to finish the marking or he’d be up to his neck in trouble with Professor Roberts.
‘And,’ he admitted to himself, ‘getting Jim to open up is like getting blood from a stone.’ Blair nodded sagely, dwelling on his inner monologue. ‘Camping. Camping this weekend. That will straighten him out.’
Blair typed the last mark into his computer file – saving the best for last, he gave Vicki Cuts an exceptional ninety four percent. With something close to relief, he closed down his computer and stretched a lugubrious stretch. He now had to face Jim. And an hour and a half later, he now had the time to face Jim. The first step would be to interrogate him about his diet over the last few weeks, specifically what he had consumed at lunch.
He stuffed his backpack haphazardly and slung it on his shoulder. Yawning, he lumbered out of his office, concerned only with Jim and finding his bed.
He tripped over a pair of outstretched legs.
The Sentinel glowered up at him. “Careful.”
“What the hell? Where the hell were you? Where did you hide the truck?”
“It’s parked on the other side of the building.”
“Why didn’t you go home?
“Your car might have broken down.”
Derailed, Blair stared at the Sentinel open-mouthed. “My car is running fine,” he said eventually. “Have you been sitting outside my office?”
“Yes.” Jim shrugged, as if to say ‘stupid question.’
“Don’t you think that’s a little bit obsessive?”
“Hey.” Jim was suddenly intensely interested in a cobweb in the far corner of the corridor. “I was just concerned.”
Blair sighed inwardly. “Thanks, Jim, but--it’s…weird.”
The detective bristled.
Blair rushed to reassure Jim before he could reinterpret his words to something desperately negative.
“Jim…Jim…I’m flattered that you’re concerned. But hiding and then hovering outside my office is just creepy.” Blair shifted his backpack uneasily.
Jim shrugged excessively, rolling his shoulders as if to loosen a colossal weight of tension. Blair resisted the temptation to cuff him casually over the back of his head. That was Jim’s personal habit, it didn’t belong to him.
“Unless there’s some
reason? You don’t think that something’s up?” The thought came unbidden. Jim
hadn’t told him about his premonitions of Alex’s attack. Jim playing
closed-mouthed, both of them not communicating, had led to his death. Alex had
drowned him in
What if another Sentinel was prowling at the edges of Jim’s territory?
“Jim?” Blair said with shadings of fear.
“No.” Jim erupted to his feet, hands outstretched to clasp Blair’s shoulders. “I would tell you.”
“So what is it?” Blair demanded. “Why are you sitting outside my room?”
“Because…” Jim could only verbalise. “Because.”
“Gee, that helps,” Blair clamped down on the sarcasm in his tone. “I don’t get it; you’re like a paranoid… something.” He flung his hands in the air, inexplicably lost for words.
“Shoot me for being concerned.” Jim’s fine nostrils flared. He turned and stomped away down the corridor.
“Jim!” Blair chased after him. “Jim, it’s not like that. I just-- I dunno. There’s something wrong.”
The detective stopped abruptly and Blair barrelled into his back. Reeling, he fell back and large hands automatically steadied him.
“Jim,” he tried again, his tone beseeching.
“Sandburg, I just thought I’d check on you; it’s nothing to be concerned about.”
“And wait for an hour and a half?”
Jim flashed a cavalier smile. “I thought you’d be faster.”
Blair knew that he was lying through his teeth.
“So are you ready to go home now?” Jim asked casually. “It is getting on to three-thirty and I have to be at work in four hours.”
Blair had a lecture to give in five and a half hours.
“Do you want to go camping this weekend?” Blair said half desperately. “Just you and me and the great outdoors? We could toast marshmallows.”
“Sounds like a good idea. I’ll check with Simon.” Curiously relaxed, Jim threw an arm over Blair shoulders. “How about we do some fishing, little Guppy?”
“Yeah, that would be great.”
Filled with consternation, Blair allowed Jim to draw him along the corridor. They would get back on an even keel -- that, he promised.
Blair lay on his bed, hands clasped behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. Sleep eluded him, or to be more frank, he didn’t seek it. He didn’t have a handle on Jim’s parental behaviour. Yes, Jim had reason to be over-protective, but his heart and head told him that Jim should have relaxed this long after the event. His only answer was to show Jim that they were fine, that they were still partners. Jim didn’t need to be watching him as if he were a child.
“Sandburg!” Jim yelled down from the loft above.
“Stop thinking and go to sleep!”
“How did you know I was thinking?” Blair asked softly.
“You breathe deep and slow when you’re asleep and if you’re not asleep you’re thinking.”
“Well, there is that.”
“Good night, John Boy.”
Determined to get the last word in, “Good night, Mary Ellen.”
Jim stood over his Guide, allowing his Sentinel senses to dwell on the sleeping form. Blair, in sleep, was a peaceful figure. Jim catalogued each well-known facet of his Guide. Deeply asleep his amber tipped lashes lay quiescent on his cheeks. His full lips were parted, slightly dry as he breathed with his mouth open. The vibrant hair was tightly tangled waiting to burst forth with the wake of day, to leave snarls of hair in the shower drain, motes floating in the air and strands between his teeth. Blair’s long fingers curled around the edge of his thick fleece blanket, holding it against his chest as if he expected someone to pull it away or seeking comfort. The skin revealed at the line of his neck and shoulder was pale and cool to the senses. Blair chilled when he slept. His breath ebbed and swelled. On the deepest breath, Jim felt –- sympathetically -- the telltale hitch of abused lungs.
It was Blair.
Smiling now, Jim pulled the trailing edge of Blair’s blankets and laid them about his neck and shoulder. With a final pat, he crept back up to bed.
His bladder punching at his gut woke Blair. Eyes at half-mast, he staggered to the bathroom. Hugging his arms against his chest, he whined, “Cold. Cold. Cold.”
It was frigid. To speed up dealing with his insistent bladder, he didn’t bother closing the bathroom door.
“So cold,” he complained as he finished.
Splashing a minuscule amount of water on his hands, he trotted into the corridor. It shouldn’t be this cold. His warm bed beckoned, but Blair stopped dead just outside his room. The moonlight cascaded over the living area, sending deep, impenetrable shadows into the corners.
He canted his head to the side, but he was at the wrong angle to see up into Jim’s bedroom. He would have to climb the stairs. A swathe of dark shadows crossed the skylight above Jim’s head. Blair shivered involuntarily.
“Jim?” he whispered.
There was no answer from above. Blair licked his lips, then crossed to the kitchen sink. Turning the tap, he leaned over to sip straight from the faucet. The water was warmer than the room.
The shadows were filled with demons. Blair rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. His imagination was going overboard. But he knew that vampires and nasties did slink along at the edge of the world’s mundane existence. And occasionally they did threaten both Sentinel and Guide.
Was that what was making Jim act like an overprotective mother on steroids? Jim had sworn that another sentinel wasn’t making him act so weird.
Blair was nearly at the top of the stairs to Jim’s loft before he realised that he was moving.
“What?” Jim rolled over on his king-sized bed and peered through the railings down at him. The moonlight bleached his skin to a pearly grey, making his eyes shine.
“Jim, do you sense something? You know--” Blair wiggled his fingers. “--supernatural?”
Jim froze. His eyes slid to the left. Blair imagined his sentinel senses like questing fingers, casting forth to analyse the environment around him.
“No,” Jim said laconically.
“No?” Blair echoed. “Nothing?”
“Nothing. Go back to sleep, Blair; you had a bad dream or something.” He turned onto his back.
“Aw, come on, Jim. No wiggins? Nothing like a feeling of mass but no heartbeat or warmth?”
“You mean like the sofa?” Jim’s voice smiled.
Blair sighed. “You know what.” He reached through the railings and mock-punched in Jim’s direction.
Jim rose smoothly into a sitting position, the single sheet on his chest falling to his waist. Blair held his breath as Jim bowed his head. He didn’t know if he was listening or extending his sixth sense -– not that Jim admitted to possessing one.
Now that the Sentinel was awake, the darkness in the loft wasn’t as menacing. Jim was probably going to tease him in the morning for wandering around half asleep.
Jim blew out a resounding sigh and then yawned. “I think you’re sleepwalking, Blair.” He slid out from under his sheet and before Blair could blink, he had joined him on the stairs.
“Come on, Chief, back to bed.”
Blair winced as Jim’s ice-cold hand cupped his elbow. “You’re freezing, man. I hope you’re not turning down the dial so you can sleep.”
“I’ll throw a blanket on my bed,” Jim acquiesced easily.
Blair stumbled down the stairs, but Jim kept him upright. He allowed the Sentinel to conduct him to his room.
“No tucking me in, man.”
Blair dove into his blankets. Even they felt chilled. He burrowed in deeply, hoping his body temperature would cocoon him in warmth. He wriggled around until he could watch Jim standing over him.
“You want some aspirin or something? Maybe you’re catching the flu.” Jim’s hand twitched towards Blair’s forehead.
“Nah, I’m just cold. Are you sure there’s nothing weird?”
“Positive. I’ll check the doors and windows. Philip blessed the apartment and didn’t you smudge the place with sage, last time I was away at an arraignment?”
“Yeah, Naomi said it was good for negative energies.”
“Well, the stench would drive off anything.” With the parting shot, Jim slipped out of Blair’s cubby-hole.
The oppressive feeling of impending horror was gone now. Maybe he had been dreaming? Maybe he should talk to Philip? Ask him what kind of beast was as dark as a shadow? Confused and over-tired, with the now warming blankets dragging him to sleep, he decided that his thoughts had been dream-driven. He was asleep a heartbeat later.
His alarm went off far too soon. The clamouring across his room echoed painfully through his head. He was warm; he didn’t want to face the day. Muttering imprecations, he struggled out of bed and killed the alarm on his dresser with a heavy slap. Putting it on the other side of the room had been one of Jim’s brainstorms: he had to get out of bed to switch it off. When the clock sat on the table beside his bed, he had reached the point where he could lean out and switch off the incessant beeping in his sleep. He only set it on the far side of the room when Jim was up first; otherwise the Sentinel would rip his head off.
Yawning and scratching his butt, he staggered to the coffee pot beckoning in the kitchen. Jim was long gone and not even a crumb marked his passing. Blair grabbed a bagel, split it and popped it in the toaster. The coffee was cold. Blair peered down his nose at it, not believing that it was dead. Jim liked his coffee in the morning; he wouldn’t leave without a mug. For a second he wondered if Jim was still asleep, but his coat was gone and his truck keys.
“Jim went without breakfast?” he asked the world at large. Jim liked a decent breakfast, since most days were unpredictable and he didn’t know when he would fit lunch and dinner in.
Curious now, Blair peered in the refrigerator. It was full. The food that he had purchased last weekend was untouched. It looked as if Jim hadn’t eaten in days. That made no sense. Jim had an active metabolism, he was a busy man -– he needed food. Blair had even postulated that the Sentinel senses had a heavy energetic demand.
The toaster popped, startling him.
On autopilot, he buttered his bagel and stuffed a fingerful in his mouth. He had been busy at school, but how had he not noticed that Jim wasn’t eating? Pensive now, he abandoned his bagel and moseyed over to the big windows overlooking the bay.
He had his own concerns at the moment. Recovering from the debacle with Alex had taken a lot out of him, emotionally and physically. He had the Ph.D. panel breathing down his neck. They were happy with the draft chapters he had given them, although they were concerned that he hadn’t named his principle subject and they wanted him to finish. His second draft -– intended for Jim -– was going much better.
Jim was walking on eggshells around him. Unable to verbalise an apology, he settled for the little things that meant so much: checking on him at the university or searching the loft after being woken from a sound sleep.
Their camping trip had to be the right idea. After he’d put his hours in at the university, he would go see Jim at the police station and then drag him out to Wonder Burger.
They were partners, but they weren't acting like partners.
Jim scanned the people in the bullpen, making sure that they were all in their respective places. No one was invading his personal space. That was good. He dotted the ‘I’s’ and crossed the ‘T’s’ on his report. Simon would find nothing to complain about. Rafe stood up and Jim tracked him walking across the bullpen to Henri’s desk. Without a word Jim returned to his writing.
His ears pricked and he heard Blair bounce into the main reception area. The kid started chatting to the police officer in the kiosk, asking her about her son’s school homework. He sounded a bit off his stride, though, as if he was only going through the motions.
Blair had been acting strangely recently. Jim couldn’t put his finger on it, but he was off. There was something on Blair’s mind and he wasn’t talking. Normally when something was bothering him, Blair examined, discussed and twisted the problem on its side, and that meant that he talked, incessantly.
Dwelling on the vagaries
of his Guide, he extracted Blair’s file from the back of his miscellaneous
papers. He’d pulled together the file when he had first met the energetic
graduate student. He had copies of Blair’s State of
“Hey, Jim, what are you reading?”
Jim jumped in his seat caught by surprise by Blair’s voice. “What?” He glanced back down at the file in his hands. “Nothing. Just a report on a potential perp.” He dropped it back in its drawer.
Blair pasted a patently false smile. “I was thinking we should get a bite to eat. You feel like Wonder Burger?”
“Who are you and what have you done with the real Blair Sandburg?” Jim was only half joking.
“So do we have any cases, or anything?” Blair asked as he poked at his limp lettuce. He had pulled the assorted salad bits from the chicken burger with profound dissatisfaction and set them on the side of his plate.
Jim smirked, his cheeks bulging with a mouthful of pre-formed chicken nuggets covered in barbecue sauce. Blair’s skin crawled; at least he supposedly had a chicken breast burger.
“Hmmm, a couple of home invasions.” Jim swallowed mightily. “A suspicious death on the docks. And that murder/suicide pact.”
It was a weird sort of conversation, as if they were friends who had been parted for months and weren’t slipping into the familiar groove of comradeship. Yet they had both walked together the night before.
Blair was tempted to give up, to concentrate on swallowing his sandwich, but Jim was playing with his food. Blair could have sworn that he actually spat a mouthful of food into his paper napkin. If Jim wasn’t eating, that touched a core of concern in Blair’s gut. Jim’s moods were -– for lack of a better word –- childish at times. He felt strongly. On the other hand, his emotional detachment could be total: if he didn’t like something, he could ignore it. There was no wish to understand the unknown.
Empathy was not Jim’s middle name.
Blair gnawed at the problem like he chewed on the fatty gristle in the nasty sandwich. Jim was bothered by something and he wasn’t talking. That was hardly unusual. But the other things worried Blair: that Jim was not eating and Jim seemed paranoid about his comings and goings.
“If your face scrunches up any more, it’ll turn inside out.”
“It tastes smooth, sort of like, well, fatty.” Blair grabbed his napkin and delicately spat out the contents of his mouth.
“Why are we here, Chief?” Jim asked directly.
“I thought you were off your feed. You like Wonder Burger.” Blair shrugged.
A faint blush touched Jim’s high cheekbones. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, right.” Blair smiled wryly as Jim munched purposely on a chicken nugget.
“You going to make dinner tonight?” Jim asked in familiar short hand.
“Yeah, pasta and grilled salmon?”
Jim screwed up his nose. “Nah.”
“How about my special lasagne?”
“With the cheese from that speciality shop?”
“With the cheese from the speciality shop.” Blair confirmed.
The twisted smile turned as true as his heart. Blair was warmed by Jim’s smile and promised that he would take proper care with the herbs for his most sensitive Sentinel.
“So,” Blair changed the subject, “tell me about our cases.”
“The home invasions are pretty straightforward. When I was on the crime scene, I noticed that liniment odour for muscle strains – a lot of it. I interviewed the victim in the hospital and he said that the gang-members were wearing some kind of football jerseys, and I’m fairly sure that they’re an actual team from a local high school.”
“I figure they were hiding in plain sight.”
Blair shook his head, appalled by the idea that high schoolers were capable of such acts and could be so stupid.
doesn’t make sense.” Jim set his uneaten lunch to the side. “Young professional
couple. The woman had just finished her Ph.D. in lipid biochemistry; she gutted
her boyfriend with an axe and then threw herself off the roof of
“What were their names?”
“Monica Symmonds and Gavin McGuire.”
“Monica? I don’t know her.” Blair breathed a sigh of relief. “Not that that means that I don’t, you know, sympathize. I just don’t know her.”
“It’s okay, Chief.” Jim’s expression took on a paternal cast.
Blair smiled sheepishly. “So what’s wrong about it?”
Jim considered his next words carefully. “There was no reason. Most suicides have a history of attempts or depression and there wasn’t any.”
“You went over the scene with, you know.” Blair rotated his index finger and thumb.
Jim shrugged infinitesimally. “A little; I didn’t pick up anything strange, but…”
“You picked up something you didn’t like? Was it supernatural?”
“No!” Jim rapped.
“So what got you--” Blair paused, searching for the right word, “--dwelling on it?”
Jim leaned back in his plastic seat and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not dwelling on it. You asked what cases I was working and I told you. I’m also working on a burglary and a suspicious death in the park.”
“I though you were in Major Crime and not Homicide,” Blair cracked.
Jim shot him a leery eye. “I’m a detective; I go where my captain sends me,” he deadpanned.
“So tomorrow you’re going to be dragging me in at the crack of dawn to work on all your cases?” Blair moaned theatrically.
“If you want, you can take the day off.”
“Can I? Can I, please?” He bounced maniacally.
Jim’s hand shot across the table and grabbed his wrist, stopping his bouncing dead. Blair flashed an evil smile at his Sentinel, knowing that the exaggerated super-bounce drove Jim up the proverbial wall. But Jim was serious.
“If you don’t want to come in, Chief, you don’t have to.”
“Aw, man, you know I’m kidding. I have a few errands to run. I can get down at about eleven.”
Jim looked down his fine nose at him. “Only if you limber up those typing fingers.”
Blair pulled his hand free from Jim’s grasp and pretended to play a piano scale on the formica tabletop. Jim smiled gently at his antics.
“You still up for going camping? You are free this weekend?” Blair paused on the final note and looked hopefully at him.
Jim froze, consternation played across his face. The worried glance that the Sentinel then threw his way was profoundly disturbing. It wasn’t hard to guess what was on Jim’s mind. Blair coughed experimentally and saw Jim pale.
“I’m okay, man; I can go camping.”
Jim shook his head slightly.
“Aw, come on. I’m fine. You know I’m fine.”
Jim tried to cover his unease by concentrating on shredding his napkin to little pieces. “No, I have some paperwork that I have to get finished for Monday.”
“Look, I swear to God that I’m one hundred percent. The doc said that I had to be careful, and I have and I’m fine. I really would like to go camping. I think it will do us a world of good. Fresh air, de-stressing, good wholesome food – it’s just what the doctor ordered.”
“You really want to go camping?”
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. “Yes.”
“We’ll see,” Jim pronounced. “Work. Weather.”
Blair knew that that was as far as the Sentinel would go. If the weather forecast changed significantly, they wouldn’t be leaving the city limits. Blair felt the imperious need to sit down with a notebook to list all the things he thought were bugging the Sentinel. But his gut told him that Jim needed a serious de-stressing vacation. If Jim didn’t have the presence of mind to decide for himself, he would go over Jim’s head and talk to Simon. There was an explosion on the horizon; Blair could feel it in his bones.
Blair curled his body over Jim’s report as he read it from cover to cover, incidentally hiding it from view. He was trying to get ahead on the ins-and-outs of Jim’s casework because of the madness that was the end of term.
“Whatcha doing?” Henri’s bass tones were warming. “You look like a little kid.”
“What?” Blair looked up. Henri was across the bullpen working on his own files.
He imitated Blair, his arm curled to hide block his writing from prying eyes. “You should be sticking the tip of your tongue out too.”
Blair immediately poked his tongue out.
“I’m just catching up on Jim’s files.” The files were piled high.
“Are you going to Simon’s barbecue this weekend?”
“Yeah, didn’t Jim tell you?”
“No,” Blair said hesitantly. “Jim and I were thinking about going camping this weekend. He must have forgotten.”
Automatically, he focussed on the Sentinel. Through the slates of the blinds in Simon office, he could see Jim pacing as he expounded on a report. It was the most vibrant that Blair had seen Jim in weeks. He spun on one heel, jabbing a finger at his superior. Simon was less than impressed, sitting straight in his chair. The cigar in his mouth worked back and forth. Jim growled loud enough to get the attention of the rest of the bullpen. Henri rose up in his chair to better see the fight-in-the-making.
Jim slapped the mahogany desk hard. Simon erupted to his feet like a force of nature.
The bile spewing between them tasted like acid in the back of Blair’s throat. They were going to come to blows, Blair could tell.
He was halfway across the bullpen before he knew that he was moving. He flung open the door.
“What!” both men demanded simultaneously.
Blair coughed nervously. “Uhm… you all right?”
“Yes,” Simon snarled. “Detective Ellison and I are discussing a case.”
“You can’t close it,” Jim leaned over the tabletop. “There’s something…”
“Detective,” Simon said warningly. He did not lean away from Jim. They froze, their noses almost touching.
The air between them seemed to crackle. Blair could see the cusp on which they stood, both big men were determined to be in the right. Jim’s fist was clenched and his fair skin was flushed with anger. That was wrong, they were simply arguing cases. Violence was out of bounds. Another wrong word, and Jim could overreach and their relationship would be in the dust.
“No,” Blair said weakly.
“Chief?” Jim spun on him. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, it’s…” Blair couldn’t verbalise it.
Jim's warm hand cupped Blair's elbow. “You’ve gone as white as a sheet. Simon, can I--?” He canted his head to the long sofa against one wall of the office.
“No,” Blair protested as Jim led him to the sofa.
“Humour me, Chief. Just sit down.”
Blair was forcibly sat. ‘What the hell is happening here?’ he wondered frantically. ‘One moment I’m fine and the next I’m feeling as if I’ve caught the flu.’
“Here,” Simon said, pushing a mug of hot coffee in Blair's face. “Have you eaten anything today?”
“Yeah, we had Wonder Burger,” Jim said over his head.
“No wonder he’s feeling sick,” Simon said with a tinge of humour.
“What were you talking about?” Blair asked, between sips of hot, sugary coffee.
“The murder/suicide case – Simon wants to close it.”
“You all right, son?” Simon crouched down.
“I think the chicken’s disagreeing with me.” He smiled sheepishly.
“Is he all right, Jim?”
“Yeah, I think it’s just the post-exam breakdown. Bad food and not enough sleep.”
“You know,” Blair said snarkily into his mug, “I’m right here.” But the mug hid his true, perplexed expression. The overwhelming feeling of doom had passed. Jim and Simon were focused on his imaginary problems rather than their own anger. He took a gulp of the coffee.
What had he seen? He hadn’t seen anything: he had reacted to Jim’s body language, the coarse anger seething through him. Jim had been a step away from punching his superior. Jim was conditioned from years in the Army not to hit his commanders. And more importantly Simon was his friend.
He was so very tired. It would be easy to close his eyes and sleep, deal with all the weirdness tomorrow. The miasma settling over him was almost palpable.
His eyes shot open. He was right; there was something seriously amiss here.
Blair looked at the light fixtures. Were they new and possibly inducing some kind of seasonal associative disorder? Had the cleaners changed detergents? He would bet his bottom dollar that there was something environmental.
“There’s something wrong.” Blair pushed off the couch. “I don’t know what.” He paced around the coffee table. “Have you heard of sick building syndrome? It’s an industrial disease, when something in the working environment makes people sick. Jim’s been super-weird recently. Temperamental, moody, clingy.”
“Excuse me?” Jim folded his arms over his chest.
“Has anything changed recently, Simon? New contractors?”
Simon sucked gamely on the stub of his cigar as he cogitated. “No. Maybe the service has changed their cleaning products, but I asked them to inform me if they did.”
Jim flung a half-grateful, half-resentful glance at Simon.
“Are you sure? Because Jim’s been acting really weird.”
Jim turned away with a disgusted snort. Blair was up and after him in a heartbeat.
“Children. Children. Children.” They stopped and turned to Simon. “You want to tell me what the problem really is?”
“I dunno.” Blair shrugged. “I’ve got some hypotheses, but no evidence.”
“Well, figure it out.” Simon dismissed them with a huff and returned to his desk. “The Symmonds and McGuire case is closed.”
“Simon!” Jim began immediately.
“Come on, Jim.” Blair tugged on Jim’s sleeve, stretching the cable knit sweater. “I want to talk about camping this weekend.”
“Hey.” Simon perked up. “You’re coming to my barbecue, aren’t you?”
Jim twisted back to face Simon, Blair still pulling on his sweater. “Of course we are, Simon. I just forgot to tell Blair.”
Blair’s thoughts ran sideways doing the lambada. Jim actually forgot something? His anal-retentive Sentinel had actually forgotten something?
He was a man with a mission: he was going to find out what was up with Jim. The first phase was to get Jim away from Major Crime.
“Come on, you must have some legwork you need doing. Or –- I know! Let’s go check out Symmonds’ place. I’ll be there; maybe we can pick up something new.”
“Sandburg.” Blair winced at the flatness in Jim's tone. “This way.“
The iron grip around his bicep propelled him forwards. Blair thought about planting his heels on the floor, but he suspected that Jim would just pick him up. They ended up in the break room.
Blair waited until Jim slammed the door shut on the rest of Major Crime.
“What!” Jim was back to pointing his finger. “What do you think you were doing with Simon?”
“Me?” Blair patted his chest, displacing Jim’s finger. “When?”
“Now! There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Really?” Blair demanded. He stepped right into Jim’s personal space. “You’re not eating. You’re fighting with Simon. You’re following me around like a lost puppy.”
That was a mistake.
“If you don’t like my concern, Chief,” Jim said venomously, “you know what you can do.”
Blair felt the blood drain from his face with that ultimatum. The sudden rush of blood from his head made him sag and Jim was there, gripping his forearms firmly, holding him up. The constant threat of homelessness hanging over his head was debilitating. A simple word could break their friendship forever. He damn well knew that Jim’s responses were fear-based, but wasn’t he ever going to get a break?
He wasn’t going to live like this.
“Are you going to throw me out?” Blair rapped. “For talking to you? For expressing an opinion? Are we going to go down that road again?”
Jim looked as if he were a candidate for a coronary. His face froze in a rictus. The planes of his cheekbones, nose and chin showed starkly through bleached skin. Harsh, acid breathing sounded loudly in the small room.
Jim could only say one word, “No.”
“No, you’re not going to throw me out?”
“Yes.” Jim shook him by his forearms. Blair resisted. He stood stock-still, leaning away from the Sentinel’s body. Jim’s eyes were bright, shining with a multitude of conflicting emotions.
“What’s the matter, Jim? You have to tell me. If you don’t I can’t help you. I know you’re not eating,” he uttered the words softly. Jim turned his head to the side, trying vainly to find some degree of detachment from the immediacy of the situation.
“I’m just not hungry. It’s not my senses. I just am not hungry.”
“And,” Blair prodded into the silence.
“I’m not sleeping… much.”
He felt rather than heard Jim’s soul-mocking smile. “You have to sleep to dream, Chief.”
Blair knew that he had to look at his friend in the eye if he was to have an inkling of what was going on in his mind. As soon as he flexed his hands, making his arm muscles move, Jim released him.
“So it’s nothing with your senses?” Blair shifted across so he could see Jim’s face.
“Everything isn’t my senses,” Jim said bleakly.
Blair clamped down on the reluctant flush of embarrassment. “Yes,” he said through gritted teeth, “but they throw a wrench in the works.”
Jim gave a ghastly smile. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Frustrated beyond belief, Blair punched him in the shoulder. “We have to consider them.”
“You’re always so clinical.” Jim rolled away from the punch, and took one long-limbed step out of Blair’s reach.
“And if I don’t I’m not doing my job.” Blair chased after him. “We can figure this out holistically, Jim. The whole thing.”
“Maybe I’m just off my feed. It happens.”
“To you?” Blair asked disbelievingly.
“Everything tastes… weird,” Jim admitted.
Blair did not crow.
Jim blew out a deep sigh. “Okay, I’ll update my food journal.”
Blair smiled sadly. “I’ll go through my notes.”
They didn’t go camping. Blair wanted to, but they had promised that they’d go to Simon’s barbecue. He was looking forward to the semi-annual event. It was only the second time he had been invited. The first year he had been excluded from the general invite. It had smarted, but he simply hadn't been considered; he hadn’t even been living with Jim. The second time he had been laid up with the summer flu and a rampaging case of gastro-enteritis.
He peered at his reflection in the mirror. Dark bags hollowed out his eyes.
‘Still not getting enough sleep.’ He remembered reading that using a laptop or cell phone before bed sometimes prevented a user achieving a deep state of sleep. ‘Maybe I should take a break before bed?’
Easier said than done: his life was get up, go to the university, work on the thesis, run to the precinct, back to the university, work on the thesis until late, go home and then go to bed.
The camping trip had been a necessity for Jim. Now that they couldn’t go, he kind of resented that he had to take time out of the thesis-writing to go to a party.
‘All work and no play makes Blair a boring boy.’
He checked his reflection again. His hair was getting too long, but he didn’t have the time or money to get it cut. He clubbed it into a bush at the back of his neck and secured it with a covered elastic band.
“Don’t take all day, Chief,” Jim hollered.
He was no further in figuring out what was the matter with Jim. The food diary yielded no unusual suspects. Neither did Jim have any suggestions. Although his contribution to Blair’s questions had been a terse, “I don’t know, Chief.”
The trip to Simon’s was spent in silence. Blair yawned widely into the void between them.
“Early night, Chief?”
“If you’re taking the afternoon off, maybe you can take the evening off. Take a break.” Hands fixed on the steering wheel, Jim shrugged.
“Yeah, maybe,” Blair acquiesced. If he had lost his momentum, he could at least enjoy the rest of the day.
Jim screeched to a halt outside Simon’s two storey house. Conveniently, Simon’s drive was empty despite the cars belonging to Major Crime parked on the road. Blair guessed that the gang had left it free for a certain Sentinel.
Sounds of laughter wafted over him as Blair slipped out of the truck. Jim inhaled appreciatively. Blair shared a grin.
“Smells like Taggert’s barbecue sauce.” Jim licked his lips.
“And Simon’s home-grown burgers.”
“Guys!” Daryl swung open the front door. “The burgers are almost ready. You better hurry up, or none will be left.”
“Run and tell H that the well-done one is mine.” Jim ordered.
Daryl spun on his heel and sprinted down the corridor. They had a quick flash of a Jags sweatshirt disappearing into the back yard.
“I think he’s scared of you or something.”
“Daryl?” Jim asked. “Nah. It’s respect.”
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward and bounced forwards.
The party was in full swing. Blair placed his contribution of home made coleslaw and freshly baked savoury cheese bread on the table as Jim dumped a couple of six packs of beer in the large ice cooler under the table.
Jim grabbed and cracked a beer in the same motion and passed it to Blair. It tasted like nectar and in that moment, Blair decided to take the rest of the day off.
Blair watched covertly as Jim accepted a burger from Chef Banks and ladled Joel’s sauce on sparingly. He took an enormous bite and smacked his lips in gluttonous pleasure.
Moving further into relaxing, Blair downed a mouthful of his beer. He took a burger and his beer and sauntered over to a tree that begged to be relaxed under. He settled with something close to relief.
Jim chatted with Henri’s wife. Their large-eyed toddler, hanging on Marie’s hip, watched him with a fatuous, adoring grin. Jim finally relented and lifted Micky from Marie’s loose grip. The baby chortled with delight. All kids adored the Sentinel; it was as if they realised instinctively that they would be perfectly safe with the large man. For the most part, Jim tolerated their infatuations, but kept them at arm’s length. Blair thought it fascinating, knowing that the kids saw behind the high walls that Jim hid behind.
Blair sat up, startled. Something was wrong. Micky was sobbing into Jim’s neck, more miserable than any child should ever be.
Worried, embarrassed, Jim looked to Marie, who was reaching out to her child.
“Darling. Baby.” She tried to pluck Micky from Jim’s arms. But the child was having none of it. His grip was determined.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said. Instinctively, he held the sobbing mite closer.
Blair couldn’t help himself; he stood and found himself at their side.
“Chief? He won’t stop.”
“Hey, Micky.” Blair leaned close so he could see the face pushed up against Jim’s neck. “What’s the matter?”
“Monster mans,” Micky sobbed.
“Where?” Jim demanded, scanning the crowd.
Henri juggernauted over; his wife and child were both upset.
“I don’t understand.” Marie tried again to pluck her child from Jim’s grasp. “He was fine a second ago.”
“What’s up?” Henri demanded.
“Micky’s been upset by someone.”
“Jim?” Henri challenged.
The Sentinel blinked, surprised by the accusation. “I…”
“If Jim had upset Micky, he wouldn't be clinging to him for dear life,” Blair snapped.
Jim tried once again to untangle the toddler.
“Micky?” Blair gently stroked the jet-black curls. “Where’s the monster man? Please tell me where the bad man is and I’ll make him go away.”
Micky shifted his head slightly to look at Blair.
“I’ll make him go away. I promise.”
Jim’s large hand patted Micky’s back, practically obscuring his shoulders.
“The monster man?” Blair prodded.
Micky pushed off Jim’s chest with both arms. Fresh tears streaked down his cheeks as he looked over Jim’s shoulder. Transfixed, the child was stiff with fear.
But there was nothing behind Jim, only a tangle of bushes, a tree, and a discarded beer can.
Marie said tentatively, “There’s someone in the bushes?”
Henri bounded towards the back of the yard, reflexively reaching for his weapon that wasn’t there. Micky launched himself from Jim’s arms. Blair and Marie caught him simultaneously. Free, Jim ran at Henri’s heels.
As one, the crew of Major Crime ran after their comrades. Blair pitied the fool who threatened a beloved of one of the boys in blue.
Blair held Marie and Micky as Jim slipped soundlessly between his fellow detectives, hunting for the source of the toddler’s terror. Simon directed his officers to cover the jungle of his backyard in a systematic manner.
They emerged as one. Rafe brushed pussy willows off his white polo shirt. Henri panted heavily as he crossed to his wife and child. Blair relinquished them into the circle of his arms.
“There’s nothing there, Darling.”
Jim stalked out towards them “I didn’t see anything,” he announced baldly.
Henri looked up. “Thanks, man.” It was an apology of sorts.
Jim shrugged. He crossed to the buffet and grabbed a beer. He downed the contents in one gulp.
“Maybe it was just the shadows and things,” Blair ventured.
“I dunno.” Henri chucked his son under his chin. “Come on, Sweetpea, smile for Daddy.”
Rafe, Hakon and Charleton milled uncertainly.
“The burgers are more than ready,” Simon announced, back at his post. Moving on from what was probably a child’s imagined fears, the party began anew.
Blair watched as Jim downed another beer. He waggled the can in his hand; he had half left. Jim had been the designated driver. If they both continued drinking, they would have to get a taxi back to the loft. Sentinel and Guide stood stock-still at the edge of the party while the celebrants relaxed back into the mood. Daryl hit the stereo, and jazz -– obviously his father’s choice -- drifted around the garden. The party restarted in earnest. Rafe’s latest young thing latched onto his side and they slow-danced across the lawn hip to hip.
“Young love,” Blair said whimsically.
“Young lust,” Jim mocked.
Blair batted his Sentinel on the shoulder.
“Ow.” Jim clasped his shoulder.
“Hey, turn it down.”
Jim cocked his head, concentrating on the dials. “Must have had it tweaked high.”
“You want another burger?” Blair asked, as his thoughts ran rampant.
Blair gave Jim his half-full beer to look after and went to hunt some food for his ailing Sentinel. As he lightly spread Joel’s barbecue sauce on the burger, he kept an eye on Micky. The toddler was ensconced in his father’s arms and his gaze was firmly fixed on Jim. The only way Blair could describe his expression was disquieted. It didn’t set very well on a small boy’s face.
“What are you doing with that burger, Sandburg?” Jim demanded.
By the time he had thrust the bun in his Sentinel’s fat face, Micky’s was still transfixed. While Jim was munching happily – Blair made a mental note that this was the most he’d seen him eat in an age – he circled the Sentinel. He caught Micky’s eyes when he stood at Jim’s left shoulder. The toddler’s brow scrunched, his attention was broken, and he leaned back in his father’s arms, chortling as he was tickled.
“What are you doing?” Jim looked at him over his shoulder.
“Nothing,” Blair said absently as he circled on the spot. The skin didn’t crawl on the back of his neck. No one walked over his grave. A bit peeved, he looked behind him, but there was nobody there. His next decision hit him between the eyes; almost with a headache.
“I left my coat in the truck.” He held his hand out for the keys.
Jim handed the keys across without a word, but the lines between his brows spoke volumes. A hop, skip and a bounce later, Blair clambered into Jim’s beloved truck and carefully backed down Simon’s drive. He half-expected the Sentinel to appear on the porch, but he hadn’t followed. Blair drove down the street, imagining he saw Jim running after the truck in the rear view mirror. Man on a mission, he cut his way through the downtown traffic, heading to the opposite side of the city, to Father Philip Callaghan’s manse.
He called Philip on his cell phone, so the gates to the Legacy house opened on his arrival. The dour Catholic priest was waiting at the door as Blair pulled into the parking space in front of the Victorian manse.
“Blair, is everything okay?”
The anthropologist trudged across the gravel path, his very demeanour alerting the priest that there was indeed something wrong.
Philip met him halfway down the manse steps.
“I dunno, man.”
Philip grabbed his forearms and peered into his eyes. Blair didn’t know where to begin. He hated the feeling of not knowing what was going on.
“When was the last time you ate? Is it Jim?”
“Kinda,” Blair could only say. “I need to talk it through with you, you know? For you to listen and give me your considered opinion.”
“I can listen. Come in. Come in.” Philip shepherded him inside, leading through the maze of rooms to the kitchen.
Blair found himself planted on a stool and plied with hot chocolate.
After his first sip, Philip spoke, “Tell me from the beginning, Blair.”
“There’s something up and I can’t get a handle on it.”
Philip blinked dolefully. “I…”
“Okay, I’m sorry, you wanted it from the start. I’ve been really busy writing and to be honest, just a little bit freaked about the Alex thing.” He glanced desperately at the priest seeking empathy.
“Before you take any blame, Blair, why don’t you tell me what’s happening?”
Blair grimaced and released his death grip on his cup to tangle his fingers in his unkempt curls.
“There’s something up with Jim. He’s--” Inspiration struck, “--depressed. He’s not eating. He’s clingy, following me around.”
“It’s not another sentinel, is it?” Philip asked softly.
“No!” Blair said vehemently. “Jim swears it isn’t.”
“Is it a sentinel problem?”
“No, that’s the problem.” Blair flung himself away from the table, hands conducting a discord. Pacing, he blurted, “I mean, I can’t think of anything. It’s nothing organic. I checked with the cleaning staff at Major Crime. I checked Jim’s food diary -– he hates filling in the thing -– and he hasn't eaten anything unusual. I’ve ruled out all the obvious suspects.”
“Something on a case?”
“Maybe.” Blair fixed his piercing gaze on the priest. “He’s fixated on a murder/suicide case.”
“Have you been back to the scene of the crime to find out why?”
“You know, you’d make a pretty good interrogator,” Blair said.
Philip smiled grimly. “I’m well trained. But you’ve changed the subject. Have you been back to the scene of this murder/suicide?”
Blair huffed. “No, Simon’s closed the case. And something came up the last time I mentioned it.”
“Really?” Philip drawled.
“Okay, we had kind of a fight. You have to remember that Jim’s just this mess of fear-based responses. If you poke him, he’ll bite your head off.”
Philip worried at the mole on the side of his face. “Okay; if Jim’s depressed, have you thought about counselling?”
Blair inhaled deeply before he attempted to counter that recommendation. “I--”
“I realise that you act as Jim’s de facto counsellor, but perhaps a professional would be of help?”
“What? Are you nuts? Can you see Jim going in for that?”
Philip was unfazed by his exclamations. “Jim has a stressful job and some fairly serious incidents in his past.” He held his hand up before Blair could interrupt. “I’m not breaking the seal of the confessional. I’ve seen the ‘Time’ magazine interview and I have one or two parishioners who are policemen. Given the heightened nature of his senses, it’s likely that he experiences everything much more vividly than the average human.”
“He has a phenomenal memory. He can remember everything. It’s just accessing the memories that he has problems with.”
“Is that why you think he’s depressed?”
“I’m fairly sure that something’s eating at him and he’s so not telling me about it.”
“So he’s depressed, clingy? Paranoid, maybe?”
“Paranoid actually is a good description.”
Philip hummed introspectively. “Have you considered a post traumatic stress disorder?”
Blair froze. It could have been funny if they had had a video camera. He stood open-mouthed, hands arrested mid-motion. Not even breathing, he froze.
“Oh, wow, I’ll have to do some reading from my old psychology text books.” Blair’s expression turned introspective. “It hinges on processing or not processing trauma, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Philip said sagely.
“You seem pretty knowledgeable.”
The priest ticked off on his fingers. “Avoidance is a classic symptom. Showing an increased startle response.” He chewed on his bottom lip, thinking.
“‘Avoidance’? Jim excels at that. If I remember correctly, there was something about flashbacks in the diagnosis of PSTDs, wasn’t there?”
“Intrusions -– flashbacks or nightmares where the traumatic event is re-experienced,” the priest supplied calmly. “Hallucinations.”
“You know more about this than I do, don’t you?”
“I have done some counselling in my profession,” he pointed out.
Blair returned to his stool and sipped on his lukewarm chocolate. “I like the sound of it. You think maybe a post traumatic stress disorder with a sentinel facet?”
“Why sentinel facet?”
“I think he’s reacting to something, something that I can’t see or feel or test for. He’s also mothering me something chronic. And he’s checking up on me. I have no idea what he’s protecting me from; and that sounds like paranoia.”
An expression of disappointment flared briefly on Philip’s pale face. “Okay. What if it he’s not paranoid?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if he is reacting to a real thing?” Philip explained patiently.
“Something that only a sentinel can sense.”
“You mean?” Blair wiggled his fingers beside his head.
“Supernatural or paranormal. Have you felt anything?”
Blair crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t feel things, man. I’m the guide, not the sentinel.”
Philip dismissed his words with an irked, sarcastic, ”Yes, of course you don’t. So what haven’t you felt? You know that there is something wrong with your sentinel and rather than discuss it with Simon Banks, a member of the medical profession, or anyone else, you came here… hmmm?”
“Hey, you’re my friend.”
“Thank you.” Philip nodded gravely.
Blair slumped – as much as he could on his stool. Pensive, he nibbled on his thumbnail. He knew that the priest was reading him like a book as he almost telegraphed his thoughts to all and sundry.
“You’ve changed the whole topic of the discussion, I thought we were discussing PSTD,” he accused.
“I’m simply offering another avenue of possibilities. One that, given Jim’s abilities, I think you can’t ignore.”
“What kind of supernatural thing?”
“I’m not too sure.” Shrugging, Philip took Blair’s empty mug and stood to prepare a new batch of hot chocolate.
Blair waited patiently, knowing Philip’s tendency to potter as he contemplated. But he couldn’t keep from filling in the silence.
“I’ve hypothesised about Jim’s sixth sense being heightened. But he couldn’t see that demon that terrorised you. He just knew that it was there by its absence. And the vampires we met didn’t breathe. No heartbeat -- that sort of thing.”
“There’s rarely empirical evidence for the supernatural. Otherwise,” Philip said with grim humour, “it wouldn’t be supernatural.”
Blair made the sort of inspirational leap for which he was famous. “You’re thinking about ghosts, aren’t you?”
“The murder/suicide,” Philip confirmed. “Since you told me that he’s fixated on it.”
“If he’s seeing a ghost,” Blair mused, “he could be seeing it out of the corner of his eye. Or just sensing it on the borders of perception. It’s no wonder he’s bent out of shape.”
“So what’s your explanation for being bent out of shape?” Philip asked softly.
“You’ve lost weight you can ill afford to lose. It doesn’t look as if you’ve washed your hair in an age. And you’re normally a lot… quicker.”
The flat assessment caught Blair by surprise.
“I’m thinking you might have a diluted version of Jim’s ailment.”
Blair looked inward in a meditative moment. “No,” he said hesitantly, “I don't. I’m overworked and worried about Jim.”
Philip accepted Blair’s words with a simple nod. “So what’s our next step?”
Blair took the hot chocolate powder from Philip’s hands; he always thought better when he was doing something.
“Can you see ghosts, Philip?”
“No,” Philip said unequivocally. “Not unless they want to be seen.”
“Do you think Shaun can?”
“Unfortunately he is at
his parents’ home in
Blair growled under his breath as he poured hot water into the mugs. “Can I get his cell number? I’ll give him a call.”
Philip was back to worrying at the mole on his cheek. “Uhm, I think it’s on my cell phone. I’ll get it before you go.”
“Right.” Blair fixed with priest with his deep-thinking gaze. “Can you come around and talk to Jim? You’re familiar with PTSD. If it’s not supernatural, it still might be some kind of stress reaction. We have to rule out one or the other.”
“After working in
Blair carried the filled mugs back to the scoured kitchen table. “Why don’t you come to the loft tomorrow night? I’ll cook something ethnic and complicated so it’ll keep me in the kitchen while you talk with Jim.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Philip said, the cavalier phrase sounding strange when coupled with the white collar of his priesthood.
“And the ghost?” Blair answered his own question. “We’ll see if we can get Jim to remember something.”
“When he finds out, he’s not going to appreciate being ganged up on.”
“That is the understatement of the century.”
Jim slammed shut Rafe’s car door and took his leave of his fellow detective with a curt nod. He had no idea where the brat had gone, but taking the truck without permission was almost a criminal offence.
He slammed into his home and kicked the door shut. He already knew that Sandburg wasn’t home, but he looked anyway. Blair’s room was an absolute pit. It defied reason how he could tolerate the mess.
“Who does he think he is?” Jim turned in a slow circle.
Blair’s capacity for chaos
was unparalleled. It was if he were an alien species. He toed a sheaf of
letters over. All without stamps, they were addressed to people all over the
world. Curious, he crouched and picked them up.
They were probably related to his sentinel research. One was addressed to a petty officer based on the British Royal Navy vessel ‘Invincible.’
He slid a fingernail under the edge of the envelope, but he couldn’t open the letter without it being obvious that it had been tampered with.
Blair’s sentinel research. He hadn’t seen anything since that first clinical, detestable chapter. The top drawer of Blair’s dresser was open and that was all the justification he needed. There was no sentinel research, just Blair’s important papers. A well-stamped passport was tucked in a corner.
“Christ, the kid’s been all over the world.”
There was a diary, which
he left untouched, a social security card and a worn folder. Inside the folder
sat two birth certificates. The cat’s curiosity well stroked, he teased them
out. One proclaimed that Blair was a
boy, born on
The fake was Blair Sandburg’s certificate.
He ran his fingers over the warp and weft of the paper. The letters f and e had been finely abraded off the paper, making female into male. Blair’s chest was rather hairy for a girl.
Blair was a fake.
End of Chapter I
Blair let himself into the loft. He had returned to the party, but Jim had left. The loft was silent, the drapes drawn, and no lights shone. Breathing harshly, Blair picked his way through the gloom. The sun had not yet set –- the curtains didn’t need to be pulled.
“Jim, man?” Blair whispered, face upturned to Jim’s bedroom. “Do you have a migraine?”
He hovered at the bottom of the stairs, debating whether to go up.
“Jesus!” Blair spun on the spot, clutching his chest. “You’ll give me a heart attack. Are you all right, man? Why are you sitting in the dark?”
The Sentinel sat in his yellow chair like an ancient king on his throne.
“Where have you been?”
“Uhm, I went to Philip’s to return a book.”
“I’m not!” Blair said indignantly. He had had an overdue library book belonging to the priest in his bag.
The figure sitting so stiffly in the chair shifted slightly.
“Your heart’s racing.”
“Of course it is; you scared me out of my wits. Why did you come back to the loft? I checked back at Simon’s.”
“I was concerned,” Jim said, his tone so flat that it sent shivers up Blair’s spine.
“I’m sorry,” Blair muttered obediently. “I didn’t think I’d be missed. I saw my backpack and remembered the book, and I just went for it.”
“Next time, ask.”
Jim rose sedately to his feet. Blair held still as Jim stalked towards him. Transfixed, he waited for the detective to walk straight over him. At the last minute, Jim eased by him like a slow moving great river. Frozen, Blair was trapped. The only thing he could hear was his own harsh breathing. The soft tread of footsteps padding up the stairs finally impinged.
“Where are you going?”
“Bed,” Jim said without looking back.
“Uh… Philip’s coming tomorrow for dinner. I thought I’d make kuftis with peanuts.”
Jim stopped, one foot poised above the next step. “Whatever.”
“I...” Blair couldn’t go on. The poisonous atmosphere was leaching the energy from his bones. ‘Should I tell him that I think he’s suffering from PTSD or possibly haunted?’
He laughed nervously; they would need some better evidence than vague hypotheses before he presented that to Jim.
The detective had made it to the darkness of his bedroom and was hidden from view.
“Are you going to put your sleep mask on, Jim?” he said at a deliberately normal level.
“Yes,” came the monosyllabic reply.
“Okay, I’m going to put the lights on.” He didn’t wait for agreement or rebuttal. He wanted the lights on. Anything to drive away the omnipresent feelings of misery and hatred. The simple action of light flooding the room was as comforting as Jim’s one-armed hugs.
He had to do something to dispel the negativity saturating the loft. He couldn’t live like this. He wouldn’t live like this. It sucked snail snot. If it was a ghost haunting Jim, he wasn’t sure what he could do – that would require some research. But if Jim was suffering from PTSD, there were certain things that he could do. Moving frenetically through the room, he lit candles, including the single candle in his incense burner. Ransacking through his essential oil collection yielded a fair collection suitable for emotional situations. He settled on Clary Sage and carefully dosed the warming water with a single drop. The scent lightly permeated the room. His next port of call was the kitchen. Comfort food was called for; he’d been taught at the feet of a master. Naomi’s recipe for Jewish Chicken Broth was legendary. It could cure all ills. There were many supplements to the diet that could help depressed people. He could add some oats to the soup, and asparagus.
Misery assailed him. How the hell could he think that his mother’s chicken soup would help? An upswing of hope caught him by surprise.
If he didn’t do anything, the depression would win.
Jim lay on his back, staring at the windows above through the weave of his sleep mask. Blair wasn’t the man he thought he was. He was an impostor. He mentally discarded a thousand and one possibilities. He knew that Blair wasn’t a trained covert operative. The kid was too clumsy when they sparred. Even the best of the best couldn’t keep that level of incompetence. What better sort of a plant to spy on a sentinel? Maybe he didn’t have to be trained. Blair was intelligent and an obfuscator at heart; his best cover was to be his deceptive little self.
A strange scent tickled his nostrils. It smelled woody and introspective. He pushed his sleepmask up and pulled the Summer Blossom birth certificate from his chino pocket.
He felt the roar of the panther deep inside his soul; his bones reverberated with the growl. The Sentinel knew this feeling; it heralded the latest cruelty that his sentinel senses had thrown up at him -- hallucination.
‘I called him Summer Blossom.’ She smiled tremulously. ‘He’s my baby, but I can’t keep him.’ A woman so thin she appeared to be a wraith held out a wrapped blanket.
Jim’s arms accepted the swaddled babe. It was undeniably brand new, so small and underweight it was swamped by the blankets.
‘Please look after my baby; don’t let Stuart get him.’
She leaned down and brushed the babe’s forehead with her lips. A single tear fell where the kiss-wrinkled skin slowly smoothed. Jim gazed into the woman’s cerulean blue eyes -- eyes that were a perfect match for Sandburg’s -- as she moved back.
The dream whispered away. Jim threw the birth certificate with a snap of his wrist. It sailed through the air.
“Now I touch things and see. It doesn’t make any sense!” he grated wretchedly. He silenced himself ruthlessly, not wanting the stranger in his home to rush up to help him. The dichotomy confused him. His friend, the stranger, help? Of course Blair would help him. Jim scrubbed his face with his hands. Each individual bristle scraped his palms.
‘What’s the matter with me?’
He twisted on his mattress and looked down into the living room. Blair had adopted a meditative posture, facing the late evening sunlight shafting through gaps in the closed curtains. Jim inhaled appreciatively; the introspective scent was slowly being superseded by the aroma of the perfect Chicken Soup.
Jim slipped off his bed and padded soundlessly down the stairs. Summer Blossom didn’t move. Adopting the mannerisms of his spirit animal, Jim slinked up behind the student and dropped to his knees. The kid’s breathing remained deep and steady. Jim reached out, his thumbs pausing a hairsbreadth from the vulnerable nape of Blair’s neck.
‘Go on. A quick twist and he’ll never bother you again.’
‘No, I can’t!’ Jim protested. ‘He’s my friend.’
‘How can he be? He’s an impostor.’
‘No, he’s not. I don’t understand the certificates; but Blair’s my friend.’
Jim twitched as a figure moved just at the corner of his eye. His head jerked around and he saw a flash of green combat fatigues. Hunched over, Jim scuttled away, only straightening when he was in the kitchen. He grabbed a kitchen knife and spun to where the man had stood. Even sentinel senses picked up nothing.
Jim set the knife on the counter.
‘I’m seeing and hearing things. That looked like Sarris. Shit, I’m hallucinating. Did I see that birth certificate? Did I?
Blair sat so peacefully, so vulnerable to his ranger born skills. Imagining Blair’s neck snapping beneath his fingers was painfully easy. A simple twist and Blair would be no more.
‘No more threat. No more dissertation.’
The knife gleamed. He could see his reflection in the honed steel. Wide blue eyes smiled at him when he knew that his own eyes were bloodshot.
The slam of the loft door threw Blair out of his meditative trance. He knew without asking that the loft was empty. An abandoned room had a resoundingly hollow quality. Blair unfurled his limbs and stood. Only empty shadows greeted him. Where had Jim gone? He was out the door and down the steps in a flash. As he barrelled through the doors onto the sidewalk, he saw the trailing smoke of the Ford’s exhaust.
But where was the stupid Sentinel going?
Standing in the centre of the street, his feet in an oily puddle, he yelled, “Jim!”
Slowly, miserably, he trudged back into the loft. The door hung open. He picked up the phone; there was one avenue of search. He pecked out Jim’s cell phone number. A stilted voice told him that the cell phone was switched off. Reluctantly, he set it back on the cradle. It wasn’t like Jim to not switch on his cell phone. His work dictated that he had to remain in contact.
But Jim was allowed to go out. He shouldn’t be too concerned; Jim was a grown man. He snatched up the telephone. Calling Simon and asking him to put out an APB on the Sentinel would probably be construed as overreacting, but it was extremely tempting. Unbidden, his fingers dialled Cascade P.D.’s secretary.
“Major Crime,” Rhonda’s dulcet tones announced.
“Hi, it’s Blair. I don’t suppose that Jim’s called in? Told you what he’s up to?” he said, getting straight to the point.
“Like he normally does? Rhonda said sardonically.
“Can you do me a favour?”
“What?” she asked lightly.
“I need to know where Jim is, and he isn’t answering his phone. Can you, maybe, ask dispatch to get the uniforms to keep an eye out for his truck?”
Rhonda had the disconcerting ability to see through all his bullshit, so he spoke the truth, sort of. “I’m worried about him, we had a fight. I need to talk to him.”
“He’ll come home eventually,” she said understandingly.
“Look.” Her voice smiled. “I’ll keep my ears open and if I hear anything I’ll let you know. You’re at home?”
“Okay, someone will spot him. He’s fairly memorable. I’ll give you a call.”
“Thanks, Rhonda.” Blair hit the off button and stood looking at the phone until he realised that standing there achieved nothing. He upended his backpack on the kitchen table. Two books fell out. Philip had loaned him two introductory texts on psychological disorders. If he couldn’t follow Jim, he would be prepared for his return.
He ladled out a bowlful of soup and set it beside the books. Absently spooning the restorative soup into his mouth, he began to read.
PTSD is found in individuals who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic circumstances, such as sexual abuse, and is especially prevalent in those who were hurt during childhood. Developmental research is revealing that many brain and hormonal changes may occur as a result of early, prolonged trauma, and contribute to difficulties with memory, learning and regulating impulses and emotions. This may also contribute to severe behavioural disorders e.g. impulsivity, aggression, alcohol/drug abuse. In adults these individuals are diagnosed with depressive disorders.
Intrusions – flashbacks or nightmares where the traumatic event is re-experienced
Avoidance – reduced exposure to people or things that might bring on the intrusive symptoms,
Hyperarousal – physiologic signs of increased arousal such as hyper vigilance or increased startle response.
Depression, anxiety and dissociation arise from traumatic experiences.
In the purest sense, trauma involves exposure to a life-threatening experience. This fits with its phylogenetically old roots in life-or-death issues of survival, and with the ‘old brain’, e.g. the limbic system.
“Shit,” Blair said pithily. If Jim wasn’t a prime candidate for PTSD, Blair was a Beverly Hillbilly. He flicked through the index looking for treatment scenarios. There were drug regimes, the most widely-used drug treatments were the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac and Zoloft. He dreaded to think what the Sentinel’s reaction to the chemicals would be. As an addition or alternative, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and exposure therapy were possibilities. Blair laughed with a disquieting shade of hysteria; Jim would really enjoy those.
He closed the book. He had only touched the tip of the iceberg, and already he thought helping Jim would be impossible. He chastised himself for his uncharitable thoughts. If Jim were ill was sick they would deal. The alternate diagnosis of a haunting seemed much more auspicious.
The phone rang. Blair snatched it up. “Blair!”
“Do you know where Jim is?”
“Apparently, he went down to evidence and collected files from a Symmonds and McGuire case. Does that help?”
“Oh, that’s good. He’s searching himself.” Blair threw the phone down without another word, snatched up his backpack, thrust the two books into its depths, and remembered at the last minute to dump his soup bowl in the sink. Shaking his head, he ducked out the door. Now that he had an idea where to start to look for Jim, he would seek until he found him.
As it was, he had to stop at the central precinct and beg the receptionist in Major Crime’s evidence lock-up to give him the address of Monica and Gavin’s apartment. He had avoided Simon by ducking into the men’s room as the captain passed along the corridor; for some inexplicable reason he didn’t want to tell the captain that they again might be venturing into the supernatural world.
Blair ran noisily up the stairs to the top apartment of the rickety building. He slowed at the landing, his steps suddenly coming uneasily. A broken police tape hung on either side of the doorframe. The door was open.
He resisted the first impulse to call out for Jim. If Jim was over-stimulated that would be a mistake. And, the voice of reason said, if the ghosts were there, they would react. Blair stopped dead. At this very moment, Jim might be under siege.
His better instincts left him; Blair kicked open the door. “Jim!”
The sitting room was disturbingly unfurnished; the predominant feature was candles. Candles at the fireplace, candles on the mantelpiece, candles on the windowsill. The scents mixed and soared. Blair drifted around the room, avoiding the low slung, saggy baggy sofa with a threadbare throw. A pine bookcase sat in the corner of the room, with the only expensive piece of equipment in the room, a stereo, on top. The CDs piled beside the player were an eclectic mix of rock and roll, Celtic, classical, rap, jazz, and house. Blair registered a "Clannad" CD, and wondered if Monica or Gavin had purchased it.
“Jim?” he tried again. He had expected the Sentinel to be standing in the centre of the room, venting. There were no clues to Jim’s symptoms in this vacant house. Blair crouched and fingered the few books. Then it struck him: two Ph.D. students with no books? The lack of a television he understood. If anything, Ph.D. students knew how to prioritise. When a book was balanced against a meal, breakfast cereal went a long, long way to keep the body going.
The door creaked as it opened and he found the library. A bed might have been in the centre of the room, but the pillars of knowledge on either side drew the eye.
Their taste in books was more eclectic than their music selection. Fantasy novels, science fiction, manuals, thesauri, guide books, almanacs, encyclopaedias, biographies, civil war history books, and homeopathy treatises were piled in leaning Towers of Pisa. Blair guessed that Monica and Gavin were two very skinny people. A whole pile next to the bed was devoted to self-help books. Blair settled on the dust-covered quilt and began to pick through them.
‘Working Your Way Through Depression.’
‘You Can Be Popular.’
‘A Ten-Step Programme to Becoming the Person You Know You Are.’
Those were only a few of the titles, but the theme was depressingly consistent.
“Huh?” Blair scattered the evidence over the bed. Jim had said that Monica had not shown any signs of depression. The books before him were one big honking clue to the contrary.
Jim was the lead detective on the case, and kept it open despite this evidence that Monica or Gavin were concerned with their place in the order of things.
Jim knew, on a level he was incapable of verbalising, that there was indeed something wrong here (and had pursued the case regardless). So wrong that the door was open and Blair had entered like Red Riding Hood into Grandmother’s cottage.
Blair sat frozen, contemplating his options. It was a one-bedroom apartment, with a living room, kitchen and bathroom. That left the kitchen unsearched. Blair crept out of the bedroom. Nothing moved in the living room. The door to the corridor was closed.
‘Oh, God.’ Blair’s fingers rose to his mouth.
Movie monsters flitted in every dark corner. The obvious answer was to run from the apartment. But the answers to Jim’s affliction possibly lay in this apartment. He skirted along the wall, placing one foot slowly in front of the other. He peeked into the bathroom. A layer of talcum powder lay undisturbed except for a single trail of bare footprints on the linoleum. No one had ventured into the white-strewn room. That left the kitchen.
Bracing himself, Blair pushed the swing door open.
Blair sagged with relief. Jim sat at the kitchen table, sifting through a book.
“I was worried,” Blair began.
“It’s all in here.” Jim held up a black-backed journal. “A descent into madness.”
“What?” Blair slipped his backpack off his shoulder and let it fall to the floor.
“Monica. All here.”
Gingerly, Blair took his seat opposite the detective. “In what way?”
“She loved Gavin. But he betrayed her, or at least she thought he betrayed her.”
“Is that why she killed him?” Blair asked softly.
Jim lifted his head and Blair was speared by red-ringed eyes. “Yes, he betrayed her and she was justified.”
Blair shivered. “How?”
“He told everyone her deepest, darkest secret.”
"What was it?"
Jim’s finger skimmed a passage. “He told their friends that she was frigid.”
“That’s hardly a ‘deepest, darkest secret’.”
“Because she was molested as a child.”
“Oh, my God.” Blair rocked back in his seat. “You’re kidding.”
“It’s all here.” Jim flicked to the back of the journal.
“She gutted him with an axe because Gavin told--”
“Looks like it.”
“Shit.” Blair teased the journal away from the Sentinel. The last few pages looked as if they were written by a pre-school child. Badly formed letters dribbled across the page. Blair skimmed through the vituperative words, chronicling the young woman’s betrayal.
“Have you read all this?” Blair asked. The pages were indexed with post-its and fragments of paper acting as bookmarks.
“Yes,” Jim muttered.
“When did she decide that Gavin was… When did she start feeling that things were going wrong?”
Jim reached over and flipped to a page marred with scraggly doodles. “Gavin had been away. She was all excited and… it’s all there. She thought he’d had an affair, ratted her out.”
“Did you read this diary when you first investigated the case?” Blair fingered the edge of a post-it sticking out from the leaves of the book.
Jim gazed at him, perplexed. “Yes. I kept it safe.”
“Why?” Blair shook his head. “Why did you say that the case made no sense when Monica was possibly suicidal?”
“There’s more here than meets the eye. I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
“What are you sensing, Jim?” Blair could finally ask.
“When?” He sounded so depressed that Blair’s heart bled.
“Why did you run out of the loft, Jim? What made you come here?”
“These--” Jim struggled to say the word. “My-- damn senses are acting up.”
“How, Jim?” Blair stood and skirted around the table to stand at Jim’s elbow. “You’ve got to tell me what’s going on or I can’t help you.”
Jim planted his palms down on the tabletop. Breathing harshly, he carefully spoke his next words. “I touch … objects and I see things.”
Blair gnawed on this thumbnail, his thinking cap clearly on, he was only momentarily thrown by the unexpected statement. “Like what? Can you give me an example?”
Jim glanced at him furtively. “I touched stuff belonging to Alex Barnes and saw images.”
“Psychometry?” Blair questioned breathlessly. “It sounds like psychometry; it’s a clairvoyant gift where a sensitive person is receptive to images retained by or associated with belongings. Oh, wow, Jim, this is amazing. Do you think it’s psychometry?”
“How the fuck should I know, Sandburg? You’re the hippie geek that believes this stuff.”
Blair blanched at his venom. “That’s uncalled for, Jim,” he said softly.
Jim pushed away, circling around the kitchen bench to put as much space between himself and Blair as possible.
“Look, Chief, it just slipped out. You’re interested in this sort of stuff.”
“Yeah, and you’re the one who experiences it.” Blair took one measured step to the right. “What are you seeing? If it was Alex, why’s it bugging you now? What did you see here that rattled your cage?”
“I haven't seen anything here. But I saw Sarris at the loft.”
“No. Her father.”
“Did he say anything?” Blair asked calmly.
“No! Of course not.”
“Jim. Jim.” Blair took another careful step. “I’m trying to figure out if he was really there or a hallucination.”
“Hallucination?” Jim asked indignantly, moving one step away as Blair advanced.
“Okay,” Blair said easily. “So your senses are telling you that Sarris was really there?”
“Give me a break, man.”
“Sorry,” Jim grated.
Blair’s brow furrowed as he strove to figure out the best step forward. “How about we try a guided meditation?”
“Nothing too weird. We’ve done it before. I’ll just talk you through.”
“No.” Jim pushed by him and arrowed towards the door.
“Jim!” Blair got between him and escape. He held his arms out, but didn’t touch the over-stimulated man.
“Get out of my way, Sandburg.”
“We’ve got to figure this out; you can’t keep running away.”
Jim cocked his head, his mouth falling open as he inhaled. He didn’t protest when Blair finally touched his elbow with his index finger and directed him to the saggy, baggy couch. As the cushions brushed the back of Jim’s calves he sat.
“Right, Jim,” Blair began, “I want you to listen to my voice.”
Blair breathed a sigh of relief. He had Jim exactly where he wanted him. Jim responded to meditation very favourably, and in the right frame of mind his memory became eidetic. Utterly relaxed, Jim took slow, shallow breaths. His eyes were quiet behind closed lids.
“Jim, I want you to picture a time when you were happy and content.”
The corners of his mouth twisted up slightly.
“Where are you?”
“In the loft, first day. Home finally.”
“Good. Now, this is your safe place, Jim. This is where you come when I tell you to go to your safe place.”
Jim simply nodded.
“Looking back from today, when was the last time you enjoyed food?”
“Two months ago,” Jim answered easily. “The Wednesday deli special.”
‘Two months!’ Blair echoed. He was appalled at himself; how could he have been oblivious to his friend for so long? He rubbed the centre of his chest where the fountain water still burned.
“Go back an hour on that day. Where are you?”
“At my desk, looking at a report.”
“What’s it about?”
“I’m reviewing the Satterly case before I appear at court.”
“Okay. I want you to go back another hour.”
“I’m in the records room getting the Satterly deposition.”
‘This is going to take an age,’ Blair reflected. “Okay, Jim, I want you to look back through the day and tell me if you felt anything unusual. Tell me if your skin crawled or the hairs on the back of your neck rose. Anything like that – if you felt something, anything unusual.”
Jim’s eyes shot open; he scuttled backwards along the couch. “Nothing,” he snarled. “Nothing at all.”
Blair was open mouthed with shock. He closed his mouth with a sharp snap. “Yeah, looks like it.”
Jim ended up on the far side of the couch, crammed up against the cushions. “Nothing.”
“Jim, this is as aggravating as hell. Talk to me, man. When did you feel something? What did you feel?”
The Sentinel was as inscrutable as his panther. Blair doubted that torture with bamboo shoots would extract the information from him. But they needed to know; he was sick of running around with blinders on.
“What?” he prodded again.
But Jim surprised him, “I felt--hot eyes on me, and the whisper of a brittle, dry wind.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“When? It was here, wasn’t it?”
Jim’s eyes slid to the left, seemingly more interested in the CD player. “Yes,” he grated.
“Finally,” Blair exulted.
Jim launched himself to his feet and placed the couch between them. “You’re assuming that one is related to the other, Einstein. “
“Well, it obviously affected you,” Blair said pointedly.
“What does something walking over my grave have to do with food tasting like shit?”
“And the other stuff?” Blair tackled. “Your little paranoid delusions? And seeing Sarris?”
“I don’t see the link.”
“Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. We just have to find out what it is.”
“And how, Einstein, are we going to do that?”
“Like hell we will!”
“You see,” Blair continued earnestly, “I think you’re being haunted.”
“I think Monica and Gavin are hovering on the edge of your perception. And that’s… negatively impacting on you.”
“Will you quit with the echoing? It’s really irritating.”
“If that’s the case,” Jim said dryly, “why am I seeing Sarris?”
Jim grimaced whimsically. “Try again, Chief.”
“Okay!” Blair snapped. “I think you’re suffering from PTSD and depression and you need to go to extensive counselling with a psychologist to address your abandonment issues and repeated traumas to your psyche.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Jim said through gritted teeth.
“Of course there isn’t.” Blair shrugged aimlessly. He felt like he could wait until the next Ice Age and Jim would still be standing there glaring down at him. “You know that whatever it is, it's going to win because you won’t face it.”
He stared at Jim, but the Sentinel was entranced by his hands, working his fingers against an unseen object. His long fingers twisted, then his hands dropped.
“What was that about?”
“Nothing.” Jim folded his hands against his chest. “I think you might be onto something with the haunting.”
“Really?” Blair was astounded at his capitulation. On reflection, however, ghosts were eminently preferable to mental illnesses in an ex-ranger-detective’s world. Despite his well-structured barriers, and exceptional ability for denial, it appeared that Jim had realised that something was seriously wrong. Blair was surprised that he hadn’t been picked up and thrown against a wall.
‘What came first?’ Blair mused, ‘the PTSD or the ghost?’
He went stark white as the ramifications opened before him. Monica had been, like Jim, hurt. She’d been in a relationship, working towards a career, for all intents and purposes getting on with her life. Then she had turned a corner and decided that suicide was the answer. Blair ran his fingers over the back of the young woman’s journal.
“You’ve read this?”
“’Till she thought Gavin had betrayed her, do you think she was suicidal?”
“Where are you going with this, Sandburg?”
Blair picked up the book and flicked through the pages. “Maybe Monica’s not haunting you. Maybe whatever drove Monica to suicide latched onto you when you investigated her death.”
Blair skimmed through a paragraph where Monica described her partner. Gavin had surprised her in her office with a carton of her favourite soup and a warm bagel. The simple act had given her a great deal of pleasure.
“Why me?” Jim asked.
“Because you’re damaged,’ Blair thought. ‘It was all there ready to feast upon.’
“I dunno.” Blair called up every acting skill and biorhythm feedback trick he knew. “You were first on the scene?”
Wretchedness dutifully followed Misery into their empty home. Before Jim could retreat to the fridge to swamp his sorrows in beer, Blair spoke, “I think we should go to Philip’s.”
Hand on the fridge, Jim paused. “Why?”
“Because we don’t know anything.” Blair held up Monica’s journal. “There’s no descriptions of the haunt. Philip, at the very least, has experience in this sort of thing.”
Jim snorted. “And we don’t? Demons from the other side, vampires, weird fairy shit?”
“We have practical experience. But we need to do research and I don’t have the esoteric library facility in the loft.” Blair waved his hand at the anthropology books on the bookshelf against the wall.
“You’re so sure that you’ve guessed this thing right,” Jim said disparagingly.
The thrum of ‘rightness’ in his gut screamed at Blair that he was on the right track. He knew the sensation well. He called it inspiration, inspiration that was born of experience, knowledge and hope. It guided him.
He scrabbled in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Philip’s number was in the memory. The priest answered almost immediately, “Blair?”
“Hey, Philip, I think we might have a haunting problem. Do you mind if we come over and hit the books in your library?” He smiled innocently at Jim as he spoke.
Philip was wise to Blair’s open explanation. “Uhm, really, a haunting? Uhm, yes, why don’t you pack an overnight bag? You and Jim?” The concern in his tone was palpable.
“Yeah, good idea.” He nodded at Jim, who was listening with a granite expression on his face. “We don’t know how long it will take to figure out what’s happening. Research can take a lifetime. Okay, right, thanks.”
The ring of a closed line echoed through the deathly quiet loft.
“You’re expecting us to stay overnight?” Jim crossed his arms. The Sentinel preferred to sleep in his own bed if given any choice. He loved camping, getting back to the elements, but again that was about his own space. Staying in a strange house in a strange bed was not at the top of Jim’s list of things to do. Blair wondered how he had hacked the Army.
“I think it’s a good idea, Jim. We don’t know what we’re up against. Suppose this ghost is here in the apartment? I would think Philip has protections at the manse.”
“You can do that salt and sage smudge stuff here.”
“Yeah,” Blair hedged. “But that doesn’t help me find out more about our unwelcome guest.”
As implacable as the
“Ready?” Jim snapped.
‘Oh boy, this is going to be fun.’ Blair swallowed, apprehension curdling in his gut. He forced his lips to curve upwards, and with the patently false smile on his face, ducked around Jim to the kitchen. The ‘sentinel first aid kit’ was tucked under the sink. It held a plethora of sentinel-friendly products, including earplugs and sleepmasks. It filled up half of Blair’s backpack. Jim watched him stoically as he wrestled it in, obscuring the PTSD books.
“Ready?” Jim snapped again.
”One last thing.” Blair retrieved Monica’s journal from the kitchen table and laid it on top of the first aid kit. “Ready.”
Jim snatched up his coat and stormed out the door.
Blair traipsed in his
wake, mentally reviewing the contents of the kit. He had the sedative Valerian
and the anti-depressant
Philip was waiting for them on the porch. Blair smiled at his friend’s predictability; you could always count on Philip.
“Hey, Philip.” Blair leaped out of the truck before it had stopped completely, earning a black glance from Jim. Blair pulled a mess of faces at the priest as Jim was distracted hauling their stuff out of the truck. Philip met his gamut of expressive communication stoically, and Blair knew that he had got the point.
“Haunted?” he asked Jim pleasantly.
“It’s Sandburg’s idea.”
“The alternative’s too horrible to contemplate.” Shocked at his own words, Blair plastered his hand over his mouth.
“And the alternative is?” Philip asked softly as he conducted them into his home.
“That I’m going nuts,” Jim said so flatly, his tone hurt Blair’s ears.
“Nuts? Really, Blair, your Psych 101 lecturer will be turning in his grave.”
“I never said nuts.” Blair took the line that Philip handed to him. “I thought PTSD might be a factor.” He made sure that he stood between Jim and escape.
“Ah, PTSD, pervasive. It affects a lot of people.”
Blair wasn’t surprised when they ended up back in Philip’s warm and welcoming kitchen. The housekeeper was notably absent, but the warm, caressing scents said that she’d been busy.
“Mrs. Givens has made scones.” He pottered by the stove. “Jim, there’s two guest bedrooms on the third floor opposite the laboratory, and there’s one on the second floor beside the bathroom. Take your pick.”
Blair marvelled at Philip’s deft handling; the man was an experienced counsellor or had a heart big enough to hold all his friends’ trials and tribulations. Jim needed choices and he smiled in response.
As soon as he was out the door, Philip mouthed, “What happened?”
“Monster,” Blair mouthed back at the priest and emphasised his words by holding fingers like horns at his temples. “I think it’s feeding off of Jim.”
“What kind?” Philip segued into American Sign Language.
Blair raised his shoulders in the universal sign of cluelessness. “We can’t let Jim know we talked first. He’ll see it as a betrayal.”
Philip nodded wisely. “So you think you’re being haunted?” He spoke out loud rather than signing.
“I think it’s more insidious than that. Monica was under a lot of stress, and I’m wondering if it was supernatural in origin.”
“In what way?”
“I’ll have to read her journal.” Blair up-ended his backpack, first aid kit and books. “The suicide victim wrote about –- as Jim calls it –- her descent into madness. But first a cup of herbal tea?”
Philip was always game for tea. Blair selected the appropriate herbs to add to the camomile tea. As he measured out the smallest effective dose of herbs for his sensitive friend into a ceramic mug, he wondered about his whereabouts.
“I’ll make tea," Philip said. "You read the young lady’s journal.”
Jim prowled around the guestrooms, as he listened to the voice whispering in his ears.
The dry murmuring seemed to say, ‘Crazy. You’re crazy.’
Jim rubbed his temple tiredly, convincing himself that it was rustle of the leaves on the tree outside the window. He decided that he didn’t like this bedroom. The third floor rooms were mirrors of each other, separated by a pale green en suite bathroom. Each room had two single beds, and Jim set their bags on the two single beds in the east bedroom.
‘You’d be better off dead.’
Jim shut the door and the whispering of other voices called him back to the kitchen.
“Hey, Jim.” Blair looked up from the journal and smiled widely. “You get us settled in?”
“I put us on the third floor.”
“’K.” Jim noticed that Blair didn’t ask if they were together, he just assumed it. Carefully, he sat opposite his Guide. Earlier that afternoon, he had seriously considered breaking his best friend’s neck and now they were sitting waiting for a Roman Catholic Priest to dole out tea and baked goods. It was insane. He was insane.
“Tea, Jim?” Philip asked and set a cup of yellow, pissy looking water at his elbow.
“You’ve had it before, Jim,” Blair said without looking up. “It’s camomile.”
“It doesn’t smell like camomile.”
“There’s some other herbs in it.” His words were punctuated by the swish of pages moving from left to right. Blair had a pad of paper by his side and he jotted down notes.
Jim took a tiny sip of the tea and immediately dialled down his sense of taste to nothing. ‘Poison!’ Jim spat out his tea. After wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he demanded. “What the fuck did you put in this, Sandburg?”
Blair did not back away
from his vehemence. “Nothing that you haven’t had before. Camomile with
“Whatever.” Jim abandoned the cup with a grimace. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Jim?” Blair began.
The Sentinel glared him into silence.
“The church grounds are very peaceful,” Philip said calmly, gesturing easily at the back door. “There’s a gate on the north garden wall that will take you into the grounds.”
Jim threw back the bolts and slipped out into the garden. He stormed down the path, rubbing his arms against the chill rising from the ground. The sun was about to disappear below the horizon, making the garden a shadowy, foreboding place. He compensated automatically, dialling up his sight until the remaining light was amplified and the world around glowed with an inner silver light.
He pushed through a wrought iron gate into the church grounds. Moving between the trees, he bypassed shrubs and flowers without thinking, heading unerringly to the centre of the grounds. The roar of traffic died and Jim dropped to his knees. He rested his hands, palms down, on the cool, green grass.
He was going insane. He had thought about killing Blair. Even now, he knew that he could do it without breaking a sweat. Yet he remembered Blair saying that he was haunted and he had to believe that. Vampires existed, they had met Blair’s sidhe, so why not ghosts that made him see and do things?
If this had happened four years ago, he would have killed Blair with the knife that he now held in his hands without pausing to think.
Surprised, Jim examined the long knife, twisting it back and forth to the rhythm of the wind in the trees. He didn’t remember taking a knife from the manse. It had a curious, diamond-shaped blade.
“Ah.” It brought to mind a
woman with dark hair and enigmatic eyes. She had died for him. She had been
special. Everybody died: his mother was dead, Bud was dead, Sarris was dead,
and Blair was dead. Blair had died in the fountain. He had listened for any
sound from the still heart and the silent lungs. He’d called to Blair with more
passion and more hope than he had ever plumbed in his life. He hadn’t begged
his comrades in
“The wolf came back,” Jim said.
He’d left Philip alone with a wolf in Blair’s body.
Jim erupted to his feet. He had to take the impostor out before he was betrayed and Philip was killed. Werewolves might be difficult to kill, but he doubted that they could survive having their heads sawed off.
Blair set the journal aside. Speed-reading was an art that he excelled at, but skimming at this rate gave him a headache.
“Did you find anything of use?” Philip sat at the other end of the table where he had waited patiently.
“I don’t know if it’s relevant, but it all starts when Gavin returns from Voluntary Services Overseas.”
“Where did he work?”
“That’s a starting point. You’ve told me Jim’s depressed, miserable and paranoid. So Monica shows all the same symptoms after Gavin returns?”
“I know it’s a starting point, I just…”
“Damn right, I’m tired. This has been going on for months. I keep running, but never catch up.” Blair shook his head resignedly and then thumped his forehead on the kitchen table.
“You’ll hurt yourself.” Philip settled by Blair’s side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You are catching up; Jim’s listening to you.”
“Yeah, sure he is. Jim ran out and I didn’t follow. I had to read this thing.” He spoke to the well-scrubbed wood. “I have to figure out what’s happening before he self-destructs.”
“Come on, Blair.” Philip levered him to his feet. “Let’s go to the library and see what we can pull up on the Legacy database.”
“That’s a good idea.” He allowed the priest to drag him along. “You know of any ghosts that make their haunts miserable?”
“To be honest, no, but how does possession grab you?”
“You know, I should be responding to that with a really rude comment, but for some reason nothing springs to mind.””
“You are tired.” Philip patted his arm.
“Possession?” Blair mused as he pushed open the library door. “I like the sound of that. No, I don’t like the sound of that, but I think it makes sense.”
“So I think our first port of call it to look for an Ethiopian ghost that possesses people?”
The butterflies that constantly churned in Blair’s stomach turned into a flock of plummeting hawks. “Shit, where’s Jim?”
Philip caught his arm as he moved away from the library. “Unless you’re willing to tie Jim up, I think it would be better if we found answers sooner rather than later.”
“What are you thinking?” Blair snapped, responding to Philip’s unbearable, concerned tone.
“No way! You’re thinking Jim’s gonna kill himself or something, aren’t you?”
Philip coughed discreetly. “There are a number of things…”
Jim and suicide were inconceivable. The Sentinel would engineer his own death in a bad shootout rather than mouthing on the end of his service revolver. In normal circumstances, he couldn’t imagine that Jim would hurt himself. But these were far from normal circumstances.
“Shit!” Blair pulled away from Philip’s grip, yes, they needed answers, but if Jim killed himself in the meantime they were pointless. He slid over the wooden floors, his hiking boots leaving black streaks. As he skidded into the kitchen, the back door was kicked open.
“Werewolf!” Jim bellowed.
Blair’s eyes widened in shock. Jim launched himself across the table. His trajectory was perfectly calculated; he slammed into Blair, knocking him to the floor. Air was forced from Blair’s lungs with a loud huff. The mad eyed Sentinel sat astride his chest. The analytical part of Blair’s mind noted that he held a Phurba knife clasped between his hands.
“Jim!” Blair wheezed. He held out his hands in what he knew would be a futile warding gesture if the knife crashed down. “It’s me – Blair. Your friend.”
Jim’s arctic blue eyes narrowed. “People don’t come back from the dead,” he said coldly. “Things do.”
Adrenaline gave Blair the breath to talk. “I’m not a thing!”
Jim’s hands flexed around the knife, his knuckles blanched white. “Werewolf,” he muttered doubtfully.
“You brought me back!” Blair protested.
Jim crashed sideways. Philip stood over them, holding a frying pan. Blair sagged backwards onto the cold floor. The relief made his guts clench.
“Fuck, man.” Blair levered himself up on his elbow. Jim’s legs lay across Blair’s waist. His face was mashed against the floor and his mouth was pushed open. A trickle of blood snaked through his short hair to his temple.
“I think I just stunned him.” Philip dropped the pan and crouched beside the detective.
“He’s got a hard head,” Blair said inanely. “You wanted to tie him up. Let’s get him tied up.”
Philip looked at him curiously. Feeling madly hysterical, Blair wiggled out from underneath Jim. The Sentinel was still lost in unconsciousness.
“Should we move him to his room?”
“I don’t want to move him too much, in case he’s hurt his neck or something. Help me.” Holding his head steady, Blair manhandled him onto his back.
“I didn’t hit him very hard.”
“Shouldn’t he be waking up if you only stunned him?”
“Maybe we should get him tied up, if he’s thinking you’re a werewolf,” Philip’s accent came through strongly. “He wasn’t kidding with that knife.”
“Good idea.” Blair scanned the kitchen.
“Ooh, hang on, I’ve got something that will work.”
Before Blair could protest, Philip had ducked out of the kitchen. Blair turned back to his Sentinel. He reached to brush the blood from Jim's temple and realised that his fingers were trembling. “Sheesh.” He clamped one hand around his other wrist and managed to lay a still hand on Jim’s cheek. He was solidly unconscious, his face lax; maybe Philip had hit him too hard.
“Here.” Philip dropped to his knees on the other side of Jim’s supine body. He held a set of iron manacles.
Blair immediately grinned. “Now, what do you do with those?”
Philip ignored his juvenile sense of humour. “They come in useful in my line of work.” Obviously well practised, he clamped the irons around Jim’s wrists and ankles.
Blair retrieved his first aid kit and set to work on the bloody bump on the side of Jim’s head.
“Shouldn’t he be waking up?” Blair said again, worried. “Maybe the E.R.?”
“How are we going to explain the manacles to a physician? If you say he attacked you because he thought you were a werewolf, he’s going to end up in the psychiatric wing.”
“If you’ve rattled his brains, I want him to get medical attention.”
“We’ll give him five more minutes and then call the paramedics.” Philip gripped Jim’s wrist, fingers against his pulse. “It’s strong.”
Jim coughed and spluttered. His eyes flicked open, and he made an abortive attempt to get up. The ex-ranger immediately took stock of his situation, sagged back to the floor and glared at them balefully.
“How are you feeling, Jim?” Blair asked solicitously.
“How the hell do think, Sandburg? You’ve tied me up. Why the fuck have you tied me up?”
“You tried to kill me, Jim.” Blair held up the knife. “With a sacred Buddhist phurba. Talk about bad karma, man.”
Jim lapsed into angry silence, his lips firmly clamped together. He focussed on some far point over Blair’s shoulder rather than looking at his face.
“I don’t hold it against you, Jim,” Blair continued earnestly. “Philip thinks maybe you’re possessed. So it’ll be safer for the moment if you stay tied up.”
“I am not fucking possessed. Not again. Not after Hymir. Never again. You hear me? I would know if I was possessed. I am not fucking possessed.”
“It’s a theory, Jim. Just a theory,” Blair said rapidly, interrupting the line of swear words. “We thought it was a ghost; it probably is a ghost.”
Jim thrashed under his hands. “I’m not possessed.”
The degree of terror in Jim’s eyes was unprecedented. He had gone through stoic into the realm of terror. Blair had tried again and again to get Jim to talk about Hymir, to no avail. Blair had finally accepted the excuse that Jim had buried it deeply. He didn’t believe the excuse in its entirety, but he did believe that Jim had locked parts of the whole horrific experience behind closed doors to escape the mental and perhaps even physical rape.
Jim was scared now; there was fear in his eyes. Fear didn’t set very well on Jim, nor for that matter on any man. Had his cup finally ran over with the accumulation of ages of abuse, neglect and betrayal?
“Hey, man,” Blair gripped his shoulders. A brainstorm came out of nowhere. “You’re not possessed. Micky saw something at Simon’s. He was watching the monster man in the bushes. You saw Sarris, or something that looked like Sarris.”
Jim froze under his hands. He was listening, Blair could tell, needing to latch onto the smallest hope. It was apparent that the haunt affected him and that was only a step away from possession. But when push came to shove, it wasn’t possession, and in that he could believe.
Jim flexed his wrists, rattling the chains. “You want to release me now?”
“Uhm… no.” Blair shrugged awkwardly. “Just give us a minute to find out more about the ghost.”
Jim glowered, and Blair met his expression with relief; this was the Jim he knew and loved. The Sentinel flexed his wrists again.
“You need to tie me up better.” He easily looped the length of chain between his hands. “This is a weapon all in itself. You have to incapacitate me.”
“Uhm, I know.” Philip reached down and hauled him to his feet. Blair moved to help him. “The wrought iron staircase in the library. We use it all the time.”
“And I thought that my life was weird.”
Philip smiled sheepishly as he gave Jim a hand. Blair took Jim's other elbow. His head hung low, Jim shuffled between them, weighed down by the chains. They manacled him to the twisted iron banister with a length of chain around his waist, his arms secured on his lap, attached to his ankles by a shorter length of chain.
“Are you comfortable enough?” Blair grimaced at the icy man before him.
‘Oh great,’ one word answers were always a bad, bad sign. “I thought the cushion would help.”
“The cushion is fine,” Jim said with perfect diction.
“Great.” Blair winced. “I’ll uhm… get to the books, see if I can figure out what’s happening.” He ran, he knew that he was running from his friend and Sentinel.
Philip had the Legacy computer database up and running, waiting for him. Blair slipped into a chair, and pulled the keyboard towards him.
“There’s a few books on the other subject we were talking about in the library,” Philip informed him. “I’ll go and check them.”
“Okay.” Blair nodded distractedly, already choosing the key words for his metasearch. His fingers trembled on the keys, causing him to mis-strike. There was a horrible sinking sensation in his gut; he could feel the blood in his fingers and toes rushing to his innards. He was cloaked in a frigid inferno. How could he feel so hot but know that his skin was cold and clammy? Blair bit his bottom lip and breathed slowly and evenly in through his nose and out through his mouth. Jim might have thought that he was a werewolf, but he hadn’t followed through with the attack. He had stayed his hand. Blair paused a moment, resting his hands, quiescent, on the keys. A meditation mantra came immediately to mind, and he worked through the ritual, forcing calm on his pounding heart.
The moon rose, its path climbing across the plane of the library windows as wind rustled the leaves on the trees.
When Blair looked up from his research, the edge of the crescent moon peeked out at the top corner of the window. The library was dark; the only light in the room came from the reading lamp illuminating the computer table. Blair checked his watch. Dawn was about an hour away; he had worked all night.
There was no answer. Standing, Blair craned his neck to look up into the second tier where Philip had been referencing the abnormal psychology books.
At the staircase, Jim woke with a start, rattling his chains. “What’s happening?”
“Yes?” The priest peered over the balcony. Only the flash of white at his throat stopped him from looking like a stooping raven.
“Whoa.” Blair plastered his hand against his chest. “I thought…?”
“I was reading in the nook.” Philip waved vaguely to the back of the library. “Have you found anything?”
“Possibly.” It was Blair’s turn to wave to the neon glow of the computer. The lurid green shadows made Blair imagine demons lurking. “Philip, where are the light switches?”
“Beside the door.” Philip trotted down the spiral staircase to the ground floor.
As he found the switch beside the doorframe, Philip settled in front of the computer. Jim winced as the lights flooded the library.
“Sorry,” Blair said automatically as he crossed to Philip’s side.
The priest was scrolling through the text. “Persian Gulf, eh?”
“It’s the most
appropriate. They’re related to djinn, I think. Jim’s described a dry, brittle
wind a couple of times. These ‘winds’
or ‘baads’ make people ill. More
importantly, they are linked with mental illness and depression.” Blair glanced
apologetically at Jim. “They’re the only thing that even came close. Maybe this
thing hitched a ride from
“Did you read anything about the goal of these baads?”
“No. Maybe they feed off the negative emotion or something, when they find a good source,” Blair’s voice dropped to a whisper, even though it was futile.
“What about treatment?” Philip whispered back.
Blair shook his head miserably.
Jim watched from his position. They were the crazy ones. They thought that he had been possessed by a bad wind. Jim shook his head tiredly. It made no sense; but if it wasn’t a ghost, then he was going insane. He had always feared insanity, believing that his senses would ultimately take him to the padded room of his most furtive nightmares. He had contemplated breaking Blair’s neck; he had threatened those around him. Perhaps the best thing would be to remove the threat. Jim flexed his wrist, feeling the length of the phurba lying against his forearm under his jacket sleeve. His ever so observant captors hadn’t seen him secret the knife away. It would be easy to kill the werewolf that was sitting next to the priest.
Jim clenched his fists, driving his nails into his palms. It was Blair, his Guide, sitting next to Philip, the Catholic Priest. Werewolves did not exist. But then again, if depression-inducing winds and vampires and demons did, why not werewolves? Sandburg’s spirit guide was a wolf; was it that big a stretch of the imagination?
He clenched his fists and tested the strength of the links. He wasn’t going to break these bonds like some modern day Samson. He pulled out the small Swiss Army knife from his pants pocket and went to work on the lock. His sentinel senses allowed him to visualise the inner workings of the mechanism. It was child’s play.
The final lock fell away and Jim rose smoothly to his feet. The chains slithered to the floor with barely a rattle. Focusing on the figure leaning over the computer, Jim could see the wolf lurking under the skin. He edged silently forward. The priest dozed at the werewolf’s side, head pillowed on his arms. The werewolf’s attention was absolute, caught by the sheaf of papers he held before him. A wind lifted the curls corkscrewing around Blair’s neck. Jim blinked. That wasn’t a werewolf; that was his partner. No, it was his partner possessed by a werewolf. How could he save Blair from the wolf? Blair caught his movement out of the corner of his eye and turned slowly and deliberately in his seat.
Jim stood still, not talking. Blair lifted his hand and held it out as if to an unfamiliar dog.
“You remember that I told you about the ghost?” Blair was saying. “Well, I think that this ghost feeds off of your bad feelings.”
“Don’t patronise me, wolf.”
“Wolf?” Blair echoed.
“Don’t you think I know what you are?”
“I’m Blair. Blair Sandburg, innocent grad student and tagalong observer.” He smiled and then said evenly, “Come on, Jim, focus. Tell me what you hear. Are you hearing a wind?”
Jim cocked his head. A myriad of sounds moved around him, from the whisper of breath in his lungs to the rustle of leaves on the trees outside the library. A sirocco blast of dry hot air brushed his cheek and he shivered along the length of his spine.
“See!” Blair exulted and clasped Jim’s hand.
Their touch was incandescent. The world around Jim made a slow, lazy loop into the monochrome that heralded the spirit world. Jim stood in the corner of a room. It was bare and bleached of colour except for a small boy who sat in the centre of a room. A mop of burnished copper curls was like a lighthouse to his senses. Jim was about to step forward when the door swung open.
A woman burst into the room. Long red hair tumbled around her distraught face. Her purple flared blouse and green trousers clashed horribly with her red hair.
“Darling! Stuart’s found us again. We have to move again. It’s an adventure, sweetie.”” The woman picked up the tot, swinging him onto her hip. A chubby hand clutched at her blouse. One-handed, she started tossing items into a large backpack. Still holding him, she pulled out his toy box and dragged it to the centre of the tiny apartment.
“Mama,” the baby mouthed.
“Where’s your bedtime book, darling?”
Frantically, the young woman tipped up a cardboard box of ragtag, well-loved toys. “We have to move. If we don’t find the book we’ll have to leave it. Where’s the book? Alastair, if we don’t find your book we’ll have to leave it. Dair, we need your book.”
“Bed, mommy.” The toddler pointed to the camp bed tucked in the corner of the room.
Almost crying with haste, the mother pulled back the blankets, throwing them to the floor. A dog-eared book lay tucked under the pillow. It went into the bulging backpack. The young mother made a single turn around the apartment, and dismissed everything that was left. She slung the backpack over her shoulder and hefted the child higher. Then with a kick that made the ex-ranger proud she kicked over the flickering oil lamp on the bedside table to the floor. The glass smashed and the oil spread; the flame licked over the seeping oil. For a moment it burned with a clear, transparent heat and then the acrylic carpet caught fire.
The woman ran from the burning. She jackrabbitted through the door, and without pausing a beat, she smashed a dilapidated fire alarm on the wall. It didn’t ring. She gave it a shocked fleeting look, then ran without a backward glance.
Jim coughed as the smoke twisted around his lungs.
“Jim?” Callused hands patted his face. “Are you all right?”
Blinking furiously at cough-wrought tears, Jim felt the burn of smoke deep in his lungs.
“You with me?” Blair persisted.
“Blair?” Jim hazarded.
“Yeah.” He smiled widely. “What was that? You okay?”
“Yup, Blair.” He patted his own chest. “The one and only. That wasn’t a zone. That was something different.”
“I didn’t see the wolf,” Jim mused, madly. “I saw a kid. A little kid.”
“You saw something? Did you have a psychometric episode?”
“You weren’t a wolf,” Jim persisted.
“I am not a wolf, Jim,” Blair said patiently.
“The wolf came back when you drowned.”
“Oh.” Blair looked to the left and the right. “Where?”
“No!” Jim punctuated his words by poking Blair in the chest. “You’re a werewolf now.”
“Really.” Blair bit his bottom lip, containing a crazy smile.
“Yes.” Jim squinted at his werewolf-guide.
“Jim, if I was a werewolf,” Blair said sensibly, “wouldn’t I have like changed? Claws? Hairy skin? Okay, don’t go there. I mean, Jim, listen to me, listen to my lungs. Does that sound like a werewolf?” He coughed introspectively.
Jim listened, and heard the wheezy hitch of congestion. “Chest infection?”
“Just a bit of a cold. A werewolf with snotty lungs doesn’t really compute, does it?”
Jim scrabbled at his hair, twisting his fingers through the tufts. His head hurt. His senses didn’t lie to him. This was Blair; therefore there was a demon.
“Where?” Blair scanned the library again. Philip was sitting by the computer, woken by their exchange. He had kept quiet; now, he too, scrutinised the library.
Jim knew that he was going to hurt Blair and if he didn’t hurt Blair he was probably going to hurt someone else. That was not an option. He had to go. Jim spun away and sprinted to the door. Confused, his senses spiralling, he fell against a book stack, knocking it to the floor. He sprawled on the books. Images assailed him. He saw Father Callaghan, bowed over a book as a winged demon rose up behind him. As he turned to try and figure where the threat came from, his fingers brushed an idol he had also knocked to the floor. He saw a woman, screaming as she was ripped asunder. Shying back, his hand brushed an old, stained book. He couldn’t begin to interpret the array of images that assaulted him. He was lost in it; a complex story of story of love and betrayal, with an ancient warrior at its heart.
“No!” Jim screamed in turn. “It’s not real!”
A body hit him low, rolling him away from the objet d'arts that assailed him.
“Jim?” Blair gently patted the detective’s shoulder. He had knocked a moaning Jim to the floor, away from the mess of books that he had fixated upon. Now Jim lay on his back, his gaze fixed on some point in mid air, out of focus and lost. The muscle beneath Blair’s hand was taut.
“Blair?” Philip crouched beside them and laid his fingers against Jim’s jugular.
“He’s in some kind of weird zone again. He told me that he’s being having psychometric episodes.”
“Seeing pictures or virtual movies?”
Jim’s breathing was short and sharp, spiralling towards hyperventilation with every intake. Perspiration made his forehead sheen. Blair set his own hand against Jim’s throat. The pulse bit against his fingers, too fast and too thready.
“Listen to me, Jim,” Blair crooned. “Listen, you’re in a bad place now, but I want you to concentrate on my voice. You’re lying in Philip’s library. You’ve touched something and you’re picking up images.” Blair gently stroked Jim's curled hands, trying to straighten his clawed fingers.
“Blair, we need a doctor.”
Blair said blankly, “They’ll put him in the psychiatric wing. It will kill him.” He continued to murmur to his Sentinel.
“What about Jim’s personal doctor? Can we call him? Have you brought him into your confidence?”
“Of course not,” Blair snapped defensively. “Do you know anyone?”
“Any doctor that I know that would treat Jim in this condition without his medical history, I wouldn’t trust with his treatment.”
“Jim,” Blair beseeched, “snap out of it, man.”
The expression on Jim’s face took on a disturbing cast. Blair felt a chill working up his spine; what was he seeing in his mind’s eye?
“There’s a medic
associated with the Legacy House in
“Call Shaun. I know he’s at home, but maybe he can recommend a colleague.”
Blair waited until Philip had closed the door. He slapped Jim clean across the face. The blow rocked Jim's head to the side, but the expression of nothingness on his face did not change. Hitting Jim went against Blair’s better instincts, and he berated himself for doing so. Naomi had taught him that violence was never the answer. He returned to stroking Jim’s face with his fingertips and whispering softly.
“Jim, snap out of it, please.” Abruptly, Blair spun on his heels and addressed mid-air. “You know, I won’t let you have him. I am going to figure out how to get rid of you.”
The sheaf of papers on the desk rustled as a wind brushed them. Blair scowled, he had the distinct impression that he was being mocked.
Okay, if the library
offered no solutions, he’d find someone who could help, even if he had to
Philip barrelled back into the library. He had a ceramic bowl in his hands and a hand towel over his shoulder. He settled on his knees beside the supine man.
“Water. Perhaps a cleansing ritual will help.”
“Did you call Shaun?”
“He recommended trying this, and if it doesn’t work I have the phone number of a Dr. Doyle.”
“A colleague of Shaun’s. He says that he knows Jim.”
“What?” Blair cast a shocked glance at his comatose Sentinel. “He never said anything to me.”
“Deal with it later,” Philip advised sharply. “Keep talking to him, that will help.” The priest pushed the bowl across the wooden floor up against Blair’s knee. A white facecloth lay in the bottom of the bowl. Blair wrung it out one-handed and then gently wiped the Sentinel’s forehead. Jim’s eyes closed, his first reaction since entering the psychometric zone. Blair wadded the cloth and carefully mapped the wing of Jim’s eyebrow. He dipped the cloth in the water and then stroked the long planes of Jim’s cheek. Blair felt Jim relax under his ministrations.
Philip’s head was bowed and he was praying. Blair couldn’t make out the words, only the lilt of Latin. He made a mental note to ask Philip what he was saying later. Blair wrung the cloth out and concentrated on Jim’s well-proportioned nose. Jim’s lips opened slightly as Blair moved on to moisten them. The tip of his tongue appeared and Blair squeezed the cloth, allowing a drop to fall into his mouth.
“You with me, Jim?”
Jim didn’t react, so Blair continued his cleansing. Philip set his crucifix on Jim’s chest and began a new litany. Blair drew the damp cloth across Jim’s square chin and up along his jaw line. He then mirrored his actions, moving the cloth over the right side of Jim’s face. With every stroke, Jim relaxed infinitesimally.
Jim held his hands tight against his chest, the fingers so taut that the tendons and veins stood proud. Blair reached down and took the hand clenched over his heart. It too succumbed to his ministrations, the clawed fingers relaxing with the massage. Blair laid Jim’s lax hand back on his chest. As he concentrated on Jim’s right hand, he noted that his assumption that his hands were larger than Jim’s was wrong. Jim’s hands were long like his body; he was in proportion. Turning one in both of his, he felt the calluses from hours of weapons’ practice. He rinsed the cloth in the bowl and started anew on Jim’s right hand, carding the cloth through his fingers until they too relaxed. As he lay Jim’s hand down, he heard a long drawn breath escape from Jim’s lips as he eased into sleep.
“Wow,” Blair whispered. “He’s fallen asleep.”
“Jim couldn’t, wouldn’t sleep if there was a threat. It’s a physical impossibility.”
“Can we get him to his room?”
“Without waking him up? We haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell.”
“Hmmm,” Philip pondered. “I’ve got an idea.” Without another word the priest scuttled off.
Blair sat quiescent, allowing his breathing to drop to a meditative rhythm. Jim hadn’t slept well for months; this was a gift. He awoke to the soft whisper of unfurling material. Surprised, he opened his eyes. Philip was setting out a deflated air-bed.
“We can unroll it next to him and roll him onto it and then blow it up.”
Blair nodded; it seemed like a good idea, although the execution might be difficult. Remembering experiences in the hospital, Blair carefully rolled Jim slightly to the left with Philip controlling his legs. Then the priest slid a folded edge mattress under Jim as much as possible. He was amazed that the Sentinel was sleeping through the manhandling. Philip nodded and Blair lay him back. Philip crawled on his knees to the other side of Jim. Then both rolled him to the right. Philip drew out the folded edge of the air-bed laying it flat.
Both looked to Jim; he slept peacefully. “Ten out of ten,” Blair mouthed. He still held his breath and he shuffled backwards holding Jim’s head off his lap with his hands. Philip smoothed out the pillow of the mattress.
“I’ll blow it up?” Philip asked.
Blair nodded; he would hold Jim. Huffing and puffing quietly over what seemed an inordinate length of time, Philip blew up the mattress. Slowly it filled, supporting the slumbering Sentinel. Blair gently laid his head on the rising pillow. Philip left it three-quarters filled, cradling Jim. Blair unfolded a blanket and draped it over his friend.
“Are you sure he’s asleep?” Philip asked.
“Yeah, look at his face.” The accustomed spray of lines at the corners of Jim’s eyes had softened. His mouth was slightly open. “No way is he under threat. What did you put in that water? Valium?”
“It’s holy water, I lifted it from the font,” Philip said soberly.
A bare smile crossed Philip’s face. “Yes, indeed, cool.”
Blair rocked on his haunches. “Sometimes I hate the weird aspects. Vampires gave me the willies. But if there’s vampires, man, that means….” He couldn’t say anymore.
“That there’s an opposite force?”
“Yeah,” Blair said bashfully. “I died, man. I saw it. It was a forest and it was… sublime.”
“You’re truly blessed, Blair.”
“Just lucky, I guess.” He dropped his head so his face was hidden by his hair. He hadn’t discussed this with Jim yet; or more accurately Jim refused to be drawn. Blair didn’t feel that he could talk it through with Philip, thinking that Jim would see it as a betrayal of confidence. Although, if there was anyone who would understand and believe, it would be the Legacy priest.
Philip never pressed. “Come, I have an idea.”
Blair let Philip draw him back to the computer, away from his peacefully sleeping Sentinel. “Can we leave him?”
“We’re watching. There’s a
Legacy mailing list; we can ask for help. Write an e-mail, and I’ll forward it
to the group.” He consulted his watch. “
”Okay.” Blair deliberated, already scripting out the message in his head.
Philip pulled out the computer chair and gestured Blair into it. Reaching over, Philip opened his e-mail programme, and pulled the Legacy list from the address book.
A single click and Blair began his request. “I’ll draft out what we have so far but, leave out the sentinel aspect.”
“I’d be surprised if you didn’t. I’ve a few ideas on how to protect Jim. You write the letter, I’ll get the accoutrements.”
“Accoutrements?” Blair echoed to his retreating back.
Blair had sent the e-mail with the urgent flag ticked. Jim still slept, re-charging his batteries, as Blair waited impatiently. Even willing a message to download didn’t work. Blair sighed deeply; they were depending on the kindness of strangers. He wanted to hunt out the information, to do the research. That was his raison d'être. That he hadn’t found the answers personally galled him to the very depths of his soul. Was that pure arrogance? Yes. If asking for help got him answers, he would give thanks.
Blair looked to the source of his concerns. Jim snored lightly; his sinuses were obviously acting up. He hadn’t moved on iota since he had been plunged into sleep. Even Philip precisely drawing out a fine line of white crystals in a circle around his body hadn’t disturbed him.
“Salt?” Blair whispered.
“Salt,” Philip confirmed. “Protective in a number of traditions.”
“I suppose it can’t do any harm.”
“That’s not the right attitude.”
“Sorry. Can I help?”
“The Cross of Kinloch Rannoch is in my office. Jim would probably associate that with protection. Would you like to get it?”
“Yeah, sure.” Blair was just about to leave his seat when the icon on the desktop chimed. A message was deposited in the email inbox. Hands shaking, Blair clicked on the mail. He scanned through the text and then read out loud,
Interesting problem, it sounds very similar to the problems of the ahl-i hava. In the region of the Minab, the people of hava – who are the dispossessed, unprotected and disassociated -- can be possessed by Winds. The affected are recognised by the shamans. The Winds demand blood sacrifice, gifts, poetry and drumming before relinquishing their grip on their steed. When the Wind’s demands are satisfied, the Wind leaves and the person becomes of the ahl-i hava – one who can live out of harm’s way.
Given that your client’s problem has been linked with Ethiopia, might I suggest that you also look into the Thonga/Bantu tribes, since there are many similarities between their rituals to free people of unhappy spirits which induce the ‘madness of the gods’ and those of the ahl-i hava. Perhaps – tongue in cheek – you have a Catholic spirit which shares both aspects? Henri Junod has published in great detail on the rituals to help tribal members inflicted by these spirits.
I’ll continue looking for info, but I thought that this might be helpful in the meantime.
“Henri Junod--” Blair said.
“Isn’t he an--” Philip interrupted.
supplied. “He pioneered the use of photography to document the tribes that he
studied. Hey, there’s a collection of his research at
Philip met his earnest
interrogation with a solemn frown. “He was in the Iran Legacy House until
forced out of the country. His family didn’t make it out. He relocated to
Philip nodded sagely. “He
was born and brought up in the
“He talked about Winds of
the ahl-i hava. We have baads or Winds in the
Eyes wide in his pale face, Philip nodded. “Trust me, Blair. I will do everything to keep Jim safe. I think--if we’re right and it is a Middle Eastern demon--I think that the Wind’s goal is to make Jim kill you. In doing so, it will drive Jim to utter despair. It would be the sweetest wine to a sucker of souls.”
Blair studied his Sentinel, sleeping so peacefully on the camp bed. It was hard to believe that he was under attack from an emotion-eating demon. “We can’t let it have him.”
“We won’t.” Philip carefully gripped Blair’s shoulder. “He’s scared; he can’t trust himself. But he has listened to you so far. He needs to trust to survive. Someone who he knows won’t let him down. “
“You sure about that?”
“Yes. You won’t let Jim down. He might forget that in his head, but not in his heart.”
Blair hung his head. Occasionally, protecting and guiding Jim seemed like an insurmountable task. He fought against Jim’s automatic railroading and dismissal nearly every day. “It’s upped the ante, Philip. It’s got Jim thinking that I’m not me, that I’m a wolf, for fuck’s sake.”
“I never said it was going to be easy.”
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. “Gee, thanks, man,” he muttered sarcastically.
Blair hit the library like a force of nature. Peggy simply stood aside as he blew through the foyer, vaulted over the entrance turnstile and galloped to the anthropology section.
“That is a boy on a mission,” she said in an aside to her assistant.
“He shouldn’t be allowed in until eight-thirty,” the younger woman protested.
Peggy peered over her hackneyed pince-nez. “You’re welcome to try and stop him. Actually, I’m impressed he waited until we opened up. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had attempted to break in.”
Blair emerged between two stacks, dumped an armful of books on a tabletop and then blew down the next stack, snatching up books and journals. Peggy counted under her breath, at five, Blair appeared at the far end. Frustrated, he clawed at his curls, snarling them until they looked wind-tossed. Muttering under his breath, he darted to the computerised library catalogue. Birdlike, he tapped out his question and then waited, his body language screaming his impatience. Judging by the expletive that followed, the request wasn’t granted. He tried again, and the printer warmed up. He snatched the printout from the machine as he turned away from the bank of computers.
Peggy braced herself as he approached. But he was sweetness and light as he carefully asked, “Hi, Peggy, thanks for letting me in. I wonder if I could get this thesis on the Thonga of Mozambique from the special section.”
“Who’s the author?” the librarian asked patiently.
“Oh.” He searched the printout. “Berthoud, Julian Muhlaba.”
The senior librarian carefully typed in the name. “I’m afraid--”
“No! I need it.”
“Blair.” Peggy held up her hand. “You can see it, you just can’t take it out of the special section.”
“I’ll have to read it in the readers’ room?” Blair asked intently.
“No photocopying then. I can take notes. Right? I’ll move these books into the reader room. When can I get the book? How long will it take to bring the books up from the archives?”
“I’ll tell you what, Blair--”
“Blair.” Peggy curbed a smile at his rapid-fire answers. “You go sit in the readers’ room, and I’ll go down to the archives right away.”
“Thank you, Peggy,” Blair said with perfect politeness. “I’ll go get the books I’ve selected so far. Do you know if there’s anything in the special section about the ahl-i hava?”
“I don’t know. How do you spell it?” Peggy said with the utmost patience.
“Oh.” His eyes flashed blue fire, then he spelled out, slowly, “A-h-l hyphen i. New word, lower case h-a-v-a.”
“I'll check.” The librarian gestured to the glass-enclosed room opposite the librarians’ desk, where staff and grad students were allowed to consult the books from the special section.
“Thank you.” Blair paced over to the books he had already selected, snatched them up and arrowed to the readers’ room.
The younger librarian waited until he had closed the sound-proofed door behind him. “Wow. I’ve known Blair to be focussed, but that was another plane altogether.”
Peggy wiped her brow. “He was a bit like a tornado, wasn’t he?”
Blair took over the entire
conglomerate meeting-sized table in the readers’ room. Copious notes streamed
from his pen, scrawling across his legal pad. His first subject was the ahl-i hava and they were in fact related
to the baads. Tariq’s Winds were the baads, but the ahl-i hava were not the Winds, rather it was the name of the cured
victims of the baads. As Blair read, he found that there was more
than one type of Wind, and a specific type of shaman was needed to cure an
afflicted person of the specific Wind. The Mashayikh
Winds would make their hosts quite sick, but generally didn’t kill them. The Zar winds, or the pagan-killer death
winds, were a possible culprit. The Zar had
originally come from
Jim insisted that he wasn’t possessed, but the Zar could become incarnate in certain human beings. Jim had seen Sarris, and Mickey had reacted to a definite figure in Simon’s backyard; and maybe that spoke of a corporeal entity rather than an intangible spirit. Blair slowly drew a red star next to the Zar, since apart from its intangibility it seemed to be the best suspect, and picked up another book.
He searched for the
spirits of the Thonga and that led him back to
The djinn were born of smokeless fire, breeding in searing hot air. They had been nature spirits but had grown to have a disruptive influence on human kind and, according to a document on the internet, were capable of causing madness. The shaytan were the most malicious and wicked djinn. They were more liable to attack after nightfall and Blair had felt more threatened during the hours. Blair inscribed his notes carefully, noting that the shaytan were most prevalent in the bathroom. He shook his head; this was fascinating but it wasn’t helping Jim.
“Right, okay,” Blair muttered to himself as he found the ritual to exorcise a shaytan. “I have to read from the Qur’an and beat Jim. I have to beat him many times. Right, that one’s out. I can’t beat Jim.”
Another paragraph told him that he might be able to curse a djinn out of his Sentinel. But what if it wasn’t a Persian djinn? He scrutinised his notes from the Legacy library, another name for the Zar was the jinn-i Zar. He wondered if the etymology of the word was similar to djinn and genie? He scrawled jinn-i Zar at the bottom of his notes, then dropped his head on the open book before him. Before he had no answers; now he had too many.
He cracked open a bleary eye and read the word scrawled just in front of his nose. ‘Shaman.’ Shamans used ritual beating of drums, sacrificed goats and recited spells hidden in the cadence of poetry to drive off the Thonga bush demons, demon which were very similar to the Zar. The fact that shamans were important in driving off the baads of the ahl-i hava and the Thonga bush demons both reassured and terrified him. Incacha had named him shaman, and to be brutally frank he had done absolutely nothing about his reluctant inheritance.
“Shaman,” he whispered, trying the word on his tongue. “Shaaaa-maaan.” He didn’t feel like a shaman, he felt like a grad student in an impossible situation. This was Jim’s life and sanity that he was playing with. It wasn’t like throwing a can of soup at a criminal; it was fighting against supernatural forces beyond his ken for Jim’s very soul.
Blair mentally shook himself, and returned to his books. His fingers of their own accord crept across to the dictionary that lived in his backpack. He read: Shamanism is a magic-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the master of ecstasy. And ecstasy is the withdrawal of the soul from the body; mystical or prophetic exaltation and rapture. It can be catalysed by hallucinogenic plants, fasting, meditation and drumming. The shaman communes with the inhabitants of the higher and lower regions. They can accompany souls of the deceased to the next world or affect the well-being of the sick. To protect their community they can incorporate spirits into themselves. They speak with nature spirits and tell stories.
“Gee, well, like I didn’t know that already.”
But Blair knew that that
was only one definition. Unconsciously he scowled, if Jim needed a shaman to
rid him of this jinn-i Zar, he would
damn well get one. Inspiration washed over him, making him tingle. He could
guide Jim to the otherworldly jungle; he had done it before when Jim had denied
his gifts after shooting a security guard. Jim had also reluctantly admitted
that he had seen Incacha in a vision at the temple of the sentinels in
“Yes!” He stood and in the same motion scooped up his books and notes. Juggling the pile, he scurried through the library, tossing an absent “Bye, thanks, Peggy,” in his wake. He was aware of alarms sounding as he passed through the library’s electronic barrier. The security guard grabbed the acne-ridden student behind him and demanded that the undergrad open his bags.
Blair crossed to his Volvo, unaware of the eddies of winds scuffling dead leaves in his wake.
Jim yawned, turning onto to his side. His bed shifted beneath him. He mumbled under his breath, realising that he was on an airbed. Stretching, he inhaled, expecting to smell familiar pine scent; instead he was greeted by musty old books. Jim cracked open an eye expecting to see Blair sitting next to him reading a tome. He jerked away from a concerned but familiar face peering down at him.
“Hey, Jim,” Philip said diffidently.
Jim sat up slowly. The bed shifted beneath him, the air rushing to the sides until his ass touched the ground. A plush, high-grade sleeping bag was draped over his body. “What the hell happened?”
“You don’t remember?”
“No.” Jim shrugged off the bag.
“Stop!” Philip held out his hands in a warding gesture. “Don’t disturb the salt.”
“Huh?” Jim sat in a circle made with a line of salt as thick as his wrist. “You want to explain?”
Philip scratched at the mole beside his nose, plainly wondering what to say. “Uh, from the beginning or… I’m guessing that you’re missing a few hours?”
Jim scratched his skull and winced when he encountered a bump. “You hit me?” he ventured.
“Yes, you were thinking about stabbing Blair.”
“What!” Jim kicked off the quilt as he jumped to his feet.
“No!” Philip darted forward, trying vainly to stop him. The sleeping bag fell across the carefully drawn line of salt.
“Ooops,” Jim said in the face of the man’s obvious consternation.
“Oh, bu—“ Philip clamped his mouth shut. He sighed deeply and then let it go. “Never mind. How are you feeling, Jim?”
“I feel fine,” Jim said slowly. “In fact, I feel better than I have in ages. How long was I asleep?”
Philip consulted his watch. “Seven hours.”
Jim shook his head. “You said that I tried to stab Sandburg?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I remember… I remember Sandburg saying he thought I was being haunted?”
“Yes. You came here so
Blair could do some research and hopefully we’d be able to construct some kind
of protection. But the ghost -– Blair thinks it is some kind of demon from the
“The demon that drove Monica to suicide?”
“And made her kill Gavin.”
“Why me?” Jim demanded.
“Jim,” Philip began.
Shaking his head, Jim said, “I went kinda nuts, didn’t I,” he finished half-apologetically.
Philip could only nod.
Jim glanced at chains piled at the base of the spiral staircase. “You used them on me after I tried to stab Sandburg.”
“You were quite amenable, once I hit you with the frying pan.”
“So what did you do? I don’t feel…” Jim gestured vaguely at his temple.
“Blair cleansed you with holy water, I prayed and drew a warding circle. I beseeched Michael, Gabriel, Rafael and Uriel to guard you.”
“And that’s all it took? I feel fine.”
Philip folded his arms. “It does seem too easy.”
“He went to the
“That’s what’s haunting me?” Jim couldn’t help looking around.
“No. I did some reading when you were asleep. We have a good library,” he said parenthetically, “as I understand it, you become one of the ahl-i hava once you are freed of the baad.”
“It’s enough to give me a headache.”
“Do you have a headache?” Philip asked sympathetically, but his tone abruptly changed. “Is it a headache because I hit you or because the baad is coming back?”
“No, everything is sweet.” Jim stood tall and inhaled. “It’s like I’ve been sick and suddenly I’m cured but I didn’t know I was sick in the first place.”
Philip gnawed on his thumb. “It’s never this easy. It’s just not. It’s just not.” The priest began to pace, his unease was almost a physical thing. “It pulled out all the stops making you go after Blair.”
“Maybe the damn thing’s hedging its bets.” He kicked the sleeping bag out of his way; he knew what to do. “If its goal is to make me as miserable as sin to feed off of me there’s more than one way to go about that.”
“How?” Philip asked his retreating back.
“It’s gone after Sandburg.”
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Blair double checked the lane and moved out to overtake the old woman tooling along quite happily at thirty miles an hour in the right lane. The bypass cut out the downtown traffic. It was a toss up between the back roads or the bypass which way to travel fastest to Philip’s house. Blair always decided by the flip of a coin.
His cell phone rang, its call partly muted by the leather of his backpack. One hand on the steering wheel, Blair routed in his bag.
“Blair,” he said as he flipped open the cover.
“Blair, it’s Jim.”
“Jim? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Where the hell are you, Chief?”
“Uhm.” Blair glanced at a road sign. “On highway 16 passing the intersection to country road 12; I’ll be turning off at the next junction.”
“You’re coming back to the manse?”
“Yes. That’s where you are?”
“Yes. Get back here as soon as possible,” Jim said urgently.
“What’s the matter, Jim? Is Philip there?”
“Philip’s fine, I haven’t done anything to him.”
Blair shied back from the phone. “I didn’t say you had, man.”
“Look, Chief, you have to look out. I think…”
“Boo!” Lash flung himself across the passenger seat, hands raised to rend and tear.
“No!” He hit out ineffectually to stop the mad revenant. The Volvo lurched with a screech of brakes and an almighty crash. The steering wheel spun to the right, out of his control. He grabbed it, trying to control the crazy skid across the lanes. The car hit the roadside barrier head on and it shredded like paper before him.
End of Chapter II
“Sandburg! Sandburg!” Jim yelled down his cell phone as he stood in the rectory foyer. “Blair?”
“What happened?” Philip demanded.
Jim closed his eyes to concentrate better. The line was still open and he could hear tinkling glass against a backdrop of racing footsteps and running motors.
A tinny voice demanded, “Is he alive?”
“Call the paramedics,” another person said.
“Don’t move him until the paramedics arrive,” Jim entreated down the mouthpiece.
“Jim?” Philip tried as the detective attempted to get the bystanders’ attention.
Jim opened his eyes. “Sandburg said he was passing junction 16. Let’s go.” He grabbed his leather jacket off the coat rack.
Philip grabbed his own coat and followed Jim out of the front door. “Do you want me to drive?”
Jim fired a black look over his shoulder. Philip smiled sheepishly, “Silly me.”
The Sentinel paused in the truck cab, still listening to the voices on the other end of the line.
He could now hear the wail of sirens: paramedics and police. He concentrated harder, deep furrows creasing his forehead, trying to hear if Sandburg was breathing.
Philip coughed lightly. “If you’re going to be listening, I’d really prefer it if you let me drive.”
Jim thrust the cell phone into Philip’s hands. “Try to stop them from moving Blair.”
Philip fumbled with the phone as Jim sent the truck screeching down the rectory drive, sending waves of gravel in the wake of the skidding tires. Philip tried to get a spectator to pick up the phone, but it was made difficult by the noise of Jim’s manic driving.
Jim sent the truck up the junction onto the ring road travelling south with his siren blaring and lights flashing madly. It was a mile to country road 12: Jim did it in forty seconds. Philip clung to the dashboard with white knuckles. Traffic in the northbound line was trickling, indicating that there was a blockage ahead. The cars in their lane were slowing down, probably to gawk at the accident. Jim raced the accelerator, edging the truck closer and closer to the car in front.
“Jim, please, if you kill us before we reach Blair we won’t be able to help.”
Jim tried to glare him into silence, but he had to deal with the car looming ahead. As they topped a rise, ambulances and police cars came into view. They were clustered together, blocking two of the three lanes. The tail end of Blair’s Volvo poked above the edge of a ditch and a green clad paramedic was scuttling down the embankment. Jim pulled hard on the steering wheel and sent the truck careening across the central meridian.
A blasphemous word hovered on Philip’s lips. Miraculously, they made it through the slow-moving traffic without mishap. Jim had barely stopped the truck when he barrelled out of the door. A uniformed cop moved to intercept him, but at the last second twisted to the side, allowing Jim to go forward unmolested. Jim slid down the grassy bank on the passenger side of the tilted car. The paramedics were on the opposite side.
Blair lolled against his seatbelt, his chin tucked down on his chest. The first paramedic, a dark, thickset man, was taking a moment to take stock before opening the driver’s door.
“Sir?” Jim turned to a young woman decked in paramedic green who was picking her way down the bank behind him. “I need to get in on this side.”
“That’s my partner,” Jim explained and pointed into the interior.
“Yes, sir.” The paramedic used her emergency kit to lever him away from the vehicle. She opened the passenger door and crawled into the cab with Jim practically on her heels.
“We need room to manoeuvre,” the male paramedic protested from the other side of the cab.
“Detective Ellison, you have to let them work.” A hand pulled him back. Jim recognised the cop from the patrol vehicle. “You have to let them work, sir.”
Knowing that they were right, Jim backed out. He would have helped if there hadn’t been a plethora of paramedics. He dropped back to stand by the engine, his sentinel senses allowing him to feel as if he were in the cab with them.
A drop of blood splashed on the lead paramedic’s white surgical glove as he touched Blair’s throat. “Strong pulse.” He unfurled his stethoscope. “Get the backboard, Fred.”
Fred leaned over his superior’s shoulder. “Took a nasty crack to the side of his head.”
“Backboard,” he repeated. Fred left with alacrity.
Jim focussed. Blair was sheet white; the bones of his face seemed to be about to poke through his skin. The left side of his face was painted with blood, which was drying black at the edges. He looked dead. The paramedic leaned far into the cab, twisting his body so he could carefully peel back Blair’s eyelids to check his pupils.
Blair groaned and shied away from the searching light.
“No, don’t move.” The paramedic cradled Blair’s head between his palms. “Just keep still. Can you do that for me, son?”
“No,” Blair said obstinately.
“No, son, I want you to listen. You’re going to let me keep your head still, until my friend, Lucy, can help me get a backboard on you. Do you understand?”
“Jim!” Blair completely ignored the paramedic; his hands flailed ineffectually. “Jim?”
“Can I?” Jim shifted around the female paramedic, poking his head through the door.
“Jim?” Blair demanded, reaching out towards Jim without even looking in his direction.
Jim couldn’t push by the paramedic. “I’m here, Chief. I want you to listen to the paramedic; you’ve taken a bad knock on the head. They need to check you out.”
“Incacha, Jim, you have to go to Incacha. Incacha will have the answers.” Blair pulled his head out of the paramedic’s grasp and stared blindly ahead.
“Son, calm down.” The paramedic accepted a neck brace from Fred and deftly wrapped it around his patient’s neck.
Blair blinked at him owlishly. “I don’t know what the djinn is… Ooops.” Despite his confused state, he looked sheepish.
“Hey, kid, you want to tell me your name?”
“Jim?” Blair's gaze roamed around the car.
“Hello, Jim,” the paramedic said, but he glanced at Jim in askance.
Jim shook his head. “His name is Blair,” he whispered.
The paramedic nodded perfunctorily. “Blair, you want to tell me what day it is?” he asked as he felt his patient’s torso.
“No, I don’t,” Blair sniggered.
“Chief,” Jim chastised.
Blair’s eyes closed and his head rocked forwards a tiny fraction on the neck brace.
“Stay with me, Blair,” the paramedic ordered, to no avail: Blair slipped back into unconsciousness.
“Here’s the brace,” Fred said. Together they carefully manoeuvred the support behind Blair. Wrapped in straps like a modern day mummy, Blair was lifted from the crumpled Volvo to a gurney. Jim stood beside it. He led the entourage to the top of the bank and the ambulance. Hands clasped around his rosary, Philip stood beside the open doors.
‘Jim. Jim. Jim. Jim.’
The Sentinel tried to concentrate on the doctor’s words despite the summons echoing in his ears. The doctor held a chart and peered at the attached sheaf of paper over the top of his gold-rimmed glasses.
“Mr. Sandburg –- Blair –- is going to be fine. He’s young and healthy. I’m not saying he’s not hurting; he sustained some pretty significant bruises on his chest and collarbone. He did hit his head and gave his brain a good shake, but he’s going to be fine.”
‘I know you’re there, Jim. Come on. Jim. Jim. Jim.’
Jim spoke through gritted teeth. “Are you admitting him?”
“No.” The doctor shook his head for emphasis. “He has a slight concussion, so I want you to watch him closely for forty-eight hours. He wants to go home and his scans are clear. Although, he’s a bit…”
“Addled,” Jim supplied dryly.
“Confused,” the doctor corrected.
‘When I’m calling you ooooo oooo ooooo.’
“Can I see him?”
Doctor Stevens nodded, then jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the enclosed cubicle behind him. The incessant cajoling continued unabated. Jim was surprised that Dr. Stevens had not sent Blair for a psych-consult.
He acknowledged the doctor’s care and attention to his partner with a precise nod, before taking his leave of him. Once inside the small room, he was aware that there was another person with his Guide behind the curtain.
He whipped back the screen, expecting to see a demon. With a startled squeak, the nurse jumped away.
“That’s Jim,” Blair said brightly. “He likes to make entrances.” He rolled his head on the pillow and giggled.
Jim shrugged a shoulder apologetically at the nurse. “I’m Detective Ellison. How is he?”
Nervously, she tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear. “He’s had Tylenol because of his headache. I’ve heard of this reaction, but I’ve never seen it.” Smiling, she stroked Blair’s forehead. “His tests came back and there was no evidence of narcotics or alcohol.”
“I knew there wasn’t. I should have explained, Sandburg’s… Blair’s my…”
“Pain in the ass,” Blair yodelled. “Guppy.”
“Roommate,” Jim inserted with a brittle smile.
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“He used to colour-code his leftovers. I cured him of that, though. He still pairs all his socks even when they’re all identical white socks with padded soles to protect his delicate little, well, not so little, feet.”
Jim shook his head as the diatribe continued. The nurse’s bottom lip quivered.
“He’s off his head,” Jim pointed out somewhat unnecessarily. “Doesn't that mean it will be difficult to determine if he’s suffering any serious brain damage?”
“A degree of confusion isn’t unusual and his scans came through clear. You’ll have to keep a close eye on him for sickness or change in consciousness, but otherwise a good night’s sleep will put him to rights. In fact if you’d like to keep an eye on him for two seconds, I’ll go and see what holding up his release.”
“I’ll stop him falling off the bed.” Jim didn’t quite escort the nurse out of the cubicle, but it was close. He was back at the bedside in a flash.
“Hey, Jim.” Blair smiled blearily up at him. “I totalled the car, man.”
“Oh.” The colour drained from Blair’s already impossibly pale face, lending him an ethereal quality that Jim didn’t like in the slightest. “It’s not a djinn -– it’s Lash. He was in the car. He jumped at me.”
“Lash?” Jim couldn’t help but scan the room.
“Yeah.” Blair gripped the bedrail with both hands and hauled himself up to Jim’s nose.
“Calm down, Chief.” Jim laid gentle hands on his shoulders. “It wasn’t Lash, like it wasn’t Sarris at the loft. It was your windy thing.”
“The jinn-i Zar,” Blair whispered conspiratorially, his mood changing mercurially. “I know what to do.”
“What?” It occurred to Jim that if the wind demon succeeded in affecting him now, Blair would have little or no defence. Maybe he should get Philip.
Blair scratched at the bandage on the side of his head. Jim shifted his grip to stop him peeling off the large dressing.
“Did they shave my head, Jim?” he asked pitifully.
“No,” Jim lied; they had removed a chunk of curls just over his ear. “What do I do to stop the wind demon?”
“Aha ha!” Abruptly distracted from their conversation, Blair waved a finger at the corner of the room and then said, sing-song, “There it is. I can see you. Go away. You can’t have him!”
Jim spun, pulling out his Sig Sauer with supernatural speed. There was nothing to aim at, just the angle where two walls met.
“Chief, get behind me.” He felt Blair struggle off the bed then twist his fists in the back of his jacket to stay upright.
“I can see it, Jim,” he said, insanity tingeing his voice with stress fractures.
“I can’t. What does it look like?”
“A billowy black cloud. It’s seething. Hey, man, I can see something you can’t. Isn’t that cool?”
“Blair,” Jim said firmly, deliberately using his given name, “what did your books say about getting rid of this thing?”
Blair peered around Jim’s shoulder. “I think I’m supposed to hit you with the Qur’an. Or beat a drum and say spells hidden in poems or… I can’t remember.”
“Great,” Jim grated sarcastically. The nurse was going to come back any second and be greeted with a pretty picture.
“Sorry, man.” Blair patted Jim’s shoulder. “I don’t think shooting it’s going to do anything.”
“Why isn't it affecting us?”
“Dunno,” Blair said helpfully. “It's just sitting there fuming.”
“Back up, Chief. Towards the door. Tell me if it moves.” He took a step back, pushing Blair towards the exit.
Identifying the enemy was part of the soldiers’ creed. Jim opened himself to the djinn; he allowed his senses to deliberately extend forth. Hunting like his jaguar spirit guide, he sought the spoor of the demon. Eyes wide, hearing poised, breathing lightly through both his nose and mouth, he waited for any sign. The hair rose on his arms, waiting to shiver at the beast’s approach.
And he felt absolutely nothing.
“Jim?” Blair's fingers clenched in his jacket.
“It’s gone, man. It disappeared *poof*.”
His skin crawled and he allowed himself the luxury of a shudder. The pad of rubber-soled feet outside the cubicle sounded just before the nurse turned the door handle. Metal against metal -– the door mechanism scraping -– pierced his ears. Of its own accord, his hearing flicked, down to normal levels. Shaking his head, he tucked his gun away and managed to twist Blair around to his side as the door opened.
“What’s going on here?” the nurse demanded.
“Blair needs the bathroom.” Jim propelled him to the door.
“Well, get him in the wheelchair--” she jiggled the chair towards them-- “before he falls over.”
“Okay.” Jim dumped his Guide in the wheelchair, as he kept one eye firmly fixed on the corner, a corner devoid of any demon spoor.
“I’ll take Blair to sign his release papers, Detective Ellison.” Shaking her head at his antics, she manoeuvred Blair into the corridor.
“I’ll take him.” Jim reached out and grabbed the nurse’s shoulder. She stopped instantly, surprised by his touch. “I know where reception is.”
“I’ll take him,” Jim said, his voice strained.
Plainly concerned, the nurse looked to her patient. “Are you all right with that, Mr. Sandburg?”
“Hey, yeah.” Blair waved his right hand negligently. “Jim just wants to get out of here. He sees demons in every corner –- or maybe not.” He chortled to himself.
Jim gifted the nurse with a parody of a smile. “I don’t like hospitals.”
The nurse’s expression segued into an understanding ‘aw’. “You can take him. You do know the signs of any head injury complications that you have to watch out for?”
“Yes,” Jim answered shortly.
“You have the leaflets?” she continued doggedly, refusing to give up her charge until she received some reassurance.
“I was a medic in the army.”
She finally nodded. “You look after him.”
“He will. He will,” Blair carolled.
“I will. I only pretend that I want to strangle him,” Jim whispered with black humour. The nurse shook her head and moved down to the corridor to her next duty. Jim breathed out explosively. With the demon drifting around, he didn’t want Blair out of his sight. He allowed a naked scowl to cross his face; he couldn’t sense the damn thing. It probably wasn’t even there and Blair was hallucinating. An uncharitable thought occurred: maybe the weird wind demon would find another person to pester in the hospital. He shook his head; he hated it when his thoughts wandered. No one could deny that he was normally more focussed.
“Jim?” Philip asked softly.
Jim jerked around. The priest stood in the middle of the corridor, clutching Blair’s backpack and an armful of books to his chest.
“Blair said that the thing was in the room with us.”
“Did you see it?”
“No,” Jim growled. He reached out and pulled the door shut.
“I don’t think that that’s going to help.”
“Have you got any constructive suggestions?” Jim snapped venomously.
The priest was silent, simply shifting the mass of books in his arms.
“Okay,” Philip said seriously over the width of his coffee table. Jim and the priest sat facing each other. Blair was curled up in loose a ball under a quilt on the sofa, snoring softly.
“You don’t feel as if the jinn-i Zar is haunting you again?”
Jim had read and digested Blair’s notes before passing the pad to Philip. He had sat listening to Blair breathe as Philip worked through Blair’s notes. The Sentinel drummed his fingers quietly on the tile-topped coffee table. The jinn-i Zar was at the top of Blair’s list of suspects. Until it was proven otherwise, Jim had decided, their demon was therefore a jinn-i Zar. Blair had declaimed that Jim at heart was obviously Napoleonic before settling down for a much-needed nap.
“No,” Jim said shortly.
“I wonder why?” Philip hauled a dictionary of mythology out of Blair’s backpack. “I would have thought it would be back at you like a shot.”
Jim took Blair’s notepad back from the priest and turned once again to the last pages. “Why?”
“Nothing’s changed, has it?”
“What do you mean?” Jim asked suspiciously.
“It’s not as if what made you vulnerable has changed.”
Philip leaned over the table and tapped the top of Blair’s notepad with his index finger, where the words "dispossessed," "defenceless," "depressed," "disassociated," "dejected" and "disheartened" were underlined with red pen. All the D’s. Jim cast a scathing glare at his sleeping Guide. What was it about the kid and his character assessments?
“I am not…”
“Depressed?” Philip asked.
“I am not depressed,” Jim finished, but couldn’t help then add, “or disassociated.”
“It’s interesting that you pick those two words.”
“Oh, please,” Jim drawled.
“Denial is not a river, it’s a state of being.”
“Is that a joke?”
“Yes.” Philip shook his head sadly. “It’s not a very good one, is it?”
“No,” Jim said stolidly.
“You’re not facing the problem and until you do you will be vulnerable to the jinn-i Zar.”
“If it’s got any sense, it
will be heading back to
“Maybe it’s not sentient. Or maybe you’re an irresistible buffet of repressed, frustrated emotion.”
“I don’t have to listen to this!” Jim snarled, quietly, in deference to his sleeping Guide.
“Unfortunately, you do.” Philip was not deterred. “While I can and do respect your wishes not to explore your feelings, you, sir, are your own worst enemy and you do not have the luxury of denial.”
Jim seethed, surprised at the depths of his anger. Philip sat still in the face of fury, his eyes calm and understanding. Jim searched for, and found, control, calling on the disciplines of his childhood, rangers and adulthood.
“Yes, well,” Philip said sadly, “I doubt therapy will help in the short term and I’m fairly sure that this is all going to come to a head in the near future.”
“You’re normally a lot more self-effacing; maybe it’s affecting you,” Jim attacked.
Philip shrugged. “Could be; it wouldn’t be the first time I was assaulted by the demons of doubt and denial.” Studiously ignoring Jim’s flabbergasted expression, he returned to his textbook. Jim sat stunned, his hands flat on his lap, castrated by Philip’s honesty. The priest kept his head down, studying Blair’s books.
“Ah ha!” Philip exclaimed, jabbing at the page in front of his nose. “This is why you’re safe.
Jim slid a glance to check that Blair was still sleeping before raising an eyebrow to encourage the priest to continue.
“The Hafaza. They’re angels from Persian lore that protect the living soul. They defend the soul against Satan and evil spirits, especially the djinn.”
Philip’s finger tracked the sentence as he read. “Mortals should be most alert or concerned with their safety at dawn and sunset, for it is at those times that the Hafaza change their guard.”
“Right, there’s four of these angels.” Philip chose his next words carefully. “And they change shifts: Two on and two off, day and night. In addition to protecting their charge’s soul, they record your deeds in these books, which are assessed on the final Day of Judgement.”
“Right,” Jim drawled. “Okay, I’m going to hate myself for saying this, but my protective spirit is a black jaguar, not four angels doing shifts.”
“Yes, but it was at dawn when I beseeched the archangels to protect you.”
“So they’re your angels.”
“No, they’re your angels. They’re everywhere. They’re ineffable.”
Jim clenched his fists, making sure that they were out of view of the priest. “What do Michael, Gabriel, Rafael and the other one…”
“… and Uriel have to do with these Persian Hafaza?” He wasn’t completely ignorant; he had gone to church as a child, he’d heard of the archangels. He hadn’t heard of the Hafaza.
“Yourself and Blair are
from a Judaeo-Christian background. These angels are powerful cultural
archetypes in those traditions. Angels have been around since before 2500 B.C..
The Aryans who came to
Jim resisted the temptation to say ‘So?’ The priest was as verbose as a certain anthropology grad student.
“The devas appear in the early sacred Hindu writings -– The Veda. The devas also appear in Zoroastrianism. It’s Zoroaster’s angels that evolved to appear in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
“Get to the point, Philip, please.”
“We called on an ancient force to protect you from an equally ancient force. Angels and djinn go hand in hand.”
“You’re a Roman Catholic priest. Why do you believe this shit?”
Philip bristled, affronted. “I also have experience of the Legacy. Not everything is cut-and-dried, no matter how much you want it to be so.”
Jim lowered his lashes, accepting the words. “So we’re safe?”
Philip hummed. “If it’s going to try anything, it’s going to try it at dusk. If the Hafaza are protecting you, that’s when they’re at their weakest. ”
Jim possessed an innate time sense, a fact that he hadn’t shared with Blair to ensure that he would not be tested until the end of time. Sunset was three hours from now.
“If that’s the case, what does your beseeching Michael, Gabriel, Rafael and Uriel at sunrise have to do with the jinn-i Zar?”
“We focussed the archangels’ attention at a critical time, when you and they were most vulnerable.”
“You’re making this up as you go along!” Jim said, loud enough to wake Blair.
“What’s up?” Blair tried and failed to turn over on the plush cushions. “Oh, God, I hurt.”
“You want some Tylenol, Chief?”
“Shoot me, please.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” There was a smile in his voice only for Blair. Jim patted him gently on his shoulder, aware of the pained sweat beading his top lip.
The Sentinel had them ready, tucked beside the sofa in easy reach. Blair tried and failed to sit up, defeated by the line of abused muscles cutting diagonally across his torso following the stretch of his seat belt. Helping, Jim provided the muscle, allowing Blair to move into a sitting position. Blair pulled his knees up relieving the pull on his tender stomach. Jim dropped the maximum strength pills into Blair’s outstretched hand. He chomped down, grinding them into mush before swallowing them dry.
Gagging at the taste in sentinel sympathy, Jim gave him a cup of Philip’s lukewarm tea to wash away the dregs.
“Would you like a cup of camomile tea, Blair?" Philip asked solicitously. "It’s a muscle relaxant.”
“No, man,” Blair grumbled. “I want a beer.”
“You’ve got a concussion,” Jim countered immediately.
Still grumbling, Blair settled gingerly into the pillows that Jim stuffed behind him. “I deserve a beer,” he muttered. He sat scrunched up, waiting for the painkillers to take effect. Jim took pity on him and feathered a hand through his curls, cupping the back of his head. Blair remained quiescent. Jim’s sensitive fingers encountered a tangle in his hair. Blair relaxed as Jim worked his fingers through the knot, just as the Sentinel intended. He kept up the gentle massage until the pinched lines around Blair’s mouth smoothed.
“So what have you discovered?” Blair finally asked.
“I think we have a reprieve until sunset,” Philip said. ”Then the fight will begin anew.”
Philip began to explain.
“You’re just making it up,” Jim protested again. “Angels. Genies.”
“Djinn,” Blair corrected.
Jim rolled his eyes heavenward.
“We may not have any evidence,” Philip said softly. “But the particulars support our hypothesis.”
“Let’s forget about the angels,” Blair said tiredly. “We’ve got a reprieve; do any of us believe that it’s over?”
There was no hesitation; both detective and priest shook their heads.
“So we’re in agreement. Jim’s seen an entity.”
“You saw Lash in the car.”
Blair shuddered and then winced. “Yeah, I did. The jinn-i Zar can manifest itself to the non-gifted. It made me drive off the road when it jumped out at me.”
“Did the jinn-i Zar interact with you on the physical plane?” Philip asked.
“It didn’t touch.” Blair chewed his bottom lip momentarily. “I don’t believe how blasé I can be about that. Familiarity does breed contempt.”
“It may not be able to touch you, but it can cause harm.”
Jim grumbled quietly under his breath. Too much talking and not enough action. But despite his moans, the Ranger in him understood the need to gather all the information before mounting an offensive.
“When I was driving back,” Blair said consideringly, “it was to tell you about an idea.”
“Yes,” Philip said patiently.
“Cut to the chase, Chief.”
Blair fixed him with a pensive look, and Jim knew that he wasn’t going to like the suggestion.
“In most of the texts I read, a shaman interceded for the victim to drive out the baad or jinn-i Zar.”
“And?” Jim shrugged. “No problem, then. Shamans are a dime a dozen in Cascade.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you,” Philip rebuffed gently.
“I know,” Blair said, his tone edged with razor sharp hurt, “that Incacha passed on the way of the Shaman, told me to guide you to your animal spirit. And I try…”
“No, I’m talking. And I do guide you, I know that I do. But I haven’t done anything about the shaman side of the equation. It’s not as if there’s anyone that I can apprentice to, is there?”
“So I was thinking." Blair fixed Jim with a horribly intense stare. "You finally told me that Incacha spoke to you at the fountain and at the temple of the sentinels. You need to speak to him again. Find out what a true shaman recommends.”
“I--” Jim darted a glance between his Guide, injured on the couch, and the priest, always so understanding, peering at him across the coffee table. “I don’t know if I can do it.”
Blair had his serious expression on, lips pursed, eyes narrowed as he peered over the top of his glasses. “I think it helps you to contact Incacha when you’re emotionally wrought. I think the conditions are right.”
“Emotionally wrought,” Jim mimicked.
“Upset, then,” Blair shot back. “We’ve got to do this, Jim. I know you hate every minute of it: examining your feelings, accepting your senses as beyond weird, thinking you’re a freak. But you’re bigger than that, Jim. It’s just baggage that your dad dumped on you because he didn’t understand your gifts, and the crap you picked up from your macho peers. You are different, but that doesn’t make it bad. I can spout political correctness at you until the cows come home, but there’s no such thing as normal. You’re a sentinel. Learn to live with it.”
Jim rose to his feet and turned to the windows away from his Guide. The sun was shining and the green lawn was verdant. It was hard to believe they had once fought a demon that lived under that grass. Blair’s words burned him to the quick. Behind him, he could hear that Blair was holding his breath, his heart was beating a rhythm quickened by dread as the student wondered if he had finally over stepped his bounds. But perhaps a friend could say those words without being thrown to the lions? On two, maybe three, separate occasions he had been offered the choice to continue as a sentinel and he had chosen of his own free will to be the Sentinel. So be it: he had to face this latest threat head on.
“So what do I need to do?”
Blair’s mouth actually fell open. “Uhm, I guess, meditate. Come here.” He beckoned Jim over to the sofa. “Sit, relax.”
Doggedly, Jim sat on the centre cushion. Blair shifted his feet fractionally so they didn’t touch. He was quite a sight: grey, bruised and, judging by the smell of sweat, scared out of his gourd. A tad vindictively, Jim decided that, as soon as he had a spare moment, he was going to write a character assessment of one Blair Jacob -- also known as Summer Blossom – Sandburg. That stopped him dead. He had forgotten about the question of Blair’s parentage.
“What?” Blair asked defensively.
“Just a flash.”
“Flash of what?” Blair glanced to the left and the right.
“Something I saw before when I touched something.”
“What? The wolf?”
“Is it pertinent?” Philip asked quietly from his position on the floor.
Jim shook his head. “No.”
“This psychometry could be useful,” Blair mused. “You could touch something belonging to the jinn-i Zar and figure out what it wants.”
Philip coughed. “I think that’s a spectacularly bad idea. Jim would be opening himself up to the djinn.”
Jim shuffled back into the plush folds of the sofa and laid his head to rest on the cushion behind him. “The psychometry comes and goes. I don’t know what triggers it. You got me to the spirit shaman before by meditation; let’s go that way.”
“You mean Incacha?”
“No,” Jim said tiredly, “I don’t always see Incacha. There’s another guy; he’s a shaman.”
“How do you know he’s a shaman?”
“He has a staff,” Jim said shortly, closing his eyes. “Now what?” Air gusted over his right cheek as Blair sighed.
“Breathe in slowly over the count of five.”
Jim could see Blair, even with his eyes shut. He leaned forward intently, oblivious now to the bruises marring his body. Blair’s pupils were dilated, as they always were when he guided Jim.
‘How come I never noticed that before?’ Jim mused. Blair zoned in his own little way when guiding. Jim flicked his senses out over the younger man: heart rate was slowing, metabolism slowing -- all the signs of a body entering meditation. Jim followed his path, allowing his own heartbeat to dance with the same rhythm. Blair’s voice continued its sibilant song, resonating through his senses, smoothing the sharp edges.
‘Ah.’ The Sentinel entered the blue-tinged otherworld. The plane was quiet, still, life held motionless as if standing on a cusp. In this world, no insect hummed or bird sang. As such Jim didn’t like it; it smacked of façades and unreality. A sentinel was grounded to the earth, not the spirit plane.
‘Open your eyes.’
“What?” Jim spun on his
heel. A temple, a replica of the one in
A black, sleek jaguar garbed in velvet fur stalked out of the entrance directly before the Sentinel. Jim waited, hands clenched together behind his back, feet shoulder-width apart. The cat settled back on its haunches.
That was a new wrinkle. Normally, at least he got to talk to a human, even if it was a reflection of himself.
“I need the help-- advice--of a shaman to get rid of a jinn-i Zar.”
Wind ripped through the jungle. Leaves streamed off the trees and branches whipped away from trunks. To his left an ancient tree, as high as the sky, was torn up by the roots. The cat snarled, hackles rising as it tensed in the face of the onslaught.
Battered to his knees, Jim shaded his eyes from the wind and debris. “Tell me what I can do!”
A flash of lightning and the thunder riding on its heels flung him out of the spirit plane. The scream of the jaguar’s defiant roar in the face of the wind filled his mind.
‘Look to the light.’
Jim fell back against the cushions, gasping for breath. He couldn’t grab any air from the hurricane winds ravening his body.
“Jim, Jim, chill, relax.” Blair was in his face. Jim latched on to the lock of curly hair that had escaped Blair’s ponytail. It hung by his ear, still, not swaying in a voracious wind. It was all in his mind. Jim shuddered from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, and banished the sensory madness.
Blair blinked, surprised. “What was that?”
“It’s destroying the spirit plane.”
“What?” Blair folded into a foetal curl, burrowing into the dubious protection of the sofa. Philip was on his feet, moving towards them, Jim didn’t know what he intended to do; he didn’t have a frying pan this time.
“It’s in you? It’s still affecting you?” the priest asked.
“No, no,” Jim said fast and furious. He wasn’t deluded or insane; he didn’t think that Blair was a werewolf or that he was going to betray him. He was absolutely certain that Blair wasn’t going to betray him -– at least, not intentionally.
“Jim.” Blair snapped his fingers in front of his nose. “You in there?”
“It’s at the temple. It’s destroying the jungle.”
“Well, that’s you, isn’t it,” Blair said passionately, “The spirit plane is an extension of you. It exists.”
“It’s all in my mind,” Jim disputed.
“No, you don’t understand. It’s--it’s an interpretative framework.”
“An interpretative framework?” Jim echoed.
“Yes. It’s the way you interact with the sentinel part of you. Reality is in the mind -– it’s as real as me.”
Jim sighed deeply, and gave up disputing his words. “So?”
“The jinn-i Zar’s changed its attack: it’s gone after the sentinel.”
“You make me sound schizoid. I’m the sentinel.”
“Come on, man, who are you kidding? You’re anything but integrated.” He scanned the living room, spotting a half-burned fragment of paper in the unlit fireplace. “What’s that say?”
Jim flipped the mental switch in his head that let his sight telescope forward. Tiny muscles in his pupils should have contracted; other muscles should have changed the width of the lenses in his eyes, focussing his sight. But nothing happened. Jim raised his chin high and flared his nostrils: no melange of scents or distinct odours set about him. He could barely smell Philip’s ‘Old Spice’ aftershave. He knew that he didn’t need to check his sense of touch, but he picked up a scrolling strand of hair on his chinos and felt nothing but a fine strand, no scales or residue of frizz control gel.
“They're gone, aren't they?”
Jim nodded. He felt fine, though; balanced. “The sentinel’s gone.”
“It’s messing with your head. It’s changed its attack.”
“I feel fine,” Jim folded his arms across his chest. He blinked, surprised by the cosy feeling of wellbeing, and repeated, “I feel fine.”
“It’s stolen your sentinel abilities and you ‘feel fine,’” Blair spat with fury, tiny specks of spittle sprayed the air around him. “It’s attacking the mystical side of your abilities.”
Blair stretched out his hands and they shook as he exhorted, “It’s killing you and you ‘feel fine’!”
“Children--” Philip clapped his hands, “--you’re getting side-tracked. Focus. You were on the spirit plane and it’s under attack. This is not a good sign. Jim, did you get any advice from the shaman?”
“Yes,” Jim said curtly, shooting a dark glare at the student. “The jaguar said to look to the light.”
“What does that mean?” Blair demanded.
Jim rubbed his face with his palms. He hated cryptic answers. Then again, this piece of advice was as cryptic as clear glass. Jim lowered his hands. Blair was perched beside him, vibrating with tension, waiting for Jim to speak.
“You’ve got the answer.”
“What? Who’s got the answer?”
“You already know the answer,” Jim explained, as he enunciated each word he looked directly at the student.
“No,” Blair said slowly. “I don’t. I have a few ideas.”
“The spirit shaman said ‘look to the light.’ Incacha told me that you’re the light.” Jim flicked a finger at the notebooks and textbooks littering the table. “We’ve got the answer.”
“I’m the light?” Blair flushed. “Wow.”
“Don’t let it go to your head, Chief.”
“I’m your light. That’s so cool.”
A number of sarcastic retorts rose in Jim’s mind, but he couldn’t extinguish that flame of enthusiasm flaring in those deep blue eyes. “So, Chief, what’s the answer?”
Blair gestured imperiously at the table. “Hand me my notebook and the little leather bound book, the one that’s about the same size as a paperback.”
The priest handed them across before settling to perch on the edge of the coffee table. His expression could have spoken volumes to those who could understand his body language. Jim didn’t have the slightest idea what he was thinking about.
“One common denominator is wind.” Blair clutched the books against his chest, thinking out loud, he mused, “Okay, we’ve got wind. The shaytan are born of smokeless fire, the baads are of various Winds. The Zar, Mashayikh, Jinn and the Liwa Winds are the baads. Oh, I remember…” Blair’s mouth fell open as thought banged him over the top of his head.
“What?” Jim asked.
Blair tore through the small book, hunting, he found the requisite page and began to read, “The word baad is derived from va meaning ‘to blow’. Vayu or Vata is the God of Winds. In the Sassanian era, as traditional Zoroastrianism was developing into a more orthodox form, Vayu was split into a guardian of pure and beneficial atmospheric changes and an embodiment of impure and harmful changes.”
“A god is haunting me?”
“Don’t you think you deserve a god?” Blair asked glibly.
Jim shot him a dirty look. “I’ll stick with the jinn-i Zar, thank you very much.”
“Vayu,” Blair said seriously, “was the first to accept sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice? What kind of sacrifice?” Jim demanded.
“If we’re talking about baads, it depends on the type of baad.” Using the shred of paper, he scanned the page. “Blood sacrifice for the Zar.”
“No way!” Jim was up and out of Blair’s reach in a heartbeat.
“Jim.” Pinned by his bruises, Blair didn’t shift from the couch.
“Whose blood?" Jim asked tightly. "Not yours.”
“I don’t know,” Blair said urgently. “There’s spells and stuff that I don’t know also. But the act of sacrifice appears in all the texts, be it djinn, jinn-i Zar, baad or Vayu. The djinn are satisfied by a drop of blood from your finger, and one of the baads is appeased by the blood of a she-goat.”
“A she-goat?” Jim said derisively, “You don’t have spells. We… I… can’t…. I will not give this thing one single drop of my blood to appease it.” He crossed his arms and glared at all and sundry.
“It’s a ritual,” Philip said softly. “Rituals are about focusing the will. The jinn-i Zar covets your pain, your fear, your terror--”
Blair interrupted. “We have to break the link. If the jinn-i Zar is on the spirit plane and it’s attacking the temple… You’re not aware of it like before. Is the temple a metaphor for the seat of your sentinel self? Or is it an actual place? The jinn-i Zar’s gone there, so it’s still touching you. All are inextricably linked.“ Blair’s thoughts rambled uncensored. “We have to break the link.”
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do all along.”
“What sacrifice can you make that will break the link to the jinn-i Zar? What sacrifice can we make that will break the link to the jinn-i Zar?”
“It feeds on despair,” Philip spoke lowly. “What makes you live in despair, James?”
“What?” Jim said defensively.
“What,” Philip began slowly, “can you sacrifice?”
“Jim, pass over my backpack, will you?” Blair gazed with profound sadness at the slumped bag.
Curious and apprehensive, Jim pushed it into Blair’s reach with his toe. Blair viewed his backpack as if it were a snake. He looked as if he had killed his best friend. What had he stored in the bag that provoked such a reaction? Jim watched as Blair manhandled his laptop out of the bowels of his backpack. Face curiously expressionless, he held the laptop out. When Jim did not take it, he waggled it impatiently.
“Take it. Just take it.” Blair shook the laptop for emphasis, wincing at the pull on his bruises.
Seeing the pain on the mobile face, Jim took it, and held it close to his chest. “Why?”
“Because you hate it. Because it drags on you. The Nobel Prize, the book publishing and everything -– it makes you think that everyone will call you a freak,” Blair said sadly. “If you don’t have my Ph.D. hanging over your head, maybe you’ll be less vulnerable.”
“No, Chief. No. What will you do? You’ve been working towards your Ph.D. for years.”
“I’ll figure something out. I’ve had papers published during my time in Major Crime, I’ll rig something together. Jim,” Blair barked, “you hate it!”
“I--” Jim backed up.
“I told you once that I’d give it all up.” Blair was on his feet, bruises forgotten. “I’ve been writing it for us. I want my Ph.D. Do you think I don’t? But I don’t want it at the expense of your soul!”
“Blair?” Jim entreated.
“No.” Blair planted his hand on top of the computer clasped against Jim’s ribs. “Look me in the eye and tell me that not having the thesis between us doesn’t make you feel better.”
‘Oh, God,’ Jim whispered in the silence of his mind. The thesis was a guillotine hanging by a fraying hair above his head; its publication was likely to expose him and that he loathed with a passion. “I can’t ask you to give up your dream,” he said tightly.
“My dream was finding a sentinel.” Blair pushed the laptop hard against Jim’s chest. “Take it, man, before I start to cry.”
“Your back-up disks.”
“I couldn’t chance another
Bracket. Everything pertaining directly to you is on this password-protected hard drive. I told myself if my computer died,
it was fate. There’s nothing backed-up on the servers at
Biting his bottom lip, Blair turned his head to the side, refusing to look at his friend. “I said I’d do it once before. This is twice. Don’t make me offer a third time; it will break my heart.”
“Come.” Philip touched their shoulders. “Come with me.”
Philip stood amidst the trappings of his faith. Despite the hour and the sun shining outside, the church was freezing cold. Sunlight through the clerestory windows dappled the red carpet on the aisle with a multitude of colours. The altar was draped with fine white linen that had been carefully embroidered. Philip stood before it wearing his Eucharistic garb of amice and chasuble. The thick wool hung heavily on his shoulders. Blair could feel the weight of his own sacrifice weighing on his own shoulders. He had always known that it would come to this, that he had to decide between Jim and the thesis. The journey had been one he really wanted to take -- to pursue the study to its very end. There was still information to accrue, vagaries of the sentinel phenomenon to plumb. Utilising his backup plan would mean hours and days and weeks working on something that he really wasn’t interested in. And he was enough of a butterfly to want to avoid such an ordeal. Writing an alternate thesis would take time away from his true goal.
‘Damn, why did things have to change?’ Blair shifted his knees on his cushion; his body ached from the crash. Jim knelt at his side, head bowed as Philip set liturgical vessels on the altar. Jim was a lapsed Catholic. His father was a confirmed atheist, but his Mother had been Catholic. If his father had not been so adamant that there was no higher power, Jim probably would have chosen that route himself. Perversity, thy name is Jim Ellison.
“Suscipe, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus, hanc immaculatam hostiam…” Philip whispered, offering up the bread on the paten dish. Holy Father, almighty and Everlasting God, accept this unblemished sacrificial offering, which I, thy unworthy servant, make to Thee, my living and true God.
The obvious solution was to go with the data that he had collected from Alex Barnes, but that was incomplete. Maybe he could change the data attributable to Jim to Alex.
Philip, at the altar, poured wine into an ornate, jewelled chalice. “Offerimus tibi, Domine, calicem salutaris…” We offer Thee, Lord, the chalice of salvation.
Blair wondered if this was an ancient version of the Eucharist or a special Legacy ceremony. His thoughts harkened back to his dilemma. He did not want to give up the thesis, but that was why it was a sacrifice, and if it helped Jim, freed him from a jinn-i Zar that strove to drive him insane and kill those around him, it was a small sacrifice.
“Hoc est einem corpus meum.” This is my body.
It was a massive sacrifice.
Jim accepted a portion of bread from the priest and swallowed it whole. Blair bypassed the offering with a polite shake of his head.
If he did a simple swap, Jim for Alex, people would still make a connection, surely? He pictured the conversation, ‘‘Hey, Blair, how come you spent so much time with the detective guy? Is he one of those sentinels?"
“Hic est einem calix sanguinis mei.”
He could easily argue himself into taking the thesis back. The laptop sat on the altar and Blair despaired at the information that would be lost. Three years of data down the toilet.
Jim took a healthy gulp of wine from the chalice. Philip nodded at Blair, but this time didn’t offer the goblet.
Philip returned to the altar to set down the chalice. The Legacy priest stood before the Sentinel and Guide.
“James Ellison,” he began, “Blair offers this sacrifice built from sweat, blood and tears. What do you offer?”
“Me?” Jim shot a shocked glance at Blair, who shrugged. This was Jim’s call, he had a good idea what the priest intended, but it was Jim’s decision. The urge to help was almost irresistible, but Jim had to choose rather than be told what was needed.
“What sacrifice can you make that will break the link to the jinn-i Zar?”
“Blood?” Jim hazarded, his expression twisted with revulsion.
“I was thinking that you could address that which makes you vulnerable.”
Jim’s eyes flicked over to the laptop on the white draped altar.
“That is the pinnacle of your problems but the foundations are still unsteady.”
“Oh, fuck,” Jim swore uncharacteristically. “What it is with the Zen nonsense? Just tell me.”
“Counselling,” Philip snapped, and then sighed. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Counselling,” he repeated more easily.
“Counselling!” Jim echoed. “I don’t need counselling.”
“Yeah, right,” Blair murmured loud enough to be heard.
Jim’s head snapped and he glared. “I don’t need counselling.”
“It’s not a fate worse than death,” Blair said, keeping the tone deliberately light. “I’ve been going to psychologists since I was in diapers.”
“Yeah, and look how you turned out.”
Blair squashed the sense of hurt from that deliberate attack. “No demon thinks I’m a tasty snack.”
Jim ground his teeth together. “I am--”
“The matter in hand is freeing ourselves of the Zar,” Philip said soberly, diverting their spat before it had a chance to get started.
“Yes,” Blair continued, unable to allow Philip to hold the reins. “Jim, you’ve got issues. A counsellor can help you. I mean, you obviously can’t come to me,” he finished sadly.
“You think,” Jim said unbelievingly, “if I agree to see a therapist it will help?”
Philip nodded. “Yes.”
Jim sagged back on his heels and Blair waited. What would he decide? Jim was vulnerable because he was a seething mass of post traumatic stress disorder and bowed by insults throughout his life, passive parental abuse, death of a mentor, betrayal, isolation, loss…. A lesser man might have caved years ago.
“Jim, please, it’s the same as going into surgery for a damaged knee ligament. It’s been attacking you for months. You’ve gone along, surprising quietly considering, with everything we’ve been saying, because the alternative was that you went postal, with me as your main victim. Jim, you were solid, you didn’t give in. I’m proud of you, man.”
Jim turned eyes filled with suppressed emotion to Blair. “I… will do it.”
Philip spoke soberly, he held the chalice clasped between his hands. “Do you promise?”
Jim rose on his knees, his back straight, and declared, “On my honour.”
The Sentinel jerked back as if strafed by lightning. Blair barely had time to catch him as he toppled. Arms filled with Jim’s unconscious, heavy weight, Blair struggled to hold him. The sudden movement paining his aching head and there was nowhere to put Jim except the cold marble floor. He laid him down on his side, placing his hand between Jim’s cheek and the heat-stealing slabs.
“Jim?” Blair tried. He looked to the priest. “Philip?”
“I don’t know.” The priest crouched down. “What do you think?”
Blair brushed Jim’s short, soft hair with his fingertips. Kneeling down, he peered at Jim’s deathly still features. “I think that he’s either gone to face the jinn-i Zar or it took him. I can’t go there.”
“You can.” Philip touched Blair’s chin, raising his head. “You’ve been to Jim’s otherside. You said it yourself.”
“I was dead.”
“You saw the jinn-i Zar in the emergency room. You can deny it, but you are an integral part of this, Blair. Perhaps, your concussion helped you see the Zar, took you to an altered state?”
“Meditate. I could meditate. What else can I do?” he muttered to himself. Taking the cushion that he had knelt on, Blair settled it under Jim’s head. Once the detective was comfortable, he folded his legs into a stiff lotus. His body clamoured. “This isn’t going to work. I hurt too much. I can’t meditate.”
Philip's brow furrowed. “A sedative?”
“Do you have any?
“I have some sleeping pills.”
Blair made an instant decision. “Get them.”
Lifting his long alb away from his feet, Philip ran down the aisle. Blair gritted his teeth and unfolded his legs. What was happening with Jim? If the Zar attacked the seat of Jim’s sentinel-self and won, would Jim ever wake up?
Huffing and puffing, Philip returned. Blair was impressed, he’d ran to the manse and back in record time. “I had them in my coat in the foyer,” Philip wheezed. “I filled the prescription the other day.”
Blair snapped his fingers and stretched out his palm. “Give.”
“My scrip is three tablets.”
“Give me two.”
Philip shook them out onto his hand. “Maybe you should only take one. Although with the concussion -–“
Blair downed the tablets in one gulp. “Thanks.”
“— you probably shouldn’t take any,” Philip finished worriedly.
“How fast do they work?” Blair lay down beside his Sentinel.
“They’re very fast.”
“Good.” Blair wriggled his hips, trying to get comfortable. His back hurt, his chest hurt and his head hurt. He hadn’t eaten anything for what felt like days, and he was very light-headed. Realisation heralded his spiral descent into Jim’s otherworld.
The last thing he heard was, “I didn’t think they worked that fast.”
“What the hell?” Jim picked himself up off torn, muddy soil and was promptly blown off his feet. Sprawled facedown, he smelled loamy earth and recognised the spirit plane, even though the land was ravaged, the trees uprooted and the lianas torn out of their moorings. Wind roared through the trees, casting branches into the turbulent sky. The roar of the storm was deafening; the wind pummelled him with heavy fists, forcing Jim to lie flat. This was no petty breeze; this was a hurricane; Blair had said that he deserved a god.
“Vayu!” Jim struggled to his knees and called the god’s name. “Petty god, show yourself.”
::Mortal, give me your pain::
It had a voice, it had a form: so he could defeat it. “No, my pain is mine.” The gust of wind blew him head over heels until he tangled up against the roots of a ripped-up tree.
“Oh, my, God!” the voice was distinctive and well known.
“Chief!” Hanging tightly to the torn roots, Jim stood. Debris blustered around him. His skin was abraded, and he smelled the coppery scent of blood. It was akin to being pummelled with a battening ram. Feeling his way around the web of roots, Jim found the trunk. Using it as shelter, he worked his way towards the plaintive call. Driving rain was turning the formally verdant earth into a morass of mud. He tripped and fell full-length in the mire. He pulled himself onto his hands and knees and began to crawl. The wind wailed and on its wings he again heard Blair’s voice.
“Sandburg!” Shielding his eyes from the pelting rain, he scanned the war torn land. Blair was here; he would find him. He saw a flash of blue plaid as the line of trees parted. A tornado higher than a three- storey house ripped them up by the roots and split them asunder. Caught in the cyclone, Blair tumbled in mid-air around and around in its edges.
Tossed this way and that like a rag doll, Blair nevertheless screamed in defiance. Jim stepped away from the shelter of the tree. The wind was focussed on abusing Blair, no longer tearing at the firmament.
“Let him be,” the Sentinel ordered.
The tornado shuddered as Blair was spun into its still heart. He dropped like a stone, falling to the earth. For a heart-stopping moment Jim thought that the motionlessness of his body promised death, but then Blair unfolded. Plainly dizzy, he stood, fighting for balance and then took stock. His blue eyes were piercingly light in the blue-toned world around them.
Seeing the Sentinel, he yelled, “Jim?”
Jim could only hear a whisper of his voice.
::I have your bane, Sentinel::
“What?” Arms outstretched, Jim pushed into the wind.
::Give him to me and there will be no threat, no pain, no danger to your self::
Jim froze as the storm battered him; he could almost zone on the heat of the rising bruises on his arms.
::No more dissertation:: it whispered seductively. ::Give him to me and no more pain::
The roar of the wind spoke softly in his mind. Ahead of him, Blair gazed mutely, a tiny hopeful smile on his face, a confused shrug on his shoulders. A concussive blast of undisciplined anger beat down upon their heads. Spurred into action, Blair reached out to touch the wind spiralling around him. As he touched the streaming air, lightning cascaded down, ensnaring him.
Blair arched, his spine drawn back horribly, as the lightning danced over his body.
::He is in my power. Say the word and he’ll be lost for all forevers::
::Why?:: it asked simply.
“He’s my friend.”
::Would a friend write about you? Would a friend dissect you?::
“Yes and yes.“ Jim drew in an almighty breath. “To help me.”
Jim thrust his hands further into the maelstrom.
::Sentinel, he threatens you:: the sly and enticing voice whispered through his bones. ::He’ll betray you::
His deepest fear.
::He’ll betray for fame and fortune. Would a friend betray you?::
Jim planted his foot forward another step into the tornado. Dust and debris forced him to shut his eyes. Tears streamed down his face, trying to clear the grit. His hearing peaked, straining to hear Blair against the windstorm wailing about him.
::Give him to me::
“Why are you asking?” Jim demanded.
He felt as if the skin was being flayed from his arms. Soon the hurricane winds would tear him limb from limb. Blair was almost within reach. A wall of wind pressed down on him and he ducked away from he knew-not-what. The mass that clipped his bare shoulder was larger than a car.
Red-hot rivulets of blood streamed down his arm, mingling with the mud and camouflage paint. A drop trickled to his elbow, burgeoned and splattered to the earth. He hurt in the spirit world; would he hurt in the real world?
He still quested forth, knowing that Blair was ahead, suspended in the air by the rapacious lightning. There: he felt the warmth of Blair’s hand. Fingers gripped his palm and Jim clenched down. He yanked Blair into his arms. The maelstrom grew and in its wrath Jim protected Blair with his own body.
“Jim,” Blair whispered, and impossibly, Jim heard.
The winds twisted around them. They crouched in the dark heart of the whirlwind as the winds were inevitably drawn back into the storm away from them.
“Jim?” Blair said softly, as he uncurled in the Sentinel’s protective grasp.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Jim couldn’t help himself, he squeezed his Guide affectionately, just once. “What?”
“Are your sentinel senses working?”
“Yes,” Jim responded immediately.
“This is your arena, Jim. It’s a different level of reality than you’re used to.”
“It feels pretty real to me.” Jim moved the arm around Blair’s back and felt the pull of the wound on his shoulder and the hot blood draining down his arm.
“This is the source of your sentinel senses; it’s not a concrete place,” Blair said quickly. “You control your own senses: you’ve denied them before and you got them back when you wanted to. You came here and claimed your rights.”
“But it’s destroying the jungle.” He couldn’t see beyond the ravenous winds, but the damage had been appalling as he had fought through the maelstrom to Blair’s side.
“It’s destroying nothing.” Blair squirmed in Jim’s hold until they were face to face and chest to chest. He peered over Jim’s shoulder at the screaming winds overhead. “This is an illusion. You’ve still got your sentinel senses. The jinn-i Zar disrupted your link to your sentinel senses in the mundane world and you came here to fight it. Your senses came back because it’s no longer between you and what’s yours.”
“How?” Jim demanded, cutting straight to the point.
“You can change the reality of this spirit world. You did it before; you brought me back from the dead. You can control this!” Blair laughed wildly. “Take control.”
“How?” Jim shook his head.
“Think of that thing--” Blair pointed at the tornado rampaging overhead, “--as a disease. A parasite of despair.”
“And?” Jim yelled against the roar of the wind.
“Cut it out.”
“Jim.” Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. “What are you wearing?”
“Huh?” He looked at his arms. They were streaked with blood and grime, but he also bore the tribal markings of the Chopec on his skin. Automatically, he reached over his shoulder and gripped the pommel of his machete. He had a weapon. Revitalised, he drew it like a sword and rose to his feet. The Brazil Bolo felt at home in his hand: a good twenty-five inches in length, formed from steel, it felt as real as Blair’s heartbeat. With something close to glee, Jim slashed at the wall of wind swirling around them.
This would work. He felt the screech of the jinn-i Zar as he slashed it amidships -- the pain echoed viscerally through his guts. They were joined. The jinn-i Zar infected him like a disease. He would cut it out of his mind, body and soul. He cut again, regardless of the pain. This was so much more fun than therapy. The winds surged and buffeted his body, mocking his change of heart. The jinn-i Zar had a line straight into his very thoughts, he realised.
"I'll talk. I'll hate it, but I'll talk. You have no dominion!"
He felt Blair at his back, urging him, but he was oblivious to his words. The mindset of the warrior was upon him: to fight until he won. No mercy. No leniency. He brought the machete down in a left to right line and felt the strength of the winds part before the blade. The winds were weakening with every exhortation.
"You're no longer a god, Vayu. No one worships you, you're a parasite." Jim slashed precisely at the wall of wind. The winds parted before the blade, shrieking.
This was what he had come to the spirit plane for. Not for vague affirmations of oaths to address his 'issues' but to defeat the jinn-i Zar face to face. Spinning on his heel, he lashed out at the winds threatening Blair's back and they seemed to contract away from his slice. He had it on the run. The djinn's form diminished, the winds spinning tighter and tighter around them. The wind washed over them and suddenly they were outside of the still heart, facing a man-high nest of whirling winds. Jim bent his weight on his knee, lunged and neatly pierced the wind with the point of his blade. His machete hit mass instead of slicing air and Jim imagined that he heard a screech.
“You defeated yourself, Vayu. I’m wise to you now, you bastard. You want my permission, because then I’ll be ‘letting’ you take Blair. Five minutes… one minute later, when I come to my senses, I’ll be following you to whatever hell you’re taking him and you’ll get what you want: my misery to feed on.”
Jim's words heralded his final strike: severing the base of the tightly whirling whirlwind from the firmament.
Its anchor cut, the jinn-i Zar lost cohesion. The winds blew outwards, fragmenting madly. A cold, icy blast cut past Jim, chilling his guts. Above him, the clouds still boiled angrily, but at the far edge of the horizon, beyond the jungle, the pure, perfect blue of a calm sky peeked through. It expanded with every beat of his heart. The trees creaked as the winds fell and branches sprang back into place. A chirp sounded in the wake of a scalding hot sirocco blast of air. The winds died. A single leaf twisting in the final eddy drifted to the earth.
Drained, Jim allowed his machete to fall from his hand. He stood calf-deep in a morass of slimy mud. His skin pricked unpleasantly as the mud seeped through his combat boots. The djinn had wrought disaster on his spirit plane. Those trees which were still standing were devoid of leaves. The lianas were torn from their moorings. Unaccountably sad, the Sentinel turned to his Guide.
"Hey, Jim, look." Blair crouched in the mud his hand cupped over a mound of earth. Even though he was caked with mud, his curls matted into dreadlocks, he looked bizarrely happy. Blair shook his head, flicking a mud caked ringlet out of his eyes. It left a damp patch on the mud drying pale brown on his cheek.
"What?" Jim growled.
"Here." Blair opened his hands to reveal a tiny, brightly-coloured butterfly. He grinned, his teeth gleaming in his muddy face. "It's a metaphor, a bit clichéd of you, but still a metaphor. It survived the storm."
It was a butterfly, not a metaphor. Blair was hard to understand, but this was taking opaque to a whole new level. Caught by the shimmering colours on the butterfly's iridescent wings, Jim crouched down. It was beautiful.
"Jim?" A soft voice encroached on his contemplation of many colours. "Jim?"
Jim opened his eyes and met a whole new melange of colours, flaring out from a luminous black sphere. Gold, amber, green and russet brown, the colours sparkled with concern.
'Concern?' Jim wondered. Realisation came on its heels; he reined in his sentinel sight and focussed on Philip Callaghan's moon-white face rather than his sorrowful eyes.
"Philip," he whispered.
"Thank God," the priest breathed lightly. "Is it over?"
Jim struggled onto an elbow and rubbed a hand over his weary face. He could almost feel imaginary mud caking his skin. He lay in the nave of the church on cold, cold marble.
"Jim?" Philip asked again.
"Yes, it's over." Automatically, he checked on Blair. He still slept, curled on his side a mere handspan from Jim's elbow. Steady, even breaths warmed Jim's skin through the warp and weft of his shirt. Philip had draped his alb over Blair's body.
"Come on, Chief, time to wake up; it's over." He shook his Guide vigorously. Blair slept on, undisturbed.
"Uhm," Philip began.
"Chief?" Jim tried again.
"I don't think that that's going to work," Philip said softly.
"What?" Jim scowled at Philip standing over him.
"I… uhm … he couldn't get into a trance state… so …uhm…."
"What?" Jim demanded. A frisson of concern began to stir in his bones; he ducked down so he could peer into Blair's face. His mouth was open, lax with sleep.
"He took some of my sleeping pills."
"What?" Jim spat, looked up at Philip, appalled. "He's got a head injury. What were you fucking thinking?"
Philip could only shrug and look doleful.
"Shit." Visibly careful, Jim lifted one of Blair's eyelids. The pupil was widely dilated, but shrank infinitesimally under Jim's regard.
"How many?" Jim grated.
"What's your dose?"
"Three. He hasn't overdosed, but well… he would have been very tired after everything that's happened…" his voice drained away to nothing.
"It's irresponsible," Jim snapped. He set his fingertips to Blair's throat, feeling the measured pulse and the skin chilled from sleeping on a cold stone floor.
"Did he help?" Philip responded.
"Of course he did," Jim snarled. "We've got to get him off this floor."
"Uhm… good idea."
"Help me," he ordered. Shifting Blair onto his back, Jim took charge of his head and shoulders. Scooting forwards, he clamped his arms around Blair's chest and lifted. Blair’s head rocked down until it rested secure, chin propped on Jim's crossed forearms. Silently, Philip took Blair's legs.
Blair slept on and on, so deeply asleep that he snored deep in his throat. He had spent the better part of the evening and then whole night listening to Blair’s peculiar hitching snore. Jim had lost count of how many times he had reached out and tested the warmth of Blair's skin and the throb of the pulse at his throat. If either had changed during the night, medical intervention might have been necessary. Blair was as snug as a bug in a rug; tucked under a quilt and a blanket. For the first time in hours, he shifted. His arm emerged from his cocoon to rest by his head on the pillow.
Jim took that as a sign that Blair was waking up.
‘Taking sleeping pills with a concussion. Idiot.’ he thought censoriously.
He had debated with Philip about taking Blair back to the hospital, but the medical staff would probably have simply monitored his Guide, and Jim knew that he was more than capable of watching a sleeping anthropologist. Blair would get one-on-one attention at the manse. With a judicious amount of shaking, Jim had managed to get Blair to growl at him a couple of times during the night. His fingers twitched and his eyelids moved as his eyes roamed. Dream time. After hours and hours of solid sleep, Blair had finally reached a lighter level.
Jim coughed deliberately,
but Blair slept on. The Sentinel shuffled back in his wooden chair, folded his
arms over his chest and stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the
‘More time to think,’ he thought, disgruntled. Then again, to dwell on weird hallucinations where Blair wasn’t Blair and he saw people who were dead out of the corner of his eye didn’t seem like a good idea.
Blair mumbled so quietly that even a sentinel couldn’t make out the words. Jim leaned forwards, ears cocked to listen. Even at close quarters he was unintelligible. He wanted Blair awake so they could discuss their journey to the spirit world.
Blair coughed, blinked and grunted all at once.
Jim waited patiently. Blair had his own rhythm when he woke; it was best to go with the flow. Blair flailed sleepily, trying to get onto his back, but he had stiffened into immobility during the night. He whimpered.
Jim leaned over. “I know you’re feeling like shit, Chief, but is it a general sort of shit or I-need-to get-you-to-the-hospital shit?”
Blair was singularly monosyllabic. Jim took the grunt -– based on tone -– as an “I’ll live.”
“How do you feel about me helping you into the shower?”
He waited a moment for Blair to respond. He translated the long drawn out vowel as a request for a bath.
“Okay, Chief.” Jim swung his legs off the beside table. “I’ll run you a nice cold bath.”
That was perfectly clear.
Blair lay in a hedonistically deep bubble bath. His colour had evened out to a flushed red. A cold bath would have been better for the mess of bruises scoring the length of his torso from left shoulder to bony arch of his hip. But Jim could appreciate his desire for a muscle soothing deep, hot bath.
“How are you feeling now, Chief?”
“Hmmm.” Blair’s eyes were tightly closed.
“I’ll take that as a ‘good as it gets, considering’.”
Blair’s fingertips wiggled out from under the white suds.
“What do you remember, Sandburg?”
That garnered a response. Blair cracked open his eyes and fixed a crystal blue gaze upon the sentinel. The colour was luminous as on the spirit plane, penetrating, wise and as deep as the ocean. An otherworldly cast settled over the well known features. Jim blinked and looked again and Blair was Blair, bruised and tired. The spider web of stitches at his bare temple were the only incongruous feature.
Blair sniffed. “When?”
Jim leaned forward bracing his elbows on his knees and cupping his chin on his folded hands. “When Simon had us for a barbecue,” he said sarcastically. “When do you think?”
“Oh! In the church with Philip. Yeah,” he sat up forgetting about his bruised ribs. “That was so cool. We were there. You defeated the jinn-i Zar. You did it. You did it. And I got over there or into you? That was so weird. It worked. I didn’t know if it would. That was so cool.”
Jim rocked back on the on the toilet seat, his ears ringing.
“What was in those sleeping tablets?” Blair continued unabated. “They worked faster than possible. How long have I been asleep? Hours? Days. What’s been happening?”
“I feel really weird. When was the last time I ate? When was the last time that you ate?” Blair demanded piercingly.
Jim answered the concussed trail of meandering questions. “I don’t know when you ate. I had pancakes, bacon and syrup a few hours ago.”
“Good.” Gingerly, Blair settled back in the suds. “So after it all, how are you feeling?”
Jim screwed his nose up at the change in subject. “I feel fine.”
“And?” Blair wasn’t backing down an inch.
“I fought Vayu and won.”
“Vayu? It was a god?” Blair questioned. “I couldn’t hear a lot when I was inside of it.”
Jim shrugged, “I don’t really know. I’m just guessing, but I think it was Vayu.”
“So what happened before you got me out?”
Jim searched for the right words. “He wanted my permission to kill you.”
Blair shuddered in the water. “And?”
“I said ‘no’.” A ghost of a smile twisted Jim’s lips, as if he could countenance any other action. “That was the whole point. If I let…”
“Yes, Jim?” Blair prodded when Jim lapsed into blushing silence.
“If I let him take you, he got both of us.”
Blair smiled sublimely; it proclaimed that he was proud.
“What about the butterfly?” Jim said out of the blue.
“What about the butterfly?”
“You know, after Vayu was defeated.” Jim couldn’t help but smirk. “You found a butterfly.”
“Ah.” Blair hummed as he mused a moment. “As I said: a bit clichéd of you. Change, I guess. A caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly. It’s growth. Change. Vayu fought you and you’ve changed in response.”
“What about the temple? Vayu destroyed it.”
“Yeah? And how does that make you feel?” Blair said with Freudian intensity.
Jim almost balked, but remembered his promise. “I want it back the way it was before.”
Blair smiled slightly. He couldn’t help himself. It graced his face. “You wanted the sentinel?”
“Yeah I guess,” Jim admitted.
An immense grin broke out on Blair’s face, like sun shafting through the spirit plane’s storm-tossed sky. “Cool, man. That’s cool.”
Blair sat on the steps of the anthropology building. He had a meeting with his supervisor and two members of his Ph.D. committee in twenty minutes. He needed first to sit opposite the symbol of the change in his life. The water had been a re-birth, a realisation that they could both die, in a way that superseded both his experiences with Lash and being shot in the mine while rescuing Simon. Death was real, no longer abstract.
“Why am I dwelling on death?” he wondered out loud. “Because I’m killing my thesis?”
That was overly dramatic. The sentinel phenomenon was still his raison d’être in a way that sometimes in the dead of night scared him. It was work, hobby, and love, and always on his mind. He felt the queasy-freezing touch of tremors running through him from head to toe.
What the hell was he going to do?
Blair started, surprised by the familiar voice. He had been –- as a beloved aunt had said when he was little –- away with the fairies. The sentinel stood over him; he looked as if the weight of the world rested on his Atlas-broad shoulders. They hadn’t arranged to meet until the evening.
“Jim? Are you okay?” he asked, worried.
“Here, Chief.” Jim pulled the laptop from behind his back and passed it over.
“What?” Blair clutched it against his chest. All his data back in his hands. The relief was astounding.
“Write your thesis, Chief.” Jim was trying vainly for stoic, but the emotion was in his eyes for all to see: haunted and terrified. They were his ‘I’m a freak’ eyes.
“Look, you got data on Alex, you’ve got hundreds of cases of people with one or two hypersenses.”
Blair scrubbed his face with one hand. Boy, it was so tempting, to run with the opportunity. “They’ll figure it out, Jim. Most of my friends are halfway to figuring it out. You come down here, I spend hours, days, years even, with you, and I study sentinels.”
Jim crouched before him so they were eye to eye. “Tell them I’ve got the hearing and the touch. Hey, everyone down at the precinct has guessed that much. Serena, Rafe, Henri and, eventually, Joel, poor guy. Lose me in the thesis with your other participants.”
“I think. I can’t,” Blair burbled, his mind awhirl.
“Hey, Chief, I think it would be more obvious if you dropped me like a hot potato.” He smiled deprecatingly.
Blair closed his eyes and let his head hang so his curls veiled his face. He took a meditative breath. It was so obvious. Why had it taken him so long to figure that out? In fact he hadn’t, Jim had led him to the water. The question was, should he drink his fill?
“Chief,” Jim said softly. “Look at me.”
Blair looked up. “Yes?”
“Hide me in the jungle.”
Blair smiled. Hide Jim as if he was one tree in the forest of data? Oh, indeed, he could do that. It would be simplicity itself to present case study one hundred and fifty-nine with hyper hearing and touch – not mentioning the sight, taste and touch would be an omission. He suspected that there would be a few sleepless nights ahead of him as he trod a fine, ethical line with the data. But could Jim? That begged the question, “Can you bend the truth if people ask? Because you know it could happen. We might have to go to the commissioner and the D.A.”
Jim smiled radiantly, “I’ve learned how to obfuscate from the best.”
Author’s note: I wanted a demon that fed on people’s emotions. I was kind of surprised to find out that there weren’t a lot of them about. There’s lots of demonic entities that eat people (go figure) but subtle demons…? Nah.
Main References :
Frazer, J. G. (1922). The Golden Bough A Study in Magic and Religion