Our Unconquerable Soul.
"Where are we going, Jim?"
Blair looked through the green pickup truckís windows at the passing greenery; clean swept sidewalks, neatly demarked houses. He hadnít explored this part of Cascade with the detective since they had met a few months ago. He was used to old piers, abandoned warehouses and grimy sidewalks when he helped the Sentinel with his cases. Blair pushed his nose up against the window. The houses that peeked from behind banks of Oak trees and rambling hedges looked expensive. Forbidding pillars with wrought iron gates stood sentinel at the entrance of one particularly Victorian looking residence.
"Rich," Blair said deliberately. Why would the Sentinel, possessor of preternaturally enhanced physical senses, need his assistance today?
"Oh, yeah," Jim said absently, as his large hands turned the steering wheel and they started up the cobblestone path to the enormous house.
"Why are we here, Jim?" Blair gestured at the house.
"The next door neighbour called the precinct and said thereíd been a murder."
"You donít seem to be taking the report very seriously," Blair said, evidently confused. "And isnít this area out of your precinctís jurisdiction?"
Jim shifted down the gears and his truck pulled up outside the houseís main entrance. Both friends peered up at the house that seemed to loom over the car.
"Dah da dah da da, duh duh duhhd..." Blair began.
"The ĎAdamís familyí theme?" Jim rolled his eyes.
"Look at it!" Blair demanded.
The house was certainly a throwback to an affluent and spooky era. Jim aimed a swat at the student, who deftly avoided it by jumping out of the pickup truck. Deferring, as he did in most introductions, Blair remained at the bottom of the high steps leading up to the Victorian residence. Jim rapped the doorknocker and winced as the rap echoed through the house.
Impatiently, Blair bounced from foot to foot. "You said that there had been a murder?"
"Yep," Jim looked down at him from the top of the step. "It seems that Simonís Aunt owns the house next door - she reported a disturbance to the local police last night and, well, they found that nothing was Ďamissí." Jim grinned. "So when the police didnít find anything she rang Nephew Simon this morning..."
"Youíre not taking this very seriously." Blair pointed out intelligently.
Jim shrugged. "Simonís placating his aunt."
Blair kicked the bottom step. Why was he here? There was little, or no, chance that Jim Ellison would have one of his Ďzone outsí -- a period mimicking an epileptic fit -- during this case. He shook his head; he could have been working on a literature review for Professor Chambers instead of trailing around after Jim on the off chance that he had a zone out.
"I read the beat officersí reports and they searched the grounds and talked to the owner and they found nothing suspicious." Jim shrugged and banged the doorknocker again.
"Where does the Captainís Aunt live?"
Jim consulted his notebook and then pointed to the equally ornate house peeking through the trees on the south side.
The house was a good seventy-five yards away, Blair noted.
"What exactly did the lady say in the report?"
"I donít think that anyone is in." Jim stuck his nose against the pebbled glass. "She said that she heard three screams."
"Really," Blair scratched the side of his neck as he considered that piece of information.
"Really?" Jim echoed. "Whatís going through that warped little mind?"
"Warped?" Blair echoed. "What does the house look like inside?"
"Have you seen ĎPsychoí?" Jim said with a quirky little smile, which belied his obvious uneasiness. Even from the bottom of the steps Blair could see the hairs standing up on the back of the Sentinelís neck.
"Very funny," Blair drawled. He pushed his glasses up his nose to hide his own response to the Sentinelís uncharacteristic body language. He debated with himself whether or not to ask if they could go to Simonís Auntís house first.
Then the door opened. A pleasant faced Catholic minister smiled at the twosome. Jim saw the white collar and backtracked down the steps. The young man smiled down at them.
"How may I help you?" He raised an eyebrow at the disreputable looking anthropologist but didnít comment.
"Detective James Ellison." He held out his badge for the Father to study. "This is my associate, Blair Sandburg. Iím here to follow up on the report from last night."
"Come in, come in." The Fatherís voice had an Irish lilt. He turned from the door obviously expecting the twosome to follow. Blair shot a hesitant glance at the Sentinel. Jim smiled encouragingly and ushered his friend into the mausoleum.
All gangly and uncertain, Blair skipped ahead at the Fatherís heels. The porch was opulent, walled in rich mahogany. The door to the equally opulent hall was inlaid with stained glass. Blair looked in askance at the plush, red hall carpet. He was wearing his walking boots - he expected to be asked, any moment, to remove his footwear. He had vague memories of one of Naomiís friends living in an old house like this one. That house had been a giant toy store of hiding places and adventures. He had been introduced to the authors C.S.Lewis and E.Nesbitt and Susan Cooper in that house. This house, however, was frankly unnerving. Blair pushed his hands deep into his jacketís pockets and reluctantly allowed the priest to conduct him into the sitting room.
Jim walked slowly after them giving time for Blair to charm the Father. As he wandered after the two men, Jim allowed himself the time to study the vestibule. One of the tables decorating the hall was a Chippendale and the figurine on top looked like Chinese jade. Jimís brow furrowed as he studied the sideboard, taking in the old patina and high polish. The jade dancing lady was similarly ancient. He was quite knowledgeable about Chinese jade. His father had an extensive collection, mainly for its monetary value. As a child dusting the collection, under his fatherís eagle eye, he had become very familiar with the feel of the smooth stone.
"Jim!" Blair hissed and made Ďcome-overí motions. Apparently the student did not like being left alone with the priest.
Lackadaisically, Jim left his study and followed Blair into a luxurious sitting room.
"Iím very sorry," the Father was saying, "I didnít introduce myself: Philip Callaghan."
He sat down and gestured for the detective and his observer to join him. Jim sat himself on the couch opposite the Father and stared at Blair until the antsy student joined him.
"Basically, Iím just following up on the report yesterday," Jim said calmly. "The person who reported the disturbance..."
"I really canít comment on what Mrs. Banks said she heard." Father Callaghan smiled. "What was it - three screams?"
The young priest exuded calm and control.
"Yes - it was three screams," Jim said slowly, once again consulting his notebook.
Blair was jiggling next to him. It was disturbing the detectiveís concentration. Raising an eyebrow the priest cast a frankly curious glance at the student.
"Look, Iíll tell you what." Father Callaghan abruptly stood up and brushed off his black trousers. "Iíll go get us a nice cup of tea and ask the house keeper to join us. Mrs. Lissy was here last night. Youíll want to talk to her too, I expect."
Blair sat quietly until the Father left the room, then the student erupted.
"Geez, geez, geez." Blairís eyes were wild.
"Blair!" Jim said sharply and caught the student before he could bolt from the couch.
"What the Hellís the matter with you?"
"I donít know Ė I just donít like the feel of thisÖ" He waved his hands around uncertainly. "Bad vibes, man."
Jim grabbed for, and missed, Blairís hands. Blair was a bouncing, energetic dynamo on the way to blowing a gasket. His eyes had taken on a wild glint that Jim did not like in the slightest. Blair dove off the couch, easily evading Jimís grasp. He began to pace between the couch and the coffee table.
"Take a deep breath, Blair," Jim ordered.
Jim lunged and missed Blair again. He knew that he could physically contain Blair, but he wanted to calm him down without inflicting physical damage. Giving up actually getting his hands on his flighty friend, Jim stood and concentrated on corralling him in a corner.
"You were fine until you saw Father Callaghan. What in the Hell brought this on?"
Blair knotted his hands in his hair and fixed his frantic gaze on the Sentinel. Jim breathed a quiet sigh of relief; now they could communicate. The grad student was definitely upset. Strangely, it was almost as if a switch had been thrown - one minute Blair was happy and laughing, the next a quivering wreck. Jim inhaled slowly and evenly and locked his gaze on Blairís, deliberately drawing him into taking a deep breath. The kid swore by meditation, and inflicted it on the Sentinel at every opportunity. Now it was Blairís turn for some mental housecleaning. Blair latched onto his friendís breathing pattern, breathing an equally calm rhythm. The wildness in Blairís eyes eventually quieted.
"Wow, yuck, I donít like this place."
Jim released his gaze.
Still too uneasy to sit still, Blair wandered around the room fingering objets d'art, commenting on the antiques. Jim ignored his ramblings, giving the student his requested space until he had himself under control. Or at least as much as the student was capable of at any given time. Aimlessly searching the room, Jim caught a glimpse of light in the far wall and realised that the woodwork concealed a doorway. Automatically honing his vision, his sight pierced the small crack at the edge of the door and studied the room beyond. He could just see what was probably a towering bookcase.
"Thereís some really weird looking books in there," Jim announced.
"Where?" Blair asked intrigued.
Glad for a change of subject, anything to distract Blair from the perceived tension in the room, Jim pointed at the walls.
"Through those doors."
"How can..." Blair began.
Father Callaghan re-entered the sitting room with a tray. Jim absently noted that the service was silver and the tea set was fine china. Blair had regained his equanimity - which was apparently what Philip Callaghan had intended. The Father played mother, pouring the steaming tea from the warmed pot into the cups followed by milk and sugar.
"Pardon me, would you like tea?" Father Callaghan looked at the three cups.
"Yeah, sure," Blair said, with a shred of his normal eagerness. Jim knew what was going through the studentís mind: ĎOoooh, new cultural experience - the British tea timeí.
Jim hid a grimace, when he drank tea he usually found a nice pot plant to water. Smiling tightly, Jim picked up one of the paper thin porcelain cups.
In the air of tense politeness Callaghan began.
"As I understand it, the police officers received a call from Mrs. Banks at about midnight last night - she said that she heard three screams and that she thought that they had come from here. All I can say is that I did not hear screams at midnight. The police officers arrived about one oíclock. They had a look Ďround and, well, found nothing suspicious."
"And you were up at one oíclock in the morning?" Jim questioned.
Callaghan looked over the rim of his cup. "I was reading, it was a good book. When it is a good book Iíll stay up all night."
"What was the book?"
"Katherine Kurtzís -ĎTwo Crowns for Americaí."
"Iím not familiar with it."
"Itís just out in paperback."
"Didnít you say that Mrs. Lissy was gonna come in?" Blair finally joined in the conversation.
"Yes, she just wanted to finish the dishes."
As if their words had called her, a typically rotund housekeeper beetled into the drawing room. The woman stopped dead and threw a penetrating stare at the tall detective. Blair perked up, as if prodded, and stared back at the woman who was looking at the Sentinel. There was a sub-current to the whole scene that was beginning to give Jim a headache.
"Hello, my name is Detective Ellison and this is my associate, Blair Sandburg," Jim said.
"Iím very pleased to meet you." Mrs. Lissy brushed her apron free of non-existent crumbs and settled next to the grad student.
Jim wondered at her placement. He would have expected her to sit next to her employer rather than beside the intruders. Blair flashed her a very strained smile. The housekeeper exuded serenity and she did not wait on anything as prosaic as standard interview technique.
"As I said to Father Philip," Mrs. Lissy recounted, "I didnít hear a thing, but then again I could sleep through the call of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse."
"Was there anybody else in the house?" Jim interjected into her explanation.
"No," Philip said simply, "just me and Mrs. Lissy."
"Can we look around the grounds?" Blair asked suddenly.
Father Callaghan stopped dead for a heartbeat and then smiled easily. "Yes, of course."
Jim smiled to himself, he thought that that seemed like a pretty good idea. He would have to congratulate his tagalong observer after they had escaped from the mausoleum.
"What youíve said pretty much corroborates what you told officers Dillon and Murphy last night. Have you any idea what Mrs. Banksí might have heard?" Jim said penetratingly.
Father Callaghan looked Jim in the eye. "Nothing on earth."
Blair gulped down his tea and then clattered the cup down on its paper-thin saucer. Then Blair either sneezed or coughed or something else. His cup tipped off the saucer scattering tealeaves and dregs over the tabletop.
"Oh, geez. No - Oh, sorry." Blair wiped futilely at the mess.
"No, dear, it was an accident." Mrs. Lissy took over. A dishcloth appeared as if by magic.
Blair kept apologising. Father Callaghan was the soul of courtesy. Jim shuffled off the couch out of the way of the whole mess. Blair was still apologising and now was backtracking to the door. Apparently the grad student had had enough of the situation.
ĎWhat on earth is the matter with him?í Jim wondered, as he joined the two men out into the hallway.
A figure caught the corner of his eye. Automatically, Jim spun on his heel and saw nothing. The corridor was empty.
"Detective Ellison?" Father Callaghan questioned.
"I thought I saw something - must have been a trick of the light."
Blair was suddenly at his side and peering up the stairway in the general direction where Jim thought that he had seen the figure.
"Whatís the matter?" Blair asked under his breath Ė no doubt checking for an incipient zone out.
Jim shook his head, caught Blairís elbow, and propelled him towards the ornate, stained glass door. A calligraphy wrought letter ĎLí in the centre of the glass loomed before the anthropologist. Then the door was open and Blair was on the porch step and Jim was shaking Father Callaghanís hand. Both Mrs. Lissy and Father Callaghan watched them from the porch as they walked uneasily down the steps. Jim paused at the bottom step and peered up at the house.
ĎIf this got any more strange, Iíd expect to see a white hand twitching back a curtain and a gothic face peering from an attic window,í Jim thought.
"I donít believe I did that." Blair was kicking a defenceless tree.
Jim was crouched at Blairís feet, ignoring the overreacting student. They had covered the south side of the residence looking for anything suspicious - so far they had found nothing. Jim left his study of a trio of bent grass stalks.
"Yeah, itís kind of entertaining seeing you--" Jim paused evilly, "--floundering."
"Floundering!" Blair shrieked.
"Bad choice of words," Jim said glibly.
"I donít care - how come youíre not floundering?"
"Well." Jim scratched the side of his neck. "There was something weird about that house."
Blairís eyes suddenly became intrigued, latching on to the imprecise words.
"Sandburg, look at this." Jim deliberately pointed to the grass stalks, interrupting the imminent spiel. "There were five people standing in circle on this lawn sometime last night."
"Yes?" Blair said eagerly.
"Mrs. Banks heard three screams. For the screams to carry to Mrs. Banks, a good seventy-five meters away, from the interior of the Callaghan residence isÖunlikely. There was, though, a good wind last night, which was blowing south easterly. The screams could have come from here and with a carrying wind it is possible that she could have heard a disturbance. And there were definitely people standing here last night."
"Or yesterday afternoon," Blair said, playing devilís advocate.
"No. There would be more discoloration of the leaves if it had occurred yesterday afternoon. Plus the morning dew would be lying differently."
"Why would five people be standing out here at midnight?" Blair asked sensibly.
"Oh, they werenít standing here at midnight."
"How do you know that? Did the grass tell you?" Blair said ingenuously.
"No, Father Callaghan. He specifically stated that he didnít hear screaming at midnight. I wonder what he would have said if weíd asked him if he had heard any screaming at any time during the night?"
"The police officers looked around and they found nothing, though. Maybe it was the policemen who made your footprints." Blair exuded pleasure in his deduction. "But you said five people, didnít you?"
"Yes," Jim said slowly. "Plus the two police officers stayed around the exterior of the house - they checked the windows for forced entry. I guess they assumed that Father Callaghan might have had an intruder." Jim crossed his arms, glaring down at the evidence only he could see. "There are five distinctly different tracks here, rather than two officers re-treading their footsteps over the lawn."
Jim rocked back on his heels and returned to his study of the patterns in the grass. Two adults, judging from their footprints, had came from the front entrance of the house and another adult had walked from the kitchen door. Two other people had been in the garden walking around the perimeter. It struck Jim as strange that five people would walk to this point on the lawn.
Calculating the space between the footsteps, these people had ran to this point in the middle of the garden. They had stood for a while, then two people had ran to the south wall of the house - where had the other three gone?
Jim scrutinised the house. The fact that three people had disappeared made no logical sense. Yet the evidence lay before him: five people had made their way through the wet grass; formed a circle; stood for a while (judging from the depth of the footprints) but then three of them had disappeared.
He followed the footprints, aware that Blair was bouncing with badly concealed enthusiasm, but he had to take the investigation to its conclusion. The two people had run towards the house, keeping close to each other. Around the house there was a pebbled path. The police officers had walked over the stones obliterating any other evidence.
"And, Sherlock?" Blair asked, his body vibrating with eagerness.
Jim chewed his bottom lip, confused by his deductions. Jim blew out slowly and then launched himself into the fray.
"Five people ran to the centre of the lawn did something and three disappeared and then the ...remaining two returned to this point."
"Yes, there are no tracks leading away from the circle."
"Why would five people run around a rectory garden in the middle of night?" Blair asked intrigued. "And disappear in mid-air - Ďcos thatís what youíre saying, isnít it?"
"It happened, Chief, the evidence is here before our eyes."
"Your eyes," Blair pointed out. He chewed on his thumbnail, deep in thought. "Okay. Are we going talk to Father Callaghan again and ask him if he heard *anything* during the night?"
"No," Jim said flatly, stopping Blair mid-stride. The Sentinel paused, searching for the right words, but he couldnít find a common experience to describe what he felt. He knew that Blair was at his elbow, his eyes beseeching, searching for a way to help him.
"Whatís the matter, Jim? Thereís something wrong here, isnít there."
It wasnít a question.
"Verbalise it?" Blair supplied.
Jim shook his head. He turned confused eyes on the student gazing so earnestly at him.
"What do you feel?"
Blair breathed out a short, sharp breath, evidently thrown by the change in direction. He thrust his hands in his pockets and considered his next words.
"Naomi took me to Culloden in Scotland when I was about seven. A lot of clans died in a big battle there. I remember," Blair squirmed uncomfortably, "aÖ sense of horrorÖ decay in the air. You could almost see the bodies churning under the ground. Itís like that." Blair clasped his arms against his chest.
The Sentinel stepped backwards away from the soil beneath his feet Ė he knew what lurked there. The man of the modern twentieth century shied away from his feelings. Jim shook his head, dismissing his unease.
"Maybe we should talk to Mrs. Banks?" Blair ventured.
Jim agreed with Blairís real thoughts - anything to get away from this house. Muttering under his breath, Jim stomped heavily away. Blair trailed, miserably, in his wake.
Captain Banksí Auntís house was a similar style to the rectory. Jim did a quick turn around the garden before they rang the doorbell. A tiny woman, immaculately dressed, greeted them. Blair smiled his happy, open smile as he carefully showed the old woman his observer identification and told her that Simon had sent both himself and the detective. The house teamed with cats and had that distinctive aroma associated with a house dominated by pets. Mrs. Banks drew them to the kitchen and made them coffee in solid mugs.
A fat, ugly cat leaped onto Mrs. Banksí lap and glared balefully at the partners.
Jim sneezed and glared back, equally balefully.
"Itís very nice of Simon to send you over."
Jim sneezed again and pulled out his notebook. "Well, Mrs. Banks, I guess heís concerned about your report."
"Iím intrigued, Mrs. Banks..." Blair said politely.
"ZoŽ." She smiled.
"Er, yes, Mrs. B..." Blair smiled his megawatt smile. The student felt so much more at ease since they had left the gardens of the refectory. He felt like singing and dancing. Meeting Simonís genuinely nice Aunt was an added extra. She reminded him of an old wise teacher he had once known. Instinctively, Blair knew that there were stories, legends and lifeís wisdom thrumming in her veins, waiting to be plumbed by an eager student. Regardless of whether, or not, she could add any insight into the affairs of her next door neighbour Ė Blair could tell that he was going to have a productive morning with Mrs. Banks.
Mrs. Banks raised her finger, her expression chiding.
"ZoŽ," Blair corrected himself. "You said that you heard three screams? Are you sure that you heard three screams?"
Mrs. Banks raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. "If I said that I heard three screams, young man, then I heard three screams."
"Thatís really interesting." Jim leaned across the table. "Describe them."
"The first one was at about eleven thirty - I don't know exact time, but the next two happened at eleven thirty seven." Mrs. Banks stood up, dislodging the cat, and tottered over to the kitchen window. "I looked out and could see what looked like a fire across between those trees."
Jim and Blair joined the old woman and peered through the glass.
"Were they short screams or long drawn out screams?" Jim asked.
Mrs. Banks pursed her lips and looked heavenwards. Neither man said a word as she evidently searched her memory.
"The screams were cut off."
Mrs. Banks levelled a clear hazel gaze at the twosome. "When you start screaming and somebody slaps you - you stop mid scream. Thatís what it sounded like."
"What kinda fire?" Blair asked.
"Smoky fire. The type of fire when you burn wet logs."
"Black smoke?" Jim questioned.
"I couldnít really tell. The security lights around the rectory were on, but they were very low."
Jim was scribbling all the details down in his notebook. Blair wondered about the notebook Ė rarely had he seen Jim with his notebook. Blair hid a grin; no doubt the Captain wanted a full report, so Jim was covering all his bases.
"What did you do for a living, Mrs. Banks Ė ZoŽ?"
"A long time ago I was one of the Librarians at Rainier University. Ah, those were the days, I could tell you stories, young manÖ" Mrs. Banks sighed as she reminisced.
Intrigued, Blairís eyes glowed.
"What are you looking at, Philip?"
Philip Callaghan turned away from the window. He looked at his companion. Bethany wiped at her red eyes. The young woman bordered on the ethereal and Philip worried about her constantly. Throughout his life he had met people who seemed to be a step out of the way of the world. Sometimes they were too good - sometimes they were too sensitive. Rarely did they last long in the world.
He sighed softly as he pulled her into a hug. She resisted for a moment and then dropped her head onto his shoulder. Philip stroked the long, jet-black hair.
"What were you looking at?" Bethany repeated.
"A big green truck - the detectiveís truck. They went over to Mrs. Banksí after speaking to me. Theyíve been there a long time."
"Itís probably a courtesy call."
Bethany moved slightly, uncomfortably, shrugging off his comforting hug. Philip released her immediately.
"No - they suspect that there is more here than meets the eye."
"He wouldnít be wrong would he?"
Bethany grimaced, and moved out of Philipís personal space. She caught and twisted at a lock of her hair.
"Maybe you should go back to bed, Beth," Philip began.
"I donít want to sleep! We donít have time." She fought for self-control. "Do we?"
"I donít know what to do." Philip folded his arms across his chest, sinking in on himself. He paced to the bare fireplace and rested his head on the lintel.
"Sorry," Bethany said quietly. "Philip, weíll have to contact another Legacy House. Weíre the only ones left - we canít do this alone."
"Alone?" Philip left his contemplation of the fireplace. "I think that the older detective is sensitive - maybe the little one too. Perhaps we can use them?"
"The Sight?" Bethany asked. "We canít chance using an unknown - call Chicago and ask for help - Ďcos itís coming back and I don't want to face it with just a stupid Roman Catholic Priest who thinks that Holy Water solves everything as my partner."
They had finally escaped from Mrs. Bankís home, but not before Blair had deftly extracted a few choice stories about the Principal of the University, and Simonís childhood, from his Aunt. Absently, Jim wondered when Blair was going to use the ĎNight Young Simon Stayed Out Late And Climbed Through His Sisterís Window Frightening Her Half To Death Pretending to be a Vampireí Story. He hoped that he would there. Blair slipped into the pickup and locked his door. Jim cast a studying glance back at the rectory.
The house was no different outwardly to any other in the suburb but for whatever reason it seemed watching and aloof.
"Jim, can we gooooo?" Blair whined.
Jim joined his friend.
End of Chapter One
The chaos of the Major Crimes was familiar and welcoming. Jim slipped past the desk sergeant, absently picking up his messages. Blair, on tiptoes, craned his head and read the notes over his friendís shoulder - nothing applied to him. Notebook in hand, Jim headed straight into the Captain Banksí office. Blair had the distinct impression that his unofficially official partner did not want company so he let Jim enter the office alone. He had other things to do. Blair settled before Jimís computer and stretched Ė he paused to crack his fingers then he started typing. He was happily surfing the net when Jim escaped from the Captainís office.
"So what have you found out?" Jim asked as he rested his hand on Blairís shoulder.
"Father Philip Callaghan is a Roman Catholic Priest. He has no record. No outstanding tickets with the DMV. He was an associate of the Luna Foundation."
"Whatís the Luna Foundation?"
"Iím not entirely sure." Blair called up the web page. "They appear to be both a charitable organisation and involved in collecting and restoring antiquities."
"Was an Associate? So he isnít involved with this Luna Foundation anymore?
Blair shrugged. "He was a teacher in a seminary and took a leave of absence to work with the Luna Foundation for two years. He is currently taking a short sabbatical and assisting a Father Katualas at the Church of St Michael. It was Father Katualasí rectory we visited this afternoon."
"So heís okay, then?"
Blair shrugged again. "He appears to be an upstanding member of the community."
Jim, abruptly, released Blairís shoulder. "But something doesnít feel right."
Blair rocked back, precariously, in the chair. "Mrs. Banks is an excellent witness. She doesnít vacillate or contradict herself and her account hasnít changed overnight. What you saw in the garden doesnít make sense. And that place gave me the heeby jeebies."
"Both of us the heeby jeebies. Who was feeding who?"
"ĎCuse me?" Blair asked, perplexed.
"Did I pick up on something because you were...upset or you started getting ants in your pants Ďcos I was picking up on things?"
Blairís face screwed up as he considered the question. "Apart from the fact youíre thinking we have some kind of feedback thing going here - which weíll discuss later - you seemed pretty calm when we went into the rectory."
"So why did you start--" Jim grinned evilly, "--floundering?"
Blair didnít rise to the implied insult. "I was just uncomfortable - I told you it was like visiting a mass grave."
"And that made you act like a complete space cadet?"
Blair rolled his eyes dramatically and he deliberately lowered his voice. "What did you see on the stairs? You did a full sensory search, I saw your pupils dilate and you got that tilt to your head which means youíre *listening*."
Jim leaned over Blairís shoulder, apparently studying the computer, as he spoke under his breath. "I didnít see anything, Chief."
"What do you think you saw?"
"I thought I saw a figure, or someone moving. It was like one of those stupid Gothic Romance novels that Caroline used to read."
Blair scratched the back of his neck considering his next words. "Did you scan the house to pick up anymore heartbeats?"
The change in subject made the Sentinel blink. "No, I didnít."
"Thatís not like you," Blair mused.
"I was too busy trying to get you out of there before you spontaneously combusted."
Blair smirked. "So what are we doing next? I mean thereís been no crime committed. All Mrs. Banks reported was a few screams. You didnít find any Ďevidence of foul playí. What did Simon say?"
"You got any plans for the evening, Chief?"
Jim smiled, as Blair became all flustered; as per normal, the student did not wanting to commit until he had all the facts. Blair feverishly scanned the Sentinelís face hunting for a clue. Then he spotted Simon sitting in his office, chomping on his cigar, scrutinising them.
"Weíre going back there - arenít we? Tonight."
"Got it in one, Chief."
Mrs. Banks was ecstatically pleased to see them. Blair cheered up immensely when he realised that they were staking out the rectory from Mrs. Banksí house.
"So how did Simon authorise this?" Blair flung his hands out encompassing the cluttered attic room. Mrs. Banks had set two plush armchairs in the alcove of the attic window.
"Authorise what?" Jim asked. "Itís not as if I need surveillance equipment, is it?"
"Weíre just visiting Aunt ZoŽ and Nephew Simon will be Ďround later after heís dropped Daryl off with Joan."
Mrs. Banks beetled in with a tray loaded down with tea and sandwiches. One of her many cats slunk around her ankles as she picked her way through old cardboard boxes and memorabilia cluttering the attic. Jim leaped up and helped her set the tray on an old crate between the two chairs.
"This is the life, man," Blair enthused. "No ratty little hotel room or freezing, cold truck. A nice, warm attic, a cup of tea and... bacon sandwiches?"
"Bacon sandwiches?" Jim perked up.
"Simon always said that he preferred bacon sandwiches above all else when he was on stakeout," Mrs. Banks explained.
"Yes," Jim said sagely, "it canít be a stakeout without bacon sandwiches. Itís in the constitution."
"The cholesterol..." Blair began but wilted in the face of the Mrs. Banksí pleased smile. "We need cholesterol in the right quantities."
The grad student chomped down on a sandwich with relish. Jim couldnít resist the warm, caressing scent a second longer. The savoury taste sensation exploded over his senses. Salty and effervescent. These were bacon sandwiches like his mother used to make. He concentrated on the cosy memory of his motherís kitchen.
"Son, I knew that they were good but I didnít realise that they were that good."
Time had passed; Mrs. Banks was tidying away the tray. He had consumed the whole selection of sandwiches while in the middle of a zone out. Blair was guarding a small plate and a lonely sandwich with an outstretched hand.
"My sandwiches, you glutton. If you get indigestion itíll serve you right."
There was tenseness around the anthropology studentís expressive eyes that showed that he had been aware of the mini-zone but had been unable to act. Frustration always rattled Blairís cage. The worst torture Jim could inflict on his sometimes aggravating roommate was to leave him out of the loop. Blairís revenge, after such teasing, was often painful, humiliating and prolonged.
"How did you cook these, ZoŽ?" Jim asked making his tone polite. He wasnít quite comfortable with addressing Simonís elegant older relative by her Christian name.
"Lard in a frying pan on a high heat. I didnít cut any of the white fat from the bacon - it crisps up nice and savoury."
Blair was gagging on his sandwich. When the kid deigned to make bacon sandwiches, all the fat was cut off and the meat grilled. Jim decided that this stake out could be fun.
Blair peered out into the darkness, as blind as the proverbial bat. In the armchair next to him, the Sentinel sat sentry, piercing the darkness with his preternatural senses. Blair revelled in the feeling of absolute trust in the Sentinel - he had never liked the darkness as a child. The lights around the rectory were out. Tonight, he could see a little by the light of the stars in the firmament. Without the reflection of the city lights off lowering clouds, it was as dark as if they were camping in the depths of the Canadian outback. His world was cosy and warm. He burrowed into the blanket Mrs. Banks had given him before going to bed.
"You really liked those sandwiches, didnít you?" Blair said into the darkness.
"Yes," Jim said sibilantly. "They were just like the ones my mom used to make."
The wishful dream in his friendís voice made Blair wince. Rarely, never, had Jim spoken of his mother. They had not swapped stories of their families. In fact Blair had wondered if James Ellison was an orphan; he had so little to say about his family and he was so incredibly self-sufficient. Blair might not have had a father, but he had a mother who loved him unconditionally - Blair instinctively guessed that Jim didnít have that gift.
"You zoned on them, didnít you?"
Jim hummed and hawed before speaking. "Nah, not really. It was more thinking about my mom in the kitchen."
ĎHe zoned on a memory of a sensation?í Blair thought, intrigued.
"Yeah, my mom used to make these milkshakes," Blair prodded, hoping to open a chink in the Sentinelís armour.
Jim did not need any stimulus, he was lost in a world of memories.
"I must have been one, maybe a bit older; I only had about four teeth." The smile in his voice was evident. "I wobbled up to her. She was working at the bench. There was this most wonderful smell. It drew me to her. I remember twisting my fingers in her skirt - Ďcos I didnít want to fall over - I hated landing on my soggy diaper. It was a woven skirt, you know, that sort of bevelled feeling. I must have tugged Ďcos she looked down at me and just smiled. Then with a conspiratorial expression she gave me a little piece of bacon."
"What did it taste like?"
"Nothing on earth," Jimís voice smiled. "Iíd had that disgusting mushy stuff since I had been weaned and here in my mouth I was suddenly sucking on this amazing mass of textures and exploding pinpricks of salt. I sucked on that piece of bacon all day."
ĎHe doesnít realise what heís just told me!í Blair thought eagerly. ĎThereís a chapter, maybe a whole thesis, in what heís just said. I always knew that Jimís memory was phenomenal, but heís got a complete recall of an event as a baby. And itís all sensory - based on taste and texture. Childrenís eyes arenít fully developed until theyíre about nine - Iíll have to check on that. He can remember being a kid. A child psychologist would sell their soul to spend ten minutes trawling through his memories. And it sounds like his senses were on line as a kid.í
"Whatís your first memory, Chief?"
"Was that your first memory?" Blair asked.
"Nah, I remember Mom rocking me at my Christening. Youíre avoiding the question."
"Hmmm," Blair ran his fingers through his dishevelled curls. "Naomi had this papoose she liked to carry me in. I loathed it. Once I was wrapped inside of it, I couldnít move or grab anything. I remember that it was very frustrating."
"That explains a lot!" Jim laughed out loud.
"Explains what?" Blair demanded.
Jimís cell phone chirruped, interrupting the conversation. The vague Jim-shaped blur moved in his seat. The phone clicked open.
"Ellison... Oh, hi Simon, you missed a plate of bacon sandwiches. When are you coming? No, how?"
Blair listened to the intriguing one way conversation - it sounded as if the Captain would not be coming to his Auntís house.
"Yeah, okay. Nah, weíll stay - your Auntís great. Itíll be worth staying up all night to try her breakfast. Say hi to Daryl."
"Simon not coming?" Blair had followed that much of the conversation.
"No, Daryl fell out do the tree in his back yard and broke his wrist. Simonís in the ER."
"Is he all right?" Blair asked, concerned. He shook his head. "Isnít he a bit old to be climbing in trees?"
"Heís fine. Hairline fracture. They were playing softball... I guess the ball got stuck in the branches and he went climbing."
"Thatís how I broke my arm - falling out of a tree."
Jim snorted. "What were you doing?"
"Scrumping. Scrumping? Yeah, bit of an obscure term, it means stealing apples. There were these great apple trees. Oh, they were perfect for climbing. There was this really big one - nobody could get to the top branches - they were too heavy. I was small as a kid." Blair chortled at the plainly obvious statement. "One of the big kids hoisted me up into the tree and up I went like a squirrel."
"So did the branch break?"
"No! Mrs. Danbush came out and yelled at me. I fell off the branch. She was very sorry." Blair laughed.
The hilarity died in the back of his throat as he remembered the psychopath David Lash, the nut case, who had kidnapped him from the loft and tried to steal his identity. Blair had fought the psycho with memories, one of which had been the Mrs. Danbush memory. He had shown Lash that he hadnít a hope in Hell of taking his place, if he did not even know the simplest little memory. Blair mentally shook himself, he wasnít going to dwell on Lash. The man had tried to taste his life, and had failed. Blair wasnít going to allow the psycho to pollute his memories and steal his dreams.
"You all right, Chief? Your temperatureís just spiked."
"I think itís the bacon sandwiches," Blair quipped.
ĎHeís that aware of me,í Blair thought, flabbergasted. ĎIf my heart raced faster, he would know.í
Blair wished at that moment that he could see the Sentinel and read his expression. Sitting as he was in the darkness, he could only go by the manís voice. Maybe Jim was more comfortable in the shadows Ė rarely, say never, had he revealed any thoughts on his mother. Tonight, Jim had let a little portion of his soul fly free.
"What are you thinking?" Jimís voice broke his concentration
"Excuse me?" Blair blinked furiously.
"If your brow got any more furrowed your face would turn inside out. Thereís some seriously deep thoughts going on in that little mind. Care to share them?"
ĎOf course, he can see me perfectlyí. Blair realised. ĎAs far as Jimís concerned, Iím sitting in daylight.í
"Nothing," Blair said offhandedly. "I was just letting my thoughts run riot."
Blair snuggled down in the blanket. He knew that Jim would be embarrassed if he pointed out that they were having a simple, friendly conversation. They had lived together for only a couple of months. They were still cat-footing around each other. That wasnít entirely true, Blair reflected. They were comfortable, but they were still learning the rhymes and reasons of their lives together. Blair smiled in Jimís direction, content now with Jimís scrutiny.
"You never do that? Just let your thoughts fly in all directions?" Blair asked.
"I suppose so," Jim hedged. "Not deliberately, though."
Blair chortled, "I don't do it deliberately - well, not all the time."
Jim laughed, a pleasant sound of comradeship.
Jimís figure rose, blocking out the starlight, as he stood in the attic window. Blair wriggled against his side. With a snort, Jim made space. Blair peered aimlessly through the window. If the inhabitants of the rectory were involved in something nefarious tonight, they didnít want to be seen. They were not counting on a Sentinelís presence.
"What can you see?" Blair whispered fervently. He rested a palm on the cold glass. Unable to see he caught Jimís sleeve and followed the cloth down to his knobbly wrist. He wrapped long fingers around his friendís wrist so that they rested on top of the steady pulse.
"What are you doing, Chief?"
"Monitoring you - your pulse slows when you go into a zone out."
"Hmmmm," was Jimís only comment. The detective did not pull his arm away. The pulse was beating faster rather than slowing.
"What can you see?"
A short, sharp breath through Jimís nose heralded his words. "I see a shimmering, like a heat wave, but there is no light. Come on!"
Jim jerked away his hand and made his way unerringly across the cluttered attic. Gingerly, Blair fumbled in the Sentinelís wake. After the second time he had banged his toes against a box, he flicked on his flashlight. Since the Sentinel was half way down the stairs, Blair was not going to ruin his night vision with the tiny light.
Clinging to the banister, he followed Jim. The front door was swinging open. Jim was long gone. Carefully, Blair closed and locked the door with the key Mrs. Banks had given him. The street lamps on the road illuminated this side of the house. Blair picked up his pace. The high wall separating the two gardens of the houses was a good three metres high. Jim was skirting along the wall, heading towards growth of clinging vines. He was going to climb over the wall. Blair hurried to catch up, running around the pickup parked outside the front door. With a skill, probably born in the jungles of Peru, the Sentinel tested a vine and then oozed up to the top of the wall in a blink of an eye.
Then Jim screamed.
Blair stopped dead. He had never heard such a sound of terror from a human being. Slowly Jim toppled from the wall, falling in a boneless heap on the ground.
Blair skidded to halt at the Sentinelís side. Jimís eyes were open, but bugged and straining. His neck was arched, the tendons so prominent that they cast shadows. A closed breath hovered in his throat. Fingers pawed futilely at the air, scrabbling against something wasnít there. Jim was a portrait of pain.
"Jim? Jim, can you breathe?"
A shimmering miasma clung to the Sentinelís body. Thoughts ricocheting through his head - Blair decided that Jim was suffering from an allergic reaction. Despite Jimís greater weight, Blair grabbed his shoulders and tried to drag the lump of a man from the cloud. Ice-cold air oozed past him, chilling his soul.
"Blair," Jim choked, "stop it!"
Shaking his head, Blair ignored the Sentinelís words, trying to pull him from the toxic waste. Jimís hands batted against the cloud, almost as if he was holding it back.
The death was here. Terrified, Blair released the Sentinel. Staggering backwards, he almost fell as a stone turned beneath his foot. Jim was gasping and fighting for air. Blair could feel the imminent death in the air.
Blindly, he headed for the truck. Running straight into the front fender he bounced off the metal. He clawed his way along the side and yanked open the driver door and climbed in.
He scrabbled under the seat and pulled out Jimís steel crowbar.
Weapon in hand, he bolted back to the Sentinelís side. Making a swipe, which would put a golf champion to shame, he swung the crowbar through the cloud. Molten hot iron flowed through his hands. The pain overpowered his reason. A scream, which echoed Jimís, was silent. His heart pulsated with a staccato, hammering beatÖ stopping, and then starting again. He held on, clinging not controlling, riding on the back of pain-filled terror. Slowly, he began to push. Resolute, he pushed.
White light flashed against his tightly closed eyelids. He heard a new cadence to Jimís screams as they reached impossibly high levels.
Then, the sudden absence of pain was a terrible as the shock of pain. The crowbar slipped from numbed fingers. His legs suddenly had no strength. He sank to his knees at his friendís side. The pain awoke in his hands. Rocking with the agony, he cradled swollen fingers in his lap.
"Jim, man, Jim? Are you all right?" He couldnít uncurl to touch the Sentinel.
The breath whistling through Jimís bruised throat was painful to listen to. The sound was, though, music to his ears. Jim slapped weakly at the ground. Blair wasnít too sure what he was trying to convey.
"Pain," he gritted out.
"Focus," Blair responded, as if trained. "Focus. Breathe past the pain."
The Sentinelís harsh, gasping breathing slowed and became more regular. Blair found himself following the rhythm.
Miraculously, Jim dragged himself into a sitting position. The white, sweaty sheen to his skin was fading. Blair wished he had the Sentinelís powers of recovery. Maybe he just needed to be a buff, six-foot plus mass of genetically pure Neanderthal throwback.
Blair huddled further in on himself.
"Chief? Whatís the matter?"
"Inside," Blair could only say.
Jim nodded once, and displaying his preternatural strength, he staggered upright drawing Blair with him. Blair fitted himself under Jimís shoulder and, both as unsteady as each other, they wobbled back to the entrance of Mrs. Banksí house. Jim fumbled with the handle but Blair had locked the front door.
Propped against the door, Jim choked out. "Keys?"
"Pocket, man..." Blair gestured with his curled hands and Jim had his first view of the blisters marring Blairís hands.
"Get the keys. Open the door."
Jim rooted in Blairís pocket, hauling out the keys. Blair bit his lip as Jim brushed another blister just over his hip. It took so long, then the key turned in the lock and they were falling into Mrs. Bankís hall. The lights were still out; somehow they hadnít woken Aunt ZoŽ.
"What we gonna do?" Blair gasped, as they headed to the kitchen and Mrs. Bankís first aid kit. "Call Simon?"
"And report what? Toxic waste emission?" Jim had the presence of mind to turn on the kitchen light.
"Call an environmental protection agency?" Blair giggled. He sagged into a wooden bench beside a large trestle table. Jim sat opposite him, straddling the bench and falling forward until his head rested on the wood.
"I hurt all over," Jim announced.
Blair moved to rub, soothingly, between Jimís shoulder blades. A fresh stab of agony and his hands refused to co-operate. Hissing, he set his hands on the table. A large blister marred the whole palm of his right hand following the line of the crowbar. Already filled with straw coloured fluid the blister bulged a good half inch from his hand. Each right fingertip had its own yellowing blister. He had a matching, smaller, blister on the palm of his left hand. The blisters on the left fore finger and index finger were already weeping. The flesh, not blistered, was a violent, angry red and throbbed with the beating of his heart. Bracing himself he managed to twitch his fingers. No tendon damage. Hopefully, and he prayed that he was correct, the burns were superficial.
Jim heard his hiss and lifted his head.
Grimacing, Jim lurched over to the sink and filled a bowl with cold water. Bottom lip clenched between his teeth, showing his pain, he carried the bowl back to the table.
"Here, rest your hands in this."
Gritting his teeth, Blair complied. Leaning over, Jim scrutinised the burns through the water.
"We need to go to the E.R., Chief. These have gotta be checked."
"We both need to go to the emergency room," Blair countered.
"Okay," Jim complied.
His easy acquiescence surprised the student. He guessed that it was a ploy to force him to go to the E.R.. Two could play at that game.
"Can we go when itís light, man? Thereís no way I want to go out there when itís dark," he finished sheepishly.
"Iíll call Simon."
"Poor Simon - heís probably just got home after being there all night with Daryl."
Jim staggered away from the table. He paused, leaning against the door jamb. He was plainly searching for words. Blair could practically read his mind. Similar thoughts and nightmares were running rampant through his mind. His effervescent brain was coming to a hypothesis that he really did not want to make.
"Chief... What the Hell happened out there?"
"I dunno," Blair shrugged. "I really donít know."
"Iíll call Simon and get a unit over here. I donít want ZoŽ to be on her own."
Jim slipped out into the hall.
ĎI wonder if Jim would mind if I invited ZoŽ to stay with us in the loft for a few days?í
End of Chapter Two
"Itís gone back?" Bethany rubbed her hands nervously, twisting her fingers together. "I canít sense it."
Her harsh breathing echoed throughout the library. The gasps almost sounded like crying. Philip set aside his book of psalms. A shudder rocked Bethanyís frame and, simultaneously, Philip felt the thing stir. He had been reading constantly since the sun had set. As he had prayed, he had been distantly aware of a horror prowling around the Legacy house. The thing was trapped, unable to enter the rectory or escape from the gardens.
"Why did it stop?" Philip asked hoarsely.
"I donít know... It thrummed with joy. Then scurried back to the Underside." Bethany shrugged, unable to explain further.
A screech of brakes disturbed them. Philip crossed to the bay window and twitched back the heavy curtains.
"Whatís happening?" Bethany asked, but she didnít leave her post by the fireplace.
"All the lights are on at Mrs. Banksí house. Itís too far to see whatís happening."
"I feel pain," Bethany said quietly. "My hands hurt."
Philip turned from the window. Bethany was looking at her hands, moving them in the light of the flickering fire. The otherworldly look on her face told him that Bethany was not talking about herself.
"Whoís hurt?" Philip asked quietly.
"A child... No, a childlike person. Heís concerned about another person - a person who is very important to him - more important than he realises."
Bethany lifted her head and her grey eyes blanked as she strove to see beyond the room.
"Heís moving away."
An engine firing and wheels speeding away drew Philipís attention back to the window. He saw a dark, executiveís car driving away from their neighbours.
"Something happened at Mrs. Banksí house," Philip announced to an empty room.
Bethany had left.
Feeling pleasantly mellow, thanks to the pain medication the E.R. doctor had insisted upon administrating, Jim listened unashamedly to the other doctor treating Blair. The student was playing his old tricks, downplaying the burns. The doctor wasnít taking any of Blairís misdirections and obfuscations. He knew now that Blairís burns were not serious - painful but not permanent. Second-degree burns had penetrated to the second layer of skin on his hands. The doctor was, however, at a loss to explain what had caused the burns apart from heat. The burns were not characteristic of fire, chemical or radiation. An elderly doctor, called to consult, had postulated possible lightning burns but they werenít typical either.
Simon was pacing outside Jimís cubicle chewing on an unlit cigar. The captain had immediately driven to his Auntís house with Daryl huddled in the back wrapped in a blanket. To say that Aunt ZoŽ was annoyed by that turn of affairs was something of an understatement. She had taken her great-nephew straight back to Simonís house and now was indulging her favourite relativeís every little whim. Jim thought that Simon was a very clever man.
"Hey, man," Blair mumbled. He stumbled into Jimís cubicle until he stopped against the examination bed. Simon hovered behind him. The student also had the dazed look of a medicated patient. His entire right hand and wrist was encased in a pristine white bandage. The left hand wore a similar bandage, the palm was strapped, but his thumb and third finger were unwrapped. Blairís demeanour had risen to new levels of dishevelment. Somehow the kid had managed to refasten a few of his shirt buttons but he had given up once he had achieved Ďcoverageí. The top button of his jeans was loose and his belt unfastened.
"Hey, Buddy, how are you feeling?" Jim pushed himself onto his elbows.
"No pain, man." Blair held up his clubbed right hand. "Three weeks. Minimal or no scarring. Gotta go to the Burns Unit and get the bandages changed every few days... Unless?" he finished hopefully.
"No problem, Chief. Iíll look after your antibiotics for you," Jim held out his hand for the pills. Jim wouldnít have put it past the student to accidentally on purpose lose the tablets or substitute some herbal remedy.
Blair rolled his eyes dramatically. "Oh, man. You were listening..."
"You were only in the next cubicle," Jim pointed out. "What have you done with the antibiotics?"
"The nurse put them in my shirt pocket. I canít get at them." Blair demonstrated. He couldnít get his wrapped hand in the top pocket.
Jim beckoned him over and took the tablets into protective custody. Jim also took the opportunity to set Blairís shirt to rights. He paused before reaching for the belt.
"No, man, leave it. Iíve got another blister on my hip. My jeans are too tight."
"Iívegotatheory," Blair whispered, casting a furtive glance at Simon. "Idonítwanttotalkaboutit-here."
Jim was quite willing to discuss what had happened in the loft - he would prefer not to spend the night in the psychiatric wing.
††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~
Swaying from side to side like a drunken sailor, Blair tottered up the stairs to the loft apartment. Simon had his hands full with a lump of a Sentinel.
"Sandburg, if you just sat on the stairs a moment, I could get Jim up to the loft then come back and collect you."
"Leave me alone out here? No way, man."
Bracing himself against the wall with his shoulder, Blair managed a few more steps.
"How are you holding up, Jim?" Simon asked.
"Numb," Jim mumbled.
"I should put you two in protective custody until youíre old and grey," Simon mumbled. He hauled on Jimís arm, settling the lighter manís arm more comfortably over his shoulder. Jim tried to help, flopping one foot, then the other in front of himself on the stairs. Simon thought that it would be easier for him to put the man in a firemanís lift rather than dragging him up the stairs.
"Why arenít we using the elevator?"
"Blair broke it the other night," Jim whispered. "He tried pressing the emergency button to see if it worked and the motor blew out."
"Was he stuck?"
"No." Jim flopped another numb foot on a stair tread. "Mrs. McIllwraith, the old lady who lives on the ground floor, said that she had tried it the other night and it hadnít worked. Sandburg jammed the elevator door open with her walking stick before playing with the button. Otherwise we would have been calling the fire station."
Simon shook his head, "Iím really surprised he didnít lock himself in."
"Youíre surprised?" Jim deadpanned.
"I can hear you," Blair announced. He had reached the landing and had propped himself up against the door.
Simon lugged Jim up the last few stairs and then supported the man as he fumbled in his pockets for the key. Eventually they got the door open. Blair piled into the apartment with a profound sigh of relief. Using his nose, in lieu of a finger, he moved through the loft flicking every light switch. Simon raised an eyebrow, as Jim did not utter a word. It was also strange that the environmentally conscious flower child was flagrantly using electricity.
Simon deposited Jim on the couch.
"Tea? Coffee? Beer?" Simon asked.
Jim cocked his head to the side and looked at the wall clock. Simon followed his line of sight. Hours had passed - it was three oíclock in the morning.
"Beer," Jim said, his tone was flat.
"Blair?" Simon asked.
"Camomile tea with a spoonful of honey."
Simon puttered in the kitchen preparing the requested drinks and making himself a cup of strong coffee. Blair finished his prowl around the loft and then settled next to the Sentinel on the couch.
"So are you going to tell me what happened?" Simon asked.
His detective and his detectiveís shadow were looking at him with drugged expressions. Simon knew that he was about to be treated to either a story worthy of Tolkien or the unadulterated truth. He wasnít entirely sure what he preferred at this point in time.
Both men suddenly looked at each other and shared identical expressions - a cross between confusion, agreement and, curiously, trepidation.
ĎMentally preparing their stories so they would tally,í Simon mused to himself.
Blair nibbled on his bottom lip, then shrugged. The ball was firmly in the detectiveís court.
Jim coughed once before speaking. "I... have no idea. Sandburg?"
"Oh, thanks, man!" Blair rolled his eyes.
"Sandburg - report now." Banks ordered.
"I have a theory," Blair began. "Well, itís more of a hypothesis, Ďcos it canít be a theory Ďcos I don't have any proof."
"Get to the point," Banks prodded.
"Gee, well." Blairís paws sat still on his lap, muted by the rolls of bandages. "Iíd guess from Jimís reaction that we encountered...er....."
ĎGetting the creative version,í Simon noted.
Jim was being no help whatsoever. The detective was sitting, like a lump of wood, watching Blairís unmoving hands. Simon waited, patiently, dunking the camomile tea bag in the hot water. Absently, he looked at Blair and then at the hot tea. There was going to be a problem. As Blair fumbled, Simon searched through the cupboards until he found an old straw left over from one of Jimís ĎWonder Burger and a large Coca Cola (please)í food expeditions to a fast-food restaurant. He cooled the tea with a dash of tap water and then plonked the straw into the pale yellow liquid. Simon crossed to the twosome, who looked like paired bookends on opposite sides of the couch. Blair had lapsed into quiet as he hunted for the right, or more believable, words. He perked up when Simon set the tea on the coffee table. He sat on the floor and scooted to the drink and slurped noisily through the straw.
"This was a good idea, man!" Blair said with relish.
"From the beginning, Sandburg."
"Ummm, Iím not really sure, Simon." Blair fixed his intense gaze on the Captain. "Jim saw something and ran closer to see what it was. Then he collapsed - I thought that he was having an asthma attack Ďcos there was this sort of cloud hanging around him and he was coughing and gasping. I tried to drag him out of it and, well, I... er...couldnít move him."
"So how did you get burnt?" Simon prodded, as Sandburg wound to a halt.
"Oooh, that was kinda weird."
ĎHere it comes.í Simon kept a commentary running through his mind.
"You know that one of the doctors thought that maybe Jim had been struck by lightning and that accounted for the muscle pain and wobbliness. Lightning caused an electrochemical imbalance?" Blair asked, seemingly changing the subject. Simon decided to go along with the tangent.
"Yes, but he said that there should have been an entry and exit wound - there isnít one. Nor is he showing any sign of short term memory loss, which is usually what happens when you are hit by lightning."
Jim raised an eyebrow, but didnít say a word.
"Well, yeah, I canít explain that one," Blair essayed a tiny smile. "Well, he was having real problems with this cloud. So, and it was really lucky, I got Jimís crowbar, from under the driverís seat of the truck, and I earthed the cloud. Thatís when I burnt my hands. The lightning went along the crowbar. Hey, thatís why Iíve gotta blister on my hip, Ďcos my keys were in my pocket. The metal, man - it earthed the micro lightning cloud." Blair finished eagerly.
Simonís eyes narrowed. "And thatís your story?"
"Yeah, and Iím sticking to it!"
Simon turned his Captainís expression on his detective. Jim stared back at him squarely.
"To tell the truth, sir, that is as good as explanation as any."
"You were attacked by a tiny cloud of lightning?"
Both men nodded - once - a definite Ďno argumentí nod.
"Youíve been watching the ĎX-filesí again, havenít you?"
"Hey, Jim is an X-file," Blair defended his partner. Abruptly his words cut off and the colour drained out of Blairís face. The suddenness of the episode caught Simon by surprise. Jim was automatically leaning forwards and resting a comforting hand on his partnerís shoulder.
"Whatís the matter, Blair?"
"I think that Iíve had enough of today, Jim. Iím going to go to bed." Unstable without his hands, he staggered to his feet and stumbled off to his study bedroom. The two older men were left, simply sitting, startled by his abrupt departure.
"Is he all right?" Simon finally asked.
Jim canted his head to the side and listened. "Iíll give him ten minutes and then go check on him. Heís right, though, itís been a long day."
Simon knew a dismissal when he heard one - and he felt riled.
"What really happened out there?" He was concerned. He wanted answers. This was happening on his elderly Auntís doorstep.
"Truth?" Jim said quietly. "Blairís account is a logical explanation - I donít know what happened. Not because of short-term memory loss - but because I donít know whatís happened. There was a cloud and I couldnít breathe and it could have been a toxic waste emission."
Jim sat back on the couch and crossed his arms.
"Right, Iíll get forensics down there a.s.a.p." Simon launched himself to his feet.
"What justification?" Jim asked quietly.
"Hey, Iím the captain, I donít need justification." With a sharp, controlled motion he fastened his heavy coat. "Are you two going to be okay?"
Jim scratched the side of his head. "Yeah."
"I can send Brown over."
"To baby-sit us? Nah. No thanks. Seriously, Simon, weíll be fine."
Simon stopped at the loft door. "Call me if you need anything."
"Youíre on the speed dial."
Heavy footsteps echoed down the apartment steps. Jim waited until the Captain had left the building and entered his car before clambering laboriously to his feet. Frustrated Blair sounds were coming from the studentís bedroom. Still numb and uncoordinated, Jim fumbled to the room. He tapped on the lintel of the doorway. Blair grunted and Jim pushed the curtain aside. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Blair was surrounded by a circle of hand-written notes.
"Are you okay?"
"Can you get that big book down for me?" Blair said ignoring the question.
"This one?" Jim pointed to a text enticingly named ĎA-Z of Ghosts, Goblins and Mythical Beastsí.
Blair looked up and nodded, his expression somehow abstracted and knotted in concentration. Grunting with effort, the Sentinel hauled down the massive tome, putting it on the floor before Blair. Joining the student on the floor, all Jim could see were two big blue eyes in a white, shocky face that was the colour of milk, surrounded by dishevelled curls. His glasses were half on, one arm hanging over his ear. Jim leaned over and set them aright.
"Can you find me the page which refers to Gaki?" Blair asked, smiling a Ďthank youí.
Jim turned to the back of the book and found the reference. Leafing through the pages, he found a lurid picture of a dark hanging cloud with a mouth filled with blood dripping teeth.
"What is this book?" Jim jerked back.
Blair lifted his head. "Itís from my Dungeons and Dragons days."
That sounded strangely incongruous to Jim. "Thatís that role playing game thing isnít it? Why are we looking at this shit?"
"Actually--" Blair pushed his glasses up his nose with the back of his hand, "--itís quite interesting. I referred to it in a paper once. Professor Barnstaple wasnít impressed, though. A Gaki is the closest thing I can come up with to what we faced tonight. There are different types of Gaki - damn I canít remember. Gaki are of Chinese derivation - theyíre a type of ghost. There are Gaki that like blood, Gaki that take life and Gaki that... eat ... your soul."
Jim shivered. He rocked back on his heels. The night had been too unnerving for words. He didnít want to dwell on the attack. Seemingly, Blair was not allowing the matter to lie unstudied. Jim knew that he, too, needed to get to the bottom of the mystery of the cloud. Blair was a study in concentration; his glasses had slipped down his nose as he read furiously.
"The micro lightning cloud explanation works for me," Jim ventured.
"On one level it works perfectly." Blair didnít lift his head from the reading matter that heíd strewn on the floor. Jim guessed that he had simply knocked over a file and pushed the contents around with his feet. "The scientific, quantifiable level. In the cold light of day - I would happily argue that we encountered an electrical phenomena."
"So why are you looking at kiddie ghost stories and role playing manuals."
"Because the majority of my myth and legend texts are in my office or in the University library and these are the only one I have here."
"Youíre not answering the question."
"True." Blair finally lifted his head. "Science is in its infancy, you know. Some things just canít be explained by science. Stigmata, fírinstance, or how bumble bees fly. In a thousand years people might look back and say: "that science religion was a load of crapí. I guess, though, that theyíll have a different word for Ďcrapí in the next millennia."
"Your point, Sandburg?"
"What Iím saying is...." Blair screwed up his face. "I donít know what Iím saying...."
Burnt, in pain and tired, the student was a pathetic picture. Blairís eyes implored for understanding. Jim rubbed his forehead, the attack had given the Sentinel a resounding headache. He wondered what he could say to Blair. Which of them was going to say the words first?
"I was there, Blair."
"Iíve never been so scared in my entire life," Blair admitted quietly. "I donít know what that Ďthingí was, but it was gonna eat you and spit out a desiccated husk. It was evil, man! You could taste the darkness in the air."
Blairís voice had risen in pitch making the hairs stand up on the back of the Sentinelís neck.
"I know, I know." Jim reached forward and rested his hand on the back of Blairís neck and began soothe the tense muscles. Concentrating on calming Blair allowed him to stave off his own fear. The student folded in on himself, resting his head on his ankles. Yoga was good for limbering up the joints, Jim noted, as he continued his massage.
"What are we gonna do, Jim?" Blair said, muffled.
"Talk to Father Callaghan in the morning."
Blair jerked upward throwing off Jimís comfort. "I donít think that that is a good idea, man."
"Heís involved. Do we really wanna go back into the lionís den?"
"How else are we going to find out what happened?"
"No, no, no!" Blair clambered to his feet and began to pace alongside his bed. "We go back in that garden and itís going to come out and get us. Snap! Lick of the lips and *gone*, man."
Blair stopped, his entire body was thrumming with badly suppressed emotion.
"We need to find out what is happening," Jim said, his tone brooking no argument. His instincts were screaming at him to do something, anything, to prevent this evil from.... Jim blinked furiously. The ex-ranger, now detective, responded to a threat with action. When faced with a psychopath holding a gun - he knew what to do. What was he going to do now?
"Jim? Are you zoning?"
A soft cotton material was caressing his cheek. Jim blinked again. Sandburg was kneeling before him lightly patting his face with a mittened hand. The pounding in his head had increased exponentially.
"Come on back, big guy. Tell me what you were thinking about," Blair instructed. "There are some deep thoughts going on in there."
"Itís frustrating," Jim admitted. "I want to go out there and solve this... nightmare now. I shouldnít be sitting here."
"And that made you almost zone?" Blair questioned. His voice was calm and understanding.
"I... felt... that," Jim lapsed into silence. Inward searching of his motivations was not his preferred way of figuring out his next response. "There was.... I felt like I was trying to walk but someone had chopped off my legs."
"Physically?" Blair ventured.
"No," Jim slapped the studentís shoulder affectionately. "It was a metaphor. I meant that I know that I need to do something but I have no idea what I need to do or how to explain what it is I need to do."
"No frame of reference," Blair said wisely.
"Well, yeah. When was the last time you encountered a lightning cloud from Hell, Darwin?"
A small snigger escaped from Blairís compressed lips. "Itís interesting. Youíre a sentinel - a throwback to a pre-civilised form of man."
"Iíve heard this before."
"Yes, I know." Blair batted a bandaged hand at him. "What Iím saying is that youíre more firmly grounded in the natural world. Your senses would give you a lot less trouble in a jungle environment. A lot of your overload is due to a noisy, modern world. Any rate, I digress. Maybe there is some kind of inborn response happening here - youíre picking up on some stimulus that we arbitrarily call evil - and itís triggering a set of reactions. You have no basis in the Twentieth Century on which to frame these... urges... thatís why youíre so frustrated. Your inherent nature is telling you to do something but... while the hardware is present the software has been corrupted or hasnít been loaded. "
Jim refrained from rolling his eyes, knowing that it would upset the student. "So what am I gonna do?"
"Thatís what Iím here for," Blair said eagerly. "Tomorrow, or today - whatever - Iíll go down to the library and Iíll find out everything that there is to know about ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties."
"Thatís a quote, right?"
"An old prayer: Ďfrom ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties, the Lord protect me tonightí. Appropriate, donít you think?"
"And I go to see Father Call...."
"No way. Not until weíve got more information and we can protect ourselves. Weíre not going to help anyone if we just wander in there and get ourselves killed."
Blairís words had a sense of rightness, Jim noted. During covert operations his team had not launched a premature attack, they had waited until they had all the information they could acquire.
ĎTime to take control,í Jim decided.
"Okay, itís almost dawn - time to get you to bed. Sit - on the edge of the bed," Jim ordered.
"Excuse me?" Blair rose from his kneeling position.
"Sandburg. Blair, a couple of hours sleep will not go amiss."
"Go amiss..." Blair mimicked. "Hey, I could sleep on my feet."
"So lie down and get a couple of hours in, before you go to the library."
"Why do I have to sit on the edge of the bed?" Blair queried stepping backwards.
"You going to sleep in those clothes? Your shoes?"
"You gonna undress me?" Blair ventured, his eyes widening in horror.
"No, the tooth fairy is," Jim snapped. "Sit!"
Muttering under his breath, Jim unlaced the studentís walking boots and pulled off his socks. Blair was strangely quiet during the whole procedure. Shaking his head, Jim peeled off the coat, shirt and then T-shirt to reveal a large band-aid nestled within the dark chest hair.
"Ouch." Jim winced theatrically. "The nipple ring?"
"Yeah, man," Blair said quietly.
"Bet that hurt."
Jim helped Blair out of his jeans, leaving him in his shorts. Blair only resisted slightly as Jim pushed him back onto the mattress. He sighed deeply as Jim pulled up the rumpled sheets and tucked him in.
"You going to sleep?"
Blair rested his wrapped hands on his stomach, plainly taking the time to contemplate his words. Slowly he nodded. Now that he was horizontal, sleep was stealing up on him.
"Are *you* going to sleep?" Blair said, eventually.
"As soon as my head touches the pillow, Chief."
"Iíll wake up in a few hours," Blair said around a yawn. "Then Iíll go into the university."
Jim crossed to the doorway. "Yeah, sure, Chief."
Rhythmic breathing was his only answer.
Jim left the curtain pulled open and the light on in the sitting room. Still feeling the effects of the Ďthingí and the pain medication, he carefully made his way across the loft to the balcony windows. He stood there - his sight piercing the darkness - looking for a shimmer that ghosted through the shadows. Standing sentry, he waited until the first light of dawn crept over the horizon. And then he waited until the sun peeked over the building in the distance. Only in sunlight did he make his way slowly up the stairs to his bed.
End of Chapter Three
The flashing of the patrol carís lights finally drew Father Callaghan from his house. He did not want the police officers to venture into the Legacy house grounds, either on official business, or just out of curiosity. Staying on the path, he skirted the edge of the flowerbeds, and then hauled open the wrought iron gates. The gates resisted; the priest should have signalled the rectory to open the electric gates. He put his shoulder to the gate and forced a gap, big enough to slip through, and stepped onto the sidewalk.
Two police officers who were leaning, bored, against their vehicle straightened as he approached.
"Good morning, Father," the younger man said politely.
"Youíre up early," the older, supposedly wiser, man noted.
"I saw the lights outside Mrs. Banksí house, I was concerned."
He was not lying. Holding the evil in the palms of their hands was dangerous. Letting it prowl loose was more dangerous. If the monstrous presence breached the gardensí barriers for an instant - what horrors could the unknown inflict upon the innocent? He suspected that a living, breathing human had trespassed into the gardens last night. Philip had felt the unearthly, uncommon joy during the depths of last night - the joy of escape, followed by feeding. Then the thing had scurried back to the Underside. Had it taken its prey, clutched between its jaws, as it slunk back under the garden?
A couple of forensic scientists were scrutinising Mrs. Banksí stone path. They appeared calm. The aura of recent death did not surround them, however, imminent death was in their future. Philip could not tell if he, personally, would be involved. He saw so much death that sometimes he felt that it was the only thing that he could see. Given the scientistsí jobs, it was not unlikely to predict that they would be in the presence of death.
"Mrs. Banks is at her nephewís - Captain Banksí," the young officer was saying helpfully.
His older partner was watching the forensic scientists, bored with the conversation before it began. The younger, more polite officer was waiting patiently for him to speak. Philip knew instinctively that this was a man brought up in a stern environment that hinged on respecting elders and the Church. Absently, Philip wondered how long he would last in law enforcement.
His thoughts churned. "Yes, sheís mentioned him ... heís the Captain of....?"
"Major Crimes," the officer supplied.
"Was there a break in?" Philip asked innocently. "Mrs. Banks reported a disturbance the other night."
"The Cascade supercop was here with his faithful assistant, the boy wonder," the other police officer said. "Those two can always make a mountain out of a molehill and they ended up messing with someone out here. Although theyíre making up some drivel about a lightning strike."
In the face of the officerís slight contempt, Philip managed to control his fear.
"Supercop? Boy Wonder?" Philip couldnít think of any other question to find out who had been attacked.
"Ellison and his partner,"
ĎThe two detectives who came around yesterday,í Philip thought frantically. ĎHe said Ďtheyíre making upí - present tense - that implies that they are still alive. How?í
Philip took his leave of the startled police officers and almost ran back to the rectory. His mind was mapping out his next steps. He barrelled into the house, upsetting Mrs. Lissy who was, as per normal, up at the crack of dawn revelling in a quiet house.
The Cascade Legacy preceptor, Father Katualas, had died during their initial holding action against the horror. Philip had not ventured into Katualasí office - concentrating on maintaining the house and ground's protections which Katualas had triggered with his own blood. The garden wards, Katualasí carefully constructed barriers, tied the horror to the gardens. At night the thing could wander freely in the gardens, but during the day it hid from the power of sunlight, lurking in some hellish dimension - unable to venture forth. Philip logged onto the database and typed in the names of Detective James Ellison and Detective Blair Sandburg.
The computer spat out an interesting file about one Blair Sandburg - Student of Anthropology.
Blair woke with a jerk. The waking confusion left him not entirely sure if he had dreamed. He lay quietly for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. A shaft of light gleamed through the open curtains working its way across the carpet. He had slept for more than a couple of hours. The temptation to roll over and go back to sleep was almost irresistible. A dull thudding pain from his hands stopped him from returning to the peaceful realm of sleep. Last night had been too weird for words - they had accepted the presence of real evil with an equanimity that was surprising in the light of day. Blair could see the attack in his mindís eye: Jim falling; unable to breathe; the pain as he had struck the thing. Anthropologically speaking, he knew that certain cultures believed in Ghosties and Ghoulies and he took the open minded approach. Coming face to face with the unexplainable was a sobering experience. In retrospect, he was surprised that he hadnít had nightmares.
Blair turned his head on his pillow and looked out the bedroom window. It was a beautiful morning. It was very comfortable, simply lying and soaking in the warmth of the bed. His thoughts turned to his partner. Jim had been so unpretentious last night. He had undressed him and put him to bed with absolutely no embarrassment. Blair didnít know if he could have been so adult in a similar situation with Jim. Blair lifted his sore, bandaged hands - he needed the help - Jim had recognised that and dealt with the fundamental necessities of life. Maybe it was his military training; maybe it was his sense of responsibility; maybe it was his big, generous heart.
Reluctantly, Blair left his nice, warm bed - he had his responsibilities - he needed to go to the library. First he needed to go to the bathroom. He knew that old men could pee sitting down - now it was time to join their ranks. Absently, he kicked his dressing gown across the floor - getting into it was practically impossible. The loft wasnít that cold, in fact, it was quite warm today. He could stand wandering around the apartment in his shorts.
"You all right, Chief?" Jimís voice echoed from upstairs as Blair moseyed to the bathroom.
Blair paused below the stairs. "Yeah, you?"
"Iíll tell you when I start moving. You need any help?"
"Nah, Iíve got it in hand." He couldnít stop the snigger escaping.
He managed the bathroom. When he stumbled back onto the kitchen area, Jim was already preparing breakfast, or more accurately, brunch. Blair slumped on to the stool beside the table.
"Juice." Jim put the glass on the counter with the straw.
"How are you feeling?" Blair asked, as he bent over and slurped juice through the straw. Jim looked tired, he hadnít dressed before starting his day, heíd simply pulled on his ratty pale blue dressing gown. His voiced sounded a bit raw and there was a suspicious little bruise next to his windpipe.
Jim stretched. "Bit stiff. Iíll have a bath after youíve had your shower."
"Shower? How am I gonna shower?" He held up his hands to illustrate his point.
"Iíll just wrap your hands in plastic bags. And tape some plastic film on your... chest and hip. What can you manage?" Jim gestured with his whisk at Blairís left hand.
The right hand was completely out of action, however his left thumb and third finger were unburned. Slowly he twitched his thumb, it hurt but he had managed to pull his shorts up in the bathroom.
"If you put a lighter bandage around my palm - I might be able to grip with my finger aní thumb."
"Weíll see," Jim said, as he poured the batter into the pan. "The docí said two or three days before I should change the bandages. The blisters have to be protected, thereís less chance of infection if they heal without bursting."
A plate of scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon were set before him. Jim sat next to him, and stabbed a piece of bacon.
"Open wide," Jim said with an easy smile.
The old Library nestled like a giant protective Roc over the University. Blair giggled at his fancy. There was nothing he enjoyed more than rummaging amongst the stacks of books, inhaling the musty scent of paper, and hunting out something new. Within the library he felt as if he belonged.
Jim had left him on the wide steps of the Library with a series of instructions, warnings and orders. Once he had reassured the Sentinel that he had his cell phone, his wallet and clean underwear, the detective had reluctantly continued onto the precinct. It had taken every iota of his persuasive ability to get the Sentinel to leave.
"How can you manage?" Jim had asked.
"Iíll get Melinda or Trudy or Aunt Peggy to help me." Blair had smiled easily.
"Hmmm," Blair had grinned absently, "sheís been the head librarian - since forever. Iíve known her for over eight years." He was proud of that.
He had seen Jim looking in his side mirror three times before the Sentinel had driven put of sight. It had been a strange morning; he had managed the shower with assistance from Jim. He had certainly felt a lot more human after Jim had washed his hair. Then running the gamut of the staff had taken him forever. They had wanted to know what had happened to his hands. After he had explained (the revised version), he had finally ensconced himself in a quiet corner of the library. Slowly, he had accessed the library catalogue with a computer terminal.
Once again he had overestimated his mobility - typing with only his thumb was painful. He had managed to select an eclectic collection of books and was wondering who he was going to ask to retrieve the books from the stacks when a cough disturbed him.
"Hey, Jim." Blair peered over his glasses with a smile. The Sentinel was leaning against the bookshelves with his arms crossed. A flicker of a grin crossed Jimís purposely impassive face; he had probably been standing there for some time.
"Simon didnít need you?"
"Nah." A full-blown, comradely grin blossomed; Jim couldnít maintain a neutral expression any longer. "Need a hand?"
"Thereís a few books here which could be useful."
Jim looked at the terminal screen and, deliberately, flared his nostrils. "A few."
"Iíve marked the ones which I want."
Fifty-six out of one hundred and eighty-nine were flagged. Jim leaned over and scrolled the screen back to the beginning. He jotted down the Library identification number and the authors of the first ten books on a scrap of paper.
"Iíll come with you." Blair pushed back his seat.
"I know my way around a library, Sandburg. Once youíve got a couple of books on your lap you wonít be much help any rate."
Muted, Blair sat. Note clenched in his large hand, bottom lip firmly caught between his teeth, Jim headed deliberately to the book stacks.
"Bring Ďem back alive, Jim."
Chortling at his own joke, Blair turned his attention back to the computer. He continued his painstaking search - moving onto abstracts from journals. Ghost stories werenít in the realm of recent research. With a dull thud, Jim dumped the first few books on the table.
"No wonder you donít go down to the gym. You don't need to, lugging these things about."
"Ooooh, can you give me the really big one?"
Following his train of thought, Jim was already turning to the back and looking for an index. The old text did not hold such a useful directory. The discrepancy threw him for a moment and then he flipped to the front of the book. There was a list of chapters. Adroitly, Jim turned to the chapter on Chinese Ghosts and then pushed the book close to Blair. A pleased smile crossed Blairís face. They worked well together.
The legends of the Gaki were interesting... horrible, but interesting. Blair was not, however, sure that they were relevant. He pushed another book open with a mittened hand and started to hunt. A dull thud heralded ten more books. Jim took a note of the next ten texts.
Blair moved onto the Gieldh of Celtic mythology that bore certain parallels. Smothering a tired yawn, he reached for a thin, light treatise. A figure standing at the edge of the table stopped him dead.
Father Philip Callaghan.
Blairís eyes bugged and his breath caught in the back of his throat. Desperate to put more than a table between himself and the harbinger of evil, he jerked to his feet. His chair fell back, clattering noisily to the floor behind him.
"Mr. Sandburg," Father Callaghan began.
The words were cut off as Jim caught Father Callaghan in a gagging throat hold, and a restraining arm lock, before pushing the choking priest against a line of books.
"You okay, Blair?"
Blair nodded numbly. Mentally he shook himself, trying to get under control - it wasnít as if the man had crept up on him. Jim had not changed his hold - still pressing the priestís face up against the shelf of books.
"What are you doing here?" Jim demanded, giving his prisoner a little shake.
"I came to see Mr. Sandburg," Father Callaghan gritted out.
"Why?" Jimís tone was as cold as glacial ice. Lesser men had coughed up every single one of their sins in the face of such threatening equanimity.
"I wanted to talk to him about last night."
"Why Blair and not me?"
"I rang the precinct and they told me that you had left Major Crimes for the day. I thought that I could find Mr. Sandburg here at the University."
"How did you know that Sandburg was here."
"Internet search brought up his name. Itís hardly a common name, is it?"
Jim gave the priest a little shake for what he perceived was Callaghanís cocksure attitude.
"Jim, man, thatís enough." Blair moved into Jimís personal space. "Let him go. Come on, man. Heís not gonna try anything. Are you?"
Father Callaghan managed to shake his head. To say that Jim was annoyed was something of an understatement. Blood had suffused his face, turning it an angry red. If his eyes bugged any further Blair was afraid that he would burst a blood vessel. Gingerly, Blair laid his bandaged hand on Jimís wrist.
"Come on, Jim, youíve got your gun; heís not going to try anything." Blair kept up the soothing litany until the Sentinel stepped back, releasing the priest.
"Try anything and Iíll have you booked on a stalking charge so fast your priestís collar will be left in the street, whining," Jim said flatly.
Father Callaghan, despite an angry flare in his eyes, was civil. He rubbed at his throat and swallowed once before speaking. "I understand your anger. And I understand your fear."
"Apprehension," the priest revised diplomatically. "Iíd really like to talk to you, frankly, about what happened to you last night."
Wisely, he nodded in Blairís direction rather than pointing or raising his hand. Blairís eyes darted from side to side as he considered the priestís words.
"Jim, we need to talk," he said very quietly.
Indecision crossed Jimís face. He glared at Father Callaghan - plainly conveying if the priest breathed out of order he would be on him like a ton of bricks. Never turning his back on the man, he skirted the table to Blairís side. Passively, Blair allowed the Sentinel to draw him to the far end of the island of tables between the book stacks.
"Are you sure youíre all right?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I just got a... fright. One minute I was reading, the next he was standing there."
"Literally?" Jim cast a weather eye on the priest.
"I *donít* think he appeared from nowhere. Didnít you hear his heart beating?"
"I was concentrating on your heartbeat." Jimís brow furrowed as he focused his senses on the patiently waiting priest. "Yeah, heís human. I canít believe I just said that!"
Blair tried to smile but it came out more like a grimace. He essayed a shrug.
"Maybe we should talk to him?" Blair said. "I mean, he might shed some light on what happened."
"Heís involved," Jim declared.
"Youíll get no argument there from me. But we do know that heís a priest and he came looking for us. I mean, that he might have some answers."
"Neutral ground," Jim asserted. "We only talk to him on neutral ground."
Blair mulled over Jimís words for a moment. "We could go to the University Chapel?"
"You think that heíd turn into a pile of ashes if heís a vampire or something?" Jim gently cuffed the side of Blairís head.
"Hey, man, just a thought."
"I think that this constitutes neutral ground, Chief."
"Thereís some private study rooms on the second floor," Blair said helpfully.
"I think the table will do fine." Decision made, Jim strode purposely back to the priestís side.
Jim had his Ďtake-chargeí head on, Blair reflected. One moment Jim was seriously considering that the priest was a ghost... and the next acting totally exasperated when he innocently suggested that a church might just be a good idea. Blair sucked idly on his mitt. Wearing the Star of David, his Uncle Abraham had given him, suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Blair trailed unhappily after Jim as the detective picked his way through the tables back to the priestís side. Father Callaghan had moved, slowly, over to the books that Blair had selected and was flicking through the texts. As the detective and observer approached, he regarded the pair with weighing eyes.
"Interesting selection of books." His voice trailed off.
"Cut to the chase," Jim demanded.
Father Callaghan sat, interlaced his fingers, and set them on the table. "Where to begin? I can see from your choice of books youíre investigating something unusual."
"Maybe itís just Blairís research," Jim said.
Blair sighed dramatically. Jim would side step the whole issue, refusing to put his cards on the table, until the priest opened up. That might take forever. Blair did not know the priest, but he suspected that the man spent a lot of time weighing his thoughts and words before speaking. The feeling of dread that had unnerved him in the rectory was not present. Blair went with his instincts.
"Look, some weird shit happened last night and weíre trying to find out what..." Blair began.
"How open are you to the paranormal?" Father Callaghan interrupted.
"Hey, Iím an anthropologist; Iíve come across a variety of belief systems. Jim also tells me that my mindís so open you can fly a Boeing 747 through it. All I can say is that my gut is telling me that..." Blair squirmed in his seat. "Forget this... pussy footing. We saw something really screwy last night and it attacked us - What Was It?"
"I donít know," Father Callaghan said frankly.
A growl reverberated in the back of the Sentinelís throat.
Blair started. He spoke quietly under his breath. "Calm down, man - let him finish."
"A parishioner brought my attention to a housing development to the north of Cascade. Three of his employees had disappeared. The gentleman in question is sensitive to... supernatural phenomena. At his request, I went to the site." He sighed deeply. "I attracted the attention of - we donít know what - it followed me back to the rectory. We underestimated it and it underestimated us. We attempted to banish it to Hell - the Underside - another dimension - call it what you will. The rite went wrong. We managed to bind it to the garden, but only partially. Itís trapped in the Underside during the day and caught between the garden wards during the night. Itís sentient and constantly testing the barriers. I assume last night you attempted to get into the garden and it attacked you?"
Blair nodded, his eyes wide.
Jim laid his hand flat on the table, effectively drawing all attention to him.
"WHO are Ďweí?"
Tiredly, Father Callaghan rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I am a... member of an organisation called the Legacy. ĎWeí exist to protect innocent from the Forces of Darkness."
"How many are there of you?" Jim asked piercingly.
"Iím not at liberty to answer that question." He straightened from a habitually stooped posture. "You have to understand I have sworn oaths, made promises, that preclude me simply telling everything about who and what I am. This Ďthingí has decimated our ranks. Anything you can tell me about it will help us identify it and destroy it. Knowledge is our greatest weapon. My friends are dead - how *did* you survive?"
Blair latched onto his desperate words. The pain in the manís eyes, his plea, evoked such a strong response in the student it was almost pavlovian.
"I hit it with...."
Jimís hand came down on his bandaged paw. With a distressed, little meep, Blair shrank in on himself.
"Oh, sorry, Chief."
Somewhere beyond the throbbing pain, he knew that Jim was patting his shoulder and mouthing apologies. Jim was going to pay for that moment of inattention. If it was deliberate... he was going to die.
"Iíll tell you what, Father Callaghan. Why donít you tell us about the toxic lightning cloud?" Jim said calmly.
"Is he okay?" The Priest was leaning across the table reaching out a hand.
Blair lifted red ringed eyes. Philip Callaghan, Roman Catholic Priest, was ignoring James Ellison, seriously scary Sentinel, who was very nearly interrogating him to ensure that someone who he didnít even know was all right.
Blair gritted his teeth, his expressive mouth trembling.
"You better had not done that on purpose!" Blair hissed under his breath.
Jim flashed him a hurt glance.
"What happened to your hands?" Callaghan asked.
"Weíre asking the questions," Jim retorted.
"Detective--" the priest cast a morose glance at the Sentinel, "--I realise that youíre unnerved and I am a prime target for your ire, but I am not your enemy. We can go to the local doctorís and I will submit to any blood tests. We can contact the local synod and they will vouch for me. I can give you names of members of the community who I have interacted with for the several months without sprouting horns. I will swear on the Bible that my intentions are pure. Apart from that, you are just going to have to trust me. I need to know what happened last night so I can stop this *thing*."
Callaghan froze, his hands raised, his posture imploring. It took a harder man than the Sentinel to withstand his petition.
"Blair hit the cloud-thing. It did not like it in the slightest," Jim said.
"But it was outside the garden!" Blair piped up. "You said that youíd set these Ďwardí things? I guess that theyíre some kind of invisible forcefield?"
Father Callaghan nodded.
"So it was outside the rectory," Blair finished. "It had escaped."
The priestís face turned an unpleasant, pasty white.
"Calm down," Jim said to both his companions. "If you remember, I was climbing over the wall when it attacked. It came over the wall... attached... to me."
"Hey, and I gave it such a fright it ran straight back into the garden," Blair was inordinately proud of himself.
Jim tousled his curls. "You did good, kid."
"I don't understand. You survived its initial attack, Detective Ellison. I saw Wesley and Roy... consumed... in a heartbeat. They didnít even have time to pray. Father Katualas managed to scream twice before he was taken. How? Why arenít you dead?" His question was hollow and soul destroying.
Blair sucked nervously on his bottom lip. He understood the priestís pain - the man had lost good friends. How would he feel if the Ďthingí had taken Jim? Blair shook his head, allowing his curls to hide his expressive face. He knew how he would have felt if Jim had been taken. He had tasted the fear last night as he had ran from the beast. At the very least, he did not have to face the loss of his best friend. Blair knew, instinctively, that Father Philip Callaghan was not upset that his friends had been taken and Jim had been spared.
The priest just wished, with all his heart, that nobody had been killed.
"Who was responsible for the third scream?" Jim asked.
"Bethany," Philip said sadly. "Sheís a member of the Legacy. She saw her friends die."
"Sorry," Blair said ineffectually.
The priest raised his head. The desperate pain in the manís eyes cut Blair to the quick.
"I climbed up the wall to investigate a shimmer which Iíd seen in your garden," Jim explained; apparently he had decided to help the Priest. "A numbing cold washed over me. Everything stopped, thatís the only way I can explain it. I was caught."
Jim ground to a halt, frustrated by his inability to explain what had happened.
"I was caught... It was like being held in an arm lock by a superior wrestler. I could barely breathe. Then there was this bright flash of light. And it stopped."
"Flash of light?" Callaghan asked.
"Yeah," Blair said eagerly. "I saw that. I thought I was just... you know... in pain. There was a flash of light."
"Flash of light," Callaghan echoed. He ran his fingers idly over the books Blair had selected. "Why - did it light up?"
"Uh oh." Blair grinned sheepishly. "I hit it with a tyre iron."
The student mimicked the sideswipe at the beast. The effect was spoilt by the bandaged hands.
"Tyre iron - metal? Iron?" the priest questioned, his brow furrowed in concentration. "Iron is noted for its effect against the supernatural."
A disbelieving snort escaped from the Sentinel. He then raised his hands in apology. "It is kind of hard to accept, isnít it?"
The priest ignored him. "A shimmer, and iron, and flash of light. I might be able to find something in the library now."
Abruptly, the priest stood up.
"Sorry?" Blair asked.
"Thank you for your help, Detective, Mr. Sandburg."
The priest turned to leave. Blair was not the slightest bit surprised when the Sentinel rose to his feet. Nobody could misunderstand the manís body language. Philip Callaghan froze as Jim loomed over him. Behavioural scientist at the fore, Blair found himself taking notes. The priest, cowed but resolute; self-effacing but determined - the man was a study in dichotomy. Jim, however, was determined and Ďin your faceí. Down the road, Blair could see Jim getting seriously annoyed with the morose priest. Blair decided to head them off at the pass.
"Library?" Blair said quietly. "You have a library?"
Jim froze. You did not need to be a telepath to read Jimís mind. Sniggering inwardly, Blair marvelled at the Sentinelís horrified expression. Blair suddenly clicked on his words. Visions of books assailed him - books he hadnít read - books he hadnít studied.
Philip shot a confused glance between the Sentinel and Observer.
"Yes, there is a library at the rectory. The majority of the texts are esoteric." He gestured vaguely at the Rainier Library. "The selection here is a bit limited."
Practically salivating, Blair resisted the temptation to bodily drag the priest back to the rectory. "Would you like any help?" Blair asked innocently. By pure force of effort he stopped himself batting his eyelashes.
"No. I don't think that that is a good idea, Mr. Sandburg."
"Call me Blair." The student grinned engagingly. "Hey, Iím a Ph.D. student. Research is my raison díÍtre."
"Thatís all very well, Chief," Jim said sharply. "But youíre also one of the walking wounded."
"Jiiiiimmmm," Blair whined, "imagine what we might be able to find out."
Callaghan was plainly interested by the offer but resisting the temptation.
"Thank you for the offer, Blair. I think it would be better if you didnít enter the grounds."
"But itís daylight," he argued. "You even let us walk on the grass yesterday! It must be safe during the day."
"Well, yes, it is...." Callaghan tried to form a convincing argument.
"We wonít go on the grass - just the house."
"Blair," Jim interjected. The use of his given name rather than any nickname caught the studentís attention. "There is a whole library here. You work here. Let Father Callaghan work in his library."
Thinking for a moment, Blair formulated frantically. "I can work here in the evening. Father Callaghan has already said the library at the rectory is better. I might find an avenue of investigation at the rectory library which I can follow up here, later."
Jimís jaw firmed. He breathed once, sharply, through his nose. "How good is your library, Father?"
The Sentinel tilted his head to the side, obviously monitoring the priest as he answered.
"We have many texts, which arenít... available... generally speaking."
Blair watched as Jimís stone chiselled poker face relaxed into a more open expression. It looked as if they were going to the rectory. Smiling inwardly, Blair knew that Jim had realised that if they didnít go now, he would be chasing after his tagalong observer at some point in the next twenty-four hours. Jim studied his wristwatch and then looked outside at the midday sun.
"Okay, we have four hours."
"YES!" Blair mocked punched the air and then winced dramatically. Jim just shook his head.
End of Chapter Four
The pall of horror still hung over the house. Blair hovered at the threshold of the porch and allowed himself a quick breath before entering the hall. He knew that his hesitation had not gone unnoticed by the Sentinel. The change in Jim was almost palpable. He seemed to be standing taller. His back was straight, his jaw jutting. He personified everything that Blair had dreamt of in a Sentinel. All he was missing was the spear and shield in Blairís beloved Burton print.
"The library is through here."
"Father Callaghan, youíve brought guests!" Mrs. Lissy poked her head around the corner at the far end of the corridor.
"Mr. Sandburg and Detective Ellison have been kind enough to agree to help us."
"Oh, thatís very nice of you." For a moment her rose apple coloured face frowned, then her expression smoothed. Mrs. Lissy stepped out fully from the hidden doorway. She was still wearing her apron and her useful cloth was tucked in the front pocket.
"Theyíll only be staying here until about four oíclock," Father Callaghan said pointedly.
The message received and understood, she brightened. "Shall I bring some coffee and home baked chocolate cookies to the sitting room?"
"Weíre going to be working in the library. But refreshments would be nice."
"Does anyone have any food allergies about which I should be aware?" Taking in Blairís appearance she added, "I can make some vegetarian cookies and I have Soya milk if you would prefer that in your coffee?" Then she shook her head and bustled down the corridor. She stopped directly before the student. "I apologise, Mr. Sandburg - Iím just assuming youíre a vegetarian. Stereotyping such a bad thing to do to folk."
Artless, as always, Blair rushed to set her at ease. "Iím not too sure what a vegetarian is supposed to look like, but for some reason people assume that I am a vegetarian or vegan. I try to eat a healthy, balanced diet." He cast a dark glower at the Sentinel.
"Oh, thatís a good thing to do, Mr. Sandburg."
"Blair it is then," she said. Wiping her hands on her cloth, she bustled off again. As she headed towards what was probably the kitchen, she could be heard muttering under her breath a recipe for chocolate peanut butter cookies.
Father Callaghan led them into the room adjoining the sitting room in which they had conducted their initial interview. Blair lost himself in bliss, looking at books galore. There were two storeys of stacks of books. Lots of books waiting to be fondled, touched, read and enjoyed. A spiral staircase led to the second level. A top of the range computer sat, centre stage, by a large stone fireplace.
"Are all the books on that computer?" Blair asked breathlessly. "Contents?"
"The database is very complete."
Knowing that he was exuding eagerness from every pore, Blair gave up any pretence of patience and ran, with an unintentional little skip, to the computer.
"Whatís the password?"
Callaghan leaned over his shoulder and quickly tapped the required keys. With a swirl of pixels an elaborate ĎLí appeared and then the computer search engine appeared.
"So..." Blair angled his mitt over the mouse and laboriously drew the mouse to the start button. "What have you looked up, Father Callaghan?"
"Call me Philip, Blair." With an uncharacteristic smile, the priest took over the manipulation of the mouse.
Blair echoed the smile, flashing his blinding grin.
Standing behind them, feet shoulder width apart, arms crossed and teeth clenched, Jim stood sentry. All his antennae were out. Meticulously he scanned the library and then moved onto the hall through the closed doors and then to the rooms beyond. A person moved in a room in the west wing. Judging by their inefficient heartbeat and struggling blood flow, they were a prime candidate for a heart attack or stroke. A whoop from the student broke him from an incipient zone out.
Jim needed, with a primal instinct, to patrol the house. Ideally he wanted Blair to come with him. The student was occupied. In fact Jim was quite sure that the horror could come up behind the student and tap him on his shoulder before he would become aware of an intruder. Reluctantly he decided to check the rectory without the student. Otherwise he would have to alert the priest that there was another dynamic to the Detective and Observer relationship. The pair huddled over the computer did not bat an eyelid as he slipped out of the room.
Jim trawled through the dining room and the conservatory. As he patrolled, he kept one ear firmly angled toward the library and its young occupant.
ĎWhen did this happen?í he wondered - suddenly realising that the thought of investigating without the student peering around his shoulder was almost intolerable. ĎSurely, someday I will be able to do this Sentinel thing without Blair?í
A hollow pit formed in his guts at the thought. Jim stopped by a window and stared out at the garden. There was no sign of its unearthly occupant but he didnít expect to see anything. Jim brushed his palm over his short hair and then moved into a lithe stretch. The muscles in his back complained. They were bruised and strained from his fall and wrestle with the beast. Jim pursed his lips and gingerly lowered his arms. He settled against the window frame. While it appeared that he was studying the lawn, in reality his thoughts had turned inwards.
ĎHaving Blair around is not like the guys in the squad,í he noted. As a captain in the Rangers, he had had a personal, though distant, relationship with his subordinates. Over years of missions and training, he learnt the nuances of his fellow Rangersí attitudes, thoughts and personalities. He had stood as best man at Johnís wedding. He had attended Sanchezís babyís christening. Other celebrations and disasters, too numerous to mention, coupled with daily life, meant that his men had become important to him.
Rules and orders had added structure to his life as a captain. He had known where he stood. When he had been a trainee officer he had known his role. His superiors and subordinates had known their roles. Yet, now as a Sentinel, cursed and gifted with hyperactive senses, he needed the antithesis of order. Chaos was probably Sandburgís middle name; either that... or Trouble. Blair had slipped into his life with an ease that both appalled and amused him. A week had become a fortnight. A fortnight a month - now Blairís presence in his life had the feeling of permanency. Describing their relationship was a contradiction: big brother and little brother; student and teacher. He needed the anthropologist to guide him in his Sentinel abilities. But he did not need the irritating little goober to live in the loft. Neither did he need him at the precinct at every opportunity. An involuntary, little smile crossed Jimís face as he thought of his own, personal, observer.
In the rare moments when Blair was not with him, he found himself addressing questions to the absent student, looking over his shoulder to make sure that he was out of the line of fire. They fitted together like a lock and key.
A year ago he would have laughed in the face of any detective in the precinct if they had told him he would be living with a witch doctor punk, neo-hippie, crystal wielding Anthropology student in the near future.
Jim shook his head and continued with his patrol.
"Where has Detective Ellison gone?" Philip asked.
Engrossed in a gruesome story about a doppel-ganger, it took Blair a moment to realise that the priest was talking to him. He lifted his head and noted Jimís absence.
"Heíll be on patrol," Blair said absently. "He canít help it; itís genetic. Heís checking to see if there are any intruders. You want to see him in the loft making the rounds before he goes to bed."
More interested in the book, he was barely aware of the priest leaving the Library. The book, however interesting, was not relevant.
ĎLetís see, Philip basically said that everyone else whoís come in contact with this Ďthingí has died instantly. So why isnít Jim dead?í
Blair leaned back in the chair and studied the ceiling.
ĎWhat is different about Jim compared to the other victims?í He answered his own question. ĎJim is a sentinel.í
His eyes gleamed as he remembered his primary research and the presence of over a thousand unread books. He cast a furtive glance at the library doors and then, slowly and surely, typed Ďsentinelí.
The machine hummed, seemingly taking a lifetime and then chugged out two references. The first one was a familiar text, the one on which he had initially based his research. Paralysed by hope, Blair sat - a frozen lump - as he read the details of a second monograph linked with Sir Richard Burton. He hadnít even known the treatise existed. The monograph was in the Library.
"Yes, yes, yes!" he muttered under his breath.
Chortling gleefully, he crossed to the stacks - finding the correct bookcase and forcing himself to carefully scan the books until he found a thin text wedged between two larger volumes. Anticipation sang in his veins, a delightful chorus. Automatically, he reached forward to grab the book and his burnt hands made themselves known.
"NO!" Blair said, through gritted teeth.
He couldnít get any purchase on the slippery leather bound text. His bandaged hands just slipped off the cover - they also hurt. Frustrated, he attacked at the edge of his bandage with his teeth but he couldnít unravel the material.
Blair executed an annoyed little dance as he contemplated the problem before him. Then with a decidedly evil grin, he pushed the volumes on either side of the coveted text far back into the shelf with his elbows. When the monograph was standing proud, he caught it between his elbows and levered the desired text off the shelf. Ham-handed, he managed to clasp the text in his arms and then he returned to the table.
His heart was throbbing eagerly against his chest. He expected Jim to come bounding into the library at any moment. Slowly, chaffing at his temporary disability, he opened the book. Inside was a short table of contents listing a diverse selection of introductory topics. Evidently the monograph was a companion text to a larger volume. Sure enough a footnote described the contents as an account of a series of ethnology lectures in the Victorian & Albert Museum, London, Great Britain. Blair scrabbled through the pages until he came to Sir Richard Burtonís single page.
ĎA sentinel could be described a warrior possessing magical senses far in advance to modern civilised man, honed by solitary time in the wild.í
ĎI coined the term sentinel after a long discourse with an aboriginal native in Peru who told me quite seriously that he was a shaman. The native spoke of an ancient Watchman (known as Síntenla) who guarded his village as a child. The etymology of the word sentinel is unknown. However, I came across a notably similar word ascribed to a Watchman or Guardian mythological character in a legend relating to a Mongolian tribe living North of Ulan Bator. The Mongolian Sennic Watchman possessed many of the abilities found in the Peruvian sentinels of South America. Unlike the Peruvian sentinel, the Mongolian Sennic akin to the Old English obscure myth of the Weardian (English translation - Guardian) & Witan (English translation - Guide or Wise One) had a companion - hereafter termed Guide. The etymology of the Old English links with the Old High Teutonic language as Warten and Weisen, respectively. A Tale of Viking invaders in the Twelfth Century, pillaging Northumbrian Britain, describes the war leader as Warten and that he possessed a Sorcerer companion whom guided him in his rapacious expeditions.í
ĎTypically the Guide was an older, wiser man guiding the younger, more virile Sentinel. The Guide was especially important during the trance states that afflicted the Sentinel as he wielded his gifts of preternaturally enhanced Sight, Touch, Scent, Taste and Hearing. Thus the legends of the Sentinel and his mentor are ubiquitous in the mythology of ancient man.í
"Oh, wow," Blair sighed. He hugged himself, memorising the Old English and German names for future reference. Whilst fun, he had to investigate the horror lurking outside the rectory. But he hadnít answered the question why Jim had not died. Returning to the computer he typed in ĎWeardianí. The computer thought about the request for a moment and then chimed Ďunsuccessful search - try Global Legacy Databaseí. Intrigued, he pressed Ďhelpí. The computer happily led him to the required pathway and linked him to Global Legacy Database. When it asked for a password, Blair typed in the priestís password.
The machine surfed, the hourglass turning as it hunted for a link. Then it linked into the San Francisco Legacy House. One reference appeared. It was ascribed to a Tenth Century monk going by the interesting name of David the Mad. A short abstract was supplied with the reference.
ĎTranslated from the Latin and Old English:í
ĎA warrior pair termed Weardian & Witan by the pagan inhabitants of Fenham Village faced the Hell born beast Deoful where all before had failed. They fought the beast in the Waters of Netherby. The Witan fell before Deoful and was swallowíd whole. The Weardian denied the beast and without the Weardian, Deoful could not consume the Witan and he was returníd. The brother link protected the Witan as it did protect the Weardian.í
Blair read the abstract several times trying to fully understand the meaning behind the short paragraph. Apparently the guide had been swallowed by the devil, proved to be indigestible and puked back up - it seemed appropriate somehow. He was sure that Jim would find it amusing. The question was: why was it that the monster could not take the guide if it did not have the sentinel?
"The Brother Link," Blair whispered. "Double wow."
He wanted to read the full account so much he was jiggling from the frustration of knowing that he was in Cascade and the book was in San Francisco. The role of the companion as a tagalong observer, making sure that the Sentinel did not zone, took on a whole new dimension.
He had to talk to Jim.
The wall intrigued him. Pacing along its length, Jim trailed his fingers a hairsbreadth away from the wood panelling. The minute indentations that he could see in the wood did not register to his superior sense of touch. Sentinel ears easily detected a subliminal hum of a power source. The wall was a superlative hologram. Jim stepped back and gazed at the holographic image.
Blair had hypothesised that he might be able to see beyond the wavelengths visible to most humans. The kid had lectured, at great length, about one of his previous subjects who saw in the infra red region of the spectrum just before they came down with a migraine.
As he ruminated on how on Earth he was going to work out how to see into infra red or the ultra violet, he cast a small coin at the wall. A glimmer of light formed around the hole the coin had made and then the image reformed. No alarms were triggered by his test.
Jim sucked idly on his bottom lip as he considered the problem before him. This was seriously high-tech hardware. The electrical sophistication necessary to construct a hologram that could almost fool a Sentinel did not come cheap. This Legacy organisation was very well funded.
The priestís mellow Irish voice interrupted his thoughts. Slowly Jim turned. Philip Callaghan hovered behind him looking like a cat on a hot tin roof. It was obvious to the priest that the detective had pierced the holographic veil; and it was obvious to the detective that he had been caught by the priest.
"Care to tell me what is behind the door?" Jim jerked a thumb at the wall.
"A communications nerve centre," Callaghan said slowly.
"And?" Jim drawled.
"Things that I am not at liberty to discuss. Which you understand, Detective Ellison," Callaghan said deliberately.
"True, but the level of hardware raises some interesting questions about the size of your organisation. This isnít the set up of a bunch of priests doing exorcisms."
Jim crossed his arms and rocked back on one leg. "So where is everyone else?"
Callaghan scratched absently at the side of the mole on his face, plainly confused. "They are dead."
Jim bowed his head, but did not allow himself to be distracted by the pain in the priestís voice. "If you belong to an organisation with a Ďcommunications nerve centreí that implies that you are one of many. Weíve only seen you and Mrs. Lissy. Where is this Bethany character? Where is your backup? Why arenít there priests boiling out of the wood work?"
"Ahh... Iím keeping my superior updated. And he has a team working on the identity of the horror. Consider me the first line of defence. If I fall, another Legacy team is waiting in the wings."
"Thatís reassuring," Jim said, a sarcastic edge to his voice.
"Would you do it any differently?" Callaghan asked softly.
That was the crux of the question. Jim knew that he would not - many a time it was the essence of a covert operation to acquire information, in addition to striking hard and striking fast.
A rapidly beating heart suddenly intruded on his thoughts. Blairís heartbeat had soared. Adrenaline heightened Jimís senses as he made an abortive dash to the Library. Then he could hear happy, enthusiastic sounds interspersed by the word Ďsentinelí. Apparently Blair had taken the priestís absence as an opportunity for an impromptu sentinel hunt. Jim skidded to a halt. Callaghan barrelled into his back.
"Whatís the matter?"
Jim hovered for a moment, not as adept as obfuscations as the master - Sandburg. "I thought I saw something. I was wrong."
"What?" Callaghan cast around the vestibule.
"ErÖ the flicker of light through that window."
A tree was moving in the early afternoon wind just outside the window. Callaghan moved to the window and peered out to the rolling green lawn.
"I guess Iím just.... wired," Jim said.
Callaghan shrugged, somehow conveying that he understood. "I better get back to Blair."
The Sentinel racked his brains, searching for some way to detain the priest. Happy Blair noises were still coming from the Library; it sounded as if the student was on a roll. He was fairly sure if Philip Callaghan went into the library in the next few seconds Blair would be unable to contain himself and would blurt everything he knew about Sentinels.
The Library doors opened and Blairís footsteps came bounding down the far corridor. They skidded to a halt beside the conservatory. Heavy breathing followed as Blair took a quick look about the ferns and rubber plants. Then the rapid padding of his Nike covered feet continued towards them. Hair flying, Blair came around the corner. A great big grin was plastered over his face.
"Have you discovered something, Blair?" Callaghan asked frantically.
"Yeah, did I!"
Jim coughed once and caught intense sapphire blue eyes with his own glacial blue. Blair deflated like a pricked balloon.
"Oh, ...er." Blair muffled his mouth with a bandaged paw.
Callaghan was looking back and forth between the Jim and Blair like a spectator at a tennis match. It didnít take a rocket scientist to guess that something important was being discussed.
Jim raised his hands. In a tone that was both dejected and resolute, he asked, "What did you find, Chief?"
"I found a reference to a similar attack where a partnership survived because they were a partnership," Blair said diplomatically.
"Did you identify the monster? The horror?" Callaghan asked.
"Er... the author called it ĎDeofulí."
"Deoful," the priest echoed. "Thatís an old English term - it generally means Ďdevilí."
"Thatís appropriate, then," Jim said tensely.
"It doesnít actually help," Callaghan explained. "Devil is used to describe many supernatural figures from the Christian fallen angel Lucifer to any horned monster in Western mythology."
"Oh, damn," Blair sounded disheartened. "I really thought that I was onto something there. Deoful just means devil."
"We can cross reference Deoful with the word Ďsurvivalí. It might result in a more specific name." Shaking his head, Callaghan continued onto the Library.
"Jim," Blair whispered for Sentinel ears only. "I used sentinel as a keyword and I found this old legend where a sentinel and guide survived because they were a sentinel and guide."
Blair licked his lips, nervously, before answering. "They called the guide character ĎThe Witaní in the legend."
"Like witless?" Jim teased.
Blair stuck his tongue out. "Well, the sentinel was called ĎThe Weardianí. Sounds like weird."
Jim ruffled Blairís hair. "So weíve got ĎThe Weirdí and ĎThe Witlessí."
"Sounds like the blind leading the blind." Blair chuckled.
Jim smiled, but they were involved in a serious situation - hilarity could wait until later. "Whatís this about a Ďguideí?"
"You remember when the nutball ex-CIA agent, Lee Brackett, tried to force you to steal that prototype weapon?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "How could I forget?"
"You remember... he called me Ďyour Guide-so-to-speakí. I told you when we first met that all sentinels had a partner. I dug up this reference, by Burton, which calls the partner of the sentinel - the guide."
"And youíre my guide?"
Blair shrugged. "Maybe....? The legend I told Philip about was about a tenth century, or earlier, English sentinel and guide who... killed a devil but the devil couldnít kill them because of a... link they shared."
Blair was turning an interesting shade of pink. "Yeah, the monk called it the ĎBrother Linkí."
"The Brother Link?"
"Are you just gonna repeat everything I say?" Blair stamped his foot.
"Iím processing," Jim defended himself.
"Oh, shit!" Blair suddenly swore, he waved his mitts in the air. "I left the computer on the sentinel reference."
Before Jim could stop him, the student was out of reach and running back to the Library.
Blair breathed a sigh of relief when he caught up with Father Callaghan outside the Library talking to the housekeeper Mrs. Lissy.
"Ah, Blair, Mrs. Lissy just came to inquire if you would like to have a sandwich instead of just biscuits?"
Blair looked into the housekeeperís eager round face - she was everything that he expected in a grandmother - short, curly, blue rinsed hair and an apron over a knitted skirt and blouse.
"I donít have much of an appetite," he held up his hand by way of explanation, "but I really would love something to drink."
"Oh, son," Mrs. Lissy said compassionately, "you have to eat, especially when youíre poorly."
"I tell you what, you come down to the kitchen and weíll see what we can find in the refrigerator for you. Iím sure that we can find something to stimulate that appetite."
She linked her arm around his elbow and began to steer him in the direction of the kitchen. Blair wondered frantically how he could extricate himself without embarrassing the motherly Mrs. Lissy. Then Jim sailed past him, a wide grin on his face, heading straight to the library. Gingerly patting Mrs. Lissyís hand, Blair allowed the lady to draw him towards the kitchen.
Blair decided that Mrs. Lissy was a big pussycat. She had given him a large milky coffee in a two-handed coffee mug that had belonged to her deceased husband. Mrs. Lissyís husband had suffered from a stroke and had eating utensils designed for weak and damaged hands. The mug had two large handles with a drinking spout. Unfortunately it did resemble a babyís mug, but Blair wasnít going to let that put him off.
The housekeeper was putting together a chunky sandwich capable of being held by two bandaged hands. A melange of ingredients was going into the sandwich: tempeh; seaweed; soy sauce and dill dressing. Blair was salivating.
"So how long have you been involved in the Legacy?" Blair asked.
"Oh no, my boy," she smiled. "Iím simply the housekeeper. I Ďkeepí the members fed and looked after. That is my role."
She set the sandwich before him. A napkin enfolded one end, allowing him to hold it without messing up his bandages. Then she bustled over to the sink to work through a pile of dirty dishes. Blair marvelled at her peace. That was the only way he could describe the older woman. Contentment oozed off her in waves. He wondered how, after the losses the Legacy house had accrued in the other night. He wanted to ask her how she felt but he knew that that would be crass. Under similar circumstances he knew he would be curled up in a ball as miserable as sin.
"Eat your sandwich, Blair," she directed.
Picking it up was going to prove to be a problem.
"Hey," Jim said lackadaisically as he wandered into the kitchen. In his hand he rattled the bottle of antibiotics. "Time for your tablet, buddy."
Jim slipped into the chair next to Blair.
"Computer?" Blair whispered.
"Control, alt and delete," Jim said with a self satisfied smirk. He opened the bottle and shook the white tablet onto his palm.
Blair checked that Mrs. Lissy was facing the other direction and then, obediently, opened his mouth. Jim flicked the tablet in with a deft finger. He didnít like taking antibiotics but he knew Jim would sit on him and force feed him the tablet if he refused.
"Echinacea is better for supporting the immune system than taking those antibiotics," Mrs. Lissy chided without turning her head. "You should put some Aloe Vera ointment on those burns instead of those too powerful creams those doctors insist on making."
Jim took Blairís sandwich and began to cut it up into mouth sized bites.
"Youíre a woman after my own heart, Mrs. Lissy."
"To be sure, youíre a flirt, Blair Sandburg."
The last of the dishes clashed onto the draining board and Mrs. Lissy started on a fresh sandwich for Jim. A roast beef and mustard on rye joined Blairís carefully cut up sandwich.
"I see sheís pegged you in one, Chief." Jim said laughing.
Blair was chewing contentedly on his first mouthful. Jim held another piece.
"Ah, youíre good boys, arenít you," Mrs. Lissy chortled.
Jim blushed a nice, bright, red, colour as she patted his cheek with a maternal gesture.
"Iím going to take a tray up to Miss Bethany and you can eat your sandwiches in peace." Efficiency itself, she created another masterpiece for the reclusive Bethany and wobbled out of the kitchen.
"Weird place," Blair said quietly. "I mean if I was Mrs. Lissy Iíd be crying in my sandwich."
"Sheís keeping busy. People cope with pain in different ways," Jim said, the voice of experience.
Blair swallowed nervously. "If... you know... the thing had got you."
Jim offered him another piece of sandwich with a lopsided smile. "I know, kid, I feel the same way."
ĎItís true, we are friendsí, Blair realised. Sometimes he had wondered, they were such diametrically opposed personalities. Maybe it was a case of opposites attracting? They clashed, over everything from noise levels to tests, but they were rarely malicious. Soon they would be as comfortable as a married couple if things progressed as they were - it was a kind of nice thought.
"Penny for your thoughts, kid?"
Blair could feel the smile cracking his face - his mom called it his Ďsoul smileí, the one when everybody could read what was going through his mind. Mom said that it was his greatest gift to people.
He shrugged. "You know, just thinking, about life, the universe and everything and my place in it."
The quote obviously threw the Sentinel. "Is this the ĎWitlessí thing?" he finally joked after a long moment.
"Oh, yeah. Thatís fascinating. What do you think ĎGuide & Sentinelí? Itís an interesting thought."
"So youíre my guide?" Jim asked as he popped another chunk of sandwich into Blairís mouth.
Blair chewed and swallowed before answering. "Dunno, itís not as if the abstract listed the qualifications for being a guide. I mean, you are a sentinel - you prove that every day. But what is a guide?"
Jim rocked back on his chair and started on his roast beef sandwich. Deep thought was etched across his face.
"You remember I told you that I was with the Chopec natives when I was in Peru?"
Blair nodded. How could he forget? Jim seemed to be putting his thoughts in order, talking out loud rather than conveying information.
"When I was in Peru, the Chopec shaman - Incacha," Jim speared Blair with his intense gaze, "....guided me. He didnít do what you do with the zone outs and tests, but he was responsible for me in the eyes of the tribe. He taught me to speak Chopec, how to conduct myself, to respect their laws."
He stuffed another chunk of sandwich into Blairís open mouth effectively gagging him.
"Yes, I know, Chief. I said that I didnít remember much about my time in Peru but I do remember Incacha - itís the... crash... and after which is really vague. A lot of the time it was like I was sleeping, as if I was sitting watching myself hunt, teach and train the Chopec. Remembering it is like walking through a shuffled pile of photographs."
"What do you remember about Incacha?" Blair asked breathlessly. That the bulk of Jimís memory loss was due to a prolonged zone out, had occurred to the anthropologist. The gamut of new sounds, new scents and new visuals - the whole new environment coupled with a new culture that would have been a lot for a grieving mind and battered body to process.
"Once in a while, he would drag me into the jungle...," Jim was saying, "he was fond of meditating... Iíd just sit waiting for him... sometime days ... for him to come out of the trances. Then he would try and tell me stuff, but my Chopec wasnít good enough to understand. He never got frustrated. Other times we would go further into the jungle and track jaguars through the tree tops."
It sounded as if tracking was a good way to hone a sentinelís senses to Blair. Burtonís monograph had spoken of time spent alone in the wild as a method used to trigger a sentinelís senses. Essentially, Jim had been alone in the Jungle while Incacha had meditated. It was possible that the shaman had recognised the potential in the stranded Ranger captain and sought to cultivate the sentinel.
"Thatís entirely different to what I do," Blair pointed out.
Jim snorted. "Tracking large felines in Cascade is not going to happen. What Iím saying is: you are the same type of person. Incacha was the religious and spiritual leader of his people, he was the Elder, people came to him for advice - he got a real kick out of helping people. The name Incacha means Ďwise oneí in Chopec."
"Iím not a religious and spiritual leader," Blair objected.
"Are you being deliberately obtuse?" Jim chided. "Youíve told me that sentinels were important in pre-civilised cultures? It stands to reason that the sentinelís guide is going to be an intelligent person - the tribe are not going to let any idiot partner the sentinel - theyíd be signing their own and the sentinelís death warrant."
Distantly, Blair realised that Jim was complimenting him. All in all it was very flattering. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said about him. The wide smile was back on his face. Jim echoed the smile and then leaned forward to tousle his hair.
"Come on, back to the computer," Jim ordered. "Weíve only got an hour before we have to quit this spooky joint."
Jim pushed back his own chair and rose in one smooth motion. Evidently the Sentinel had had enough of the mushy heart to heart conversation. Blair scurried after his Sentinel.
"There you are!" A piercing, highly strung voice assaulted his ears.
An elfin woman with wide set grey eyes appeared, practically out of nowhere, and began patting her hands over his chest. He could lose himself in those eyes; they held secrets and mysteries. He felt himself trancing under her frantic hands.
"You canít stay here, itís dangerous. *It* will get you, wants you, needs you."
Jim was suddenly beside him. The Sentinelís large hands enfolded the womanís wrists and tried gently to lift her away.
"No, Sentinel, you have to get away. Youíre a prize - a gift. Your souls burn so brightly I would covet them!"
The words galvanised the Sentinel. He pulled the woman up and away from Blair and clasped her against his chest. She went limp in his arms, puddling to the floor in one quick slither. Jim went to his knees with her, controlling her descent. Blair crouched at her side, making an abortive movement to take her pulse and then realising that he could not take the pulse with his bandaged hand. Her eyes had rolled back in her head and her body was twitching.
"Epileptic?" Blair hazarded.
Jim nodded and carefully laid the woman on the floor and tipped her head back to ensure that she could still breathe.
"Go get Callaghan or Mrs. Lissy; sheís probably on medication."
Blair nodded and then ran.
When he returned with both Philip and Mrs. Lissy in tow, the womanís fit had passed. Jim had rolled her into the recovery position. The Sentinel crouched next to her, stroking her hair and murmuring reassurances.
"Oh, the poor dear." Mrs. Lissy tottered forwards and joined Jim on the floor.
"Do we need to phone an ambulance?" Blair asked Philip.
"No, not unless she has another one very soon. Sheíll wake up in a little while, a bit confused and upset. Poor Bethany." He shook his head. "Did she say anything?"
"Like what?" Blair cocked his head to the side.
"Her fits are often preceded by intense psychic episodes. Quite often she will say something precognitive."
"Yes," Blair said quietly, "she said that the monster wants me and Jim."
Mrs. Lissy lifted her head and muttered something under her breath. Blair didnít catch it but Jimís ears pricked up.
"We should get Bethany to bed," Philip said. He moved towards Jim, prepared to help.
"I can manage." Jim slid his arms under Bethanyís shoulders and knees and stood. "Sheís lighter than you, partner."
Mrs. Lissy directed the Sentinel to the stairs. The priest watched them carefully pick their way up the stairs before speaking.
"I think you should leave, Blair."
"Itís not dark yet," Blair objected.
"Iíve got a bad feeling," Philip said glumly. Melancholy seemed to fill the priest. Blair hoped that he would never become as depressed as what seemed to be Philipís constant frame of mind.
"We havenít figured out what it is!"
Philip was resolute. "No. Take the books you have selected so far and continue your research at the University Library. It is entirely possible that one of your lecturers will be able to furnish you with some other information."
Jim was making his way down the stairs. "Mrs. Lissy is sitting with the young lady," he announced.
"Philip wants us to leave," Blair declared.
"Maybe that would be a good idea, Chief. Youíve been in that library for a good few hours and you havenít found anything." Jim rubbed his hands together as he finished walking down the stairs.
"That means nothing," Blair protested. "Two hours, three hours - isnít that long - the answer could be there - I just need longer."
"Please, Blair." Philip raised soulful eyes. "If Bethany says this thing wants you. It *wants* you. It wants you both - are you willing to risk Jim?"
"Thatís a low blow!" Blair flung his hands in the air. "You said that it was safe in the house - we could stay here and it would be fine."
"It is testing the barriers - constantly. Itís one thing to rattle the bars of a cage in frustration; itís another to force them open to pursue your preferred prey."
"So it breaks the garden wards or the house wards. What is the difference?"
"Youíve got somewhere to run if youíre outside."
A shudder walked up Blairís spine. "What about you, and Mrs. Lissy and Bethany?"
"We have to maintain the wards or it *will* escape."
"Maintain them from outside," Blair suggested. Jim was being very quiet during the whole discussion. Blair found it a bit annoying. He wondered when the Sentinel was going to join the conversation.
"Father Katualas did not set them up that way." His tone was apologetic, but he brooked no argument. "You werenít involved in the blood ritual, you will be safer outside."
"Come on, Chief," Jim finally joined the conversation. "Tell me what books you want to take with you."
"No, this isnít right," Blair said earnestly.
"I assume that you have a cell phone, Father?" Jim asked politely.
Muttering under his breath, Blair stomped angrily towards the porch entrance. He paused at the door and glared at the two older men.
Jim raised an authoritarian finger. "Donít you go outside."
Blair bristled and Jim raised a quelling eyebrow. If he could have, Blair would have crossed his arms - his entire body language declaring his annoyance. As it was, he settled for scowling at the detective and the priest.
End of Chapter Five
Jim swept all the books on the table into his arms. He did not want to leave his tagalong student alone for a minute. He would not put it past Blair to tempt the beast by walking over the lawn to ostensibly prove that the wards were holding. The priest jotted down the Legacy house phone number and his own cell phone number on a piece of paper. Carefully, at Jimís direction, he interleaved the scrap of paper in the front page of a large book. Callaghan leaped to get the door, picking up on Jimís urgency.
They need not have bothered. Blair was waiting impatiently in the porch. There was no way he could turn the small knob to open the door. Callaghan moved forward. Blair stepped to the side allowing the priest free access to the door. The studentís bottom lip stuck out so far you could balance the Eiffel Tower on it. The kidís posture screamed Ďpissed offí.
Blair was silent as Callaghan opened the door. Jim nodded once to the priest and stepped outside, heading purposefully to his truck. Jim could hear Blair dragging his heels after him. Jim balanced the books on the car hood and unlocked the passenger door.
"So weíre like really going," Blair said sullenly.
"Kind of," Jim said teasingly.
Blair immediately perked up. "What do you mean Ďkind ofí?"
"You didnít honestly expect me to just walk out did you?" Jim countered.
"Well... no," Blair said, sounding a tad perplexed. "I was considering asking Father Callaghan to exorcise you - Ďcos you werenít acting like the Jim Ellison I know."
Jim laughed. "We are going back to Aunt ZoŽís house. If all it takes for the Ďthingí to escape from the gardens is for someone to climb over the walls, someone better make sure that anyone or anything doesnít get into the gardens after dark."
"That makes a lot of sense."
"Iím glad you approve," Jim said, exuding self-satisfaction.
Jim opened the passenger door with a flourish and bowed deeply as Blair, playing his role to the hilt, took command of his own seat. Laughing under his breath, Jim closed and locked the door - just to be on the safe side.
The hackles rose on the back of his neck. Jim spun on his heel and scanned the path. Nothing moved, but spiders were running up his spine. Behind him he could hear banging against the window. Sandburg. The student was pummelling his wrapped fists against the glass, oblivious to the pain. He was almost an obscene caricature, mouthing: Ďbehind youí. Out of the corner of his eye, the Sentinel saw a whisper of a shimmer.
"Get in the truck!" Philip Callaghanís distinctive voice, screaming, woke him from an enfolding trance. The priest was slowly making his way down the porch steps, his eyes riveted on the horror holding the Sentinel like a mesmerised deer.
"Get back!" Jim yelled in response. He couldnít say how, but he knew in the depths of his soul that the thing was trying to draw the priest from the protections of the house. That gave him the strength to throw off the horrorís influence. Callaghan bolted back towards the house as Jim dodged to the side deliberately drawing the thingís attention onto himself. He could hear Blair, frantic, beside himself, shrieking from within the truckís cabin. Then the ignition fired and the truckís engine roared into life. The driverís door opened. Jim did not need any instructions. A sliver of cold air was scratching at him. Instinctively he ducked and a hiss of air passed over his head. Almost on his hands and knees, he scrabbled around the back of the truck. Panther-fast, he ran for the open door. The truck rocked as something pounced onto the roof. Jim leaped into the driverís seat and slammed shut the door.
"Get us the Hell out of here!" Blair shrieked.
Jim had the truck in gear and accelerating forwards before he sat. A noise, like nails screeching down a blackboard, sounded on the roof. Blair had his feet braced against the dashboard. His eyes were wild with terror. The truck leaped from zero to sixty in less than a second. Then the wheels spun against air as the back wheels lifted from the ground. Without missing a beat, Jim slipped the truck into four-wheel drive, then reversed the truck backwards. There was a deafening crunch. Another violent change of gears and the truck surged down the drive.
The ornate gates at the bottom of the drive were closed. Both Jim and Blair shared a concerned glance but they had no choice - they had to. The pick-up truck skidded down the drive slewing widely. The rectoryís electric gates were slowly swinging open. The metal railings scratched down the sides of the truck as they passed through the gates, throwing up a flare of sparks. The truck was moving so fast that it was impossible to turn. Jim slammed on the brakes and the truck swerved widely. Jim fought the steering wheel, straining to right the vehicle. Blair slipped sideways, thudding into Jim as the Sentinel impacted with the driverís door. The engine stalled. Then, impossibly, they came to a halt, inches away from a neighbourís wall. Blairís breathing sounded loudly in the cabin. Jim lifted his head looking over Blair who was sprawled over his lap.
"Kid?" Jim shook Blairís shoulder.
"Yeah, Iím fine," Blair said breathlessly, "can you just help me up?"
Carefully, Jim slipped his hands around Blairís shoulders and drew him upright. Blair seemed to be attempting the lamaze breathing technique. He was in pain. Jim draped his arm over the studentís shoulders. Then their situation reasserted itself. Frantically, Jim turned the key in the ignition but the engine had flooded and the truck was as dead as a doornail.
Jim followed Blairís pointed finger. The now closed rectory gates had bulged outwards, as if a large mass had hit the gate and then bounced off, which was probably exactly what had happened.
"The wards held," Jim noted.
"Oh boy, did they hold."
"That was close."
Jimís cell phone rang shrilly, startling them both. Blair stifled a totally inappropriate giggle. Jim fumbled his cell phone from his jacket pocket.
"Ellison," he said tersely.
"Are you okay?" an Irish voice asked.
"Father Callaghan, weíre fine. Are you?"
"Battening down the hatches," Callaghan said succinctly.
"Good idea. Weíre thinking of keeping an eye on the rectory wall," Jim said authoritatively.
"Not necessary," Callaghan said shortly. "Tell Blair to continue with his research. Identifying the beast is the best way to defeat it."
"And how are you going to stop the neighbours coming to investigate?" Jim asked.
"That is under control. Look at the entrance."
A black transit van was pulling up outside the gates. Two men climbed out the back of the van. One man was a military type, and the other was tall with flowing, wavy, grey hair. Both were wearing black overalls. They carried an armful of barriers found at most roadwork sites. Blair moved from beneath Jimís arm and peered out of the window.
"Who are they?" Blair hissed.
"Part of the Legacy group."
"Theyíve done this before," Blair observed.
The barriers were up, effectively excluding the gates from all parishioners. A young woman was running towards their truck. She had came from the van, but she was not pretending to be a workman. Not unless workmen were wearing high heel shoes and chic suits. Blair sat upright.
"Down boy," Jim chided.
Blair shot the Sentinel a hurt expression. The woman tottered to a halt by the side of the truck and wrenched at Blairís door. It was locked.
"Are you okay?" she mouthed.
Jim reached over to pop the door lock and realised for the first time that Blair had somehow ripped off his right hand bandage. No doubt that was how the student had opened the driverís door and started the engine. Blairís face was sheet white and beads of sweat dotted his brow. Jim hissed through his teeth in sympathy.
"Iíll get a first aid kit!" The woman turned and left as quickly as she had arrived.
"Jesus, Blair," Jim blasphemed. "What were you thinking?"
"Oh, yeah, I bet you would have preferred a one-on-one with the thing?" Blair snapped.
Jim ducked his head in apology and carefully picked up Blairís hand. The flesh was inflamed. The large blister on the palm of his hand had burst. Bright red blood and straw coloured fluid mingled, oozing through the flap of skin and trickling down his wrist. A body banged against the truck; the woman had returned. She leaned into the cabin and upended the contents of a first aid kit onto the passenger seat.
"What do you need?"
"Cotton pad, antiseptic cream, sterile dressing and a bandage - in that order," Jim said sharply.
"Hi, my name is Blair," the student said ingenuously. Judging by his tone, Jim guessed that he was trying to keep his mind off his hand, rather than flirting. Jim ignored the woman as he zeroed in his sight on the wound. There was no debris in the ripped blister.
"Alex," the woman responded. "That didnít just happen now?"
"No, this was last night," Blair said through gritted teeth as Jim mopped up blood and fluid.
"Are any of the neighbours investigating?" Jim asked absently, more involved in his medic duties.
He lifted his head long enough to see the woman raise her head and scan the area.
"No. One of the perks of long drives and high walls," she said. "You can ignore your neighbours."
The older man, with the wavy hair, appeared behind Alexís shoulder. "Are they all right?"
"Fine," Blair said brightly. His voice was too high pitched for anyone to believe his words.
"Who are you?" Jim demanded.
"Derek Rayne and this is Alex."
"Youíre with this Legacy organisation." It was not a question on Jimís part, but Derek Rayne answered.
"San Francisco... Branch. Philip said that he had spoken to you. Is Philip all right?"
Jim finished smearing cream on Blairís hand before speaking. "Ask him yourself - heís on the cell phone."
Throughout their conversation the Sentinel had been aware of the priest desperately pursuing a response on the other end of the line. Alex grabbed the phone off the dashboard and clasped it in both hands.
"Philip! Are you safe?"
Practically clutching at the phone, she backed out of the truck so she could speak in private. Derek Rayne was left standing in the doorway. He breathed out indecisively. The atmosphere in the truck was strained. For once, Blair was not filling the silence with his characteristic, ebullient noise - he was sitting still and quietly. Jim finished wrapping the crepe bandage around the studentís wrist.
"Did you see the Ďthingí?"
"No," Jim said flatly. He had only seen the shimmer where it had passed, as if the very air was objecting to its presence. Not being able to actually see the beast was very disturbing. Strangely enough, Blair seemed to have seen the beast first. Jim controlled a shiver; he loathed it when his senses played tricks on him. One moment he had preternaturally heightened senses, the next minute he was blind or deaf. That Blair had seen something that he couldnít see seemed to be against the very order of the Universe. Ruefully, Jim shook his head, he knew that the thought was very arrogant. Blair shook his head, his sight firmly fixed on his hands which were lying on his lap. Yet, Jim knew that Blair had seen something.
"Look, my partner is going into shock. Iím taking him back to our place. Weíll return later." Jim glared at Rayne until he shut the truckís door.
Jim reached over Blair and secured his seat belt. Blair did not complain, he merely folded in on himself, apparently attempting to burrow into the upholstered passenger seat. Blair was silent during the entire drive over to the loft. So silent that Jim debated with himself whether or not to continue onto the hospital. As they came to the intersection that would lead to Cascade General, Blair finally lifted his head. Harrowed eyes caught the Sentinelís gaze, eyes which begged not to taken to an E.R., eyes that pleaded not to be carted into a claustrophobic cubicle of a room. Jim signalled to turn to the loft and Blair breathed a sigh of relief.
Jim pulled up outside the loft. He didnít park with his characteristic care. He simply stopped the vehicle. A heartbeat later, Jim had Blairís door open and was helping him from the vehicle. Jim threw his arm over Blairís shoulders and pointed him towards the apartment complexís stairs. Blair remained pliant and uncomplaining, moving close against his side. Jim cast a glance over his shoulder back at the green pickup. The paint work was obliterated along the entire side.
It had been close.
He angled the silently co-operative Blair up the stairs, and held him close as he fumbled with the front door key. Finally the door swung inwards. Relieved beyond measure, Jim got them both into the apartment, and firmly locked the door. He settled Blair on the couch and pulled the throw rug around his shoulders. The kid was definitely in shock: white as a sheet; icy cold and eyes dilated as wide as any Sentinel.
"Iím going to get us some tea. Okay, kid?" He squeezed a taut shoulder. There was no response.
Quickly Jim made two mugs of luke warm tea with several spoonfuls of sugar. He hated sugary tea at the best of times but he felt like he deserved some shock therapy himself. Blair hadnít moved the whole time. Carefully, Jim settled next to Blair - he held the cup against his friendís lips.
"Take a sip, Blair," he coaxed. "Come on, kid."
Blair took a tiny mouthful and then another. Slowly, in fits and starts, he drank the tea, Jim encouraging him all the way. Jim relaxed as the studentís body warmed and his colour improved.
"Hey, man, how did we get back here?" Blair suddenly asked.
"Drove, parked, walked up the stairs, came into the loft and sat on the couch," Jim said easily.
"Really?" Blair just shook his head. "Hey, you okay if I have a nap? Here?" He patted the couch, then winced. Without another word, Blair flopped onto his side tucking his legs up onto the couch. He was already asleep.
"Sure," Jim whispered. The detective punched a cushion into a ball and slipped it under the kidís head.
Jim crossed to the kitchen area to wash the morningís dishes - anything to distract his mind. Blair was displaying the classic signs of shock and exhaustion. Jim was surprised that it had taken most of the day to hit the envelope after last nightís confrontation. The attack outside the rectory had been the final straw. Blair would probably sleep for an hour or two. It wasnít every day you came face to face with a denizen from Hell. You deserved a nap after that kind of shock. Jim set the cup, which he had intended to wash, on the draining board. His hands were shaking so badly he thought he might drop it - and it was Blairís favourite mug.
"Jim?" Blair lifted his head from the pillow. "You okay?"
The Sentinel rested his palms on the cool draining board. He took a deep cleansing breath but he couldnít still the shakes.
"Go back to sleep, Chief."
Blair peered blearily at the Sentinel through a veil of hair. "You sure youíre okay?"
The kid was waking up by degrees, unsatisfied by his flat response. Jim was reminded of a dog worrying at a bone. Blair struggled into a sitting position, the blanket falling from his shoulders.
"You want to talk about it?" Blair finally mumbled, half asleep.
ĎWhat can I say? It was fine when I was looking after you, but once you were all right it crept up on me. I looked into the face of true evil and froze. I have never frozen in my entire life. It wasnít a zone.í Jim thought.
The sound of Blair swearing broke his train of thought. The student was sprawled on the floor between the couch and the coffee table. Despite that Blair was swearing too much to be hurt, Jim found himself crouched at the studentís side carefully helping him to his feet.
"Dunno what happened," Blair mumbled, "thought you were zoning - legs gave way."
Jim deposited him on the couch and slumped next to him. "Youíre half asleep, Buddy."
"Oh, yeah." Then he unerringly latched onto what was bothering the Sentinel. "We gotta Ďvestigate that zone you had when we saw the thing."
Jim resisted the temptation to ask if Blair was psychic.
"We need time to process," Blair continued around an almighty yawn, "we canít defeat this thing with brute force, weíve gotta think."
"So process, kid." Jim pushed him back into his curled position.
"No, canít think like this Iíll fall asleep..." Blair complained. "Youíre all right, yeah?"
"Yes, Chief, Iím fine. Go to sleep."
With an indecipherable mutter, Blairís eyes closed. Dark lashes slept against pale cheeks. With a hitching sigh he eased into a deeper slumber. Jim sagged against the back of the couch, resting his head so he could look at the neutral coloured ceiling. He grabbed a cushion and folded it against his own stomach. His mind was too active to find comfort in sleep. The residual ache in his back and head plagued him. He occupied himself exercising his sight on the bevelled paint work. Denial was a wonderful place to be.
An undefinable emotion drew Blair from a deep, boneless sleep. His head was aching - the kind of headache that meant that his sugar levels had bottomed out to the abyssal depths. Shaking, he lifted his head.
ĎJim?í Blair took a cursory look around the room for the Sentinel.
No sign of the man. Blair stood, shrugging off the blanket onto the floor. The credits of ĎThe Hunt for Red Octoberí were droning down the screen. Jim could practically paraphrase the dialogue of the entire film. It was a film he could watch again and again and enjoy it every time.
ĎMajor avoidance tactic,í Blair noted.
Blair caught sight of the Sentinel standing akimbo on the balcony. His stance was too controlled for a zone out. Every muscle was radiating tension. Blair guessed that Jim had watched the film. Once it had finished, he had immediately started thinking. Hovering uncertainly, Blair wondered what to do next. The rumpled blanket and sleep mussed cushion mocked him. Heíd fallen asleep when the Sentinel needed him.
His own recollections of the attack were vague. He remembered tearing at the bandage, his teeth ripping through the adhesive and the fabric, so he could retrieve his spare key from under the dashboard and start the damn engine. Then they had practically scraped through the rectory gates. Everything else was a cloud befuddled dream. Shock. He had read about the effects of shock, but he always thought that you got on with your life. He didnít know that it was so debilitating.
Jim had firmly closed the balcony doors. Blair couldnít get a purchase on the door. He settled for tapping a pane of glass with his booted foot.
Jim spun on his heel, his expression moved into a concerned smile. He leaned over and flipped the latch. The door swung inwards.
"Hey, how are you feeling?"
"Iím sorry, I fell asleep," Blair said without preamble.
"Human reaction," Jim said.
Jim leaned over, caught Blairís chin, and tipped his head up so they could see each other eye to eye. "You fell asleep Ďcos you were in pain and exhausted." Jimís entire stance underlined the truth of his words.
Jim caught his elbow and steered him back to the couch.
"Howís the hands?"
"Fine," Blair muttered.
Jim rested his palm on his forehead. "You feel a bit warm."
Blair wondered at the touch - it was not as if a Sentinel needed the touch to gauge his temperature. Jim was radiating tension. It was quite disconcerting to see the control freak at sixes and sevens. As Jim focused on him - checking his eyes, touching his wrist and listening to his pulse - the Sentinel seemed to calm. To relax into Jimís caring, to allow them both to forget everything that had happened, would be simplicity itself.
"You think we shouldnít have left, donít you?" Blair whispered.
Jim crouched stock still, guilt made a fleeting appearance. "No, Father Callaghanís associates were there. The... wards... were holding and it would have been suicide to try to get back into the rectory."
"So is it because you donít know the guys who pulled up?"
"What do you mean?" Jim scowled.
"Iím sorry that you had to bring me back."
"Chief, youíre not making any sense. Youíre all over the place."
Wondering at his roommateís words, Blair decided that they rang true. His mind was skittering like a shying horse. Meditation might offer a solution to his fractious mind. There was, however, no time for that luxury. Dusk would fall soon and then the horror would prowl. Blair froze. Late afternoon daylight filled the room. The light should have comforted him but he remembered that the horror was no longer shackled by sunlight. Black terror beckoned. Above him, Jim was speaking.
"We came home," Jim was saying, "itís safe here - I know that it is. A Sentinelís territory - thatís what I do guard. We need to regroup and this was the place to do it.... home."
ĎHome, what a nice concept,í Blair realised. ĎThis place is my Home. Wow.í
He hugged himself. Seemingly his temporary bunk house was now his home. When had that happened? Slow diffusion, he decided. In the beginning he had kept his meagre belongings in his room. One night he had left his notes on the coffee table and Jim had not objected. Now looking around the room, he noted that Jimís Spartan lifestyle and his own cluttered chaos were merging. This was his home - he was safe here. He slept last night, free from nightmares, secure in his bed, knowing that the Sentinel was guarding their home.
"Iím not sorry that I had to bring you back, Chief. Sorry - doesnít even come into it."
Jim was pacing from the fridge to the fireplace... and back again.
"Maybe I should have taken you to hospital?" Pace pace. "I froze - shit." Pace pace. "I don't know what to do." Pace pace.
Nausea churned in Blairís stomach. He clenched his fingers in their enveloping bandages. Instinct drove him to his feet. Unerringly, he stumbled towards the distraught Sentinel - putting himself in the way of his responsibility. The Sentinel plodded onwards and then came to a halt. Blair placed his hand over Jimís heart.
"Jim? I want you to think about what you saw outside the rectory."
The Sentinelís pupils dilated, moving into shock. Blair suddenly understood that they were both in shock. Subtle, pervasive shock. Shock that made you curl in on yourself until you could face the world. Their view of the world had changed in the last few hours. A day ago, they lived in a nice, ordered mundane world, a world of predictable drug pushers and muggers. Now they faced horrors from beyond the grave - unidentifiable demons that coveted their souls. Supernatural versus natural. First one partner stumbled as the enormity of the existence of supernatural horror encompassed them and the other became the support. Then the pendulum shifted, moving from detective to student, and then from student to detective.
"I didnít see anything - I froze - I would have let it kill me and take you." Jim hung his head.
"You didnít!" Blair denied his words. "You distracted it so Philip could get back into the house."
"I froze..." Jim repeated.
"You. Did. Not." Blair snarled. "I know a zone when I see one. That was a zone."
"It wasnít the same," Jim mumbled into his chest.
"Iíd be surprised if it was," Blair heard himself saying. "You zone when you focus one sense to the exclusion of all else. You were focusing on something beyond the natural - something new, something unknown. Youíre a blind man seeing a tree for the first time. How do you describe a tree if youíve never seen green? Youíre standing face to face with the impossible. Iíd fucking zone under those circumstances."
Jim blinked furiously. "Maybe youíre right," he said reluctantly.
"ĎCourse Iím right," Blair said arrogantly. He continued pushing Jim backward, until the backs of his knees hit a couch and the Sentinel abruptly sat. "I want you to do the breathing exercises that I taught you."
"Nah," Jim protested.
"Yes," Blair retorted, and began to breathe slowly and evenly.
With deliberate effort, the Sentinel sat back and struggled to achieve his centre. "Canít."
"Don't try so hard," Blair advised. "Think of your toes going to sleep and then the tops of your feet - now the soles...."
Carefully Blair coached through the relaxation technique until the Sentinel was a boneless mass of connective tissue and muscle.
"I want you to step back from your emotions," Blair directed. "Youíve had a shock. Weíre going to look back at your memories and think of it as a video you can switch off when it becomes too disturbing."
Jimís firm jaw line relaxed, his mouth opened slightly. His eyes began to move behind closed lids as he reviewed his memories. The speed of his breathing increased as the memories of the thing approached.
"Relax - remember that you are in control - hit the pause button if it becomes too disturbing."
Jimís breathing eased. "I cannot see it - Iíll have to ask Blair. He saw it."
A shiver walked up Blair spine. The surety in Jimís voice chilled him to the bone. He, personally, had no recollection of seeing the beast.
"How did you know that Blair saw the thing?" the student asked.
"Blair was freaking at the same time I saw the displacement of air caused by the thingís presence."
Shaking, Blair stepped back. Jim had seen the thing, or more accurately, the passage of the thing. But he, himself, did not remember seeing it, regardless of the Sentinelís belief. Swallowing furiously, Blair set that disconcerting thought aside - Jim needed help.
"You said that air was moved by the thing? How big is it?"
Slowly Jim raised his hand and moved it, palm up, through the air. Blair could see the hairs on the back of his hand and arm rising - goose bumps forming. He guessed that the Sentinel was comparing air movements. Another series of tests was forming in the back of his mind.
"Varies. Big, small - phases in and out." Jim twitched and his eyes clicked open. "Itís not real. I mean itís not flesh and blood. The only reason that I know it is there on a physical level is because it pushes air around. There is no smell. I canít hear blood or air in lungs. I canít tell you any more. My senses only tell me where it is."
Jim slipped free of the trance with a rueful smile. His expression was concerned. Blair knew... he just knew... that Jim was about to say something that he really did not want to hear.
"What?" Blairís eyes narrowed.
"Chief, you saw it. I know you saw it. Itís your turn to tell me what you saw. Do you need to meditate?" Jimís tone brooked no argument. They were going to do this. He didnít want to, but he had made Jim go through his memories - turnabout was fair play.
Blair folded his legs, easily sinking into a cross legged position on the floor. Jim shuffled forwards on the couch cushions and leaned forwards. Even with his eyes closed, Blair knew that their heads were only inches apart.
With the ease of long practice, Blair slipped into calming meditation. For a moment he sat at peace, then he reviewed his memories. Curiously, he had not seen the thing, but he had known that it was hovering in the wings. In the same way that an audience froze in terror as the director Hitchcock manipulated the crowd, he suddenly knew that it was going to attack. How was he going to explain that to Jim? He could not describe a horned, red demon, a familiar figure of mythology. He couldnít offer any insight into the identity of the thing. The same feeling that sometimes made him walk the long way from the university to the loft in the dead of night, rather than sneaking through the park, drove him to freak outside the rectory. He could have just as easily been wrong and accused of overreacting. Staid lecturers had explained those types of reactions as unconscious processing of subliminal information with a conscious level response. A nice scientific explanation of instincts.
"Iím sorry, Jim, I did not see it." Blair kept his eyes lightly closed. "You remember when you asked if I was upset in the rectory because I was picking up on your body language, because you were sensing stuff?"
He could feel the air moving as Jim nodded.
"I think thatís what happened here. Maybe you shivered or twitched and I was watching you so closely I warned you before you even saw it."
"Youíre that aware of me?" Jim asked quietly.
"Iím an observer." Blair still kept his eyes lightly closed. "Not a Major Crimes Observer but an observer of people. Iím an anthropologist who studies sentinels. Iíve filled nine journals with my thoughts and observations on you alone. Yes, I can read your body language."
"You said maybe..." Jim stated. "Did you see me...shiver?"
A little smile twisted Blairís lips. "I don't recall. Maybe or maybe not. Maybe Iím psychic and I sensed its presence." The quirky smile became a full blown grin.
A sharp tap on his forehead made his open his eyes. Crystal blue eyes were a whisper away from his own. Their foreheads touched.
"What are you like?" Jim said softly. "Tease, tease, tease."
"I canít help myself," Blair said equally soft. "You okay about going back there?"
"Thatís my question," Jim pointed out with a smile.
"I would prefer to go to Outer Bulgaria but we gotta go. We just gotta."
"Yeah, kid. We gotta."
End of Chapter Six
Warmly dressed, courtesy of Jim, hair tied neatly back and glasses set firmly on his nose, Blair looked up at Aunt ZoŽís aristocratic mansion. In the early evening twilight the home appeared welcoming. Over the wall, the rectory glowered threateningly. They had paused beside the Legacy group camped outside the rectory gates. There had been no movement in the gardens. The priest was in constant contact with them - no doubt running up an astronomical phone bill. The inside of the Legacy van was filled to capacity with state of the art surveillance equipment and instrumentation which neither detective or student recognised. Blair had had a quick discussion with the elegant Derek Rayne, but he too had no idea of the identity of the horror. The game plan was simple: to watch the house and gardens to see if an attack occurred. The problem was that they had no idea what to do if an attack happened or, worst case scenario, an escape.
The keys jangled in Jimís hands as he fiddled with ZoŽís porch door.
"You know, Jim, maybe the reason that there is no documentation about the thing in the garden is because no one has survived to write any accounts."
Jim, bent over lock, straightened. "Thanks, Chief, I really needed to hear that."
Blair had the grace to look sheepish at that observation. Walking boots barely making a scuffle, he lightly bounced up the steps effectively gluing himself against the Sentinel.
A scabbard, which held Jimís machete, was hanging at the Sentinelís waist. The logic was simple - the beast didnít like a tyre iron therefore Jim doubted that it would like a machete. The large, evil-looking three foot blade, lying within the worn leather scabbard, was honed razor sharp. A cleaned and tested sig sauer rested in Jim shoulder holster - the jackets of the bullets were metal - Jim had every intention of trying the gun first. Blair wondered what other toys the ex-ranger had hidden in the loft or about his person. A Star of David, nestled in the hollow of Blairís throat, was the only protection he could wield. If Jim had possessed any chain metal armour he would have had a fight on his hands over who got to wear it.
Jim conducted him into the house with a warm hand resting on the small of his back. The Sentinel was in touchy feely mode - Blair figured that they hadnít been more than arms reach apart since the attack. They headed up to the attic so they could overlook the rectory. Jim fiddled with the small radio transmitter attached to his ear. Blair resisted the temptation to suck on the mike that extended from his ear transmitter and hovered just above his lips. The sullen, uncommunicative Legacy member - who for some reason reminded him of Jim - had given them the VHF radios. Jim hadnít switched them on yet. Blair guessed that he would only use them to convey information. The problem was that they didnít want to alert the open minded Legacy members that there was a sentinel in their midst.
A tut sounded in the back of Blairís throat as he gazed out over the window.
"Whatís the matter?" Jim hovered at his shoulder.
"The books, man." Blair pointed on the pebbled path. "Theyíre lying on the ground."
"Oh, yeah, I put them on the hood of the truck - I forgot about them. I have to admit, Chief, Iím not particularly bothered."
ĎSacrilege!í Blair thought.
Behind him, the Sentinel leaned into his personal space and concentrated on the garden. Blair watched, fascinated, as pupils overtook pale blue irises. The movement of the eyes was smooth, no jerks or flickering, as he scanned every inch of the lawn. Blair kept up an inconsequential monologue, splitting the Sentinelís attention just enough so he wouldnít zone.
"Nah." Pupils constricted and slack features woke from their blank, tranced expression.
Jim shrugged Blairís backpack off his shoulder and then dumped the contents on their makeshift table between the armchairs. Dungeons and Dragons role playing books, a collection of Chinese stories and a few obscure texts Ďacquiredí from a professor in the Anthropology Department spilled over the packing crate.
"Get reading, kid," he directed.
"Yes, sir! Sir!" Blair had the audacity to draw himself to attention.
Jim raised a quelling finger. "You were the one that wanted to research."
The Sentinel ran sensitive finger tips over the paperback books and the leather backed text. One book caught his attention and he picked up a worn, much-repaired tome. The fragments of leather were stitched and glued into a patchwork. Absently, Jim turned to the first page. A lurid picture of an upside down pentagram and an etching of a goat greeted him. He looked at the illustration, holding his breath. Eventually he exhaled. Blair waited patiently.
"Takes on a whole new meaning, doesnít it?" Jim shook his head. "What I donít understand is... is if this is real, why donít we come Ďem across all the time? I spent over three decades without ever meeting a demon."
The teasing, inventive, gleeful facet of Blairís personality raised its pointed little head. "How do you know that, man? Maybe Simon Banks is a vampire."
Nostrils flared. "Very funny, Chief."
"Okay," Blair was in the mood for a no holds barred discussion. "Your Sentinel abilities - how did you get them?"
Suspicious eyes narrowed. "You said that they were genetic."
"Perhaps - perhaps not. You know the Darwinís Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection?" Blair decided to explain when faced with a neutral expression. "The strongest and fittest survive? Well, last time I checked you were the strongest and fittest man that I ever met. Picture yourself on the savannahs of Africa or the Jungles of Peru - youíd survive the threats to your life. Youíd live long enough to breed to pass on your genes to the next generation. The fittest survive."
"Your point, Darwin..."
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward, it seemed self explanatory to him. "Why isnít everyone a Sentinel?"
Jim leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "So if theyíre not genetic, where did they come from?"
"Maybe the Shaman, Incacha, gave them to you," Blair lowered his voice dramatically, "during a magical ritual."
There was an angry little furrow forming between Jimís eyebrows. "You donít believe that do you, Chief?"
Blair decided to let him off the hook - now wasnít the time to distract and tease the Sentinel, no matter how much fun. "Nah, Iím just making it up as I go along."
Jim muttered under his breath. Blair pricked up his ears but didnít catch the words.
"Excuse me," Blair said politely. Jim responded to politeness.
The words were muttered again - and again Blair couldnít hear the deliberate mumble.
"Come on, Jim - I didnít catch that."
"They didnít have a guide," Jim finally said.
Jim shrugged, his whole body jerking as he raised his shoulders. "Doesnít matter if you have the senses - if you donít have a guide, youíre toast."
A bell sounded in the depths of Blairís soul. The competent, resolute, upright Sentinel needed him. Contrary wise, he strove to refute the Sentinelís words. "You said Incacha didnít do what I do."
"Nah, I just said that he did it differently. Without his help I would have died pretty quickly. There are vast chunks of my memory missing - maybe I was zoning then?"
Blair slowly nodded. A sentinel needed a guide - at least when he zoned. Belatedly he realised that it sounded as if Incacha had been unable to bring Jim out of his zone outs. Blair made a mental note of that observation.
"If you hadnít found me," Jim was saying, "I would be curled up in a psych ward by now." A slight blush touched Jimís fair features.
"Oh, wow!" A thousand thoughts assailed him. Affirmation of his place. Extrapolation of its possibilities. Ideas ran at light speed, almost too fast to grab them. Blair latched onto the one idea that screamed above all else.
"Chief?" Jim was peering into his face, leaning over him. "Are you zoning?"
"Hospitals - patients - autism - schizophrenics," Blair said cryptically. "Think about it. If one in one hundred autistic children are sentinels unable to control the sensory input - thatís a lot of kids who could be cured. Imagine a... young woman who hears voices - that donít tell her what to do, but never shut up, driving her to distraction and suicide. Thatís scary, man. All those people in pain."
"Chief?" A warm palm rested on his cheek. "Youíre just thinking out loud, arenít you?"
There was pain in those expressive, glacial blue eyes. Sympathetic pain for the imagined victims of the gift and curse of sentinel senses.
"Yeah, but it could be happening...." Blair twitched in empathic misery.
"Shhhhh," Jim soothed. "Hey, hey, youíre studying me - a real living and breathing sentinel. When you know everything about a sentinel whoís in control, youíll be able to apply your research. And out there you might find, or teach others, to help lost sentinels. But thatís in the future. This is now."
"Oh, man, youíve just outlined my post doctoral studies - after I finish my PhD," Blair said enthusiastically. "Youíd be my control - we could be together forever."
The words echoed in the large attic until only a resonant whisper remained. A stoic, unemotional facade was fixed on the Sentinelís face. Blair reined in his enthusiasm. He had shot his mouth off once again and lost the detective behind a wall of reserve. He controlled a twitch and tried a little smile. He couldnít read anything through the flat, mask-like expression. Yet, he knew what was churning in the Sentinelís mind - utter terror. He wondered why.
"I supposed someone has to control you," Jim finally joked.
"No, man," Blair said automatically. "Itís a scientific term. I meant that youíre the yard stick against which I compare everything else."
ĎOh, cool - profound thought,í Blair realised. For some peculiar reason Jim now had a wide smirk on his face.
"Did I say something funny?" he asked.
"If you donít get it, Iím not explaining it," Jim grinned.
"This has got something to do with the army, hasnít it?" Blair tried.
Jimís grin threatened to take over his entire face. Perplexed, Blair settled back. He had a lot to think about. Firstly, a genuinely fascinating idea for further sentinel based studies. Secondly, the intriguing concept of a guide and sentinel joined by a Ďbrother linkí. Then finally, the fact that Jim valued his input into his life. If he could have, he would have rubbed his hands together in glee. Damn pity that they were facing a denizen of Hell and they would probably be dead by morning. And why was the big guy scared?
The light faded and the fear increased. Blair angled his book under the small lamp he had found amongst the clutter in the attic. It was becoming increasingly more likely that there were no records relating to the horror prowling in the gardens. Cross referencing the white light, seen during the attack, with iron, yielded nothing in the few texts that they had brought with them. Blair hoped that they would have more time for research - that tonight would pass without any adventures.
He doubted it.
Blair raised his head. Despite his words, Jim didnít sound concerned. Setting his book aside, Blair joined Jim at the window alcove.
Mrs. Lissy stood in the window opposite them, waving.
"What is she saying?"
Jimís pupils dilated. "Hello, Blair," he gave voice to Mrs. Lissyís words. "Mr. Rayne told me that you are both all right. I just wanted to tell you that there is always a time for everything and there should be no regrets."
The grandmotherly woman raised a hand to her lips and blew an affectionate kiss before leaving the alcove without looking back.
"What was all that about?" Blair demanded, both confused and upset.
"Hey, whatís the matter?" Jimís hand stretched out and cupped the back of Blairís neck.
"Why did she do it that way?"
Understanding flooded across Jimís features.
"She knows Iím a sentinel," Jim said unnecessarily.
Blair nodded. "Those words - what did she mean?"
"They sounded like goodbye."
"Why?" Blair asked plaintively.
The Sentinel abruptly pulled his comforting hand away, leaving Blair alone. Swearing under his breath the Sentinel dashed out of the attic.
"What is it!" Blair shrieked.
"Bethany." Jimís voice echoed up the attic stairs.
Blair stared, hard, at the dark shadowed garden. A tiny figure, flowing grey in the moonlight, was running across the lawn. A heartbeat later, he was chasing after the Sentinel. As he ran, so fast he almost fell down the flights of stairs, he scrabbled with his thumbnail trying to find the switch for the radio transmitter. Expletives rolled off Blairís tongue as he finally managed to flick on the radio.
"Bethanyís outside," he yelled into the mike. He yanked the transmitter and threw it from him - if he was going to guide the Sentinel he could not wear the radio.
Blair barrelled through the porch doors and onto the drive. There was no sign of Jim. One of the ivy vines was ripped from its moorings. Jim had swarmed over the wall. Jim was in the garden. Cold sweat dripped down the back of Blairís neck.
Blair spun on his heel looking for another way over the wall. Further along the wall, beside a ramshackle shed, was a pile of refuse bags. Blair ran, his heart hammering against his ribs. The bags were filled with rubble and gleanings from Aunt ZoŽís gardens. Shifting and sliding, Blair scrambled onto them and launched himself onto the top of the wall. He caught himself with his elbows and then simply rolled off the top to fall in a heap on the other side. Half winded, he struggled to his feet. He was in the gardens.
Blair didnít stop to think; he couldnít hear or see his Sentinel Ė he had to find him. His glasses were askew and hanging on by one leg, he dashed them aside. Frantically, he scrambled to his feet. He forced away the branches of the thicket of bushes he had landed on, and emerged on the grassy lawn.
In the centre of the lawn, he could see James Ellison. Bethany was sprawled at his feet. Jim stood proud, his machete held before him in two hands. Blair could tell from his stance that he was extending all his senses looking for the horror. The Sentinel could not drop his guard to drag Bethany back to the house.
"My job," Blair said loudly, and launched himself across the lawn, arrowing to the Sentinelís side.
Jim acknowledged his presence with a short sharp nod. Blair bent to check on the woman. She was barely breathing. Then the machete slashed the air over his head. Instinctively Blair ducked, throwing himself protectively over Bethany. He felt the Sentinel shift, to stand over them. The machete sliced - cutting at nothing. Winds whipped his body - yet the weather had been calm a moment before.
"Get her out of here, Chief!" Jim ordered.
Blair pushed himself up on his elbows. Then he saw it, a shimmering shift in the air.
"Jim," Blair warned.
"I see it," Jim responded through gritted teeth.
He lifted the blade and pointed it unerringly at the horror. The blade slashed again. White light flared up intermittently - a sharp dazzling glare revealed a lurid outline that defied common knowledge. Blair could not put a name to the thing that loomed over them. All he could tell was that it was growing - feeding - and it was horrible. Jim stepped forward, pushing the thing back. Blair rose to his knees, at a loss over how he could carry Bethany back to the rectory - how he could fight the Horror. The strain showed in Jimís posture as he battled. The light rose up again, skittering around the man - the blade acting as a conductor - as they had intended. A hideous roar filled the air. Blair could not tell from where the roar came. The ghastly scream cut through the Sentinel, driving him to his knees. Blair found himself on his feet - insanely heading to the fallen Sentinelís side. The grass beneath him lurched obscenely. The very earth objected to the horrorís presence. Blair felt, rather than saw, the earth split. A fissure formed before him, directly under Jim.
"NO!" Blair screamed blindly into the chaos.
Jim was deathly silent as he plummeted downwards.
Blair staggered towards the rent in the earth then, suddenly, a hand caught his elbow, spinning him round. The military-type from the van held him tightly, yelling to be heard over the flaring lights and howling winds.
"Get back to the house," the man ordered abruptly.
"Fuck you," Blair said nicely. He hooked his foot behind the strangerís and pushed him on top of Bethany.
Arcs of shimmering terror fingered out of the gaping hole - feeling around like a spiderís legs. Blair did not hesitate, his best friend was somewhere inside that obscenity - oblivious to the danger he hurled himself forward.
A sensation of falling overtook him as he flung himself into the abyss. Carrion wings engulfed him and he gagged against the stench of decay. Then, with nauseating suddenness, he stopped. Coughing and disorientated, he pulled himself to his feet - and wished he had remained curled in a foetal position. There was no up - there was no down. If this was not Hell it was a close second. The physical laws of his mortal world no longer applied. Only the thought of the Sentinel, more firmly grounded in the physical world and more than likely suffering because of that fact, kept him from running, screaming, into the far recesses of his own mind.
The air tasted weird. He had to consciously remind himself to breathe. There were no colours that he could name. With stomach churning upset, he knew that there were no boundaries. How could he stand up when he was not standing on a surface? He decided not to think about it, afraid that if he did, he would begin to fall. He had to keep his eyes partially closed in a vain attempt to filter out the incomprehensible. For the first time in his life he was thankful that he wore glasses, without his glasses, he couldnít see clearly. This place would be driving the Sentinel insane.
"Jim?" He couldnít stop a distressed little sob sounding in his voice.
Although curiously muted, he thought that he heard his Sentinel call: ĎSandburg?í. Frantically, he cast around, trying to see in the incomprehensible chaos. A tussock of what could possibly be a hunk of grass floated beneath his feet, spiralling further into the abyss. Blair felt the fragile security of his balance falter, as if he was standing on thin ice above a bottomless lake.
"Donít think about it," Blair lectured to himself, "just find Jim."
A ripple of cold nothingness threw him onto his back. The shimmer, which heralded the horrorís presence, washed over him.
Blair opened his eyes to see Jim held within the centre of the thing. It still held no form or definition - man had not given the monster simple horns, cloven hooves or a forked tail. This was evil, pure and undistilled by exposure to manís fancies.
Jim was rigid, the tendons and muscles starkly defined in his arms and neck, as he fought. It was playing with him, cat to Jimís mouse.
"No!" Blair pulled himself to his feet. If Jim was a mouse to this thing, Blair guessed that he was an amoeba. Heíd been an amoeba before and he hadnít given in back in school and he wasnít going to give into a bully now - no matter how big and scary.
"You canít have him. I wonít allow it. Not in this lifetime or any fucking lifetime!"
Blair surged forwards without a weapon and without a plan. White light flared, erupting out of nothingness, between himself and the thing. The light enfolded him, caressing his skin, leaving him unharmed.
He knew this presence.
"Mrs. Lissy?" he ventured.
A bubble of laughter answered his tentative question then he was released to fall at the pure soulís presence. The thing roared and flailed, torturing Jim within its grasp as it moved. The brilliant light reached out, battling against the antithesis of light. Jim echoed its pain-filled scream as he dropped from its cruel embrace. Blair scurried to Jimís side. The Sentinel was gibbering under his breath, confused and disorientated.
"Listen to me, Jim. Listen to my heartbeat!" Blair ordered around a cough.
Jim latched onto him like a puppy searching for warmth, burrowing into his lap. Blair repeated his command as he wrapped his arms around Jimís chest and began to crawl away from the two forces warring above him.
"What ... do ... I do?"
Tears streamed down Blairís cheeks. A cough swamped his lungs. He had to help Mrs. Lissy but he did not even know where to begin. He could only get his Sentinel away. His role as a Guide was to guide and protect his Sentinel. In the ether above him, the rent in the earth which tore the hellish dimension open still existed. Where the hellish ether met mortal air it flared and gassed, filling the rent with impenetrable smoke. But what was a gateway to Hell, was also an escape. If only they could reach it.
The Sentinel was bordering on comatose. "Jim, listen to my voice - imagine your senses switched off. Do it, Captain!" he bellowed.
Irises abruptly contracted, but Jim still remained lost in his own sensory hell.
"Stand up, Captain Ellison."
Jim lurched to his feet. The beginnings of sentient thought showed in those flat eyes. Curiously, he looked at the bottomless pit beneath his feet. Blair felt his own footing slip in response.
He gave the big Sentinel a shake. "Donít think, Big Guy. Look up, see the hole? Weíre going through the hole. Okay?"
Jim nodded slowly. Deliberately not looking downwards, Blair steered Jim directly beneath the tear on the air.
A feminine scream rocked the world around them. A human was in indescribable pain. Blair looked over his shoulder, he couldnít help himself. He was blinded by his tears. Disorientated, he was fairly sure that if he strove to pierce the swirling confusion, he would go insane. Deliberately he turned away.
"Jim, get up there," he ordered hoarsely, pointing at the tear. There was no footholds or handholds. Impossibly, their way out hung in the air above them. Blair crossed his arms and braced himself offering his body as a step.
"No, Chief," Jim finally spoke, "you first."
"I canít," Blair pointed out, sobbing in frustration - they had no time to argue, " I canít pull you out; my hands... and you weigh a ton. But you can drag me out."
Reluctantly, Jim nodded once. He gripped Blairís shoulder and rested his foot on a bent knee. Blair clenched his teeth, knowing that this was going to hurt. Jim pushed upwards with his feet and hands. Blair took the Sentinelís full weight. A booted foot stamped down on his crossed forearms and another one on his shoulder. Jim had done this before. His knees gave way as Jim launched himself upwards. Sprawled in a heap, he saw Jim gripping the edge of the tear with his big hands, straining to pull his legs up over the edge. Then he saw a vague figure reach down and clasp the Sentinelís jacket and begin to slowly haul the man upwards.
Blair rolled onto his side and then onto his knees. Jim was safe; maybe now he could help Mrs. Lissy. Without the Sentinel to concentrate upon, the chaos threatened to rob him of his reason. Blinded by the nightmare, he staggered in what he thought was the right direction.
"No, son." A gentle hand on his shoulder stopped him.
A dark, saturnine man stood before him, dressed in a clericís robes. Blair was completely flummoxed. He now had no idea of what to do next. Was this a man or was it a demon? Whatever. It was necessary for his very sanity that he concentrate on this figure, rather than the engulfing chaos. If this man was stable and familiar as a human being, surely it meant that he was mortal?
"Mrs. Lissy," Blair tried to explain, but the strange ether of the place stole his words.
"You can only help her by leaving, my boy," he said compassionately. "A child in a war zone has to be protected against all possible hurt. If you stay here, Mrs. Lissy cannot do what she has to do."
"Who are you?" Blair asked, ignoring his platitudes and empty words.
"Father Mustafa Katualas."
"Philip thought that you were dead."
Katualas pondered for a moment. "I am."
"Okay, fine. Iíve had enough. I want to go home," Blair burbled, and then reined in his thoughts and words. "How do we help?"
Katualas shook his head, his expression sorrowful. He reached out and rested his hand on Blairís curls.
"Mrs. Lissy is about to make the ultimate sacrifice - not simply her life, but to risk her immortal soul. Youíve seen the power of a soul, or more accurately, joined souls." Katualasí hand dropped from Blairís head to rest on his bandaged hands. "You have travelled some distance on the path of knowledge, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Warring above us is a soul no longer within a mortal shell - that is a power beyond imagination. Now is the time for you to leave."
Blair was torn. Why should he believe this man? Maybe he could turn the battle to Mrs. Lissyís advantage. Soft light brushed against his cheek. For a moment, he was entranced, as the light imparted a message. There was no room for misunderstanding. This was so far beyond his ken, it was akin to a butterfly trying to control a hurricane. A scream caught him as the beast struck a distracted immortal soul.
"Run from the burning, little Blair, and warn your friends." Katualas bestowed a final benediction and then turned to join the battle.
Hollow fear stirred anew in the pit of Blairís belly. If the burns he bore on his hands were anything to go by, the final conflict would be beyond astronomical. He knew that Jim would be waiting on the other side. There was no more room for thought, he had to warn....
Light that travelled in straight lines. Sound waves that pushed molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide in familiar quantities. Scents in the air, which didnít trigger every taste bud in his mouth in an explosion of devastating sound. The confusion ebbed away as his mind sought and found order. Senses were no longer overwhelmed; no longer confused. He heard with his ears, rather than his skin.
Abruptly, he pulled his senses back on track. He was lying on his back, staring up a night sky speckled with wisps of cloud. Someone with finely smoothed fingernails was taking the pulse at his neck. Jim twisted his head to the side, next to him lay the rotund Mrs. Lissy. The ex-seal, who had been introduced to him as Nick Boyle, was administering chest compressions to the old lady. The hideous sound of creaking, abused ribs reached the Sentinelís ears. Memories hit him like a runaway freight train.
The woman called Alex, who was crouching at his side, was bowled over. In a heartbeat, the Sentinel processed the information coming to him. The priest and the responsible, older looking man, Derek Rayne, were standing over the rent in the earth. They were praying or chanting. The smouldering ether, which had hurt his lungs, was gushing out of the hole. On hands and knees, he crawled over the wet grass. The woman flung her arms around his waist. She was easily brushed off with a deft twist of his hand. Her trailing fingers caught the hem of his jeans. Jim reached the edge of the rent, tearing away clumps of grass and soil.
"Stop it." The priest added his hands to Alexís and pulled Jim away from the hole and Sandburg.
"Heís gone, Detective Ellison," Rayne said quietly, somehow his voice penetrating the chaos. "We have to close the dimensional rift, else its physical form will escape in addition to its dark soul."
Jim Ellison was not impressed with his words. Neither man nor woman clinging to him were able to stop him crawling to the edge and thrusting his hand into the billowing fog.
"SANDBURG! DONíT MAKE ME COME IN THERE AFTER YOU!"
Silence - heart breaking silence, followed by a sobbing grunt from Nick Boyle as he tried futilely to bring back the housekeeper from deathís door.
"Come away, man," Philip Callaghan said beseechingly, "thereís nothing you can do."
Jim closed his eyes and *listened* - he threw his whole being into finding his lost friend. He knew the studentís scent. He knew the way he looked. Most of all he knew the student by his noise. And there it was: a heartbeat; the rush of air in his lungs and the gurgle of blood flowing in his veins. Soft fabric brushed his outstretched hand and then fell away. Jim stretched his hand further into the abyss straining to catch a mittened hand. There it was. Faster than instincts he caught the hand, ignoring the squeal of pain, and then brought his other hand down to clasp a skinny wrist. He held all of Blairís compact weight as the kid dangled in mid-air. Jim didnít work out for nothing; he lifted with all his might, drawing his Guide upwards. The hands that were trying to stop him suddenly decided to help. He felt the woman reach over his shoulder to grab at the collar of Blairís pullover. Another hand joined hers, and with a grunt, Blair was hauled into his arms. Blair wailed like a new-born baby. Tears streaked down his cheeks, as he hiccuped out a few coherent words.
"Mrs... Lissy... gonna sacrific.... Back... gotta get back." His voice rose alarmingly.
Derek Rayne obviously understood the message - his face blanched white. Jim did not understand what was going to happen, but the naked fear in the older manís face was impossible to ignore. Nick Boyleís jaw dropped open and he flung himself over Mrs. Lissyís supine body. Jim struggled to his feet, half carrying Blair. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and whatever was going to happen as was humanly possible. The priest looped one of Blairís arms over his shoulders. Jim nodded once, acknowledging the priestís assistance, and attempted to run from the hole.
"Move it!" Rayne ordered.
Blair stumbled along, his efforts to walk more of a hindrance than a help. Jim was barely mobile himself. The priest was a sturdy bulwark. A churning ripple passing through the earth beneath his feet, tossed Jim to the ground. Blair folded next to him, pulling the priest down. Perhaps foolishly, Jim looked back. The shimmer, showing that the thing was breaching the mortal world, was vomiting from the hole. Within it, fragments of pure white light coalesced. A battle was being waged. Automatically, Jim tucked the slighter frame that was nestled against his side under his body.
The world exploded.
There was a dull period of nothingness. He couldnít tell if he was zoning or not, if he was alive or dead. Slowly, Jim opened eyes that he wasnít aware that he had closed. His head felt as if it had been pummelled repeatedly. Beneath him Blair squirmed. Jim shifted his weight onto one hand and rolled off the student. Blair took a much needed gasp of air.
"You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah, man. You?" Blair twisted onto his back.
Jim nodded, then in the face of Blairís disbelief, admitted, "Headache that wonít quit."
"Is it over, Jim?" Blair whispered.
Cursing his lack of attention, the Sentinel scanned the gardens. The only sounds were harsh, fearful breathing. Jim ran a quick sensory check over the student. All his vitals elevated. In fact everyoneís heartbeats were running like trip-hammers. Where the rent had been, there was now a deep gouge in the earth. Jim honed his sight and hearing, focusing on the crater. He could hear soil settling at the bottom, but nothing else moved.
"Clear," Jim reported, lapsing into the discipline of an army encounter.
Blair lifted his head off the grass and announced, "Doesnít feel like a mass grave anymore."
His head thudded back against the grass with an audible thump. The subtle, pervasive terror was missing. It was over.
"Oh, Mother of God!" The priest struggled upright beside them. Nick Boyle, crouched at the edge of the crater, had drawn his attention. The younger man was sifting through a pile of ashes with a dull, stricken look on his face. The priest staggered over to his fellow Legacy memberís side. Jim checked on Blair once again and then, finally, looked to the others. Derek Rayne was huddled with Alex and Bethany - hovering over them like a protective eagle with his chicks. The younger woman was betwixt an epileptic fit and reality. Alex was gazing at Boyle with a pained expression.
Of the housekeeper there was no sign. Slowly and reluctantly, Jim found his sight unerringly drawn to Boyle. The significance of the ashes suddenly struck the Sentinel.
"Whereís Mrs. Lissy?" Blair asked plaintively. "Did she make it?"
A pain-filled chord sounded in the depths of Jimís body, resonating with the desperation in Blairís voice. The eyes demanding answers from him were harrowed and sorrowful. Jim realised that Blair knew the answer to his question. He was hoping, against hope, that what he feared had not happened.
"Sorry, kid," Jim began, searching for the right words.
Blairís eyes screwed shut. A tear escaped from one tightly closed eyelid, to trickle down his temple and run into his hair. Abruptly, Blair sat up and dashed another escaping tear with a bandaged hand.
"That sucks, man," he said quietly. "That really... sucks."
Jim carefully laid his arm across hunched shoulders. He could only offer platitudes; it seemed better to keep his mouth shut.
A cadence of a prayer washed over them. Father Philip Callaghan had knelt over the scatter of ashes, head bowed in prayer. Jimís head dropped to his chest as he echoed the words. Blair sat stock still, eyes wide, as he took in the tableau before him. The only movement was from the elegant Alex, carefully drawing the confused and distraught Bethany back to the rectory. Derek Rayne and Nick Boyle stood over the priest, their heads also bowed in prayer.
Then, slowly, Callaghan began to collect the ashes. Boyle joined him, dropping to his knees with a deep sigh. Derek Rayne, somehow exuding calm, left them to their work and crossed to the Sentinel and Guide. The man clasped his hands behind his back. Standard authoritarian posture, Jim noted, recognising the stance as a favourite of many of his ex-superiors in the Army.
"You realise that you cannot speak of this to your fellow officers in the police department."
"Yeah, weíre all right. How are you feeling?" Jim snapped.
Rayne nodded once, accepting the rebuke. "Sorry, I have to Ďcover all basesí."
"Weíre not stupid," Blair said, almost belligerently and quite out of character. "Whoís going to believe us, anyway?"
Keeping the whole affair quiet would be simplicity itself, Jim knew. The surveillance had not been instigated by the department so there was no need to file a report. Simon might require some feedback but he could probably be fobbed off with a complex Blair misdirection. Alternatively, they could tell the astute captain what had happened - he wouldnít believe them, though.
"True," Rayne said. "We find that people want to believe but when they come face to face with the unexplainable, they prefer their nice, ordered, little mundane world."
Jim snorted. He had decided that he hadnít lived in the mundane world since he had met Sandburg.
"So you protect them," Jim stated.
"Yes." Rayne nodded, a short sharp nod. "We exist to protect the innocent."
"Thatís big of you." Jim was cruising for a fight.
A warmth shifted beside him. Blair shuffled closer against his side, imparting comfort. Jim was reminded that it was his role to protect the innocent. The Legacy members werenít the enemy. The thing was the enemy and now it was dead or banished.
"Will it be back?" Blair asked, unconsciously voicing the Sentinelís thoughts.
"I do not know, but I suspect not." Rayne deliberately relaxed his posture. "We will be more comfortable in the Rectory, would you care to join us?"
Jim cast a glance at the smaller figure under his arm. Blair shook his head, a little shake that hardly disturbed a hair.
"No," Jim said flatly. "Itís over, there is nothing to discuss."
"I would like to know about your experience on the Ďother sideí."
Once again, Blair shook his head imperceptibly.
"Another time," Jim said. He enforced his words by standing. Blair rose with him. Deliberately, Jim steered Blair into Rayneís path. The preceptor of the San Francisco branch stepped aside, allowing them to pass.
The next few days were dank and miserable, which reflected Jimís mood perfectly. He had spent yet another long, boring day in the office working through the backlog of reports which he had put off for days, if not weeks. When he had entered Major Crimes, the night after the battle, Simon had taken one look at him then basically forbade him to go onto the streets all day. One day had became two and now three days of office duties. The Sentinel still had not spoken to his Captain about the events of the last few days. He wanted to speak to Simon out of the office, preferably over a couple of beers. If the Legacy organisation was as far reaching as Jim suspected, he wanted Simon aware of what had occurred over the last forty-eight hours to act as a safety net. Wearily, Jim paused on the sidewalk. If worrying about being taken away for government testing was not enough, now he had to be on his guard for Ďbehind the scenesí organisations who were more than capable of uncovering, and accepting, the Sentinel mystery. They had given the Legacy members sufficient clues.
He unlocked the door leading into the foyer of Prospect Placeís apartment complex. There was still an Ďout of orderí sign on the elevator - when Blair broke something he really broke something. As he wearily trailed up the stairs to his loft apartment, old Mrs. Illwraith cracked open her door and peered into the hallway. A smile lit her crinkled face and she opened the door fully. Obviously she had been waiting for him.
"Detective Ellison." In her hands she held a large, cardboard-wrapped package. "This is for Blair. I signed for the delivery. I knocked, but he isnít in."
Jim took the package with a twisted smile. The student was probably inside the loft, curled up on the couch or moping around his room, and ignoring both the telephone and the door. Blair had been as miserable as sin for the last few days. Jim had let him wallow, knowing that he needed the time to put their experience into perspective. However, now it was time to talk.
"Thank you, Mrs. Illwraith. Iíll see that Blair gets it."
He hefted the package. It felt like books, or more correctly, boring old tomes. He smelled old leather and parchment, nothing suspicious. They were probably books that Blair could ill afford but couldnít live without. He bypassed Mrs. Illwraithís invitation for coffee and cookies with a promise to visit at the weekend. After making sure that she had locked her door, he slowly walked up the stairs, the weight of the impending confrontation weighing heavily upon him.
Tired footstep after tired footstep, he wearily trailed up the stairs. His back was hurting after hunching over the computer. Or more accurately, it was hurting after falling off a wall and wrestling with a demon. Suddenly a hot bath and a quiet evening sounded much more appealing than clashing with Sandburg.
As he entered the apartment, a curious melange of scents assailed his nose. Blair was most definitely lurking somewhere in the apartment. He dumped the package on the kitchen sinkís draining board.
"Blair?" he called.
Then he spotted the kid leaning against the railing on the balcony. His head was raised and he was gazing at the city. Jim debated a moment and then decided to join him. To bolster his courage, he grabbed a couple of beers from the refrigerator. The glass doors were open; so Blair probably wanted company.
"Hey, Chief." Jim paused at the doorway. "You want a beer?"
As Blair turned, Jim waggled the beer enticingly. Blair held up his steaming mug of tea.
"No thanks, big guy."
An affectionate tone, Jim noted with an inward smile, that meant that the kid was feeling better.
"What are you drinking? It smells..." words failed him.
"Oh, an infusion of yarrow, skullcap and fennel." He sipped the brew. "Tastes disgusting too."
"So why are you drinking it?"
"It calms and soothes."
"Is it working?"
"Nah." Blair casually tossed the contents of the mug over the edge of the balcony and then set the cup on the wall. He reached for the bottle with a lightly bandaged hand. Jim cracked the cap of the bottle of Bud and handed it over.
"You want to talk about it?" Jim said as an opening gambit. No subtlety for the premier detective of Major Crimes.
"Mrs. Lissyís dead."
The pain in his friendís voice cut him to the quick. His mind churned, searching for some appropriate words. He realised that Blair was still speaking.
"Deathís part of life. I know that, but sheís not just dead. I mean it depends on what you believe: reincarnation; heaven; the summer country - thatís only a few. Theyíre all fairly convinced we have a soul - a soul that moves on, man. I saw ... I saw Mrs. Lissyís soul. And she sacrificed it to save us."
Tears were welling in those expressive blue eyes.
"I think... she knew it was going to happen," Jim found himself saying. "Remember she said no regrets? Her exact words were: I just wanted to tell you that there is always a time for everything and there should be no regrets."
"Is that supposed to help?" Blair snapped.
Jim mentally reined in his own anger, which he knew was liberally mixed with mystification and exhaustion. "I listened to her." Jim cocked his head to the side, mimicking the body language he used when utilising his preternatural sense of hearing. "Her arteries were shot. She was going to stroke any day. She was living on borrowed time."
"You donít understand, do you? Her body might of died, but thatís just a... physical vessel - her soulís gone, obliterated, no rebirth, no reincarnation, no nothing."
Blair stomped angrily back into the loft. Jim followed. Blair was scuffing up the polished floor between the fireplace and the kitchen table. He was muttering under his breath. Jim made a point of not listening.
"How do you know?" Jim interjected into a breathing space in Blairís diatribe. The words brought Blair up short.
"That her immortal soul has been destroyed." Jim scratched the side of his jaw. "She was having a massive coronary infarction - her body was having a heart attack - she... the ... the soul couldnít come back - may be it moved on? Iím not really explaining it very well, am I?"
"Nah, man, youíre doing fine." Blair left his pacing. "You got anymore thoughts?"
"She turned to ashes."
Blairís hopeful expression slipped and was replaced by utter confusion. "I donít understand."
Jim resisted the impulse to pat his head. "Iíve seen more than my fair share of dead bodies and none of them turned to dust. Something did that. If it had been the Ďthingí, I donít think it would have stopped at Mrs. Lissy."
"Oh, wow!" Blair did an impressive little jig on the carpet. "Assumption!"
"Assumption," Blair explained, "You must have read about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary bodily into heaven? Okay, itís Roman Catholic dogma; itís usually linked to saints. What I mean is, it is not without precedent for truly evolved souls to dispense with their physical vessels. Based on what Father Katualas said, I think Mrs. Lissy had...progressed to that level."
Automatically, Jim schooled his face to hide his own confusion. Then he realised that he could let his honest confusion show to his roommate.
"Father Katualas? Heís dead."
"Yes, but thatís the point. His ghost, his soul, was there. Yes! I love you, man. Youíre the greatest," Blair said enthusiastically, as he launched himself across the room and flung his arms around Jimís chest.
Jim gently patted Blairís back. "I knew that. You want to tell me why you think Iím the greatest?"
"You reminded me that the body and soul are separate. There is a chance, a good chance, that Mrs. Lissyís soul survived." Blair spoke directly to Jimís heart. "I hate that sheís dead, Ďcos thatís so sad, but...."
"She gets to be reincarnated if she wants?" Jim ventured.
Blair sniggered and squeezed tighter. "Whatever religious faith you want to follow, man. Whatever religion you want."
"You feeling better?" Jim patted Blairís back once again.
Sheepishly Blair pulled back, he rubbed the back of his own head with a bandaged hand.
"Sorry about that, man."
Jim held out his arms in an open gesture. "Any time you want.... Blair."
"Thanks, man," Blair said sincerely, but he ducked his head, embarrassed. "So how was your day in the office?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject.
Jim rolled his eyes heavenward. He was tempted to unload the stresses of a downright crappy day. That would, however, spoil the fragile peace he had established in their home. Jim took a slurp from his beer.
"Fine," Jim smiled. He guessed that it was a bit strained from the quizzical expression Blair immediately shot his way.
"Thereís a package for you on the draining board," Jim said, effectively distracting the student.
"Oooh, I wasnít expecting anything."
Jim left him examining the parcel. He wanted a long hot bath, followed by a generous portion of Kung Po chicken from their favourite restaurant, and then an early night. He snagged a packet of chips and a hidden bag of MĎníMs before ducking into the bathroom. Sandburg completely missed the furtive dash with the hoard of goodies, engrossed in examining his parcel.
"James Joseph Ellison," an authoritarian voice rang out.
ĎDamn, busted,í Jim sighed inwardly.
Blair stood in the bathroom doorway, hands on hips and his mouth formed into a terse cupidís bow.
"I just wanted some..." Jim began to defend himself.
"Comfort food," Blair supplied.
Jim looked down at his Guide. "Sometimes a body just wants a treat," he argued.
"Itís my fault," Blair said, shaking his head. "Iíve been so involved in how I felt - I never asked how you were coping."
Jimís jaw worked but no sound came forth.
"Iím sorry, Jim," Blair said sincerely. "Are. You. All. Right?"
Jim fiddled with his packet of chocolate drops. The concerned and understanding cast to Blairís face was impossible to ignore and he knew that the kid would not let the subject drop. He might as well face the music.
"I think I can handle the supernatural aspects. I do. Do I now have to believe in God? Donít answer that, Chief. Iíve got to do some rethinking about a number of things." Jim noted that, impressively, the kid was keeping his expressive mouth shut during a speech that was essentially thinking out loud. "Up until falling through the rip, I could have argued that I was suffering from an overactive imagination. Once I was onto the... other side... it was so weird, I zoned until you told me to climb out."
Blair answered Jimís unspoken question. "I didnít see much. I don't think there was anything to see - it was more of a conceptual type of place. I mean, your brain translated what was happening into something you could perceive, not necessarily understand. I tried not to think about it too much."
"That must have been difficult," Jim kidded.
Blair bared his teeth in a smile. "Instead of thinking supernatural, think as it as another frame of reference - like swimming under water... you know when you go scuba diving and youíre weightless and the sunlight moves through the water differently than in air."
"I told you: I have to think about the supernatural part myself, Chief," Jim chastised lightly. The anthropology studentís thoughts were interesting and offered an insight onto the kidís thought processes.
"So if travelling to Hell, or fighting a demon, isnít whatís upsetting," Blair hummed for a moment and the rephrased his words, "bothering you, what is?"
"The Legacy," Jim said succinctly.
"Why?" Blair asked, with an ingenuousness only he possessed.
Jim finally cracked open his packet of MĎníMs and shovelled a handful into his mouth. "I dunno. Mistrust of covert operations, I guess. We managed to keep the Sentinel thing downplayed, so hopefully they wonít latch onto that. I just donít like the idea of these people working behind the scenes. Who are they responsible to? There are too many questions without answers."
"They were nice people, though. Thatís what counts, isnít it?"
Jim smiled at his partnerís lack of guile.
"Yeah, Philip was okay. I guess the others were too."
"Hey, look on the bright side, if we come up against anything Ďunexplainableí we know who to call."
"The Ghostbusters," Jim dead panned.
Blair snorted. He clasped his bandaged hands over his mouth but they didnít stop the small snigger escaping.
"Get out of here, Chief." Jim made shooing motions with his hands. "I want a nice hot bath."
Blair backed up, and Jim caught the bathroom door with his foot and pushed it shut in his Guideís face.
"Hey! Youíve got all the chocolate!"
Jim could hear Blair trying to twist the doorknob but he could get any purchase with his mittened hands. Chortling under his breath, Jim turned the taps and began to fill the bath. Grinning evilly, he chose Blairís imported Aloe Vera body wash and squeezed a good portion under the taps. The foam immediately began to bubble with a refreshing, cleansing scent. Slowly he pulled off his work clothes and dumped them in the hamper. He allowed himself a feline stretch before dipping a toe into the water. The temperature was perfect. Sighing happily, he lowered himself into the bath, luxuriating in the bubbles. With another stretch, he relaxed back. He rested his head on a wadded face cloth against the edge of the bath as he placed his feet beside the taps. He could hear Blair muttering gleefully under his breath as the kid fumbled with his package. Jim made a quick sensory sweep of his home - all was right in his territory. Verbalising his concerns with Blair had helped - somehow bringing them out into the open had put them into perspective. In much the same way as they continued to keep an eye out for governmental employees (both rogue and sanctioned), they would now add the Legacy Organisation as a potential threat to their secret. Their only option was to be vigilant.
The supernatural aspects, however, would require a lot of thought.
With a heartfelt sigh, he reached for his MĎníMs.
"Iím going to eat my chocolate and my chips and finish my beer - Ďcos Iíve had a hard week and I deserve it. Tomorrow is another day."
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
by W. Henley