edited by: Gabrielle, Alyson E, and Shelley
Major Crime, Tuesday, Early Afternoon
The phone on Ellison's desk rang. Picking up the receiver, he brought it to his ear. Before he could bark out a greeting, the caller began to speak.
"Detective Ellison?" She rushed on before receiving confirmation she was speaking to the correct person, not wanting to lose her momentum. "It's Wendy Hawthorne. We met a couple years ago when I was doing the "day in the life" series for True Crime?" The voice traveling over the phone lines carried with it a trace of urgency and fear.
He smiled as he remembered the eager reporter trying to get back into the game. The smile turned into a grimace as he remembered her eager young cameraman who nearly got himself, Wendy, and Sandburg killed. "Ellison." He finally managed to answer her first question. "Yes, I remember." His voice held a note of coldness, their last meeting too volatile to engender an enthusiastic response.
She rushed on, still eager to get to the point of the call. She, too, remembered their last meeting and feared a continuance of their earlier animosity, especially considering the nature of her call. "I need your help. I've been working on a documentary about the cleanup of the Hanford Engineer Works in eastern Washington."
"I know the place. Isn't that where they produced plutonium during World War II?"
At Jim's response, Blair Sandburg looked up quizzically from the stack of files piled on his desk. Somehow he'd earned the privilege of looking over and refiling a bunch of Jim's old case reports. It was a job he did not relish. His eyebrows raised, he attempted to catch the attention of his partner to see if he could determine who the older man was talking to. Jim however, remained focused on the phone and either missed or ignored all of the subtle, pantomimed questions coming from his partner.
"Yeah. More specifically, it's where they produced the plutonium used in the first nuclear tests and in the second bomb dropped on Japan."
"Nice place. So what are you doing there?"
"Like I said, I've been working on a documentary about the cleanup. Now that they've closed the plant, something has to be done with all of the radioactive materials, not to mention the reactors themselves." She took a deep breath before continuing on. "Well, some strange things have been happening since I've been here."
"Strange how?" Jim picked up his pen and began to make notes on the standard size pad of notepaper positioned squarely on his desk. "And how long have you been out there?"
"Two weeks. Initially I sort of ignored them, thinking that it was just a bunch of coincidences, but now that Jake's been killed..."
Ellison interrupted her before she could finish her sentence. "Killed. What do you mean killed? And how come it took you so long to mention it?" A slight note of anger appeared in his voice, and he took a deep breath to control it before he further terrified the already scared woman on the phone.
In the background, he heard Wendy trying to control her own breathing. Focusing his hearing across the phone line, he took note of her rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. He also heard voices -- workers most likely by the language they used, the sound of metal clanging against metal, and even the slight rustle of the wind across the desert. She must still be out at the site, he thought to himself, bringing a renewed sense of urgency to the phone call.
"Tell me about the murder. Start with who was murdered," Ellison continued, after successfully reigning in his anger.
"Jake Groves. He is, or was, a retired engineer from the Engineer Works. He lived in Richland. Even after he retired, he spent most of his time at the facility. He'd become kind of an unofficial historian of the area. After his wife died and his kids moved away, the only thing left in his life was Hanford."
Jim's face paled noticeably at the mention of the dead man's name.
Giving up on his hand signals, Blair stood up and moved to stand beside Jim in hopes of figuring out what was going on. Reading over the seated man's shoulder he saw the word HANFORD in large letters situated precisely on the legal pad. Becoming even more confused, he sat in the chair permanently situated next to Jim's desk to wait for an explanation.
Jim could hear the fondness for the older man in Wendy's voice and wondered at the change in her demeanor. Two years ago a murder would have been just part of the story to her; a nice intro to a hot story. Obviously a lot had changed since their last meeting.
Finally registering his partner's curiosity, Jim added another few words to the legal pad in front of him: Wendy Hawthorne. Reading them, Blair's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. Noticing his surprise, Jim merely shrugged his shoulders and returned his full attention to the phone call.
"So exactly what happened?" Jim questioned, the life of the victim not as interesting to him at this point as the facts of the case.
"I found him dead two days ago. I went to his house because he hadn't shown up for our meeting. He was always so prompt." Wendy hiccupped, tears threatening to fall.
"He was old, could he have just died in his sleep?"
"No. His death was not a peaceful one. His face was frozen in this awful mask. It was horrible. I called plant security to report it, and they sent someone out. I kept waiting for the authorities to show up and question me about it, but no one's been here. In fact, no one will even talk about it. Something very strange is going on out here, Jim. I really need your help."
"Okay. I'll come out and see what I can do. But you realize it is a bit out of my jurisdiction, right?"
"I know, but I'd hate for anything else to happen. And obviously the people out here aren't concerned."
"Be careful. Make sure you stay with someone until Sandburg and I get there. I don't want you running off trying to solve the case on your own."
"I learned my lesson the last time. Honestly. Sandburg, isn't he the consultant that was working with the department?"
"Yep. He's moved up to full detective. We'll be there sometime tomorrow. Where are you staying?"
"At a little hotel outside of town. The Starlight. Room 107. This really isn't a tourist area. It's the only thing I could find. And Jim? Thanks." Wendy added the last softly, before hanging up the phone.
Before he could remind her once again to be careful, she was gone. Jim hung up the phone with a puzzled look on his face, still wondering what exactly was going on. Before Blair could begin asking questions, Jim raised a hand. "Let's go into Simon's office. This one's a little strange, and I'd like to only have to explain it once."
Next Morning, Ellison's Truck, En Route to Hanford, Southeastern Washington State
Sandburg rubbed his eyes sleepily, as he returned to consciousness. His eyes still only half open he gazed out the window, observing his surroundings. "This looks like Kansas."
"You can't see the mountains from Kansas."
Blair contemplated arguing about it for a moment before answering. Deciding not to push the issue, he responded, "That's true. Can't see those in Kansas either." He pointed to the concrete cooling towers rising majestically and distinctively from the flat barren earth around them, stark reminders of the area's legacy, strikingly visible in the distance. A slight shudder shook his frame.
Noticing the shudder, Jim questioned its origins, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just seeing those cooling towers out there by themselves. It's kinda creepy. Nothing for miles and miles, and then those."
"Better out here than in a populated area."
"Yeah, but can you imaging the desolation of living out here? No one to talk to. Nothing to do for miles around. Not even something pretty to look at to take your mind off what you are doing. Ugh."
"The dry, uninhabited locale provided the perfect setting for the top secret military installation. The nearby Columbia River provided an unlimited supply of the needed cooling water for the reactors, as well as a convenient spot in which to release waste. There's also a highly successful reclamation project out here."
Blair stared at his partner in wide-eyed wonder.
"What?" Ellison asked defensively. "I've been out here before."
"Yes, but you sound like a travel brochure. VISIT HANFORD, THERE'S LOTS OF FUN STUFF TO DO HERE. Or, VISIT HANFORD, IT'S HERE FOR A REASON. Or, HANFORD: FARMLAND OF THE FUTURE." In the small confines of the truck's cab, he couldn't escape the swat aimed at his head. "And what do you mean you've been out here before?"
"I'm not sure. I just remember driving this road. And there isn't anything out this way but a lot of farmland and Hanford. I can't imagine I would have been going to the farm...."
"I can." Blair grinned cheekily and attempted to duck even as he uttered the next words, "The funny farm."
"Cute. Figure that one out all by yourself?" Jim watched Blair duck and opted to thwack him on the arm instead.
"Ow!" He rubbed his arm in feigned hurt.
Later That Day, Starlight Motel, Room 107, Outside Hanford Engineer Works, Richland, Washington
Jim raised a hand to knock on the door to Room 107 even though he could tell by the silence the room was empty. No heartbeat, no sound of movement, not even an electric hum from the room's air-conditioner. The formalities taken care of, he proceeded to test the door handle in hopes someone left it unlocked. All the while, he thought to himself that he never should have answered the phone yesterday afternoon. This thought was quickly followed by another, berating Wendy for not knowing when to follow instructions and stay put.
The door yielded easily to his touch. Pushing it all the way open he cautiously stepped inside wary for anything unexpected, Blair behind him.
Seemingly aware of Jim's tension, Blair remained uncharacteristically silent, following Jim's lead into the room.
Still thinking Wendy had gone off to investigate on her own, Jim was unprepared for the sight that greeted him after opening the door. Stunned by the condition of the room, Ellison stopped just over the threshold.
Peering around his larger partner to determine what caused the sudden stop, Blair let out a low whistle at the sight. Startled by the whistle, Ellison jerked. Moving to the side, he allowed his partner to enter the room.
"Man. This place is trashed." Sandburg broke the silence by understating the obvious. "I take back all the mean things I thought about Wendy when you made me get up at 4:30 this morning to drive out here."
"How about all the awful things you thought about me?" Jim queried as he scanned the room for any signs of Wendy or the reason for the mess.
"Nah, I'm keeping those. Never know when they might come in handy." Blair ducked before Jim's hand reached the back of his head.
The mood lightened as they slipped into their familiar roles of Sentinel and Guide, Jim ferreting clues from the room under Blair's guidance.
"Let's start with smell. Anything unusual in the room? Think back, what does Wendy's perfume smell like?" At the answering nod, Blair continued, "Now, filter it out. Anything else stand out?"
"She's been here. I smell her perfume. Outside of that, there's a faint odor of something, but I can't place it." Jim shook his head in frustration.
"File it away for later. Try eyesight. Do you see anything out of place?"
"Sandburg, the whole room's out of place! Beds are not supposed to be sitting on their heads. Desks generally work better sitting on their legs and not their tops. Clothes belong in the closet. Come to think of it, this reminds me a bit of your room." Ellison voice was a mixture of fondness and exasperation.
"Hey! I'll have you know I can find everything in my room. Now, let's look at it a bit more specifically. Do you see any stray pieces of paper? Anything like that?" The Guide mostly ignored the teasing in favor of coaching the Sentinel's focus.
Without warning, Ellison moved across the room and crouched down next to the overturned bed. Almost blindly he reached towards his partner. Blair, used to this display by now, quickly produced a pair of tweezers and a plastic bag from his coat pocket.
"You know Jim, this would be much more effective if you'd carry your own tweezers and bags."
"Nah, that's what junior partners are for. Ask Rafe." Jim held the small piece of paper now encased in plastic up to the light. "I can see part of a fingerprint, but it's rather faint."
"What does it say?"
"Well, half the words are missing. It says, 'ox 152, fil'." Jim deciphered the small handwriting, for his partner's benefit.
"That's helpful. What's ox 152? Can you get anything else? Any impressions on the paper maybe?" Blair continued to mull over the strange piece of paper. Pulling out his notebook, he wrote down the two letters on the right side of the page. As Jim felt for any residual impressions on the small piece of paper, he began going through the alphabet in an attempt to form words.
"Box, cox, dox, fox, gox."
"I don't think that one's a word, Chief." Jim interrupted the monologue of words. "And you are making the big assumption that there aren't any other missing letters."
"Very funny. But I had to start somewhere."
"Have at it, Dr. Seuss." Rising to his feet, Jim took one last look around the room. "I think we found everything."
No sooner than the words left his mouth he spied a small piece of electrical equipment in the far corner of the room, half hidden by an overturned dresser. Stooping down to pick it up, he noticed a small piece of plastic next to the phone jack not far from where he stood. Shifting slightly he added it to the growing collection in his hand, both carefully placed in their own respective plastic bags.
"You know, I never used to be this meticulous with my evidence." He mused quietly aloud in the general direction of his partner, a slight smile on his face as he watched Blair carefully smooth the plastic bags in his hands.
"Never mind. I think this might be the end of a phone cord. Do you see the rest of it laying around?"
"He's the Sentinel and he wants to know if I've seen the phone cord." Blair grumbled, as he focused his attention on the room and not his notepad. "Nope. Come to think about it I don't even see a phone. That's kind of strange."
"Well, it means we can't retrace Wendy's last calls."
"Not necessarily. All we need is her credit card number. I'm sure there's a record of her calls. No one in their right mind ever charges phone calls to a hotel room."
"Good idea. Let's go call Simon. Maybe we can convince him to get Rafe and Brown to do some research on their end." Jim herded Blair out the door; confident they'd discovered all of the room's secrets.
Simon's Office, Major Crime, Late Afternoon
"What do you mean you want Rafe and Brown to do some research for you?" Simon yelled into the phone. "I thought we decided you were out there in an unofficial capacity? Officially ON VACATION. Though why anyone would want to vacation out there is beyond me. The minute we start doing research, this becomes official. I'm not sure I'm ready to explain to the Commissioner and the Mayor why my detectives are officially investigating crimes that occurred outside, far outside, their jurisdiction." Simon reached for the bottle of aspirin in his top desk drawer. How his two best detectives could manage to induce headaches from hundreds of miles away was beyond him.
"Can't we do this on the side? Not open an official file? It wouldn't be the first time." Ellison argued hopefully.
"No, we can't do this on the side. The brass is bound to find out. Matthews' grapevine is almost better than your snitch network."
"Have them bury it with one of their other cases. Simon, I really need your help on this one. Wendy's missing, and right now that's the only lead we've got."
"Okay. I'll see what I can do. But I'm not making any promises." Simon pulled his glasses off and rubbed his temples in frustration.
"Yeah, yeah. Go rescue the damsel in distress. Solve the murder. Make yourself into a hero. Just keep me informed. And be careful. I'm going to have a hard enough time explaining why Major Crime is involved in a crime on federal land, I don't need to explain why my best detective team got lost, or into trouble, while they were on vacation."
"Come on, Simon, you should be used to that by now."
Simon hung up the phone. Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he put his glasses back on before standing up and walking towards the door. Bellowing out into the bullpen, "Rafe, Brown. My office. Now," he gratefully noticed that Rhonda's desk stood empty, as did most of the bullpen, thanks largely to the lateness of the afternoon. What she didn't know, she didn't have to lie about. As Brown entered with Rafe in tow, he opted to lean against the front of his desk instead of returning to his chair.
"I'd like the two of you to do a little research."
"Research?" Rafe asked in confusion, leaning against the large conference room table. "Isn't that the research department's job?"
"Yes, that's the research department's job. But if I wanted them to do it, the two of you wouldn't be standing in my office, now would you?"
"Um. I guess not, sir." Rafe replied, suitably chagrined.
"So what are we looking for, Captain?" Brown attempted to deflect the attention from his partner.
"Phone records, for starters. Seems when Ellison and Sandburg arrived at the motel, Wendy Hawthorne was gone." Simon held up a hand, forestalling the questions he could see forming in the detective's eyes. "No, she's not just out gallivanting around. Her room was tossed and not very professionally. Ellison thinks if we pull some phone records, starting with Wendy's cell phone, we might find out who was talking to whom in the last few weeks."
"Do the records for the Starlight hotel while you're at it. And Jake Grover's home phone. Gentlemen, I don't have to remind you that this is far out of our jurisdiction. Completely off the record. Bury it. If anyone asks, you have no idea what's going on."
"Mum's the word." Brown joked.
"Got it, sir. They're good at this, aren't they?" A slightly more subdued Rafe asked.
Simon didn't even pretend not to understand the question. "Yeah, they are. And unfortunately, they could end up right in the middle of a hornets' nest out there. If they haven't already."
"Whatever we can do to help."
"I know. Now, get back to work." Simon acknowledged the younger man's words, and the meaning behind them, before shooing them out of his office. The entire team would do anything to make sure that the Sentinel and his Guide stayed safe.
Evening, Starlight Motel, Room 112
"Did you remember to bring the modem connecty thingy for your cell phone?" Ellison looked across the room at his younger partner who was sitting on one of the room's beds fiddling with his laptop, a night stand in front of him functioning as a makeshift desk.
"Yes, dad." Sandburg held up the device in question. "I remembered the charger and the extra battery too. And even if I didn't, I'm sure you packed an extra one somewhere."
"Now why would I do that? Just because you've forgotten yours the last few times."
"I did not forget. I just got a little distracted and didn't remember."
"And there's a difference?" Ellison ducked, as Blair hurled one of the pillows on the bed in his direction.
"Why don't you stop pacing and sit down." Blair looked up from his laptop. "There isn't much left of this carpet anyway, and with the way you're going, you're going to wear an actual hole in it. There isn't anything else we can do tonight."
"I know." Jim stopped pacing and sat on the edge of the other bed. "I just can't seem to sit still. There is just something about this place. Bad vibes or something. I don't know. I'm not even sure I can explain it."
"Uh oh. I don't like the sound of that. Is this a move-all-the-furniture kinda feeling, or a ghosts-in-the-neighborhood kinda feeling."
"Not really either one. It's more like a hum in the air that no one but me can hear. Sort of a subliminal vibration. I don't know." Jim began to pace across the room again.
"Maybe we should try a relaxation exercise. See if that helps."
"I've tried deep breathing. I've tried meditation. Nothing seems to be working."
"Um, Jim, meditation usually involves quiet and a lack of motion. How can you meditate when you're pacing like that? The sound of your feet on the floor alone would distract me."
"It's just one of those skills you kind of develop." Jim looked slightly sheepish at the admission.
"Uh uh. Not buying it. Now sit. Let's see if we can focus your energies enough to figure out what's bugging you."
"What's wrong with my way?" Ellison grumbled.
"You mean besides the fact that it isn't working? Now sit down."
Realizing the futility of arguing with his Guide, Ellison complied with the order and sat on the bed currently unoccupied by papers, his back resting against the headboard.
"Now, close your eyes."
When that too was accomplished, Blair moved to the edge of his own bed, allowing him to rest a hand on his Sentinel's knee to ground him. "Take a couple deep breaths. Just relax. Good. Let's see if we can figure out what's bugging you. Let's start with smell. Filter out everything familiar: my scent, the cleaning smells in the room. Now start filtering out scents you recognize."
Blair watched his Sentinel rapidly identify and discard the various smells throughout the room. Finally realizing that Ellison wasn't going to verbally explain what he identified and not knowing what might be important later, he prompted the older man, "Tell me what you're smelling."
"Normal air scents. Dust. Pollen. There are some nice wildflowers growing upwind near the reactor. Water."
Blair's eyes widened in amazement at the descriptions flowing from Jim's mouth, and he began to bounce slightly on the bed. Wildflowers near the reactor? Upwind? He was getting pretty specific. "You can identify pollen in the air? That is so cool. You could be a walking allergy index." Almost as soon as the words left his mouth, Jim began to sneeze.
"Sage." He managed to get out between sneezes.
"Filter out the scent. You can get past it."
At Blair's coaching, the sneezing subsided.
"Now, what's left?"
"Something metallic. It's very faint. The sage covered it up. I can't identify it, but now that I have the sage filtered out I can pick it up. It's something I know I've smelled before. I just don't know where." Ellison's eyes flew open in frustration.
"Uh uh, we're not done yet. Close your eyes."
"Sandburg, I just said I don't know what it is."
"Fine. So catalogue it. Maybe tomorrow we'll try to track it. Now, we have four other senses to work with. Maybe one of them will help us figure out what's bugging you."
Once again, Ellison complied with his Guide's order.
"Thank you. Now, I'm guessing that you've already searched the room pretty thoroughly, so we won't worry about sight. That leaves touch, hearing, and taste. I think we can pretty much rule out taste. I don't think that you can taste anything in the air that you didn't smell. Let's try touch. What do you feel?"
"This is silly. What am I going to be able to feel?" Jim grumbled his dislike of the continued exercise.
"We won't know the answer to that one until we try, will we?" Blair shot back, without missing a beat. "Let's try this again, what do you feel?"
Muttering something under his breath about bossy guides and weird ideas about touch, Ellison began to focus his sense of touch on his surroundings. "I feel a tingling on my skin. Almost a burning, but not quite. More like all the hairs on my arms are standing on end." The surprise at the success of the exercise reverberated in his voice.
"Have you ever felt something like this before?"
"Not that I remember. It almost feels like something's out there."
"What, you mean like the X-Files? Is the spooky music next?" Sandburg couldn't suppress the comment, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth.
"Laugh if you will. Just remember this was your idea."
"I know, I know. I'm sorry. You just sounded exactly like Mulder there."
"I hope you don't think that makes you Scully, Chief."
"Nah, I've got better legs than she does."
"Yeah, but she's a redhead. No contest there."
"Turn up the dial. Now, tell me what else you feel." Blair returned the conversation to its original topic, not wanting his friend to get too off track. After all, he knew what redheads did to the man.
"The burning's getting stronger. Painful. It feels like my skin's on fire." The agony he found himself in contorted Ellison's features.
"Dial it down!" Blair almost shouted, as he registered the distress on his Sentinel's face and his reddening hands and forearms visible beneath the rolled cuffs of his flannel shirt. Something was definitely wrong here. What was going on out here? What could cause the air to burn? The need to help his friend halted the questions spinning around his head. Pitching his voice to the level he considered "guide" he attempted to get both himself and Jim under control. "Come on, man. You know how to do this. Grab hold of the dial. Now, slowly start moving it towards zero."
Under Blair's guidance Jim's face slowly began to lose its mask of agony.
Running to the bathroom Blair grabbed a towel off the rack at the same time he turned on the faucet. Sticking a finger under the steady stream of water, he sent a quick thank you towards the heavens for slow hotel water heaters. Sticking the towel in the basin, he thoroughly soaked it in the cool water. Wringing it out, he returned to the bedroom to find Jim sprawled on the bed, his upper arms thrown across his face almost as if he were shielding himself from a blast. Almost as an afterthought, his brain noted and catalogued for future reference that Jim's hands and forearms no longer carried the blisters visible only moments before. En route to the bed he detoured past the light switch on the wall next to the door, realizing the bright fluorescent lights couldn't be helping the situation. Carefully Blair settled himself next to the older man.
Not wanting to touch him and further shock the already traumatized Sentinel, Blair began softly talking as he held the cool, wet wash cloth about six inches above Jim's face. "I want you to move your arms. I turned off all the lights so you don't have to worry about them. I'm holding a towel above your face."
"I can feel it."
"I thought you had everything turned down?" Blair controlled his inclination to shout, his hold on the towel keeping his hands from flying about in exasperation.
"I do. But my nerve endings still feel like they're on fire. Even though I have the dial turned almost off, I can still feel everything that's going on around me."
Though there were no longer any visible signs of trauma, Blair voiced the question he almost didn't want answered. "Is your skin still burning?" This time, Blair couldn't control the tremor of fear in his voice.
"No. That's gone. It's more like my skin is suddenly much more sensitive. The only other time I've felt like this is when my senses first came on line."
Sandburg's eyebrows shot into his hairline. If Ellison had the dial turned down he shouldn't be feeling much of anything, let alone feeling on a higher level. Something was seriously wrong here.
Taking a deep breath, he forced his questions to the back of his mind, until he could retrieve them later, study them at length, and if he was really lucky, figure out the answers to a few of them. The most important thing at the moment was figuring out how to help Jim dial down his senses and make him comfortable. "Do you want me to keep holding the towel, set it down on your skin, or move it completely?"
"Keep holding it."
"Um, Jim." Blair wasn't quite sure how to voice the question forming in his mind. Deciding there was something to be said for being direct, especially in this situation, he voiced his thoughts aloud, "How much of your skin is suddenly ultra-sensitive? Is it just the parts exposed to the air, or is it your whole body? Is it related in anyway to the area where you had your senses turned up?"
Jim was silent as he catalogued the information his senses sent to his brain. "Mostly just the places I had turned up. And that were exposed to air."
"So we're talking face and arms here. Okay. I can work with that." He muttered the last to himself, almost under his breath. "Now how to desensitize your nerve endings."
"Actually, my face seems to be okay, it's mostly hands and arms. Hands are the worst."
"Are you having problems with any of your other senses? Do any of them seem ultra- sensitive?"
"No. Just touch."
At Jim's answer, Blair breathed an inaudible, even to a sentinel, sigh of relief and sent yet another silent prayer towards whatever entity kept watch over sentinels and their guides. At least they weren't dealing with a complete overload.
"Okay, so what we're dealing with here is something in the air. So, how does one get rid of something airborne that's on the skin?" Had he not been holding the towel for Jim, Blair would have paced as he worked through this unexpected test of their abilities. After a few moments of incomprehensible muttering -- though unaware of it, his voice served to ground Jim -- he smacked himself on the forehead, dropping the towel across Ellison's face in the process.
"How dumb can I be?"
"Sandburg." Jim yelped at the same time, before his senses registered the fact that the towel actually seemed to help.
"Um. Sorry Jim." He reached for the towel, only to be stopped by Jim's words.
"Actually, it's okay. It seems to be helping. Now, what are you being dumb about?"
"I just missed the obvious. And the towel proves it."
"And this means what exactly?"
"Well, when someone is having an allergic reaction to something airborne, or someone has been exposed to chemicals or something, the first thing they do is wash off whatever's causing the problem. Remove the offending object. You know, the whole reason for the eyewash and shower in every lab I've ever been in. We sort of skipped that step. Instead of throwing you in the shower ten minutes ago I let you sit here with whatever it is still on your skin."
Jim could hear the note of dejection creeping into his Guide's voice and attempted to stave off any further thoughts of self-recrimination. "It's okay. You aren't the only one who didn't think of it. I've had enough chemical weapons training that I should have known better, too."
He slowly sat up, Blair grabbing the towel before it could fall to the bed. Opening his eyes, he looked at his friend, blue eyes meeting blue. "We can be dumb together, okay?"
"Okay. But first, let's get you into the shower."
"Sounds like a plan. Did you bring that soap I like?" Ellison moved towards the bathroom, unbuttoning his shirt en route.
"When did I have to start packing your suitcase for you?" Sandburg retorted, even as he walked towards the duffel bag in the corner and pulled out a bottle of shower soap and a soft sponge then headed towards the bathroom.
"Here." Blair shoved the bottle and sponge into Ellison's hands before deftly catching the shirt before it could hit the ground. At Ellison's raised eyebrow he tried, somewhat unsuccessfully to explain. "We don't know if whatever's on your skin in on your clothes, so we don't want to just throw them all over the place and contaminate the rest of the room."
"Sandburg, if it's on my skin it's probably all over everything..."
"Oh man. I never thought about that. How are you going to sleep?"
"First things first." Ellison gently shut the bathroom door in his friend's face.
"That door better be unlocked. I don't want to have to explain to the hotel manager why I had to break it down if you fall." He muttered clearly to the closed door, knowing that the Sentinel would hear him. He thought about mentioning that Jim had to keep his clothes right side out, but knowing the overly neat tendencies of the other man he dismissed the thought.
"Yes, dear." Ellison called out over the sound of running water.
Leaving the older man to his ministrations, Sandburg carefully folded the shirt in his hand and placed it in a large plastic evidence bag. He wondered to himself at the now-instinctive way he handled evidence, as well as the fact that neither he or his partner ever seemed to travel without a large supply of evidence gathering materials. Sealing and labeling the bag, he placed it in plain sight on the small table in the room so he would remember to send it to Serena in the morning. "Simon's going to love this one."
"What's that?" Jim stepped out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, another in his hand.
Blair turned quickly, not realizing he'd spoken aloud or that the water stopped. "Better?"
"Yes." Jim finished towel drying his short hair before neatly folding the towel and placing it on the sink in the small bathroom.
"Nothing's overly sensitive?"
"Nope. Back to normal." He moved towards his own duffel in the corner and grabbed a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.
"So, any ideas on this sleeping thing?"
"As long as I keep the dials at normal or below normal levels I should be fine. I didn't start having a problem until I turned everything up." He pulled the t-shirt on and moved back to the bathroom to finish getting ready for bed.
"Are you sure?"
"I'll be fine. And if not, we'll figure something out together." He stopped, placing a hand on the younger man's shoulder, reassuring him that things would be all right.
"Always, Chief. Always."
Next morning, Dilly's Diner, Richland, Washington
"Ummm, diner food." Jim commented, looking at the menu the frazzled blond waitress placed in his hands after he sat down in the small red booth near the back of the diner.
"Diner food. Which means there probably isn't a darned thing edible on the whole menu," Blair grumbled softly.
"Come on, Chief. Grease is a major food group." Ellison taunted him, having already scanned the menu and finding several healthy options for his partner.
"Shall we schedule the quadruple bi-pass now or wait until after breakfast?"
"Let's wait until after breakfast, that way we know the procedure will do the most good." Jim closed his menu with a slight smile on his face.
Blair grumbled quietly to himself for several more minutes as he finished reading the menu, before closing it with a decisive snap. The snap seemed to trigger an unknown button as the waitress magically appeared next to their table, a coffee pot in hand. A couple minutes later, she departed for the kitchen, one minor cholesterol special and one no cholesterol special on the way, leaving two full coffee cups in her wake.
"You know, you never did answer my question last night. What is Simon going to love? And what are you going to do with that shirt?" Jim indicated the shirt he was wearing last night, now neatly sealed and bound in an evidence bag sitting atop the Formica table, an address label addressed to Serena Chang under the plastic, a second one resting on top of the package.
"I'm mailing it to Serena. I'm hoping she can pick up some particles of whatever it was that bothered you last night. That way at least we'd know what we are dealing with."
"Makes sense. But whatever she comes up with is going to be pretty minute."
"I know. But at least it's a place to start." Blair shuddered at the memory of the previous evening's events.
"Me too." Jim answered the unspoken communication between the two men. "And Simon?" He deliberately changed the subject, not wanting to share the private communication in such a public place.
"Well, he's not going to like the fact that I'm sending things from our "vacation" to be examined in the lab... He really doesn't like having to explain these things you know." Blair grinned at the image of Simon remarking on the latest indiscretion of his favorite team that popped into his head. "One of these days he's going to swallow that cigar of his."
Jim grinned at the image. Before he could offer a comment, the waitress appeared with their breakfast.
"Let me know if you need anything." She threw over her shoulder, as she went to seat two new customers who just walked in the door.
Ellison sighed happily before proceeding to slather his pancakes in butter and syrup and take a large bite of his eggs.
"So, any ideas on how we're going to get into the complex?" Sandburg asked around bites of his Mueslix, still somewhat amazed the small diner even had it on the menu. "And that doesn't even begin the question of how you're going to nose around without anyone becoming suspicious. Remember, this is a Federal facility, even if they are abandoning it."
"Nose around? I'll have you know, I don't just nose around. I have a very systematic investigation style. No nosing around involved." Ellison grinned cheekily at his partner, who merely snorted. "As for the being there part, not a problem. We have official clearance to be there."
"We do?" Blair's confusion reflected itself on his face.
"And do I even want to know how that happened?" A single raised eyebrow indicated his doubts that Jim's methods were on the right side of legal.
"Let's just say there are a few people who still owe me a few favors."
"So they're letting you investigate?" The eyebrow descended, as the legality of his partner's actions became clear. The reasons for the favors were a whole other question, however.
"Not exactly. More like, they're letting me visit some old friends."
"Friends, what friends? Until yesterday you didn't even remember you'd ever been here."
"Jake Groves was my godfather." The words were spoken quietly, reverently; almost as if by speaking them aloud something changed, either in the man speaking them or those close enough to hear.
"What!" The resounding clang of Blair's spoon hitting the side of his bowl, along with his words, brought the attention of the other patrons. He lowered his voice, hoping the suddenly attentive bystanders would lose interest when they couldn't hear what was going on. "And is that godfather with a little g or a big one?"
"Little." Jim breathed an inaudible sigh of relief when the rest of the diner returned their attentions to their respective breakfasts. Now, if he could only get Blair to do the same thing.
"And you didn't think to mention to me or Simon or anyone else for that matter, that the man murdered was your godfather! Hell, Jim, I've been living with you for four years, and I didn't even know you had godparents." Blair's irritation at his stubborn Sentinel manifested itself in the sudden, furious movement of his hands and arms.
"Parent. Singular. And I haven't seen him since I was sixteen. After my mom left, my dad quit bringing us out here. I wrote him a few letters after that, and I came to visit a couple times after I was old enough to drive, but after I went off to college we kind of drifted apart. I got a letter from him after I got back from Peru, but I never made the time to drive out here, until now." Ellison put down his fork, as all thoughts of finishing his breakfast vanished.
"Oh man." Blair's irritation vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"No one did."
"I never thought.... Never mind."
"No, what?" The protracted silence that followed Ellison's words convinced his Guide to voice the thoughts running through his head.
"I never thought you had any family. When I first came to live with you, there weren't any family pictures anywhere and you never talked about anyone. I was lucky to get you to talk about Carolyn the four times you actually mentioned her name in relation to something other than work. I guess I just assumed you were the last of the Ellison clan. Then when Steven showed up, I wasn't sure what to think. Then your dad showed up, and I realized there was something else going on with you and your family. Now I find out you have a godfather that you never mentioned...." He trailed off, not really sure where the conversation was going or even its point.
"You never told me you had an Uncle Obie." Jim answered Blair's unspoken question with one of his own.
"It didn't seem important at the time."
"There's your answer, Chief. They weren't important at the time. When they appeared in my life again, they became important again."
Blair nodded at the admission, again realizing the way Jim Ellison defined those around him. Friend, foe, and inconsequential pretty much defined the older man's view of people in the world. Strong emotions were reserved for those who fell into the first two categories. Well, at least he was consistent. Blair really couldn't criticize, seeing as how his own world view was somewhat similar, though he still wanted to believe the latter category was innocents as opposed to inconsequentials. "Anymore relatives waiting in the wings I should be aware of?"
"Not sure. There might be an aunt or two running around somewhere. Maybe an uncle. Probably a few cousins...." Jim grinned at the understanding he found in his friend's eyes. "How about you?"
"Not sure. There might be an aunt or two running around somewhere. Maybe an uncle. Probably a few cousins...." Blair parroted the other's words back at him.
"Funny, Sandburg." Jim returned his attentions to his now cold breakfast, as did Blair.
"So where are we going to start?" Blair squinted in the bright sunlight that greeted them as they stepped out of the diner and began walking towards the truck.
Donning a pair of sunglasses, Ellison unconsciously turned up his eyesight and surveyed the area around them. Observing nothing out of the ordinary, he unlocked the passenger door of the truck before walking around to the driver's side. "I thought we'd start at Jake's house. After we drop that off at the post office." He indicated the t-shirt bundle in Blair's lap as he started the truck and put it into gear.
"Are you going to be okay with this?" Blair looked his partner in the eye.
"Someone's got to do it."
"Yeah, but are you going to be okay with it?" Blair persisted, needing to hear from the Sentinel that he could handle the case. When did I get to be the mature partner?
"Yeah." After watching you die, this is going to be easy.
After several moments of silence, Blair nodded, realizing that he'd gotten all from his friend he was going to, at least for the moment.
Outside Jake Groves' house, The Atomic Trailer Park, Richland, Washington
"Does everything out here have some reference to atoms in its title?" Blair questioned the world in general.
"They're very proud of their heritage out here. And Dilly's didn't have any atom references to it." Trying to discern if there was anything unusual about Jake's home, Jim studied the small, worn, but well-kept trailer in front of them, as he answered the question.
"Obviously you didn't read the menu very closely." Blair continued, just getting warmed up to his subject. "Heritage is religion and tradition. An honor or a belief that is passed down from elders to children. It has nothing to do with a job. Or in this case a death machine."
"And you don't consider the atom a religion? What about fishermen, their job is considered a religion by some." The Sentinel turned his sight up a notch, just to see if he'd missed anything on his first perusal.
"Don't confuse me with semantics. And how can something that killed hundreds of thousands of people be considered a positive thing?"
"Religions come in all forms, and they aren't always positive. You should know that by now. Besides, these people believed that they were doing good. They helped the war effort. They saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. To them, that's a positive. Hindsight is always twenty- twenty, Chief. These people believed in what they were doing and created a community around that fact amidst all this desolation. They did what they had to in order to survive. They found something they could be proud of, and they went with it."
"You sound like you believe they were right." Sandburg couldn't help the indignant tone that entered his voice.
"Not necessarily. But I know where they're coming from. They didn't know some of the things we do now. They made decisions based on the information they did have. And I won't apply my twenty-first century beliefs to a mid-twentieth century mind set." Jim's reasonable argument served to diffuse Blair's anger at the situation.
"I hear that. But knowing it and liking it are two different things."
"I hear that." Jim gently parroted his friend's words back at him, in mimic of their earlier conversation.
"Let's start with the garage." Ellison firmly changed the subject, knowing they'd come to as much of an agreement on the subject of nuclear weapons as they were going to. Sometimes you just have to live through a war to understand these things. He walked over to the small two-door garage sitting to the side of the trailer and tried to pull up the door. Not surprisingly in the small, government-organized community, the door was unlocked and opened easily.
The door opened to reveal a neatly arranged garage. A shiny battleship gray and red two-tone 1941 "Art Deco Series" Chevy pickup occupied one bay of the garage. The truck's owner had obviously taken good care of it since it showed little wear. The other bay was informally divided into two smaller areas. The area in the back held a well-appointed work space with a multitude of tools for both woodworking and auto repair. The area towards the front of the garage held a cloth-covered object that looked to Sandburg like a motorcycle.
"So, this is where you get it from." Blair waved an arm in the direction of the truck before gesturing vaguely at the cloth-covered object.
"Huh?" Jim was already focused on the cloth-covered mass, as he moved slowly towards it. "I can't believe he kept this all these years." He reverently removed the cloth cover to display a shiny black and silver Harley Davidson motorcycle, which obviously hadn't been ridden in quite a long while, though it was evident the bike had been well taken care of in the intervening years. Almost unconsciously, his hands came to rest atop the bike, his fingers gently stroking the still shiny surfaces.
Kept it? The bike is Jim's? I thought he hadn't been out here since he was a kid? "You lost me there."
Blair's comment brought no response from an already lost in thought Jim.
En Route to Hanford, Eastern Washington State, early August 1980
He could feel the wind in his face as he sped down the highway. The throttle of his brand new Harley racing, he had little care for anything outside of his limited eyesight. Soon, that would all change. Classes started in a few weeks. His first time truly away from home, away from his father's dominating influence. He only wished he'd managed to get a scholarship to a school further from home, the east coast maybe. But that didn't matter right now. Now, the only thing that mattered was him and the open road. So focused was he on his freedom he completely tuned out the bike behind him, the woman riding it, and any thoughts of what his father was going to say when he got home.
"So this is it." The young woman riding behind him shook out her long red hair when she removed her helmet, after they pulled to a stop in front of a well-kept trailer at the Atomic Trailer Park in Hanford, Washington.
"I know it doesn't look like much, but I spent some great times out here as a child." Jim looked fondly at the small trailer with its detached garage.
"I'm sure you did. What did you do? Sit around and watch the wind blow?" A slight air of superiority, driven by her age and life experience, entered her voice. If it wasn't exciting she didn't want to have any part of it. And right now Jim Ellison was exciting. So who cared he was a few years younger than she, he had an amazing way with bikes, not to mention women, and a great streak of danger running through his blood stream. He took more chances than she did. How he came out of some of the situations he found himself in, she'd never know. It was almost like he had a guardian angel looking over his shoulder. Besides, he treated her like a lady, and that in itself was worth something in the crazy world she found herself inhabiting.
"It didn't matter what we did, as long as we were away from my dad for a few weeks every summer. Mom used to bring us out here when things got to be a little much with my dad." Jim stepped off his bike and moved towards the garage, not wanting to discuss with her the memories the place evoked. Or anyone for that matter. Besides, she's not spending time with me because of my stellar family history, or connections. "I wonder where Jake is? He had to have heard us drive up."
"Maybe he's at work."
"Nah. Jake always worked the night shift. Something about being out here at night, he always said. You never quite knew what was going on." He pulled the garage door open, not surprised to find it unlocked.
"Eerie." Her attention remained focused on their conversation and not the garage.
"Actually, it was pretty cool when we were kids. Being out at night, you could hear for miles." Standing just inside the open doorway, he took in the appearance of the garage, and the noticeable lack of a vehicle parked in its usual spot. "His truck's gone. He must have gone to town for supplies."
"Well let's leave your bike and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."
"This from a woman who's single handedly run off entire gangs of bikers?" Jim teased her.
"Yeah. But them I could see. There's something out here that's making my hair stand on end, and I can't see it."
"I know the feeling." Jim shuddered as half-remembered images from his childhood came to mind, including one of a young Steven screaming that his skin was on fire.
"Hey. You okay?" She had moved from the bike to place a hand on his shoulder.
"Huh?" He shook off the memories.
"You were gone there for a minute." Her hand moved in a circular motion, soothing now tense muscles.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a memory." He mentally shook off the images, banishing them to the place from which they came.
"Well, let's get out of here and see if we can do something about you forgetting again." She whispered suggestively, her movements turning from comforting into caressing, her method of forgetting all too clear, even to his relatively inexperienced mind.
"Just give me a minute to cover this up and leave Jake a note." He pulled a drop cloth from the saddlebags of his bike after pulling it into the open area of the garage, in front of the work area, his teenaged hormones already responding to the suggestion in her voice.
Soon, Jim's bike sat covered up in Jake's garage, a note pinned to the drop cloth, so the older man didn't question its presence in the garage.
Stopped by to leave my bike with you while I'm at college this year. Dad won't let me leave it with him. Like I even wanted to. I'll be back next summer to pick it up. Sorry I missed you. It would have been good to see you again.
The young man and woman sped off into the night, now riding tandem on her bike, the mysterious feeling of danger long forgotten.
Outside Jake Groves' house, The Atomic Trailer Park, Richland, Washington, present
"I remember my mom bringing us out here. And Steven. I remember Steven crying his skin was burning." Jim turned to Blair, a slight look of wonder on his face. "Well, not exactly," he clarified before Blair could voice the question forming in his eyes. "I remember telling Sharen about mom bringing us out here."
"Who's Sharen?" Blair naturally picked up on the most important revelation.
"Sharen was great. I dated her my senior year in high school. Long, red hair. Man did that woman have legs that went on forever. And she knew how to ride a bike." Jim replied, still somewhat distracted by the memory.
"So you had a thing for redheads even in high school?"
Blair's question returned Jim fully to the present. "I wouldn't say that exactly," he hedged, not wanting to delve too far into his relationship with Sharen, even with his Guide. After all, it was a long time ago, and she wasn't really a bad girl, though she played the part to the hilt.
"What do you mean Steven complained about his skin burning?" The second thing Jim said finally penetrated Blair's brain.
"Not sure. I just have this image of Steven screaming his skin was on fire. The whole thing is pretty vague. More of a memory of a memory than anything."
"Kind of like you last night, though."
"So, conceivably, whatever was going on last night was going on back then too. Now all we have to do is figure out what's going on."
"Well Jake's house seems as good a place to start as any."
"Guess we should get to work then. Think there's anything else out here?" Blair indicated the garage with a great sweep of his arm.
"You mean other than further remnants of my childhood? Probably not. The only thing Jake ever did out here was work on his truck. Anything that might help is probably inside." Jim gently pulled the dust cloth back over his bike, effectively shutting out the memories.
"Remnants of your childhood are good."
Inside Jake's trailer
"Look at all this stuff! He was like a one man archive." Sandburg, with some reverence, looked at the rows and rows of boxes filling the small living room that looked more like a library than a trailer.
"Kind of like you," Ellison paused before continuing with a smile, "only neater."
"What is it with you and messy roommate cracks? Just because I keep things a little bit more spread out than you doesn't mean I'm messy." The younger man rested his hands on his hips indignantly, preparing for a confrontation.
"Actually, Chief, I meant it as a compliment. Well not the messy part, but the rest of it." Ellison actually looked sheepish at the admission, his chagrin at their miscommunication evident on his face.
"Oh." Sandburg felt himself grow warm at the compliment, backhanded as it was, and he relaxed his defensive posture.
"Yeah, oh." Jim grinned down at his friend.
"You know, depending on what's in these boxes, this is a researcher's dream come true. Got any idea what you're going to do with them?" Blair began to bounce slightly at the prospect of donating the large collection of materials to some prestigious locale.
"Blair, we just got here. Outside of trying to find an answer to who took Wendy in this morass of information, what we're going to do with Jake's stuff is not the most pressing question right now. Besides, I doubt I'll get any say in the matter anyway." Jim's body language reflected the sudden tension spawned by the question.
Blair could hear the bitterness that entered his friend's voice on the last sentence. Reaching over, he gently squeezed the other's shoulder, both in comfort and reassurance. "But we do get to keep the motorcycle, right?" He gently teased, the bounce in his body language still undiminished.
"Well, technically it's mine, so I don't see why not." Ellison relaxed slightly at Blair's teasing.
"Cool." Sandburg's excitement at the prospect of a new play toy was almost visible.
"But that doesn't mean you get to ride it."
"Aww, come on. Why not?" A whiney note entered Sandburg's voice as he got into the spirit of the banter.
"I can't drive your car, you can't ride my bike."
"Oh sure, throw that in my face," Blair responded slightly indignantly.
"A guys makes one little inviolable rule and you won't let him forget it." Blair groused. "And this from the man who's king of rule making."
"And how many of the house rules have you violated recently?" The twinkle in Ellison's eye belied his serious tone of voice.
"This is not about me."
"Uh huh." The twinkle expanded to include a slight quirk of his mouth.
Deciding whining was not going to work, Blair switched to logic. "So, basically what you're saying here is if I let you drive my car, you'll let me ride your bike."
"Nope." The slight quirk became a full-blown smile.
"What do you mean, nope?" Well there went the logical argument.
"If you let me drive your car, I'll think about letting you ride my bike."
Jim patted his younger friend on the shoulder in thanks. "Well, I guess we'd better get to work. You wanna start in here, and I'll take the bedroom?"
"Oh sure, give me the hard job." Blair groused, but the twinkle in his eye contradicted his words, his excitement at the prospect of looking through the boxes of files in Jake's living room almost palatable.
After about an hour of sitting on the floor sifting through a multitude of boxes and finding nothing -- or at least not finding anything that seemed like anything -- Blair stood up to stretch his legs. Wandering through the small living room, he made his way to the bedroom to see what his partner was doing. Though the trailer was small, it was surprisingly soundproof and he hadn't heard any noise from the older man.
Stepping into the room, he was surprised to find his partner, comfortably seated on the bed, a paperback novel -- Requiem for a Redhead by Lindsay Hardy -- with an almost garishly painted cover, in his hands.
Hands on his hips, he took in the scene. "I thought we were supposed to be looking for clues?"
Jim regained awareness of his surroundings at his partner's words and looked up sheepishly. "Um, sorry. I got distracted."
"What?!" A defensive note entered the Sentinel's voice.
"You don't get distracted. Well, not usually," he amended. "So, what's going on?"
"Can't be nothing. About the only thing that distracts you is a good-looking redhead with a great pair of legs, and I don't see one in sight."
"Then you aren't looking very hard."
"Huh?" Jim's words threw the younger man for a loop. We are the only two people in the house, aren't we? "This isn't another memory, is it?"
"Sort of." Jim smiled at his partner's confusion, evidence of his enjoyment of the situation.
"What do you mean sort of? Come on, Ellison, this is like pulling teeth."
"Take a look around. What do you see?" Jim's grin widened at the opportunity to 'play guide.'
Confusion evident on his face, Blair walked further into the room and turned slowly around, taking stock of the decor in the room. Neatly framed artwork greeted his eyes, sharp splashes of crimson drew the eye's attention towards each picture in turn. Each painting featured a striking redhead woman, most in various states of undress. Usually a second figure provided some sort of menacing presence to the image, giving rise to terrified expressions. The image that kept drawing his eye back to it, however, displayed a obviously formidable woman, a gun pointed directly at the head of the bed, where Jim's head currently rested. He was so distracted by the images on the walls he never even noticed the wall covered with floor to ceiling bookcases, the shelves full of neatly aligned paperback books.
"Uh, Jim? Something you wanna tell me about Jake here? And uh, would you mind moving a little to the left, the image of that woman shooting you is going to give me nightmares for weeks." He shuddered for emphasis.
"It's not what you think." Ellison shifted slightly, to appease his partner's request, though he wasn't sure why the woman was causing his friend such distress.
"That's good, cause right now I'm thinking that Jake was one sick puppy."
Raising an eyebrow at Blair's words, he took a deep breath. "What you are looking at is original artwork done for book covers. Jake collected vintage paperbacks. Only when he started collecting them, they weren't vintage. The paintings sort of came later. In fact, the one right in front of you was a gift from me."
"You're actually telling me that you bought one of these things?"
"Yep. Found it in a used bookstore while I was in college. I found a few really nice paperbacks while I was there too." Blair could tell by the tone of his friend's voice that he remembered the event fondly.
"I still don't think I'm following this conversation. You don't go to used bookstores. And you certainly don't know about things like vintage paperbacks and collecting them."
"That's where you're wrong, Chief. Well, half-wrong. I don't go to used bookstores. I gave it up when I was in the Army. Never enough time for stuff like that. And it certainly didn't convey the right image..."
Blair laughed at the image Ellison's words invoked -- the stoic military officer haunting used bookstores looking for things like cover paintings. No, it really didn't convey the right image. "So he collected what exactly?" Curiosity at the bizarre situation finally got the best of him.
"Paperbacks. Mysteries, mostly. But there are a few westerns and sci-fi titles thrown in. The bulk of them he bought in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. After that, the cover art went all to hell, he always said. Oh, and there is one other commonality." Jim hesitated, not quite sure what Sandburg would make of Jake's "fetish."
Blair sensed the other man's hesitation and pressed, "And that would be?"
"All the covers had to have a redhead on them."
"Did you just say, 'all the covers had to have a redhead on them?'"
"Yeah." Because he couldn't decide between defensive and sheepish, his voice came out as sort of a squeak. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Yeah."
Several moments of laughter brought Sandburg to his knees, gasping for breath.
"You know, this really isn't funny." Jim interjected when Blair stopped for breath.
"Oh yeah, it is. You should listen to yourself. 'He only collects books with redheads on their covers.' What kind of a collection is that? It's like saying I only collect books of a certain size or age." Blair made himself comfortable on the floor, just in case he felt the need to start giggling again, moving slightly so he could see Jim's face.
"Actually, Jake's is a rather tame collection. There are people who only collect books with hypodermic needles on the cover. Then there's this woman he knew who collected bathtub covers. Those are the odd ones."
"Bathtubs? And hypodermic needles? Creepy. You know, I've heard of some odd fetishes, even experienced a few when I was living with indigenous tribes, but these have to take the cake."
"Experienced a few have you?"
"Only in a strictly anthropological sense. I was doing research." Blair grinned at the memories the conversation invoked.
"So, how many times have you gone native exactly?" Jim teased his friend.
"Only one that mattered." Sandburg's tone turned serious, the teasing nature of their conversation put on hold momentarily.
Not wanting to break the silence that ensued, Ellison nodded at his Guide's words.
Several moment of silent communication later, Sandburg returned to their earlier teasing conversation. "Now at least I know where you get your redhead fetish from."
In response, Ellison lobbed a pillow at his friend.
In retaliation, Sandburg lobbed said pillow back.
Not wanting to give the younger man any more ammunition, Jim chose to place the pillow behind his head and returned contentedly to his novel.
"Guess that's my hint to go back to work. Speaking of which, quit reading that trash and start looking for clues." Blair stood and moved towards the door.
"I am. I'm right in the middle of trying to figure out who did in the girl."
"That's all well and good, but you're supposed to be figuring out who did in the old man and kidnapped the girl."
Several hours later, inside Jake's trailer
"Hey, Jim. What do you know about something called the Green Run?" Blair looked up from his spot on the floor, a stack of file folders spread somewhat haphazardly in front of him.
Receiving no response from the other man, standing across the room in front of the bookcase, he tried again, "Earth to Jim."
This time when he didn't receive a response the Guide kicked in and began to notice what the Sentinel was doing -- or rather what the Sentinel wasn't doing, things like moving or breathing very deeply.
Standing, he moved quickly to the other side of the room. Placing one hand on the other man's back and pitching his voice into what Jim always called his "guide voice," the Guide began the process of brining the Sentinel out of his zone.
"Come on, Jim. Come back to me." He rubbed slow circles on the other's back, giving the Sentinel a tactile focus to go with his voice.
After several long minutes of murmured words and tactile contact, Jim took a deep breath. As movement returned to the older man's body, his knees began to give way. Still focused entirely on his Sentinel, Blair noticed and caught him before he fell to the ground, easing them both gently to the floor. At the same time the muscles in Jim's hands relaxed, allowing an old-fashioned silver picture frame to fall to the floor. The sound of the glass breaking as it hit the ground went unnoticed by both men.
"What happened?" A bewildered Jim tried to figure out what was going on and how he ended up on the floor.
"You zoned. Have any idea what caused it this time? You know, this place is not good for your senses."
"It wasn't the place. It was..." Jim looked down at his hands, now resting in his lap. Not finding what he was looking for he turned his attentions to the floor around them. "It was that." He pointed to the picture frame, now laying face down off to the side.
"The picture frame?" Blair attempted to reach the object in question only to find his arms trapped behind Jim.
"No." Ellison easily grabbed the offending object and turned it over to show Sandburg. "The picture."
Now overlaid with spider web cracks from the broken glass, the photograph in question was taken several decades ago -- if the clothing and hairstyles were any indication. It proudly displayed two young women about eighteen or nineteen standing in front of a small nondescript building in an unidentifiable location. The two women were nearly identical in every way, right down to their matching blue and white striped dresses, the skirts of which blew gently in the wind.
"So, what's the problem." Blair didn't recognize either of the women and didn't see the reason for Jim's distress.
"That's my mom." He pointed to the woman on the right in the photo.
"Oh." Somewhat surprisingly Blair didn't know what to say to Jim's admission. "How can you tell?"
"I remember when I was a kid seeing photos of her from before she married my dad. That's her."
"So, who's the other woman?" Blair studied the photo for a minute trying to figure out the differences Jim saw between the two women. As far as he could tell, they looked exactly alike.
"Good question, Chief. But I'd be willing to bet that my mother had a twin sister that she never told anyone about."
"That sure would explain a few things." As he continued to study the photo, he began to pick up a few differences between the women. The one Jim insisted was his mother, looked more open, friendlier than the other. There was laughter in her eyes, as well a sparkle that reminded him of Jim. The other woman's smile didn't reach her eyes, and there was something almost mask-like about the expression on her face.
"Yeah, it would, wouldn't it." Jim began mulling over the new information they'd just learned. "I wonder what else we can find out while we're here?"
"Well, you knew that Jake knew your mother, and it looks like he also knew her sister, so maybe quite a bit. Does the back of the photo say anything?"
Jim carefully turned the frame over to lift off the backing. After removing the decaying cardboard behind the backing he gently removed the photograph from the frame, being careful not to drop any of the broken glass on the floor. "Faith and Grace. 1958," he read aloud.
"So her name is Faith. Why didn't your mother ever tell you she had a twin? That's a pretty important part of someone's life. And her just not mentioning it seems kind of strange." He couldn't keep his puzzlement at the situation from entering his voice.
"Your mother never told you who your father was." Jim shot back, still trying to comprehend the situation and not quite ready to talk about his childhood.
"That's different." Blair didn't rise to his partner's bait by getting angry.
"No." Sandburg acknowledged Ellison's words with his response, but continued to press the issue of Grace and her twin, realizing that Jim needed to talk about his childhood if they were ever going to figure the new mystery of Grace and Faith out. "But it still seems kind of strange."
"After my mom left, we sort of distanced ourselves from her family. My grandparents died when I was really little, so I don't really remember them. Whenever Steven or I asked, my dad always said she was an only child, so we didn't have any aunts, uncles, and cousins on her side of the family. I never thought much about it."
"So, there's something about Faith that no one wanted you to know. To the point that no one even wanted to tell you she existed. Interesting." The scientist and dreamer in Blair took over, and he started to puzzle over the deep, dark secret of who Faith was.
"Apparently." The detective in Jim finally took over and he began to look at the situation in a more clinical manner.
"You know, she could still be alive." Blair blurted out the question before he'd thought it all the way through.
"Yeah. I know." His tone of voice indicated that Jim had already considered this possibility.
"Thinking of running her name through a few databases when we get home?"
"Maybe you should run your mom through while you're at it." Blair hated himself for making the suggestion, but he knew someone had to think of the possibility that Jim's mother might not have left of her own violation.
"Already planned on it." The note of sadness in Jim's voice was probably only detectible by someone who was as tuned into him as Blair was.
Evening, Starlight Motel, Room 112
"Okay, so what else did we learn while we were at Jake's?" Blair sat cross-legged on his bed, a pile of file folders strewn around him, another full box of file folders awaiting attention at the foot of the bed.
"You mean other than my mother had a twin sister I didn't know about?" The bitterness over the revelation was still evident in Ellison's voice.
"Other than that." Blair agreed solemnly, while at the same time trying to find a way to jar his friend out of his self-induced funk.
"Well there's the mysterious, not to mention dusty, box you found in the attic of the garage. What were you doing out there anyway?" Ellison punctuated his statement with a sneeze to emphasize his displeasure with said box, now resting next to the bed.
"Looking for clues?" Blair replied cheekily, as he ducked to avoid the anticipated swat to his head.
"Very funny Watson. So what's in it?"
"A sidekick's work is never done."
"Okay, okay." Blair took a deep breath in an attempt to stifle his laughter, glad that his friend seemed to have snapped out of his glum mood with their banter. "Journals."
"You mean to tell me we hauled a box full of journals over here? What are we talking here, Jake's old issues of Popular Mechanics? How is that going to help us find Wendy?"
"Yes, No, and I don't know. But seeing as how it's a box full of Sentinel Journals, I decided we'd better take it with us."
"Start over at the beginning."
"While you were busy looking for clues in between the pages of Jake's paperback book collection, I was out searching the garage. Speaking of which, did you really have to bring Johnny Havoc and the Doll Who Had "It" and Eric March and the Case of the Radioactive Redhead and The Corpse with the Red-headed Friend back with you?" With a sweep of his hand, Blair indicated a small pile of paperbacks on the night table between the two men. The top cover was yet another sterling example of 1950s cover art. "Geez who wrote the titles for these things? I mean, come on, man, really. How can you read that trash?" The last question was more rhetorical than anything.
"Why? I thought we decided the only things out there were remnants of my childhood. And yes, I brought a whole pile. I figured I might need another distraction later."
"No, you decided the only thing out there was remnants of your childhood. I, on the other hand, kept an open mind, so I went outside to look around. I needed to stretch my legs anyway. Once I was there, I started doing a little digging."
"None of this involved trying to ride my bike, now did it?" Jim interrupted before Blair got too far into his story.
"No, none of this involved trying to ride your bike." Blair parroted back before continuing his explanation. "As I was checking out the back of the garage, I found another pile of archival boxes. I decided while I was there I'd better check it out." Blair smiled impishly at his friend. "Besides, I figured I might find something interesting in there."
"You know, I think someone screwed up when they gave me a cat for a spirit guide and you a wolf. You are definitely the one with a cat's curiosity."
"Very funny. Now, as I was saying, I opened the first of the boxes and found old tax records and stuff. Do you realize he kept his tax records dating back to 1940? Talk about being extra careful. But once I'd moved all the boxes around and at least glanced at their contents I discovered a small, hidden, trap door."
"So the tax records were just a front."
"Yep. I doubt anyone but me would have even given them a second glance after figuring out what the first couple of boxes were."
"That sounds like Jake. So what was in the hidden room?"
"A couple boxes full of Sentinel Journals and some old classified files from the Engineer Works." Blair smiled in triumph.
"And you didn't tell me this before, why?"
"Well, you were a little distracted with the redheads and all, and then after you zoned I kinda forgot about the boxes until we got back here and I saw them sitting in the back of the truck." Blair's smile of triumph turned sheepish.
"Uh huh. Wait a minute. Did you say a couple boxes of Sentinel Journals? That's kind of odd. Why would Jake have Sentinel Journals?"
"Got me." Blair shrugged his shoulders for emphasis. "But they were neatly labeled. The first group dates back to the 1940s. Or at least that's what the outside of the box says."
"The 1940s? That was before I was even born. There's something about this that doesn't make senses."
"You're telling me. Here I thought I'd found the only sentinel in the world. Then Alex shows up." Blair punctuated his words with a shudder, still not liking mention of the rogue sentinel's name. "Then I find these boxes in Jake's garage. You know, it's enough to give a guy a complex."
"You mean you don't already have one?" Jim couldn't resist teasing his friend, even though the thought of another sentinel did make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"Ha. Ha. Now as I was saying..."
Jim interrupted before Blair could continue. "She's not here."
Blair looked at Jim in puzzlement, not sure where the statement had come from. "Huh? And what do you mean she?"
Jim looked at his friend in confusion. "I'm not sure. I just know that this other sentinel isn't here. I think she may have been at one time, but she's not here now."
"So are you invading her territory, or is she invading yours?" Blair asked, always eager to test the limits his Sentinel had unconsciously established, and at the same time wanting to know how far the 'Great City' extended.
"She's invading mine, but not here. This might have been her territory at one time, but it's not anymore. There's something that just doesn't feel right about all of this." Jim mentally shook off the feelings generated by the knowledge of another sentinel in the area. He really didn't want a repeat of the last encounter.
"Maybe the journals will tell us something," Blair offered with a shrug of his shoulders, not having a ready answer for any of this. "I would just like to know if she's friendly or not. And how come I'm talking about this other sentinel as a her?"
"I don't think she's friendly, but right now all I'm getting is a vague feeling of unease so I think we're okay. As for her being female, maybe it's because of our track record?" Ellison grinned at the last statement.
"But you're going to tell me if that feeling of unease changes, right?"
A moment of silent communication passed between the two men, reaffirming their commitment to each other and the duties of Sentinel and Guide.
Sandburg finally broke the silence. "So, you going to tell Steven?" He returned the conversation to the original topic, now that his partner seemed in a better frame of mind to deal with it.
Jim heaved a big sigh. "About my mom and Faith and Jake and who knows who else? I have to. Maybe he remembers something I don't."
End, Part 1
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