SPOILERS: None set during the second season, may have taken some liberties with Blairs age but my mind got tired.
RATING: PG-13 for language
SUMMARY: A simple celebration turns ugly.
AUTHORS NOTES: Not betad, so all mistakes are mine, but I wanted to get this done by New Years. This is the story that would not quit writing itself. Im not sure its done even yet, but Im posting it anyway.
TS disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. Im just playing with them for a while. I promise to clean them off and put them back when Im done. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made. If I happen to stumble on an original idea, its mine, mine, all mine!
It was New Year's Eve, and Jim Ellison was celebrating the way he usually did. He was sitting on the couch, head back, snoring. Not that he hadn't been invited to a party; he had been invited to several, actually. But after years of seeing his friends and family use the holiday as an excuse for getting drunk and making fools of themselves, he had made it his own tradition to work all day and stay home all night.
His roommate, however, had made other plans. He was attending a party given by one of his professors and had left with strict instructions to have a good time, be careful, and not to drink and drive. If he felt he couldn't drive, he was to call Jim to come pick him up.
The sound of the door opening and closing roused Jim, who automatically checked the time. He frowned. Just 11:35. What was Sandburg doing home so soon? Jim hadn't expected him before two at the earliest.
He sat up, apprehensive. "What happened? Why are you home so early?"
"Nothing happened. You are such a worrywart. I just didn't want you to be alone on New Year's Eve."
"Sandburg, I like to be alone on New Year's. I can't stand those parties. Too many people, all that noise. And the smells, well, I won't go there."
"Yeah, I can imagine. But still, it wasn't that much of a party, and I just decided to ... come on home." After about a year and a half, Blair still had trouble thinking of Jim's loft as 'home'. He usually referred to it just as 'the loft'.
"Hey, aren't you going to turn on the TV?" Blair asked, gesturing toward the dark screen. "Watch the ball drop and all that?"
"The ball dropped three hours ago on the east coast, and no, I don't want to watch a bunch of morons screaming and acting like idiots live and on camera."
"Well, at least have a beer with me, and we'll have our own little celebration."
Jim grunted. So much for his nice quiet night. Now that Blair was home, he supposed they'd be celebrating whether he wanted to or not. He listened. Blair was already at the refrigerator getting the beer.
"You know, among early civilizations, the New Year was actually celebrated in the spring, when the winter was gone and the new planting season was approaching. Most livestock and many wild animals tend to have their young in the spring, so it was natural to mark that as the beginning of the year. Then the Romans came along and started messing with the calendars and screwed up everything." Blair handed Jim a bottle and plopped down beside him.
They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes until, somewhere close by, someone set off a string of firecrackers. Jim grimaced. That was another thing he didn't miss about staying home on this date, the fireworks. But then again, he hadn't always had his roommate to help him through those trying times. But the sound of the firecrackers had inspired his younger friend.
"Hey, Jim, you know what? I bet we can see the fireworks from the roof. Come on, we better hurry!" Blair was up and headed for the front door, putting his coat back on. He turned back to Jim, who was still sitting on the couch.
"Come on, it'll be fun. And we'll be far enough away that the noise shouldn't bother you. I'll help you keep it under control. Get your beer and let's go!"
Jim took a drink of his beer to hide his grin. If he didn't know better, sometimes he could think Sandburg was seven instead of twenty-seven. Somehow he retained the enthusiasm and wonder for everyday occurrences that most adults eschewed. That trait could be intriguing and irritating, usually at the same time.
Sighing, Jim stood up. "Okay, just hold your horses. Let me get my shoes and coat, Junior."
Blair bounced impatiently as Jim went upstairs. "Come on, man, hurry up. We've just got five minutes."
"I'm coming. If you don't quit yelling, I'll make you go up there by yourself."
Jim returned with his shoes and coat and they headed up to the roof, carrying their beer. The weather this New Year's Eve was perfect, clear and cold, not a cloud in sight. They opened the door to the roof and found two of their neighbors up there already, complete with folding chairs, blankets, and a bottle of champagne.
Blair and Jim nodded at the romantic couple, both of them in their seventies and having been married for almost fifty years. It seemed that simple things like this kept them together. The two men nodded politely then moved toward a distant corner of the building closer to the street to give them their privacy.
"Okay, um, let's see. Jim, which way's the waterfront from here?"
Jim turned Blair around. "That way. And they should be starting any second now." Before the city fireworks could begin, they heard another string of firecrackers go off nearby, along with the squealing of brakes from the street. Yelling and screaming came from below, and Jim stepped over to the edge of the roof to look down. Blair joined him cautiously.
Down on the street, a pickup was sitting sideways in the road. The driver was hanging halfway out the door, and several young men were standing in the bed of the pickup, yelling and waving bottles around. One of them pulled a gun from his pocket and began firing wildly in the air.
"Assholes!" Jim exploded. "Damn fools! I'm going to get their license number, Chief."
"Hey, Jim, can't you just relax? I mean, by the time a squad gets here, they'll be long gone."
Jim just stared at him. Obviously, Blair, like so many other people, just didn't understand the serious potential danger of firing a gun. But Jim knew that a bullet fired into the air could climb two miles and remain in flight for more than a minute. And then, as it falls, the bullet can reach a velocity of 300 to 700 feet per second. A velocity of only 200 feet per second is sufficient to penetrate the human skull.
"It's dangerous as hell, Sandburg. Just call it in for me while I go tear these guys a new one."
Blair sighed. When Jim got that look in his eyes, there was no arguing with him. As Jim sprinted across the roof, Blair began to follow him. His foot hit the beer bottle that Jim had set down as he left. Blair bent quickly to pick it up. The hammer blow to his back drove him to his knees. Cold fire spread from his back through his chest and down his side. "Oh, shit," Blair thought as he crumpled on the roof.
Helen Berkowicz looked puzzled as Jim rushed past her to the roof door. "Wonder what's wrong with him?" she asked.
"Huh?" her husband, Ernest, queried.
"What's wrong with him?" Helen asked, louder.
"What's wrong with who?" Ernest was puzzled.
"That man from upstairs."
"You can't get upstairs from here, you have to go down." Ernest answered sensibly. Sometimes he wondered what got into Helen.
"I wonder where the other one is."
"The other one what?"
"The other man that came up here? The one that lives with the policeman."
"That long-haired kid?"
"Oh, my God! Ernest!" Helen stood up as quickly as she could from her chair, dropping her blanket. She hurried over the roof.
Ernest turned to watch her, then jumped up from his chair as he saw her kneeling down. "What happened? What are you doing?" he called.
"It's that other man, the roommate, he's hurt."
Ernest hurried over to her as quickly as his arthritis would allow. He knelt down next to the fallen man, reaching under him to feel around his neck. As the fireworks began to bloom overhead, filling the sky with light and color, Ernest thought back to a field far across an ocean and over fifty years in the past. Then, the neck he had been touching belonged to Helens brother, and an enemy bullet had blown half of it away.
"Hes alive," Ernest said. "Go get me that blanket, quickly, and bring the napkins, too."
Jim pounded down the stairs, hearing several more shots as reached the ground floor. He burst out of the building door just as the truck began to squeal away. He focused on the license number, committing it to memory. They might have gotten away this time, but he would be giving them a call just as soon as he had that number run. He turned to go back inside, first, to call in to the station and tell them to cancel the squad, then try to catch the end of the fireworks.
The first of the lights arced across the sky, so Jim turned his hearing down to compensate for the sound of the explosion that would carry very clearly across the water to Sentinel ears. He trudged back inside, still fuming over the idiocy of the young men. If he had his way, reckless discharge of a firearm would be the least of their worries.
He stopped at the doorway to the loft, stepping in quickly to place the call to the station. He was surprised that Blair had not joined him downstairs, but he had probably gone back to the roof after calling it in. Blair just didnt seem to take this incident seriously enough, but Jim planned to educate him.
Oh, yeah, Jim planned to educate his roommate, all right. The rage that had begun to cool flared to life again as Jim hung up the phone. Blair hadnt even called, as Jim had told him in no uncertain terms to do. He had blatantly disregarded a direct order! Okay, a direct request, but still, if Jim told him to call for back up or a squad, hed damn well better do it! This wasnt some game they were playing here, and it was time Blair wised up, or he was out.
Jim stormed up the stairs and almost ran over the lady that had been on the roof, who was standing in his way. He tried to push past her, but she grabbed his arm and started babbling at him. For a moment, Jims anger prevented him from understanding what she was saying, then his body went cold as her words penetrated his mind.
"Hes been shot! Hes bleeding! Oh, please help him! Ernest told me to call 911. Youre an officer, arent you? Do you have a radio?"
Jim stared at her stupidly for a moment, while his senses confirmed her story. Between the illumination and thunder of the fireworks, he could hear Blairs soft moans and the hitch in his breathing. He could see Ernest bending over the prone body, pressing down on his back, and could hear him murmuring soothing words. The smell of blood mixed with beer almost made him vomit.
He turned back to Helen. "No, I dont have a radio with me. Please, go downstairs and call 911. Then go down to the street to let them in the door there. Hurry!" Helen went down the stairs as quickly as she could, being careful not to fall.
Jim ran across the roof to kneel beside Blair. "What have we got?" he asked the older man.
"Gunshot, in the back. Saw a lot of this in the war. No exit wound, bullets still in him."
Jim regarded Ernest, noting the distant look in his eyes. This had obviously brought back some bad memories for him, but also had spurred him into actions that could save Blairs life. Jim motioned for Ernest to sit back so he could lift up the blanket thrown across Blair and see the damage for himself.
Blairs shirt had been pulled up to expose his back. Blood was welling sluggishly from the ugly wound high on his shoulder, but seemed to be stopping. Jim pulled the corner of the blanket back over Blair and Ernest resumed putting pressure on him. Blair groaned again, body struggling weakly against the pain. Jim moved around to Blairs head.
Blair laid face down on the roof, eyes open and staring sightlessly. His hands scrabbled feebly at the rough surface. He was breathing in harsh pants, catching his breath now and then only to release it in a moan.
Jim stroked Blairs cheek gently. "Easy, Chief. Take it easy. Oh, God, when I get my hands on those kids !" Jim reined in his anger. Blair needed him now, calm and rational. The fireworks built to their crescendo, and Blairs eyes fluttered, then closed. His body sagged limply into the rooftop.
"Blair! Come on, Chief, dont do this to me. Hang in there, just hang in there, okay?"
Jim could hear the sirens of an ambulance and two squad cars approaching. How he could tell the difference he didnt know, maybe Blair could tell him later. He prayed that Helen was downstairs waiting to direct the paramedics straight up here.
Apparently she was because he soon heard them coming through the door. Jim and Ernest were both moved away as the professionals took over. Jim found himself mechanically reciting the truck description and license number as well as a description of the young men in the truck to an officer whose name he couldnt quite recall. Ernest was telling his side of the story to the other officer with them.
The paramedics were calling out unintelligible numbers and commands, inserting an IV and attaching an oxygen mask to his partner. Jim closed his eyes and willed himself anywhere but here.
"Detective Ellison? Detective? I think theyre ready to go. Are you going to ride in?" Jim opened his eyes to see the officer, Stover was his name, looking at him in sympathy.
"Yes, thank you."
"Dont worry, Detective. Weve got the whole city looking for these guys. Well find them."
Jim found himself swaying along in the ambulance, holding Blairs hand as the pale face rocked slightly with the motion of the vehicle. Even though he was no stranger to medical terminology, he had a hard time comprehending what the paramedics were saying. His hearing kept fading in and out, but he did understand that they thought Blair was bleeding internally, and that his blood pressure was dropping dangerously low, propelling his body into shock.
Their arrival at the hospital precipitated a flurry of activity. Blair was whisked away from him and he was left stranded in the waiting room. Jim stared blankly about him, noting the crowded conditions. Why did the holidays always seem to bring so much misery and pain? Over here was a girl, probably no older than seventeen, holding a screaming infant, most likely her own; the babys face was flushed, eyes fever bright. Over there, a young man sat with a towel held to a bloody arm, victim of his drunken father, slashed by the same knife used to slice a celebratory ham.
Jim flinched as another ambulance screamed into the bay. The paramedics pulled two mangled bodies from the back, testimony once again that drinking and driving did not mix. Jim watched as they rushed by, hearing the soft moans from one and the ominous silence from the other. The waiting room was full. He found a spot in the corner and sank down to sit on the floor, stunned by his surroundings.
"Detective Ellison? Why dont you come in here with me."
Jim looked up into the serious face of Tommy Stover, the officer that had taken his statement up on the roof. Stover held out a hand to help him up, then led him back into one of the employee lounges that was also used by the paramedics and officers that had business at the hospital. The medics that had worked on Blair were sitting at one of the tables, drinking coffee and filling out their report. Stovers partner, Denise Pruitt, was sitting at another table, working on her paperwork. Stover led him over and sat him down, then got him a cup of coffee.
"I called your captain, Banks," Stover said. "I think hes coming down here." The radio on his hip crackled, and he turned his head to listen. Jim focused his hearing on the voice coming across.
"213," the dispatcher answered.
"213, were out at Collins and Seventh, near the Blue Dog. Got a pickup in the parking lot matching the description on that broadcast. Vehicle is unoccupied at this time. Request backup."
"10-4, 213. 215, location?"
"215, Eighth and Foster, well be en route."
"220," the patrol sergeants voice came from the radio. All three officers at the table in the hospital lounge stared at the radio.
"220," dispatch acknowledged.
"220, to confirm, there were multiple subjects and weapons involved, 10-4?"
"Send another unit and show me en route as well."
"10-4. Any other unit in the vicinity Collins and Seventh, acknowledge."
"212, Ill be clear in a minute."
"216, were clear, but were a long ways off."
The sergeant keyed up again. "220, I want 212 to respond. 213, you stay on the truck, 215 you take the front. 212, advise when youre in the area, and I want you to take the back. All units, these suspects are armed, repeat, suspects are armed."
The radio went quiet for a moment, then picked up again as other officers in the city went about their business on one of the busiest nights of the year. Jim could see the scene in his imagination, the squad cars pulling up around the building, lights and sirens off, making a silent approach. He could almost hear the sergeant giving his quiet instructions, getting everyone set up to apprehend the assholes that had shot his partner.
Jim clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut. A gentle hand patted his arm, and he opened his eyes to see Denises compassionate gaze. "Hell be okay, Ellison. The paramedics thought he had a good chance when they brought him in." She turned her attention back to the report she was writing. He knew they would stay at the hospital until they talked with the doctor treating Sandburg. They would have to know if they were writing a report for aggravated assault or involuntary manslaughter.
Jim stared at his cooling cup of coffee. Actually, the more he considered the case, the angrier he got. If Blair lived God, he had too! the assholes that shot him would probably get charged with the relatively minor offense of reckless endangerment and possibly a firearms violation, never mind that hundreds of people were hurt or killed every year by accidental gunfire. After all, they didnt intend to deliberately hurt anyone, and unfortunately, there was no such charge as felonious stupidity, although there ought to be.
The radio caught his attention again. "215, on scene."
"212, ETA two."
Some other units came across the radio with their traffic, unrelated to the incident holding Ellisons attention.
"212, were on."
"220, all units on scene, go to PD4."
Stover switched his portable radio to the tactical frequency. From now on, all the radio traffic they would hear would relate directly to the apprehension of the suspects in Sandburgs shooting.
"212 go ahead."
"You set up in the back?"
"220 213 215."
"213 and 215, make your entry, Ill watch the front."
There was silence for a few minutes. The three officers seated around the table were hunched forward, listening intently.
"213, go ahead."
"213, three in custody. No weapons on suspects."
"Ten-four, 220 did you copy?"
"220 received. 212 come around front for vehicle search."
The officers at the hospital continued to listen as the officers on the scene confirmed finding two handguns in the truck, along with numerous open beer cans. The evidence was collected, the truck was towed, and the drunks were taken in for booking. The three listening officers breathed a sigh of relief that the arrests had gone so smoothly.
Jim sighed and looked up at the clock. 1:37 a.m. What was taking so long?
A familiar voice reached his ears from the lobby of the emergency room, and he hurried out to greet Simon.
"Jim, heard anything yet?"
"Not a word, Simon. Were waiting back here in the lounge." Simon followed Jim into the break room, greeting the other officers who were still waiting for word on their victim. The paramedics had finished their report and left to gather other victims of the holidays. Jim threw out his old coffee, untouched, and got a fresh cup along with Simon.
Banks cell phone rang.
"Banks. Yeah, I heard on the radio on the way over. Good work. Do it by the book, I dont want those jerks to walk on some technicality. Yeah, well let you know as soon as we know. For now just hold em." Simon put away his phone and gestured at the radio on the table. "You heard?"
"Yeah," Jim said, looking at the door.
"Yes, sir." Stover and Pruitt replied, a little nervous to be up close and personal with the captain of Major Crimes. Most patrol officers never spent time with a captain unless they were in trouble.
"Let me see your report so far," Simon said. He looked over the paperwork, making a suggestion here and there that Officer Pruitt was quick to accept. The report wouldnt be considered complete until they got word on Sandburgs condition; after that it still had to be turned in and approved by the shift sergeant for assignment to an investigator.
An aide stepped in the doorway and called out to them. "You here for Sandburg, the gunshot?" All four officers stood. "Follow me, the doctor wants to talk to you."
The followed her down the hall to a small conference room. Stepping inside, they all stood uncertainly for a moment until a doctor, complete with bloody scrubs and a cap still over his head, joined them.
"Sandburg?" he asked, just to make sure he was addressing the right people.
"Yes." Simon introduced the officers.
"Well, hes going to make it, but there was a lot of damage. Hes still in surgery, and may be there for quite time. The bullet hit at an oblique angle to his shoulder blade, fracturing it, then traveled down into his chest and abdominal cavities. Along the way, it creased his left lung, grazed the spleen and kidney, then lodged in his small intestines. Now, it didnt actually penetrate any of the major organs, so he was very lucky on that. But there is a lot of internal bruising and bleeding that has to be dealt with.
"He should be out of surgery within the hour, and well bring the bullet to you for your case. After that, well move him to SICU for at least the next twenty-four hours. In a couple of days the orthopedist will take a look at the shoulder blade and determine how to treat the fracture. But I would estimate that hell be here for at least a week, if not longer. Any questions?"
Jim spoke up. "Sandburgs my roommate, as well as working at the department unofficially. Will I be able to see him when he comes out from surgery?"
The doctor frowned, considering. "I could let you sit with him in recovery, and Ill see what I can do about SICU, but theyre pretty strict about visiting times. Well just have to see what condition hes in, okay?"
They went back to the lounge to wait. In about an hour, as promised, the doctor came back to find them. He carried an evidence bag containing a bloody bullet that he handed to Stover, then signed the form stating that this was, indeed, the bullet taken from the body of one Blair Sandburg, gunshot victim. When the formalities were over, he waved at Jim to follow him.
"Simon, Ill call you later," Jim said over his shoulder as he hurried out behind the doctor.
The doctor led Jim into a large, brightly lit room. There were several occupied beds, all with various types of equipment clustered around them. He honed in immediately on the bed containing his partner. Blair lay, still and quiet, covered only to his waist with a sheet. The ugly incision was obscenely exposed, the skin to either side still stained with betadine. The hair had been shaved from his chest and stomach, and he looked curiously young and vulnerable. His left arm had been secured to the bed with a soft cloth restraint, and Jim could see the thick bandage under his shoulder. He found a chair and pulled it quietly over to the bed.
"Ah, Chief. Why does this stuff happen to you? Of all the people that dont deserve it " his voice trailed off.
As if responding, Blairs eyes fluttered and he moaned low in his throat. A nurse was instantly by his side. Ignoring Jim, she began to talk to Blair.
"Mr. Sandburg, are you awake? Can you open your eyes yet?"
Blairs eyes fluttered and opened, the pain clearly visible. He moaned again, unable to speak due to the tube pulling down one corner of his mouth. His eyes closed again, and he tried to shift his head.
"Okay, easy now, dont try to move. I know it hurts, but we have to wait until you wake up to give you anything."
Blairs hand moved feebly on the bed, and Jim grasped it. The nurse flashed him a sympathetic smile. "I know its hard on them, when they first wake up. But we have to make sure they are going to wake up. Just sit with him and keep him calm until we can get a morphine pump started."
Jim nodded gratefully. Blair moaned again, moving his legs restlessly. He was trying to open his eyes, but they didnt seem to want to cooperate. "Shh, Chief, just be still. Itll be okay; I know it hurts right now. But youre hooked up to a lot of stuff, and youve just had surgery, so try not to move."
Stubborn as always, Blair tried to arch his head back, get whatever was in his mouth and throat out. He pulled against Jims hand, trying to get his hand free. His breath began to come in pants.
"Blair, stop it. Youre going to hurt yourself. Just be still, now. Nurse!" Blairs thrashing was starting to scare Jim. The nurse hurried back over with a filled syringe that she quickly emptied into the IV port.
She stepped around to the other side of the bed and tried to hold Blairs head still while Jim tried to calm him with words and touch. If a few minutes, the frantic movement stopped, and injured body was once again quiet. Blairs breathing settled down to an even rhythm, and Jim breathed his own sigh of relief.
"That happens sometimes," the nurse said. "Hell be alright now. Were going to get him moved into SICU in just a few minutes, but first Im going to get his morphine set up. Thatll help keep him more comfortable."
"Okay, thanks," Jim said, turning his attention back to the still figure of his friend. The fear he felt scared him. Whats the matter with me? he thought. Why am I so afraid of losing him? Is it just selfishness on my part? The help hes given me? Or is it just that hes part of my tribe, my Sentinel instincts going into overdrive? Damn, I need him. When did I let him get in so far? I need him to explain this to me. But then again, Ill probably never tell him any of this. Why does it all have to be so complicated? Sometimes I wish this had never happened, or at least, not to me.
But even as he processed that last thought, Jim knew it was not true. His life had been infinitely more complicated since his senses came back in full force, and especially since Sandburg had come into his life. But it had also been more full, more complete; he had felt more alive than he had since Peru.
The nurse came back to interrupt his musings. "Were ready to move him now. Hell go to SICU on the second floor. It will probably take some time to get him settled in, and SICU visiting hours wont start until nine later this morning." She looked at him kindly. "Why dont you go home and get some rest, come back nice and fresh for your friend in a few hours."
Jim nodded mutely as he was ushered out of the recovery area. He stood in confusion for a few minutes until he decided which way was out. As he passed by the lounge where he had waited before, he glanced in to see Pruitt and Stover still waiting. "Oh, hey. Didnt know you would still be here."
"Captain Banks asked us to stay and see if you needed a ride home since you came in the ambulance with Sandburg."
"If you dont mind, maybe I could get a ride to the station."
Pruitt and Stover looked at each other nervously. "Well," Denise started, "the captain specifically said to take you home and not to the station." As the glower of anger began to shine in Jims eyes, she straightened her shoulders and stared at Jim eye to eye. "You know the routine, Detective. Youre a witness; you cannot be part of the investigation. Well give you a ride home, but what you do after that is your business. Im just glad Banks is your captain and not ours. I wouldnt cross that man for anything."
Jim almost had to smile at her bravado. It was not easy to stand up to a pissed off Jim Ellison. He took pity on her and her younger partner and relaxed. "Yeah, youre right. I dont like to cross him, myself. Thanks, I would appreciate a ride home."
Denise relaxed as well, and they gathered up their paperwork, disposed of their trash, and pulled on their coats to brave the cold air outside once again. On the way to the squad car, Stover spoke up. "I heard they got these guys cold. Gunshot residue on their hands and clothes, and the guns had been fired recently. Also, they had two other friends with them that they had dropped off before going to the club, so theyre going to be picked up, too."
Jim just shook his head. "Thats great. They act like total idiots, endanger the population of the city, actually manage to shoot someone, and for what? Just to make some noise on New Years Eve? And whatll they get, most likely? A fine and some community service. Id like to give them some community service," Jim finished darkly as he climbed into the back seat of the squad car.
Stover and Pruitt wisely did not reply and the ride back to Prospect was quiet. Once home, Jim called in to the station, knowing Simon would be there to follow the case. He updated the captain on Blairs condition, and received assurance that everything Stover had told him was true. Looking around, Jim decided that he had one more duty to attend to before he could get a few hours rest. He stepped out of his door and went down the stairs.
Hesitating just a moment, Jim used his sense of hearing to confirm that the occupants of the first floor apartment were awake. He knocked, listening to the cautious steps that approached the door.
"Whos there?" came a breathless voice.
"Its Detective Ellison, from upstairs."
"Oh, my. Oh, yes, yes, wait just a minute, please. Ernest, its the policeman, put your pants back on." Jim had to smile; sometimes having enhanced hearing was interesting. He heard several locks turning, and a chain being moved behind the door.
Finally, the door swung open and Helen Berkowicz stood there in her bathrobe. "Please, come in, come in. We were just having some cocoa, trying to relax after all the excitement. How is he? Your roommate?"
Jim stepped into the apartment, looking around automatically. It was small but neat and tidy. The smell of hot cocoa was indeed coming from the kitchen, and Jim could tell it was not from a pre-mixed package. "Hes in serious condition, but hes going to be fine. Thanks in a large part to you and your husbands quick actions. I came down here to thank you for all you did."
Ernest came into the living room from the back, pulling a shirt on over his undershirt. But at least his pants were on Jim was relieved to note. "Oh, it was nothing," Ernest disclaimed. "Did lots of that in the war, the big one, I mean. I was a medic. Just like riding a bicycle."
Jim did not get to bed after all. He stayed with Ernest and Helen, drinking cocoa and listening to Ernests stories about the war years. He had been with the Big Red One, marching across North Africa from Oran to Tunisia, then moving over to Sicily, and finally with the D-day landing on Omaha Beach. Before he knew it, the sun was rising on a new year.
Making his excuses, Jim left to grab a quick shower and change his clothes. Just before he left for the hospital, Jim hesitated. He couldnt help himself, he had to go back to the roof, see the scene in daylight. The sun was shining brightly by the time he opened the access door. Jim walked slowly across the roof, noting a plastic cup that the Berkowiczs had used for their champagne. The roof was dotted with the weighted flags the crime scene unit had left to mark specific locations.
Jim came to a stop. A dark stain showed where blood from the wound had oozed out of Blairs body, running down his side and soaking the surface beneath. Jim stared at it, noting clinically that it was not much larger than his hand. Surely much to small to be an adequate testimony to the pain and suffering that had been caused. Staring for a moment longer, Jim turned and left the roof, headed for the hospital.
The days passed quickly. Blair got better and better and crankier and crankier. He absolutely refused to use the morphine pump until the pain got so unbearable that Jim started hitting the button for him. He was taken back into surgery to have a plate installed on the broken shoulder blade; otherwise, he would have ended up in a half-body cast. As it was, he still had a complicated brace and sling combination that he would have to wear for the next six weeks.
Finally, the day came for Jim to bring Blair home. He knew that it would be difficult due to the nature of the shoulder brace that completely immobilized his shoulder and held his arm out at an awkward angle. So he asked Simon to come with him, knowing Blair would be much more comfortable in his big luxury car instead of the truck. As they pulled up in front of 852 Prospect, they saw a car pulling away that looked suspiciously like a hearse.
Jim and Simon watched it drive away curiously then turned their attention to getting Blair out of the car and upstairs. Knowing that Blair would find it very difficult to lie down comfortably for a while, Jim had prepared a nest for him on the couch. They got Blair settled with something to drink and his medications, then watched as he fell almost immediately to sleep.
"Hey, Simon. Come on downstairs with me. Theres someone I want you to meet," Jim said, smiling.
"Who?" Simon was curious. He had never met any of Jims neighbors before.
"The man who saved Blairs life." And with that, Jim led the way out of the loft and downstairs.
Arriving at the first floor, Jim stopped as he saw the door standing open. He motioned to Simon, who drew his gun as soon as Jim did. Cautiously, they approached. Jim extended his hearing, only finding one heartbeat in the room.
Jim lowered his weapon and walked to the door, looking around carefully. Inside he saw Helen sitting very still, very quiet, on the sofa in the living room.
"Helen?" he asked, quietly.
"Oh, Jim. Hello, I didnt hear you knock."
"Youre door was open. Are you okay?"
She looked at him for a long moment before answering. "Ernest died today, Jim. He laid down to take a nap, and when I went in to wake him, he was gone." Her eyes were dry as she told him the news.
"Oh, Helen. Im so sorry. Is there anything I can do? I mean, I just brought Blair home today " he trailed off, not sure of what to say.
"Im so glad hes okay, Jim. You know, Ive been thinking. Ernest has been ill for a long time with congestive heart failure. We knew he could go anytime, so it wasnt a shock to me. But why now? Why today, and not last week or the week before? I think I know the answer. I think God was waiting to take Ernest, because he had one last job to do. To help your young friend. And now that hes going to be alright, it was time for Ernest to go." She looked at Jim intently, waiting for his reaction.
Jim shifted nervously, and Simon stepped forward. "Im Simon Banks, Jims supervisor at the station, and, unofficially, Sandburgs as well. We stopped by to thank your husband for all he did. Im sure youre right. All of the people who know Blair owe your husband a great debt of gratitude." Simon stepped forward and handed her one of his cards. "If you need anything, please feel to call me at the station. And please, let us know when the funeral will be as well."
Helen nodded as Jim and Simon turned to go. Jim carefully closed the door behind him, checking to make sure the door was locked, at least by the knob, as he left. He waited for a moment, hearing the soft sounds as Helen finally let the tears come.
A week later, Simon and Jim stood behind Blair, who was sitting in a chair next to Helen at the cemetery, bulky brace and all. They listened solemnly as the final words were read and the service concluded. The few mourners drifted away. Simon and Jim moved away as well, giving Helen and Blair a few minutes alone together. Since Jim had told Blair the full story of his injury and how Ernest had been right there, unafraid to help a virtual stranger, Blair had insisted on attending the funeral. Jim thought it was too soon for Blair to be out, but Simon had agreed with Blair, and so they loaded him back into Simons car.
"Jim," the soft voice carried easily to sentinel ears. Jim and Simon hurried back.
Helen leaned over and kissed Blair on the cheek before Jim and Simon helped him up from the seat. "You remember what I said, dear."
"I will, I promise." Blair smiled and allowed Jim to help him across the grass to the waiting car.
"What did she say, Sandburg?" Simon was curious, knowing that Jim had probably overheard every word, but would never speak of Blairs private business.
"She said that Ernest had stayed so that he could save my life. And that I was under an obligation to him to see that I did something with that life, and not to waste this opportunity that I was given."
Blair stopped and turned to look one more time at the solitary figure still sitting by the graveside. Then he turned back, and he, Jim, and Simon walked slowly on to the car.