- VIII -
Rafe, Taggert, Brown and Connor were all sympathetic towards Jim but Banks was still playing the grouch over his recovering injury, and annoying anyone who came too close. Connor was relieved that she no longer needed the sling and could finally type at full speed, but the wound still niggled. Jim arriving in the department like a bear with a sore paw was not a welcome vision.
He skulked over to his desk and slumped into his chair. The mere sight of disorganized paperwork irritated him and he pushed it into the in-tray. He would deal with it when he had to and not one moment before. The jubilation he had felt whilst talking with Simon that morning had faded, to be replaced by frustration that he couldn't get verification of the videotaped images until later on in the day. He fully understood Simon's compulsory position with regards to resources, and there was no justification for flying in the tapes. If it had been a homicide investigation the cassettes would already be in his possession.
The other frustration was that Saturday afternoon was thirty-six hours beforehand and his Guide could be anywhere by now. Not even the fact that he could trace the route from Cascade to the gas station was a solace. Based on supposed facts and doing the math, he guestimated that Sandburg had traveled through Montana and into the Dakotas by nightfall on the Saturday. Following a trend set the previous day he would have stopped over for the night somewhere and continued on the next morning.
"H, I need a road map of Montana and South Dakota." His friend looked up from his computer screen. "Now?" The raised eyebrows indicated manners were required, and the contrite detective hastily added a muttered, "Please."
Mollified, the other detective placed a few calls and responded. "Heather in research has a detailed road map; she's bringing it up in five."
Ellison nodded his gratitude and started to scribble on a legal pad. 'I-90, cruising speed ave. 55mph? Left Cascade Fri pm. Time unknown. Sat pm, sighting ? Montana' - he punched an internal call through to Simon:"Do we have an address of the gas station?"
"Pleasant talking with you too, Jim."
Jim raised his head and caught the glimmer of humor in the eyes of his captain. The blinds were open in Simon's office and Jim could just have easily shouted across for the required information.
"Sorry, Simon, but this whole situation has me so worked up. I'm having a hard time dealing with the effects."
"I'll deal with it. I'll still be an effective officer for you. I just need..."
Simon continued to watch the perturbed detective through the glass. "You just need everybody to go to hell, but tell you exactly where Sandburg's gone first?"
"Something like that."
Again, Ellison felt gratitude towards this man and hastily noted the High Falls address Simon gave him. At least now he could work on a more accurate time frame.
When the map arrived Jim accepted Megan's help to trace a possible route from Cascade to Montana, and from Montana outwards in a variety of directions. They concentrated in the main on the Interstate, and circled all of the possible refueling sites.
"Let me find numbers for all of them," Connor offered, pleased that she might finally be able to offer a positive contribution. "Someone's going to have seen him."
Blair had taken up shouting for help now that the car battery had died. He couldn't take in the largest lung-full of air without the steering wheel reminding him why he was still in the car and not back up on the highway. Aware that the closed windows would act as a repressor of sound, he virtually screamed himself to hoarseness in the course of five hours. Surely someone somewhere had to have heard something. Were they all so blind that no one had noticed a car on its side? There were skid marks in the road; he was convinced of that. The blow out and subsequent fall had happened in such a short space of time, but Blair remembered every second of it:from the initial muted thump as the rubber exploded, the sharp yank as the steering wheel failed to respond, his compensation for the lack of control, and the consequent horror as the car headed inexorably towards the edge of the road and began its plummet down the side.
Sandburg was nauseous recollecting the events and forced himself to breathe in calmly through his nose and out through his mouth. He checked his wrist forgetting that his watch wasn't there and promptly switched his gaze to the stopped clock on the dash. He had no idea what time it was, and the cloudy sky offered no solution either.
His throat was parched through both the shouting and lack of fluids. His stomach had ceased rumbling and had instead begun a niggling ache just under his rib cage. He looked longingly at the three remaining mints and caved. He removed one of the white lozenges and fingered it pensively. "Some breakfast," his voice cracked.
His taste buds were taken by surprise but allowed him to savor each molecule of the candy. He reveled in the taste as the hard sugar casing slowly dissolved on his tongue. He sucked his finger and moved the saliva around, allowing the rest of his starved mouth to experience the moment. If someone had told him that eating a single mint would be a borderline orgasmic experience, he would have smacked them upside the head. Sandburg couldn't help it, but he inexplicably found himself giggling uncontrollably.
He had visions of offering his next girlfriend a single mint and asking if that would satisfy her for the evening while he went out for dinner with friends. Lauren would have gladly shot him for that suggestion, although if he thought about it, Josie would have gone for it.
The laughter hurt - the movement of his body against the interior of the car and the simple act of exercising dormant muscles caused a deluge of spasms, and his mirth was quickly replaced by grimaces and suppressed groans of pain.
He had to continue calling for help or he would never be found. He looked down at the dried stain in his jeans, very noticeable in the cold light of day, and felt the pull of dread rip through his insides. He knew he would be adding to that mark within the next hour, and the idea of willpower overriding human need was wishful thinking.
He closed his eyes and offered words to anyone who might be listening.
After a minute, Incacha's voice whispered in his mind. "Shaman."
So far he had imagined the voices of two people, the first of which he wanted nothing further to do with, and the second of whom was dead. "Whatever," he returned, wishing the pulsating throb behind his left eye would just 'bugger off' as Megan would put it.
He should be shouting out for help, he mused. 'I should be looking for a way to get out of this mess,' he continued. 'Hell, I can do both.'
He pushed his left fist against his temple and allowed his head to drop against the glass of the window again. His neck muscles were protesting every time he moved, and he suspected a minor dose of whiplash was adding insult to injury. A drink wouldn't go amiss right now; a nice cold glass of juice would be perfect. Just perfect.
Blair figured he could carry on shouting for help in a moment. He was tired, after all he hadn't slept much last night and a break wouldn't do any harm. No doubt he would still be unnoticed when he re-awoke. A quick nap would be all right.
Just for a few minutes.
Blair felt just as exhausted when he woke up as when he'd closed his eyes. It could have been a matter of minutes or it could have been hours, he had no way of knowing. Either way he was cold - extremely cold.
Logic dictated that this was due to lack of sustenance, more particularly fluid as well as lack of movement. Not to mention the ambient temperature. He snuggled into his jacket and persuaded himself that the incessant pulsating in both his head and back were merely competitors for the trophy of 'most annoying pain' - funny, he'd always considered his whole self nominated for that category when he was around Jim.
Jim again. He needed to obliterate all thought of him from his mind if he was to make the fresh start he planned. Mark and Karen would be worried about him if he didn't arrive soon.
No they wouldn't. He hadn't phoned them.
He had planned to call when he reached Minnesota.
But he was in Minnesota now.
"No, you're not," he chastised himself out loud, staring into the rear view mirror. "You never made it across the border. "
"Did too. "He startled himself by answering back. Was he losing it? It was the headache taking away his reasonable thought processes. That was easily rectified. "Thoth and Quetzacotal were one and the same," he intoned as though lecturing one of his classes, determined to get his reason back on track. "His was the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan. Chac was the god of rain, and was associated with life and creation. It has been debated among academic circles whether or not Kukulcan was just a variation of Chac. "He blinked his knowledge into sequence. He was usually the fountain of all trivial information, spouting comparisons and parallels, acknowledging his current research or offering comments against an existing case he and Jim were working on. They...
He glowered. 'They'. No more 'they'. Ellison could work on his own. Making assumptions that way, and allowing Sandburg to destroy his life in the pretense of saving a partnership.
Something felt wrong about his deliberations, but he was too uncomfortable to care.
Where was he? That's right - Wisconsin. No, he was coming up to the Wisconsin border; he was still in Minnesota. If he stayed on the I-90 he would...
"Yum Cimil was the name given to the death god. Also, Ah Puch, the god of the Underworld. His body is covered with black spots symbolizing decomposition. "
Leopards had spots.
Connor was furious with the treatment she was receiving through her telephone enquiries. In the end, Rafe had seen her quandary and taken over from her. Contacting truck stops to see if they had seen their errant anthropologist should have been a relatively simple task, but the Australian Inspector had not foreseen the irritatingly sexist attitudes. If she didn't care so much that they find Sandy, she would have quite happily told the last 'man' she spoke to, to shove his truck stop right where the sun didn't shine.
"Grrrrrrrr. " She ranted, as Rafe quietly took the list from under her nose and proceeded to redial the last number. "Men." Those around her threw her some very intrigued looks, not least James Ellison who licked his lip and pretended to look angelic.
"Oh no, not at all," she replied airily, ready to smack the next person who said anything out of line. "Coffee?"
He followed her down to the refreshment area and poured himself a fresh cup of strong coffee, filling her mug in turn. "So..."
"So," she agreed, sitting at the table.
"Luck on vacation today?"
She scrutinized his face and tried to discern his expression. He was acting as though this was any other day in the department and that everything was as normal as they could expect. She had known him for a while, but her relationship with him wasn't anywhere close to the partnership and intrinsic nature of Sandburg's friendship.
"Jim," she began. "You can talk to me. I will listen. "She set her mug down on the table and waited for him to meet her eyes. His gaze locked with hers momentarily before he looked away and found a spot on the wall more interesting. "You can't hold this inside of you."
"Or what?" he challenged. "Why can't I hold 'this' inside of me?" He leant heavily against the cupboard and took a long slurp of drink. "Sandburg's out there somewhere and I know deep within me that there's something very wrong, and it's not just that he's not here where he belongs. He left without talking to anybody and now I know that he's... that he's hurt."
Megan stopped. She had come to respect Jim's way of thinking and if Simon believed him then she could also trust him. She had a friend from high school who had an uncanny ability to know when other people were in trouble. She had gone down with the flu one day, and Katrina had phoned to ask what she needed. Jim's bond towards Sandy was no different. "Do you have any idea at all of where he is?" A ridiculous question, but one she had to ask.
"I don't know anymore. "Jim's sigh lasted over five seconds. "I sometimes think I might, but then it's gone again."
"Have you tried reaching out your... " she faltered and checked the windows, "your senses to him?"
"I can't. I daren't. Not without Sandburg to guide me back if I zone. "The frustration was so intense in his face that Connor did the one thing she could think of. Within seconds she was out of her chair and throwing her arms around the forlorn Sentinel in the only form of comfort she could think of.
"Thank you," he murmured as he took strength from her presence, hugging her in return. "Thank you."
The moment passed and she broke away from him. "How can I help you? Explain to me what Sandy does when you zone, and how I might be able to bring you back. I've seen him sometimes but never studied what he does."
Blair stared pitifully down at his legs. He hadn't even been aware of the re-imprint on the stain he had caused, not until the stale, concentrated smell saturated his nostrils. He was so lost in his emotions that he didn't know how to cope. This was almost the final insult. Not even when he'd been sick as a child had he wet the bed. Those times in the hospital, since starting to work with Jim, had always left some retention of his dignity. Even after he drowned and was admitted, they had catheterized him to save any embarrassment while his body readjusted. If he didn't look at the expanding mark, then it hadn't happened: that was the way to deal with this. The smell would dissipate and he could forget it had happened. It wasn't as if anyone would be rescuing him any time soon.
How could such a thin steering wheel be so effectively cutting off his movement? Why had they made the older cars so sturdily? Blair patted the upholstery, proud that his usually temperamental vehicle had at least brought him this far - no backfiring, no oil spills, no radiator leaks: Myerstein had been right to recommend his cousin to do that complete overhaul for him. Maybe he could be forgiven for his misguided beliefs over the Penare tribes. He slammed his fist against the center of the wheel, irritated that the horn connection had managed to come adrift in the fall - it would have been a perfect distress beacon. Perhaps if the wheel could be dislodged then he might be able to slide out - why hadn't he thought of that yesterday? A flicker of expectation rose up inside of him as his desensitized fingers fixed around the underside of the thin rim. Unable to get a decent grip he balled his fists and placed them in position. He'd never tried to rip out the central console from a car before but had the irrational notion that enough effort would ensure his success. Sandburg labored and strained at the obstinate object but it remained firm, the muscles in his back, arms and neck protesting at the pointless action. He persisted for many more wasted attempts, beyond the point where at least one muscle tore in his left shoulder. His movements were frantic, he knew, but he still had a life left to lead and he had been trapped here for over twenty-four hours with no signs of imminent rescue.
The adrenalin sapped away to reveal an overload of agony: fists, shoulders, back, neck, head... all rebelled against his continued existence. In a wretched way, he was glad that he could no longer feel his lower limbs for he suspected they would have joined the coalition against him. He tried to flex his fingers but figured that the cold was making them numb. His breathing was coming in ragged pants as he pictured the dials in his head that he had always coached Jim into visualizing. "Dial down the pain, Jim, dial it down. See that dial, read the numbers and turn it anticlockwise and lower the pain." Between snatched gulps of air, Blair muttered similar words, referring to himself as 'Chief' as though it was Ellison coaxing him.
"Too hard," he wheezed, the tension in his body threatening to spasm. Sweat filtered through his hair, across his forehead and dripped into his eyes. He brought up his hands to brush the moisture away, his fingers poking into his eyes as his fine motor-control ceased functioning. Sandburg smacked his hands back into his lap - the tingling in his fingers would concern him if he had the strength to care. He was thirsty and the accompanying headache only served as a constant reminder. He was even struggling to remember what it felt like not to be cold.
For something to take his mind off everything, Blair forced himself to name all the freshman students in his Anthro 101 class, then drove himself to alphabetize them. His final task at the University had been to give mid-term assessment grades to each of his students together with a short report on their progress. With a pang of regret he recalled his unfettered excitement when Chancellor Edwards had approved his teaching of the Aztec Mythology class in the Fall, and he knew that Joe Myerstein, Karl and Brent had been eager to sign up. He had grown fond of their lively debates over coffee in his office; arguing over which track of his Inca Ceremonial Chants cd was the most appropriate for each ceremony, and justifying each answer with a pertinent fact. "If you listen carefully man, you can clearly distinguish that as being from the Kallawayas. The last one had an example of Nazca drumming, and there's no way you can call this backing, antara pipes. No way. Listen to it again."
His head tilted back against the lessening cramps, Sandburg reviewed his life at the University. It had been fun, he conceded, but maybe it had been time to move on regardless of his failed dissertation. Far from being the wandering adventurer he had morphed into the perennial student; he hadn't been a research fellow, he had been a permanent academic. He hadn't been handing on what he had learned through experience, because he had spent more time reading the works of others than extending his own knowledge.
"So, Sandburg," he instigated, bringing his head up to embark on his next mirror-led conversation. "What are your plans for when you get out of this mess?"
"Well, I don't know," his reflection answered. "South America's becoming a little passť, don't you think?"
"Oh, indeed. "Blair quirked an eyebrow in thought. "Done Italy recently? Hear it's better to visit Venice out of season though."
"Yeah, could go there in November when we get back from Scandinavia. You did promise that we could tour the fjords before we got too much older."
The exchange went on for some time - whole continents being discussed, their merits and faults being thrashed out and rejected. It didn't seem so bizarre for Blair to be talking to himself this way - he usually chattered regardless of who was paying attention anyway. In what way was this any different?
His monologue was interspersed with repeated anxious yelling, in his last desperate scheme to attract attention. His voice cracked into hoarseness after a frenetic bout of shouting, so he reached for his 'dinner' to ease the dryness of his throat. He had avoided the temptation to eat his next mint for hours, but it was necessary now.
It took deliberate movements from cold-numbed fingers to gather the candy into his mouth, actions which were followed by his ritual of slow, savoring sucks. His stomach rumbled all the more for being offered and then denied nourishment.
As the minutes ticked into hours, and the hours bled into night, Blair noticed an emptiness swelling inside of him which had nothing to do with lack of food. No, he was right to have come away from Cascade. It was far easier to have objectivity when removed from the situation, and the years he had spent as Ellison's 'associate' had been a blast, but had deterred more and more from his University work and life. When was the last time he had been on a social outing with any of his colleagues from Rainier? Researching and relaying his findings to others was his life - if he had wanted to become a fully-fledged member of a Police Department he would have asked Simon for an application form and a reference for the Academy a long time ago.
The empty feeling was like a need that refused to be sated. He had felt that only once before, a few days after a particularly disastrous and animosity-filled break-up of a relationship. He had thought they were truly happy until Lauren announced that she'd been seeing someone else for several weeks and found Blair's naivety pitiful. This time the feeling was even more intense, almost as though he had lost something inside of himself.
Incacha had called him Shaman, implying an unbreakable link between Sentinel and Guide. But Incacha had died, effectively destroying the link by transferring his duties over to Sandburg - but hadn't Jim also mentioned later occasions when he had re-connected with his Shaman?
If he had had to publicly deny the existence of Sentinels - only his life's work - then so be it. Sentinels didn't exist. "You will always be a Sentinel if you choose to be. "Simple answer, without his current Guide, Ellison had two choices: find another guide or cease to be a Sentinel. Surely the latter option would be far more viable especially with the media alerted to his claimed abilities. If he denied his senses the chance to remain heightened then with time, he could sink back into obscurity and Jim could resume the normal life he had had before Blair came on the scene.
So why did the young anthropologist feel so desolate?
Man, this whole situation sucked. If Naomi hadn't tried to be helpful, if he hadn't mentioned that his dissertation was finished, if he hadn't left her alone, if he had been honest with Jim, if he hadn't out-stayed his welcome.
So many 'ifs'.
If it was dark now, didn't that mean he could sleep? He had fought hard against sleeping during the day because surely that was the time when the road above would be the busiest? Sandburg shivered again, realizing that he had been cold for hours. He made an effort to swing his arms across his chest to get the blood circulating but found it draining, and only jarred the fragile attachments his fingers had become. He rammed them into his armpits, ignoring the squeal of protest from the surrounding tendons. Somehow he was going to survive. All he had to do was wait. It wasn't as if he hadn't tried.
Jim was back at the loft, the road map spread on the kitchen table in front of him. Simon was perched on the back of the couch, half-empty mug of coffee in hand; Connor was hovering between the two of them.
"That's it?" she enthused. "That's all Sandy does to pull you out of a zone?" Megan was incredulous. She had virtually demanded that Simon came over to the apartment with her to act as back up when their work was concluded for the day. He had been more than willing and eager to chase any remote lead or opportunity. "He talks to you." She flung her hands up in despair. "He makes you picture dials in your head, you listen to him and you come back to earth."
She leant over and grabbed her drink. "If it's so easy why do you need him?" She instantly wished she could retract the remark as Jim flinched.
"That's probably one of the reasons he left. "The simple comment created an awkward atmosphere.
"It's not the words alone, is it Jim?" Banks intervened, ignoring his tea. "It's how he says them."
"It's even more than that, Simon." Jim scanned the map, the melee of criss-crossed marks where sightings had been verified as false, or no record of Sandburg stopping there. They had had one further confirmation from a trucker who remembered passing the classic car while he drove westwards on the I-90 in South Dakota border, but that had been early on Sunday morning. It was only his appreciation for the vehicle which stamped the incident in his mind. When he arrived at the High Falls truck stop on Sunday evening he had overheard someone chatting about the search. From I-90 heading Eastbound, Sandburg could have been anywhere beyond Wisconsin by now. They had contacted every stop along the stretch through the preceding states and were praying that there might be some news.
In the meantime, Ellison knew he had to reach out with his senses. The image of the thorny vines came back to him but he still had to give it a go.
He stared hard at the map and followed the route of the Interstate. He traced it back from High Falls to Washington State and then back out again. At the area marked clearly with a black circle he paused and shut his eyes. He gently dialed down his senses of taste, smell and sight and focused on his hearing and touch. Not understanding how the touch could be of benefit, all the same he allowed his fingers to meander over the sheet and conjured up the image of Blair's green Volvo. His sense of smell was assaulted with the recollection of the specific oil it used and Ellison wrestled to dial that particular sense back down. The smell became cloying and seemed to be stifling him, forcing itself into him and choking off the air to his lungs. He couldn't see anything; he couldn't crystallize any forms in his mind's eye; he couldn't feel the paper under his fingers; he couldn't work out how to breathe in, the smell was overpowering him. Every second that passed brought a stronger sense of the smell, and snatched away the oxygen he was fighting for.
The baying of the wolf broke through and battered his nerves, his hearing out of control and his dials running amok.
"...dial it down, Jim,"Connor's fraught tones pounced into his head. "Damnit Simon, what do I say, he's not reacting to anything I say?"
...Mumbled, confused sounds tried to claw away at the smell which had become physical. It was suffocating him and he did not know how to fight it off.
Hands around his body, squeezing against his chest wall. "Listen to my voice Jim, I need you to focus and concentrate on each of your senses in turn."
''Kay, Chief, whatever you want.'
"I need you to picture the dial for smell and see yourself turning it to the left, you're turning it down, it's going down. Now picture the dial for hearing - picture it - and do the same, slowly turning it down. Follow my voice. Breathe. Turn down the dial and breathe. You have to do this for Blair."
Agonizing minutes passed before Connor and Banks were satisfied that Ellison was still in the land of the living. When they noticed he had zoned without any warning, Megan immediately used the words Jim had told her. She found herself improvising on a theme and knew that she did not have the finesse or abilities his Guide possessed. Even so, someone had to bring him back.
When his breathing had turned to gasps his balance went, and Simon caught him as he tumbled; still zoned. Connor persevered and was eventually rewarded with a steadier breathing pattern and a flicker from the detective's eyes.
He was disorientated when he opened his eyes, "Chief?" Feebly pushing himself away from the arms supporting his head, Ellison made to stand.
"Sit tight, Jim. You're alright."
Connor and Banks were bemused.
"The oil!" Ellison repeated more emphatically. "We can trace the oil."
"You said Sandburg had just had the car overhauled," Simon pointed out, assisting the other man to the couch. "It shouldn't be leaking anything."
"That's not the point." Jim was disappointed that his hearing had not picked up on anything while he was zoning. "If he's driving thousands of miles then he's going to need to replenish the oil."
"But what if he has spare in the trunk," Connor asked as she handed him a glass of water.
"Sandburg? Being organized enough to think of that? Unlikely."
"It's a thought," Banks accepted. "Can I use your phone?"
Sleep refused to help him out of his misery. Blair was cold, hungry, thirsty, aching, miserable and feeling utterly dejected. He was so tired he couldn't sleep.
He never had been able to figure out that dichotomy.
He thought broodingly over the last piece of candy in the bag and was hard pushed not to seize it up and eat it there and then. That final treat had to wait until morning.
The surrounding blackness felt like it was invading his soul and he was struggling to keep up a croaked monologue of reassurance. He was convinced that there was movement outside the vehicle and it wasn't of a friendly nature. His imagination refused to acknowledge that there were no associated sounds and therefore could not be real. The back of his neck prickled with fear, his breathing returning to the panicked state of Sunday afternoon.
What day was it today? Was it Tuesday yet? No, Tuesday was happening in the morning.
That's when the rescue team would find him but they would be too late because the pack of wild, rabid animals lurking outside the car would have already torn him apart in their bloodthirsty desire to quench their appetites.
"No, you're imagining this Blair," Sandburg spluttered, barely believing himself. "You are going to be fine. There's nothing outside..." Apart from the pack of hungry wolves. "And you have no reason to be scared..." That bear ate earlier and is simply snooping. "It's going to be daylight soon..." In about three days. "...and then you'll be found..." By the crazed lunatic wielding the sawn-off shotgun.
"Something to do, something to do, something to think about, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon." Synonyms. That would do.
"Synonyms for hope," he proceeded, his usual mellow voice scraped down to a rough timbre. "Hope, contemplate, anticipate, foresee, desire, presume, take heart, watch for, pray, wish,"
'Wish my voice wasn't so croaky,'
"Croak, gasp, grunt, vocalize, croak, roar, scream, croak... depart, cash in, cease, desist, expire, go, pass on, die..."
Blair moved to pull his jacket tighter around him but his arms were too cold to function. He was glad it was dark - the searing pain behind his eyes would have made it difficult to see. The headache must be from fatigue he surmised, not considering the lack of fluids, the cold or the accident itself.
Tuesday would be here soon. He idly wondered what time it was and shivered.
The world wasn't making too much sense to Sandburg this morning. He wasn't clear on whether or not he had slept, and if he had, for how long, and if he should sleep some more. Not allowed. Daylight was 'shouting for help' time.
He had given up trying to move his legs because they quite obviously didn't belong to him any more. His fingers were calling their union, as they too were on strike. His hands themselves were heading down the independent route and aspiring for equal rights, probably part of the same union as his fingers. The headache was the majority leader - it was in charge of who did what, and how. Unfortunately for Blair, it had reached migraine proportions and he had no desire to open his eyes.
He needed to shout.
What little was left of his voice needed to be used up to get someone to notice him.
Cringing with the stabbing pains in his neck and head, Blair inhaled as deeply as he could and started calling out again, and again, and again.
Occasionally he would stop to listen for a response before beginning again.
"Do you have any idea how much manpower you are wasting on this?" It didn't take Sentinel hearing for Ellison to hear the disdain in the commander's voice. "There are more pressing issues at stake here, and unless you can justify why you are chasing an adult runaway, I want no further action from your department. Is that understood?"
A muted "yessir" halted the tirade and Banks replaced the handset. "You heard, huh?"
"Yeah, Simon. Hard not to. "Ellison was perched on the edge of the table, arms folded, wondering which avenue to follow next. The hunt for Blair's Volvo-specific oil had turned up negative and there had been no further sightings of him. "Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way," he pondered out loud. The dream had repeated itself the previous night and he was convinced Blair was in trouble. The vegetation had prevented him from seeing his Guide let alone reaching him, and yet if he could have glimpsed Sandburg in his dream, Ellison knew it would lead him directly to him.
"In what way, Jim?" Banks was curious.
"We know he stopped for fuel on Saturday and that he was heading along the I-90 on Sunday morning. What if he didn't call in at any further gas stations in the area because he never made it to them?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that he hasn't stopped for more oil or gas because he hasn't traveled far enough away from the previous place."
Simon saw where this was going and rapped on the glass to summon the other members of the Major Crime unit.
"Possible lead," he informed them. "I need clear thinking, strong math skills, and someone with a knowledge of South Dakota."
Bearing in mind the tense exchange on the telephone to the Commander, Ellison could not disguise his gratitude.
"And get me someone who's flying over that area for whatever reason. Jim," Banks turned to his friend. "You're still sitting there. Move."
Blair was bored. He had culturally reviewed the significance of Cant's recent discovery at the temple near Manaus in Brazil; he had mused over the 7th dynasty of the Maya region; he had mentally recorded as many rulers of the Meso-America area as he could think of and was now, quite definitely, bored. Sandburg raised his head and stretched around to peruse the wreck that was formerly his pride and joy. Until now he had tried not think about the inevitable damage inflicted by the landscape, but was starting to judge in terms of dollars. His insurance company was unlikely to authorize repairs, as it would be classed as 'uneconomical' and his status as unemployed would bar him from being able to afford it himself. He lamented the loss - the car had become his companion. Without a doubt the chassis was twisted; if not then he wouldn't have the frame trapping his legs. He couldn't reach around to ascertain what was causing the unrelenting pressure through the back of the seat and his curiosity was piqued. He had spent two days as a prisoner inside his vehicle and wanted to know the source of his greatest discomfort.
The rearview mirror. Only held on with glue. Wouldn't take much to pries it loose.
Great idea with one tiny hitch. His fingers were unresponsive and reluctant to obey any commands. Sandburg offered one feeble stab at it before giving up. He didn't have enough strength for anything more concerted.
Breakfast in the form of his last remaining mint sat waiting for him in the packet near the gearshift. He cupped his hands together, ignoring the tremble in his fingers and reached for the packet. He couldn't hold it properly but inched it between his wrists and pulled it onto his legs. The single candy fell out and bounced against the window, gathering momentum as it ran up towards his head. Blair opened his mouth and endeavored to catch it as it slowly rolled past, but lacked coordination and watched bleakly as it continued past his head and fell into the back of the car. His last source of sugar. His only positive objective for the day.
His frustration reached its zenith and Sandburg lay bonelessly; allowing the walls of anguish and hopelessness to overwhelm him. This time he didn't even notice when the stain expanded for a third time.
Jim's ear was aching but not from a sensory assault, he had simply spent the better part of the day on the telephone, crossing out names and places and seeking answers to a banal but vital question:have you seen a long-haired chatterbox driving a classic Volvo? Short guy, can't miss him.
Rafe sat with a calculator, a map, a scribble-pad and a worn expression on his face. Math had never been his strong point. After each calculation he dashed off a post-it note and flung it at the first person to finish their phone conversation.
As the number of possible leads dwindled and a search area was established, Ellison felt a resurgence of hope. "I know you're out there Sandburg, and whatever the hell you think is wrong, we are going to deal with this if I have to tie you to the couch and beat it out of you. Just hang on. "
Banks slammed out of his office with the finesse of a cow in labor. "Ellison, Connor. Get yourselves to Pipestone Airfield in southwest Dakota by morning. There's a scouting pilot up there prepared to act as tour guide for you in the morning. Get Taggert to drive you to the Cascade Terminal. "The two detectives were stunned with the optimistic step forward, neither able to conceal their emotions. "Call me when you get there, and,"Simon looked pensive and notched up his glasses. "Good luck. "
Soft whimpering was the only sound to emanate from the decrepit vehicle. Sandburg's throat was raw from pointless hollers for non-existent help, and limbs that weren't spiking with icicles of pain, were burning hot with a tormenting throb. He refused to keep his eyes open any longer, complying with the demands of the crippling headache, leaving his head to rest against the cold glass. His pulse pounded through his spine with every heartbeat and for the first time he found himself wishing for his heart to stop, as the only reasonable way to ease the hurt.
Night had fallen some time ago and he had drifted in and out of sleep, never getting comfortable and not able to stop shaking. He had been caught in this place for over sixty hours and his reserves were empty.
If you added the 6 and 0 together they made 6, Blair reckoned. Six hours wasn't so bad a time to be stuck somewhere. How long had he been stuck in that lift? That had had a bomb in it - a smashed-up car was nothing by comparison. What about dodgem cars? Or that time at the car-wreckers yard? That magnet had been pure fluke - magnets made the tide turn. No, the moon made the tide turn. Magnets made the sun come out. No, magnetism controlled earth's gravity and affected which way the flowers faced. Naomi loved flowers, but he could never remember which was her favorite. Jim would know he supposed, cos Jim had a sneaky way of remembering details like that... Jim...
A figure came into his mind but he didn't know if it belonged to the name Jim. Was Jim someone he knew?
Anyway, flour was the base ingredient for making bread, unless you lived in the Epachu tribe in Northern Brazil they used... what did they use?
Blair had no idea what he was talking about.
And he really didn't care.
Taggert had twisted the arm of a friend of his at the airport, and had his two friends on a charter flight at 9pm. They were to be met at Pipestone and driven to a motel for the night. The search would commence at the break of day.
The morning slowly bled through to the fogged recesses of Sandburg's consciousness. He could barely lift his head. Cold, hunger and dehydration were playing havoc with his system and the thundering headache was crippling. If he tried to move the world spun in objection and only the absence of food in his body prevented him from being sick. He dry-heaved a few times and was reminded of the ever-present obstructing steering wheel. Tilting his gaze towards the mirror, his sole companion, he scarcely recognized the reflection. Three-day old stubble covered the boyish face, and the usually red lips had taken on an unhealthy shade of blue. His face was almost ashen and the hair fell lankly down the sides.
"Looking good, kid," he whispered, not fooling anyone. "Never seen you looking better. "
"You getting out of here today?" his reflection inquired, equally as quietly.
"Oh yeah, man. Having a party over at the Jamison's tonight. Ben's picking me up at 8. "
"I dunno. Thought you knew him. "
No longer even sure why or how he came to be in the car, Blair wanted to stay awake but couldn't remember the reason. He knew it was a rule about not sleeping during the day, but couldn't recall why.
Something was shoving against the back of the seat. "Wish that kid would stop kicking me," he grumbled, the last of his voice disappearing.
Later that afternoon, Blair's curiosity over the kicking child was finally replete. The eerie nothingness, devoid of bird song and traffic sounds, was splintered by a sickening and chilling crack. Sandburg faltered to raise his head from where he had been nodding off and discerned a slight change in the car's angle. For the first time it dawned on him that the window behind him hadn't been intact since his landing, explaining the bitter cold and draughts at night. It was only due to the sudden influx of light from that direction that alerted him.
Odd how he hadn't noted it before.
There were delicate offshoot branches beginning to spring towards him where the side of the car was still lifting, almost imperceptibly. What was the crack he had heard - had it been the shattering of the glass?
His dulled mind suggested buckling up the seatbelt once more, but his conscious mind failed to register why. Adrenalin kicked in as a matter of urgency and Sandburg persuaded the obstinate mechanism across his chest with the palms of his hands and his wrists. The belt was barely locked in place, dysfunctional limbs hampering the cause and making a short job last several minutes, when Blair understood what had been pushing into his back.
The stench of rotten bark and wood was unmistakable; the grating away of moss and lichen as it scraped past the interior; the slender new branches snapping as the car shifted. Against all probability, in the initial fall, the trustworthy green Volvo had impaled itself on an old tree trunk, cutting short the descent. The stress on the half-dead wood had ultimately proven too much. Sandburg would have screamed in terror, but his repeated calls for help had stolen his voice, so the tumultuous events were heralded silently as the trunk gave way, the car lurched to the right, and both passenger and car plummeted further down the hillside.
It wasn't as if I didn't try, Jim.
Sentinel vision and hearing dialed to maximum, the other three down to minimum. Ellison had tuned out the sound of the twin engines on the Beech Baron 6-seater craft, and was focusing intently on the countryside below, reaching out his hearing for his roommate's heartbeat. It wouldn't be the first time he had zoned during the ride, which was why Connor was still by his side. The pilot had given them peculiar looks during an episode earlier, but hadn't ceased circling.
He had been running a survey-check for a forestry company when the call came in asking for any pilots in the vicinity prepared to assist in a search for a missing colleague. Missing presumed injured. Marcus was a sucker for a sob story and would have wanted others to do the same in return if necessary. He impulsively volunteered and had stopped to refuel twice, landing the charges onto his own account. These folk had enough to contend with.
Through minimal eyewitness accounts and lack of evidence to the contrary, it had been established that Blair had to have left the I-90 and taken one of four roads for anything up to one hundred miles. They had swept the area around the first three and were fast running out of both patience and light for the fourth one.
"He's here," Jim murmured. Connor looked at him askance but knew better than to question him. She had felt nothing but a sinking feeling when the fields and shrubbery below failed to throw up anything. She didn't want him to pin his hopes on this last region or he would be further gutted when it proved fruitless. "Have faith, Megan, have faith." Ellison didn't take his eyes from the window but had sensed the changed in her bio-signs and moved to grip her hand. "He's here. Somewhere. Sometimes it's easier to sense him than at other times, I just have to focus more."
The plane banked around to the left and flew a tight circle back across a highway and over the densely covered south hills.
"This has to be the last run sir," Marcus announced with regret. "I'm going to be pushing it to get back to Pipestone before dusk as it is." His statement was met with silence as Connor kept the binoculars directed on the terrain and Ellison reached out his vision. "We can resume in the morning, first light," he offered. He didn't know what else to suggest, bringing the dual engine as low as legally allowed and helping them continue their search.
The ground below them revealed nothing.
Blair was beginning to notice that his thoughts were drifting and often becoming more obscure than usual. He was still laboring to hold conversations with himself but it was increasingly difficult to follow his line of thinking.
"Sandburg, you've got to concentrate or you're never going to get out of here."
"That doesn't matter any more, you've already established that you don't want to go back to Cascade, even if Jim begged you. There's nothing there for you. And you've already convinced yourself that there's nothing anywhere else either. Why bother?"
"But you've got to care, somewhere deep inside you know that Jim cares."
"If he cared he'd be here by now."
"But you ran off and didn't leave any clues..."
"As I said, if he cared he'd be here by now."
"Why has the window moved?"
"Because the car did."
"Did it hurt?"
"I said I don't know, man, stop asking awkward questions."
"What am I supposed to rest my head on now? There's no headrest."
"What do I care?"
"My back doesn't hurt anymore..."
"Don't interrupt me when I'm arguing with myself."
Sandburg didn't consider himself to be vain, but arguing with himself in the rear-view mirror was comforting in a very small way. His eyesight was blurred from the lambasting headache that was presently driving a screwdriver up through the base of his skull, and not even shutting his eyes alleviated any of the hurt. He shivered involuntarily then gazed drowsily down at his legs to reassure himself that they were still there. He attempted to flex his fingers but couldn't seem to raise enough energy to move them. They didn't hurt like they had yesterday... or was that the day before? Or was it this morning? He gazed absently at the car clock and it took several moments for the static hands to register. That was right, the car battery had died yesterday... or was it...?
Blair sighed and flopped his head to the side, his head making ruthless contact with the window, his befuddled brain forgetting that the car was no longer on its side. He had stared death in the face a few times in the past - not least during the whole fiasco with Alex, but he had never had to contemplate it for such an extended period of time before and with such an air of finality. He must be experiencing trepidation over all of this, or why else was his heart slamming into his itching throat? He couldn't feel his heartbeat through his spine any longer, but it was raging out of control in his chest to compensate. The hope of the first few days had given way to frustration, and now Sandburg's subconscious knew that it was only a matter of time and felt it was kinder not to awaken him to the fact.
A matter of time before what?
He struggled to recall some of the items on his 'when I get out of here I'm going to...' list and frowned to remember even one of them. "That's OK," his whisper was virtually inaudible, his lips blue and unmoving. "It means I can start a new list."
"List of what?"
Funny. He couldn't remember what he'd been talking about.
He closed his eyes for a moment but the dull ache in his body was so uncomfortable it was ruining his concentration. "I'm thinking here," he told no one in particular, the harsh breath catching in his parched throat. The very idea of trying to move was so exhausting he left his head where it was and merely hoped the pain would go away, just for a few minutes. Resting his eyes would be okay, wouldn't it? It would help him focus his thoughts. "I know it's against my rule, but it's only for a while. "Sometimes it's okay to break a rule. Sometimes it's ok to give yourself leeway.
Sometimes it's okay to give up.
Somewhere in the fog behind his eyes Blair wasn't sure, but he thought he saw Incacha smiling down at him. The Chopec's hand was resting on the thick mane of a wolf that sat calmly next to him. Sitting. Waiting. Was Incacha giving him his blessing for something?
Who was Incacha anyway? Wasn't he dead? He was a friend of Jim's wasn't he? Jim. Who was Jim? He'd heard that name somewhere.
Blair wanted to open his eyes but he was too drained and his eyelids weren't obeying his commands. That was okay, it didn't matter just now, it would be dark soon and then it would be all right to sleep. That blanket was heavy on his chest and he wanted to nudge it off so he could breathe more easily. He thought he felt cold but couldn't quite recall whether cold meant he wanted more layers of clothing or less. The car was upright so he could easily drive somewhere new in the morning; he had a full tank of gas and a decent road map. Naomi was picking him up for their Thanksgiving trip to Connecticut soon and then he was going to Malachi's Bar Mitzvah. Brad and he were trying surfing for the first time in the morning because the waves on the Pacific coast had looked so encouraging tonight and he'd enjoyed their half-baked discussion about the possibilities of a lost civilization off the coast of California. He just needed some sleep first. The Mayan temple they were studying in Ecuador had an interesting inscription over the mantle and Kale had an idea of what it could mean, so he was eager to get a closer look at that in the morning. Jim had a case he was puzzling over and had asked Sandburg to give his notes a once-over to see if he could give it a new perspective.
Jim. That name again. Who was he? Name seemed vaguely familiar.
His breathing slowed.
The craft was maneuvered around and the setting sun was reflected in an orange glow off the fuselage. Connor's binoculars lay useless in her lap as the tears streamed unchecked down her face. With a heavy heart and the gut-twisting acceptance that it was over, Ellison acknowledged the pilot's obligation.
The plane was turned southwest and they headed back.
It was all right to sleep. He had tried to stay awake and stay focused. Honestly, he'd tried. He had been as positive as he could but now he just wanted to sleep.
Incacha said it was all right.
The wolf was silent.
I tried, Jim.