Dark, Silent Night
Morning came sooner than Jim would've liked. Soft voices downstairs told him the television was on and Blair was awake. With a frown, he slid out of bed, wondering how he hadn't heard Blair shuffle into the living room.
I must've been out like a light.
He threw a T-shirt on and shuffled downstairs. He'd gotten Sandburg back into bed sometime around 4 a.m., but apparently the young man hadn't been able to sleep. Jim glanced at the VCR clock. 7:03 a.m. Three hours. Had Blair gotten any sleep at all after his "episode"?
The anthropologist sat slumped on the couch with the remote in his right hand and resting on the arm of the sofa. His eyes stared glassily at the television, his face slack. Some kind of action flick played on the screen.
Jim perched himself on the arm of the side chair and managed a soft smile. "Hey, Chief, how're you feeling?"
Blair blinked and met Jim's gaze, but he looked barely awake. "Okay, I guess." His voice was flat and tinged with fatigue.
"How long have you been up?"
Blair shrugged. "A couple of hours, maybe."
With a sigh, Jim rose to his feet. A couple of hours? So Blair hadn't gotten any real sleep after he'd gone back to bed. "You hungry?"
"No." The television volume increased a notch.
Jim grabbed the frying pan from the cabinet and retrieved half a dozen eggs from the refrigerator. "You should eat something. I'll make some eggs and toast. Do you want tea? Orange juice?"
For a long moment, Blair didn't answer him, and Jim was just about to repeat the question when the television clicked off.
Blair shifted on the couch to face him. "I'm going to see Dr. Gardner."
He nodded, grabbing a bowl from the strainer. "I think that's a good idea." He snatched one of the eggs from the counter.
"I'm going to ask her to hypnotize me."
Jim froze. He set the eggs carefully in the bowl and turned around. "I don't know if that's such a good idea, Chief."
Blair leaned against the arm of the couch and wrapped his arms around his torso, then pulled his legs up. Deep lines creased his forehead, and dark circles hung beneath his eyes. He looked tired -- very, very tired. "I can't keep going on like this, Jim. I have to know what happened. I have a right to know what happened."
"I'm not disputing that." He leaned against the counter and scrubbed a hand over his face. He knew Blair needed to remember sooner or later. Simon knew it, too, and the D.A. sure as hell knew it. The judge at the preliminary hearing had ruled Balentine's one and only confession inadmissable, and now, after coming up with a weak but vaguely plausible story, Balentine was keeping his mouth shut. So the bulk of the evidence against him now lay with Sandburg -- if he could remember and testify.
But Jim didn't want Sandburg hurt any worse than he'd already been. While he trusted Dr. Gardner, he didn't know whether hypnosis would help or hurt his friend. Then there were the legalities involved. The admissibility of hypnosis-induced memories was shaky, at best. If Blair allowed himself to be hypnotized and, as a result, he remembered, the D.A. may never be able to use that information in court, and Balentine could conceivable go free.
And do it again.
Jim took a deep breath. No way. There was no way Balentine was going to walk. He couldn't let that happen.
Jim moved from the kitchen and sank onto the couch next to Sandburg. The young man rested his chin on his knees and gazed at him warily.
"Blair, there's something I need to tell you. I haven't brought it up before because I didn't want to put any pressure on you, and besides, there wasn't much you could do about it, anyway. But things have changed now."
Blair swallowed. "What is it?"
"The man who kidnapped you is named Balentine. He's in custody now, and he confessed to the crime, but that confession was ruled inadmissable. So now it looks like he's going to trial, and the D.A. will have to prove he did it. Most of the hard evidence was destroyed in the explosion. Now, there's still other evidence that may or may not be enough to make a jury convict him. However, the case against him would be much stronger with your testimony, if you could remember."
Blair uncurled and glanced at the blank television screen. "He could get off?"
"Yeah, he could. Maybe he won't. We don't know, but it's a risk we don't want to take."
"So I need to do this. I need to remember. Why are you against it, then?"
Jim took another deep breath and considered his next words carefully. "Because memories rising from hypnosis are generally not admissible. I don't know all the legal stuff involved, but I've been through enough trials to know this would be a problem. We'd have to talk with the D.A. about it, but I don't think he's going to be too happy with the idea of you being hypnotized. He wants you to remember, but he needs to be able to use your testimony in court."
Blair slumped against the back of the couch and looked at him, his eyes wide and somber. "So I need to remember on my own?"
"Great. Just great." Blair rose from the couch and shuffled wearily toward his bedroom. He stopped in the doorway and turned to face Jim. "I don't know if that's going to happen in time, Jim." He glanced toward the kitchen. "Sorry about breakfast. I'm really not hungry, and I'm going to try to get some sleep." He turned and disappeared into his room, closing the door behind him.
With a tired sigh, Jim rose from the couch and moved to the phone. He needed to talk to Simon and set up a meeting with the Assistant D.A.
Dr. Gardner leaned back in her chair. "And did you recognize this little boy?"
Blair shook his head. "No, not at all."
"These were the only two times you saw him?"
"Yeah. At the university and then at the loft."
"What about the man with the dark curly hair and the black eyes?"
Blair shrugged. "I didn't recognize him either."
"But you think the little boy is Tommy and the man is Balentine?"
"Who else would they be?"
That comment provoked a tiny smile from the woman. "I grant you that's the obvious conclusion. And the correct one. The descriptions you've given of them match."
Blair leaned his head back against the chair. "So this is my memory coming back?"
"Yes. Little by little. You're getting glimpses. However, these hallucinations are obviously disturbing. You mentioned your desire to be hypnotized, as well as the legal limitations, and I agree that hypnosis would help. That choice, however, is up to you."
Blair shook his head. "I don't want to jeopardize the case. This guy is not getting off because of me."
"So where do you want to go from here?"
"I need to know how I can remember on my own, without hypnosis. And I need it to happen fast."
"Fast may not be wise, especially on you're own. If I hypnotized you here in my office, I'd be able to supervise and control the situation. If you try to force your memory back on your own and do it too quickly.... Well, I wouldn't recommend that."
Blair pursed his lips and lifted his head to look straight at her. "Right now, I don't have much of a choice. The D.A. needs my testimony, so I need to remember."
She nodded. "Okay, if that's your decision. I'd recommend that you stay clear of any newspapers or television broadcasts. You don't want the defense attorney to raise the possibility that your 'memories' were influenced by what you read and saw."
"Okay. So how do I encourage these memories to come back?"
"One way is for you to re-enact your steps. You remember driving home from the university, right?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah. I kind of remember something darting out in front of my car."
"Do you remember where you were when this happened?"
"Yeah, I was near Broadway in an older part of town."
"Then you should retrace your path. Drive the Volvo there around the same time it happened. Do not, however, try this on your own. Take Jim with you, but he needs to be told not to give you any hints or tell you anything that happened. It has to be all on your own."
"And if that doesn't work?"
"You could try meditating or self-hypnosis. Also, if you do have another hallucination, don't shy away from it. I know those episodes are very scary, but tell yourself they can't hurt you. Memories can't hurt you. Hallucinations can't hurt you. Confront them. Embrace them. Let them tell you what they need to tell you."
Blair took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay, I'll try. Thank you, Doctor."
Blair walked into the loft and hung his jacket on the hook, then tossed his keys in the basket. He glanced at the VCR clock. 5:00 p.m. Jim wasn't due home for another hour. That should give him enough time to get started.
He hurried toward his room and closed the French doors, then moved straight for the closet. The box of candles lay on the floor in the corner, and he stooped down to retrieve it, then he set them up around the room - placing some on the bureau and some on the desk. He lit each one, then drew the blinds on his window to dim the room and allow the flickering candlight to sooth him.
Lowering himself to the floor, he crossed his legs in front of him and closed his eyes. Then he began his meditation exercises.
A few minutes later, he felt he'd attained a comfortable level of relaxation. He took slow, deep breaths and imagined himself back at the university that night. It was dark, and the campus was deserted. He walked to the Volvo, opened the driver's door, and slid inside. The engine started with a few sputters, then evened out. He shifted to first and took off slowly.
A few minutes later, he entered the older part of town. Most of the buildings on this block were abandoned, and the area itself was often frequented by drug dealers. However, it was the shortest route to the loft. He approached a brown brick building on his right that framed a narrow alley. A small, white figure darted in front of his car, and he slammed on his breaks.
Then what? Did he hit his head and pass out? That would make sense since the rest was all blackness. Empty blackness. He couldn't remember what he did next. So, if he passed out, that would explain the void.
But something had to have happened next. Either he woke up somewhere or he got out of the car. But his next memory was waking up in his room and walking out to see Jim and Simon.
No, no, no. He took another deep breath. Something happened in between his slamming on the breaks and waking up in his room. Lots of things had happened.
Okay, back up. Start over again.
I'm in the Volvo, driving toward the loft. Bad neighborhood. Brick building. The figure darts in front of my car. I slam on the breaks. Then... Then... I open my eyes and see yellow pipes. My ceiling. My room.
He sighed in frustration and opened his eyes. Damn, this is getting me nowhere. Looking at the candles on his desk, he blinked in surprise when he noticed the flame had burned through a third of the wax. Outside his room, he heard the front door open, then the jangle of keys as they hit his set in the basket, then the thud as the door closed. Footsteps drummed on the floor, and Blair could feel the faint vibrations in the wood beneath him.
Shifting, he rose to his feet and stifled a yawn, then blew out each of the candles. Three light knocks rattled the glass in the French doors, and he opened them to see Jim standing at the threshold with four boxes of Chinese food in his hands.
"Dinner's served, Chief."
Blair smiled and sniffed appreciatively at the offerings. "Smells good. Thanks."
"You're welcome." He raised his chin and inhaled deeply, then looked back down at Blair. "Meditating?"
"Yeah, just trying something the doc recommended."
Jim moved toward the kitchen and set the food down on the counter. "So how did that go?" He sounded casual, but Blair could see the veil of tension over his face.
Blair cleared his throat. "It went okay. How did your meeting with Simon and the D.A. go?" The question was equally casual.
"Okay." He grabbed two plates from the cabinet. "The D.A. doesn't think it's a good idea -- legally -- for you to be hypnotized. No surprise there." He set the plates on the table and turned to face Blair. "But what do you want to do? Did you decide?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I did. I'm not going to do the hypnosis, but I am going to try some alternative methods the doc suggested."
Blair took a deep breath as he mentally reviewed the best way of presenting the idea. He figured Jim probably wouldn't be too thrilled with the prospect, but right now it was his best shot of remembering. "I need to retrace my steps. Do a re-enactment. Drive my Volvo to that alley and see if anything clicks."
Jim's only visible, immediate reaction to the suggestion was a slight twitch of his jaw muscle. Then, after a somewhat awkward moment of silence, he leaned against the table and crossed his arms over his chest. "Was that your idea or the doctor's?"
"She suggested it. I agree with it. I need to remember what happened on my own, and this is one way to try to get past whatever block I've got."
After another long moment of silence, Jim nodded firmly. "Okay, if that's what you want to do." His confident resolve flickered, and a hint of uncertaintly flashed in his eyes. "Can I... Is there some way I can help you with this? I mean, I know you want to remember on your own, but I think it would be a good idea for me to go along with you. You know, just in..."
Blair smiled, his shoulders slumping as he released a relieved sigh. "I was hoping you'd be there with me. I don't think I really want to face that alone. But, uh, you can't suggest anything to me, even if I ask. Okay?"
Jim nodded again. "Whatever you say, Chief."
Deciding sooner would be better than later, Blair insisted on doing it that night. He remembered he'd left the university sometime around midnight, so he and Jim left home around that time. They took the Volvo, of course, and Blair drove first to the university, following a different route than he would on the return trip because he wanted his first pass of that dark alley to mimic the circumstances of that night as closely as possible. Of course, Jim hadn't been with him then, but Blair wanted the Sentinel with him now... just in case his memory did return. He didn't want to face alone whatever horrors awaited him.
He drove slowly through the university parking lot near Hargrove Hall, then traveled back toward the loft, following the route he had taken that night. Jim sat quietly in the passenger seat. The detective was so quiet, in fact, that Blair would have forgotten his friend was there had he not kept throwing anxious glances at the Sentinel.
And anxious he most certainly was. His stomach had tied itself into a knot, and his heart seemed determined to hammer its way out of his chest. And I haven't even gotten to the alley yet...
He took a slow, deep breath in a futile attempt to calm himself. Part of his nervousness came from a dread that he would remember, and part of it came from a fear that he wouldn't remember. Either way, he was scared shitless. If he did remember -- what would that mean? How bad would it be? But if he didn't remember, then what next? Would Balentine get off?
The guy could walk all because inside I'm really too much of a coward to face whatever happened.
The Volvo approached the alley and Blair tensed, playing back the mental image of that white figure darting in front of his car. He slammed on the brakes, bringing the vehicle to a screeching halt. His seatbelt caught, jerking him back toward the seat. Quickly, he glanced at Jim, making sure his friend was okay, but the Sentinel seemed unphased, remaining perfectly still and quiet. He's playing this to the "T." Not even looking at me.
Swallowing hard, Blair unhooked his seatbelt and opened his car door. His fingers hovered on the headlight switch. Had he left them on? He strained to remember, his brow furrowing from the effort.
Yes, he was pretty sure he had left the lights on.
Slowly, he got out of the car, closed the door, and walked to the front of the car, immersing himself in the beams from the headlights. He stood there for several seconds, willing his frantic heart to calm itself. Part of him wanted to stay right where he was -- in the light where Jim could see him. Stupid, he knew. Jim was a Sentinel who could see him in near pitch-blackness, but the light just made everything seem a little less frightening.
Because the street and the alley were both very, very dark.
Coward! his mind screamed. He really was a spineless wuss. God, and Jim was probably listening to his pounding heartbeat and quick, shallow breathing. I wonder if he really knows what I am inside? How pathetic I am? How scared? How I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing?
He closed his eyes and inhaled another slow lung full of the crisp night air. Then he opened his eyes and moved out of the light toward the black alley.
Jim listened to Blair's jack-hammer heart as the young man disappeared into the alley. This wasn't the best neighborhood -- actually, it was one of the worst neighborhoods in Cascade -- so Jim kept his senses on alert, probing the perimeter of the block with his hearing and scanning the street with his eyes. He heard only Blair's heartbeat and his own, so he knew the area was safe for the moment.
Minutes passed. Ten? Twelve? He was just about to get out of the car to check on his partner when Blair walked out of the alley, his back straight and rigid and his face somber. His heartbeat had calmed somewhat, which Jim figured meant Blair hadn't remembered. If he had, his heart would be going wild.
Blair opened his door and slid back into his seat. He kept his eyes straight ahead, but whether he was avoiding Jim's eyes or lost in his own thoughts, Jim couldn't tell.
Finally, Sandburg closed his door and started the engine. "I didn't remember."
He nodded. "Don't push yourself, Chief. It'll come."
Blair turned his head to look at Jim. "But what if it's not in time? He can't get off." He swallowed hard and looked back at the road. "He can't."
"He could get convicted even without your testimony."
"But he might not."
Jim pursed his lips, trying to think of a counter to that argument. It was true -- Balentine could very well get off without Blair's testimony. But that wouldn't be Sandburg's fault. He was a victim -- just as surely as Tommy. "Don't put this pressure on yourself. You're not responsible for Balentine. Right now, you need to worry about yourself."
Blair shook his head as he shifted the car into DRIVE and took off slowly toward the loft. "No, I need to worry about the other little boys he'll hurt if he's set loose."
Jim frowned. "No, you don't. Stop this, Sandburg. The D.A. has to worry about that. Simon and I have to worry about that. You just need to worry about healing. Balentine is no longer your problem."
Blair stopped the car at a red light and looked at Jim. "You want me to remember. Admit it, Jim. You don't want to see Balentine go free. Simon doesn't want Balentine to go free. Nobody wants him to go free, and I can do something about making sure he doesn't go free."
Jim's frown deepened. It didn't take a mind-reader to read between the lines and clue into what Blair wasn't saying. "None of this is your fault, Chief."
Blair flinched visibly, his eyes darting quickly back to the road. The light had turned green, so he pressed on the accelerator and resumed his drive. Jim waited nearly a minute for Blair's reply, but the young man remained silent, his eyes on the dark road ahead.
Jim shifted, adjusting the belt so it wasn't digging into his shoulder. "You hear me, Sandburg?"
Blair finally glanced at him. "Yeah, I hear you. I apparently wasn't much help for Tommy when he was alive, and it looks like I'm not any help now."
"Why? Because you went through a trauma and can't remember now?"
"That would be one reason, yeah."
Jim tilted his head. "Like me and Peru? I couldn't save my men back there, and then I repressed a lot of it."
Blair pulled the Volvo in front of the loft and turned off the engine. "That's different."
"Really? Why? Because it's me instead of you? You don't give yourself enough credit, Sandburg. Either that, or you give me too much."
Blair turned to face him. "It's different because you were shot down. You were injured. You were stranded in the jungle. You had your senses coming on-line, and that could have very well contributed to your mental block, especially if you zoned a lot. This was different. If Balantine had somehow gotten the drop on you instead of me, you'd have done something. Tommy would be alive right now. And even if you couldn't save him, you wouldn't repress that kind of thing. You'd have it all together in your head and be ready and willing to testify."
"Maybe, maybe not. But different things get to different people. And you were in an explosion, as well, Blair. That's like the helicopter crash - a physical trauma. Pretty severe. Don't be too hard on yourself."
Blair lay awake and stared up into the darkness. The large yellow pipes along the ceiling peeked out faintly from the blackness, and he focused on their familiar shapes. He would probably always associated red bricks and yellow pipes with home now.
Some time later, he pulled his gaze from the pipes and looked at the glowing face of his semi-antique alarm clock. The small hand rested just past the number four.
The night was almost gone, and he hadn't gotten a moment of sleep. I wonder if Jim is doing any better. He listened, but the loft was quiet. He almost wished he had Jim's senses so he could eavesdrop on the older man to find out whether he was sleeping. He hoped so. Amidst all his other concerns, Blair didn't want to worry about Jim being sleep deprived on account of him and possibly zoning in the field.
Speaking of which, it was time Blair started going to the station with Jim more regularly. He'd have to mention it to the detective in the morning, and hope the older man acquiesced without much fuss because, at the moment, Blair just didn't have the energy for an argument.
Sunlight prodded Jim awake, and he opened his eyes, giving into a deep yawn as he rolled out of bed. The rich aroma of eggs and hash browns tempted him further awake, and he glanced at the clock on his dresser. 6:27 a.m. He'd beat his alarm by three minutes. Turning the pending alarm off, he slipped into a T-shirt and trotted down the stairs.
Blair stood in the kitchen over a frying pan, his hair pulled into a neat pony tail. Sandburg glanced back at him, and Jim immediately noted the dark bags beneath the young man's eyes and the lines of exhaustion in his brow.
Stopping just behind his partner, Jim peered over Blair's shoulder at the sizzling eggs in the pan. "Smells good. How long have you been up?"
Blair shrugged and slipped the spatula beneath the eggs, then dropped them onto the plate waiting on the counter. "About an hour or so."
"How much sleep did you get last night?"
Jim raised his eyebrow. That was a vague answer, meaning Sandburg was avoiding the question. Since it was obvious Blair didn't feel much like talking about his sleeping habits, Jim decided to change the subject. "So, you going to the university today?"
Blair nodded as he set the plates on the table. "Yeah, but I should make it into the station by two."
"Why don't you just skip the station and come home to get more sleep? You look like you could use it."
Blair sat down and grabbed his fork, his eyes on his plate. "I'm fine. It's time I started getting back into my old routine."
Jim nodded, deciding it best to let Blair move at his own pace. If the Sandburg thought he needed to go to the station, then Jim wouldn't argue about it.
Blair hugged his black jacket tighter around his body and tucked his gloved hands beneath his armpits. A cold wind ruffled his hair, whipping it around his face. He stood motionless, gazing down at the headstone.
October 26, 1993 - November 12, 1998
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He hadn't known where they'd buried Tommy, but there were only two cemetaries in the area, so it hadn't been too hard for him to find the boy's grave. He'd thought about just asking Jim, but dismissed that idea quickly. He wanted to do this alone, and he knew Jim would have insisted on coming along.
Besides, he owed Tommy something. He just wasn't sure what. An apology, maybe? Or perhaps just acknowledgment that, although he couldn't remember what happened, he'd never forget that Tommy had lived.
Yes, he owed the child that much.
"Hey, you're Blair Sandburg, aren't you?"
Blair stiffened and opened his eyes, turning around slowly to face the newcomer. It was a boy with brown hair and large, dark eyes. He looked to be about seventeen.
"Yes. Who are you?"
The kid cocked his head, and his eyes traveled the length of Blair's body, finally coming back to meet his gaze. "I'm Richard Baynor." He jerked his chin toward the headstone, his eyes suddenly moist. "Tommy's brother."
The world seemed to tilt suddenly, and Blair staggered, catching his balance at the last second. His throat tight, all he could manage in reply was a croak. "Oh."
"They said you were blind."
Blair swallowed and took a step back. "I was. It was just temporary."
Richard's face hardened. "Well, lucky you." His eyes narrowed. "I also heard that you can't remember. That true?'
He nodded, stuffing his hands in his pocket. "Yeah, it is."
Richard's lower lip began to tremble, and he looked away suddenly. "Well, you'd better. I heard them talking. They said that asshole could get off if you don't get up there and testify." He looked back at Blair, his eyes wet and angry, and took a step closer. "He did those things to Tommy," his voice quivered, and he moved forward again, forcing Blair to step back, "and now he could get off because of you! You were there. You didn't do anything to save him. The guy wasn't even there when Tommy died. That's what they said. So what the hell were you doing?"
Blair's chest tightened, and he took another step back, shaking his head. "I don't know. I... I told you. I don't remember."
Richard took another step forward, his eyes blazing. "You know what I think? I think that guy threatened you. Is that it? He somehow got to you? Told you if you testified you'd be dead?"
Blair shook his head. "No, that's not it. Believe me, I wish..."
"Well, you know what? If you don't testify, you'll have me to worry about."
Blair stiffened. "You're threatening me?"
The boy nodded. "Damn right. That was my little brother, man! Balentine ain't getting away, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure of that. Understand?"
This time it was Blair who took a step forward. "Listen, I know you're hurting, but you're not thinking clearly. Your threats are pointless because I can't remember, so no matter how much you threaten me, it won't matter. Don't go doing anything stupid. Your parents already lost one child. You think they want to lose another?"
A flicker of uncertaintly crossed the young man's face, and he looked away. "If he gets off, he could do it again."
Blair's response was almost a whisper. "I know. I don't want that to happen anymore than you do. Believe me."
Richard looked back at him, his jaw tight. "Sorry, but I don't." He brushed past Blair and stopped directly in front of Tommy's grave, his back to Sandburg. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to visit alone with my brother."
Jim sighed and glanced at his watch. 2:35 p.m. Sandburg was overdue, and he couldn't help but worry a little. Sure, it was only thirty-five minutes, and he had enough experience with Blair to know that his university schedule was not always predictable, but the kid would have called, if he could. He almost always called whenever he was running late. If he could...
~ Ring ~~
That must be him. Quickly, he snatched up the receiver. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's me. Sorry I'm late. I'm on my way now."
Jim smiled, suppressing a relieved sigh. "No problem, Chief. See you soon."
Fifteen minutes later, Blair walked into the bullpen, his arms wrapped around his torso to keep his jacket tight around him. He met Jim's gaze briefly before a jovial voice rang through the air.
"Hairboy! Hey, good to see you again."
A smile touched Blair's lips, but his eyes were somber. He looked over at Henri. "H, how's it going?"
The robust detective grinned and leaned back in his desk chair. "Paperwork, man. It never ends!"
Megan spoke up from her desk. "So how are you feeling, Sandy?"
Blair turned to look at her, his smile growing a fraction wider. "Sandy who? I don't know anyone named Sandy." He looked at Jim. "Do you, Detective Ellison?"
"No, Mr. Sandburg, I don't. Perhaps Connnie is mistaken."
Megan raised her eyebrows. "Connie? I think not."
Blair chuckled and sauntered over to the spare chair at Jim's desk. "So, you wanna put me to work?" He sank into the seat and rolled closer to the desk, peering at the neat piles of papers on the surface.
Jim pointed to the stack closest to Blair. "Well, I just finished those reports. Do you mind just skimming them to make sure I dotted all my I's and crossed all my T's?"
"No problem." He reached for the stack and got to work, glad to be getting back to his routine.
By late afternoon, the two men had finished the paperwork. It had been a boring, routine day. Glancing at the clock, Blair yawned and gave into a much-needed stretch.
The Sentinel smiled, twirling a pen between his fingers. "You ready to head home, Chief?"
Blair shook his head. "Not yet. I've got a late appointment with the Doc for a checkup."
Jim tossed his pen on the desk and leaned back. "If you don't mind, I'll go with you. We can stop and get some dinner on the way home."
"Yeah. That sounds good. I didn't realize how hungry I was until you mentioned food."
Blair tried not to swing his legs as they dangled over the edge of the hospital examination table. He sat straight, bare-chested, and took a deep breath as the doctor listened to his lungs.
"One more time, please."
This time, Blair's deep breath turned into a yawn, and he smiled sheepishly at the physician. "Sorry, Doctor Wagner. Tired, I guess."
"No problem." The physician draped the stethoscope over his shoulders. "Everything checks out fine. I'd say you're on the road to a wonderful recovery. Your burns have healed nicely and your lungs sound normal. How are things otherwise? Any funny business with your vision?"
Blair shook his head. "Nope. All systems operational, sir." He grinned and mocked a salute.
The doctor chuckled. "Great. Well, then, you're out of here. Have a good evening."
"Thanks." He hopped off the table as the doctor left the room.
Quickly, he slid into his flannel shirt and fastened the buttons. He headed out the door and shuffled down the hall toward the waiting room where Jim was no doubt perusing decade-old magazines or watching G-rated television.
"No! Get away from me!"
Blair jerked to a halt. The young boy's cries filled the narrow hall. Moving forward slowly, Blair peered into the open exam area. The air conditioner purred to life, throwing cold air from the vent directly above him and making him shiver.
He staggered back when he saw a man with dark, curly hair leaning over a young, half-naked boy.
Jim's head snapped up when he heard the sudden commotion down the hall. Throwing the magazine on the table, he leaned forward and cocked his head, listening. A child's high-pitched wail grated against his eardrum.
Blair's deep voice rang loud with hysteria. "You leave him alone! Get away from him!"
"Oh hell." He shot to his feet and ran toward the disturbance.
A mass of white-clad medical personnel blocked his path, but he managed to get a peek of Sandburg struggling wildly in the grip of two large orderlies. One man held the anthropologist's legs while the other pinned his arms to his sides.
Blair bucked wildly, trying to free his legs. "No! I won't let you, goddamnit. No!"
Jim pushed through the crowd. "What's going on here?!"
The orderly holding Blair's legs looked up at him, his face flushed from the effort of restraining the young man. "He just went crazy."
A doctor stepped forward. "He attacked me."
Blair screamed something incoherent and bucked again, his wide, glazed eyes focused on the doctor.
Jim looked at the doctor, his eyes narrowing. The man had an impressive head of dark curls -- just like Balentine's.
He stepped in front of the physician. "Back off now. You're triggering this."
Confusion creased the physician's brow, but he relented, moving back and disappearing behind the crowd.
Jim turned to his partner and slapped a hand on the orderly's shoulder. "Move aside. He's having some kind of flashback. Let me take him."
Relief flashed across the man's face, and he nodded. Jim moved in sync with the orderly as the other man released his hold. Jim's strong arms wrapped around Blair's chest and arms. Sandburg was still struggling, but his strength seemed to be waning, his muscles trembling with fatigue.
"Blair, take it easy."
Jim looked up at the orderly holding Blair's legs and nodded for the man to let go. Gently, the orderly lowered Blair's legs and took a step back, leaving Jim to handle his partner alone.
Blair sagged, and Jim staggered back until he hit the wall. Using it as a brace, he slid carefully to the floor, holding his partner firmly in his arms.
"Just relax, Chief. It's me, Jim."
Blair hung limply in his grip. At first, Jim thought his friend had lost consciousness, but when he heard the sudden hitch in Sandburg's breathing, he realized Blair was crying.
"Chief?" He gave Blair a little shake. "Talk to me."
Blair inhaled a shuddering breath. "I-I'm sorry."
"I remember him."
Jim closed his eyes. "I figured."
"What's happened here?"
Jim looked up as Doctor Wagner pushed his way to the front of the crowd. The doctor's brow creased with concern as he looked down at them. "Is he okay? What happened?"
Blair tensed, pressing back against Jim. "I'm sorry." His words sounded breathless. "I thought... I didn't mean... "
"It's okay." Jim relaxed his hold. "Let's get you into a room." He eyed Doctor Wagner, and the older man nodded an acknowledgment.
Blair paced, limping on his left leg. His movements were stiff and jerky, his arms wrapped around his torso. The doctor had tried to get him to sit on the examination table, but Blair had shook his head and began his pacing.
The doctor leaned against the table. Jim sat in the chair, stationed out of the way in the far corner.
"Blair?" Doctor Wagner's voice was calm and soothing. "Tell me what happened back there. What did you remember?"
Blair's pacing slowed, but he began to tremble. "I... I'm not sure." He kept his gaze to the floor. "I remember Balentine. What he looked like. Sounded like." He swallowed and closed his eyes. "Even what he smelled like."
Jim gripped the arm of his chair, his knuckles white, but he made no sound, not wanting to distract his friend.
Blair stopped pacing and stood motionless near the foot of the exam table, his arms crossed tightly around himself. "I remember Tommy. I remember him crying. I remember it was dark. I see stuff in flashes, not complete. Balentine laying..." He took a deep breath, his tremors becoming more violent. "He was laying on top of the boy, his pants down. I was handcuffed to the bed. I couldn't -- Oh God -- I couldn't do anything. I screamed at him, but it didn't help. I don't even remember what I said. I don't remember much before that or after that -- like how I got there or how I got out. Just that one thing."
Jim clenched his jaw, his teeth grinding together so hard that his neck hurt. He watched as the doctor retrieved a bottle of medicine from a locked cabinet, then unwrapped a new syringe and stuck the needle in the tip of the container. Slowly, he pulled back the plunger, and yellowish liquid filled the syringe vial.
Blair opened his eyes, his gaze dropping immediately to the needle as the doctor turned toward him. He took a step back. "What's that?"
Doctor Wagner smiled reassuringly and walked up to Blair, the syringe held in front of his chest. "Just a mild sedative. It'll help you sleep tonight."
Blair shook his head wildly, sending his hair into a loose shag around his face. "No! I don't need a sedative."
Wagner stepped closer to Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, I really think..."
"No!" Blair's arm swept out, sending the syringe careening into the wall. The plastic vial bounced off the plaster and dropped to the tile floor. Surprise flickered across Blair's eyes, quickly replaced by a note of apology. "No." He spoke softly, dropping his eyes away from the doctor's concerned gaze. "I'm sorry, I just want to go home now, please."
Jim rose from his chair and propelled himself toward his friend. Blair's eyes darted up, meeting Jim's gaze only for a moment before dropping low again.
"Okay, Blair." Jim slid an arm around Sandburg's shoulders, feeling the tension and tremors in the young man's body. "Home it is."
Blair swallowed hard. "Thanks, Jim."
"Come on." He steered Blair toward the door, glancing briefly at the doctor and giving a nod of thanks.
"We never did get dinner." Jim hung his jacket and holster up and closed the door, his eyes tracking Blair as the young man shuffled wearily toward the bathroom.
"It's okay. I'm not very hungry." Blair disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door softly behind him.
Jim gave in to a tired sigh and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. A knot of tension hung between his shoulder blades, and he tilted his head from side to side in an attempt to loosen the tightness. The knot remained, so he raised one hand and massaged the area with his fingers as he headed toward the couch.
Sinking into the cushions, he took another swallow of his beer and grabbed the remote. The television screen flared to life with the image of a brunette news reporter. He quickly flipped channels, searching for something relatively mindless.
He stopped channel-surfing when he heard the bathroom door open. Shifting on the cushions, he looked over his shoulder at Blair, who was just about to duck into his room.
"Hey, Chief, you want pizza or chinese food? We can order out."
Blair paused in the doorway, his back to Jim and his shoulders slouched. "Order whatever you want, Jim." His voice was low and heavy with fatigue. "I'm going to bed."
Jim set his beer on the coffee table and rose from the couch. "C'mon, Sandburg." He moved a few steps closer to his partner. "Get some food and fluids in your system and then you can go to bed."
Blair turned slightly toward Jim and looked up at him. His eyes held an edge Jim couldn't ever remember seeing before. "I can go to bed now. Goodnight." He slid into the room and closed the door before Jim could say another word. A soft click indicated the lock sliding in place.
Terrific. Jim took a deep breath and rubbed at the knot still hanging stubbornly between his shoulders. He gazed at the closed French doors a moment longer. What are we gonna do, Chief? With a tired sigh, he turned and shuffled back toward the living room. Maybe things would look a bit brighter in the morning. Maybe, after some sleep, Blair would be more willing to talk.
Jim stared up into the darkness as he listened to the steady, somewhat elevated rhythm of Blair's breathing and heartbeat below.The young man was obviously still awake. Jim glanced at the clock on his shelf. It was almost four, and dawn would arive in a little over two hours. In less than five hours, he'd have to be at work.
And neither he nor Sandburg had slept so much as a minute that night.
He rolled onto his side and fluffed his pillow, shifting further beneath the covers until he found the most comfortable position. Then he closed his eyes and tried to let the silence and Blair's soft, steady breathing lull him to sleep.
Ten minutes later he gave up and threw the cover off as he pushed himself to his feet. Grabbing his robe from the closet hook, he slid into it and tied the belt loosely around his waist. As he trotted down the stairs, he glanced toward the French doors of Sandburg's room. Just what was going through the kid's head? He'd been laying there for hours, not working, not moving around.... From what Jim had heard, Blair had spent the past seven and a half hours laying awake in bed.
He walked over to Blair's door and stopped. He raised his hand, letting it hover inches from the door as he thought about what he would say. Maybe he'd offer to take Sandburg out for an early breakfast.
His mind made up, he knocked lightly on the door.
"Yeah?" Blair's voice greeted him from inside.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go out for breakfast."
A brief silence followed. Then, "Jim, it's not even light out."
"I know, but I can't sleep. And I know you're not asleep. So why not get an early start? Besides, I'm hungry. I'll even treat."
Blair released a low sigh. "Maybe tomorrow, okay?"
"Come on, Chief, you've got to eat something."
"I will, all right? I'll grab something from the refrigerator before I head off to school."
Jim's shoulders slumped in defeat. "How 'bout I make breakfast, then?"
"Okay." With a sigh, Jim turned away from the door and headed down the short hall to the bathroom.
Blair glanced at his the clock on his bureau. It was almost eight o'clock, and he had a nine o'clock class. He needed to get up, get showered, and get dressed, but it just didn't seem worth the effort. He was so damn tired. He'd tried to sleep, but his mind had just refused to shut down for the night. He kept thinking of Balentine and that horrible image of him laying half naked over the boy. Then he'd think about the scene at the hospital. He closed his eyes. God, what a fool I made of myself. He'd freaked out, attacked a doctor, and frightened a mother and her son. Anymore episodes like that and they'd probably have to lock him up for his own safety and the safety of others. That was the standard spiel, wasn't it?
He heard the front door open. Then Jim's voice floated through the closed French doors. "I'm heading off to work now, Sandburg. I left your plate in the microwave. I'll, uh... I guess I'll see you later." After a brief pause, the door closed, leaving the loft bathed in silence.
Blair swallowed and took a deep breath. He knew he was acting childish, but he just didn't have the strength to face Jim at the moment. He hadn't even had the courage to venture out of his room to eat breakfast with his friend. Jim had tried to get him to come out, but, like a child, he had stubbornly refused.
He knew exactly how he was acting, but he just couldn't help it. He'd caused such a scene at the hospital, and Jim had had to restrain him. He just couldn't look his partner in the face right now, because he knew that episode was foremost on Jm's mind. He could hear it in Jim's voice -- and that was bad enough -- but he didn't think he could take seeing it in his eyes, also.
The next two days passed in a blur. Blair taught his classes, attended his seminar, and talked to students during office hours. He'd avoided Jim and the station, trying to ignore the guilt that gnawed at his chest. He didn't like leaving the Sentinel on his own, but at the moment, Blair knew he really wouldn't be much good to his partner; and he didn't want to have to talk about what had happened at the hospital. He knew Jim was concerned, but Blair needed to get a handle on his own newly-surfaced memories before he could even think about facing Jim.
He'd thought about making another appointment with his psychiatrist, but he decided to hold out until his regular appointment at the end of the week. The insurance had stopped paying for the sessions -- something he hadn't told anybody -- and at the moment he just didn't have the money to pay for an extra session.
His monitor's screensaver kicked in, and the screen exploded to life with swirling colors. Blair blinked from the sudden change and rubbed at his tired eyes. He felt ready to drop. The sleepless night had taken its toll, especially since his slumber patterns had been sporadic even before that.
But even though his body felt tired, his brain just couldn't seem to relinquish its hold on consciousness. His muscles felt strangely light, and his skull seemed filled with cotton.
He turned off the computer and leaned back in his office chair, raising one hand to rub again at his eyes. His vision kept blurring, and the words on his monitor had started to look fuzzy and indecipherable. He'd set the font to 14 point to compensate, then 16, and, finally, 18 point. He knew at that point it was time to stop.
Pressing his palms on his desktop, he pushed himself out of the chair. He'd grab a bite to eat and go home. Maybe tonight he'd actually be able to get some sleep.
The elevator doors opened, depositing Jim and Simon onto the third floor.
"Look, Jim, we've got to get him in either tomorrow or the next day. The D.A. won't wait any longer."
Jim sighed and slid his key into the door, extending his hearing. He found Blair's heartbeat coming from deep inside and figured the kid was probably in his bedroom as usual. He lowered his voice when he answered the captain. "I know, sir. Just... It's just that Blair's still trying to work through this. He doesn't seem to want to talk about it, and I can't blame him for that. It's not exactly an easy subject to discuss. And having to describe what he remembers..." Jim shook his head. "A lawyer isn't a psychiatrist, Captain. The A.D.A. won't tread gently with Blair."
"The D.A.'s office knows how delicate the situation is, Jim. They'll go as easy as they can. I spoke to A.D.A Thompson yesterday about Sandburg. He gave me his word they'll make this experience as painless as possible for Sandburg."
Jim walked into the loft and tossed his keys in the basket. "Well, it's not like we have much of a choice, anyway." He slipped out of his jacket and holster and hung them both up on the rack. "I'll go get him."
He walked over to the closed French doors and tapped lightly on the glass. "Chief?"
Blair's low, fatigue-heavy voice answered. "Yeah? What is it?"
Jim tried the knob. It turned easily, and he pushed the door open a few inches. Peeking his head inside, he saw Blair laying flat on his back on top of the covers, his gaze on the ceiling.
"Can you come out here for a minute?"
With a sigh, Blair rolled onto his side and pushed himself into a sitting position as he swung his legs over the edge of the mattress. He hesitated a moment as though trying to gather the strength to move further. Finally, he pushed off the bed and shuffled toward the doorway.
Jim frowned as he studied the young man. Blair looked too pale, and his eyes were bloodshot. Moving aside, he let his friend pass into the living room. When Sandburg spotted Simon, he raised his hand and muttered a weak "hi, sir" then dropped into one of the kitchen chairs.
The captain raised his eyebrows, and Jim read his superior's expression easily. Blair not only looked awful and sounded terrible, but his use of the word "sir" in his home -- totally outside of the station where, even there, used the term only sparingly -- made it obvious he wasn't feeling himself.
Simon sat in the chair opposite the young man. "How are you feeling, Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged, managing a small smile. "Fine." He glanced at Jim, then back at the captain. "Something up?"
Jim leaned against the kitchen isle. "Not really. We just wanted to know if you can come in tomorrow or the next day to talk to the assistant district attorney. He needs to prepare for your deposition."
Blair leaned back in the chair. "Uh... Deposition?"
Simon nodded. "Yes. To prepare for trial."
"But... uh..." Blair swallowed. "I don't remember anything.... Well, except...."
"I know. Jim told me about that. It may not seem much to you, but it's something. It lets you identify Balentine, and the, uh, scene Jim told me you remembered." Simon fidgeted. "Well, it's somewhat pivotal."
Blair dropped his gaze to the table, his shoulders slumping. "Okay. I've only got classes until two tomorrow. I can do it after that."
Simon smiled, relief flashing in his eyes. "I'll set up the appointment and get back to you with the exact time. Okay?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, okay. I can go straight from the University to the station tomorrow."
"Okay." Simon rose from his seat. "Well, I guess I'd better get going." He looked up at Jim, his eyes darting meaningfully to the door.
Jim pushed himself off the isle and walked to the door, opening it for his captain. "Yeah, okay..."
Simon hurried into the hall, and Jim followed, closing the door behind him. He realized it wasn't the most inconspicuous maneuver, but Simon obviously wanted to talk to him out of Blair's earshot, so the hall would have to suffice.
The captain leaned close to Jim, his voice low. "Did he look like this last time he saw the doctor?"
Jim sighed and leaned against the wall, rubbing a hand over his face. "Not this bad. He hasn't been sleeping the last few days. I think he's dealing with a full-blown case of insomnia, and he's got to be about ready to drop."
"Well why don't you take him back to see the doctor? Get him some sleeping pills to use temporarily?"
Jim tilted his head and shot a skeptical look at the captain. "Sandburg take sleeping pills?"
"Okay, but maybe the doc can check him out. You know, just to be safe."
Jim shook his head. "He's not been too keen on going back there ever since his incident. He hasn't said much about it, but I can tell the episode embarrassed him."
The captain sighed in defeat. "Well, see what you can do about helping the kid get some sleep. He's got to be at least coherent for the A.D.A. tomorrow."
"I don't know what I can do, but maybe tonight will be the night he drops. If so, I just hope I can wake him for tomorrow." A small smile touched his lips. "When he goes out, he'll be dead to the world until his body decides it's had enough sleep. I've seen some milder versions of this cycle during his finals."
Simon managed a chuckled and turned toward the elevator. "Well, drag him in asleep tomorrow if you have to. That'll at least show the D.A.'s office that we did our part, and maybe they'll see for themselves that Sandburg's really not in any shape to undergo questioning."
Jim gripped the doorknob. "And definitely not cross examination," he mumbled, his brow furrowing uneasily.
He didn't know what questions the defense would throw at Blair,
but he knew from experience that they wouldn't be easy ones. He just hoped the
interrogation didn't jar something loose in Blair that wasn't ready to come loose.
Blair rose slowly from the chair, his shoulders slumped and his limbs heavy with fatigue. He glanced at the closed front door, knowing Jim and Simon were likely talking about him. There weren't many other reasons they'd slip into the hall to have a conversation.
His stomach churned, reminding him that he hadn't eaten. He'd skipped lunch, and his breakfast that morning had consisted of a glass of juice and half of a plain bagel. He trudged over to the refrigerator and opened the door, peering at the items on the shelf. His eyes passed over the loaf of bread, the eggs, and the containers of tupperware, but even though he was hungry, nothing appealed to him.
With a sigh, he pulled back and leaned his elbow on the counter. He was more tired than he was hungry, anyway. He eyed his bedroom door. He'd spent the last hour and a half trying to get to sleep, but all he'd managed was a close, detailed study of the ceiling.
Maybe some T.V. would help. He pushed off the counter and weaved to the living room, plopping hard on the sofa. His fingers closed clumsily around the remote, and he pressed the power button. The sound preceded the visual, and an announcer's voice filled the living room. Finally, the dark screen faded to light, portraying a still picture of an ice hockey arena with the players frozen in motion. A yellow arrow pointed to something, but Blair wasn't interested, so he changed the channel.
A woman spoke to someone off screen, her face solemn. Blair flipped to another channel. Christopher Lambert spoke over a glass of wine, his eyes closed and his voice low. Blair's eyes grew hot and his vision blurred, reminding him that he'd spent too long staring at his computer screen earlier in the day.
He was too damn tired. Tilting his head back against the sofa, he clicked the remote to turn off the TV, bathing the loft in instant silence. His eyelids drifted shut, giving his weary eyes a rest.
Just when he thought me might be on the verge of attaining a light sleep, the whispery creak of hinges brought him back. He opened his eyes and turned his head toward the sound. Jim eased the door closed and turned to Blair, his lips holding a faint smile, but his eyes troubled.
"Hey, Chief, what do you feel like for dinner?"
Blair thought about managing a shrug, but then decided he didn't have the energy even for that small effort. "I dunno. Anything you want."
Blair nodded, letting his eyelids slip closed. "Sure."
He listened to Jim's footsteps against the wood floor as they trekked toward the kitchen. Then he heard the pop as the seal around the refrigerator door gave, along with the accompanying change in hum. Muffled sounds of things being moved and pushed together drifted from the kitchen behind him.
The refrigerator door thudded closed.
A floorboard creaked.
Blair tensed, his heart leaping into panic, pounding against his breastbone. Terror washed over him, bringing with it a memory of a dark room and the thick, repugnant odor of blood mixed with sweat.
The floor creaked outside the room.
A large, bulky figure filled the doorway.
"Blair." A warm, familiar voice came from directly in front of him, but he still flinched, his eyes shooting open.
He stopped breathing when he saw the large figure in front of him, then released the breath as soon as he recognized it as Jim.
The Sentinel sat still on the coffee table. "Did you remember something else?" His voice remained soft.
Blair swallowed, taking a deep breath, and nodded. His hand gripped the edge of the cushion beneath him. "It felt real... the sounds, the smells... everything." He became aware of a dull throbbing in his left leg and looked down at the limb. With his free hand, he rubbed gently at the newly-healed wound beneath his jeans. "Weird. My leg's even started hurting."
"What did you remember?"
Blair closed his eyes, taking another deep breath and gripping the cushion tighter as he tried to recapture the disturbing memory. "I'm laying on a bed. The room's dark. The floor creaks. Then he's there, in the doorway. Just a figure. I can't really see his face because it's too dim." He opened his eyes and looked at Jim. "Was I dreaming it? I mean, I'm so tired, and I was just sitting here listening to you in the kitchen. Maybe I fell asleep..." His brow furrowed. "But I don't think so. I don't think it was a dream, but it was way more real than just a memory."
"Another flash. It's okay." Jim rested his hand on top of the one Blair had on his leg, stopping the fingers that continued to massage the healing stab wound. "You're here now. Whatever you remember, it can't hurt you."
Blair nodded. "I... I know." The weight of Jim's hand on his own made him realize he was trembling.
"Do you think you can focus on his face? Try to remember what it looked like?"
Blair loosened his grip on the cushion, but his fingers sprang into action and worked anxiously at the material. "Uh... I guess I can try."
"That's all I'm asking, Chief." Jim's voice dropped another notch. "Now just close your eyes and picture him standing in the doorway."
Blair swallowed. "Okay. I can see him. He's a big man with curly hair. It's dark, though. I can't really make out his face. He's really just a shadow in the doorway."
"You know what he looks like, Blair. See past the darkness. Your eyes are adjusting. You can make out his features..."
Blair focused on the man's face, struggling to see the details. He couldn't, though, and the features remained hidden in shadow. Finally, he opened his eyes and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jim. I can't. It's not coming to me."
"That's okay." Jim patted his hand. "It was worth a shot, but don't push too hard. It'll come eventually, in its own time."
Blair dropped his gaze. "I just wish it would come all at once so I could get it over with. I hate this piecemeal thing, not knowing when or where these flashes will hit me."
"I know, Chief." Jim slid his hand away and rose to his feet. "But, for right now, try to put it out of your mind. Have some dinner, then go to sleep. You need it."
Blair looked up at his friend. "I've been trying, but no matter how tired I am, I just can't seem to fall asleep... and, before you say it, no doctor. I'll try some of my catnip tea and valerian root tonight. Maybe that'll help."
Jim raised his eyebrows, his lips twitching. "You and your concoctions." He shook his head. "I wonder about you, Sandburg."
Blair managed a weak smile, but it was mostly a show for Jim's benefit. "Keep wondering, Jim, but don't hurt yourself."
Blair arrived at the station a little after two o'clock, sliding through the elevator doors with his backpack slung over one shoulder. He'd just walked through the doors to the bullpen when Simon's office door opened and the captain stepped out, his dark eyes immediately darting to Blair.
"Sandburg, Ellison," he waved toward his office, "we need to talk."
Blair exchanged glances with Jim, then fell into step behind the Sentinel and shuffled toward the captain's office. His backpack weighed heavily on his shoulder, and he shifted the strap. His catnip tea hadn't helped at all last night, and he'd gotten very little sleep, if any. How long would his insomnia persist? Surely his body would give out on him eventually and send him into a deep, blissful slumber.
Maybe tonight would be the night. He closed the office door and slumped into the empty chair next to Jim, letting his backpack slide to the floor.
Simon leaned against the edge of the desk, his face grim. "Ballentine made bail."
Jim shot out of his seat. "WHAT?! How?"
Blair blinked, looking up at the captain. Had he heard the man correctly? Balentine had made bail?
Simon crossed his arms over his chest. "Don't ask me how. When his confession was thrown out, that left very little concrete evidence against him. The judge set bail -- high, but not too high given that Balentine is indigent. Someone posted it for him. He was released this morning."
Jim stood rigidly, his jaw tight. "Who paid the bail? Where'd the money come from?"
The captain shrugged. "We don't know."
Jim paced toward the window, then back again. "Great. Just great. You know Sandburg is the only person who can potentially testify against Balentine. With that asshole out of jail, Sandburg becomes a target."
"Huh?" Blair's chest tightened. "You think he might come after me?" The thought of coming face-to-face with the man lurking in the shadows of his nightmares turned his stomach.
The detective stopped pacing and turned to look down at Blair, the harsh, angry lines framing his eyes softening. "I don't know, Chief, but if he tries, he won't get far. I promise. He'll have to get through me first, and that's not going to happen."
The captain sighed. "Look, odds are Balentine's thinking about skipping town. I would if I were him. He has no family and nothing holding him here, and he could easily disappear in any number of towns."
Jim shook his head. "But that would make him a fugitive. If Sandburg can't concretely identify him -- either because he can't remember or otherwise -- there's a decent chance Balentine could walk. Why risk a life of running when he could go scott free?"
"Maybe. Maybe not." Simon gripped the edge of the desk, his fingers tapping absently on the wood. "But for right now he's out, and as far as we know, still in town. I sent Brown down to the jail to talk to the duty officer. If we can get a description of the person who bailed him out, that'd be something. We're also going to look over the security tapes. It's not much, I know, but it's a start."
The phone rang, and Simon pushed off the desk, his hand snatching up the receiver. "Banks." He listened to the caller, his expression shifting from mild frustration to surprise and, finally, to bewilderment. "Uh-huh.... Thanks, Brown. Get on that A.S.A.P." He hung up the phone and turned back to Jim. "Brown says Officer Baker, the man on duty when Balentine's bail was paid, gave a description of the guy who posted the money. It was a young man, maybe barely eighteen, with dark hair and large, dark eyes. He didn't wait for Balentine's release. He just paid the bail and left."
Blair stiffened. "Balentine has no friends or family here, right?"
Simon nodded once. "That's right. He seems to be a loner."
"And no money?"
"So no one should really be around to bail him out."
"I know, Sandburg." Simon looked at Jim, frustration evident in his face. "But somebody did."
Blair swallowed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. His brain seemed to be working much too sluggishly, so he had to think over his idea one more time before voicing it. "You know who matches that description?"
Jim and Simon both looked sharply at him. "Who?"
"Richard Baynor, Tommy's brother."
Simon's face went slack with surprise. "What? Sandburg, why would the brother of the boy Balentine molested want to..." His eyes widened with realization. "Oh hell."
Richard Baynor had been following Balentine for several blocks. He'd planned this out from beginning to end. He knew he'd probably get caught, but it would be worth it. Tommy's killer was not going to get off, and even if Balentine's case went all the way to trial and he ended up in prison, that would still be too good for the man. He didn't deserve to keep breathing. He didn't deserve to have one single moment of joy in his life ever again.
Because Tommy never would.
The memory of that day sprang foremost in his mind. He and Tommy had been walking home from school. Tommy's class ended about an hour before his own, but the elementary school was just across the street from the high school, so Tommy always waited in the room for Ricky to finish his last class, then they'd walk the four blocks home together.
An old, dark sedan pulled up to the curb. The man inside called to them through the open passenger window, asking for directions to the highway. Ricky stooped and raised his hand to point west, but didn't even get a good look at the man before something slammed into his skull and he fell hard to the ground. He must have blacked out for a moment -- but only for a moment -- because he then heard a screech of tires and raised his head to see a blurred, dark shape slide around the corner.
Oh God, Tommy, little brother, I'm so sorry. His vision blurred with tears, but he still kept track of Balentine, watching as the man ducked into a bar. Ricky was still far away from being 21, so he reluctantly stopped just outside the front doors.
He backtracked and circled around the bar. He found the usual fire exits, but no back door through which Balentine might leave. So, all he had to do was hang discretely around the front entrance until Balentine left. He'd follow the man until it turned dark. He didn't think Balentine had much, if any, money on him, so he didn't know how long the guy would stay in the bar. If Balentine came out before dark, Ricky would pretend to be a passerby who just happened to drop a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. That should give Balentine the money he needed to get himself drunk. Then, when he finished in the bar and came back -- hopefully after dark -- Ricky would simply follow him until he was sure there were no witnesses in the area, then he'd walk up behind the man and stick the knife into his kidney. He slid his hands into his jacket pockets and wrapped his right hand around the handle of his hunting knife.
In less than two hours the sun would set. He walked over to the
bus stop near the corner and sat on the empty bench, shifting so he could keep an eye on
the bar's entrance. A soft smile touched his face. Balentine would pay for what he did to
Jim steered the truck out of the police garage. "I'll drop you off at the loft first."
Blair, hunched in the passenger seat, shook his head. "No way. I'll come with you."
"Sandburg, if Balentine is there --"
"I'll be okay, Jim."
"It's not a good idea."
"I won't have a nervous breakdown, or anything." Blair flashed a weak smile. "Have a little faith in me. I may not be the picture of psychological stability at the moment, but I promise not to go Ellison on anybody, okay?"
"Well..." Jim's eyes suddenly narrowed and he shot a glare at his partner. "Cute, Chief. Real cute."
Blair shrugged and managed a weak grin. "And the scary thing is that if I used your name in that context with anybody at the station, they'd all know exactly what I mean. So, don't worry about me. I'm the peace-lover, remember?"
Jim rolled his eyes and sighed, jerking the wheel to the right as he turned the truck around. "Okay, Sandburg, but keep your butt planted firmly in that seat at all times. Got it?"
Blair mocked a quick salute with his right hand. "Aye, aye, sir."
Balentine came out the front door less than ten minutes after disappearing inside, confirming Ricky's suspicions that he had no money. As the older man walked toward the bench, Ricky rose to his feet and casually stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He kept his back to Balentine and walked slowly toward the corner. As he removed his right hand from the pocket, he let the twenty dollar bill slide out and fall to the sidewalk. Resisting the urge to look back, he stopped at the corner and pressed the WALK button. If he glanced over his shoulder, he'd likely spook Balentine, so he kept his eyes in front of him.
His ears, however, he kept tuned to the sounds behind him. He heard Balentine's footsteps stop. There was a brief pause, then the shuffle of feet, and, finally, the creak of a door as it slid open and then drifted closed again.
"Damn." Jim glanced at his watch as he stopped the truck at a red light. "I guess we can try some of the other bars in town, but I thought for sure he'd head straight to Cheap Shots. It's his regular hang-out, and he hasn't had a drop since his arrest, so he's gotta be hurting."
Blair pursed his lips. "You know, there's a bar on Garnett, I think. That's near the jail, right?"
Jim slapped the steering wheel and pressed the accelerator. The truck lurched into the intersection and spun a sharp left, cutting off a black Land Cruiser that protested with a long, ear-splitting blare of its horn.
"Jim, man," Blair slowly unclenched his eyelids and cracked a look at his partner. "You have got to ease up on the commando driving."
Ricky had just waved the bus by when a scuffle behind him made him twist around. The bar door opened and a large man pushed Balentine onto the sidewalk.
"I don't want to see you around here again." The bouncer flung his arm angrily. "Your kind isn't wanted around here. Got it?"
Ricky stiffened and turned back around. Damnit. It wasn't quite dark yet, and Balentine didn't seem drunk. His plan wasn't working.
Ricky froze. Balentine sat next to him on the bench.
"You... I recognize you." Balentine inched closer.
Ricky shifted his back to the man and scooted to the edge of the bench. The stench of alcohol tickled his nose, and it was obvious the older man had managed to down some liquor before getting thrown out.
Balentine slid closer. "You're that kid. Whatya doing? Following me? I seen you. I know what your whole family looks like."
Ricky's chest flared hot, and he turned to look at Balentine, sliding his hand in his jacket pocket to caress the handle of the knife. "You know me, huh?" His chin jutted out and his eyes hardened. "Who am I?"
Balentine's lips lifted in a faint smile. "You're that little boy's brother. Saw you and your mommy and daddy on the news crying over the little one."
Ricky's hand clenched around the handle. "Oh yeah?"
Jim saw the two figures seated at the bus stop three blocks away. He tensed, his vision closing in on the subjects, and pressed the accelerator harder when he identified them as Baynor and Balentine.
The steering wheel jerked to the right seemingly of its own volition, and his attention snapped back to his driving just in time to see the truck coast back to the right side of the double yellow line.
Blair's breathless voice filled the cab of the truck. "Oh man. Don't do that." He paused to take a deep breath. "What were you looking at?"
Jim threw an apologetic look at his partner, then jerked his chin forward. "Richard Baynor and Balentine are seated at that bus bench up there."
Blair leaned forward, placing his hand on the dash as he squinted at the distant figures. "I see them, but I can't make out who they are." He swallowed hard and gripped the dash harder. "Oh man, this isn't good. Can you hear what they're... Never mind. Just focus on driving and get us there fast and in one piece."
Jim nodded curtly, weaving around a slow-moving car and closing the distance rapidly. He slammed the truck to a stop in front of the bus stop and slapped the siren light on the dash board. Richard and Balentine both shot to their feet, but Jim was out of the cab and moving toward them before either made a move to run.
"What's going on here?"
Balentine stiffened, squaring his shoulders. "Nothing. I'm just waiting for the bus, Detective. And since I made bail, they let me out -- all legal and everything."
Richard nodded. "It's like he says. We're just waiting for the bus."
Jim's eyes narrowed, and his gaze dropped to the young man's jacket pocket. He could make out the shape of something long and straight. It didn't look like a gun. He guessed it to be a knife. "What have you got in there, Mr. Baynor?"
Richard shrugged. "None of your business."
"Looks like a weapon to me."
Balentine tensed and edged away from the kid. "You know. I think I'll catch another bus..."
"You stay right there, Balentine," Jim growled. "I think I may need to take you in for questioning as a witness if I find a weapon on Mr. Baynor."
Richard's eyes flashed with anger. "You got no right to harass me. I haven't done anything illegal. So why don't you just get lost."
Jim shook his head and took a step toward the young man. "Turn around and put your hands on the hood of the truck."
"No. You can't search me. You got no warrant."
Jim smiled. "I have reasonable suspicion -- enough to warrant a pat-down. If it feels like a weapon to me, that gives me the right to reach in and take it out. If it is a weapon, that gives me cause to haul your ass into the station."
Jim put a firm but gentle hand on Richard's shoulder and prodded him toward the truck. He glanced at Sandburg seated in the cab and froze. Blair's face was white. His wide eyes remained fixed on Balentine, unblinking.
"Shit." Jim dropped his hand away from Richard and stepped between Balentine and the truck, blocking Blair's view.
Balentine took a step back. "I didn't see nothing. I got my bail paid and I'm outta here. You wanna get me back to that crap hole station, talk to my lawyer."
Jim shifted toward Balentine. "Look--"
Richard bolted into a run down the sidewalk.
"Damn." Jim tensed, his body preparing to take off in pursuit, but his brain overrode that impulse. He glanced back at Balentine just as Richard disappeared around a corner. There was no way he was leaving Balentine alone in the same area with Sandburg.
The slam of a car door snapped his attention back to the truck. He saw Sandburg take off from the driver's side of the vehicle and head after the boy.
"Sandburg! Shit!" He slammed his palm on the hood and glared at Balentine. He didn't have any cause to arrest the man, and Blair and Richard were getting farther away. He flung his arm at Balentine, gesturing angrily in the opposite direction Sandburg and Richard had gone. "Get the hell out of here, and you'd better stay on your best behavior. One slip up and I'll bring you in. Got that?"
Jim didn't wait for a better response. He spun around and broke into a run after Blair and Richard.