Missing Scene for SMART ALEC

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Loss
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Blair looked away quickly from the sight of his former advisor's stiff corpse sitting behind the steering wheel. *Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Hal... *

He listened as the Security Chief talked suicide, handing a note to Jim.

Blair found his voice. "No. No, I don't believe that. Hal was six months away from retirement. He even put down a down payment on a house in the mountains."

He took a deep breath, opening his mouth to say more, but his throat closed up on him. Instead, he shook his head, vaguely aware that it probably looked like a desperate gesture of denial, and turned away. He was *not* going to lose it in front of Jim and everyone else.

He had to get out of there. He headed for the SUV and the solace it would, hopefully, provide. Let Jim and the rest of the investigators figure out what he already knew.

Hal wouldn't kill himself. But who the *hell* would want to kill Hal? Blair's stomach churned uneasily, and his knees went weak. He made it to the Ford and rested his hands on the hood, leaning on the vehicle for support.

Questions buzzed through his head. Why was a broken piece of the Mayan Urn found in Hal's office, and why had the man denied receiving it in the first place?

*Why would he lie to me?*

It didn't make sense. Blair had known Hal for almost fourteen years. The man had always been there for him during that time. Hal had watched Blair grow up from a difficult sixteen year old boy who'd never had any kind of real discipline to the slightly more mature man that he was now.

Blair thought back to how cocky he had been at the age of sixteen. Buckner had been almost the only one with enough patience to deal with him back then. The old man had helped him become acclimated to the college environment and steered him away from a few potentially collosal screw-ups.

He heard Jim call to him. "Let's go, Chief."

Blair straightened, running a quick hand over his face, and hopped into the passenger seat. Business as usual. That was Jim Ellison. A dead body was just a dead body, one among far too many in this city.

Blair thought back to when he and Jim had found Susan Frasier's body in the bathtub. That had been the first time he'd seen something like that. Oh, he'd seen a dead body before, but not like that. Not a murder. Not a crime scene. Not something so... so... unnatural.

He wondered if anybody really ever thought much about Susan Frasier anymore. It was sad -- unthinkable, almost -- that someone should live and then be snuffed out like that. Then forgotten.

And what about Hal?

Blair swallowed hard, his vision suddenly blurring, and stared out the passenger window as Jim steered the SUV onto the street. Poor Hal had been alone. His wife had died several years ago. No children. The man spent practically all his time at the university.

Who would remember Dr. Hal Buckner? Who would mourn him?

*I will.*

Maybe it wasn't much, but it had to be enough. Blair suddenly realized he didn't care what Hal had gotten himself into, if anything. Some things were better left uncovered. All Blair knew for sure -- al he needed to know -- was that Hal Buckner was, at heart, a good man.

*And I'm gonna miss you, old friend.*

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair swallowed again and cleared his throat, keeping his head turned toward the window and away from Jim. "Yeah. I guess so."

"So you knew him well?'

Blair felt the threat of tears and closed his eyes. "Yeah. He was my advisor years ago. I've known him since I was sixteen."

"Wow. I'm, uh, sorry. I didn't realize."

Blair couldn't think up a suitable reply, so he simply shrugged and continued to keep his eyes closed tight.

"Family?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head and leaned his forehead against the cool glass. "Not really."

"Chief... You know it's beginning to look like he was involved.."

"Yeah, I know." Blair's voice took on a hard edge, and he turned his head to look at Jim.. "So what? He was a good man. Maybe he made a mistake -- *if* he was involved in anything, which we don't know. *You* certainly don't know. You don't know him or what kind of a man he was, but I do. He was a good guy, Jim. He was there for me when nobody else was. I don't care what you find out about him -- you could tell me he was a thief or a fraud or a cheat, but it wouldn't matter. He was my friend, and if he made some mistakes, so what. We all do. It's not for us to pass judgment."

He was breathing hard now, and he realized he was on the verge of breaking down. He sucked in a deep breath and turned his head away to look out the window again.

"I... I'm sorry, Chief."

Blair shook his head slowly. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go ballistic. It's just... I've known him for years, Jim. But I can't figure out why he would lie to my face about the urn. Now he shows up dead. Was he involved with something shady, or did he just end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe... I don't know." He shook his head again. "Maybe he saw or heard something he wasn't supposed to, and they killed him for it."

"Maybe." Jim didn't sound like he believed that theory.

"Yeah, right." Blair cleared the lump from his throat. "It doesn't matter. He's dead now." He looked back at Jim. "It *wasn't* a suicide."

Jim nodded. "I think you're right about that one, Chief."

Great. He almost laughed. One of the few times he'd heard those words from Jim, and he could take no joy in the moment.

He wondered why Hal's death hit him so hard. He should be use to this kind of thing by now. People always left. One way or the other. They either died, walked out, or were snatched away from him.

And sometimes they even sent postcards.

He closed his eyes again, pushing down a hurt so deep he almost didn't know it was there. But it *was* there. And, for the most part, it stayed quiet.

Sometimes, however, it surfaced. Moments would come -- briefly -- where he found himself wishing he'd had a normal family. A normal mother he could pick up the phone and call when he was feeling low. A father. Maybe even a brother or a sister.

Basically, a family. People he could count on to always be there for him no matter what. Oh, he knew families weren't always so dependable, but deep inside he had an ideal of a family -- nothing more than a childhood fantasy, really.

To be normal. To have a home. A real home. Some place with memories and a history. Some place solid that he could return to whenever he was hurting or his soul was weary.

"Chief?"

Blair flinched, startled from his thoughts. He blinked, catching the faint image of his reflection in the glass, surprised to see wetness on his cheeks.

Damn. He wiped the tears away quickly. "Yeah?"

The truck eased to a stop. Jim kept his hands on the wheel, but turned to look at him. "I'm sorry. I should have warned you back there, prepared you. You shouldn't have had that kind of a shock." He shook his head. "I was so focused on the bo... on the scene, that I didn't think about how it would affect you."

Blair's throat tightened and he looked away again. "It's okay. You had the job. Check your humanity at the door, right? You're good at that. Really good. I'm beginning to appreciate the value of being able to do that. Maybe you can teach me sometime." He managed a hollow chuckle.

"You did pretty good back there."

Blair shrugged. "Thanks."

"You want me to drop you home?"

"No." He shook his head and wiped his face one more time. "I'll be okay. It was just a shock, like you said. That's all. I'll be fine."

"Okay." Jim nodded slowly, his eyes pinched with concern. "You want to come with me to the station?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. We'll grab some coffee or tea on the way. You look like you could use it."

"Thanks, Jim." Blair resumed his study of the outside scenery.

He closed his eyes and sent a quick, silent prayer above for Hal Buckner... and for himself. Maybe God would hear him this time.

*Please let Jim be here for a long, long time.*

~~~
the end