Coming Up for Air

You know, you'd think that as adults we'd lose our illusions. That million dollars wouldn't actually be as grand once we'd won it. I mean there'd be people on the phone all the time, wanting a piece of it. There'd be hurt feelings when you have to turn them down. Hurt feelings of your own if you couldn't. I don't just mean about money although that has something to do with it. With this. Just wait, I'm getting to it.

See all my life I wanted to find a Sentinel. A tribal watchman like Richard Burton wrote about. A kind of real live superman. Enhanced sight. Enhanced hearing. Hell, basically enhanced anything that was sensory. Only it was like the aforementioned million dollars. You want something and you want something and you get it … well, it's never what you thought.

This isn't making much sense, is it? Maybe I'd better start at the beginning.

I'd lucked out. Naomi, my mom, you'd have to know her to understand, but she's like the exception to the Sixth Degrees to Kevin Bacon thing. With Naomi there's only one degree between her and everybody else. I kid you not. How else would her old massage therapist be the same massage therapist the Chief of Police's wife goes to?

So when I'd burned up the phone card she'd gotten me as a birthday gift on a whine session about not being able to get any cooperation at all from the Cascade PD on letting me observe a police unit for my diss, what else should I have expected to happen? A call to the friend with the talented hands who makes a call to the Chief's house and the next thing I know, I'm in. I'm slightly embarrassed to have been rescued from my predicament by Naomi and a guy named Jupiter, but I'm in and I'm not going to turn it down.

Just like that, there I am, observing. Much to the consternation of one Captain Simon Banks, head of the Major Crime unit, so I tried to stay out of the way and just observe. No interaction. Right. That lasted about two days.

Can I help it if I'm a people person? And I mean most of these guys are so not people-people. Intelligent, yeah. Good at details. Great hand-eye coordination. But give them a weeping victim and they go all stoic and clumsily pat a back here and there, but that's about it. Of course they were more than happy to find they had somebody to direct the weeping to … that being me. Next thing I know I've been assigned one of the daily donut runs.

That's another thing … everything you've ever heard about cops and donuts? It's true.

Whether I wanted to or not, I went from observer to participant in a really short period of time. And that was okay. Dealing with people is what I do, plus I could add that into the diss. Something about a closed society may open partially (but only partially, trust me) to take in someone with a needed and unknown skill. Yeah, that was me. The guy who could "talk to people." I should have put up posters and charged a quarter.

Which is why the morning an irate father burst into the bullpen, the six o'clock news from all four local stations in tow, I suddenly found myself a "valued member of Major Crimes." At least that was what Simon Banks told the irate father. Right after "Mr. Sandburg will be happy to address your concerns" and right before "he'll be right back" and a beefy captain's hand pulled me into his office.

In my position (i.e. that of a barely tolerated, data needy observer) you don't say no to the captain. I wasn't beyond asking what particular wolf I'd just been thrown to, though. Guess Simon was getting used to me 'cause he actually answered.

Looked like I was going to be spending some quality time with William Ellison, the CEO of Ellison Enterprises. You know, double-spired postmodern headquarters right on the waterfront? Yeah, that Ellison Enterprises. Someone had taken his son, left a request for $4.5 million in his place. Turned out the son was disabled. The father was understandably frantic. There'd been no phone calls. According to the ransom note the drop was scheduled for 4:00 this afternoon and leads were pretty slim. And all I had to do was keep father William from having a coronary before he could sign for the briefcase of nonsequential bills.

First thing was to get those camera crews out of the middle of the floor space. That was actually pretty easy. A call to the press office sent the police spokesperson and two interns running. Stripped of his entourage then I could deal with CEO Ellison.

Don't get me wrong, victims and their families do not get enough attention in most police departments. This man had every right to be upset, hell, frantic and panicking if he so desired. But doing so in the midst of the bullpen wasn't going to do his son any good. I borrowed one of the conference rooms and ushered in the remaining group -- Ellison, two younger men and one younger woman who turned out to be some kind of corporate VP. One of the men was another son --the other, Ellison Enterprises' corporate attorney. Once the VP and attorney were successfully dispatched to cover any fires at company headquarters, what was left before me were the people who really needed attention.

Steven, that was the grim-faced son in his early thirties. Jim was the kidnapped victim. Only the father called him Jimmy.

When you're trying to calm victims or elicit clear testimony from witnesses sometimes it's best to start with something normal and comforting. So I asked them to tell me about Jim.

Autistic. Shit.

You know, people under pressure tell you a hell of a lot more than they realize. Steven Ellison, he was easy. He was just worried about his brother. Probably had been his brother's keeper, his interpreter of the world for a long time. Which brought me to Jim Ellison's actual condition. I was hoping he was high-functioning but according to his brother after a few years of progress in childhood, Jim had slowly begun a slide into deeper self-absorption. He'd slowly stopped speaking in his teens. The only positive was that, unlike many of the autistic, his brother confided that Jim loved to touch, though not always to be touched. And he had a kind of gestural language. That was something. If they hadn't tied his hands. God, did the captors have any idea the condition of the person they'd kidnapped?

Probably. At least Jim Ellison wasn't a dark family secret. Like most CEOs of large companies William Ellison had kept press of his family to a minimum, but Jim lived at home, not hidden in some high-quality institution. Apparently in an effort to reach out to his son he'd even allowed Jim to take over the garage that had once housed the elder Ellison's collection of classic cars and turn it into a studio where he sculpted, single mindedly according to his brother. For hours upon hours. Steven described his brother's creations with a certain envy that clearly did not sit well with his father. But family dynamics weren't the issue here.

Despite whatever vibes I was getting off the senior Ellison, I didn't think he had anything to do with the kidnapping. And Steven would have had to be the new Larry Olivier to master that level of distraught worrying. So I did what I could. Tried to keep them calm and out of Simon's way. Okay, I gaped a little at the contents of the case the attorney returned with a couple hours later. Four and a half million in cold cash is every bit as impressive as you might have imagined.

You'd think from TV that cops have some secret formula for dealing with kidnappings where the victim always get found unharmed and the kidnappers end up doing twenty to life in Rikers or San Quentin. It doesn't always work that way. Jim Ellison may have been exchanged for $4.5 cold but that didn't get us much. These guys weren't dumb. They took the cash, left a cell phone in exchange. When it rang an hour later William Ellison was treated to the painful cries of a man he clearly identified as Jimmy.

He was still calling out to his son when an electronically disguised voice informed him that Jim would stay where he was until they were safely in Brazil when we'd receive another beep from the cell. Unless … we weren't exactly expecting an "unless" but these guys we figured must have known William Ellison. Known what he would do and how he would go about doing it. Oh, the "unless" - right, sorry … unless he could figure out where they'd stashed him. After all, he should know …

Unfortunately he didn't, or he did a damn fine job of hiding it if he did. Pretty much had that coronary we were trying to avoid. Face flushed. His breathing got rapid. He called the kidnappers by some Taiwanese epithets you wouldn't expect a CEO to know and had to be escorted to the sofa in Banks' office to lie down. Steven just sat at the conference table, head in shaking hands, and stared at the tabletop until Simon sat down across from him. Simon, I mean the guy is huge. Huge. You look up and up and up, or at least I do, and he can have this ferocious frown on his face that he mainly uses to scare the hell out of patrol officers and unpaid observers. But at that moment it was like he knew every fear Steven Ellison was having. I've never seen a cop do better under pressure in the psychology department. He calmed him down, got him speculating on what the kidnappers could have meant.

At first Steven just shook his head. But Simon slowly and carefully explained that there was no reason for the kidnappers to keep their promise and that if his brother was still alive they didn't want to just wait for a call that would probably never come. So we started at the beginning again.

He'd last seen his brother at breakfast. Steven had his own house but he often stopped by on the way to work. William Ellison had a live-in housekeeper, Sally Chen, who cooked meals, did housework and kept an eye on Jim. Something she'd been doing for over twenty-five years. Simon had done a background check and gotten nothing. Apparently William Ellison paid well for loyalty and her sons and the Ellisons had grown up together. Rafe said she'd been almost too hysterical to interview. Nobody suspected her.

She'd made waffles. Steven said his brother was very particular about food. Waffles with maple syrup. And the maple syrup had to be from Vermont or Massachusetts. Not Michigan and not Quebec. He said Jim could tell. I took that with a grain of salt. One of the characteristics of autism is sensory hypersensitivity but this was in the realm of folklore. The difference in maple syrup by place of origin? Okay, according to Burton, Sentinels had that kind of discrimination, but right then I was not thinking about Sentinels.

Steven had left for his office at Ellison Enterprises to join his father, an early riser who got to his own by 6:30 every morning, for a meeting. According to Sally Chen, Jim kept to his very predictable routine and had headed for the converted garage to work on his sculpture. It was the last time he was seen.

The old garage was accessible by crossing from the house's breakfast area, around the in-ground pool or you could reach it through a well-tended half acre that bounded Madison Street. That's the property the kidnappers crossed. Jim Ellison hadn't gone without a fight. Brown and Rafe said the studio showed signs of a struggle and there were prints across the grass of two men dragging something between them. Someone.

The couple of pictures we had of Jim showed a fairly tall, well-built man in his late 30s who smiled while caught in the familiar hold of the crook in his brother's arm. He appeared much more reserved in the picture with his father, the distant gaze a telling characteristic. You know I have a friend who's a psychologist. Any time he can, he asks to see his patient's family pictures, says he can tell a lot just from a few Kodaks. I don't know, but that picture of Jim Ellison and his father … it bothered me somehow.

See, even if he wasn't behind the kidnapping, it was getting all too clear that William Ellison was somehow involved in it. What the kidnappers said, that he should know where his son was? Not good, man. Not good.

I know it's sometimes hard to believe, what with the news stories out of L.A. and New York, but most cops really do protect the innocent. If the son of Naomi Sandburg, veteran foe of the "pigs", can come to realize that, anybody can. And right then it was suddenly seeming like William Ellison might not quite be the innocent party here. I'm still not saying I think he was faking the concern or the panic, just that there seemed to be a little more to this than a simple give-us-the-money-we-give-you-your-loved-one exchange going on.

I could almost *see* Simon thinking the same thing. And trust me, Simon and me on the same wavelength? That's a scary thing. If there was something more going on, William Ellison didn't stand a chance and maybe Jim Ellison did.

Sometimes the most innocent and concerned of witnesses forgets in a moment of stress to give you some vital piece of information. Sometimes the guilty take a while before they crack under the pressure and admit what they know. It was still up in the air to me, which one William Ellison was, but around 3 a.m. when Steven Ellison's recitation had gone back as far as the last time he'd heard his brother speak, something clicked in his father's mind. I saw it. Hell, Simon has been through enough late night statements and interrogations. He saw it too.

I couldn't quite make out the word his dry lips formed. A query brought his tongue out to moisten them and he said a little more strongly. "Rutherford."

As to what that meant, the senior Ellison was silent.

Steven shook his head as well, hands raising then falling to grip his father's arm. His quiet entreaties didn't receive a response. Simon was looming over the pair and I pulled him back. Gave them a little room.

Of course that just left me as the only person available to interrogate. "What the hell is Rutherford?"

"Like I know, Simon? A name. A place. A little boy's sled?"

Yeah, I know, Simon rolled his eyes too.

"He knows something."

Yep, Simon and I agreed on something else. Although not on what Simon did next.

"You need to tell us, Mr. Ellison. If you have any involvement in this, withholding information is only going to go against you."

You could just see Ellison's lips and resolve tighten and I wanted to bang my head into the nearest hard object … and that was apparently Simon's head. The captain was tired and frustrated. We all were, but the kind of personality that would enable you to rise to the head of the biggest corporation in the city was not the kind of personality that was gonna react positively to being threatened.

"Now wait just one minute. I have nothing … *nothing* to do with Jimmy being kidnapped! If you believe for one moment I'd pay some thugs to drag off my own son…"

And about that time he staggered, clutching at his chest and I'm thinking "way to go Simon you've really given him a heart attack for real this time." So there's nothing to do but settle him back in a chair and send Simon out for some cold water and an aspirin and try to put things back where we had them so we could figure out if "Rutherford" had any connection to the case.

That meant apologizing.

"Mr. Ellison, you'll have to forgive Captain Banks. He's just worried about your son. We all are. It's been almost 24 hours. If you have any clue where your son might be, you need to let us know. We can't rely on the kidnappers to keep their word. They already have your money. Don't let them have Jim's life as well. Whatever it is, it's not worth your son's life."

Simon kind of slammed the door on his way back in and I took the water and capsules from him before he could say a word. I'd pay for that later I knew, but right now, if I could prove whatever I was doing was working, he'd go along with it. Simon is, down deep, a pragmatist. He'd wait and chew my butt after everything worked out.

"What is Rutherford, Mr. Ellison?"

The reply was pretty mumbled. I had to ask him to repeat it. Or maybe I just didn't see what Jim's doctor had to do with anything. I looked over and Steven was shaking his head. Said Jim's doctor was the same one they all go to - an Edgar Livingston who had a family practice office at the medical center.

"Steven, I didn't know! I swear I didn't know! You have to believe me…"

And at that point he goes down. I mean, literally, on his knees, one hand grasping the edge of the conference table and the other clutching the left side of his chest faster than I can say "coronary" and mean it this time. In a split second Simon is on the phone calling for an ambulance and Steven and I are at his side. He's trying to say something and though Steven is attempting to quiet him, he's not going to be denied. Ellison grips his son's arm and utters something that sounds like "Stony Brook" but I couldn't be sure.

Steven Ellison looked as pale as the man in his arms.

"It's the hospital. They used to take Jim to a hospital for treatments."

All Simon said was, "Go, Sandburg."

You know, Simon and I have been together too long if I understood from two words what he wanted me to do. Yeah, he'd have my butt later, but right then, he could care less. Twenty minutes later they were loading the senior Ellison into an ambulance and I had a location on The Stony Brook Medical Center. It had closed four years ago but still stood abandoned, some ninety minutes east at a little crossroads that the interstate had bypassed, sealing its fate.

The nearest town hadn't had a sheriff since 1989. State patrol was on its way as soon as they could pull somebody free from the pile-up caused by an overturned logging truck twenty miles away in Deerfield. It looked like we might get there first even if we were some seventy miles away and half of that was on back roads.

Some ride. Four o'clock in the morning. Simon and me riding the adrenaline high. Henri and Rafe in an unmarked tucked in behind us and we hit the curves on the two-lane at eighty, lights flashing. It was something surreal, so quiet, nobody saying anything, like they'd jinx it if they speculated that we'd find the victim. Here. Alive. Unharmed. Cops are superstitious. Even detectives who spend their careers gathering things fairly concrete - clues, statements - and who disdain using mumbo-jumbo speakers like psychics, or, hey, the occasional anthropologist. If no one said it. If no one speculated. Then just maybe we wouldn't ruin the chance for this one to turn out safely, for us and Jim Ellison.

If we did find him I know we were gonna wish to hell we'd brought Steven Ellison along. Simon suggested it, but I didn't want to even offer that choice. A suffering father in the hand wins out over the remote possibility a couple of cars of cops off on what is probably a wild goose chase are going to turn up his brother. Still, Jim Ellison, even if our best hopes were true and they'd left him alone and unharmed, would probably be nothing less than terrified. Hell I'd be terrified and I could process the world normally.

One hour and twenty minutes. I mean who would have known Simon could even drive that fast? But one and twenty minutes later we were pulling up to the dark hulk of the abandoned hospital. The sky was barely lightening as we pulled out of the night shadow but it wasn't enough to see by. Henri and Rafe pulled a couple of heavy-duty torches out of the trunk and we started by checking the front doors. Locked. Then the other entrances. Locked as well. Luckily Rafe is pretty handy with a pick and in short order we were in.

Four years is enough for spiders to seriously take over. Plus there was something Coma-like creepy about the deserted medical equipment and the dust all over the empty nursing stations. The main entrance had put us out into the lobby. The place was small, two floors. Rafe and H went to the left. Simon and I took the right, which branched off into the ER and, upstairs, the operating suites.

So silent you wanted to whistle or something just to distract yourself but Simon was playing this with all seriousness, pistol at ready, attacking each door. The ER was full of empty stretchers but completely devoid of anything that might be a sign anyone had been there. The stairs were even creepier than the first floor had been. Something about not being able to see what's above you. Our steps echoed hollowly and Simon pushed me behind him before he got into his cop-about-to-bust-through-door stance, which was pretty fruitless as another dark empty corridor was all that greeted him. It suddenly reminded me of the book I had started reading the week before – "The House of Leaves" about a blind man, a book, a photographer and a lightless corridor in the photographer's house but not his house plan. I definitely had to find less disturbing reading material if I was going to skulk around in dark hospitals.

Wait. Not entirely dark. Something shimmered up ahead, a pale thin line like candlelight slipping under a closed door. Simon stiffened and motioned me to stay, handing me the light, pointing it down at my feet. The small beam of illumination encircled me and I could no longer see Simon as he crept down the hall. My own breath sounded loud enough to be the chuff of a steam engine and I found myself backing against the wall, suddenly feeling vulnerable to whatever might creep up on my unprotected spine.

You couldn't see him move, but the door popped in with a crack, the hall flooding with weak yellowish light. He must have kicked it and I, for one, wouldn't have wanted to be on the other side when six-foot-five of Simon Banks came barreling in.

"Sandburg, get in here!"

Simon might not be afraid to burst into a room possibly containing the armed-and-dangerous but he stood a good ten feet away from the man we'd come to rescue, the man we'd hoped to find, and refused to go any closer. In a second I could see why. Every step wrung a low whimper from Jim Ellison.

"Christ, Simon …"

"Don't blame him, son."

I swung the beam over the OR table where they'd strapped him down.

"Jim, I don't know if you can understand this but I'm going to come over and undo the cuffs. I'm not going to hurt you." I tried to keep my voice level and calm, not easy when both you and the person you're speaking to were shaking like willows in a gale. "Easy Jim, I just need to touch your hand."

As I reached out, the slight, high hum he produced rose interminably to a scream that pierced through your eardrums and probably had just sent H and Rafe into early retirement. That was definitely the effect it had on me.

I fumbled with the straps, loosening them as fast as I could then moving to the bound ankles. Panicked, Jim rolled from the table, landing awkwardly, his hands swinging in wide sweeping arcs, the guttural sound still pouring from his open mouth. He backed into a dusty supply cabinet, the small instruments abandoned inside raining down. I could see forceps and sharp edges that made me grimace.

"No, man, don't move!"

Right, a lot of good that was going to do. Footsteps pounded from the way Simon and I had just come. H and Rafe stopped when I waved them back, but stood panting in the doorway, weapons still at ready. Jim Ellison curled further into himself, the awkward sounds reducing to soft, convulsing sobs.

"Back out, guys. He's stressed enough as it is."

Of course they were more than happy to comply. This was gonna take way more than a stoic shoulder slap so they might as well leave it up to the people guy.

"Easy Jim, easy." I don't know if he was attending even the slightest bit, but the three words became my mantra. If nothing else I needed to calm myself. My palms were sweating, my fingers trembled. If I touched him like this I'd be more likely to panic than console him.

I eased forward, a few inches at a time, bit by bit bringing myself closer. The mantra calming me at least. When I was close enough to put reach out Jim lifted his head, his face turning in my direction. His pale blue eyes fixed above my head while his mouth opened and closed noiselessly. Nostrils flared and I realized with some surprise that he was scenting me. Wonder if his captors had smelled of a mixture of stale coffee and fear?

Instinctively I froze, lowering the lamp so the shaft of light skittered off to the side, leaving both of us in shadow. I was a damned idiot.

"Simon." I was whispering, afraid to raise my voice. "Could you go out in the hall? Not far, just a little ways."

"Blair, I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

Leave it to Simon to get protective at exactly the wrong time. Yes, I know I'm, uh, of less than average stature and that Jim Ellison had several more inches on him than I'll ever see. But the man crouched on the dusty floor was no danger to me, of that I was sure.

"Trust me on this, Simon. We need to reduce the stimulation he's getting."

It took a minute, probably because Simon was standing there imagining the lawsuit that was going to be filed by Rainier when I ended up in traction from trying to restrain a hysterical kidnap victim.

"Okay, I need to call it in."

"No sirens, Simon. Tell them no sirens."

Simon snorted at the instructions and Jim flinched.

"Easy, Jim." I dropped back into the calming tone. "They're going to leave. Everything is going to be okay."

A few minutes later I'd managed to get my pounding heart under control and it seemed that as I calmed, the man beside me did too.

"Doing better, big guy. You're doing better." I was reluctant to disturb what calm we'd managed to reach, but it was cold in the room and Jim had been stripped to just a t-shirt and boxers. "Think it would be okay if I touched you now?"

Yeah, I know the person I was speaking to was non-verbal, but I somehow sensed that, there in the dark, we'd reached some kind of understanding. That, unlike the men who had taken him from his home, Jim Ellison knew I was no threat.

I moved in slow motion, my hand shaking. The first brush of my fingertips on his cold arm brought forth a small whimper but he didn't draw back. Smiling in relief I rested my palm on his wrist, careful not to restrain him.

"Would you like to go home, Jim? Would you like to see Steven?"

No reply, but Jim was still and then, amazingly, he raised his free hand and brought his fingertips to gingerly trace my face. The touch was feather light. I don't know how long he would have continued, but I knew time was running out. Soon there'd be paramedics and more police and the fragile cocoon I'd managed to construct would be broken.

Still moving carefully, I took his hand loosely in mine and when he accepted the contact without distress I tugged gently, urging him to his feet. As he stood there swaying, there was, like, this moment when life came into his eyes and I knew he saw me. Really saw me. Connected. Then Simon, apparently taking the silence as something ominous decided to shine a little extra light on the subject. That I did not need. All this time I spent keeping the lantern down and Simon just flashed us with that big ol' halogen monster he's carrying.

Jim shied back, his gaze immediately growing distant. The whimpers growing again.

"Simon?" Okay, even though I'm told I'm a busybody and something of a know-it-all, I have tried to refrain from it ever looking like I'm giving the captain orders. I know a bad move when I see one. But this one time he was just going to have to accept that Blair Sandburg knew best. "Simon, you're gonna have to trust me again. I need everyone out of the hall. I need the car open and ready to go and I need to get him in it before the cavalry descends on us. And you remembered the no sirens thing, right?"

Jim was rocking slightly in my grasp, trying to quiet himself, his arm sliding forward and back beneath my palm.

The captain just nodded. I figured I'd give them a couple minutes to get out of the way then I'd see what I could do about getting him out of there.

You don't know how relieved I was when we made it to the car. The light still young and soft, the deserted hospital quiet, and I got Jim in the back seat with only a little coaxing. He didn't like the feel of the blanket Simon draped around his shoulders but he liked the feel of the upholstery on his bare skin even less so eventually he accepted the covering. He spent most of the trip with his eyes closed, silent and still except for the hand that had traded places with mine and now wrapped my wrist like a lifeline, making the same sort of movements mine had as he'd swayed. A gentle, rhythmic caress up and down the flannel of my sleeve.

Jim seemed more than content to just make the same repetitive motion. And if that's what he wanted, I was more than happy to let him. Frankly it was about as hypnotizing to me as it was to him. I think I dozed a couple times, jerking up sharply to find my charge as complacent as ever.

Simon kept looking in the rearview, like, wide-eyed. Yep, the people-guy scores again.

~oOo~

A call to the Cascade General's CCU waiting room and Steven Ellison was waiting for us at the curb. He slid in the back seat, sandwiching Jim in the middle but his brother failed to respond. Steven didn't seem surprised. He tousled his brother's hair lightly, his expression crumbling when he noticed his state of undress.

"He's okay," I whispered. "I don't think they did anything. But I figured it would be better to get his regular physician to examine him."

Steven nodded. He glanced down at the clockwork stroking of his brother's hand.

"So he's got you, huh?" He settled a hand on Jim's leg. "You should be honored. You're the first non-family member I've ever seen him do that to."

The sedan pulled into the circular drive of the Ellison home and Jim slowly opened his eyes.

"Hey, bro." Steven smiled and tried to capture Jim's attention. "We're home."

When Jim didn't respond he gently disengaged Jim's grip, freeing me, only to have the pressure return immediately to my arm.

"Sorry, he's got to be upset," apologized Steven. "It just doesn't come out like you'd think."

"Don't worry." Truth was I felt a real need to stay and make sure our victim was all right.

Simon was looking at me quizzically. "Look, I'll stay here. I don't think you're going to be able to get any kind of a statement out of him, but if I learn anything I'll let you know."

I remember Simon nodding, Steven helping Jim from the car as the grip pulled me along, and that it took the appearance of Sally Chen to finally break the chain. My wrist felt a little cold when the encircling hand finally released and Jim dove into the Asian woman's embrace. The large man seemed to shrink in her arms and sobs began to hiccup softly from both of them.

Jim Ellison was back in the world he knew.

Soft clothing was brought down and the filthy shirt and shorts tossed into a kitchen garbage bag for examination by forensics. Steven settled Jim on the sofa and Sally brought a mug of warm tomato soup, holding Jim's hands around the sides while he sipped. It was amazing to watch. Time-scripted rituals that had been worked out over the years to bring some order into the man's chaotic world. All accompanied by a soothing conversation, Sally murmuring her side in words while Jim replied in the caresses that were his speech.

Steven watched me watch the scene before us. "He won't ever be able to tell you what happened."

"I know." If I hadn't known that before, I knew that now. Jim Ellison spoke a language only the initiated could understand.

"About my father …"

Damn. I'd been so concerned about William Ellison's son that I hadn't even thought any more about the man himself. "What did the doctors say?"

"He'll be okay." Steven shook his head. "I … he said a little more in the ambulance. About Jim. It made me remember a few things. I couldn’t have been more than six. Our mother had just … left and Jim ran away into the woods. It took three days to find him and when we did …"

He looked over to his brother who said rocking gently again, eyes closed, this time Sally's arm beneath his stroking hand.

"He wasn't like this, not then. But right after, he started having the seizures. He'd just be 'gone'. At first they said epilepsy but, Sally says, the anti-convulsants only made the problem worse, not better. I don't remember a lot, but I do remember the afternoon Jim was quarterbacking the middle school team, some kind of city playoff and Dad was there. Right in the middle of play Jim had one of his seizures. Dad was so embarrassed. I remember a lot of yelling after that - Dad and Jim. And Dad started sending him to Dr. Rutherford. Jim got worse pretty quickly after that but he kept going every week for a couple of years, until Dad said Rutherford was a quack and there was a lawsuit."

Steven got up and knelt down beside Jim. "Hey, big brother, want to go upstairs now? Get some rest?"

He showed absolutely no impatience at being ignored.

"Come on," a hand turned Jim's face in his direction. "Let's go lay down."

For a minute there was that spark of connection as the blue eyes blinked open. Steven's hands tugged on his brother's. "Come on, Jim."

Docilely, Jim followed. Sally Chin straightened her skirt, looking down at her arm where Jim had touched her.

"Thank you," she said softly.

Some days even I can understand why these guys become cops.

~oOo~

Investigations take time and manpower. Time and manpower the perennially budget-deficit Major Crimes department barely has, so inevitably some crimes get pushed down to other departments and some just get put on a backburner. Jim Ellison was definitely on permanent simmer. The father who, let's face it, appeared somehow involved didn't feel obliged to push the case forward in the media so there was no pressure from that direction. The mayor's office only pushed those cases that were bringing in calls from the local elite. Even Steven Ellison appeared to want to forgive and forget. What's a few million, after all, to a Fortune 500 family?

Simon had more pressing matters. Seriously more pressing - a new drug lord making a move on already settled territory; a Presidential candidate, with a string of unhappy voters sending hate mail, planning an impending visit to good ole Cascade; a couple of prostitute murders that had him worried that our lovely city would be the next Green River.

Which is why he wasn't too happy to find I'd been spending my free time, what little there was of it, digging up old files on William Ellison and one Haverick Rutherford, MD. And when the captain isn't happy, you know it. I don't have to hear "Sandburg!" bellowed twice.

Hmm, what part of "observer" didn't I understand? From the look on the big man's face the question wasn't rhetorical.

"I am observing, Simon." Have I mentioned that anger makes me foolhardy? "I'm observing a case being shuffled off to the eternal file box because the victim is handicapped."

Simon scowled.

"It's true, isn't it? Jim Ellison can't complain so let's dump his case."

I've made some mistakes in my time. I'll admit it. And watching Simon Banks rise up out of his desk chair makes you realize pretty quickly you've probably made another one.

"Sandburg." Simon does icy calm really well. "You are an observer. One here on my good graces. Would you like those good graces to be withdrawn?"

"It's not right, Simon. Is there pressure from Ellison Enterprises?" I threw up my hands. "No, forget I even asked that. Like you'd tell me if there was."

Okay, I admit it. There are times when nothing gets you as far as an innocent, hopeful, puppy-dog look. One that says the person you're directing it at is your last and only possibility of redemption.

"Just let me try, Simon. I'm not bothering anyone. I'm not taking the computer if anyone else needs it. I'm pulling all the records myself. I'm even struggling through the forensics report on my own. I just need to do this, Simon. I *need* to. I can't explain it, but I've got find out what happened here."

Simon glowered. "Don't look at me with those Bambi-eyes, Sandburg."

Bambi? Man, all this time I was doing Lady and the Tramp.

"All right. Just don't let me hear anyone complaining …"

Bambi will work. Bambi is good.

~oOo~

Jim's studio is amazing. I mean amazing. It was standing in the middle of it that I began to doubt Jim's diagnosis. Yeah, he had some of the hallmarks of autism. The obliviousness to social cues. The perseverating. Obvious sensory involvement. But he did not lack in creativity. And more importantly he didn't lack spontaneity. There have been other autistic artists, Jessy Parks comes to mind, but most have to be coaxed into creating their works. Jim began sculpting on his own and he kept sculpting, not for any reward the family supplied to shape behavior but because it obviously gave some meaning to his existence.

And the works weren't concrete. A few of them were, busts of Steven or Sally. Done, according to the models, purely by feel with his eyes closed. But the rest were almost abstract, representations of animal shapes. Curved goliaths echoing the male and female torsos. Long sinuous shapes that were some combination of man and beast.

I knew art majors that said they'd kill for the ability to do this kind of stuff. Except that the actual price extracted in exchange was too high to even contemplate.

By this time Jim knew me. Somehow expected me because he always met me at the door. Quiet, his gaze directed anywhere but my face, but waiting somehow. Hypersensitive hearing, yeah, that explained that he knew I was there, but that he accepted me, *wanted* to see me, even if he couldn't bring himself to actually look at me … that blew me away.

The first time I'd gone just to see how he was doing but I was immediately recruited as a model, fingers dancing over my face and hair. Now it's just the final touches. Literally. Jim spent twenty minutes the other day examining my left eyebrow, which was not nearly as annoying as the day he focused on my lips for nearly twice that long. For me, forty minutes without saying something is torture.

He was still working on the bust, but most of his time was taken up by his latest project. A pair of his human-animal crosses. I was guessing here, but it was starting to look like a man-jaguar and a man-wolf standing side by side. He always drew me to it as if presenting it for my inspection and for a second, eyes met mine and drew me in before the gaze was dropped, flat and distant again.

It must be frustrating for him. Wanting to connect but being too short-circuited to accomplish it. I know it's frustrating for me. But then I circled his wrist and he took the cue, moving to reverse our positions. Lately he's given up stroking my shirtsleeve for settling a thumb at my pulse point. Maybe he can feel my pulse beat there. I've tried it on myself, and only learned that I don't know how nurses do it.

But it was Steven I'd come to talk to - arranging to meet him here instead of company headquarters. William was still on medical leave but he couldn't bring himself to stay away from the office and I'd have rather him not know Steven was still on speaking terms with the Cascade PD.

Jim didn't understand when I tried to leave. It was as close to a tantrum as I've ever seen from him. His vocalizations were painful and he struck out, though not at me, venting his fury on the bags of clay. I stayed with him until Sally could take over, plying him with chocolate she'd concealed in her hand, allowing me to slip out. I hate doing that to him, reducing him to a set of programmed responses, but right then I really needed to speak with Steven.

It hadn't been easy, getting the subpoena. And the subpoena turned out to be a cakewalk compared to finding Haverick Rutherford's files which were sold with the practice, sold again to a healthcare chain and then finally stored in a ramshackle building painted in letters three feet high "Safe Fireproof Storage" … which was a blatant lie. But in a stack of musty cardboard boxes eight feet above the dirty floor there it was -- the patient record of one James Joseph Ellison.

I don't know how it missed being exhibit A in the malpractice trial. Maybe Rutherford had created another one thinking it would save his ass from the fire. I'm just grateful he apparently never heard of a shredder because without that file, none of this would have ever made sense. Or if I did catch on, God knows when it would have been.

Haverick Rutherford had been a doctor of last resort. Neurologists, psychiatrists, William Ellison tried them all in an attempt to rid his son of his symptoms. Symptoms which included enhanced sight, enhanced hearing, hypersensitive touch, taste and smell. And most devastating of all, the periods of obliviousness Jim slipped into with greater and greater frequency. Hell, I could have told them in a flash, at the tender age of eight, that Jim Ellison was a Sentinel.

Rutherford was not a medical genius. He didn't have a clue. He was just some idiot who had an idea, sold for a high price to a very desperate parent, that Jim's hyper senses could be desensitized the way you desensitize a phobic's reaction to snakes - by exposure. So once a week, Jim was left for eight hours in the care of a man who subjected him to brilliant light and constant high pitched sound. In his more experimental moments he forced Jim to swallow concoctions of acids and had him placed in nearly scalding baths. And with every treatment Jim withdrew a little more.

I ask myself every day why William Ellison persisted in letting this excuse for a doctor torment his son for two years. When clearly Jim was getting worse, first losing his ability to speak, then drawing so far into himself that only small glimmers of contact remained. Tiny spaces when Jim came up for air, to see if it was safe and found it never was. I don't know the answer.

I do know that when William Ellison finally stopped the madness, it was too late. Jim had stopped surfacing. Twenty years later he was just now beginning to reach out.

I explained it to Steven, that there's no one to arrest. That bankrupting Rutherford may have given his father a feeling of accomplishment, but Rutherford got it back in the end. I'm sure William Ellison knows that, but being the consummate businessman he's well acquainted with the theory of sunk cost. The money is gone. Jim is long damaged. The only thing to do is move ahead with what you have left.

We put out an arrest warrant on Rutherford, but the senior Ellison can rest pretty well assured that, with him and his millions south of the border, he won't darken our holding cell any time soon. No nasty press about a quack's sordid history and how he took a prominent local leader for millions.

Steven … hell, Steven cried.

I'm sounding pessimistic here and I don't mean to, because I'm really not.

Because that's not the end of the story.

Jim is … well, he's coming up for air more and more now. I don't know what he could have been if he'd found someone who understood two decades ago. We'll never know. But I'm going to find out what he could become. He's starting to communicate again - no words, not yet, but we're working on sign language and he keeps trying to tell me something about his sculpture. About the wolf and jaguar pair. One day he's going to manage to get it across to me, I know it.

~end~