A Split Second in Time
AUTHORS NOTES: Based on a real-life incident told to me just the other day by a friend of mine, who is a police officer here.
Cascade Times Secret Santa for Debbie. It's not a missing scene, Debbie, nor really a case story, but I do hope you enjoy it all the same.
It had been a longer shift than planned at the PD. Blair had just arrived there from the university, already dragging his feet in exhaustion, when theyd been called out on an armed robbery in progress. Thanks to Jims heightened senses, hed been able to hear the thieves attempting to flee through a back alley and theyd caught both perps before they had a chance to escape. The arrest, of course, meant filing reports and processing the prisoners and it was well past midnight before the two men were finally on their way home.
Blair stared dazedly out the window at the passing scenery, not realizing he had drooped sideways in a doze until Jim gave him a dig in the ribs and he straightened up with a gasp of surprise. "M awake," he blurted out, blinking rapidly in a futile attempt to dispel the fogginess from his brain.
"Sure you are, Rip van Winkle," Jim chuckled. "If youre going to sleep, just keep to your side of the cab. We stop at a traffic light, people are gonna get the wrong idea."
"You are so not my type," Blair muttered. He shifted to the side until he was curled more or less comfortably up against the passenger door of the truck and had almost nodded off again when the police radio crackled to life, reporting a disturbance at a house just a few streets away.
Words were no longer needed between them. With an ease borne of a partnership of longstanding, Jim checked the traffic and did a U-turn, switching on the mars light and siren, while Blair reached over in a now practiced move and responded that they were taking the call.
From the outside, the house looked deserted. There were no lights on inside and no cars in the driveway. Jim led the way to the front door, which stood slightly ajar. The sentinel focused his hearing on the interior of the house. "Two people," he whispered.
A womans shrill scream suddenly ripped through the silence and Blair jumped. Jim gave him a quick look, assessing his readiness. "Stay behind me," he whispered then stepped into the entranceway, his weapon held at the ready.
A muffled shout came from a room to the right and Jim led the way in. A streetlight cast an eerie glow through the curtainless window and made the shocking scene before them look surreal.
A woman was stretched out on her back on the couch. A large man leaned over her struggling body. Even in the dimness, Blair could see a huge stain of blood covering the womans jeans. A large kitchen knife was clutched in both their hands as they fought to gain control. Blair swallowed convulsively, feeling his heart beginning to pound in his chest.
"Police!" Jim said firmly. He brought his gun to bear on the struggling couple. "Move away from the woman now!"
The man only spared them a quick glance before renewing his assault on the crying woman. "No! You dont understand "
Slowly, Blair moved away from Jim, angling his approach to the side. If Jim could get the attackers attention, and he could get close enough without being noticed, perhaps he could drag the woman to safety.
Jim was focused totally on the scene in front of him. "I said move away from her!"
The man began to straighten but tried at the same time to wrench the knife from the womans grip. "You you dont understand," he panted. "Louise, please "
The woman stared up at him, wild-eyed, then lurched herself forward suddenly with a screech. Blair, reaching out to grab her, reared back as pain sliced through his outstretched hand.
There was an explosion of gunfire and Blair dove to the floor, his ears ringing from the blast of sound. He flinched from a kick to his lower back, desperately dragging himself away from the chaos above him. He could hear the woman shrieking abuse, while the man sobbed and begged her to stay still, telling her he loved her. None of it made any sense to Blair as he clutched his stinging hand to his chest. Jims voice rose above them both, calling to Blair.
"Sandburg! You okay?"
It took a moment for the question to filter through Blair's shocked brain. Finally, he nodded and struggled to sit, pulling himself back until he leaned against the wall beneath the window. "I'm okay," he said, though he was aware of the trembling in his voice.
"Can you stand?" Jim asked, stepping over to the couch and surprisingly, holstering his weapon. "I need your help here."
Blair got to his feet and locked his shaking knees. He stared in dazed puzzlement at the scene. Jim crouched in front of the couch, holding the womans wrists tightly. The attacker stood beside them, looking lost and shocked, muttering, "Im sorry" over and over. The kitchen knife lay on the floor, its blade bloodied, the handle shattered by Jims bullet. Still nursing his throbbing hand against his chest, Blair made his way over to the couch.
Jim glanced up at him, a frown appearing. "Get some towels or something. I need to bind these wounds, then get an ambulance and a patrol car here. Get another towel for your hand."
Blair looked down then, surprised to see blood trickling through his fingers and staining his shirt. "Okay."
He turned and was about to head off into the back of the house when Jim grabbed his uninjured arm. "You sure you're all right?"
"Yeah. It's not bad."
Jim nodded. "All right. Go."
Blair reacted immediately to the curt order. Racing from the room, he quickly located a bathroom and pulled a couple of towels from the rack and found another smaller one hanging above the hand basin. He wrapped the handtowel around his hand, not bothering to check the damage, then hurried back to the living room. Handing one towel to Jim, he wrapped the other tightly around the womans slashed wrist. She had gone silent now, staring into space with a dulled expression. The man was seated beside her, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, wiping the tears from his face, leaving streaks of moisture and blood.
"Im sorry," he said again, this time looking at Jim. "Shes been depressed for a couple months. She saw a therapist. I thought she was getting better. When I got home tonight, I found her in here. Shed slashed one wrist and when I turned away to phone for help, she grabbed the knife from me and cut the other one. I was trying to stop her when you " His distraught voice trailed off and he leaned over to press a gentle kiss to the womans forehead. "Im sorry, honey. Youre gonna be okay. Well get you some help."
The woman didnt respond to his voice and Blair felt a chill envelop him. "Hold the towel, okay, sir?" He guided the mans free hand to the towel and wrapped his fingers around the womans wrist. Standing, he pulled his cell phone awkwardly from his jacket pocket and called for backup and an ambulance. That done, he turned to watch as Jim spoke quietly to the man, attempting to reassure him.
Blair felt nausea surge. Hed felt certain that they were about to witness the woman being murdered in front of their eyes. How had Jim known that wasnt the case? Feeling light-headed and knowing Jim had more important things to worry about, he caught Jims eyes and nodded toward the front door. "Ill wait outside, guide them in."
Jim gave him a searching look then nodded and turned his attention back to the couple.
Outside, Blair waited by the front gate until he saw the patrol car and ambulance arriving. He waved them down and showed them the way in, then walked back out to the truck. Lowering himself to the curb, he rested his head on his knees and breathed in deeply, attempting to dispel his nausea and shock. His hand was throbbing even more now and he wondered if he should unwrap the hasty bandaging and take a look. He opted against it when his stomach churned at the very thought of what he might find. There was no blood seeping through the cloth, so that had to be a good sign.
"Sandburg? You all right, Chief?"
At the sound of Jims concerned voice, Blair lifted his head and gave a shaky nod. He accepted Jims hand and stood, awkwardly dusting the dampness and dirt from his pants with his good hand. He still felt a little nauseated, could feel his heart pounding in his chest but his breathing was finally returning to normal and the full body shudders that had assailed him initially had died down to occasional trembling.
"Let's take a look at your hand," Jim said.
"It's okay -" Blair began but Jim simply glared at him, pulled the wounded hand gently outward, and unwrapped the towel. A vivid gash slashed across Blair's palm and as he watched, blood began to ooze up again in a steady stream. Just the sight of it started it burning again. Jim pressed the towel firmly against the wound and Blair tried not to flinch at the pain.
"It'll need stitches," Jim informed him. "Paramedics are busy with the woman and her husband so I'll take you to the hospital once I've squared things away with the other patrols. Keep pressure on it and wait in the truck. I'll be back in a minute." He walked away a few steps then turned and waved an admonishing finger at Blair. "This time, do what I tell you."
Blair trudged wearily around to the passenger door and climbed into the cab. He watched as the injured woman was wheeled out of the house on a gurney and rushed into the ambulance. A uniformed officer followed behind, holding her husband by one arm and leading him to a patrol car.
A few minutes later, he saw Jim heading back. He climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine, maneuvering the vehicle onto the street, narrowly avoiding a couple of curious passersby. "Idiots!" he fumed.
Blair sat silently, knowing Jim's anger was directed at him, not the neighbors. He'd thought he was helping No, he hadn't thought at all. He'd just acted on impulse. Finally, he could stand the heavy silence no longer. "How did you know?" he asked softly.
Jim kept his gaze on the road ahead. "Know what?"
"That he wasn't attacking her?"
Jim tapped at his eye. "I could see that she had control of the knife. His hand was wrapped around hers and he was trying to pull it away, not push it toward her."
Blair's admiration for Jim's gifts surged to the fore, despite his discomfiture. "That's pretty incredible," he said, "given the circumstances and how quickly things were going down."
"And the fact I had to worry about where the hell you'd gone to," Jim cut in angrily.
"Im sorry," Blair said. He stared back at Jim, knowing the detectives anger was justified but wanting to explain his actions, as flawed as they might have been. "I thought I might be able to get her away from him while you had his attention."
Jim nodded, his ire seeming to dissipate. "And if the situation had been different, you might have been right, but the way things were going down, and in the state she was in, youre lucky she didnt turn the knife on you."
"I didnt know that," Blair responded weakly. He felt like an idiot but he just couldnt seem to get this guide cum back up thing right. He never seemed to know whether he would be praised for his impetuous thinking or have Jim tear him a new one.
Jim rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Let's get your hand looked at and go home. I don't know about you, but I'm wiped."
The local anesthetic had worn off some time ago and Blair lay in bed, staring at the small bottle of painkillers that sat on his bedside table. He didn't want to take them though. Not because of his usual disdain for medical drugs, but because the pain was a welcome respite from the thoughts whirling around in his head.
Jim looked as exhausted as Blair felt by the time they'd arrived home from the hospital. There had been a two hour wait there before he'd been seen, thanks to the usual Friday night run of brawls, shootings and car accidents. Still, Jim had set about his usual nightly routine of tidying and locking up while Blair simply watched dispiritedly. Finally, Jim turned to him.
"Get some sleep," he said. "And take a pill if you need it. That hand is going to hurt once the anesthetic wears off."
"I'm not your kid," Blair shot back, mortified the moment the words escaped his mouth. He shifted his gaze from Jim's frowning face to the floor at his feet. "Sorry," he whispered.
"If you'd been acting like an adult, you wouldn't have been hurt!" Suddenly, it seemed all of Jim's anger and frustration spewed forth. "You're not a cop! How many times do you have to be told that before it filters through that thick skull of yours? You're there to guide me, help me with my senses. That doesn't entail you riding to the rescue of an armed damsel in distress like the damned cavalry."
Blair flinched but kept silent. He turned toward his bedroom and slowly made his way to his room. "Good night, Jim."
Blair hadn't slept at all. Between the pain of his hand and his restless thoughts, he'd tossed and turned, finally giving up the fight and getting up just as dawn began to filter into the loft. He made coffee and awkwardly scrambled eggs, ready for breakfast, heating the skillet as he heard Jim descending the stairs.
"Morning, Chief," Jim said, patting Blair's shoulder as he sidled past him to pull orange juice from the fridge. "How's the hand?"
Blair shrugged and concentrated on getting the eggs into the pan and not on the counter. "Okay."
Jim sipped at his juice and watched while Blair stirred the eggs then reached out and took the wooden spoon from his hand. "Go set the table. I'll get this."
They ate in silence, save for Jim's occasional comments about his workload at the station and the fact that his report stack was fast overtaking his desk.
Blair picked up on the hint. "Sorry, man. Not today. I've got a stack of things to do myself."
He looked up in time to see a tiny frown appear between Jim's eyes. "You're not coming in today? I thought you said you were pretty cleared at the university."
"Just some things I forgot." Blair pushed away his plate, his appetite gone. He stood and carried his dishes into the kitchen. "In fact," he continued as he filled the sink with water, adding way too much dish soap, "I doubt I'll be available much over the next few weeks. No biggie," he assured Jim as he concentrated on washing his plate one-handed, ignoring the burning of his eyes, "any problems with your senses, I'm on your speed dial."
Jim was suddenly at his side, shouldering him gently out of the way. "Let me do that. You'll get your bandage wet."
It was all too much. The guilt and frustration, the pain and shock combined and surged up, pouring out in a tumbling stream of words before Blair seemed to have even thought them. "Seems like this is all I'm good for. Maybe I could just stay here and work off my rent doing your housework. I tried, Jim, I really tried. I try to do what you tell me to do. I know sometimes I screw up, but last night Last night I thought "
Jim rounded on him, soap suds flicking through the air with abandon as he turned. There was no anger on his face though, just worry and concern. "What are you talking about, Sandburg? Is this about last night because -"
"No! At least, not totally." Blair sighed, deflating, his churned up feelings leaving him sagging against the kitchen counter. "I try to help you, try to do what I promised you I'd do that first day, but I seem to screw it up more often than I get it right. Maybe you and Simon were right. Maybe I shouldn't be riding along with you. Maybe "
Jim reached out and grasped his shoulders, giving them a little shake. Blair closed his mouth obediently, proving he could do what he was told - some of the time.
"If I thought you shouldn't be riding with me, I would have ditched you long ago. If Simon thought you shouldn't be my partner, he would have stopped filling in those observer's passes a year ago. You're my partner, my back up, my guide, but I won't allow you to be hurt. Shit! I've let that happen already too often in the past."
"So you're feeling guilty?" Blair asked. "That's why you're angry with me?"
Jim dropped his hands, letting his arms hang at his sides. "I'm not angry with you, Chief. Scared you were going to end up badly injured or dead, yes, but angry, no. Angry at myself for letting you get into these situations because of a deal we struck. Angry at myself for being so desperate for your help that you put yourself at risk for me."
"My choice," Blair reminded him softly.
Jim nodded in agreement. "Yes, it was and if you hadn't pushed me into that deal a few years ago, I would never have seen that the knife was in her hand, not his. I probably would have shot that poor bastard dead last night."
Blair's eyes widened at the realization of that. "You mean that?"
"I mean that." Jim finally smiled, the creases of weariness smoothing on his forehead. "I also mean for you to do what I tell you when we're on a job. I don't know how I'd cope without my guide or my best friend."
Blair nodded, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "I'll do my best." He grinned a little at Jim's suddenly stern glare. "I'm sorry, man, that's the best I can offer."
Jim stared at him for a long moment then nodded. "Okay. You'd better get a move on if you want a ride to the university. I don't think you should drive till the stitches are out."
Blair turned to leave then stopped and looked back at Jim. "Actually, the school work can wait. I can spare a day, spellchecking your reports. Mind you," he added thoughtfully, "it will probably take more than a day to whip them into shape and seeing as I'm not on the payroll, maybe you could pay me for services rendered with dinner tonight?"
Jim slapped his plate into the soapy water with more force than necessary, causing a spray to soak the front of his robe. "Go get dressed, Sandburg," he growled. As Blair headed toward his bedroom, he added, "I'm not above Wonderburger for dinner, you know."