DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
The Hazy Blue Line
Blair yawned as he shuffled into the locker room, his backpack slung loosely over his right shoulder. He glanced at his watch: 6:10 a.m. Too damn early. Most cadets didn't show up until seven-thirty, and those that stayed in the dorms usually hit the showers before then. Blair, however, had started showing up earlier to do some extra practice runs on the obstacle course and go over his notes from previous lectures.
Thanks to a dirty cop named Dallas, Blair now knew he could beat that eight-foot wall, but clearing it and coming close to Jim's record were two completely different things. Okay, so he knew he probably didn't stand a chance in hell of even approaching his partner's record on the course. After all, Jim was taller than he was and just all around more of a 'jock.' Hell, Jim had entered the Academy after making captain in the Army Rangers. Of course he'd take the record.
Still, Blair couldn't help but feel like he had to prove something. Jim would tell him he was being foolish, so he'd never really mentioned it to his friend. However, after proclaiming himself a fraud on television, he knew he'd have a rocky road ahead of him in the credibility department. He at least wanted to get through the Academy with flying colors -- in everything.
Reaching his locker -- fourth aisle, first one -- he placed his backpack on the bench and turned the combination lock clockwise, stopping at fifteen. He heard a noise -- like a squeak of rubber against tile -- and turned around, but saw no one.
He frowned. It was a bit too deserted, even for this time of the morning. Usually Thompson or Jackson were up by now. Jackson he could do without, the man was a liability and a jerk to boot. Thompson was okay, however. Not the nicest guy, but tolerable.
Suddenly, the quiet became unnerving and he felt like he was in one of those B horror movies. He suppressed a shiver and turned back around. Get a grip. There aren't gonna be any psychos on Academy grounds -- well, unless Jackson counts. That probably wasn't far from the truth. He thought back again to Jim's car accident on the Academy course and his frown deepened. He'd seen Jackson with a cell phone in a restricted area. He'd thought about mentioning it to Jim after the Dallas thing was wrapped up, but there wasn't much to go on, so he'd let the matter drop. It still nagged at him, though.
Another squeak -- louder and closer this time -- stole his breath. He was about to turn around when hands grabbed his arms and a thick, cottony ball was shoved into his mouth. He released a muffled scream just as a scarf came around his face and someone pushed him forward into the locker. Rough hands yanked the scarf back so that it secured the gag in his mouth. He caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of a tall figure wearing a blue ski mask, then a hood was pulled over his head. His hands were yanked painfully behind his back, and handcuffs locked tightly around his wrists.
He struggled and tried to twist free, but more hands grabbed him, lifting him off his feet. He screamed, but the gag muffled the sound, and he coughed, choking on the rough cotton bits pressed against the back of his throat. He bucked wildly, but his legs were held securely by at least two sets of hands. Another pair gripped him beneath the armpits and helped carry him.
Oh God. His mind whirled. Who would attack him here at the Academy? What did they want? Were they going to kill him or just beat the shit out of him? He told himself that if they wore masks and put a hood over his head they probably intended to keep him alive. He hoped.
But it also meant they were going to do something they didn't want to be identified for. He swallowed hard, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. The gag seemed stifling and he tried not to panic, knowing he'd only end up choking on it.
He felt them slowing, then heard a door creak open. The sound of their footsteps changed, no longer squeaking against tile. Now it sounded like they were walking on cement. Was he inside or outside? Another door creaked as it opened, then their shoes squeaked on tile again.
Oh man, oh man, where are they taking me?
Suddenly, they stopped and he held his breath, no longer fighting. From his count, there were at least three of them, and from the glimpse he'd caught earlier, he knew one of them was around six-feet tall and built like an offensive lineman.
He was moved again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Swinging? They were swinging him. Oh God! They were getting ready to throw him... He felt himself going airborne, his heart lurching to his throat. A second later, he hit something hard. A splash. Pain exploded along his chest and stomach and his hood flew off. He screamed against the gag, nearly hyperventilating. Then he was under water, swallowing it and choking on it as it slid past the ball of cotton in his mouth. Directly in front of his face, he saw bluish cement walls. A pool? He was in the Academy's pool. He choked some more, trying not to take in anymore of the foul chlorine liquid, and his legs pumped automatically, propelling him upward. He broke the surface, but he couldn't breathe, the gag stifling him.
A hand grabbed the top of his head and pushed him under. He struggled, but his legs weren't touching bottom and his hands were restrained uselessly behind his back. His lungs burned, desperate for air. His stomach revolted, expelling the water he'd swallowed, but the gag blocked its exit and he choked on the regurgitation, then gasped inadvertently, sucking in more water through his nose. He twisted and brought his legs up, trying to push off the wall, but more hands grabbed him by the shoulders and held him in place even as he kicked and bucked against the cement side.
His chest felt like it was being ripped open from the inside, and the pain tore a scream from his throat as more water pushed its way into his lungs.
Alex, please... Don't...
He was going to die without ever making amends with Jim. God, don't let this happen! Not like this. Not now...
Then he was yanked upward and slammed into something hard. He didn't realize he was free of the gag until he threw up water. He lay there, gasping and coughing, his chest surging as his stomach tossed up more caustic water.
He also realized his hands were free, the cuffs gone. He slid his arms to either side of his chest and pushed up, but he didn't seem to be moving. Black spots floated across his vision, shifting and dancing like dark, demonic flames. Exhausted, he collapsed against the hard tile and into oblivion.
The phone rang and Jim swiveled in his chair to snatch up the receiver. "Ellison."
"Detective Ellison? This is Sergeant Jack Wirsig at the Academy. I'm afraid I have some bad news about Blair Sandburg."
Jim tensed, gripping the receiver until his knuckles went white. "What happened?"
"There's been an incident here, we don't know exactly what happened, but he's in transport to Cascade General. Two cadets found him unconscious in the poolroom. He had marks around his wrists -- reddish rings that looked like they could've been made by handcuffs. We also found a newspaper clipping taped to his locker door about his near-drowning at Rainier's fountain. Someone wrote 'Sandbags can't swim' in block letters over the face of the article."
Jim was out of his seat, pacing, tethered to his desk by the phone cord. "Was he... Can you tell me what condition he was in? Will --?"
"The paramedics said they thought he would be okay, but they weren't very specific. I'm sorry, that's all I know. We're investigating this here, but we probably won't find out anything useful until Sandburg wakes up and tells us what happened."
Jim nodded. "Thank you. I'm going now." He slammed the phone down and waved to Brown on his way out. "Tell Simon I'm going to the hospital. Blair was attacked at the Academy." Without waiting for a response, he flew through the doorway and ran towards the elevators.
"NO! Alex!" Blair's eyes jerked open and he jack-knifed into a sitting position, gasping for air. Hands grabbed his shoulders and he flinched, one arm lashing out at his attacker.
"Easy, Chief!" A strong hand wrapped around his wrist and Blair looked over to see Jim staring at him, the Sentinel's brow creased with concern.
"Jim?" He dropped back against the mattress, expelling a hard, relieved breath. A steady beeping to his right grabbed his attention, and he turned his head, seeing the familiar sight of a heart monitor, his eyes tracking the blips on the green line. Guess this means I'm alive.
He pulled his gaze away from the machine and looked at Jim. "Some guys jumped me in the locker room. They wore masks and put a hood over my head, so I didn't get a look at them. Then they dumped me in the pool -- held me under. I... I thought..." He swallowed, closing his eyes. "Man, I thought they were gonna kill me. Then it was like I was right back at the fountain. I was choking on water. I couldn't breathe... I..."
"Take it easy." A firm hand on his shoulder steadied him, and he opened his eyes. Jim peered down, his eyes narrowed with concern. "You have no idea who did this to you?"
Blair shook his head. "No. I didn't see their faces. Like I said, they wore masks."
Jim nodded grimly and dropped into the small chair next to the bed. "Did they say anything? Could you recognize their voices? The investigative team didn't find much evidence at the scene. We were hoping you could --"
Blair shook his head. "No, they didn't say a word. I just don't know who would do something so sick. I mean, I know there are a few guys who aren't too crazy about me, but why would someone do this?"
Jim swallowed hard, fidgeting in his chair. "They, uh... They found a newspaper clipping about your drowning at the fountain. It was taped to your locker. They dusted it for prints, but it was clean."
Blair closed his eyes, his lips pressed into a thin line. "Man, what total assholes. And these are guys who are gonna be cops with guns. Real nice."
"I have an idea who might have done it, but it's weak."
Blair opened his eyes to look at the Sentinel. "Who? Jackson? He's the only one I can think of off-hand who's jerk enough to do something like this."
Jim nodded, a slight smile tugging at his lips. "Yeah. We'll make a detective out of you yet."
Blair grinned weakly, but the smile faded quickly. "Okay, so why do you think it was him -- besides the obvious reasons, I mean?"
"On the article taped to your locker someone wrote, 'Sandbags can't swim.' It was written in block letters, so they can't match the handwriting."
Blair snorted, anger flashing in his eyes. "Of course. These are cops-to-be. They wouldn't be so stupid as to leave traceable evidence."
"But we can question Jackson."
Blair shrugged. "He's not going to confess, Jim, if that's what you're thinking. And we've got no other evidence. That 'sandbags thing is thin. Everyone knows that nickname by now and more people than Jackson have used --" his mini-tirade was interrupted by a coughing fit that shuddered through his chest. He felt like knives were slicing through his lungs, and tears welled up in his eyes.
A hand slid beneath his back, lifting him up until he was sitting, his chest leaning forward over his legs. Footsteps pounded into the room and he heard Jim's voice, but couldn't focus on the words. He tried to get control over his breathing, but the rumbling hacks wouldn't let up and he couldn't get air into his lungs. A woman's voice sounded in his left ear, then something hard was shoved in his mouth, touching the back of his throat and gagging him. He felt a hard mist explode down his windpipe and into his lungs -- once, then twice. The coughs died and he could suddenly breathe again. He dropped back to the mattress, gasping as he sucked in huge lung-fulls of sweet, blessed air.
More footsteps drummed against the tile and a hand pressed down on his forehead, then slid upward to sweep the curls out of his eyes. He blinked, once again seeing Jim leaning over him, his face anxious.
"Better?" the Sentinel asked.
Blair nodded, still breathing heavily.
A deep voice rumbled from somewhere behind Jim. "Is he okay now?"
Blair struggled to sit up again to look past Jim, but a hand on his chest kept him down. "Hang on, Chief, let me raise the bed for you."
Blair stopped struggling and nodded, still concentrating on just breathing. A second later, a low hum sounded and the top portion of the bed rose, finally stopping at a comfortable 60-degree angle. Now Blair could see past Jim, and he spotted Simon standing a few feet from the door, looking anxious and uncomfortable.
When did he get here?
When the captain saw Blair's eyes on him, he managed a smile and stepped forward quickly, stopping to stand just behind Jim. "I hope you don't feel as bad as you look, Sandburg."
Blair shrugged, finally finding his voice. "Don't know. How do I look?"
Simon leaned forward on the tips of his toes, peering over Jim's shoulder and taking on his best fatherly look. "Like you're about to pass out. So, I'll leave you to your rest. I just want to have a word with Jim, if you don't mind my stealing him for a second."
Blair smiled weakly and waved a hand in the air. "No, go ahead. Take him."
Jim scowled, looking back and forth between the two men. "How did I suddenly become a commodity to be lent and borrowed?"
Simon chuckled. "Quit your grumbling. You should be flattered. Now, if you don't mind..." He gestured to the doorway.
With a nod, the detective followed his captain out into the hall.
Jim closed the door and turned to face his superior. "What is it, sir?"
"Has Sandburg told you who did this?"
He shook his head. "No. They were wearing masks, and they put a hood over his head."
"What about voices? Did they say anything? Could he recognize who they were?"
"No, they didn't say anything."
Simon sighed heavily. "Well, then we've got squat to go on. If he can't ID the guys, they're gonna get away with this."
"I'm pretty sure it was Jackson, sir."
"Because of the 'Sandbags can't swim' note. That's Jackson's nickname for Blair."
"How many other cadets know about and use that nickname?"
Jim's shoulders sagged. "I'm guessing all the cadets know about the nickname, but I don't know how many have used it. Blair did say a few of the guys have called him that on occasion."
"Well, then we've got nothing."
"I know, sir."
Jim tossed his keys in the basket and stepped aside to allow Blair to enter, then he closed the door and hung his coat on the rack. Eyeing his partner critically, he noted the younger man's sluggish movements and hunched shoulders.
"You want something to eat?"
Blair glanced back at him and sank onto the couch. "Yeah, I'm starving, actually. That hospital food leaves much to be desired."
Jim glanced at the clock: 8 p.m. The deli should still be open. "You feel like a sandwich? Or we could go Chinese, but I'm guessing that'll be a bit rough on your system right now."
"Sure, I can go with a soup and sandwich. You thinking about ordering delivery?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, it's late and I don't feel like cooking."
"Fine by me. My wallet's... uh, well my wallet's in my backpack which I think is back in the locker room."
"Don't worry about it. Dinner's on me."
"Thanks." He reached for the remote on the coffee table and settled back on the cushions, flipping on the TV.
"I'm going to be poking around the Academy tomorrow. Can you give me a list of people who know you show up at the locker room that early? I also need you to tell me if there are any cadets who're normally there that early but weren't this morning. Also, any enemies you have -- guys who've hassled you. That kind of thing. Don't bother listing Jackson. He's already on my list."
Blair muted the newscaster and turned back around to look at Jim, who was reaching for the phone. "Don't go hassling a bunch of guys about this, Jim. I'm having a hard enough time fitting in as it is."
"You want to get to the bottom of this, don't you? You just want to let these guys walk?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying. I just don't want you to go overboard. Do you think it's a good idea for you to be questioning guys you suspect attacked me? Why not send someone else over? You know, someone a little less involved?"
Jim looked coolly at Blair, his eyebrows raised. "Who else can listen to a suspect's heartbeat to find out if he's lying?"
"Okay, good point." Blair turned back around and revived the TV's volume. "Just do me a favor and behave yourself."
"Don't I always, Junior?"
Blair just grunted and flipped the channel, hoping to find something more interesting. He'd make up the list of suspects after dinner.
"Okay, Sandburg, go!" Sergeant Loker bellowed.
Blair took off, making the dived entry through the open window and rolling onto his feet. He launched into a sprint, panting hard already, his lungs burning. He'd only been released from the hospital yesterday, but he didn't want to get behind in his coursework and he sure as hell didn't want his 'pranksters' to think they'd gotten him down. So, he'd insisted on returning to the Academy with only one day missed.
Next came the chain link fence. He leapt off his feet and grabbed the top, vaulting over. The balance beams were next and, by the time he reached the last one, he felt on the verge of passing out. He jumped down from the five-foot-high beam and landed hard. His knees buckled and he collapsed on the ground, struggling for air.
Damn, damn, damn. Okay, so maybe it had been too soon for him to get back in the swing of things. Guess I should've gotten a note and skipped all the physical stuff. He almost smiled at that thought, but he couldn't waste the effort. His lungs screamed, and he realized he was lying there kissing the dirt in front of his entire class.
"Sandburg!" He felt hands on his shoulders, and they rolled him onto his back. He found himself staring up into the rugged face of Sergeant Loker. "Damnit, kid, I thought you said you were up to this."
Blair managed a weak, shaky smile as he continued to pant hard. "Guess... I lied."
"There's a surprise," a voice commented from somewhere to Blair's right. He turned his head to see Jackson smirking down at him. "Who'd expect a self-proclaimed fraud would lie?"
"Enough, Jackson!" Loker threw the man a warning look. "Back off and shut your trap."
Blair finally got his breathing under control, the burning in his chest fading. He moved to sit up, and Loker helped him, grabbing his forearms and pulling him to his feet. "You're out of here, Sandburg. Go home."
"No, sir. I can finish my classes and..."
"That's an order! I'll clear it with the administration. Got it?"
Blair nodded reluctantly. "Fine, sir." He turned around and headed back to the building to get his stuff.
Jackson's voice mocked him from behind. "You're gonna be some back-up for that Ellison guy. You'll probably end up getting him killed."
That's it! Blair spun around and launched himself at Jackson, but he never reached the man. Loker grabbed his arms and pulled him back.
"Enough, Sandburg!" The sergeant released his arms to grab him by the collar, giving him a good shake. "Get your ass out of here. Now."
Blair swallowed, his angry eyes locked with Jackson's. "Yes, sir." He spun on his heels and stormed off, trying not to let them see that how hard he was still breathing.
He heard Loker yelling something at Jackson, but he didn't bother listening to the words. He just marched into the building and headed for the locker room to gather his things.
"Okay, this is our hypo." The instructor grabbed an erasable marker and wrote 'HYPO' on the board. "You pull a suspect over for speeding. As you approach the car --"
The door opened and the department secretary stepped inside. She was a petite woman who always wore her hair in a bun and dressed in pastel colors. She smiled shyly and glanced down at a piece of paper held in her hand. "Uh, excuse me, Sergeant, but I need to pull Cadet Thompson out of your class." Her eyes scanned the group of students.
The sergeant nodded, waving at a large, dark-haired cadet in the back row. "Thompson, go."
Thompson nodded and rose from his seat, gathering his pen and notebook. Jackson sat two seats up and Thompson gave him an anxious glance as he passed. Then he followed the secretary out into the hall.
"What's this about, ma'am?"
She glanced over at him. "There's a detective here to see you."
"He's doing an investigation into the attack on Mr. Sandburg."
"Oh. Why does he want to talk to me?"
"He said it's just routine. He's talking to as many cadets as he can."
She led him into a room and then pointed toward a closed door in the far wall. "Over there. Just go right in."
With a nod, he left her and headed towards the door. Almost hesitantly, he turned the knob and peeked inside. Sure enough, there sat Detective James Ellison. Thompson swallowed and stepped into the room, straightening automatically as he closed the door.
"You wanted to see me?"
Ellison nodded, smiling politely, his eyes gentle. He gestured to the vacant chair directly across the table from him. "Yes. Please sit down. I hope this isn't too inconvenient a time for you?"
Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. He doesn't know. This really IS just routine. He'd heard about Ellison, and those rumors had caused him to almost back out of the little prank, but, damnit, he'd let himself get pulled in. Jackson could be a real force to be reckoned with. Then there was the matter of the money he owed Jackson. This had seemed like a good way to get out of the debt while having a little fun. And he wasn't supposed to get hurt.
Thompson returned the detective's smile and dropped into the chair, setting his notebook and pen on the table.
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.