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.
Bad Desire by Kim Heggen
One of these days, we'll need to do something about those cobwebs.
Almost dreamily, his thoughts sluggish with fever, Blair stared up at the light fixtures and their attendant gauzy cobwebs. He was no longer certain of what time it was, or how many hours had passed since Jim had left. He'd been drifting in and out of a light doze, the television programs and the text of his book sifting weirdly into his dreams.
I wish Jim would come home.
The floor around the inadequate little wastebasket was littered with a snowfall of wadded-up tissues, collectively containing more phlegm than the young detective really cared to think about. Jim had forgotten to empty the wastebasket before he left, and Blair had simply felt too ill to care.
The various liquids that Jim had left out for him to drink were gone, and he was beginning to feel almost thirsty enough to get up and replenish the supply... when he heard footsteps outside the door. Even with his ordinary, un-enhanced senses he recognized Jim's walk somehow, and smiled in muzzy relief.
"Hey, Jim," he called out weakly as the door opened. "How was the banquet?"
Jim stepped into the loft, slowly tossing his keys into the basket and slinging his drenched and dripping jacket onto one of the hooks. He shook himself slightly, like a wet dog, then walked into the bathroom.
"Hey, Earth to Jim," Blair quipped when his partner reappeared. Jeez, he looks wiped out. Must have been a seriously sucky party.
Jim's head turned, and he seemed to see Blair for the first time. "Oh... hey, Chief. You should be in bed." He scrubbed at his face with one hand. "I'm beat... I'll see you in the morning."
Then he walked purposefully up the stairs to his loft sleeping area without a backward glance, leaving a bewildered Blair blinking in astonishment from his sweaty nest on the couch.
What's with him? No nagging me about taking my medications? No good-natured griping about having to sit through a boring banquet?Blair was puzzled, and though he fiercely denied it to himself, a little hurt as well. Being fussed over was embarrassing, but being ignored seemed infinitely worse.
Quit being selfish, he admonished himself. Jim's just tired... either that, or he's catching this same damned pneumonia. With a sigh, Blair gathered up the pill bottles and other trappings of illness before making his unsteady way into his own little bedroom.
Jim stopped for a second, coffee pot poised above the empty mug, as he listened to the sounds coming from Sandburg's bedroom. He's coughing again... sounds like he's awake.
Whistling cheerfully, he poured his coffee and doctored it to his liking, then surveyed the refrigerator and cupboards. Ahh... Cream O' Wheat. That's what Sally always fixed for us when we were sick. Maybe Sandburg would like some.
The French doors opened, and a pale and disheveled Blair Sandburg stepped out of his bedroom. He stopped, leaning against the doorframe for a moment.
Jim put the saucepan of milk on the burner to heat. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Chief."
Blair scowled. "I should say the same thing to you." He folded his arms over his chest.
"What do you mean?" Jim looked at his friend in puzzlement.
"You don't remember?"
"Remember what? Chief, have you been dreaming again? Fevers can give you really weird dreams, and your temp's still up. I can tell."
Blair waved the thought aside. "Never mind me. Jim, when you came home last night, you were acting strange. Really tired, and kind of out of it."
"So?" Jim shrugged nonchalantly, but the physical gesture of dismissal was insufficient to keep the uncomfortable thought from creeping into his mind.
I don't remember coming home last night.
"So?" he said again.
"Jim," Blair walked slowly to the couch and sank down into the cushions. Jim could heard the coarse rattle of his breathing even without any special effort. "You walked right past me. I was right here on the couch. You went up to bed after saying about six words."
Jim stirred the bubbling Cream O'Wheat, and said nothing.
"At first, I thought you were just tired," Blair persisted. "Then I got worried... I thought maybe you were sick, or... or maybe I'd done something to really piss you off without knowing."
Jim forced a laugh. "No, no more than usual." Then, looking over at his partner's deadly serious face, he regretted the ill-timed attempt at humor. "Sorry, Chief. No... I wasn't mad at you. Why would I be?"
Blair continued on as if he hadn't heard. "So... after a few minutes, since I couldn't sleep, I walked upstairs to check on you, to make sure you were okay.
"Jim... I couldn't wake you." The blue eyes stabbed almost accusingly at Jim. "No matter what I did. I shook you, and talked to you, but all you did was mumble." He paused to cough, wheezing slightly. "Finally, I pinched your elbow, and you woke up rather abruptly and took a swing at me..."
"Oh, no," Jim groaned. "Blair, I'm sorry."
"Don't worry." Finally Sandburg smiled, albeit rather weakly. "You missed. You babbled something, then went back to sleep. I watched you for a while, then decided that whatever had happened... you would probably be okay. And I was exhausted," he admitted. "So I came back downstairs and fell asleep."
Jim looked down at the cereal, which he had continued to stir. It was about to boil over. Quickly, he turned off the burner and popped the lid on the pan.
"Sandburg, are you sure about all of this? I can see the first part... I was probably just really tired, maybe zoning out a little. But are you sure you didn't dream the rest of it? As sick as you are, you may not be the most reliable observer." He tried to say it gently.
Blair shook his head stubbornly. "I was awake, that much I'm sure of. Jim, did you drink something new or eat something strange at the banquet? Maybe it was some kind of reaction, or..." The younger man trailed off, fatigue suddenly showing on his face.
Walking over to the couch, Jim rested a hand briefly on his friend's shoulder. "Whatever it was, it can wait. I've got some breakfast for you, if you can eat it. Then I want you to get back in bed, or at least lie down out here."
A brief smile flashed across Blair's face. "Now you sound more like yourself, at least."
"C'mon, Manuel, you've got to be able to tell me more than that." Jim cast a sidelong glance at the man huddled at the other end of the park bench.
"No, I tell you no more," insisted Manuel.
Jim opened his wallet reluctantly, starting to withdraw some more cash... but Manuel's hiss stopped him.
"No! Mas dinero no va a ayudar... the money, senor, it don't help, sabe usted? El Raton, he knows you are looking for him, senor, and he has marked you for death."
"Right," laughed Jim. "If you tell me who he is, then we can put him away. Then you and your friends will all be safe."
"No!" Manuel stood up. "I said... he will kill you... you and anyone who helps you to find him."
"Hey, Hairboy! Welcome back!"
Blair turned from his frustrated study of Simon's closed office door to greet a smiling Detective Brown.
"Hey, Henri! Thanks. It's good to be back." Blair perched on the edge of his desk as the other detective slapped him on the back with molar-jarring force. "Oof! Man, I was getting so bored at home I was ready to start committing crimes myself just to see you guys."
Henri eyed him critically. "You look a lot better than the last time I saw you, Blair."
"Three-day-old oatmeal looks better than I did then." Blair grimaced at the memory of his hospital stay.
After his diagnosis of pneumonia, about a month ago, he'd continued to feel worse. The follow-up visit to the doctor two days after the original appointment had revealed Blair to be very significantly ill; his physician had taken a quick look at the pale, gasping figure in his office and ordered him to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics and repeat x-rays.
What had been proposed as a one- or two-day stay had lengthened into ten days in the hospital. The chest x-rays had revealed that the tiny fluid collection seen on the original film had expanded to become a large collection of pus. Blair had endured a painful procedure to drain the infection, and still bore on his ribs an angry red healing wound left by the chest tube that had been required to complete the drainage.
Jim had been wonderful during the entire ordeal: calm, caring and solicitous. He'd driven Blair to the hospital and taken care of the paperwork. He hadn't flinched while Blair practically squeezed his hand off during the needle drainage of the infection. And during that first frightening night, while Blair fought the rising panic he felt at not being able to breathe properly, while the physicians talked about moving him to the ICU, while he lay there, listening to the oxygen whistle through the plastic tube under his nose... Jim had sat by the bedside, warm and reassuring and solid.
The hospital staff had at first seemed resentful of Jim's continual presence at Blair's bedside... then they had gradually come to see through the older detective's gruff facade to the gentle man who lurked beneath. By the time Blair was finally discharged, the nursing staff had become extremely fond of both of them.
It had taken Blair another two weeks to slowly regain his strength. He still coughed with exertion, and the spot where the chest tube had been tended to ache by the end of the day, but his physician had cleared him to return to his duties.
"You still look a bit puny, though, kid." Brown squeezed Blair's left bicep playfully. "You're too skinny. We need to take you out and fatten you up."
"No, thank you," Blair laughed. "I get enough of that from Jim. The guy acts like I'm on chemotherapy or something."
"Where is the big dude, anyway?"
Blair jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "He's in talking to Simon. They kicked me out, so it must be some kind of major reaming out. Which is strange, 'cause Jim's been mostly doing desk work while I was sick. I'm not sure what he could have done to get Simon so pissed off." He cast one quick glance at the closed office door. "I'm not sure whether I should go in and rescue him, or run and hide."
Brown grinned. "Well, you'll find out soon enough if you wait here. Want to go out to lunch with me where you'll be safe?"
"Nah, Jim and I just got back from lunch. And I figure... if Simon's let me live this long, I'll probably survive."
"Pregnant?" Jim frowned, puzzled.
"That's what the letter says." Simon handed the offending missive across his desk to Jim. "Furthermore, Jim, she's naming you as the father."
"What? Simon, that's absurd! You can't possibly believe that! My God... she's only fifteen!" Jim jumped up to his full height.
"Jim! Calm down, and sit down!" Simon bellowed.
Slowly, Jim lowered himself back into his chair.
Simon went on in a more controlled tone of voice. "Look, Jim, I believe you. I don't think you make a habit of preying on fifteen-year-old girls. But this is a serious charge, and we need to talk about it." He leaned back in his chair.
"I called Frank Lombard this morning when I received this... and you owe me big time for that, by the way. He's not a happy man. Anyway... the girl's claiming that it happened on the night of the city awards banquet, when you took her home after the car-jacking."
Jim dropped his head into his hands. "Oh, shit. That's the perfect story. No one else was with us... and I think that Sandburg was pretty out of it when I got home. He probably won't remember much."
For some reason, that particular train of thought reminded Jim of something... something that lay naggingly close to the surface, but just out of his mental reach. Before he could pursue it further, Simon was answering.
"But we should be able to go through the 911 tapes and find the record of your calls to dispatch with time and mileage. That should clear you, since the girl's claiming that you drove her in the opposite direction. She says you took her down to the waterfront somewhere, where the alleged act took place." Simon frowned. "You did call in your time and mileage, didn't you?"
"When we pulled away from the crime scene, yes... but I don't think I called back in to Dispatch after I dropped her off." Jim raised his head. "It was late, and I was tired. I must have forgotten."
"Of all of the stupid..." Simon's voice rose again. "Ellison! There's a reason for that policy! To protect us from false accusations!"
"I know, sir... I'm sorry," Jim said woodenly.
Simon sighed. "Look, Jim... we've got some time to get this figured out. Lombard's complaining, but no one's doing anything official yet. Talk to Sandburg, see if he remembers what time you got in, or anything helpful. See if you can think of anyone else who might have seen you that night."
"So I'm not suspended?"
"No, not yet. I need you too much right now. If Sandburg's up to it, see if the two of you can make any headway on this Ratman or whoever he is-"
"El Raton," Jim said automatically, smiling slightly.
"Whatever. We've had two more street people disappear into the ozone in the last couple of days, plus that guy they found last week, and I don't like it."
"I'll get on it, sir." He rose to leave.
"Jim," came Simon's voice, as the detective started to turn the doorknob. "Jim, I do believe you."
"I know, Captain," Jim whispered, his eyes closed. "Thank you."
Blair looked up as he heard the familiar clatter made by the drawn blinds on the door to Simon's office. Jim slipped through the doorway, shutting the door behind him before Blair could get a glimpse of their captain.
Without saying anything, the Sentinel headed for his desk and picked up the phone, stabbing at the numbers with somewhat more force than was necessary. Blair glided closer, trying to be unobtrusive.
"What's up?" he murmured.
"It's called checking my voice mail, Chief. See, that little blinking light there means that I have messages."
Blair made a rude sound. "Sounded like Simon was giving you a message or two."
Jim sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "It's... complicated. There's been a mistake about something." He paused, presumably listening to his messages, then hung up the phone and swung around in his chair to face his partner.
"Are you up to going out and following up on something? I mean... officially, aren't you on desk duty for a few days?"
Blair shook his head. "The doctor told me to use my judgement."
"God help us all." Jim shook his head in mock despair.
"So, who is this guy?"
"Just a down-and-out street person, Chief. But Manuel says that he knew one of last week's victims."
"One of the missing persons?"
"No..." Jim sighed. "One of the found persons... as in, found dead. Like I said, it was last week, when you were still out."
They were in one of the alleys near the bus terminal. Blair repressed a shudder as he eyed his filthy gray surroundings: trash cans, scattered bits of rain-sodden litter, and cold murky puddles all sandwiched into the narrow gap between buildings. Halfway down was a recessed doorway, one of the few in the area not blocked by a locking steel grate to keep squatters from seeking its meager shelter.
As they walked closer, Blair could see a shapeless heap of what appeared to be stained and dirty denim. The pile stirred, and the shape resolved itself into a crouching human figure.
Jim squatted beside the stocking-cap-clad man, who gazed blearily at the two detectives.
"Your name Carl? Carl Gunderson?"
The eyes below the blue knit hat blinked for a few seconds. "They call me Carl," he croaked finally. "Whatsamatter... I got to move outta here?" He jerked a thumb over his right shoulder, indicating the closed door behind him with its single boarded-up window. "Building's vacant. No one cares."
Both detectives showed their badges. "It's all right, Mr. Gunderson," assured Jim. "You're not in any trouble. We just want to ask you a few questions."
"My ex-wife send you guys?" The transient began to laugh wheezily, without making much actual sound. Blair could see the half-rotten teeth in his open mouth, and swallowed as the bile rose in his throat. No matter how long I do this, I'll never get used to seeing people reduced to this level.
"No, Mr. Gunderson. Manuel Espinoza sent us. He told us that you knew Adam Kirkland."
The homeless man looked puzzled.
"Also known as Piglet," Jim supplied. "The young man found dead last month a few blocks from here."
Recognition dawned on Gunderson's face and he began to nod. "Yeah... poor Piglet. Poor kid. He didn't belong down here."
"Why did they call him Piglet?" Blair asked, curiosity overcoming his uneasiness.
"Well, he was just a kid, only about twenty or so..."
"Nineteen, actually," Jim added.
"Whatever. He had an older sister, that he was just crazy about... just worshiped her. A working girl, if you know what I mean." The wheezy laugh made a reappearance. "Goes by the name of Pooh, so we called her little brother Piglet. Made sense, y'know?"
Blair shifted his weight restlessly, wishing that the old man would get to the point. His nose had grown used to the background smells of the alley, as well as the foul miasma rising from Gunderson... but he was getting tired, despite his earlier staunch words to his partner.
Jim was nodding patiently. "Yeah. It makes sense. What happened to the sister?"
"Oh, she's around. She works the area by the waterfront. Has to work pretty hard to support her habit." The old man coughed. "Piglet hated seeing her on drugs. Never took anything himself, and was always trying to get her clean, get her off of the stuff."
"Mr. Gunderson..." Jim spoke slowly. "Did Adam... Piglet, I mean... did he ever say anything about someone called El Raton?"
"Yeah... all the time. That's how Pooh got her meth, from El Raton's people."
"Did Piglet know who El Raton is?" asked Blair. This sounded promising,,, after all, the now-dead youth would have had a reason to hate the man or organization who supplied his sister with drugs.
Gunderson shook his head. "Beats me, kid. If he ever found out anything, it died with him."
Jim pulled out one of his cards and handed it to the transient. "Thanks. If you think of anything else... please call us."
"You should have told me you were so tired, Chief. We could have packed it in an hour ago." Jim eyed the groaning figure sprawled on the couch as he hung up his jacket. "An afternoon stumbling through muddy alleys and around the waterfront is probably not what your doctor had in mind for your first day back." They'd spent the last couple of hours searching for the dead man's sister, the elusive Pooh.
Blair sat up and coughed softly. "I'm all right. Nothing some rest and food won't fix. I didn't want to stop; it sounded like we were actually getting somewhere today." He yawned. "So, what was the mistake that Simon wanted to tell you about in person?"
Jim froze in the act of opening the refrigerator. Sandburg's tone of voice was casual, but the Sentinel hadn't missed the slight jump in heart rate as Blair asked his question.
"It's a long story," he answered shortly. "What do you want for dinner? There's still some of that bean soup in here that you made, and I picked up some French bread the other day."
"That'll be fine. Whatever." Blair waved one hand distractedly. "Did it have anything to do with me?" he asked after a few seconds of silence.
Jim set the pot of cold soup on the stove. "What, the bread?" he joked.
"No! Quit trying to change the subject, Jim! The mistake, or whatever it was that Simon was reaming you out about! Was is something I did?"
Startled, Jim turned around and looked at Blair's tense and unhappy face. I'm going to have to tell him, he concluded reluctantly. Otherwise he might believe that he really did do something to piss off Simon.
Besides... I'm going to need his help. "No, Chief," he said softly. "It's nothing to do with you." He sighed. "Let me get this heating up, then I'll tell you the whole story. I promise."
Blair nodded slowly, apparently mollified. "Okay."
Jim turned the burner on "low" and gave the soup pot a stir. He turned the oven to "warm" and placed the baguette inside. Then, on impulse, he fixed a cup of tea for Blair, using the peach-flavored tea he'd seen the younger man buy on their trip to the grocery store two days before. He inhaled the fruity fragrance deep into his lungs as he carried the mug cupped in his hands.
"Here you go, Chief." Jim sat down next to his friend after placing the mug safely on the table.
"Thanks, Jim. That smells good." Blair smiled at him, and Jim could see the concern underneath the expression. "So, what's going on? What was Simon having such a conniption about? It can't be that bad if I didn't have anything to do with it."
Jim answered tonelessly. "It's bad enough, Chief. The teenage daughter of one of the city council members is pregnant, and she's naming me as the father."
In an attempt to head off further incredulous interruptions, Jim slowly told him the entire story. By the time he reached the end, he could hear the bean soup starting to bubble, so he walked over to the kitchen to tend to it.
Neither of them said anything while Jim dished up the soup and sliced the warm bread, but Jim could feel Blair's eyes upon him the whole time. Partly out of deference to his partner's fatigue and recent illness, and partly because of a wordless gut feeling that the dining room table was the wrong place to have this discussion, he carefully carried the food over to the living room.
"Here," he said gruffly, feeling more than a little self-conscious about being so solicitous. "Eat it while it's hot."
Blair accepted the food but made no move to eat it. "Jim... she says you got her pregnant the night of the awards banquet?"
Jim shrugged. "That's what she's claiming. Unfortunately, I forgot to call in my time and mileage to dispatch after I dropped her off." He picked up his bread. "But she's just a kid. Eventually, she's going to slip up and say something inconsistent, something that'll trip her up and show that she's lying." He began to eat rapidly.
"Jim... hang on a moment, man." Blair leaned forward and set his food on the coffee table. "That was the night you were acting so strange! Remember? I asked you about it the next morning."
"Frankly, Chief, I wrote that off as you being a bit delirious. If you recall, we put you in the hospital about twenty-four hours later."
"It was my lungs that were sick, Jim, not my brain!" Blair struck his fist on the arm of the couch. "Something was going on with you that night! You weren't yourself at all."
Jim frowned. "Blair, I went to the banquet, we found them at the scene of the crime, and I dropped her off at her house. I then came home and went to bed. That's it. End of story." Unbidden, the thought crept into his mind: he doesn't believe me...
If Sandburg doesn't believe me, who will?
"Chief," he said slowly, feeling his tongue grow thick and clumsy with the words that were so hard to say, "are you trying to say that you think I did it, somehow? That I seduced this... this child?"
Blair hesitated a moment before answering, each split second adding to the painful silence in the room. "Jim... I know that you would never willingly do something like that. Not in your right mind, anyway. But..." Now it was Blair's turn to look away. "But we have to consider all of the possibilities. You yourself told me that next morning that you didn't remember much about coming home that night."
Suddenly losing his appetite, Jim placed the soup bowl and bread back on the table. "I didn't do it, Chief," he maintained stubbornly. "I may have been a little tired and out of it when I got home, but this isn't like forgetting to put the trash out! Until Simon told me about this letter, I hadn't given the kid a moment's thought since I dropped her off." He glared at his partner's slightly averted face. "By her version of the story, we spent a good hour cavorting lustfully in my truck! What process," Jim almost spat the word out, "could possibly make me forget that, let alone allow it to happen in the first place?" His voice rose.
"Hypnosis," countered Blair. "Drugs. Some kind of psychological fugue state! I don't know!" He paused to cough. "Jim, I'm not saying it's likely, just that it's possible."
"Maybe theoretically, Chief. But we're not talking about something theoretical. We're talking about me."
"Jim," Blair leaned forward intently. "If you can tell me, with absolute certainty, that you remember every moment of that evening up until the time you came home... then I'll drop it. But you have to be honest. Whether or not you remember changes our whole strategy."
Jim shook his head. "It's my problem, Chief, not yours. I'll take care of it. This whole thing could get pretty ugly."
"Yes or no, Jim. Do you remember?" Blue eyes bored intently into his own.
Moments passed. Then, "No. Not really, not very clearly," he admitted at last.
Blair sighed. "Let's finish eating, then I have a few ideas."
Continue on to Act III...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.