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Timor Vita, Part Two
Kim Heggen


Act I

I don't like being on hold. Bad enough I'm here instead of at home on a Saturday, but I don't have time to wait on hold. Simon glared at the innocent phone, shifting the receiver into a more comfortable position on his shoulder. I guess I could use the speakerphone.

He was just reaching for the button to switch over to speakerphone mode when he heard a sharp rap at his door. "Come in!" he barked. As the door opened, he narrowed his eyes.

"Jim, didn't I tell you to stay home? We're already doing -- wait a minute." The interminable hold music ended with an audible click, followed by the sound of a dial tone. "Hey, don't hang up on me!! Do you have any idea how long I was on hold?" He held the phone receiver away from him, gave it a sour look, and dropped it into its cradle.

"That," he said, "was the deputy chief of the state Department of Corrections, apparently cutting me off. I was trying to see if they had any more details or updates."

"I'm sure it was a mistake, Simon. Their office is probably in an uproar. Convicted serial killers don't escape every day." Jim settled into the spare chair.

"Humph. I don't know. Seems as if they've lost hold of more than their share this past few years." Simon leaned back and folded his arms. "Jim, what are you doing here? This isn't our case. As soon as I get some confirmation that the Marshals and the state boys know what they're doing and this character isn't going to end up back in Cascade, I'm going home." He glared. "Which is where I told you to stay."

"Simon, come on. They'll never notice one more cop helping with the search. Let me go."

"No. Absolutely no way, Jim. I'm not letting you anywhere near Spencer with a loaded weapon."

Jim stared, his jaw dropping a little. "What? You're afraid I'm going to play vigilante? Come on, Simon, you know me better than that."

"Jim, Harley Spencer is possibly the most macabre serial killer ever to hit the Northwest. He makes Jeffrey Dahmer look like Barney the dinosaur!" Simon brought one fist down on the edge of his desk. "Why in God's name they didn't give him the death penalty, I'll never understand. This is the man who killed five children in cold blood, just because he didn't like their hair color! This is the man who had your partner so unsettled he came within a hair's breadth of killing Spencer when he finally had the chance!"

"How...?" Jim straightened up. "How the hell did you know that, Simon? I haven't told anybody about that. You didn't dig that out of Blair's therapist, did you?"

Simon snorted. "Give me some credit for sensitivity, Ellison. No, all I know about the therapy is that Sandburg needed it for several months after the Spencer case. You know that the department counselors take confidentiality very seriously." He removed his glasses, rubbed a hand across his tired face. Ugh. Up too late last night. "No, Sandburg told me himself, during Spencer's trial. I found him wandering the courthouse after his second day of testimony, looking like hell, and got the rest of the story from him." He slipped the glasses back on. "So, if Spencer is evil enough that our gentle, understanding Blair Sandburg nearly executed him when he had the chance, then hot-tempered Jim Ellison isn't going to be allowed anywhere near him. Leave it to the Marshals, Jim."

Jim was silent for a moment. He nodded. "You're probably right. But Simon, give me some credit. I was the one who stepped in and kept Blair under control that day."

"And it's a damn good thing you were there. I doubt that Sandburg would have listened to anyone else." Simon sighed. "Look, you're worried about the kid, is that it? Were you able to get hold of him on the phone?"

"No, the line was busy, even though I tried for an hour. Apparently the Anthropology Department funds don't extend to voice mail. He's out of cell phone range, too."

"Jim, he'll be okay." Simon studied the tense figure in front of him. "Where he is, he's probably safer than you are. But, I'll tell you what -- Where's he at, anyway?"

"The Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Somewhere in Central Oregon. Near Madras, he said."

"I'll make a couple of calls, get in touch with the sheriff's department down there and the reservation authorities. I can fill them in on the situation, let them know that this guy would have a reason to go after Blair."

"I'd appreciate that, sir." Jim rose. "I realize that this doesn't necessarily make any sense. I guess I'm just worried about him, on a gut level."

"Jim, nothing about Sandburg makes any sense. Now go home. One of us may as well have a day off."

"Thanks, Simon. I'll be in touch."

"Joe, have you seen a plunger around this place anywhere?"

Blair looked up from where he sat, comfortably ensconced in a corner of a well-worn blue couch with his notebooks spread over his lap. Two of the three students who had accompanied him to the reservation sat at the kitchen table, alternately playing cribbage and bickering about the points. The third, a young blond man with a guileless face and a sheepish grin, stood in the doorway waiting for an answer to his question.

One of the cribbage players, a tall man in his early twenties with an aggressive chin, looked up. "Matt, did you stop up the toilet?"

"Well, um, yeah. A little."

"That's not funny -- there's just the one." Joe frowned.

"Hey, man, it's not my fault," Matt protested. "That thing is so sluggish, it was bound to happen. What a piece of... well, crap."

The other card player, a small, dark woman with a pixieish face, snickered. "How appropriate. Well, there's always the outhouse. Ugh."

Blair folded his notebooks closed carefully and rose from his nest on the couch. "I think I saw a plunger in the utility room, Matt. Let me go take a look."

As he padded outside in his stocking feet to the little utility room -- a lean-to attached to one side of the small house -- he shook his head in amusement. He'd been here for three days now with the small group of grad students, and he was finding the experience rather an eye-opening one. None of the three younger students had been along on a field research assignment before; all had just graduated the previous spring with their bachelor's degrees. To Blair, they seemed naive, enthused, energetic, and sometimes amazingly silly.

And so young. They're all twenty-two, twenty-three, and I'm thirty-one. Shouldn't make that much of a difference, but it does.

He felt very aware of the age difference, keenly aware of his own anomalous presence. Both Matt and the card-playing pixie, who was named Ann-Marie, had done their undergrad work elsewhere. They hadn't been at Rainier during his fiasco with the dissertation. Oh, they must have heard something about it by now, but both were friendly with Blair. They seemed to take pains to include him in the cheerful inexpensive meals and the eternal card games that were their main form of entertainment. He especially liked Matt, who asked Blair endless questions about his travels as well as his police experiences. With his open, smiling face and his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for any subject, he reminded Sandburg more than a little of himself.

Not wanting to get into the scandal that had precipitated his career detour, Blair had tried to veer away from talking about his time as a cop. Besides, almost every story that he wanted to tell involved Jim, and stirring up those memories only brought back the dull ache of separation from his best friend. So, he steered the conversation back to his world travels and buried his sense of loss, seeking to be a good mentor to the younger students.

He'd helped them set up their field notebooks, helped them construct their lists of questions for interviewing the locals, spoken to them about pitfalls to avoid. These three students, all members of an introductory seminar class taught by Dr. Stoddard, had been sent here to learn the rudiments of anthropological research in a safe and controlled setting. They were to participate in an ongoing study to look at the adaptation of aboriginal cultures after generations of assimilation. Matt and Ann-Marie both expressed their excitement at being 'out in the field', but Joe, the third student, didn't seem to share their feelings.

"This is about as exciting as hanging around Wal*Mart and counting the aisle-stackers," he'd groused on their second day, after interviewing one of the tribal elders.

Ann-Marie had looked puzzled. "Aisle-stackers?"

"You know, the really fat people who go to the discount stores and load up their carts, and they're so fat they block the aisle and traffic gets stacked up. That tribal elder was so ordinary that he could have been an accountant back in Cascade."

"Joe," Blair had said, not without some amusement, "these people have been here for generations. They've made many changes to ensure their survival, but if you look hard enough you'll still find evidence of the old cultures. That's why we're here, after all. Anthropology isn't all about lost tribes or primitive peoples in far-away jungles; sometimes we study what's right next door to us."

Joe had scowled. "And sometimes, if it's not interesting enough, we spice it up a little by making things up, right?"

Blair had flinched inwardly and turned away, only a treacherous burning flush on his cheekbones betraying the fact that the younger student's words had hit their intended mark.

That was the heart of the problem. Joe had done his undergraduate work at Rainier, had been on campus when Blair's dissertation draft had undergone its premature unintended release. Joe had taken Blair's Intro class as a freshman. Undoubtedly, Joe had heard the infamous press conference in which Blair had spurned his thesis, calling it fictional. He would have shared in the collective shame felt by the Anthropology Department at the idea of one of their own committing such a colossal sin.

Joe made no secret of the fact that he disliked Blair. He sneered at him at every opportunity, refused to ask him questions, and ignored Blair's well-meaning advice. He avoided using Blair's first name, as the others did, and instead called him 'Mr. Sandburg' or just 'Sandburg'. Jim calls me that all the time, but it's not the same.

Blair shook himself out of his reverie as he looked around the dimly lit utility room. Let's see. Tools, the water heater -- boy, is that small, no wonder I had a cold shower this morning -- a can of paint, empty bottles, several dozen assorted spiders. Doesn't anyone ever clean this place out? Oh, here it is. He located the toilet plunger, shook it free of its eight-legged denizens, and returned to the house.

Matt grinned at the sight. "Hey, thanks, Blair. That should do it."

"Just leave it in the bathroom. I don't know why the last group would have left it out where I found it, unless they thought it would heal the water heater." He returned to his corner of the couch.

Ann-Marie's voice drifted from the hallway. "All right, who used the phone last?"

"I called my roommate last night," answered Joe. "Why?"

"Because, you idiot, you didn't hang it up right. It's been off the hook all night and all morning."

"So? No big deal." Joe drummed his fingers on the table. "Are you going to come finish the game?"

Ann-Marie flounced back in, sat down. "My boyfriend was going to call me this morning. No wonder he couldn't get through."

"He'll get over it. C'mon, I want to finish skunking you."

The conversation turned back to cribbage. From down the hall came various sounds of flushing and plunging; it sounded as if Matt was having success. At least, there was no water running down the hall yet. And what would I do if there was? he thought wryly. Go find a mop, I guess. He felt as if he were part teacher, part camp counselor, part big brother. Even with Joe's sneering, Blair had no doubt that if there were a serious problem, all of the students would defer to him. Let's hope that bad plumbing is all we have to contend with.

He sighed and returned to his piles of notes. After much reflection and several talks with Dr. Stoddard, he had come to the conclusion that he should put his police experience to good use and write about his own gradual assimilation into the police world. Thesis: the assimilation of an outsider into police society occurs very gradually and is hastened by shared experiences and shared danger. No, that's not it. He crossed the sentence out, started over. An outsider admitted to the outer circles of police society moves gradually closer to the 'center' but cannot truly become a member unless he or she is a sworn officer. 'Sponsorship' by close ties with a member of the force hastens the process. That was still awkwardly worded, but it was closer to what he wanted to say. He liked the idea of Major Crime as a series of concentric circles, with Simon at the center. Like a spider in his web. Not a very attractive image, though. He wouldn't appreciate it very much. Idly, he doodled a crude picture of an eight-legged Simon spider in the margin of his notebook, complete with glasses and cigar. And here's me, the fly.

Blair knew that his own experiences wouldn't be enough upon which to build an entire thesis. He would need to spend some serious time in the library and on the Internet, trying to find stories of others who had spent time tagging along with the police. Satisfied that he had a workable preliminary thesis statement, he began to sort through and catalogue his notes.

Jim threw his gym bag down on the floor and went into the kitchen for a long drink of cold water. A good workout. I've been slacking off lately; it felt good to push myself that hard. Time to rehydrate, then maybe a walk or jog up to the park. No sense wasting this weather.

The blinking red light of the caller-ID unit caught his eye, telling him that someone had called. He pushed the appropriate button, noted that he had missed a call from an insurance company. Ha! Thought you'd catch me at home, did you? No, thank you, I have all the insurance I need. He glanced at the clock. Three o'clock. Maybe he should try to call Sandburg again, while he was thinking about it. He wiped the sweat off his brow with the kitchen towel and picked up the phone to call.

This time, it was answered on the second ring

"Hello?" A breathless female voice, sounding very young.

Jim grinned to himself. Sandburg, I hope you're having fun down there. And I hope you're being careful. "I'm trying to reach Blair Sandburg. Is he there?"

"Oh." The voice sounded disappointed. "Yeah, he's here. Hang on a minute." Jim heard the dull clatter as the phone was set down. Just for practice, he extended his hearing, tried to hear the background noise. "Blair, it's for you," he heard faintly.

"Who is it?" came the answer, even more faintly, in Blair's familiar voice. He suppressed a quick flash of irritation. Who do you think it is, you moron? How many people did you give this number to, anyway?

"Some guy."

Jim heard a series of rustles, followed by the sound of something heavy hitting the floor, followed by a muffled curse from Blair. Then footsteps and the sound of the receiver being snatched up.

"This is Blair Sandburg."

"It's me, Chief."

"Jim! Hey, how are you? How are your -- um, you been having any problems with things?"

"I'm fine. Listen, I tried to call you this morning, but all I got was a busy signal. You calling all your girlfriends?"

"I'm going to ignore that, Jim."

"Your girlfriends were all calling you, then."

"No, wiseass. One of the other students forgot to hang the phone up right, so it was off the hook till a couple of hours ago."

"Well, make sure that doesn't happen again. And don't let anyone tie it up for too long, in case I need to get hold of you in a hurry."

"Wait just a minute, Jim." Blair sounded irritated. "What does it matter --"

"Sandburg," Jim cut off the protest. " I got a call from Simon this morning. Harley Spencer escaped from prison."

Dead silence on the other end, except for a quick intake of breath. Jim reached out with his hearing, probing for sounds coming through the phone line until he could hear Sandburg's heart pounding. "You still there, Chief?"

"Yeah." Another quick breath. "You sure about that, Jim?"

"He's been missing since about five o'clock this morning. The Marshals and the state police are out searching. So far, there's no sign of him."

Jim heard the rapid heart rate slow down somewhat. "Are you going to join in on the search?" Sandburg asked after another pause.

"I'd like to, but Simon wants me to stay out of it. Listen: Simon said he would call the local authorities down near you, apprise them of the situation. I can't think of any way Spencer could get down there very fast, or any way he could find you, but I want you to be careful."

"You can bet on that. That last thing I want is to be anywhere within a fifty-mile radius of that creep." A pause. "You'll keep me posted?"

"I'll call as soon as I hear anything. In the meantime, keep the door locked, and don't go anywhere alone. Keep a low profile. Who knows where you are?"

"Just the University, if you mean people back home. And the parents of the other students. As far as the folks here: the tribal elders know where the house is, but the rest of the tribe just knows that Rainier has this rented house here somewhere."

"What about in town?"

"There's no one there who knows us by name. We've only been in once, for groceries."

"All right. See that you keep it that way. Don't talk to anyone except the folks living on the reservation. Thankfully, someone like Spencer the Skinhead would stand out just a little." Jim paused to swig from his water bottle. "I want to talk to you every day until they catch this wacko. Okay?"

"Okay. I'll call you tomorrow, Jim. And don't worry."

"Be careful, Chief. Call me if anything weird happens." Jim found himself reluctant to end the conversation. "You, ah, having fun there otherwise?"

A sigh from the other end. "Mostly. I'm getting some work done anyway." Now his partner's voice sounded tired, wistful. "Jim, when I first came to live with you, did I drive you nuts?"

"Yeah, but it was a short drive. Why?"

"Never mind. Just... I'm starting to realize how annoying I must have been."

Jim chuckled at the plaintive note in Blair's voice. "The kids getting to you?"

"Only sometimes. Mostly, they're great. Just not very serious about much. I guess I miss talking to someone who's done something other than grow up in their parents' house and go to college." Another sigh. "I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

"You'd better, or I'll come down and rearrange your face."

"Bye, Jim."

Blair hung up the phone, and walked slowly back out to the living room. Ann-Marie looked up. "Who was that?"

He shifted his eyes away from her bright, curious gaze. "That was Jim. My partner when I was with the police." How strange that sounds. "He was my housemate, too. He was just checking up on me."

"Oh. Well, he sounded nice." She returned her attention to her cribbage hand.

Blair looked at the couch, at the papers and notebooks. All of a sudden, the task seemed distasteful, and the little house felt prison-like. I need some fresh air. Jim said not to go anywhere alone, but let's face it. How is having one of these kids with me going to make anything safer? He retrieved his shoes from under the couch and grabbed the flannel shirt hanging over the back. "I'm going for a walk. Back in a while. Feel free to move my stuff if it gets in the way."

"Don't scare any jackrabbits, Sandburg," came the answer from Joe.

Outside the house, Blair paused and took in a few deep breaths of the clean, cold air, savoring the faint scents of wood smoke, juniper and sage. Jim would love this place. So empty, so austere. Just the place for a sentinel to go for a retreat. Maybe I can bring him down here sometime.

Without any particular destination in mind, he began to walk slowly up the gravel road. Other than the occasional car passing on the highway, he heard no noise but his own feet crunching the gravel.

Harley Spencer. Escaped.

With an effort, Blair forced himself to think about the child-murderer that he and Jim had put away. The events of the case had occurred over seven months ago, yet the memories remained fresh and raw. Seven months, seven years, it doesn't matter. I'm never going to forget that case.. He shuddered, pulling the warm flannel of his shirt more tightly around his body.

He swore revenge against us, that day he was sentenced. Swore revenge against both of us, but he was looking at me.

Testifying during Spencer's trial had been one of the hardest things Blair had ever done. He'd had to give testimony before, of course, but never in front of a defendant accused of crimes this brutal. And never about something as shocking as what he'd found in Spencer's tool shed.

Those two little mutilated hands, with the fingernails ripped out. And the feet, same thing. If we hadn't gotten there in time to save Kayla...

Blair swallowed, pushed the memories ruthlessly back. He stopped and looked around at the deserted road.

This wasn't very smart, he admitted to himself. Here I am getting the creeps about Spencer, and I've managed to wander out of shouting distance of any human being. Out of recent habit, his right hand drifted down to his hip, to the weapon that no longer rode there since his resignation. Took me so long to get used to it; now it seems weird for it not to be there.

He turned back in the direction of the house, suppressing the desire to look behind every clump of bushes in case a fugitive was hiding there. Spencer swore revenge, swore that I would meet the same fate as those kids. Even though I didn't meet his usual requirements for a victim.

Spencer's macabre M.O., as well as the twisted thought processes that had led him to single out little redheaded children, had shocked the jury. The defense had tried an insanity plea and had very nearly succeeded, but Blair's testimony of what he had heard that day when he crouched near Spencer's house had put an end to the defense attorney's hopes. The killer had known perfectly well that the acts he was performing were not condoned by society, and his belief that the children were somehow a threat to his plans had not held water as an explanation. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment rather than the death penalty, but even that had been only due to a stunned and weary jury and a compassionate judge.

Deep in thought as he neared the house, Blair didn't see the figure approaching him until they collided solidly. He reacted instinctively, springing away and landing in a defensive crouch as his hand once again reached for his nonexistent weapon.

"Blair! Jeez, you jumped a foot. It's just me!" Matt stood on the gravel walk, looking puzzled and concerned.

Blair rose slowly, brushing dust off of his jeans. "Sorry. I was thinking, and I got a little jumpy."

Matt's glance was admiring. "You move fast. They teach you that on the force?"

"Yeah." Blair reached up briefly to touch his own chest, where he could feel his heart thumping painfully. If that had been Spencer, I'd be toast.

"Blair, you okay?" Matt peered at him, his eyes narrowing. "You're as white as a sheet. Something spook you out there?"

Blair sighed, walked the remaining few feet to the front step and sat down. He motioned to the spot next to him. "No, just my own mind playing tricks on me. A sort of a flashback, I guess."

"Flashback?" Matt's eyes widened, and he sat down beside Blair. "Flashback from what?"

Blair was quiet for a few moments as he debated what he should say. He didn't really want to give the three younger students a reason to worry about their safety. And I'm being silly. Spencer would never find me down here. "One of my cases. It was pretty gruesome." He picked up a chunk of gravel, scratched at the concrete of the front step. "When my partner called me today, he let me know that the guy just escaped. The murderer, I mean. He was convicted several months ago, but got away this morning. It's all a long way from here, though. Jim just wanted to let me know."

"Jeez. An escaped murderer. We'd better watch the news tonight." Matt seemed more impressed than alarmed.

"You won't see much. I think they're going to try to keep it quiet for a while. Matt, please keep this under your hat, okay? I don't want a bunch of rumors to get around."

Matt nodded. "If you want. But... maybe you could tell us the story sometime? You helped catch him, right?"

"Yeah. And if you really want to hear, I'll tell all of you." Blair looked around at what suddenly seemed to be a bleak and chilly landscape. "But not here, and not just yet." He shuddered. "It's the sort of story you want to hear in a nice warm house, with a roaring fire and good friends to huddle next to."

Jim was just dumping a load of laundry into the washer when the phone rang. He'd carried it downstairs with him, reluctant to miss any updates on the manhunt.

It was Simon, calling from the office again.

"Sir, I thought you were going home."

"It's easier to stay in touch with the search here. Besides, every time I leave, I find something else to work on." Jim heard a sigh over the phone. "I went home for about an hour, but I couldn't concentrate on anything. Listen, Jim, I just heard from the deputy director again. They haven't found Spencer yet, but they found the two missing guards."

Jim felt his heart rate pick up. "Alive?"

"Dead. Shot by their own weapons, it appears, then mutilated. Spencer must have decided that he didn't need his helpers anymore." A pause. "Jim, they've enlarged the search area by several hundred miles. The two guards were found in the mountains, near Ellensburg."

"He's moving fast, then. Simon, I still want in on this."

"And my answer is still no, Jim. You stay put. I'll call you if I find out anything else. Otherwise, I don't want to see you in here until Monday."

Jim ground his teeth together. "Yes, Captain."

Continue on to Act II...

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