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.

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."

Act II

The Next Afternoon

"Whew." Blair paused on the front step of the little house, wiped the accumulated sweat from his brow. "You have just officially run my feet off."

Ann-Marie grinned, and reached her arms overhead in a stretch that revealed dark patches of sweat under her own arms. "I should have warned you. I ran cross-country at Oregon my first three years. Too busy my senior year, though." She punched him lightly in one shoulder. "You kept up pretty well for an old guy."

Blair snorted. "Thanks. I think." He reached for the doorknob and turned it. "After you."

As he followed the dark-haired girl into the main room of the house, he noticed immediately that he could smell incense. Vanilla, I think. He smiled. Too much time with Jim; I'm starting to automatically catalogue things.

Matt sat on the couch, surrounded by a couple of small piles of papers, in the exact same position Blair had been in the day before. A half-burned incense wand smoked lazily in front of him. A glowing shaft of late-afternoon sun angled through the window, outlining the juniper tree that stood in front of the large window. The student looked up as they entered.

"Hey, how was the run?" His face lost its frown of concentration as the lines melted into his usual smile.

Ann-Marie plopped down onto the other end of the couch and began removing her sneakers. "Fantastic. You should have joined us."

"No way. You're too fast for me. I'd have been eating your dirt."

"The altitude doesn't help either." Blair sat down in the overstuffed orange armchair and began to work at his own shoelaces. "What are we at, here? Three thousand feet?"

"Something like that." Ann-Marie finished kicking off her sneakers and stood up. "I need a shower. Are we still all going into town for pizza?"

"If everyone's still up to it, yeah." Blair leaned back and wiggled his toes as his shoes came off. "Where's Joe?"

"He's asleep. Says he was up late last night reading." Matt looked at his watch. "He should be stirring soon."

"I'll save you some hot water, Blair." Ann-Marie disappeared down the short hallway.

Blair curled up in the big chair, cross-legged with his sweaty socks underneath him. "How goes the studying? You look sort of frazzled."

"I keep getting sidetracked." Matt smiled wanly. "I'm still trying to read all of the background information on the Northwest tribes that Dr. Stoddard wanted us to read before we even got here. But I keep going off on tangents with my thoughts, and before I realize it thirty minutes have gone by and I haven't turned a page."

Blair laughed. "I remember those days. It gets easier, Matt. After a while, you settle down a bit, and realize that you've got plenty of time to learn it all."

"I'll try to remember that." Matt shifted his paper pile and stood up. "Let's go throw some cold water on Joe. I'm hungry."

As Jim entered the bullpen, Henri waved at him.

"Jim, Sandburg just called looking for you." Henri waved a piece of paper at him. "I wrote down the number. He sounded pretty bored. Where's he at, anyway?"

"Someplace boring. And safe." Jim snatched the slip of paper away from Henri with a brief nod of thanks, and headed for his own desk to dial the number. The phone was picked up on the second ring.

"Hello?" This time it was Blair's voice.

"Hey, Chief. I heard you called."

"Just checking in, like you told me. Henri said you were out on a case."

"A false alarm, actually. A suspected kidnapping that turned out to just be a bachelor party prank."

Blair chuckled. "Did you straighten them out?"

"I managed to convince them that it wasn't too good an idea for them to put a pillowcase over their buddy's head and stuff him into the trunk of a car in front of hysterical witnesses."

"Wish I could have been there. Hey, Jim, uh, what do you hear about the search?"

Jim paused for a moment. "We think he's somewhere in the mountains," he said finally. "The searchers have found some evidence that he's passed through up near Ellensburg."

"Nowhere near here, anyway." Traces of relief were evident in Blair's voice.

"I still want you to be careful, Sandburg. We don't know what kind of connections he might have. It took some planning for him to break out, after all."

"Yeah, yeah, Jim, I'll be the soul of caution, I promise." Jim could clearly hear the note of sarcasm in his friend's comment.

"How goes the research?" Jim asked in an attempt to change the subject.

"Okay. I think I've got a topic, sort of. Just need to massage it a little more, but it should let me use more of my police experience over the last few years." Jim could almost hear Sandburg grinning. "I've been on the outside and I've been on the inside. Who else can say that?"

"Can't wait to read it, Chief."

"I need to go, Jim. We're all going into town for pizza. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Eat some for me, kid. And be careful. Spencer hates me, but he vowed revenge on you. Remember that."

This late on a Sunday evening, the pizza parlor was only about half full. A few couples, one of whom Blair remembered seeing at the reservation's large grocery store, sat around the tables along with their chattering children. Teenagers occupied the video games, and a couple of older men nursed a pitcher of beer and their last few pieces of pizza while they spoke in low tones.

The four young people placed their order and staked out a table off in one corner. Ann-Marie bounced back up. "We forgot to get anything to drink. What do you guys want?"

Blair looked up at the counter, and smiled wryly at the neon "Bud" and "Michelob" signs. "I don't think they're exactly into gourmet microbrew here."

"Whatever looks good, Ann-Marie. Here's a couple of dollars." Matt pulled some bills from his wallet.

The young woman collected cash from the others and went back up to the counter.

Matt pointed to the center of the room, where a fire crackled in a sort of open-sided wood stove. "There's your roaring fire, Blair, and here's your cozy room."

Blair raised his eyebrows, puzzled. "Uh, Matt, I don't follow."

"The story you started to tell me. Your case." Matt looked away. "I'm sorry. You probably don't want to tell us about it if it was that bad."

"No, but," Blair paused, thinking. "Maybe it would be a good thing. I have to admit," he laughed a nervous little laugh, immediately hating the way it sounded, "that it might be a good idea to tell you guys."

Ann-Marie came back bearing a tray with four glasses and a pitcher of some dark liquid. "Hey, they had Full Sail Ale! What do you know?" She began to briskly distribute glasses. "Tell us about what, Blair?"

Blair took a deep breath. "After we eat. This one is a little graphic."

About Seven Months Earlier

Blair put his hand on his weapon as he slid along the stucco wall. C'mon, Jim, where are you? You have to have gotten my message by now. I know you were over visiting your dad, so you shouldn't be that far away.

Pure chance had led him to the dilapidated little house, alone on this wooded property. He'd come out along the Fulton road just following his nose, looking for a particularly ancient cemetery he'd seen once a couple of years ago. With crumbling headstones and trailing ivy, and a small park adjacent to it, he'd thought it might be a good spot for a picnic some day. When Jamie had proposed that they pack a basket of goodies and find a place to get away tomorrow afternoon for a Sunday picnic, he'd decided to drive out this way and see if he could still find the place.

Blair looked at the old stepladder leaning up against the wall. Okay, I need to see in, and that window's just a little too high up. If I can see what's going on in there, I'll have a better idea if I can keep this guy penned inside until Jim gets here with some backup. With infinite care, he shifted the stepladder and opened it up, trying to make no sound at all. If Jim comes up that road, he's going to hear my heart pounding from half a mile away.

He hadn't had the faintest notion of looking for the serial killer. They were no longer even the primary investigators on the case since the FBI had been called in. But when he pulled over to look at his map, he'd happened to look up just at the right time. Just in time to see the pickup truck go by, with its two mismatched occupants -- and just in time to jump back into the Volvo and follow the pickup at a discreet distance.

Now, trying desperately to be silent, Blair climbed about halfway up the ladder. Leaning forward a little, he was able to peer into the window between the mini-blind slats. By some stroke of unlooked-for luck, it was the right window.

There they are. Oh, God, it's him, it's got to be. Look at that little girl. Look at her hair.

Swallowing hard, Blair stretched himself a little higher. Yes, that was the same stubble-headed ugly man he'd seen driving the pickup. And the little girl, a child of perhaps ten years old, with bright red hair, clearly had her hands bound behind her at an uncomfortable angle.

"He was abducting redheaded kids?" Matt frowned and picked up another piece of pizza.

"Yeah, you moron," Joe said. "Didn't you watch the news last year? This creep killed, what, five kids? Six?"

"I was in North Carolina last year," Matt said. "How'd you know it was them, Blair?"

Blair toyed with the olives on his current slice of pizza. "I'd seen her picture. We called in the FBI, then she disappeared the day before they showed up. Because of her hair color, we presumed that Spencer was involved, and we included an enlargement of her school photograph in the packet that we gave to the FBI. Jim and I spent a while staring at her picture."

"So you saw them go by, and you followed them?"

He nodded. "For about five miles, then up a gravel road. I called Jim to let him know, but couldn't get a hold of him at home. Then I remembered he was out visiting his dad. So I talked to the dispatcher and asked for some backup, fast, and to have them call Jim on his cell phone. I couldn't take the chance of losing them, and I was afraid he was getting ready to kill her..."

Blair pressed his nose up against the glass, and his heart sank. The man was armed with some kind of handgun, although from this angle he couldn't tell exactly what type. Worse, the man had taken a large, wicked-looking hunting knife from a sheath and was running its edge along the long red locks of the girl's hair. The child was shaking, whimpering in terror through the green bandana that gagged her.

I can't just burst in there. Way too dangerous; he could kill her right now.

From what Blair could see, and from what he knew of the previous victims, the child had a little time before her abductor would actually begin to harm her. The five children who had disappeared in earlier months, and whose bodies -- all but one -- had eventually been found abandoned in dumpsters around town, had all undergone a succession of mutilations. First the hair, then... Oh God, what am I going to do if he starts in on her? He gulped, his throat suddenly dry. On a low table in front of the man and the child lay several pairs of pliers.

If I rush him, she'll die. If Jim or the others don't get here in time, she'll be mutilated, tortured. Sure, I'll see what happens, and I've already seen enough to put this guy away for the rest of his life, but what is that worth if I can't save this kid?

"Pliers?" Ann-Marie drew her eyebrows together in a puzzled frown.

"The other victims..." Blair trailed off, suddenly reluctant to reveal the graphic details to his new young friends. "We, and the FBI, had found four of the five victims before I caught up to Spencer that day. A least, we'd found what was left of them. They'd had their fingernails and toenails ripped off. The coroner was pretty sure that the kids were still alive when it happened." And that's not the worst of it.

Joe swallowed audibly. "Their fingernails. Blair, that's monstrous."

"I remember reading about the case in the paper." Ann-Marie's voice was shaky. "They just said that the kids were mutilated."

Blair nodded. "A lot of details were kept out of the papers. If you can keep a few crucial points from ending up in the hands of the press, then you have some questions you can use in a polygraph test." He toyed with his glass of beer, running his finger through the condensation on the outside of the glass. "There's no easy way to tell the rest of it. The other kids, they were all executed -- in a very ancient, horribly cruel way."

"How?" Joe asked softly, his face gone eerily pale in the dim light of the pizza parlor.

"They were drawn and quartered."

Up on the stepladder, Blair could feel his legs began to shake with the strain of holding still to look in the window. After a few more minutes spent watching the perpetrator as he slowly cut off bits of the little girl's bright hair, he carefully lowered himself back down the ladder until he was standing on the ground. Then he backed away a couple of yards, into the underbrush surrounding the driveway.

Pulling out his cell phone, he prayed that he was in range. He breathed a barely-audible sigh of relief when he saw that he had service. Quickly, he dialed the dispatcher's number.

"This is Detective Blair Sandburg. I'm now out on..." He craned his neck to see the battered mailbox. "3877 Turner Road. I need that backup, fast! I've got a kidnapper here who looks as if he's going to start cutting on his victim any moment now!"

The answer came back laced with static, but understandable. "Affirmative. Detective Ellison is about a mile from your position now, and we have three patrol cars on the way. You've got backup coming from the county too."

"Thank God," Blair breathed into the phone. "Call Detective Ellison. Tell him to go around the back of the house to find me. Sandburg out." He put the phone away and crept back toward the house.

He put one hand on the ladder, and frowned. Off to the left of the house, half-buried in the overgrown blackberry bushes, sat a tiny shed. The entire structure listed at a precarious angle, and Blair could see that the door hung slightly ajar. I'd better have a look in there too. We don't want any surprises, like an accomplice waiting in the wings. He paced as silently as possible over to the little shed, weapon drawn, and slowly pushed aside the door.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. He could see old, rusting gardening implements and various tools stacked haphazardly in the corners. There was no hint of movement, so Blair stepped inside a bit farther. He froze when he caught sight of the garishly flowered bedspread wadded into a heap on the floor, its pink and yellow tones overlaid by dark, red-brown splotches.

Blood. That's blood.

He stepped closer still, and crouched down. With one shaking hand he peeled back a corner of the crumpled spread. He stepped back in horror as bile rose in his throat. Oh my God. The fifth victim. This is why we haven't found the body yet. It's still here. The mutilation made the little corpse almost unrecognizable as a person, but Blair could see enough to realize that the child hadn't been dead for very long. The blood was still faintly tacky, and no flies buzzed around in the chilly air of the shed.

Blair swallowed hard, and let the edge of the bedspread drop. You bastard. You murdering bastard. I promise, I'll do everything in my power to stop you. And may God help you if I get my hands on you.

He slipped back out of the shed, blinking a little in the bright daylight, and moved urgently back to the main house and the ladder that still leaned against the back wall. Fear for the child who crouched inside the house lent a new speed to his movements as he climbed back up the ladder. He put his nose to the cold glass of the window again and let his eyes adjust to the dim interior.

On the floor surrounding the little girl lay a semicircle of her bright red hair, shorn roughly by the hunting knife. The abductor was tugging on one last lock near her right ear, cutting it short against the scalp. Watching helplessly, Blair felt acid rise in his throat.

He's concentrating pretty hard on the kid. If I had a rifle, I could take him out. But I'm just not sure I could get him with my weapon, and I'd only get one chance.

As the last piece of hair fell away, the man moved the hunting knife toward the child's neck. Blair stiffened. No! He's going to kill her! He brought his gun up to the window with shaking hands, and was ready to fire into the dim room when he saw the blade of the knife slip under the gag and cut it off in one smooth motion. The abductor tossed the knife and the bandana away. Blair lowered his gun, his heart thudding even more painfully in his chest.

C'mon, Jim, she said a mile. You should be here soon.

He cringed anew when the stubble-headed man picked up the pliers and moved even closer to the child.

Blair could see shock on all of the students' faces. They're all bright, well-read kids. They know what I'm talking about. And they wish they didn't.

Back when the body of the very first victim had been discovered, Blair had been the first one at Major Crime to realize the historical significance of what had been done to the corpse. Reviewing the autopsy report with Dan, he'd sat in stunned disbelief as the pathologist had described the findings: the belly slit open, the internal organs removed while the victim still lived, then the pathetic little body cut into four pieces with a large instrument, probably an axe. The head and face had been left intact, and identification had been made easily. But Dan and the shaken detectives had agreed to only let the grieving family see the dead little face. The horrific details of the murder had been kept from the press, both in hopes of keeping some information secret for polygraphs and out of respect for the family. Only the little boy's father had been told, and he had no wish for the rest of his family to know the details.

"Blair." Ann-Marie had tears in her eyes. "Why? Why did this guy do this? Was he crazy?"

"The motive, if you can call it one, didn't really come out until the trial." Blair took another gulp of beer. "And I still don't understand it all. No, he wasn't crazy in the legal sense; Spencer knew that what he was doing was against the laws of society. He knew that he was murdering those kids. In one sense, he was nuts, though. He thought that little children with red hair were telepathic, that they were a higher life form or something. He had this entire belief system that involved taking over the world someday. But first he had to get rid of all the people he thought would stand in his way. So he was killing these kids."

"But why the torture?" Joe looked sick.

"He also thought that they were some kind of immortal creature, that unless he destroyed the bodies thoroughly and in a ritualistic manner, they would rise again and tell the story of their deaths." Blair shuddered involuntarily. "So, you can see I was pretty scared for this kid. I knew what was going to happen to her if I didn't do something soon."

Gravel crunched in the driveway. Relief flooded Blair's chest as he recognized the familiar form of his partner, moving rapidly but stealthily toward the house. Jim covered the distance between them in a matter of seconds. Blair climbed shakily down to the ground.

Jim put out a hand to steady him. "What's the situation?"

"We've got a fortyish white male, armed with an unidentified handgun as well as a hunting knife. He's got a child hostage, tied up. Jim -- she's got red hair. And he just finished cutting it all off." He couldn't keep his voice from shaking. "He's going to torture her, Jim, he's got the pliers out."

Loud enough even for Blair to hear, an ear-splitting scream came from the confines of the house.

Involuntarily, Blair started to run toward the front of the house. Jim caught his elbow. "We do this by the numbers, Chief. Careful and steady."

Together, they crept around the corners of the building until they stood in front of the sagging front porch. Jim put his head close to Blair's. "It'll take him both hands to hold those pliers and the kid, Chief. This is our chance." They crept silently up the porch stairs and took positions on either side of the door. Jim kicked it in with a resounding crash.

The three students had long ago stopped even pretending to eat any of the pizza, and were clearly hanging on Blair's every word. Ann-Marie was biting her nails, and Joe was methodically shredding a paper napkin.

"Did you get there in time?" asked Matt finally.

"Just barely." Blair cleared his throat. "He did have the pliers and was working on her foot. She lost one toenail, the poor kid, but the guy was so intent on what he was doing that he never knew what hit him. Jim broke the door down, and I got the girl away from him. Then we subdued him and cuffed him." Which is sort of an oversimplification, but that's enough for these guys.

"How's the little girl now?" Ann-Marie reached for another piece of pizza as if her appetite had suddenly returned with the conclusion of the story.

"Doing okay, I think. I saw her at the trial. She's in counseling, of course, but her mother seems to think she'll be okay." And her grandfather, God rest his soul, was so grateful to have his little girl back safe and sound that he got me sent back to school.

Suddenly reluctant to discuss the topic any further, Blair looked at the sober faces around the table, then at the remaining pizza. "Somebody want to go get a box to take this home? It's probably time we got back."

Sitting alone at the kitchen table, Blair tried to concentrate on the article he was reading. He'd tried to sleep, but had given up and headed out to the kitchen for a cup of tea. The glaring white overhead light and the kitschy, avocado-green appliances were comforting in an odd sort of way. If I can't sleep, I can at least study, and the light's a lot better out here.

The soft sound of stockinged feet on linoleum made him look up. Joe walked into the room, blinking sleepily, wrapped in a blue flannel bathrobe.

"Blair, it's almost one-thirty. What are you doing still up?"

Blair grinned sheepishly. "Couldn't sleep. Thought I might at least get some studying done." He'd noticed a marked difference in Joe's attitude toward him since he recounted the story of Harley Spencer. The touchiness, the snide remarks, the knowing looks -- all of it had vanished, replaced by something new. Respect, mixed with no small amount of concern, now showed in Joe's eyes.

Joe turned to the stove. "Kettle still hot?"

"Should be."

Joe flicked the switch to re-light the burner under the teakettle, and clanked around in the cupboards until he came up with a lurid pink mug and a box of chamomile tea. After setting them on the counter next to the stove, he came to the table and sat down on one of the vinyl-covered chairs.

"Thanks for telling us that story tonight," he said quietly. "I could tell it wasn't a very easy tale for you to tell."

Blair ran his fingers along the edge of his spiral notebook. "That was probably one of the ugliest cases I've been involved with. It really shook me up."

"You sound like you did everything right. I mean, wasn't it just dumb luck that you were there in the first place? You kept your head and didn't do anything rash."

"No, I didn't exactly do anything rash, but..." Blair put his elbows on the table, rested his head in his hands. "At the end, when we burst in and caught him, I guess I went a little berserk. We'd surprised him pretty thoroughly; he was so wrapped up in his twisted little ritual that he didn't know we were there until we were right on top of him."

"What happened?"

"I got the girl from him, and Jim clobbered the guy like a runaway truck. That much went more or less according to plan. Then I put Kayla down in a corner and went to hold my gun on Spencer while Jim cuffed him."

"That sounds pretty standard to me." Joe got up to tend to the now-whistling kettle, pouring the boiling water into the improbable pink mug.

"I was furious," Blair said quietly. "All I could think of was that little body I'd found in the shed. I told Spencer that I was going to kill him." He laughed briefly, a humorless and bitter sound. "I had the gun practically in his face while I was telling him this. I wanted him to be just as frightened as his poor little victims were."

Joe's eyes widened as he sat back down at the table. "But you didn't. Shoot him, I mean."

"Jim could tell that I wasn't exactly in my right mind, I guess. He took my gun away from me, which must have taken some guts." Blair shuddered. "That's what scares me the most about the whole incident. Was I so angry that I would have hurt Jim, just to see justice done to Spencer? But Jim was too fast for me, anyway; he had the situation back under control before I realized that my gun was gone." He took a gulp of the cooling tea. "We never really talked about it. He just took over, made me go back outside and sit down and wait for the backup. And I don't think Jim made any mention of it in his report."

Joe was silent for a while, swirling the liquid around in his mug. When he spoke, his voice sounded uncertain.

"Blair, I want to apologize," he said finally. "I haven't exactly been very nice to you."

Blair grimaced. "You were at Rainier during that whole fiasco about my dissertation. I didn't really expect you to welcome me with open arms."

"I'm sorry, though. I shouldn't have judged you. I was just surprised that they let you come back."

"Not half as surprised as I was, Joe." Blair grinned.

"Blair, you've obviously become a good detective," Joe said, the curiosity evident in his voice. "Why did you want to quit just to become another grad student? Will you go back, when you're done?"

"Maybe. Probably. I don't know," Blair answered. He glanced up at the kitchen clock. "It's time for bed. Now, I think I can sleep."

Next Day, in Cascade

The clerk looked up as she sensed the physical presence of someone looming above her.

"Can I help you?"

"This is the registrar's office, isn't it?" The man who had approached her counter was stocky, with hair cut so close that he seemed almost bald. He seemed unsure of himself.

"Yes. They took the sign off the door two days ago for painting, and no one's put it back up yet." She smiled. "What can I help you with?"

"I'm trying to find someone. I think he's a grad student here."

The clerk frowned slightly. "We can only give out limited information on our students. May I inquire as to the reason for your search?"

"His name is Blair Sandburg. He went to high school with my little brother, and was one of his best friends." The man's face seemed to sag. "Patrick died a couple of weeks ago, in Arizona. He was ill for a long time, and he wanted me to find his old friends and give them letters."

"Oh." The clerk felt her attitude softening somewhat. "That's awfully nice of you. I'm not sure I'll be able to help, though. I seem to recall that Mr. Sandburg left us and went to work with the police."

"No, he's not there anymore. He's here." The stranger spoke with a note of finality.

"Just let me check." Her brow furrowed in concentration as she brought up the search screen of the University's student database. "Sandburg, Blair," she murmured as she hit the appropriate keys. She waited a few seconds while the computer searched, and sat back in surprise. "Here he is. He's listed as being re-enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate with the Department of Anthropology." She shook her head. "I guess I'm the last to know everything."

"Anthropology. Hmmm, sounds like Blair. Where would I find him?"

"Well, he could be anywhere. Home, or studying, or out in the field somewhere. But the Anthro department is over in Hargrove Hall." She handed the man a paper map of the campus. "Here's where we are. Go past the library, then down this road. Hargrove is right here," she stabbed at the paper with her index finger, "behind this fountain. Someone there should be able to help you leave a message for him, at least."

The stranger took the map. "Thank you."

"Good luck finding him. I'm sorry about your brother."

"Sandburg will be sorry, too." He turned and left abruptly.


Blair eased himself down onto the edge of his bed, and began to remove his sneakers as he prepared for bed. Illuminated only by the glow of the bedside lamp, the tiny bedroom felt cozy and comfortable. I could get to like this place.

Today had been a good day, almost sufficient to erase yesterday's gloom and remembered horror. The younger students had spent the morning at the local elementary school, talking with the kids and interviewing the teachers. Blair had gone along as well, even though the subject matter had nothing to do with his own thesis. He had found the school kids to be refreshing in their candor and innocence; they had in turn been curious about his experiences and travels. He'd found himself giving an impromptu lecture about the aboriginal cultures of Borneo, consisting mainly of fantastic but true stories.

Then, in the afternoon, he'd spent several hours curled up on the couch in the sun-drenched living room, working on his thesis outline. Slowly, the details of his thesis idea began to emerge from the rather vague topic sentence he'd composed earlier. Gradually, he began to think of supporting arguments for his idea, as well as areas for further research. The day had fled by, and it had been dinnertime before he thought of calling Jim.

He'd tried the loft first; no answer. Then he'd tried the station, but Rafe, who'd been working late, told him that Jim had left and was probably at the gym. So Blair had called the loft again and left a message, simply stating that he was fine and that he'd try to call earlier tomorrow. Just as he was finishing his message, he'd heard the click of someone picking up the phone.

"Chief? You still there?"

"Hey, Jim. You're a hard man to get a hold of."

"Sorry. I stopped at the gym, then at the store." A pause. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah. It's been a good day." Blair hesitated a moment. "Jim, the other students here with me... I told them about Spencer last night. I guess I needed to talk to someone."

"You told them everything?"

"Not everything, at least not to all of them. It's complicated." Blair reached up with his free hand to push his hair back from his forehead. "Any news on the search?"

Jim sighed, and Blair could hear the disappointment and frustration in the sound. "Nothing. He's disappeared off the face of the earth. I might be able to find something, but Simon still refuses to let me join in."

Blair laughed softly. "And you're following orders? You're mellowing, Jim."

"Believe me, I'm thinking more and more about just heading out and seeing if I can pick anything up by accident. Problem is, the search area's now so big I'd have a hard time on my own."

Blair closed his eyes as a nearly palpable wave of guilt and loneliness welled up inside him. "I wish I could be there, Jim. Maybe I should --"

"Not a chance, Sandburg. You stay put. You're safer where you are, and you're supposed to stay away from me, remember?"

"What the Chancellor doesn't know won't hurt her, Jim."

"Chief, you're an ex-cop now. That makes you vulnerable in ways you don't understand. Someone such as Spencer can still hate your guts and want revenge, yet you're just an ordinary citizen now without a gun or badge. You're too much of a potential target."

Blair nodded reluctantly, even though he knew Jim couldn't see the gesture. "Maybe. But remember, Jim, I've still got all the training. Nothing can take that from me."

"And I'm glad for that." There was silence on the line for a few heartbeats.



"Miss you."

"Same here, kid."

Blair woke abruptly, mentally snatching at shreds of half-remembered dream. Damn, that was a good one too. A glance at the clock revealed the time to be 2:32 a.m. He rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but his dry mouth reminded him that he'd had too much salty Mexican food for dinner and not enough water.

A drink of water will help. Sighing, he rolled out of bed. Declining to turn on a light, he fumbled his way to the door and slipped into the hall.

The kitchen was lit faintly by moonlight coming through the window over the sink. Otherwise, the house was dark. Opening a cupboard door as silently as he could, Blair fished out a glass. He opened the refrigerator door and squinted into the brightly lit interior. Where's the water pitcher? Oh, there it is, almost empty, of course. He cursed to himself as he lifted the Brita pitcher out and filled it at the faucet. These guys are slobs, compared to Jim.

He poured himself a glass of cold water, and was placing the pitcher back in the fridge when he heard a slight rattle at the front door, just a few feet away from the kitchen. He froze automatically, and his eyes slid to the doorknob.

It was moving, and the deadlock bolt above it was turned to the 'unlocked' position.

Oh, shit! No one set the deadbolt. And there's someone out there. His hand moved briefly down to his right hip, looking again for the gun that no longer rode there. Run, I've got to run, get out the back, something. But instead of turning to run, he stood there in the kitchen in horrid fascination as the doorknob jerked and rattled.

Lash! This is the way Lash got me!

A split-second later, the front door crashed open and two figures hurtled in. Now, Blair found his feet. He managed to get halfway through the living room and within sight of the back door before a rough hand seized the back of his shirt and pulled him down. He was knocked flat on his back, his head striking the coffee table.

Through waves of pain and dizziness, Blair looked up and saw his captor. A grinning Harley Spencer stood over him, holding a tire iron. To Spencer's left, a smaller, dark-haired man in greasy denim coveralls held a 9-mm handgun aimed directly at Blair's head.

"So, Sandburg, you piece of Jewish hippie scum. Even the police don't want you anymore? Is that why you're down here?"

Keep him talking, Blair thought. He wants to torment me a while. The longer I can keep him talking, the better chance I have of surviving this. Just like Lash.

But this time, Blair knew that Jim wasn't just a few miles away, tracking him down before any serious harm could come to him. Jim was hundreds of miles away, and the only nearby source of help was three young students. Spencer will kill them if they come out here. As if summoned by the thought, Blair suddenly caught a glimpse of Joe, creeping down the hall toward the living room, baseball bat in hand.

"They didn't fire me and I didn't quit," Blair answered hotly, trying to keep his assailants' attention focused on him. "That's all a ruse. I'm down here undercover, and the department knows where I am. They're watching this house right now. They should be here any moment."

Spencer barked out a laugh. "Nice try, Sandburg. But a Cascade detective -- or former detective -- on an assignment in Oregon? No, I know all about your little return to the academic world. Your friends at the University can't keep a secret to save their lives."

Joe was almost on them now, the baseball bat raised high. Blair's heart sank. Joe's action was unbelievably brave, but he probably couldn't see the gun that Spencer's henchman was holding. He'll get himself killed. Joe, no! Run away!

With one fluid motion, Joe covered the remaining distance and brought the baseball bat down on the gunman's head with a sickening crack. At the same time, Blair scrambled to his feet and dove for Spencer, trying to get under his reach and avoid the tire iron. He collided with Spencer and they both went down, grappling on the floor. Until Spencer got an arm free and hit Blair on the chin with the end of the tire iron.

Pain as sharp as a million razors exploded in Blair's head, and he sagged limply against his assailant. Joe... Joe, you've got to get the gun, Joe, I can't help you now. Barely hanging on to consciousness, he felt himself rolled roughly aside by Spencer. He cracked one eye open, staring dully at the scene as the room whirled about him.

Joe was over by the couch, frantically scrabbling for the gun which lay just out of his reach. Swearing viciously, he turned and rose just in time to confront Spencer, still clutching his bloodied baseball bat.

"Leave him alone!" Joe screamed. "You hit him hard enough to kill him. Who are you?"

Spencer grinned viciously. "An old friend. And you've cost me the use of a cousin. I haven't got very many of those." He lunged forward, dodging the baseball bat nimbly. In the blink of an eye, he pinned Joe up against the wall and knocked him on the temple with the iron. Blair winced in sympathy as Joe slowly collapsed. Spencer secured Joe's hands and feet with duct tape.

Where are Ann-Marie and Matt? Blair thought muzzily. Asleep, through all this? Or just hiding, scared out of their wits? With a supreme effort, Blair heaved himself up, balancing his weight on his left elbow. Maybe I can get to the gun, if I can crawl over there without him hearing me move...

A booted foot shot out at his head, and his world slid away into darkness.

Ann-Marie sat up, blinking in the darkness. What was that? I heard something. A door slamming?

Her heart was pounding, though she had no memory of having a nightmare. Several more thumps and odd sounds followed the first, half-heard noise. She frowned, and sat forward to listen. Nothing. She slipped out of bed, pulled on some sweatpants and a flannel shirt, and crept to the door.

"Leave him alone!" Joe's voice, muffled by the door, hoarse and strained with fear. "You hit him hard enough to kill him!"

Oh, my God. What's going on out there? A burglar in the house?

She sank to the floor, shaking, her back against the door. What can I do?

Whatever was going on out in the living room, Joe was involved. And maybe one or more of the others as well. She had to at least find out whether or not there was anything to do.

Gathering her courage, she rose up from the floor again and put one hand on the doorknob. With infinite care, she turned the knob and opened the door, just a crack, and peered into the hallway.

She jumped and almost gasped when she looked straight into another pair of eyes across the hallway. The door of Matt's bedroom stood slightly ajar, and Matt himself was visible in the shadows. He looked as frightened as she felt.

Ann-Marie bit her lip, and stuck her head out a little further as a series of crashing sounds came from the living room. She caught only a glimpse of a large, balding man dressed in jeans and flannel who was bending over something on the floor. She pulled her head back in just in time to avoid shrieking in surprise as Matt slipped across the hall past her and into her room.

"Get back in!" he hissed at her, pulling her into the room by one elbow. "Shut the door! Yours has a lock, mine doesn't!"

"Matt, stop!" But he had already shut it, quietly, and locked it.

"Matt, what's going on out there? We've got to do something!"

He shook his head, looking uncharacteristically grim. "Two guys, and they're clobbering Blair and Joe. Ann-Marie, we wouldn't stand a chance. They've got guns."

"We've got to do something," Ann-Marie repeated miserably.

"We can't. If we stick our noses out, they'll get us too."

She started to say something, and felt the house shake briefly as the front door was slammed, hard. Joe frowned. "Either someone came in, or they left." He ran to the single window and peered through the blinds. "Damn, you can't see the driveway from here."

They both waited, breathlessly, in the darkness. Other than their own harsh breathing, only silence met their ears. After a few more seconds, Ann-Marie heard shouts outside, then an unmistakable sound.

"That's a diesel truck starting up." She hated the way her voice quavered.

Matt went back to the door, unlocked it, and cracked in open a few inches. He listened for a minute or so, opened it farther and stuck his head out.

"Nothing. I think they're gone." He slipped out into the hallway, Ann-Marie following him and cursing to herself under her breath. While Matt stepped into the living room, staring at the overturned furniture and the blood stains on the floor, she ran to the window.

"It's a black Dodge king-cab diesel. Matt, they've got them both, Blair and Joe. I can see them in the back of the truck!"

Matt was already moving for the phone. "License! Get the license plate number!"

She peered into the darkness, her lips moving as she tried to memorize the sequence of letters and numbers. "Got it! Get me a pencil! And get the police on the phone!"

"I can't!" Matt was punching buttons on the phone, a note of hysteria in his voice. "The line's dead! They cut the line!"

Ann-Marie whirled around. "Try it again!"

"It's not use. It's dead." He tossed her a stub of pencil and a grocery receipt. "Write the number and make down anyway."

She scribbled furiously, and shoved the note into a pocket. "Come on. Let's drive into town. I think there's still enough gas in the tank."

They were bitterly disappointed when they reached Matt's car. All four tires had been slashed. Matt cursed, throwing his keys to the ground.

"What are we going to do now? We're stranded. And they've got our friends!"

Ann-Marie pursed her lips. "We go get our running shoes. And we get ready to go on the most important cross-country run of our lives."

Next Morning

Jim sat in front of his computer, his gaze unfocused. Although his gaze was fixed on the monitor screen in front of him, his mind's eye was busy watching a scene from his memory.

Harley Spencer's trial. That's something I'll never forget.

He and Blair had caught the serial killer literally red-handed. Even the defense attorneys admitted later that there had never really been that much doubt as to the outcome of the verdict. Only the question of Spencer's sanity had ever been a variable, and the insanity defense that the defense attorneys attempted had quickly fallen apart in the face of expert testimony.

He knew what he was doing, all right. He just didn't care.

Jim shuddered. His own testimony on the witness stand had been brief, limited to Spencer's arrest and the condition of Kayla Gilbert. The prosecutor had used him mainly to corroborate some of the details of Sandburg's testimony. Spencer had stared at him, without any facial expression, during the entire time that Jim was on the stand, but had made no comments or outbursts at the time.

Because he was himself a witness, and subject to recall, Jim hadn't been allowed to be in the courtroom during Blair's testimony. He knew about it from the trial transcripts, and from Simon's account. Simon's involvement with the case was peripheral enough that he hadn't been subpoenaed as a witness, and he had been present for as much of the trial as he had been able to manage.

Sandburg came out of that courtroom looking like a man who has gazed into Hell. To Blair had fallen the task of describing Kayla Gilbert's fearful imprisonment in the little house on Turner Road. He'd told the story of how he watched Spencer menace her, cut off her hair, threaten her. Worst of all, he'd been forced to relived the discovery of the fifth little victim in the shed. Simon had told Jim afterward that there wasn't a dry eye among the men and women of the jury as they listened to the shaken young police detective.

Jim had been in the shed, too, albeit briefly, but hadn't been asked to describe the drawn and quartered victim to the jury. And I'm not sure why. I wonder if the prosecutor did that on purpose, used Sandburg for that part of the testimony just because he was clearly so shook up about the whole thing. The jury must have just eaten it up, he thought cynically. The reporters certainly did.

Whatever the reason for the prosecutor's choices, the experience had put Blair through the emotional wringer. For many nights until the trial was completed, Jim awakened in the night hearing mutters and whimpers from Blair's room. Each time, he had wondered whether or not he should go downstairs and talk to his friend. Once, he had gone so far as to pull on a bathrobe and go halfway down the stairs, but he had lost his nerve. Upon returning to his bed, he'd heard only quiet breathing coming from downstairs, and had drifted back to sleep. After the trial and sentencing were completed, the nighttime disturbances had ceased.

"Jim! Earth to Jim!"

Jim shook his head. "What?" Rafe was standing next to him, looking amused.

"There's someone up front looking for you. Some professor. Says he need to talk to you right away."

Jim sighed and stood up. "There's this marvelous invention known as the telephone. Why doesn't anyone ever use it?" He strode down the length of the bullpen and pulled up short, frowning, at the sight of a familiar-looking face.

"Dr. Stoddard, isn't it?" What's he doing here?

His visitor nodded. "Yes, of course, Detective. You have a good memory. Not surprising, I suppose."

Jim studied him for a moment, and nodded. "Come back to my desk, where we can talk."

He waited until Eli Stoddard was seated, and cleared his throat. "I'm glad you came by, Dr. Stoddard. I've been wanting to thank you, for what you've done for Sandburg."

The academic looked pleased. "It's my pleasure, and I didn't do much."

"What can I help you with, Professor?"

"I'm concerned about something, Detective."

"Please, call me Jim."

"If you wish. Jim, someone was at the University yesterday, asking about Blair."

Jim frowned. "What do you mean?"

"One of my students happened to mention it in passing. He says that a man was poking around Hargrove Hall yesterday morning, asking if anyone knew how he could get in touch with a Mr. Blair Sandburg. I didn't think much about it at first -- Blair knows so many people -- but something bothered me about this man, even though I didn't meet him."

Jim's coffee-and-donut breakfast formed a chilled, leaden lump in his stomach. "What did he look like? Who saw him?"

"Several people talked to him. All they could tell me was that he was a white male, maybe around forty, big, with his hair either very short or shaved."

"Professor," Jim stood up. "This is very important. Do you know if any of the students who spoke with this man knew that Blair was off on this field expedition to the Indian reservation?"

"Yes." Dr. Stoddard nodded. "The student who told me the whole story happens to be the roommate of one of the other three who went to Warm Springs with Blair." He rose as well. "Is Blair in danger?"

Jim took a deep breath and sat down again. "He could be. Dr. Stoddard, thank you for telling me this. I'd better check in with Blair right away."

"Will you keep me posted? If you can? He's like a son to me, you know."

"If I can. Now, please, excuse me." Jim seized the phone and began dialing Blair's number at the reservation from memory. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the professor walking away. Sorry, Doc, I'd love to chat about your favorite student, but right now I'm more worried about keeping him away from a convicted serial killer. Jim cursed under his breath as the phone rang and rang. No answer.

All right, don't panic, they're probably all just out somewhere. Jim looked at the clock. Nine a.m. It seemed unlikely, knowing what he did about Blair's preferred schedule, that he was anywhere besides the breakfast table right about now. And if Spencer had discovered Sandburg's location twenty-four hours ago, he'd had more than enough time to track his victim down. I'm going to need help on this one. He rose from his desk and walked briskly away.

"Settle down, Jim, and let me get this straight. Someone answering Spencer's description showed up at Rainier and started asking questions about Sandburg?"

"Sir, it had to have been Spencer. The description fits, and Sandburg just doesn't have any friends who look like that."

"How would Spencer know he was a student again, and not with us anymore?"

Jim ground his teeth. "I talked to Dispatch. They recorded a call for Blair early Monday morning from an unidentified male. The dispatcher, unfortunately, mentioned that she thought Blair had returned to Rainier."

Simon whistled. "Okay, that's too much of a coincidence for me. You get in touch with the kid yet?"

"There's no answer. Simon, he's in trouble. I need to go down there."

"And do what? Catch Spencer all by yourself? Jim, you're not thinking straight."

"Sir, please." Or I'll do it anyway, and deal with the consequences later.

Simon stood up. "We'll need a way to get down there fast. I'll see what strings I can pull. It's too far for a chopper; maybe we can get fixed-wing transport to the Madras airport."

"We?" Jim stared. "You're coming with me?"

"Someone's got to keep you out of trouble, Jim."

"Yeah, but who's going to keep you out of trouble, sir?"

Jim grimaced as he slipped the headphone-type ear protection over his head and adjusted the microphone. "These little planes are so damn noisy," he griped.

The pilot turned around and grinned. "Just for that comment, we'll be sure to buzz Mount Hood for you. That'll serve you right."

"Just get us there." Simon buckled in, put his own headphones on. "No scenic side trips, John."

"Suit yourself, Captain Banks. We should be at the Madras municipal airport in about two hours. Have a sandwich, they're in that little basket there. Drinks in the cooler."

Simon grinned. "Traveling in style." He selected a cola. "You want anything, Jim?"

"No." Jim shook his head and turned to look out of one of the tiny windows. "Let's just get the rubber band wound up, and get going."

"He'll be okay, Jim. The kid's a survivor."

"If it was anybody else going after Sandburg, I wouldn't be so worried. But Spencer really had him shook up." Jim kept his head turned, spoke to the window. "The last time we saw Spencer, it was at his sentencing, when he vowed to tear Blair from limb to limb for helping to put him in prison. He said he was going to kill me, too, but Blair was the one he was looking at. I think he really got under the kid's skin with that." He turned back abruptly, reached down into the built-in cooler at their feet and came up with a soda. "The thing is, I'm not sure which I'm more worried about."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure if I'm more worried about Spencer finding Sandburg, or of Sandburg killing Spencer. And having to live with it."

Jim had to briefly shield his eyes from the bright sunlight as they climbed out of the plane. "Not raining here," he observed. "Think they have any openings here, Simon?" He stepped aside and watched with some amusement as his captain squeezed his large frame through the plane's decidedly undersized door.

Simon pointed across the tarmac, to a figure leaning against a bright red SUV. "That's Sheriff Gould over there, if I'm not mistaken. Why don't you ask him, Jim?"

The sheriff proved to be a Native American man of middle height and indeterminate age. He smiled broadly at Jim and Simon as they approached, waving one hand.

"Welcome to paradise, gentlemen," he said in a soft but precise voice. "Captain Banks, it's been a long time."

Simon put out his hand to be shaken. "A couple of years, hasn't it? Jim, this is Sheriff Henry Gould. He and I have been at a few conferences together. Henry, this is Detective Jim Ellison."

The sheriff smiled, showing even white teeth. "Pleased to meet you, Detective. Simon, can you tell me a little more? You were pretty sketchy over the phone."

"I'll tell you on the way. We need to go out to the reservation and check on someone. Do you mind taking us out there?"

"No problem. Fill me in as we go." Gould looked at his watch. "You expecting trouble?"

Simon looked at Jim, who shrugged. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "You got some helpers we can draft?"

"It's twelve-thirty now. My deputy, Mark, has lunch every Tuesday at his grandma's house on the reservation. We can swing by and pick him up if we hurry."

Simon chuckled as they climbed into the SUV. "Nothing like a small town."

Blair groaned. The sound made his head ache fiercely, and for one sickening moment he thought he was going to vomit. He groaned again anyway, and opened his eyes with great reluctance.

As he blinked, trying to clear his vision of the dried blood that crusted his eyelashes, he became dully aware that he was upright. His head sagged onto his chest, and all he could really see was his own chest and abdomen. Automatically he tried to lift his right hand to bat at his itching eyes, and found it fastened behind him at an awkward angle. The left hand also refused to obey his commands and remained firmly tethered. He lifted his head and looked around with reluctance.

He was tied to a chair. That much seemed obvious; though his ankles strained against the tape that held them in place, he was unable to move them even a fraction of an inch. His hands had been bound behind him, presumably with the same tape. In the dimly lit room, which seemed huge and contained many large shadowy shapes, he could see another figure tied to a similar chair. Although the head slumped awkwardly away from him, he had no trouble recognizing Joe.

"Joe," he whispered. "Joe, wake up!"

Joe did not answer or move. Craning his neck, Blair stared at his friend in the semidarkness, trying to see signs of life. Jim's hearing would really come in handy about now. He finally convinced himself that he could see Joe's chest rise and fall with the rhythm of his breathing, and he felt a little better. He was just turning his attention back to his bindings, wiggling his wrists experimentally, when a loud creak and a sudden flash of sunlight distracted him.

Blair looked up and squinted his eyes against the light. The door continued to open, letting in a great flood of light and a figure silhouetted in the huge doorway.

I'm in a barn of some kind. That's why this place is so big. He swallowed, his throat dry with apprehension. The figure at the door, now striding purposefully toward him, was unmistakably Harley Spencer.

Spencer came to a stop directly in front of Blair. "So, did you have a nice nap?"

Blair glared and said nothing. Spencer shrugged, walked to Joe and seized him by the chin. "Wake up!" Spencer slapped him. Joe groaned, almost inaudibly.

"Leave him alone!" Blair growled.

Spencer laughed cruelly. "Leave him alone? Why should I? I'll hit him if it suits me, Sandburg. I'll hit him, and I'll hit you, and what do you think you're going to do to stop me?" He left Joe, came back to Blair's side.

"You're crazy, Spencer!" Blair shouted. For some reason, yelling made him feel a bit better. "You've escaped from prison. You could have gotten away! Why did you come looking for me?" He took a deep breath. "You could turn around and run out that door and disappear into the sagebrush, and they'd never find you out here!"

Spencer moved his hand fast. Blair's head exploded with pain from the force of the stinging slap. "Shut up!"

"Why?" countered Blair. "What have I got to lose? You're going to kill me anyway!" He spat out the blood accumulating in his mouth, and saw with disgust that it only dribbled down his shirt. "Why me, Spencer? Why not the FBI? Why not the judge who sentenced you?"

Spencer grabbed Blair's shirt collar. "Because I'M NOT FINISHED!" he bellowed. "YOU CAUGHT ME ONCE! You and your partner!"

Joe groaned again, louder this time, and moved his head slightly. Spencer ignored him and pulled harder on Blair's collar. The veins on Blair's face and neck bulged as the pressure began to impede blood flow. It was getting hard to breathe. He's going to kill me now, strangle me right here. Jim, please, help me!

As abruptly as it had begun, the pressure was released. Blair let his eyes close and his head drop, and gasped frantically at the cool, delicious air, savoring great gulps of it. He opened his eyes again only to see Spencer stride back to Joe.

The killer seized Joe by the chin again, jerked his head up roughly. "And who are you supposed to be?" he growled. "One of Sandburg's little school friends? Or some kind of undercover cop?"

Blair fought to find his voice. "Let him go, Spencer. He's nothing to you."

Joe's eyes were open, wide and terrified. Blair could see him shaking, but the student said nothing. "Let him go," Blair repeated.

Spencer turned back to Blair, and Blair quailed inwardly when he looked directly into Spencer's eyes. His icy blue gaze held nothing that resembled reason or sanity, yet when he spoke again it was with an intense quietness.

"Oh, he's got a very important job, Sandburg. A very important job. At first, I thought he'd be a nuisance, but I've got plans for your friend here."

"What?" Blair spat out the word along with some more blood.

"He's going to get to watch you die, Sandburg." To Blair's horror, Spencer actually smiled. "The way I see it, Sandburg, you interrupted me with some unfinished business seven months ago, with that little girl. I can't get her again.

"So you'll just have to take her place."

Act IV

Gould pointed out various bits of scenery as they drove. "The Deschutes River," he commented, pointing at the rushing water thundering far below them as they drove over a bridge. "Great white water rafting." A few minutes later, the dust-covered SUV trundled into the tiny town of Warm Springs.

"We've done fairly well here with tourism," Gould observed. "Long before the rest of the tribes were opening casinos, we were happily gouging the white man." He grinned. "Sunshine, rafting, golfing, and hot springs. It works for us." He checked his watch. "We should be able to catch up to my deputy at his grandma's."

Jim, wedged rather uncomfortably into the back seat, frowned as he caught sight of something odd. "Sheriff, do you know those two kids up there waving at us?"

Up ahead on the sidewalk, in front of a rather tired-looking laundromat, stood two rather dusty and disheveled young people. A girl, petite with short dark hair, stood closest to the vehicle, accompanied by a tall and broad-shouldered blond male. Both looked scared out of their wits, and both were waving frantically at the clearly-marked Sheriff's Department SUV.

"No, but they do seem to be trying to get my attention, don't they?" Gould pulled over near the two young people. "Let's go see what they want."

"-- and we got the license plate number, but we couldn't call anyone because the phone line was dead." The young woman, who had introduced herself as Ann-Marie Reynolds, reached into her pocket, withdrew a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to the sheriff. "Here it is."

Gould reached for the radio. "Let's run it." Jim heard him speaking over the radio, presumably to the dispatcher back in Madras. He turned back to the newcomers.

"Could you see anything of Sandburg, or your other friend, when they were driving away?" Is he even alive? Blair, don't do this to me!

Ann-Marie shook her head. "It was a truck, and I think they were in the back, but I couldn't see much." She swallowed. "There was some blood on the floor in the living room. I don't know whose it was. And Matt found Joe's baseball bat, with a lot of blood on it, behind the couch."

"I need to see this." Jim glanced back at Gould; he was still conversing with the dispatcher. "How far away is this house you're staying at?"

The young blond man shook his head. "I don't know. We've been jogging and walking all night, just to get to town. Quite a ways. We couldn't get anyone to pick us up." He leaned against the hood of the SUV, suddenly looking completely spent.

Gould hung up. "They ran the plate. The truck's registered to some guy in Redmond. That's about an hour from here. I'm sending two of my deputies out there to see what they can find out."

Simon frowned. "We should be there too. No offense, Sheriff, but Spencer's bad news."

"I had my dispatcher notify the state police. They'll be available for backup. And, also meaning no offense, but you and your detective are a little out of your jurisdiction."

"And I need to see the house," added Jim. "Let's have our young friends here point us in the right direction."

Gould scratched his head. "We can stuff them in the back with you, if they don't mind being a bit crowded."

Ann-Marie shook her head fervently. "You can strap me on the bumper if you want, as long as I can get off my feet."

Jim knelt on the living room floor, near one of the spattered bloodstains. The strong odor of fresh blood was nearly overwhelming, drowning out any other scents in the little house. There's a few hairs here... straight and dark, very coarse. Not Sandburg's hair, and they match the hairs on the baseball bat. The other, smaller bloodstain was several feet away, and Jim moved to examine it as well.

"Anything?" Simon's voice intruded into Jim's thoughts as he tried to focus his sense of smell more closely.

Jim shook his head. "It's blood, and it's human. I can't tell anything else," he said in a low tone. "The room smells like sagebrush and juniper, but so does everything else in this town." He moved a few paces away, looking intently around at the carpet. C'mon, there's got to be something else here. He bent to study the larger pool of blood once more, and his eyes caught a glimpse of something white under the overstuffed armchair.

Removing a plastic evidence bag from his pocket, he lifted the armchair's fabric skirt and fished out a crumpled bit of white paper.

"What have you got, Jim?" Simon leaned over as Jim slowly stood up.

"Some kind of receipt." He unfolded the bit of paper. It was an ATM receipt.

"Simon! Look at the time and date on this!" Jim handed it to his captain.

"Last night. 8:34, to be precise. And it's for an ATM here in Warm Springs." Simon turned and called over his shoulder to the sheriff. "Henry, those kids -- Blair's friends -- said that they were all at home last night, that no one went anywhere in the evening, right?"

"Right." The sheriff nodded from the doorway.

Jim turned the receipt over in his hands. A faint odor emanated from the paper, something naggingly familiar. When he turned it so that the light from the reading lamp hit the paper obliquely, he could see some greasy smudges on it. He held it closer to his nose. Oily, but sort of plastic-smelling... there's the toner smell mixed in, from the ATM... Dammit, what is it? He was sure he'd smelled something like this before. Something to do with Blair, Blair and his damned cantankerous car that he was always spending his hard earned cash on... Synthetic motor oil! He put the receipt into the evidence bag. "Sheriff, I need to know who works on cars in this town. Especially if they live anywhere near this ATM."

Blair knew that he was beginning to shake, tried hard to conceal the fact. He tried to speak evenly, but heard the tremor in his own voice.

"Take her place? What do you mean?"

It was the wrong thing to say. Blair's head snapped back as Spencer's meaty hand met his cheekbone in a stinging slap.

"Don't play stupid with me, smart boy!" hissed Spencer. "I heard you testify against me at the trial. I heard you up there, telling the jury what an animal I was to do that to those kids. You know it all. You know what's in store for you."

"But I can't take her place," countered Blair, racking his brain for something to say that might confuse his assailant. "She's a child. She's got red hair. I haven't got red hair. I'm no threat to you." Boy, does that sound stupid. "Why kill me? And why do you want a witness? You never had one before. Your -- other victims," Blair swallowed, forced himself to say it. "They were alone. They died alone." God, please let him let Joe go. He doesn't deserve this, he's just a kid.

Spencer growled. "Your friend here almost killed my cousin Danny with that baseball bat. I've been watching him bleed and groan all morning." He reached off to his left, to an overturned crate that Blair had only vaguely noticed out of the corner of his eye. To Blair's horror, the crate held several sets of pliers and a vise-grip, as well as some wicked-looking knives and a gun.

"So, the way I see it, your friend here owes me. It's his turn to watch you bleed."

Jim frowned as the Sheriff parked the SUV. "This doesn't exactly look like a top-notch automotive place."

Sheriff Gould shook his head. "Danny's just a shade-tree mechanic, works on other people's cars just enough to buy more beaters of his own. He inherited this place from his dad, but he hasn't exactly done anything agricultural with it."

They were about fifty yards away from a traditional red-painted barn, looking a little worse for wear. A two-story, white frame house stood near the driveway, and there were several small outbuildings scattered nearby. The whole spread had a lost, abandoned look.

"Sheriff, can you roll down the windows?" asked Jim.

Gould gave him a puzzled look, but complied. Jim pushed his head out of the rear window and cast about with his sense of smell, closing his eyes to concentrate better. He heard Gould lean over and mutter to Simon. "What's the matter? Does he get carsick?

There's that synthetic oil smell. I think we're in the right place.

"He's just thinking," Jim heard Simon answer. "He, uh, needs fresh air to think."

The oil smell's coming from the barn. There's something else there, too. Blood, and sweat. With his eyes still closed, Jim brought up his hearing, mentally piggybacking it onto his sense of smell.

"Your other victims. They were alone. They died alone."

It was Blair's voice, shaking with fear, but unmistakable.

"Your friend here almost killed my cousin Danny."

Spencer's cruel voice, the voice that Jim had not heard for months, the voice that he knew his partner had heard in nightmares for weeks.

"Simon, he's in there." Jim flung open the back door.

"Where?" Simon climbed out of the front, followed by a puzzled-looking Sheriff Gould.

"In the barn. Spencer's got him in the barn."

Simon hissed under his breath as he reached for his weapon. "How many?"

"I think the other kid's in there, too. But it sounds as if this Danny is out of commission. We might have a chance."

"Wait!" Gould held Jim's elbow. "Raise your right hands, both of you, and repeat, 'I'm a deputy'."

Jim and Simon complied, Simon smiling a little as he did so. "You definitely have less red tape out here than I do, Henry."

Jim clapped one hand over his ear, nearly dropping his weapon. A scream... Blair's scream. "Hang on, Chief," he said out loud, not caring who heard. "Hang on, we're coming."

Blair's head pounded and his vision went a little grey around the edges as the pliers gripped the nail of his left big toe. When the pain hit, it was worse than he could have imagined, and he screamed. There were no words in his mindless wail of terror; he was beyond words and almost beyond thought.

This is my nightmare, come to life. This is what I dreamed, all those nights during the trial.

He strained as hard as he could, trying to break the harsh bonds, trying to pull away from the punishing pain. With a mighty lurch, he managed to shift the chair a little, enough to get his toenail out of the grip of the pliers. Spencer cursed and grabbed again for his foot Through half-closed eyes, Blair could see blood coming from his toe, but Spencer's elbow blocked his vision of any further details.

"Freeze! Police!" Jim's voice, blessed and familiar, accompanied by a burst of light from the open doors.

"Jim!" Blair found himself screaming again, but at least this time he had a name to scream. "Jim, help!"

Spencer cursed again and dropped the pliers. As if in slow motion, Blair saw him reach for the gun that lay on the crate. Jim! Watch out!

The staccato report of a nine-millimeter handgun rang through the barn. Spencer staggered slightly, then looked down at his chest, where a splotch of dark red blossomed.

Blair's vision darkened.

"Spencer's down!" Simon ran toward the fallen murderer, rolled him over. "He's still alive, for now, anyway. Nice shot, Jim."

Jim ignored the comment, focusing instead on the sight of Blair slumped unconscious on the wooden chair. I hear him breathing, but he's out cold. He slapped gently at Sandburg's cheek, wincing when he saw the bruises. "C'mon, Chief. Wake up."

"Is he okay?" Jim turned at the unfamiliar voice, saw the frightened face of the other young man, also still tied to a chair.

"He just passed out." Jim grabbed one of Spencer's knives, used it to slice unceremoniously through the ropes that secured Blair's hands. When he got to the feet and saw the bloody toe, he growled under his breath. "That bastard."

Blair moaned. Jim hastily put the knife back on the crate after slicing the rest of the ropes. He reached up and eased Blair down to the ground. I think he's okay, just fainted. Just needs to get some blood back into his head. He pushed the matted hair back off of Sandburg's forehead. "Hey, you with us, here?"

Sandburg's eyes fluttered open. "Jim?"

"In the flesh, kid."


"Shot, maybe dying. The sheriff's getting an ambulance. Your friend looks okay."

"Thank God." The blue eyes fluttered closed again. "Hey, Jim?"


"We gotta quit meeting like this."

Jim reached over and gave Blair a gentle poke in the shoulder. "Hey, Sleeping Beauty, wake up. We're home." My home, anyway. But you're staying here tonight if I have to tie you to your bed.

It had been a grueling few hours. After Spencer had been taken away by the ambulance, Jim and the sheriff had taken Blair to the hospital in Madras to be checked out and to have his injuries documented for the records. Except for one badly lacerated toe and a few bruises, he was pronounced fit and discharged into Jim's care. They'd flown back to Cascade in the same little plane; Matt and Ann-Marie were driving Joe back home in Matt's car.

Sandburg had slept through the whole two-hour flight, curled up awkwardly in the seat with his head resting against the vibrating window. Jim had been forced to shake him to get him moving and off the plane. Now, as they pulled up in front of the loft, he looked over at his still-sleeping friend.

One bruise purpled Blair's right cheekbone where Spencer had struck him. Rope burns, shallow but undoubtedly painful, marked his wrists. His foot sported a thick white bandage too big to wear under his shoe; the shoe lay on the seat next to Blair. Jim studied the too-quiet face, and reached over to poke him again.

"C'mon, Chief, time to wake up."

Sandburg's eyes fluttered open. "We're home?" he mumbled.

Jim's throat tightened slightly. "Yeah. We're home."

Blair cracked one eye open, saw the pale daylight streaming in through the curtains, and looked over at the table where the clock usually sat. That's funny. Where's my clock? Can't be too late, anyway. He rolled back onto his stomach, burying his face into the pillow. Umm. Nothing like a warm, soft bed on a day you can sleep late. He shifted one leg to tuck his knee up under him, and hissed as a sharp pain lanced into his toe.

"What's wrong with my foot?" he mumbled. He pulled himself, somewhat laboriously, to a sitting position -- for some reason, every muscle in his body was complaining -- and folded the covers away from his foot.

His left foot. Which was covered by a large, fluffy, nicely tied white bandage.

Memories came flooding back: the struggle in the little house on the reservation, the horrible feeling of waking up as a helpless prisoner, the final encounter with Spencer and the pliers. And Jim and Simon, bursting in at the last minute to save him.

He slid slowly back down into the bed, shivering with remembered terror. And I'm in my old bedroom, at the loft. The clock was gone, all right; most of his things were either down at the house in Oregon or over at Dr. Stoddard's place. Maybe Matt and Ann-Marie remembered to pack up my stuff. Jim had insisted that Blair stay at the loft for now. "What the Chancellor doesn't know won't hurt her," he'd said firmly. "You think I'm going to leave you at the mercy of Mrs. Stoddard's good cooking?" Blair smiled at the memory, even through his misery.

He stared at the ceiling, willing his body to stop shaking. It's over. It's over, and I'm safe. And Spencer is in the hospital, thanks to Jim. Blair had a vague memory of the phone ringing soon after their arrival in the loft, of Jim speaking in hushed tones to someone while Blair half-drowsed on the couch. After hanging up, Jim had sat down next to him and told him that Spencer had been flown to Portland, that he might live but was in critical condition and had probably suffered brain damage as a result of blood loss and low blood pressure. "You're safe, Chief," Blair had heard Jim say. "He can't ever come after you again."

With an effort, Blair sat up again and peeled back the blankets. He climbed shakily out of bed, holding on to his night table briefly for support, and hobbled to the doorway. The French doors opened with a familiar gentle creak as he poked his head out.

"Jim?" he called softly.

There was no answer. Even with his ordinary hearing, he was reasonably sure that he was alone in the loft. Unless, of course, Jim was simply upstairs sleeping off his own exhaustion, with his earplugs in to ward off early-morning sounds from noisy guests. Blair craned his neck around, looked at the stairway, and then looked down at his injured foot. Don't be a wuss, he told himself firmly. You can climb a few stairs. It's just your toe.

Halfway up the stairs, he regretted his decision. Every bruise and every strained muscle seemed to have stiffened in the night, probably aggravated by his uncomfortable attempts to sleep on the plane. In order to put weight on his injured left foot, he had to walk on the heel -- a position that tended to make him lean back. He had to clutch the railing in order to keep himself from pitching backward and falling off the stairs.

At least going back down should be easier, he thought grimly.

As he reached the top of the stairs, puffing slightly, he saw that Jim's bed lay rumpled but quite empty. He shuffled the last few feet and sat down rather abruptly on the edge of the bed. Ugh. Guess I'm not going to be running anywhere for a few days. He wondered where Jim had gone. The clock on Jim's bedside table said 9:22, so it wasn't as early as he'd thought.

I'll just sit up here for a minute or two and get my breath back, then go downstairs and find some breakfast. His stomach rumbled at the thought. He'd been given some juice at the hospital, and a sandwich and some coffee on the plane, but his belly reminded him rather loudly that the small meal had been some ten hours earlier. I'll get some breakfast, then Jim will come back. And I'll get him to drive me over to Dr. Stoddard's, so I can get out of his hair. Even as he whispered the words in his mind, they felt hollow. Empty.

He sighed, and swiveled around to lift his legs and feet up onto the bed. He lay back, his head coming to rest on one of the pillows. You wanted this, Sandburg. You wanted the chance to finish your doctorate. You're the one who made the decision to quit the force and go back to school. No one forced you. He knew that completing his degree would open up new opportunities for him. He'd be able to return to Major Crime and work as Jim's partner again, probably in whatever capacity he wished. Or he could work more as a consultant to the entire department. They would want him, and he had proved his usefulness time and time again. All he had to do was get through these next few months on his own, get the dissertation written, and get it accepted. Piece of cake, right?

Long-term reward for short-term sacrifice, he told himself sternly. Delayed gratification. You've done this before, when you had to. Look how long you've been in school. But school, for him, had always been a bit of a joyride, a dizzying whirl of new ideas and new experiences that provided its own rewards along the way. That was what had attracted him to anthropology in the first place, the endless variety of human cultures. His only real goal had been to find a Sentinel, to study that Sentinel and make that his life's work; otherwise his plans had changed yearly.

And then Jim had come to him, confused and battered by his developing senses and curiously vulnerable. Jim had asked for his help, not just that day but again and again over the last few years. He needed me. And from the look on his face that day I packed up and left, he still needs me.

He closed his eyes, seeing in his mind both faces of Jim: the touchy, paranoid detective he'd first met, and the gruff but gentle friend who had said goodbye to him with such feeling. Maybe -- maybe this isn't what I should be doing. Maybe I don't need that degree. Maybe I should just dropkick the whole University thing and come back to the force. If they'll have me back. It was an almost comfortable thought, and very attractive right now. He smiled wistfully. Once, the University had been his secure home, and the police world had seemed a little intimidating; now the opposite had become true.

What if I never get this damn thing written? Or if they won't accept it? What if the Chancellor decides to make my life miserable just to be petty? He swallowed. What if Jim gets into trouble, and I'm not there? Not there to help him out, not there to be his friend? And all of the rest of them, Simon and Megan and the others. Do they need me, right now, more than the world needs another Ph.D. anthropologist?

Am I just afraid? Afraid to take risks again, to hurt? Afraid of living?

The silence in his mind offered no answers. After a while, he fell asleep.

Jim opened the door to the loft quietly. May as well let him sleep as long as he can. He hung up his jacket, tossed the keys in the basket, and headed for the coffeemaker for a second cup of coffee. Half-consciously, he focused his hearing on Blair's room, listening for sounds that might indicate that Blair was awake.

Nothing. No breathing, no sounds.

Frowning, Jim walked to Blair's room and swung the French doors open. The bed was empty, the blankets rumpled. Blair's clothes still lay on the floor where he had undoubtedly let them fall last night. Well, he can't be far. Jim widened the range of his hearing to include the entire loft, and smiled to himself when he caught the unmistakable sound of deep and quiet breathing. From upstairs.

What's he doing up there? Maybe the kid had gotten cold; the futon bed had only a cotton blanket and a thin bedspread. Blair had taken all of his bed linens with him when he moved out, including his usual nest of quilts. He probably saw my note, then went upstairs to steal my comforter and decided it was easier to just sleep up there. Still smiling, Jim walked to the foot of the stairs and started up.

He frowned slightly when he reached the top. Sandburg was sacked out on his bed, all right, but he didn't look particularly cozy. He wasn't even under the covers; instead, he was curled up on his left side with the bandaged foot sticking out at an awkward angle. Dark circles under his closed eyelids, plus the purpling bruises, made his skin seem paler than normal. And despite the fact that he was sound asleep, Sandburg looked profoundly unhappy.

Jim sat down on the edge of the bed and touched his friend's shoulder gently. "Hey, Chief, wake up."

Blair's eyes opened. For a moment, he looked startled and confused, then Jim saw both recognition and remembrance dawn on his face. "Oh. Hi, Jim. Sorry. I came up here looking for you, then I sat down to rest, and well, I guess I fell asleep."

"Looking for me? You didn't see my note? You didn't go into the kitchen?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I thought you were up here asleep."

Jim laughed. "You missed out, then. I left breakfast in the oven for you, on 'warm'. An omelet. It should still be edible, if you want it."

Sandburg appeared to consider. "Yeah, food sounds good."

"I'll help you back downstairs." Jim started to stand up, but Blair's hand on his arm stopped him.

"Jim. Before I go back down there, we need to talk."

"We're talking now, Sandburg. Your mouth is moving, mine occasionally gets a word in edgewise." Jim grinned, trying to lighten Sandburg's suddenly serious mood.

"I mean it, Jim. I was doing some thinking up here, before I fell asleep." He paused for a moment, picking at a loose thread on the comforter. "I'm thinking that maybe I've made a mistake, going back to finish my degree. I almost got killed yesterday. Maybe that was a message."

Jim studied the worried face in front of him, debating what to say. "Sandburg," he said finally, "if you'd read the note, you'd know that I went over to Rainier." He took a deep breath. "To talk with Dr. Stoddard, and with the Chancellor."

"What? Why? Jim, you didn't do anything stupid, did you?" Blair sat up abruptly.

"I told the Chancellor," Jim said evenly, "all about the last couple of days, and all about Spencer. She hadn't heard the details of your involvement with Spencer's case before this morning." Now he looked directly into Blair's eyes. "Chief, I can't lie to you about this. I went there with the intention of telling her everything, if I needed to. The Sentinel bit, and the truth about your dissertation."

Blair frowned. "You didn't. Jim, tell me you didn't! We agreed that you weren't going to do that!"

"But," Jim continued, "I knew that was a last resort. So I consulted with your friend Dr. Stoddard -- I wanted to let him know you were okay, anyway -- and we went to brave the dragon in her lair." He let himself smile. "I asked her if she could see her way to relax that little condition about keeping you away from the bad influence of Major Crime, on the grounds that you clearly were in need of some unofficial police protection. I sort of led her to believe that every wacko in Cascade was likely to come after you, living there in Dr. Stoddard's basement, and that they might not be too discriminating about who else they took out." Jim let his best evil grin creep over his face.

Sandburg laughed. "Jim, you have no scruples. What did she say?"

"She has reluctantly agreed to quit interfering in your private life. Well, that's not quite how she put it, but that's the gist of it. You can write your dissertation, and continue to be a full time student, but spend your free time how you choose. As long as you make 'timely progress', as she put it, and as long as you carry out any research responsibilities that Dr. Stoddard gives you." He put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "She really had no right to make those demands anyway, Chief. You should have contested that agreement." He paused, and suddenly felt less sure of himself. "So, now you can move back in. If you want to, that is." Jim bit his lip for a moment. What if he doesn't want to come back? But he does. Look what he was saying about giving up on the degree. He wants to come back. "I know that you had some other reasons that you wanted to leave. I remember, you were afraid that you weren't contributing enough. But, Sandburg..." He struggled for words.

"Jim, it's okay," Blair said softly.

"No, this is important. Look, you don't need to pay me rent, not as long as you're back in school. And I know you'll be too busy to go out on cases with me. But as far as I'm concerned, you're still the expert on this sentinel thing. If you want to do something for me, then help me to continue to fine-tune my senses. Keep me challenged."

Blair appeared to consider for a moment, then he smiled. Despite the bruises that marked his face, Sandburg's grin looked like the sun coming up. Looking at his friend's evident relief, Jim felt his heart turn over with some undefined emotion. He looks like a kid who was just given a present he was afraid to ask for. Aloud he repeated, "So, what do you say?"

Blair's hand shot out to clasp his. "I think you've got your housemate back, Jim. Get ready for lots and lots of tests."

~ Finis ~

E-mail the author of this story, Kim Heggen, at owl@heggen.net
Read Kim's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Shycat's Sentinel Domain
E-mail Faux Paws Productions at fauxpawsproductions@yahoo.com
IN TWO WEEKS on THE SENTINEL (Scheduling may change due to the holidays): Heart and Soul (12/20/00, FPP-608) by Susan L. Williams
    A string of ritual murders has strange effects on Sentinel and Guide.

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This page last updated 12/8/00.