We've spent the past week chopping down the pasture, cleaning out the barn, the garage, the travel trailer, and the house. Next, paint the interior. Sigh. We're exhausted. I went to work, yesterday, and it was a relief. I ache in places that normally only hurt after a week on horseback (my knees) and places I normally don't hurt at all (my lower back and sciatica). I was working on a crossover, before all this happened, but it's just sitting on the sidelines, for now. I was lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, and couldn't. I wish my muses were on the same schedule as I am. It would make things so much easier. Especially when I have to get up at 0400 to get ready for work. When the muses are all snug in my brain, sound asleep. Any way, this started just before I finally got to sleep.
The usual disclaimers. I don't own them. I don't get paid for this. Please don't sue me. Thank you...for reading these meanderings, for writing to me, for giving me ideas. Lots of angst, usual smarm warnings, I mean, what else do I write? Um, spoilers for Breaking Ground (sort of), and Night Shift, I also refer to S2, and my previous story 'Battle Lines Have Been Drawn'. This just sort of follows the thread.
Oh, yeah. The archeological dig was real. Well, it happened last year. I think the bridge is still being built. I haven't been by since May '97, so I don't know how far they've gotten. There were several big write-ups in the local paper about it, especially the need to hurry. Progress doesn't care about paving over great archeological finds. It was only a little over 125 years old, after all. The cops depicted bear absolutely no resemblance to the fine officers who make up the Folsom PD.
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"Look, I'll only be gone for two weeks. Then I'll be back."
Silence. Jaw-clenched, white-fisted, pained blue eyes squinched up just a bit, were the only response.
He sighed. "Jim, come on, man. I don't have a choice, here. I've missed so much time at the university, that I owe them this, at least. It wasn't planned. This was supposed to be Emily Watson's field trip. But, since she's, well, you know... Someone had to take over, and I was elected. I wish you could come along, but, well..."
"I have to be in court." Was the soft reply. "It's OK, Chief. I do understand."
Blair looked closely at his friend. "Jim? This is what I was talking about, man. When I wrote about your fear-based decisions. I will come back. I promise." He reached out to place his hands on the shoulders of his friend, who was sitting (albeit against his own 'house rules') on the arm of the couch. "I promise." He repeated. The pain-filled blue eyes came up to meet his own darker blue.
He sighed. "I know, Blair. I really do understand. It's just...well, you've only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks, are you sure you're up to this?"
Blair grinned. "Oh, yeah. It's not a hard dig, at all. We'll be staying at the Raddison, right across the street, practically. Walking distance, anyway. It'll be fun. Digging all day, good conditions, close to, heck, in the middle of civilization, it's about as perfect as you could ask for, man." His excitement starting to show. "I realize that it's archeology, not anthro, but it's close. The artifacts will be anthropological in nature. I mean, they found an entire city, practically." He turned away and started pacing, his hands gesturing in his burgeoning excitement. "It's a Chinese camp from the Gold Rush, man." His voice rising slightly, "Intact. Can you believe it? An entire city from the 1850's. Buildings, artifacts, it's a tremendous find. Most of the Chinese artifacts from the period have been walls. This site has been undisturbed for over a hundred years. They're finding whole pieces of pottery, tools, all kinds of things." His hands flying about as he got further into his description. "They're going to be covering the entire area with concrete for the new bridge across the American River. This is our only chance to find as much as we can in the time allowed. We get two weeks on site. We'll be working hard, but the finds so far indicate that it will be well worth any time we have available for it." He paused, turning back to his friend, who was still sitting, unmoving, watching him. A faint smile in response to his enthusiasm. He returned to stand in front of him, once again. "I'd want to do this, Jim. Even if I didn't have to. Maybe, if you get through testifying early, you can come down." He watched his friend's eyes, trying to read what he was feeling. "I will come back. It's only for two weeks, man."
Jim sighed. He knew he really had no say in the matter. But the tension in his gut was starting to hurt. The fear... and suddenly he understood. His expression cleared. "Oh." He said softly. Blair had noticed that Jim had come to a realization about something, but he had no idea what it could be about. "Uh, when you wrote that my decisions were fear based, what exactly, did you mean?"
Blair blinked. Confused by the seeming nonsequitur. "Uh, what?"
"The opening chapter of your dissertation. You said my decisions were fear based. What did you mean?"
"Oh, that." He thought hard, wondering what Jim might really be asking. Not wanting to alienate his friend again. "Well, what I meant was that you were afraid of getting hurt. Your entire life seems to have been made up of instances of abandonment. You're mom left...escaping your dad, not you; but like most kids, you ended up taking the blame for it. Maybe if you had been better, if you hadn't demonstrated your senses, whatever, she would have stayed. Even though it had nothing to do with you, you still blamed yourself, and maybe your dad let you take that blame, just to avoid having to take his own responsibility. I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know. Then, when your mentor, Bud was killed and your dad told you that you were a freak if you insisted on using your senses. You wanted him to love you, and the only means you had to do that was to do what he told you, so you repressed your abilities, denied who and what you were, just to keep him from hating you, at least from your point of view. Then, the way your dad forced you and your brother to compete for his so called 'love'. Man, that was never love, only manipulation. But, again, you were afraid to say no. Until the last time, when you left home and went into the Army. I imagine you were pretty happy there. Following orders, doing what you were told. Being rewarded for a job well done. At least until you got into the covert ops, I guess. Then, after Peru...well, you know."
"And Carolyn?" Softly.
"You were afraid of giving yourself completely, afraid she'd hurt you, so you never let her in, at least, not all the way. I'm not saying you didn't love her, I'm sure you did. It's just..." He shook his head, sadly. "You've been hurt so much in your life, and I'm sure I don't know all of it, but it's colored the way you react, the way you act with people. How you don't let anyone get too close. You've erected these really high, thick walls around you, so no one can get in..."
"You got in." It was barely audible. Blair stopped, looking at his friend in consternation.
"You got in. Through those walls you say I've got. You got past them." A simple statement, softly spoken. Jim wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Jim?" No reaction. No movement. Blair reached out and gently touched his friend's cheek. Jim turned his face away from the light touch, refusing to meet his eyes. "Jim?" Concerned.
Jim stood up and moved away, turning his back on his roommate.
"Jim, talk to me, man." He followed his friend. Thesis subject aside, he much preferred the friend.
"You got past all the defenses. At first, it was because I was so afraid I was going nuts. I really needed your help. Then, well, you made friendship easy. Rescuing you on occasion, made it, I don't know, more equal, somehow. I needed you to help me control these senses, and you seemed to need me to protect you. Only you don't, not really. But it made me feel that the partnership was a little less one-sided. I don't like using people."
"But you don't mind being used?" Blair paused to think. "That may be it. You were taught that the only way people liked you was by how they could use you. I used you as my thesis subject. But while I was doing that, we also became friends. You aren't supposed to do that. It destroys objectivity." He started pacing again. "Your father used you, allowing you to take the blame for your mom's leaving. Then he transferred his own fear of being different to you, when Bud died...Using you and Steven to control each other; the Army used you like it does any weapon, impersonally. Even in Peru, you were used by the Chopec as a Sentinel and warrior. Now, as a cop, you're used to protect people. You're still a tool. Your senses came back and you needed help. You probably haven't needed much of that since, when? When you first realized what your dad was doing to you and your brother? It doesn't matter. You've always been used by others." He stopped and turned to his friend. He had his undivided attention. The clear blue eyes following his every movement, hanging on every word. "When you read the opening of my diss, you must have felt betrayed. You thought we were friends, then you read that and felt that I had just used you, not honestly, like most everyone else in your adult life, but sneakily. You thought we had more than that...Oh, man. I'm so, so, sorry. You're more important to me than anyone besides my mom. You're my best friend, my companion, my buddy; the closest I've ever come to knowing what it's like to have a brother, or a father. You've taught me about responsibility, about what it means to have and be a friend, rather than an acquaintance." He approached his friend, cautiously reached out to him, stretching his hands up to grip the taller man's shoulders. "I really did mean it, when I said that your friendship was more important than the doctorate. I would never do anything to hurt you, at least, not on purpose. Please, believe me?" He ran out of words. They stared into each other's eyes, reading many more truths than had been, or could be, expressed in words.
Jim felt some of the tension drain away. "Yeah, Chief. I believe you. You think I like being used, huh?" Not really bothered by the concept, finding it made sense for him.
"Well, there's used, and then there's used. No one wants to be used, but being a tool, I can think of worse things to be." Smiling tentatively up at his friend.
"Yeah. Me, too." He returned the smile, the warmth seeping into his eyes as well.
"So, are we all right here?"
"Yeah. You'd better start packing. You should like it down there. I understand that Sacramento is having a normal summer. Temperatures in the high nineties to low hundreds." Just a bit of teasing in his tone.
"Sounds wonderful. I can hardly wait." He looked at his friend again. "If you get through testifying, will you try to come down?"
"You know that it depends on how things are going around here. If I can, I will."
"I can't ask for any more than that."
It was hot. It was more than hot. It was sweltering. This close to the river, the humidity made it even worse. It figured, Blair arrived, and the breezes stopped, it barely cooled off to the high seventies at night. Thankfully, the hotel was air conditioned. Too bad the dig wasn't.
They worked hard. From before dawn until well after dark. Carefully searching for artifacts, finding many, a surprising number in quite good shape. It was a far cry from the dig in Cascade that had resulted in the deaths of several people, including Emily Watson, who had been the original head of this expedition. The construction people were friendly, only worrying about them getting as much as they could before they had to start pouring concrete. Except for the weather, it was nearly perfect conditions. The weather and the urgency for time.
Blair was taking a break. Sprawled in the limited shade, sipping on tepid bottled water. Looking down at the river, a good fifty or sixty feet below. Far enough from the cliff and it's wall to not feel the effects of the height. The water a deep, clear green, rushing white against the rocks. It was beautiful. The site of one of the nation's first hydroelectric plants less than a mile away. The old part of the town of Folsom, more known for its prison than its historical Gold Rush significance, which had been restored and turned into a popular tourist attraction, with museums and shops. If it weren't for the heat.... He chuckled, thinking how his partner would laugh at him, complaining about the heat. Suddenly, he heard a scream. He jumped up and ran toward the cries of distress.
He'd expected the worst. A cave in or slide. The reality was no less unpleasant.
A body. A woman's body. Badly decomposed, but nowhere near a hundred years old. The stench was overpowering. Blair pulled his dust mask into place for what limited protection it offered. He called to the six students who were running around agitatedly, panic-stricken and not knowing what to do. He had to shout to get their attention.
"ENOUGH, PEOPLE!" He shouted at the top of his lungs. The students froze and turned to him, a couple of them hyperventilating, nearly hysterical. "Everyone come away. What happened?" He gathered his students closer to him and further from the grisly remains.
"We were opening up a new section, and it just slumped down, and, and there it was." One of the young men, John, explained.
Blair nodded. "OK. I want all of you to find a nice shady spot and sit down and take a break. Have some water, relax. I'll call this in." He pulled out the cell phone the local archeological society, who's site it was, had left for them to use while on site. He dialed 911.
"911 operator. What is the nature of your emergency?"
"Hi, um, my name is Blair Sandburg. I need to report finding a badly decomposed body. It looks like a woman. I'm at the archeological dig in Old Folsom."
"I'll contact the police department and someone should be there shortly. You're only about two miles from the station. Is anyone else hurt?"
"No. I've got some pretty upset students, but no one's hurt. More a case of being grossed out. I mean, we're excavating a site over a hundred years old, we weren't expecting anything quite this...uh, fresh? I've got the students away from the site, and I'm standing guard, to keep anyone else from disturbing the scene until the authorities get here. Oh, I can hear the siren now. Thanks for your help."
The patrolman climbed down the hill to the site. Blair was waiting for him. "Hi. I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm the TA in charge. My students were opening up a new section, it slid and the body fell out." He offered his hand, but the patrolman just stared at it. Blair calmly withdrew the offered hand. A little disappointed at the cop's attitude. "I moved my people away. They're sitting over there," Pointing toward the silent group. "No one else has been here. It smells like the body has been there a while, although, in this heat, there's no telling." The big, burly cop just stared at him, his mirrored sunglasses giving nothing away. "I'll just let you go ahead with your investigation." He backed away. The cop turned away from him, moving toward the dead body. He looked around, and pulled out his radio.
"Yeah. This is Johnson. It's a DB, all right. Pretty ripe, too. Send out the coroner. I'll stick around and start getting statements." He turned back to Blair, who was quietly standing nearby.
"You want something?" He snarled at the smaller man.
"No. I was just curious. I can point out my people's footprints, or do you think it's been here a lot longer?"
"It's none of your concern." Patrolman Johnson growled.
Blair raised his hands in surrender, fingers spread wide. "Fine. No problem. I'll just go take care of my students." He backed away, shaking his head. He'd simply gotten used to the cops in Cascade's acceptance of him, and forgotten how he'd been treated at first. He turned away, walked over to their ice chest and gathered cold bottled water for all of them. He then joined his extremely subdued students, passing out the cold drinks, after which he sat on the ground with them.
He spoke softly, unconsciously using his 'guide' voice. Soothing, getting them to talk about their feelings, careful to not in any way get their testimony. His manner and attitude calming them all down. By the time the rest of the investigative team had arrived, they were all relaxed and calm, patiently and quietly waiting.
The investigators were only slightly better than Patrolman Johnson. Blair had never noticed any of the detectives he knew to be quite so ... cold, was the only word that fit. Unfeeling, matter of fact. "What did you see? What did you do? Who did what, when?" Like automatons. Taking notes, not making any eye contact. Uncaring.
When it came time to question him, he simply stated what he had heard and what he did. He offered no additional information, no insights, none of his observations of the scene. He wondered what Jim might have found. He had noticed an odd odour, as well as a discoloration of the dirt from around the body, but didn't mention it.
By the time they were allowed to return to their hotel, it was long after dark. They'd lost four or five hours of digging time, as well. He notified the archeological society and the local university of the complications, then waited for them to arrive and fill them in on what had been happening. It was nearly midnight before he finally got back to his room.
He slid his card-key into the lock and walked in, too tired to notice that the lights were already on. He made his way to the bathroom, stripped quickly and climbed in for a long, hot shower, groaning at the aching muscles. He was glad Jim wasn't there to see him, as he knew he'd catch hell for allowing himself to get so run down. He'd been fine until that body came up. Never overexerting himself. But the heat and the stress of the discovery of the woman's body added to the extra long day had wiped him out. He finished in the bathroom and, with a towel wrapped around his hips, headed for bed. He had just collapsed on his bed with a mumbled "Hey, Jim," when he suddenly realized...
"Jim? What are you doing here? I thought you had to testify this week?" sitting back up and staring at the man sitting quietly in the chair on the other side of the extra bed.
"I did. It went a lot faster than we expected. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. You OK?" Concerned.
"Out kind of late, aren't you?"
"Yes. I was taking a break this afternoon, one of the kids started to open a new section and the entire bank came down."
"Is everyone all right?"
"Oh, yeah. Only problem was that there was a corpse in the bank. A woman. I don't think she'd been there more than a few weeks, at the most. I called the cops and I've been answering questions from them and the archeological society and the local university, ever since."
"If you didn't see the body until after the students found it, why were they targeting you?"
"I'm in charge, sort of. So I got to be the spokesman. I sent the students back here hours ago. I hope they're all asleep by now."
"Yeah. I heard them come in about eight. I just figured you'd had a date, or something."
"Nope. This is a working vacation. Man, you should see some of the artifacts we've found. Pretty spectacular. He yawned, his exhaustion taking over. "Sorry."
"Have you eaten, yet?"
"Hmmm? Oh, no. No time. I'll eat in the morning. I'm too tired, right...nnnzzzzz" His exhaustion causing him to fall asleep in mid-word.
Jim smiled and carefully repositioned his friend on the bed, pulling the covers up over him and tucking him in. He watched him sleep for a few minutes, then got ready for bed himself, turning out the light and settling down in the other bed.
Blair's alarm clock went off at its usual time of four a.m. He groaned, and buried his head under the pillow, moaning at the annoying sound. The sudden silence made him jump up, not expecting it. He stared around wildly.
"Wha? Where?" Spotting his partner, he heaved a sigh, "Oh, it's you. I forgot." He yawned and sleepily rubbed his eyes. "Oh, man. I'm still tired."
"Well, why don't you catch a few more Z's while I take a shower; then, while you shower and get dressed, I'll order up some room service."
"Sounds great. Take your time, OK?" He flopped back down on the bed, falling instantly back to sleep.
"Come on, Chief. Why don't you show me this dig of yours?" They were following a few yards behind Blair's students, walking over to the dig.
"That's where we're headed. By the way, I noticed something, yesterday?" His voice lowered to avoid being overheard.
"Well, there was a discoloration in the dirt around the body, and this funny smell. I couldn't quite place it. It seemed kind of familiar, you know?"
"Well, if they don't have it cordoned off, I can take a look." Jim offered. He was really more interested in seeing Blair and his students at work.
"Formaldehyde." Jim announced. "I smell formaldehyde." His nose wrinkling up in displeasure. He pulled a pair of surgical gloves from his pocket, pulled them on and crouched by the dirt where the body had lain. He easily spotted the discolored dirt. He took a sample, carefully sniffing it. He grimaced in disgust. "Something like freezer burn, Chief." He looked up at his partner. "I guess she'd been frozen and taken out at the proper time and buried here, for you guys to find."
"So, who do we tell?" Blair asked, his full attention on his partner.
"I suppose this guy right here." Jim replied, standing up; his attention focused on the approaching man in the cheap, ill-fitting suit. Blair turned and grimaced.
"Oh, joy." Blair mumbled. The stranger stomped up to them, picking on the smaller man.
"This is a crime scene. You don't belong here. Get out."
Blair backed up, his hands up, fingers spread, "Fine. I'll go. You didn't tape off the area, I didn't know you wanted to keep it as a crime scene. Where I come from, we tape off crime scenes, and if we think someone's going to mess with it, we put a guard on the scene. Sorry, man."
The man narrowed his eyes and glared at them. "Been to a crime scene before, have you?"
"A few." Blair answered. "I'm Blair Sandburg." Offering his hand, a little surprised when the policeman took it. "I'm in charge of the students digging this week. We've got another six days on site, and we were hoping that we could continue this morning. When we got here, there was no cordon, so I thought the scene had been released." Remembering his manners, he turned to introduce his friend. "This is my partner, Jim Ellison."
"Partner?" No inflection.
"Blair and I are partners." Jim confirmed, pulling out his wallet and showing the officer his ID. His lips curling up in a slight smile as the man recognized his ID as that of a fellow cop.
"If you're a cop and he's your partner," Asked the puzzled officer. He stared at the smaller, long-haired man. "What are you doing here on an archeological dig?" Turning his attention back and forth between the obviously mismatched pair.
"He's also working on his doctorate in anthropology." Jim admitted. "He's a great partner. He was telling me about yesterday." His tone letting the local cop know that he wasn't really very impressed by the treatment of his partner.
"Oh?" Looking at Blair with a new interest. "Did you spot anything?"
"Well, did you notice the smell? Jim says it's formaldehyde. There's also this discoloration of the dirt around the body. We were just talking about it and wondering if the body had been frozen for some time before being brought out here and buried."
The local cop nodded. "Yeah. I read the coroner's report. Indicates that the body was frozen for some time and probably buried while still frozen. That puts the burial at about eight or ten weeks ago. Whoever did it probably thought the construction would bury it for good. Didn't know that there would be an archeological dig on the site." His expression indicated that he was impressed with the younger man's observations. "What do you mean about the dirt?" Curious, now.
Blair showed him. Jim handed him the sample he'd collected. "I think you'll find that the guy added some formaldehyde to the site, to try and keep the smell down. Not that it worked, mind you." Blair explained.
The local detective looked around the scene. The two men had been careful, avoiding any more contamination than absolutely necessary. "Good work. I'll get someone from forensics back down here." He crouched down and carefully tried to brush some dirt away from something just under the surface; Blair pulled a brush from his back-pack and bent down to help. The detective shifted back and allowed Blair to work. Expertly wielding his brush, Blair quickly uncovered what the detective had spotted. A pocket watch, with a cameo on the cover. Blair sat back on his haunches, allowing the policeman to pick up the find.
He turned it over, then opened it up. He could see that it was engraved, but couldn't make it out. Both men stood. Jim watching on, curiously.
"There's some writing here, but I can't make it out. Can you?" Offering the watch to Blair. Jim reached out and took it from the detective's hand. He looked at the engraving and read it off.
"For my darling Clementine, on our fifteenth anniversary, love, Mark." He started to hand the watch back to the local man, he stopped, turning the watch over to see what he had felt. There was more writing on the back of the case. He held it up to get the light to fall obliquely on the case, allowing him to see the lettering better. "Huh. There's some more writing here..." Blair bumped him, slightly, causing him to look away from the watch and catch the warning glare from his partner. "You'll need a magnifying glass to read it though." He pointed out the tiny line of script on the back of the case.
"Damn. You're good. I doubt I'd have noticed that." He looked curiously at the pair before him, whose innocent expressions rang alarm bells, but nothing he could put his finger on. Not that he thought they had anything to do with the case, just....something. "Oh, my name's Charlie Yeates, by the way." He smiled, much friendlier, now that he knew that he was dealing with his own kind, even if they did look odd. The two men nodded their acknowledgment.
"I was wondering, is there any way we can go back to digging? We can start over there, leave this entire area for you guys, in case you need it." Blair cast a glance at his students, standing out of earshot, clumped together, brooding over the events of the previous day.
Yeates looked over the area, "I need to get forensics out here. Have them sift this dirt, get more samples of that discolored stuff." He sighed. It would have been so much easier if they had done their job properly the day before.
"Sifting? We can do that for you. We've got the equipment. Besides, we can pick out any artifacts at the same time." Blair grinned up at the older man. "We'd be very careful. After all, these are archeology students." Starting to bounce.
Yeates nodded. "That sounds good. How will you know if you find something useful?"
"We'll know." Jim replied. Yeates looked up at him, nodding.
"Yeah, I guess you probably would, at that. OK. Go ahead. Just leave the area where the dirt's discolored."
"You've got it." Blair turned back to his students, motioning them over to join him. He went to the equipment and started setting up the sifting boxes. His excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. Soon, he had his crew carefully sifting through the dirt.
Yeates sent for a forensics specialist to help with taking samples and looking over anything the students might find. Blair was right there with his students, shoveling dirt, sifting, talking, joking about how they could use their skills and get jobs with police departments, now that they had a little experience with forensics. Keeping the mood light, the young people laughing and enjoying themselves, careful to not mention the awfulness of the previous day.
It was more than an hour before the forensics specialist arrived. She came up and looked around. Nodding her approval. "Hi. Anyone seen Charlie?" She asked.
"Uh, he went to get coffee with Jim." Blair replied, looking at the newcomer. "I'm Blair Sandburg, Jim's partner, and in charge of the dig, at the moment." He smiled at her, offering his hand.
She smiled as she shook his hand. Not even noticing how dirty his hand was, or at least not making anything of it. "Ronnie Wells. Veronica, but don't call me that. Forensics." She looked around the dig. "I've seen this place on the news, but I haven't been by. You're getting a lot done."
"Well, what with the time limit....Wells?" Shocked, as the name registered. "Uh, you wouldn't be any relation to a Cassie Wells, would you?"
"You know my sister? She's up in Washington State, somewhere."
"Oh, man. This is weird. I know her. She's the head of our forensics department." He shook his head in amazement.
"Wait a minute. If you're a cop, what are you doing on an archeological dig?" Confused.
"I'm also a TA, working on my Doctoral Thesis. I've only been officially with the department for a few months. I was studying closed societies and ended up working with a detective, and now we're partners. It's a little strange." He admitted. The lies falling easily from his lips with all the practice he had had.
She smiled at him. "So. How's Cassie?"
"She's OK. She's not exactly very high on my partner's list of people. He hasn't quite forgiven her for getting me kidnapped, yet." Seeing her questions, he shook his head and waved his hand, dismissively. "Don't ask. It's a long story. She just seems to rub Jim the wrong way. I wouldn't mention it to him, if I were you. He's likely to cop an attitude, if you do."
"OK." She looked past him, "Here's Charlie, I take it that big buff looking man with him is your partner?" Eyes focused intently on the man in question.
"Uh, yeah. That's Jim. I'll introduce you." Looking curiously at the woman. Physically, she was definitely Jim's type. Long, curly red hair, well built, good figure. No raging beauty, but very nice. This could be interesting.
"Hey, Ronnie. Glad you could make it." Yeates called out as they approached "Good thing we got extra coffee." Smiling and handing her a Styrofoam cup filled with steaming-hot coffee.
"Thanks, Charlie." She looked up at the stranger accompanying her colleague. Liking what she saw. Tall, well built, brilliant blue eyes that met hers with a question in them. Blair saw the sparks. Not too surprised, he performed the introductions.
"Jim, this is Ronnie Wells, she's Detective Yeates' forensics specialist." He wondered how long it would take him to recognize the name. "Ronnie, this is Jim Ellison, my partner. He's a detective with Major Crimes, in Cascade, Washington." He stepped back to watch.
"Nice to meet you, Ronnie." Jim nearly purred. Obviously liking what he saw.
"Likewise, Jim." Ronnie purred right back at him. "Charlie said something about you spotted some almost microscopic writing on the back of a watch?"
"Yeah." He shrugged, a little embarrassed by how close he'd come to messing up. This wasn't home. He didn't have support here. Except for Blair; who, fortunately, was aware enough to keep him from spilling his secret. Suddenly, the name dawned on him. "Wells?" Eyes wide with shock. "You're related to Cassie?" Withdrawing, just a little.
"My sister. Younger, has more to prove. Chip on her shoulder." She smiled. Her manner indicated that they weren't close, but she cared about her sister. She shrugged, "We talk at family functions, birthdays, Christmas, and the like. We aren't very close." She didn't explain why.
Blair thought he knew why. Ronnie was obviously doing what she loved, having no desire to be the detective, only to ferret out information forensically. Not having the need to be in charge, only to do her own work, and let others do theirs. Her entire attitude and body language radiated contentment. Apparently, Jim felt it, as well. He was easing closer to her. Blair smothered a grin, then met the eyes of the local detective, who had a surprised expression on his face. Blair shrugged at him, smiling. Yeates smiled back.
They passed out the coffee and donuts to the crew, calling to them to take a break and drink their coffee while it was hot. They brought some small items of interest to show them. A pair of diamond earrings, a ring. None of which were old enough to be from the dig. The ring was distinctive, and engraved. Jim looked at it. "Mark C. and Clementine - 1982." He read. "Well, we have a last initial, now." Handing the ring to Ronnie, who looked at the engraving and then up at him, impressed.
"Good eyes, detective. I can barely make out the fact that there's writing here, and you can read it like a newspaper." She was squinting, trying to make out the words. She shook her head. "I'll take your word for it." She smiled up at him. He smiled back.
"The earrings are rather distinctive, don't you think?" Blair asked, causing the pair to look at him, then at the earrings he was holding up. They were quite distinctive, gold filigree, set with diamonds and baroque pearls.
"Yeah, they are." Charlie mumbled, his face screwed up, trying to place them.
"You've seen them somewhere, before?" Jim asked.
"Yeah. Probably...oh, shit." He looked at them, shocked. "Clementine Collins. That visiting socialite that disappeared last year. She was related to the Crockers."
"Oh, I remember. There was a big mess over it." She turned to the visitors, "The Crockers were one of the Big Four, the founders of the Union Pacific Railroad, back in the last century. I can only remember three of them, Crocker, Stanford, and Huntington." She shook her head in annoyance.
"Hell, I can't even remember those three. And I'm from here." Charlie chuckled.
Blair shook his head. "Man, if I lived here, I'd be a walking history book. I mean, most of the recorded history is less than two hundred years old, but there is just so much packed into it, here. I mean, just look at this place. There's an entire city buried here. That no one knew was here. Think of everything that happened here. It's amazing. I..."
"Chief?" Jim interrupted gently. "It's OK, professor. I know how much this stuff fascinates you, but we're more interested in more recent events. Like Clementine and her jewelry, her disappearance, her murder..."
"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry." Blair blushed in embarrassment. Jim patted his shoulder in comfort, then rested his hand on his shoulder and squeezed, smiling.
"Hey, this was supposed to be a vacation, of sorts. Of course, with your luck, it had to turn into a murder investigation. At least there's no sign of your usual involvement." Smiling gently.
"Usual involvement?" Charlie asked, suspicious.
"Uh, yeah." Blair blushed again. "Simon, our captain, calls me a trouble magnet, and the rest of the guys have picked it up."
"Blair has a ... penchant, shall we say? For attracting every psychotic, serial killer, murderous sociopath in the area."
"Not to mention rogue CIA agents, dirty cops, angry drug lords, crazy drug dealers..." Blair muttered.
"Not to mention. Don't forget partners having nervous breakdowns." Jim murmured softly. Blair looked up, sharply. Meeting worried pale blue eyes. He straightened, his chin coming up, his eyes snapping sparks. "That was partly my fault. We both messed up on that, man. Stop beating yourself up over it."
"But, Blair...you died."
Charlie and Ronnie were looking worriedly at each other. The conversation was definitely making them both nervous; but curious as hell, as well.
"Yeah. Well. I came back, didn't I." He looked up belligerently at his partner. Unconsciously mimicking his partner's famous clenched jaw.
"Yes. You did. I admit it. It was a miracle. Even the doctors had to agree on that." His voice soft, barely audible to normal ears. They were so involved in themselves, that they forgot about their audience, who were staring. Jim sighed. "I guess that's the important thing, isn't it."
"Is it?" His eyes searching those of his friend. Looking for...?
"It is to me." His gaze locked with the younger man.
Whatever was going on between them, Ronnie found it fascinating. She glanced at Charlie, who was pointedly looking away. She turned back to the pair. They were silent for several minutes, their eyes locked on one another, communicating on a level few people even suspected the existence of. Slowly, Jim's right hand came up to touch Blair's shoulder, the touch light, almost nonexistent. Blair smiled and reached over to pat Jim's arm. Communication complete, they simultaneously took a deep breath, held it a moment and let the air out in matching sighs.
"So, tell us about Clementine Collins." Jim still spoke softly, but his attention was back with the entire group.
"She and her husband, Mark, were down in Sac about a year ago. She disappeared from the hotel where they were staying. No note, no ransom demand, nothing. Just gone. We suspected her husband of having done something to her, but there wasn't any evidence to support it. There still isn't." Charlie informed them.
"I would think the fact that her jewelry, her very distinctive jewelry is here would be significant. Where does Mark Collins live?" Blair asked.
"He's got a house up in Placerville. About half an hour from here. Why?"
"Does he have a large freezer? Could he have had access to this site before they discovered the buried city? Is there any probable cause to search his home? New girlfriend? I'm sure you know what to look for." Jim told them.
"Yeah. I know. Unfortunately, Placerville is in El Dorado County; we're in Sacramento County. We may have some difficulty crossing the county lines." Yeates confided.
"Um, maybe not." Ronnie said. "This discolored dirt you were showing me? It might help."
"So would the purchase of a large amount of formaldehyde about the time of her disappearance." Jim added. They smiled at one another, Ronnie went to work gathering samples of the dirt, while Jim and Blair went back to work with the students.
They had cleared the entire area of the dirt slide by mid-afternoon. Jim had really put his back into the hard work of shoveling the dirt into the sifting frames. His strength and stamina working the long hours in the hot sun allowing them to accomplish a great deal more than they could have imagined.
It was the hottest part of the day, between two and six p.m. Blair had to keep reminding Jim to rest and drink enough water. When he finally placed the last scoop of dirt into one of the frames, he was willing to stop. He was breathing hard, his muscles pumped up from the ten hour long workout. He stood, still out in the sun, looking at the bank of dirt that remained. His eyes focused on something...
"Jim? Jim!" Blair hissed, trying to bring him back from his zone-out without drawing attention to them. He reached out and touched his friend's arm. He was hot, barely perspiring. Blair looked at his friend in alarm. Just great. Not only was he zoned-out, he was suffering from heat-stroke. "Jim!" He shook him, lightly, then harder, when he got no response. Ronnie looked up from her portable lab, curious. Seeing Jim's flushed face, the lack of sweat, she reacted immediately and automatically.
"Charlie!" She shouted, "Water!" rushing to Jim and Blair. Seeing his condition, she grabbed one of Jim's arms and started to drag him toward the minimal shade they had available.
At the excited voices and being pushed around, Jim broke free of his zone. Blinking and gasping for breath, he shook his head, trying to clear his vision. He allowed himself to be led over to the shade and forced to sit down. He suddenly felt dizzy, so he closed his eyes, feeling nauseous, as well.
"I've been telling you all day, Jim. You have to rest, drink lots of water, take the salt tablets. Will you listen to me? Noooooo. You have to just keep working until the entire job is done. This is not a good thing, man." He had grabbed a bottle of water that had been left out, the temperature of the water nearly at the ambient temperature of a hundred and five degrees, Fahrenheit. He poured the warm water onto Jim's head, allowing the liquid to run down Jim's face and soak his shirt, then squirted the back of his head and down his back, as well. "What were you staring at, anyway, man?"
"There was something still stuck in the bank, Chief. I'm not sure..." Charlie arrived with some cold water at that moment.
"Where in the bank did you see something? What was it?" Charlie asked.
"I'll show you." Jim started to stand up, only to be forcibly held down by both Blair and Ronnie.
"It can wait." Blair insisted. "Unless you'd rather go to the hospital?" He threatened. Jim looked up at him, confused. Reading Blair's eyes, he settled down.
"I guess it can wait a few more minutes." He took the bottle of cold water Charlie offered, and started to take a drink. Blair stopped him.
"Hold the water in your mouth until it's not so cold. We don't want you to get cramps from drinking too cold water."
Jim did as he was told. Smiling up at his partner, he replied, "Yes, Mom." Only to fail to duck in time for the cuff Blair aimed at his head. Both men laughed. Fortunately, it had been more of the zone-out than the heat, but no one wanted to take any chances. They insisted he sit quietly until completely rested and kept plying him with bottles of water until he had to call a halt.
"Come on, guys. Let me go empty the tank before you make it overflow, OK?" When he returned, they made him drink another bottle of water, and decided it was safe for him to function once more.
"Now, show us what your were looking at, Jim." Blair coaxed. Jim led them over to the open face of the bank. There, about ten feet above them, was a wallet. From the indentations in the dirt around it, it had been buried with the woman. None of them were tall enough to reach it; so, Ronnie being the lightest, Jim crouched down and she straddled his head, sitting on his shoulders.
"Good thing I'm not wearing a skirt today." She muttered. Jim chuckled as he stood up. She still wasn't quite high enough, so she cautiously placed one hand on the face of the embankment, the other on Jim's head to steady her, then lifted one foot to his shoulder. Carefully, cautiously, she stood; one foot on each of Jim's shoulders, his hands reaching up to grasp her ankles to steady her. Now she could easily reach her goal. First, she pulled out her camera, getting photos of the face of the cliff, showing the wallet and all the indentations around it. Including more of the discolored dirt. Then she gently pried the wallet from its position. "Look out below." She called out, dropping the wallet, then reached up to gather more samples of the discolored dirt. "OK. I'm done. Who's going to catch me?" She looked down, Both Charlie and Blair had retreated with the wallet. "Uh, Jim?" Plaintive. "Don't ask me to jump. I can't do that. I've got a bad ankle, so jumping is out of the question.
"That's OK. Put your hand on the bank, then crouch down until you can sit on my shoulders again. Just reverse the process for how you stood up." He held on to her ankles, drawing down the one she moved to crouch down to sit back down on his shoulders. Once she was again sitting, he quickly crouched down, allowing her to stand on the ground, once more. Standing back up, he had to catch her as she sagged.
"Sorry. I don't do heights very well." Taking deep, shuddering breaths.
"You should have said something." Supporting her. Arms wrapped around to hold her.
She shook her head. "Oh, no. Charlie'd have it all over the department by dark. I know better than that." She felt him stiffen. "I don't mean that in a bad way, heck. You work for a city, you must have all kinds of rumor mills. Ours just happen to be small-town, everyone knows everybody else's business. No secrets here." She paused, "Not like you and your partner." She said the last softly, not really meaning to be heard. Of course, she couldn't know about his hypersensitive hearing.
"What do you mean?" Cautious.
"You and your partner. There's more than just being partners between you." She said it matter-of-factly.
"It's probably not what you think." She looked up at him, brows furrowing, trying to figure it out.
"I don't know what to think. You're obviously best friends, almost like family. But, I don't know. There's something else. Something special. Do you two telepath or something?" Not quite joking.
"Or something." He didn't volunteer any more. She gazed into his eyes, searching for......nothing. He wasn't giving anything away. She sighed. "I guess ... never mind." She pulled back and turned away. Suddenly, she stiffened, and cursed softly under her breath.
"What's wrong? What is it?" Following her gaze to a car that had just parked above the dig. Zooming in his vision on the man who had just exited the vehicle. "Who is it?"
"Mark Collins." She murmured. Turning to the others, she raised her voice. "Charlie? Guess who just arrived?"
Charlie Yeates raised his head and followed her gesture up. Smiling grimly, he headed for the path to the top. Jim, Blair and Ronnie automatically followed him, to provide backup.
"Mr. Collins? I'm Detective Yeates. What can I do for you?"
"I was informed that my wife's body had been found?
"Yes, sir. She was. Late yesterday. She was murdered. Stored in a freezer and buried here back eight to ten weeks ago. About the time it was announced that the new bridge was going to be built, but before the archeologists knew about the old city." He was watching the man, closely.
Jim's eyes narrowed, hearing the man's heart rate increase, dramatically. He slowly drifted away from the others, to cover them, in case the 'distraught husband' did anything foolish. Ronnie joined him, while Blair moved in the other direction.
"I understand you were robbed a couple of months ago? Your wallet taken?"
"Just wondering." Charlie held up the wallet Jim had found. Ostentatiously opening it and pulling out the driver's license. "Funny thing. We found it buried with your wife." They were ready for him. He jumped for his car, only to find Blair blocking his exit; he spun away, only to find Jim and Ronnie in his way; he tried again for the car, only to be grabbed by Detective Yeates. He struggled for a moment, but Jim moved in and held him while Charlie handcuffed him and read him his rights. Ronnie pulled out her cell phone and called for a unit to come and transport. Within fifteen minutes, the uniformed officers had come and taken him away.
Charlie looked at the visitors. "Well. That was easy." He grinned. "It was nice meeting you both. I gotta go fill out the paperwork. If I don't see you again, well, don't take it personally."
"We won't." Jim replied as they shook hands all around. Ronnie stayed behind, packing up her equipment. Jim joined her. He watched her for a few minutes. "Can I help?"
She looked up, smiling. "Sure. Why don't you grab that box, while I get this stuff?" They carried her equipment and samples up to her van. He watched her as she stowed her gear. Looking curiously at the rest of the contents of the van.
"This is nice. Whose idea was it to make your forensics lab so portable?" He asked.
"Mine. There are times, like this one, when making tests on site is a really good idea. That way, I don't have to keep coming back and forth." She stowed the last piece of equipment and closed and locked the door. She turned back to him. "Thanks for earlier. I don't do heights very well. OK, so I do heights all right, just not getting back down. You probably think I'm silly."
"Not at all. I find nothing silly about a fear of falling. It makes good sense, to me." He smiled, the Ellison charm working its magic.
She leaned against the van, her arms folded, smiling. "So, Blair said something about you and Cassie not getting along?"
Jim flushed, just a bit. "Yeah, well. I guess I'm a little territorial when it comes to my job. I don't like amateurs running rampant over my cases. She wants to be a detective, but doesn't take the time to learn how to put information together to come to an informed conclusion."
"She jumps on part of a clue and runs with it before checking it out. I know. I never could understand why she wanted to do this, until I figured out that she was competing with me. Unfortunately, I'm not only very good at what I do, I like it. I have no desire to be a cop. I love the lab work. Tracing down evidence, proving theories. The whole forensic puzzle. It's a challenge and a thrill for me."
"I noticed." They looked at each other for a few moments. "Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"
She smiled. "Yes. With one provision."
"And that would be?"
"We don't talk about Cassie or police work."
"I think I can manage that." They smiled at each other.
Dinner was wonderful. They had gone to a local family style restaurant in Old Folsom, specializing in steaks and ribs. The quantity was enormous, and the quality exemplary. They talked and laughed, exchanging information about themselves, keeping it light. After dinner, Ronnie suggested they go for a drive. He was a little uncomfortable as the passenger, but she was an excellent driver, not one of the sort who had to look at their passenger when speaking to them. She kept both hands on the wheel, and her eyes on her driving. He was pleasantly impressed.
"You're good at this."
She chuckled. "I worked my way through college as a cab driver in LA. Believe me, you either become an expert, or you die." They were over on the east side of the lake, actually in the park. She found a dirt road leading down to the water. She parked. "This looks like a good spot." She looked at him. He was looking out over the quiet lake.
"It's beautiful." He murmured. The sun was going down; the sky turning many shades of red, orange, pink, purple. The clouds looking like they were on fire.
"I know. This is one of the best spots to watch the sun go down. I come here whenever I can get away." They watched the sun slowly sink over the hills to the west. Leaning against the car, not quite touching.
Jim was entranced. The residual warmth of the day. The beauty of the darkening sky, the pleasant company. His left arm, seemingly of its own volition, slid around her shoulders and gently encouraged her to lean against him.
She liked the feel of his solid warmth against her back. The strength in his arms as they encircled her, holding her close. Curious, she asked. "Don't you have anyone at home?"
"I'm divorced. No kids. You?"
"I guess I'm too persnickety."
She sighed. "I've never managed to find anyone who was willing to treat me as an equal, let me be myself. If I did, he usually turned out to be either abusive, or passive, wanting a mama. I want a man who is willing to be a man and let me be a woman, I don't want to change him, I don't want him to change me."
"Makes sense to me."
"Why aren't you married any more?"
"I couldn't seem to let her get close enough. I kept shutting her out, and she couldn't get through. We're still friends, though."
"Do you still love her?"
"No. I'm not sure I ever did. I'm not the most...open or demonstrative of men."
"So...I guess I have a hard time opening myself up to people."
"You're open enough with Blair."
He laughed. "Yeah. He went through the walls like smoke. But that's different."
"You can trust him. I understand. I don't trust very easily, either."
"No. I think this is the first date I've been on in, oh, five years? Charlie was shocked at how we reacted to each other when we met. You felt it, too."
"Yeah. I did. But I like my job. My home. My life. I'm not willing to give that up."
"I understand. Me, too." She turned in his embrace, the sun was almost gone. She looked up into his eyes. She noticed how large his pupils were. "Neither of us is willing to compromise ourselves. I'm not one who does this sort of thing easily. I like you. You like me. We're attracted to each other. I'm not into one night stands. The next time I give myself to someone, I want it to be for keeps."
"I know." And he did. He felt the same way.
She turned back around, just in time to watch the last bit of the sun sink below the horizon. Sighing, she pulled away, turning back to the car. Jim followed her and held the door for her, smiling.
Back at the hotel, they sat for a while in the car, quiet and content in each other's company, just holding hands. Jim glanced at her. Finally, he spoke.
"I have a friend, Joel Taggart, his daughter and Blair are seeing each other, well, whenever she's home from college. He's been married for thirty years. He told me, once, that the secret of his successful marriage was that he married his best friend. That as long as you're friends first, that you can work through anything that comes up. That if you base a relationship on the physical attributes, that you're far more likely to fail. Watching Blair and Cecilia together, how they're concentrating on being friends, first...Seeing Joel and Mable, I have to believe that they're right." He turned to see her watching him. "What do you think?"
She was surprised. She wasn't used to men who were actually interested in talking about relationships. She thought about it, for several minutes, noting how patiently he waited. Finally, "I think that it makes a lot of sense. I've been in a few relationships." Her smile was sad. "I have to agree. Every one of them was based on sex. None of them lasted." She met his eyes. "Why do you ask?" Uncertain.
He smiled. "I'm not sure. You live here, I live in Cascade. We clicked when we met. I can't deny the attraction. But I'm not willing to set myself up to fail again. If you want to be friends, we can see what happens, and go on from there." He was letting her make the decision. Whatever she decided, he would abide by it.
"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"
"Not at all. If you aren't interested, there's no sense in continuing. I'm just letting you know that I'm interested. I'm hoping, wondering, if you're interested, as well."
"I have a question, first."
"Are you religious?"
"Not particularly. Although, due to recent events, I now very much believe in God. I'm just not sure he believes in me, though."
"What do you mean?"
"Several months ago, a Satanist came to town and set up shop. It was pretty bad."
"I heard you talking to Blair. He died?"
"Yeah." He looked away, his paleness obvious in the dim light from the lights in the parking lot. "He drowned. I made them keep him on life support for more than a week. We did manage to catch the guy behind everything." He shook his head, still having trouble dealing with what had happened. "Mable Taggart talked me into letting her pray for us, and then I turned off the life support. It was nearly half an hour later when Blair, well, he just came back. Opened his eyes, breathing on his own, heart perfectly normal. Drove the doctors nuts. He was fine." He turned to her. "Mable told me to let go, and let God. I'm not quite sure how, or why, but he gave my best friend back to me."
"I have a feeling there's a lot more that you aren't saying." She saw the shutters come down. "But that's not anything I need to know about. It's enough." She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Yes. I'm interested. So, now what?"
"How about dinner tomorrow night?"
As well as every other night that week. Jim would work with Blair and his students during the day, and have dinner, long talks and longer walks with Ronnie every evening. They found a lot of common interests, including camping and fishing. They even liked the same type of books and authors, even some of their tastes in music overlapped. By the end of the week, they had become very close friends. The last day of their turn at the dig had Jim a little depressed. Blair noticed his partner's glumness.
"You're going to miss her." Not a question.
"Yeah. I am. She's pretty special." Jim agreed.
"Well, you can always tease Cassie..." Blair offered. Ducking quickly away from the hand Jim reached out to slap him with. He chuckled, then sobered. "I do understand."
Jim looked at him. "Yeah. I know you do." He sighed. "I wonder how I can get her to visit us up in Cascade?"
"Uh, have you tried inviting her?" They stared at each other, then Jim grinned.
"Well, no. I haven't."
"So, invite her for, oh, I don't know, Labor Day?"
"Good idea, Chief. I think I will. Of course, you and Cecilia will probably be married by then..."
"Oh, no. Closer, maybe. No talk of marriage until I have my Doctorate, and she has her master's. I promised Mable."
"You're willing to wait five or six more years?"
"She's worth it, man." Was the solemn reply. Jim looked at his friend, suddenly realizing how much Blair had matured in the past three years.
"You're right. She is. So are you."
Ronnie volunteered to drive them to the airport for their flight home. The students were tired, but pleased with their trip. Blair was pleased with the results of their trip, but glad to be getting home, as well. Jim...well, Jim was torn.
"So. Will you come?" He asked. He'd invited her to come to Cascade for a visit the night before, but she hadn't answered him.
She looked at him. "I want to."
"I'm a little nervous."
"Friends. Remember? No pressure. Just come to visit a friend. It's enough."
"All right. I can stay with Cassie." Breaking out in a broad grin when he flinched.
"I'm still having a little trouble with you two being related. You are nothing alike."
"I know." She leaned close, tilting her face up for a kiss. They finally separated when the public address system announced their flight.
Jim looked down, a hint of desperation in his eyes. "Call me? E-mail? Something?"
She smiled. "Something. I promise."
Settled into their seats for the flight home, Blair watched his friend for a while.
"Jim? You OK?"
"Yeah. I think so. I'll let you know after we get home and things get back to normal."
"A little. You?"
"Looking forward to my own bed. Home. The guys at the station."
"Murder, mayhem, et cetera, et cetera?"
Blair chuckled, sleepily. "Well, I could do without that, but if it didn't exist, we'd both be out of a job."
"Well, I would, anyway. You will always have teaching to fall back on."
"Not you. Never. There will always be work for the protector of the city. No matter what."
"Yeah. Too bad."
"Hmmmm." Blair drifted off to sleep.
It really was a relief to be home. They opened all the windows and the doors to the balcony when they arrived home, airing out the loft. It was Saturday, and they didn't have to worry about going in to the station until Monday morning. They made domestic moves, doing laundry, shopping, relaxing and mentally gearing up for the change back to their normal reality. They were actually glad when Monday arrived with the sound of Blair's alarm clock going off.
Blair had to drop the reports from the field trip off at the university, so they did it on their way in to the station. They arrived early, in spite of their detour. Jim sat at his desk and turned on the computer. He checked his e-mail. Smiling when he saw the note from Ronnie. Bringing it up, first thing. Reading and saving it. Setting his good mood for the entire day.
"Well, about time you two came to work." Megan drawled when she strolled in and spotted them. "Have a good time on your holiday?"
"Great." Blair replied. "Lots of artifacts, one murder victim. One bad guy. No owies. It was teriffic." Smiling at her puzzled expression.
"Easy trip. No psychos, rogue CIA agents, serial killers. Just a run-of-the-mill murder. Guy killed his wife, kept her in the freezer for a year, buried her. Blair's students found the body. We caught the bad guy. Real quiet vacation. Wouldn't you say, Chief?" Perfectly deadpan.
"Really quiet." Smiling up at the totally confused Aussie. "At least, for us."
"You want to explain that?" Looking at them, she changed her mind. "Never mind. I don't think I really want to know." Turning away.
"Hey, Jim, Hairboy. How was the vacation?" Henri Brown asked as he came in, his partner right behind him.
"Quiet. No hospitals, H." Jim answered.
"Wow. I wonder who won the pool?" Brian Rafe asked, in awe that neither of their friends were sporting any bandages or casts.
"Welcome back, guys." Joel added, coming in with a big box of donuts for the crew and setting it on Jim's desk.
Simon came out of his office to join them. "Congratulations. I understand Joel won the pool?" Smiling.
"Joel?" Brown asked, surprised. "You're kidding?"
"Nope. I figured it was going to be a quiet trip for them. They were due for it."
"Well, it wasn't perfectly quiet. My kids did find a murder victim, Jim found the guy's wallet, and they caught him. But that took less than twenty-four hours." Blair grinned.
"Still, no hospitals." Simon insisted. He looked at his best team, recognizing certain signs. "Well, let's get back to work, people. Jim, Blair? My office, please."
They stood and followed their captain back to his office. "What's up, Sir?" Jim asked, relaxing against the conference table.
"What's her name?"
"Excuse me?" Jim blushed from the surprise.
"You heard me. You haven't looked like this since you first started dating Carolyn. Who is she? What's she like?" He looked up as Joel entered, without knocking. Waved him over.
"You get her name, yet?" Joel asked.
"Wow, Jim. I didn't realize they could read you this well. I was there, and I can't tell."
"Yeah, well, you haven't known him quite as long as we have." Simon replied. "So? Give."
"None of your business, Sir." Glaring.
"That serious, huh?" Joel said. He looked closely at the embarrassed Sentinel. "I'll be...You listened." Surprised.
"What?" Simon asked.
"Look at him. It's serious. He's serious."
"Oh, my...Come on, Jim. Give."
"Leave him alone." Blair growled, suddenly protective of his partner. "If, and when it's time to talk about it, he'll tell you. Until then, back off." Glaring at the two older men, who stared at him in surprise. "Jim, go on. I'll take care of this." Placing himself between his partner and their friends. Jim quietly straightened up and left. Closing the door softly behind him.
"Now. Her name is Ronnie. She's a forensics specialist in Folsom. They met over the dead woman my students found. They went to dinner...several times. They did a lot of talking and walking." He looked pointedly at Joel. "Think of me and Cecilia. Then back off. He had an e-mail from her waiting for him when we came in. She's planning to visit over Labor Day. If you're real good, he might let you meet her when she's here. You will not tease him about her. You will not nag him about her. You will accept their relationship and her, no questions asked. Any questions?"
The two much larger men looked at each other, then at Blair, and shook their heads. Blair nodded. "OK." Then he relaxed and relented. "He's scared. He doesn't want to mess this up. OK? He needs our support, not our teasing and goofing off about this. He's still recovering, OK?"
"What about you?" Simon asked softly.
Blair smiled. "Hey, all I did was die and come back to life. He's the one who has to deal with all the ramifications of that. It's a lot harder for him. He doesn't have your faith, Joel. Or even yours, Simon. Ronnie's good for him. Trust me on this."
"I guess we'll have to, won't we?" Simon replied.
"I guess you will." He smiled at his friends. "Well, if that's all?"
"Not quite, since you're so protective of your partner, I guess I'll just have to give this assignment to you." Simon smiled as he handed Blair a file. "Now, I suggest you go back to work, detective?"
"Uh, yes, Sir." Blair mumbled, embarrassed. Looking at the file as he went back to his partner.
"I guess it's really serious." Joel murmured.
"Must be. I hope it works out for him."
"Me, too. Can't wait to tell Mable." Joel grinned. "She'll be thrilled."
"Matchmakers, the pair of you." Simon chuckled. "Coffee? I've got a new blend..."
Well, the muses seem satisfied with this one. No owies. :) Oh, the fourth member of the Big Four was Mark Hopkins, yeah, the hotel in San Francisco. Thanks to Marilyn Morgan. One of the supervisors at work, for finding it for me. I was going nuts trying to remember. I even called the California State Railroad Museum. They weren't answering the phone. Too early, I guess. It's a wonderful place to visit. We're having another RailFair next year. I volunteered for the tenth anniversary RailFair in 1993; it was wonderful. I even got to ride on one of the steam locomotives visiting from Canada. Wonderful people. Tons of fun. If you get the chance, come to Sacramento next year for the RailFair.
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