Carla suggested that I do something with Mr. Lawrence. Preferably something mean and nasty. My muses are still just a little shocky over S2. Poor little Dark and Gloomy is still rather prostrate, although no longer catatonic. But Sweetness and Light has been functioning, at least partially. I've learned that the best thing you can do for a muse is follow them wherever they lead. If you ignore them, they'll desert you. You are not in control of a muse, which is why so many people consider them ephemeral and elusive. My muses have trained me well, when they bash, I (as soon as practicable) follow them and do what I'm told. I've been accused of typing while sleeping at the desk. I'm not. The muses merely take over the right side of my brain (the creative side). When they're through, I use the left side, (the logical half) to proofread. :) I told Wolfpup that I thought I'd write a mystery, next. She thought it sounded like a challenge. I don't think it is. It's just a technique I use to feed and entice the muses back into functioning as...uh, muses.
Oh, dear. It would seem that Dark and Gloomy is back with a vengeance. Looks like this one is going to have to have an R rating. Sorry about that.
I've been having musebashes all over this one. When Jen confirmed my musebash, I decided to go with it. We'll just have to see where it goes. There will be spoilers for all the eps with Megan, including S2. I didn't plan this. It's just happening. It's almost a relief to have my muses back on-line. I've missed them. Waking up in the morning with nothing more than the cats, dogs, and parrot for company is rather an odd feeling. Lying there, awake at oh-dark-thirty, waiting for the alarm to go off. I much prefer my muses. At least I'm no longer having nightmares from S2.
The disclaimers still apply. Not mine. No money. Please, don't sue.
There is a war going on. It has been going on for as long as time and man have existed. Each of us is, in our own way, involved. The war is the fight between light and darkness; good and evil. Light and Good will eventually triumph. But we each must make our own decisions as to which side we will fight for. Those who try to stay neutral, no matter how well-meaning they may be, have declared themselves for darkness. There is nothing that evil likes better than a good person who does nothing actively in the fight. "He who is not actively against me, is for me...whether they know it or not." Is frequently the motto of darkness. Although they will deny it. To quote Worf, from Star Trek "They have no honour and the truth is not in them." Such is Darkness.
The time is coming for the great battles in this war. The time has come to declare yourself for one side or the other. There are no neutrals in this war. There will be only one winner. Personally, I am for the Light. I've played in the darkness and sometimes it still calls to me. Tempting me with it's false sense of power. But I know that it is a trap. I have to fight every day to keep myself from drifting away from the lit path and straying back into the darkness. The time has come, so declare yourself. Decide which side you will fight for and stand up and be counted.
Follows one such tale in the ongoing war. I pray that I am able to do justice to it. There is much to think about. Many things to decide. The time has come.
The Battlelines Have Been Drawn
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The call came in at two-seventeen. The first officers on the scene nearly contaminated the scene, but managed to get outside before losing their lunches. The call for assistance came in to the Major Crime Division at two-fifty-three. Simon took the call, then proceeded to call his best team in.
"Ellison, Sandburg. My office."
The two men looked briefly at one another and stood, walking over to the Captain's office. Jim Ellison entered first, followed by his much smaller partner, Blair Sandburg, who closed the door behind them. Jim slouched down into a chair, while Blair sat on the mini-conference table, swinging his legs.
"What's up, Sir?" Jim asked. Sitting almost at attention, recognizing the tension coming from his superior.
"There was a murder just down the street. 1245 Pender."
"That's only ten blocks from here." Blair noted.
"It's a housing tract, right on the edge of the business corridor. There was a call, just under an hour ago. When the uniforms arrived, they knocked, the door drifted open and they entered. It's a mess, guys. I'm making you prime on this one, Jim. But I'm sending Brown and Rafe along with you as backup. As well as Joel."
"Sounds pretty serious, Captain. Just what are we talking about here?" Jim asked.
"There are several bodies, some of them children. The uniforms went in, saw the carnage and ran back out, so they didn't contaminate the scene."
"Oh." Blair barely whispered. He looked at his partner and saw the clenched jaw. "Um, if it's OK with you, I'll just stay outside on this one, OK?" Pale already, just from what his imagination was coming up with.
"Good idea, Sandburg. I'm sorry, guys, but I think we need Jim's talents on this one. I'll probably even make an appearance, myself. Be careful. Joel can back you up inside, Jim. Just do what you can to clear this up as soon as you can, OK?"
"On it, Sir." Jim stood up, casting a concerned glance at his partner. "Would you rather stay here, Chief?"
"Probably. But that's OK. You might need me. Besides, I might be able to help." He was a little subdued, but willing, nevertheless.
"Then let's go."
It was even worse than they had been told. Even Jim had to fight to keep from losing his lunch. It wasn't the carnage, particularly, but the fact that the victims were children. Five of them. Jim was the first one in. One look and he turned right back around and exited, panting to keep from losing control. At Blair's anxious hovering, Jim waved him off, gasping.
"It's OK, Chief. I'm all right." Taking deep breaths, fighting for control. He looked at the other members of the team. "Don't go in there. Let me have a few minutes, and I'll go back."
"What is it, Jim?" Joel asked, concerned. Jim just shook his head. Unwilling, or unable to answer. Gulping down great draughts of air, trembling from the horror of what he had seen. He kept his eyes closed, as though trying to block out the memories of what he had seen in his brief trip into the charnel house. He barely noticed when the forensics people and the coroner arrived. He moved to block their entry.
"Not yet. Don't go in there unless you absolutely have to. Give me the camera and I'll take the pictures." He told them.
The photographer looked at Cassie, a question on his face. She gave Jim a glare and said, "I'll take the pictures." Taking the camera from her man and heading into the house.
"You puke on the crime scene and I'll file a formal complaint." Jim called after her. She stopped. Slowly, she turned, staring at him in shock.
"You heard me. Give me a few more minutes to get it together, and I'll go back in."
Finally, she noticed how pale he was, the perspiration dripping, even though it was a cool day.
"What's in there?" She asked softly, coming back down the steps.
Jim cast a concerned glance at his partner, who was pale, just from what he was imagining that could stress out the experienced former Army Ranger.
"Bodies. Several of them. Lots of blood. Lots of....related trauma." He couldn't sanitize it enough and still convey the horrendous scene inside. "There's kids." Almost a whisper.
That worked. Cassie stopped and offered the camera. Jim met her eyes and he nodded, taking the camera and returning to the crime scene.
He was thorough. He drew the crime scene sketch first, then indicated the direction and angle at which he took the pictures. He took pictures from every possible angle, using up great quantities of film; but, then, he wasn't a photographer. He was just trying to be thorough. When he was finished, he just stood there for a while, looking, trying to decide what happened and in what order. He had automatically noted the number of bodies. Five children, two adults. It looked like something from a slasher flick. He realized that he had dialed down his sense of smell to below zero. Cautiously, he turned it back up. Filtering out the stench of blood and other body effluvium. He realized that the bodies had been laid out in a particular pattern. He didn't want Blair to see this, but he felt he needed his help. He pulled out his notebook and made a new sketch, one only showing the layout of the bodies. Taking it and the camera, he exited. Even though he had been careful, he brought some of the charnel house stench out with him.
They all looked at him as he came through the door. Several of them paled a little at the smell he brought out with him. He absentmindedly handed the camera back to the photographer as he walked over to his partner. He held out the drawing he had made of the layout of the bodies.
Blair stared at the rendering. Swallowing hard, he gasped, "It's a pentagram." He looked up at his friend. Swallowing hard, again, he whispered, "They dismembered the bodies to do this?" Pale as snow. Jim nodded. "Oh, man." And started trembling. "Marks on the walls? floors, ceiling?" Jim nodded. "Words?"
"Nothing in English. More like runes or something. Not hieroglyphs, though. I think I'd recognize those. They're written in patterns. I got pictures, they'll be better than what I can draw." Blair nodded.
He turned to see who had spoken to him. "Oh, Dan. I'm sorry. You want to go in?" Unsure whether even the coroner could handle what was inside the house.
"Yeah, I guess I'd better. Pretty bad, huh?" His dark eyes watching carefully, noting the signs of shock in the detective's manner. Concerned.
"Worse than that train derailment." Jim stated matter-of-factly.
"Ouch. How many?"
"Seven. Five kids, two adults. Could be a single family. Not sure. Don't have any background, yet. A neighbour called it in. The deeper puddles are still tacky, so my guess is that it took place fairly late this morning, but before noon. I'll leave it to you to determine for sure." Dan nodded, then followed Jim back inside to check out the bodies.
They came back out a few minutes later, the coroner pale and gasping a little. The other officers standing around watching, looked sickened, even without having gone inside. If it was bad enough to make their coroner sick, what would it do to them?
Joel Taggart suddenly decided that standing around getting sick was a bad idea. He called the other officers over and assigned them the task of questioning the neighbours, staying behind to help Jim. Steeling himself for what he was going to be seeing, he walked up the steps to join the pair standing there. As he passed, Jim's partner, he paused, "Blair?" he asked softly, not wanting to add anything to the younger man's distress.
"Yeah, Joel?" Looking up, hurt, angry from staring at Jim's sketch.
"Are you OK?" Reaching out to lay a gentle hand on the smaller man's shoulder.
"No." Looking into his friend's eyes. "This is horrible, Joel. It's so bad that Jim doesn't want anyone else to see it. When we get home tonight, he's just going to want to take a shower and go to bed. But he won't sleep. All he'll be able to do is see what's in there. And he won't let me help him. He'll brood on this until he catches who did it. Then he'll brood until they're convicted and sent away, then he'll have nightmares that he won't admit to for the next few years. And any time something comes up to remind him of this, he's going to go all cold and hard and stoic, just to try to protect himself. He's afraid of looking weak, even to me, man. I don't know what to do to help him. He's designed for this kind of work, but what it does to his soul...man, I can't imagine what he feels. He won't let me in." In dispair, he turned away, looking off down the street. Suddenly, he tensed.
"Jim?" He called out softly. His partner turned from where he had been talking softly with Dan, a question on his face.
"What is it, Chief?" coming closer, but trying to stay downwind of him.
"Those guys over there." He nodded, indicating a group of people across the street. "Uh, there's something about them..."
Jim focused in on the group in question. "Shit. You're right. Joel, get those uniforms to wander over and grab those guys." He turned back to the coroner. "Dan? Wait for me to get back, OK?"
"Sure. Not a problem." He folded his arms and leaned against the wall, more than willing to patiently await Jim's return.
Jim, with Blair right behind him, started across the street. The group watched them, not noticing the surrounding action occurring by the uniformed officers. By the time they thought of running, it was too late. They were covered with blood, and smelled just like the crime scene. An odour obvious even to the uniformed men who hadn't been inside. The group, consisting of primarily young adult men, with a few older teenagers along. They all were watching, glassy-eyed, not even putting up any kind of fight. Jim noticed that they were all showing indications of some sort of drug induced torpor.
"Get them all downtown as soon as possible, call to have medical personnel meet you there. I want to know what they're on, and where it came from."
When the suspects had been transported, they made their way back to the house. Joel was waiting, along with Dan, to go back inside.
"You don't have to do this, Joel." Jim murmured.
"Yes, I do. Blair, here, is going to stay out here to protect the scene, and the three of us are going inside." He reached out to touch the tense detective's arm. "You don't need to do this alone, Jim. I'm here to help. So's Dan. And don't you dare close out Blair. Simon's going to give you a choice, Jim. You're going to need help getting past this one, no matter how fast it's solved. You can talk about it with us, or you can spend several weeks with the shrink, someone who doesn't know you or understand you. That choice is yours. Ours would be for you to discuss it with us. People who care about you. Now, let's go." He opened the door and held it, following the tense, silent, detective and the equally subdued coroner.
Blair sat down on the steps. He was hoping that Joel had managed to reach his partner. Unsure if it would do any good, even if he did. He leaned back against the porch rail, just watching the neighbourhood. Amazed that such things could happen so close to the station, that they could happen at all. He understood that drugs were most likely involved. But that didn't explain the pentagram, he was curious about the runes, as Jim called them, as well. No doubt drawn in the victims' blood. He shuddered at the concept. He idly watched as a rather nice, new car pulled up in front. Watched in puzzlement at the man who stepped out of the car and approached. Stood, as he recognized the man. Blocking his path.
"I'm sorry. You can't go in there." He said it firmly, but not antagonistically.
"What the hell do you mean, I can't go in there?" He paused, a moment, remembering the smaller man. He looked around, not seeing anyone else, he continued. "Surely, you don't think you can stop me, do you?" Smirking.
"Physically? No. But if you try to get past me, you won't like the consequences." Blair stood firmly in the much larger man's way.
"Oh, really? And just what consequences might those be?" Shifting closer to the annoying little man.
"Do you really want to find out? What are you doing here, anyway?"
"This is my sister's house. I just came by to see her." Suddenly curious, he asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Protecting a crime scene." At the larger man's attempt to get by him, Blair stood in the doorway, arms spread, hands grasping the jambs. "I'm sorry. I really can't let you in there." Knowing, or at least suspecting what was inside, he wasn't about to allow him in. Even though the guy was a jerk, he didn't deserve the last sight of his sister and her family to be what he knew was behind him in the house. Unfortunately, he also knew that he wasn't a match for the much bigger man's strength. "Please. You really don't want to go in there. Just wait a few minutes, I'll get the..." The big man grabbed him by his jacket, jerking him up off his feet, dangling him from his bunched fists.
"Listen, you little fag, I told you to get out of my way. My sister's in there and..."
"PUT HIM DOWN! NOW!" They'd been so intense, that they hadn't seen the arrival of the other car and the quick approach of Captain Banks.
The angry man, still holding Blair aloft, turned slowly and asked, "Who the hell are you?" Sneering. Knowing he was bigger than this guy, as well.
"Captain Simon Banks. Cascade PD. Now, so far, all you have is assaulting a police officer, but if you want to try for something a little stronger, just keep on going the way you are. I'll be happy to oblige. Now. PUT DOWN MY OFFICER!" Bellowing, once again. A little surprised when the man still failed to comply.
Blair had had enough. He squirmed, and slipped out of his jacket, sliding to the floor, leaving the huge, angry man with nothing but his empty jacket. "Look. Back down, Mr. Lawrence. I'm serious, here. You can't go in there. It's a crime scene, and it's really, really, bad." Turning to his captain, he added, "This is Mr. Lawrence, from the DA's office. He said that his sister lives here. Jim and Joel and Dan are inside. Uh, taking care of...you know." Glancing at the distraught lawyer. Who suddenly realized what the punk had been saying.
"What happened? Where's Patty? What's wrong? Where are the kids?" He seemed to deflate as he recognized the expressions of pity on the faces of the two men. Looking at the door, he suddenly sprang forward, knocking Blair aside and running in. Screaming. "PATTY! PATTY? WHERE ARE....Oh, my God." Trailing off in a whisper when he saw the carnage inside. Spinning about and running back outside, only to lean over the porch railing and spew forth the contents of his stomach.
Blair went to the distraught man and started to speak to him gently, placing a gentle hand on his back and rubbing soothing patterns as he attempted to calm and comfort the shocked and grief-stricken man. Simon watched, amazed at the turnaround. Here they had been, the big man roughing up the smaller man, angry, loud. Now, there they stood, the smaller man attempting to comfort the larger, in spite of the fact that the big man had been manhandling him just minutes before. Knowing that it was much more than he was capable of doing. At any time. That switch from anger to compassion. From belligerent to caring. He shook his head in awe.
"Sandburg? I'm going inside." He saw the kid flinch.
"Simon? Please, don't. Jim almost couldn't handle it. Joel went back in with him and Dan. Dan couldn't take it at first, either. They're ... You don't want to go in there, Simon. Jim told Dan that it was worse than the train wreck."
Simon winced at the comparison. That had been the most traumatic scene ever. A passenger train derailment some years earlier. Bodies dismembered....Oh, dear Lord. He swallowed, hard. "I'm sorry, Blair. I wish I didn't have to. But I do. Thanks for the warning, though. Will you be OK out here, now?" Meaning, can you handle this Bozo?
Glancing at the now sobbing man, he looked up at his captain, with a sad, weak smile. "Yeah. I think I've got it under control. Oh, and Simon?...uh, Captain?" Simon stopped to look back. "Joel sent Brown and Rafe to talk to the neighbours, and the uniforms grabbed a group of guys who look like they could be the perps. They were all high on something. They were all covered with blood, and smelled like in there."
"I saw them as they were brought in. Thanks for the update." He turned back to enter the house.
"Mr. Lawrence? Do you want to sit down? Do you want me to call anyone for you? Can I get you anything?" The man was still leaning over the porch rail, trembling from the shock of what he had seen, the horror of what had happened to his family, to him. Lost and confused.
"No. I'm fine." He shrugged off the gentle hands of the smaller man. Loathing the gentle touch. He turned and looked at the door. "I want to know everything you find out."
"Sure. Look, can I call you a cab? You really shouldn't be driving..." He stopped and backed up as the bigger man turned on him.
"Listen you little...stay out of my way. I don't need you telling me what to do."
"I'm sorry. I'm going to have to insist. You're distraught. Hell, so am I. But they aren't my relatives. I can't let you drive, Mr. Lawrence. Let me get you a ..." He grunted as the bigger man's hand came back and caught him in the face in a powerful backhand blow. Blair bounced off the wall, alerting his partner, inside, who came running. Seeing what had happened, he came out, growling low in the back of his throat. He cast a quick glance at his partner, seeing that he wasn't in need of medical care, he approached the bigger man.
"You just don't learn, do you? Chief? You OK?" Keeping his eyes on his opponent.
"I'm OK, Jim. Don't hurt him. That's his sister and her family in there." Blair managed to gasp out as he stood back up.
"I figured that out, Chief. That doesn't excuse his behavior, though."
"Sure, it does, man. I just told him he couldn't drive. He's upset. It'll be OK. Just take it easy, both of you. There's enough blood here without adding any more."
"He's going to be a lot more upset. You're under arrest for assault and battery of a police officer, you have the right to remain silent..."
"No, Jim. It's OK. I'm calling him a cab. Let him go, man. It's OK." As his partner's concerned gaze turned to him, he took him by the arm. "I'm OK. Let him go. It's all right. Please, Jim. This is bad enough without doing this. OK? Please?"
They stared at one another for a minute or more. Time enough for the others to come to the door to see what was going on. To see Jim relax and let go of his quarry. "OK." He glared at the big lawyer. "You've been warned. You get this one as a freebie. Don't let it happen again, or you'll wish you'd been in there." Gesturing toward the door. "Get him his cab, Chief. Send him home."
"OK, Jim. I'm on it." Jim let go and stood back, quietly practicing his deep breathing exercises to calm himself. Backing away, finally and turning to go back inside the house. Blair called for a cab, using his cell phone. Giving the address. Keeping an eye on the still distraught lawyer.
"Mr. Lawrence? Is there anyone else we need to notify?" Using his most soothing 'guide voice'.
"Our parents. I'll call them. They don't need to hear it from strangers."
"Are you sure? Are they in town?"
"No. They live in Florida. I'll call them." He stared at the door, obviously reliving what he had seen inside. He startled when Blair gently touched his arm, offering his cell phone, silently. He looked at the punk...little man, seeing him, really, for the first time. He saw concern, pain, caring, in the smaller man's face. Sorrow for what had happened, empathy. He was a little surprised.
"Make the call, man. I'm sorry. I wish...well, wishes don't get you anywhere. I'm just sorry it happened."
"Me, too." He took the offered cell phone and made the call.
The taxi arrived just after the lawyer informed his parents of what had happened. He was trying to hide his grief, but couldn't stop the tears. He told Blair that his parents would be arriving the next day. Blair escorted him to the taxi and watched, sadly as they pulled away. Just a few minutes later, several morgue wagons pulled up. The attendants pulling out body bags and taking them up to the door. Blair stopped them from entering, and called out to the men inside; Simon came to the door, and accepted the bags. Once they had gathered the bodies and placed them in the seven bags, the morgue attendants were allowed in to carry them back out and take them to the morgue. Finally, Dan, Simon, Joel, and Jim came back out. All four men looked absolutely wiped out. Simon looked out and spotted Cassie and her team, sitting in their cars. He got her attention and waved them over. When they got there, he gave them some specific instructions, and turned the scene over to them.
They were standing around in the front yard, Jim using his senses to scan for signs of the perpetrators, fairly certain that they already had them in custody, but wanting more, when Brown and Rafe returned from their trip around the neighbourhood seeking out the residents and questioning them. No one, apparently, had heard or seen anything. Not surprising, really, just disappointing. They waited for the forensics team to finish, then sealed the house and returned to the station.
"The only good thing about all this, is that the media never showed up." Simon said softly as they sat in the bullpen, discussing the case and filling out their reports.
"Do we have anything on those guys we picked up?" Jim asked.
"They're still high. We're waiting for the results of the blood work." Brown replied.
"Any of them say anything?" Simon asked, hopefully.
"No. They just sit or stand and stare. It's kind of scary, eerie, you know?" Rafe replied.
"What about next of kin?" Joel asked
"Mr. Lawrence called their parents. They're coming in tomorrow, some time. I didn't get specifics." Blair informed them.
"I know the guy's a jerk, but, nobody deserves this." Joel muttered.
"All right, men. Get your reports done and on my desk. I'd appreciate them being done tonight. I know this is a bad one, but it's better to get the paperwork out of the way as soon as possible. Jim, Joel, I want both of you to make appointments with the shrink. You, too, Sandburg. In fact, I'm calling and making an appointment for myself, as well."
"Simon?" Blair asked. When he received a glare in response, he thought a moment, and blushed, "Sorry. Captain? What if we made a group appointment? You all need to talk about this. Me, too, I think. But, maybe, if we all went together, it would be better. So we all know that it's bad for all of us, not just one at a time. Make it so no one's alone." His eyes flicked quickly at his partner and back to the captain, who nodded his understanding.
"Good point, Sandburg. I'll make the appointment, for all of us." He looked at Brown and Rafe, "Do you need to come along?"
The two junior members looked at each other, then back at their colleagues. Brown shrugged, noncommittally, and Rafe paused, still looking at the rest of them. Finally, "I think it might be a good idea. We're a team. What happens to and affects one, affects all the others. I realize that Jim kept us out to protect us from the horror within, but it isn't right that he should bare the aftereffects alone. That's part of being the support for a Sentinel, isn't it?" Unsure, as they were still so new at all this.
Blair smiled. Catching the eyes of Joel and Simon, he winked and nodded, showing his agreement. Jim was conspicuously silent, withdrawn, already.
"Good point, Rafe. I'll make the call. Jim?"
"Jim? You're not zoning out on me here, are you?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, Sir. I was just thinking about those marks on the walls. The guys we grabbed across the street may have been involved, but they weren't the brains behind it. None of them have the brains to have done this on their own. It was a ritual slaying, wasn't it, Chief?" Finally raising his eyes to his Guide.
"I haven't seen the pictures of the runes, yet, but just from the way they laid out the bodies, I'd have to say, yes. It was a pentagram, a five-pointed star with a circle around it. Classic occult symbol. Was the pentagram painted on the floor beneath the bodies?"
"Yeah, but the blood had soaked in and dried. They had to spray it and hit it with a black light to be able to see it. I told them to check out all the carpets, just in case. I haven't heard anything back from them, yet."
"OK. How soon will we get the photos back?" Blair asked. Needing to see the runes, to be able to decipher them.
"Right now." Jim replied, looking up at the entrance of a patrolman with a large envelope. Jim stood, indicating that he was the one to get the photos, first. Taking the package, he turned away from the others, sorting through the pictures, removing only the photos of the walls and the markings on them. Handing the requisite photos to his partner. Carefully replacing the photos of the bodies back in the envelope and handing it to his captain, with a jaw-clenched, determined look, telling his superior that under no uncertain terms were the photos to be shown to the others. Simon merely nodded his acquiescence, tucking the envelope away.
"Oh, man. Whoever was behind this, was, or, I guess, is into some pretty heavy-duty stuff, here. These are symbols used in Devil-worship. Satanism. This one, is calling on the devil to come and lead them. This one is calling for demons to serve them. This is to curse their enemies. Oh, man. Whoever is behind this doesn't know what they're doing."
"Maybe they do. Know what they're doing." Joel said softly. When he had everyone's attention, he shrugged, hesitantly. "One of the assistant pastors at my church had a run in with some Satanists a few years ago, when he was down in California. They were into animal sacrifice. Dogs, cats, cattle. They got pretty bad, until the law came down on them for grand theft, cow, of all things. They were caught slaughtering an animal that didn't belong to them." He looked at his colleagues. "I'd like to invite him to help us on this. This is a little out of the realm of any of our experience, except, maybe Blair." Looking askance at the younger man.
"Hey, works for me, man. I'm no expert on the occult. The more help, the better, I say." Looking at Simon for guidance.
"Let's wait a bit. See how the interrogations go with the guys we pulled in. I'm hoping that at least one of them will have the sense to tell us who is behind this. Seven murder victims, five of them children, is far too many." Simon decided. Then, looking at Blair, he asked, "How's Lawrence holding up?"
"I haven't heard from him. I hope he went home. That's where I told the cab driver to take him."
"That's fine. I'll have someone keep an eye on his place, just in case it's some kind of grudge against him and/or his family."
With that, they went back to work on their reports. When they had all finished, they headed home. Joel tried to get the others interested in going to his house, but everyone wanted to simply go home and try to forget what had happened that day.
"Jim? Please, talk to me?"
"I'm tired, Sandburg. All I want is a hot shower and bed."
"You don't want dinner?"
"I'm not hungry, Chief. Sorry."
"I'd even go to WonderBurger." Blair tried to entice his friend.
"No. Thanks. I just want to sleep." The elevator let them out on their floor and Jim had the door to the loft open and his keys in the basket, his coat on the hook and himself in the bathroom within less than a minute. Blair stood in the doorway, a forlorn, lost expression on his face. Sighing, he closed and locked the door and hung his own coat on its hook. Dragging himself over to the couch, he turned on the TV and started channel surfing. Finding a Mariners baseball game on, he settled back to watch.
By the time Jim had finished in the bathroom, Blair had fallen sound asleep on the couch. His worry and concern still visible on his face, even in his sleep. Jim watched his Guide sleep for a few minutes, feeling a little guilty about not talking to him. Knowing that he should, knowing he could trust his Guide, more than he could trust anyone. He went upstairs to his room and dressed. He still wasn't hungry, but knew his partner was. He came back downstairs and called in an order for Chinese food. Then, he carefully sat down beside his friend and settled back to watch the game, keeping an eye on his sleeping Guide; watching his distressed companion's fretful sleep. Feeling exhausted, himself, but not wanting to face the nightmares, just yet. Maybe Blair was right, maybe he should talk about what he was feeling. The horror and dismay he felt at the deaths he'd seen. Maybe...
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of their dinner. He was at the door, opening it even before the delivery person had a chance to knock. He handed the kid enough money to cover the cost of the food, as well as a generous tip, then took the box containing his order, and closed the door in the kid's face. The kid looked down at the size of his tip. Smiling. Tip like that and you can slam the door in my face, he thought as he turned to leave.
Jim set out dinner on the coffee table, ignoring his own house rules. He went into the kitchen to bring back napkins and chopsticks. When everything was ready, he gently shook Blair's shoulder, waking him.
"Huh? Wha?" Sniffling a little and rubbing his eyes to finish waking up.
"Dinner, Chief." Jim picked up a carton and opened it, holding it out for Blair to see.
"Oh. Thanks." He blinked hard, a couple of times and reached out for a carton and chopsticks. After eating quietly for a few minutes, he snuck a glance at his companion, wondering whether he should say anything.
Jim had been watching him, waiting for the signs. "It's OK, Chief. We can talk about it if you want to."
"Are you sure?" Looking fully at his friend. Seeing that some of the tension had eased, not much, but some.
"No. But you're right. I do need to talk to someone about this. Are you sure you're up to it? It's pretty intense." Wanting to talk to his friend about it, but not wanting to cause him any nightmares, either.
"That's OK. I think I can handle it. I think that maybe my imagination might just be worse than the reality might be."
"It was horrible, Blair. I mean, I've seen people killed in lots of ways, but never anything like today. I think that some of them might have still been alive when they were dismembered, Chief. I..." He jumped up and ran to the bathroom, unable to retain the small amount he had eaten. Blair was right behind him, supporting, soothing. Helping him clean up afterwards.
"Sorry, Chief. I guess maybe I'm not ready to face it."
"Sure you are. You're hurting. Please. I can take it." He gently guided his friend back to the living room and down on the couch, sitting beside him, close enough to provide support, far enough away not to encroach too far into his personal space.
Looking at his partner, he was amazed. Blair appeared to be better able to handle this than he was. "OK. If you're sure." Still offering him a way to back out. Blair's failure to respond was his answer. He drew a deep breath and let it out softly in a sigh. "OK. They were tortured, sexually abused. All of them. Even Joel could tell, without Dan's confirmation." Blair tightened up at the description. "I...Blair? Is it OK if I don't describe everything?" His voice plaintive. "It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, OK? Can we leave it at that?" He started trembling from reaction. "I..." He shivered.
"Hey. It's OK. You don't have to tell me all the details. Tell me instead how it makes you feel. Talk about how you're reacting to it all." He reached out and grasped his friend's shoulder, feeling the older man's distress.
"How I feel? Like crap. Like I should have been able to prevent it. Some Sentinel of the Great City I am." He unconsciously closed himself off, crossing his arms and hunching his shoulders. "I can't comprehend how anyone could possibly commit such atrocities. Let alone why. What kind of people can do this? There should be some way to recognize such evil, Blair. I... it hurts. I feel guilty because I couldn't prevent it. I feel angry, no, more than just anger, rage, I guess, at whoever is behind this. I'm afraid, because I'm afraid that this was just the first round. I feel grief because of the five children. I...I..." He ran out of words and just sat, pulling his feet up on the couch and wrapping his arms around his knees, burying his face in his arms, shaking uncontrollably. Fighting for control.
Blair wasn't surprised by Jim's feelings, only that he had so willingly shared them. He moved closer, reaching out to grasp his friend's forearms, where they crossed in front of his knees. "Good. That's what you should be feeling. I'm feeling the same things, well, maybe not the guilt. I know there is nothing I could have done to stop it, to prevent it. You're not God, Jim. You can't be everywhere at once. No man can. The Sentinel's job is one of lookout. Guardian. When something attacks the tribe, you react and take care of it. When you can, you prevent the bad things. But you can't always. It's not humanly possible. You're a cop. You don't prevent crime most of the time. You're reactive. Someone commits a crime and you react by catching the bad guys, investigating the crimes and getting convictions. It isn't your job to prevent the crimes from happening in the first place. It isn't your job to keep people from doing wrong. Just to stop them. After the fact. You're a detective. You see horrible things in your job, every day. You remember telling me to leave my heart at the door? Well, you didn't, couldn't do that, this time. The crime was just too horrendous. How you're feeling proves that you still have a heart. I'd be so much more worried if you really didn't feel this way. Hey," His voice softened even more when he realized his partner was crying, soft, cleansing tears flowing, grief expressed over the events of the day. He shifted closer and wrapped his arms around his friend. Silently offering his support and understanding.
They sat that way for long minutes. Jim, for once, allowing the pain and anguish to appear, to react in the presence of the only person he truly trusted to permit to see him like this. A long time later, his tears finally stopped. They remained, unmoving. Jim kept his eyes closed, absorbing the comfort offered by his best friend. Slowly relaxing and letting go of all the negative emotions. Feeling something very much like peace take its place. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he raised his head; opening his eyes, he locked on the sad, concerned, teary orbs of his partner. Shifting, he broke free of Blair's gentle embrace. Blair withdrew partially, leaving one hand still on Jim's nearest shoulder.
"Thanks, Chief." Jim murmured, softly.
"Yeah." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I'm wiped. Do you mind if I go up to bed now?"
"No. Go ahead. If you need anything, just holler. I'll be right here."
"Yeah. I'll keep as quiet as I can. Don't worry about it, OK?"
"Are you OK, Blair?" Concerned. Knowing that his partner tended to base his feelings on what Jim was feeling, at least at times. This was something he felt certain would cause nightmares for his partner, possibly even worse than his own.
"Pretty much." He smiled, slightly, "Talking about it made me feel better, too. Even though I didn't see it, myself. Talking to you, helping you, helped me. Do you understand?"
They regarded one another for a moment, Jim considering, finally realizing that all the times he had pushed down his feelings had hurt Blair, possibly even more that it had hurt himself. He nodded his understanding. "Yeah. I think I do. I've been hurting you by not talking, haven't I?"
"A little. It hurts me to know that you're hurting and won't let me help you. I'm OK. I just need to work on my journal for a while."
"Writing down how the subject finally opened up about his feelings?"
"Well......yes. In all the cold clinical detail that you hate. Then I'll write in my personal journal how pleased I am that you finally saw fit to open up a little and let me help. Two different worlds, man." Smiling gently.
"I can live with that. The difference between the scientist and the partner. I think I can survive it." Smiling back, finally. Wearily, he dragged himself to his feet and made his way upstairs to bed. Blair watched him, concerned still, not totally sure that his friend's distress had been adequately dealt with, but knowing, at the same time, that this was more than they usually managed. He'd just have to wait and see.
It was a surprisingly quiet and peaceful night. Neither man awoke from nightmares. Talking had obviously forestalled that particular problem, for one night, at least. Jim awoke just before dawn, feeling rested and ready to take on whatever the day might bring. He stretched, his arms going through the railing, joints popping, muscles stretching. After the stretch, he laced his fingers together and placed them behind his head, staring through the skylight at the cloudy sky, mixed with clear blue, indicating that the day wouldn't be too dark and dismal. Realizing that he wasn't going to fall back asleep, he stretched out his hearing to check on his roommate. Finding the soft, steady breathing of the sleeper. From the direction of the sounds, Jim was aware that Blair had managed to make it to bed at least sometime during the night. With another joint popping stretch complete with matching yawn, he threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. He immediately made his bed. Once he was up, he planned on staying up. He quietly padded down the stairs, stopping by the kitchen to start a pot of coffee before heading to the bathroom for a shower.
He was on his second pot of coffee when Blair finally made his appearance a couple of hours later. The smaller man paused to watch his friend, gauging the larger man's well-being from the way he sipped his coffee and perused his paper. Yawning, he stepped into the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee, only to have one held out to him. With a grin, he took the cup.
"Thanks." Taking a sip, he added, "How long have you been up?"
Jim looked at his watch and replied, "Oh, couple of hours, I guess. How are you this morning?"
"Good. I'm good. How about you?" Tensing only slightly.
"Fine. I slept well, and since neither one of us woke up screaming, I figure that neither of us had any nightmares of note." Watching his partner for signs of distress.
"No nightmares. You?"
"Nope." He smiled. "You win."
"The talking. You were right. It worked. Maybe next time I won't be quite so..."
"Antagonistic?" Blair supplied, with a faint grin, quickly hidden behind his coffee cup.
"Yeah, OK. I deserved that, I guess. Are you coming in this morning?"
"Oh, yeah. I don't have any classes until one. Let me get a shower and dressed and I'll be ready to go."
"You want breakfast?"
"Nope. I'm buying." Smiling up at his smiling friend.
"You're on. Give me fifteen."
"No hurry. We've got more than an hour before we need to be at the station."
The group of young men that they had picked up across from the crime scene had been closely monitored during the night, more from a sense of fear due to the unknown drugs they were on, than anything else. Now, they were being kept separate from one another, pending questioning. Most of them still seemed a bit under the influence of whatever drugs they had taken. The lab was finding a multitude of different chemicals in their analysis. Some of which were proving difficult to identify, others frightening in their toxicity.
Blair was reading the partial analysis, shaking his head at the drug 'cocktail'. "Man, some of this stuff is really serious. There's some stuff that they haven't been able to identify, yet. I wonder if they've tried Poison Arrow Frog. It would fit in with the rest of the mix."
"So, call up the lab and make the suggestion, Chief." He looked up from the report on the suspects. "Whatever it was they took, it seems to still be affecting most of them. Only a couple are actually coherent enough to question. You care to come along?" Hoping.
"Sure. Let me call the lab, first. I have a few other ideas for them, some natural psychotropics, come to mind. Give me a couple of minutes."
"OK, I'll go bring Simon up to date."
Simon listened to his detective as he filled him in on their progress. He was impressed that Jim was giving no overt signs of stress. Surprised, as well.
"Are you all right, Jim?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." Seeing the concern and curiosity in his superior's eyes, he smiled. "Blair and I talked about it last night. I admit it. I was wrong. Talking helped. Neither of us had any nightmares last night. I can't be sure about the future, but, well, we'll deal with it as it occurs."
"We're still all going to the department shrink. I've made the appointment. It's next Tuesday. Ten a.m."
"No problem. I just hope we've got this one closed by then."
"How's Sandburg taking it?"
"Pretty well, considering. I guess my talking helped him, too."
"Hey, whatever works. You two going to go question the coherent suspects, now?"
"Yeah. Blair's got some ideas for the lab, as soon as he's through, we'll start questioning them. You going to watch?"
"Yeah. Me and Joel." He glanced out at the other officers in the bullpen. "The rumor mill has it almost right, for a change. I guess the uniforms first on the scene really did a lot of observing in the few seconds they were inside. They're on admin, pending their date with the shrink. They took it pretty hard."
"So did the rest of us. How about you, sir? And Joel? How did you guys sleep last night." Noting the luggage his superior was lugging under his eyes.
"I didn't sleep very long or very well." The captain admitted. "I guess Joel did all right. He seems OK this morning, at any rate."
"Well, considering that he has Mable for backup, I'm not too surprised."
Simon looked up at the man in question as he entered in time to hear Jim's comment.
"I have a lot more than just my baby. I spent a lot of time on my knees last night. I called the assistant pastor at my church. He's more than willing to help. He'll come down any time we ask."
"Good. Thanks, Joel. I really hope these kids roll over on whoever is behind this, though. I hate the idea of someone out there, being free to repeat this." He shuddered at the thought.
"So do we all." Joel replied.
The interviews got them nowhere. None of the suspects were willing to make any statement. Only to demand their legal rights to free representation. Even after the Public Defenders had been assigned, they refused to make any statements. It was a most unsatisfactory day. The only bright spot was that forensics had managed to place all of them at the scene of the crime. Even if they didn't get the person behind this, they would be able to convict the twelve young men they had already caught. The DA's office was going to try the two seventeen-year-olds as adults.
There just wasn't any evidence. They all agreed that the twelve young men they had in custody had been the perpetrators, but they also knew that there had to be someone else involved. Someone who knew a great deal more than the suspects about the occult and the specific layout of the bodies, the runes painted on the wall with the victims' blood. The entire occultic theme of the murders. No matter where they turned, no matter what they promised or who they talked to, there wasn't anyone willing to talk. It was frustrating. At least they expected to get a conviction on what they had. Perhaps the leader would slip up and they would be able to catch him. Although the case was technically closed, they were going to keep working on it. Knowing that the mastermind behind the atrocities was still running loose. Somewhere.
As the days, and weeks passed, the miasma hovered over Jim and Blair. Jim unaccountably took off on his own for a vacation. Simon and Blair followed him. As usual they ended up working, but when the thieves were taken care of, Blair rode back to the city with Simon, leaving Jim all alone, just as he had requested. It left a sad, bitter taste in both Blair and Simon's mouths.
Things were no better when Jim returned. He seemed to be pushing Blair away. Not wanting to have anyone around him. He even stopped going to the weekly poker games at the Taggarts, where he continued to be the main topic of conversation.
"He just won't talk to me. He's withdrawn, and I can't figure out what I've done wrong this time. I've tried everything. I'm about ready to turn in part of my thesis, and I can't figure out what's wrong with him. It's got me worried." Blair complained to his friends and colleagues.
"I wish you could get him to come here. I'm sure we could get him to talk." Mable assured the distraught young man. "Do you suppose it has anything to do with that occultic case? You never did finish solving it, did you?"
"No. We didn't. Do you suppose that could be it? It would make sense, in a way. Him obsessing over a case he doesn't feel is finished. They aren't even set to go to trial for another month, are they?" Blair asked.
"Three weeks." Simon replied. "Unless the defense gets another extension. They've been playing that game a lot. I just wish they'd hurry up and get it over with. I'm even feeling sorry for Lawrence. He's been catching hell over this. I mean, it was his sister and her entire family. Good thing he's not a public defender. As it is, he's having trouble dealing with everything."
"I know. I saw him last week, and he was nice to me." Blair agreed.
"We need to find out what's wrong with Jim." Rafe added. "His attitude is affecting the rest of us, not to mention the uniforms. Some of them are afraid to even say 'good morning' to him any more. I know that I take a good look at his jaw before I say anything to him."
Simon sighed. "I'll try talking to him, again. If I have to, I'll put him on administrative leave pending a psych evaluation." Seeing Blair's automatic panic response starting, he added, "Wait a minute, I'm only planning to threaten him with it, not actually do it."
Mable had a pensive look on her face.
"What is it, Baby?" Her husband, Joel asked, softly.
"I'm having one of my 'feelings'. I think that whoever was behind the murder of Mr. Lawrence's family may just be the cause of all of this. There's something at work, here. Something evil. Can't you feel it?" She asked.
The others exchanged glances, suddenly nervous. Mable was usually so upbeat and cheerful that hearing her talk of doom and gloom frightened them.
"I think we all can, Mable." Simon answered for them. "I'm just not sure what we can do about it."
Crime continued, and they maintained their arrest and conviction rates, but something was missing. Jim seemed to have lost heart. He seldom laughed, and much of his pre-Sandburg gloominess had returned. He wasn't angry, as he had been before Blair had come into his life, but he wasn't enjoying life, either. His friends were worried about him.
By the time Megan Connor arrived from Sydney, Jim had pretty much settled into his new persona. Still polite, still the best cop any of them had ever seen, but he just wasn't enjoying himself, any more. At first, he seemed to be almost back to normal, the way he reacted to Connor's brash and seemingly impulsive way of doing business, the way the two of them clashed. But even that waned, fairly quickly. Jim was only slightly amused at her assumption that he was psychic. He wasn't even that worried about her finding out his secret. Perhaps he was simply confident in his friends' abilities to cover for him. Connor convinced herself that Jim was psychic, and they had no intention of disabusing her of that notion.
It was like they were waiting for something to happen. That odd, silence before the tornado comes into existence. The so called 'calm before the storm'. They were all waiting for it. They all knew it was coming, and they all knew that there was nothing they could do to prevent it.
Whenever he wasn't busy at work, whenever he had time to himself, Jim worked on his closed rune case, as he had come to think of it. He knew that there was someone out there, possibly gathering another group, who was going to commit another atrocity. He felt driven to try and stop it. He was frustrated and angry. He knew that it was spilling over into the rest of his life, but was helpless to stop it. As far as everyone else was concerned, the case was closed and they had the perps in jail. Jim knew that as long as the leader was still at large, the case could never be truly closed. He was becoming obsessed, but was unaware of just how much it was affecting him.
When the second incident occurred, they weren't ready for it. Except for Jim, who had been waiting, knowing it was going to happen. Once again, a family was decimated, another ritual slaying, more atrocities committed. Once again, Jim insisted on doing most of the work himself, at least until the bodies were removed. Again, they caught a dozen young men nearby, just standing by and watching. Again, they were on the residual high from the same drug cocktail as the previous group. Again, there were symbols painted on the wall. This time, there was an infant involved. Even Jim couldn't keep from getting sick, barely making it outside in time.
"Talk to me, Jim. Please?"
"There's nothing to talk about, Sandburg. We've been through this. We knew it was going to happen again. We got the perps, but not the animal behind them. It's going to keep on happening until we can catch the person behind this. Then, we can ask him 'why?'. Nothing will be settled until we do. Talking isn't going to make this go away, Chief. Talking isn't going to make it any better." Unable to face his friend, he grabbed his jacket and left, going for a long drive.
For some strange reason, the media again failed to take notice of the horrible crime.
"Jim? Are you real busy at the moment?" Joel Taggart asked, standing quietly beside the Sentinel's desk.
Leaning back and looking up at the older man, Jim replied, "Not real busy. What's up?" Looking curiously at the man accompanying his colleague.
"This is Tom Nunez. He's the assistant pastor from my church. The one I was telling you about, before." Jim stood up to shake hands.
"Nice to meet you. What can I do for you?" Unconsciously wiping his right hand after shaking hands.
"Well, Joel here thought that maybe I could help you. I understand that you may have a little problem with some sort of occultists?"
"Uh, yeah. I guess we are. Are you familiar with the symbols used by these people?"
"Well, not all of them, but a great many. Do you have any pictures?"
"Yeah. Just a second..." He rummaged around in one of his desk drawers, pulling out a stack of photos. "Yeah. Here they are. What do you think?" Handing over the stack.
Mr. Nunez looked through the stack for several minutes. "Yes. I do recognize many of these symbols." He turned to Joel. "You were right. It might very well be the same group as I met in California." Turning back to Jim. "If it is, you're in for a lot of trouble. We never did find out who was behind it. It was always the same thing. A dozen kids, well, young adults, really. They'd torture and kill an animal and paint these same symbols. Then they'd drink the blood and eat the heart of the animal. It was quite gruesome."
"Yeah. Well, they've gone a little further than that. They're using people, now. Although they don't seem to be practicing any cannibalism, yet." He could feel the hair rise all over his body at the thought of it. "So. What did you do? How did you stop them in California?"
"We didn't. Well, not really. We managed to catch a bunch of them in the act, but that was all. They went to prison." He shrugged. "Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. All at once. We'd been getting one every full moon, for almost a year, then they just stopped. I don't know if it was because we caught them in the act, or something else. We were just glad."
"What did you do to combat them?"
"There really wasn't very much we could do. We prayed, a lot."
"I'm not sure that that will be enough. Thank you for coming in, though. If I have any more questions, may I call you?"
"Of course. I'd be glad to help."
"Thank you." Jim watched the stranger very closely when he left. There was something about him...
"I don't know if it's the same group or not. They are taking place at the new moon, not the full. They're killing people, not animals. They don't take or eat body parts, although they may or may not drink any blood. I just can't say for sure." He felt like he had even less than he had before the visit from Joel's assistant pastor.
It had been a terrible night. With all the various strikes paralyzing the city, they were lucky to be able to function at all. He couldn't resist the temptation to read what Blair had written. When he did, he was shocked and dismayed. He sounded like a cowardly creature who allowed fear to rule his every decision. Paranoid? This was what his friend really thought of him? Just thinking about it made his stomach churn. He couldn't believe the pain. The old children's rhyme of 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' was never proved more wrong. He didn't know what to do, or say, so he tossed the folder in his desk, and tried to go back to work, or at least appear busy.
When Blair came by, nearly panic-stricken at having lost his work, he pulled open the drawer and returned it.
"Where was it, in the truck?"
He knew he was wrong, but having read it, he couldn't get past his own pain. When Blair offered to destroy it, he didn't answer him. Then, the words of that crazy street person, Gabe. He recognized that he was hurting Blair intentionally, in retaliation for his own presumed hurts. He was left without knowing what to do. How to apologize, how to make things right between them again. At least, he tried to make it better, to apologize, insisting that Blair finish his dissertation and send it in.
It was getting worse. The stress, the anger, the pain. The third showing of yet another dozen young men who had committed illimitable atrocities against yet another family. This was getting old, and still the media made no comment about it. Being conspicuous in their absence. He was starting to lash out at everyone around him. He wanted to run, to hide. To escape. Everything and everybody.
"Simon? Can I talk to you for a minute?" Joel asked from the doorway.
"Sure. Come on in, Joel. What's up?"
"The same thing that's been up since April, Simon."
Simon grimaced. "What's he done, now?"
"Nothing. I'm just worried about him. He's always on the edge, now. He never relaxes. He hasn't been to the game in over two months. He's winding up tighter and tighter. I'm worried. He can't go on like this. Something's got to give."
"What can we do?"
"Well, I've got to go to that class at the Fan Belt Inspector's academy. Mable's been worried, too. It's just that we both feel that something's going to give, and soon." He hesitated, then looked his friend in the eye. "We've been praying for him, well, all the rest of the squad, as well. But something big is going to happen, and he's the key. He and Sandburg. I'm sure it's the Sentinel/Guide thing. He's, they're what is standing between whoever is behind all of this and the rest of the city. If they fall, ... only God will be able to help us."
Simon sighed. He'd been having similar feelings of late. The feeling that something big and bad was coming, soon. And they had no defense against it. "Keep praying, Joel. That may be the only thing that can save us."
He watched his newest batch of sycophants. The gullible young men who were attracted to the power. The fools who made the cannon fodder for his power. It was time to bring in something new. Through his sacrifices, he had been given great power. With it, came knowledge. He knew what he had to defeat in order to conquer this city. It was time. He made a small, private sacrifice, a newborn child, stolen from a hospital. He smiled as he made the first cut, taking joy in the screams.
"...I just need you to be gone when I get back."
The clutter was driving him crazy. He laboured like a madman, struggling to get the furniture moved down to the basement. Working himself to exhaustion, then collapsing on the bed, to sleep, to again awaken to the nightmares. Withdrawing even more into himself, searching, for he knew not what. Desperately seeking the resolution to his dilemma. The monster behind his rune cases. It was nearly time for another one. He knew he was losing it, but was unable to do whatever it was that he needed to do to make things better. He was lost, and he knew it, but didn't know who he could trust, any more.
He felt so lost, so betrayed. Panic setting in, wondering where to turn. What to do. He desperately wanted to stop Alex, wanted to feel safe again. Wanted things to return to the way they had been before....before...before what? Before Sandburg? No. That had been a cold, lonely time, too. Before he had thrown his friend out? Well, yes. Before he had been betrayed by his best friend? Definitely.... Blair hadn't betrayed him. Not intentionally. He had been following his dream. Finding a second Sentinel must have been like a miracle to the kid. Only everything had gone so wrong since then. No. It had started going wrong when the first murders had taken place.
He was missing something, and couldn't, for the life of him, figure it out. He wasn't sleeping, wasn't eating. He was working on auto-pilot. He wasn't feeling anything, except the residual pain from his shoulder. He reveled in it. It was the only thing he was capable of feeling, any more. The only sign that he was still alive.
Chasing Alex through the old factory, losing her. Suddenly realizing what it had been that he had been missing. They hurried as fast as they could to the university, calling for the rest of the squad to meet them there. Finding Sandburg, face down in the fountain.
"Oh, God, no."
"There's a problem." "What is that?" "It appears that he has only half a soul." "What? I've never heard of such a thing. Are you sure?" "Yes. For some reason, planned, I'm sure, each of them was given one half of a soul. They were designed to function as a single unit. This half, is frightened, nonfunctioning. He doesn't want to quit, yet. In spite of what has happened. He's willing to go back." "Well, have you asked what to do?" "That's why I'm here. I'm asking you." "This is far beyond my authority. You'll have to carry it higher."
"You can't stop! If you stop I'll hit you with such a lawsuit that you'll be working for me for the rest of your lives!" Jim screamed at the paramedics, who looked at each other and, shrugging, went back to work on the body. Setting up the defibrillator and shocking the body. And again. And again. Finally getting a heartbeat. They had to keep doing the respirations for him, though. They transported Blair Sandburg's body to the hospital, where it was maintained by life support systems, forcefully. A pacemaker to keep the heart beating, a respirator to force air in and out. There was no sign of life from the EEG. The doctors said he was brain-dead. That it was time to pull the plug and let him go.
Jim refused. He had the power of attorney, and he refused.
"Jim. Man. Let him go. Please, baby. Just let him go." Henry Brown pleaded, yet again. Jim wasn't really functioning, either. Nearly zoned out on his friend. Pleading with him, silently, to come back, that he was sorry, that he needed him. Unable to hold anything down, neither food nor water. Simon was ready to try something drastic, if nothing changed soon.
"Jim?" Finally, a voice that wasn't shouting at him. He glanced up...across to the woman in the wheelchair.
"I won't give up. I can't."
"I'm not asking you to, dear. I just wanted to come down and stay with you boys for a while."
He stared at her, puzzled. "You knew. Somehow you knew."
She sighed. "I knew something terrible was brewing. I didn't know what." She gently reached out and touched his hand. "Jim? May I pray with you?"
He recoiled, slightly, "I..." He looked up at her. "I can't see what good it's going to do." Defeat in his voice. Finally beginning to believe what everyone was telling him.
"Oh, sweetheart. Miracles happen every day. You've been the instrument of more than just a few."
He just stared at her, dry eyed. "I can't seem to bring myself to believe in a God who would let things like this happen."
"Oh, baby. God lets a lot of things happen. He gave us this earth to do with as we wanted. We gave it away, clear back in the garden of Eden. We've been struggling with it ever since. Yes. God does allow bad things to happen. I don't pretend to know the reason. I don't have to. That's not my department. My job is to believe that God has a plan, and that I'm a part of it. I do my part, and let God take care of the rest. It's time for you to give Blair to God, Jim. Pray for the miracle, and let go, let God." She turned as the door opened and her husband entered.
"Hey." Joel said softly. "I just got back and heard. How's he doing?"
"He's not." Jim said flatly. "They say he's brain-dead. They want me to pull the plug."
"But you haven't." Joel came close, placing a warm, comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.
"No. I haven't. If I do, then I've given up, and there isn't any sense in trying to go on any more." Both of the Taggarts stiffened at those words, spoken in the midst of the deepest of depressions. They looked at each other, communicating silently.
"Seems to me that you maybe want God to do something. He can, you know."
"I don't know anything, any more." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I don't even care." The pain and exhaustion only obvious.
"You going to be here for a while?"
"Forever, if I have to." Afraid that if he left, they'd pull the plug and Sandburg would be truly and irrevocably gone.
The Taggarts left, discussing what to do. They made their way to the chapel to pray. Joel pulled out his cell phone and started to call assistant pastor Nunez. Mable's hand reached out to stop him. "Not him. Don't ask me why, I just...I have a bad feeling about him. Call Pastor Robbins, instead." Joel nodded and made the call. Within an hour, the core of their church's prayer team had assembled at the hospital. Not to pray that Blair be spared, but to pray that it be God's will that Blair revive. They reminded Him of how He brought back Lazarus, after he had been dead and buried for four days. How He promised that all things worked to glorify Him. Asking Him to demonstrate his power and bring the young man back, whole, and normal. They continued their prayer vigil throughout the night.
Simon came down, personally, to drag Jim away from his partner's side. "Look, Jim. You're the only one who can do this. There's been another one. Just like the others. I need you on the scene. Maybe we'll get lucky, this time."
"Who's going to stay and keep them from killing Blair?"
"I'll stay with him." Mable announced, from the doorway. "I'll take care of him. I won't let anyone hurt him, or turn off anything." Jim stared at her for a full minute, then nodded his agreement.
It was just like all the others. Done in daylight, the actual perpetrators standing nearby, just waiting to be arrested. There was another newborn. Jim just stood and stared. Unable to focus. He raised suddenly tear-filled eyes, looking up toward the ceiling. "God? I don't know if you're listening, but I can't go on like this. I'm tired. I'm hurting. My best friend is lying in a hospital, and I can't do anything to help him. I know I'm not much of a believer, but, well. If you could see your way clear to help Blair, I'd sure appreciate it. I won't make any promises, but I'd do my best...Aw, who am I trying to kid? You know even better than I do that I don't really believe in You. If you want to prove you exist, help me find the son of a bitch who's behind this."
It was like a sudden flash of light. Blinding him. He fell to his knees, gasping. He saw...he saw...
Darkness, angry, swirling, darkness. It was anger, hatred, horrible. He could smell the evil. Feel it's slimy touch. He wasn't sure how long he remained there on his hands and knees, but when he recovered, he could still smell the evil. See its path. Knew he could follow it and find it. Track down the person behind these crimes. Suddenly energized, he rose to follow the trail.
"Jim? Hey, Jim?" Brown's voice called out, surprised. They'd been waiting for Jim to come out of the house for nearly an hour. There was something strange about the way he was moving, the closed, intent look on his face. "Rafe! Let's go!" He shouted to his partner, falling in behind the oblivious Sentinel, following close enough to touch him.
He didn't speak. Didn't acknowledge their presence. He stopped occasionally, lifting his head like a hound, casting for the trail. Deciding, he would start off again, sometimes changing directions, sometimes continuing straight. He led them across the city, Brown and Rafe taking turns calling in their position, keeping backup within close call. They finally came to a stop. It was an small, unassuming house, with a nice, neat yard. Jim started to tremble.
"Jim?" Rafe asked. "What is it?" Finally getting up enough nerve to touch the older man.
"This is it. This is where he lives. The Sonofbitch who's behind all of this." He took a deep breath. And swayed, nearly falling, Rafe being close enough to keep him from falling.
"Jim? You OK?" Brown asked, coming up on his other side to help keep him upright.
Jim turned his confused blue eyes on the two detectives. He looked around, confused. Not knowing how he had come to be there. He looked at the house. And remembered.
"There's nobody home. But the guy behind the murders lives here. I'm sure of it."
"OK. Let me call the Captain and get us a ride out of here, set up surveillance. Find out who lives here and everything." Brown concurred.
The house belonged to Tom Nunez. The assistant pastor at Joel's church. Apparently, it had gotten too hot for him in California, and he had laid low for a few years, moving around until he found what he considered the perfect location to again set up shop. They were careful, setting up the surveillance. Jim warned them that the guy had power, and that he would no doubt use it. They used long-range telescopic cameras and parabolic microphones that could be used from a distance.
Rafe was on duty when the first break came, three days later. He took one look and called for backup.
"I've got them. You're not going to believe this. We have probable cause, guys. Alex is with him..."
Joel had placed himself at Jim's side, for backup and control. When he had heard from Jim about what had happened, about Jim's prayer and how it had been answered, he kept close to his friend. Knowing that Jim was vulnerable without his proper guide. Feeling that he needed to keep Jim in his sight. His beautiful Mable only confirmed his feeling.
When they assaulted the house, making enough noise to deafen anyone, to throw the rogue Sentinel into sensory overload, allowing them to take them. Unfortunately, they hadn't reckoned with Mr. Nunez's plans.
There was a flash and smoke, thick, foul, oily billowed up around the charging police. Joel kept his hand on Jim's back, keeping exactly in step with him, chasing the couple through the house. Coming out into the daylight, the two police officers aimed their weapons and shouted in unison.
"Cascade Police! Give it up. You can't escape!" The pair stopped, only to turn and aim their weapons at them. Jim and Joel fired simultaneously, before the two felons had a chance to aim and get off a single shot. The force of the forty-five caliber bullets threw the bodies back, arms flinging wide, both dead before they hit the ground.
Silence. Jim and Joel exchanged long, confused looks. They couldn't believe it had been this easy. Cautiously, Jim extended his hearing....he shook his head, no heartbeats. They maintained their cautiousness as they approached the pair, staring down at the two pair of sightless eyes staring up into the sun. Megan Connor came up behind them, ready for anything.
"You got them?" Surprised.
"Yeah. We did." Jim mumbled.
Joel knelt beside the bodies, carefully checking for a pulse. Shook his head, confirming what they already knew. Standing back up, he wrinkled up his face in a scowl and started wiping his hands on his jacket. "I need to wash my hands. I..." He turned away, suddenly retching. Jim and Megan were immediately there, supporting, soothing. Joel was shivering.
"Man, don't touch them unless you've got gloves on. That was...I wouldn't even want to try to describe it. Masks might be a good idea, as well." Shivering with the horror.
Everyone was cautioned to take extreme care with the handling of the two bodies. Once they were placed in bodybags, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. When Dan Wolf was contacted, he was warned to treat them like toxic waste.
"They're evil, Dan." Joel replied. Turning away from the others to speak softly into the phone. "Pure D evil."
"Should I spray them with Holy Water first?" Dan asked, lightly.
"Couldn't hurt. Praying over them might help, as well."
Dan, taking Joel at his word, was wearing a clean-suit when he opened the first body bag. Even with the gas mask, it wasn't enough. He carefully took a few samples, sealing them in sample bottles. Carefully sifting through the contents of first one bag, then the other. Amazed at what could have caused the two bodies to dissolve into a thick, black oily substance in such a short period of time.
The samples defied analysis. Dan thought about the joke he had made about spraying them with Holy Water. He called his priest, the action of the Holy Water on the sample was amazing. It foamed like vinegar and baking soda, then turned into a grey powder, which could finally be identified as human remains. Since there was no way to identify the bodies, he simply asked his priest to come back and treat the rest of the remains.
"He has not tried to make any deals. He seems content with what has happened." "But he has not released him, yet." "No. Not yet." "Nothing can happen until he does." "I know. His friends are still with him." "It must be very difficult to make any kind of decision with only one half of a soul. Do you know the purpose for the division of the soul?" "No. I have no need to know. Perhaps it is something to do with faith?" "Most likely. Have you seen how they see us?" "You mean the animals? Yes. At least they are honourable creatures, honest. Strong and wise. It could be much worse." "Yes, it could."
"Jim? What now?" Mable asked. They were back in the hospital. Sitting with Blair. The machines still keeping him alive. If you could call it that. He turned his grief-stricken face toward her.
"I don't know." He took a deep breath.
"Joel said that you prayed. What did you pray for, Jim?"
"At first, I asked that He bring Blair back, but then I realized that God can do whatever he wants, and that I don't have any power over him. Nothing to bargain with. Then I admitted that I didn't really believe in him and asked him to prove he existed by helping me find the S.O.B who had been committing the rune murders. There was...like a flash of light, and the next thing I was aware of was standing out in front of Nunez's house." He stared at her. "I could see, smell, feel, hell, even taste the evil. Like a superhighway."
"He answered your prayer. Do you believe in Him, now?" Her head cocked slightly to one side, curious.
"Uh, I guess I have to. But it doesn't help Blair any, though, does it."
"No. You're right. You can't bargain with God. But you can believe in Him. He is all powerful. But, you can't force him. If it is in his will, it will happen. You just have to get out of the way and let Him work. Our God is an Awesome God." She reached out to touch Jim's hand where it held Blair's. "Do you think it's fair to Blair to keep him alive with those machines? Is this what he would want?"
He turned to her, tears forming and falling from his eyes. "No." He whispered.
"Will you let me pray for you and Blair, Jim?" Holding out her hands to him.
Swallowing hard, tears flowing unnoticed down his cheeks, he reached out and took her hands in his, bowing his head and closing his eyes. She looked at him for a moment, seeing the helplessness, the vulnerability, the trust.
"Dear God. We come before you, sowing tears of grief for our friend. Man can do nothing for him. We are forcing him to remain by unnatural means. We give him to you, Lord. To do with as you see fit, though it breaks our hearts to do so. Thank you for being the mighty Lord of the universe, master of everything. If it is in your will that our friend die, then I pray that you give us the courage to continue on without him. Hold us in our grief, Lord, give us the strength to do your will. Comfort us in our distress. Thank you for everything that has happened. I do not know your plans, but we step out in faith that your will shall be done." Squeezing Jim's hands, "Amen."
They sat quietly, for nearly an hour. Tears trickling down their faces. Finally, Jim took a deep breath and let go of Mable's hands. Standing, not looking at her or Blair, he went to the machines. He reached down to softly stroke Blair's hair back from his face. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm so sorry. You have no idea just how much you mean to me." He choked on his tears. "I finally figured out what was wrong. It was that monster. He was so evil, it tainted everything. Even us. I'm going to miss you Blair Sandburg. I'm sorry, but we weren't able to find Naomi. I wish she could have been here. Cupping his friend's face one last time, he whispered, "Good-bye, Blair. I love you." And turned off the machines.
He left before the hospital staff arrived to see what was wrong.
He found himself in the chapel. He had no idea of the correct protocol for prayer, so he just talked. "He's all yours now, God. Please treat him well. He hates being cold and wet. Kind of like a cat. Funny, how my spirit guide is the panther, and his is the wolf. You'd think it would be the other way around. I really blew it. I'm really sorry, if I messed things up. I guess you probably do have a plan, but we're always messing it up for you. That 'free will' thing, I guess. Oh, God." He started crying again. Grief-stricken, heart-wrenching sobs. Alone. As he had always been. No one to see him but God.
"I don't believe it. He capitulated. He gave up control." "Well, what did you expect? That he would be so selfish that he would put his friend through that forever? You know as well as I do that he's one of the most caring men on earth." "Just don't tell HIM that." They laughed. "So, now what?" "Now, we wait and see what He has planned." "Got any ideas?" "Oh, yes. Lots of ideas."
Mable continued to pray. She was now praying for Jim, for healing. She had chased the doctors out, telling them that Jim had, himself turned off the life support. They simply disconnected Blair from the machines, allowing her to stay with him for a while, to say good-bye.
"What is your choice?" "I have a choice?" "Yes. There was an interesting circumstance of your birth." "Oh? What was that?" "You only have half a soul." "Huh?" "You have only half a soul." "Uh, where is the other half?" "You already know the answer to that." "Yeah, I guess that I do...So, now what?" "Now, you decide." "And?" "Then we go from there." "I don't know..." "He cried for you." "He did?! Oh, wow." "There isn't much time. No decision is a decision." "Can...will you explain what happened?" "You must choose. Darkness or light? Which side are you on? No decision is to enlist with darkness. How do you choose?" "...............................I choose..............the light."
He couldn't stand being alone any more. He stood up and left the chapel, oblivious of the tears still streaming down his face. He went back to the hospital room. Mable was still there. He hadn't really been gone very long, Five or ten minutes at the most. He looked at his friend's body. Zoning out on his friend's hair. Mable reached up to take his hand. He looked down at her.
"I don't know if I can do this by myself, Mable. I've never hurt this much in my life."
"That's because you always suppressed it. It's OK, Jim. It's all right to allow yourself to grieve. I'm here for you. So are the others." She reached up to touch him with her other hand. "I know we're not Blair. But we love you, too."
"I know. Thank you." He gently pulled away, turning back to the body on the bed. "I'm just going to sit here and..." He gasped back a sob, "And talk to Blair for a while."
"That's OK. I'll stay. Just in case you need me."
He looked at her. "Thank you." He sat on the edge of the bed, gently taking one of Blair's limp hands in both of his own. He started talking. Apologizing again and again, working through some of his guilt.
"Oh, Blair. I'm going to miss you. Hell...darn, I've been missing you for a long time and didn't even know it. I wish that just once more you'd open your eyes and tease me about showing feelings. I just might be able to, now that it's too late."
It was warm. He could hear Jim mumbling on and on about something. Something about an ... apology? He listened more closely, reaching up to consciousness. Feelings? Jim was talking about feelings? He opened his eyes. This he just had to see. Tears. Jim was crying. Jim thought that ... Oh, dear. Got to disabuse him of that particular notion.
"Jim?" Surprised at how weak the whisper was. He tried again. "Jim? Could I have a drink of water here, man?"
Suddenly, there was silence. Jim's grip tightened on Blair's hand. "Ow, man. Not so tight. That hurts."
Mable was staring. "Oh, my dearest Lord." She whispered in awe.
Jim stared. Felt Blair's hand move in his. Saw the blue eyes staring at him in confusion. HEARD his best friend's heart beating, the air going in and out. All on his own. No machines helping him.
Jim Whooped. He reached forward and grabbed Blair up from the bed, hugging him as hard as he could.
"Hey, easy, big guy. Don't crush the Guide, man." Gasping for air.
"You're alive! You came back! Hallelujah!!!!!!!!" Laughing, crying. Giddy with joy.
"Uh, yeah. So?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"Uh, you being mad at me. I was in my office and....that's the last thing I can remember. What happened? Did you catch Alex? How long have I been here? What's going on?"
"There will be lots of time for that later, Blair. Right now, I think we need to let the doctors have a crack at you. You just might make an article for a medical journal." Mable told him, laughing and crying at the same time.
"I don't understand? What happened?"
They insisted on keeping him, running every test they could think of. Finally, after two days of being poked and prodded, they gave up and sent him home. The only problem was, he didn't have one, any more.
"What's the matter, Blair?" Joel asked, when he and Mable were visiting.
"Is Jim still mad at me? I mean, he hasn't been back. I thought maybe... I don't know what I thought." Still unsure of anything. They had explained what had happened to him. How he'd been dead. How Jim had threatened everyone if they didn't keep up life support. How he had finally given in and turned off the machines. How everyone had been praying for him, and Jim. He was in awe over what had happened.
"No. He's not mad at you. He figured out that the problem went back to April, that first murder, Mr. Lawrence's sister's family? That was when it all started. Neither of you admitted that there was a problem. By the time you became aware of it, it was too late." Joel explained.
Mable continued. "God must have quite some plan for the two of you. Standing in the breach in the battle between good and evil. With everything that's been happening, I, for one, am eternally grateful that you're both all right." They turned as the door opened to admit Simon, and Jim.
"Hey, Sandburg. You ready to get out of here?" Simon called out jovially.
"Um, yeah. Sure." Never taking his eyes off of his partner, trying to read him. The jaw was relaxed, the shoulders, relaxed. The face...smiling. The eyes......joyful.
"Hey, Chief. You ready to come home?" Hopeful, unsure. "I mean, if you want to. I... Please? Come home? I'd understand if you don't want to, but..."
"I'd love to go home, Jim. But only if you want me there."
"Of course he wants you there!" Chorused their friends.
"You two have got to work on your interpersonal communications skills." Simon grumbled, with a smile.
The loft was back to normal, except for Blair's things. Jim hadn't gotten them quite back where they belonged. But close.
"Jim?" Still unsure of his welcome.
"I need you, Blair. I can't do this Sentinel thing without you. I was only fooling myself into thinking I was in control. You were right. I am afraid. Afraid of screwing up. Afraid of failing. Afraid I'm going to get you killed. Afraid you're going to leave me. On top of which..."
"Jim. I already knew all that.
"Yeah, well, now I know it too, and I'm willing to admit it. Please stay?"
Blair smiled. He had only one memory of being dead. Talking to their spirit guides, who morphed into angels that looked like them. Giving him the knowledge that separately, they were only half, but that together, they were whole, greather than the sum of their parts. Far greater than they had any way of knowing. Standing as Sentinel and Guide, on the front lines of the war. They had won this skirmish. With the grace of God, they would win the war.
When they had settled back in after dinner, things seemingly back to normal, Blair broke the comfortable silence. He knew that there could not be any more secrets between them.
"Uh, Jim? You know, when I was dead? Well, you're not going to believe what happened to me......"
We are all involved in this war, one way or another. Which side will you choose? Will you fight for the Light, for Good? Or will you choose darkness and evil? The dark is very seductive with its promises of power. The power is real. But it is not permanent. Remember, no decision is a decision for darkness. Think hard, before you decide. Now is the time. If not now, when? There may not be time, later. Don't forget, even if you choose the light, your battle is just beginning. The war is never-ending. Choosing the light does not mean that you will not have battles. Choosing light usually means greater battles. You will become weary. You will become discouraged. You will feel like you are losing, with no end in sight. That is the moment when you call out for assistance. When you, if you remain steadfast, will be carried by the unseen ones. There is an old Northumbrian battle song, "I am hurt, but I am not slain. I'll lay me down to bleed a while, and then I'll rise and fight again." I have made my decision. What decision have you made?
(By the way, If anyone has a copy of this song, complete, especially with the music, I'd love a copy.)
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