Just passing remarks from the episodes Blind Man's Bluff and Love Kills and a bigger dollop from Remembrance.
Jim's background (age, etc.) is based on information found on The Nightowl's Nest Sentinel Resource Site, a wonderful info site for Senfic writers. Some people disagree with some of the details (various episodes give conflicting information) but by using NightOwl's site, at least I can stay consistent. Thanks, Kay Lynne!
The spelling of Bud's last name came from the SOS summary of the ep.
The Child is father of the Man.
William Wordsworth, My Heart Leaps Up
Captain Simon Banks met the blue and white truck as it rolled to a stop. "Sandburg, you stay out here," he commanded. Two men stepped out and the younger paled, but scowled as he leaned against the truck, knowing what the captain was saying without even hearing it. As an anthropology grad student and part-time police observer, Blair Sandburg was usually spared of seeing most of the gory, nightmare-inducing crime scenes inherent to policework. But as partner to Detective Jim Ellison, sometimes he had to come face-to-face with the horrific indignities one man could wrought upon another. If Jim was going to need him on the scene, then he'd just have to suck it up and take it. No matter how bad it was.
Simon read the thought on his face and continued, "I'll stay with Jim in case...." Another thing left unsaid. Jim was a Sentinel, an individual gifted with all five senses extraordinarily heightened. These senses made the detective a godsend but with the gift came a price; if he focused too much on one particular sense, he was in danger of "falling into himself" or what Blair liked to call "zoning." In other words, he was apt to drift away into that sense and lose contact with reality. It took an outside influence like a shout or a shake to pull him out of light or medium zones. It took a psychic connection like the one Jim shared with Blair to bring him out of deep ones. Blair was the Sentinel's Guide. All Sentinels needed one not only to anchor them to the real world while using their senses, but also to watch out for them, keeping them in physical and spiritual balance.
Only the captain knew of Jim's unique talents and how Blair was a part of them. He often played the role of guide when Blair couldn't be the Guide. That was because he was the Watcher. The original purpose of a Sentinel was to guard the tribe and the purpose of a Guide was to guard the Sentinel. But compared to a jungle village, the city of Cascade, Washington was a thousand villages with a thousand times ten more dangers for both Sentinel and Guide-- especially if said Guide attracted as much trouble as Blair. So the pair was given a Watcher, someone to guard both their backs, and Simon did his job with the same efficiency, skill, and compassion as he commanded his Major Crimes Unit.
Blair nodded to the captain, then pulled his partner to one side. "Dial down the smell, man, before you go in," he coached. To help Jim get a handle on his senses, he had assigned each one a mental dial which could be turned up or down depending on the situation.
"Too late, Chief." The detective grimaced as a change in wind direction brought to his nose the too-sweet, cloying, metallic scent of blood. It was a scent he was familiar with not just because he was a detective, but also because he had been a soldier and a medic once upon a time.
"You smell it already?" Blair asked, instantly concerned since the house under investigation was across the street and two doors down. "Watch him closely, Simon," he told the captain, then turned back to his friend. "I have a bad feeling about this, Jim. Pace yourself, alright?"
"Will do, Chief." Jim gave his partner a quick smile, then loped over to where his captain waited.
"What was that all about?" Simon asked. "Suddenly he doesn't trust me with you?"
"It's got nothing to do with you, captain. He's got a bad feeling."
Simon cursed under his breath. Blair's instincts were pretty good for a civilian. "What about your instincts, Jim?" he asked his best detective. He'd actually thought he was giving his overworked team a break. Although bloody, it appeared to be a slam-dunker, a case easily solved with no gunplay, late night stakeouts, or vengeful thug ready to kidnap and/or torture either man. When he'd gotten the call as he was returning to the station from a luncheon at the mayor's residence, he had immediately thought of Ellison and Sandburg. Now he was hearing that it wasn't going to be the simple investigation dispatch had led him to think it was.
"I'm with my partner on this one, Simon," Jim replied and once more there was silent communication, mostly an apology which the detective shrugged off. Shit happened and it was usually to him and his partner. "What do we have, captain?"
"The Desmond family. Harold, Marilyn, daughter Audrey, and son Andy. Three homicides and a suicide." Or so he had been told.
"An 8-inch carving knife. The kids were killed in their beds-- their throats slashed. Marilyn apparently either tried to protect the children or get away. We're not sure of which yet. Anyway, she sustained several defensive wounds before he stabbed her in the stomach, producing what appears to be the mortal injury. Finally, he slit his own wrists. The scene is 'colorful'."
Yeah, all red, Jim thought as he felt a tremor of fear race along his spine. That was odd. Why fear? He was prepared for anger, helplessness, regret, even sadness that such a terrible thing had occurred. But fear? He hesitated for a second as they approached the house. Simon looked back at him when he realized the detective wasn't beside him. Jim shrugged, turned down his smell dial, slipped into plastic gloves, and stepped through the door.
It was obvious that this was a charnel house upon entry. Blood was splattered everywhere beginning at the screen door. Apparently, Marilyn had tried to escape and failed. Her body lay next to the sofa, decorated in dark red which was quickly hardening into black. Jim squatted next to the corpse and as he looked, he watched the body morph from the dark-haired Marilyn into a blond woman, then back again. He gasped and jumped back.
The detective blinked and shook his head. "Where are the children?"
Simon led him to the back of the house where the two small bedrooms were. Jim stood in the doorway, noting how the pool of blood spreading out from Audrey's head blotted out the Pooh Bears decorating the sheets. Had Harold watched as his daughter's life was drowned in a sea of red like the cartoon character, or had he gone on down the hall and taken out his son without so much as a lone regret?
Jim followed his captain to the boy's room and stopped abruptly just inside. A nine, maybe ten year old kid lay sprawled against striped sheets, green and white where not decorated by his blood. He saw that clearly for a moment before something else took over. Pain lanced through his head and the room seemed to shimmer like a sidewalk on a hot day. He wanted to blink, to close his eyes, but found it impossible. With his eyes glued open, he helplessly watched as the scene wavered, then morphed into another scene altogether. The body became older, the room a gymnasium with the bleachers flat against the wall, the blood absorbed not by green-striped sheets but by highly varnished wood. Everything was so vivid that he could even see the foul line painted beneath the corpse. In fact, he could feel the wood beneath his feet and hear the creaks of the individual boards. Bounce, bounce, shoot. Bounce, bounce, shoot. He had missed a free throw in last week's game and he was angry with himself. Not that it made that much difference; they had lost by fifteen. But he had no business missing a free throw. It was unacceptable by Ellison standards.
"Jim?" Simon had felt his friend stiffen and turned to see the blue eyes glaze over. Shit, shit, shit! He called softly to him, then shook him, but to no avail. Leaving the statue beside him, he stomped out to the porch where a uniform guarded the door. "Get Sandburg in here, now!"
The blood ignored, Blair made his way to his partner's side. "What happened?" he asked quickly.
"I have no idea. Something went through him when he looked at the woman's body but he shook it off. He inspected the girl's room, then we headed here. Whatever it was, it affected him quickly. I don't think he had time to zone."
"You're right; this isn't a regular zone. His pulse is pounding," Blair analyzed, his hand brushing lightly against Jim's neck. It then slid to his partner's shoulder and squeezed gently. His voice dropped to a smooth, even pitch which he knew Jim could hear. "Hey, partner. Time to come back. Follow my voice, Jim. Come on, buddy. I know you can do it."
The basketball faded from his hand as the voice penetrated the reality he was visiting. The wooden floor became carpet again, and the young boy spread out on the sheets returned. "Where's the father?"
"Whoa, Jim," Blair soothed. "I think we need to get you out of here, man. You left us for a while. Do you remember?"
Jim's jaw clenched and he nodded. "My mind does work properly on occasion, Chief," he said dryly and used scent to lead him to the final body.
Blair looked at Simon, confused by the acridness of Jim's statement. What the hell was going on? They followed Jim to the bathroom where Harold Desmond lay. He was curled over on his side, both wrists the obvious sources of the puddled red/black gel on the brown and beige linoleum. The knife lay just beyond his hand. Just as he'd done with Marilyn, Jim squatted next to the body, Sentinel-sight cutting through the blood to view the cuts in sharp detail. Tentatively he reached out and pressed lightly on Harold's right arm, then his left. He looked back at the wounds and at the knife. Then he followed Harold's left arm to where the hand was outstretched.
"It's not a suicide," he informed his companions as he stood up.
"What you got, Jim?" Simon asked quickly.
"Harold was left-handed, the muscles in his left arm being firmer and more bulked. The cuts were made by a right-handed person. The coroner will confirm that. Someone killed this entire family and made it look like Harold did it. This is a quadruple homicide, captain."
"Shit." Simon frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's get out of here and let forensics take over."
Jim nodded and pointed to the area near Harold's left hand. "And tell them to be extra careful there. That's where Harold wrote in his own blood the name of his killer."
"You all right, Chief?"
Blair stared at Jim as he maneuvered the truck back to the station. "Am I all right?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry you had to come into the house. I didn't want you to see...."
"I didn't see anything but you, Jim. And once I got you back, Simon made me stand in the hall so I only have vague impressions of what went on in there."
Blair waited a few seconds to see if Jim would be forthcoming on his own, but as the silence continued, he knew he wouldn't be that lucky. "You gonna tell me what happened?" The jaw tensed. Didn't need Sentinel sight to see that bone protrude. "Look, I'm not going to drop this, okay? We don't do well when we don't communicate, Jim. We make enough mistakes as is; repeating old ones is just plain stupid," he warned.
Jim gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. "I had a flashback," he said softly. "Actually more than one."
"What kind of flashback?" Jim had seen a lot of bad scenes in the Army and as a cop. Not to mention he'd had a couple of bad experiences with a designer drug called Golden, and heroin in paste form.
"Like with Bud."
Damn. Carl "Bud" Haidash was an adult friend of then ten-year old Jimmy Ellison and was brutally murdered. Jim had not only discovered the body but with Sentinel sight had seen the killer. But no one believed he could see the distance that he could and his father, William Ellison, had demanded that he keep quiet about his gifts. Obediently, Jimmy had not only repressed his senses, but also the whole memory of the murder... until a similar one, occurring a year or so ago, had triggered a painful flashback.
"You think this is another repressed memory?"
Jim nodded angrily. It was bad enough that his senses were abnormal but to have these memories... Damn. Blair should have been a psych major. Could have gotten a hundred papers out of his screwed up partner and roommate. "Didn't know you were living with a basket case, huh?" he questioned bitterly.
Blair ignored the anger. "Pull over. I'm going to drive."
Jim wanted to argue, but knew it was for the best. If the images he'd seen in the Desmond house returned while he was driving... "I don't know why you put up with me, Chief," he said sadly as he got situated in the passenger's seat.
"Because you're my friend, Jim." He'd said it often enough; maybe at some point Jim would get it.
"I'm certifiable, Blair. You didn't know that when we became friends."
"I didn't?" Blair teased as he pulled back onto the road. "Look, man. When everything came out about your brother, I knew your childhood wasn't all hearts and flowers. The unresolved anger there... Whew. And then your friend Bud's death and the way you repressed it... I am your friend, Jim, as well as your Guide. No matter how messed up your head is, man, I'm not going anywhere."
"Good. Because I think this is really going to be a big one."
"What caused it? The blood?"
"I'm not sure. It may have been the woman. Marilyn Desmond has dark hair. The woman I saw was blond."
"That was your first vision?"
"Yes. She was all bloody just like the Desmond woman. That's all that came back."
"What happened in the boy's room? That flashback lasted much longer."
Jim nodded. "I was on a basketball court, practicing free throws. The body of a kid, maybe sixteen or seventeen lay on the free throw line at my feet, his head haloed by blood."
"Same incident or a different one?" Blair asked quickly, not giving Jim time to think. He wanted his instant impression.
"So we have a dead kid and a dead woman."
"How old were you?" Jim shrugged. "Close your eyes and picture yourself with the basketball, Jim. How big are you? Are you a little kid straining to make the basket? Or are you tall enough that you're more concerned about the arch of the ball than the force behind it?"
"I think I must be about the age of the boy, Chief. Maybe we were teammates."
Blair smiled. "That's good, Jim. We have a starting point then. Simon offered to hand the case off to Brown and Rafe--"
"No," Jim said adamantly. "If I allow these psychological sinkholes to interfere with my work, then you may as well lock me away because I'm useless, okay? Fucking useless!" He smashed his fist against the dashboard.
"Easy, man! We can handle the case and this too. Just breathe, Jim. It'll be okay. I promise," Blair crooned quickly. He hated it when Jim got agitated. He was the one who was supposed to get nervous and unsettled. Not Jim. He was the rock in the partnership, the one who silently ground his teeth and forged ahead. Fear of open water? Not a problem. Guide been kidnapped? Not a problem. Your whole past is nothing but a lie your mind conveniently created to keep some really awful stuff from you? Uh, Houston, I think we have a problem.
Jim took a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. He forced his hands to uncurl and lay them flat against his thighs. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean to go off like that. I just want to put this case down before I...."
"Got it, man. First, we solve the murder mystery, then we tackle your past. Sounds like a plan," Blair said agreeably.
"Yeah, Chief. Sounds like a plan."
"I'm impressed, gentlemen," Simon said as his detective team sat in their familiar seats before his desk. "You took a murder/suicide which turned out to be a quadruple homicide and delivered the murderer and the paperwork all in one work day. Who put what in your Wheaties this morning and wouldn't you like to share it with your co-workers?"
"I don't think they would appreciate it," Jim muttered dryly.
Blair shot his partner a sympathetic look then faced the captain. "Simon, about at the crime scene--"
"Some glitch with the senses?"
"Some glitch with my past."
Simon went instantly to his drawer in search of his bottle of aspirin. "Why wasn't I informed of this earlier?"
"So you would have been prepared to cover for your defective detective?" Jim accused sullenly.
Simon stopped fumbling in his desk and looked up. "Maybe I wanted to be informed because I'm your friend, Jim."
Jim was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry, Simon." Neither man deserved to be the brunt of his whining. They were only trying to stand by him while he went through another "life adjustment". Once upon a time he'd had a life that didn't need constant adjustment, hadn't he? Or had that been another one of the lies his mind had spun? "It's just that we had that lead on the Desmond murders and I wanted to play it out. I figured if you knew what happened earlier, you would have pulled me from the case."
"And Marilyn's obsessed co-worker wouldn't be in the city jail now awaiting arraignment," the captain completed. "Okay, I get your point. But that's over with now. How about filling me in?"
Jim wiped a hand across his face and took a deep breath before starting. "It began as we approached the house, Simon. I was startled when this vein of fear coursed through my body. It was as if I knew what I was going to find when I walked into the house."
"That's why you hesitated?" Simon asked, remembering.
"Yes, sir. It was this really sick feeling of deja vu. Then when I saw--" Someone tapped on the office door.
"What?" Simon barked.
Det. Henri Brown poked his head through the door. "Sorry to interrupt, but the assistant district attorney needs to speak to Ellison about the Desmond case."
Simon nodded and Jim hurried out, telling Blair to continue the story. The captain listened without comment to the flashes of memory that had come back to Jim. "So you're both pretty certain these are real memories and not just some sort of waking nightmare?"
Blair shrugged. "Maybe if it hadn't been for the Bud incident I would have doubts. But we know Jim is capable of burying his past so deep that he can't access it normally. Since he remembers the gymnasium so well, I was wondering, captain, if you couldn't look through the old case files and see if something traumatic happened at Cascade High during Jim's years there. If a teacher and a student were murdered...."
"What years are we talking about? '77 - '80?" he asked, doing the math in his head. Blair nodded. "Of course those years are still mostly in hard copy form. I'll have to go over to the records storehouse. Maybe while I'm doing that, Jim can take a look through his old yearbooks. If he remembers the kid on the basketball court that well, he may recognize his picture."
"That's a good idea, Simon. We'll get right on it."
We'll. He wondered if the kid ever thought any other way. "How bad has it been today, Sandburg? He seems pretty defensive."
"He's scared, Simon. And angry. And frustrated. You know how much he needs control and he has none in this instance. The memories pop up when they want to. And then there's the apprehension over the content of the memories. What the hell can be so bad that he's hidden it from himself?"
"It's a wonder he made it through the Desmond investigation without destructing."
Blair smiled. "I was proud of him today, Simon. He handled the relatives delicately and he never lost his temper once when questioning Richard Foley. He was determined to give the Desmonds the rest they deserved."
"No more flashbacks?"
"No, but I think it's obvious we can't put the genie back in the bottle. I just hope one of us has luck with our research tonight."
"What research is that, Chief?" Jim asked as he stepped back into the office.
"Simon's going to search the police files and we're going to go through your high school yearbooks. Are they packed up somewhere in the basement?" Blair inquired.
Jim shook his head. "The last time I saw them, they were at the house."
The house. That meant William Ellison's residence. "You think they're still there?"
"Sally may have packed them up. I'll give her a call." He reached for the phone on the captain's desk. Sally was his father's housekeeper and had been since he was a small boy. The conversation was short. "They're still in my room. She says we can come over now if we like."
Blair started to follow Jim out the room, but Simon motioned for him to stay behind. "This time, you watch him closely, Sandburg. I'm not sure that house is the best environment for him."
Blair knew Simon was referring more to William Ellison as a detriment to his son than the house itself. The man definitely would never be "Father of the Year", but Blair held on to the hope that the relationship between father and son could be salvaged or at least reconciled to the point Jim could forgive the many mistakes William made in raising his sons. "I'll watch him, Simon, and if necessary, I'll protect him," he promised the tall police captain.
"Good to hear it, Sandburg. Good to hear it."
"You just go on up to your room, Jimmy," Sally said, the diminutive Asian lady ushering them into the house. "Your father is not home yet. I'm not certain when he will be."
"That's okay, Sally," Jim said, hoping she couldn't hear the relief in his voice. The day had already been trying enough. He really wanted to avoid a run-in with his father, something that would be inevitable if he saw him because if this was some trauma from his youth, then William had to know about it. And had kept it from him. "You sure we aren't in your way?"
"Don't be silly, Jimmy," she replied with a shy smile which grew bigger when Jim leaned down and kissed her cheek. She was the closest person he'd ever had to a mother after his had left for parts unknown.
"And when those cookies are done, don't you dare climb those stairs to bring them to us. Just call, okay?"
"That nose of yours could always sniff out my secrets," she scoffed gently. "And those ears... I'll call, Jimmy."
"That's a great lady," Blair said as he followed Jim up the stairs.
"I know. Why she stays with the old man... Thank goodness I have other things to think about." Jim opened a door he'd never thought to open again, except maybe when cleaning out the house after his father's death. No. When he'd left that final time, he hadn't even considered that.
"Wow," Blair murmured as he pushed past Jim and into the room.
"Sort of eerie, huh?" Jim agreed. The room appeared as if time had stopped since he'd last been there. Everything was as he'd left it. From the posters on the walls to the vinyl 45's and albums next to the stereo.
"I think it's cool," Blair gushed. "You know, I would have sold my soul to have a room like this growing up."
"I may have, Chief," Jim replied softly. He walked to the bookcase and pulled out the three yearbooks.
"Uh, Jim, you weren't, by any chance, an overachiever, were you?" Blair asked as he stared at the rows of trophies, ribbons, and plaques all proclaiming James Ellison as the best in something.
Jim shrugged it off. "It kept the old man happy. Sometimes he'd parade his cronies through here so they could see for themselves how talented his son was."
Blair was having second thoughts about the room now. Maybe not having one wasn't so bad. "Surprised he let you put up posters and stuff then, man." Was this the reason for Jim's neatness, not to mention his intense privacy?
"Oh, he wanted to show that beneath my athletic prowess was just an average American teen. All part of the act, Chief." He flipped open one of the yearbooks. "Think I'll look at the basketball photos first. Maybe something will click."
Blair opened a closet. "Must have gotten rid of the clothes you left behind. Bummer. All the old fashions are back, you know."
"Not that old," Jim protested wryly.
"Hey, retro is retro, man. What's this?" He pulled out a blue and white leather jacket. "Oh, man! It's your letter jacket. I always wanted one of these. Just never stayed at a school long enough to get on a team." He slipped into the jacket and stood in front of the mirror. "Hi there," he said to his reflection as he posed. "I'm Jim Ellison, big man on campus."
"Maybe not on campus but definitely in this room, James Dean. So cool it," came an amused reply.
"You the man," Blair said laughingly. He went back to reading the awards. "What happened at the beginning of your sophomore year, Jim? You stage a rebellion?"
"What?" Jim looked up from the pictures. "What are you talking about, Sandburg?"
"There are no football awards here for that year, man. I mean I can trace your sports 'career' from Pee-Wee football and T-ball baseball to your senior year where you apparently excelled in everything Cascade had to offer. But there's nothing here dated the fall of 1977."
"That's not right. I'm sure-- Here's the yearbook for my sophomore year. See, I'm-- What the hell? I'm not... Damn. My picture isn't even in the class section." He looked at his partner in confusion, then someone tapped on the door. "Sally, I told you--" He swung open the door to reveal his father, awkwardly holding a tray with cookies and two glasses of punch.
"Sally told me to bring this to you." When Jim didn't move, Blair scooted in between the two men and took the tray. William glanced at the books spread out on the bed. "Something I can help you with maybe?"
"Sure, Dad," Jim said, waving out his arm to invite his father inside. "You can tell me what happened my sophomore year."
William swallowed hard and Jim heard his pulse spike. After all the worrying about finding the incident in question, it had been incredibly easy. Instead of a photo being the link, missing ones had been instead. "What do you mean, son?"
"I mean it seems as if my entire sophomore year has been erased."
"Not the entire year, Jim," Blair clarified. "You have some track awards from the spring semester."
"But nothing from the fall?"
Blue eyes pierced blue eyes. "What do you have to say about that, Dad? Why is the fall semester of my sophomore year at Cascade High a blank?"
William focused on the far wall."Because you didn't attend Cascade High that semester, Jimmy."
"What did I do instead?"
"You went to St. Bartholomew's Academy, a private school outside of Spokane." He said it defiantly as if he expected Jim to retaliate against the news.
But Jim was too confused to be angry. Suddenly, images flickered in his head and only Blair's quick guidance had him sitting on the bed instead of the floor as his knees gave way. "St. Bart's? St. Fart's... that's what we called it. An all boys boarding school. I didn't want to go but it wasn't that bad once I got there. Until...until...." He shuddered as an image solidified and mocked him with the knowledge that what he saw was true. Eyes full of self-damnation skittered around the room, seeking asylum, forgiveness, salvation. They found all that and more in the eyes that were anxiously watching him. "Until I...I killed a man, Blair."
Blair immediately sat on the bed beside his partner. "What do you mean, Jim?" There was no recrimination in his voice, no shock, not even any doubt. If Jim said he killed someone, he probably had. It had either been a tragic accident or the person had deserved to die. The one thing he knew for certain was that his friend would not kill indiscriminately. It just wasn't in him.
Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, Jim struggled to put the pictures in order and add words to them. "I was fifteen and looking forward to attending Cascade High. There were rumors that I would get to play varsity ball and I had already registered for classes right before graduating junior high. Then Dad told me I was going to St. Bart's instead. A friend of his was on the governing council at St. Bart's and he got me in. I was furious and I accused Dad of wanting to get rid of me. I mean, why else would he send me clear across the state? That was one of the few times I can remember Steven being on my side. But Dad said I had to obey him until I was eighteen so I was going. End of story. So I went.... I remember telling him that he'd better take advantage of the next three years because once I was legal, I was out of here and he'd never be able to tell me what to do again."
Blair glanced at William still standing in the doorway. The words had been eerily prophetic. Jim had left and it had taken the search for a lost memory to bring him back. Now another memory beckoned and once again, it led to this house and this man. Maybe Simon had been right. Simon. He fumbled for Jim's cell phone and made a quick call to the captain, updating him on time and place of the probable incident. Then he focused his complete attention on his partner who still showed signs of the former bitterness. "You said earlier it wasn't so bad after you got to St. Bart's," he prompted, moving Jim past his anger.
Jim shrugged. "I made a couple of friends, joined the basketball team which was already playing because they didn't have a football team. I remember some of the kids were younger. I think St. Bart's accepted twelve-year-olds and up. Anyway, I settled in a lot quicker than I expected to. It was comfortable being away from here. Then...." He frowned as a shaft of pain passed through his head.
A hand clasped his shoulder, kneading the taut muscles, sharing his warmth and essence. "It's okay, Jim. Just take your time. And know whatever you remember, I'm here. We can handle it together."
Jim closed his eyes and with the assurance that he was anchored firmly to his Guide, he allowed the memories to carry him away....
The day was one of those rare warm ones in late November. Most of the kids had left for Thanksgiving Break but the basketball team was playing in a tournament that weekend so they had stayed, as well as the kids who had no place to go on holidays. Some had parents who were out of the country, homes far across the country, or just weren't plain wanted. He wasn't sure in which category he fell. When he had called William and told him about the tournament, there had been no comment from the other end of the line.
Earlier in the day, he'd been practicing his free throws, determined not to miss one as he had in last week's game against Hartwell Christian Academy. But he had promised some of the younger kids to teach them how to play poker. It seemed that a couple of the seniors had been fleecing them for weeks and that just didn't seem fair to Jimmy. If he had his way, the guys were going to be seriously surprised when they returned after break.
The living quarters were upstairs in the big manor that served as the school. According to its history, a Southerner, after losing everything in the Civil War, had come to the Northwest, made a new fortune in timber, and rebuilt his large and imposing childhood home. Eventually his family died out and the house was given to the local church which started St. Bart's. The rooms were large so three sets of bunk beds could fit inside each one easily, not to mention a table "borrowed" from the teacher's lounge downstairs. So while the other team members continued practicing, he went upstairs to even the odds.
"Okay, you need to go for the big money early," he told them as the "poker clinic" closed for the day. "Eventually they are going to catch on that you now know what you're doing and then they're probably going to start cheating. So win back the money you had squirreled away for Christmas gifts and get out of the game as soon as you can. Understand?"
"Yeah, Jimmy. Thanks," Aaron Connor said, unofficial spokesman for the younger set. With a glance, he prompted the others to say their thanks too. The sophomore could have been another asshole like the rest of the older kids. Instead, he was an okay guy.
But Jimmy Ellison was no longer listening to what was going on in the room. His hearing had picked up something else, more distant, more urgent. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd heard but the sound had the hairs on the back of his neck standing straight up. "I need you guys to do me a favor," he said as he got up and walked over to the door.
"Sure," Aaron replied to his hero. Jimmy called out to the other three boys he sensed on the floor and once everyone was in the same room, he gave them their orders. "I want everyone to stay here and be quiet. Once I go out, push one of the bunkbeds in front of the door and don't move it unless you hear me, one of the teachers, or a policeman. Got it?"
"A policeman? What's going on?" Tucker Trent asked. He was a Junior with no place to go.
Jimmy shrugged worriedly. "I'm not sure. But I think there's something wrong downstairs."
"Wrong? No, man. It's just the teachers. It's a workday for them and sometimes the old geezers get a little rowdy," the veteran said. He'd been at St. Bart's since he'd been old enough to be there.
"No," Jimmy replied strongly and he focused ice blue eyes onto his friend. "Don't ask me how I know, but I know, Tucker. Just do as I ask, okay?"
Tucker paled as he read the fear in the eyes of the guy staring at him. A shiver crawled along his spine. Jimmy wasn't kidding around. "I'm the oldest. Maybe I should--"
"You stay here with the younger ones. I'll handle this." Jimmy slipped out of the door before there could be further argument. He paused and nodded in satisfaction as he heard the bed sliding across the floor.
Taking the backstairs, he wound up in the kitchen. Empty. He wasn't surprised; lunch had been the last official meal of the day. Box dinners were waiting to be passed out later. Next stop was the former ballroom/ now gym. He knew what awaited him even before he reached for the door. The scent of warm blood had swirled around him in the hallway, tickling his senses and spiking his pulse.
Youthful instinct warred with ancient. He was scared; his greatest wish was to run back up the stairs and hide behind the blocked doors with the others. But there was another need in him as well, a burning desire to know what had happened and cause it not to happen again. Ironically, the deciding factor turned out to be his father, controlling him even in his absence. If he had heard it once, he'd heard it a thousand times: Ellisons. Do. Not. Back. Down. He had no choice. He reached out for the metal handle of the door.
The stench of the blood now descended in full force, thickening the air, catching in his throat. His stomach couldn't handle it. He dropped to his knees and vomited, angry tears coursing down his face as he did so. He could hear his father taunting him, even Steven-- what a pathetic wuss, be a man, suck it up and do what you're supposed to do...
With a swipe of his hand, he wiped away spittle and snot as he forced himself to stand. For good measure he made another swipe, this time with his shirttail and he felt a bit better now that the evidence was gone. He gazed around the room and counted the bodies. He had to think of them as bodies, not as his friends. He couldn't remember that it was Dennis sprawled beneath the basket or Robert laying at the foul line. If he remembered, then he would float away and never return. He walked over to where Coach Wallace reclined on the home team bench. Coach had tried to help him, had told him that he needed more time to get used to the body he had now after a summer growth spurt. He hadn't believed him. "Sorry, coach," he murmured as he stared into the brown eyes which were unfocused and locked open in death. Narrowing his gaze, Jimmy saw that the wound in the center of Coach Wallace's chest...no, the body's...chest was perfectly round beyond the blood. A bullet hole. Gun. Why hadn't he heard the shooting?
He focused his hearing, trying to see if the massacre was still going on. That's what it was. A massacre. Like the ones he'd learned about in history class. Would this be called the Thanksgiving Massacre? No, the holiday was tomorrow. Had to be the Pre-Thanksgiving Massacre then. Or better yet, the St. Bart's Massacre. Had he really thought it would have been cool to live in the thirties with Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde and watch gangsters mow each other down? Dumb, Ellison, real dumb.
Instead of hearing gunfire, he heard thumping. A heartbeat? Someone was alive? He followed the sound to Robert. He was lying on his stomach, his head to one side. The side he could see had blood dribbling from the ear. The side he couldn't see was flat against the crimson floor. It wasn't possible for someone to lose that much blood and still be alive, was it? Blue eyes, much like his own, popped open.
"I'm here, Robert," he replied, going down on his knees so the boy could see him.
"Yeah, it's me. I'm going to get help, okay?"
The eyes fluttered closed, then opened again. "I'm cold, Jim...my."
Jimmy nodded and ran to the locker room, gathering as many towels as he could. But by the time he returned, Robert's gaze was as unseeing as the coach's. He heard a whimper and turned around to see if there was another survivor before realizing the sound was coming from him. He took a deep breath and clenched his jaw shut, making sure no other sounds could escape. Determined, he walked around the gym and placed a towel over each of the faces. He tried to remember something "churchy" to say but he could only think of that Bible verse every kid memorized because it was so short-- "Jesus wept." As he murmured it over his slain friends, he figured it was appropriate. If Jesus didn't cry over this, then he wasn't much of a religious man anyway.
After covering the seven bodies in the gym, he discovered he still had towels left. That was when it hit him there might be others. He had to go out and find them, had to make sure they were properly covered and prayed over, didn't he? There was no one else and he didn't want to think about them not getting into heaven because he wasn't man enough to do what he was supposed to do. Besides, he had to go to the office where the only telephone was. He had to tell someone, notify the police. Like on "Starsky and Hutch" and "Kojak".
He switched the towels to one arm and pushed through the gym door. His sneakered feet made no sound on the tiled hallway until he kicked something. A gun. With a silencer screwed onto the barrel. Just like on TV. If only. But he couldn't smell the acrid scent of the recently fired gun on television and he wouldn't need the towels on television.
He wondered if he should pick the gun up but decided against it. The only reason the killer would throw down the gun was because it was empty. Wouldn't want to mess up any fingerprints picking up an empty gun, he thought dully. He continued onward, following his nose to more blood. Dr. Johnson, the headmaster, lay just outside the office door and Jimmy blinked twice when he saw the man's chest rise and fall. He ran to his side. The man's eyes were closed and there was a big red, wet spot in the center of the pristine white shirt he always wore. Knife wound, Jimmy catalogued abstractly as he focused on the headmaster. He wasn't awake, and his lungs were making sounds they shouldn't, but nevertheless he was breathing and the teen was determined to keep him that way. First aid. Bleeding. How to stop... He balled up one of the towels and pressed it against the white shirt. Dr. Johnson groaned but didn't waken.
"I'll get help, sir," he whispered, taking the man's limp arms and placing them against the towel. "I'll get help."
He flung open the office door and stared at the scene within. Miss Hamlin, his English teacher was there. She was the only girl teacher he had and some of the older guys had made remarks about that: why would she want to teach at an all-boys school, she was really a sex fiend who like young boys, she liked to keep you after class so she could have her way with you.... He'd heard them all.
But Jimmy knew she was at St. Bart's because something had happened at the Spokane public school where she had originally worked. He'd overheard some of the other teachers talking about it, but he hadn't gotten the details. He just knew her father thought she would be better off at a private school and since he'd given so much money to St. Bart's, they could damn well give his daughter a job. The other instructors hadn't thought much of Miss Hamlin either.
But it wasn't another teacher who was stabbing Miss Hamlin. It was a stranger. Someone Jimmy had never seen or even smelled before. The man took the knife and poked it into Miss Hamlin and the knife was covered in red when he took it out again. "No!" he yelled and rushed the stranger as if he were on a football field. The two of them went down on the floor, Miss Hamlin slumping against a desk screaming hysterically.
"What do with have here, Judith? Another one of your young lovers?" the man asked as he pinned Jimmy to the floor. "How many of them are there, Judith? How many more do I have to kill before I know you'll be true to me?" He received no answer as she continued to scream.
He raised the knife to plunge it into Jimmy's chest, but the boy anticipated the movement and rolled away. He tried to scramble to his feet, but the knife sliced into his arm and it gave way. He kicked out as the man aimed again. He grinned as as he heard a "whompf" sound and the man dropped the knife, trying to catch his breath since Jimmy's foot had landed dead in the center of his stomach.
Jimmy made a grab for the knife at the same time the man recovered. The man was stronger and larger but Jimmy was far more scared. Adrenalin gave him the ability to struggle with the stranger over the knife. They rolled a couple of times and Jimmy vaguely recalled the man's head thumping against the metal leg of the desk. The man was stunned and the teenager took advantage of the moment to take control of the knife. He tried to back away, but the man followed, lunging at him. He closed his eyes and suddenly a weight fell against him. For a second he wondered if he was dead, but that didn't last long. He opened his eyes and found the stranger's staring into them. But his stare was as glassy as the coach's, so he shoved him away and saw the knife embedded in the center of his chest.
Before he could process that the man was dead, he had to cover his ears as Miss Hamlin's screams suddenly became louder to his ears, sounding less human and more like chalk screeching across a blackboard. He had to get away from her. He couldn't think with that noise.... He fumbled through the door to Dr. Johnson's private office and on the desk was the phone. It took him a few seconds to convince his finger to fit into the little hole marked 0 and turn the dial all the way around. There was silence, then one ring, two. Finally, a voice.
The operator didn't want to believe him. She thought the call was a prank and Jimmy had to drag the phone to the door and let her listen to Miss Hamlin scream before she said she would call the police for him. He then let the phone fall, reset his jaw, and retraced his steps through the nightmare. He stepped over the fallen stranger, told Miss Hamlin that everything was okay now and she could stop screaming, then went to sit by Dr. Johnson and lost himself in the still falling and rising chest.
"I don't know what happened after that, Chief," Jim said as his thoughts shifted to the present.
"The police came, still not convinced it wasn't a prank," William Ellison said from the doorway, startling his son and companion. Both had forgotten he was there. "They rang the doorbell to the school and it was opened by a kid covered in blood. He told them that there were seven dead in the gym and one in the office. That his headmaster and teacher had been stabbed and that there were nine kids locked in a room upstairs and that they had to identify themselves as police if they wanted them to open the door. Then he passed out from loss of blood."
William sighed and tugged on an ear. "You were unconscious for three days. When you woke up, you didn't remember anything. The doctors told me it may or may not come back to you, so I packed you up and brought you home. When the next semester came around, I enrolled you in Cascade High and you acted as if St. Bart's had never existed. I thought it was for the best, so I went along with it."
Jim rubbed at his gritty eyes and Blair handed him the long forgotten glass of punch. He sipped it, wincing when the juice burned his raw throat. Just how long had he been talking? "But what about the police? They didn't ask...I was never questioned."
"They thought you had been through enough," Simon answered as he powered past William, holding out a folder. "I got quite an earful when I asked about St. Bart's. Everyone remembers the case quite well, Jim," he said as the detective took the file. "The case was closed using the accounts of the survivors. No one wanted to traumatize you any further."
"Who was he?" Jim asked, too weak to do more than fan through the file.
"Judith Hamlin's fiance. He thought she was having an affair with someone at the school."
"So he killed a group of young boys...and I killed him," Jim said softly.
"Self-defense, defense of others.... Take your pick, Jim. You did what you had to do," Simon said forcefully, knowing what was going through Jim's head. The one emotion Jim never had trouble expressing was guilt. "Now, let's get out of here. I'm sure everything will be clearer once you get home." He flicked his eyes toward William as if to jab in the point that this was no longer home to his son.
William took the hint and left. At the foot of the stairs, Sally waited. "He remembers St. Bart's."
She nodded. "I am not surprised. What you called weakness was merely an emptiness in him. Now that the emptiness is filled, he is complete and can face his past."
His eyes flickered upstairs. "They made me feel unnecessary in my own home."
"You made yourself unnecessary, William, a long time ago," she pointed out bluntly. "They are a part of him now. They make him whole."
"Why them? Why can they do what I couldn't?"
"Because you lacked faith."
She shrugged. "I was weak. My strength was not sufficient. Neither was Steven's."
"He's strong, like his mother."
Sally made a rude noise. "She was weak too."
"She was strong enough to leave me."
"But too weak to take him with her," she countered. "She knew how it would be with you: Stevie you would mold and Jimmy you would break. Thankfully, she was only half-right."
"Will you ever tell him why you came to work for me? Why you are still here after all these years?"
Sally shrugged. "Maybe I'll make it my deathbed confession, or yours." Voices could be heard from the top of the stairs.
"You can keep the jacket if you want to, Chief. I think you've earned the letter."
"Thanks, man, but now we're going to have to get Simon one too, right, captain? He's on the team."
"Sandburg, we are not going to be running around wearing matching jackets. At least I'm not."
"Aw, Simon, you're no fun."
"This is definitely a discussion to table until we get home. Close the door behind me, Chief."
The three came down the stairs, Jim ignoring Sally's outstretched hands and taking the tray to the kitchen himself. He returned to find his friends fidgeting near the door while the other two stood at the stairs. "We're still on for dinner on your birthday, right, Sally?"
He smiled, then looked at the man beside her. "Well, Dad, our meeting was as enlightening as ever. Tell me, will we be having more of these encounters?"
"I thought we had both promised to try, Jimmy," William replied.
"I'm not talking about the occasional dinner. I'm asking are there more of these 'surprises' awaiting me?" Silence. "Guess I have my answer then. Come on, guys. We're out of here." He closed the door and didn't bother to look back.
"Doesn't matter," Blair said softly as he followed Jim to the truck. "Whatever else there is, we can handle."
"The kid's right, Jim," Simon agreed. "We can handle it as long as we know what's going on. Don't keep us in the dark, okay?"
Jim nodded. "I promise, Simon. And thanks for this." He held up the folder. "Seeing it in black and white helps."
"The sheriff was one of the deputies who took the call that afternoon, Jim, so he shared his impression of the incident with me. When you're ready to hear it, let me know." He opened the passenger door of the truck and ushered Jim inside. "Take care of your partner, Sandburg."
"You know it, Simon," Blair called merrily as he slid behind the wheel. "You know, I didn't realize it was so late. You wanna stop off for dinner somewhere?"
"Not particularly. But if you're hungry..."
"You need to eat, Jim. You haven't had anything since breakfast--"
"Yes, mommy," Jim interrupted smoothly and Blair was pleased to hear the underlying amusement in the reply. That meant Jim wasn't going all depressed on him.
"Tease me all you want, but it's Simon you should be jumping on," Blair pointed out as he headed toward the nearest Wonder Burger. Jim needed food, even if it was of dubious origins.
"Why's that, Chief?" Jim asked, grateful for the distraction.
"You really don't think he showed up just to bring you that report, do you? He could have called and told us what he'd discovered. Instead, he makes the drive to your father's house, which is in the totally opposite direction of where he lives. Why?"
"Because he doesn't like my father?"
"Why?" Blair prodded.
"Why should he?" Jim asked dryly. "Simon's a good father to Daryl. It's makes him angry to see someone who screwed up the job so badly."
"Wrong answer," Blair chortled triumphantly.
"Okay, I'll bite. What's the right answer, professor?"
"William challenges Simon's territory, Jim."
"Uh oh. I think we're in the Sandburg Zone again," Jim said, rolling his eyes.
"Think about it, Jim. Simon has paternal feelings for us at times."
"For you," Jim corrected.
"For both of us. Who threatens us when we don't want to go to the hospital? Who praises us when we do something good? Who do I go to for back up when you won't listen to my mothering? Who makes you toe the line when you misbehave? He's the father we both should have had, Jim."
His partner shook his head slowly and laughed. "We're starting to sound like a Southern joke, Chief. Everybody is starting to be everything to each other. Brother, mother, father..."
"Except Simon, Jim. I don't think we've ever mothered him." He focused his attention on making a drive-thru order, then continued. "Poor guy probably thinks he's unloved. We'll have to do something to rectify that, Jim."
"Oh, definitely, Chief."
By the time they got through making plans for Simon, Jim had eaten and the headache had retreated to just a dull throb. He paused at the foot of the stairs as he prepared for bed. "Thanks."
"Keeping my mind off myself."
Blair shrugged. "That's what friends are for."
Jim smiled. "Yeah, I'm starting to realize that. Good night, Chief."
"Good night, Jim."
Blair wasn't sure what woke him up, but he sat up awkwardly, looking around his dark bedroom anxiously. "Jim?" he whispered, trying to identify the cause of his sudden wakefulness.
"Go back to sleep, Chief," a voice called from the living room. "I didn't mean to wake you."
The suggestion, of course, was quickly ignored. He had hoped that Jim would sleep through the night, allowing them to face his demons in the bright light of day. But Jim's demons were slick, knowing just when to strike to cause the most damage. Blair grabbed a robe, then a blanket as he realized how cold the night had gotten. "I don't think you woke me, Jim. Well, not directly anyway." The lamp by the sofa flicked on. "Thanks, man. No Sentinel sight here." He plopped on the opposite end of the sofa from his friend, plumped up a pillow, and tucked the blanket around himself. "Okay, I'm settled. You can cut the light."
Jim rolled his eyes at all the preparations, then did as told. "Just because I can't sleep doesn't mean you have to sit up with me."
"Sure, it does. That's what friends--"
"Are for," Jim completed. "I think you're making up the rules as you go along, Sandburg. I've had friends before--"
"But, as the genie sang in Aladdin, 'You've Never Had A Friend Like Me.'"
"Ain't that the truth," Jim said emphatically. He sighed and leaned back against the sofa, glad for the darkness. "For years I've watched kids come and go at the station, Chief, and I've wondered how they could do the things they've done. Now, I find out I'm one of them. I killed a man when I was fifteen and I'm not sure which bothers me more-- that I did it or that I forgot about it."
"You didn't just kill a man, Jim. You stopped a murderer. He'd killed your friends and was stabbing your teacher. You had to do it," Blair said reasonably.
"Did I? Why? I wasn't a cop. I wasn't a soldier. I was just a boy who should have hid with the others."
"Maybe you weren't a cop or a soldier, but you were a Sentinel, Jim. There was a predator attacking the tribe. You defended it the only way you could."
"Then if it was such a part of me, why did I forget it? Am I that weak?"
"Repression is a defense mechanism. That these memories are resurfacing on their own means that you now recognize your own strength."
"But I didn't before?"
"I hate to sound like Simon but I think your dad had a lot to do with it. He insisted that you repress your Sentinel abilities and thus you repressed any memories that were associated with them."
"And now that I'm comfortable with being a Sentinel..."
"The memories are returning." Blair jumped up from the comfortable cocoon he'd built for himself. "Man, we've been looking at this the wrong way from the very beginning! I'm not teaching you to control your senses, Jim; I'm teaching you not to control them."
"Am I supposed to be following this, Sandburg?" Jim asked wryly. "And if you're going to pace, let me turn on the light before you kill yourself."
Blair sat back down. "I'm good, Jim. I just got that 'Eureka!' feeling, you know? Everything is so clear now. I suppose I won't have to redo my dissertation because the "Guide" part was quite brief, even though if someone uses my research one day when he or she finds a Sentinel.... I could add it in the end somewhere, maybe an addendum.... Of course, I'll note it in my personal journal and that will be available to any Guides who come calling. You know, I think you should probably start keeping a journal too, Jim. Your insights could be important to Sentinels, possibly your own descendants. But you'd have to write a lot more legibly than you do your case notes. The only reason I can read them is because I've had some really terrible stu--""
"You're scaring me, Chief," Jim warned nervously.
"The thing about a journal?"
"No, whatever started this whole discussion. You haven't gotten around to explaining yet and now you're babbling. That usually doesn't bode well."
Blair took a couple of seconds to recall his words. Jim was right; he hadn't explained yet. "Sorry. It's just that this doesn't happen often...this clarity of thought." He looked at his partner, knowing Jim could see the bright excitement in his eyes although the room was dark. "You were born a Sentinel, Jim. You had to learn how not to be one. Like any normal human baby--" Blair didn't need light to detect the scathing gaze raking his body. "Aw, Jim, you know I don't mean you weren't normal, or human, for that matter. I'm just saying that all babies are born with certain instincts, reflexes, which help them cope with their new environment. You had these instincts too. Think about it. You didn't have a Guide back then to help you adjust your hearing when the other babies in the hospital started crying or coach your tastebuds in switching from formula to solid foods. You did these things without help, Jim, because it was instinctive, innate.
"But as you grew older, you learned not to rely on instinct. Your father, and society in general, taught you that what was instinctive for you was not proper. Your reactions were abnormal. Something was wrong with you. So you learned to hide what you were. You learned to control what you sensed in order to appear 'normal'. You didn't hear anything until someone else heard it first. You didn't see anything until someone else reacted. Your senses of taste, smell, touch were carefully regulated in order to blend in with those surrounding you. You conformed," Blair concluded distastefully.
"I survived," Jim challenged.
Blair shrugged. "That may be true. Who know what would have happened if you hadn't suppressed your Sentinel talents. Maybe Bud's killer would have come after you and killed you at the young age of ten. But that's not the point. Because you did suppress them and your control became so complete, that even you forgot about what it was you were controlling. On occasion, something would happen...you would become frightened maybe, and instinct would take over. At those times, your senses flared to full strength. You saw Bud's murderer. You heard whatever it was that alerted you to what was happening at St. Bart's...."
"Fear-based responses," Jim muttered. "Just like you wrote in your paper."
"Yes," Blair replied, refusing to apologize for that again.
Jim sighed. "Okay, I'm following you so far. This fits perfectly with what happened in Peru. I crashed. I felt fear. My senses took over."
"Exactly," Blair nearly shouted. "And when the Chopec treated them as normal, you didn't bother to take the effort to hide them again. Not until the Army found you."
"But why did they come back when I was on the stakeout?"
"Suppression requires effort and energy, Jim. Now, picture yourself that night. You were exhausted from the long hours spent on the case. Perhaps you heard a sound or saw a shape that startled you for a second and your senses kicked in. You were alone so no one was there to catch you when you 'slipped', except you. Tired, you half-heartedly tamped the lid back onto your talents. So they re-emerged again and again. Why you couldn't maintain total control anymore had to do with your psychological status at that time, I think. You were more alone than you'd ever been before. You didn't have your family to answer to. You didn't have the Army monitoring your every move and thought. You didn't even have a wife to keep up a front for. The need for your 'fraud' seemed less necessary."
"So why didn't I just say, fuck it, and let my Sentinel skills have full rein?"
"Because bad habits are hard to break, man. From the time you were a kid, you had been holding back. Letting go was something that would have to be accomplished in steps, like quitting smoking. But you tried doing it cold turkey and had a bad reaction."
"Then I found you-- my very own 'patch'," Jim said jokingly, referring to the products that helped smokers kick the habit.
"Ah, now you're getting the picture, Jim," Blair praised enthusiastically. "You're letting me gradually phase you back into your true self." There was a long silence and he wished he had let Jim turn on the lamp, just so he could have some idea of what was going through his friend's head.
"I don't like it, Chief," Jim finally said.
"My theory? It probably needs work, but what do you expect in the middle of the ni--"
"Not your theory-- me. I don't like that my entire life has been a facade, a false face. I hate lies and I've been the biggest liar of all," he said dejectedly.
"You were defending yourself, Jim. You know how in World War II, people had artists paint over masterpieces so the Nazis wouldn't get them? That's what you did, big guy. You painted over yourself, becoming just another ordinary painting in a world of ordinary paintings. But now, whatever it was that you perceived to be a threat has passed, and that top coat of paint is starting to come off." He smiled. "If you want, you can call me your restorer. I'm here, with paint thinner in hand, gently wiping away that which has been hiding your true colors."
Jim nodded, the imagery so accurate. Blair had made him shine and brought out colors in him that he never knew he had. But.... "Every morning for the past thirty-odd years, I have looked into the mirror and saw this picture, Chief. Since I met you, I've noticed a hint of something over here, a new curlicue over there. But I thought you were adding, not taking away."
"I'm doing both, Jim," he said solemnly. "I know it's scary, finding out what you thought was a mere wall decoration is really a prized masterpiece. And I know that you hate it when large parts of the canvas are stripped away by persistent memories like the one you had today. But the brilliant colors that are revealed, Jim.... They are worth it, man. I can only see parts of the whole and I already know that whatever the price it costs to hang onto you, man, I am willing to pay."
"Thank you," came the hushed reply.
"Friends are for?" Jim hazarded.
Blair huffed impatiently. "That's not what I was going to say, smartass."
"No. What I was going to say, big guy, was that this is what best friends are for," Blair scolded lightly.
A hand gently tousled curls in the dark. "Yeah, Chief. You're right. Best friends."
"How you doing?" Blair asked as he and his partner stared at the large white mansion that had been and still was St. Bartholomew's Academy. When Jim had talked to Simon, the captain had told him that not only was the academy still open, but that he had a standing invitation to visit if he ever remembered. Well, he had and here they were. Of course, it really hadn't been that simple. The need to get out of Cascade had been very real after they had 'mothered' Simon at the office. Jim had warned him that maybe the disposable diapers were a bit over the top....
"Very little has changed," Jim said softly. "The details are all coming back to me. I think it was a good idea to come here, Chief."
"Then maybe it would be a good idea to get out of the truck?" Blair teased, surprised to find himself slightly stiff after the long drive. Getting old, my man.
"Just giving the paint thinner time to dry," Jim observed before opening his door. They were greeted with curious stares and a few hesitant hellos as they passed through a throng of boys playing on the front lawn. An awkward moment was avoided as they neared the entrance and a young man walked out, holding the door open politely for them. Then Jim was inside, unaware he was holding his breath until Blair poked him in the side.
"Take it all in, man, then pull back until you're comfortable," he advised. "You know what happened here. It no longer has any power over you."
Jim squeezed his shoulder gratefully, looking up as he heard approaching footsteps. "Jimmy Ellison?" a white-haired gentleman asked, holding out his hand.
Same white shirt, Jim thought silently. "Yes, sir. Dr. Johnson, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is the headmaster of St. Bart's."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Blair said politely, surprised by the older man's grip. No wonder the boys were so well-behaved.
Dr. Johnson looked at Jim. "I wasn't surprised to find out you'd become a cop, Mr. Ellison. Your protective instincts were always strong." Jim felt his partner nudge him smugly. "I think all the younger boys were just as upset about you leaving as they were about the murders."
"I'll second that," another voice said, joining them in the vast foyer. "Hi, Jimmy. You probably don't recognize me. I had a bit more hair back then," the man added, grinning as he pointed to his receding hairline.
The grin did it for Jim. "Aaron Connor," he said and allowed himself to be pulled into an enthusiastic hug.
"Oh, man, it's good to see you, Jimmy," Aaron said, staring intently. "For a while there, I wondered if you were real, or just some mystical figure that had blinked into St. Bart's to help me and the others before blinking out again."
"I was real, Aaron, then and now," Jim said, embarrassed by the admission. "So, did you win your money back?"
"Did I win my money back? That and more. In fact, the confidence I gained from the experience gave me courage in my future endeavors. To make a long story short, I gambled with the computer age, won enough to retire at thirty, then decided to come back here and share my knowledge with St. Bart's. I'm the computer science teacher," he said proudly.
"I'm glad everything worked out so well for you," Jim said, pleased at his friend's success.
Aaron smiled. "Couldn't have done it without you. Come here," he said, motioning for them to follow him into his office. "I want to show you something and I hope it doesn't weird you out or anything." He pointed to a table just beyond his desk. On it were three frames, a plaque mounted on wood, and a thick photo album.
Jim recognized the picture in one of the frames immediately. It was the shot of him that had graced the cover of Metropolitan News Magazine upon his 'rescue' from Peru. Focusing his sight, he saw that the other two frames held certificates. "The mayor issued you a citation for what all you went through and St. Bart's not only got you a plaque but you were also given an honorary degree," Aaron explained, not knowing Jim was close enough to read the details. ""When your father was contacted about the items, he said he didn't want them so the school put them in the vault. When I came back here to work, I requested them to add to the rest of my collection."
Aaron nodded. "The magazine and this." He handed Jim the album.
Jim flipped it open, somehow not surprised to see the clippings cataloging his life. His father had almost an exact duplicate. But whereas William's album left him feeling sad, Aaron's collection made him feel honored. "I'm sorry it took me so long...."
"It's okay, Jimmy. I don't know if my mind would have ever returned at all if I had seen what you did."
"You didn't see it, did you?" Jim asked anxiously.
"No. The first thing we knew of anything was when the police came knocking on the door to our room." He smiled. "He was mightily ticked that we wouldn't move the beds out of the way until he slid his badge beneath the door. But when you give an order, Jimmy...." Another smile and Blair got a sudden flash of a young Sentinel telling his tribe exactly what they should do, his tone demanding total obedience. He shivered as Aaron continued.
"Then we were escorted out the back and to the Old Coventry Inn about a mile from here. By the time we returned to St. Bart's, everything had been cleaned up or locked up."
Aaron shared a glance with Dr. Johnson. "Parts of the flooring had to be replaced and it was a while before anyone felt comfortable in there," he explained as they headed back out to the main corridor.
A few steps had them in front of Dr. Johnson's office and Jim couldn't help but look at the tile where the headmaster had been when he found him. "Wonder how I can walk by here every day?" Dr. Johnson asked, noting Jim's focus. "I think of it as the place of my rebirth and suddenly, it's not so scary. I could have died here, Mr. Ellison, but thanks to you, I didn't. My wife lays a rose on that spot every year on the anniversary. I have never tried to stop her."
"Miss Hamlin?" The police report had told him she had survived but that was all.
"Married the sheriff and is the mother of three," Dr. Johnson explained. "I'm trying to convince her to send her boys to St. Bart's."
"But she doesn't want them boarding here," Aaron said quickly. "Which is why I'm trying to convince the governing council to have day students as well as boarders. With the dissatisfaction the average American has with the public education system, this is the perfect time for St. Bart's to expand. I've talked to the surrounding communities and--"
"And you can see how he made all his millions," Dr. Johnson interrupted with a stern but fond glance at his former student. "Actually, Mr. Connor hasn't waited for the governing council's decision. He's already....Well, you'll see." They continued down the hall.
Jim stopped in front of a set of double doors and Blair didn't need to see the faded word 'Gymnasium' stenciled onto the wood to know what waited beyond. He motioned for the other two in their party to move back and let his partner have some privacy as he entered. He then stayed at the door as Jim moved around the basketball court, stopping in some places, slowing in others.
"I can tell which floorboards they changed, Chief. But other than that, the place is the same."
"And how does it make you feel?"
Jim shrugged. "Sad. Incredibly sad. Let's get out here," he said, with false heartiness. Blair gave a quick nod and followed him out.
"Still a bit much, isn't it?" Aaron observed, seeing the paleness of the two exiting men. "Well, this should cheer you up." He led them outside to where a huge building had been recently erected. "We should be ready to go into her in a couple of months," he said, grinning at the structure. "It was designed by one of the alums here and started off just being a gym, but I figured while we were building we should add some more classroom space and then someone suggested a swimming pool because, you know, a lot of the other private schools around here have swim teams. I thought that could be a draw for when we solicit day students."
"As I said earlier, Mr. Connor hasn't been content to wait on the council's opinion. He took it upon himself to force their hand, I think," Dr. Johnson said dryly.
"Well, it's my money," Aaron said defensively. "And some others'. But they agreed with me."
"This is very nice, Aaron," Jim said quickly, hearing the beginning of what sounded like a favorite argument.
"Oh, it gets better," he said impishly and nearly skipped up to the front of the building.
"He's so enthusiastic," Blair whispered and Jim looked at him in amazement.
"Yeah, he reminds me of someone I know," he said dryly.
Jim just shook his head. "You wouldn't know him, Chief." They walked up to where Aaron was waiting and Jim could feel excitement emanating from the man...and Dr. Johnson as well.
"Your remembering now, Jimmy, seems like an omen-- a good one, that is. Hell, I guess we could even call it a blessing."
"Watch your language, Mr. Connor," Dr. Johnson chided.
"Sorry, sir." He rolled his eyes in Jim's direction as if to say 'nothing ever changes around here'. "Anyway, hope you like it." He pulled blue plastic off the side of the building, revealing its name: THE JAMES JOSEPH ELLISON CENTER. Below it was a bronze plaque which said: Also Dedicated to the Seven St. Bartholomew Men Who Gave Their Lives in Defense of the School. Listed below were the names of those who had been murdered.
Jim just stared at the name of the building for the longest time and Blair worried he had zoned. But then he moved, reaching out and tracing the names of the dead with his sensitive fingers. Blair stepped closer, laying his hand on Jim's back. "It's too much, Aaron," Jim finally said, strengthened by his partner's contact. His voice was clogged with emotion.
Aaron had to clear his own voice before he explained. "All the investors sat down and had a meeting about the name. We wanted it dedicated to those who had died, but we couldn't just choose one of their names and not the others. Somebody said we should use Coach Wallace's name, but that just didn't seem fair because the others were just as important and just as dead. We argued for over an hour and finally, Tucker Trent-- remember him, Jimmy-- well, Tucker says if it hadn't been for Jimmy Ellison, every one of our names would be up there and we wouldn't be having such an asinine argument. Just like that, we knew the building had a name."
"I...." Jim began.
"Don't say you don't deserve it," Aaron warned. "Although the people around here tried to keep the gory details from us, they forgot the Old Coventry Inn had televisions in the rooms. And later, we found the newspaper reports. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that that madman would have come up the stairs and killed the rest of Miss Hamlin's supposed lovers if it hadn't been for you, Jimmy. Naming a building for you seems kind of lame in comparison."
"I agree with Aaron and the others," Dr. Johnson chimed in softly. "Naming this building after you gives us a sense of doing something, of repaying you in some small way although we know it's a debt that can't truly be repaid. It eases our...our guilt."
Guilt. The magic word. Something Jim could relate to. "Thank you," he said weakly.
"Excellent. So you'll be here for the dedication, right? It's not going to be anything formal, just a kind of reunion of sorts with...."
Aaron talked on, but Blair could see Jim was barely listening, overwhelmed with memories and emotions and maybe a sense of peace he hadn't had since the memories returned. But it was okay. His Guide was listening and he'd have him back for the dedication and the reunion with long-lost friends...even if it took another trip to the store for Pampers.
Laughing silently, he knew he wouldn't have to threaten Simon to get Jim the time off he needed to come back here. He could even probably talk Simon into coming with them. It never hurt to let the boss know just how valuable one of his workers was.... Nah. Simon already knew. He'd just be along to support Jim.
Just as he was. Just as he always would be. Blair clasped his friend's back, joining him as they walked into a masterpiece of a building named for a masterpiece of a man.