Beta Read by: Gina Jones and Wolf
Written for PetFly by: Harold Apter
Blair Sandburg drove through the rain-slicked streets of Cascade, the
pelting rain beat down on his car. The Volvos windshield wipers whooshed as they
struggled to keep up with the onslaught and he turned on the radio to fill the silence of
<Its five minutes past the witching hour. Its spooky time.>
Youre not kidding, buddy, mumbled Blair under his breath. Were definitely beating the competition for the title of Its a dark and stormy night. Blair squinted his eyes to see past the rain to the street beyond.
The steering wheel suddenly jerked under his hands, and he could hear the motor sputtering. He turned a corner to get on a side street before the engine died. He tried several times to start it again, but the engine failed to fire up. What the hell is wrong this time? Im going to kill my mechanic if something wasnt fixed right.
<So, what do you think about being alone in the dark?>
Blair looked around at the empty streets and swallowed being alone really sucked. Headlights speared into his rearview mirror, and Blair blinked his watering eyes. He was ready to get out of the Volvo when three young men exited the car and he changed his mind, there was just too many times his trusting nature got him into trouble.
<Aliens from another planet come to beam you up to the mother ship? A tall hooded guy with a sickle? A face in a darkened window?>
No, man. Its three guys in the middle of nowhere. I would take aliens any day. Blair watched the men approach his car.
<Thats what scares me, man. But tonight, what Im really interested in hearing about is what scares the hell out of you. On line 17, Ive got >
Blair jumped when something hit the top of his trunk. Getting on the line is a good idea. Blair picked up his cell phone and punched speed-dial two for the Cascade Police Dispatch. This is Blair Sandburg. I think theres a 604 in progress.
Blair nearly dropped his cell phone when a young Asian face appeared in his window. Trouble was here, and he would have to deal with it until help could get to him. He knew the dispatcher would call Jim.
Need some help? The young man shouted through the window while knocking on it.
Blair raised his phone. I dont need any help. I already have some on the way. Blair knocked his elbow against his lock to trigger it. There was no way he wanted company in the car with him.
Come on and get out of the car. I said I would help you, continued the young man. He tried to pull the drivers-side door open.
Im fine, man, Blair yelled from his seat. He hoped the patrol assigned to the area were on its way. Blair jumped when a fist hit the window beside his face.
Get out of the car, man. Im not telling you again. The youths face was scrunched up in anger.
Blair jerked away from his door and franticly twisted his key in the ignition. These guys were not giving up. The pounding rhythm on his car was pushing his adrenaline up further and further.
I aint playing anymore, the leader of the gang called out. Lets go. Get him out of the car! Get out of the car! He pulled back from the car.
Blairs engine finally caught, and he cheered silently. Those cheers died when the muzzle of a gun was aimed at his window. He stomped down on his accelerator, and the car shot forward.
Blair steered the Volvo down the street, and he cringed when the retort of a handgun split the air. His back window shattered inward, and he was pelted by shards of glass. Blair screamed into the air, hoping dispatch was still on the line, Shots fired at Lincoln and First! I need help here!
Blair was concentrating on guiding his car when he felt the back end spin out of control. The smell of rubber burned his sinuses. A large wooden fence loomed in his vision, and he brought his hands up to protect his face when he impacted.
Blair groggily raised his head from his steering wheel and took stock of his body. He felt a line of wetness trailing down his left check. His torso felt bruised from its meeting with the steering wheel and a sharp pain shot through his right knee. Approaching shouts galvanized him into action. He pushed his door open and stepped out ignoring the pain.
Blair looked behind him towards the street and saw the men were chasing after him. Another flying bullet sent him behind the fence and against an abandoned building. He edged around the broken wood of a door and sought sanctuary in the building
Hey, yo! Forget about him. We got the car, the gang leader called to his cronies.
Blair heard the voice and winced as he slowed down. He would be safe for now. He just had to wait for the cavalry to arrive. Blair limped deeper into the building. The walls were covered with graffiti and only moonlight from broken windows illuminated the hallway.
A wave of dizziness swept over Blair and he stumbled against a mound on the floor upsetting his careful balance and sending him to the floor. He raised himself to his hands and knees and looked back. A tan trench coat shifted and the man wearing it turned onto his back. Blair gasped and scrambled backward to staunch the blood he could see bubbling from a gut wound. Oh, God. Oh, my God. Hang in there. Help is on the way.
A man standing in the shadows watched the longhaired young man leaning over the bleeding man. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were covered in blood like the young mans. The knife he held there shone dully, and he quickly stuffed it into his pocket. He couldnt do anything else.
Jim savagely turned his wheel as he neared the last place Blair had been
after he had called for help. Three units and Simon were on their way as well. Jim just
didnt understand how Blair always seemed to get himself into trouble.
Jim heard sirens drawing nearer and frantic voices filled his ears.
<Lets go, guys! Come on, we need to get out of here!>
You wont get far, punks, Jim whispered under his breath. Mess with my guide and you mess with me. Jim felt his truck start to tilt as he rounded the corner and fought the wheel to stay upright.
Jim parked his truck behind Blairs Volvo and another vehicle. Police cars pulled up behind him, and he jumped from the truck with his weapon drawn. Cascade Police. Stop right where you are!
Blair kept a steady pressure on the wounded mans abdomen. The blood
had stopped flowing, and his eyes had gone glassy in the first stages of death. Blair
didnt notice this as he was staring off into nowhere, waiting for Jim to come and
get him. A hand came down onto his shoulder.
Jim felt the shoulder underneath his hand jump. Blair was leaning over a dead man. Jim kneeled beside his partner. Hey, Chief. I think you can let go now.
Blair blinked against dry eyes and looked over at Jim. Hes bleeding pretty bad, Jim. Are the paramedics with you?
Jim could see Blairs eyes were unfocused. Between that and the gash on his forehead, Jim figured Blair once again had a concussion. Jim pulled Blair away from the body. Come on, buddy. Lets leave this guy to the professionals and get you checked out.
Blair followed the gentle hands that guided him up. Standing up, another wave of vertigo swept through him. He staggered but felt the sturdy hands of his friend catch him. Im all right, Jim. I just have to find my balance.
Jim guided Blair back through the building and outside to where the paramedics had pulled up. He handed Blair off to one of the medics while he pulled the other one aside. Theres a dead body upstairs. Sandburg was trying to stop the bleeding of a stomach wound, but it looked like it was too late.
Thanks, Detective Ellison. Well take care of your partner then take care of the victim.
Thanks. Jim headed back to his partner. Whats the verdict so far, Ken?
Ken, the paramedic, looked up from where he was bandaging Blairs knee. He has a slight concussion, a bruised torso, and his knee is sprained. Overall, he will need bed rest, but Ill release him into your care. You know what to look for.
Simon pulled up in front of the row of abandoned buildings. The streets
were alive with lights and police personnel. Seeing his men at work, he made the circuits
among them and gathered information. He finished and went to where Jim was sitting with
Blair at Jims truck.
Simon saw a flash of white on Blairs forehead and as he drew nearer, noticed that it was a bandage. He winced at the bruising already spreading from underneath it. Jim, he called. Whats going on here?
Jim straightened up when Simon approached. Captain. It looks like several members of a gang tried to steal Blairs car. When Blair fled, he came across a wounded man who was dying. I got here and apprehended the gang members and found Blair still trying to help the man.
Blair vaguely heard voices and drifted while they spoke. The last statement brought him slightly back. He wouldnt stop bleeding for the longest time.
Simon looked from Blair to Jim. Why dont you take Sandburg home, and I will make sure that any evidence gets passed along to you. It looks like the gang didnt know the man was in the building and there was no blood on them. They only had guns and no knives.
Jim looked back at Blair and saw he was ready to drop. His eyelids were drooping, and he looked half asleep. Ill do that Captain.
Jim looked past the scene in front of him and focused in on the building. Let me know if an I.D. comes in on the body. I know Blair would like to know who he was. While speaking, Jim saw a shadow move in a second floor apartment. A figure was shadowed against a curtain further into the room.
Blair pulled himself out of his funk as Jims gaze focused on the building he had found the guy in. The guide put his hand on Jims arm before he could over extend his senses. Do you see something, Jim?
Jim felt the warm hand through his jacket and turned to his boss and his friend. I saw something in one of the second-floor apartment units.
Simon led the way into the apartment building with his gun out and pointed
ahead. There was no way the person who killed the man would have a chance to do so again.
Jim followed him a step behind with Sandburg clinging to the sentinels back. The kid
was still a little unsteady, but he had insisted on backing his partner up.
The police captain eased open the apartment door where Jim had seen the movement. Jim shouldered him aside, and Simon found himself steadying Blair as he lost his support.
Jim stepped toward the bead curtain where he had seen the movement. There was nothing there. He turned to Simon. I saw somebody go into this store room.
Simon stepped through the curtain and approached a door on the back wall. Maybe they went through this service door. Simon tried the door but found it locked. Taking out his walkie-talkie to be on the safe side he asked, This is Banks. I need to know if any civilians have left the building.
No, sir, no one has left the building, and you are the only ones who have gone in.
Simon turned back to Jim after the confirmation. Its late, Jim. Your best friend nearly got killed. Stress can play tricks on the mind.
Jim stood ramrod straight and glared at his superior officer. I am not stressed, sir. I saw someone here.
Simon put his hands on his hips and looked to Sandburg for support. The anthropologist just shrugged. All right. What did this someone look like?
Jim sighed. I didnt really see a face. It was a slim figure that could only be a woman. Jim shivered as a cold wind caressed his body. Is it cold in here?
Blair let himself become aware of the temperature of the room. It feels warm enough to me, Jim. Are you feeling okay?
Simon put his hand on Jims shoulder. Listen, Jim. Why dont you take yourself and your partner home? Sandburg could do with some rest, and it looks like you do as well. Heck, half the squad is down with the flu. You could be coming down with it, too.
Jim stated firmly, Im not sick. Im doing just fine.
Simon could have sworn he heard a pout in his best detectives voice. Will you just take a day off tomorrow? All Ill need is your report on my desk by the end of the day. Use the day to take care of your partner. Simon pulled a cigar from his cigar box and stuck it in his mouth. He left the pair and headed out of the room.
Blair glanced back at Jim after watching Simon leave. There was a glassy look in the sentinels eyes, and his nostrils were flaring. Blair took a sniff of the air. What is it? What do you smell, Jim?
Jim found his gaze locked on the storage room again. A figure was molding itself from the weak light filtering in. A scent from the direction had invaded his nose. Sweet, like honey. Its over here at the curtains. It smells old, like its been here for a while. Jim reached out towards the shadow. Dont you see her?
Blair squinted his eyes towards the curtain but couldnt make anything out. He did feel a cool breeze against his face. It felt good against the cut and bruise on his forehead. I dont see anything, Jim. I wonder why only you can see it?
Jim watched as the figure faded back into darkness. I dont know, Chief, but its gone. He turned to his ailing partner and took his arm. Lets get you home and rested up. We have a lot of work ahead of us on this case.
Blair let his friend lead him out and home. If Blair knew his partner, he would be up and out in the morning, despite Simons suggestion of staying home. Blair would have to be ready as well. There was no way he was letting Jim handle this alone.
When Simon walked into the bullpen later that morning, he groaned. It
seemed that Jim had been stubborn and come in against orders. I thought I told you
to take the morning off, Detective?
Jim raised his stuffed up head from his computer and glared at his boss. Im just having an allergy attack. Im good enough to work.
Simon stopped by Rhondas desk and pulled a bottle from a box by the desk. Yeah, right. Whenever you decide to stop being stubborn, health services sent a case of cough medicine over. Simon threw the bottle at Jim.
Jim caught the bottle and looked at its label. Captain, if you recall, the last time I took this
I know damn well what happened the last time you took this. You wont have to worry about it this time because you will be at home. So, I suggest you clear out of here and make use of your sick days. Simon looked up when Joel Taggart entered the bullpen. Now, if youll excuse us working stiffs... He motioned Taggart to follow him to his office for a meeting.
Blair peeked around the corner to make sure Simon had left. He had heard his voice a few minutes before, and he didnt want to get caught. He limped his way to Jims desk and saw what Jim was holding. I hope you have no intention of drinking that poison?
Jim looked up. Blair was standing in front of his desk. I thought I told you to stay home, Sandburg. You were told to keep the weight off your knee.
Blair hopped around the desk and slumped down in his seat there. Knowing Jim would be mad, but doing it anyway, he propped his leg up on the corner of the desk. There. My leg is up, and I am resting. Blair dug into his pocket and threw a packet onto Jims desk. Now, get rid of that stuff and try this instead.
Jim eyed the packet warily. He tossed the bottle into his trashcan. I wasnt going to use it anyway. He picked up what Blair brought in. Whats this? Something the Hakowi Indians swear by?
Blair smiled. Genjaka actually. You should give this stuff a try. I head to search high and low for the ingredients.
The sentinel brought the medical aid to his nose and took a sniff, Whoo!
Blair batted Jims hand down. You dont snort it. Stick it underneath your tongue and let it dissolve.
Jim carefully placed a small piece under his tongue. A bitter taste spread through his mouth. Speaking around the aftertaste, he muttered, Feel like a million bucks.
Jims face puckered up, and Blair could sympathize. The same medicine had been forced on him when younger, and it had worked wonderfully. I know it tastes bad but give it a chance. Itll work, I promise.
Jim took a drink of his coffee to wash down the remnants of the plants. The taste was still there, but it had diminished. Thanks, Chief. And if this works, Ill thank you later.
Now that I got you to deal with this allergy attack, we have to deal with what happened last night. You cant ignore what you saw last night, man.
Jim leaned back in his chair. Come on. Im sure there is a logical explanation
Simon was probably right about last night. I was coming down with a nasty bug, and it fried my senses.
Blair lowered his leg from the desk and leaned closer to Jim. And if there isnt?
Jim stood up from his chair and loomed over Blair. I have had about as much as I can handle with this sentinel stuff. Im on shaky ground here a little bit you follow me? What am I supposed to do? Encounter a ghost every time I work a homicide?
Blair had found himself slowly backing up from Jims tirade. His back was beginning to hurt from the pressure from the back of the chair. Their discussion was becoming too similar to those spoken after his drowning. You cant just shut the door after its opened, Jim.
Jim backed off, but this was the last conversation he wanted to have. Where are you going with this?
The experience you had last night, its all classic textbook; the intense cold, the sweet smell, the shimmering light. If there are actually ghosts, you may have seen one. Blair took a deep breath but was interrupted by Simon, who had come back with Joel.
A ghost, Sandburg? Now I think youre getting sick. Simon had a wide grin on his face. He shook his head and noticed that Jim was displaying the same motion. Some scientist you are, Blair. Do you believe everything?
Joel noticed the forlorn expression on Blairs face and came to his defense. I dont know guys. Blairs pretty open-minded but there is validation on what he says. All eyes fell on him, but it was only the pleading eyes of one well-befriended doctorate student that moved him. He smiled at him. After all, isnt it Blair who believed in us enough to write his dissertation? Id think you would have to be diverse enough to tackle our society.
Blair beamed at his friend. He turned to Jim. Im also open enough to acknowledge certain traits that no one else believes in.
Jim and Simon looked at each other and shrugged. Got us there Sandburg, answered Simon for the both of them. Now, take your partner and go home!