A Blast From the Past
Previously published in Brotherhood 5.
Blair groaned as his phone rang for the fourth time. Please don’t let it be another pissed off client. He took a deep breath before he picked up the receiver. “Blair Sandburg.”
“Hi, Chief. You keeping the bad guys under control?”
“Jim?” Blair grinned. “God, it’s good to hear from you. I was hoping it wasn’t another client wanting to hang, draw and quarter me.”
“Somebody giving you a hard time?”
Blair couldn’t help smiling at the Blessed Protector tone in Jim’s voice. “It’s cool, man. Nothing I can’t handle,” he replied, leaning back in his chair. “After dealing with university jocks, this is a piece of cake. At least they’re respectful… mostly. So, what’s up? Everything okay in Cascade?”
There was a short delay before Jim spoke. Blair’s own protective instincts went into overdrive. “Jim? What’s up? Has something happened?”
“No, nothing’s happened. In fact, it’s so quiet around here I thought I might come up to Seattle for a visit. I have a week off.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m sorry? What do you mean, what did I do? I can’t just want to spend some time with my best friend?”
“You know you’re always welcome,” Blair replied, “but you were here a month ago and you told me your dance card was pretty full for a while. I know you better than anyone. Spill it, Jim, what’s happened?”
A sigh puffed over the receiver. “I just need to get away for a few days. A reporter called yesterday. God, you’d think by now they would have moved on to the next disaster. Surely there are worse things happening in the world than you declaring your diss was fraudulent.” There was a pregnant pause then, “Shit! Sorry, Sandburg, I didn’t mean–”
“I know what you meant, Jim, and it’s fine. I guess when news is slow they’ll dig up any old thing. So, you didn’t punch the guy or anything, did you? You’re not suspended?”
“I’m taking a leave of absence. I don’t know for how long. Frankly, Chief, after everything that’s happened, I’m not sure I want to stay a cop.”
Blair rocked back in his chair. “Come on, man, you don’t mean that.”
“Don’t tell me what I mean, Sandburg!”
There was an iron edge to Jim’s tone. Blair could tell Jim was skating the fine edge of stress, but before he could say anything, Jim sighed.
“Sorry, Chief. Look, you know I appreciate what you did, and I’m not about to flush that sacrifice down the toilet. It’s just… I don’t know, I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. I’m having to watch everything I say and do when I’m on a case.”
“Like in the Juno case,” Blair replied. He shook his head. “I guess my press conference just opened up more questions, huh?”
“The brass knows about my abilities now, so that works in my favor a little, and with you refusing the badge offer, they know they have to tread carefully with me. They know, if I have to, I’ll go public and recant your confession of fraud.”
“Well, I guess that kind of worked for me, too,” Blair said, though deep down, he didn’t feel quite as victorious as he had at first. He missed Cascade, missed working with the PD, missed Jim. But at the time, it had all been too much, after the debacle of his dissertation being leaked. All he had wanted to do was get the hell out. They’d come to an agreement with the University and the PD. Blair would move to Seattle and finish his degree in Forensic Anthropology – something that at least combined both his interests, and gave him a chance of returning to Cascade later, if he wanted to – and they found him a steady job.
Steady, it was, and it was great having a regular paycheck coming in, but the stresses of counseling parolees, finding them jobs and rehab or getting them back into education and apprenticeship programs, attempting to keep them from returning to their lives of crime, was exacting a heavy toll on his nerves and peace of mind. Most, as he told Jim, were respectful. Even if they did think they’d been handed a raw deal, they seemed to realize it had nothing to do with Blair, and if they didn’t, Blair soon set them straight in an easygoing, empathetic manner. Blair suspected that for the first few months, he’d been handed the easy cases. Now, it seemed he was seeing as many hardened criminals as anyone else. So far, his natural ability for talking to people and having them respond to him had mostly worked, but Blair knew the time was bound to come when even his charm was not going to work.
“Everything all right, Chief?”
Blair jerked himself back to the present. “Oh. Yeah, everything’s fine. So, when are you coming?”
“Tomorrow afternoon okay with you? I’ll spring for dinner when you finish for the day.”
“I have just the place in mind,” Blair replied, feeling himself relax at the thought of seeing Jim again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Blair checked the next name on his appointment list. It sounded vaguely familiar but he just couldn’t fit a name to the face. He wondered if it was someone he knew from his time working with Jim. He supposed that was bound to happen eventually. Pulling the man’s folder over, he scanned it quickly. Oh yeah, he remembered him now.
Dan Freeman. The guy had been a total whack job. After Jim had gotten on his case when they’d had an altercation on the street, Freeman had gone out of his way to piss Jim off. Manure in the loft, maxing out Jim’s credit card, not to mention blowing Jim’s cover and almost blowing half of Cascade sky high.
Blair thought briefly about handing Freeman off to Scott Welch in the office next door, but discarded the idea almost as quickly. Scotty was newer to the job than he was, fresh out of college, and not at all prepared to deal with someone as volatile as Freeman. Besides, Blair had faced down killers, homicidal mental patients, even a rogue Sentinel on the rampage; he could handle Freeman. The file noted that Freeman had been a model prisoner and had been treated for his psychotic problems while inside. Surely, he wouldn’t have been paroled without good reason.
Steeling himself, Blair stood, walked over to the door and opened it. “Mr. Freeman, won’t you come in?”
Dan Freeman turned from the reception desk to face Sandburg. Marissa, the receptionist, gave Blair what looked like a grateful smile and rolled her eyes, then wrinkled her nose delicately. It looked like Freeman was still big on the imported aftershave. Blair stuck out his hand in greeting but Freeman just stared at it for a moment before sidling past him. His hands jammed in his pockets, he stood just inside the office, gazing around the room.
“Take a seat,” Blair said, waving toward the chair in front of his desk.
Freeman still didn’t speak, merely staring at Blair as he walked around the desk. The oppressive scent of Freeman’s aftershave had Blair swallowing convulsively.
He stood, waiting for Freeman to sit, feeling like he was at the OK Corral. Finally, Freeman took the hint and slumped into the chair. He leaned back, chewing on a fingernail.
“So….” Blair opened Freeman’s file and studied it, more to keep himself from freaking out over the man’s silent attitude than anything. He already knew more than he wanted to know about him. “How have things been since you were released?”
Freeman shrugged. “Do I know you?” he asked.
Fuck! Blair looked up, allowing a frown to crease his forehead. “Umm, no, I don’t think so.” He pretended to think for a moment then shook his head. “No.”
Freeman shrugged. “You remind me of someone. Doesn’t matter.”
Not for the first time, Blair was grateful for his now short hair. At the time he’d had it cut, it had been more a casting off of his old life, a tangible sign of his acceptance that he was moving in a new direction. Now, hopefully, it was as good as a disguise. “Anyway,” he said, trying to instill some authority into his voice as he’d been taught at his counseling course, “we’re here to talk about you.”
Freeman visibly preened at that and Blair’s skin crawled. The man was a classic sociopath and narcissist. It seemed his psychiatric treatment hadn’t dulled his condition at all. “How do you think I’m doing?” he asked, his voice bordering on a whine. “I shouldn’t have been locked up in the first place.”
“That’s between you and the legal system, Mr. Freeman,” Blair said. “My job is to get you settled back on the outside, see if I can help you find a job, a place to live.”
“Anything’ll be better than that dump I’m in now,” Freeman replied. “Full of junkies and cons.”
“It’s a roof over your head until you get work.” Blair bent his head and studied the file again. “I see you’ve had some training in computers.”
A slow smile spread over Freeman’s face. “I’m an expert, man. I can hack in anywhere, regardless of the security.”
I remember, Blair thought. That’s how you got Jim’s address and his credit card details. “I don’t think you should be telling me that,” he said mildly. “However, there is a position open at Argo Computers.”
Freeman leaned forward, looking interested and Blair wondered if he’d just done one of the most stupid things since he’d started this job. Putting Freeman with computers would be like leaving a kid in charge of a candy store. “You would be packing computers for shipping, taking inventory of incoming stock.” Blair shrugged. “Probably not what you’d be interested in. There’s a construction job that starts next week. It pays more.”
“I’ll take the computer job,” Freeman said. “I’m not exactly the outdoor type. You never know, once they find out how good I am, I might be able to work my way up into service, maybe even sales.”
I hope not. “All right,” Blair wrote down the address of the computer company and handed it to Freeman. “There’s an efficiency apartment going cheaply over on Johnson.” He scribbled the address down and handed that over. “If you’d like to wait outside for a couple of minutes, I’ll type up a letter of introduction for both the job and the apartment.”
Freeman glanced at the notes in his hand then stood. He turned toward the door without a word of thanks and strode out, leaving the door open.
Blair groaned and walked over. Shutting the door, he leaned against it for a moment. “God, give me strength,” he muttered. Taking as shallow a breath as possible, he went back to his desk, pulled an incense stick from his drawer and lit it, in an attempt to clear the nauseating odor of Freeman’s aftershave. Sitting down at his computer, he began to type.
Simon regarded Jim thoughtfully. Jim couldn’t help feeling as though he was under as much scrutiny as he had been the day he’d first met Sandburg.
“Are you sure about this, Jim?” Simon asked.
Jim sighed. “No, I’m not sure, sir, that’s why I asked for a leave of absence.” He leaned forward, clenching his hands in his lap. “It’s not as though I’m resigning. I just need some space, to be somewhere where I don’t keep having this shit thrown up at me.”
“And visiting Sandburg will give you that?” Simon raised an eyebrow. “I mean, isn’t that gonna be a constant reminder of what went down between the two of you?”
“Yes, it is, but Blair knows what it’s like. Hell, he suffered through it for weeks before making the decision to leave! I just want to get out of Cascade for a while, clear my head, see what else is out there before I make a definite decision.”
“You know I can’t give you too long. A month is my limit. I’m gonna have to do a lot of tap dancing to get you that long without questions being asked.”
“Let ‘em ask!” Jim surged to his feet and strode to the window, gazing out at the rain-lashed street below. “Chief Warren already knows my position, sir. Any pressure and I’ll walk for good.”
“If I know you as well as I’m certain I do, you don’t really want to do that. You love being a cop.”
Jim nodded. “Yes, I do, but despite what I told Blair, I don’t like doing it alone.”
“I can assign you a partner,” Simon said. “Connor–“
“We’d kill each other in the first five minutes. It wouldn’t matter who it was, Simon, they’re not Blair.”
Simon crossed the room to stand beside his subordinate. “Is there something you’re not telling me… about you and Sandburg?”
If he hadn’t been feeling so depressed, Jim would have laughed. Instead, he reached out and patted Simon’s shoulder. “No need to worry, Simon, I haven’t started batting for the other team, though if I did…” His eyes twinkled as he stroked Simon’s shoulder suggestively. Anything to lighten the mood.
Simon batted his hand away irritably. “Sandburg’s rubbed off on you, Jim. I’m trying to have a serious conversation here!”
“Sorry.” Jim scrubbed a hand through his hair, impatient to get out of the dead end conversation and be on his way. “Look, Sandburg is the only one who understands my senses as much – hell, probably better than I do. He’s the only one who can back me up.”
“Is that what this little trip to Seattle is about?” Simon asked. “Are you going to ask Sandburg to reconsider the badge offer? Because if you are, I’d better have something more than tap dancing to show the Chief.”
“I need to know how Blair feels about his decision. I need to be sure he’s happy doing what he’s doing,” Jim replied. “If he’s not…. Well, I still have that ace up my sleeve. Threatening to go public about my abilities might be enough to sway the Chief into letting Blair ride along with me as a paid consultant while he finishes his doctorate.”
“Do you really want to bring all that attention back on yourself? Hell, the odd reporter phoning for an update has got you riled so much you want to get out of Dodge.”
Jim smiled. “I play a pretty mean game of poker, sir, as you well know. It might be enough to fake Chief Warren out.”
Jim took a sip of his wine then leaned back in his chair, toying idly with the stem of the glass. “So, Chief, how’s Seattle?”
Blair grinned. “It’s not that far from Cascade, Jim, so same old, same old.” He gestured at the rain lashing the restaurant windows. “Cold and wet is still my world.”
Jim chuckled. “You enjoying your job?”
Blair shrugged, remembering the interview with Dan Freeman the day before. He thought about mentioning his newest client to Jim then decided against it. Jim had had a hard time controlling his rage against Freeman back in Cascade. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, and made a steeple with his hands. “What’s going on, Jim – and before you say nothing, remember I was your partner and best friend for four years–”
“Still are,” Jim cut in. “My best friend, that is.”
“Thank you.” Blair nodded. “Ditto. But Jim, I know you. One reporter getting to you to such an extent, you have to take a leave of absence?” He shook his head. “I don’t buy it. The Jim Ellison I know would have kicked the guy’s butt down the stairs and arrested him for harassment for good measure. Talk to me, man. What’s going on?”
Jim sighed. “Frankly, I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I don’t know,” he shrugged, “maybe I just don’t want to do it anymore.”
“Be a cop?”
“Not on my own.” Jim held up a hand when Blair opened his mouth to speak. “And before you say it, Simon already suggested partnering me with Connor, but even if we did get along, she can’t do the sentinel stuff like you can. She’s not my guide.”
“Are you asking me to come back to Cascade with you?” Blair leaned back in his chair, looking wary and apologetic. “I don’t think I can, Jim. I already told you, I don’t want to be a cop. Well, I do, sorta. That’s why I accepted Seattle University’s offer to do my doctorate in Forensic Anthropology. Kind of the best of both worlds…. But you know that already. You said you were fine with it.”
“And I am… was. Look, Chief, I thought maybe we could work out a deal with the Chief. Come back to the PD, work as a paid consultant, finish your degree at Rainier.”
“You think Chief Warren would go for it?” Blair asked, sounding uncertain. “Seemed to me he was glad to get me out of the way.”
“Let’s just say I have a few aces up my sleeve–“
“No!” Blair hissed. He wagged a finger in the air. “You are not going public about your abilities! I won’t let you do that.”
Jim gave him a small smile. “I think you’re about the only person I’d let stop me, Sandburg. But let’s just say the Chief doesn’t need to know that. So, like I said earlier, are you enjoying your job?”
“Honestly?” Blair rolled his eyes. “I hate it, man! I never know what to expect from these guys, and not everyone’s exactly grateful, if you get my drift. Still….”
Blair sighed. “I can’t go back to Rainier, Jim. My reputation there… Here, they know about me, but they all know the university must have backed down somehow. I’m accepted. I like studying here.”
“Okay.” Jim nodded. “What if you hold out here ‘til you’ve got your doctorate – and I know you’ve been fast-tracking it, so you can get out and start your career. When you’re finished, you come back to Cascade as a paid consultant in Forensic Anthropology. You ride with me, but you’re on loan to any department who needs your expertise.”
There was a long moment of silence but Jim knew better than to push Blair for a response. Finally Blair spoke. “I don’t know, Jim. It sounds good. It sounds really good but I need to think about it for a while.”
Jim nodded, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off his chest. He reached out and picked up his glass, tipping it toward Blair in a salute. “I can wait, Chief, for a little while. Now, any plans for tomorrow?”
“I have to work tomorrow morning but I should be finished by two o’clock. There’s this great market we could check out in the afternoon. Arts and crafts, that kind of thing.”
Dan Freeman was pissed. In fact, he was so far beyond pissed his rage was burning a hole in his gut, leaving him tasting bitter acid that threatened to choke him.
This Sandburg didn’t know shit about getting a guy a decent break on the outside. Didn’t know shit about him and what he was capable of. All he cared about was collecting his own paycheck at the end of the week.
The interview at Argo computers had gone pretty smoothly at first. He’d used every bit of his charm to suck up to the boss, and thought he had it made when some wet-behind-the-ears geek had come in whining about a problem with some software. He’d put him straight there and then, chuckling when he’d told the boss how he should hire people who knew what they were doing, offering to show him what an expert could do.
Abraham Mitchell had smiled at him, but it wasn’t a friendly smile, more like a barracuda going in for the kill. He made a big show of checking the letter from Sandburg. “You’re here applying for the clerk’s position, right?” he asked.
“Well, yeah, but I’m better than that. I’ve got skills.”
Mitchell stood and walked around his desk, striding to the door and opening it. “Thank you for coming in, Mr. Freeman. I don’t think you’re quite what we’re after.”
Dan stood and stared at Mitchell in astonishment. “What do you mean? I can fix stuff like that for you and a whole lot more besides! I know computers.”
Waving a large hand toward the exit, Mitchell said, “Sorry. I’m happy with the team I have.”
Freeman took a couple of steps forward until he was in Mitchell’s face. “I was promised a job! I know you get kickbacks for hiring ex-cons. How are you gonna feel when you miss out this time?”
Mitchell extended a hand then dropped it to his side when Freeman just glared him. “Trust me, Mr. Freeman, there are plenty of others willing to take on the job.”
Freeman’s fury almost choked him. “You wait,” he hissed. “You’re gonna be sorry you ever laid eyes on me.”
Mitchell rolled his eyes. “Not the first time I’ve heard that. Now, can you find your way out or do I need to get security?”
Freeman stormed off, turning at the exit to send a volley of expletives Mitchell’s way, but the office door was already closed.
Dan felt his anger raise a notch as he stopped outside the office block housing the Parolees Counseling Service. Time to tell the guy just how shit-awful he was at his job. He grinned nastily. He knew just how to provoke people into giving him what he wanted. Sandburg didn’t stand a chance.
“Jim, I’m really sorry about this, man,” Blair said. He tapped the file on his desk. “This guy got busted selling crack and I have to sign off on the last meeting I had with him.”
Jim waved the apology away. “Don’t sweat it, Chief. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forfeited my days off.”
“Well, at least the whole day’s not a bust,” Blair replied. “If you can amuse yourself for a couple hours, we can still go out and catch the market before it closes.”
“I did promise to catch up with John Kelly, an old buddy of mine in the Seattle PD. Why don’t you give me a call when you’re done?”
Blair smiled and gave Jim a thumbs-up. “Works for me.”
It seemed like Sandburg’s hectic lifestyle hadn’t really changed, Jim mused as he left the building and headed back to his truck. He was still juggling studies and work. The only difference was whom he was working with. Jim smiled. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be long before Blair was back where he belonged. He wouldn’t push him though. He wanted Blair to come back because he wanted to, not out of some misplaced sense of obligation.
He fished in his pocket for his keys then stopped, frozen in place. An unpleasant smell tickled his nostrils, causing his eyes to water and his throat to close up. Opening his mouth, he sucked in a breath, relieved when the odor dissipated as quickly as it had appeared. He shook his head and reached again for his keys. A memory tickled at the edge of his mind. The smell was familiar but all he could attach to it was a sense of anger and impatience. He looked up and down the street but could see no one familiar as people bustled past him. Dismissing the notion as fanciful, he crossed the street and climbed into his truck.
Ellison! Dan Freeman would never forget that face or the fact that the Cascade cop was responsible for his incarceration in the first place. Suddenly, he realized why Sandburg had seemed familiar to him when they’d first met. He’d been the little hippie nerd who’d been Ellison’s partner back in Cascade.
Things were getting better already. He’d planned to go back and pay Ellison a visit once he’d gotten settled on the outside. Nobody screwed with him and got away with it. He smiled. If Ellison had thought he’d given him a bad time in Cascade, he was wrong. This time he had the perfect way to get back at the son of a bitch who’d put him away.
Blair settled back at his desk and powered up his computer. The sooner he got this done, the sooner he could switch off for the next two days and spend some time with Jim. Blair had known from the moment he met Bert Thomson, the guy didn’t want to tread the straight path. He was a career criminal, had spent almost half his life in prison on various charges. None had been serious enough to get him three strikes and get him put in jail for the long term, but he’d certainly gone through the revolving prison gate often enough to make his head spin. Blair had been frankly surprised he’d stayed clean for as long as he had this time.
The more Blair saw the downside to his job, that more guys ended up back in prison than stayed out, or even truly wanted to go straight, the more he became disillusioned with his decision to take on the counseling position. He’d have been better off sticking with his first preference, counseling victims of crime. Back when he’d first arrived in Seattle, though, he’d been depressed and disillusioned with the direction in which his life had gone. He’d doubted he could have done the job justice. His Forensic Anthropology studies were another thing entirely. He loved his studies. He was beginning to seriously consider taking Jim up on his offer. He only had six months to go before he completed his doctorate. Cascade was beginning to look damn inviting.
“Mr. Sandburg?” Marissa’s voice came over the intercom. “I have Mr. Freeman here.” Her voice dropped and sounded shaky. “He’s insisting on seeing you.”
Damn it! Blair pressed the intercom button. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, as long as you don’t mind seeing him. He’s being kind of pushy,” Marissa whispered.
“Okay. Give me a couple of minutes.” Blair cursed. The absolute last person he felt like seeing today was Dan Freeman. He was relieved though that Jim had already left. “Okay, Marissa, send Mr. Freeman in, will you?”
Blair pasted on a smile as Dan Freeman sidled past him into the office. He held his breath as the pervading odor of aftershave seeped into his nostrils. “What can I do for you, Mr. Freeman?” he asked as he closed the door. “I don’t have a lot of time but–”
A hand grabbed the back of his head and pushed him face-first into the door. He gasped as pain slammed through his cheekbone and chin but before he could fight back, fingers curled in his hair and smashed him brutally into the door a second time. He literally saw stars exploding in his vision, and felt his legs turning to water, before he felt Freeman press against his back, holding him up.
“Now I remember you, Mr. Sandburg. How’s Detective Ellison doing?”
“I don’t know who you mean,” Blair gasped.
Freeman took a step back and dragged Blair around to face him. He raised a hand and slapped Blair hard across the face, then let him go. Blair felt himself slipping down the door, landing on his butt with a resounding thump.
“Liar!” Freeman spat. “I saw him leave.” He leaned down, getting in Blair’s face. “And now, you’re gonna tell him to come back.”
Blair abandoned all pretence. “Are you nuts, man? What are you gonna do? There’s security guards on every floor of the building, and we’re in the middle of the city. You don’t have a chance of getting away.”
Freeman backhanded him across the face and Blair collapsed onto his side on the floor. A kick in his ribs doubled him over, making him gasp for breath. He heard Freeman walk away and then heard the sound of drawers being opened.
Shit! His gun! He hadn’t wanted to keep one but it had been a stipulation of the job. Blair had thought at the time how ironic it had been that he’d turned down Simon’s offer of a badge, in part because he didn’t want to carry a weapon.
Something loomed close to his face. He flinched before he realized it was his cell phone.
Freeman straightened and pointed Blair’s weapon at him. “Maybe I don’t give a shit,” Freeman growled. “And maybe with you as a hostage, I have a really good chance of getting out of here.”
Blair shook his head then wished he hadn’t as fresh pain shot through his temples. “It won’t work, man. You’re just gonna bring the SWAT team down on you, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about me.”
“I think you’re wrong about that,” Freeman said. “It doesn’t look good in the papers when fine, upstanding members of the public are murdered. Now, are you gonna call Ellison or am I?”
“Don’t waste your dime, Chief,” Jim said from the other side of the room. “I got the message already.”
Freeman whirled around. “Ellison! How did-“
Jim smiled though there was no mirth in it. “I wouldn’t forget that sheep dip you call aftershave that easily. Glad you didn’t change your brand. You’re slipping, Freeman. Didn’t it occur to you that the surveillance cameras picked you up or that the offices have interconnecting doors?” He waved his gun at Freeman. “Drop the weapon and step away from Sandburg, back up against the wall.”
Freeman shook his head. “Not gonna do that, Ellison. I’m not going back to prison.”
“Then you should have been a good boy and stayed out of trouble,” Jim replied. “Drop the weapon now!”
Freeman glared at Jim for a moment before lowering the gun to his side.
Jim glanced at Blair. “You all right, Chief?”
“Yeah, I’m- Jim, look out!” Blair threw himself forward as Freeman brought the gun back up and fired in the split second Jim’s attention was diverted. Jim ducked. The shot went wide, smashing into the window behind Blair’s desk when Blair’s forward momentum threw Freeman off balance. Blair went with him, locking his arms around Freeman’s legs and sending them both to the ground.
Freeman rolled. Agony exploded in Blair’s head as something hard and unforgiving smashed brutally into his temple. His sight flared red then black. An explosion roared nearby then he knew nothing more.
There was something persistently tapping at his cheek. When he could figure out how to raise his hand, he was going to slap it away. If he could find his hand, that is. Everything seemed disconnected. He had the sudden awful thought that he was paralyzed. The idea galvanized him into motion and he shot up, gasping for breath.
“Easy, easy, Chief.” Strong arms caught his shoulders and held him fast. He fought for a brief moment before registering Jim’s voice. Memory returned in a flood of terrifying visions. Freeman, Jim, pushing Freeman to the ground, a gunshot….
“Jim?” Blair pushed away from Jim’s hold and stared at him, his hands coming up to ghost over Jim’s body, mostly because his vision seemed to be wavering in and out and he had the worst headache since he’d jumped into that river when they were chasing Dawson Quinn…. Concussion, he decided. That was it. His thoughts were all over the place. He had the ominous sensation that he was about to throw up. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes briefly before opening them and checking Jim out again. This time, with mercifully clearer vision. “I heard gunshots.”
“Just one, Chief,” Jim said. “Mine.”
“Oh.” Blair forced himself to look at the shroud-covered body being lifted onto a gurney. “I’m glad…. I mean, I’m not glad but, if it had to be someone, I’m really glad it wasn’t you.”
“Or you,” Jim replied. He stood and a paramedic took his place. “Let these guys check you out. You’re gonna need a couple of stitches in that gash on your forehead.”
“Story of my life,” Blair grumbled, wincing when the medic touched a particularly sensitive spot on his head. “I guess you’ll have to go to the PD, give a statement.”
“Yep.” Jim nodded. “But it’ll wait an hour or two. If you don’t need an ambulance ride, I can take you over to the hospital in the truck.”
“Not fine,” the paramedic said, “but you don’t need an ambulance, if Detective Ellison can take you.”
Jim held out a hand and helped Blair to his feet, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and steering him toward the door. “Let’s get you patched up, Chief.”
Blair couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up.
“What?” Jim asked, looking puzzled.
“Just feels like I never really left Cascade. I mean, seems I get picked on by all the ex-cons here, beat up…. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder why I did.”
“Did what?” Jim asked.
“Left Cascade. I mean, looks like the bad guys just followed me.”
Jim squeezed his shoulder. “I don’t call you a trouble magnet for nothing.”
“No fair!” Blair protested. “If I hadn’t partnered up with you, I never would have met any of these crazies.”
“Your choice, Chief,” Jim said. “It’s not as though I came looking for you.”
“Do you ever regret it?” Blair stopped mid-step and looked up at Jim. “Be honest here, okay? Do you ever regret that I tracked you down?”
Jim took a moment to gather his thoughts, trying to push away the images of Blair being kidnapped, beaten, shot, and drowned, all because of his desire to help Jim. He’d realized a long time ago that Blair hadn’t stayed with him because of the dissertation, but because he had a genuine desire to help. Perhaps an ingrained desire to guide, too, just as Jim couldn’t switch off his abilities unless he truly chose to do so.
“I regret bringing you into my world,” Jim finally confessed. “I have a need, as your Blessed Protector, to keep you safe. But, no, I will never regret that you found me.”
Blair smiled. His headache seemed to magically dwindle a notch. “Thank you. I’m glad, because I’ve come to a decision.”
“Oh yeah, what decision would that be, Chief? Not letting any ex-cons you knew back in Cascade into your office?”
Blair shrugged. “Well, that too, but… I want to come home. If you can work your magic and talk to the Chief…. I still want to finish my Forensic Anthropology degree.” He felt his face flush. ”I’d like to think I’m gonna be good at it… but I’d like to come back to Cascade and work with you.”
Jim smiled. “It’s a done deal, Sandburg.” When Blair looked at him in surprise, he gave a shrug. “Just thought I might as well check things out before I came here. The Chief’s more than happy to bring you on board.”
Blair groaned. “Tell me you didn’t….”
“Threaten to go public about your senses.”
“Didn’t have to,” Jim replied cheerfully. “Just showed the Chief a couple of magic tricks and I had him eating out of my hand.”
Jim led Blair toward his truck. “I really think the one that sold him was reciting word-for-word the argument he and his wife had in his office ten minutes before I arrived.”
“Tell me you didn’t eavesdrop,” Blair begged.
“I did,” Jim said, looking rather proud of his achievement. “Trust me, I know I’m going to pull the most god-awful, boring jobs for the next three months, but it was worth it.”
“You sure about that?”
“I’m sure.” Jim opened the door of the truck and ushered Blair inside. “Let’s get that head of yours checked out. Then I was thinking…. How about you come for a visit to Cascade, catch up with some friends? H doesn’t stop asking about you, and Rafe is pissed that you left without passing on your poker secrets.”
Blair smiled. “I’d like that. I’d really like that.”