Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Author's Notes: This was a SentinelAngst Themefic for CarolROI.


Proper Perspective
by
Ismaro

ligela@sympatico.ca

 

The premier group of detectives in Cascade's Major Crime department were crowded around the television. They all winced.

"... and women's groups demanding to know why the Waterside Killer has not been caught."

A demonstration was the backdrop for the unctuous voiceover. Women's groups of all kinds were picketing City Hall.

"Shit, that's Gordy-Boy, the pimp! Are those men or women with him?"

"There's Peggy, and his bunch. Showing off a lot of cleavage. Free publicity for his wares."

"Shut up, you guys. I wanna hear this."

The heckling stopped and the cops went back to listening.

"On behalf of the citizens of Cascade, we ask the mayor to explain. Why hasn't the Waterside Killer been caught? We ask the Police Commissioner to explain. Why haven't enough police resources been devoted to this serial murderer to catch him? We ask the Cascade Police Department as a whole to explain. Why aren't there any leads being followed up? Is the Waterside Killer case being investigated at all?

"Or are six dead prostitutes, four of them black women, just not important enough for the men in blue, the people who swear to serve and protect all Cascade citizens, to warrant their attention?

"This is Don Haas reporting live, outside Cascade City Hall."

The detectives looked at each other with a sinking feeling. They knew what was in the air. It took only six minutes for their fears to be confirmed.

"All right, listen up!" Simon Banks roared as he threw open the doors to his office. "As of a minute ago, the Waterside Killer case has been transferred from Homicide to Major Crime. The mayor intends to ask for an accounting on our handling of the case, which is now a media event"—he snapped the cigar he was holding in his fingers and never noticed—"and that accounting is likely to be made public.

"Jim, hand over the Wilkenson murder file to D'Amora and Quenton. Joel, Rafe and Henri, I'm reassigning the warehouse arson bombings to Brinks and Herne. Rhonda, pull Conner off the Makepeace file, Wang can go it alone, and tell her to get here yesterday. Make the transitions, and one hour from now there will be a briefing in my office on the Waterside killings. Oh, bring Sandburg too, if he's here by then," the captain finished as an aside. "We need all the input we can get. This is not going to be easy, people, but we're going to crack this case."

The looming figure of the tallest person in the department surged back into his office, leaving silence in his wake.

Ten seconds later the babbling started.

"Can't believe..."

"Here, Herne, the depositions..."

"So close! Dammit!"

"Like we need another murder investigation with our work load."

"Sorry, Rafe. I'll pick it all up."

Confusion still reigned when Blair Sandburg bustled into Major Crime, layered, energetic and at least three inches shorter than anyone else in the place. He looked around at the ballyhoo and asked of no one in particular, "Hey, guys, what's up?"

Conner was breezing in behind him and as they both divested themselves of their spring coats, she managed to explain. "We caught the file on the Waterside Killer. You see Haas's report?"

"Oh, shit." He'd heard the radio version as he drove over from Rainier U.

"Yeah, that kinda says it all, mate." Megan fluffed out a gaudy chintz ruffle before exchanging a glance of complete sympathy with Blair, who immediately sought out his partner, best friend, roommate and Sentinel of Cascade, an all-in-one powerhouse called Jim Ellison. Ellison wasn't smiling.

"Oh, double shit."

Megan followed his glance and replied, "Triple shit."

But just then Captain Dobbs of Homicide and the officers who had originally had the case, Greyson Varley and Janette Le Saint, all three in photo-op navy suits, showed up for the briefing. The aura of anger surrounding them, Varley especially, could have filled a dozen football stadiums.

Blair stood to one side, unsure of his welcome, until Jim reached out a long arm and grabbed hold of a fistful of flannel.

"You, too, rookie," Jim said, tugging his tagalong with him. "The captain asked for you specially."

Blair gulped and nodded, batting Jim's big hand away from him. "Okay, already. I'm coming."

Then they were in the committee room and finding chairs left for them, both together. The two men were inseparable, and everyone in M.C. knew it. But the cops from Homicide weren't in the know.

"Who's he?" Greyson Varley asked with contempt that could have used a few of Salome's veils. His tie and pocket handkerchief were a discreet dove grey on lead.

"This is Blair Sandburg," Simon Banks interjected, quickly quelling his best detective's ready comeback at the lack of respect due his Guide. "He consults with us. He's one of my men."

"My partner," Jim bit out, and Blair's curls jounced as he swept a pleased look at his Sentinel and the head of Major Crime.

Varley grunted, Le Saint said a hello and Captain Dobbs nodded in a businesslike manner.

"Good, then. Let's start. Captain, the floor is yours." Simon Banks sat down too, as his counterpart rose and addressed the meeting.

Chuck Dobbs was big, red-faced and loud of voice, but there was a weariness in his features that spoke volumes about his dedication to his profession. If the killer had not been identified, everyone in Major Crime knew it was not for the want of trying. "The Waterside Killer, as the press calls him, has been abducting and slaying prostitutes then dumping their bodies in various rivers and lakes for approximately a year, as far as we know."

Dobbs stopped and put up a series of six photos of women, four black and two white, all young and all with signs of sorrow in their faces.

"Marie Hillson, the first one found, April 30, but missing since December 11. Her disappearance was never reported. We found out about her when her body was found in Stonehouse Creek and she was identified via her high school class ring. The killer, whoever it is, doesn't seem to be taking obvious trophies. Anyway, Marie was 19 years old. Was one of Philly Franks' girls, working the gas stations and highways. Philly said he figured she'd run off with a trucker. It's a business risk to him, losing a hooker that way." The Homicide captain sighed.

Everyone made notes, looking up now and then at the photo of the pretty black woman.

"Charleen Portamus, 22, second found, May 3, body discovered in Stonehouse Creek too, but twelve miles further to the south than the HiIlson girl. She was an independent, moved town to town, worked where she wanted until she was driven off by the local talent. No one is sure when she disappeared. Could have been as far back as October. She just came and went with hardly anyone noticing. ID'd by her dental records from a Missing Persons report her parents made six years ago. She was from Seattle originally." Dobbs paused for a moment. "We worked hard to get that ID," he muttered. Le Saint and Varley looked at each other grimly, and the anger level of the room shot up a few degrees.

But there were only the sounds of pen on paper as the group took notes about the first of the Caucasians murdered. No one was happy about the case being ripped away from the officers who had investigated it from the start, no matter how necessary Major Crime's involvement had become.

Dobbs posted a map of Cascade and surrounding areas. He or his detectives had already marked the locations of the bodies with red ink. The Major Crime detectives watched as Le Saint pointed out the two sites already mentioned and nodded go-aheads.

The captain of Homicide continued. "LaTeesha Black, 14, was the third, found in Pilot Lake. Her pimp actually called in a Missing Persons report on her on February 24th..."

"His name?" Ellison asked, pen in hand.

"Lamarr Pegg. His stable works..."

"Jefferson between Davis and Renaldo, right?" Jim put in again.

"Yeah. You know him?"

Jim shrugged. "Spent a few years in Vice. Yeah, I know of Peggy. Didn't seem the type who cared if one of his girls OD'd or took off."

Greyson Varley, a slim, fortyish black man with a bristly mustache and a more bristly attitude, spoke up. "He apparently had a thing for her. Everyone we interviewed said what a sweet kid she was." He was looking at the photo of the very young African-American. "She does look sweet." There was much regret in his eyes.

"Pretty, too," his partner put in. Le Saint was in her late twenties, blonde with caramel eyes, tall and strong as a Valkyrie. "We got the feeling that Peggy was actually smitten."

"True love," Ellison said sourly. "Ain't it grand?"

His partner tugged on the Sentinel's sleeve. Jim looked over at the grad student who was his ridealong and observer, and lifted and dropped his eyebrows quickly, a silent 'okay', in return. They subsided. Varley sent Sandburg a poisonous side glance.

The recitation of the three remaining deaths came without interruption. Donella Withers, 18, Babe Sweet (the only name available for her), 24, and Olivia Marchese, 19, were all found in watery graves in and around Cascade, the first two beneath ocean piers. But Blair blanched and Jim squeezed his forearm hard, garnering a sneer from Varley, when the location of Marchese's body was announced: it was Alfred's Pond. All three had been found soon after their disappearances, since the spring thaw had opened up the waterways again and ice no longer kept people away or bodies hidden.

"There's no pattern to the locations of the bodies that I can see," Conner said, gesturing to the map with her ballpoint. "Other than that there were two in Stonehouse Creek. Anyone else?"

"Stonehouse Creek, huh?" Rafe said. "Isn't there an area slated for construction around there?"

"Yeah, there is," Dobbs said with a lift of his eyebrow.

"If both bodies were left there last fall, it could be why there haven't been any more found since," Sandburg suggested. "Presence of the surveyors or developers, whatever, may have scared the perp away."

"If!" the Homicide cop started, before Ellison cut him off.

"So what do the Forensics reports say about the length of time those bodies were immersed?" Jim asked, pointedly ignoring his Guide's taunter.

"Wolf says they're consistent with immersion for four to six months," Dobbs admitted, handing out copies of autopsy reports. "Good working hypothesis, Rafe, uh, San..." He glitched on the name.

"Sandburg," Blair filled in, abashed.

"Sandburg. Right?" A weary gaze swept the table.

The group was in agreement on that point, though a few were reluctant to admit it.

"The creek's being dragged, right?" Henri put in. "Any results?"

"Not so far," Varley admitted, with some civility.

Simon Banks and Joel Taggart exchanged concerned glances. It looked as if there might be a racial aspect to the case after all, but it could have originated in the Homicide Department itself.

"We figure whoever is doing this drives the roads at random, picks up the victims and takes them to some hideyhole where they are killed, then dumps the bodies wherever it looks as if he won't be spotted," Varley said. He sounded bitter.

"Yeah," Le Saint added. "He isn't setting up an obvious killing ground. There's nowhere to stake out. Every one of them was found some place different." She rubbed the back of her neck hard.

"What's the deal with their pimps? Were any of them freelancing?" Brown asked.

"Olivia and Babe were in Solomon's stable," she replied, naming a long time pimp known to virtually every cop who ever walked a beat in Cascade. "Marie was in Philly Franks', LaTeesha in Pegg's, as we said, and Donella was one of Gordy-Boy Blossom's..."

"Gordy-Boy pimps boys," Jim said. "Was Donella really Donald?"

"Nope," Varley told him. "Gordy-Boy has been branching out lately."

"Huh. Diversification." Jim shook his head at the idea.

"Charleen was wild, though. She hadn't been in town long enough to be snapped up by one of the pimps or driven out instead." Varley handed out a sheaf of rap sheets to the Major Crime staff, and Sandburg. "She has no convictions here, though Olivia was arrested the day before they found her body in Alfred's Pond."

"Too bad she had fine money," Le Saint mentioned. "If she'd only stayed in jail, she might've missed the bastard that's doing this."

A murmur ran around the room. Every cop, and observer, felt that comment in the heart. Bad timing wasn't just bad for victims of crime; it was bad for cops too.

"And, of course," Captain Dobbs ended heavily, "we have no idea how many more women there might be out there that we just haven't found yet."

Everyone looked hard at their notepads, blank-faced for a moment. It didn't matter whether they were Homicide cops, Major Crimes detectives, or a certain anthropologist unofficially consulting to the P.D.; they all had the sense that this could turn into a much bigger case than it may have originally appeared. The Green River Killer came to the minds of most of the people at the table. There a lot of waterways around and through Cascade-on-the-Ocean, Washington.

The briefing turned to a discussion of the killer's M.O. There was nothing to establish whether the women had been raped or sodomized, though it seemed likely. Whoever it was was using gloves and condoms, given the lack of trace evidence on and in any of the bodies. All had been badly beaten, the body of Marie Hillson the least with no bones broken, with Olivia Marchese topping off the list of injuries with a broken wrist, arm, pelvis, and jaw. All had livid markings around the neck, the hyoid bone broken in each, and strangulation was the obvious murder method, though it had not been done with either the hands—no fingermarks—nor a thin, strong garotte, from the lack of tearing of the skin. Dobbs suggested that a pliable piece of fabric might have been used, though Forensics had not yet discovered any fibres to suggest what it might be. Greyson Varley rattled off a list of possibilities, and when he reached the word 'scarf', Blair Sandburg swallowed loudly. He reaped a lowering frown from the speaker for his trouble, and a slight, reassuring nudge against his foot from his roommate. Blair looked over at Jim Ellison and nodded his gratitude for the boost. Jim just watched Varley.

The cops' consensus was that what truly linked the women into a group victimized by the same sadistic killer was the means of disposal of their bodies. They had all been bound at wrists and ankles with duct tape, a relatively common feature in killings of that nature, but it was what the killer had done next which identified them as a group. Whoever was the killer had slit the abdomens, apparently at the water's edge, eviscerating the bodies; and then had piled rocks in the cavities left behind, sealing them around with more duct tape, mummylike, before commending the bodies to their gravesites. The thoroughgoing cold-bloodedness involved in such a procedure had more people than Blair Sandburg looking sick to their stomachs. This was a killer with no respect for life or death, but one who had no intention of being found easily, leaving no floaters to surface earlier than planned. This one was wily.

"So," Captain Dobbs said at the end of two hours of grueling work, "I formally hand over the Waterside Killer case to you. Captain Banks, it's all yours."

Simon Banks stood up, laid his palms on the table top and leaned forward. "I'd say thank you, but you'd know I was lying."

The three Homicide cops tightened their lips grimly, not quite smiling.

"I'd like to invite Detectives Varley and Le Saint to join the team," he went on.

Varley looked up, startled. "Ah, Captain," he said, speaking to Dobbs but staring at Banks.

"Certainly, Captain Banks." The permission had obviously been worked out in advance.

Varley began moving his lips, and Jim Ellison caught a subliminal chant of 'Yes, yes, yes!'.

"Captain," Le Saint said formally, "I'm happy to be part of the team." She nodded at the various Major Crime personnel impersonally.

Varley said nothing, looked at no one. He was not going to give anything to Major Crime, as his attitude proclaimed loudly.

"Detectives Varley and Ellison, you'll be lead investigators," Banks announced, shaking hands with his counterpart at the change of command. Dobbs' relief showed in his muscles as he commended his people to Banks' captaincy, and left the briefing room.

The two lead detectives measured each other for a very long thirty seconds, and Varley blinked first.

"We'll need decoys on the streets, and teams of fake johns to back them up. Volunteers?" Simon tossed out to get the team back into action.

Megan Conners and Janette Le Saint flicked waves at the call. So did Blair Sandburg.

Varley snorted, Jim reared back as if he were going to attack and Simon's mouth dropped open as he growled in his throat.

"You can't volunteer, Sandburg. You're not a cop," Ellison pronounced from on high.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, but it wouldn't be the first time I've gone undercover..."

"You don't qualify, Sandburg," Banks pointed out. "You're male."

"Coulda fooled me," came a whisper from one of the co-leads on the case, and the other glowered, cannon-eyed, at him.

"Yeah, but if this Gordy-boy person shops boys," Sandburg started.

"Hey, he's right, sir," Ellison interrupted. "You are still not doing it, Chief!"

Sandburg was about to quarrel when Banks jumped into the fray. "That does make sense, detective. Good idea, Sandburg. Rafe? You up to it? Brown, you're for back-up."

"Sure thing, Captain. Good thinking, Blair." The GQ fashion plate, Detective van Rijn, had much experience as an undercover decoy; he was pretty-boy handsome himself, though Blair's looks were richer and riper.

Sandburg grimaced glumly in apology to the detective. He had expected to be shot down by Jim Ellison and Simon Banks, but thought he would have a crack at talking them into it in private. Simon's decision took the wind out of his sails. He had never meant to put Rafe van Rijn into danger and felt responsible. It was a glimmer of how his Sentinel must feel when his Guide was threatened.

Varley and Le Saint were staring back and forth among the four, trying to work out the dynamics. Before they could reach any conclusions, Captain Banks commanded everyone's attention again. "Captain Taggart will be in charge of co-ordinating all efforts from here. Ellison and Varley, you're field investigators. Sandburg, too."

"What?" Varley expostulated.

"I thought I made myself perfectly clear," Banks said, icily. "Do you really need me to repeat myself?"

Varley shook his head and swore interestingly, if sub voce, at his shoes.

"Good," the Major Crime head concluded. "Get to it, people. We have a lot of work to do."

Most of the people rose and filed out, talking about their next move, but as Conner and Le Saint began to stir, Jim hailed them. "Megan, Janette, stay where you are. I wanna brainstorm this case among us."

The women sat back down again and opened their case folders again.

"So what do you want to know, Ellison? I'll tell you anything." Varley's grandiosity was not missed, nor was his deliberate refusal to admit that Blair Sandburg was in the room.

Jim swallowed his first words, having been kicked gently under the table by his partner. "We should try to come up with as good a working profile of the killer as we can. You, Le Saint and Varley, know these killings inside out."

Varley glared with self-righteousness. Le Saint was shaking her head sadly.

"So what do we have? A psycho?" Jim threw out for discussion.

"Literally a psycho?" Megan asked. "Raving at the moon, nutso, round the bend, stark staring bonkers? I don't buy it."

"And why not?" Varley demanded, trying to face Megan down.

But the answer came from Blair Sandburg. "Too organized to be obviously insane at first glance, and that fits with psychopaths or sociopaths, not schizophrenics or manics off their lithium." He continued the short lecture and Jim smiled fondly to himself. Give the Professor a topic and he could teach the world. Thank God Blair was on the side of the angels. The thought of Sandburg declaiming before thousands in a quest for personal power was chilling. Napoleon would have been outclassed.

"... no signs of decompensation yet, though the level of injury has been rising through the killings. That's to be expected, since the thrill of the kill loses its jolt"—Sandburg was looking decidedly ill—"with each new atrocity committed, and the killer has to up the ante to get the same rush. But he or she's still on top of things, evidence-wise. So, no, not an obvious killer."

"'He or she'?" Varley spat with contempt. "In your experience, Mis-ter Sand-burg, how many of this sort of crime have been committed by women?" He had risen in his rage and was halfway across the conference table, as-in-your-face as much as possible with the grad student.

But while Blair had recoiled at the unexpected hatred from the Homicide cop, Jim had risen himself, and was up in Varley's face. "In his experience, the killer is most likely male but not exclusively!"

Megan tried to interject some intelligence into the conversation. "You're right, Detective Varley, almost no women kill like this, and when they do, they're usually in pairs with their boyfriend or husband."

Jim spoke over her. "Sandburg is just pointing out that we're making assumptions here, and we need to be reminded of that. And one day, Varley, you should ask my partner what his experience with serial killers is! You might learn something."

Megan was hiding a smile, Janette Le Saint had her face in her hands, and Blair Sandburg was muttering things under his breath that only Jim could hear.

But the staring contest went on until Varley dropped his gaze. He sat back down. "So," he said with a lack of any grace whatever, "the likeliest profile is a male who doesn't display obvious signs of insanity."

"That's my guess," Jim said. "Megan?" Yes. "Le Saint?" Yes, and call me Janette. "Okay, we're all in agreement then. Blair had it right."

Varley bristled but said nothing.

"The guy has to be someone who fits into the street scene, too," Megan mentioned, matter-of-fact.

Le Saint was nodding vigourously. "We learned that there was a rumour on the streets that someone was killing women long before we found out about it."

"Interesting," Jim said. "So even with foreknowledge, the killer has been successful in luring women."

"So that could mean a couple, with the women taking the other woman's presence as a safety sign," Sandburg was saying, when Varley cut him off completely.

"Still with the female killer shit! I don't have to work with someone as out of touch with the re-a-li-ty of life on the streets as your bunkie, Ellison. This is utter bullshit and my sis-ters are dying out there while we are being en-ter-tained by some opium dream cooked up by this little Bizarro who probably smoked up before getting here!" Varley threw his file down on the table, heedless of his scattering the copious pile of papers everywhere. "I'm out of here!"

He stomped off. The four watched him stalked out of Major Crime, then Janette Le Saint spoke up. "I'll get him. Sorry about this. It's been a hard case for him. He has a niece who went missing five years ago, only sixteen, and she's still gone, no sign of her. He just needs to blow off steam now and then." She stood, rubbing her forehead gently.

"Okay, I can understand that." Blair was forgiving.

Megan lifted a shoulder.

Jim told the Homicide officer, "He can let off steam somewhere else, and to someone else, and if you won't tell him that, I will. His breach of etiquette isn't just a personal thing between him and Sandburg, and God knows why he hates Sandburg, but it's become a breach of relations between departments. If he isn't back in here within ten minutes with an apology, I'm reporting this fiasco to Banks and Dobbs both and recommending an official reprimand. Sandburg's a consultant, invited to be here, and he's here out of the goodness of his heart. He doesn't deserve Varley's bullshit and I won't stand for it any longer."

Janette Le Saint turned to Ellison. "You're completely right. I'll do what I can. I'm sorry it's blown up in your face, Mr. Sandburg—Blair—but I'll do my best to see it doesn't happen again. I for one found your input very helpful." With that she left, following her partner.

There was little said in the room for a few minutes. Blair and Jim were communicating in non-verbal manners again, and Megan was slumped back, waiting. By some arcane manner she must have decided she had waited long enough. "Hey, Jimbo, what're they saying?"

"Megan!" Blair protested.

But Jim smiled with all his teeth. "She's dressing him down in fine style. He's pissed, and it seems to be made up of equal parts of disappointment that he hasn't collared the crook yet himself, professional jealousy—he's been talking about the Officer of the Year award—and personal animosity for Blair. He thinks your mother dresses you funny, Chief. But he doesn't think you're ugly. That seems to be a sore point with him."

Blair looked down at his flannel shirt and jeans. "You think I need a make-over, guys?"

"Oh, yeah." and "No chance!" came back at him and the grad student smiled. "Split decision. I vote for no. I'm staying this way and to hell with Varley's silk suits."

Megan applauded, Jim grumbled and Blair bantered a little with them until Le Saint all but hauled Varley through the door of the conference room again.

"I'm sorry about my earlier behaviour. It won't happen again." Varley shut his mouth firmly and sat down in his old place. His papers were still scattered everywhere.

Jim wasn't satisfied. "While you're picking up the mess you left behind, you might just want to tender a personal apology to Mr. Sandburg, our captain's hand-picked consultant." His voice was cold, hard granite.

Varley looked up with fire in his eye but a Sentinel protecting a Guide is no one to mess with and without knowing the reason for it, Varley did an about-face. "I'm sorry to have made you the target of my anger, Mr. Sandburg," he proffered. "This has been a difficult case for me personally."

"I understand. And please call me Blair," the grad student handed out an olive branch. "After all, we will be working together until this case is solved."

Varley hesitated a moment and nodded. "Blair."

"Good," Jim broke in impatiently, "now let's get back to work on putting together a profile."

The truce did not last long. While the group could agree that the killer, likely male, was likely also to be between the ages of 25 and 40 (based on statistical information and the strength necessary to accomplish the physical tasks the killings had required), was probably a frequenter of the nightlife in Cascade known in some way to the women, and was also probably underemployed but with a fair degree of freedom in his work schedule, the group came apart on the question of race.

"He's gotta be white!" Varley was screaming, over and over.

"He could be black or Asian. There are precedents," Sandburg tried to argue.

"Grey, he's right, we need to have open minds on this!"

"Easy for you, Janette. It's not your brothers he's fingering!"

"Calm down, mate! No one is identifying anyone yet!"

"They're always white! Why are you afraid to admit that? What kind of pre-ju-dice did you bring to this meeting?"

"That's not the point!"

"It's the very point! I'm sick and tired of all crime being blamed on black men!"

"ENOUGH!" roared the Sentinel and then there was an almost preternatural quiet which fell over the room.

Flushed faces all puffed for breath, everyone was up out of his or her seat, and for a moment peace reigned.

Then Jim suggested, "Let's sit down and try this again," and Varley thundered, "NO!", gathering his papers and leaving the room with finality.

Le Saint looked helplessly from her partner's back to the Major Crime group, and Blair said, "Go after him, Janette. Tell him it's going to be okay, we're going to get this guy. Whatever it takes, we'll get him."

Janette Le Saint nodded unhappily. "Sorry," she apologized for her partner again. "I'll do what I can. He's, he's not taking this easily," she finished weakly.

"We can see that," Jim drawled sarcastically. Le Saint's face was stained with blood and she hung her head as she went after the missing Greyson Varley.

"Way to go, Jim. It's not her fault her partner's an asshole," Blair commented with disapproval.

"Hey," Jim began in outrage.

"Knock it off, you two!" Megan spoke with authority. "Varley's the asshole. You're not. He hasn't any right to get between you or any of us. But we have a case to solve and it's not being solved while we argue."

Jim was about to tear a strip off her, but Blair put his hand on Jim's arm and left it there. "Yeah, Megan, you're right. Sorry, Jim."

Jim knew perfectly well that Blair had nothing to apologize for, so he let it drop. "Yeah, Chief. That guy, he just gets under my skin. Fuck, worrying about who gets credit for the collar. I just, I can't believe that."

"He's hurting for his niece," Megan pointed out.

"He's got real problems with being the only black at the forefront of this investigation, too," Blair put in. "I kinda wish Joel were in here with us."

"Joel's background is as the captain of the Bomb Squad. He's more than competent, Chief, and I have the greatest respect for him, but the truth is that you do have more experience with killers than Joel ever will. Cascade attracts them like a stagnant pond does mosquitoes." Jim paused as the reality of that statement hit them all hard. "Anyway, Joel's not the right person to be brainstorming on this with us. You are, Sandburg. Simon made the right call on that. And I'm glad he did."

Jim patted the hand on his arm and started shuffling papers. In a minute, the others did too. Then they left to co-ordinate their own intentions with Joel Taggart.


They spent about ten days in the usual manner of investigating homicides of prostitutes.

Jim, Varley and Blair interviewed the pimps. Philly Franks was bored. One prostitute more or less made little difference to him, he said. His girls worked the gas stations and truck stops. They often took off without notice. But there were always more to take their place. Hell, the new ones came in on the sixteenwheelers that picked up the old ones and carried them away. Philly had a lot of girls out there, in a lot of places, and as pimps went, he was pretty lenient. His girls trusted him in a way the other Cascade pro's didn't trust theirs. Philly was very laissez-faire about discipline and he left his poules with a larger cut of their takings than most. If someone didn't want to work for him, let her go work for someone who would beat her and take all her earnings.

The men left thinking there were worse fates than being one of Philly Franks' fillies.

They checked on Solomon, a long term pimp in Cascade's history of crime. He was a bastard everyone would be pleased to have offed by a youngster on the way up, but, so far, he had foiled all comers. The guy was built like Andre the Giant and he used good, old-fashioned pain to keep his girls in line. A proponent of handing out beatings now and again 'just because', when he thought one of his stable was skimming money or taking time, she usually ended up marked for life. Solomon kept cigarettes around, but not for smoking. He was reputed to have beaten a number of his girls to death, but nothing could be proved against him.

The three men leaving wiped the dust from their feet before they could pollute the fair streets of Cascade with his dirt.

Lamarr Pegg was a puzzle. He was a posterboy for living large, and there were enough gold and pavee diamond rings on his fingers that he would never need knuckledusters. The main attraction for his girls was the never-ending flow of drugs. The guy was connected like a phone company. He could get anything, and did. Once hooked, his girls paid for their pleasures a thousandfold, until they died. But there was always another to take the place of a girl who had fallen. Except, it seemed, for Lateesha Black. Lamarr spoke for half an hour on Lateesha's beauty, innocence, sweetness and trustful nature, his eyes sparkling. She was obviously special to him, and the three men went away in bemusement. Was that what it was, to be a pimp in love with his addicted, underage hooker?

Sick, they all thought privately. Very, very sick.

Gordy-Boy Blossoms was a horse of a different colour. Where the other pimps were all African-Americans, Gordy-Boy was very, very Anglo Wasp. He spoke with a British accent and lisp, was flamboyantly gay, and called all his boys 'Darling'. He fed each one the line that he was special to him, not like his other boys, and every one of them lapped it up and swallowed, begging for more. Branching out into girls? Just a sideline, to alleviate the ennui, Gordy-boy said. He hadn't had much trouble with his girls, but he was rather expecting to have Solomon or Peggy take them away one by one. He was not averse to making pocket change off them until one of the more serious girl-pimpers made a move, though. Life on the street was give-and-take that way, he said, waving his cigarette holder around gracefully. There was a scent of strange herbs in the air. Then one of his darlings came hesitantly to the door and Gordy-boy was suddenly too busy for liaising with cops looking into murders of women.

Well, that was a bust, the three men said to each other.

And that was the roster of pimps whose stables had been raided.

Meanwhile, Megan, Janette and Rafe walked the streets, chatting up the local talent, fending off a few turf fights, and turning 'tricks' with their back-up officers for verisimilitude, and a chance for a hot meal and a little nighttime warmth. Spring could be raw at night in rainy Cascade.

They got the inside scoop on drugs, guns, perversions and the Waterside Killer. The pro's all knew about him. They mentioned some bad johns they'd dealt with in the past or heard about one of the dead women having had dealings with. And every single one of them, female and male, was sure in his or her heart that it couldn't happen to him, to her. He, she was too smart for that. Too wary. Too sophisticated. But as Megan and Janette and Rafe got into cars and vans with their friends driving, hot food and warm heaters provided, the streetwalkers went on 'dates' for twenty bucks for anyone who had cash.

Nothing more was forthcoming from pimps or hookers.


"We need to catch a break," Jim fumed at one of the weekly brainstorming session.

'Yeah," Blair began, and there was Varley at his throat again.

"Yeah? Yeah? Do you know what a break is in this kind of case, Mr. Consultant? Well, do you?"

"Back off now, Varley," Jim warned him. "What were you going to say, Chief?"

Blair was flushed and flustered. "Ah, just that we should be careful what we wish for. I was kinda hoping for a tip, not another murder."

Varley sat back, unimpressed.

Le Saint had had it, though. "Greyson Varley, you're a hell of a detective, and until this case, I've been proud to be your partner, but I swear if you don't get your head out of your ass, I'm putting in for a transfer. It isn't Blair's fault that some psycho is out killing women in Cascade. It isn't Blair's fault that there are demonstrations in front of City Hall every fucking day now. It isn't Blair's fault that the Mayor is breathing down our necks. Lay off him!"

"Janette?" Varley sounded hurt, betrayed.

"I mean it, Grey. I'm almost be grateful for his being here, because I expect I would have ended up your whipping boy, whipping girl, whatever, if he weren't. If you can't control your temper better than that, you need to stand down off this case."

Jim and Blair were reliving some tense moments of their own as partners, and as a size eight foot tapped a size eleven a couple of times, a large, long-fingered hand squeezed the knee above once. It was never pretty when partners fought.

Varley stood up. "I'm going to take a break for a while. I'll be back later." He left slowly.

The blonde woman sighed loudly and looked unhappily at the members of the Major Crime department. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

"S'okay," Megan came to her rescue. "It's nothing we haven't heard before."

Jim and Blair both coloured at that and stayed mum.

"He's so focused on this case! I've seen him on the scent of a killer before, hell, that's our lives, Homicide, and he's a bloodhound born for the chase. But this whole thing with Blair—I don't know what he's thinking. But I don't think it's personal, Blair. I really do believe he'd be taking out his aggression on me if it weren't for you. The handiest target." Her hands were fists on the top of her file folder.

"No, it's personal, all right," Blair said. Everyone looked at him. "I'm like a symbol of non-cop conformity. I'm shorter than any of you, look a lot younger even if I'm not, dress casually for comfort and price, and just generally seem to be the kind of person he should be interrogating instead of listening to." He shot Jim an amused smile. "But here I am, as upfront and personal as can be, and everyone's expecting him to listen to me. He can't be easily reconciled to that. I don't think he'll get over it until the case is solved, and he's back in Homicide and never has to see me or hear from me again."

Jim swung an arm easily around his partner's shoulders. "You could be right. I wish he'd give you half a chance, though, Chief."

"Hey, why should he be any different from the rest of the P.D., Jim?" Blair laughed out loud. "I had to prove myself to you and Simon, what, a thousand times, before you stopped seeing me as an annoyance to be swatted down."

"Confidentially, Simon thinks you're overdue for swatting down."

"Confidentially, I'm gonna swat you if you don't watch out."

"Confidentially," Jim said and withdrew the arm in order to swat the brown curls.

They all broke up at the same time, and Varley re-entered to find the tension gone, a camaraderie instead, one in which he had no place. His already stiff features soured still more.

"Well, if you're all over your hilarity, it seems that we have caught a 'break'," the Homicide cop said. "There's another body."

"Who?"

"Where?"

"Whose stable?"

"Come on, give!"

Varley filled them in. It was another of Philly Franks' girls; her pimp had called her in as missing the day before, as the cops had requested all the pimps to do until the killer was caught. She had been found half in and half out of the waters of Parliament River, ready for full dumping, but apparently scared off by the person who found the body, a sixteen- year-old out bird-watching, of all things.

The young man, a Peter Ross, was there at the precinct. He had only just reported the finding, but patrol cars had been dispatched to the scene. Ross, a boy scout, had truly been prepared. He had blazed the trail with cut marks on tree trunks. The patrolmen had just radioed back the report. The body was there exactly as he described it, complete with the tattoo of a bouquet of roses on her hip, provisionally identifying her as Vanda Carmody, according to Philly's description. The same duct tape, evisceration and rocks proclaimed the handiwork of the Waterside Killer.

"I wanna get there fast!" Jim yelled, jumping up as if to fly to the scene.

"I'm gonna interview the Ross kid. He may know more than he knows he knows," Varley announced.

"Okay, then, Chief, you're with me."

"Janette, with me."

"NO!"

Everyone stopped and stared. Blair Sandburg was red as a beet. "I wanna stay here during questioning, Jim. I wanna hear what Ross has to say. You go on ahead without me."

Jim was open-mouthed in disbelief. "Chief, I need you with me," he hissed.

"I now, I know, I just—I have to be here right now," Sandburg said uncomfortably. Puppy-dog eyes were beseeching, and Ellison put his lips back together.

"You have to be here right now," he repeated tonelessly.

"Uh, yeah," Blair muttered, "here, now. Jim?"

With that appeal, Ellison seemed to fight a battle within himself. At long last he said, "Okay, Chief. Here, now. Megan, Janette, you take the preliminary crime scene search. Megan, you know the drill."

Megan Conner nodded. Don't let anyone touch anything until Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the five enhanced senses, organic crime lab, arrived. However late, however delayed by his Guide and the Shaman of Cascade. "Let's go, girlfriend," Megan said, and she and Le Saint got going.

Greyson Varley was dancing impatiently at the door. "Look, I don't know what this is about, but I'm heading the interrogation of this witness, and I'm not waiting for you guys to get over whatever you're stuck on." With that, he rushed out.

"We're going to have a little talk about this—later," Jim threatened.

"Yeah, I know, Jim. But—I gotta be here for this, and I don't exactly know why. But I gotta." Blair was at once determined and apologetic. His hands waved helplessly between them, conveying more than speech could alone.

"Then let's go watch Varley work," Jim said tersely. Their little talk was likely to turn into a long one, he could tell.

Varley went to work on the high school student. Simon, Chuck Dobbs, Jim and Blair all watched the interview through a two-way mirror. The Homicide cop pushed hard for information and answers that the kid tried equally as hard to provide. But Varley's own drivenness proved counterproductive. He was scaring the witness, and it was obvious to all watching that the kid was closing down, not opening up.

Dobbs and Banks muttered back and forth, and finally, Dobbs went to the door of the interview room. "Detective," he asked his man, "can I see you for a few minutes?"

Varley, visibly angry and disappointed, left the boy behind. Peter Ross sank into a chair, pinching between his eyebrows. If he was like anyone else in this case, he had a migraine crowding his skull like a football fans melee in Europe.

In the observation area, Dobbs laid it on the line for Varley. "You're not being effective in your questioning of this witness," the Homicide captain decided. "You've got him scared, Grey. Just look at him. He looks like he thinks he's a suspect, for Cryssake!"

Varley's protests died as he watched the kid, who was clearly very ill at ease.

"Who wants to take over? Jim?" Simon suggested.

"Sure."

"No, wait," Sandburg piped up.

"What?" Greyson Varley yelled like a banshee. "Oh, come on, you're not seriously considering letting this pipsqueak question the kid. He's not even a cop!"

Dobbs looked dubious, Banks was fulminating at being put in this position, and Ellison was left to be peacemaker.

"Hang on, just hear him out. How come you told us to wait, Chief?"

"Jim? Is it more important that this kid be able to testify in court about what he remembers, or is it more important to get a lead from him that we can follow up and find evidence on the killer from?" Blair asked.

"We can't have both?"

"Maybe, but if you have to pay with one for the other, which way do you go?"

"Lead."

"Evidence"

"Forget the kid's testimony. If he can give us a lead, that's the important thing."

With the backing from the two Major Crimes cops and the captain of Homicide, Blair Sandburg went on, heedless of the snort from Varley. "Okay, then. Just look at the kid. He's practically strung out with tension. He'll never be able to contribute everything he knows in this state of mind."

"Yeah, so why shouldn't Jim question him?" Banks asked heatedly.

"Well, Si— Captain, I think he probably needs to be relaxed in a professional manner. I think he should be questioned under hypnosis. It could bring out a whole lot of information Peter's probably never recognized consciously, or is subconsciously blocking now because he's scared."

"Oh, and where are we gonna get a clinical hypnotist from in the next two minutes?" Varley asked demeaningly. "You can snap one up with your fingers, Sandburg?"

"Well, actually, yeah," Blair returned.

Four sets of cop eyes pierced him.

"I can," Blair repeated simply. "I'm a clinical hypnotist, or at least, I was."

"What kind of bullshit crap is this?" Varley threw his hands up in the air, calling on unnamed gods to strike Sandburg down with lightning. "You're a hypnotist like I'm Nostradamus."

"I don't know how good you are at prognosticating, but I know how good I am at hypnosis," Blair said firmly. "I can interrogate this kid under hypnosis and the interrogation won't be tainted by false memory syndrome because I'm trained in how to do it right. You should film it, though, because it will undoubtedly come up in court unless there's overwhelming trace evidence to convict withwhich is why I was asking about the lead v. evidence thing.

"But I really do know what I'm doing."

"No way, no way, no way," Varley chanted, taking the temperature of the room. Dobbs was unconvinced but Banks and Ellison were undeniably intrigued. "How can you buy this from him?" the Homicide cop asked in disgust.

"Sandburg's a good man," Banks said simply. "Why didn't you tell us this before?"

"It never came up," Blair answered just as simply.

"Explain this to me," Captain Dobbs demanded.

"Okay, just, send that kid in something to eat and drink, get someone to chitchat with him. He needs to relax now. His parents?"

"They've been sent for."

"Good. I need their consent for this."

A patrol cop was given the tasks, and she went to ask what Peter Ross wanted for lunch, assuring him that his mother was on her way to the precinct.

Then Blair explained.

"I told you I had a minor in Psychology, right?

Banks and Ellison nodded.

"Well, that was in undergrad. When I took my bachelor's degree in anthropology and decided on the direction I wanted to go in for my M.A. and Ph.D., Eli Stoddard sat down with me and talked it all through."

Simon and Jim were nodding understanding. Dobbs and Varley were lost, but no one really cared.

"Anyway, Eli—he's my mentor at university—Eli said I had overloaded my degree with cultural anthropology courses and with my particular thesis topic, I'd need a lot more psychology courses in lab work and statistics and psychometry and physiological psychology and stuff." Blair paused and looked around. There was a general level of enlightenment going on.

"So I did a fifth year with a focus on psychology, and ended up in my sixth year taking an M.A. in psychology before I went on to do my M.A. in anthropology, which was always my goal in the first place. The psychology courses were only to facilitate my anthropological studies. There's a lot of interdisciplinary stuff going on there, too."

"How the hell many years have you been in university?" Dobbs spouted.

Blair grinned. "Nearly half my life. I'm in Year 14 now. Anyway, I entered university at sixteen, had my four-year degree at twenty, my fifth year at twenty-one and my M.A. in Psych. at twenty-two. My M.A. in Anthro came at twenty-four. A lot of the research I did early on was really towards my Ph.D., though. I've known since I was sixteen what I wanted to do with my life."

He grinned at his partner, and got a glowing smile back, quickly hidden from the rest.

"So I had my M.A. with a lot of hours in clinical hypnosis under one of my Psych professors, and I qualified for it, so I joined ASCH in 1991. That's when it established its professional categories and qualifications."

"You have a licence to practice clinical hypnosis in Washington?" Banks asked in surprise.

"No," Blair replied. "This is something I did for a while and then dropped when my Anthro studies became my whole focus and I didn't have money for anything but school. ASCH, that's the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, was one of the earliest self-governing professional bodies in the area of hypnosis back in '91. States weren't licensing hypnotists, and the standard of practice varied from stage hypnotists making people squawk like chickens to forensic hypnosis, like what I think will work with Peter Ross."

"So you're not really qualified, after all," Varley said with great self-satisfaction, about to badmouth his unwilling nemesis.

But Blair stopped him dead. "Oh, yes, I am qualified," he said. "I just let my membership in ASCH lapse while I wasn't using it. I can revive it with a cheque for fees. I've got the M.A. in Psychology and the hundreds of hours in clinical hypnosis, one of my summer jobs, you know," he looked back and forth between Jim and Simon, "and if it looks like it would be a good idea to go forward with this for future interrogations or something, I guess I can save for the fees and send the cheque in."

Blair smiled to himself as Simon squirmed a little uncomfortably, then addressed the reservations anyone might have. "But, no, it's not a current membership now, and I am at the second level of qualification, not the first, which requires a Ph.D. in Psych. or Ed. or whatever; and membership in ASCH doesn't guarantee that the particular hypnotist is any good, so it's important to know if we want to try to get Peter Ross to give us leads or if we want to bring his testimony into court."

"Well, Sandburg, I have to say you impressed me," Banks concluded. "I had no idea you had this very valuable tool in crime-fighting to offer as part of your consultancy!"

Blair nearly flinched at the level of pissiness. "Yeah, well, you know, I'll have to pay the fees out of the cheque you write me for my consulting services," he shot back.

Simon backed down, Jim stifled laughter, Dobbs did a double take and Varley swore beneath his breath.

"So do I go in there and hypnotize the witness or what?" Blair asked for direction.

Banks closely scrutinized his consultant and then nodded at Dobbs. "Get a camera ready and send him in. He can do the job."

Varley tossed his file on the floor and walked out. Dobbs looked after him. "This case has been a trial for him, but there's no call for that kind of behaviour. I'll talk to him. He's due for a vacation and overdue for a letter of reprimand. I'm sorry about that. He's a good man."

Blair Sandburg sighed. "We just didn't get along from Day One, Captain. I don't know that he needs a formal reprimand. He, you know, ah—Jim and I didn't get along well at the start either."

Jim was nodding.

"Varley just judged me using cop standards, that's all."

Dobbs was quiet for a few seconds, peering closely at the grad student. Then he spoke softly. "The difference is that Jim Ellison looked beyond the facade and Greyson Varley didn't. He is a good man, but he is one with faults that can and have affected his performance on his job. But I respect your unwillingness to be the cause of any action I decide to take. Let me assure you that it is in no way your doing. I call 'em as I see 'em, and Greyson Varley made this investigation personal between his colleagues. That is unprofessional in my book. I'm his superior and it's up to me to do something about it. Don't let it bother you, Mr. Sandburg, whatever I do. But I will reflect on what you've said before I take further action. You've been more than generous to him."

Blair didn't know where to look.

Jim stepped into the breach. "Um, Chief, you wanna get this hypnosis session underway? We're losing valuable time, and I need to get to the scene."

At that, Sandburg jumped as if a fire had been lit under him. Of course his Sentinel needed to get to the scene, and his Guide should be with him. The Shaman had better get his act together. There was more work ahead of them.

So Blair went into the interrogation room and struck up a conversation with the witness, putting the sixteen-year-old at ease without even trying. The mother arrived almost immediately. Blair, with Jim's assistance, made all the reassurances necessary that Peter was not under suspicion, and that the use of forensic hypnosis was a tool needed to stop the Waterside Killer.

The mother demanded she be present during the procedure, Blair said he wouldn't have it any other way, and Peter agreed to put himself into Blair's hands.

Thereby, a smidgen of information that would have gone overlooked was saved, its import priceless. While Peter Ross had been tramping through the brush, whistling at birds, the killer had been spooked and somehow in his panic hit something that did not remain intact. Something Peter noticed only subconsciously.

Jim and Blair drove to Parliament River with sirens blaring. The road trip to the hikers' path along which Peter Ross had been watching birds took less time than the hike down to the water. Heavy brush was in their way.

Megan was cross, having had a difficult time with her counterpart, Le Saint, trying to preserve the area around the corpse for Jim's special talents without having a sensible reason to offer, thought they had done everything necessary at the roadside, checking for tire tracks and footprints and signs of a body being dragged through the dust. Jim apologized to her and nominated Blair to take Megan out for a dinner of luscious French cuisine, startling a blush out of them both, and went to work with his Sentinel senses, Blair at his back.

"Do you see anything here, Jim?"

"No, nothing helpful beyond what Forensics can pick up."

"Okay, work in a circle around the body, and then backwards out through the brush."

The circling turned up nothing.

"Okay, okay, you're doing great, and we're gonna find it. It's just a matter of taking our time." Blair was patting Jim on the back.

"Yeah, okay, Chief," Jim responded, staring carefully around the area.

"You know what you're looking for. Just let the green leaves and the brown bark and the ground fall away, filter them out, and look for what shouldn't be there."

They had to backtrack about forty feet before Jim found it.

"Hah! Got it! You son of a bitch, you're going down for this, you're fried now!"

"Jeez, Jim, that's terrific. Just terrific. Man, are you good. You're the best!"

"I can always use a little help from my friends, Buddy," Jim said affectionately.

Then Megan and Janette were there, attracted by the shouts of victory.

"Whatcha got, bucko?" Megan wanted to know.

"Can we identify him?" Janette demanded with anticipation.

"Take a look, ladies." Jim held up a glassine packet.

There was a fleck of brilliance in it.

"Jim? What's this?" the Australian Inspector asked.

"This is the break we've been waiting for. Peter Ross..."

"... that's the kid who found the body?"

"Yeah, Janette. He remembered that out of all the hikers he saw around here, there was a black guy fingering a gold and diamond ring on his hand, rubbing at it with his thumbnail. It was hardly more than an impression, but my partner here got it out of him."

"How does this help the case?"

Jim smiled with utter certainty. "I know whose ring it came from. If we can get to him before he knows we're on the way, he'll probably still have it on his hand."

"Who, Jim, who is it?"

"Yes, indeed, Detective Ellison, who is the Riverside Killer?" came an oily congenial voice. "The people of Cascade want to know. This is Don Haas live reporting from the scene of the latest tragedy, another Waterside Killing, this time at Parliament River."

"Put this man under arrest," Ellison responded. "And his news crew. They are impeding a crime scene investigation."

The yellow tape setting the boundaries of the police investigation was a good fifty feet back from where Jim and the others stood. Watching Haas flub his lines, live from Parliament River, was almost worth the realization that he had possibly destroyed the case. They could only hope that the Killer wasn't watching television.

In fact, he was not. Before the cops had left police headquarters, having realized the importance of Ross's testimony, Jim had detailed Rafe and Brown to tail their quarry. He led them out of his downtown 'offices' straight to a cabin in the wilds. As Rafe and Brown watched, the man began hauling stuffed trash bags out of the place, looking around all the while, but not seeing the cops where they were staked out. When he left, bags in the trunk of his sedan, Brown separated from his partner and followed the car while Rafe scouted around the cabin out and followed a trail of bloodstains, a lot of bloodstains, to the front door, and, significantly, a second glittering diamond chip. The arrest and subsequent conviction of Lamarr Pegg was in nailed down.


"Man, was that a weird case," Sandburg commented to his partner while they wandered around in the kitchen of the loft paying no attention whatever to the game playing on television. They were too worked up for entertainment.

"Yeah, really weird. Pimps don't usually turn into serial killers, or at least, not like this." Jim was shaking his head. It was strange.

"Well, they gotta be sociopaths to be pimps, pretty much," Blair mused.

His partner handed him a second beer. "Yeah, and respect for women isn't exactly a job qualification."

"Still, that kind of violence—do you suppose he started out small, just whaling on his girls for discipline or whatever he'd call it, and then discovered he liked it? A lot?" Blair shivered.

"Yeah, probably. Probably also has a history of tormenting cats. Goes with the type."

"I guess he'd have been in the perfect position to prey on hookers." Blair took a long swallow. "I mean, he's someone no one would question being out on the streets."

"Yeah, and he probably got the girls into his car with promises of drugs, or maybe talking about changing stables. But once inside, they were goners."

Lamarr Pegg had had his sedan fully equipped for the domination of unsuspecting women. Among other items, it included a variety of drugs, handcuffs and other restraints, and a bottle of ether. A long, narrow strip of linen was found too, stained with both ether and blood. Jim had broken that piece of news to Blair very gently indeed.

"But the really sick thing was the way he talked about Lateesha, man. I mean, he really sounded like he loved her, Jim." Blair caught and held his best friend's eyes.

"He did, Chief. Only it wasn't as a woman. He loved her as the perfect victim."

"Oh, man, I feel sick."

The two sat on the couch in front of the tv and tried not to think about that for a bit.

Then Jim said tentatively, "Hey, Chief? Can I ask a question?"

"Yeah, sure," Blair said, reaching out touch Jim's biceps. "Anything. You upset with me for not mentioning the hypnosis thing? I'm sorry about that. I never thought it might be useful."

The Sentinel turned towards his Guide. "Yeah, I have to admit that it came as a shock. Took me a while to process the information. Is there, is there like a reason you didn't tell me?"

Blair looked blank for a moment. "Well, it was a part of my life but not a big one and it was in the past and I just didn't think about it. One of those things you pick up and do for a while and then you move on. I'd moved on, I guess." He drank again.

Jim was ignoring his bottle. "I mean, was there any reason involving, like, you know..."

Suddenly Blair's eyes brightened. "You mean us, the Sentinel thing? Oh, shoot, no, man. Why, Jim? Why would you think I'd deliberately keep that from you?"

Jim shrugged, staring at the set, nursing his beer. "I don't know. You, uh, you took hypnosis so you could study Sentinels, Chief?"

Blair put his own beer down, moved closer to his friend and turned Jim's head with his hand, the other planted firmly on Jim's shoulder. "Hey, Jim, I never would use anything like that against you. In fact, it wasn't really something I did with my quest for Sentinels at all, except that it provided scholastic credits I needed and a good job for the summer under Dr. Parmenter. Basically, I needed the money, man."

Jim stared into his Guide's depthless blue eyes and nodded slowly. "So all the meditations...?"

Blair gulped and put both hands on his Sentinel's shoulders. "They're related techniques, Jim, so I kinda had a toehold on what I was going for when I was studying it. But clinical hypnosis is more than knowing how to reach an altered state of consciousness or taking unfair advantage of the suggestibility of a subject. Forensic hypnosis is more like learning how to question someone properly. Cops have their way, lawyers have their way, hypnotists have their way too. Because of the suggestibility factor, the hypnotist has to be way careful not to plant suggestions through the questions themselves. Take Greyson Varley, for instance. The guy was so hipped on it being a white male that he'd've had Peter Ross convinced that that was who he'd seen, even if there'd been no white guy around for miles and an Asian pairing, male and female, had bumped into him and apologized for leaving bloodstains on his jeans."

Jim considered that and brought his own hands up, squeezing his partner's shoulders once. "Okay, I get it, Chief." The two fell back apart again.

For a moment the chanting of the fans on television was all the noise in the loft, but Blair had to know something. "Were you, like, really worried, Jim? I mean, was this some kind of major source of anxiety for you?"

Jim swung around at the sound of his partner's wistfulness. "NO! Geez, no, Chief. It's just... I was in Black Ops, Blair, and sometimes... it comes back to haunt me."

"Oh!" was Blair's response.

Then, "My life then used to be... I can't really talk about it. But I'm really glad I have someone now to help me put things into their proper perspective, Chief."

"Hey, I'm here for you, Jim. Always."

And he always was.

~ End ~


E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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