Disclaimer: See home page.
Background: This AU story takes place in modern day Cascade where sentinels and guides are known and highly respected. It's also a world where the institution of slavery was never abolished and is considered a normal part of everyday life.
Summary: Detective Jim Ellison unexpectedly finds himself the owner of an abused, but very unique, slave who has a major impact on his life.
Author's Notes: If this story is received well (I know that some people may not like this particular universe), it may become the first story in what will be known as the Slave Driver Series. So naturally I'm anxious to hear any and all comments and opinions on both the story itself and the possibility of a series based in this Alternate Universe. I would like to thank my beta, Lyn, for all her hard work in fixing all my mistakes and typos. This story certainly kept her busy
. I'd also like to thank her sister, Annie, who read the betaed version and sent me some suggestions about a few scenes. Thanks to both of them for all their help. Since I naturally made many changes after receiving their input, blame me for any errors you might find.
A New Challenge
Jacob Sandburg stood with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing through the window of his home office as the sun set behind the well-maintained grounds of his estate. Like most men in this commerce-driven world, he had worked hard, invested well and had planned on leaving his children well established in both name and credit. To die and leave one's family in debt was the worst possible stigma a man could inflict upon them. Now he was facing that very real possibility himself. His grown sons' credit ratings would drop to almost nil as they struggled to maintain their own finances while having to pay off the inherited debt. His beautiful wife and daughter would be quietly ostracized by their peers for having a husband and father who was not able to handle his fiscal responsibilities as expected. The once proud and very creditworthy name of Sandburg would become synonymous with failure. The shame of that failure would follow his children and grandchildren. Tears pricked Jacob's dark blue eyes. He simply could not allow his family to endure such a humiliating legacy because of him.
With a sad sigh he turned from the window and sat behind the large antique desk that dominated the room. A school textbook was lying on top. His eldest daughter-in-law had visited that morning with the grandchildren; one of them must have left it behind. Idly picking it up, Jacob switched on the green-shaded banker's lamp, then almost dropped the book when he saw the title:
The History of Slavery
Elementary School Edition
The U.S. Department of Slave Management
Then, almost against his will, he opened the government issued textbook and started reading.
... Since the beginning of recorded history, the victors of war have taken those of the losing side captive, as slaves. Besides acquiring cheap laborers, this allowed the winners to rebuild their resources, in both material and personnel, while ensuring that there would be no repercussions from the defeated forces.
Jacob skimmed through the book, stopping at random pages. He felt as though he had a duty to remind himself of the rarely thought-about plight of slaves.
... During the early 1500s the British government, after defeating yet another small country and enslaving its people, realized that a great deal of its after war capital was being spent on the upkeep of its newly acquired slaves, hampering the refilling of its war depleted treasury. A new way of maintaining a steady supply of slaves was needed. This eventually led to the idea of aggressively breeding slaves rather than continuing to obtain them as acquisitions of war. So instead, after an enemy was defeated, the biggest and strongest among the conquered were taken as breeders, as well as workers, while the rest of the population was merely subjected to live under British rule. This new system of producing slaves by breeding the best of any newly conquered people was soon adopted worldwide.
... By the late 1600s slave uprisings had increased significantly. By breeding the larger, stronger slaves it was discovered too late that this was producing slaves who were increasingly more difficult to control. After a series of international incidents in which slaves turned on their masters and killed them, it was decided that something had to be done.
In 1693 the British Institute of Slavery (BIS) was formed to address the issue. They concluded that since breeding had produced the problem, selective breeding could also solve it. The reverse of the previous ideas about the best way to breed slaves took effect. Now it was primarily the smaller and more docile slaves who were chosen for reproduction. Since there was still a need for strong manual laborers, larger slaves were bred with either more docile or less intelligent ones to ensure that their strength remained but not the will or intelligence to use that strength against their masters. The many different ethnic backgrounds of slaves became blended together as they were now matched according to their desired physical and mental characteristics, not their racial makeup. Once again the rest of the world rushed to follow England's lead in the new controlled breeding of slaves.
The strategy worked. Within three generations virtually all slave rebellions stopped. The selectively bred slave was easily controllable and thought of nothing except how to serve his or her master. In 1865 the United States created the Department of Slave Management (DSM) to oversee all issues pertaining to slaves and slave ownership. Soon, almost every other developed country had also created its own similar agency.
Jacob couldn't read any more. Besides, he was just putting off the inevitable. Reaching into his pocket he removed a gold key ring and picked out a small key. Fitting it into the lock of the top drawer of his desk, he turned it and slid the drawer open. There was only one folder within and he pulled it out and placed it on the desktop. Carefully, he removed the one piece of paper it contained and laid it on top of the folder.
The sheet of paper lying there, at first glance, looked innocuous enough. A standard contract, written in the usual legalese. A simple transfer of ownership of one of his many possessions from himself to another party. So simple. So unthinkable.
It was time.
Time. Time was his enemy here. If only he had had more of it, he would have been able to resolve this grave situation in his usual way, arrange another business deal or borrow the money. His lines of credit and credit ratings were impeccable; under any other circumstances he would have no problem securing the funds he needed. Except for that one devastating, irreversible doctor's diagnosis, which meant that he didn't have the time to arrange and follow through on another deal nor would he have the time to pay off a new loan. And that would have left him dying and owing a very large sum of money to his creditors, instead of to a personal friend, as he did now. He had, foolishly, he now realized, cashed in his life insurance policy, thinking he could re-instate it from his share of the coming profits. This meant that the still sterling Sandburg credit rating had now become the most important inheritance he would be able to leave to his family, his one way of assuring their and their children's futures; it had to be preserved at all costs.
His mind turned back to what had started all this in the first place. The business venture that he had invested in had been risky, to be sure, but he had studied all the angles very carefully and decided that the payoff would be more than worth the risks. Because it was not a rock solid investment, he had bypassed his usual avenues for procuring the funds needed and had, instead, used some of his own money, but had borrowed the bulk of the financing from his good friend and neighbor, Dr. Eli Stoddard. Eli was the head of the Anthropology Department at Rainier University. He had had a very successful career as an anthropologist, heading several newsworthy expeditions and writing many best selling books about his exploits, before settling down at the University. His estate bordered the Sandburg's and the two families had spent many pleasant hours visiting each other's homes.
Jacob and Eli had discussed the deal at length, with his friend deciding to invest in it with him by contributing the main portion of the needed financial backing. He had promised Eli a larger than usual percentage of the profits, in return for his show of good faith.
The arrangements were made, contracts signed. The deal was done. Everything was going according to schedule. It was looking to be very profitable for everyone involved. Then the unexpected typhoon had struck out at sea. It was the wrong time of year for such violent weather, making it the one thing no one had predicted. All three cargo ships were lost, their shipments never recovered. Because this had been a privately funded arrangement, and they thought that every possible problem had been covered, they had decided to chance forgoing the exorbitant cost of purchasing the insurance that public lenders would have insisted on before agreeing to back such a venture. Jacob's share of the loss was certainly a financial setback but he had enough personal assets plus other business dealings to be able to absorb most of the blow. What he didn't have was the capital to pay back Eli for his original investment plus the additional profits he had personally guaranteed to him, no matter what the final outcome of the venture. Even though it was a privately arranged loan, it was still a publicly known debt as he did, by law, have to declare where he had received the funding for the failed project. If he died owing this debt to Eli, his family would still be ruined.
In the end there was only one solution. The first few times he proposed it to his friend, Eli had protested vigorously. He had stated that he would rather lose the money than do what was suggested. Finally, Jacob was able to convince him that it was the only honorable way to resolve the issue. When he told his wife what he had to do, she had to be sedated and had taken to her bed. His sons were naturally horrified, but, being businessmen themselves now, understood why it had to be done. When he finally, tearfully, told his beloved Naomi, she had cried for his pain but never wavered in her determination to do her duty to her family.
Now all that was left was his signature on the contract.
Knowing he was just looking for any excuse to delay what he had to do, Jacob picked up the discarded textbook again, this time thumbing through to the back pages.
... Today's slaves are a combination of carefully controlled breeding and conditioning. They are genetically engineered to be a faithful servant to their master. The genetic factors are reinforced with education. All U.S. slaves receive five years of schooling starting at age seven. This schooling is done at special, DSM run Slave Schools. Besides learning the basics in reading, writing and mathematics, a large part of each school day is used to educate the young slaves in proper slave/freeborn etiquette, and in their lifelong duties and obligations as slaves. The teachers constantly reinforce one main lesson to their students: that a happy, well content slave is one who lives to serve their master.
To disobey or, even worse, raise a hand or speak out against a master will not only bring swift punishment, but also will cause the slave to be shunned by the other slaves as well. To be shunned is the worse experience slaves can endure since it leaves them totally alone. No other slave will speak to or have any type of contact with a shunned peer. Only the slave's master can end a shunning. However, thanks to the years of controlled breeding plus early childhood schooling, the slaves of today rarely have thoughts other than being a loyal and obedient servant and, therefore, punishments are rare.
... When a slave reaches five years of age, the DSM injects a small microchip into the left side of the neck. It remains there for life. All pertinent information is contained in the chip: slave's name, current master's name, mother's name, father's name, date of birth, place of birth, master's name at birth and a complete medical history, including blood type and allergies. Each time there is any change in the information, such as when the slave is sold or becomes injured or ill, the microchip is updated. When a slave reaches puberty, an implant is injected under the skin of the upper left arm. This implant contains a long-lasting contraceptive that keeps the slave sterile. It is replaced semi-annually. When a master decides to breed the slave, the implant is removed. Both males and females receive the implant. This keeps all breeding under the strict control of the masters. All subsequent births are registered with the Department of Slave Management.
Throwing the primer across the room, Jacob slumped back in his chair, covering his face with his hands. God, why did he ever pick up that stupid book in the first place? No more procrastination. He had to do what was best for his family and his descendants. Picking up his pen, his eyes scanned the paper in front of him.
There was no precedent for what he was doing; it was totally unheard of. In fact, his lawyer had to have his assistants search through several law books in order to find the proper wording for the document. He read over the words. So impersonal and precise. But then nothing could accurately describe the magnitude of what he was about to do. With a heavy hand, and an even heavier heart, he signed his name and sealed the deal. As tears flowed down his face, he already mourned the loss of his only daughter, whom he had just now sold into slavery.
Naomi rubbed her swollen belly. It wouldn't be long now. The doctor had told her she was having a boy. Master Elieven after two years it was still sometimes hard to think of him as Master instead of the childhood honorific of Unclehad promised her that she could name him. True to his word to her father, he had been very good to her. When Father's attorney had brought her here, contact in hand, she didn't know what to expect. But, when Master Eli gave the lawyer the signed affidavit stating that her father's debt was now paid in full, she knew she was doing the right thing. Father had already sold all but the bare minimum number of slaves necessary to run the family estate to finance the disastrous business deal. If he had sold the estate, after the ships sank, to pay the debt, Mother would have been forced to leave the house she had moved into as a young, new bride. The home where she had lived and raised her four children for almost forty years. And, of course, Father's reputation in the business world would have been irreparably damaged.
It wasn't so bad here. She had her own room in the main house and, because of her upbringing, took over the duties as hostess, whenever there was company, 'Aunt' Agnes having passed away a few years before she arrived. When she wasn't playing hostess she was Master's personal assistant. The brilliant anthropologist was helpless when it came to budgets and doing the books. His wife had always handled that, and since Naomi had been attending business school prior to being sold, it just seemed natural for her to step in and take over the task for him. With the Stoddard children all grown and living in various parts of the country, Master Eli almost seemed to think of her as another daughter and treated her accordingly. All in all, it really wasn't that bad a life. Except that she had loved to travel, she and her mother had done so extensively while she was growing up, and now she couldn't even leave the estate without permission. She now knew how the bird in the gilded cage felt.
Everyone had been shocked when it was discovered she was pregnant. It took a while before someone finally figured out how it happened. As is the custom, whenever company stayed over and there was an unattached male in the party, she was offered to him as a companion for the night. Just as Bradley, the male butler, was offered to any single female guest. She didn't mind. Even though she was just under 20 years old when she first arrived, she hadn't exactly been a blushing virgin. Master Eli's guests were well bred, intelligent and usually entertaining. They always treated her well.
Someone eventually remembered that Naomi was freeborn, meaning she had never received the contraceptive implant. It was just plain luck that the pregnancy hadn't happened sooner. Counting back to the time she would have conceived, it was found to have been during the very busy Christmas season. There had been numerous parties, some University related, some with Eli's wide circle of personal friends and business acquaintances. Many of the guests stayed all night. Even when there weren't parties, people were always dropping by, most staying late and spending the night. Almost everyone brought an extra friend or relative along. Naomi's, Bradley's and many other slaves' services had been used too many times to count or to remember who stayed with any one guest on any one night. In the end it was determined that it would be virtually impossible to figure out who the father could be. Her child would be the first known baby to have Unknown listed as the father on their DSM birth registration.
She was leaning towards Blair for her son's first name. It was her mother's maiden name. Even though slaves weren't usually given second names, his would be Jacob. She knew her family would never publicly acknowledge the child as a Sandburg, but at least this way she could provide her son with a small link connecting him with the grandmother he would never know and the grandfather whose funeral, as a slave, she was not permitted to attend.
23 Years Later, Present Time
Detective Jim Ellison looked around as he and Captain Joel Taggart walked through the Renaissance Market. It was modeled and named after the open-air markets of the renaissance period. He hadn't been here since he and his brother, Stevie, used to come with their father when the elder Ellison was either buying or selling household slaves. The market hadn't changed all that much. There was still the constant flow of people as they headed back and forth from one venue to another, while vendors tried to sell them various wares as they passed by their stands. As a rule, crowds irritated him and he avoided them whenever possible. He reminded himself that he was just here to help Joel; he could ignore anything that wasn't pertinent to their mission.
It looked like the slave traders, the market's main business, were still located at the very back of the sprawling grounds. Between the entrance and the slave areas was a wide mixture of tents, open stalls and booths hawking everything from food to almost any type of goods and entertainment imaginable. Since the market was only open on weekends and many of the vendors rotated their schedules, even those who weren't interested in slaves often came to see what was new, adding to the overall festive air. As they passed one of the food booths, Jim's stomach suddenly growled, reminding him that he had skipped breakfast that morning and it was now just past lunchtime. Walking in the brisk wintry air was only fueling his hunger. Joel apparently had heard it, too, as he laughed.
"How 'bout we stop for lunch on our way back out? I could stand to eat something myself. Think this'll take long?"
Jim shook his head. "It shouldn't. You pretty much already know what you're looking for. Once you settle on a price, it's just a matter of getting the paperwork done."
Now Joel shook his head. "It's kind of ironic when you think about it. Back when the kids were little and we really could have used the help, I couldn't afford a slave, not on a patrolman's salary. Now that they're all grown and living on their own, I'm finally getting around to getting one." He sighed. "But Margaret really loves that big old house and doesn't want to give it up. With her arthritis getting worse though, not to mention all the times she babysits the grandkids, she really needs someone to help her out. Even so, I still had to talk her into it." He looked over at his fellow detective. "That's why I really appreciate you coming with me, Jim. I need someone who is at least familiar with dealing with the traders. They'd see me coming a mile away."
"Well, the fine art of negotiation was one thing my father drilled into me and my brother when we were growing up. Even if I didn't go into any of the family businesses, it did come in handy when I bought the loft and my car. I'm glad to help out."
By now they had reached the slave traders' tents. There were seven tents in all but only five were presently open for business. Each tent was anywhere from 10 to 20 feet long and roughly 10 feet wide. The entire front could be rolled up and tied. During the week, or whenever a tent wasn't being used, this flap was lowered and secured, protecting the interior. That is where the similarities ended.
The tents were all in various degrees of condition. The best one had wooden flooring in it. On top of the floor was a long table with several chairs around it for the slaves on display to sit on. A smaller table in the back of the tent held a large water cooler and several cups. Two heaters, one set at each end of the tent, helped keep the cool weather at bay. A large ceiling fan hung down from the top, its moderately spinning blades keeping the heater-warmed air circulating. The other tents ranged from straw covered flooring to bare earth, all of them with chairs and stools and a bucket of water with either a few mugs nearby or just a ladle sticking out. A few of the tents, mainly the ones with straw covering the floor, had at least one metal fire barrel going, usually with a screen on top to catch any loose sparks. Each tent held from ten to fifteen adult slaves, both male and female. Beside each large tent was a smaller trader's tent, used to complete the transaction with the customer after a slave had been sold. In front of each large tent was either a trader or an assistant who tried to entice passers-by to come over and check out their merchandise.
Jim went directly to the tent with the wooden floor. This was the trader his father always used. Bates' slaves usually sold for more than the other vendors' but his reputation was top-notch and he stood behind every slave he sold. Carleton Bates was the third generation to run the family-owned business, and from the looks of the younger man standing with him, his son was going to be the fourth.
The older man turned around to face his prospective customers. "Yes? How can I help you gentlemen today?" He looked back and forth between the two men in front of him, his gaze lingering on Jim with a faintly puzzled expression on his face.
"I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade PD and this is Captain Taggart. Joel here is looking to buy his first slave. I told him you were the best in the business."
The older slave trader nodded. "Thank you for that recommendation, Detective, but even though you look somewhat familiar, I don't recall our doing any business together. I make it a point to remember all my customers." He looked closer at Jim, his eyes widening in recognition. "Of course. James Ellison. Of the"
"Yeah." Jim quickly cut him off before he could finish his sentence, hoping none of the other people milling around had heard.
Carleton Bates had been dealing with people long enough to know when to change tactics. "My, you've grown since you were last here. So, how is your father? I haven't seen him in a while so I'll assume that the last couple of slaves I sold to him are working out to his satisfaction."
"He's good. And he's never had a problem with anyone he's bought from you. Which is why I brought my friend here." Jim was relieved to find a way to turn the attention away from himself and back onto Joel.
Realizing that he'd been ignoring his actual customer, Carleton hurried to make amends. But then again, one did not ignore an Ellison either. "Ah, Captain, my apologies for my rudeness. But James' father and I go way back. The last time I saw Detective Ellison, he and his brother were here with their father. But that was many years ago. What can I do for you today?"
Joel wasn't insulted or surprised by the businessman's deferential treatment towards his friend. He was, after all, one of the few people at the station who knew Jim's true background. Besides, he figured that their association would probably work to his advantage during the negotiations.
"Well, I'm looking for a young girl. Preferably one with stamina." His grandkids could wear anybody out.
Even though Carleton never physically moved, he gave the impression of drawing himself up and narrowing his eyes. "A young girl, you say?" Having spent his whole life in the slave business, the seasoned trader knew it wasn't all that unusual for some men, and women, to want to acquire a slave for more prurient reasons. This often happened when people reached middle age. It wasn't illegal, as long as it wasn't a child being bought; after all, masters could do virtually anything they wanted to with their slaves. And while many of the other traders had no problem selling a slave to someone knowing their intent, he had a sterling reputation in the business and had no intention of sullying the Bates' name with such dealings.
Once again Joel found himself explaining his reasons for wanting to purchase his first slave. "When Margaret, my wife, and I first got married I was just out of the Academy. The kids came along faster than we'd intended, and before we knew it we had five of them. As much as we would have loved to have been able to afford a slave or two back then, it just wasn't feasible. When I got promoted to Lieutenant, I was finally able to buy us a bigger house, which also kept our finances rather tight. But by then, the kids were all old enough to pretty much take care of themselves and each other, so we didn't really even consider needing anyone. Now they're all grown and out on their own, with the oldest two having kids of their own and another expecting her first in a few months. My wife loves that house and it is nice to have the extra bedrooms when any of the kids or grandkids stay over for a visit. Unfortunately, Margaret has arthritis in her hands and it's just getting harder and harder for her to do all the things she used to be able to. We talked it over and she finally admitted that she could use some help."
Carleton nodded. "If you don't mind my asking, why a young girl? And the need for stamina?"
"Well, it probably doesn't need to be a 'young' young girl or even a girl at all. It's just that it's a two story house and the washer and dryer are in the basement. She'll have to carry the laundry from the basement to the upstairs bedrooms. Wash all the windows. Move the furniture while cleaning. Do the grocery shopping. Things like that. As for stamina," Joel smiled, "I love my grandkids to death but they're so young and full of energy. It wears a body out just watching them go. She'll have to be able to keep up with them when they visit, which is sometimes for a few days at a time while their parents are on business trips. Do you think you have someone who can handle all that?"
A discreet glance at Jim, who nodded, backing up Joel's story, seemed to be all the confirmation the slave trader needed. He seemed to relax as he called out to his son. "Jonathan. Check the database for everyone under 35, with domestic and nanny experience." The younger Bates nodded and disappeared into the smaller tent. Carleton Bates turned back to his customer.
"Actually, Captain, your situation is fairly common. Although it's not unusual for retired couples to eventually end up here buying their first slave, I can see why, with your wife's arthritis, you both decided to do so now. Believe me, once she gets used to having the slave around, she'll be delighted to have the time to do the things she enjoys doing, especially spending more time with those grandchildren."
The relieved look on Joel's face told Jim that that was exactly what he needed to hear. Mr. Bates certainly knew his business. Which explained why his father only used this trader.
A minute later Jonathan Bates returned and handed his father a sheet of paper. After quickly looking it over, Carleton looked back up.
"I have several who should do nicely. Domestic slaves are the most commonly requested so I always have several in stock. Now I don't have all of these listed here with me today, so if you don't find someone suitable right now, I can call and have some others brought over in no time. Let's go check out the ones who are here, shall we?" He turned and handed the paper back to his son. "The names with an asterisk beside them means that they're here. Have them come forward."
The four men walked over until they were standing directly in front of the center of the large tent. As Jonathan called each of the seven names listed, either a young man or woman separated themselves from the others and came forward until they were standing at the edge of the wooden floor, in front of the men. Joel nodded to Jim. This was one reason he had asked his friend to come with him.
After looking over all of the slaves carefully, Jim sent the two men back. Margaret would probably be more comfortable with a female in the house. He then pointed to one of the remaining women and shook his head. She just looked too frail for the job. When Jonathan waved his hand, she rejoined the others, her face not reflecting any emotion at not having been picked.
Jim addressed the remaining slaves directly. "If you can read, raise your hand." Even though all slaves were taught to read as children, not all owners encouraged them to keep up with it. It wasn't unusual to find grown slaves who could barely read or do more than the most basic math. Only two of the remaining four women raised their hand. The other two were sent back. Jim asked the last two candidates several questions, mainly pertaining to household duties, and asked what they would do in various situations, many involving children. When he finished he turned back to Joel, indicating one slave with a tilt of his head.
"I'd go with this one. She can read and seems more experienced with children than the other one."
Carleton was impressed with the selection process. James may not have been around the slave market for many years, but he certainly remembered the lessons his father had taught him and his brother about how to choose a slave. He had definitely picked the best of the lot. The police captain was nodding his head, apparently agreeing with James' choice. Good. He'd give them a break on the price. The captain might either need another slave later or know someone else who did. Word of mouth was the best advertising there was, and it was free. Plus, if James was now back in Cascade, he would probably need a few household slaves himself.
After a few minutes of almost disappointingly tame negotiations, Mandy had a new master. Carleton sent the young girl back into the larger tent to fetch her bag of belongings while he, Jonathan and Joel entered the smaller tent to finalize the sale and update Mandy's microchip. Having watched his father complete this procedure several times before, Jim opted to wander around a bit until they were ready to leave.
As he passed by the other trader's tents, Jim took note of how the condition of the tent often reflected the condition of the slaves sitting within. None of them, though, looked abused, mainly because physical punishment, while not unheard of, was rarely ever needed nowadays. While none came close to the level of the Bates' tent, the better ones at least had straw on the ground and fire barrels to keep the inhabitants warm. These slaves all looked about average, with a wide range of sizes and ages. The worst tents were nothing but bare dirt. These were the slaves who had been previously overworked or were well past their prime. A few even had physical deformities. Seeing the competition, it was no wonder his father only dealt with Bates.
Jim noticed a crowd gathering at one of the better tents. Curious, he ambled over to see what was going on. As he made his way towards the front of the growing throng of people, he saw that one end of the large tent had been curtained off from the rest. Closer now to the front, he could see that only a thin layer of straw covered the ground in the closed off section and a spike with a circle on top had been pounded into the dirt. A metal chain was attached to the circle and ran about two feet until it reached the object of everyone's attention.
Sitting on the ground was a young man dressed in the typical male slave outfit of a long sleeved, white tunic shirt and white pants. He was sitting Indian style with his hands clasped together in front of his legs, his feet tucked under his legs so they weren't visible. Jim assumed he was also wearing the usual white, canvas slip on shoes worn by both male and female slaves. Even though the metal chain disappeared under one leg, Jim knew it ended in a padded leather cuff that locked around the ankle. Every slave owner was required to have at least one set of these cuffs, but they were usually just left hanging in the basement or garage. This was the first time he had ever actually seen someone wearing one. Because he had his head slightly bowed and his eyes closed, it was hard to determine the slave's age; he looked to be anywhere from late teens to mid twenties. Besides being segregated from the other slaves and chained, there was a large assistant standing just off to the side of the tent, his muscled arms crossed in front of his chest, watching him like a hawk, almost as though daring him to try to run. It struck Jim as overkill. Or showmanship.
The slave's dark, curly hair, which hung more than halfway down his back, was damp and his clothes didn't fit quite right. The sleeves came almost to his fingers and the pants bunched around his feet a bit as if there was too much material. The impression Jim got was that he had just been washed and given the first set of clothes available to put on before being put on display. Except, unlike all the other slaves, he wasn't wearing a jacket and was visibly shivering. Something about the whole situation seemed wrong. It seemed obvious that this slave was being mistreated somehow and Jim wanted to know why.
Ronald Coleman looked over the large crowd of potential customers and smiled to himself. This was going even better than he had hoped. When he first bought the troublesome slave from Albert Decker, he had had cuts and bruises all over and could barely walk from the last whipping. He knew he wouldn't be able to sell him until the boy was more presentable. That meant lost money during the time he had to wait, not to mention feeding and providing for him. A point he used to his advantage to drive the buying price down even more. Decker was so anxious to be rid of him that he was practically willing to give him away. Decker was a fool. As soon as he heard the boy's background, he knew immediately what a rare prize he was. While waiting for the slave to heal enough to sell, he asked around until he had the full story, scarcely believing the goldmine that had fallen into his lap. Let Carleton Bates brag about how high quality all his slaves were, he had something that every slave trader would give his eyeteeth for. And he intended to take full advantage of it. He had discreetly put the word out among Cascade's elite that he had something very special and unique for sale and today was sale day.
Ah, yes. Nothing like something a little different to draw a nice crowd, a mix of the market's usual customers along with his specially invited guests. And having a slave set apart from the others, chained and guarded was certainly different. Not that the boy would be able to run very fast, or very far, even if he could get away. No, the chain and Gus, his assistant, were mainly there to do exactly what they doing, make people very curious about this new slave that had just been brought out at the Coleman tent. He was sure the other traders were fuming as their customers were being lured away to see what was so interesting over here. A few more minutes should do it.
Joel, with Mandy in tow, left the Bates' small tent and looked around for Jim. Spying the crowd gathering in front of one of the other tents, he instinctively knew that that was where Jim would be. He turned and headed in that direction, his newest acquisition dutifully following behind him.
Feeling a tug on his arm, Jim reluctantly pulled his attention away from Coleman's new exhibition and turned to find Joel and Mandy standing beside him.
"What's going on, Jim?"
Even as he answered, Jim felt his eyes being drawn back to the figure huddled on the straw in front of him. "I'm not sure. Coleman just brought this one out. Something about way he's being treated doesn't seem right to me, but I can't figure out why."
As soon as Jim started speaking, the slave in question lifted his head and opened his eyes, staring unerringly right at him. Jim found himself locking gazes with the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. For a few seconds they projected abject pain and misery, and Jim would have sworn they were begging him for help. Then they blinked a few times and closed again as the curly head once again turned downward. Moving his head caused some of the slave's long hair to hang down on both sides of his gaunt face, partially obscuring it. Jim shivered once, his skin felt tingly, as if a surge of electricity had gone through him.
It took a few seconds before Jim could think again, the depth of emotion he had just seen shocked him to his core. Then he heard it. The unmistakable thumping of a heartbeat. But that was impossible. As a Level Three sentinel, he could only hear heartbeats when he concentrated. Except for his family, those he could hear more easily. As a Three, he didn't even rate a guide. So there was no way he should be hearing any heartbeats right now. A small gasp of surprise escaped when he realized that the sound was coming from the curly headed slave. He then became aware of Joel talking to him. He'd forgotten all about his friend.
"Jim? Hey, Jim. You all right?"
Jim nodded, but before he could explain what was happening, Ronald Coleman stepped up onto a wooden platform that had been placed between the small and large tents and started speaking.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to thank everyone for coming out here today. I'm quite sure you won't be disappointed. I see you've all noticed the latest acquisition to the usual fine line of slaves available through Coleman Traders. As you can see, this slave is being handled much differently than the others. That, ladies and gentlemen, is because what you see before you is something very rare and exotic. Something that hasn't been seen for at least a couple hundred years and will probably never be seen again." He paused as the crowd started to murmur among themselves. When a young, male voice called out, "He don't look so special to me", Coleman just smiled.
"True, he might look ordinary enough, but, young man, looks can be very deceiving. What you're looking at, friends, is the only known slave in existence now, and for the past several generations, whose parents were freeborn citizens."
There was a collective shocked gasp from the crowd. Everyone knew that ever since the 1700's, slaves had been carefully bred only with other slaves to ensure that only the most desirable traits were passed on to the next generation. Every new slave was registered with the DSM. What this trader had just proposed wasn't possible. The same young voice called out again, "That's impossible."
Far from being annoyed at the heckler, this was exactly the reaction Coleman had anticipated. No one would dream of leaving now, not until they heard him out. Then, when the people here today told others about what they had seen and heardand they would talk, of that he had no doubtshis reputation and business would profit handsomely from the resulting publicity.
"Almost, but not totally impossible. Let me tell you this slave's very unique story. As some of you may recall, about 20 odd years ago, a businessman named Jacob Sandburg found himself in the unenviable position of learning that he was dying while owing a large sum of money to a friend who had backed him in an, unfortunately, failed business venture. With no time left to obtain the funds needed to repay the debt, he was forced to use his last resource. He sold his only daughter, named Naomi, to his friend, Dr. Eli Stoddard, in exchange of the monies owed."
Ronald waited as most of the crowd nodded their heads. Even those who didn't actually remember the incident personally had certainly heard about it. Jacob Sandburg was still being held up as the epitome of the consummate businessman for the sacrifice he made. Even though, right after it became nationally known what he had done, the government immediately passed the strictly enforced Sandburg Law, which made it illegal to sell one's children for any reason. It was feared that other people might be tempted to use Jacob Sandburg's desperate measure as a quick way to get out of a large debt or as a way of obtaining revenue. No other freeborn person had been sold since Naomi.
"Naomi lived in the estate's main house and acted as hostess in place of the late Mrs. Stoddard. She was also, of course, a companion for any overnight guests. Everything went well for about two years, then, unexpectedly, Naomi became pregnant."
This time a female voice called out. "How can a slave get pregnant?"
"Ordinarily they can't, because of the implants. But remember, Naomi was freeborn. She never received the implants, and apparently that little oversight never occurred to anyone. Since it turned out that she had gotten pregnant sometime during the busy Christmas social season, to this day, no one knows for sure which of the Professor's many male guests is the father. The general consensus is that he is probably an intelligent, well-educated academic, since that is the type of person Dr. Stoddard usually associated with, both professionally and personally. So you see, friends, due to a series of chance circumstances that will never be repeated again, a slave was conceived between two originally freeborn citizens."
Ever the showman, Ronald again paused to let the crowd mull over what he had just told them. He'd give them a minute to let the magnitude of the situation sink in before continuing the story.
Joel leaned in closer to Jim. "I remember when Sandburg did that. It was all everyone talked about for weeks."
Jim nodded. "Yeah, me too." Even though he'd just been eleven at the time, he also remembered everyone talking about it. His mother had wondered how the poor girl's mother was handling losing her daughter like that. His father increased his business dealings with Sandburg's company, which, in turn, raised its stock value. He'd heard that when Jacob Sandburg died shortly afterward, his family inherited well.
"So what happened?" Another voice from the crowd broke into Jim's thoughts. He found himself wanting to know, too.
Ronald had to stop himself from pointing to the still growing group and yelling "Gotcha!" He had the crowd right in the palm of his hand. Wanting to rub his hands together with glee, he settled for continuing the unusual tale.
"Well, Naomi gave birth to a baby boy. He was named Blair."
Jim now had a name for the focus of his attention. Blair. Except for the continued shivering, the young man hadn't moved since looking up at him earlier. Even his heartbeat had remained steady. Whoa. Stunned at himself, Jim realized that he had been unconsciously monitoring the slave's heartbeat. Only his desire to hear more of Coleman's story kept Jim from examining this phenomenon more closely.
"Dr. Stoddard allowed Naomi to raise the child herself in the main house. They say he took quite a shine to the boy. With his own children grown and spread out all over, he apparently treated him more like a grandson than a slave. When he was small, he had the run of the house. When he got older, of the whole estate, allowed to come and go as he pleased. Blair, because of his unique parentage, turned out to be quite bright. The professor was delighted to have someone to pass his knowledge onto and so he educated the boy himself. I was told that the two of them would spend hours almost every day in the old man's study, poring over textbooks, artifacts and whatever else the doctor brought in from the University. He even took him off the estate to museums and exhibits. Blair was never sent to a Slave School. But, according to Dr. Stoddard himself, he has the equivalent of at least a college education." Despite the new gasps from his now captive audience, Coleman decided not to pause while telling the story anymore. It was time to wrap this part up and get to the main event. Namely, seeing how much money he could get for the reason he was wearing out his voice.
"Tragically, Dr. Stoddard died about a year ago. His children decided to sell off everything from the estate, including the slaves. Blair was bought by the owner of a large estate in one of the outlying provinces. Unfortunately, having spent his entire life being spoiled and doted on by his mother and the professor, Blair had no real concept of what being a slave actually entailed. He did not adapt well to going from a life of leisure and books to being expected to work. He argued with the Overseers. Tried to tell the estate's managers how to do their jobs. Refused to do his work the way he was told to do it, insisting that his way was better. He even tried to get the other slaves to join him in his malicious behavior. Of course, none of them ever did. The new owner, who has asked to remain anonymous, eventually brought in a special handler to try to break the boy of his disruptive ways. But even now, after almost a year of 'corrective action' and 'behavioral adjustments', he's still only about halfway broken."
The crowd was too shocked to even respond. A willful, disobedient slave was practically unheard of, especially one with ongoing disobedience.
"Now I'm sure many of you are wondering why I would divulge all this negative information about a slave I'm trying to sell. A few reasons. First off, I'm an honest trader. I don't want to sell a slave and then have the buyer come back with any complaints or thinking I was trying to hide something from them." Or file a complaint with the trade board. "Second, I think that with the right master, he can be broken. His last owner just gave up too soon. But keep in mind, given his rarity, even with the extra work involved, he will still make an excellent investment for the shrewd buyer. Once he's been properly broken, just think of the breeding possibilities alone. Not only can he produce valuable new slaves for your own stock, but once word about him gets around, his stud fees will recoup his buying price in no time. Everyone will want at least one offspring from the only slave in existence with pure freeborn blood in his veins. Not to mention the prestige and bragging rights of the lucky person who will eventually be able to claim ownership of this exotic creature. Think about it." He looked out over the largest group ever to be at his tent at one time. "Due to the number of people here, the slave will be auctioned off, rather than sold privately. I'll be back shortly and we'll get started."
"Hey! Whatever happened to Naomi?"
Coleman paused in the act of turning towards the smaller tent. He really needed some water before the bidding wars started. But this was a legitimate question that only added to the already unusual story.
"I'm glad you asked. Naomi's fate makes this story even more intriguing. On the morning she was to be sent to her new owner, Naomi was found dead in her bed. Some say that she died of grief over Dr. Stoddard's passing. Others said she died from a broken heart at being separated from her precious son. But another theory is that she actually took her own life rather than to belong to another master. How and why she died will probably always remain a mystery." He looked down at his watch. It was getting late. "The auction will start in about 15 minutes." This time he managed to make it all the way into his tent.
Despite the growing noise level all around him as people whipped out their cell phones, checking on their accounts and lines of credit, Jim was only aware of one sound. The steady heartbeat he'd been monitoring had suddenly spiked then remained uncomfortably fast while Coleman talked about what had happened to Naomi. Looking closely, he could see that on top of the shivering, the thin shoulders were now also shaking and Blair was blinking rapidly, trying to keep the tears pooling in his eyes from falling.
"Oh my God."
"Jim, what's wrong?" Joel looked around but didn't see anything out of place.
"He didn't know."
"Who? Who didn't know what?"
"Blair. He didn't know what happened to Naomi, to his mother, until just now. He didn't know she was dead."
Joel looked at the slave. He still hadn't moved. "How do you know that?"
"Can't you see it? He's shaking and trying hard not to cry in front of everyone. And his heart rate spiked and is still pounding."
Joel looked closer at the young slave but couldn't tell any difference between how Blair looked now and a few minutes ago. But then, he wasn't a sentinel. "If you say so." He glanced around at the milling crowd. "You plan on staying for the auction?"
"Yeah. I want to make sure he's all right. That he goes to a good person." Jim wasn't aware of Joel's eyebrows rising up in surprise.
Jim's attention had been drawn to a conversation going on about twenty-five feet away. Even though there were several noisy people between him and the two men speaking, he could hear what they were saying as easily as if he were standing right next to them.
"I want that slave. I don't care what it takes, even if I have to outbid every person in Cascade, I want him."
"Don't worry, Mr. Beckworth. I called the bank; they're transferring the funds to your personal account right now. No one should be able to outbid you."
"Good. Now, once he's at the estate, the first thing I want done is to get all that hair cut off. He looks like a damn girl. Then we'll get to work breaking him in properly. No slave of mine is going to get away with that sort of insolent behavior. Find out what the last owner's handler did to discipline him, then double it. I plan on showing him off at the next mill owners' meeting and I expect a perfectly behaved, obedient slave by then."
"I'll take care of everything, Mr. Beckworth."
Beckworth, huh? Jim frowned. No way was that man getting hold of Blair. Not even aware of his growing proprietary feelings towards a slave he had never laid eyes on until twenty minutes ago, the uneasy sentinel settled in to wait for the start of the auction.
True to his word, fifteen minutes after leaving, Ronald Coleman returned, prepared to sell his prize to the highest bidder. The excitement running through the crowd was almost palpable. He stepped back onto the wooden platform and stood behind a podium he had ignored earlier. Banging a gavel a few times, he got everyone's attention.
"All right, ladies and gentlemen, we're ready to start. The starting bid on this truly once-in-a-lifetime investment is twenty-five thousand dollars. Do I hear twenty-five thousand?"
Almost immediately came a cry from the crowd. "25,000."
"I have 25,000. Who'll give me 25,500?"
A different voice this time. "25-5."
"I have 25-5. Do I hear 30,000?"
And so it went. Gradually, as the price continued to climb, more and more potential buyers dropped out.
"I have 94,500. Do I hear 95?" Coleman looked at the last person left bidding against Charles Beckworth. When the man shook his head, it looked like Beckworth's would be the winning bid. He banged his gavel. "94,500 going once." He paused and hit the small wooden hammer again. "Going twice"
"One hundred thousand dollars."
The new voice submitting his first bid had every pair of eyes present turning towards him. Four pair in particular. Joel's, wide with surprise. Coleman's, bright with anticipation. Blair's, with just a hint of hope. And Beckworth's, dark with annoyance. Beckworth found his voice first.
"Look here, sir. Before we get into a bidding war that you can't possibly win, and which will only drive the price up even higher, do you have any idea who I am? I am Charles Beckworth of Beckworth Mills. I own several lumberyards, including the largest in the state. I can stand here and outbid you all afternoon; but why put both of us through that? Why don't you just withdraw your bid now and we can all get on with this?"
Jim would have liked nothing more than to smack the arrogant look off the short, squat man's face but he had a much better way to take him down a couple of notches. "I've heard of you and your mills, Mr. Beckworth. My family has purchased a great deal of lumber from you for both personal and business reasons."
"Oh?" Beckworth's eyes narrowed. Was this man a legitimate customer, or was he just bluffing, thinking he'd back down if he thought so? "I'm afraid I didn't catch the name."
"Then allow me to introduce myself. I'm James Ellison..." Jim drew himself up to his full height, which was several inches taller than his competition. "... First Heir to the House of Ellison."
Beckworth visibly blanched. The crowd gasped as one, including Joel. But the police captain was shocked for a different reason. If Jim was willing to reveal his House status, something he never thought he'd see the detective do voluntarily, then his friend was deadly serious about buying this slave. Beckworth didn't stand a chance.
But Charles Beckworth didn't get to be where he was today by giving up easily. He tried one, last desperate gambit. "I've dealt with William Ellison and his son, Steven, many times. I've never seen you before."
Jim just smiled. "I've been out of the country for several years." The smile turned almost predatory as he leaned over his opposition. "But now I'm back." If people took that to mean that he was probably overseeing Ellison Industries' many overseas businesses, instead of serving in the military as he had been before joining the police department, well, that was their mistake.
Ronald Coleman was almost beside himself. At first annoyed at the interruption of his auction, he now almost had to pinch himself to believe this new turn of events. Never did he dream that he might sell the slave to a member of the House of Ellison. And not just any member but the mysterious First Heir! As he had expected, none of the Ellison's had shown up today, even though he had sent them an invitation to his special auction. Wait until Carleton Bates heard about this. He was always pointing out that he was the exclusive slave trader to the House of Ellison. Ha! Not anymore. But first he had to actually finalize the sale. He banged the gavel a few times.
"Gentlemen. If you please. The last bid is for 100,000 from Mr. Ellison. Do I hear a counter bid?"
After looking longingly at his missed opportunity, then at Jim, Beckworth sadly shook his head. The House of Ellison could buy and sell him several times over. He'd never win a bidding war, plus it was just plain foolhardy to possibly make an enemy of an Ellison.
The gavel came down again. "Going once for 100,000." Bang. "Going twice." Bang. "Sold to James Ellison, First Heir of the House of Ellison, for one hundred thousand dollars. Congratulations, sir, on a fine purchase. If you'll come with me, we can conclude our business in my tent." Coleman looked over at his assistant, Gus, and spoke in a low voice. "Make sure the slave is ready to go by the time we come out." He turned once again to the crowd. "This concludes today's special auction. Thank you all for coming. Please feel free to look over the other fine slaves that are still available for sale. My assistant will be here to answer any questions you may have." Seeing that Gus was already preparing Blair, he stepped down from the platform and ushered Jim into the smaller tent.
Just before entering the tent, Jim looked over and saw that Blair was now standing, the ankle cuff removed and tossed somewhere in the straw. He swayed slightly until the assistant roughly grabbed his arm and held him steady.
The slave's new owner's eyes narrowed at the unnecessarily rough treatment but knowing that Joel would watch out for him until he returned, he followed Coleman into the dealer's tent.
Joel approached the front of the larger tent, stopping in front of Blair and Gus. He spoke to Coleman's assistant. "I'm with James Ellison. Blair can stay with me until he's finished." He turned to the smaller man. He looked pale and shaky. "You okay, Blair?"
Blair swallowed and nodded. Almost immediately, Gus tightened his grip on the upper arm he was still holding and used his free hand to grab Blair's hair, pulling his head back. He ignored the cry of pain as he growled, "When your master, or any citizen, speaks to you, you answer properly. You hear me, slave?"
Before Blair could respond or Joel could react, Gus was knocked away and found his neck gripped by what felt like an iron band. The band turned out to be James Ellison's hand. Looking up, he found himself staring into a pair of the coldest eyes he had ever seen.
"How dare you touch my slave like that? You were told to get him ready for me, nothing else." The hand tightened slightly. "If you ever come near him again, I will..." Jim appeared to be thinking, then smiled a malicious smile. "... I'll have your credit rating reduced to zero. And you know I can do that." The look of horror on the other man's face was enough to satisfy his initial rage at hearing Blair cry out. Loosening his grip, Jim gave the thoroughly chastised man a shove backwards, not caring as he stumbled a few steps before regaining his balance. His only concern now was for the young man standing beside him, the long hair hiding the face of the bowed head.
"Did he hurt you?"
Blair looked up and started to shake his head then stopped and answered softly. "No, Master."
On hearing Blair's voice for the first time, Jim felt something uncoil deep within him. He shuddered briefly at the strange feeling then ignored it as he glanced over at Joel who nodded, agreeing with Blair's assessment of his condition. "Okay. You stay here with Joel and Mandy until I get back." He glared over at Gus who was standing well away, still rubbing his throat. "He won't come near you again." Turning to Joel, he asked, "You mind keeping an eye on him for a few more minutes? I'm almost finished with Coleman, then we can leave."
"No problem, Jim. Go finish up, we'll be fine. Just hurry. We were supposed to have gotten lunch right after I finished, remember?"
Jim grinned at his obviously hungry friend. "I remember. Shouldn't be more than a few more minutes." With a last look at Blair, he re-entered the tent to conclude his business with the trader.
"So, Blair, do you have everything?" Joel had noticed that Mandy carried a large cloth bag slung across one shoulder to the opposite hip.
"Um." Blair looked towards the back of the area where he had been sitting. A dark colored, well-worn, nylon backpack was barely visible in the dirty straw.
"Mandy, please go get Blair's bag and bring it here."
The girl quickly fetched the pack. She eyed the backpack as she handed it to Blair. "This is real nice. Most of us only gots this kind of bag." She held out her own cloth bag to show him, frowning when she didn't get a response.
A frown also creased Joel's face as he watched Blair arch his back slightly and wince when he placed one strap of his pack over his shoulder and carefully settled the bag on his back. He made a mental note to mention it to Jim later.
A few minutes later Jim joined them, glad to see that everyone looked ready to leave. Jim and Joel turned and headed back towards the main market area, with Blair and Mandy falling in behind them. The remaining crowd of people moved back as they passed.
"You know, Jim, everything that happened here today is going to be all over Cascade in no time. You've pretty much outed yourself as the First Heir of your House. What on earth ever possessed you to do that?" The middle-aged police captain was well aware that the younger detective tried very hard to maintain a low profile. Only a select few knew that he was the eldest son of William Ellison. The William Ellison, Elder of the House of Ellison, CEO of the worldwide Ellison Industries, one of the founding members of the Board of Western States and Chairman of the elite Northwest Sector Counsel. As one of the premier Houses in the country, there wasn't a group, club or organization in the whole Northwest Sector, and especially in the state of Washington, that the Ellisons weren't involved in somehow. And now Jim had just made his title and position public knowledge.
"I heard what Beckworth had planned for Blair. He said he was determined to break him. He was going to double the discipline measures of his last owner's handler so he could show him off at some kind of meeting. You know what that would mean. I just couldn't let that happen to him."
"So you bought him yourself?"
"Yeah. I don't know why, but it just felt... right."
"So, now that you have him, what are you going to do with him?"
Jim threw a half glance over his shoulder as he walked, then shrugged. "Hell if I know. This was the last thing I was expecting to do today."
When the group reached the food vendors, they stopped. Jim and Joel looked around.
"Anything in particular you in the mood for?"
Joel led the way over to a stall selling large turkey drumsticks. They were a market specialty. "I could go for one of these right now. Sound good to you, Jim?"
Jim sniffed. Something didn't smell quite right. "Yeah, but not here." He sniffed again. "Something doesn't smell right. Let's try that one over there." He turned and headed for another turkey leg vendor across the way. Sniffing again, he smiled. "Yeah. Definitely better."
Joel shrugged. He couldn't tell any difference but it didn't matter to him where they ate, just as long as they did so soon. Settling the two slaves under a nearby tree, the two new owners went to buy them all food. After placing the food-laden trays on the picnic table located beside the tree, Jim and Joel each brought their respective slave a plate containing a large turkey leg and a roll and something to drink. Jim noticed that Blair was sitting a little ways away from Mandy. He was also sitting up very straight and stiff, whereas Mandy was loose and relaxed. She took her food from Joel and started right in. Blair, on the other hand, looked almost shocked when Jim tried to hand him the disposable plate and cup. He made no move to take them. Jim held them out closer to him.
"Here, take this. It tastes better hot."
Blair just looked at him. "For me, Master?"
"Of course for you. Did you think we were going to eat and not get you anything?"
The stunned look on the slave's face said that that was exactly what he'd expected.
Jim frowned. He'd have to find out just how badly Blair had been treated by his last master. The poor kid actually expected not to be fed. "Now, Blair. I'd like to eat my lunch, too."
Slowly two sleeve-covered hands reached up and took the offered food and drink. "Thank you, Master."
As Jim ate, he occasionally glanced over at Blair. The quiet young man sat slightly hunched over as he ate and continuously looked around, as if he expected someone to try to take his food away. He ate every scrap on his plate and Jim was sure he could have easily eaten another plateful as well.
A short time later, while Jim and Joel talked as they finished their drinks, Mandy's whining voice interrupted their conversation.
"Master. Blair won't talk to me."
Joel turned to answer. "Well, maybe he doesn't feel like talking right now."
"But slaves always talk to each other."
"I'm not allowed." The soft voice sounded sad.
"Why not, Blair?"
Dark blue eyes looked downward. "I've been shunned."
"Shunned!" Mandy practically squealed as she scooted further away from her fellow slave. She looked up at her new owner. "Master. I swear. I didn' know. I wouldn't a talked to him if I'd a known." Talking to a shunned slave was a punishable offense.
"It's all right, Mandy. I know you didn't. We didn't know, either."
Jim was confused. Usually only a master could shun a slave. Coleman had indicated to him that Blair had been with him for at least a short while before being auctioned off today. As a trader he was only considered to be the temporary owner, not the master, of his slaves. That title would be for the person who bought them from him, who would then be the slave's owner and master. So just how long had Blair not been allowed any contact with anyone else? A friend's father once had to shun a disruptive slave. By the end of the weeklong shunning, the large man was almost in tears from the lack of companionship with the other slaves.
"Blair. How long have you been shunned?"
Blair's brow furrowed in concentration as he mentally calculated the time since the shunning was initiated. "About... nine months."
"Nine months!" That was beyond cruel. "Why so long?"
Blair felt very uncomfortable talking about where he had been living prior to today's auction. But a direct question had been asked, and as a slave he had no choice but to answer. He kept his eyes on his now clasped hands and his voice soft. "Mr. Shaw said that I was a bad influence on the other slaves. That part of his job was to make sure that I didn't try to spread my willfulness to anyone else. He said that since I was refusing to learn my place and kept trying to cause trouble, he was going to make sure that the only creatures I had to talk to were the horses. He told Master Decker that part of my 'retraining' should be to have me shunned until he thought I was 'cured' and for me to live in the barn, away from everyone else. After I left Master Decker's, Mr. Coleman decided to keep the shunning in effect, saying I wouldn't be given the chance to corrupt any of his stock." Blair hung his head low, looking worried that his new master would now regret buying such a troublesome slave. As soon as he had laid eyes on the larger man, without even knowing why, he had prayed to every deity he knew about that this man would be the person who would buy him.
With a slight start, Jim realized that this was the first time Blair had said more than three words at a time. A few things struck him right away. One, that Blair could obviously talk when he wanted to, and could talk well. He didn't use the usual bad grammar associated with slaves; in fact he came across as Coleman had said, intelligent and well educated. Second, was that this Mr. Shaw, whom he assumed to be the 'handler' Coleman had mentioned, was a cruel man and Blair's retraining, as he called it, probably involved a lot more than just being separated from the other slaves. He'd have to check into that later because he definitely didn't like what he was hearing so far.
"It's all right, Blair. I don't care what this Mr. Shaw or anyone else thought; I don't work like that. As of right now, consider your shunning over. Permanently."
The relief and gratitude in the young slave's face and voice was almost heartbreaking to witness. "Thank you, Master."
Jim stood up. "Okay. If everybody's done, let's get going."
After throwing their trash away, the four headed across the open grounds for the entrance and the parking lot just beyond. They were crossing the parking lot, nearing the spot where Joel had parked his sedan, when Mandy's voice called out.
"Master. Blair's not stayin' with us."
Jim whirled around, not believing that Blair would try to run. Not only was Blair not running, he could barely walk. Trailing several feet behind the rest of them, he was limping badly but obviously trying to keep up. He was also biting his lower lip, his white face a mask of pain.
Of the three of them, Jim reached him first. "What's wrong, Blair?"
"N-nothing, M-Master. I'mmm all r-right." The heavy breathing and hitch in his voice belied his words.
Leaning the hurting slave against the nearest car, Jim tilted the trembling chin up until they were looking directly at each other. "Blair, don't lie to me. Don't ever lie to me. Now, what's the matter?"
"S-sorry, Master. It-it hurts."
Lifting his right leg slightly, Blair leaned forward, not even seeming to notice when his backpack slid off his shoulder and onto the ground. Grabbing the baggy pant leg just above the ankle, he pulled it up.
"What the hell?"
Encircling Blair's ankle was a bloody, oozing red ring. It hadn't been a padded cuff around his ankle earlier but a metal manacle. And from the looks of it, today wasn't the first time he'd been wearing it. That explained the baggy pants. It hid his ankle from the crowd, and from him, until now.
"Jesus, Blair. Who did that to you?"
Blair slowly let the pant leg fall back down again but he kept his weight off his leg as he straightened back up. He once again dropped his eyes before speaking. "M-Mr. Shaw did it. It was to make sure I couldn't leave the barn. I was chained up near the back. I could tend the horses and get into the tack room but the chain didn't reach all the way to the barn doors. Then Mr. Coleman thought it'd be a good idea to keep it on until I was sold. Gus took it off and hid it under the straw as soon as you won the auction."
Before Jim could respond, Joel leaned in close. "Check his back. I think there's something wrong there, too. It looked like it hurt when he put his backpack on earlier."
Jim nodded. "Turn around, Blair. I need to check out your back."
Reluctantly, Blair slowly hopped around on his left leg until he was leaning against the car's driver's side window, his back facing outward. He tilted his head down, his hair hiding his face. He didn't move as his new master moved the long strands out of the way then lifted up his shirt.
Neither Jim nor Joel said a word at first as they stared at the numerous thin lines that criss-crossed the entire bare back, starting from the shoulders on downward. Some looked fairly old, already fading to white. Others, however, were a lot more recent. These were still red, some inflamed, many with bruises surrounding them. The normally even-tempered, forgiving Joel found his voice first.
"Dammit, Jim. I don't care what they say he did. Nobody deserves to be treated like this. I'm ready to go back there right now and arrest Coleman, then this Shaw guy and that idiot Decker who hired him, on assault charges."
Jim slowly lowered the shirt, covering up the evidence of brutality. "I wish we could, Joel, but it wouldn't do any good. We both know that the charges won't stick. It isn't against the law to discipline a slave. Even to this extent. Now I know why Coleman kept repeating that I needed to understand that the slave had to be controlled and that the contract states that he was being sold 'As Is'. The important thing right now is to get him to a doctor and get him totally checked out. There's no telling what else they did to him in the name of 'discipline'." He helped Blair turn back around. Deliberately gentling his voice, he asked, "Is there anything else I should know about?" Everyone watched as Blair hesitated then raised his bent arms so that the extra long sleeves fell to his elbows. Both arms were bruised but even worse, both wrists were extremely red and raw.
"He tied my wrists to the stall wall whenever he whipped me."
Jim sat with Blair in the small but well-appointed exam room. Blair had already changed into the usual open-backed exam gown and was sitting lengthwise on the small, padded exam table, keeping the injured leg stretched out in front of him. A nurse had already done an initial assessment of his injuries. A short time after that a tech had scanned his microchip, drawn blood and taken his vital signs then assured them that the doctor would be with them very soon. Knowing that his mother's charitable organization, The Grace Ellison Foundation, was a major contributor to the small, private clinic, a quick phone call to tell them that they were coming had smoothed the check-in procedure immensely. Normally Jim hated using his family's name like that, but by the time they'd helped him to Joel's car, Blair couldn't even walk and Jim had felt a low-grade fever that was starting to rise. He could also smell the infection. No way was Blair going to sit around waiting until all the citizens were seen first before being treated. If a little name dropping got his slave seen right away, so be it. Besides, as Joel had already pointed out earlier, he was pretty much outed now anyway, might as well take advantage of it. Not to mention he didn't want Joel to have sit out in the waiting room any longer than necessary, waiting to drive them home when they finished here.
A few minutes later the doctor came in. He looked young, which was probably why he was working the weekend shift, but the clinic had a reputation of hiring good doctors so Jim decided withhold judgment for now.
The doctor began donning a pair of gloves as he started speaking. "Good afternoon, Mr. Ellison. I'm Dr. Morrison. I was just speaking with the nurse and she says that among other things we have a badly infected ankle here. Let's have a look, shall we?" Turning to Blair, he addressed him as he would a child. "Now, Blair, I'm a doctor and I'm going look at and touch your sore leg. It might hurt a bit but I'll try to be as quick as I can, okay?"
Blair glanced over at Jim who nodded, indicating that it was all right for him to speak directly to the doctor.
"I think it's going to hurt a lot. I've been examining it myself while we were waiting. It looks like the infection is spreading. I'm guessing I'll probably need some antibiotics. But, you're the doctor."
The look of shock on the doctor's face was priceless. Jim started smirking then tried to cover it by pretending he was coughing. Even in pain, Blair apparently didn't like being talked down to. Dr. Morrison finally managed to regain his composure.
"Not exactly your typical slave, is he?"
Since that seemed to be a rhetorical question, Jim decided it didn't require an answer. He was pleased to see that the doctor was doing a thorough exam of Blair's ankle and not holding the previous comments against him. A few times he heard Blair gasp slightly but he knew there was no way to examine the wound without causing some pain. Finally Dr. Morrison straightened back up.
"Blair's assessment was pretty accurate. If it had gone untreated much longer it could have gotten really ugly. After we treat it here today, it'll still need to be cleaned daily, some antibiotic ointment put on it and kept wrapped. Now, let's see the rest of it. Blair, hold out your wrists, please." The doctor looked over each wrist thoroughly. "These are different. They look more like bad rope burns." He looked up at Blair who just nodded, his former bravado now gone. "Okay, same thing as the ankle. Keep them clean and wrapped. They should heal up just fine." He paused for a second. "I need to exam your back now. I'm going to uncover you from the waist up." Walking around to the side of the small exam table, he stood just behind Blair and reached up, untying the bow at his neck. As the gown dropped down, Blair pulled his arms out, so all the material was pooled around his waist. He shivered slightly as the cool air hit his torso.
Once again the bruises, in various sizes and stages of healing, that covered Blair's chest, abdomen and sides, were revealed. Jim had gotten his first full look at them when Blair changed into the gown. They, along with his other injuries, gave silent testimony to the abuse the young slave had been subjected to at the hands of his handler. Coleman had told Jim that Shaw actually made his living breaking wild horses for ranchers but had agreed to try his methods to 'break' the unruly slave. While the prolonged isolation and ongoing physical and mental torment had succeeded in making Blair frightened and subdued, his intelligence and education couldn't be beaten out of him. His comments to the doctor showed that there was a somewhat offbeat sense of humor still hiding in there, too. Jim was sure that the 'old' Blair, the way he must have been when he lived with Dr. Stoddard, was still in there somewhere and he wanted to find and draw out that person out. A sharp hiss coming from Blair jerked Jim out of his musings.
Blair was sitting rigidly upright, his back slightly arched, the gown around his waist tightly grasped in two white knuckled fists. It was a thin-lipped doctor who gently patted him on the shoulder. "It's okay, Blair, I'm finished." He turned to Jim. "Some of the newer whip marks are fairly deep. They'll need to be opened, cleaned, then stitched closed to prevent scaring. I'm going to prescribe a fairly strong antibiotic that should take care of all the infections. I can also give you enough ointment and dressings to last until his next follow-up appointment, which should be in about two weeks."
The doctor walked back to the foot of the exam table, shaking his head. "I've never seen anything like this before. We get slaves in here who are sick or have had an accident, but this is deliberate, ongoing abuse. I understand that you just bought him today. If you like, I can give you copies of my report that you can take with you to use as a legitimate basis to return him. I can't believe someone would even try to sell a slave in this condition."
As soon as the doctor mentioned returning him to Coleman, Blair's heart rate jumped.
Jim stood up. "Yes, I would like a complete report on Blair's condition today."
There was a small gasp from the exam table that only Jim heard, as well as an increase in the already too rapid heartbeat. "But I'm not returning him. I'm keeping him."
Jim heard the soft sigh of relief from Blair when he realized he wasn't going to be returned. He glanced at Blair and saw the tensed muscles begin to relax as he was reassured that he was safe.
Although Jim was pleased to hear Blair's heart rate begin to slow down, he continued talking to the doctor. "Unfortunately, I can't do anything to the people who actually did this. What I can do though, is file an official grievance with the Slave Traders Association. Coleman sold a slave whose physical condition he deliberately kept hidden. Even selling him As Is doesn't cover him when he never gave the prospective buyers a chance to find out anything about Blair's physical condition beforehand. Hopefully, going after him will make other traders think twice about buying or selling an abused slave. So, I'll need your report to be as detailed as possible."
Dr. Morrison tapped his index finger against his upper lip. "In addition to the main injuries, he has substantial bruising from the neck down and is running a slight fever. And even though he couldn't stand on a scale, he is obviously malnourished. Since you are going to keep him, one of the best things you can do to speed his recovery will be to see that he eats regularly and gains some weight. I'll treat his injuries first and then, while he's getting dressed, I'll get that report for you and we'll update his chip."
Thirty minutes, later a stitched, bandaged and dressed Blair sat on the exam table. Jim had insisted that a topical analgesic be applied to the wounds before any treatment was given. The look of gratitude on the younger man's face when the request had been voiced had been almost heartbreaking to both Jim and the nurse. The doctor had also given his patient an oral painkiller, telling Jim it was stronger and would last longer than the one applied to the injuries. As a result, Blair was looking much calmer than when they first got to the clinic. While waiting for the doctor to return with the paperwork, the detective was leafing through a year old magazine he had found in the room.
Jim looked up. "Yes, Blair?"
"For not returning me to Mr. Coleman when you found out how much trouble I'm going to be. It would have been bad enough going back to him but I was afraid that then Mr. Coleman would send me back to Master Decker and... and Mr. Shaw. I don't think I could have stood going back there."
Jim got up and walked over until he was standing beside the table. "Blair, you're with me now. If I didn't want you, I wouldn't have bought you. And changing a few bandages is no trouble. I've done it before. Everything's going to be all right. Okay?"
"Yes, Master." It was small and tenuous but it was the first hint of a smile Jim had seen on the young man and it made him feel good knowing his words had put it there. He decided he wanted to see it more often.
Jim opened the front door and ushered Blair into his new home. For someone with Jim's background, most people might have thought that the dwelling was small and rather barren. But this place fit even a low level sentinel perfectly. As soon as he had seen the open, spacious design, the view from the third floor balcony and especially the upstairs loft within the apartment, from which he could survey his entire domain, he had immediately felt comfortable. The other places he had looked at might have been bigger and had more luxuries, but none seemed to feel as right as this one. This place also fit better with his trying to maintain a low profile with his follow police officers. No one questioned how he could afford to live here on a detective's salary. Of course only a select few knew that he had actually bought the entire building. He kept the same building manager but at least this way he had some control over any new tenants and, if he later decided to expand the loft into the apartment next door, there wouldn't be any problems.
He watched as Blair slowly made his way inside. With his ankle treated and wrapped, not to mention a healthy dose of painkillers, the earlier limp was less pronounced and the pinched look had left his face. Blair walked a few feet past the door then stopped, his eyes darting around. Even though it shouldn't matter, Jim wanted Blair to approve of the place.
It took Jim a minute to realize that Blair hadn't stopped just to check out the place, but because he didn't know where to go. He was waiting to be told what to do. Coming up beside the still slave, Jim reached up and tugged on the strap of his backpack.
"Here. Give me that."
For a second Blair stiffened, his hand grabbing the strap he was holding even more tightly. Then he slowly released it and took off the bag, silently handing it over to his new master.
Jim deliberately kept his voice soft. "Blair." He made sure he had the smaller man's attention. "I'm not taking it away from you. I'm just putting it over here, out of the way." So saying, he walked over to where a rack of metal hooks was attached to the wall, beside the front door. Another of Jim's jackets was hanging on one hook and a pair of well-worn boots sat on the floor underneath. He carefully placed the backpack on the floor near the boots and started removing the jacket he was wearing. "It's yours, Blair, you can get it any time you want. I'm just putting it here for now." After hanging up his coat, he returned to where the younger man was still standing, both of them now facing into the loft again.
"Okay. I can pretty much give you the whole tour from here." He jerked his thumb towards their right. "That's the kitchen. Straight down that hallway is the bathroom. That big table is considered the dining room and we're practically standing in the living room here on the left. Upstairs is my bedroom. Oh, and through those big windows over there is the balcony. It has a nice view of the bay."
Placing his hand on Blair's shoulder, he urged him further into the room. "Feel free to look around. I'm going to use the bathroom, then I think some dinner would be a good idea." He was taking Dr. Morrison's words to heart about putting some weight back onto Blair's too thin frame.
When Jim returned to the living room, Blair was nowhere to be seen.
The curly head popped up from inside the refrigerator. He'd been hidden by the kitchen island. "In here, Master."
"What are you doing in there?"
The young slave looked confused. "You said you wanted dinner. I was trying to find..." He waved his hand around.
It was hard not to look annoyed. It would be logical for a slave to assume that he was expected to make the meal.
"Not tonight, Chief. Tomorrow we'll sit down and figure out what your duties here will be. Besides..." Jim grinned, "... I think you'll find it pretty hard to find enough food in there to make a decent dinner. I don't eat here much. Usually I'll grab a donut and coffee on the way to work then have WonderBurger for lunch. If I'm going to be here at night, I'll either pick up something on the way home or order in. Although, since you're going to be living here now, I guess I'll have to start buying more real food."
"Donuts, fast food and delivery? Do you have any idea how unhealthy that is? It's all fat and cholesterol and" Blair's eyes widened as he obviously realized what he was saying. He immediately hung his head. "I'm sorry, Master. It's not my place to comment on your choice of food. I await your punishment."
Jim sighed. Although technically he was right, it wasn't a slave's place to comment on what the master ate, he didn't want that type of relationship with Blair. "Blair, you're not going to be punished just for having an opinion. I want you to speak up if you feel something is important. For right now, though, I want you to follow doctor's orders and take it easy with your ankle. Go sit on the couch."
The limp, though definitely better now, was still there. As were the dark circles standing out against a too pale complexion. The poor kid's exhausted. Remembering the way he guarded his food at lunch, Jim mentally added, probably hungry too. He frowned at the way Blair sat on the edge of the sofa cushion. Something wasn't right. Ignoring the weak protests, Jim set about rearranging the smaller man's position. He sat him up lengthwise on the long couch, placing a sofa pillow under the injured ankle. Stepping back, he looked down. Better, but not good enough. He added another pillow behind the still tender back and covered the now compliant man with the afghan from the back of the couch. This time he smiled as he checked out his handiwork. Much better.
"Okay, now we need food. Any preferences? I've got menus from practically every place in Cascade that delivers. I usually go for pizza or Chinese myself."
When he didn't get an answer, Jim looked down at the uncomprehending face looking back at him. He felt like slapping himself. As if slaves ever ordered out for themselves or were invited to join in when their owners did. From what he'd been able to put together so far, he doubted if Blair even got enough regular food in the last year, never mind any delivery food. "Don't worry about it, Chief. I'll take care of it."
Chief? Blair mused over the new name. At Master Eli's he had never been called by anything other than his given name. For the past nine months he had rarely heard his own name but names he had been called he didn't care to remember. 'Chief' implied someone of a higher rank. Was Master making fun of him? But he hadn't sounded sarcastic when he said it.
Crossing over to the kitchen, Jim opened the drawer where he kept his stash of delivery menus, missing Blair's puzzled expression. He decided to go with what would be easiest. Remembering Blair's earlier comments about unhealthy food, he called out, "I'll bet you like vegetables, right?" Getting an affirmative nod, he smiled as he reached for the phone.
When he returned to the living room, Jim sat on the other, smaller couch and reached for the TV remote on the coffee table. "I ordered a large pizza, half veggie and half meat combo. I got a large bottle of soda, too. They promised delivery in 45 minutes." Turning on the TV, he slowly flipped through the channels while keeping a close eye on the other man. When the Discovery channel came on with a documentary about ancient civilizations, he watched as Blair sat up just a bit straighter and his pupils dilated. Placing the remote down, he leaned back. "This looks interesting." Not something he would normally pick to watch but he wanted Blair to relax and, hopefully, start to feel at home here. Forty minutes later Jim lifted up his head and sniffed. "Pizza's here." He looked down at his watch. "And on time, too."
Immediately Blair pulled the blanket back and started to get up.
"Whoa, Chief. Where do you think you're going?"
Blair looked at him as if the answer should be obvious. "To get the door."
Jim waved him back down. "Just stay put. I'll get it. I have to pay the guy anyway."
A minute later, just as there was a knock on the door, Blair spoke up again. "Master?"
As Jim stood and pulled out his wallet, he answered. "Yes, Blair?"
"May I please use your bathroom?"
"Blair, you don't have to ask. Use it whenever you want. Need some help getting up?" Ignoring the second knock, he helped Blair get up and made sure he was walking steadily before answering the door himself.
By the time Blair returned there was a plate with a large slice of pizza, a paper napkin and a glass of soda on the coffee table next to where he'd been sitting, along with the two vials of pills they had gotten at the clinic. Knowing better than to protest, he stayed silent as Jim helped him back into his nest on the couch.
Jim watched in amusement as Blair picked up his plate and stared at the triangle of food sitting on it. "Ever eat pizza before?"
Blair shook his head. "I know what it is, I've seen it before, but I've never eaten it myself. My-my mother is... was... really into eating healthy. She mainly had us eat organic or at least all-natural food. It drove Daisy, the cook, crazy." Cautiously he picked up the odd shaped food, trying to mimic the way Jim was easily eating his piece. After almost dropping it once, he finally managed to take a bite. Eyes widening at the new tastes, he turned to Jim. "It's very good, Master. Thank you for allowing me to have some."
"I'm glad you're enjoying it." It was hard not to sigh again. What did Blair think? That he was going to eat pizza in front of him and give him what? A bowl of gruel? Or even worse, nothing?
Just as with lunch at the Market, that was probably exactly what he was thinking. Whatever had been done to Blair during the past year had led him to expect to be habitually treated badly and to be severely punished for any small transgression. And apparently not given nearly enough to eat. But how could anyone do that to him? Something about Blair was different; something called out to Jim that this person must be taken care of and protected at all times. This feeling was much stronger than the usual Master/Slave relationship. Ever since he could remember, his family had had a house slave named Sally. She practically raised him and his brother. When he was around twelve his mother had mentioned selling her and getting a younger person. Both he and Stevie had cried and begged until she relented and just bought another slave to help Sally. He hadn't felt this way towards a slave since then. And even back then he hadn't felt the need to look out for and care for Sally like he did for Blair, a slave he barely knew. Something niggled at the back of his mind but he couldn't quite grasp it. Looking over, he saw that Blair had almost finished his slice of pizza.
"When you finish that, you need to take your antibiotic. Then you can have some more. I want you to eat as much of your half as you can. And drink your soda too, you need to stay hydrated."
A short time later, after the pizza was eaten and the remnants cleared away, Jim sat up and stretched. He'd been up early, running errands, before Joel had picked him up to go to the Renaissance Market with him. That outing had obviously ended up taking a lot longer than originally planned. Then the unexpected trip to the clinic on top of that made for one long, tiring day. He looked over at Blair. There was no telling what he had been through even before the auction. The day's events were showing on him even more. Even though he was trying hard not to show it, the younger man could barely keep his eyes open.
"Why don't we call it a day, Chief? I, uh, don't have any place ready for you to sleep tonight so why don't you just camp out here and we'll see what we can do to get you fixed up tomorrow. I guess we'll go grocery shopping tomorrow, too."
"Yes, Master. And thank you."
Jim looked puzzled. "For what?"
"For the food and for allowing me to sleep on your couch."
"Blair, it's my responsibility to feed you, and no, it won't be pizza every night. And where else would you sleep?"
It was the matter of fact way it was said that got to Jim. "There'll be no sleeping on the floor. You'll sleep there until I figure something else out. I'm going to get some sheets and fix up the couch then head upstairs. I'll give you one of my T-shirts to wear tonight, too. It should be loose enough not to get twisted around on your back when you're sleeping. If you want anything else tonight, just help yourself."
Continue on to Part 2 of 4...
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Page last updated 9/27/07.