FAULT LINES - part 2
Later that night as Blair lay snuggled against Jim’s chest. Face down, cheek pressed against the furry expanse, he silently listened to the heartbeat of the one he loved more than life itself. Jim brought his hand down in even, soothing strokes, settling the troubled young man into a nest of contentment.
“Want to talk about it now?” Jim asked, quietly.
At first only silence met the question, then a deep, soul-wrenching sigh, expelling fears and secrets in one tired effort, and Blair nodded, further burying his cheek against Jim’s chest. Tightening his arm around the smaller man, Jim offered reassurance.
“It was hard for me, Jim. Hard to move around and change my persona from day to day, trying to fit in but not. Do you know what that’s like?” Lifting his head slightly he peered up at Jim, the tousled hair giving him an innocent look.
Brushing the hair back from his face, Jim nodded his head slowly. “It’s hard for all kids. Finding peer group acceptance is tough, Chief. We all have horror stories of our own ineptness, tales of embarrassment and rejection.”
“I know that, man. I know I’m not the only one. Ben Cutler is living proof that history does repeat itself and most people get through it. But it’s still with me, Jim. It’s with me every day when I stand next to you during an interrogation and I get the looks from them. People who just can’t place the hair and clothes and my size with the image they have of cops, and authority, and protection.” He rolled off the chest, laying his head next to Jim's. “I can look that doubt in the eyes, Jim. I can stare it down and never back off. I can meet it head on and reach out and show them that I am still a strong and formidable force in my own right. But, love, I can only do that because you’re there for me. You’ve always been there for me. Just knowing that you believe in me…that’s kept me true to myself. But now…”
“Whoa…” Jim said, pushing himself up on one elbow, balancing close to his mate’s side. Schooling his face into stern lines, he said, “Just stop right there.
If you’re back on that scene in Simon’s office, you’re out of line, Chief, way out of line. I was trying to get the facts, while you were jumping head over heels around all reason and reacting with your gut, instead of your head.”
“Jim, I really think this Tarrington is prejudiced against Cutler,” Blair stated firmly.
The hard, cold reasoning that ran Jim Ellison’s world with facts and deductions softened into a stream of compassion. All the reasoning in the world sometimes couldn’t chase away nightmares and memories. He, too, knew the impressions left on souls on frigid, lonely nights. Sometimes all anyone really needed was a companion in the dark to keep the fears at bay, an anchor to keep you from drifting beyond the limits of your sanity.
“Okay, Chief. I’ll check into it. I’ll do a background check on Tarrington and maybe do some follow up work on campus. I’ll make sure he’s cutting Cutler a fair deal.”
He found himself being gently pushed backwards as his Guide and lover laid his body over his, kissing him passionately. “Whoa, Chief, enough. I’m an old man. I think it’s time we got some sleep.”
"Maybe," said a laughing voice.
“Stop for a second," Jim said, putting a hand on Blair's chest, holding him still, "Chief, one thing I’m asking of you…no, I take that back. One thing I’m demanding of you as part of our relationship. I want you to trust me, and I want you to come to me with any questions you have. Just ask me and I’ll explain why I’m handling a matter a certain way. No more running off half-cocked, leaving me running after you. Got it?”
“Got it, Jim. I promise I will come to you first, before doing anything foolish. I rather like when you take charge,” Blair said impishly. Wrapping both arms around the one love of his life, he concentrated on the rhythm of that other heart, soothing, constant, and the one true purpose to his life.
Within moments, both men were slumbering towards the dawn.
Friday dawned with promise, bright and hopeful like the spring. Jim had risen early. Planning his day with the exuberance and fortitude found in the last eight hours before a week’s vacation, he playfully swatted his sleepy lover’s bottom.
“Rise and shine, Chief. I’m off to the station. I promised Simon I’d have the last of those forms clearing my desk by noon. Then I’ll stop by and have a word or two with Tarrington. You have a nice day, and keep your cool, you hear me?” Jim said.
A low mumble was his only reply, as Blair grabbed Jim’s now vacant pillow and pushed his face deep within the folds, reluctant to forsake the pleasures of the night.
Jim stood watching his lover’s half-hearted efforts to meet the day. Putting his badge in his pocket and holstering his gun, he smiled down at the disheveled form.
“Okay, Chief, suit yourself. It’s only nine, you should have plenty of time to make your nine-thirty class.”
He stepped back quickly as one frantic anthropologist jumped out of bed, and raced down the stairs, swinging off the railing he sprinted towards the bathroom door, angrily looking up at the laughing face of his friend and lover.
“Damn it, Jim, this is so not funny. I told you, man, never let me sleep past eight.”
Jim continued a low, pleasant laugh as he came down the stairs. He heard the shower turn on and wondered at the reaction his partner would give when he finally looked at the clock and realized it was only seven-thirty.
The morning passed with grace and rhythm. The paperwork seemed to be filling in itself with little of the resistance that usually met Jim’s efforts to put fact into form and substance. Surprised by the empty in-basket, by late morning, he stood up and stretched with a smile on his face.
Walking spryly into Simon Bank’s office, he grinned, widening the voltage with a charm and ease that had Bank’s looking skeptical.
“You look like the cat that swallowed someone’s pet bird? What’s up, Jim? Or maybe I shouldn’t be asking,” Simon said as he turned to refuel, adding more of the thick, black liquid to his half-full mug.
“Vacation next week, remember, Simon?”
“Yeah, I remember. I won’t say I’ll be happy not having you here for a full week, but you need the time off, Jim. Besides, I think you and Sandburg need the time together, anyway.”
“Yeah, and I think we’ll be using the time wisely.” He grinned even more broadly and Simon shook his head at the implied activities.
“I assume that paperwork is finished, mister?” Simon said, in a fully authoritarian voice.
“Yes, sir. Just put my John Hancock to the last one. If you don’t mind, I’d like to head out to Rainier. I thought I’d check with Tarrington and see if he has any other leads on the Bailey case.”
Simon reached for a folder on his desk. He stretched his arm out offering the folder, eyeing his best friend and best detective with a steely gaze.
Jim raised his eyebrows in bewilderment, but took the folder. In bold letters ED TARRINGTON spread across the top.
Simon looked amused, “I figured you’d want to check the guy’s files yourself. Go ahead, Jim, it’s relevant to the case and I know you promised a certain anthropologist. I think this will set your mind at ease. Tarrington may be old regime, but he’s honest and he was a good cop. I’ll vouch for him myself. Trust him, Jim, you won’t be disappointed.”
“Simon, I appreciate this.” Jim sat at the conference table and began reading. Simon stood up, poured a mug of coffee and set it down in front of Ellison. “I’m off to meet with the mayor about the budget. Take all the time you need and make sure that file stays in my office.” With that Simon grabbed his coat and headed out the door.
Jim knocked sharply on Tarrington's door. Pausing briefly to catch the sound of one heart beating, he knocked again.
The door was opened by the tall, powerfully built man whom Jim had seen in Simon's office yesterday. "Mr. Tarrington, may I have a word with you?"
Tarrington paused, looked out into the hall, and then sighed heavily. He reached an arm back into the room and snatched his jacket from a coat hanger off to the side, out of Jim's view.
"Actually, Detective, let's take a walk. I could use some fresh air."
As they rounded the outer corner of the building, the long stretch of walkway was covered in shadows. The early spring air was still crisply damp, but the sunlight of late afternoon, still burnished the perimeter with warm, inviting patches.
"Detective, I was on the force for twenty years before I took this job. Simon and I go back a ways and I know if he thinks as highly of you as I'm judging he does, then I can trust you. What you saw yesterday was a staged performance for the benefit of all parties concerned."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jim asked, pausing along the walkway.
"Easy, Ellison, take it easy." Tarrington once again looked around, checking out the shadows.
He reached out a tentative hand and hooked Jim's upper arm.
"Come on, let's keep walking."
Pausing for a moment, he continued, " I've had my suspicions when I took over security here at Rainier that the security team was on the take. I've noticed some students never get hassled or checked, blatantly disobeying school policies and seem quite chummy with my staff. Crimes of harassment and theft are up considerably in the last year. Will Temple was a good guy, but he was just too old and too inexperienced to realize what was going on behind his back. Gus Bailey's girlfriend, well, ex-girlfriend came to me about a month ago. They'd had a major blowup and she told me he was bragging about how he and some of his Frat Brothers had broken into some membership data base of The United Order of Brotherhood or something like that; a local group of idiot skinheads. They had made a copy and were blackmailing some of the more visible members. According to the girlfriend, several members of my force are listed as members. He was proud about the fact and it was becoming common knowledge around Greek Row. I was on the job for about a week before Bailey came to see me. He actually had the gall to come to me about his little scam. Told me about it and suggested that if I didn't want it to get out, how Security was on the take, it would be worth my while to overlook certain activities he and his Frat House were involved in. I took the bait, wanting to see how deep this kid was in it, if you get my drift. I told one of my guys, Jason Page, what was going on. I've known him for years and know he is not involved. He has gotten in close with my two main suspects and is keeping an eye on them for me."
Jim only nodded, slowly seeing where Tarrington was going with this.
"Well, Bailey then started harassing Cutler, probably for no other reason then just kicks. I've seen it myself. The kid's begging for trouble, if you ask me, but he's young and I've been keeping an eye on him. Cutler's feisty and when one of the students said he was the one most likely to beat Bailey, I jumped at the chance to pull the kid out of the fray. However, he's out and his attitude is still too cocky. Bailey's girlfriend thinks the skinheads beat the crap out of him looking for the disk. Now, I don't know if it was some of my guys who did it or just some of their associates. My problem now is I want that disk. I want to clear the campus of these guards. “
"So, bringing Cutler and Sandburg to the station yesterday, that was all a show?" Jim asked, deciding that Simon was right about Tarrington, he was a straight shooter.
"Yeah, Ellison. Let my guys think it's a clear-cut case against Cutler, take the suspicions off of them. Page told me they suspect a disk instead of a hard copy of the membership list. I heard Bailey's Frat room was trashed. I know I would have heard about it by now if a disk had been found. Plus, Bailey's Fraternity threw a rather loud party last night and not a word was said to them by Security. He must have stashed the disk somewhere or given it to someone.”
"Do you know who he would have given the disk to?" Jim said, watching the facial expression of the man who stood a couple of inches over his head. The man was one of the few men who matched Simon Banks foot for foot.
"Not a clue. But that is not going to stop me from pretending I do. Page told some of my guys that I think Bailey hid it with Culter, trying to take the heat off of himself. Think about it. If you hated someone, and you wanted them to take the fall for you, wouldn't it be relatively simple to slip something in a kid's backpack. He'd never even know he had it."
"That might work." Jim said, rubbing his jaw.
Blair had just returned the last of his library books. Kris Barrett poked her head out of the back room.
"Blair, how convenient. Could you give me a hand with the paper cutter? The thing is just too heavy for me and it's in the back room. I need it up at the front desk for a couple of days. Will you be a sweaty, please," she said, fluttering her soft, golden lashes his way.
Laughing out loud at her obvious antics and feminine wiles, Blair headed off in the direction of the back storage area. Having worked many hours as an under-grad in the library, he knew the layout well.
Passing the many shelves of labels and binding equipment, tapes and boxes, he reached the back work area, under the windows. The cool breeze that wafted through the open windows excited him with the promise of his week off.
Dreaming of some time with his lover, wrapped in his arms, he suddenly heard Jim’s voice, and that other guy, Tarrington.
Blair peered out over the high ledge of the window. There they were: Jim and Tarrington. He froze, listening.
“Is your friend, Sandburg, going to give me a hassle? I have to make sure it looks like Cutler is guilty. I want it to seem real. I admit, I’ve never gotten along with the hippie radical types,” Tarrington said, quietly.
Jim laughed, then stopped. His hearing picked up a familiar heartbeat. Smiling to himself, he said, “I’ll handle Sandburg, don’t worry. He knows to do what I tell him,” Jim said smugly, knowing that full well his Guide was within hearing distance. “I’ll explain things to him when the time is right.” Jim looked up at the window, and could see Blair duck down below the sill. You’d better be paying attention, lover, because I mean it. This trust thing is being put to the test right now.
Focusing back to Tarrington, he said, "Just make sure Cutler is safe. I don't want anything happening to him."
"Don’t worry. I have it covered."
Blair grabbed the paper cutter and raced forward. Dropping it quickly on the front desk counter, not waiting for Kris’ thanks, he ran out the side door and headed for his office.
He’ll do what I tell him. Blair thought. What the hell is that supposed to mean, Ellison? What the hell are you going to stand by and let Tarrington do?
Calming himself with deep breaths once his door was closed, he sat down, trying to call forth the voice of reason. Take it easy, here. Jim’s got to be playing along with Tarrington. Maybe it’s just a trap. That’s all. He’s going to bust Tarrington at his own game.
Just then a knock sounded on his door, so faint that Blair at first thought he was mistaken. Again, the soft pounding broke through his thoughts. Rising from his chair he opened the door to see a very frazzled, frightened Ben Cutler, backpack stuffed with clothes and books and a small duffel bag brimming with what looked like all the kid’s possessions.
“Ben, what’s the matter now?” Blair asked, stepping aside and allowing the boy to enter.
“Mr. Sandburg, they’re after me.” His bright blue eyes alive with excitement and fear.
“Who’s after you?”
“Everyone! No one. Oh, hell, Mr. Sandburg, I don’t know. I just know some security guards have been following me. I heard them talking about pointing me out to the skinheads, letting the Aryan race rid the campus of my kind. I’m scared, Mr. Sandburg. Tarrington’s got it in for me and no one seems like they want to believe me anymore. I didn’t do anything. It’s true I disliked Bailey, but I never did anything to him. He started by hassling me over that presentation I did and ever since then, he’s made a point of showing up wherever I am. It wasn’t me who beat him up. You’ve got to believe me, Mr. Sandburg.”
Blair saw the long hair, curling around the young face. The youthful features still holding the memories of tears and warm cocoa and scraped knees touched his heart. So like the little boy he lost but a few years back. How many times was he pushed and shoved and played with simply because of his clothes. Many times in his childhood all people needed to do was see Naomi with her free-spirited garments of gossamer wings that matched her even freer mind. Soon Blair was labeled in the same box, put away on a shelf only to be taken down when someone needed to be blamed or made an example of. Now he was the authority figure here, the one who could make a difference in any memories Ben Cutler pulled along with him into maturity.
Going to the metal cabinet where Ben had hidden the previous day, Blair pulled out a small gym bag. One change of clothes was always on the ready for quick trips out of town with Jim or long nights pulled at the office grading papers and keeping up with two jobs. Having cashed his check just this morning, planning on springing the surprise trip up to the mountains on Jim this evening, Blair knew he had enough money for food and supplies along the way.
“Ben, I don’t know what’s going on, but I think you and I need to get away for awhile."
Grabbing his backpack, laptop and duffel bag, he pulled the confused student along with him, turning only long enough to lock his office door. Well, big guy, all plans are off. This trust thing is a two way street and I won’t be party to running this kid into the ground…whatever your reasons are.
Jim left Tarrington near the library, he thought briefly of finding his lover and setting the record straight, but just then his cell phone rang.
“Jim, I just finished with the mayor. If you’re free, I’ll buy lunch. I assume you’re at the University?”
“Yes, sir, I just got done having an interesting talk with Tarrington. You were right about him, sir, he is sharp and I think he may have a lead on those skinheads we’ve been trying to nail. How about meeting me at the Spice and Shaker, I’ll fill you in on what he told me. I think it might be all over by the time I get back from vacation."
A low chuckle came across the airwaves. “It’s a deal, this is one lunch I won’t mind buying.”
Blair drove quickly, using his map and the directions Professor White left him, and made good time. Beating rush hour traffic out of the city, he was also lucky to avoid the weekend rush to the mountains and the even more frantic passage of college kids towards airports and bus depots. Before five o’clock, the Volvo was well out of Cascade and nearing the town closest to the cabin hideaway. A quick stop provided them with provisions for enough meals to last several days.
At the start of the ride, Ben had been a basket case, rambling on and on about sub-cultures and conspiracies within the campus political structure. Finally, having heard enough of the paranoid kid’s rants, Blair burst out, “Ben, please, just give it a rest. I believe you about Tarrington dealing with you from the bottom of the deck, but this persecution complex has got to stop. You’re hurting your own credibility when it comes time to present our case to the hierarchy.”
What hierarchy? Blair thought, Simon? I can’t trust him when he’s the president of Tarrington’s fan club. Jim? Hardly---the man’s a control freak and right now he’s got me pegged for being right under his thumb. Well, think again, big guy. I gave you my heart and soul, not my mind.
A bump in the road brought him back to the present. Turning, he saw the hurt in Ben’s posture. Slumping forward, hair covering his face, the kid was studying his hands, now folded neatly in his lap.
“Look, Ben, life isn’t always fair, but I’ll do everything I can to help you clear this mess up. Just trust me, okay?” The young blue eyes turned towards him, a small smile played upon the lips and Blair returned a full voltage one of his own. Immediately, all forgiven, Ben re-adjusted himself in the seat and began to tell Blair some amusing stories about life on campus.
In a short while they were pulling off the road and into a large wooded area. Driving back off the road, along a two-lane rutted road, they found a rather large, one-floor cabin. For an agonizing moment, Blair felt a hitch in his throat at the painful realization that his planned week of romance was not the only thing ruined. He realized the foundation of trust and commitment was fast crumbling around him. Biting his lip, he bit back the repressed emotions that threatened to overcome him and smiled wanly at Ben. “Home sweet home,” was all he could manage.
At lunch earlier in the day, Jim had filled Simon in on Tarrington's plan to use Cutler as bait for the corrupt guards.
"I don't know Jim," Simon started, "it sounds like it could be dangerous to the student."
"I know. I am not saying that it is the smartest plan I have ever heard, but Tarrington swears that his inside man will know before anything happens. Who knows, if they find out who beat up Bailey, they could put a stop to it before Cutler gets hurt."
"Well, Brown and Rafe are stilling working on the case, they may be able to find out who did the beating before Tarrington's guys go after the student. They are supposed to go interview Bailey this afternoon. He regained consciousness briefly this morning."
"Well, if you find out something before Saturday morning, give us a call. Blair and I are leaving around 9."
"Where are you two going? I hope someplace warm," Simon said with a laugh.
"I honestly don't know. He didn’t tell me. All I was told, last night, was to not make any plans, pack casual and be ready to go on Saturday."
The afternoon seemed to crawl by. All the paperwork completed, Jim spent his remaining hours organizing his cases for his return in a week. Typing up some notes for Rhonda, Brown and Rafe to keep them up to date on his caseload, he stopped every half-hour to call Blair at the loft. Where the hell is he? He said he would be home after noon. The university was his next target, but the voice mail was his only answer.
Rising irritably, he decided a snack from the machine might brighten his mood and save one very, irritating anthropologist’s life.
Simon’s voice pierced his concentration, “Jim! Get in here.”
Turning to join his superior in his office, he saw Tarrington coming down the hall, accompanied by Rafe and Brown. Now what? he thought.
“Jim, Bailey talked this afternoon. Seems Tarrington was right, Gus hid the disk in Cutler’s backpack. Then he sent an e-mail to security and The United Order of Brotherhood. Cutler is one very sought after boy right now.” Simon started the ball rolling.
“However, Jim, my man, Jason Page has been keeping an eye on the kid. He said the two security guards I suspect have been following Cutler all morning. He kept a close tail on them. Seems your friend, Sandburg, and the kid left the University in a green Volvo around one. Page called me immediately and I radioed Drew and Brad in. Bailey said there were two men who beat him up and he said Drew and Brad were on the disk. All suspicion points to them at this point. If we get our hands on that disk, we’ll have all the probable cause we need to arrest them for attempted murder.” Tarrington watched Ellison’s face.
“Where the hell did Sandburg go?” Jim asked to no one in particular.
“That’s what we were hoping you would tell us, Jim,” Rafe said softly.
“He’s probably not in any immediate danger, but Cutler needs to be put under protective custody until we can find that disk. Too many people would like to get their hands on it, Jim,” Simon said as he took a cigar out of his pocket.
The cool night air surrounded him with the sounds of the forest. Standing on the porch of the large, rustic cabin, he ached with misery. Jim should be here with him, standing beside him right now, holding him. All the plans for making things right, talking them out and finding the easy grooves of their earlier relationship were scattered back in Cascade.
Now he shared a cabin with a hyperactive, paranoid teenager, too bright for his own good. Turning his head slightly, he heard the click of keys from inside the modernly appointed cabin. The façade of rustic charm did not sacrifice the conveniences of modern man. Ben was surfing the Internet with the passion of his obsession.
Sighing heavily, Blair turned and entered the cabin. The lodging was tastefully appointed in earth tones, Apache artwork and Indian prints lined the Knotty Pine interior. As one entered, a large room was divided into three rooms by furniture only. To the right a living room was well appointed with a round wooden coffee table in the middle, a large sofa on one side and two comfortable armchairs on the other. A large stone fireplace covered the outside wall. Two doors opened on the adjacent wall each leading off into the bedrooms. The left portion contained bookshelves and a dining room table that was used far more conveniently as a desk. In back of this area was a well-appointed kitchen with a small bay window. A bathroom lay off the kitchen.
Now, Ben sat typing away, totally absorbed in some quest in Cyberspace.
“How about some dinner?” Blair asked as he made his way into the kitchen.
“Yeah, I could eat something,” the young man said, not bothering to stop or look up.
A simple meal of soup and sandwiches left them in much better spirits. After quickly tending to the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, Blair drifted out onto the porch.
Romance decorated the night in soft, twinkling stars and an intimacy that demanded to be shared. There is no time like the night to become yourself, to go into the unguarded areas of your psyche. However, there is also no more tender a time when two people in the shadow of the moon can merge their souls. No more welcome could ever be extended than the soft darkness and the quiet at close of day. Blair ached for Jim and the sharing they were in need of. All was lost. Damn it, he thought, I had to get Ben out of there. I owed it to him. He’s my responsibility as his counselor. Jim screwed this up, not me. The freshness of the morning’s conversation he had overheard between Jim and Tarrington allowed the self-righteous insistence. Yeah, he thought, maybe if I keep insisting I’ll actually believe it myself.
Jim Ellison sat on the sofa. How long, he didn’t know. The night brooded with him through the large glass windows, easing his stress and strain and offering understanding. Where the hell are you, Sandburg? he asked himself for the hundredth time. Is this what our relationship boils down to, this fine thread of trust that can be so easily snapped.
Sandburg had fought the relationship from the very first. Oh, sure he came willingly to Jim as friend and guide and student. Always willing to learn and take part, always a major factor in solving the cases and assisting Jim when needed, but always resistant as well. Sandburg was not a cop, and as many times as Simon and Jim repeated the litany themselves, they did not believe it. No matter what excuses they could give to exclude the young anthropologist, he made them better at their jobs, and for that they needed him.
When the first bright sparks of mutual attraction could no longer be ignored, Jim moved in like a man who always knows what he wants and how to get it. Blair opened to him, like a well-read book, allowing himself to be turned and situated for comfort and ease. It was the Blair Jim was always used to, the mediator, the conciliatory agent, the peripatetic student learning how to make a home everywhere.
Then time steamed the starchiness out of the relationship, and all became relaxed. There was a comfort in their duo; a pairing that truly joined them, as some would say ‘at the hip.’
However in time, the new creases of their domestic bliss chafed the young man as he fought the stiffness that Jim needed to function. The rigidity of a place for everything and everything in its place soon left his Guide frustrated and moody. Blair slouched into the days while Jim stood stock-still and uncompromising, knowing the course he had planned and insistent that all passengers stay seated. Mutiny was on the horizon and Jim just chose to ignore it.
The sunlight tickled his eyes, he turned away, groaning, burying his face in the soft folds of the sweater he had slept on bearing the strong scent of the one who was gone. Ellison fought the dawn as weary spirits usually do. Gone was the energetic man in control, now he needed escape and sleep offered a dark and empty world.
“Boy, I knew it,” Ben said suddenly. Reaching down he pulled his backpack up off the floor and threw the heavily loaded pack on the table. Riffling through each compartment, he frantically sought some missing object. “Hey, where the hell did this come from?” he asked no one in particular.
Blair walked bleary eyed and bleakly from the bathroom. The night had given him comfort only in his weariness, but the sleep offered no renewal of spirit. Without Jim, with the simple thought that their relationship could be over, Blair found little energy to move through the morning. The thick sludge of his resistance made all acts a Herculean effort.
“Coffee?” Blair asked as he noticed the fresh pot on the burner. The kid was thoughtful he noted, plus an early riser.
Blair poured two cups and trudged over to the table that Ben had almost completely covered with books and notes. Sitting next to the overly energetic student, Blair sat moodily staring deeply into the thick brew.
“Oh, Mr. Sandburg, I’ve been researching the history of revolution for my class, I want to do a paper on insurrection among the intellectually gifted,” Cutler said, pausing only briefly to sip the hot liquid, then quickly returning his fingers to position over the keyboard.
“No?” Blair asked, sarcastically, “who would have guessed?”
The irritation was lost on the fireball burning brightly next to him. Blair glanced quickly at the eager face, young and alive, full of promise and possibilities. Shaking his head, disgusted with his own treatment of the student, he quickly added, “I’m sure you’ll get a good grade. You’re a good student, Ben, if you would just try to stay away from inciting a riot with every paper and presentation you do.”
Blair started looking at the books and papers Cutler had strewn over the table. A diskette lay on top of one book. The only writing on the label was a small green swastika.
Seeing the familiar symbol of hate, Blair picked up the disk.
“Where did you get this from?”
“Hey, I don’t know,” eyeing Sandburg with the suspicious look Blair recognized as trademark Cutler. “I never saw that thing before.”
“Do you think you can read what’s on here?” Blair asked.
Cutler smiled, “Piece of cake,” and he eagerly loaded the diskette into the drive.
Simon Banks stood irritably outside the loft door. Knocking the third time, juggling the large pizza box in one hand, he yelled, “Jim! Open up.”
The door opened quickly presenting a haggard face, unshaven and unhappy. Damn, just what I thought, he hasn’t been to bed and probably didn’t even eat dinner.
“I suggest you take a shower, shave and get dressed, Jim. You’re on vacation, not dead.”
Jim grunted, “I’m on vacation, so I don’t have to.”
“Jim, it’s almost noon. If we get a call about Sandburg’s whereabouts, don’t you think you should be ready to move.”
Placing the large box on the table, Simon looked sternly at the mess before him.
Simon sat at the table, a very irritated Sentinel across from him. Both men hugged beers in their hands, a box of pizza lay open on the other end of the table. Seeing the frustration that plastered Ellison's face, he threw in what reason he could muster himself.
"You know, Jim, Sandburg was pretty upset about that scene in my office. I admit I should have given him more consideration. He's a teacher. Of course, he's going to go out of his way to protect one of his students. You said so yourself he's counseling this kid. I know how protective he is of you. Sandburg's just being Sandburg."
The blue eyes pulled back into the room, leaving their intense viewing of the city landscape through the large window. "I know, Simon," Jim sighed. Then a smile played quietly in the corners of his mouth, "I guess that's why I love him so much, but he's so damn frustrating at times."
"He should be okay. I have an APB on the car. Highway Patrol should notify us immediately and they have orders to detain for protective purposes."
"I just want to know where he is right now. Then I want to get Cutler and the diskette safely back here. After that I have some adjustments to make." Ellison gritted his teeth in some silent promise to himself.
Simon's dark eyes caught the fervor and promise to the last statement. "Jim, don't go doing anything foolish and ruining your relationship with Sandburg. You two are perfect together and you know how pigheaded and high-handed you can be at times. Sandburg won't tolerate any megalomaniac controlling his every move. He's a spirited individual with a sharp mind and free soul."
"I would never want to change that, but he's always willing to go off without thinking of the consequences, putting his life in danger to help me or someone else and worrying about the repercussions afterwards. This could have all been avoided if he had just talked to me, asked me about the things he heard and what my plans were. Matter of fact, he swore to me he would trust me from now on. Fact of the matter is, he lied."
Simon nodded, "I agree, but I can't say I blame Sandburg completely. Tarrington needs to adjust his own attitudes and opinions." Simon chuckled, then took a long pull on his beer. "I remember my own biased opinions of the kid, just because of his hair, his constant chattering, and that habit he has," Simon used his fingers to express a flighty gesture of bouncing a basketball, "like the Energizer Bunny."
Both men caught the image in the hollows of their mind's eye. Laughter filled the loft and some of the tension eased its way out the door.
Just then the phone broke in, like a long-awaited guest to the party. Jim reached a long arm back to the counter and picked up the cordless unit.
"Jim?" the unnecessary question came out quietly.
Jim closed his eyes, looked into the worried face of Simon, nodded his head and pulled in a deep and calming breath.
"Sandburg," he said patiently. "Thank God. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, Jim, I'm fine. I have Ben with me."
"I know. My next question is the obvious WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?"
Simon threw up his hands in disgust. James Ellison's tact and finesse were comparable to most mob boss' hit men.
Jim saw the look on Simon's eyes, and tried to calm himself.
"Jim, I'm up in the mountains. That's not important right now. Ben found a diskette in his backpack. He swears he doesn't know how it got there. I believe him. Jim, it's evidence. I mean this disk lists names, security guards at Rainier, businessmen who support the skinheads. Hell, Jim, there's even some city councilmen's names on here. They were obviously blackmailing people into cooperating with them…they…" Sandburg hardly took a breath.
"Chief, settle down," Jim tried to bring the turbo in for a landing.
"We know all that. Bailey talked. We have the two suspected security guards, Drew and Brad, under surveillance. We need that disk back here to have hard evidence. Bailey didn't see the men who beat him up, but he said there were two of them and we strongly suspect this pair. Tell me where you are."
"I'll bring him back, Jim, we'll leave right now."
"NO! You stay put, you hear me? Bailey sent a notice on e-mail, not only to the security office, but also to the United Order of Brotherhood. We don't want you riding around, visible. We have reason to believe they saw you leave with Cutler and know your car and plates. Tell me where you are and Simon and I will come and get you."
"I'm sorry, Jim," came the penitent voice, "I screwed up again. I have this cabin for the week. It was to have been a surprise for our one year anniversary."
"Blair, baby, you did indeed, but we'll get it right. I'm asking you to trust me."
Blair gave him quick directions to the cabin. The three-hour drive would get them there by late afternoon.
Jim hurriedly packed his duffel putting in enough clothes for a week. Then he packed another bag for Sandburg. The mountain cabin would be a great place to talk with no distractions, no demands on their time. The week was theirs and he damn well planned to work on his relationship once Cutler was safe and the diskette marked as evidence.
Simon saw the two bags and smiled. "I'm glad you're not going to let the cabin or the week go to waste."
"Sandburg might have reason to regret the location, when I get through with him, but the quiet will be good for the both of us. I am still officially on vacation, right?"
"Yeah, Jim, as a matter of fact, I insist. We'll drive up in my car. I'll bring Cutler back. You can stay up there with the kid, by that time the Volvo won't be a highly sought after item. All the shit will have hit the fan while you and Blair are safely tucked up there."
Then in the rhythm of friendship, the long easy strides of routine, the two cops went to collect some valued things.
Blair set the phone down and looked across the room at Ben. They had positioned themselves in the living room, Ben slouching with certain arrogance in one of the armchairs, Blair on the sofa. Steaming cups of hot cocoa sat on the huge coffee table before them. Neither one had much of an appetite; the discovery taking all their energy with the possibilities of the outcome, the criminal jurisdiction that could clamp down on the skinheads at least in the Cascade area.
"I guess this Ellison is going to be pretty upset with you," Ben said, then added, "and me, too."
Looking up Blair saw the faint glimmer of fear in the blue eyes, so like his own even now, unsure of his own worth, concerned about his actions, and doubting all fairness in the world.
"I guess I'm in trouble. They'll think I stole this disk. It's going to look bad for me, no one ever believes me."
Reaching down, Blair picked up his mug and sat back. There was nothing now for them to do but wait and the silence would only enhance the fears already fogging both their imaginations.
"You know, Ben, you and I are a lot alike. We've already discussed my early years in college and the fool I pretty much made of myself. I was quite the know-it-all and I can tell you I really made more enemies than I was able to realize." He took a long sip on the thick, sweet drink, then setting his cup back down, he continued, "I screwed up pretty badly, probably was even a bigger pain in the ass than you are."
Cutler let out a small laugh, then shyly looked at Blair, "Yeah, I guess I am at that."
Blair laughed along with him, "Not as big as I was. Even when Jim and I became friends, I let a lot of my insecurities get the better of me. This whole thing never should have happened. I realize that now. All I had to do was tell Jim about security hassling you, even go to Simon with my doubts, but no, I had to take matters into my own hands."
"What do you think they'll do to us?" Cutler asked, looking young and very much the little boy. Pushing his long hair behind his ear, more so to occupy his hands than out of any need, he pulled both legs up on the chair and sat Indian-style. For a moment he looked like a Boy Scout at a camp out.
"You'll be placed in protective custody until all the guilty parties can be round up. Then, I don't think you have to worry. You didn't do anything, except leave the city, and I'll have to take responsibility for that."
"Do you have any pull with the cops?"
"I'm not sure I have much influence on them one way or the other right now, but Simon and Jim are both professionals. They know who's guilty in this little fugitive drama and I'm afraid it's me."
Both men shivered at once, then laughing at the synchronization of the gesture, Blair got up.
"I think I'll make a fire. I doubt either one of us feels like enjoying the majestic splendor outdoors right now.”
Simon pulled the burgundy Chrysler down the narrow, rutted road. The setting sun pierced the treetops easing the chill out of the dark forest. The cool, crisp, mountain air chafed the skin.
"Remember, Jim, I expect you to conduct yourself professionally in there. Cutler's safety is our first priority and the disk. Once Cutler is in my custody, you're officially on your vacation." Then turning in his seat as he cut the engine, he pointed a threatening finger at his best detective. "I'd better not get any calls about any murders in the mountains, and in one weeks time I expect to have all parties accounted for, alive and well."
Jim reached for the door handle and smiled wearily, not eager himself to deal with his wayward guide.
Simon looked at the two men before him. He could see the anger, but more importantly the hurt in Jim's eyes. He knew Blair could see it, too. The kid had a hard time meeting Simon's eyes and quickly gave up, dropping his own to the floor of the cabin.
Playing it straight-faced and totally professionally Simon acted indifferent and unaware. He wanted the anthropologist to realize how much his actions hurt Jim, but they also snubbed his authority as well. The damn kid could have and should have brought his doubts to him.
"I'm going to bring this runaway back to Cascade," Simon said, tugging none too gently on Cutler's arm. "What about that one?" he asked, nodding in the general direction of the self-conscious anthropologist, playing the stern commander. Knowing full well Jim’s intentions, he wanted Blair to know Jim could play the hand in a manner totally unfavorable, if he so chose.
"Don’t worry about him, sir. Blair and I were planning to spend the week up here and that is exactly what we are going to do. We have some things to work out between us."
Blair looked up eagerly, proving that hope did indeed spring eternal.
“Did you want to stay for supper?” Jim offered.
“No, I think I’d rather leave you two alone. Billy the Kid and I can grab some burgers on the road.” Simon winked at Jim.
Simon patted Blair on the back as he walked Cutler out the door, "Don't be too hard on the kid, Jim. He was just protecting his student."
Blair returned to his intense scrutiny of the floor.
Not answering, offering no reasonable leniency Jim simply said, "Good night, Simon. Drive carefully. We'll give you a call when we get back to town next weekend."
Blair did not stop studying the carpet at his feet as Simon walked the student outside and to the car and drove away.
Jim stood watching the car as it drove down the rutted lane. The large picture window allowed him to see the vehicle as it turned onto the main highway. Swallowing his annoyance at Blair, he turned away and walked into the small kitchen. Blair stayed frozen in place, still not looking up.
"I'm hungry, I haven't had dinner. Have you?" asked Jim, peering into the cupboards.
"Umm," Blair stammered, "no, I haven't eaten, but I'm not really hungry."
"No. You need to eat. Now, what do you want?" Jim said, trying not to be annoyed.
"I SAID 'I'm NOT HUNGRY!" Blair shouted, his anger and worry at the situation venting. Looking at Jim for a moment, he turned around quickly and raced into the bedroom he had slept in last night. Slamming the door, he threw himself on the bed.
Jim stared at his lover's vanishing back and winced, as the bedroom door slammed shut. Shaking his head and sighing, he shut the cupboard and went into the living room. Sitting down on the couch, he leaned his head back and focused his hearing in on the bedroom and his partner.
He could hear his lover lying on the bed, muttering to himself, fluctuating between anger at 'his pig-headed lover' and himself. Jim smiled as the anger turned toward a bootlace that had become tangled into a knot, listening to Blair try to slide it off his foot. His smile turned to concern as he heard the hitch in his voice and the muttering stop. With the sounds of that hitching filling his ears, he stood from the couch and walked towards the bedroom.
Pausing for a second outside the door, he debated about knocking. Thinking better of it, he quietly opened the door and slipped into the darkened room. He could see Blair laying face down on the bed, one boot on, the other off. The younger man did not move with the opening of the door. Jim walked over and carefully sat on the bed, at his lover's feet. Gently picking up the boot-clad foot he slowly undid the lace and slid it off. Putting the foot back on the bed, he looked down at his partner's face. Eyes closed, a few tracks from frustrated tears marking his face, he looked lost. Jim scooted back on the bed and stretched out, lying next to Blair, facing him. Reaching out, he stroked the long curls, brushing them back from his face.
"Blair," he began softly, "look at me, love."
Blair seemed to curl up into himself at this lover's voice, his eyes not opening.
Jim waited a few minutes, still stroking the curls, before speaking again.
"Blair, come on, let's talk. We have to talk; we have to trust each other. Please…" Jim said, his voice trailing off.
Blair, eyes still closed, relaxed some. Slowly inching his way toward Jim, he sought the safety and comfort he was hoping to find there.
Scooping his lover up in his arms, Jim cradled him closely to his chest. He felt strong hands grab the front of his shirt and hang on tightly. Leaning close, his lips almost touching the tangle of curls, he whispered, "Love, you can't keep shutting me out, you have to trust me; we have to be honest with each other." Smiling he added, "I'm going to keep repeating that until I think it is sinking into that brain of yours. I care too much about our relationship, about you, about us, to see it self-destruct."
Jim heard Blair mumble something, but even with his hearing, he was unable to understand.
"What did you say, baby?" he asked, slightly pulling away from the younger man.
Blair sighed, "I said, we won't self-destruct, I'll destroy us, all by myself."
"Don't say that," Jim admonished. "What makes you think I am going to allow you to destroy us? You think I let go of something I care this much about, let it go so quickly because you are afraid?"
"I'm not going to give you the choice. I'm going to drive you away; I'm going to do something so bad that you won't be able to stand the sight of me. You are going to hate me." A few tears began leaking from his closed eyes.
"No, love, I swear to you. I couldn't hate you; I can't imagine anything that you could do that would make me feel that way. I want this, us, to work out. I can't imagine not spending the rest of my life with you."
Blair just shook his head, unable or unwilling to believe what his lover was saying. Doubt clouded his judgment and a shell was forming around his soul.
"Blair, why don't you believe me?" Jim pushed, before the casing became hard and unyielding.
Blair didn't answer. Gripping more tightly to Jim's shirt he wiggled, trying to move closer to his lover.
Tightening his embrace around the shaking shoulders, Jim brought a quiet surety into the room. "It's okay. We have all week to talk about this. We are going to discuss it and we are going to get our relationship back in line." He paused for a moment, as if waiting for Blair to say something. When no response was forthcoming, he continued the soft litany of reassurance, "We are going to be okay, love. We're going to be able to work this out and get on track. Trust me, all right?"
He could feel Blair nod against his chest and he heard the low mumble, "'Okay."
They lay together for almost an hour. Jim’s strong arms wrapped tightly around the smaller man, giving strength and assurance to the distressed figure. Gradually, Blair's breathing slowed, as the grip on Jim’s shirt relaxed. The arms now wrapped around him in a normal embrace, not the eager desperation of the lost. Jim simply lay there, holding him, occasionally stroking his hair back. The large hands gave stability. Each methodical stroke was sending a calming rhythm to Blair. The outward control was all façade, for inside he gnawed at his own insecurities and failures.
His mind drifted over the years of their friendship and the last year as lovers. When he first met the younger man, he had seemed so confident and sure of himself, and, on the subject of Sentinels, he was. In the academic world, he was safe and felt comfortable spreading his wings; he knew what was expected of him, he knew he could excel and he did. However, as they spent more and more time together, Jim could see that some of the confidence was a façade. It was amazing to Jim to watch the transformation of his partner. One moment he would be joking and making smart alec comments with Simon and the other detectives, but then on the car ride home or during quiet moments in the loft, Blair's insecurities would surface. He would turn quiet and thoughtful or question and apologize for whatever he had done. Many of these fears had diminished over time and with his support, but they were never totally gone. If they had a fight about something, the insecurities would jump to the surface; if a case didn't go right, Blair would blame himself. Now, with these incidents with school, the anxieties were going full force. Thinking about it and what had gone on over the last few days, Jim could see the connection. As much as Blair might deny it or not believe him, he could understand where his guide was coming from and sympathize with him. Kissing the top of the curls in front of him, Jim knew it was this compassion and the ability to accept others that endeared him to Blair so much. It was a rare and precious gift, but it could be harmful if not handled correctly.
A slight rumbling from Blair’s stomach interrupted his musings. Laughing, Jim shook the figure slightly, “So, you hungry now?”
Pulling back slightly, the blue eyes sought his, “No, not really. You go ahead. I don’t want to eat anything right now.”
Jim glared at him and sat up on the bed. "Nope, wrong answer, love,” he said, giving Blair's butt a hard swat. "I think we have had other discussions about your eating habits. Do we need to go over it again?"
Blair glanced at his lover's raised hand and sat up, "No, it's okay. Fine, I'll eat. I'm not happy about it and I'll probably be sick and it’s going to be your fault."
Standing up with him, Jim smiled, "That's okay. You won't be sick. And even if you were, I'd still love you."
Blair laughed---a pleasant sound to the Sentinel’s ears.
They shared a simple and light meal of hamburgers and chips. After helping with the dishes, Blair wandered into the living room and stood by the window, looking out into the night.
After a moment, he saw Jim come up behind him in the reflection of the room. Smiling slightly, he welcomed Jim joining him at the window. "I'm sorry I've messed everything up," he said quietly.
Wrapping his arms around the younger man, Jim rested his head on top of the curls. "Baby, you've not messed anything up. We're together and we can get us back on track."
Encompassing his lover with strong, sure arms, Jim nodded appreciatively as he saw their images merging into the glass. The opaque silhouettes seemed like one figure---enhancing the reality of the other---reflecting off the darkness. To him, he was looking at life itself, without Blair, his life would be empty, barren and not worth living. He wondered if Blair felt the same way about him. Reaching up he stroked the soft curls bringing his hand to rest gently on Blair’s shoulder.
Leaning back, the younger man pressed his head into the large hand. Sighing softly, contentedly, he eased his body back molding it against the hard, rock solid form. In a soft duet of warm caresses, Jim felt the body relax into his. Hands meeting hands, wrapping and unwrapping, seeking that perfect embrace.
Jim whispered, "I love you."
"I know. I love you, too," Blair whispered back. "I'm scared,” he added after a moment.
"Of what? Of us? Of me?" Jim asked, concerned that Blair was maybe having doubts about their relationship.
"No, not of you. I love you. I love 'us.’ I'm scared I'm going to mess this up. I am going to do something and drive you away and you are going to hate me and you are going to leave and I'm never going to see you again and I'm going to be alone and it's all going to be my fault. Again."
<end of part 2>