The story is heavily based on a previous Sentinel story of mine called "The Haunting". You should really read it before this one. If you read this story before I remembered (after a reader pointed it out to me-- thanks!) to add this note, I apologize. I was rushing to get the story posted before the Easter Break and I goofed.
Baltimore P.D. - Homicide Unit
"Falsone, Stivers, Pembleton, Bayliss-- in my office," Lt. Al Giardello called from his doorway.
The four detectives trudged into the office, knowing full well what the hasty summons was about. Five weeks ago, nine skeletons had been found by a construction crew. Nine child-size skeletons. Forensics had determined they had been buried approximately ten years ago but because of their young age sex couldn't be determined. At first everyone in homicide worked the case but as no leads were found, the officers handling it had dwindled to these four. Paul Falsone and his partner, Terri Stivers, remained because Falsone was the primary detective. Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss stayed on the case because they had a special affinity for juvenile homicides.
"Gee," the swarthy Italian detective said as soon as the door closed behind them, "I'm just going to be straight with you and admit we have no leads nor nothing."
Giardello looked at the young detective. Rookies, he thought with a shake of his head. Always rushing in with the truth. "If you had a lead, Falsone, I would hope I would be among the first to learn about it."
"Sure, Gee, I mean, yeah, you would be the first..." He rubbed his head absently. "Then why did you call us in here?"
"To inform you that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has taken an interest in the case."
Pembleton looked at Bayliss and rolled his eyes. He wasn't surprised the feds were planning to take over. Actually, the only thing that surprised him was how long it had taken them to step in. "So is it no longer in our hands?" he asked, wanting to know whether to spend anymore sleepless nights on the case.
"The case is still the property of Baltimore, Frank. They're just going to lend us a profiler... and a couple of specialists."
"What kind of specialists?" Bayliss asked, noticing the lieutenant's slight hesitation.
"The kind that's making me name Pembleton as the primary."
"Falsone and I are still considered rookies, huh?" Stivers asked. She had recently been transferred to Homicide from Sex Crimes after a long stint in Narcotics. Falsone had transferred in from Auto Theft a few months before her. The petite Black woman wondered how many homicides they had to solve before losing rookie status.
"That's not why you are being replaced," Giardello said firmly. "It's just that I think Frank and Tim will get along better with the specialists."
Bayliss looked at the lieutenant in confusion. Frank getting along with anyone was sort of a stretch. "What's going on here, Gee?" he asked.
Giardello glanced down at the notes he'd made while on the phone with the FBI and smiled. "The specialists will be coming in from Cascade, Washington."
Cascade P.D. - Major Crime Unit
Detective Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg walked into the bullpen and greeted their co-workers as usual, wondering if the stares they were receiving were because of their tardiness. They were running about ten minutes late because Blair had to post mid-term grades at Rainier University. But Jim hadn't minded the detour; the posting of the grades meant the start of Blair's spring break which meant his partner could spend full days at the station-- doing Jim's paperwork.
When their co-workers' replies were considerably less enthusiastic than normal, the two men looked at each in concern. "What's going on, guys?" Blair quickly asked. He wasn't a cop, merely an anthropology grad student with police observer status, but he considered the officers his friends.
"The captain wants you two in his office," Det. Brown said, after everyone else averted their glances and went back to work. He after all, was one of the duo's closest friends and news like this should come from a friend; it was less likely the messenger would get killed that way. "He has a visitor-- Dr. Anthony Bozeman."
Jim grimaced and Blair paled. Dr. Bozeman, Tony as he liked to be called, was a profiler for the FBI but that wasn't the reason for the unit's reaction. No, the reaction stemmed from what had happened the last time Tony worked with the department. Actually, it was more of what had happened before Tony came.
Everyone knew Jim Ellison was a hell of a detective but only two people, other than the man himself, knew why. Jim was a Sentinel-- a person genetically set up to have heightened senses. In the past Sentinels had used their senses to protect jungles tribes from attack. Now, Jim used them in tandem with the skills he'd learned as an Army Ranger to protect the people of his tribe, also known as the citizens of Cascade. Blair Sandburg knew this because he was the one who had identified Jim's "problem" when the senses suddenly came on line and nearly drove the detective crazy. Because he possessed knowledge of Sentinels (or because he was genetically programmed as much as Jim), Blair became Jim's Guide-- a Sentinel's companion who helped hone the senses and watched his Sentinel's back. Their captain, Simon Banks, was also aware of Jim's talents because he not only made it possible for Blair to work with Jim, but also because he was their friend.
Months ago, Major Crimes had acted as backup for a narcotics operation. After the bust Jim had stayed behind to use his senses to check over the scene in case all the drugs hadn't been recovered. Simon stayed with him because it wasn't a good idea for the Sentinel to work without someone watching over him. There was a state or condition Sentinels sometimes found themselves in which Blair labeled a "zone". When a Sentinel zoned, he focused too much on one sense and sort of lost contact with reality. It was like being really stoned, only you didn't need drugs and usually a shout or a shake easily dragged the Sentinel back to the real world. In the beginning Jim had been prone to zoning, but as he grew more comfortable with his senses and understood his limits, the zones occurred less frequently. Still, to be on the safe side, he liked to have someone with him. Since Blair had been busy at the university, the captain reluctantly filled in.
But Jim hadn't zoned at the bust site; something far worse, far weirder had happened. In the course of extending his senses, Jim had had what Blair would later call "a psychic event". He had made contact with another plane of existence and had been told of bodies buried beneath the house serving as the drug lab. By the time Blair reached his partner's side, Jim had located and identified the remains of forty-two children-- all victims of a violent pedophile. The entire police department had been spooked (forgive the pun) by the incident and Jim's part in it, none moreso than Jim and Blair. Tony Bozeman had been brought in to do a profile on the killer, but Jim quickly identified him. When the evil old man died mere hours after his arrest, the whole matter had been collectively and conveniently forgotten. Until now.
What everyone thought, when they thought about it at all, was that Jim had received flashes in his head, showing him what had occurred unknown in the house for over two decades. Hell, whether you truly believed in psychics or not, of course you knew how they received their information, right? However, that wasn't the way it happened with Jim. His mind had actually been invaded by the ghosts of the children, all forty-two of them. He had relived their horror, sensing their shame as their innocence was violated, feeling their terror as they were tortured, shivering with their fear as they were killed. His heart had broken for them and when they begged for his help in reuniting them with their families, in getting their killer, he had agreed. He had even consented to letting them stay in his head because they found some modicum of peace there with a Sentinel to watch over them.
And while all this was happening, while he struggled with the eeriness of the spirits inside him, watched his friends and co-workers try to pretend that nothing strange was going on, Jim Ellison had been in great pain. The human mind had not been designed for high occupancy loads and his synapse circuits were making connections which were foreign, alien. The organ rebelled in the only way it knew how and every minute the apparitions occupied his mind, Jim paid a vicious price.
Blair remembered the pain more than anything else. Sure, learning that ghosts actually existed had shaken his sense of reality but seeing the Sentinel in such agony was what was imprinted permanently on his brain. Blair was Jim's Guide, but more importantly he was his best friend and when Jim hurt, he did too. "He asked you to go with him and you told him no," he said, speaking of Bozeman. The profiler had reviewed Jim's earlier cases, wondered how the detective had known certain things, and erroneously concluded Jim was a psychic and asked him to join up with him. "Why is he back?"
"I don't know, Chief. I guess we better go find out."
Blair reluctantly followed his partner to the captain's door, sliding in behind him when given permission to enter. Captain Simon Banks saw the expression on the faces of his two men and knew it matched his own. He had reservations about the proposition the profiler had laid out to him. Just like Blair, he knew what the dealings with the ghosts had cost Jim. "No need for introductions, I assume," he said as he poured coffee for the newcomers. He knew they were going to need it.
"Jim, Blair, good to see you again," Bozeman said, shaking their extended hands.
"Tony," Jim said tersely, feeling his jaw involuntarily clench. He tried to relax it, his dentist had warned him time and time against the habit, but when something bothered him, it always appeared in his jaw. And Tony's reappearance was definitely a bother.
"What brings you to Cascade?" Blair asked, taking the seat between Jim and Tony. It was a Guide's job to watch his Sentinel's back and in his opinion never had Jim needed more protecting.
"I've been called to work on a case similar to the one you had here. It's on the east coast and before I flew there, I thought I'd stop in and see if you, both of you, would like to accompany me," Bozeman explained. It was Jim he really wanted, but he didn't need the alphabet following his name to know the older man went nowhere without his partner.
"I told you I'm not interested in that line of business," Jim said tightly, his fists balling against the arms of the chair.
"The case is in Baltimore," the profiler said casually. "I think you know two of the officers on the case-- Tim Bayliss and Frank Pembleton?"
Jim stood and walked out of the room. Blair followed him, stopping only long enough to glare at Bozeman. "You son of a bitch," he said softly before trailing his partner.
"That went well," Simon said sarcastically, pinning the profiler to the seat with his own glare. There was no way he was going to let the fed go after them. Jim and Blair needed time to work this out for themselves.
Blair followed Jim into the elevator and down to the parking garage. When his partner climbed into the blue and white pick up, Blair took his place in the passenger seat, not caring where the Sentinel went as long as he didn't go alone. But Jim never turned the ignition.
"I can't do it again," he said, breaking the long silence.
"I mean, I figure that first time was a fluke. In my line of work, even my old line of work, stumbling upon dead bodies is sometimes a daily occurrence. None of them had ever spoken to me before and none have since. It was just a chance happening. It won't happen again."
"I agree." Thank God.
"It would be misleading of me to go with Bozeman knowing that I couldn't help. At least not in the way he expects."
Blair nodded. The Sentinel would undoubtedly find a clue or two Baltimore Homicide had overlooked, but Bozeman would be expecting the detail Jim had provided in Cascade. "So what do you want to tell him? That the case is too old, that you needed to be at the site before the bodies were moved? We didn't stick around long enough to hear the details, but it's a safe bet that if Homicide has the case, the remains have been sent to the morgue and manhandled by the entire staff in the coroner's office."
Jim smiled at the mental nimbleness of his partner. "You already have all the angles covered, don't you, Chief? At times that scares me, but at the moment I'm just grateful."
"The youthful mind is always quick," Blair teased, embarrassed by Jim's thanks.
"You think Bozeman has already mentioned us to Frank and Tim?" Jim asked worriedly. "I wouldn't want them to think I wouldn't help if I could." After Jim had witnessed a murder in Baltimore while he and Blair were on vacation, the four men had become friends. They had even managed to get together on two other occasions, despite having an entire country between them.
Blair shrugged. "If he has, we can make them understand."
"But they already have their suspicions about me, Chief." Sometimes it was darn hard to cover being a Sentinel, especially in the presence of two very good detectives. "They will assume there is information only I could discover. And in a case like this, any information is a big help."
Blair saw where his partner was heading and decided to make it easier for him. "So we go to Baltimore, you do your Sentinel thing, give the guys a few more items to work with, we enjoy some down time with our friends, maybe inhale a Baltimore crab or two, then come home. I can handle it. Believe me, I've spent worse spring breaks."
Jim nodded. "Come on, Chief," he said as he opened the truck's door. "We better go break the news to Simon."
"Thanks for the ride, Simon," Jim said after the luggage was checked and they were waiting to board.
"No problem," Simon said, not bothering to admit the reason why he drove them was that he wasn't sure what kind of condition Jim would be in when they got back. He and Sandburg both agreed it was highly unlikely Jim would ever make contact with ghosts again and that they were worrying unnecessarily. They also both agreed that if it got to be too much for Jim, whether the ghosts came back or whether the case or the pressure got to him in some other way, Sandburg had permission to tell the profiler, the FBI, or even the President himself to go to hell and bring Jim home.
"Hey, Simon, Daryl's birthday is coming up," Blair said. "If you want to make your son really happy, I see a couple of things which will make you Dad of the Year."
"Can't pass up an offer like that. Take me to it, Sandburg." He glanced at Jim and grinned. "The kid wants to feel useful, so I use him. Anything wrong with that?"
Jim laughed and watched his two friends enter one of the boutiques that had recently been added to the airport. He knew they were worried about him, that Daryl's gift was just an excuse for Blair to receive last minute instruction/reassurance from Simon. For once he didn't mind his friends plotting behind his back. He too had reservations about this trip. His main reservation chose that moment to take the seat next to him.
"Mind if I ask you a scientific question, Tony?" Jim said as the doctor secured a latch on the old leather satchel he carried as a briefcase. Curious eyes looked into his. "In an experiment, if the rat knows he's in the middle of a test, does that skew the results? Or does the rat's state of mind not matter?" Bozeman's mouth turned up in one corner, giving the man an air of puzzlement. Wonder how long he had to practice in front of the mirror to achieve that look?
"I'm not sure what you mean, Jim," the profiler said with an uncomfortable chuckle.
He's good. Just not good enough. Wonder what he would say if he knew I could hear his heart racing, his pulse accelerating as he tries to decide how much I've figured out? Guess I should put the poor guy out of his misery. "I've been manipulated by the best, Tony. You're not even close."
Jim shook his head. "No, you probably don't. You did something very careless, potentially dangerous for a man in your line of work, Tony. You underestimated your subject. You thought I wouldn't recognize the signs of being under a microscope, but I do. How long have you wanted to study me, Tony? Since that first look into the unexplainable occurrences in my file? Or was it after you got the chance to see me in action? I wouldn't go with you like you wanted me to, so when this case dropped into your lap and you saw my friends were involved, you couldn't resist, could you? Now, we won't even go into how you knew Frank and Tim were important to me. That would mean you've had me under some kind of surveillance and I wouldn't like that at all."
He held up his hand for silence. "I'm taking this all fairly well, Tony. Don't screw it up by lying to me."
"So what does this mean?" Bozeman asked softly. Jim was right; he had seriously underestimated the deductive powers of a trained detective. He had either been carelessly arrogant or incredibly stupid. He didn't particularly like either description.
"It means I'm going to help my friends with a difficult case. There's a good chance I will be able to help them, but it won't be in the way you think, and it certainly won't fit into whatever study you think you're doing of me. But that's your loss, not mine. Whatever happens, you see, Blair and I will have had a free trip to see a couple of good friends. I just wanted you to know, that's all."
Bozeman nodded. "Since you know I have studied your file, then you know I'm expecting you to retaliate in some way."
Jim shook his head. "I don't do stuff like that anymore. You stay out of my way, out of my life, after this is over and we'll co-exist just fine, Tony. But I advise you never to cross my path again."
"You've studied my files, Tony. You figure it out."
Baltimore P.D. - Homicide Unit
"Well, at least they're not sporting casts," Jim called loudly as he stood in the entrance of the squad room and spotted two familiar officers.
"Not yet anyway," Blair rejoined, standing beside his partner.
Pembleton looked around quickly and grinned. "Look who just showed up, Tim: Paul Bunyon and Woodsy Owl. You boys been in the forest lately, hunting Goldilocks and playing tiddlywinks with the three bears?"
"See, Jim? I told you he missed us," Blair said laughingly.
"Blair, Jim, it's good to see you guys," Bayliss called. "Hey, Falsone, Stivers, get over here. The specialists are here."
Falsone and Stivers looked at the visitors, then each other. These were the guys the FBI had sent to solve their case? Neither of them looked liked feds. They were dressed in slacks, shirts, and sweaters. Where were the traditional ill-fitting suits and the air of superiority? These guys looked about as average as any jamoke on the street. But then the two new officers did a doubletake. Frank Pembleton was actually grinning as he joked with the visitors. That just wasn't normal.
Introductions were made all around as Bozeman joined the scene. It was quickly decided that the first thing to do was to go to the crime scene. Just as they were starting to head to the stairs, Lt. Giardello returned from a meeting. "Ellison, Sandburg, good to see you again, gentlemen," he said, shaking their hands heartily.
"Same here, Gee," Jim said. Although he hadn't gotten to know the man well the weekend they all spent together, he liked what he knew and since the lieutenant was a good friend of Simon's, the respect was built-in.
"We can't talk now, Gee," Blair said with exaggerated enthusiasm. "We're going to take a ride in a Cavalier! And to think Jim wanted to go to Disneyland instead of coming here."
"Are you making fun of the official car of the Baltimore Police Department, Mr. Sandburg?" Giardello boomed fiercely.
Blair grinned and held up his head. "Yes, sir."
Giardello burst out laughing. "Good for you, young man!" He turned to the only stranger in the crowd. "You must be Dr. Bozeman. I'm Al Giardello. Thank you for coming all the way here to help out the department."
Bozeman shrugged. "It's what I do, lieutenant. Anyway, I think this is just going to be a vacation for me. I'm sure between your officers and Jim and Blair, I'm going to be just an observer."
"Well, if there is anything you need, just ask. I've told my people to be on their best behavior." He gave his group a glare and disappeared toward his office.
"You know he makes me homesick for Simon," Blair commented as he bounced down the long flight of stairs. "Tell me I can be cured of this, Jim."
"Sure, Chief. I'll just tell Simon how you feel and I'm sure he'll cure you in five minutes or less."
Blair batted his eyes and poked his elbow against Jim's ribs. "My hero."
A passing officer was startled by the outburst of laughter coming from the usual somber Homicide crew.
Baltimore - Construction Site
"So what can you tell me about these killings that I won't find in the reports?" Bozeman asked the four Baltimore detectives.
"Shouldn't we be out there with them?" Falsone asked, pointing to where Jim and Blair were canvassing the large field where the bodies were found.
"I think people from Cascade, Washington are capable of walking by themselves," Pembleton said dryly.
"They're cops," Bayliss added. "They can handle themselves at a crime scene."
"At least one of them anyway," Falsone said under his breath. He had been disappointed to find out the two hotshot specialists were nothing more than a cop and an anthropologist. Well, not even an anthropologist, just a student which probably explained the ponytail. What the hell could the two of them find out that four detectives couldn't?
Pembleton overheard the remark but decided to let it pass. Ever since he'd worked with Falsone on that damn dog case, he'd decided giving the young detective advice was just a waste of time. All the hours they'd spent just to determine what Frank had known since the start: the grandson had not sicced his pit bulls on his grandfather; it was all just a horrible freak occurrence. There was some things the kid was going to have to learn on his own, he supposed. Of course, if he ever said anything like that when Ellison could overhear him, Falsone was going to learn one lesson sooner rather than later.
At the moment the anthropologist and detective were too busy concentrating on the crime scene to worry about what was being said elsewhere. Blair had a copy of the crudely drawn map made as the bodies were excavated but he hadn't shown it to Jim, allowing the big guy to discover each gravesite in his own unique way. Easily, his partner went nine for nine.
"You're getting too good at this, Jim," he began as he matched Jim's visual map to the one in his hand. He opened his mouth to make another comment when he heard a faint gasp from the Sentinel. "What is it, Jim?" he asked quickly, frowning when Jim's hand reached up to rub the space between his eyes. That had been the focus of the pain the last time. No! It wasn't happening again, was it? "Jim, answer me, damn it! What's wrong, man?"
Jim gave his head a tiny shake, then smiled to reassure his partner. "Nothing's wrong, Sandburg. Just a twinge. Probably the beginning of an allergy or something. It's already gone."
"Sure, okay," Blair said, hoping it had been some allergen in the air tickling Jim's sensitive olfactory nerves. The alternative was too awful to consider. "So have you come up with anything new here?"
"You know, it's weird, Chief. I keep thinking about baseball."
"Baseball?" Blair brow wrinkled in confusion. What did baseball have to do with... He glanced at the map in his hand. Shit. It had been right there in front of his face. "Jim, picture a baseball diamond. Where is first base?"
Jim pointed to his right, then realized what was happening. "A body was discovered there. And where second base would be." He continued as the graves fell in line with the other player positions: third base, catcher, pitcher, right field, left field, center field, and of course, shortstop.
They headed over to where the other detectives and Bozeman stood near the cars. "I don't know how this fits into the investigation," Jim said as they all looked at him expectantly. "But the positions of the bodies correspond to the positions on a baseball diamond." Blair handed them the map.
"Son of a bitch," Bayliss exclaimed. "You're right. We hadn't even noticed. You think maybe the kids could fit the positions too? Maybe they played Little League or something?"
"We've gathered the missing children's files from the approximate date of burial Scheiner and his team determined. Maybe we should look at them a little closer," Pembleton suggested.
"Thanks, Ellison," Falsone said. "We really should have caught that one."
Jim shrugged. "I probably would have missed it too, if my partner here wasn't so good at interpreting my thoughts better than I am."
Falsone held out his hand to Blair, who shook it. "Just doing my job," he said as he climbed into the backseat of the Cavalier Pembleton was driving. Just doing my job; helping Jim.
Baltimore P.D. - Homicide Unit
"We had these files pulled when we first got the case," Bayliss was saying as he grabbed three large folders from one of the cabinets. "As you can see, without having a single clue to go on, the search would be impossible."
"So we're looking for kids who liked baseball or played baseball, right?" Stivers asked as she took one of the folders and motioned for Falsone to join her.
"Right. It may be a longshot, but..." Pembleton said.
"What may be a longshot?" Giardello asked as he came over to see what was going on.
"Ellison and Sandburg came up with the theory that the bodies all matched the positions of a baseball team," Bayliss said, handing his commander the map.
Giardello stabbed his finger on each of the Xs. "First base, second, third... I see it. Good work. So now we're looking for missing children with baseball backgrounds? Good, good. Let me know when you have something. The City of Baltimore is not only eager to have the horrible crime solved, but also wants to get back to construction of that new hotel."
"I think you have that in the wrong order, Gee," Bayliss quipped, as he held out one of the folders to Jim.
"You're getting cynical in your old age, detective. I like that."
Giardello turned toward the yell and saw the folder slipping to the floor, all the pictures and notes spilling out, as Ellison stood there with his fist pressed against his forehead. Before anyone could react, the large man jolted for the bathroom. His very pale partner followed. The lieutenant surveyed the remaining faces and saw shock on all but one. "What's going on, Dr. Bozeman?" he demanded.
"It's okay," the man said and Giardello could have sworn he saw a faint smile on the fed's face. "Blair can handle it."
Blair heard his partner's agonizing retching as he entered the bathroom and felt like doing the same in the next stall. Despite their hopes, their assumptions, it was happening again. Some thing(s) from the "other" world had decided to contact Jim. It wasn't fair. Jim had enough of a burden being responsible for the living. Everything bad that happened in Cascade he tended to take personally. No, everything bad that happened wherever the Sentinel happened to be, he took personally. Now the dead was trying to get their piece of the Sentinel as well.
He wet a handful of paper towels and was waiting for Jim when the stall door opened. "Rinse your mouth," he ordered, then bathed his friend's face. "Listen, Jim, here's what's going to happen in the next few minutes, okay? One of the guys is going to drive us to the hotel for our stuff, then we're heading for the airport. If we can't get Frank or Tim to take us, we'll just call a cab."
Jim gave a weak smile. "And what are we going to do at the airport, Chief?"
"Catch the next damn flight back to Cascade. Money doesn't matter. Simon gave me his department credit card, just in case something like this happened."
"You haven't even asked me what did happen," Jim pointed out as he leaned against the wall for support.
"I don't need the details. I just know you are in pain and I am getting you out of here," Blair said firmly, even as he came to sit by Jim as the detective slid down the wall to sit on the thankfully clean bathroom floor. "Who is it?"
"He won't give me a name. And he only knows the others by sight. That's why he sort of made his presence known when he saw the pictures." He cut his eyes toward his friend. "They're all boys, Chief. If I stay here and see this through, I can give peace to nine families who have waited for word of their lost children, their lost little boys. How can I just turn tail and run on them?"
Blair sighed. "And how do you expect me to just stand by and watch you torture yourself this way? Don't tell me it isn't bad, Jim. Or did you turn green and puke your guts out simply because it seemed the thing to do at the time?"
Jim dropped his head in embarrassment. "It's different this time. More like a drawn-out migraine than the sharp, slicing pain I experienced with the Forty-Two."
"Is that better or worse?"
He shrugged. "Six one way, half a dozen the next. But does my pain matter when you take into consideration those grieving parents?"
"Yes," Blair said without hesitation, although he knew a protest would do no good; the Sentinel cared way more for others than he did for himself. His head could crack open, his brains slipping to the ground, and he'd still be worried about his "tribe". Noble but frustrating for those who cared about him. "Okay, I'm going to take a page from your book, big guy."
"What do you mean?" Jim asked hesitantly. He hated having his words or methods thrown back in his face. He preferred the "do as I say, not as I do" method of living because he acted to protect and he never needed protecting-- not usually anyway. Even now, when he was scared to death because once again he was a haven for the dead, he knew he was strong enough to manage the pain until he could identify the missing (or should he say found) children. Maybe afterwards he would end up a quivering, pitiable heap in the hotel room, but nine mothers and fathers would have their children back-- maybe not in the way they had hoped, but knowing was always better than waiting.
"We're going to do this my way, Jim. I'm calling all the shots, understand? If I tell you to take a break, you do so immediately. When I say you've had enough, you quit, no matter how many haven't been identified. Agreed?" Jim nodded, not just because it would take too much energy to argue with his partner, but he truly thought Blair at the moment was a better judge of what was good for him; after all, he wasn't the one with a ghost riding piggyback. "Is your 'friend' still up there?" He tapped Jim's head lightly.
"Yeah. I think I picked him up at the crime scene and he's been hanging around ever since."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Blair demanded. Of all the stupid, stubborn...
"I honestly didn't know he was there, Chief. I thought it was just a regular headache until he saw the photos," Jim said quickly in his own defense. "He's a slippery one; I have to concentrate to find him when he's quiet."
Great. A ghost who could play peek-a-boo in Jim's mind. The day was just getting better and better. "I think we need to have a talk."
"We are talking, Chief."
Blair closed his eyes and shook his head. "Not you and me, Jim. Me and him."
"I'm not sure it works that way."
"They heard me before."
Jim frowned. "I don't remember--"
"It was at the loft when you let them 'stay for the night'. I finally got you to sleep and we had a little chat."
Jim remembered little about that night; he did recall, however, Blair had been pissed by his invitation. "Okay, Chief. Go for it."
Blair cleared his throat, then turned so he was facing Jim eye-to-eye, and hopefully the little bugger as well. "This living person you're in contact with is the Sentinel. He will help you do whatever it is you have to do in order to get to wherever you're supposed to be, despite the fact that your presence is causing him considerable pain. He's a good man and I expect you to respect that. Don't try to strengthen the contact or prolong it. Don't try to hide and hang around. You and he belong to two different worlds. This isn't your place anymore. It hasn't been for more than a decade. When it's time for you to go, you must leave."
Although the whispered words caused a wave of pain that made him sick, Jim couldn't stop himself from smiling. His 'visitor' apparently knew Blair meant business. "He agrees to your demands too, Chief. You're 2 and 0 for the day. Not bad."
"Well, you ain't seen nothing yet if someone out there tries to interfere, Jim," the Guide said forcefully, indicating the other side of the bathroom door. "I haven't lived with you all these years without having learned to take control when necessary. And to me, this is very necessary."
"Yes, sir," Jim said humbly, with a glint of pride in his eye. He'd taught the kid well.
While the detectives and Bozeman watched in utter fascination, Blair commandeered Giardello's office and ordered all the pertinent officers inside. "Okay, I'm only going to say this once and the floor is not open to questions. Understand?" Everyone nodded in confusion as they looked at who they had considered the passive member of the Cascade duo. "Jim is going to look through the photos and when he hands you a picture, it will be one of the missing boys. That's the first thing, by the way. All the remains are male. The pictures will match each set of remains and you can check it however you want; request medical and dental records, make sure he disappeared at the right time and is still missing, see if he played baseball, check the skeletons, whatever. But be assured, if Jim said it's one of the children, it is." He placed one of the folders in front of his partner then stood behind him, his hands on Jim's shoulders for support.
Jim reached out to open the folder, surprised to see his hand was shaking. A dark hand reached out and opened it for him and he smiled up gratefully at Stivers who perched on the corner on the desk. He looked at the picture and shook his head. Stivers took the picture away, revealing the next one.
At the end of the hour, Jim had picked five photos and Blair figured it was a good place to take a break. Tony Bozeman had already left to take a phone call and Falsone and Stivers went to start the paperwork on the five missing boys. Bayliss looked at the grim faces that remained and knew something had to be done before depression caused a meltdown.
"How about a dose of sunshine?" he asked eagerly, remembering how the Cascade cops savored outdoor life. "A chance to stretch the bones and breathe the thick, carcinogenic air of our beautiful city."
Jim sensed his partner's response to the invitation and had to look back because Blair was still standing behind him, massaging his neck and shoulders when they tensed. "I think you should take Tim up on his offer, Chief. You're starting to look worse than I feel."
"If you wanna go--"
"I don't think a lot of movement is a good idea for me," Jim admitted honestly. The floor was unsteady enough from his seat. "But you go ahead. If we both collapse, we'll leave a really bad impression of west coast cops."
Blair shook his head. "You shouldn't be left alone."
"Oh, suddenly I'm a non-person?" Pembleton objected softly. Normally he would have been a lot louder but he noticed Sandburg was keeping his voice low and he figured it had something to do with Ellison. It was obvious the detective was in a great deal of pain. Vaguely recalling the agony he'd suffered before passing out when he'd had his stroke, Frank could commiserate. "Take him to the roof, Tim. Maybe the smog didn't climb that high today." Blair hesitated as Bayliss held the door for him. "You can be back here before I finish yelling your name, Sandburg," Pembleton added.
"Thanks, Frank," Jim said as their partners left. "I'm not sure who's under more stress, him or me."
"You both appear to be barely hanging on."
Jim tried to smile, but only made it to the grimace stage. "Who needs the sun when I have you, Pembleton."
"That's what I am, Ellison-- a ray of sunshine," he said disparagingly. He knew his manner could be described as brusque, intolerant, blunt, but hell, if he was into smiling, he'd be a greeter at Wal-mart instead of a cop. "I take it this isn't part of your usual repertoire?" He knew Ellison had unusual talents, but he'd never seen them cause the man pain before.
"This is only the second time this has happened," Jim confessed, trusting Pembleton completely.
"The good doctor around last time? I mean, to me it seems he's more interested in watching you than the case."
That's what Jim liked about Pembleton: he was a damn good detective. "He came in late and since then, I think the curiosity has been eating him alive. So when this case was tossed his way, he came looking for me. See, when he left Cascade before, he asked me to come work for him and I refused."
"So what made you accept this time? Especially since you've obviously figured out he only asked because he wanted to see you in action."
Jim shrugged, the movement sending a shaft of pain running from his shoulder to his head. "He told us you and Tim were working the case and I wanted to help."
Pembleton stared at him without blinking. "Even though you knew the kind of pain you'd be facing?"
Jim knew better than to shrug again so he just said, "Yeah."
The Baltimore detective just continued to stare. Finally when the silence became uncomfortable, he opened his mouth to speak. Then he closed it again. "You really take this friendship shit seriously, don't you, Ellison?" he ended up asking.
"I do, Frank."
"Wouldn't happen to have one of those handy guides for that, would you?" Pembleton asked, recalling the verbal lecture known as Ellison's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Partners. Thanks to that, he and Tim had finally managed to get in sync again after the stroke had thrown them off-balance.
Jim actually got the smile to reach his lips this time. "Yeah, I have one, Frank, but you don't need it. You're doing okay on your own."
Frank smiled and leaned back in his chair. He had his doubts, but who was he to argue with a true master of the art.
Baltimore P.D. - The Roof
"This is cool," Blair said as he stood at the fence and looked at the area below. "Sorta reminds of the balcony at home. Jim and I use it occasionally when we need to chill after a really bad or disturbing day."
"Sounds perfect for today then," Bayliss said. "You seem to be handling this well."
Blair laughed. "Man, I'm barely hanging on."
"I don't thing Gee would agree. I mean, the way you just moved him out of his office. I don't think he realized what you'd done until you shut the door in his face," Bayliss remembered with a smile.
"Oh God," Blair groaned. "I'm going to owe so many apologies before this is over. But it isn't often I get a chance to protect Jim and I want to do it right, man. He spends so much time and energy protecting me, it's the least I can do."
Bayliss frowned. "You're always talking about Jim having to protect you, Blair, but I don't see it."
Blair laughed. "That's because he does it so well, Tim. My Blessed Protector is on alert 24/7, 365. I've been thinking about giving him every February 29th off. He deserves the break, don't you think?"
Bayliss shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about, Blair. What exactly is a Blessed Protector? Are you saying Jim has taken an oath or something to keep you safe?"
Blair stared down at the city and wondered if it could feel Jim's presence, sense there was a Sentinel in its midst. "He's made a commitment to protect a lot more than me, Tim. It's something he does with his whole body, mind, and soul. No matter the cost to himself."
Bayliss watched the anthropologist and realized the man was completely serious. Whatever "gifts" Ellison had, he had sworn to use them to protect... even the dead apparently. "And what oath have you taken, Blair?"
"To protect him."
Suddenly, it all became clear to Bayliss. When he had first met Blair, found out he was a civilian, he had wondered why someone would wallow through the crap a cop had to, suffer the mental and physical abuse that came with the job, yet not be a cop or get paid for it. He would have thought the man crazy or had some ulterior motive if he hadn't gotten to know him. Blair claimed he did all of it out of friendship but now Tim knew the truth: Blair was a cop, only his precinct encompassed merely a single man. It sounded easy until you realized what that one man could do and the sheer scope of what had to be done to protect him. He looked at his friend with new respect. "You know if you ever need help with your job, I'm here. So's Frank."
"I know that, Tim, and you're already helping. Who brought me up here because I needed the break? Who's sitting with Jim? You and Frank have been great. After the helicopter crash in South Dakota, both of you had the right to demand answers, but neither of you even bothered to voice the questions you must have had. Do you know much easier it is to do what we have to do and not be bothered with coming up with explanations? We owe you both a debt of gratitude."
"If anyone owes anything, it's us, Blair. Thanks to you guys, we're clicking again and that's a help to me, not just on the job but in my personal life as well. I'm not... searching anymore."
Blair smiled and patted his friend's shoulder. "Good for you, Tim. I was worried about you for a while, man. You seemed so tormented."
"That's me, poor perennially conflicted Bayliss," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not tortured, I'm just written that way," he added in a falsetto a la Jessica Rabbit.
Blair doubled over in laughter. "Thank you, man. I needed that." He straightened and wiped his eyes. "Guess it's time to end this break and get back to..." He shrugged. What exactly would you call what was going on in the office-- a seance?
"Back to Jim protecting the world and you protecting him," Bayliss said casually.
Blair smiled up at his tall, lean friend. "Thanks, Tim."
Baltimore P.D. - Lt. Giardello's Office
Blair shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he stood behind Jim. They had been at this for nearly another hour and so far Jim had only come up with two more victims. As they went through picture after picture the Sentinel was getting more and more tense. Blair understood the frustration he was feeling, but he worried something else was going on. They were coming to the end of the second folder, which meant there was only one left and if he wasn't mistaken, that was the one that had sent Jim out of control in the squad room. Was there something in particular in the folder or was it just this session had gone on long enough? Maybe he should call a halt for the day and take Jim back to the hotel. He wished he had thought to grab the pills Jim had taken before. The pills had been prescribed because of a serious cut on his hand, but they had been powerful enough to give Jim a few hours rest after the visitations had taken their toll. Oh well, maybe if he downed enough ibuprofen...
Bayliss must have been watching him because he gave Blair a questioning glance and the Guide shook his head slightly, indicating that he didn't need to be relieved. He looked at the others in the room. Of the newcomers, he liked Stivers best. She didn't understand what was happening, but she pitched in to help when she saw an opening and he'd even caught her patting Jim's hand when it trembled. Nice lady. He was less sure of Falsone. Granted, the cop was young, and he knew how unfair it was to judge someone on that alone. But Falsone was irritatingly arrogant and pushy. So was Frank, but one look into Frank's eyes and you knew he had earned the right to be arrogant, that he had paid the price to know what he knew and you had to respect that. Falsone, however, in Blair's limited opinion, had not suffered enough to pull off such impudence.
Before he could move on to a more thorough examination of Frank, he felt the muscles beneath his hands turn to solid granite. What the hell? He looked down and saw that the third folder was open in front of Jim and his partner had completely zoned. Shit. He hadn't even noticed when Stivers changed folders. He bent over and whispered hurriedly in Jim's ear.
Pembleton and Bayliss exchanged glances when they saw Ellison freeze. This was something they recognized and they knew what to do. "Time for a break," Pembleton called. "Everyone out."
"Not now, Frank," Falsone whined. "We only have two more and then we'll be finished."
"It's for the best," Bayliss said, backing his partner. "Go out, get a Coke, whatever. Let's go." He practically shoved the man out the door, stopping only to let Stivers quietly pass by.
"Come on, doc," Pembleton said to Bozeman, who looked like he was just starting to enjoy the show. His eyes were practically glazed over as he watched Sandburg whispering frantically to a zombie-like Ellison. It gave Frank the creeps. "We're all leaving, Bozeman. I'll buy you a coffee."
"I don't need a break," Bozeman said with a "thank you but no thank you" smile.
"Uh, if you're under the opinion that I just asked you a question, you're wrong."
As he preceded the detective out the door, Bozeman realized he had miscalculated once again. He thought with Ellison out of Cascade, only Sandburg would be in his way. But Ellison seemed to solicit strong loyalty from his friends, no matter the length of the acquaintance. That in itself was remarkable.
"Falsone, get the doctor a coffee," Pembleton ordered.
"Sure. You want cream with that, Tony?" He motioned for Bozeman to join him in the break room.
"So does this mean I get my office back?" Lt. Giardello asked as he entered the squad room and saw the detectives milling about. How the little anthropologist had finessed him out of his office, he would never figure out. Simon should have warned him... or maybe he had.
"Ellison and Sandburg are still in there, Gee," Falsone said. "For some reason Pembleton thought it necessary to kick us out."
"Is that right, Frank?"
"They needed a moment of privacy, Gee."
Giardello tilted his head as he looked at Pembleton, trying to determine that this was indeed his irascible, but fine, detective. Pembleton understanding the need for privacy? Pembleton not saying a word, not even lifting an eyebrow in disbelief as the two men from Cascade literally grabbed answers from the thin air? No snide comments about magic balls and tarot cards? This could not be his Frank. "Bayliss?"
"Who are you partnered with today?"
Bayliss looked at him as if he'd lost his mind, then he realized what Gee was getting at. "Frank has his moments, Gee. The problem is that they're few and far in between. If you have a short memory or blink, you may not know they exist."
"Oh," Giardello said, as if that cleared everything up for him.
"Tim, Frank," Blair called as the door opened, then closed behind the detectives.
Five minutes later both exited the office, their faces solemn. "Gee," Pembleton said quickly, "tell the city we need a crew back at the site. It seems we missed a body."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Giardello roared. "I thought this was baseball-themed. We have nine players, gentleman."
Bayliss shrugged and tossed Pembleton his hat. "Yeah, but we forgot about the tenth player, Gee-- the one who spends the game riding the bench."
Baltimore - Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel
"I suppose we should be grateful to Tony for remembering the name of the prescription you had before," Blair said as he pulled the curtains to block the late evening sun flooding the hotel room. After the detectives went to the crime scene, Bozeman had come into Giardello's office and seeing Jim holding his head in his hands as if the sheer act of letting go would cause it to split in two, he merely put the bottle of pills on the desk and walked away. Good thing too. Blair had been in the mood to blame someone for Jim's pain and the doctor was as good a target as any.
He looked around the room, trying to see if there was anything else he could do to make it more comfortable for his partner. But the problem was that he couldn't see anything, the curtains successfully blocking any natural light. Okay. He just had to mentally visualize where the furniture was before he tripped over something. Of course a bruise or two was worth it to ease the ache that remained despite Jim's assurance that Michael Prescott who disappeared April 6, 1987, was gone. His photo had been the top picture in the third folder. Hence, Jim's zone when the ghost high-tailed it from his head at the sight of himself.
"If you break your neck, I can't guarantee I have the energy to dial 911, Sandburg," Jim warned. He'd barely made it to the hotel under his own steam. "Either turn on a light or sit down somewhere."
Blair used Jim's voice as a guide and felt his knee bump the bed. "Brace yourself, Jim." He sat gingerly on the mattress beside his friend.
"Planning on taking advantage of me because I'm under the influence of a powerful drug?"
"Which must be taking effect since you've managed to make a joke-- weak though it may be. You put in your earplugs?"
"Remember your condition, Jim. All I have to do is bounce to bring you to your knees," Mommy reminded him.
"I'll behave," Jim said quickly. It was humbling to realize how easily he could be brought down. Jim Ellison-- who shrugged off gunshots like mosquito bites, searched speeding trains while under the influence of cold medicine, and chased drug dealers while blind-- felled by an aching head and a weak stomach.
Blair heard the defeat in his voice and decided his partner had learned his lesson. He was truly worried that Jim hadn't eaten or drunk all day. Although Jim as a former medic knew the danger of dehydration with nausea , he still had stubbornly refused to try anything. He had even dry-swallowed his medicine, arguing that if he threw up the medicine wouldn't do him any good. Blair knew if he had tried that argument it wouldn't have worked, but he just didn't have the heart to bully Jim the way the detective pushed him at times. Of course, he hadn't been the only one missing meals.
"Remember you're to get something to eat when I fall asleep," Jim murmured as he curled up on his side. It seemed to be the most comfortable position.
Even sick, the Sentinel could read his mind. "I promise, Jim. Now stop talking and let the pills work, okay?"
"Still bossing people around? Don't let it go to your head, Sandburg."
"Not possible. You and Simon will have me bowing and scraping as usual in a few days."
The bed shook. "Ow! Don't make me laugh, Chief. Simon and I are shocked each time you actually do listen to us. Of course, those times are so rare..."
The Guide could feel the Sentinel fighting sleep and understood. He'd been in battle all day and now he was expected to just succumb-- a case of trying to switch horses in midstream. "You need to relax, big guy," he said in a carefully modulated tone as he placed a hand on Jim's back and started rubbing. "Focus on your breathing, keeping it even and steady as you inhale... then exhale. That's good, Jim. Inhale... exhale. Feel the tension seep out your fingertips..."
In a matter of minutes Jim was asleep. Blair sat there a while longer just listening to the smooth, even breathing of his partner. He could imagine the peacefulness of his face, a direct contrast to the worn, haggard look he had sported all day. Sleep had a way of turning men into the boys they once were. He sighed as he thought about the tragedy that had brought them here. Ten boys, all dead. Why? What kind of sickness walked this world they inhabited? And the sad part was that this was not the first time that particular question had been asked and would not be the last. The Shaman in him grieved not just for those who mourned but also for the spirits who should still be encased in their mortal forms, ready to begin their lives as men...
Keeping the jostling to a minimum, Blair inched his way off the bed and pocketed the hotel key. There were restaurants galore around the hotel and since they were technically working for the government, all monies spent would be reimbursed. Yet, despite the fact that he could afford an expensive meal, Blair grabbed a sandwich at a nearby deli and ate it as he sat looking at the Inner Harbor. Then he bought a cup of soup and headed back to the hotel. Hopefully when Jim woke up, he could use the small microwave in the room to warm the soup and convince his friend to eat.
Blair was sound asleep when he heard the cry. He had come back to the room and using the phone in the bathroom, called Simon. The captain was not happy when he heard about the day's events and had reiterated that if it got too rough, Blair was to bring Jim home and if Jim got stubborn about it, well, give him a call and he would make sure the detective understood it was an order, not a request. Blair felt better than he had all day after he got off the phone with Simon. It was nice to know he had back-up if needed.
Jim slept for maybe three hours and when he awakened Blair had managed to talk him into drinking the soup, which stayed down and put a little color into Jim's pale cheeks. The Sentinel had declined more pills and convinced his partner he could talk him to sleep, which he had. Not something a lecturer should be proud of, but Blair was pleased by it nevertheless. He had crawled into bed soon afterward, finally giving in to his own state of exhaustion.
But his head came up when he heard his partner cry out. He instinctively reached out for the light, then withdrew his hand. If Jim was in pain, light was only going to make it worse. "What is it, Jim?" he whispered quickly.
"No! Not again! Please, please, don't do it," Jim was mumbling and Blair felt the hair on his neck rise. If he didn't know it was Jim in the other bed, he would swear he was listening to a child's voice. Silently begging Jim's forgiveness, he turned on the light.
Jim was sitting up in the bed, his hands gripped tightly in front of him, tears streaming down his face. His eyes were closed and Blair realized he was still asleep. "Jim? Wake up, Jim," he called softly. There were all kinds of adages about whether you should wake someone from a nightmare... but what if the nightmare didn't belong to them? "Jim!" he appealed a little louder.
The detective jerked, then with a groan he scrambled out of the bed and into the bathroom. So much for the soup, Blair thought as he joined his partner. Once again they went through the routine of rinsing and wiping with a cool towel. "Want to tell me what happened?" he asked when Jim's respiration returned to normal. He was still pale, his skin clammy. If the situation didn't turn soon, he was afraid the Sentinel was going to end up in the hospital.
"I know who did this, Chief," Jim said weakly. "I know who killed those ten boys."
"I take it Michael Prescott returned," Blair commented caustically. Was it too much to ask that Jim could be left alone for a few hours? He groaned. Now he was getting mad at the victim instead of the killer. Not very nice of him. "Okay, Jim. Did Michael give you a name or a description?" Before the ghosts could only sense the presence of their murderer but knew nothing else.
"We lucked out this time, Chief. Michael knows the killer personally. It's his father."
Baltimore P.D. - Lt. Giardello's Office
Giardello stared at the four men who poured into his office and wished for the laughing, teasing group he'd seen yesterday. "So is this when I get kicked out of my office again?" he asked.
Blair shook his head. "You can stay if you want to. We have some news." He paused as Stivers and Falsone joined the briefing. "We know who the killer is. Well, actually Jim knows."
They all looked expectantly at the detective who looked as if a slight breeze could knock him over. "His name is Ronald Prescott."
Bayliss frowned and pushed up his glasses. "Prescott? Isn't that the name of the victim we found yesterday?"
"Yes. He's Michael's father."
Giardello's fist pounded on his desk. Damn. He should be surprised but he wasn't. "He killed all of them?" he asked, ignoring the most logical question of "how do you know?" He knew if he didn't know the answer, he couldn't be forced to repeat it. "Why?"
"He killed his son first, buried him in the 'dugout' area. Then the son of a bitch decided he may as well have an entire team there playing what he called the game of eternity," Jim said, the words bitter on his lips.
Giardello sighed. "Jim, I'm not expressing any personal doubt on your insight but how do we convert it into tangible evidence, the kind that can be used in a court of law, that will give us the power to bring this man in for questioning?"
"Actually that's not a problem, Gee," Pembleton said. "We've already asked the parents we've contacted to come in and 'refresh' our memories about the disappearances of their children. Most are eager to do so. Now that their babies have been found, they're out for vengeance."
"Has this Prescott been contacted yet?"
"We just unearthed the remains last night so we thought a little time should pass before we made a determination of identity," Bayliss explained. "I was going to call today."
"Get on it," Giardello ordered. "And make sure you keep the appointments with the other parents. We want to make this look good." He looked at his crowded office and realized someone was missing. "Where's the good doctor this morning? You haven't done away with him, have you, Sandburg?"
Everyone smiled. The anthropologist was getting a reputation for ruthlessness. "I borrow your office for one day..." Blair groused good-naturedly. "Tony called this morning and said he was driving down to D.C. He'll be back later today."
"Pity. We actually could have used him today. He could have set up a profile on Prescott." The lieutenant glared at his officers. "You planning on cluttering my office all day or what?" The cops got the message and started filing out. "Sandburg, stay a minute."
Blair looked quickly toward Bayliss and Pembleton who nodded. They wouldn't let Jim out of their sight. Then Blair nodded to Jim, signaling he could speak with Giardello without backup. "I apologize for kicking you out of your office yesterday, sir," he began when the door closed.
"Considering what you and your partner have accomplished, you can have the office any time you want. I didn't have you stay to apologize. I wanted to ask you about Ellison. You still have two more bodies to identify?"
Blair nodded. "The shortstop and third baseman."
Giardello knew he had to tread carefully now. He didn't want to put Sandburg on the defensive and the quickest way to do that was to attack his partner-- which Gee really wasn't doing. "You think Ellison can handle it?" The detective had been in fine form when he arrived at the station yesterday and had deteriorated from there. In all honesty, he didn't look like he had regained much of his former self overnight.
"He can handle it, lieutenant. If you doubt it, just try to take him out of the game. You'll find out the hard way just how much Jim Ellison has in reserve."
Giardello sighed and nodded. If anyone knew how much Ellison could take, Sandburg did. "I just wanted to check. Simon would have my ass if I sent his detective back to him permanently damaged."
"Oh, if it's Captain Banks you're worried about, he already knows what's going on," Blair pointed out. "Said he'd be calling you first thing this morning." The phone rang at that moment and Blair grinned. "Guess it's morning in Cascade."
He was still grinning when he let himself out of the office as soon as he heard Giardello's, "Good morning, Simon. What a surprise to hear from you."
Baltimore P.D. - Interrogation Room (a.k.a The Box)
"Please have a seat, Mr. Prescott," Pembleton said, indicating the chair on the other side of the table."We certainly appreciate you taking the time to come down to the station and talk with us. Especially after receiving such disturbing news."
"You found my boy. The least I can do is help you find who did this terrible thing," the heavyset man said. He seemed genuinely upset about his son's death and if the Pembleton and Bayliss hadn't known any better they would have thought they were talking to just another distraught parent. But neither of them doubted Jim's assertion that Ronald Prescott was the killer.
By the time Prescott arrived after lunch, several parents had been interviewed. Ellison had identified the remaining players and Sandburg had gotten him to drink a ginger ale, a major feat according to his partner. Then this guy had walked into the squad room and Ellison had excused himself. That was when the detectives knew that the visitor had to be Prescott.
"Could I get you something, sir?' Bayliss asked. "Coffee? A soft drink? We know how difficult this must be for you."
Prescott declined so Pembleton continued. "We are sorry to hear you and your wife divorced."
The man gave a sad smile. "The loss of a child puts a tremendous strain on a marriage," he explained softly.
Pembleton flipped open a folder. "It says in the original Missing Persons report that she suspected you of having harmed your son. Why would she say such a terrible thing?"
Before Prescott could answer, there was a knock on the door and Jim poked his head in. "Mind if I sit in, guys?" Not waiting for an answer he strolled inside and presented his hand to Prescott. "Hi. I'm Det. Jim Ellison, Mr. Prescott. I hope you don't mind the interruption."
Prescott shook the offered hand. "Not at all, detective. I hope you don't mind if I say you don't look so good."
"Food poisoning," Jim said with a hand to his stomach. "But you know, once you use up all your sick days, you have no choice but to come to work-- if you want you full paycheck at the end of the month."
"One bad winter cold, and they're gone," Prescott sympathized. "What do you get? Five days a year? Never enough."
Jim nodded. "As I said, I'm sorry for the interruption. Please go ahead."
"He," Prescott angled his head toward Pembleton, "was just asking me why my ex-wife would say bad things about me."
Jim shook his head. "Can always tell who's happily married or never married," he added, glancing at Bayliss. "Ex-wives don't need an excuse to talk about their husbands. They think it's their god-given right to do so."
"I take it you have an ex-wife?" Jim started to nod, but almost lost his balance with the movement. "Hey, why don't you give the guy a break and let him have your seat?" Prescott told Pembleton indignantly. "Can't you see he's sick?"
Pembleton got up, glaring at Jim. At first he'd been a little miffed at Ellison for disturbing the interrogation, but once he noticed how quickly the cop had gotten Prescott's sympathy he knew Ellison's presence was for the best. After all, this wasn't a game of who got Prescott to break. Just as long as the man did.
Prescott looked satisfied when Jim sat down across from him. "You got any kids?"
"Nah. My ex-wife was a career woman," Jim said with a sneer. "Don't know why I even married her."
"Well, I married my wife because of Michael."
"Caught you in her trap, did she?" Prescott nodded, deciding he was more comfortable with this detective than the other two. "You know, I wouldn't have minded having a son, someone to toss a football to," Jim continued casually.
"Yeah, you look like you're into football. Maybe basketball too?"
"All sports, Mr. Prescott. I would have had my boy in a uniform every season. Of course, he probably would have turned out as useless in sports as my wife. Your son liked sports?"
Prescott gave a bitter chuckle. "Yeah, he liked them. Just couldn't play them worth a damn. Any of them."
Jim glanced at the file Pembleton had left on the table. "Says he went missing in April. Baseball season, right?"
"Kid rode the bench every game, except for the times the coach felt sorry for him. I spent hours, man, trying to teach Michael-- his mother wouldn't let me call him Mike, a man's name-- how to catch, how to hit. Fucking useless, man."
"When was the last time you saw your son, Mr. Prescott?"
"He had a baseball game that afternoon. I was supposed to come to the game then take him home afterwards. But there's only such much shame a man can take, you know? Listening to other parents groan when your kid comes up to bat and hear them laughing when he misses an easy play... I didn't show up until I knew the game was over. He was sitting there on the bench, pouting as usual. I asked him how he'd done that afternoon and I saw his face fall. Knew he'd screwed up as usual. Something inside me broke, you know. I sorta overreacted."
"What did you do?"
"I hit him."
"With your hand?"
Prescott froze, suddenly realizing what was happening. He looked into the piercing blue eyes across from him and knew this man knew all. But his return gaze wasn't condemning, merely patient. Then he blinked and the blue eyes turned brown. Prescott shivered as he recognized the eyes that were an exact match to his own. "It's you, isn't it?"
"Tell them what happened."
"I... I tripped over a bat as I reached for Michael. It felt... its weight felt comfortable in my hand and I swung it. The boy, you, fell. Blood everywhere. It was for the best, you know. You were a joke, son. You would have been a loser your whole life. It was best you died," Prescott said anxiously.
"A loser like you?"
Before anyone could move to stop him, Prescott reached out and slapped Jim hard across the jaw. Pembleton and Bayliss both grabbed at the suspect and flung him back into the chair. When they started to escort him out of the room, Jim stopped them. "Why the others, Prescott?" the Sentinel demanded, tasting his own blood. "Why kill nine other innocent kids just because you hated your own?"
"Because they were all losers like you, making a mockery out of America's favorite sport. You all deserved to die! The world is a much better place because of what I did!"
Jim turned away and let Pembleton and Bayliss take over. "Ronald Prescott, you are under arrest for the murders of..." Pembleton quoted the list as Blair rushed into the room and kneeled beside his partner.
"A split lip, Chief," Jim said quickly. "No big deal."
"There are no little deals with you, Jim," Blair said dryly, inspecting the damage himself. From the observation room, he'd seen the entire incident. "He could have hurt you before Tim and Frank got the chance to react and you were in no condition to defend yourself. Why the hell did you bait him like that?"
"I didn't. Michael did. He wanted to confront his father one last time."
"So he's gone?" Blair asked hopefully.
"To wherever he's supposed to be, Chief."
"How do you know?" Blair asked curiously.
"I just know, Chief." Jim tried to stand and ended up leaning very heavily on his partner. "I think I need something to eat."
Blair grinned. "Sure, Jim. But you need to keep it light. No Baltimore crab for you this go around. Maybe next time."
"As if the City of Baltimore wants to see us again, Chief," Jim said laughingly.
"I don't know what you're talking about, detective," Giardello said as they exited the box. "I'm trying to figure out what I could give Simon in trade for you. There's this fancy fishing boat I saw listed in the newspaper..."
"That'll take care of Jim, bur what about me?" Blair joked, then moved in front of Jim as Prescott was escorted out of the box by two uniforms.
Prescott didn't even see the anthropologist as he looked at Jim. "I guess my boy had more guts than I gave him credit for, huh?"
"He made sure you'd get yours," Jim agreed. "Makes him a winner in my book. Might want to think about that while you're rotting on death row."
Prescott shrugged. "Hope you feel better, detective," he called as he was led away.
"What's going on?" Tony Bozeman said as he saw the group standing together.
"The murderer was just hauled away, doctor," Giardello explained. "Thanks for all your help."
Bozeman looked at Jim. "You did it again, didn't you?"
"Your last shot, Tony," Jim said meaningfully. "Sorry you missed it. Better luck with your next guinea pig. When's the next plane to Cascade, Chief? Tony needs to make our reservations. Oh, and, Tony, make them first-class."
Baltimore-Washington International Airport
"Ellison, I think you were put on this earth to keep me humble," Pembleton said as they waited for the flight to Cascade to be called.
"How's that, Frank? And then tell me why apparently I'm failing," Jim added with a smile. The gesture was getting easier as the pain gradually subsided.
"Just when I think I know it all, you show up to let me know that's bullshit. And you have not failed. Gee made me the primary on this case because he thought I would be less likely to step on your toes. Of course, at the time we thought your toes would be on the same planet as ours."
"Believe me, Pembleton, my head and stomach would have preferred my feet had stayed on solid ground. You know I think Gee's acceptance shocked me most. He was so accommodating."
"You mean like when Blair here took over his office?" Bayliss said laughingly.
"Will you people get over that already?" Blair asked, already knowing it was going to be one of those things that he was bugged about for the rest of his life. Grandpa Blair, Grandpa Blair, tell us about the time you kicked that big ol' police lieutenant out of his office. "I understand what you mean, Jim. He didn't ask questions."
"That's Gee's way," Pembleton replied. "He wants the names on the board to change from red to black and he doesn't care how."
"He and Simon are a lot alike," Blair agreed. "Oh, and Tim, did I hear you say something about finding the murder weapon?"
"Yeah. Prescott kept the bat he killed his son with. It was found when his house was searched. Forensics is hopeful about the DNA tests, but it doesn't matter. Prescott seems... I don't know... almost resigned to going down for these murders. Even admitted to suffocating the other kids. And by the way, he sent you a message, Jim." He paused, not sure if he should go on.
"It's alright, Tim. I've been threatened by the best. What did Prescott say?"
"If he gets the death penalty, he'll be sure to drop by and say hi."
Jim felt his jaw tense and relished the familiar sensation. It was good to be getting back to normal. "Next time you see Prescott, tell him I don't take collect calls from hell."
"I thought about not telling you, but you seem better now," Bayliss admitted. They'd all had dinner together and the visiting detective seemed to have recovered his appetite.
"I'll be okay, Tim. A little time and a lot of distance from this case will have me back to my normal, cheerful self."
"That implies you're normally cheerful, Jim," Blair said glibly. "Seems to me in the course of our friendship, I would have noticed that about you at some point."
"Keep it up, Sandburg, and you're going to notice a lot about my normal self," Jim warned lightly.
The flight was called before Blair could think of a rejoinder. "Tim, Frank, maybe next time we can come up with something a little less intense."
Pembleton snorted. "With you two involved? Not likely."
Bayliss smiled. "Oh, maybe we can think of something, Blair. Talk to you soon, buddy."
"Jim, why don't you put your talents to really good use and stop these two before we get into trouble again," Pembleton begged.
"I'll do my best, Frank."
The cops watched their two friends disappear and headed back to the city they protected. "You're awfully quiet over there, Frank," Bayliss said from the driver's seat. Lately, Frank had been willing to let him drive more and more. It said a lot for the partnership.
"Just thinking, Tim. You know how we're always saying we speak for the dead? Well, we just left a guy who not only speaks for the dead, but lets the dead speak through him. You know, I think it's a good thing he doesn't work homicides exclusively."
"But if he did, Frank, I think they would find a way to handle it."
Frank smiled and got comfortable in the passenger's seat. Sandburg would indeed find a way to make it better for Ellison. Probably because of some chapter in Ellison's Guide To Friendship. "You and Sandburg get busy thinking, Tim. It'll be nice getting together with them again."
Tim took a quick glance toward his partner, saw the relaxed smile, and felt a matching one appear on his own face. Yeah, it would be nice.
Blair scribbled a few messages to himself in the corner of a notebook, then closed his backpack and put it safely above the seat. He wasn't going to do any work on the flight, namely because he knew Jim could hear every scratch of his pen and the Sentinel needed to rest. But he'd just thought of a few more parameters to add to the search string he was going to run on the internet when he got home. Surely, there had to be a ton of stuff on the paranormal. If he got enough information, maybe he could find a way to ease Jim's reaction to the visitations.
"Stop worrying, Chief. It's not going to happen again."
Once again Blair wondered how the man read his mind? Was it something between a Sentinel and his Guide or was it just Jim knowing Blair real well? "What's not going to happen again?"
"This ghost thing. I'm not doing it anymore. Do you realize that at one point in the box, it wasn't me sitting there staring at Prescott, but Michael?"
Blair hadn't known that but he did remember that it hadn't been Jim crying out in the hotel room. "Did you feel you had lost control?"
Jim shook his head. "I was always there and I knew that in an instant I could grab my life back. But I still don't like it. That's why it's not going to happen again."
"So if we're, say, camping and you walk across a field and a ghost says, 'Help me, Sentinel,' you're going to--"
"Turn around, climb in my truck, and get the hell out of Dodge. If you run fast enough, you can come to."
Blair laughed. "Thanks, Jim. That's really friendly of you." He closed his eyes and tried to figure out if there was something else he should look up because he needed to be ready the next time something like this occurred. Because there would be a next time. Despite Jim's declaration of "getting the hell out of Dodge," there was no way the Sentinel would let a cry for help go unanswered. It wasn't in his nature, just like it wasn't in the Guide's nature to watch his Sentinel suffer without doing everything he possibly could.
So if the dead wished the Sentinel to speak for them, well, first they would have to clear it with the Guide. This too was part of nature... And nature's laws would be obeyed.
Simon Banks scanned the deplaning crowd and was shocked by the appearance of his two men. With all the three had been through together, he couldn't recall the two of them looking so bad while still walking.
"And what hospital you want me to drop you off at?" he inquired as he relieved them of their bags.
"Come on, Simon, we don't look that bad," Blair said as he tried to stifle a yawn.
"Have you looked at your partner lately?"
Blair shrewdly assessed Jim and agreed with Simon. Of course, he'd seen Jim look worse just earlier in the day. Maybe if they had rested on the plane, they would be in better shape. But because of the headache, Jim had trouble keeping his senses in check so the engines were too loud and the lights too bright, the ride too turbulent. Blair also thought that Jim was perhaps scared to go to sleep, at least too scared to give up the control sleep took away. The last time he'd slept, Michael had taken over and he had awakened screaming. Something he had no intention of doing on a crowded plane.
And because Jim couldn't sleep, he hadn't either and it had been one long, draining flight. "We just need our own beds tonight, Simon. Then we'll check for more serious damage tomorrow."
"Uh huh," Simon grunted, knowing that neither of them would voluntarily go anywhere near a hospital unless dying or under the threat of death. That part he could possibly arrange... "Surprised Dr. Bozeman didn't tag along to see if he could convince you to join his team."
Jim, who had merely been putting one foot in front of the other and quite pleased he was managing to do so, turned to his captain with a scowl. "Tony and I have made our own arrangements, Simon."
"Want to share them?"
Jim shrugged. "He keeps out of my life and he gets to keep his."
"Sounds reasonable." Simon led them to the car and put the bags in the trunk while Sandburg slid into the back and Jim took the passenger's seat. He shook his head at Jim's condition and knew he was going to have to have a long talk with Sandburg about what had happened in Maryland. "Traffic's light tonight, gentlemen, so I'll have you home in--" He looked at Jim sound asleep beside him and then to Sandburg sprawled across the backseat. Hmm. They looked better already. Maybe he'd take the long way back to the loft.
Simon Banks slipped in a CD and hummed along with the soft jazz as he took his people home.