Continued from Rainier University Parts 6 to 10
The next day, Jim sought out Commander Dan Slater, their resident member of the GDP and one of only two that Jim would tolerate near his guide. Even so, the commander was all too aware that it was a privilege the Dark Sentinel refused to all others. To James Ellison, Dark Sentinel, the Dark Guide was a treasure that he would protect against all comers, official or otherwise.
Slater also noticed that the sentinel had waited for his guide to leave the office to collect a file and that he made sure the grad student was well clear before approaching him.
Ellison didn't bother with pleasantries. "Did you find out anything about the drug?" Before giving him a chance to answer, the sentinel continued, "And what the hell is Gross doing at the university?"
"Captain Gross? I thought he was still at the Sanctuary."
"No. He was at the Rainier GDP station. The bastard put Sandburg through his paces in front of a gang of High School students just for the hell of it. One of whom was Simon's son."
"I'll have a listen to the grapevine and see if I can find out what he's up to. I don't like the idea that he's sniffing around Rainier." To himself he added, and especially around the dark guide. "I haven't had any luck tracking down the source of the drug so far but I will keep looking."
Slater stopped talking as Ellison swung toward the doorway. The guide was just returning, he pulled the file closer to him as he saw Slater watching him. He immediately looked for his sentinel; seeing him, he visibly relaxed.
The phone on the desk rang and Blair reached for it. His face suddenly froze and Jim extended his hearing. The obscenity that poured over the line was reason enough for the increase in his guide's heartbeat. The detective grabbed the phone from his guide's hand and covered the mouthpiece. He snapped, "Rafe, get a trace on this."
"You're nothing by a f****** whore. A guide is a tool, nothing more, less than nothing... he's a slave - leave the University to your betters, slave..."
Jim's hand tightened on the phone, then it went dead.
"Rafe?" The name was a demand.
"Sorry, Jim, too short a call."
"I want that bastard, Rafe. He had the balls to call the police station." Jim's snarl promised retribution.
The sentinel slammed the phone back on the hook and looked down at his pale faced guide. He dropped a hand on the slender shoulder and his fingers unconsciously massaged the tight muscles.
"How you doing, Chief? Okay?"
"I'm okay, Jim. I guess I should have expected something like this." For one moment, his voice held a note of defeat, then his head snapped up and the blue eyes blazed with determination. "But I am there to stay. I'm getting my PhD and teaching no matter who says different."
Jim's pride in his guide was there for anyone to see. Instead of retreating into himself, or behind his sentinel, his guide had pulled himself together to face this head on. Jim just hoped that *they...* the ubiquitous, bigoted *they* never managed to tarnish the bright spirit that had brought so much light to his world. They wouldn't if one sentinel detective had anything to say about it.
Alan Fraser cut across the parking lot behind Hargrove Hall, trying to save time. He'd convinced the coach to let him leave practice a little early but even with that he didn't know if he could still catch the Prof before he left for the day. And he really needed to catch him. He had an anthropology essay to write and he had to get at least a B to keep his grades up. The article about the Horvic Tribe he was hoping to use was completely lost on him and he hoped that a chat with Blair Sandburg could clear it up for him. He really needed the grade.
His attention was drawn to a group of students clustered around a car. They were messing around, laughing and joking. At first he didn't think anything of it but then he saw the spray cans. They had already done some damage. Alan hesitated, not sure whether to confront them or try to sneak by and call security from Hargrove. The decision was made for him when the owner of the vehicle suddenly appeared, running toward and yelling at the vandals. Sh**, can't he catch a break! Alan began to close on them from the opposite direction.
The students scattered and Alan didn't know who to follow, especially since his attention was really on the owner of the vandalised car. The young man stood in front of the small, gray car unmoving. Deep blue eyes stared at the white foam spelling out "GDP Property - Guide." What is wrong with people? The Prof goes out of his way to help anyone and everyone and this is what he gets? Alan wasn't sure if Professor Sandburg would want him to see the graffiti but he needed to be sure the man was all right. The soccer player didn't like the stillness in that slender form.
Alan dropped a hand on Sandburg's shoulder and the smaller man turned fast, twisting away, hands coming up to block an attack.
"Woah. Careful, Prof, I'm one of the good guys. Man, where'd you learn to move like that?" There was a tone of admiration in the student's voice that would have done Blair a world of good if he had been in any condition to register it.
"Sorry, Alan. Oh, man. Jim's going to kill me," the despair was plain in the guide's voice.
"Did you recognise any of the students, Mr. Sandburg?"
"No, I didn't get close enough. Damn. It's never ending." Blair pulled out a cell phone and sighed. "I'd better call it in to Campus Security."
Blair shook his head and glared at the security vehicle that slid into gear and rolled away. He'd gotten just about as much help as he'd expected, that is to say, none. The guards were *so* apologetic but it just didn't seem worth wasting time on a student prank. One of the guards had muttered just before turning away, "Can't stand the heat, Guide, get out of the kitchen." Blair wrapped his arms around him, shivering a bit as he dealt with the disgust that the man had projected right at him.
Blair glanced at his watch. "Thanks for coming across, Alan. I have to get to class, I'll sort this mess out later."
"Er, if you'll trust me with your keys, I'll put it through the car wash before this stuff dries on. Only cost you a pizza."
Blair tried to decide if it was worth letting his sentinel look over the car before cleaning it. That would mean letting it sit in the lot for everyone to see... Blair looked at his student, judging him carefully. Alan and the others had always been fair to him. He nodded. "Done."
Blair handed the keys across. "Thanks, Alan. What were you doing here anyway? I thought you had practice?"
Alan shrugged. "Coach let me out early. I was hoping I could talk to you about this article I found before I write my paper."
Blair smiled. The fact that Alan was coming to see him, wanting help with an assignment, made him feel even better than the offer to clean his car did. At least some people see me as a teacher! "I'll be in my office later, Alan."
Alan watched the young teaching fellow walk away, his usual bounce repressed. This sh** was going to stop and stop now, Alan vowed. He was not going to see HIS Mr. Sandburg treated as rubbish by a few bigoted jerks. He was pretty sure he had recognised some of the students, especially the Newman girl. She ran with a small gang, some of whom were in Anthro 101. They always sat at the front of Mr. Sandburg's class and seemed to take great pleasure in trying to throw the Teaching Assistant off his stroke. Alan grinned. Mr. Sandburg knew his stuff too well for that to work. The soccer captain nodded to himself, he was going to watch them closely and he knew where he could find help.
The day was progressing slowly. The sentinel sighed as he looked at the growing mound of paperwork on his desk. Simon wanted the report NOW so it wasn't as if he could leave it until Blair came in the next day. For one selfish moment he let himself wonder what it would be like to have Blair's bright presence next to him all the time. He'd run you ragged in a week, Ellison, kid's got more energy than a football team.
The phone rang and broke into his musings. "Ellison," he growled his standard greeting. His face became serious. There had been a hit and run at the University and murder was suspected.
The crime scene was easy to spot by the array of official vehicles and the crowd of onlookers trying to rubberneck and see what was going on.
Jim pulled into a spot marked, "campus security" and lowered his visor so the PD official business card showed. He climbed out of the truck and tried to convince himself that he'd rather be here than doing paperwork. But he didn't want to think that any trouble happened at the University. It was too close to his trouble magnet guide for his peace of mind. He pushed through the crowd. "Okay, what have we got here?"
The cell phone went off in the middle of the lecture. Startled faces turned to Blair as he dug it out of his backpack and listened to the short message. With a muttered "Sorry," he gathered his books and headed for the nearest exit. Professor Clancy shook his head. "Sandburg."
"I trust this is important."
"Very, Sir. I am sorry..."
"Chapters nine through thirteen. You can collect the essay question off me later."
"Thank you, sir."
It was a heartfelt statement. Blair was thankful that Professor Clancy had been so reasonable. The professor had a reputation for being a real hard-nosed academic. And he did demand effort from all his students but that wasn't the whole story. Clancy had been supportive when Blair had been a scared 15 year-old trying to survive his freshman year at Rainier. The professor had taken him on his first field trip, nothing exotic, just a jaunt to a local reservation. But that trip had confirmed the young student's love for anthropology. And even though Blair had been "outed" as an empath and was now a guide, Clancy had continued to support him. For that he was grateful.
Blair dug out his police ID and waved it at the police holding the public back. His heart went into his mouth. Jim was standing like a statue, as still as if he were carved from stone. He had zoned big time. A uniform was reaching for Ellison and Blair yelled.
"Don't touch him!"
Something had set Jim off but Blair didn't have time to do research on it now. Blair rested his hand on Jim's shoulder and moved around to face him. His hand pressed against his sentinel's neck. "Feel my hand, Jim, the warmth of it against your skin." He spoke in the "Guide" voice. "Hear my voice and my heart beat. Come on, big guy. I'm getting some hostile looks here. I need you to come back."
Jim was lost in the void -- there was a reason that he was afraid to remember why he didn't want to come out of the zone. Something tried to coax him from the safe place he'd found and he resisted. Then he felt the tug that he'd thought lost forever and Blair was there for him. His voice held the command tone of the guide, the one that he had to obey. It called to him until he felt the heat of his guide's hand. It was burning against his neck. With a loud gasp of air, he was back. His arms reached out and he pulled his guide close to him. He buried his face in the crook of the smaller man's neck and inhaled his guide's scent until it steadied him. Slowly, he raised his head.
"What happened, Jim?" Ellison had never seen the kid so worried.
"The body, it..." Jim nearly zoned again, his hands tightened into Blair's hair, holding his guide against him.
"Easy, Jim, I'm not going anywhere. Think you could turn my hair loose? I don't think bald is my style." The gentle bantering was so much his guide that he finally believed that Blair was there. He relaxed his grip and Blair stepped back to stare up at him with eyes wide with concern.
"You're alive, Chief." It was said with great relief.
"Sure I am. Why would you think otherwi..." Blair turned slightly and his stomach turned over as he saw the body. It was lying like a puppet whose strings had been cut. There was blood on the side of the wall where he had been thrown by the impact with a car. The young man was face down, long dark hair masked his face. Blood had pooled under his chin and stained the collar of a very familiar jacket. *His* jacket. The extra one that Jim insisted he keep in his office in case he needed it. He had lent it to one of his students just that morning until the young man could get to the dorm and get his own.
Books spilled out of the backpack when it ended up on the ground as it dropped from nerveless fingers. God, oh God, oh God! In the midst of his silent litany, understanding came to him. Jim must have smelled his scent on the coat under the blood and he had zoned out thinking that it was his guide's body outlined in Forensics' chalk. Blair shoved his grief for his student's death aside and focused on his sentinel. Jim needed him and Jim was their best chance of finding Jerry's killer.
"Jim, I'm safe. I was in the lecture hall. Safe, man. Listen to me." The last was said with the growl of the dark guide. The commanding tone pulled the sentinel back as he nearly lost himself again in the scent of his *living* guide.
"Sentinel Prime Ellison?"
Jim turned around and saw Dr. Harvey. He straightened up. "I just can't seem to focus on anything right now."
"Your guide isn't helping you?" It was almost an accusation.
"No, Blair's not at fault here. I just can't settle in."
Dr Harvey's breath caught as her gaze switched from Blair to the body and back again. She recognised the scent as that of Jim's guide and knew what the other sentinel was going through. She patted Blair's shoulder. "My apologies, Guide Prime. I can see the problem. Let us try."
Jim nodded and stepped back, his arm snaking out to catch his guide around the waist and pull him close.
As soon as he saw the sentinel and guide pairing come into the office, Simon Banks yelled, "Ellison, Sandburg, my office NOW."
Simon poured himself a fresh cup of coffee as he nodded them to a seat. "Coffee, Jim? This is a new blend, Colombian with two parts chocolate."
The sentinel waved him off.
"Thanks, Captain." Blair accepted a cup and pulled it close to his body, holding it in both hands. Simon studied the guide a moment. The young empath had come a long way since he was first brought into the station, cuffed and filthy, to bond with an out of control sentinel. But fear responses were still there, among them the one that had him acting as if Simon would grab the drink back.
Simon looked at Blair thoughtfully until he saw the empath move uncomfortably under his gaze.
"Jim, you've been assigned the hit and run at Rainier University. Since Sandburg's on the staff, he might have some insight on what's going on over there. Dan Slater will be your liaison on this one, Jim."
"Why? It's got nothing to do with the GDP. It's a hit and run, pure and simple."
"For your information, Detective, I didn't make Captain by being stupid." Simon's voice took on a command tone. "The victim, Jerry Carver, was wearing Sandburg's coat and, at a distance, he looked like him. That, Detective, is enough to get the GDP looking in our direction. And, Detective, do not keep things from me in the future. I have Dr. Harvey's report in front of me, including her observations of the scent on the coat and your zoning."
Blair put a hand out and connected with his sentinel, not sure how the man would react to the captain's dressing down. Jim's emotions were easy to read. Far from being upset with Banks, he was mainly worried about his guide and his protective instincts were running high.
Banks paused to let his reprimand sink in and then switched tone to one of business as usual. "I want to know all about the Carver kid, his friends, enemies everything. I want to make sure that his resemblance to Sandburg wasn't purely coincidental and Carver was the real target all along. If he was run down because he was wearing Sandburg's jacket, I want to know that too. Does Sandburg have any idea why anyone would want to kill him?"
"I'm here, Captain Banks." Blair said softly.
"Sandburg... I am sorry." Simon kicked himself, talking above the guide as if he wasn't in the room. Banks grinned a little and cut himself some slack. The kid was unnaturally still, not something he normally associated with the guide. No wonder he "overlooked" him.
"I don't know anyone who would want me dead. I mean, there's lots of people who don't want me at Rainier but they wouldn't murder me."
"Don't want you at Rainier? Are you still having problems at the University? I thought that had died down after that attack in your office."
Blair shrugged. "I guess the attack made people back off, afraid they'd be charged with something serious if Jim... I mean, the PD found out they were harassing me."
Simon looked between the sentinel and the guide. If Jim found out they'd be lucky to only be charged. It was obvious that Jim wasn't as sanguine about the state of affairs at Rainier as Sandburg pretended to be. "Detective, you have something to add?" "Blair was sent a letter, Simon. It was pretty obscene. The writer didn't like the fact that he was at Rainier. I've still got it. And he's been getting phone calls. They might have stopped calling here at the station and at the loft but there's been some pretty nasty stuff left on his voice mail at the University."
"How did you... never mind." Blair shut up and found something interesting in his cup of coffee to study.
Ellison answered the unfinished question. "You accessed your voice mail from the loft. When your heart rate climbed, I listened in."
"Man. Don't I get any privacy? It's just some kids, Jim. Nothing to worry about."
Simon almost grinned. Thought you could keep your sentinel in the dark, did you, kid? Then he turned thoughtful. "Okay, Sandburg, has anyone told you that they don't want you there? My experience says that if someone says it to your face they're not the letter writing type, but it would be a starting point."
"Professor Higgins made it pretty clear the other day that I wasn't to attend his class. But," Blair shrugged, "he wouldn't try to kill me. The guy's a respected professor."
"What exactly did he say, Sandburg?" Simon prompted.
"That if I went into his class, department or office he would have the GDP take me away." It was said matter-of-factly as if it hadn't hurt as much as Simon knew it had.
"Sorry you have to put up with that kind of crap, Sandburg. I'm proud of you for sticking with it." Simon said sincerely. It wasn't just empty words; the gruff Captain meant it. Blair felt heat rise in his face. It was almost worth the harassment to hear that from Banks.
A knock on the door interrupted the discussion and Commander Slater entered. His eyes went to Banks and Simon shrugged.
"I got your message, Simon. Are you all right, Blair?"
"Yes, Sir." Blair winced as Jim's hand clamped on his shoulder to halt any attempt to move off the chair into guide position.
"Okay, gentlemen, get to work." Simon added, "Have Dr. Harvey take a look at that letter, Jim." The three men started out of the office and Simon said for Ellison's sentinel ears only, "Jim, if the kid receives any more poison pen letters, I want to know right away." AN almost imperceptible nod acknowledged the order as the sentinel followed his guide and the GDP officer out.
Nothing new had come to light the next morning as Simon Banks stood in front of the board in his office. The big captain looked at the detectives in front of him: Rafe, H, Jenny, and Greg. The last two were new recruits to Major Crime. They were young but they both brought good records from their previous departments. Simon called them to attention and began the briefing.
"Jerry Carver was a sophomore at Rainier, archaeology was his major field with anthropology as a minor." Simon watched as a shiver went through their guide. The use of the past tense was making the student's death real to Sandburg and Simon knew that Carver had been more than just a faceless student to Sandburg. Ellison had told him about walking into Sandburg's lecture hall and the soccer player who had checked him out to make sure he was no threat to the "professor."
"When Carver was struck, he was wearing Sandburg's coat and from a distance they look somewhat alike. It's possible that given the bad feeling about Sandburg being at Rainier that it may have been a deliberate attack by someone who thought Carver was him."
Ellison shook his head as he saw his guide wince. Ah, Chief, this isn't your fault. I told you that. The detective had spent the previous night listening while the younger man had blamed himself for Carver's death. If he hadn't lent Jerry his coat... if he'd never gone back to Rainier... if only he didn't make people hate him... Ellison had watched the grad student pace around the loft, not sure how to help him past this. Then Blair had said, "If only I wasn't an empath, a guide, Jerry would be alive!" Jim had felt panic sweep through him at that statement and snapped, "You saying you don't want to be my guide, Sandburg? Is this somehow my fault?" That had stopped his young guide's pacing. Blair had come over and crouched on the floor in front of the chair Jim was occupying. "No, Jim, its not your fault and... God, Jim, you're the only thing that's keeping me sane! How could I not want to be your guide." Ellison smiled as he remembered the shining blue eyes looking into his own, the smaller hands that had closed over his own as Sandburg pushed his own sorrow away to help his sentinel. Something caused him to look and he saw the Captain scowling at him. Somehow Banks knew that his attention had been elsewhere. Jim shrugged and nodded to let Simon know that all the wool had been gathered and he was paying attention again.
"Sandburg has been the victim of a letter writing campaign and someone even had the nerve to ring him here with an obscene phone call. You all know about the recent attack on him in his office. In front of you are copies of the letters he received. One came yesterday, the day of the killing, and two this morning. The general thrust of the letters is that a guide has no right to be at University and that he should resign before he's made to. This harassment may or may not be connected to the killing but Blair is one of us and I want all the bases covered."
Blair's mouth dropped open at the last comment. Simon called him "one of them," not "Jim's guide" but one of them. The Captain actually thought of him that way. He felt a warm glow.
"Lieutenant Plummer, can you tell us anything about the letters?"
"All three letters were produced on the same machine, a typewriter, not a PC. This actually gives us an advantage since it is much more difficult to identify where an inkjet or laser printed document comes from. Typewriters, on the other hand, have a distinct fingerprint. In this case, a Brothers 1945, a portable non-electric model was used. There's a catalog picture in your case file. If the writer is using a machine this old, then we can probably assume that he's attached to it and isn't going to throw it away any time soon. My people have pinpointed the only two outlets in the area that stock the ink ribbons."
Simon interjected, "Jenny, Greg... get the store locations from Lt. Plummer and see if they can give you a customer list for that model typewriter."
The forensics chief cautioned, "There are many places on the web where you can buy supplies for these older machines, sometimes for less money so don't be surprised if you don't get anything at the stores."
Sandburg shifted uneasily and Banks said, "Something you want to add, Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged. "Well, I saw a lot of the old manual portable typewriters on expeditions. Sometimes you couldn't get ribbons for them so we just re-inked the old ones."
There was a chorus of groans from the detectives as a possible lead seemed to dry up.
Simon jumped in. "Well this isn't the wilds of the Congo so maybe they bought rather than dyed. And don't immediately assume that anyone who bought supplies for a Brothers 1945 is automatically the perp either. When we get this character, I don't want him to walk because some judge decides we hurt his feelings. Got that? Everything by the book." Simon waited until he got nods of agreement from all his detectives
"Ellison will be looking into the hit and run. Commander Slater will be shadowing Sandburg at the University until we have this killer caught."
Blair shot a nervous look at his sentinel. He had assumed that Jim would stay with him. He opened his mouth to protest but seeing the icy look on Jim's face let whatever he had to say remain unsaid. It was obvious to the guide that what Simon had said was news to the sentinel as well. The intercom buzzed on Simon's desk.
"Chief of Police on line two, Captain."
"Gentlemen and ladies, I want this bastard caught, Now." A tilt of his head at his office door got the detectives moving in that direction as he picked up the phone. Fifteen minutes later Simon came out of his office and handed a file to his secretary. "Get that off to the Chief ASAP, Rhonda. Have one of the uniforms hand carry it." He turned and went back into his office, aware that a pair of sentinel sharp eyes followed his every move.
Simon had only just sat down when the door to his office nearly came off its hinges. Jim Ellison was fuming, as expected. The threat in his body language would have scared a lesser man than Simon Banks. The sentinel was royally pissed and he didn't care if Simon Banks, and half the precinct, knew it.
"What the hell do you mean by Slater is shadowing Sandburg?"
"How many meanings are there, Detective, other than the obvious one? Slater will be with Sandburg until we know if the kid was the target or not." Simon's voice held a warning tone that Ellison chose to ignore.
"Captain... Sandburg is MY Guide. If anyone..."
Blair hesitated outside Banks' office. The loud voices within convinced him that his sentinel needed his calming presence. Neither Sentinel nor Captain agreed. He no sooner opened the door than he was nailed by glares from both men. His sentinel motioned him outside. Simon was more direct. "Out, Sandburg."
Blair hesitated. Jim's emotions were all over the map and it was his job to... "You heard me, Guide, get out." Jim grabbed his shoulder and ushered him firmly outside the office. The door closed with a decided slam and Blair sought refuge in his chair.
Rafe came up and dropped a hand on the young guide's shoulder and cursed himself as he felt Blair start.
"Sorry, Blair, didn't mean to make you jump."
"Not your fault, Rafe. It's their emotions. They're like a tidal wave." Sandburg sounded a little too tired to the young detective. Before he could comment, the phone rang and Blair picked it up. "Detective Ellison's Desk." Rafe watched as Sandburg's face lost color. He didn't need the wave the younger man gave him as the empath hit the record button to know who was on the other end of the line. As Rafe ordered the trace, H. put his head in the Captain's office and broke up the raging argument with a simple, "The perp's on the phone with Sandburg now, sir."
Both men were still angry but Ellison dropped his aggressive stance and moved quickly to his guide's side. He tuned into the phone call and the honey-voiced obscenities came to his ears. His eyes focused on Blair's vital signs. The kid was scared, his fingers white as he gripped the handset. The call ended suddenly.
Rafe shook his head in answer to Jim's questioning glare. "No good. He wasn't on the phone long enough."
Jim pressed the rewind button. "I'm going to need your help, Chief, I want to screen the call."
Blair nodded and moved to stand close to his sentinel, his body pressed against Jim's back. As the sentinel took a seat, Blair set one hand on Jim's left shoulder, the other slowly stroking his right shoulder. "Close your eyes, Jim. Take a deep breath... empty your mind of everything but the tape... ready?" At Ellison's nod, Blair pressed the play button.
Ellison focused in on the voice that spoke hateful words in the tone of a lover. His guide's voice said softly, "Move past the voice, Jim. You've heard it before. Hear what you didn't hear..." Why was it only this easy when Sandburg guided him. The thought flashed through his mind as he filtered the words out and tuned into the background noise. He could hear the sound of a radio. He tightened his focus and almost lost it. The feel of his guide's hands on his shoulders and the pull of Blair's mind through the link grounded him and he was back on the trace. Suddenly the background voices were clear. More than one, a woman... two men... a boy... The last voice was familiar... Ellison flashed back to a teenager thoughtlessly insulting his guide in his father's car. Daryl Banks. Simon's son was involved somehow and Captain's son or not, he was going to get to the bottom of it.
Blair saw the muscles in Jim's jaw clench and felt nauseated as anger radiated through their link. Frantically, he sent soothing waves of serenity at his sentinel, practically forcing the man to calm down and think. He was only vaguely aware of Ellison standing up and easing him into the chair the sentinel had just quit. He crossed his arms on the desk and lowered his head onto them. Strong hands massaged his tense neck and shoulders and he felt himself drift off. From a distance he heard Jim's voice. "Just rest, Chief. I think I got what we need to sort this out. I'll just check-out with Simon and then we'll go home."
Simon Banks had taken some personal time despite all the things waiting for his attention. But somehow, when Jim had told him about hearing Daryl on the tape of the call to Sandburg, he had to act. This was too important to his son's character to wait. As he was waiting for his son to come out of the lecture hall, he thought back over the scene in his office. He shook his head; he was probably lucky he didn't sport a black eye. When Jim had told him about hearing Daryl on the tape, he had called him a liar. Ellison had just closed his eyes briefly. When they opened, the sentinel directed an icy stare at his Captain. His voice was cold and level as he repeated word for word what he had heard Daryl... his son... say. Simon had winced at the ugliness of the words. Then Ellison, his best detective and probably his best friend had said softly, "If you don't believe me, Captain, ask Edwards or Harvey to scan the tape." He had shaken his head. "I believe you, Jim. I don't want to but I do. This is what I've been afraid of ever since Daryl told me he was going on a GDP placement for career week."
Daryl saw his father wave at him and felt embarrassment color his cheeks. His father was there and by the scowl on his face was ready to dress him down right here. What would the others think? That he was some kid that needed his hand held?
"Dad, what are you doing here?" He hissed the words, glancing over his shoulder to see if his new friends were listening.
"Daryl, we have to talk and talk NOW."
"What? Dad, my friends... Can't it wait?"
"They can wait, son. This is more important. Blair Sandburg got an obscene telephone call at the station. Do you know anything about it?"
"No, Dad." All wounded innocence, but Daryl could tell that this time, his father wasn't buying it. Simon had to rein in his anger. "Are you sure?"
"Sure, Dad. But, anyway, I'm sure he had it coming."
"Coming, son? And just what does that mean?"
"He's a guide and he's here taking up the place of a normal hardworking citizen. Not only that but he's a rogue guide. Everybody knows they're the worst kind. They don't want to help anyone, and when anyone tried to help them, like the GDP, they throw it back in their faces. They..."
"Daryl, who told you that?" Simon took a deep breath. His son believed the crap he was spouting.
"My friends and Officer Dexter, so it's right, Dad. They wouldn't lie."
"Daryl, as you get older..."
"I'm not a child, Dad."
"Then don't act like one. Jim heard your voice in the background, I know you were there." He hardened his tone.
"You going to believe Ellison or your son, Dad? Even if I was there what IS the PROBLEM? He's a guide, Dad, he shouldn't be here. He's supposed to be with his sentinel or in a hostel waiting for him."
"You did American History, Daryl?"
"Of course. What's that got to do with..." Simon overrode him.
"In the early sixties, there were schools and colleges that would not take black people. It was legal to discriminate against them just because of their skin color. A small group of very courageous individuals challenged the law in Court and won. But it took the National Guard to see them safely to the "place" they were entitled to. I remember looking at a photograph of them. You could tell that they were scared but that they were determined to make a difference; to get the education they wanted and to let no one treat them as second class. You would think that would have taught people a thing or two about fairness and decency. Yet, here we are doing the same things to people because they are empaths." "But this was different, Dad. That was..."
"How was it different, Daryl? It's illegal to discriminate against people because of color, gender, age or disability, but if they're guides then... WHAT THE HELL, WHY NOT. How does that make sense, Daryl?"
"You don't understand." Daryl was uneasily aware that his friends had stopped some distance away but well within earshot.
"I don't understand, Daryl? I have seen a man put on a leash, have a collar put on his neck that shocks him if he wanders too far, as if he were an animal. I was told it was for his own good and that, Daryl, is the largest amount of BS that I have ever heard. There is no way that I am letting you join that jackbooted group of thugs."
"Your mom and I will talk and this farce will end." Simon's voice dropped to a soft hiss meant for his son's ears alone. "And if you tell your friends what I told you about the phone call, I'll... so help me, Daryl, I'll have you charged with interference of a police investigation!"
"No, Dad." Daryl pulled away. "You've been talking to those GLA people. Ian told me about them. They're cranks. "A happy empath is a bonded guide. Only by following the rules will the guide be happy." I've got to go, Dad, my friends are waiting. Maybe Officer Dexter can talk to you."
Simon grabbed his arm as he started to leave. "Daryl, I meant what I said about the investigation."
"You think I'm going to embarrass myself in front of my friends by letting them know that Daddy is checking up on me? Get real, Dad. Now, let go."
Simon watched him leave and shook his head. He swore softly. His son wasn't ready to listen. He might have lost this argument but he had seen the expressions on Daryl's face. Some of the barbs had hit home. His son was no dummy, he had a keen brain. Simon just had to hope and believe that he would come to his senses.
His cell phone rang. "Okay, Rhonda, I'm on my way back."
Commander Dan Slater was about as nervous as he could ever remember being. James Ellison had dropped him off at Rainier University with Blair Sandburg that morning. The sentinel had made it painfully clear that he was entrusting his guide to the GDP Commander. There was a clear message in the icy blue eyes that it would not be to the Commander's advantage if that trust were betrayed; an unspoken threat that Slater tried to ignore. Sandburg had jumped in and calmed his sentinel down. Slater couldn't hear what the guide had said, he was just glad that it had worked. But the parting look the detective had sent his way conveyed more to the Commander than mere words could.
Sandburg had not said a word since the repaired blue and white truck pull away from the curb. He kept his head down as if to avoid looking at his "escort" and the bounce that characterized the young empath was flattened. Slater hesitated a moment before catching the guide by the arm and shaking him gently. "Sandburg, I am not going to make you kneel or embarrass you in front of your colleagues or students. Trust me, okay?"
There was a too long pause as Sandburg processed the concept of GDP and trust. Blue eyes lifted to his and seemed to judge his sincerity.
"Yes, Commander." Slater got the answer he wanted but the young empath's gaze returned to the sidewalk.
Slater changed his grip into a gentle pat. "Okay. So where is your first lecture?"
"The main lecture hall in Hargrove. Doctor Clancy is giving this dynamite presentation on tribal structures in the post-modern world. You wouldn't believe how he..."
Slater relaxed slightly as the guide's head came up and enthusiasm lit the deep blue eyes. It seemed as if a chance to share knowledge could hold the younger man's fears at bay.
As they neared the lecture hall, Slater noticed that other students were stopping to stare at them. With a sinking sensation, he realized that he didn't think it was because of Sandburg's enthusiastic impromptu lecture. There were a lot of nudges and sotto-voiced comments being made. Sandburg, who had gone silent as he picked up on the ambient, was trying to ignore the stares sent his way but the Commander could see the slight flush rising in the face of the younger man. Slater's height gave him warning an instant before Sandburg found out the reason for the attention being paid him. Over the heads of the students clustered around the entrance, the GDP officer saw a montage of photographs that featured Blair taped to the door. Slater was sickened as he recognised the illegal sexual wraps used on the guide's naked body.
Infuriated, dismayed, Slater didn't hesitate. He quickly began to rip down the offending pictures, glaring contempt at the sniggering students. The grad student was too shocked to move. He seemed to have stopped breathing. Just as Slater was wondering if he had a medical emergency on his hands, Sandburg jerked back to awareness with a shuddering breath. Slater was still worried. The young empath was as pale as a ghost, hovering on the verge of flight but sticking it out with dogged courage. As he stood uncertainly, Dr. Clancy came up, one of the pictures in his hand.
"Sandburg... Blair... I am sorry." It was said sincerely. "Someone has a really sick sense of humor." His hand dropped on the guide's shoulder in a gesture that was as supportive as it was surprising coming from the usually distant lecturer. Clancy exchanged a look with the man hovering over Sandburg. The professor read in the unknown man's eyes what he himself knew, this was far more than a sick practical joke. There was malice at work here. The stranger nodded his recognition of their shared understanding. "Blair, who's your friend?" Clancy's tone was brisk, as if finding pornographic pictures taped to his lecture hall was a common everyday occurrence.
Sandburg visibly shook himself out of his distress and made the introductions. "Doctor Clancy, this is Commander Dan Slater, GDP."
"Commander, I trust you are here to do something about this outrage? Sandburg is one of our most valued Teaching Fellows and something like this is a distraction from his work."
Sandburg blushed again, but Slater had the feeling the reason was pleased surprise at the Professor's offhand compliment. The grad student straightened up and Slater could see in his stance pride restored by the public recognition of his worth from someone whose opinion he valued.
"We, and the police, are looking into the harassment, Doctor. I can assure you that it will end," Slater's tone was grim and determined.
Clancy locked gazes with the GDP officer until he was satisfied that the man meant what he said. Then he opened the door and made an announcement to the students who had been interested observers of the conversation between their teacher and the stranger.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Go in and take a seat. We will begin as soon as I have collected these... things. I would like you all to remember that something like this says far more about the perpetrators than the victim." As the students walked past the three men standing by the door, some of them handed a picture over to Clancy. There were a few leering looks sent Blair's way but the grad student met their gazes straightforwardly. Something about him killed the smirks that had lingered on some of the faces.
Slater took the photographs from Clancy and followed Sandburg into the lecture hall. While Blair took a seat with the rest of his classmates, the Commander took a seat at the back of the room. Only when everyone's attention was on the lecturer did he examine the pictures more closely. His face hardened with controlled anger. The photographs had been taken in Sandburg's office. They had been wrong, all of them, the doctors, the sentinel, himself, when they had thankfully concluded that the young guide had not been raped in the attack. There had been no penetration but he was looking at clear evidence of a violation no less brutal for being psychological rather than physical.
Slater focused past the victim to the leash wraps that had been used. His anger built; they were the illegal carnal wraps used in underground porn films that Vice confiscated on occasion. The mere fact those particular wraps had been used showed that Blair's attackers were not students. It took an experienced person, trained in the dangers of the leash to bind someone that way without causing permanent damage, even death. Only GDP trainers taught leash wraps, and only to GDP personnel. The attack on Sandburg had to come from within the GDP ranks. That made the attack on Sandburg worse. For all the mistakes the GDP made and despite all that Ellison seemed to believe, the Corps had at one time been a service organization. People did join out of a sincere desire to help sentinels and guides; but these people... Slater shook his head. These people were living proof that the draconian image the Guide Liberation Army tried to sell to the public had some basis in fact. With a sigh, Slater pulled out his phone and contacted Banks.
As Slater followed Blair around Campus the rest of the day, the photos kept reappearing. Whoever had distributed the pictures knew Sandburg's schedule. More were found in Blair's office covering the desk and chairs. Blair had pulled out a text to write a lecture and another one fluttered out. Slater had found more tucked into books on the shelves. They mysteriously showed up in TA and faculty mailboxes. Each time he was ambushed, Slater saw the young grad student lose a bit more of his enthusiasm and energy. But with an amazing courage and dogged determination that seemed at odds with his appearance, he faced up to the situation with a dignity that couldn't be denied. Slater had tentatively suggested that Sandburg should take the rest of the day off until they could get the situation under control. Blair had looked at him with pain-filled eyes and refused.
"This is my Campus, my education, my dream, Commander. No one and nothing is going to scare me away. Only Jim could make me quit and he won't."
Brave words from a brave man, but Slater could see the toll the bigotry was taking. The Commander moved through the day vacillating between rage and admiration.
Lunch brought more humiliation. Someone had posted a sign outside the dining hall. "NO GUIDES/DOGS ALLOWED." Slater tore it down as Sandburg walked past it, head held high and his eyes focused on the menu board at the far end of the room. Slater shook his head sadly. They sickened him, the people who were pulling this crap as well as the ones who stood aside and let it happen. This place is the kid's dream? Looked more like a nightmare to him. Where the hell did we go wrong that one group of people could be treated this way and the rest of the population just turns and looks the other way?
Dan didn't have an answer for that question but he knew he wasn't going to be one of the ones who looked the other way. He studied the young man sitting across the table from him. Blair was staring at his vegetarian lasagna as if it were a fascinating work of art. Every now and then he picked it apart with a fork but never quite got any food into his mouth. His pale, determined face made up Slater's mind.
"Excuse me a minute, Blair." The curly head nodded. None of the guide's usual curiosity about anything and everything was evident on his expressive face.
Dan moved out of earshot and pulled out his cell phone.
"Lieutenant Harris, please."
"Lieutenant Harris speaking."
"Commander Slater here, Lieutenant. I'm on Campus with Guide Sandburg today and someone had been plastering the buildings and grounds with--" Slater was pleased with the anger he heard in Harris' voice as he interrupted the Commander with a pungent description of the probable ancestry of the plasterers. -- "I take it you've seen them. I want them collected and destroyed. Doctor Claydove will approve any overtime needed to clear them out. I will not see a guide disgraced this way. It reflects badly on the GDP." He closed the phone, studied the bowed head of the young guide at the distant table and whispered feelingly, "and I will be damned if I let them do this to you."
Business done, Slater sat back down at the table and asked, "Are you planning to eat that or write a paper on it?" Blair didn't even smile at his attempted witticism and that was a very bad sign. He'd seen this young man crack a joke in the worst situations; he used humor as a defense and to defuse tense moments. Blair's answer was to just push the plate away, leaving the food untasted. Slater pushed it back.
"I promised Jim you would eat, so eat you will."
"Not really hungry, Commander."
"Eat, because I am not explaining to your sentinel why you flaked away while I was with you." He added softly, "we will find whoever is doing this to you. They will be punished, Blair." Slater looked right at Blair Sandburg, wanting him to know that promise was more than just talk. The guide nodded. There was something in the deep blue eyes that hadn't been there before and the commander felt warmed as he recognized what that something was... trust.
The moment passed quickly as a woman's voice called over the room's hubbub.
"Rosemary, over here."
Blair turned as he heard that name and blushed scarlet. The girl he was dating had just come into the dining hall. Blair felt nausea claw at the pit of his stomach and was glad he had not eaten. Rosemary was a TA. She would have received one of the photographs. She would have seen him LIKE THAT, open and.... His mind would not finish the thought. His whole body seemed to freeze along with his mind. Dan Slater brought him back to the present with a chiding comment.
"Come on, Sandburg. Do you want Ellison to kill me? Think of the trouble, think of the paperwork, that would cause."
For the first time that day, Slater heard something approaching real anger directed at him by the guide.
"Leave it, Commander. Eating anything right now is not in the cards."
Slater followed Blair's gaze over to a table where a young woman was just sitting down. He watched as she was handed an all too familiar piece of cardboard and felt the young man across the table tense. The Commander pushed the plate back.
Sandburg couldn't look away as he saw Rosemary's friends lean toward her and laugh as they pointed over at him. Cold settled into his bones and he pushed the plate away yet again. I might never eat again. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rosemary stand and stare in his direction. Suddenly, his plate was of great interest to him even if the food wasn't. He missed the scathing comment Rosemary directed at her friends. Missed seeing her pick up her tray and walk over to his table. He did hear her soft question.
"Mind if I sit down, Blair? If you're busy with this gentleman, I can come back later."
Blair's head came up and he seemed to gather himself. Rosemary could have cried at the pain that darkened Blair's beautiful eyes as he said calmly, almost in a whisper of breath. "Are you sure you want to be seen with a guide?"
Slater looked on approvingly as she answered, "As long as it's you." She leaned down and captured his mouth in a kiss that said more than any words before sliding into the seat next to him. Her hand closed over his, comforting, supportive. Only then did she look at Dan Slater, taking in his uniform.
"You're one of THEM." The angry aggression in her voice was formidable.
"A good one of THEM, Rosemary." Blair defended Slater.
She stared challengingly at Slater. He met her gaze straight on and she relaxed as if he had passed some kind of test. Slater was subjected to yet another careful scrutiny when a young man wearing a soccer jersey came up.
Alan Fraser, Captain of the soccer team and, just recently, aspiring anthropologist stopped at the table. He had been one of the first to openly champion his teacher and his anger at what was going on was plain to see. He cast a suspicious eye at Slater as he handed Sandburg a brown envelope enclosed in a plastic ziplock bag.
"We collected all these, Prof. I think we got them all." Alan shifted nervously. "We were going to just destroy them but we thought that maybe that sentinel of yours might be able to spot something on them."
"Thanks, Alan." Blair hesitated, then said softly, "I am so sorry about Jerry, Alan. How is the team handling it?"
"We're doing okay, Prof. We'll miss him... he really enjoyed your class, you know. That 92 he got on that last quiz? It was the first time he ever got that high a grade at Rainier. He said you were the only teacher he'd ever had who didn't make him feel stupid."
"He wasn't stupid, Alan. He just had his own way of seeing things... And he knew he had a good friend in you. That's what you have to remember." Blair coughed as the emotional ambient darkened with grief. Unthinkingly, he sent out soothing waves of sympathy and support. It did not go unnoticed by Commander Slater, nor did the peace that settled over Blair's student.
"If I can help you, the team, in any way, Alan..." Sandburg made the kind of offer Slater was beginning to expect of Cascade's Guide Prime.
"You got it, Professor. And the same goes for you from us. We'll keep our eyes peeled and see if we can nail these creeps."
Alan awkwardly patted Blair's shoulder. He cast another searching look at the man sitting with Sandburg. Only when he was sure that man was no threat to his favorite teacher, did he walk out of the cafeteria.
Slater took the envelope Blair extended to him and excused himself. Rosemary immediately slid an arm around the empath as soon as soon as he left. Slater stopped at a table on the far side of the hall and looked back. He saw the young woman say something that actually won a smile from the teaching fellow. First Rosemary and then this Alan kid. It was almost enough to restore his faith in humanity. It was good to see that the kid had real friends.
Dan checked through the photographs. It was more of the same, disturbing images that he suspected he would be seeing in his nightmares until they caught the bastards responsible. He found himself amazingly grateful that the photos made it obvious that Sandburg had been unconscious for the photo shoot. Bad enough that Blair had to see what had been done to him, at least he hadn't experienced it first hand. Slater was pushing them into an envelope when he stopped dead and looked at them again. One photo had a small smudge in one corner. Right in the place that an identification number might show up. If it was a number, and they could make it out... Excitement rose in the commander and he reached for his cell phone.
"Captain Banks, please... Simon? Get someone down to Rainier to pick up a photograph one of the kids on the soccer team just handed Sandburg. There's what might just be an identifying number on the print. Someone slipped up big time, Simon. We might just be able to nail these bastards." Slater's smile as he ended the call would not have been out of place on Ellison at his most feral.
As the day progressed, Slater's admiration for the guide increased as the kid carried on with his life despite the charged atmosphere that surrounded him. Slater was ready to head home. As tired as I am, the kid must need some real down time with his sentinel. One last stop at Sandburg's office to meet with a student and then Ellison will arrive and end one of the most trying days of my life.
The commander looked ahead to where Sandburg was walking with a young woman who towered over him. Slater had dropped back to give them some privacy when he'd recognized the young woman he had met at Sandburg's office the night of the attack. Blair was talking to her, expressive hands outlining some argument he was making as if the day that had Slater ready to call it quits had never happened. That kid is tougher than he looks!
As a GDP guard stepped out in front of the couple, Slater hurried his steps.
"On your knees, Guide, and show your respect." The words were growled loudly enough to attract attention. As students turned to check out the disturbance, Sandburg stopped dead in his tracks, his face paling. His hands clenched into fists by his sides.
"You heard me, Guide, on your knees and show your respect to your betters." The guard held a leash in his hand.
"My betters?" Sandburg questioned softly, but clearly. "Who would that be? You? I don't think so."
There was something almost majestic about the young guide.
Slater cringed. Dammit, kid, now is not the time to turn loose the Dark Guide. That's GDP... or is he? Something about the confusion that blossomed on the guard's face at Sandburg's retort didn't read right. But even if he was GDP he had no right to confront Sandburg on Campus as he had done. Slater moved forward to intervene.
Confusion dissolved into anger and the GDP Guard snarled, "You want the leash, Guide? You like it? On your knees now or..."
Before the threat was completed, Slater snapped, "You stay put, Guide Sandburg. He's out of order."
The guard turned, blustering. "Who do you think you are? This is GDP business, butt out."
"I know I am Commander Slater, GDP." Dan hauled his ID out. "Who are you? Name and station, mister."
The expression that crossed the guard's face would have been funny if the situation itself wasn't so serious. The man panicked. Catching hold of a passing student, he pushed her into Slater and took off down the hall. The Dark Guide went after him. Fueled by anger, Sandburg was fast and focused and he closed the distance quickly. The GDP guard hesitated at a crossing of hallways, unsure of the way out. That was all the chance the Dark Guide needed. He threw himself forward, catching the larger man around the waist, his weight bringing the guard down. They landed heavily. The guard struggled against his captor, shouting epithets and threats, projecting anger and fear at the empath. For an instant Blair faltered, then the training Jim had given him and Dark Guide instincts cut in and he held on to his prey.
As Slater arrived on the scene, the Dark Guide suddenly retreated as Blair thought of the possible ramifications of his actions. A guide attacking someone... that's how it would look. His momentary distraction cost him and he took a heavy blow. The fist had been aimed at his head but a quick twist deflected it to his shoulder. But it was enough to numb his arm, making him lose his grip. The guard tried to throw him off. Unbalanced, he slammed into the wall but managed to hang onto the man until Carol landed heavily on the guard too. Her fist connected with the GDPer's chin. He went limp.
Carol was breathing hard as she put a hand down to help Blair up. She saw the look of shocked respect the younger man shot at her. "I always said that weight training would pay off eventually." Her grin was infectious.
The GDP guard sat in the interrogation room at the police station, a picture of smug calmness that had the opposite effect on one raging sentinel. Brown kept a wary eye on Ellison as he reported. "Name's McVee. Small time grifter, couple of priors but he got away with fines and community service. Does some casual labor to pay the bills, garden clean-up, garbage hauling, that kind of thing. Not the brightest of bulbs."
Ellison said grimly, "Someone hired him to kidnap my guide. I want them... and if I have to go through McVee to get to them, I will."
Simon determination to keep the sentinel's instincts under control was adamant. "Listen up, Detective Ellison. There is no way I am letting you in on the interview, not in the state you're in at the moment. I'll handle the questioning with Dan Slater."
The expected mutinous expression crossed the sentinel's face and then, to Simon's amazement, the look changed to one of wicked satisfaction. Realizing that Jim was looking through the one-way glass at the interview room, Simon turned around ... and swore. Sentinel Prime Edwards had entered the room while he was busy with Ellison. Detective Edwards sat on the other side of the table from the fake GDP guard. He didn't say anything. Just looked at McVee as he catalogued the man's vital signs. There was a twitch to Edward's lips that blossomed into a sardonic grin as he noticed the increase in the heartbeat and respiration and watched a tinge of uncertainty grow on the man's face. The sentinel prime still had not said a word when Banks and Slater entered the small room.
Slater noticed the difference in the man immediately. The silent, level glare of the sentinel, Edwards' air of lethal power as he contemplated the idiot daring to interfere in the Sentinel world, had shaken the man's certainty. Banks ignored Edwards' presence. Part of being a Captain included knowing when to not give an order that wouldn't be obeyed. He knew the sentinel prime wouldn't leave. Attempted kidnapping of the Guide Prime was a *sentinel thing* and Edwards was looking after business for his Senior Sentinel Prime. Simon cleared his throat and addressed the prisoner. "You waived a lawyer, Mr McVee. Mind telling me why?"
"Hey, it was a joke, that's all. Nothing more than that. Lighten up." McVee spoke to Simon but his attention was fixed on Edward's scowl.
Slater cut him off. "Impersonating a GDP guard is a criminal offense."
"Look, I told you. It was a joke. I got paid $60 and all I had to do was enter Hargrove Hall and wait for the guide to come in, order him on his knees, leash him and then lead him out to a van. They said that he had been sniffing around an underage girl. They were just going to warn him off that's all. Remind him of his place.
Simon's disgust was plain. "You think that kidnapping and indecent assault is a joke? Maybe you think that two to five years in the pen is funny too? Because that's the minimum you're looking at if this goes before a judge."
McVee looked puzzled. "For God's sake. It's not as if we're talking about a person here. He's just a guide sniffing around where he shouldn't. I thought they were being pretty easy on the guy, myself. Come off it."
Edwards snarled, low and deep-throated.
McVee tensed at the sound. His cockiness was slowly being replaced by something else... fear of the sentinel now standing in front of him.
"Where did you meet them?" Edwards' growled harshly. His eyes pinned the prisoner, who swallowed dryly before answering.
"I was in a bar. This guy came up and asked me if I wanted to earn some easy money. He paid me thirty bucks up front and promised the rest when the job was finished. I got the uniform from him." He volunteered the last information, hoping it would prove to the sentinel that he was co-operating.
"The Good Times, on Tarrant and Lexcon."
"You know this man's name, Mr. McVee?" Slater asked, taking over the questioning as the Sentinel Prime leaned back against the wall.
"Sure, John Smith." McVee saw their disbelief and raised his hands. "Hey, it wasn't like I asked for references or anything."
Simon shook his head. "I'm getting the sketch artist in here and you're going to work with him to get a likeness of this John Smith. If you don't come up with something we can use, I'll have the book thrown at you. You understand me?"
McVee nodded. He might not be the most intelligent person in the world but even he could see that the "joke" was anything but to these men. He was in a world of trouble and he wanted out.
Jim was waiting for Edwards outside Interrogation. As the junior sentinel collected his guide, Ellison spoke, "Thanks for your help."
"Any time, Jim. The guy was telling the truth. He's paid muscle, that's all."
Simon, following Edwards out, ignored the two sentinels. His attention was on Carolyn Plummer who was walking as if she had something important to impart. She didn't even bother with greetings as she reached him. "I might have something, Simon." Ellison and Edwards came to attention, joining the captain immediately.
"Okay, lady and gentlemen, lets take this into my office and out of the corridor."
Going through the bullpen, Jim snagged Blair in passing and sat next to him on Simon's sofa. When they were all seated Banks said, "You've got the floor, Lieutenant."
Carolyn passed around a photograph in a protective sleeve of plastic. "This is a copy of one of the photos that the soccer players collected and gave to Sandburg. I ran the original through the computer to enhance the image quality to see if I could make out that "smudge" of the commander's." She smiled at Slater. "Well, it worked. A digital camera was used to take the photograph, one of the newer ones that automatically attaches an identifying code to each shot unless the feature is manually turned off. Whoever took the photos forgot to do that for this one shot and then didn't catch the error." She paused for reactions.
Ellison didn't give her long to build the suspense. "And?" "I traced the code back to the Rainier University GDP office. The camera, at least, is from that office. Whether that proves that someone there is behind this, I'll leave to you gentlemen to figure out."
Slater nodded. "Very rarely, the cameras might be loaned out to one of the placement students for a project. I'll go down and have a look at the equipment logs and see if that turns up anything. We will get them."
Jim's attention was drawn to his guide. While the progress being made produced an air of satisfaction among the rest of the people in the office, it was not shared by his young guide. Blair was looking at him with such despair that it made Jim want to hit something, preferably the people behind the attacks. For Blair, the situation had just gone from bad to worse. This wasn't just student harassment. It was something much more sinister. One or more people in an official position of trust, who knew how the system worked and how to conceal themselves, had targeted the kid. If he or she or they hadn't made that one mistake...
Jim threw an arm around his guide's shoulder and shifted him closer to his side. He felt the kid connect to him, felt his need for added support. What could the kid have done to deserve this kind of crap? Absolutely nothing.
Carolyn tried to not feel jealous as Jim pulled his guide tight against him. But it wasn't easy. Then she took a closer look at the young man and really saw the despair and the hopelessness in his eyes. She gently patted his arm and said, "It will all work out, Blair."
"Thanks, Lieutenant Plummer." As his guide spoke, Ellison gifted her with a luminous smile that made her jealousy seem petty.
Simon Banks mulled over the reports and then ordered, "All right, people. Let's get back to work and nail these bastards." Under his breath, for sentinel ears only, he added, "Jim, stay behind a minute. Just you."
As everyone filed out of the office, Jim stopped at the door. "Listen, Chief, I need to see Simon about something. I left my interview notes from the hit-and-run on my desk. Could you start putting them into a report?"
"Sure, Jim." Blair's eyes refused to meet Jim's and he pulled out of the link. His attempt to keep Jim from feeling his distress failed.
"Blair, just remember that it was not your fault that someone killed Jerry. Right?" Ellison waited until his guide had nodded and gone back to their desk before turning back to Banks.
Simon opened the conversation with a question that had been bothering him. "Why the hell would anyone in the GDP risk their career to do something like this to Sandburg? Okay, the kid can be a major pain but I just don't buy this as something an official would do. If they wanted to get the kid there's plenty of legal ways to do it."
"Thanks, Simon, that's just what I want to hear." Jim's voice dripped with sarcasm.
Simon shook his head. "How is the kid handling this mess?"
Jim turned to look towards his desk and study his guide. "He's not showing it but Blair is scared, Simon. This is bringing a lot of the crap he's had thrown at him back at force 10. It's hard, but he's hanging in there."
A knock on the door interrupted their discussion and the sketch artist came in. "Here's the composite I got from McVee."
Banks nodded approvingly at the fast work. "Have any trouble with him?"
The artist grinned. "Well, at first he was having a little trouble remembering what the guy looked like. He had another chat with Sentinel Edwards and it was funny how his memory improved." He dropped the picture onto the desk and left.
"Edwards' got great people skills." Jim's expression was the height of innocence.
"Sure he has, Jim. And lions have dainty little claws too. Get Blair back in here. Let's see if he recognizes this character."
Banks waited patiently while Jim escorted his guide back into the office. Simon raised the pot of chocolate-flavored coffee, an eyebrow raised in query. When Sandburg nodded, he poured him a cup.
Cradling the cup in his hands, Blair looked from Simon to Jim. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"Sandburg?" Simon growled the question.
"Well, first I'm out. Then Jim escorts me back in and then you, Captain, offer me coffee but not Jim. Something's up."
"Yeah, something's up, kid. We've got a forensics drawing here we want you to look at. See if you recognize him." Simon flicked the cover open on a file and passed it across the small table to Blair. He heard a gasp and Blair's cup slid from suddenly numb fingers. Jim pulled the kid away from the hot coffee and made sure he wasn't burned. The whole time, Sandburg was mumbling.
"Man, oh, man. Why didn't I recognise him before? Man, oh, man. He was right there at the station and I didn't even recognize him."
"You know this joker, Chief?"
"When I first went back to Rainier... remember when you got called out when I had a ... well, when I froze up?" At Jim's nod he continued. "There were two GDPers there, an officer and a guard. This guy was the officer."
"You sure of this, Chief?"
"Positive. He was very aggressive, didn't like me being there at all. I should have remembered earlier but it's a bit of a blur. All I saw was the uniform. He had me down on my knees... I didn't really see his face that much, but..." He took a deep breath. "Yes, that's him, Jim."
Jim's hand latched onto his guide's shoulder, his touch giving support. "Simon, Woodward and that TA... Carol somebody... saw this jerk."
He picked up the phone. "Slater, it's Ellison. We have an ID on the suspect. You need to come back up here."
Slater took a seat opposite the sentinel and guide team. "I ran the file on him. His name is Jack Wilde. He's been in the GDP for 20 years, a career officer. His last posting was eight years at the Correction Facility in Seattle."
"So, what's his beef with me? I never met the guy before that day." Sandburg's voice was plaintive, as if he still thought that he must have somehow brought this on himself.
"He was moved to the Rainier University office after he was censured for undue roughness with guide trainees. He seemed to have settled in and now works as a day supervisor. He's married with three children. His evaluations describe him as a hard worker but sometimes overly fixated on discipline. I read the report on the incident that you described at Rainier. He overstepped his authority with Blair and there was a counter report on the incident by Lieutenant Harris."
"But why did he go after Blair in the first place? He never even knew the guy." Ellison was obviously making an effort to keep his temper under control.
"That's not the point is it, Commander? He didn't have to know me, Jim. It's because I'm a guide, isn't it?"
Slater nodded his head. "Because you're a guide AND you're at Rainier University. Guides aren't supposed to be capable of that level of academic achievement. They're too emotional, too... flighty... without the grounding of a sentinel. You're proving them wrong, kid. There's a group inside the GDP that believes that guides should have the minimum education necessary to facilitate their work with their sentinels."
"Kept barefoot and pregnant."
"Sandburg?" Simon was looking at Blair in the way that showed he was worried about the kid. That sarcastic remark had come out of left field.
"Sorry, it's what they used to say about women before they got the vote. Keep them barefoot and pregnant and they won't cause a problem or want more out of life than kitchen and kids." Blair shook himself as if he was coming back from some other place. "Sorry."
He felt Simon's hand drop on his shoulder and give a quick squeeze. The captain pulled his hand away but not before Blair saw felt his compassion, understanding and support.
Simon coughed, hiding his emotions behind a covering hand. "Enough social history. What else do we know? Slater?" He growled the words gruffly.
"I think we're looking at more than one person. The photos were too widespread too fast for one person acting alone. I do think that Wilde is probably responsible for how this particular attack came down. I said that Harris had filed a counter report. That's a black mark on his record if he doesn't successfully challenge it. It could even hold up his next step-increase in salary."
"So, he was looking to get really personal..." Ellison's growl faded as Blair reached for his arm. Slater nodded agreement before going on.
"Wilde is known to have several drinking buddies and we haven't been able to rule them out as participants yet. But they are being investigated quietly by people I trust. We do know that the attack on Blair in his office would have needed more than one person. Some of those wraps can't be done by..." It was Slater's turn to leave a sentence unfinished as Blair shuddered visibly.
"We can get him for this, right?" Blair asked quietly, breaking the awkward silence.
"I'm trying to get solid evidence tying him into the camera. Unfortunately, the way this has come down means that, at the moment, we're looking at an internal matter here. Misuse of GDP property, improper disciplining of a guide..." Slater read the disbelief on Banks' and Ellison's faces. "They are not going to want to publicize this matter. You know that. Jim could bring a complaint against them for assaulting his guide but that's as far as it would go if this remains strictly a GDP issue."
Simon snapped. "Those bastards attack one of my men and all they get is a rap on the wrist? I want more than that, Dan. Talk to me."
Jim shook his head in confusion. "Wait a minute. Let's get this straight. I think we have to work out exactly what is going on here. Blair has been having trouble since day one. Some of the students and faculty don't like the fact he's there." He dropped a hand on his guide's shoulder to reassure him and felt the tug on the back of his mind as Blair connected to him for support. "Fortunately, many of the students and faculty do want him there." He smiled at the Teaching Fellow. "There's been harassing phone calls, a few poison pen letters and the much more serious physical assaults - when the coffee water was drugged and this last attack."
"Right." Blair agreed. "There's two groups pulling this shit, Jim. That's what it feels like."
Jim grinned. "Got it in one, Chief. Sure you don't want to skip the anthropology gig and become a detective?"
Blair grinned back. "Hey, Jim, anthropology is detective work. Just not limited to bad guys and crime."
Banks cleared his throat and Ellison went on. "Number one, Blair is harassed in his office by this guy Wilde. We thought at the time that it was a "run-of-the-mill Lieutenant Harris checking up on Blair" kind of thing that got out of hand. Now we know that that Harris never authorized the "checking up." We suspect that Wilde is behind the pictures and the assault. On the other hand, we have the office and car vandalism, the notice in the dining hall and the phone calls. Now they scream student to me. Nothing physical, just insulting and inconvenient. And, in a class by itself, the hit-and-run"
Simon put in. "We think that Blair was the intended victim. These people, whoever the are, try to unnerve him. He's tougher than they thought and stays at Rainier. So they escalate their harassment and physically attack and humiliate him. He's still there. So, murder? If they are fanatical enough it makes sense. But that stunt with McVee? What was the idea behind that?" There was silence as the police captain and detective and the GDP commander considered that. Sandburg looked as if his mind was miles away.
"Damn, of course," Simon cursed. "What better way to hide than in plain sight? Blair is abducted by a GDP officer in broad daylight, who is the last person you're going to suspect? Someone in the GDP. Then McVee is found later, dead. He's a small time loser. If they killed once, they wouldn't hesitate to kill a low life like him. We might even believe that someone was starting up a business in black market empaths again."
Slater was looking at Blair in a calculating manner. "We, I mean you, the Cascade PD, need to catch them in the act and then they can't make it internal. We need bait."
Jim snapped, "No."
"Yes," the Dark Guide growled, "I'll do it."
"No, you won't," Jim responded.
Slater and Banks were interested observers of the staring contest between sentinel and guide. Banks wished he could have a minute's privacy with Slater to make a little wager. He suspected that Sandburg would win, Jim was too good a cop not to allow what was needed to close the case... and Simon had seen first-hand just how stubborn the young guide could be. Slater only saw a sentinel and a guide, with the power belonging to the sentinel. Banks saw Ellison and Sandburg. "YES. Jim, it needs to be done," Blair insisted.
The sentinel met the eyes of his Dark Guide, reading his need to do this. He exhaled slowly. "All right, but we keep you under surveillance, Chief, and if something doesn't feel right you get the hell out of there."
"In a heartbeat, man, I am so not into pain."
Simon didn't have to be a mind reader to know who "we" were.
"So how do we make them try for Blair on our terms?" Banks asked the obvious question. "Slater, you know the inner workings of the GDP. What's our best bet?"
"Simple. Remember I told you that Harris had filed a counter report? I'll arrange to have an administrative notice sent to Wilde that he is being denied his scheduled step-increase in salary because of that report. I'll have it noted that Ellison filed a complaint based on his guide's testimony. Jim and Blair would be called as witnesses if he asks for a hearing."
"No guide, no testimony... Wilde challenges the complaint, no witness, no loss of step-increase." Banks summed it up. "I like it."
"I don't." That was the growl of the Dark Sentinel. It was Detective Ellison who added, "But it does seem the best way to bring matters to a head. Just make sure that it's not Sandburg's head that rolls."
The next few days passed in a blur for Blair. On Friday, Wilde opened the administrative notice and asked for a hearing and the rest of the day off. The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday to accommodate Sentinel Ellison's schedule and Wilde was seen hanging around Hargrove Hall Friday afternoon. Blair didn't know how he felt about that but Ellison did. The sentinel had kept him under what amounted to house arrest the whole weekend. At least I got a lot of work done. I'm all caught up and ready for the dig.
Monday found him back at the University. Four hours into the day and Blair was exhausted while Jim was ready to come unglued. And Commander Slater was wondering just why he had thought joining the GDP had been a smart career choice.
Slater was back shadowing Sandburg. From the moment he followed the old Corvair to the university, the day was every bit as stressful as any that the Commander could remember living through. The GDP officer was keeping in touch with Jim via a small headset. As the day wore on, the sentinel's obvious fear and anger were keeping Slater even more on edge than even the circumstances dictated. In the middle of a presentation to his students, Blair had pulled down a roll-up map only to find an enlarged picture of himself plastered in its place. Sentinel hearing had heard the gasp and the increased heart rate of his guide over the tiny radio. Slater had described to him what happened next.
Hands trembling, Blair pulled the picture down and threw it into the wastebasket. He expected the students to react, to snicker or outright laugh, but all he heard was silence. When he raised his head, a hand had gone up. Bracing himself, Blair called on the student. The question was about the lecture and he kick-started again, making a good recovery. Probably better than his fulminating sentinel, staked out in the parking lot at Hargrove Hall, Blair thought. The PD was counting on an attempt being made in the parking lot that night.
Slater stayed with him until office hours were over and then ostentatiously took his leave of Blair on the steps to Hargrove Hall. As usual when his sentinel didn't need him, Blair worked late into the evening. His barriers were beginning to fry but he couldn't do anything about it. Jim had to stay out of sight and Blair couldn't leave until the parking lot was deserted enough to encourage the suspect to snap the trap. It was late evening when he got the call he had been waiting for. Ellison had spotted Wilde in a dark sedan parked off to the side of the building. When he ran the plates, it turned out that the car belonged to a neighbor of Wilde's who was off on a month long vacation.
Blair shoved books and papers in his backpack but left his laptop on his desk. If something did happen, he wasn't ready to risk his computer. Even the most generous and understanding sentinel couldn't be expected to shell out for two of them. Blair was nervous when he left the building and started across the parking lot. His empathic faculty was surging out of control and he was picking up all kinds of emotions from all over the campus. He was almost at his car and was reaching for his keys when an engine burst into life. He was hit by a wave of hatred and anger that froze him in his tracks for one vital moment. When he shook himself out of it, he only had a split second to throw himself out of the way of the oncoming car. Even so, it clipped him and he rolled into the side of the Corvair. Dazed, hovering on the verge of unconsciousness, he tried to move. The attack car stopped and then was thrown into reverse. Blair just managed to get clear of it. Then the door opened and the driver got out. He looked around him and then pulled out a night-stick, it swung up and headed back down toward the young guide's feebly moving head.
Wilde cursed. Ellison had him but he could still get the little freak... and maybe buy himself a chance to escape while the sentinel helped his guide.
The stick came down. A gun discharged and the attacker was thrown backward and slid down the side of Blair's car. Blair looked toward the sound of the gunshot. Even with his vision blurred, he knew it was his sentinel standing there. The tall form was perfectly balanced; gun at the ready as he moved forward, prepared to stop Wilde if he made so much as a move towards his guide. Blair faded out for a moment. The next thing he was aware of was Jim leaning over him, his voice edged with concern, "Lay still, buddy. It's all over, Blair. Everything will be all right." Blair looked beyond his sentinel and wondered where all the people and cop cars had come from. The spinning lights hurt his head. He felt Jim's hands moving over him and moaned as gentle hands found a sore spot. Then everything blurred again. From a distance he heard Jim yell, "Call 911, H. Officer down."
Jim sat holding his guide's hand, gently rubbing the too cool flesh with his thumb, making a physical connection and mentally leaning against the link. The kid's barriers were completely down and the doctor was reluctant to give him a damper drug because of the concussion he had sustained. Jim hoped he was giving the kid a sense of security; that touch and openness on the link would let him feel his sentinel's protection and support as soon as he woke up. An hour later, his vigil was rewarded as he registered the return to consciousness of his guide.
" 'i... mm?" It was more moan than word. But Ellison interpreted it easily.
"Yeah, Chief, it's Jim. You're safe now, kid, we got him."
"Wha'...?" Shaky fingers went toward a curl-covered brow. A big, warm hand caught and held them away from the ache in his head.
"You banged your head a little, Blair. But you're going to be all right. Doc wants to keep you here for a few hours and then we can go home. Okay, kid?"
" 'kay, 'imm."
Ellison smiled as Blair pulled the hand holding his close to him and fell back asleep. The guide needed to know that his sentinel would protect him and the grad student needed to know his friend was there. It felt so right, warming Blair's cold hand in his warm one that Jim didn't care what it looked like, the damage it might do to his stoic image. He just didn't care.
With everything that had happened, Blair still had to face his class. It was either face them or forget about being a TA and from there it would be a short jump to being forced from the University. Jim had hovered over him for three days, not letting him step foot from the Loft until the doctor cleared him for work. Rumors were rife on Campus. Blair's attempted murder and the murder of Jerry Carver had been tied together by gossip and the bigots were scurrying for cover. And some had discovered in themselves a sense of shame for what they had been party to. Harry Carter was one of them and he had made a shamefaced call at the Loft. He had been part of Newman's crew but after hearing what had happened to Blair, what they had done seemed petty and had lost whatever kick he had been getting out of it. His apologies had been heartfelt and the kid had transferred to another course, no longer interested in a career with the GDP or his former friends.
Jim still worried about the grad student's return to Rainier but Blair had ruled out flight. He belonged at the university and hell would freeze over before he voluntarily left. And if they tried to force him out, he would fight with everything he had.
Daryl walked into the lecture hall. His Dad had been acting funny the past couple of days. They'd had some "father-son" talks about the civil rights struggle that previous generations of Bankses had fought in. His Dad kept looking at him and asking him if there was anything he wanted to discuss. He liked the attention and the stories about his great-grandfather were cool but he didn't understand what his father wanted from him. It had left father and son frustrated. His problem with his father faded into the background as he saw Robin Newman wave at him and point to a seat next to her. The pretty, young woman and her friends had been really nice to him. They treated him as if he wasn't just a high school kid. Daryl hesitated and then went up to Sandburg at the front of the room. Checking to see that Robin was watching, he said loudly, "Guide Sandburg, I'm on my work placement with the GDP. Officer Dexter said it was all right for me to sit in on your lecture." Daryl made it a challenge, he heard his *friends* laugh as they heard the *guide* part.
Blair held his gaze levelly. "I was expecting you, Mr. Banks, take a seat. And in this classroom and on this Campus, you will address me as MR. Sandburg." Blair almost smiled at the look of disbelief on the kid's face.
"But you're a..."
"I am nobody's property, Mr. Banks." His voice was edged with the snarl of the Dark Guide. "Now take your seat."
Daryl tried to bluff it out but something in Sandburg's eyes made him look down and take a seat.
Blair stood in front of his students and his gaze swept over them. His eyes locked on the students in first two rows of the tiered seating. He saw the smug smiles and the leashes wrapped around their waists and shook his head.
"You have something to say, Mr. Tipp, Miss Newman?"
"No, *Guide* Sandburg." There was a laugh from the small crowd around them.
"I see. So you found out that I was a guide, SO WHAT? I have a BA and MA.I am a grad student working on my PhD, and I'm a Teaching Fellow. What exactly do you object to, Mr. Tipp? The fact that I have another day job?" Blair's lips twisted into a bitter smile but his eyes were ice cold. Blair paused but the students were silent.
"I see. Don't have an answer to the question. Now then, I understand that you six all want to be members of the GDP. You apparently believe that gives you the right to do what you please to that group of people known as Guides. Well, ladies and gentlemen, IT DOES NOT. With very few exceptions, the GDP are a small-minded group of bigots and you should have more brains than to want to join them. I suspect that, like many of those who join that organization, you see the power in the uniform and think that wearing one will make you better than us. It doesn't work that way. In fact, if you're in it for the power trip, it will make you less than us."
"You better not say that, Guide." Ian Tipp's face was red, his voice loud after the soft, cutting tones that had held his classmates speechless. "You wait until the GDP..."
"THE GDP DO WHAT? PUT ME IN THE CORRECTIONS FACILITY? DONE THAT, MR.TIPP, BEEN THERE AND BOUGHT THE T-SHIRT." The sarcasm dripped from each word. Blair lowered his voice again and walked over to the seats. His tone was conversational and all the students, even those on the top tier, leaned forward so as not to miss a word.
"Your precious GDP put me through the wringer because I wanted a life of scholarship instead of a life of sentinel servitude. When I refused their "invitation" to join their happy little band, they branded me a "rogue empath." Do you know what that entails, Mr. Tipp? Because I think you should find out before you put on the uniform, don't you?"
"They... they train you again." Robin Newman answered, with a touch of defiance tinged with uncertainty. She held up a copy of Sentinel 101.
Blair's laugh was chilling.
"They train you again. Sounds pretty harmless, doesn't it? Educational even. They GAVE me to a guard named Wilson. He tortured me, physically and mentally. I was starved and drugged until I wasn't sure what year it was, much less what month or day. He called in his friends to help him with my "retraining." THEY PUT ME THROUGH SIX WEEKS OF HELL TO GET ME ACCEPT MY "PLACE" IN SOCIETY." Blair stopped and took a breath. He stepped closer, his deep blue eyes holding remembered pain. His voice was conversational again. "That, Miss Newman, was my retraining. I was brought bleeding and filthy and starving to the PD to bond with a sentinel who didn't even want a guide." Blair plucked the textbook from Newman's nerveless hands.
Blair went back to the lectern and set down the textbook and opened his lecture notes. The class heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that the emotional moment was over. Then Blair picked up the Sentinel text and slammed it back onto the lectern making the students jump in their seats.
"You're intelligent people, intelligent enough to get into Rainier, yet you lap up their lies as if they were gospel truth. Do you want to know what happens when an empath bonds and becomes a guide? What really happens, NOT THIS FANTASY THEY SELL TO PUT A GOOD FACE ON SLAVERY?" He threw the copy of Sentinel 101 down on the desk in front of Tripp. His voice lowered and it seemed to the silent students as if their teacher went to someplace in his mind where he relived what he shared with them.
"It's like having your mind ripped open. Every neuro-pathway is blown apart; any ability to create and hold barriers for long enough to live a normal life is lost forever. If you're incredibly lucky, you might be able to keep them up for hours at a time but, without support from the sentinel, they erode away...THEY ALWAYS ERODE AWAY, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. And then the emotions come crashing in, from everyone and everywhere. There's no escape, no place to hide. The emotions eat away at you, Mr. Tipp, Miss Newman, like acid and it's either connect with your sentinel or go insane." Blair's voice rose again and the students winced. THAT, MISS NEWMAN, IS THE SENTENCE THAT I AND PEOPLE LIKE ME SERVE. A rather harsh penalty for the crime of being born, don't you think?"
Blair closed the distance between them. "I see you all have a new fashion statement." Blair heard a laugh from the vicinity of the soccer team. He took a moment to grin at them before raising his voice in a scathing question. "THE LEASHES. WERE THEY A LITTLE SURPRISE FOR ME TO GET ME TO FALL DOWN ON MY KNEES TO YOU? THEY TELL YOU THAT I NEED IT BECAUSE I AM A ROGUE GUIDE?" Blair backed away from the seating. Blue eyes scanned the students, seeing shock, surprise, horror, sympathy and what might even be respect in their faces. His voice was gentle as he asked. "Have any of you ever seen one of these things used in a punishment wrap on a man? Besides in the pictures someone plastered all over Campus? I mean on a living, breathing up-close and personal human being?"
Tipp's face was scarlet with rage. Robin Newman was hunched over in her seat, avoiding eye contact with everyone. And Daryl Banks' eyes, and mouth, were so wide it was almost funny.
"In the correction facility they tighten them so that you can't walk or straighten up. If they are really pissed at you, they use a caustic leash that burns your skin every time you move." Tipp's mouth was moving but no sound was coming out. Finally he managed to choke out, "You're lying."
Blair pulled his sleeve up and thrust his arm under the student's face. "THESE SCARS SAY DIFFERENT."
He saw Robin Newman's eyes drop down to the desktop. She was unable to look at him. She was shaking her head as her eyes started to fill with tears. The other students were shocked into silence.
Blair turned his back on them and walked back to the lectern. "I assigned chapter ten for reading last week. Who wants to give me an example of an endogamous society?"
The silence held for a long minute and then the soccer team got to their feet and began to clap. One by one the other students, with scowls directed at the GDP wannabes, joined them, until the whole class was clapping, showing their support for their teacher.
Tipp slowly got to his feet and stared at Sandburg. Then he said, in a voice heavy with threat, "they will get you for this, Sandburg. Come on, gang." He turned to storm out of the lecture hall but didn't hear anyone following. He turned and looked over his shoulder. "What are you waiting for? Let's go. I'm taking this to Officer Dexter. I need you to bear witness to this outrage." He smirked at Blair as the others got to their feet. The smug look vanished when they untied the leashes and threw them in the trash. When they sat down, they wouldn't meet his eyes and Ian knew he had lost. He practically ran from the room, his face scarlet with rage and embarrassment.
Robin Newman buried her head in her hands. Daryl's hands clenched in his jacket as everything that he had learned at school came crashing down.
Jim Ellison stood outside of the lecture hall, listening as his guide, his friend, used his mind and heart and that deep, guiding Voice to give a much-needed lesson to some small minded people. He winced as Blair described his bonding to a sentinel who "didn't even want a guide" and whispered, "That was before I knew you were the guide, Chief." He finally relaxed and smiled as he heard the clapping. His guide had won; it was a small victory but an important one.
The smile disappeared as Tipp came out of the lecture Hall. He moved toward the student, his long strides eating up the ground. He latched onto Tipp's arm and easily turned the kid around to face him. The student tried to pull free, ready to chew out whoever had grabbed him. He looked up into the face of a Dark Sentinel and felt himself go cold. The voice continued the freezing process.
"We are going to talk, Mister Tipp. Now"
Ian was frog marched into the GDP office, his toes barely scrapping on the floor. "Lieutenant Harris, now." Ian smirked as Ellison delivered that cold command. Once a real GDP officer got here, he'd be off the hook. That guide had better watch out. The thought was vindictive. The receptionist wasted no time in carrying out Ellison's order. This was an irate sentinel and that equated to a dangerous one.
"Sentinel Prime Ellison, how can I help you?"
"We need to talk, Lieutenant, about what this..." Tipp was shaken as if the sentinel were a terrier and he a rat... "individual and his friends have been up to."
"Come into my office, Sentinel."
Lieutenant Harris stepped back as the sentinel walked into his office and tossed the young man he "escorted" into a chair. Someone who didn't know better, unlike Harris, might think that he misjudged his strength as the chair, and the young man, nearly went over backward. Oh, this is not good. That kid is lucky he's still in one piece.
"What's going on, Sentinel?" He kept his voice level, trying to calm the irate detective down. Wishing the guide was there.
"The attack on my guide's office is the work of Mister Tipp here and his friends. It appears that they have decided that my guide is not welcome at Rainier."
Tipp looked to the GDP officer for support. What he saw was a cold face and eyes filled with disgust looking at him. "You have done what, Mister Tipp?"
"He's a guide. He shouldn't be here, he...." There was a whine in the student's voice.
"And you decided to do something about it." Harris turned to Jim. "I will have Tipp and the others suspended for now until we can investigate this situation. Please, Sentinel Ellison, give my apologies to Guide Sandburg for the trouble. These are not the sort of people we want for the GDP." Harris eyed Tipp coldly. "This WILL NOT happen again, I promise you that."
Ellison scanned the lieutenant with senses on alert. The officer was telling the truth. "I'll leave it in your hands, Lieutenant." He turned to leave. Harris' voice followed him.
"Thank you for showing such restraint in this matter, Sentinel Prime."
"This time, Lieutenant, this time."
The students filed out of the lecture hall until the only people remaining were Daryl Banks and Blair.
Daryl hesitated, unsure what to say. "Gui... Mr. Sandburg, can I talk to you?" Blair came over and took a seat one tier down. He looked up at the Captain's son.
"What do you want to talk about, Daryl?" He encouraged the boy.
"I was there when they did your car. I..." Tears were sliding down the boy's cheeks. "I never did anything like that before. I was mad. At Dad and you. Dad said he would let me speak to Sentinel Ellison but every time I was going to..." Daryl trailed off as he realized how pathetic he was going to sound to the grad student. "I never realized they used... that they hurt you. I thought... I learned..."
"You thought what they taught you to think. Just treat this as a learning experience." Blair smiled. "A rather steep learning curve but one all the same."
Daryl couldn't help but respond to the understanding and forgiveness he read in the grad student. "I am sorry, Mr. Sandburg."
"Let's make it Blair, Daryl. You're not one of my students."
"Blair, I really am sooo sorry."
Jim had been listening in to the conversation between his guide and Daryl Banks. He had heard enough to realize that the kid had been listening to his guide when he poured his heart out to his class. Jim turned as Simon Banks came up. "What brings you here, Simon?"
"Lieutenant Harris rang me and told me what was going down here. Sorry, Jim. I thought my talk might have done some good, made him think, but if he was party to what went on today... We are going to have words. He will treat Blair with respect, not as a second-class citizen."
Jim smiled suddenly. "I wouldn't worry too much about it, Simon. Daryl has just entered the Sandburg Zone. He'll never be the same again."
Jim broke off as Blair came out with Daryl in tow. The young boy looked up at his father. "Dad, there are some things I want you to know."
Banks dropped his hand on his son's shoulder. "I know, Son, and we will talk."
Jim was in Blessed Protector mode when he ushered his guide into the bullpen the next day. Rafe caught hold of H. as he started over to ask the guide a computer question that had been bugging him all morning.
"Ah... ah, H. Better wait. Blessed protector and mother hen."
Jim's head tilted and he turned towards them. A hand touched his arm and one word... "Jim"... called his attention back to his guide.
Rafe shook his head. "I feel sorry for Blair."
"For which particular reason, Rafe?"
"Can you imagine Jim Ellison fussing over you?"
H. made a dramatic shudder. "I don't want to go there, Rafe, that's the stuff of nightmares."
Banks bellowed into the bullpen. "Ellison, Sandburg. My office, now."
Commander Slater was in the office. Jim shook hands with the man and Blair nodded to him before they took seats. Slater started the ball rolling.
"I explained it to Simon, but I wanted to bring you both up to date personally. I interrogated Jack Wilde and he has been charged with the murder of Jerry Carver. A forensic check on the car he used to try to run down Blair found that the paint matches paint chips found on the coat Carver was wearing. He wouldn't give up any others but we've pulled in James Lamour. He's the guard that was with Wilde at Rainier when he harassed Sandburg at his office. Wilde had quite a lot to say. He claims there was nothing personal in the attacks. Wilde considers Sandburg to be a danger to the GDP order; a guide who didn't know his place in society, a rogue who was being given a chance to live an independent life."
Ellison reached over and squeezed Blair's arm. Slater ignored the by play.
"Wilde is old style GDP and be believes that Claydove is a radical who will destroy the organization. Wilde was the person who suggested Tipp make the phone calls and put up the poster in the dining hall. The whole group was in on that but only Tipp was involved in the photographs. I've called in the GDP IA and hope to catch a few more that bought Wilde's party line. In the meantime, I suggest that you watch your backs. In fact, it might be better if you could get out of town for a while until we have completed the investigation."
"Sandburg's been invited to go on an archaeological dig. Should have us out of town for two weeks. That should keep us out of the line of fire. How much trouble can we get into on a dig? Right, Chief?"
Slater heaved an actual sigh of relief. "That will be perfect. I'll keep you up to date on developments. Any questions?"
"The phone calls. How did he know where I was?" Blair asked. He thought he already knew the answer to that one and it made him nervous.
"He didn't. All he would say was that not everybody at Rainier agreed with the decision to let you into the doctoral program. We'll get them."
Simon stood in a clear signal that the briefing was over, at least for the sentinel and guide. Walking over to the door with them, he watched as Jim seated Blair behind the computer terminal. The he turned back to Slater.
Ellison stood by his desk and growled. "All right, everybody, listen up."
Rafe and H. exchanged long-suffering looks. Sandburg saw it and almost got the giggles. H. winked at him and then returned his attention to the sentinel.
"You've got half an hour to ask Sandburg any computer questions you've got and then we are out of here. Once he straightens you bozos out you might even want to buy us lunch." The grin on the sentinel's face was becoming much more familiar to his co-workers since Sandburg had showed up.
H. blew a beautiful raspberry. "Hey, Ellison, when you can straighten us out about computer questions, we'll buy you lunch. Until then, we buy Hairboy lunch. You can come along if you want." H. invited generously.
Blair was showing Rafe and H. a shortcut into the NCIC database when the phone rang.
Blair hesitated one moment and then a grin blossomed on his face and he scooped the receiver up. It was just a phone, that's all. The calls were over.
"Ellison's desk. Sandburg speaking."
Blair froze as he heard the whispered words. No! It was supposed to be over!
Rafe noticed the shakes begin and watched as Blair hit the record button. Fortunately, the technical team had not been around to collect the equipment.
"Why are you doing this to me? What have I ever done to you?" Blair demanded. Rafe was at his desk, waiting to see if they could get a trace. Ellison was standing behind the kid, both hands on his guide's shoulders and rage on his face.
"You draw breath, Sandburg, that's what you've done. What right has a freak like you to a place at the University?" The words were muffled as if the speaker was trying to disguise his voice. More choice epithets were poured into Sandburg's ear until the caller ran out of steam. Blair winced as the phone was slammed down on the other end of the line.
Rafe's face suddenly split into a grin. His voice was just above a whisper knowing the sentinel would get it. "We've got a trace. He slipped up."
Ellison passed it on. "Blair, we got a trace."
"Different voice, Jim."
"I know. But it's the same crime and we've got him. Come on, we're taking him down." There was a feral satisfaction in that voice that made more than one listener shiver.
Simon came out of his office, throwing on his coat. "I'm coming with you." He had visions of the Sentinel running the suspect over like a human tank.
The townhouse was a mile or so east of Rainier in an upscale development called Campus Heights. They pulled up and waited until H. called in with additional information. Simon listened and then asked.
"Okay, Sandburg, the house and phone, I presume, belong to William Steele. Does that ring any bells with you?"
"William Steele... no. Yes."
"Which one, Sandburg, no or yes?" Simon snapped.
"Y... yes. I mean I know who he is, I just never met him. Williams is another grad student working on a PhD in psychobiology. He wanted to do his dissertation on Dark Sentinels but was turned down because he didn't have a subject." His hand lightly stroked Jim's arm. The sentinel made a face.
"We're out here... All this has to do with a dissertation?" Simon almost yelled the word.
"Hey, man, the University is a jungle."
"And I though it was cucumber sandwiches and tea." Simon did sarcasm well. Sandburg grinned.
"Wish it was." Jim cut in, his voice bitter.
"Jim. Cool it, man. He's a student, not public enemy number one." The sentinel turned to look at his guide and realized that the empath was feeding off his emotions at that moment. From the look in his eyes, they weren't tasty.
"Then he shouldn't threaten my guide." It was stated with all the venom of a dark sentinel.
William Steele's face was a picture of confusion as he answered his door, only to find himself plastered against the wall. A hand caught the front of his sweater and he was lifted bodily off the floor until he was-to-face with the personification of rage. The man looming into his private space wore an ice-cold expression and seemed to be only a breath away from inflicting bodily harm on him. "You dare threaten my guide?" The words were hissed into his ear. Steele was grateful when he thrown at a uniformed policeman. The sentinel looked as if he could no longer trust himself not to make him a smear of the wall.
The grad student sat in the interrogation room, looking at the walls and wondering when he could make his one phone call. He jumped slightly when the door was opened; for a moment fearing it was the sentinel entering. The man had scared the hell out of him at the house. He had looked too in control. If that control broke... William was sure he would have been the next thing the sentinel broke. He relaxed slightly as two plainclothes policemen came in and introduced themselves. The smartly dressed guy was Detective Rafe; the black guy dressed in grundge, Detective Brown.
Steele listened as his rights where again explained to him. He tried to interrupt but the black guy continued to drone he warning until he was finished. Then the white guy spoke. "You got anything you want to say?"
"All right. I made a phone call to the station. I just wanted to give the guide a scare. You know what it's like to see everything that you have worked for thrown out the window and then they turn around and give it to a GUIDE? He's a nothing, shouldn't even be allowed to set foot on the University."
Rafe said mildly, "Seems to be that someone who had a BA and MA by the time they were 22 might deserve to be at University."
Steele waved that observation away. "Doesn't mean anything. He had to have lied and cheated the last time, that's the only explanation that makes sense and then they give him another chance." The student thought about what he'd just said and his eyes took on an unpleasant gleam. "Well, maybe, there is another explanation. Yeah... did you see those pictures? Maybe the "lying" he did wasn't on paper, maybe it was on his back."
H. shook his head slowly and did his best to keep his opinion of the man in front of him to himself. "Right now we've got you for malicious phone calls and slander. You want to tell me what else you've been up to?"
"Slander? What the hell do you mean slander?"
"Well, you just alleged that Mr. Sandburg gained his position at Rainier by carnal activities or unethical practices. Sounds like slander to me. What do you think, H.? Does that sound like slander to you?" Rafe said smoothly.
"Yeah, I'd say Mr. Sandburg has a case. We'd be terrific witnesses. Two detectives..."
William settled back in the chair. "I'm not worried. So what if I called it as I see it? I only said what a lot of people probably think and it's not like he can disprove it. I'd say the photos pretty much make my case. And, yeah, I did telephone the little freak. Have you seen him walking around the place as if he owned it? He's got his own office! It's all over the campus that Professor Higgins had the guts to throw him out of his class. Some of the professors are too kind hearted or maybe they like the way he looks." The last was said with a smirk before Steele continued. "But he'd better watch out because my dad's going to fix it."
"Your father is going to fix what?" Rafe was amazed that a supposedly bright student was so talkative.
"One of the professors spoke to my father, Anthony Steele." At the carefully blank look on both detectives' faces, he added boastfully, "he owns Steele Car Rentals. Anyway, this Prof told my dad that he's called a meeting of the Doctorate Committee. They're going to review the Sandburg situation and dad said it was a foregone conclusion that he'd be tossed."
"And what makes that a foregone conclusion?" Rafe asked quietly.
"Because if he isn't thrown out, then my father isn't going to make the sponsorship deal for the new library wing." Steele back in his chair, pleased with himself.
The young cop had to rein his emotions in. The kid was so smug, so sure that he was owed something. He didn't give a damn that this was Sandburg's academic career that he was jerking around with.
The sentinel had to leave the observation room. If he listened to one more word... he wouldn't be able to stop himself from putting a fist through the kid's face to wipe that know-it-all smirk from his face. He already knew that Steele would be unlikely to go to court. His father was big money and the Chancellor had already indicated that she didn't want the Steele situation to go any further. She might not have any say in prosecution of the GDP officer accused of murder although she made it clear that such affairs were only to be expected when you let a guide in as a TA. But she had expressed her belief that Sandburg wouldn't press charges against his fellow grad student over one little phone call. There was a clear message that he'd better not press charges. And Sandburg wouldn't. Ellison hated to think it but he knew the Steele kid would walk. He went back to his desk.
Blair was sitting in his chair, hugging a cup of cocoa.
"Jim, they checked his telephone records. This was the only call he made. The others were Tipp and his crew." Sentinel and Guide just looked at each other, communicating without words. They would get through this, just as they did everything else... together.
"Guide Sandburg... Blair?" The voice sounded lost and it pulled Blair back to the present. Daryl Banks stood in front of the desk. He saw the boy look to one side and flinch. Sandburg followed his gaze and shook his head warningly at his sentinel. Ellison was perched on the edge of the desk and his face showed that he had not forgiven or forgotten Daryl's role in the harassment yet.
"What you said in the lecture hall, about, they hurt you... was that true?" There was a plea for a qualifier in that question.
Blair caught his sentinel's sleeve before the older man could do anything he would regret later. He sensed the anger in the big man that anyone would call his guide a liar.
"It was all true, Daryl. They used a caustic wrap because I would not co-operate with their idea of 'recreational training'. It burned me and forced me to hold still while they did a lot of other things which were...well, not nice." The last few words spoke volumes. It was less the actual words than how they were said that made all the difference. That Daryl understood was clear in the way he looked away and swallowed painfully.
Blair could sense the boy wanted to say more but was intimidated by the sentinel and the setting.
"Jim, you think it would be all right if we chatted in Simon's office while he's gone?"
"Sure, just don't drink all the coffee. Okay?"
Jim watched them head towards the office. He had caught Blair looking around the bullpen and realized that the empath would want to take Daryl somewhere more private. He easily read the emotions and intent of his guide, his partner, his brother, hell... admit it, Ellison, your soul mate. There were times when he felt as if he were an empath himself, but more likely it was because Blair's face was an open book of emotions. Unlike him, Blair did not repress his feelings, they were worn on his sleeve. Jim sighed, he hadn't much cared to see some of the emotions on that expressive face lately. He wasn't doing such a good job of Blessed Protector recently and Blair had paid the price.
Sandburg had thought himself to be safe in the bullpen and at the University and had learned in the most brutal way that he thought wrong. Jim swore he would make sure that he could think that way again and be right. Whether the threat came from the GDP, the traditionalists or some smart alec kids, he would stop them. Blair would enjoy the freedom he had and no one was going to sour that. Jim's face hardened in anger. He picked up the phone and began to dial. When he was connected he said briefly. "It's Jim. We need to talk."
Story to be continued in Buried in the Past.
Jim's book "The Lost Tomb" by Kent Weeks is currently in print and available from Amazon.Com.Written by Susan Foster