In a Land of Shadow
By Gil Hale – email@example.com
Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.
Author’s Notes: This story was originally published in Sentry Duty 8.
Naomi Sandburg danced barefoot around the fire, and her long hair flamed in its light. She glowed with the knowledge that all the men watching her were stirred by the twisting of her body. The women who’d lived in these chalk Downs when the first white horse had been carved had danced in the same way. They’d let the invitation of their bodies give them power; she was sure of it.
She felt inspired by this impromptu festival of pulsing music and free love. Southern England had sounded staid and boring, but this site, offered by a young local farmer, had hosted one of the wildest concerts she’d ever attended. A couple of the other girls joined her in the dance, but they could not whirl with her uncontrolled sensuality. She glimpsed the dark look on Roddy’s face; he thought because she had traveled to Europe with him he should own her. Well, nobody owned her. She could choose who she wanted and she knew that anyone she chose would respond. The other girls knew that, too. The one who was nicknamed Star—perhaps because she was all spiky angles—was looking at her enviously. It added spice to her pleasure. She writhed seductively like the wisps of flame.
Later, when the moon rose, she slowed, stretched and dropped at the side of the man who’d been her lover every night she’d been here. He smiled at her as she curled beside him, and although she knew he was ensnared, there was a sort of remoteness in his green eyes that she still found a challenge. ‘Cat,’ they called him. Most of the people here didn’t seem to use their real names. She thought that in some cases it was because they came from rather pampered wealthy backgrounds, to which they’d probably return after this summer’s fling, but that wasn’t true of Cat. Even Naomi, unattuned to English accents, could tell that his belonged to the working class north.
Cat had just shrugged when she asked him why he used the name. Most people seemed to think it was a tribute to Cat Stevens, but Pammy said it was probably a nickname other people had given him, because he had that separate, slightly self-contained air of the cat who walked by himself. Naomi thought Pammy stodgy and unimaginative in general, but she agreed with her on this. It suited him. She smiled to think that, for her, he would roll over and purr.
She leaned against him now, possessive, and enjoyed the feeling of her power. Pammy and Star glanced at them wistfully; Roddy with annoyance. It amused her that he was jealous. Cat didn’t like Roddy, either. The first night he’d joined their group, she’d worried about it, because Roddy was hulking by comparison, but there was a lithe strength in Cat and a confidence in the way he moved, and Roddy had let it go.
The music had stopped now, except for the strumming of a few guitars around the site. Most people were smoking joints, and the still air was a bit hazy, scented. She didn’t want to be stoned tonight, though. She turned her face up to Cat and ran her hand lazily inside his unbuttoned shirt. She was expecting him to respond and kiss her, but for a moment he hardly seemed to notice. His face was quite different, almost hard. He was watching Roddy, she realized—and Roddy was heading into the back of his tent, where he kept the stuff she didn’t ask about, stuff which gaunt and nervous people came to buy. There was a young man waiting there now. He was thin and dirty and moving with restless unease. The ugly word ‘addict’ drifted into her mind, and she pushed it away. Roddy didn’t tell her anything, and she never asked.
Much better to think of beautiful things. She and Cat were beautiful. She used her hands expertly to regain his full attention, and when she looked up from the kiss, the young man in Roddy’s tent was gone. People lay on their backs looking up at the stars. The fire burned low. Someone pushed a rolled joint into Star’s hands, laughing when she looked uncertain. She would have smoked it, Naomi thought, but Cat leaned over to pick up his guitar and called her and Naomi to sing while he played. Their soft music continued until the fire ebbed.
She had no idea what time she and Cat finally slid into his small tent, but it felt as though she’d hardly slept when he woke her. The light outside was pale with the colorlessness of early morning. Cat, was unshaven and disheveled, his face a pale blur over shadowy stubble. She ran her fingers from his tangled long curls to the thin silver chain which was all he wore above his jeans.
“Why are you so wide awake?”
“I want you to go and cut me some willow,” he said. “They say there should be three girls to do it, so take Pammy and Star with you. Go down to the stream, and when the sun comes up high enough to fall on the branches, cut an armful each. Can you wake them and do that?”
“Of course,” Naomi said, instantly enthralled. “What ritual is it? Something that’s special to this place? I know about the properties of willow. I learned to weave it once.”
Cat handed her a Swiss army knife, which seemed rather mundane for cutting willow at dawn.
“You’d better hurry,” he said. “Get down there before sunrise.”
“Aren’t you going to tell me any more?”
“This wouldn’t work if I told you beforehand.”
She took this tantalizing hint of mystery with her, and went barefoot out onto the short grass. Pammy and Star were easily persuaded to join her, as enchanted as she was by the suggestion of some Iron Age rite—and also by Cat showing an interest in them. Almost everyone else on the site was asleep, in tents or simply rolled in sleeping bags by the ashes of the fire.
It was a long walk down to the stream, but an easy one following the chalk paths or walking on grass the sheep had cropped. Naomi watched a small blue butterfly hover. She liked this place. Perhaps when the festival was over she would break away from Roddy completely and persuade Cat to stay here a while with her.
They dipped their feet in the brown shallows of the stream, and waited until the rising sun lit the willows before they cut the trailing strands. Naomi dropped the knife into the deep pocket of her trailing skirt, and gathered up an armful of branches. They’d been here quite a long time already, and it would be uphill going back, and hotter.
They left the belt of undergrowth by the stream and started up the open slope. For a little while, all they could see was the round of the hillside, then they were high enough to glimpse the camp site—and the peaceful morning shattered into panic and dismay.
Star dropped her bundle of branches. “Oh, no. Oh, God. Pammy, what are we going to do?”
Naomi wouldn’t have wailed like that, but she, too, was shocked into immobility. The festival site which they had left silent and asleep was now as busy as a stirred ant heap, and all around the perimeter of it were what seemed ridiculous numbers of uniformed police.
“Pigs,” she said, finding her voice.
“It’s because of the drugs,” Star said. “What are we going to do? Our bags and clothes and everything are there. Naomi, your passport’s there.”
“Pick up your branches,” Pammy told her. “They’re not going to arrest everyone. They don’t know who we are—or who we were with. We’ll say we came last night, and just slept in the open. Lots of people were doing that. Roddy and his lot won’t drop you in it, will they, Naomi?”
“No.” But if she’d been there, in Roddy’s tent… if she hadn’t gone with Cat, or if Cat hadn’t sent them off on this early morning quest…
“Cat was still there,” Star said. “I wish he’d come with us.”
“He’s not into drugs,” Pammy said.
“They plant it on people,” Naomi said. “They’ll look at him and their closed-up minds will say user, and they won’t care. They’ll arrest him and make up the evidence. They’re just robots.”
They went on walking slowly up the hill. A young constable stopped them at the edge of the site, heard their story and told them to stay where they were. Soon though, they managed to edge around a little so they could see their friends.
“They’ve got Roddy,” Star whispered. “And those people who used to come to him.”
The activity was thickest here, the noise—official or panicked—loudest. They had most of the people who’d been in her small group, Naomi realized. Roddy looked angry and frightened, and the box he kept at the back of the tent was being pulled out into the open.
“They haven’t got Cat,” Pammy said, and there was an odd note in her voice.
Naomi had already seen that Cat didn’t seem to be under arrest. Now she realized there was more to it than that. Cat was still disreputably untidy in skintight jeans and a torn T-shirt, but he wasn’t standing with the queue of people waiting to be told they could go; he was in the middle of the action and he looked… different. Where everyone else seemed nervous, he was confident. Authoritative, even. As she watched, she saw him give an order to one of the uniformed police.
“I don’t understand,” Star said plaintively, and Naomi wanted to smack her.
Because she understood, and with her understanding came a rising tide of anger and disillusion, almost choking her as she watched him. Cat—no wonder he’d wanted some stupid nickname—had lied. He’d lied not just with words, but with everything he was. He was one of the hated, fascist, freedom-crushing police and he hadn’t stayed with their group because he found her so attractive, he’d stayed to bust them. Her face burned hot with humiliation and anger. She heard the abuse Roddy was shouting at him as he was taken away. Several of the others she’d traveled to Europe with looked as if they’d been arrested, too. She hadn’t liked them enough to feel any deep concern for them, but she was beginning to feel horribly alone.
“He made sure we were out of it,” Pammy said, also watching Cat, but sounding almost grateful.
Naomi thought how easily she’d been sent off, like some naive schoolgirl. “How could he? He lied to me, over and over again. Everything he said was a lie. He was planning this from the start.”
“He must be undercover; drug squad or something,” Pammy said. “He was very good.”
“I hate him,” Naomi said fervently.
“We could have been sent to prison.” Tears had started to run down Star’s face, blotching her cheeks. She held tight to Pammy’s arm. “If he hadn’t sent us to the river, we’d have been with them.”
It seemed that almost all of the group they had been with were being escorted away by the police, for cannabis possession, if nothing more. Cat walked over to the girls and there was a set look to his face that made Naomi even more angry, because she could see he was satisfied with what he’d done. Before she could find the words to tell him how she hated and despised him, Star started to howl more loudly and hurled herself into his arms.
“We didn’t know,” she wailed. “We didn’t think.”
“Shh, I know,” he said, rubbing her back. “It’s all right. You only have to give your name at the gate, then you can go. Go with Pammy. Have you got enough money to get home?”
“I have,” Pammy said quickly. “Come on, Star. We’ll get a train together.”
He gave Star a final pat. “Take up that college place. This is over.”
“You patronizing, arrogant bastard,” Naomi said.
“Thanks,” Pammy said, ignoring her. “I’ll see she gets home okay.”
Naomi let them go. She had no intention of moving until she’d finished what she wanted to say. “You really get off on this cop thing, don’t you? Look at you, Mr. Fascist Pig, telling people how to run their lives. That’s what you really enjoy, isn’t it? I suppose I was just a bonus.”
“You’d better go,” Cat said. “I don’t suppose you want to know it, but a girl younger than you died of an overdose at the last place where your friend stopped to peddle his ‘stuff’. Maybe you could stop thinking about yourself long enough to consider that.”
“Why should I believe you? Everything else you’ve said has been lies. You just used me to get at my friends.”
“Your friends make money out of people’s suffering. Anyway, I don’t think you were the only one ‘used’. I was supposed to be another trophy, wasn’t I? Another man who found you irresistible until you decided to move on. That’s what really annoys you.”
Naomi slapped him across the face with all the force she could manage. A couple of the uniformed police started towards them, but Cat—or whoever he really was—waved them away. For a moment, she thought of continuing until they had to arrest her, but, treacherously, her mind tossed up the image of the gaunt young man outside Roddy’s tent. She saw the red traces of her handprint appear like a stain on Cat’s face. It was ugly. Everything was ugly now, all the beauty of the night before trampled into the mud by police boots. Suddenly, all she wanted to do was leave it behind. She turned abruptly and walked away.
Two weeks later, she met Timothy Leary. One of the things about her that caught his attention was her outspoken conviction of the hypocrisy of the English police.
Eight years later, when she and seven-year-old Blair were packing to move from a shared house to a commune, she sorted through a bundle of old clothes. In the deep pocket of a cheesecloth skirt, she found a Swiss army knife, and wondered where on earth it could have come from.
“Cool,” Blair said, holding out his hand for it. “Look. It’s a real one. It’s got two blades and lots of other bits. Only one boy in my class has got one as good as this. Can I keep it?”
“Be careful with it, sweetie,” she said automatically. She wasn’t sure she liked to see him looking so like a typical little boy, intent on the blades. “Promise me you will never ever use it to cut into a tree?”
“And that you’ll remember how much harm a knife can do.”
“Promise,” Blair said. “Look—I can use it to clean that thing I found that might be an arrowhead.”
He was already disappointed at having to move away from his friends, but she just couldn’t settle in one place. Even for Blair, it was too much to feel tied down. Perhaps this would help.
“All right, sweetie,” she said, and he looked up and smiled, then returned to his absorption with the knife.
Briefly she watched him as he sat there, his tumble of curls almost hiding his intent little face, his bitten nails struggling to extract another tool, and the sight vaguely bothered her. There was something… but she couldn’t pin it down. It must have been something she had let go of long ago, she decided, and went back to her packing.
Blair paused at the door and looked back across the loft. Jim was a silhouette, his back turned, and it was no easier to read his mood than that of any of the concrete silhouettes that stood out against Cascade’s grey sky. Maybe it was worth one more attempt at explaining.
“I’m just saying, it’s a bit like getting married on the rebound.” Damn. That hadn’t come out right, and it certainly didn’t seem to be communicating to Jim. “I mean, the diss is gone, Rainier’s kind of done with…” If he couldn’t get these sentences out without his voice wobbling, Jim was going to be slamming mental doors shut too fast to take in a word. “It’s like when years of a relationship go down the drain. It’s so empty, the next girl who comes along, you grab at. It would be too easy to do that with Simon’s offer, just because it’s there.”
Jim didn’t answer for a long time. He was looking intently at the glass doors to the balcony, maybe seeing beyond the eagle’s view, maybe focused in on some tiny speck close by. Blair didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he knew anything much anymore.
Naomi had gone, hoping that everything could be sweetness and light again, meltdown assuaged by some burning of sage and her own karmic sacrifice in accepting that her son could become a police officer. The dissertation was finished—in every sense—and what dreams he’d once associated with it were turned to nightmares. Regular, frequent nightmares, that left him shaking and sweating from visions of Megan, Simon, Jim all dead. People were acting on his behalf at Rainier, appalled by the unprofessional behavior of the chancellor, but he had no personal stomach for the fight.
“What about those years at the PD?”
He jumped as Jim finally broke his silence. “What?”
“Those aren’t down the drain.”
“Have you seen how everyone outside Major Crimes looks at me? Even a few inside, come to that. And I’d be in the department—if I ever did get there—only on Simon’s sufferance. What if he ever moved on? Or was injured again? You know what it was like when I was an observer and we had a sub. Becoming a cop means I’d have even less leeway if anyone chose to break up our partnership.”
“You still want it, then?” Jim’s voice sounded remote to him, even cold. “The partnership?”
“Do you?” Blair asked. The sense that he was losing everything was rising up to choke him again. He needed the answer to come fast. When it didn’t, he turned and went quietly out of the loft, leaving silence behind him.
Jim had been struggling to find the right words, the ones which would actually convince Blair he meant it when he told Blair he was the best partner—and friend—anyone could want. He only realized he’d run out of time when the door swung shut.
“Sandburg!” he called, but it had already closed and he cut off his instinctive move to go and open it and shout after Blair. Instinct wasn’t working for him. On the balcony, the tiny spider he’d been watching made another perfect link to its web. That was how instinct should be.
Building, not destroying. He didn’t want to press Blair; he didn’t want to map his future out for him—Jim blamed himself too much for his share in wrecking the present. But as he limped to the couch and sat down stiffly, he wondered if, instead of showing he supported whatever decision Blair made, he was just giving the impression he didn’t care.
Sitting down brought no respite. It wasn’t his leg that was the problem; sure, that ached, but it was a simple physical hurt. He could handle the pain, and knew it would heal. He’d have settled for any amount of physical pain compared to the aching sense of unease that filled him and the loft and clouded every thought of what he and Blair were going to do.
Blair went down the stairs without seeing anything he passed, and was in his car and a block from the loft before he began to think again. They couldn’t go on like this, making choices they didn’t want because they both felt guilty.
Although it wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to be a cop as that he just didn’t see how it would work for him. He was—had been—a part of Major Crimes in his own way. He’d used his own skills, and he’d worked with Jim, and for a while it had been a cop-of-the-year success story. It was never going to be like that again, and becoming a cop wouldn’t solve it.
But what else could he do? Leave? It wasn’t impossible. Jim was a long way from the tormented man he’d first met. He could control his senses most of the time, and if he only used them a little, well, he’d been a good cop before he ever had them.
It was a bleak thought, though, that if he did leave, it would only be to get away from this situation, not to do something he cared about doing. He couldn’t, right now, think of anything that came into that category. He could go on retreat, but the last thing he needed was time to think. Professor Stoddard, quietly supportive, had indicated he could find Blair a place on an expedition, but even that woke no enthusiasm in him. The only thing he wanted was his life back: Jim, the PD, Rainier all at once. He’d found his grail, and he’d not been worthy, and now that he’d lost it, everything else was ashes.
He didn’t care where he was going, simply driving by habit; the other cars that passed could have been carrying naked girls on the roof and it wouldn’t have caught his attention. The fact that someone had pulled out after him when he left the loft, and had been following him since, had completely escaped his notice. When his cell phone rang, he certainly didn’t associate the caller with the driver in the car behind him.
He hesitated a moment before answering it. Number restricted… and most of the things people seemed to want to say to him these days were better left to voice mail and then deleted. But it could be personal, maybe Naomi wanting to hear he and Jim were ‘good’, or Jim himself…
The voice that addressed him was polite and British and completely unknown to him. “Mr. Sandburg? I wonder if you could spare me a few minutes of your time?”
“All of them, if you like. There certainly aren’t many demands on me at the moment.” It came out more bitterly than he had intended. “Sorry,” he went on hastily. “But I do have plenty of free time. How can I help you?”
“In fact, Mr. Sandburg, I hope we may be able to help each other. As you have indirectly touched on the subject, I trust you won’t mind my commenting on the fact that I am aware of the… recent difficulties… you’ve been having with your research. It has given me the confidence to approach you for your advice on a patient I believe you might be able to help me treat. Her name is Alex Barnes.”
Blair swerved, recovered himself, and tried to sound normal. “You want me to help you with Alex Barnes?” His voice came out too high, and his hand clenched on the case of the phone.
“Forgive me if I introduced the subject with too little warning. My name is Dr. Wilson, and I am responsible for some specialist help Miss Barnes is currently receiving in the United Kingdom. Obviously, this is a complex matter to discuss over the phone; suffice it to say that my efforts to understand her problems have made me aware of your research. Unfortunately, they also made me aware of your, shall we say, difficult history with her.”
“That’s one hell of an understatement.”
“I appreciate your feelings, Mr. Sandburg, and I might have hesitated to approach you, even though I feel she no longer poses a threat to anybody. However, I feel I can now suggest a way in which this contact could also be beneficial to you in your current circumstances. I have read enough of your very scholarly research to understand the Sentinel concept, and to see how it might be applied to Miss Barnes. It seemed to me it might be useful at the present time for you to have a different Sentinel from Detective Ellison…”
“Detective Ellison is not a Sentinel. That work was an experiment in ideas, published prematurely in error.”
“Exactly. However, there is no problem with acknowledging Miss Barnes as a Sentinel, and I believe you have already done some research with her. Would you be prepared to meet me for a couple of hours to discuss a short visit to the UK—funded by us, of course— to give me your impression of the progress she is making, and perhaps advise on her treatment?”
Blair knew that whatever else he did, he’d better stop driving soon. He was going to run into someone if these surprises kept coming at him. Besides, he needed to think. Already, spinning treacherously promising patterns in his mind, were sudden thoughts of how much of his thesis could be adapted to Alex, and how much of her history he already knew.
“When would you like to meet?” he asked.
“Could you make it early this afternoon, at the Portsmouth Hotel?”
Blair knew it; it was a popular choice with UK visitors. “At 2:00?” he suggested. That would give him just over an hour to think this through.
“That would be excellent, Mr. Sandburg. I’ll look forward to seeing you.”
Still unnoticed by Blair, the car that had been following him turned off. Blair pulled over when he saw a coffee shop, bought himself a latte and drank it slowly while he struggled with a jumble of thoughts and hopes and fears.
Top of the list, was the question of whether this could pose any further threat to Jim. Even the word ‘Sentinel’ was sounding warning bells at the moment. But Dr. Wilson had shown no interest in Jim at all. He’d read Blair’s research, he said, but that must mean published papers, none of which dealt with Jim. He knew about the history with Alex—though how much, he hadn’t said—but that probably was to be expected if he was treating her. He had to know about her meltdown, and some of the situation around it. Blair couldn’t see how any of this could endanger Jim’s privacy or his career. But could it—possibly—be a step towards retrieving Blair’s?
Now that there was a trace of a hope, he allowed himself to acknowledge the longing he still felt for his academic life. There were people who would back him all the way at Rainier. Professor Stoddard was only waiting for his word to set all sorts of procedures in motion, but Blair hadn’t seen the point of fighting, however good a case they had against the Chancellor. What could it do but make more trouble? Now if he decided there was a chance of rescuing something, he knew Eli would be delighted finally to have the chance to act. There was no doubt Rainier had broken any number of professional codes. And Sid—Sid had published something he had no right to, and judging by his last call to Naomi before she left, was panicking about it now. He owed Blair and he knew it.
Blair could already see how it could go. It would hardly even need anything that could be called obfuscation. They could say Alex Barnes was, and had always been, the Sentinel. Blair’s so-called thesis was a piece of fiction writing exploring how her attributes, which had been used for crime, might have worked on the other side of the law. His other work with the PD had prompted him to write an imaginary piece about how an effective policeman like Ellison might have achieved even more with heightened senses. A whole complex story began to fall into place in his mind.
It could work, he was almost sure of it. It would even explain why he’d used Jim.
At the thought of Jim, his ideas jumped the track and derailed.
Jim—would not like this. Well, in the interest of accuracy, he would hate this explosively. In fact, he was quite likely to handcuff Blair to the loft stairs rather than let him go anywhere near Alex Barnes.
If Blair told him.
He glanced at his watch. Whatever else he did, he’d promised to go to meet Dr. Wilson. He needed to set off now if he was to get to the Portsmouth Hotel in time.
Jim walked stiffly across the campus at Rainier waving his thanks to Rafe for the lift. He ignored the people around him and headed purposefully for the block containing Dr. Stoddard’s office. He knew roughly where it was, and the man’s reaction to his hasty phone call had been warmly positive. Blair did still have friends. Better ones than Jim had been… He caught sight of the fountain and flinched. Why was it when they both messed up, it always worked out so much more painfully for Blair?
Jim had never met the elderly professor, but he felt as if he had known him for some time as he was welcomed into the room. Somehow, he’d picked up a sense of the man from Blair, and he wasn’t disappointed. A handshake, a couple of words, and he knew he had a wise ally who valued Blair enormously.
“I suspect, Detective, you’ve gained a rather negative impression of how much Blair’s qualities are recognized here at Rainier?”
“Rainier… let him down badly,” Jim said. Screwed him over had been the words that came to mind, but he felt an instinctive respect for the professor that made him less blunt.
Stoddard nodded. “And some of Blair’s colleagues, myself included, are ready to use the rather cumbersome machinery of the university statutes to make this point. Chancellor Edwards is an administrator. Academic excellence is irrelevant to her unless it brings in hard cash. However, she’s exceeded all her powers in this case. I suspect she does not realize that Blair has friends—those here, she sees as old fuddy-duddies without the force to get things done. As for the PD…”
Jim frowned at the slight note of reproach. “My captain has represented very strongly to Chancellor Edwards the value of the advice Blair has been giving at Major Crimes. There are several cases where he provided the key contribution.”
The professor looked at him thoughtfully. “And you, Detective?”
Jim wondered what he wanted. “Blair didn’t want me to talk to Edwards,” he said briefly. Blair had thought, very emphatically, that it would only make matters worse. If Jim didn’t admit he was a Sentinel, what could he say that Simon hadn’t already said? If he did admit it, Edwards’ unscrupulousness would probably know no bounds, and they would be in a worse situation than ever.
Stoddard seemed to guess his line of thought. “I think she should remain Rainier’s problem,” he agreed. “We old academics have let things go on for too long. Like Tolkien’s ents, we’ve tended our own areas and rather neglected the bigger picture; now perhaps, like the ents, it’s time for one last march.”
Jim blinked at the mental picture of elderly academics with twig-like fingers and mossy beards demolishing Chancellor Edwards’ seat of power, but he was all for the principle of it.
“All we want,” Stoddard added, “is for Blair to agree that we should go ahead.”
“Do you need that?”
“Technically, of course not. Personally, yes.”
Jim nodded. This distinguished, elderly man accorded Blair the respect of an equal. It made Jim realize even more how much of his life Blair would be losing if he could never continue as an anthropologist. “What do you think you can achieve for him?”
Professor Stoddard said slowly, “I think we’ll wait to assess that until we know what Blair actually wants.”
Dr. Wilson seemed a pleasant, intelligent man. He met Blair in the foyer and took him along to his room, where he had a pile of journals and printouts of papers that Blair recognized.
“I’m beginning with Ms. Barnes’ original problem, before her episode in Peru,” Dr. Wilson told him, after the usual introductions. “I believe her present symptoms must be taken in the complete context, though at the moment we find it impossible to tell exactly what she is perceiving. Some of the notes we received with her were rather inadequate, but I gather you saw her enough before her ‘crash’ to feel certain she was a Sentinel—we might as well use that term.”
“That’s right.” Blair began to detail his contacts with her, and found it oddly cathartic to put them into strictly academic terms. He found he had a well-informed listener, interested in what he had to say about her heightened senses, and her potential control of them. Dr. Wilson picked up on his feelings about the negative use of them.
“You seem surprised that she would have this criminal bent? I would have thought sensitive touch, for instance, would have been a natural asset in safe-breaking or lock-picking, though I admit that my limited knowledge of crime is mainly based on fiction.”
Blair felt it was a good opportunity to try out the story that had come to him over his lunch time coffee. “I was surprised. My studies suggest that a Sentinel would be working for the good of the community—the tribe, originally—and be more like a sort of guardian or watchman. That’s why I thought it would be interesting—as a work of fiction—to use some of my notes and studies and apply them to things I’ve seen in my time at the PD; what would someone with Alex’s abilities be like as a cop, sort of thing. Only as you’ve probably seen, there have been a series of misunderstandings about it which we’re still trying to set right.”
“I saw your press conference,” Dr. Wilson admitted. “I’d just arrived in Cascade then—I have a private patient to pick up and take back to my clinic in England.”
“The press conference was the only way I had of getting the media off Detective Ellison’s back long enough for him to do his job. The real story was more complicated.”
“Of course,” Dr. Wilson agreed. “I hope you’re soon able to sort out the remaining problems. Perhaps being able to follow up your work with Miss Barnes might be useful? It would help you to make clear exactly whom your research is about. And we would be very grateful if you could suggest any therapy for her—perhaps even some way of helping her to recover her abilities.”
Blair braced himself not to shudder at the thought. For all his instinctive recoil, he was becoming convinced that Alex might be the key to recovering something from the dissertation debacle. After all, what were his feelings except a fear-based reaction? He could analyze them and put them to one side. Alex was harmless now. And supervised all the time, from what Dr. Wilson said. And a long, long way from Jim’s territory.
Besides, even when he’d had most reason to hate her, he hadn’t been able to avoid a pang of regret at her self-destruction. She’d wasted her gifts, and finally lost not just them, but everything. Although he’d been relieved to see her neutralized, a creeping sense of pity had bothered him almost as soon as her inert body had been removed.
“I think she probably could be helped,” he said. “There are tests that could be tried. She might be in some kind of really deep zone… You say you’ve found no visible neural damage, so she could be having a psychological reaction to a total overload. It’s hard to tell without seeing her.”
“I’d be thrilled if you could come and see her,” Dr. Wilson said. “I was afraid you’d be convinced she was an impossible case.”
“I’d never jump to that conclusion. I have quite a lot of experience with people who’ve suffered trauma from heightened senses. I can think of a whole range of potentially reversible causes we ought to consider.”
“It sounds as though you’re the man we want.”
There was a decisiveness in Dr. Wilson’s voice that made Blair hesitate. “Of course, there’d be things to sort out here before I could make a trip.”
“I imagine you let Detective Ellison know about this as soon as I called you?”
“Well, no. Like you said, we have a history with Alex Barnes. It’s rather a sore subject. I think I’ll need to approach it tactfully.”
“And there I was assuming you’d have been letting all your colleagues know,” Dr. Wilson said lightly.
“I didn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes,” Blair said. As a matter of fact, he’d left a very brief message for Eli Stoddard, but only to the effect that he was going to see a man about a research opportunity that might help him rescue parts of his thesis. “I thought I’d make sure this would work before I told anyone,” he explained to Dr. Wilson.
“Very sensible. Well, I’ve one more thing I’d like to show you, if you have time. That’s the results of the last series of tests we did on Alex. Unfortunately, they’re in my briefcase which is still in our vehicle outside—I hired a small van which could serve as a sort of private ambulance—as I said, we are planning to take a patient back to the UK. If you don’t mind walking out to it with me, I could give you a copy.”
The van was parked at the very end of the hotel parking lot. Blair followed the doctor, and was surprised to see another man there, just coming out of the rear doors. There was a wheelchair inside, but little other equipment.
“Climb in,” Dr. Wilson said.
His voice was somehow less pleasant, more cold and efficient. Blair felt an abrupt stirring of alarm. Both men were right behind him now. He tried to turn, but his arms were immediately gripped, and before he could shout out something stung his neck and the numbness which instantly followed made his half-formed cry come out softened and garbled. His legs buckled under him, and he was only distantly aware of being heaved up into the van. The doors slammed, and he was dropped into the wheelchair. His head flopped to one side. Wilson and the other man were talking, but he heard their voices from too far away to trouble to make sense of them.
“We’ll have to leave within the hour to check in for our flight. The bookings are all correct. Get his keys and go and move his car. You noted where he parked? Just take it out of the hotel parking lot; you don’t need to go far. I’ll fix his appearance.”
“What needs fixing? We used stills of him for the passport.”
“I know. I just don’t want him to look too obviously like himself when he passes the security cameras at the airport.”
Something happened to Blair’s hair, he felt his arms being lifted and flopping back and a warm cover was put around or on him, but it was too much effort to pay attention to it all. Straps held him vaguely upright, and he made a garbled noise of protest as one went rather uncomfortably around his neck.
A hand patted his cheek. “You’re drooling very nicely. I don’t think anyone’s going to want to enquire too closely into the poor handicapped boy our charity is taking to England. You’re going to be very useful to me, Mr. Sandburg. Let’s go and see what sort of Sentinel can be made of Alex Barnes.”
Even through the haze, Blair couldn’t help reacting to this. He heard a laugh, then his arm was lifted.
“Don’t worry; by the time you meet her, you’ll be much better adjusted. Now we’d better make sure you seem a happy little imbecile before we catch our plane.”
There was another brief sharp pain in the crook of Blair’s arm, and then he lost track of events altogether.
Ray Doyle stood on a cliff edge and looked down at the waves. Two weeks he’d been walking along the south west coastal path; two weeks in which he’d gradually walked off some of his anger and bitterness, and found that once they were gone he was empty; there was nothing left. The drop here was dizzying, the high tide a violent froth at the cliff’s foot. He’d been surprised a few times on this path at how close you walked to oblivion; he was much more surprised at how little it tempted him.
Now that he was suspended from the task force, he really had nothing. He’d thought that a long time ago, had believed the fierce accusation in a grieving woman’s voice, but now he realized that in some ways then he’d been rich. He could really see nothing at all in the future now. The battles he’d been fighting all his life against the drug dealers and predators of the criminal world were no closer to being won, and, anyway, he’d been thrown out of the fight. He couldn’t think of anyone who would grieve for long if he took two or three steps forward and over the drop, and wasn’t even sure himself how much of a loss he’d be. He was old by the standards of the career he’d followed. Even in the specialist capacity he’d been in recently, the job could not have gone on indefinitely. He had neither family nor anyone he’d allowed close enough to be a real friend.
But he knew he’d go on. “Don’t let them beat you.” A voice from the past, when someone had thought him worth willing back to life. He’d fought this battle a long time ago, and though sometimes he wasn’t sure if he’d won or lost it, he knew now he would always choose to live. The emptiness was there, but he could endure it while he walked, tramping for so long each day that sleep came easily at night. He turned away from the drop.
“Blair? Mr. Sandburg?”
The quiet voice barely penetrated the fuzzy layers of sleep in his mind, but he was aware of a vague mental assent. Blair Sandburg. He could not think beyond it, but he knew that was who he was.
“Can you open your eyes for me, Blair?”
It seemed like a lot of effort, but he did. He was lying in quite a comfortable, rather sterile room, with a man in a suit looking down at him. The sight didn’t seem worth staying awake for. He went back to sleep.
The next time he awoke, which might, for all he knew, have been quite a lot later, he managed a tentative curiosity. “Accident?”
“The accident was a long time ago. You’re not in any pain, are you?”
Did he remember pain? Or discomfort? Or fear? He wasn’t sure. Nothing was hurting now, anyway. He drifted off again.
Gradually, fuzzy awakenings became the pattern of his days. He seemed to remember waking up a long time ago, and calling out for someone, but as he woke for longer and the doctors talked to him more, he began to accept that he’d been dreaming. He retreated into sleep as much as he could; the dreams seemed more appealing than the reality. But slowly, inexorably, he had to return to the waking world.
It was a long time since Jim’s world had been such a cold and isolated place. In the first few days after Blair’s disappearance, he had been frustrated, then angry, but finally beaten down by the fact that everyone else seemed to think it was not surprising at all that Blair should have simply… gone. No one saw it then as a reason to suspect a crime or a disastrous accident; a depressing number found it more than understandable he might want some time well away from Jim.
Even Simon, still on sick leave at the time, had said, “Give the kid some space, Jim. He’s got a hell of a lot to sort through. You weren’t easy on him, and he was a lot harder on himself. Add that to a whole lot of flak from here, school and the media, and who could blame him for wanting to get away?”
“He would have said where he was going.”
“You said he left a message for Professor Stoddard telling him to go ahead with the appeals at Rainier, and that he had an idea for rescuing his thesis. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s desperate; more like someone who’s gone to follow up whatever it was he’d thought of. He didn’t explain any further?”
“It was just a quick message.”
“And what does Stoddard think?”
Jim shrugged reluctantly. “More or less what you do. He’s expecting Blair to get in touch any day, and meanwhile he’s gone ahead with the politicking.”
“Well, let’s wait ’til Stoddard’s worried before we do anything drastic. I could get a discreet search put on the car, but I don’t want to risk causing Sandburg trouble.”
“That’s why I haven’t done it yet,” Jim agreed. “He’s been hounded enough.”
At the time, he had begun to wonder if Blair simply did need some space. The arguments he put up against it weren’t that convincing. Blair wouldn’t have left him while Jim was still healing, would he? But Jim had been ungrateful enough for any help Blair had offered, brushing it off as unnecessary. Blair wouldn’t have done anything to rock their partnership further, would he? But in the last moments he’d seen Blair, he’d failed to tell him in time how much that partnership mattered.
And so Jim hadn’t done anything in those vital first days—and now, now it was nearly two months, and there was still no hint of where Blair had gone or where he might be. The car had turned up, parked without problem on a side street in the area from where Blair’s last phone call had been made. His backpack was in it; Jim couldn’t imagine him ever walking away and leaving it. Things were moving on slowly at Rainier, but no one there had heard any more than Jim. Naomi, reached with enormous difficulty in Tibet, thought Blair had probably gone somewhere to meditate and process as she had done, and that he would come back once he had found peace. Jim just didn’t buy into that—Blair would know after this length of time that Jim, and others, would be seriously worried, and he would have sent a message even if it didn’t say where he was.
Back at work, on desk duty, Jim stayed for long hours in the bullpen. He hated returning to the loft, but he didn’t feel like accepting the dinner invitations his concerned colleagues were starting to offer. He called Eli Stoddard often, and began to feel a real gratitude for the older man’s unfailing sympathy and understanding. Eli and Jack Kelso had formed an unlikely but very effective combination at Rainier to work for Blair’s interests there, but neither of them, with all their contacts in different areas, had any more success than Jim in tracing Blair.
Then late one afternoon, on the forty-ninth day since he’d last seen Blair—he couldn’t stop the mental clock running—Jim got a call from the professor.
“Detective Ellison? I’m sorry to bother you at work. Jack Kelso has just been in contact, and although he was somewhat enigmatic, I gather he thinks he may finally have something worth following up about Blair. He wants to introduce us to a visitor of his, so I suggested they both come to dinner—can you make it?”
“I’ll be there,” Jim said. He would have canceled anything but urgent police work, anyway, and he had none of that. He confirmed a time, and decided to stay at the station until he went. The emptiness of the loft would have made waiting even harder.
He arrived at Eli Stoddard’s apartment slightly early, and found Jack Kelso was accompanied by a dark-haired man, older than Jim, with hard eyes and an expression that gave nothing away. Over a beer, he discovered that this was a British Intelligence officer. “Bodie,” Kelso introduced him—no further name, no invitation at all to familiarity. Bodie simply nodded to Jim and left Kelso to keep the conversation—such as it was—going.
Eli, a widower now for some years, was busy in the kitchen, and an appetizing smell of roast came from there. Jim told Kelso about his own total lack of progress in the search for Blair, and tried to ignore the cold assessment he was receiving from the British agent. Neither Kelso nor Bodie offered any indication of why they were there. Jim was about to ask them bluntly to get down to it when Stoddard announced that dinner was ready and the moment was lost in the move to the table. He had a feeling, anyway, that Kelso did not know very much himself and that Bodie wouldn’t speak until he was ready.
The meal was plain but excellent. Jim enjoyed it more than he had expected, and Bodie made the effort to ask the professor about his anthropological studies. Jim assumed this was just courtesy until the talk, drifting around areas of study, Africa and tribal customs suddenly became focused, with a question about his own time in Peru with the Chopec.
“Sorry, I don’t remember much of it,” he said smoothly. “PTSD, apparently. I still shoot a good arrow, though.”
Bodie smiled blandly. It occurred to Jim, too late, that he might not have wanted to know about Peru, but to see whether Jim felt the need to conceal anything of his time there. He decided he might as well reply in kind. “What were you doing in West Africa, anyway? I thought all those colonial interests were long gone.”
“Oh, there’s always somewhere in Africa for the black sheep of the family,” Bodie said. “Or there was when I was that age. Surprising what a boy can learn in a country with so many ongoing wars.”
There was something in the way he said it that jarred, but before Jim could pin it down, Bodie had returned to the earlier subject of the tribes there. “Surprising, really, how many people still live according to the old customs. Oh, they may drink cola or smoke Camel cigarettes, but when it comes to anything like hunting, they keep the old ways and skills. Did you hunt with the Chopec?”
“Sometimes,” Jim said, pausing to accept dessert. “Game and men.”
Bodie smiled and helped himself to a large slice of cheesecake. He managed to give the impression that he was above picking up on this remark and that he probably already knew about what Jim had been doing in Peru. He ate with every evidence of appreciation, then said, “I don’t know South America well. In Africa, though, I once saw a hunter with quite astonishing abilities. The man seemed to be able to see the most minute traces of a person passing. He could find clean water better than any animal, too—reckoned he could smell it, at distances you wouldn’t believe. Did you come across anything like that in Peru?”
Jim met the hard, uncommunicative eyes. The rather chilling thought struck him that if he had gone on from Special Forces to Intelligence, if the world had never held the PD, Simon, or Blair, his own eyes might have looked like that. “Like I said, I don’t remember Peru well.”
It was a defensive answer, he knew. Blair would have had something inventive that turned the tables on this man, whereas Jim’s thoughts were already getting a violent tinge. He sensed an unease in Kelso and Stoddard, both of whom would easily have picked up the subtext.
“I studied water finders once,” Eli stepped in manfully, and the conversation once again turned to safer anecdotes. Kelso shrugged at Jim apologetically. Probably he, too, just had to wait until Bodie felt like talking. Bodie, perhaps enjoying the situation, made small talk as they cleared away and sat down with coffee, but then his manner changed slightly, and Jim could see he’d decided to show his hand.
“I’m not going to ask whether you’re a Sentinel, Ellison,” he said abruptly, anchoring everyone’s attention. “What I would like is to tell you all about how British Intelligence came across the term some time ago, and why that has now brought me to Cascade.”
He paused, waited for some comment. No one spoke. Jim could see his own wariness mirrored in Kelso. Stoddard, more interested than alarmed, gestured to Bodie to go on.
“We began to get whispers a year or so ago that one of the illicit organizations in the UK —possibly a terror group, possibly agents of some country we’re on less than friendly terms with —is looking for what anthropologists appear to call a Sentinel. It took us a while even to get that much clear; the intelligence, as you’ll understand, was fragmentary and in some cases filtered through informants whose IQ barely reaches double figures. Once we’d ruled out their more bizarre errors, and any possibility Superman was about to land, we got our research boys down to some serious work on heightened senses, and they quite quickly came up with the Sentinel concept. You don’t need to know details of what we’ve investigated since then, but it caused the recent news from Cascade to take on a particular interest for us.”
He gave them another chance to speak, but what was there to say? Jim could only wait.
“This was the first time, to our knowledge, that Sentinels had been in the media. If it caught our attention, possibly it caught the attention of our elusive Sentinel-seekers, though intelligence on that front had been quiet recently. We followed the story, and Sandburg’s eloquent denial of his thesis. Naturally, we regarded that with some cynicism—we deny things regularly for exactly the same sort of damage limitation reasons. More significantly, it drew our attention to the names of Ellison and Sandburg. It was a very small step from there to discovering your connection with an affair that has always… puzzled… our people. That was Brackett’s attempt on the prototype. How did Brackett get through all that state of the art security, Detective Ellison?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Oh, we’d love to. Unfortunately, he’s in the hands of people whose mothers never taught them to share. But we were intrigued to note that it was soon after this affair that we’d begun to pick up an interest in Sentinels among just the sort of people who might have provided Brackett with a market. Now, you arrested Brackett?”
“Impressive that you were just on the spot like that. You’ve made some other pretty impressive arrests in your time, too. ‘Uncanny’ was the word some of our informants used. And of course our research boys have had fun digging up every paper Sandburg has ever had published.”
“Is this going somewhere?” Jim asked.
“Certainly. I came to Cascade to make contact with you and Sandburg, and to make sure no one else had caused you any trouble. We don’t think these people who want a Sentinel are likely to be very scrupulous; they might be inclined to help themselves to one. My first point of contact was Kelso here, who happened to owe one of my bosses a favor. Since he was at Rainier, we thought he could introduce me to Sandburg and I’d take it from there. Now I find Sandburg is possibly missing—no one seems too sure—and under the circumstances, this strikes me as disturbing. What do you think?”
Jim thought ‘disturbing’ was putting it mildly. The fear that rose in him as he thought about it found its release in anger. “How long have you known about this?” he demanded of Jack Kelso.
“He only arrived this afternoon,” Jack said without resentment. “Without sharing any of this, I might add. Basically he turned up, called in his marker, and Eli here was generous enough to invite us to talk to you over a meal.”
“An excellent meal,” Bodie said politely enough. “Professor Stoddard, you’re an expert on the anthropology side. Would you have said Blair Sandburg was an authority on these ‘Sentinels’?”
Eli glanced at Jim, who nodded. Between his rising alarm and the fact that Bodie seemed to hold most of the cards, he didn’t see any point in dissembling.
“Blair is the only expert on Sentinels I have ever encountered,” Stoddard said. “He’s an extremely able anthropologist, and his studies in this area are unique.”
“But he doesn’t have super senses himself?”
“No, not at all. He studied people with one or more heightened senses.”
“He could help them if the senses caused a problem,” Jim said. “There are lots of instances of it in his work.”
Bodie thought about this. “Why might they need help?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think it might. To be honest, if anyone had disappeared from Cascade, I would have expected it to be you. The fact that it’s Sandburg puzzles me. But if a Sentinel or whatever might need specialized help—well, that suggests to me a very disturbing thought. If our problem group really do have anything to do with Sandburg’s disappearance, they may possibly have a Sentinel already.”
They were lighting candles in the little stone chapel on the cliff at St. Aldhelm’s head. The summer evening was still light, but inside the chapel the candlelight softened and warmed the old walls and gave a little extra illumination for those furthest from the small windows or open door. There was no electricity here, and services were only held in the summer holiday season, when locals from the Matravers could be joined by tourists and by walkers from the South coast path.
Tom Hunter balanced a squat candle to throw some extra light on the music on his keyboard, and hoped his batteries would last. Celtic worship tonight. It was different every week, but tonight’s pattern of songs and prayers originating from the community on Lindisfarne struck him as especially appropriate to this place.
The benches were beginning to fill, the murmur of voices welcome in a place that was more used to the echoes of sea and gulls. There were a number of children; no one was suppressing their natural exuberance, but the gentle mood of the place and the candlelight had them quieter than usual. A couple of well-behaved dogs had come in with some of the walkers, and he saw a small girl jump, then giggle, as her bare swinging leg bumped on a cold nose.
The place went on filling as he began to play, so that latecomers had to stand. He glanced up from time to time, knowing the service would wait until they’d all arrived. It was getting quite packed there. He looked at the latest person to arrive, missed a note and lost his place. He recognized this man. It was years since he had seen him, and he was the last person he would have expected to see here, but Tom was certain he was right. Forgetful of the music, he stared. People changed, and they were all a decade or so older, but there was no mistake. The man silhouetted against the light of the doorway was Ray Doyle.
With a nod of apology to the minister, who was waiting to begin, Tom turned his attention to the keyboard, but he couldn’t help being distracted. Ray was leaned up against the doorpost, legs half crossed in a way that was utterly characteristic. He looked gaunt and tense and tired, and there was grey in his hair. The mixture of light and shadow fell on the uneven contours of his face, and Tom winced at the bleakness he saw there.
He played, half aware of the beauty of the music, the softly echoing worship, but his mind busier with wonder at what the years had held for Ray and why he had walked off the coastal path into this small chapel looking like a man in need of a lifeline. At least by the end of the service there was something less taut in the way he was standing, and a hint of a smile for the children who suddenly discovered how quiet they’d been and erupted out onto the grass to run about.
Tom abandoned the keyboard and went hastily over before the man could slip away. “Ray!”
Doyle turned, surprised, and his first puzzlement eased into warmer recognition. “Tom… I suppose I knew you were somewhere in this part of the world now, but I hadn’t remembered it was near here.”
“That’s because you haven’t answered a letter in ten years or more. Stella gave up writing, but she still thinks of you. And she’ll never forgive me if I don’t bring you back to see her. Come back with me and spend the evening with us; we’ve been out of touch for too long.”
Doyle glanced at the open space leading back to the path, but didn’t answer either way. Tom bit back the desire to be more persuasive, and went to gather up his music and keyboard. The chapel was emptying rapidly, but when he heaved his load to the door, Doyle was still just outside.
“Maybe you could give me a hand to the car with this lot?” Tom asked. “Stella had to work tonight and the boys are away, so I couldn’t enlist a helper.”
Doyle picked up the stand and an armful of books and followed him to where his car was pulled up at the edge of a field. Tom stowed the things away, then turned to Doyle. “You don’t have anywhere you need to be?”
“No. Thought I might sleep rough tonight, find somewhere to stay tomorrow.”
“You wouldn’t like to come with me to pick up some fish and chips and then gladden Stella’s heart with some unexpected company? It would be a real pleasure, Ray, for both of us.”
The moment hung poised, like the stillness of the evening around them hanging between sunset and dusk, and Tom silently weighted it with a prayer.
“Thanks,” Doyle said at last. “Fish and chips?”
“Real, traditional, wrapped in a newspaper.”
“Fried in an artery blocker.”
“I’ll make you a fruit salad for dessert.”
He opened the rear door and slung Doyle’s backpack onto the seat.
Blair had been superficially ‘better’ for quite a while before he could even begin to accept the nature of the breakdown he had suffered. He didn’t want to believe it, even though he had childhood memories of visits to therapists and suffocating panic attacks. Those, after all, were a long way from the hallucinatory meltdown he seemed to have suffered this time. But slowly, very slowly, he began to face the bitter facts.
The biggest shock was the amount he seemed to have forgotten, or blotted out, of the last three years of his life, substituting a complex but entirely escapist reality, that now he did at least recognize as fuzzy and unreal, and full of improbable melodrama. He supposed it was a good thing he was beginning to forget it. It was getting harder and harder to escape into the fantasies even in his dreams.
“You actually told me a crazed rogue CIA agent threatened to expose America’s north-west to the Ebola virus,” Dr. Hooper said gently. He and Dr. Wilson were the people Blair usually saw; there were a couple of nurses, but they were neither young nor friendly. He’d wondered why no one came to visit him, until he discovered with a shock that he was in the UK.
“Your mother had you admitted here, and stayed with you for a while,” Dr. Hooper said. “But she featured so much in your fantasy world—and in rather a negative way—that we thought it best if she stayed away for a little while. And it was very stressful for her.”
“Gone to process?” Blair had said, resigned. Naomi loved him, he knew that, but she disappeared so very easily, especially when anything was chronic rather than acute. She would fly to his side in a crisis, but she wouldn’t stay through the depressed aftermath.
For the last couple of weeks, he’d hardly seen anyone except Dr. Hooper. Even when he walked out in the grounds, he’d never seen another patient. Dr. Hooper had been very patient, spending hours explaining to Blair what he had fantasized and what the reality had been, but his company did nothing to dispel Blair’s gnawing sense of loneliness.
His imaginary world hadn’t been lonely. Perhaps that was partly why he’d created it. He found it hard to focus on the fantasies now—it was strongly discouraged and, anyway, it seemed to give him a splitting headache—but he wasn’t cured of longing for them.
The real world, even in a sunny garden, was bleak. Dr. Williams and Dr. Hooper had slowly and considerately made plain to him the train of circumstances that had brought him to this English clinic. Dr. Hooper had traced a history of mental instability Blair could not really argue with, not without clearer memories, anyway. And he did recall Naomi taking him to various counselors and alternative practitioners… and some of the traumas of being so young at college. But he’d coped, hadn’t he? He hadn’t been a basket case all his adult life. But that flurry of defiance faded when he found himself thinking of an imaginary friend laughing at the statement. Besides, he had to admit he had no proper recollection at all of the events involving Alicia Bannister.
“She was, of course, the culmination of your years of research on the Sentinel theory,” Dr. Hooper had told him, several times. “Even before the accident, you had problems accepting that she used her abilities in a criminal context. You even thought of writing a novel—I believe you told Dr. Wilson in the early stages of your breakdown that you thought of using some of your notes and studies and applying them to police cases you’d read about, to create a Sentinel police officer.”
Blair could, miserably, almost hear himself saying something of the sort. Was that where his detailed, unreal world had begun?
“We think it was because of your unease with Miss Bannister’s ethics that you created this complicated illusion that, rather than there having been an accident, she attempted to kill you,” Dr. Hooper theorized.
Blair had on one level accepted that a car accident was actually considerably more probable than attempted murder, drowning and a trip to Peru that seemed to come out of an Indiana Jones movie. But he couldn’t get past his gut conviction Alicia had tried to kill him.
“She was hurt more badly than you were,” Dr. Wilson—always less patient than Dr. Hooper—told him. “She was driving, so you may have subconsciously felt the accident was her fault.”
This took them into the realms Blair had no recollection of. Their car had apparently gone into the bay, and his near drowning had been followed by a chest infection, a bad reaction to the antibiotics, then a total retreat to la-la land.
“In Cascade?” he asked uncertainly at his latest session. He thought he’d asked this before, but these days he needed an atlas to be sure Cascade was real.
“Yes,” Dr. Hooper said patiently. “You’re here in England because Ms Bannister proved to have a next-of-kin, a rather remote connection, but he has been very generous in providing for her care. As he was currently with his company’s UK branch, he arranged for her to be treated here. Your mother felt you should stay with her. We all think that you will be better able to help her than anyone else.”
Blair shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t want to face up to this, and it was being suggested with increasing frequency now that he was apparently recovering.
“We’re really concerned for Ms Bannister, Blair,” Dr. Hooper said. “She’s almost completely unresponsive. We believe it must be something to do with the Sentinel concept, but your papers and notes only take us so far.”
“Notebooks,” Blair said. “I had notebooks. Allergies and test results and…”
“Sadly, we think those were in the car,” Dr. Hooper said. “With your laptop. So we’re really dependant on what you know without them. We’re achieving very little.”
Blair was caught between a heavy sense of guilt—he suspected he might well be able to do something—and a visceral abhorrence of going anywhere near her. It might be an irrational fear, but it knotted his stomach and made his heart pound as much as if it were entirely real and logical.
He’d been surprised, when he walked out this morning, at the heat of the sun, and the vividness of the garden. When had it become summer? But now as Dr. Hooper began to explain again how it would help both him and Alicia for him to see her, all Blair could feel was cold panic. This time, though, he was pressed so much on the issue that he caved a little. He would see her. Just that, no more. He’d tell them if he thought this was some sort of Sentinel thing, some relation of the zone-out factor.
“That’s all I can do. I’m not promising any more.” He wasn’t sure if it was satisfaction or frustration he saw in Dr. Hooper’s face.
Blair had been told again and again what to expect when he saw Alicia, but it was still a shock. He had somehow pictured her as fierce and sharp in essence, but as she lay gazing emptily at the ceiling, everything about her was slack and vacant. What horrified him most was his own reaction. There was something too much like satisfaction in it. He didn’t wonder if he could help her; he was quite ready to turn away and leave her to her mindlessness. In fact, if they let go of him, he was going to run away from her, and from here, and…
“Blair!” Dr. Wilson said sharply.
He startled back to awareness of his surroundings, but still said, “No.”
“You could help her, couldn’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t believe you’re the sort of person who’d refuse your help to someone who needs it so much.”
Blair yanked at the arm holding his elbow. “Not her.”
He found Dr. Hooper at his other side. “Now, Blair, we feel this has gone on long enough. We’ll give you something to help you with the panic, and then we’ll try again.”
“I don’t want anything,” Blair protested angrily and ineffectually when he saw the syringe in Hooper’s hand. This was wrong, surely. This was totally unethical. But his protest was ignored and his thoughts about it faded out as the sedative took effect, and he was helped into the chair next to the bed. The room swayed in and out of focus, and he no longer had the will to refuse when Dr. Hooper said, “Talk to her, Blair. You know how to bring a Sentinel out of a zone, don’t you?”
“Mightn’t be zone,” Blair said thickly. “Worse’n zone.”
“Will talking to her help?”
Blair thought he began to talk. Maybe he just dreamed it. He felt rather sick and drowsy, and even though he could hardly think, it seemed all wrong to be here doing this.
Some time later, he woke up in his own bed. Dr. Hooper came in and said he’d done very well. He rolled over and tried to find his way back to fantasy land, but it really wasn’t there anymore.
Jim tried to stretch a little in the not-quite-adequate space of the economy class seat. The police department was funding his trip, and Bodie’s superiors were presumably equally parsimonious over air fares. He wished he could doze as Bodie seemed to be doing—though he had already learned not to take Bodie at face value. Jim’s leg was healed, but it still seemed to cramp in these conditions. He rubbed at it irritably, and tried not to think how tenuous a connection he was following to England.
Maybe it wasn’t much of a thread, but he’d had nothing at all with a hope of leading him to Blair before.
When it had come down to details, Jim had only ever heard Blair refer to one other person as a Sentinel, and that was Alex Barnes. He’d said as much to Bodie, then dismissed her because she’d been catatonic and no one gave her much hope of ever being anything else, but with nowhere else to look, Bodie had followed it up, anyway.
They’d found… something. Bodie thought it had potential. Jim, who’d never done anything in the aftermath of the whole Alex thing except shut the memory out, wasn’t sure what he thought—except that he never wanted Blair to be in the same room with her again. Maybe it was better not to doze. The fountain had started bubbling in his dreams again, the sense memory giving a horrible reality to it—sight, sound and, worst of all, that musty drowned smell.
Alex Barnes had been moved to England for specialist treatment some months before, apparently at the offer of a charitable trust. The paperwork was impeccable; the charity, though, had quickly proved untraceable. When Jim expressed his disbelief that the authorities weren’t watching her more carefully, Jack had offered to find out who approved her transfer, but there didn’t seem to be anything sinister there. She was in something like a persistent vegetative state, and predicted to stay that way, and the thought of someone else paying for her care had been persuasive.
Bodie had his people working from the other end, trying to find any trace of her arrival in England—or Sandburg’s, for that matter; he had the rough dates. Simon, who hadn’t any happier recollections of Alex and the fountain than Jim, was giving over some manpower to the tedious job of checking the people on flights to England from Cascade around the time Blair first went missing. It all seemed too tenuous, too little and too late.
Jim moved again, found an even more uncomfortable position and sighed.
Bodie opened his eyes. “About an hour now,” he said. “I have to go and make some reports when we get to London. My bosses aren’t thrilled I brought you along, so don’t expect to come.”
Jim wondered, in fact, why Bodie had put up so few objections to his company. The man was annoyingly confident in the superiority of British Intelligence, and gave the impression of being too much of a loner to welcome anyone’s company. “I’ll go and book myself in at a hotel,” he said. “Anything you recommend?”
“I haven’t been back in London more than twice in the last ten years. Ask Janey.”
Something else that would have annoyed Jim if he hadn’t been too depressed to care was that in spite of being at least ten years older, Bodie had effortlessly gained the interest of every air hostess who’d come near them; they’d been pleasant and polite to Jim, but it was Bodie who got their names and phone numbers. For the moment, though, Jim was more interested in this unexpected information. “You don’t work in England?”
“I’ve been in Hong Kong for a long time. I was transferring back when this blew up; I think they must have got some particularly cheap deal on sending me via Cascade.”
“You’re coming back permanently?”
“I think so. Things are changing—in Hong Kong and here.” He turned around and smiled with unexpected charm over Jim’s shoulder. Janey stopped and smiled in response. She gave Jim some excellent advice on hotels—and Bodie a lingering look of much more unprofessional promise.
“I’ll make arrangements for us to see the security camera footage from Heathrow,” Bodie said. “For both sets of dates.”
“I don’t see how Blair could have been brought unwillingly through an airport,” Jim said doubtfully.
“You think he might have come willingly? That message did sound as though he could have been told a plausible story.”
“He would have let someone know before he left Cascade.”
“But not necessarily you?” Bodie said, picking up Jim’s own doubts.
“We’d had a bad few weeks. He was trying to make up his mind whether to accept the offer of a badge…”
“Becoming a cop wasn’t a done deal?”
“I thought he’d been working along with you for a while.”
“He’d been like a partner,” Jim said. “And a damn good friend. But I think… Hell, I don’t know. He had reservations—about carrying a gun, about a lot of the justice system. Maybe about everything.”
“So he might have been going to walk out on the whole deal, ditch the partnership.” Something in Bodie’s voice spoke to the raw, devouring sense of betrayal that Jim knew was a totally unfair reaction to the situation.
“It wasn’t like that,” he said, smothering it again. “He… I respected his reasons.”
“There aren’t any good reasons for walking out on your friends,” Bodie said.
Jim didn’t want to be having this conversation. “And what sort of friend would I be if I didn’t give a fuck about the prospect of him, day in, day out, doing something that screwed him up? Or if I let it make any difference now? The way he thought—that was part of him. Okay, so sometimes I thought it was woolly idealism and it irritated the hell out of me—but a lot more of the time he was right, and whether I told him so or not, I respected him for it. And regardless of if he’s going to stick with the partnership, I’ve got every intention of finding him.”
He didn’t know why he had said all that to Bodie, and assumed the Brit would be cynically amused; it would have given Brackett hysterics.
But Bodie was silent a moment, and to Jim’s utter astonishment, said, “You’re a good man, Ellison. I wouldn’t have brought you over here if I didn’t think there was some hope of finding him. Good luck to you.”
They’d landed before Jim had even begun to assimilate this. He’d thought he was beginning to get a line on Bodie and the way he worked; he realized now he didn’t understand him at all.
Ray Doyle knew he was being ungracious, but he couldn’t manage the effort of making conversation. Tom didn’t seem to mind. He talked without expecting answers: Stella was nursing part time and had gone in tonight because they were short-staffed with people on annual leave; Rachel, their oldest, had finished her first year at university; the boys were waiting for exam results, and all three of them were away camping with friends. To Doyle, who’d forgotten they’d no longer be children, it was another reminder of time passing irretrievably. It was lucky Tom didn’t seem to want a reply, because he had nothing to say. Since his mother died, he’d lost the last connections with any of his own family. Girls… women… had come and gone over the years; those who’d liked him well enough to stay had never coped with his commitment to his work. Now even the work was gone.
He realized the car had stopped. Tom touched his shoulder lightly. “I’ll get the fish and chips. I won’t be long, then we’ll pick Stella up.”
Doyle was relieved he wasn’t expected to eat immediately. Even though he’d been walking most of the day he had little appetite. Luckily, the Hunters decided to celebrate seeing him again with a bottle of wine, and between that and the informality of the meal, he found himself drawn a little into their relaxed mood.
“So, are you on holiday?” Stella asked as she cleared away the dishes and put coffee on. “Or have you left Sheffield? We wondered if you’d ever come back south.”
“I’m suspended,” he said briefly. “For harassing a local businessman.”
“Oh, Ray, I’m sorry. I bet if you were harassing him, he deserved it.”
He was slightly heartened to see they both looked indignant on his behalf rather than shocked. “We’re losing the battle out there,” he said quietly. “Any kind of drugs, in spite of the undercover work, the busts and so on, there are more on the streets all the time. Oh, we get the smaller dealers, but people like this man—he’s laughing. What with men like him and the gangs and the people who’re bringing drugs in to fund extremists groups, we just can’t fight it on enough fronts. It’s not that the Home Office is unsympathetic, but we’ve no one at Westminster like…”
“Like George Cowley was?” Tom said gently when the silence trailed on.
He didn’t need to say any more. They’d known him when he left CI5, even if they hadn’t known all his reasons, and it had been headlines in all the papers less than a year later when the department was finally closed down and Cowley put out to grass. Cowley, Bodie… he’d never seen them since the day he handed in his resignation. It seemed like another life. It was much too late to regret the choice he’d made then.
“It wasn’t your fault, Ray,” Stella said. “How could it have made a difference if you’d still been there? It was a political decision.”
Doyle had never told them about the bitter phone call he’d had from Bodie, the first time they’d spoken in months, the last time they’d spoken at all. Bodie thought he should have been there. Of course, the final decision to close the department had only just been made and Bodie’d been furious on the old man’s behalf, not just with Doyle but with the whole of the English establishment. Bodie had taken an intelligence assignment in Hong Kong almost immediately after that and stayed there, and Doyle wondered, more often than he cared to think, whether his ex-partner had ever forgiven, or forgotten, what he saw as Doyle’s betrayal. Probably not. Personal loyalty had always mattered more to Bodie than some sort of abstract idealism, and Doyle had walked away from that partnership.
“So what are you doing?” Stella asked, putting coffee in front of him.
“They told me to be a long way from Sheffield, and I’d nothing to keep me there.” Or anywhere, come to that. “Why the coastal path? I suppose mostly because I’d never walked any of it, and I wasn’t likely to run into anyone who knew me.” It occurred to him, rather late, that this sounded as though he regretted meeting Tom, but neither of them seemed to notice. “I’ve enjoyed it. I didn’t know Devon or Dorset.”
“You’d be very welcome to stay for a few days, see something more than the sea,” Stella said.
“That’s nice, but I’m not good company at the moment.”
“If you’re enjoying the area, I know someone with an old caravan over near Lulworth,” Tom said. “It’s primitive, but it would make a sort of base, and it wouldn’t cost you anything.”
That thought actually had some appeal. He’d half agreed when Stella said, rather more hesitantly, “If you do stay, do you think you could maybe take a look at something for a friend of mine—just give her an idea whether she’d look an idiot if she went to the authorities.”
“What sort of something?”
“I was working tonight with a woman I’ve known slightly for years. She used to have a permanent post in a sort of nursing home up on the heath. It was taken over a while ago, and she’s been doing agency work since. Anyway, she’s a keen gardener, and it has lovely grounds. She’d taken some cuttings of shrubs and one she particularly wanted had died. She went along last week to see if the same gardener was still there, and not only was she refused entry quite rudely, she says the man who stopped her at the gate had a gun.”
“He ordered her off at gunpoint?” Doyle said, trying not to let his disbelief sound too rude.
“Oh, no, nothing like that. But it was a really hot day, and she was surprised he was wearing a jacket—especially if he was an outdoor worker. That made her look closely and she’s sure she got a glimpse of a shoulder holster under it. Don’t look like that. She’s not the sort of person to fancy things. She was a nurse in the forces when she was younger.”
“How old is she?”
“Well, she’s near retirement now.”
“This sort of question is what she’s afraid of getting if she goes to the authorities.”
“It’s exactly what she would get. Is she certain it was a gun?”
“No. I mean, she’s certain in her own mind, but she couldn’t swear to it in all honesty, because it was just something she thought from a moment’s glimpse.” She paused, reading his expression too well. “That’s the trouble, Ray. No one’s really going to listen, are they? But she’s genuinely worried.”
Doyle managed not to sigh. “It’ll be inaccessible and I’ve no transport.”
“The kids aren’t going to be here. You could take the old Triumph they sometimes use. I won’t touch it, but Tom says it goes well.”
Somehow, although that morning he’d had no firmer plans than walking a few more miles, Doyle found himself agreeing to put up at the caravan for a couple of weeks and take a very low key look at the nursing home. He hardly knew why he did it. Probably because he was bored and he’d been thinking too much about the past, and instead of dismissing Stella’s friend’s imaginings with the firmness they almost certainly deserved, he’d allowed the thought to creep in that once he might have staked out just this sort of place—isolated, in placid countryside where people mostly minded their own business, and the title ‘doctor’ earned unquestioning respect.
Whatever the reason, he slept better that night than he had done for weeks.
Blair supposed, without much interest, that he was getting better. He couldn’t remember his fantasy world even when he tried, and he didn’t try so much now. He’d been in to see Alicia several times, and although he felt rather dopey and detached, he no longer felt the panicked need to be somewhere else. Dr. Hooper had come in after that first visit, and explained why they had felt it necessary to sedate him, but Blair’s memories of it were unclear, anyway. He’d found it hard to wake up the next day, and ever since then, he’d seemed to feel lethargic. Giddy sometimes, too, if he stood up suddenly. Dr. Hooper thought maybe he had a touch of some virus and it would soon pass.
Alicia was improving. Blair still felt vaguely uncomfortable with her, but vague was the significant word. Luckily, he seemed to be able to do the right things, even half asleep. The doctors were very pleased. She responded to his voice now, and he’d gotten them to try mild tastes against her mouth, which also provoked a slight response.
“Dr. Hooper will take you to see her a bit later this morning,” his nurse said, coming in with the breakfast tray.
Blair nodded. He felt headachy this morning, and unpleasantly tired. When the nurse had gone, he dragged himself off for a shower, and made the mistake of looking at himself in a mirror. He’d lost weight, he knew, but he looked worse than ever this morning. The previous three or four days, he’d downed his coffee hurriedly in the hopes it might wake him up, but this morning he wondered if maybe he would be better just to drink water. Maybe his system needed cleansing after all the crap of the last few… weeks? He realized he didn’t know how long he’d been here. Water and fruit. That was healthy. He tipped the coffee down the drain, and only ate the banana from his tray. His headache got worse, but he thought he felt rather less sleepy and detached.
Alicia was definitely closer to the world. He spent the morning trying different textures of material against her hands, and playing the CDs he’d told the doctors to get. At least they seemed happy to do exactly as he asked. Lunch he ate alone, as usual. He thought of drinking his tea, because his head was really pounding now, but he decided to try to hang on. In the long run, he’d feel better; he was sure he’d done this before after nights of studying on too much coffee and junk food. He didn’t remember it making him feel quite so edgy then; he had to keep biting back irritable remarks when they urged him that afternoon to see if he could get Alicia to open her eyes.
“She looks on the verge of waking,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re getting eye movements completely unlike any we’ve observed before.”
For the first time in days, Blair felt the shortness of breath that came with panic. “Wait!” he said sharply.
Alicia jerked, a startling movement in someone who’d been so still for so long. Blair realized, too late, that she was responding to the tone of his voice rather than the words, and that it had been an abrupt order, abrupt enough to cut through to her. He stepped back. The others leaned forward.
There was a second of silent anticipation, then awareness, focus came back into Alicia’s eyes. It was followed so immediately by movement that no one had time to react. She shot upright, in spite of muscles that must have been wasted by going so long with little to exercise them but the ministrations of the physiotherapist. Blair took another step back, his heart pounding and his breath coming in ever faster gasps, and then her hands fastened around Dr. Wilson’s throat. For a minute, there was chaos. Both doctors, the orderly and the man who seemed to hang around in the corridor tried to restrain her without hurting her.
Blair only knew that he had seen that look of murder in her eyes before, he truly had, and he had to get out. He was running even as they gathered around the bed. Panic lent him speed. He hurtled down the corridor, up stairs he knew led to the ground floor, turned at random and found himself looking out onto a side of the grounds he had never seen.
People were shouting behind him, but nowhere close. He ran outside, hardly knowing what he was doing. Every step hurt his head and took what little breath he had, but the instinct for flight was stronger than the pain. He ran through bushes without feeling the scratches.
Someone was running after him, he heard the heavy footsteps. He tried to go faster, but whoever it was was gaining on him. He stumbled and a meaty hand grabbed his arm and spun him around. It was a big, burly man he’d seen before out in the grounds; a man who looked more like a bouncer than a gardener. Blair tried to pull away. “Keep still, yer little bleeder, or I’ll flatten you,” the man said, gripping him savagely.
Blair scrabbled to get loose and saw the man’s hand raised threateningly, then, from nowhere, someone else appeared. The burly man’s raised hand was expertly hauled back before he could land the blow, and he let go of Blair to turn to face this newcomer. Blair gasped for breath, more from panic than genuine breathlessness, and saw his assailant making a lumbering attempt to flatten the stranger who had so suddenly come on the scene. He ought to have managed it. Blair’s would-be rescuer was a slighter, older man, who looked more like a peace protester than an action type—but it was the big thug who ended up on the ground groaning.
Blair blinked, completely dazed by the rapid turn of events, and heard the urgent order, “Come on, we need to get over the wall.” There was concern for him on the stranger’s face, and an urgency in his voice that got Blair’s feet moving. They ran through the bushes towards the wall.
Where was it, Blair thought, hardly able to focus on anything beyond his stumbling feet. The wall had to be close. He couldn’t keep this up much longer. He stumbled, but then saw the grey stone was only a step or two in front of them now. He scrabbled at the rough surface, was dragged over it onto the road. Everything was getting out of control. He couldn’t get any air into his lungs, and he knew he was starting a full-fledged panic attack, made worse by his headlong flight. He tried to say something, that he was a patient, he shouldn’t be running away, but then he thought of Alicia’s murderous eyes and the threatening man in the garden, and let himself be hauled along, gasping.
Just as his legs were giving up under him, he realized they’d turned off the road into a gateway, and that a car was parked there beneath an overgrown hedge. He was bundled into it, and was aware over the harsh sounds of his breathing of something that sounded like a gunshot. Maybe he was hallucinating again, maybe they both were, because the man said, “Shit, hold on, they’re firing at the tires.” The car shot out backwards, spun with a horrible screech of rubber and rocketed down the road.
Blair was jolted back in his seat, but he hardly noticed it over the clawing effort to breathe. Tight bands seemed to be constricting his chest, and lights had started to dance in front of his eyes, obscuring everything else. His rescuer was speaking to him, and the voice was warmer, more genuine than anything he’d heard in a long time. He couldn’t respond, but he hoped the sound would go on. He was on the edge of unconsciousness, he could feel himself falling, but that reassuring voice and a firm hand on his arm held him back long enough for him to gasp in a lungful of air. He sank against his seat, managed another breath, let his eyes close, and the pain and everything else faded.
Jim was tired of London, and frustrated at his inability to get anything done, but it was too early yet to say this was a dead end and head back to Cascade. Blair’s absence was a dull ache, only acute and unbearable if he let himself actually think about it. He tried to keep what he felt separate, muted, walled off.
Bodie had been unexpectedly good at keeping him informed of what lines they were following. To the best of his ability, Jim had checked him out at every conversation, and he didn’t believe Bodie’d lied. But time was passing, and they weren’t getting anywhere at all.
Part of the problem had been that Bodie himself was out of touch with London, not in any major way, but in the small ways: who was a good technician to go to, the shortcuts that sometimes needed taking. Jim also had a feeling Bodie wasn’t enjoying being home. He seemed to know few people well, and spent most of his evenings with Jim going over details or introducing him to London’s nightlife—which was good, but wasted, really, as neither of them were in the mood for it. There was a limit to how much Jim could separate himself from the yawning gap where Blair should be. The night clubs, the girls Bodie introduced him to, however attractive, were just a distraction that didn’t really work.
“Want to look through the CC footage?” Bodie asked, the morning after a failed attempt at enjoying themselves. “Your clearances are all approved now.”
Jim had a headache and not as much control of his senses as he’d ideally have liked, but he shrugged and agreed.
“They’ve been through it thoroughly enough,” Bodie said, “but you’ve a personal interest; you might spot something they’ve missed.”
“And they were only working from photographs of Sandburg. I’d recognize him easily even from a fragmentary view. You get to know the way a person moves, stands.”
Hours later, after an exhaustive viewing, Jim was beginning to doubt his own confidence, though—at least insofar as he’d know who wasn’t Sandburg. Too often he’d been on the edge of speaking, only to realize it was another false alarm. And he found nothing. “How many days have we seen?”
“The likely ones,” Bodie said. “That’s all the probable flights from the U.S. into Heathrow. We could assume a bizarre roundabout route, I suppose, or look at the time frame.”
Jim was looking at it. “This was the earliest?”
“Yeah. We could go half a day earlier. It would mean assuming they were so well organized, they were on a flight within four or five hours of that last phone call of Sandburg’s.”
“Try it,” Jim said. He still believed Blair would have called him if something hadn’t gone wrong with his day pretty quickly. Bodie disappeared to get the relevant footage, and Jim gulped down a strong coffee and Tylenol, but it did nothing to help his headache.
Focusing on yet more grainy pictures, he had to struggle not to lose himself in the pixels.
“No one who looks like Sandburg,” Bodie said.
“No. But—can you go back a bit? There’s something… Stop. Now, focus in on the top right.”
Bodie glanced at him, perhaps wondering how he had managed to see any detail in the crowd that was in that part of the picture, but he managed to obtain the shot Jim wanted.
“Zoom in on the people at the edge there. Behind the staff.”
Bodie obeyed, and a fuzzy magnification showed Jim what he had thought. Two men had a patient in the type of chair normally used to transport a severely handicapped adult. There was something about the slumped form…
“Stay on that,” he said. “It’s just possible… a long shot but…”
He tried to see some detail of the person in the chair; the face was hidden, but perhaps he could see the feet. He still remembered the sneakers Sandburg had had on that morning.
In his concentration, he lost himself for a minute or two, the grainy image fading to a uniform greyness from which he was jerked by Bodie’s hand on his arm. He started, furious with himself, but if Bodie had noticed his odd blankness, he didn’t seem interested in it. What he was interested in was one of the men with the wheelchair. He moved the film forward and back, trying to find a clearer view.
“There’s something I think’s familiar about that face, but I can’t place it,” he said. “It’s just possible we’re on to something here. Can you get on to your captain, and find out if anyone boarded in Cascade with a patient or relative in a wheelchair? If they did, get copies of all the paperwork, and see if they’ve got a better image on their footage.”
Jim did it, professionally, numbly. This was something out of his nightmares. And it had happened weeks and weeks ago. What had they done to Blair since?
Dr. Wilson, or as he actually was, Claude Williams, once of MI5, was furious at the setback to his plans, but ultimately pragmatic. The nursing home had been instantly emptied of staff and anything that could be traced to him. He and Hooper had set up a temporary base at the second house they kept in reserve. It was less suitable, but at least it was private, and now that the Barnes woman was showing some sort of sentience, they could dispense with quite a lot of stuff. He had expected to see some sort of activity at the building they had vacated—police, other authorities, something at least, but it was unnervingly quiet.
“What do you think happened to Sandburg?” Hooper asked. As a genuine doctor, he had been busy until now supervising the arrangements for their valuable human cargo. “It wasn’t planned, you know. He just panicked when she reacted like that.”
“I know. I didn’t believe the bitch would be so dangerous. It’s not the fact Sandburg ran that bothers me, it’s the fact someone was hanging around the grounds and could deal with Barson—apparently, very professionally. No passerby should have been able to flatten Barson like that.”
“You think it was surveillance?”
“I don’t know what to think. I’ve been onto our… backers. They’re certain we’re not compromised. Apart from the word getting out that someone was looking for a Sentinel, nothing’s leaked. There’s certainly not a hint of a suspicion that there’s an inside faction involved.”
“The police, then?”
“Apparently not. And whoever it was who picked Sandburg up didn’t go to the police either, which is one of the things bothering me since Barson and the gate man were fools enough to shoot after them. Most people would have been screaming to the authorities and the press after that.”
“There’s something else bothering you as well?”
“Yes. Some bright spark—one of those who’s rolling over happily for our new masters—sent a man to Cascade. I hoped they wouldn’t pick up on Cascade at all, but that wasn’t such a problem in itself. It’s the man they sent. Do you remember CI5?”
“Well, yes, distantly. Good riddance, we all thought, when they went. Cowley was too bloody dangerous—look what he did to Willis over that Schuman business, and Willis was acting for the government of the day, not against it.”
“Exactly. I mean, Cowley had his uses, if he could ever have minded his own business —he stopped some unpleasant enough terrorists in his time. But he wouldn’t understand this. I like to think we’re acting in the best interests of the country in the long run, but he would say we’re trying to get rid of a democratically elected administration.”
“I know we are, you fool. The point is, if Cowley was around, he would do his damnedest to stop us. And the man they sent to Cascade used to be one of his.”
Hooper didn’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of this. “CI5 has been gone fifteen years. What does it matter if someone used to work for it?”
“You remember Bodie?”
“Quite. Bodie went to Cascade, and to make things worse, picked up Ellison—who might or might not be a Sentinel, but is clearly a possible threat. However, some of our people have got a close eye on them and they don’t seem to have a clue yet. They almost certainly weren’t behind what happened today.”
Hooper looked out of the window at the last colors of the sunset, without appreciation. “It’s been nearly ten hours. I’d expected Sandburg to show up one way or another before this. Even if he didn’t go to the police, he was disturbed enough for someone to have noticed him. You’ve got everyone we can spare out there still?”
“Yes. If he’d been on his own, I’d think maybe he’d staggered into a field somewhere and gone to sleep; you had him on enough tranquillizers for that. But he wasn’t on his own.”
“Barson says the man who interfered looked a real hippy type—like one of those tree huggers or save the whale people. Not too young, though. Looked as if he’d been in a few fights in his time. Maybe he was just some kind of tramp hanging about.”
“Did Barson say how a man who was apparently half his size took him down so easily?”
“Eliminating the bad language, it was ‘that kicking and dancing foreign stuff’. One thing, Barson won’t let up ’til he finds him and gets his own back; he says he wants to break the man’s other cheek so his face matches.”
Williams hadn’t been paying a lot of attention, and this almost passed him by. But he’d been thinking about the old days and his worst run-in with CI5. “What did you just say? No never mind, I heard. Get hold of Barson for me. I want to hear his description myself, in detail.”
Ray Doyle sat on the rusty step of the caravan and watched the light fade from the sky over Lulworth. He didn’t share the peacefulness of the evening. Behind him, on the narrow bed opposite the door, the young man he’d picked up slept restlessly. Blair Sandburg. That was about the only thing Doyle had got from him that made any sense. Blair had been alarmingly incoherent. It was evident he was suffering from some sort of withdrawal; almost certainly from being kept on tranquillizers. The panic attack, shakiness and general disorientation all pointed that way. There was more to it than that, though. Some of the things he’d said had begun to make Doyle realize he’d been a victim of something well out of the ordinary.
There had been enough about the nursing home to have made Doyle thoroughly suspicious before today. He’d mentally apologized to Stella’s friend several times since he’d been watching it. Not only was something going on, it was something on a major scale. He’d known at least one of the men who drove in and out. Or, at any rate, he’d recognized him, though he couldn’t yet think of the name. The face had belonged to some shadowy intelligence group, M-whatever, a long time ago. He’d blotted those days out of his memory a bit too successfully, but a connection to that type of group had made him wonder if some kind of conditioning could have been going on. It had also made him extremely reluctant to go to the police or even a hospital with Blair. A suspended cop had no pull against the intelligence services. Until he found out who Blair was, and why they might have been holding him, he’d be better off keeping him safe here.
There was a noise from behind him, a muttered protest rising to a more panicked sound. They’d been through this already several times. Doyle shifted back inside, put a hand gently on the sweat-soaked shoulder of the man on the bed, and said quietly, “It’s all right, Blair. You’re okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.” He’d seen so many people over the last few years, at different stages of breakdown or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, people whose lives were such a mess, he’d long since gone past despair to simply giving the help at hand. This man’s situation might be different, but his needs right now weren’t so far from theirs. And he was responsive to being cared for. He settled now under Doyle’s hand and calmed as the sweat was wiped from his face—and not just sweat, Doyle realized, with a sudden wrench of compassion. There were tears seeping from under the closed eyelids, though Blair was silent now. What the hell had they been doing to him in that place?
Doyle had no more idea what the answer was now than he had when he first reacted instinctively to rescue Blair from the man threatening him. The behavior of the men in the garden, and the fact that they’d shot after the car, had confirmed to him something seriously alarming was going on in this peaceful corner of the southern countryside, but he was a long way from being able to guess what.
He’d driven back here at a speed he was sure the Hunters didn’t realize the old car could achieve, and most of the time, his passenger had been flopped back across the passenger seat, eyes closed. When they stopped, he’d been still dazed and confused. Doyle had tried, as gently as he could, to find out how he’d come to be running away from the nursing home, but the answers made little sense. Doyle had picked up on the American accent and asked where he’d come from originally, but Blair had said uncertainly, “Is Cascade a real place?” Doyle hadn’t heard of it, but that didn’t mean much. He’d stopped asking questions, though, once he realized Blair was even more desperate for answers than he was. Seeing Blair’s pallor, and all the signs of a blinding headache, Doyle had made a cup of tea, coaxed that and a couple of aspirins down him, and let him sleep.
It was getting dark inside now, though enough light still came in to show how uneasily the sleeper rested. He was muttering again, but less anxiously. Doyle stood up to find the matches and light the gas under the kettle.
Doyle turned, thinking perhaps Blair had woken, but his eyes were still shut. He lit the cooker and one of the gaslights, and returned to sit by the bed. Stillness now, but Blair’s face was twisting as if he was feverish or in pain. Doyle felt his cheek lightly. It was cold, clammy, but Blair turned towards the touch and opened his eyes. Doyle half expected him to be alarmed, but there was no fear in his expression, only a sort of miserable disappointment, as if he’d briefly hoped it would be someone else.
“How are you feeling?” Doyle asked quietly.
“My head’s a bit better.”
“Think you could drink another cup of tea or coffee?”
“Maybe. Can I sit outside?”
The uncertainty and confusion in Blair’s voice was painful to listen to. “You can sit where you want,” Doyle said. “Sit on the bottom step there and you can see out over the bay; there’s enough light for that.”
He made them both a mug of tea, and sat cross-legged on the short grass at the foot of the steps to drink his own, letting Blair feel as unthreatened as possible.
Blair drank slowly, maybe looking out over Lulworth, maybe just staring into space and thinking. Either way, he seemed a little more peaceful. Doyle watched him unobtrusively, noticing the intelligent eyes, and the shadows under them, the fact that the long hair was clean and brushed, but the face rather gaunt. Pieces of a puzzle that didn’t yet add up. But Blair was awake now, and Doyle could see him beginning to think.
“Where are we?” Blair asked suddenly. “I don’t—I never really knew. I mean, sure, England, but no more than that.”
Doyle made himself simply answer the question, rather than match it with one of his own. “The South Coast—that sea’s the English channel. The place down there is Lulworth, in Dorset. How well do you know England?”
“I… It’s difficult to be sure what’s real… Maiden Castle, that’s near here, isn’t it? I think I did go there, it wasn’t part of the…” He stopped, took a breath. “I don’t know anything anymore. I thought the doctors were telling me the truth about her, about all of it, but… Someone really did shoot at us, didn’t they?”
Doyle ignored the parts of this he didn’t understand. “Yes. Sounded like a high caliber handgun, too. Not some gardener’s shotgun.” He saw the pain on Blair’s face as he visibly struggled to clear his mind and added, “It won’t all make sense for a while. Don’t try to force your memories. I don’t know what was going on at the nursing home, but I saw how they reacted when they thought you were escaping from it. I wouldn’t believe anything they told you.”
“They said I’d had a breakdown, and there are lots of things I can’t remember, or it’s like I probably did make them up, because it’s the sort of thing I made up when I was a kid, big strong protector sort of stuff, and, well—I feel like a basket case. My hands are shaking, and I can’t get my mind around anything…” His voice rose, losing control.
“Hey!” Doyle said, swiveling to face him. “You’re not a basket case. I know you don’t feel great at the moment. I’d say someone’s been keeping you well dosed up on tranquillizers of some sort. That place wasn’t a normal nursing home, Blair, not by any stretch of imagination. I recognized one of the men driving in and out and he definitely used to be in British intelligence at one time, and not in the most scrupulous bit, either. Whatever you were there for, it wasn’t because you had a breakdown.”
“I didn’t take any pills or anything,” Blair said doubtfully, but the signs of panic ebbed.
“You ate and drank. There’s more ways than one of administering drugs. Did you feel out of it… dopey?”
“That’s proof enough, I’d say. I’m surprised you had the energy to run.”
“I’d decided to give up tea and coffee, cleanse my system a bit… It must have been the drinks. I felt wider awake… and jumpy… and then she woke up and it was there in her eyes! She was going for his throat—she really is a killer!”
Blair jumped up sharply as if he was seeing something in his memory, staggered and would have gone down if Doyle hadn’t been equally fast to his feet and ready to catch him. Blair was shaking violently; he struggled a moment against being held and Doyle loosened his grip, trying to make his arms an offer of comfort, not a restraint.
“It’ll be okay,” Doyle said gently. “It really will, Blair. You’re safe here and we aren’t going anywhere else ’til we know exactly what’s going on. No one knows where you are, no one can reach you, no-one can hurt you. You’ll feel better once you get past these first few hours. Just take your time; you’re doing really well.”
Blair shuddered violently, then leaned against him, face buried against Doyle’s shoulder. “You still think I’m not a basket case?” he mumbled.
“I think you’ve been used by some thoroughly unpleasant people. And I think we should take a break now from talking about it. Get rid of some of the side effects of the drugs, and give yourself time to feel safe, and then we’ll talk. It’s not really dark. Do you feel up to going for a walk?”
“Something like that.”
Blair leaned a moment longer, as if drawing strength, then straightened up. He wasn’t really that young at all, Doyle thought, not by the standard of Sheffield’s streets, anyway. But he was very vulnerable right now, and for some reason he got right under Doyle’s defenses. Detachment had long since become a way of life, a professional distance the only way to survive. But the sight of the muscle man in the nursing home garden about to lay into Blair had stirred his feelings in a way nothing had in a long time.
“Okay?” he asked, seeing Blair start to speak, then hesitate. Daft question, really. He obviously wasn’t okay, and wouldn’t be for a while. “Would you rather stay here?”
“No, no. Walking’s good. It’s just that… Don’t take this wrong, man, but—what are you?”
“What am I?”
“I mean, you look like the kind of guy my mom likes to date, and she’s the original peace-loving hippy. But you just about tossed that big asshole over your shoulder, and you know what different sorts of guns sound like…”
Doyle wasn’t sure where to begin with that one. He’d told Blair he was a cop when he first got him back here, and Blair had seemed to find that reassuring, but he’d evidently forgotten it. “Tell you what, I’ll talk while we walk,” he offered.
If it wasn’t worth much else, it would give Blair something else to think about, and might convince him Doyle knew what he was talking about when he told Blair he wasn’t losing his mind.
Bodie wondered how much longer it was worth pussy-footing around the whole Sentinel thing. He knew damn well that Ellison was a Sentinel; maybe there were ambiguities in the evidence, but Bodie had any determining proof he needed from the way Ellison had been able to pick up the tinier details on the airport footage. Anyway, little as he ever thought about the past, he could call it up in memory easily enough if he wanted to. He remembered Africa—being the boy he no longer recognized, learning the smells of heat and blood and fear—and he’d not been lying when he told Ellison about the hunter he’d known in Africa. The man had been extraordinary as a scout and tracker. And when he was listening for something the rest of them couldn’t hear, he held himself exactly the way Ellison did when Bodie knew he was listening to conversations that to him were inaudible.
Yes, Ellison was a Sentinel, all right; Bodie hadn’t called him on it partly because he could see how the media circus in Cascade had given Ellison more than reason enough to keep quiet about it, mostly because there hadn’t been any direct need to. It was not, definitely, because he felt any sympathy with Ellison’s stubborn commitment to his long-haired idealist of a partner. Those doors Bodie had shut and locked a long time ago. Only one man had ever dared to push him to open them, and Bodie was going to see him tonight. He was glad he was taking Ellison along. It might be a distraction.
“It’s not a meeting in the official sense,” he told Ellison. “He’s been retired for years. But he knows exactly what’s going on, and, anyway, I want to show him the still we managed to get of that man with the wheelchair. I still can’t place him, but he might be able to.”
“A good man?” Ellison said, perhaps catching the unexpected respect in his voice.
Bodie nodded. Whatever way Ellison meant it, moral or professional, yes, George Cowley was a good man. And still a formidable one, he warned Ellison. “We’re invited to dinner, but don’t let that fool you. It’ll be a rigorous debriefing, thinly disguised. Oh, and he’s shacked up with this old bird who’s as sharp as he is—used be an undersecretary at the Cabinet office or something—so it won’t be any good turning to her for a cozy chat over the canapés, either.”
It was probably as well he’d warned him. First appearances could be deceptive. Bodie hadn’t seen Cowley in some years, Elizabeth Walsh in longer, and he couldn’t help a feeling of amused disbelief at the—entirely false—impression they gave of being a typical, pleasant elderly couple. They showed Ellison around the garden, commented on the roses, and asked him about Cascade’s weather. When, over dinner, their questioning became subtly more penetrating, Ellison handled it impeccably. Bodie grinned silently and admired the technique on both sides. Cowley was about the only person in the world now for whom he felt anything that could be called friendship; Ellison was a surprisingly tolerable acquaintance, and certainly a man he felt he could work with. And while they were assessing each other, he could enjoy his dinner in peace.
Cowley, however, had not forgotten him. “And what are your long term plans now you’re back in England, Bodie?”
“Do as I’m told, like a good boy.”
“They’ve tamed you, have they? Or just made you indifferent?”
Ouch. Bodie managed to smile blandly. “We’re all getting older, sir.”
He really had to cure himself of the habit of calling Cowley ‘sir’.
“Not all of us accept the status quo so easily, though,” Cowley said. “Your old partner, Ray Doyle, for instance. Did you know he’d just been suspended? Always too hotheaded, Doyle, even when his cause was good.”
Bodie refused to let his anger show. It wasn’t Cowley he was angry with, anyway. It was himself. How fucking stupid that after all these years, after shutting Doyle out even from his thoughts all that time, he could still feel a treacherous touch of concern. This was why he wouldn’t see him; why it had been easier to go to Hong Kong and forget anything to do with England. It would be too damned easy to slip into that friendship again.
“We could always chat about police procedures, of course,” he said coldly, getting a sharp glance from both the elderly people. “What does it take to get a cop suspended in the US, Ellison?”
Ellison picked that one up neatly and ran with it, and Doyle wasn’t mentioned again. Bodie ignored the scathing look he got from his old boss. As far as he was concerned, Doyle had made his choice years ago and would have to live with the consequences. You didn’t ditch your mates, then expect them to call for cozy chats, or send Christmas cards.
Cowley let them finish their meal before he got down to business. Coffee, a brief chat about Hong Kong, a pure malt each and then they were considered to be suitably entertained. Cowley leaned forward, his gaze as sharp as ever.
“I think you and I have an acquaintance in common, Mr. Ellison.”
Bodie could see why he might have to ask that. Cowley nodded. “I think so. Jack Kelso, currently at Rainier. To put it bluntly, there have been a number of rumors about your arrival here.” Bodie correctly interpreted that as meaning there were still plenty of people Cowley could squeeze information out of when he wanted to. “I prefer to hear things accurately. Kelso suggested I talk to you directly, but he did tell me quite a lot about your missing partner.”
Ellison looked at Bodie. How much do you think he knows? that look said eloquently.
Bodie shrugged. Everything, probably.
“Let me tell you how things appear to me at the moment,” Cowley said. He did, as Bodie had suspected, know most of what they knew. The best way to handle that was to appear completely unsurprised.
“I think that sums it up quite well, sir,” he said. “However, Ellison had more success with the security camera footage than our boys had had. At the moment, this one is just for your eyes.” He took the blurred and grainy photograph and handed it over. “I’m sure I recognize the man I’ve ringed, but I’m damned if I can place him.”
He saw Cowley’s face sharpen with recognition, too, as he looked at the man Bodie had ringed. “That’s very interesting,” he said. “Yes, Bodie, you should know him, though I don’t imagine you’ve seen him in a long time. That’s Williams, ex-MI5—you first met him when we dealt with those hits on retired civil servants.” Cowley smiled at Elizabeth Walsh; he’d met her then, Bodie thought. And of course he remembered Williams now he had the context. He also realized why it hadn’t come to him before.
“We were looking for a criminal or terrorist connection,” he said doubtfully. “Williams was a smug bastard and too full of his own importance, but I don’t see him as either of those.”
“I wonder,” Cowley said thoughtfully. “No, not a criminal or a terrorist. Williams and a few like him fancy themselves as patriots. He’s still connected to Intelligence, you know, on the less attributable edge, and there’s a faction who definitely think as he does.”
“I’ve been in Hong Kong a while and Ellison’s not up with the James Bond stuff,” Bodie said. “How does Williams think?”
But Cowley, who had retained into old age his ruthless disregard for anyone else’s need to know, walked off into his study, picked up the phone and pushed the door shut. Bodie looked hopefully at Elizabeth.
“There are some people who are not happy with the prospect of a strong but left wing government for the indefinite future,” she said. “The… element of thinking… that had a Labour prime minister bugged in the Sixties still exists, you know.”
“Cowley’s not exactly on the trendy left, himself,” Bodie said.
“George always supported the elected government,” she said reprovingly. “But, anyway, he says this young man at Number Ten is very sound on security. On the whole, I think he rather approves of him. Now, can I get you both another drink?”
“A coffee would be great,” Bodie said with his most charming smile. It would also involve her going off to the kitchen. As soon as she was out of the door, he turned to Ellison, pointing at Cowley’s study. “If you can listen to that conversation, do it,” he said shortly. “I’m not messing about anymore. I know you’re what they keep calling a Sentinel; I don’t know how much you can do. Can you hear both sides?”
Ellison glared at him.
“It’s your damn partner,” Bodie said.
“I’m listening,” Ellison said shortly. “He’s talking to someone who knows about Sandburg. And about Brackett and that prototype. Wants an update on Williams and friends. Wants to know any possible target. Or their recent whereabouts. Man on the other end hasn’t got answers. He’s arranging to meet him tomorrow morning, 11:00. At ‘the club’?”
He broke off as Elizabeth Walsh returned, and Bodie had to make polite conversation and wonder what else Ellison could hear.
Odd, disconnected thoughts came to Blair as he walked. His whole world was odd and disconnected come to that, he thought wryly in a moment of detachment; it was hard to be sure anything was solid and real. He wanted to stoop down and rub his hands in the grass which he could barely see. The brush of the slight evening breeze was welcome, and the sounds from the small cove below where they walked. Even the scratch of a bramble. Anything that assured him he was alive and awake. Most of all, he hung on to the quiet voice of his companion.
Ray. Ray Doyle. Blair had taken the name in sometime, somehow, earlier in the day. It had meant little to him then; what had been important was the sense of reassurance he got from the man. But now he was pleased to have a name to anchor his impressions to. The man strolling beside him was little more than a silhouette against the lighter darkness of the sky, but Blair could picture the details he’d seen earlier in the day. Long hair, nearly as wavy as his own, but streaked with grey, pulled back and tied with a strip of leather; old jeans; a disreputable T-shirt; expressive eyes in a hard face. He looked like an ecological warrior, maybe; he didn’t look much like Blair’s idea of an English policeman. The begrimed and drug-ridden streets Ray was describing seemed a long way from this gentle coastal walk, too. But Blair wandered beside him, and listened to the sound of his voice as much as the words, and managed not to think about the chaos in his own mind, at least for a while.
They reached somewhere where the black blur of bushes thinned, and he could look down on the lights of buildings and of the semicircle of boats on the water. It was peaceful and rather beautiful, and there was no reason at all why it should make him shudder with a renewed sense of loss. It was just… not home, and somehow it made him realize that he could no longer picture clearly what home was.
In an effort to distract himself again, he turned back to Ray. “I still don’t get how the whole guns and martial arts stuff fits in,” he said. “Or why you were watching that place. Are you undercover or something?”
“I’m suspended,” Ray said, not so briefly that the bitterness couldn’t immediately be heard. “I forgot the cardinal rule—go easy on anyone with money and influence, even if you think your evidence holds up.”
Blair couldn’t help responding to the raw emotions he could hear under the words. “That sucks. I know what it’s like. There was this rich kid at Rainier and even when we…”
The sound drained from his voice. He’d been focused on the man beside him, responding without thinking to the hurt in his voice, and abruptly there was a picture in his mind that was sharp and clear. Like a glimpse of a whole world he’d lost. Buildings. People. And a man there, whose face he knew as well as his own. Why couldn’t he think of the name? Suddenly he was back on the shifting, sinking ground of uncertain realities, and his yearning for home sharpened so much, it seemed to cut into him and he gasped.
This had happened before, when he tried to think about what they said were his retreats into fantasy. The blinding headache which he remembered from the nursing home splintered the darkness in front of his eyes with painful streaks of light. The world he’d had such a brief sight of still seemed real, though, and he was abruptly, disproportionately, terrified.
He turned clumsily, unseeing, to the sound of Ray’s voice, and was pulled into a warm grip that held him on the safe side of panic. He knew he was shaking; if it wasn’t for Ray’s arms tightening around him, he thought he’d shake apart. If they’d lied to him, if the people at the nursing home had lied about this as it seemed they had lied about other things, there could be reality to this world he was picturing, however distant and elusive it seemed. If… But the thought fragmented as the pain in his head grew worse. He heard the voices telling him he must forget, forget this fantasy he’d developed so elaborately, leave it, forget it, stop… The noise in his mind rose to a crescendo, and he crumbled under its onslaught.
Williams stared irritably at the photographs on his desk. They should have had more cameras around the grounds. He had no good still shot of the man who had removed Sandburg, and although there were several of the car, the number plate couldn’t be made out properly. Barson had been unsatisfactory, too. He was convinced it was some local who’d been to a few trendy lessons at a sports center and got lucky, but his description was enough to feed Williams’ lurking paranoia. Could some of the old CI5 agents somehow be returning to the game?
He picked up the phone and called one of his London contacts. They didn’t like being directly involved, but that was their bad luck. He needed this car traced and their resources were better and faster than anything available to him here. He also asked for an update on Bodie’s movements, and was not encouraged to hear he’d been dining with Cowley and the old harridan who was such a good match for him.
“We don’t think it means anything,” his contact said. “After all, you’d expect him to pay a few social calls. He’s been out of the country.”
“You wouldn’t expect him to take Ellison.”
“Well, we’re monitoring the situation. You concentrate on the woman. It’s been too long; if we’re going to use her, we need to see some results.”
Williams had heard that one before. Even more irritated, he hung up and decided to go see Dr. Hooper and make his life a misery as well. Alex, after that brief, murderous awakening, had seemed to stabilize, and although she was no longer clearly responding, Hooper said it looked more promising than it ever had before. If they could retrieve Sandburg, maybe they could finally see their plans begin to work out.
Jim Ellison sat in silence as Bodie drove with competent speed back into London. He was, as a matter of fact, relieved rather than angry to have admitted his Sentinel abilities. It had been depressingly obvious from the start that Bodie hadn’t accepted his denials, but he’d felt impelled to go on making them. Now he knew Bodie a little better, and believed they were more or less on the same side— Bodie had backed his cover story not only in front of him, but at other times when he wouldn’t have known Jim could hear him.
So he did plan, eventually, to tell Bodie the rest of what he’d heard. He just intended to make him ask. And to reserve to himself the extent of his sensory perception. The fact Bodie wasn’t sure he could hear both sides of the phone conversation showed he was underestimating it fairly substantially.
He leaned comfortably back in his seat, stretched his legs and tried to look the picture of relaxation. He’d had a lot said and implied to him over the last few days about British superiority in every field from intelligence gathering to air hostesses, and it was nice to have the upper hand for once.
“There’s always torture,” Bodie growled. “Thumbscrews are regulation issue, y’know.”
“You only have to ask nicely.”
“That’s what you’d do, is it?”
“That would depend on how badly I wanted to know something.”
A reluctant hint of a smile softened Bodie’s hard profile. “Don’t forget you need me if you want to know where Cowley’s cozy lunchtime chat is going to be.”
“And you need me if you want to hear it. Unless you plan to bug him in a more traditional style.”
Bodie did smile now, his face transformed by it. “I’ve done that before—a long time ago—but, no. You’re too much of an ace in the hole to waste. We’ll listen your way. And please, Detective Ellison, would you be so kind as to tell me the rest of that conversation you overheard tonight.”
“It was nothing about Sandburg or this case.”
“I realized that. You’d have been a damned sight quicker to tell me, otherwise.”
“Cowley was telling the other guy—I never got his name—that he thought ‘things,’ unspecified, were going ahead very promisingly. He’s going to spend the rest of the day tomorrow with someone called Murphy, and possibly have a brief meeting with the Home Secretary.”
“Interesting,” Bodie said. “I knew he’d got his finger back in some pie. Anything else?”
“I’m not sure whether it was connected or not, but he said that when he’d been to tea at Downing Street, the PM—do you always refer to him like that?—had shown a remarkably thorough knowledge of what CI5 had achieved.”
Bodie snorted. “Tea at Downing Street? Bloody hell. Maybe they’re going to give him a knighthood. Anyway, it doesn’t sound as if any of it will affect us. I’ll pick you up early tomorrow and we’ll plan our approach. Staking out a club for officers and gentlemen isn’t like your Yankee busts, you know. Calls for a bit of tact.”
Jim laughed, but once he was out of the car and alone in his hotel room, the brief escape from his thoughts was over. The evening had been pleasant enough, but his ability to be involved in it had been a thin veneer over an ugly void. He couldn’t let himself think all the time about what might have happened to Blair, what the wheelchair might have signified, or he would be crushed into uselessness. He especially didn’t dare dwell on whether they really wanted Blair as a Guide for another Sentinel—for Alex?
He hadn’t been dreaming of anything weird lately. He wasn’t sleeping much, true, but when he did, his nightmares were the ordinary ones he might expect. Did that mean anything? The only person he would have asked that question of wasn’t there, and he had to struggle against the fear that he might never be there again.
Ray Doyle cursed himself for all kinds of idiot as he struggled to hold onto the writhing weight in his arms. Blair seemed to be trying to bend double, with his hands over his ears. Doyle managed to ease them both down to the grass without letting go of him; he daren’t do that, not with the cliff edge so close. Blair was too unaware of his surroundings, apparently trapped in some memory or enforced response, and there was barely a fringe of bushes between them and the drop.
They should have stayed in the relative security of the caravan, but Ray had thought this crisis might be postponed. It was clear enough it had to come sometime. It had been many years since he’d moved in a world where drugs were a part of indoctrination rather than profiteering, but he hadn’t forgotten the signs. Blair’s confusion was manmade, deliberately inflicted on him, and probably too complex to hold up for long away from the cocooning isolation of the nursing homes and whatever drugs they’d been feeding him. Doyle had just hoped they’d have a bit of time before Blair had to face it—long enough for him to recover a little physically and to get over the traumas of the day.
That had been one reason he suggested this walk. The other was that, on a couple of nights since he’d been here, Tom’s landowner friend had dropped in to see if he needed anything. He wished he’d taken the risk of that awkward encounter now. Out here, the empty landscape and the darkness gave them all the privacy they could want, but there was a real danger of Blair being hurt if, in his confusion, he tried to bolt.
So Doyle held onto him, and thankfully Blair didn’t struggle against it. He’d curled into a fetal position as soon as he hit the ground, and remained clenched in it, with his arms around his head and his elbows digging into Doyle’s thighs.
“Make it stop,” he said suddenly, his voice muffled, but not enough to hide the note of pain and panic.
Make what stop? Doyle wished he had some idea of what was going on in Blair’s mind. He kept a grip on Blair with one hand and rubbed his rigid back with the other.
“It will. It’s over,” he said as firmly as he could given that he had no idea what he was talking about.
“I don’t want to hear them. I never wanted to hear them. They kept saying it all the time.”
Okay, that made things a little more understandable. “They can’t say anything to you now,” Doyle said, hauling Blair up, still hunched tightly. Doyle didn’t try to stop him clutching his head, but he managed to settle him a little more comfortably against his shoulder. “They can’t reach you here. You’re free of them, they haven’t any power to make you listen now. They’re just a bad memory. A really bad memory, but no more. You know what that’s like. It’s there, but you don’t have to live in it. You can step away.”
Blair unknotted enough to grip his arm, painfully hard. “Keep talking,” he mumbled.
Doyle could understand that— the need for something real, something to set against the mind’s voices. He went on reassuring Blair, then, as he felt him grow less tense, talked almost at random for a while; peaceful things, some of the good moments from the last few weeks’ walking, people he’d met.
Blair sighed, shuddered a little, and was back with him. And embarrassed.
“Sorry, man—I just totally lost it. Can’t sort it all out. Damn. I have to know what’s real, Ray. They told me… Oh, shit, why can’t I think properly? Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
“You’re not stupid,” Doyle said. “Someone did this deliberately—created the confusion and the idea you’ve had a breakdown. You’re trying to undo in a few hours what took weeks to create. I’m no expert, but I think you’re probably doing amazingly well, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”
“Glad you think so—I don’t feel as if I know anything anymore. I hate not being able to think properly. I really hate this feeling that what I think is real isn’t… or is…”
Doyle wondered, as he had done too many times already this evening, whether he’d made utterly the wrong judgment. Blair needed proper care, professional help, the family or friends he must have somewhere. But then he remembered the speed with which firearms had been used on them, the terror that had been on Blair’s face—and above all, the man he’d seen who he could so nearly place in his memory. Definitely Intelligence. Someone who’d had some kind of run in with Cowley. With those players in the game, what would the police or doctors be able to do if someone wanted to take Blair in the interests of ‘national security’? No, until he knew who wanted Blair and why, he couldn’t risk getting Blair any help but his own.
So what could he give him? Maybe just facts, and the respect of assuming Blair could deal with them.
“There are things we know for sure,” he said slowly, following his own line of thought aloud. “We know you were held in that place by what sounds to me like a mixture of sedation and indoctrination. We know they were prepared to use violence to hold onto you, and to risk shooting at us when they realized they’d failed. And we can make a reasonable assumption that some kind of covert intelligence group was involved. That’s quite a major amount of trouble for one person. You’re handling the fallout remarkably well. I’m impressed by you. Most people would be…”
“Basket cases,” Blair muttered as Doyle groped for a suitable word.
Doyle knew what sort of resilience it took to be able to make even this feeble joke. “That’s about it,” he agreed lightly. “Whereas you’ve survived. Which means that the people who had you are the ones who need to be worrying right now. And I bet they are.”
Blair stirred against his shoulder, apparently finding this thought encouraging. “Hope so. You’ve got to admit, though, it does sound like a script for a B-movie. Terrible plot. All the clichés.”
“If you look at any history of intelligence work, a lot of it does.”
He could hear, and feel, that Blair was fully with him now. Even so, he was surprised by the difference in Blair’s voice when he said slowly, “There are other things we could say are… facts. Real. Even if they twisted them.”
“Do you feel okay with telling me what they are?”
Blair took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “There was a woman at the nursing home. Her name’s Alicia… Alex… both, maybe. I think she was the one who was important to them, not me. Only they wanted me to help her. I did know her. I think—I believe she tried to kill me once, but they said it was part of my breakdown to think like that, and it hadn’t really happened.”
Doyle had felt out of his depth so long, he’d given up worrying about it. This might sound crazy, but the bullet scar along the side of the Triumph showed that someone hadn’t minded the idea of killing either of them.
“Do you know why they want the woman?” he asked quietly.
“She… I know she used to have heightened senses. Hearing, touch, sight and so on, all way above the norm. She used them as a criminal. Then—this is where it gets way from me—she really did have a breakdown. Total. Mind, senses, everything just sort of shut down. I know that part is true, because she was still catatonic in the beginning. I think they were trying to cure her. That’s what they wanted me for. I studied people with heightened senses. I could help her come out of the… state she was in.”
Doyle had known criminals who made good—or rather bad—use of a heightened ability to feel or see. Safecrackers. Counterfeiters. It wasn’t enough, really, to explain this set up, but maybe they were going in the right direction. He heard something in Blair’s voice that he hadn’t heard before, too. Blair was being careful about what he was saying, not quite telling it all. On balance, Doyle welcomed that. It was a sign Blair was taking back some sort of control.
“You used to study people with heightened senses?” he said.
“I could help people—if they had problems with the intensity of them, or getting control. I study… studied… anthropology. At Rainier. In Cascade, Washington.” He said it slowly, almost forcing the words out. “There are things—I don’t know if I’m remembering them or if I really dreamed… When I try to think about it, it hurts—I mean real, head-pounding, worst hangover you’ve ever had, pain.”
“So, take it slowly,” Doyle said. “Don’t push it, Blair. Whatever it is, however important it is, you can wait another night.”
“But I need to know. For me, personally. And… I must have been there quite a long time. I think… people must have missed me?”
Again that jarring uncertainty. Doyle wondered if that was the work of his recent captors or if something else had given Blair the idea he wouldn’t be missed. “People’s absences can be explained quite plausibly, even when they’re married. You’d be surprised.”
“I wasn’t married,” Blair said, with conviction, and then, as if that thought had briefly recalled the lighter-hearted young man he must have once been. “No way. There are just too many girls in the world.”
Doyle grinned, relieved and encouraged by this further proof of Blair’s resilience. He could just about remember being that age and having that ability to recover. If he tried hard. He got rather stiffly to his feet, pulling Blair up with him. “Well, that’s one fact you’re sure of,” he said. “I think I know a way we can get the rest sorted out a bit more clearly. You’ve got useful names there—yours, the woman’s, Rainier, Cascade. In the morning, we’ll go and find somewhere we can do some research. We don’t have to rely only on your memory for the facts.”
“I think that might work.”
“They wouldn’t let me have a computer at the nursing home. Or a TV, even. They said it would set back my recovery. That kind of suggests it would work, right?”
“Right,” Doyle said, pleased at the spark of interest, and the increasing glimpses of what he instinctively felt was Blair’s real personality. He didn’t fool himself. There was a long way to go, and he hadn’t even dared mention the ‘Jim’ whom Blair had called out for in his sleep. But he was beginning to believe they were getting somewhere after all.
Back at the caravan, when he lit the gaslight, Doyle noticed a note pinned to the open door. Tom’s friend had been there, then. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that they’d been out on the cliff top.
Tom called, the note said, in the careful handwriting of those who only use a pen when they have no option. Says ring him when you get back. Don’t matter how late. Before morning because they’re going away.
Was it late? He realized he had no idea how long they’d been out, and was shocked to find his watch showing it was nearly two in the morning. No wonder that Blair looked utterly spent. He’d flopped down, leaning back on the small bunk he’d slept on earlier, and in the thin illumination of the gaslight, his hair created even deeper lines of shadow on his face.
Doyle put the note down where Blair could read it if he wanted to, and rummaged under the bench seat for the mobile phone he kept for emergencies. He hoped the note didn’t indicate an emergency, but he was grateful for the opportunity to speak to Tom, anyway.
Tom sounded wide awake. “Ray? What happened today? Are you okay?”
“How do you know something happened?”
“The nursing home has just closed down completely. Everyone’s moved out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Stella’s friend—the one she told you about—knows a lot of local people. The bus driver on that route was passing when a whole series of cars came out and drove away, and he thought that was odd, so he gave her a ring—knowing she was interested in the place, I suppose. Rosie—that’s the friend—went to have a look and it’s deserted there. She asked a few neighbors and one lot said they’d heard something over there earlier—a car backfiring and then tearing away, they thought. And we wondered…”
“Well, I’m fine,” Doyle said, avoiding the other implied questions. “I’d say the area will be better without them. The note I got said you’re going away?”
“We’re going to pick the boys up, then stay a few days with friends.”
“Any chance I could come in and use your computer? You’re on-line, aren’t you?”
“I have teenagers, Ray. Not only do we have an internet connection, it’s on a different line from the phone so they can spend my money even more quickly. Of course you can come in and use it. We’ll leave a key for you under the geranium pot on the step.”
Doyle winced. “Leave it with a neighbor and I’ll collect it.”
“We’re very law-abiding round here, you know, but if it upsets you, okay. I’ll give it to the old lady at number 6; she’s almost always in. Don’t scare her. She’s nervous of rough-looking men.”
“Thanks! Oh, and, Tom, there’s one other thing you could do for me, if you would. First thing in the morning before you go.”
“There’s a guy named Murphy. He’s the only one of the old crowd I keep in touch with at all. I’ll give you his number. Call him, and tell him about the nursing home, and that I said it would be worth looking into what was going on there. Okay? But don’t tell him where I am or how to get in touch with me.”
“Very cloak and dagger,” Tom said. “Okay, I’ll do that. Take care, Ray.”
Doyle gave him Murphy’s number and ended the call hastily before he was asked any more questions. He was glad the Hunters were going away. He wouldn’t have used their house if they weren’t. Old habits were coming back to him fast, and he had a feeling Blair’s captors wouldn’t have simply given up on searching for him, even if they had decamped en masse.
Blair, who’d been watching him wearily, asked, “Backup?”
“I hope so.” Interesting that Blair should use that particular term. It wasn’t the obvious choice from an academic’s vocabulary. Another part of the puzzle, maybe. Or just coincidence.
He took a reel of thin line he’d noticed left by some previous visitor in a drawer, some empty cans and his knife. “Early warning system,” he said to Blair. “I don’t think anyone could find us here, but we might as well take what precautions we can. This should make plenty of noise if someone trips over it.”
“I’ll string the cans on it,” Blair offered.
Taking a flashlight to see by, Doyle took the rest of the line and rigged it at ankle height around the entire perimeter of the field. When he came back in, Blair had fixed the cans together so they would rattle if the line was snagged, and was looking intently at the knife.
“Problem?” Doyle asked.
“No. I was looking at that mark.”
“It’s an R. I always mark my knives—too many people I work with have ones that are nearly identical. And it’s clearer than a D.”
Blair looked up. “I had a knife like this, when I was a kid. Well, not quite so many gadgets, but a Swiss Army knife. It was marked exactly like that. I used to pretend it was a rune—like warriors marked runes on their swords. I suppose someone like you had initialed it. It was, you know, kind of nice to remember something so clearly for once.”
“We’ll get the rest back clearly in the end,” Doyle said gently. “Starting tomorrow. Now get some sleep.”
“What about you?”
“I can sleep on the bench seat.” It was probably not that far from dawn, anyway, he thought. He tossed Blair a thin blanket, put out the light, and closed the door once the moths had gone out.
Nothing disturbed his tripwires, not even a prowling cat.
Tom and Stella were up at 6 a.m. and ready to leave by 6:30, hoping to avoid the traffic and heat. While Stella took the key to Mrs. Crabber, Tom dialed the number Ray had given him last night, and hoped he wouldn’t wake a wife or girlfriend.
“Murphy,” a voice said briefly at the other end.
“I’ve got a message for you from Ray Doyle.”
Bodie picked Jim Ellison up early, as they’d planned. Jim had slept, uneasily. For a long time he’d dreamed of searching a labyrinth of underground tunnels, reminiscent of those the gold hunters had dragged Blair through. He’d walked the tunnels of his dream with greater desperation, though, his senses closed to him, nothing leading him any closer to Blair. As his feeling of fear and loss grew unbearable, he even consciously sought Incacha and the blue light of the jungle.
And he came out into somewhere that was light, but this was different. Bright light, that held no riddles or equivocation. Too bright, so that he could not even begin to approach it. Then between himself and the light, he saw the silhouette of a man. As he watched him, the man bowed his head and reached out his hands to the light. It trickled along his arms and ran down in warm ripples, and as it left him, it became less blinding; it flowed towards Jim, more gentle, accessible, touchable. He watched it flow into the dark behind him, and it suddenly seemed to him that although the man didn’t know it, the light would reach Blair and show him the way here. Before the thought even formed clearly, he woke to Bodie’s call, but for the first time in weeks, he started the day with a vague feeling of hope.
Elizabeth Walsh watched George limp stiffly to the car. She wished he’d let her drive him into London, but she’d never say so. He was a stubborn old bastard, and that was how she liked him. It was good to see him getting to grips with something again. He was wasted on retirement; she felt a furious impatience with her country that it could ever have dispensed with his services. She was well aware of his hopes and concerns for today, but she had no intention of brooding while she waited to hear. She marched into the garden and dealt ruthlessly with a rampant shrub.
Williams finished his breakfast coffee and picked up the phone. They should have been back to him by now with something on the car. He had to do something about Sandburg and fast. Get him back, of course, if they could, but if not, perhaps it would be better to make sure he wasn’t going to talk to anyone. Williams had people who would be prepared to see to that.
Blair woke slowly, fuzzily, and couldn’t think where he was. Sunlight. An open door onto a rough field. An asthmatic hiss from a kettle.
“Cup of tea?” Ray Doyle looked briefly in the open door and was gone again.
Things in Blair’s mind—well, fell into place was perhaps putting it too strongly, but at any rate, he remembered now where he was and why.
“Tea would be good,” he called. There was a sound of splashing outside. The caravan’s facilities were primitive; he guessed Doyle was washing in a bucket.
He lay and looked at the sunlight and failed to recapture fading images from his dreams. Good dreams, he thought. He’d slept well. Something was digging into his hand and he lifted it and saw he must have gone to sleep holding onto the army knife. It had slid out of his fingers sometime in the night. Embarrassed, he put it hastily back on the side. He could remember, sharply, doing that with his own, when they’d just moved to places he wasn’t sure about, or when a new boyfriend of Naomi’s wasn’t used to kids. When he was seven or eight and it had seemed to him more valuable than it really was, he’d liked to pretend it belonged to his real dad, and imagine that his dad would come back sometime to get it and find Blair as well. And when he was older, he’d often kept it on him at night on digs. Of course since he’d lived… since he’d lived with… The thought ran into a brick wall, and stopped, painfully.
He rubbed his eyes, and sat up. Don’t force it, Ray had said, and although he kept wanting to, Blair knew it made sense. Think of something else and it might come back to him. It was just there, he could feel it. Like a word on the tip of the tongue, only this was so much more. He saw his shoes where he’d kicked them off the night before, pulled them on, and went to pour water on the teabags before the kettle lost its cool completely.
Doyle came in, bare to the waist and hair dripping. “Thanks. I’m afraid breakfast is tea—without milk—and apples. We’ll have to buy some food later.”
Blair turned to say an apple was good, but stopped short as he saw the old scarring on Ray’s back and realized as Ray turned that there was more on his chest. Bullet wounds? How did he know that? His hand went to his thigh. But a bullet wound so near the heart…
“That must have come close to killing you,” he blurted out.
Ray glanced down. “It was a long time ago. But, yes, it did.” He pulled on a T-shirt and looked at Blair thoughtfully. “Most people who see it suppose it’s the result of some sort of surgery. You knew what it was, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I don’t… I’ve seen people shot… I’ve been shot…” He was suddenly quite certain of it. He’d seen people shot… recently. Friends. He could see them in a mess of blood and glass.
Ray handed him an over-sugared cup of tea. “Well, let’s try to avoid it in future. A girl did this—pretty girl. She decided her cause was good enough to justify bombing and murder and she died for it. So did the man who was the real cause of the trouble, so maybe she thought it was worth it.”
“You stopped her?”
“No. I stood there like an idiot and let her shoot me. I’ve never seen anyone who looked less likely to shoot in cold blood. My partner stopped her—and held her hand while she died.” He paused. “Yesterday you told me about the woman at the nursing home—Alex?—and that she’d tried to kill you. Is that what you’re remembering when you talk about being shot.”
Blair wished he knew. He could see Alex, gun in hand, sounding almost sorry that he had to be disposed of. But that was… before? “She didn’t shoot me,” he said, grabbing hold of the memories even as he spoke. “She had the gun but… I think she hit me… I was drowning… I did drown…” He shivered. “I was lost somewhere.” He met Ray’s eyes and saw he understood.
“I was in a graveyard,” Ray said softly. “I think lost is about how I felt. The partner I was telling you about, though—somehow I always kept the sense of him being around. He was there right after it happened, and in the ambulance, and then he came and barged into my dreams. I think I knew how he’d feel if I gave up.”
Blair dropped the cup, but hardly noticed. A partner. Someone who would come even into your dreams and drag you back. He knew now with abrupt certainty that he’d had that… once. That was the face he’d seen the night before. He could see it again now, and again the name was blocked from him.
“I had a partner,” he said thickly, asserting it against whatever they’d done to him, whatever lies they’d told him.
“Wouldn’t let you give up?”
“Wouldn’t let them give up on me,” Blair said, hearing someone telling him that, and failing to get identity that, either. “I can’t remember his name, Ray. How can you be that close to someone and not remember his name? I can see him, but it’s like flashes, pictures, and they don’t stay long enough for me to get them clear. My head aches when I try.”
Ray hesitated, then said slowly, “I don’t think you’ve forgotten it. It’s more like it’s blocked from you—and I suspect at some point, someone used pain to reinforce that. The memory is still there. It’s your will to call it up that’s affected. When you’ve been asleep, I think you remember. You’ve said someone’s name a few times.”
Blair waited. “Go on,” he said, after what seemed like too long a pause. “What is the name?” He could see Ray wasn’t certain whether to tell him or not, probably worried about what it might precipitate. “Come on, man. You can’t say that and then just leave it. I’m so close. I need my life back.”
“It wasn’t coming back easily last night,” Doyle said.
“But I was okay, right? You said I was doing well.”
“You were; you are. But…”
“If we do this thing with the internet, it’ll probably come up, anyway,” Blair pointed out. “I think I could handle it better here.” He was winning, he could see.
Ray looked worried, but he conceded. “I suppose so. All right, then. You thought there was someone called Jim with you yesterday when you were waking up. I heard you say the name a couple of times last night as well.”
Maybe he said more. Blair hardly heard it, though. Jim! The name was so utterly familiar, held so many feelings. There was a rush of images before his eyes as if some dam had fallen and what he’d shut back was now free. Jim Ellison—cop, friend and… Sentinel.
The memories came too fast and too vivid to cope with, and he staggered under the weight of them. He didn’t care, though. This was what he’d had to know, to rediscover. This was who he really was, and if he fell to pieces finding out, well, Ray could pick him up and put him together again; he’d done a good job of it so far.
Jim—in the loft, in the bullpen, at a game with Simon… the other names came back now. Megan. Joel. So many people in a world that had been shut off behind some brutally built barrier.
He must have fallen backwards at some point because he could see Ray looking down at him. He reached out for his hand as the chaos of it all whirled round him like some giant and overwhelming fairground, and hung on tight, but enthralled as the images coalesced and made sense.
He had a feeling that long time had passed before he surfaced, feeling somewhere near whole for the first time in forever. Ray looked as if he’d found it fairly alarming, anyway. On the other hand, he had, over the last couple of days, shown a fairly unlimited capacity for taking whatever Blair threw at him. Blair let go of the death grip he had on Ray’s hand and winced as he saw the white indentations. “Sorry.”
“Any time,” Ray said, and the relief on his face suggested he hadn’t expected anything so normal. “Are you back with me now?”
“Yeah.” Blair sat up slowly. “Ray, I remember way more than I did. Names, places, Jim—he’s a cop in Cascade—I worked with him, I shared a loft with him. I remember whole years of my life I thought had never existed. Jim’ll be looking for me. I have to get to a phone and some way of communicating with him.”
“But carefully,” Ray said, and the words were like a bucket of cold water on Blair’s enthusiasm. “Because it doesn’t change the fact that someone out there wanted you and may well not have given up on the idea of getting you back. Do you understand any better what they wanted you for?”
Blair did now he had time to think of it. All too well. His newly recovered memories didn’t sit comfortably with that. “Oh, shit,” he said, beginning to see it all. “Yes. I think I do. I… Maybe I didn’t explain to you quite clearly enough what Alex could do. With someone helping her use her senses, guiding her through it, she could get into really secure locations. I’m sure they planned to use her for something like that. Bits and pieces they asked me about her skills make sense now. Some things are still fuzzy, but I’m sure one of them—Dr. Wilson—came to Cascade. I can remember talking to him, telling him she wasn’t a hopeless case.”
“But you don’t remember agreeing to come here?”
Blair shook his head. He couldn’t even think why he’d been talking to someone about Alex. If Jim knew… And then he remembered the last few things that had escaped him, or maybe that he hadn’t wanted back. The dissertation disaster. Simon and Megan being shot. The hopeless choice of no career or one that just wouldn’t work. The last sight he’d had of Jim, back turned, staring at nothing, maybe not regretting the end of the partnership, after all. Suddenly his urgency to speak to Jim faded to something less confident.
“Maybe I’d better tell you all of it,” he said to Ray. “All I remember, anyway.”
Bodie had had some idea of what a Sentinel might be able to do. It had fallen well short of the mark. He was frankly startled by Ellison’s abilities. He’d expected to have to get them somewhere close at hand, but Ellison, when he saw that the club dining room had open windows onto the street, said he’d listen in from the car. That suited Bodie fine; it also made him appreciate for the first time exactly why covert groups might find someone with heightened senses very useful.
He’d obtained a nice, anonymous car for the morning, and positioned a sun-blind in the passenger window; Cowley might be old, but he was still sharp. They’d arrived there early, and the traffic warden had been satisfied with Bodie’s ID and hadn’t asked any awkward questions. He’d whiled away the long wait going through with Ellison the reports that had come in from Cascade. Banks or one of his people had done a good job; there had been little definite information from the airport cameras, but they’d followed up the man who’d made the bookings, a Dr. Wilson, and questioned staff at the hotel where he’d been staying. Two had picked Sandburg’s photo out as someone who’d visited the place sometime early in the spring.
“It was near there his car turned up,” Ellison said. “And it’s not a place he’d normally have any reason to go into.”
“It’s a good lead,” Bodie agreed. He was watching the street carefully in spite of his lazy slouch, and wondering which of the few people entering the club might be Cowley’s lunch date. He was out of touch, though, and people changed a lot in twelve years. The first person he recognized was Cowley himself—and the man with him.
“Murphy,” he said aloud for Ellison’s benefit. “You said Cowley was meeting him as well. I wonder where Murphy comes into this. Can you hear them?”
The disadvantages of this compared with electronics, of course, was that he had to rely on Ellison. He wasn’t in the habit of trusting anyone.
“Sounds like they’ve only just met up,” Ellison said. “Cowley’s saying he thinks the message Murphy got might be relevant to what he’s going to discuss with… sounds like Nairn? Major Nairn?”
“That’ll be it. I know Nairn. None of these old buzzards seem to know what retirement is.” He was watching Ellison’s face all the time, and saw the minute change that he associated with Ellison not giving him a full story. “What else? Come on, Ellison, you bloody owe me.”
Ellison shrugged. “Cowley asked Murphy if he normally kept in touch with Doyle. I think it might be relevant, I’m still listening.”
Bodie scowled. So Ellison had picked up the name and that Bodie might not want to hear it. Too bad. What the hell was Cowley chatting about Ray Doyle for, anyway?
“By the sound of it, the message Cowley thinks might be relevant came from Doyle,” Ellison said, looking slightly puzzled. “I thought Cowley said he was suspended.”
“That wouldn’t make sense even if he wasn’t,” Bodie said. “He was saving the world up north somewhere, not getting his hands dirty in the big bad and amoral world of the intelligence services.”
“He’s got my sympathy,” Ellison said. Bodie had temporarily forgotten he was a cop; he’d have been good when he was covert ops, someone must have been sorry to lose him.
“You getting anything else?”
“Someone who sounds like a bad extra from a film set in the Thirties asking them if they’d like drinks before lunch. Conversation. Social stuff, with a bit of an edge. Nothing for us. Nairn saying something about ‘So this is your chosen successor, is it?’ and Cowley replying that it’s not a job for one man anymore.”
He got that slightly remote look again. Bodie elbowed him. “Okay. Cowley said you were back in England and he was watching you.”
“Yeah. Nothing to do with Sandburg, either. Are you going to trust me to give you the relevant bits or do you want a blow by blow account of them ordering their cutlets?”
“We should have done something about lunch,” Bodie mused.
Ellison relayed a few other scraps of talk, none of which made much of a picture of what Cowley was up to in general or helped them with anything else. But with dessert—apple pie or crème caramel—they got on to the good stuff. Ellison began to relay it as fast as he was hearing it.
“Williams. They weren’t particularly watching him, but someone reported a sighting in Poole, another on the A343. Good odds he’s in that area. People—no names—in London who are linked to his group ran a trace on a car from down there last night. Nairn’s not sure, though. It came up belonging to a typical middle-class family in Swanage, no connection with anything. Murphy says the message he got from Doyle was to look at a nursing home in the area. Cowley wants to know if he got the number of the caller. Murphy says he got the number, checked it out, it was a Tom Hunter, not on anyone’s records anywhere. Probably a friend of Doyle’s. Nairn—we’re on to something here—Nairn says that that’s the name of the people the car Williams is interested in is registered to.”
“Good enough,” Bodie said shortly. “I don’t get where Doyle comes in, but we’ve enough to get an address, and some kind of connection to Williams. Can’t be that many Tom Hunters in Swanage.”
“And the car was registered to a Rachel Hunter,” Ellison said. “Wife or daughter, I suppose. That should be enough to narrow it down.” He went on listening a little longer. “They seem to think that area is where Williams will still be. Cowley thinks it would be worth keeping an eye on the Hunters’ home in case Williams is also watching it. Oh, you’ll like this. He’s told Murphy to arrange it and not to say anything to us because we might go tearing down there.”
Bodie grinned, waved politely to the warden and edged the car out into the traffic. “A good judge of character, our George. Let’s go for a little trip to the seaside, Ellison. They’ll keep Murphy chatting a bit longer. We could get down there before he’s made his ‘official’ arrangements.”
Claude Williams stood and looked at the pleasant Swanage side street with distaste. He’d received the results of the trace on the car early that morning, along with the information that there was nothing at all of interest on record about the owner, her home or her family. Now that he saw the house, with its neat pot of geraniums by the front door and its air of general ordinariness, that seemed to be confirmed. No one was there, nor had been since his men first checked. Given the time of year, it was more than possible they were on holiday. But the Triumph had definitely been traced to here.
He strolled closer and looked across the front garden into the bay-windowed living room. Much the same. Pleasant. Ordinary. A piano. Shelves of books.
“They’re away,” a voice said behind him.
He turned and saw a smallish boy on a skateboard.
“I’m watering the garden,” the boy added. “They’re away for a week.”
“That’s a pity,” Williams said. “I was hoping to ask them about a car of theirs. They do have an old sports car, a TR7, don’t they.”
“Cool car,” the boy agreed. “It’s Rachel’s.”
“It’s not here at the moment?”
“It’ll be in the garage.” He jumped off the skateboard and took a running jump at the garage door, clinging on to peer in the slight gap at the top. “No, it’s not. That’s funny. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter wouldn’t’ve took it.”
Williams had already known the garage was empty, but his miniature informant seemed worth cultivating. “Could Rachel have taken it somewhere?”
“No. Her boyfriend picked her up. And Simon and Luke are camping and they went on a minibus. Anyway, Mr. Hunter doesn’t like them driving it. He doesn’t really like Rachel driving it. He was mad when she got it.”
Williams wanted information, not a soap opera. He tried the door of the garage, and found it was locked and there was no sign of any tampering.
“You think someone nicked it?” the boy said. “They wouldn’t lock up again, would they?”
“No.” Williams was beginning to wonder if it could have been stolen, though. Perhaps the man in it really had simply been a local ruffian. It would be a relief, though it wouldn’t get them any nearer finding Sandburg.
“Do you want me to get my sister to ring Rachel and see if she knows where it is? She’s my sister’s best friend.”
The boy was proving surprisingly helpful. Williams decided the chance of getting something useful this way far outweighed the slight risk of showing an interest in the car. “I’d appreciate that,” he said, and held up the ID he had taken the precaution of placing in his pocket. He wasn’t, of course, a detective inspector, but the boy wouldn’t know that.
The boy skated off to a house a little further down the street, and after a tedious wait, a young woman came out. “Hi, I’m Harriet North. Paul says you’re interested in Rachel’s car?”
Williams produced his fake ID again. “Does Miss Hunter know where her car is?”
“No. She’s really worried her dad might have sold it, but she doesn’t think he would. Not behind her back. He did hate it, though. And she just had a tiny accident before she went away, but it wasn’t really anything. She’s going to ring her dad tonight and ask him where it is.”
“Perhaps I could get in touch with Mr. Hunter myself?”
“You won’t be able to ’til tonight. He doesn’t have a mobile. Rachel says her mum and dad are staying at her godmother’s tonight and she can get him there.”
“Can you give me Miss Hunter’s number, then?”
“She’s helping on a children’s bible camp so she won’t be answering her phone ’til later. I only just caught her. She leaves the phone behind during the day—so it doesn’t get glue or sand in it. I can write down the number for you, though.”
Williams glared at the inoffensive house as he waited, and thought what disorderly lives its inhabitants seemed to live. Still, they hardly seemed a likely source for surveillance of his activities. He took the number, with appropriate expressions of gratitude, and walked slowly back up the street. At the junction with the larger road it turned off of, he paused to speak to a couple of men in a water company van. They were Barson and Mobbs, and the only thing they were likely to do to anyone’s plumbing was to rip it off the wall, but they ought to be up to keeping an eye on a side street.
“If you do see any sign of the car or the man who took Sandburg, I want to know straight away. And try to remember Swanage is known for its flower gardens and bowling greens, not its gun crime. The last thing we want is to draw attention to ourselves, all right?”
“Kind of a mess, huh?”
Blair sounded as depressed now as he’d been excited earlier. The mood swings didn’t bother Doyle; he’d been expecting them. But he felt troubled as he listened to the end of Blair’s story, simply because it really was such a mess, and he couldn’t, any more than Blair, see a way out of most of it.
“We should be able to get in touch with people, now you’ve remembered it all,” he said at last. “Let’s think it through, though. This Dr. Wilson, or whoever he really is, knew a lot about you… and about your partner. Now that Wilson’s lost you, he may be waiting for you to do exactly that, get in touch with home. So, it might be better to call Jim at the station—or someone else entirely. Let them know you’re safe and what’s happened to you, but don’t tell anyone where you are. Your friends are a lot further away than Dr. Wilson, and if you disappear again, it’ll be difficult for them to prove your story. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’d rather not take risks when we don’t know what we’re up against.”
Blair didn’t look as if he was listening. It wasn’t surprising, really. His life seemed to have been a roller coaster of increasing crises even before his present troubles, and the last couple of days must have been some of the most traumatic of all. He was staring intently at the floor now, and Doyle carefully didn’t look at the wetness of his eyes. He couldn’t help looking, though, at how exhausted he was. Every time they made a little progress, something flattened Blair again.
And he’d only had a cup of black tea since the previous afternoon.
Maybe they’d both be able to look at things a bit more clearly if they ate. He rested a hand on Blair’s shoulder a minute. “Why don’t you lie down for a bit and I’ll walk into Lulworth and get us some food?”
“I’d rather come with you.”
Doyle looked at him doubtfully. “You look as if you’ve had enough for one morning.”
“I don’t feel like my own company. Honestly. I just want to think about something else for a while, be distracted.”
Doyle was torn. He didn’t really want to leave Blair on his own, but it was only a couple of hours since Blair had been hanging on to his hand, white-faced and blank eyed as the memories smashed back into his mind.
“Ray—I can handle it better when I’m with you.”
The words caught at Doyle; Blair so obviously believed it was the truth, and he felt totally inadequate. He was all Blair had got, though, and Doyle’s first protective concern for him had strengthened out of all proportion to the time they’d spent together. It was beginning to be balanced, too, by a growing respect for Blair’s courage and his ability to bounce back. Maybe it would be best if they stayed together.
Blair actually looked a little better once he’d borrowed a shirt and tied his hair back. He also looked somehow both determined and vulnerable. Doyle suspected that he wasn’t sorry to postpone what was evidently going to be the further trauma of calling Cascade. He wondered about some of the parts of the story Blair had told him, parts that he was reasonably sure hadn’t been the whole truth. He had a lot of questions—not the least of which was how an anthropologist got to ride along with a detective into such dangerous places—but he had no intention of asking them. If he gave Blair space and time, maybe he’d feel safe enough to fill in the gaps; if not, well, he’d go on giving him the space and time, anyway.
Glancing at his watch, Doyle realized it was past midday, and the pubs would be open. He looked again at Blair. Taking him into somewhere like that could be a really bad move, but they could get a quicker lunch, and maybe the bustle of ordinary people enjoying themselves would be the distraction he said he wanted. They could always leave if it looked like being a disaster.
He stopped at the first they came to, where he’d dropped in a couple of times before and found a warm welcome. Jen, the landlady, greeted him as if he was an old friend, and gestured to the two girls helping her out.
“Got my girls home for a couple of weeks,” she said. “I told them they didn’t have to work, but they like doing it.”
She was still attractive herself, and both the girls were remarkably pretty. Doyle saw Blair’s interest in life visibly increase. Distraction, yeah. Well, even if it was only superficial, he was obviously making an effort to forget his troubles for a while.
Jen, filling their beer glasses, went on chatting. “You’ve got company, as well. This your boy?”
It was as good a line as any. Doyle’d known that if Blair came out with him, he’d have to think up a cover story sooner or later. He nodded. “I don’t see much of him. His mum took him off to the States when he was a tiddler. Just getting to know him again, really.”
“He’s got a look of you,” Jen said, handing him his beer. “It’s a pity to keep a man from seeing his kids. Must have been out of her mind to leave you, anyway, love.”
Blair snorted into his beer. Jen gave Doyle a look of lingering appreciation, and went off to her other customers.
“It’s just her way of being friendly,” Doyle said hastily.
“Come off it, man. She was practically ready to eat you whole.”
“Funnily enough, being eaten whole has never been one of my ambitions. Come on, let’s go read the blackboard and order something.”
Blair glanced at the counter. “That’s the girl taking the lunch orders, right?”
“Looks like it.”
In about ten seconds, he found himself alone. Blair was talking to the cheerful brunette who was apparently one of Jen’s daughters, and she was explaining to him all the local recipes which featured on the board.
“That’s the anthropologist’s approach, is it?” Doyle asked as she went to take their order to the kitchen. “Show an interest in their cooking?”
“Works in every culture,” Blair said, unabashed. “You know, I really like English pubs.”
Most people were eating outside, and it was easy to find a quiet corner to finish their beers and wait for lunch. Jen came over herself to collect their glasses.
“Like another, love? It’s thirsty weather.”
“Thanks,” Blair said before Doyle had time to get a polite negative out.
She brought back two brimming glasses at a speed Doyle would normally have appreciated. He waited until she’d gone to say something—and then didn’t have the heart to say it. Blair wasn’t an adolescent. He knew as well as Doyle did that this wasn’t a good idea. Since they were down to zero on good ideas, he probably thought what the hell. It was only a couple of pints, anyway, not a bottle of whisky.
Blair glanced at him. “You can say it if you want. Stupid idea. Just running away from the problem.”
“Strategic retreat,” Doyle offered. “It’s all right to step back from it for a bit. It’s more likely to cause us trouble if we rush into things.”
“You’re not so keen now on getting in touch with… anyone?”
“Yes, I am. It’s just how, and when.” He paused while the brunette brought their lunch, smiling at Blair and saying she hoped he’d be in in the evening when she’d have more time to chat.
“Eat,” Doyle said, dragging his attention back to his food. “I’ll explain what I mean. The people who had you may have left the nursing home, but odds are, they’re still in the area. The Triumph—that was the car I had—is too recognizable; even when I was planning to go to Tom’s, I was worried we’d be taking a risk using it. I’ve been thinking since, that if they did get enough of a look at it to get the number, that would take them straight to his house. I don’t think, whatever else we do, we’ll go there. And we don’t know what sort of set up they had you—or the woman—under, who knew about it, or who they answer to. I told you why I was reluctant to go to the local police. In some ways, I’m reluctant to be too quick to go out into the open at all. At the moment, I reckon they’ll be looking for you quite intensively. Here, we’re a needle in a haystack. It’s when we make a move that they’ll be most likely to pick us up.”
Blair, whom he’d expected to be reluctant to delay things, simply nodded. He finished his meal, drained the last of his beer and blinked. “That’s strong.”
“It’s a local brew.”
Blair leaned back, looking sleepy enough for Doyle to make him move, grumbling, out into the sunny afternoon. Ray bought bread, milk and a few other basics in the nearest shop, and they walked slowly back to the caravan.
Blair was quiet for a long time—perhaps concentrating on not falling over his feet—but then he said abruptly, “Do you think they’re just all getting on with their lives? I mean, maybe Wilson did make up something to account for me being gone, and they, you know, thought it was for the best, or something.”
Doyle wasn’t sure where to begin with that one. “How would you feel if they were?”
“I never knew how much it was just… put up with Sandburg… get control of the senses… won’t need him then.”
Doyle had already wondered about Jim Ellison and heightened senses; it was one of the things Blair had edged around in his earlier account. The good local brew had evidently loosened his tongue a little. Right now, though, it didn’t seem the most important thing. “I don’t think the man you described to me would feel like that,” he said gently. “I’d say there’s a good chance he’ll be giving everyone hell ’til he finds you. Has he ever given up on you before?”
Blair did fall over his feet, but they were back at the field now. He staggered up, hanging onto Doyle’s arm. “Are you sure that was just beer?”
“Certain. Has Jim ever given up on you before?”
“No, but that makes it kinda more likely. Has to happen sooner or later.”
“Why?” He could guess why—everyone else in Blair’s life must have done it one way or another. Even the mother Blair had talked about, who clearly cared about him, had perhaps been a bit too relieved to be free of the responsibility as soon as he was half grown.
Blair sat down on the grass by the steps where Doyle had left a towel drying, and answered the question with one of his own. “Would your partner have given up on you?”
Some things never lost their ability to sting, however many years elapsed. “Not ’til I did the unforgivable and walked out on the partnership.”
“But then he did.”
“Yeah.” Then he might as well have been dead as far as Bodie was concerned. Bodie could never, would never forgive that personal betrayal or understand why he’d left CI5. And the worst of it was, now he no longer felt confident of the decision he’d made then. He’d been too thrown by Cook’s death to think straight, too down after a series of injuries and bad cases. If Cowley hadn’t been fighting—and losing—the battle to keep CI5, he realized now the old man wouldn’t have let him go.
“I’m sorry, man,” Blair said.
“It’s okay. I don’t know anymore whether it was a good choice. They both seemed to me wrong choices then, staying or going. At least you know what you want.”
“There just doesn’t seem to be a way to get it,” Blair said. He lay back on the towel, arm over his eyes.
Doyle sat and watched him sleep. All the arguments he’d put to Blair over lunch still held, but now he had to balance them against the desire to get hold of Jim Ellison and tell him he’d damned well better be the friend Blair evidently needed.
Williams had called on the support of his friends in London again. He’d managed to convince them Blair knew enough to be a threat to them all, and they’d agreed to put a trace on Rachel Hunter’s calls, and hopefully then on her father’s. It was a long shot, but he had no other lead at all. So far, though, she hadn’t made any calls at all. He glanced at his watch. It wasn’t long past 5 p.m. She had implied it would be later before she contacted her father. Perhaps in the meantime he’d go check on Barson and Mobbs.
“This is a dead loss,” Mobbs said when he pulled up by their van. “This street has to be the most boring place on earth. Nothing, nothing at all, has happened.”
Williams frowned. This was what came of having people who were barely trained. “I’ll see you’re relieved in an hour or so,” he said. “We won’t relax surveillance while we have no other priorities.”
Mission—in this case to keep them alert and unsure whether he was coming back—accomplished, he went to pick up Hooper from the station. He’d been to collect more specific information on the types of security Alex Barnes would need to pass. It was not something any of them could trust to a third person, and certainly not to any traceable medium.
“Still no trace of Sandburg,” he said when Hooper was in the car and they were safely back on the road. “No sign of the Triumph, no hint that anyone has approached a doctor or the police. I just spoke to the man we’ve got at the station and he’s seen no sign of him.”
“So what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think. Whoever the man who picked him up was, it can’t have been planned, yet if he was an ordinary member of the public, he’d have gone to the police after those idiots shot at him.”
“And Sandburg would have been giving all the appearance of someone who ought to be in a mental hospital,” Hooper said. “I’d been giving him a fairly hefty dose of tranquillizers to get him to go near Barnes. With the sudden withdrawal of those, and the games we’d played with his mind, anyway, he’d be in no state to look after himself. Apart from anything else, I’d only worked on him enough to get him to cooperate while we had him away from all other contacts, and fairly well doped up. That level of conditioning would break down quickly in an uncontrolled environment, and his reaction would be extreme.”
“But our mystery man seems to have coped with it. I really don’t like this. The one thing we’ve got is that Sandburg escaped in that old Triumph. The daughter clearly has no idea where it is. She’s contacting the rest of the family any time now. Let’s hope they’re not as innocent as they look.”
He swung into the driveway of the large farmhouse they’d been loaned by a “sympathizer,” and went up to his office.
Jim didn’t know the route they were on, but it seemed to him they were making good time. Bodie drove without a word. His brief amusement at putting one over on his old controller had faded quickly, and he looked now as hard and unapproachable as he had seemed at Jim’s first impression.
Jim picked up the road atlas that was tucked down beside his seat, for his own information—Bodie clearly knew exactly where he was going—and realized they had already covered a good part of the distance. “We’ll be there in an hour?” he asked.
“No. The last part will be slow. Around 5:00, we’ll get to Swanage, I’d say. Then it depends how quickly we find the house.”
They stopped at a garage a few miles before their destination and managed to pick up a street map as well as filling up the tank, so they approached the right street soon after entering the town.
“It’s the third left off this road,” Jim said, and was startled when Bodie instead pulled fast and abruptly into the next turn. “What are you doing?”
“See that water company van up there—at the end of the road we want? That wouldn’t be a likely sight at this time of day, anyway, but I’m pretty sure that the man leaning in the window talking to the men is the one we want. Williams. I daren’t get closer to check, I’m hoping he’ll turn round and we’ll get a clear view.”
“Wait a minute. I can see him in the side mirror. Give me a moment to get the right focus.” The man in the airport footage. The man who’d taken Blair. “It’s him,” he said.
He hadn’t realized his surge of anger at the man showed, but Bodie said hastily, “Cool it. That’s a break we didn’t expect. Don’t let’s blow it.”
“They’re waiting for someone.”
“Staking the place out, by the look of it. That’s not our main concern, though. Can you hear what they’re saying?”
“He’s just telling them they’ll be relieved soon.”
“Right. So Williams is our best bet. If we can follow him without being seen, maybe he’ll lead us to Sandburg.” To Blair? Jim hardly dared let himself hope yet. But the car pulled out only a minute later, and Bodie glided smoothly after it, a car or two behind. They followed Williams to the station, where he picked up a middle-aged man, and then back to the road. And that was when Jim realized he’d been right not to be too confident. It was going to be more complicated, after all.
“They’ve lost Blair!” he relayed to Bodie. “I can’t work out all the details from what they’re saying, but it must have been a couple of days ago. That’s why they’re staking out that street. The Triumph they’re looking for is the car that picked him up. Someone else has got him and they don’t know who or why.”
“He’s got someone waiting to listen to calls from the Hunter family.”
“So we listen second-hand while we think about this,” Bodie said. “Keep an eye on that place they’re turning in to. I’ll go on past, then we’ll work back and find somewhere out of sight, and whatever information they get, we should be able to act on it as fast as they can.”
Elizabeth Walsh looked out of the window, as she had done several times in the past hour, and finally saw the car arriving. She waited. Murphy was with him. That was promising. She watched George get out, stiff as he always was these days if he sat for any length of time, but the wince as he straightened his leg couldn’t disguise the vitality in him, the renewed enthusiasm. She went smiling out to greet them, and he looked at her and nodded.
“Aye. There’s going to be a CI5 again. I’ve brought this laddie home to drink to it.”
And to learn from the master, Elizabeth thought. She liked Murphy, and he had an excellent record, but George said it was no job for one man these days. She wondered if any decision had been made about who would share the responsibility with him. Still, enough time for that. The decision had been made and confirmed at the highest levels, CI5 was back in business, and she wondered just how much consternation that would cause around Whitehall when it became known.
Williams didn’t want to leave his desk while he was waiting for London to call through with anything they’d picked up, so he wasn’t giving a particularly sympathetic hearing to Dr. Hooper. “Okay, so she’s agitated. After all this time of her lying there like a vegetable no matter what you did, I should have thought you’d welcome it.”
“Well, yes, but she’s showing more and more signs of instability. There’s something almost feral about her reaction now—as if she perceives a threat, but we’ve no one new with her. The attendant is getting edgy.”
Williams sighed. It seemed no one else around here could make a decision. “Then I suggest you sedate her and go look through Sandburg’s papers to see if what she’s showing matches anything he’s written about.”
“Sedating her may set her back.”
“We’ll risk it. We can’t afford an incident here.”
Hooper left, and five minutes later, the call finally came. It certainly wasn’t a dead end.
“She rang her father,” the report came. “He told her not to worry about the car, and not to talk to anyone about it, even the police. Naturally, she asked a lot of questions about that, but he didn’t answer any of them, just told her to trust him on it. So she’s out of the picture, but I’d say he knows something, though it’s not clear what. He’s definitely where he’s supposed to be, though, on a family visit in the northwest, so I’d say he’s peripheral. We’re monitoring his calls now. Wait a minute. I think they’ve got something.”
Williams waited impatiently.
“Are you still there?” came his contact. “Right. Two calls. Both to Lulworth. One to a farm—he asked the man who answered, the farmer I think, if he could take a message up to the caravan. The farmer said, I quote: They’re down the Red Lion, both of them. Hunter: Both of them? Farmer: He’s got his son staying. Why don’t you call the Lion? Jen will let you speak to him. She’s got a soft spot for him. Hunter: All right. Give me the number.” Williams could almost see him give a shrug. “So far, he hasn’t been able to get through.”
“Thanks,” Williams said. “I can be in Lulworth in half an hour. It sounds worth following up. I’ll get on with it before Hunter spooks them. If you pick up anything else, Dr. Hooper’s here.”
Bodie and Ellison also decided not to wait for the busy phone.
“If we hang on, Williams will be ahead of us, which is what we’re trying to avoid,” Bodie said shortly. “From what you heard, could either of those people at the Red Lion be Sandburg?”
“I didn’t hear any more than I told you. There wasn’t any detail. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but, anyway, he’s not here, and Alex Barnes is.”
“Is that a problem?”
Ellison stared stiffly into the distance.
“Come on,” Bodie prodded irritably.
“Look, it’s weird. I can sense her presence, and I think she can sense me. They said she was getting agitated. I think we’d be better following up this lead to Lulworth.”
“If it’s not Sandburg, maybe we’ll pick someone else up who knows what’s going on,” Bodie agreed. “Pub, caravan, farmer, in that order, I think.”
The last thing Doyle had intended was to go back to the Red Lion that evening, but events had pushed him. First Blair had slept increasingly deeply all afternoon, and Doyle hadn’t wanted to wake him. Then just after Blair had finally surfaced, the farmer had walked up for a chat. He’d already heard about Blair, from the woman at the shop.
“I hear you’re over from the States,” he said to Blair.
Blair, who, to Doyle’s relief, had evidently been listening at lunchtime, said, “My mom took me back there when I was a little kid. I don’t really remember England.”
“Ah, well, you couldn’t come to a friendlier bit. I’m off down to the Lion in an hour or so. Why don’t you both come down? You’ll meet more locals in an evening.”
It wasn’t the sort of offer to turn down if they were going to keep up the cover story, so early evening had found them strolling down with him to the pub. Doyle told himself it was too late, anyway, to do much more today. He’d decided that the best thing to do was to call Murphy at home in the morning and tell him the rest of it. Murphy should have had time to confirm something was going on, and, more than anyone else still in the business, Doyle felt he could be trusted. He could contact Cascade for them, at least.
Blair looked better, much better, than he had previously, and if there was a haunted look in his eyes when he stopped to think, no one but Doyle was going to notice it. He handled the conversation well, too; it must have been a strain for him to play a part when his own grasp on who he was had so recently been shaken, but he did it with a resourcefulness Doyle admired. So things went smoothly, even pleasantly, until Jen, the landlady, called to him.
“Phone for you, love. It’s Tom Hunter.”
Doyle struggled to hear him in the noise of the bar, but he didn’t need to get every word to know that this was trouble. The Triumph, he’d allowed for. It was Tom ringing him here that bothered him. Was he being paranoid? Maybe. But if he was the person searching for who’d been driving that Triumph, he’d have done his best to get a trace on the calls from its owner.
“Thanks, Tom,” he said. No good worrying him. “Tell Rachel the car’s safe.”
“What’s all this about a son? Do I want to know?”
“It’s not some dark secret I’ve been keeping from you. I hope I’ll be able to tell you the whole thing before too long. Take care, Tom.”
“I think you’re the one who needs to do that. What can we do to help, Ray?”
Doyle thought about it. He was going to have to rethink his plans yet again. “Call Murphy again. Tell him what you know. Tell him I’ve got my hands full. I’ve got to go, Tom.”
How long would it take someone to get here if they picked up that call? Or worse, Tom said he’d already called the farm. He caught Blair’s eye, and Blair came over to join him.
“Time to go,” Doyle said softly. “Make an excuse for us. I want a word with Jen.”
He needed to be away from here, but he also needed to know if anyone came, and she was sympathetic… “Jen,” he said, “could you do me a favor? Quite a big favor.”
“Depends what it is, love.”
“If you get anyone in here asking for us, especially if they look like military types, send them in the wrong direction—down to the cove would do. And if there was any way you could get a message to me…”
He hadn’t thought of one, but she did. “You’ll be up by the caravan?”
“Then I’ll send one of my girls up with something to wave, or a torch if it happens after dark. Up to the top gable window. You can see that from up the hill.”
“That would be perfect.”
“Well, don’t you forget who your friends are,” she said. “Me and the girls expect to see the two of you again, when we’ve got a bit of time to enjoy you. You will be back?”
“I hope so,” Doyle said, but he was more concerned with going, and fairly fast. Blair was already moving to the door, so he followed him with a nod to the group they’d been sitting with, and once they were out of sight, set a hasty pace back up to the caravan.
“Watch the top window of the pub,” he said to Blair when they arrived. “I’m going to fill a rucksack with anything we might need overnight. If you see anything wave from the window, shout.”
“That’s what you were arranging with the landlady?”
“Yes. I don’t like doing it. For all she knows, we could deserve to be arrested. But I couldn’t think of another way, and it’s bad luck that Tom rang here. I don’t suppose it would occur to him someone could be picking up his calls.”
“Don’t you have laws about that?”
“Theoretically. They can be bypassed, though.”
Doyle bundled all the things he thought might be useful into his backpack—for weeks he’d been carrying all his belongings in it, anyway—and began to make the caravan look as if they’d left.
“Someone’s up there,” Blair called. “They’re waving… I’m not sure what that thing is. I know what it looks like.”
In spite of the urgency, Doyle had to smile when he saw the voluminous pair of scarlet bloomers being waved up and down. “Must be their granny’s,” he said. “Easy to see, anyway. Here—put this long-sleeved shirt on. We’re going where it’s overgrown soon.”
Blair started to follow him, then said, “Wait. Have you got any pepper?”
“There’s some in the cupboards in there. Why?”
“I just thought—Alex was waking up. I don’t really think she could use her senses; I’m not even sure how much she has them anymore. But a Sentinel could track us in ways you wouldn’t allow for. If we sprinkle pepper around the edge of the field, that would rule out scent.”
Doyle saw he was serious; more than serious: the thought of her had brought back the haunted look to Blair’s face. Silently, he got the pepper. “Show me how much,” he said.
Bodie knew life wasn’t going to be easy when he gave the landlady of the Red Lion his best charming smile and she looked at him as if he’d crawled out from under a stone.
“We’re looking for a friend,” he said.
“A couple of friends,” Ellison added.
The trouble was, of course, they didn’t actually know what these ‘friends’ looked like, but they’d decided to go with Sandburg’s description. And hope he was one of them and hadn’t had his hair cut.
The landlady listened as if he was describing something from outer space. “Sorry. I haven’t noticed anyone like that in here,” she said. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m busy.”
Bodie had wanted to do it casually, but he didn’t need Ellison’s nudge to know she was lying. “I’ll ask around, then,” he said. One of the girls behind the bar had already gone, at a nod from her mother, and he wondered if their men could actually be on the premises, but then the landlady said, “If you start harassing people in my bar, I’ll call the police.”
All right, if that was how she wanted it. He’d hoped to avoid the heavy-handed approach; not least because he wasn’t officially here. Like Williams, though, Bodie had learned to appreciate the power of showing an ID. “I could call them myself, if you like,” he said offering it to her. “Now, are you sure you don’t remember the men?”
She called the other barmaid over. “There was a long-haired lad in here, wasn’t there, earlier,” she said. “I think he was going down to the cove. It’s nice this time of night.”
“They were going to look at the boats,” the girl agreed.
Bodie met Ellison’s eyes, saw the agreement that they were getting nowhere. “Thank you,” he said.
As soon as they were outside, Ellison said, “They were both lying.”
“I thought so. How accurately can you tell?”
“Ninety percent. In this case, though, I’d go for better than that. Wherever the men have gone, its not down to the cove.”
Bodie thought about it. “What about the description of Sandburg. Did you pick up anything from her?”
“Not clearly. But that might have been because she seemed to be expecting us. If anything, I’d say she recognized it. But it still makes no sense to me why he’d be here with some stranger rather than getting in contact with his friends.”
“Well, she seems to think she’s protecting him. Or our mystery man. I wish I knew what the hell is going on. I wonder if they could have got some hint Williams is on his way, and mistaken us for his men. Let’s hope he gets an even worse welcome than we did. Hang on.”
He strolled into the shop near the pub, open all hours in the summer like many seaside places, and bought several small items. The lady there was friendly enough. “By the way,” he said, as he pocketed his change, “you don’t know if any of the farmers round here hire out caravans, do you? I don’t want something on a big site.”
“Joe Gautrey has one, up on the hillside. It’s a lovely view from there. But someone’s staying in it just now.”
“Here for long, are they? Most families prefer a site with entertainments.”
“Oh, it’s just a chap about your age, and his son who joined him a day or two ago. I’ve no idea how long they’re staying, but you could walk up and ask Mr. Gautrey.”
“Perhaps we’ll do that,” Bodie said.
She gave them details of the direction to take to the caravan and the farm.
“You’re right, it doesn’t make sense,” he said to Ellison once they gained the street again. “I can’t see why Sandburg would be going along with this story when he’s evidently free to walk about the place.”
“They said they’d had him doped up, been playing ‘mind games’ with him. Maybe someone’s taken advantage of that. Or could you have some rival group to Williams?”
Bodie couldn’t really see how it fitted the facts, but Ellison was looking more stressed by the minute, and there wasn’t a lot of profit in speculating about it. He hurried them on up to the caravan, and wondered how far behind them Williams might be.
Williams had delayed briefly to round up everyone except Dr. Hooper and the nursing attendant. He called Barson and Mobbs, told them what was happening and to stay where they were for the time being, but to be ready to join him immediately if he called them. The advantage of the delay was that he got the report of the second phone call, and the unwelcome confirmation that the person Hunter had asked for was Ray Doyle. He wasn’t the only person concerned by that discovery. Most of his coterie were old enough to remember Bodie and Doyle in the days when they were Cowley’s hunting dogs. There was something distinctly unnerving about finding out they seemed to be at either end of this affair.
“Find out what’s going on,” Williams said sharply. “We checked on Doyle. He’s supposed to be suspended. Could Bodie have brought him in on this somehow? Where is Bodie?”
He got no answers before he left. His contacts would only use the secure line, so an uneasy Dr. Hooper was staying near the phone with orders to call him on his mobile if anything came through. He took five men with him, but warned them against any overt violence while there were witnesses. If they found Doyle and Sandburg in the village, it had to look like an arrest.
He decided to take that tone from the start, walking up to the bar in the Red Lion, showing his ID and asking for Doyle. The landlady said she’d never heard of him; did he expect her to know the names of everyone who came in? Williams, annoyed at the hostility of his reception, said he knew Doyle had been called to the phone there earlier in the evening, and she should realize there were penalties for obstructing the cause of justice. The landlady, now backed by half the customers, said the only way he could know about the phone call was if he’d had her phone tapped. At that point he realized life, once again, was not following his script.
“I know Doyle was here,” he repeated. “Where did he go when he left?”
The landlady looked around the room. “Anyone here see a man called Doyle leave? Perhaps you’d all like to tell the gentlemen where you think he went.”
Williams heard the first three different accounts and saw where this was going. He could be here all night while these idiots rambled on about interesting ways around their handful of streets—and that presumably was the idea. He’d taken the precaution of ascertaining the farmer’s address, so he returned to his men, and went up to the farm.
“Blair was here.” Jim Ellison stood in the doorway of the deserted caravan and knew it as tangibly as if Blair’d left footprints. Jim could tell he’d slept here and been afraid here. But the fear was old. He had no vocabulary to put his impressions clearly, but it seemed as if that had passed and for a little while it had been a place where Blair felt… safe? protected? How could he explain to Bodie what he hardly understood himself. Blair would say it had something to do with traces of some body chemical or other, that Jim had learned to recognize by instinct.
Bodie accepted his judgment without question. “Can you tell where he went when he left?”
The caravan had a slightly musty smell, as if it had been shut up for too long in the winter and its cushions had been tainted by damp. He could follow that smell, it would cling to anyone who had been there, and would linger in the air. He glanced at Bodie, and was grateful that he never seemed to think of the senses as particularly weird or wonderful; just useful.
They were useful for the remaining distance of the field and then he got a very sharp reminder of their downside. He’d extended his sense of smell confidently, knowing there would be no harsh chemicals out here. It never even crossed his mind that someone could have laid a trap designed for a Sentinel. So the pepper was a nasty—and incapacitating—surprise. He sneezed and streamed and wheezed and coughed until he was red and gasping.
Bodie, with commendable common sense, went to the stand pipe and filled a jug from the caravan with water for him to wash the worst of the reaction away. He didn’t even ask, “What the hell was that?” until Jim had finished spluttering.
“Pepper,” Jim said. “You can’t smell it, can you? That was there to stop someone with heightened senses. No one else would even notice it. That must have been Sandburg. Why would he…?”
“You’re not the only Sentinel down here,” Bodie said. “There’s the Barnes woman, remember? Could he have any reason to think she might come hunting him?”
Jim felt his jaw clench so hard his teeth hurt. From what he’d picked up of her, it wouldn’t have been possible for Alex to hunt anyone, but Blair might not be sure of that. On top of everything else, the thought of Blair having to hide from that…
“I’ll take that as yes,” Bodie said, and, in a rare gesture of support, dropped a hand on his shoulder. “But she isn’t. She’s back where we left Williams. Can you go on now? Use a different sense?”
Jim glanced at him in surprise.
Bodie shrugged. “I told you about a guy in Africa I think must have been a Sentinel. I saw what happened to him when he was listening for something a long way off and we got an unexpected burst of thunder. He couldn’t hear properly for days.”
Jim nodded, and tried not to think how Blair would have loved to hear this stuff. They were nearer now. He was closer to Blair than he had been since that wretched day in Cascade. Think of that. He tried extending his hearing, but he was too uncertain of a direction or where to focus. “It’ll have to be sight,” he said at last. “If you were going to hole up somewhere around here, which way would you go?”
Bodie thought about it. “Not that way, because I’m pretty sure those paths lead onto the army ranges. Even apart from the question of possibly still being there when they start target practice, I wouldn’t want someone like Williams to follow me there. Too much like his territory. I wouldn’t head inland, either. I’d probably hole up somewhere in that mess of undergrowth towards the sea. Without dogs, you’d need a lot of men to make any impact searching that. Given that Williams can’t be seeking publicity, he shouldn’t have men or dogs.”
Sight was what Jim was least happy about using without Blair along. He extended now, cautiously, the level at which he was seeing—extended it until the minimal crushing of grass blades, the brush of bloom off a leaf showed where someone had passed not long before. “We don’t know it was Sandburg,” he said. “But it leads from this field, so…”
“Worth a shot, then,” Bodie agreed. “Casual walkers would see this as private property; they’d come up the other paths. You’ll have to be careful you don’t get a crossed trail, though.”
It was harder once they got into the bushy undergrowth which almost blocked the slight paths or animal tracks. Jim concentrated until he was moving in a world that most people would only see under a microscope, watching the grain of the leaves, a droplet from a tiny, crushed stem, the ghost of a footprint, standing out to him as if it was cast in plaster.
There had been movement along these ways that he hadn’t allowed for: rabbits, a fox, maybe two, other small creatures. He began to keep his attention higher, on the bushes rather than the ground, and, snagged on a springy branch, he found a hair. Sandburg’s? He let himself see it more closely until it became a thick strand of rope, curling across his fingers, and knew there was no doubt. Blair had been this way. The hair was like a beacon; he couldn’t draw his attention from it. It was as if in that one strand he could see the molecules that were uniquely Blair… but the closer he drew to them, the greyer it all became. He felt, just too late, the danger, but it was too late to withdraw. The greyness of that place beyond senses closed around him.
Williams got the call on his mobile just after he’d left the farm. The farmer hadn’t been there, and his wife had known nothing about the call. She’d seemed pleasant and helpful, but the fact remained that he’d obtained nothing useful from her—except permission to go up and check out the caravan, and he would have done that without permission, anyway.
Then Hooper called, sounding more than usually neurotic. “London want me to move again,” he said. “They wouldn’t even say why, just that there’d been some very worrying rumors today and they were trying to confirm them. They want me to take Barnes to a secure location, and you to finish up there as quickly as possible. And they don’t want Sandburg running round as a loose end. Or Doyle.”
“I’ve got to find them first. And this isn’t the Balkans. What do they expect me to do?”
“Whatever it takes, they said.”
Williams thought hastily. He didn’t want any violence to be traceable to him, not legally, anyway. He needed some trigger-happy idiot with a grudge. “Get on to Barson and Mobbs and send them here to me,” he said. “I could use their skills.”
Blair knew—the psych minor had been an interesting course—that he was probably only focused on the horrible prickliness of gorse because everything else about the situation was too bad to think about. But whatever the reason, he was getting to the point where he was thoroughly fed up with being scratched and prickled and whipped by springy branches, while going at a pace more suited to a sports track, and still trying not to leave traces of his passing.
Ray, ahead of him, seemed to know where he was going. In fact, insofar as anything up here could be called a path, he was following one. To where, Blair couldn’t guess. And then, totally unexpectedly, the undergrowth thinned, and he found himself at the top of a grassy slope leading down to some weird rock formations… and straight over a sheer drop to sea which was much, much too far down.
“Whoa!” he said. “What is this place?”
“Come along this way,” Ray said, leading him sideways along the top of the slope. “I came up here the first two evenings I was in the caravan, and it was sheer luck I found this. I think it must have literally been a foxhole once.”
Behind some large boulders, overgrown with bushes, was a deep indentation in the slope. If you didn’t know it was there, there was nothing to hint at its presence.
“There was a stray dog up here,” Ray said. “He had a collar, and he looked well-cared for, so I came up to get hold of him. It’s not the safest place to be wandering. He was sniffing about in here. I didn’t do more than glance in, because he was pleased to be found and I took him back to the village, but I think we can hole up here.”
Blair wriggled in to the back of the hollow and found it was dry and not uncomfortable. Ray edged in after him, having brushed away the traces of their climb, and gently shook the undergrowth back into place.
“Now we wait,” he said softly. “No more talking, no movement, wrap up in this, it’s getting cooler now.”
Blair pulled the blanket around his shoulders and wriggled into a more comfortable position. “What is this place?” he repeated, thinking of the curious formations below.
“Fossil forest,” Ray said briefly. “Quiet.”
“A fossil forest?” Blair whispered. “Cool. I suppose that was the boles of the trees? When I was a kid, I would have so loved somewhere like that.”
“If you did what you were told then as well as you do now, anyone bringing you here would have had a nervous breakdown,” Ray said. “I know they weren’t right behind us, but let’s go for silence from now on. Okay?”
Blair knew it made sense. It was just easier to talk when he felt nervous. He looked at Ray and saw the grim set of his face, and knew he was blaming himself for the situation. He leaned close enough to make it no more than a breath, and whispered, “Not your fault, man.”
“I should have got you to someone who could do a decent job of looking after you and getting you back to your friends,” Ray said equally softly.
Blair looked at him with disbelief. “You rescued me and you just about gave me back my sanity and you’re risking your neck for me now, what more could you have done?”
“I’m risking your neck, as well, and I shouldn’t be. I should have found a better way.”
“Any other way, and I think I really would have lost my mind,” Blair said as fervently as a whisper could allow. He had such fuzzy memories of those first few hours away from the nursing home, but the one thing clear was the sense of safety, of being able to give up totally and lean on Ray’s care. How could he explain what that had given him? Not at all, apparently, because Ray put a hand over his mouth before he could speak again, and shook his head.
They sat in silence and listened, but there was nothing except the sea. No voices, no sound of anyone pushing through the bushes, no hint there was anyone else on the face of the earth but themselves. He drank a mouthful of water from the bottle Ray handed him, and watched the light fade until the leaves were colorless, then black, then barely visible at all. The edgy sense of being hunted muted a little with time. He realized he felt tired.
Sometime later, he must have slid over sideways against Ray’s shoulder and dozed. He woke briefly, disoriented, and knew he was safe when he felt the warmth there. Ray shifted a little, perhaps feeling him stir, and eased him down so he could sleep less uncomfortably. There was still no sound except wind and sea.
Bodie, alarmed at the struggle he’d had to bring Ellison back from some place that made him stare blankly and frozen at nothing, decided to call a halt for a while. Ellison looked as if he was suffering from the prolonged concentration. If Sandburg and the mystery man were ahead of them, they certainly hadn’t come back, and it couldn’t be that far to the cliff edge. If there was a way back down towards the village, he hadn’t seen it yet, and more importantly, didn’t think they’d take it—their aim had been to get out of sight.
He and Ellison sat in an open patch of sandy grass, and shared the bottle of water and Mars bars he’d bought as an excuse for being in the shop. The light was failing now, but he was reasonably sure that Ellison could track for a bit longer, then they might have to wait for dawn. Lucky the nights were still short.
Ellison, looking a bit less strained, turned his head slightly, as if listening. Bodie waited.
“Williams is back at the caravan. Quite a few men with him. At the moment they’re going through it thoroughly for any hint where they’ve gone. He’s waiting for someone called Barson? He’s going to split his people up then—two back down to the village, two to watch the caravan, he and the others coming into here. He’s got the army checking their land—you were right about that—told them they might have dangerous intruders.”
Murphy got back to his apartment at three in the morning. He’d spent hours with Cowley going over the plans for the new department. The old man was still as sharp as ever and in remarkably close touch with the intelligence world; Murphy knew how many people had consulted him on one issue or another over the years.
Cowley was still as strong-willed as ever, too. They’d spent the last two hours arguing over Murphy’s second in command. Murphy wanted Bodie, and more or less had official approval—Bodie had had an impeccable success rate in Hong Kong. It bothered him, though, that Cowley was dubious.
Cowley thought Bodie was harder, less scrupulous than he had been, and that Murphy would find him hard to control. He also thought it would push the new CI5 too far into the world of military intelligence, and leave it lacking on the side of liaison with the police. Murphy, whose approach to control was rather different from Cowley’s, didn’t share the first concern, but the second was valid. He’d have to think that one through. He had an idea—more than that, he had someone in mind. But although he thought he could deal with any practical problems of getting him, he wasn’t sure he’d agree to come—or that Bodie wouldn’t walk out if he did. He couldn’t start a new CI5 with an internal war left over from the last one.
There were two messages waiting for him on his answer phone from Tom Hunter. The first, from early in the evening, asked him to call back. The second, recorded around midnight, told him enough to make him decide to give up on sleep for the night. For Doyle to send a message that was effectively an SOS, he had to be close to disaster. Murphy collected the skeleton of staff available to him at the moment, and decided this would be the first case CI5 handled—the first for fifteen years, anyway. He contacted Dorset police, and arranged to be down there by dawn.
Williams felt the passage of time as a personal threat. A second message from Hooper, now on his way with the woman to a more distant safe house, had been the worst news he’d had in a long time. ‘Reliable sources’ were saying that CI5 was coming back. Interfering with everyone else’s business. Turning over stones that were better left hiding their slime. Supporting this government, which could only be biding its time before it showed its red underbelly. If CI5 got any hint of what he was planning…
He handed out night goggles to the men he was sending onto the cliff top and fake police IDs to the rest. What he was going to do if they still had no trace of Doyle and Sandburg by morning he didn’t want to think. To Barson and Mobbs he gave silenced guns. They didn’t need instructions what to do with them.
Bodie sat morosely in something that felt vaguely like a stone armchair, and waited for dawn. He’d been getting quite into this Sentinel thing, ready to sign up to the view that every covert group should have one. Ellison had been doing the work of a couple of dogs, a forensic lab and a listening device, and they’d been getting closer and closer to their quarry. Only now he’d lost the plot.
Well, maybe that wasn’t quite fair. But the staring into space thing had been unnerving enough. It had taken Bodie more than half an hour to get him fully back on planet earth. That would be no joke if you were involved in action. Then Ellison had done quite well getting them this far along the trail, but it was too dark for sight now, and when he’d tried hearing, well, that had taken them into the realms of the bizarre.
Ellison had suggested it. He reckoned he could identify Sandburg’s heartbeat, let alone his voice. Bodie had given him his head—Ellison had done a good job at the club and been quite useful at picking up the whereabouts of Williams’ men, though you didn’t need to be a Sentinel to work out they were still rummaging around in the gorse. But then Ellison thought he’d heard two heartbeats, together, that both sounded like Sandburg’s. And to make things more irritating, he couldn’t locate them more than to this broad area, because he said the sea threw him. He couldn’t ‘tune it out;’ it was too much like white noise or something.
They’d given up altogether for the time being. Bodie was simply waiting, and Ellison—well, the poor bastard was probably brooding. Bodie could remember—except he wouldn’t—the feeling of knowing your partner was close and in danger when you couldn’t quite get to him. He turned to where Ellison was leaning on another of these strange rocks and said quietly, “It’ll be light enough to see in about half an hour, I reckon. We’ll split up then, start at either end and work in. If Williams’ boys show up as well, we’ll have to deal with them.”
“I don’t understand why they both sound the same,” Ellison muttered. The heartbeat thing still seemed to be bothering him. “It’s not an echo; they’re marginally different speeds. But they both sound like Sandburg.”
“All that matters is that one of them is,” Bodie said. “We’ll find them once we’ve got some light. You take this end, where you’re more likely to pick up the trail, and I’ll work up from the lower level. And watch yourself—lose concentration here and you’re liable to fall off the cliff.”
Bodie edged down through the huge rocks as soon as it was light enough to move, before the real dawn. He wouldn’t know where Williams’ men were without Ellison, but they weren’t likely to shoot on sight. Not here. Not without orders.
Blair woke to a hand over his mouth and a trace of light coming in through their protective curtain of greenery. He looked his question, and Ray nodded. With infinite caution, he edged forward so he could see through the tiny space Ray had made in the leaves. Almost level with them but much further along, just come out of the bushes, was the man from the nursing home garden. Blair felt his heart thud more rapidly. The man’s attention wasn’t on them, though, but on something below him. Ray moved slightly, to see what it was, and stiffened abruptly. Alarmed, Blair could see, even in the tiny amount of light they had, that his face had suddenly become taut and pale.
“Stay here,” Ray breathed. “Whatever happens, don’t move. I’ll make sure I’m away from here before anyone sees me.”
With that, before Blair could even ask what was happening, he was gone, sliding almost noiselessly out and rolling down behind the boulders. Then too many things happened at once. Blair looked back at the man from the garden. He had something in his hand that was clearly a gun, though the end looked odd. Silencer, some part of Blair’s memory suggested. And the man below, who hadn’t seen him waiting up on the edge of the bushes, was the one he seemed to be aiming at. Were there two groups out here fighting each other? Where was Ray?
That question was answered as the gun was raised. Ray, much further from their foxhole than Blair had expected, suddenly yelled, “Bodie! Gunman above you!”
The man down among the rocks moved so quickly Blair almost lost sight of him, spinning behind a standing stone. Blair didn’t hear the shot, but he heard the impact, as a bullet must have struck chips from it almost simultaneously. Then there was an audible shot, and the man from the nursing home fell awkwardly. Ray ran to scoop up the gun before he could recover, stumbled awkwardly as he did so and fell. Blair thought he’d slipped, then he realized no one slipped quite like that. Something was seriously wrong. He disregarded everything he’d been told about staying put as he saw Ray stay sprawled where he’d fallen.
Blair burst out from the bushes—and simultaneously someone fired over his head up into the undergrowth. There was a crash up there and he realised there must have been a second man, with another silenced gun, a man who’d fired at Ray and had now been aiming at him. Startled, he lost his balance on the dew-damp grass of the slope, but before he could fall he was caught and held in such a crushing hug that his body knew before his mind did who it was.
“Jim!” he gasped.
It was Jim, unbelievably, come like a miracle with the morning. Jim, shouting to the man Ray had risked himself for: “Clear! There’s no one else up there!”
The three of them, he and Jim and the stranger from below, all turned towards the three casualties. One man from the nursing home was a body in the bushes; the second was moving slightly, clutching at his leg. Ray lay frighteningly still.
Murphy had sped down the empty roads, and done his liaising over the airwaves, so that he arrived in Lulworth while it was still barely light enough to see. The police had already picked up two prowling strangers, who had been pointed out to them by a night fisherman as soon as they arrived. On their information—and he quickly realized they thought what they were doing was authorized—he led everyone available up to the top of the cliffs. He’d just arrested two more men at the far edge of the undergrowth, who gave up hastily at the sight of uniformed police, when they all heard the unmistakable sound of a shot from towards the sea. He began to fight his way along the tangled paths, but here was second shot before he’d gone more than a few yards.
Bodie ran up the slope, his mind lagging somewhere far behind his actions, his heart pounding with a fear he hadn’t thought he could still feel. He’d reacted so instinctively to that yell that the years in between had fallen away. Impossible though it seemed, it was Ray Doyle who had broken cover from somewhere to save his neck. Where from, how he could possibly have come to be there, right now Bodie didn’t care. Doyle had taken that risk as readily as he had ever done—and now he was down. Ominously down.
Bodie dropped on his knees beside the still, crumpled body, barely aware of anything else. Doyle was face down, a small pool of blood spreading from under his head into the grass. With clumsy fingers, numbed by a chaos of feelings, he felt for a pulse and was almost shocked to find it warm and beating strongly under his hand.
Ellison dropped beside him, and a young man, Sandburg, he assumed, who looked just about as bad as Bodie felt, was staring at Ray’s body with wide horrified eyes.
“He’s alive,” Bodie managed.
With Ellison’s help, he gently eased Doyle over, and the relief nearly made him throw up like some raw recruit. The bullet from up above had caught Doyle a glancing blow, digging an ugly, bloody furrow across the side of his head and stunning him, but that was all. It was bleeding generously, as scalp wounds did, but Doyle’s eyes were already trying to open and focus.
Ellison dug into his pocket for a handkerchief, and pressed it against the gash. Doyle muttered something, then opened his eyes properly, though they were still unfocussed. “Blair?” he asked.
Blair swallowed, rubbed his arm across his eyes and said thickly, “I’m fine. Jim’s here. We’re going to be okay.”
He broke off as a loud crashing in the bushes caught all their attention. Bodie looked up, already assessing their defenses, but Ellison, seeing further than they could, said with surprise, “It’s a cop—one of your uniformed police—lots of them, I think.”
Bodie slid his gun back into its holster, then on second thought, wiped it and gestured to Ellison to do the same with his. “Put them with the bodies of those two. Some nasty violent crime we bystanders got caught up in. You’ll have to say goodbye to the gun, though.”
“It’s a back-up piece. I can get another,” Ellison said, and hastily did what Bodie suggested. The holsters they tossed into the foxhole, just in time before the forces—in strength—of law and order came pouring down onto the grass.
All the time, more than half Bodie’s attention had been on Doyle, who was struggling to recover and see what was going on. “Lie still,” Bodie said, but as Doyle paid no attention, he helped him to sit up propped against him. Sandburg was hunched over with his head on his knees, as if everything had just caught up with him, and Ellison, transformed from the grimness Bodie had known in him so far, had one arm around him. They didn’t make a bad picture of innocent victims at a crime scene. Except that the man who now appeared, in charge of the stream of police and agents, was never going to believe it. He came over to them, fortunately with concern the dominant emotion in his expression.
“Well, here I was expecting just to have to rescue Doyle and I got double for my money. Did you mention to anyone you’d be causing mayhem down here, Bodie?”
“Murphy,” Bodie said in acknowledgement, ignoring the question. “Hope you’ve tidied up nicely. Did you get Williams?”
“Murph,” Doyle mumbled. “Thought we’d stopped meeting like this.”
“How many casualties?” Murphy asked, looking at Doyle with an assessing eye and Sandburg with interest.
“Two. I think you’ll find they shot each other,” Bodie said blandly. “Guns are by the bodies.”
“No one here’s armed, of course?” Murphy said dryly, and sent his men to deal with it. “I can see Doyle needs attention. Besides yours, I mean. What about the rest of you?”
“Blair needs…” Ellison and Doyle began together.
Blair looked up; he looked drained, but better than Bodie would have expected. “I’m okay,” he said.
“Get us VIP treatment, Murph,” Doyle said, leaning back against Bodie. “In and out quick. Persuade them we’re a security problem. Nice nurses, good painkillers and then home. Someone’s home.”
“Yes, I’m afraid Williams took the caravan apart rather thoroughly,” Murphy said, still staring at them with a speculative look that Bodie found slightly unnerving. “Look, I think we’d better get you four out of here and off to the hospital, and I’ll finish up. Ellison must need to call his people, we need to hear Sandburg’s story, and then I want a word with you two. Do we need a stretcher for Doyle?”
“No,” Doyle said. “It’s getting better except for a bloody awful headache. I can see straight. Can walk well enough.”
Bodie lifted him to his feet and held him there. “Send a couple of your boys with us,” he said.
“I was planning to do that. Right to the hospital and beyond.”
Bodie turned his attention briefly from Doyle to the busy scene and the quantity of men from both police and intelligence. “What the hell are you these days, anyway? One of the big guns?”
Murphy grinned. “As of yesterday, I’m the provisional head of the restored CI5, my lad, so you’d better show me some respect. And since you and Doyle seem to have rediscovered the ability to work together, here’s something for you to think about besides the nurses. I need some senior officials. Believe it or not, you two came to mind, in spite of the many and various objections I can think of. You’re both in a position to consider a career change. Talk it over. George thinks we need to keep a balance between military intelligence and the civil forces, and if you’re not balanced in any other way, you might offer that.”
Bodie was temporarily too taken aback to think of a good answer to all that. Doyle, leaning heavily against him now in defiance of his assertion that he felt okay, mumbled, “Call him George to his face, do you? Very cozy.”
“I’ve got approval for Bodie, if he wants to take the post,” Murphy said. “I can get approval for you. Think about it, Ray. You’d make a difference—an important one. But go and get yourself fixed up first.”
Bodie turned to Ellison, a silent, perhaps puzzled, listener to all this, and Blair, who, like Doyle, looked as if he’d be lucky to get back to the cars on his own feet. He could see on their faces the same slightly shell-shocked look there was on his own. This morning was going to take some assimilating. But the relief was there, too; and the look of men who hadn’t been sure they would really see each other until now and didn’t quite know what to do with the thankfulness, especially with an audience of police officers.
Two of the plain clothes policemen came to join them and escort them back to the cars. Bodie pulled one of Doyle’s arms over his shoulder and realized he was completely unarmed, and had been all along. “Damn fool stunt coming out into the open without a gun,” he said.
“Hadn’t seen you for fifteen years,” Doyle said. “Didn’t want to mark it by watching you get your head blown off.”
That came much too close to what Bodie had briefly feared he had seen happen to Doyle. “Well, next time, just yell and stay under cover.”
“Going to be a next time, is there?” Doyle said, suddenly sounding slightly tentative.
“Yeah, I reckon.” He didn’t really know how his anger and resentment, as fresh yesterday as it had been fifteen years ago, could bleed away so suddenly into the grass, but it had. Perhaps it was because Doyle’s gut reaction even after all this time had been to put his life on the line for Bodie’s.
“You’re okay when you don’t have time to think,” Bodie added.
“You could do with thinking a bit more.”
“There you are then,” Bodie said, taking more of his weight as he stumbled. “Balance. Between us, we’ve got it.”
They had, he realized with a sudden upswing of mood, just won. Won in all sorts of ways. He hadn’t really taken in yet what it could all mean. He looked back at Ellison, also struggling slightly to move along the path while still keeping Blair on his feet, and saw the confirmation of their victory. They were taking safely away from here everything that mattered.
Blair found that emergency rooms, even with what was supposed to be VIP treatment, didn’t vary much from one country to another. The staff was busy, kind beyond the call of duty, and inclined to find more wrong with you than was really fair. And blood. They always wanted your blood.
“Jim, you know I’m okay,” he grumbled. “You’ve been checking me out the whole time. I’m fine.”
“You passed out on the way back to the car.”
“I didn’t. Well, technically I did, but only for about ten seconds.” Things had just caught up with him when they got back to the field. It was everything at once: remembering how he’d been unable to remember Jim’s name; thinking of Alex; looking across at Ray, holding a bloodstained hanky to his face. The field had wobbled and swirled around him, and maybe he’d have fallen if Jim hadn’t had a good hold on him, but Jim did, so no one really needed to have blown the whistle on it to the doctors. Consequently, even more tests. Though he didn’t really want to go home until he knew more about how Ray was, so it wasn’t much use complaining.
The hard-faced and rather enigmatic man who seemed, by some chain of events Blair didn’t follow, to be the partner Ray had talked about, looked in. “Doyle’s being stitched,” he said. “Apparently, it calls for privacy even when it’s just your head. I think they’re going to let you both go after that and a few more checks.”
“How come they told you? They won’t tell us anything ’til the doctor comes back.”
Bodie smiled. “I told the rather harassed senior nurse that it was my duty to arrange protection for you if they were keeping you in. I explained how many officers we’d be putting on and so on. She said they had no intention of keeping you, and Doyle could go if we kept an eye on him. I said you’d been a medic, Ellison. That’s right isn’t it? Anyway, presumably you can take his vital stats from the other side of the room.”
Blair looked at Jim with something between disbelief and alarm. Jim shrugged. “I needed to use my senses if we were ever going to find you. Anyway, Bodie knows about Sentinels. He knew a tribal one in Africa. You should ask him about it.”
Blair wondered for a moment whether to take offence at being distracted with all the subtlety one would show a five-year-old, but the subject was too tantalizing. Perhaps Bodie wasn’t sorry to be distracted, either; at any rate, he talked for a long time and with a wealth of detail Blair couldn’t help appreciating. Blair borrowed a pencil and notepad from the nurse, and began to write it all down.
Time passed. Checks were done on them both—again. Bodie and Jim took it in turns to go and buy something unhealthy for lunch. Tentatively, Jim and Blair began to hear each other’s side of the story.
“Eli went ahead,” Jim said quietly. “He doesn’t want you lost to anthropology.”
“And the PD?”
“Simon’s trying to get some line on setting you up as a special consultant, but he’s still getting the fall out from the dissertation. We’ll get there one way or another, though.” He’d tried twice to get hold of Simon, but failed. He’d told Joel, though, and Kelso at Rainier.
Blair shook his head slightly. “It’s weird, you know, knowing that it’s all real. They really had me convinced I’d made it up. If I hadn’t run into Ray, I think my brain would really have gone into meltdown. Can you hear if he’s back yet?”
Jim paused, and listened. “He sounds as though they’ve given him something; he’s more than half asleep. Murphy’s there, talking to Bodie. Sounds like whatever this CI5 is, they’re going for it. Oh, and this will interest you. Murphy says he called Tom Hunter, and he and his wife are coming home and want us all to go there at least for the night.”
“You okay with that?”
Jim thought about it, and nodded. “Murphy’s keen on it. Means he can concentrate his men in one location. But I doubt if we’ll see any more of Williams.”
“What about Alex Barnes?”
“Disappeared as well. I can’t keep listening, though, Chief. Some of this is sensitive stuff for Brit intelligence. Apparently, Williams and some rogue agents planned to use her to break into a location so important they hoped to bring down the government on the grounds they’d let it be breached.”
“James Bond stuff.”
“Exactly. And none of our business.”
Blair tried hard to look as though he never took an interest in what was not his business. His nurse came back in, all smiles, as if she hadn’t just been bristling with needles to stick in him. “The doctor will be here in a minute, and I think you’ll be cleared to go home. No alcohol for a few days, and try to avoid too much caffeine. I’ll have a print out for you of what’s advised.”
She went briskly out as Bodie lounged in. “Time to go home, boys and girls. Or did you already know that?” He glanced at Ellison. “Anyway, in case you missed it, we’re going to the Hunters. Stella Hunter is a nurse and the people here know her, so they’re more than happy to release you now.”
Yes! Blair refrained from punching the air, which would have seemed rather ungrateful to the nurse, who came back with a doctor, the promised print out… and a scrap of paper she slipped to Bodie, getting a surprisingly charming smile for it.
Blair raised his eyebrows at Jim in silent question, while the doctor glanced through the remarkable number of pages in his record that Blair had generated in his short stay.
“Telephone number,” Jim said under his breath. “Don’t ask me what they see in him.”
The doctor didn’t spring any last minute surprises on them, and within minutes, they were outside in the sunshine. Blair was surprised it was still so bright until he remembered the day had started before dawn. Ray looked white and heavy-eyed, and though he’d insisted on walking to the car, he didn’t protest when Bodie half lifted him into it. When they got to the Hunters, Doyle fell asleep within a minute of sitting down. Blair wondered if Bodie knew that, sitting beside him, he looked like some kind of human guard dog, ready to object violently if anything disturbed his trust. He didn’t mention it, but he caught Stella Hunter’s eye as she looked at them, and the grin he got suggested he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.
He wasn’t exactly wide awake himself now, though. He half dozed, half listened to Bodie and Jim talking to Murphy and only woke up properly when Murphy said something so surprising, he thought for a moment he’d dreamed it.
“I’ve been talking to your Captain Banks,” Murphy said to Jim. “He was trying to get hold of you, and got sent around various people ’til some bright spark put him through to me. I knew about the Sentinel media frenzy you’d had problems with; most intelligence services do, I suspect. It’s a concept that’s becoming increasingly known. Chatting with him, it seemed to me we may be able to do you a good turn, in return for the one you and Sandburg have undoubtedly done us.”
“What sort of good turn?” Jim asked. Blair elbowed him to remind him not to be so ungracious.
“The effect of that story breaking the way it did was Williams showing up in Cascade, to get Sandburg. It would take very little editing of the facts to suggest we intended that to happen, that in fact Williams was set up—the excesses can be blamed on the behavior of the publisher and press. I shall officially thank your police commissioner for the sacrifices Sandburg made to help us out in this way, and Banks thinks that should more than clear the way for the consultant set-up. You’ll have to deal with the university yourself, but I gather that’s under way, anyway.”
Blair felt Jim’s arm tighten around his shoulders, and knew he was silent for a minute because he was getting control of his voice. Blair never worried about that. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” he said. “All I ever wanted was to stay working with Jim. I didn’t think anyone could swing it.”
“Ray told me this morning when I first called at the hospital,” Murphy said quietly. “He seemed to think it was pretty important, so when I spoke to Banks, I’d already begun to see how it might work. You might mention it to him when he wakes up, Bodie.”
Bodie’s hard face softened slightly when he looked at Doyle. “I’m hoping that won’t be ’til morning, but, yes, I’ll tell him.”
“Thanks,” Jim said, finally finding his voice.
Blair could hear just how much Jim did still want to be partnered with an undisciplined anthropologist. He could feel it, too, in the arm Jim still kept around him, as though he might disappear if he was held too carelessly. The warmth of the knowledge settled into him, easing hurts he’d half-forgotten he still felt.
Bodie and Murphy began to explain to Jim the set up of CI5. It wasn’t quite gripping enough for this end of a tiring day. Ray had the right idea. Blair let his eyes close.
Some time later, he realized he was using Jim for a pillow.
A lot later still, he found he had a real pillow. And a bed. He decided not to speculate on how he got there. He turned over comfortably and went back to sleep, and thought drowsily how odd it felt to be looking forward to tomorrow.
“So how did you come to know Ray, anyway?” Bodie asked.
He’d decided in the twenty-four hours he’d been there that he liked the Hunters; he was slightly surprised he’d never met them before when he discovered how long Doyle had known them. He and Ellison were ‘helping’ clear up the leftovers from lunch—mostly by eating them. Doyle and Sandburg were outside. Dozing in the shade, probably. They were still in need of some rest and recovery.
Stella laughed. “I met him at a rock concert, of sorts, when I was barely sixteen—and extremely silly. I was lucky I did meet him, really. If you promise not to tease him about it, I’ll show you a photo.”
“I promise,” Bodie said promptly, and ignored the look he got from Ellison. The man ought to switch the lie detector sense off when he wasn’t on duty.
Stella rummaged in a drawer, and after a while, pulled out a scruffy envelope. “I never put this one in an album in case it gave the children the wrong idea, but I found it the other day after Ray had been here, and thought I’d keep it handy to show him.”
Bodie took it with interest, and found himself looking at a very young, very long-haired Ray Doyle, in jeans, a scruffy T-shirt and a leather jacket, with his arms around three girls.
Stella looked at it and blushed slightly. “We were all over him. I really cringe when I think of it. And he was in the police even then. We just didn’t know it, we thought he was so cool, with his guitar and that hair. That’s Naomi—with the red hair. She was going around with him during the concert and we envied her so much, Pam and I. She was so utterly furious when she found out—that he was in the police, I mean.”
“He was undercover?” Bodie said, thinking of a hundred ways he could amuse himself with this picture at Doyle’s expense.
“Yes. It must, looking back, have been just about his first big case. I didn’t know that then, of course. I was just so grateful he made sure we were okay. He actually came and called on me a few weeks later, and we’ve never lost touch.”
“So he was sleeping with Naomi,” Jim said, in such an odd voice that Bodie stared at him.
Stella was more thrown by the wording of the question than the tone of it. “Well, yes. Though you could say she was sleeping with him. She was the one who, well, initiated it. I mean, compared to us, she knew what she was doing. She believed in free love, she said.” She picked up an armful of plates. “Anyway, that’s how I first came to know him. If you tease him, Bodie, there won’t be chocolate cake for tea.”
But teasing Doyle was no longer the first thing in Bodie’s mind. As she went out, he turned to Ellison, who looked—stunned. “What is it?” he asked. “You know this Naomi?”
“It’s Sandburg’s mother,” Jim said blankly. “Is there a date on the photo?”
Bodie turned it over. “She’s penciled on it 1968.” He looked at Jim and began to understand the shocked speculation he was seeing on Jim’s face. “Oh, come on… you don’t think…”
“Sandburg was born in ’69,” Jim said.
Bodie stood and looked at the photograph and tried to think of all the reasons why this could just not be a possibility. It was crazy. It was too much of a coincidence. Even in 1968, girls knew how to avoid getting pregnant. Especially girls who believed in free love.
“Sandburg says even his mother isn’t sure…” Jim said, still staring at the picture as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“You said their heartbeats were the same…” Bodie said, remembering.
“And there’s a kind of similarity there…”
“Irritating tendency to idealism as a hereditary trait,” Bodie said, but it came out less joking than he’d intended.
They stood and looked at each other, completely lost for words.
“What do we do?” Ellison said at last.
Bodie looked at the photo he was still holding. “It’s not our call. It’s not as if you’ve anything more than a wild guess.” He paused. Thought about Doyle; thought about the bits he’d gleaned from him of the few days he’d known Sandburg. Ray had practically adopted Blair on first sight. Old instincts, buried so well for fifteen years that they’d hardly faded at all, woke and made him realize that if it worked out wrongly, this could hurt Doyle.
“Blair would want it,” Ellison said quietly. “Maybe too much. Ever since I’ve known him, I’ve been aware it was a major gap in his life, having no idea of who his father was. Right now he’d grab onto that kind of security with both hands.”
“If it’s a real possibility, I suppose they’ve the right to know,” Bodie said. “Stella could just as easily have shown them the picture, and we’d have had Sandburg going, ‘That’s my mom.’ It’s going to come out sometime that Ray knew her, and I don’t suppose they’ll be that much behind you in thinking of the dates and the potential connection.”
“Sometime, maybe, but it doesn’t have to be right now,” Ellison said. “It’s too soon.” He touched Bodie’s arm, drawing him towards the open door. “They’re not ready for any more… challenges of any sort.”
In the shade of an aging and untidy apple tree, Blair lay on his stomach on a blanket, scribbling in a notebook. Doyle, sprawled full length on a sun lounger, seemed to be fast asleep—and given the white, pinched look around his eyes and the effort it had taken him to eat any lunch, he probably needed it.
“All very well,” Bodie said, “but there’ll be hell to pay if it does come out and they think we knew and didn’t say anything.”
“We can give it a few days. It’s not as if we do know, anyway. Not in a way that would be evidence. Blair’s been shaken enough by what those bastards did to him; he doesn’t need more uncertainties.”
That brought into clarity a thought that had been hovering at the edge of Bodie’s mind. “We could prove it one way or the other,” he said slowly.
“Murph could fast-track it. Easier to make a decision if we were sure.”
“Without their permission?”
“Damn it, Ellison, you’re the one who doesn’t want them told. How many ways round do you want to have this argument?”
Ellison had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “All right. Getting samples will be easy enough, and Murphy’s back tomorrow morning, isn’t he? Now, put that photo away.”
Ray Doyle woke slowly, and realized the sun had moved far to the west while he was asleep. It was early evening now, though it was still hot and still.
He wondered if moving would awake his headache to unmanageable proportions. The painkillers—mild in view of the head injury—couldn’t exactly be said to be killing pain, and though it was just about bearable if he lay still, the thought of standing up was daunting. However, a day’s worth of cups of tea were making themselves felt. Reluctantly, he pushed himself up to a sitting position.
He’d thought he was alone, and didn’t try to suppress the grunt of discomfort this caused. At the sound, Bodie strolled into view and offered a steadying hand.
“You look terrible,” he said.
“I feel terrible.”
Bodie laughed. “You never were much of a stoic. Come on, sunshine. On your feet.”
His support was gentle enough, though, keeping Doyle upright until the garden finished rocking around him and the sparking agony in his head faded back to a throb.
“Where d’you want to go?” Bodie asked.
“Where do you think?”
Bodie helped him into the house and waited for him.
Doyle had never understood Bodie and he never would. For fifteen years, he’d been written out of Bodie’s life as completely as if he was dead. More completely, probably, because he’d bet he’d been banned even from Bodie’s thoughts. Now he seemed, in a matter of hours, to have been reinstated as if that fifteen years had never existed.
“We ought to talk,” he said, letting Bodie give him a hand towards the kitchen now.
“Murphy’s back tomorrow. Time enough then to go over the details.”
That wasn’t really what Doyle had meant, or only part of it. If they were going to work efficiently together, they couldn’t pretend the past hadn’t happened. He couldn’t, anyway; maybe he was underestimating Bodie’s ability to deal only in the present. The thought of negotiating his way around the minefield of explaining this was definitely beyond him at the moment, though. He slumped into the chair Bodie had kicked out for him and saved his energy to appreciate tea and sympathy from Tom.
“Anything new?” he asked, when the tea had worked its usual magic on his brain cells.
“Dead ends,” Bodie said. “No trace of Williams. Most of the men Murphy picked up thought they were on a legit assignment—they’d been brought in just for the night, and didn’t know anything useful. The two from the cliff top aren’t talking. Well, one isn’t, one can’t yet. We’ve a fairly good idea what they want to use the Barnes woman for, but there’s a number of locations to secure. Ellison’s making himself useful suggesting precautions they could take, on the grounds he was the one who took her before—strictly not as a Sentinel, of course. Murph’s liaising with him, then passing it on, so there shouldn’t be any problems there.”
“So we’ve put them out of action for now?”
“They’d be fools not to lie very low for a while.”
Doyle nodded, a mistake, as it started shock waves of pain going through his head again. “Yeah. They’ll disappear with the woman and resurface to cause trouble in a few months when they’ve had time to regroup.”
“By then we should be ready for them,” Bodie said. “Which reminds me, Murphy’s allowing us another couple of days while you get back on your feet, then he wants us in London, full of bright new initiatives to take CI5 into the 21st century.”
Doyle winced at the thought. “Murph doesn’t take himself that seriously.”
“Ah, but he has a PR man now. Everyone does. You won’t recognize yourself when you read the edited version in the press.”
“I knew a girl that happened to,” Blair said, coming in and catching the last sentence. “Only in her case, it was a picture that was edited—up at least two shirt sizes.”
“Page 3 girl?” Bodie asked, interested, and was appalled by Blair’s blank look. “You don’t know about page 3 girls? That’s a very important aspect of British culture. Tom, I don’t suppose you’ve a copy…? No.”
“Forget PR and page 3,” Doyle said. “What does Murphy want us to do for the next couple of days?”
“Rest,” Tom said. “He’ll come down tomorrow for an hour or so to deal with paperwork, but otherwise you recuperate. While you were asleep, Stella conned the hospital out of some painkillers that might actually work. Take a couple of those and go lie down again. You’re a terrible patient.”
“I’m bored,” Doyle said, but his head was pounding painfully enough to make him reach out for the tablets. “All I’ve done all day is lie around.”
“Possibly because you got your head in the way of a bullet yesterday,” Stella pointed out, coming in with a vast bag of groceries. “It’s still the main topic of conversation in A&E. And I promised them you’d be sensible. Go and lie down. Take him away, Bodie. Read him the paper or something—CI5 made the front page of the Times.”
“I read it to him already,” Bodie said, helping unpack the food and finding the cake. “It’s your turn, Blair. Go and tell him tall tales of anthropology.”
“He’d probably rather have Jim and police procedure,” Blair said, but he readily helped Doyle to his feet and gave him a hand upstairs. Bodie smiled benevolently at them and waved the cake.
He did it just a bit too convincingly. Doyle remembered, over the fifteen-year gulf, that look in Bodie’s eyes. In spite of his headache, and the dawning fuzziness from the painkillers, it made him suspicious. It was natural enough that Bodie would prefer to stay in the kitchen with the chocolate cake, but…
“Go and see what Bodie’s up to,” he told Blair as they reached the landing.
Blair looked surprised, but he went. Doyle waded through molasses the last few steps to his room, and flopped gratefully on the bed. He had no intention of going to sleep before Blair reported back, though.
“He’s eating cake and watching the news,” Blair said. “You don’t mind if I ask what you expected him to be doing?”
“I’m not sure. It’s just that I know… knew… Bodie too well. He had some reason for wanting to send us up here.”
“Couldn’t have been the cake. He knows we wouldn’t want it. Now if Jim was there…” He stopped and thought for a moment. “This afternoon, before Jim went to draw security systems for Murphy, he told me I could tell you anything I wanted about the Sentinel stuff and how we met and so on. That was an incredibly un-Jim-like thing to say. I mean, I was pleased he was cool with it, especially as I guess you’d worked quite a lot out, but it’s just not Jim to come out with something like that.”
Doyle’s headache, which had been ebbing, came back a little when he tried to think this one out. Since it had been a completely different time of day, it could hardly be that Bodie and Jim wanted them out of the way for some reason of their own. But what possible reason could they have for simply wanting to maneuver them into talking? It wasn’t as though they’d been on anything but good terms before.
“Maybe they’re just trying to be considerate,” Blair offered, without conviction. “I mean, I suppose we’ll all be going our separate ways quite soon. We’ll have to go and sort things out in Cascade, and you’ll be doing CI5 24/7. Don’t know how soon I’ll see you again.”
When his mind had been clear enough to think, Doyle had felt sharp regret about this, too. He’d grown very close to Blair over the few days they’d been together. “I’d like to come and see you get that doctorate,” he said, and was pleased to see Blair brighten slightly as he was reminded of the positive side of his return. “In fact, maybe Bodie was right. Maybe you should tell me something about anthropology, and what it’s like studying at where was it… Rainier? How did you choose anthropology, anyway?”
Blair settled cross-legged on the foot of the bed, obviously ready to talk for a while. Doyle hoped it would be okay to close his eyes while he listened; they seemed to be closing by themselves. He drifted, pictures of the tapestry of Blair’s early, almost nomadic life and his youthful start at Rainier weaving themselves into his thoughts as he lay half-awake. Blair talked about the color, the experience, and went quickly past the parts that had evidently not been so good. Doyle, with a lifetime’s experience of the ways life could be less than great for a child among assorted unrelated adults, or with a mother’s changing boyfriends, couldn’t help being aware of what went unsaid.
The things wove together: Blair’s bright, quick mind, his enthusiasm for people in all their forms, and his uncertainties, his inability to believe anyone was a long-term friend. Doyle remembered what Blair had said about wondering whether anyone would really regret he was gone, and wondered how Blair could not see the agonized relief barely hidden behind Jim’s eyes every time he looked at him. Of course, compared to Bodie, Jim was almost open…
“I’m putting you to sleep,” Blair said, unoffended. “How about we save the next installment for tomorrow? You don’t have any plans for tomorrow except seeing your new boss.”
Odd way to think of Murphy, but he’d be better for the job than Doyle or Bodie would ever have been. Certainly better at talking to ministers.
“No plans,” Doyle agreed without opening his eyes. “But the day after, when I hope I feel more like it, I want to go back to the Red Lion—thank the landlady and her girls.”
“Now that’s my idea of a plan. I liked it there. Between me losing it and you getting shot, it was a kind of pleasant interlude. I suppose we can’t tell them the real story, though.”
“They’ll like it better if it’s hush-hush,” Doyle said, having more and more trouble staying awake. “Keep the cover story. Explain Bodie and Jim are some of the good guys. Tell them it’s all worked out okay.”
“It was a good cover story,” Blair said, his tone unfathomable to someone ninety-percent asleep.
“Yeah, it was.” Even his own feelings were unfathomable, let alone Blair’s. Maybe they’d make sense when he woke up.
Williams knew Barson and Mobbs wouldn’t talk; well, Mobbs couldn’t, he was still in a coma, but Barson wouldn’t either. He wouldn’t try to be clever. He’d just sit in sullen silence and deny everything except being hired to do the rough stuff.
He’d abandoned them, of course, in fact it was a day before he was sure Mobbs had survived. He’d called Hooper from the cliff top as soon as he realized his men were being rounded up; Hooper would take the girl and the two medical orderlies and move to their last safe house in this part of the world. He’d wondered briefly about trying to get right out, but the time on the road would have been too risky, especially with the Barnes woman becoming unpredictable.
After that, Williams had left the scene in a hurry. There was nothing to gain by staying. It was only now, a day later, that he was beginning to piece together what had happened. London said Murphy was behind it; it was the first blow from the new head of CI5. There was alarm there about where his intel had come from. Williams, for the time being, was on his own. They didn’t want to know.
That suited him well enough, too. This last resort house was his own arrangement, a long lease taken out when this project was only a whisper in the murkier corridors of would-be power. No one had known about it except himself and Hooper. It had the disadvantage of being remote; normally he’d have preferred to be invisible in a small town, but Barnes wouldn’t have been easy to keep out of knowledge of neighbors. Even when she had been mainly catatonic, she would sometimes begin an eerie wailing she could keep up for hours.
Luckily, Hooper had taken the time to remove as many supplies as he could carry. The two orderlies were men who’d been with Williams for a long time; their only medical qualifications were being able to follow Hooper’s orders, but they were reliable, and committed to the cause. They wouldn’t be in any files Murphy could get hold of, and although Sandburg had seen them, they were nondescript enough not to be easily described. If someone had to go into a town, they ought to be able to do it safely.
In fact, he’d have been reasonably confident about the prospect of lying low until they could call themselves secure, if it hadn’t been for the doom and gloom coming from Hooper.
“I can’t keep the woman sedated for much longer,” Hooper had just told him. “Something happened when she started responding to Sandburg—some sort of irreversible shift in her condition as far as I can see. The other night compounded it. The problem isn’t going to go away, and she’s showing signs of stress and disturbance even with the stuff we’re pumping in to her. I don’t think it’s just the senses. The more I’ve seen of her, the more I think she’s got other psychological problems, too.”
“I thought her history was one of efficient criminal activity until this bizarre series of events culminating in Peru? She seems to have disposed of people in her way efficiently enough.”
“I know. Everything I have on her suggests she should be ideal for your purposes. But I still think she’s showing signs of disturbance beyond the complications of the heightened senses and her prolonged coma.”
“What do you want to do, then?”
“I want Sandburg back. I don’t care what you have to do to get him. It’s that or try to put her back into the catatonic state and, frankly, I don’t think we could achieve it now. Do you know where Sandburg is?”
“I could find out, if it’s important enough. It would be a risk.”
“It’s important enough. Otherwise you can write off ever using Barnes.”
Williams considered that, but he was reluctant to concede such a complete defeat. His brief contact with London had not all been negative. He’d found out that both Doyle and Sandburg had been treated in casualty, and were assumed to be still in the area, probably with Bodie and Ellison. He still had a brief window of opportunity. They would not be expecting any sort of move from him in the near future.
“Just keep Barnes going for the moment,” he told Hooper. “London don’t want to be involved with us, but they won’t want to lose her, either. I think I can get information out of them, though we’ll be on our own for manpower.”
“You’ll have to get Sandburg in the next day or two. I’d say she’s getting critical.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Williams said irritably. “At least they won’t be expecting it; if it wasn’t for this, the last thing I’d want to do would be go anywhere near Sandburg again.”
“Nothing’s ever simple with Bodie and Doyle. The fact they’re older doesn’t mean they’re any wiser.”
It was Cowley’s parting shot. He’d already interrogated Murphy thoroughly over dinner, offered some sharp comments on anything in his current operation that hadn’t been quite up to standard of the old CI5, and suggested that he might consider asking Macklin for recommendations for someone to keep his as yet non-existent recruits up to scratch. As for Bodie and Doyle, Cowley reluctantly acknowledged Murphy had achieved what he wanted, but wasn’t going to be enthusiastic about it. Elizabeth Walsh just smiled at his final gloomy warning.
“George is jealous,” she told Murphy. “He’d still like to be running everything himself.”
“He’s given me a good start,” Murphy said. He was grateful to the old man, and not just for the advice and analysis which proved Cowley had retained his razor sharp mind into old age; it was the mere fact of Cowley being there, uncompromising, that would help keep them honest in a political age.
The other invaluable thing Cowley had handed on to him was a network of contacts that had taken a lifetime to build up. He still had many markers to call in, and he’d made it clear that whatever he could do for the new CI5, he would. The least Murphy could do was keep him fully in the picture, and listen to what he had to say. Even on the subject of Bodie and Doyle, who were now officially on his team, and his responsibility if they did anything out of line.
But so far, Bodie and Doyle couldn’t be faulted.
Murphy drove down to Swanage the next day, to find that the Hunters had handed over their study and dining room—he was going to have to find a generous way of thanking them—and that a surprising amount of detailed paperwork was waiting for him, even from the injured Doyle.
Besides the material for the structure of CI5 and full reports on the Williams case, he also found Jim Ellison had produced all the protocols he could have hoped for on making supposedly secure sites Sentinel-proof. He glanced through these first. It was an impressive job, reminding him that Ellison had been Special Forces before he went into the Cascade PD. Better still, Sandburg had added the scientific background that gave the work any extra authority needed to sell it to the appropriate establishments. Murphy had quite a lot of power, but he preferred to work with consent. “Getting to yes” had only interested Cowley when it involved other people saying it, preferably with ‘sir’ added, but the world had changed, and Murphy was hoping to keep his iron fist for when there really was no other option.
Sandburg, hovering to explain the finer details, looked much better than when Murphy had last seen him. Murphy had glanced though the hospital report, and it was clear the young man wouldn’t be really free of the after effects of his abduction for quite a while, but he had refused any medication and he seemed to be coping. In spite of Ellison prowling like a guard dog with overprotective instincts, Murphy thought it was worth trying to extricate a few more memories from him.
“The doctor—Hooper—went off sometimes,” Blair said after some thought. “To London, I think. Sometimes when I was… when they were… when Alex was being treated… he and Williams would talk. They mentioned backers. I think they were in contact quite a lot.”
Murphy already had people looking into calls from the nursing home, hoping there might have been some slip in Williams security. “You never heard a name?” he asked. “Nothing to indicate who they might have been reporting to?”
Blair shook his head. “I don’t think so. I wasn’t really with it. Couldn’t think past Alex…”
Ellison shifted; the warning in his stance was as clear as a growl when Blair, for the second time, stumbled over the reference to the woman. Murphy decided not to push it. From what he’d read, Blair’s memories were more likely to come back when he was least stressed.
“Just let me know if you do think of anything,” he said. “Oh, and I’ve a message for you from Simon Banks, though he’ll probably call himself later. He finally managed to speak to your mother to let her know you were safe and well and in England. He didn’t tell her anything about what had been happening to you, though. She thinks you’ve just been—processing, was it?”
“Where was she?” Blair asked. “Jim says she was in Tibet a month ago.”
“Pokara. She hadn’t decided where she was going next—apparently her friends were moving on to see some guru she’d visited before? Anyway, she didn’t have definite plans—or anywhere for Banks to contact her—but she had discovered a new meditation technique she thought would help him to be less stressed.”
“I suppose he’s lucky she hadn’t found him a coffee laced with magic mushrooms,” Jim muttered. “Sorry, Chief, I know she means well. I expect by the time he calls, Simon will have located her.”
Murphy left them to speculate on that one, and went to find Bodie or Doyle. Doyle was less bandaged and marginally less pale than when he’d last seen him, and had drawn up an impressively coherent strategy for how he wanted to go about his side of the new partnership. Murphy put that away, to read thoroughly later, and looked at him searchingly. He’d kept in touch with Doyle a little over the years; had seen him holding to his aims, but more battered and worn down each time, until the final debacle that had ended in his suspension. Now, in spite of the signs of a massive headache, and shadows under his eyes, there was a new life in him.
Murphy didn’t want to see anything happen to quench that. “You and Bodie talked things through yet?”
“You know Bodie better than that.”
“I could make it an order.”
“Wouldn’t really work, then, would it? It’s the being prepared to talk that matters. The details of how we’ll work together aren’t the problem.”
Murphy couldn’t argue with that. “You could try telling him why you did chuck it in back then,” he said slowly. “I don’t think even Cowley ever really understood your reasons.”
Doyle was still good at reading him, even after years of little contact. “But you do?”
“I used to go to see June Cook a couple of times a year ’til she remarried. Made sure she was okay for things as the kids got bigger. She told me once she’d said some pretty harsh things to you when you broke it to her about Cookie.”
Doyle’s face stopped showing any expression at all. “I was glad she was angry,” he said. “Better for those kids—she was going to fight, not just give up.” But there was a ghost of old pain in his voice, and Murphy didn’t push it any further. Maybe he was trying to go too fast. When Doyle was fit again, and they’d had a few days to get used to the idea of working together, then he’d have another go.
He didn’t fool himself it would be easy.
Cowley had recommended—in jest, Murphy preferred to think—that he obtained a building with a large and soundproof basement. Perhaps he should do just that, and lock Bodie and Doyle down there until they actually did talk to each other about the last fifteen years. Of course, even then it would probably be one-sided.
If Doyle had been uneasy with the subject of talking things through, Bodie was much too smoothly dismissive. He was charming and outwardly cooperative, too, which was always a danger sign. He even agreed with Murphy that he and Doyle couldn’t simply start where they left off as if the intervening time was irrelevant.
“Don’t think Doyle’s up to a philosophical discussion right now, though,” he said. “Once we’re back in London. Will that do? We want to make a go of this as much as you do, y’know.”
Murphy was suspicious rather than grateful. “What do you want, Bodie?” he asked.
Bodie smiled that charming smile which over the years had undressed more women than Murphy cared to think about. “Have a heart, Murph,” he said. “Cowley’s been a bad influence on you already. But now you mention it, there was that DNA test you said you would get run.”
Murphy took the neatly bagged samples. “Why do I think I should be asking you more about this?” he said doubtfully.
“I told you—you’ve been spending too much time with Uncle George. Can you make sure this comes back to me personally? I’m backing a hunch, I don’t want to look an idiot if I’ve got it wrong.”
That, at least, was plausible. Murphy decided that if he couldn’t trust Bodie to tell him when something mattered to the case, he should never have considered offering him a post. “I’ll get it done as fast as possible,” he said.
“Thanks. There’s one other thing. We thought we might take a look at that nursing home tomorrow morning. Can you warn whoever is there to give us access?”
“It’s just the local boys, but I’ll see they know you’re coming. Any particular reason for going there?”
They were standing outside by his car, and Bodie automatically glanced around before he spoke. “Sandburg thinks Ellison could pick up something that the normal routines might have missed. It is possible, though it’s been a few days now.”
Murphy hadn’t asked anything about Ellison’s abilities, but he’d drawn his own conclusions, and when Ellison offered to help him with the security arrangements, there had been a tacit acknowledgment both that Ellison was a Sentinel and that Murphy knew it. Bodie was taking that a step further now, and Murphy appreciated it. Trust for trust. It was the only way that had ever worked with Bodie.
“Will Sandburg be all right going back there?” he asked, thinking of what he had read about Blair’s imprisonment and escape.
“He says so. He’s keen to do it, anyway. He’s not as convinced as the rest of us that Williams will lie low for a while. He thinks they’ll have trouble with the woman.”
“Well, if Ellison can pick up anything useful, that will be a lot more than we’ve got at the moment. I’ll tackle things from the other end, and look at Williams’ possible contacts.”
“You’ll find they’ve been careful,” Bodie predicted.
Murphy did, of course. They had been careful. All his potential names were wealthy and powerful and well-connected, too, which meant he couldn’t harry them. Even Cowley would have had to tiptoe a bit. It turned out that the drive back from Dorset was the only pleasant part of the rest of Murphy’s day—everything else was sheer frustration. By late evening, he was tired of beating his head against a wall of privilege and connection. He began to think his wild cards down in Dorset were likely to serve him better than his own maneuverings in Whitehall.
He stretched out on his bed in the early hours of the morning, and it seemed he had barely closed his eyes when the ringing of his personal phone jerked him from sleep again.
“Murphy,” he said, trying to sound awake, and squinting at his clock: 5:10. Who on earth would be making a personal call to him at this hour?
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” A woman, sounding very bright and wide awake. “I just looked at the clock in the concourse. I didn’t remember how early it is here. I hope you don’t mind me calling you. Simon Banks gave me your number as you’re a friend of Blair’s.”
Murphy, struggling to catch up with wherever it was—he’d lost the thread of this conversation—clutched at the recognizable names. “Simon Banks? Blair?”
There was a laugh from the woman at the other end. “I didn’t tell you who I am, did I? I’m Naomi Sandburg, Blair’s mother. Simon told me you would know exactly where Blair is.”
Thinking of a few things he might well be saying to Simon Banks shortly, Murphy realized the implications of what she’d just said about the concourse. “Where are you, Ms. Sandburg?”
“At Heathrow,” Naomi said brightly. “I haven’t seen Blair for a while, and I was just a little worried it was taking him so long to get in touch with anyone, and there was something a little odd in Simon’s… well, you can’t exactly call it an aura over the phone, can you?”
“I suppose not,” Murphy agreed, starting to dress one-handed. He had no real wish to drive around the M25 to Heathrow, but the Murphys had always been a chivalrous lot and he felt he couldn’t simply give her an address and tell her to get on with it. “Blair’s fine, you don’t need to worry about him, but I’ll come to Heathrow and pick you up, Ms. Sandburg, and then we can talk properly.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you. And it’s Naomi. Ms. Sandburg sounds so formal.”
Murphy made hasty arrangements for where to meet her. At least at this time in the morning the traffic was light. He decided it was much too early to call the Hunters and let Blair know his mother was in England. Sandburg obviously had had no idea she was coming. It did cross Murphy’s mind to wonder why his mother hadn’t thought of letting anyone know, but the vague references to ‘free spirits’ and ‘unfettered’ that had crept in whenever Jim or Blair mentioned her probably explained it. Bodie would no doubt be highly amused at the idea of trekking across London at dawn to pick up someone’s disorganized mother, but Murphy felt concerned for a flustered middle-aged woman probably laden with bags and worrying about her son.
It made the reality a considerable surprise.
Quite a nice surprise, in fact. Murphy blinked when he saw the woman waiting for the rendezvous, and realized that the patron saints of chivalry must be on his side. He’d imagined someone… shorter… older… very definitely less attractive.
“Naomi?” he asked, not completely convinced that this shapely redhead—exactly the sort Doyle had regularly and always disastrously fallen for—could really be Blair’s mom.
She smiled at him with a gratitude which didn’t hide a certain level of interest and reciprocal appreciation. “It’s so kind of you to come and get me.”
“Can I carry anything for you?” He couldn’t see anything like a pile of luggage.
Naomi stooped to pick up one rucksack. The movement shifted the lines of her ribbed shirt in an interesting way, and he had a feeling she knew it. “I always travel light.”
Murphy slung it over his shoulder, anyway. “Well, if I can’t impress you by heaving heavy bags about, maybe I could give you breakfast?”
“That would be lovely. Is Blair staying with you?”
“No, he’s down in Dorset.” If Simon Banks hadn’t taken it on himself to explain the traumas Blair had suffered over the last few months, Murphy wasn’t going to try. Wait until she saw Blair safe and well, and then Ellison or Blair himself could decide what she needed to know.
Naomi slid lithely into his car. “However did you manage to park so close to the terminal?”
“I have a very useful ID.”
“You have something to do with the police?”
“Worse,” said Murphy cheerfully. “Didn’t Simon Banks warn you?”
“Simon’s a sweetie,” Naomi said, “but for a policeman he can be terribly vague on the phone. He hardly told me about you at all. I was expecting someone quite different.” Her voice made it clear the surprise had been a pleasant one.
Maybe he’d take her down to Dorset himself, Murphy thought. He was getting nowhere on the London end of the case, and he could pick up the results Bodie wanted and take them down.
Naomi leaned back in her seat, stretching evocatively, and their eyes met briefly.
It would definitely be pleasant to spend more of the day with her.
He wondered what she would make of Bodie and Doyle.
Jim woke to a vague feeling of unease, which clarified when he remembered the morning’s plans. He really didn’t want to take Blair with him back to the nursing home. His own idea had been that he and Bodie would make a swift trip to it on the off chance they might find something worth following up, and that Blair and Ray Doyle would stay peacefully behind and recuperate. He’d thought Blair would be as reluctant to see the place again as Jim was to have him along, but all he’d achieved was an argument—which he’d lost.
He took his troubles out into the garden, and found Tom already there, looking doubtfully at a rose bush.
“I can’t decide what’s the matter with it,” Tom said. “It doesn’t look right, though.”
Jim extended his sight and realized there were tiny leaf-green living specks under the leaves, presumably doing something that was bad for rose health. He found a colony that was big enough to be visible to normal sight if one looked hard, and showed it to Tom.
“I’m no expert, but maybe you need to spray?”
“Looks like it,” Tom agreed, peering at the leaf. “I’ll get it done before Rachel comes home. I have sprays that are kind to birds, kids, the environment, don’t even worry the bugs that much, but she still treats me like an eco-criminal if she catches me using them. Well, you’ve solved my problem. Any chance I can do the same for you?”
“What makes you think I have a problem?”
“You look like a man with more on his mind than where breakfast is coming from. Though, incidentally, it’ll be arriving from the bakers any moment. Are you worried about Blair?”
Jim wasn’t going to answer that one directly. Indirectly, though, he wasn’t sorry to get another opinion. “You know we’re planning to take a look around the nursing home this morning?”
“It was difficult to miss the discussion Ray and Bodie were having about it.”
Bodie had lost the argument, too. Doyle said he was the only one who knew the layout of the place, and he had the best idea of what had happened to Blair there, and, anyway, since when had Bodie made his decisions for him? As Tom said, it had grown louder after that, but Doyle, like Blair, was coming.
Jim frowned at the rosebush.
“You didn’t want Blair along,” Tom prompted quietly.
“It’s going to be hard for him. Hell, he hasn’t even remembered that much about it yet. It’s going to be a real shock for him walking into the place.”
Tom amputated the worst infested leaf from the rose. “It’ll be difficult. But I think maybe you’re underestimating him, and how much difference it will make for him to have you there.”
Jim couldn’t do these sorts of conversations. Anyway, he’d let Blair down so much in the last year, he wasn’t convinced his being there would be much help at all.
Tom looked out towards the front of the house. “I can see chocolate croissants coming. Come and have some breakfast. Blair wants to go with you, and he needs to. He needs to do whatever it is he does when he’s working with you, to feel sure he belongs there again. And he needs to get to grips with those memories with the safety of having you there when they hit.”
For some reason, Tom didn’t seem to doubt where Blair belonged, or that Jim would keep him safe there. Jim felt a lot less certain, but it was vaguely comforting to think that someone else saw it in such a hopeful light. Of course, Tom didn’t know all the ways he’d managed not to be there for Blair…
“You’re here for him now,” Tom said, guessing his thoughts with startling accuracy. “Come and eat before Bodie persuades Stella to give him more than his share. Whatever it’s like going back to the nursing home, I think Blair’s best staying alongside you for now.”
Jim could smell the hot pastries now, chocolate and cinnamon overlaying the crispy dough. The darker shades of his mood seemed to have been banished somehow in the light of Tom’s encouragement. There was something to be said for keeping Blair where he could see him, anyway. He followed Tom into the kitchen, and just beat Bodie to the table.
Alicia wanted to wake up. She wanted to wake up and be Alex, and take back all the strength and control that had belonged to Alex. Here in the dark, she was Alicia too often, and that hurt more than the scratching sheets and grating whispers.
They had called her Alicia. Why did they do that? It was Alex they wanted to see and to use. She saw the hunger in their eyes. They wanted her as a tool. They wanted to use her senses as a weapon. They could only see Alex. If Alicia woke up, their eyes would look past her.
Alicia belonged in the shadows. She would sit in the darkness behind the chest on the stair landing and chew her hair, while Mommy and Daddy fought, in whispers that came up to her like huge shouts.
That was when Alicia first knew she was getting invisible. Mommy and Daddy looked at her and they couldn’t see her anymore. They saw a thing, like the car and the house; a thing to fight for, and the winner would own it.
She hadn’t known how to be anyone else then. Soon, no one could see Alicia, and she hadn’t learned to be Alex. If she had, she would have scared them and hurt them until the fighting stopped, and she would have locked them up and never let them out until they could see her properly again.
She had to be Alex when she woke up.
Alex didn’t get hurt, she always did the hurting.
Blair wasn’t going to have a panic attack. Not after all the effort he’d put into winning the argument to be here. Not when Jim was trying so hard to treat him like a reasonable adult rather than a kid brother. Especially not with the sardonic Bodie making it obvious he was just waiting for the inevitable debacle that would result from bringing him and Ray along.
It really, really wasn’t the time for a panic attack, but his body didn’t seem to be getting the message. In spite of his determination, the symptoms were building. Pulse fast, getting faster, skipping a beat with a horrible lurching sensation in his chest. Hot. Hands sweaty. Legs shaky. Breath coming too fast and getting faster…
He was concentrating so hard on trying to stop this in its tracks that he hardly realized that most of the audience he feared had disappeared. It was only when Ray took his arm that he looked up and found Bodie and Jim were gone.
“Sent them to do a preliminary look around the garages,” Ray said, pulling him into a corner of the terrace where they had some privacy.
“Jim’ll know,” Blair said breathlessly. “Hears the heartbeat…”
“Jim’s giving you some space,” Ray said, his arm warm around Blair’s shoulders.
“I practically made him bring me. I thought I could do this. Shit, Ray, what kind of wuss am I? I haven’t even gone inside the building and I’m a wreck. Look at me.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve seen it already, remember?” Ray said, untroubled. “You’re a survivor, Blair. You go to pieces if you want. You’ll pick yourself up again.”
“Or you will,” Blair said, wondering how long it would be before Ray got tired of doing it. “I should’ve let Jim leave me back at the house.”
“Do you wish he had done?”
Blair was surprised to find he didn’t, really. It was embarrassing to be standing hiding behind a large potted tree to throw a wobbly fit, but not so terminally disastrous that he wished he’d been left behind.
“You don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to go,” Ray said. “You give the word, we’ll go and sit in the car, or pick Stella some flowers or something.”
“Jim’ll need me,” Blair said, but the tight pain in his chest was easing as he leaned against Ray’s arm.
“Well, take your time. When you feel like it, we’ll go and see what they’ve managed to find. And don’t let Bodie throw you—he’s an arrogant bastard to everyone, it’s not personal.”
Blair found he could get a deep breath at last. He took another, and another, and his heart stopped pounding as if he’d just run a marathon. Ray seemed prepared to stand there all day, but Blair was beginning to worry about Jim zoning on some microscopic clue.
“I’m not sure I could go inside,” he muttered, straightening up a little.
“Probably wouldn’t be so useful, anyway. They’ll have been very careful to leave the building clean of anything that matters. That’s why I suggested the garages. Bodie—who seems to think he knows about it on the grounds he saw something in Africa—says that Ellison’s best bet will be if he can smell anything unusual or traceable.”
“He’s probably right,” Blair said, thinking about it. “We’re looking to track people, not find clues to who they were…”
The intrinsic interest of this, and the fact they were walking away from the house, meant that he arrived at the garage block feeling almost normal. A quick, concerned glance from Jim suggested that he didn’t quite pass Sentinel scrutiny, but Bodie was more interested in the state of the garages.
“Williams is thorough, got to give him that. Looks as if they hosed them out after the cars had gone. There’s not much even for Ellison to see.”
Jim nodded. “Trace of paint over there, might be from ages ago. They might well have changed their cars, anyway. I think maybe traces of footprints on the floor, as if they walked over it after it was hosed down, but even to my sight they’re nearly invisible, and could well have been from people we’ve already got in custody.”
Blair was looking at where the cars would turn to go along the drive. “What about over there? Those bushy plants—some sort of lavender. They look as if they’ve been pushed back a little by cars passing or turning.”
The scent of the lavender was strong even to normal senses, and the twiggy lower stems might well have picked up a tiny trace of paint.
Jim stooped to examine them. “Talk me through it, Chief. I’m out of practice.”
Blair was, too, but it still seemed as natural as breathing—more natural, given the panic attack he’d just escaped. He talked, softly guiding Jim through the use of his sight, and then touch.
“Something dark blue, definitely, more like a small van than a car,” Jim said in the end. “Other traces, too, but that’s the one that’s been here the most.”
“If it was specially equipped at all, we could get lucky,” Bodie said. “They must have had something they could move Barnes in, and presumably some equipment—and they’ve done that twice in a hurry that we know of. Williams probably still has enough inside information to know that we’re not looking for any particular vehicles. He wouldn’t be in a hurry to change something useful.”
“The lavender on it might still smell,” Jim said. “In fact, that would go for any of the cars that have been here. I’ve got scent dialed way down and it’s still overwhelming. I think there might be tiny particles of it caught under the bumper or underneath the chassis as well.”
Bodie nodded. “Good enough. I don’t think we want Murph doing anything official about this, though. It’s tenuous, for one thing, but more to the point, there’d be a danger of alerting Williams to changing his vehicles if he hasn’t already done. We’re better following this up ourselves. What else is worth looking at, do you think?”
“If the garages are this clean, the house is going to be practically sterile,” Ray said.
“They’re more likely to have missed something outdoors,” Jim agreed.
Blair had an uneasy feeling both of them might not be unbiased in this; it wasn’t hard to guess he didn’t look forward to going inside. All the same, there were better possibilities out here…
“What about the compost heap?” he said, thinking more effectively now. “Some of the men smoked out here, I’m sure. I can remember… seeing them from my window.”
That had been such a tiny wobble he couldn’t believe Jim had noticed it, but Jim’s hand came to rest apparently casually on his shoulder. Blair went on quickly, “The grass was cut and raked regularly, everything kept tidy. I think the place had been known for its gardens so they probably thought it was less conspicuous to keep them up.”
“A reason for people to be out of doors watching the entrances and exits as well,” Bodie said. “Compost heap it is, then. Good thinking, Sandburg.”
“It’s the anthropology background,” Blair said. “Trash dumps are some of our favorite places!”
Jim patted him lightly on the back in a way he guessed was intended to say ‘nice one, Chief’ rather than ‘good doggy’, and didn’t raise a murmur about the smell of things decomposing on the heap. Luckily, the bulk of it was grass cuttings.
Ray handed Bodie a rake. “Here you go.”
“Ellison’s concentrating, Blair’s keeping him on track and Stella said I had to take things easy.”
Bodie muttered something impolite, but he began a quick and efficient exposure of the contents of the compost. An hour later, they had several cigarette ends, all ably spotted by Jim, a chewing gum wrapper, and their prize item, a damaged and almost completely illegible ’til receipt.
“Look at that one again later,” Ray said after Jim had peered at it until his eyes were screwed up with an incipient headache. “What do you make of the tab ends?” he asked, nodding at the cigarette butts.
“Two sorts,” Jim said. “Some of them are a typical supermarket brand, but the others are rolled. They’d be worth concentrating on. The tobacco and wrappers are very different.”
“Forensics?” Ray asked Bodie.
“No. Same as the cars. Until we’ve got our own staff, who knows what information might leak. I reckon we can convince Murph to leave us down here on this, now we’ve got a few leads to follow. The empire-building can wait a bit.” He glanced at his watch. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could do with a break. That grass raking was thirsty work.”
“We’ll go to the Red Lion,” Ray agreed. “Blair had his eye on one of the barmaids there.”
“Now, why does that not surprise me?” Jim muttered.
“Nothing wrong with barmaids,” Bodie said. “If there was anything I missed in Hong Kong, it was the British barmaid. Wasn’t the one at the Red Lion a bit old for you, though?”
“That was the owner,” Blair explained. “She definitely had intentions on Ray. But she had daughters…” He caught Jim’s eye and decided it would be undignified to explain any further.
“The beer’s good there,” Ray said. “Anyway, we want to tell them we’re okay—you know what the rumors will be like after Murphy’s dramatic arrival.”
“That’s all very well,” Bodie objected. “We got the run around from them. Your landlady had me pegged as public enemy number one. She’ll probably put something nasty in my beer.”
“Nah. Not if you’re with us. We’ll tell her you saved the day—without going into details, of course. A nice, mysterious thriller, that’ll go down well. They like a bit of drama with their pints.”
“You’re buying the first round, then.”
The debate that that started lasted all the way to Lulworth.
Williams hadn’t had much trouble persuading his London contacts to speak to him after all. They were ready for him—and jittery.
“Murphy has his men looking round the nursing home. We picked up the notification to the local police. What are they hoping to find? Did you leave the place clean?”
“Spotless,” Williams said. If anything, he thought this was a good sign. They had to be short of leads if they were fishing around up there. “Anyway, what could they usefully pick up that Sandburg won’t already have told them? They’ve got Barson and Mobbs, they know about me and Hooper and that we have Alex Barnes.” A thought suddenly occurred to him. “Do you mean there’s someone up there at the moment? Do you know who?”
“Bodie, apparently. Stay away from him, Williams. Just keep out of sight until all this has died down.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Williams said, and explained about Hooper’s problems with the Sentinel. “If I follow Bodie, there has to be a chance he’ll lead me to Ellison and Sandburg. He seemed pretty thick with Ellison before.”
“Don’t do anything yet. We’ll get back to you.”
This had to be some of the most stupid advice Williams had heard in a long time. He had no intention of missing what looked like a perfect opportunity while his backers balanced up the potential gains against protecting their backsides. He left Hooper to deal with any further calls, and took Durban with him. Durban was reasonably experienced, but his main asset was that he hadn’t been on duty when Sandburg was in with the woman, so he shouldn’t be recognized.
They pulled in at a field entrance some distance from the nursing home, and Williams watched it through his binoculars. For a while, he thought they might have arrived too late, because the only person in sight was a bored policeman; but he stuck it out and it was well worth it. Just when he was thinking of giving up, not only Bodie appeared walking through the garden, but also Doyle and the two Yanks. This was even more than he’d hoped for.
When they left, he followed them very carefully, though they were evidently relaxed and not particularly looking for a tail. The roads made it fairly easy—they were winding and had high hedges, and there weren’t that many destinations, either.
“They’re going to Lulworth,” Durban said.
Williams wondered what they could want there until he realized it was the Red Lion they were heading for. Typical of what he remembered of Bodie and Doyle. He supposed they’d justify it by questioning the locals about him and his men. Well, the visit might play into his hands.
“Go down and buy yourself a drink,” he told Durban—they’d parked higher up the road. “Call me if anything at all happens, or if they look like leaving.”
He noticed, as he focused down on the small group going into the pub, that Sandburg was right in the middle.
They’d have to be very lucky to get him on his own.
Stella had known her day would be a rush, but she’d thought she had just enough time to get home from helping out at the coffee morning and empty the dishwasher, hang out a second load of washing and check the fridge was still Bodie-friendly before she went to work.
The doorbell rang as she was pegging shirts on the line. “I’ll be there in a minute,” she called up the side of the house.
“I’m really looking for Blair,” Murphy called back, walking around into the garden. “I’ve got his mother with me.”
There was a tall, red-haired woman behind him; a pretty woman, Stella thought, and definitely not someone ever to be harassed by the washing. “I’m so sorry,” she said to her. “I had no idea you were coming—I don’t think Blair even knew you were in England.”
“I only got here this morning—but I’ve been very well looked-after.”
There was a note in her voice that Stella not only understood—the way the woman glanced at Murphy was key enough to that—but also somehow recognized, remembered, even. She realized she was staring rather rudely, trying to get hold of some thought that was on the edge of her mind, and went on hastily, flustered, “You must have been trying to call? I’m really sorry. I’ve been out all morning, and my husband’s at work. Blair and the others went off early. Ray said not to worry about food, they’d get lunch at a pub. I think he was planning to go back to Lulworth,” she added to Murphy. “You saw the Red Lion there? You can’t miss it. You’ll catch them easily if you go straight on over.”
She smiled at Blair’s mother, wondering what it was about her that seemed so familiar. She didn’t really look like Blair. “You’ll like Lulworth, it’s a really pretty place, and I’m sure you want to see for yourself that Blair’s all right.”
“Naomi hasn’t heard all the details of Blair’s time in England yet,” Murphy said, his eyes warning her not to develop on that remark.
“Oh… well… it’s been lovely having him to stay. Do come back here with them afterwards. I’ll be at work, but Tom, my husband, will be back quite early this afternoon.”
She tried not to sigh with relief when they went back to the car to drive over to Lulworth where they should easily find Blair and the others. With the last of the washing out, she moved hastily on to the dishwasher, and it was only when she was carrying a pile of plates through into the dining room that the thought that had been somewhere in the back of her mind suddenly sharpened into a clear and rather startling idea.
She’d been standing here, talking to Bodie and Jim…
She dumped the plates on the table and began to rummage through the drawer. Naomi. Murphy had definitely called her Naomi, and there was the red hair, and the general lithe grace that was still Stella’s abiding memory of her. She’d wondered at Jim’s odd manner when he looked at the photograph.
She found the snapshot, and looked at it carefully, and even though this was what she was thinking of, she was still surprised to be right. The face of the Naomi in the photograph was almost certainly a younger version of the woman she’d just been speaking to today. They hadn’t seen each other since; it was no wonder they hadn’t recognized each other, but what an extraordinary coincidence.
Why hadn’t Jim simply said he knew her? He must have realized Stella—and Ray, for that matter—would be interested. Perhaps he hadn’t been certain he recognized her. But his manner had been odder than that.
He’d asked if Ray had been sleeping with her…
If she’d still been holding the plates, she would have dropped them at the possibility that suddenly occurred to her. She knew what Jim had thought. Replaying his tone, she had no doubt of it. And he must have had some reason beyond simple coincidence to go so fast to that conclusion.
She looked at her watch. If there was even a remote possibility… But she simply had to be at work on time, a hospital wasn’t like an office. Abandoning the half-empty dishwasher, she called Murphy on her mobile as she picked up her bag. He wouldn’t have gotten there yet. He’d probably think she was mad, and maybe she was, maybe she was jumping to ridiculous conclusions, but never mind. Even if she couldn’t come out with what she thought, there must be something she could say that would stop Naomi walking in completely unawares.
“I just thought of something after you’d gone,” she said when Murphy answered. “I know this’ll sound a bit strange, but could you ask Naomi if she remembers being at a rock concert in England in the summer of 1968? Yes, in Surrey. She does—yes, tell her, don’t remind me! Yes, I know—I can’t believe it either. But I was really calling because she’ll find she knows Ray Doyle from right back then—he wasn’t calling himself Ray; he was undercover, but she’ll remember. They didn’t part on very good terms, and, well, I just thought it was worth warning her before she met him.”
She was making such a mess of this. “I really have to go,” she finished hastily. Once she was at work, she’d ring Tom. She wasn’t sure what he could do, but she’d feel better when she’d talked to him.
Bodie propped himself on the bar, enjoyed an excellent pint and watched his partner prove that whatever he was like these days with a gun, he was still a dead shot with the darts.
Jen, the landlady, had finally been convinced, along with her regular customers, that Bodie and Jim Ellison weren’t the people Doyle had warned her to look out for. She still wasn’t enthusiastic, but Bodie was working on her.
They’d already finished a large meal, partly because they’d been there early, partly because Jen obviously still had her eye on Doyle, but mostly because the Red Lion players were short a man for their darts match and wanted Ray on the team.
“This is nice,” Jim said, with a wave at the crowded room, his face more eloquent than his vocabulary.
Blair was further along the bar, hindering a pretty brunette who was trying to take meal orders. Bodie knew his presence was a big part of Jim’s vague ‘nice’.
He wasn’t sorry himself to see that Ray was pretty much back to normal, apart from the dressing on his head which had earned him over-enthusiastic sympathy from Jen, and ribald encouragement to her from the locals to ‘kiss it better’.
Bodie had been a bit taken aback—as Jim had—to discover that they were supposed to treat Doyle as Blair’s dad while they were on the premises. He’d forgotten that was the cover story Ray had used to account for Blair’s presence. With the DNA test on his mind—though definitely not on his conscience—Bodie found it distinctly ironic. Seeing how everyone here took it for granted made him look at the two of them again.
“You can see something—a likeness,” Jim said under his breath, noticing. “He’s more like Ray than he is like Naomi.”
“We’re not saying anything until we get those results from Murphy,” Bodie said. “The more it looks like it, the bigger the let down will be if we’re wrong.”
“Ray’s good with him.”
“He’s good with people,” Bodie said. When he watched Doyle, he didn’t really notice the changes the years had made. Okay, the hair was longer, greyer, the face a little more gaunt, but Ray was still very much Ray.
And he’d just scored a triple twenty.
“Nice one,” Bodie said, raising his glass.
Doyle looked round and grinned. His second dart followed the trajectory of the first almost exactly. There was a murmur of approval from the locals, and even the tourists began to watch with interest.
“Double nineteen for the match,” someone said.
Like everyone else, Bodie waited in anticipation.
Doyle got it, just inside the wire. The pub erupted in cheers and a general call for more drinks to celebrate. Jen banged on the bar for quiet. “Ray’s is on the house,” she called. “Blair, take your dad another pint!”
“Blair!” said another woman, speaking from the open doorway, equally loudly, but much less happily. “I knew it! As soon as I realized who you were with, I knew what you were doing. How could you? He is not your father!”
Bodie looked as blankly as everyone else at the angry red-haired woman who had just halted Blair’s progress with the brimming pint glass—until Murphy stepped into view behind her, and Jim said, “Naomi,” in the tone normally reserved for natural disasters.
“Mom!” Blair said, startled and more horrified than was at all tactful. “Mom, you don’t understand…”
“I understand only too well,” Naomi said, marching up to Doyle, who looked totally bewildered. “How dare you tell him he’s your son? Three nights! Even I don’t know for sure who his father is!”
“I didn’t—” Doyle started.
“Of course he’s his father,” Jen said indignantly. “You’ve only got to look at them. I know your sort. Just because Blair’s having a week or two with his dad, you’ve come to make trouble.”
“Naomi…” Jim and Murphy began simultaneously.
“Naomi?” Doyle said, shocked comprehension dawning on his face as he put the name together with the woman in front of him. “That rock concert…?”
The locals weren’t trying to hide that they were finding this even better entertainment than the darts, and some of the tourists looked on the verge of applause. “It is street theatre,” a Frenchman near Bodie explained to his companion. “The actors are mingled among the rest of us.”
Blair pushed past everyone—heading instinctively for Doyle, Bodie noted. For himself, for once in his life, he had absolutely no idea what to do, except to stay out of it at all costs.
“Jim!” Naomi said with hot reproach. “You can’t have encouraged him. Blair, sweetie, you never go behind my back. How could you do this?”
“Mom, I don’t have the first idea what you’re talking about,” Blair began with equal indignation, but then Ray’s hand on his arm silenced him. For the first time, Blair seemed to catch up with what he’d been hearing. “Three nights?” he said to Ray. “She doesn’t mean you…? She…?”
Naomi’s anger, already stoked, was only made worse by Blair turning to Doyle. “I’m not letting this go on a minute longer!” she said. “Blair, you know you were over wanting to find out about your father. Think about what the therapist said, darling.”
“She can’t do this,” Jim muttered, stepping forward at the look of miserable humiliation on Blair’s face at this last remark.
At the same time, Murphy took Naomi’s arm. “Why don’t we all talk about it outside?” he suggested.
Naomi jerked her arm free. “Did you know about this?” she asked, turning on Murphy. Her voice rose to a crescendo as she thought of something else. “You did, didn’t you? I can’t believe it. You were being so nice to me and at the same time you were going to the lab to pick up test results to bring! What were those? It was a DNA test, wasn’t it?”
In the absolute silence that followed this, Bodie could hear disaster coming.
“It was nothing to do with Doyle,” Murphy said hastily. Too hastily. “It was a test Bodie asked for…” His voice trailed off as his brain caught up with the possible implication of his words.
Jen and her customers, who’d been rather reluctant to see him and Ellison recast as heroes, turned as one to see if Bodie was behind all this. Bodie wasn’t worried about their reaction. What bothered him was Doyle, looking at him with sudden, angry speculation.
“Give me those results,” Doyle said to Murphy.
“Bodie?” Murphy said, hesitating.
“Give them to him,” Bodie said. There wasn’t a lot of point trying to deny it now. It was much too late to worry about Doyle getting hurt.
Murphy looked as if he’d have a lot more to say on the subject when he got Bodie alone, but he handed the papers over. Doyle glanced through them, his face giving nothing away, then handed them to a wide-eyed, stunned-looking Blair. Jim moved, stopped himself. Naomi’s protests and reproaches were the only sound.
Doyle walked through the darts players and people at the bar as if they didn’t exist, and stopped in front of Bodie.
“You knew he could be my son and you didn’t tell me?” he said quietly. No one but Bodie would recognize the sense of betrayal in his almost conversational tone. And even Bodie didn’t expect what happened next, though maybe he should have done. Doyle moved from stillness to aggression with unexpected speed, and his fist had landed before Bodie could defend himself. He crashed backwards into Jim Ellison, and after a moment of stunned silence, the whole pub applauded.
“Good for you, love!” Jen said to Doyle loyally.
“They are very good,” the Frenchman commented as Bodie stood up, rubbing his chin. “That looked quite real.”
Doyle glanced at Jim and Murphy, but apparently decided they were beneath contempt, then turned back to Naomi, who was angrily demanding Blair tear up the results of the DNA test.
“Like Murphy said, let’s take it outside,” he said.
Bodie glanced at Jim, who looked as stunned as if he was the one who’d been on the receiving end of a right hook.
“I should have known better,” Jim muttered, following them.
“Backing a hunch?” Murphy asked ominously. “Come on, Bodie. If there’s any damage control possible, you’d better get on with it.”
Outside in the parking lot, Naomi was practically spitting at Doyle. “I don’t care what the results say! Three nights don’t make you a father! I’ve done everything for Blair. I’ve been everything he ever needed. I don’t know how you got hold of him and dragged him over here, but…”
“Stop it!” Blair said, and even Bodie could hear the hurt in his voice. He wasn’t surprised Jim moved to reach out to him, but Blair ignored everyone except Doyle. “I can’t take this, Ray. I just want to talk to you about it, on our own, okay?” His voice had that tight evenness of someone desperate not to crack.
“Okay,” Doyle said. “We’ll walk up to the cliffs.” He looked at the rest of them. “Murphy, why don’t you explain to Naomi just how Blair came to be in England and what’s been happening to him these last few months? I gather she doesn’t know.”
“I’m not staying here while you walk off with my son!” Naomi said, but Jim’s hand firmly on one arm and Murphy’s on the other gave her little choice.
“Ray,” Jim said awkwardly, “if Blair had known there was a chance you were his dad and then it hadn’t been true…”
“It’s Blair you’d better explain it to,” Doyle said briefly.
Bodie wasn’t going to grovel. Sod it, they’d done what they did with good intentions.
“I take it the test was positive?” he said, ready for whatever Doyle threw at him this time.
Doyle was moving to follow Blair, who was already on the road up the hill, but he paused at this. “Oh, yes. All neatly scientific and proven. How’d you get the DNA, Bodie? All that concern for my welfare, just to give you the opportunity? When would you have told us if Naomi hadn’t turned up?”
There really wasn’t an answer. Bodie watched him go, walking fast to catch up with Blair.
Naomi was drenching Murphy with her tears.
Jim, jaw clenched, was obviously having to exert all his will power not to go after Blair.
Bodie rubbed his own jaw reflectively. “That went well,” he said.
“Follow them up the road,” Williams ordered Durban. “Don’t make it obvious. People are coming up from the cove all the time, you should be able to tag on to a group.”
He couldn’t believe their luck. After the run of disasters they’d had, he hadn’t for a moment expected things to fall into his lap like this. Durban, reporting from just outside the pub, had given him such extraordinary bulletins that if the man wasn’t so stolidly unimaginative, Williams would have thought half of it was made up. He’d already been thinking that it wouldn’t be hard now to find a lever that would make Blair cooperate, when Durban had said he was moving off to outside the shop because they were all coming out into the parking lot, and then, unbelievably, that Sandburg was just starting to walk up the hill towards him.
It was even better now, because he could see through his field glasses that Doyle was following. They were obviously distracted, too, though from what Durban had picked up, that was hardly surprising. As they got closer, he could see that Sandburg, head down, looked distressed. Well, Williams had thought he was pretty pathetic before. Doyle was the one who might be a problem.
He watched them come up the road and turn up the path to the cliffs. They had no idea, no idea at all. Durban, as he’d been told to do, was following them on the edge of a small group of holidaymakers, but he’d hardly needed to bother with cover. They wouldn’t have seen him, anyway.
Williams waited to be certain where they were going, and realized they were heading for the old caravan. That suited him well enough. He drove on up the road towards the farm, then pulled onto the field. He could have driven a tank towards them and they wouldn’t have looked around.
“Come up the footpath as if you’re going on to the range,” he ordered Durban. “When you’re opposite them, call across and ask if the paths are open today.”
It would look a bit crass, as by now Doyle had an arm around Sandburg and was talking to him, but it would serve as a distraction.
It worked well enough, anyway. Williams left the car and moved down towards the caravan as Durban got their attention. Durban walked over, as if he wanted to show them a map, and Williams got there at the same time.
He’d treasure the memory of the expression on Doyle’s face. Doyle still had a hold of Sandburg, and he stared over the kid’s head at Williams and the silencer on the gun, then jerked around to look at Durban, and realized just how badly he’d screwed up.
“Start walking slowly up towards the car, Sandburg,” Williams said. “You’re the one we really need, so I’m viewing Doyle as expendable—in installments, if you see what I mean. You fail to cooperate—he suffers. I’m sure we can prolong it for as long as we need to.”
“It’s all right,” Doyle said to Sandburg, which was one of the stupidest things Williams had heard in a long time. Then he realized Sandburg was having one of what Hooper had called panic attacks. Williams had seen him do it before, and it was a bloody nuisance. It was one thing standing here apparently talking in a small group, quite another if Sandburg threw a fit and passed out. He couldn’t afford to draw any attention Hastily he made everyone move around to the side of the caravan least overlooked by the path, while Sandburg gulped for air and Doyle talked quietly to him.
“Bring the car right down,” Williams said sharply to Durban. Speed was more important than anything else. “Doyle, you sort him out. There are plenty of non-fatal places I could shoot you, and believe me, I’d quite enjoy it.”
Doyle didn’t make any futile gestures, even when a couple went past on the path. They were chatting and didn’t glance at the small group by the caravan, which was lucky for them.
“In the car,” Williams said, still not quite able to believe he was pulling this off.
Sandburg had reached the point of hyperventilating so violently he was practically passing out, anyway. Doyle hesitated, made an accurate assessment of how desperate Williams was, bundled Sandburg into the car and got in hastily after him. Durban accelerated as soon as they were on the road, speeding out of Lulworth fast enough to earn a shout of abuse from a dad who had to scoop his children out of the way.
It was time to call Hooper. “You can stop panicking about Barnes,” Williams said, when the doctor answered. “I’ve got Sandburg, and the best of reasons for him to cooperate with us. We’ll be with you in less than an hour. It all went like clockwork.”
He glanced at Doyle when he finished, but Doyle seemed too preoccupied with Sandburg to realize just how completely Williams had beaten him this time. Williams couldn’t resist turning the screw a little.
“Durban tells me congratulations are in order. I won’t offer to buy you a cigar, even though I gather you celebrated the ‘it’s a boy’ announcement by flattening Bodie. It’s a shame you won’t have time for any more celebrations.”
He thought Doyle, whose hot temper had once been notorious, might rise to that. Doyle had never been predictable, though. Instead of coming out with an angry retort, he looked up and his words took Williams completely by surprise.
“Tell me about Alex Barnes,” Doyle said.
Jim wondered bitterly if there were any ways left for him to let Blair down. He must surely have the whole collection by now. He couldn’t blame Naomi, who was now listening tearfully to Murphy’s account of what had really been happening to Blair while she thought he was off meditating somewhere. Well, he could blame her for some things, especially that crack about therapy, but you couldn’t say she’d actually caused this disaster.
No good putting it all down to Bodie, either. Bodie was standing back with a derisive look on his face as if he was mocking himself and everyone else, and wasn’t going to let this touch him. Jim could hear his heartbeat, though, which gave the lie to his outward calm. Bodie was feeling this all right, and blaming himself.
Jim felt weighed down by his share of the guilt. When it came down to it, he was as much to blame for this as anyone. He’d wanted to spare Blair from being hurt, and instead he’d hurt him in ways he hadn’t even contemplated. He hadn’t thought Naomi was capable of as much anger as she was still pouring out towards Doyle, in spite of all the things Murphy was telling her.
“I was so sure it was Timothy Leary,” she hiccupped to Murphy. “Blair’s nothing like Cat, nothing at all.”
Jim walked away from them, wondering whether to extend his sight and hearing after Blair, but deciding it would be unpardonable in the circumstances. He did let himself look up the road, though, in case there was any sign of them coming back, and so he was the first to see Tom’s familiar car approaching. He was surprised at how relieved he felt by Tom’s arrival; there was something reassuring about the guy.
“Stella called me,” Tom said. He looked at the sobbing Naomi, at Bodie standing there with cynical detachment, and then back at Jim. “I thought she was worrying about nothing, but apparently not. Where are Blair and Ray?”
Jim didn’t know where to begin. He wasn’t even sure he ought to be telling Tom rather than leaving it to Ray, though it was hardly a secret after the scenes in the pub.
Bodie wandered over. “They’ve gone to do some bonding,” he said. “Father-son thing. One of those surprises that make the tabloid headlines—long lost family unexpectedly reunited.”
“Stella did say she wondered if it could be possible,” Tom said. “But… are you sure?”
“Oh, yes. Signed, sealed and guaranteed by one of London’s top laboratories. Only the best for the new CI5. Unfortunately, we didn’t mention to Doyle and Sandburg we were going to help them straighten out this particular puzzle.”
Tom thought for a minute about this elliptical information. “You and Jim had a DNA test run on them?” he said. “You wanted to find out before something like this happened.”
“Funny, isn’t it,” Bodie said.
Tom looked at them both with more sympathy than Jim felt they deserved. “I suppose you guessed when Stella showed you that photo? I can see why you wouldn’t want to say ‘maybe’ about it. I don’t know about Blair, but I know how much Ray minds never having done the home and family thing. I don’t suppose he was too happy with you when he found out, though—I assume they’ve just found out.”
“Murphy brought the test results and Naomi together—accidentally, of course, but it made for one of those lunch hours that live in the memory.”
Tom turned to Jim, probably feeling he’d get a straighter account from him, and Jim obliged, step by worsening step, until Tom knew exactly why they were all standing around, unsure of what to do next.
“Well, I’ll wait with you, if you don’t mind,” Tom said. “I’d like to tell Ray how glad I am, anyway. Once he’s got over the shock, it’s going to hit him what good news it really is.”
That aspect hadn’t even occurred to Jim until then. He supposed when you got past the way it had come out, it was good news. Even with Naomi being difficult, this was the outcome he’d hoped for for Blair. He just hoped Blair was going to forgive him for the rest of it.
Tom sat down on the table nearest to them and shifted the ashtray out of his way.
Jim, watching him with his mind elsewhere, was suddenly jerked back to the present and the case. And the realization that they might not yet have reached anything like the real depth of possible disasters today. “Give me that,” he said abruptly.
“The ashtray?” Tom said.
“What’s wrong?” Tom asked, passing it over.
Jim looked more closely. “Bodie, did you see someone here smoking?” he asked.
As he’d thought from his first casual glance, one of the butts in the ashtray—hastily stubbed out before it was completely smoked—was identical, not just to his eyes, but to his nose, with the ones they’d found in the compost heap that morning.
Bodie looked at him and the ashtray and understood. “There was no one here when we came out,” he said. “But it’s where you’d stand if you wanted to watch what was happening inside without being too noticeable yourself. You’re sure it’s the same sort?”
While they were talking, Jim had begun reaching out with his senses. Now, as he found nothing, he stretched further. He could see for miles, if he tried, hear things as far off as a rabbit in the gorse they’d pushed through the other day. There was no familiar heartbeat, no sound of Blair’s voice, no sign of him anywhere Jim could reach, although he reached further and further out…
“Jim?” Tom’s quiet voice pulled him back.
“I think something’s happened,” Jim said quickly to Bodie. “They’re not here, not in this area at all. They couldn’t have walked so far yet.”
“Ray said they were going up to the caravan.”
“I’m sure they’re not there now.”
Tom looked at their worried faces and didn’t ask how Jim knew. “I’ll drive you up there to check, that would be quickest. Do you want to say anything to Murphy?”
“No,” Bodie said. “Murph’s doing such a nice job of comforting Sandburg’s mother, we’ll leave him to it.”
Murphy and Naomi had moved slightly away from the rest of them. Jim realized that, upset though Naomi genuinely was, there was definitely another element to the way she was leaning on Murphy.
“Bodie’s right,” he said. “It’ll only make things worse if we take her along.”
He was having enough trouble with the gap in the world his senses found whenever he looked for Blair; he really didn’t want to have to cope with Naomi as well.
As he’d already known, Ray and Blair were not in the field. It had only been a few days ago that he’d last stood there wondering how far away Blair was. This time you didn’t need to be a Sentinel to work out what had happened, though he could follow it more quickly than the others.
“They came up here, stood outside the caravan.”
Blair’s distress lingered in the air, choking him.
“Someone came across to them. Someone else approached from over there. Car tracks where they brought a car down. They’re fresh. No more than half an hour ago, I think.”
He had to distance himself from it, treat it like any other professional examination of a site. He could see the same need in Bodie. It was the only way they could do it.
“Williams?” Tom asked. He’d heard enough of their discussions to know a good deal of what had happened.
“Has to be,” Bodie said.
Jim stood where the car had pulled up and sniffed. A faint trace of lavender. Blair had been right. Jim couldn’t follow it, though; it was too faint for that. There wasn’t going to be anything they could follow at all.
He’d found Blair again after so many months, and it had only taken three days to lose him again.
“Ray’s with him this time,” Tom said.
“That’s supposed to be a good thing?” Bodie asked bitterly. “Look, I’ll have to call Murphy, but I don’t want to go back down there and talk to him. Can you take us on in your car, Tom? Let’s at least follow the route they’ll have taken out of here. They can’t have been gone for long.”
Doyle realized it was only going to be a short drive when they turned off the main road after a few minutes and back into the smaller, twisting lanes. He wasn’t sure how ominous it was that Williams didn’t mind him seeing the route. It might only be that he didn’t intend to use his current base for long.
Doyle didn’t have time to pay much attention to the view from the car, though. Mostly he was preoccupied—with Blair, with Williams’ not very helpful account of Alex Barnes, and above all, with the increasing, thrumming, astonishing realization that he actually had a son.
Blair, finally beginning to breathe more normally, was leaned heavily against him, willingly handing over control of the situation to him. Doyle rubbed his arm reassuringly. He knew that any reassurance had to be hollow, but despair refused to come. It was too much of a miracle that he was a father. He had to look past that to the very real dangers of their situation, but he was finding it difficult.
Williams was still talking, but he seemed to be realizing how little he really knew about Alex Barnes. “I’m not the one to be giving you this information,” he said impatiently. “Hooper’s the expert, and, anyway, it’s Sandburg he needs to talk to.”
“He needs to talk to both of us,” Doyle said. “I’ll work with him in whatever way he needs, but Blair’s not doing it on his own.”
Williams laughed. “It’s really hit you, hasn’t it, this paternity thing? Funny, really. Odds are, you and Bodie had to have a bastard or two somewhere. I’d have thought you were a bit late getting all protective about this one.”
Doyle wasn’t going to rise to the taunting. Too much was at stake to lose his temper. “It’s in your best interests to let me work with Blair,” he said evenly. “He’ll handle things better that way, and if nothing else, I’m another pair of hands. You must be getting short-staffed these days.”
Williams didn’t rise, either, but nor did he reject Doyle’s offer, which was quite a telling indication of how desperate he might be.
A little later, they pulled in—to another nice farm house, Doyle noticed, giving the lie to the idea that city apartments were the only possible places to hole up—and he and Blair were taken down to a cellar room together. But before they were locked in, Williams said, “Hooper will be down in the next hour to update you on Barnes’ condition. If you don’t want Sandburg to be doped up, you’d better get him rational and ready to listen.”
“A cup of tea would help,” Doyle said. “Nice and hot. Plenty of sugar. Any cop knows that’ll work wonders.”
To his surprise, Williams actually promised to send one down. They must really need Blair.
Unfortunately, the first thing Blair said once the door was closed was, “I can’t do this, Ray. I can’t go near her again. Not after that last day. I don’t care what drugs they threaten to give me. I don’t even think they’d make a difference anyway. I can’t look at her without remembering…” He started to walk around the room, too fast, which matched the increasing speed of his words.
Doyle stood in his way. “Okay, we’ll tell Hooper that. Believe me, if they’re kidnapping us in broad daylight and giving in to all my demands, even the frivolous ones, they’ve got to be desperate.”
Blair walked straight into him, which meant Doyle could put both arms around him and hold him still a minute.
“Listen. They’ve got a problem Sentinel, and you’re the only Sentinel expert—anywhere. They need your advice. If you give it from down here, that’s a hell of a lot better for them than not getting it at all.”
“They want me to talk to her. They thought she was responding to me.”
Doyle managed to walk with him to the camp bed at one side of the room, and made him sit down on it. “Could you teach me to do it? To talk to her? I’ve had to do my share of talking people down when they’ve been on the edge—drugs, disturbed, whatever.”
“You’d be good at it,” Blair said. He turned to Doyle, with the first hint of normality since he’d seen Williams. “You know, it could be genetic. The more I read about it, the more I think that, just like there’s a genetic element involved in possessing heightened senses, so there probably is in being a companion or Guide or whatever to someone with them. I mean, maybe I get some of it from you…”
Doyle saw it hit Blair, suddenly, the reality of what they’d learned. For a moment the cellar, the problems of their situation, the threatening presence of Williams all faded. They looked at one another in shared and silent wonder. “It felt like that,” Blair said softly. “Right from the start it felt like that. Like you weren’t a stranger. Like I was so far from home, but there was a bit of home with you…”
“Yeah.” Bodie always said he could talk a subject to death, but he couldn’t find words for this. He rested his arm across Blair’s shoulders, wished he’d had the chance to hold him as a baby, then forced his mind back to the present. “Think you could convince Hooper of this genetic thing? Persuade him I’d be an acceptable substitute?”
Blair looked as if he finally had his hands on the lifeline Doyle was trying to throw him. “Oh. Yes. Yes, I think I could. He’s read a lot of my research, actually. He’s not like Williams.”
“Good,” Doyle said. “We’ll go for that, then. You can plan the strategy with her, but I’ll do the actual contact.”
“She’s dangerous,” Blair said.
Doyle grinned. “So am I, believe it or not.”
Blair finally managed something like a smile in return. “I forgot how you threw Barson around. Okay. Are you going to think I’m horribly selfish if I say I’m glad you’re stuck here with me?”
“I’m glad I’m here,” Doyle said, truthfully. “And let’s face it, you’d never have thought of asking room service for a cup of tea.”
“American cops go for sugared coffee and doughnuts.”
“It’s terrible, you know, how they have to live in some parts of the world.”
Blair was supposed to smile at that, too, but instead his face was shadowed again. “They’ll have realized we’ve disappeared by now, won’t they?”
Doyle had been wondering. How long would they wait before they worried? Possibly a lot longer than this.
“Jim’ll blame himself.”
“Nor Naomi,” Blair said.
Doyle realized guiltily that he had almost forgotten how upsetting all this would be for her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever known Naomi to blame herself for anything,” Blair added, obviously still smarting over the scene at the pub.
“Look at it from her point of view,” Doyle said, trying to be fair. “It must have seemed as though we’d set this up behind her back. She’d just come from somewhere on the other side of the world to make sure you were okay, and then she found you having a beer with someone claiming to be your dad—someone, by the way, who she hadn’t seen since the morning an awful lot of years ago when he turned out to be an undercover cop and busted her friends for possession and dealing. It’s not surprising she was upset.”
“She had no right to say some of the things she said.”
“She must have felt hurt. And threatened, too.”
“For a free spirit, she can be very possessive,” Blair agreed, still with nothing like his usual charity.
“She loves you. Like she said, she’d been all you needed as a child. And you’re all she has. Blair, I’m grateful to her. I’m grateful she didn’t do what a lot of people would have done faced with having a child on their own at that age. I’m grateful for the person you’ve turned out to be, and she must have had a lot to do with that. The last thing I’d want is for you to feel less close to her.”
Blair flushed slightly. “A person who’s been in and out of therapy, and has a panic attack at the drop of a hat? And Naomi’s only close when she feels like it. About every six months, usually, and I’m talking about since I was sixteen.”
“Hey,” Doyle said gently. “This isn’t all about lunchtime, is it?”
“I told you,” Blair said angrily. “About the dissertation. About how screwed we were, Jim and I. And she just ‘detached’ and went off to Tibet. And we finally get something that looks like a solution, and she shows up and, bam, total chaos, we’re here, Jim’ll be giving himself hell, and… Ray, what are we going to do?”
“Survive,” Doyle said. “Jim may be giving himself hell, but he’s got ways of looking for you Williams can’t even begin to imagine. Murph will look for us the professional way, and Bodie—he’ll probably be trying to find someone he can beat the information out of. They’ll get here.” He paused. He wasn’t sure if it was the moment, but Jim Ellison was the only person, other than Blair, he’d felt remotely sorry for this lunchtime, and it did sound as though Blair’s anger was mixed with concern. “You know, it may have been out of line, but all Jim wanted over that DNA test was to stop you getting hurt.”
“I wasn’t mad at Jim,” Blair said, surprised. “It was Naomi. She treats me like a five-year-old in front of everyone, says things that suggest I’m a total wuss with a father complex… Anyway, it wasn’t Jim. He’s just overprotective. And too inclined to feel guilty. I’m worried about Jim, but I was never angry with him. He just won’t consider that.”
Doyle, who’d been very angry indeed with Bodie, was thrown by this.
Blair looked at him, too discerningly. “Bodie probably thought he was protecting you, too.”
“I don’t need Bodie’s protection, and he’s certainly not inclined to offer it.”
“You didn’t see his face when he realized you’d been shot,” Blair said.
“Let’s not discuss Bodie’s motives.”
Blair shrugged. “Okay. Tell me about you and Naomi, then. Did someone say something about three nights at a rock concert?”
Doyle, who wanted to discuss that even less than he wanted to be reasonable about Bodie, supposed he should be pleased that Blair was not only feeling better, but had put him on the spot. Instead, he was just grateful to be rescued by one of Williams stooges arriving with his order of tea.
There was more to Tom Hunter than you’d think, Bodie decided. Things just didn’t faze him. He not only coped with the chaos, but he seemed to have an innate knack for finding a way ahead. By the end of the afternoon, he’d soothed Naomi, convinced her that no one was ever going to take her place in Blair’s life, and—better still, in Bodie’s view—persuaded her to go back to London with Murphy. He had Jim Ellison usefully employed struggling to pull some kind of information out of the receipt they’d found in the compost, and he’d provided Murphy with a list of every rental agency in Dorset and the neighboring counties. With the other hand, so to speak, he’d made tea.
Bodie himself was doing something completely against his principles and calling George Cowley for help. He hoped it was only the context of the day’s events that made him feel so humiliatingly like a kid running to his dad with his troubles.
“Sometimes, Bodie, you amaze me,” Cowley said, evidently not intending it as a compliment.
“Amaze myself, sir,” Bodie said. “Look, you must have something—a name—someone we can lean on who knows what Williams is doing. We didn’t expect anything like this.”
“You didn’t expect,” Cowley said scathingly. “What were you thinking of? You knew Williams was still on the loose. And what’s all this about Doyle and the lad?”
Bodie, who’d carefully not informed him of any of that, and knew Murphy wouldn’t have done, reflected that a few hundred years ago they’d probably have burned Cowley at the stake. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, sir,” he hedged.
“I’ve an old acquaintance who stopped for a drink in Lulworth at lunchtime,” Cowley said. “When he heard the names Doyle and Bodie, he thought I might like to hear about the shenanigans going on there. Is that young man really Doyle’s son?”
“I always thought it would be you, Bodie. In fact, I could imagine the queue of young women stretching around Whitehall.”
“Thank you, sir. Maybe we could reminisce about my youth some other time.”
“I know you’re worried about Doyle,” Cowley said briskly, allowing no opportunity at all for a denial of this. “But he’s resourceful, and I wouldn’t rate Williams highly, not highly at all. I’ve given Murphy the names of a few people who may well know something, but they’ll not be easy to lean on. I’m going to dinner tonight with a man who may be more help. If Doyle plays his cards right, I don’t think he’ll be in any immediate danger.”
“You don’t know that.”
“It’s a reasonable assumption. Williams has a use for Sandburg, and no doubt he sees Doyle as a lever. That’s not an impossible situation by any means. You should know better than to let your feelings cloud your judgment, Bodie. Just because you were brawling with Doyle before he went missing—though heaven knows you ought to be old enough these days to have some self control—it doesn’t make him more likely to come to any harm. Now go and think of something useful to do.”
Bodie put the phone down feeling better than when he’d picked it up, in spite of the discovery there still were no details of their lives that didn’t get back to Cowley. Tom, who’d clearly realized tea and sympathy weren’t going to be adequate, came across with a welcome scotch. Bodie took it gratefully. Do something useful? Maybe the local bobbies would give him five minutes alone with Barson or Mobbs. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell what they didn’t know.
“Tom,” Ellison called from the study, “I think I might have something.” His eyes were red-rimmed with the strain of trying to make something out on the receipt, but he’d found a way. Apparently, if he held it up to the light, the texture was different where the printing had been. “It’s for tobacco and stuff, I think,” he said. “Must have been for the guy with the cigarettes—the rest was his litter, anyway. I can’t make it all out, but I can read the name of the store. Weird name. ‘Little Grey Men.’ There can’t be many of those.”
“Only one, I should think,” Tom said. “I know it—it’s in Wareham. It’s the sort of shop that has regular customers, supplies specialist orders. I should think there’s a good chance if our man’s been there once, he’d go back.”
“It’ll be closed by now,” Bodie said, looking at his watch. “We can get over there before it opens tomorrow, though. We’ll have a word with the proprietor and find somewhere where we can watch the store.”
Ellison took a deep breath, relaxing just a little from the stiff misery that had gripped him all afternoon. Like Bodie, he obviously felt better now that he had some possibility of action.
Tom brought the scotch in, and they sat and unwound a bit. Given that Williams had held Blair for months last time, Cowley was probably right when he thought he and Ray weren’t in any immediate physical danger. Probably wasn’t such a bad thing they were together. For the first time all day, Bodie stopped to consider the idea that Doyle really was a dad. It didn’t seem as surprising as he thought it would. And as Tom said, it was good news, however it had come out. It would be to Ray, anyway. He’d have been celebrating by now, if Williams hadn’t intervened.
“Blair, too,” Jim said when Bodie voiced the thought. “He always wanted to know who his dad was. You could tell he felt it was a gap in his life.”
Bodie thought about it. “It never bothered me, the family thing,” he reflected. He was on his fourth scotch now, which aided reflection.
“Family doesn’t have to be the group that fits the statistics,” Tom said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful every day for my lot. But there’s other ways of being family.”
“Blair’s family to me,” Jim said quietly.
“Don’t expect me to claim Cowley,” Bodie said. “Tom…?”
Tom had just put his glass down and stood up, a horrified look on his face. “I was supposed to pick Stella up half an hour ago,” he said. “I totally forgot. And that was my third glass…”
The phone rang right on cue, and Tom picked up the receiver.
Bodie winced in sympathy. He liked Stella, but from the few words Tom was managing to get in edgeways, it sounded like she was giving him hell. He glanced at Jim, and without needing to discuss it, they got up and headed out for a quiet stroll, which could last until marital harmony was restored.
“You’ll have to get a taxi,” they heard Tom saying as they left.
Bodie couldn’t help a slight sense of amusement that some things did faze the bloke after all.
Blair turned over uneasily on the camp bed and wished Ray would come back. He was tired, but too restless to sleep yet. He lay uncomfortably half awake and wondered what was happening with Alex. Dr. Hooper’s account of her didn’t fit with anything he’d ever read or seen. At least, some of it didn’t: it was natural enough that she was still troubled with sudden episodes of savage onslaught from her senses, but the rest of it was just weird. Physically, Hooper thought her metabolism was speeding up, then slowing to a pitch just above normal. When it peaked, the sedatives they were giving her would only hold with stronger and stronger doses. Mentally, she was something else. Always had been, Blair thought bitterly. Hooper said she talked in her sleep in two voices now, sometimes loud and confident and very aggressive, sometimes almost inaudibly.
Hooper wanted Blair to come and listen to her, but he got Ray instead.
Blair was ashamed at how relieved he’d felt when they agreed to let Ray do it. Total, abject relief. He’d hardly been able to think past that until Ray had gone and the door had closed behind him. Then he’d begun to worry. Hooper had said she was close to waking. What if she woke up?
He turned over again. His head ached, and he still felt slightly strange from a day that had included two panic attacks and the most startling revelation of his life. Except it hadn’t seemed startling at the time. All he could think while the shouting was going on, and he was staring at the test results Doyle had thrust into his hands, was: oh, of course, he’s my dad, that explains it, that’s what it felt like being with him.
The certainty of it was growing on him, a warmth in the background, an easing of a lifelong hurt he’d never fully acknowledged.
The camp bed creaked horribly. He wondered if Alex could hear it. Jim would have hated it. Thinking of Jim was something he wasn’t ready to do, though. Not yet. Not without Ray here.
How long had Ray been gone, anyway? He hadn’t thought of looking at his watch when they went out. It was past midnight now. Surely he should have been back long ago. He must be dead tired with the head wound still only half healed.
Jim would be lying awake, too.
Blair was too tired to struggle with where his thoughts wanted to go anymore, and they definitely wanted to head for Jim. The Sentinel would be feeling guilty and angry with himself, which was totally stupid, but very Jim. Maybe Blair should have landed a punch on him, like Ray had with Bodie. Would that have made Jim believe it was over and done with? Jen had looked as if she’d like to smack Naomi…
His thoughts rambled, and lost their way as he dozed. Eventually, they drifted off altogether into uneasy, unsafe dreams.
Alicia was waking up and she was still Alicia. That frightened her more than anything. She ought to be Alex when she woke. Alicia was too small, too powerless. She hadn’t been Alicia for a long, long time.
It was Peru that had done it. Alex had been strong, stronger even than the other Sentinel, but when her senses grew so powerful that she felt the earth turn and the clouds move, she didn’t know what to do with the wonder, and suddenly Alicia had been there.
Alicia had seen the beauty, and Alex had burned, and then they’d both hidden in the dark.
You couldn’t stay in the dark for ever, though. Not even under your bed. Mommy came and dragged you out and you had to pretend to be happy even when you didn’t have Daddy anymore, because Mommy was scary if you showed you missed him.
It had been Alex who had woken up the other times. Alex had known what to do with the doctors and the hurters and she’d made them afraid. But the sheets scraped her skin off and the voices made her ears bleed and the smells were thick and icky and Alex had gone back to sleep. Really back to sleep. That’s why Alicia was waking up now.
The sheets scraped her, too, and she heard her voice make a small, hurt sound as she moved a little. That was bad. That was a mistake. They’d know she was awake now.
“Hey,” someone said gently, “sounds like you’re pretty uncomfortable there.”
It was such an unexpectedly nice voice that she opened her eyes without thinking.
There was someone different there. Not the men with the needles and charts, nor the ones who were going to take Alex and make her do things. This man was scruffier and tired-looking and he had kind eyes.
And he could see her. Her. Herself. Alicia.
She was so surprised that she kept her eyes open and stared at him. He was quite old, and someone had hurt him, because he had a bandage on his head and she thought he was surprised to see her, too.
“Who are you?” she whispered.
“Ray. Are the sheets hurting you? And the lights?”
“Everything hurts,” she said. It was true, but she could put up with it better than Alex. Alex didn’t let things hurt her, but who could stop the light or the air or the world going around?
“Do you remember how about how to turn your senses down,” Ray asked. “You remember the dials, and how to turn them?”
“I don’t like dials.”
The dials had belonged to Alex. And Blair. That was a bad memory. Alex couldn’t do the dials anymore because it made her think of the sound of the gun on Blair’s head and the smell of the water in the fountain.
“I hate the dials,” she added, to make it clearer and to see if it made Ray cross.
But he could still see her. “Okay,” he agreed. “No dials.” He thought for quite a long time. “I’ll tell you what, do you like mixing paint?”
“Yes.” Alicia liked paint. Mommy didn’t. Big surprise—no paint in their house.
“How about if the feeling of the sheets on your skin is red paint. Bright red. Much too bright to be comfortable. We need to take a big pot of white paint and start tipping it in.”
“And we’ll get pink.”
“That’s right. Can you imagine the white paint going in, lots of it, until the red has all turned to pink. A nice pink. One that’s comfortable.”
She let his voice be the white paint, trickling in all swirly and smooth. The red stopped being red and turned to a softer pink. For the first time in as long as she could remember, the sandpaper scrape on her skin eased. She could stretch out and rest.
Ray smiled. She liked his smile. “That looks better,” he said. “Shall we do it for the other things that are hurting? What color do you want the light to be?”
Alicia made the light become pale blue, and the smothering people-and-cleaning-stuff smells nearly white instead of a horrible yellow.
“I’m too tired to do any more,” she said. There wasn’t anything to eat, anyway, and she didn’t want to stop hearing things. She really was tired. She felt as if she’d been running very fast and now she’d suddenly stopped. “Will you be here tomorrow?” she said.
“I’ll come when you wake up,” Ray promised.
Perhaps it would be safe to wake up Alicia again.
Doyle looked at Dr. Hooper over the sleeping woman on the bed. Hooper looked as stunned as he felt.
“That’s not happened before?” Doyle asked.
“Nothing remotely like that. She was violent before, and remarkably strong, but nothing inconsistent with the history in her case notes. This was like a completely different personality.”
“Much younger,” Doyle said. He’d been startled by the childlike voice, and scared eyes, when he’d been expecting the woman Blair was so apprehensive of.
“You handled it well,” Hooper said. “I’ve seen personality disorders, of course, but nothing of that magnitude before.”
“I’ve never seen anything so extreme,” Doyle agreed, though he had seen some strange and difficult reactions to drug abuse, and a lot of people who’d been criminalized when they really had mental disorders.
“She’ll sleep for a while now,” Hooper said. “After these metabolic spikes, her body’s exhausted. But perhaps now that you’ve managed to help her with her senses, she’ll get more rest. You might as well go and get some sleep yourself. Do you want anything for your head?”
Doyle didn’t fool himself that this level of consideration was anything but a response to how useful he’d been, but it did give him some hope he could get a degree of control of the situation.
“No, I’m okay,” he said. “Sleep should do the trick. Can you get them to put another mattress or camp bed down there, though? Williams only seems to have planned for one.”
Hooper called the man at the door and told him to see to it. Doyle glanced back at the girl-woman on the bed. She looked more peaceful. He knew that she was violent, that she had killed ruthlessly, but the person he’d just seen he could only think of as vulnerable. He realized with dismay that he was beginning to feel a very unwelcome sense of responsibility for her. That would tie his hands. It would be very difficult to explain to Blair, too.
When he got back to the cellar, though, Blair was restlessly asleep. Doyle kicked the mattress over near to him, told him quietly he was back and was grateful to lie down. Blair hadn’t woken, but he was mumbling in his sleep, repeating some of the things he’d been saying to Jim at the nursing home that morning when Doyle had had his first glimpse of just what Blair meant by Sentinel and Guide.
He hoped Tom would be able to persuade Jim Ellison to get some rest.
Bodie was probably sleeping the sleep of the unjust.
Doyle’s knuckles still hurt, too.
Alex prowled through Jim’s dreams. Alex, and the fountain and Blair’s dripping body. He awoke drenched with sweat and it was a long time before his heart stopped its violent pounding and he could rest again. This time he almost knew he was dreaming, but he couldn’t wake up. He was somewhere he had been before in a dream, a place he had forgotten while he was awake, but recognized now. It was the place of underground tunnels, and he stood in a cavern where several met.
The light he remembered, golden, far off now, showed in one. It held a promise of warmth and comfort. He knew he didn’t deserve either. He ought to walk away into the dark and close himself in there where he would never be able to hurt Blair anymore. He turned his back on the light, but it still trickled around his feet and slowed his movement. When he woke, he remembered a vague feeling of struggle. The sounds he could hear were all wrong, too loud, and his skin itched, and even in the dark his eyes were sore. He wondered what was happening to Blair.
Murphy sneezed as a red hair tickled his nose. He moved slightly away from Naomi without waking her. His own confidence in Ray and the fact that they knew Williams wanted Blair alive and well had soothed Naomi’s worst worries, and in his general desire to comfort her, one thing had led pleasantly to another. Although his apartment now smelled strangely of scented candles and some of his furniture had been realigned, he still felt she was the most attractive visitor he’d had in a long time.
He looked at the clock. Unless he was going to go and kick some doors in at dawn—and not only was he getting rather old for that, it would probably be counterproductive in this case—he couldn’t begin on Cowley’s list for a couple of hours. He’d surely find someone who was a weak link and pry information out of him. He switched on the small lamp, and began to read again through the names.
Bodie let himself silently out of the patio doors to sit on the steps and stare unseeing at the dark garden. Sleep was overrated, anyway. He’d lain awake for a while, dozed for an hour or two, then given up and got dressed. He felt more peaceful out here than in the house. He leaned back against the doorframe and dozed there instead until Tom brought him a mug of tea at dawn.
“Still in the doghouse?” Bodie asked.
“No, just couldn’t sleep. Stella’s forgiven me on the grounds I was probably worrying about Ray.”
Tom drank his tea and thought about it. “My gut feeling is they’re okay, but I’m worrying, anyway,” he offered. “Not logical, but there you are.”
Bodie sat in silence while the sky became light. “You’ve known Ray a long time?” he asked at last.
“Since I met Stella.”
“He ever tell you why he resigned from the old CI5?”
“No.” Tom tipped the dregs of his tea onto the roses. “We hardly saw him for a while, and then he moved up to the north. We’d try every now and then to get him to come and stay, but maybe we pushed too hard.”
“He cut off from everyone,” Bodie said. “Didn’t even give Cowley a real reason why he was going.”
“Maybe you should ask him,” Tom said.
When they got him back.
Even in his thoughts, he wasn’t going to say ‘if’.
The day after Williams’ successful retrieval of the Sandburg situation, he got a much-rerouted call from a man so eminent that a scandal about him would have occupied newspaper proprietors for weeks.
“What the hell are you playing at? We told you not to do anything until you heard from us.”
“If we were going to halt the problems with Barnes, I had to act quickly.”
“We would have sanctioned abducting Sandburg. Taking Doyle has stirred up a lot of attention we could do without. That new man Murphy has no regard for rank and far too much power. He’s been making himself extremely unpleasant this morning.”
“I had good reason for taking Doyle, and he’s being very cooperative.”
“Heaven help us! That has to be a worrying sign.”
“Hooper thinks Barnes is stabilizing. More than that, there seems to be some slight progress with her control of her senses.”
“We wouldn’t be able to use her for some time.”
“Not exactly as we planned, perhaps, but maybe in some similar way.”
“Possibly. All right. Continue as you are for now. See that nothing final happens to Doyle or Sandburg until we’re sure we have no weak links here. I believe Cowley is sniffing around personally and he still has the capacity to be dangerous.”
Self-serving bastards, Williams thought as he ended the call. Well, it would do them good to take some of the heat for a bit. He was doing all the work, and with a severely depleted team now. He sat down to consider who would do what duties. Sooner or later, he would have to send Durban out to pick up some supplies and an order of Hooper’s that should be arriving at the station. That would leave them severely undermanned. He would put it off for the next few days, though.
Alicia woke, and although she still felt strange, as though everything in her was rushing, she didn’t hurt so much anymore. She lay with her eyes closed, and tried to find things by listening. This was a different place. She only realized that now. The noises were different. But where was Ray? He said he’d come when she woke up. Sometimes she could make her ears bring her the sounds she wanted, though it was hard. She listened past the doctor, and noises in the rooms below, and searched for the voice she could remember. It took her quite a long time to find it, and she was tired, but she concentrated very hard.
Down. The sound was further down. That was where she had been going wrong. Down somewhere more echoey, and she could find him properly now. Ray was talking. Talking to someone who… whose voice…
She knew the voice.
Deep and wrenching, the peace in her shifted to panic. She knew the voice. Alex knew the voice. It was Blair. Why was Blair here? Ray would find out. He would know what Alex had done, and he would never come and see her again.
The fear and anger she felt at the thought was so strong it nearly woke Alex up. Perhaps it did wake her up, but she wasn’t so strong as she had been, and Alicia didn’t quite go away, either. She felt a horrible, sickening, seesawing feeling, as if she wasn’t sure which of them she was, and there were machine alarms blasting her ears and people speaking in huge waves of noise. Alex wrenched and wrenched at the soft straps that held her wrists and ankles, and Alicia screamed.
Then Ray came.
She heard his heartbeat louder than everything else, or maybe she felt its vibration through the air. Alicia stopped screaming. Alex tugged at the bands still, but less violently. Alicia opened her eyes which had been scrunched up and saw Ray looking at her as if she was just an ordinary person. Couldn’t he smell the death on her hands?
“What happened?” he asked.
She had to find out if he knew. “You were talking to Blair,” she said.
“You could hear me?”
The doctor was interested, too, but she didn’t care. “What did Blair tell you?”
Ray sat down in the chair next to her bed, and he could still see her. “I already knew about Alex and Blair,” he said. “I knew before I came to see you the first time.”
Alicia was puzzled and relieved and something else that was too complicated for her to work out. She felt she had to say something to explain. “Sometimes when Alex is angry and she can’t have something, she breaks it,” she said, and realized with surprise that part of the complicated feeling was sadness.
Ray looked as if he was thinking. After a little while, he said, “In the room I’m in with Blair, there are some boxes of old books. We tipped them out this morning and looked through them to see if there was one I could read to you. Most of them were pretty boring, but we found one you might like. Shall we send that goon over there down to get it? And we’ll check on your paint mixing while he’s gone.”
Alicia thought goon was a good name for the man. “Yes,” she said. Alex had gone quiet again. It would be very strange to be read to. No one except Daddy had ever read to her. Mommy had thought she learned more reading to herself. It would be nice, though. She could close her eyes and she would be hearing Ray’s voice all the time.
The book smelled old, but not nasty, and there was part of its cover still hanging on. The Secret G… she read. She didn’t say it out loud, but Ray saw she was looking.
“It should say garden, but I think the mice have been at it,” he said.
“Why is it secret?”
“I don’t know—let’s find out.”
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen…”
Bodie had learned to wait; he’d spent a lot of his life waiting, for an ambush, SAS raids, then later on stakeouts or surveillance. He’d never grown to like it, though.
It was worse this time. He and Jim Ellison had sat watching the tobacconist shop in Wareham for two days now, and although they had expected it to take a while, it was starting to get to both of them. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel of the car, saw Ellison wince and stopped himself doing it.
He hadn’t asked, and didn’t intend to, but it was easy to see Ellison was having trouble with the sense thing. He would react to some noise Bodie couldn’t hear at all, and react as if it hurt. He was wearing dark glasses all the time, and today there were weals like nettle rash all over the backs of his hands, and he shifted uncomfortably every few minutes.
They had spent eight hours today watching the shop, and not one customer had even been worth a second look.
“He’s locking up,” Jim said at last, seeing some movement in the shop which was invisible to Bodie. He sounded defeated. He’d held up better last time, Bodie thought. Now it was obvious he wasn’t sleeping, and you could see he had to force himself to eat.
“It’s early days,” Bodie said as the shopkeeper left. “We knew it would probably be a long wait.”
“Williams isn’t going to do anything to Blair; he needs him.”
“I’m worried Blair won’t be able to do it,” Jim said bleakly. “His heartbeat was off the scale when we simply walked into the nursing home yard. When Williams had him before, he didn’t really know what was happening. Even if they dope him up again, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to do what Williams wants. What’s going to happen then?”
Bodie hadn’t thought of that possibility. Now that he did, he could see the most likely, unpleasant course of action for Williams. “He took Doyle as a lever,” he said. “I suppose he’ll use him.”
Jim’s hands clenched convulsively on his knees. “Shit.”
“That would tear Blair apart.”
“Wouldn’t do Ray a lot of good, either.”
“Blair wouldn’t let it happen,” Jim said, “whatever it did to him to go near Alex.”
Bodie seemed to have managed to plunge him further into gloom—and to depress himself as well. Sum total of the day’s achievements. Great.
Blair sat alone with the notebook and pen he’d been given and tried to make sense of what Ray had told him from the most recent session with Alex. Not that there was much to tell. As far as he could make out, Ray sat there and read to her most of the time. Blair tried hard to push away a sense of betrayal. First Jim, now Ray. How was it that everyone seemed to feel the need to protect Alex? What happened to any consideration of nerve gassing people or shooting them or trying to drown them?
He had to believe what Ray was telling him about her now, but when he’d seen her wake up at the nursing home, there’d only been one thought in her, and that was to kill and maim.
Ray said she was loosely restrained. What did that mean? They must know how dangerous she would be if she ever got free.
He looked at his pages of notes. They didn’t amount to much, really, for all the lines of writing. He’d jotted down what seemed to be the distinctions between Alicia and Alex, though, and he couldn’t see how two personalities could be much more separate. Had the Alicia side really been there all the time? Maybe it would make just a little more sense of Jim’s behavior if he had sensed something vulnerable there, hidden by Alex’s ruthless drive.
Footsteps outside and the sound of the key and bolts meant Ray was coming back. He’d been gone for a long stretch this time, after a shorter spell in the night and several brief ones the previous two days. There was no real pattern to Alex’s waking and sleeping, except that she was awake for much longer at a time now.
Blair was relieved to see him. In spite of Alex’s apparent quietness, he felt that she was still a threat. He waited until Ray came and sat down beside him before he asked. Every time it was just as hard to make himself do it.
“How do you feel she was? Was there any change?”
Ray leaned back. He looked tired. He was still getting intermittent headaches, and needed more sleep, not less.
“What did you notice?” Blair tried again.
Ray shut the notebook, quite gently. “No more,” he said. “We’ve enough to convince Hooper and Williams we’re playing their game. Beyond that there’s no point. It won’t help her and it hurts you.”
“I didn’t mean… I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t anything you did. You’ve been great.” Doyle paused, maybe trying to find the right way to put what he was thinking. After quite a long time, he said, “I don’t know if you remember much from that morning we were at the caravan. You asked me then about the scars I’ve got.”
“I remember,” Blair said, not sure what this had to do with Alex or where Ray could be going with it.
“I told you about Mayli, the girl who shot me. Did I tell you how Bodie held her hand while she was dying?”
“‘Your partner,’ you said.”
“Well, it was Bodie. I heard about it by chance. I was still in hospital, of course, and one of my nurses knew the ambulance staff. She just mentioned it to me, how kind they thought he’d been, how what he did was different from the impression he gives. I said the right things, but actually I found it really hard to take. Mayli wasn’t a cold-blooded killer like Alex. In some ways, she was even a victim. But I couldn’t get past the pain I was still in, and the fact she’d walked up to me and shot me. Any other time, I’d’ve been glad of what Bodie did, but right then, it just… hurt. So I know how hard it’s been for you when I’ve talked about helping Alicia.”
Blair felt as if a weight had lifted off his back. At least they could talk about it. “It’s not just the helping her,” he said. “I mean, yes, I really struggled to be cool with that. But it’s where we’re going with it, too. How can we help Williams and let her loose again?”
“She wouldn’t be of any use to Williams,” Ray said. “Not as she is. Even Hooper realizes that. He thinks the old personality will return once she’s fully in control of her senses, though.”
“I think she might be dying.”
He said it so simply that for a minute Blair didn’t take it in. Then he hardly knew what his reaction was, it was so jumbled. “Surely Hooper would know that,” he said. “He’s the doctor.”
“He’s worried, I think. He doesn’t understand these episodes in her where everything seems to speed up—heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, brain activity increases. He hopes he’ll be able to deal with it soon by giving her different drugs—ones he hasn’t got yet. I don’t think they’ll make any difference, or not for long. It’s happening more, and for longer periods, and I don’t think there’s any going back. But I’m not a doctor.”
“Is it harming her that much?”
“It’s tiring her—not just physically. If you look at her eyes, there’s something there that you see when people have had enough. I think Alex is exhausted, and Alicia wouldn’t hold onto life.”
“But you’ve been doing all this, working with her senses, reading to her…”
“It’s made her more comfortable. And less frightened.”
Blair couldn’t, ever, under any circumstances, imagine Alex Barnes as a frightened child, but not being able to imagine it didn’t mean he couldn’t believe it when Ray said it.
“I’m glad you could help her,” he said, and found to his surprise that he was, or nearly was. The weight seemed to lift further. He studied Ray properly for the first time since he’d come back in. “You look wiped, though. It was a long session.”
“I wanted it to be. I wanted to get a good look at the outside of this place. Hooper doesn’t pay me much attention once I’ve been there a while—not as much as he ought to if he had any sense. I read to her, but I made sure I was sitting where I could see out of the window. We need to know how we get out, if we have to.”
“That sounds like a change of plan.”
“I still think we’re safest cooperating for the time being. Bodie, Jim, Murphy, they’ve got a lot of resources. They could be getting closer. Besides, at the moment we should be all right because we’re valuable to Williams.”
“But if Alicia did die, we’d not only no longer be valuable, we’d be a definite liability.”
Well, he’d asked. “What sort of time scale are we talking about here. Days? Weeks?” It wouldn’t take Jim weeks to find them. Not this time. Not when he was so close. Jim had always come for him in time… sort of…
Ray shrugged. “It may never happen. Hooper may find some treatment for her. And I’ve no idea of a timescale. But at the worst, it might just be days. If she gets really unstable, we need to be together, not separated up like we have been. It should be possible to arrange that. If things got that bad, I could convince Hooper we both need to be up there with her. That would be our best bet. The room’s not so secure. I know it screws you up, the thought of being there with her, but she isn’t such a threat as Williams.”
Blair nodded. “Okay,” he said. He wasn’t going for the big statements about trusting Ray or doing what he had to. Okay would have to be enough.
Ray smiled, and the tired, rather drawn lines of his face softened. “Jim told me that when it comes to it, you always keep your head and do everything right.”
“He did?” That wasn’t supposed to have come out as a startled squeak rather than a reasonable question.
“Along with telling me what a good partner and friend you’d been to him for the past few years, yes. We had a chat over the cigarette ends while you and Bodie were still playing in the compost.”
“He’d noticed the panic attack.”
“He didn’t want me to get the wrong idea from it. He was very definite about your abilities.”
Blair could just imagine it.
Ray grinned. “He didn’t even know about the ‘dad’ thing then, either. Just wanted to put me straight as to the fact you were pretty much an all-round asset.”
“You sure that was ‘… et’?” Blair joked, but he was warmed, all the same, by the fact that Jim had said it. “It’s been one hell of a ride, partnering Jim,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m really going to be able to go on doing it. We owe Murphy for that.”
“It was time something worked out right for you.” Ray smothered a yawn.
“You need to get some sleep,” Blair said.
“I know. The head’s a stupid place to get shot. I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to have a headache.” He stretched out on the camp bed and closed his eyes. “Not that any part of the anatomy is really a good place. I knew a bloke who got shot in the bum once. Shot gun pellets. He was on assignment, and he didn’t dare call it off—the pellets weren’t that deep. His partner had to dig them out with his penknife.”
“Exactly. He got no sympathy, just six months of terrible jokes.”
The conversation had reminded Blair of something he’d thought of while he lay awake waiting for Ray to come back. “Ray?” he asked quietly, not sure if Doyle was already asleep.
“Thinking of knives, maybe that Swiss army one I’ve got really was yours.”
Ray opened his eyes again. “Maybe it was. I hadn’t thought about it since I saw Naomi, but as a matter of fact I did give her mine. I can’t believe she didn’t throw it away, though. In fact, I’m surprised she didn’t throw it at me.”
Blair would have to work on it until he really did get the story of those three nights. “I think she’d forgotten where the knife came from when she found it,” he said. “It was in the pocket of an old skirt.”
“Good chance it was that one, then.”
The thought appealed to Blair. He’d always been so sure the knife was his dad’s. He watched Ray sleep, and worried a bit about him, and thought how reality always had a lot more complications than fantasy. If Ray had ever turned up in his life back then, Naomi would have thrown him out pretty smartly. But he was here now, and had appeared when Blair had desperately needed him, and had played the dad role just about perfectly without having the first idea that’s what he was. Blair wouldn’t change things.
He’d just like to stay alive to get to know his father properly.
“Bodie’s asked me seven times in the last two days for your list of names,” Murphy told Cowley. “Obviously, I haven’t given them to him. My brief, extensive as it is, wouldn’t cover what Bodie might do to them in the interests of getting information.”
“We’ll get there in the end,” Cowley said. “It’s just a case of prying someone loose. In the meantime, I think we’ve made it clear in the right areas that we value Doyle’s safety very highly. Is Bodie still in Dorset?”
“He and Ellison are following up some tenuous sort of lead. Bodie wasn’t explicit about it. Just some scrap of an address he thought might lead somewhere. I’m leaving it to his judgment.”
He could almost hear Cowley’s disapproval down the phone. Giving Bodie his head. Bad idea.
“The family they’re staying with must have the patience of saints,” Cowley said. “What are you doing this evening? Did you say something about tidying up loose ends?”
Murphy glanced over at Naomi. Was it fair to describe her as ‘loose’? Only in the most attractive way possible. Fortunately, Cowley still had other things on his mind.
“It may be a lot of years ago, but don’t you forget Ojuka. I gave Bodie a direct order then, and I might as well have been talking to myself. If he really has stopped sulking, he’ll go after Doyle without regard for your rules. If he finds out where he is before you do, you’d better hope he doesn’t do anything to compromise CI5. You can’t afford any slips.”
“Bodie understands that,” Murphy said.
Cowley made an exasperated noise. “Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? Never mind. Just make sure you’re the one who finds Doyle. Or be prepared to move very fast to limit the damage.”
The itching blotches of nettle rash on Jim’s skin had spread widely, and his mouth burned when he tried to eat. The electric lighting flashed at the corners of his eyes, increasing the pounding in his head. He was tired, bone-tired, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
He slipped quietly out into the yard when Bodie went upstairs. Tom was out and Stella was working. They were slightly short-staffed at her hospital because of the holidays, but Jim wondered if she found it more peaceful there than at home.
It was pleasantly cool outside, and dark, but the punishing weals on his skin still flared and prickled. He sat uncomfortably on a garden chair and suffered it. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been there when he heard quiet footsteps.
“How’s the skin?” Tom asked, coming to sit nearby.
“Would calamine lotion help?”
“Blair does say…” Jim bit off the words. He didn’t want to think of Blair helping him, working out new ways to deal with all the problems of his senses, going to ridiculous amounts of trouble for not a lot of thanks.
Tom waited to see if he was going to finish, then said slowly, “Over the last week or so, you’ve all talked fairly freely in front of me. I couldn’t help picking up that you have unusually acute senses, and that Blair helps you deal with them. Is it to do with your senses that you’re having all these problems now?”
“Yes.” Jim was too tired to go into details. He’d slept so badly for days that he felt almost detached from what was around him. It was only the sheer discomfort of his body that kept him grounded.
“What would Blair say to you if he was here now?”
“Probably ‘What is wrong with you, man? You know better than this. Don’t punish yourself’.”
He stopped, more surprised at his own words than Tom was. Somehow, from the depths of his exhaustion, he’d answered far more honestly than he’d intended—or even believed he could. He could almost hear Blair saying it.
“Well, that sounds about right,” Tom said. “But what I really meant was how would he tell you to deal with it?”
Jim shrugged, pointlessly, as Tom couldn’t see it. “It’s difficult without him here.”
“But he would say you know better than this?”
Jim shifted uneasily, uncomfortable from more than the nettle rash. “He’s taught me some methods.”
“But you’re not using them?”
“It’s… I just seem to run into some sort of mental barrier… I can’t get past him not being here.”
“Because you think it’s your fault? You were right, you know, when you imagined Blair telling you not to punish yourself. Even if you think you deserve it. Apart from anything else, you have to realize it might hurt Blair as well. The way you are now, you wouldn’t be able to do much to help him. If you and Bodie did have someone to follow tomorrow, could you use your eyes, or your other senses?”
His voice was so gentle Jim didn’t hear judgment in the words, or only his own, anyway. If he was honest with himself, maybe he did think he deserved this, and worse. Was that why he couldn’t find the dials?
“The best thing you could do for Blair tonight is to try to get over this and get some sleep. And I think that’s what he’d want for you, too. What was it he taught you to do to control the way your senses worked?”
Briefly, much less fluently than Blair would have done, Jim told him about the dials. It helped that he couldn’t imagine Tom, whatever the circumstances, ever thinking of anyone as a freak.
“He’s ingenious, isn’t he?” Tom said, more impressed by Blair’s inventiveness than the strangeness of having heightened senses.
“You have no idea,” Jim said. “He thinks faster than anyone I’ve ever met. He always comes up with an answer to the weirdest problems. I’d be in a mental hospital if I hadn’t met him.”
“So what would he tell you to do first? The thing that was most uncomfortable, or the sense you had most control over, or what?”
“I don’t know. Maybe hearing. I usually have the most control of that and it sets the pattern.”
“Sort of calibrates the rest? All right. Can you find the dial for hearing?”
Tom wasn’t Blair, but his voice did have a sort of restfulness. With an effort, Jim found he could at least now picture the dial. He stuck there briefly, but then slowly, stiffly, he began to ratchet it down. All around him, sounds fell into their right patterns.
“Okay,” he said eventually. “I’ve got it.”
“Well done,” Tom said. “What next? Taste?”
He fetched a mug of coffee and a muffin while Jim worked at it, and it was a shock to Jim to have coffee that tasted right, and food he could swallow. He was almost too tired to appreciate it, but he felt better for having something in his stomach.
With Tom encouraging him rather than guiding him, they worked through the other senses, leaving touch until last. By then, as the torment of the oversensitivity eased, exhaustion was catching up with Jim. He hardly knew if he found the dial to ease the burning prickling of his skin, or if he just dreamed he did.
“You’re going to be horribly stiff if you sleep out here,” Tom said. “At least come as far as the couch.”
Jim followed him the few steps inside and saw in the no-longer-painful light that the weals on his skin were fading a little. He was asleep within seconds of stretching out on the couch.
For a long time, he was heavily, dreamlessly asleep, but eventually he found himself back in the labyrinth of tunnels. He was still facing the darkness. He could walk into it and shut himself in, and leave Blair outside in the light, but there were many tunnels here. Would Blair be safe? He should make sure of that before anything else. He looked down at the golden light that lapped up from around his feet and glowed gently on his bare hands. Had the light shown him the way towards Blair before? The memory was out of focus, a memory of a dream within a dream, but he turned back towards the light, anyway. It grew a little brighter, and he was aware of a feeling that might have been hope.
But he woke up before he found Blair.
It had been a relief to Hooper that Williams wasn’t enquiring too closely into the progress of his patient. Williams had accepted the reports, seen for himself that she was awake more frequently and not screaming frantic hate at them, but had otherwise concentrated his attention on maintaining security with an inadequate number of people.
Unfortunately, he had come in soon after dawn, when Barnes had been awake for perhaps an hour, and had stood watching as Doyle read to her. Hooper watched the changing expressions on Williams’ face, and flinched. He wasn’t surprised when Williams spoke to Cornish, who was on duty while Durban slept, ordering him to take charge inside the room.
“We won’t be long,” Williams said. “I want a word with Dr. Hooper.”
Resigned, Hooper followed him to the relative privacy of the next room.
“Would you like to tell me what the hell is going on here?” Williams asked with cold anger. “I thought Doyle was helping her get her act together with her senses so we might finally get some use out of her. Instead I find him reading some drivel about little green shoots pushing up out of the earth. She looks as if someone’s done a lobotomy on her! She might have been violent before, but she was someone we could expect to work with. What’s that in there?”
“I told you she was exhibiting two distinct personalities.”
“You didn’t explain what that meant. Damn it, Doyle’s encouraged this, hasn’t he? He’s putting on this big show of cooperating because he knows what he’s delivering is essentially useless.”
“I don’t think that’s entirely fair. This split was beginning to happen before he saw her. It’s just unfortunate that this is the personality which seems to respond to him.”
“I know Doyle better than that. He’s done this deliberately. I want him out of there, as of now. I came up, anyway, to tell you you’d have to manage without him for today. I’m sending Durban out to pick up what we need, and I want Doyle and Sandburg locked in while there are only three of us on the premises. Before I do that, though, I’m going to show Doyle he can’t mess about with me like this. You’d better work on putting things right. How do you get the other personality back?”
“It’s not that straightforward,” Hooper said, deciding not to explain how little he really understood about what he was seeing.
“Rubbish. Two or three nights ago, she was yowling and violent. What caused that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Find out. I’m not letting Doyle or Sandburg near her again until she’s the personality we want.”
“Doyle has got her much calmer.”
“Well, perhaps that’s the problem. I need the woman who used nerve gas as a bargaining agent and didn’t hesitate to off her partner. I don’t need calm. She can be as violent as she likes if we have control.”
“But what if we don’t have control?”
“She’s tied down, isn’t she? And Durban’s picking up the new drugs you wanted. Let her scream. Even that’s better than the way Doyle has her now.”
Maybe she’d sleep, Hooper hoped fervently. Maybe she’d settle now and not wake up until Durban got back with a new arsenal of pharmaceuticals.
Williams sent Hooper back in, and called to Cornish to bring Doyle out.
Doyle, who must have already seen the look on Williams’ face, clearly guessed what was likely to happen. He said quietly to Alicia, “I have to go now. Can you do something for me? Can you make all your paint very pale, very soft, and keep it like that? Lie still and think about the garden until you go to sleep.”
“Like Colin in the story?”
“Just like Colin.”
Hooper was grateful. Very grateful. He also realized just how difficult things could be if Doyle was unavailable.
“It’s absolutely imperative I could get him back in an emergency,” he said to Williams. “Otherwise there’s a chance we could lose her completely. Don’t do anything that will incapacitate him.”
Williams nodded reluctantly. “I can make my point without going that far,” he said. “Cornish, bring Doyle downstairs.”
Doyle walked out with the man as coolly as if he had idea what was coming.
Bodie came downstairs early, to find he was actually the last person up—if anyone else had been to bed. Jim Ellison was asleep on the couch, looking less blotchy. Tom was sitting in a chair near the window, elbows on his knees and his head bowed over his hands. He wasn’t asleep: he looked up as Bodie stopped in the doorway, and came quietly to join him in the kitchen.
“I’ll put some coffee on. I think we’ve still got bacon, and there’s definitely some eggs. Stella’s shopping on her way home.”
Ellison appeared, sleepy and rather rumpled, but brought in by the smell of frying. Bodie was relieved to see he looked almost human, and that he ate without the painful effort it had taken before. He’d half thought of trying to leave him behind if he still looked like some kind of plague victim, but he was pleased not to have to. Apart from anything else, Jim would be useful if their luck turned and they did have someone to follow.
“Is there anything at all I can do to help?” Tom asked as they got ready for another day of watching people shop.
Bodie had been thinking about that. They had had a couple of chats with the proprietor of the tobacconists. He hadn’t been uncooperative, but he hadn’t exactly been friendly, either.
“I wonder if the shopkeeper might say more to you than he did to us,” he suggested. “He was polite enough, but we didn’t get much out of him. Maybe he found us intimidating.”
“He’d probably talk more freely to someone local,” Tom agreed. “And I’d be unofficial. He may have worried about some perfectly innocent customers being harassed. I’d be glad to do that. I’ll come over in my lunch hour if I don’t hear from you before that.”
Bodie called Murphy before he left. Their conversations were getting briefer every time: “I’ve got nothing. You?”
Murphy counseled patience, but Bodie’s patience was wearing thin. He’d forgotten how abrasive to your mood it was to worry about someone.
What was happening to Doyle?
None of the assurances from Murphy, or from his own logic, that Doyle should be all right made the question seem any less urgent.
Blair dabbed cautiously at the blood trickling down Ray’s chin, and wondered what further damage was hidden under his shirt. He’d been startled and alarmed when the door suddenly opened and Ray was pushed in; he was horrified when he saw how bruised and battered his face was.
“Williams,” Ray said thickly before he could ask anything. “It’s superficial.”
Blair eased him gently back on the bed and saw that his eye was swelling and his lip was already twice the size it should be. A cut on his eyebrow and several near his mouth were bleeding steadily. It was obvious it was going to be painful for him to talk, so Blair forced himself to hold back the questions and as gently as possible went on trying to clean up some of the damage.
“They’ve done a real number on you,” he said softly as he took off the pillow case to use as another cloth. “Here, hold the wet one against that eyebrow for a minute.”
The door opened again and he moved instinctively to put himself between Ray and whoever was coming in, but it was only Cornish with a box of food. “That’s your lot for the day,” he said, putting it down near the door. “Make it last.”
“We need some more water,” Blair said quickly.
Cornish didn’t answer, but he came back a little later with two large bottles of water and a bag of ice.
“Dr. Hooper says to get him fit enough to come back up if there’s an emergency. If there isn’t, don’t expect to see anyone.”
Blair had ripped up the pillowcase by now. He wrapped the ice bag in one piece, and Ray held it against his eye. He looked very pale under the bruises.
“Let me help you lie down,” Blair said, getting more and more concerned. “Are your ribs okay?”
There were reddening bruises on his torso, but nothing to show cracked ribs or internal damage. It had been a carefully calculated beating; Ray was hurting, but not in any danger. It was hard, though, to see him in pain. Blair made him as comfortable as he could, and put a blanket over him.
“I’ll be okay in a minute,” Ray mumbled, his words distorted by the swelling around his mouth. “We’ve got bigger probl’ms than this. Williams wants the original Alex Barnes back. He’s not at all happy with Alicia.”
“That’s why he did this?” Blair said, understanding.
“We’re banned until she’s that personality again. Not expend’ble yet, luckily. Not in such a good position, though.”
“Williams must be mad,” Blair said, rewrapping the ice and putting it back against Ray’s eye. “When she woke at the nursing home, she was completely manic. He can’t imagine she’ll be any different now. It wasn’t just her senses being out of control that made her insane. Everything you’ve described says she’s totally unstable.”
“Williams thinks he can control her.”
“Oh, no. What an idiot. Oh, man, I am really glad we’re down here.” Blair dabbed the cloth gently against Ray’s cuts again, wishing he could do more for him. “If Williams is trying to get Alex back, a locked basement is probably the best place to be.”
Alicia woke. She didn’t think she’d been asleep very long. It was hard to tell anymore. The blood seemed to be rushing through her body. Everything was going too fast, as if she was running down a slope and getting quicker and quicker. Even when Ray was there, it was too fast, but he stopped her noticing so much. She needed Ray. He would read to her about the hidden garden.
“Ray can’t come just at the moment,” Dr. Hooper said. She didn’t like his voice and the way he was nervous when he came anywhere close to her. She could smell the fear on him. Or maybe it was Alex who could smell it.
“I want Ray!” she said.
“Later,” he said, and walked away to the other side of the room.
Had Ray gone far away? She tried to remember how she’d found his voice before, and clumsily listened her way down through the house. Ray was there, and Blair, talking. But Ray sounded all wrong, as if the words were coming out of his mouth oddly, and Blair sounded worried. Without understanding how she did it, she focused her senses more sharply on them. She could smell something stronger than Hooper’s fear. That was blood. Ray’s blood.
Alicia began to scream.
Jim watched as Tom stood in the store talking to the man behind the counter. His control of his hearing wasn’t consistent enough for him to think it was worth trying to listen across a busy road and sidewalk crowded with lunchtime shoppers. Tom would tell them anything worth hearing.
Bodie was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel again. Jim had just about learned to live with the sound over the last few days. It was one of the very few outward signs there were that Bodie, who always looked so cool and confident, was as worried as he was.
Tom finished his conversation and came back, leaning in Jim’s window to report. “He was a bit more talkative with me. He has serious civil liberty problems with the whole idea of CI5, but when we got chatting, it turned out Stella had once nursed his wife, and he was more friendly then. One of the things he said seemed to me to be quite hopeful. A lot of his customers fit the profile of the sort of man we think we’re looking for, but not many fit the timeframe that Williams has been in the area. They’re either locals who are regular customers, or holidaymakers. Of the people who’ve started coming regularly in the last few months, only one orders the exact tobacco and papers you identified. And—this is the hopeful bit—he actually called this morning and asked for his usual order to be made up so he could pick it up quickly when he was passing through. He should be in in the next couple of hours. The shopkeeper’s happy for me to hang around inside, and he’ll tip me the wink when the man comes in. I’ll come over and alert you. Does that sound all right?”
“Sounds good,” Jim said.
“You’ll be less obvious in the shop than we would,” agreed Bodie. “Let’s hope he really does show up.”
Jim, too, found it hard to believe they might finally have a lead. The possibility pushed up the tension in the car as they waited. Bodie drummed, and Jim felt the itching spring up again on his neck and hands. His concentration was all on Tom. It never occurred to him they might recognize the man, until Bodie stiffened to alertness beside him and said softly, “Dark-haired bloke, twenty yards, far side of the road. I’ve seen him before. Could have been at the pub. Probably was.”
Jim looked at the man he indicated. Had he seen him before? He was less certain than Bodie, but it gave a sort of confirmation to what was happening when the man walked into the shop. Tom came across promptly.
“Get in,” Bodie said. “I think this is our man. He’s pulled up on the pavement not far along. I’m going to follow him when he leaves.”
Tom slid readily into the back seat. The man from the tobacconist store came out walking rapidly. He didn’t look around, though. His speed didn’t seem to be caused by concern about being noticed.
“Not supposed to be here,” Bodie guessed. “I’ll bet Williams has sent him out to get essentials and he’s running this little errand for himself on the side.”
That was in their interests, Jim thought. If the man was in a hurry to get back, he’d be less careful. Jim focused in on the car, determined not to lose this one possible link to Blair.
Alicia had screamed until her throat hurt, and flung the ‘paint’ in snarls of bright, glaring colour. Now, in the chaos of it, there was another colour, black and slashing through the rest in painful, jagged lines. Alex was awake. They were both awake, and though it gave Alicia that sickening, seesawing feeling again, and made her feel even more as if they were going too fast down a very steep hill, she didn’t run away and Alex didn’t go back to sleep. They were her. She screamed, and Alex wrenched at the restraints, and the doctor, who stank of his fear now, didn’t know Alex was awake because he knew it was Alicia who was screaming.
The doctor went out of the room, and made a fuss. He shouted at the other man, the one she hated most, but in the end he had to leave her to scream. Ray wasn’t coming, and they wanted her to be all Alex. They would be very, very sorry that they’d wanted Alex back.
She could still smell Ray’s blood. She thought perhaps he was asleep now, but sounds came and went; she’d thrown the controls away. It was only the things she could smell that were strong and overwhelming all the time. She knew the smell of blood, and of tears. Ray’s blood. Blair’s tears.
In a horrible, lurching, out-of-control run, Alicia and Alex hurtled downhill together. The blood raced through their veins. The air panted in their lungs. They felt the cells of their body grow and die and grow and die, faster and faster.
Then Alex wrenched a hand free.
So Alicia stopped screaming.
The flabby, frightened doctor came back when he heard the quietness, but he was too late. Alex had undone the other hand, and Alicia understood the need to pretend and lie still and quiet. But when the doctor came close enough, she let it all be Alex.
Then the colors were red and black and loud and sharp, and the doctor was easy and soft and the man on the door was too slow. He started screaming at someone to get Doyle, get a gun, help, and then he was just screaming.
The man downstairs was greedy. Even now, when he had heard the shouts and screams and the silence, he stayed greedy. He still wanted to own Alex and shut Alicia in a small dark closet inside her chest. He went down to the basement and started to open the door, but that was too late now, as well.
The man was mean and greedy, and dangerous. Alex understood about guns. They went carefully now, and quietly, down to the kitchen, then to the top of the basement stairs. They could hear the keys rattling as his fingers shook, and smell the sweat that made his hands slip on the bolts.
When he was opening the door, and not looking back up for a moment, they threw the huge stone from the fireplace and hit him in the back, and then they went down with the knife from the kitchen drawer.
He’d fallen forwards into the room and they, she, they heard the gun fall in there, but she had the knife and she threw that as well from the bottom of the stairs. It went between his shoulder blades. In the room she could see Ray and Blair, but she couldn’t go in, not now. She pulled the knife out and it made the man scream and gurgle. Then she looked at them.
Ray had the gun, but his eyes told her he didn’t want to use it. His face was bruised and sore and it made her sad, but she was afraid of herself, her Alex self, and wouldn’t go closer.
Blair’s eyes were very wide, and his face was white, and Alex didn’t want to kill him, not ever again.
She, they, she turned away and ran up the stairs again, though she didn’t know where she could go. She could see the door that would take her out of the house. She went towards it, and it opened. Fierce, painful sunlight swept in, and in it another man stood. One who had stood by her door and watched them hurt her, or held her down so the needles could spear into her skin.
He saw the blood on her hands, and he stepped back and tried to pull his gun out, but not fast enough. She got more blood on her, and then stepped out into the sunny afternoon which burned her skin and sizzled at her eyes.
There was too much of everything out here, and she could feel it all. She stumbled forward a few steps and heard the air move and felt the bubbling at the earth’s core. And there were more men, different men.
One was the Sentinel.
Feelings choked her, but she wouldn’t look at him or know him. She couldn’t look at him. He could still smell the fountain and the wet dirt in Blair’s hair, just like she could.
The man next to him was dark and hard, but his eyes were afraid, and not for himself. She didn’t know who he cared about inside the house, but she knew he would kill her if it was someone she had hurt.
It was the third man who she turned to, stumbling again on the currents of the earth. He had kind eyes, like Ray’s, and the harsh light broke around him and changed.
It wasn’t sunlight there at all, it was a different light, more golden, and all her savage colors grew softer in it.
She took another step closer.
“Tom! Stand still! She doesn’t know what she’s doing!”
That was Ray’s voice. She didn’t turn around, though. She couldn’t take her eyes from the man Ray had called Tom—or the other man who stood beside him now, who none of the rest of them seemed to see. She hadn’t seen him before. He’d come out of the golden light.
“Please…” she said to him.
He was clearer now, but how could he know what she was asking for? She didn’t know herself. She tried to find words to tell him.
“I can feel the earth moving. I can see the patterns of the way things are made. I can hear the clouds move.” That was her. That was who she was.
She began to see him easily, though it was very bright around him. He had kind eyes, too, eyes that understood.
“Come with me and you can see the stars dance,” he said.
She looked into his eyes now, and knew he could see Alicia and Alex. He could see all the things they’d done and all the things they might have done, and although his face was very sad, it was still kind.
The other people seemed far away and faded now. The golden light was brighter than sunlight, but it didn’t burn in the same way. It made her see herself, though, so clearly.
She looked down. “I have blood on my hands,” she told him.
“So have I,” he said, and he held them out for her to see.
Someone had hurt them. The sight made her even sadder than when she saw Ray or thought about Blair.
“Watch,” he said. As he held out his hands to her, she looked at her own, and they were clean.
“Come with me,” he said again.
The golden light was all around her now. It would wash and burn away a lot of what was Alex and some of what was Alicia, but she, herself, who she was, would still be there.
And be loved.
She put her hands into his and went with him.
Doyle stood for a moment completely shocked, staring at Williams’ writhing body, then the sound of Alicia’s footsteps as she turned and ran galvanized him into action. He paused a moment to make sure Blair was okay, told him to stay put, and ran after her. By then she’d already dealt with Durban. He lay across the doorstep, a bubble of blood showing at the side of his mouth.
Doyle saw Alicia stumble in the driveway—and saw Bodie, Ellison and Tom Hunter. They had no idea what was happening, he realized. They must have followed Durban and walked into this. Alicia wasn’t threatening them, though. Not yet. She stumbled again, turned from one to another, then took a step towards Tom.
Doyle shouted to warn him, and not only Tom, but all of them, even Alicia herself, stood still. Doyle had Williams’ gun trained on her. Bodie, he could see, was also ready to shoot if he had to. But she didn’t seem to be threatening Tom, and they waited.
The seconds seemed painfully long and drawn out. He heard Blair’s harsh breathing close behind him and reached back an arm to pull him close. He was aware of the throbbing ache in his face and chest, and that, with his eye swollen enough to be distorting his vision, he’d be best leaving the shot to Bodie if one of them had to take it.
But Alicia stood still, her head tilted slightly, not looking so much at Tom as to the side of him.
Without any warning, she crumpled to the ground. Doyle had seen people fall like that from a bullet, but no one had fired.
Tom was just too late to catch her, and he dropped to his knees, feeling for a pulse, as Bodie and Ellison both moved towards him.
“How many inside?” Bodie called, as Tom looked up and shook his head.
“Three,” Doyle said. “Williams is a casualty. I haven’t checked upstairs.”
“There’s blood on the stairs,” Blair said, his voice shaky. He moved abruptly to the side, to the patch of grass under the window, and was sick.
Doyle wanted to go to him, but he wasn’t sure he could move. He hadn’t realized how bad he felt until he ran up the stairs, and without the door frame, he wasn’t sure he could stay on his feet.
But Jim Ellison was here now. He held onto Blair while he retched, and stood so he blocked Blair’s view of Durban, and Alicia.
Doyle knew from Tom’s movements that she was dead.
When had Bodie appeared in front of him? He blinked, and with his better eye saw that Bodie was looking him over with expert assessment, and moderating concern. “This is a few hours old, isn’t it. Beating?”
“You be all right propped up there a minute while I just check upstairs?”
Doyle nodded. He watched Tom straighten Alicia’s sprawled body, giving her back some dignity, and Jim sitting Blair on the grass with his head on his knees.
Bodie was back down quickly, and, if you knew him well, looking visibly shaken. “I think they might be alive. Ellison, you used to be a medic—can you take a look? I’ve called the police and ambulance.”
Jim gave Blair’s bent shoulders a quick hug and went to do what he could, if anything.
“Better call Murph as well,” Doyle said.
“He’s not going to be happy. He’ll never believe it wasn’t our fault there was a bloodbath. Did she do all that? On her own?”
They looked at the slight body stretched on the drive.
“Give me a hand over there,” Doyle said.
He brushed off Tom’s concerned questions and stooped to look at her. She looked peaceful. More peaceful than he’d ever seen her. He wished he’d been able to do more for her while she was alive.
“I thought she was dying,” he said. “That bastard Williams wouldn’t let me help her anymore. She was so confused…” He straightened up, the world rocked a little, and he leaned against Bodie’s shoulder. He felt tired and sore and defeated.
“You can’t always tell how much you’ve helped someone,” Tom said softly.
Bodie turned Doyle, quite gently, away from Alicia and towards Blair. “Someone else needs a bit of help, too. You go and look after your boy, and I’ll call Murphy.”
The affection in his voice as much as his words brought Doyle back to the needs of the living. He’d seen what a wrench it was for Jim Ellison to leave Blair and go help the men who’d taken him, and although Blair had his head up now, he looked pale and miserable. Doyle let Bodie help him over there, and sat with his arm around Blair while the police and a couple of ambulances arrived.
One young constable came straight out of the house again, and, like Blair, threw up in the flowerbed. But when Jim Ellison came back, he said he thought that in spite of their injuries, all three of the men in the house might survive.
“We tried to warn them,” Blair said wearily.
“No good trying to warn someone like Williams,” Bodie said, also coming to join them. “Though I must say, he’s paid for it. He might survive, but they think she’s damaged his spine.” He looked over to where the first ambulance was already leaving. “Going to spend the rest of his life in some secure hospital, I’d say.”
Tom had been moving their car and Williams’ vehicles to clear the drive, but he came back now, and sat down on the grass. “Don’t you think you ought to get one of the paramedics to look at you, Ray?”
“He’s okay,” Jim said, earning Doyle’s gratitude. “They wouldn’t do anything more for him except maybe a couple of butterfly bandages. Nothing we can’t do at home. And speaking of that, I don’t know what your rules are for a scene like this, Bodie—can Tom take them home?”
“We’re CI5, we make the rules,” Bodie said. “And although we’ve panicked Murphy enough that he’s coming down by helicopter no less, right now I’m in charge.”
“With me,” Doyle said hastily.
Bodie smiled with just that trace of amusement that never failed to be exasperating. “You’re out of action.”
Doyle had too much sympathy for Murphy, and for whatever poor sod in the force had to write a report on this, to leave the scene immediately, whatever he felt like. He got stiffly to his feet, and went to give the details of what had happened to the senior police officer. Bodie strolled along beside him, never more than a step away, but at least he shut up and let Doyle get on with it. By the time he’d finished, the scene had begun to clear.
“What did they do with her body?” he asked Bodie sharply.
“Tom made arrangements, I think. He thought she had no family?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t want them to slice her up to find out what makes a Sentinel.”
“I think we can see that doesn’t happen.” He’d had his hand unobtrusively under Doyle’s elbow, and Doyle wasn’t sorry for the support. In all ways. “Come on, Ray. We’re done here. There are two constables to keep an eye on things ’til Murphy gets here. You can’t tell me you haven’t had enough for one day.”
Doyle looked over at the small group sitting on the grass. Tom saw that they were done, raised a hand in acknowledgment and went to get the car. Bodie was right, he’d had enough, but it could have been much, much worse.
“She didn’t want to hurt us,” he said quietly. “She was afraid she might, I think. She stood and looked at us, then ran before she could.”
Bodie wrapped an arm around his shoulders—probably severely undermining the constables’ impression both of CI5 and of Bodie’s infamous ruthlessness. “You’re a good man, Ray. However insane she was, I think she knew what was good. I saw her face when she stood there in front of Tom. She was looking at him, and then past him, and whatever she was seeing, it made her light up like a kid with a present. You did what you could for her, and she found some kind of peace. Come on home.”
Even the incessant noise of the helicopter couldn’t drown out the sound repeating itself in Murphy’s mind. It was Cowley’s voice, a little more Scots in his imagination, saying, “Och, I told you so. Will you never learn, laddie?”
What the hell had Bodie done? Two corpses and three severely injured casualties couldn’t just be dismissed as collateral damage. It was all very well for Bodie to say he and Doyle had been innocent bystanders—was that going to stand up in court? At least there had been nothing in the press so far. The tabloids would love it. With Williams’ past in Intelligence, what were his chances of suppressing the story with a D notice? The one good thing was that he’d been able to tell Naomi before he left that Blair had been rescued safe and well. He’d kept the other details to himself.
Jim listened to Blair talking to Naomi on the phone. It was a masterclass in obfuscation. He’d heard Blair snow his mom before, but never quite as outrageously as this. Of course, it was what Naomi wanted to hear: he was fine, he was well, he’d be in London tomorrow or the next day and they’d have a great time together in some museum or art gallery. The only sour note was when he tried to appeal to her sympathy for Ray, telling her Doyle’d been beaten up.
“I expect it happens to him all the time,” Naomi said tartly. “It’s a way of life among the people he deals with. He probably does the same himself, beats confessions out of people and so on. I hope you’re not going to start pretending to be naive about an organization like CI5.”
“Mom, you’re sleeping with the head of CI5!”
“That’s quite different, sweetie…”
Jim didn’t wait to find out how. He shouldn’t have been listening in the first place, and this conversation was definitely moving into areas he didn’t want to explore. Especially as the aforementioned head of CI5 was currently in Tom’s study being reassured, debriefed and generally put right by Bodie and Doyle.
Jim wandered into the kitchen. Stella had gone to pick up her sons—once Tom had remembered where he left the car, and Bodie had taken him to get it. She’d be away until the following morning, but she’d left a huge supper out on the kitchen table. He filled a plate and went out into the yard.
Tom was sitting there with a beer and the newspaper, though it was getting too dark for reading. He tossed it to one side when he saw Jim. “After a day like today, you wonder about how much more there is that never reaches the papers. Can I get you a beer?”
Tom even brought him a cold one. Jim sipped it slowly, and wondered if Tom would think he was losing it if he told him what he’d seemed to see that afternoon. Tom had a good track record, though.
“When we got to the farmhouse,” Jim began abruptly, going for it, “when Alex was standing there in front of you, it was like I could see this light. A different sort of light, I mean. I’ve seen it somewhere before… in a dream… Anyway, she was standing there, and before she died, I had the impression she just, well, stepped into the light.”
“I hoped so,” Tom said simply, not apparently finding anything out of the ordinary in this conversation at all. “From what Ray said, what you all said, and what we saw, she was very lost and disturbed. I was watching her face at the end. Something important had changed. She looked… not lost anymore.”
In spite of everything, Jim was glad of that. He let the subject drop as he heard Blair coming, though. Some day, when Blair was a fully-fledged Ph.D., and the hurts of the past year or more had healed completely, he might talk to him about Alex, but not yet.
Blair still looked pale and vulnerable, but he was past the worst of the reaction to what had happened, and his dominant mood just now seemed to be annoyance.
“I can’t believe Naomi,” he said, absently accepting the beer Tom offered. “She’s not even trying ‘I hear you’ when I talk about Ray. She’s the one who complains about closed minds, but she’s being totally unreasonable about this.”
“She’ll get over it,” Jim said. Personally, he thought that a cop in the family tree probably explained some of Blair’s best qualities, but he wasn’t planning to put that view to Naomi.
“It’s not like I’m going to forget she’s my mother,” Blair grumbled over his beer. “Anyway, they’re going to have to meet each other before we go back to Cascade. Some old guy Murphy knows is inviting us all for croquet and cucumber sandwiches or something.”
Tom choked on his beer.
Jim thought charitably that Blair had been out of the loop. “Was this old guy called George Cowley by any chance?”
“That’s right. Naomi thought that even if Ray was there, it would be fun to go and do something very English, so she’s cool with it. Why are you looking like that? He’s just some retired civil servant, isn’t he?”
“Think retired civil servant who was once a sort of cross between Simon Banks and Jack Kelso, with a touch of special ops thrown in.”
“And years of experience,” Tom added.
Blair thought about it. “Well, she and Ray will have to be civil to each other, then. Might be a good thing.”
Tom heard noises inside that suggested Murphy was leaving, and went to see him off. Blair leaned back against Jim’s chair and tilted his bottle up to get the last drops. Jim thought you could walk around all the art galleries in London and not see a better picture. Had it only been last night he’d sat here feeling as if his skin was being flayed… feeling guilty as hell? He’d been so preoccupied with all that had happened today, and so relieved to have Blair back, that he hadn’t thought at all about anything except the present. Now that he did think of what had happened to cause their most recent troubles, he didn’t want to just let it go.
“Chief?” he said quietly.
Blair swiveled to face him.
“I’m sorry about the whole DNA test thing. We were totally out of line. I had no right to make decisions for you like that.”
Blair looked at him. “Jim, tell me you haven’t been beating yourself up about that all week. I know I threw a hissy fit, but it was Naomi I was really mad at, not you. I mean, sure, you were out of line, but you’re the guy who checks out my dates on the police database—if it’s privacy or protection, believe me I know where I stand.”
“It was a bad call,” Jim said, determined not to be exonerated too easily.
“It must have been hard to know what the good call was. I’m not sure how I’d have handled a ‘maybe’.”
“You should never have had to hear it like that.”
“Jim, Naomi’s a loose cannon. No one could have predicted her turning up in England.”
“I’m trying to apologize here, Chief!” Jim said, exasperated.
Blair grinned. “Sorry, man. I just don’t want you to take more than your share of the guilt, okay? You want to do penance, it’s not on the scale of barefoot from here to Cascade. All the chores for a month when we get home will do.”
“So what’ll be different?” Jim said, giving in to being forgiven.
“I do chores!”
“You plan to do chores.”
Somewhere, even if the apology had not gone quite as he planned, his sense of guilt had lifted. Thanks to Blair. The thought of the loft, and chores, had more appeal just now than a beach in Barbados. Normal life, Blair at Rainier, Blair at the PD with him. He was damned if he was ever going to blow it again.
“You know, Chief,” he said, thinking about it, “if you ever needed him to, Ray would come and kick my ass.”
Blair looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Jim, sometimes I really don’t want to know what goes on in your head. No more, man. Let’s get Ray and Bodie a beer. I think they probably need one by now.”
Bodie was beginning to develop a reluctant respect for Murphy. Murphy had been fully versed in what had happened before he arrived, he’d managed to persuade the doctors to let him have a few words with Hooper, and he’d kept the story out of the papers at least while there was anything worth photographing. Bodie had been able to get in a few good ones about the helicopter, but although he was privately sure Murphy had spent the whole trip to Dorset in a cold sweat imagining embarrassing parliamentary questions, you’d never guess it now. Murphy hadn’t identified Williams’ London backers, but even Cowley hadn’t managed that, and the general feeling was that now that this attempt had so spectacularly failed, they’d go back to the more traditional route of whispers and lies to try to discredit the government.
Yeah, Murphy had done all right. Unfortunately, his parting note had been almost worthy of Cowley himself. “I’ll see you both in London the day after tomorrow, and get yourselves sorted out by then. I don’t care who was to blame for the damn DNA test, or even for Doyle chucking in CI5 all those years ago, come to that. I want your guarantee that by the time you start work properly, you’ll have dealt with it. We’ve got enough enemies without fighting each other.”
He’d timed it well, too. Just as he finished, the car that was picking him up pulled into Tom’s drive, and he was gone before they’d any chance of getting their answers out.
“Cowley’s been coaching him,” Doyle muttered.
“He gives it his own touch, though. Appealing to our sense of responsibility.”
“He’s right, too. I told you we needed to talk.”
There were times when surrender was the only good tactical option, especially when you had something to gain as well as to lose.
“Okay,” Bodie said simply.
It took the wind right out of Doyle’s sails.
“I said okay. Only, if we don’t want an audience, I think we’d better postpone it for an hour or two. I can see the others coming—with beer.”
It was at least a couple of hours, and more than a couple of beers, before the others drifted off again—Jim to call Cascade, Blair to bed and Tom to stack the bottles for recycling and load the dishwasher.
Doyle, still suffering from the battering he’d received at Williams’ hands, looked tired and slightly hazy. Bodie thought that now would be a good time to get some truth out of him.
“I was completely wrong to get that DNA test done,” he said. “I should have talked to you in the first place, when Ellison saw that picture of you and Naomi. I certainly shouldn’t have gone behind your back. You had every right to be angry.”
“You bastard!” Doyle said. He wasn’t so hazy he didn’t realize he’d been outmaneuvered. He knew exactly what this apology was worth—and what Bodie would expect in return.
“So I’ve been told,” Bodie agreed. “Come on, sunshine. I’ve groveled. Now keep your side of the bargain.”
“I need another drink.”
“If you have any more, you’ll fall asleep.”
“Not while I’m talking.”
“I’ve known you do it,” Bodie said, but he fetched them both a whisky, anyway.
“Those years in CI5 seem like another life,” Doyle said, twisting the glass around rather than drinking from it. “Or they did. Now with everything that’s happened, I suppose it’s clearer… closer.”
Bodie waited. Silence was his ally just now.
“Maybe a lot of things built up to it,” Doyle said at last. “I know what finally pushed me to resign, though. It was when Cook and the others died. It was bad enough losing them…” He did drink the whisky now. “I went to see June Cook, broke the news to her. Someone has to, that was what Cowley said, and I knew them. I’ve done it before, and since, and I’ve known plenty of people who took it as hard as she did. But some of the things she said, I don’t know, they just seemed to hit home.”
“What did she say?” Bodie asked quietly.
“That I was all right because I hadn’t got anybody. That—what was it?—we could just go on playing cowboys and Indians for the rest of our bloody, miserable, selfish lives.” The words came down the years fresh in the pain in his voice. “She was just hurting, Bodie. It was because it was too much like what I was already thinking that I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
His quiet bleakness brought that year back to Bodie. A bad year: Ray shot, Cowley talking about how they’d seen too much, done too much; innocents killed; the shifting sands under them where right and wrong had once been rock.
If anyone besides Cowley had kept CI5 struggling to make sure it was the side of right they held onto, it was definitely Ray Doyle.
“She was hurting,” Bodie agreed. “And she was wrong. The last word I’d’ve used about you is selfish. Or trigger happy. You did a damn near impossible job, and you never stopped trying to do it right. I told you this afternoon you’re a good man. That was just as true back then.”
“I made the wrong choice resigning,” Doyle said, with a certainty that surprised Bodie. “The wrong choice for the wrong reasons. Funny, really. A couple of years later, I realized: it was after I left CI5 that I didn’t have anybody.” He shrugged. “Bit late then. And the work was okay—more than okay, worth doing. I concentrated on that until it finally all crashed a few months ago when I got suspended. Know what kept me going then?”
“No,” Bodie said truthfully, drowning the ache of sympathy in his gut with another glass of whisky.
“That time I was shot—you were there. Really there sometimes, and in my dreams sometimes, ready to give me hell if I dared give up. It kept coming back into my mind as I was walking the coast path. Then I bumped into Tom one evening and things just happened.”
Bodie was never, ever going to have one of these conversations again. He’d settle for being shot any day. All those bitter years he’d been so sure it was some high-minded morality that drove Doyle out of CI5, that Bodie and Cowley just hadn’t come up to his standards. It was so much more like Doyle for it to have been guilt, depression and despair.
“Ray…” he started, and stopped himself because he didn’t trust his voice.
“Hey,” Doyle said, looking at him for the first time since he’d started talking. “I screwed this one up all by myself.”
“I could’ve spoken to you, asked you fifteen years ago…”
“I could’ve told you before I went. Anyway, we’re here now, back in business. Maybe if all that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been here at the right time for Blair.”
Bodie had been glad, anyway, that Blair had proved to be a genuine chip off the Doyle block; he was even more glad of it after what he’d heard. “Yeah, you’ve certainly got somebody now,” he said.
“Always had,” Doyle said. “I realized too late, but I always had.” With the beating and the events of the day and the whisky, he was fading fast, but Bodie could see him fight to stay awake to finish what he wanted to say. “You know something Blair told me while were stuck in that basement with not much to do but talk? Sometimes it’s all about friendship.” He raised his glass. “We won’t forget it this time around.”
Bodie could drink to that.
Though they’d known them such a short time, Jim felt as if he was saying goodbye to old friends when he said goodbye to Tom and Stella. “Thanks,” he said to Tom, gripping his hand. “For a hell of a lot of things.”
“It’s been good having you here,” Tom said. “One of these days, when the kids have all left home, we’ll come and see what it’s like in Cascade. And until then, I’m sure we’ll hear news of you from Ray.”
Stella smiled over an arm full of flowers. Jim, Blair and Bodie, thinking of it rather late, had left Ray to sleep first thing that morning and gone shopping. The flowers had been Blair’s idea. Jim had gone for wine and chocolates, and Bodie for a crate of beer and a single malt. They’d all been gratefully received, anyway.
“Tell Naomi I hope she’ll come and see me while she’s in England,” Stella called.
“Tell Jen it all worked out and that Bodie and I will be back to stand them all a drink!” Doyle called in return
Before they could get into their car, a motorbike swerved into the close. The young rider stopped to drop off his passenger, who immediately removed her helmet releasing a long shock of purple hair.
“What do you think, Mum?” she said.
Jim had vaguely heard that the Hunters’ daughter was also coming home that day. Trained deductive reasoning and the sight of Tom’s face suggested to him that perhaps her hair hadn’t been purple when she left. Her brothers’ jeers confirmed it.
“Rachel!” Tom said, horrified.
“Whatever did it cost to have that done?” Stella asked. “Let me see it properly.”
“It makes your face look green,” one of the boys said.
“Does it wash out?” Tom asked.
Tom shook his head, and came over to the car to see them finally off.
“I thought it was going to be peaceful for you when we left,” Jim said.
“She had such pretty hair,” Tom said regretfully. “Take care, all of you. Ray, Bodie, come and see us soon. Jim, we won’t forget you, or Blair. Tell us when it’s Dr. Sandburg. Look after each other!”
Jim looked back to see them all waving, Rachel with her arm through her dad’s. He hoped he’d see them again. Things were clearer around Tom.
“We owe him,” Bodie said, echoing his own thoughts. “Oh, well, London beckons. What do you think we ought to wear for croquet with Cowley?”
Croquet with Cowley, Murphy mused. If you didn’t know what killer instincts the game brought out in people, it would seem a strange concept. At the moment, though, what was going on on the lawn in front of him was, in the most civilized way possible, total war. And Cowley wasn’t winning; Bodie and Jim Ellison were. Cowley was sounding more like an irascible general by the minute as he directed Elizabeth—who was in no need of direction at all. Judging by the way she was gripping her mallet, mutiny, probably with violence, was a real possibility.
He and Naomi had lost good-humoredly. Blair and Doyle had gone down fighting to Bodie and Jim. But this was the real match. He winced as for the second time in that round Bodie croqueted Cowley’s ball.
“‘Some of these images you may find distressing’,” Doyle murmured, joining him. “I don’t know how you can bear to watch.”
“Horrified fascination,” Murphy said. “What have you been doing, anyway?”
“Making peace with Naomi. Or armed neutrality, anyway. Blair’s happy.”
“Talking of Naomi, you don’t still…”
“Oh, no. She’s all yours. I’ve sworn off redheads. Bodie’s added it to the contract.”
Out on the lawn, Cowley made a noise like an exasperated gander as Elizabeth’s ball just failed to go through the hoop.
“Well, if you’re sure, perhaps I’ll go and show her the rose garden,” Murphy said. You had to admire Bodie’s nerve, but it was straining his own just watching.
With his arm comfortably around Naomi’s waist, he looked back. Ignoring the croquet, Blair and Doyle stood talking in the sunshine.
“It was a beautiful night,” Naomi said unexpectedly. “The next day was horrible, but that night was almost perfect. I like to think that Blair came from somewhere beautiful.”
Murphy drew her discreetly behind a large floribunda where he could put his arms around her properly. “He definitely came from someone beautiful,” he said smoothly. The noises from the croquet were muted here. Make love, not war. Even for the head of CI5, it sometimes worked.
Blair gave his father a final hug. “You don’t have to wait for the dissertation to be finished. Come, anyway.”
“As soon as I can,” Ray promised. “Stay out of trouble.” Which was rich from a man who, on his first day back at work, had already pissed off a cabinet minister.
Blair detached himself reluctantly and went with Jim to board the flight that was the first stage of their journey home to Cascade. Even when they took off, he could hardly believe that he was going home. Perhaps it was a lingering effect of the way Williams had tried to condition him that Cascade still seemed not quite real.
“I’ve got your backpack at the loft,” Jim said. “It was still in your car. It’s in your room.”
Blair could just imagine it: the backpack standing there uncompromisingly, Jim’s assertion, in defiance of all the negative voices, that Blair would come back, or that Jim would go wherever it took to find him. The loft, every familiar inch of it, lost its fuzziness and became so clear in his mind that it took his breath away.
“Simon and the guys are going to throw a party to welcome you back,” Jim said. “Barbecue or poker, your choice. And the Rainier gang is going to do whatever it is anthropologists do to celebrate.”
The PD, the bullpen, Rainier’s halls also sharpened into focus. Blair felt his eyes sting, and hastily turned to look out of the window. The plane was just emerging from the clouds into the sunlight.
“I feel like that, you know, Chief,” Jim said, also watching the clarity of the sky. “Ever since… oh, ever since I had that dream where I shot the wolf, and it was you, I seem to have been walking in the shadows. Making mistakes. Nothing’s been what it should, however hard we’ve tried. It just doesn’t feel like that anymore. I think we’ve made it out of there to where we can see things more clearly.”
Blair swiped his eyes and nodded. “Yeah. I think we have.”
Jim smiled, losing his seriousness. “And when I’m seeing clearly, that really is seeing!”
Blair followed his gaze out into the blue depths of sky. He wondered what it looked like to a Sentinel’s sight. An old, almost forgotten joy at the excitement of discovering woke in him.
He really was going home.
~ End ~