In a Land of Shadow
By Gil Hale – email@example.com
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.
Continue on to Part 3 of 5