In a Land of Shadow
By Gil Hale – email@example.com
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.”
Continue on to the Conclusion (Part 5 of 5)