by Kristine Williams
Blair didn't want to sleep. He wanted Jim to stay, but he knew he couldn't ask, not after last night. Jim was exhausted. Dr. Stuart told him that afternoon what his friend had done. From digging him out of the snow, to holding his head through the tremors and delirium. He had been a little embarrassed then. Not so much because Jim's presence had been such a comfort through the ordeal, but that he had needed comforting. He remembered the pain, the cold, and most of all the fear that he felt all night and into the morning. He also remembered Jim being there, talking to him, holding his head. But now, when he closed his eyes, all he saw was Lash. Only this time, instead of being chained to a chair, he was buried under the snow. Lash was on top of him, forcing the air from his lungs, pushing snow down his throat. He couldn't close his eyes for more than a minute without the visions coming back.
Jim's retreating figure could be seen through the window beside Blair's bed. He watched him walk across the road, then he disappeared into the snow that was falling so fiercely.
He knew, if he had asked him to, Jim would have stayed. He was just that way. Blair had come to realize what being Jim Ellison's friend meant. At first, he didn't think of him as a friend, not like that. He was too caught up in Jim as a Sentinel, and the implications that presented. But as time passed he began to understand Jim's boundaries. He was a man who took very few people into the inner sanctum and called them a friend. But when he did, when he decided you were worth his time and trouble, he gave one hundred percent. Blair never had a friend of that caliber before, and it took him a while to understand what that meant. To Jim, pulling you out of the hands of a psychotic killer, trusting you enough to just hand you his gun, or to call for backup when he needed it...it was just what you did. Nothing special. Somewhere along the line, he must have decided Blair was worth his time. And for that, Blair was grateful. More so now. Jim could kick him out of his life anytime he wanted, but he never once indicated he would. Even when Blair wanted to go to Borneo. Well, he hadn't really wanted to go. He'd wanted them both, but had to make a choice. A choice that was made easier after Peru. And he knew deep inside it was the right one.
But he couldn't ask. Jim was just as tired as he was. And had a lot on his mind. Murdered! The skinny nervous guy was murdered. And if the killer was killed, what were they supposed to do? Unless he wasn't killed. Which would mean they had a murderer walking around the ski lodge with them. My money's on the mobster. But a high-powered rifle on a ski slope? Didn't mobsters shoot you in the back of the head in the alley? And who was Benchly that he warranted being murdered? Maybe the avalanche really was the goal?
It wasn't until the next morning that Blair realized he had actually fallen asleep.
"Good morning. How are we feeling today?" Dr. Stuart entered, rubbing her arms.
"Still snowing?" Blair asked, noting the slight dusting of white still in her hair.
"Yes, I can't believe it. There must be a good two feet since yesterday." She politely rubbed her stethoscope on her lab coat to warm it before placing it on Blair's chest. "If this keeps up, those plows are going to be a long time coming."
Blair still winced a little at the cold metal. "Is there any way to contact someone down the pass?"
She shook her head, then placed her finger over her lips to quiet him while she listened. "Deep breath."
Blair obliged, coughing only slightly as his lungs reached capacity.
This time he was able to suppress the cough.
"Okay." She removed the stethoscope. "No congestion, other than some minor irritation due to the exposure. How does the leg feel?"
He nodded, "Fine. Can I get out of here today?"
"Out of here to where? You may as well stay put, we can take care of you here and there's really no where to go."
"I'd like to get back to the lodge. No offense." Blair replied "It's just that hospitals give me the creeps."
Dr. Stuart smiled. "I understand. Next to visiting the dentist, a stay in the hospital is rated as the next best thing." She paused, setting down the blood pressure cuff she had just removed from his arm. "You've had a traumatic experience, being delirious takes a lot out of a person. You mentioned a name...Lash I believe? Your friend said there was some extreme emotional connection there, but he didn't elaborate."
Blair simply nodded, not wanting to add to the memory.
"Well, being as sick as you were, it has an effect much like a hallucinogenic drug. You can flash back on the experience for years to come. Being out of this room won't make those flashes stop."
"Yeah, well, it couldn't hurt."
She paused, looking into his eyes. "Okay. On one condition."
"What is it?"
"You stay off that leg. And you take your medication. The nurse says you faked it last night, she found the pills in the wastebasket this morning."
Blair smiled sheepishly, "That's two." She glared at him and he backed off. "Okay, okay. I'll be good, I promise."
"Okay. But I'm only agreeing to this because you'll be right across the road, and I can keep an eye on you. I'll go get a pair of crutches and help you through that snow. Your friend is up on the slope again this morning. I don't understand what he's looking for up there."
Blair watched her go, realizing then that even she hadn't been told what was happening. Okay, so we're keeping secretes. I can do that.
Getting back to the lodge on crutches through several inches of freshly fallen snow was tricky. Once inside, Dr. Stuart insisted Blair go up to the room and get into bed. She took him to the service elevator that opened up just a few doors down from the room he and Jim were checked in to. As the doors opened Blair saw a man standing in the hallway, bending over to push several sheets of paper under the door.
"Tom, what are you doing here?"
"Hey doc. Mr. Sandburg, I didn't expect to see you back here so soon."
Blair faintly recalled the man's face as having been with Jim when they were pulling him out of the snow.
"Your friend, Detective Ellison, asked for these. I was just going to push them under the door. He's up on the slope with Eddie, having another look around."
Blair reached out for the papers Tom was handing him. "Thanks, I'll be sure he gets these." he replied. "I thought you were up there, with him?" Dr. Stuart had unlocked the door for Blair and now stood aside.
"Ah, no. My snowmobile ran out of gas and the pumps are frozen. He and Eddie are up by the tree line, looking for more clues."
"Clues?" Dr Stuart asked, looking from Blair to Tom.
"Oh, ah...seeing if anyone else is missing. You know, day visitors that might have been here for the night skiing."
"You know, I've been wondering about that. If the ridge was to be blasted the next morning, who authorized the night skiing?" Blair asked, positioning himself in the doorway. "Isn't that dangerous?"
Tom nodded, glancing around. "Yeah, well. I'm checking in to that, as a matter of fact. Probably a simple case of miscommunication."
"Simple?" Dr. Stuart asked, raising her eyebrows dramatically. "Tom, two people died in that slide. And two more nearly did."
"Believe me, doctor, I know. Listen, I have to get back...find a ride to the slopes and see what's what." He quickly left, hurrying down the hallway to the stairs and out of view.
"Who determines the safety for night skiing, anyway?" Blair asked, watching him go.
"Well, normally the senior ski patrolman. But he's been gone now for several weeks, there was a death in the family. Tom's next in line, but he's only been on this resort for a few weeks. I guess he wasn't as familiar with the slopes here as they thought." She sighed, shaking her head. "Someone else should have taken over. And you should be in bed. Off with you." She motioned for Blair to shut the door. "Straight to bed, off that leg. And take those pills like a good boy."
Blair rolled his eyes but nodded anyway. He waited until she walked away before shutting the door. Once indoors, the crutches had proved rather easy to maneuver, so Blair made his way to the writing table at the far end of the room and sat down. There was another chair next to the table and he used that to prop his injured leg on, easing his foot up slowly. The leg throbbed mightily, but as long as he moved slowly, and didn't jar it, the pain was manageable. After situating himself Blair took a better look at the papers Tom was trying to slip under the door. They were hotel records, check in dates, times and names from the beginning of the week, up until the night of the avalanche. He scanned them, going down the list. There was Benchly, checked in Tuesday morning, just three hours before he and Jim had arrived. Mr and Mrs Evans, listed as being in the honeymoon suite, just as Blair had guessed. Mr and Mrs Kelly, arrival on Monday afternoon. They were scheduled to check out that morning, but would be staying just like the rest of them now that the roads were blocked.
He continued down the list. There were a few other names, people who had checked in either Monday or Tuesday, with the intention of staying one night. Then he found who he was looking for. Mr. and Mrs. Smyth, and two adjoining rooms, each occupied by another Mr. Smyth. The mobster from the dining room. Smyth, how original. He looked up from the papers, glancing out the window to the snow that was falling continuously outside. There was something nagging at the back of his mind. Something about the snow, the avalanche. But he couldn't put his finger on it. Just then there was a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" Blair called out, not wanting to get up if he didn't have to.
There was no reply, just another knock, louder than the first.
Blair picked up the crutches from the floor, eased his leg off the chair and slowly made his way to the door. "Jim, if that's you..." He opened the door.
"Good afternoon." Mr Smyth said, "I was wondering if I could
have a word with you?"
"Detective, we really should head back down now. This storm is getting worse." Eddie had to shout to be heard above the wind that was beginning to howl down the mountain.
Jim looked around one last time. The snow had covered everything. Even the trees that fell during the avalanche were now buried under several feet of fresh snow fall. They had been up there for five hours, searching for...for what?
"Okay." He followed Eddie to the snowmobile they had shared and climbed on behind the ski patrolman. Glancing behind him for one last look around, he had to squint against the now horizontally falling snow.
On the ride back down to the lodge, Jim mentally reviewed what he had learned so far, which he had to admit to himself wasn't much. He had found no body, no other evidence of someone else on that slope. There were no tracks other than those made by the ski rescuers who went up the day before and found Mr. Benchly. And the snow had been falling so steadily, even his Sentinel sight couldn't pick up anything. He was going to have to start questioning the guests at the lodge. But how to do that without tipping his hand, he wasn't sure yet. If there was even a hand to tip. He had a murder, a weapon....but no motive, no murderer, nothing. And worst of all, no crime lab or database from which to start. All he had, was a vaguely familiar dead man, a high-powered murder weapon, and a nearly frozen partner.
"If I were you I'd get into the lodge and stay there, this storm is nearing a white-out!"
Eddie was shouting above the engine as he pulled up in front of the garage. "If this keeps up, whatever you were looking for up there is going to stay buried until spring!"
"I'm going to the aid station first, check up on my friend." Jim replied. They were inside the garage now and Eddie shut the motor off. Jim glanced around out of habit, noting the other two snowmobiles parked there. "Could one of these make it over the slide covering the roads?"
Eddie looked up as he dismounted, "Maybe, depends on the conditions of the snow. But that's irrelevant now."
"That one is out of gas." Eddie pointed to the one Jim and Tom Hanks had used the night of the slide. "And that one, blew a head gasket this morning."
"What about yours? There's gas pumps here."
Eddie shook his head, "They freeze up sometimes. The pumps aren't working right now. That's why Tom couldn't join us up there. His ran out of fuel last night."
Jim nodded then left, pulling his jacket tightly around his neck against the bitterly cold wind as he ran across the parking lot to the aid station. As he opened the door to hurry in he nearly knocked over Dr. Stuart, making her way out.
"Doc, I'm sorry, didn't see you."
"That's okay, Mr. Ellison. I was just on my way over to the lodge. Your friend isn't here, by the way. He's over there, in your room."
Jim motioned for her to come out and shut the door. Together they made their way across the road to the lodge, entering as quickly as they could to escape the storm. "You said Blair's here? Is he okay now?"
She shook off the snow that had accumulated on her head and shoulders even in that brief moment outdoors and shrugged out of her coat. "Yes and no." she replied. "There's no sign of congestion as of yet. And his leg is doing well."
"Well, I would have kept him in the aid station, where we could keep a closer eye on him. But, he was insistent."
"Yeah, he gets that way sometimes."
"So, we struck a deal." They finished shrugging off the snow and proceeded into the lodge, pausing beside the large fire to warm cold hands. "He stays off his leg, and takes his pills, and I let him get out of there and come over here." She rubbed her hands together rapidly. "Really, it's for the better. After what he's been through, staying in that room was doing him no good at all. And I can still keep an eye on him."
"You're going to have to do more than that." Jim replied. At her raised eyebrows he elaborated. "Blair's got this thing about what he calls 'artificial medicine'."
"Meaning, he has most likely dumped every pill you gave him down the drain and is looking for some fungus or something to take instead."
"Ah, Mr. Sandburg prefers a more homeopathic approach to medicine?"
Jim shrugged, making a face. "Mr. Sandburg prefers his own brand of reality."
Dr Stuart smiled, "You know, natural remedies and herbs can't be discounted just because you don't understand or like them. All of today's medicinal practices are based on original, tribal cures. We Westerners are the only society that has taken all tradition and religion out of our medicine and separated the two."
Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm surprised you two haven't been discussing this all day."
"He's been in bed all day. I was just on my way up to check in on him. Care to join me?"
"This I wouldn't miss." Jim indicated for her to proceeded him up the stairs. In bed all day, and taking his pills. This I have got to see.
As he unlocked the door to their room, Jim noticed a strong smell of aftershave lingering just at the entrance. He recognized the smell, one of the guests? But which one? Suddenly concerned he opened the door quickly and rushed inside, startling Blair who was hopping from the desk to the couch.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
The three of them spoke at once. Blair had stopped mid hop and was now reaching out for the back of the couch for balance. Jim noticed both crutches laying discarded on the floor beside the table, where papers were strewn about. Dr. Stuart was standing, hands on hips, staring from Jim to Blair.
"Hey, doc." Blair said grinning sheepishly.
Jim quickly glanced around the room, looking for the source of the aftershave that was even stronger inside.
"I thought I told you straight to bed?" Dr. Stuart stormed across the room to retrieve the crutches from the floor. "And off that leg?"
"Oh, well...I was just..." Blair turned carefully, glancing at Jim for support.
"Told you." Jim replied to Dr Stuart, smiling.
"And I suppose you haven't been taking the antibiotics?"
Blair just shrugged, looking around the room as if in search of a friendly face.
"Don't even start with the mushrooms and wild roots, Chief." Jim interjected. "Just sit down before she hauls your ass back across the street."
Blair obliged quickly, using the crutches that were tossed to him to make his way around the couch and sit down. "Jim, we have got to talk."
"Later. Right now, I think the doc wants a few words with you. And I need a hot shower." He turned away then, hiding the smile on his face from the silent 'don't leave me with her' plea in Blair's eyes.
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