by Kristine Williams
He found a change of clothes, and went into the bathroom, closing the door. Even with the water running, Jim could hear Dr. Stuart's raised voice, chiding his friend for not following orders. He stood under the running water for a long time, letting the steam work tired muscles lose. The smell of aftershave was nagging at the back of his mind. Obviously someone in the lodge the other night had been wearing it, but there were always so many smells in a group like that, he did his best to filter them out whenever possible. He closed his eyes, willing his sense of smell to fall into the background, and replaced it with his visual memory. He could see each face from that night, sitting in the lounge just before the avalanche. The mobster, I have got to find a name for him, his girlfriend, the other man with them. Then there was Mrs Kelly, and Mr Evans. They were there, sitting at opposite ends of the couch. Well, that was normal, they didn't know each other. Then Mr Benchly's face flashed across his mind's eye. Only there was something wrong with the vision. He heard the door slam shut from the living room and turned off the water.
"What was that?"
"Just Dr Stuart, leaving." Blair called back. "Jim, we need to talk."
"In a minute, Sandburg. Let me get dressed." Jim was toweling off, gazing at his reflection through the steam on the mirror. He hadn't shaved in two days and was beginning to look a little scruffy, so he set about rectifying the situation. Once cleaned up, and dressed, he joined Blair in the living room.
"What happened to the crutches?" Jim noticed their absence as he entered the room.
"She took them." Blair replied dejectedly. "Something about, what's best for me."
Jim laughed. "And the pills? You tossed them didn't you?"
"No, I didn't toss them. Jim, do you realize that at the base of the evergreens here there's a mushroom...."
Jim held up a hand, "Don't even start with me, Sandburg. You can either take the pills, or I can give them to you." He paused, looking around for the bottle. "If Lash could do it, I think I can." The sudden look of panic that crossed Blair's expressive face made Jim instantly regret that reference. "Hey, I'm sorry." he said, meaning it. Blair just looked at the floor. "Is it that vivid?"
He nodded slowly, swallowing. "Like it happened yesterday."
Jim paused, watching his friend. "You had a rough night. The doctor said delirium is like a drug, sometimes you flash back." Blair was still nodding, looking anywhere but at Jim. "It will pass, okay? It's just a memory. Memories can't hurt us, remember?" Blair looked up then and Jim held his gaze. "Now, what is it we needed to talk about?"
Blair perked up right away, "I had an interesting talk with our mobster this afternoon."
"Yeah, his name is Smyth, and at first I thought that was a little too obvious, but it's true. That Hanks guy brought you the records from the front desk. They're over there." Blair tried to get up but Jim put out a restraining hand.
"I'll get them. When did he bring these by?"
"This morning. I thought he was up on the slope with you, but he was standing outside the door when I came up."
Jim picked up the sheets that were strewn about the writing table and returned to the easy chair beside the couch. "Did he come inside?"
"Never mind. So this Mr Smyth, I suppose you played Detective?"
"Well, sort of. He came up to see how I was doing." Blair replied. Jim was scanning the papers while he spoke. "Jim, that night vision scope he had...he makes those things. He's not a mobster after all."
Jim looked up then, smiling at the disappointment in Blair's voice. "Oh?"
"No, he's in the, as he put it, 'gadget business'. This guy manufactures and sells high tech equipment for just about anyone. You know, the kind of toys you can buy at say, Sharper Image, or the Spy Shop. He's loaded, man. This guy sells to just about everyone, including Cascade P.D."
"Is that right? What about his friends? There's still one missing."
Blair shook his head, "Not friends. His sons. He's married to that VERY young woman, and his two sons follow him everywhere. Probably waiting for him to drop dead or something so they can pounce on the family fortune. Anyway, one of them has the flu. He's been in the room down the hall since lunch that day. I mean, I didn't go check or anything, but I believe this guy."
"Oh you do?"
"Yeah, I do. Jim, he was just checking out the slope with that night site of his to try it out. It was just a coincidence. That's why he came up. He said watching that avalanche really freaked him out, and he just wanted to talk about it. And his wife, well she just met Benchly in the bar to talk business. She's Smyth's manager, believe it or not. I guess she figure Benchly for an accountant or something. Go figure."
Jim was nodding, taking it all in. He figured a real mob boss up there in the snow was too convenient. And having found no trace of a body anywhere near where Eddie said he found the rifle was beginning to worry him. If the killer did survive the avalanche, then he was still there at the lodge, with them. "This still doesn't tell me who Benchly was, that someone would want him dead."
"I've been thinking about that, too."
Jim could see him getting excited again, like he did when he was ready to put Jim through some new Sentinel trial. He replied by simply raising his eyebrows.
"You said he seemed familiar to you, right? Benchly, I mean."
"Yeah...as a matter of fact, that's been bugging me." Jim admitted, thinking about the flash of memory he had in the shower.
"Okay, so maybe you do know who he is. And if so, then you might also know why he would be the target of a murderer."
Jim shook his head, "I've tried. I can't recall this guy other than seeing him on the couch down there by the fire."
Blair moved around on the couch, trying to sit facing Jim instead of sideways with his leg up. "Okay, we're going to have to filter all that out. Just sit back, close your eyes, and picture his face."
Jim reluctantly obliged, not understanding how that was going to help. "Okay. I've got his face. Now what?"
"Now, just filter the rest out. Concentrate on his face only. Filter out the fireplace, the lodge, everything. Okay?"
Jim nodded. He was concentrating on Benchly's face. Slowly the background images began to blur and fade away. "Okay. I've got it, now what?"
"Now, try to pull back visually. See if there's anything around him now, anything other than the lodge. See where he is now."
Jim let his mind's eye follow Blair's voice, pulling back slowly away from Benchly's face. Nothing happened at first. Then, almost imperceptibly, he saw the background change from a blurred image of the fire to something much more recognizable.
"What? What's it Jim? Did it work?"
Jim sat up, "A courtroom. I remember now. It's been a few years, but he was a Federal witness to a money laundering scam. That's where I remember him. I was part of the team keeping him in hiding until the trial. He's lost a lot of weight." Jim paused, remembering. "He should have disappeared years ago, into the witness protection program. His name was Cummins then, I think."
"So, what was he doing here?"
Jim stood then, pacing around the room, trying to fit this information into what little he knew. "Okay, so he went from Cummins to Benchly. And he should have disappeared three years ago."
"What happens when someone changes identity like that? Don't they go to some completely opposite side of the country and start a new life or something?"
Jim nodded, still pacing. "Yes, they do. Unless..."
Blair had to turn around on the couch a few times to follow Jim's pacing. "Unless what?"
"There's always one contact, a Federal Agent in charge of the case that the witness can contact. If something goes wrong, or they get found out. That has to be it." Jim stopped pacing and sat on the arm of the couch. "He must have been here to contact the agent in charge of his case. Maybe for another relocation."
"That would mean...?"
"That means someone did find him. A hit man, most likely. And got him before he made contact with the agent."
"But what was he doing on that slope? There's no way that guy was a skier."
Jim shook his head, "No. He was probably up there to meet his contact. And someone else followed him up." he stood and walked for the door, turning back as he pulled the storage locker key from his pocket. "Stay here, I'll be right back."
"Wait, where are you going?"
"Just stay here." He locked the door behind him, knowing Blair couldn't get very far without the crutches. He was more concerned with someone else coming in than him going out. It was beginning to make some sense. Not much, but some. He took the service elevator down to the basement where the rifle was locked up. Benchly, or Cummins, had been instrumental in bringing down a multi-million dollar drug money operation. There were a lot of highly placed, wealthy crime bosses who would pay dearly to have him eliminated. Informants were always considered unfinished business. He unlocked the storage room and found the rifle right where he had left it. Wrapping it in a towel, he quickly returned to the service elevator. Whoever it was could be working with a partner who knew he found the weapon. But then, with no access to a forensics lab there wasn't much he could do. And once that pass was cleared, he--or she--could disappear.
He made it back to the room without anyone noticing his package. "What are you doing?"
Blair was standing, on one leg, at the table again, apparently looking for something. "Just checking on something. Yeah, here it is." he turned to hop back to the couch and nearly fell. Jim was right there in an instant, grabbing Blair by the arm.
"You're going to break your neck." he chided, easily gliding him over to the couch and forcing him down. "Then what am I going to do?"
Blair looked at him for a moment, a questioning look in his eyes.
"What was so important, anyway?" Jim changed the subject, setting the rifle down on the coffee table.
"This." Blair handed over a sheet Jim had missed in the pile at the writing desk. "It's a map of the ridge. Look at this." he spread out the map on the couch, waving Jim to come closer. "I was wondering why Benchly would have gone up there to meet this agent. Why not down here?"
Jim picked up the map and examined it more closely. "You're thinking someone could go up and over this ridge here, and down the other side?" He followed the markings with a finger, tracing the slight incline that cut through the mountainside just above the top of the ski slope, and angled down the opposite side of the pass. "I think you might be right, Chief. That slide split right down this ridge. That's why it's covered both sides of the pass. If there's another body, it could very well be down the other side."
"The agent? Or the hit man?"
"I think our hit man is smarter than we thought." Jim replied. He picked up the rifle and looked straight down the barrel. He could see markings on the inside, typical of a weapon having discharged. But he couldn't tell how many times it had been fired. "I'm beginning to think the avalanche wasn't a surprise after all. What better way to cover your tracks long enough to get out of the crime area? Only maybe he didn't count on the pass being blocked from both sides."
"What about finger prints?"
He shook his head, "No good. Even if we could lift some, they wouldn't do us any good until we could get back to the station. Then we wouldn't have anything to compare them to."
Blair held up both hands, "Not necessarily Jim. I have an idea." he moved to get up from the couch again and Jim grabbed his shirt.
"Just sit here." he said, pulling Blair back down. "What do you want? I'll get it."
Blair motioned to the writing table, "There's some tape, and a pencil." he answered, sheepishly. "We can lift the prints from the gun. Then we'll need prints from everyone else here."
Jim found a roll of scotch tape and a pencil and returned with them to the couch. "No, no good Chief. Sure we can lift them, but we have no database."
"Ah, but we do." Blair smiled, taking the pencil. "The best kind around."
Jim paused, watching him use his Swiss army knife to make a fine powder from the lead in the pencil. "You mean me?" he shook his head in disbelief. "I may be good. But comparing finger prints?"
"Just humor me, okay? You know how to lift prints, right? I know this is low-tech, but I think it will work."
Jim took the lead dust and a strip of tape and decided to humor his friend. He could lift the prints, but how he was going to compare them he didn't know. And then there was the slight matter of getting prints to make the comparison. Blair had already discounted Mr Smyth and his party. And, Jim had to admit, he was beginning to agree with that assessment. Blair might be prone to exaggeration at times, but he was a good judge of character. Most of the time. Okay, so he let emotion rule his thinking instead of the logical, criminal justice approach Jim preferred. But emotion had its place now and again in making judgment calls.
"There's just one problem, Chief. My finger prints are all over this thing, and so are Tom's. "
"I know, I know. But if this works, we can get a set of your prints, and a set of everyone else here, and start eliminating. Right? I mean, who else is going to have prints on the gun? Anyone who picked it up outside is going to have had gloves on. And just you and Hanks have been handling in inside, right?"
It didn't take long to lift off several good sets of finger prints from the handle and barrel of the gun. When he had finished, Blair took the strips of tape, with Jim's help, over to the window and taped the two good thumb prints he had acquired on the glass, one over the other.
"Okay, now concentrate on the prints. Try to think of it as one of those three-dimensional poster things and see if you can make all the lines melt into one. See if they are the same print."
Jim shook his head, but instead of starting an argument he knew Blair wouldn't let die he obliged.
"Concentrate. Go ahead and let your other senses fade out. Just look at the prints. See if there is any difference in them at all."
Jim stared at the taped prints, concentrating. Slowly everything around him lost clarity as he focused tightly on the thumb prints. They began to take on an almost 3-D appearance as he concentrated. Then, they became one. One perfect print. They were the same. He could see it clearly, as if it was on the computer database screen there in the crime lab instead of taped to a window in a ski lodge.
Blair's voice seemed to come from a great distance as he stared at the prints. He couldn't seem to respond. Then he felt something, barely at first, like his arm was numb.
"Jim, come on snap out of it!"
Blair was shaking his arm and he willed his eyes to close, to stop the tight focus that had zoned out his other senses completely. He shook his head to clear the rest of the image and turned away from the window. "Okay, I'm okay." he said, blinking. "It worked! I can't believe it." He was still a little dizzy from the tight focus, but it had worked! "Man, that was incredible. It just came out at me, almost like it was in three dimensions, like you said. It was clear as day." Jim was still surprised at his accomplishment. "Now we just need to find out whose prints those are."
"Well, I have an idea about that, too." Blair replied.
Blair looked up, surprised. "How did you know? I'm right, aren't I?"
Jim helped Blair back to the couch and sat down, looking at the rifle again. "He had a stopwatch on, when we were up there digging you out." he replied, turning the rifle over as he spoke. "I kept looking at it, trying to determine how long it had been." He set the rifle down. "I didn't think about it then, but he had the avalanche timed. As though he knew exactly when it had started and was ready, with the watch in hand. I just thought he had timed it from when we first started up the slope on the snowmobile. But he was too sure of the time. And that would explain why his snowmobile is out of gas and the others aren't. He could have run up there, killed Benchly, knowing full well it would cause the slide, then high-tailed it down right in front of the fall on that snowmobile "
"Did you know he was the one who authorized the night skiing?"
Blair nodded, "Dr Stuart told me he's new up here. It was his call to allow night skiing. She thought it was odd that he would okay that with the planned avalanche control scheduled. Jim, he could be our man."
"I think you're right, Chief. He was counting on that slide to cover the body until he could get far enough away. He wasn't counting on finding anyone alive who would have remembered Benchly being up there."
"Great, I'm right. But what do we do about it?"
Jim stood and walked back to the front door, trying to pick up the aftershave he had smelled earlier. "Did you notice Mr Smyth wearing any cologne, or aftershave?"
Blair shook his head. "No. You've got something?"
Jim walked slowly around the room, following the scent. He traced it back to each room, then found a stronger concentration near his own suitcase. "I think we had a visitor." he replied, projecting his voice to Blair who remained on the couch. He opened the suitcase and found his service revolver where he had left it. A quick exam showed him an empty clip. Damn. He returned to the living room with the useless gun. "Things just got complicated, Chief."
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