"Numb." Jim replied. He was laying on an exam table in the small clinic of the even smaller town they had been brought to, preparing to have his shoulder wound stitched. After ruining the blades of several cast-cutters, they finally removed the shackle from his right wrist. His burns were treated, the cut on his head bandaged after the doctor expressed her disbelief at the excellent state of such a deep cut.
"Okay, just relax. We'll get you stitched up and you'll be on your way."
Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was finally over. The patrolman had listened to their story on the way to what turned out to be the only town within miles of where they ended up. It was a tiny logging town, nearly deserted in today's economy, and trying to bounce back with tourism based on the plentiful hunting and fishing in the area. Once they arrived at the clinic, and Jim saw Blair sent in to see a doctor, he had called Simon, relaying the past several day's adventure. After his Captain assured them that the CIA had finally contacted them about Brackett's escape, and promised he would send a helicopter for the two of them in the morning, he allowed himself to be examined by the doctor who was now stitching up his shoulder. He had been proud of Blair, and his ability to keep up, fight back, not panic. He'd have to remember to tell him when they were home. The kid thought this was all his fault, but he was wrong. They both were wrong. It wasn't either of their fault. Anymore than it was any victim's fault for being attacked by a madman. He was going to have to discuss this guilt problem with him sometime.
And then there would be that little matter of his range. They'd have to test it, now that he confessed the problem to Blair. In fact, he could just picture his partner, in the room across the hall, planning his laboratory tests, field experiments. And he'd go along. He had to. Blair was right, his fear was based on a lack of understanding. A lack of control. Ignorance about himself and his abilities. He wasn't a comic book super hero. He was a Sentinel. And Blair was his Guide.
"There you go." The doctor finished placing the last piece of tape on his shoulder and stepped back. "You'll have to take it easy for a while, and that bump on your head was very close to a concussion. I recommend you go home and get a few day's rest. But for now, you can stay here. The town's only hotel is being remolded to get ready for tourist season. You can sleep in the room with your friend tonight. Maybe not as comfortable as a hotel, but it's warm and available. "
"Thanks Doc. I think I'll do just that." He got off the exam table slowly and pulled on the sweater the clinic staff had given him. "How's my partner?"
"I believe he's still running a slight fever, but he should be fine after a good night's sleep. He was lucky with that eye, the burns were confined to the area just behind the eye itself ."
"Thank you." He finished easing his arm through the sleeve and pulled the warm sweater down, grateful for the bulk against the chill the water had left.
"Hey Chief, how you doing?" He entered Blair's room, noting the bandage above his eye. "How's the eye?"
"It's okay. Thanks Jim." Blair was in bed, blankets pulled up for warmth, and an IV in one arm. "What about you?"
"I'm fine. Just a flesh wound."
Blair rolled his eyes. "You cops. You think a flesh wound is anything that didn't kill you."
Jim laughed, crossing the room to sit on the room's other bed. "I called Simon. He assured me the CIA had not let Brackett out. Apparently they called to inform us of his escape just yesterday."
"And you believe them?"
"Nope. But that's the CIA. Anyway, he's gone. That waterfall is a forty foot drop into deep water. They say it takes about two fishermen almost every year. They get swept away farther up, and most don't get out. Don't worry Chief, it's over."
Blair sighed, nodding. There was a short knock on the door and the officer who had brought them into town entered.
"Excuse me, Detective. I thought you'd like to know, they've found a body. It's downstairs, in the morgue right now." Jim stood, "If you'd like to follow me, maybe you could identify the man as the one you said was with you?"
"Lead the way." Jim glanced at Blair, then followed the officer out of the room.
"We found it just a few miles downstream, caught up on some logs." The officer led Jim to the end of the hallway, then they entered a staircase. "It's typical for victims of the falls to get so bogged down, that they don't come to the surface for several months. Some of them never get recovered at all." They walked down the one flight to the basement of the clinic. "Most of the one's we do find, have managed to get stuck on a rock, or log or something. Like this one."
"Could you tell how long he had been in?" Jim followed the officer into the tiny morgue.
"I'd say no more than a day. It's hard to tell sometimes, though, with the water being as cold as it is this time of year." He approached the body lying on the slab in the middle of the room and pulled back the sheet.
Jim stood for a moment, staring at the face of the dead man. "That's not Brackett." It's not over. The patrolman nodded and pushed the cover back over the body. "Could be a fishermen. Like I said, this happens now and again. You're sure you saw this guy go over?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Jim left the small cold room and walked back towards the stairs. "You say some of them don't come up right away?"
"That's a fact. He could be farther downstream, or just hung up under the surface. Hard to say. I've got a small group of volunteers I can get to start looking down the river. There's maybe three or four common areas for the body's to come up. We'll have a look in the morning."
Jim was outside the room now and he stopped, rubbing his tired eyes. "I've got a chopper coming in tomorrow, we'll go back up the river, see if we can find any sign of him."
"Okay. I'll get that group together and meet you in the morning then."
Jim said goodbye, then went back into the room. Blair was asleep, for that he was grateful. Telling his partner that the body hadn't been Brackett was not something he wanted to do. There was still a chance, a good chance, that Brackett was dead. He had seen him go over the falls just as he was pulling himself up. He walked over to the second bed and sat down, pulling a blanket over himself. He had been tired, and thinking this ordeal was over, had allowed sleep to enter his mind. But now, if their hunter wasn't dead...he'd just relax for a while. Blair was sleeping soundly, his wounds cleaned and bandaged, as were his own. Jim leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes, keeping his hearing on high enough to alert him to any footsteps that neared their door.
When that gun had gone off, just an instant before the bullet hit his shoulder, Jim had seen Blair flinch. Brackett had been holding the gun to his partner's head, too far away for Jim to make a grab. And for a terrified moment, Jim assumed he had just shot Blair. Then, when he came to, and realized Blair wasn't anywhere near, he knew the game wasn't over. Brackett was too good not to have known he hadn't killed Jim. And instead of shooting Blair, he had taken him. To a man like Lee Brackett, the game was never over. Jim was finally able to hear clearly with no more white noise generators to block his senses. Tracking Brackett was easier then. He realized, when he saw Blair running for the river, that Brackett must have convinced him Jim was dead, and he was soon to follow. Shouting for Blair had tipped him off to Brackett sooner than he wanted, but he had to stop his friend from going into the river. Then Brackett had taken all three of them in anyway. He felt Blair going over the edge with him, but his hold on Jim's shirt was broken when they hit the water. When he came up, all he could see was Brackett. They were still fighting over the gun that they both somehow still held on to. When the first big rock forced them both under in a swirl of white water, he lost his hold of the gun and blindly reached out for Brackett. They struggled together all the way down the river, until Jim heard the falls. He had pushed Brackett away so he could snag a rock, then reached out to stop the man from going over. He had been too late. Brackett went under once more, and Jim never saw him again.
He was remembering the sight of Brackett going under the water when he heard the footsteps. Only they weren't approaching the room, they were in the room. Jim woke suddenly, realizing he had been asleep, and looked over at an empty bed. "Sandburg!" He threw the blanket off and jumped out of bed, reeling slightly with the dizzy spell that struck the instant he stood. "Sandburg!"
"Jim, I'm right here." Blair was stepping out of the bathroom, still pulling on a sweater. "Sorry, you were asleep."
Jim sighed, and the dizzy spell passed. "You scared me, Chief." He walked past his friend and entered the bathroom. "That wasn't Brackett's body they found last night."
Jim used the bathroom, then opened the door while he washed his face. "It wasn't Brackett. Just some fisherman or something. Don't worry. His body is probably just farther downstream, or hung up at the bottom."
Blair was standing right next to the open door. "Don't worry? Is that why you panicked when you woke up? Because there's nothing to worry about?"
Jim found a towel and dried his face off, gingerly patting the area around his bandaged forehead. "Simon will be here soon, then we can go look around. I did see him go over, Chief. But to make us both feel better, we'll check for any sign of him up above." He came out of the bathroom and glanced at the clock on the wall. "The officer who brought us in said he's got a group of men who can check downstream for the body. We'll take the chopper and go back up, see if maybe he snagged somewhere just before going over." He knew Blair wouldn't feel better until they had a body. He would prefer to be able to close this chapter for good, himself, but would settle for what he had seen.
Blair was shaking his head, but didn't say anything. Jim heard the helicopter approaching. "Simon's here. Come on Chief." He put a hand on Blair's shoulder and pushed him ahead, down the hall. As they neared the door to the parking lot, Simon entered.
"Jim, you two look like hell."
"Thanks Simon, that's about how we feel." He glanced at Blair, then outside. "We can't find Brackett's body."
"I thought you said he went over the falls?"
Jim nodded, then indicated that they should go outside. "I did. The locals are checking downstream for him. I thought we could go back up, maybe have a look around." They were at the waiting helicopter now and Jim opened the back door, urging Blair inside, then he turned back to Simon. "If he's alive, he'd have to be up there, and we should be able to find some sign of him having left the river. " Simon nodded, then went around to the other side, climbing into the front seat. Blair had strapped in, and was donning a headset. Jim did the same as Simon instructed the pilot to take them up.
They flew back up and over the water fall, then in a circular pattern around the river, each of them scanning for any sign of Brackett. Jim searched the bank at either side where he had last seen him, but could make out no foot prints, or sign that anyone had been there other than the ones he identified as his own, and farther up stream, Blair's. The pilot widened the circle, then followed the river farther up. Still no sign.
"What about that?" Simon was pointing up the hill, to the cabin just visible from their height.
"It's a hunter's cabin. Blair and I spent the night in it during the storm. I don't see any sign of him." Jim was focused on the cabin and the surrounding area.
"Hunter's cabin huh? Man, that brings back memories." Simon said, smiling back at Jim. "My grandfather used to have one. He'd to up for weeks at a time, hunting grizzly back when it was legal."
Jim glanced at Blair, who was raising his eyebrows and looking back at Jim. "I don't think there are any grizzlies up here anymore Simon."
"Are you sure? They haven't been hunted in years, I thought there were still a few around?"
"No, Jim's right Simon. There haven't been any grizzlies up here for a long time." Blair replied.
"Well, I don't see any sign of Brackett either." Simon shook his head and turned to the pilot. "Take us back."
When they landed back in town, there were cars and men everywhere, as well as three more helicopters circling above. No sooner had they touched down than a man in a suit rushed over, waving them to come out.
"I think the cavalry just came." Simon replied, glancing at Jim as they prepared to exit the chopper.
Jim looked back, making sure Blair was coming, then followed Simon as they moved away from the noise of the helicopter, over to where the man in the dark suit was now waiting.
"Captain Banks? I'm Special Agent Jefferies. I called you the other day about Lee Brackett's escape."
Jim watched as Simon shook the agent's hand. "This is Detective Ellison, and his partner Blair Sandburg." They each shook hands, then Agent Jefferies looked back to Simon.
"We're taking over the search, Captain. You and your men can go back to Cascade. If Brackett is out here, we'll find him."
"How'd he get out in the first place?" Jim asked, ignoring the look the agent flashed him.
"Look, Detective, I understand your concern. But I can assure you, Lee Brackett was not released. He killed three of my men escaping last month. Broke out during a routine transfer, stole several vials of a top secret interrogation drug, and disappeared."
"He was out for a month, and you didn't inform us?"
"This is not a local police matter, Detective." Agent Jefferies dismissed them both with a nod of his head, then turned back to Simon. "Thank you for your cooperation in this matter Captain. We can take it from here." With that he turned, and walked back to the waiting group of men behind him.
"So that's it? Thank you very much and goodbye?" Blair asked, looking up at Jim.
He sighed, glancing back at Jefferies. "That's it, Chief."
"Come on, let's go home." Simon put a hand on Jim's shoulder and guided him back towards their waiting chopper.
Jim nodded and reached out a hand to snag Blair's sweater, pulling him along. "Come on Chief, it's over." They climbed back inside the helicopter and Jim put the headset back on. Blair set his aside and just looked out the window as the copter lifted off. They could see men on either side of the river, panning out and walking slowly, searching. If Brackett was dead, they would find him. If he was alive, they would most likely find him, eventually. Jim glanced at Blair. They'd have to talk about this when they got home. What he had been through, what they had both just been through, hadn't been easy. But they were alive. He and his partner were both alive. Blair had handled himself well up there, better than he would have just a few months ago. His friend was changing all the time, growing, learning. And so was he. It was time for him to learn more about himself, more about his senses. When they got back, he knew he was in for some of Blair's favorite tests. But he was ready now. Ready to understand just how he had changed since Peru. Ready to find out what his range was, what his abilities were.
He was ready to go home.
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