Blair paused before knocking on the door in front of him. Polite society demanded he follow through, but congratulating a man who won a grant you had once counted on.....well humility wasn't one of his strong points. But there was always room for improvement. He took a deep breath and knocked, half hoping Professor Wilson was out.
He composed his face and turned the knob, stepping into the spacious, and way too tidy office. "Professor Wilson. I heard..."
"That the grant came through today, no doubt?" Professor Wilson was standing behind his desk, notebooks in each hand and a stern look on his chiseled face.
Blair nodded, approaching the desk. He felt like a school boy stepping up to accept his punishment. Wilson always made him feel like that. The man was in his fifties, and wore his glasses halfway down his nose, which just added to the appearance of a man looking down at anyone and everyone he spoke to, height not withstanding.
"I just wanted to congratulate you. I know how hard you worked for this." Blair offered a hand, but Wilson simply picked up some files, nodding. "Yeah, well...it's an incredible opportunity and I.."
"Yes, yes. Thank you. Experience always prevails, Mr. Sandburg. Ms Fisher, where are the maps? I can't find the maps. I've asked you time and again to keep them right here." Wilson had turned to face his research assistant, dismissing Blair with a wave of a file-filled hand.
Blair raised his eyebrows, glancing at the research assistant standing in the far corner of the room. She smiled up at him for a moment, then turned to Professor Wilson.
"I've got them in my pack, Professor. It's out in the car, I'll be right back." She glanced again at Blair and motioned towards the door with her head.
Blair nodded and turned to leave, giving Professor Wilson one last look. He was sitting down behind the desk, completely oblivious of his visitor. For a moment, he thought of Simon and the way he so easily dismissed most of what Blair suggested. Usually Jim was with him, and he felt less alone in his rejection. This time he was in his own element, and he couldn't help but wish Jim was there.
Kathy Fisher set down her paperwork and walked out into the hall, motioning for Blair to follow. She closed the door behind them quickly and started walking slowly down the hall.
"Sorry about that. He's been more of a jerk than usual since that grant came through."
Blair nodded, following her down the corridor. "Yeah, well, I guess he's got a lot on his mind." He never could understand her reasons for leaving him, and researching for Wilson. Kathy was young, attractive, and had a bright future ahead of her. They'd had a brief relationship during her work for Blair, but it was destined to fail. And had, right about the time she decided to work for Wilson, instead. She was taller than Blair, with legs that could still distract him and long, black hair.
She stopped in front of the door that led to the basement and Blair's office, leaning against the wall. "That grant should have been yours."
Blair rolled his eyes and looked down for a moment. He hadn't told anyone his reasons for turning down the trip with Dr Stoddard to Borneo. And this grant was appointed months ago, before that offer. He had known for some time he hadn't gotten it, and he was now glad. Of course, being passed up for the grant was still a blow to his ego. And admitting he no longer wanted it would just sound like a copout. "You'll be going with him, right? That should give you some of the credit you deserve."
"Ha. Credit? With Dr Wilson, there is no credit, no respect. Just work." She snorted, shaking her head. "If it wasn't for the research, and the experience, I wouldn't go."
"Why? I know he hogs all the credit for anything and everything, but this kind of opportunity can't be passed up. It's really an honor to be a part of this."
"I know. I know." She sighed. "He could have asked you."
Blair shook his head emphatically.
"Why not? I've never understood how you could pass up the trip with Dr Stoddard to Borneo. If he had asked me, I would have been packed and ready in an hour."
Blair looked around for a moment, trying to form a response. "It just wasn't a good time for me. My own research would have been put on hold, and this friend...well he needed me then and I..."
"Oh God, I'd better get those maps." She glanced down the hall towards Professor Wilson's door. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Sure, okay." Blair watched her leave then turned and walked down the stairs to his own office. He wasn't sure what he had expected from Wilson. Maybe a 'thanks, sorry again you didn't get it' would have been nice. He felt sorry for Kathy. She was going to have a rough time with Wilson in the jungle for a year. He was hard to take for an hour. Kathy had been Wilson's assistant now for more than eight months, longer than she ever was for Blair. Of course, Professor Wilson's research was more widely published, and accepted. Which is why he got the grant. Sentinel abilities in modern day man just wasn't a popular idea. Studying the effects of the changing environment on native cultures was. Never mind the case studies he had already catalogued. Never mind that he had a real, living, breathing Sentinel with him every day. Sometimes he worried Jim would never let him publish his findings about his abilities. But then, sometimes he was more interested in just being there, studying him, than in publishing his findings. He was learning something new about his friend almost every day. If he was to publish, it would mean he had learned all there was to know, that he was finished. More and more Blair felt he would never learn everything. And he was beginning to hope he would never have to call it finished. Then why am I so depressed?
As he opened the door he heard the phone ringing at the far end of the office. He ran, tripping over some files that were still on the floor from the night before and made a grab,
"Hey, Chief. You up for dinner?" Jim asked.
Blair rubbed his face, thinking for a moment. "Not really. I'm not very hungry."
There was a pause at the other end of the line, "What's that sound?"
"What? I don't hear anything."
"I hear a humming, or something. Must be a bad line. So, what's up?"
"Nothing. I just had a bad day, that's all. I've got finals to grade before the morning. How about a rain check?"
"Okay, sure. I'll be home in an hour, can I bring you anything?"
Blair smiled. Always looking out for me. "No, man, thanks. I'm fine. Just one of those days, you know? I'll be home later." He pushed his hair back, trying to push Wilson's face out of his mind. "Did I miss anything today?"
"Oh yeah. Big stuff. Lots of gunfire, dangerous women, conspiracy, intrigue. Big goings on."
Blair laughed a little. "Paperwork?"
"Yep. Playing catch up here. I was going to save it for you, but it's been a slow day." He heard Jim speak quickly to someone else. "Listen, Chief, I've gotta go. I'll bring home Chinese. No MSG."
"Sure. Okay." Blair hung up, shaking his head. Now on top of his depression he began to feel guilty. He had never told Jim about the research grant he had lost. When Dr Stoddard invited him to Borneo, as much as he had wanted to go, he had also wanted to stay with Jim. In his initial excitement at being asked, he hadn't thought of Jim's feelings at all. But then, at the time, he still hadn't believed Jim thought of him as a friend. He'd been feeling in the way more often than not and had still been learning how to be around Jim. When Jim told him to go, even after Blair explained how long it would mean, he'd been surprised at his own reaction. Deep inside he'd been hoping Jim would insist he stay. And when he hadn't, Blair's hopes had fallen through the floor.
But there was Borneo. The research possibilities he had turned down still boggled his mind. How could someone want two completely opposite things so much? What would his life be like, right now, if he had gone to Borneo instead? Would Jim still be using his Sentinel senses? Or would he have ignored his Spirit Guide in the jungle and let the gift disappear? There were times when Blair wanted to take credit for Jim's success in the jungle, not losing his special senses altogether because he didn't understand what was happening. But then, he would have figured it out without him, wouldn't he? He was making too much of this, and he knew it.
"Okay, just deal with it and move on." Blair glanced around his office for a moment, trying to get his mind back on track. He had finals to grade and post before the next morning and he hadn't even started them yet. Finding the right stack of paper, he sat down, put his glasses on, and opened the first one with a determined shake of his head.
By the time he finished the last paper, it was dark outside. He checked the clock above the door. Nine o'clock. Three hours had passed since he spoke to Jim on the phone. Good, that's three hours of not thinking about Wilson. And that made him realize he had just thought of Wilson again. "God, get over it Sandburg." He tossed the stack of graded papers in his out box where the Unit Secretary would find them and grabbed his coat. Jim would be wondering about him if he wasn't home soon. He hurried up the stairs, unconsciously glancing down the hallway at the top, towards Wilson's office. He noticed the light shining out from under the door but didn't make a move towards it. A little voice inside was urging him to go have a talk with the Professor, get these stupid feelings of hostility towards each other out in the open and clear the air. But then a louder voice, Jim's voice, came to his mind and he continued on to the parking lot.
The Corvair started on the first try and he pulled out of the now deserted parking lot, turning left onto the main road. He was still not sure of his car's reliability, and he kept to the main, well-lit roads now. Jim had bought him a cell phone a few months ago and he kept it in the car. Five miles down the road, as the Corvair coughed and died, he was again grateful for the foresight of his Blessed Protector.
"Jim. Hey man, I'm stuck."
"Where have you been? I started calling your office an hour ago."
Blair thought for a moment. He had been concentrating on the papers, but... "I just left there ten minutes ago. I swear, the phone didn't ring while I was there. I haven't been anywhere else."
"Where are you now?"
"At the corner of Sixteenth and Chester. The car broke down again. Can you come?"
He heard Jim sigh. "Yeah, sure. I'll be right there. Just lock the doors and wait for me, okay?"
"Okay." Blair was too embarrassed to admit that was exactly what he'd been planning to do.
"We've got to do something about that car of yours." Jim said. "I'm on my way."
Blair waited until he heard Jim break the connection before hanging up. He checked both doors to make sure they were locked, then sat back, pulling his coat up around him for warmth against the cold rainy evening. He was just losing the last residue of warmth from the stalled car's heater when he recognized Jim's truck pulling up in front of him. He unlocked the door and climbed out.
"I'm sorry man, I was going to take it in to the shop, but things just kept coming up."
Jim was digging his hands into his pockets against the cold rain that was falling with even more intensity. "Same as before?"
Blair paused, not sure which incident Jim was referring to. "It just stalled out. I can't get it going again." Jim reached in through the front door and popped the hood release. "Can't we just leave it here? It's cold." Blair was bouncing on his heels now, trying to generate some body heat. He didn't mind the rain, but lately he hated to be cold.
"You'll get a ticket if we leave it here, Chief." Jim lifted the hood and peered around with his small flashlight. After a minute of looking he reached inside and jiggled some wires. "Try it now."
Blair hurried into the car and turned the key. Nothing.
"Okay, try it now!" Jim had to raise his voice against the downpour.
Blair turned the key, crossing his fingers as he did. After a moment's coughing the car started. "Yes!"
"Now, don't take your foot off the gas." Jim dropped the hood down. "Follow me and stay close. If it dies again, honk."
Blair nodded, pulling the door closed. He had to wait for Jim to get into the truck and start it up again before he could pull away from the curb. All the while he kept one foot on the gas and one on the brake. Luckily he was just pulling into his usual spot behind the loft when it stalled out and died again. Blair got out, pulled his pack from the passenger seat, and slammed the door closed. It was pouring rain and he had to run around the block to get to the front of the building. Jim was waiting for him under the eaves.
"Tomorrow that thing's going in to the shop." Jim chided as Blair ducked in under the eaves.
"I know, I know." Blair pulled his soaking wet hair away from his face, urging Jim to open the door and let them both get into the building, out of the rain. "I'm sorry about this."
Jim led the way down the hallway and up the stairs to their front door, shaking water off his jacket as he removed it.
Blair stood back, trying to avoid the additional shower from his friend's coat as he waited for the door to open. He was going to protest, but it was his fault Jim had to go out in this weather. "This is just the perfect topper to the worst day." he said, following Jim into the apartment.
"What was so terrible about today?" Jim asked, hanging his coat on a peg by the door. Before Blair could answer Jim reached out for his coat. "You're dripping."
Blair removed his coat and handed it over. He was about to gather up his soaking hair and ring it out, then remembered the scolding he had received the last time. As he turned to go get a towel from the bathroom, the phone rang.
"There's Chinese in the fridge." Jim said as he reached for the phone.
Blair nodded but just stood there in the living room, wondering what he felt like doing. His hair was dripping down his back but he didn't care so much all of a sudden. He wasn't hungry. He could go to bed and try to forget the day, or he could talk to Jim. He really wanted to talk, to let Jim know all about the grant, the fact that he had applied for it well before they had become friends. He wanted Jim to understand that even though he didn't want to leave, he was still upset about not winning it. Jim would understand. He always did. And he could probably explain to him how he had made the right decision by staying with the Sentinel research. He knew, deep down, he was right where he belonged. Standing there in Jim's apartment, was right where he belonged. He just wanted to hear it out loud.
"Grab your coat, Chief." Jim hung up the phone and Blair realized he had missed the conversation.
"What's up?" He caught his jacket as Jim tossed it over, pulling on the wet leather with a grimace.
been a murder." Jim put his coat on and automatically checked his hip for the
service revolver kept there. "At the University."
In his mental fog, Blair hadn't made the connection until they pulled up in front of the Anthropology building at his own University. His blood ran cold for a moment, thinking of the various people he knew there.
"If you want to wait here..." Jim shut the driver's side door and looked over at Blair.
"No, Jim. I'm coming with you." Blair urged Jim to go first then followed closely. Murder? Maybe a theft in the Computer Lab in the next building. But murder? Here? He tried not to worry as Jim led them into his own building and down the hall. He could see several uniformed officers standing halfway down the corridor, speaking with a young woman. As they approached he recognized her.
"Kathy? What's going on?"
"That's him. That's Blair Sandburg." She said, pointing to him as they stepped closer.
Blair looked questioningly from her, to Jim, and back.
Jim pulled his ID out and showed the officers. "What have we got here?"
"A Professor Wilson. DOA." One officer replied, nodding towards the office behind him.
"What!?" Blair looked into the room, then back to Kathy. "What happened?"
Kathy looked at him then, the strangest expression on her face. For a moment, Blair didn't understand what she was trying to convey. Then she shook her head and moved away, standing farther behind the uniformed officer she had been speaking to.
Blair raised his eyebrows and was going to step forward to speak with her when Jim grabbed his arm, gently pulling him into the office. "Hang on a minute Chief. Let's see what we've got here."
Blair looked at him, confused. Then he noticed Professor Wilson, lying on the floor in front of his desk.
"My God." He stopped, staring at the body of the man he had spent the better part of the day angry with. "Jim, I know this guy."
Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Why don't you stay here?" he said as he proceeded to the body.
Blair didn't protest. He couldn't move. Seeing dead bodies was never going to get easy for him, he knew that. But seeing someone he knew, had just been talking to. And Kathy. He turned to look back out the door. She was still standing there with the officers, speaking occasionally, and glancing at him with that same expression. Blair still couldn't grasp what she was thinking, or trying to convey. He swore he saw something in her eyes other than shock and fear. He should talk to her, but he was torn now between being an anthropologist and being a Guide to Jim, who was now kneeling over Wilson's body.
"Detective, I'm Officer Kelly. My partner and I were first on the scene." Blair turned to see an officer standing next to Jim. He still felt disconnected, but he forced himself to move closer, at least so he could hear what was being said.
"Okay, let me have what you've got so far." Jim said, looking at Blair for just a moment.
The officer flipped open his notepad. "CenCom got a call from a Ms Fisher. She found the body at approximately 9:15 p.m." Blair glanced back at Kathy in the hallway, still standing with one of the officers. The other had left, but Blair didn't see where. "Apparently she's his research assistant. They were working on something late tonight. She says she stepped out for some dinner, and came back to this."
Jim was examining the body more closely and Blair had to look away. As much as he didn't like Wilson, he couldn't stand the thought of him lying dead, right there in the middle of the room, with strange people poking and probing his now lifeless body.
"Looks like a knife wound." Jim was saying. "Or several. This is pretty big for just a knife."
"That's what I thought." Officer Kelly agreed, leaning in for a closer look. "More like a sword, or something that large, at least."
Blair tried to look, but he couldn't. "Hey Jim, I'm gonna..."
Jim turned to him and stood up. "Why don't you wait in the car? Or go down to your office, okay?"
Blair nodded. He wanted to stay, and help. But he couldn't. This one was too close to home. He started for the door, intending to step out into the hall, talk to Kathy, find out what the hell happened, when the second officer he had seen with her returned. Blair recognized the object in his hands immediately.
"Blair Sandburg?" The officer and his partner both stepped into the room.
Blair turned to Jim before answering. "Yes. Where did you get that?" He pointed to the Mobutu spear in the officer's hands. The spear that he had kept on his wall above the desk for the past year. The spear that he had been given while visiting the Mobutu people. The spear that was now being held by hands covered in plastic gloves. Then his eyes fixated on the blood, still wet on the tip.
"What the hell?" Blair had instinctively reached out for his spear, then pulled back when he saw the blood.
"Is this yours, Mr Sandburg?"
"Jim?" Blair turned to Jim who now stood beside him. He numbly realized that had been the murder weapon. His own spear, from his own office. He didn't understand the implications, not right away.
"What's this? Where did you find it?" Jim examined the spear without touching it.
"In Mr Sandburg's office. I'd lay odds it fits that hole in Professor Wilson's back."
Blair shook his head. This didn't make any sense. Who would kill Wilson? And who would get into his office and take a spear to do it? And then put it back? He was still shaking his head when he realized Jim and the officers were watching him, waiting.
"Jim, I don't understand any of this."
Jim looked around the room again, thinking. "Has Forensics been called?"
"Yes. Should be here soon," The officer holding the spear replied, handing the weapon over to his partner who held out a large, plastic bag to accept the evidence.
"Okay. Let me know when they get here. I'll be downstairs in Mr Sandburg's office."
"Jim?" Blair still didn't understand, or want to understand, what was happening. Jim just took him by the arm and led him out into the hallway.
"Just come with me, Chief. We'll get this straightened out. Let's just go to your office."
Blair couldn't protest as Jim led him down the corridor. His head was spinning, and he couldn't find Kathy anywhere. "Jim, where's..."
"Come on, Chief." Jim cut him off, but let go of his arm and put his hand on Blair's shoulder, guiding him down the steps.
Once inside his office he glanced about quickly, trying to determine if anything else was amiss. There was blood on the floor and Jim guided him around it to the desk. He could see blood smeared on the wall where the spear usually rested. "God, Jim. What's going on here?"
Jim pushed him gently down into a chair beside the desk and sat on the edge of the desk himself. "I'm not sure yet. So far we've got a dead body, and a murder weapon. Nothing more." His last remark was so strongly punctuated, Blair immediately began to worry.
"Jim, I was just here. I was talking to Professor Wilson this afternoon. He just received a grant award this morning. God, he was alive when I left."
"How do you know that? Did you see him when you left?"
Blair thought for a moment. "No, I saw the light still on in his office. He was getting ready to go to the Amazon basin. He and Kathy--I should talk to her, she was with him." Blair started to stand up, to find Kathy, find out what the hell was going on.
"Wait a minute, Chief. Stay here." Jim put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down into the chair.
"But Jim, she was here. She might have seen something."
"I know, Chief, I know. But right now you need to stay here. Now, tell me exactly what you saw, what you did tonight."
Blair looked at his friend for a long moment. "Oh, Jim, you don't think that I--I mean, this is just too crazy." Blair made another move to get up. He needed to stand, to move around. Jim's hand was on his shoulder again,
"Would you sit still for just one minute?" Jim pushed him back into the chair for a second time. "Now, just sit there, and tell me everything that happened since we spoke."
Blair took a deep breath, pushing his still-wet hair back with one hand. "Okay, okay. We talked, I dunno what was it, around 6:00?"
"6:15" Jim replied.
"Okay," Blair shook his head, trying to remember. "Nothing. I hung up the phone, and started to grade the finals. They're right over there, in my box. That's all. When I was done, I left. I saw the light still on from under Wilson's door. I left. The car broke down. Jim, this is crazy. If he was killed while I was here, I should have heard something. His office is just right up there." Blair pointed to the ceiling above them. "I can hear them sometimes, dropping books and stuff."
"What about the phone? I tried to call you an hour before you left."
"No, Jim. I swear the phone didn't ring. I was right here."
"Okay, what time did you leave? Was there anyone else in the building who saw you? What about the parking lot?"
Blair thought for a moment, shaking his head. He hadn't seen anyone, not that he remembered. And that meant no one had seen him. But then, if Wilson was murdered around 9 PM, wouldn't Blair have seen someone? Was the spear on the wall that evening? He was beginning to feel a strange sensation forming in the pit of his stomach when a uniformed officer entered, calling for Jim.
Blair watched his friend walk to the door to confer with the officer. Each one of them glanced at Blair from time to time. He wished he had Jim's hearing then. He was fast becoming worried about this whole mess. They thought he had something to do with the murder. That had to be it. But surely Jim didn't. Surely Jim couldn't think him capable of...
"Blair, I need to go upstairs for a minute. Why don't you just stay here, okay?"
"Just sit there and don't touch anything."
Blair nodded again. He was too numb to speak. He
noticed the uniformed officer looking at him and he put both hands under his legs,
more to stop them shaking than to keep from accidentally touching anything that
might be evidence. The officer stayed at the door, watching him, so he turned
away. The blood from the spear was smeared along the wall behind his desk. Some
of it had dripped down to the floor, landing on some papers. Blair turned away,
but that brought his gaze to the floor, and the drops of blood that trailed from
the door to the desk. He looked back at the door, and the officer stared back.
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