by Kristine Williams
"Jim Ellison, this is Professor Hathaway. He's the supervisor here at the station." Jim took the professor's hand and returned the smile. "Professor, this is Detective Jim Ellison."
"How do you do Professor?"
"Fine, considering. It's Clive, by the way. We don't stand too much on formalities around here." He removed the pipe and nodded to his wife. "You've met Katie?"
"Yes, I have." Jim looked around at the circular view. "This is some place you have here."
"Ah, yes it is. We've been in operation for nearly ten years now. Come, let me show you around."
Jim let the Professor step ahead of him and begin a slow walk around the room, gazing out the windows.
"We were originally set up to study the whale migration through the Straits." He pointed out the window they were walking past, to the water beyond the island. "But, as the funding changed, and new stations were set up in better positions, we were switched over to a more anthropological staging area. There were so many local tribes on these islands. Many of the mainland tribes used these islands as summer vacation spots, just as we do now." They moved on around the room and Jim could see more of the pier and the barge at the end. "But, a few years ago, they found that thing, just sitting out there all this time, waiting for someone to come along and look down." He laughed a little, putting the pipe back in his mouth for a long pull. "Of course, she wasn't expected to be found there, so why would anyone be looking, eh?"
Jim nodded, smiling at the Professor's attitude. "Is that what the students are here for, to study the wreck?"
He nodded, lowering his head sadly. "Yes. This group is from the archeology department. Solely interested in what they can find down there." He sighed heavily. "As I was telling the Inspector, each of them is a certified diver. That's required for them to come up here, unless they just want to catalog findings and coordinate the search. But Ms Cummings was certified. She was up here last summer, for the first time, and was diving even then." He paused and Jim stopped, waiting. "Yes, this accident has hit us all pretty hard."
"What exactly happened?"
"Hum? Oh, yes, let me see. I wasn't down there, but her diving partner, Kenny Pritchard was with her. That was tragic. The two of them were, what is it they say these days? An item? Anyway, they simply stayed down too long, and Ms Cummings ran out of air." He made a clucking sound with his tongue and re-lit the pipe. "Shame, really. These accidents are so avoidable if they would just remember their diving rules and pay closer attention."
Jim nodded, glancing back at Tim, who was busy talking to Katie Hathaway. "Was there an autopsy?"
"Hum? Well, my wife performed a preliminary exam. But, since there were so many witnesses, and they had tried so hard to revive her down on the pier, there really wasn't any need to desecrate the poor girl's body. Unless her parents request one. But I'm sure they can do that after she's back in the States." He pulled on the pipe, trying to keep the tobacco lit. "I understand the University sent Blair Sandburg down to collect her?"
"Yes." Jim replied, looking back out the windows. He could see a small boat approaching from across the channel and was about to comment on it when he realized it would still be too far out for anyone but him to see. "The students who were down on the pier, are they all here now?"
"Yes. Well, no, not right now. Two of the students are here, but they weren't diving that day. I'm not sure exactly where they are...oh, most likely out on the barge, working on the equipment. The other three went to the mainland together for a coffin. They didn't want their friend going back in that old metal thing. Can't say as I blame them. The boat should be back soon, if you'd like to talk with them. I'm having trouble getting the regular float plane to come out this week, what with the holiday, and the fog we've been having lately. I'm afraid we'll all be stuck with each other for a few days."
"It'll take a while to get things squared away, so we can take her home anyway." Just then Jim saw Blair walking out across the island, behind the building. "How big is this island, anyway?"
"Oh, not big at all. The center is situated on the only flat ground there is. Then, off behind us is some rocky area, with several trees, as you can see. Lots of places for these students to get away if they feel the need. Some of them even like to sleep in tents, out and about the area." The Professor was looking outside as he pointed, and he, too, noticed Blair. "Ah, Blair Sandburg. I haven't seen him in a while. Archeology isn't his field, you see. But he used to like to come up here to relax, and we'd chat for hours about the natives. He hasn't been up for nearly a year." He sighed. "This must be hard for him. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that he and Ms Cummings had a history."
"Yes, they did." Jim replied, watching Blair walk into the woods at the south end of the island. "If you'll excuse me, Professor."
"Clive." he corrected, reaching into his pocket for another match.
"Clive. If you'll excuse me. It was nice meeting you."
He nodded, striking the match. "We'll talk again. It's a small building."
Jim smiled and walked back to the staircase, noting as he did so that Tim and Katie were gone. He descended the stairs and found them both in the kitchen.
"Jim, my boat's coming in so I'll be pushing off." Tim reached out and shook Jim's hand again. "I'll do my best with the paperwork, but I can't promise anything before Tuesday."
"That's fine, Tim. Thanks for your help. We'll be here." He slapped his friend on the back as he turned for the door, "Oh, hey, congratulations on the promotion, Inspector."
"Ha. Long time coming, my friend. We may be a bit different up here, but even Canadians get promoted."
Jim laughed and watched him leave, then turned to Katie who was standing beside him, holding out two steaming cups. "Fresh and hot," she said, handing him the cups of coffee. "He went out that way. There's sort of a trail that takes you right to the edge. There's a great rocky spot there that's perfect for just thinking."
Jim smiled, nodding. "Thanks."
He found the trail, such as it was, and followed it into the sparse tree line, then out to the rock he could see Blair sitting on. There was a second rock, just behind him and slightly lower, and Jim sat on that, handing Blair a cup.
Blair glanced behind him for just a moment, accepting the cup, then turned back to stare out at the surf crashing against the rocks twenty feet below.
They sat for a few minutes in silence. Jim knew his friend was having trouble dealing with Emily's death, it was natural. But it seemed to be closing him up, and that wasn't good. Jim had been through the grief process enough to know, if you didn't open up, it would tear you apart. He wasn't going to let Blair get that far. "The boat is in. Tim's gone back to get things started. Should have everything taken care of by Tuesday."
Blair nodded, not looking back. "Thanks, Jim."
He sipped his coffee and looked out at the waves Blair was studying. "This is a beautiful place. It's been a long time since I've come up this far. I'd almost forgotten just how incredible it is." He could hear the boat pulling up at the opposite end of the island. "You want to talk about it?"
"Not really, Jim." Blair looked out over the waves, then at the sky for a second, but wouldn't turn around. "I think I just need to be alone for a while."
Jim sighed, glancing around. This wasn't going to be easy, but it had to be done. "No, Blair, not this time," he said. Blair glanced back at him for a moment and Jim could see the redness of his eyes. "It's not going to just go away, not before you deal with it."
"I don't want to deal with it, Jim. I just want to get past it." He looked back out over the water.
"You're not going to get past it, not like this," Jim said, leaning forward a little. "Listen, until you can bring it out, deal with it, get used to it, it isn't going to go away. It's called grief, and we all go through it the same way. Some of us at a different pace, and different intensity, but it's the same all around. Now, until you can talk to me, or someone, about this, it's not going to go away."
"What about you?" Jim could hear the subtle anger in his friend's voice, but he knew it wasn't an anger directed at him. "If I talk to you about it, are you going to go away?"
Jim was quiet for a moment, letting Blair calm down a little. "No Chief. I'm not going to go away." Was that what had been scaring him all this time? Didn't he realize by now, the two of them were partners? He didn't, did he? Blair still thought Jim was going to end their relationship at any time. This fear had to stop.
Blair turned then and looked him in the eye as if searching for something. He met his gaze and waited, hoping his friend would find what he wanted there. After a moment, Blair turned back to the sea and stared at his coffee mug. "Emily and I were pretty close, for a couple of months anyway. Before Kenny came along. Now she's dead, and I don't...I should feel..." He faltered and Jim remained quiet, waiting. "I should feel something. I do feel something, but it's not enough. Not nearly enough."
Jim waited, watching his friend as he stared at his coffee growing cold. When he didn't continue, Jim took a deep breath, glancing out over the water. "How much is enough?" he asked.
Blair shook his head, "More than I do. Jim, she was...She deserved more. I'm upset, but I'm not as upset as I should be."
"And that's got you upset?"
Blair nodded and Jim could see him trying to gain control. "What does that make me?"
Jim shook his head and moved closer. Setting his cup down on the dirt beside the rock he was sitting on, he put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "It makes you human, Chief. That's all. There's no hard and fast rule, or gauge that tells you how much or how little to feel when someone you know dies. Any more than there's a rule about how much you can feel for a person when they're alive. If you felt more worried and upset about the trip up here, and what it would take to get her back, than you were about her death, that doesn't make you any less human than if you had simply fallen apart back at the loft last night." He paused then, giving Blair's shoulder a squeeze. "It doesn't make you any less of a person either way."
Blair wasn't moving, but he seemed to be listening. They could both hear voices now as the students from the boat approached the back of the building. Jim glanced over and focused on the three entering the lower level from a wide back door, carrying a large wooden coffin inside. He could feel Blair take a deep breath under the hand that was still gripping his shoulder.
"So, I've spilled my guts. You can go away now." he said, gazing out at the waves once again.
"No," Jim replied, retrieving his cup. "I might go inside, get warmed up, but I'm not going away." He stood then and stretched, still trying to ease that kink. "It's going to get stormy again this afternoon. Don't stay out here too long." With that he left, glancing back once to see Blair drinking his coffee, which was no doubt cooling off as fast as Jim's butt had been on that rock.
Jim retraced his steps back to the front of the main level, walking back into the kitchen to deposit his cup. Katie Hathaway was still there, beginning to take various pots and pans out of the cupboards.
She looked up and smiled. "How's he doing?"
"He'll be okay." Jim replied, rinsing out his cup. "These things are never easy."
"No, that's for sure." She stood from her search of the lower cabinet and motioned towards a chair at the nearest table. "Please, sit down. Being the resident den mother here requires at least an hour in the kitchen this time of day. Your Inspector friend left with the boat, and except for my husband, who is too often preoccupied with his findings, I miss some adult conversation."
Jim laughed a little, glancing around for the students he could hear in the basement. "That doesn't surprise me."
She reached into the refrigerator and pulled out several pounds of hamburger. "Oh, now and then we get a grad student up here, like Blair. Someone with more experience and travels under their belt. In fact, my husband and Blair used to spend hours upstairs, just talking. He's quite a well rounded young man. Have you two been friends long?"
"Not long. He's been working as a consultant to the department for several months now, and we share an apartment since his blew up."
"What? His place blew up?"
"Yeah. An unfortunate choice of neighbors." Jim replied, shaking his head. "He was renting out a warehouse, freezing cold, no windows, and the other end was being used as a methamphetamine lab."
"My lord!" Katie was shaking her head in amazement. "How does he end up with such an adventurous life?"
"Good question." Jim was about to give her his theory concerning Blair's adventures when they both heard the three from the basement coming up the staircase. Jim turned to watch. They were led by a tall, blond young man with piercing blue eyes and what Jim decided was a look of wealthy arrogance about him. Two more followed, both young men, each with darker hair, and each one remaining slightly behind the first, glancing at each other when they spotted Jim sitting there.
"Kenny, this is Detective Ellison, from Cascade. He's here with Blair Sandburg to take Emily back."
"Blair Sandburg? He's here instead of Professor Kinyon? I'm surprised he had it in him."
Jim noted the undercurrent of disapproval in the younger man's voice that he was trying to mask as polite concern. He reached out and accepted the hand that was offered. "Professor Kinyon couldn't make it. She asked Blair to come out here on behalf of the University."
"And why are you here, officer?"
Jim didn't like this kid. Not one bit. "I'm a friend of Blair's." he glanced at the other two and Katie stepped forward.
"Ross Edwards, Larry Dike, come meet Detective Ellison." She was waving them forward like a mother urging her shy ones to be polite. "They were with Emily when it happened."
Jim shook each one's hand, taking note of the slight shaking of each one, and the minute sweat that built quickly on their palms. "Which of you was diving with her?"
"That was me," Kenny replied, stepping into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Jim waited, watching him pour way too much milk into the coffee, then turn back to face him, smiling oddly. "We always went down together. I can't believe it happened." He sipped his coffee and the other two joined him there in the kitchen. "I kept telling her we should go back, then when we did, she just ran out of air halfway up." He took another drink and glanced out the windows behind Jim. "I didn't notice she was in trouble until it was too late."
"We tried to resuscitate her." Larry interjected. "But it didn't work. And Ms Hathaway tried too." He stopped suddenly and looked at the floor, eyes darting furtively from Kenny to Jim and back.
"You both went down with full tanks?" Jim asked, staring Kenny in the eyes.
He met the gaze and smiled again. "Yes. But I think her gauge was wrong. You see, these tanks are rented, and we get them traded in every week. I guess one of them just didn't get checked out well at the shop."
Jim heard the doors behind them open, and turned to see Blair coming in. Blair paused for a moment at the doorway, seeing the others standing in the kitchen.
"Blair. I'm surprised you came up here, considering. I would have thought they'd send a Professor, at least. " Kenny had stepped forward before Jim could stand and was now walking across the room, towards Blair. He stopped halfway there and Blair shut the door behind him, walking around the couches and keeping an eye on Jim.
"Kenny." was all he said, glancing at the others and nodding in recognition.
Blair's reaction to Emily's boyfriend and diving partner did much to complete Jim's first assessment of the younger man. He could see the tension build in Blair's face, the hesitation as he entered the room, and his heartbeat increased for a moment. His housemate was always the picture of politeness around others, but his cold reaction to the three now in the room was a slight surprise.
"Listen, dinner will be ready in an hour. Why don't you all go get cleaned up and changed?" Katie took the coffee cup from Blair's hand and put an arm around his shoulder, leaning in to say a few words Jim had to focus to catch. "Just ignore him Blair. He's been that way since he came up last month. Clive is upstairs, he'd love to see you."
Blair glanced at Jim, then shot a quick glance at the three standing now in the living area, watching him. "Thanks Katie." She lowered her arm and Blair left, climbing the stairs to the upper level. Jim watched him go, noting the almost blank look on his face as he looked down one last time, catching Jim's eye for a moment.
"Clive just thinks the world of him." Katie was standing next to Jim now, looking up the stairs. "They once stayed up until sunrise just talking. God knows what about, he never opens up about himself. Just those travels of his." She shook her head and returned to her cooking.
Jim stood and wandered over to Kenny and his friends, sitting now on one of the couches. "How long have you been diving?"
Kenny looked at him a moment before replying, as if he were testing out the answer in his head first. "Up here, about two years. In general, I've been certified for five." he paused and glanced at each of his friends, frowning a little. "If you think I should have been paying closer attention to my partner, you're absolutely correct. I feel terrible about this." he stood then, and was eye to eye with Jim. "And I consider the accident entirely my fault. But, these things do happen, officer."
Jim knew then there was more to this than met the eye. And it was most likely the one meeting his eyes right then that could explain it all. He just nodded, raising his eyebrows for a moment. "Yes, accidents happen. I'd like to have a look at the equipment after dinner."
"It's gone." Ross said suddenly.
Jim saw Kenny's pupils constrict for an instant when he heard Ross, and the almost imperceptible twitch in the corner of his right eye. "Yes, actually the tanks we both used have already been sent back to the dive shop we rent from, to be refilled and tested."
Jim nodded. "Ah."
"But we can still show you around the ship, if you'd like."
"Yes, I think I would." He glanced at each of them for just a second, then turned and walked up the stairs to find Blair and Professor Hathaway.
"Dinner in thirty minutes." Katie called out.
Jim found Blair sitting on a couch at the far end of the room, with his feet up on the table in front of him, talking to Professor Hathaway who sat in a chair facing him. The Professor saw Jim and waved him over.
"Detective, please join us." He stood and walked quickly over to a cabinet. "Can I get you a beer?"
Jim smiled, taking a seat in the chair beside the couch. "Yes, thank you."
Blair was smiling slightly, watching the Professor. "He thinks he's got this perfect stash in there." he nodded towards the cabinet the Professor was digging around in. "There's a little refrigerator built in back there, with a combination lock," he explained, raising his voice ever so slightly for the Professor's benefit. "And he thinks no one knows the combination."
"Now hush. You're going to give away all of my secrets." He pulled himself back out of the cabinet and handed Jim the beer he had produced, returning to the chair. "This one, he thinks he's so clever, finding out the combination to my refrigerator, and then the ice cream. Does he give you this much trouble Detective?"
"Yes, in fact he does. And it's Jim." He laughed at the dirty look Blair gave him then, glad to see at least a little spark in his eyes again. "So, what secrets can you tell me about him?"
Clive laughed and Blair rolled his eyes. "Well, about his exploits here, plenty. About him, not much. Our mutual friend here loves to live, and experience, and learn, but talk? Ha. Oh, he's a great one if you are interested in various cultures, living habits, and cooking. But try to get personal and he's a clam."
Jim glanced at his friend knowingly. Blair was grinning and shaking his head back and forth slowly, then he saw Jim watching him and he stopped. "The man exaggerates," he said.
"I think he's got you down pat," Jim replied. He turned to Clive, effectively turning his back on Blair. "So, Clive, what's your take on him?"
"Oh come on. I didn't come up here so you two could compare notes." Blair stopped suddenly and looked away, taking a long drink of his beer.
"No, of course you didn't." Clive replied, then looked at Jim. "After the kids go to bed, we'll talk." he said, conspiratorially.
Blair opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted by Katie calling from below. "Dinner in five everyone!"
"Come on, if we don't get there in time, we'll be fighting for scraps." Clive stood and drained the last of his beer.
Jim stood and looked down at Blair. "Go ahead." Blair said. "I'm not very hungry. I think I'll just hang out here for a while."
"Okay Chief. How about a tour of this place later?" He'd come out of it, in time.
Blair nodded and Jim turned to follow Clive. "Hey Jim."
"Um, I just wanted to say...thanks for earlier."
"No problem Chief." Jim smiled down at his friend, then walked to the stairs and followed Clive down to the kitchen. Sitting around the second table Jim noticed two more students, both women, that he hadn't seen before. Katie introduced them as Amy Daniels and Lucy Evans, two archeology students who ran the remote excavation equipment and catalogued the findings. Neither one was a diver, and neither one had been on the pier that day. Jim watched them during dinner, all of them. He, Katie and Clive were the sole occupants of their table, with all five students sitting together across from them. It wouldn't have taken a policeman's powers of observation to see the hierarchy that had developed at that table. Kenny Pritchard commanded the conversation, with Larry and Ross hanging on every word he said. Both Amy and Lucy listened, but only Amy wore a look of bored detachment. Jim studied her for a minute, watching her reactions to Kenny's words. They were discussing the trip to the mainland, shopping for just the right casket for their dear departed friend. Then the subject changed to the wreck and their latest findings. At that point, Amy seemed to lose all interest. Jim wondered if Blair knew these two as well, being from the University as they were. Amy Daniels was very attractive, and closer to Blair's age than the others, as well as his height. She was dainty, with short black hair and perfectly painted red fingernails. Her companion, Lucy, was an exact opposite. Blonde hair almost white, at least as tall as Katie, and most likely even as tall as Jim when she wore heels. Her fingernails were so short, they must have been chewed on several times, and she kept darting her eyes around the room, as if she expected someone to come in the front door.
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