By the time he finished his soup, and made sure Blair did likewise,
they were both falling asleep.
"Well, listen to us go on, while you two
are so exhausted. Harold, why didn't you shut me up an hour ago?" Maureen
stood and took their empty bowls to the galley. "We have a guest berth, but
just the one, I'm afraid."
"Yes, the boat was custom built, and we
found having only one extra berth kept the relatives from all wanting to visit
and go sailing." Harold and Maureen exchanged mischievous glances. "There's
just a double bed, but if you don't mind...?"
"We'll be fine, thank
you. I think my partner here could fall asleep where he is and be happy."
Jim smiled at Blair's failing attempts to keep the sleeves of the sweatshirt from
falling over both hands.
"Please, be our guests." Harold stood and
with one hand indicated the direction of the guest berth, at the opposite end
of the boat from their own. "The berth has its own head with a shower. Sleep
as much as you need. The Coast Guard should be out here sometime late morning.
I gave them our coordinates."
"Thank you, again, for everything."
Blair stood and Jim had to reach out and take his friend's arm as he swayed.
on, Chief, you need to find your sea-legs again."
"I just can't believe
you two lasted that long out there." Maureen shook her head while she wiped
her hands dry on a towel. "Just make yourselves at home. Anything you need."
"Thank you." Jim nodded, then helped Blair aft. His own legs felt
like wood, and his feet actually hurt having weight put on them again after so
many long hours soaking in the salt water.
The berth was spacious, mostly under
the waterline where the Grand Adventure swelled out to an impressive size. Blair
made it as far as the bed and sat down with a sigh. He reached up to push the
hair from his face and found only sleeve where a hand should have been.
couldn't help chuckling at the sight.
"You know, Jim, I was almost afraid
of who we'd find on this boat when we got here." He pushed the sleeve up
far enough to reveal a few fingers, then forced the hair out of his eyes. "I
just knew with my luck they'd be a couple of seagoing Wade's or something."
Jim laughed softly and stepped into the head to splash some cold water over
his face. His entire body was caked with minute particles of dried salt, and it
was beginning to drive his Sentinel sense of touch off the irritation scale.
be farther from the truth, Chief." Jim stopped after cleaning his face. He
needed a shower, but didn't want to waste their host's supply of fresh water.
Tomorrow morning he could clean up some more, but right now sleep was what he
needed. "They're a very nice couple."
"Yeah. Lucky, too. Not
many people get the chance to do what they really want to do with their lives
like this." Blair was still sitting on the end of the bed, looking for all
the world like a rag doll too limp to just fall over.
"So which are you,
Chief?" Jim crossed the room and sat down on the opposite side of the bed,
deciding he was too tired and still cold enough to just go ahead and sleep in
his borrowed clothes. "Are you living your dream, or one of those people
constantly in search of it?"
"Both, Jim." Blair's eyes lit up
again, but his voice was too tired to reflect the emotion behind it. "I mean,
come on, man. My work is my life. I'm one of those incredibly rare, insanely lucky
people whose life's work walks right into his office one day and hands him the
future on a silver platter. Or maybe in your case it was a gold shield."
He pushed himself back on the bed until his head was up at the pillows. "No,
this just doesn't happen to many people, Jim. Don't think I don't know how lucky
I am. I'm living my dream, just like those two are. And just like them, I'm finding
things I never knew were there."
"Things you never knew were there?
Like what, Chief?"
Blair yawned, then shivered slightly and pulled the
blanket up over him. "Like you, man. You're not what I expected."
Jim was intrigued now, despite his body's strong need for sleep. Blair was in
one of his open moments, probably due to his own fatigue, and Jim wanted to get
all he could out of his partner before he clammed up again. "What were you
"I don't know." Blair looked up and shook his head,
then forced his eyes wide for a moment to try and stay awake. "When I figure
it out, I'll let you know. That might take some time, though." He yawned
again and pressed his head into the pillow, trying to stay on one side of the
Jim smiled and shook his head. "You may be living your dream,
Sandburg, but you're asleep on your feet."
"Yeah." Blair sighed
and wiggled farther under the blanket. He, too, kept on his borrowed clothes against
the chill of too many hours in the water.
Jim got into the bed and reached
out to flip off the only light, then settled himself under the blanket and closed
his eyes. In the double bed, his arm was resting against Blair's side, and his
partner shifted, trying to move farther over.
"Sandburg, would you just
relax? The bed's too small to worry about bumping into each other, and I'm too
exhausted to make a pass. Okay? You need to work on this fear of touch, buddy."
Jim smiled slightly and opened his eyes to glance
at Blair. His friend was staring up at the ceiling, fighting heavy lids. "Don't
Jim me, Sandburg. Just go to sleep."
Blair laughed shortly, then sighed.
He was fast asleep before he could comment further.
Jim turned to look at his
friend, sleeping beside him with the blanket pulled up to his chin to ward off
the lingering chill from the water. He'd always known Blair's life's work was
the Sentinel theory. One had only to look at his face when the subject of his
studies came up, to know how passionate he was about his field. But until now,
until Blair had put it into words, Jim had never considered himself someone else's
ultimate goal in life. The Sentinel senses were a part of him he might never fully
understand or appreciate. And they were just as big a part of Blair, and his life,
as they were Jim's. But it wasn't just that keeping them together, not anymore.
Blair Sandburg had quickly become the younger brother Jim had never had the chance
to enjoy with Stephen. Even that description didn't fully satisfy their situation.
Lying there, he found himself flooded with a new sense of responsibility. And
that sense was followed immediately by such a strong mixture of pride, affection,
and relief, it threatened to keep him awake trying to process it all.
his eyes and pressed his head into the pillow. His body wasn't yet convinced he
was no longer in the water, and the sensation of having to maintain his balance
made falling asleep right away impossible. The gentle rocking of the sailboat
added to the feeling. With Blair lying next to him, Jim didn't need Sentinel hearing
to tune into his breathing pattern, it was already a part of what was helping
quiet down his mind. Now that they were out of the water, alive and safe, he could
let his mind and body return to something resembling normal alertness while he
used his flood of mental reactions as a focus. Even as he fell asleep, Jim set
his internal sensitivity to the sound of diesel engines.
Sometime during the
night, Jim woke with a start. His mind became instantly awake, but his body protested
the notion. A quick focus around the room and then out and around the boat showed
him nothing amiss. With a sigh, he glanced over at Blair, and found the young
man curled up on his side, facing Jim. Both sleeved-covered hands rested against
Jim's shoulder, and the fingers of one were laced tightly through Jim's sweater.
He watched Blair sleep for a few minutes, letting his mind calm back down from
the instant wake up call. In sleep, Blair sighed and his fingers reaffirmed their
hold. Something deep inside Jim sighed with relieved satisfaction. He closed his
eyes again, and drifted to sleep.
The sound of seagulls woke him the next time.
Their cries above the boat suggested a school of herring was close by. Jim opened
his eyes, instantly remembering where they were and why. And with that memory
came the realization that he hadn't so much as rolled over the entire night. He
looked over at Blair sleeping beside him. His partner was now on his stomach,
one arm hanging off the opposite side of the bed, the other curled up around his
head. Jim took a deep breath, and in one quick motion forced his aching body into
a sitting position. His legs felt like lead, and his feet hit the deck with a
dull thud. Arms that protested moving were forced to bring Jim's hands to his
face, rubbing the exhaustion away. He sighed quietly, then stood and made his
way to the head.
The Warder's guest facilities were fully stocked, including
toothbrushes still in their new packaging. Jim cleaned himself up as best as he
could without using too much of their fresh water supply, then dressed again in
his borrowed clothes. When he stepped back into the bedroom area, Blair was stirring.
"Come on, Chief. The Coast Guard should be here any minute to get us back
to Cascade." Jim walked to the bed and stood beside Blair.
Blair moaned and propped himself up on both elbows, staring down at the pillow.
"A little stiff?"
Blair shook his head and forced his body to twist
enough to let both legs slide from under the blanket, setting both feet onto the
deck with a wince. "I don't even remember sleeping." He reached up to
push the hair from his eyes and had to fight with the sleeves again before fingers
could be found.
Jim smiled at the sight, glad to see Blair once again out of
the water and no longer in danger. "Get yourself cleaned up and you'll feel
a little better."
"Yeah." Blair nodded, then slowly stood. With
Jim's help, he managed to walk to the bathroom.
The sound of the running tap
reminded Jim just how dehydrated he still was. As soon as Blair was ready, they'd
go out on deck to wait for the Coast Guard in the company of their rescuers. In
the meantime, Jim set about fixing up the bed they'd slept in. His arms and legs
began to loosen up with the movement, and he was finally able to convince his
equilibrium that what was under his bare feet was relatively stable, so there
was no more careening off the walls or the corners of the bed as he moved around
He kept an ear tuned to Blair in the bathroom, and heard the little
quiet moans and sharp intakes of breath that signaled stiff muscles and aching
joints. Jim smiled inwardly as he recalled his partner's tenacity out there in
the middle of nowhere. Blair Sandburg was as close to being the epitome of bravery
as any untrained man or woman could be. Even closer than a few of the trained
ones. He had just enough fear to keep himself from doing something too foolish,
and just the right amount of guts to follow Jim without question, whether jumping
from a plane over the jungle, off a cliff in the middle of the woods, or staying
afloat in the middle of the Straits when the tide and odds of survival were against
him. Jim didn't know many people, cops or not, who would go through all of that
based on nothing more than friendship. Nor could they go through that and come
out of it ready and willing to do it again.
But Blair would. Of that, Jim had
no doubt. By the time they got back to Cascade, worked out what had happened with
Simon, and recovered from the aches and pains, Blair would have shaken this whole
incident off, just like Jim had learned to do years ago. Inside, Jim would take
credit for that. He couldn't help the sense of pride he felt with Blair and he
had no intention of denying it. Last night, after being rescued from a 16-hour
swim, exhausted and in pain, Blair had found the energy and enthusiasm to work
his magic with Maureen and Harold, drawing them into a deep conversation about
their travels and expectations.
"You're right, Jim, I feel better now."
Blair stepped out of the head, forcing his hair into a ponytail with a rubber
band he had found. His sleeves were now rolled up to the elbow, but showed signs
of coming loose at any moment.
"Aches and pains remind us we're alive,
Chief." Jim finished folding the extra blanket and set it at the foot of
the bed. "They're easier to get over than drowning." He reached out
and indicated the bandaging on Blair's left hand. "How's the hand?"
"Better." He flexed the fingers, then began to unwrap the gauze.
When he pulled it off completely, Jim reached out and pulled the hand closer for
a good look.
"Looks good, Chief." The welt had been reduced in size
by more than half overnight. All that was left was a thin, dark red line with
a few small blisters covering the length.
Blair shuddered suddenly and pulled
his hand back. "You know, Jim, that's the second time I really thought about
"What do you mean?" Jim watched Blair's face as he
looked around the room. For a moment, it looked as if Blair wanted to disappear
into the huge sweatshirt he was wearing, then he came back out of it and met Jim's
"Back in that warehouse. That's how he killed the other three. He
Jim suddenly realized what was going through his friend's
mind. "David Lash?"
Blair nodded. "At first, I was nearly choking
on that water he poured down my throat. I mean, I was trying not to swallow it,
and it was going down the wrong way and I really thought for a second I was going
to die right there. But then, this little voice inside said to swallow it, that
maybe if I was unconscious drowning wouldn't hurt." He looked thoughtful
for a moment, then shook his head. "But I realized what that would mean.
You know, giving up and all. And I couldn't do it."
Jim smiled slightly.
"You did good, Chief. You've got a very healthy sense of self-preservation."
"Yeah, well, I can't tell you what it felt like to hear you come down
those stairs, man." Blair shook his head and pushed the rolled sleeves up
again. "Talk about timing."
"It's all in the wrist, Sandburg."
Jim slapped him gently on the arm then glanced around the room to make sure they
were leaving it in good order.
Blair nodded tiredly. "What about Simon?"
Jim laughed and shook his head, placing one hand on Blair's shoulder to steer
him toward the cabin door. "Don't worry about Simon. We were no more responsible
than if we'd been involved in a hit and run on the highway. He'll understand that."
"So, we point out the danger we were in, play up the part about having
narrowly survived, and focus on you and me being alive, giving the Captain no
time to realize where exactly his uncle's boat is right now."
They stepped into the galley and were greeted by two smiling faces and the
tantalizing odors of breakfast.
"Good morning, how are you feeling today?"
Maureen set plates on the galley table and patted the couch where she wanted them
"Much better, thank you." Jim let Blair slide behind the
table, then he sat beside him. "We should be out of your hair soon."
"Oh, stuff and nonsense. You're welcome here as our guests, for heaven's
sake." She turned and stepped back to the stove where a pan was steaming.
"Harold, breakfast is almost ready."
"Coming, dear." Harold's
voice rang through the clear morning air from above them.
"I have coffee,
but you two should still be drinking water. And orange juice as soon as I can
remember where I put it. Ah, here it is. Wouldn't you know, right where it belongs."
She pulled a jug from the refrigerator and poured two large glasses full of the
pulpy juice, then set them on the table, followed by two glasses of the same size,
filled with fresh water. "I hope you like eggs. Rather mundane, but I've
added a bit here and there."
"And she keeps adding every time we
meet someone who has a new way of cooking the same old thing." Harold stepped
into the galley and nodded at Jim, then Blair, before leaning over to kiss his
"Do I smell salmon?" Jim's skin was still itching with the
dried salt, and his mouth tasted like salty toothpaste, but his olfactory senses
weren't failing him as Maureen set two large plates of scrambled eggs on the table.
"Dinner last night was fresh catch, and we never let anything go to waste
here." She returned to the stove and filled two more plates, then she and
Harold joined them at the large table.
"This is incredible, thank you."
Blair reached for his fork and his sleeve began to unroll again.
the first forkful of eggs and salmon. He and Blair mixed trout with eggs when
they camped, but only when there were leftovers. Which also meant they would have
to have caught the fish in the first place.
They ate breakfast gratefully,
listening to Maureen and Harold discuss the better areas for fishing and the many
exotic ways they had learned to prepare their catch. Blair made a few suggestions,
adding some items Jim had never considered food, and Maureen wrote them all down
excitedly. Before Blair could even offer to help with dishes, they heard the approach
of the Coast Guard. They stood on the deck, saying their goodbyes. Maureen handed
them their jeans, still damp and hardened from the salt, insisting they keep their
Blair jumped from the Grand Adventure to the Coast Guard
deck with the help of two deckhands, then Jim followed. The deck was hot on his
bare feet, so they hurriedly finished their thank-yous and went inside the vessel.
"You would be Detective Ellison?" Jim was met by a large, dark man
in a Captain's uniform, looking down at him from an impressive height.
sir." Jim shook the Captain's hand. "This is Blair Sandburg."
sent me out personally to find you two. I'm Captain Ellsworth." The Captain
smiled widely, then shook Blair's hand and laughed as the sleeve of the younger
man's borrowed shirt fell all the way down to cover both their hands. "I
never did get a chance to personally thank you for the help with that death investigation
on the North Star rig this Spring." He released Blair's hand and clapped
Jim on the shoulder. "It's a good thing you were there, seeing as how it
turned into quite the little twisted plot, huh? Well, come on. You two need to
be examined by our medic on the way in, and you can tell me what happened out
there." He stepped forward and led the way down a narrow corridor and through
a side hatch. "I'm sure we must have something for you to put on that will
be more comfortable than those borrowed clothes."
Jim stepped through
the hatch into the ship's sickbay. "So, Simon knows what happened already?"
He was slightly surprised not to find Captain Banks onboard, demanding to know
where his uncle's boat was. Right after making sure Jim and Blair were unhurt,
Captain Ellsworth laughed, a deep belly-laugh that reverberated
around the metal walled room. "That poor sap. He was on the phone to me the
very minute the call came in from the Grand Adventure, asking me if I'd heard
of any problems in the Straits." The Captain nodded to the medic who was
waiting quietly off to one side to be introduced to his patients. "No sooner
had he told me you two were out on his uncle's MarySue, than I heard the call."
He chuckled and shook his head, then reached out for Jim's shoulder and pulled
him over to sit on the exam table. "I think he swallowed his cigar."
Blair was next, and nearly came out of the sweatshirt when he was pulled over
to the opposite bed. "Now, Lieutenant Boggs is going to check you both over.
Then you can tell me what happened, and we'll work up something to tell Simon
when we reach Cascade."
Jim shook his head and smiled at the massive figure
of Captain Ellsworth walking through the small hatch back into the corridor. He
didn't know when or how this giant and Simon had met and become friends. But one
thing he was pretty sure of, Captain Ellsworth had never been on the high school
debate team. If his size today was any indication of what he looked like at 17,
chances were, he was the football team.
Lieutenant Boggs was just
the opposite. Very frail, very quiet, and just about the blondest man Jim had
ever met. He and Blair were examined, then given some Coast Guard sweats that
were a much closer fit. Blair's hand was cleaned and one more thin bandage applied
to prevent the blisters from becoming infected. After the medic cleared them both,
Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder and steered him through the hatch in search
of the captain.
"Man, the first thing I need when we get home is a shower."
Blair rubbed his arm, trying to scratch through the sleeve of the sweatshirt.
"All this dried sea salt is making my skin crawl." He looked up at Jim.
"I don't know how you can stand it, Jim."
"I can't. It's driving
me crazy, Chief." Jim reached for the hatch that led to the pilot house.
"I keep wanting to jump into the bay to wash off. And believe me, if that
would help, I think I would." They stepped into the room and were greeted
by the crackle of a radio distress call.
"Gentlemen, I think we have another
victim here." Captain Ellsworth handed Jim a set of binoculars and pointed
out the port side window. "Just got a call from a boat going down three miles
out. The boat that rammed them is sinking right along with them."
squinted through the window in the proper direction and had no trouble at all
seeing the two boats floundering. Captain Ellsworth was standing farther ahead,
with his back to them, so Jim handed Blair the binoculars and pointed.
like they're going down fast." He could see at least three people in the
water, a young woman and two very small children. The captain gave an order for
full speed and all hands jumped to their positions. Sirens blared as the cruiser
closed the gap between them and the two sinking vessels. Jim focused on the boats
going down, searching the water for more signs of life. The young woman was clutching
her children and shouting to someone Jim couldn't see as she struggled to stay
afloat. The smaller of the two boats finally sank completely below the water,
and a man with another child could be seen clutching a piece of flotsam.
"There's a young couple and three kids." Jim answered Blair, then
turned and motioned for him to exit the pilot house so they could help the rescue
effort from the deck. "I can't see anyone else, but that bigger boat is definitely
the one that hit us." He'd seen enough to identify the few ID numbers, and
the size fit. If there were survivors, one sentence from any of them would give
Jim a positive ID of the partyers responsible for the sinking of the MarySue,
and his and Blair's near drowning.