Blair walked into the bathroom and closed the door, leaning against
it for a moment. Professor Kinyon's voice was still ringing in his ears, and her
words were trying to penetrate his numb mind. Emily was dead. She had just arrived
that morning, how could she be dead? Blair was talking to her no more than 18
hours ago. Diving accident? What the hell kind of diving accident did you have
at a site no more than 80 feet down? Something inside made him push off the door
and walk to the shower, turning the water on and stripping off his clothes. He
stepped inside and let the hot water rinse the paint from his hair, closing his
eyes tight so as not to get any of the run-off inside. He willed the water to
rinse out that phone call, but it was still echoing between his ears. What the
hell was he going to do? With her family out of the country, and her...She was
in Canada, he'd have to arrange things with the authorities in order to have her
brought back down. Surely that didn't involve much? It was just Canada, there
were no passports involved, and she was there with the research group. God, why
Emily? Why him? If Professor Kinyon wasn't home sick, she'd be the one to go.
Then Blair wouldn't even have heard about this until they were back.
hell was he going to do? He forced himself to open his eyes and work the rest
of the paint from his face and hair, giving himself a quick once-over with the
soap. When he stepped out and wrapped a towel around his waist he could hear Jim
on the phone. He'd have to fly up there, float plane was the most common way to
get to the little island. It was too late to leave tonight, so maybe there was
time to figure out what to do. Suddenly the thought of going up there alone, on
behalf of the University, to bring back the body of a girl who had so recently
broken his heart, was more than he could take. He sat down on the edge of the
tub, hair dripping on the floor, and waited for the tears to come.
heard the knock on the bathroom door he realized he hadn't been crying, just sitting
there staring at the floor. He looked up as Jim came inside.
you okay?" Jim stood inside the open doorway, looking down.
Blair replied, still sitting on the tub. "No I'm not. Jim, I don't know what
to do." His friend walked over and put a hand on his shoulder as he stood
up. "Listen, do you think...maybe you could..."
I can come with you. I got us a flight out tomorrow morning, and I've called Simon."
Jim pushed him towards the door, "Now, go get dressed. We'll clean up and
I'll fix dinner."
Blair nodded, "Thanks Jim." He left the bathroom
then, swallowing hard against the lump forming in his throat. He wasn't sure if
the lump was there because Emily was gone, or because Jim was there, but it didn't
matter right then. He finished toweling off in his room, then found a clean pair
of sweats and long-sleeved shirt. When he came back into the living room, most
of the paint had been cleaned up, so he busied himself with removing the plastic
from the furniture, trying not to think anymore. By the time Jim came out of the
bathroom, he had most of the plastic bunched up and was working on the tape.
can just leave that, I'll take it out to the dumpster as soon as I get dressed."
"Yeah, I'm almost done." Blair wanted to keep working. As long as
he had something to do, he didn't have to think, and he could avoid talking. Jim
went up to his room and Blair found more tape to pull up. The paint fight seemed
such a distant memory, he wasn't even sure it had happened. Jim came back down,
gathered up the plastic and as much tape as he could carry, and went outside to
the dumpster. Blair couldn't find any more tape to remove, so he started pushing
the furniture back into place, arranging rugs, re-positioning tables. Jim came
back just as he was trying to get the bookcase back against the wall.
a minute, let me help with that."
Blair had been struggling with the case,
not wanting to empty it out. He paused, letting Jim take one end, but didn't want
to look at him. He could feel the burning in his eyes and was reluctant to let
Jim see it. The fight with the shelf had been occupying his mind, and he didn't
want it to end, but with Jim's help the case slid back into place easily.
on, why don't you sit down and I'll make dinner." Jim put his hand on Blair's
shoulder and pushed him towards the couch.
Blair let himself be pushed to the
couch and sat down, staring out the window at the storm brewing in the late-afternoon
sky. He wondered if it was raining up there, on the island where Emily was. He
knew when he got up there, they would expect him to take charge. The other students
there, the staff, they would expect that whoever the University sent up there
would know what to do. What was he going to do? Hadn't Jim said...
He didn't turn around to face his friend, he couldn't.
was in the kitchen, setting out pots.
"You said you called Simon?"
He wanted to make sure he had heard his friend correctly, but he was afraid if
he came right out with it, he would be wrong.
"Yeah Chief, I'm coming
Jim's calm reply sent waves of relief and guilt through Blair.
He sank down lower into the couch and laid his head back against the pillows,
closing his eyes. "Thanks, Jim." God, Jim was always there. Was there
anything he didn't think of first? Here he is, thinking only of himself and how
he was going to deal with this tragedy, and there was Jim, thinking of how best
to take care of things for Blair. And taking care of things.
They ate in silence.
Blair was grateful for the time to compose himself. He assumed Emily's boyfriend,
Kenny, would be waiting for them, and probably was going to accompany them back.
Blair had never cared much for Kenny Pritchard, even before Emily left him for
the younger, wealthier archeology student. He was too self-satisfied with his
position in life, which had more to do with his father's influence than any skill
on his part. Since she came from a family with no financial concerns herself,
Blair had never understood Emily's choice. He assumed her mother had influenced
her decision to leave Blair and attach herself to Kenny. The younger man was her
height, and just as blond and blue eyed as a mother could want.
those, I'll do the dishes." Jim stopped Blair as he was unconsciously gathering
the plates. "Want a beer?"
He paused, thinking for a moment. "Yeah,
sure." He really should do the dishes, it would help to keep his mind on
something else. He couldn't let Jim handle everything, could he? But he wanted
to, at least for now. Maybe he could just sit and watch the rain. Jim started
to clear the table and he returned to the couch, staring at the night sky, waiting
for more lightning. What if the weather didn't clear up tomorrow? He'd have to
take a ferry out to the island, and that could take twice as long. Typically the
float plane could take them from the bay, right up to the long pier off Puffin
Island. But in times of extreme weather, a three hour ferry ride to Lummi Island
was the only choice, followed by the hassles of finding a charter to take you
out to the smaller islands. What if they couldn't get out there by tomorrow? And
the fog, it was foggy a lot this time of year. What if they couldn't get out to
the research station for a few days? What would--
"Here." Jim handed
him a beer and sat down on the couch opposite his. "You okay?"
accepted the beer, but just held it, fingering the bottle's top. "You got
us a plane?"
"Yep." Jim took a drink, then leaned back into
the couch cushions. "Leaves tomorrow morning at eight. It can take us right
up to the island. The weather should clear up tonight, at least that's what they
said." He took another drink and glanced outside. "I've got a friend
in the area, with the RCMP's, and I gave him a call."
"Yeah. He can gather up the paperwork they'll need for customs. And the
death certificate." Jim took another drink and set the bottle down on the
coffee table. "Sometimes the paperwork in these cases gets a little bogged
down. Just technical stuff, but it can take a few days on occasion."
looked up then, suddenly worrying about the process he was supposed to take care
of, but didn't know how. "Will there be a problem with this case?"
shook his head. "I don't see why. But even then, it can take a few days.
If it was just an accident, it shouldn't be a problem."
you mean? They said she...Professor Kinyon said it was a diving accident."
Blair's ear were beginning to ring. She said it was an accident. What
else could it be?
"I know. And it probably was." Jim picked up his
beer again. "It's just going to involve a routine check, nothing more. You
Blair nodded dully. Yes, he knew that. How many times had
he seen something like this before, with Jim? He knew there was paperwork involved
no matter what the cause of death. And in a case like this, they would have to
know what happened and why. He finally noticed the beer he was holding and took
a long drink, willing himself to calm down as the liquid flowed down his throat.
It would all work itself out when they got there. It was just an accident. These
things happen. Just not usually to a friend of mine. "I think I'm
gonna turn in." Blair stood, glancing outside as the lightning he had been
waiting for finally struck.
"You want to talk for a while?"
Thanks Jim. I'm just tired." He finished the beer quickly and tossed the
empty bottle into the trash. He was afraid talking would expose too much inside.
He wasn't ready yet. "Hey," He paused just before entering his room.
"Thanks for coming."
"No problem, Chief." Jim nodded at
him from the couch. "Get some sleep."
"Yeah." Blair went
into his room and shut the door, then sat on the edge of the bed, wondering what
to do next.
By the next morning the rain had stopped
and been replaced by partially sunny skies. Jim drove them to the waterfront and
parked in the charter's private lot, securing the truck for what he had explained
to Blair could be a two or three day wait. They boarded the small float plane
and were in the air by 8:30, settled in for the hour long flight that would take
them all the way up to the research center. Blair occupied himself with explaining
the station to Jim, avoiding any other subjects.
The study center was the only
thing on the small private island, with a large complex for students to live and
work in for months at a time. There was a generator for power, and he assured
Jim it did have indoor plumbing. He'd been up there several times before, but
not since the discovery of the sailing vessel just off the rocky coast. He wasn't
sure about the changes that had taken place after that find from last summer.
"You said this was from the Alaskan gold rush? Was it full, or empty when
it went down?" Jim asked.
"They think it was empty, on its way up
with men and supplies. There isn't much left of the ship itself, most of the wood
broke away in the rough currents. That's why it went so long without being found.
And I think they expected it to be farther up the channel, when they first started
looking." Blair looked out the window at the water below for a moment, trying
to gauge their position. "Although, legend has it the ship was full, and
making an end run around the authorities at the time. That's Smuggler's Cove,
down there. There was a lot of inner passage piracy those days, with all the gold
Jim glanced out the window and nodded. "I'd heard about
that. Maybe some of your students had visions of gold dancing in their heads,
coming up here?"
Blair paused. He didn't want to talk about them. He wanted
to keep his mind on clinical details, the research, the area, the paperwork, anything
but the people he was about to see. "I don't think so. It was only a legend.
They're here for the artifacts, and to study the natives in the area. The ship
was just an accidental find."
"We'll be there in about fifteen minutes,
Blair was grateful for the pilot's interruption. He knew Jim
was trying to get him to talk. Jim seemed to think talking would make him feel
better, somehow. But Blair didn't see how it could. He looked out the window again
and could see the island tiny they were approaching. As they circled in he watched
it grow larger, taking note of the changes since his last visit.
was still as small as ever, with its one main building taking up the bulk of the
available flat land mass. The pier off the northern shore was longer than he remembered,
and docked at the very end was a large, barge-shaped research vessel. No doubt
where they were diving from to reach the ship just a few more yards off, in the
deep, clear-blue water. The island was enclosed on all sides by sharp, steep rocks
and an abundance of evergreens. Occasionally a tent was visible from above as
they came around for the right angle to land. When Blair had spent two weeks here
last year, he had also enjoyed sleeping in a tent on the rocky ground at the other
side of the island, away from the building. Most students slept in the bunks available
indoors, where the bathrooms and kitchen remained within easy reach. But Blair,
and the occasional hardy soul, preferred the adventure of sleeping outdoors in
the fresh, cold air. It was easier to hear the eagles and whales, over the generator's
low humming that penetrated the newly renovated building during the still nights.
They landed with little trouble in the roughening seas and came to a slow stop
beside the pier, several yards in from the ship docked at the end. Blair climbed
out, glancing up the pier for any sign of someone coming down to meet them. While
he held the door open for Jim, he caught the flash of sunlight off glass as a
door opened in the building above the landing. They had each packed simple overnight
bags and Blair flung his over his shoulder, leading the way up the pier to the
steps that would switchback up the cliff to the building above. The person he
had seen coming out of the station was now on the landing, in front of them. Blair
glanced up, reluctantly, expecting to find Kenny or the station's supervisor.
Instead, a man he didn't recognized smiled back at him. He thought the man waiting
for them must be Jim's friend and he stepped aside, happy to let his partner take
charge right away. Relieved when he did.
"Jim, it's been too long."
The Mountie stepped forward and shook Jim's hand, glancing from him to Blair.
"Hey Tim. Thanks for coming out." Jim smiled at his friend, then
looked at Blair. "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg. He's here on behalf
of the University. This is Constable Phillips."
"Hey, that's Inspector
now, tough guy."
Blair smiled and shook the hand that was offered, then
looked back at Jim. He didn't know where to start, or how.
you come on up? I've started the paper rolling, but you understand, these things
take some time." He had turned and now Blair and Jim followed him up the
long switchback of stairs. "With the weekend and all, and then there's Victoria
day tomorrow, which all the government offices are taking off." They reached
the top and paused. "I do apologize for these little inconveniences. This
can't be easy for the family."
"Her family is in Europe, so a few
day's delay won't affect their plans." Blair replied, looking around. "Um,
"The medic is upstairs, I believe the deceased is down
in the basement." he paused, looking at Jim. "Some of the other students
took a boat in to the mainland this morning, to get her a nicer casket. They should
be back soon. Come on, I'll introduce you."
Blair held up a hand. "That's
okay. I know most of them already." At least he thought he did. The last
time he was there, the resident medic was the wife of the station supervisor,
a registered nurse who babysat the clumsy students who constantly slipped and
slid on the rocks surrounding the island. The rest of the staff would change with
each semester, but he did know five of them up from his own neck of the woods.
Emily had come up to join Kenny and a group from his class that had been up there
for just over one month already, most of whom Blair at least knew by face, if
not name. He proceeded to the building, Jim and Inspector Phillips following close
behind. Once at the top of the landing, he paused for just a moment before going
inside. He heard Jim come up behind him and reached out for the door knob, leading
the way inside.
They entered the building at the middle level, walking in to
a large room with a common area off to the left, filled with couches, comfortable
chairs, and lined floor to ceiling with books. To their right, the room opened
up to a kitchen area and large dining room containing three long tables ringed
with chairs of various sizes, shapes and colors. Straight ahead was a circular
staircase leading up, and behind it, a matching one leading down. Beside them
was a hallway leading to two long rooms filled with bunks for resident students.
Blair glanced around the rooms, seeing no one. The Inspector had said some students
went in to the mainland, and he could account for five, or rather, four, that
should be there. Then there would be the station supervisor, and his wife if things
hadn't changed too much.
"The supervisor and medic are here, and I think
there's two more around somewhere." Inspector Phillips had followed them
into the room and was now looking from Blair to Jim. "I've got a boat coming
in to pick me up in an hour, it will bring the other three back."
on Chief, let's tell them we're here and get the hard part over with." Blair
felt Jim's hand on his shoulder and he turned around.
"Blair? Is that
Blair had been trying to swallow enough of the lump in
his throat to answer Jim when they all heard the woman's voice projecting ahead
of her as she came down the stairs. They all looked up to see a woman in her forties,
with short black hair, dressed in heavy wool sweater and jeans. She smiled at
them all in a sad way as she approached, reaching out for Blair's hand.
didn't tell us you were coming. I'm so sorry."
Blair nodded, shaking her
hand, then turned to Jim. "Jim, this is Mrs Hathaway. She's the resident
medic. Mrs Hathaway, this is my friend, Jim Ellison."
den mother." She shook Jim's hand and smiled. "And it's Katie."
She nodded at the Inspector, then turned back to Blair. "I can't tell you
what a shock this has been, Blair. She had only just arrived, and then...well,
it hasn't been easy for any of us."
Blair nodded, glancing around, trying
to find something he could focus on long enough to steady his voice. "Her
parents are still overseas, so the University asked me to come up. Actually they
asked Professor Kinyon but..."
"Yes, I know, she's out sick. She
did call our parent station, back on the mainland, to say that she couldn't come
up, but that they were sending someone. I am sorry, Blair." she turned to
Jim. "Are you with the University also, Mr. Ellison?"
ma'am, I'm not. I'm a Detective with the Cascade PD."
You are aware that this was just an accident? I thought that's why Inspector Phillips
"Yes ma'am. I'm just here as a friend, to help Blair get
this taken care of. Inspector Phillips is an old friend."
said, Mrs. Hathaway, everything seems to be in order. I'm just here to collect
the papers for the office."
"Yes, you did say that. I'm sorry. I
just can't help but feel responsible." She looked back to Blair. "You
two will want to get settled in. I understand you'll be here for a couple of days,
what with the holiday, and the...well the paperwork involved. Why don't you come
with me, I can show you to a room." She turned and Blair followed with Jim
They walked down the hallway, past the larger rooms to either
side, to a room at the far end of the corridor. "We've had a few remodelings
since your last visit, and got a couple of more private rooms. There's only a
handful of students here right now, but we try to separate the sexes in the bunk
rooms. Admittedly, it doesn't always work, but we're supposed to try." She
opened the door and led them into the room. It was spacious for a research facility
dorm room, with a bed on either side, a desk in the center, and a full view of
the pier they had walked up through two large picture windows.
you get settled? My husband's upstairs arguing with the supply plane about the
weather. We've had an awful lot of fog lately, and they haven't brought in supplies
since last week."
"The others, will they be back soon?" Blair
asked, glancing out the window at the early afternoon sky.
"Yes, I imagine
within the hour. The Inspector's boat should be bringing them back with the...well,
they didn't want her to stay in the metal one we had here. You understand?"
"Yeah. Thanks Mrs...I mean Katie. Thanks." Blair turned to set his
pack on one of the beds and stepped over to the windows. He could hear Katie and
Jim, who were still standing in the doorway.
"She's down in the basement,
when he's ready," she was saying. "He'll know where."
you," Jim replied. Blair saw her reflection in the glass as she looked at
him for a moment, then left. "Chief, I'll be right back."
without turning around. He focused on the barge at the end of the dock, trying
to see as many details from that distance as he could. Trying to imagine that
the diving barge was the most important, fascinating thing he had seen in a long
time. Trying not to think about what was waiting for him one floor below, in the
basement. In the freezer.
Jim returned several minutes later and walked up
to the window, looking out. "Tim has the paperwork we brought up. He'll take
it back with him this afternoon, but the offices are closed all day tomorrow."
he paused then and Blair nodded, still trying to count the barnacles he couldn't
see. "You don't have to go down there, Blair. But it would be a good idea.
It helps, sometimes. Get it over with, then you can move on easier."
felt Jim's hand on his shoulder. He didn't understand how seeing her body was
going to make anything easier. He sighed and pulled his eyes off the barge he
could barely see, turning around completely and leaning on the windowsill. He
felt cold suddenly, despite his heavy sweater. "I guess you're right,"
he said, surprising himself with the steadiness of his voice. "I should get
this over with before they come back." He pushed off the sill and started
for the door. Jim was right behind him and he stopped, turning around. "Listen,
Jim...I think I'd like to do this alone, if that's okay?" If he was going
to fall apart, he'd just as soon his partner wasn't there to be ashamed of him.
Jim stopped, nodding. "Sure. Just take your time, okay? It's not an easy
thing to do." He paused, looking at Blair. "I'll be upstairs with Tim
and Professor Hathaway, if you need me."
"Thanks Jim." Blair
raised his eyebrows, trying to gear himself up, and turned back around, walking
down the corridor and back to the staircase. He waited until Jim was walking up,
then he started down. The metal staircase wound around three times before reaching
the lower floor where most of the food and supplies were stored. The main room
was crammed with equipment and boxed findings from their dives and whatever else
they were digging up at the time. Blair took his time winding through the boxes
and crates, idly glancing at the labels as he made his way towards the giant walk-in
freezer at the far end. Once inside he knew he'd find the front area stuffed with
supplies to feed the entire facility for months at a time, and Professor Hathaway's
secret stash of mango peach ice cream he thought no one knew about. The freezer
was twice as big as it needed to be. Either that, or it was always half-filled,
because Blair knew there would be plenty of room for the silver metal box he found
at the far side. He let the door to the freezer shut behind him as he entered.
The door was equipped with an emergency handle, and the lock had been broken for
She was there, way in the back, past the Professor's ice cream. Blair
approached the coffin, wrapping his arms around him for warmth against the cold
that was creeping, oddly enough, from the inside out. He stood for a long time
beside the metal box, staring at the frost accumulating on the edges. Twice he
reached out to open the lid, and twice he stopped himself.
help either of us now," he said, his teeth chattering slightly. "I'm
sorry." Sorry I wasn't here. Sorry this happened. Sorry I couldn't be
Kenny for you. Blair shook his head and quickly left. He couldn't open the
box, no matter what Jim said. That wasn't Emily in there. Not anymore. There was
a shell in there now. A shell that would be cold, and covered in ice. No, seeing
that couldn't help. It couldn't help at all.