Heart and Soul Act IV

Bouncing on his toes to help generate some warmth, he looked around before once again starting the Hargrove-to-library circuit. He'd gotten smart this time, and borrowed a bright blue parka with a rating of -10 degrees from the Cascade PD stores. It was a little big, but who cared? Long johns under his jeans, and three pairs of socks helped, too. Jim had laughed, claiming it wasn't that cold, but some people couldn't dial down their sensitivity like certain other people who were once again comfortably ensconced in another departmental van, drinking hot coffee and probably promoting negative stereotypes by eating donuts.

Despite her declaration of boredom followed by horror, Marissa was in the van with Jim, also drinking coffee. Okay, she'd brought apple strudel flavored coffee, which had to be the most revolting stuff he'd ever heard of, but it was hot.

At least he wasn't suffering alone this time. Megan was out there, watching him and the area, every bit as bundled up as he was. Jim had offered to let her have the van, but she'd refused. He'd bet she was regretting that now. Brown and Rafe were out there somewhere too, trying to stay hidden while keeping an eye on things.

The library was getting closer. He was trying really hard not to count the number of steps between Hargrove and the library. He should be concentrating on his surroundings without being obvious about it. He did not want the killer to sneak up on him again; it was bad for his reputation. Not to mention his heart.

This was probably a bad idea anyway. How incredibly arrogant would this guy have to be to try for him again, knowing he'd be surrounded by cops? Either that, or incredibly stupid, and that couldn't be true. Beverly Sanchez would never have let herself be murdered by some idiot.

Maybe it was worse than arrogance. Maybe the killer was delusional and believed himself to be Huitzilpochtli. That would explain eating the hearts. And a god could take a victim without fear of being caught by the police or any other mortals. That could be it.

Gunshot!

He threw himself down, wishing he had a gun, wishing he had cover, glad there was no snow to show up against. He raised his head cautiously, looked around as far as he could, couldn't see anything or anyone. A dark shape detached itself from the trees--Megan, he was pretty sure--and ran crouching toward the entrance to Hargrove Hall, disappeared into the shadows beside the stairs. Her voice came through the earpiece.

"Rafe's down. Jim, you'd better call an ambulance."

Jim didn't answer, but he heard Brown's soft imprecation. Moments later, Brown's bulky figure joined Megan's in the shadows. There were no more shots.

"Jim, did you see him?" he asked the mike quietly. "Jim?"

Nothing. Maybe Jim's headset was malfunctioning. Gambling that the killer wouldn't shoot his intended victim--again--he got his feet under him and sprinted for Hargrove. He dropped to his knees beside Megan.

Rafe lay on the ground, his back propped against the stairs. Megan's hands gripped his right leg a few inches above the knee. Blood soaked his pants-leg and leaked through her fingers. Rafe was conscious, grinning weakly at Brown's feeble joke about ruining his designer slacks.

"You're gonna be okay, man," he said. "Did you see the shooter?"

Rafe shook his head. "Nothing. I was coming around the building, and wham. I didn't even have time to get my weapon out."

"Where's that ambulance?" Brown demanded.

He pulled his cell phone out. "I'll call again."

He pressed the speed dial for 911, his gaze going to the van. There'd been no activity. No one had come out, or signaled. Jim had to know what was happening.

The van's engine started. Its headlights flashed on, and it pulled away from the curb, roared toward them, and past, without slowing.

"Jim?" Phone forgotten in his hand, he stood and watched the van race away. "What's going on? Jim!"

He shoved the phone at Brown, barely felt him take it from his hand. "Megan, give me your keys."

"What?"

"Give me your keys! I have to go after Jim."

"Sandy, calm down. He's probably in pursuit of the shooter."

"No. Something's wrong. Give me your keys, damnit!"

Megan exchanged glances with Brown. "You can't go alone."

"I'll take over," Brown said, matching words to action by setting his hands in place of Megan's. "Ambulance is on its way. We'll be okay."

Rafe nodded. "Go on. I'm fine."

Megan stood. He grabbed her arm and ran, dragging her after him until she got going and matched him. Her car keys jingled in her hand. They reached her car and got in, and he managed not to shout at her when it took her two tries to start the engine. They raced as far as the exit from the university grounds, and Megan stopped the car with a shriek of brakes.

"Which way?"

Oh, God. Which way? Which--"Wait. Dave Anderson and his partner--What's his name?"

"Decker."

"Yeah. They're patrolling the area. Maybe they saw the van."

Megan got on the radio. Seconds later, Decker's no-nonsense tones announced a sighting of the van heading north on Waverly, and that they were initiating pursuit. They took off. Megan drove like a maniac, drove the way he felt. Decker kept them updated, and they followed his broadcasts, never seeing the van themselves, until they heard a curse and a clipped,

"Oz-11, we have lost sight of the vehicle. Repeat, we have lost sight."

"No!" he shouted. "No, damnit! We have to find it!"

They spotted the squad car, followed it through residential streets, then split up, crawling, searching for the van. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Too long. Too long! Jim could be--

"There!" Megan cried. "Behind that house! 2250 Sinclair."

She pulled into the driveway, and they jumped out of the car. No warrant needed: a man was in imminent danger. They checked the van--empty--and climbed the back stairs. He reached for the door, but Megan put out a hand to stop him. She took her backup .38 out of her pocket and pressed it into his hand, folded his fingers over it until he nodded and gripped it on his own.

The door was locked, but it was lightweight. Megan kicked it in. They entered the house, covering each other, covering as many angles as they could, all very by the book when all he wanted was to charge through and scream for Jim.

There was no one in the kitchen, or the living room, or the dining room. Stairs led up, and a door in the kitchen probably opened on stairs to the basement. Megan pointed up; he nodded, pointing down. They split up.

He opened the door to the expected stairs. Light glimmered below. A woman's voice chanted. He closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath in a useless attempt to unravel the knots in his stomach, and started down the stairs.

Braziers burned, the smell that from the dream, the horrible, nauseating odor of oil and charred meat. Temple paintings were fastened to the walls, stolen from authentic Mesoamerican sites, or imitations, he couldn't tell. A small table held the pieces of a shattered, red-glazed vessel, painstakingly assembled to form a depiction of sacrifice. The center of it all was the altar, carved from stone, a trough cut around the surface to channel the blood to a waiting bowl. Jim lay on the altar, unconscious, his jacket removed, his shirt open. Marissa stood behind the altar, her face covered by the mask his assailant had worn three nights ago. Beads clacked and flashed on the obsidian knife in her hand. She must know he was there. But she didn't stop her chanting. He couldn't understand the words.

"Marissa."

She ignored him.

"Marissa!"

The mask turned toward him, but the chanting went on.

"Marissa, what the hell are you doing? You've got to stop."

Chanting, she raised the knife to the sky.

"Marissa, Jim's a cop! There's a cop upstairs and more outside! I'm a cop, damnit! I have a gun! You can't do this!"

Chanting, she showed the knife to the earth. Upstairs, he heard gunshots. One. Two. Three. Four.

"Marissa, I'm not going to let you kill him. Stop now. God, please!"

She raised the knife. He raised the borrowed gun, and shot her. She slammed back against the wall, slid down to the floor.

He edged around the altar. Marissa lay in her own blood. He kicked the obsidian knife from her lax hand, and crouched to pull the mask from her face. She was alive, conscious. She smiled at him.

"I wanted to understand," she said.

God. He took off the parka, his sweater, his flannel shirt, tore the shirt and wadded it into a pad. Marissa watched, uninterested. He pressed the flannel pad to her side, grabbed Marissa's hand and pressed it hard over the pad.

"Hold this. Marissa! Listen to me. Hold this."

She applied pressure on her own, kept her hand there when he took his away. Nausea receded. He could breathe. She'd be fine. Megan would call an ambulance, or Dave Anderson would. She'd be fine.

He stood, forced himself to go around to the other side of the altar, to take the time in case she rallied and somehow became a threat. Jim was waking up. There was no sign of injury, no bumps on the head or other wounds he could see. Jim moved his hand, rubbed his face, opened his eyes.

"Chief?"

"Right here, Jim."

Jim turned his head, looked at him. "You okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah." Jim tried to sit up, but gave up on the idea. "A little woozy."

"Woozy, huh? She didn't hit you with anything, did she?"

"Uh-uh. Nasty taste in my mouth. Must have drugged me."

"That's not drugs, Jim, that's apple strudel coffee. I told you that stuff was a crime against nature."

"Sandburg," Jim growled. He sighed, and a smile ghosted across his face, gone as soon as seen. "When you're right, you're right."

Blair grinned. "Always listen to your shaman, Jim."

*****
Blair cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and cleared his throat again. "Easy, Chief," Jim murmured from the chair beside him, but he didn't reply, there was nothing to say.

Fourteen people sat around the conference table in the Dr. Victoria S. Palmatier room in the Administration Building at Rainier. Dr. Palmatier's portrait gazed serenely down at them from the green-papered walls. Thirteen of the fourteen were academics, Chancellor Edwards and Dr. Eli Stoddard among them. The fourteenth was Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department, recently arrived from the hospital, where one of his detectives was recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg and flirting outrageously with the nurses. They were all waiting for Blair to speak, and he was waiting for the signal to begin.

The Anthropology Department was short one faculty member and one student. Marissa Dulong was currently incarcerated in Conover until her trial. Though she was not a lawyer, she was insisting that she be allowed to serve as her own counsel. Her student, Michael Rawlings, was dead, killed in an exchange of gunfire with Megan Connor. Yet another scandal for Rainier University. Though it was no fault of hers, Chancellor Edwards was scrambling to keep from losing her job. Blair was not secretly amused by that. Nope, not at all.

Eli nodded at him. Blair stood and approached the conference table. He stood at one end; Chancellor Edwards sat at the other.

"First, I'd like to thank the Trustees and the Scholarship Committee of the Still Graduate Scholarship, and the members of my dissertation committee, for coming here today at my request. I'd also like to thank Detective James Ellison, who is here in the event that you have questions for him later." And for moral support, and because I just want him here, and if you don't like it, tough.

"I've asked you all here today because I've come to a decision. It's not one I've made easily, or lightly, but it is one I probably should have made much earlier.

"I'm sure you're all painfully familiar with my academic history, so it should come as no surprise to you that the offer of the Still Graduate Scholarship both flattered and flabbergasted me." A few people laughed. Good. "Because of the unexpectedness of it, I probably wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have been. I don't offer that as an excuse--I'm responsible for my own decisions--I just wanted you to be aware of my general frame of mind at the time.

"As I said, the offer astonished me. Here was the chance to attain my Ph.D., something I'd wanted and striven for literally since childhood. I still wanted it, badly. So badly that I set aside my dignity and my personal integrity and allowed certain terms regarding the conditions under which I would be allowed to re-enter the doctoral program to be dictated to me. These terms--which I will not list now--were unreasonable and very likely illegal. Still, I agreed to them. I wanted my Ph.D. Badly, if you'll recall."

Blair smiled. More laughter, though not from Chancellor Edwards. Big surprise.

"Since that time, certain of the conditions have been rescinded. This was not accomplished by me, however; it was left up to Detective Ellison to--negotiate--the relaxing of those conditions on my behalf. Grateful as I am to Detective Ellison, that was wrong. I am an adult--or I'm supposed to be--and the responsibility for such negotiations is mine.

"To that end, I have a proposal for the Trustees, the Scholarship Committee, and my dissertation committee. Recent events have made it clear to me that I cannot continue to observe the remaining conditions of my participation in the doctoral program: namely, that I resign my position with the Cascade Police Department in order to devote myself full time to my studies and to whatever research projects I may happen to be needed for. I am already needed, as a detective and as Detective Ellison's partner. It is my opinion that the current and continuing need of the city and the people of Cascade outweighs any need for research that may arise in future. The fact that teaching is not a part of my doctoral program further strengthens my belief.

"Since I am wholly convinced that this is the case, I respectfully request that I be allowed to return to my duties with the Cascade Police Department while continuing my participation in the doctoral program here at Rainier. I give you my word that my dissertation will be completed within a reasonable time, and that timely progress reports will be made to the dissertation committee, and to the Scholarship Committee and the Trustees should they deem it necessary. Should I fail to keep my word in this regard, I will, at the decision of the Trustees, undertake to return every cent I have been awarded as the recipient of the Still Graduate Scholarship.

"Please consider my request, and notify me of your decision at your convenience. Thank you."

Silence. That was not good. No one would meet his eyes. That was worse. Chancellor Edwards looked at him.

"Thank you, Mr. Sandburg. We'll let you know."

Oh, man. He was screwed. "Um, thanks."

He turned to go, but Eli's voice stopped him.

"There's no need to keep him waiting, is there? Why don't we take a vote now?"

"Professor Stoddard," the Chancellor said, "There are ramifications to discuss."

"The proposal seems clear enough to me." Eli nodded at Simon. "I believe I can speak for Captain Banks, and say that the Trustees approve Mr. Sandburg's request. Would the Scholarship Committee care to vote now?"

Six heads nodded.

"Very well. Will all who approve please raise your hands?"

Six hands rose.

"Thank you. Would the dissertation committee care to vote now?"

Only four heads nodded.

"I believe the majority carries in this case. Will all who approve please raise your hands?"

Four hands rose. Chancellor Edwards' hand stayed on the table. Professor Reichert looked from her to Eli, and slowly raised his hand.

"The vote is thirteen to one. Mr. Sandburg's proposal is accepted. In light of her dissension, it seems obvious that Chancellor Edwards would be subject to undue stress and discomfort should she continue as a member of Mr. Sandburg's dissertation committee. I suggest that a replacement be found with all speed. All those in favor?"

Thirteen hands rose.

"Thank you." Eli turned to Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, your proposal is hereby officially accepted. You will be notified as to the new member of your dissertation committee as soon as possible."

He couldn't believe it. Just like that. Eli took over and bam! He was a cop and a doctoral candidate. "Thanks. Thank you." He shook Eli's hand. "Thank you very much." He went around the table and shook everyone's hand, even Chancellor Edwards. What the hell. Simon scowled down at him.

"I expect you to report for your shift first thing in the morning, detective."

"Sure, Simo--I mean, yes, sir, Captain!"

He couldn't help it. He threw his arms around Simon and hugged him. Simon stood it for five seconds, then shoved him to arm's length and roared, "Ellison! Get your partner out of here!"

"Yes, sir!" Jim grabbed his arm and dragged him away. "Let's go, Chief."

Jim steered him out of the conference room and down the hall. About halfway down the corridor, Jim stopped, gripped his shoulder, and looked at him. "Blair?"

Uh-oh. Jim using his first name was almost never good. "What's up, Jim?"

Jim yanked him into a hug. "Welcome back, partner."

Blair returned the hug, giving as good as he got. "Thanks, Jim. I never should have left."

"No, you shouldn't have." They let go, and Jim slung an arm around his shoulders. "I hope you learned your lesson."

"Oh, I did, Jim. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Jim cuffed him lightly, and he rubbed the imagined injury. As they emerged into the sunny, cold December morning, Blair said,

"Hey, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"I didn't miss the Major Crime Christmas party, did I?"

"No, Sandburg, you didn't miss the Christmas party."

"Good. 'Cause, you know, it wouldn't be the same without me."

"You got that right, partner," Jim said, laughing. "You got that right."


The End

Cast List

Detective James Ellison
Detective Blair Sandburg
Captain Simon Banks
Detective Henri Brown
Inspector Megan Connor
Detective Ray Rafe
Captain Joel Taggart

Officer David Anderson
Dr. Ralph Brookfield
Sergeant Roy Decker
Dr. Marissa Dulong
Chancellor Edwards
Incacha
Michael Rawlings
Dr. Reichert
Dr. Eli Stoddard

And a cast of--well, dozens--many of whom are in fact either dead or otherwise not on this physical plane.


The End