WARNING, Part II: I'm not kidding. This story deals with the aftermath of rape. It is intense, graphic, violent, and contains bad words. If you are under 18 or apt to be disturbed by such content, PLEASE DO NOT READ THE STORY. Thank you.

DISCLAIMER: They're not mine, drat it. Neither is Chris Smither's song, "The Devil's Real", which can be found on his Happier Blue CD.

CLAIMER: The following characters are mine. Please don't use them without my permission: Sandy Kolchak, Martin Ballard, Steve Connelly, Tabitha Crowe, Victoria (Vicky) Smithers, Arthur Hatch, Lancelot Geoffrey Hatch, Antoinette (Toni) LeClaire, Rupert (Mr. Beige) Crowley, Dr. Alice Hawthorne, Ponytail, Olive Palmer, Wilkins, Dr. Elsie Cranmore, Keith Parks, Joshua Stanhope, Ms. Alvarez, Benjamin Sandburg, Miriam Sandburg, David Sandburg, Sarah Sandburg, Torvald Lindstrom. Still awake?

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: MASKS wasn't supposed to be written. But several readers of TDYK were kind enough to ask for a sequel, and a certain long-haired anthropologist wouldn't leave me alone until I'd written it. So, after ten months and much agonizing, what started out to be a longish story and became a short novel was finally finished. This would not have happened without the assistance of The Three Graces, all excellent writers and even better friends: Kris Williams, who managed to discover that the Kombai Tree People are real; Sue Palmatier, Super Librarian, who researched untold numbers of subjects for me with never a word of complaint; and Jo Duffy, Writer Extraordinaire and Keeper of Herbal Knowledge, who gave me wonderful advice, most of which I was smart enough to take. Without these three, MASKS would not be what it is. I hope you enjoy it.

written October, 1996 - August, 1997



Masks

by

Susan L. Williams


The gun went off in his hand. The double flew back, slammed down onto the floor, and lay still, but he didn't put the gun down, he couldn't. Jim came, bleeding, and took the gun away from him.

"You did good, kid. You got rid of him." A smile stretched his lips. "Now it's just you and me."

A hard mouth fastened on his, tongue thrusting into his throat. Jim pushed him down to the floor, and he was too weak to fight, too weak to get away. Jim flipped him onto his stomach, wrenched his legs apart. Jim's cock tore into his ass, and he screamed with pain and betrayal and shame, screamed until his throat burst.

"Sandburg! Sandburg, wake up! Sandburg!"

Hands on him. Hard hands, gripping his arms, shaking him. No, not again! Not again, please! Blair fought, trying to twist away, but he couldn't break the grip on his arms, he couldn't get away.

"Let go!" he shouted, panic increasing his struggles. "Let me go!"

"Sandburg, it's okay. It's me, it's Jim. Calm down."

"Let go!"

The grip relaxed. Blair tore free and threw himself away from the hands, too scared to see where he was going. He crashed to the floor and scrambled to his feet, facing the man across the bed. Tall, hard-muscled, face sculpted from stone, set with blue eyes that seemed to glow from within. Brown hair in a buzz cut, receding from the forehead in a widow's peak. Jim. It was Jim, Jim, not Ponytail. Ponytail was gone.

Jim stared at him like he didn't know him. One hand stretched toward him, and dropped to his side. Blair felt his face go hot. He sat down on the edge of the bed, his back to Jim, and tried to get his breathing and heartbeat back to something approaching normal. His voice was low, but he knew Jim would hear.

"I'm sorry, man."

"You were screaming."

"Yeah. Nightmares. Scared the shit out of the monks at St. Sebastian's."

"What about you?"

Blair shrugged.

"Sorry about grabbing you. I--forgot."

"It's okay, man. It's not your fault."

"It feels like it is."

Blair stared at him. How was he supposed to handle this? Jim just didn't talk about his feelings. Ever. "No, Jim. If not for you..." If not for Jim, Ponytail would have butchered him. Sliced him up and slit his throat, and recorded the whole thing on videotape.

"If not for me, he never would have come after you."

"He was after us both, man. I was just--easier." That was putting it mildly. Ponytail had beaten the shit out of him, raped him, kidnapped him, and he'd never gotten in a single punch to defend himself. Not one. "You're not responsible, Jim. Don't take it on yourself." Blair forced a smile. "One of us has got to stay sane."

"You're not crazy!"

Blair winced. "Okay."

"Sandburg." Jim waited until Blair met his eyes. "You're not crazy."

"Okay, I'm not crazy." Just slightly insane. "Can I go back to sleep now?"

"No point," Jim replied. "We've got to get up in ten minutes anyway. Work today, remember?"

Blair fell back onto the bed, groaning. "Already?"

"What are you complaining about? You've just had three weeks off. Now get your ass into the shower, and don't use all the hot water."

Blair groaned again, and rolled off the bed. Jim backed into the hall, giving him room to get by without touching him. "Yes, sir, Detective Ellison, sir."

"Wiseass," Jim growled after him.

"Yes, sir." He flashed a grin before ducking into the bathroom. "That's me, sir."





Jim drove to the station. Blair sat in the passenger seat beside him, fiddling with the straps on his backpack. His heart was pounding, his breathing was too fast, and he knew Jim could hear it, and that just made it worse. Shame kept him silent. He couldn't get this morning's incident out of his head. He kept seeing Jim's face, the hurt and confusion he'd glimpsed there when he'd fought to get away from the bigger man. He'd been back in Cascade for less than 24 hours, and Jim was already so upset that he was letting his emotions show. It was all his fault. Maybe he should've stayed at St. Sebastian's. He was still having nightmares, still afraid to let anyone touch him--maybe it had been a mistake to leave. Maybe he wasn't ready.

Jim's hands tightened on the steering wheel. Blair looked away, out the window. Dammit, this wasn't fair to Jim. First Jim saved his life, then did everything he could to save his sanity, and Blair repaid him by flinching every time he came near and going nuts if Jim so much as touched him. And now Jim thought that he was afraid just to be in the truck with him. It wasn't fair. Jim deserved better. At least, an attempt to explain.

"Jim?" Blair ventured.

"Yeah?"

"It's not you, man. I'm just--nervous. Okay?"

Jim nodded, accepting his words without question. "Okay."

Jim didn't try to tell him there was nothing to be nervous about. Blair wasn't sure if he was grateful for that or not, but he wasn't about to beg for hollow reassurance.

Jim pulled into a space at the station and shut off the truck. They sat for a minute, neither one moving. Finally, Jim looked at him.

"You ready, Chief?"

Blair winced at the nickname, and cursed himself for his reaction. It was just a word! Jim had been calling him that since they met, sarcasm at first, gradually evolving into sort of an affectionate jibe. At least, that was how he'd thought of it. Until Ponytail had made it an obscenity. Now he couldn't stand to hear it. He felt so stupid. It was just one more thing to hurt Jim, and he hated it.

"Sorry," Jim said.

"No, man, it's okay." Blair couldn't look at him. "We gonna sit out here all day?"

Jim got out of the truck. Blair jumped down and hurried to catch up with him. They went inside, flashed their ID's at the desk, and went to the elevator. While they were waiting, a bunch of uniforms walked past. They all spoke to Jim, or at least nodded, but Blair might as well have been invisible. Blair stared at the floor, pretending he didn't notice.

"Sandburg?"

Blair looked up. Steve Connelly stood in front of him. Connelly had been guarding him when Ponytail took him from the loft. Blair hadn't seen him since that night. "Yeah?"

Connelly cleared his throat. "I--uh--I just wanted to say that--"

"Forget it," Blair said. "It wasn't your fault."

"Yeah, well." Connelly shook his head. "Maybe. Anyway, uh, welcome back."

Blair's eyebrows shot up. "Thanks."

Connelly walked away. Blair stared after him for a moment, then shifted his gaze back to the floor. The elevator arrived, and they boarded. Jim punched "6", and stepped back beside Blair.

"Surprised?" Jim asked.

"Stunned."

"'Mr. Military's' not such a bad guy, huh?"

Blair grinned sheepishly. "I guess not."

The doors opened, and they stepped off, heading for the squadroom. Sandy Kolchak from Records was just coming out, her arms full of files. She was a year or so younger than him, pretty, and wore her blonde hair short and her skirts even shorter. They'd talked a few times, but nothing had ever come of it.

"Blair!"

Blair smiled uncertainly. "Hi, Sandy."

Sandy freed one hand from the stack of files and squeezed his wrist. Blair managed not to flinch. "It's nice to see you. We've missed you around here."

"Really?"

"Really. I have, anyway. Gotta go. See you later, Blair."

Sandy moved off, juggling her files. Jim grinned down at him. "She's got the hots for you, Sandburg."

Blair felt himself blushing, but a grin stole across his face. "She does not."

"Her heart rate was up, she was slightly flushed. Trust me on this, Casanova, she's after your scrawny body."

"Jim!" Blair knew his face was redder than his shirt. "Come on, man."

"You should ask her out."

The smile died, but the blush didn't. Blair looked away, mumbling. "Yeah, well, maybe I'll call her some time."

"What's wrong with now?" Jim prodded.

"I can't now."

"Why not?"

Blair hesitated. "Because--" Because she wouldn't want him. Not if she knew. Couldn't Jim see that?

"Because why?"

"Because I don't want to, dammit! Get off my back!"

"Fine." Jim's face was an impenetrable mask. "Let's get to work."

Guilt flooded him. "Jim--"

Jim stalked away, through the squadroom to his desk, leaving Blair standing alone at the door. Oh God, everyone was looking at him. What was he going to do? How could he walk across that room, knowing everyone was staring at him? God, Jim, don't make me do this alone. But Jim wasn't coming back. He had two choices: go in, or turn tail and run and never come back. Ever. Dammit. Dammit!

Blair took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and walked through the squadroom. Taggert greeted him, and he said something in return, but he didn't know what and he didn't see him. His eyes were fixed on Jim's desk. All he had to do was reach it, and he'd be through the gauntlet. It didn't matter if no one else spoke to him; he didn't care about them anyway. The only one in that room he cared about was sitting at his desk, switching his computer on, never once glancing his way. Blair stopped in front of the desk, and stood there unmoving until Jim finally relented and looked up.

"I'm sorry, man," Blair said quietly. "I just--It's hard, you know?"

Jim studied him for a minute, then nodded. "Sit down, Sandburg. You want coffee?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

Jim went to the coffeepot. Several detectives stopped to talk to him while he poured their coffee, but no one came near the desk, and everyone except Martin Ballard avoided Blair's eyes. Ballard gazed back at him, a half-smile on his face, until Blair looked away.

"Hands off, Matthews, that's Sandburg's."

Simon's secretary, Rhonda, ducked out of Tom Matthews' reach and swooped over to Jim's desk, depositing a bagel in front of Blair.

"There you go, Blair. Welcome back."

Blair grinned. "Hey, pumpernickel, my favorite. Thanks, Rhonda."

She smiled. "Anytime, sweetie. Maybe now that you're back, Detective Grim Ellison will lighten up a little."

"Has he been giving you a hard time?"

"Nothing I can't handle." She leaned down, whispering, "He'll never say it, but he missed you. A lot." Rhonda straightened up, and winked at him. "Eat that, now, it's fresh this morning."

"Yes, ma'am."

Rhonda moved off, and Blair shook his head, still grinning. Rhonda wasn't any older than Jim, but she always treated Blair like he was a little kid. Usually, it drove him crazy. Today, he didn't mind so much.

Simon emerged from his office just as Blair bit into the bagel. The tall, dark-skinned man strode to Jim's desk, twisting his normally grim features into a smile.

"Sandburg. Good to have you back."

Blair almost choked. He coughed, chewed rapidly, and swallowed. "Uh--thanks, Captain."

The smile vanished, but there was a suspicious glint in the brown eyes behind the gold-framed glasses. "Has Jim briefed you on this Kenyan thing?"

"Um, not really. He just said it has something to do with Mombatu artifacts."

"Right. My office. Jim, bring the file. We may as well go over this together."

Jim handed Blair his mug, scooped a file folder off his desk, and followed Simon into his office. Sticking the bagel between his teeth, Blair picked up his pack with one hand, kept the mug in the other, and carried it all into the office, kicking the door closed behind him. The door slammed, startling Simon, who turned to glare at him.

"Shorry, Shimon," he said around the bagel. "No handsh."

He slid into his accustomed seat beside Jim, setting his mug on the table and his pack on the floor, and removed the bagel from his mouth. "So, what've we got, Jim?"

"That's what we need you to tell us." Jim opened the folder and spread out a series of photographs, each of about half a dozen masks, carved from wood, painted in various colors. Some were decorated with animal hair, or grass, or feathers; others were studded with stones or bits of bone. "What do you think Darwin? Are they real?"

Blair studied the pictures. "They're in the Mombatu style. In fact, they're representative of several different periods. You see how they evolve from relatively plain, to elaborate, to abstract? They did that over generations; over centuries, really."

"So they're real?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head. "I have no idea."

"What?"

Simon scowled at Jim. "I thought you said he knew this stuff."

"I do," Blair protested. "But I can't tell if they're authentic from photographs. I need to see the real thing, to examine them. I need to check the carving marks, the ingredients in the paint, the application of the hair and grass. There's more to this than just looking at a picture. For all I can tell from these, this stuff could've been made last week with crazy glue and poster paints."

"Great." Jim ran a hand over his face. "Just great."

"What's the problem? I just need to see the masks."

"The problem is, we don't have them."

"What? Why not? Where are they? Jim, don't tell me they were stolen. That's terrible!"

"Whoa, slow down there, Sandburg. The masks weren't stolen."

"Then where are they?"

"They were shipped here from Kenya last month. Customs thought there was something weird--that's why the pictures--but they couldn't prove anything and they had to release the masks to the owner."

"Who's the owner?"

"They went to an art gallery on 14th."

"Well, can't we just go there?"

"Too late. All the masks have been sold. They're scattered all over the country now."

"Can't the gallery owner tell us who bought them?"

"The owner can't tell us anything: he's dead. He was found hanging in the gallery a week ago."

"Suicide?"

"Uh-uh. His hands were tied behind his back, and there was a mask over his face."

"Oh, man." Blair closed his eyes, trying not to remember hanging by his wrists in the attic, helpless, unable to escape Ponytail's touch, or his knife. He pushed the image from his mind, but the memory turned his stomach. The bagel was a lump of lead inside him.

"You okay, Sandburg?" Jim asked.

"Fine. Um, what kind of mask was it?"

"We don't know." Jim slid another photograph toward him. "It's in evidence, if you need to see it."

Blair glanced at the picture, and shook his head. "This isn't Mombatu. Onkantu, maybe."

"If these masks are real, how much would they be worth?" Simon asked.

"It depends," Blair replied. "Y'see, mask-making is a thriving trade now. The tribespeople churn them out for tourists. They're still real, but basically worthless. The older ones..." He shrugged. "It would depend on their rarity. Anywhere between a thousand dollars and a million."

"A million dollars? For one of those?"

"About there, yeah. But that would be for something incredibly rare. Usually, the government won't let those out of the country. They have too much historical significance. You think these were smuggled out of Kenya? And that's why the gallery owner was killed?"

"That's our best guess," Jim said.

"But who would kill him?"

"Probably his partners. We figure he tried to cheat them out of their share of the profits. Whoever they are."

Blair nodded. It sounded logical. But-- "What if it wasn't partners? What if it was someone trying to recover the stolen masks? Some of them are considered sacred."

"Could be," Jim conceded. "The list of buyers is missing. The gallery's trying to reconstruct it for us."

"So you think somebody's after the buyers?"

"Or possibly just the masks. We can't be sure."

"Got anything else?" Banks asked.

Jim shook his head. "Not yet, Simon."

Simon stood. "You and Sandburg keep working on it. Let me know if you find anything."

"Yes, sir."

They rose, and Jim left the office. Blair started to follow, but Simon called him back. He faced the older man, looking up to meet his eyes.

"How are you doing, Sandburg?" the Captain asked.

"Okay. Better now than I was. I, um, I want to thank you for letting me stay at your place. I appreciate it."

"Least I could do," Simon said. "Besides, I owed you."

"What for?"

"For coming to Peru, to get Daryl and me."

Blair shrugged. "I wasn't much good. All I did was get captured."

"You came, Sandburg. That's what counts."

"Yeah." Blair smiled briefly. "I guess. Anyway, thanks."

"You're welcome."

Blair left the office, closing the door behind him--quietly this time--and dropped his pack beside Jim's desk. Jim was already absorbed in some report, so Blair took the opportunity to slip off to the men's room. He still felt sick; if he was going to lose his breakfast, he didn't want to do it in the squadroom. He was in one of the stalls when he heard the outer door open and two men walk in, talking. He didn't know the first voice; the second, he recognized as Martin Ballard.

"I hear Ellison's partner's back."

"Yeah, he's back, all right. Flounced in here this morning like he owned the place."

"I'm surprised he's got the balls to show his face, after what happened."

"Me, too. If you ask me, the little Jew-boy faggot got what he deserved. Prancing around here with that hair and those earrings, pretending he's one of us. Makes me sick. Ellison should have tossed him out on his ass a long time ago."

"Maybe his ass is why Ellison keeps him around."

Ballard laughed. "Yeah, maybe."

Ballard and his friend left the men's room. As soon as he heard the door close, Blair started to shake. He wrapped his arms around his stomach, taking deep breaths, but it didn't help. God! They thought he--that Jim-- How could they? How could anyone believe that? How could anyone think that he deserved Ponytail? Ballard and his friend wouldn't be the only ones, either. Ballard was just a big enough asshole to say it out loud. What were the rest of the cops thinking? Did they all know? Did they all believe that he--that he'd had it coming to him? Did they despise him as much as Ballard did? Did Jim know? Jim had worked with these guys for years, how could he not know? God! Oh, God--

Blair dropped to his knees, grabbed his hair out of the way, and vomited. Once breakfast was gone, there was nothing else in his stomach, but the retching continued for what seemed like forever. When it finally ended, Blair sat on the floor and waited for the shaking to stop. He climbed to his feet, flushed the toilet, and left the stall to splash cold water on his face and wash out his mouth. Oh God, Jim would be able to smell it on him. How was he going to explain? He couldn't tell him what Ballard had said, he didn't know what Jim would do, and there was no way he could ever get the words out. What if Jim already knew? What if he knew exactly what his colleagues thought of his partner, what if he'd always known? What if they were right?

No! No, he was not going to do this. He was not going to let that jerk Ballard make him doubt Jim. Jim was his friend. If Jim knew what the others thought, and hadn't told him, it was because Jim was protecting him, making sure he didn't get hurt. That was all it was. Most likely, Jim didn't know. And Blair wasn't going to be the one to tell him.

But he couldn't stay here. He couldn't spend all day sitting in the squadroom, separated from Ballard by no more than twenty feet. He couldn't sit there and pretend he didn't know what Ballard thought of him, and of Jim. Not today. He wouldn't be able to keep it off his face, and Jim would know something was wrong. He had to get out. But he couldn't just run. He wouldn't give Ballard the satisfaction. And he didn't want to alarm Jim.

Blair went back to the desk. Jim was still reading the same report, something to do with another case he was working on. Blair grabbed his jacket and pack. "Jim?"

"Hmmm?"

"I gotta go."

"What?" Jim looked up, and frowned. "Are you okay, Sandburg? You look a little pale."

"I'm fine. I've gotta go to the U. You don't need me here, and I've got a lot to catch up on. I've gotta clean up my office, and talk to whoever subbed for me."

Jim didn't look convinced. But all he said was, "You want a ride?"

"No, I'll take the bus. Thanks."

"You have enough cash?"

"Yes." Maybe. "Jim, I'm not a kid. I can get across town all by myself. I'll see you later."

Blair shouldered his pack and walked away without giving Jim a chance to argue. He felt eyes on him all the way out of the room, but he didn't know if they were Jim's, or Ballard's. Or the eyes of everyone in the squadroom.

 

End Part 1

Part 2