Masks: Part 17

Jim watched Blair disappear into the building, and settled back to wait, smiling to himself. The kid had actually slept through the night, for the first time since that bastard Ponytail attacked him. He'd hated to get him up this morning, but he needed Blair today, and he hadn't wanted to leave him alone in the loft. Not after last night. The break-in had really shaken Blair, so much that Jim had slept only lightly, expecting to have to wake the kid from at least one nightmare, possibly more. That he hadn't was a minor miracle, and one Jim hoped to repeat with greater frequency. As long as there were no more shocks, there was a pretty good chance of that happening.

Jim glanced at the building. No sign of Blair. What the hell was taking him so long? He was just supposed to run in, grab his notes, and run out again. Okay, it hadn't really been that long, but...

Jim could see Blair's office window from the truck. He piggy-backed his hearing, turning it up to the maximum, and tried to find Blair's voice among the rest of the noise. If he was chatting with some co-ed, he was in trouble.

"I can't--"

There! That was Blair. Another voice interrupted, male, slightly deeper than Sandburg's.

"Do it! Or next time, I'll use this." Seconds later. "You know the drill, genius. Count to fifty before you move."

Oh God. Sandburg! Jim vaulted out of the truck, drawing his gun. He leaped up the steps and crashed through the doors into the building, racing for the staircase to the second floor. As he set his foot on the first step, he heard Blair's voice again, progressively louder.

"Damn, damn, dammit, dammit, dammit!"

Jim passed a student on the stairs, but barely glanced at him. Others were milling about in the hall, with one or two teachers, and some others Jim couldn't readily identify. The door to Blair's office opened, and Blair emerged, looking around wildly. He was pale, and from fifty feet away, Jim could see that he was shaking.

"Blair!" Jim shouted. "Are you all right?"

"Jim!" Blair focused on him and pushed away from the door, moving toward him. "He was here! The guy who mugged me."

"What does he look like?"

"I don't know. He grabbed me from behind." Blair looked around helplessly, then raked his hair back with a trembling hand. "I'm sorry, Jim."

"It's okay, Blair." Jim wanted to grab him, make sure he was in one piece, but he was afraid of sending Blair into hysterics. The kid looked okay, but with Blair, you could never tell. Jim put up his gun. "Why don't we go back to your office, and you can sit down?"

"My office!" Blair moaned. "Man, it's a mess! That jerk ransacked it, looking for the mask."

"We'll get it cleaned up," Jim said. "After forensics has been over everything."

They went in, and Jim closed the door. He righted the desk chair, and pointed to it. Blair dropped into the chair, still shaking. He put his head into his hands, breathing deeply, trying to slow his racing heart. Jim called in to Simon, and looked around the room. Blair was right, it was a mess. The floor was a sea of paper and artifacts, shelves had been dragged from their places, the bulletin board torn from the wall. Fortunately, just as in the loft, there was very little breakage. Either the guy was a considerate burglar, or he hadn't wanted to draw attention to himself with the noise.

Blair's head was still in his hands, but the trembling had lessened, and his heart rate was closer to normal. Jim grabbed another chair and sat down near him.

"You okay, Partner? You want some water, or anything?"

"I'm fine, Jim." Blair lifted his head. Instead of the fear Jim had expected to see, the blue eyes snapped with anger. "I want to get this guy, Jim. He threatened to kill me!"

"I know. I heard."

"You did?" Blair stared at him. "You were listening? Jim, did you know something was wrong?"

Jim smiled. "Sorry, Sandburg, no psychic powers today. I just wanted to know what was taking you so long."

"You thought I was wasting time." Bitterly. "Nice to know you have such faith in me."

"Hey, I have faith in you. It's just that you're easily distracted."

"I am not!"

Jim held up his hands. "Let's save the argument for later, okay, Partner? Tell me what you remember about this guy."

"Nothing, man. I told you, I didn't see him."

"Where was he when you came in?"

"Behind the door. He grabbed me--put a hand over my mouth and a gun to my head."

"He put a hand over your mouth? Was he wearing gloves?"

"No."

"So he may have left fingerprints. How tall was he?"

Blair shook his head. "I don't know, Jim. Taller than me. My head hit his chest somewhere, or maybe his shoulder."

"See, Partner? You know more about this guy than you thought. What about his voice?"

"It was the same guy who mugged me. He kept calling me genius. And it wasn't Rupert Crowley."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah. He talked a lot this time. It wasn't Crowley's voice."

"What did he say?"

Blair related the entire conversation, including the order for Blair to beg off the case. Jim kept tight rein on his anger; it wouldn't do any good now. Interesting, that this guy wanted Blair off the case, but not Jim. Why would he see an anthropologist as a bigger threat than a detective? It must be Blair's education that worried them, his specialized knowledge. Them? Yeah, them, had to be. The guy who'd threatened Blair wasn't the brains behind this; there had to be someone else. And it had to be someone connected to the Hatch Gallery. For Blair's sake, Jim hoped it wasn't Toni LeClaire. But she was a suspect, right along with Rupert Crowley and Geoffrey Hatch. She could have arranged Blair's mugging, and planted the evidence in Crowley's car and apartment. And there was nothing to say she hadn't helped Blair find those packing slips because she needed them as much as they did. The question was still why? What was it about the masks that had gotten Arthur Hatch and probably Thomas Wainwright killed, and Blair threatened with murder? Why were they worth so many lives? Dammit, they needed some answers! Starting with the name of the son of a bitch who'd threatened to kill his partner, while he sat outside in the truck.

"Jim?"

He focused on Blair. The kid's breathing and heart rate were just about normal, but he was still pale. "Yeah?"

"I've been thinking. Maybe you should look around before forensics gets here. You might spot something they'd miss."

"Good idea."

No point in telling the kid he'd been doing that already. He'd needed the nudge to get back on track anyway. Blair said the guy had been behind the door. Might as well concentrate there next. He checked the floor first. Nothing. No footprints, no missing buttons, no conveniently dropped ID with name, address, picture, and best time to make an arrest. He scanned the door, and the wall. Something moved, and Jim locked on it: a hair, stuck to the wall, long, but too light and way too straight to be Blair's. Well, well. The guy was getting careless. He must have leaned against the wall when he heard Blair coming. Jim plucked the hair off the wall, and turned to Blair.

"Our guy's a blond, Partner. You got something to put this in?"

Blair opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out an envelope, placing it in Jim's waiting hand. Jim dropped the hair in and sealed the envelope. He continued his search, but hadn't found anything else when forensics arrived. The minute they walked in, Blair stood and edged toward the door.

"Jim, I'm gonna--um--"

Jesus, he was white. "You okay, Partner?"

"I'm fine, Jim. I just need to get some air."

"Why don't you wait in the truck?"

"Yeah. Okay."

Blair slipped out the door. While he explained the situation to forensics, Jim kept half an ear on his partner. Blair made his way down the hall quickly, speaking to no one, and all but ran down the stairs. He reached the ground floor, and headed for the doors, pushed through them and started down the steps, but didn't make it to the bottom. At first, Jim assumed that Blair had met someone he knew, but there was no conversation. Blocking out the voices of the forensics team and the other people in the building, Jim concentrated solely on Blair. Blair's heart was racing, his breathing fast and shallow--too shallow. God, not again!

Jim ran out of the building, bursting through the doors to see Blair sitting on the steps, head in hands. Jim wasn't the first to reach him. A bearded, gray-haired man stood behind him, slightly to his right. The man glanced at Jim, then stretched out a hand and laid it on Blair's shoulder.

"No!"

Blair twisted away, launching himself off the steps. He hit the ground and rolled, then pushed himself to his feet. The bearded man stared, astounded by Blair's reaction. Blair's eyes found Jim, and locked onto him, ignoring everything else. Jim descended the steps and approached Blair slowly.

"Jim," he gasped. "Jim--"

"It's okay, Partner." Jim kept his voice calm. "Everything's okay. You're all right."

Blair shook his head, wrapping his arms around his ribs. "Jim, I can't--breathe."

He swayed, and would have fallen, but Jim caught his shoulders and lowered him to his knees. Blair was fighting for each breath, his heart beating double time. Jim squatted in front of him, still holding his shoulders, expecting him to wrench himself free at any moment, but Blair didn't seem to notice Jim's touch.

"Blair, listen to me. You can breathe. You're talking to me. That takes air, doesn't it? This is nothing to worry about. It's just another anxiety attack."

"Yeah, I--I--ok--okay."

"Take it easy, Blair. You don't have to talk. All you have to do is relax."

Blair sat back on his heels, never taking his eyes from Jim's. "Jim, I--when he--grabbed me, I--I thought--"

Oh, God, he should have realized. "Blair, this guy's not Ponytail. Ponytail's gone, and he's never coming back. He can't hurt you anymore."

"I--know! I--just--" Blair shook his head, unable to find the breath to continue.

"You flashed back. I know, Partner. I'm sorry."

"Not--your--"

"Not my fault. I know. But I'm sorry anyway. Blair, we'll get this guy. Him, and whoever he's working with. We'll get them together, Partner: you and me. We'll put them in prison."

"That's--what you--what you said--about--"

"Yeah, but these guys aren't shapeshifting Sentinels. We'll get them, I promise. This arguing isn't helping you, Partner. Come on, now, I need you to relax for me. Close your eyes and relax. Can you do that?"

"Yeah. Just--just--"

"What, Blair? What do you need?"

"Just don't--don't let go--okay?"

Jim squeezed Blair's shoulders lightly, doing his best to hide his astonishment. "I won't, Partner. Now close your eyes. Think of those people you told me about last night, the ones who live in the trees."

"The--Kombai," Blair supplied, his eyes closed, but his mouth, as always, open.

"Shut up and concentrate, Sandburg," Jim growled.

Blair obeyed, his heart already starting to slow down. He'd be fine in a few minutes, thank God. Once he could breathe again, Jim knew Blair wouldn't be able to tolerate his touch. He didn't understand how Blair could stand it now, when the bearded man's touch had evoked such a violent reaction. But he didn't want to analyze it. It had been too long since he could offer Blair reassurance with a pat on the back or a hand on his arm, light, brotherly touches that had become second-nature to him, before Ponytail made them unthinkable. Soon enough, he'd feel Blair stiffen under his fingers and pull away. But for now, he kept his hands on his partner's shoulders, and allowed himself to smile.





Blair followed Jim into the bullpen, glancing at the clock. Oh, man, 1:30! Simon would have a fit. He knew he shouldn't have let Jim talk him into going to lunch before they came in. Forensics had left his office at eleven, and he and Jim had spent an hour and a half cleaning up. The papers would all have to be sorted, but at least they were off the floor. And he'd found his notes on Wainwright's mask, so he'd be able to write his paper. That was about all he'd done, really. Jim had taken care of most of the cleanup. Blair had fled the office three times, each time thinking he could never go back in, each time getting madder at himself and at the man who had turned him into this coward who crouched in the hall. After the third time, the anger had taken over, and he'd torn through the office, snatching up papers and returning artifacts to their places. Jim hadn't said a word. But when they were done, Jim had practically dragged him to an organic vegetarian place that he knew Jim hated, where Blair had drunk an entire pot of ginger tea laced with licorice, kava-kava and ginseng, the combination intended to soothe without making him drowsy. Watching Jim force down tofu, tomato, and goatcheese on four-grain bread was an experience never likely to be repeated in Blair's lifetime. He owed Jim big for this. He owed Jim for a lot of things, but this particular debt could probably be taken care of by a trip to Wonder Burger. He could stand it, as long as he didn't actually have to eat anything.

There was one good thing about his office being ransacked: the guy had probably left fingerprints. Forensics had lifted a lot of prints from the door, the wall, and the shelves. Most of them would be Blair's own, but there was a good possibility of at least one belonging to the mugger. If the guy had a record, they'd have a name and a picture, and they'd finally be getting somewhere with this case. Which would make Jim, and Simon, happy.

Jim picked up a fax from his desk, studied it for a second, then passed it to Blair. "Ms. LeClaire's list of names. See how it compares to yours, would you, Partner? I'm going to check in with Simon."

Blair couldn't help stealing another glance at the clock. "Do you think that's a good idea, Jim? Maybe if we just kind of sat here quietly, Simon wouldn't notice what time we came in."

"Sandburg, I told you not to worry about it. Simon knows where we've been. He's not going to take my head off."

"Why tempt fate?"

Jim shook his head. "Just take a look at these names, okay, Partner? I'll be back in a few."

Jim headed for Simon's office. Blair watched him go in, and waited for the explosion, but it didn't come. Guess Jim was right. Sitting down in Jim's chair, Blair turned the computer on, fished a disk out of the cheap replacement backpack he'd bought yesterday--he couldn't wait to get his old one back--and slotted it in. He called up his list of names, and checked it against Toni's. She only had five names on her list; he had nine. Three of hers also appeared on his, and he'd listed Thomas Wainwright just to make sure the final count was twenty-four. That left them with ten new names, but they only had locations for seven. Blair looked at the phone. No. He couldn't. She wouldn't want to talk to him. Dammit, Sandburg, think of someone besides yourself for a change.

Blair picked up the phone and punched in the number.

"Hatch Gallery."

Deep breath. "Hi, Toni, it's Blair Sandburg. I--um--wanted to thank you for faxing those names over."

"You're welcome," Toni replied. She didn't sound mad. "What else can I do for you?"

Great, Blair, you're transparent. "Get some addresses from the computer?"

Fifteen minutes later, he had addresses and phone numbers for each of the ten names.

"Thanks, Toni. I'm--really sorry about the other night."

"I know you are. Blair, was it really Rupert who robbed you and the gallery?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about that, Toni. All the evidence points to him."

"But that doesn't mean--" She sighed. "I just can't believe he could do something like that."

"No one ever wants to believe that someone they know could do this kind of thing."

"I suppose not. Blair, are you all right? Detective Ellison said you were, but..."

"I'm fine, Toni. Thanks. I, um, I have to go now. We have to call these people. If you think of anyone else, would you let us know right away?"

"Of course. Good-bye, Blair."

"Bye."

Blair hung up the phone, and put his head in his hands. God, he'd practically hit her, and she asked if he was all right. She shouldn't be so nice to him, he didn't deserve it. Not that it mattered. She wouldn't go out with him again unless he could tell her what had made him freak out the other night, and he was never going to be able to do that. He'd had all he could do to tell Dr. Hawthorne, and she was his therapist. How could he ever tell a woman he was attracted to that he'd been--

Raped. Raped, Sandburg, you were raped. God, bad enough you can hardly bring yourself to say the word, now you're back to not being able to think it? Wonderful progress you're making. Really impressive. Don't forget to tell the doctor that you turned violent because a woman tried to kiss you. She'll love that one. I can hear her now. "Blair, I think you should consider in-patient therapy. Just until we can be certain that you're not a danger to others." "But Doctor, as long as women don't kiss me and men don't touch me at all, I'm fine." "I'll be the judge of that, Blair."

"Sandburg? You okay?"

Blair jerked his head up. Taggert stood in front of the desk, a folder in his hand. Blair gave him a weak smile.

"Hey, Joel. I'm fine. Just thinking."

"Uh-oh." Taggert grinned. "We're all in trouble now."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Why does everybody say that?"

"Because we all know how your mind works, Partner."

Jim was back, carrying two mugs of what smelled like Simon's special chocolate almond coffee. No, make that one mug of chocolate almond, which he deposited on the desk, and a mug of the regular stuff for himself. Jim didn't like flavored coffees. Blair vacated Jim's chair for his own, picked up the mug, closed his eyes, and inhaled the fabulous aroma. Too bad they never tasted quite as good as they smelled.

"Okay, Joel, he's distracted," Jim said. "What can I do for you?"

"I am not distracted," Blair objected, keeping his eyes closed. "I'm listening to every word."

Taggert chuckled. "I'm on my way to Simon's office. I just thought I'd return the Anderson file."

Blair heard the file drop onto the desk, and the sound of Taggert's footsteps moving away. "Later, Big Guy."

"Yeah."

Jim sat down. A moment later. "Hey, Partner, ten names? That's great."

Blair shook his head. "It's not good enough, Jim."

"It's ten more names than we had before."

"But there's still thirteen more out there somewhere." And because of me, we don't have them. He wouldn't say that out loud. Jim would only leap to his defense, whether he deserved it or not. "Jim, I know I saw them. I saw them all, I just can't--" Blair's eyes flew open. He turned to face Jim, nearly spilling the coffee. "Jim! I know what to do!"

Jim struggled to suppress a smile. "What?"

"It's so obvious, I should've thought of it before. I saw all the slips, I just need help to remember what I saw. It's like when you see things, but don't take notice of them, and we use relaxation techniques to go over what you saw again."

"Will that work for you?"

"Well, I'll probably need actual hypnosis, but yeah, it should. I did see them, Jim, I know I did."

Jim picked up the phone and dialed.

"Who are you calling?"

Jim held up a hand to quiet him, and spoke into the receiver. "Dr. Hawthorne, it's Jim Ellison. I wonder if you could do me a favor?"

 

End Part 17

Part 18