Masks: Part 5

"So, you didn't see anyone?"

Rupert "Mr. Beige" Crowley heaved a bored sigh. "No. I told you, Toni and I left together. Mr. Hatch stayed behind. There was no one else in or near the gallery."

"And he wasn't expecting anyone that you know of?"

"No. He didn't clear his appointments with me."

Blair nodded. So far, Rupert was no help. He was not at all pleased to be in the back room of the gallery answering questions when he could be out on the floor trying to earn some commission off a sale. He was particularly displeased that the questions came from a scruffy, long-haired kid, and he made that apparent by being even less polite than he'd been to Jim. Blair wasn't any too happy himself. Aside from some of the artwork, the only thing he liked about this gallery was Toni. He didn't like being here, and it showed. He couldn't sit down, or stand still. He was all over the room, pacing, touching things, shoving his hair back--he'd done that about twenty times since they came in here--and he couldn't stop. Rupert leaned against a desk, legs crossed, pale eyes shifting back and forth to follow him. Rupert wasn't the problem, he knew that. It was being alone in a room with another man. Any other man. Which was ridiculous, but he couldn't help it. There was nothing to be afraid of. Rupert wasn't going to attack him. And if he did, Blair was pretty sure he could take him. Rupert was only a couple of inches taller than him, skinny, and he'd probably never hit anyone in his life. All of which was completely insignificant, because nothing was going to happen. There was no reason for him to be nervous. No reason at all. Rupert wasn't Ponytail. But he could be. Anyone could be.

"Is there anything else, officer?"

Blair pushed his hair back again. Dammit! "Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the masks."

Rupert smiled. "They're African."

Blair returned the smile. "No kidding? From the photographs, I estimated the oldest mask to be mid-16th century, and the newest late 19th, probably during the cholera epidemic. Would you say that's about right?"

Rupert shut his gaping mouth. "I wouldn't know. It's not my field."

"Oh? Did you sell any of them?"

"No. Mr. Hatch sold all of them personally."

"You've never shown African art here before, have you?"

"No. The masks were the first."

"What made Mr. Hatch decide to buy them?"

"I wouldn't know that, either."

"Oh. You're just the help, huh?"

Rupert glared daggers at him. "Actually, I brought several artists to Mr. Hatch's attention."

"Just not these?"

"Yes."

"Yes you did, or yes you didn't?"

"I didn't," Rupert gritted.

"Do you know who he bought the masks from?"

"No."

Blair asked a few more questions, got no more information, and let Rupert out of the back room. He didn't know which of them was happier to get him out of there. Scarf-woman was gone; Toni was studying one of the Onkantu masks, reaching up to touch the wood. She turned toward Blair, and smiled.

"My turn, Detective Sandburg?"

He couldn't help answering her smile. "Yes. But it's just Blair. I'm not a cop, I'm a civilian observer."

Rupert shot him a dirty look, and Blair shrugged. He'd "forgotten" to mention that little fact to Mr. Beige. Toni preceded him into the back room.

"I wondered how you could be an anthropologist and a policeman. I was afraid you were lying to me."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Except in the line of duty?"

"No, I--well--" Oh, God, he was blushing. "This isn't fair. I'm supposed to ask the questions."

Toni smiled. "Well, you go on and ask, Mr. Sandburg."

Toni's answers were pretty much the same as Rupert's, though she phrased them a lot more politely. She had no more idea than Crowley of why Arthur Hatch had suddenly decided to branch out into African art, and she hadn't seen anyone near the gallery when she left on the night of the murder. Blair didn't push any more than he had with Rupert; Jim would question them both again anyway, and their stories agreed in every area but one: Toni claimed that she had sold one of the masks.

"Really? Do you remember who you sold it to?"

"A Mr. Wainwright. He was in Cascade on business."

"From where?"

"Boston, I think."

"Great." Blair nodded, his mind racing. "I know the list of buyers is gone. Would you have anything else that might have Wainwright's address or phone number on it?"

"Packing slips? No, wait." Toni sat down at the computer. "We keep records of all the customers, what they've bought, their preferences, things like that."

"Fantastic!"

Her slender fingers tapped in commands. In seconds, she was into the database, searching for the record on Wainwright. It took a few minutes--the gallery didn't have the most advanced system in the world--but eventually, Wainwright's name flashed onto the screen.

"Can you print it for me?"

Toni obliged. Blair hovered over the printer, bouncing on the balls of his feet, until the paper came out. He snatched it up. "This is great. This is really great. Jim's gonna love this."

"Jim's gonna love what?"

Jim stood in the doorway, eyebrows raised in inquiry. Blair dashed across the room, waving the paper.

"Jim, Toni sold one of the masks to this guy, Wainwright, in Boston. We've got an address and phone number."

Jim took the paper from him, scanning the printout. "Good work, Partner."

"Actually, it was Toni's work."

Jim smiled at her. "Thank you, Ms. LeClaire. Would you by chance remember any of the other buyers?"

"No, I'm sorry, Detective. I only sold one."

Still smiling. "Would you excuse us for a minute, please?"

"Of course."

Toni left the room. Both men watched her go. The moment the door closed, Jim turned to Blair. "Got anything else?"

"No. Rupert claims he doesn't know anything."

"You think he's lying?"

Blair shrugged. "You're the human lie-detector, man, not me. Toni tells the same story, but..."

"What?"

A grimace. "I guess I just don't like him."

"You don't seem to have that problem with Ms. LeClaire. Remember what I said, Sandburg?"

Heat mounted in Blair's face. "Jim, she's cooperating. She got that guy's address for m--us."

"She's still a suspect. Along with everyone else here. So--"

"I know, I know. Keep it professional. Come on, Jim, give me some credit."

"I am. I left you alone with her, didn't I? Listen, Partner, do you think you can reconstruct that list of buyers?"

"I don't know yet. I haven't had a chance to get into the computer."

"Why don't you hang out here for a while and see what you can do? I'm going to question our friends out there, then go back to the station and see if I can reach Wainwright and persuade him to send the mask back here so you can have a look at it."

"You sure you trust me?" Blair couldn't keep the sarcasm from his tone. "Toni'll be here, too."

"Sandburg, I trust you," Jim said. "Her, I'm a little worried about."

"Right. Sure."

"Blair--"

Jim reached out, and panic slashed Blair's heart. He flinched away, then tried to cover by ducking his head and moving behind the desk to sit at the computer.

"I'll get started."

Jim opened his mouth, and shut it. Blair shifted his gaze to the screen. God, don't let Jim apologize again. He couldn't stand it.

"Okay, Partner," Jim said. "Call me if you find anything, or you want out of here before I get back."

"Okay."

He didn't see Jim leave. His eyes were fixed on the computer screen, seeing nothing.





Blair sipped his tea and gently stroked the purple blossom of an African violet, wishing he were somewhere else. He didn't want to talk about what he was feeling, how he was--or wasn't--dealing with things. He didn't like talking about himself. External stuff, sure. He could go on for days about the places he'd been, the people he'd met and lived or worked with. But talking about the inner Blair Sandburg, about his thoughts and feelings, about what made him the way he was--that, he hated. Letting other people see inside him made him uncomfortable. Hell, it scared him. People liked the surface Blair. But people who knew him--really knew him--didn't want him around. It had always been that way. There was something wrong with him, something he couldn't let other people see. He didn't know what it was, but he knew it was there.

"Blair, are you with me?"

Blair glanced at Dr. Hawthorne, smiled briefly. "Sure."

He'd told her about going to the station, and the anxiety attack, but not about Ballard. About feeling uncomfortable with Rupert, but not about his attraction to Toni. About having the nightmares and what Jim had said to him, but not what the nightmares were about, or staying awake the rest of the night, or not going to bed at all some nights. He wasn't lying to her; he was just being selective. After all, he couldn't tell her every little thing that happened, or they'd be here all night.

"Blair, you've been coming to me for a few weeks now, and you've never told me about the attacks. Do you think you can do that?"

No! "I thought you already knew."

"I know what you told Jim and Captain Banks. But you left things out, didn't you?"

"I didn't lie."

"Of course you didn't. I'm sure everything you told them was the truth. But there were things you couldn't tell them, weren't there?"

"And you think I can tell you?"

"I don't know. But I'd like you to try. If you don't feel you can, we can leave it for another time. But the sooner you get through this--the sooner you can tell someone--the sooner you'll start to heal. Complete honesty really is cathartic, Blair. It will also give me more of an idea of exactly what we need to work on. Would you like to try?"

"No." How's that for honesty, doc? "I don't--I don't think I can."

"All right. Maybe next time."

That was it? All he had to do was say no and she folded? He wished Jim could be put off so easily.

"How are you and Jim getting along?"

What, was she reading his mind? "Okay. I told you what he said."

"Yes. I was glad to hear it. I think Jim can be a lot of help to you. How is he dealing with the flashbacks?"

Blair shrugged. "He apologizes a lot."

"Why do you think he does that?"

"I don't know. I guess he feels guilty about reminding me. I just wish he'd stop."

"Have you told him that?"

"No. He'd just feel guilty about that, too. It's bad enough I'm--the way I am. I don't want to dump anything else on him."

"You don't think he could handle it?"

"He shouldn't have to!" Blair rocketed out of the chair and began to pace. "He shouldn't have to deal with any of this. It's not fair."

"What would be fair?"

He stopped, staring at a curling vine. "If he had a better partner."

"As I understand it, you serve as Jim's Guide, and help him to use his Sentinel abilities. Who would be a better partner?"

"Someone who could take care of himself. Someone Jim wouldn't have to worry about all the time. Someone who could watch his back. A real cop, with the training, the gun, the whole deal."

"Do you think that's what Jim wants?"

Pacing again. "I don't know. He'd never tell me."

"Why not?"

"He'd be afraid of hurting my feelings."

"And would your feelings be hurt?"

Blair threw his hands in the air. "What difference does that make? We're talking about Jim's life here! He deserves a partner who can help him, not some stupid kid anthropologist who can't even--deal with his own nightmares."

"Maybe you should discuss this with Jim."

"Yeah. I should. But I can't."

"Why?

"Jim won't hear it. He'll just brush me off and tell me I'm his partner and that's that."

"Because he doesn't want to hurt your feelings?"

"Yes." Blair pushed his hair back. "I don't know. Maybe I should just leave. Get the hell out and let Jim get on with his life."

"Is that what you want?"

Blair shrugged. "Sometimes. Sometimes I can't stand the thought of going back to the loft, of facing Jim, trying to act like everything's back to normal when we both know it's not. Sometimes, I just want to run away, and keep on running. Go someplace where nobody knows me, or feels sorry for me, or guilty, or--despises me."

"Running away won't help you, Blair."

"It might help Jim."

"Do you really believe that?"

"Yes." Blair sighed. "Sometimes."

"Blair, I think it would be a good idea for you to talk to Jim, tell him how you feel."

"What good would that do? He'd just feel guilty again, and tell me I'm wrong."

"How can he be honest with you, if you won't be honest with him?"

Blair shook his head. "You don't understand. Jim won't do anything he thinks would hurt me. Not even to save himself. This is something I have to decide on my own."

"Then give it time, Blair. Don't rush into anything now. It's too soon to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life."

"You mean I'm not rational?"

"I mean the rape is coloring everything you think, see, and do. And you need some time to work through it, time in which you shouldn't be making decisions that you might regret later. All right?"

Blair nodded. "All right."

Dr. Hawthorne leaned forward. "Blair, you haven't had the blood tests I recommended, have you?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "No."

She put a hand on his wrist. "I understand that you're afraid, Blair. Believe me, I do. But you have to have it done. It's better to know than to wonder. Promise me you'll have it done tomorrow."

Blair opened his mouth with an excuse, and shut it again. He knew she was right. "Okay. I promise."

Dr. Hawthorne smiled. "You're strong, Blair. You can deal with the results, no matter what they are. I promise."

Blair nodded, because she expected it. But he didn't believe.

 

End Part 5

Part 6