Jim had never expected to be doing this.
But then, Jim had never expected the helicopter he had been in to crash, to be the only survivor, to spend months waiting for relief on a mission that never officially was.
He hadn’t expected the divorce from Carolyn either, or the Department psychiatric report that killed his police career.
Jim would swear there was something freaky going on there. Dr “call me Jack and just lie back and tell me about it” Johannes shouldn’t have got his hands on the army records, but did. Sure, he never quoted them, but there was a thing… a resonance.
So Jim was out of a job, out of a life. Got two ill-health pensions that you could just about find without a microscope, but that was it.
Simon had clapped him on the back and said it was hard luck and whispered that Jim was the best detective that he had ever had and would fight them tooth and claw to get him back in Major Crimes with Brown and Rafe and the boys. Jim had told him not to bother, it was clear somebody with a lot of clout wanted him gone.
And then there was the problem of gainful employment.
He’d tried Cascade’s numerous detective agencies (Somebody blown up your house? Call 555-4786 now!) and they’d all gone from enthusiasm the day he met them to “sorry, you don’t have the appropriate skill set” faster than it took a leaf to think about falling, which in Jim’s experience was about 2.5 seconds. He’d even tried mall security.
Nothing. Everyone had been scared off. And Jim didn’t have the faintest idea of agency or motivation. And Jim was an observant man.
And that was the key.
He’d seen the advertisement in the small ads at the back of the Cascade Free Journal, “Are you unusually observant? A good judge of character? Do you know things about people before they know themselves?” it was like a gift. Jim had decided to write in anyway, despite all the shit, and well, here he was.
He turned from his desk to face the young man framed in the doorway, his unruly black hair tied back in an inefficient ponytail and his clothes ill-fitting and awkward; “Look, kid, I’m closing up for the day. You want an appointment?” Jim’s fingers flicked across the ledger with practised ease.
“Look, uh, no,” the kid stuttered, pulling his hands out of his pockets, letting the cloth of his suit fall back, briefly exposing a vest that looked like it belonged at Woodstock, “Mr Ellison,” that wasn’t a question, he knew, there was something about the sound of his voice but the sweat barely beading at his temples told Jim he was nervous. Everything talks to Jim eventually, tells him the truth, sometimes that even included his clients.
“That’s me, Jim Ellison,” he waved to one of the chairs in front of his desk and perched there. It was one of that scumbag Johannes’ moves and Jim found fast that the guy knew his stuff when it came to making people think they’re calm and at ease.
The guy closed the door behind him. Considerate in haste, thought Jim, that’s a good sign. Or not, it suggested that the guy thought he was under control, in control, and that meant Jim would have to look closer for things.
“I’m so glad I found you, man,” the kid, okay not quite a kid but he was small and it was clear he could play “kid” to his every advantage, but that “kid” wasn’t quite real. Jim looked closer; there was a bulge, just there.
“Kid” carried, semi-automatic, not a model you could get on the street or anything, even in Cascade. For all the “give it to the man, he made me wear this suit” look he was giving off, he worked for the “man”. Jim shifted slightly, made his position better if he had to run, if the people who had taken his life aimed to make their victory total. He wouldn’t give them a neat little execution.
Something wasn’t quite right about that either. The nervous tremble in the voice sounded real, not perfect stage school faked but rough and fade-in-fade-out. Maybe Simon wouldn’t have to investigate Jim’s disappearance, Jim’s murder after all. Jim didn’t want Simon in the firing line anyway, didn’t want his star to be pushed off course by some vindictive sons of bitches.
The kid’s hair moved across the bad cotton/rayon/polyester mix of his suit making a noise that Jim would describe as like a rainfall in a desert, almost silent but bringing up clouds of dust that smelled like death and desolation as life began to bloom again across the sierra. Jim could almost smell the dust almost masking the smell of rain. Jim could hear the noise behind that noise, the noise of molecules of water striking molecules of dust, the sharp whiff of broken oxygen molecules becoming ozone as Jim lost himself in the sheer bigness of it all.
And then there was a new sound, “Uh, you okay, big guy? Well, obviously not. It’s just like Burton said, what did that damn guy say about getting out of it? Sweet FA. Typical Victorian, never records the actually useful stuff.” and then the sound of the rain, of the broken molecules, of the recombinant atoms briefly becomes louder, almost deafening in its closeness, “uh, come back to me, imagine you’re walking to the end of a room, imagine there’s a door, imagine that when you open the door, you’re going to be back here. Open the door, Mr Ellison, open the door and step back to us.”
Jim’s head jerked forwards, as the atoms shattered like broken glass.
“Hi, you’re back. I’m Blair Sandburg. I investigate weird… stuff for the FBI, and I’m doing some research into hyper-acute senses, and then I’ve found you and you’re a Sentinel and that’s great because I’ve been looking for one forever,” and the kid, Blair’s babbling, and it isn’t a terrified babble, he’s genuinely happy, even if there’s something to his heartbeat that Jim can’t place yet. His head feels like it’s full of cotton wool.
“Woah, back up, kid,” he says, “what the hell is a Sentinel and where did I just go?”
“You want the short version or the long version?” Blair asked, finally tentatively taking his hand off Jim’s arm, Jim hadn’t noticed it was there until it was gone, but he was pretty sure he could stand up on his own, “ah, forget it, let’s go for the short version. There was this Victorian anthropologist,” Burton a panicked voice says in Jim’s memory, “and he found these guys with five supra-naturally acute senses, he postulated that they’re evolutionary purpose was to protect the tribe. But sometimes, according to Burton, they ended up in a trance-state, because they found things too loud, or bright…”
Jim interrupts and is surprised when Agent Motor Mouth lets him, “no, not that, too interesting, I could hear ozone forming, it was like music.”
The hair and polyester noise happens as he tips his head on one side and says, “Oh my god, I’d never considered it like that. And then I found out about you, you are my first actual Sentinel and we have to get out of here fast.”
“Why?” Jim placed the heartbeat even as he asked, there was fear, complete and utter terror. The kid was good to keep it even this much under control.
“’Cause you and this place aren’t the only things I found out about. I did some less than legal database searching,” translation: he hacked it; Jim files that away for later, “and I’m not the only person looking for you, and they’re not here to say that you’ve won the State Lottery or anything. Unless there’s a new campaign out, like, say it with flowers only with guns…” and the heartbeat is almost as fast as the words, no, faster like a metronome.
“Don’t worry, kid, we’ll be fine. I was special ops, I know how to do this stuff, just let me write a note for the door, I don’t want to disappoint my clients or anything.”
If anything the heartbeat speeds up as he tears off a sheet and begins writing in big letters on it, he has to force himself to concentrate on the paper and not on the noise, on the palpable and fascinating sound of fear, “Really, Blair, we’ll be fine. I’ll keep you safe,” the noise becomes slower, “I just don’t want any of my clients,” friends, “poking their noses in and getting them shot off.”
Jim remembers the code. Knows Simon will too.
And he snatches up his coat, and pulls the gun from his desk drawer, “Now come on, let’s get out of here before the party gets started.”
He hurries his new friend out the door, he’ll keep him safe, he deserves that just for warning him, let alone the explanation. He only pauses to stick up the notice saying he’s gone because of family illness on the glass of his office door: