Jim is still not sure how he got here, how Jim Ellison went from crack commando to playing psychic. He knows it’s a lie. The voices don’t talk to him, the dead never come to him, however much he wants them to, however much he wants to see them, his mother, Santiago and the rest of his team, so many of them. He’s a quack, a liar. He’s taking in money from all these lonely people desperate to know… and he isn’t what he says he is at all.
And now he’s been found out by a junior g-man called Blair.
And there are men out to get him with knives and bullets.
Right now, that part doesn’t bother Jim as much as either the lies or the kid sitting shotgun in the truck with him. Driving his own truck is a bad strategy, Jim knows that, might be wired, bugged, laden with explosives. And who’d notice an extra big bang in Cascade, arson capital of America?
And if he wasn’t off balance enough, there’s the whole liar school of Ellison thing to contend with. Jim had been telling himself it was okay, that psychic thing was just fancy packaging to let him do what he does best, help people. Help people, find secrets, try to repair things into some semblance of normality.
Contrary to what you might think, he gets relatively few grieving mothers. Or at least not that kind of grieving mother, his kind, the kids are gone but aren’t dead, and it’s the uncertainty and guilt that drives them. Jim suggests, sometimes, that they do something like help out in a soup kitchen, help somebody’s kids as a way to help their own. It seems to work.
Jim spends a lot of his time off in some really unsavoury locations, trying not to peer anxiously at the hard-won photograph in his pocket, the one he said he’d show to the spirits. The only spirits ‘round these places are in 40oz bottles in paper bags. Sometimes, he has a little word with Simon, sends him some directions and names…
…and tells the mothers that their beloved children are beyond pain and this world and holds them close until Simon’s men come. And Simon chooses his men well, because either they don’t know him or they have been told they don’t know him.
Sometimes, Jim hears confessions, and keeps trying to tell himself that he isn’t a priest. He’s under no obligation to keep secrets… he doesn’t have the moral high ground here; he’s a liar and a fraud, operating under false pretences at the very least.
Once, Jim went to confession. It didn’t go well. He simply couldn’t put things into words, couldn’t make the young man with the stammer and half rimmed glasses understand, and merely got told that he was being an angel in disguise and maybe he should not hide his talent under a bushel.
He had kind of missed out the bit where there were forces conspiring against him. He didn’t want to sound like a paranoid nut-case.
And now, he’s got what he always wanted, somebody who understands. Possibly even understands this better than he does, and still he doesn’t know what to say.
So, he’s a liar and a coward when he says, “Come on, Sandburg, what happened to your own fine automobile…” and he’s so nervous he doesn’t even think about the way Sandburg’s hair smells of sage and henna.
It might explain why for once, Jim never anticipated the answer, he normally knows what people are going to say, or at least, what their bodies say, what their feelings say, and from that he can fill in the gaps and understand what they’re not saying as well.
“It all started with my pet monkey, she somehow hit the ignition and the whole thing went bang,” Sandburg says, his voice is almost as small as he is, no, smaller and there’s something in there of loss, but then, the kid himself is lost.
“Really?” Jim tries to get the kid to open up, vent. It will do him good. That sentence was another lie, Jim just wants to know.
“No,” that was a blindside, and Blair’s continuing, “that’s just the official, it’s a load of bull; you see, I have really lousy taste in real estate, comes from growing up in communes, squats and yurts. Turns out that the warehouse next door was a drug lab, and the owners weren’t too great at it, and the narcs were covering things up…”
Damn, Jim, start thinking like a cop, not a member of the psychic friends network, “You think it’s related?”
“No idea, man,” and that’s the first thing from Blair he’s been able to peg since they started driving, and sometime soon Jim’s going to have to think about where they’re driving, but right now, “away” is the key. The kid keeps babbling though, “while I’m philosophically attracted to the concept that everything is connected in some holistic manner, there’s the example of my, huh, boss…”
“What about your boss?” cut to the chase, find out more about his new friend, the road is almost hypnotically boring, the thump every time the tyres hit a change in the tarmac sounds like the heartbeat of the world, and Jim so needs to stay here now, he’s at the wheel of damned vehicle and he needs something more interesting to listen to, and Agent Sandburg is his choice.
“He thinks aliens are out to get him,” Blair’s pretty deadpan on this, perhaps working with a guy who wears hats made of tin foil day in day out makes anything boring and mundane.
“Are they?” Jim asks, “Will he notice that you’ve go on the run with your damn sentinel guy and there are people out to get you?”
“Somebody is out to get Spooky, might be aliens for all I know. No, he won’t notice that the intern who does his filing is gone. And he’d totally approve of me sticking to the man and investigating my own little case… I think he regards people out to get you as an indicator,” Blair’s babbling there, he might not want you to know, but he was clearly having fun filing for spooky fortean guy.
“Indicative of what?” Jim has a bad feeling he knows.
“That you’ve found what you’re looking for, man.”
Now, that’s disturbing, the kid was looking for him, no, the kid was looking for a sentinel, Jim’s merely incidental. Jim doesn’t know whether that should be a relief or not, and he only really feels the need to pass on the bafflement, “You’re an intern?” he says, pitching his voice right, so it sounds somewhere between challenge, bafflement, and outrage.
“Yeah, I had the choice between this and grad school, and frankly, pay and the run of the entire resources of the weirder side of the FBI probably got me, but my mother didn’t like it very much.”
Mother? Jim wonders why that word makes him think of henna right now, it isn’t as if his mother wore the stuff in her hair, she would have disliked the smell; she always disliked strong smells. He so wishes that he could see ghosts, that the spirits would come to him, and bring her home.