“Come on, Blair. Breathe.” Hand on his partner’s shoulder, Jim Ellison knelt on the kitchen floor.
Blair Sandburg, seated at the kitchen table, tried to nod even as he gasped for air.
“Remember your mantra. I am…relaxed.” Jim soothingly rubbed his friend’s arm. “I am…prepared.”
“I am…relaxed,” Blair gasped. “I am…prepared. I am…so screwed.”
Jim managed not to laugh. “Not unless you snuck somebody in here last night,” he argued. “Now, settle down, Chief. They chose you to lecture, remember?”
“Must have been a mistake on someone’s part,” Blair moaned. He felt his body slowly relaxing as he fought the panic.
Jim shrugged. “Then you’ll prove them wrong.”
Blair eyed his friend. Sometimes Jim’s faith in him was a prelude to its own panic attack. Resolutely, he took a deep breath and nodded.
Jim squeezed his friend’s shoulder and stared at the nearby kitchen table. “You really need to get something on your stomach.”
Blair eyed the plate then reached for the toast. “I think this is all I can manage, man.”
Jim hesitated then shrugged. “Darwin, listen to me. You gotta calm down. These anthropologists…archeologists…”
“And sociologists and…” Blair interrupted, his fingers crumbling the toast.
“All the ‘-ologists,’” Jim continued as he sat down at the table across from his friend. “They’re coming to hear you lecture. And you’re going to hear them lecture. You wouldn’t have been chosen if somebody didn’t think you were good enough.” He paused. “And you’re good enough.”
“Thanks,” Blair said after a moment.
Jim frowned. “Are you going to eat that toast or just crumble it?”
Flushing, Blair stuck a piece in his mouth then choked as he tried to swallow the dry bread. He grabbed his glass of juice and began chugging the liquid.
“Don’t choke yourself,” Jim warned. He watched closely until assured Blair was breathing properly.
“I’m gonna screw up,” Blair groaned. “They’re going to laugh. No. Worse than that, they’ll all sit there with this…look on their faces.”
“Look?” Jim asked. He casually slid another piece of toast onto Blair’s plate.
“You know. That ‘this guy’s an idiot’ look.” Blair began munching on the second piece of toast.
“You mean that look Simon gets sometimes?” Jim joked.
Blair solemnly nodded. “That’s the one.” He saw Jim’s smirk and shook his head. “This is serious, man!”
“I know,” Jim agreed. He poured more juice into Blair’s glass. “You’ll be fine, Chief. You know you will.”
Blair took a deep breath. “I am…” He expelled the air. “…relaxed.” He closed his eyes for a few moments. “Okay. I’m fine.” Opening his eyes, he sheepishly stared across the table. “Sorry about the panic attack.”
Jim shrugged. “No problem. I just don’t understand why you had it.” He started clearing the table. “I mean, it’s not as if you were going to have to explain this Sentinel thing to the Mayor…or the Commissioner…or…”
“Jeez, Jim, enough!” Blair laughed. He glanced at the clock. “Oh, man! I cannot be late today!”
Jim moved to intercept Tornado Blair. “You have time. In fact, you have more than enough time. So calm down. No need to drive like a madman. Okay?” When Blair nodded, Jim smiled. “Now. Lecture materials?”
“By the front door,” Blair answered.
“Books? Notebooks? Pens? Pencils?” Jim began walking his friend towards the front door.
“In the backpack,” Blair smiled.
“Munchies? Water? Energy bars?” Jim continued as he reached for Blair’s jacket.
“Also in the backpack,” Blair chuckled.
“Keys? Cellphone?” Jim prodded.
“Cell phone’s in the backpack, and it’s charged,” Blair laughed as he put on the jacket. “Keys…got ‘em.” He quickly snatched the keys from the basket by the door. He swung the backpack over one shoulder and accepted the lecture materials Jim handed him.
“Deep breath,” Jim ordered.
Eyes dancing with humor, Blair obeyed.
“Good.” Jim patted him on both shoulders. “Now. Go play nice with all the other little anthropologists.”
“Yes, Mom,” Blair giggled. He paused as Jim opened the door. “Thanks, man. Really.”
“No problem,” Jim assured him. “Now, go. Before you really are late.” He watched as Blair literally bounced down the steps. Shaking his head, he closed and locked the door. “He’s acting as bad as a groupie with Santana in town,” the Sentinel muttered. “Gonna be a long two weeks.”
Friday, April 13th
“Hey, Jim! Where’s your better half?” Joel Taggart was possibly the only person in Major Crimes who could get away with such a question.
Jim half-smiled, half-grimaced. “At the University. Inspiring all those little minds.”
Joel spared a brief glance at the mountain of paperwork in Ellison’s in-basket. “He plan on showing up here anytime soon?”
Jim’s blue eyes followed Joel’s glance. Glaring, he looked up at the other man. “Why?”
Joel inwardly smiled. “Just got a small computer problem I thought I’d ask him to look at. No big deal.”
“Call Tech Support,” Jim growled. He resisted growling louder when Joel chuckled and walked away. “Like hell he’ll work on your computer, Taggart. He’s got something more important to do.” Almost guiltily, Jim eyed the paperwork. He decided to ignore the chuckling from where Rafe and Henri stood next to Joel’s desk.
Jim printed a completed form from the computer and put it in the folder with a sense of satisfaction before tossing it into his out-box. Grimacing, he reached for the next folder. He honestly hadn’t intended to get this far behind in his paperwork. And while he was used to Sandburg handling a great deal of his paperwork, he was not (as Simon accused) dependent upon Sandburg to complete said paperwork.
But he did feel guilty.
Friday, April 6th
“Hey, Jim. You want to meet me here tonight or at the University?”
Jim looked up from his morning eggs and coffee. ‘What is he…oh, shit!’
“Jim?” Concerned at the sudden silence, Blair exited the bathroom with a frown on his face. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Jim took a deep breath. “Uhhh…Chief, about tonight…”
Blair closed his eyes. “You forgot.”
“Not intentionally,” Jim defended himself. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair. “H. asked me to trade on stake-out tonight. It’s his niece’s dance recital.”
“Chantal?” Blair’s blue eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s gonna be so cute, man. All those little three-year olds trying to dance.”
“Yeah. Cute. Look, Sandburg…”
“Forget it, man,” Blair chuckled as disappeared into his room. “That dance recital is more important. Henri’d never get a chance to see it a second time. And you’ve gone to a lot of receptions at the U.”
“Damn,” Jim irritably muttered.
Sandburg had asked him to attend an evening reception at the University. Although Jim would teasingly call himself a ‘dumb cop’, both men knew better. Jim had attended various lectures and receptions with Sandburg and never seemed intimidated by people with letters after their names. Blair had decided it was because Jim had letters in front of his name…letters like CAPT and DET. To be honest, Jim enjoyed accompanying Blair to University functions. It made him feel good to see Blair shine in his natural environment.
But Jim wasn’t going to “forget it,” as Blair suggested. He knew the younger man had been looking forward to their spending some time together. And he knew Blair enjoyed showing off to Jim at the University (even if he wouldn’t admit it). And this would have been a very special ‘showing off’ what with all the other anthropologists, archeologists, sociologists, and other ‘-ologists’ in attendance.
“Hey, Jim, don’t sweat it, man,” Blair urged as he reappeared. “Just take it easy on the stake-out, okay?” He sat at the kitchen table and stared approvingly at his plate. “Who’s gonna be with you?”
“Joel. He switched with Rafe so he could go to the dance recital as well. You know how close he and Henri’s family are,” Jim muttered. “I’ll make it up to you, Chief. I promise.” When Blair looked up from his pancakes, Jim solemnly raised his hand. “No paperwork. It’ll all be caught up.”
He wondered why Blair started laughing.
Friday, April 13th
Completing yet another form and printing it out, Jim idly tapped his fingers on the keyboard.
The second week, Blair had lectured guest students. These were the “whiz kids” of anthropology. Jim suddenly had a vision of a classroom full of teen-age Sandburgs. Shivering at the possibility, he quickly shoved the completed form into the folder and tossed it into his out-box. Blair had been as excited about lecturing the guest students as he’d been about lecturing the visiting “-ologists.”
Jim had forgone the advice ‘to play nice’ when he’d talked Blair through a panic attack at the beginning of the second week. Instead, he’d apologized again for missing the reception and promised not to have a stack of paperwork waiting on Blair when he came to the station at the end of the week.
He’d given that promise a third time Tuesday evening when Blair had asked him to listen to a prepared lecture. All he’d wanted Jim to do was listen and give him comments on how to keep the lecture from being too boring for the visiting students. Twenty minutes later, Blair had irritably thrown one of the couch pillows at a snoring Sentinel before stomping off to his room.
Now it was Friday, and the stack of paperwork had bred like bunnies on Viagra. Jim was sure there were folders from other detectives that had gotten mixed in with his. A quick examination, however, proved them all to be his. And he was determined to have them completed before Blair showed up mid-afternoon.
Taking another folder from his in-box, he flipped it open and accessed the correct form in the computer. His nose wrinkled when he smelled the odor of Simon’s cigars before the man was even close to the desk.
“So…Jim. When’s Sandburg coming in?”
Jim barely managed to keep from glaring at his superior. “Sometime mid-afternoon, I believe, sir.”
Simon eyed the in-box. “Think you have time for lunch or should I bring you back something?”
Jim eyed the clock and inwardly sighed. “Better bring me back something,” he decided. He stood, reached for his wallet, then stopped.
“Jim?” Simon questioned.
“Did you feel that?” Jim asked, his eyes wide in surprise.
“Stupid car. Stupid battery in car. Stupid dead battery in car.” Blair realized he probably sounded like a crazy person. Fortunately, no one on the bus seemed to be paying any attention. He’d decided to forego the afternoon luncheon and get to the station early only to find the Volvo refusing to start. He’d finally given up and caught the next available bus.
Smirking, he grudgingly admitted he really wanted to see the amount of paperwork still on Jim’s desk. The Sentinel had been just a little too inquisitive as to when Blair would be arriving. “Probably stacked halfway to the ceiling,” Blair muttered with smirking satisfaction. “Not that I’m gonna do it. No way, man. He promised. And I’m not gonna fall for that…” He stopped, seeing the sideways look from the woman across the aisle. “Hi. Could you tell me the time?” He gave her a tentative smile. “Please?”
“Almost noon,” the woman replied after glancing at her watch.
“Thanks,” Blair cheerfully replied. Receiving a hesitant smile in return, Blair looked out the window. Jim would probably be at lunch by the time he arrived at the station. Gleefully grinning, Blair muttered, “He’s already guilty about missing the reception and falling asleep during the lecture. So if I do the paperwork while he’s out, I just might get some tests out of him this weekend.” He judiciously nodded. “Yeah, and some lab time, too.”
Just then the bus lurched to one side. Blair saw they were passing under the freeway and grunted at the unevenness of the streets. Suddenly, everyone was thrown forward as the driver violently stood on the brakes. Blair caught a glimpse of falling concrete outside the window just before the bus tipped over.
”Feel what, Jim?” Simon repeated.
Suddenly the building violently shook.
“That,” Jim grimly answered. He instinctively blinked when the overhead fluorescent lamps began exploding.
“Everybody! Under the desks!” Simon bellowed.
Rafe grabbed a shrieking Rhonda around the waist and shoved her beneath her desk. Crouching next to her, he shielded her from the falling debris.
Jim spared a moment to be sure both Joel and Henri were seeking safety before he and Simon dove beneath nearby desks.
After only a few moments, the shaking stopped. Simon cautiously raised his head. “Everybody all right?” he demanded.
Rafe slowly helped Rhonda to her feet. The blonde woman was sniffling.
“Rhonda? You okay?” Simon asked in a quieter voice.
Rafe took a folder and swept the top of Rhonda’s desk clear of glass and ceiling tile debris. Then he gently set her on top of the desk.
“I’m fine,” Rhonda assured him. “Just a little shaky.” She forced a smile. “Everybody should go through one natural disaster, right?” She squeezed Rafe’s arms. “Thank you.”
Rafe smiled and brushed glass from his dark hair.
“Everybody else okay?” Simon repeated.
Joel was slowly getting to his feet. “I hope that was an earthquake and not another Mt. St. Helens,” he muttered.
Jim grunted as he smacked the side of his computer monitor. “Looks like the computers are dead,” he announced with an almost satisfied tone of voice.
Suddenly the phones began ringing.
“Major Crimes. Detective Brown,” Henri answered. His eyes widened when all the phones silenced.
“Great,” Simon muttered. “And the phone system is scrambled.”
“Right. Got it.” Henri replaced the receiver. “Part of the freeway collapsed onto Sherman Street. There are vehicles in the wreckage. The Fire Department’s asking for help.”
“How much came down?” Joel demanded as they scrambled to find their jackets in the debris.
“They estimate at least three miles,” Henri grimly murmured.
Simon’s head jerked in response. “Rhonda. Try to coordinate as best you can with what you have.” When she nodded and began replacing items on her desk, Simon gently squeezed her arm. “They’ll be inspecting the building. If they tell you to get out, you leave. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Rhonda smiled. “I’ll be fine.”
“Let’s go, people,” Simon barked. “Depending on what the garage is like, we may be walking to Sherman Street.”
Jim blanched, thinking about his truck. Rafe and Henri exchanged smirks behind his back.
The three-mile section of Sherman Street was in chaos. Two fire trucks were busy putting out fires from cars whose gas tanks had exploded upon impact. Emergency rescue personnel were busy treating those people who had crawled from both ends of the collapsed freeway.
Simon quickly used the detectives from Major Crimes as well as other detectives to take over from the police officers on the scene. The uniformed officers were put back on the street to help at other sites. A quick call to the Chief of Police assured Simon that he agreed the presence of the uniformed officers throughout the city would go a long way to calm the citizens of Cascade as well as hopefully keep the looting to a minimum.
The Mayor had already contacted the Governor about getting the National Guard to assist. The Guard would probably arrive by dark. Until then, they were left having to improvise and hope for the best.
“Early reports put the center of the earthquake about four miles out to sea,” Simon confided to Jim as they made their way towards Fire Chief Daniels. “We were lucky.”
Jim eyed the crushed wreckage of a small car. “I suppose.”
Simon grunted in agreement. “Adam! I’ve got some people at both ends of this mess. They’re taking over so the uniformed officers can work crowd control.”
Chief Adam Daniels, a tall thin man in his early fifties, absently nodded. He was staring at the ravaged freeway above them. “Any aftershocks could bring that all down on us,” he mused. Looking at the two detectives, he continued, “I’ve got Search and Rescue dogs coming in, but it’ll take a while for them to get here. I’ve got my people trying to wash down leaking oil and gasoline. Last thing we need is an explosion.”
“Any chance of survivors, Adam?” Simon quietly asked.
“It’s possible,” Daniels nodded. “My main concern is that dangling wreckage. If I knew for sure there weren’t any survivors, I’d pull my people out of here right now.”
Jim exchanged a look with Simon.
“How soon until the dogs get here?” Simon asked.
“An hour…maybe ninety minutes,” Daniels sighed. “We had them at a training exercise in the mountains.”
“Jim and I’ll keep walking the wreckage,” Simon suggested as Jim started moving away. “Somebody may come to and start yelling. With all this noise, we might not hear unless we’re close by.”
Daniels hesitated, then nodded. “Just keep an eye on that wreckage upstairs,” he advised. “If you feel any tremors, get out fast.”
Simon nodded and hurried to catch up to the Sentinel.
Blair groaned and tried to open his eyes. ‘Why was it so dark?’ He tried to move and nearly screamed. “OhGodohGodmylegmyleg….” Groaning, he realized his left leg was pinned beneath one of the overturned heavy bench seats. Reaching up, he was startled to feel the metal of what had been the roof of the bus only a few inches above his body. “Oh, GOD! COME ON!” he screamed, frantically pounding on the metal. Desperately fighting the panic building inside him, he tried to control his breathing. “Okay, Sandburg. Think. No mere accident caused the roof to cave in. So…we’re under something. Yeah, that’s it. Under something. SHIT! WE’RE UNDER SOMETHING!”
A nearby groan caught his attention.
“Hey! Somebody! Come on! Talk to me!” Blair demanded.
“Help…please help me...”
From the location of the voice, Blair thought it was the woman who’d given him the time.
“Can you move?” Blair shouted. “I can’t!” When no one replied, he tried reaching his right arm towards the voice. The darkness was beginning to lighten as Blair’s eyes began adjusting.
“Help…please…God…I don’t want to die here…”
“HEY! COME ON! Talk to me, okay?” Blair demanded. He gasped as he felt fingers touch his. “That’s it. You’re not alone.”
“They’ll get us out soon,” Blair promised. “You just hold onto me. Okay? Can you move at all?”
“No.” The voice was shaky and full of tears and fear. “Why don’t they help us?”
“They are,” Blair soothingly replied. He bit back a sharp cry as he tried again to free his leg. He sighed and stared at the broken bus roof just inches above his head. “They are.”
Slowly Jim and Simon walked along the path of the freeway wreckage. As they carefully waded through streams of oil, gasoline, and water, Jim strained to hear any heartbeat. Twice he heard a heartbeat only to have it flicker and fade.
The location of a few trapped people stuck in the wreckage had been tagged with green flags indicating a priority for the rescue teams. The locations of possible victims were marked with yellow flags as a lower priority. Red flags marked a dangerous overflow of either oil or gasoline or both. Black flags marked places where they were certain a body was located.
Silently Jim and Simon acknowledged the priority. Armed with a walkie-talkie and handfuls of colored flags, Simon refused to consider he was using colors to determine the priority of someone’s life. He saw the closed-off expression on Jim’s face and knew Sandburg would have the Devil’s own time in coping with the aftermath.
As Jim listened for heartbeats or breathing beneath the wreckage, Simon listed whatever he could about the vehicles. Color. Make. Size. License number if possible. Anything that would help in identifying victims possibly too damaged for visual recognition.
At the south end of the wreckage, they stopped for a moment to breathe cleaner air. The determined efforts of the Fire Department to wash away the spilled oil and gasoline were helping make the air more breathable, but they could still smell fumes in pockets around the wreckage. Simon knew as bad as he was for him, it was even worse for his friend.
“Ready, sir?” Jim hoarsely asked.
Simon slowly nodded. He put a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “You doing okay, Jim? Need more of a break?”
Jim curtly shook his head.
“I’m not asking just for your comfort, Jim,” Simon grunted. “I have no intention of explaining to Sandburg some sort of major zone-out that I don’t even begin to understand. So if you need a break, take it.”
“Yes, sir. Ready?” Jim evenly replied as he walked back towards the wreckage..
Grumbling under his breath about damn-fool stubborn people, Simon followed. They crossed at the end of the wreckage and began moving along the north side of the collapsed freeway.
“My name’s Blair. Blair Sandburg. What’s yours?” After many minutes of silence, Blair was desperate to hear the voice in the darkness.
“Marcia. Marcia Thayer. I have three children…I can’t die here…please…God...don’t let me die here…”
“We’re not going to die,” Blair stressed. “But we need to keep calm, okay? We need to listen to hear them moving around outside. Then we yell to let them know we’re here.” He heard the woman begin sobbing. “Marcia? Come on, Marcia.”
“I can’t feel anything anymore.” Marcia’s voice began to fade. “Please…I don’t want to die…I don’t want to leave my children…please…”
“Marcia! Marcia!” Blair desperately held onto the woman’s fingers. Fighting the shooting pain in his leg, he stretched to get a firmer grip on the woman’s hand. “MARCIA!”
Simon swore under his breath. The easily recognizable rear end of a Cascade City Bus was visible under a heavy section of masonry. Odds were the bus had been at least partially full of passengers. The section of freeway currently resting on top of the bus had come down at an angle, flattening the front part of the bus while leaving the rear part only partially smashed.
Jim stiffened, cocking his head to one side.
Simon started to say something, then tightened his lips.
“Dammit, no!” Jim muttered. “Simon, Sandburg’s in there!”
“What! How can you…” Simon began.
“I know his heartbeat!” Jim snapped. He looked through one of the smashed windows. “Sandburg! Blair! Can you hear me?!”
Blair turned his head towards the rear of the bus. “Jim?” he muttered. “JIM!”
Hearing Blair’s voice, Simon quickly planted a green flag in the wreckage and grabbed his walkie-talkie. “Adam! We’ve got a survivor down here! Conscious!”
“Sandburg! Can you move?” Jim demanded.
“Hey, Marcia.” Blair tugged on the limp fingers. “Told you. They’re here. We’re getting out.” He heard Jim calling to him again, but he concentrated on the fingers in his hand. “Marcia? Come on. Talk to me. We’re rescued.”
“SANDBURG! DAMMIT! ANSWER ME!” Jim yelled.
“I’m stuck, Jim!” Blair yelled. “There’s a woman with me, but she’s not answering me anymore!”
“A woman.” Simon shook his head. “Why am I not surprised?”
Jim ignored the comment as he leaned inside. Focusing, he peered through the darkness. “Okay, I see you! Just hang on!”
Backing away from the wreckage, Jim noticed a Search and Rescue team approaching. “I can get to him, Simon. But he’s pinned down.” He shrugged out of his jacket and passed both of his guns and holsters to Simon.
“What about the woman he mentioned?” Simon asked.
Jim shook his head. “There’s only one heartbeat.” He turned to climb through the shattered window as an emergency rescue crew arrived.
“Hey! What are you doing? Get outta there!” one of the men ordered.
Jim ignored the command and disappeared into the bus.
“I’m Captain Banks. Major Crimes.” Simon moved to intercept the rescue officer.
“I don’t care of you’re Santa Claus!” the man snapped. “This is a rescue operation!”
“And that’s what Detective Ellison’s doing,” Simon snapped in return. “His partner’s in there.” He saw Chief Daniels approaching. “Adam. Ellison’s partner’s in that bus.”
“I want him out of there!” the man ordered.
Daniels sighed. “Simon, this is Captain Frank Usher of the Rescue Squad.”
“I don’t need a hotshot poking around making things worse,” Usher snapped
“Ellison’s a former Army Ranger with medic’s training,” Simon evenly replied. “He’s not a hotshot, and he’s not going to make things worse. He might, however, save his partner’s life.”
“Hey, Sandburg. Hell of a party you threw here, buddy.”
Blair blinked as Jim appeared to crawl from out of the darkness. “Jim?”
“Yeah, how you doing?” Jim gently asked as he lay on his stomach next to Blair.
“Marcia’s over there and she was conscious a few minutes ago but she stopped talking and I’ve tried to hang on but she won’t squeeze my hand anymore and---”
“Okay. Okay.” Jim put a hand on Blair’s chest. He looked to his left where Blair’s right arm stretched out under an over-turned bench seat. “Let me check.”
Jim squirmed until he could touch Blair’s right hand. He felt the cooling fingers clutched in Blair’s tight grasp. “Let go, Blair.”
“No! I can’t let her go, Jim! I can’t!” Blair gasped.
Momentarily closing his eyes, Jim took a deep breath. Grabbing Blair’s wrist, he firmly squeezed.
“No! Don’t!” Blair protested.
“Blair!” Jim sharply commanded. He heard Blair’s sudden gasp. “Let go, buddy. Come on now. Let her go,” he gently urged. He relaxed when he felt Blair’s grasp weaken. Taking Blair’s hand in his, he wiggled back until he was lying next to Blair. “Stay with me now.”
Eyes closed, Blair nodded. He used his left arm to wipe the tears from his face. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Jim gently laid Blair’s right arm on his chest. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
“My left leg’s trapped,” Blair gasped. “It doesn’t hurt unless I move it.”
“Can you wiggle your toes?” Jim asked. He ran his hands down the length of Blair’s right leg, carefully moving small pieces of debris.
“No. Haven’t been able to do that since I woke up after the crash.”
His friend’s quiet voice chilled Jim’s heart. “Well, fuck.”
Blair snickered. “Aptly put, James.” He recognized the hysterical tone in his own words and took a deep breath.
“We’re gonna get you outta here, Chief. You understand that?” Jim demanded. He leaned over Blair’s prone body and scanned the trapped limb.
Blair’s eyes had finally adjusted so he could make out Jim’s face. “Yeah. I know.”
“Search and Rescue team’s outside. They’re gonna figure the best way to get you out. I’m gonna scoot out, and let them know what we’re dealing with.” Jim eyed the roof. “That looks pretty solid.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Blair tried to smile. He grabbed Jim when the man began to move. “You don’t have to come back in, okay?”
“I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Jim promised. As he began scooting backwards, he heard Blair’s soft “thank you.”
Using the back of an EMT’s medical form, Jim quickly diagramed the interior of the bus. “One confirmed dead. Probably two if we include the driver. One survivor.” The others gathered around as he sketched the wreckage and Blair’s location.
“How’s Sandburg?” Simon asked.
“He’s coherent,” Jim admitted. “I couldn’t tell much about the injury to his leg…but he said he couldn’t move his toes. He also got knocked out in the crash.”
“The problem will be when we lift that wreckage off,” Usher mused. “At best, he’ll go into shock. At worst, it could cost him his leg or life if he’s not transported immediately. We’ll cut away as much of the side of the bus as we can as close to where he is. Then we’ll insert a pneumonic jack and raise the seat that’s pinning him down.”
“How long will that take?” Simon frowned.
“Probably less than thirty seconds,” Usher judged. “You’ve said there’s about eighteen inches of clearance. We’ll need to lift it about eight inches to get him free.”
“How long will it take to cut through to him?” Simon gently asked.
“With that baby…” Usher pointed towards several men assembling a large cutting tool. “Maybe thirty minutes.”
“I’ll be with Sandburg.” Jim turned to return to the bus but felt a hand on his arm.
“The hell you will,” Usher ordered. “You’ve done your part. Now you’ll get out of our way.”
Simon held his breath, certain he’d be watching the EMTs put Usher back together.
“You do your job,” Jim coldly advised. “I’m doing mine. I’m not leaving my partner.”
“Here.” Simon passed a com-link to the Sentinel. “Jim can keep an eye on the interior. Just in case it starts buckling from the inside. And he can monitor Sandburg’s vitals.”
Jim hooked the thin plastic around his ear and positioned the microphone. “Sir,” he nodded in Simon’s direction as he walked back towards the bus.
“Dammit…” Usher muttered as he moved to stop the determined Sentinel.
“Don’t even think about it,” Simon warned. He drew himself up to his full height and glared at the smaller man. “If Ellison wasn’t here, I’d be in there with Sandburg. He’s one of my people. And we don’t leave any of us behind.”
“You just make sure that hotshot doesn’t get any of my people killed!” Usher angrily ordered.
Simon glared as the man pushed past him. He winced at the static in his own earpiece.
“Simon, the PD Auxiliary officers are here to work crowd control,” Joel reported.
“Affirmative,” Simon acknowledged. “Check with Central and see if we’re needed elsewhere. But take Ellison out of the rotation.”
“Why?” Joel asked. Then there was a moment of silence. “Oh, Lord, Simon. Not Blair.”
“He’s alive. Rescue’s working to get him out,” Simon crisply interrupted. “Contact me after you’ve talked with Central.” He took a few steps away from where Usher was assisting his men. “Jim?”
“I heard, Simon,” Jim quietly answered. “Do what you need to do.”
“Search and Rescue teams are searching the rest of the collapse,” Simon advised. “Look, I don’t know what Sandburg means when he tells you to ‘dial it down,’ but I have the feeling that cutting tool of Usher’s is going to make one hell of a racket.”
“Understood, sir. Thanks.” Stretched out next to Blair, Jim gently touched his friend’s arm. “Hey. You’re not falling asleep on me are you?” He frowned. “You said you were knocked out, Chief?”
“Yeah. When we tipped over.” He winced when Jim touched the swelling. “Uh…Jim…just what did happen?”
“Earthquake,” Jim explained. “Centered just offshore.”
“Might be a lot of damage along the coast,” Blair mused. “An undersea quake will cause---”
“Hey,” Jim gently interrupted. “One crisis at a time, okay?”
“Yeah.” Blair closed his eyes. “Jim…could you check Marcia again? Maybe she just passed out, you know?”
“There’re only two heartbeats in here. Yours and mine. Okay?” Jim firmly answered. “Now you gotta let it go…let her go. We need to concentrate on getting you out of here. Understand?” He absently stroked Blair’s hair in a soothing fashion.
“Yeah.” Blair fought back a sniffle. “She had three kids. She didn’t want to die.”
Jim sighed. “I know, buddy. I know.”
“What can we do, Simon?”
Simon stared at Joel, Henri, and Rafe who had appeared, one by one, after Joel had passed the word that Blair was trapped under the freeway wreckage.
“Nothing,” Simon shook his head. “Jim’s in with Sandburg now. Search and Rescue is getting ready to cut away part of the bus so they can get him out.”
“How’s he doing?” Henri asked.
“He’s conscious…talking,” Simon tried not to smile.
“Banks! Ellison needs to get out of there! The EMT needs to get in to assess the victim’s condition!” Usher yelled.
“Ellison’s had medic’s training,” Simon explained to the waiting EMT, a young man who looked hardly old enough to be out of high school. “I can put you in contact with him.” He indicated the com-link. When the EMT nodded, Usher snorted and returned to his men. “Jim. I’m handing the com over to an EMT. He needs to know about Sandburg.”
“Affirmative,” Jim’s voice crackled.
“I really need to get in there.” The EMT held up the blood pressure bag.
Rafe reached forward. “Give me what you need. I’ll take it into him.” He looked at Henri who started to protest. “I’m smaller than the rest of you.” He quickly shed his expensive jacket and handed it to his partner. When Simon nodded, the EMT handed the blood pressure bag to Rafe. “I guess we can do it this way,” he sighed.
“Jim. Rafe’s bringing a blood pressure bag to you. I’ll put you on with the EMT.”
“Here.” The EMT tossed Rafe a small bottle of water. “If I say so, he can have a little water. But not much. And not until I say so.”
“Be careful, partner,” Henri muttered when Rafe started towards the bus.
“Detective Ellison, this is Chris Long. I’m an EMT. One of your people is bringing you some water and a blood pressure bag. You know how to use it?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Jim replied.
“Don’t give the victim any water until I tell you,” Chris warned.
“Understood.” Jim gently squeezed Blair’s right arm. “Heads up, Chief. Company coming.”
“Huh?” Blair blinked.
“Blair, you’ve got to stay awake,” Jim stressed. “Okay?”
“Yeah.” Blair took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Hey, Sandburg!” Rafe cheerfully greeted. Stretching as far as possible, he passed the blood pressure bag and water to Jim. “Bet you’re glad you didn’t take the Volvo, huh?”
“Thank God for small favors,” Jim grunted.
“Just hope my car’s okay at the U,” Blair murmured, his voice drifting.
“SANDBURG!” Jim yelled as he felt Blair’s body suddenly relax.
“WHAT?!!” Blair jerked. “I wasn’t falling asleep. I was just resting my---”
“Yeah, yeah…tell me another one.” Jim barely relaxed as he applied the blood pressure cuff. “Chris? I’ve got the bag on him.”
“Go ahead.” Chris pushed his blonde hair away from his face before looking at Simon. “You know the victim?” When the larger man nodded, he continued. “What sort of physical shape is he in?”
“Full of energy. Too damn much energy, if you ask me.” Simon grunted when he saw the EMT’s grin. “No health problems. In good physical condition.”
“Good,” Chris nodded to himself.
Simon watched the young EMT scribble on his clipboard. Looking away, he saw Joel and Henri had also seen the low numbers.
“Banks! We’re ready to go! Get your people out of there! I’m not joking this time!” Usher yelled.
“Asshole,” Henri grumbled.
Chris spoke quietly into the com-link then removed it and passed it back to Simon. “All things considered, he’s in good shape right now. The problem will be when that wreckage is moved. We’ll have to move fast then. I’ll get a gurney brought in here so we can transport as soon as he’s free.”
“Thanks,” Simon nodded. Replacing the link, he softly spoke, “Jim? Tell Rafe to get out. Usher’s group is going to start cutting.” He paused. “You remember what I told you?”
“Yes, sir.” Jim looked over his shoulder. “Take off, Rafe. They’re going to start cutting.” He passed the blood pressure bag back to the younger detective.
“Hang on, Sandburg,” Rafe encouraged. “You’ll be out soon.”
“You could have at least brought lunch,” Blair weakly joked.
“Knew I forgot something,” Rafe replied. His grimly nodded at Jim and began scooting out of the bus.
“Okay, listen, Chief. They’re going to start cutting away the side of the bus. It’s probably going to be loud,” Jim warned. He gently tipped the water bottle so Blair could take a few sips. “Not much, okay?”
“You gotta dial down your hearing, man,” Blair warned as the water spilled from his mouth.
Jim nodded. He gently caught the water running from the side of Blair’s mouth on his fingers and held them against Blair’s lips.
Blair smiled as his tongue lapped at the moisture. “Thanks,” he whispered.
Jim recapped the water bottle and set it to one side. “There’s probably going to be some vibration,” he realized. “If you need to yell, do it. My hearing’s dialed down.” He paused, frowning as he cocked his head to one side. “Simon!” he yelled into the com-link. “Aftershock!”
The Sentinel barely had time to protectively cover Blair’s body with his own before the earth began to move once again.
Simon stiffened as Jim’s words rang in his ears. He instinctively looked upward at the ravaged freeway. “Everybody move out!” he yelled.
To their credit, the others of Major Crimes were moving even before the echo of Simon’s bellow had died away. Usher frowned and started to say something when the earth shuddered beneath them. Leaving equipment, they frantically ran for safety away from the dangling masonry over their heads.
Seconds later, they stood trembling as the earth resettled beneath them. Simon took a few deep breaths before checking on the others. Rafe and Joel were slowly getting to their feet while Henri was wiping blood from the hands he’d scraped in falling.
“Shit!” Usher yelled in frustration.
Banks turned to see what Usher was complaining about. One look at the bus containing his two friends and he silently added to Usher’s cursing.
The aftershock had caused the ground beneath the trapped bus to shift. Now, instead of lying level, the bus lay with its nose tilted upward. The jagged piece of concrete from the freeway now lay slanted towards the back of the bus…threatening to crush it as flat as it had the front.
“Lord, have Mercy,” Joel whispered.
“Jim! Jim! Answer me!” Simon yelled into the com-link.
“DamndamndamndamnDAMMIT IT HURTS!” Blair yelled. He pounded a clenched fist into his thigh.
Jim coughed on the dust gradually settling around them. “How bad?”
“Feels like…I don’t know, man! It hurts!” Blair shouted.
Jim winced, hearing Simon’s yell. “Simon! We’re okay.” He looked around. “The ground shifted under us, didn’t it?”
Simon hesitated as they started walking back towards the bus. “Yeah,” he finally answered. “You know that big hunk of concrete on the front of the bus?”
Jim’s blue eyes automatically looked in the direction of the crushed front end. “It’s moved,” he grunted.
“And heading your way,” Simon bluntly added. “Another aftershock, and it could slide all the way down.” He glanced at Usher’s men. “They’re setting up again to do the cutting.”
“Understood,” Jim replied. He looked at his Guide. “How are you doing, Chief?” Uneasily, he saw Blair eyeing the front of the bus.
“It’s gonna crush us, isn’t it?” Blair calmly asked.
“No. ‘Cause we’re gonna get out of here,” Jim answered just as calmly.
“You gotta get outta here, Jim.” Blair turned to look at his friend.
“Don’t start,” Jim warned.
“I’m serious, man!” Blair shouted. “I don’t want to be responsible for you turning into a pancake!”
“Not gonna happen.” Jim frowned, hearing Simon’s voice.
“Jim, please, don’t do this to me, okay, man?” Blair grabbed the Sentinel’s wrist. “Don’t make me responsible for your death. Please!”
“They’re getting ready to start cutting,” Jim advised. “Remember what I told you before? About the vibration?”
Blair laughed almost hysterically. “We just went through the mother of all vibrations, Jim! And you’re worried about what they’re doing outside?”
“Sure am,” Jim calmly answered. “And, for the record, Sandburg, I’m responsible for my actions. Not you.” Scooting forward, he sheltered as much of Blair’s body under his as possible. “I’ll leave if you can look me in the eyes and convince me that you’d leave me if our positions were reversed.” When Blair closed his eyes and looked away, he grimly nodded. “That’s what I thought. So shut up about it.”
“Banks! I won’t be responsible for---” Usher yelled.
“You’re not! You’re absolved of responsibility!” Simon saw even his own people backing away as he lost his temper. “Ellison will come out when his partner comes out! Now start cutting on that damn bus!”
Fuming, Usher turned away and ordered his men to begin. They looked uncertain but obeyed.
Jim felt the first vibration before Blair even gasped. He leaned his head against Blair’s. “Just stay with me, Chief,” he murmured.
Blair winced, biting his lip. “Ummm…’kay.”
After a few moments of silence, Jim heard the shrill whine of the cutting tool. “Hey, you never did tell me about that reception I bailed on.”
“You didn’t…bail. You had a stake-out,” Blair haltingly corrected.
“That mean I’m forgiven?” Jim joked.
“No,” Blair winced. “I’m still pissed about it.” He took a shaky deep breath. “You missed a g..g..great dinner though. You’d’ve loved the d..d..dessert.”
“Chocolate, huh?” Jim grinned.
“Dark chocolate cake,” Blair grunted. “Lots…lots of whip..ped stuff on…”
Alarmed, Jim wrapped the fingers of his right hand in Blair’s hair and tugged. “Blair! You gotta stay awake! You know that!”
“…hurts…” Blair muttered as he gripped Jim’s arms.
“I’m sorry,” Jim whispered as he lowered his forehead to Blair’s. “God, I’m sorry. But you gotta stay with me, Chief.”
“How much longer?” Simon yelled over the whine of the cutting tool.
“Ten minutes or so!” Usher yelled back. He eyed the side of the bus being cut away. “When we’re done, we’ll position the jack. If all goes well, we should have him out in fifteen to twenty minutes!”
Simon nodded and retreated to where the EMTs and the detectives from Major Crimes stood watching. “They estimate he’ll be out in fifteen to twenty minutes,” Simon repeated. Replacing the com-link, he impatiently waited as the minutes passed until the whine of the cutting tool died away. “Jim! Jim…you hear me?” Simon demanded.
“Blair? Blair, come on, buddy. Open your eyes for me. Blair?”
The young anthropologist would have told anyone else to go to hell and leave him alone. But this was Jim calling him…calling him in one of the most gentle voices he’d ever heard. Slowly he opened his eyes.
“Hey, buddy. You’re not planning on going to sleep now, are you?” Jim gently wiped the tears from Blair’s face. “We’re just getting to the fun part.”
“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” Blair groaned. “I didn’t mean to…” He slowly released the death-grip he’d had on both of Jim’s arms.
“You’re doing fine, partner,” Jim assured him.
Blair’s eyes suddenly widened. “Your senses…”
“I’ve got a hell of a headache,” Jim admitted. “But it’ll pass.” He frowned. “Yeah, Simon. I hear you.”
“Tell Simon I said ‘hey,’” Blair wearily smiled.
“Sandburg says ‘hey’,” Jim repeated with a grin.
Simon rolled his eyes. “The kid’s still with us,” he told the others. “Smartass,” he muttered. “You two okay? They’re going to remove what they’ve cut out. It looks like about a three-foot square piece of metal.”
“Got it, Simon.” Jim shifted a bit. “Not long now, Chief. They’re gonna…” A slight change in Blair’s breathing caught his attention. “BLAIR!”
“Jim! What’s going on?” Simon demanded. He felt the others move closer.
Blair jerked. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Just tired now.”
“He’s having trouble staying awake, Simon,” Jim reported. “Might be the head injury or it could be that the air’s getting thin in here…which it is.”
“You should be getting some more air once they remove that section of the bus,” Simon assured him. “Won’t be fresh air, but at least it’ll be something.”
“Come on, Sandburg,” Jim reached for the water bottle. “Can’t go to sleep now. Hang with me just a little while longer, okay?” Tipping the bottle slightly, he forced a little more liquid into his partner’s mouth.
“Don’t worry about the backpack,” Blair muttered. “It’s in this mess somewhere, but don’t worry about it. I took the usual stuff out ‘cause of the seminars this week. None of the important stuff is in it, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jim assured him.
“It’s in my room and on my laptop.” Blair took a deep breath. “But there’s a complete copy in my office. I locked it in a safe.”
“Safe? You got a safe, Chief?” Jim teased. “You holdin’ out on me? Keeping all those treasures for yourself?”
Blair weakly grinned. “A little safe,” he explained. “Just big enough to put some encrypted discs. Everything’s there, Jim. You can use it if---”
“Shut up, Sandburg! Right now!” Jim saw the hurt look on his partner’s face. “I mean it! There’s no place for that kind of thinking now, you understand me?! That sort of thinking in this situation can get you killed! And I’m not gonna have it!”
“Jim…” Blair groaned. “Please…Jack encrypted it. He doesn’t know what it is…he just loaned me the program…he promised he’d give you the program to get the data…no questions asked.”
Jim frowned at the mention of the ex-CIA agent. “You and Kelso are pretty tight, huh?”
Blair shuddered as he took a deep breath. “Friends.” He tried to blink the sweat from his eyes. Smiling when Jim brushed it away, he reached for his friend’s hand. “It’s important to me, Jim.”
“Shit, Sandburg,” Jim growled. “You sure as hell don’t play fair, do you?” He saw the ghost of a smile on the younger man’s face. “Fine. I’ll take care of it.” He saw the pleading look in Blair’s eyes. “FINE! I’ll use it! It won’t be wasted! Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” Blair muttered. “You want the combination?”
“What? You think I couldn’t crack it?” Jim teased with a grunt. He frowned as he saw Blair trying to focus his eyes. “Blair? BLAIR! Come on…give it up! Tell me the combination!”
“Numbers, man,” Blair half-whispered. “You know, some ancient cultures believed numbers were magical in themselves.”
“So what’s the magic spell for this one, huh?” Jim looked to his right, wondering what was keeping the rescue team.
“Guess,” Blair murmured, struggling for another deep breath.
“Too easy,” Blair shook his head. “Come on, man. Get creative.”
Blair started to laugh, then began coughing. “Jeez, Ellison! Even I’m not sure of THAT number!”
“She keeps that on a need to know basis, huh?” Jim chuckled as he gently rubbed his friend’s chest. “You okay, here?”
Blair nodded. “C’mon, man…you give?”
“Yeah,” Jim nodded as he heard voices outside the bus. “I give.”
“The date we met.”
Blair’s soft voice grabbed all of Jim’s attention. His world suddenly shrank to their confined space…to the man lying next to him. In the sudden silence, Jim could hear both their hearts thudding in anguish.
“Damn you, Sandburg,” Jim whispered as he pressed his forehead against Blair’s. The fingers of his left hand clutched his partner’s sweat-soaked curls. After a moment, he felt Blair’s left hand gently patting his shoulder.
Refusing to acknowledge the tears in his eyes, Jim suddenly raised his head. “Simon!” he barked. “We’re out of time! Kick Usher’s ass in gear!”
“They’re ready, Jim,” Simon assured him.
Even as he spoke, the rescue squad began peeling the metal away. They all covered their ears as the metal squealed in protest.
Jim reached and pulled Blair’s left arm from his shoulder and laid it on the younger man’s chest. “Okay, Sandburg. You really gotta listen to me now.”
Blair nodded. “I feel air,” he murmured.
“Yeah, we’re almost ready to blow this pop stand,” Jim assured him. He looked to his right and saw Usher directing the placement of the pneumonic jack.
“Get out of there, Ellison! That’s an order!” Usher yelled.
“Forget it!” Jim yelled back. “I come out when he does! There’s no way you’re gonna raise that off his leg without me being with him!” He ignored Usher’s sputtering comment.
“Jim…they know what they’re doin’, man,” Blair murmured. “Go on. Get out.”
“No way in hell, Sandburg,” Jim grunted. “Usher knows what he’s doing, but he doesn’t understand about US. Got it?”
Blair licked his lips and nodded.
“Okay, listen to me,” Jim grimly muttered. “When they raise this crap off you, you’re gonna hurt worse than you ever have in your entire life. If you need to scream, do it…you understand?” He took both of Blair’s hands in his. “I’m not gonna turn you loose, you hear me? You hang on to me as tight as you can, but I swear I won’t let you go. And if I have to release your hands when we move you out, I’ll still be right with you…touching you.” He stared into Blair’s frightened blue eyes. “I won’t turn you loose, buddy. Understand?”
Blair took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. “Jim? Thanks, man. For it all.”
“Save it, Sandburg,” Jim growled. Then he took a deep breath of his own and brushed Blair’s sweat-soaked hair from his forehead. “Thank you, Blair,” he whispered in return. Without looking away from his friend, he yelled, “Usher! Do it now!”
Blair’s scream echoed all along Sherman Street….
Simon wearily wiped his eyes. The hospital waiting room was full. So far the death count was holding at seventeen …most of them from the collapsed freeway. Other than the freeway, the rest of the damage had been relatively minor. Only one building, an older structure in the downtown area, looked like it would be condemned. The rest could be repaired.
The National Guard had arrived to assist and relieve the Cascade city services. Quick phone calls to their families had relieved the minds of the people under Simon’s command. Yet the Major Crimes detectives stayed at the hospital…waiting for news of one of their own.
Rhonda sat slumped next to Rafe, her eyes partially closed in fatigue. Rafe had been holding the same cup of coffee for the last half-hour without taking a sip. Henri sat next to Rafe, idly playing with the rabbit’s foot on his key chain. Joel sat across from them having stared at the same magazine page for the last hour.
If he lived to be a hundred, Simon doubted he would ever forget the piercing scream that had emanated from the bus. The sight of the rescue workers pulling Blair from the bus, with Ellison nearly falling out face-first as he followed, had chilled his already shaky heart. Somehow…someway…Blair had kept a tight hold on Jim’s hand, refusing to unclench it even though unconscious. How that grip was loosened was a mystery known only to the EMTs in the ambulance. But by the time they reached the hospital, Jim walked next to the gurney, a hand on Blair’s shoulder.
Only when the young anthropologist had been wheeled into surgery had Ellison been forced to stay behind. Simon had heard him mutter something about a promise before the other man had walked back to the surgical waiting room.
Simon glanced to his right and sighed. Standing, he walked to the window and stood next to a silent Sentinel. “Jim?”
“I’m fine, Simon,” Jim quietly answered. “The sun’ll be up soon.”
“Yeah,” Simon nodded. He wanted to say something…but couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. As he turned around, he saw a bloodstained surgeon approaching. He touched Jim on the arm.
The Sentinel whirled around even as the others got to their feet.
The doctor stared at them for a moment. “You’re all here for Blair Sandburg?”
“That’s right,” Simon nodded.
“How is he?” Jim roughly demanded.
The surgeon smiled.
The voice came from so far away. Blair struggled to follow it. The dreams had been so nice. Weird…but nice. Running in a jungle…actually playing with a wolf and a familiar-looking black jaguar. The large ebony cat kept looking at him as though saying, “You know me.” Blair hazily thought it must have something to do with the gift of shamanism Incacha had bestowed upon him. ‘I really gotta look into that,’ Blair groggily promised himself.
The voice was closer now. A gentle voice. Blair smiled to himself. ‘Nobody’d ever believe Jim Ellison…Mr. Army Ranger…Mr. Covert Ops…Mr. Macho Detective . . . would ever have such a gentle voice.’
Jim looked at the bed as Blair mumbled something in his sleep.
“No, he’s still sedated, Naomi,” Jim quietly explained into the telephone. “Between the trauma of the crash and the surgery itself, they wanted to keep him out for a while.” He settled back in his chair and squirmed to find a comfortable position without losing his grip on Blair’s hand, smiling when the younger man’s fingers curled around his. “He should be coming around sometime late tonight or tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah, call back tomorrow evening if you can. He may be awake enough to talk then.” Jim finally found a comfortable position and stretched out his long legs. “Sure. I’ll be here.” He smiled again, hearing his name softly murmured by the man sleeping in the bed. “I promised.”
‘Sounds like I have time to play some more.’ Blair happily turned to go running after the wolf and jaguar. He murmured Jim’s name again and felt a reassuring squeeze on his hand. ‘Thanks, man.’
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