“911. What is your emergency?”
“This is Sergeant Corey Gates, negotiator at the Cascade Central Bank operation. Get every ambulance down here ASAP! We’ve got people down!....dear God in Heaven…so many down…”
“Sergeant, how many? Sergeant!”
Gates, a veteran negotiator, took a deep breath. “At least fifteen officers down. I don’t know their medical situation. We only have 2 ambulances on site. There’s going to be more people down in the bank. Officers are approaching now to see if there are any…to check on their condition.”
“Affirmative, Sergeant.” The 911 operator lowered her voice to a more soothing tone. “Stay with me. Relay whatever information you can.”
“Call Assistant Commissioner Banks,” Gates requested. “A lot of people here were under his former command. He’ll want to know.”
“Copy that, Sergeant. It’s being done now.”
Gates moved his cell phone a short distance from his ear and forced himself to walk forward to where two EMTs were desperately working on a young officer. He stopped and looked around. “Get the press back!” he yelled at one man.
Captain George Deacon ignored Gates’ yell as he stared around him in horror.
Gates put the phone back up to his ear. “Get more officers down here. We need crowd control. The press is starting to walk all over this scene.” He hesitated then continued. “Notify the Commissioner and Chief Warren. Captain Deacon’s lost complete control of this situation.”
“Huh…wha…” Blair Sandburg dazedly looked around. “Gayle?”
“Judas H. Priest!” Gayle Rollyson was known to swear like a sailor on shore leave. A tenured professor of archeology for over thirty years, the short grey-haired woman looked like everyone’s favorite grandmother…and sounded like everyone’s drunken grandfather when she became aggravated. “You scared me, young man!”
“Sorry…didn’t mean to.” Blair rubbed his face, trying to take unobtrusive deep breaths.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Blair! Take deep breaths!” Gayle looked around Blair’s office. “I swear I don’t know where you find anything in this rat trap you call an office. I’ll get you some water.”
“No, I’m okay…really.” Blair protested.
Gayle gave him a sharp look. “Blair Sandburg, do not sit there and lie to me.” She put her hands on her thin hips. “One moment we’re discussing how to convince that old bat in the Chancellor’s office to release funding for a joint archeology/anthropology expedition to Little Big Horn and the next moment you’re all glassy-eyed, barely breathing, and somewhere off in la-la land!”
“La-la land?” Blair’s blue eyes twinkled in amusement.
Gayle’s own brown eyes narrowed dangerously. She braced her hands on the edge of Blair’s desk and leaned forward.
Blair instinctively leaned back in his chair. “I’ve got a bottle of water in my backpack,” he meekly spoke and pointed to the sofa in the corner.
Gayle grunted as she turned around. “If it’s one of those preppie flavored waters, I’m dumping it out,” she muttered. “Nothing wrong with plain old water.”
Gayle brought the bottle of water back to Blair and gave it to him. “Don’t you ‘yes ma’am’ me,” she warned. “Now drink. And when’s the last time you ate?”
Blair sipped the water before answering. “This morning.”
“And that was…what? A half a bagel or some other such nonsense?”
“Umm…well, almost a whole bagel.” Blair looked pleadingly at his friend. “C’mon, Gayle! I had a class at eight! I told Angeline I’d cover for her. She’s got a bad case of the flu.”
“I didn’t eat anything. I’ve got a meeting with Chancellor Edwards at 2pm!” Blair groaned. “And…well…frankly, I can’t face her on a full stomach.”
Gayle snorted and sat back down in her chair. “Someone should put some arsenic in that watered-down tea she serves.”
“You get tea?” Blair weakly grinned. “Wow, you’re special.” He closed the bottle of water and sat it in front of him.
“Brat.” Gayle fondly studied him for a moment. “You took a spirit walk on me. You can’t skip meals if you’re going to do that.”
“Don’t bat those big blue eyes at me, young man.” Gayle pointed her long forefinger at him. “I know you anthropologists think we archeologists ignore people but we don’t.” Her face softened. “Do you think I’ve visited Native American tribes just to dig up old arrowheads? I’ve been privileged to witness a few spirit walks.” She glared at Blair. “And you just took one.” She noted the panicked look on the younger man’s face. “What happened, Blair?” Gayle gently asked.
“I don’t know,” Blair muttered. “Everything was flashes of yellow and red. I heard screaming…a lot of voices screaming…some in pain but other screaming ‘run’ and ‘down’…” He lowered his hands and stared across the desk at the older woman. “It hurt, Gayle,” he whispered. “It HURT.”
“This is your first spirit walk, isn’t it?”
“It can’t have been a spirit walk,” Blair shook his head. “You need to fast…meditate…for DAYS before you go on a spirit walk.” He stared at his friend. “If you’ve witnessed spirit walks, then you KNOW this! Besides, I’m not a Shaman!”
“I don’t know about that, but you don’t take a spirit walk because you’ve forgotten to stop at the dry cleaners,” Gayle calmly replied. “And you DID go on a spirit walk.” She eyed him closely. “In fact, you dropped into it like you’ve been doing it your whole life.” She waved a hand to dismiss Blair’s protest. “Let’s say for the sake of argument that you did go on a spirit walk. You’ve meditated for years. Now, if something didn’t make sense during a meditation, what would you do?”
“Center myself.” Blair nodded, then closed his eyes.
Gayle patiently waited. ‘Not a Shaman, my ass. Somebody needs to shake some sense into that boy.’
Seconds later, Blair’s eyes flew open, blue fire burning in their depths. “Jim,” he whispered.
Both Blair and Gayle jumped when Blair’s cell phone rang. Blair grabbed it from the corner of his desk. Never even looking at the display, he opened the phone and spoke. “Simon, what happened?”
“I’ll be in front of Hargrove Hall in two minutes. Get outside.”
Blair didn’t even flinch at either the growl in Simon’s voice or the sudden disconnection of the call. He closed his phone and got to his feet. “I gotta go.”
As Blair ran around the desk and grabbed his backpack, Gayle kept out of his way. “I’ll take your laptop home with me. Call and let me know where to bring it. Do you need me to bring anything else?”
Gayle sighed to herself as she got to her feet. She walked around the desk and began shutting down Blair’s laptop. “Boy’s forgotten all about that meeting with bitch, Edwards,” she muttered to herself. “She’s going to have the mother of all hissy-fits.”
Simon Banks barely rolled his car to a stop to allow Blair to open the front passenger door and jump inside. Then he gunned the engine, driving away from Hargrove Hall, lights flashing and siren wailing.
“What happened?!” Blair demanded.
“Fasten your seatbelt,” Simon automatically spoke. “Now, Sandburg!”
Blair threw his backpack onto the floor by his feet then pulled at the seatbelt strap. “Fine! It’s fastened! Now what the hell happened?!”
“There was an attempt to rob the Cascade Central Bank,” Simon tersely explained. “Three perps…heavily armed. One of the tellers hit the silent alarm, but one of the gunmen saw a patrol car. They started firing and barricaded the lobby. Fortunately, during the firing, most people got out through the back. From what I understand there were three gunmen and eight hostages.” He took a deep breath. “Including a couple of kids.”
“Was Deacon commander at the scene?” Blair demanded. When Simon silently nodded, the younger man fluently cursed in every language he knew.
Simon waited for Blair to calm down then continued. “It started just after 11 a.m. Deacon ordered SWAT and the other officers to assault the bank just before 1 p.m.”
“What?” Blair stared at Simon in shock. “But…that’s not enough time for a negotiator to even make any kind of connection with those guys!”
“That’s not enough time to even find out who those guys were! What they wanted! What kind of weapons they had!”
“I know that, Sandburg!”
Blair remembered the flashes of yellow and red from his spirit walk. ‘Gunfire and blood.’ He closed his eyes. “How bad?”
“I don’t know,” Simon miserably admitted. “The negotiator called Dispatch when the firing stopped. Every ambulance is en route as are other officers for back-up.” He didn’t mention that the negotiator had reported that Deacon had lost control of the scene.
“Reported down.” Simon flinched at the sound that escaped Blair’s lips. “Everything’s chaotic at the scene, Sandburg. We’ll know more for sure in a few minutes.”
“What about the rest of Major Crime?” Blair whispered. “Were they there, too?”
Blair shut his eyes, hearing the mournful howl of a grieving wolf echo through his soul.
“You weren’t kidding about chaos,” Blair muttered as Simon’s car crept to a halt.
“This is ridiculous,” Simon angrily muttered. “Sandburg, stay with me!”
Automatically grabbing his backpack, Blair scrambled from Simon’s car and dogged the bigger man’s footsteps as Simon weaved his way through the crowd.
Back-up patrol officers had pushed the media and curious onlookers back from the scene. One of the officers gave Simon a grateful look as he moved a barrier to allow the two men to pass.
“Captain Swanson’s been taken to the hospital,” the young officer reported.
Simon winced. “How bad?” The captain of the SWAT unit was a relatively young man with little experience in his position.
The officer shrugged although his eyes glanced away. “I haven’t heard, sir. But…the ranking officer on the scene is Captain Deacon.” His voice dropped even lower. “He’s giving conflicting orders, sir. It’s a mess. Captain Taggart is trying to cope, but Captain Deacon’s countermanding everything Captain Taggart’s doing.”
“I’ll take care of it. Thanks.” Simon grimly nodded and walked forward.
“Thank God Joel’s okay,” Blair muttered.
Simon’s height gave him an advantage. He saw Jim being loaded into an ambulance and grabbed Blair’s shoulder. Pointing, he gave Blair a small shove. “Jim’s being transported.”
Blair sprinted in the direction Simon indicated, barely realizing that Simon was following.
“Wait! Wait! I’m going with him!” Blair yelled.
One of the EMT’s recognized Blair and nodded.
Just as Blair got to the ambulance, someone grabbed his arm and pulled him away.
“What are you doing here? Who let this person through?”
“Deacon,” Blair hissed. He pulled his arm away from the Captain’s grasp. “Don’t you ever grab me again!” He moved to one side to go back to the ambulance.
Deacon shoved Blair back. “You have no business here!” He turned to the EMT and shouted, “What are you waiting for?!”
It was a known fact throughout the Cascade P.D. that when Simon Banks bellowed, everyone stopped to listen.
“Blair, get in the ambulance,” Simon ordered in a gentler voice. Then he turned to Deacon, his voice harsher. “Captain Deacon, I’m placing you on administrative suspension pending an investigation.”
“You’re WHAT?!” Deacon yelled.
Blair ignored the argument and climbed into the back of the ambulance. The rear door slammed shut and the ambulance sped off.
“You heard me,” Simon growled.
“You’re not going to put the blame for this on me,” Deacon warned. “Had the people here been compe….”
Simon grabbed Deacon by both arms and jerked him forward.
Joel Taggart stepped forward and put a hand on Simon’s arm. “Simon, let him go,” he gently urged. “There’s been enough bloodshed today.”
Simon took a deep breath. “Captain Deacon, do not EVER attempt to repeat that sentence in my presence again.” He slowly released the other man. “You are ordered to report to Central Headquarters where you will write up your report of what happened today. This report will go to my office as well as to the Commissioner, Chief of Police, and Captain Geoffrey Marshall of Internal Affairs. Your suspension will begin after you have completed your report. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ASSISTANT Commissioner Banks,” Deacon hissed. He straightened his coat, turned and walked away.
“I should've gone ahead and hit him,” Simon muttered. Then he looked at Joel. “Are you okay?” He stared at the blood on Joel’s face.
“Grazed by a bullet along the cheek,” Joel admitted, his voice shaking slightly. “Nothing critical.”
“How bad is it, Joel?” Simon gently asked.
Joel closed his eyes. He squeezed Simon’s arm. “Megan’s dead. She took one through the chest. Rafe’s been taken to the hospital. He took one in the back.” Joel opened his eyes, letting the tears come. “He was next to Megan when she got hit. He tried to catch her…protect her from another shot. Henri took one in the shoulder. He’s waiting to be evacuated.” Joel pointed to a nearby area where doctors from a nearby hospital were triaging the wounded.
“He's got a head wound.”
Simon squeezed Joel’s arm then walked towards the triage area. He found Henri sitting next to a wounded officer, quietly talking with the younger man. Henri saw Simon and started to stand, but Simon waved for him to remain sitting.
Simon glanced down at the wounded officer and tried not to grimace at the wound in the officer’s leg.
“Cop killers, Captain.”
Simon glanced at Henri.
“Some of the bullets were cop killers,” Henri bitterly reported. “Went right through the vests. We never had a chance.”
Blair squeezed into a small corner at the bottom of the gurney. He tentatively reached out and put his hand on Jim’s leg. “I’m here,” he whispered, gulping as he stared at the blood-stained bandage around his partner’s head. “How bad is it?” he finally asked when the EMT had finished speaking with the hospital.
The EMT barely glanced at Blair. “Head wounds bleed a lot. You know that.”
“Yeah. They do.” Blair absently patted Jim’s leg. He began taking deep breaths to avoid the panic attack he felt approaching.
The EMT gave him a sympathetic look but didn’t say anything.
“My appointment is with Mr. Sandburg.” Chancellor Katherine Edwards coldly eyed the woman who calmly sat in the chair on the opposite side of the desk.
“Blair was called away on a family medical emergency.” Gayle Rollyson replied, not the least concerned with stretching, bending, or mutilating the truth when it came to the University Chancellor. “So I thought I would take this opportunity to speak with you regarding the Little Big Horn Proposal.”
“That needs to be reviewed by the Board.” Chancellor Edwards reached for a nearby folder. “If that’s…”
“And by the time the Board has reviewed the proposal, the gathering of the Sioux tribes will have come and gone. As you know, this gathering takes place in three weeks,” Gayle smoothly interrupted. “This is an opportunity for the archeology and anthropology departments to combine resources…which, of course, would translate into fiscal savings for the University.”
Edwards’ eyes narrowed. “Just what was Mr. Sandburg’s ‘family medical emergency’?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” Gayle smiled. “What I know was told to me in confidence. I’m sure you understand I certainly can’t violate that confidence.” Inwardly, she snorted. ‘Like I’d tell you about a spirit walk…or you’d believe it.’ She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m certain Blair will file the proper paperwork once he’s determined the exact nature of the emergency.”
“Of course he will,” Edwards sarcastically replied.
“Now, about the Little Big Horn Proposal…” Gayle folded her arms in her lap and patiently waited.
“…Mr. Sandburg? Blair?”
Startled, Blair looked up into the worried blue eyes of William Ellison.
“Mr. Ellison!” Blair jumped to his feet. “Ohmigod…I should’ve called…”
William put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Simon Banks called me,” he gently interrupted. Concerned, he urged Blair to sit back down. “Calm down…it’s okay.”
“Jim…a bullet ricocheted…he was shot in the head…they say he’s got a fractured skull,” Blair whispered. He blinked then wiped his eyes. “He’s in surgery.”
“Yes, the very kind nurse at the desk over there told me.” William nodded. “I know the surgeon…Dr. Julia Frankel. She’s very good.”
“I told them about Jim’s reactions to medications,” Blair babbled. “They pulled his charts and records so they’ll know what to watch out for. I told them to notify me immediately if something out of the ordinary happens during surgery. I…”
Blair flinched then looked at the older man.
William softened his voice. “You’ve done all you can, Blair.”
“I failed him,” Blair whispered. “Don’t you understand that? I wasn’t there. I should’ve found a way to be there no matter what that…that…what Captain Deacon said! So what if he pulled my observer pass? He can’t tell me what to do! I’m supposed to keep Jim from zoning!”
William sighed. “Blair…” He shook his head then stretched his arm across Blair’s shoulders and gave him a hug. “You don’t know that Jim zoned. Until we know what actually happened, you’re only speculating, right?” When Blair reluctantly nodded, he continued. “So we wait…and pray.”
TWO DAYS LATER
“In the aftermath of the gun battle at the Cascade Central Bank, the death toll has now risen to eleven. Dead at the scene were the three gunmen, Alec Waters, Li Soong, and Mitchell Porter. They were all struck by bullets fired by members of the Cascade Police Department.”
Reporter Don Haas turned slightly to face another camera. “Also dead at the scene were Officer Brent Stone, Lt. Michael Reiser, and Inspector Megan Connor of the New South Wales Police Department. Inspector Connor was attached to the Major Crimes department. Captain Tyler Swanson of the Cascade Police SWAT unit was taken to Cascade Mercy Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Seven other police officers were wounded and taken to various city hospitals.”
Haas shuffled a few papers then continued. “There were eight hostages inside the bank. Six were wounded and three were killed during the assault. Most tragic were the deaths of 3-month old Skyla Miller and her sister Layla, aged 6. Reports from witnesses say that Layla, holding her baby sister, tried to turn away in an effort to protect the infant when the gunmen began firing on them. Their father, Jordan Miller, was shot and killed by one of the gunmen in the opening minutes of the robbery attempt.”
Looking back at the first camera, Haas somberly spoke. “Today, the Cascade Police Department mourns yet another death. Detective Brian Rafe was pronounced dead earlier today as a result of wounds received while trying to aid another downed officer, Inspector Megan Connor. In a telephone interview with Sean McGregor of the Australian consulate in Cascade, Mr. McGregor pledged that his government was extremely interested in the official investigation into the event at the Cascade Central Bank. A panel consisting of members from the Cascade Police Internal Affairs unit, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Governor’s Office has been empowered by the Governor to investigate and report their findings to the public.”
“Captain George Deacon’s report states that the SWAT Commander…Captain Swanson recommended the assault on the bank.” Joan Sullivan of the Governor’s office looked up from the report in front of her.
“Which is directly contradicted by Captain Joel Taggart’s report,” IA Captain Geoffrey Marshall replied. “Captain Taggart says that Captain Deacon told him and Detective Ellison that he was ordering the assault.” He glanced at his notes. “That’s supported by Lieutenant David Randall’s report. He was the second-in-command of the SWAT unit.”
Grant Felder sat back and wiped his hand across his dark-skinned face. “Are you saying that Captain Deacon ordered an assault on the bank after only two hours?” As Assistant Mayor, he knew the responsibility for finding a political solution rested on his shoulders.
“That appears to be the fact based on these preliminary reports.” Marshall nodded.
“The Commissioner is backing Captain Deacon's actions in this matter,” Felder pointed out.
“He would,” Beverly Irwin of the District Attorney’s office answered. “He’s the one who put Deacon in as head of Major Crimes.”
“Does this Captain Taggart have an axe to grind with Captain Deacon?” Joan asked.
“My sources tell me that no one in Major Crimes was happy with Captain Deacon,” Beverly admitted. “Their solve rates are way down and morale was shot to hell.” She grimaced. “So to speak.”
“So Captain Taggart could be…letting his emotions dictate his report?” Felder asked.
Both Beverly and Marshall shook their heads. “Captain Taggart’s reputation is unblemished,” Marshall firmly replied. “His testimony is considered rock solid.”
A little surprised, Felder silently nodded. “But it’s an accusation that will be made at some point,” he admitted.
“And will be dealt with at that point.” Marshall calmly replied. “The fact is that Captain Deacon was the commander on the scene. We have Sergeant Gates’ report that after only one hour, Captain Deacon was pressuring him to conclude the negotiations.” He looked at the other panel members. “Gates didn’t even get the names of the robbers until thirty minutes before the assault was ordered. I guarantee you that’s not enough time to find out who these men were, find out if there were any family members who could’ve talked with them to convince them to surrender, to negotiate the release of some of the hostages...” His green eyes angrily flashed. “…or anything else, for that matter!”
“So you’re saying that Captain Deacon is solely responsible,” Joan said.
“From a command perspective, yes.” Marshall nodded.
“We’ll need more than these preliminary reports,” Felder sighed. “The public’s howling for something to be done, but we need to make very sure we’re correct in our conclusions.” He glanced at the other panel members. “I’ll report to the Mayor that preliminary reports have been reviewed, but that we’re also waiting on Forensics and official interviews.” He stood and reached for his jacket. Shrugging it on, he continued, “Just remember that Captain Deacon has the Commissioner's full support. And the Commissioner is very friendly with the Mayor.” With a nod, he left the room.
When the door closed behind him, Joan carefully studied Beverly and Marshall's faces.
“Neither the Commissioner nor the Mayor dictate the outcome of any of my investigations,” Marshall firmly announced.
Beverly nodded in agreement. “Nor mine.”
Joan slowly nodded in agreement. “And the Governor will back me. Let’s see where this investigate leads us. And let the chips fall where they may.”
“So far, Jim’s holding his own,” Dr. Julia Frankel assured William and Steven Ellison. She glanced at the young man sitting by Jim’s bedside, unsure if he was listening or not. Then he looked back at her friend. “He was lucky that he wasn’t struck by one of those cop-killer bullets. The bullet that did hit him was a ricochet that fractured his skull. If it had struck him at full velocity, he’d be dead now. As it was, his head bounced off the pavement when he fell which didn’t help matters. Jim’s head took a double blow, William. First the bullet, then the severe concussion courtesy of his fall. It’s going to take quite a while for Jim to regain consciousness.”
“If he regains consciousness,” William angrily added. “And you’ve no way of knowing what his condition will be at that time, do you?”
Julia slowly nodded. “I won’t lie to you. Right now there’s no way of knowing for sure if Jim will ever open his eyes again or what he’ll be like if he does regain consciousness.” She reached out and squeezed William’s arm. “But he’s stubborn, William…just like you. So my money’s on Jim.”
William slowly exhaled and nodded. “Thank you, Julia.”
“I’ll check on him later.” Julia quietly left the room.
“C’mon, Dad. You’ve been here for a long time. I’ll take you home,” Steven urged.
“You need to rest and eat,” Steven firmly argued. He lowered his voice and added, “Then you can get Blair to rest a little.”
William slowly nodded. He walked over to Jim’s bed and gently squeezed Blair’s shoulder. “I’m going home for a while, son,” he said. “When I get back I want you to go home, shower, eat and rest as well.”
Startled, Blair looked up at the older man. “What…I thought you were talking to Jim…”
“No, I was talking to you, Blair.” William hesitated, then leaned down to give Blair a quick hug. “I’ll be back later.”
“Okay.” Confused, Blair watched as Steven escorted his father from the room. Then he turned back to Jim. “Hey, man, your dad called me ‘son’. You need to wake up so you can set him straight. I’m a Sandburg, not an Ellison, right?”
‘I think Dad’s adopted you, Chief. Poor guy hasn’t a clue what he’s taking on.’
Blair tiredly rubbed his eyes. “I must be wasted,” he muttered. “I’m hearing voices now.”
’So close your eyes…take a load off…relax a little.’
Blair reached out and took Jim’s hand. Settling back in the chair, he closed his eyes. “Yeah, maybe I will,” he muttered.
‘Things’ll look better after you’ve gotten some rest.’
Seconds later, Blair opened his eyes to find himself lying on the ground. Startled, he sat up and looked around to find himself lying in a small clearing on the side of a mountain. On either side of him, tall redwood trees rose majestically towards the sky. In front of him was a massive rockslide.
“Oh man,” Blair muttered as he got to his feet. “Another spirit walk?” He looked around. “This one’s different, though.”
“Jim?!” Blair yelled, turning around in circles. “Jim, where are you?!”
After a moment of silence, he heard, “I think I’m on the other side of the rockslide.”
Blair approached the landslide, trying to see if there was a way around it. “I can’t even tell how high it is!” he complained.
“And I’ve tried for what seems like forever to walk around it,” Jim’s voice complained in return.
Blair rubbed his forehead. “Jim, this isn’t real! We’re like…in a spirit world.”
“This isn’t the blue jungle, Chief. What’s going on?”
“What do you remember?” Blair hesitantly asked, absently chewing on a fingernail.
“The shoot-out at the bank.” Jim’s voice was slow and measured. “What happened to me? To the others?”
“A bullet ricocheted and hit you in the head. Gave you a skull fracture. You also hit your head when you fell,” Blair whispered. Despite the whisper, Jim seemed to have no problem hearing him.
“Am I dead?”
“No!” Blair shouted. “No, you’re not dead!”
“Then…what’s this all about?”
“You’re in a coma,” Blair explained. “The doctor says it’ll be a while before you wake up.”
“You mean IF I wake up.”
“No! WHEN!” Blair bellowed in fear and frustration.
“Okay, okay…when I wake up.”
“Sorry,” Blair mumbled. He rubbed his face again then lunged towards the massive rockslide. “Maybe I can…AAAHHH!” Blair yelled when an unseen force threw him backwards.
“Blair? What happened?!”
“I’m okay!” Blair called out as he sat up. “Guess I’m not supposed to touch that pile of rocks.” He stood, wincing as he limped back towards the rockslide.
“Makes sense, Chief. Like you said, it's my coma.”
“Well, it sucks!” Blair yelled.
“Won’t argue with that.” After a moment, Jim’s voice continued. “You didn’t finish. What happened to the others?”
Blair closed his eyes to stop the tears. “Joel’s okay,” he finally answered. “Henri got shot in the shoulder, but he’ll be okay, too.”
“And?” Jim’s voice prompted when Blair stopped speaking.
“And Megan died at the scene. Rafe died this morning. Captain Swanson died on the way to the hospital. And it’s all Deacon’s fault!” Blair looked up at the sky, hearing thunder rumble in the distance. “I don’t care!” he screamed at the sky. “I can’t forgive him for this! I won’t!”
“Sandburg! Stop it!” Jim’s voice sternly ordered. “Deacon’s not important now!”
Blair wiped his tears away. “Jim, are you okay?” he asked after several minutes of silence.
Jim’s voice was cold. “I can’t think about the others now. I won’t. Right now, all I need to think about is getting through this rockslide…or around it…or over it.”
“Yeah, the rockslide’s the manifestation of your coma,” Blair sniffed. He looked around and moaned. “Aw, no! C'MON!”
“What’s wrong?” Jim asked with concern.
“Everything’s fading around me. I’m leaving,” Blair explained in a rushed voice. “But I’ll be back, Jim! I swear I will! I won’t leave you for long!”
“Take care of yourself, Chief! Promise me that!”
Blair couldn’t ignore the desperation in Jim’s voice. “I will,” he promised. “But I’ll come back to you.”
Blair’s eyes snapped open, and he stared down at Jim’s unconscious body then around the hospital room.
'You took a spirit walk on me…In fact, you dropped into it like you’ve been doing it your whole life.'
Blair recalled Gayle’s words and sat up straighter in the chair. Then he tightened his grip on Jim’s hand. “I WILL come back to you, Jim. You won’t be left alone again. I swear.”
TWO WEEKS LATER
“Sergeant Gates, how many years’ experience have you had as a crisis negotiator?” Beverly Irwin asked.
“Ten years, Ms. Irwin.” Sergeant Corey Gates calmly replied. “Unfortunately, I’ve been involved in almost fifty crisis negotiations during that time.”
“How many times have you been the lead negotiator?”
“I’d say approximately twenty during that time.” Gates frowned. “Mostly within the past four years.”
“What types of situations?”
“Mostly domestic and situations with under-age adults,” Gates admitted. “I seem to have a way of getting through to distressed family members and kids.” He shrugged. “I don’t think I act any differently in other situations, though.”
“Tell me about the situation at the Cascade Central Bank.” Beverly leaned back in her chair. “Your report states that you arrived at 11:17?”
“That’s correct, Ms. Irwin.” Gates cleared his throat then continued. “We didn’t make contact with the bank robbers until 11:45. We’d been calling into the bank on various phones, but no one answered until then.”
Beverly glanced at the file in front of her. “And the assault on the bank began at 12:52?”
Gates thought for a few seconds, then nodded. “Correct.”
“So you had, in fact, one hour and seven minutes of time to negotiate with the bank robbers after contact was made with them?”
“That was the AVAILABLE time,” Gates stressed. “I’d say we only spoke for a total of perhaps 20 minutes. None of the conversations were longer than five minutes at any time.”
“How many conversations were there?” Beverly questioned.
“Five.” Gates slumped in his chair. “They made complaints about banks having all the money and it should be given to those who need it. Then they demanded the usual get-away vehicle, no cops following them, no helicopters in the sky.” He sighed. “They refused to release any of the hostages…not even the children.”
Beverly pulled some papers from the file and scanned them. “In your report, you state that Captain Deacon began pressuring you to conclude negotiations by giving ultimatums after only about an hour.” She glanced at the man across the desk from here. “What is your professional opinion of that?”
“My professional opinion?” Gates paused to consider his answer then carefully spoke. “I don’t believe Captain Deacon has much experience with hostage negotiations. He seemed impatient with the process and disinclined to listen to any explanations.”
“Yet he was making command decisions.”
Gates stared at Beverly for a moment. “Yes.” He sat up straighter in his chair. “I didn't issue any ultimatums to the bank robbers. In my professional opinion and capacity as lead crisis negotiator, that would not have been in the best interests of the hostages.”
“Were you privy to any conversations between Captains Deacon and Swanson?”
“Hello, Blair. How did Jim do last night?” William Ellison forced a smile to his face as he greeted the young man sitting next to his son’s bed.
“Rested comfortably,” Blair answered with a tired smile. “That’s a good sign, right?”
“Of course, it is,” William nodded. He gently squeezed Blair’s shoulder. “Now it’s time for you to go home, eat, and get some rest.” He held up the morning edition of the New York Times. “I’ll read Jim the financial section. Maybe he’ll be bored enough to wake up and tell me to be quiet.”
Despite his weariness, Blair smiled. “And then demand a Wonderburger and ask when he can go home.”
The two men stared at each other for a couple of moments then Blair got to his feet. He reached for his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “If anything happens…”
“I’ll be sure to call you immediately,” William promised. “Drive carefully, Blair. I don’t want to explain an accident to Jim.”
“Heaven forbid,” Blair weakly joked. He reached out and squeezed Jim’s arm. “Your Dad’s making me go home, Jim. I’ll see you later.” He hesitated then took a deep breath. He nodded again to William and left the room.
William resolutely sat down in the chair Blair had vacated and opened the paper to the financial section. “Let’s see, Jim. The Dow’s dropped again…no surprise there.” He sighed. “Makes me long for the good old days when businessmen ran businesses and not financial analysts.” He snorted and turned the page. “Hmm…here’s an interesting interview with the Secretary of the Treasury. He says…says…”
William suddenly threw the paper to the floor. “Damn it, James! Wake up!” he angrily hissed. “I’m tired of this! So is everyone else!” He reached out and squeezed Jim’s hand. “You’re a fighter so why are you…just LAYING there?!”
Realizing the tight grip he had on Jim’s hand, William loosened it then patted his son’s hand. “You need to wake up, Jimmy….please…just wake up…”
William lowered his head and, in the privacy of his son’s hospital room, cried until he could cry no more.
“Lieutenant Randall, were you present during any conversations between Captain Deacon and Captain Swanson?”
David Randall eyed the IA Captain with wary respect. No one liked IA, and Captain Geoffrey Marshall had a reputation of taking no prisoners during his interrogations. “Yes, sir. Two conversations.”
When Marshall patiently waited, Randall swallowed. “The…uh…first conversation was when SWAT arrived on the scene. Captain Deacon briefed Captain Swanson on the situation, advising there were three individuals with weapons inside the bank. At that time, we didn’t know how many hostages were still inside. Captain Deacon ordered Captain Swanson to deploy the SWAT teams and to be ready to move in.”
“Isn’t that a little unusual? To have SWAT ready to move so quickly?”
Randall shook his head. “Not at all. If the robbers decided to make a sudden break-out, we needed to be ready to contain and confront them. Better to be ready immediately than be caught flat-footed.”
Marshall nodded. His green eyes flickered to the closed file in front of him as though reading something.
For a moment, Randall wondered if the man across the table had x-ray vision then shoved that thought out of his mind when Marshall spoke.
“What was the second conversation between Captain Deacon and Captain Swanson?”
“That was when Captain Deacon ordered the assault on the bank,” Randall replied. “Captain Swanson took him aside, and they spoke for about a minute. I didn’t hear any of that conversation.”
“What did Captain Swanson say after they spoke?”
Randall momentarily looked away. “He…Captain Swanson was furious. He said that Captain Deacon was ordering us in too soon. He called the Commissioner about it.”
Marshall’s eyes blinked once. “Captain Swanson phoned the Commissioner? In effect going over Captain Deacon’s head in an effort to get him to countermand Captain Deacon’s order?”
“I don’t know what Captain Swanson’s intentions were, sir,” Randall stiffly answered. After a moment, he continued, “It’s my opinion, however…”
“I don’t want your opinion of anyone’s intentions, Lieutenant,” Marshall coldly interrupted. “What I want is what you know as fact.”
“Did you hear any part of the conversation between Captain Swanson and the Commissioner?”
“No, sir,” Randall replied. “Captain Swanson walked away for privacy. When he completed the call, he returned and said the assault was a ‘go’.”
“Did Captain Swanson say anything else?”
Randall hesitated, then took a deep breath. “He said this operation was going to be one huge clusterfuck.”
Marshall didn’t hesitate. “Did he say anything else?”
“Just before we started in, he muttered ‘God help us’.” Randall closed his eyes. “That’s the last thing I heard him say,” he softly added.
Blair had taken a shower, changed clothes, and had warmed up a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Then he’d sat at the kitchen table staring at the bowl of soup as though it contained all the answers of the universe.
Then he sardonically laughed. “No,” he said aloud. “All I need are the answers on how to do a spirit walk whenever I want.”
Irritably, he pushed the bowl to one side. “If I fast and go without sleep, I’ve got Simon, William, and half the doctors at the hospital nagging me and threatening to keep me away from Jim.” He stood and began pacing. “If I just knew how I dropped into those spirit walks before!” He had both hands in his curly hair, ready to start pulling when there was a knock on the door.
Sighing, Blair released his hair and walked to the door. He opened it then stepped back in surprise.
“God’s teeth, Blair! You look like hell!” Having delivered that piece of news, Gayle Rollyson pushed by Blair and motioned for the man behind her to follow.
“Gayle? What are you…” Blair choked back his irritated words in respect to the elderly man who now stood just inside the front door. “Hello, sir.”
“See, I told you he was a polite boy. Ready to blast me out then just as sweet as pie to you.” Gayle grinned when Blair glared at her. “Blair Sandburg, meet John Nightowl of the Ogala Sioux. He’s their Shaman,” she continued in a respectful voice.
“I’m pleased to meet you.” Blair held out his hand.
“As am I. Gayle has spoken highly of you.” The elderly man’s dark eyes twinkled as he shook Blair’s hand.
“Please, sit down.” Blair offered, waving to the couch. He glanced at Gayle. “Did you get the funding?”
“Hell, no,” Gayle irritably swore. “I’m taking a few of my students on my own. Calling it a field study and that old witch can suck her broomstick if she doesn’t like it.” Ignoring both Blair and John’s muffled snorts, she looked around the loft. “Don’t you ever pick up anything?” She eyed the chaos of books, papers, clothing and dirty dishes with a grimace.
Blair winced, knowing that Jim would have a fit if he could see the mess in the loft.
“Go. Outside on the balcony,” Gayle briskly ordered. “The two of you can talk while I clean this place.” When Blair hesitated, she gave him a push. “I said ‘Go’! You need sunshine! You’re starting to look like one of those pasty-faced Goth freshmen students I see walking around campus!”
“Gayle, they have a valid lifestyle which reflects…”
“…which reflects the fact they’re idiots,” Gayle interrupted. “They’re sickly and unhealthy looking.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” Blair innocently asked.
John laughed and led the way to the balcony. “Come on, Blair. Before she REALLY gets wound up.”
Blair started to snicker then saw Gayle’s expression. Instead, he quickly followed the older man. “Please, have a seat,” he offered as he closed the balcony door behind him. He wasn’t surprised when the older man sat cross-legged on the balcony floor. Joining him, Blair patiently waited.
“Gayle has told me that you dropped into a spirit walk,” John began. “She also said that you had no idea what was going on.”
“I didn’t…don’t.” Blair scrubbed his face with his hands. “I dropped into another spirit walk two days later.” He slowly explained what had happened to Jim and his friend’s current condition.
John’s eyes narrowed as he thought. He lowered his head for several minutes. When he spoke, his voice was soft. “You are a Shaman, Blair. The Way was passed to you.” He raised his head to stare at Blair.
“Incacha. Shaman of the Chopec…in Peru,” Blair whispered. “He died here…in there on the couch. He reached out and grabbed my arm…Jim was translating…he didn’t know English…he said Incacha passed the Way of the Shaman to me.” Blair shook his head to stop his babbling. “But I’m not a Shaman.”
“Enough!” John’s hand reached out and grabbed Blair’s in a tight grasp.
Shocked, Blair felt a tingling in his hand and stared at John.
“You ARE a Shaman! Untried…untrained…untested. But a Shaman you are! Destined to be a powerful one! Deny THAT at your own peril!”
“But…” Blair stopped speaking then closed his eyes. His breathing slowed and his heart rate calmed. “I need to walk the path of the spirits to reach Jim…to help him.” He opened his eyes. “Teach me…please.”
John slowly released Blair’s arm and sat back. “I can teach you what you need to know for this,” he admitted. “But there is much more you need to know.” He raised both hands and held them out to either side of his body as far as he could stretch them. “You are like this…stretched. Too many distractions. Too many obligations. You MUST learn to be a Shaman. It is not something you can schedule between classes and meetings.”
Blair took a deep breath. “I won’t be working with the police department for a while,” he admitted. ‘If ever again,’ he silently added. “I WAS pretty much caught up on my schoolwork, but I can put the University on a backburner if necessary.” He hesitated. “But I can’t leave Jim. I KNOW he hears me when I’m there with him. But I can learn a lot in the next week so…”
“I will stay as long as necessary, young Shaman, John gently interrupted. “Right now you can’t control the spirit walks. You will need to learn that you must eat and sleep well in order to master that control. Somehow I don’t think you will manage that on your own.”
Blair blushed. “Gayle’s been telling tales, hasn’t she?”
John chuckled. “We are the Shaman of our tribes. We tend to forget things like eating or sleeping.” He glanced inside to see a wolf watching Gayle’s cleaning efforts with suspicious eyes. “I will stay at Gayle’s house. The wolf doesn’t need company.”
Frowning, Blair turned to look at what John was seeing. He groaned in embarrassment. “Of course you can see him,” he muttered. “Be nice,” he muttered to the wolf….who merely glanced in his direction then continued to glower at Gayle. Turning back to John, he cleared his throat. “Thank you for your help. Jim’s my best friend…very important to me.”
“He is your Watchman. And you are his Guide.” John chuckled at Blair’s surprised expression. “Once I walked with such a Watchman.” John’s dark eyes unfocused as he remembered happier days. “There was much unrest within the tribes. Not to mention those who would seek to hide on sacred land, planning evil and destruction.”
“Did you work with the local authorities?” Blair curiously asked.
“Not the white man’s laws,” John firmly answered, his eyes now focusing on Blair. When the younger man dropped his eyes, John smiled. “For now, my Watchman has journeyed beyond me.”
Tears appeared in Blair's eyes. "How do you stand that?" he whispered.
John briefly looked away. "We stand what we cannot change," he finally answered. "I admit I was tempted to follow him. But…" he shrugged. "I would not so dishonor him by leaving our people without guidance." He smiled and patted Blair's arm. "Now I am to teach you."
“Thank you,” Blair gratefully replied.
“Thank you for coming in, Captain Deacon.” Joan Sullivan smiled as she closed the conference room door.
“I’m pleased to be here,” Deacon replied taking a seat at the conference room table. “And eager to get this situation resolved and behind us.”
“As are we all,” Joan assured him as she sat down. “I’ve read your report. Do you have anything to add before I ask a few questions?”
Deacon briefly studied the woman in front of him. ‘Middle-aged and slightly overweight.’ He noticed her blonde hair and the wedding ring on her finger. Then he met her blue eyes and smiled to himself. ‘Political appointee. Knows nothing about law enforcement.’
“First, I’d like to state, for the record, that I was brought here by the Commissioner himself to take over Major Crimes when Captain Bank was promoted to the position of Assistant Commissioner.” Deacon leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. “I’ve been responsible for increasing efficiency and professionalism in every department I’ve worked in. I don’t mean to criticize Captain Banks, but Major Crimes was very…casual in their attitude. He even had a civilian around on an expired ninety-day observer pass! I put a stop to THAT!”
“I see,” Joan nodded. “Well, let’s get to the events at the Cascade Central Bank. What was the situation when you arrived?”
“Completely chaotic,” Deacon briskly replied. “The negotiator on the scene had been there for nearly a half-hour and still hadn’t made contact with the robbers. At that time, we had NO information about them or the condition of the hostages.” He folded his hands together. “It was obvious that the man was in completely over his head. The robbers were in control of the situation.”
Joan frowned. “And you took command at that point?”
“I did.” Deacon leaned forward. “The negotiator, Sergeant…Gates, yes, Sergeant Gates had no control. I informed the SWAT Commander to get his men ready. I didn’t intend for us to sit there and look like inept fools in front of everyone!”
“What were the reactions of Sergeant Gates and Captain Swanson to your orders?”
“Sergeant Gates’ immediate reaction was that we needed to provide more time to those men inside the bank! Captain Swanson began to deploy his men.” Deacon shook his head. “It’s been my experience that a leader MUST lead and a commander MUST command. You take control from the beginning and hold it. Allowing those men inside the bank more time to retain control simply wasn’t acceptable.”
He took a deep breath. “But the question that should be addressed is how did those men obtain that type of weaponry and ammunition? There needs to be more control over the accessibility of these items. Had those men not had the weapons and ammunition they possessed, we wouldn’t be discussing this carnage! It’s unfortunate that innocent citizens, going about their everyday business in a lawful manner, find themselves caught in a situation like that!”
“Much of what happened that day was unfortunate,” Joan quietly pointed out.
“What happened during the assault was deplorable, of course,” Deacon continued. “However, in my opinion, I conducted myself in a manner appropriate to the situation. And Sergeant Gates should be either retrained or reassigned. I would prefer to see him reassigned. In retrospect, I don’t believe Captain Swanson had the necessary experience to be in command of the SWAT unit. I think this issue should be an important part of your investigation.”
He suddenly smiled at Joan. “In conclusion, Ms. Sullivan. The Commissioner brought me here based on my previous record. I don’t know that I can add anything else.”
TWO MONTHS LATER
"Jim's getting better, isn't he?" Blair looked up at Dr. Frankel with anticipation.
Julia nodded with a slight smile. "All the tests indicate he is," she admitted. "Your visits seem to help the most." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Don't tell William I said that," she teasingly requested.
Blair nodded. "I won't," he promised with a grin.
Julia stepped back. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up." She gave the younger man a long measuring look as he eagerly entered Jim's hospital room. "But I'd love to know what you're doing," she muttered under her breath.
“Mr. Ellison! Mr. Ellison!”
Annoyed, William turned around to see Don Hass approaching. He scowled at the cameraman behind Haas then started to turn away.
“Mr. Ellison, why are you here today?”
William glanced at Steven who had been walking ahead of him then at Haas. “I’m here to listen to the results of the Governor’s Independent Investigation of the robbery attempt of the Cascade Central Bank. Isn’t that why YOU'RE here?”
Steven inwardly sighed. His father’s temperament was touchy these days. He stepped closer to his father then groaned when Haas asked his next question.
“Your son, Detective James Ellison, is still in a coma as a result of wounds sustained that day, isn’t he?”
Steven squeezed his father’s arm and leaned down to whisper in his ear.
William grunted then nodded. He stepped around Steven and walked into City Hall.
Steven stood between his retreating father and the reporter. “My brother’s condition remains unchanged, Mr. Haas,” Steven smoothly explained. “I’m sure you can understand our family’s desire to protect his privacy. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Despite himself, Steven inwardly chuckled at the surprised expression on Haas' face then turned to follow his father.
Simon Banks turned as he felt someone touch his arm. “Joel! You’re here, too?”
Joel Taggart nodded and leaned forward. “A little birdie told me that specially commissioned Washington State Patrol officers are ready to move.”
Simon leaned back in his chair and glanced at the podium where Beverly Irwin stood with the other panel members. “That could get ugly for some local people.”
“Orders came straight from the Governor and State Attorney General,” Joel murmured. “Or so I heard.”
Both men exchanged a final look then turned forward as Joan Sullivan took her place at the microphone. Beverly Irwin and Captain Geoffrey Marshall flanked her, each staring calmly into the cameras and at the audience.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming,” Joan began. “Today, we are releasing the results of our Independent investigation to the public. This has not been filtered through any political process. The public had demanded the truth, and this panel is delivering it to the public.” Her gaze briefly rested on Grant Felder, standing at the back of the room.
Felder returned her look then slipped out of the room.
“We will provide you with the highlights of our report which will be immediately available after this press conference.” Joan glanced at her notes then continued. “Two months ago, three men entered the Cascade Central Bank with the intention of robbing it. One of the tellers activated a silent alarm resulting in members of the Cascade Police Department responding to the scene….”
Blair opened his eyes to a familiar scene. The redwood trees towered over him, almost blocking out the sunlight. After so many visits, they were always the first thing he saw. He smiled and murmured a greeting, chuckling when he heard the wind gently rustle their leaves in a returned greeting.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Then he rubbed them again. The rockslide looked different to him. “Jim! Jim! Can you hear me?”
Approaching the rockslide, it didn’t seem so massive or forbidding as usual.
“Jim! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jim grunted. “Just trying to move something. So how’s your…ummph!...work with John Nightowl going?”
“Really great. He visited last weekend, and we talked.” Blair shook his head with a wry smile. “I thought I was big on nutrition! He found my stash of Oreo cookies, man, and read me the riot act.”
“That it was…ow!Dammit!...MY stash of Oreo cookies.”
“Well…your stash of Oreo cookies became MY stash of Oreo cookies,” Blair pronounced.
“You're a cookie thief, Sandburg. You know that, right?”
Blair chuckled then dropped to his hands and knees in front of the rockslide. “Jim! What are you doing?”
“Shoving on a…son of a bitch!MOVE!...rock."
“Keep shoving!” Blair excitedly yelled. “I saw a rock on my side start to move!” He reached out to touch the rock then stopped. Every time he’d tried that, he’d been thrown backwards then found himself disappearing from the spirit world. “Jim!”
Blair suddenly scrambled to his left to avoid a rock being rolled in his direction from the landslide. He looked back at the opening. “Jim?” he whispered.
Blair caught his breath when a dirty and bloody hand reached through the hole, the fingers wiggling as though trying to catch something…or someone.
“Jim!” Blair threw himself forward, grasping the reaching hand between his own. “Jim!”
“Blair! God, is that you?!” The straining fingers curled around Blair's hand in desperation.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Blair squeezed the hand with all his strength….
…and found himself back in Jim’s hospital room.
Blair looked down to see he was grasping Jim’s hand within both of his. “Jim?” he whispered. He looked at up to Jim’s face in time to see his friend’s eyes flicker then open. “Jim?” he said a little louder. He held his breath until he felt Jim’s hand slowly squeeze one of his fingers. “Aw, Jim,” he sniffled, feeling tears begin to run down his cheeks.
“Hey, Chief,” Jim whispered.
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