"Damn it! Where did I put my wallet?" The sound of Jim's cursing, along with the knocking and thumping of his search, floated down from his bedroom to the living room where I was sitting.
"It's down here," I called to him.
The thumping stopped, and I could hear the heavy exhalation of his breath in an exasperated sigh. "Thanks, Chief," he said.
"No problem, man."
He jogged down the steps. "I am so late," he complained.
I pointed him to his wallet. It was lying on the side table near the phone half hidden by a magazine. He picked it up and tucked it into his pocket.
"I'm sure Simon will understand," I offered, trying to be helpful.
In truth, I had no actual clue whether the captain would be cool about it or not. I didn't know anything about the man.
"Or maybe I should just call in sick. I can go back tomorrow," he said.
"I'm already late," he rationalized.
"I'll be fine."
"It's not that," he lied.
"Then what is it?"
His eyes shifted, and he didn't answer.
"You can't stay home with me forever, and I really am feeling better."
"I can't help it. I just-- I don't feel right leaving you."
I nodded. It wasn't particularly surprising. I had been home with him a little over a week, and in all that time, I'd only been out of his sight when I was sleeping, showering or peeing. He wouldn't even go out to the store for five minutes. People I didn't recognize, friends from the life I didn't remember, brought stuff by, and we ordered in a lot.
"But I guess I really do have to get back," he finally conceded, sounding pressured and unhappy.
"It'll be good for you to get back to your usual routine," I offered, trying to be helpful again.
He smiled. "That sounds like something I should be saying to you, Sandburg."
I shook my head. "I don't remember my usual routine."
That killed his smile instantly.
"I'm sorry," I said, flustered. "I didn't mean--"
He shook his head. "It's the truth, Chief. No reason you shouldn't say it."
Except, of course, that it's like stabbing you in the heart with a really big knife, I thought.
He turned away, picked up his gun in its shoulder holster and strapped it on. It was kind of a weird experience to watch him do it, exotic in a way, like something out of a movie. But I was a cop, too. I must have done the very same thing every morning when I went to work. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the notion.
Jim pulled on his jacket and grabbed his keys. Then he turned back to me. "I left my number on the pad by the phone. If anything happens, if you feel even the least little pain or dizziness or-- hell, anything, you call me."
"I will," I promised, trying to sound dutiful and sincere so he'd stop worrying.
"You have your cell phone?"
I nodded. Apparently, the phone had been in my hand when they'd found me in the warehouse. Jim had brought it home and left it in my room for me. I suppose it was some kind of gesture of faith that I'd be well enough to use it again. And he'd been right. Who says gestures of faith have no power?
"If you have to go out for any reason, make sure you take the phone with you," he said.
I had stayed inside pretty much the whole time
since my release. Two days earlier, I had finally convinced Jim
to take me out driving around the neighborhood to see if anything
jogged my memory. Nothing struck a chord. Just sitting up and
watching out the window had completely exhausted me.
After a half hour or so, Jim insisted that we head home. Truthfully, I was relieved. My pride prevented me from giving up, but I felt really tired and my head hurt.
"It's not a race, you know, Chief," Jim had quietly commented as he turned the truck around.
He was right. Even though I was feeling stronger each day, it probably made sense to take it easy. And the truth was that if I did go out I had no idea how I'd find my way home again. It just seemed safer to stay in. I'd go out exploring when Jim could go with me.
"I was thinking I might look through some of those books in my room today," I told him.
I figured that would relieve him. He didn't seem too thrilled at the idea of my traipsing around without him. But he only nodded and then quickly looked away. Again, I couldn't help feeling that there was so much more going on than I realized.
"Don't forget to take your meds," he said.
He was standing by the door, keys in hand, stalling. "Have a good day."
"You, too," I told him. "Be careful."
He smiled. "Always am."
"I'll see you tonight."
He nodded, but he still didn't budge. He just kept looking at me with something that was almost longing, and suddenly, it struck me what he wanted, what he needed. It had been the same story every day since I'd come home with him. I got up from the sofa and covered the ground between us.
He shifted his weight, radiating awkwardness, but I could also sense relief, even gratitude. I leaned into him and slid my arms around his shoulders, kind of clumsily, feeling just as awkward as he did. But it was enough of an opening for him. He hugged me, running his hands across my shoulders and down my back, slowly, attentively, as if his sense of touch could give him a complete medical report on my condition.
I have to admit that it had really weirded me out at first, the way he needed to put his hands on me to reassure himself that I was okay. But he was always so much more relaxed afterwards, even peaceful, and I couldn't begrudge him that. There was ever anything in his hugs or back rubs or shoulder pats that crossed any kind of line. It was all just simple, warm affection. So I let him do it, and pretty soon, I was used to it.
Hell, maybe I needed it, too. I mean, I felt all ghostly and lost inside, without anything to connect me to the world, nothing to act as my gravity, to keep me from flying off into nothingness. Jim Ellison's concern, his sturdiness, his touch--it was the only anchor I had.
"You take care, Chief," he said, his voice a little choked.
"I'll be fine, Jim," I said, trying to sound brave.
I really did believe it would be good for him to go back to work. It's not like there was anything he could do for me if he stayed home. I'd remember when I remembered. No one could help me with that. And yet, if I was completely honest, the prospect of letting him go terrified me. Somehow, it didn't matter that I couldn't remember him. I counted on him anyway. He was my lifeline. He was all I had in the world.
Before he let go of me, he ran his fingers over the scars on my head, with a degree of gentleness that was nothing less than astonishing coming from such a physically powerful person. He had a habit of touching my wounds, deliberately, tenderly, as if trying to soothe the raw flesh and speed my healing.
He pulled his hands back and smiled at me. "Your hair's grown in a little more. It won't be long until you have a decent buzz cut going."
My eyes widened, and my hand automatically went to my head. "Really? You think?"
He turned red and became more flustered than I'd ever seen him. "It's just--" he stammered. "It's probably just my imagination. You know, wishful thinking, since I know how much it bothers you. I guess I just want you to feel more comfortable."
I touched my peach fuzz and concentrated. "I don't know," I told him. "You really might be right. It's amazing you could tell that."
"I am a detective, you know," he said.
It seemed like a plausible explanation, but he looked away from me when he said it. Ever since I'd woken up, he'd been watching me with the same degree of seriousness I'm sure he puts into surveillance operations out on the street. At any given point in any given day, I would feel his gaze and know he was looking for-- God knows what--signs of a relapse, I guess, or evidence that I was recovering my memory. I suppose it was some unconscious reaction to my near death. Now that I was back among the living, he was damned well determined to make sure I stayed that way.
So whenever he looked away like that, it was odd, and I was convinced it meant something. It unsettled me and made me angry. Too many of our conversations left me with more questions than answers. Somehow, whenever Jim told me about my life, things just never quite added up, like he always left out the most important part, the final piece that would help the puzzle make sense. And that pissed me off more than I can say, since I was never going to figure out who I was if the one person I instinctively trusted held back on me.
"I'll see you, Chief," he told me quietly and headed out the door.
I watched him go. When the door shut behind him, the apartment fell quiet in such a profound way it was as if the very air molecules slowed down and stopped vibrating. I was alone with myself for the first time since I had regained consciousness. And I was a stranger. That fact finally registered in all its enormity, and nothing could have been more terrifying. With Jim constantly by my side, I had been protected from it. But now, there was nothing standing between me and the abyss.
I stood there in the middle of the living room with my arms wrapped around myself feeling so lost I didn't know how I would survive it. But I only had a few minutes to consider the question. Then the key turned in the lock, and Jim stepped back into the apartment. I started to ask him what was wrong, but he held up a hand and made a beeline for the phone.
"We need to talk," he said, his voice so serious and filled with resolve that it scared me. "But I have to call Simon first and let him know I'm going to be late."
There was something in Jim's face, like some door inside him that had always been closed before had swung open. A part of me just wanted to bombard him with questions. I could barely stand to wait the few seconds it would take to call the captain. On the other hand, there was a part of me that was completely filled with dread, that just wanted to run. The truth was that I was afraid of who I might turn out to be. I'd been having a hard time admitting that to myself. But faced with whatever Jim was about to tell me, all that dread came rushing to the fore, impossible to ignore.
"Captain?" Jim said into the phone. "It's Ellison."
I could hear the blare of Simon's voice even from where I was standing. Jim squinted and held the phone away from his ear.
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir. No, he's fine. There are just some things that have come up that we need to deal with. Yes, that. Yes, I do. He needs to know. I will. Okay, thanks, Simon. I should be there by lunchtime at the latest. Yeah, I'll call if anything changes. Bye."
"You're scaring me, Jim. What is it?" I asked. "What didn't you tell me?"
"It's nothing bad, Chief. Don't be worried. There's just something I didn't know how to explain before, but you need to know. So I want to tell you. I just need to get some things upstairs, okay?"
I nodded and watched him head up to his bedroom. I was fidgety, buzzing with all kinds of thoughts and questions, afire with curiosity about whatever this thing might be. But I forced myself to sit down while I waited for him. Something about the gravity in his voice made me think this would be the best way to receive the news.
Jim came back downstairs after a few minutes, carrying a cardboard box. He sat it down on the coffee table and joined me on the sofa. I peered curiously inside and saw all kinds of notebooks and papers.
"What's all this stuff?"
"Your work," he told me.
"I don't understand. What does this have to do with being a cop?"
He shook his head. "I mean from before you joined the force. When you were working on your Ph.D. in anthropology."
"When I was what?"
"You were a student. Before you became a cop."
I stared at him. "God, I don't know what to-- But, yeah. It does kind of resonate. I mean, I don't really feel like a cop inside. I guess this must be why, huh?"
He looked down at the floor, and I had the definite impression that I'd put my foot in my mouth again.
"Why didn't you tell me about this before?" I asked.
Jim sighed. "It's, well-- kind of long and complicated, Chief. Bear with me, okay?"
I nodded, even though I wasn't at all certain how patient I could be. It was like my whole concept of my life had been turned upside down in the space of a single sentence. Jim had knowledge that belonged to me, that he'd kept from me. I wanted it. All of it. Right now.
"When we first met, you were a graduate student at Rainier working on your degree," he said. "It was because of your background in anthropology that you recognized what was happening to me, that you knew what I am."
"What do you mean what you are?" I stared at him, understanding less and less with each passing minute.
He sighed again. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm doing a crappy job of explaining this. Let me try to sum it up, and then you can ask me whatever questions you have."
I nodded, trying to look calmer than I felt. There was a part of me that just wanted to shake the information out of him. But somehow, I knew that if I pushed too much it would just make it harder for him to get it out. Whatever it was.
"It was four years ago. I was working a case, a rash of bombings. The perp, the so-called Switchman, would send me these taunting e-mail messages before and after each blast. That made it personal, and I was working around the clock to solve it. But I started having these weird symptoms, trouble with my senses. It was like sight, touch, hearing, all of it would just go off the chart sometimes, completely unpredictably. It started getting in the way of doing my job. There was one time I almost had the suspect. But light reflecting off a motorcycle helmet nearly blinded me, and the perp got away. I went to doctors. Nobody could figure out what the problem was."
I frowned at him. "You said I was a Ph.D. candidate, not a medical doctor. What did I have to do with diagnosing the trouble?"
He gave me a little smile. "You had everything to do with it. I would have thought I was going crazy if you hadn't come along. It would have ruined my life completely."
"But I don't under--"
He held up a hand. "I know it's confusing. Let me finish. I was over at the University Medical Center getting yet another check up when you showed up. You tried to pass yourself off as a doctor, even mispronounced the name on the nametag you'd-- er, borrowed. I gave you a pretty hard time, but you handed me a card, your card, and told me to call if I wanted to know what was happening to me."
"So I lied to you."
He smiled fondly. "You obfuscated. In any event, I was desperate for answers, so I went to see you at the university, this little broom closet you were working out of back then. That's when you told me, when you explained to me what I am."
"What, Jim?" I asked impatiently.
"You said that in certain ancient cultures there was a tribal watchman, a guardian who possessed senses far more acute than those of other humans. These tribal guardians watched for game, kept an eye on the weather, stayed on the alert for danger--whatever they needed to do to protect the tribe. They were called Sentinels. You had been studying them since you were an undergrad. You were convinced there were still modern-day Sentinels out there who have the heightened senses, but just didn't understand their purpose. And then when you found me-- "
I blinked at him, not certain how to respond.
"I know it sounds bizarre and hard to believe, and you probably don't--"
"I believe you," I told him, my voice remarkably certain, surprising both of us.
"You do?" he asked.
"Do you remember it?" he asked, hope sparking in his eyes.
I shook my head and regretted seeing that spark extinguished.
"It just helps what happened that day to make more sense. You know, when I-- " I waved my hand vaguely in the direction of my scars. "Simon said you knew I was in trouble, so the two of you started running. But you were all the way over in another building. Was it-- Could you see--"
"No," he said sharply. His face had gone pale.
I put my hand on his arm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't--"
He shook his head. "No, it's okay. You have a right to ask. I didn't see it. But I-- I heard it."
"Can you tell me?" I asked, softly.
He nodded, but his face was strained, bleak. "Nothing went right that day. We had a line on a major new heroin trafficker in the area. The word was that the head of the organization himself would be at the warehouse to inspect a shipment that had just arrived from Asia. When we got there, though, there were no drugs, just a handful of lackeys who were supposed to be keeping watch. We're talking messed up junkies here, cheap labor, the absolute lowest rung on the ladder. The syndicate hands out a couple of dime bags, and these losers do whatever they're told, at least if they not too messed up to follow orders. The whole situation stank, like it was a set up."
"How did it go bad?"
"There were six of them. Four went down without a fight, but two were high on something, probably PCP. That shit's always bad news. It makes people fearless, impervious to pain, fast, unnaturally strong--your worst nightmare. Simon and I went after one guy. You, Jenkins and Miller, two guys from Narcotics, took the other. It took us a while to wrestle our guy into cuffs, and when I looked around, you were gone. I guess the other perp must have made a break for it. I used my senses to track you to another warehouse a few buildings over. But when I focused in on your location, I realized that Jenkins and Miller weren't with you. You were all alone, no backup. And then I heard this racing heartbeat heading right for you."
He nodded. "I took off after you. Simon took off after me. I was still several hundred yards away when it happened. You taught me how to track heartbeats. So I could hear the guy coming toward you. I tried to yell to warn you."
"But I couldn't hear you."
He shook his head. "You were too far away.
I was running as fast as I could, but then--"
I held onto his arm. "It's okay, Jim."
"I heard that horrible sound. God, he hit you so fucking hard. And I couldn't get to you in time. I tried, but-- I'm so sorry, Chief."
"Hey, Jim. It's not your fault."
"The hell it's not. You're my partner. I should never have let you out of my sight."
"I'm the one who went into that warehouse without backup. What happened to the other cops who were supposed to be with me?"
"Apparently, none of you got a good look which way the perp went when he left the first warehouse. So you split up to cover more ground."
"Whose idea was that?"
"That's what their report said."
"Was that like me? Did I sometimes take stupid risks?"
"You were never stupid."
"That's not what I asked."
He sighed. "You always do whatever the situation demands."
"So I have taken risks."
"On occasion. Usually trying to watch my back."
"So it's my own fault that I got hurt."
He shook his head emphatically. "No, Chief. The person to blame is that bastard who hit you."
"What happened to him?"
Jim's jaw tightened. "We took him into custody."
"What did you do to him?"
He looked away.
"You're not in any trouble, are you?" I asked him.
"No," he said quietly. "Simon stopped me."
"I'm not. That shithead had it coming."
"But you didn't deserve the consequences."
"It would have been worth it."
"Not to me. I'd hate to see anything happen to you because of me. And that's just knowing you this week. Think how I'd feel if I actually remembered my life."
"I want you to remember, Chief."
"I don't mean to put any pressure on you. It's just--" He stared intently at his own hands.
"That's why I needed to tell you about the Sentinel thing. There's so much that doesn't make sense if you don't know about it."
"You're telling me? You can't imagine some of the things I was beginning to consider. Like maybe I was gay and we were an item. I mean, I knew there was some connection between us, more than just partners, even more than friends."
"Yeah," he said, something funny in his voice.
I wanted to know what that something was. I thought maybe I had offended him. But his face was closed off again. I couldn't read his expression.
"These are your journals and notes and
your dissertation," he said. "Everything you'll want
to know about who you are is in there. I'm sorry I took them.
I thought it would be better if I explained first, rather than
just letting you stumble onto it."
"I appreciate that. I really do, Jim," I said, trying to frame the next words. "But, man, I need you to be straight with me about stuff. If you hold back, I won't be able to tell. And that's not fair. So I'm relying on you to tell me the whole truth about everything."
He nodded. "I know. And I promise. The truth and nothing but the truth, from now on."
"Good. Thank you."
"But there is one thing I need to ask you to do for me. This Sentinel thing-- Only a few people know about it--"
"I won't tell anyone. Not that I know anyone to tell, really. But I won't. You have my word on it."
He let out his breath and smiled at me. "Thanks, Chief."
"Hey, man, no problem. But there is something I don't get. How come I'm not in academia anymore? What possessed me to drop out and become a detective?"
Jim's eyes shifted away from me, and my antenna went up.
"You started out as an observer," he said. "Riding with me, researching the Sentinel thing for your dissertation. Our cover story was that you were doing your paper on closed societies, comparing the police department to tribes you'd studied. But then there were some circumstances." He shifted uncomfortably. "You sacrificed your career to protect me."
"I don't understand," I told him.
He sighed. "I know, Chief. But it's all in there," he said, pointing to the stack of journals. "I'm sure you explain it better than I ever could."
"Did you read them?"
He shook his head. "They're yours. I wouldn't do that."
"Then how can you be sure I'll find what I need in here."
He smiled. "Because I know you."
I picked up one of the notebooks and turned it over in my hands. "I wish I did."
He put his hand on my shoulder. "You will. Soon. I'm sure this will help."
I nodded distractedly as I opened the book to look at my own handwriting. It was kind of a scrawl, large and loose. It didn't seem familiar. That hit me hard, just as it had when I hadn't recognized my own face in the mirror.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, man. It's just kind of a lot to process, you know? But thanks for telling me about the Sentinel thing. I do appreciate it."
He nodded. "So are you going to start reading?"
I pulled a couple of journals out of the box. "Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I'm glad to actually have something to do, you know?"
"Do you want me to stay?"
I had to think about it a minute. There was a selfish part of me that really wanted to say yes. But finally, I shook my head.
"I'll be all right. I just need to read and see if anything strikes me. Nobody can help with that."
He nodded. "Okay. Then I guess I'd better head down to the station. But if you need anything-- anything at all, even if it's just to ask me a question about something--you call me, okay?"
"All right then," he said and stood up. "I'll see you later."
I watched him head to the door. "Bye, Jim," I called.
This time when he left I didn't feel quite as bereft. I had a purpose now, something I could do to help rescue my memory, rather than just sitting around waiting for it to return.
I curled up on the sofa and started to read.