"Who am I?" has got to be one of the first questions that everyone gets to address these days.
It's not like a few centuries ago, when who you were was defined by what tribe you belonged to, what religion you followed, or your occupation. These days, those concerns are addressed by anthropology, my specialty, and individuality is addressed by sociology and even more by psychology. Or, as one of my professors put it, psychology deals with groups of five or fewer, sociology with groups of six or larger, and anthropology with what happens to those groups over time.
Clear as mud, right? You've got to be wondering why I'm raving about having an identity crisis at this point.
By now I should be pretty clear about who I am. To use the centuries-old categories, I'm Naomi Sandburg's son, a slightly lapsed Jew, an anthropologist-slash-police officer. The latter is official now; I'm holding the evidence in my hand. Shiny new badge and photo-ID card, certifying that one Blair Jacob Sandburg is a fully trained and official member of the Cascade Police Force with the rank of detective.
Okay. So now the first-order definitions start to splinter a little so that the second-order descriptions can work their way out. Being Naomi Sandburg's pacifist son, the peacemaker who talks the neighborhood bullies out of beating up the smaller kids, does not line up well with carrying a licensed firearm, with being expected to carry that licensed firearm every day of my career and quite possibly for the rest of my life. Naomi's still not completely down with this, months after it became apparent that it would be necessary. I've had to adapt to it, desensitize myself to the fact that I'm changing from someone who has been avowedly nonviolent to someone who is required to be willing to use violence in order to protect the nonviolent.
It's a change.
The real shock was how easy it was to change. I'm a good shot. Maybe training Jim's senses has backfired on me and made mine better. I never used to get this kind of accuracy at kid's games. Now, I'm up in the top ranks of the shooters, and if this keeps up I may be competing with Jim for the department record the next time we have to qualify.
Does changing on this level indicate changes further within myself, in places that I haven't charted yet? Or is it a surface adaptation, the snowshoe hare changing from brown to white fur as winter snows approach? Protective coloration or evolution? Have I changed from a hare to a timber wolf?
I'd known for some time that I'd have to do something different the first time I showed back up at Major Crimes after finishing training. It was a no-brainer, partly because of the hair. It's gone. No more shoulder-length curls for a while; I have enough of a curl on top to keep me from feeling totally alien, but the wind's whistling around my ears a lot chillier than it has since I was in elementary school.
When I started as an observer, Brown called me Hairboy, and it gave me an idea. I can still be Hairboy (Hairman? Harriman? Hairy Man? This is starting to sound like someone Richard Leakey would be excavating in Africa.) It's just going to be a different kind of Hairboy, the new and improved model. Highly trained, deadly, able to work undercover in a single bound or leap past tall Captains and outraged Sentinels, that's me. There's no way I could just go in to Major Crimes looking like the same old anthropologist-hippie-witch-doctor-geek, because I'm not.
I'm a new detective-anthropologist-witch-doctor-shaman-geek. Got the picture?
(It helped, of course, that Jim hadn't actually laid eyes on me in about six weeks, not since I went off to the state Police Academy. We'd talked; I didn't want to think about his phone bill with our nightly calls. But he hadn't seen me.)
It was a little chilly at 6 a.m.. The nice second-hand tweed jacket and almost-matching Irish cap, the kind that looks like something Sean Connery wore in The Untouchables, weren't too hot for this weather.
I spent a little more time than usual on my appearance this morning, but then again, what actor doesn't check the mirror before the first performance on a new stage? No earrings this time, no bead necklace. This day, at least, the new and improved Blair Sandburg wouldn't be hiding behind the past, not any more.
I arrived at the station before anyone else, gave my name to the late-shift officer minding the desk out front (nobody I know; must be one of the new patrolmen who's taking a different rotation from street beat), and headed up to the seventh floor without incident. It took no time to walk into Major Crimes, dodge between desks, and find myself back at my old post, the desk next to where Jim Ellison works, right outside Captain Simon Banks' office.
So I'm an hour or two early to be sworn in as a detective. It's not like I hadn't been waiting for this day for a while - six weeks by one estimation, more than three years by another. In terms of karma, it might be something I'd been waiting for through several incarnations, but I don't want to go there. If Naomi ever gets a clue that this is karma biting my backside, she's likely to go surfing the cosmos until she finds unsolved cases from my last law-and-order incarnation and demand that I Do Something Now.
I know Major Crimes. I really won't need to add Naomi's psychic hits to the caseload.
As usual, there were a few copies of magazines sitting around that I hadn't already seen. It's generally enlightening to get a look at Soldier of Fortune, and see what the well-armed paranoid militiamen are doing lately. Checking out the gun ads in the hunting mags doesn't hurt either, and it's a little more fun to read the articles. I'd worked my way through all the S of F ads, and was deep into a weird article on hunting drunken Alaskan bears when the first detectives came through the doors of the bullpen and stopped dead in their tracks for a second.
It didn't take Sentinel hearing to catch, "Who the hell's that over there?"
I pushed my glasses up onto my nose a little more securely, glanced aside toward the door, and held still. Joel Taggart and Brian Rafe were moving steadily toward me with the polite, no-nonsense attitude of cops who know without a shadow of a doubt that something is not right in their turf - or, worse, that something is not right in the turf of someone even bigger than they are.
Dominance and submission. Turf battles. Codified behavior. Anthropology, hell. I should have been studying zoology here. Where's Jane Goodall when she's needed?
When they reached the desk, Joel stood next to me and Brian in front, just in case the suspicious stranger who's sat down next to the Big Bad Bear's desk is dangerous.
Hell, yes. I'm dangerous. I'm the one who runs the Big Bad Bear.
Not that I'm letting it out to the public. Despite what you might hear, police work isn't always the place for Truth In Advertising.
"Excuse me, sir. The waiting room for District Court is on the sixth floor," Joel said. He was polite, firm, even kind. Joel would be kind to almost anyone except Jack the Ripper, at least on the surface while he's in public. "If you'll follow me, I'll be glad to show you where it is."
I didn't say anything, just turned another page. Those bears were drunk on fermented blueberries and blackberries? I guess anything is possible.
"Sir?" Brian said. I could almost feel him exchanging looks with Joel, starting to wonder whether I was deaf or demented.
Definitely demented, Brian. I mean, look what I went through to get here.
"Excuse me, sir, I'd like to see some identification." Brian put his hand out. I shrugged, reached into the inside pocket of the jacket in a calm way, so Joel wouldn't think I was armed, brought out my wallet and flipped it open to my driver's license.
They gaped at it. I took off the glasses, pushed up the front of the hat with one finger, and leaned back in the chair.
"You know, you go away for just a few weeks and everyone forgets who you are," I complained, deadpan. I'd worked out about three lines more but got dragged out of the chair and hugged before I got through any of them.
"You trickster, Sandburg. I never expected to see you with a beard and mustache," Brian said. "And your taste in clothing has definitely improved. Nice tweeds."
I'd grown a respectable beard in less than a week; there's a reason I started shaving at fourteen.
Joel inspected the beard as if it had recently migrated from South America without a visa. "Is that thing regulation?"
"The regs clearly state that facial hair is allowable if neatly trimmed." I gave them the smile I'd been saving for weeks. "Besides, I had to do something to still be Hairboy, right?"
"You'll always be Hairboy to Brown," Joel said.
"Has Simon seen you yet?" Brian demanded.
I nodded. "I stayed with him last night. Jim hasn't seen me yet. Don't tell him, okay?"
"Not one word," Brian said. "Actually, I have some work I need to do down in Forensics - "
"Right. I need to go check on something with the Bomb Squad." Joel grinned. "Like maybe the quality of their morning donut run."
"Save me one, preferably something without the powdered sugar."
"You got it, Sandburg. See you in an hour."
I settled back into reading about drunken bears. Did you know that if you eat the meat of a bear that was shot when it was intoxicated, the meat will taste of whatever got the bear drunk? I wasn't sure I ever wanted to find that out personally, but I thought reading about it was interesting. All information can be useful sooner or later.
It was really quiet there, almost spooky. The hallway behind me was nowhere near as quiet, though. I heard a lot of whispers and giggles, a few chuckles. When I peered over my glasses I could pick up the reflections of heads and shoulders off the window of Simon's office, and it was clear that most of the people I'd ever met at Cascade P.D. had found their way into that hall.
Simon was supposed to delay Jim until it was nearly time for my swearing-in ceremony, to keep him from going to the hotel I was supposed to be staying at and looking for me. Apparently it was working. I checked the clock; five minutes to go.
Drunken bears were definitely something to stay away from, I read. Normal grizzlies don't climb trees; their claws don't bend the right way for them to be useful in digging into bark. Drunken grizzlies, however, didn't remember that and tried to climb up after several people; they appeared to get really ticked when they kept falling out of the trees, and kept taking the trees apart. Some were so drunk they didn't realize the trees they were attacking weren't the ones with humans in them. I wondered if anyone had ever done a study of possible similarities of different sorts of drunken bipeds; grizzlies could walk on their back legs enough that I was willing to consider them bipedal for the sake of the study. Maybe the results would help the next time I had to deal with someone oversized and over the limit at a bar.
Simon's voice echoed through the hall, "Don't you people have any work to do?" His footsteps cut through the sound outside, along with other, heavier footsteps that paused only briefly before outpacing Simon into the room.
Big Bad Bear it was, in full stride. But then again, I've never been Goldilocks, according to Naomi. I don't leave when the bears show up. I stay around and join them. Call it applied anthropology, or survival, it works the same way. Naomi usually leaves before this point; she doesn't have a clue what she's missing.
Did you know that a group of bears is called a sleuth? Pretty suitable for cops.
"Excuse me, sir, but this is my desk and the waiting room is elsewhere." I heard him stop, halfway across the room, unsure. He wouldn't get any more certain by sniffing the air. I'd made sure to wear his favorite very mildly scented aftershave; with any luck I'd smell a lot more like him than I did like myself.
I turned slowly toward the big man in the suit, who was walking toward me ever so slowly, and said in a careful German accent, "Herr Ellison, I presume? Ja, ja, I haf here been waiting for you, since two hours." Not bad on the transliterated grammar, though the accent was more Austrian than High German.
I probably should've kept my mouth shut. I never could put an accent over on Jim.
"Sandburg, you idiot." He swept me up into a solid hug, regardless of onlookers. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Excuse me, please?" I kept the accent going, making him notice the beard and the rest of the package. "Ja, I am Sandburg, but perhaps not the Sandburg you expect?"
"Who are you and what have you done with my partner," he growled in my ear and set me back on my feet again. "What is this, protective coloration?"
"Just wanted to show there was more to me than what you saw before," I told him. Simon had managed to disperse the crowd outside.
"I knew that already, Einstein."
God, I'd missed hearing Jim's growl.
"May I have your attention, please," Captain Banks said. He's not Simon when he's in that tone of voice. "Those of you in Major Crimes, my office. Including you." He pointed at me.
Outside, I could see Chief Warren rolling down the hall, ready to swear me in.
The police chief has put on weight and substance since his promotion; he looks a lot like the '30s cartoon of a police chief, white hair and belly. People who don't know him are likely to underestimate him, which doesn't bother him a bit. He still hits the range for qualifying shoots, the same as all the officers, and he still hits the gym in the basement and bench-presses impressive amounts of lead. More than that, he trusts his men, even when they lead him into things he's a bit leery of.
Like keeping me around.
The day that Simon wheeled into the bullpen and told me I had a place as a detective if I wanted it, I couldn't believe it. Coming on top of what had happened already it was too much. Don't get me wrong; the past three years had weaned me away from full-time academia to a point that I hadn't realized until I got up behind the microphones and gave away what I'd thought would be my life's work. When I dragged myself back to the station later on, I fully expected I'd just said goodbye to both halves of my career, no, my life. To be accepted again, and trusted to work with Jim as a full partner was such an enormous gift that I couldn't believe it.
Talking with the Chief, later that day, made me believe it, and accept it completely.
I hadn't met the man before. I'd seen him from a distance, usually when he was talking with Simon. When I got to his office, his administrative assistant ushered me right in, and asked me to take a seat; the Chief would be right back. He came in, shut the door, and I stood up like a marionette, strings and all.
"You wanted to see me, sir."
"Sit down, son." Chief Warren sat behind his desk and opened a file in front of him. "I've talked with Captain Banks, and he's told me quite a story. Now, Captain Banks has never lied to me in all the time I've known him. He hasn't even stretched the truth that much. I'd like to hear it from your side." He sat back in his chair and waited.
I told him the whole thing. Peru. The senses. Sentinel and Guide. I told him how we'd solved the cases that had given Jim six merit raises in three years and made him Officer of the Year two years running. I told him how we worked together to help him do his job. And I told him the whole story about Naomi and the publisher.
He sat there, his chair tipped back so that he was looking down his nose at me a bit, his fingers steepled, nodding a little, never taking his eyes off my face until I was done. When I finished speaking, he leaned forward and picked up the papers in the file.
"Mr. Sandburg, you might be interested to know that I've already talked with everyone in Major Crimes, and a few others as well, about you. They unanimously support keeping you here at the Department. The reports are confidential, of course, but I'll read you a few excerpts." He adjusted his reading glasses and the length of his arms, and read, "Consistently helpful and reliable ... intelligent, creative problem-solving that closed case after case for us ... an absolute asset to Major Crimes or any other department."
I felt as if someone had hit me upside the head with a fire axe. During the first year I worked with Jim, I could've counted the compliments I'd had on one hand and had fingers left over. I started getting a little respect after that, but it was still a lot more like what you'd give a well-trained mascot than an equal. Yet they had told the Chief they wanted me to stay, and in words I'd never expected to hear.
The Chief put down the papers and folded his hands over them. "Mr. Sandburg, I want you to know that I believe all of them. It's not just your record in Major Crimes that speaks well of you. I've spoken to your colleagues at Rainier, and they concur. Regardless of what an addled administrator might have said to you, you are welcome to finish your degree there as long as you submit a dissertation different from the one that caused the fuss."
I was really glad I was sitting down; my knees were wobbly.
"Whether you decide to do that or not, I would sincerely urge you to take us up on our offer. I want you on the force, Mr. Sandburg." His face was absolutely serious, as he said, "I've seen a lot of things in my time, sir, but your conspicuous gallantry in defense of Detective Ellison, and of this department, ranks with the best. If I had it in my power, I'd be giving you a medal. Instead, I'm giving you a chance to keep that partnership. What do you say to that?"
I said the only thing I could say.
"I'd be honored to become a detective under you, sir."
"Thank you. You've got my personal appreciation for that," he said, cracking a smile for the first time since I'd come into the room an hour earlier. "I can't afford to lose my best team. Now get down to Personnel and start filling out those blessed forms they insist we have to have."
Am I the person everyone else sees? If I see something else in myself does that make me someone else? Or are we all mistaken, and everyone is someone totally different from what they appear to be?
Nature vs. nurture. I'm not the same person I might have been if Naomi and I hadn't gone around the world so many times. It's not just having friends in Bombay and Dunedin and Tokyo and Mombasa, it's knowing where the good coffee or tea is, or the best laundry, or where to get that interesting food that you can't find anywhere else. Living there, as opposed to traveling through.
We're all traveling through life. One reason I went into anthropology was that it seemed to be a way I could live wherever I was instead of just skidding on by heading toward somewhere else. Being an anthropologist means you learn how to adapt to other cultures, something I had a bachelor's in before I hit college, thanks to Naomi. I'm adapting again, using the anthropology to make me a detective. Even though that is so not what Naomi ever had in mind for me, she's supportive if not terribly understanding. She's in Bombay this week with Anandamoi; I figure she'll stop by some time near the holidays to check in if she's in the country.
I don't really mind. The rest of my family's here.
Only the Major Crimes Unit was invited to my swearing-in, packing Simon's office. The Chief administered the oath, Simon handed me my badge and gun, and we all shook hands. Rafe took a few pictures, and promised I'd have copies.
After the Chief left, Simon murmured to me, "You going through with this, kid?" I nodded, and he called for everyone's attention. "I'd like to introduce you all to Detective Ellison's new partner, Detective B.J. Sandburg." He harrumphed over the top of the buzz that had started. "This name change is being made at Detective Sandburg's suggestion, and I expect you all to cooperate with it. Blair Sandburg was a consultant to this department who served us well for three years. B.J. Sandburg is a detective."
Joel Taggart asked the question on everyone's faces. "Why, Blair?"
"I'm not disassociating myself from the dissertation, or my work here before," I said. "But I've thought a lot about the way the media reacted a few months ago, how it made it impossible for you to do your jobs. People were hurt because of it. If using my initials instead of my first name is going to keep something like that from happening again, I'm for it."
"Can we still call you Blair, Sandy, or are you only going to be B.J.?" It was Megan, of course.
"When you're working, you're Detective Conner. When I'm working, I'm Detective B.J. Sandburg." I smiled at her. "After work, I'm still Blair."
Brown got out a cake and handed me a knife to cut it, and Simon cranked up his coffeepot with the good Kenya roast, and the detectives detected food and set about a thorough investigation. Jim slid over to me during a break in his interrogation of a chunk of chocolate cake. "You sure you're all right with this, Chief? The name thing, I mean."
"If it keeps the camera flashes out of your face, it's worth it."
"Amen to that." Jim licked a little chocolate frosting off his finger.
Names have power, just by their nature. Knowing a name gives you power over what is named. You call it and it comes. Fairy tales and folk tales in every language tell about what happens when someone says the wrong name at the right time. Rumpelstiltskin. Longshanks, Girth and Keen. Coyote. The name partakes of the nature of what is named, the way scents comprise actual molecules of what is being smelled. (Scratch that. I don't always want to think that what I'm smelling is becoming part of me that way, especially when it involves dead bodies.)
But in terms of myth and legend, it's absolutely true. We still remember King Arthur and Excalibur - or Caliburn, if you want the older name - today; the names have survived longer than the details about how Arthur lived and most of what he did. We know that he fought against terrible odds and united the Celts for a while. Actually, the name Arthur is a later version of the name. Some scholars think it was Artos, which means the bear.
In numerology, if you change the spelling of your name you change your luck. I checked after I decided to change to B.J. for work. Blair Sandburg, according to numerology, is someone who constantly has to balance what he's doing, who can't ever get ahead. B.J. Sandburg is someone who has advanced, who has acquired a measure of control and power while still keeping creativity. Another way to look at it is that it's someone who's managed to balance stability with openness and skill. It's a good omen, if I needed one.
Back to identity, though. If you think about it in another way, a name is just a descriptor. It is a word that's attached to a something, and it may have no earthly effect on what it's attached to. Copper is the same substance whether it's Cu in chemical notation or Kopper in German. It still can be stretched into wires and conduct electricity. The ability to conduct doesn't change with a different language. Then again, copper is reflective but it isn't terribly self-reflective. It probably doesn't know about different languages or even care whether it's being named in German or Hindu. I don't know what the Hindu name for copper is. Hmm. Maybe I'll have to look that up.
"A missing persons case, Simon?" Jim looked up from the file folder. "I didn't think runaways got routed to your desk."
"Things have been a little busy, so I'm assuming you haven't read this morning's paper." Simon pushed the cover of the local section across his desk to Jim and me. "This particular runaway was the daughter of Graham Gordon, the industrialist. He's leaning on the Chief, and the Chief is leaning on me. So I'm handing it to you."
Patty Gordon's photos weren't particularly gruesome but they were creepy and sad. She looked as if she were asleep, in her torn jacket with the button missing and her worn jeans, except for the trickle of blood from her mouth. She hadn't been on the road long enough to be really hungry-looking, or to lose the sense of self that comes with living on the street for too long. I checked the medical examiner's report: cause of death, heart failure attributed to drug overdose. No surprise there. A lot of hard stuff has been coming into Cascade lately, and runaways are always vulnerable to someone who'll give them food or shelter in return for testing out a designer drug. Whatever had killed her wasn't something usual, like barbiturates or opiates.
"This is the third body we've found like this, in three months." Simon chewed on his cigar angrily. "I don't want this stuff hitting the streets. I don't like this happening in my city."
"I'm with you on that, sir," Jim said, a frown creasing his forehead. He ruffled through the pages in the file. "The others were boys, weren't they? Two John Does, one in late July and another in mid-August. There doesn't seem to be a pattern in the location of the bodies, or anything else - one by the waterfront, one in the industrial area and one in a field near a shopping center."
"The bodies were dumped," Simon said. "I want you two to wrap this one up, and I hate to say it for your first case, Sandburg, but I want you to go undercover on the street."
I looked up, startled but not really surprised. "Whenever you say, Captain."
Jim started to open his mouth but shut it again fast. I knew what he was thinking, and he couldn't say any of it. I was a cop now, not an observer, with as much official training as he'd had and three years experience on the street as his partner, official or not. It didn't matter that this was the first day back after six weeks away; it didn't matter that I'd rather be sitting on the couch with Jim, watching tonight's Jags game and eating Chinese take-out than anywhere else in the world.
I'd become a cop. Not being home when I wanted to be there was part of the package.
"The next day or two, I'd like to have you sniff out what you can, Jim, check out the places that look likely. Sandburg, you do surveillance from a distance, but you don't get close to anything there because I want you to go in there in two days, as soon as you look a little scruffy. This isn't going to be a long job, just a few days out there to see what's happening, and get back in. Don't try to make the bust yourself if you're overwhelmed; just get out, get back and let the rest of us back you up."
"You've got it, Captain. No problem." I nodded to Simon and smiled at Jim with as much reassurance as possible.
"Jim, how are your senses doing? I'm going to need you to back up Sandburg; he's not going in there with a wire on."
"I can do it, sir."
"Good. Get out there and see what you can find." Simon smiled at me, not the intimidating bossy know-it-all smile but the friendly one that he seldom uses. "And B.J. - it's good to have you here."
"Thanks, Simon," I said.
These days, identity is a big thing on the streets. It's not just street rep and talk about who's tough, or who runs what turf. That's at the top of the food chain. Further down, it's really about basics.
If you move from one place to another all the time, you don't have familiar surroundings to remind you who you are. I can't tell you how often I woke up, my first year in college, and looked at the distinctive cracks in the plaster of the dorm room ceiling and felt a kind of shock. I was still in that room, so I had to be a student. I wasn't on the road with Naomi any more, I was tied to this place for nine months, not counting vacations. It wasn't a bad feeling at all, but it was a little scary at first. Would I still be the same person after I'd been in that square plaster box for nearly a year?
When Naomi was a kid, leaving home at sixteen or so, it was a lot easier. She got jobs wherever she went, just walking in off the street looking pretty and competent. She worked as a cashier, as a sales clerk, as a secretary or a telephone operator. Later on, she worked as a tour guide at a resort, an artist's model, and so many other jobs that I don't remember them all. But the big thing was that she had to prove who she was, not what she was. She had her driver's license to show that Naomi Sandburg was a real person, and a Social Security card to back it up if needed (I doubt she ever paid enough into Social Security to get any back, but then she could have, or some of her friends could have done it for her. It's possible.) And she could walk in and be hired and working within an hour.
I know. This conflicts mightily with the idea of Naomi as this free spirit who followed the Dead and Timothy Leary and never did a responsible thing in her life, right? Well, while she was following the Dead, she was also doing the responsible thing, raising me. And even though Deadheads are wonderful people, and some of them helped us out more times than I can say, even the Dead go home occasionally. When we weren't on the move - and even when we were - we had to eat. We needed clothes and a place to stay during the school year so I could get an education. And Naomi worked, during the school year, or we lived with friends of hers who supported me. And whatever else she did, she made sure I was fed, well clothed, educated, hugged, and loved. And part of that was making sure that the birth certificate and the vital documents were in a watertight pouch in the emergency bag and were never, ever, ever left behind.
Now, you need to be able to prove you're a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant with a green card to get a job. You have to show a passport, or a birth certificate, and if you don't have one of those you're out of luck. If you have contacts, you can get fake ID, but it won't work forever. The little security details they keep adding, like special watermarks and holograms and so on, push the price up out of the range of your average street person or runaway.
So if you are out on your own on the sidewalk, and you can't prove you have a relationship with the records office of your birthplace or the right as a citizen to travel to another country and back, you won't get that job flipping burgers or sweeping out the back of the theatre after the late show. Sorry, no dice. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, and, by the way, have a nice life somewhere else.
After some discussion, I shaved the beard. This time, they needed someone who looked too young, someone who wouldn't have a way out of whatever he might fall into. With the shorter hair, and no beard, I looked fourteen, maybe sixteen.
"Jailbait." Jim leaned against the bathroom door, his arms crossed, watching me wipe the little edges of shaving cream off my face. "You look like absolute jailbait, Chief, and not a day over sixteen."
"Good. They'll come after me sooner, and I can get back here and have some decent food."
"You know you can't take your gun with you."
"I know. But you're going to be close by, right? Keep it with you, and if I think I need it I'll pick it up."
He watched me change from the straight-backed cop to the smaller, slumping boy who looked defensive and easily defeated. "You've done this before, haven't you? For real?"
I nodded. "A long time ago. It's not something I can forget."
I knew what to expect, and I wasn't surprised. The first thing that happened after I hit the street was being mugged. It took three hours this time to happen.
There were only two of them; I knew I could take them if I had to. I was the only one of us who was completely sober, not to mention well fed. But that didn't matter if they were desperate enough.
"Hey, kid, let's see what you've got there." The bigger guy held my arms and the smaller one went through my pockets. They found the $53 I had and took it, along with the small bag of pot and the old Zippo lighter that Jim never used that he'd loaned me, so I could start a fire in a trash bin if I needed to keep warm. Simon had gotten me the pot; it was from a bust a week earlier and he arranged for me to have it, since it was safer bait for the street than any heavier drugs. The only other thing I'd brought with me was an old photo of Naomi that I'd kept around because it made her look goofy and lovable and young. If anything happened to it, I had others. It reminded me of before, and it made me look like I'd had something to leave.
"Man, take it easy. I know the rules. I'll share." I put my hands up in surrender but balanced my weight so that I could flip the one holding me if I had to. "Hey, we're friends, right? You guys know what's happening?"
"Where you from, kid? Haven't seen you around before." The big guy let go of me, and I straightened my clothes and looked slightly rattled. He tipped his head to one side. "How old are you?"
"I hitched in from Seattle, and what do you care?" I gave him a sulky glare. "Hey, that's my friend's picture. I want it back."
"How old, kid?"
"Right." He flipped the Zippo open and moved the photo toward the flame.
"Sixteen. All right, I'll be sixteen in a month."
He closed the lighter and handed it back to me, along with the photo. "Terry, give me the money." The smaller man reluctantly handed it over, and he peeled two fives off and handed them back to me. "Start-up, until you get on your feet."
"Thanks." I shoved them in my pocket again and tried not to look grateful. "Haven't eaten today."
"You want a job, kid?" It was Terry this time, not the big guy. "What's your name?"
"Jacob." Close enough that I'd remember it if someone yelled at me.
"Okay, Jake. This is how it works. We've got a job for you, but you've got to earn your way in. You go out on the street there, and you use those pretty boy looks, and you get $200 by tomorrow morning, and one of us will come by and bring you in. No money, no job. You got that?"
"Where'm I gonna get two C's, man?" I whined. "What kind of job is this? Maybe I better just go on to Frisco."
The big guy came a little closer. "Your choice, but you're turning down good money. A hundred dollars an hour to be a product tester. You can make a lot of money that way."
"A hundred an hour?" I gave him the awed look. Nobody ever lived past the first hour, I figured, and they'd rob the corpse.
"Yeah. You interested? Go out there, get the money. We'll be back tomorrow morning."
They went off down the alley. I stayed in place until they were out of hearing, then I started to mumble to myself.
"Jim, they're biting. I hope you heard them. I need $200 by tomorrow morning, so I'm going to go do some street jive with a plastic cup for a while on Fourteenth. We're going to have to make this look good. They're sure to be keeping an eye on me."
Naomi's father called me Jacob; I was named after his brother, who died in World War II. I went to his funeral when I was sixteen or so; he'd died of lung cancer after too many years of unfiltered Turkish cigarettes. He was the one who told me the stories about Abraham and Isaac, who was almost sacrificed, and Isaac's son Jacob, and Jacob's son, Joseph.
I've never known who my father was; Naomi didn't say. I think that growing up with a father who'd almost ended up as the offering on the altar would be a bit too intense; not a lot of good memories there to give a kid. Naomi gave me a lot of good memories, along with the rough times. Except for Jim, she's the best friend I have, even if she's far from the most reliable.
Jim's middle name is Joseph. That's always been a magical name for me. Joseph, of the coat of many colors, the one who could interpret dreams, see into the future and protect the people of Egypt when hard times came. Joseph saved his adopted country in time of famine, and saved his family as well. I've wondered, occasionally, in the past few years, whether Joseph was a kind of Sentinel, someone who was so different he was a outcast until he grew into his abilities and was able to protect others.
Now I'm Jacob again. Jake. I can imagine what the Jacob in the story was like, and use that to help with my cover. It's acting; it's undercover work. The last two days before I landed on the street, Jim told me a lot more about his undercover cases than he ever has. I guess he figured it might help me, and he was right. Undercover work is the art of the unexpected. You try to control the variables, but you can't tell when the shit will hit the fan and you have to duck under the blades, deal with whatever comes down, and come out safe with a good bust at the end.
Or, as Jackson Browne said, you do what you can just to keep your love alive, and you try not to confuse it with what you do to survive.
Jim cruised up to me, leisurely, a former soldier in the war of loneliness looking for something warm. Ostensibly, he was checking out the tired goods in the window of the pawnshop on the corner, but I could feel his eyes on me before he turned the corner.
"Don't overdo it, man," I whispered, and heard a mild snort in reply as he noticed the high price on the beat-up stereo.
He was wearing older clothes, things from the back of his closet that were worn in but not worn out - a slightly saggy olive sweater that I've never seen at the station, a pair of tight khakis, his third-best jacket that he takes camping. It was his moves that made the shift, from uptight straight cop to someone looser, looking for a little action.
I looked up at him, my eyes raking his chest and neck up to his face. I didn't meet his eyes. "Got a few quarters, mister? I'm hungry."
He dropped three quarters into the cup. "You want something to eat?"
"Yeah, and that's not gonna buy it."
"I might buy you lunch."
My eyes went up to meet his, flirting. I know I have long eyelashes. I even know how to use them. But I hadn't used them on Jim before. The effect was interesting. He knew it was part of the cover, but his pupils flared wide and I saw the color go into his cheeks.
Well, we did have to make it look good.
"What d'you got in mind?" I tried for sultry, ended up at pouty but it still wasn't bad.
"I've got a room nearby. You could come up for a while, get warm, after lunch. You interested?"
"Yeah." Getting warm always interested me. I missed the long hair. My neck was cold without it. At his nod, I pocketed the money in the cup, stood the cup in a doorway where it would probably stand until the next earthquake unless I came back for it, shoved my hands in my pockets and went off with Jim to the burger joint a couple blocks away.
"Company?" I asked softly.
"Yeah. A block back. One smallish guy. He was watching you from the alley."
"Figured. He's Terry."
I ate the burgers and fries that Jim bought me and figured I'd sort out the cholesterol later on. We sat near enough to the window that Terry could watch us, but not close enough for him to lipread much, and we stayed in character. When we left, we went to a room in a rooming house a few blocks away, one that Major Crimes has used for surveillance in the past. The desk clerk didn't even look up from his newspaper. I didn't blame him; it was safer for him not to know what went on upstairs.
Once we were in the room with the door locked, Jim plugged a hotpot into the wall socket and made me coffee. It was instant, but it was some of the imported stuff Simon had given him for Christmas. I raised an eyebrow at him when I smelled it.
"Nothing but the best for my partner," Jim said as he handed me the cup. "How's it going out there?"
"Not bad. You know, if I'm out here for a few days you can't be the only john I pick up."
"I know. Rafe will be by later on." Jim grinned, for the first time that day. "I'll tell him to leave the Armani suit home."
"You think I'll recognize him without it?" My hands were warming up around the cup, and the aroma was heavenly. "You know, we're going to have to make this look good for them."
"I know." He turned away from me to check the street from the side of the window; when he turned back his expression was blank. "Oh, I know."
Another measure of identity these days is occupational. What you do is who you are with some people, especially in the professions like doctor or attorney. I don't think it's always the same with cops; some people are born to be police, to guard and protect and serve, and gravitate toward the job. The job doesn't make them what they already were, but it sharpens it and hones the skills, gives them a purpose.
We tend to expect that people will fill the roles we assign them in our minds. A doctor will be pleasant but abstract unless focused on a medical problem; an attorney will be careful of speech and possibly argumentative about the tiniest details. It's not always true; stereotypes seldom are. Yet they stay there in the back of our minds, coloring how we see others, how we see ourselves. Nobody is just the job they do. A cop can be a jazz singer, a woodcarver, a parent, a gardener, a mechanic, a philosopher, an author.
Maybe I have a bit more experience keeping my mind open on this question than other people, because I don't always see them entrenched in categories. Sure, a cop can be a jazz singer or a philosopher. So can a hooker, given the opportunity. Just because someone's on the street and hasn't had a bath for two days doesn't negate all the other possibilities. It may just make them a lot harder to attain immediately.
And a cop that's under cover as a street kid, who's hooking to keep body and soul together, can be more than a pretty face with a hungry attitude, especially when the hunger is aimed at putting away a killer.
I was back on the street in half an hour, with a hundred in my pocket and the promise of Rafe showing up in the evening. I felt warmer, almost comfortable slouching against the brick wall with my plastic cup as the afternoon sunshine broke through the clouds. I moved a little further away from the pawnshop, so it wouldn't look as if I were just loitering; the beat cops had been told I was there so even if I were stopped they'd know not to haul me in, but I had to play the game.
It didn't help when the girls came along.
I'd dated Kathleen four years ago when we were both going through comps for our master's degrees, hers in cellular biology and mine in anthro. She'd been smart and pretty and absolutely certain that her future would involve research into the mysteries of genetics. Our dating had been a relief from the pressures of the time; we'd broken up and remained acquaintances, rather than friends, but I'd followed her career by rumor and she'd become a researcher at the local hospital, doing pathology during the day and continuing her research when she could get grants.
This afternoon, she and a friend were slumming, looking for bargains in the cheap end of town. From what I could overhear, the friend, Susie, wanted a cheap guitar for a gag gift and figured the pawnshop would be a good place to start.
She and Susie came down the street, not really seeing what was around them, and I though I was safe. Then she looked over - right at me.
She stopped in her tracks, took a step forward. "Blair?" she said softly. "Is that you?"
Jim had mussed me up a little when I was leaving, just enough so I'd have that lived-in look. I'd jerked off alone in the little bathroom at the rooming house, thinking of my last couple of dates with Michelle a while back, and left just enough on me so that anyone who came by would smell it a little and know the score. I looked like even more of a boytoy than I had that morning, one that had been around a little and played with. What I didn't need was someone who'd actually known me when I was sixteen and a freshman, someone who would remember where I'd been before.
"I don't know who you're talking about," I muttered, hoping Jim would hear, hoping he'd send a panda car this way with a friendly cop in it to haul me in for five minutes so kindhearted Kathleen wouldn't blow my cover.
"Oh, God, is this what's become of you since the dissertation? Blair, you could've come to me." She put a hand on my arm.
"I don't know you, lady," I growled. I put on my best punk impression. "If you're not going to put something in my cup, get the fuck away from me." I pushed her away from me.
"I'm sorry." I'd hurt her feelings, and her friend was getting annoyed. "But listen, please. I'm living at 23 Larchmont now; if you need anything, you can come there. Any time. We've got a place you can sleep." She looked heartstricken. "You shouldn't have to be on the street."
"Yeah, right. Get out of here, bitch," I said, hating myself for having to say it.
Her friend pulled her away. I hunched my shoulders and glared at them, and they left, Kathleen badly shaken and her friend's arm around her shoulders.
I felt like something gritty and despoiled in the crack of the sidewalk as I watched them walk away.
Identity is more than the sum of the descriptions you acquire, more than the sum of the parts. Who I am is more than arms, legs, head and so on, and more than intelligence, stamina and health.
What I do isn't who I am. Repulsing Kathleen made me a good cop, even if I felt like used sludge at the time. I couldn't let her recognition of me interfere with the job. If I'd made a mistake by being so harsh with her, I'd have to repair it later on, when I wasn't trying to find a killer, and hope she'd understand.
Kathleen always thought we were made of billions of cellular intelligences, all of them conspiring in some way to create self-awareness in order to create more cellular intelligence. I couldn't argue with that idea then and I can't now. It's true, in a bizarre way. But it still doesn't tell me who I am, it just gives me another level of description.
A panda car rolled past me as I sat in a doorway after sunset. I'd cadged a few more bucks out of passers-by, probably because I looked so pitiful. I ducked back into the doorway and the car moved on.
Terry came by, checking up on me. "How's it going, Jake?"
"Pretty good. Ask me in the morning," I said, playing cocky.
He nodded, looking me up and down, noticing the differences from before. "You ever thought about being in pictures?"
"What kind of pictures?"
"Yeah, all the time, man. But this ain't Hollywood."
Terry snickered. "You get the money, we'll get you a screen test. Part of the deal."
"Oh, wow." I pretended to be entranced with the idea, but my stomach was rolling.
"Yeah. Just a little more incentive, kid. See you in the morning." He looked down at me. "Comb your hair and go over to Sixteenth; pickings are a little better there at night."
Sixteenth was where the sex shops were, and the X-rated bookstores. I'd swear every square foot of that area was already someone's turf. I didn't want to get beat up, or noticed by the Vice cops, some of whom hadn't been crazy about Ellison's long-haired ride-along from the beginning.
"If I don't get more in an hour, I'll head over," I said, hoping Jim was noticing.
"Good enough. See you in the morning." He wandered off, whistling a little.
Once I was alone again, I murmured to myself, "Jim, ask someone to check on porno films with the kids that we found in them. Tell Rafe to get over here soon, or I'll have to head toward Sixteenth, and that'll be trouble."
A few workmen in the next half hour put quarters and dollars in my cup. One man tried to persuade me to go to the Rescue Mission with him, but I refused. Whatever I was going to find, I was pretty sure it wouldn't be there. The Rescue Mission was run by good people that Jim had worked with a couple of times in the past three years; they'd know me in an instant, and it would've all been over.
I'd have to look for a place on the street to sleep tonight, after Rafe left. It wouldn't hurt to start thinking about that now, before the temperature dropped too far. It was early fall, but with the dampness that Cascade maintains all year 'round it would be very chilly in a few hours. A sheltered doorway or a dumpster wouldn't do it, with this kind of air. Maybe I could find some space under a highway overpass, or inside a condemned building, anywhere that I could put two walls or more between my body and the cold. I could sleep almost anywhere, as long as I was undisturbed; sleeping safely was another question entirely.
Anthropology, like any other science, is applied observation. Observe data, compile data, analyze data.
My name is Jake. I'm a runaway from Seattle. I'll do anything to get food and shelter.
My name is B.J. I'm a police detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade Police Force. I'll do whatever is necessary to catch a killer.
My name is Blair. I'm the Shaman and Guide to the Sentinel of the Great City. I'll do anything to keep my partner alive and well, and to serve the people he guards.
Three statements don't make a syllogism if they don't follow one another in a logical fashion, even if all of them are true.
All right. I'm a shaman. What can I do to smoke out evil in this situation without getting burned?
I knew Terry wasn't Mr. Big. His oversized buddy wasn't that important either. Whoever I'd meet tomorrow would be at least one level up the food chain. I'd have time this evening for an impromptu shamanic journey, a small excursion into the spirit world, as long as I was sleeping somewhere I wouldn't be disturbed.
"Jim, I'm heading over toward Twelfth, near the restaurants and the small-time bookie joint around the corner. Tell Rafe to look for me on the way. I have to find somewhere to sleep."
I dumped the change and the few bills into my pocket, tucked the cup into a pocket, swaggering a little as I headed down the street. The swagger was a requirement for this neighborhood. I had to look like a wolf if I wasn't going to be someone's dinner.
I remembered hearing a story from one of Naomi's odder acquaintances, a quiet, thin man who sat in the back corner at the commune we stayed at and worked in the kitchen. He'd let me help him cook dinner, and when we were cleaning up, I asked him about himself. He looked me over, and asked me my age and how long I'd been on the road, and I told him: almost fourteen, and all my life, mostly. He nodded, and told me his story. He'd spent eighteen months in Leavenworth Penitentiary, for nearly killing a superior officer who had looked the other way when someone was raped. He never said who the victim was; I got the feeling it didn't matter. He didn't feel any remorse about what he'd done. The first night he was inside, he'd spent all night fighting off bigger guys, throwing them down the stairwell they'd dragged him into, never giving in. By the end of that night, he'd earned enough respect that nobody messed with him.
I don't think Naomi knew about his past. I know for sure that she wasn't aware he was teaching me self-defense and dirty fighting out behind the barn when she was off listening to the guru. She didn't need to know. I felt better for having learned to handle some of the possibilities that scared me silly. Naomi thought Clint was just a good man who was being a surrogate father. She asked me once if being around him was a problem for me, a code we'd set up to let her know if I didn't feel comfortable with one of her friends for whatever reason, and I said no, he was fine. She left it at that.
During self-defense lessons in the Academy, I'd pulled a few of Clint's tricks out of the back of my mind and earned a little respect myself. It was good to know I hadn't lost the touch.
C'mon, Rafe. I'm getting tired of waiting here. I'm not cop enough yet to want to be on my feet this long without a donut.
I went back to the burger joint and spent a little money on dinner, ate it quickly and went back on the street. Just as it was settling into an indigestible lump in my stomach, a tall, slender man with loose, wind-ruffled dark hair fell into step beside me. "Hey, kid, you want to go somewhere warm?"
I gave him a sideward glance. Jim was right. Rafe looked totally different without the Armani. He wore jeans, a denim work shirt and a warm jacket, and his face looked older, edgy.
"You got a place?" I asked him.
He nodded, and we went together to another rooming house, one that Narcotics has occasionally used. I'd forgotten that he worked in that department before moving to Major Crimes. I'd been accused of working Narcotics all the time my hair was long; it's another stereotype. Rafe's hair was only long on top, the same as mine was now, and he did so well as a narc that he made Major Crimes in the minimum amount of time. Joel told me once that Rafe had made detective faster than anyone in Major Crimes except Jim, and I believed it.
This rooming house was poorer, grubbier, a lot more like a place Jake would stay. The mattresses were thinner, the dresser more chipped and cracked than the other one, and the unidentified smells more insistent.
Rafe shut the door. "How's it going?"
"Okay. Boring, unless I think like an anthropologist, and I can't let myself do it that often."
"Yeah." He'd brought along an apple, and tossed it at me. "But nobody's roughed you up or anything, right?"
"Just the guys this morning, and they weren't a problem." I munched on the apple, and filled him in on the porno idea.
"Brown's looking into that. He should be by tomorrow to pick you up for loitering for a little while. He's even putting on a uniform for the privilege."
"Hey, I'm honored." The apple was heavenly. It was the Garden of Eden's lost apple. I hadn't tasted anything that good, ever. Then again, too many burgers and no real veggies will have me nearly orgasmic over a head of iceberg lettuce that I wouldn't ordinarily look twice at. But it was still a good apple. "How's Jim doing?"
"All right. Simon's getting him some dinner right now, while we're here, and he'll keep you under surveillance part of tonight so Jim can get some sleep."
"Good. I don't want him overdoing it."
Rafe grinned. "You're starting to sound like as much of a mother hen as he does."
"Which he? Jim or Simon?"
"Must be the badge, man."
"Right." He reached into a pocket. "We got an ID on Terry. Here's his rap sheet. Nothing major, but enough small stuff to be interesting."
Terry had started as a runner, a messenger and courier for a gang that was heavily into merchandizing homemade narcotics; lots of arrests but no convictions. He wasn't known to be armed. Information had it that he'd hooked up with some newcomers, not one of the established groups, and nothing more was known.
"You can stay here tonight, if you want," Rafe said, handing me a key. "The room's paid for for the next four days, and it's not so upscale that it'd make you look suspicious."
"Thanks. I'll have to go out there again, but I'll come back here when I'm done looking around."
I felt the cold muscles along my spine start to lengthen with the room's warmth; even if the radiator wasn't much good there was plenty of heat from the two floors below. "Wasn't looking forward to Chateau Dumpster."
"I hear you." He patted me on the shoulder. "You're doing good, B.J."
"I'm not so sure." I told him about Kathleen and her friend. "This could be a problem."
"Yeah." He chewed on it a minute. "Does Jim know?"
"I'm not sure."
"I'll tell him. One of us will find her and talk with her, so it doesn't go any further. The last thing you need is for her to come down here after you with a group of your university buddies to rescue you from the dregs of degradation."
"Hey, Rafe, those college courses are showing. Good words, man."
"Don't get too comfortable; you've got to go out and look like a punk again."
"I know, but not for a few minutes." It felt wonderful to lie on the smelly mattress and be warm and off my feet, even for a little while.
"We've put together more of a MO on the guys you're after, based on the timing of the other bodies." Rafe sat on the bed next to me, to show me a chart. "It's lunar months, not calendar ones. The bodies are dumped at the dark of the moon, and based on what happened with Patty, the kids are acquired in the next few weeks, used for a month or so and disposed of. Or, used for more than a month but still disposed of at the dark of the moon. We don't know how many kids there are, or how big an operation it is." His eyes were dark. "There's nothing on the Internet about this, but one of the squad cars found some discarded porno mags in the room on a drug bust, and an ad in the back of one of them had one of the John Does in a photo." His dark eyes were worried. "They may only use the boys for that, though. No evidence of it on the girl, but the coroner confirmed that she had a heart murmur, so the drugs may have killed her quicker."
"It's something to go on." I wished I were at home watching tv with Jim, in the nice safe warm loft. I wished Jim were on the street where I could see him and be comforted by his size and solidity. I wished I could push a button and eliminate all the people who prey on vulnerable children.
"Be careful out there. We're backing you up," Rafe said. "Just get in, see what's happening, and get back out again."
"Don't worry." I gave him my best bright grin. "If I were going for a career in the movies, I'd insist on Cindy Crawford or Julia Roberts, not these guys."
I found myself thinking more about that drunken grizzly article as I made a slow tour of Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets that evening. I wasn't cruising, just checking out the sights. I made sure to stay clear of the working girls and boys, and behave myself. I split my mind into anthropologist/observer and street kid, just to keep from feeling overwhelmed by what I saw and felt. Living one step away from that life, even for a few days, isn't the same as driving by in a car; this itched, too close for comfort.
Normal bears, while hard to read, can be predictable. There's a kind of protocol for dealing with them, according to what I've read. If you play dead, they'll sniff you over, maybe roll you around a bit, but won't bite much unless they've just come out of hibernation, when they're an appetite on legs that can go 45 miles per hour, and will eat anything that doesn't run faster.
The pimps on the sidewalk checked me out, looked me up and down and classified me. None of them approached; maybe Terry had warned them, or maybe they'd seen me at work earlier and knew I was just stretching my legs. I didn't give them any cause to think any differently. This had never been my part of town, with or without Naomi.
Some normal bears can be bluffed, as long as you don't get between mama and cubs; often as not, a black bear will go the other way when it sees you. A normal, sober Alaskan grizzly can smell a dead moose more than five miles away, and feel itchy if there's anyone within one mile of them; they always see you first and if you don't look interesting, no problem. But it's a turf thing; nobody is bigger than an Alaskan grizzly, and nobody smaller is going to tell one where its turf ends.
Outside the peep shows and the grimy theaters with XXXALL GIRLS ALL NUDE ALL THE TIMEXXX on the faded marquee, the barkers stood, enticing the men wandering down the street to come in and see the shows. They were big guys, overweight but not completely out of condition, long term bouncers with lots of experience. I stopped to look at a poster, and one of them walked over near me and said, "Kid, you're too young for this street. Go somewhere else." I gave him a look that said I knew it but wouldn't admit it. He came a little closer, slipped me a twenty, and said in an undertone, "Go home. There's sharks out tonight."
In folk tales of many cultures, bears are good luck. They're fierce and unpredictable predators, but they're also protective of their own. Algonquin folklore tells of the Great Bear who became the Big Dipper constellation, and the Little Bear it protected that followed it as the Little Dipper. The Little Dipper contains the North Pole star, the one around which the whole sky rotates in the northern hemisphere. In some stories, bears have adopted lost humans, leaving some of their kills for them and protecting them from harm.
The problem with folklore is that it seldom tells you how to distinguish a spirit bear, who might help you, from a real bear that might eat you alive.
I climbed up the stairs to the little room at 11; I had more than $250 in my pocket, enough to get me into the game and a little more to look respectable. I locked the door, wedged the chair under the doorknob, pulled down the shade to tell Simon or whoever that I was in for the night, fell onto the bed and managed to wait until I'd set the clock for 6 a.m. before I fell asleep.
I'd hoped to stay awake long enough to do a real spirit walk. In the past year I'd learned more about how to do that and how to control it than I'd ever imagined. It's amazing what you can learn in the local pagan community if you're willing to listen and put judgments aside. Some of the pagans I'd met had connections to Native American shamans, who came and taught classes. I'd have had trouble meeting some of them as an anthropologist, but as a seeker I was welcome, and I'd gone to as many classes as I could, absorbing what's called core shamanism. It's a kind of simplified shamanic path that doesn't follow any one culture but draws from similarities and lessons in many of them. It should have offended my sense of anthropology, but it didn't; I was just grateful it existed, because it helped me with Jim.
But instead of being awake enough to do the kind of spirit walking I'd learned, my spirit did it all on its own in a dream, without the controls. No drummer, no other shaman to keep me linked to the flesh-and-blood world. Instead, I found myself focusing on the sound of water gurgling through the pipes in the building, rushing past me to the top floor, draining down again, over and over ...
I stood by the banks of a small creek full of leaping salmon, watching the bears fishing. The creek was deep in places, and even the largest bears were shoulder-deep in the water at times. The salmon fought their way past, heading upstream on their own schedules.
A low growl next to me made me start, and I realized I stood next to a large black jaguar with golden eyes, watching the bears. It looked at me and away again, and I followed it up the stream. The bears ignored us, though they should normally have noticed we were in their territory and charged at us.
Further upstream, there were fewer fish, and not all the bears were catching them. Some lolled on the bank, their mouths stained with berry juice. Some stumbled into the stream, playing viciously with the salmon as if they were chew toys instead of food. The jaguar growled by my hip.
One of the drunken bears, the biggest one, reared up on its hind legs in midstream, and I realized it could see me. It charged at me, roaring, all teeth ready to go, but before I had time to be afraid it was answered by an absolutely enormous light-brown Kodiak bear that came from just behind my right shoulder, that ran ahead of me and tore into the aggressor.
The jaguar growled again, and nudged me on. Behind me I heard a curdled growling scream, and then heavy footsteps that came up next to me, hot snuffling breath on the side of my face. The jaguar wasn't concerned, so I put a hand out to the side and felt that thick fur and the strong muscles working underneath it.
I felt a shift, as if something had changed, as if a minor earth tremor had shifted the veil between worlds, and when I looked down again, I was wearing gray and black fur myself, and my legs were long and could run forever. I looked into a quiet pool by the side of the path and saw a wolf looking back at me, with my own eyes.
The jaguar nudged me on, and the bear waited for me to catch up.
Nobody gets a wolf for a spirit guide.
Wolves can be totem animals, emblems of clan and family and tribe. This means you're a relative; it doesn't have to mean anything more than that. They can be whatever they want, and you're whatever you are, and it's like you're cousins that may or may not see each other very often.
They can be symbolic of ferocity and wilderness; more recently, since biologists have found out more about how wolf society works, they're emblematic of family values. Wolves live in stratified societies, with definite social positions and functions for each member, and from the outside it can look brutal. But every member is valued, defended, protected, cared for and mourned, according to the scientists who've been studying them.
In shamanic circles, though, wolves aren't the top choice for spirit guides. They're too unpredictable, too wild. Untamed isn't even the beginning of it.
The thing with spirit guides is that you don't choose them, they choose you, and they work with you for as long as they think it's useful. Control isn't the idea here; it's cooperation. You work with them, they work with you. You're equals, of a sort. The size of the guide has nothing to do with its importance or ability to help you with changes in your life; I've seen people go through wonderful transformations from working with beetles or turtles or small songbirds, because they were willing to work with what they had.
So you sit in a guided meditation designed to help you call your spirit guide, and you wait for what shows up. You might get a whole bunch of animals coming to look you over, or only one, but the one that comes up to you and says it's yours is the one you're supposed to work with, and only once in anyone's recent memory has a wolf shown up. It's not a pretty story.
Apparently, a guy who had real issues with control and power in his life decided ahead of time that he was going to call a wolf, and that wolf would be his spirit guide. When he went through the meditation, he waited and waited, and he could see the wolf coming from a long way off, getting bigger and bigger. And then this dainty little snowshoe rabbit showed up and said, "Hi. I'm your spirit guide." While he was getting used to the idea that this cute rabbit was supposed to be his teacher, the wolf charged up, ate the rabbit and ran off again.
Unpredictable. Right. So what do I have for a spirit guide? A wolf. What does that say about me? I don't think I want to know.
Bears are good spirit guides, as I've said; good protectors, good providers. Jaguars are wisdom and paradox creatures, making you look at the shadow side of yourself with honesty. Wolves are wild, unpredictable, and in spiritual terms, undependable, mine being the only exception I've ever heard of. I mean, the wolf joined the jaguar to bring me back from the dead. That's above and beyond the call of duty for a spirit guide.
So, now it looks like I've got all three of them to deal with. It's probably a good thing they all eat salmon. I'm not sure what else I'd find to feed them right now. In Northwestern Native American myths, salmon are food and gift; in Celtic myths, eating the head of the salmon will give you all the wisdom in the world. Since my inner world seems to have a salmon stream available, maybe I've already got all the resources I need. I just have to figure out how to use them.
I was back on the street at 7 a.m., cup in hand, lounging against a wall on Fourteenth near the Industrial Zone, where the factory workers walked by. It was a risk, but it meant Joel could come by and give me the news under the guise of going to work at the local plant.
He showed up, carrying a lunchbox and wearing his weekend clothes, the ones he keeps for working in the garage; he looked like any other graying man in his early 50s who'd spent too many years standing on his feet at work. He dropped a fiver in my cup, said quietly, "Brown's coming around noon, if you're here." I nodded, and he went down the street toward the machine shops and the diesel engine factory.
After the factory workers went past, I wandered toward the burger joint, figuring I'd spend Joel's contribution on something to eat. Before I got there, Terry showed up with his big buddy.
"You get the money, kid?"
I took the $200 roll of bills out of my pocket - I'd put the rest in a different place - and handed it to him, and he flipped through it quickly.
"Good. I'm going to check with the boss, and get back to you." He shoved the money in his pocket, and I was so glad I hadn't given him all of it. "Soon as we're ready for you, Clancy, here will bring you in." Terry patted me on the shoulder. "You look good today, Jake. It's your lucky day."
"Yeah. I can tell," I said. "Any chance I'll get something to eat?"
"Hey, can't have the new Redford getting hungry on us," Terry said. He cocked his head toward Clancy. "Get the kid some breakfast, all right?" When Clancy nodded, Terry patted me on the shoulder and said, "Good luck. You've got what it takes, kid."
You bet I do.
Clancy took me back to the same burger joint as yesterday for a muffin and coffee, and had coffee with me as I ate. "You did okay last night, Jake," he said. "You got a future." He watched me inhale the muffin, bought me an order of homefries to follow it, and paid for a refill on the coffee. "You got any questions about the new job?"
"Yeah." I wiped my mouth on a napkin. "You said something about product testing yesterday, and he talked about movies. Which is it?"
"Both." He looked mildly surprised that I'd noticed the discrepancy. "The company makes a variety of expensive products, and we need people to test them for quality control. But that's not the only thing we do. There's a lot of marketing involved, a lot of promotional films and literature, and we think you'd be very good for that aspect of the business as well."
"Sounds good, sounds good." The night's sleep, even with the wildlife docudrama, had given me back a bit of energy. "When do we start?"
"You're an eager guy, Jake. I like that." He got up from the little table. "Our ride should be outside now."
When we got out of the burger joint, Clancy loaded me into the back of a nondescript sedan. I started to notice the streets going past, but he put a cloth over my eyes. "Security procedure, Jake. We don't want any industrial espionage."
"Right," I said, deadpan. As if.
Even if I couldn't see, I could track the turns the car made. Down MacMillan to Lake, over to Haida, right on Canton and right on the parkway, then a sharp left into a section of small streets that were too confusing. It didn't matter, at that point; I knew where we were. It was an industrial park, still under construction and far from town, away from the apple farms and the tourists along the coast and the hikers in the woods. It was barren and concrete and steel and far enough away from anywhere else that I might as well be Ripley in space with the aliens, for all that anyone could hear a scream.
I hoped I wouldn't have to find out that last part from experience.
Text and subtext, symbol and sign. Read between the lines. A symbol represents what it symbolizes (nice circularity there) but a sign points beyond itself to a larger truth. Myth goes beyond legend, beyond didactic need, to examine the truths of what people believe, the beliefs on which their lives are based.
To some people, a bank is a place to put the money you earn on your job until you spend it. To others, it's a place of worship. To still others, it's a symbol of the international monetary systems that affect commerce and business. And to some others, a bank is a more or less interesting architectural structure that isn't always designed to follow its function. Old banks look like marble palaces or limestone versions of Greek and Roman temples. New banks look like anything else in the neighborhood shopping mall.
It all depends on what's important to you, on the objects, emotions or ideas to which you assign value. And it depends on the currency. Handmade shell wampum is beautiful, but the exchange rate sucks. Health is valuable, but I wouldn't want to be able to assign a dollar value to it, and I sure don't want mine stuck in a safe-deposit box.
But what I value and esteem in this case isn't the question; my ideas are a given, regardless of how much I obfuscate them for the greater good.
I know my ideas, my values. I know who and what I esteem.
I know who I am, even if nobody else does.
The blindfold came off softly, and I blinked. Clancy opened the car door and I scrambled out, all elbows and knees, and looked around a modern industrial back lot, and went in through the door he opened for me.
For all intents and purposes I was standing in the front office of a fairly classy organization. Not absolutely top drawer, but up there a long way from the street. The rug was a creamy pastel pattern, clean and new, and the secretary behind the desk looked up, buzzed in on the intercom, and said, "Your nine-thirty appointment is here, sir."
I went into the office, pushing my hair back from my eyes nervously, and stood waiting while Mr. Big finished a phone call. Prosperous-looking office, more of that thick rug, freshly cleaned, flowing up to the club chairs and the big mahogany desk.
What was that coming up out of the rug, by the wall near my foot? I wished I had Jim's vision. It looked familiar.
I'd kept some napkins from breakfast. Napkins are always handy; on the street they suffice for handkerchiefs and toilet paper and washcloths - and evidence bags. I pulled one out, pretended to sniffle, clumsily dropped the napkin and snatched it up, embarrassed, to stuff it back into my pocket.
It was a metallic button from a jacket, with fragments of dark green thread still through the loop.
I could swear I'd seen four more just like this one in the photos of Patty Gordon's autopsy report.
It wasn't enough; it would be a wedge in the door for a search warrant, but by the time that arrived Mr. Big and company could be a long way away. I needed more.
One of the less explored avenues of the nature vs. nurture debate, until recently, has been body consciousness. I don't just mean kinesthetic awareness, knowing and accepting and honoring the particular shape and condition and abilities of your body. What I'm thinking about is more spatial.
How does it feel to your body when you're in different sizes and shapes of space?
Pretty much everyone who's ever gone to elementary school and revisited the building years later will talk about how the lockers are so small, the chairs and tables are so short and the rooms feel more constricting than what they remembered. It's reasonable. Considering that every cell in your body has replaced itself thousands of times since you were in elementary school, you're physiologically not the same person who suffered through Mrs. Melkovski's science class in fourth grade. You are a similar person - I might use the word "evolved" here to denote the generations of changes in cells that passed in the meantime - who shares certain memories of experiences with that child.
(I realize this idea of evolutionary identity isn't likely to catch on with the Uniform Code of Justice. There's no reason it should, for the most part. We assume that, despite the alterations of time, the person who committed a crime twenty years ago and who shares the same name, fingerprints, blood type and genetic pattern as someone now is that same person. For the sake of justice, it doesn't matter. If you ran afoul of the law then and you've been on the run since and have just been apprehended, you're still considered to be that same person even if you're physically and mentally incapable now of committing the original crime.)
This is straying from the point, though. Think of the difference you feel when walking into a subway tunnel, then think of the feeling of walking into a Gothic cathedral with all those soaring arches. Your body reacts differently; the actual reaction may not be the same from one person to another, but it's there. Some societies use this in their rituals, making sure that certain types of ritual behavior only occur at night in specific kinds of enclosed spaces, so that appropriate emotions and reactions will be provoked.
To some people, a small enclosed space is a sanctuary; to others it's a trap. If you grew up in the Great Plains, you're far more likely to feel comfortable with a large open space overhead than if you grew up in heavily wooded, mountainous terrain that didn't let the sunlight in as much. It's individual, but it's there.
"...We need you to sign here, Jake."
Mr. Big, who made sure I never did catch his name, pushed the paper and pen toward me. He'd talked for a good ten minutes without using a verb, and without making as much sense as Jim's four-year-old niece on a bad day. But I nodded as if I understood every word of his speech, and signed, "Jacob Sands," on the dotted line.
"Excellent." He rubbed his hands together, much too much like some Dickensian character whose name I probably don't want to recall. "Clancy, please see Jake in, introduce him to his colleagues, and find him a place to stay." He didn't waste time shaking hands with me, which was fine with me.
"Come with me, and we'll start you at work right away," Clancy said. He put a hand on my shoulder and directed me through a door behind Mr. Big's desk, into a small waiting room with folding chairs and a coffee pot on a sideboard. "Have a cup of coffee, and we'll set up your screen test." He went on through the next door, and left me alone.
The coffee smelled off. Not bad, not made from inferior beans or in a bad coffeemaker, but off. The cups were that heavy rolled paper, not the foam that crumbles in your hand. I poured a cup, sniffed it and wished I had Jim's senses for a moment. "Jim, you can send in the cavalry any time now. They've got something in the coffee and I'm going to need help getting out of here." I didn't even sip it; I set the untouched cup down and sat on a chair to wait.
Clancy returned and noticed the cup. "Something wrong with the coffee, Jake? I'll make more." He dumped the pot in a sink I hadn't noticed, put fresh grounds in the hopper and set it up. "We're going to do your screen test first, and after that we'll get on with the product testing, if that's okay with you."
"Sure, fine." I slouched a little in the chair.
"Yeah, that stuff was stale. Sometimes the coffee is better than others," Clancy said. He took a cup from the first stack next to the machine, filled it and sipped it with no problem, then took a new cup from the second stack, filled it with coffee, fixed it with cream and sugar the same as I'd done at the burger joint, and handed it to me with his hand down toward the bottom of the cup to make it easier for me to grab.
Obviously, whatever was going on, the coffee was all right. They'd hardly want their own people stoned. I accepted the cup, took a sip and nodded; the coffee tasted fine, though the cup had a slight waxy aftertaste I didn't expect.
"You can bring it with you," Clancy said, and waved me through the next door.
It was like day and night, going from that small bright office to the warehouse. I'd seen smaller Gothic cathedrals and airplane hangers than this. The bright light from the floods by the ceiling washed the floor so completely that there were no directional shadows; the only shadows were immediately underfoot. This bent the space, made it harder to determine distance, flattened the perspective.
I stumbled a little, and the coffee sloshed and spilled over the side of the cup. "Sorry, man." I said. "This place is a trip."
"No problem, Jake." Clancy steered me toward a door I hadn't seen before, painted black in a black wall. "Go on in, and we'll send in your costars."
"Hey, don't I get a script or something to start with?" I asked. My head was reeling a little; I felt my stomach curl up and lie down again as if I'd eaten something that didn't want to be digested. "I dunno, man."
"It'll be all right," Clancy said, opening the door and putting me inside. He shut the door behind me and I heard the lock catch.
The room had red walls, a black bed with red sheets and pillowcase, a black floor, a red chair. Nothing else. My head started to spin for certain; I tried to sit on the chair but it moved out from underneath me so I landed on the floor. Lying on the floor felt really good and solid, but cold. Cold is not good.
"Jim, where are you?" I said as quietly as possible. If someone was listening, maybe they'd think I was raving if I talked about someone else. Maybe I could use that for the infamous screen test. "Jimmy, I miss you. Jimmy, where are you?"
This dizziness was too much, along with the cold. Regardless of anything else, I needed to be horizontal someplace that wasn't chilly, and the only candidate in here was the bed. I crawled over to the bedframe, pulled myself upright and managed to sprawl on the red sheets while I could still keep the room from spinning. And then it all went dark for a while.
When I could open my eyes again, I realized my throat felt dry, and I wanted something to drink so badly, but I'd left the cup of coffee on the floor over by the chair and I couldn't reach it. Maybe if I said something, they'd bring more. But in order to do that, I'd have to be able to say something, and it felt as if my tongue couldn't move. It wasn't like it had grown, it just didn't want to do anything at all.
If I'd eaten the head of the salmon, that fish had gone really bad. Or maybe I was the salmon, being mauled by that insane, drunken bear in the stream. Where was the panther, or the big Kodiak who'd protected me?
I heard a dog whimpering, somewhere under the bed, frightened and alone, and wanted to help it but I got dizzy every time I looked for it. The floor seemed an awfully long way away; I couldn't touch it no matter what I did. Then I realized my throat hurt from making that sound.
No gun. No badge. No radio. No way to call for backup except to pray that Jim was tracking me. And no way to help when backup arrived. I was batting a thousand; I'd done better on the helpfulness scale when I was a new observer riding with Jim.
I thought I heard something mechanical, gears meshing, just outside the room, but I couldn't find where it was. Near the ceiling, on one side? Or was it over behind the chair? Maybe over the bed? Did the sound actually move, or did I just think it moved, or did I move and it followed me?
Somewhere along the line I closed my eyes and lost time. When I opened them again, there was a small table next to the bed, with a glass of water and a sandwich on it. I didn't want to eat or drink anything more, but my body was protesting so loudly, wanting water after all that caffeine, that I gulped half of it down before I realized it. I swallowed the sandwich almost without chewing, and finished the water.
I found myself clutching the little round button deep in the pocket, through the torn napkin. The panther - where was it? I didn't know, I only heard it, and heard the gray wolf growl - told me I needed to keep it safe, no matter what. I nagged at the stitching in the bottom of the pocket until it gave way, and pushed the button and the paper through the hole in the seam, so it would stay between the jacket and its sewn-in lining. It seemed like a strange thing to do, but something in the back of my mind said I had to do it for Jim, so I did it.
When I opened my eyes again, the ceiling looked too close. There were other people in the room, and I wasn't wearing any clothes. I didn't remember taking them off. People were touching me, and I could feel every touch, however small, throughout my entire body. I vibrated with the intensity of their touches, with the sense of connection and disconnection that came from touch and abandonment.
Is this what the salmon feels, swimming upstream through the bears? Is this the rush of water, the evasion of fur and claw, dodging teeth, surging up past the boulders toward the light?
On a shamanic journey, the shaman may change shape, sometimes to look the same as his spirit guide, and sometimes into another form. It's a lot like The Sword In The Stone, where Merlin teaches young Arthur by changing him into various forms of animals and asking him what he learned each time. What you learn, of course, depends on your preconceptions. When Merlin asked Arthur what he'd learned from being a goose, he didn't realize for a long time that what Merlin had meant him to notice was that the real world didn't have neat little borders drawn on it the way that the maps did.
Shamans in core shamanism generally don't use drugs. It's not that drugs don't get you into the spirit world; they do. But they give you no control over what occurs there, and no way to get back out.
I became the salmon, fighting its way upstream past all barriers.
I became the wolf, howling for its kin.
I became the bear, seeking a quiet cave in which to nurse its wounds after a battle.
In what's called 'true crime' fiction, and on television, the names are often changed to protect the innocent.
If the name is changed, is the nature of innocence altered? Without dealing with the question of whether the new name is suitable or auspicious, does the fact of changing a name change the outcome of whatever has happened?
When a name is changed in a witness protection program, how much of the self, the identity, can be shucked off like a snakeskin in order for the new life to be successful?
Is identity additive, or reductive? Does experience add another layer, or does it remove layers, peeling them back one by one until all that's left is the essence of self?
I shivered; I had been sweating and the air felt cold around me. I tried to huddle down under the covers, but they weren't heavy enough to hold me down; I might float away if I didn't hold on.
Everything echoed, changed shape, changed places. Sounds moved from left to right, up and down, over and over. Footsteps pounded on the concrete outside the room that had become my world, the container for whatever I had become. I vibrated with the sounds, quivering like a jellied salad and almost as translucent.
The bears were fighting in the salmon stream, outside the container. The drunken bears didn't know when to stop fighting, when to realize that they had lost the stream and the salmon to the Kodiaks who had the right to guard it. The universe shivered with their roars and growls, and with the sound of their teeth and claws tearing pieces out of their enemies.
The door flew open and the bears roared in, large and dark and dangerous, rising above me with fierce growls. I reached out and felt the rough fur, the steady strong muscles, the hot breath on my face and neck, the great arms holding me close to a strong heart beating too fast with anger and fear, and love. And, nearby, the panther nuzzled the wolf, who was crying again, no longer alone.
Isak Dinesen, who wrote about her time in Africa after twenty years away, wondered if something in the dust and air of the land she loved would remember her as intensely as she remembered her life there.
Not all of us want to remember the places we've inhabited so intensely.
Major Crimes and the Vice Squad who came with them found fifteen people in little rooms like the one I was in, scattered around that warehouse. The oldest was twenty-two, the youngest fourteen. Some were fairly recent arrivals; one girl had been there for six months, and was nearly skeletal when they got her to Emergency. It's hard to call the people who did this 'suspects' and I doubt they'll be considered that for long; the word from the District Attorney's office is that guilty pleas are sprouting like spring flowers and the sounds of plea bargaining are heard in the air. The DA is pushing for maximum penalties for everything from kidnapping and manufacture and sale of controlled substances to three counts of second-degree murder for the kids and attempted murder of a police officer. I don't think anyone's going to see Mr. Big, Terry, Clancy or any of the others that I don't recall meeting for a long time.
Simon came to the hospital and told me he was proud of me. That meant a lot, especially as I swum up from the deep undertow of the drugs into the waking world and found him sitting with me, holding my hand while Jim slept in the other chair.
I didn't expect the third visitor to be Chief Warren, but he stopped by in person to tell me I'd done a good job. That was worth a medal in itself. He's personally handling the media on this one, so Simon can get back to business, but he's giving Major Crimes the credit it deserves, and keeping me as an anonymous detective, for now. If there's a full-scale trial where I'll need to testify, I won't be anonymous any more, but for now I don't have to deal with reporters and that's fine.
I have appointments to come with the department psychiatrist. I remember some things very clearly: the shape of the rooms, the taste of coffee, the feeling of the damp evening air on my skin as I walked down a street of sex shops, the fear of loneliness in spite of knowledge. I remember the rumble of the jaguar by my side, the roaring of the drunken bears, and the feeling of the room expanding around me and closing in. The psychiatrist will help me put some of these in places where they won't disturb my dreams too much, after a while.
I don't remember all of what happened. The medical testimony of the doctors at the emergency room will take care of that. I will only have to testify to what I do recall, the things that happened before the drugs took effect, up to the time I picked Patty Gordon's jacket button up off the rug in the office. According to Simon, I was actually there at the warehouse for no more than three hours, the amount of time it took Major Crimes to find the place, and for Jim to locate me and listen in and know I was in danger and not still doing surveillance. Jim zoned twice; the first time Simon brought him back, and the second time Megan did, by talking to him gently about me. It worked; I'm going to train the rest of Major Crimes to do that as soon as I'm back on duty. It's time Jim had more backup than just me, and I trust them all with my life. Megan, personally, took Clancy apart; I would've liked to see that under other circumstances.
Forensics was very grateful for that stale cup of coffee sitting on the floor by the chair. They discovered that what I'd been given was something new, a 'layered' drug experience. First, a small amount of hallucinogen similar to LSD, on the rim of the coffee cup in the waiting room, then a cocktail of other chemicals in the chicken sandwich to loosen my connection to reality further, and to make it possible for them to do whatever they wanted with me. I was so lucky; none of what they wanted was physically damaging. That would probably have come later on, with the next dose of drug. What they wanted, and what they got, was someone with no inhibitions, easily directed, easily pleased and willing to please without requiring restraint or force.
I haven't seen the tapes. Simon has. He wouldn't let Jim watch, for which I was very grateful. I don't want to see them either. I don't want to have to remember anything that my memory has blessedly forgotten, not yet. When it arises, I'll deal with it. There's enough to deal with now.
I will not need mythology or biology or anthropology or the wisdom of spirit guides to help me testify. They will help me stay sane with what I've learned on this infinite brief journey. That's all I can ask of them, a measure of sanity and grace, and perhaps a little more wisdom.
"Jim?" I lay on the couch, thinking about bears and jaguars and wolves.
"Yes, Chief? You okay? You need anything?" Jim looked up from the dinner he was cooking, He'd actually decided to make lasagne, as long as I was there to remind him what herbs to use.
"I'm fine. I'll be back at work on Monday." I'd had two days in the hospital for detox and observation; the IV sweeping the drugs out of my bloodstream felt like the finest cool tide I'd ever swum in. It moved the walls back out to their normal locations and kept them there, and brought people down to a reasonable size. I'd spent the remainder of the week at home, learning not to bump into the walls and getting my energy back.
"Are you sure? The department will let you take more time if you need it; you're still a little shaky." He looked concerned; he'd wrapped me in his coat and in the bed sheets, and carried me out to the ambulance in his arms rather than let anyone else near me, because I was moaning about shrinking rooms and the horrible growls of giant bears, and because I refused to let go of the rough woolen jacket he wore. He'd stayed with me in the hospital until I'd come back to know who I was, and who he was.
"I know, but I think I need to go in, if only for a few hours." I sent him a smile, and he relaxed a little. "Getting back on the horse, and all that."
"Okay. I can see that. You know, Simon was impressed that you managed to hide that button in the coat while you were drugged."
"I had to do it, Jim. The panther told me to."
"Uh-huh. One of these days you're going to have to explain to me how you got bears into this spirit guide business. I can deal with the panther and the wolf; I've seen them, even if I don't understand them. But bears?"
"Jim, when the universe sends you a spirit guide, you go with it. Apparently, whoever assigns spirit guides thought I needed a bit more help this time. That doesn't mean I'm going to have bears around forever, though it's not inappropriate as an image for police."
"Uh-huh. Right." He turned a grin toward me. "But you start singing 'The Teddy-Bear's Picnic' and we're going to have a long talk."
"Right, Jim." I leaned my head back against the couch and looked through the windows at the mountains. When I was in that red and black room I wasn't sure if I'd ever see the dusty lavender of those mountains again at sunset, and now I can't get enough of watching them. It helps me to know there are things that haven't changed, as well as things that I can change. "I've been thinking, and I'm going to finish the dissertation on closed societies and submit it to the department."
"I think that's a great idea, Chief," Jim said, "but won't you get into trouble about having become part of the closed society you studied?"
"Oh, a little, but not that much. It's all based on the last three years of research, not the last six months. I'll manage." It'll be easy to write, and then I'll have the letters after my name as well as the title in front of it. It never hurts to be able to cause trouble in more than one place at a time.
A shaman goes on a near-death journey in order to find his path, his guide and his wisdom. By all accounts I did that in the fountain, when I came back with the knowledge that the mysterious was moving in my life; I also did it on this case, when I invoked the spirit world to help me find whoever was hurting those kids and bring them to justice.
If I was the shaman of the great city before, as Jim's guide, I have that title on my own now. I am as responsible for the wellbeing of the people of Cascade as he is, if in different ways.
I'm not the same person who started on this journey in Simon's office last week. I'm different, and I'm more. I'm not only the observer on the sidelines any more, however compromised by my emotions and attachments. I'm on the line now, too, the thin blue line, as well as walking the spirit paths to keep Jim and me safe, and soon I'll have that Ph.D. as well.
In some societies, you're given an additional name for every major experience in your life, or for every difficulty over which you triumph. If I did that, my name would already be six feet long; I don't need that much verification of who and what I am. I'll settle for Detective B.J. Sandburg, alias Dr. Blair Sandburg, alias the Shaman of the Sentinel of the Great City. And Naomi Sandburg's problem child ... but that's another story.