A Sentinel / Due South crossover
by Katrina Bowen
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance?
Theodore Roethke, "In a Dark Time"
Detective Jim Ellison looked around the hotel room and tried not to be impressed. "Well, as far as hotels go, it's not bad."
"Come on, Jim. I know you wanted to go camping this week, watch the eclipse and all, but I really need to talk with Barstowe." Blair Sandburg cleared everything off the top of the dresser, set down his laptop, and took a pile of papers out of the case.
"It's no big deal, Chief. I just wasn't planning on spending so much of my vacation hanging around airports and museums. Besides, there'll be another eclipse in, oh, twenty or thirty years." He cocked his head and stood still for several moments. "Maybe we should go out for dinner tonight ... whatever they're cooking here doesn't smell too good."
"I promise, Jim ... I'll need one day at the Field Museum, tops. Then we can spend the rest of our time here exploring Chicago. My friend Maddie told me about some good clubs here -- we can go dancing if you want." Blair pushed his long, curly hair out of his eyes and went back to sorting his notes into piles.
"You're sure the museum couldn't have faxed or emailed you the information you needed?" Jim started unpacking his bag.
Blair sighed heavily and tried to keep all shadings of "we've discussed this already" out of his voice. "Yeah, they *could* have. But Barstowe's got some funny ideas about technology -- I heard once that back when she was still publishing, she'd write everything out longhand and hire people to type her manuscripts because she didn't trust *typewriters*. She's the only one who can answer my questions, and the only way she'd agree to help me was if I came to Chicago in person."
Jim didn't answer, and Blair looked up in exasperation. "Give me a break here, man. If I'm right about what I found in her translation of the scrolls she dug up in el-Amarna, she's got documented proof of the existence of sentinels in ancient Egypt. You have any idea of what that would mean to my dissertation?"
Jim finished hanging his clothes. "Does it mean you'll be done with it any sooner?" He came over to where Blair was standing and wrapped his arms around the smaller man's waist. Bending down, he pushed Blair's long hair back to whisper in his ear. "Because then we can settle down and start living a normal life."
Even as he continued sorting his papers, Blair relaxed into Jim's embrace. "You're kidding. Define 'normal' for me, Jim. Would it include us running around, trying to find out just how enhanced your senses are? Or would it just be you running around doing cop things?"
"No ... " Jim bit the side of Blair's neck gently, and smiled as he felt the pulse beneath his lips speed up. "As far as I'm concerned, Blair, 'normal' includes you and me having sex as often as humanly possible."
"Jim, stop it -- " Blair's protest sounded half-hearted even to himself. "I want to make sure my notes are in order."
"And I want to fool around, and I think *that* sounds like a lot more fun." He unbuttoned Blair's shirt, sliding his fingers beneath it to tug at the nipple ring. "Don't you?"
Blair dumped his notes on the dresser and turned in the circle of Jim's arms. "Well ... okay. You talked me into it."
"Yeah, I really had to twist your arm there, didn't I?" Jim said as he led Blair over to the bed.
"So I'm easy." Blair knelt on the mattress and pulled Jim's head down to his.
"Shut up, Chief." Jim tangled his hands in Blair's thick curls as he sucked briefly at his full lower lip. Lying down, he took Blair in his arms and rolled over so Blair was resting full length on top of him.
Yanking Jim's shirt out of his pants, Blair started working on his belt. "I promise, Jim ..." Blair kissed Jim's earlobe. "A few hours at the museum, that's all I need. Then we can go out and have some fun."
Jim sighed in mock distress as he slid his hands down to grasp Blair's hips. "A few hours ... I know what's going to happen. You and the lovely Dr. Lydia Barstowe --"
Blair snorted. "The lovely Dr. Lydia Barstowe is seventy-three years old." He wriggled out of his shirt and turned his attention to Jim's. "I don't mind *our* age difference, but that's a little too much for me."
Ignoring him, Jim went on. " -- The lovely Dr. Lydia Barstowe will get wrapped up talking about scrolls and sentinels, and where will that leave me? Alone in a strange city, wandering around a museum ..."
"Poor old man," Blair whispered sympathetically. "Well, unless all that lonely wandering exhausts you completely, we'll have a few days to ourselves ..." He ran his hand slowly across Jim's smooth chest.
Reaching up to run a finger along Blair's spine, Jim smiled. "Okay. I promise not to chase after any bad guys if you promise to hold off on acting like a grad student for a few days. Maybe we'll even find a spot to watch the eclipse."
"Mmmmm. It's a deal," Blair murmured against Jim's throat. "Besides, what could happen in a museum?"
**Hang around the museum. Look at the exhibits. Soak up some culture .... If I get much more culture, I'm going to turn into yogurt.** Jim wandered over to another display case and looked at another pile of rocks. They didn't look markedly different than the other piles he'd looked at. He did a double take at the sight of a Mountie intently studying a display featuring different types of feldspar, hat tucked neatly beneath his arm, then shrugged and walked out.
Idly whistling a few bars of "The Things We Do For Love," Jim wandered back to the section of the museum with the Egyptian exhibits. He sidestepped to avoid a short, stocky man who was hurrying out the doorway, then walked over to a mummy case. He stopped as he became aware of distant, raised voices -- Blair's among them -- from deep inside the building. "Shit."
Heading for the hallway leading to Dr. Barstowe's private office, Jim was stopped by a uniformed guard. "I'm sorry, sir, but this area is off-limits to the public --"
"Well, I'm not public. I'm a cop." Jim took his Cascade police ID and flashed it at the guard, hoping he wouldn't notice that it wasn't local. "What's going on here?"
"I'm not sure if I can --"
Jim turned as he heard footsteps behind him. The Mountie he'd seen earlier walked over and nodded politely at him. "Excuse me, Luis. Is there a problem?" he asked the guard.
"Hi, Fraser. Afraid it's Wilmer again," the guard said with a helpless shrug.
"Oh, dear." The Mountie pinched the bridge of his nose. "I imagine Dr. Barstowe is quite upset?"
"Oh, yeah ... she doesn't want to call the cops this time, either." The guard looked suspiciously at Jim.
"Oh, forgive me." The Mountie extended his hand to Jim. "Constable Benton Fraser. I'm a deputy liasion officer at the Canadian consulate."
Jim shook the proferred hand. "Detective Jim Ellison. And I've got a friend talking to Barstowe -- Blair Sandburg -- and I'm going back there," he said with a pointed look at the guard.
"Of course. I'll be glad to show him the way, Luis. If you'll follow me ...?" The guard took a step back, and Fraser led the way down the hall. As they walked, he said, "If it's not intruding, Detective, may I ask what precinct you're with?"
"I'm not from around here, actually. I live in Cascade, Washington. A friend of mine is doing some research here, and I came with him."
"Ah. I see ... down this stairway, please."
"You seem to know your way around pretty well," Jim said. He aimed his hearing in Blair's direction again; his voice was lower, but still agitated. Well, at least there probably wasn't any immediate danger. "You work here or something?"
Fraser shook his head. "Oh, no, nothing like that. I attended one of Dr. Barstowe's lectures on anthropomorphism in Egyptian religion, and I've been here several times since to discuss the subject with her."
"Okay. And who's this ... Wilbur guy the guard was talking about?"
"Wilmer, actually, David Wilmer." Fraser was silent for a few moments. "He was one of Dr. Barstowe's most promising students when she was teaching at Northwestern. Unfortunately, he has ... well, he has some problems. I've met him once or twice. He's quite unmistakably brilliant, but he's also ..." he trailed off uncomfortably.
"Nuts?" Jim supplied.
Ben nodded. "That's not the word I would have chosen, but yes. He's quite harmless, though, I assure you." Stopping at a door, he knocked lightly. "Dr. Barstowe?"
"Benton?" Footsteps, and then the door was opened by a frail- looking woman, Blair at her shoulder. "Oh, Benton, I'm so glad to see you." She took the Mountie by the arm and pulled him into her office.
Following him, Jim laid his hand on Blair's shoulder briefly. "So what's up, Chief?"
"Shit, man, you're not going to believe it ..." Blair closed the door behind Jim. "This guy steals a copy of _The Book of the Dead_ dating from about 1350 BC, and she doesn't want to call the cops about it!" He flapped a hand at Dr. Barstowe and hitched himself up to sit on the work table.
Barstowe glared at him. "David would never allow any harm to come to the scrolls, and I'll thank you to sit in a chair like a decent human being." She waited until Blair got off the table, then turned to Fraser. "Benton, you know David. He'll take care of the scrolls, but I'm afraid he might allow harm to come to himself."
"Did he just take the scrolls today?" Fraser asked soothingly. He walked over to the work table and picked up a fragment of a stone tablet. Blair watched him curiously.
"Well ..." Barstowe hesitated, then shot another glare at Blair when the young man made a rude noise and rolled his eyes. "No, Benton, I'm afraid he took the scrolls several weeks ago."
"Oh, dear." Fraser reached up to run his thumb across his eyebrow. "Dr. Barstowe, I'm afraid I have to agree with Mr. -- Sandburg?" He raised a questioning eyebrow at Blair, then went on. "I agree, David wouldn't willingly allow the scrolls to be damaged, but his behavior can be erratic. The proper authorities really should be notified."
Impatiently, Jim broke in. "Look, can we all pretend that I have no idea what we're talking about? What's the deal with these scrolls?"
Finally allowing Fraser to guide her to a chair, Barstowe looked up at Jim. "_The Book of the Dead_. In simple terms, they're a collection of funerary texts intended to be a guide for the souls of the deceased, a way to make sure they will reach paradise. The heart, containing all the sins of the deceased, is weighed against a feather. If the heart is lighter than the feather, the soul will not be damned."
"Yes, and there are some quite fascinating parallels to the Old Testament --" Fraser interrupted himself. "Yes. Well, I suppose that's not entirely relevent. The point is that they are quite valuable, both academically and financially, and I'm not sure if we can rely on David Wilmer to keep them safe."
"You don't understand, Benton. David has -- " Barstowe took off her glasses and looked down at the table. "It's the eclipse tomorrow. He's convinced himself that if if he reads the scrolls at the height of it, then kills himself, he'll absorb all the sins of mankind. If I send the police after him, he'll go underground and we'll never find him," she finished weakly.
Seating himself beside her, Ben took the old woman's hand gently between his. "I understand. I have a friend on the police force, and I'm sure Detective Ellison will be more than happy to help as well."
"I'll what?" Jim demanded in disbelief.
"He's right, man." Blair walked over and put his hand on Jim's arm. "You have no idea how valuable these scrolls are -- we have to find them. And we can't just let this guy kill himself, right? Besides, it's not like it's the first time I helped you track someone down, is it?"
Jim sighed and looked over Blair's head; anything to avoid the puppy-dog expression he could never resist. "Blair, if the guy *does* have mental problems, we can't be sure he's not dangerous." He looked over at Fraser and Barstowe, hoping they'd back him up; finding no help there, he nodded in resignation. "Fine. I know I'm going to regret this, but okay." Blair grinned and started shoving his papers back in their case.
"Thank you, Detective." Barstowe got to her feet and went over to the door. As she opened it, she said to Blair, "I hope your dissertation goes well -- it's a fascinating subject." To Jim and Fraser, she added, "And I suggest you two don't waste any time looking for David. There's no telling what he might do."
As the three walked down the hall, Ben looked at Blair curiously. "So tell me, Mr. Sandburg. You mentioned helping Detective Ellison on previous cases -- is it something to do with your studies?"
"Yeah, kind of --"
Jim interrupted him. "Sandburg is a police observer. He's been with me on a lot of cases."
"Ah. I see." Fraser seemed satisfied with Jim's answer, but Blair gave him a heated "we'll discuss this later" glare.
As they neared the exit, Ben said, "Just let me collect my wolf, and we can be on our way."
Jim and Blair exchanged nervous looks. "You ... own a wolf?" Jim asked carefully.
"Well, no. I believe it's technically illegal to *own* a wolf in Chicago." Adjusting his Stetson as they left the museum, Ben went on, "Diefenbaker simply chooses to stay with me -- I've tried to talk to him about it, but he refuses to discuss it. You know how wolves can get."
"I can imagine ... oh, man." Blair's jaw dropped as a large white animal appeared from the shadows by the main step and trotted calmly up to Fraser. Instinctively, Jim took a half-step forward to stand in front of Blair.
"Dief, this is Mr. Ellison and Mr. Sandburg. Mind your manners around them." The wolf dropped to his haunches and stared inquisitively up at Jim and Blair, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. Turning back to the two men, Fraser said, "He'll probably try to convince you that he's starving so you'll buy him junk food. Don't believe him -- he's adequately fed as it is." He started down the steps, then turned around. "Oh, and I should tell you that he's deaf. If you have anything to say to him, make sure he can watch your mouth while you talk."
"The wolf can read lips?" Jim asked blankly.
"Only when he wants to ... there are usually taxis waiting by the curb." Ben went down the steps, followed by the wolf.
Blair shook his head. "Oh, man, this is getting weird," he breathed.
Jim nodded. "I knew there was a good reason we shouldn't come to Chicago."
"You're sure this friend of yours will help us?" Blair asked as they got out of the cab.
"Oh, yes. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to assist us," Fraser said confidently.
As the three men entered the precinct building, Diefenbaker ran ahead of them. Ben shook his head in exasperation. "Oh, dear ... I'd better go catch him before he makes becomes too much of a pest. Perhaps you should stay here while I find Detective Vecchio. If you'll excuse me ...?" Tucking his hat under his arm, Ben followed the path the wolf had made.
Blair waited until Fraser had disappeared down the hall before he turned on Jim. "Okay, Jim, I'm getting the distinct impression that you don't want them to know about is. Am I right? Because if you ask me, this is a hell of a time to go back in the closet."
"No, help me out here. You're afraid that when we walk into the squadroom, I'll leap into your arms and say, 'hands off, everyone, he's mine'?"
Trying to soothe things over, Jim said, "We've just got to be a little cautious here, all right?"
"Cautious. Okay. Let me see if I've got it. Back in Cascade, where everybody knows us, you don't mind if people know we're lovers. Here in Chicago, where *nobody* knows us, you have a problem with it." Blair pushed his hair back angrily.
"It's more complicated than that."
"I hope so. Because the way I described it, it really sucks." Blair leaned against the wall, scowling.
"Look ..." Jim stood closer, briefly laying his hand on Blair's shoulder to make sure he had his attention. "It's a cop thing --"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh, God. If you start saying that I just wouldn't understand, I swear, and I don't care *who's* watching, I'm really going to be pissed off."
Shaking his head, Jim said, "That's not what I'm trying to say." Blair looked up at him, half hurt, half annoyed, and Jim tried to explain as best he could. "In Cascade, everybody *does* know me. This is different. I can't just walk in, say 'Hi, everybody, homosexual policeman here -- who feels like helping me on a case?' First you've got to prove yourself, then you can *be* yourself."
"I still think it sucks," Blair muttered.
"Probably. That's the way it is."
Blair let out his breath in a gusty sigh. "Okay, that might explain why you don't want the cops here to know. But what about the Mountie?"
"Oh, him." Jim shrugged in dismissal. "He probably doesn't think people have sex, period."
"I don't know -- not with that uniform." Blair leaned around Jim, checking the hallway to make sure the subject of their conversation wasn't coming back.
"What *about* the uniform?"
Blair looked at Jim impatiently, but with a hint of his usual good humor returning. "Oh, come on, man. The high boots, the leather straps -- excuse me, could it *be* any more fetishistic? Maybe I'll jump in *his* arms instead," he finished speculatively.
Trying not to smile, Jim gave Blair a long, level look. "Just how much attention have you been paying to the Mountie, anyway?"
"Why? I mean, if you're right about him, he wouldn't know what to do with me anyway. Besides, I can never resist a man in uniform." Blair decided he'd teased Jim enough and grew serious again. "Okay. I was watching him going over Barstowe's office ... I don't know if you noticed, but the guy was touching everything he could get his hands on. I might want to add him to my list of people with one or more enhanced senses."
"Forget it, Blair." Overriding the younger man's protest, Jim went on. "This thing is complicated enough as it is. We definitely don't need to tell them about the sentinel project."
Blair considered arguing, but after a moment's thought he could see the logic of what Jim was saying. Before he could say anything, a slender, balding man stopped in front of them. "Is this them?" he asked the Mountie, trailing several steps behind.
"Yes, Ray. Dr. Barstowe said --"
"No." Cutting Ben off in mid-sentence, the man gave Jim and Blair a friendly grin. "Sorry. I'm not touching this one." He continued down the hall.
"Ray! ... Excuse me, please. This will just take a minute." Fraser followed the other man, the wolf at his heels.
Jim looked at Blair. "That must be Vecchio."
"Uh-huh. Doesn't sound too convinced, does he?" Blair said uncertainly.
"Not really ... he's probably the only one of us with any brains. Come on, Chief." Heading the way the others had gone, Jim and Blair went down the steps. "Through here." Jim opened a door labelled "Records Room" and went in.
"No, Benny. I know exactly how this is going to turn out. Sure, it'll start out with us looking for the scrolls. But you and I both know what's going to happen. We're going to run across a gang of Cubans trying to smuggle cigars into the country, or a counterfeiting ring, or someone who thinks elves are controlling his thoughts. No offense --" Ray waved a hand in Jim and Blair's direction -- "but my life will be one hell of a lot easier if I just take a pass on this one." He opened a filing cabinet and starting shoving papers inside.
Ben looked at Blair and Jim apologetically. "I understand your concerns, Ray, but I assure you that the situation isn't nearly as bizarre as you seem ... um, Ray. You just filed the Harrison case under 'G'. Elaine will never think to look there."
"What's your point? It'll give her something to do besides feed your wolf." Slamming the drawer shut, Ray went to the door. "So how are you two enjoying Chicago so far?"
"Now that we're out of the museum, it's not bad," Jim said as he followed Ray.
Ray laughed. "Yeah, I can relate to that."
"Wait a minute!" Blair stood in front of Ray and glared at him, outraged. "You're not going to help us, are you?"
"Real quick on the uptake, aren't you?" Sidestepping Blair, Ray turned and looked at Fraser. "Look, Benny. I know this is hard for you to understand, but I have to spend at least a few hours a day doing some actual police work. If this Dr. Barstowe wants to report the scrolls as being stolen, *then* I can do something."
Ben nodded. "Of course, Ray. That's a quite logical position," he said judiciously.
Ray looked at him suspiciously. "Glad you think so."
"Oh, definitely." Ben indicated Jim and Blair with a nod of his head. "I'm sure the three of us are capable of tracking down Mr. Wilmer before he hurts himself."
"Fraser ..." Ray slumped against the wall.
Fraser smiled at his friend. "Oh, it won't be any trouble, I'm sure. And even if we can't recover the scrolls -- which I believe are irreplaceable, aren't they, Mr. Sandburg? -- well. I don't think anyone will mind too much if they're lost."
Throwing his hands in the air, Ray pushed himself away from the wall and went back down the hallway. "Why is this my life?"
Speechlessly, Blair watched him leave. Turning to Ben and Jim, he said, "Okay. *Now* what do we do?"
Ben looked at his watch. "Now we wait. It should only take Ray four or five minutes to retrieve his coat and arrange to be gone the rest of the day."
Jim raised a hand to hide his smile. Blair gaped at Fraser. "You mean that was all some huge guilt trip?" The Mountie shrugged modestly. "Shit, man, you're good."
"Thank you ... but when he comes back, we should give him a chance to calm down a little."
The promised four minutes later, Ray stormed back down the hall. Getting into his long coat, he growled, "Okay, let's get the search and rescue thing out of the way." Without waiting for an answer, he led the way out of the building.
"Damn." Jim stood still as Ray walked over to his car. "A '71 Riviera?"
"Yep." Ray turned around, pleased. "Mint condition," he said as Jim bent down to admire the front grill.
"It's a nice color ..." Blair tried to find something complimentary to say. "It's really ... green."
Ray looked at him expressionlessly. "Just get in."
Shrugging, Blair got into the back seat. Diefenbaker slipped around Ben's legs to sit next to the student. As the others got in, a beeping came from Ray's coat pocket. "Geez, what now?" Taking the cell phone out of his coat as he pulled away from the curb, he said, "Vecchio ... Well, can't you call Tony? I'm kind of tied up right now, Ma ... No, I don't want you to sit in a cold house all day. Yeah, I'll be over in a few minutes."
"The furnace again?" Ben asked sympathetically from the back seat.
"Yeah." He looked over at Jim. "We're going to have to make a side trip -- it shouldn't take long."
"Fine with me."
Blair sat forward and leaned his arms on the front seat. "What about the scrolls? We can't waste any time here, man."
Without looking around, Ray said, "Fine. Tell you what, kid. I'll drop you off at my mother's, and you can explain to her why the furnace isn't fixed. How's that sound to you?"
"Oh ..." Blair sat back. Diefenbaker snuggled into his side, and Blair automatically put an arm around the wolf's neck.
"Okay." The Riv came to a stop in front of a sprawling Victorian house. "This should only take a few minutes, but you might as well come in anyway," Ray said shortly. He looked over his shoulder at Fraser. "Brace yourself, Benny ... looks like Frannie's home." He got out of the car.
Ben took a deep breath. "Oh, dear," he murmured as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Blair and Dief scooted after him. "So who's Frannie?"
Ray grinned at Jim and Blair. "My sister. Don't worry, she's really harmless," he said as he opened the front door. Leading the way into the kitchen, he leaned down to kiss a short, plump woman standing by the stove. "Hi, Ma."
"Hello, Raimondo. Thank you for coming so soon." She smiled at Fraser. "Good afternoon, Benton. Introduce me to your friends, caro," she said calmly to Ray as she went back to stirring something in a heavy skillet. Diefenbaker sat down beside her and looked up eagerly.
"Jim Ellison -- Blair Sandburg. They're in town looking for something. This is my mother, Silvia Vecchio." He took a spoon from the drawer and tasted whatever his mother was stirring. "Needs more pepper. So what time did the furnace go out?"
"Only about half an hour ago ..." Silvia added more pepper to the skillet and looked up as a young woman entered the kitchen at a speed just short of a dead run.
"I was sure I heard you come in, Ben ..." She trailed off as her eyes fell on Jim. "Hi," she said, looking him up and down. "I don't know you."
"No, you don't." Jim looked curiously at Ben, who was trying to blend into the pale blue walls.
Ray put his spoon in the sink. "And you're not going to know him, Fran. He doesn't live here, and he's not staying here, so don't waste your time."
"Well, maybe I can change his mind." Frannie stood as close as possible to Jim and smiled up at him. "You know, there are a lot of great clubs downtown. I know most of the bouncers ..." Blair tried to choke back his laughter.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Frannie --"
"Raimondo ... don't swear." Silvia held out a spoon to Jim. "Here, taste this. Do you think it needs more oregano?"
"Sorry, Ma." Ray grabbed Frannie's arm and pulled her into the living room. Snatching a pear from the basket on the counter, Blair ambled after them. Ben took a napkin from a drawer, murmured something vaguely apologetic to Silvia, and hurried after the others.
Blair looked around the living room eagerly as Ben caught up to him. "When I was an undergrad, I had a prof who said the Italian family was, by any definition, a subculture in and of itself. Strictly defined customs, a common pattern of interaction ..." He sat down on the couch, positioning himself so he could watch Ray arguing with Frannie at the far end of the living room; the siblings aimed matching glances of suspicion at him, then turned their attention back to each other. "Like, the family is almost always nominally patrilineal -- in fact, there's a marked disapproval of men who don't have the proper 'authority' over their family -- but in practice, the familial structure is usually matriarchal in the sense that it's the women who completely control the day to day aspects of life." He took a generous bite of the pear.
Fraser stood next to Blair and handed him the napkin. Keeping his voice low, he said, "Academically, that's a fascinating theory, but you have to keep in mind that the reality of *any* family, no matter how stereotypically ... well, typical, is bound to differ in significant aspects from the textbook ideal. While the Vecchios would be an intriguing case study, I'm not entirely sure if it's fair to pigeonhole them in that way."
Shrugging, Blair turned away from Ray and Frannie. "Oh, yeah, of course you have to take each individual family's idiosyncracies into account. But in a way, don't the peculiarities of the family in question serve to shed light on the similarities between it and others in the subset?"
"That's a very good point." Ben absently sat down in a chair next to the couch. "In fact, it calls to mind an extended Tsimshian family I knew when I was stationed in Alert ..."
"You're sure it tastes all right?"
In the kitchen, Jim tuned out of Blair and Fraser's conversation and gave his full attention to the plate Silvia had just placed in front of him. "Yeah, it's great." To prove the point, Jim took another bite; he decided not to be offended when Silvia beamed and served out a portion for Diefenbaker, still waiting patiently by the stove.
"Would you like some bread?" Not giving Jim a chance to answer, Silvia took a crusty loaf out of the breadbox and started cutting it.
"No, really --" Jim gave up as she put the bread by his plate. In this house, refusing food was apparently a sign of heresy.
"Tell me, Detective. What brings you to Chicago?" Silvia poured herself a cup of coffee and sat across from Jim.
Jim chewed and swallowed. "Blair had to do some research at the Field Museum, so I decided to come with him."
Silvia raised her eyebrows and smiled slightly. "You must be very good friends --" She turned to the door as her children came storming in. Dief looked up dispassionately, then went back to licking his dish clean.
"I'm leaving -- I don't need to listen to this!" Frannie threw the kitchen door open.
Silvia lifted her voice firmly as her daughter stomped to the front door. "Dinner is at six thirty, Francesca. And take a jacket with you, it's getting chilly." Jim heard Frannie mutter something in Italian, yank something soft and heavy out of a closet, and slam the front door behind her.
Also muttering in Italian, Ray pulled a drawer open, took out a screwdriver, and went down in the basement. Dief shook himself and followed. Ben stood at the top of the stairs awkwardly. "I think I'll just ..." he went downstairs.
"You do that, caro." Silvia turned to Blair, who held up the pear core questioningly. "The garbage can is under the sink, dear."
"Thanks." Blair sat down next to Jim and took the fork from the older man's hand, who simply sat back without any sign of objecting. Tasting the pasta, he said, "Hey, this is great."
"Well, thank you." Silvia stood to check the heat under the skillet and shook her head in resignation. **These young people today ... they're all gay. Maybe I should just fix Frannie up with a nice Catholic girl and be done with it.**
Ray reached into the control panel and made a few adjustments. The furnace whirred back into life immediately. "Oh, geez ..." Ray collapsed on a chair. "Just tell me one thing, Benny. One thing and I'll be happy."
Ben picked up a rag and swiped some cobwebs from the furnace. "Of course, Ray. That is, provided I know the answer."
Ray sighed deeply. "How the hell did I get myself into this?" He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Eclipses, Egyptians, some boy genius anthropologist who looks like he's auditioning for the grunge version of 'Hair' ..." Dief whined sympathetically, and Ray glared at the wolf. "Don't try to make nice with me, furball. You're the one who's been sucking up to them all day."
"Don't snap at Diefenbaker, Ray. He was just trying to be friendly. Your mother seems to like them, too," Ben added optimistically.
"Come on, Benny. If Hitler walked into her kitchen, Ma would feed him. She wouldn't use the good china or anything, but ..." Ray rubbed the back of his neck. "How did I let myself get talked into this?"
Automatically, Ben said, "Because you're a good, decent man, and because they need our help." He walked over to the chair and pulled Ray to his feet.
Ray looked at Ben wryly and ran his hands slowly down his chest. "Which, translated from Canadian into American, means I'm a sucker, right?"
"Not quite. But it does mean that I love you." Ben caught Ray's face between his hands and leaned in for a kiss.
Locking his hands around the back of Ben's neck, Ray returned the kiss for a few seconds, then pulled away reluctantly. "Geez, Benny, let's not start anything down here we won't have time to finish, huh?"
"I suppose you're right ..." Ben straightened Ray's shirt and stepped back. "I'm not at all sure if they'd understand why it would take us so long to fix the furnace -- which seems to be running fine now."
"Yeah ... come on, let's go find the crazy guy." Ray started up the stairs.
Ben tugged his tunic back into place. "Actually, Ray, I'm not sure if 'crazy' is really the right way to describe David Wilmer's mental condition. If I understand his symptoms correctly, it's almost certainly a form of schizophrenia, and he would quite probably respond very well to medication ..."
Ray snorted. "Come on, Benny. They guy wants to off himself over something that was written thousands of years ago. That's a pretty good working definition of crazy, if you ask me." Walking back into the kitchen, he nodded at Jim and Blair. "I'm done here." He leaned over to kiss his mother on the cheek. "See you later, Ma -- I'll probably miss dinner. If the furnace goes out again, call Tony or Al, okay?"
"All right, caro." Silvia raised her eyebrows significantly at Ben and tapped her cheek.
Fraser bent down immediately to kiss her as well. "I'll see you soon, Silvia."
"I hope so, caro." She smiled at Blair and Jim as they stood up. "It was nice meeting both of you -- if you have time, I hope you'll come to dinner one night."
"The way you cook, I hope so too," Jim said on his way out the door.
Putting his hat back on, Ben said, "You might want to reconsider that, Mr. Ellison. I believe the rule is once you've eaten three meals here, you're officially part of the family."
"Really?" Blair looked up at him, fascinated.
Ben hesitated. "No. That was a joke."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Just get in the car, okay? Geez." When they were all settled, he said, "Okay, what do we know about this Wilmer?"
"Well, Dr. Barstowe said once that he frequents a mission on Cermak Avenue. Perhaps we should start there," Ben suggested.
Putting the Riv into gear, Ray said, "Great. The sooner we find this guy, the sooner we can forget about him."
"This the place?" Jim looked out of the car window. "Depressing."
"Yeah, most missions are. He looked back at Ben and Blair. "Ellison and I'll go inside to check it out, see if they know where Wilmer is. You two have both seen him, so keep an eye on the street, okay?"
"Of course, Ray."
As they walked into the mission, Jim said, "You mind if I ask you a question, Vecchio?"
"How'd you end up hanging out with a *Mountie*?"
Ray paused, his hand on the door. "I changed my mind ... you can't ask." Pulling the door open, he went on, "This time isn't so bad, actually. It's not like the time I ended up in a dead horse."
"A dead horse?"
"I told you. Don't ask." Ray walked up to the reception desk and took out his badge. "Chicago PD," he said, nodding at the woman at the desk. "We're looking for a man named David Wilmer. He around?" Jim stood a step behind Vecchio, a little impressed at the way the detective managed to imply that he was with the Chicago police as well.
The woman hesitated. "Is he in any kind of trouble?"
"He's not in any *official* trouble. But a friend of his is worried about him, and I told her I'd try to track him down."
"Ummmm ..." Only marginally reassured, the woman bit her lip. "Well, no. He hasn't been around in a few days ..."
Ray leaned his arms on the desk. Quietly, he said, "Look. Wilmer has threatened to kill himself by tomorrow night. I need any information you can give me, all right?"
"Well ..." She looked at Jim, then back at Ray. Reluctantly, she stood up and indicated a doorway. "He left a few things here ... we're keeping an eye on them in case he comes back. Would it help if you looked at them?"
"Yeah, it would." The woman walked over and opened the door, ushering Jim and Ray into a nearly empty dormitory. Several men sat at the far end of the room; they looked up briefly, then returned to their card game.
Jim said, "Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"Nothing definite ... he talks about Grant Park a lot, though." She knelt by a bed in the corner and pulled out a wire basket. "There's not much here, I'm afraid."
Ray sat down on the bed and took a tattered notebook out of the basket. Flipping through it, he glanced up at Jim. "Looks like poetry or something." He set the notebook down and rummaged through Wilmer's other belongings.
Jim looked under the bed. Kneeling down, he pulled a shoe out and examined the sole closely. Digging a bit of dirt out with his fingernail, he brought it close to his eyes. Rolling the dirt between his fingertips, he asked Ray, "Do you know if there's any construction going on in Grant Park ... Vecchio?" Jim looked up curiously when Ray didn't answer.
Ray was staring at him. "So help me God, if you taste that, I'm leaving," he said grimly.
"Sorry. Construction?" Jim brushed the dirt off his hands and stood.
"Yeah ... they started digging a pit for a new reflecting pool a few weeks ago. Why?"
Jim picked up the notebook and leafed through it -- as Ray had said, it looked like poetry. "That dirt's too heavy for topsoil -- it must have come from at least ten feet down."
"Well, it's a place to start." Ray stood and turned to the woman, still hovering anxiously next to the two men. Smiling a little, he said, "I'll let you know as soon as we find him, all right?"
"Thank you ..."
Out in the car, Blair continued grilling Fraser. "So just how much information can you pick up from tasting things?"
"Well, it depends on a number of factors," Ben said. "Now, gunpowder, for example ... I'm sorry, but do you mind if I ask why you're so interested in this subject?"
"Just making conversation ... you want some music?" Blair pointed to the radio.
"Ah. Actually, I'm not entirely sure if that's a good idea ..." Ben looked out the window nervously. "Ray doesn't really care for people touching his car."
"Oh, come on, what's he going to do?" Blair leaned over the seat and turned the key in the ignition. He started fiddling with the dial. "So what's a good station around here?"
"Mr. Sandburg -- Blair -- I really don't think you should be doing that." Ben looked anxiously at the building. "Ray is very, shall we say, protective of his car."
Blair looked at him curiously, then turned off the radio and sat back. "You're kidding. He'd really freak out if I touch anything?" He absently started scratching behind Dief's ears as the wolf wormed into his lap and looked up insipidly.
Ben took a deep breath. "Let's just say that I've learned not to kid about the Riv. Especially since the time I made him blow his first one up."
"You blew it up?" Blair grinned, impressed. "Cool."
Frowning at the wolf, Ben said, "Not really, no ... If Diefenbaker is bothering you, just push him off." The wolf growled and closed his eyes.
"That's okay, he's not bothering me. Is he always this friendly?" Blair buried his hands in the thick white fur.
Ruefully, Ben shook his head. "To people who feed him, yes --" He broke off as Ray and Jim got back into the car.
"Okay, they say this Wilmer hangs out over in Grant Park ..." Ray froze as he reached for the keys. Turning slowly, he stared at Ben, who blushed and looked intensely guilty, and at Blair, who didn't. Conversationally, he said, "So tell me. What part of 'don't touch anything' confused you?"
"What's the big deal?" Blair looked back calmly. "It's not like I took it for a joyride or anything, right?" Jim gave him a sharp look, and he went on more apologetically. "Okay, I'm sorry, it won't happen again."
Finally turning around, Ray muttered, "If it *does* happen again, you're riding in the trunk."
Hurriedly, Ben leaned forward as Ray started the car. "Grant Park ... that makes a certain amount of sense. It's close to the museum, after all."
"Yeah." Looking at Jim, Ray said, "Show them the notebook."
"Hmmm." Ben held it so Blair could see it as well. "_The Book of the Dead_, correct?"
"Yeah." Blair chose a passage at random and read out loud.
"Behold, Thou art ashamed of me, thy son;
Thy heart is full of sorrow and of shame,
For that my sins were grievous in the world,
And proud my wickedness and my transgression.
Oh, be at peace with me, oh, be at peace,
And break the barriers that loom between us ..."
"Wow. Oh, man, we'd better find this guy," Blair said anxiously. I don't think we can wait until tomorrow."
Jim looked across at Ray. "How fast can you get to the park?"
Ray bent down and took his gun out of the leg holster. "The excavation is over here, but I don't know how we're supposed to find this guy in the dark." Diefenbaker looked at him, sniffed the air and took off. "Great. Now we play follow the wolf?"
"If you'd feel better, just follow me." Jim went in the same direction the wolf had taken.
Blair looked reassuringly at Ben and Ray. "Don't worry ... he's got really good night vision."
"Uh-huh," Ray said skeptically.
They made their way to where Jim was standing. Pointing at the pit, he said, "Is that Wilmer?"
Squinting, Ben could barely make out a shape standing at the edge of the pit. "Possibly. I think we can operate on the assumption that it's not likely to be anyone else."
"Right. So do we sneak up on him, or give him some warning?" Blair asked.
"It's hard to say ... considering his mental state, any sudden fright might cause him to do something rash," Ben said uncertainly.
"Then I vote for warning him." Walking forward, Ray called, "Okay, Wilmer. Feel like telling us what's up?" Wilmer jumped and took several steps back from the pit.
Apologetically, Ben looked at Blair and Jim. "Ray tends to favor the direct approach." The three came closer to join Ray, standing about twenty feet away from Wilmer.
Looking from one to another wildly, Wilmer clutched a bundle tightly to his chest. "You can't stop me ... I have to do this. I have to make up for what I've done."
"Fine, fine." Ray put his gun away and took a few steps closer, hands held out to his sides. Stopping a safe distance away, he turned around and said, "If any of you have any ideas ..."
Jim looked at Fraser. "You're the only one who knows him, right?"
Nodding, Ben stepped forward. "David, I'm really not sure if this is the best course of action. Dr. Barstowe is quite worried about you."
Wilmer moved a little closer to the pit. "That's why I have to do this. I disappointed her, and I have to atone. My heart will be as light as a feather. I am pure," he said fervently.
Making his voice as soothing as possible, Ben kept his distance. "Yes, David. You are. And that's why you don't need to do this."
"I am pure," Wilmer repeated, his voice dull. Moving deliberately, he held his arm over the pit and dropped the bundle inside.
"Oh, God!" Blair rushed forward and dropped to his knees as Ben guided Wilmer away from the pit. "Shit, there's water standing at the bottom ..." Before Jim could stop him, he grabbed hold of the scaffolding that had been rigged to support the sides of the pit and swung himself down.
"Sandburg!" Jim knelt down. "What the *hell* do you think you're doing?"
Blair looked up in irritation. "You think after all this, I'm going to let the scrolls get ruined anyway?" He held the bundle up. "Here, get this, would you? I don't want to spend all night down here."
Swearing, Jim reached down for the bundle and shoved it into Ray's hands. He let Blair climb halfway up the scaffold before he stretched down and yanked him up the rest of the way. Clutching Blair tightly in his arms, he hissed, "Damnit, Blair, don't do things like that."
Blair laughed, his voice muffled by Jim's jacket. "What's the big deal here? I jumped off an oil rig for you once, what's ten feet or so?"
Jim realized Ben and Ray were staring at them. Without letting go of Blair, he said, "You got a problem?"
"Not me." Ray shrugged.
Helpfully, Ben said, "There's really no need to feel awkward, Detective, considering Ray's and my relationship ..."
"You mean you guys are lovers? Cool. See, I told you Mounties had sex." Blair grinned up at Ben and Ray. Jim just stared.
Ray looked at Ben sourly. "Would you like to just get business cards printed out so we can hand them out to strangers, avoid the suspense?"
"I'm sorry, Ray ..."
"Hey, I don't see the problem here." Gently disentangling himself from Jim's arms, Blair began swatting dust and dirt from his clothes. "So we're all gay -- what's the big deal?" He looked over at Ben and Ray, who were gaping at him. Schooling his face into his best innocent expression, he glanced briefly at Jim and winked at him before turning his attention back to the other two. "In fact, if all three of you would like a shot at me ..." He let his voice trail off suggestively.
Hurriedly, Ben took a step backwards. "Ahhhh ... no. Thank you very kindly for the offer, but I'm sure that would be *throroughly* inappropriate." He stood at attention and tried to stop blushing.
Ray folded his arms and leaned against a tree. Grinning, he said, "Yeah, like we'd all fit on you, anyway."
"That's it." Jim locked his hand around Blair's arm and pulled him back. "I'm taking you back to the hotel before you get into any more trouble." He nodded at Wilmer, who was clutching the scrolls to his chest and staring blankly into the depths of the pit. "Can you two handle things here?"
"Yeah, sure. We'll just take Eclipse Boy here to the hospital, let them decide what to do with him," Ray said as he fished his cell phone out of his pocket.
"And we'll make sure that the scrolls are returned to the Field Museum," Ben added.
Blair nodded. "Great. Give my regards to Dr. Barstowe." As he and Jim walked away, he added, just loud enough to be sure Ben and Ray would hear him, "I guess it's true what they say ... it really is a cop eat cop world out there." Dief mournfully watched them go, whining softly.
"Well, I'm a little sorry to see them go," Ben said.
"Not me," Ray said as he put away his phone.
"Ah. I'm sorry to hear that."
Ray glared at Ben. "What are you talking about?"
Ben took a deep breath. "When I was at your desk earlier, I looked at the notice you received about the law enforcement conference Lt. Welsh expects you to attend ..."
"And ... Oh, geez. You don't mean ..."
"I'm afraid so, Ray. It's in Cascade."
"Shit." Ray stared into the pit. "Why is this my life," he muttered.
"Oh, I'd be happy to go with you, Ray. We've been talking about taking a vacation anyway ..."
"Don't even think about it, Benny."
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