Blair Sandburg let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding before opening the door to a large room. It was set up like an ordinary conference room, with small, round tables scattered around and a large, rectangular table dominating the end closest to the door. He smiled and nodded at two women who sat at one of the round tables, ignored the other occupants, and strode toward the table where Lillian Kirby sat. She rose and they gave each other a brief hug, then sat down. He gave her a nervous smile, and she patted his hand reassuringly.
Before they could speak, the door opened and a stenographer set up her equipment next to the large table and sat. Moments later, a uniformed man entered and everyone else stood up. The man read from a paper. "In the cases of Sandburg vs Brad Ventriss, Sandburg vs Norman Ventriss and Nadine, Sandburg vs Rainier University, Oldham and Edwards, Gordon vs Brad Ventriss, Gordon vs Nadine, and Gordon vs Rainier and Oldham, everyone rise and come to order. This is a closed hearing. The Honorable Judge Margaret Marcona presiding."
Judge Marcona entered and sat at the large table. "You may all be seated," she said. As everyone took their seats, she scanned the room and continued. "Let the record show the following people are present: Blair Sandburg and counsel Lillian Kirby, Jill Gordon and counsel Charlotte Smyth, Norman Ventriss and counsel Mark Evans, Henry Nadine and counsel Stephen Cooper, Sidney Oldham, Marie Edwards and Jonathan Perkins and counsel Katherine Rumsford. Let the record also show that Mr. Evans is representing Bradley Ventriss in absentia and that Doctor Jonathan Perkins, who is President of Rainier University, represents Rainier in these proceedings."
Judge Marcona pulled out a stack of papers. "To sum up, this is a court of arbitration. There is a proposal, which has been accepted by all parties, to have these suits arbitrated and that everyone will abide by my decisions to avoid long and costly civil trials. Is that correct?"
Every person affirmed their agreement. "There is a proposal by the defendants and agreed to by the plaintiffs to limit damages to one million dollars per suit. Finally, there is a proposal by the plaintiffs and agreed to by the defendants that, once these suits are decided, there's an end to it. No one here can pursue further legal proceedings against any other named plaintiff or defendant for anything that has happened previous to these rulings. Is that correct?" Again, there was unanimous concurrence.
Judge Marcona nodded. "All right, then. I've listened to testimony from everyone here, as well as from Rainier Campus Police, Cascade Police, Richard Feldman, Michael Silver and John Gordon, Jill Gordon's father." The judge placed her hand on the stack of papers. "Copies of these transcripts have been given to all counsel. Here are my findings." She looked at every person in the room, then put on glasses and consulted a paper.
"In the matter of Blair Sandburg vs Bradley Ventriss, seeking actual and punitive damages for ordering a felonious assault and battery on Mr. Sandburg on October 12 last, we find in favor of the plaintiff. Mr. Michael Silver's sworn testimony that he committed said battery at the direction of Bradley Ventriss is clear and uncontested. Since Mr. Ventriss is currently serving a life sentence for murder, there is no way for him to make amends other than monetarily. My understanding is that Mr. Ventriss has a trust fund, which has been frozen while his victims are making claims. I award Mr. Sandburg $250,000.00 in actual and punitive damages to be paid from that fund.
"In the matter of Jill Gordon vs Bradley Ventriss, seeking actual and punitive damages for being drugged and raped by Mr. Ventriss and subsequently being harassed and threatened to keep silent about the rape, I find in favor of the plaintiff. Despite Ms. Gordon recanting her original accusation, there was DNA and toxicology evidence to tie Mr. Ventriss to the crime. I award Ms. Gordon $1,000,000.00 in actual and punitive damages to be paid from the same trust fund."
There was a murmur among the group, with Jill wiping away some tears. Judge Marcona waited a minute before continuing. "In the matter of Blair Sandburg vs Norman Ventriss and Henry Nadine, seeking actual and punitive damages in that they conspired with Rainier personnel to dissuade Mr. Sandburg from filing an ethics code violation against Bradley Ventriss and to give Mr. Bradley Ventriss preferential treatment, I find in favor of the plaintiff as to Mr. Norman Ventriss. I award actual damages of $5,000.00 and punitive damages of $50,000.00. I'm dismissing the case against Mr. Nadine for lack of evidence. Since this case is being handled in camera, I'm not awarding Mr. Nadine any damages from Mr. Sandburg for filing the suit.
"In the matter of Blair Sandburg vs Rainier University, Dr. Sidney Oldham and Chancellor Marie Edwards, seeking actual and punitive damages for terminating his contract without proper procedure, for ignoring his report regarding the Gordon rape allegations and threats to his person by Bradley Ventriss, for pressuring him to ignore code violations and grading standards, and for not providing a safe and supportive environment for students and personnel, I find in favor of the plaintiff. I understand that President Perkins has something to say."
Perkins looked at Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, this suit has caused me to get more involved in the workings of Rainier than I have in the past. Obviously, it was necessary. As a result, I'm employing an outside watchdog agency to review your complaints, and to encourage others to come forward. They will also review how we fundraise. Dr. Oldham has been removed as Anthropology Head, has lost his tenure and will be on probationary status for the next year. Chancellor Edwards is being replaced and will no longer be associated with Rainier." Both Oldham and Edwards stayed silent during Perkins' pronouncements. "You were restored to your position shortly after Mr. Ventriss was arrested, so I know you don't have any actual monetary damages. I understand that in lieu of punitive damages, you'd prefer that the University set up a fund to help victims and to create sensitivity training."
Blair nodded and turned to Judge Marcona. "That's correct, Your Honor. I've enjoyed a good relationship with Rainier. If they can fix these gaps in their system and help correct damage already done, I'm satisfied."
Judge Marcona said, "Since it's the desire of the plaintiff to receive no personal monetary damages, it is my ruling that Rainier University will set up a fund as stated. If Ms. Kirby and Ms. Rumsford can work out the details and forward the final agreement to the court?" Both lawyers gave their assent. "Very well, let's continue."
Jill received judgements from Rainier and Henry Nadine. Rainier was ordered to $50,000.00 for mishandling her claim and they additionally agreed to fund her psychological counseling. Nadine was ordered to pay her $25,000.00 in punitive damages for his part in pressuring her to recant her accusations against Brad by firing her father from his company.
Outside the courtroom, Blair held out his hand to Jill, who took it shyly. "Thank you, Mr. Sandburg, for everything."
"Please, Jill, I'm not your teacher any longer. Call me Blair. Good luck, and give Rick a chance. He really does love you." She nodded and left.
"I don't understand," Simon said as he looked at the credentials Blair handed him.
Blair looked at the observer's pass that he'd worn for almost four years. "Pretty self-explanatory, I would think. I'm handing it in. I won't be working with Jim or the PD any longer, effective immediately."
"Your actions during the Ventriss investigation made me realize a few things." Blair looked directly at Simon. "When you threatened to terminate my credentials because I filed a code violation with Rainier, which I had every right and duty to do, I realized how tenuous my position is here. It didn't matter to you how much I'd been contributing to the department, something you acknowledged after Roy Williams' death."
Simon started to speak, but Blair held up a hand. "As things stand, I serve at your whim, or Jim's. I'm not willing to risk life and limb to do that any longer. I've thought this through and that's my decision. Thank you for the past support you've given me, especially in helping Jim. And thank you for helping me get my doctorate."
"You turned in the sentinel paper? Jim didn't say."
"No, I wrote my thesis on my observations here." Blair gave Simon a faint smile. "Ironically, I guess you could say it ended up being about the 'thin blue line'. In any case, I received my degree in Forensic Anthropology. I've had offers from several police departments which I'm considering."
Flabbergasted, Simon could only say, "But… what about Jim?"
"Jim will be fine. He's got control of his senses and hasn't zoned for years. I helped him innovate, but he can use them competently without me underfoot." Blair held out his hand, which a still stunned Simon shook. "Goodbye, Simon. Please pass on my regards to everyone in the department. I really have learned a lot through my experiences here." With that, Blair walked out of Simon's office and the PD.
"Why?" Jim asked, equal shares of anger and confusion in his question.
Blair stopped packing and looked at his friend. "It's time, Jim. For any number of reasons. I'm done."
"I think I deserve to know these reasons. After all these years together, you owe me that much."
"I just finished winning cases against Brad and Norman Ventriss, Rainier University and Chancellor Edwards for everything that went down during the time when they were throwing their weight around. I was vindicated, which makes your attitude and actions toward me during that case seem all the more insensitive."
Blair sighed. "Jim, I thought I was your friend, but you gave me less consideration than you would a witness off the street. When Brad's goons beat me, you immediately assumed it was a jealous boyfriend. You considered, and by the way have always considered, my work and opinions less important than yours."
"That's not true," Jim said, even as he wondered whether his protest was accurate.
"Perhaps in your mind, and maybe I'm not seeing things clearly, but I've reached the end of my rope." Blair looked at Jim sadly. "Things haven't been the same... since Alex." Jim clenched his jaw and looked away. Blair touched his arm. "Jim, I died. For better or worse, you brought me back, but it changed me. If you don't want to explore what that means, okay. But I can't continue like we did before. I have to follow my own path."
Jim stared out the balcony windows. "And where does that go?"
"For now, Borneo. Dr. Stoddard is going back, and this time I'm accepting his offer. When I return, I'll decide whether to stay in academia or pursue something else."
"And what about us?"
"Right now, I'm not seeing any 'us'. I hope we still have a friendship, but all I see is we're getting on each other's nerves. I think we both need this space." Blair hesitated before continuing. "For a while now, I've noticed that you make snide comments about my dating habits."
"What are you talking about? I do no such thing."
"Really? Do the words 'table leg' ring a bell? Calling my love life a train wreck?"
"Well, it is."
"I don't agree, but even if that's so, it's none of your business. Maybe you need to think about why you're so interested."
"What does that mean?" Jim asked, bristling.
"You need to figure that one out. I'm not a mind reader and I don't have the energy to try to pull it out of you. Maybe by the time I come back, you'll have the answer." Blair shrugged. "Or maybe not."
There was a knock on the door. "The movers are here," Blair said, as he let them in. In less than an hour, they'd moved Blair's possessions from the loft.
Blair handed a metal box to Jim. "Here's a hard copy of all my sentinel research and an electronic copy as well. I've also put a check for back rent in there. There will be no way to reach me directly, but you can send a message through Rainier. I'll contact you when I get back, unless you send word not to.
"Thank you, for all that you've shared, for opening my eyes to a different world and for giving me a home when I needed one. I have so many wonderful memories of these last years. They definitely outweigh the bad ones. I hope you feel the same."
Blair reached out and hugged the man he'd considered his best friend. Jim could only return the hug helplessly. With a soft "take care of yourself, Chief," Jim let go and watched Blair hoist his backpack and walk out the door.