Title: A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter One
Beta’ed by t_verano I can’t say it enough times, how appreciative I am of all her assistance. Picture by slipperieslope
This is the second arc of A Fair Distance. The first arc,Running on Empty, can also be found at sentinel_epic and at 852 Prospect
There are now three Standalone stories from A Fair Distance
The beginning of this story
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter One
There was a burst of static from Dave Findley’s radio followed by a voice asking calmly, “Findley, this is Dispatch, what’s your 10-20? Over.”
He grabbed the radio, which was lying on the seat of Jim Ellison’s former truck, and replied, “Dispatch, this is Findley and I’m leaving the parkin’ lot of the I-40 truck stop, headin’ back to Sweetwater. What’s the disposition regarding the 10-28 and 10-30 requested at the roadblock on Highway 23? And has Dillon come back from his escort duty yet? Over.”
“Findley, they hit the jackpot at the roadblock.” The voice on the other end of the radio kept to a professional tone, but Dave could hear the excitement behind the words.
“The officers found an opened beer container on the back seat floor in plain sight; they did a search and under the seats was an unlicensed gun, and a rag in a baggie. That rag was soaked in something the labs will have to identify, but Clayton, he took a sniff at the rag -- and he thinks it’s chloroform. There was a shovel and sheets of plastic wrap, duct tape and garbage bags in the back of the jeep. One of the suspects had a capeus filed for not appearing at a court hearing on November 10, and the other one is on parole, so his probation officer will violate him for being in possession of a firearm. Both suspects have been arrested and are being 10-16’ed back to the station. Dillon’s checked back in and is back out on patrol. Over.”
“This is Findley. Signin’ off now. I’ll be back in about an hour and ready to drink a pot of coffee, I’m gettin’ that sleepy. Over.” Findley made sure to answer the dispatcher in his usual laid-back manner, then placed his radio back on the truck seat. His hands gripped the steering wheel like it was somebody’s neck he wanted to be squeezin’. Two somebodies.
Those sons-of-bitches! He took a deep breath and released it and shifted his feelings into the place he’d named ‘not at work.’ He couldn’t afford to let his anger take charge while he was on duty. It was one of the first things he’d learned to do as a police officer.
The city cop’s plan had worked like a charm. Ellison had dangled Blair in front of the suspects for bait, and they had followed Blair while he was a passenger in Ellison’s truck, right to the roadblock. Findley nodded his head thoughtfully as he headed for the parking lot exit. The cops on day shift had set it up so that by the time the men in the vehicle behind Ellison and Blair had seen the police cars, they couldn’t turn around without looking suspicious. Then Findley had switched trucks with Ellison at Miller’s barn, and Dillon had escorted Ellison and Blair to the county line, just to make sure nobody else bothered them.
He took a sip of the large coffee he’d bought himself at the truck stop, and turned onto the Interstate entrance ramp. He was pretty tired; he’d been working since late last night. But he weren’t as wore out as Blair had been all this week, ever since Findley had helped arrest him for driving those drunk kids in that car they’d stolen. He wondered if the boy’d finally told Ellison what was wrong with him. Now that Blair was in protective custody, Findley had included the doctor’s instructions with the paperwork, in case Blair kept bein’ so stubborn about explainin’ the reason for the fevers and feelin’ exhausted. The boy was Ellison’s responsibility now; Findley was pretty sure the detective was going to have his hands full on the trip back to Cascade.
Findley drove down I-40 towards Nashville -- still playing decoy for Jim Ellison. At the truck stop, he’d even introduced himself as Detective Jim Ellison because he wanted any witnesses to report that they’d seen ‘Jim Ellison,’ the big man with the Jags baseball cap, leave in the old blue-and-white classic truck and head west. It was a good thing he and Ellison were both tall. He hoped the clerks would remember him; he’d made a to-do about buying coffee and asking if anybody had seen the curly-headed hitchhiker he’d picked up in Sweetwater. He’d pestered them to call Blair’s name over the PA system, telling the clerks he’d wanted to buy the boy a meal, so they’d remember the name ‘Blair Sandburg.’
When there was no response he’d told them Blair must have gotten a ride east to North Carolina, while he used the restroom earlier. He’d tried to disguise his Tennessee accent as best he could. Jim Ellison was from Washington, and they talked a mite different out there. He’d had his fingers crossed the whole time that he wouldn’t run into anybody who knew him while he’d been plantin’ the false trail. He trusted that if any more gunmen came lookin’ for Blair, they’d be detoured all the way to Charlotte, so Blair’d be safe. For a while, anyway.
Findley saw the next exit coming up and he moved into the exit lane. He planned on taking some back roads to return to Sweetwater. He had to take this truck to Harley’s farm where it would stay hidden for a while in the barn. Ellison was lucky that the Findleys were related to about half the county, since his second cousin had made Ellison a good deal this morning, when they’d driven to Harley’s car lot on the edge of town. Ellison had swapped his 69 Ford truck for the ‘94 Ranger and Harley would hold Ellison’s check, plus keep his mouth shut about the sale for a week.
While he left the Interstate and drove the back roads, he pondered what he’d learned about Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison. He’d met a guide and his sentinel, and it was strange to think of legends he’d heard about when he was a child being real men with real lives and their own troubles.
He yawned and rolled his shoulders, then rolled down the window to let some cold, fresh air blow into this old truck.
Blair was troubled, but he was no troublemaker. He been nothing but cooperative while he’d been housed at the Sweetwater P.D.; all the cops knew after the first night that he’d done nothing wrong in Sweetwater and the charges would be dropped. He’d have been let go that day if it hadn’t been for the order from Cascade to hold him for questioning, which was a tad on the irregular side. Findley had taken a liking to the small, curly-headed drifter, who wouldn’t complain about feeling sick and who’d played an old guitar with a fair amount of skill. He’d been kept the best part of a week in the holding cell, till Ellison had arrived and questioned him about the death of a Cascade woman, the Chancellor of Rainier University, where Blair used to teach as a grad student. Findley had felt that Blair was a good kid and he was pleased when Blair’s alibi had checked out. He’d agreed with Ellison that Blair should be placed in protective custody both to protect him from an attempt on his life and because his testimony was the only link to another suspect, but he’d hated to see Blair taken away against his will. Even if it was for the best.
Findley drank the rest of his coffee as he drove one-handed on the familiar roads. It’d been an interestin’ week dealin’ with the sentinel and guide pair. Blair was a strange one, though, and so was Ellison. When Ellison had met up with his guide at the Sweetwater P.D., the sentinel had gone into some kind of odd state and mauled Blair sexually. Findley and several other cops had pulled his attacker away from Blair. Ellison had stayed in that strange state and only Blair, his guide, had been able to bring him back out of it. A guide and a sentinel – despite all the news stories from Cascade that had made Blair out to be a liar – and he’d witnessed Ellison spirit wandering and Blair cajoling him to return. Blair had put together a wild story about ‘low blood sugar’ and ‘stigmata’ to cover up the fact that Ellison had bit him. Then, unbelievably, he’d managed to have a new stigmata mark show up on the back of his neck, to keep his sentinel from being charged with assault.
He shivered a little, remembering Blair on the interrogation room floor, knees pulled up to his chest, blood soaking through the back of his jail-scrubs. He’d pulled the shirt away from Blair’s skin and seen the angry looking, bloody bite. He’d reviewed the security tape later, after Blair’s injury had been seen to, and the boy’d been alone the whole time, sitting quietly on the floor. Blair had dealings with the mysteries, it seemed. So had Heart-Soul, according to grandpa’s stories.
The way that Ellison and Blair had acted, plus the background research Findley’d done on Blair’s past, had helped forge the connection to the stories he’d heard since childhood about the Cherokee sentinel and guide who’d saved most of the town’s ancestors.
Findley’d initially considered Ellison’s behavior as abusive, but he’d changed his mind as he coaxed the truth out of the sleeping guide and challenged the sentinel about his actions. He shook his head slightly, remembering how Ellison had resisted coming clean with him. He could see why – the man had two secrets he was keeping: the gay-love he’d had for Blair and being a sentinel – but Findley’d needed to know what really was going on between the sweet-natured small drifter and the big, tough cop. Although Blair’d lost some of that sweetness when Ellison had prodded at him during his interrogation about the Edwards murder; he’d yelled at Ellison and was certainly not afraid to tick off the man.
Still, he’d seen with his own eyes Ellison pinning Blair to the wall, and the driving, sexual hunger in the otherwise blank expression on Ellison’s face, and he couldn’t in all conscience turn Blair over to a man who looked likely to rape him, at least. He’d worked enough domestic violence calls to know the extent of harm a person could do to somebody they said they cared about.
The truthfulness Ellison had finally shown about bein’ a sentinel and Blair’s lover had removed most of Findley’s doubts concernin’ Blair’s safety with the Cascade detective. The old stories had said that the bond between the Protectors such as Agateno-Dikata, Scout-Eyes, and his Adonvdo, Heart-Soul, was lovin’ and protective of each other. He’d given Blair one last chance to say if Ellison was abusive and again the boy’d denied it, even though he’d been angry and resisting being placed in protective custody at the time.
Ellison had said Blair’d fight the custody, that he’d think he could keep himself safe from whoever had ordered the hit on him and keep away from anyone out to kill him. Findley shook his head when he thought about Blair’s behavior earlier today.
He’d thought after Blair’s initial protest, the boy’d see reason and not kick up much of a fuss about having to go back to Cascade. After all, he didn’t have a job, and the money he had wouldn’t go far. And Findley knew Blair’s secret wish to be able to go back home to Cascade. He’d hated to cuff and shackle Blair, but there’d been no time for letting Blair ponder about agreeing to protective custody. He guessed he hadn’t really seen the stubborn side of Blair before, except when it had been about the doctoring he’d been given.
At least they’d caught the men who had planned on killin’ Blair, slick as could be, after Ellison overheard with his sentinel hearing the killers planning to rape and murder Blair. Handy thing to have, those extra-fine senses of his, although they could have their drawbacks, according to what Great-Great-Aunt Nettie’d written in her family history about Protectors, and what his own grandpa, her nephew, had always told the young’uns at Homecoming every Fourth of July.
Findley smiled as he remembered the hot summer holidays where every year he’d heard the old stories passed down through the generations.
Grandpa would gather his grandchildren, the great-nephews and nieces, and all the cousins’ kids and grandkids together after the food was packed up. Before the fireworks started, he would sit them all down in front of him, looking over the assorted blond, brown, black, and red haired young’uns; then his voice would thunder out, askin’ if they knew what blood ran in their veins. Every kid there knew the answer to that question. It was a ritual Grandpa had every Homecoming.
“Tsalagi,” everyone would shout. Cherokee.
Then Grandpa would tell the ‘Legend of the Cedar Tree,’ reminding the young’uns that the tree was special to the Cherokee. He’d pass out small cedar wood animals that he’d whittled for the little ones to take home. He’d tell other legends, too, like ‘Why the Possum’s Tail is Bare,’ which always made the kids giggle and laugh.
He always saved for last the story of how the ancestors had tricked the soldiers sent to take the Cherokee to Oklahoma. He’d say that the Tsalagi of old, had Protectors of the tribe. And here, when the Cherokee were in danger of havin’ to walk the Trail of Tears, Scout-Eyes and his Heart-Soul had saved the People by learnin’ of the soldiers’ tactics before they could capture the families that lived in the farmlands. Scout-Eyes listened from far away and cast his eyesight beyond what any man could see to steal away the soldier’s plans. Heart-Soul, closer to him than a brother, and who was ‘u,’ strong of heart for Scout-Eyes, would wrap his arms about Agateno-Dikata – Scout-Eyes – and then Heart-soul would speak soft words to Scout-Eyes, to keep his spirit from wandering away while his senses ranged from his body.
Together, they warned the families to flee to the mountains, and Adonvdo – Heart-Soul -- convinced the reluctant ones because his power of speech was strong, and his care of their people well known among the Tsalagi. He was also said to have mysterious powers of the spirit, which helped him to persuade the Tsalagi to hide.
The soldiers searched the mountains, but never could they catch the People, for the Protectors kept watch on the soldiers’ camps, listen’ to their words, and would send warnings when the people needed to change their hiding places. When the Protectors told them it was safe to return, the People did so, and in thanks to Agateno-Dikata and Adonvdo, promised to teach each new generation of the ways of the Protectors.
Grandpa had always ended the tale by sayin’ that Protectors were honorable people and that perhaps one day, some of the children listenin’ would be like Scout-Eyes and Heart-Soul. ‘Course, the kids would play at being them, but Findley’d never thought about meeting Protectors in today’s times. Cousin John was the one who now told the stories at Homecoming, since Grandpa’d passed on.
Well, today’s Protectors were on their way to the West Coast. Ellison had a plan to stay incognito and under the radar while they traveled to Cascade. He had Findley’s cell phone and using it shouldn’t alert anybody to the two men’s whereabouts. Ellison had swapped his blank check for Findley’s cash, so he wouldn’t have to use his credit card, although Findley would hold onto the check till it was safe to cash it. Findley’d arranged where they’d sleep the first night by using his credit card, but again, that shouldn’t reveal their location to whoever had set up the hit on Blair.
Findley was worried some about Blair; the boy’d had mixed feelings about his sentinel. He’d been like a little wildcat when Ellison told him he was in protective custody; he’d had to be restrained, till he wore himself plumb out. Still, Findley knew Blair loved Ellison. And Ellison had ended up talkin’ about Blair while picking up supplies for their trip. He’d said he was goin’ to try and patch things up with the boy. Findley supposed they were in for some interestin’ conversation as they drove back to Cascade. He’d be in touch with them off and on, till they reached Cascade, but he didn’t believe he’d ever see the Sentinel and Guide again.
I was worried that Blair was still so quiet; it just wasn’t his natural state. It’d been hours since we left Sweetwater and he just sat slumped in the seat of my new truck. I’d given him apple juice and water, and a yogurt drink; he’d left them all on the seat unopened. I’d tried to buy him food more appetizing then the crap they’d served him in jail. He wouldn’t answer me when I tried to ask him questions; just kept his eyes shut, for the most part. I wished he would go to sleep; he seemed so exhausted, but he was awake.
We were headed for Patoka Lake, Indiana, and maybe an hour away from the little cabin that Findley had rented for us. It was unlikely that we’d be spotted at a Motel Six or Holiday Inn, but I was being careful. I didn’t know how much hacker capability our unknown enemy had, and I didn’t want him checking national motels databases. And with Blair still in cuffs and shackles, I wanted to stay away from populated areas and crowded motels. With this out-of-season cabin we might not even have to check in. It was paid for already, and I intended to call and see if they’d leave the key hidden by the cabin.
I had a cooler full of food and drinks, and a few new clothes for Blair, plus a couple of extra blankets, one of which I’d laid over him during the drive. He’d drawn it up to his chin, but never said thanks or even grunted. About an hour ago he started running a low-grade fever again; I could feel his skin heating up.
I’d looked through Blair’s backpack while he was being processed out of jail back in Sweetwater. He didn’t have much with him: an extra pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, some boxers and socks. There was a heavy, hooded sweatshirt, its cuffs frayed and worn, which he’d put on in the police station, but no coat, no gloves. He had his notebook journal, a pen, his reading glasses, a bandana and a used paperback anthropology book. The book was cheap, only fifty cents, and old, and it must have felt comforting to Blair to re-read Coming of Age in Samoa. He had a harmonica with him, too; I never knew he could play anything other than the guitar. I’d confiscated his Swiss army knife, and slipped it into my own pocket. Until he promised to be good, I wasn’t leaving anything accessible that he could use as a tool to ditch the handcuffs.
I’d thumbed through his wallet; he had several hundred dollars with him, which wasn’t going to take him far. He had his CDL license and his welder’s certification card. His blue-collar credentials. The smartest guy I knew and the best he could do now was driving a truck or welding. Before, if I’d said that to him, he’d probably have given me a lecture about assuming people who chose blue-collar work didn’t have intellectual abilities and desires. Probably quote me some passages from ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ or some other philosophical book. I’d like that. I don’t like what he’s doing now, this withdrawing into himself.
He also had a picture of us taken during a fishing trip and one just of me, smiling at something. Something which had been him. I’d remembered when he’d snapped that photograph; I didn’t know he’d took it with him when he left Cascade. And I’d found something else he’d chosen to keep, even though he’d gotten rid of so many of the bracelets and necklaces he’d loved to wear.
My necklace. The silver star one. The necklace I’d given him one Christmas, to show him how I felt about him being my guide. I’d called him my lodestar. My guiding star. And I couldn’t keep my hands off of him that day we’d walked on the beach, down at Deception Pass State Park. I’d hugged him and held his hand and snugged him up next to me while we walked back to the truck in the dark. I’d been attracted to him since I met him in his office, but I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I would someday take him to bed. I had been orbiting him, just waiting for gravity to pull us together. He’d kept my gift to him, and I had to believe that at some level he wanted us to be together again.
I looked over at Blair because he’d shifted in his seat, but he was now staring straight ahead. He moistened his lips with his tongue and uttered the first words he’d said since being hoisted into this truck hours ago.
“I have to pee.”
I nodded that I’d heard him, but then I realized he hadn’t seen me. Sighing, I said, “Blair, please look at me. I’ve really had enough of the silent treatment and you pretending I don’t exist; I’m sorry six ways to Sunday that I fucked up with you. What do I need to do to get back in your good graces?”
Blair looked dully at me, then pulled the blanket down and raised his handcuffed hands from off his lap as an answer.
“Are you ready to promise you’ll stay in protective custody with me, no tricks, no trying to get away? You’ll accept that for now you need police protection, and not try and handle hit men on your own?”
Blair didn’t answer me, but he dropped his hands back into his lap.
I sighed again. I knew going into this that Sandburg would be a pain in the ass. “I’m guessing that means no. All right, Chief. With you cuffed, going to a gas station would be tricky. I don’t want to leave any sort of trail that could be picked up and me escorting a prisoner to the bathroom might be something people would remember. And I’m not going to uncuff you without your promise. You’re too damned clever about getting out of custody. Joel still talks about how you bamboozled him when he tells his war-stories.” I rubbed my forehead as I figured out how to take care of his needs without compromising the mission.
“I need gas anyway; I’ll see if I can find a station with the bathrooms on the outside of the building. If not, I’ll find you a tree to water next to a side road.”
I got gas, but wasn’t able to let Blair use the bathroom there, and all the other stations we’d passed also had indoor restrooms. I turned off the Interstate towards our cabin for the night and looked for a place to pull off. He still wasn’t communicating with me, and I wondered how to break through to him.
After I’d parked, I went around to Blair’s side of the truck. He’d awkwardly managed to undo his seat belt, and after I opened the door, he scooted off the seat, his feet hitting the ground a little unsteadily. I took his arm and escorted him to the edge of the woodlot and around a large maple tree, which still had a few of its orange-red leaves. But they wouldn’t be clinging to the tree for long; a storm was coming up pretty fast and the wind was rising.
“Need help, Chief?”
Blair shook his head no, and slowly got his zipper down and his dick out. I shrugged and got my own dick out, and said to him, “Bet I can piss farther than you, Chief.”
It was there and then gone again, but I’d seen a grin flash across his face. And with this brief glimpse of my Blair back, I felt more hopeful that I could turn my fuck-ups around, that Blair’d forgive me, and we could have a second chance together.
‘Legend of the Cedar Tree’
‘Why the Possum’s Tail is Bare’
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Two