The Burn

By Suisan "Sue" R.

The uncharacteristically raised voice pouring through the open door of the Captain's office draws those of us in the bullpen closer either in concern or just plain curiosity. We've all seen her temper, but Connor has never lost it like this in front of the entire shift.

"When was the last time that you, or any of us, actually told Sandy how much we appreciate his assistance? Thanked him for helping close a case with his unique outlook? That 'kid' has more guts than any ten officers I know back home, and from what I've seen here? He puts most of us to shame as well. He may not have a badge or carry a gun, but Sandy has been a vital part of the department since long before I showed up. Bloody hell, he even helped me the very first day we met! And every time he has helped me, I have made it a point to say 'thank you' and mean it. When was the last time you did that, Captain?"

Ouch. Well, that's the truth. How many times have H or I asked Blair's opinion on a case we were working? Did we ever truly thank the man? I get rudely pushed aside by a speeding Aussie, only to have H catch me before I fall flat on my face. I look around for Megan, but the Inspector's already out of the bullpen and disappearing through the door to the stairwell. Nodding my thanks to my partner, I gather up my courage, straighten my tie, and approach the lion's den. Rapping twice on the doorframe, I poke my head in the open doorway. "Captain?"

The boss looks up, his face creased with worry lines that weren't there yesterday, and gestures for me to enter his office. "Come on in, Rafe. And close the door, will you?" He even sounds tired.

Softly closing the glass windowed door, I step warily deeper into the room. "Captain, I, we, couldn't help but overhear Connor. Is Sandburg okay?"

"I haven't a clue. Jim's not going to be much help either for a few days." He's reaching into his desk, pulling out that plastic cigar holder that Daryl got him a few years ago. The signs are obvious. Something is up and possibly wrong between the department's lieutenant and his 'unofficial' partner. And what ever it is, Captain Banks and Megan Connor are in the middle of it.

"Sir? It may be none of my business, but is there some way I can help?" I let the sentence, the offer, dangle in the air. Joel, Brown and I had been called out to Jim's place to go over the apartment with a fine toothed comb, and the random placement of shipping boxes, the blood on the floor near the couch and the two empty bottles of liquor had disturbed us all. Joel most of all, I think, since he and Jim had just come off a very difficult case.

"Maybe. What did you and the others turn up in your assessment of Ellison's place?" He's lighting up the cigar in direct violation of the new city building codes, but who gives a crap? The Captain really looks like he needs the smoke.

I slip my notebook out of my coat pocket, flipping it open to the pages where I wrote everything down. "Not too much, sir. There were about twenty boxes stacked near the door, all labeled with shipping tags in Sandburg's writing. Blood on the floor and carpet near the couch, where I believe Connor found Jim?" He nods, confirming my guess. "Two bottles of liquor, one empty in Sandburg's room and one open, half empty bottle on the coffee table. We bagged and tagged those for the lab, just in case…" I don't want to say it, but the Ventriss and Nadine families are rather influential and probably mad as hell at Jim, Joel and Sandburg. There is a slight chance that the disappearance of Sandburg is tied to that. I just hope it's not.

"Don't bother." He sighs as he exhales the blue, aromatic smoke and leans back in his chair. "The bottle of Jack Daniels was Sandburg's. The scotch was, is, Jim's and this goes no further than you, Rafe. Well, you, Brown and Taggart, who I'm assuming are going to ask you about this talk of ours. I trust you to use your best judgment." I'm stunned. How did he know that H would probably corner me? And why does he look like he's about to spit poison? "Jim's in the hospital, Cas-Gen, suffering from a close call with alcohol poisoning. Self-inflicted."

"What?!" I step backwards, nearly falling over the chair behind my knees. The idea that Ellison--

"Keep your voice down, Rafe," He snaps at me while gesturing for me to sit in the chair I'm trying to dance with. "I'll fill you in to the best of my ability about what went on this morning, but, like I told Connor, it's up to Ellison and Sandburg to work this out. If they can…"


I thought about
Leaving -- but I couldn't even get out of bed
Hitchin' -- but I couldn't get a ride out of town
Now anyone who really wanted me to be down
Come 'round

The song is like an insipid, annoying buzz in the back of my mind as I drive home. My God. He did it. Left. Not just Cascade and the University, but Jim, and broke up one of the best partnerships I've ever seen. Hopped into a truck and departed, leaving behind everything. Friends. Family. His doctorate. Everything. I can't believe it.

Pulling into the parking area near my apartment building, I slip into a parking space, turn off the engine and just sit there. Alone. Thinking.

How many times have I thought about doing the same thing? Hell, I even did it once. Years ago, when I left Johannesburg. Byron Rafe von Rij ceased to exist when I landed in the United States at age 18. I had asked for, and received, political asylum because the leaders of the South African government had found out, and strongly disapproved of my family's activities in the antiapartheid movement. The evening of the raid, I had sneaked out to a friend's house and was somehow missed in the search that followed my parents' arrest that dark night. The last I saw of my family, my father, mother, and little Loeine, was them being loaded up into the back of a truck and hauled away as our home started to burn.

I lean my forehead against the steering wheel, trying to banish the dark memories. The daily panic that any day I'd be found and hauled away. The friend who had helped me hide for weeks after my life fell apart was the son of an American Embassy attaché. It was through his father and his contacts with the US State Department that that I was able to get out of the country and gain entry into the US. But I was no longer Byron von Rij. He had died in the "tragic house fire" that had laid waste to the home he'd been born in. In his place, Brian Rafe stood. Me.

Thought about singin' -- but couldn't remember all of the words
Breakin' -- but I couldn't get the pieces apart
Laughin' -- never knowing what the joke was about

Shaking my head, I dispel the gloom encompassing my mind. I go through the motions, getting out of my Toyota, checking my mail, greeting my neighbors with my normal cheerful 'hello' and enter my home. Dropping the mail on to a side table, I kneel down to scoop Otho into my arms and listen to his rumbling purr as he greets me in return.

"Otho, I can't let Blair do this. It's a mistake. Unlike me, he's got family here, whether he knows it or not. I lost everything in one night. I have to help him, let him see that he's throwing away an opportunity that he can ill afford to." My solid white Persian bumps his nose against mine, as if agreeing with me, his pale blue eyes locked onto mine. "You agree, don't you, fella?"

"Mrrrrrowrrrre"

Hmurph. I'll take that as a 'yes.' Standing up, I try to brush off the worst part of the shed fur and make my way towards the kitchen, priorities in order. Feed Otho, then myself, and then I can call Megan and offer my assistance in locating Blair. Gee, is that a stomach virus I feel coming on?


Now I'm down
And I wonder how I never got the burn
And if I'm ever gonna learn
How lonely people make a life
One stain at a time

Megan didn't know exactly where to start when I called her, so I invited her to meet me at the 66 Truck Stop, just off Interstate 5 on the south end of town. We're armed with more than just our badges and guns, we have a couple of pictures of Sandburg (borrowed from the loft that he and Jim called home) and a description of the truck that had picked him up. The truck stop is huge, so we split up. Better to cover more ground this way and start asking about Sandburg or the purple 18-wheeler.

"You looking for Owen?" The voice is rough, but female, and I turn around to see a woman who is built like a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. "I heard you asking about his truck…"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that I'm looking for Owen - if he owns a huge, purple 18-wheeler." Her dark hair is cut so short that I suddenly feel like I need a trim, and her deep brown eyes seem to stare right through me.

"That sounds like Owen's truck." Those eyes harden and turn suspicious. "What do you want with the old coyote? And don't lie to me, I know you're a cop."

Sighing, I reach for my ID and show it to her, "Yeah, I'm a detective, and all I want from 'Owen' is the location of this man." I hold up the photograph of Blair to show her.

"Oh, that's his new partner. A nephew I think he said. Is *he* the one who's in trouble with the cops?"

"No, no. I'm a friend and, well, I'm concerned about him. He left suddenly and I want to make sure he's okay."

"He seemed just fine, a little hungover, but otherwise okay." She glances at her watch on her right wrist, "Shit. Gotta run or I'll be late to pick up my next haul upstate."

"Wait!" She turns back to me. "What's Owen's last name and do you know where his home base is?"

"It's Sandburg and somewhere in Texas. See ya, sugar!"


Forgot about everything
And everyone I needed before
Tryin' to get a handle on a reason to shine
Pickin' up the pieces that are falling behind
Takes time…

"H, just cover for me, will you?"

"Sure, Brian. You know I will, but I gotta ask… Why?"

Shit, he would ask. I'm trying to stuff the last few items I've decided I need to take on this little trip of mine into an already overstuffed overnight bag. "Look, you and I both know that Connor's never been out of the state on a road trip, and, well, she's decided to try to chase Sandburg down, if only to talk to him." With a sigh of relief, I zip the bag closed and throw it towards the door where it lands with a soft thud.

"And you're the one that's going to keep her from getting lost?" I smile for the first time in the last ten hours as Brown's chuckle echoes over the phone line. "Fine, you're covered. Stomach flu, right?"

"Yeah, I figure that's best since a full quarter of the department seems to be down with it."

"Right. And Otho, he's covered?"

"Yeah, one of my neighbors will check on him while I'm gone."

"Good. I know you love the little guy, but he's a fur factory. Never knew a cat could shed that much fur without ending up bald." I check my watch. Only two more hours before I'm to meet Megan at her place and I have at least one more chore to perform before doing that.

"Look, H, I need to finish getting ready. I'll call you at home if Megan or I can find out anything."

"'Kay. Just be careful, will you? Hairboy's a trouble magnet and you know what that means." He doesn't give me a chance to answer, hanging up before I can even form a coherent thought. Placing the handset back in the cradle, I pause to stroke Otho one last time as I head for the door. "Otho, you behave for Stacie. She'll come over once or twice a day. Try not to shed too much on her uniform, okay?" Stacie was my old field partner, now assigned to the Detention Center. She loves cats almost as much as me, and Otho likes her. At least he did the last time he and she had met, nearly a year ago. Grabbing up my bag, I slip out of my apartment and I'm on my way to meet with Becky at the communications office.


She's nervous, actually chewing on her lower lip. "Rafe, I don't know…"

"Becky, I'd do it myself, but you're the best person to do this and I can't make the system jump through hoops like you." Okay, that's laying it on a little thick, but it's not too far from the truth.

"Fine." She's leaning forward, bending over the keyboard, her fingers flying as she pulls up the information I asked for. "Sandburg, Owen W. Valid CDL, no violations. Hewitt, Texas, McLennen County. You want his physical stats or just his address?"

"Both." I need all the information I can get. The printer behind me starts to whir and rattle and Becky moves around me to grab the printout, which she hands to me.

"There. Now get out of here, will ya?"

I stop only long enough to give the older woman a fast hug, and then I'm out the door, the priceless sheet of data in my pocket. Getting from the dispatch office to the garage of the Central Station is a cakewalk and before I leave, I glance over the information. If I'm reading the address right, Owen Sandburg actually lives outside the city. Megan and I will probably have to stop by the Hewitt PD or the McLennen County Sheriff's Office to find out how to reach the man's home, unless we get lucky and he's listed in the local phone directory.

Putting the information sheet into the glove box, I pull out of the garage and turn towards Connor's home, driving the city streets in the light of a false dawn.


So I wonder how I never got the Burn
And if I'm ever gonna learn
How lonely people make a life
One stain at a time and still shine…

We were nearly to the county line when my cell phone trilled. Megan answered it for me as I was rather occupied with driving.

"Hello? Ellison!" I dart a look at my passenger. "Uh, yeah, well… We're just trying… You sure? It's no bother… Yeah, all right, I'll tell him." She closes the phone with a sharp snap. "Turn around, Brian." Her toneless voice sounds oddly deflated. Defeated.

I pull off onto the shoulder of the highway. "What the hell did he tell you?"

"He appreciates our wanting to help, but he's asked that we not assist."

"Shit. He's just going to let Blair walk out like that? That is not the Jim Ellison I know."

She chortles softly as she nods in agreement. "No, it's not. So? Do we turn around and go back or?" Megan waves a hand towards the southeast, her intentions clear.

I sit there, watching as traffic speeds by, trying to decide. I can't figure out how Ellison found out what Megan and I are doing, or how I should proceed. If I turn my Corolla around right now, I can get back to Cascade in time to work my evening shift. Or, if I go ahead with the plan, Megan and I can probably reach Denver in 24 hours, and be in central Texas in 48, if we take turns behind the wheel and stop only to fuel up, stretch our legs and grab something to eat on the road.

"Brian?"

"Oh to hell with it." I pull back on the highway and keep heading southward, at least until I find the emergency crossover in the median a few miles down the road and turn around. Ellison better have something in mind. I hate the idea that I'm just abandoning Blair to his fate. Of course, I can still use the afternoon off, checking on the Piper-Cub I just purchased, keeping abreast of the weather between here and Texas, finding a landing strip that I can use. Maybe even offer my services to Jim, if he decides to follow Blair to his destination. I would have flown Megan and I there, but my plane was in my mechanic's hands and hadn't been ready for use, and won't be until I can do a proper pre-flight after he's finished with the tune up.

"I hope we're doing the right thing."

"So do I, Megan. So do I."


After dropping Megan off at her place, I head out to the private airstrip where I house my plane. I only recently received my full pilot's certification and, after scrimping and saving for years, I bought the four year old Piper. Having my own plane has been a dream of mine since leaving South Africa. I never wanted to get caught without an escape or to have to rely on the kindness of others if I had to make a break for it again. Yes, even though the apartheid government had been, for lack of a better term, crushed, there were still factors that would love to get their hands on a von Rij, just because we dared to help fight against what was an unfair system.

The pre-flight check on the plane, my prize in life, goes smoothly and I still have time to make it into work, should I decide that is what I want to do. But it's not. Waving good-bye to Matt Clark, the mechanic who had worked on my plane, I climb back into my Toyota and head towards Cascade General. I want to talk to Ellison, maybe find out what he plans on doing and offer my help if, no, when he goes after Blair.


He's still here. Good. Guess he was really messed up. I just hope Internal Affairs hasn't heard about this. I know I won't say anything. Neither will Captain Banks. Pausing in front of room 525, plastering a realistic smile on my face, I knock and enter the room. "Jim? You awake?"

He's slow to respond. I guess he's more interested in staring out the window than dealing with any visitors, but then his head is turning on his shoulders and I'm greeted with a look of sorrow. "Hey, Rafe." He sits up further on the bed and waves me over. "Look, I want to explain…"

"I wish you would. I mean, you're not just going to let Blair run off without doing something, are you?"

"No, I'm not."

"Then why in the hell did you tell Connor and I to basically butt out? To come back here?"

His face hardens into that damnable mask that he likes to affect. "Because it's none of your business."

"Wrong." Oops, maybe that was the wrong thing to say. Nothing like getting nailed by Ellison lasers. "Look, Jim, Blair's a friend of mine, yours, too, unless I've misread the signs, and if you're not willing to talk to him…" I start to leave, only to step back from the door which is swinging open.

"Jimbo… Oh, hi Rafe." Megan bursts into the room and, from the look on her face, she's pissed.

"Great, why don't I just call the station and ask the rest of the crew to come down here?" Ellison growls from his bed as he sinks further under the covers.

I wait, wondering why Megan came, to see if she's going to say anything. The silence between the three of us stretches out uncomfortably. "Bugger. Brian, you might want to wait outside. I have a few words for Jim here and they're not going to be pretty."

Okay, she wants to be private. "Sure, Connor. Jim? I'm willing to help, but you have to ask, okay?" I close the door, leaning up against the wall for support and try not to listen. But I hear Connor's words clearly enough.

"You ASS! Rafe and I could have made it to Texas in two days if you hadn't *insisted* that we come back!"

"Connor, keep it down will you?" I've never heard that tone in his voice; Jim sounds like he's in serious pain.

"No! Either dial it back or put up with the discomfort, but you really need to hear this!" Dial it back? Dial what back? What the hell is she talking about? "You and Sandy are good friends, almost brothers. I know that, Captain Banks knows it and, hopefully, so do you, Jim. I can't cover your back like Sandy does and to be honest? I don't want to."

"I don't need Sandburg covering me…"

"Bullshit! Damnit, Ellison, listen to yourself!" The rest of her words are drowned out by an overhead announcement and I decide I really don't need to stick around any longer. Pushing off the wall, I start to head towards the elevators. Glancing at my watch, I realize that I can make it to the station house if I want to. But I'm not sure I do. The elevator arrives and I have to wait for a large group of people to exit before I can get in. I hold the doors open as Megan calls out to me.

"Rafe! Hold that door!"

Her color is high. She's still angry and I can't say that I blame her. "Megan?"

"He's too damn stubborn; he wouldn't even listen to me. He's going to chuck the last few years of friendship with Sandy down the shitter and leave it at that."

"Maybe we should leave them alone?" I don't like that idea, but if Ellison is being stubborn, maybe we'll have to.

"No. I refuse to let this lay in the road." The elevator stops on the main floor and Megan bolts out of the lift into the lobby, clearly heading towards the parking lot. I follow her, but not at the breakneck pace she's set. I just make it to my Toyota when I see her pull out of the lot at a reckless speed and turn toward the downtown area.

I sit in the car, listening to the song playing on the radio…

I thought about leaving -- but I couldn't even get out of bed
Hitchin' -- but I couldn't get outta town
Now anyone that really wanted me down, come 'round

Thought about singing -- but I couldn't remember all of the words
Breakin' But I couldn't get the pieces apart
Laughin' never knowing what the joke was about

Now I'm down and I wonder how I never got the Burn
And if I'm ever gonna learn
How lonely people make a life, one stain at a time

Forgot about everything and everyone I needed before
Tryin' to get a handle on a reason to shine
Pickin' up the pieces that are falling behind, takes time

So I wonder how I never got the Burn
And if I'm ever gonna learn
How lonely people make a life
One stain at a time and still shine.

The song fits my life, but I'm starting to realize that it fits Ellison's better. He was a lone wolf, never working with a partner until Blair came along. Blair Sandburg. An individual so full of life and vigor that he shines constantly and is a source of energy on a level with the sun. Damn, one way or the other, with my help or without it, I hope Jim comes to realize that being alone sucks. Starting the car, I pull out of the hospital parking lot and head towards home and Otho. Might as well take advantage of my sick time to see what I can dig up from home on Owen Sandburg of Hewitt, Texas. Maybe… Yeah, Stacie might help me. Setting my course for the detention center, I feel a little better. At least I'm doing something other than waiting for Jim Ellison to come to his senses.


~finis~

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