Unsleepingby Martha Taylor, soulcake[at]bellsouth.net
Blair wasn't in his office, so Jim let himself in using the key Blair had given him a couple of years ago. Blair's backpack was in his desk chair, and Jim unzipped the pack and checked inside, mostly to verify what he already knew. The cell phone was right where he expected to find it, nestled in an interior pocket next to the tahini, mayo and sprouts sandwich Blair had made for himself before leaving this morning. Jim grimaced at the sharp scent of sesame paste and lemon juice, and he dug the sandwich out and stowed it on the top shelf of the little fridge under the coffee maker. Mayonnaise should be refrigerated, everybody knew that. Hadn't Naomi taught that kid anything normal?
In the meantime, though, Blair wasn't here, and Jim had no idea where he might have gone. Aggravating. The cell phone wasn't a whole lot of use if he didn't bother to carry it with him, was it? Of course, Sandburg hadn't had any reason to expect him this morning, so Jim couldn't exactly grouch that Blair hadn't been sitting around waiting for him. Jim could grouch about the phone, he supposed, if he thought it would do any good. He knew perfectly well it wouldn't.
Oh well, Sandburg probably wouldn't be gone long. He'd left his backpack, so he wasn't in class or off at the library doing research. The coffee in the pot was a day old at least, maybe more, which meant Blair had come in, dropped his stuff, and immediately taken off again. He'd be back. Jim could wait. He moved the backpack out of the office chair and settled down in it himself, propping his feet on the desk. Here in Blair's office, surrounded by the artifacts of Blair's life, Jim no longer felt so out of control, on the verge of panic. In fact, he almost wondered what he was doing here in the first place.
Almost. That was the mistake he had been making all along, wanting to believe the problem would just go away on its own. He should already have talked to Blair about his hallucination in the library, but with the shooting and everything else, it simply hadn't seemed all that important. The nightmares should have tipped him off, but Blair was having them too, so it had been easy this morning for Jim to pretend his own bad dreams were just the stress of the case as well.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to worry about.
But it was something out of the ordinary when the dreams followed him back into the waking world. Things were getting worse instead of better, and he couldn't handle it by himself anymore. Blair would know what was going on, though. Blair would be able to tell him why he was being haunted by footsteps he could not possibly be hearing. He would banish them with some Blair-speak and the touch of his hand on Jim's brow or planted firmly in the middle of Jim's chest, and maybe his irritable demand to "concentrate, Jim -- how do you expect to accomplish anything if you won't pay attention to me?" And somehow, he'd fix it. Just like he had fixed everything. The only thing he hadn't been able to do for Jim was make these senses go away for good.
A part of Jim still despised his dependence. After all, what was he going to do once Blair got his degree? When he didn't need his research subject anymore? It was a subject Blair had learned to avoid, but Jim remembered every word of every conversation they'd ever had about Blair's future. The reality of Blair's profession was there were hundreds of applicants for every good teaching position that opened up. Blair was good, and knew it, and he seemed to have no doubt he could get himself hired somewhere, but it could be anywhere in the country. Maybe he'd take a lectureship at Rainier for a year or two, but that was only a temporary position, intended to help young PhD's while they looked for a job. For the sake of his career, he would eventually have to go.
Then what would Jim do when his senses turned reality inside out?
Jim swung his feet down off the desk irritably. That kind of thinking wasn't doing him any good. There was still a case to solve here, questions which needed to be answered. Why had Ross taken that book? Who else had known about his plan?
And by the way, who had taken Ross's body?
Jim's knuckles whitened on the arms of the chair. Where the hell was Sandburg anyway? He picked up the backpack again. If Blair had had an appointment this morning, perhaps he'd made a note of it. He rooted around, searching, then pulled out a thick little leather volume from the bottom of the bag. He was smiling to himself at finding the dayplanner, which had been a gift from Jim last Christmas. He'd never been able to understand how Blair could possibly keep track of all his commitments just by scribbling notes to himself on whatever scraps of paper happened to be at hand. ATM receipts, the back of Jim's grocery lists, whatever. It was true, Jim had to admit, Blair usually managed to show up more or less on time, more or less where he was supposed to be -- but wouldn't his life be easier with a little organization?
Blair had laughed, agreed that maybe his life would be at that, and had thanked Jim for the gift. Silly how touched Jim felt to find Blair was really using it. He opened the book, letting the pages fan open against his thumb, and found the whole month of April entirely blank. He paged back. Nothing in March. Almost nothing in February. The first two weeks of January had been carefully filled in, all with the same pen at the same time, it looked like. After that, the notations of appointments and classes became increasingly erratic, degenerating into post-it notes stuck to the pages, or written on the back of a deposit slip and tucked between the leaves. By mid February Blair had given it up entirely.
Jim shut the book and put it back in Blair's backpack, his smile a trifle rueful now. Sandburg must have known from the start the dayplanner wouldn't work for him, but for Jim's sake, he'd been willing to give it a shot. Why he was still carrying it around was the mystery. Well, not such a mystery after all. He would have to remember to tell Sandburg it was all right, really. He didn't need to keep lugging it around just to spare Jim's feelings. The damn thing was heavy.
But he still didn't know where Blair was this morning. Jim pulled out the sheaf of xeroxes stuffed in the center of the backpack and shuffled through them. They all seemed to be articles written by that professor Blair was so suspicious of, Peter Nagle. So maybe that's where he was this morning. Jim put the papers back and looked around on Blair's desk, then opened drawers, and finally found a campus directory under a package of coffee filters in the bottom desk drawer. He looked up Professor Peter Nagle's office number, then put the directory back in the drawer, under the coffee filters. He'd go have a word with the good professor himself this morning. Whether or not Blair was already there, Jim thought it would be a good idea for him to meet the professor himself. He trusted Blair's instincts, but he'd learned to be careful when they were dealing with a case on campus. For some reason, Blair was least reliable on his own home turf. Jim thought he understood why. It was always toughest when it was personal.
When Blair was very still, he could almost hear the words. The bass came thumping right down through the floor whether he wanted to hear it or not, the pulsing backbeat a counterpoint to his own rapid heartbeat. It was only when he held very, very still, even his breathing shallow, that he could hear the tortured voice. Shouting, not really singing at all. Crying out in anger.
Hole's second album, wasn't it? He'd always liked it, but he was pretty sure once he got out of this, he would never, ever want to listen to Courtney Love singing again. He thought the stereo he was hearing now must be the same one he had heard from out on the street, blaring out of the third story window. Apparently the CD was set to endlessly repeat, because he was sure this was at least the third time he'd heard "Violet."
Which meant he had been here -- how long? More than ninety minutes. Closer to two hours, maybe. He couldn't feel his hands anymore, and his shoulders and thigh muscles were a solid mass of fire. He'd managed to push himself up to an almost-standing position a few times, trying to stretch the muscles cramping in his thighs, but the last time he had tried, he hadn't been able to force his legs to straighten.
At least his ankle wasn't bothering him so much anymore. He hardly noticed it, really, now that everything else hurt just as badly. The gag was the worst of all. The hinges of his jaw were burning with pain, and there was something terrifying about the way the muscles in his neck and throat were tightening. He really could suffocate down here, trussed up like this, and it was very cold comfort to reflect this was almost certainly not what his kidnappers had intended to happen.
Go on, take everything
I want you to
Oh shut UP already, he thought furiously. Great victim music, wasn't it? Maybe that's why they were playing it. Maybe they'd planned it that way. Maybe they had planned everything. Who could guess what a twisted genius like Dr. Nagle might have told them to do anyway? Apparently they had been smart enough to break Ross's body out of the morgue. So maybe everything that was happening was part of the same plan. Right down to his slow death by suffocation in the basement while Tom and Eddie went out for pizza.
I dare you to
Blair shook his head violently, and the movement was enough to blot out the faint, penetrating lyrics for a few moments. Too bad he already knew the words, because he couldn't stop hearing them in his head. He should think about something else already. The only problem was, nothing he could think of was much better. Like, where was Ross's body, anyway? Seemed logical to assume it was stowed somewhere nearby. Probably down in the basement with him, which was a pleasant thought, wasn't it? Stuffed in the linen closet, maybe. Why on earth had they taken the body in the first place?
Why had they taken him?
Did it really have anything to do with the book Ross had been trying to steal? Blair still didn't have a very clear idea of what was in it. A seriously twisted demonology, if the Huysmans translation could be trusted, and a lot of necromancy. That was the part that was particularly unpleasant to think about now, chained up in the dark by a gang of body snatchers. Were they seriously planning to act out the rites described in the book? Yeah, it was completely crazy, but from a certain, sick point of view, it did make sense. After all, they had a corpse, and you couldn't do much necromancy without one. For that matter, if they left Blair down here much longer, they would have two corpses on their hands. Then they could really go to town.
Oh, god. He thumped his head against the tile wall behind him. Not hard, just enough to feel it. What did he do to attract these types anyway? He really didn't want to start thinking about David Lash right now, but it was tough not to remember Ross had been watching him, just like Lash had. Both men had seen something in him they wanted for themselves. Something they were willing to reach out and take, risking prison, risking death. And sure enough, Jim had killed both of them. The only difference was, this time, death apparently hadn't been enough to derail Ross's plans.
A door slammed somewhere overhead. Blair started violently, and for a moment couldn't breathe. The darkness of the basement was suddenly speckled with light, phosphenes trailing away out of the corners of his eyes as he struggled to take a breath. He felt a cramp in his neck like a hand around his throat, and had a sudden, vivid image of Jim finding him like this, hanging in chains in a filthy bathroom in the basement of a frathouse. Dead of his own panic.
No. Oh no.
He held himself absolutely still, pretending it didn't matter that he couldn't breathe. All that mattered was staying calm, keeping still. Allowing muscles that were cramped so badly he couldn't imagine ever moving without pain again to relax. Peaceful and calm, easy, easy, like Jim reading the paper on a Sunday morning, wrapped in a houserobe and still a little damp from the shower. Sipping at coffee too hot to drink yet, and smiling in drowsy pleasure when the sun broke through the clouds over the bay, shining in through the skylights and touching his face with warmth and light.
The first breath burned Blair's lungs like he was breathing water instead of air. Hurting was OK, though, because it meant he wasn't dead. Through the roaring in his ears he could hear the thunder of footsteps. Someone was coming. A lot of someones. Maybe even the whole gang? Great. The more the merrier. He hardly cared what happened next, just as long as they got him down off this wall, or at least took the gag out of his mouth.
The door banged open. An arc of light spilled across the tile floor from the hallway, and Susan complained, "God, it stinks down here." Then someone switched on the overhead, and Blair had to squeeze his eyes shut against the violence of the incandescent light. Footsteps clicked across the tile to him. He squinted his eyes open again. Susan was bending down over him, her hands fumbling with the buckle at the back of his head. Oh, thank you. A few strands of hair were caught in the strap, and the sharp, contained pain of the pulled hairs when she tugged the gag away was so welcome tears came to his eyes.
"How you feeling?" she asked him.
Blair blinked up at her, taking deep gulps of air. I feel wonderful, he thought. I can breathe, and that's all that matters. "I can't breathe through that gag," was what he tried to say to her, but his jaws didn't work. He couldn't close his mouth, so all that came out was an "ahhhh," that seemed to alarm Susan almost as much as it did him.
"We better not use that anymore," she said. "He's got to be able to talk."
He supposed that was an encouraging sign. Wonder what they wanted him to say?
"Look," she said. "Don't fight this, OK? We don't want to hurt you."
Great, that refrain again. He could not remember the last time he had hurt so much. Being shot was pretty bad, but at least that was a sudden violence, not this torturously slow business. One cruel turn of the screw at a time. He almost thought he'd rather take a bullet.
"Here it is," Monica said, somewhere out of Blair's line of vision. "I measured three teaspoons."
Oh, shit. What now?
"Get his head back," Susan said, and Seth loomed over him. He'd cleaned up the blood, but his nose was still swollen and purple. He ought to see a doctor about that, Blair thought insanely.
"I got him," Seth said, and grabbed a fistful of hair at the back of Blair's head, yanking his head back. He felt Seth's knuckles at the nape of his neck as he stared bleakly upward. Even the ceiling was covered in those tiny little octagonal white tiles. Susan clamped her left hand over his chin, her strong fingers digging into the left side of his jaw. The pressure on the sore muscles there was excruciating, and he heard the open mouthed whimper that escaped him. Metal knocked against his teeth, and he felt something syrupy and thick slide across his tongue. He gagged reflexively, and Susan smashed his mouth shut with her palm against his chin.
"If you spit that out, we'll pour the whole bottle down your throat," she said. She stroked his throat with her other hand, trying to force him to swallow.
"Do you want the water?"
Blair couldn't keep track of the voices any longer and didn't know who was talking. Whatever they had poured into his mouth was slipping down his throat. When Susan released his chin he spat weakly, but there was nothing left to get rid of. The sickeningly sweet taste was thick on his tongue, but his whole mouth felt puckered and dry. He recognized the taste, he thought, and the sensation of dryness, but he couldn't quite place it.
"Looks like most of it went down," Susan said. Blair felt the lip of a plastic bottle against his bottom lip, and then water flooded his mouth. He choked and coughed, and Susan forced his mouth shut again. "Swallow it, dammit." He couldn't possibly, not as violently as he was coughing. He thrashed, choking, and Susan released him with an exclamation of disgust. "Let him go, Seth. Just let him go."
Blair's head dropped forward. Water spilled out of his mouth to run down his chin and under the collar of his shirt. Every cough sent rivulets of fire through the cramped muscles in his legs and shoulders. He would give anything in the world just to lie down, he thought. Just to curl up and lie down anywhere at all, even on this cold tile floor.
"Do you think he spit out all the stuff?" Eddie was talking. Oh, good. Glad to know Eddie was here too. Just like old home week wasn't it? Whatever that was. His coughs were becoming less violent. He'd begun to shiver uncontrollably, and his stomach was cramping from coughing so hard in this awkward position.
"I don't know," Susan said. "If he did, we'll just do it again." She crouched down in front of Blair and held something up for him to see. A bottle of water. Same brand she'd bought for herself at the bakery last night, in fact. "You see, Mr. Sandburg? It's just water." She tipped the bottle up and swallowed some herself. "So you might as well drink it," she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "Because if you won't do it on your own, we'll have to make you drink it."
"What --" Blair managed to whisper.
"Are you gonna drink it or not?" Susan said impatiently.
"What did you give me?" There. Oh, his jaws hurt, though. His throat hurt, everything hurt.
"You drink the water, and I'll tell you, all right?"
It wasn't much of a deal, but on the other hand, he didn't have a whole lot of leverage right now. He closed his eyes and nodded. Susan tipped the bottle into his mouth, slowly enough for him to swallow a mouthful at a time. It seemed as though he could feel every drop going down, and when his belly began to feel oddly tight, he turned his face away from the bottle. Susan straightened up. "Guess we'll wait and see if that does it," she said.
"What was it?" Blair whispered.
"Don't you think we should get him down first?" Monica asked thoughtfully.
"Yeah," Eddie said. "It'll be a real mess if he spews like that."
"What did you give me?" Blair asked again, hearing the edge of panic in his voice this time.
"You're right, man." Seth loomed over him again. "Help me with him, all right?"
"Don't try anything," Susan warned him. "You can't get away."
Blair wondered blankly what they thought he could possibly be capable of in this state. "What did you give me?"
Seth unhooked one manacle from the fixture, and Blair's arm dropped like a stone, slapping his own thigh with a crack. A gritty, raw kind of pain turned tight circles in his shoulder. His other manacle was released, and he collapsed in a heap on the bathroom floor, panting. He'd thought the only thing he wanted in the world was to get down, but it turned out being released was almost as bad. Someone grabbed his wrists again and tried to pull them together behind his back, and it felt as though his arms were being twisted out of their sockets. "Please," he gasped. "Please don't."
"Oh, leave him," Susan said. "He's not going anywhere. How's your ankle, Mr. Sandburg?"
He felt someone's hand on his calf, pulling back the bottom of his jeans. "Looks pretty bad," Eddie announced.
"For the last time, it's not my fault," Seth said defensively. "He's the one who jumped."
"It's too late to do anything about it now," Susan said. "Look, Mr. Sandburg, tell us when you start to feel sick, all right?"
"What the hell did you give me?" Blair asked again, his aching jaw moving against the cold tile floor.
"Take it easy already, it's just ipecac. Half the anorexics on my floor use it."
Monica laughed. "Oh god, I know. It's so sick."
Blair curled painfully onto his side, drawing his knees up in slow degrees, and trying to turn his head so he could see his tormenters. The blood was beginning to flow back into his hands, and his fingertips were tingling and burning. "Why?" was all he could manage to ask. His stomach was cramping, though he couldn't tell if it was really the emetic working already, or just knowing what he had swallowed that was making him feel nauseated.
"Why do you think, man?" Eddie sounded honestly puzzled, but his puzzlement switched to anger just as quickly. "It was your cop buddy who killed Ross in the first place."
Well, that explained everything, didn't it? "Eddie," he whispered. "Jim didn't want to do it. Ross was acting crazy, waving a gun around. Jim didn't have any choice."
"Hey." Eddie nudged Blair in the center of his chest with the toe of his running shoe. "You know something, Mr. Sandburg? Unless you want that gag back in your mouth, I think you better just shut the hell up."
"Take it easy," Susan said. "It's gonna be all right. Just like we planned, right? Everything's going perfect."
"Yeah," Seth agreed. "Just like Ross wants. Maybe it's even better this way, you know?"
Aw, god, here it came. Blair felt the sudden twist in his gut and his face flamed with heat. He groaned in warning, and someone yanked him up by his collar, while Monica tried to shove an aluminum pan into his hands. It fell from his nerveless fingers, and he was violently, humiliating sick. Someone held his head and perhaps someone else picked up the pan and was holding it under his head, but his awareness had spiraled down to nothing but the pain of his stomach contracting again and again, and the burn of bile in his throat. When it was over, he fell forward to lie with his face once more on the tiles, which felt cool and soothing against his flushed brow. Please, Jim, he was thinking. Now, please, would be a good time to get me out of this. He had a glimmering of the inevitable outcome of all this, and even the suspicion was enough to freeze his heart. Not that he had a whole lot of courage left to spare at this point. His only hope was maybe his kidnappers weren't really willing to follow things to their logical conclusions.
But he bet they were. After all, Lash would have understood. Him and his nice hot baths.
Blair heard a toilet flushing. The air was fouler than ever, a smell that made his stomach clench so painfully he was afraid he would be sick again. "Come on," Seth said. "Can you sit up?"
Maybe he could sit up, but he couldn't see what his motivation was, so he just lay there until two of them grabbed the shoulders of his coat and dragged him to his knees, then turned him around and shoved him against the wall. He sat with his legs extended straight before him, still manacled at the ankles. His arms hung nervelessly at his sides. "You think you can handle this by yourself?" Susan said. She crouched beside him, lifted his right hand, and put the box in his hand. "See?" she said. "It's safe, just the mineral oil kind. We haven't even opened it."
Blair looked at it numbly, turned the box to feel the liquid moving inside, then looked up at the ring of his kidnappers standing above him. They didn't even seem embarrassed. They were true believers, every one of them. God help him, but he was in deep, deep shit.
A pun. Oh god, was that a pun? He must be cracking up. "You've got to be kidding," he whispered to them. The foulness was on his lips, in his mouth. Beginning to dry on his chin.
"You didn't answer the question, Mr. Sandburg." Seth stood over his legs and looked down at him. "Maybe you just don't understand your options. See, either you do it yourself, or we'll do it for you." He smiled, the ugliest expression Blair had ever seen in his life. "The instructions are right there on the side of the box."
"You sick bastard," Blair whispered helplessly, and Seth just grinned more broadly than ever.
"What did you say?" he asked Blair, his voice still sounding stuffed up. If Blair had his way, the kid would have a stuffed up nose for the rest of his miserable life.
Blair looked around, the weight of the evil house bearing down all around him. "Help me up," he said, and tried to keep the quaver out his voice.
Take everything take everything"My ankle's busted," he said. "I can't get to the john by myself."
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