by Southy

© April 2006


Jim was watching a late night syndicated sitcom when the phone rang. 

“Ellison,” he answered.

“Uh, Jim?”


“Yeah. Uh, can you come and get me?”

“Where are you?”

“At The Rafferty. According to the Breathalyzer, I’ve had too much to drink.”

Jim imagined vomit in his SUV, which he’d just paid a car wash service to clean inside and out. “Can’t you get somebody to bring you home?”

The answer seemed a while in coming. “I don’t really know anybody.”

Jim furrowed his brow. Not out with friends then. It seemed weird that Sandburg would be drinking alone. “That the place near the corner of Bellevue and Century?”

Another pause. “Uh, yeah.”

Partially teasing, Jim said, “You sure?”

“It’s called The Rafferty. Big place behind the Mexican place and the sandwich place.”

“I’ll find it.”

“Thanks, Jim.”


It took thirty minutes, and it was raining when Jim braked to a halt at the curb in front of The Rafferty. He spotted Sandburg’s silhouette behind the frosted windows. 

Blair came out the door at a shuffle, and then broke into a lazy trot. He opened the door of the SUV and hoisted himself into the seat. “Thanks, man.”

Jim eased away from the curb. “You didn’t know anybody in there?” he asked as casually as he could.


He hesitated to ask the other questions on his mind. A guy had a right to get loaded without having to explain himself, especially if he went about it responsibly.

Instead, Jim said, “Since we’re out this way, I’m going to drop by the Peaceful Inn. Laughton works the night shift there, so I can ask about when he used to date Sharon Hanson.” She was a supposed suicide that was looking more and more like a murder, since the evidence indicated the body had been moved after death.

“Mm,” Blair said. “I didn’t realize it was out this way.”

Well, maybe it was only this general direction. It was nearly twenty miles away. But since Jim had bothered to go out and pick up Sandburg, he may as well kill two birds with one stone. Laughton never seemed to be around his apartment in the daytime.

The traffic thinned as they entered the lower elevations of the Cascades.


Jim glanced over at Blair.

Blair’s gaze was on the windshield. “You ever think about killing yourself?”

Jim furrowed his brow at the plaintive question. “I don’t think Sharon Hanson killed herself, Chief.”

“This has nothing to do with her. I was just wondering if, sometime in your life, you ever thought about it.”

Jim considered some of the worst moments of his life. The most despairing. The most frustrating. The most hate-filled. 

He shifted in his seat. “I can understand why someone would want to commit suicide, when everything seems against them. But I guess I’ve always felt a responsibility to stick around. We all have tough times.” He shrugged. “It’s like admitting you’ve lost, you know? Taking the easy way out.”

Blair looked over at him. “You think killing yourself is easy?”

Jim felt a surge of frustration. “I don’t know, Chief. Why are you asking? What brought this on?”

Blair studied the floorboard for a moment. “You know Julie Newman? She’s another grad student in anthropology. You met her once.”

Jim didn’t remember. “Yeah?”

Blair muttered, “Her sister killed herself. They were really close, but Julie never even knew that Tanya was the least bit depressed.”

“When did this happen?”

“A few days ago.”

Damn, Blair always took everything so much to heart. “This have something to do with why you were drinking alone tonight?”

Blair was silent for a long time. Then he said, “I was trying to put myself in Tanya’s shoes. You know, step back from any personal involvement, and just try to imagine what that state of mind is like. I just wanted to try to understand it, instead of judging it.”

“Did you succeed?”

Blair shook his head. Then he said, “Once things hit bottom, they can only get better. Right? I’ve been low before. But the good thing about being low is that you know tomorrow is going to be a better day. And it always is.”

Jim sighed. “Don’t know about that.”

Blair waited, his eyes on Jim.

Jim said, “Sometimes you can be down for days and days and days. After I lost my unit in Peru, I couldn’t imagine ever having a moment of happiness again. I couldn’t understand why I survived. It didn’t make any sense. Yet, I felt I had a mission to carry out with the Chopec and protect the pass. It didn’t matter whether I was in the mood or not. You know? It’s what I’d been ordered to do, so that gave me something to hold onto.”

“When did things get better?” 

“When I started becoming friends with Incacha. I was curious about their way of life and I wanted to contribute. When you have a purpose, it can take your mind off how lousy you think your life is.”

Blair slowly shook his head. “Tanya seemed so involved in everything. She and Julie seemed like such great sisters. They were each other’s best friend. Julie is completely inconsolable. I don’t understand how Tanya could have left her to pick up the pieces like that.”

“I doubt Tanya was thinking about Julie. When you feel despair, you really don’t have much choice but to turn inward… turn on yourself. Who else is there? Unless you’re a complete jerk and intend to take your loved ones out with you, like with a murder-suicide.”

Blair furrowed his brow. “When have you turned on yourself?”

Jim wondered if the Breathalyzer had truly shown Blair to be intoxicated above the legal limit. His mind seemed very sharp right now. “When do you think, Einstein? When my senses went out of whack. I was doing everything I could to figure out what was going on – risked getting Banks riled enough to report me for taking myself off the roster – but nothing was making any sense. At the hospital, they couldn’t find anything.”

They were silent as the SUV climbed higher on the wet road.

Blair turned his head to look out the side window.

Jim said, “I had your card. That’s all the hope there was. I thought you were a moron with that hospital stunt you pulled, but I was out of options.”

Another silence, then Blair turned to look at him. “You would have killed yourself?”

“It hadn’t gotten that far. I was still looking for answers. But if you hadn’t been there, what else could I have done? I’d rather swallow a gun than be admitted to a mental institution.”

Blair frowned as more silence filled the truck. Incredulous, he said, “Are you saying that I saved you?”

Jim shrugged, wondering if it would go to Blair’s head. “I guess you could say that.”

Contemplative, Blair murmured, “I knew you were desperate when you came to see me in my office – more desperate than you were letting on. Your actions made it obvious.”

Jim mentally cringed when he remembered pinning Blair against the wall. Amazing that Blair was willing to even talk to him after that.

Blair continued, “But I never would have imagined….”

“I didn’t imagine either,” Jim said. “Like I told you, it hadn’t gotten that far yet.” He relented, “Who knows, maybe it wouldn’t have.” Shrug. “Doesn’t matter now.”

Another silence, then Blair sadly said, “There was no one to save Julie’s sister. Because nobody knew what was going on with Tanya, deep inside.”

“Did she leave a note?”

“Yeah. Just said she’d felt really lousy for a long time, she was sorry, and the world and everyone else was better off without her. She called herself a loser.”

“You can’t help a person like that, Chief. It has to come from inside.”

“What about you?” Blair challenged. “You just said that I saved you, in a manner of speaking.”

“Yeah, but my problem with external. It wasn’t about feeling lousy about myself, though I probably would have if nothing could have helped the physical problem.”

“Depression is a physiological problem. If Tanya was clinically depressed, drugs could have helped.”

“And maybe her feeling lousy had nothing to do with a chemical imbalance. Maybe she saw everything as bleak and had put on a cheerful face for most of her life. Maybe it got too exhausting and she felt no one – least of all, someone like her sister – could accept the ‘real’ her.”

Blair stared at Jim for a long time. Then he said, “Jim? If you got really down about things, would you tell me?”

Jim couldn’t tell if Blair was merely requesting information -- or pleading for it. He scoffed, “I think I’m pretty open about it when I feel lousy or annoyed. I may not be touchy-feely, but you read my moods pretty well.”

Blair seemed to relax a bit.

Jim braked to go around a sharp curve. Then he said, “You’re the type of guy who is ten times more likely to up and kill himself.”

“Me?” Blair’s mouth was open as he gazed at Jim incredulously.

“Yeah. You’re the one who always puts on a cheerful face, says, ‘Let’s all talk about how we feel.’ All the touchy-feely stuff. Doesn’t mean there’s any substance to it. Your personality is more the type to over-react to a down day and end it – leaving behind shocked friends and relatives.”

Blair settled back in his seat, his expression thoughtful. Then he said, “I can’t ever imagine wanting to kill myself.”

“That’s just it. You wouldn’t necessarily have to think about it. You’re a spur-of-the-moment type of guy, Chief. You’d just up and do it.”

Blair firmed his jaw. “No, I wouldn’t. I would never do that.”

Jim smiled. “Good.”

“I couldn’t do that to my Mom. To you.”

Jim waited. No other people were mentioned.

Blair pressed, “You wouldn’t ever do that to me, would you, Jim?”

Jim shrugged. “It’s not something I’ve ever planned on doing.”

“Aren’t I reason enough not to do it? That I’d be devastated?”

Ah, Chief. Jim glanced at Blair with a gentle smile. “You’d get over it and get on with your life. Just like you would if I was killed in the line of duty. Or hit by a car.”

“But if you killed yourself, it would mean I’d failed you.”

“Not necessarily,” Jim said. He braked sharply. “Here it is.” He turned into the gravel lot. Aware of Blair’s relentless gaze, he said, “If I was ever so down that I’d kill myself, it might not have anything to do with the senses.”

Blair frowned. “But as a friend, it would mean I failed you.”

Jim cut the motor while shaking his head. “Not if I was troubled about something that I never let you in on. Just like Tanya obviously didn’t let her sister Julie know.”

As Jim cocked the door handle, Blair insisted, “But the fact that you didn’t tell me would mean that I wasn’t as good of a friend as I tried to be.”

Jim got out. “That wouldn’t necessarily be true. Don’t you think that Julie was a great sister to Tanya? Didn’t change the fact that Tanya had some demons she couldn’t even share with her sister. You coming?”

“I’ll wait here,” Blair said, subdued.

Maybe he was plastered.

Jim went inside and found a bored Sam Laughton behind the desk. He spent nearly fifteen minutes questioning him, and Laughton answered as best he could, while expressing regret for Sharon Hanson’s death.

When Jim returned to the truck, Blair was resting his head against the side of the cab.

“Get anything?” Blair asked without moving.

“Little bit. Headache?”


“There should be some aspirin in the first aid kit.”

With a groan, Blair opened the glove compartment and pulled out the small first aid kit. He opened it and stared at it a long moment.

Just as Jim started the truck, Blair spotted the small bottle of aspirin and opened it. He swallowed a couple of tablets dry, and then put the box away. “I hope they work soon,” he muttered.

Jim eased back out onto the pavement, beginning the descent on the wet, isolated road. “Chief?”

“Uh-huh?” Blair said distantly, his eyes closed.

“Just for the record, I don’t have any intention of killing myself, or even thinking about killing myself.”

Blair’s eyes remind closed. “You just have such a sense of duty, Jim. Sometimes people think it’s a duty to kill themselves, if they’ve messed up.”

“I’ve been able to forgive myself before. I’m sure I will again, if it ever comes to that.”

“I’m glad.”

Jim focused on driving for a moment. Then he said, “Drinking alone was really stupid.”


“You could have come home and gotten drunk.”

“I didn’t want to burden you with my problems or my drunken state.”

Jim grinned. “You’re a pretty lame drunk.”

“Thanks, Jim,” Blair whispered.

He looked so uncomfortable, resting his head against the side of the cab.

Jim reached into the back and found his ragged hunting jacket. “Here. Use this for a pillow.”

Blair accepted the jacket without moving his upper body. He let it rest against him.

Jim braked around a sharp curve, wishing the rain would ease up.

“Jim?” Blair still hadn’t moved.


“I think I need to throw up.”

“All right, hang on.” Jim was grateful for the warning. After checking to make sure no one was behind them, he pulled onto the narrow shoulder. “Can you get out?” he asked as he put on the parking brake.

Blair cocked the door handle, his other hand lazily reaching for the seat belt.

Damn, Blair needed help. Jim quickly jumped out his door and rushed over to the other side. “Hang on,” he said, unbuckling the seat belt. “Easy does it.” He grabbed Blair around the waist as he stepped down to the ground.

Blair stumbled, and Jim put both arms around him. Then Blair collapsed to one knee with a groan.

Jim shivered from the raindrops falling, as he held Blair’s head. And waited.

“Anything going to come up?” He prompted. “Think of something gross and disgusting.”

With those words, Blair heaved forward with a wet retching noise.

The smell that penetrated the rain left no doubt as to what was happening.

Jim tried not to look as he continued to support Blair, but the corner of his eye caught something small and white on the wet ground.

So much for the aspirin.

Blair was breathing hard now, still hunched over.

“You done?” Jim asked tenderly.

In answer, Blair started to shift, and Jim hauled him to his feet and beckoned him back into the passenger seat.

One side of Blair’s jeans was wet from knee to ankle. There wasn’t any water to rinse out his mouth. Jim reached into the glove compartment and got the first aid kit. He opened a gauze pad and handed it to Blair. “Wipe your mouth with that.”

Blair was resting back against the seat with his eyes closed. He obeyed, and Jim put the first aid kit away. 

“We passed by some fast food places on the way up. Hopefully, they’re still open.” It was nearly midnight.

Jim was grateful to get back into the protection of the SUV. He put the heat on high and turned onto the road.

Eyes still closed, Blair tried to wad up Jim’s hunting jacket, and placed it between his head and the window. He groaned, “My head is killing me.”

“You need to take more aspirin when we have something to wash it down with.”

“Why did I do this to myself?”

“So you could try to find out how it felt to want to kill yourself.” Jim wondered if he should have made Blair remember that. Then he pointed out, “I’m not sure how getting plastered was supposed to bring you to a suicidal state.”

Blair muttered, “I wasn’t trying to reach a suicidal state. Just an understanding of what it would be like to feel that way. I thought the alcohol would relax my brain and free up my imagination.”

“Couldn’t you have accomplished the same thing with meditation?”

“I felt like getting loaded.”

Jim reached over and squeezed Blair’s shoulder. “Tanya’s death hit that hard, huh?”

Blair was silent a moment. Then he swallowed. Sorrowfully, he said, “It’s just knowing that someone you care about can up and do that – and it’s too late when you find out something was going on with them.” Another swallow. “It’s such a helpless feeling. Julie is never going to get over this.”

Jim squeezed again. “Chief, I’m sorry for your TA friend. But if it helps, I’m vowing right now that I would never do anything like that.” Some part of him wondered if he’d ever be sorry for making that promise. After all, he could understand why one would be inclined. Like Blair himself had said, there could come a situation where it felt like a duty – the Right Thing to Do.

Now, he’d taken that option away.

He glanced over at Blair, hopeful that his words were the assurance Blair needed.

Blair was silent.

Jim pressed on the accelerator. “Now that we’re off the mountain, maybe it’ll do you good to have some food.”

Blair grunted.

They pulled into a drive-thru five minutes later. Jim looked at his watch. The sign said they closed at midnight and it was ten of. “You want a burger?”

“No, just water.”

“You sure?”


Jim ordered a super burger and fries for himself, and a small burger for Blair in case he changed his mind.

When he pulled up at the window to pay, the young woman said, “It’s going to be a little bit because they have to cook them since we’re almost ready to close.”

“All right,” Jim said with a sigh. He settled back after receiving his change.

He tried to ignore the radio that was audible, even with ordinary hearing, through the closed sliding window. 

It must have been an oldies station, because Jim recognized the opening melody to a song from his preteen years.

He jumped when Blair started singing – loudly.

“And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply 
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do 
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you”

“Easy, Chief,” Jim said, realizing Blair was indeed plastered.

Blair’s voice dropped an octave, but he continued to sing – with extreme seriousness.

“Sign Sign everywhere a sign 
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind 
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign”

Jim had to admit, the song had a good sing-along melody. He realized, when the next stanza began, that he actually knew the words. 

But he let Blair sing alone.

“And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight 
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in 
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, man you're some kinda sinner”

Through the closed window, the employee saw Blair singing so intensely, and she grinned.

Jim started to wish the song would hurry up and finish.

Blair’s words were articulate, but he seemed to keep struggling to keep up and not miss any nuances in the melody.

"And the sign said everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray 
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, 
I didn't have a penny to pay, so I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign 
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine"

Blair’s voice trailed off before the song did.

Then as the song blessedly faded, Blair tapped his fingers against his thighs and whispered in tune, “I’m alive and doing fine.”

He took a deep, deep breath.

Jim reached over and patted his arm. “Good job there, Chief. Hey, listen, now there’s an Elton John song. You can’t sing along since it’s impossible to understand the words.” 

Blair was still looking at the windshield and whispering under his breath, “I’m alive and doing fine.”

Then he abruptly shut his mouth.

The window opened and Elton John sang more loudly about a yellow brick road. “Sorry for the wait,” the woman said. She handed Jim the cardboard tray with a sack and two drinks.

“No problem. Thank you.”

Jim handed Blair his water, waiting a moment to make sure he had a steady grip. “Why don’t you take another aspirin?”

Blair opened the glove compartment. By the time he had swallowed the aspirin, and drank some of the water, Jim had parked in the lot and sorted the food. He held out the small burger to Blair. “You want this?”

Blair took it and quietly unwrapped it.

They each took a few bites.

Silence reigned.

Jim asked, “You okay?”

With his gaze on the windshield, Blair quietly said, “The one time I met Tanya, she was in Julie’s office and that song was on the radio. They liked oldies songs and they were both singing along. I remember how happy Tanya sounded when sang the part about, ‘I’m alive and doing fine’.”

He turned to look at Jim. “But she wasn’t fine.”

“Maybe she was at that moment.” Jim wasn’t sure what else to say.

Blair stared at his burger. “Maybe she was singing the sign song because she was trying to hint that she was giving off signs.”

“Maybe,” Jim said, trying to be matter-of-fact. “But there’s no way anyone could have made the connection.” He shrugged. “And maybe that had nothing to do with it. How long ago was it?”

“Maybe a month.” Blair took another bite of burger.

Jim shoved a few fries in his mouth. Before swallowing, he said, “You can’t take this on, Chief. It was her choice. Nothing you could have done.” He swallowed the thick fries. “If her sister couldn’t see the signs, then how could you?”

“I don’t know, Jim.” Blair’s voice was firm. Then he muttered, “I just feel bad about it.” He finished off his burger.

Jim held out the fries. “You want any of these?”

Blair took some and chewed. 

Jim popped the remaining few into his mouth. “I hope you can at least be happy that you saved me when I needed help most. That counts for something, doesn’t it?”

Blair wadded up the trash. He paused, then, “I hadn’t thought of it that way, until tonight.”

Jim smiled. “Neither had I.”

Blair gazed at the floorboard. “It won’t bring Tanya back.”

“No. And nothing would bring me back, if you hadn’t been there for me. But I don’t need to be brought back, because I’m here, thanks to you.”

Blair reached up and scratched his nose. After a long moment, he said, “Am I really, seriously drunk, or are you talking in riddles?”

Jim shrugged and started the motor. “I make perfect sense to me.”

Blair repeated the words under his breath. Then, “I think I’m really drunk because what you just said isn’t making any sense.”

Jim chuckled softly. “How’s your headache?”

Blair reached up to his temple. “Barely noticeable.” He found Jim’s jacket and again made it into a pillow.

Jim waited until Blair emitted a soft snore. He reached over and squeezed his hand. “My savior,” he whispered.

He hoped Blair’s subconscious remembered the words.


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