This is a prequel. The story of when Jim Dunbar met his guide dog, Hank. I have been working on this for a while and with the help of my beta reader I hope I have managed to make this into a mystery.

Oh my God... I sent in the wrong draft!!! Don't kill me, I've already been virtually kicked in the butt by my beta reader. Sorry, sweetie... I hang my head in shame.

Morristown

Chapter One

The cold November wind rattled the bedroom windows but under the king sized comforter was cozy and warm. Jim grabbed it, rolled into a tight ball and waited for the yelling to start.

"Hey, how about a little consideration, blanket thief," and with that Christie yanked the down filled covering out of his hands.

Cold air hit every part of his naked body; shocking Jim's eyes open to… nothing.

Damn, it wasn't a dream.

The smile slipped off Christie Dunbar's face when she saw the morning's realization hit her husband again. It had been nine months since the shooting; eight months of coming to terms with the day to day indignities of rehab, readjustment and relinquishing all hope that the light would return to Jim's eyes. Every morning was a replay of the day the bandages came off his eyes and their whole world changed.

"I'm going to make coffee, want some?" Christie said as she slipped into her quilted satin robe and ratty slippers.

"Yeah, sure," Jim scrubbed his face with the heel of his hand. Last night they had made love with an animal abandon they hadn't felt in years. It was desperate and primal; frightening and frightened at the same time. For the best part of a year Jim and Christie had been forced to live in each others pockets and now they were not going to 'see' each other for twenty eight days. Things were about to change and Jim Dunbar did not do change well.

He automatically counted the steps to the bathroom as he went to take his shower. Jim didn't have a lot of time to waste today because he was doing a long trip solo for the first time in months. He had to get to the Port Authority, board a bus to the Newark Airport and meet a limo there that was taking him to Morristown, to the Seeing Eye where he was to get his first guide dog. Yippee, yeah sure.

"Jimmy," Christie called when she heard the shower stop, "do you want some breakfast."

"Nyah, I don't think I could keep it down."

Christie grabbed Jim's mug and walked into the bathroom. He had wrapped a towel around his waist and lathered up his face to shave but the twitch of his nose told her that Jim had smelled the coffee. Christie touched the mug to the back of his hand so he could find it quickly. Two sips later it was sitting on the vanity and Jim was very carefully scraping the stubble from his chin.

"Don't worry; I can't slit my throat with a disposable razor unless I work real hard."

She cringed before she started talking again, "come on, I used to watch you shave every morning."

A small smile appeared, "that was because you were waiting for the mirror to put on your make up. Well, I don't need the mirror any more so I'll move over."

"You need the sink so stay put." She sat quietly as Jim brought the razor up to his fingertips and stroked down with a grace that hadn't been there two months ago. Her mother had foolishly bought an electric shaver for Jim's birthday, an expensive one that now sat next to his camera at the bottom of his sock drawer.

Christie reached out as if to touch his shoulder, but instead bit down hard on her lip. The chasm that stretched between them just kept getting wider and wider and Christie had no idea how to bridge that gap. It wasn't really her style to quip but maybe she needed to change her style. "You're going to be gone over a month; I have to get my Jimmy fix in while I can."

"You mean you haven't gotten tired of me hanging around here all the time?" Jim leaned on the vanity.

Christie didn't stop her hand this time, ignoring his flinch. "Things are going be better. You won't be stuck inside. Bet the whole world will look different when you get back."

Jim bit back his sarcastic response. After bitching and complaining that everyone around him was afraid to say the words look, see and watch he couldn't explode when Christie did that very thing. Jim rolled his eyes, shook her hand off his shoulder and finished shaving. He had to look his best for the next stage on his road to recovery. Man, he hated therapist speak, sounded like a damn Hallmark moment.

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"Jim Dunbar," a hearty voice accompanied the opening of the limo door, "welcome to the Seeing Eye. My name is Sam Coleman and I will be assisting in your training while you are here."

Jim cautiously stepped out of the car and tried to orient himself to his surroundings, but he was totally lost. He always hated going to New Jersey. Family vacations to Atlantic City were always fiascos. Then there was Fort Dix for the fun and games the army called basic training. Searching for body dumps in Hoboken always lead to no where but frustration. Now he was in Blind Central Station, Morristown, and it was beginning to snow.

"Good to be here," Jim slipped a weak smile on his face, "I'm sure this is going to be everything I imagined it would be."

"Well, grab your suitcase and I'll take you to your room," the instructor said as he tapped the back of Jim's hand.

"Yeah," Jim grabbed the man's arm above the elbow, "let's get this show on the road."

Jim allowed himself to be led through the building but whatever Sam Coleman said didn't penetrate his skull. He was tired; a simple trip of thirty four miles had exhausted him. Turn left; turn right, Coleman might as well have said pirouette and fly away because Jim was not going to remember do any of those directions later.

"Jim," Sam's voice finally penetrated the fatigue.

"Sorry, what did you say?"

"How was the trip in," Sam asked again.

"Good, two subways to the Port Authority, shuttle to the airport and the limo ride here. Piece of cake for me and my magic wand," Jim smiled.

The grin was audible in Coleman's voice, "Good cane travel skills, I'm impressed. You learned a lot in a very short space of time, but then I've read your file so I expect big things from you. You seem to be able to do anything you put your mind to. Well, here's your room, number four." Sam put Jim's hand on the door handle. "From the door the bed is on your left at nine o'clock, sorry it's a single. On your right at three o'clock is a dresser, past that is the door to your bathroom. Twelve o'clock is a desk and there's a window right above it. You are expected to make your bed, keep your room clean and do your own laundry. Jim, I'll leave you alone now to get set up and when you're ready head to the common room and meet the other students. Be there by five o'clock, okay?"

"Great. Looking forward to it," Jim snapped at the man. "Anything else?"

"Not just now. Relax Jim, from this moment on everything gets better."

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Jim stumbled into the common room with only minutes to spare. He hadn't finished his unpacking so he hoped he didn't look too strange. There would be no khaki pants with a purple shirt and orange tie; he didn't own clothes like that. Still the image of him looking that bad still jumped into his head with disturbing frequency. It was only the sound of voices helped him orient himself to the place.

"Jim," the over hearty voice of Sam Coleman snapped him to attention, "I see you found your way here."

"Yeah, just followed the clues," Jim hoped his smile seemed sincere. "Sounds like quite the party here."

"Yes, we have a full class of twelve people here. Eight are like you getting their first dog and four getting a replacement dog."

Jim cocked his head to the left. "I thought this was a life long commitment?"

"It is," Sam chuckled, "but the dog's life in a lot shorter than yours, hopefully." He tapped the back of Jim's hand, signaling Sam's desire to guide Jim. "I think you need to meet Anne Peabody. She is here for her fourth dog."

"Come on, sit with an old lady," the clear voice bubbled with humor. "You'll have to cuddle up; I'm sitting on a piano bench."

"So that was you I heard playing." Jim said as he settled next to the tiny woman.

"Yeah, when I was a girl all the well brought up ladies played a musical instrument. Course, if I was a well brought up lady I'd never ended up at this place." She said cryptically as a bright trill of notes lept from the piano, "I used to sing back up at all the best recording studios in New York."

"What do you do now?" Jim was intrigued by the woman beside him.

"Now I play Grandma in Pontiac, Michigan and embarrass my children with what I do." With that, Anne started playing the piano in earnest, hot jazz erupting from her fingers' sure smooth movements. "I always wanted to be the last of the red, hot grandmas."

Jim started to tap his foot to the music. He knew he was going to like this lady and, maybe, she would show him the ins and outs of the place. "So, Red, have you scoped out the other students?"

Heavy chords came out of the piano. "This is a really dreary lot, the worst is a Holy Roller minister who gave up telling God cure him and decided to bore us into believing God has a special place in heaven for the afflicted. There're some diabetics who couldn't keep their diets straight, a divorce lawyer, a cop who couldn't duck fast enough, two teenager accident victims, other varied and sundry unlucky buggers… and me. I don't know if we're blind, bland or just plain boring."

Jim chuckled, "Well, I'm the slow moving cop."

"Oops," Anne squeaked, "you're not going to arrest me for having a bad attitude."

"I can't arrest anybody anymore." Jim bumped Anne with his shoulder, "Do you take requests? Do you know any Hoagy Carmichael?"

"Hell, I knew Hoagy Carmichael," she laughed and started to play Stardust. With Anne Peabody here the good times were gonna roll.

A new, female voice called everyone to attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to meet and greet the people here who are going to make up the last class of this year. My name is Gayle Authier and I am the head instructor and the coordinator for this class. If you have any complaints, problems or issues please bring them to me so I can officially file and ignore them." A wave of small, polite giggles slipped out. "Now, I would like you to introduce yourselves to the groups and I think Annie would be more than happy to start."

Anne stood up, "I am so glad you didn't say age before beauty. Hello folks, I'm Anne Peabody and I'm from Pontiac, Michigan. Where I try to teach thick headed, thick fingered children piano hoping someday I'll find the next George Shearing or Billy Joel. This will be my fourth dog and I hope I'm not too hard on the poor thing cause I seem to keep wearing them out." Anne settled back on the piano bench and delivered Jim a well placed bump in the ribs. "Your turn, Jimmy boy."

Jim laughed and began, "I'm Jim Dunbar and I'm a police detective from New York City and this is my first dog."

Jim listened carefully, but trying to attach names to voices was harder than attaching names to faces. The Reverend Russell Washington from Mississippi sounded like a Colonel Sanders clone except he was selling God instead of chicken. Ruby Monroe a nurse from Hamilton, Ontario had a thick, Canadian accent. There were three teens, two boys and a girl, a house wife, a welder, an accountant, a dad; all the stories and voices jumbled into meaningless noise.

"Hello, my name is Ashley Rush," a low, feminine voice cut through Jim's consciousness, "and I'm a lawyer. This will be my second dog. I only hope I can get past my feelings for Rusty. He opened the world to me."

That voice; it stirred the same feelings the flash of chocolate brown eyes once did. Visions of long, black hair and long slim legs stirred feelings Jim thought he'd put behind him. Well, he wasn't dead yet and Ashley was a very pretty name.

Then Anne's sharp little elbow dug into his ribcage again. "Jimmy, wake up. You get the pleasure of being my dinner partner tonight." When she stood Jim realized that Anne Peabody was barely five foot tall.

"Great, I want to hear all your stories. Did you ever meet Charlie Parker?"

"Oh, have I got stories about the Bird to tell you." Anne's smile was evident in her throaty voice, "and Dizzy and the Duke. I was there when they all were."

It wasn't until later the Jim Dunbar realized Anne Peabody had gently led him into the dining room.

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At four o'clock the next afternoon Jim almost staggered into his room and fell, face first, onto the bed. God, he had a high stress job but finding murderers and facing down bank robbers had nothing on learning how to deal with a guide dog.

"How you holding up, detective," the voice of Joe Goldman came from his doorway.

"This is damn hard work," he shot back at the accountant from Miami Beach.

"Yeah, that's how I felt when I got my first dog." The sound of Goldman's footsteps in the room told Jim the man had found the desk chair. "My father never let a dog on the farm. There were cats in the barn because cats caught the mice but a dog was just trouble."

"You sure your Dad and my Dad weren't the same guy." Jim smiled as he pulled himself up and around towards Joe's voice.

"Well, only if your father was a Jewish truck farmer from Buffalo."

"Oh yeah… my Dad was into raising Kosher bacon in Red Hook," laughed Dunbar. "Now, the question…"

"Oh yeah," Joe sighed, "the question… how did you lose your sight. Well, a soldier never gets hurt in a peace time army or is that just what the recruitment officers say." The chair creaked as Stan leaned back. "Rubber bullets hurt no matter who shoots 'em. Still, the army rehabilitated me, educated me and pays my medical insurance to this day. Now, I'm an accountant… boring job but the pay's okay."

Boring job, the phrase stopped Jim. He'd been a soldier, hell, he'd seen battle but managed to come home in one piece and continue the path he'd set for himself. Soldier, police officer and up the ranks as far as he could go until he retired and opened a security company; that was what Jim Dunbar planned for himself. Now Jim Dunbar's plans were lost in the dark.

"Jim, you got awful quiet," Joe interrupted Jim's dismal thoughts.

"Just trying to decide whether to wear a tie or a turtle neck to dinner," Jim drawled in an exaggerated voice. "I find this dressing for dinner so tedious when the entrees are so bland." Then he grinned as Joe started laughing. Maybe he could be a blind comedian.

The dinner conversation became louder as the students got to know each other better and friendships started to be formed. Twenty seven days from now this group of people would scatter across the continent and get back to their lives. It was time for Jim Dunbar to finally get back in gear.

tbc