A Busman's Holiday

"Yeah, Simon, we're fine…No, I promise, no drug dealers, gun smugglers or slave traders…yeah, I'll let him know…okay, got it…uh, huh…you bet…uh, Simon, the signal's getting spotty…Right, okay, bye Simon." Blair shut off his phone, huffing as he stuck it in his bag. "The way he was carrying on, you'd think we deliberately go looking for trouble."

At that, Jim lost control of his barely repressed snickers and burst into full-fledged laughter. He clutched the steering wheel trying to keep the truck straight on the small back road. When he managed to catch his breath, he slanted a look at his partner. "Well, you can't really blame him, not with our track record."

"Yeah, yeah," Blair muttered, making a face. "But it's not like we go looking for trouble. It just finds us!"

Jim gave a soft snort. "Chief, you've got a real gift for understatement sometimes." Before Blair could retort, Jim gestured. "There's our cabin."

Blair turned back to the front, his attention easily diverted to their planned vacation. "Oh, man, have I been looking forward to this! No phones, no interruptions; just some sun, fresh air, and fish."

Jim chuckled at his partner's exuberance, but he could not hold back his own sigh of relief. As detectives in the major crimes division of Cascade PD, their past few cases had come fast and furious. Their Captain, Simon Banks, had been forced to keep them on rotation as long as possible. Both of them burned the midnight oil more than once, and Rhonda, Simon's assistant, had finally threatened to drug both of them if they did not get some sleep. The fact that neither of them offered any real argument scared Simon so much he practically packed their camping equipment for them. The two friends were under strict orders not to darken the station's doorstep for an entire week.

He pulled the truck up to the side of the small cabin. As Blair climbed out, he threw a grin at the Jim. "You know, if we were really camping, we would be staying in a tent.

"Be my guest, partner. You can park yourself on any patch of ground you want. Me? After all the catnaps in cars and on surveillance? I am going to sleep in a bed."

Blair laughed. While he opened up the cabin's windows to air it out, Jim stretched, working out the driving kinks. At the same time, he extended his extraordinary senses to see if he could spot any trouble. Nothing caught his attention, just birds, wind, and water. The late afternoon sun filtered through the trees, combining with the various shades and hues of green, brown and blue to paint a rich tapestry of solitude and restfulness. He could smell the moist earth from below him, even as the breeze brought the scent of pine and fir. He grinned as he felt his whole being relax; man, cop, and Sentinel. Now he could really enjoy the vacation.

Both men rose with the sun. They wanted to get out to the lake and catch some dinner. Laughter and good-natured ribbing flowed between them well into the morning. Despite a lack of luck with the fish, Jim had not felt this good in ages. Blair was safe; he was safe; and the city could spare them some time…life was good. He leaned back against a boulder, pole loose in his grip. Closing his eyes, he let his mind wander and soaked up the serenity of the place. His senses drifted out, subconsciously taking in his surroundings.

Several minutes later Blair's heart rate suddenly jumped. Jim's eyes snapped open as he reached for his weapon. He remembered it was locked in the truck even as Blair gave a joyful shout.

"Ha!" Blair exclaimed. "Got one!"

Jim stood up, a fond grin sliding across his face as he watched Blair struggle to bring in his catch. The grin became a smirk when Blair tossed him a dirty look over one shoulder.

"It wouldn't physically kill you to give me a hand, you know!"

With a chuckle, Jim moved to help. Even as he reached out to take hold of his friend's fishing pole, Blair misplaced his feet. Loose rocks beneath him shifted and the pull of his catch overbalanced him. He dropped his pole. Arms wind milling, Blair fell face first into the water. "Whoa!"

Jim could only laugh as the drenched man rose from the water. Blair gave him a disgusted look and began climbing out of the lake. "Laugh it up, big guy. I lost my fishing pole…and our dinner!"

Laughter still rumbling up from his chest, Jim held out a hand to help his friend back to the bank. As their eyes met, Blair started chuckling as well.

A gunshot rang out.

Blair's head snapped towards the sound as Jim focused all of his attention towards the same direction. He heard the snapping of branches as something heavy moved through the brush. After a moment of silence he heard a vehicle pulling away. Silence returned to the woods. He ran for the truck, Blair on his heels.

"Any idea?" Blair asked as they stopped at the truck for their phones and weapons.

Jim shook his head. "Not yet. Heard some kind of vehicle leaving…sounded like a heavy engine, truck probably." He relocked the truck before leading Blair up the nearest path. Moving quickly but carefully, they wound through the trees and over the small ridge behind their cabin. As they walked around a fallen fir tree, the breeze carried a mixed scent of metal and flesh to Jim. His head turned. "This way."

The two men followed the scent to a small depression in the hillside, where the body of a young man lay. Jim looked around, noting the tire tracks and footprints. Blair just sighed as he stared down at the still figure. He glanced at his partner. "I'll see if I can reach the sheriff." Jim nodded and Blair moved away, dialing as he stepped over to a small dirt road.

A half-hour passed as the men waited for the local authorities to arrive. A deputy arrived first, asking them to wait for the sheriff while he secured the scene. When the sheriff's truck pulled up, the two of them walked over to meet him.

"Gentleman," the sheriff nodded at them as he stepped out of his vehicle. "Alex Runningwolf."

"Sheriff," Jim acknowledged, shaking hands. "I'm Jim Ellison; this is Blair Sandburg."

"So I hear you found us a problem."

"Yeah," Blair nodded. They began to walk towards the body. "We were fishing down at the lake when we heard a gunshot."

Sheriff Runningwolf lifted an eyebrow. "Decided to go looking before you called it in?"

"Habit," Jim snorted. "We're detectives with the Cascade PD. We moved to check and secure the area. It could have just been some kids playing with their dad's gun."

"I'll give you that one," agreed Runningwolf with a nod of acceptance. "At least you're not just some tourists poking around. Last summer we had a fisherman get shot because he went looking instead of calling for help." He glanced around the site and noticed the careful way the men had moved around. "Thank you for keeping the site as clean as possible."

"No problem," Blair replied.

The men stepped up to the side of the depression and looked down at the body. Runningwolf's lips grew taut and thin. "Damn it."

"Sheriff?" Jim prodded.

"Stefan Devereaux." Runningwolf answered, planting his fists on his hips.

"You know him?" Blair asked.

Runningwolf gave him a sardonic stare. "We're not exactly the big city around here. Everybody pretty much knows everybody. Stefan's a good kid; little strange in some of his hobbies, but still a good kid."

Jim tilted his head. "Any enemies?"

"Enemies? The kid's only sixteen."

"Prime age," Blair mused as he crouched down to look at the boy's face.

"Excuse me?" came the sheriff's sharp question.

Blair rose, giving the sheriff a wide-eyed look. "Puberty," he replied with a shrug. "Between the hormones and the mood swings, teenagers are at the prime age for issues to pop up. They're testing their limits, trying to find the line between being themselves and being rebellious. They're questioning everything – Mom, Dad, traditional authority figures. It's when they start really coming into their own identity instead of somebody's kid. On the darker side of it, they start trying and testing the taboos as well. Plus most lifelong dislikes are set during these years as well. People will grow up, move away, but you never really forget the things that happen to you as a teenager."

He shrugged once more as the locals stared at him. "These are the years that really shape the adult they will one day become. Sure some people have their lives determined by childhood, but most people are really developed as teenagers. Sixteen is a coming-of-age time. In modern culture we celebrate it by giving them a driver's license, but that's really a symbol of more freedom. They can go further from home now; they're supposed to be more trustworthy, more capable of independence now. It would definitely be the age they start setting the pattern of who their friends or enemies would be."

The sheriff gaped at him as Jim rolled his eyes. "Okay, Chief, I think we get it." He turned to the man next to them. "Sheriff, did Stefan have any rivals…over sports, girls, anything?"

"No," he answered. "Not that I can think of anyway. The boy was a loner mostly; only had a couple of real friends. Polite and a bit bashful with folks, but never in any trouble. He wasn't the sports type; preferred computers. From everything I saw, the girls either ignored him or treated him like a brother."

"What did he do for fun?" Blair asked.

"Computers mostly; seemed like every time you saw him he would be on his laptop. His mom got a bit concerned over how much time he spent on it, but his dad blew it off. He thought it would be good for Stefan when it came to college and getting a job."

"That might be something to look at," mused Blair. "If we could get a look at what he did while on the computer, we might have an idea of who would want to hurt him."

Jim agreed. "We'd need to find out if he was online or if this was more personal."

"You boys got any federal badges I don't know about?" the sheriff asked.

The partners exchanged chagrined looks. Blair gave a small wince. "Ah, oops?"

"Sorry about that, Sheriff," Jim answered, rubbing his forehead with one hand. "We're so used to taking on any case we trip over…"

"That we just sort of started running roughshod over your case." Blair finished.

All three men stared down at the body being carefully placed in a body bag by the coroner. Runningwolf huffed out a breath. "Aren't you boys on vacation?"

Jim and Blair exchanged rueful glances. Jim shrugged. "Can you use the help?"

"Yeah," sighed the sheriff. "I suppose so. I've got three deputies; one's here, one's in Texas visiting family and the other one's down with some virus. We're shorthanded, so yeah, I could use the help. As long as you're willing?"

Both men nodded, but Blair rolled his eyes. "Simon's going to kill us."

Arranging to meet the sheriff at the office in a couple of hours, the partners made their way back to their cabin. They decided to stay at the cabin instead of taking him up on the offer of a place in town. The drive would let them discuss the case privately. Both men liked the sheriff, but small towns did not allow for the same level of objective behavior as the big city. They needed to determine if Runningwolf had any interaction with the victim as well.

"So, what do you think?" Blair asked as they started towards town.

"I think we don't know enough about the kid yet," Jim replied. "Right now we've got the description of a nice, if shy, loner who's life revolved around a computer. That's not really the type of kid that gets shot and dumped in the woods."

"We've seen weirder," Blair argued.

"Maybe, Chief, but usually this type of kid gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a robbery going bad or simply choosing the wrong day to go to the park. So far he doesn't sound like a kid that would make enemies."

"We need to see the computer."

Jim nodded. "Exactly."

Later at the sheriff's office they met the secretary, Julie Clark, who directed them into a small break room. She brought them the laptop while pointing out the refrigerator and coffee maker. "You boys get whatever you want out of there, but don't touch the cheese biscuits. Sheriff's wife made those especially for him, and he gets testy when people start picking at them." They thanked her and focused on the computer itself.

Jim leaned back and watched as his partner's hands flew across the keyboard. Blair shook his head. "He spent time online in several networking sites, but it's mostly gaming and creative writing. I don't find much in the way of social stuff."

"So," Jim said, leaning forward, "anything on the hard drive?"

"Yeah," Blair answered, moving the mouse and clicking on a couple of folders. "Looks like Stefan was pretty creative. He's got several stories here, mostly action/adventure things, and a couple of mysteries. He had some potential as a writer. He's got a great vocabulary and a pretty good sense of the flow of words from what little I've looked at. He needed some more experience and a bit of polish, but this is pretty good for an amateur."

"But nothing else?" Jim scowled.

Blair hitched one shoulder. "Let me look around some more."

Jim stood up and paced the small room. "There has to be something else. We still don't have anything pointing towards a motive. Unless Runningwolf finds something in his interviews, the answer has to be here." He leaned on the counter and folded his arms over his chest. "What was the kid doing up there? He wasn't dressed for the woods, so he wasn't planning on going that far out."

"Snap decision?" Blair threw out as he continued looking through files.

"I doubt it," Jim replied. "The kid grew up here. He knows better than to go traipsing through the woods unprepared. Storms blow up suddenly around these mountains. He would have had a backpack with emergency supplies, better shoes, and at least some kind of jacket. I don't care how nerdy or shy; no local kid is going to go that far into the woods without some kind of preparations.

"I agree."

Both men looked up to see the sheriff standing in the doorway. "I went by the coroner first, and figured I'd stop by before starting my interviews." Walking the rest of the way inside, he leaned on the counter. "According to Doctor Matthews, he can't give me a preliminary cause of death."

Jim frowned. "He was shot."

"That's what I said," Runningwolf replied. "Doctor Matthews thinks the wound is in the wrong place to have killed him so quickly." Both detectives stared at him and he held up a hand in a holding gesture. "It would have killed him eventually, but he doesn't think it was immediately fatal. It looks like Stefan took a beating first. His first instinct is that the beating is what killed him. He figures the gunshot was just the insurance."

Runningwolf shifted and left the room, closing the door behind him. Jim and Blair exchanged a long look. Blair tilted his head. "So?"

Jim shook his head. "If the kid took a beating, it wasn't on that mountainside. The scene was barely disturbed."

"And you didn't hear it," Blair commented.

"No, but I wasn't exactly listening either," Jim noted.

Blair gave him a look. "You've got your senses on perpetual guard duty these days. Yeah, a few years ago you would have had to really concentrate, but it's been a while since you needed to do more than set a perimeter. It's instinctive now; you don't even have to think about it anymore. Someone getting beaten would have caught your attention immediately."

"Maybe," Jim granted with a shrug. He rolled his eyes as Blair huffed before turning back to the laptop.

Blair continued searching the hard drive while Jim paced the small room. He really hated not having something physical to do. Five minutes or so passed in near silence. Blair sucked in a breath.

"Find something?" Jim asked.

"Looks like a journal." Several moments passed quietly as Blair read. "Yep, definitely a journal. The guy made regular entries." He frowned and moved the page forward. "Damn."

"What?"

Blair shook his head. "He refers to everyone with nicknames: Angel G, Guardian, Dark Halo. There are almost no names."

"What about the entries?" Jim asked, rubbing his chin.

"Most of them seem fairly average for a teenage boy. He talks about hanging out with Angel G and Guardian, playing games, and schoolwork. Nothing really outstanding as…" Blair paused and his eyebrows went up. "Hang on a moment, this is interesting." His voice changed slightly as he read from the journal. "I need to talk to Guardian. I caught Angel G coming out of the bathroom at school today, and she was pulling down her sleeves. Saw some bruises, but when I asked her about them, she waved them off. She said she bumped in to something, but I've never hit something and had bruises like those pop up. Looked like fingers to me." The partners locked gazes. Blair began reading again. "Looked like the marks Guardian got that one time he got into a shoving match with PQB…from where the dude grabbed his arm. Got a bad feeling Angel G's newest fashion craze isn't for the looks. Bet it's got more to do with Dark Halo. I think it's time we had a talk with Bear."

"Dark Halo?" Jim asked scowling.

"One of Stefan's multitude of nicknames for people. This was his entry yesterday. I'll try and see what else he's got to say."

Jim nodded and started for the door. "You do that, Chief. I'll go see if I can find the sheriff and have him step in for minute. Sounds like Angel G has picked up an abusive boyfriend."

Blair turned back to the screen as Jim left the room. Running a search on the journal, he pulled up the references to 'Dark Halo' and started going through some of them.

June 8th – Angel G's put on a good show today, but she's not happy. I'd say she's pissed, but I don't really think she's mad. She just doesn't like the guy. What's she going to do though? Her mom's crazy about him. Angel G says he's got creepy eyes. Guardian laughed and said that's what GF says about him. Angel G just shook her head, said the guy's not right. We're calling him Dark Halo – nice on the outside, not-so-nice on the inside.

August 16th – Dark Halo's gone out of town for a couple of days, and Angel G's a lot lighter for it. Said she can't wait for school to start so she has more reasons to get out of the house. He's started picking on her friendship with me and Guardian. We used to think she just hated her mom getting a new guy…not so sure anymore. He's got some major hate going on – every time he sees me or Guardian, he gets this crazy-eyed look. You'd think Angel G was his daughter – I keep expecting to see him with a shotgun.

November 3rd – Something's not right. Angel G asked to keep some things over here. She says she thinks someone is searching her room. She says Dark Halo's been trying to convince her mom to keep a closer eye on her. Wish I knew what the hell was going on.

January 4th – Finally, back from visiting the cousins. Holidays were painful as usual. You'd think being on a computer was a crime. It'll be good to see Guardian and Angel G. We're due to meet at the park in an hour. I want to know what's up with Angel G – Guardian said Dark Halo cut off her cell phone. The guy is fricking weird.

January 4th – Damn it. Angel G didn't show. Guardian says she gotten really withdrawn. She barely talks to anybody at school; not even him or Bo Peep. He says her mom went out of town for a couple of days, leaving Angel G at home with Dark Halo. Something happened. He found her hiding in the hideaway one day, silent and rocking, tears on her cheeks. He just sat with her until she fell asleep. She never said a word. When she woke up, she acted like nothing was wrong and got mad when he tried to push it, so he backed down. What the hell is going on?

February 13th – Angel G's still not telling us anything. We're trying to figure it out, but she's actively hiding stuff from us. I've been tempted to go through her diary, but I gave her my word I wouldn't. She said she knew she could trust me to keep it without looking, and she didn't want Dark Halo to find it. Damn…too much more and I'll drop a hint to Guardian. He'll look and I can keep my word.

March 22nd – I know it's still cold and all, but what's with all the sweaters? Angel G's worn one every day this week, and today it was a turtleneck. She's flinching from people, won't let them touch her. She's keeping me and Guardian between her and everyone else. It's like she's hiding, or ashamed of something. Guardian and I've talked about going to Bear, but what do we say? "Angel G's acting weird and we think its Dark Halo's fault?" It's no secret she doesn't like her stepfather.

Blair leaned back and covered his face with his hands. After all this time with the police, he knew what the teenage boys were not seeing. Heck, he would have realized after the first couple of years when he was still just a ride-along. Somewhere in this town, a teenage girl was trapped in a nightmare she could not escape from, and it may have gotten one of her friends killed.

"Chief?"

He pulled his hands away from his face and looked up to see his partner and the sheriff entering. Jim's concerned frown drew a shrug. Blair gave a sigh. "It's not a boyfriend."

"What's not a boyfriend?" Sheriff Runningwolf asked.

With a gesture towards the screen, Blair explained. "We found Stefan's journal. He uses a bunch of nicknames, but it looks like a friend of his is in trouble." He went on to explain the entries he had read.

Jim nodded. "So the monster's her step-dad."

"Yeah," Blair agreed, pushing his hair back out of his face. "He's been trying to cut her off from her support system from the beginning; picking on her friendship with the two boys, making them uncomfortable. It's the entry in January that worries me most though. The tears and the silence by themselves would be indicative that the abuse had turned physical, but the rocking part…that's different. That's pointing to something deeper, more damaging to her mental state than just physical violence."

"Just…!" the sheriff started, but he went silent at Jim's glare.

"Let him finish," Jim growled.

"I don't mean to undermine the severity of the physical abuse, but the rocking movement is usually a sign that shows up when a person is trying desperately to hold on to herself. If he had beaten her severely, it would show up, but the entry doesn't point to that. Surely Stefan would have mentioned if her bruising had been that bad. Instead he just talks about her rocking and crying – not one word about a bruise, a cut, blood, nothing. What else did this 'Dark Halo' do to cause that type of reaction?"

The sheriff took a deep breath. "You're right; I'm sorry. Just…the idea that we've got a man abusing his step-daughter and then killing a teenage boy…"

"We don't know he's a killer," Jim cautioned.

"No," Runningwolf agreed, "but it sure puts him in a bad light."

Blair nodded. "Now we just have to figure out who we're dealing with." He looked directly at Runningwolf. "Stefan refers to his two friends as Guardian and Angel G."

The sheriff sat straight up, his eyes fierce and burning. "What?"

Before either man could speak, Julie poked her head in the room. "Sheriff, we've got a couple of missing teenagers."

"Let me guess," he said, rising to his feet, "Thomas Martinez and Sharon Chase?"

She blinked in shock. "Yes, sir! How-"

"Never mind," he snapped grabbing his jacket. "Get people out there looking. Tell Roberts I want to know where Chuck Johnston is…I want eyes on him immediately."

"Yes, Sir!"

Runningwolf turned back to the detectives. "Sharon and Thomas…Angel G and Guardian," he said in answer to their questioning looks. "Sharon turned sixteen over the holidays. Chuck's her stepfather." Blair bit back a curse as Jim's eyes went flat with rage. Runningwolf nodded at their reactions. "You coming out for the search?"

Blair grabbed his jacket as Jim nodded. "Pictures?"

"I'll get them."

The men followed him into the main office. Two men with search dogs stood waiting.

"Sheriff," one nodded. "Thomas' mother is bringing a shirt of his and one of Sharon's sweaters. Soon as the dogs get the scent we'll start looking."

Jim exchanged a quick glance with Blair as Runningwolf stepped up to Julie's desk to arrange for pictures. Blair muttered under his breath. "Least that should help."

Jim inclined his head in agreement but remained silent.

A few moments later, a teary dark-haired woman rushed in. She had two pictures in one hand while the other clutched some clothing. As the clothing was passed to the search and rescue team, Blair stepped forward to take the pictures. His movement gave Jim the excuse he needed to shift closer to the clothing and catch a bit of the scent.

Blair handed him the pictures with raised eyebrows. Jim gave a nod and they followed the others outside. The two partners quickly agreed to assist the search and rescue team since everyone else knew the town better. They started from the last place the teens were seen, and the scent led towards the woods. After half an hour they came to a small stream.

The dogs lost the scent at the stream. As their handlers started walking them along the water line to see if they could pick it back up, Jim headed directly across the water with Blair right behind him. The others frowned at them.

"We'll see if we can find any tracks or disturbance on this side," Jim explained. "Meet you in a bit." They nodded, their faces clearing in understanding. Jim and Blair made a small show of searching the ground as the S&R team moved out of sight. As soon as they were clear, Jim headed directly into the trees.

"What have you got?" Blair asked, eyes roving the surrounding trees.

Jim's head came up and his nostrils flared. "Sharon wears a light perfume. It's a flower of some kind, but I've got no idea what it is. The same scent's coming from over this hillside."

The two men continued climbing. As they started to go around a boulder, Jim clamped a hand on Blair's arm and drew him to a stop. He pointed to his ear and Blair nodded. Jim closed his eyes; focused part of his attention on his Guide to keep him grounded and stretched out his hearing.

"Think you can get away from me, do you? Spend all your time hanging around with punks and ignore me?"

"Back off, man! Leave her alone!"

"Don't you talk to me, punk! I took care of that other brat and you're next!"

"No!"

Jim blinked as he came back to himself. "Damn! It's the kids alright, but the stepdad's here."

Blair grimaced. "Great."

The two men crept around the boulder and down a small path towards a secluded hollow. As they drew closer Blair was able to hear them as well. They slowed down, trying to muffle the noise as much as possible. They peered around a couple of trees.

A husky blond man stood glaring down at two teenagers. Thomas, a lanky boy with shaggy dark hair, lay sprawled on the ground. A darkening spot on his face showed the hit that had knocked him down. A tall brunette who had to be Sharon knelt beside him. Johnston continued ranting at the two of them. He waved his hands around as he spat out insults and threats. One hand held a thick crowbar.

Johnston raised the crowbar. Sharon screamed. Thomas threw up his arms to protect his head. The partners burst around the trees.

"Halt! Police!"

The tableau froze.

Jim kept his eyes fixed on Johnston. He heard Blair shifting further to his left, forcing Johnston to split his attention. "Back away and put the weapon down." Johnston's eyes narrowed, and Jim's glare grew fierce. "Believe me; I don't have any problem with just shooting you. Now put it down."

Jim watched as the husky frame shook in rage, eyes darting between the two men facing him. Jim and Blair never faltered. Finally the man backed away from the teenagers and lowered his arms. Jim nodded. "That's it. Now drop it." The crowbar hit the thick forest floor with barely a whisper. "Turn around. Hands behind your head."

As Jim put Johnston into handcuffs, Blair holstered his weapon and radioed for assistance.

Blair stood off to the side as Jim helped the sheriff walk Chuck Johnston to the deputy's car. The two teenagers had already been placed in Runningwolf's truck. He glanced over to see Sharon bury her face in Thomas' shoulder. Watching as they had finally grasped the reality of Stefan's death had been heart-wrenching.

"You okay, Chief?"

He looked over as Jim came up beside him. "Yeah; just thinking."

"'Cause that's new?" His friend nudged his shoulder with a slight grin.

"Thanks," Blair retorted. "No, it's just sad that one madman's obsession managed to permanently mar three lives. Stefan's gone, and the other two will never be the same."

Jim sighed. "I know." He leaned on a tree. "That's the part I hate."

The partners watched as the deputy drove back towards town. Runningwolf walked up to them.

"I want to thank both of you. We'd never have been in time to save those two; if we found them at all," he said, shaking their hands. "With just Peterson and me here, it would have taken a few days to get to the computer, and it could have been too late."

"Oh?" Blair asked.

The sheriff nodded. "Chuck's truck is hidden just around the bend on one of the rangers' roadways. Looks like he was ready to run and probably planning to take Sharon with him."

Jim scowled, "Bastard."

"Got to agree with you there," Runningwolf said.

"She's going to need to talk to someone," Blair cautioned. "You'll need to gently encourage her to work with a professional. She's been keeping it in, hiding it away from everyone, and that's got a serious potential to fester."

Runningwolf sighed. "I know. When I walked them to my truck, she wouldn't look at me; wouldn't meet my eyes."

"She's probably blaming herself," Blair answered. "She's playing the 'what if' game in her head. 'What if I'd told? What if I'd fought harder? What if I'd fought less?'" He looked up at the light filtering through the trees for a moment before turning back to the others. "She's got some nasty commentary going through her head, not only blaming herself for what happened to her but also for what happened to Stefan."

"Tell her it's not her fault," Jim recommended. "Tell her as often and forcibly as you can. She needs you to believe it if she's going to."

The sheriff nodded. "We will." He tilted his head towards the truck. "Need a lift?"

Blair started shaking his head, but let Jim answer. "We can walk. Sharon doesn't need to be surrounded by us right now."

With a nod, Runningwolf headed for his truck. The two partners started the trek back towards town. Blair frowned. "You know what I don't get?"

"What's that, Chief?" Jim asked.

"If Chuck had a gun, why the crowbar?"

"More pain for Thomas; more terror for Sharon," Jim answered. "He wanted the boy to suffer, but he really wanted to control the girl. 'Watch me as I beat your friend. This is what I'll do to you if you don't do what I want.' Sick bastard."

Before Blair could answer, Runningwolf hollered back to them. "Hey, detectives!" When they looked at him, he gave them a grin. "Julie just radioed me. Seems your boss has been trying to call you." He paused as both men groaned, his grin growing wider. "She let him know you were helping us out and she'd pass the message along."

"We're doomed," Blair moaned, burying his face in his hands.

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Next time we need sleep he's just going to sedate us, you know that right?"

"It's not our fault!"

"No, but we always seem to get stuck taking a busman's holiday."