DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
"Goodnight." The security guard locked the massive doors behind the last of the evening's visitors. The Kennewick Man exhibit was attracting crowds even after months on display, and the Clarke Museum had extended its hours to 10 PM on weeknights.
"Finally. Let's get out of here." The receptionist wasn't the only staff member who resented the extra hours. The second hand had barely swept past the twelve before she had the phones set to voice mail and her purse in hand.
"Hold on a minute, Shannon, here comes Griek."
A young man hurried down the darkened corridor, trying to shrug into a coat while balancing a stack of books in one arm and a leather backpack in the other.
Exchanging an amused glance with the security guard, Shannon leaned suggestively across the reception desk and pitched her voice to sound sexy and alluring. "You know what they say about all work and no play, Doctor."
"Ah... well... they're probably right." The object of her attention bobbed his head nervously in her direction before focusing on the toes of his Birkenstocks while he waited for the security guard to let him out. "Night, Ben. Night, Shannon."
"Goodnight, sir." As Griek disappeared down the broad steps, Ben stuck his finger in his mouth and gagged dramatically. "You'll have to hit him over the head with a two by four, Shannon. He hasn't got a clue."
The two of them laughed conspiratorially; the escalating flirtation was fun, and it broke the monotony of the long evenings.
"Shan, give me a minute to check the back and then I'll walk you out to your car." Ben trotted down the wide entry hall, his rubber soles squeaking on the polished marble.
"Thanks, Ben. I'll be ready."
Shannon spent a moment admiring Ben's ass before she pulled a nail file from her purse and proceeded to round off a snag on her index finger. At the sound of footsteps, she shoved the file back into her purse and stood, swaying precariously as she was overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness. A strong hand on her forearm guided her gently back into her seat.
"Are you all right?" a soft voice queried.
Shannon closed her eyes and waited for the dizziness to pass. "I... yes, I think so. I must have stood up too suddenly."
The man knelt in front of her, his hand still on her arm. "Steady there, you don't look all right." Raising her head, Shannon tried to focus on his face, but a swirling fog blocked her vision.
"I'm sorry but the museum is closed... how did you get in here?" Shaking her head, she tried to rise, but her muscles were lax and unresponsive. "What's happening? Who are you?"
The dark figure leaned closer, but said nothing. With his lips almost on her own, he exhaled a ring of blue smoke.
"Have I mentioned how much I detest the swing shift, Jim?" The two detectives had been stuck working three to midnight for the past week. By 10 PM the bullpen was deserted and Blair had exchanged his restless pacing for swivel chair gymnastics.
"Only twice in last five minutes, Sandburg." Jim grimaced as he snagged another file from his overstuffed Inbox and picked up a pen. At least his hyperactive partner was seated, even if the seat in question was spinning like a tire on ice.
"I guess this is just one of the things I never considered about being a cop. Working nights is just so... blue collar. Not to mention, borrrring."
"Blue collar? That's a little harsh, don't you think? What about doctors and airline pilots? I'll bet you're glad they work nights."
"I know, I know. It's just the whole swing shift thing. Makes me think of lunch boxes and time cards. Assembly lines. Factory whistles."
"I didn't realize you were such a snob, Blair. I seem to remember you burning the midnight oil on more than one occasion." Jim frowned as he watched his partner's frenetic rotations. Blair's ennui had been evident even before their swing shift assignment had begun.
Even the captain had noticed Blair's souring attitude but his advice had been annoyingly circumspect: "Just ignore him, Jim. When he's ready to talk, he will. This is probably the first time in a decade he's been capable of boredom. And after six months on the force, the bloom is off the rose. He has to work this out for himself."
"This is different," Blair said flatly.
"Oh? Well, better get used to it. You're a cop now, not a perpetual student, and cops work nights." Jim stifled a shiver of anxiety. Had he just put his finger on the problem? Perhaps Blair was realizing that the reality of fulltime police work wasn't measuring up to his expectations
"Shit." The 'i' in Ellison was dotted with a hole that went clear through the triplicate form and left an inky depression on the desktop. He crumpled the form in disgust and tossed it in the wastebasket.
Blair ceased his spinning and flopped bonelessly backward until his spine was nearly parallel to the floor. "Geez, have you ever taken a good look at this ceiling? Must be a zillion spitwads stuck up there. Gross."
"Yeah, you're not the first guy to be bored out of his gourd." Though you're the first to ever complain this much, Jim thought uncharitably. He slipped the completed file into the OUT tray with his right hand, grabbed a new file with his left and tried to ignore the imagery conjured by Blair's assembly line remark. Police work was often tedious, especially the paperwork, but years of experience had taught him to value the quiet times.
"Too bad I can't give you hand with that paperwork, Jim." Blair's regretful look was transparently insincere. "But you know what Simon told me the last time I helped you out."
"I remember." Jim sour expression spoke volumes.
Pinching his nose, Blair did a credible imitation of captain's nasal twang. "You're a cop now, Sandburg. Don't let me catch you acting like Ellison's personal secretary."
"You better watch your step Detective, or you may find yourself doing paperwork for the whole division!"
Blair jumped so fast he nearly fell out of the chair, since the captain's bellow had come from right behind him.
"Gee, thanks for the warning, Jim."
"I'm a cop, Sandburg, not your personal sentinel." Grinning, Jim put aside his pen and turned his attention to his superior. Banks was still in his suit, chewing hungrily on an unlit cigar.
"What brings you back here, Sir?"
"At 10:20 PM, robbery responded to a call at the Clarke Museum."
"The Clarke?" Blair was on his feet in a flash. "That's amazing."
The captain froze any further comments with a glare and went on talking. "Normally, that wouldn't have anything to do with us, except that Commissioner Gordon -- you remember him, the nice man who expedited Sandburg's application to the academy? -- is on the Museum's Board of Directors. Let's see, how did he put it? He would be extremely grateful if Major Crime could send over its best team to look into the matter."
"Great." Jim grimaced as he stood and reached for his coat. "Now we're the Commissioner's personal Batman and Robin."
Simon snorted dismissively and Blair laughed.
"Ever heard the term Faustian Bargain, Jim?"
"Faust." Jim tipped his head in mock thoughtfulness. "Wasn't he the guy who said, 'when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas'?"
"To the Batmobile, Sandburg. And don't forget your flea collar."
The Clarke Museum was at the top of Capitol Hill, only few miles from downtown as the crow flew, but a torturous half-hour drive along winding streets and switchbacks to reach the top. After his energetic display in the bullpen, Blair was surprisingly quiet as they wound their way up the hill.
"So what kind of theft are we dealing with here, Blair? Gold artifacts? Famous paintings? Naked statues? What?"
Blair snorted, looking for a hint of humor in his partner's face. "Not exactly, Jim."
"What then? I don't think I've ever been to this museum." Considering the route, Jim thought it unlikely he would ever want to return.
"Why doesn't that surprise me? The Clarke is a Natural History Museum. We're talking bones and stuffed animals. Rock collections. That sort of thing. Except for the Kennewick Man, I can't think of a thing that's worth stealing."
"That's just great. Batman and Robin keeping the world safe for rock collectors and taxidermists. So, who is this Kennewick guy?" Jim cranked the wheel around another hairpin turn, accelerating carefully on the wet road.
"That's the $64,000 question. It's one of the oldest skeletons ever discovered in the Americas. It was found about 4 years ago in Kennewick, Washington, by some guys watching hydro races on the Columbia. Archeologists believe the skeleton predates the ancestors of our Native Americans and can provide valuable information about the settlement of North America. But the local tribes want the skeleton turned over to them so it can be buried instead of studied."
"You think they might have tried to steal him?"
"No, there'd be no reason to. The latest federal ruling suggests the skeleton will be treated as Native American, so the only losers are the scientists who want to study him. But they're hardly going to steal him."
"Why not? It wouldn't be the first time that indigenous tribes have been ripped off in the name of progress."
"I'm glad to know you think so highly of my former colleagues, Jim. There are some perfectly decent people who think this ruling interferes with their freedom to pursue knowledge by giving too much weight to Native American interests and beliefs." The truck swung through another turn and Blair rolled down the window, ignoring the rain in hopes of settling his queasy stomach.
"Hold up, Sandburg," Jim growled. "Since when is some moldy research more important than respecting the rights of native people to bury their dead?"
The memory of Incacha's death and the bureaucratic insensitivity regarding the return of his body to Peru still rankled.
"Hey, I didn't say I agreed with it, only that I understood the concern. Don't confuse this with the Chopec, man. It's not at all the same. That was about corporate greed bulldozing over native beliefs for the sole purpose of making money."
"But this is different because the goal is the pursuit of knowledge, not the almighty dollar?"
Jim caught a glimpse of Blair's caustic glare before he riveted his gaze out the open window.
"Forget it, Jim. This conversation is a train with no wheels. It's going nowhere."
"Maybe I don't want to forget it, Sandburg. You've had a bug up your ass for weeks now. Why don't you just tell me what's bothering you?"
That got his partner's attention all right. Blair turned, staring open-mouthed at him for several seconds. Even in the low light, Jim could see the flash of confusion that crossed his face before he wordlessly returned to staring out the side window.
Both men sighed with relief as the road finally leveled out.
"Turn left, you can drive through the back parking lot."
Jim seized the opportunity to change the subject. "How come you know the back way in?"
"I spent a lot of time here while I was getting my master's, Jim. Right after the summer I spent looting and pillaging at a dig in British Columbia, I worked here most of the winter, cataloging the spoils."
"Leave it alone, Blair. I'm sorry I made it sound personal. Living with the Chopec changed my thinking on a lot of things."
Blair seemed to think about this and after a moment, he nodded thoughtfully. "Apology accepted. I guess this is one of those times where we agree to disagree."
In an abrupt about-face that was so typical of him, he bobbled his eyebrows suggestively and smirked. "It sure didn't hurt that the Clarke has one of the all-time finest parking spots in Cascade."
Blair pointed and Jim swung the truck into a spot well away from the cluster of patrol cars and paramedic units. The parking lot overlooked the city and even through the misty rain the view was stunningly romantic, with the gentle orange glow of a thousand halogen streetlights creating a permanent sunset. A waist high stone wall rimmed the lot, separating it from the still surface of the Capitol reservoir some 40 feet below.
"A regular lover's leap. Very nice. I'll have to remember this. Thanks for the tip."
"Course, it's more fun when you bring a date." Blair ran.
John Chang from Robbery was waiting for them in the foyer, while paramedics kept a close eye on two young people.
"Hey, John. Sorry to cut in."
"That's okay, Jim. Captain Banks called, mumbling something about Faust--" his tone made the name into a question, "-- and told me you were taking over."
"So what have we got?"
"Looks like a simple B & E. The security company called us when the one of alarms went off and no one could reach the Museum's night watchman. We entered through front door, which was unlocked, and found the receptionist --" he waved in the direction of the young woman, "-- Miss Shannon LaRue, passed out on the floor behind her desk. A further search of the building turned up Mr. Ben Marson, the night watchman, passed out in the corridor near the laboratory."
"Are they okay?" Sandburg asked.
"The paramedics didn't find anything wrong other than headache and nausea, but they're taking them to the hospital for blood tests. Neither one of them knows what happened, but they both remember smelling --"
"Smoke." Jim interjected. "I smell it, too." He inhaled deeply, through his nose and mouth, like a sommelier testing the bouquet of a new vintage.
Detective Chang eyed Jim suspiciously. "I can't smell a thing, and neither could my men. Just to be safe, I had the fire department check the building, and they didn't find anything either. "
"You can't smell that?" Blair giggled nervously. "Man, it practically reeks of cigar."
"No, that's not it." Jim prowled the entry, stopping every few feet to sniff dramatically, while Chang, the paramedics, and their patients watched his progress.
"Yeah, you're right. More like cigarettes, those really strong British ones."
"No." Jim carefully skirted the life-sized cardboard display announcing the Kennewick Man exhibit.
Blair tried to block his partner from the openly curious stares. "Geez, Jim," he muttered under his breathe. "Work with me here. People are staring."
"I don't think it's tobacco. More like herbs." Jim shook his head in frustration; he was oblivious to Blair's exasperation. "I've smelled this before, Chief. I just can't remember where."
Dismissing the smoke, Jim turned his attention to the young people. "Sandburg, you finish up with Chang while I talk to these two."
He smiled encouragingly at the attractive redhead, who crossed her legs when she saw him approach. "Shannon, is it? You don't mind if I call you Shannon do you?"
"Not at all, Detective. You can call me that any time you like."
"Why don't you tell me what you remember?"
"I was waiting for Ben. Next thing I knew, I was waking up on the floor, flat on my back." Shannon blushed prettily. "I had this really good buzz going, and but I swear I didn't take anything."
"No one is accusing you of anything, Shannon." Jim's voice was reassuring.
"How about you?" he asked, pinning a less friendly stare on the guard.
"I was checking the doors and making sure the alarms were set in the lab. I smelled smoke. Next thing I knew, I'm on the floor." The young man shook his head.
"Was anyone else in the building when you went back there?"
"Nope. The geek had just left."
"Sorry." Ben and Shannon exchanged glances and smirked. "Dr. Griek, he's the Samples Curator. He's kind of a flake. That's why I went back. To make sure he'd locked up."
"Griek? Martin Griek? Guy about my age, long blonde hair?" Hearing a name he recognized, Blair stepped over to join them.
"Yeah, that's him. Ponytail, wire-rims, dresses like some new age hippie punk. You know him, huh?" Ben nodded wisely, as if Blair's acknowledgment confirmed some dark suspicion about the doctor's character. "In fact, if you smelled some funny smoke --"
"Never mind," Blair interrupted, glaring pointedly at the guard. Jim forestalled the lecture on making judgements based on appearance by giving the paramedics a thumbs up.
"We'll be in touch if we need more information. Let's go, Sandburg."
"What a jerk." Blair's muttered imprecation brought a smile to Jim's face. "What are you laughing at?"
"Just remembering a certain long-haired grad student in funny clothes. I wanted to shake him down for drugs."
"I remember. Jerk." Blair smiled wryly and landed a punch on Jim's bicep.
"Ow. Dork." Jim made of show of rubbing his arm, while he gave a display case filled with stuffed weasels a wide berth. "What else have you found out? Is anything missing? Or is this a wild goose chase?"
"Well, it wasn't the Kennewick exhibit. Chang said the alarm was triggered in the laboratory and someone left a mess of broken glass in one of the coolers. Some of the staff was called back, and they're checking out the rest of the exhibits. A K-9 team is searching the grounds. So far, it looks like the lab was the only target."
"What about Griek? How well do you know him?"
"We went to school together for six years. He left after he got his Master's and went back East. I heard he got his doctorate last spring from Philadelphia College. We were good friends, had a lot of the same interests. Plus, we were both broke. I guess that gave us a common bond." Blair paused by a diorama featuring a shabby wolf locked in a never-ending battle with a turkey vulture.
"You know, Jim, there's something about this that doesn't seem right."
Jim blinked at the bizarre display. "No kidding."
"Oh, that." Blair followed Jim's stare and laughed. "A lot of this stuff was donated by private collectors. Some of it is downright weird. That's why it's here in the back halls, not the public galleries."
"So why don't they just get rid of it?"
"They can't, that's the problem with donations. They can't be sold or destroyed. Eventually, it'll end up in some warehouse until it rots."
Blair was speaking. Jim couldn't hear him, but he could see his lips moving. The wolf struggled desperately to dislodge the vulture's talons from its throat. Blood and foaming saliva flecked the rocks as the wolf shook his head, its jaws reaching for the vulture's soft belly.
"Yeah." Passing his hand over his eyes, Jim took a closer look at the exhibit. The wolf and buzzard were covered with dust, not blood.
"I thought I'd lost you there for a minute."
"Sorry. So what were you saying, Blair?"
"Whoever did this assaulted two people. That makes this more than a simple robbery. And for what? They ignore the most valuable exhibit in the Museum to break into a lab. But this isn't like Lee Brackett stealing the Ebola virus. The museum doesn't store live cultures of anything."
"So what's in the coolers?"
"Preserved specimens for the most part. Unless the museum has gotten involved in some new stuff since I was here. "
"Well, we're about to find out."
In contrast to the darkened hallways, the lab was brightly lit. The large room looked undisturbed. The only occupant was the forensic tech who was packing up her gear.
"Anything?" Jim squinted uncomfortably as his eyes tried to adjust to the fluorescent glare.
"No, 'fraid not. The whole room is covered with prints, so I concentrated on the door handles, but no luck. They were wiped clean. The only damage was in the cooler." She pointed to an open doorway in the back. "I took pictures, that's about it." The tech shrugged apologetically and left.
The visual disturbance was beginning to annoy him, and Jim rubbed his eyes impatiently.
"Something wrong, Jim?" Blair's fingers brushed lightly over his forearm.
"Yeah, one the fluorescent tubes is on the fritz. It's blinking like a strobe."
"Let me find the switch, I'll turn off some of the lights." He turned off half the overhead lights. "Better?"
Jim sighed in relief as the flickering stopped. "Yeah." The remaining light was coming from fixtures on the far side of the room. In the oblique lighting, the floor seemed to shimmer. "What the hell is this?"
He knelt down, scanning the floor.
"What do you see?"
"Glitter. The floor's covered with it. I couldn't see it before, but the way the light's hitting it... it could be footprints. See if you can catch forensics before they leave. I'm going to take a look in the back."
The cooler was actually a fair-sized room, lined with storage cabinets around a central workstation and noticeably chillier than the rest of the museum. A slender man was guarding the doorway to what appeared to be a walk-in freezer, his blonde ponytail bouncing as he shook his head.
"No. No. No. These samples are the property of the museum and I cannot allow them to be removed."
Catching sight of the detective, the officer being held at bay backed off without hesitation. "Fine. He's all yours."
"You must understand, I cannot allow museum materials to be removed without authorization... Blair?" Ponytail's voice jumped an octave as Blair entered the room.
"Marty." Blair crossed the room grinning and stuck out his hand, which the other man pumped wildly.
"Blair, man, what are you doing here? I almost didn't recognize you." Griek looked his friend up and down, from his leather jacket to his tassel loafers. His open expression passed rapidly from surprised delight to horrified comprehension. "Don't tell me you're a cop?"
"So, it's true then. About your diss. I didn't want to believe it."
The eyes of both men swept the room, searching for a safe place to stare. Blair broke the awkward silence.
"That's water under the bridge, Marty. Maybe we can have lunch one these days and I'll tell you about it. In the meantime, I've got a new job, one that I should get busy and do. What's with the standoff?"
Griek shook off his discomfiture and opened the freezer door with a flourish. "This."
The interior of the freezer was dim, but even in the low light the damage was clearly visible. The entire floor was blanketed with a layer of crushed glass.
"What is all this?"
"This is... was... an entire rack of biological samples. Judging by that empty spot on the shelf, I'd say about 300 slides."
Jim frowned. "Biological? I thought you said there was nothing alive in here, Sandburg."
Griek hastened to explain. "DNA samples, detective. Quite harmless, really. The museum has one of the largest avian tissue collections in the world. "
"I find it hard to believe that someone broke into your meat locker so they could steal some chicken parts, Doc."
Blair squatted at the entrance, using a pencil to probe the destruction. "Not steal, Jim. This was no robbery. These slides were intentionally demolished. Look how they've been ground almost to a powder."
"Makes sense." Jim thought about the glittering footprints he'd seen in the lab. "Maybe with a shoe?"
"Yeah, that would explain the footprints."
"But not the motive. Vandalism makes even less sense than theft. What else was in that freezer, Doctor?" Jim's voice hardened into the tough-cop mode that he used on suspects who didn't have a good alibi.
Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Jim, lighten up. I'm sure Marty will tell us everything he knows."
"No, it's okay, Blair. I want to cooperate fully with this investigation." Griek's expression became one of long-suffering patience that annoyed the hell out of Jim. "The truth is, I don't know for sure. I've only been here for two months, and the samples were very poorly organized when I arrived. Tomorrow I'll collect the residue, and then I'll inventory the contents. But I can tell by the labeling that the destroyed samples came from an HDP collection donated by Shaman Pharmaceuticals."
"Human Diversity Project, Jim," Blair explained, realizing his partner's rapidly waning tolerance of Griek's superior attitude. "It's an attempt to preserve the genome's of thousands of tribes and ethnic groups around the world, some of them so small that they may vanish soon as distinct cultural groups."
"You're keeping human DNA?" Jim frowned disapprovingly. "I thought you said these samples were of birds."
Griek smiled indulgently. "No. I said the museum has one of the largest avian tissue collections in the world. I didn't say they were here in this freezer."
Jim flushed with irritation but managed to bite off a retort. "Then tell me about these slides."
"It's legal, Detective. And the slides really have no commercial value that would make them a target for theft." The sudden blinking of an orange warning light cut across their conversation.
"Uh, we need to close up the freezer. The orange light is part of a temperature sensor. The alarm will go off when the sensor detects a 2-degree rise. One alarm is enough for one evening." Griek smiled thinly.
"One more question, Doctor." Jim watched the man close the heavy door and secure the latch. "Do you happen to know what tribe or ethnic group the Shaman slides came from?"
"Of course." Griek looked at him with false sympathy. "You've probably never heard of them. A South American tribe called the Chopec."
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.