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."
"The Chopec again, Jim? Let me get this straight. Someone breaks into an obscure museum and destroys worthless DNA samples from an even more obscure Peruvian tribe. Is this someone's idea of a joke?" Simon tried to massage away the pain lines from his forehead, gave up, and fished a bottle of aspirin from his desk drawer.
Jim had arrived in time to overhear a portion of the Commissioner's latest phone call, and he had admired once again his captain's ability to tap-dance. Now, however, he had to endure the irritation Simon had been unable to vent against his boss. "That about covers it, Sir."
"No joke," Blair answered, shooting his partner a withering look. "And the slides weren't exactly worthless."
"I thought Jim said they had no commercial value."
"Just because they can't be sold for money doesn't mean they're worthless."
Jim winced as Blair shifted into his lecturer's voice. This was certainly one aspect of Blair's personality that hadn't changed since he'd become a cop.
"From an anthropological standpoint they are extremely valuable. Samples like these provide a unique opportunity to record the genetic varieties within the human species before modern population migrations contaminate them."
"Varieties, Chief? Are we talking about people here or flavors of ice cream?" Jim still hadn't completely recovered from his shock at hearing Griek's answer the night before. The information that the slides had contained Chopec DNA had hit him like a physical blow.
"Jim, don't start with me." Blair's voice sharpened in preparation for a verbal battle, but Simon cut off any further argument.
"Can it. What the hell is wrong with you two?"
Both men responded with a careful examination of the acoustical tiles. Simon sat up straighter and used his intimidating height to its full advantage.
Jim answered reluctantly. "Sandburg and I had a little argument last night. We don't exactly see eye to eye on this investigation."
"Eye to eye? We're not even in the same hemisphere, man," Blair muttered, switching his interest from the ceiling to the floor.
"You have something to say, Sandburg, then say it." Simon was moving rapidly from perplexed to pissed.
"Jim seems to think the museum is involved in some global conspiracy by evil anthropologists with visions of world domination."
"I never said they were evil, and I don't think I actually used the word 'conspiracy'."
Blair's voice resonated with disbelief. "Jim, you used Marty's name in the same sentence as 'Nazi' and 'eugenics'."
Jim dismissed the accusation with a wave of his hand. "I'll admit I may have been out of line with the Nazi remark."
"You also said someone did the Chopec a big favor by destroying their samples, and that maybe the ones we should be arresting are the people who collected them in the first place."
"I can't help it, Sandburg. That's how I feel." Hearing his own words thrown back at him made him realize just how foolish he'd sounded. "Preserving the genetic material of an entire population may seem like a good thing to you, but to me it's a real invasion of privacy. You're taking a noble people and treating them like they're passenger pigeons or dodo birds."
"Jim, that's just the point. Passenger pigeons and dodo birds are extinct. No one likes to think that human populations may also become extinct, but they do. And when that happens, their unique qualities are lost forever. Of all people, I thought you'd understand this."
"That's exactly my point. I wouldn't want my DNA available to every Tom, Dick and Uncle Sam who wanted to exploit my unique qualities. Why would the Chopec?"
Blair pounced on this observation. "They may not have understood what was happening, Jim." He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes darting from one spot to another, but carefully avoiding his partner's face.
"How? How could that happen?"
"Most people don't appreciate how easily samples that have been stored for an unrelated reason can be used for genetic analysis in the future."
"I'm not following you, Chief."
"DNA can be derived from a wide variety of biologic or genetic materials including blood and tissues. For example, archived blood spots from newborn screening, hair roots, bones, teeth, and pathology samples can be used as sources of DNA for diagnostic or forensic purposes."
Jim snorted in disgust. "So you're saying they were tricked."
"I'm saying they may not have been aware of the full spectrum of analysis that donated material may be subject to."
Simon felt as if he'd gleaned all he could from the argument. "Sounds illegal, Sandburg."
"Maybe unethical, but not illegal, Captain," Blair protested quickly. "Not unless the samples are used to produce something of commercial value, like a vaccine."
"Let's get back to the crime at hand, and leave the crimes against humanity for a later discussion." The captain shook his head, convinced he was out of his depth. "Jim, I need to know if you're able to work on this case without prejudice."
Jim felt a sizzle of outrage at Simon's implication and bit back an angry rejoinder. After all, it had been Blair who had first questioned his objectivity. Even now, hours later, the accusation stung: "So, Jim, is this going be another case where you throw away the book to help the Chopec?"
"I'll admit I'm not excited about this investigation, Captain, but I'll do my job." He shot a glance at his partner. "Besides, Sandburg has enough zeal for the both of us."
"What's that supposed to mean, Jim?" Blair tossed out the verbal gauntlet and waited.
"Come on, Chief. We both know you're emotionally over-invested in this case."
Blair was on his feet in an instant, bracing himself against the tabletop as he leaned into Jim's space. "Why? Because it happens to be an area I feel strongly about? Or because it's the Clarke, not some overpriced Downtown jewelry store? Or maybe I'm just on an ego trip and want to look good in eyes of my old friend, Marty?
"Your choice, Sandburg."
For a brief moment, their eyes met. Jim saw the glimmer of hurt his words had caused before anger erased it. "You know, Jim, you can be a real prick." Blair headed for the door.
Jim aimed his parting shot. "I call 'em like I see 'em, Chief."
"See this? Finger lobsters. Double order." Blair was gone.
Simon shook his head. "That was tactful, Jim. The best defense is a good offense, right?"
Jim couldn't think of a response that made sense, so he settled for a grunt of acknowledgement.
"You know Jim, this is first time in weeks that Sandburg's been enthused over anything." The captain tried to quell his own irritation. "Why don't you just go along with him on this and see where it takes you?"
Jim shifted in his chair, then sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. "You're right, Sir. I'll track down Sandburg and apologize. We've still got background checks pending and the toxicology reports on the employees who were drugged. Plus forensics may have something on the footprints, but other than that, we're a little short on evidence. And suspects."
"Well, then find some." Simon waved him toward the door. "When Commissioner Gordon calls again, I'd like something more tangible to report than a mystery assailant wearing glass slippers and blowing hallucinogenic smoke."
By the time Jim stepped out of Simon's office Blair was nowhere in sight.
"Rhonda, have you seen Sandburg?"
"I just saw him heading for the elevator, Jim. Do you want me to page him?"
"No, that's all right. I'll catch up to him." Maybe a few hours apart was a good idea. An apology over dinner wouldn't be bad either.
"Jim, wait. You have a visitor. I put him in the interrogation room because he wanted to smoke."
Jim frowned in confusion. "Who is he? Did he leave a name?" He couldn't think of anyone except the members of Simon's Cigar Club that he knew who still smoked.
"He did, but he asked me not to give it to you. He wants to surprise you." Jim's aversion to surprises was well known, and Rhonda was trying hard not to laugh.
"Surprise me. Great. Just what I need. Thanks."
Jim headed towards the door of the interrogation room, righteously ignoring the smothered laughter behind him as only a man who knows he's been set up can do.
Interrogation was one of the few rooms left in the department where smoking was still permitted. It had a state-of-the-art ventilator but Jim could still see the haze of blue smoke that hovered just below the ceiling. The man waiting for him was young, dark and impeccably dressed. Without conscious intent, Jim felt his awareness sharpening as his nose took in a vaguely herbal aroma.
The young man seemed familiar though Jim didn't recognize his face. His low voice was pleasantly melodic and he found himself smiling in response.
"Do I know you?"
"What good are eyes that can see for a thousand miles if you cannot recognize one who stands before you, Enquiri?"
The words were Quecha.
Stepping forward, Jim pulled the young man into a hug, which was returned with equal enthusiasm. "I can't believe it! It's been what? Almost ten years?"
"A long, long time, Enquiri. I was just a boy when you left us."
Jim sobered abruptly. "Machi, I'm sorry about your father. I feel like Incacha's death was my fault."
"It was not your fault, Enquiri. I think he knew when he left Peru that he would not to return to us in this life. Let us talk no more about it."
Jim gave him another squeeze, stepping back as he heard the door open and saw Blair stick his head in the room.
"Jim? Am I interrupting? Rhonda said you were looking for me."
Jim practically pulled him into the room. "Blair, come in. I want you to meet a friend of mine from Peru. Machi, this is Blair Sandburg, my partner."
The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. At least, Jim thought they must have. He could see their mouths moving, even though he couldn't hear them. Blue smoke swirled around them like a vortex, drawing his eyes to the center. The wolf drew back its lips in a snarling parody of friendship while the vulture flexed its talons and shrieked.
Blair smiled politely at Jim's visitor. "How do you two know each other?"
"My father was Incacha, Enquiri's first shaman."
"So, you're Chopec. What brings you to Cascade?"
The wolf circled the vulture warily, testing its reach by darting in and out.
The vulture screeched in amusement.
"I am not planning to kidnap any oil company executives, if that is what you are thinking."
"That's good to hear. So why are you here?"
The wolf kept circling, instinctively drawing back each time the sharp beak darted forward.
"I'm on Christmas break and I've never been to the Pacific Northwest."
"You're a student then?"
"Yes, I am a studying for my MBA at Philadelphia College."
"No kidding. I don't imagine there are too many Chopec MBA candidates around."
"No, I would think not. Though it was not hard to get in. The minority thing, you know."
"Yeah, I know about that. So, what now?"
The wolf froze, hackles raised, muscles bunched and ready to spring.
"What do you mean?"
The vulture's wings stretched like a canopy over both of them.
"Where are you staying?"
The wolf launched itself forward even as the great wings enfolded it.
"He's staying with us, Chief." Now where had that come from? Jim rocked backward, physically jolted by the abrupt dissolution of the vision. The smoke was gone, taking the talking animals with it, and leaving his partner glaring at him in consternation.
"If it's no trouble, I'd like that very much." The young Chopec's voice was eager.
"No, it's no trouble, is it Blair?" To someone who knew Blair's body language as well as Jim did, it was indeed trouble, but Blair said nothing.
"Let me give you the address and a key. You can take a taxi, and I'll catch up with you for dinner. Seven-thirty okay? Blair give him your key, will you?"
As he handed over the key, Blair shot Jim with an acid look that could peel paint off plaster. Oh, yeah, it was trouble.
"What's the big deal? It's just one or two nights. Your mother usually stays a week."
"What's the big deal? Passing over the fact that you gave him my room, he's a suspect, Jim." Blair paced back and forth in front of Jim, who leaned against the closed door of the interrogation room.
As it happened, Simon had been on his way out , and he'd offered Machi a ride to the loft. "You're a grad student?" he'd asked skeptically, silently adding up the cost of the elegant clothes. "Must be in the School of Business."
As soon as they'd left, Jim had herded his partner back into the relative privacy of Interrogation, anxious to discuss his strange vision. Instead, he was watching Blair pace back and forth like a prosecutor before the jury box. His unexpected attack on Machi left him stunned.
Pushing himself off the door, he rounded his partner. "A suspect! Why? Just because he's Chopec? That sounds a little racist to me, Sandburg."
"Jim, you said yourself that destroying the samples was good for the Chopec. Who else has a better motive than he does?" Blair wasn't backing down or away.
"Motive and opportunity, Sandburg." Jim emphasized his words by using his index finger to poke Blair in the chest. "If you think Machi is such a terrific suspect, show me some evidence. He said he flew into Cascade this morning. If he's lying it shouldn't be too hard to prove."
Stifling his anger, Jim turned toward the door, but Blair grabbed him by the wrist and wouldn't letting go.
"Why are you being so difficult about this? Is it because he's Incacha's son and you're feeling a little guilty, Jim?" A quick twist was all that was needed to break Blair's grip and let Jim turn the tables. Clenching his fists, he shoved Blair away from him.
"Dammit, Sandburg. You're way out of line. Instead of jumping to conclusions, why don't you try doing some real police work for a change?"
"You know, Jim, that's a good idea. At least one of us should be trying to solve this crime."
"Good. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."
The door slammed so hard the glass shook.
Whatever investigation Blair was pursuing, he wasn't doing it in the bullpen. Jim followed him out of Interrogation, feeling calmer almost at once, just in time to see the elevator doors closing. Blair never reappeared during the rest of the afternoon, so Jim reluctantly left without him and picked up Machi for dinner.
Over steak and potatoes, Machi regaled Jim with stories of the children of the Chopec, now grown, that Jim had come to know. He was a natural storyteller, and even sitting in a smoky booth at the steak house, Jim could easily recall the laughing children of a decade past.
At last, over coffee, Jim asked the question that had been on his mind since his confrontation with Blair.
"Machi, I've been meaning to ask --"
"Why I'm here in Cascade."
"Yeah. Something tells me this is more than a vacation."
"Father always said you could see into a man's heart." Machi hesitated, then went on. "I need your help. The Chopec need your help."
"Last summer, right before I left for the United States to continue my education, a man came to our village. He was a scientist who was studying the medicinal qualities of our native plants. A large company was paying him to gather specimens to take back to the United States for analysis."
"Let me guess. Shaman Pharmaceuticals?"
"Yes. You know this company?"
"Their name has come up."
"My people were pleased, eager even, to share their knowledge. The Chopec believe that the gifts of the earth belong to all men." Machi slumped a bit against the cushions of the booth and absently swirled the coffee in his half-filled cup. "But knowledge was not all he was after. In time, he gained the trust of the elders, and he convinced them to let him take blood samples from the villagers. He said this would speed their research and save many lives."
"I'm surprised he persuaded them, Machi. I thought the Chopec believed that the spirit and the body are one. To give up a part of the body is to give up a piece of your soul."
Machi shrugged. "After my father died, many things changed. Our village was without a shaman, and the elders acted without the guidance of the spirits."
"I thought you were to be the Shaman. Isn't that kind of a hereditary position?"
Machi laughed bitterly. "No, not in every case. In any event, my father did not pass the way of the shaman on to me before he died. Because of that, the tribe had to wait until another grew strong enough to walk this path. Besides, I have been away from my village much of the time to pursue my studies. I may be the first of my people to be a success in the modern world."
"That still doesn't explain what you're doing in Cascade."
"A few months ago I learned that the blood samples were never meant for pharmaceutical research. Instead, the blood was collected so the DNA could be studied by scientists who want to uncover the secrets of the Chopec and exploit them."
"How did you learn this, Machi?"
"My father told me."
"I walk in two worlds, Enquiri. I had a vision. Do not tell me you have never had one. I saw my father clearly, and he was adamant. What was taken must be returned or the people will suffer greatly. I am here to take back what is ours."
The dinner ended badly. Machi was horrified to learn the samples has been destroyed, and he was unsure as to whether this would appease the spirits or just piss them off. As they rode home, Jim tried to fill in the rest of the puzzle.
"Machi, how did you know the samples were here in Cascade?"
"That part was easy. I just followed the geek."
"Sorry, everyone calls him that. Martin Griek. He is the man who collected the blood samples from my people. He came here two months ago, and he brought the samples with him."
"What is wrong?"
"He's a friend of Blair's -- a good friend."
"How can he be a good friend if he is not a good man?" Machi said with uncompromising certainty.
Jim had no answer for that, and they drove the rest of way in silence.
Jim was in a foul mood by the time he arrived at the station the next morning. His sleep had been disturbed by a succession of weird dreams, and he'd overslept as a result. Finding that Blair had been gone for hours didn't make him feel any better. They needed to talk, that much was certain. Last night after dropping Machi off at the loft, Jim had returned to the station and found a terse note from his partner telling him not to wait up. Jim had the uneasy feeling that the distance between them was growing, and somehow it was his fault.
Blair was in the captain's office, and just seeing the back of his curly head was enough to relieve some of Jim's tension. Rhonda waved at him and pointed, so he bypassed his desk and headed straight in to join them.
"Sandburg. Captain." Jim nodded pleasantly, while questioning Blair with eyes.
"Morning, Jim." Simon waved him toward a chair. "Sit down."
Warily, Jim obeyed. "What's up?"
Blair's expression was serious. "We need to talk."
Instantly the tension returned, vibrating between them like an over-stretched rubber band. A single wrong word would cause it to snap.
His partner wasted no time getting to the point. "Jim, how well did you know Incacha's son?"
Despite his earlier determination to mend the gulf between them, Jim bristled. "What do mean, 'how well'? Probably better than you know your doctor friend."
Blair dismissed the observation. "If you're talking about the Chopec samples, I already know that Marty collected them. He told me last night."
Jim thought it was a good thing Blair hadn't told him where he was going last night, but he didn't say it. "So what's this got to do with Machi?"
"Yesterday, Machi suggested he was on some type of scholarship program for minority students. I contacted the provost's office at Philadelphia College this morning. Machi's education is being paid for by a foundation grant -- from Shaman Pharmaceuticals."
"Is that unusual? You've been living on grant money for years."
"Shaman Pharmaceuticals doesn't exist."
Jim's reaction was straightforward and to the point. "Shit."
"At least, it doesn't exist in the traditional sense. Shaman has never filed a tax return, applied for a patent, received FDA approval for drug studies, nothing. For an R & D company, they're surprisingly inactive."
"CIA?" Two voices spoke simultaneously, and Jim and Simon shared a pained expression. Great minds think alike, so Jim could easily imagine the evil thoughts that Simon must be having.
"What would be CIA want with the Chopec?" Simon asked.
"Call me paranoid, but Marty was hired just eight days after the dissertation shit hit the fan."
Jim winced. "Damn. Someone in the Agency connected my sentinel abilities with the Chopec. What did they think they were going to find? I'm not Chopec, and we don't share any common DNA."
"It was a fishing expedition. I don't think they actually knew anything. Marty said he was told to focus on certain plant families known to have psychoactive properties. Maybe they thought sentinel abilities are drug induced."
"Maybe." Jim shook his head. "But why collect DNA?"
"I can think of two reasons. The only reason the Chopec would know about sentinels was if they had a sentinel in their tribe at one time. So the genetic marker could still be present."
"You said two reasons."
Blair grimaced and answered reluctantly. "You may have fathered a child."
Phrases like 'time stopped' and 'mental blank' had to be experienced to be appreciated. Simon and Blair remained politely silent as Jim tried to wrap his mind around this new development.
Finally, his thoughts brought him back to the present. "How much does Griek know about this?"
"About the sentinel project, nothing at all. He'd never even heard of the Chopec before this. But he's idealistic enough to be deeply offended if he finds out that his project was all a smokescreen to exploit the Chopec."
"Offended enough to destroy the samples?"
"It's possible. Though he'd have a lot to lose if he were caught."
Simon grunted in irritation. "It sounds like you have your work cut out for you -- and I'm counting on you to come up with something quick. I'm am not looking forward to telling Commissioner Gordon that the his museum was storing human DNA collected by the CIA for illegal R & D." He blinked. "I can't believe I just said that."
"We're on it, sir. A.S.A.P." Jim ducked as the aspirin bottle followed him out the door.
There were occasions when Jim believed Blair could actually read his mind. Without a word, he grabbed his jacket and headed straight for the elevator. He didn't have to look to know Blair was right behind him.
The Downtown Park was usually a brisk five-minute walk from the station, yet Jim made it in half the time. Blair was practically jogging to keep up with his longer stride. The street vendors were long gone, disappearing with the colder weather like a flock of migratory birds. The footpaths, too, were deserted and Jim strode along them in an aching silence until he felt his adrenaline begin to fade.
"It's ironic, isn't it?"
"What's ironic, Jim?"
"You gave up everything you worked for to keep my sentinel abilities a secret; a snake like Griek has everything you wanted and uses it to hurt the very people who helped me become a sentinel."
"Jim, for what's its worth, Marty never intended to hurt anyone. He never made the connection between Shaman and the CIA until he was back in the States. When he found out the truth, he tried to back out of his contract but they threatened to ruin his reputation in the academic community. So far he been able to stall but he knew that sooner or later he'd have to turn over the slides."
"Unless there weren't any slides to turn over. I think it's time to pay an official visit to Dr. Griek. It might be easier if I did this on my own. Are you okay with that?"
"Sure, Jim. As long as you promise to leave him one piece. I should hang around the station anyway. I'm waiting for the toxicology screens on the museum employees."
"Okay, Chief. I'll meet you at home around 8:00 and we'll compare notes."
Impulsively, Jim slung his arm around Blair's shoulder and squeezed. "Thanks for putting up with me, for being a friend. Sometimes I think I don't really deserve it."
Blair returned Jim's hug with one of his own.
"Careful, Jim. Someone's liable to get the wrong idea about what's hiding behind that surly exterior."
Shannon was back at work, looking no worse for her experience. As she seemed to consider flirtation a necessary part of her reception duties, Jim responded in kind, enjoying the verbal parrying as she escorted him back to the lab.
"Dr. Griek must have stepped out for a moment, Detective. You're welcome to wait but I've got to get back up front." She smiled coyly and slipped him her phone number before she left.
The cooler door was unlocked and Jim decided to view that as an invitation to look around. He found the cool air invigorating and he took a deep breathe to clear the musty dead animal smells of the back halls from his sinuses. An acrid, smoky odor prickled his nostrils, registering with his brain and his taste buds simultaneously. A noxious potpourri of complex organic molecules triggered his gag reflex and he choked back rising bile as his gaze swept the room.
The crushed remains of the Chopec slides covered the workbench. Using a magnifying lamp, someone had painstakingly separated out the largest pieces placing them in a single layer on the light table, like the components of a sadistic jigsaw puzzle.
It was the colors that snared him. Through the magnifier, the bits of glass blazed to life, splitting into countless rainbows. The urge to have a closer look was overwhelming, and Jim both saw and felt the moment when his gaze slid through the lens, like thread through a needle, pulling his conscious mind behind it as he tumbled towards a wellspring of color. Panicked, he tried to slow his descent -- not without Blair, he screamed in silence.
Then the kaleidoscope began to turn, slowly at first, each rotation spilling and rearranging the colorful pieces. The speed began to build, until he could no longer distinguish the new patterns and the edges of the color started to bleed, leaving him awash in muddy hues.
He could hear the diminishing rush of blood though the great vessels and feel the cessation of the pounding rhythm of his heart. A burning pain blossomed in his chest and spread outward as his starved tissues struggled for oxygen.
He was dying, his consciousness pinned to a spinning wheel, forced to watch from the inside as his physical processes slowed and finally stopped. At last the colors dropped away one by one, leaving only a vivid green. Then it, too, was gone. And all that was left was smoke....
"Jim, you awake?"
He wasn't sure. He throat felt burned and raw. Did he have strep throat, he wondered? There was no pain other than there.
"Squeeze my hand, don't try to talk. You're throat's going to be sore 'cause you were on a respirator for six hours."
Jim felt the straw slip between his lips and sipped gratefully.
He nodded and decided to try opening his eyes. Green flashes exploded across his retinas. With a cry and a grimace, he closed them again. Panicky, he tried to rub the green stain away, only to have his hands captured and held.
A quiet voice reassured him. "It's okay. It's okay. You're not blind. Everything's going to be fine, you've just got to listen to me. Just listen, okay?"
Blair was with him. He was going to be okay. The whispered promise was repeated over and over again, and he finally believed it.
The next time he awoke to voices, he recognized Blair's and Simon's.
"He woke up once, and I think he knew I was here. I've never seen a zoneout as bad as this one, Simon. I don't know what to make of it."
"You'll figure it out, Blair, you just need sleep and some time to think about it. Jim's damn lucky you showed up when you did."
"Smoke." One syllable and his throat was in agony.
"Hey, you're awake." Blair touched his hand gently. "How about opening your eyes?"
Jim forced his eyelids to move. The overhead lights were off, and the room was gently lit by the bedside lamp. Blair and Simon looked at him with identical worried frowns. But at least they weren't green.
Blair produced more water and a straw, while Simon raised the bed so he could sit up.
He drank half the glass, then ventured another syllable. "Smoke." Not bad. The water had doused some of the flames.
"What?" Simon looked confused. "Are you asking for one?"
"Jim, did you smell smoke before you zoned?"
Instead of answering out loud, Jim nodded, saving his throat for another slurred syllable. "Wha'?"
"What happened? I arrived at the museum about ten minutes behind you. You were unconscious on the floor of the cooler. I called an ambulance, but by the time they arrived you'd stopped breathing."
Blair answered Jim's unspoken question with a grin.
"Shannon and I did CPR on you for almost five minutes. But don't worry, I made her do the chest compressions." Blair was smiling, but his eyes were still afraid.
"S'okay" Two syllables. Great. At this rate he's be talking in full sentences by Christmas. "Green."
"Green?" Blair looked perplexed. "What about green, Jim?"
Shit. Three syllables. Yeah, he could do it. "Slides -- were -- green." His throat was seared by the rush of air over the raw tissue, and Blair quickly offered him the water glass.
"What's he talking about, Sandburg?" Simon growled. "Spit it out and use full sentences."
"The slides aren't Chopec."
Good Blair. Jim was absolutely sure that "chlorophyll" was beyond his current vocal ability. Now he could sleep.
"How do you know that?"
"Cause if Jim's right, they're not even human."
The next time he woke it was to the tinkle of glass and the squeak of rubber wheels. A lab tech was making his early morning rounds. The muffled PA paged a respiratory therapist and the patient in the neighboring room was being prepped for surgery. A man's voice quietly reassured an anxious spouse.
Jim knew Blair was near, probably sleeping given the slow heart rate. Opening his eyes, he scanned the curtained alcove until he saw him, sprawled awkwardly in a hideous orange vinyl chair. One leg was hooked over the wooden arm, providing just enough leverage to keep him from sliding onto the floor.
The burning in his throat was considerably reduced, so Jim experimented with a stage whisper. "Blair. Wake up."
Blair scrambled to his feet. "Jim, you okay? You need something?" He fluttered anxiously around the bed. "Water?"
Jim nodded, groaning in relief as the icy liquid slid down his parched throat.
"Better." Now he could whisper without pain. "What time is it?"
"6:30." Blair covered a yawn and drew the orange chair closer to the bed. "What a night." His voice sounded tired and tense.
Something was eating at his partner, and Jim had a pretty good idea what it was. He did a quick mental tally and realized Blair was running on adrenaline. Exhaustion coupled with guilt was about to take its toll. "Blair, we need to talk."
Like a condemned man before the judge, Blair dragged his gaze up to meet Jim's.
"This wasn't your fault."
His friend frowned unhappily, unwilling to let himself off the hook so easily. "I should have been with you. You never would have zoned if I'd been there."
"You don't know that. I heard the doctor say it was methane poisoning. Someone opened a gas jet. If you had been with me, we both might have died. You saved my life, buddy. Thank you."
"Well, if you're trying to make me feel better --" Blair mouth twisted into a shy smile and he reached out to take Jim's hand, "-- it's working."
Jim gave Blair's hand a squeeze. "Just don't go getting all mushy on me."
Blair nodded, blinking rapidly, and squeezed back before he pulled his hand away. "Still, I owe you an apology, Jim. I was out of line -- about the Chopec, about Machi, all of it."
He swallowed, making visible effort to continue. "It seems like lately, I've been viewing my life in terms of what it's not, instead of what it is. Almost losing you was kind of a wake-up call."
"Now who's getting mushy?" Though some of the tension had left Blair's face, he still looked worried and uncertain. Jim decided it was time for some answers. "I don't remember much about last night. How did you find me so quick?"
"Pure luck. The toxicology report identified some substances that are derivatives of South American plants. I was hoping Marty might recognize them, but he wasn't there when I arrived." Jim scowled at the mention of Martin Griek. "The good doctor pulled a real clever doublecross, Blair. Get off the hook with the Agency, and keep the real slides for himself. He and I are going to have a long talk when I get out of here."
"That'll be a one-sided conversation." Simon's grim voice caught them by surprise as he parted the curtain. "He's dead."
Martin Griek was indeed dead. His body had been found floating facedown in the Capitol Hill reservoir. As Simon explained it, "A couple of college kid's were finishing off a six-pack for breakfast in the parking lot of the Clarke Museum when someone thought it'd be funny to take a whiz in the reservoir. They were standing on the wall when they saw the body."
Simon looked apologetically at Blair, "Sorry, Sandburg, but the coroner saw no obvious signs of a struggle. He's treating it like a suicide."
Damn. It had to be drowning. For a bitter moment, Jim wished that Griek had chosen some other way -- any other way -- to off himself. Blair rarely spoke about the fountain, and Jim wasn't sure how much he remembered, but he certainly didn't need to experience firsthand the parts he had missed.
"Sandburg, why don't you and I head up to the museum and let Jim get some rest?"
Blair nodded gravely, his expressive face temporarily frozen by shock and grief. Jim wondered if his own face had looked the same when those damn paramedics had said Blair was gone.
"No way, Simon." Jim stared fervently at his captain, hoping that Simon knew him well enough to read his intentions. There was simply no chance that Blair was going to deal with Griek's drowning without his partner beside him. "Just get the doctor in here --"
Blair sprang on the offensive. "Forget it, Jim, you need to rest --"
"-- and get me checked out --"
"You need more blood tests --"
"I'm fine, now. Where are my clothes?"
"Dammit, Jim, you were dead!" Blair's voice broke on the last word.
"And so were you, Blair." Jim added gently, "That's why I'm not letting you do this alone." Blair met his gaze with understanding and appreciation.
"Okay, we'll finish this together, Jim."
As it happened, Jim's doctor was less compromising. The arrogant SOB actually threatened to use restraints if Jim's big toe so much as touched the floor without medical approval. He promised to sign Jim's release by noon if the latest blood tests were satisfactory, so Jim reluctantly agreed to let Simon drop Blair off at the station.
"Remember, you stay away from the museum, Sandburg. You and I will drive up there together as soon Dr. Evil gets back from his power trip."
Blair just laughed, displaying what Jim thought was a rather disloyal lack of sympathy. "Take the doctor's advice. Get some sleep and stop talking. I'll be here by noon."
By 12:05 Jim was ready and waiting. By 12:15 he was annoyed and pacing. Calls to Blair's cellphone went unanswered. When 12:30 passed with no sign of his partner, Jim checked himself out and called Simon to find out what the hell was going on.
"Sandburg? He should have been there by now. He left here an hour ago muttering something about hunting magic. He said he was stopping at the loft to talk to Machi before he picked you up."
"Hunting magic?" Jim felt a shiver run up his spine as the smoke cleared out of his brain at last. "Simon, this is important. What exactly was Blair doing before he left?" He ignored the charge nurse as she shouted at him to get back in his wheelchair and headed for the elevators at a run.
"Just a second, Jim, I'll ask Brown. They had their heads together over something." Jim stabbed at the down button repeatedly but the elevators refused to budge. Damn, give me a good old fireman's pole any day, he thought. The nurse with a wheelchair was barreling down on him, so he abandoned the elevator for the stairs.
"Jim, are you there? He was reviewing toxicology reports -- the two employees from the museum, Martin Griek's, and yours. Apparently, you all had traces of the same chemicals in your bloodstream. According to Brown, Blair thought he recognized some of the names."
Jim burst through the door into the lobby and raced for the hospital exit. "I'm not surprised, Simon. If I'm right, we were all drugged with a powerful hallucinogen the Chopec call hunting magic. That's what I smelled at the museum."
Thank God Simon wasn't slow. "Then Sandburg could be walking straight into trouble."
"Exactly. I'll meet you at the loft, sir."
Jim closed the phone with a snap and looked around for a ride home. A taxi was just pulling away from the curb, so Jim flashed his badge at the driver. "Police business. I need to --"
"Up yours." The cab driver flipped him off, practically running over his foot as he sped away.
The next car in line was a stretch limo. It's uniformed driver was currently helping a blue-haired lady reach the front door safely. Fortunately, he'd left the motor running.
The truck was gone. He left the limo double-parked and ran up the stairs to the loft. Cop instincts took over and he drew his gun, approaching his own door as carefully as would that of any criminal. He could sense Simon coming up the stairs behind him. Without looking back, he signaled for the captain to join him.
"How'd you know? I haven't had a cigar in three days." Simon's brow lifted as considered the possible responses. "Wait, don't tell me. I probably don't want to know."
The two men positioned themselves on either side of the door.
"Are they in there?" Simon mouthed silently.
Jim shook his head and he whispered, "I don't hear them, but..." His eyes warned Simon to be careful.
The door was unlocked. He opened it cautiously with his foot, stepping quickly through the entrance and scanning rapidly for any danger. Simon was right behind him. The loft was empty.
Jim sniffed gingerly, following his nose until he found a clay bowl filled with ashes. He probed the ashes with his fingertip, but carefully avoided touching the bowl. "Still warm. Simon, we need to have this analyzed."
"That's my guess. And I'll bet Machi's prints are all over it."
"Where do you think they went?"
"The museum, Simon. Somehow, Machi's involved in all this and the museum is the common denominator."
"You go after them, Jim. I'll call forensics." Simon pulled out his phone and dialed. "First, let me call dispatch and take the APB off that limo you boosted. The driver reported it stolen. And for godsakes, be careful with it." He hollered the last after Jim's retreating form.
The limo had surprisingly good acceleration for such a large car. The quickest route to the Clarke was by freeway to the Union Street exit. But to get there, a different route would save him almost ten minutes. All he to do was drive over a few curbs and across a median -- good thing the limo had a heavy-duty suspension -- and then he was entering the Expressway, eight lanes all heading toward downtown until four o'clock, when the direction of flow was reversed. As he came off the Union Street exit, he saw a familiar blue and white truck on the overpass ahead of him.
Jim gunned the engine and squealed through the intersection, weaving in and out of the heavy midday traffic, until he was a half block behind the truck. He could see two people in the cab. Machi was driving and Blair was sitting quietly beside him. Too quietly. As he followed at a discrete distance, he noticed that Blair never looked left or right. As the truck swung through the first of the hairpin turns on the road to the museum, Blair fell to the side, leaning rigidly against the glass.
Screw discretion. Jim floored it, and big engine roared in response. The turning radius was so huge, the limo skidded through the corner with the finesse of an aircraft carrier. Pulling out of the skid, Jim saw Machi eyes watching the rearview mirror. Blue smoke swirled around the cab, then the truck accelerated. The chase was on.
Clarke Drive had nine hairpin turns. The grade was a steady six percent, and the engine in the old Ford 150 was no match for the limo's fuel-injected V-12. It wasn't exactly neck-snapping acceleration, but it was enough. Unfortunately, what the truck lacked in horsepower was made up for in handling, and soon a pattern was established: skid the limo through a turn, fall behind; floor it, catch up, skid through another turn. They were trapped on the rollercoaster from hell, and they hadn't even reached the top of the first hill. Periodically, they'd catch up to another car and Jim was forced to watch in terror as Machi would veer into the oncoming lane, nearly losing control as he pushed the Ford to the limits of its handling.
He wished he could see how Blair was doing, but the cab of the truck remained filled with an impenetrable blue fog. From the little he remembered, hunting magic was a powerful drug. Its psychoactive properties produced ataxia and bizarre visions in people who didn't use it regularly. Hopefully, Blair would wake up with nothing worse than a bad headache. Frustrated, he focused on listening and was rewarded by the slow, steady beat of his partner's heart.
Jim winced as the truck screeched around the final turn and scoured off another 5000 miles of tread. He wrenched the wheel of the limo and felt the back end slide, until he skewed almost sideways across the road. An approaching garbage truck blasted its horn, and his hands went reflexively to his splitting skull. As his consciousness wavered, he took his foot off the gas and let momentum carry him out of the truck's path onto the shoulder.
The irate driver was out of the cab, striding angrily toward him. Rolling down the window, Jim tossed out his badge. "I need you to call 911. Read them my badge number and tell them I need back-up at the Clarke Museum."
He squealed the limo back onto the pavement and sped off, leaving the speechless truck driver gaping after him. As he sped up the final mile, the pickup was no longer in sight.
He prayed Blair's shortcut to the back parking lot would help close the gap. The parking lot of the Clarke was deserted. The morning's tragedy coming on the heels of a break-in had persuaded the Museum Board that a short holiday combined with a complete security review was in order. Two squad cars were stationed at the main drive, maintaining the integrity of the crime scene until forensics had completed its investigation. The officers had probably recognized the blue and white Ford and allowed it through.
Jim's unexpected arrival through the back parking lot caused a moment of consternation. The officers jumped from their cars and hurried to him.
The truck was parked at the foot of the broad steps leading to the entrance and appeared to be empty. With his gun in one hand, Jim opened the passenger door, releasing a cloud of acrid smoke that burned his nostrils and made his eyes water. Blair was nowhere in sight.
The uniformed officers joined him in a flanking motion and together they swept forward, Jim covering the front while the others fanned out to sides and back. The main door was unlocked. Jim slipped though the lobby and headed for the lab.
The big laboratory was empty and dark, as was the cooler. Jim automatically adjusted his vision for the low light. The door to the big walk-in was ajar and the orange warning light was blinking on and off. He circled the perimeter of the room until he was standing next to the freezer, back pressed flat against the wall. With his gun ready, he stepped swiftly forward, frowning as he realized that the freezer, too, was empty. Where was his partner?
"What good is it to have eyes that can see a thousand miles if you can't find your partner when he's lost, Sentinel?" Jim's placed Machi's mocking voice behind him and to the left. Spinning around, he tried to take aim before the sultry blue smoke overtook him.
Not this time you bastard, he vowed grimly.
Instinctively, he dropped to his knees, keeping his face low where the air was still untainted. After slipping out of his coat and shoulder holster, he stripped off his sweater and tee-shirt, wrapping the latter around the lower half of his face. Taking shallow breaths, he crept along the edge of the workstation, flinching when his bare torso came in contact with the cold metal.
"I told Blair it was all his fault Martin died." Machi sounded amused at the notion that such a revelation should bother Blair.
"You son of a bitch."
"Martin was willing to along with the switch -- anything to get the Agency off his back -- but no, Blair had to make him feel guilty about what he'd done."
The blue smoke had settled into a layer about a foot above the floor. Gritting his teeth, Jim lay prostrate on the cold tiles waiting for some clue to the Chopec's whereabouts.
"You can't make someone feel guilty. All Blair did was remind him he had a soul."
Machi's laughter rang through the darkness. "He sold his soul -- to Shaman Pharmaceuticals -- and he was happy to do it. Fame, fortune, knowledge, he threw it all away."
Almost there, just keep him talking a little longer.
"So you killed him and you tried to kill me. Why?"
"Martin was going to turn himself in, tell the authorities were the real slides were hidden. I couldn't have that. And you -- you let my father die. He trusted you to help us, but you let him down. He died half a world away and passed the Shaman's gift to another, instead of to his son."
"So you think by selling the Chopec DNA, you can punish the tribe for rejecting you."
Gotcha. Jim pinpointed the voice, pulling himself toward it on his belly.
"I am a Shaman! I am Incacha's son. Your stupid friend can't even use the hunting magic properly."
Machi was directly in front of him now, the blanket of smoke covering Jim's advance.
"So, did you kill him, too?"
Poised to strike, Jim waited for his answer.
He laughed derisively, as though Blair wasn't worth the trouble. "That wasn't necessary, Sentinel. He'll accomplish that on his own."
Confident in the power of the hunting magic, he was unprepared for Jim's swift attack and landed heavily on the floor. Jim pressed his knee into the small of Machi's back -- and nearly jumped out of his skin when the vulture's naked head swiveled around, the dripping beak striking at his face, ripping into his flesh and plucking at his eyes.
Jim screamed, terror fueling his movement as he wrestled with the beast, its leathery neck writhing like a snake in his hands. He expected agony but felt nothing, not even the hot blood that was pouring from his wounds, drenching his bare chest in gore.
Tightening his grip, he closed his eyes and shook the body in hands, slamming it hard against the floor.
"Whatever you're doing, stop it now, or I'll snap your spine, I swear." Even muffled by the tee-shirt still wrapped around his face, his resolve was unmistakable.
He heard a few muttered words in Quecha, and the vision abruptly disappeared. Machi was slumped on the floor beneath him, panting heavily.
Drawing a shallow breath to avoid inhaling any more smoke, Jim lurched to his feet and headed for the door, pulling Machi's limp form along with him.
"Where's my partner?" Jim slammed the young man against the wall.
Machi's handsome face twisted with fury.
"Why couldn't you just die?"
"Where is he?" Again, he slammed him hard.
"Your Shaman is taking a spiritwalk, Enquiri."
"What are you talking about?" He shook him so hard he could hear Machi's teeth rattle.
"That's what Shaman do, Sentinel, when they need answers. Blair is searching for the truth. He wants to know what I told the CIA about Sentinels. Don't you?"
" Right now I don't care if you told them where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. If you want to be in one piece five minutes from now, you better tell me where Blair is." Panic was rising within him. If Blair had been drugged, his life was in danger. The vision of the wolf struggling with the vulture returned unbidden.
"Where does a Shaman of the Great City go for a clear view of the truth?"
The parking lot of the Clarke had an unobstructed view of Cascade, and suddenly Jim knew without a doubt where his partner could be found. With the knowledge came a rush of horror as he realized the danger Blair faced.
The door to the lab burst open and Simon Banks rushed in.
"Jim, you've got to get out to the parking lot." His voice was trembling.
Jim didn't need to ask why. Pushing Machi into Simon's strong grip, Jim shoved his gun into the waistband of his pants and ran.
Bursting out the front door, Jim cleared the stairs like a broadjumper and sprinted across the lot. Several more squad cars had pulled in. Blair's "spiritwalk" had already attracted attention. Two paramedics were making a cautious approach from the rear as Blair strolled along the stone wall as if it were a sidewalk. He was oblivious of his audience or the forty-foot drop to the water below. His attention was fixed on the seagulls soaring over the reservoir, and he was mumbling words even Jim couldn't decipher.
Jim slowed his approach and focused on his partner's pale face. Even in the bright sunlight Blair's pupils were constricted. His gait was affectedly precise, like a drunk who was trying too hard to appear sober. Jim stopped about twenty feet ahead of him and wondered how in the hell he was going to get him safely down. A weird sense of deja vu settled over him as he recalled the last time his partner had been whacked out on drugs. At least this time he didn't have a gun.
Or did he? Shit. Blair was wearing his leather jacket and it was too loose to tell if his holster was in place.
Finally, he decided on the direct approach. "Blair. What are you doing?"
Thankfully, he partner responded to him at once. "Jim! You're here. I've been waiting for you, man. We have got a big problem here." His words sounded slurred and he waved an arm in the general direction of the city, causing him weave unsteadily.
"What's that, Blair?" Jim moved in closer, ready to make a grab for him or follow him over the edge if need be.
To his surprise Blair sat down abruptly on the narrow wall, his body swaying precariously, his eyes watery and his pale face tinged with green. Jim was on him in an instant, wrapping one arm around chest and dragging him to safety.
Blair eyed him blearily, his voice heavy with regret.
"I'm gonna puke."
For a moment, Jim regretted standing so close. Fortunately, his tee shirt was still hanging around his neck and he had at least a dozen others, just like it, at home. Pulling his partner close, Jim ran the tee shirt over the sweaty face and used it to mop up some of the mess.
"That's really not a problem Blair. Not a problem at all."
"I still don't understand why he wanted to kill Sandburg." Simon penned his signature with tired fingers, then passed the report over to Jim. The case may have been solved but the paperwork was never-ending. Simon sighed as Blair pushed another pile in his direction.
"It goes all the way back to Incacha's death, Simon. He had some crazy idea that Blair stole his birthright." Jim signed his name, in three different places, then passed the form to Blair.
"I don't understand."
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "What's to understand? He's nuts. A quart low."
"A few cards short of deck," Blair added helpfully.
"A few bats short of a belfry."
"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture." Simon's stack was finally gone, signaling the end to a very long day. He pushed back his chair and stretched. "This assembly line method worked pretty well. Good idea, Sandburg."
Blair flexed his shoulders and slouched more comfortably in his seat. "Seriously, Simon. Jim's right. Hunting magic causes paranoia and bizarre hallucinations when it's overused. Machi went well beyond the safe limits." He gathered up the files, struggled wearily to his feet, and dropped the folders in a box on Rhonda's desk.
"How can there be safe limits for an hallucinogen, Sandburg?"
"I was speaking in relative terms, Captain. Hunting magic and other drugs are a legitimate part of the spiritual practices of many tribal cultures. But generally only a Shaman or medicine man would use them on any regular basis. Machi not only overindulged, he modified the ingredients to make his victims more suggestible and lower their inhibitions."
Jim handed Blair his jacket, urging him toward the elevators. "That's probably how Sandburg ended up on top of the wall, Captain. Machi suggested the view would be better from there and up he went. He probably did something similar to Martin Griek"
Simon punched the 'down' button. "Well, Griek had enough weird chemicals in his bloodstream to open a pharmacy. It's easy to see how he ended up in the reservoir."
"Is the DA going to charge Machi with murder?" Despite what had happened to him, Blair sounded unhappy at the possibility.
"I doubt it. Death by suggestion would be hard to prove. The best we could hope for would be aggravated assault for his attacks on you and Jim, but I don't think it will even get that far."
"That, or some other government interference. Shaman Pharmaceuticals has conveniently remained out of sight. But I wouldn't count them out. The Agency always likes to tie up its loose ends."
"What about the Chopec samples? What's going to happen to them?"
"The Board of the Clarke Museum is releasing an official statement blaming the entire mess on Martin Griek and soundly condemning the practice of bio-piracy. The real slides have been located and will be returned to the Chopec, probably with a public ceremony designed to showcase the museum's sensitivity to indigenous people."
"That's great to hear, sir." Jim smiled in genuine relief. "So, I take it Commissioner Gordon is satisfied"
"Delighted. He expects to gain a great deal of political mileage from this." Simon smiled wickedly. "I'm sure you can expect to hear from him again."
Simon stepped into the elevator, a celebratory cigar clenched firmly in his teeth. "Don't let this go to your head." He waited expectantly for his companions.
Jim waved him on. "You go ahead, sir. I forgot something in my desk."
When the elevator doors had closed and left them alone in the corridor, his expression turned serious. "Blair, while you were under the influence of this drug, did you see anything unusual?"
His partner peered up at him as if trying to find a hidden meaning in the question. "Unusual in what way, Jim?"
"You know. Animals."
"Animals?" It was clear Blair was honestly perplexed.
"Birds. Big birds. Wolves." He was uncomfortable talking about it, and wished now he hadn't brought it up.
"I saw a bunch of seagulls."
"Like what, man? A giant bat?" Blair looked equally frustrated by the impenetrable haziness of the conversation.
Jim sighed in exasperation. "I'll give you a bat, Sandburg."
"Was it bats and robins? Talk about the power of suggestion!"
Jim laughed and pushed the elevator button. "Give it up, Robin."
"Well, we do make a Dynamic Duo." Weariness gone, Blair began to air-box, using Jim as his opponent. The familiar bounce was back.
Jim's mood lightened even more. "Can't argue with that."
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Shy, at Shylander@excite.com The artwork in Act IV, Blue Moon, was created by Chaomath... Enjoy more of Chaomath's art at her website, Chaomath's Fannish Pursuits Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode E-mail Faux Paws Productions at email@example.com NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Amateur Night (12/22/99, FPP-513) by Nickerbits and Chaz
Blair agrees to help Jim's niece organize the Holiday Pageant at her school. Bad guys take over the auditorium to retrieve something inadvertently left there.
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