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.


Howling Moon
by
Wildeskind and Captain Outrageous

.

The eyes of a wolf... reveal an incredible intelligence that can take your measure in a heartbeat. They can discern honesty, integrity, vulnerability and strength and, they can draw such a bead on who you really are, that the mental image of being stripped naked before the world suddenly seems very real. -- North American Wolf Association

Act I

The glass was cool beneath Blair's hand as the dark buildings slid past the truck window. Lifting his hand from the glass, he watched as the frosty imprint of his hand slowly disappeared. He turned to Jim. "Man, that new Thai place was too delicious. I'm going to have to run a couple of extra miles tomorrow."

Jim chuckled. "Only a couple? I don't think I've ever seen food disappear so fast. What happen to eating healthy?"

"What could be healthier than steamed vegetables and seafood? You were the one who had that beef dish with that heavy sauce. Do you know how much fat it had?" He shuddered playfully.

The radio crackled to life, and the dispatcher called out a 10-70, the code for a possible robbery in progress. The address was only two blocks away. Blair acknowledged the call even as Jim stopped the truck to turn it around.

The scary-excited feeling settled over Blair as his partner turned the truck towards the address, making his stomach churn. Rubbing his hands on his jeans, he took a couple of deep breaths, trying to settle his nerves. He didn't think he'd ever get used to this part of the job. Not that he it hadn't happened when he was an observer, but it was different now. He was no longer the involved spectator. It was now his duty to respond, to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens of Cascade.

A couple of years ago, Jim had responded to a call like this and shot a guard. Afterwards, he had rejected his abilities as a Sentinel. Blair squirmed as he remembered the lectures he had given to his partner about his role as Sentinel of the Great City. Now he understood what a heavy responsibility being a protector was. Opening the glove compartment, he pulled out Jim's backup revolver. Making sure it was loaded, he hefted the gun in his hand. The weight was comforting and revolting at the same time. He renewed his vow to himself that he would do everything in his power to avoid using it.

Jim pulled the truck up to the curb a block away from the address. Getting out, he pulled out his own weapon. He paused and cocked his head. "There's one heartbeat in the building and one in the back. I think the back one may be a child, it's beating fast. I'm going to take the front. You go around back and check out that second heartbeat. I don't want our perp running into a kid. And be careful."

Blair nodded and waved him off, closing his fingers around the cool grip of Jim's backup pistol as he jogged around the corner of the brick building. The bright moon was high in the sky, creating shadows in the narrow alley. His foot hit something odorous and squishy and he stumbled. Blair cursed, wishing he had insisted Jim take the back door.

Pausing at the last corner, Blair held his breath, straining to catch any sounds. By this time, his eyes had adjusted to the dim light. He stooped to sneak a glimpse around the corner. The alley was clear, with only a few stray boxes tossed against the wall, too small to provide a man with any real cover. There was no sign of a kid. Still cautious, Blair eased around the corner and approached the rear door. The light fixture above it was out. He took a few steps away from the door and looked up, assessing the rest of the building. The windows were black holes in the crumbling brick. The rusty fire escape creaked softly in the cool breeze.

A growl came from behind him. Freezing, Blair tilted his head down slowly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two blue, glowing eyes staring at him from the shadows. White teeth gleamed as the growl was repeated. For a second he was reminded of the cat he had seen in the woods only a few weeks ago. Why would Jim's spirit guide be here now? Another low growl emanated from the shadows, followed by a sharp bark. That wasn't a cat; that was a dog!

The hairs on the nape of his neck bristled. What should he do? If he turned around, the dog might attack. If he didn't move, the animal could still attack and Blair would have his back to it. The clicking of toenails on asphalt was loud as the dog crept from the shadows, circling him. Blair's breath caught in his throat as the animal moved from his peripheral vision. He was expecting a half-starved, mangy mutt. What he got was a black wolf.

Silver-blue eyes stared at him, looking through him to his very soul. The thought went through his head that he shouldn't be afraid of his spirit animal. But this wasn't his laughing silver wolf. Another shudder went through him as he felt the black wolf's intelligent gaze take his measure. He thought that Jim's stare could strip a person bare, but these strange, silver-blue eyes held him captive, seeing more clearly than any animal had a right. The black wolf gave a curious half whine, his hackles slowly smoothing themselves out.

The back door slammed open, breaking the spell. A dark figure stumbled into the alleyway. Blair instinctively brought up his gun. He didn't even have time to aim before the wolf growled and launched itself at him. White-hot shards of pain stabbed him as the wolf bit down hard on Blair's gun arm. Stubbornly refusing to let go, Blair was pulled down to the ground by the wolf's weight. As they struggled, the gun went off. The wolf bit down harder, and the gun dropped from his limp fingers. Yelling, Blair grabbed the wolf/dog by the scruff of its neck with his free hand. Surging upwards, he slammed it against the wall. The wolf yelped as it made contact with the brick, but refused to let go. Bright spots swam in front of Blair's eyes as the wolf shook its head, tearing at the arm in its mouth. Ignoring the waves of agony shooting up his arm, Blair was about to lift the wolf again when something hit the back of his head.

He collapsed to the ground, the gritty hardness of the pavement cool beneath his cheek. Fighting to control the waves of terror, Blair struggled to get his unresponsive limbs to move. A pair of black tennis shoes appeared in front of his face. Blair gasped as a bright light blinded him. A hand reached for him, and he tried to move away, but his body felt like someone had put a cement blanket on him. The hand rested briefly on his neck, two cold fingers testing his carotid. The crook is afraid he killed me? Gee, how did I get so lucky? Bair's bravado faded as the world began to spin. The black tennis shoes started to move away. The black wolf padded up to him, snuffling his neck. Blair tried to breathe carefully, painfully aware of the razor sharp teeth only a few inches from his throat. Teeth that had torn through his flesh only a few seconds ago. There was a sharp whistle. The wolf hesitated, whining. The whistle sounded again, and the teeth disappeared from his view.

Shivering with cold and relief, Blair whispered. "Jim, man, now would be a good time."

Jim followed the sound of retreating footsteps toward the back of the building. Whoever was in the building was familiar enough with the layout to dodge his attempts to find him, despite his added advantage of Sentinel night vision. The store itself looked surreal; everything was painted in shades of gray. The eccentric layout of the store was working against him, the large pieces of furniture obscuring his line of sight. Stepping over a low table, he tried to pinpoint the perp's location. He went around a corner, and jumped as a shadowy figure appeared in front of him. His gun was already aimed when he realized there was no heartbeat coming from his opponent. Sighing at the tall, oval mirror, he moved on, more edgy than ever. A machine chose that moment to kick in, the whirring noise confusing his hearing. Precious moments were used up as he adjusted his hearing to filter out the noise.

A door slammed open in the back of the building, followed by a drop in air pressure indicating an outside door. He ran in the direction of the faint breeze, and froze at the sound of a gunshot. He dialed up his hearing; the sounds of a scuffle reached him, followed by Sandburg's howl of pain.

Dread wrapped its cold fingers around his heart as he pushed his way to the back of the building, his senses ranging ahead. The hollow echo of uneven footsteps in the alley faded away just as he burst through the heavy fire door. He caught a brief glimpse of a black-clad figure to his right disappearing around the corner. Lying on the ground in front of him was the crumpled form of his partner.

The bitter smell of blood triggered Jim's gag reflex. Dialing down his nose, he pulled out his cell phone and with three buttons had dispatch on the line. "This is Detective Jim Ellison. We have an officer down at 347 Centennial Lane. I repeat, we have an officer down. Shots fired. Send back-up and medical assistance."

Barely waiting for the acknowledgment, Jim closed the phone and squatted next to Blair, the slow erratic pulse of his fallen companion's heartbeat echoing in his head. Fighting back the instinct to pick Sandburg up and run to the nearest hospital, he did a visual scan. There was a discolored strip of skin at the base of his neck. Carefully touching his hand to the base of Sandburg's neck, he felt the warm rush of blood beneath the unbroken skin where the crushed capillaries leaked life-giving blood. He almost jumped out of his own skin when Blair groaned.

"Sandburg, don't move. You've been shot."

"Don't move? Tell that to the earth. It keeps on spinning around and around."

Jim swallowed to keep from losing his dinner. "I think I get the point. Where did you get hit?"

"My head. He got me from behind."

Carefully combing through the curls, Jim couldn't find any evidence of a gunshot wound. "He didn't get you in the head. You have a knot on the back of your head, but that's all. Where did he shoot you?"

Sandburg blinked up blearily at him. "Shoot me? He didn't shoot me. He bit me." There was outrage in his voice.

The smell of blood was overwhelming. Blair's heart and breathing sounded normal; Jim was having a tough time localizing the bleeding. "Sandburg, there's too much blood for a bite. Where did he shoot you?"

Blair raised his arm weakly. "Didn't shoot. Bit me. The darn wolf bit me. " A watery chuckle escaped his lips. "What happened to honor among spirit guides?" He groaned again and tried to grab his head.

Jim held his hands down. "Stay still. The ambulance is coming." He checked the wound on Blair's arm. Blood oozed from a row of angry puncture wounds, but not the amount Jim was expecting. Calming a little, he gently ran his hands over his partner's body, feeling for any other injuries. Satisfied that Sandburg had escaped any major injury, he grasped the torn edges of his partner's shirt and pulled them apart.

The ripping of fabric echoed in the empty alley. "Hey, that's my shirt!"

Ignoring the complaint, Jim ripped a couple more strips off. "It's ruined anyway." He bound the bleeding wrist tightly with the rags, and helped Blair into a sitting position. "I don't feel anything broken. Can you make a fist?"

Sandburg obligingly made a fist while Jim gently held his forearm. He was relieved to feel the muscles and tendons working normally. "I don't feel too much damage to your forearm. It looks like whatever bit you missed all the important stuff."

"It was a wolf. A big black wolf with big white shining teeth." Blair shuddered.

Jim took off his jacket and wrapped it around his partner. "Whatever it was, it's gone." Spotting the dull gleam of metal, Jim reached over, retrieved his backup gun, and tucked it in the small of his back. "You were supposed to use that to defend yourself."

Blair shrugged. "It's bad karma to shoot your spirit animal."

"Even if it attacks you?"

"Especially when it attacks you. You never know when you're being tested."

Jim looked down at the blood-soaked rag wrapped around Blair's arm. "Sandburg, I don't think this was a test. It was an attack. You said the dog was black?"

Sandburg made an irritated noise. "It wasn't a wolf, it was a dog." He paused for a second, his expression disgusted. "I mean, it wasn't a dog, it was a wolf! I know a wolf from a dog. He had these great big fangs and this dark fur. It was like he was a fricking werewolf or something."

Jim sat down next to him, placing a calm hand on his shoulder. "Even if it was a wolf, it was a black wolf. Your spirit guide is gray. I don't think you have to worry about its wrath."

Blair shrugged off his touch, gingerly touched the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I almost had everything under control when that guy came out. Next time, you get the wolf and I get the burglar, okay?"

Jim grinned. "Deal." His nose twitched again. There was too much blood. He looked around, and saw a trail of wet drops scattered down the alleyway. His eyes narrowed as he followed the trail to where it disappeared around the corner. A glimmer of light caught his gaze. Focusing in, he saw a gleaming white disk. The disk became larger and larger until it filled his vision. It was surrounded by a white glow. The world around him retreated into the darkness as the white glowing disk filled his being, compelling him. His body became numb and the sounds around him retreated. All except one sound. A familiar voice called to him. "... Jim, follow my voice back. I'm right here. Come back to me."

Shuddering as thought he had just run five miles in as many minutes, Jim looked down at Blair's anxious face. "Sorry, Chief. Didn't mean to zone on you like that."

"What happened?"

Jim scrubbed the top of his head with both hands. "A reflection of the moon. I guess you could call me moonstruck. Chief, we have to do something about these spikes."

"We will. We have that hiking trip planned in two weeks. Until then, we're going to have to wing it. You know Simon can't give us that much time off any sooner."

"I know, I know. It's not his fault that damn spider bit me. And now you've been bitten. This isn't a trend or something, is it? The animal kingdom rebelling against us?"

Sandburg shrugged. "Naw, I think it's just bad luck. It could have been worse."

Jim stared incredulously. "How?"

Blair closed his eyes wearily. "It could have been a radioactive spider. Can you imagine what that spidey sense would do to your other senses? Not to mention you climbing up walls." The faint wail of police sirens could be heard in the distance.

Pulling Blair closer, Jim listened to the steady beat of his heart. Too late Chief. I've already been that route.


The dark figure lingered at the corner of the building, watching the two men, his dark eyes narrowing behind the slits in his ski mask. The animal at his side leaned against his leg, whining softly. Shushing it with a sharp gesture, he retreated behind the building, limping. He pulled a bandana out of his pocket, and wrapped the material tightly around his thigh. He should have known the kid would trip him up. Who would have thought he would stick around in the same town for ten years? Something would have to be done. Tying off the last knot with a vicious yank, he straightened up. He couldn't stop now. He was so close. He couldn't let anyone get in his way.

The flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance guided Simon as he pulled up to the crime scene. The heaviness sitting on his chest lifted when he saw Sandburg sitting in the back of the ambulance, wrapped in a brown blanket, holding an ice pack on his head with his good hand while the paramedic worked on his other arm. Jim stood next to him, one hand on Blair's shoulder, his stance protective. When the dispatcher called Simon at home with the news that Sandburg had been shot responding to a call, his heart had just about stopped. It hadn't helped that the dispatcher didn't have any details. He was halfway to the crime scene before the call came over the radio that Sandburg had just been bitten by a stray dog. He could almost hear everyone's sighs of relief as the normal radio traffic paused.

Simon threaded his way through the maze of parked cars. Normally a B&E wouldn't attract so much attention, but an officer had been injured, which made it personal to the men in blue. Jim saw him coming, and waved. Blair gave him a tired smile. The feeling of deja vu hit him like a sack of wet sand. How many times had they played out this scene? How many times had he seen that look of pain mirrored in both partners' eyes? Part of it was physical, and part of it was emotional. When your partner got hurt, the guilt always hit you hard, no matter what the circumstances. The next couple of days were going to be rough. Sending a brief prayer of thanks that Sandburg's injuries were minor, he greeted his detectives.

"Ellison, Sandburg. I hear you two are branching off into dog catching. You may want to stick to detective work."

Sandburg tensed, the corners of his mouth turning downwards. "It wasn't a dog, it was a wolf." His voice was sulky, like a child who had been told not to tell tales. Simon looked down at him, surprised. He'd never heard that tone of voice from the kid before. He must be more tired than I thought.

Jim squeezed his shoulder. "It was dark."

The paramedic finished wrapping Blair's arm, and gave him last minute instructions. "Keep the arm clean. If you feel any dizziness or nausea, you should call your doctor or go to the emergency room. If they can't catch that dog tonight, you should stop by the emergency room tomorrow and start your rabies shots."

Blair groaned. "Man, I'd forgotten about that."

Simon's stomach muscles clenched. He'd been bitten by a stray dog when he was a beat cop. The shots to the stomach had been a painful experience he'd much rather forget.

As if he could read his mind the paramedic closed his medkit with a snap and said, "Don't sweat it. They don't give those stomach shots anymore. It's nothing worse than a tetanus shot. Speaking of tetanus, is yours up to date?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "All my shots are up to date, except for the rabies. Man, I hate needles."

The paramedic gave him a sympathetic smile. "Don't we all. Hey, when you go in there, ask for Maria Cabanero. She's really great with needles."

Simon was puzzled by Sandburg's look of chagrin and Ellison's sudden coughing fit. He searched his memory for a nurse with that name.

Sandburg stood up unsteadily. "Thanks. I'll do that. You ready to go home Jim?"

"Yeah." Jim looked to Simon.

The captain murmured quietly, "I want to talk to you. Alone."

Jim nodded slightly to indicate he had heard. "Why don't you sit in the truck while I bring Simon up to date? I'll be there in a minute."

Moving away from the ambulance, the two older men watched as Sandburg made his way to the truck.

"What did he mean about a wolf, Jim?"

Jim sighed. "Sandburg said it was a wolf that attacked him."

"Did you see it?"

Jim shook his head. "No, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. I just can't imagine what a wolf would be doing in Cascade." His tone made it clear he didn't want to talk about it.

They stood there for a minute, listening to the crackling of radios and the shouts of officers as they searched the crime scene for clues. "Do we know what our thief was looking for?"

Jim waved at the narrow storefront. The sign hanging above the heavy carved wooden door proclaimed it LaFette's Antiques. "It could have been a number of things. The store stocks some valuable vases, paintings and jewelry. We're still trying to track down the owner to see if anything is missing. Sandburg did manage to shoot the thief. We found a trail of blood leading from the crime scene." His voice crackled with fatigue.

Simon nodded. "I'll have someone check out the hospitals and clinics. You two take it easy and come in late tomorrow, okay? I don't want you to go for America's Most Wounded award."

Jim chuckled. "I don't even want to be runner up. I'll see you tomorrow."


He was in the woods, the trees stretching upwards forever. He dropped to all fours; it seemed natural to trot on the dirt path winding its way through the forest. Ahead, he could see a person wearing a hooded red cape, sitting next to a tree, back toward him. Coming up to the person, Blair noticed a basket sitting on the ground next to them. He put his long snout into the covered basket to investigate. Something bit his nose, and he yelped. A hand pulled the basket away from him. Looking up, he saw Jim's face framed by the red hood. Jim smiled at him, his blue eyes vague as if covered by a mist.

"That's not for you."

Rubbing his snout with a paw, Blair realized that he was a wolf. He whined. He wasn't supposed to be a wolf.

Jim nodded as if this was what he expected. "I'm going this way. " He got up and walked down the path.

Blair followed him. Soon they came to a wide spot in the forest where there were no trees. Donuts littered the ground. Jim sat down and started eating donuts. Blair sniffed one of the donuts and licked it. It tasted awful. He became bored watching Jim eat them, and walked away.

Trotting down the path again, he came to a cottage. The door was standing open. Walking through the doorway, he entered what looked to be the bullpen. Simon was standing in the middle of the room, wearing an old-fashioned granny nightgown and a ruffled muslin cap, his reading glasses perched on his nose. Blair came up to him and whined. He wanted to be human again. Simon reached behind him and pulled out a huge newspaper. Grabbing Blair by the scruff of the neck, he yelled, "Bad doggie, bad doggie," and proceeded to hit Blair's butt with the newspaper.

Twisting in the strong grip, Blair tried to get away from the punishing paper. He heard a growl off to one side. Sitting a couple of feet away was a silver wolf. The wolf seemed to be laughing at him. He broke free of Simon, and ran back through the door, looking for Jim, but the path had disappeared. Blair continued to wander through the forest, searching for his partner. Coming to another clearing, he looked up. Above him was the moon. He howled a long mournful cry. Another howl joined his.

Turning around, he watched the silver wolf morph into his younger self. He had his old leather backpack slung over his shoulder. Reaching in, he started to systematically pull out sheets of paper, crumpling them up in his hands and throwing them at wolf-Blair. They piled up around him until he was buried neck high in paper. Closing the bag, the younger Blair walked up and patted the wolf-Blair on his head.

"Forget all that duty stuff. Just be you, man. Nothing's written in stone."

Out of nowhere, Jim's voice called his name. "Sandburg, Sandburg..."

"... Sandburg. Wake up."

Blinking, Blair looked up at Jim, the early morning light blurred the sharp angles of his face. Disoriented, he tried to sit up, only to find that his body wouldn't move. His heart jumped in his chest. Oh, man. I really did it this time. Everything felt surreal, like he was still sleeping.

"Sandburg? Are you okay?" His partner's voice was soft with concern.

All of a sudden, the paralysis let go and he lurched upward. Strong hands caught him before he could tumble out of bed. "Careful there, Chief. We just put you back together, again."

As if reminded of the abuse they had suffered his arm and neck throbbed in tandem. "Thanks Jim, I'd forgotten about that." Cradling his arm against his stomach, he tried to prop himself up.

The bed dipped as Jim sat next to him and eased him backward against the wall. Jim's hands ghosted over the injured limb before pulling the blankets up and tucking them around Blair. Jim shook a couple of pills out of a bottle, and silently held them out, along with a glass of water that had been sitting on the night table alongside the bottle. Blair hesitated for a second before accepting the medication. He downed it quickly and set the glass down on the table next to the bed.

Jim was sitting in a chair from the other room. A hardback book lying face down on the night table testified to the fact he had been there awhile, reading. The sight of the book reminded Blair of his dream journal. Already Blair could feel the details of the dream slipping away. He didn't want to lose the dream for reasons he didn't want to examine too closely. "Jim, can you get my journal and pen over there? I had this dream and I have to get it down while it's fresh in my mind."

Jim silently fetched the journal. He opened the book to a blank page, picked up a pen from the night table, and looked at Blair expectantly.

Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, Jim, I can write my own dream down."

"Uh-huh." Jim's tone was skeptical as he stole a look at Blair's bum arm.

Torn between the desire to get the dream down and his dignity, Blair gave in to the need to record his dream. "Okay." Gathering the wispy threads of memory, he rebuilt the story. "I was walking on a path through the forest. You were there, sitting beneath a tree. I didn't recognize you at first. You had a... a red hat on." The obfuscation tumbled out. Ignoring Jim's questioning look, he continued. "Next to you was a basket. I tried to look inside, but something bit me." He waited as Jim scribbled down the details, wondering what the basket represented. Possibilities tumbled through his mind. It was something Jim had, but Blair couldn't see or touch. Something hidden. The soft scratching of pen on paper ended, signaling Jim's readiness to continue. "I think that's when I realized I was a wolf."

"Wait, we were in a forest, you were a wolf, I wore a red hat and had a basket. Right?" His tone was innocently curious. A little too innocent.

"Yeaaaah." Blair drew out the word, waiting for Jim to make the obvious connection.

"Okay, just wanted to make sure I got it right." He tapped one finger on the book.

Jim's lips twitched. So much for being subtle. This next part was going to throw him. "So we walked along this path and we came to this clearing filled with donuts. You sat down and started to eat them. I tried, but they tasted awful."

His lips pursed at the memory of the dry and bitter donuts. He tried not to think of what they meant. I do like police work. At least, most of it. It's not like anything has changed. I've always been Jim's partner.

A part of him whispered back. Always? Have you always been there as his partner, or have you been there for yourself?

He shoved the voice away. He knew why he was Jim's partner. He belonged there. Just because his role had changed from observer to detective didn't mean he had changed. Just a few weeks ago he had fought with Jim for his right to take his share of the work as a detective. But you didn't earn the title. Blair mentally winced. He had worked hard for his degree, for his teaching position, and for his role as observer. But sometimes he felt like he had cheated getting his detective's badge. Especially when the guys at work told stories of their days as a beat cop. They had paid their dues. What had Blair done? He'd had an in with the boss. It was like being teacher's pet all over again. Jim's voice broke through his pity party.

"Sandburg?" His tone was soft with concern.

Cursing mentally, Blair summoned a reassuring smile for his friend. "Sorry, I got distracted. Where were we?"

"I was eating donuts."

"Right you were eating donuts and I was a wolf. I don't know why, but I wandered away. I came to this cottage. Only, when I went into the cottage, I was in the bullpen. Simon was there." He felt a silly grin creep over his face. "He was in a nightgown with this lace cap on his head and his reading glasses on."

Jim stopped writing. "You know, if Simon knew you dreamed about him in a nightgown, there could be serious repercussions." He leered playfully.

Blair knew blackmail when he heard it. "Jim, think about what you're saying. Do you really think Simon wants to know what I dream about?"

The leer faded away. "You're right."

"Of course I'm right." Blair continued with the rest of his dream. "Anyway, in my dream, Simon had this huge newspaper. He picked me up by the scruff of my neck and whacked me on my butt, yelling 'bad dog, bad dog'. I guess he got tired of me hitting on the waitresses whenever we go out to lunch." Blair nudged Jim. "Are you getting this down?"

The sound of scratching filled the air. "Yeah, yeah. Was there a table nearby?"

"A tab...?" Blair stopped. He almost fell for that old joke about him and table legs. "No, there wasn't a table. Come on, focus here, man. We're talking about my subconscious mind."

Jim shot him an ironic look. "It was your subconscious mind that put Simon in drag."

"Yeah, well, he had company." Ignoring the look his partner shot him, Blair hurried to finish his story. "Anyway, there was another wolf there, my spirit guide. I think he was laughing at me. After I escaped from Simon, I went in the forest again, looking for you. I heard you calling me and I woke up." He'd add the last part about his younger self later. He couldn't forget the words. Forget all that duty stuff. Just be you, man. Nothing's written in stone.

Finishing the entry with a flourish, Jim closed the journal and handed it to Blair. "Sandburg, is there anything you want to tell me?"

The book felt heavy in his hand. There were a thousand things he wanted to tell Jim. How he had felt when they were up in the mountains and Jim was out of his mind with fever. All because he had failed his Sentinel. He had brought him out into the middle of nowhere to help him. Only it had almost killed him. How do you say you're sorry for screwing up so bad? He could hardly stand to think about it. Until he could, he couldn't talk about it. "Tell you? No, I don't think so. How are your senses doing this morning? You hardly got any rest."

"I rested better down here where I could keep an eye on you. I'll catch up on my sleep tomorrow night, okay?" He stood up, stretching to his full height. "I'm going to head down to the market. Do you want anything?"

You healthy and strong. The dark shadows underneath Jim's eyes worried him. The poison from the spider bite was gone, but the effects lingered. "Nothing for me. You should get some fresh OJ for yourself."

"Yes, Mother Goose." Jim escaped out the door before Blair could do anything but laugh.


In the small operations room, Charlene sat in the comfortable swivel chair in front of the monitor connecting her with officers patrolling the city. So far she had directed two domestic violence calls, a false alarm at Uptown Jewelry Store, the third one that week, and a missing chicken report. Where do the weirdoes live? Not here in Cascade. Noooo. The regular line rang. Adjusting her headset, she hit the answer release button.

"Cascade Police Department. How may I direct your call?"

A lightly accented male voice answered her. "May I speak with Blair Sandburg?"

"Detective Sandburg? Please hold." She rang his extension. After five rings, it kicked over to his voicemail. Touching the transfer button again, releasing her from his extension, she returned to the caller. "I'm sorry, he's not in right now, would you like to be connected to his voicemail?"

"No, no thank you. I'll catch up to him later." The line disconnected.

Frowning, Charlene hung up. "That's so weird."

Bob, the other dispatcher, entered the room. "What's weird?"

"Blair Sandburg got a caller."

"That's not weird."

"Yeah, but it was a guy."

"That's weird. Did he leave a message?"

"No." A phone rang, ending the conversation.


Jim felt like a shepherd with one very grumpy lamb as he herded Blair to the bullpen. Blair had found out how awkward it was using his left hand instead of his right. He'd spilled his coffee all over the counter and Jim had to cut his pancakes for him. By the time they had arrived at the emergency room for Blair's rabies shot, his good mood had been thoroughly spoiled. The shot in his arm hadn't helped. On the up side, it looked like Sandburg was wearing down Maria Cabanero, whom he'd been asking out for the past couple of months without success. When she heard that Blair had refused to shoot the dog, she actually came over and said hi. Score one for the home team.

A chorus of howls greeted them when they entered the bullpen. Hung above Blair's desk was a long string of garlic and a picture of the moon crossed out. A cute stuffed wolf wearing a pair of glasses resembling Blair's reading glasses sat on the corner of his desk next to a tall green plant with purple flowers. A large dog's collar with inch long spikes leaned up against his computer along with a plastic scoop and a large box of ziploc bags. Sitting in his chair was a ten-pound bag of Puppy Chow with a red ribbon tied around it. A basket of various sized doggy bones and bags of gourmet doggy biscuits rounded out the offering.

Sneaking a glance at Blair, Jim caught the stunned expression on his face, tinged with annoyance. He whispered out of the side of his mouth. "Laugh, Sandburg."

"What?"

"Laugh. Otherwise, the practical jokes get worse."

A noise somewhere between the squeaking of a rusty door and the squawk of an injured pigeon escaped his lips. Jim rolled his eyes. "That's a laugh?"

Blair shrugged. "I'm not really good at being spontaneous on demand."

"I don't know. I seem to remember a tape of you and Connor. Arrrrrroooorr," Jim crooned.

Sandburg's face turned red. His mouth dropped opened and a real laugh slipped out. Jim grinned, relieved that his friend's bad mood was over. Still laughing, Sandburg waved his hands in the air. The howling stopped. "Thank you, thank you all for your gifts. I appreciate the care and thought that went into them. And I'm sure the K-9 department will appreciate them, too." There was a chorus of boos. Blair waved his hands again, silencing them. "I'm donating the garlic to Brown, since I know how much he likes it." There was a pained look on Rafe's face at this comment. Brown loved garlic, much to the dismay of his partner, who hated it with a passion. "The collar, however, goes to 'Bulldog' James Ellison!" A chorus of cheers greeted this proclamation.

In a much better mood, Sandburg bowed and walked to his desk, followed by a bemused Jim. Blair started to clear off his desk, awkward with one hand. Jim reached for the plant, only to have his hands knocked away by Blair's good one. "Jim, don't touch that. It's extremely poisonous, especially for you. All of it, so don't touch. You're just getting over that spider bite." Blair carefully picked it up and set it on the floor away from Jim's desk.

Jim craned his neck, trying to get a better look. "What is it?"

"Its common name is monkshood, but it's also known as wolfsbane. It's poisonous as hell. I wonder what idiot bought it?"

Megan came up behind them. "Hey Sandy. I hope you like the plant. I had a hard time finding it."

Jim snickered as his partner backtracked. "It's nice, thanks. You didn't have to, though."

"No problem. I think I may have a lead on your robbery case." She handed Jim a printout. "I cross-referenced robberies with the MO and reports from Animal Control in different cities and came up with this. There were three break-ins with the same MO. In two of the cases, there were reports of a large black dog running loose on the same night. It looks like he may use the dog as a lookout."

Blair rubbed his arm. "Not exactly a low-profile lookout."

"Yes, well, the dog seems pretty efficient. He took you out, didn't he?"

Blair gave her a sour grimace. "It wasn't a dog, it was a wolf. And there wasn't much I could do. He took me by surprise. There aren't a lot of wolves running around Cascade."

Trying to head off a fight, Jim cleared his throat. "It says here the only things taken were Russian jewelry. Do we know if there's any connection between the pieces taken?"

The Australian detective was all business again. "I've done some research, but I haven't come up with anything yet. I talked to the antiques store owner and he says he did get a shipment of jewelry a month ago from an estate sale. He hasn't had time to catalog it yet. He's going to send a list over as soon as possible."

Jim handed the list back to Connor. "Great job. You keep digging. Sandburg and I are going to finish up some paperwork before going back to the crime scene. We may have missed something last night. " As Connor walked away, the memory of lights flashing and the scent of blood flashed in his mind. Clamping down on his emotions, he sat down at his desk and start to read through his daily email. Sandburg was okay, that was all that mattered.


Leaning back in his chair, Simon rolled a cigar between his fingers, relishing the crinkle of tobacco leaves. Sighing over the rich, addictive aroma of freshly crushed tobacco, he contemplated lighting it up, despite the no smoking rules. He could use the narcotic rush of nicotine. Remembering the warnings of his doctor at his last physical, he regretfully put the stogie away in the humidor sitting on his desk, promising himself a smoke later in the day.

He reached for the monthly reports, and let his hands drop. He wasn't ready to go through the bureaucratic grind for the morning. As he swiveled around in his chair, a dark, curly head caught his eye. Deciding to check up on the kid, he let himself out of his office. He tried to think of the right tack to take as he casually walked to Sandburg's desk. Jim's desk was empty, his and Blair's coffee cups conspicuously absent from their desks.

A pair of dark blue eyes lifted to meet his. For a second, Simon was caught by the candid gaze. In their blue depths he saw pain, exhaustion, and guilt. What the hell? The expression was replaced with a welcoming smile so quickly that he questioned whether he had really seen what he thought he saw. The kid's still not stressing over that spider bite, is he?

"Hey Simon, what can we do you for?"

Thrown off balance, Simon looked around for something to say. His eyes fell on the plush toy sitting in a prominent place on the cluttered desk. He picked it up, the soft fur caressing his fingers. The end of the wire glasses caught his knuckle, abrading the rough skin. He continued to stroke the striped fur, studying the animal. Something was off. "This wolf isn't black."

Sandburg took the animal from him. "No, he isn't. He's the right color. Jim's is black."

Simon blinked, confused. "Jim is black?"

Sandburg looked at him as if he were slow. "No, Jim's spirit guide is black. Mine is gray." He put the stuffed toy back on the desk with a sigh. "You don't want to hear about spirit guides. What do you want?"

"What is wrong with you, Sandburg?"

Fiddling with his mouse, the younger man avoided his gaze. "What do you mean?"

"You seem off today. You're not still feeling guilty over that spider bite, are you? Dr. Bonner said the diagnosis was very tricky. If you hadn't pushed through all that red tape, Jim probably wouldn't have survived."

Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Simon, I know that. It still pisses me off that ER doctor wasted all that time while Jim could have been getting treatment for what was really wrong with him. I know the difference between exposure and dehydration and when someone is really ill." With a lightning switch in mood, Sandburg went from angry to anxious. "You did put a copy of those papers in your office safe, didn't you? Just in case we have to deal with the same situation in the future?"

Simon nodded. "Yes, Sandburg. Along with the list of Jim's allergies and reactions to certain drugs. I made sure that Connor, Brown, Joel and Rafe know they're there too."

"I don't know, Simon. Look what Connor brought in." Blair hefted the plant sitting behind his desk.

He duly admired the plant. "That's a nice looking plant. What is it?"

"It's poisonous, that's what it is!! How am I supposed to protect Jim when you guys do your level best to poison him!" His voice began to rise.

"Sandburg, in my office, right now!" Simon barked. This was a conversation that was best conducted behind closed doors.

After he closed the door and shut the blinds, he turned to Sandburg. "One more time: Who is trying to poison Jim?"

Sandburg slumped on the couch, his face pale. "Well, I don't think she tried to poison Jim, but the result would have been the same. You guys just don't think! You like to take advantage of Jim's senses, but when it comes to protecting him from them, you act like he's made of stone. He's not! You don't understand what it's like, watching what he eats, what chemicals he can absorb through his skin, what he breathes! Even the water he drinks can be contaminated with minute traces of substances that normal people could metabolize, but that could have disastrous effects on Jim's system."

Simon sat down on the edge of his desk, his arms crossed. "Are you done?"

"Yeah. I guess so."

"Fine. First of all, I want you to know you're not alone in protecting Jim. When Jim complained of headaches, Rafe changed the aftershave he wore. Connor handled all the drugs on the case she and Jim worked on when you were in the academy. Brown even checked with Jim before he brought in a dish his wife had cooked for the department. We all make attempts to accommodate Jim's status as a Sentinel while maintaining the secrecy necessary. But we can't keep a list of toxic substances in our heads like you do. There will be times when we'll make a mistake, like Connor did. All we can do is try. Is that enough for you?"

Sandburg didn't answer right away, his good hand massaging his shoulder as he thought over Simon's words. "You're trying. That's all I can ask."

Simon grunted an agreement. "Now, did you tell Connor the plant she got you was poisonous?"

"No."

Simon raised his eyebrows, infusing his words with stern amusement. "Do you think it might help if you did?"

Blair wouldn't meet his eyes. "Well, yeah. Okay, so I overreacted. I'll talk to Connor." He stood up. "Was that all, sir?"

"No, I want you and Jim to relax this weekend. I know you wanted to take a few days off for a camping trip, but it's Halloween when the weirdoes come out. If you could stay in town, I'll make sure you two get four days off next weekend."

Blair nodded. "We wanted to be here for the party on Sunday. Do you know anything good to do?"

Simon grabbed the Entertainment section of the newspaper off his desk. "Here, try this. I hear it's the latest thing in communication. It's called a newspaper."

"Oh, yeah. I've heard of this thing. It has all sorts of interesting stuff in here. Haunted houses, cruises of the bay, a carnival..." He stopped in mid-sentence. "This carnival. I know this carnival. I can't believe it." His voice vibrated with excitement.

"Sandburg, what are you talking about?"

"The Stefenoff Carnival! Oh man, Simon. Mom and I traveled with the Stefenoff carnival the summer before I went to college. It was great. The people were great. I can't believe they're here. I have to, I mean, we have to go visit them! You have to come with us, Simon. I can introduce you guys to some of the coolest people on earth. They're like nobody you've ever met before."

Simon grasped his shoulder. "Breathe, Sandburg. You have to breathe."

"I am breathing. Do you have time tonight?"

"Well, yes, I have to get this paperwork done in time for the weekend, but --"

"Great. Jim and I can wrap it up here, cruise the crime scene and meet you at the fair grounds around seven. How does that sound?" His good hand was drumming on the desk. Simon got the feeling that if he let him go, Sandburg would be bouncing off the walls. I never thought I'd be so happy to see that bounce again.

"Yeah, that would be fine, Sandburg. But don't rush the crime scene. We still don't have any leads on that B&E."

Blair coughed lightly. "Connor found a connection with a string of thefts involving some Russian jewelry in different cities. She's following up on that angle. Jim and I are going to follow up with the owner of the store. He thinks he may have some Russian jewelry in stock."

"Sounds good. How will I find you at the fair grounds?"

Blue eyes looked at him as if he were a couple bricks shy of a full load. Simon silently reviewed what he had said. "Oh, yeah. I guess Jim will find me. I'll see you at the fair grounds at seven."

Hearing the unspoken dismissal, Blair gathered up the newspaper and left. Simon closed the glass door softly, lingering for a moment. Jim had come back from his errand. He watched as the two detectives settled down to finish their paperwork. Sandburg pulled his chair behind Jim's and began reading the report on his screen. He pointed to a section, obviously disagreeing with what was written there. Jim shot him a tolerant look and changed something on the report. Simon let the normalcy sink in. The calm before the storm. He chuckled. How much trouble could they get into at a carnival?


It's amazing how different everything looks in the daylight. Jim thought. Pulling the truck into the same space they had used not twenty-four hours before, he couldn't shake the uneasiness nibbling at the back of his mind. The shadows that had wrapped the red brick building were gone and last night's empty streets were filled with today's rush hour traffic. Waiting for a car to pass, Jim jingled the keys in his hand. He hadn't thought coming back here would be so stressful. After all, Blair was okay. As he joined his partner on the sidewalk, he amended the thought: Mostly okay. The normally tanned skin was pale, fine lines radiating from the corners of his eyes and mouth showing the strain it had been to come into work that morning. Jim resolved that after they finished at the scene, Blair was going home for some rest before going to the fair grounds. Jim would rather they just stay home, but the excitement in Blair's eyes when he blurted out to Jim about the Stefenoff Carnival had told him that was not an option. For a second, a flash of jealousy hit him, taking his breath away. He knew Sandburg had a life before he met him, but there was something in his friend's eyes when he talked about the Stefenoff Carnival. He wondered if the wanderlust that had marked the first half of Blair's life might not be making a comeback. He became aware that Sandburg was talking.

"... and then the purple dragon said to the fuchsia tiger, 'I'll huff and puff, but I won't inhale.'" He puffed out his cheeks, looking like, of all things, a demented chipmunk.

"Sandburg!" The name was half protest, half laughter.

"Ellison!" his partner echoed. The dark blue eyes twinkled. "Glad to see you're back in the land of the living. I almost thought you were in a zone-out. Except that you don't really walk all that well in a zone-out. Speaking of walking, where are we going?"

Jim stopped and looked around. The truck was sitting a good five blocks behind them, near the antique store. He felt the heat rise in his face. "Uh, this way. I just wanted to stretch my legs a little." He started back toward the store.

"Uh-huh. You know, it wasn't your fault."

Blair's words stopped him again. "What?"

"What happened last night. It wasn't your fault. That's what you were thinking of, right?" He had that earnest look on his face. Jim wondered what his reaction would be if he told him what he had really been thinking. After all this time, the fear that Blair might leave him still lurked in his soul. All Blair could think about was easing his guilt. He started to walk again.

Blair continued. "Because, you know, I chose to go into that alley. I could have easily been bitten in the park or on a bus or something. Sometimes things just happen. I don't want you to go guilt-tripping every time I get a hangnail."

That got his attention. "Sandburg, let's get things straight. Number one, I do not go 'guilt-tripping' every time you get a hangnail. Number two, things do not just happen. They happen to you. It's not an easy thing, you know, having a partner who's trouble-prone."

"Not an easy thing! Trouble-prone! Jim, every time you walk out of my sight, I worry. Every time you eat something new, or get into a new situation, I worry. Every time the bullets start flying, or some nut decides to rig a bomb, I worry. Don't you start lecturing me on trouble-prone partners! You're not exactly low maintenance yourself!" Each sentence was accompanied by a push from Sandburg's good hand.

Jim grabbed the pushy hand, holding it away from him. Blair's face was flushed with anger. What does he have to be angry about? I'm not the one who almost got himself killed. "Fine, I won't. But don't tell me what to feel. I'll worry about you when I want to worry wherever I want to worry." Dropping the hand, he turned away and walked briskly toward the store.

By the time Sandburg caught up with him, he had almost reached the recessed entryway. The hitch in his partner's step reminded Jim how banged up he was. Great, job, Ellison. I'm sure he really wants to stick around now. He slowed his pace, and they entered the building together.

It was like stepping back in time. The smell of lemon oil and beeswax filled the air. Tall, graceful cabinets stood side by side with low, elegant tables. Hanging on the walls were pictures of hunting scenes interspersed with gilt-framed mirrors. To one side of the door stood a plaster statue of a hound dressed as a butler, solemnly holding out a silver tray. On the tray was a little rosewood box of business cards. Jim picked one up. "LaFette's Antiques." Turning to show it to Sandburg, he discovered that Blair had already wandered away, poking his nose into drawers and opening cabinet doors.

Shrugging, Jim started walking to the back of the building. He paused at a tall cabinet. Placing one hand on the door, he absently rubbed the carved roses twining their way towards the floor as he tried to place where he had heard the intruder. Slowly walking around the cabinet, he was confronted again with the tall mirror. The edges of the mirror were cloudy, but the middle was still clear, reflecting his image. For a second, Jim flashed back to the previous night. The footsteps had sounded like they came from behind him and to his right. Again, he heard them running to the back, the door opening with a slam and then the ghostly sound of a gunshot. He flinched. Sensory memory is a bitch. A movement in the mirror caught his eye. Whirling around, he watched as a tall, gaunt man approached him. He was dressed formally in a dark suit and tie, his silver hair carefully combed over a small bald spot. The beginnings of a soft jawline and wrinkled skin put him somewhere in his late fifties. He reminded Jim of the statue at the door. I wonder if it was someone's idea of a joke.

Sandburg appeared at his elbow just as the man reached him. "Can I help you gentlemen?" His voice was surprisingly deep, with a light English accent.

Jim pulled out his ID, flipping it open. "Mr. LaFette? I'm Detective Ellison. This is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're here to talk to you about the break-in last night."

A flicker of distress crossed the composed features. "Yes, quite. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee?" He waved to an area off to the side where a silver tea set was displayed. Two burgundy, high-backed chairs stood across from a gold fainting couch.

Before Jim could decline, Sandburg opened his mouth. "Yes, if you don't mind. Do you have any Earl Grey?"

"Of course." He glided across the floor silently.

Jim grabbed Sandburg's arm. "What are you doing?"

He looked back in surprise. "Jim, haven't you ever wanted to be served tea by Alfred?"

"Alfred?"

"Alfred Pennyworth. Batman? You know, nahna nahna nahna nahna, Bat Man! Come on. You can see the resemblance." He took Jim's agreement as given and followed the stately storeowner. Jim shook his head. He was having a hard time keeping up with Blair's mood swings.

Joining them in the sitting area, he watched LaFette go through the tea ritual. Finally, Blair held a delicate white teacup in one hand, his pinky proudly waving in the air.

Jim sighed. This was going to be a long interview.


Simon looked around the fair grounds. All around him was a seething mass of humanity determined to eat as much sugar, fat and caffeine as possible, all the while waiting in line for rides that would change the force of gravity as they knew it, possibly resulting in emptying the contents of their stomachs even faster than their wallets. What a great place. He found a stand with a shiny pamphlet listing all the rides and shows the Stefenoff Carnival had to offer. A photocopied map of the carnival was included. Looking at the variety of entertainment offered, he wished Daryl was there to share in the fun.

"Simon!"

He looked up to see Jim and Blair zeroing in on him. They both looked more refreshed then they had that morning. He wondered if they had gotten a second wind.

"Sandburg. You're looking chipper."

Blair grimaced. "Jim made me take a nap. Which was great, because now I feel like going all night!"

Simon exchanged looks with Jim. "I hope you took a nap too, Ellison. Otherwise, this kid's going to walk us into the ground."

"Don't worry, sir. If he gets to be too much, we can always spike his soda. That's what I usually do."

"Works on Daryl too."

Blair rolled his eyes. "I am not hyper. I just have a fast metabolism." He grabbed a pamphlet from the stand and opened it. "Oh, cool, they've added all these rides and stuff since I was here. Come on, this way." Paging through the list of rides, Blair led the way through the maze of tents and wooden stands with confidence, talking a mile a minute.

"There's a booth I used to work. The guess your age or weight. It was really good practice for being a detective, eh, Jim?" He walked up to the hawker. "Hey, Spoker. How's it hanging?"

The short, stocky man turned towards the voice. His wrinkled face brightened. "Sandman!!" He reached out and pulled Blair into a hug. "I can't believe it's you. Your hair's so long! Have you seen her yet?"

Blair didn't seem to have any problem deciphering the cryptic questions. He hugged the old man back. "No, I haven't. I just got here. Who's here besides her?"

"Well, Madame M., of course. Lenny's here and Titus. Mr. S. retired a couple of years ago. His son now runs the place. Laura died a couple of years ago. Heart failure. Other than that, we pretty much have the same players. A couple of new faces here and there. I can't believe you're back!" The old man kept touching him as if to make sure he was real, hugging him and patting his back.

Jim had to restrain the urge to take the old hawker's hands off his partner. He cleared his throat loudly.

Sandburg jumped, as if he had just remembered he was here with a group. "Hey, Spoker, I want you to meet some people. Spoker, this is my boss, Simon Banks, and this is Jim Ellison."

Spoker shook their hands. "Nice to meet you. Any friend of Sandman's is a friend of mine. Hey, Sandy, why don't you come over for breakfast tomorrow morning? Everyone's working right now, but they should all be there bright and early."

"Is Big Red still cooking her famous apple cinnamon pancakes?"

"You betcha. I'll let her know you're coming."

"Great!" A young couple came up to the booth, a big blue bear tucked underneath the man's muscular arm. Sandburg moved back. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Fine. See you then." He greeted his new customers enthusiastically. "Welcome, welcome, step right up..."

Blair shepherded his group away. "Okay, what do you guys want to try first, the games or the rides?"

Jim and Simon looked at each other and then Blair. Jim waved his arm. "It's your night. What do you want to do?"

Blair pointed to a tall structure with a basket on the end of a long metal arm and a counter weight on the other. "How 'bout the Kamikaze? It's a really killer ride. Of course, it may be too wild for you old folk." He grinned at Jim and Simon.

Simon growled and swatted at him, but Blair ducked and his fingers only brushed the soft curls. "Too old. I'll show you who's too old!"

They laughed and moved off towards the mechanical monster, Blair in between the other men, chattering about the different rides at the Stefenoff Carnival


Blair waited for his chance, and slipped away while Jim and Simon were competing in a water gun contest. Weaving his way through the tents, he made a quick stop at Spoker's stand before heading off the beaten path. As he picked his way through the shadowy maze created by the backs of tents and stands, he felt his heart beat faster. Would she see him? More than ten years had passed since he left for college. His pace slowed to a crawl as he left the tents and entered the trailer park that made up the living quarters of the moving city. The screams of delight from carnival goers and loud mechanical music were muted here.

Looking up, he saw the full moon framed by clouds scooting across the sky. For the first time, he noticed the crisp, cool air. The scent of popcorn and cotton candy carried by an easy breeze teased his nose, taking him back ten years, to a time when he had been young and wild. Hell, who am I kidding? Mom and I may have had an unusual life, but ten years ago I was a skinny white kid with more brains than style. If my nose wasn't in a book, I was hanging out with people twenty years my senior talking about the wild times they'd had. Running away to the Show had changed that. Here, there were people his age, doing things no normal person in his right mind would think about doing. Here, he wasn't a weirdo with long curls and a gawky body. Well, he had long curls until the fire incident. He ran his hand through his hair, remembering the feel of short whorls tickling his hand. The curls had grown back, but his experiences with the carnival had stayed with him. He had never told Jim, but when he had initially met him, he had been reminded of the big cats the carnival kept: The wild look in his eye, the barely controlled violence in his movements. He had used the advice of a trainer. Never show fear, stay calm and stay in charge of the situation. His grin on his face faded. More and more recently, there were times when it felt like the control was slipping away.

As he approached the trailer, a growl came from the shadows. A feeling of deja vu hit him when a dark form moved out into the moonlight.


Act II

Blair froze and tried to keep calm. Adrenaline made his heart pump harder, causing his arm to throb. He noted detachedly that even though his arm was throbbing, he couldn't actually feel any pain. Looking around, he searched for something to defend himself. His eyes were captured by the pale blue eyes of the wolf. A low snarl escaped the black lips. Blair snarled back. He was not backing down.

A whistle split the air. Looking past him, the wolf backed down, his ears popping up. A husky voice came from behind him.

"Sasha. Long time, no see."

It was the voice that had haunted his dreams for the first year of college. He turned and watched as a slender form appeared from the inky blackness. The heart-shaped face had lost its baby fat, but the body was still sweetly curved. A long tendril of black hair waved in the gentle breeze, untouched by time. Her name escaped his lips. "Miriam."

She boldly strode to him and grabbed him, her strong hands curling into his shoulders as her lips descended on his. Unwilling to submit, he responded in kind, his lips devouring her mouth. The battle was intense, each feeding off the other's passion. His tongue teased the smooth seam of her lips, demanding entrance. Her lips parted to capture his tongue. The kiss seemed to last forever as they fought for dominance.

Miriam pulled back, her breath harsh. Blair licked his lips to capture the last taste of her. He was caught off-guard when her soft hand connected with his cheek with a sharp crack. He bit his tongue.

"Ow! Wad was dat for?"

Miriam tossed her hair over her shoulder. "That was for waiting for so long to come back into my life."

"And the kiss?" He ducked as her hand came up, but she only patted his other cheek gently.

"That was for old times' sake." Her fingers tucked a strand of his hair behind his ear. "Why did you wait so long?"

He reached up and captured her hand, turned it over and deposited a soft kiss on the palm. "We didn't part on the best of terms. You said you never wanted to hear from me again."

Her fingers clutched his palm. "I lied. Women are supposed to say that when you abandon them."

Blair pulled away from her, dropping her hand. "I didn't abandon you. I had to go to college. People were depending on me. I had those scholarships and everything" He waved his hand as if the answer was self-evident.

"No one was depending on you going to college. Your mother wouldn't have minded if you hadn't gone and there wasn't anyone else. You belonged here."

Frustration boiled up within him. They had had this argument a decade earlier. Miriam hadn't understood his need to learn and the need to find his peers. She had thought the call of the open road would be too strong for him to resist. It almost had been. But he had a hunger for knowledge, to find out about things, why they were the way they were. The voice inside his head had whispered to him to go, that college would be where he would find his answers. "It wouldn't have worked. We were both too young. I wanted to go to college, to get my degree."

Miriam sniffed. "Your degree. You didn't need a degree for people to know how smart you were. You were scared."

"Scared? Pu-lease. I saw you and Titus that night. You were just stringing me along. Your feminine ego was bruised because I left you first."

She frowned, her eyes puzzled. "What are you talking about? There wasn't anything going on with me and Titus."

"That's not what I remember. I remember seeing you and Titus going at it hot and heavy." The image of her wrapped in Titus's muscular embrace sent a shaft a pain through him as if it was yesterday. "It was you who didn't want me."

She stomped her foot. "I don't know what you thought you saw, but I have never kissed Titus in my whole life. He's an overbearing bully, and he smells like those lions of his." She pulled something out of her pocket and threw it at him. "Here. I've been waiting for ten years to give this to you!"

Blair automatically caught it. It was a beaten metal charm strung on a piece of leather with the fur still clinging to one side. He lifted the charm toward the light. The form of a howling wolf stared back at him in the dim light. "Why are you giving me this?" The cold metal warmed in his hands.

"I was supposed to give it to you ten years ago, but you ran off." She tossed her hair back, her stance challenging. "I promised Mama I would give it to you and now I have."

Blair rubbed the charm with his thumb, automatically protesting the accusation. "I didn't run off. I went to college. You run away to join the circus, not to leave it."

"This is a carnival, not a circus. We have rides." She took a step closer to Blair, her show of temper temporarily banked. "Do you like it?"

He nodded, still fascinated by the dull metal. Weighing it in his hand he figured it was either lead or iron. "Yeah, I like it. Thanks."

Her fingers closed over the charm in his hand, breaking the spell. "You have to wear it for its magic to work."

"Magic?" His heart rate sped up as she took another step closer. She had always had this effect on him.

"Of course magic. It's for protection. Did you expect anything less of a gift from a gypsy fortune teller?" She gently pulled the leather band out of his grasp.

"I didn't think your Mom was a real gypsy." He licked his lips, trying to get rid of the tingling sensation.

Miriam smiled as she placed the leather band around his neck. "Of course she's a real gypsy. And as her daughter, that makes me a gypsy too." She pulled him closer until her mouth was next to his ear. "You never want to anger a gypsy. Do you know why?"

Blair gave a small shake of his head, unable to speak. The world spun around him, and his whole body began to ache.

"Because we know all the best curses."


"Hey, watch out!"

Jim turned around just in time to grab the flying projectile aimed at his head. With a flip of his wrist, he sent the Frisbee back to group of teenagers hanging out at the fringe of the crowd. Nearby a baby cried and a child screamed with delight. The smell of hot fat and popcorn hung in the night air as carnival goers let loose in the darkness.

Jim looked over the crowd, searching for a familiar curly head. Spotting Simon, he waved his arm to catch his attention. Simon acknowledged the wave with a gesture. Pushing his way through the crush of people, Jim continued to look for Blair.

Simon handed Jim the cup of lemonade. "Where's Sandburg?"

"That's what I was wondering. He wandered off an hour ago. I thought he wanted to catch up with some old friends. I take it you haven't seen him." He did another scan of the area, careful to keep the dials relatively low. The last thing he needed to do was zone-out on the flashing lights. He put his hand on Simon's arm, ignoring the captain's startled look. Closing his eyes against the distracting lights, he stretched out his senses. He heard his partner's voice off to the right. He opened his eyes and followed the sound to a scarlet tent covered in gold stars and silver moons. Letting go of Simon's arm, he strode to the tent with Simon hot on his heels.

A sign on the outside proclaimed that Madame Mysteria was communing with the spirits and would be back when the signs were favorable. Concentrating briefly, Jim picked up the scent of Blair's unique mixture of aftershave and shampoo. Jim could hear his voice even through the heavy canvas walls, telling what sounded like the end of a joke or story. "When the moon is full, the wolf will howl."

A light, husky laugh made the hair on his arms stand on end. It was a laugh that brought to mind rumpled sheets and hot summer nights. He glanced at Simon, who looked equally surprised and intrigued. Jim chuckled.

There was a pause in the conversation. Sandburg poked his head outside the tent flaps. "Jim! Simon! Come in, I have someone I'd like you to meet!"

As he entered the tent, the heavy scent of incense tickled the back of Jim's throat. The tent was dim after the bright artificial lights, lit by two kerosene lanterns on either side of the door. Madame Mysteria's back was to the door, her flowing robes outlining slender shoulders before cascading to the floor, a gold turban topping the ensemble. In front of her was a round table covered by a soft back velvet cloth. A geode with large crystals and a deck of tarot cards sat in the middle of the table. One bejeweled hand rose imperiously, a ruby pinky ring catching the light from the glass lantern on the side table. Sandburg jumped to help the Madame to her feet.

Sweeping aside her long skirts, she turned, revealing a face marked by experience and time. Raven black eyebrows slashed over flashing black eyes. She wasn't beautiful, but there was a magnetic quality about her. Holding out her free hand, she smiled, transforming her face from stern to mischievous. "Ah, you are the Ellison Sasha has been talking about."

Jim looked at Sandburg. "Sasha?"

Blair blushed. "It was my nickname from when Naomi and I lived with the carnival."

Madame Mysteria ruffled his curls. "My Miriam thought Blair was too feminine a name for such a handsome young man."

Simon chuckled. "Blair was too feminine?"

Sandburg's glare promised retribution for anything further said on the subject. Jim made a mental note to 'accidentally' call Sandburg Sasha at the precinct.

Trying to break the tension, Simon asked. "Who's Miriam?"

Sandburg jumped on the change of subject. "Miriam Blackstone is Madame M's daughter. We hung out together. She did a trained dog act here with the carnival when I was with the show. Now she owns five of the concession stands."

Madame Mysteria nodded. "She has done very well for herself. Now if she would only settle down and give me some grandchildren. You'd think in ten years she would find someone, but no, she works and works and works. Pretty soon she will be too old and then where will I be?"

The curtain at the entrance parted. "You'll be here reading fortunes to gajos and taking their money, where else?"

Miriam was a tall and lean woman, with heavy dark curls tumbling around her oval face. She had the same sweeping eyebrows and flashing brown eyes as Madame Mysteria. A loose white peasant blouse hung on her generous shoulders, over a colorful green skirt. A maroon vest skimmed over a tiny waist and slender hips. Her movements were graceful and sensual at the same time. Jim could taste the male hormones released into the air at her arrival. He watched as Sandburg moved to greet her.

"Mir, I have some people I want you to meet." While he made the introductions, Jim watched their body language. Sandburg lightly touched her arm; she leaned into the contact. Sandburg moved infinitesimally closer, his thumb stroking the soft white skin of her wrist. The movement fascinated the Sentinel, the rough pad of the digit contrasting the ultra smooth surface of her arm.

Jim was pulled back from a near zone by Sandburg's voice. "... and this is Jim Ellison, my best friend and roommate. Jim, say hi to Miriam."

"Hi." He shook her hand, his face heating with embarrassment. Aside from the pointed look his partner gave him, no one else seemed to have caught his lapse of attention.

"Hi. Sasha has told me a lot about you."

"He has?" The mystery of where Blair had disappeared to suddenly became clear. Looking into Miriam's lively brown eyes, he could understand why. What he couldn't understand was Sandburg's need for secrecy. After all this time, you would think he'd know he could trust me. He ignored the pang at the thought.

"Yes. What I can't understand is what a classy guy like yourself is doing hanging out with this ruffian." She tugged on one of the ruffian's brown curls.

Jim grinned. He liked this woman. "He has his moments. It got better after I housebroke him."

That got Sandburg's attention. "Housebroke! I protest, I object, I --"

Miriam elbowed him in the ribs. "You resemble that remark. As I remember it, you didn't know how to keep an elephant cage clean, much less a house."

Jim laughed. "He had to clean up after elephants? Oh, man, talk about shoveling a load of..." Simon cleared his throat. Jim continued without missing a beat. "... manure. I thought the closest you got to wildlife was that monkey you had."

Miriam laughed. "A monkey? We always thought you were a monkey's uncle. Now we have proof. I want to meet this monkey."

Blair held up his hands, mock panic on his face. "Larry? No relation, no relation at all. He was just visiting me for awhile. Jim actually had a closer relationship with him."

Jim rolled his eyes, recognizing the reference to Sandburg's long ago Neanderthal comment. "As I remember, I was the one who threw him out. What happened to Larry, anyway?"

"I think he became a network executive. All that TV watching finally paid off."

"With the stuff you were showing him?"

Madame Mysteria patted Sandburg's cheek like a fond mother. "I would love to entertain your friends all night, Sasha, but it is a Friday night and I have work to do. Perhaps we could get together again another time?"

Sandburg covered her hand with his own. "Of course. I'll be here tomorrow for breakfast. Is that soon enough?"

Madame M. laughed at his shameless flirting. "Yes, I think so. Now get out of here and take Miriam with you. She hasn't ridden the rides in ages."

"That's not my fault."

Miriam looked at him sideways. "You were the one who left."

"I left because I had a future. I wasn't leaving you, I was going to college. That's what I wanted."

"And what do you want now?"

Blair opened his mouth and shut it.

Simon coughed. "Well, I can hear those ride calling us. Right, boys?" He pulled a pamphlet out of his pocket. "Anyone up for the Wheel of Terror?"

There were noises of agreement from the group. As they filed out, the seer grabbed Jim's arm, holding him back. Her eyes locked with his. "Stay for a minute, Mr. Ellison."

Blair poked his head back in. "Jim, are you coming?"

He couldn't look away from the gypsy woman's brown eyes. There was a subtle pleading in them. "I'll catch up with you guys later, Chief."

"'Okay, but don't be too long. We're going to hit the Pharaoh's Fury sometime tonight." He winked, waved at Madame M., and left.

The older woman let go of Jim's arm and seated herself at the table. He sat down across from her, his eyes drawn to the geode sitting between him. The purple crystals caught the light of the lanterns and scattered it through the tent. He watched as she pulled a deck of oversized cards from a silk-lined wooden box. She shuffled them thoroughly and held them out to him.

He didn't touch them. "What is this? "

Her mouth quirked as she grinned mischievously. "It's a snake."

"I don't need my fortune told." His voice was sharp. He wasn't annoyed, precisely. The cards made him nervous. Being a modern day Sentinel, having seen real ghosts and received psychic visions didn't allow much room for disbelief. Still, there was a difference between believing in the supernatural and actively participating. He didn't think he was going to find the answers in some pieces of painted paper.

"Humor an old lady. Shuffle the deck, keeping in mind a question." Her words were teasing, but the look on her face told him he wasn't getting out of there without offending her. Since Sandburg obviously adored her, he decided to play along. "Fine, okay." He reached for the cards.

She held them back. "Do you have a question?"

He thought about it. What he really wanted to know was what was going on with Sandburg. Keeping the question firmly in mind, he held out his hand for the cards, shuffling them awkwardly. Not like dealing for a hand of poker here. After a couple of shuffles, he handed them back to the gypsy lady.

She dealt the top card. Six goblets marched up and down in two rows with a vine twining between them. "Six of Cups. This card represents the past. Perhaps an incident, which happened in the past, is coming back to haunt you. Has an old friend or lover come to visit you?"

"No. Not recently. Look, you don't have to do this..." The words trailed off as she shot him a severe look. "No, no one close." He thought of Miriam. Could that be the reason Sandburg was so jumpy? Except he had been on edge before he knew the carnival was in town. He gave himself a mental shake. This was just a bunch of hocus pocus. He watched as the second card was revealed. It was a man standing in front of a table with strange instruments on it. The Roman numeral one was on the top of the card and the word 'Magician'. The card was upside-down.

Madame Mysteria nodded. "Ah, the Magician. He is a traveler and a performer. His knowledge of the arcane is legend and he can be a wise advisor of the mystic. However, here he is shown in reverse. This may indicate he is abusing his power and is seeking to trick you or someone close to you. You should be wary of him."

He nodded, now a little suspicious. Was she trying to warn him about Sandburg? It angered him that someone who pretended to be Sandburg's friend would try something like this. "You know, I really do have to catch up with the others." He started to rise, but her hand grabbed his, holding him.

"I just have one more card. Aren't you curious what it is?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "The death card?"

She flipped the last card. It was also upside-down, with a picture of a moon with two buildings on either side. There was a wolf next to one building and a dog next to the other. They were sitting on a hill bisected by a path. On the path, a crustacean crawled towards the canines. "The Moon card. An unseen enemy is seeking to harm you. If you keep your wits about you, you can defeat him. The answer may come during the night. Pay attention to your dreams."

Jim shoved the cards away from him. "Look, I don't know why you're doing this, but I don't appreciate it. Sandburg and I came here to have fun. There are no plots against us or hidden enemies waiting to trap us. No one is trying to put a hex on us. All we want to do is relax and enjoy the carnival."

Madame Mysteria shook her head and sighed. "I am doing this for Sasha. I sense that something is happening and he cannot find his way out. From what he told me, you are his best friend. All I want is for him to be happy. Talk to him. Find out what's wrong before it's too late." She seemed genuinely upset.

Jim wondered if he was being paranoid. He could feel Blair pulling away from him and his attraction to these people. He stood up. He needed to think about what she had said. "I'll try."

She smiled. "Sometimes, that's all it takes."


The loft was quiet after the noise of the carnival. Blair heard the jingle of the keys as they dropped into the basket. He slipped off his jacket, shivering a little in the coolness of the loft. Looking to Jim, he noticed the tiredness in his partner's sluggish movements and the relaxed lines of his face. There was a feeling of contentment to the silence. It feels good to be home.

Jim headed towards the bathroom as Blair shuffled into the kitchen. He turned on the burner beneath the teakettle and set out his and Jim's favorite mugs; he pulled out a box of sleepy time tea and dropped the bags into the mugs. Absent mindedly, he pulled out a small tin and pinched some herbs into one of the mugs. Replacing the tin in the cabinet, he yawned, waves of exhaustion flowing through his body. It wasn't going to take much to drop off to sleep tonight. He rubbed his injured arm, his eyes starting to close as he leaned his head against the cabinet. They popped open again when he heard the toilet flush. He didn't move as Jim joined him in the kitchen.

"Tea?"

"Yeah. Want some?"

"Sure."

Blair pushed himself upright long enough to ease himself onto a stool at the kitchen island. "Man, the thing nobody mentions is that a walk down memory lane can be soo exhausting. Even my bones ache. Must be old age catching up with me." He laid his head down on the counter, sprawling out like a rag doll. He heard Jim sit down across from him. A hand sifted through Blair's hair.

Blair looked up at his partner through a screen of curls. "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for your gray hairs. With all your moaning and groaning about getting old, you have to have some gray hair hairs somewhere. Ah-ha!" His nimble fingers parted the thick strands of hair.

"What, what?" Blair grabbed his hand.

Jim chuckled. "Oh, nothing. It's just some fuzz."

"Ha-ha, very funny." The kettle gave a wavering whistle. Blair turned off the stove and poured the hot water, stirring in the right amount of sugar. Jim got up to retrieve two orange plastic bottles from the top of the refrigerator. Blair grimaced as Jim shook out a single pill from each of the hated containers.

Not bothering to wait for his cup to cool, Blair downed the pills with a sip of tea, hissing as the hot liquid burned his mouth.

Jim blew on his own drink before setting it down. He cupped his hands around the mug, his expression thoughtful. "What was in the basket?"

Blair looked at him puzzled. "Which basket?"

"The basket in your dream. What was in it?"

"I don't know, maybe the truth. It certainly had a bite to it." Blair rubbed his arm again, looking at Jim out of the corner of his eye. His partner was in a weird mood tonight.

"The truth about what?"

"I don't know. I couldn't see in the basket. What does it matter?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Then why did you ask?"

"I don't know. To get you to talk."

"I talk all day long, Jim." A thought struck Blair. "Is there something wrong with your senses? You were pretty quiet the last half of the night. Is it a headache?" He stood up.

Jim waved him down. "No, it's not my senses." He got up from his stool. "Look, maybe this was just a bad idea. I'm tired; you're tired. Go to bed and get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow." He left his untouched tea on the counter.

As he watched his friend trudge to the stairs, Blair felt he had let an opportunity slip through his fingers. Picking up Jim's cup, he called out to his friend. "Jim!"

The Sentinel turned easily on the balls of his feet, his eyes automatically scanning the room before settling back on Blair. "What?"

Blair walked over and pressed the warm mug into his hand. "I hear you, man. I'll let you know when I figure out what's in the basket. Okay?"

A slow smile spread across the older man's face that brightened his whole being. "Yeah, okay. Now get some sleep. You look like death warmed over."

"Oh, thanks. I'll try." Retrieving his mug from the counter, Blair retreated into his room.


Moonlight painted silver pictures of light and shadow through the dirty alley window as a gentle breeze pushed wispy clouds across the night sky. Blair shoved aside the brightly-patterned quilt as he sat up, blinking in the dim light. Plaid boxers rode up high on his hair-roughened thighs as he swung his legs over the edge of his bed. Stretching his arms above his head, the soft yellowed T-shirt molded to his muscular shoulders. The metal wolf charm dangling on a leather strap glinted on his chest. His curly hair drifted wildly around his face, strands catching on the dark beard on his jaw as he moved to the window, lifting his face up to the bright full moon. She stared down at him, a bank of clouds dancing around her, hiding her one second, revealing her the next. His deep blue eyes were hazy and unfocused. Reaching down, he tugged at the sash of the window absently. The window remained stubbornly closed. Pushing and pulling, he tried again and again to join the moon outside, ignoring the splinters that pricked his fingers. His hand brushed the lock, scraping his knuckles. Fumbling, he finally unlocked the window and escaped the close confines of his room. Laughing as the cool breeze caressed his skin, he clambered down the fire escape and into the night. Upstairs, Jim stirred, a frown tugging on his lips, but his eyes remained closed. His breathing was heavy, his mouth opening and closing, gulping air. On the nightstand next to him was an empty mug. Turning over, he hugged the blankets closer. For the next two hours he tossed and turned, unable to relax. Finally, the draft that had traveled through the loft was shut off. There was a muted creak of bedsprings and a familiar soft snore. Turning over one last time, the sentinel eased into a deeper, more restful sleep.


Act III

The first thing that Blair was aware of when he woke up was the stiffness in his hands. Groaning, he flexed them, trying to remember why they were so sore. Coming up blank, he pushing aside the covers, groaning again as ribbons of pain rippled over his chest. Looking down, he cursed. His T-shirt hung down from his neckline and there were four long scratches half-hidden by the curly hair on his chest. The wolf charm pulled painfully at the bloodied chest hair. Not quite believing the wounds were real, he gingerly touched the bloody furrows. Crusts of blood flaked off beneath his fingertips. There was more dried blood on his hands and on the rags of his shirt. Cursing softly, he looked down at his feet. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but the dirt and blood coating the bottoms of them wasn't it. He felt his gorge rise. Standing up, he threw open the window, breathing in the cool morning air.

As the dizziness slowly abated, he noticed the blood smeared on the window. Pushing away, he paced within the small confines of his room. What had happened to him last night? There was a silent scream building in his head as he tried to figure out what had happened. Had he scratched himself in his sleep? If he had, why were his feet dirty?

He collapsed on the bed, clutching at his hair. Closing his eyes, he tried to concentrate, breathing in deeply and letting it out slowly. There had been a woman. Miriam. She had been dancing, her long black hair wrapping around her shoulders. No, that's not right. She hadn't been dancing, she'd been running. From him. He'd been chasing her. He remembered the fear on her face. She'd gone down easily beneath his paws, her soft fleshing giving beneath his claws. He gasped. It had to have been a dream, but the scratches on his chest, scratches from a human hand, said otherwise.

The floor creaked above him, reminding him that Jim was awake and alert. Holding his breath, he waited until he heard Jim's footsteps come down the stairs and into the kitchen. The refrigerator opened and he could hear the sliding of glass against plastic as the glass jar of OJ was taken out. Blair waited, listening to Jim drinking from the jar. There was silence for a couple more minutes before the refrigerator was opened again. He breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the front door open and Jim went out for his morning run.

Working fast, Blair grabbed some clothes and escaped into the bathroom, where he dropped his shirt and shorts on the floor. He tore the metal charm from around his throat, letting it fall on top of the pile of clothes. Turning the tap on full, he jumped into the shower. The icy streams soon turned steaming hot as they beat at his chest, washing away the sticky blood. He gasped and turned, letting the water beat on his back. Unable to take the heat any longer, he reached back and turned on the cold tap, his fingers slipping on the slick metal.

He leaned up against the cool tile of the shower and tried to put together his memories of the previous night. The details slammed into his brain, making him gasp.

He was standing in the middle of the street, the moon gleaming in the night sky. It was quiet. He remembered how quiet it was. He was staring at his hands. They were perfectly good hands, capable hands. The fingers began to darken, twisting and shrinking, hairs sprouting from the back of them like a time-lapse film gone mad. There was confusion as the rest of him changed. His clothes became confining. Panicking, he tore at them, but his hands were no longer hands. They were furry paws. Yelping, he started to run. Ahead of him, he saw a woman. She was laughing, dancing, her dark hair wrapping around her shoulders. A bright scarf was tied to her head. She was laughing at him. She was the reason he was turning into a wolf. She had cursed him!

Running faster, he caught up with her. He leaped. She screamed as he tore into her. Her soft flesh melted beneath his teeth and claws. Hot blood flooded his mouth. Raising his head, he howled at the moon, crying his triumph.

Blair's hand curled into a fist as fear, shame and confusion tore through him. It wasn't possible. He couldn't have turned into a wolf. He couldn't have killed Miriam. It was a dream, it was just a dream. The burning sensation on his chest reminded him of the all too real scratches.

He poured a capful of shampoo into his hand and scrubbed his hair, cursing as the soap stung his eyes. Letting the warm water flush them out, he shook his hands, trying to shake out the tension in them. They trembled as he rinsed his hair and conditioned it. Finally, he picked up the bar of soothing oatmeal soap and built up a handful of lather. Starting slowly, he spread the silky foam on his arms, the muscles flexing beneath the frothy bubbles. Wincing as the movements pulled at the scratches, he bent over and soaped up his calves and thighs. Straightening, he rubbed the slippery bar over his chest, working around the red welts. The scratches weren't really that deep. The blood must have been someone else's. Shivering at the thought, he ducked back underneath the water. He turned off the water, and wrung the excess out of his hair, twisting it just a bit too tightly, the hairs biting into the tender skin of his fingers. He ripped the waterlogged bandage from his arm, ignoring the sting as some of his hair went with it. Flexing his fingers, he winced at the stiffness. Whatever he had done last night hadn't done his injured arm any good.

There was a heavy knocking on the bathroom door. Blair reflexively grabbed for his towel as his roommate's voice carried through the wooden door.

"Sandburg, you okay in there?"

"Yes," he croaked out.

There was a pause. "Are you sure? I can smell blood."

Blair cringed as he imagined Jim monitoring him through the door, measuring his heartbeat and breathing. Resentment flared for a second, only to be doused by the memory of Jim on the mountain with a mysterious illness, Jim blinded by Golden, Jim in a warehouse with flames all over the place. He took a deep breath, reigning in his runaway emotions. He had to calm down or else Jim was going to know something was wrong. He had to figure out what had happened before he told him. "Jim, man, you must be spiking again. I cut myself shaving. Dial down your smell for a while. I'll be right out."

"Okay."

Blair gave a relieved sigh as his partner's footsteps faded. Turning around, he faced the steam-covered mirror, wiping away the moisture. He studied his face. "That was low, man. Get a grip. It was a dream. It had to be a dream. You just scratched yourself up. Get cleaned up and go to breakfast. Miriam will be there." As he stuffed the bloodied clothes into one of the ziplocs they kept in the bathroom, he tried not to think of what he would do if she wasn't there.


The empty parking lot seemed huge as Jim parked the blue and white truck. It was too early in the day for visitors, but he knew it would be packed in a few hours. The Ferris wheel rose above the town of tents, silently waiting for young couples and squealing children to climb aboard and be lifted toward the sky. The dusty tents marched across the fair grounds, looking as if they had always stood there. He looked at his partner out of the corner of his eye. Blair had been quiet during the ride over, barely seeming aware of where he was. His face was pale and drawn, and there was a haunted look in his eyes. Jim wondered what had happened to make his lively partner so withdrawn. At first, he had thought it was his arm again. He had made sure that Blair took his antibiotics and pain medication with his morning coffee, but Blair still hadn't perked up by the time they reached the fair grounds. He didn't know what was wrong, but he was going to find out.

"So, Sandburg, how did you join up with the carnival? I don't remember you or Naomi ever mentioning it."

"Yeah, well, it was pretty much how we got started on any of our adventures. It was nearing the end of my last year in high school and Naomi met Madame M. in an herbal shop. They had tea together, Madame read Naomi her tea leaves and within a month, we were catching up with the carnival at one of their stops. We spent the whole summer with them.

"Why did you leave?"

Sandburg tripped over his feet. Jim grabbed his arm to steady him. "Sorry about that, man. I'm not usually that clumsy. I didn't sleep very well." A yawn slipped out of his mouth.

Jim yawned in response. "Hey, none of that. You know yawns are contagious. And unlike you, I had an excellent night's rest. I'd rather stay awake today."

"You did?" Sandburg sounded surprised.

"Yeah. I had a hard time getting up this morning." As they passed through the entrance and headed toward the back of the carnival, Jim's sensitive nose picked up the scent of sizzling meat and freshly made apple cinnamon pancakes. "It smells like breakfast is almost done."

Following his nose, Jim went twenty feet before he realized he was alone. Turning, he watched as Blair shuffled behind him. "Sandburg?"

Blair looked up. Guiltily taking a hop-skip, he hurried to catch up. "Sorry, man, memories."

"I hope they're good memories."

Sandburg shrugged, his eyes slipping away. "Yeah, well, you know what they say, you can never go back." He picked up his pace.

Jim grabbed his arm. Blair pulled away, hissing in pain. He let go. "Jeez, Chief, I'm sorry. You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. It's just a little sore this morning. I think I slept on it funny."

He realized that was the second time Sandburg had ducked the subject of his time with the carnival. Jim remembered the Gypsy's warning about hidden dangers and getting Sandburg to talk. Obviously, she had never tried to talk to Sandburg when he wasn't in the talking mood. He carefully tapped his partner's shoulder with his fist. "You're not supposed to do that."

"Gee, you think?" Turning the corner, they approached the trailer park. To the right was a large white truck with tables set up next to it underneath a large, garishly-striped tent. Most of the tables were occupied with a variety of people. Jim frowned as his eyes tried to reconcile what he was seeing, thinking his senses were on the fritz again. Then he realized that there was nothing wrong with his eyes and the people really did look that weird. He was pushed away as a group rose up like a wave and mobbed his partner. He hung back, ready to jump in and rescue Sandburg if the attention got to be too much for him. He should have known better. The younger man beamed as he was alternately hugged, kissed, and patted on the back. It was as if everyone wanted a piece of him as they yelled questions at him. "Where have you been? How are you doing? Where did you go? Your hair grew back!" A sharp whistle pierced the air.

Everyone turned to a miniature woman standing on the table. She was all of four feet tall, of stocky build, with bright red hair that looked like it was on fire. She wore a bright yellow T-shirt and jeans covered by an even brighter green apron with the Carnival's logo emblazoned on it. She waved a spatula through the air like it was a sword.

"That's enough. Sit down and eat like civilized folk. Sandy's not going anywhere. At least not until he eats my apple cinnamon pancakes!" She stomped her foot for emphasis, causing the tableware to jump. Everyone except Jim and Sandburg returned to the tables quickly.

The cook jumped down and approached them. "Sandy! Give me a hug!"

Sandburg leaned down and lifted the little woman. "Big Red. I see you're still queen of the kitchen." He let go and stood up, taking an appreciative sniff. "And it smells delicious. Red, I want you to meet my friend, Jim Ellison. Jim, this is the best traveling cook in the world, Big Red. She could make road kill taste good. Actually, we've suspected from time to time she does." He grinned as Red took a swipe at him with her spatula.

Jim gravely held out his hand. "Please to met you! My mouth has been watering and my stomach grumbling ever since we entered the grounds. It smells great!"

Red switched the spatula out of her right hand and shook his hand. "Well, we can't have a handsome man like you starving. Grab a plate and hit the buffet. I'd stay, but I'm still on duty. Sandy, you bring him by for dinner and I'll cook up my famous road kill stew. Someone mentioned some good possum a couple of miles away."

Sandburg elbowed Jim. "Hey, we should invite Simon over. Sounds like something he'd like."

They walked through the buffet line, piling their plates with fluffy scrambled eggs, spicy sausage, and the piece de resistance, golden brown pancakes with chunks of apples covered with sweet, hot applesauce. Sandburg led them to the center table, where a space magically opened for both of them.

Jim tried not to stare as he sat down, but it was hard. Across from him was a tall, slender man with what looked like the bottom half of a toddler sticking out of his side. The toddler was dressed in a ruffled pink dress and had on tiny white socks and black shoes. Next to him (them?) was a man who was covered in tattooed scales. His face had a ridged brow where his eyebrows should have been and his eyes were slitted like a snake's. Jim took a closer look. They were contacts. The man opened his mouth and grinned at Jim, revealing a mouth full of pointy teeth and a split tongue. The two halves of his tongue twined themselves around each other in a grotesque mimicry of two snakes, almost causing Jim to gag.

Turning his head to the side, he became aware of the solid mass of humanity sitting beside him. The swarthy-skinned man was so tall, he would have dwarfed Simon. Jeesh, is this what Sandburg feels like when he's near Simon? The giant was talking to the brunette sitting next to him. She was so painfully thin that Jim could see the individual bones in her hand as she used her fork to shovel in food from an overflowing plate. He noticed they wore matching wedding bands.

Sandburg tugged on his arm. "Jim, I want you to meet Moustapha the Magnificent. He's the show magician. He taught me some slight of hand and card tricks when I was here."

At the word magician, Jim's ears perked up. He studied the man sitting on the far side of Sandburg. He was of medium build and height, with coal black skin. He was dressed elegantly if casually in a soft purple turtleneck and slacks. His face was rather aristocratic, with just enough gray at the temples to make him look distinguished. He was in his late fifties and in good shape. Jim looked at his hands. The fingers were delicately tapered, with no nicks or scratches.

"A magician, huh? Do you do any escape tricks?"

Blair beamed. "Does he do any escape tricks? Jim, there isn't a lock this man can't pick or a box he can't get out of. He's even done Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Chamber trick, or at least, his version of it. Right, Moustapha?"

"That was quite a while back. Most of what I like to do is illusions and card tricks. I'm afraid the escape tricks are a little to rough for the bones these days."

Jim nudged Blair. "Why don't you have him show you some of those escape tricks? It might be useful in the future. Like when you're in the trunk of a car or something."

Sandburg picked up a piece of egg and tossed it at him. "Very funny, Jim." He paused, then turned to the magician. "Actually, that sounds like a good idea. Can you teach me how to get out of handcuffs and stuff?"

Moustapha looked at him indulgently. "Sandy, you know a good magician doesn't reveal his tricks." Blair's face fell. "Of course, I have already taught you some things. I guess I could show you how to get out of a pair of handcuffs. It's a matter of knowing your handcuffs." He launched into a technical description of different styles of handcuffs.

Jim concentrated on eating his delicious, if slightly cold, breakfast. He was reaching across Sandburg to get the syrup when he noticed his partner's face go pale and his pupils dilating. Following his gaze, he saw Miriam walking across the compound, her hips swishing the plum-colored broomstick skirt she wore. Looking back at his partner, he saw a flash of relief. What was that? Sandburg jumped up, surprising both Jim and Moustapha. "Uh, excuse me for a second. I need to talk to Miriam about something."

Jim exchanged confused looks with Moustapha. He resisted the temptation to eavesdrop on their conversation. The magician took a sip of his coffee. "So, Jim, what do you do?"

"I'm a detective with the Cascade PD, Major Crimes division."

There was instant silence at the table. Looking at the faces around him, he saw an assortment of emotions, from shock and fear to resentment and hostility. Reviewing the past couple of days, he realized Sandburg had avoided mentioning his occupation. Dammit, Sandburg, why didn't you tell me? He couldn't believe he hadn't picked up on that little fact. Sandburg probably didn't want them to know he was a cop.

The giant next to him asked, "And how did you met Sandman?"

Jim got the impression they didn't expect it to be a great story. Well, I got these sensory spikes, you see and I thought I was going crazy. Sandburg found out about it, impersonated a doctor and when I found out about it, I threw him up against the wall, implied he was a druggie and threatened him with bodily harm. Yeah, that would go over well. Instead of using the standard version they'd been using for years, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "He saved my life. I was almost run over by a garbage truck and he pushed me out of the way. We've been friends ever since."

He realized immediately that it was the right thing to say when the group relaxed. Sandburg appeared at his shoulder. "Hey, man, you ready for the twenty-five cent tour? Miriam said she'd show us around."

"Yeah, I'm done here." He stacked his and Sandburg's plates and stood up. "It was nice meeting you."

Sandburg followed him with the empty paper cups. "Hey, Jim, what was that about? You guys looked a little tense."

Jim looked at him sideways, trying to tamp down the irritation. "You forgot to mention you didn't want them to know you were a cop." He kept his voice down, but it came out sounding harsh.

"Jim, man, you didn't tell them, did you?"

"No, I told them I was a cop." He dumped the plates into the trashcan. He pulled Sandburg off to the side. "Why didn't you want them to know?"

Sandburg had the grace to look embarrassed. "You know how it is. Most of these people have had a run-in with the law a time or two. Anyone who looks different or doesn't act normal is sometimes fair game for cops who don't like freaks. They think that just because they don't look normal they have criminal tendencies or something. I'm not saying the carnival doesn't sometimes attract some bad apples, but most of the people here are honest."

"If they're honest, then what's the big deal?"

"I didn't want it to become an issue. Not this weekend. I need some space here, man."

Jim's phone rang, interrupting the conversation. "Ellison."

Simon's voice sounded in his ear. "Jim, there's been another break-in at LaFette's. This time, it looks like he got what he was looking for."

"What was stolen?"

Sandburg perked up at the mention of theft.

"Not much. A necklace and a couple of rings. Connor is at the crime scene now."

"Fine. Sandburg and I will be there. We'll keep you updated if we find something new." He closed the cell phone with a snap. "There was another burglary at LaFette's."

"I assume the thief got what he was looking for this time. Man, that's cold. Breaking into the same place two nights in a row."

"Connor is waiting for us."

Sandburg hesitated, his gaze slipping to the gypsy girl.

"Chief, if you don't want to come, I'll understand."

"No. I'm your partner. The carnival will be here in a couple of hours. Let's go over the crime scene and see what Megan has for us. Maybe we'll find something we missed before."

As Sandburg said his good-byes, Jim couldn't shake the feeling that his partner was slipping away from him, and he didn't know what he could do to stop it.


A hand let the tent flap drop. The tall cop had gotten the phone call. He rubbed his aching leg. Who would have thought a bullet wound could hurt so much? Lucky for him the bullet had gone through the muscle. The strain of trying to act normal made the pain worse. He reached for the bottle of whiskey, his hand shaking. They wouldn't find anything at the shop. He had made sure of that. And even if they did, it wouldn't point back to him. He poured himself a drink and saluted himself. The kid had done all the work for him and he didn't even know it! He cackled as he downed the bitter drink, feeling it burn all the way to his stomach.


Blair's stomach churned as they pulled up at LaFette's. He couldn't say why, but this case bothered him more than it should. It wasn't that he had been attacked by a wolf and had shot someone. He'd been attacked before and he had defended himself before. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff and someone was slowly chipping away at the earth beneath his feet.

Megan was talking to a forensic technician when they entered the shop. She excused herself and joined them. "Jim, Sandy. Nice of you to join us. You guys may want to check out the back. Our boy changed his MO. The locks were broken, not picked, and forensics found several sets of fingerprints."

The older detective frowned. "Are we sure it's the same guy?"

She held out a large envelope. "All the stolen jewelry was part of a collection from a Russian family that immigrated to the US in the fifties. Supposedly the items were taken from an East German officer right after World War II. You can imagine where the officer got them from."

Blair took it and browsed through the insurance photographs. They were neatly labeled with the dates and locations from where they had been stolen. As he paged through each one, a sense of outrage and anger grew. "This is Jewish jewelry. You can see the Hebrew symbols etched on the ring there. They probably belonged to some poor family caught up in the Holocaust." He handed them to Jim. "Did you find out who the original owners were?"

Connor shook her head. "I'm still trying to track that down. There are only two more pieces missing from the set, a marriage ring and a necklace. It's strange, though. When the Bercheks moved to the US, they sold off most of the collection to a private collector. The few pieces they kept were stolen in the summer of 1985. It looks like the thief didn't have a chance to steal the rest until recently, when they showed up in an estate sale."

"Son of a bitch." Megan and Blair looked at Jim. He was laying out the pictures, sorting them by date. "Look at this. Megan, which ones were the burglaries where the wolf was spotted?"

She tapped three of the piles. "These."

Jim pulled a pamphlet out of his back pocket. "Look at this." On one side was a colorful picture of rides and balloons. On the top was written 'The Stefenoff Carnival'. He turned it over to the schedule of locations. "See here. Each of the dates with the wolf coincides with the carnival being in town. On the dates the wolf wasn't spotted, the carnival was near enough for someone to drive to the locations of the burglaries.

"Jim, you can't be serious," protested Blair.

"Sandburg, the carnival would be a perfect cover for a thief. He could travel around the country and no one would connect him to the individual burglaries."

Blair shook his head. "Jim, I know these people."

"You may have known them, but you've been away for fifteen years, Sandburg. People change, circumstances change."

"Look at the dates, Jim. The first pieces were when I was with the carnival. If it is someone I know, then they haven't changed much. And what about the wolf? I don't know about you, but I haven't seen him at the carnival." Right after he said it, the wrongness of that statement hit him. The memory of the wolf's silver-blue eyes haunted him. They stared at him, drilling down to the core. They were trying to tell him something. Jim's voice brought him back from the edge.

"I don't have all the answers. That's why we have to go back. Are you sure there isn't someone who jumps out at you as a possible suspect?"

The name came easily to mind: Spoker. His parents had been Jews caught up in World War II. When Blair had been with the carnival that summer, Spoker had played the part of a Jewish Uncle to him. He'd taught Blair about his heritage, what it meant to be Jewish. For a second, he thought someone was tearing his heart out with a pair of tongs. He looked down, but his shirt was still there. No gaping hole, no blood. God, please, let it not be him. Not him.

"Chief?"

Blair turned blindly away from his partner, trying to deal with the possibility that he would have to arrest an old friend. "I might have a lead. I'm going to need time to follow up on it."

"Sandy, if you know who it is..." Megan protested.

"I said, I'm not sure," he snapped. His voice gentled. "I have to make sure, okay?"

"Well, I'm sure you gentlemen would like to take a look around. If you'll excuse me." She walked out, her high-heeled boots sounding a staccato on the wooden floor.

Blair watched her go. "You know, I just don't understand women."

"Chief, you're not supposed to understand women." He pulled out a pair of gloves and snapped them on.

Blair pulled out his own pair and put them on. "What do you do?"

"You survive them."

Jim and Blair moved to the back of the store. Blair watched as Jim looked over the crowded storeroom, where the jewelry had been located. Forensics had already been there and gone, leaving a fine layer of black dust over the coarse layer of regular dust. He resisted the urge to sneeze.

"Are you getting anything?"

Jim squatted down and gently picked something up. A long, curling hair clung to his gloved fingers. "Sandburg, you're shedding again. How many times do I have to tell you to tie your hair back at a crime scene?"

Blair reached up to touch his hair. "Jim, it is tied back. That must be from yesterday. Are you getting anything else besides my hair?"

Looking around, Jim concentrated on smell, but all he got was the scent of his partner's shampoo. Focusing in on the locked case that had held the jewelry, he saw the fingerprints forensics had already picked up. He shook his head; he couldn't seem to focus. "Nah, nothing. Whoever did this seems to be a complete novice. No finesse at all. If the jewelry is from the same collection, then our thief has a new partner."

"I don't know, Jim. The thief wouldn't trust anyone to do this. Besides, who would steal for a friend?"

"If you're right about the motivation, Chief, it sounds like a good friend might consider it the right thing to do. Let's wrap it up here.


The fair grounds were crowded with people again. Sandburg was quiet at his side. His partner was so tense that Jim could hear the individual vertebrae in Sandburg's spine re-adjust themselves. He put a hand on his shoulder and steered him to one side. "Chief, you don't have to do this."

Blair shrugged his hand off. "I have to do this. Look, this will be easier if you're not there. Why don't you just hang out here?"

"Sandburg, I am not going to 'hang out' while you're --"

"Jim, please. I know what I'm doing."

"And if you don't?"

He sighed. "You'll be a few feet away, ready to back me up. Just stay out of sight."

Jim grimaced as he watched Blair push his way through the crowd. He knew this had to be tough. Trailing behind him, the facts of the case juggled around in his head. There was something missing, something they didn't know. This mysterious partner worried him. Who had broken into LaFette's last night and why had he left so much evidence behind? It was like he wanted to incriminate himself. Did this second person want to draw suspicion from the old man? If that was true, then they knew the police suspected Spoker. But how could they know that if he hadn't become a suspect until today? He watched as Sandburg made contact with Spoker. The two spoke briefly before he closed his stand and stepped into the back. Jim thought he saw Spoker limp.

Dialing up his hearing, he listened in.

Spoker: "What's this about, Sandy?"

Sandburg: "I'm worried about you, Spoker. I heard some rumors."

Spoker: "What type of rumors?"

Sandburg: "That you hurt yourself, but you won't see a doctor."

Good move, Sandburg, get him talking about the limp. His cell phone rang, the shrill sound slicing through his head. He answered it brusquely. "Ellison."

"Jim, Simon here. I need to talk to you."

The sentinel dialed his hearing up for a split second to check on his partner. He didn't catch the words, but the tone was still conversational. He dialed it back again. "Simon, this isn't a good time."

"Look, Jim, Sandburg's in trouble."

That got his attention. "What kind of trouble?"

The memory of the fine forensic dust covering the jewelry case flashed through his head, and he understood his strange inability to focus on the fingerprints. Subconsciously, he'd known they were Blair's. "No, forensics was there before us today. But we went through the shop yesterday, after the first robbery."

"Sorry, Jim, but forensics is certain the prints were made at the time of the break-in, not before. At least tell me you have a suspect."

Jim fought back his conflicting emotions. "We have a suspect. Sandburg is with him now. Look, I have to go. I'll talk to Sandburg and find out how those fingerprints got there. There has to be a reasonable explanation."

"I don't think reasonable is in Sandburg's vocabulary. I'll settle for believable. Don't take too long, okay? I can't sit on this for long."

"Okay."

The line went dead. Putting the cell phone in his pocket, Jim dialed up his hearing again. Sandburg and Spoker were talking about the weather. Jim ducked behind a stand as they came out of the tent. Spoker said goodbye and opened his stand again. Sandburg walked away in the opposite direction of where Jim was standing.

Jim caught up with Sandburg at a pretzel stand. He was standing there, putting mustard on an oversized soft pretzel.

Jim grabbed his arm. "Sandburg, what are you doing?"

"Having a pretzel. Do you want one?" He took a bite out of his, the yellow mustard smearing on his cheek.

Handing his errant partner a napkin off the stand, he led him away from interested ears. "No, we just ate breakfast a couple of hours ago. What did you find out?"

"About what, Jim?" He took another bite.

"About what? About Spoker! You talked to him about his limp. What did you find out?"

"Oh, he has arthritis. The cold weather bothers it. He's been using horse liniment. I suggested he use either Ben-gay or some tiger balm. That reminds me, we're almost out of Ben-gay. Do you think we'll need to pick some up soon?"

Jim rolled his eyes. What was wrong with Sandburg? When he went in, he was sure Spoker was involved with the burglary. Now he acted as if nothing was wrong. "Sandburg, are you sure it's arthritis?"

"Jim, what's the big deal? The man has arthritis. He's had an active life. You'll probably get it soon, with all the damage you do to your joints. We'll have to work on that. Maybe if you did some yoga with me. Or Tai Chi. I bet you'd do great with Tai Chi." He licked some of the salt off his pretzel.

"Sandburg, stay with me here. Not twenty minutes ago, you were convinced this guy was our man. Now you're standing there eating a damn pretzel. Are you sure Spoker is clean?"

"What's wrong with you, Jim? Spoker's a nice guy with a little arthritis."

"Simon called. Your fingerprints were found all over last night's crime scene."

That rattled the younger detective. "What? That's impossible. I had my gloves on this morning."

"Forensics found your prints all over the crime scene."

"Jim, that's crazy. Maybe they found some prints from yesterday's visit to the shop."

"Sandburg, they found them inside the jewelry case and on the broken locks."

Sandburg threw the half-eaten pretzel into the trash. "This doesn't make any sense. Those fingerprints can't be mine."

"The Captain had them triple-checked."

Collapsing onto a bench, Sandburg shook his head. "I don't believe it. Maybe someone mixed up the records or something."

Jim sat down next to him. "Chief, your scent was all over that shop this morning. Your prints were there. Hell, even your hair was there. I think it's a safe bet you were there last night."

"And I'm telling you, I was nowhere near the shop last night."

"So where does that leave us?"

Sandburg rubbed his hand. "You know, Jim, I had a weird dream last night."

Jim looked at his partner's troubled face. "You had a weird dream?"

"Yeah. I dreamt that I was a werewolf and I tore Miriam to pieces."

"I'd say that counts as a weird dream. How does that relate to your fingerprints showing up at a crime scene?"

"Jim, when I woke up this morning, I had mud on my feet and blood on my chest."

Jim remembered the look on his partner's face this morning. "That's why you were so relieved to see Miriam."

"I thought I had gone sleepwalking and acted out my dream."

"Instead, you went out and robbed an antique store. That doesn't make sense, Sandburg."

"I know. It's like someone overlaid one memory with another."

Jim looked at his partner sharply. "Could they have?"

Sandburg stood up and began to pace. "You mean with hypnosis or something? It's possible, though not in the way you mean. Hypnosis is a way of relaxing by putting the person in a trance. Once that's accomplished, the hypnotist can create a state of hyper-suggestibility in the subject by narrowing their focus of attention selectively. It's actually something like when you zone. Except in non-Sentinels, we don't black out, we become more open to suggestion."

"That's a comforting thought. I thought hypnosis couldn't force anyone to do something they didn't want to do."

The younger man sat down again. "Well, it can't. Not really. But it can create the conditions where someone would do something they normally wouldn't do. Give me your hand." Jim obediently held out his right hand. "Imagine someone asked you to shoot the president."

Jim tried to pull his hand back. "Chief, you shouldn't even kid about that."

"Sorry." He gently tucked Jim's thumb into his palm. "Let's make it the governor. Someone told you to shoot the governor. Now, you aren't going to do that." He folded over Jim's forefinger. "But they take you out into the field and there's a plastic target out there. You shoot the target. It turns out the governor was sitting behind the target. Voila, you've shot the governor." He folded down Jim's index finger and then pinky. He grinned at Jim and waved his captured hand in the air, with the middle finger proudly standing up.

Jim snatched his hand back. "Sandburg!"

"Jim!" Blair echoed. "I was just showing you what it takes for someone to get you to do something you wouldn't normally do, like flipping the finger at me. You distract the person's attention and then implant the suggestion."

"Do you think someone could do this to you?"

"Someone already did it to me. When I was with the carnival, Spoker found out about my fear of heights. He offered to help me by hypnotizing me. It wasn't a complete success, but at least I could function more than two feet off the ground."

"So he's hypnotized you before."

"Yes."

"And you think Spoker could hypnotize you into breaking into LaFette's last night and then cover it up with the memory of a fake dream. That's pushing the bounds of believability, Chief."

"I know." Blair's frustration was evident. "We'll just have to find out."

"And how are we going to do that, Chief?" Jim asked in exasperation. "Have me hypnotize you to find out what really happened?"

Blair brightened. "What a great idea, Jim! We'll go back to the loft, I'll go into a trance and you can find out what really happened!"

"Sandburg, if he really did hypnotize you, then we already know what happened. We just have to prove it."

"How are we going to do that?"

"We have to catch him in the act of hypnotizing you to steal the rest of the jewelry. It's the only way to clear your name." Even as he said it, Jim realized just how absurd the whole thing sounded, but he didn't let it sway his resolve.

Blair looked at him doubtfully. "Jim, do you realize how crazy that sounds?"

"That's why we need to catch it on tape. Come on. We have some jewelry to track down and a thief to catch."


Act IV

Miriam ran through the trailer park, her laughter trailing behind her. Blair chased after her, careful to stay a couple of steps behind the gypsy woman. Ducking through the shadows, she disappeared around a corner. Blair stopped, holding his breath as he listened to her footsteps circle around the trailer. He captured her as she exited the narrow opening between the vehicles, pinning her to cold metal. "Gotcha!"

A sultry smile played on her generous lips. "So you have." Her lips parted in a breathy sigh. "Whatever am I going to do? This is police brutality."

He nibbled on her neck. "Brutality, huh? I don't think so. We had a report of a suspicious character in the area. You haven't seen a suspicious character, have you?"

She angled her neck upwards. "A suspicious character? Do you have a description of this suspicious character?" She gasped as Blair's lips found a sensitive spot beneath her ear.

"The suspicious character is reported to be about your height, with long, dark hair and a slender figure." He switched to the other side of her neck. "Very suspicious, don't you think?"

"Mmmm. Tell me again why you have to leave?"

"I'm going on a stakeout. We're going to catch a thief."

She lifted one leg, wrapping it around his calf. "A thief, hmm? He doesn't steal hearts, does he?"

"He'd be out of luck in my case. Someone already has it." He let go of one hand to pull her closer.

Her free hand wrapped itself in his thick curls. "I wonder who that could be." She tightened her grip, forcing his head backwards. "Are you sure you have to go? There's nothing I could do to convince you?" She nipped at his neck.

He jerked as her teeth bruised his flesh. A hot, wet tongue soothed the hurt. "Oh, man, do I wish I could stay. We're staking out this jewelry store in Canton. It's going to be our last chance to catch this guy." There was a buzzing sound as the pager at his waist went off. "That's my partner. I have to go." His lips descended on hers, devouring the sweet, honeyed heat. He tore himself away. "I have to go, now."

Her fingers slipped from his hair, rosy red lips pouting. "If you have to. I'll see you around." She walked away, her hips swaying enticingly.

Blair followed more slowly, licking his lips. "What a man has to do in the name of duty."

A shadowy figure limped out of the darkness behind him. "Sandburg."

Blair started in surprise. "Spoker. What are you doing out here?"

"I live here. I have something you may want to see."

"Maybe tomorrow. I have to go." He turned to leave.

"Arbeit Macht Frei." The words were spoken in a harsh, guttural voice.

Blair stopped in mid-step, his face relaxing.

"Turn around."

Blair obediently turned around to face the old carnie. His face was devoid of emotion.

"Tell me about the jewelry in Canton."

"Megan tracked the last two pieces of jewelry in the Berchek collection to a jeweler in Canton. One is a marriage ring, circa 1875, banded with Hebrew characters for happiness and good health. The second piece of jewelry is a necklace with a silver locket. The silver locket is engraved on the outside with a castle --"

"That's enough! Those were my mother's, and it's the Spohker collection, not Berchek. The Bercheks only stole it from that Spinne, Captain Schwarz. They are the last two pieces that I haven't recovered. I must have them." He paced around the silent man. "I want you to steal them for me."

"How?"

Spoker slapped him, his mouth foaming with rage. "How? What does it matter? You have to do what I say." Suddenly, he calmed down, his hand stroking Blair's cheek. "You have to do this, Blair. This jewelry is very important to me. It was my mother's. You understand the bond between a son and a mother. It was her dying wish to have her jewelry back again. She never got over its loss." A tear ran down his weathered face. "She never stopped missing her house, her clothes, her life. She couldn't understand why we had to leave it."

Sniffling, he pulled out a white handkerchief and mopped his eyes. "Will it just be you and your partner at the stakeout?"

"Yes."

"Fine. You will dose him again with that sleeping powder I gave you. You will break into the store and take the jewelry out. Pick out a couple of other pieces while you're in there. Don't forget to leave fingerprints. I want lots and lots of fingerprints. I will give you an envelope to put the ring and necklace in. You will drop them into the mail and keep the other jewelry. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"When your partner wakes up, you will only remember that you were watching the store. Nothing happened out of the ordinary. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good boy. I hate to do this to you, but it really was your own fault. If you hadn't caught me stealing that night all those years ago, I wouldn't have had to send you away from the carnival. Who would have thought the conditioning would have held for all this time? Now, one last thing: I can't leave you as a loose end. Your partner was in the military, yes?"

"Yes."

"And he keeps a gun in his apartment, I'm sure. He wants to kill you, Blair."

"No."

"Yes. He wants to kill you. He knows it was you who stole the jewelry. He knows you lied about it."

"I don't think so."

A voice rang out from the darkness. "That's enough. Cascade PD. You're finished, Spoker." Jim appeared from behind them like an avenging angel, a gun in his hand. "Step away from my partner!"

Spoker looked to Jim and then to Blair, his face darkening. "No, it can't be. You're under my control." He backed away.

"No, I was under your control. Now I'm the one in control. You're not the only one who knows about hypnosis. When we realized what you had done, Jim was able to help me break your conditioning. It wasn't that difficult, once we knew what we were dealing with. And then we set up this little sting." Blair grinned as he backed out of the line of fire. Simon and Megan materialized on either side of Spoker, their guns trained on him. "What I can't understand is why you set me up. I couldn't possibly have committed the other burglaries."

Spoker's face twisted with rage. "Because you forgot who you were! You are Jewish and yet you were more interested in studying other people's customs than your own. You forgot what they did to us in Germany! I tried to remind you, but you didn't want to hear. You wanted to pretend you could be accepted. They will never accept us. We will always be the scapegoats. Don't think because you are a police officer you will be immune. They will purge you too!" He took a step toward Blair, his hands curled into claws.

"Hold it right there." The captain's deep voice rumbled with menace.

Pausing, Spoker glared at Simon before letting out a shrill whistle. He grinned as the group winced. "You think you have me. You don't know anything." He backed away from them.

"Stop." Megan cocked her gun.

A sharp growl split the air as a large, dark mass put itself between the two officers and the carnie. Spoker limped away as his would-be pursuers were held at bay by the snarling wolf.

As Simon took careful aim at the animal, Miriam reappeared. "No!" she shouted.

She ran up to Simon, pulling at his arm. "Don't hurt him; he's my wolf." The gypsy girl turned to the wolf. "Shhhh, Sasha, it's okay." She held out her hand to the wolf. "Come here, Sasha, come. It's okay."

The wolf whined as he looked from his owner to the strangers. His eyes seemed to linger on Blair for a split second before looking back to where his friend had gone, confusion written on his face. His tail wagged and his ears came up as he relaxed his guard. "Good boy," Miriam crooned.

The four officers ran after the old man. Jim led the group winding through the maze of tents. He hesitated as he reached the crowded fairway.

Blair was at his side. "Which way did he go?"

"I don't know."

"Okay, we know that he's limping. Try to filter out all the even footsteps and listen for anyone walking funny."

Jim dialed his hearing up, filtering out all the mechanical noises. He then filtered out all the voices of the carnival goers, focusing in on their footsteps. Time seem to come to a halt as the sound of hundreds of feet hitting the dusty ground was amplified. Each time he filtered out one set of steps, someone else started to walk.

"Concentrate on the people moving away from you. You heard him running away from us before. Listen for that rhythm."

The additional instructions seemed to help. One set of footsteps leaped out at him. Piggybacking his sight to his hearing, he saw Spoker enter the haunted house that had been set up. "Got him."

Barreling through the crowd, they ran up to the Haunted Mansion. Jim jumped the barrier that herded the people waiting to enter the building. He flashed his badge at the attendant. "Cascade PD. Don't let anyone in. Simon, stay here and cover the front. Connor, you take the back. Blair, you're with me.

Blair followed him into the house. Jim had declined to go through the house the other night. Miriam had explained that each section had a different environment to put the visitors off-guard. He could hear several people shuffling through the house, bouncing off walls and laughing. The constant sound of the machinery used to operate the haunted monstrosity grated on his nerves.

The entry was lit by a black light, the walls painted with nightmarish images. Jim reared back as a ghost flew at him from the ceiling. A puff of air hit Blair, causing him to flinch. "Easy, Chief."

The door at the end of the hallway flapped open and closed. They moved cautiously forward. A hideous shriek filled the air as they crossed over the threshold. Jim dialed up his eyesight as they entered the inky blackness of a long, dark corridor. The floor shifted beneath their feet as the floorboards moved up and down like a demented seesaw. Blair cursed softly as he fell into his partner's back. Stumbling off the moving floor, Jim caught the flutter of a curtain up ahead as someone left the dark section.

Jogging ahead, he stopped at the curtain and peeked through. Instantly, his eyes were assaulted by a montage of strobing colored lights. The bright lights seem to stab their way into the back of his skull.

"Jim, dial down your eyesight. It's just like the lights I had you practice with. See through the lights. Use your other senses." The reassuring voice steadied him, and he dialed down his vision until everything was a moving shadow. Feeling the railing set on either side to help visitors through the room, he listened intently. He could hear two people ahead of them in the room. They were staggering through the maze of railings. Ducking down, he headed to the opposite corner of the room. He stopped in front of them.

"Hey, dude, get out of the way." The voice was a light tenor, probably a teenager. The second person, who was tucked behind him, giggled uncertainly.

Jim flashed his badge again. "Cascade PD. Exit the building." He pointed back to where they had come from.

"Dude, this is totally uncool." The voice was outraged and about six inches below him.

"Staying here would be uncool. Now exit the building. Please."

The couple scrambled backwards. Hearing them leave, Jim switched directions and fumbled his way through the last of the maze. They entered another hallway, this one filled with display cases of oddities. Blinking, he peered through the thick glass tanks. He could see a wavery form on the far side of the room. The odd step and drag rhythm was loud to his ears. He and Blair raced through the twisting aisles of tanks.

They stumbled through yet another doorway; Jim was unprepared as an object swooshed through the air and landed heavily on his shoulder. Going down, he heard Blair shout in pain. He turned around to see a pipe go back up in the air. It was aimed at the unprotected head of his partner. Surging upwards with a roar, he grabbed the pipe, ripping it from their assailant's hands. Spoker fell back against the mummy's sarcophagus. His arms windmilled as he struggled to keep his balance. Losing the fight with gravity, his head made contact with the painted wooden edge of the sarcophagus. His body went limp over the bandage-wrapped figure with glowing red eyes. Blair stood up unsteadily, rubbing his chin, which was sprouting the beginnings of a bruise. "Well, he's finally with his mummy."

Jim groaned at the terrible pun. "I think this was the case of the Mummy's Revenge."

Epilogue

Simon looked over the odd collection of costumed police officers and civilians milling about the Major Crimes department. Desks had been pushed back against the wall and paper streamers had been strung all over the place along with the usual spiders and bats. On one end were two long tables covered with a black crepe paper and the best gastronomical delights the detectives and their families could beg, buy or bake. The other end of the table had a huge punch bowl filled with blue punch. He wondered who was responsible for the odd color. Blair had convinced several of the carnies to join the Major Crimes Halloween party, adding to the atmosphere. Simon stared at the back of someone's neck that sported a variety of hooks and pins sticking through it. He suppressed a shudder, wondering how anyone could do that for a living. The person turned around, revealing Brown's infectious grin. The captain looked closer, noted the faint shininess around the objects on his detective's neck, indicating some sort of adhesive.

A shout came from across the room. He watched as a Jim and Blair entered the room. Jim's face was covered with a base coat of white, a black spot covering his right eye. His hair had been slicked back and little floppy ears placed over his own. He was wearing a skintight white body suit with black spots that delineated every line on his well-toned body. Simon thought he saw a couple of the ladies at the party swoon. The oversized spiked collar Blair had received the other day was clasped around his neck. He saw a leather leash in the detective's hand. He wondered who was going to get to use that later.

Next to him was Blair, completely covered with silver fur, with a luxuriant tail hanging down behind him. Two pointy ears peaked out of his hair, which had been expertly teased and dyed to match his costume. A long snout had been glued onto his face and his lips were painted black. He laughed at something Jim said, revealing fangs worthy of any werewolf. Simon squinted. His eyes looked a bizarre shade of yellow. At his side was Miriam Blackstone, dressed demurely in a pinafore and tights, her long hair hanging down in braids fastened with lace bows. She turned to the side, revealing a six-inch butcher's knife sticking out of her back.

He had followed Jim's suggestion pertaining to his own costume. Some of the men had snickered initially, until they saw the big wooden spoon Simon had bought to complete the outfit. After that, they behaved themselves. Picking up his paper cup, he started to circulate through the crowd, making his way to the corner where Madame Mysteria was holding court and telling fortunes using her Tarot cards.

Blair laughed as he and Miriam approached the refreshment table. Jim was attempting to hide behind them as the ladies in the room started to mob him. Rhonda, dressed in a tight leather outfit with a short black wig, was taking pictures for posterity, pinning the Polaroids up on the wall. She even managed to get a shot of Jim's posterior. Pouring himself and Miriam cups of the strange blue punch, Blair grabbed a handful of pretzels to munch on. He almost choked as he caught sight of Simon across the room, dressed in a long white granny gown, complete with lace cap and reading glasses. He tossed a couple of the pretzels at his partner's head.

"Hey!" Jim looked up as they bounced off him. "What was that for?"

Blair nodded in the direction of the gowned Captain.

Unrepentant, Jim grinned.

Joel and his wife came up. Joel was dressed in a brown robe and cowl. A rosary hung off the rough rope wrapped around his waist twice and knotted in the front. His wife was dressed in a black nun's costume, her eyes twinkling as she saw Jim in his skimpy outfit. Blair wagged his finger in front of her face. "Joel, you should tell your wife that a nun isn't supposed to have thoughts like those."

Joel shrugged. "I gave up a long time ago telling my wife what to do or think. Now I listen when she tells me what to do."

She bumped his hip with hers. "You'd better believe it, Joel Taggart." She steered him away from the refreshment table. "And I am telling you, you are not touching those fattening foods tonight. I like your figure just the way it is." She steered him to the makeshift dance floor, where ghouls and other assorted creatures were boogying to the Monster Mash.

Jim pushed past Blair and Miriam. "Excuse me, I, uh, see someone over there I haven't seen in a while." A stream of women followed him, chasing his tail.

Blair chuckled. "I don't think Jim's going to have to worry about his figure tonight. I told him he should have found a date."

A hiss came from behind them. A heavy European accent spoke. "Good evening, gentlethings."

The werewolf and murdered girl turned around to see Rafe, dressed in full-blown evening gear, the crisp white shirt setting off the thin trail of blood coming from his blood-red lips. Next to him was a tall blonde poured into a skintight black dress, clinging to her dark master.

"Rafe! I mean, welcome, Dracula. You are looking well-fed tonight."

The blonde smiled. "He should be." She pulled her hair aside to show twin puncture marks on her neck.

"Niiiiiice --" Blair drew out the word. His date elbowed him in the ribs. "-- marks. Nice bite marks. Very professional."

She licked her full lips. "I hear werewolves are good biters as well," she said, winking.

Seeing the storm clouds gathering, the wolf decided that Jim looked like he needed rescuing. "It's just a rumor. We're not as neat as vampires. We mostly tear out throats and stuff. If you'll excuse us, we have yet to pay our respects to Madame Mysteria."

They crossed the room, stopping to admire the various costumes. The magician, Moustapha, had decided to come as a tribal chieftain. Bethany Small, the carnival's walking skeleton, had come dressed as a beanpole, and David Small, the tallest man on Earth, was dressed as the Jolly Green Giant. David had been picking off the real peapods from his wife all evening and eating them whole. No one else had been bold enough to copy him.

Finally, they reached the corner where Madame Mysteria had set up her table. Simon was sitting in front of her, listening carefully to her words. Either that, or he was ogling her neckline, which was scandalously low. Blair came up behind him and discreetly coughed. The captain didn't seem to hear him. Leaning down, he whispered into Simon's ear. "My, what big eyes you have!"

"The better to see you with, Sandburg. Remember that." He turned in the chair. "Miss Blackstone. It's a pleasure to see you again." As he stood up, there was the sound of cloth ripping. "Darn it, I can't believe I did that! How do you women get around in these things?" He lifted the skirt, showing a quarter-inch tear visible around half the hem of his gown.

Miriam let go of Blair's arm. "Do you have any duct tape around? We can fix that up in a jiffy."

"Duct tape, huh? I think we have some in the janitor's closet. It's over this way." Before Blair could say a word, his boss had run off with his date.

Madame Mysteria collected her cards. "Sit, Sasha. I have not yet had a chance to read the cards for you." Her voice was firm, brooking no argument.

Sitting down, he watched as she shuffled the deck. She set the deck in front of him, indicated that he should cut the deck. Splitting the deck into three piles, he watched as she put them back together again.

She smiled at him reassuringly. "Relax, Sasha, this is not a root canal. You know the cards only show what might be. You are the one who is in control of your destiny."

"That's what I thought when I jumped off the roof of my mom's car when I was five. The broken arm told me otherwise."

"That didn't stop you from riding the Ferris Wheel with my Miriam the other night, did it?"

He remembered all the times he had to confront his fear of heights in helicopter rides, falling elevators and other assorted terrifying experiences. "Well, no. I've had some immersion shock therapy since then. Amazing stuff."

Madame M. dealt eleven cards in the formation known as the Celtic Cross. She turned them over, and stroked a finger over the first card. "The Knight of Swords. I recognize this man. Dark hair, young, charming, and witty. He's you. You are a man of intellect, yet also a man of passion. Your emotions are very high; there is violence in your world, surrounding you, and you also are capable of it."

The next card covered the knight. It depicted six staves, three on either side of a mounted man. A wreath encircled one of the staves. "The Six of Rods. You are concerned with victory, with winning, with strength. You ride on, despite all, clutching your weapons tightly. Others tell you that you have won, acclaiming your victory, but you are not as certain."

Blair nodded. He was Jim's permanent partner. It was what he had been heading toward ever since they met in his office at Rainier. Every day was a victory in itself. He just wished he could get rid of the feeling that they were living day by day, that the next day something would happen and it would all be gone like his Ph.D. If it happened once, it could happen again.

A card showing six discs with pentagrams drawn on them crossed the first two. One red-tipped fingernail tapped the card. "Six of Pentacles. Anything you have, you must earn, and it is very difficult. No charity, no kindness. Money is a concern, as is justice. You haven't gotten what you deserve, and no one will admit it. A cold face turns toward you, unfeeling and unkind."

Faces flashed in his mind. Faces of the psychos he and Jim had put into jail. Cold-blooded killers, assassins for hire, and just plain crazies. He mentally rolled his eyes. You didn't have to be psychic to know there wouldn't be any shortage of them in his future.

She waved her hands over the cards, her bracelets gently chiming. "Many people ask things of you, holding out their hands. They are never satisfied with what you can give, always ask for more, and expect you to give, no matter what it costs you. Someone offers you what you deserve, but there are strings attached."

"That is not true," he protested.

"Sasha! I am just reading the cards; I am not passing judgment. Listen with your heart and you will be able to hear what is true. Now, where was I? Ah, yes." She touched the four cards surrounding the center spread like points on a compass, starting with the south card and moving clockwise, naming them as she went. "The Moon, the Eight of Pentacles, Judgment, and the Two of Pentacles."

Madame M. touched the Moon card. "You have been concerned with dreams. You have followed your heart, your emotions, your dreams, casting logic and practicality aside. The wolf howled, and you listened."

She tapped on the Eight of Pentacles, which was upside down. "Your work is gone, lost, destroyed without completion. What you worked so hard on, you reaped no benefit from." The Judgment card. "Others will judge you; your own judgment will be good." Her hand moved to the Two of Pentacles on the right hand side. "It will be important for you to maintain your balance. You must not lean too far in one direction, or allow others to direct you. Balance emotion with logic and spiritualism with materialism. Try to stay on an even keel and grounded, lest your judgment be unreliable."

Blair committed the advice to memory. Balance was good. He liked balance.

She moved to the four cards to the right of the cross, and studied them for a second, comparing them to the central cross. "Four of Pentacles. You are trying to hold on to what you have; you fear losing it. There are money concerns. You can't hoard what is inside you. You are afraid to let your emotions out, because you have been hurt and you are afraid of what others will think. If you hold them in, you can't help yourself or anyone else. Don't let go of them, but don't hold them too tightly. The light within you can't shine if you hold it in so desperately; you can't be what you were meant to be."

"Don't let go, don't hoard. Right, got it."

Ignoring the commentary, she continued. "The Lovers, reversed. Your friends and family believe you have lost something important to you." She hesitated, looking over the spread again. "You will split up with a friend or lover. There will be arguments, and a difficult decision you will not wish to make. Think carefully.

"Eight of Swords. You will feel bound, constricted, as though there is nothing you can do to change the situation. Don't let this fear blind you to what you must see.

"The Tower indicates destruction. Even as things fall apart, remember that the old must pass away for the new to be born. Don't despair."

Blair felt his heart squeeze. It sounded like the whole dissertation thing all over again. He didn't know if he could go through that again.

She laid down an additional eleven cards. He knew it was bad for business to end a reading on a bad note. He ticked off each card as it was laid. The Star, the Two of Rods reversed, the Five of Rods, the Ten of Rods, the Hierophant, the Page of Pentacles, the Magician reversed, Seven Cups reversed, the Chariot reversed, the Wheel of Fortune, and the Three of Pentacles.

Madame read the cards from left to right, starting with the Star card. "There is hope, here. Remain optimistic. Others will see your worth. Keep working, hoping, and balancing." Her fingers danced over the two of Rods and the Five of Rods to hover over the Ten of Rods. "You cannot see what lies ahead. There is no one to point the way. There will be many obstacles, fights, and problems for you to overcome. Many burdens will weigh you down. You can bear them and work through them to succeed." Madame M. touched the Page of Pentacles gently. "Here is a child who follows patterns and does not like change. This child will prove trustworthy."

A red fingernail stabbed the Hierophant, the upside down Magician and the upside down Chariot. "You will have problems with a man in power, someone who is concerned with appearances and the opinions of others. This person wants you to conform to the norm. The Magician has considerable power, which he uses for evil purposes. He will work against you. The Chariot tells me you will stand in someone's way. He will try to ride roughshod over you or remove you if he cannot control you. You seem to have trouble with authority figures, Sasha."

"Who, me? I've never had trouble with authority figures."

Madame M. sighed and looked over the cards again. "You must choose, Sasha, among all the paths open to you, all the things that you want. When you do, then you will succeed. Remember that as things go bad, they will eventually become better. Your luck will change for the better and things will eventually go your way. You will find satisfaction in your work, both spiritual and material." She clasped her hands. "You understand, don't you?"

"I hear most of what you're saying." He grabbed a disposable camera that was making its rounds around the room from a tall, black robed figure. He took a couple shots of the spread. "I hope you don't mind."

Madame Mysteria smiled. "I don't think I've ever had one of my readings documented before." She held out her hand.

Blair patted his costume where his pockets would be. "I'm sorry, I don't have any silver to cross your palm with."

She snatched the camera out of his hand. "That's not what I wanted, you rascal. I want to get a picture of you and your captain. You make such a cute couple."

Simon arrived back with two cups of punch. She waved him toward the young wolf. "Stand next to Sasha, Captain. I wish a picture of you two."

"Your wish is my command, oh Gypsy Queen." He put the cups down and put his arm around Blair. She took a snapshot of them together. "There. If you will send me a copy, I would appreciate it. Sasha has the address."

Simon nodded his assent and invited her out on the dance floor. Blair quickly did the same with Miriam and the two couples took to the floor, swaying to the sounds of 'Putting on the Ritz' and 'Purple People Eater.' Later, as they took a breather, Blair found himself waiting in line with Jim at the refreshment table. The Sentinel seemed to have lost the hordes of women who had been chasing him earlier. Blair felt someone bump into him. Looking back, he saw Larry and his parasitic twin, Laverne. Larry was dressed as a Death. Little Laverne's feet had a pair of socks on them with little skeletons. Larry always had a weird sense of humor. It probably came from having your twin sticking out of your side.

"Larry! Nice to see you. I didn't get a chance to say hi earlier. How are you and 'Verne doing?"

"We're doing great. This is a great party. I have to tell you, Laverne had some reservations about coming here, but she's been having a great time." Larry always maintained he had a telepathic link to his twin, even though cat scans had shown he didn't have a brain. Of course, he always maintained his twin was a crossdresser, hence the way he dressed him and the feminine name. "By the way, I like the hair. It's nice to see it did grow back."

Jim turned around with a huff. "Okay, it's been killing me for the past couple of days. What's with all the comments on Sandburg's hair? Why is everyone so surprised he has it long?"

Larry looked at him in surprise. "You mean Sandman didn't tell you?" He smiled, looking particularly gruesome with the dark hollows painted on his face. "Sandman, you've been holding out on your friend here. You never told him about Peanuts?"

"Peanuts?" Brown and Joel turned around from their places in line, looking interested.

Blair shuffled his feet. He had hoped this particular skeleton would stay in its closet. "It was nothing. Just a little accident. I singed some of my hair, that's all."

Larry clapped him on the back. "Sandman is being much too modest. I don't think anyone's done quite what he accomplished. At least not until the hamster incident in California. You know the one where the guy got that hamster stuck up his --"

"Larry, it is not the same." He wondered if it would count as a double murder if he got rid of Larry. There were snickers from everyone present. Breaking down, he explained. "When I was with the carnival, one of the entertainers, Mike, tried to show me how to eat fire. We had just gotten to this new town and everything was still a little disorganized, so we ended up practicing near the elephant pens. Peanuts, one of the elephants, had a bad case of gas. To make a long story short, Mike blew a big one just as Peanuts did, and well, I lost all my hair." He gave a helpless shrug. It had been a traumatic experience, but he'd lived. One hand came up to smooth his hair back. And the hair had grown back.

Larry laughed the loudest. "We could all hear Peanuts trumpeting and Sandburg yelling. Someone dumped a bucket of water on him. Mike had made him smear the fire retardant on his face, but his hair was a total loss. He looked like someone's Barbie that had been torched."

Blair punched him in the arm. "Thanks for the pleasant memories."

The man dressed as Death chuckled. "No problem."

Jim, who had been laughing as hard as the others, tried to smooth his ruffled feathers. "Chief, I don't think this is something you should be ashamed of. It could have happened to anyone."

"Anyone?"

"Well, you're always talking about how the public gets burned by the Republicans."

~ Finis ~

E-mail the authors of this story, Wildeskind and Captain Outrageous, at wildeskind@surfree.com
Read Wildeskind's and Captain Outrageous' other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Wildeskind's Sentinel Fan Fiction Archive
E-mail Faux Paws Productions at fauxpawsproductions@yahoo.com
IN ONE WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Murder in General (11/8/00, FPP-605) by Sue Pokorny
    After responding to a call, Blair starts to doubt his effectiveness as a police officer while Jim tries to find out who killed a suspect right under his nose.
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