He pulled the rusty old truck into the small gravel parking lot of the country store. He had avoided seeing anyone for almost three months now, but his supplies were low and he needed to restock. Entering the store he nodded at the clerk and grabbed a yellow plastic basket to hold his purchases. First he would get some fresh produce, then he would grab some canned goods.
Moving toward the rear of the grocery, he reached the small produce section. He picked up a Macintosh apple and sniffed it appreciatively. The smell of tartness, of sweetness, seemed to pull him in. The rest of the world began to disappear into a foggy haze.
"Mister! Mister! You okay?"
Someone was shaking his shoulder and yelling in his ear. He shook his head, blinking as the store came back into his awareness. The tall, lanky man who had been behind the counter was peering at him anxiously.
"Uh, yeah, I'm fine, thanks." He pulled away and set the apple in his basket, then headed toward the coolers in the rear, trying to get away from the curious man. The clerk watched him, puzzlement clear in his wary eyes.
Moments before, the world had disappeared; now it was coming at him too intensely. The smells from the bread and vegetables and fruit and meat and cleaning supplies and dust and the clerk's body scent and his own were too strong. The fluorescent cooler lights that had seemed normal were now too bright, glinting off the bottles and cans in the cooler and the metal display racks, multiplying into a thousand shards of light, hurting his eyes. The handles of the basket suddenly seemed to dig into his hand, and his clothes rubbed against his skin like sandpaper.
Dropping the basket, he covered his eyes and staggered toward the front of the store. He made his way outside and risked a look around only to be blinded by the sunshine. He climbed into his vehicle, resting his arms and head on the steering wheel, struggling to gain control over his out-of-control senses.
Suddenly he sat up straight, staring at nothing, the intense sensory input ignored, then forgotten as he realized what was happening. Panic welled up in him, but he grabbed fiercely onto years of experience coping with panic-inducing situations. He forced it down, forced himself to consider options, and came up with a possible solution. His mind made up, he shoved the ignition key into the slot and started the engine. He backed the battered truck up, then turned onto the road, spraying gravel as he sped from the lot and headed toward Cascade.
Jim Ellison's loft
"Okay, now, focus your attention, let the intensity fade. . . . more. Good, good. That's good, Jim. Keep lowering the intensity until it's at a comfortable level."
Jim Ellison opened his eyes and grinned at his guide. "It worked!"
"Yes!" Blair Sandburg pumped his fist in the air and straightened up, dancing a little victory jig in front of Jim's chair. "I knew it would, Jim!"
The sentinel leaned back and smiled at his friend's antics. Blair had been working with him for several days to help him find a way to focus on highly intense stimuli without the magnitude of input causing either a zone out or a sensory spike. They had finally developed a variation on "piggybacking" his senses that helped Jim balance the intense stimulus with another, milder stimulus.
The phone rang. "I'll get it, Jim." Blair bounced over and answered it. "Hello? Sure, just a minute." He turned to Jim, one hand over the receiver. "Jim? For you. A woman." He smirked at his friend, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Jim shook his head. Taking the phone from Blair, he aimed a playful swat at his head, which Blair easily ducked from long practice. "Ellison," the detective said into the phone.
"Hello, Detective Ellison. My name is Digby Essex." The sultry voice paused, as if the name should mean something to Jim.
"Yes?" Jim said impatiently. Blair rolled his eyes at Jim's lack of finesse with the mysterious female caller. The detective ignored him.
There was another pause. Then the seductive voice continued. "I have spoken with your superiors, Detective, and they assure me that I can spend some time with you."
Jim stared at the receiver for a moment, as if it had suddenly grown horns and a tail. "Uh, ma'am? Who are you? What are you--"
"Why, Detective, you don't know who I am?" A vaguely irritating, tinkling laugh sounded through the phone's receiver. "I am Digby Essex, of Essex Corporation?" When he did not respond, she sighed, and continued. "I am a great admirer of yours, Detective. I really wanted to meet you. So I spoke to the mayor and she spoke to your captain, who graciously agreed to let me spend time with you. I will be riding with you as you valiantly defend the helpless citizens of Cascade. We can. . . get to know each other better." The voice was husky as she finished her news.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Jim didn't even try to hide his irritation.
"I most certainly am not. You'll be my guide through the dangerous streets of Cascade and I'm--"
Whatever the woman had been about to say was lost as Jim hung up the phone.
"What was that about?" asked Blair, curiosity dancing in his eyes.
"I'm not sure just yet," the sentinel answered, dialing his captain's home number.
"Simon. What the hell is this about a ride-along?" Jim demanded to know.
"Real tactful, big guy," whispered Blair. Jim ignored him.
"Ellison. Do you realize how rude, not to mention foolish, it is to call your superior at his home and yell at him?" Simon questioned, with a definite hint of anger in his voice.
"Sorry, Captain." Jim shushed Blair with a glare when the anthropologist snickered at the chagrined detective. "I just received a phone call from some woman claiming she'd be riding with me."
"She called you already? Doesn't waste any time, does she?" Jim could hear the other man sigh across the phone line even without using his heightened senses. "I hate to do this to you, Jim, but I have no choice."
"Come on, Simon." Jim closed his eyes, imploring his captain to understand.
Blair laughed at the pleading tone in the detective's voice. Jim's eyes snapped open and he glared at him again, with the same level of success.
"Orders came straight from the mayor." Simon sighed. "God I hate election years. She'll be riding with you for a week. I tried to tell them it was a bad idea, but I was overruled. You should be grateful," Simon continued. "She requested a month's pass."
"I don't like it," Jim said darkly.
"I don't much care; you will do it."
After a couple more minutes of grumbling, to no avail, Jim said good-bye and they hung up.
"Well?" asked Blair.
"I'm stuck with this woman for a week."
"Could be worse."
"I'm sure it will be. But at least you'll be there, Chief."
"Sorry, man, no can do. I'm way too busy at Rainier. You'll have to tame this lion on your own."
The sentinel's argument was cut off as the phone rang again. "Ellison." If anything, his voice was even sharper than usual.
"Detective," purred Digby. "How rude of you to hang up on me."
"Yeah, uh, sorry. I guess it's all set for you to come with me tomorrow."
"Wonderful. I just knew we could work this all out. What time should I be there?"
"How about you meet me at the station at 8:00 a.m."
"Eight in the morning? Well, I'll try, but seriously, don't expect me too much before nine."
"If you're not there when I need to leave, you'll have to wait at the station. So, I'll see you at 8:00 tomorrow morning, or when I get back," he said and hung up on her again.
"Now, that's not nice, Jim. What if she's hot?" Blair asked, his expression one of carefully schooled innocence.
"I'll choose to think with this head," Jim returned, tapping the side of his skull. "Unlike some other people, who shall remain nameless."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Very funny. You should tour the comedy clubs with that act."
The next morning, Blair decided to make breakfast for his sentinel, as a consolation for not accompanying him to the station to deal with his new "partner." He trotted up the stairs to his partner's loft and started to rummage through Jim's refrigerator.
By the time Jim had finished showering and dressing, scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice, and coffee were waiting on the table.
"Morning, Chief. What's the occasion?"
"Hey, Jim. Thought I'd give you a good send-off, with your new ride-along and all."
Ellison gave him a lopsided grimace, but the smell of coffee pulled his attention to the table and he ignored the comment. The two men sat in their customary chairs. For a few minutes there was a companionable silence as they poured coffee, dished up their food, and began eating.
"Jealous, Chief?" Jim finally said.
"Huh? Jealous?" Blair looked slightly startled.
"Yeah, of your replacement." Jim had a wicked gleam in his eye as he watched his partner.
"Replacement. Right." He rolled his eyes. "That'll be the day."
Jim laughed. "No insecurities there, huh?"
"Well, not based on your reactions on the phone last night. Who did you say this person was, anyway?"
Jim finished chewing his bite of toast and took a swallow of coffee. Setting down the cup and wiping his mouth, he said, "I don't remember. . . . Dexter Wigby, something like that. Some bigwig. With Essex Corporation, I think she said."
"Dexter Wigby? Wait a minute, you don't mean Digby Essex, do you?" Blair gaped at the sentinel.
"Yeah, maybe that was it. Why?"
"I can't believe it, man. You mean you've never heard of her? Digby Essex is, like, one of the richest women in Oregon. Her father's company is responsible for some of the worst environmental devastation of the Pacific Northwest. My mom has been involved in protests against Essex Corp--"
"Come on, Chief, so her company has cut down some trees or something--"
"No, Jim, it's a lot more than that!"
"Whoa, hold on, Einstein, I believe you, okay? I don't want to be with her any more than you want me to be, all right? I don't have any choice here."
Blair took a deep breath. "Yeah, I know. Sorry, man. It just makes me so mad to think of what her father's company has done."
Jim stood and began clearing the table. "Well, I'll try to keep her away from you. Wouldn't want any political conflicts causing Simon headaches, would we?" He grinned.
"Oh, no, never, wouldn't want that. Although this would be a great opportunity for me to meet her, give her a piece of my mind. . . . " Blair joined Jim in the kitchen. They scraped the plates and began washing the dishes.
"I don't think you could afford to lose any at this point."
Blair looked at him blankly.
"To lose any pieces of your mind."
Blair pointedly ignored the comment. He grabbed a cloth and wiped the table off.
After the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, Jim took his weapon from its storage space, checked it, and slid it into the Galco holster at the small of his back. "Thanks for making breakfast, Chief."
"My pleasure, Jim. And remember," he tried to look stern, "You play nice with the other kiddies."
"Hilarious, Sandburg. You're killing me here."
After saying their goodbyes, Blair headed back down to his apartment to get ready for the day.
Jim left the safety of his loft and drove to work, dreading the agony he knew was on its way. He had a terrible feeling that today was going to be the start of a very bad week. The detective pulled into the police garage and parked his truck. He made his way up to Major Crime, saying hello on the way to the officers he knew.
His desk was piled high with paperwork. Jim sat down, figuring he'd get some done while he waited for his visitor. Eight o'clock came and went. At nine o'clock Simon called Jim into his office.
"What's this I hear about a pink monstrosity parked downstairs?"
Jim groaned and shook his head ruefully. "I haven't been able to get it repainted yet."
"Are you sure you don't want to keep it?"
"Yes, I am secure in my manhood, Simon, but I think driving a pink truck is a step beyond. I have an appointment to get it redone next week. Is that why you called me in here, to give me a hard time?"
"Actually, that was a bonus. The main reason is to let you know that we have a possible suspect in theHawkings' hit and run."
Edgar Hawkings had been walking alone on the road in the suburbs where he lived when he was hit by a car and left for dead. Found by his neighbors, he was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. He had died two hours after being admitted, due to massive internal injuries. No one had come forward with the car's description.
The investigation had revealed that he had been heavily in debt, until a few weeks before, when everything had suddenly been paid off. No record of a loan or other payment to the deceased had been recorded. The money had just mysteriously appeared, and the debts paid off.
"So who's the suspect?"
"We got an anonymous phone call. The woman said David Michaels knows more than he admits to. He could be involved in the hit-and-run."
"Hawkings' next door neighbor? So what makes you think this call's for real?"
"It was made to 911 with an automatic trace. It was placed by someone at Michaels' sister's place. You need to check that out, see who placed the call. Hey," the captain said, suddenly realizing Jim was alone. "Where are the kid and your ride-along?"
"Sandburg had too much work at the university today and, so far, Wigby is a no-show."
"Wigby? Who the hell is Wigby?"
"Wigby? You mean Digby?"
"Digby, Wigby, whatever." Jim shrugged.
Simon glowered at his detective. "It's Digby, Ellison. Digby Essex. Get it right. She's got the mayor's ear."
"Hmph." Simon looked at him sharply for a moment before he sighed. "Maybe she won't show at all?" he mused.
"I am not that lucky."
"Seems you're right," Simon said motioning to the bullpen. Coming through the doors was a tall, slinky, bleached-blonde woman dressed entirely in skin-tight black leather. Jim rolled his eyes, looked balefully at Simon, emitted a long-suffering sigh and, at a glare from his boss, reluctantly walked out of his captain's office to greet her.
Jim stood next to Megan, who was watching the new arrival sashay through the bullpen, headed for Jim. "It's a wonder she doesn't knock everything off the desks," the inspector commented, eyeing the woman's swaying hips.
The woman zeroed in on Jim like a torpedo programmed to a target. Megan watched, one eyebrow raised, as a perfectly manicured hand grasped Jim's hand and pulled it toward a well-defined bosom. A husky voice purred, "You must be Detective Ellison."
Jim, who could handle drug dealers, international terrorists, and murderers without batting an eyelash, seemed nonplussed by the female heat-seeking missile who had attached herself to him. His arm was firmly plastered to her chest and she was beginning to snake her other arm around his muscular frame. "Uh, I, uh, yes, I'm Detective Jim Ellison, ma'am." He wiggled, trying to extricate himself from her grasp.
"Well, Jim--you don't mind if I call you Jim, do you, Detective?--Jim, I'm Digby Essex. We talked on the telephone last night. Do you remember? You hung up on me, you naughty boy, you." One finger, with a flawlessly rounded, buffed, and polished nail, reached up and gently tapped the end of his nose, then the hand reattached itself to Jim's body, entwining itself so he could not free himself without using violent means.
"I'd prefer it if you called me Detective Ellison, Ms. Essex." He caught Simon's glare from where the man stood in his doorway. "And, uh, it's nice to meet you, Ms. Essex."
"Please, Jimmy, call me Digby," the young woman replied in a breathy voice, moving so she could attach herself more securely to Jim's arm.
Megan had to choke back her laughter. Jim figured this was his cue to introduce this pain-in-the-ass woman to Connor.
"Uh, Ms. Essex, this is Inspector Connor. We're working together on a case. Megan, this is Ms. Digby Essex. She'll be our ride-along this week." He stressed the "our," hoping Essex would take the hint. Of course, it was a vain hope. He caught snickers from several of the other detectives in the bullpen; he was obviously providing the main entertainment this morning.
"But I thought I'd be riding alone with you," the heavily made-up woman pouted.
"I need backup," the detective assured her. And not only against the criminals, he thought.
"I'll back you up," she purred, rubbing against the detective, who futilely tried to stop her roving hands.
Jim glared at the smirking detectives watching his uncomfortable show. He decided it would be better to get away from the prying eyes of his fellow detectives. He tried to dislodge Digby's hand from his arm. Also, he thought, she smells. . . funny. Not in a "why-don't-you-take-a-shower" kind of way; there was just something "off" about her. "Come on, Connor," he called.
"Yes, Jim. Coming, Jim. Right away, mate." Megan laughed at the look thrown her way.
Blair Sandburg descended the spiral staircase from his partner's loft. He felt a little bad fibbing to Jim; he really wasn't all that busy at Rainier. He and Denise had caught up on the grading for their Anthro 101 class, and he already had his next few lectures planned out. But after the emotional rollercoaster he had ridden over the past few months, he just needed some "alone time." He didn't want to spend the day as a referee between Jim and his unwanted tag-along.
Then the anthropologist smiled, thinking back to when he first rode with Jim and had himself been the tag-along. He headed toward his bedroom to collect his dirty clothes, deciding now would be a perfect time to finish his laundry. Blair had just started the first load when there was a knock on the door.
Making his way across the living room, he opened the door. He stared in shock at the man standing on the other side.
"Hello, Sandburg," said Lee Brackett.
"No way! There is no possible way that I am helping you!" Blair stood up from the futon couch and started pacing around his living room. "You're crazy," he told the rogue agent.
"It's not like you have a choice, Sandburg. I need your help."Brackett rose from his perch on the dark red couch, and confronted the nervous young man. "You may have convinced the public that Ellison isn't a full sentinel, but I know better. And you know that I know."
"You mean from the stealing-the-plane thing?" Blair stopped in front of Brackett, hands on his hips, and glared at him. He could not forgive the former CIA agent for threatening the lives of thousands of people with the Ebola virus. He also had not forgotten how Lee had stood by while a maniac shot people with an ice-gun several months before.
"Well, there is that."
"But it's just your word that all five of Jim's senses are heightened. We already announced two publicly." He spread his arms and leaned forward to emphasize his point. "We could argue that it was his covert ops background that allowed him to get past the security."
"I thought of that." Lee tilted his head, a calculating look in his eyes. "But I have absolute, concrete proof to the contrary."
Blair straightened and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What are you talking about?"
"Last time I was in Cascade, I. . . obtained evidence of Ellison in action."
Blair paled. "How?"
"I followed you around for a few weeks. Kept an eye and an ear on the two of you, so to speak. Video. Parabolic microphones. Recordings. Copies in safe places, with instructions to release the critical information if anything happens to me. The usual spiel."
Curls flew as Blair shook his head. "No way. Jim would've heard you."
"You still haven't gotten him past those white noise generators, have you?" Lee shook his head in sympathy, a gesture that was cancelled out by a cocky grin. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me."
Turning suddenly, Blair began pacing again, threading his fingers through his hair. "What the hell is this?" There was undisguised disgust in his voice. "Am I the only guide in the whole freaking world? Why do you people keep coming to me?"
Brackett just sat down and settled back on Blair's couch, watching the anthropologist rant.
After a few minutes, Blair calmed down. He sank into a chair, defeat evident in his posture. "What exactly is it you want from me?"
"Simple. I have notes from my reconnaissance of you two, but I need more. I need practical experience. I want you to guide me around for a few days until I can learn to control my 'gifts'." There was no mistaking the heavy sarcasm Lee placed on the last word.
Blair listened to the ex-spy's demands and pondered his options. As he thought, his hand unconsciously caressed the protection bracelet his girlfriend, Sky, had given him. Over the weeks since he had received it--the weeks since she had died--the silver band decorated with various stones had become familiar and precious to him. He felt himself become calm and centered as he stroked it with his thumb.
He went over his options carefully. He could probably refuse, and Brackett might not push it. Not likely. Brackett could make a big deal, could reveal that Jim did indeed have five enhanced senses. Or he could kidnap Blair and force him to help. Yeah, knowing Brackett, that was the most likely scenario. Damn. Deciding that voluntarily helping Brackett was the least dangerous of the unattractive choices, he decided to go along with him for now. Or at least string him along until Blair could reach Jim.
Then a wicked thought occurred to him and a corner of his mouth tipped up. This was a bad situation. But maybe he could make the best of it and have some fun at Brackett's expense. "Okay, I'll do it." Blair ignored Lee's triumphant grin. He plopped down on the futon. "When did you first notice the senses?"
"When I went camping alone."
"You went camping?" Blair asked incredulously.
"People camp." Lee shrugged defensively.
"True, people camp. But ex-CIA agents who have gone rogue?" Blair chuckled at a mental picture of Brackett singing "Kumbaya" and making s'mores by the fire. "So, how many of your senses are heightened?" he asked.
"I've only noticed hyper sight, smell, and touch. I haven't been able to get the others to work."
"You may only have three senses that are heightened. But we can find out for sure with some tests."
"What kind of tests?" Brackett asked warily, settling back on the couch across from his reluctant temporary guide.
"Hey." Blair smiled. "Trust me."
"So why do we have to come here?" moaned Digby. "It doesn't look very exciting."
"The largest part of police work is tracking down leads and information. Most of the time it's very boring."
Jim glared at Megan, who coughed to cover her laugh. "Why don't we go and check on Mr. Michaels?" she asked, getting out of the pink and white truck and moving up the front steps.
"Stay here," Ellison ordered his guest, as he moved to follow Connor.
"I don't think so, pet," Digby argued. "I was given total clearance to go with you anywhere."
"It might be dangerous," Jim tried.
"And I'll have you to protect me," she gushed. She slid out of the truck, gripping Jim's arm again as they walked to the front door, where Connor was impatiently tapping her foot. Megan smiled at Jim's new attachment before reaching out and ringing the doorbell.
Annoyed, Jim shook himself free, telling the clinging woman that he needed to be free in case he had to react to the situation. Petulantly, she released him, standing a full four inches away from him. The three waited, but there was no answer.
Megan turned her head away from Jim and Digby and whispered, sentinel-soft, "Why don't you listen for a heartbeat in there, mate?" She turned back and saw Jim cock his head to the side, letting her know he heard her.
The sentinel focused his hearing inside the house, but there was some type of interference. Then his sense of hearing spiked. He fought to dial it down when suddenly it cleared up. He felt pressure on his forearm. Glancing down, he noticed with irritation that Digby had grabbed his arm once again. He looked at her strangely for a moment.
Then, refocusing on the task at hand, he heard someone inside making their way toward the rear of the house. He shook Digby's hand off his arm and pulled his weapon from his holster. He signaled Connor to go around one way and he went the other.
They reached the rear of the house and had taken up positions on either side of the back door, weapons in hand, just as the door slammed open and a man rushed out.
"Freeze! Cascade PD!" Megan yelled as she and Jim moved to bracket the man, weapons aimed steadily at him.
"D-don't shoot!" the man said nervously, thrusting his hands over his head and squeezing his eyes shut. He stood there, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, shaking in fear.
Jim kept his weapon trained on him as Megan put hers away and spun him around, forcing him to lean against the side of the house. "Mr. Michaels, we believe you know something about the murder of Edward Hawkings. We'd like you to come down to the station to discuss it. You have the right to remain silent. . . . " She quickly and efficiently informed him of his rights as she frisked him. When it was apparent there would be no more problems, Jim tucked his weapon back in its holster. He grabbed one of the man's elbows and helped lead him toward the street.
"Murder? I didn't murder anyone! Honest! I didn't have nothin' to do with it!"
"Uh huh. So why were you running away, mate?" Megan asked dryly.
Michaels continued his protestations of innocence as they brought him around to the front of the house.
As soon as they reached the front, Digby rushed over and attached herself to Jim again, much to his disgust. His displeasure increased even more as he stared at the three-passenger vehicle they had arrived in: with Digby along, there was no place for their prisoner. Sighing, he reached for his cell phone and called Dispatch to request a squad car to haul Michaels to the station.
"This is ridiculous, Sandburg."
"I'm telling you, it works. It did for Jim."
Blair was trying to get the rogue to meditate, a technique that would help him focus his senses. Okay, he may have stretched the truth a little saying how well it worked for Jim, but it's not as though he felt he had to be truthful with Brackett. So far Blair had eliminated the possibility of Lee having heightened hearing, much to the anthropologist's relief. Now he wouldn't have to worry about him eavesdropping--without electronic surveillance equipment that is.
And he'd made some huevos rancheros in heavy Tabasco sauce. Blair was pretty sure Lee didn't have super-taste. If he had, he probably wouldn't be able to talk. Not a bad idea, but...
Now Blair was concentrating on sight. The ex-agent said he'd been having trouble filtering out bright light, so Blair thought he'd give that a test.
"Are you relaxed?" he asked the dark-haired man.
"When I say now, open your eyes. . . . Now!" At the instant Brackett opened his eyes, Blair shone a flashlight directly into his eyes.
"Where are we going, Sandburg?" Brackett asked from the passenger seat of Blair's car, rubbing his eyes, which were still reacting to the bright light that had been shone into them a short time before.
"Relax. We found out you have just the three heightened senses. Now you have to learn to control them."
"And how are we going to do that?"
"With a little on-the-job training. You need to be exposed to things so you can work to tune them out." He pulled his car into the town dump, shivering as he remembered the last time he'd been here. That time they had found the body of a businessman killed by Jim's childhood rival.
Blair smiled. "What better place to learn to control that sense of smell of yours?" The anthropologist wrinkled his nose in disgust, trying not to laugh. If it was this bad to his sense of smell, Brackett really had to be suffering.
Brackett stared at his companion, trying to stifle the nausea. He wanted to leave, but knew he needed Sandburg's help. He'd been hoisted by his own petard.
Leading the way into the fragrant stacks of waste, Blair grinned, knowing that Brackett, who was behind him, couldn't see his expression.
"Oh, God! It stinks!"
Forcing the grin from his face and turning to face the grimacing man, Blair said, "Okay, man, I want you to imagine a dial labeled 'smell.' It's numbered from one to ten. . . "
Jim paced slowly back and forth in the interrogation room, his cool gaze locked onto the man seated at the table.
"Mr. Michaels, you know why you're here."
"No, I have no idea." Sentinel vision noted that Michaels was sweating.
"Your neighbor, Edgar Hawkings, was hit by a car and killed right in front of your house. We received a call reporting your possible involvement." Stopping his incessant pacing, Jim looked him square in the eye. "What did you have to do with it? Were you the one driving the car?"
Michaels' eyes rolled wildly, the whites showing in his panic. "NO! No, man, I was at home! I was in my house! You got to believe me! I was in my living room, I saw--" He was suddenly silent.
"You saw what, Mr. Michaels?" Jim's voice was quiet as he sank into a seat opposite the panicky man.
"Nothin'. I, I didn't see nothin', man." Again, Michaels was looking around, as if hoping someone would rescue him.
Jim had turned up his hearing to listen to the suspect's heartbeat, checking for falsehoods. Jim heard the fast-paced heart rate that so often was the mark of a lie. Unfortunately, he also overheard Digby in the observation room cooing, "Oh, isn't he so manly!"
The detective tried not to roll his eyes at her comment, and directed his attention back to David Michaels. "I appreciate that you may be scared of reporting what you saw, sir, but your silence may lead to others getting hurt."
"I already told you, I didn't see anything."
"Then why did you run from us?"
Michaels' mouth opened and closed without comment. He licked dry lips and looked around the room again.
The sentinel knew he was close to breaking through. "We can protect you, Mr. Michaels."
Sweat was now openly running down the nervous man's forehead. He glanced at the one-way mirror on the wall, at the detective standing in front of him, then down at his hands. Finally, he murmured something so softly that Jim knew he was the only one who could hear it.
"What was that, Mr. Michaels? Please speak loudly enough so I can hear you."
Glancing up again and swallowing, Michaels said, "Eddie'd been having some trouble paying his bills. He borrowed some money. This one guy would come around and demand payments. He was the one behind the wheel of the car that hit him."
"Who was this man?" questioned the detective.
"I only saw him a few times, I don't know his name."
"Can you give us a description?"
Michaels squirmed and looked around nervously again. "You sure you can protect me? I don't wanna end up like Eddie, if ya know what I mean."
Jim allowed his posture to relax slightly and his voice to become softer. He could see the man's fear was genuine, and knew it was for good reason. "Yes, Mr. Michaels, we will arrange for you to stay in a protected location."
The witness swallowed. "O-okay, he's tall and skinny; he always wears a faded brown leather jacket, no matter what the weather's like. He has jet black hair, slicked back, and has a long scar running along his jaw, like this." He traced a line with his finger, illustrating the scar for his audience.
"Thank you, Mr. Michaels. We'll have a sketch artist in to work with you to get a picture of him. We might also have some mug shots for you to look at. Meanwhile, I'll bring someone in to start the paperwork on your statement and to get started on arranging for your protection."
Jim joined Simon and Digby in the observation room a few minutes later. He watched as an officer entered the room and began talking with Michaels.
"Well?" Simon said.
Digby moved over to Jim and curled one hand around Jim's arm, snuggling close to him. "Oh, Jimmy, you were so powerful, so convincing!" she gushed.
Simon raised an eyebrow and Jim glared at him, and then looked at the ceiling, trying to maintain control of his temper. Simon struggled to maintain control over his laughter. Digby was apparently oblivious to both men's discomfort, enjoying her position as she happily stroked Jim's well-muscled arm.
"Jim?" Simon prompted again.
The detective cleared his throat. "I may know the man Michaels described. Albert Falco, a collector for Frank Lugosi."
"The loan shark?"
"Yeah, that would explain how Hawkings paid off his debts. But it's too late to find Falco tonight. I'll have to hunt him down in the morning. He has a regular haunt."
After another forty-five minutes of discussing the case with Simon and dealing with the never-ending paperwork, Jim was finally able to leave the station. It took another ten minutes before he was able to extricate himself from Digby's grasp and leave for home.
He was not pleased when he found that she was following him.
By the time Jim finally arrived at the loft, he had given up on losing Digby. She must have taken lessons on following suspects at some swanky school or something, because despite his best efforts, her BMW had stayed glued to his Sweetheart through half the streets of Cascade. Not that he could blend in very well with this paint job. When he parked and headed toward his building, she slid her vehicle into a nearby spot and dashed up to him, breathing hard with excitement.
"Oh, that was so much fun. Do you always drive like that?" She twined her arm through Jim's again.
"Look, Ms. Essex--"
"Ms. Essex, it's been a long day. I need to relax, get some dinner, get some sleep--"
"Yes, I understand. We can order out, discuss the case. That's a wonderful idea." She steered him through the door.
He shook his head and walked dejectedly toward the mailboxes, quickly gathering the mail before heading toward the elevator. He endured her clinging and cooing as the old lift creaked up to the third floor. Digby continued to hamper his movements as he made his way down the hallway, pulled out his keys, and opened the door to the loft. With a sigh he tossed his keys into the basket by the door and dropped the mail on the small table.
Turning toward his unwelcome guest, he again tried to extricate himself from her clutches. "Look, Ms. Essex, I have to put up with you at work. I do not have to put up with you in my home. I want you to--"
He froze suddenly, his head tilted, as he listened to something only he could hear.
"What is it, darling?" Digby asked breathlessly. She laid a hand on Jim's shoulder.
Jim noticed distractedly that, as before, at Michaels' house, her touch seemed to help sharpen his hearing somewhat. Then his attention focused on the source that had originally captured his notice: the voices of his guide and. . . Lee Brackett!
Ellison drew his weapon, snapping to Digby, "Stay put!" as he strode over to the spiral staircase. He silently began to creep down the stairs.
"Finally, some action," she squealed, following close behind.
He tried to shoo her back, but couldn't risk drawing Brackett's attention.
As he reached the lower level, he saw Blair with his hands up, facing Brackett. Jim swept up behind his friend, pulling him aside, and trained his weapon on Brackett. "Move and you're dead," he snarled.
Digby clapped her hands from where she stood, on the lowest step of the spiral staircase. She had a big smile on her face. "Ooh! This is sooo exciting!"
Blair shook himself free and jumped in front of Lee, shouting, "No, Jim!"
Jim's face twisted in confusion. "Sandburg, get out of the way!"
"No, man, don't hurt him. I'm helping him." The anthropologist watched as his friend's look of confusion turned into incredulity.
"What the hell are you talking about, Chief?" Ellison was tired from his day with Digby, and frankly he was annoyed with the supercilious smirk Brackett was sending him over Blair's shoulder. He was further annoyed when Digby slunk over from the stairs and began attaching herself to him again. He tried to peel her off him, shaking her roughly from his arm so he could re-holster his weapon since it appeared that Brackett was not a threat at the moment.
"Listen, why don't we go upstairs and discuss this while Lee here, amuses your, uh, friend," Blair glanced pointedly at the pouty blonde who was trying to reattach herself to Jim as quickly as he was trying to disengage himself from her.
Jim nodded, maneuvering her hand from his arm and herding her toward the couch where Brackett had taken up residence. "Digby," the detective said, getting her name right for once, "this is Lee. Lee, this is Digby. Enjoy." He put her arm on Brackett's arm, hoping maybe she'd attach her barnacles to his ship for a change.
Using the temporary reprieve, he snatched his friend's arm and dragged him up the stairs to the loft. "You've got twenty seconds to convince me, Chief."
"It's not really that bad, Jim. . . . I'm being blackmailed."
"What?! What the hell are you talking about? And what do you mean, 'blackmail's not that bad'?"
"It's for a good cause. Keeping the truth about your senses out of the press. Brackett has proof of all five of your senses. Or at least more of them than we are willing to admit to publicly."
"Yeah, he apparently was following us around, recording proof. . . . Look, it doesn't matter, man, he can blow the whistle on you, big time. I just need to help him for a little while and then we'll be okay."
"Uh-huh." Jim sounded less than convinced. "So what does he want this time?"
"He wants me to help him with his senses," Blair said softly, waiting for the inevitable explosion.
Jim's reaction was worse than the explosion Blair had expected. The sentinel slowly turned to his friend with an expression of doom on his stony features. "You're telling me Brackett's a sentinel?" His voice had lowered to a near growl. His eyes were narrowed and his expression was dark.
Blair raised both his hands, palms out toward Jim, in a placating gesture. "Hey, man, take it easy." His voice was low and comforting. He looked Jim carefully in the eye and reassured him. "No, he's not a sentinel. It's okay, Jim. He's not a sentinel, not really. Remember when you and I first met and I told you how I'd met so many people with one or two heightened senses?"
"Yeah." Jim seemed calmer, but there was still an edge to his voice.
"Well, Brackett has three heightened senses. So he's flying above the curve, but still well below you. He's kind of. . . a pseudo-sentinel."
"So how do you know my detective?" Digby pouted at Lee.
"I consulted him on a. . . business matter not long ago." He was trying to listen to Ellison and Sandburg's conversation in the apartment above them by extending his hearing like Sandburg had taught him with his other senses, but was having no luck. Damn. Lee was snapped back to the present by a hand steadily creeping up his thigh. "Hey, lady, watch it."
She chuckled. "You're awfully cute. What do you do again?"
"I'm a mercenary for the highest bidder," he said dryly.
"Oooh," she squealed. "How thrilling!" And she moved even closer to the ex-CIA agent, if that were possible.
Brackett groaned and prayed for the return of his adversary and his temporary teacher.
"You're sure he can't hear us?"
"Positive. I kinda took him around today and tortured those senses he has heightened."
"Tortured? How?" The corner of Jim's mouth twitched up just a little bit. This was beginning to sound better.
"Well, first we went to the dump to teach him to dial down his sense of smell." He waited for his sentinel to stop laughing before continuing. "Then I took him to the mall, where I had him put on some wool clothes to play with his sense of touch."
The sentinel shuddered at this, imagining all the scratchy fibers pricking into his sensitive skin. "What about his third one?"
"Remember that new disco over on Fourth Street? Lots of strobe lights and a mirrored disco ball? Very enlightening."
"You are evil, Sandburg."
"Just trying to accomplish a little karmic revenge. What about you? Are you getting any of those 'vibes' you got when Alex was around?"
"No, I don't feel the need to clear everything out. Actually I'm not feeling anything except for an immense dislike of our guest."
"The rogue or the woman?"
"Both. I'm telling you, Chief, this woman is driving me nuts. She's forever cooing in my ear and hanging on me."
"Sounds terrible," Blair said with a grin.
"I'm serious. She smells weird."
"I didn't smell anything bad." Blair frowned slightly.
"Not bad, just weird."
"Must be that nose of yours. Anything else?"
"Now that you mention it, I did notice something strange."
"Define strange." Blair looked at him seriously.
"In two separate instances I dialed up my hearing and it started spiking. Then it suddenly evened out and worked fine."
"So why is that weird?"
"It evened out when Digby put her hand on my arm."
Brackett sighed in relief as Jim and Blair came back down the stairs.
"So what did you guys decide?" he asked them, removing Digby from his lap with difficulty, standing, and walking over to the duo. He rolled his eyes as she almost instantly rose and reattached herself to him like a vine to a trellis.
"It's time for dinner," Blair said cheerfully.
"Blair and I will fix it while you two get to know each other better," Jim smirked, enjoying the scene of someone else being mauled by the clingy woman.
"How 'bout I help?" offered Brackett, plaintively.
"You know how to cook? Wow, cooking and camping? You never cease to amaze me," Blair said, shaking his head in mock wonderment. "But I think Jim and I can handle this, thanks."
Digby gestured toward the sofa. "Why don't we go sit down again, Lee?" she purred, running a hand up and down one arm.
Blair and Jim both grinned at the groan released by the ex- agent. Sandburg leaned over and gave the agent a gentle shove. "Why don't you go and entertain our guest while we whip up something tasty?" he said.
Brackett gave him a look that promised retribution, but did as he was told. He watched the sentinel and guide move toward the kitchen, then his attention was brought closer to home as Digby curled up next to him on the couch.
"Boy, was today boring," his companion commented as she stroked her hands over his clothing, smoothing his shirt over his body, her fingers trailing suggestively over his sensitive skin.
He was surprised when he realized that her touch did not irritate his skin, like almost everything else had been. What the hell?
"I sure hope tomorrow will be more fun," she was saying. She once again was practically crawling into his lap as she talked to him. "What did you do today?"
"Went to the dump."
"I guess you picked a bad day for a ride-along, too." Snuggling her head against Lee's chest, Digby looked at the two men working in the kitchen and noticed how at ease they were. Blair was wearing a Sylvester apron and Jim was slipping a Tweety Bird apron over his head, much to Blair's amusement. "I think they're together," she whispered.
Lee followed her gaze to the two former roommates. "Yeah, they are. But not in the way you're thinking."
Blair looked over again at the pair sitting on his couch. "So she was all over you the entire day?" He distributed sprouts among the four lettuce-lined salad bowls, and then picked up a knife and a small zucchini.
Jim nodded. "Luckily she didn't follow me into the men's room, or else I might never have gotten away from her." He put the pasta in the boiling water.
"Yet now she's ignoring you in favor of Brackett," Blair said, never looking up from the cutting board as he sliced the zucchini followed by a carrot.
"Thank God," Jim replied. He checked on the garlic bread in the oven and pulled out three bottles of salad dressing from the refrigerator.
"But she never even looked my way." Blair plopped cherry tomatoes into the bowls, then sprinkled sunflower seeds over the salads.
"Sorry, Chief. It was bound to happen sooner or later." Jim stopped next to his partner, a teasing look in his eyes. He peered into the Alfredo sauce that was heating on a burner next to the pasta. Deciding it was coming along nicely, he stirred it gently with the long-handled spoon.
Blair dumped the last of the chopped veggies in the salad bowls. He rinsed off the cutting board and knife, then turned and looked seriously at Jim. "No, I'm saying she went directly from you to Brackett."
This brought the sentinel's eyes up to look at his friend. "Maybe you're not her type," he consoled.
The anthropologist squinted his eyes as he turned things over in his mind. Suddenly all the dots connected. "That's it!" Blair practically shouted, gaining the attention of his guests. "Sorry, I just wanted to make sure Jim put the right spices in," he called to them. He grabbed the big spoon from Jim and stirred the Alfredo sauce, grinning at Lee and Digby. Turning back to his best friend, Blair whispered, "I think she's a potential guide."
"Are you serious?"
"It makes perfect sense. You said yourself, I'm not her type. I'm a guide; she was looking for a sentinel. And maybe she smelled wrong to you because she's not your guide."
Jim braced his arms against the counter and lowered his head. "I hate my life."
The salads were no sooner on the table than Lee had sprung to his feet, practically dumping Digby on the floor. She squawked indignantly, but Lee ignored her. Suppressing a grin, Blair went over and offered her a hand, which she accepted with a shake of her bleached-blonde hair. She walked with exaggerated dignity down the hall to freshen up before dinner.
Lee sighed hugely, sagging into a chair. "What is with her, anyway?"
"Hey, man, she likes you." Blair grinned.
"Yeah, well, I don't like her. Where did you dig her up from, anyway?"
"She followed me home from work," Jim grinned.
Lee just glared at him.
Digby returned then, claiming the seat next to Lee and moving it close to him. He scooted his chair as far away as the table would allow, to no avail, as she simply moved closer again. He sighed, pleading with his eyes at his hosts, who just shrugged and passed the salad dressing, grins on their faces.
"So, Lee, you said you're a mercenary. What are some of the things you've done?" Digby asked, toying absently with her salad, her gaze firmly fixed on Lee.
"Careful what you say, Brackett, or I'll have to arrest you," Jim said acerbically, a half-grin on his face. He speared a cherry tomato and popped it in his mouth.
"Oh, Jimmy, you wouldn't really do that, would you?" Digby squealed, eyes round.
Jim rolled his eyes and Blair tried not to laugh. Lee ignored her and took a bite of his salad.
"What do you do, Digby?" Lee asked after he had swallowed, hoping to turn the spotlight off himself.
"Oh, a little of this, a little of that." Seeing Lee might actually be interested in her, she cocked her head to one side, and said, "My daddy owns Essex Corporation--I'm Digby Essex--and I help him with the business."
Blair and Jim noted how Lee seemed to perk up when he heard that Digby was connected to big-time money. They shared a quick look of disgust.
"And what kind of business is that?"
"Oh, business like destroying the environment, cutting down old-growth forests, polluting--" Blair cut in, his anger evident on his face.
"Chief, that's enough," Jim said sharply. "Simon, remember?"
Blair looked at him for a moment, then down at his salad. "Yeah, yeah. I remember."
Jim laid a hand on his partner's shoulder relaying his sympathy until Blair looked at him. They held each other's eyes for a moment, and then returned to their salads.
"Careers" was dropped as a topic for conversation. Empty salad bowls were cleared and the pasta and garlic bread brought to the table.
The rest of the meal was reasonably quiet.
Lee watched Digby to make sure she didn't get too close to him. Digby watched Lee to make sure he didn't get too far away from her. Blair watched the interaction between Lee and Digby to see if his Digby-as-a-potential-guide theory was sound. Jim watched Lee to make sure he stayed away from Blair.
After they cleared the plates and set the dishes to soak, Blair said softly to Jim, "Hey, man, can you go talk to Brackett for a few minutes? I want some alone time with Digby, see if I can get an idea about whether or not she shows guide potential."
Jim gave him a dirty look. "Chief, I don't want to talk to him."
"Please, Jim, come on. Just for five minutes." Blair shoved two open bottles of beer into Jim's hands.
"Fine. Five minutes. Not a second more." He walked stiffly toward the ex-agent, holding the bottles.
"Brackett, can I have a word with you?" Jim looked pointedly at Digby, who was twined around Brackett. "Alone?"
The relief on Brackett's face was comical. Unfortunately, Digby was less than enthusiastic about the idea of leaving her new companion. Lee finally snapped at her to get away and fairly dumped her on the floor again. Leaping to his feet, he practically ran to the balcony doors. Jim followed, standing next to him and offering him one of the beers. Brackett looked at the beer for a moment before taking it. The two men stood silently, facing the glass doors.
Finally the sentinel spoke softly. "What do you plan to do?"
Lee looked over to see Ellison gazing over his city. "About what?" the pseudo-sentinel asked back.
"Your new-found senses."
"Why do you care?" Brackett asked curiously.
"I don't. I just want you out of my city. . . fast." Jim's voice was grim.
"Believe me, I'm not going to hang around any longer then necessary. Once they're controlled, I'm gone."
"And the blackmail?"
"It was a precaution, in case I needed something from you," the rogue reasoned. He snorted. "I just didn't think I would be using it for this."
"I don't like you being here, and I don't want you using Sandburg anymore." Jim's posture was stiff, his tone was no-nonsense. "Tomorrow we will go and retrieve whatever proof you have and you will be gone."
Holding a bottle of spring water, Blair sat on the couch next to Digby. She had reluctantly accepted a glass of Chablis since she couldn't have Lee for a while.
Blair noted with clinical detachment--and with a touch of amusement, and even, he admitted, a bit of hurt--that she scooted a couple feet away from him. While she had seemed determined to attach herself to either the sentinel and pseudo-sentinel, she had no such inclination with another guide.
"So what made you want to ride along with Jim?" asked Blair, trying to switch the woman's focus away from the two men on the balcony and his own focus away from his personal feelings.
"What?" She was obviously dragging her attention back to him with great effort. "Oh, I saw him being interviewed on television not too long ago and felt an instant connection. I knew I had to meet him."
"So was he all you thought he'd be?" Blair took a sip from his bottle of water. He watched her over the top of the bottle.
"Actually, I thought there was a powerful pull between us, but now I think he was just a way for me to meet my soul mate, Lee."
Unfortunately, Blair had been swallowing some water, and when she said this he ended up sucking it down the wrong pipe. He coughed roughly as Digby hit him on the back. The anthropologist waved Jim away when he started forward. "I'm fine," he croaked, as he tried to wrap his mind around Lee and Digby as "soul mates." Thinking rapidly, he wondered if there was a biochemical attraction to her pseudo-sentinel that she was mistaking for sexual chemistry. Or maybe she's just psychotic; hell, anything's possible.
Keeping one eye on Blair, Jim turned back toward the balcony window and continued his strained conversation with Brackett. Blair looked at Digby, who had again settled two feet away from him.
"So, um, soul mates. . . what does that mean, Digby?"
"Oh, you know." She turned her left hand so she could study her nails. "We're perfect matches for each other, destined to be lovers, meant to be together for all time, that sort of thing." She looked up at him coyly. The look was only mildly spoiled by the heavy makeup and black leather.
"Right." Blair sighed inwardly. Glancing over Digby's shoulder, he noticed by Jim's posture that his partner's conversation with Lee was apparently over. As if to confirm his observation, Jim turned away from Brackett.
"Okay," Jim announced. "I think it's time for everyone to go home."
Blair didn't protest. He'd had about as much as he could handle for one day.
With minimal fuss, Jim pushed both Digby and Brackett out the door and locked it behind them. He turned to his partner and shook his head. Leaning his back and head against the closed door, he said, "Hey, Sandburg. You're into this metaphysical stuff."
"Yeah, so?" Blair looked at him suspiciously.
"Are we being punished for something from a past life?"
Jim Ellison woke up early as the first rays of sun came through his windows. He rolled out of bed and hurried through his morning ablutions. He made a quick call to the station that confirmed Michaels' identification of Albert Falco as the driver of the car that had killed Edgar Hawkings.
Then Jim darted down the spiral staircase to wake up his partner. He found him already fixing breakfast in his kitchen.
"Hey, Chief, let's hurry and get outta here before the terrible twosome come around."
"It's not nice to talk about people behind their back, Ellison," came a cool, hated voice.
Stiffening, Jim sent a glare to his partner.
"Sorry, Jim." Blair shrugged, nodding at Brackett who joined them from the direction of Blair's bathroom. "He came back around 2:00 a.m. saying his senses were all over the map." The anthropologist shrugged. "He slept on the couch."
"So don't think you're getting out of here without me, Detective. A deal's a deal."
"I don't consider blackmail a 'deal,' Brackett," Jim said through clenched teeth.
"To each his own." Lee shrugged. The ex-CIA agent looked between the two friends, smirking. "So when do we leave?"
Blair opened his mouth to answer when he was interrupted by a knock on the door. He shot a look to his sentinel, who shrugged in defeat. "You might as well let her in, Chief. Let Brackett enjoy his day, too." He grinned at the hapless pseudo-sentinel. Jim had smelled Digby when she was coming down the hallway.
Lee groaned in realization. "Not her again." He once again wished he had heightened hearing, this time so he could turn it all the way down and tune her out.
Grinning, Jim said, "Hey, Brackett, a deal's a deal, like you said."
Lee glared at him.
Digby entered, barely sparing a glance at Blair, and honed in on Brackett. "Lee," she squealed. "You beat me here." And Digby marched right over to him, locking her arm around his. Today she was dressed from head to toe in skin-tight white leather accented with rhinestones.
Brackett tried to shrug out of her grasp, to no avail.
"Well." Blair looked around at his partner, the rogue agent, and the potential guide. "Looks like the gang's all here. Why don't we take my car so there's room for everyone?" he asked, a bit too brightly. And for the first time, he was glad not to be a sentinel, for otherwise he might hear what his partner was muttering under his breath.
Once outside, Brackett tried to maneuver into the front "shotgun" seat, but was grabbed by the scruff of his neck by the ex-Ranger and tossed in the backseat with Digby Essex.
I am in hell, Lee thought, as the blonde immediately attached herself to his side.
Blair slid into the passenger seat and Jim took the driver's seat.
Jim started the car with a flourish and peeled out of the parking lot. He turned the car toward Cascade PD headquarters, and was interrupted from his quiet contemplation of driving the vehicle straight into a tree by his partner's incessant throat clearing.
"You getting a cold, Chief?"
"No, uh, I was just wondering where you were headed?"
"I don't think that would be the greatest plan at this point in time."
"What are you talking about?" the detective snapped.
"I'm talking about the fact that you're chauffeuring around a rogue agent who's attached at the hip to your politically sensitive ride-along. You know Simon'll go ballistic."
"I need to sign in, Sandburg. And get Megan, who's been helping me."
"Come on. Just call in and tell them you're on the case. They're used to your 'lone wolf' style."
Jim glanced in the rearview mirror. Brackett was smirking and Digby was staring with wide-eyed blankness. The sentinel sighed deeply. "Okay, I'll call Megan and tell her I'm checking out the lead. You know she'll be pissed about getting cut out; it'll be up to you to smooth those feathers of hers."
"No sweat. I'll just offer to delouse her dingo coat or something." Blair paused and looked out the window at the scenery going by. He could hear Digby's drawl in back and Lee's disgusted tone of voice. "Hey, Jim," he whispered. "Should we tell Digby we think she may be a guide?"
"Think she'd understand?"
"What are you two talking about up there?" the object of their discussion asked.
"We were talking about people who have heightened senses," Blair said cautiously.
"Ooh, like a sentinel?"
Jim barely kept his friend's car on the road.
Blair turned around and stared at the young heiress in shock. "What do you know about sentinels?" the anthropologist croaked.
"My daddy has some old book all about them by some actor. I read it a while ago, but it was pretty musty," she added, wrinkling her nose in remembrance.
"Sir Richard Burton?" Blair whispered in awe. Jim could almost hear the unsaid words: the explorer, not the actor.
"Yeah, Elizabeth's hubby. Although I was a bit disappointed that he didn't talk about her at all. Can you believe it?" She shrugged.
Even Lee seemed impressed by her disclosure. Jim had pulled over to the side of the road, and now all three men's attention was focused on the blonde. Digby preened under the attention, even though she didn't know why it was focused upon her.
"So," said Sandburg, still trying to maintain a sense of calm, "you happen to have a book by Sir Richard Burton?"
"Yes," she replied in exasperation. "What is it with you guys; can't you understand the simplest things?"
Jim could see Blair was starting to vibrate in the seat next to him. "Do you remember the exact title of the book?"
"I don't know, I read it a while ago. It did have 'sentinel' in the title, though."
"'The Sentinels of Paraguay'?" the anthropologist whispered.
"Yes!" she screeched. "That's the one!"
Blair looked over to see his partner holding his hands over his ears, trying to block out her shriek. "Do you realize what this means, Jim? It could be fate. I happened to get hold of a copy of the book and so did she. Maybe it seeks us out. Maybe--"
"Pull back on the reins there, Chief."
"So why did you want to know about my book?" the voice from the backseat questioned.
"Well. . . . " Blair began. "You see. . . . Lee here has three heightened senses: smell, sight, and touch. And we think you may be the person he needs to control them."
"What do you mean 'control them'?" she asked suspiciously.
"No! No way, Sandburg!" Lee shouted.
Jim snickered at the outbursts from his two passengers.
"Listen, Brackett. You can't stick around Blair forever; you need your own guide."
"I don't need her."
"Will someone please tell me what you are talking about?" Digby demanded, interrupting the argument.
Blair put up his hand to shush Brackett before he made any more protests and directed his words at Digby. "I believe you may somehow be linked to Lee, and you may be able to help him so his senses don't get out of control."
Digby smiled triumphantly at Lee. "I knew we were soul mates!"
"Soul mates?!" Lee gave her a look of horror in return--and vowed to ditch her as soon as humanly possible.
There was silence in the car for several minutes as everyone stared at everyone else. Finally, Digby decided that whatever they were talking about wasn't important and cuddled next to her soul mate. Lee tried to ignore her, and started planning ways to escape from her. Jim turned his attention toward finding Albert Falco, and Blair considered the new development on the Digby-as-guide front and prepared to support his own sentinel as they continued their original mission of locating Falco.
Jim started the car moving again. They drove in continued silence until they reached a section of Cascade populated by office buildings. The sidewalks bustled with business people hustling to meetings, some with their papers, others carrying their espresso. A number sat at small tables nestled under the umbrellas and awnings of the sidewalk gourmet coffee cafes. Jim parked near one of these cafes.
"I need to question someone here, so I want everyone," he pointedly looked at each of his passengers in turn, "to remain in the car." He exited, shooting a final warning glance at the occupants to stay put.
Jim knew Albert Falco made a point of being at this cafe in the mornings. He was here to establish his presence, to make deals and pass messages, and to generally keep an eye on Frank Lugosi's business contacts. Sure enough, it only took the detective a couple minutes to locate the tall, lanky man in the brown leather jacket lounging in a chair under a blue and white awning.
Falco saw Jim approaching and gently eased his companion away before turning to look at the detective with a grin. "Well, good morning, Detective Ellison."
"Can it, Falco. What do you know about a man by the name of Edgar Hawkings?"
"That's a very unusual name, Detective. I'm not sure if I've heard it before."
"How 'bout you think back to last week. He was walking down a suburban road and was hit by a car. Rumor has it the car was driven by you."
The felon's face fell a bit, making the scar on his jaw stand out more starkly, but his smile remained intact. "Now, now, Detective, calm down. Don't go believin' everything you hear. I'm sure whoever reported that was mistaken. I haven't run over anyone in a long time." Albert chuckled at his own joke. He reached up with one hand and smoothed back his shiny black hair. His eyes were focused intently on Jim as he talked.
"It's no joke." Jim looked around casually, then turned back to stare directly at Falco. "Matter of fact, we have an eyewitness." Jim watched the smile disappear from Falco's face as the man obviously tried to remember who could have seen him. "Why don't you come with me to the station and we'll talk about it?"
Blair watched the conversation from the car. Immediately after Jim's departure, Lee had moved into the front seat to get away from Digby. "So how long do you think this'll take?" asked the rogue.
"I have no idea. It'll take as long as it takes."
"I'm bored," complained the lone backseat occupant. She shifted, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs; sighing for effect.
"Tough," snapped Lee. "Deal with it."
"That's it! I'm tired of you being nasty," Digby whined. "I've been nothing but nice to you. And seeing as we're soul mates, I'd think you'd be a little nicer to me."
Lee whipped his head around. "We are not soul mates!" he yelled. "You are a dingbat who isn't smart enough to see that she isn't wanted!"
"Hey, you two, take it easy--" Blair tried to calm the two down, but their argument was already raging out of control.
"You're calling me stupid?" Digby chuckled harshly. "That's a laugh coming from someone who can't even control his own senses. Why don't you try limiting your input on your own for a while!" She quickly got out of the car and slammed the door behind her. Clicking down the sidewalk on her three-inch heels, leather-clad hips swaying impressively, she moved toward Ellison, who was bringing out his handcuffs from behind his back. Lee and Blair jumped out of the car to follow her when all hell broke loose.
The man who'd been talking to Falco at Jim's arrival had returned, heavily armed. He let loose his weapon, strafing the car next to Ellison and Falco. Falco ducked behind the car, while Jim dodged behind a truck. Digby, caught out in the open, squealed and ran for the nearest car, her heels making a staccato beat on the sidewalk as she scampered for cover, but she was too late. The man with the gun grabbed her and put his weapon to her temple. "C'mon, Falco, let's go!" he shouted, ignoring the cries that Digby was letting loose.
"What the hell are you doing?" screamed Falco as he rose up from his hiding place.
"Making sure you get back to Lugosi," the armed man called back, clearly confused.
Falco moved a bit closer to his 'rescuer.' "And it never occurred to you I didn't want your help?"
"This cop was gonna take you in," the rescuer stated as if that explained everything.
"Jay, you are such an idiot!" Falco looked around in disgust. Everyone had cleared the street at the first shots, so all that remained were the cop and this woman. He hadn't seen Sandburg and Brackett duck behind Blair's car. "I coulda been out in twenty minutes, he had no proof of anything." Jay had the good sense to look embarrassed. "Now we'll have to kill the cop, and this chick," he added.
Jim couldn't take any more of these idiots' discussion; he slowly stood up from his cover behind the truck. "Put the gun down and let the woman go," he yelled, feeling like he had just spouted an absurd movie line. "You haven't done anything yet except property damage. Let's end this now."
"I think that's a wonderful idea, Detective," Falco said. He turned to Jay and said, "Kill her."
Brackett had been listening to the exchange and could smell the fear of the young woman. Everything in his mind told him to let the annoying woman die, and yet his body seemed to be propelled beyond his control. He left Sandburg and began moving closer to his target, moving from car to car. When he heard the man order her death, he rushed his target.
Jim watched, his eyes open wide in astonishment as Lee Brackett, bad guy, ran up behind the perp holding Digby and yanked back on his arm, slamming his fist in the man's face, and saving Digby in the process. As Jay crumpled from the blow, Digby fell in a dead faint. Lee caught her and lowered her gently to the ground.
Falco looked at his fallen comrade, then seemed to regain his senses and brought out his own weapon to take care of the newcomer and the woman. The gun had barely cleared the waistband of his pants when he was taken down by a shot from Ellison's gun.
Brackett cradled the unconscious Digby in his arms, berating himself for his heroic act. Moments later she came to and looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "I knew it," she sighed, snuggling back into his arms.
Blair walked up to see his partner placing handcuffs on the two perps and calling Dispatch for another pickup.
When Jim stood up and looked at him, pocketing his cell phone, Blair said, "So you think they've bonded?" Jim raised an eyebrow in question. Blair smirked, nodding over at Lee and Digby.
The detective snorted, and a grin spread across his features. "With superglue, Chief. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy." They both laughed at Lee's dismay.
"How's it going, Jim?" asked Blair, walking over to his partner's desk in Major Crime. He had finished his morning class at Rainier, and now looked down at Jim
"Just finishing the paperwork on the Hawkings' case." He closed the folder, tapping it with his fist.
"Falco confessed?" Blair was surprised.
"Nope, but his buddy Jay seemed to know quite a bit. And he was reluctant to spend time in jail; he told us all we need."
Blair snagged a chair and sat down next to his partner. "Have you heard from Digby?"
"Nope, not a peep, Chief. Thank God. She didn't show up for her ride-along this morning. How 'bout you? Any news from Brackett?"
"Just this." Blair tossed a large envelope onto Jim's desk.
Jim opened it, surprised when he viewed the contents. "Is this everything?" he asked softly.
"Looks to be. It contains his notes, some pictures, and a videotape showing off your 'superpowers'." The anthropologist shrugged. "Brackett never came back last night so I went through what few things he left at my place." He ignored the look of mock shock sent by his friend at the thought of Blair riffling through another person's belongings. "I found a key to a locker at the Cascade train station, and this was inside."
"That's the only thing that was in there?"
"Yeah." Blair sat back in his chair and mused, "I still wonder what became of Digby."
"She's gone," reported Simon Banks as he paused at Jim's desk on the way to his office.
"Where'd she go?"
Simon leaned against the desk, a lopsided grin on his face. "Apparently Digby's father was not happy with her. . . escapades. . . around the city, and for once decided to put his foot down."
Jim and Blair exchanged surprised looks.
"So what'd he do?" Jim asked.
Simon chuckled. "He sent Digby to his island retreat off the coast."
"She's gone for good?" Jim asked.
Simon nodded, amused by the look of relief on his detective's face. "At least for a couple years. He decided she needed to learn some self-control. Or at least that society needed to be spared her unique, um, talents."
Jim looked at the captain, head tilted as he assessed his long-time friend's expression. "Come on, Simon, give. What else?"
"What makes you think there's something else?" Simon asked, the picture of innocence.
"Simon. . . . " Jim said, with a mock-threatening tone.
The captain grinned. "Oh, yeah. Well, rumor has it that her boyfriend went with her."
"Her boyfriend?" Blair said. "Her boyfriend?" A smile started on his face, growing into a face-splitting grin. He looked at his partner.
In one voice they said, "Brackett?!" and both burst out laughing.
Simon cackled and stroked the cigar he'd removed from his pocket. After a minute he sobered, and said, "It was strange. . . almost as if he couldn't bear to be away from her." He shook his head. "I don't think we'll be seeing him again for a very long time."
"Really?" Blair asked.
"I just happened to be there when they were leaving--"
"Just happened to be?" Jim asked doubtfully.
Simon looked at him levelly. "Just happened to be," he said firmly. "And I saw her face as they were leaving. She had a look of pure contentment as she snuggled against Lee's side." He laughed. "I can't say he looked quite as content. Somewhat. . . . horrified, perhaps." He chuckled again. "And there's only one way on and off the island, which her daddy controls, so I don't think she'll be letting him go anytime soon."
Jim and Blair both smiled widely at the idea of a Brackett-free life.
With his usual finesse, their captain brought reality storming back. He crossed his arms and arched one eyebrow. "So, gentlemen, mind explaining why I wasn't informed immediately of Brackett's return?"
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