"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.
Continue on to Act 3