Clarity1text.jpg - 24571 Bytes

Novation Productions Virtual Season 5 Episode 5act1.jpg - 23024 Bytes

Blair paused in front of the shelves holding herbal teas. Reaching out, he took down a box of chamomile, one of peppermint, and a blend of Eleuthro ginseng root, cinnamon, catnip leaves, and other herbs and vitamins he knew was especially useful for soothing cranky sentinels with tension headaches. He dropped them into the basket slung over his arm where they joined the ingredients for his famous cold remedy. The winter cold and flu season was coming up, and he knew he could count on Jim to pick up a cold sometime in the next few months and pass it along to him.

After checking through the basket, he decided he had everything he'd come in for, and headed for the checkout counter. He waited patiently in line behind a group of giggling teenagers, watching the owner of the shop, Skylark Kullien, as she chatted with the teens. The three girls and two boys were asking her about a sign sitting on the counter advertising "All-Natural XTC". Sky was patiently explaining that it was a combination of natural and herbal ingredients designed to give the user the same feelings of energy and emotional uplift as the party drug Ecstasy. Finally they paid for their purchases and left. Stepping up to the counter, Blair set his basket down. "Hello, Sky, how's it going?" The two of them had been flirting ever since Blair had started frequenting her store, but he couldn't seem to get beyond that stage with her. Today was the day though; he could feel it. He turned on his most disarming smile.

Sky, an attractive strawberry blonde about Blair's age, smiled back at him. "Just fine, Blair. Run out of tea again?" She began to ring up his items.

A vision flashed through his mind of the kitchen cupboard in his apartment that was crowded with multiple boxes of tea. "Oh, yeah, Jim and I are really big tea drinkers." She raised what appeared to Blair to be a skeptical eyebrow. "You remember Jim, my old roommate? He's really into healthy living, all natural foods. He just loves your peppermint tea--" Her other eyebrow began crawling toward her hairline. Blair changed the subject, picking up the sign on XTC. "So, this stuff really mimics Ecstasy?"

She shrugged. "It's supposed to. Or at least that's what the brochure says."

Blair frowned as he put the sign down. "Are you sure it's safe? There's a lot of copycat drugs out there now, not all of them necessarily safe. People are just wanting to make a quick buck."

"It's safe, Blair. You know I don't sell anything here that isn't all natural. It's a combination of herbs, vitamins and minerals that'll give you a little euphoric kick, that's all."

"Okay, just wondering." He swallowed nervously, and began his prepared speech, determined to get it out before she cut him off the way she did every week. "So, Sky, are you free tonight? Because I have these passes to the new Mesoamerican exhibit at the natural history museum and I was thinking we could go check it out, and then have dinner--"

"Okay."

Used to hearing 'no' from her, Blair continued right on without pause. "Then how about tomorrow night, or next week?"

Reaching over the counter between them, Sky put her hand over Blair's mouth. "Try closing this a little more often and opening your ears. I said yes."

His eyes widened, then he impulsively kissed her palm. She snatched her hand back as her cheeks turned scarlet. "Blair!"

He grinned at her. "Cool! This is going to be so fun! Where should I pick you up? And what time?"

Sky went back to ringing up his purchases. "The store's open until 7, so you should probably pick me up here, then." Her face was still tinged pink. "That'll be $27.95."

After paying for his items, Blair left the shop practically skipping. Yes! I can't believe she said yes! Hopping into his Volvo, he headed toward the police station and an afternoon of working with Jim.


Blair jiggled his knee up and down impatiently as he stared out the side window of Jim's truck at the deepening twilight. "Come on, man, can't you go any faster?" Jim's chuckle only frustrated the anthropologist further.

"Hey, it's not my fault you never got that leaky tire fixed, Chief."

Running his hand through his curls in frustration, Blair replied, "I know, I know. And I really appreciate you not killing me when I asked you to chauffeur, but if you don't hurry it up, I'm gonna be late for my first date with Sky. And you know how important first impressions are. I've been trying to get a date with her forever, and if I'm late, I might not get another one."

Jim made a left turn. "Fine, Sandburg, I'm taking a shortcut. Are you happy now? And by the way, paybacks are a bitch." He shot the younger man an evil grin.

"I'll scrub 'Sweetheart' with a toothbrush if you want me to, just get me to Sky's by seven." He glanced out the window again, noticing the scenery was gradually changing from storefronts to warehouses. "Jim?"

Ellison's tone was that of the ever-patient. "Yes, Chief?"

"Where are you going? This is the warehouse district. This is your shortcut? Oh, God, you're going to hear something and have to stop to investigate! You've got to drive faster, get us out of here!"

But even as the words left his mouth, Blair knew it was a lost cause. Jim was rolling down his window and cocking his head to the side in a classic listening pose. The truck slowed for a moment, then sped up. Jim must have gotten a lock on whatever he was hearing. "Sorry, you're going to be late. I hear voices, lots of voices, and music. And screaming!"

With a muttered oath, Blair pulled out his cell phone, intending to call Sky, but Jim suddenly accelerated around a corner, throwing Blair into the door. The phone flew out of his hands to land on the floor, and Blair decided to hang on rather than try and retrieve it. Several hair-raising turns later, Jim pulled to a stop outside a dilapidated warehouse from which the pounding beat of techno music emanated. Dozens of cars surrounded it, and people were wandering around outside, some of them dancing, drinking what appeared to be alcohol, and generally partying.

Jim was reaching for the door handle when Blair grabbed his arm. "Relax, Jim, it's just a rave. Yeah, they probably don't have a permit, but they aren't hurting anybody. And I have a date, remember?"

Ellison hesitated for a moment, then put his keys back in the ignition. "Yeah, you're probably right."

A scream split the night air. Blair glanced at Jim, shrugged, then popped his seatbelt. Grabbing his cell phone from the floor, he jumped out of the truck. He ran through the crowd behind his bigger partner, trusting Jim to find whoever was in trouble. For several long seconds he lost sight of him, then Blair pushed through a tight circle of teens to find Jim kneeling over a young girl. Her body was thrashing and contorting in a series of violent seizures as Jim attempted to keep her from hurting herself.

"Sandburg! Call it in!" Jim ordered. Blair was already punching 9-1-1 into his cell, asking for an ambulance, and giving their location, all the while unable to tear his eyes away from the girl's pale, sweat-soaked face. Her back arched high off the ground in one final convulsion, then she collapsed and lay still.

Jim's fingertips probed her throat. "I need your help; she's not breathing and I'm not getting a pulse!"

Dropping to his knees next to Jim, Blair tilted the girl's head back, checking her mouth for obstructions before pinching her nose closed and blowing into her mouth. He sat back, counting quietly as Jim did chest compressions, then breathed for her again. The surroundings seemed to fade into the background as Blair's world narrowed to himself, Jim, and the teenager they were frantically trying to help. He didn't hear the sirens as the ambulance pulled up, or the paramedics until one of them grasped him by the arm and pulled him away.

"Sir! Sir, let us do our job!"

Blair backed up then, sitting on his ass on the crumbling asphalt for a long moment, watching as the EMT's began working on the girl. He brushed his hair out of his face with a shaking hand. Shit. She's just a kid. Just a kid out on a Friday night to have some fun, and now....

He felt Jim's hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Chief. Let them do their job and we'll do ours. Let's see if we can find out what happened."

Grasping the hand Jim held out to him, Blair let himself be pulled to his feet. Glancing around, he was amazed at the change that had come over the area. The blaring music was gone, as were most of the kids and cars. "What happened?"

"When the squad cars and the ambulance pulled up, everyone ran. Must have thought the place was being raided." Jim zeroed in on the small group of kids remaining. "Anyone here see what happened?" A chorus of 'no's' answered him.

Moving in front of Jim, Blair asked quietly, "Does anyone know her? Know anyone she came with, or what school she goes to?"

There was a minor commotion as an olive skinned girl was pushed to the front of the group. "She goes to Cascade Prep School. Her name's Amy something."

"Okay, that's good. Anyone know her last name?" Shrugged shoulders and head shakes answered Blair's question.

"Anyone see her around earlier? Do you know if she had anything to drink, or took any drugs?" Jim asked.

Again there was silence. And again Blair pleaded with the teens to help them. "Look, we just want to help her. You're not in any kind of trouble. The more we know about Amy, about what she was doing before she started having seizures, the better the paramedics can help her. So if any of you saw her earlier, saw who she was with or what she was doing, please tell us." He looked at each kid in turn, but they all shook their heads. "Okay, thanks for your help. If you think of anything, call the Cascade PD and ask for me, Blair Sandburg. Someone will be able to get a message to me, okay?"

He sighed as the kids walked off. "Damn. I wish we could have gotten more out of them."

"So do I, Chief. Come on, let's find out where the paramedics are taking her." Jim headed back toward the ambulance. Blair followed him.

While Jim spoke with the driver, Blair watched the paramedics load the girl into the ambulance. They must have gotten her heart started again, because they were no longer performing CPR, and she had an oxygen mask covering her face. For the first time, Blair noticed the long, blonde hair, now stringy with sweat. He studied her features, feeling there was something familiar about her, but not quite able to place where he might have seen her before. She was so damn young, maybe sixteen. She shouldn't have been here. This shouldn't have happened.

He felt Jim's solid presence behind him. "They're taking her to Cas-Gen. I said we'd tag along."

Blair gazed up at his friend. "You don't want to check out the warehouse?"

Jim shook his head. "It's empty now. We can do more good trying to track down her parents. Hopefully they'll find some ID on her at the hospital." Placing a hand between Blair's shoulder blades, he steered him in the direction of the truck.


As they approached the entrance to Cas-Gen's emergency room, Jim automatically dialed his senses back. He knew from experience that Friday nights were the worst. Weaving through the throng in the waiting room, he approached the admitting desk, showing his badge to the clerk. "Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. There was a young girl brought in a few minutes ago. Can you tell me how she's doing?"

The woman flipped through some files. "I'm sorry. I don't have any information."

Just then a doctor both Jim and Blair knew entered the waiting area. "Detective Ellison, Blair, Mike said you would be along shortly. Can you come with me?"

Jim and Blair followed her through the double doors, past the treatment cubicles and into a doctor-family conference room. Dr. Sheila Abrams leaned against the edge of a table. "She coded as soon as she got here. There was nothing we could do."

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Blair pale, and heard him swallow loudly. "You okay, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah, just give me a minute." Dropping into a chair, he covered his face with his hands.

Satisfied Sandburg wasn't going to freak on him, Jim asked the doctor, "Do you have any idea what killed her? When we found her, she was having some kind of seizure, and when I touched her, she was burning up."

Abrams shook her head. "We'll need an autopsy to know for sure, but I'm thinking some kind of drug reaction. Her body temp when she arrived was 108 degrees, and she was hemorrhaging internally."

"Jesus," Blair whispered. "What kind of drug could cause that?"

She shrugged. "I don't have a clue. I've never seen anything like it." She turned her gaze on Jim. "Mike said she was found at a rave?"

"That's right."

"Damn. If she got the drug there, there's no telling how many other kids got hold of it, too." An expression of pain crossed her face. "I don't want to see any more cases like this." A shudder ran through her thin frame.

Jim patted the woman awkwardly on the shoulder. "We'll find out where she got the drug, if that's what it was. Did you find any ID on her?"

"Yes." She produced a plastic bag holding a student ID. "We found this on her. I was just going to contact her parents when you showed up."

Jim read the card. "Amy Kettering, 501 Mountain Valley Drive."

"That's in the Cascade Rapids subdivision," Blair supplied helpfully. "Very expensive neighborhood." He paused for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "Kettering! That's why she looked so familiar. She looks like her mother, Councilwoman Kettering."

Jim ran a hand over his face. This had just gotten a hundred times more complicated. "Look, Sheila, Blair and I will stick around and talk to her mother once she gets here and makes an ID. It's possible she might know who her daughter was with tonight."

Abrams nodded. "Right. Let me go make that phone call, and then when she gets here, we can all talk to her." She left the room.

Jim crossed to where Blair was still sitting and squatted down in front of him. "How are you doing, Chief?"

Blair shrugged nervously. "Okay, I guess. Stunned. It was just so fast, you know? And she was so young...." Tilting his head back, he closed his eyes.

"I'm going to go get us some coffee. I'll be right back." Slapping his friend on the knee, Jim got to his feet and headed to the cafeteria. It was going to be a long night.


"Night, Jim," Blair said as he exited the stairwell at the second floor. "Simon's office at 0800 hours. Yeah, I got it. Six hours from now." He wove down the hallway and tried to fit his key in the lock, exhaustion making his fingers fumble. Man, what a horrible night. Councilwoman Kettering had gone to pieces after identifying her daughter and had picked Blair's shoulder to cry on. He shook his head. He still didn't understand why people looked to him for support and sympathy. Jim said it was because he projected empathy, but what did old 'stone face' know?

Finally getting the lock open, he dropped his backpack just inside the door as his stomach growled loudly. Too much black coffee and nothing solid with it. He detoured into the kitchen and grabbed a banana from the counter. Anything else was too much work. As he wrestled with the banana peel, the flashing light on his answering machine caught his eye. Pushing the 'play' button, he bit off half the fruit.

"Blair? This is Sky. Are you running late? It's seven-thirty and I'm still at the store."

"Oh, shplahht!" he cursed around a mouthful of banana.

"Um, Blair, this is Sky again. You did mean this Friday, tonight, right? It's eight o'clock, and I'm going home. Call me there. 555-5479."

The machine beeped again. "Okay, I've tried all the hospitals, and you weren't in an accident. I'm assuming maybe car trouble, and you're in the middle of the Sahara with a dead battery in your cell phone. I'm still at home."

Blair beat his head slowly against the refrigerator door. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Sandburg! The vile machine beeped one last time. "It's midnight. You'd better be dead, Blair Sandburg. Otherwise don't bother showing your face around my store again!"

Sliding down the fridge to sit on the floor, Blair scrubbed his hands over his face. "What a perfect end to a perfect evening," he muttered sarcastically. He'd have to call Sky in the morning. It was way too late now.

He sat there for several minutes, his mind replaying the images from earlier that night, of blond, beautiful Amy thrashing on the broken asphalt outside an abandoned warehouse while her friends watched. He got to his feet and crossed to his desk. Flipping on his computer, he settled in for a long night of surfing. Someone out there had to know what had happened to Amy Kettering.


Jim walked into Simon's office the next morning and held out his coffee cup without a word. Simon raised an eyebrow at him, but filled the mug from the pot sitting behind his desk. Dropping into a chair, Jim inhaled the aroma, then took a long, slow sip, savoring the dark bitter flavor on his tongue. "Ahhhh..."

"Didn't get your morning shot of caffeine, Jim?"

The detective shook his head. "I had to go downstairs and pry Blair away from his computer. I don't know what he was doing last night, but I found him asleep at his desk. Between rousing him and throwing him in the shower, I didn't get breakfast, let alone coffee." He took another drink, closing his eyes in pleasure.

"So, if you're finished making love to your coffee, where is Sandburg?"

"He'll be along. Something he had to print off in the bullpen."

Blair chose that moment to breeze into the office, computer paper sailing behind him. "Sorry, I'm late, Sim--sir." He set his own mug of tea down on the conference table and struggled to fold the printout into a neat pile.

"Well, while you're doing that, Sandburg, let me just apprise you of what my morning's been like. I got a call from the mayor around 6 am. Apparently she and Councilwoman Kettering are sorority sisters. She's insisting I put my 'best detectives' on the case. That would be you. So what do you have for me?"

Jim glanced at Blair, who was still fighting with the printout. "Not much so far. Autopsy's scheduled for today, but Dr. Abrams is thinking it could be a drug reaction. A tox screen is going to take a couple days, but if it's something new, it could take even longer."

Blair took a seat with a final rustle of paper. "I can give them a good place to start. Paramethoxymethamphetamine."

Both men stared at him. "What in the hell is that?" Simon finally asked.

Slouching in his chair and rubbing his eyes, Blair settled into what Jim called his lecture mode. "Paramethoxymethamphetamine, or PMA, is being substituted for MDMA, or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, common street name Ecstasy, by unscrupulous dealers."

"That's an oxymoron, Sandburg," Banks interrupted. "Unscrupulous drug dealers, my ass."

Blair tapped the tabletop impatiently. "Do you want to hear this or not?" At the other men's nods, he continued. "I spent most of last night searching the internet for any other instances of Amy's symptoms in connection with raves. I found some. In 1995 and '96, at least six Australians were killed after ingesting PMA, which they thought was Ecstasy. Their symptoms matched Amy's."

"If this PMA is so deadly, why haven't we heard more about it?" Jim asked.

"Because up until this point in time, most of the Ecstasy coming into the US has been pretty pure. The major manufacturers are headquartered in Europe. However, the DEA has been cracking down on the drug recently. Their dogs are catching most of the stuff being smuggled in. The result is that the better-quality drugs are being taken off the market, increasing the ratio of contaminated pills to clean ones, which leaves dealers with little product and high demand." He flipped to another page in his printout. "And with hits of ecstasy going anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars a tablet, they're getting creative. A lot of what's being called Ecstasy out there isn't MDMA at all. It's everything from caffeine, to dextromethorphan, to PCP, and Valium. About the only thing MDMA and PMA have in common is that they affect the body's ability to regulate its temperature, but PMA to a much higher degree." Pausing, Blair took a breath. "Unfortunately, unless we can find out where this variant is coming from, we will be seeing more cases like Amy's."

Simon pulled a cigar out of his desk. "Good work, Sandburg. Fax that info on PMA over to the medical examiner's office. Maybe we can cut down the time on the tox screen with it." He clipped the end off his smoke. "Now we need to find out who she got the drug from. Any leads on that?"

Jim started to shake his head, but Blair jumped in. "No leads yet, but Mrs. Kettering gave me the names of the kids Amy was with last night. I thought we could start with interviewing them."

"Sounds good to me. Anything else?"

A knock on the door interrupted them, and Rafe stuck his head in. "Blair? There's a girl here to see you. Said something about meeting you last night?" He opened the door a little further, and the men in the office could see a young Hindi woman standing nervously in the middle of the bullpen.

"Isn't that the girl from the rave, Chief?"

Blair got to his feet. "Yeah, yeah it is. Look, Jim, why don't you let me handle this?"

"Sure, knock yourself out." Blair exited the office and Jim handed his empty mug to Simon for a refill.


Blair crossed the bullpen toward the young woman. "Hi," he said, giving her a reassuring smile.

She twisted her hands together. "I heard on the news this morning that Amy died. Is that true?"

The anthropologist guided her to a chair next to Jim's desk. "Yes, she did. Can you tell me your name?"

The teenager bit her lip. "Manju Usman."

"Okay, Manju. I want to thank you for coming down here. Did you remember anything from last night?"

She nodded slowly. "I heard Amy talking with her friends about some Ecstasy. Only it was supposed to be safe, because it wasn't really Ecstasy."

"Was it some kind of substitute?"

"That's what Ron said. He said it was just herbs and vitamins and stuff. Harmless, but it made you feel good."

"And Ron is?"

"He's from Cascade Prep. He's a senior. Ron Wilson."

He wrote the name down. "Did he say where he got the drugs?"

She shook her head. "But he took the pills out of this bag that had a weird word on it. A-n-a-m. Do you know what that means?"

Blair felt like he'd been punched in the gut. That was the name of Sky's shop, Celtic Anam. "It's Gaelic for soul," he told her. He pulled open the bottom drawer of Jim's desk and lifted out the bag of items he'd bought the day before and forgotten to take home in his rush to get to his date. "Did the bag look like this?" He showed her the white plastic sack with a Celtic knot logo and the word Anam in script on the side.

Manju's eyes widened. "Yeah, that's it!"

"Thank you, Manju. You've been a big help. Can I get you to give me your address and phone number in case I have any more questions?" He automatically took down the numbers, after telling her to warn her friends that any Ecstasy, real or not, could be dangerous. He gave her his card. "If any of your friends want to turn their pills in, have them call me. I'll make sure they don't get in any trouble, and the more information they can give me about where they got them, the better. I don't want to see any more of your friends die the way Amy did, okay?"

"Okay, Mr. Sandburg. If I hear anything more, I'll let you know." Getting to her feet, she left the bullpen.

Blair ran a hand over his face. Shit. The stuff could have come from Sky's store. She'd said it was harmless, and he'd believed her. Damn it, this was a big mess. With a resigned sigh, he picked up the phone. "Hello, Sky? This is Blair Sandburg. Yeah, I know I'm on your shit list, but I can explain. Are you going to be there for the next couple hours? I'd like to talk to you in person."


Jim pulled the Ford into the parking lot of a small strip mall that had seen better days. Out of the seven stores, only five were occupied, and most of the sign advertising the shops was taken up by a large 'Space for Lease' notice. "This is where you've been getting all those teas?" he asked his partner. "It's not the best neighborhood."

Blair shrugged. "Sky's store has what I need at the lowest prices in town. And the neighborhood isn't so bad."

Jim climbed out of the driver's side and looked at the signage on the storefronts. Sky's shop advertised herbs, vitamins, new age materials, candles, and Celtic-themed books, music and gifts on a hand-painted sign. The store next door trumpeted its name, The Toy Box, in large neon letters, with small neon signs listing its wares as XXX videos, fetish clothing and accessories, and sex toys.

He sighed. "I don't know, Chief. Usually by the time the sex shops move in, the neighborhood is on its final downslide." He watched his friend bristle.

"What? Just because a shop sells items related to sexual activity, it's automatically sleazy and a detriment to the neighborhood?"

"That's been my experience, yes. Once one of these stores moves in, strip bars and prostitutes follow. Not to mention drug dealers."

Blair's eyes flashed dangerously. "Sky is not a drug dealer!"

Jim rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I never said she was. I'm just stating that in my experience, that's the way it happens. I saw some decent neighborhoods go under while I was in Vice."

His friend muttered something Jim didn't catch, then said, "When we go in, let me handle talking to Sky, okay?"

"Sure. I'll just browse."

As Blair opened the door, setting a pair of handmade bells tinkling, he cautioned, "Might want to turn down your sense of smell, man. Some of the stuff in here is pretty potent."

Jim did as he was told, and was glad of the warning. Even with scent turned down, his nose was itching. He wandered through the cramped aisles, keeping an ear tuned to Sandburg's conversation with the store's owner.

"Hey, Sky. Sorry about last night. I was on my way here when we stopped to help some kids at a rave. One of them was having seizures."

"Oh, Blair, I had no idea! I'm so sorry for those phone messages. I just didn't know whether I should be scared because something had happened to you, or angry because you stood me up. I'm glad you're okay. Is the kid all right?"

"No. She died in the emergency room. The doctor thinks it was some kind of drug that killed her, but we won't know for sure until we get the autopsy results back." There was a pause in the conversation, and Jim walked up to the counter to find Blair chewing his lip nervously.

"That's kind of why we're here, Ms. Kullien. I'm Jim Ellison, Blair's partner." He reached over and shook the woman's hand, feeling Blair glaring at him.

"Nice to meet you, Jim. And please, call me Sky." She gave him a warm smile. "So why exactly are you here, other than for Blair to apologize?"

Blair jumped in with the answer first. "One of the kids at the rave last night saw someone give the girl who died something they said was a substitute for Ecstasy. The witness described it as coming from a bag with your store logo on it." He picked up the sign for 'All Natural XTC'. "I couldn't help but be reminded of this sign, and was wondering if maybe there was something in these herbal pills that could have caused a bad reaction."

Jim, who still had hold of Sky's hand, surreptitiously checked her pulse at Blair's announcement. Despite Sandburg's insistence that the shop owner wasn't a drug dealer, he wasn't entirely convinced. Her heartrate jumped slightly at the news a product from her shop could have killed someone, but not the big leap the sentinel would have expected from a guilty person.

"Ohmigod!" Sky gasped and retrieved her hand, pressing it to her mouth. "I had no idea! The salesperson assured me it was perfectly safe, and we haven't had any complaints before this." She dug around under the counter and came up with a brochure. "Here's the list of ingredients. There's nothing here that you won't find in its natural form on my shelves."

Blair took the list from her as Jim said, "What we'd like to do is take the supply of XTC you have on hand in for testing, make sure that it is what the label says, and that it hasn't been contaminated in any way. We'll also need the name of your supplier, so we can contact them."

"Sure, sure." She came around the counter and grabbed a shopping basket. "It's on these shelves over here. Once we get these bottles, I'll look in the stock room for any others. The supplier's address is in my Rolodex."


Sky watched as Blair finished filling out a form regarding the removal of the pills from her store. His friend Jim had already taken the confiscated bottles out to his truck. The sound of a car horn penetrated the store.

Blair looked out through the glass door and made a rude gesture at his friend. She laughed, and he turned his attention back to her. "I'm really sorry about all this, Sky."

"That's okay, Blair. If there's something dangerous on my shelves, I want to know about it."

His cheeks colored a little bit, then he said, "Look, I know last night didn't work out like I'd planned, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to give it another try, but--the museum's open today, and I kind of thought we maybe could give it a go tonight."

His head lifted, and his eyes met hers. She felt a grin spreading across her face. He was so damn cute, and he had that shy uncertain thing down pat. "Sure. Think you can manage to be here by five tonight?"

His whole face lit up. "Promise. Cross my heart. Five o'clock." He fairly bounced as he left the store.

Sky shook her head. What was she getting herself into? The door opened and her part-time helper came in.

"Hi, Pepper. I'm glad you're here. I need to ask you about that XTC stuff."

Pepper, a tall, lanky college student with short, dyed black hair and a ring in her nose, dropped her backpack under the counter. "What about it?"

"Didn't you say we just got a new shipment in the other day? Because I thought we were out of it."

Pepper nodded. "Yeah, it came after you left on Thursday night. Some delivery guy brought it. He was kind of skanky looking."

"UPS?"

The other woman shook her head. "No, it wasn't Frank. Some kind of private service, I think. He had a uniform, but I don't remember the name."

"Okay. You put it out before you left that night, then?"

"Yeah. I put it on the shelves."

Sky turned that over in her head. The whole thing sounded really strange. She trusted Pepper, and knew the girl was probably telling her the truth as far as she knew it, but.... "Watch the counter for me for a little while, will you?"

"Sure."

Sky walked into the stock room, straight to the trashbag sitting next to the back door. Trash pickup wasn't until Monday, so whatever packaging those XTC bottles had come in still had to be there. Ten minutes of digging later, she was rewarded with a plain brown box. On one of the flaps it read "725 Pine Street, Cascade WA." The address of Celtic Anam was *723* Pine Street. There were no other identifying marks on or in the box, save for a few packing peanuts. The box had to have been delivered to the wrong address; it was supposed to go next door.

Sighing, Sky got to her feet and put the rest of the trash back into the bag. She was not looking forward to a talk with the owner of the Toy Box.


Continue on to Act 2