Disclaimer: Okay, the guys do not belong to me, I just wish they did. They belong to PetFly Productions and UPN/Paramount. And as for any others that might pop up in this story, hey --you never know, they belong to someone else to. Darn it. <g> This is a project of pure enjoyment and no infringement is intended. I promise not to hurt anyone, well I'll try not to. This was actually my first real attempt at writing fan fiction for The Sentinel, it just took forever to get it done, edited and beta'd. It's long, really long. I just can't seem to do anything in small amounts.

Anything in italics indicates thought. And anything with a * before and after it denotes something translated from Irish-Gaelic. And // indicates mind speak, or a type of telepathic communication.

Special thanks to Carol, my long suffering beta reader, for her tireless help in making sure that this story made sense. Also, a very special thanks and hugs go out to my mother, Sheila, who was the first person to actually read this story and encouraged me to write more.

Plot summary: Rare books stolen, a murder, and an old classmate of Blair's with a secret to guard. A mix of subjects that may just surprise you. I hope. {Minor crossover with two other series.}

And without further ado... On with the story!

 

 

 

Secrets, Books and Murder

Suisan R.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

January 9

 

The woman paced in front of the class as she lectured, her long red vest flying over her entirely black ensemble. Her coffee brown hair whipped around her shoulders as she moved, the curls bouncing. She had the students' complete attention.

"Remember, Anthropology is not an exact science, but it is a science! You'll get all sorts of flack from your fellow students about your choice of studies, but don't let that get to you." The warm, alto voice floated easily in the large room. She turned warm green eyes to her class, smiling. "And while this is just an introduction to Anthro, you might want to hang around for the entire year, just to make sure that you don't miss out on the lecture I have planned for this spring about the Maasi."

The sound of a pager going off interrupted her and several students reached down to their waists to check for the offending device. So did the lecturer.

"Sorry, class. It's mine." She beckoned to a student sitting near the door to the room; he came over to her side quickly. "Thomas? Take over for me here?"

"No problem, Dr. McConnel. Was that your college pager or the other one?" Thomas McCaigh asked.

Dr. McConnel smiled at her Teaching Assistant. "The other one. I'm sure that Andrews wouldn't have paged me unless it was important."

"The Sheriff likes the assistance you give his department." He reached out and gave her a reassuring tap on the arm. "Now go, before he sends that uncle of yours looking for you. I'll take care of the class. We've only about 20 or so minutes to go anyway."

Dr. McConnel nodded as she gathered up her books, stuffing them into her backpack, leaving the notes for Thomas. She was just about to leave when a thought occurred to her. "Oh, Thomas? If Dean Meltons should come looking for me --"

"I'll just tell him you got a page. He'll understand."

"Thanks." She smiled as she flew out of the room, that vest of hers flapping in her wake.

Thomas turned his attention back to the class. "Okay, now that we've had our little excitement for the day, let's get on with it, shall we?"


Caragh McConnel wondered why the Sheriff's Office would be paging her, especially when they knew her class schedule. Something must have come up. Only one way to find out. She paused long enough at the door to the Science building to pull out her compact cell phone. Flipping it open, she hit the preprogrammed button, then the #3, then send as she walked out to the parking lot.

"Galloway County Sheriff's Office."

"Doris, Mike. You paged?"

"Yeah, Sheriff Andrews wants you to high tail it over to Emeritus Wilkins' place. Sean's already enroute."

Caragh reached her truck, opened the door, and threw her backpack into the passenger's seat. "Any idea why, Doris?" She climbed in and slammed the door shut, then dug her keys out of her pocket and stuck them in the ignition.

Doris Speer wondered how much she could get away with telling the Doctor. She decided that it would better for her career to let the woman find out on her own. "Sorry, Mike. I really can't say. Just get over there, I'm sure that Leland will fill you in."

"All right, Doris, I understand. Tell GS-1 I'll be there in about 15 minutes."

"Will do, Sean should be there by then too. Bye."

Caragh made sure she fully disconnected before starting her vehicle. Some called it a tank, she called it her baby. The powerful V-8 engine roared to life and she smiled. Reaching over into her glove box she pulled out the shielded, rotating, blue light, placed it on her dashboard and plugged it into the lighter socket. She pulled out of the parking lot and onto the main drag of Willow Springs and hit a toggle switch. A siren blared to life.


The townsfolk of Willow Springs were used to seeing the green and white '67 Chevy race through town and knew to get out of the way of Doctor Caragh "Mike" Michaels-McConnel. Not that the young woman was a bad driver or anything, but they all knew that she was not only a professor at the private college, but a Special Deputy with the Sheriff's Department. You just didn't mess with her or her husband either. Sean

Patrick McConnel was the head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Galloway County Sheriff's office, had been for the past three years. Under his guidance, cases were quickly solved and the violent crimes statistics had plummeted. No, one didn't mess with the McConnels or anyone else in the Sheriff's Department; you just did your damnedest to get the hell out of their way.


Sheriff Leland 'Lee' Andrews came back down the steps from the entrance to Professor Wilkins home, drawing in deep breaths of clear Ozark mountain air to clear the stench from his nose. He walked over to the young deputy that had taken the call; a simple welfare check called in by the Professor's daughter, Alyssa. The deputy was leaning over the backend of his unit, dry heaving.

"You gonna be okay, O'Brian?" Andrews asked as he ran a comforting hand up and down the young man's back.

Craig O'Brian took in a deep breath, willing the nausea away. "I think so, sir. I just have never seen anyone so, so --" He never finished as yet another wave of nausea hit and the dry heaves started up again.

"I know, son. It got to me too, and I've seen a lot of murders." Andrews straightened up as the sound of an approaching car reached his ears. Looking down the long gravel drive, he saw the dark blue Suburban belonging to his Chief of Detectives coming. "Craig, Sean's here. I'll go back in with him, can you set up the perimeter?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

The Sheriff nodded and walked over to where his detective had parked.

Sean McConnel stepped out of his unit, having checked in with Doris, and turned to meet his boss halfway. "What have we got, Lee?"

"Murder. Old man Wilkins. Alyssa called in to the station that she hadn't heard from her father in two days and was worried. I sent O'Brian on the call. He found the front door wide open and the Professor on the floor of his library."

Sean nodded. "Craig going to be okay? He looks a little shaky."

"First DB and a bad one to boot. I'll take care of him."

Sean smiled. "You always do. Someone already get a hold of Mike?"

"She's enroute. Haven't told her anything yet." Leland watched as his detective tilted his head, as if listening to something. "Let me guess, you hear her coming, right?"

Dark green eyes flashed. "Yeah. Her and the Ambulance and whatever coroner happened to be on duty. She'll be here in about two minutes." Stretching out with his hearing, he winced. "Oh great. She's playing that tribal crap of hers again."

"Sean, I thought that by now you'd be used to Mike's tastes in music. After all it's been, what, six years?"

"More like seven." He walked back to his unit and pulled out his notebook, and a pair of powderless latex gloves. Just then the wind that had gently been blowing from the street changed directions and he caught a whiff of blood. Human blood, and a lot of it.


Caragh pulled to a screeching halt on the gravel drive, and without killing the engine to her truck, hopped out and ran up to Leland and Sean. "Oh Shit! What the hell happened, Lee?"

"I don't know. We were talking about your tastes in music then he froze."

"Damn! Zone out. Okay, keep the others busy for a minute, will you?"

Leland nodded and walked off to gather the deputy coroner and ambulance team together and explain to them what to expect, after his detective had gone through the scene and cleared it. As he walked over to them he called O'Brian over to him and let the young man give his story to the coroner.

Caragh waited until she was sure that the Sheriff had diverted enough attention away from Sean and herself before starting her job. "Sean?" She reached out and clasped his shoulder, needing to anchor him somehow. "Sean? Come on, follow my voice. Take the dial to whatever it is that's affecting you and turn it down. That's it. Come on, you can do this."

Sean heard the voice of his wife, his Guardian, calling him back from that place that had drawn him. He heard her sigh as he drew in a deep breath, coming back from the edge of the abyss. "Hi, there, Mike. Zoned again, huh?"

Caragh smiled at her husband. "Yeah, big time. You weren't breathing when I got to you. Scared the hell out of Lee too, but he won't admit to it."

"Never does."

She pulled him around to the front of his unit and out of sight of the others by the ambulance. "Now, what did you zone on?"

"Smell."

"Okay, what happened? What did you smell?"

"Wind changed directions, caught me off-guard." He looked down into his wife's leaf green eyes. This is going to be hard. "Mike, there's no easy way for me to say this, but the Emeritus is dead."

Caragh rocked back on her heels, coming to rest against the Suburban. "Emeritus? Oh, man!"

Sean watched as the color faded from her face. Reaching out a hand, he gently lowered her to rest on the front bumper. "Mike, I can do this by myself. You don't have to go in with me."

She shook her head. "No. I can do this. Besides, what if you zone again?" Caragh got back on her feet and steadied herself, willing the weakness in her knees to go away. "I have to do this, Sean. Wilkins was my mentor, my friend. I have to know what happened, what to tell Alyssa. Besides, I'm the crime scene photographer." She got herself under control, then, squaring her shoulders, she walked back to her truck to grab her camera gear. Sean followed her.

"Mike, Lee can handle breaking the news to Alyssa. You know that."

"I know, but I've known Alyssa for years, since grade school. She's the youngest, all he had left after the accident. I'll have to talk to her sometime." Opening her camera bag, she removed her camera, flash attachment and several rolls of film, which she dropped into her vest pockets.

"Okay. We'll tell her then, together." Sean watched as his wife looked up at him, not exactly grateful, but appreciating his support. "So, you ready to go in there?" He pointed over his shoulder at the large Victorian house.

"As ready as I'll ever be." She followed him to the front porch, where the Sheriff joined them.

"You sure you're up to this, Mike?" Lee asked, concern in his voice.

Caragh nodded. "I have to be. He's already zoned once, which means he's primed for another." She paused in the doorway, the smell reaching her finally. "Oh, man. Good thing I haven't eaten yet."

Leland reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a couple of masks. "Here, got these from the medics. Might help a little." He handed one to Sean, then one to Caragh.

Sean grimaced. "Like it'll really help me, but thanks anyway." He put the mask on.

Caragh put her's on as well, after taking a small vial of camphor oil and placing a single drop of the fluid on the inside. "Sean, dial this out, will you?" He nodded his compliance. " Good. Lee? Want a little?" The burly Sheriff nodded and after everything was in place, the three of them fully entered the house.

 

Cascade, Washington

January 9

 

"Come on, Chief! We haven't got all day!"

"Coming, Jim! Jeez, can't even let me take the time to let me get my hair dried."

"I heard that! Come on! Shake a leg!"

Blair Sandburg grumbled as he pulled the comb through his long hair, finally getting the last tangle worked out. He came out of the bathroom, pulling his hair back into a ponytail. "What's the rush about anyway, Jim?" He found his roommate standing in the kitchen, holding out a travel mug to him. Blair took it and sniffed at the steam rising from the small holes. "Hmm, coffee. Thanks."

"You're welcome," James Ellison said as he took a sip from his own travel mug of coffee. "Simon called while you where in the shower. He needs us at the station ASAP."

Blair took the hint and walked over to the coat rack to grab his heavy winter coat, carefully balancing his coffee as he pulled the coat on over his blue, heavy wool, sweater. "Did he say why? I have classes this afternoon." Grabbing up his backpack, he managed to open the door to the loft, letting Jim precede him out.

Jim turned and locked the door behind them, pulling his own jacket on. "Nope. Just that we needed to get there as soon as."

"Great. I'll call Kevin when we get to the truck, just in case."

"Sounds like a plan, Chief."


"Ellison! Sandburg! My office! NOW!" The raised voice of Captain Simon Banks rolled through the bullpen of Major Crimes just as the men in question came in the door.

Not taking the time to shed their jackets, the two men proceeded to the Captain's office. Blair entered first, Jim right behind him. "You wanted to see us, Captain?" the taller of the two men asked as he shut the door.

"Sit!" Simon pointed to the chairs the two usually occupied. He caught the silent exchange between them: the looks, the barely shrugged shoulders, the tension building in the jaw of his detective. Oh, this is going to be fun! Not!

"What has Sandburg done now, Captain?" Jim asked as he settled into the chair.

"Hey!" Blair nearly got back to his feet before Jim pulled him back to his seat.

"What makes you so sure that Sandburg did anything, Ellison?" Simon's voice was low and near deadly in its tone.

Jim blanched, his mind racing, trying to think of anything he might have done, anyone he might have pissed off. " 'Cause I can't think of anything that I did?"

"Oh, right! Like it was me that pissed off that Febbie last night?" Blair said accusingly.

"Hey! It wasn't my fault he didn't watch where he stepped! Even you smelled that cesspool and managed not to step in it!" Jim retorted.

"Well, you could've told him before he stepped in it."

"Gentlemen, enough." Simon didn't even raise his voice, but they settled down and looked at him expectantly. "Oddly enough, I haven't received a call from Agent Murrow's boss, so I'm guessing the man is taking it fairly well."

Jim shifted, his eyes softening. "So then, what's up? I wasn't supposed to even be in here until 10 am, and its now," he glanced at his watch, " 7:45."

Simon reached over his desk to shove a file towards them. "I got a call from Chief Warren at five this morning, wanted to know what progress you had made on the break in at Rainier and at Wilkerson Towers."

Blair and Jim both squirmed a little. "Uh, Simon, we really don't have anything. Serena and her team have gone over both places with a fine toothed comb and came up with zilch," Jim explained.

"And the Library hasn't completed inventory yet, so we still don't know what, if anything, was taken," Blair volunteered.

"That's what I told the Chief. Blair, you saw the damage there, do you think this may have just been a case of vandalism?" Simon asked.

"No. Not really." He paused as a thought occurred to him. "You know, now that I think about it, most of the damage was restricted to the research area. Lots of the books in there are valuable, priceless even."

Simon looked at the still fairly new detective, glad that the young man had taken up the offer of joining the police force. "Valuable enough to steal, Sandburg?"

"Only if the thief, or thieves, had a buyer already lined up." Blair shook his head. "No, books like those aren't something you can just pawn."

Simon chewed on his unlit cigar. "Okay, do what you can with the case." He turned his attention back to his chief detective. "Jim, what progress have Rafe and Brown made with the Millicent case?"

"They're working it. I've seen their notes, helped them out with some of the questioning, so far everything seems to be pointing to the son-in-law, Nichols. I'm backing their decision." Jim reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small note pad, consulting his notes. "Yeah, everything is pointing to him right now. History of problems with Millicent, fired from his job at the firm due to personal problems, financial situation in the red --"

"Not to mention that every time Jim questions him, his heart rate and respiration go through the roof."

"Can't take that to court, Chief. You know that."

"Yeah, I know, Jim. But you said it yourself at the murder scene; Nichols had been way too cool about hearing about his father in law's murder. Like he'd been expecting it."

"Sandburg, let Jim finish his story."

"Sorry, Simon."

"You were saying, Jim?" Sometimes it was just too much fun to watch these two work things out. He sipped his coffee again, savoring the rich flavor of hazelnut.

"Blair's right, Simon. William Millicent had fired Nichols the day before, yet he was the one that called in the murder. Said he'd come to clear out the rest of his things from his office, but Millicent's secretary told Rafe that he'd finished that up the previous evening.  That she couldn't think of why he was there at the office that morning."

Simon let the silence build for a few minutes, thinking about the case. William Millicent was, had been, a prominent Corporate lawyer. Over half of Cascade's businesses used him or his firm, Millicent & Millicent, for their various needs for well over twenty years. The man's daughter was just as competent as the man himself. When she had married David Nichols two years ago, her father had been furious. But after a while, he forgave her, and brought Nichols into the firm ... after making his daughter, Virginia, a full partner. But the old man had insisted that the firm's name be Millicent & Millicent, not Millicent & Nichols, a snub that most men wouldn't take too kindly to.

"Okay, I'm giving the go ahead, pull him in for questioning. Just make sure that everyone involved follows the rules, Jim. You know what it's like to play with lawyers."

"Thanks, Simon. We'll pull him in later, I want to back Rafe and Brown when they go to get him at home."

"Fine, whatever. Now, Don't you two have some work to do?"

Taking his cue, the two of them stood up and left the office. Blair started on the preliminary reports on the two break ins, while Jim coordinated with the other detectives and went about getting the search warrants they'd need to fully go after David Nichols later that afternoon.


Blair finished up his classes for the day and headed over to the campus library to see if, by chance, they had completed their inventory yet. When he got to the entrance, he found a note plastered to the glass doors [ CLOSED FOR INVENTORY ] smiled and knocked anyway. His persistent knocking got the attention of one of the Library Sciences students, Amy Wolfe, who came to the door.

"Sorry, but we're closed." She told him, as if he couldn't read the sign.

"I know. Tell Mrs. Gordon that Blair Sandburg needs to talk with her." He flashed a smile, causing the young student to blush.

"Oh! I'm so sorry, Mr. Sandburg!" Amy rushed to unlock the door, opening it to let him in. " Mrs. Gordon told us to expect you and to let you in when you showed up."

"That's okay," He told her as he slipped in the door. "You all finished cleaning up yet?"

Amy sighed, as she re-locked the door. "No, not yet. Maybe by this weekend, if we're lucky. Who ever did this really trashed the place. We've already got about a hundred books that we'll have to replace as they were completely destroyed."

Blair shook his head, understanding the disgust in the student's voice. "Hopefully, the police will catch the vandals."

"Blair! Thought I heard your voice!"

He turned to see Mrs. Gordon coming towards him. The Head Librarian was short, about 5'0, skinny, with very short black hair, and reportedly more bounce and energy than most students here at Rainier. She quickly embraced him and let him go as she began pulling him towards her office. "Come, come. I just finished the list from the Research Section. You won't believe what's missing!"

He allowed himself to be pulled as he turned and smiled over his shoulder at the student they had just abandoned. She waved and went back to cleaning the mess that was still very much in evidence around the large library. As he and the Librarian entered her office, he asked, "So, what's missing?"

Mrs. Gordon, nicknamed The Flash by all that knew her, whipped around her desk to the printer and pulled off the sheets of paper. "Oh, mostly the really rare books: H.G.Wells' Outline of History, The Travels by Marco Polo, you know, rare. Expensive as hell to replace, if you can find a copy anymore. But this will get your attention... The Sentinels of Paraguay by Richard Burton."

Blair felt the blood drain from his face as the woman went on.

"Isn't that the book you based your Master's Thesis on?"

"Yeah." He managed to find his voice. "It's missing? Not just misplaced or checked out?"

"Blair! You know that book never leaves this library, and all my students are very good at properly shelving books! No, I'm afraid that it is one of the stolen books."

"Oh man, that really sucks!" No that really, really sucks! Why would anyone want that book?

"Yes, it does. Doesn't it? I've already contacted the Burton Estate to see if they could possibly help us with replacing it. My contact there wasn't sure, but said she'd call me back later today with an answer." She placed a friendly hand on the young man's shoulder. "It's a long shot, but it's the only one I have right now."

"It may not be possible. Burton's wife, Isabel, reportedly destroyed a number of his writings after he died, that may have been one of them."

Mrs. Gordon shook her head, if anyone knew whether or not a Burton Manuscript could be replaced, it would be one Blair Sandburg. He was somewhat the local equivalent of a Burton Expert here on Rainier campus. "Well, we'll just have to hope for the best then, won't we?" She went back to her desk and stapled the sheath of papers in her hand and handed them to the young man. "Now, you make sure that your Detective friend gets this, won't you?"

Blair took the papers and carefully placed them into his backpack. "Don't worry, Mrs. Gordon, I'll see that Jim gets these as soon as possible."

"Blair, after all these years, don't you think you could call me 'Flash' by now?"

He felt the blood rush back into his face. "I don't think so, Mrs. Gordon, it just doesn't seem, well, right. You know?"

"Then what about Alice? Can you do that? I mean, after that debacle last year with your doctorate thesis, getting that all cleared up and everything, you're nearly one of the staff members again." She smiled as they walked out of her office.

Blair smiled, remembering that Alice Gordon was one of the members of his review board who had fought for him. "Yeah, I guess I can do that. Alice."

"Great! Now, you run along and give those to Jim for me. I've got to get back to cracking the whip over these students of mine!" And with that she was off again in a flash of bright colors and strident voice. "AMY! J.J.! Haven't you got that room finished yet?!? I'd like to reopen this Friday, not the next!"


Blair let himself out, the door automatically locking behind him. He walked out to his Volvo and once seated behind the wheel, pulled the papers out that had the books listed on it that were missing, presumed stolen. "Oh, man! Not just Burton's Sentinel monograph, but his research on the African Watchers as well! This is so not good!"  He scanned further down the list. "What have we here? The Guardians and Protectors? Must be a Master's or Doctorate Thesis, but by whom? Looks like it was published in 1890. Oh well, guess I'll have to ask Alice tomorrow about it." He replaced the papers in his pack, started the Volvo and headed for home.


"I still don't see how you do it, Ellison! I mean, Nichols was not going to say a word to me, but you walk in there. Never saying a word, just looking at him, and he cracks! How do you do it?" Rafe asked as they returned to the bullpen.

"Just a gift I have."

Rafe chuckled. "Yeah, right! More like those eyes of yours, Jim. I saw the look, you froze him to his chair!"

Jim smirked, pleased with himself. "Rafe, I did no such thing! He was ready to crack, I just gave him the 'out' he wanted."

"But five minutes, he started babbling five minutes after you walked in! I'm just glad we got it all on video and audiotape! Once he started, he just, well, babbled." He snickered again. "I feel sorry for the transcriptionist that is going to have to sit through all that to type it up for the courts!"

Jim clasped the younger detective on the shoulders. "Well, as I understand it, Rafe, it's probably going to be Missy Walters." The detective knew that the youngest of the bullpen bunch was attracted to the newest addition to the support staff.

Rafe stopped and thought about something. "Mmm, maybe I should drop by later and thank her personally? Maybe offer to buy her lunch or something?"

"Sounds like a plan, Rafe." Jim smiled as they approached the other man's desk.

"So, you gonna go tell the Captain how it went down?" Rafe asked, hoping.

"Yeah, unless you want to do it?" Jim heard the silent plea in the other's voice, knowing that the young detective had no desire to approach the Captain, who had been in a real mood all morning.

Rafe shook his head. "Nope! I've already been in there three times this week, and it's only Tuesday. I'm not going back in there unless I have back up and H is off the rest of the day."

"Coward."

"No, self preservationist. I want my hide intact when I reach 40." Rafe managed to duck the swat that Ellison tried to deliver. "Hey! My name ain't Blair Sandburg! What you do to your partner is your business! I get enough abuse from Henry!"

"Smart ass!" Jim retorted as he walked towards the Captain's office, where he knocked before sticking his head in. "You got a minute, Captain?"

Simon waved him in as he hung up his phone. "That was the Chief again, asking about the Wilkerson Towers case." He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off the headache he felt building behind his eyes. "So? What have you got for me, Jim?"

"Nichols just confessed."

The Captain actually smiled. "That is good news! Rafe put him down, or you?"

"ME? Simon, I never said a word."

"You usually don't have to if someone else has warmed up the suspect." Simon laughed, " But then I really don't care how it was done, as long as the case is now closed?"

"It's all over except for the trial."

"And officially Rafe and Brown were the primaries, so you and Sandburg shouldn't even be needed to testify."

"Hopefully."

Simon glanced at his watch. "Damn, six o'clock already. Jim, why don't you knock off for the day? I have one more phone call to make then I'm outta here myself."

Jim rotated his neck, trying to relieve some of the tension this day had caused. "Sounds good to me, Simon."

"Then get out of here before I change my mind."

"Go ahead, I don't mind the overtime."

"Oh, shit! That's right, you got here before 8, didn't you? Fine, I have to cut you back somewhere... Don't show your face around here until around noon."

"Hmm, a chance to sleep in."

Simon chuckled. "Get out of here. Go bug Sandburg all night for me."

"Good night, Simon."

"Night, Jim."

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Evening, January 9

 

Caragh McConnel was back in the home of Emeritus Professor Wilkins, going through the library with his daughter, Alyssa. "'Lyss, you don't have to do this tonight, we can do it later."

"No, Mike. I have to do it now, before the realization sets in and I can't function at all." Alyssa Wilkins was a slender young lady, about the same age as Caragh McConnel. But that was all they had in common. Both women were slender, but Alyssa was the living embodiment of a fair and delicate porcelain doll. Caragh, on the other hand, was built like a solid running back -- from her years of 'rough housing' with her cousins and playing various sports throughout her life.

They were there in the library, trying to figure out if anything had been stolen. Both had been frequent visitors to the room as children, and after Caragh came back from school on the West Coast. As students they had perused the shelves of rare books that Alyssa's father collected for material for various papers for their fields of study. Caragh's had been Anthropology and Alyssa's was Behavioral Psychology.

"'Lyss, you really shouldn't be alone for a while. Why don't you come out to the Caer and stay with the clan for a day or two?"

"What? You afraid I'll self destruct or something, Mike?"

"You're the psychologist, you tell me."

Alyssa put down the book she'd picked up form the floor, sighing. "You're right. I shouldn't be alone. But I don't want to impose on anyone."

Caragh walked over and pulled the other woman into an embrace. "You wouldn't be. You know Moiré, she'll just love to have someone to look after. Let her. Let the Clan help you. Please?"

Pale blue eyes met vibrant green and Alyssa felt better, knowing that her other family would be willing to take care of her. "Oh, okay. But only for a night or two."

"For as long as you need, 'Lyss."

They broke the embrace and went back to straightening the room. A clean up crew had been in already and cleaned up most of the bloodstains, but the place was still a wreck. Outside, Sean McConnel and Craig O'Brian were searching the grounds, still looking for some clue as to how the murderer had gained entrance and left without being noticed.

"Sean! Come here!" Craig called from the tree line some fifty yards away from the back of the house.

Sean ran up to the younger man. "What have you got, Craig?"

"Looks like a book. Maybe our murderer was also a thief?" He bent down to pick up the book.

"No, wait a minute. Let me get a few photos before you move it."

Craig blushed. "Oh, right. Forgot."

"No problem. It takes a while to learn all the stuff. The police academy can't teach it all in six weeks you know."

"No, but they sure as hell try. My head's still spinning from all those courses and I've been graduated for nearly six months!"

Sean snapped off about three pictures, using the flash attachment as it was getting dark, thinking that the young man had been lucky to find the book at all. "Just wait until Andrews decides to send you to Investigator's school, then you'll really know what it means to have a spinning head." He bent down and with his gloved hands, carefully picked up the book from where it lay on the soft bed of rotting oak leaves. He dug a large evidence bag out of his coat pocket and slipped the book inside. "Look, it's getting dark, take this in to Mike and Alyssa and see if they can ID it as belonging to Wilkins' collection."

"What about you?"

"I'll be there in a few, I just want to see if I can find anything else." He pulled a small, but powerful, flashlight from another pocket and clicked it on. "I'll be fine. Now go ahead and take that to the girls."

"Okay." Craig jogged off towards the house, never looking back.

If he had, he would've noticed that Sean turned off the flashlight and proceeded a little deeper into the woods, following a trail of broken limbs and mangled underbrush he'd detected earlier. Using his heightened sense of sight, he zeroed in on a trail, which had clearly been left by an ATV, some thirty yards into the woods. The trail led off to the South, but it was getting way too late to follow it now, not without Caragh's help. He stood there and thought about the terrain, wondering where he would end up if he followed the trail straight south. He focused in a little tighter and followed with his eyesight, coming to a stop where the marking from the ATV suddenly just vanished. No more tire tracks. Frustrated, he turned and made his way back to the house.

"Mike? Alyssa? Sean wanted me to show you this. We found it in the woods behind the house." Craig had found the two women still in the library, trying to clean it up a bit it looked like.

"What is it, Craig?" Caragh walked over to take a look. Alyssa Wilkins followed her.

Looking over Caragh's shoulder as the taller woman handled the evidence bag, she caught a glimpse of the book's title on the spine. "Oh my! That's Grandfather Wilkins research notes!"

"Research notes? On what?" Caragh turned the book over in her hands and read the spine herself. "The Guardians and Protectors?" She tried to control her reaction, relieved to not feel blood rushing to her face as her stomach dropped, but she knew her heart was trying to pound its way through her chest. Oh, shit! That cannot be what I think it is! She thought to herself, I cannot let anyone other than Sean see this damn thing! Let alone take the chance that someone might read it! Collecting herself, she turned to face her friend. "'Lyssa, what was your Grandfather supposedly researching? Do you know?"

She thought for a moment. "I think I recall Dad saying that his paw-pa was something of an adventurer, supposedly traveled a lot with some fella named Burton as a young man. And it's actually my Great Grandfather, not Grandfather."

Caragh's heart skipped a beat at the mention of Burton. "'Lyssa, do you mind if we take this with us? We may have to keep it a while, maybe even send it off the Crime Lab in Little Rock for testing." Her inner voice screamed in protest, Like Hell!

"Sure, not a big deal. Keep it. I read it once a long time ago. I think that Grandfather Wilkins was a great man, adventurous and a good storyteller, but that thing reads like a science fiction novel. Just not my style."

"Thank you." She felt her heart slowing down just as Sean entered the room.

"Well? Did you recognize the book, Alyssa?" he asked, stealing a glance at his wife whose panicky heart beat that had nearly sent him running now slowing to its normal pattern.

"Yeah, it's my great-grandfather's research notes. From his travels with some guy named Burton. At least that's what Dad told me. But I think it's more likely that it was a fictional novel that he just couldn't sell."

He had heard part of the conversation that had gone on before he appeared. "So, Mike told you we might have to keep it a while? Maybe send it off to Little Rock?"

"Yeah. No big deal. When it comes back you can even keep it. I'll have more than enough to try to keep up with." She gestured around to the wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling shelves of the Wilkins library. As she did so, the other three in the room could see the realization hit her. She lowered her arm and started to softly cry.

Caragh handed the book back to Sean, whispering so only he could hear, "Don't let go of that," and went to comfort her hurting friend.

After about 20 minutes, Alyssa's sobbing stopped and she looked up from the floor where Caragh had settled with her during her fit. "Sorry."

Craig leaned over and helped the young woman to her feet. "Nothing to be sorry about, Alyssa. You've been bottling all that's happened up inside, trying to be strong. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. Better that it happen here, with your friends, rather than when you were by yourself."

Sean and Caragh exchanged a glance behind the two, and then Caragh spoke up.

"Alyssa, why do you let Craig take you home, where you can gather a few things? Then he can bring you out to the Caer."

The still distraught woman nodded her head while Craig spoke, "Yeah, I can do that. And we'll stop and get something to eat." Alyssa shook her head. "Come on, 'Lyssa, you've got to eat something. Or at least get something to drink. Keep me company."

She gave a shy smile. "Okay. I am a bit thirsty."

"Crying's thirsty work. Come on, let's get you home, packed and fed. Then I'll take you over to the Caer." They left the house, leaving the two McConnels behind to lock up.

"Mike? Was I seeing what I thought I saw?"

"Maybe. But then, Craig's always had a crush on Alyssa since High School. Next time you see him, remind him to take it slow, she's not going to be ready for anything serious for a while." She walked with him over to her pickup.

"I will. But it looked to me like Craig knew that." He stopped to open the driver's door for her. "Now, what's so special about this book that you didn't want me to let it go?"

Caragh climbed into her truck, settling behind the wheel. "Take a look at the title and you tell me."

Sean turned the book toward the light coming from the cab of Caragh's truck, only having to focus his sight a little to read the spine. "Oh, shit!"

She let out a chuckle. "My thoughts exactly. Check it into Evidence, but don't let anyone tamper with it. I haven't read it, so I have no idea what it contains, but it could be dangerous for both of us." She pulled her seatbelt on, but not before leaning over to kiss her husband on the cheek. "I'll see you at home. I've got to get something started for dinner. Any requests?"

"No, whatever you decide you want to fix, I'll eat." He closed the truck's door, making sure it was secure after Caragh had rolled down the window. "I may be a little late, I'm sure Lee will want an update and I have to get this, as well as a strew of other things checked into evidence --"

"And get what you can entered into the state's crime computer. I know. I used to play dispatcher once in a while, remember?" Caragh finished for him. "I'll make something that can easily be warmed up. Call me if you're gonna be really late."

Sean smiled. "My idea of late or yours, night creature?"

"Yours, of course. I have no sense of when to go to bed, never have. Not since my early college years."

"Okay, but I shouldn't be any later than nine." He leaned into the truck's window and planted a kiss on his wife's cheek. "See you later, be careful. Not all the ice from that last storm has melted off by the Caer."

"I will. Till later, Sean Pat."

"Later, my anam Caragh." He watched as she cranked over the old pickup and backed down the driveway. He smiled when he heard her music selection for the drive home. "Well, at least it's classic rock." He was still chuckling as he pulled into his assigned slot at the Sheriff's department.

 

Cascade, Washington

Late Evening, 9 January

 

Jim Ellison could smell something delicious as he got closer to the door to the apartment loft that he shared with Blair Sandburg. It was his roommate's night to cook and it smelled like he was going with some kind of chicken dish. Maybe Polynesian, and without pineapples in it. But he could smell the curry and coconut oil and milk. But not too much curry, just enough to spice up the dish a bit without overwhelming the hyperactive sense of taste that one Jim Ellison, Detective, former Ranger, and Sentinel, had.

Blair looked up as he heard the loft's door open. "Hey, Jim! How did it go today?"

Jim removed his jacket, hanging it on the coat rack, then proceeded into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator for a beer. "Not bad, Rafe and Brown put down the Millicent case this afternoon." He opened the bottle and took a swig. "What about your day? Did you get a chance to stop by the library?"

Pulling the deep frying pan off the fire, Blair turned to face his roommate. "Yeah, I stopped by. Alice Gordon had just finished printing up the list of missing books from the research archives. The list is in my coat pocket." He went about finishing the meal, dishing the lightly curried ginger chicken and sauce over a bed of orange rice on two plates, which he then carried over to the table.

Rifling through the coat, Jim found the list that his partner had picked up. Scanning it he noticed one very familiar title. "Shit!"

Blair snorted. "That was my reaction too. I can't think of any reason why a thief would want Burton's monographs and field notes, unless he has a buyer lined up already and they want anything rare." He sat down at the table and waited for Jim to seat himself before going on. "I did have one crazy thought on the way home, however."

Jim looked over the table at him. "You get those all the time, Chief. What was it this time?"

"Ha-ha, very funny!" Blair aimed his best 'don't-screw-with-me' look at his partner, and then continued. "What if someone out there got the idea that my "Sentinel" thesis wasn't just a work of fiction like I claimed it was?"

Jim had been eating, and enjoying the flavors of the dish that his roommate had prepared, but putting his fork down, realized that he had just lost his appetite. Across the table, he could hear Blair's heart rate pick up and knew it was from the fear that he might be right. Hell, he just might be. "Chief, what makes you think that?"

Realizing that he had lost his appetite, Blair gave up playing with his food and looked up at the detective. "Well, look at the list. Burton's monograph, his field notes from his Watcher's study in Africa -- both of which I had used, and credited, in my Master's paper. I mean, yeah, they're rare books, but both of them taken in the same robbery? The Watcher notes were filed way back in the stacks; a person would've had to have been searching for them to find them. Not a random chance thing, you see what I'm driving at?"

Jim finished off his beer, grimacing as he got up from the table to throw the bottle away. "Yeah, I see where you're going with this, and I don't like it. But the place was pretty well trashed, maybe the thieves found it while they were trashing the place and figured 'what the hell.' Maybe they even had instructions from this mythical buyer of theirs to grab anything with Burton's name on it."

Blair pushed his plate away and leaned his elbows on the table. "Okay, I'll go with that for a moment. But Jim, why Burton?"

Stopping at the refrigerator, he pulled out another beer for himself and silently asked Blair if he wanted one. The anthropologist nodded. Opening the bottles in the kitchen, he walked back over and handed one to him. "Chief, if I recall correctly, you once told me that after his death, Burton's wife burned a number of his notes and publications. Right?"

"Yeah."

He sat back down and pushed his own plate away from his place. "Okay, so there's only a few copies of any of Burton's works still around. That makes them rare and as such, very valuable to a collector."

"I can see that. But what if this collector was actually actively looking for confirmation of the existence of Sentinels?" Fear gripped Blair's heart. If that was the case, they'd already dealt with one such person, Bracket. The anthropologist knew that many people would look at a living Sentinel as something to fear. Or worse, study like a lab rat -- something to be dissected.

Jim knew the fear that was causing Blair's heart to race again, it was one of his own. Especially after the Zeller incident that had placed both Captain Simon Banks and Inspector Megan Connor in the hospital. He sighed. "Look, Blair, let's not go looking for trouble."

"Just let it find us? Man, I just hate that thought." Blair grabbed up his plate and went back into the kitchen. He pulled out a couple of Tupperware dishes and started to put his leftovers into one, saving the other for Jim, just in case the other man decided he needed it.

"I don't like it either, but it seems to happen a lot to us." Jim took his own plate out to the kitchen, where Blair took it and put the leftovers into another dish. "Thanks. Let's just treat this as what it appears to be. A simple robbery of rare books... "

"... Which probably can't be replaced, let alone traced."

"There is that." Jim reached out and clasped Blair on the shoulder. "I'm just saying let's not worry about it until, and if, we get to that bridge. Got it?"

Blair smiled as he pulled his hair back from his face. "Got it. This stuff will probably be better for sitting in the 'fridge over night anyway. Your turn to clean the kitchen, right?"

"You cooked, I clean." Jim reached around to a drawer and pulled out his favorite apron, the one that Blair laughed at. "What was that anyway?"

"You liked it?"

"Yeah. It was, different, but good."

"Curry-ginger Chicken. Picked up the recipe from a friend of mine who's into Polynesian studies." Blair walked back out to the dining table and cleared off the last of the dishes, dropping them into the sink, then returned to set up his laptop and drag out his books. "Aamike warned me to go light on the curry since I told her you couldn't handle things that were too hot. The orange rice was something I thought to add in."

"Well, if you ever decide to give up your studies and your police work for something else, you could become a cook." Jim started to run the hot water for dishwater.

"Like that's ever gonna happen," Blair muttered under his breath.

Jim smiled. "I heard that, Chief," he called over his shoulder.

"No? Really!? Man, I never would've guessed!" He ducked the dishtowel that came flying out of the kitchen.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Late evening, 9 January

 

Caragh looked in the refrigerator, searching for something to whip up for dinner. Something that would keep until Sean made it home. Opening the door seemed to be a mystical way of calling the cats' attention. The two of them came racing before she had made up her mind. The white one made her presence known by rubbing against Caragh's black trousers while the black and white tom just stood in the door, daring to be shut up inside. "Guineth, Aidan, behave yourselves. I'll feed you in a second." Making up her mind, she pulled out the large container holding the winter vegetable stew she'd made two nights ago. She then proceeded to feed the two cats before setting everything up to feed her and Sean.

"There you go." She put the food dish down in their spot. "See? I got it right tonight. Feed cats first, then I can go about feeding myself and my mate." She was rewarded with sound of two very loud purrs. "Whatever."

The stew reheated nicely, and, after adding a bit more rosemary to the mix, Caragh sat down to eat while mulling over the events of the day. That was a mistake, thinking about the crime scene, seeing her mentor on the floor of his study... That does it! Might as well chuck the rest of this in the trash, I'm never gonna be able to eat it now. She did just that and went about making a fresh pot of chamomile tea.


Sean finished his notes on the Wilkins case and started to clean off his desk. Detective Joe Kelley walked in the room just as he was finishing up.

"Hey, Sean, heard you caught a bad one today?"

"Yeah, Joe. One of the worse I've ever seen."

Joe Kelley had been on the force about six years, came on about a year behind Sean, and while it wasn't uncommon to have a murder in Galloway County, they were mostly domestic situations gone bad. "I didn't hear, who's the victim?"

"Art Wilkins. Looks like he may have interrupted a burglary in progress." Sean got sick thinking of what the intruders had done to the older man.

"Wilkins? Wasn't he your wife's mentor or something? Mike taking this okay?"

He watched as Joe took a seat at his own desk. "Yeah, Mike's taking it okay. She was one of the first to see the crime scene."

"Took the photos again?" Joe had to admire Caragh McConnel, even with what he knew had to be a heavy workload at the college; she made time to help out the local law enforcement departments. Good thing too, she took excellent photographs, sometimes catching on film what was missed during the initial sweep of a scene.

"As always. Look, Joe, I've got to get these NCIC entry forms down to Toni and then I have to get home. You know how Mike can be."

Joe waved him off. "Yeah, but only because we went to school together. Go on. Looks like I'll have a slow night to catch up on my case load."

Sean put his jacket on, picked up his files and headed out the door, then stopped. "Joe? How's that drug case of yours working out? Any leads?"

"A few. But not enough. I'll let you know the minute I get a break."

"Thanks. See you in the morning?"

"I'll be here. Can't miss those weekly bull sessions with the Sheriff."


Sean left the office, dropping by dispatch on his way out to his Suburban to hand off the entry forms. He then headed home, where he was greeted by the smells of reheated stew and the sight of his wife pouring over her notes for her classes. "Mike? Anything wrong?" He had noticed her pale coloring.

"Hi, Sean. No. Nothing's wrong. I just got a little ill earlier." Seeing the concern flare in his eyes, she reassured him. "Don't worry. I made myself sick thinking about what had happened to the Emeritus." She watched as he divested himself of his heavy uniform jacket and continued, "By the way, Craig dropped off Alyssa about an hour ago. She's over at Moiré's place getting settled in."

"That's good. Moiré didn't mind?"

"Not a bit."

"And Craig?" He stripped out of his jacket.

"You must have passed him on the road. He just left. He's not handling the situation very well." Caragh got up from the table she'd been sitting at and dished up a large bowl of the stew for her husband.

Sean nodded. "I'll talk with Lee in the morning, maybe we can get a post-traumatic psychologist to come in and talk with everyone about the call." He took his seat at the table.

"Good idea." She placed the bowl down in front of him. "Maybe you could suggest to Lee that Dean Meltons could be called in? He's really good at dealing with stressed out patients, even if he doesn't practice actively anymore."

"I'll suggest it."

"Great."

Sean looked up at his wife. "Still trying to score 'brownie' points with the man?"

Caragh turned away reaching for the mug she'd abandoned earlier. "Always."

Something in her tone caught his ear. Not even thinking about it, he focused in on her heart. It was beating way too fast. "Caragh? Mike? What's wrong?"

She refilled her tea, turned back to him and smiled. "Never could hide anything from you, could I?"

"Not since you taught me how to control these senses of mine." He pushed his bowl away and took a sip of the tea that she had pour for him. "Now, what's up?"

"I've been thinking."

"That's dangerous."

"Oh, hush!" She sat back down at the table next to him. "I was thinking about that book that you and Craig found."

Sean leaned back in the chair. "I should've known. Mike, it's been bugging me too. But I don't know why."

"Really? I thought that would've been rather obvious to a detective such as yourself."

"Funny. Now, tell me. Why have you been thinking about it?"

Caragh leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands over her mouth as if she were afraid to actually say anything out loud. "The title's got me worried. Coupled with what Alyssa said about her great-grandfather. What if he really had been researching Guardians and Protectors? What if he named names? What if that book got into the hands of the wrong people? What if that was the real reason behind the robbery and Art's death was just 'one of those things'?"

"I put it in the heavy lock up evidence room. Only I have the key at the moment. It's safe now."

"I know that. But, Sean, the Clan has been Guardians for way too many years for me to just let this go. WE are the Guardians of the Protectors, it's our duty to keep the secret of the Protector's existence -- your existence."

Sean sat forward in his seat, reaching up to take a hand away from her face. "I know that. I wasn't comfortable with the idea at first, but I know now that these past seven years have been rough on you."

Caragh shook her head. "True, it's not been easy. But, Sean, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. You know that." She squeezed his hand, to show her depth of commitment.

"Yeah." He squeezed back, and then let go to take another sip of tea. "So, tell me. What would make you rest a little easier about that book? As if I couldn't guess."

"Bring it home? Let me read it? Just so I can see what 'Blackie' Wilkins was up to?"

"That's not normal procedure, Mike. You know that. It would break the chain of evidence."

Biting her lip, she plunged on, "But I really can't let that book become evidence, and neither can you."

Sean nearly slammed his tea mug back down on the table. "You're asking me to break the chain, aren't you?"

She looked over at him, her green eyes chilling with their intensity. "If you don't, I will. Damn it, Sean! I've got to do this! My duty as a Guardian demands that I do everything in my power to keep you, the Protector, safe!"

"And that duty is enough to make you break the law? To risk your commission?" He was furious with her.

Her returning tone was deadly. "Yes."

"Why?!?"

"You know why! I know Moiré would understand. So would Angus and Lee for that matter." She stood up from the table, making eye contact with him again, not afraid of the anger she saw flashing there. "So, you going to help me with this? Or am I on my own?"

His anger faded. "I'll probably regret this... "

She smiled, the heat of her own anger fading. "No. You won't. Trust me?"

He walked over to her, not remembering that he had stood up during his tirade. He pulled her into an embrace. "I always trust you, Mike. I'll bring it home tomorrow."

Caragh returned the embrace. "Thank you."

"I just hope that this is all worth it."

Part 2

 

 

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