Secrets, Books and Murder
Suisan "Sue" R.
Early Evening, 25 January
Jim pulled his pickup into an open parking space in front of Hargrove Hall at Rainier University, and winced as Sean McConnel pulled in right beside him with a squeal of tires on wheel wells. Not pausing to wait for the Protector and his wife, he flew up the steps into the building.
Caragh grimaced when Sean slammed his door shut, her head reminding her that she had a concussion, but concern for her friend took over and she ran, following her husband and Jim Ellison into the old building she had once attended many classes in. Entering the main doors, she realized that she had lost track of her Protector, and therefore the Sentinel as well. Cursing under her breath in Gaelic, Caragh dredged up memories of the structure and prayed that nothing had changed much over the years. A soft voice from behind made her pivot in an about face.
Spotting the owner of the voice, she smiled. "Thea Devon!" Two steps later she was embracing the older woman. "You haven't changed a bit!"
Thea hugged the young woman to her, and then pushed her back, holding her by the shoulders. "And you still exaggerate, Caragh. What are you doing here? I thought I'd never see you again."
The smile slipped from her face as she answered. "I'm looking for Blayre."
"You too? His roommate and another man just blew past me heading to his office." Thea let go and gestured to the old friend of Blair Sandburg. "Come on, I'll show you where his office is. But he's not here right now."
"I know. He's missing, Thea," Caragh answered carefully as she followed the Department's secretary down a flight of steps into the basement.
Shaking her head, the older woman sighed. "I was afraid of that. I hope his visitors from earlier didn't have anything to do with that."
"Thea, I was with Jim when Captain Banks called you. My husband and I are working with Cascade PD on a string of robberies, Blair's disappearance might be connected." Reaching out, she pulled the woman to a gentle stop. "Tell me about these 'visitors,' who were they? Do you know?"
Thea couldn't repress the shudder that passed over her body, recalling the couple that had come calling on one of her favorite staff members. "Man and a woman. Mr. Lyle, I think is what I read on his business card. From some company called The Centre. He was okay, but the 'lady' with him gave me the willies. I offered to run interference for Blair, to make excuses for him to them, but he wanted to see them."
"Did he say why?"
"No." Thea closed her eyes, trying to remember... "I'm not sure, but I seem to recall that Blair had received several letters from this company. Recruitment letters, I think." Opening her eyes, she looked directly into the startling green orbs of a pissed off Caragh Michaels.
"Damn." Breaking eye contact with Thea, Caragh moved around the woman and stepped into the office that she now knew her husband was in.
Not thinking, Thea followed the former student, and found herself looking at a scene that nearly broke her heart. James Ellison, best friend and police partner of Blair Sandburg, stood behind his partner's desk, a look of devastation on his face. "Detective?" Her soft question echoed into the room, causing the other man with Jim to look at her.
"Thea? I'd like you to meet my husband, Sean McConnel." Caragh's voice broke the silence that had fallen on the group.
"He looks just like you, Jim."
Jim allowed a small smile to cross his lips, "So I've noticed. Thea, any chance you might know where Blair was going to when he left this afternoon?"
She shrugged, "As far as I knew, he was heading over to the station to join you."
"He never made it." Without pausing to think about it, Jim started using his senses to case the office of his Guide. This latest office, the third one since he and the anthropology student had hooked up, was familiar to him. Every little knickknack, artifact and book had its place in the jumble that Blair jokingly referred to as his filing system. Scents the Sentinel often connected to his friend lingered in the air, all deeply impressed in his memory. Except one. It was new, yet not new. And it was strong.
Realizing that Jim was using his hyper-senses to gather a clue as to where his Guide had gone, Sean stepped forward to distract the older woman from what the Sentinel was doing. "Thea? Can you show me where visitors, like the ones Blair had, would have to sign in? They do have to sign in, don't they?" He followed the woman out of the office and up to the main hall.
Caragh stepped forward and reached out to Jim as soon as she was sure Thea couldn't overhear her. Still, being cautious, she kicked the door shut behind her; knowing Sean could track the conversation if he so choose. "Jim?"
Wrinkling his nose and sharply shaking his head, he focused on the young woman whose hand was on his arm. "Damn. Same smell."
"Your plane and the hotel room. I just can't place it."
"Oh, shit." Caragh's mind was working furiously as she watched Jim start going though the paperwork left on Blair's desk, searching for anything that might tell him where his Guide had gone. She started pacing, accidentally kicking over a trashcan in the small confines of the office. The can had been filled to near overflowing; the papers, cups and a few other things scattered all over the floor. Kneeling down to clean up the mess, she found the business card.
Blue Cove, DE
Jim reached out and slipped the business card from her nerveless fingers. Looking over the card, he brought it up to his nose, and nearly threw it away from him as the odor threatened to overpower his sense of smell. "Whoa! What is that smell?"
Nodding, he pulled an evidence bag from his jacket pocket and placed the business card inside. "Only stronger. What ever it is, it's a part of who ever handled this card."
Piling the rest of the trash back into the can, Caragh stood back up and wished, again, she had a clue as to what Jim's sense of smell was picking up. "Maybe Sean can tell when he gets back."
"Maybe." Jim tried to squelch the feeling of dread that was threatening to overcome him. This wasn't the first time that Blair had been taken from him, probably wouldn't be the last, but every time it happened the Sentinel knew there was a chance each time would be the one when the legendary Sandburg luck would run out and when his Guide, his friend, wouldn't make it back to his side.
Sean followed Thea to her desk and glanced over the register that Sandburg's visitors had signed. At least one of them had. The handwriting was bold, sure and heavy handed -- but uneven. Looking up from the book he asked, "Thea, was this 'Mr. Lyle' injured? Hand or arm in a cast or something?"
Thea blinked, startled. "No cast, but he was missing his thumb. I only noticed because he held the pen in a odd grip."
"Why, yes. Yes, I believe it was." Shaking her head in amazement she looked up into the dark green eyes. "How did you know?"
This was a situation that Sean was used to handling when he let slip some of his 'Protector' skills. Smiling, he shrugged. "Fellas back home just started calling me 'Sherlock,' sound about right to you?"
"Well, either you're a lot like that fictional detective, or you're really psychic." Thea smiled as she answered, her voice thick with sarcasm and her normal dry wit humor.
Sean smiled back and with a slight nod of thanks, made his way back to the office where he could hear Caragh and Jim talking about a smell only the sentinel could pick up. Stepping into the room, he held out his hand only to have Jim place a clear plastic evidence bag into it without his asking for it out loud. "Keep that up, Jim, and I'm going to have to rethink the answer I just gave Thea."
"Yep." Lifting the bag close to his nose, but not opening it, Sean tried to filter past the plastic and to detect whatever it was that had been bothering Jim. The exercise was a simple one, one he and Caragh had practiced on many times back home. One that didn't always work, but more often than not, did. Catching a whiff of the odor, he winced and pulled the bag away, trying to distance himself from it.
Caragh moved in and softly touched her husband on the sleeve, "Sean?"
"Just a second." He handed her the bag and pinched his nose, trying to rid his olfactory receptors of the chemical/animal tang which had invaded them. "Man, that's some potent shit."
"Do you recognize it?" Caragh asked quietly as Jim watched Sean in sympathy, knowing that like him, the Protector would have a devil of a time clearing the smell from his mind.
Sean finally opened his eyes and glanced down at his wife, "Dr. Fusiaki."
"What?!" Caragh reeled backwards in shock. "No! No way!"
Realizing his mistake, Sean reached out and grabbed her by the upper arms, pulling her into a strong embrace. "That came out wrong, Mike. I'm not saying it is Fussy, but it reminds me of him." He shook his head at his own stupidity as he felt his Guardian relax under his arms. Looking over her head at Jim, he explained. "Dr. Fusiaki takes several trips back to Japan during the course of a year. When he comes back from those trips, he often reeks of that odor."
Jim was now, if possible, more confused. "And Fusiaki is?"
Caragh pulled herself out of her husband's embrace to face Jim and answer his question. "My family's doctor. He knows a little bit about Sean, but not the whole story. One of the reasons he decided to settle in Willow Springs is because we have a high number of residents who have one or more heightened senses."
"Really? Just how high is high, Mike?"
"About twenty-five percent of the 'native' population."
Jim nodded, wondering what other surprises the couple from Arkansas had hiding in their closets. "So, tell me, Sean. What causes the odor? You do know what it is, don't you?"
Sean smiled. "Oh, yeah. Fussy has this little 'craving' that he takes care of on those trips to Japan." Seeing the confusion in his fellow detective's eyes, he continued. "Pufferfish. He eats it almost every day he's in Japan. Toxic. Lethal as hell if not prepared by a certified chef, you actually have to be licensed to even handle the raw fish in Japan."
"Sushi? You're telling me the person or persons behind the incidents at the Airport, the hotel and now, maybe Blair's disappearance have a thing for sushi?" Jim couldn't believe his ears or his eyes when Sean merely nodded in answer. "Great. All I have to do then is stake out the 12 or so Japanese restaurants in Cascade and hope like hell I can sniff out which one of the patrons it is that is behind all this!"
One hand on Sean, Caragh reached out and made contact with Jim. "No. That's not the answer, Sentinel." She would've continued, as she now had the irate man's attention, but someone's cell phone chose that moment to ring, breaking the moment. All three of them reached into coat and jacket pockets and checked.
"Ellison!" Jim barked into his phone, the offender, and listened as his caller gave him information. "No! Don't let anyone touch a damn thing, I'll be there as soon as I can. Clear? Good!" Snapping the cell phone shut, he returned his attention to the McConnels. "That was dispatch, one of the patrol units found Blair's car."
Sean nodded and made for the door. "Then let's go. We're not going to get any where else here." He was forced to step aside as Jim brushed past him, in an obvious hurry to leave, forcing him and Caragh to practically run to keep up.
Streets of Cascade
Mid-Evening, 25 January
Blair paused only long enough to make sure he'd not killed the man he'd just been force to knock out with a length of pipe. This was the third one in the past hour that had come after him. The idea of using the back alleyways had worked for the first hour or so, but then the goons must've figured out what he was doing and had started to show up in alleys he was using to try to make it back home. Rising to his feet, he tossed the pipe and started jogging back the way he'd come from before this latest muscle bound freak had cornered him.
"Backtrack. Circle around and come up behind them." Spotting a fire escape, another thought flashed through his mind. "Or go over them... " Not stopping to think about his problems with heights, he climbed the ladder and continued on his way to the loft, sticking to rooftops as much as possible, only going to ground when he had to; which in this part of town, wasn't as often as one might think.
Lyle snapped the phone shut and threw the device back into the back seat of the car that he and Bridgett were riding in. "Damn."
"What is it, Luv?"
"That was Kenny. He just found David, unconscious, just like Tom and Robert."
"Since when does it take an entire sweeper team to locate and contain one college student?"
Lyle's eyes narrowed into hard slits as he glared at her. "I don't know. Maybe you need to go back to teaching them, Bridgett."
"No, we just need to make sure that they're getting the right training." Sinking back into the seat next to him, Bridgett finally gave voice to a thought, which had been plaguing her for a while. "Does this Sandburg remind you of anyone, Lyle?"
"A little too much, but don't remind me." Looking out of the car's windows he studied the passing city landscape. They'd been hunting the elusive Anthropologist for over two hours now, and they had their orders. One more hour. After that, forget it. The Centre can make other plans to acquire Sandburg at a later date.
Caragh stood back from the possible crime scene, not wanting to get into anyone's way, watching as Jim and Sean worked the scene like bloodhounds, switching off duties as 'sentinel' and 'guide' seamlessly; as if they'd been doing this sort of work together for years, instead of just hours. The part of her, which was pure Anthropologist, watched the two men and noted their teamwork as cops. The part of her, which was the Guardian, marveled at their cooperation, surprised that there wasn't more friction between the two 'sentinels', a vying for domination over the other. The largest part of her was just hopeful they'd find something that would lead them to her friend.
So immersed in her thoughts was she, that she nearly jumped out of her skin when her cell phone rang. Smiling ruefully as the nearly identical faces turned in her direction, she answered, wondering if it was Steaphanie or Coran calling. "Hello?"
"Mike, it's me."
"He's here. Meet us in one hour. Alone."
Caragh looked at the phone in her hand in disgust as her brother disconnected. "Son of a bitch." Looking back towards the car, she saw both Sean and Jim approaching her. "That was Alex. His 'boss' is here and wants to meet in one hour... "
"Alone. I don't like this, Mike." Sean found himself looking not to Caragh for support, but Jim, hoping the man would back him in this case.
"I have to agree with Sean. We're still not sure who has Blair, this could simply be a ploy to grab you as well."
"I don't see where we have much of a choice in the matter, guys." Caragh studied the two men before her, trying to gauge their reactions. "Look, even if Alex and his boss are behind Blayre's disappearance, wouldn't it be better if I met with them like they ask?" Seeing the skepticism in their eyes, she darted ahead with her half thought out plan. "That way the two of you could track me and the conversation, and if something goes wrong... "
"We can follow them to where Sandburg is." Jim didn't like the idea of using a civilian, let alone this one, as bait; but had to admit she had a point. Sensing the tension radiating from Caragh's husband, he reached out to anchor the seething man. "Sean, I don't like it any better than you. But it may be our only shot at finding Blair."
Gray green eyes, snapping with fire, went from one to the other, Jim, then Caragh, neither of which flinched under his glare. "Fine! But you'll wear your damn vest and I don't want to hear you argue about not carrying your sidearm." In his anger, he'd actually thrown his finger in his wife's face, lecturing her.
Grabbing the flying hand under her nose, Caragh smiled as she dropped a kiss into his hand. "I was planning on it anyway." Looking over at Jim, who had turned away, she asked, "Jim? Should we notify Captain Banks of our plan?"
Jim, who'd been a little embarrassed by the public display of affection between the Guardian and her Protector, returned his attention to them. "Yeah, he'll be here in a few minutes." He tugged at his ear so that the two of them understood he had heard his Captain's approach, and then looked back over his shoulder just as an unmarked police vehicle pulled off the road into the alley behind them.
When he was brought up to speed on the current situation, Simon had to agree with Sean McConnel. He didn't like the idea of using Caragh as bait either, but had reluctantly agreed that it looked like their best shot of discovering the whereabouts of Sandburg. Knowing they wouldn't have time for Technical Support to set Dr. McConnel up with any kind of wire or tracking device, they'd have to rely heavily on the skills of the two sentinels. At least he'd had some time to gather a small team together that could move on a moment's notice and placed a call to Joel Taggart to get them into place as quickly as possible. The team would stake out the area around the old Cascade Times warehouse and be ready to move in if the situation turned ugly.
A fast side trip to the home of Ellison and Sandburg, so Caragh could change clothes and grab her vest, had proved disappointing as well. Jim had halfway been expecting to either find Blair at home, or maybe a message on the answering machine. Nothing. Jim pushed aside his fear, throwing himself into what Blair often called his 'full cop' mode and patiently followed Caragh back down to the cars where Sean waited for them. Climbing into his truck with Sean, Jim watched as Caragh pulled out of the lot and headed for the meeting place.
It didn't take a genius or his 'protector' skills for Sean to sense what was eating at Jim. He was pretty sure it was the same thing that was bothering him as well. "Jim," he started softly, "We'll find him."
"We'd better." The growled response was the last words spoken in the cab of the old pickup, until Jim pulled to the curbside about two blocks away from the meeting place. Turning to Sean, he asked. "You sure you want to work it this way?"
"Yes. You know these streets, I don't. If Mike's brother pulls the stunt I'm halfway expecting, they'll have her change locations a few times before the actual meeting." Sean settled himself into a more comfortable position on the bench seat, extending his vision to find Caragh's rented Suburban in the gathering darkness, and his hearing to track her voice and her heart.
Caragh pulled the Suburban to a halt, just outside the old warehouse, knowing she'd managed to arrive a few minutes early. Needing to test the hastily constructed plans, she looked in the rearview mirror and, as calmly as she could, spoke out loud to her husband. "Sean, I'm here. I can barely see where you parked, if you can hear me, ask Jim to flash his headlights or something." Sighing in relief when she saw the parking lights flare, then die behind her, she tried to relax. "You know, this cloak and dagger crap is all well and good for a Hollywood movie, but in reality it sucks."
Trying to get her vest settled, she hated the damn thing; it was heavy and even on a cold January evening, she found herself starting to sweat. But then again, not knowing what might happen, she felt better wearing it. Right at seven o'clock, her cell phone trilled, once again causing her to jump.
"Mike. Take the next left and follow that road to the docks." Click.
Starting the rental back up, she pulled away from the building. "I sure hope you heard that, Sean. But just in case, I've been instructed to drive to the docks." Just as she turned, she glanced down the road and saw the parking lights flare on Jim's truck, and then it disappeared from view as she completed the turn. Reaching out through the connection that she had with her husband, she felt a tug and knew he and Jim would follow as best they could without letting anyone spot them doing so.
The phone trilled at her once she got within sight of the docks. "Now what?" She answered, just as a car dropped into position behind her from off of one of the many side streets in the area.
"Pull over." The male voice didn't belong to Alex, but she did what she was told anyway, and kept the connection open since the caller hadn't hung up himself. The car that had gotten behind her, also pulled over when she did, and the voice on the phone called out to her again.
"Get out and walk back towards us." The car behind hers flashed its headlights, then flared them to high beam and left them there.
Climbing out of the truck, Caragh tried to shield her eyes from the brightness, which was making her headache worse. As she disconnected from her caller, she noticed two men get out of the car behind her and walk around to where they stood in front of the overly bright lights.
"That's far enough, Dr. McConnel." The lights on the car shut down, blinding her again in the sudden darkness.
Fighting back tears, trying to get her eyes to readjust and keeping her voice as calm as possible, she ventured a guess. "You must be Alex's boss." Her vision clearing, she could just make out the features of an older man who was smoking a cigarette and the face of her brother standing behind him.
"Krycek told me you were quick." Pulling on the cigarette, the craggy face smiled. "I apologize for the run around, but I wanted to make sure that you weren't followed. Surely you understand."
"Alex said alone. And while it wasn't easy to lose the cops the local PD placed on me, I did." Dividing her attention, she kept her eyes on the two men standing before her and reached out mentally to try to figure out how close Sean, and therefore Jim, were.
"You've been well trained. I like that." He dropped the butt of the cigarette he'd been smoking and crushed it under his shoe. "I understand that you, along with your husband as well as Detectives Ellison and Dr. Sandburg, have been investigating the thefts of certain, shall we say, rare books?" Pulling out another cigarette from his shirt pocket, the man lit it and began smoking again.
Seeing the face of the man in the flare of the lighter, Caragh smiled tightly. "You keep that up and you'll be dead inside of two years."
"This?" He held up the lit tube of tobacco and shrugged. "I've been dead for years, longer than you've been alive actually. How I finally go is of no concern to me."
The man's total disregard for his own health, his absolute fatalistic outlook on life, made her shiver. And antsy. "Look, whoever you are, Alex said you might have some information for me. About the thefts?"
"Cut to the point, I like that." He looked over his shoulder at his young companion. "You never told me your sister was so direct, shame on you, Krycek." Seeing the young man squirm a little under his scrutiny, he returned his attention to the lady before him. "Very well. My group, the people that I work for, is not responsible for these thefts. We suspect another group. One that likes to 'experiment' on people, often separating young children from their families to conduct their tests on. Tests the children don't always survive."
The shiver that traveled down her spine was violent in its intensity. "That sounds a lot like a 'Black Ops' to me, mister."
He smiled. "It is. But it's not the government. You see, we've known about 'sentinels' since the nineteen forties. We know how hard it is to control them, so we leave them alone to develop naturally. Your friend, Sandburg, his paper was a brilliant piece of work, but he was right in claiming it a work of fiction. Detective Ellison is so much more effective when left alone."
Two blocks away, Jim had pulled to a stop and had, against his better instincts, ranged his own hearing out to track what was going on. At the words he just heard, he shuddered. The bastard knows! But who the hell is he? He tried to focus his sight, to get a look at the man that Caragh was speaking to, but pulled back when Sean reached out and made him lose the focus. Turning to face the other man, Jim nodded his acceptance of the secondary role and concentrated on just listening to the conversation while trying to keep Sean from zoning out, as it was his job to gather as much info on the meeting as possible.
Caragh tried to keep her anger, her rage, from building to a fevered pitch. She wasn't even sure it was all hers anyway. If her head wasn't still pounding from the concussion, she was sure that if she followed the bond cord that stretched between her and Sean, she'd find that he, too, was angry. Clamping down on the rising emotions, she dragged herself back into the conversation. "Look, so far all you've done is tried to throw me with your hints and allegations, and haven't told me a damn thing. Who is this 'other' group and why would they be interested in obscure literature?"
Alex smiled at his sister, he'd told the smoking bastard that she wouldn't cave easily to veiled threats, and she was proving him right so far. She hadn't even rose to the bait of exposing Ellison and Sandburg.
"The 'other' group is a government sanctioned think tank, based out of Delaware. Reportedly, they began to dig into the 'sentinel' myths right after that unfortunate incident with Dr. Sandburg's so -called doctoral thesis." He paused to take another drag on his cigarette, "From what I've been able to gather, this group recently had a great deal of success with cloning a human based on one of their older projects." He had the satisfaction of watching the young woman waver for the first time as the implications of the information hit her.
"Oh, my gods!"
"Exactly. However, the new project escaped. But if my sources are correct, they managed to reacquire their original pet project, and have turned their sights to new ones. Sentinels, Protectors and their companions." He dropped the cigarette and walked closer to her. In the pale light from the moon, which had broken through the light cloud cover, he had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen as he approached.
"The other book that this group has been collecting, the Wilkins book, it would expose your family, wouldn't it?"