Secrets, Books and Murder

Part 3

Suisan R.

 

Cascade, WA

Late morning, 19 January

 

Blair rushed into the Major Crimes bullpen, nearly running over detectives Rafe and Brown who where walking out as he ran in.

"Hey, Hairboy! What's the rush?" Brown inquired as he reached out to help Sandburg who had lost his balance after he'd collided solidly with Rafe.

"Sorry, Rafe. H. I'm late, as usual, is Jim around?"

Rafe looked at Sandburg. "I think he went down to Evidence, should be back soon. Why don't the two of you join us for lunch over at Antoni's Deli if you get a chance?"

"Sounds good, but I make no promises." Blair walked away from the two of them and over to Jim's desk, dropping his backpack down beside it and taking a seat. Glancing over his friend's desk, he noticed a pad of paper with doodles and words written on it next to the phone. Curious, he pulled it over to him to check it out. The doodles were harmless enough, just didn't know Jim knew how to do Celtic knot work. These are pretty good, almost as good as Mike's. It was the words that sparked his attention, however. Sean. Willow Springs. Murder. Theft. Books. Burton.

"Hey, Chief," Jim announced, causing his friend to jump.

"Man! Don't do that!"

"Do what?"

"Sneak up on me like that!" Blair ran his hands through his hair. "You could scare someone to death doing that." He decided to put his hair back into his 'official' ponytail and dug into his pocket for a band.

"Sorry." Jim sat down at the desk, the files from the theft cases in his hand. He laid them out on the desk. "I didn't think you'd have time to get down here today. How long can you stay?"

He shrugged. "All day. I just finished proctoring my last test. All that's left is the grading. You want some help with those?" Blair pointed at the files.

"Yeah, here." Jim pushed one of the files, the Rainier one, over to his partner. "You're idea about putting the info out on the NCIC net seems to have worked."

"New lead?" Blair opened up the file, put on his reading glasses and starting to flip through the papers and photos inside.

"Maybe. Look through the lists and see what you can find to match this one." Jim reached over to his printer, pulled off the paper hanging there and handed it to his partner.

"Okay." Blair looked at the new list and gasped. "Jim, where did you get this list?"

Jim didn't do it on purpose, but he could hear his friend's heart racing a mile a minute. He answered the question as calmly as he could. "I had a call this morning from a detective in Arkansas. They had a burglary/murder that had matched some of the criteria that I outlined in my information packet. We talked and as he ran down the list, I typed it up." He now noticed that the heart rate was returning to normal. "Why, Chief? What's up?"

Blair didn't say anything, just reached down into his backpack and pulled out a couple sheets of paper and handed it over to Jim. "I had a call from an old class mate of mine and she was asking about Burton's works. She gave me that list." He watched as the surprised look crossed Jim's face. "Where in Arkansas did your detective friend call from?"

"Willow Springs. Where does your lady friend live?"

"Same place. Mike teaches at a private college there."

"Mike? I thought you implied it was a girl?"

Blair smiled. "She is. Her name's Caragh Michaels, only she's got married years ago and I can't recall her new name right now. Anyway, Mike is a nickname she's had since she was in High School, almost no one ever called her 'Kara'."

"Let me guess, she was a tomboy or something?" Jim was shaking his head, wondering, not for the first time, just what kinds of friends Blair had when he first came to Rainier.

"Oh yeah. Even worked on her own truck when it would break down, never let a mechanic touch her 'baby'." Blair was smiling at the memories of his and Caragh's times together on campus. "She was about two years ahead of me in school, hung out with a real different bunch of students. Mike was even into sports like archery, fencing and saber work."

"Sabers? Was she on the team?" Jim's curiosity was piqued; he had once worked with the saber team while in the Army.

"Nope. Just trained. Claimed she didn't have enough time to compete and study, but if she had she'd probably have been the school champion."

Jim started to chuckle, trying to imagine his friend hanging around with a woman that had such interesting hobbies. "So, what was her major? Phys. Ed.?"

"Nope. Anthropology." Blair looked over at the notepad and noticed once again the name written on it. "Jim? This name here, is that the name of your detective contact?"

"Sean?" He looked back at the scratchpad to see where Blair was pointing. "Yeah. Sean McConnel."

"That's it!"

"What?"

"Caragh's, Mike's, married name. McConnel. And I recall her saying something about her husband being a deputy."

Jim caught on to Blair's train of thought. "You thinking that she's trying to help him out?"

"Probably. Mike's like that. Hell, she was the one who loaned me the money to buy the Burton book. Then she refused to let me pay her back, saying I should consider the loan a gift."

The detective looked back over the list that Blair had handed him, catching a name towards the bottom that was familiar. "Chief, look at this. This name you have here? I know I've seen it before on one of these lists."

Blair leaned over and saw what Jim was talking about. "Hmm, Wilkins. Yeah, that's here, look." He handed over the list from Rainier's library theft. "See it?"

"Yeah, 'Guardians & Protectors'." Jim pulled back his notes on the phone conversation he'd had with Sean McConnel. "Hmm, Wilkins is the last name of their murder victim in Arkansas. Did your friend mention that book to you?"

"No. But she did admit to knowing the victim. He was her mentor when she went back to finish her schooling."

"Do you have her number? I'd like to talk with her about this. There maybe a connection between the cases after all." Jim made to pick up the phone, intent on contacting Sean McConnel again, but Rhonda interrupted him.

"Jim? These faxes came in for you." She handed over several sheets of papers, papers that were covered with lists of recently stolen books, responses to his NCIC inquiry. All thought of calling back to Arkansas went by the way side as Jim and Blair, then later Rafe and Brown started going through the lists looking for similarities and finding a bunch. The one constant, recurring and connecting theme in all the thefts was the books authors: Burton and Wilkins.

 

Willow Springs, AR

Early Morning, 20 January

 

Caragh was sitting at the Dispatch Center's bank of radios, reading, when Sean came in looking for her.

"Hey, Mike. Everything nice and qui--"

"Say it and you're dead meat, Sean. You know we don't say the 'Q' word anywhere around the Center." She looked up, glaring a little while managing a smile at the same time. She then glanced at the clock on her CAD terminal. "Sean? What are you doing up? It's almost four in the morning."

He watched as she closed the book and he sat down in a chair beside her. "Couldn't get back to sleep after Doris came in and woke you up for your shift." He lifted the book from her hands gently. "So, how goes the reading?" He carefully started flipping through the book's pages as he waited for her answer.

"I finished it about an hour ago." Caragh shifted in her chair, her discomfort showing.

Sean closed the book; it was the one that she'd requested from Evidence, the one which had been written by 'Blackie' Wilkins. The one that had both of them spooked. "Mike? What is it? What did you learn?"

She didn't answer him right away, but rather turned back to the bank of radios and started doing 'safety checks' on the few units that were out. Two minutes later, she stood up and stretched, hissing as back muscles protested. "Man, I'm just not used to sitting for so long anymore." She began walking around the Center, trying to loosen up. "Good news though, according to the road crews, the roads aren't bad at all. Mostly cleared by now. Guess the kids will have to go to school anyway. Except for the College. Too many power lines down. No electricity."

"Mike. You're avoiding the subject."

Caragh spun around to face him. "Yeah, I am."

"Why?"

She gestured at the book in his hands. "Why? I... oh, hell. Sean, have you had a chance to read it yet? Any of it?"

Sean smiled up at his wife. "When? You've been reading it or guarding it like a wolf guards their pups."

She grinned, lopsidedly. "I guess I have. Here." She reached over, took the book from him and flipped to a particular page, then handed it back to him. "Read."

She'd handed him the book, opened to a page near the back, and he proceeded to do as she instructed.

Since I have returned home, I have noticed the strange relationship that exists between a couple of our town folk. One is Diarmut Michaels, the other his best friend - Heith Crowe. After all my travels with Burton, I know a Watcher and his assistant when I see them. I just never dreamed that I'd see them here, in the United States. But that is what they are. I just never figured it out before. And Diarmut's son, young Shamus, looks like he'll be just like his father. I wonder, is it possible for a Watcher to be born to another? It would explain why the Afrikaan tribes seemed to have never had a time without a Watcher. Watcher, that isn't how I hear the local 'clan' refer to either Diarmut or Heith. The Clan calls them "Guardian & Protector." But which is which? Is it the Guardian who's the Watcher that I've come to know or is the Watcher actually the Protector? I should probably ask.

Sean looked up, his hands shaking. "Mike? Isn't Diarmut Michaels your --"

"Great grandfather? Yes. Shamus was my grandfather, married to Moira." She had stepped over to the coffee maker and poured two cups and now handed one to him.

He put the cup down on the desk. "She doesn't look old enough to be your grandmother, and you've always called her 'mom'."

Caragh sat down. "It's a long story that I'll tell you later, but for right now…  Yes, Moira is my biological grandmother, but after my parents died, she raised me as her own daughter."

"And Shamus? Was he like me?"

She looked him in the eyes. "Yes. Shamus was the last Protector of the Clan before you came. He passed away before I left to go to school at Rainier."

Sean sat back in the chair, grabbed up his coffee and sipped while he gathered his thoughts. "You worked with your grandfather, didn't you? Kinda like a early training exercise for you?"

"Yes. Moiré's idea. She was Shamus' Guardian, and somehow she knew I'd be one, when the time came. So, whenever possible, I'd work with Grandpa to get used to the idea of guiding someone on how to use their senses. She's also the one responsible for me taking on the mantle of Shaman."

"So, that crafty old woman who runs the Clan and the De Danu Corporation is really your grandmother?"

"Yeah. Wild ain't it?"

"Is she the one who hung that middle name on you?" Caragh just nodded. "Don't worry, I won't say it. I know that you don't much like it. But which one of your parents was her child?"

"My mother. Shelagh. Brian O'Shannessy was my father." She looked up, anticipating his next question. "Yes, they were married, but when Moiré and Shamus adopted me they gave me their name."

Sean took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The relationships among the group, known in these parts as the Clan, were complex at best. And he had the feeling they didn't have time to discuss the full genealogy right now. "Okay. Now that I got that straightened out, tell me why this book of Blackie's has you so upset. Don't deny it, Mike. You know that I can hear your heart beating, not to mention your breathing. You're scared."

"I taught you too well." She shook her head. "Blackie Wilkins wasn't an Anthropologist, Sean. If he had been, he'd have known never to mention actual names in his reports. But he did. And it wouldn't take a genius to backtrack the names then find out who the descendants of Diarmut Michaels and Heith Crowe are."

"And this goes back to the theft of all those books and your fear of being found out by the Government, doesn't it?" Sean asked.

Caragh drained off her now cold coffee and stood up, pacing again. "It's your fear too, Sean. Don't deny it. What do you think would've happened to you if the Marine Corps had found out about your 'Protector' abilities, and how to help you control them, while you were still in?"

He didn't like that thought. He knew what would've happened. He'd still be there, working as a covert operator, possibly even for that group that he hated so much. They never gave names, only assignments that were distasteful, illegal operations that went down inside the continental US. The ones that involved unmarked, darkened helicopters, at night out in the Arizona/New Mexico desert country. "You're right. I know, Mike. But it didn't happen that way."

"'There, but for the grace of God, go I.' Sean, I'm glad that our destinies came together, even if it was Uncle Thaddeus that had to practically force you to come here when you left the Corps."

"I'm glad he did. It was the best thing that ever happened to me." He looked at her, his eyes clouded with the memories of that time. He'd thought he was losing his mind, months of isolation on a remote post had allowed him to tap into skills he never knew he'd had. But his return to 'civilization' and Camp LaJuene had been worse. Then Sergeant-Major 'Gunny' Thaddeus Flint had found him, recognized his problem and insisted that he get out. Leave the Corps. And when Sean followed his advice to find the best fishing and hunting anywhere, he'd come to Willow Springs Arkansas.

"Sean? Okay, come on back now."

Her hand was on his shoulder, warm contact, and then there was her soft voice helping to pull him back from the edge. "Guess I 'zoned' again, eh Mike?" He looked around to see that she'd set up her laptop and plugged it into an unused phone line.

"That's okay. You weren't 'out' long. Gave me time to set this up in peace." She sat down and powered up her computer.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking my mail." She opened up the program and started going over the numerous posts that were in her electronic mail box. Most were from students who were letting her know that they'd gotten the message about school not being open, but one other caught her attention. She didn't recognize the address. Curious, she pulled it up. There wasn't a header to it, just the text:

Doctor McConnel,

I believe that you are in possession of a very rare book that I have an interest in. Can we talk price? I'll be in Willow Springs on the morning of the 25th. Please meet with me at your office on campus at noon. I know you have that time free.

CSGM@arkadiaego.org

She hit the save button, and loaded the message onto the 3.5 disc that she always kept handy, then called Sean's attention to the message.

He read the message. "Damn! How did anyone find out that you had the book?"

"Leak?" she suggested, concerned.

"Yeah, only explanation. Lee isn't going to like this." He stood up and turned to leave the room, only to turn back to her. "Lock the door behind me, Caragh. I have the strangest feeling that you just became a target. Don't open it for anyone other than, me, Lee, Doris or Charlie."

She followed him to the door. "Sean, do you really think that the leak came from here? One of our own?" The thought worried her more than scared her, but it managed to that as well.

"I don't know, Sweetie. But better to be safe than sorry." Giving his wife a quick kiss, he stepped out of the Center and waited as he heard her engage the lock. Then he took off to find the Sheriff. Lee Andrews wasn't going to be happy, being awakened by his Chief of Detectives to be informed of a possible leak.

 

Cascade, Washington

Mid-Morning, 21 January

 

Blair Sandburg had just completed his first morning classes of the year, after being on 'suspension' for nearly 12 months, and was back in his office at Rainier booting up his computer. He puttered around, moving a few things in the office as the ancient drive warmed up and loaded up the program he wanted. He'd given Caragh 'Mike' Michaels-McConnel his e-mail address at the University yesterday when they'd talked, asking for an updated list of the books that had been taken in the case her husband was working on. She gave him an incomplete list while they were talking about Burton and his friend Blackie Wilkins, but he wanted a more complete list.

The computer 'beeped' at him, letting him know it was ready. "About time!" He sat down and pulled up his mailbox. There were a few notes from fellow Teaching Fellows and Professors, welcoming him back into the fold, as well as the usual notes from students asking for assistance, and 'junk' mail galore. He happily deleted those, stopping when he came to a letter whose address he didn't know. He pulled it up.

Mr. Sandburg,

I believe you are in possession of a very rare copy of a monograph that I'm quite interested in obtaining. I'm willing to pay up to $5,000 for your book. I should be in Cascade sometime on the morning of the 26th. I'd like to meet with you to discuss this matter in person. Say, your office, at Four PM? I know you should have that time free, unless you're working with Ellison at that time? No matter, I'll gladly meet with you whenever you can get to your office. I look forward to doing business with you.

CSGM@arkadiaego.org

Not knowing whom this person was, he printed off a copy of the letter, intending to show it to Jim. Then it hit him. "Oh Shit!" Blair turned off his computer, grabbed his coat, stuffing his backpack full of books and papers, rang Thea to let her know he had to cut out and why, then ran out of the office and Hargrove Hall. He kept up the pace, as much as possible, as he drove his Volvo into downtown and to Police Headquarters.


When he pulled into the garage, Jim was waiting for him. He managed to park next to the detective's blue and white Ford pickup.

Jim Ellison had been aware that something was up with his friend, and had tried calling him at the University only to be told he'd just left. He then tried Blair's cell phone, only to get nothing but a recorded message saying the number he'd dialed was out of service. He'd just been about to head out to try to locate the young man, when the distinctive sound of his guide's Volvo caught his attention. He started to harangue his partner even before the other was out of the vehicle.

"Chief! How many times do I have to tell you? Keep that cell phone of yours on."

"Sorry about that, Jim. I didn't think. I've got something I have to show you!" Blair dug into his coat pocket and pulled out the copy of the e-mail that had unnerved him. "Here, read that!"

Jim grabbed the paper out of his friend's hand and read it. Then read it again. "Chief? Who is this person?"

"I don't know! But he, or she, sure knows a lot about me! My school schedule, which I just found out about this morning, and that I work with you! Gave me the willies. I couldn't think of anything else to do, except get here and give that to you." Blair pulled his backpack up further onto his shoulder, closing his coat against the cold air in the police garage.

Jim noticed the actions, and reaching out, pulled his partner along with him as he headed for the elevators that would take them back upstairs to the bullpen. "Come on, Chief. Let's go show this to Simon and see what he thinks."


Simon Banks read the letter that Jim had shown him, the one e-mailed to Sandburg, sighed and carefully removed his glasses. As he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off the building headache, he asked, "How did that information get out, gentlemen?"

Blair answered him. "Whoever retrieved the info, probably did it the same way we did, through the Burton Estate records."

"That was my thought also, sir." Jim watched as the Captain replaced his glasses back on his face.

Once again able to see clearly, he looked at both men seated on the couch across from his desk. "Could it have been a leak from that Arkansas department? What was that detective's name again, Jim?"

"McConnel. Sean McConnel. I guess that it's possible, but not probable. I never told him about Blair being an Owner."

"Mike might have," Blair spoke up. "But I really doubt it. I mean, she was instrumental in my obtaining the monograph in the first place."

"And 'Mike' is?" Simon inquired.

"Sorry. Caragh Michaels-McConnel. Mike to her friends. She's Detective McConnel's wife and an old friend of mine."

"Sandburg, how long has it been since you and 'Mike' were close? And can you say that you still know her well enough to vouch for her?" Simon glared at the Anthropologist/Detective.

Jim watched as his partner blushed, clear from his neck to his hairline. "It's been just over seven years, Captain. But yeah, I think I know her well enough to vouchsafe her." Blair's answer was calm. And his heart rate never wavered. He was telling the truth, as far as he knew.

"Simon, whoever it was that sent that note to Blair, knows an awful lot about him. His schedule at the U, his work here at the station, his partnership with me... "

"I noticed." Simon stood up, paced around the desk to his coffee maker and poured a large mug full of the potent brew. He used the time to organize his thoughts. " Okay. Here's the deal: Sandburg, use those computer skills of yours to see if you can trace that e-mail. Ellison, if you're not with him, make damn sure someone is. Brown, Rafe, Megan, Joel. Anyone."

Blair sank back into the couch. "Damn. Baby sitters. Again."

Jim reached over and gently cuffed his friend on the head. "Chief, relax. At least you know these sitters. Besides, the Captain's right. We need to take precautions." A light tapping on the door to the office interrupted him.

"Come in, Rhonda." Simon called out.

The secretary opened the door and just stuck her head in. "Sorry about the interruption, Captain. Ellison? You have a long distance call on line three, I didn't want to keep the man holding too long."

Jim stood up and moved towards the door. "Thanks, Rhonda. Come on, Chief. Let's get out of here so Simon can bring the rest of the troops up to speed on their latest assignment." He reached out and pulled the young man to his feet.

"Sandburg."

Blair turned to face the Captain. "Yes, sir?"

"No Houdini acts this time. I want you to really behave yourself." Simon told him.


Jim was still chuckling a little over Simon's remarks to Blair when he sat down at his desk and picked up the phone. "Ellison."

"Detective, Sean McConnel."

"What can I do for you today, McConnel?"

Sean cleared his throat. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we've had a situation develop here involving the Wilkins case."

Jim heard the other man's apprehension. Focusing in a little tighter, he could hear the man's racing heartbeat. "What kind of 'situation'?"

"A possible leak from within my department." Sean listened closely, trying to gauge the other man's reaction to this news. Nothing. Damn, either he's really good at self-control or he expected something like this!

Jim sat back, reaching out in a relaxed gesture to touch his Guide, needing the anchor for what he was about to try. To anyone looking, it would seem as if Jim was merely supporting the younger man as Blair started his search on the path the emailed note had taken.

"What makes you say that, McConnel?" He focused even tighter on the connection to Galloway County, attempting to listen for background noises. Damn. He's serious. Jim could tell by the echoes that the other man was calling from an empty office. Not too large, just enough furniture to dampen the noise. There's someone else with him there as well, or near by. I can hear another heartbeat.

Sean sighed. "Detective, what I'm about to tell you cannot make it back here. The line's clean, not even recorded, on my end at least. Yours?"

Jim pulled back just before the other man had started speaking, barely avoiding a sensory spike. "We're not in the habit of recording all the calls that come into the station, yet." He broke contact with his Guide and reached out for a pen and a scratch pad. "What's your information?"

Sean shivered. Not from cold, but rather like the shiver that runs down a person's spine for no reason, but leaves you chilled just the same. What the hell? "It's a long story, but the gist of it is this. My wife, Caragh, took into her possession a book from the Wilkins crime scene, after it was determined not to be a vital piece of evidence. No one other than myself, the Sheriff, the Prosecuting Attorney and Caragh herself know that she is in possession of the book." He paused, trying to gauge the reaction on the other end of the line, in Cascade. He heard something familiar, but shrugged it off. "This morning, my wife received an e-mail from someone claiming to know she has the book in question, is offering to buy it off her, and that they know her schedule."

Blair looked over at pad that Jim was scribbling, no, writing on and bit his lip to keep from making any noise. There on the pad was the phrase. C. McConnel received similar email as Chief. Book? Evidence/Civilian hands? Poss. Leak. GCSO. S. McConnel genuinely worried?

"McConnel, what kind of department are you all running there? Your wife's a civilian. Why would you turn over an item, a possible piece of evidence, to a civilian?" Jim wanted to off balance the man, to see if he could shake him up, get a more accurate reading off him. It worked; the Arkansas detective's heart rate and respiration shot through the roof. From anger, if the Sentinel was reading him right.

Sean took in a deep breath to calm himself before answering. "Ellison, not only is Caragh one of the best Anthropologists in the State, she's also a Special Reserve Deputy and she's a vital part of this Department. Hell, she was the photographer on the Wilkins case! SHE is not the leak here." Sean looked up as Sheriff Andrews opened the door and raised a finger to his lips, indicating that he should lower his voice.

Over the line, Jim heard a door open, then close again. But the other heartbeat that he had heard never entered the room that McConnel was in, but faded again as the door shut.

"Sorry about that, Ellison. We've had a rough night here and this is not making my job any easier." Sean apologized.

"I was out of line, McConnel. I should've learned by now, never question how another department is run." Jim was still making cryptic notes and had underlined the phrase, Special Reserve? "Can you tell me the title of the book you wife has? It may be important."

Sean didn't answer for a moment; instead he pulled up the list of books that Ellison had sent out over the NCIC net. "It's on your list. One of the books taken from your University. 'Guardians And Protectors'." He had been listening to the other detective writing notes throughout their conversation, and now, if he wasn't mistaken, he was underscoring the title he'd just learned a number of times. Then he heard it, that all too familiar sound. A heartbeat, racing in excitement, so much like...

"Damn. McConnel, I think you're right. There may be a leak on your end, but we've got a similar situation here."

"What?" Sean was startled out of his tracking of the tantalizing, almost familiar sound.

"And it may be connected, in more ways than you can count, to your wife." Jim looked up at Blair, who nodded and then stood up and made a beeline out of the Bullpen.

"Forgive me for seeming a little slow, but how?"

"An Instructor over at Rainier, who consults with the police department from time to time, received a similar letter... " Jim went on to explain about the note that Blair had received, and a little background on why a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology was working with Cascade PD. Being very careful not to let it slip just 'who' the other receiver was, not being sure as to where the leak was. Arkansas or his own department.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Early Afternoon, 21 January

 

Caragh had sighed in relief as she entered her home. Doris had relieved her at 7 a.m.; then she'd spent time trying to track down her husband, only to find out that he was in a private conference. So she'd left the station, intent on getting home to her own bed to rest. For all the snow which had fallen yesterday and last night, the roads were remarkably clear. Probably due to the fact that the area had already reached a temperature of near 60 degrees with the sun out in full force. Well, that was typical in this area. After making sure that the two cats were fed, she made her way to the shower, then back to the kitchen for something to eat. A huge bowl of turkey chili and coffee did the trick. She cleaned up the mess and went to bed.

She was still awake hours later. She decided to give up the fight and, after dumping Guineth and Aidan off her, she got out of bed and went to boot up the home computer. The machine loaded up fairly quickly and she opted to check her mail first. And there it was.

Doctor McConnel,

I believe you are in possession of a very rare book that I have an interest in. Can we talk price? I'll be in Willow Springs on the morning of the 25th. Please meet with me at your office on campus at noon. I know you have that time free. CSGM@arkadiaego.org

"Damn it! How the hell did this guy get this address as well?!" She hit the print button and waited as her printer churned out a hard copy of the letter. Satisfied it was copying smoothly, she started a back trace on the route the letter had taken to get to her. After working on it for about an hour, she realized whomever this person was, they were very good at covering their tracks.

She sat back in her chair and tried to relax, to focus her thoughts, all the time asking herself, What am I supposed to learn here? Where do I go from here? Caragh was rewarded with a vision of the Cascade Forest that was such a wonderful backdrop to Rainier University. She got on the phone.

"Moiré? I need a favor... You do? Where? Uh, I think I can do that trip for you, sure. Let me just clear my absence with the Dean first, and Sean." She hung up, wondering why the Fates were playing so rough with her.


Moiré Michaels hung up the phone in her office. She didn't truly believe in Fate, but when her granddaughter had called needing a favor, she replied that she needed one in return. Her company, De Danu Inc., had been gearing up for a major purchasing trip out west for the specialized herbs and plants only grown in the Northwest. Then this freak snowstorm had hit. Her main purchasing agent, Greer Graeme, had been involved in a major accident on his way home on the 9th of January and was now down in University Hospital in Little Rock, fighting for his life. None of his people were ready to take over for the man, but the trip to Washington State couldn't be put off. She scrubbed her face before reaching for her phone again.

"Steaphan? Can you have the plane ready by tomorrow? Providing they reopen the airport in time?" Pause. "No, Mike's going. She just volunteered. I know that, young man! He won't deny me, and he'll understand the need. Just get the plane and your backup ready." She hung up, irritated at the pilot. "Humph! Like I don't know about Sean's 'possessiveness' about my own granddaughter! Hell! He's just like Shamus was, in more ways than I can comfortably count!"


After hanging up with the Cascade detective, Sean was even more frustrated than before. Whoever was behind these book thefts was good. Ellison had agreed to fax a copy of the letter the anthropology student, a 'consultant' to the Cascade Police Department, had received, but they, like he, had no clues yet as to whom the person was behind the thefts. And Emeritus' Wilkin's death sure as hell proved to Sean that they weren't above murder to get what they wanted. Now Mike and this Rainier Instructor/Student were apparent targets for this lunatic just because they had shared an interest in the obscure writings of Sir Richard Burton. He stood up and went over to the door of the office he had appropriated.

Sheriff Leland Andrews was sitting at his secretary's desk when his Chief of Detectives came out of his office. "From the look on your face, I take it Cascade wasn't happy?"

"No kidding. Where does Gladys keep your private fax machine?" Sean started to look around the Executive Secretary's office.

Lee got up and went over to a lower cabinet and opened the doors to reveal the machine, which was already printing out something. "Right here. Claims she can't stand the noise when it's working, so she tucked it away in here."

"That's Gladys for you." Sean walked over and peered into the cabinet. "Looks like Ellison's true to his word. This looks like what he promised to send." He stepped back and stretched until his spine made several satisfying pops and sighed in relief. "Damn, this sure has been one hell of a night. Has there been any word on the road conditions?"

Lee pulled the single sheet of paper out of the fax machine without looking at it. "Yeah. They're clear. You know, I've lived here a long time and still haven't gotten used to this screwy weather. Here." He handed the fax to Sean then stood up. "By the way, Mike went home about four hours ago. I had her call me when she got in, she reported the road out to the Caer is completely clear."

"Good. Maybe she'll get some rest." Sean read the fax and sure enough, it was very similar to the one his wife had received. "Lee, look at this." He handed the fax back over to his boss.

Reading the fax, Lee grew uncomfortable. "Just who in the Hell is this guy?" He walked past Sean to reclaim his office.

"I've got a theory, but it's one I really don't like." He shut the door behind him and sat down in a chair across from his Sheriff. "You want to hear it?"

Sitting down behind the desk, Lee replied, "Probably not, but go ahead."

"Government."

"Shit." Lee pulled out his pipe, and chewed on its stem while thoughts raced through his mind. "Real government, or more like that shadow group who tried to recruit you?"

Sean felt his muscles tighten, his jaw clenched as his face flushed with anger. "I'm not real sure, but ten will get you one that it's tied to the shadow group somehow."

"What about the leak? You get anywhere with that?"

"No. As far as I can trace, only you, Mike and me know where that book is. Unless one of the Crime Lab boys overheard us talking with her about it and then saw me take it with me when I left."

Lee reached for the phone. "Let me get in touch with Lt. Hutcheson at the Labs. I'll ask him to look into it from his end." He noticed that Sean was yawning. No wonder, the man had been up late last night, then not being able to sleep, had stumbled onto a mystery that involved his wife and had worked like a draft horse to figure it out. "Sean, go home. I'll page you if anything develops." He turned his attention to the phone. "Yes, ma'am. This is Sheriff Andrews, is Lt. Hutcheson in? May I speak with him? Thank you." He looked back up to see his detective still sitting in his office. "I meant it, Sean. Get your butt out of my office and go home."

"Yes, sir." Sean walked out of the Sheriff's office and back to his own, only to find Detective Joe Kelley coming out of it. "Joe? Looking for me?" he asked as he approached the man.

Joe turned around, startled to find his boss right behind him. "Uh, yeah. I may have gotten a break on the drug investigation. Wanted to give you the low down."

"Well, then, let's go back in here." Sean opened the door to his office and gestured to the other to precede him. He'd noticed a spike in the man's heart rate, but put it down to the fright that he'd been able to give the younger man. "Sit down. You want some coffee? I made it fresh," He looked at his watch. "About four hours ago."

Joe let out a nervous laugh as he settled into a chair. "No thanks, man. I've had your idea of coffee before -- I'd be awake for days after only one cup."

Sean chuckled as he poured himself a cup and got back to his desk. "Sorry. But strong coffee is what I grew up on in the Corps." He settled in behind his desk and looked at the other detective. "So, what have you got?"

Joe opened a file he had in his hand and slipped a photograph over the desk to his boss. "I got that earlier today. The junked car seems to be the drop off point. My C.I. informed me this morning that the meth had been left over in it yesterday before the storm hit, and it should be picked up tonight or maybe tomorrow."

Sean looked at the photo. "This the junker out on county 1598? That old Studebaker?"

"Yeah, most of the kids around here use it for target practice, but now I'm told it's being used to bring Ice into the county." Joe watched as Sean digested the information.

"Let's see what else you've gotten so far." Joe slid the entire file over to him and he scanned it. "Joe, how well do you trust this informant of yours?"

Joe shrugged. "He's given me good stuff in the past. But as you can see from the transcripts of our last conversation, I never told him what I was looking for exactly, and he gave me the Studebaker."

Sean closed the file and handed back to his detective. "Okay, run with it. Just let me know how badly you're going to screw up the schedule so I can make allowances for it. You plan on using any field personnel?"

"No. I don't want to use marked units. They might spook our suspect."

"Well, they can't avoid the area. It'll just have to look like a normal patrol night. Get me your plan as soon as you can, and I'll get with Lt. Daffyd and make sure he knows what's going on." Sean stood up and followed Joe out of the office, grabbing his coat as he went.

"Going home, Chief?" Joe asked.

"Yeah, some of us had to stay here overnight, unlike some people who live only a few blocks away from the station."

Joe smiled. "Yeah, you should've seen how many people showed up begging for a pallet in my living room. Seemed to me like I had half the department there last night."

"Lucky you. Let the Sheriff know I've left, will you?"

"Sure thing. Sleep well, Sean."

Sean slipped into his coat. "I plan on it, Joe. But call me anyway when you get that schedule done up." At his detective's nod, he made his way to the garage and his Suburban.


He didn't get a chance to go straight to bed. Caragh was waiting for him when he got home, one of her 'traveling' bags already packed and waiting by the door. They'd been arguing for a while.

"Sean! I have to go! Moiré asked me to! Besides, with this 'threat' hanging over me, maybe it's better that I get out of town. Go somewhere where this buyer wouldn't expect me to go. Cascade's a long way from here, and who would ever figure out I'm the backup for Greer? We have to get this stock bought and transported back here. This trip has been planned for months, we cannot let Greer's accident set us back, Sean, we have to go through with it."

"Damnit, Mike I know that! But I learned from Ellison that a consultant to Cascade PD received a letter not unlike your own. A consultant that Ellison works with, Mike! A lot! If this UnSub is bold enough, connected enough, to know about this consultant's schedule, before he knew about it, then think! He might just be able to ferret out that you're the only logical choice for Moiré to send on this damn buying trip to Cascade!"

"I'll take that chance, Sean. It's not like I'm going to be taking a commercial flight and have to land at SeaTac. Steaphan will be flying me directly to the Cascade Airport. I'll be fine!"

"And what about me? I suppose you're going to tell Lee that he's my temporary Guardian while you're gone? Or maybe Angus?"

"Is that what this is about? You're afraid something might happen to you while I'm gone? Or is it me you're afraid for?"

"Both!" Sean finally collapsed into the couch, most of his anger vented.

Caragh sighed as she sat beside him, reaching out to touch his shoulder. "Sean, I understand, I really do. But, Honey, we cannot let our fears guide our actions. I have an obligation to the company, as well as to you, the college, and the Sheriff -- not to mention the Clan. I have to go."

"I know. I just don't like the idea of you heading off without me." He smiled at his wife, "You know your ability to get into trouble."

"Yeah, I know. But, Sean, you've trained me yourself these many years. I have skills now that I never had before. I can take care of myself. Or don't you trust your training skills?"

"I trust them. But this is Cascade we're talking about. I've heard about your little adventures there, remember?"

Caragh had the grace to smile sheepishly. "I'll make you a promise then, I won't go anywhere near those clubs while I'm there. Okay?"

"Better not." Sean growled.

"I won't have time. I'll be too busy getting in touch with all our suppliers and arranging transport." She gave his shoulder one final squeeze and stood up. "Now, are we settled with this?"

"Yeah."

"Good. So tell me. Angus or Lee?" She made her way to the kitchen to warm up his dinner.

Sean followed her movements, not with his eyes, but with his hearing. Just like she'd trained him to do. "Who do you think?"

"Fine. I'll call Lee while you eat." She set his place at the kitchen table and turned back to him. "Now, go shower. You have about fifteen minutes before the chili's ready, and you really need it."

Sean stood up. "That bad, huh?"

She watched as he made his way to the bathroom. "Yeah, I don't need a Protector's sense of smell to tell either." She heard the bathroom door close and softly completed her thoughts, "And use the soap."

"I heard that, Caragh D!"

 

Cascade, Washington

Late Evening, January 21

 

Blair had managed to get to the loft before Jim had, and was setting up his laptop computer when the other man made it into the apartment. As he waited for his Internet connection to go through, he noticed the Sentinel seemed to be on edge. Jim was shifting through the loft at a steady pace -- never slowing down long enough to be still, not even looking like he was seeking out the 'right' place to sit down, just pacing.

"Jim? What's bugging you?"

He stopped in the middle of the living room. "What makes you think something is 'bugging' me, Chief?"

Blair sat down at the dining table and leaned back in the chair. "Oh, I don't know. Your pacing like you're trying to show me what I'm like when I'm worked up?" He smiled as he said it, quietly noting the other man had started his pacing again.

Stopping in his tracks, Jim realized his friend was right. He was pacing. "Damn." He had come to a stop near the yellow armchair, and deciding to sit, sank into the cushions. "I didn't realize."

The laptop chimed at Blair, drawing his attention. Blair turned away from his friend and called up his e-mail account. "That's okay. I did. Now, what's eating you?" He pulled up the first e-mail, and then trashed the advertisement.

"My conversation with McConnel. There was something, I don't know, weird about it." Jim paused and leaned back, hands rubbing his tired eyes as he tried to think back to the conversation, looking for what had tripped his instincts. "Okay, not the talk itself, or the subject matter. There was something weird about McConnel."

Another letter called up and trashed. "'Weird' in what way?"

"If I knew that, it wouldn't be bothering me." Jim, frustrated again, pushed up out of the chair and headed over to the kitchen to grab a water bottle from the refrigerator.

Blair looked up and followed the movements. "Sorry. Maybe it was something you sensed? Were you trying to use your senses during the call?" It dawned on him. "Oh, man. You were! You anchored on me while you were talking to him. What did you sense, what were you looking for?"

Leaning up against the kitchen counter, he sighed. "If I knew that... "

"... It wouldn't be bothering you -- yeah, sorry about that. Let me finish this up and we'll see what we can do about accessing your memories of the call." Blair tapped his own head as he turned back to his mail check, "After all, it's up there, in your head, you just have to access it."

Jim watched as the younger man pulled up another letter, deleted it and went on the next one. He wasn't even aware of how hard he was watching what his roommate was doing until said roommate was touching him on the arm, softly calling his name. He drew in a ragged breath and shook his head. "Thanks, Chief."

"Yeah. You must be tired if you can zone-out that easy." Blair led his friend over to the living room and the couch that waited there. "Come on, let's do this while you're susceptible to zoning. It usually works better that way."

Placing his bottled water on the coffee table, Jim sat down on the couch, getting into a comfortable, relaxed position, getting ready for this latest trip into what they jokingly referred to as 'The Sandburg Zone'."

"Okay, do your breathing exercises." Blair's voice had changed, taking on a softer, gentler tone as he spoke. "Okay, good. Now, go back to the Bullpen in your mind. You're on the phone, talking with McConnel, you're listening for something." He paused to let Jim's mind catch up with the images. "Now, what do you hear?"

Jim had closed his eyes, letting his Guide's voice wash over him, taking him back in time. After a while, he spoke up, almost whispering. "McConnel was in a fair sized room, not a lot of furniture. Someone was just outside, maybe, watching. I can hear both heartbeats. McConnel's is stronger, the other's not as strong, but it is there."

Blair was taking it all in, surprised when the Sentinel stopped talking. "Jim? What is it?"

He opened his eyes and blue met blue as he looked into the eyes of his friend. "I heard McConnel's heart slow down. It almost stopped, Chief." Astonishment colored Jim's voice, as if he was amazed by what he had heard.

Blair took in a deep breath. "Almost stopped? Like yours does when you get too deep into a zone-out?"

"Maybe. What were we discussing right then?" Jim leaned forward, head in hands, elbows braced on his knees. "That book!"

"Which one, Jim?"

Jim had jumped up and walked over to the table where he had dropped some files earlier, and after rifling through them, came back with the list of books taken from Rainier. "This one." He pointed to the title as he handed the paper off to Blair.

Pulling his glasses back down to his nose from where he'd pushed them up earlier onto his head, he looked at the title that was being pointed out. "Guardians and Protectors? Okay, Jim, you've lost me. Where does that leave us?"

Jim sighed as he plopped back down onto the couch. "I don't know. I just know that is what we were talking about when McConnel's heart slowed. But it came right back up to 'normal' speed when I told him about the letter you had received."

Blair sat silently for a minute, and then went to retrieve his backpack from its place near the door. Digging through it as he came back, he pulled out a small pad of paper and handed it to his roommate. "See if that helps jog your memory, Jim."

Jim looked at the pad of paper, which was covered with his cryptic notes and some doodles which he didn't recall doing. "What is this, Chief?"

"Notes that you were taking while you were on the phone with McConnel. You seemed to be in a small zone-out, but tracking everything said to you." Blair reached over and turned the pad in Jim's hand so that he could look at it again. "I never knew you could draw Celtic knot works, they're pretty good too."

Looking at the doodles, he answered, "I didn't know what I was doing. I've never done anything like that before." As he studied the knot works, he thought he saw what appeared to be animals in the curling twisting lines. "You ever see anything like this before?" He pointed out the largest of the many knots, the one with the animals worked into it.

Blair looked at the knot picture, smiling. "Yeah. Mike used to draw one similar to that a lot. Asked her about it once, she told me it was a dragon and a cat, locked together -- but not in battle."

"I didn't think Ireland had large cats, Sandburg." He tossed the pad to the coffee table, leaned back on the couch again and rubbed his eyes.

His head whipping around fast, hair tumbling into his face, and brushed back impatiently, Blair asked, "What made you say 'Ireland', Jim?"

Still scrubbing his face, trying to motivate himself to stay awake a bit longer, he answered without thinking. "I don't know. Seemed right?"

"Jim, Mike's whole family can trace their roots back to Ireland. Heck, she even speaks 'the Irish' when she gets mad. I wonder how you knew that?" Blair got up and went back to the table and his laptop. "You know, this could be a manifestation of your sixth sense, Jim. You could've been tapping into it without realizing it and came up with that answer, and the idea to draw those knot pictures." He stopped talking when he heard the other man practically growl.

"Sandburg, let's not go there, shall we? I have a hard enough time controlling the five senses I know are enhanced, I don't need a sixth one to deal with."

"I hear you." He pulled up his e-mail account again and started going through it. Not completely forgetting about the little mystery Jim had dropped on him, just letting his subconscious work it out while he got on with his life. He had to write back a few of his friends who had wrote him, congratulating him on his return to the academic halls of Rainier as a Teaching Fellow.

Jim stood up, stretching until his back muscles 'popped' and released the tension that had built up over the day. Looking over at Blair, he realized that it was probably a good thing that they had opted to eat out before heading home. Looked like the kid was going to be hard at it for a while. Deciding to take advantage of the lull, the older man went upstairs to his room, pulled out a fresh pair of sweats, grabbed a large bath sheet, and went back down to the bathroom. As he stepped under the hot water, he felt more muscles relax. He nearly purred as the sensation of the water pouring over his body invited him to indulge in his sense of touch. Since his sentinel senses came on line, a shower was no longer just a simple procedure. It had changed, like so many things had. It became more pleasurable, almost decadent. He had gotten used to the sensations, but he had vowed never to let himself lose control. The water had started turning cold on him when he heard his roommate's heart beat skip, and then race out of control. Fear. Turning off the water and grabbing the bath sheet, Jim raced out of the bathroom.

Blair had been busy writing a little note back to Kaitlyn Nakai, but he tracked Jim as his roommate/partner/friend/brother made his way to the bathroom. He listened as the shower came on. He had heard the other man's back pop when he had stretched earlier. It was a little loud, and he knew that the shower was just what Jim needed to relax before going to bed. Sending the note to Kaitlyn, he pulled up the next e-mail, which turned out to be another note of congratulations from a fellow TA. He responded to it, like he had the four previous ones, sent it and pulled up the last letter in his mailbox. As it opened up, his breath caught in his throat.

Mr. Sandburg,

I believe you are in possession of a very rare copy of a monograph that I'm quite interested in obtaining. I'm willing to pay up to $5,000 for your book. I should be in Cascade sometime on the morning of the 26th. I'd like to meet with you to discuss this matter in person. Say, your office? At Four PM? I know you should have that time free, unless you're working with Ellison at that time? No matter, I'll gladly meet with you whenever you can get to your office. I look forward to doing business with you.

CSGM@arkadiaego.org

Blair wasn't even aware that Jim had come into the room, until the man had laid a hand on his shoulder. He jumped. "Oh! Don't. Do. That."

"Sorry, Chief. You're about to hyperventilate. Calm down, that's it. Now, what frightened you?" Jim looked over his friend's shoulder to see the letter there on the laptop's screen. He swore. "Damn it!"

Blair had gotten his breathing under control and nodded in agreement with the dripping detective. "No shit! This is really starting to spook me."

"Well, it's not spooking me, just pissing me off."

"Uh, Jim? Do you realize you're dripping all over the floor?"

The Sentinel looked down and saw the rather large puddle forming under him, all over his freshly waxed wood floors. "Oh, damn it!" He walked back towards the bathroom to dry off. Blair followed him, but only to grab a towel out of the 'dirty' hamper and take it back to dry up the water trail that Jim had left in his wake.

By the time a fully dry and dressed Jim Ellison came back out of the bathroom, Blair had finished drying up the puddle and the water trails and was sitting once again at his laptop. "Thanks, Chief. I would've done that, you know."

"Yeah, I know." Blair started typing on the keyboard in front of him. "But I hate to hear you grouse, so I did it for you. Besides, I didn't want to help you wax these damn floors again before next month." His face tightened up as he concentrated on what he was doing.

"Blair, what are you doing?" Jim had come to stand over the younger man and watched as strings of codes scrolled over the screen of the laptop, none of it making sense to him.

"Trying something. I only hope it works. I couldn't do it at the station."

"Why not?"

"It's a hacker program, one which is designed to unravel posting routes, but it may take a while to process. Isn't there a ball game on tonight?" Blair stopped typing and pushed back away from the table.

Jim smiled, the kid was right. Simon wouldn't have approved of using the computers at the station for a hacker's program, no matter the results it could get. And he knew what the Guide was doing now. He needed a distraction, to while away the time waiting for the program to run its course and losing himself in a good rousing game of basketball fit the bill.

"Yeah, I think so. San Antonio and Utah I think. Should be a decent game." He walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of beers while Blair bounded over to the couch to grab the remote control and turned on the television to ESPN2.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Early Morning, 22 January

 

Caragh Michaels-McConnel stood on the tarmac of the airfield, waiting patiently with Moiré Michaels and Sean while Steaphan Shannon did the final check on the private jet. "You sure you're going to be okay with this, Sean?"

He looked at her, his green eyes barely visible in the early dawn. "No, I'm not. But Moiré talked to me last night, after you went to bed, and made me understand the necessity of the situation."

The older woman pulled her woolen cloak around her shoulders, chuckling. "I knew you'd be upset, Sean. But for me to be able to hear your row, clear over to my home? I knew then that I'd best get my butt over to your home to explain, myself."

Sean smiled as he pulled his wife's 'mother' into a hug, "And I'm glad that you did. But you will take my suggestion under advisement, won't you?"

Caragh looked at the two of them, confused. "What suggestion, Sean? What are you two talking about? I didn't know you'd come over last night, Mom."

Moiré let out a tinkling laugh. "* That's because you were out like a light, Caragh Lass.* " The woman let go of the Protector and pulled her 'daughter' into a hug. "* He'll be fine, you just need to get out there and back before he'll stop worrying.* "

"* And the suggestion he made? * "

"* I'll be working on it the minute I get into the office, Greer's people have to be ready at all times to step up in case of emergencies. That way I don't have to rely on you all the time.* " Moiré let go of Caragh and stepped back, then spoke again in plain English, rather than the Gaelic she and her daughter had been using to converse privately. "Now, unless I miss my guess, Steaphan is about ready to go. So give your husband a hug and kiss goodbye and get going. After all, the sooner you leave, the sooner you'll get back." And with that parting shot, Moiré left the two alone to say what they needed to say.

"Caragh, watch yourself out there, will you?" He pulled her into a hard embrace.

She returned the hug with all her heart. "I will. You let Lee help you, and if you have any problems, make sure he talks with Moiré or you can call me. You have the name of the hotel I'll be staying at? The room number?"

Sean let go of her to pat his breast pocket. "All right here, Mike. Cascade Arms, room 1028, Steve's in the next room over, 1029, and you'll be visiting both Natural Herbs & Plants as well as Gaia's Medicine Closet. I've got the phone numbers for them as well. You going to try to see Sandburg while you're there?"

Caragh smiled. "Might as well, if I have the time. It's been years since I've been on a buying trip, but from what I recall, it's rather hectic. So I may not."

Sean grabbed up her suitcase and walked towards the plane with her, having noticed Steaphan had boarded and was waiting. "Make the time. Let him know you didn't just blow off his offer a few years ago, it was just that you never got the message in time." He reached up and pulled open the baggage compartment and put the suitcase in.

"How did you find out?"

"Doris."

Caragh shook her head. "Figures. Now I have proof for my next paper -- there really are no secrets in a small town."

Steaphan poked his head out of the plane's doorway. "You about ready to go, Mike? We're scheduled to lift off in about ten minutes."

"Yeah, Steve." She looked up at the pilot and waved for him to go on with preflight preparations. She turned back to her husband. "Sean. I'll be okay. Thomas is taking over my classes for me, Meltons approved of this absence of mine and Lee has been briefed on his temporary duties as Guardian."

"I'm not worried about what might happen here, Mike. This is Cascade you're heading off to." He steadied her as she climbed aboard the plane; the steps were not exactly normal sized.

Once inside the plane, she turned around and let go of a grin which could've charmed the skin off a snake. "Where they have fifty-two ways of ordering coffee and I plan on trying each one all over again. And before you ask, yes, I packed my rain gear, and my walking stick."

He looked up at her and dug something out of his coat pocket. "Good, but you forgot this at the house." He handed up a paper wrapped item.

Taking the package from him, she peeled back the paper and revealed her small, five shot revolver in its holster. Closer examination of the paper showed it to be a Federal Carry and Concealment Permit issued in her name. "I won't need it, Sean." She went to hand it back to him, only to have the door close in her face. "Fine. We'll discuss this when I get back," she muttered, knowing full well he'd hear her. Putting the weapon on a seat, she went to the cockpit to join Steaphan.


Sean had heard her all right, and had relayed her reaction to Moiré. "I just wonder what her reaction will be when she finds her Kevlar vest in her luggage?"

"Sean, laddie, you packed that away for her too?"

"Yeah. Which is why I wouldn't let her carry the suitcase."


The Hawker Executive business jet took off from the Galloway County Airfield just as the sun made its full appearance above the horizon. Steaphan Shannon smiled as the bird climbed to its cruising altitude, feeling every little wiggle and vibration the new aircraft had through his whole body. It was electric. Settling the plane into cruise mode, he turned to his passenger. "Mike?" She turned to face him. "We should land in Cascade about 0900hrs, local time, or about five hours from now. Why don't you head back and get a little rest?"

Caragh smiled. "Do I look like I need it, Steve?"

He snorted, shaking his head. "If I say 'yes', you'll probably deck me, but if I say 'no', I'd be lying."

"I wouldn't deck you, not while you're flying anyway." She glanced over at the controls, noticing that even though he had settled the plane into its cruising altitude, he hadn't engaged the autopilot. "You planning on staying up here the entire flight?"

"You know me. I just don't completely trust the autopilot."

She let out a small chuckle. "Right, it's more like you love the 'feel' of the plane around you. I do know you, Steve. Your sense of touch is unreal, your sight slightly better than average - which made you one hell of a pilot in the Navy -- and one of the best in the civilian world." Running a light hand over the spare yoke, even she could feel the tiniest of vibrations in the thing. Vibrations Steaphan used to feel everything that happened on the control surfaces. "You had Coran tweak the controls, didn't you?"

"Makes it easier for me to fly this baby."

"But what if Steaphanie has to fly this 'baby'? Can she handle the controls the way you have them set now?" Steaphanie was Steaphan's twin sister and one of three pilots who were employed by the De Danu Corporation.

Steaphan nodded his head, eyeing all the gauges and surrounding airspace as he did so. "Yeah, she can. We took the Aine up a week ago after Coran 'tweaked' the controls. I handled it most of the time, but we did a few touch and goes with Steaphy at the helm. She did just fine."

Caragh sighed and shook her head as she got up from the co-pilot's chair, set to got back to the passenger compartment. Aine was the name that Steaphan had chosen for the Hawker Executive when the company had taken delivery of it, six months ago. "Fine, just make sure she stays current on any changes that you make to the Aine. After all, she's just your average, basic human. No enhanced senses like you."

"Steaphy wouldn't like to hear you say that, Siomahnka, but you're right."

She had winced at the pilot's use of the ancient word for Shaman. It wasn't well known, even among the Clan, that Caragh was now the Shaman of the Clan and Tribe. Had been since Two Eagles had passed away, now three years ago. Shrugging the comment off, she asked, "Can I get you anything from the galley?"

"Sure. I think the ground crew stocked the cooler with some tea." He turned his head slightly to see her walk back the galley and open the small refrigerator. Dragging his attention back to flying, he barely acknowledged her when she put the plastic bottle of tea in its proper holder for him and left the flight deck.

Caragh walked back to the passenger area, grabbed up her backpack and pulled out a notebook and the Wilkins book, which she'd brought with her. Sitting down at the table in the middle of the cabin, she opened up both and continued to take notes on what Blackie Wilkins had written.

Part 4

 

 

Back to Stories Page