Secrets, Books and Murder

Part 4

Suisan R

 

Cascade, Washington

Mid-Morning, 22 January

 

The flight had been uneventful, the landing at Cascade's small airfield a breeze, but the drive from the airfield to the Cascade Arms wasn't. Caragh had found out Moiré had taken upon herself to make sure that a rental car, a Chevy Suburban, was waiting for her at the arrivals gate. It was as she was lifting her suitcase out of the baggage compartment of the Aine that her day started to go down hill. The case had been heavier than she had expected, but she got it into the Suburban just fine, then she opened it up. There, on top of her neatly packed travel clothes, lay her county issued Kevlar vest with a note from Sean.

Caragh ~

Don't get mad. I may be a bit overprotective, and this may seem a bit much, but I feel better knowing that you have this. Just in case. Oh, and don't forget to keep the Federal Permit on you at all times. And please? Take the SP-101with you, wherever you go in Cascade? If only so I feel better about your being there?

Love you!

Sean

Caragh had closed up the suitcase, and spent a few minutes at the back of the vehicle adjusting her handgun and it's holster on her belt. She had opted for the holster that placed the small, five shot handgun at the small of her back, easily concealed under her jacket. By the time she climbed in behind the wheel, Steaphan showed up and was ready to go as well.

Steaphan pulled his seatbelt on as he settled in the passenger seat. "So, Mike, do you remember how to get to the hotel from here?"

Turning the engine over, she scowled at the pilot. "Yes. You get the plane all secured and bedded down for our stay?"

"Of course! Talked with the Ground Boss, he promised the Hawker will be ready to fly on a moments notice and fully fueled to boot." He settled back as Caragh pulled the dark blue Suburban off the tarmac and on into the traffic of a busy Cascade.

"Good. As much as I enjoyed my time in this city when I was a student, I don't want to stay here a moment longer than I have to." She merged with the traffic that was heading towards downtown Cascade. "Do me a favor, Steve?"

"Sure."

She pulled out of the crawl lane into the fast lane, getting a feel for what the vehicle could handle. "Grab the date planner out of the side pocket of my bag and tell me at what ungodly hour we're supposed to be at Nature's."

Steaphan twisted slightly and pulled her bag up from behind the driver's seat, found the date book and opened it. "Hmm. Looks like we'll have just enough time to check in, grab a bite to eat and head out to the meeting."

"What time?"

"1300hrs. Have you adjusted your watch yet?" He put the planner down on the dashboard and took his own watch off, setting the time to Pacific Coast, instead of Central.

Caragh nodded her head as she noted her turn off was four miles away and moved back over to the crawl lane. "Don't have to. New watch. See?" She crossed her arm over her body so that he could see the watch.

Leaning over, he whistled. "Nice. Gift from Sean or from Moiré?" The watch was a traveler's model. Instead of the one face, it had two, one of which could be set to the wearer's regular time zone, the other could be set to whatever time zone they were traveling to.

Pulling her arm back, she slowed for the exit. "Moiré. She gave it to me this morning. I think she's feeling a bit guilty about taking me from Sean."

"Well, if the old lady ever wants to adopt another grandchild, tell her I'm more than willing." They both laughed over the idea of Moiré adopting Steaphan, a 37 year old man.

They were still laughing when Caragh pulled up the to Cascade Arms and a valet came out to meet them.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Mid-Morning, 22 January

No one paid much attention to the tall, slender, dark clothed man who had wandered around the Campus. He was just young enough looking to pass for a prospective student, which was what he was posing as. He climbed the steps to the Sciences building and made it a point to look at the room directory before heading towards the steps to the basement. Stopping outside of room B-25, he listened for movement behind the solid door. After a moment, he knocked.

"Come in!" A male voice called out.

Opening the door, the tall man looked at the only occupant of the room -- a younger man with reddish-blonde hair, dressed in Khaki pants, a white dress shirt and a oatmeal colored cable knit sweater. "Dr. McConnel?"

Thomas McCaigh looked up from the lesson planner he was studying to look at the visitor. "No, I'm sorry. Dr. McConnel had to take an unexpected leave of absence. Is there something I can help you with? I'm her Assistant, Tom McCaigh." He held out his hand in greeting.

The other man shook hands with the assistant. "Alex Krycek. I had hoped to catch Caragh before I had to leave town."

"Oh, then you're not a prospective student?" Thomas sat back down behind the desk and gestured for the visitor to take the chair in front of the huge desk.

"No, we went to school together for a short time, at Rainier. I was passing through on my way to a dig in New Mexico."

"Ah, so you're an Archaeologist? Mike will be so mad she learns that she missed your visit."

Alex smiled, turning up the charm. "I'm just sorry I missed her. She wouldn't happen to be in the area still, would she? I could try to catch up with her before I have to leave tomorrow."

"Nah, she had to go out of town. I don't know where to, but I do know she left out early this morning." Thomas looked at his watch then stood up. "I hate to give you the bum's rush, Mr. Krycek, but I have a class to teach in five minutes. If you'd like to leave a note for Mike, feel free to use the office. Just make sure you lock the door on the way out. We've tests coming up soon and, well, you know how some students can be."

Alex stood up and nodded his head in agreement with the other man. "Oh, yeah. I remember my student days well. If you don't mind me using the desk, I would like to take you up on the offer to leave a quick note for Mike. Just to let her know I was through here and where I'll be for the next six months or so."

Thomas waved to the tall man. "Feel free. I have to go now or the students will take my tardiness as a sign that there's no class and split. It was nice meeting you." They shook hands again and the younger man fairly ran out of the office to get to the class.

Alex closed the office door, locking it, and then turned around to study the office of Caragh Michaels-McConnel. He had an assignment, one the first man had royally botched up, killing a man in the process, and not getting the item he'd been sent to retrieve. Alex had had the pleasure of killing that screw-up before heading to Willow Springs himself. The cigarette smoking S.O.B. had sent him here to find a rare book, one, which was reportedly in the possession of Dr. McConnel. After looking at all the books neatly displayed on the shelves that lined the office, he couldn't locate it. He tried the desk, finding it unlocked, and the filing cabinets. Nothing. Sighing, he pulled out his cell phone and placed a call.

"Yes?"

"Krycek. It's not here."

"And Dr. McConnel?"

"Also not here. According to her teaching assistant, she had to take an unexpected trip. Left sometime early this morning. Unknown destination."

"That is unfortunate. Extricate yourself quietly, and return here. I should have the good doctor located by then."

Alex looked at the dead phone in his hand, and then shut it off. Looking around, he spied a blank notepad and pulled it to him, pulling a pen out of his black leather coat. He wrote a quick note; for the benefit of the young man he'd met, folded it, and left the office, making sure the door securely locked behind him. Within 20 minutes, he was out of the small town of Willow Springs and on his way back to Washington DC.

 

Cascade, Washington

Noon, 22 January

Detective James 'Jim' Ellison sat at his desk in the bullpen of Major Crimes and disgustedly tossed another report on top of the growing pile in his 'out' box. Another crime reported, looked into and solved. He should be pleased, but he wasn't, and the other detectives in the elite division knew it. By his body language, his perpetual scowl and his short, gruff answers to even the most civil of questions. To top it all off, the book theft case wasn't going anywhere, at least, not here in Cascade. Jim couldn't explain it, but he felt that there was this 'connection' between the thefts in his city and the theft/murder, which had occurred in a small mid west community known as Willow Springs, Arkansas.

As the thought of Willow Springs crossed his mind, he recalled that he had wanted to talk with Blair Sandburg's old friend, Caragh Michaels, now McConnel, about what information she might have on the case. He smiled as he pulled his desk phone closer to him and dialed a familiar number.

Across the room, Rafe had looked up in time to see the smile, if you wanted to call it that, cross Ellison's face, and felt a shiver run down his spine. He quickly dropped his eyes before the senior detective could notice he'd been watching and returned his attention to the contact report in front of him, thankful he was not the person whom Ellison was calling, but not sure why.

Jim was fiddling with a pen as he waited for Sandburg to pick up the phone. Without realizing it, he had started to doodle again. It was the same Celtic knotwork he'd drawn before. He had just completed the design when his partner finally picked up.

"Sandburg."

"Chief, sorry to bug you -- I need a favor."

Blair nodded a 'thanks' to Thea Devon as she turned away to give him some semblance of privacy. She had sent a runner after him when the call had come in, not knowing where he was at the moment. "Sure, Jim. What is it?"

"Can you give me the phone number to your friend's office at Willow Springs?" Jim looked down at the notepad and frowned, noticing what he'd drawn for the first time.

"Sure, hang on." He pulled his backpack off the floor where he'd dropped it and began to rummage through it, looking for his address book. "You know, if you could've waited a little longer, I was on my way to the precinct."

"Sorry, about that. The thought had just occurred to me, and I want to get this out of the way." He flipped the paper he'd drawn on over and tried to still his hand, not wanting to draw anything.

"Whatever. Ah! Here it is... " Blair rattled off the number and extension. "You get all that?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Chief. You still planning on heading over here?"

"As soon as I get off the phone."

"Good. See you in about twenty minutes then... Oh, and can you pick up something for lunch?"

Blair stuffed the address book back into his pack and zipped it shut. "Sure. Wonderburger, or do you trust me?"

Jim dropped the pen and ran his hand over his face. "I trust you. Just no Chinese, I seemed to have finally burned out on it."

"Finally! Two weeks straight of Chicken Lo Mien, Egg Foo Young and Moo Goo Gi Pan was getting really old. I'll be there in about thirty to forty minutes then, I have this great place in mind." He pulled out his car keys and hefted the backpack to his shoulder.

"Fine. I should be done talking with Dr. McConnel by then. See you in a few."

"Yeah. Bye, Jim." Blair hung up the phone and looked up at the department's secretary who was smiling at him while casually dumping whole files into the trash. "Thanks for finding me, Thea."

She looked at him and smiled. "No problem. Just please tell me that I didn't pull you out of your class early just so your detective friend could order lunch?"

"Okay, I won't. Besides, class was nearly over and for once the students were behaving, so they got a treat too." He waved at her as he turned to leave. Walking out to the parking lot where he had left the Volvo this morning, he pulled out his cell phone and called ahead to the restaurant he had in mind. "Colleen? Blair Sandburg. Yeah, it finally happened, no more Chinese for a while. Look can you do up something really easy for me? Bland, but not too bland. Yeah, that sounds like it'd do. I'll be there in about fifteen minutes. Thanks." He hung up, unlocked the car, tossed his pack into the passenger's seat and headed out to Colleen's Place to pick up the lunch he'd just ordered.

Jim disconnected from his call to Blair, then immediately dialed the long distance number he'd gotten from his friend. He waited a moment and then punched in a five-digit code, which would tell the automated switchboard he was authorized to make long distance calls on city time, and waited until the other end was picked up in Arkansas.

"Doctor McConnel's office, Thomas McCaigh speaking," the young male voice answered.

"Is Doctor McConnel in? This is Detective Ellison, Cascade PD."

Thomas felt his eyes widen in surprise as he sat down at his professor's desk, pushing aside the note that her archaeologist friend had left. "No, I'm sorry, Detective. Dr. McConnel had to go out of town for a few days. Would you like to leave a message?" He started to look for a pen.

"No. Do you know where she went? I really would like to speak with her."

"Um, sorry. No. I don't. You might try calling her husband at Galloway County S.O., I'm sure he knows where she's gone." He started to flip through the Rolodex on the desk, "I've got his number right here... "

"That's all right. I've got it already. Thanks for your help, I'll give Sean a call." Jim sighed in disgust as he hung up the phone. Looking at his watch, he noted that he had about twenty minutes before Blair would arrive, hopefully with lunch, and decided to put through another call to Detective Sean McConnel.

 

Willow Springs, Arkansas

Afternoon, 22 January

Sean McConnel was just returning to his office, and the pile of paperwork, which had built up while he was with Joe Kelley in the Jail. Slapping the file in his hand down on his desk, he sat down. The surveillance of the drug drop had turned up one subject. A nineteen-year-old student from Willow Springs College who happened to be one of Caragh's students. From the moment that Joe and Lt. Daffyd had picked the boy up, he'd been proclaiming his innocence. Even though he'd been caught red-handed with the smack in his possession, he'd sworn up and down that the stuff wasn't his that he didn't know what it was, and that he'd been doing a favor for a friend. The jail staff had had their hands full when the kid was brought to them.

He hadn't fought the two arresting officers, but once in the confines of the Jail, his future before him, he bucked. In the end, the Jail's lieutenant, Lance Hunter, had been forced to take the kid down with a, marginally legal, sleeper hold. Sean had just come back from the jail and the ensuing investigation of the incident, the subsequent interview with the kid, and talking with the County's Prosecuting Attorney about the whole thing. Now, the tension in his neck and shoulders had increased and he found himself wishing that his wife were home already.

He was trying to work the kinks out of his neck, loosening the tension, when his phone rang. "McConnel," he answered on the third ring.

"McConnel, Ellison. I'm trying to get in touch with your wife... "

The hair on the back of Sean's neck rose up. "Why?"

On the other end of the phone, in Cascade, Jim looked puzzled at the tone of voice coming from McConnel. "She and my partner had talked about this book case. She was able to give him, us, a list of books taken. I just wanted to see how much more info she might have, something that might help me gain a new perspective on the case."

"Mike talked to your partner? When? Why didn't she tell me?" Sean thought back to his last conversation with his wife about the case. He knew he'd told her a consultant of Ellison's department, her old school buddy, had received a similar letter as she had gotten, but her reaction was one that didn't click at the time. She had remained calm. Maybe she hadn't known?

Jim looked down at his notes before answering, "Four days ago, January 19th. About the same time you and I last talked."

Sean took a deep breath then made an intuitive leap of faith. "Ellison, your partner? His name wouldn't happen to be Sandburg would it?" From the reaction on the other end of the phone, the accelerated heart rate, Sean knew he had it right. "It is, isn't it? You're partnered with Blair Sandburg."

Jim tried to get himself back under control. McConnel's question had come out of the blue and startled him. "Yeah, but why do you ask?" Not realizing he was doing it, he stretched out his hearing trying to get a 'read' on the other detective.

Sighing, Sean sat back in his chair. "Call it intuition. I know that Caragh has a old college friend back in Cascade, one she had called about the case since he's supposedly the only Burton expert she knew of, and I guess it just clicked for me." He knew the temptation was strong, to reach out his own senses to feel out the man in Cascade, but other than the heart rate thing, he didn't want to. He was too tired, too upset, and his backup wasn't near by and he didn't dare risk a zone out while talking on the phone.

"A Burton expert, eh?" Jim chuckled a little. "I'll have to let Sandburg know that's what she thinks of him."

"Do that. Now, you said you wanted to talk to Mike? Maybe I can help you?" Sean had picked up a pencil and had started doodling on his desk pad, just to keep himself from stretching out his senses.

"Maybe. I'm trying to get a read on the one book you recovered at your crime scene. The one you had handed off to your resident 'expert'." Picking up a pen, he unconsciously started to draw again on the note pad in front of him.

Sean kept drawing, using the distraction to keep himself calm, centered. "Oh, that? I don't think Mike has had a chance to finish going through it, Ellison. She hasn't even gotten back to me with her impressions of it." But you can bet that I'll ask her when she calls!

Jim looked down at the note pad, noticing he'd drawn the same knot pattern he'd drawn before. "Do you think she might get through it by the time she gets back?"

"Back? Back from where?"

"I talked with her teaching assistant, Thomas McCaigh, he'd said she'd had to go out of town on some kind of trip."

"Thomas told you that?"

Zone out be damned! What is the man hiding? Jim stretched his hearing out again. "Yeah, not more than a few minutes before I called you. McConnel, I know you don't really know me from Adam, but what the hell is going on?" There! Definite spike in the heart rate, respiration up as well. Panicky about something, his wife's safety perhaps?

"You're right, Ellison, I don't know you. Remember the letter I told you about, the one that Mike had received?" Sean was wondering just how far to go with this.

"Yeah, I recall you mentioning it. Did you ever fax it to me? I can't seem to find it in my files."

Sean listened as the sound of the other man flipping through paper came clearly over the line, along with the sounds of people in a large room, going about their business. "Yeah, you should've gotten it already." From the suddenly muffled sounds, he knew Ellison had put his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone, but he still heard the man clearly.

"Rhonda, did another fax come in for me from Willow Springs Arkansas?"

"Yeah, I put it on your desk yesterday evening." The muffled sound of a female voice came over the line, along with the sound of heels on linoleum as the woman approached the detective's desk. "See? It's right here. Under everything else that got piled up on your desk."

"Thanks, sorry about that." Jim removed his hand from the mouthpiece and took up the conversation with the Arkansas detective. "Sorry about that, McConnel. A little oversight on my part. This doesn't read like Sandburg's, wait a minute. Maybe it does. This guy doesn't come right out and say it, but he knows your wife's schedule at her school, doesn't he?"

Sean nodded. "Yeah, and we still haven't found out if the leak about the book came from our office or if someone from the Crime Lab talked about it." Looking down at his desk pad, he noticed that what was taking shape under his pencil was a cat. A large one, dark in color according to the shading he was automatically adding in.

"So what you're trying to tell me is that, until you can figure out where the leak came from, you cannot tell me where your wife has gone off to?"

"That's right, Ellison." Listening closely, he could hear the other man's almost silent sigh of despair. "Look, I'll make you a deal. Mike's supposed to call me in the next few days, I'll tell her you want to talk with her and ask her to call you. Will that work?"

Jim perked up. "Yeah, that would do just fine. I guess there's no real rush on this case, it's been sitting on my desk for a while now, a few more days won't hurt it."

"I know how you feel, Ellison." Sean looked at his watch. "I hate to cut this short, but I have a meeting I need to get to. I'll tell Mike you called, that you want to talk with her, and urge her to call you. Okay?"

"Yeah, thanks for helping me out here, McConnel."

Sean chuckled. "You must be former military, like myself."

Jim was puzzled. "What makes you say that, McConnel?"

"You haven't used a first name since I started talking with you. Except for Mike's. But that's a nickname, so it really doesn't count."

Smiling, Jim leaned back away from his desk, relaxed. "Guess it shows, doesn't it? Former Army. What branch for you?"

"Marine Corps. Years ago. Got out in late '92."

"Only a few years after I did."

"And now we're both cops, detectives working on similar cases. Whose partner and wife knew each other in school. Tell me, Ellison, do you believe in coincidence?"

Shaking his head, Jim let another chuckle out. "No, can't say as I did. Before now."

"No kidding. Look I need to get to getting. I'd hate to keep the PA waiting. I'll pass your message on to Mike."

"Thanks, McConnel."

"You're welcome, Ellison." Sean hung up the phone and sat there for a moment, looking at the cat that he'd finished drawing. "Damn, now why couldn't I have drawn like that back in High School Art class?" Picking up the file on the drug case and arrest, he trotted out of his office and on towards the Jail. The meeting was to be held in a conference room there, with all concerned parties in attendance.

 

Cascade, Washington

Early Afternoon, 22 January

Blair had surprised everyone in Major Crimes when he showed up with enough food for everyone there. He'd just smiled, saying his friend hadn't wanted any of Cascade's finest to suffer from lack of sustenance and hadn't charged him all that much for the feast, which had been recently demolished in the break room. A few of the dishes were given a wide berth, until detective Henri Brown had tried them all and announced them fit for consumption, now there was only a few crumbs left. Blair had taken note that while Jim had tried a little of everything, he had kept going back to a couple of dishes. He filed those away under 'things that Jim will eat' and proceeded to clean up the mess.

"Hey, Jim! There a piece of Barm Brack left, you want it?" he called out to his partner.

"A piece of what?" Jim turned to see that his partner was holding up a final piece of the bread he'd tried and liked earlier. "Nah, I'm stuffed. Give it to Brown. He'll eat it." As he watched, the large jolly detective smiled and got up from his desk and practically ran over to Blair to snag the last piece of 'Barm Brack' from the consultant. Just barely one step ahead of Rafe -- who was also making a grab for it.

"Whoa! Too slow there, Babe!" Henri smiled as he took a large bite out of the bread.

Rafe backed off. "Man, H.! Where do you put it all? Got a hollow leg or something?"

"Nah. Momma just raised me never to waste anything, especially food." Brown walked back to his desk, happily munching on his prize.

Turning back to Blair, Rafe asked, "So, Blair, where did you say you got all this from?"

"A friend." The anthropologist smiled. "Actually, Colleen has her own restaurant. I can give you the address if you want it."

"Yeah, I do. If that's a sample of the type of cooking she does, then I might just have to become a regular there." Rafe reached into his sport jacket and pulled out a small notepad and pen. "Okay, where is it?"

"1812 West Cork. You can't miss it. Has this huge sign out front that has 'Colleen's Place' on it and is shaped like a four-leaf clover."

"Thanks. I'll check it out this weekend." Rafe wandered back to his own desk, determined to get back to work on his files, but dreading it at the same time.

Jim walked into the break room just as Blair was putting the last of the trash into a large can. "So, Chief, what was all that?" He asked, waving his hand to indicate the food that was no longer on the large break table.

"You liked it?"

"Most of it. That dark, pudding stuff was a little weird, but yeah I liked most of it."

"Cool. Irish Cuisine. That 'pudding' stuff was Drisheen." Blair lowered his voice so that no one else, but Jim, could hear him. "Don't tell Brown, he liked it too much, but it's a blood pudding made from sheep's blood. Very popular in Ireland, especially around and in County Cork."

Jim couldn't help it, he shuddered, and thinking about how much of the Drisheen he had ate. "Thanks for the warning, Chief. Yeeech, I can't believe I even tried that."

"No problem, I noted what you seemed to like, and it's fairly tame. Colleen told me she's be happy to give me the recipes for whatever you liked." Blair looked up at his partner. "You really seemed to like the Colcannon, I'm just glad she sent as much as she did."

"Colcannon? What dish was that?"

"The potato one, with the cabbage and scallions in it?"

Jim thought back. "Oh, that one. Yeah, it was pretty good. Once I got past the idea of those flavors being mixed in together."

Blair nodded. "Took me a second to get used to it, too. And the Salmon Flan, you seemed to like that as well."

"It had salmon in it, you know how I like fish."

"Yeah, I know. That's what I told Colleen as well. Let me go wash up and then I'll help you tackle those files on your desk." Blair made to leave the break room, but turned around at the door, looking at his partner. "Hey, were you able to get a hold of Mike?"

Jim walked up to the door, gently moving his friend out of his way. "No. She's out of town. McConnel told me that he'd pass on my message to her when she called him. I'm hoping I can talk with her soon."

Blair nodded and went to the men's room to wash his hands and make sure his hair was neatly pulled back before entering the bullpen. Making his way over to the desk he shared with Jim, well actually it was two desks pushed together so they sat facing each other, he pondered over the detective's words. "Jim? You sounded like you're up against a time frame on the book case. You know something I don't?" He sat down, looking across the desks at the older man.

Looking up at his roommate/partner/guide, Jim shook his head. "No. Just a feeling I've had since talking with McConnel." He looked back down at his desk, spying the note pad he'd been drawing on. Sliding the pad over to his partner he said, "I did it again, while talking to McConnel. Any ideas, Chief?"

Pulling out his glasses, Blair looked over the knot that the Sentinel had drawn. It was subtly different. The dragon was still there, but the cat was larger, more dominant. But the dragon had been incorporated into the circle that surrounded the cat, and at the same time, the cat had been drawn in a circle around a stronghold. At least it looked like it could be a strong hold. "Wow! This is good! The details are amazing! You did this while talking with Mike's husband?" The whole picture, the knot work, was no larger than three inches in diameter, done in pen with no markovers. No mistakes.

"Yeah. I wasn't even aware I was doing it until the conversation was nearly over."

Blair continued to study the drawing. "Well, I'm no expert on this kind of thing, but it does look familiar somehow." He tore off the top sheet of the note pad and slid the pad back to Jim. "I'll hang on to it. I think I've got a book at the loft that might help me decipher it."

"Fine with me. Now, do you want the Collins case or the Brooker one to type up?"

"Brooker."

Jim smiled, knowing that would be the case his partner would want, and slid the file over to the young man. "Fine. Leave the really nasty one for me."

"Hey, you're the one with the strong stomach, not me. And I just ate. You wouldn't want me hurling all over the desks, would you?" Blair snagged the less offensive file from Jim.

"Not after watching you eat Drisheen. Now that I know what it's made of, I have no desire to see you hurl it back up." The detective opened up the Collins jacket file, careful not to dump the photos out, and pulled out his and Sandburg's notes on the case.

"Shush! Brown'll hear you!" Blair looked over his shoulder to find the other detective talking on his phone. Satisfied that they'd not been overheard, he turned back to the paperwork in front of him.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in relative silence as the two partners slowly made their way through the stack of files needing closing reports. Well, slowly for Ellison. Sandburg fairly flew through his part of the stack, then without being asked, started in on what was left in Jim's.


Caragh McConnel and Steaphan Shannon had spent the afternoon at Nature's Herbs & Plants, the pilot had opted to come with her instead of staying behind at the hotel, and now they were dragging their weary bodies back to their rooms.

"You want to eat at the restaurant here in the hotel, or do you have a place in mind, Mike?" Steaphan asked as he opened the door to his room, across the hall from hers.

"Let me change out of these 'business' clothes into a comfortable pair of jeans and a good shirt or two and we'll hit the town." Caragh gestured down at the dark blue outfit that she'd changed into when they had reached the hotel earlier. The pants were trim, fitted and just long enough to demand she wear at least one inch heels with them, while the jacket was also trim, flaring out at the waist with a banded collar and fancy 'frog' fasteners running up the front. It was very flattering to her figure, and screamed confidence to any that saw her. It was just the perfect outfit to wear when meeting with one of De Danu Corporations largest suppliers.

Steaphan smiled, amazed she had made it this long without complaining about her clothes. The outfit she had chosen to wear to the meeting had done a great job of emphasizing her height, and showing off her figure. But it wasn't the Caragh Michaels-McConnel that he knew. No, 'Mike' McConnel was a jeans and sweatshirt type of gal; the more worn and comfortable, the better. "Okay by me. Should I change as well?" He looked pointedly down at his somber ensemble.

Caragh looked him over. The dark gray slacks, lighter gray shirt and overly bright, Jerry Garcia tie worked well on him, and would do for the place she had in mind. "What ever you want to do, but I've got to get out of these slacks and shoes. My feet are killing me." On the spur of the moment, they had taken a tour of the growing facilities of Nature's Herbs & Plants, a tour that had covered an entire five acres of greenhouses.

"Fine. Ten minutes?" Steaphan chuckled, thinking the tour had been her idea in the first place, but not wanting to point that out.

"Ten. I'll meet you at the elevators." Caragh opened the door to her room, and stepped inside. Once inside, she started peeling out of the shirt and pants, realizing that she had forgotten about the gun she'd been packing. "Humph. I guess I really have become a creature of habit." She removed the gun from her belt, placing it on the dresser and made her way to the closet where the valet had hung up all her clothes.

Nine minutes later she was waiting for Steaphan at the elevators, dressed in black jeans, black long sleeved dress shirt, with her long red vest over the top of everything, including her gun. She was carrying a long dark gray trench coat over her arms and her ever-present black leather backpack. When Steaphan joined her, she noticed he had opted to only lose the tie and was carrying his own leather pilot's jacket.

As they boarded the elevator, she asked, "So, what's your choice of food tonight? Thai? Chinese, Steaks, Italian or something more along the lines of what you could get back home? Name it, I bet I can find a place that has it."

"Yeah, sure. It's been seven or more years since you've been in Cascade. Some of those places you knew had probably gone out of business."

"Nope. I checked with the Chamber of Commerce before we left for Nature's this afternoon. Most of the places I asked about are still around." They exited the elevator at the lobby and she detoured for a second to the desk. "Give me a second, Steve. I'll be right there."

"Sure, I'll go get the car."

Caragh watched as the pilot left to go retrieve the rental, then walked up to the clerk that was manning the hotel's desk this evening. "Excuse me? May I leave my room key here with you while I and my friend go out for a while?"

The young man looked up from his paperwork. "Certainly, ma'am." Glancing down at the room number embossed on the key, he turned to place it in a pigeonhole and came back with a slip of paper. "Ms. O'Shannessy? This message came in for you this afternoon. We tried to ring your room, but you must have been out." He handed over the slip of paper and returned to his work.

Caragh absently thanked the young man as she started to read the message while walking towards the main doors to the hotel. It was from Sean. He was advising her to call Detective Ellison as soon as she had a chance, just to appease the man's curiosity. She snorted and crumpled the note into a ball as she pulled on her trench coat, then put it in her pocket, muttering under her breath, "Not until later, Sean. Much later. I have a date with Steaphan, an excellent plate of ribs and a few beers. Maybe tomorrow." She smiled as Steaphan pulled up in the Suburban and she climbed in. Then, asking his choice of food stuff, she wasn't surprised when he choose steak, she gave him directions to the nearest and best place for steaks and ribs.


They were returning to the hotel three hours later, pleasantly stuffed, with Caragh behind the wheel, when Steaphan brought up his plans for the next day. "Mike, if you don't mind, after the appointment at Gaia's tomorrow, I'd like to head out to the Airfield. Check over Aine before we plan to head out the next day."

"Fine with me. That'll give me chance to hit some of the coffee shops around the University and maybe look up my friend." She pulled into the parking lot of the Cascade Arms and found a spot right next to the side entrance to the main lobby. It had started to mist while they were driving back from the Black Angus Cattleman's Club and now that they were parked, it started to pour rain. "Damn. Race you?"

Steaphan smiled and without saying a word, opened his door and shot out of the vehicle, leaving Caragh to catch up to him. Which she did and opened the door for him. "Damn it! Never race against a sprinter." He stood and shucked out of his jacket and slicked the rainwater out of his crew cut with his hand.

Caragh shrugged out of her coat and laughed. "Especially when that sprinter has a history of racing your legs off that goes all the way back to High School!" They continued to laugh as they made their way to the desk, where she picked up her key, and onward to the elevators.

They parted company outside their rooms, planning to meet in the hotel's restaurant at seven in the morning before heading out to Gaia's Medicine Closet for their nine am meeting.

Stepping into her room, Caragh was surprised to hear the phone ringing. Rushing over to the bed, and dropping her coat on a convenient chair, she answered. "Hello?"

"Mike! Where have you been? I've been calling all night!"

"I'm fine, Sean. Steve and I just got back from dinner." She dropped onto the bed, suddenly tired. "Now, what's wrong that has you trying to call me at," she glanced at her watch, "midnight your time?"

"Did you get my message about Ellison?"

"I got it. Sean, whose idea was it anyway to register me under my birth name?"

"Moiré's. She knew about the threat, she knows you have the ID to cover that name and felt it was for the best. Security reasons. I had to agree with her." Sean felt the tension that had been building up in him release the moment he had heard her voice. "Now, what are you going to do about Ellison?"

"I'll call him tomorrow. After I finish up at Gaia's. Do you have any idea why he wants to talk to me?" She pulled her backpack towards her and opened up the main compartment, pulling her notebook and the Wilkins' book out.

"He just wants to touch base with you, I think. Probably because you touched base with his partner and gave some good information."

Caragh cocked her head in surprise. "His partner? I haven't talked with anyone in Cascade, especially not a cop." What are you trying to tell me, Sean? Oh. Could it be? Nah, Blayre's not the type...

"Mike, Ellison's partner is your old friend, Blair Sandburg."

"WHAT? No way! Not my Blayre! There's no way in hell his mother would stand for that! Naomi would absolutely freak, her baby working with the 'jack-booted Gestapo'!"

"Your Blayre? Mike, is there something I should know about this Sandburg?"

Caragh hear the jealousy in his voice. "No, it's nothing like that, Sean. I love Blayre, sure, but like a baby brother. I was assigned as his 'Big Sister' when he came to Rainier, he was so lost and his mother couldn't stay in the area, so I took him under my wing. Got him situated and made sure he knew where all his classes where."

Sean chuckled. "Oh, so even back then you were strong into your Guardian duties?"

"Yeah, consider it early training for handling you. Blair Sandburg was, maybe still is, more of a trouble magnet than I ever was."

"Okay. I guess that makes me feel a little bit better about the man. Since you're going to be getting in touch with Ellison, are you going to try to get in touch with your 'little brother'?"

"I was thinking about it. I'll just have to see how it goes tomorrow."

"Fine. Just don't forget, call Ellison. You are carrying your sidearm aren't you?"

"Yes, and before you ask, no. I'm not wearing that damn vest. I'm not here to play cop, just a purchasing agent."

"I didn't think you would. You know that I love you, don't you?"

"I love you too, Sean. But sometimes you take your role as Protector a bit too far."

"Can't help it. You were the one who told me it's programmed into my genetic code or something. You had to know that this would happen at some point."

"Go to sleep, Sean. I'll call you tomorrow after I talk with Ellison."

"Love you. Bye."

"Love you too." She hung up. Stretching as she stood up, she popped her back and removing her vest, undid her belt and removed her handgun and holster and placed them on the bedside table. Moving towards the bathroom, she shed the rest of her clothes, letting them drop where they wanted to drop. After taking a brief shower, she changed into her pajamas and crawled into bed, and after calling the front desk for a five-thirty AM wake up call, fell into a deep sleep.


Blair Sandburg had crawled into his bed at about midnight, early for him, and had fallen asleep directly. Now, at three-thirty in the morning, he was up, wide awake and pacing his room. Trying not to awaken his roommate, the man with exceptional hearing -- and other senses -- while he attempted to figure out what had awakened him. Damn dream. It wasn't a nightmare, not really, but upsetting all the same. He turned on the light on his bedside table and began pacing once again. What the hell did I dream? Oh, yeah. The jaguar was there, as was the wolf, and what I suspect may have been a dragon. He looked at the ceiling, directing his thoughts towards his friend. Gee, thanks, Jim. Now your doodles are getting into my dreams.

Deciding that there was no chance of him getting back to sleep, he quietly made his way towards the kitchen and his stock of teas. He had just set the teakettle to boil, when he heard something, no someone, moving around the loft. Wincing, he knew that somehow, despite his best efforts, Jim Ellison, Sentinel, Detective, and former Army Ranger, was awake. Turning around so that he faced the stairway, he waited for Jim to make his appearance.

Jim had lain in his bed for twenty minutes, not sure what had awakened him. Stretching out with his hearing, he located his roommate downstairs, the familiar heartbeat soothing to his ears. But Blair wasn't in his room. Puzzled, Jim got out of bed, wondering if his friend's nocturnal wanderings were what had awakened him. Reaching out for his bathrobe, he cast his thoughts backward to when he first woke up and tried to find the answer. He wasn't even aware of getting to his feet, putting the robe on, and heading down the stairs to the lower living area of the loft. Why did I dream about the jaguar, Blair's wolf and a huge lizard? Or was that a dragon? And where does that mountain lion fit in to everything else? His feet landed at the bottom of the steps and he turned towards the kitchen, only to be startled by his guide's soft greeting.

"Didn't mean to wake you."

Jim couldn't help it. He jumped. "Jesus! Sandburg! Don't do that!"

Blair was amazed, he'd never been able to startle, let alone sneak up on, Jim since the older man had learned to control most of his senses. "Sorry about that." He couldn't help it, he let out a chuckle. "Man, I guess you do have to get up early to be able to sneak up on a Sentinel. You want some tea? Or I should I start the coffee?"

His heart slowed down and he also saw the humor in the early morning hours. Jim grinned as he flipped on the light switch. "Might as well start the coffee, Chief. Be right back."

Blinking his eyes to clear them of the tears that had formed after the light had flooded the kitchen, Blair turned to the coffee maker and flipped the switch on, as Jim headed down the hallway towards the bathroom. His tea water was boiling just as Jim returned. "So, did I wake you up? I tried to be quiet." Pouring the boiling water over his chamomile tea bag, he looked up at his roommate and studied his face. "Man, I hope you don't mind me saying this, Jim. But you look worn out. Maybe you should go back to bed?"

The weary detective made his way into the small kitchen and towards the coffee maker, gently moving his partner out of his way. "I would if I could, Chief, but I think I'm awake for the day. What time is it anyway?" He looked over at the microwave, and moaned. "Oh Lord! Zero three-forty!" Pulling the half-full carafe out from under the coffee maker, he slid a mug under the drip and poured another mug from the carafe for himself. Sliding the carafe back under the drip, he took what little coffee had gathered in the spare mug and added it to his own. He turned to his guide. "So, Chief, are you still up or what?"

Blair finished fixing his tea, adding a dollop of honey to the hot brew, then after carefully taking a sip answered. "Nah, believe it or not, I went to bed around midnight." He shrugged his shoulders. "Guess I heard something that woke me up. I'm not really sure."

Jim raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, right. Try again."

"You know, sometimes living with a man who can hear as well as you do is a pain in the ass." He smiled as he said it, softening the words. Blair waited to see if the other man would take the hint and drop the subject, but after half a cup of coffee was downed, he realized he didn't have a choice. "Fine. You really want to know?"

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't, Darwin." Jim turned back to the coffee maker and refilled his mug, then gestured to his friend to adjourn to the dining table.

Holding his tea mug carefully, the observer made his way over to the table, set the mug down, and then pulled out a chair into which he all but collapsed. "Okay. This isn't going to be easy, but it was a dream."

He almost spilled his coffee. Hands shaking, he pulled out a chair and sat down next to Blair. "A dream?" Jim tried to pull himself together, he hated dreams. Nightmares were worse, but dreams that he had in the past were often prophetic -- the ones that his guide had? They had never really discussed. Except for the nightmares. "What kind of dream?"

Blair had noticed Jim's slight reactions to his words. "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Nothing. Tell me about your dream." He tried to keep the tension out of his voice.

"It was weird. Not a nightmare. I think trying to figure out that last knot work you drew up is what led to it." He sipped his tea and looked at his friend, whom had his eyes closed and seemed to be concentrating on his words. "I was back in a forest, like the one up on the Cascade National Reserve. Anyway, I was there, but I wasn't. Out of the tree line walked my spirit guide, your jaguar showed up then, and get this, I saw what had to be a damn dragon! You know, kinda like the one in Dragonheart? It was huge! But all it did was smile at me! Then there seemed to be some sort of conversation going on between the dragon and our guides, I couldn't hear any of it, but they really looked like they were having this deep conversation. So they finish up their little talk, the wolf walks over to me and nuzzles my hand, then I'm awake and pacing the floor." Blair looked up again from his mug that he'd stared into while talking and noticed the smile on his roommate's face. "Yeah, told you it was weird. But you did ask about it, Jim."

The detective opened his eyes to look at his friend. "Yeah, but did you see the, I'm not sure, but I think it was a cougar?" He had the satisfaction of seeing his young friend's eyes go wide with surprise.

"What!? Are you saying... "

"I think we shared the same dream, Chief." Jim drained off his coffee and walked back out to the kitchen for a refill. "At least, it may have been the same. I saw the black jaguar, your wolf and the dragon you described, but I also spotted a golden cougar watching from behind the dragon. And he didn't look too pleased, either." He went back to the table, reclaiming his chair, and watched with interest his friend's reaction.

Blair was dumbfounded. He hadn't seen the cougar that Jim had seen, but everything else fit. Now he sat, running his hands through his hair trying to come up with a plausible explanation to the connected dreams. Not able to immediately come up with one, he jumped up from the table and started to pace. Again.

Jim watched in quiet amusement as Blair paced, muttering to himself, seemingly not aware that he was doing so, and without meaning to intrude, listened to the one sided conversation.

"Damn. What's the connection? Okay, you know that the jaguar's Jim's spirit guide, his guardian so to speak. The wolf's yours. Same basic function. The dragon? Wait a minute, in ancient legends the dragon was a guardian of knowledge. Not feared but respected, almost worshipped. Until the beginnings of the Judaic beliefs. Okay, hold that thought. A cougar. Mountain lion. North American version of the puma. Another spirit guide? But whose? I didn't see that one, but Jim did. And why has he been drawing Celtic knot works for a while?" Blair stopped his pacing, facing out of the doors to the balcony, facing his own reflection. A possible explanation started to surface in his thoughts. "Oh, man!"

Jim stood and walked over to his partner, quickly, his sensitive hearing alerting him to the other's distress. "Chief? What is it? What just caused your heart rate to jump?"

Leaning his forehead against the cool glass, he answered in a very quiet voice. "What if there's another, you know, in the city?" He couldn't bring himself to say the words, hoping that Jim would catch on.

His own heart started to race. Thinking back, recalling the last time he'd seen Blair's spirit guide, the wolf, was back when Alex Barnes had come to Cascade. And back at the fountain where, somehow, he'd been able to pull the young man back from the brink of death. He softly replied, "A sentinel? You think there might be another one in the area?"

"Maybe. I just don't know." Blair spun around to face his friend. "You haven't been getting the feeling you got before, have you? You'd let me know if you were, right?"

Jim reached out and impulsively pulled the young man into a hug. "Yeah, Chief. I'd let you know. I promised, remember?"

Needing the physical reassurance, and not ashamed to admit it, Blair brought his arms up to complete the hug. "Yeah, I remember." He pulled back, keeping in light contact with Jim's arms with his own hands. "Well? Are you getting any of those 'strange sentinel' vibes of yours?"

"No. I'm not. At least I don't think so, Chief." Jim brought his right hand to rest on the left shoulder of his soul's brother and thought back through the last few weeks.

"Jim? You remembering something?" Blair had noticed the vacant look on his sentinel's face as one that meant the man was backtracking though his memories.

He hesitated, not sure if he was right, before answering. "Maybe. What if this wasn't a warning about another sentinel, but another guide?"


Caragh Michaels-McConnel stepped out of the shower in her room, cursing the dream that had awoken her at the ungodly hour of three-thirty five in the morning. Knowing no one could hear her, she voiced her thoughts out to the room as she dried off, and tried to tame her wild locks into something resembling order. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she talked with herself.

"Okay, Mike. Think about everything you saw and just forget about what you weren't allowed to hear. Your dragon was there, totally ignoring you to go off and have a private chat with a gray wolf and a black panther. No, that's not right. What type of cat was that? Think!" Sending her mind back over her travels through the world as an anthropology student, she finally connected. "Oh, wow! A black jaguar! The ancient South American tribes all respected the powers of that type of jaguar! One heck of a spirit animal -- if you were lucky enough to draw one to yourself. And Sean's cougar was there. Behind Autumn, but in front of me, as if to keep me from getting too close to the others. Why? Bast has never shown himself to me before, but Sean told me enough about him for me to know it was him. But why hold me back from Autumn's side and the wolf and jaguar?" She finished getting all the snarls out of her curly hair, and then pulled the bangs and sides up and away from her face to secure them in a clip at the back of her head. Still thinking, she padded out to the bedroom.

Going to the closet, she pulled out another pair of black jeans, a black long sleeved tee-shirt, and her dark green sweater, the one that was so dark as to almost be black, the one that Sean had gotten for her a year ago. One that would effectively hide the handgun and its holster. Thinking about the dream, she absentmindedly reached for the television remote control and clicked the thing on, watching for the weather forecast for Cascade and surrounding areas. "Hmm, a high expected in the lower fifties, not bad. Rain? Maybe. No matter what the forecaster says." She got dressed, pulling on her boots, the ones that she normally wore with her county uniform. Then sighing in resignation, she threaded the heavy-duty web belt about her waist and crossed over to the nightstand and removed her gun and holster. Pulling the weapon out, she situated the holster into its normal place, and then checked her weapon.

It was a Ruger SP-101, shrouded revolver, stainless steel with a brushed finish. It held only five rounds of .357 ammunition, but she always figured that would be enough. Besides, it was her 'backup' piece. Not her main sidearm when patrolling. No, for that she had to carry the county issued Sig-Sauer .45 acp. And that wasn't an easy gun to conceal. Opening the cylinder of the revolver, she checked to make sure the rounds were properly seated, then carefully snapped the cylinder closed. Sean had gotten her this gun as a 'peace offering' years ago, after an incident in a federal manhunt in their county. They had managed to track the fugitive to an abandoned munitions dump, only to get into a firefight with the man. Her Sig had jammed at the wrong moment and she ended up at the wrong end of a very nasty piece of weaponry. The supposedly unarmed fugitive's rifle, which he used to put a round through her right leg.

Caragh shuddered at the memory. Lee Brackett wasn't just a fugitive from the FBI, no; he had been a renegade CIA operative. Why the Feds had chosen to hunt him down in Galloway County, or why he had been there in the first place, was never made clear. After taking her, Brackett had talked Sean into surrendering, by threatening her life. And once he had whatever he had come for, he had left the two of them -- both injured, Sean from a knife wound to the shoulder -- in the munitions dump and slipped away. As far as she knew, the man was still on the loose. But hopefully in another country. She never wanted to see that man again. Ever. Sean had brought her the revolver when she was in the hospital, recovering from her surgery, saying that he never wanted to see her out in the field again without a backup piece.

Sighing, she holstered the weapon, found her wallet and put it in her back pocket, then grabbed up her backpack and headed out of the room. Realizing that it was still quite early, just after 4 am, she headed down to the hotel lobby and walked out the front door, seeking a coffee shop or all night diner to kill some time in before returning to the hotel and gathering up Steaphan to head out to Gaia's. As she walked along the street, she smiled at the clear sky above her, thankful that the rain had stopped. She found what she was looking for about five blocks away from the Cascade Arms, a bakery that was already open for business. Going in, she ordered a huge cinnamon roll and large cup of coffee, which she took to a table in the back corner of the shop and pulled out her notebook. Maybe if I write the dream down, it'll make more sense. She thought as she sipped her coffee, and then started to write.


"You're going to Cascade, Washington, Krycek."

"Why?" He had never questioned orders before from the man seated beside him in the car, but it was early, he was cranky, and the smoke from the bastard's cigarettes was getting to him.

"Your target is there. Almost all of them, in fact."

"That is where Dr. McConnel disappeared to?"

Dragging in another puff of smoke, the craggy faced man smiled. "Yes. She's there to do some business for her grandmother's company." He reached into his coat and pulled out a plane ticket, handing it to the younger man. "Here, your plane leaves Dulles in an hour and a half. There'll be a car waiting for you at the Avis desk, under your own name. McConnel is staying at the Cascade Arms Hotel. Don't mess this one up, Krycek."

Alex took the ticket and pocketed it. "If you had sent me to Arkansas in the first place, we'd already have the item you're interested in."

"True, but then you wouldn't have been able to take care of the one who screwed it up in the first place." He smiled at his worker. "Tell me you didn't enjoy that." When the man didn't answer, he nodded and got out of the dark sedan.

Alex didn't wait around; he pulled out, hoping that he ran over the smoker's foot as he did so. He had to get packed. He had a flight to catch, and a rather distasteful job to do once he landed in Cascade.

Part 5

 

 

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